Chapter 3

From then on the Interloper dreaded each day, living in constant terror that—at any moment—the vampire would set upon him with another beating. For a time Kuluck barely acknowledged Scott’s existence in the camp, although he did catch enough meat for he and Blasphemy to share when they rested at night beside the fire.

Scott’s ankle began to heal, though the joint still clicked oddly at times and there was a slight limp in his gait. Eventually the bruises left by Kuluck also began to fade.

But the travel was wearying and the food was scarce. Blasphemy began educating Scott about which forest berries were safe to each and which would poison him. He snatched them from the trees as they passed, but they did little to stop the grumbling in his stomach.

Then: a deep vibration that was not inside his stomach but everywhere at once and with it the sudden sensation of falling.

The Interloper dropped to his knees, both hands gripping his walking stick. The vibrations increased in intensity and with it came a noise: something like metal against metal; metal bending and breaking in ways it was not supposed to. It was as though the very laws of physics were being bent and they could hear it.

As suddenly as they began, the vibrations stopped.

After several frozen, silent moments: miniscule noises rose slowly into Scott’s awareness. The delicate footsteps of ants, the trickle of dewdrops, the creaking branches of ancient oak and birch and fir, unspeaking witnesses to what had just transpired.

“We descend yet further into the Abyss,” said Kuluck.

“What..?” the Interloper tried to form a question. His tongue felt heavy in his mouth.

“The world is old, Interloper,” said Kuluck in a way that indicated this was something he should have already known. The vampire did not sound angry when he spoke; merely tired.

“Worldquakes have become more common,” Blasphemy said to the Interloper.

Whatever they called it, the tremor had significantly altered the geography of the forest. Trees had been uprooted and now leaned at peculiar angles. The earth had broken open in places to create deep pits, while mighty columns of earth and stone rose up in others. From the cracks in the earth rose pungent, deep-earth smells.

Blasphemy helped the Interloper to his feet and they started across the jumbled landscape. Kuluck effortlessly helped them up in places they were forced to climb.

The Interloper moved carefully, leaning on his walking stick where he could, but it wasn’t long before the end of the stick became snagged in a tree root and he was sent sprawling. As dark earth closed in around him he instinctively reached out to break his fall and his hand pressed against something flat and solid and smooth.

Excitedly he began clawing the dirt away from the thing he had discovered—a smooth, jet-black surface, lit from within as if it contained dozens of blue fireflies.

“I found something!” he called to the others as his eyes became fixed on those indistinct motes of dancing light. A strange sensation overcame him as he realised they were forming the shapes of letters. Words written in blue fire rose towards him out of the darkness.

Without questioning the Interloper planted both of his palms flat against the stone and the words burned into him, searing his hands and igniting a raging fire in his mind that consumed everything else—

It rained…

It rained that night, Interloper. The rain woke you up, remember?

I was already awake.

Did the arguing wake you?

No, I was used to it.

You stood in the doorway. You hid in the dark and you watched.

I remember.

Green walls. Brown carpet. A news report on the TV.

I remember!

Remember, Interloper. Remember how you felt. You were only a little boy. Only and alone; alone and lonely. Remember.

I remember her.

Your mother didn’t want you.

She loved me.

Scott remembered the smells of the summer markets. Stalls selling fruits and vegetables, dried meats and aged cheese. Incense wafted from strange stalls that peddled secret knowledge. There was one stall that sold purses and handbags. It smelt like leather and shoe polish. She pushed Scott’s hand away and told him not to touch anything.

She chose the bag with the gold clasps.

Not real gold.

Of course not.

Finally, something she chose.

It rained… It rained… It rained…

The words beat against Scott. He no longer knew where he was. He was aware only vaguely of the sensation of his hands pressed against stone, fixed there. He was unable to remove them. He was unable to do anything.

It rained that night, Interloper.

I remember the argument. I remember the man.

It  was a new man every month. Which one was it?

No, not him. I remember the other man.

The other man?

I remember you.

In the corner of the apartment, against the faded green wall, beside the mostly-empty bookcase stood a man fully in shadows yet visible by the way that his darkness seemed more absolute than the rest of the shadows. A man in a suit, the man who…


Yes it is me, Interloper, as you most vehemently concur.

Then you were gone and there was only Mum and the Dishevelled Man arguing in the doorway. He couldn’t remember the Dishevelled Man’s name—the only thing he could remember about him was that he had collected baseball cards. It was raining outside.

“You can’t leave the kid here,” said the Dishevelled Man. “He ain’t mine!”

“I can’t do this,” said Mum. She was crying. She was rifling through her handbag—the one with the gold clasps. She took out a tissue and dabbed at her make-up, but it only made it look worse.

Thunder rumbled. It sounded so distant and far away that the Interloper was surprised he could hear it at all.

None of this is real, he told himself.

None of this is real.

The Interloper screamed as Kuluck snatched his hands away from the stone. His palms felt like they were on fire. His head was spinning and he could not bring his eyes to focus.

Away from the stone he remained on all fours, stupefied, mouth hanging open. He tried to swat away the memories as though they were flies swarming around his head. The dancing motes of light within the stone had gone dark.

Blasphemy was beside him. She touched the back of her hand to his forehead. His skin felt hot to the touch; her fingers felt cool.

Interloper,” Kuluck said firmly and he only needed to say it once. The Interloper’s eyes locked on to Kuluck’s sightless orbs and he found a moment of calm in the vampires thrall; enough to bring him back, anyway, from wherever he had been.

“What happened?” the Interloper asked. He was pawing at the ground, at rocks and trees, as though in an attempt to convince himself that they were real. He felt incredibly sick. He retched and groaned and scraped at his face. The memories that the stone had shown him were fleeting, like dream fragments or the shifting patterns of a kaleidoscope.

“You touched a Foundation Stone,” said Blasphemy. “They are remnants. Usually… they stay buried.”

“They are not for us,” said Kuluck.

Still the stone called to the Interloper and he longed to touch it again; to excavate it from the earth and embrace it, to absorb everything it had to tell him about who he was; about who he was supposed to be.

Something about the look in his eye betrayed these thoughts to Blasphemy.

“Whatever it showed you, Interloper… whatever you saw, was not real,” she said. “The stones contain knowledge of the worlds-that-are-not. If you seek to dwell in such illusions, you could be lost in them forever.”

Not for the first time, Kuluck effortlessly slung the Interloper across his shoulder and no amount of protestations could relieve him of this indignity.

The pull of the stone faded as they moved away from it. Eventually Kuluck set the Interloper down and they walked for a while longer, until the light turned dusky brown-orange and the shadows lengthened like the threads on a loom. There, they made camp.

“Get your stick,” Kuluck said to the Interloper. “It is time you learned how to fight.”

But Blasphemy spoke up, sternly. “Not tonight,” she said.

Surprisingly, the vampire did not argue.

Blasphemy watched the Interloper while he slept; already the forest had changed him. His clothes were stained, the creases of his face were lined with dirt and scraggly hairs conspired on his chin to grow a beard.

He was alone, she knew.

Once she had been the same: cast out from the city of her birth, rejected by even the hangman’s noose. Cast adrift on the Wastelands, Blasphemy had walked north towards the dark destiny that had awaited her. If only she’d known then that such darkness could disguise itself amongst strings of coloured lights.

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