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Monster of Monsters #1 Part Two: Mortem's Contestant

Monster of Monsters

#1

Part Two

Mortem’s Contestant

 

Text Copyright © 2017 by Kristie Lynn Higgins

 

Cover Art Copyright © 2017

Ebook Edition

Shakespir Edition

 

www.KristieLynnHiggins.com

 

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Start One Of These Series

by Kristie Lynn Higgins

www.KristieLynnHiggins.com

 

Chapter Three

Stay Boy… Stay!

Kein entered the Knecht Ruprecht Corporation to simply deliver five packages to Residents living on the Basement Level, but instead, she stumbled upon a deadly game called the Mortem in which she had become an unwilling contestant in. She currently stood, trapped in an elevator with a werewolf pup on the other side ravenously waiting to sink his teeth into her.

Moments earlier…

“No… I won’t kill,” Kein told Controller. “I won’t pick up a weapon. There has to be another way. I can’t stay down here seven days. Those creatures… fear will…” She worked on calming herself, but her anxiety muddled her thoughts so that her words flow incoherently as she said, “The monster will want to destroy… I’m afraid… and…”

“So is the nature of monsters,” Controller stated. “They want to kill and destroy that is why this Mortem is so much fun. Who can predict what anyone will do? Everyone, the Coaches, the Residents, even myself, we all have our own agendas, and we have to survive to make them come true.”

“I don’t understand what you’re saying, and I can’t be here,” Kein insisted. “It’s not safe… You have to let me go.”

“Now I am the one who is afraid. I am afraid I can’t let you go,” Controller replied. “Think of it as you have no other choice but to survive, and it will make everything more…” he spoke, enjoying himself way too much, then paused as if trying to come up with something witty to say, and asked, “What is the word I am looking for?”

“Clearer?” Kein said as she moved to the center of the cab to see if she could spot a camera, but she didn’t see one.

“No, fun was the word I was looking for or maybe entertaining. Now you can either survive or die, that is up to you.”

“And the creatures,” Kein mumbled. “How do I stay down here and not..?”

“Die?” he interrupted. “You will have to use whatever skills you possess. Now… enough chit-chat. You need to run if you are going to survive.”

“Run?” she repeated as if the word was foreign to her.

“Correct, run,” Controller spoke. “I am opening the elevator, and our guard dog is waiting outside. He hasn’t been fed in a few days, and he is very upset he wasn’t able to snag a contestant for himself.”

The cab doors opened before Kein could object, and the creature, who had chased her, turned at the sound. The creature was smaller than her and completely covered in brown fur. He looked at her as he greedily licked his drool covered chops. He was nearly at the other end of the hallway about three hundred feet away.

“If you haven’t figured it out yet,” Controller said. “That’s a werewolf pup. He’s much smaller than an adult but still strong, and he’s very very hungry.”

The werewolf pup howled, excited he could resume the hunt, and he charged after her, snarling and barking. Kein had nowhere to run but the hallway, so she backed up into the cab.

“I need someplace to run to if you want me to survive past the next minute!” Kein yelled. “I can’t run into one of the Residents’ rooms. There has to be some place else.”

“Let me get a consensus from the Coaches,” Controller spoke as if he would take his time in doing so.

The werewolf pup snarled and howled as he passed the halfway mark.

“Hurry!” Kein yelled. “Make this more of a contest than a slaughter!”

“Majority says you can use the Black Arrow room for the time being. It is the first one you passed when you first left the elevator, and if you haven’t figured it out by now, it is the one with the black arrow above it.”

She squatted down as the werewolf pup ran the last ten feet. Kein waited for him to leap for her, then she jumped up, and in a feat, no human should be able to do, she used the wall behind herself to kick off and catapult herself over him. Kein landed on the floor, rolled to a standing position, and then she took off running. The werewolf pup turned his body when he missed her, then immediately moved his arms and legs to change directions to give chase, but instead, he slid and slammed into the wall hard with a yelp. He whined a little more as if hurt, and then he slowly pursued her; it took him a while before he was back up to his top speed. Kein bolted for the Black Arrow room as fear urged her on in a frantic pace, she reached the door before the werewolf pup could overtake her, and she rushed in. She slammed the door behind her, and the werewolf pup swiped at it and barked as he clawed at it some more.

“There’s no way I can survive here,” Kein yelled through depleted breath as she leaned against the door.

Controller told her, “You just have to fight to survive.”

“I can’t,” she insisted as she peered into the pitch black room she entered, and it appeared to be empty. “I can’t fight.”

“It is the way things are done here,” Controller told her. “It is how the contestants have competed, but I guess skills are what they are, and if you don’t have them… if you can’t fight… well… you will be someone’s food or decoration.”

“Fighting’s not everything,” Kein said. “I saw how that went for all of the other contestants. I can’t fight. Make another way for me to compete or there won’t be much of a contest.”

There was a long pause, and then Controller questioned, “What do you propose?”

“There has to be a quicker way to win.”

“You could kill one of the Residents to secure your position,” Controller told her. “Kill one of them, and you will immediately become a Resident.”

“I can’t. I won’t,” Kein spoke, and then she said, “Contests have rules, so this one has to also. I would like to add some rules.”

“Adding rules… Now that’s an interesting proposition. What sort of rules would you like to add?”

Kein replied, “First tell me what the Residents are after.”

“Their freedom of course,” Controller replied. “Each has a goal they must accomplish, and then they can move up to the next level or as I said before, they could kill one of the other Residents, and then they automatically move up.”

“How many levels are there?”

“Quite a few,” Controller answered, and then he added, “Only the Residents know.”

“What is Shukujo’s goal?”

“Who is this Shukujo?”

“The Kumovon,” Kein replied.

“Did she tell you her name?”

“No,” Kein answered. “I just call her that.”

“I will use that name also,” Controller stated. “As to your question, that information is Shukujo’s, and it is hers to give or withhold. Now… Tell me your conditions or should I say rules you would like to add to remain as a contestant.”

“It’s simple…” Kein began, and then she stated, “The other Residents can’t kill me.”

“Other Residents? You sound like you are very confident that you will become one.”

“I can be if you make the contest a little less…”

“Dangerous?”

“Exactly. This place is a death trap. Any room that I walk into could kill me the instant I enter, not much of a contest.”

Controller laughed for a few moments, and then he said, “I imagine everyone would like to have that rule for themselves, but you must know that I can’t do that. They can kill one another at any time they want to whether they are contestant or Resident.”

“That won’t do,” Kein mumbled to herself. “I’m afraid the monster…”

“You should be afraid of the monsters,” Controller told her. “I believe the contestants would be more afraid of them if they didn’t think this was some televised reality game show. My fault, I am sure. I am inclined to tell people half-truths when it suits me.”

She asked, “How about they have to answer three of my questions before they can kill me for that day? It would give me some breathing room.”

“Questions would force the Residents to interact with you, and this level’s Resident interplay with one another has become stagnate, so I think I like that rule. Let me see if the Coaches will agree,” Controller said.

“Coaches? Who are these coaches you keep referring to?” Kein asked, and when he didn’t answer, she said, “Hello..? You still there?”

 

Elsewhere, Controller’s room…

“I like the delivery woman’s idea,” Blue Wolf spoke first.

“But to give her such leeway,” Purple Rose stated. “Is it fair to the Residents?”

“I do not believe it is fair,” Red Phoenix said, and then she added, “But what rules are? I would like to see a change come to Basement Level, and maybe these questions are the key to one of us moving up.”

“Yellow Dragon, what about you?” Controller questioned.

“I’m undecided. Do we need a sixth Resident? I would prefer to move on without her in play.”

“You would,” Green Serpent told him. “You haven’t been here that long, but as for one who is ready to move up at any cost, I’m for the questions. I have been here the longest of the Coaches present, and I believe the Mortem could use some new flavor.”

“A show of hands then,” Controller said. “If at least three of you raise your hands, I will allow this new rule.”

Green Serpent, Red Phoenix, and Blue Wolf all raised their hands.

“I will let the contestant know,” Controller spoke.

 

Basement Level, Black Arrow room…

“I have the Coaches’ answer,” Controller called out over the intercom. “The majority have agreed. Most of them think it will make things more interesting, but what about your wager?”

“What do you mean?” Kein asked.

“What thing of value do you have to bet with? You wanted to add a rule, so now you have to pay for it by making a wager.”

“I don’t know if it has any value, but it should be obvious what my wager is. You already forced me to bet it.”

“What is that?” Controller questioned.

“I’ll be betting my life.”

“I guess you have already wagered it, so for you to accomplish your goal you must survive seven days. Now… besides the questions you agree to ask each Resident each day, the Coaches have a question for you. You will need to answer each one before we proceed, and the answer will only be given to the Coach who submitted the question.”

“Who are these coaches?”

“They are the ones you don’t see. They are the ones who are either for or against you.”

“Kind of a cryptic answer,” Kein said. “What are their questions?”

“First question. Who do you work for?”

“I work for Brown Deliveries.”

“I already looked into Brown Deliveries,” Controller told her, and then he informed her, “The company doesn’t exist.”

“Sure it does,” Kein said. “I was just there before I came here.”

“I suppose you are going to tell me you just started working there today.”

Kein muttered as she put a hand to her pants’ back pocket that held an invitation of sorts that she had read earlier, “Why do I feel like I’ve been set up for something?”

“I guess you answered that question as best as you could unless you are lying to us.”

“I don’t lie,” Kein spoke and then added, “I try not to lie.”

“Moving on,” Controller said. “The second question. Who are you? Terry isn’t your real name.”

“No, Terry was just on the uniform they had me borrow. I am known as Kein.”

“Third question. What is your taste in men?”

“Excuse me?”

“Sorry, but one of the Coaches wanted to know what kind of man you like. Tall, short, fat, thin, handsome, rugged, filthy rich, etc.”

“Can I pass?”

“Sorry, no. No one can pass unless the one who is asking the question allows them when a bargain has been struck,” Controller answered.

“I guess kind,” Kein replied. “I like a kind man. What sort of question was that?”

“I am not sure myself,” Controller replied. “Fourth question. What sort of skills do you have? Do you know a martial art or maybe you are an experienced marksmen.”

“I don’t think I have any skills,” Kein answered. “I haven’t found anything I’m good at yet that is worth mentioning.”

“Final question, and this one is a little odd…” Controller started.

She inquired, “Odder than the third one?”

“Afraid so, but what can I do but ask it,” Controller answered, cleared his throat, and questioned, “Of all the monsters that are on the Basement Level, who is the most terrifying and dangerous monster? You can take your time. You must need to think about it. There are so many to pick from and…”

“I don’t need any time,” Kein stated, and then she replied, “And the answer’s easy. The most terrifying and dangerous monster is…”

 

Elsewhere, Controller’s room…

“I never imagined she would answer the way she did,” Controller muttered to himself, and then he questioned the Coaches, “Is everyone satisfied with her answers? Speak up now if you aren’t. Good… well… You can always pay for one of the other Coaches question and answer if you are curious as to any, but for now… let us begin. We will proceed to normal play now that Opening is finished. Does anyone at this time wish to put up their Resident for trade?”

“I actually would like to revisit something we already talked about,” Yellow Dragon spoke up. “I think it would be interesting to have a sixth Coach join us. I like the wild card idea.”

“I think we should bring in another Coach,” Green Serpent voiced. “It will add more money to possible wagers.”

“I am sorry, but five Coaches is part of the rules, and this rule can’t be changed or amended,” Controller stated.

Blue Wolf questioned, “How will we determine who will possess this sixth Resident if she should survive the next seven days or kill one of the other Residents?”

“The answer is easy if she should kill one of the other Residents,” Controller replied. “She will belong to the Coach whose Resident was just killed.”

“And what if she survives the seven days?” Red Phoenix asked.

Blue Wolf spoke up, “We could make it a contest.”

Controller asked, “What sort of contest should we have to determine her Coach?”

“I know,” Purple Rose stated. “Why don’t we see who can earn the most off of her while wagering? We can all start with a thousand contestant points, and whoever has the most at the end, if she should survive the Probation Period, will acquire her as an additional Resident.”

“I don’t like that idea,” Green Serpent stated. “If she should die before the end of the Probation Period, we would have wasted a lot of wagering with no monetary gain.”

“How about this then?” Controller said. “All of you place a predetermined amount in the pot, and if the contestant should die, whoever has the most contestant points at her death not after, will gain the pot.”

“I like that idea,” Green Serpent replied.

“If no one objects, we will move forward with the Probation Period,” Controller said. “Let us determine the pot amount, and then we can take wagers on the contestant.”

Chapter Four

And Let The Probation Period Begin

Basement Level…

Kein slowly opened the Black Arrow room’s door and cautiously peered into the hallway after Controller told her the Probation Period had begun and that she needed to go to one of the Residents’ room to begin. He also told her that the Black Arrow room would no longer be available to her. Kein looked around the empty hallways and didn’t hear the werewolf pup, so she quietly made her way to the door with the pyramid above the doorframe. Kein stretched out her brown gloved hand to turn the knob when she thought she heard a ghostly wind. It wasn’t coming from the Basement Level; it was more like it was coming from the pyramid symbol itself. Kein lifted her gaze, and the moaning wind became louder, drawing her into an ancient time across the desert sands when men worshiped other men as gods. She saw a great Egyptian kingdom that was rich and prosperous. A wise king ruled over them, and the people seemed to love him. The king had a daughter, and he loved her dearly, he loved her more than his own life, but something terrible happened, and…

Kein slightly pulled from the vision and spoke out loud, “A father is…”

She saw more images of this Egyptian king and his daughter. They were very close, and she got this sensation that tragedy and deception had separated them. A lot of pain came from the symbol of the pyramid, and as she was caught up in this world that wasn’t her own, there was one emotion that was stronger than anything else.

“A father loves his children more than himself,” Kein spoke softly.

The emotions from that time wanted to pull her farther in, but fear kept her grounded, and Kein shook her head, ridding herself of some of the images and sensations in her head. She had heard the sound of the werewolf pup clawing at something, so she needed to move. Kein closed her eyes and opened them again, and the last of the images and sensations were gone, and she was mentally back at the Basement Level. She turned the knob and proceeded in.

The sand storm which had ravaged the decrepit tomb was gone and so were all the dead people, and there was no sign of the mummy. The outside of the tomb, which she had seen in one of her visions had once been a magnificent golden pyramid rising high into the sky, was now nothing more than a few worn giant blocks forming an entrance into an underground tomb. The rest of the pyramid which had been on the surface had been at one point destroyed, and its foundation buried by the sands of time. Ritualistic sensations of death and rebirth that seemed to threaten her own life, emanated from everything around her. It made her dizzy with sympathy mixed with trepidation, so Kein turned around and headed back for the door, but realized if she wanted to leave this place that kept her like a prisoner, she needed to complete her Probation Period to become a Resident.

She was a little afraid, but the burning fear wasn’t present, so she managed to lift her voice and call out, “Hello… I’m Kein. I’m a contestant. I’d like to ask you a few questions. I’m trying to…”

The horrific moan she had heard from the pyramid symbol outside, wailed from the corridors of the Egyptian tomb like some specter of her own doom as something came her way through the darkness of time itself. An upright sarcophagus appeared, floating a few inches off the ground and landed in the sand just outside of the tomb as if the sarcophagus was alive and standing on its own. Kein quickly backed up from it as sand and dust kicked up into the air. She covered her mouth and nose with her jacket to keep from breathing in the particles. The sarcophagus was laden with gold and other precious stones and gems symbolizing the prosperity of the land of Egypt, and it also bore the image of a man. The sarcophagus expelled a gasp and stale hot air escaped, then it creaked open as if it hadn’t been unsealed in a millennium, and Kein gulped as the mummy reached out his hand and pulled himself free of his eternal crypt. She saw his head next or maybe skull would be a better description. The dingy and aged once white line drooped around his neck as if the wrapping had once covered his skull. The mummy wore a royal headdress called a Nemes, and it had blue and white stripes with a rising gold cobra in its center. A fake beard was on his bony chin, and she couldn’t tell if he was laughing or screaming in silence as his mouth lay partially opened. The rest of his body except for his bony hands and feet was covered in the aged white linen wrappings. The mummy lifted his bony left hand, the one the carnivorous scarab beetles had earlier crawled out of and devoured the poor male contestant, and the mummy reached for her as he started her way in a shuffle.

Kein slowly backed up as she said, “I’m competing in the Mortem now, and I’m here to… I’m here to ask you a few questions so that I can… I’m not sure what I’m trying to do, but survive, so…” She continued backing up as she spoke or more like blubbered on, “I have questions for you. I’d like to know… umm…”

The mummy stopped, then he stretched out his right hand and lowered his left as if he changed his mind about what sort of death he would rain upon her, and the linen wrappings around the right arm shot out like a three-headed snake and seized her left wrist. Kein let out a scream and tried to break free of the dusty strips of cloth as images of a lush Nile world quickly flashed through her mind. The wrappings lifted as if they were tentacles, and they hauled her off the ground and pulled her toward the mummy. The burning sensation of fear returned, and all Kein wanted to do was escape the room before it was too late. She closed her eyes for a long time, but then the mummy grabbed her by her other wrist, and she reopened her eyes. He pulled her close so that they were face to face.

Kein trembled in his clutches as she dangled in the air. Fear wanted to act, but she resisted its urgent need to fight back and/or run. Her heart raced, and she found it hard to breathe in the dry air as the mummy seemed to study her.

“Don’t be afraid…” Kein softly spoke to herself. “Don’t be afraid. Everything will be fine. I still need to ask my questions.”

The mummy opened its mouth and screamed at her, and it was as if a hot desert wind blew over her, and the burning fear started to crawl up her spine again. She knew she couldn’t be afraid, she had to move forward, so the only thing Kein could think of to do was to ask her questions.

When Kein thought she had enough control over her fear, she forced herself to ask, “Question one, what is your name?”

The mummy again opened his mouth and screamed, and Kein closed her eyes until he finished his horrid hot vocalization.

“Your name please,” she repeated once he was done as she trembled in his clutches.

The mummy screamed again, but this time when Kein opened her eyes, his mouth was still opened, and she noticed something.

“No tongue,” she uttered. “You can’t speak because you have no tongue.”

The Mummy nodded his head.

“Oh… How are you going to answer my questions?”

The mummy released her one wrist, then lifted his right hand, and a glowing light illuminated the tip of his bony pointer finger. He touched the center of her forehead with the light, and then she could hear him in her mind.

“I will answer your second question like this,” the mummy replied, and then he stated, “And to answer your first question, my name is King Ammon.”

“Second question?” she repeated, then remembered her earlier outburst, and she sighed before saying, “Oh, right… I never expected to waste a question right from the start.”

“Are you the one who survived the Opening?” he questioned her.

“I am.”

“Who did you kill or betray to accomplish such a feat?”

“I…” Kein started as she wanted to reply that she killed and betrayed no one, but then she thought about the man and woman she abandoned who she might have been able to save. “I was a coward,” Kein finally replied. “I ran and helped no one. I let people die, and I thought only about surviving. I made it through Opening only because I was selfish and afraid.”

“A surprisingly honest answer, but you are no less deserving of death for abandoning your friends and comrades.”

“You’re right about what I deserve. I should have helped those people. I shouldn’t have run away even if I didn’t know them.”

“What sort of death will I give you?” he questioned her.

“I’m supposed to ask you questions before you kill and/or eat me,” she replied, and then she added a little bolder, “Actually you have to answer all three of my questions before you can kill and/or eat me.”

“What is your final question then?” King Ammon inquired.

Kein didn’t like the way he phrased it, but she said nothing about it, and stated, “Umm… I don’t know if you heard me before, but I’m Kein, and I’m a delivery woman, and I bring things to people. You received a package earlier. I brought that.”

King Ammon turned his gaze to the tomb as he spoke in her mind, “I did receive a package. I was not too happy to receive it.”

“Oh… Sorry to hear that.”

“Ask me your final question, so that I may answer it and kill you.”

“I would prefer that you not kill me.”

He glared at her with his empty eye sockets that flashed yellow with anger, and then they flashed red with rage as he demanded, “Ask your question.”

Fear awoke once more, more than it had done in nearly her entire life, and Kein took a deep breath, betting her life on her next words and asked, “If there was one thing that I could bring to you or one wish I could help you fulfill, what would it be?”

King Ammon peered at her for a long time as if he was actually considering her question, and then he muttered, “One wish…”

He raised his left hand close to her head near her temple to probe deep into her mind, but it wasn’t necessary for him to seize her thoughts. Images common to his own homeland freely flowed between the two of them, and they were of a striking cobra and a stinging scorpion. One of those images was very strong with the human, and the other image was very strong with the one he loved more than his own life. King Ammon glanced behind himself into the tomb as if seeing someone who wasn’t there, then he turned his attention back to Kein.

“Yes, one wish,” she replied as fear burned up her spine once again to the point of almost splitting apart her back as if fear would tear itself from her body. Kein knew the mummy’s next answer would determine what the monster would do as she repeated her question, “Do you have one?”

“I… I would have you…” King Ammon spoke as he looked her over. “I…” the mummy started again as he lowered her to the ground, and then he answered, “I would have you bring me the Waters of Life.”

“Waters of Life? What is that?”

“You are out of questions, daughter of fear,” King Ammon told her and started for his sarcophagus.

“So you’re not going to kill me?”

“You are out of questions,” King Ammon repeated.

“Wait! How can I hear you? I thought you couldn’t speak and that light thingy isn’t touching my head anymore.”

He didn’t say anything.

“Right,” Kein mumbled to herself. “No more questions.” She started for the door, then turned, and yelled over her shoulder, “I’ll see if I can find this Waters of Life for you, and if I do, I’ll bring it to you.”

She left and carefully and quietly entered the hallway looking for the werewolf pup. He was nowhere in sight, so she made her way to the door with the bat above its frame. Kein looked up at the symbol, and she thought she heard a woman laughing in a sinister way as a red mist of deceit clouded the vision. Kein entered and found the male vampire within waiting on her. The area was clear of victims and almost seemed warm and inviting if she didn’t know any better. The handsome vampire had hair dark as night and eyes pale blue as the moon, and he lounged on a red velvet couch in what appeared to be a parlor in a Victorian style mansion. Oil lamps lit up the area, and Victorian wallpaper and a lavish coffee table finished off the room. The vampire wore a red Lombard silk vest, white Excelsior dress shirt with an unbuttoned high collar, Livingston black brushed cotton trousers, and an undone black Paisley Ascot. A Victorian black top hat rested on the coffee table, and a black Donavan Frock Coat was laid over the couch.

“Ma chère, I’ve been expecting you,” he spoke with a Cajun accent. “Come… Come closer, so that I can see your eyes.”

Kein took a step back and reached out her hand, searching for the door behind her.

“I’ve been told that you will have three questions for me. I look forward to them. I’ll tell you anything you want to know, ma chère. Just come… come closer. We can become good friends.”

The red mist filled with pain and misery she had seen in her mind before entering, vanished from her thoughts as a seductive sensation flowed in, embracing her as if with loving masculine arms. This new sensation entered her lungs and seemed to caress her skin. The sensation didn’t make her afraid, it actually caused the opposite. Kein felt very relaxed, and she was tempted to go and sit beside him, but fear screeched out a warning, coaxed cowardice into her being, and she knew she had to get out of that room or she would never leave. Kein frantically searched behind herself and found the doorknob, turned it, and ran out without saying a word to him. She was so bombarded with desires she didn’t understand and flustered over the fact that she had these desires, that Kein forgot to check the hallway before she entered, and the werewolf pup was at the door with the black arrow, sniffing around it.

“Where are you?” he angrily called out. “Where did you go?”

He hadn’t seen her yet, so she crept up the hallway towards the door with the fish on it. The werewolf pup caught wind of her and turned and raced for her, but Kein ran and managed to reach the door and enter it before he came snapping near her.

Kein made sure the werewolf pup didn’t follow her in as she stepped back from the door and stared at it. This door also talked to her, not in words but images. She saw a beach and the waves crashing against it, and then the imagery pulled her under the ocean and into its gorgeous depths. She saw a great city beneath the water and… the images faded in blood and fire, and she saw no more.

“A sibling is… A brother is…” she spoke softly, then turned, and faced the room.

The white fog from earlier was all gone, and Kein could clearly see her surroundings. She had stepped into what looked like a giant swamp that went on before her as far as she could see, and there were wooden docks stretched out over the murky water in no apparent pattern. She was actually standing on one of the docks, but it was up in the air about twenty feet from the water. Cypress trees with Spanish moss hanging down from them filled the swamp land along with patches of tiny islands of floating vegetation. Insects, reptiles, amphibians, and other swamp creatures could be heard croaking, slithering, and splashing as they went about their daily lives. The air was thick and muggy, and the humidity made her sweat. Kein walked to the end of the raised dock and looked at a ladder that proceeded down to a dock that was about ten feet above the water. Another dock proceeded from that one, and it was about five feet above the water. The rests of the docks, as far as she could see, were sitting right on top of the water. There were also hundreds of chests scattered around the area like one might see a pirate store his loot in. Kein decided to stay put on the dock that was twenty feet up. She felt safer there. Kein didn’t like this place. There was too much water, so she hurried on with her objective.

“Hello… I’m Kein. Is anyone there?”

The murky water near a lower dock stirred as if something large swam just beneath its surface. A hand lifted from the waters like a drowning swimmer in need of help, but this hand was webbed and dark green. Another hand emerged and joined its brethren on the dock, and then a fish-like creature in human form lifted and came to rest on top of the dock. Water dripped from his form and landed on the wood, darkening the brown in spots and splashes. He wore tight fitting yellow swim trunks.

Old black and white movies came to mind, and Kein muttered, “Creature from the Black Lagoon.”

The fish-like creature peered at her for a long time, and then he questioned, “Did you say your name was Kein?”

“I said that I am Kein,” she replied.

“Is there a difference?” he questioned her as gills on the side of his neck flapped opened as if they breathed the air.

“I’ve been told it’s not really a name,” she answered.

“I see,” he stated. “It has been a long time since a contestant survived Opening, tell me… How did you do it?”

“I never actually competed,” Kein replied. “I mostly cowered and ran away.”

“I see,” he said. “I am still curious… Others have also cowered in the past and yet they did not survive. How did you manage to?”

“I don’t know how to answer you. I actually wasn’t competing in the beginning. I was only down here to deliver packages.”

“So you are the one who brought me my package?” he questioned.

She nodded.

He told her, “I wish you had not brought me that package.”

“I’m sorry, but I really have no say in what I do deliver or don’t deliver.”

“I am amazed by how quickly you have accepted your current situation,” he told her as he peered at her with his large greenish-blue fishlike eyes. “Most would have frozen up or denied this was even happening by now. I remember a contestant who did survive over ten years ago, and he went insane by the time he became a Resident and killed himself.”

“A grim story,” she said, and then Kein stated, “I prefer ones with happy endings.” She walked to the end of the twenty-foot dock, grabbed ahold of the railing that nearly surrounded it, gripped it as if it was the only thing keeping her from falling into the water, and then she said, “I’ve been told that I adapt very quickly.”

He moved and climbed up to the dock that was five feet above the water, and then he stopped and said, “Do you have three questions for me?”

She nodded and asked, “What are you?”

“I am a Piscispopulus or what you may know as an Atlantian,” he replied.

“Piscisp… Piscispopulus is a little hard for me to pronounce, so I’ll call you Atlantian or maybe I could call you Flounder.”

“I am not sure I understand how that name would suit me.”

Kein thought about it, and then she said, “I was making a reference to the Little Mermaid”

The Atlantian stated, “I do not remember a character with such a name in the book I read.”

“You’d have to see the Disney version of the movie.”

She squatted, so that she was more eye level with him, and said, “Something seems off about this place or maybe what I’m trying to say is… the two of you don’t mix.”

“Why would you say such a thing, uplander? Do you know a lot about my people?”

“I’ve never heard of your people,” she answered. “I just get this sense that you don’t belong here.”

“You are correct, I do not belong to your world.”

“That’s not true,” Kein spoke. “I meant this world that’s depicted in here… It’s all wrong for you. There should be a… a…”

“A shack?” the Atlantian inquired. “Do you believe I should have a shelter above the water?”

“No, that’s not it. There should be a… an… ocean,” Kein spoke as she remembered the earlier imagery. “You’re from the ocean and yet they put you in a swamp.”

“It is my prison,” he told her, then he moved, and climbed up to the dock that was ten feet off the water.

“Would you mind not coming any closer?” Kein questioned from her squatted position. “I really don’t know you, and I’m very afraid of…”

“Afraid of what?” he asked when she didn’t finish.

“I’m afraid of drowning. I never learned how to swim beyond flailing my hands about and screaming.”

“No one would call that swimming,” he told her, and then he asked, “What does drowning and myself have in common that you do not want me to come any closer?”

“I keep seeing this image of that guy you dragged into the water,” she replied. “He was up here, and then in a moment, he was gone, and I heard splashing. I imagine you drowned him.”

“I will stay right here,” the Atlantian told her. “What is your last question?”

Kein smacked her forehead as she said, “I did it again. I wasted a question.”

“Ask your question. I would like to return to the water.”

“If there was one thing that I could bring you, what would it be?”

“I see now,” he spoke with a smirk on his face. “You hope to survive by presenting yourself as a way for us to obtain things. What makes you think we cannot attain these things on our own?”

“This place is a prison. I don’t imagine prisoners have it easy getting what they want.”

“Salt…” he spoke, then turned, and headed back the way he came.

“Salt..? That’s it? You don’t want the Salt of Life or something unusually sounding like that?”

“You asked a fourth question,” he stated and then jumped into the water.

She straightened and muttered to herself, “You’d think if the Residents wanted these things so badly, they’d allow me a few extra questions.”

Kein cautiously left the room, glanced at the bat door in the distance, then went to the door with the beaker over it. She opened the door and peered in. The purple haze was gone and so was the pungent smell, and the man wearing the white lab coat no longer wore a gas mask. He stood before a table lined with beakers and tests tubes full of a rainbow of different liquids. He appeared to be human with dark black unkempt hair, long sideburns, and a scruffy face. There was someone else in the room to her right. A tall man about eight foot tall with stitched scars all over his body as if he had been sown together. His eyes were closed, and he was strapped to an examining table tilted straight up at nearly a ninety-degree angle. There was a four foot by eight-foot shelf behind the examining bed, and it was about six feet from the side wall. The shelf contained clear glass jars of liquid. She glanced to her left and saw three fire extinguishers lined up on the wall near the door. She turned back to the eight-foot man curious as to why he was there and seemingly dead.

“Frankenstein’s monster…” Kein muttered to herself.

“I am a very busy person,” the man in the lab coat told her. “Ask me your three questions.”

“What are you working on?”

“Something that you couldn’t even comprehend. Ask me your next question.”

“Do you have salt or the Waters of Life?”

“Salt I have, but technically you inquired on two separate items, meaning you asked a third question. Do you want the Waters of Life to be your final question?”

“No, my final question is… what could I trade with you for the salt?”

He looked up for the first time and stared at her as he said, “You appear to have nothing of value on you.”

“Maybe you want something that I can acquire for trade for the salt.”

“There is something, but I doubt you will be able to acquire it for me,” he told her.

“You won’t know until you let me try.”

“Answer a question for me first,” he said. “What is my name? I am very famous.”

Kein glanced back at the eight-foot man, then she moved closer to the table, and noticed that there was a curtain behind the man in the lab coat, and she noticed through the part in the curtain that a desk was back there.

“Before I answer, may I go look at your desk?”

“Another question, but I will allow it, that is the question and the permission,” he told her, and then he instructed her, “Do not touch anything.”

Kein went to the desk and looked over a few notes he had strung all over the top. She didn’t understand anything that was written down, and then she saw several bookcases, went to them, and looked over the volumes he had there. There were many many books on different subjects mostly having to do with science, but there were three books that caught Kein’s attention, and they were: Multiple Personality Disorder, Genetically Engineered: Are Super-soldiers Possible?, and Examining The Dark Side of Human Nature.

“I have my answer,” Kein told him as she returned through the curtain and stood by the table so that she faced him. “You actually have two names. I believe I am talking to Dr. Jekyll, but you’re also known as Mr. Hyde.”

He set down the test tube he had been examining and peered at her curiously. He turned, went through the curtain, glanced over his desk, glanced at the bookcases she was looking at, then returned to his table, and stared at her some more in amazement.

Kein asked him, “Why do you have Dr. Frankenstein’s monster?”

“He does not belong to me. He was only in this room when I was put in here,” Dr. Jekyll replied, and then he added, “I can tell you that he is incomplete.”

“What do you mean?” she questioned.

“Pieces of him have been removed like his heart. The monster is still alive, but he has never awoken since I have been here,” Dr. Jekyll answered, and then he asked, “How did you know my name?”

“I know quite a bit about Dr. Frankenstein, and he had no interest in some of the subjects that are represented in your books.”

“Your answer tells me how you knew I wasn’t him, but I want to know how you knew it was me.”

“I only guessed,” she said. “You’re the only doctor I have studied about other than Dr. Frankenstein.”

“What sort of school did you go to that you would study about us?”

“I really didn’t go to school,” she replied. “It was more like… I was taught things by different people,” she answered, and then she questioned, “Do you want to trade?”

“I was going to murder you and use your body in an experiment I’m conducting, but I can do that later. I will trade with you if you can bring me vampire saliva.”

Kein made a face as she stated, “I’ll see what I can do. I’ll need something to put it in.”

Dr. Jekyll handed her a small glass jar with a lid, and she pulled her single strap brown backpack to the front of herself and placed the jar in the backpack’s small zipper pocket on the front. Kein spun the backpack back around, so that it rested on her back, then went to the door, peeked her head out, and saw no signs of the werewolf pup. She glanced at Shukujo’s room, then decided she really needed to talk to the vampire first, so she went to his room instead. The male vampire was still lounging on his red velvet couch when she walked in.

“Ma chère… You have returned. I thought I had scared you off. Come… Come closer or better yet come sit,” the vampire told her as he patted the cushion seat next to him on the couch, and then he said, “Come sit beside me. We have much to talk about. Come… Come… We will be friends.”

The sensation of ease swept over Kein again within the light red mist, and she took a step to go to the couch and sit beside him, but fear spoke up and blazed alarm through her body, shaking off the effects of ease. She fled the room again without talking to him and headed for Shukujo’s room. Whispers and images flowed down from the spider symbol above the door, but this time Kein forced herself not to listen as fear angrily shouted at her for doing dangerous things, then Kein entered, made sure to stay behind the white borderline, and called out.

“Shukujo, I’ve returned. I haven’t gotten eaten yet.”

“I can see that,” Shukujo said as she spun down on a very large spider thread and landed on the floor about twenty feet away from the human. “I thought you would be very dead by now, but I hear that you survived Opening. Shukujo crawled toward the Kumo’sakai and stopped before crossing the boundary as she spoke, “It is ironic that a delivery woman, one who was never selected in the Draft, would be the one who was victorious.”

“I don’t feel victorious,” Kein told her. “I feel…”

“I do not care, human. I have even forgotten your name, not that it is important to me, but I am still surprised… You seem so ordinary to me. No, you seem especially ordinary and yet…” Shukujo stated as she put a hand on the back of her own neck as if it hurt, and she continued, “I still feel as though you hold something dark and sinister over me like some long forgotten secret.”

Kein hadn’t stopped talking when Shukujo interrupted, but mumbled to herself, “…isolated and afraid. I don’t know how I’m going to survive here.”

Shukujo dropped her hand from the back of her own neck as she said, “Did you hear a word that I spoke to you or were you so rude as to speak while I was speaking?”

“Umm… Wasn’t I talking first?”

“No matter,” Shukujo snapped. “You have a new job in this Mortem. I suggest that you get on with it.”

“Right…” Kein spoke and then asked, “Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”

“Of course I mind. I would sooner devour you than talk to you, but Controller has told me I must answer three of your questions first and then I can devour you.”

“Whoa…” Kein exclaimed as she stepped back and put out her arm to steady herself. “I really need to sit down and rest first. I didn’t realize how tired I was,” she stated as she went and sat in a corner on her side of the white borderline. “Oh… That’s much better. I thought being a delivery woman would have me on my feet all day, but I didn’t expect to be running and screaming in terror so much.”

“I would like to thank you for that,” Shukujo told her. “I did earn quite a few points off of you.”

“Must be nice. You know a lot about the Mortem, and I’m… I’m playing catch up to a speeding train.”

“It is nice,” Shukujo replied as she spread her arms and motioned slightly with her head to her new clothing. “I was able to purchase this kimono that I am wearing.”

“Oh… wow…” Kein uttered as she looked to the red silk garment with white flying cranes and gold highlights, and then she said, “It’s very pretty and suits you. I really like the pattern on this one. It makes me want to fly among all those birds as they soar freely about.”

“Thank you,” Shukujo said. “I just happened to pick out this pattern for the freedom it represents.”

Kein sighed and said, “I need to make points. There are things that I’ll need.”

“I noticed that you went to that deplorable vampire’s room twice. I thought maybe you were already under his spell, but I see no puncture marks on you anywhere. Has he hidden the bite marks, so that I would not see?”

“I never got close enough for him to bite me,” Kein replied, and then she sighed again before adding, “I still have to go back. I can’t seem to ask my questions, and I have to ask all five of you three questions before my day is considered done and over.”

“Your face is turning an interesting shade of red,” Shukujo spoke, toying with her. “Is it because of the vampire?”

“I think so,” Kein answered as she put both her hands on her own cheeks. “Every time I go there I get this weird sensation. I don’t know how to describe it. The red mist it’s…”

“Love,” Shukujo told her. “You have fallen in love with him.”

“Really..?” Kein uttered. “I can’t believe someone like me has discovered love, but… I thought there was more to it than being unable to talk and wanting to run away from the person in fear for one’s life.”

Shukujo lifted her hand so that her robe covered her mouth as she softly laughed at her naivety, and then she lowered her arm and said, “I actually should say that he is using his vampire lure on you. Vampires can replicate human hormones that attract the opposite sex.”

“Vampire mojo,” Kein uttered. “I have heard of that, and I was warned to stay away from vampires and their wilds.”

“Warned?” Shukujo repeated, scoffing her. “Most of your kind does not know that creatures like us exist, so how could someone warn you or do you speak of movies and books that glimpse into our world?”

“Maybe I phrased it wrong,” Kein answered. “I was warned that I should be wary of men who only have one thing on their minds. I wasn’t exactly told what that one thing was, but I should be wary of it.”

“Baka…” Shukujo uttered in a hearty laugh. “I remember your name now. Baka…” she laughed again. Shukujo chuckled some more, and then she said, “You can make me laugh. I do not know if you are this naive or if this is some sort of act to lower my guard.”

“No…” Kein sighed for the third time. “This is me.” She watched Shukujo for a while, and then Kein said, “Your entire being changes when you laugh. You look very happy when you laugh. It’s like you’re thinking of something or someone.”

“How did I look to you before?”

“Angry, not with rage, but with… almost sadness, and this anger consumes you,” Kein replied. “Is your happiness and your anger..? Are they over the same thing?”

“I cannot deny what you have observed, but I still will not answer,” Shukujo told her. “I do warn you not to pry too far.”

“I know,” Kein replied, thinking of the lady and how little she knew about her. “Your kind like their privacy so much so, you only let family and friends into your lives.” Kein thought about the spider symbol above the door and how she purposely ignored the visions that came with it as she stated, “I will respect your wishes.”

“You are wise to do so, baka,” Shukujo told her, and then she said, “I do not believe you were this talkative with the other Residents.”

Kein thought about it, and then she said, “I don’t know what it is, but I find it so easy to talk to you. I’m also not afraid here, so I can be myself.”

Shukujo grinned, and then she said, “I find our talks only annoying, and yet… there is something else about them that I cannot describe.”

Kein also smiled as she mumbled to herself, “A sister is…” She found some comfort sitting in the cold dungeon castle room, so she rested a few more minutes and then said, “I guess I’ll get to asking you some questions now. Do you know where I can find the Waters of Life?”

“I do,” Shukujo replied.

Kein waited for her to finish telling her, and when Shukujo didn’t, Kein asked, “Where are the Waters of Life?”

“In the middle of the swamp where that Atlantian lives.”

“If there was one thing that I could get you, what would that be?”

“That one is easy, but that is your sixth question. I have been generous since you made me laugh, baka, but my generosity has limits.”

“Seriously! I can’t seem to get my head in this Mortem,” Kein scolded herself. “I should have asked for ten questions per Resident, so I’d have seven in reserve for stupid mistakes like this.”

“I will answer this seventh question of yours for I do want you to know the answer.”

“Thank you,” Kein replied as a warmth she hadn’t felt in years filled the large empty space in her heart.

Shukujo noticed the human looked at her as she did when they first met, and she wasn’t sure that she liked it, so Shukujo told her, “If there was one thing that you could to for me, it would be for you to cross the Kumo’sakai and be standing beside me on this side.”

“You don’t mean standing beside you in a good way, do you? You don’t need to answer that one,” Kein told her as the small comfort she had found trickled away, leaving the large space hollow and void, and then she stated, “It seems all Kumovons like to talk to their food before they devour it.”

Her cruelty had its intended effect, and the human’s expression became one of despair as Shukujo replied, “Not so much for me, but in this case, it would seem that I have to wait, so I might as well talk.”

Kein remembered the lady had told her something similar in the past, and every time she thought of the lady, she couldn’t help but feel love and heartache all at the same time. Her treasured past filled her with so much joy, and yet it also caused her so much pain to remember how it all ended.

“You have that stupid grin on your face again,” Shukujo told her.

“Sorry, I can’t help it,” Kein told her as she smiled even bigger, but that smile only masked her loneliness. “You just remind me of her so much.”

“Her..? Your Kumovon lady..? She must have really wanted to devour you.”

“I guess,” Kein replied as her smile vanished. She thought about Head Mistress Blindheart’s words about clans and houses, and then she stated, “I thought so… but I’m not sure anymore.”

“How many days did you know her?” Shukujo questioned. “I will be surprised if you say past three.”

“Over seven months,” Kein replied. “I’m not very good at math, so you’ll have to figure out the days for me.”

“What was wrong with the Kumovon? I cannot stand being in the same room with you for over two minutes, how did she go that long without killing you?”

Kein thought about it; she didn’t really understand the danger she was in when she was a child, but thinking back now, she wanted to know why the lady never ate her.

“I will answer you if you will answer one more question for me,” Kein said.

“A bargain has been struck,” Shukujo stated.

“Huh?” Kein replied.

“You must also say a bargain has been struck, and then our deal has been made and neither of us can go back on it.”

“Oh…” Kein spoke, and then she said, “A bargain has been struck.” Kein then began her tale, “The Kumovon or the lady as I called her was injured as if she had been in a fight. She never went into great detail as to how she got hurt, and as to why she never devour me, she said I wasn’t big enough. She said that I was a little morsel.”

“You were a child then. You still must have been an annoying child,” Shukujo stated.

“I probably was. I wanted her to constantly teach me new things and tell me about your people. She taught me a lot about the world and a little about herself and your people.” Kein mumbled, “I think I was naive back then. The lady was never going to devour me.”

“I would say you were naive since you are very naive now,” Shukujo told her, overhearing her whispers, and then she inquired, “What is your final question?”

“Tell me about your family.”

“What sort of question is that?”

“It can be any little thing,” Kein told her, and then she asked, “Do you have brothers or sisters? What was your mother or father like?”

“What do you think is going on here? Do you think by asking me such a question we will become friends somehow? I will not answer it. Our kind can only be enemies,” Shukujo yelled at her, and then she hissed, “The name I picked out for you does suit you.”

“Shukujo,” Controller spoke over the intercom. “It looks like you will be penalized for refusing to answer a question you know the answer to. It might not be of the original three, but a bargain was struck.”

“What do you mean?” Kein asked.

“He means…” Shukujo seethed and then screamed at Controller, not in anger but more out of terror. She took a few steps back into her lair as she answered Kein, “He means that a punishment is coming.”

Shukujo turned to run deeper into her lair, but metal chains shot out of the walls and grabbed hold of each of her eight legs.

“There isn’t any running from punishment,” Controller said. “I do enjoy it when all of you try, but there isn’t any running from punishment. Now… I only need to select your penalty. Let me see… I used fire last time, so… What about scorpions? I know how you really love scorpions.”

Small walls on each side of the dungeon castle area slid up, and scorpions the size of large dogs crawled out and started towards Shukujo as if they were an invading army, and she was the fortress they needed to storm.

“Keep them away!” Shukujo shrieked. “I hate those filthy things. I hate them! I hate how they peer into your mind and past. Do not let them touch me!” She screamed at them, “Stay back or I will eat you alive! Keep away from me! Keep away from me or I will eat you!”

Kein stood from the corner and started toward Shukujo, but she stopped right at the white borderline. She gazed at the horde of scorpions with a sense of dread she hadn’t felt in a long time, a dread that had been a constant and familiar companion, and then she yelled, “You can’t do that to her!”

“Why can’t I?” Controller questioned. “Rules are rules. She didn’t answer your additional question, so she must be punished. Shukujo knew this when she made the bargain. She has been a Resident here for a long time.”

“Stop, don’t do this! You can’t do this.”

“You never answered my question as to why I can’t,” Controller said.

“You can’t because… You can’t because…” Kein repeated as she tried to think of a way to save the Kumovon without putting herself in jeopardy. “You have to stop! She answered my additional question. That was the bargain we struck. She just had to answer another question, and she did. She told me what happens if a bargain is violated!”

The scorpions stopped as if they heard some sort of unspoken command, and then they returned to the walls they had crawled out of. The chains that confined Shukujo released her and returned to their holds, and Shukujo breathed heavily as if she couldn’t catch her breath. She glared at the scorpions as they left in their victorious march. They might not have stormed the fortress, but they frightened the Kumovon to her very core.

“I hate them,” she muttered. “I hate them more than the Hanta.”

Kein took a step to help her, then looked down at the white borderline, and asked, “Are you okay?”

Shukujo started to answer that she was fine, but then she peered at the delivery woman with this horrified look like something had gone wrong, and she uttered, “No… No… No… This is a nightmare. This could not have happened.”

“It’s okay; the scorpions are gone now,” Kein said as the last of them left the lair, and the small walls slid close. “You’re safe now.”

“I do not mean them. I mean…” Shukujo started as the look she was giving her turned to one of loathing, and she said, “I do not owe you a thing, do you hear me? Just because you believe that you saved me somehow, I do not owe you a thing.”

“I forgot about the Kumovon pride,” Kein spoke, relieved Shukujo was agitated she had helped her, not that she was hurt in any way. “If I had helped you, if I had saved your life, you would be indebted to me. You would have this obligation to help me in some way to repay my kindness, and that Shukujo, would make you scream with…”

“Fierce annoyance,” Shukujo interrupted, glaring at the human.

Kein teased her, but she saw that the Kumovon really hated the idea of owing her anything, so Kein said, “It’s too bad you don’t owe me a debt. In this Mortem, I imagine a debt is very valuable but too bad you owe me nothing. I only pointed out the rules to Controller, and rules are rules.”

“What are you saying, baka?”

“I’m saying… I’m saying I did nothing for you, so you owe me nothing back.”

“As long as you are clear that I owe you nothing,” Shukujo told her. “I will never owe a human anything, never again.”

“I understand,” Kein told her, even though for the most part it was a lie. She didn’t understand Shukujo’s hatred towards humans, and Kein told her, “I’m sorry. My lack of knowledge of the Mortem and my curiosity about your people caused you…”

“What are you apologizing for, baka? I was not harmed in any way, and you cannot apologize enough to ever make up for the annoyance you are to me, so there is no need for your apology.”

Kein was taken aback. It was almost like Shukujo had told her not to worry about it. Kein stood at the white borderline for a long time, wondering if she put too much into Shukujo’s reply. A lot of time went by, and Kein didn’t know what to say, but then she remembered something and spoke, “I still need to go talk to the vampire.” Kein started for the door, paused, and asked, “Any pointers as to how to get around his mojo?”

“I do, but as you told Controller, I already answered all the questions I need to for today,” Shukujo answered her.

Kein sighed for the fourth time, a record for her in one day, then she left, and made her way to the final room.

Shukujo’s face softened as she watched the human leave, and then she said, “You do remind me of someone, baka. Someone I wish to forget about.”

Chapter Five

End Of First Day

In another room…

The vampire was still lounging on the couch when Kein slowly entered, but this time he looked bored out of his mind.

“Ma chère, you have returned. Come… Come sit with me,” he spoke to her for the first time as if he wasn’t sure she would approach him.

“I’m going to stand right here,” she told him. “My first question is…”

“No… No…” he interrupted, but not in an angry way. He was more frustrated that she was in a hurry, and he stated, “Stay a while. Let’s get to know each other.”

“Okay,” Kein said. “Tell me about yourself.”

“Come… Come sit first,” he urged.

“I’ll come a little closer each day, but today I’ll stay here. You’re a bloodsucker, and I’d like to keep mine.”

“A cautious creature, ma chère… Fine, what do you want to know about me?”

Kein thought before she answered each of his questions so that her answers were not in the form of a question.

“Tell me about yourself, your family, and the place you were born.”

The vampire began as he gestured with his hand as if conducting an orchestra, “Let me weave a tale for your ears. My twin brother and myself were born in 1888 outside of New Orleans. Our father was a tobacco baron and royalty in his own mind. Our mother was sickly, so she passed on when we were two. I have no other siblings. My fraternal brother and I lived the life of high society, indulging in any whim we desired.

She thought he was very opened compared to the other Residents, and she asked, “What is your name?”

“I am either Labaron or Lafayette. No one could ever tell us apart, not even our father or the slave woman who raised us.”

“I see. It’s a game,” Kein replied as she loved games that didn’t involve life or death situations. Her next question was aimed at herself as she spoke, “Which of the two are you?” She said to him, “I don’t know enough about you yet, so I’ll try out each name. I’ll start with Labaron.” He gave no hints as to whether or not she selected the correct name, so she asked, “Labaron, how did you end up here?”

“Here as to this room? It was a reward for slaying a windigo. Nasty creatures who don’t care who they eat. Did you know that the living and undead are fair game to them?” he questioned, and when she didn’t answer, he asked, “Or do you mean how did I end up on the Basement Level? I had actually made it to Level 2 but was punished and sent back here. Did that answer your question?” He waited again, and she didn’t say anything, so he asked, “Or did you mean how did I end up in the Mortem? Treachery is why I am here.”

“How did you become a vampire? Were you born or turned?”

“I wish not to speak of when I was sired. It is still a touchy subject for me.”

“I withdraw the question for now, and I’ll ask…”

“Answer my question, and I’ll answer more of yours,” he spoke. “You have met all the Residents on Basement Level. Tell me what you know about them so far. It’s a quiz,” the vampire told her, then leaned over to the table, lifted a clear lid to a red button, and pushed it.

“What’s that for?” Kein asked.

“You could say that it gives me about thirty minutes of privacy. I can only use it once a day.”

“I don’t understand. Explain this privacy.”

“You’ll learn about it later. Right now you’re taking a quiz, ma chère. I just want to see how right I am about you.”

“I usually don’t do very good with quizzes, but here I go,” Kein told him. “King Ammon is a mummy who belongs to Corruptiaregenesis Class.”

“Meaning..?” Labaron inquired of her.

“Meaning his classification is among those beings who have been created by a curse. It’s also known as Corrupt’genesis for short.” Kein felt like she was back in school as she continued, “Kumovons and Piscispopulus are both of the Naturalisgenesis Class or natural born. Dr. Jekyll and Frankenstein’s monster are of the Genesis Scientia Class or created from science, but that classification can also include those who have been mutated by some other method. The werewolf pup and yourself are Infectiogenesis Class which are created by an infection. Some vampires are natural born, but since the vampirism virus is passed on, those vampires are still considered in the Infectiogenesis Class. A bio-engineered zombie would fall into that classification as well, but they could also be considered Genesis Scientia Class.”

“Is this true of all zombies, ma chère?”

“No, a zombie created from a voodoo ceremony, that zombie would fall under the Corrupt’genesis Class, but as a lower form since they are controlled by a master.”

“I’ve heard those classifications before,” Labaron told her. “They’re definitely human, and they only refer to…”

“Monsters,” she replied.

“Yes,” he said as he smirked. “They only refer to us monsters, and by you telling me all this, I believe I know something about you, something you might be keeping as a secret.”

“I do have secrets, but that’s not one of them,” she stated, keeping up with the cryptic talk he started. “Tell me about the other Residents,” Kein said, and then she added, “It was our bargain.”

“You have learned much about the Mortem on your own,” Labaron stated, and then he answered her question, “King Ammon has been here on Basement Level the longest. He rarely associates with any of us, and I get this feeling that he never wants to leave the Basement Level as if he’s waiting on someone.” Labaron leaned forward and grabbed a cherry from a dish of them that sat on the coffee table before him, and then he said, “The Atlantian has been here almost as long as King Ammon, but he hasn’t always been on Basement Level. I don’t know much about him. He does like books and games, but I have heard he is much much older than King Ammon. The creature you’ve seen roaming the hallways is our newest addition. He’s been here about a year, but he isn’t a Resident. None of the Coaches have claimed him for he’s more of a guardian than a Resident. Dr. Jekyll has been here almost as long as I have. He was here when I was banished back to the Basement Level.”

“Does that mean you progressed to the next level shortly after coming here?”

“Keen ears, ma chère. I broke a record for fastest progression up to the next two levels, and then I broke another record for being banished back the fastest.”

“What about the Kumovon?”

“Now she’s interesting.” He put a hand to his cheek as if remembering some slap, and then he said, “I don’t think she likes me. She has been here about five years.”

“The building, the Mortem… tell me more about them.”

“The Mortem has been going on for hundreds of years in this very spot,” Labaron told her. “I believe a castle was here at one point. The office building you saw on the surface was built about thirty years ago. The previous office building was destroyed in some fire.” He picked up another cherry and continued, “The Mortem is were a bunch of wealthy people bet on… how should I put it? They bet on outcomes of certain situations. There are many rules and everyone must abide by them. Our level is run by Controller, but the Mortem Masters run the show, and there is at least one Coach for each Resident and vice versa.” He ate the cherry, and then told her, “Our part in the Mortem is to survive.”

She thought about his comment, and then she asked, “Escape, tell me about it.”

“Many have tried to escape, but I don’t know of any who have succeeded. Humans are rare in the Mortem. They usually never make it to Level 1, and they always make up the Opening. It is a good thing, I was running a little dry.”

Kein thought about his answers. It was all so overwhelming, and there was still so much she didn’t know.

“I still don’t understand, what is the point of the Mortem?”

Labaron answered, “I’ve always wondered that myself. Are we all here only for others’ entertainment or is there an underlining reason to all of this, some dark reason or secret?”

She didn’t expect for this vampire to answer so many of her questions, so she never planned on asking more than a few. Kein decided the most important thing was that she needed to rest and find a place she could safely do so.

“What one thing would you ask me to bring you the next time I come?”

“Blood…” Labaron told her. “I could always use blood, but with the last Opening, I should be good for a few days.”

“I can’t think of anything else to ask you, so I’m going to be going now,” Kein told him.

He said, “Remember your promise, you’ll come a little closer tomorrow.”

Kein opened the door and started to leave the room when a sound drew her attention to something in the corner she had overlooked. A large bat on a gothic-style grandfather clock came to life and loudly screeched as it flapped its wings. It was so sudden that it startled her, and she turned back around to see what caused the commotion.

“What was that?” she uttered as the clock chimed its first bong-sound out of twelve.

Controller spoke over the intercom, “It’s the end of day chime. No Resident is allowed to harm another Resident from the witching hour to the break of 3 A.M.”

“I thought something was attacking me,” Kein stated as she put a hand to her chest. “My heart’s still beating…” She took a couple of deep breaths, and then she asked, “Is it that late?” She glanced in the hallway as she realized she had left herself open to attack and questioned, “What about the werewolf pup? Is he..?”

“He has been called to his cage,” Controller told her. “He will not be released until 3.”

“What now?” Kein asked. “Do I have a room? I’m exhausted.”

“Only Residents have rooms. You will have to make do with what you can find, and I should remind you that the Black Arrow room is no longer available to you.”

“It’s not very nice to kidnap someone and not have a room and bed for them,” Kein complained, and then she glanced around the dark hallway that was darker than it should be with all the torches. Something seemed to rustle within the shadows and the areas of blackness, and she decided she couldn’t stay out there, so she said, “I heard that there’s a point system. Did I make any points today, and if I did, what can I use them on?”

“You did make points for the Opening, and you can spend them on whatever you would like.”

“I’d like a sleeping bag, a blanket, a pillow, and something to eat.”

“Just how many points do you believe you made today?” Controller questioned her. “You don’t have enough for all of those things.”

“What can I get from the things I requested?”

“You could get a pillow.”

“I really should eat something, but I really need a pillow too.”

“I’m feeling generous,” Controller told her, and then he asked, “How about you can purchase a pillow without a pillowcase, and I’ll give you an apple?”

“I guess it’s better than nothing,” Kein said, and then she asked, “Where do I get these items?”

“Walk over to the door with the black arrow.”

Several seconds later…

“I’m here.”

“When the arrow turns green, open the door,” Controller instructed her.

Kein looked up, and when the arrow turned green, she opened the door to find a pillow minus the pillowcase and a very small red apple.

“One last question,” she began. “Where is the truck cart dolly that I brought in with me?”

“I had it removed before the start of Opening, so no one would hurt themselves tripping over it.”

“Wouldn’t want that,” Kein mumbled. “Nothing like a contestant dying before one of the Residents had a chance to dismember them.”

“What did you say?”

“Nothing, can I have my dolly back?”

“You can,” Controller replied. “I will have it delivered before 3 A.M.”

“Thank you,” she said. “Never know when it might come in handy.”

Kein wearily walked to Shukujo’s room, entered, moved over to the corner, set her pillow down, sat down, leaned against the wall, and started eating her apple.

“I don’t think I’ve seen an apple this small before,” she complained. “I’ll have it ate in three bites.”

Shukujo crawled in from the back of her lair, and she questioned, “What are you doing here?”

“I’m not a Resident, so I don’t have a room yet.”

“You cannot stay here. Go bunk with one of the others.”

“One, they’re all guys, two, I’d never get any sleep in their rooms cause I’d be too afraid they’d kill me in my sleep or worse.”

“You believe that I will not?” Shukujo questioned her.

“As long as I stay on this side of the Kumo’sakai, I’m ninety-five percent sure I’ll be fine or is it eighty-nine percent?” Kein spoke, and then she mumbled, “Anyway, don’t you owe me for earlier?”

“What was that?”

“Nothing,” Kein said as she finished the small apple which only made her stomach growl all the more. “Anyway, you’ll enjoy having me here. You’ll have someone to talk to.”

“Why would I want to talk to you? I want to kill you, make you scream in delightful pain, but I definitely do not want to talk to you.”

“Sure you do,” Kein said and then she yawned.

Shukujo yawned also.

“You like me, you just don’t know it yet. You may never realize it, but you like me.”

“You are trying to upset me and see if I will break taboo and cross the Kumo’sakai.”

“No, I’m only… I’m only trying to talk away my own fears. It’s hard being down here alone, but I can at least pretend that I have you. Yes, we’re very good friends. We’re so good of friends that I have given you a name and you like it, and we are very close to you telling me your real name.”

“Baka, you say things that do not make any sense.”

Kein yawned again, and then she said, “I know. I’m a baka. The existence I want is all imaginary, and the existence I have is becoming unbearable.”

“You are so unusual. Did you have any friends among the humans?”

Kein hugged the pillow tightly as she asked, “In which of my worlds, the imaginary or the real?”

Shukujo answered with, “I care not of your imaginary world.”

“No, I’ve no friends among the humans, but that did give me a lot of time with myself, and I’ve gotten to know myself very well.”

The giant spider part of Shukujo’s body lay on its belly as if it liked to hear Kein speak, and her voice lulled it into a calm rest while Shukujo continued to talk to the human, “You always seem to find the positive of every situation. Are you cursed with the silver lining syndrome?”

“I know all too well that there are things that can never turn out no matter what I do, so I don’t think I have this disease you speak of,” Kein answered. “I just make myself see something positive if at all possible. It’s the only way that I’ve been able to…”

She stopped speaking.

“Go on,” Shukujo coaxed her as she rested her elbow on the large spider head that was in front of her torso and leaned her head on her hand. “Do not stop now. Explain to me why you have to be so cheery.”

“It’s the only way that I know how to survive the darkness. It’s the only way I can keep putting my shoe in front of the other.”

“I am not sure I understand,” Shukujo said as the spiders that lived in her lair slowly came out of their lodges and moved closer to the two as if some sort of harmony was being forged.

“Moving forward… Not giving up… Keep on living, that’s what I mean,” Kein spoke as she placed a hand over the pants’ back pocket that held the invitation, and then she said, “Everyone needs something to live for.”

“I think I understand,” Shukujo replied. “It is like my plan for revenge. My goal in life is to make those who hurt me suffer.”

“Kind of,” Kein told her. “But I was thinking of much happier thoughts.” Her eyes started to grow heavy, so she repositioned her pillow, then lay her head on it, and asked, “Shukujo, what makes a person a monster?”

“Person?”

“I mean all of us beings.”

Shukujo laughed.

“You don’t believe a human can be a monster?” Kein questioned.

“I know humans can be monsters. I have just never heard a human think of any other human as a monster.”

There were a few moments of silence, and then Kein said, “You’re right.”

“About what?”

Kein rubbed the middle of her back between her shoulder blades as she spoke, “Humans can be monsters. They do cruel things to their own kind.”

Shukujo realized she was also tired and started to nod of where she lay, and then… her eight eyes flew open in self rage. She had spoken with a human like she used to, she spoke to a human as if their kind weren’t at war with her own. Shukujo quickly stood, then paced next to the Kumo’sakai with her eight legs as she considered the consequences of getting too close again, and after a few moments, she said, “I cannot have you here. You need to leave.”

“It’s so cold in here,” Kein said as she pulled her legs up and lay in a fetal position. “It must get colder at night. I can see my breath. How can you stand it?”

“Did you hear me?” Shukujo yelled at her as memories from her own sad and dark past flashed through her mind. “I want you to leave, and I want you to leave right now!”

“There must be a draft. You should have the Controller do something about the draft.”

“Are you purposely ignoring me?” Shukujo questioned her.

Kein sighed, and then she asked, “Where do you want me to go? There’s no place else.”

“I do not care where you go as long as it is not here. No, I take that back. I can make you a nice warm bed. All you have to do is cross the Kumo’sakai, and I will wrap you up in something warm.”

“Something warm,” Kein repeated as if the words incited some memory she had safely tucked away, and then she spoke softly, “Like threads of white.” She shook off her past, not wanting to linger in sweet memories that only brought her sadness, so she focused on her present and told the Kumovon, “The offer is tempting… but I will decline for now.”

Shukujo screamed an angry shout.

Kein heard the outrage and misery within the scream, and she spoke, “You must really hate humans. A human must have done something very terrible to you.”

“Hate is too mild a word,” Shukujo told her. “I despise all your kind, especially those of you of the Hanta. They do not care who they kill. All of us monsters are the same.”

“I don’t know what to say to you,” Kein told her. “My kind can be very cruel, but they can also be compassionate.”

“Are you talking about yourself?” Shukujo asked.

“Me..?” Kein chuckled. “No, I don’t think of myself as compassionate. I’m more of…”

“I don’t really care,” Shukujo told her. “Leave before I decide to break one of my clan’s taboo, and I cross that line and…”

“Don’t do that,” Kein snapped at her as she sat up. “At the most, you’ll only have to put up with me for six nights, and it’s not like we’re having a slumber party.” She slowly lay back down and said, “If you go deeper into your lair, I don’t think you can even see me. Just turn your back on me and go further into your lair.”

“What a cruel thing to say,” Shukujo spoke softly as she got this distant look. “Humans are so cruel.”

Kein wasn’t sure why the Kumovon would say that. She didn’t think there was anything cruel in her statement, but she did get a sense that the Kumovon may have been speaking to someone else, someone who existed in her thoughts.

“I will still know that you are here,” Shukujo yelled at her, drowning her past with her rage. “And do not speak to me as if we are equals. You claimed to have known one of my kind, but I do not believe you ever knew her as you say. Our kind never mix. We only kill or eat the other.”

“I’m really tired. I’m going to sleep now,” Kein said as she took the pillow and turned so that she faced the stone wall.

“You are not going to leave no matter how much I yell at you, are you?”

Kein didn’t reply.

Shukujo threw up her hands, and then she stomped her way to the back of her lair as much as any spider could. Kein rolled over once she couldn’t hear her complaining about her presence, then Kein took her pillow, and hugged it like a giant teddy bear. She thought about everything she had gone through that day and just wanted to cry.

 

Shukujo stomped all the way back to her lair and moved over to a roaring fire in a large fireplace. She lowered herself to her belly and warmed her hands.

“It is chilly…” she mumbled. “I doubt Controller would ever take care of the draft in here, and it does get much colder at night.”

Shukujo slowly closed her eyes and fell asleep. She woke sometime later. She heard sounds softly echoing through her lair, and they were coming from the front were that deplorable human was, so Shukujo headed back, but with lighter steps. She stopped when she could make out what the baka was saying, and Shukujo realized she was singing. The human’s voice was terrible and slightly off key, but Shukujo recognize the song. It was a lullaby that was known only to her clan.

Kein sang, “When the shadows fall and night has come, know I will wrap you in threads of white. When beasts of darkness prowl and eat, know that I am here as I wrap you in threads of white. No one will hurt you… No one will harm you… I am here, and you are safely tucked in my threads of white. Time has come to shut your eyes as I spin my web around you.”

Rage filled Shukujo’s heart, and she started to race out to the human to scream at her some more, but then she heard Kein start to cry. Her sobs were filled with fear and trepidation, but they also lamented of loneliness. Shukujo pulled back into the shadows and listened as Kein started the song over.

She never knew Shukujo was there, lost in her own memories and heartache. Kein unzipped her jacket and removed the braided necklace the lady had given her so long ago. She still wore it but safely tucked under her t-shirt, and she stared at its intricate braids as she played with the necklace.

Kein sang softly, “My child… My child… Why has sleep not touched your eyes? Do you fear the howling wind or the creatures of the night? There are many things to fear and many things that fear us but know one thing, I am here. When the shadows fall and night has come, know I will wrap you in threads of white. When beasts of darkness prowl and eat, know that I am here as I wrap you in threads of white. No one will hurt you… No one will harm you… I am here, and you are safely tucked in my threads of white. Time has come to shut your eyes as I spin my soft web around you. Fear not my child as you sleep in my cocoon’s warm embrace. My threads of white will hold you tight, so when shadows fall and night is here, know I love you and you are safe. When beasts of darkness howl and scream, know that I will never leave you. No one will hurt you… No one will harm you… I am here, and you are safely tucked in my threads of white. Time has come to shut your eyes as I spin my soft and warm web around you. Hush now… close your eyes… as I spin you in my threads of white.”

 

Elsewhere, Controller’s room…

Nearly an hour after end of day chime…

“That is it for day one of Kein’s week,” Controller spoke to the Coaches. “Since all of you have finished paying out your wagers and adding bets for tomorrow, we can call this day and this session at an end for us. We will meet once again in let us say six hours, and at that time, we will see if anyone would like to make any new wagers.”

One by one, the Coaches’ feeds went dark till only Blue Wolf’s video remained.

“Was there something you wanted to ask me?” Controller questioned her.

“No,” Blue Wolf replied. “It is just that…” She listened as she watched video of Kein, and then she finished, “The poor thing must be very lonely to be singing in a place like this, and I also believe the lullaby must be very precious to her for her to remember after all these years.” Blue Wolf paused as if to say something else, but then she just said, “Tragic she cannot hold a tune.”

Blue Wolf’s feed went black…

Chapter Six

The Second Day

Kein didn’t remember any more about that night except that she cried herself to sleep, and she woke the next morning with Shukujo glaring down at her from her spider-tower.

“What time is it?” she asked the Kumovon.

“It is time that you left my lair,” Shukujo replied. “You also only have two more questions to ask me today.”

“Ahhh…” Kein complained half asleep. “I keep falling into your trap.”

“If you fell into my trap, I would be gorging on you by now,” Shukujo told her. “Get up and ask me your next two questions.”

“Hold on… Hold on…” Kein spoke as she sat up, and then she complained, “I thought it was bad sleeping on the ground out in the woods, but this floor, it’s like rocks.”

“Baka, it is rocks.”

“Right,” Kein stated. “I was sleeping on rocks. It might have been hard, but for some reason, I slept so soundly. I haven’t slept that soundly since…” she spoke and then whispered, “…since that time that only seems like a dream now.”

“I doubt you slept as soundly as you claim. You are in the lair of a Kumovon.”

“I am…” Kein stated with a smile. “…aren’t I?” She whispered, “I slept here as if I felt safe.”

Kein slowly stood and stretched, but it didn’t help her sore and tired muscles. Her stomach grumbled, and then she complained, “I’m so hungry.”

“Cross the Kumo’sakai, and you will not have to worry about your hunger, and you can satisfy mine.”

“See, I told you you liked me,” Kein teased her as she sat back down too tired to keep standing. “You want me to come visit you.”

Shukujo decided not to play along with her this time, crossed her arms, and demanded, “Ask me your questions.”

“Hold on. I can’t think just yet,” Kein told her as she leaned her head against the wall and then closed her eyes.

“Do not go back to sleep,” Shukujo yelled at her.

“I’m not. I’m trying to think.”

“You do not look like you are thinking.”

“I am,” Kein insisted. “I’m talking to you, aren’t I?”

“Talking in your sleep,” Shukujo spoke harshly. “Hurry and think.”

“I can’t when your yelling at me,” Kein told her.

Shukujo started to scream, “I don’t care if..!”

“Shh…” Kein nearly whistled out as she put a finger to her own lips. “Quiet now.”

“Why should I?” Shukujo questioned.

“I’ll tell everyone what good friends we are if you don’t,” Kein told her.

Shukujo scoffed, “They will not believe you.”

“They will if I tell them your name.”

“You cannot possibly know my name,” Shukujo said.

Kein threatened, “I will tell them it’s… it’s Cherry Blossom.”

“Cherry Blossom is not my name.”

“How do they know?” Kein asked her. “Are you going to tell them your name?”

Shukujo thought about it, and then she said, “The moment I believe you are a complete baka, you say something like this that makes me believe you have been deceiving us this entire time.”

Kein made no comment to her statement and just said, “I have no idea what I want to ask you yet, so I’m going to go see one of the other Residents.” She stood, removed a hair tie from a pocket, and then pulled her hair back as she mumbled, “I really need to brush my teeth.”

“You do look terrible,” Shukujo stated. “You really should eat something before you go. It might help you wake up.”

“It would help, but I spent all my points last night on that pillow.”

“I cannot see how you spent all of your points you earned for winning Opening on a pillow,” Shukujo told her.

“I don’t understand how the points work, but I also thought I’d have more to spend,” Kein told her as she headed for the door. “I think I’m missing something about the rules of the Mortem.”

Kein cautiously entered the hallway looking for the werewolf pup. He was no were in sight, so she made her way to the vampire’s parlor. She paused as she looked up at the bat symbol above the door frame, and then she thought she heard voices like those at a party, and then Kein heard the laugh of a sinister woman that she had heard before. A few images came to mind of dancing and drinking, then she entered, and the vampire was nowhere in sight, so she called out to him, “Labaron, are you there?”

The couch creaked opened, and Kein realized that a coffin had been built within the couch or a couch had been built on top of a coffin.

“What time is it?” he called out from the darkness of his bed.

“I have no idea. I don’t have a watch, and I seemed to have misplaced my phone.”

“I believe it’s still morning,” he told her with grogginess thick in his voice. “Come back when the sun is no longer up.”

“How can I tell?”

He pointed to a gothic-style grandfather clock in his room that Kein caught sight of the night before. The grandfather clock looked old and detailed carvings of bats, wolves, and rats covered it. She noticed it was 7:15.

“Why are you up so early?” he asked. “Did your roommate kick you out?”

“You better not let the Kumovon hear you say that?” Kein warned. “She wants nothing to do with me.”

“We have that in common,” Labaron told her as he pushed the lid of his coffin all the way over, and he sat up. “I don’t believe I’ve been up this early in a long time.”

Kein noticed she swayed, so she went and leaned on the wall by the door still tired, and asked, “Do you want me to come back later?”

“No, this is fine. I can sleep anytime,” he told her, and then he inquired, “What questions do you have for me, ma chère?”

“I wanted to ask you about the Atlantian.”

“It looks like you have decided on a strategy,” Labaron spoke, then licked his tongue over his fangs as if he had morning scum, and added, “Beings are more inclined to talk about others than themselves.”

“You already caught on to my strategy, and here I thought I was being sly,” Kein spoke. “Getting the others to talk beyond the three questions is impossible, but you seem more willing to speak to me than them.”

“I have been told that I like to talk,” Labaron stated. “I am also doing it because I want to spend more time with you. Rarely do I have a chance to speak to a human.”

“Is it because of the Blood Rage?” she asked.

“How would you know of such a thing?” Labaron inquired of her. “I believe my theory from last night might just be correct, and if so, I know one of your secrets.”

“I’m only keeping two things a secret, and it’s not what you think, and as for the Blood Rage, I just guessed about it. Since you’re a prisoner here, you wouldn’t have access to blood all that often, and when a vampire doesn’t feed, they can go into this rage that causes them to turn into a blood-thirsty animal whose only desire is to gorge themselves on blood.”

“Younger vampires have that problem,” Labaron told her. “But I am well over a hundred years old.”

“You’re also an inductus’vampir, one who’s not born but turned. A vampir’borne, one who is a vampire in the womb, has more of an ability to deny the Blood Rage, but inductus’vampir usually always succumb to it no matter how old they are.”

“How do you know that I am an inductus’vampir and not royal born?”

“I’m only guessing again since you said your mother died,” she replied. “I don’t know if there’s a difference in their outward appearance or in their essence between royal born and those turned, but you seem…”

“Go on, ma chère. Don’t stop now,” he spoke a little offended when she stopped. “You were going to say ordinary.”

“I don’t know what I was going to say, but it wasn’t ordinary. An inductus’vampir is still extraordinary.”

“You’re a careful one, backing off when you sense you might be in danger and then speaking to my sense of curiosity to encourage me to forget your insult, so I will play your game,” he said and then asked, “How so, ma chère? How is an inductus’vampir still extraordinary?”

“Vampires and werewolves are infected with a virus that wants to kill them, and yet they manage to live in a sort of harmony with this virus,” she replied. “I’m not saying I want to be a vampire, but I’m jealous of the harmony you have with your infection.”

He laughed at her reply for it was so unexpected, and then Labaron said, “Vampires might be in harmony with their virus, but with my kind, it always comes down to family,” he spoke with a little bit of frustration. “All I ever wanted was to live a carefree life of wine, women, and indulges of dance and fine food.” He looked down at his thin pale body and muttered, “Who wants to live forever as a corpse who has to feed on others to survive? I would prefer to be merry with others.”

Kein wasn’t sure what to say to him, so she remained silent.

“Look at what I have done,” Labaron spoke up as his demeanor brightened. “I have cast a shadow over our joyous encounter. You wanted to know about the Atlantian.”

He left his coffin and shut it so that he could sit on the couch. Labaron sat, crossed his legs, then patted the seat next to him as he said, “Come… Come sit with me and enjoy these cherries.”

She looked to the bowl of cherries, tempted to take him up on his offer as she was still hungry from the night before, and she asked, “I see that the bowls full again. It was half gone the last time I was here.”

“It was one of my rewards,” Labaron told her. “I was told that I could have anything, and I wasted my wish on something so…” he began as he stared at the cherries, then grabbed one of the dark red fruit, popped it in his mouth, and pulled the stem off the cherry. “…delicious, and they’re seedless, but still a waste of a wish. I receive a new bowl of them every day whether or not I eat of the previous one. I do love them, but I really should have requested blood. You should really have some. They will only go to waste if you don’t.”

Kein thought once more of walking over to the coffee table, but she decided to remain where she stood.

“I don’t understand why you do not come over here,” he spoke. “It isn’t like I can’t come to you.”

“I know,” she spoke. “Staying by the door is my way of getting used to new environments. Fear and shyness must be taken into consideration.”

“Shyness, I do like that in a woman, but to use it as an excuse…” Labaron spoke and then dropped the matter as he ate another cherry, and once he finished it, he sat up, touched the red button that was on the coffee table, and then he sat back.

Kein diverted her gaze, so not to drool all over the place as she said, “Tell me about the Atlantian.”

“He’s knowledgeable about many things,” Labaron told her. “I heard he’s even older than the mummy. His civilization was destroyed long ago, but a few of his people survived. I don’t know why he’s here. I’m guessing he’s after something. Why else be here? He also has an obsession with playing games of all sorts.”

“I thought this was a prison. Why would anyone come here to acquire something?”

“I think you misunderstand the Mortem. Not all Residents are prisoners and not all Coaches are willing participants.”

“I really don’t understand the Mortem, but I need to win it, so I can leave. I can’t be here. A week may be too long.”

“A week..? You really don’t understand the Mortem,” he laughed. “Who else should we talk about?”

“King Ammon.”

“He doesn’t talk much,” Labaron laughed to himself, and then he said, “You could say that the cat has his tongue. No, really… that is the rumor. His tongue is in a canopic stone jar with a cat’s head on it.”

“Have you spoken to him?” Kein asked.

“Have you not been listening?” he questioned. “The mummy has no tongue.”

She thought about her question carefully, and then she said, “So what you’re saying is that you haven’t talked to him and he hasn’t talked to you?”

“I’ve only heard him scream, and the one time I did go into his room, he shoved his left fist through my chest and had his insects start gnawing on me. I was a mess after that. I couldn’t show my face for weeks. You see my face had been nearly consumed, and I needed to wait till it regenerated…”

“Enough,” Kein spoke up. “I don’t need to hear any more about your injuries. Why did he attack you?”

“I was having a one-sided conversation with him. I had gotten bored and wore out my welcome at Shukujo’s lair.”

“How do you know that name? I don’t remember telling you,” Kein spoke.

“There isn’t much that goes on within the Basement Level that the other Residents don’t know about,” he told her as if she should already know the answer to her question and that it was so obvious. Labaron observed her confused reaction, and then he said, “Back to what I was saying. I was telling the mummy about a time when I was younger, and I mean before I was a vampire, when I seduced a rival tobacco baron’s daughter. I was poking around his tomb while I was telling him the tale, and I should tell you that you can get lost very easily if you go too far into the tomb on your own. I was getting to the best part of my story when he attacked me and nearly had his insects eat my face completely off.”

“You’re like me,” she told him.

“In what way?”

“You can be very observant, but still miss the simplest things.”

“Explain this to me, ma chère.”

“King Ammon is a father, and he loved his daughter very much, and he lost her in a tragic way. I also get this feeling that somehow she was taken from him long before he lost her to death,” she told the vampire, then paused, remembering the feelings behind the images she saw, and then she asked, “Don’t you think he would get upset at hearing how you tore a daughter from her father? I’m surprised you’re still alive.”

“I never realized,” he said.

Kein’s stomach grumbled for lack of liquid and food, and she ignored it as she said, “Tell me about Dr. Jekyll.”

“He is very interesting, mad, but very interesting. He has some sort of large contraption hidden in the depths of his lab. He won’t let anyone go near it, but I had one of my familiars get quite close to it,” Labaron spoke, then paused, and questioned, “Do you know what a familiar is?”

“For vampires, it’s usually a bat, wolf, or rat that is in service to a vampire, and they do the bidding of that vampire.”

“You do know more than I thought some regular human would know, well anyway, I had one of my familiars that was a rat make its way to the contraption. The rat got a pretty good look at it before dying.”

Kein asked, “What did the rat see?”

“It was like a clear tube coffin but stood straight up. It appeared to have someone floating within. I’m guessing that the doctor or Mr. Hyde might have someone in there that they’re experimenting on.”

“Tell me about Shukujo.”

“She isn’t speaking to me anymore. She got very upset the Opening before when she walked in on me with three of the female contestants I had turned into Sklabos.”

“I’ve never heard of that term. What is a Sklabos?”

“They’re like vampires and yet they are more like familiars. They will do anything I tell them. They have the urge to drink blood but have none of the strengths or abilities of a vampire. They’re created when a vampire drinks their blood but does not kill them, and the vampire also does not offer them their own blood to make them one of the kindred,” Labaron told her.

“You’re saying you created a few dolls to play with, a few slaves,” Kein spoke with anger thick in her voice. “Just when I was starting to like you. I even thought about taking a few extra steps into the room today, but I think I’ll retreat by one,” Kein said as she did so. “Vampires can be so cruel.” Her anger grew the more she thought about what he did to those women, and she said, “Vampires are nothing but bloodsucking narcissists, and I don’t think I want to talk to you anymore today.” She turned and started for the door when she remembered something, then sighed very deeply, and mumbled, “All I do anymore is sigh.” Kein faced him and said, “There is something I want from you before I leave.”

“You insult me and then you ask me for a favor.”

“Yes, I did insult you, and I won’t take it back,” she told him. “And yes I do need something from you. Will you hear my request?”

His eyes flashed red, but then they quickly returned to normal as he said, “I should send you scurrying away, but I’m in a really good mood today. Go on… I will hear your request.”

“I would like some of your…” Kein started as she opened her mouth and pointed inside it.

“You want some of my teeth?”

She shook her head.

“You want to make out with me?”

Kein flushed as she shook her head again, and then she said, “I want some of your spit.”

“What will you give me in exchange?”

“I should say that I’ll give you nothing for the spit,” she replied as the more she spoke the more Kein got upset. “I should say that I’ll find another way to find vampire saliva and that I don’t want to see you again, but I can’t.” Kein thought she could hear their screams as she questioned, “Did you really turn those women into slaves, so you could have your way with them?”

Labaron felt a smidgen of guilt for his actions as the seemingly ordinary woman glared at him with disgust and outrage. He hadn’t felt this way in a very, very long time, and it caused him to pause before answering, “I did, and I would do it again. I will do it again.”

“What happened to those women?” she questioned him. “Where are they now?”

“They’re…” he started to answer, but as he thought about it, he realized he didn’t know. “I discarded them when I was done playing with them. Why do you ask? Would you like to become one of my dolls?”

Kein didn’t answer him as his parlor started to suffocate her as if she felt the veiled pain of those women trapped in their own bodies. She wanted to bolt from the room and never return, but if she ran away from the grotesque and shadowy world of the Mortem, she would never win.

“I don’t ever want to be anything of yours,” she told him. “I would sooner be dead than be anything of yours,” she replied, then turned, and started to leave.

“You never did answer my other question,” Labaron spoke after her as the red button on the coffee table buzzed, signifying the end of the half hour. He glanced at it, turned his attention back to her, and asked, “What will you give me in trade?”

Kein paused, wanting so badly to say she didn’t need him, that she’ll never need him, but she did, so she reluctantly replied, “I will owe you some blood later.”

“What if I want a little something from you now?”

“It will have to wait till later or there can be no bargain,” she answered, not understanding his implications. “I guess I can wait on your spit until I have what I will trade in return.”

“Come… Come, and I will give you some,” Labaron told her. “I will give you some of my exquisite saliva.”

Kein walked a few steps into the room to stand where she stood the very first day she came into his parlor, then she stopped, removed the jar from her backpack, and then rolled it toward him across the carpet.

“I meant for you to come all the way to me,” he told her.

“I also said I would need to take baby steps, and I’ve lost a little bit of the security I had gained, so this is as far as I come,” Kein replied.

Labaron stood, took a few steps to the jar, then bent, and reached his hand for the jar. In an instance that it took Kein to blink, Labaron was standing beside her with his mouth to her ear. The force behind his run caught up to him and blew her hair she had pulled back.

“I don’t know if I can wait for you to take your baby steps,” he told her. “Maybe we will touch lips, and I can give you some of my saliva now.” Labaron faced her as he put a gentle hand to her chin, then turned her head, so that she would look at him, and he said, “Come… Be one with me.”

Kein felt the magnetism Shukujo had spoken of as they locked eyes. She peered into his as he dove into hers. He dove deeper and deeper as if he could swim freely through her will and make it his own. She felt compelled to do anything he told her… no, she would do anything he told her… She would… He leaned in to give her the vampire’s kiss just as the burning fear started at the middle of her back and rose all the way up her spinal column until it reached the base of her neck. His lips had nearly met hers when Kein cried out in pain as she grabbed the base of her skull in agony. She put her hand to his chest and pushed herself away from him.

“You resisted my first attempt,” he spoke to her, not so much amazed, but that a challenge had been set before him.

Kein started for the door, not sure what had just happened as the burning in her neck lessened, and she told him, “If you can’t abide by my fear and shyness, I won’t come back here.”

Labaron grabbed her wrist, and she stopped, but she didn’t turn to him.

“I will abide by them for now, ma chère,” Labaron told her. “Something tells me there’s more to you than you let on, that there’s more to you than one can see on the surface…” He leaned in and took a deep breath, taking of her scent, and then he added, “There is more to you than even I can detect beneath your skin.”

Kein pulled her hand from his grasp and started for the door again.

“Wait…” Labaron called after her, then he turned once she paused again, moved over to the jar where it sat in its original spot, picked it up, and put some of his saliva in the jar. “Here… as you requested.”

Kein refused to look at him and focused her gaze on the door. He approached her and noticed a burn on the back of her neck where she still rubbed it. He also noticed some sort of mark or tattoo in the shape of a circle.

He repeated to himself, “There is so much more to you.”

She glared at him real quick, took the jar from him, looked away, and then asked him a question, “Have you ever had someone force something onto you that you didn’t want? You did that to me. You just did that to me, and I don’t know if I can ever forgive you for that. Why did you think I wanted that? Or is it you don’t care what others want?”

“I’m more of a leaper than a thinker,” he told her. “But you’re correct, I have been an improper host. I will make it up to you. I will tell you something I don’t normally talk about. If you survive the others’ questionings today, I will tell you a little about myself when I was still a human. Return, and I will tell you a bedtime story.”

She started to say no when he held up a folded paper and told her, “I’ll only give this back to you if you agree.”

Kein put a hand to her pants’ back pocket as she realized he had taken the invitation from her, and then she told him, “I won’t be blackmailed into returning.”

“I’ll just have to read this then,” he said, unfolded it, and read out loud, “You are cordially invited to attend a gathering of the quick and the dead to participate in a get-together like no other. Wealth, power, glory, prestige, revenge, and a few other incentives entice many to come. I will entice you with your own heart’s desire. You already know that a father is strong and wise and will sacrifice himself for his children. A mother is caring and nurturing and denies herself for her children. A brother is knowledgeable about many things and is playful. A sister can be a sibling who is both reliable and trying. A friend is an ear who listens and a mouth in need of listening to. A lover is…” Labaron paused, and looked to her, and said, “The sentence ends right there. No matter, I can teach you what a lover is. I do find this invitation very interesting, but there is still more. I do find it odd that what I just read was typed out, but this next part is handwritten, and it reads, “Six complete the mold. Five you will immediately behold. One will defy the grave for one is strong and wise and will sacrifice for their children, and one will deny love for revenge for one throws away care and nurture and denies their children for themselves. Two will be the one who follows madness and rage to attain what love could never let go. Three will quickly turn their backs when everything is bleak and dire help is needed. Four seek revenge, and three it is their only purpose. Two were together and now are apart and ultimately will be together again. And last and most important, one is not as they appear.” Labaron turned the paper over and noticed an address and said, “This location isn’t the Knecht Ruprecht Corporation.”

“No, it’s the location of Brown Deliveries. I went there yesterday and wounded up getting a job as a delivery woman, and the Knecht Ruprecht Corporation was my first stop.” Kein let out a frustrated yell, “Ahh… I bet my delivery truck got towed. I was parked in an unloading lane. I’m going to get fired.”

He questioned her, “After everything you’ve gone through, do you believe you had a real job to begin with?”

“I guess not, but I was really looking forward to working for them. It sounded like I’d really like it, going to different places and meeting different people.”

“You will definitely see different places down here and meet all kinds of different people for as long as you survive,” Labaron spoke, read the invitation to himself one more time, and then asked, “Are you looking for your family?”

“I have no family,” she told him. “I have no one that wants me.”

“And yet you came, my poor ma chère. I’ll be your family,” Labaron told her as he took her hand and placed the invitation in it. “I can be the only one you need.”

Kein wanted to tell him, no, but instead, she said nothing, took the invitation, and headed into the empty hallway. She replaced the invitation in her pants’ back pocket, walked to the door with the beaker on it, and she glanced up at the image and felt heartache caused by separation. Kein entered to find Dr. Jekyll at work, writing in a black leather journal of some sort. She remained silent as she glanced at Frankenstein’s monster. Dr. Jekyll didn’t notice her, so she took the opportunity to take in everything that had happened in the vampire’s parlor. She thought she had found an ally in Labaron, but he was too self-centered. Kein let about ten minutes go by before she walked over to the table, and she stopped a few feet away from it, waiting to be acknowledged.

Dr. Jekyll peered up from the black leather journal and stated, “Has a day gone by already? I didn’t think I would see you again.”

“I have the saliva you requested to trade for the salt,” Kein told him as she lifted the jar and shook the jelly-like substance within.

“Set it on the table. I will retrieve your salt once I finish here.”

She did as instructed and then waited for him to finish, and once Dr. Jekyll completed his current task, he grabbed the jar and examined the substance within.

“Would you lie to me about what this substance is?” he questioned her.

“I could answer your question, but do you know enough about my character to know whether or not I’d lie to you now?” Kein inquired.

Dr. Jekyll opened the jar, removed a small sample, placed it on a petri dish, and then exposed it to an ultraviolet light, and the substance turned to ash.

“Wait here while I collect your salt,” he told her.

“I was wondering if there’s another substance that you might carry,” she called after him as he went behind the curtain.

“What is that?” he inquired as he moved to a cabinet similar to the one in the first room of his lab which also had dozens of drawers, and he opened a drawer, pulling out a small bag of salt.

“Do you have access to colloidal silver?” Kein asked.

“Liquid silver? I do. What do you want it for? The silver content in the liquid is more for medicinal uses than as a weapon against anything living within the Basement Level,” Dr. Jekyll told her.

“I need it for a personal matter,” she replied, and then she asked, “How do you deal with the werewolf pup in the hallway?”

“I give him some scrap of meat or a bone. A bone works longer,” he replied. “Here is your salt. Leave… I answered your questions for today.”

Kein grabbed the bag of salt and said, “True you answered my questions, but I would like to know one more thing. What would you like in trade for the colloidal silver?”

“I need nothing right now,” Dr. Jekyll told her as he returned to what looked like a drawing in his journal. “Return later today and ask me again.”

“Thank you,” she spoke before she left.

Dr. Jekyll lifted his gaze as she thanked him, and then as if someone had scolded him, he spoke after her, “I should thank people when thanking is due, and I should receive thanks when I have earned it, so… you are welcomed.”

Kein smiled at his appreciation, then she entered the hallway and found that the werewolf pup was absent again, so she hurried to her next destination, glanced up at the image of the fish, and felt a sense of longing for someone greatly loved and missed. She entered and found the Atlantian sitting on the ten-foot dock reading.

“Is the book any good?” she called out to him from the railing of the twenty-foot dock.

“I am not sure,” he replied. “It is the first book I have read on VR technology, and I had actually been daydreaming and not reading.”

“What were you daydreaming about?”

The Atlantian turned and looked at her like he wasn’t going to answer, but then he replied, “A time long ago when I was still a child and I was playing with the youngest of my family, my little sister.”

Kein leaned on her elbow that rested on the railing as she said, “It must be nice to have such memories. I envy you.”

“Do you?” he questioned her, then lifted his webbed hand towards her as if to pull the truth of her words from the air, and said, “You do not lie.” The Atlantian lowered his hand, then set the book he was holding on the dock, and stood as he asked, “Are you any good at games?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t played many.”

He asked, “Would you like to play one now?”

Kein peered at the soft cover book and noticed its title was VR Technology For Dummies, and then she answered, “I think I would like to. Oh… and by the way, I have your salt.”

He looked to the bag she held out towards him, and then he said, “I am surprised you were able to get it. I am amazingly surprised.”

“The task didn’t seem all that impossible to me,” she told him.

“I am surprised because you are still alive. Would you come and sit beside me while we play the game?”

“I don’t think I can,” Kein answered as she glanced around at all the water.

“Your fear of drowning. How about I make a bargain with you? I can never hurt you while we are playing a game.”

She countered with, “How about you can’t hurt me from the moment you say you want to play a game to the point I leave your swamp whether or not I accept?”

“Interesting,” the Atlantian spoke. “Let me counter with one more point then. You cannot deny playing a game with me three times in a row.”

Kein smiled, and then she said, “A bargain has been struck.”

“A bargain has been struck,” the Atlantian repeated. “What sort of games do you know?”

“Very very few… but I do seem to pick up on games quickly,” she told him. “Would you like to teach me one of your favorite games?”

“I have no favorites, so I will teach you checkers.”

She placed the bag of salt in her pocket, then climbed down the ladder to the ten-foot dock, and waited for him there. The Atlantian left and came back sometime later, carrying the checkerboard along with the checkers. He set up the board between them while they sat on the ten-foot dock. The Atlantian explained the game, and then they played as they talked.

“You have been an interesting addition to the Mortem?” the Atlantian spoke as he double jumped and took two of her pieces.

“How so?” Kein asked as she examined the move he played against her.

“You were never part of the Draft and yet you arrived on Opening day and came down to the Basement Level shortly before the start and somehow wound up in the thick of things. You abandoned contestant after contestant, fearing for your life as if you were so overwhelmed by fear you could not think, but you still managed to strike a deal with Controller and the Coaches. There are monsters all around you and yet you refuse to pick up a weapon or arm yourself in anyway beyond your wits. You talk to the Kumovon as if you are long lost sisters, and you became angry with the vampire for… for being a vampire. You made a deal with King Ammon on the verge of him killing you, and you actually made the doctor come out of his shell long enough to tell you that you were welcomed. These tiny little things on there own are nothing, but when you start to add them up… You have been out playing the Mortem. So many small details… so many pieces falling into place when they need to. Look at you now… You are sitting here with me actually enjoying a game you have never played before and all because… all because someone sent you here, but they sent you here without your knowledge.”

“I think you’re right about that,” Kein told him as she managed to take one of his pieces and ended up having him crown her one piece. “And you’re right about everything else you’ve said so far. I am a coward.”

He said nothing to her comment but continued making ones of his own as he said, “I was contemplating leaving. I was becoming so bored here, but maybe I will stay a little longer just to see what you will do.”

“How were you going to leave?”

“I will keep that small secret to myself for a while,” he spoke as he made several more moves and cleared the board of her pieces. “I have won this round. Would you like to play again?”

“I would,” she replied.

The Atlantian set up the board while she watched.

“You don’t have a favorite game, so what about a favorite type of game?” she questioned him.

“I especially enjoy games like chess where one can manipulate the pieces to attack and sacrifice in an attempt to win the match, but my most favorite games are long drawn out ones like the game of Risk where you have to strategize many moves ahead which is also like chess.”

“Is that why you’re here in the Mortem, it has something to do with your love of games?”

“All who are in the Mortem are here to fulfill their ultimate wish, and many of them are complex, but maybe my wish is simple. Maybe I just want to play the best Risk game of my life, so I need to find a worthy opponent,” the Atlantian stated, and then he got this cherished looked in his eyes as he spoke, “I had one once, but that was a very long time ago.”

“I bet it was your little sister,” she stated.

The Atlantian inquired, “Why would you guess that?”

“You love her so much, but I also sense a rivalry between you, but a healthy rivalry like one would have if one enjoyed competing against the other.”

“You seem to have extraordinary intuition,” he stated, and once he finished setting up the board, he said, “Tell me something about yourself Kein.”

“I don’t like to be called Kein,” she replied.

“Why is that?”

“You remember me telling you it’s not a name, but more of what they believe I am. The meaning of the name… it’s cruel, so I don’t like to be called by it.”

“Allow me to call you, mi cha,” he spoke.

“It sounds nice. What does it mean?”

“In a way, I am calling you little sister, but it is more like I am your senior.”

“I think I understand,” Kein said. “The first school I went to also had ways to address the other students around me. I like mi cha.”

“Mi cha, it is,” the Atlantian stated as he started the second game.

They played longer this time around, but the Atlantian still easily beat her.

“I better go,” she said. “I still need to talk to King Ammon and Shukujo.” Kein stood then climbed up to the twenty-foot dock, took a step to go to the door, then turned and said, “I almost forgot… I need to give you your salt.”

“I wondered if you would remember. You are just like my real little sister,” the Atlantian stated as he stood and walked towards her on his webbed feet.

He walked all the way to the dock just below where she was standing and held out his hand. Kein tossed the bag to him, and he caught it. He opened it, stuck a finger within, and then licked the tip of the salty goodness.

“Does it remind you of home?” she asked.

“No,” he said. “The salt origin is nowhere near my homeland, but it is still salt. What do you want in exchange.”

“The salt is yours whether or not you help me, but I was wondering if you have seen the Waters of Life within this world?”

“I am not sure. What does it look like?”

“I don’t know myself,” she replied. “I will see if I can get a little more information on it.”

Kein turned and started to leave when her stomach growled loudly.

“You must be hungry,” he said.

“My points don’t amount to much. I’ve only had an apple since breakfast yesterday. I need to figure out a way to earn more points.”

“You should have enough points from winning Opening to feast for weeks. It sounds to me like someone may be bending the rules a little too much. Do not worry… If they continue to do so, they will be punished by the Mortem,” he stated, and before she could ask him about it, he changed the subject by saying, “There are side quests that the Controller will allow you to do if you request it. They range in all sorts of difficulties and point ranges. If you are to attempt one, I would suggest you do so early before you are too weak to survive.”

“Thanks, I’ll remember that.”

Kein went into the hallway and still saw no signs of the werewolf pup.

“Controller,” she called out.

“I am here,” he replied. “I am always here.”

“I need food and water, and I heard that I can earn points by taking on quests.”

“Residents can. You aren’t a Resident.”

“I’ll be dead of dehydration and/or starvation before I become a Resident. There has to be some way I can earn points.”

“Rules are rules,” Controller told her. “You could always steal food from one of the Residents or beg for them to have mercy on you.”

“Begging for myself isn’t really who I am,” she replied. “How can I make points as a contestant?”

“Surviving,” he replied.

“So what you’re saying is, if I make it through today, I’ll make as many points as I made yesterday?”

“No, you won Opening yesterday. Your points will be different today.”

 

King Ammon’s tomb…

Kein quickly went in the room, so she wouldn’t have any distracting visions from the pyramid symbol above the door. She called out to him when she found the area just inside empty. King Ammon’s sarcophagus came screaming out of the tomb as it did the other time, but when he emerged from it, he didn’t seize her with his wrappings.

“I believe I have found the location of the Waters of Life, but I need to know what they look like if I’m to retrieve them for you.”

“Waters of Life is a spring,” King Ammon told her using his mind. “They flow as light, and they can restore almost anything.”

“Does the Waters of Life need to be stored or contained in anything special?” she questioned.

“Clay or glass,” he told her. “No metal.”

“Please give me the container that’s the appropriate size for what amount you need.”

He eyed her as if deciding something about her, but it appeared that he didn’t make up his mind about her. She was about to say something when a clay vessel floated to her that had originated from the tomb; it had a lid.

“I need it completely full and no less,” he told her.

Kein took the vessel and started to leave, but then turned back around, and said, “I don’t know what your story is or why you have entered the Mortem, but I wanted to say… umm… never mind. It’s stupid.”

He called after her as she turned to leave, “Tell me, daughter of fear.”

“I don’t know if it’ll upset you to say it.”

“Speak, and I promise to hold my wrath back if you should incur it.”

“Your daughter, I believe I sense her here or I should say, I sense the love you have for her here. It’s so strong. It’s stronger than all your rage and hatred.”

King Ammon’s wrath didn’t burn within him, but a few fleeting moments of joy did spring forth from his memories.

“I would like to get a better sense of you, daughter of fear. Tell me of your father.”

“I never knew my father. I don’t even know his name.”

“Tell me of the one who instructed you. Tell me of the one who was like a father to you.”

“There was a teacher. The man I consider my second teacher, but I don’t consider him a father. I don’t think he liked me.”

“Daughter of fear and fatherless one, I will reward you if you are able to bring me the Waters of Life. I will reward you by showing you something no one else has seen.”

The way he told her… Kein got this sense that it would be something wondrous to see.

“I think I would like that,” she told him and then hurried out.

“Fail…” he spoke after she left. “And you will incur my wrath.”

 

The Atlantian’s swamp…

“It did not take you that long to return,” the Atlantian stated as she walked out to the end of the twenty-foot dock.

“I know what the Waters of Life are,” she said as she held the jar that was half as big as her. “I was told that they are a spring of light.” She started to ask a question, but caught herself, and said instead, “I need this container filled with the Waters of Life. You only need to tell me what I need to give to you in exchange.”

The Atlantian said, “I have seen the place in my watery domain where the waters of light enter the darkness of my world. I will retrieve this water, and in exchange, I want a book.”

“What sort of book?” Kein questioned. “Tell me the title of the book.”

“I do not care. I only want something that I have not read, and in my lifetime, I have read many books.”

“The Waters of Life need to be placed in this clay vessel,” she said as she set in on the dock. “I’ll be back when I find you a book.”

“If you find me a book,” he said.

“No when…” she repeated. “I have to win this Mortem.”

Kein started out when the Atlantian shouted to her, “Mi cha, obtaining the Waters of Life will not be easy for me, so if you should fail to bring me a book I have not read, I will kill you as a reward for my effort.”

“Reward..?” she muttered. “What sort of reward is that?”

She said nothing more to him, left, and went to Shukujo’s lair.

Chapter Seven

Tormenting And Teaching

Shukujo’s lair…

Kein was exhausted, hungry, and thirsty, so she went straightway and sat in her corner where her pillow was and lay down on her back. She noticed as promised that the truck cart dolly was there near the corner. She removed her backpack, set it beside her, closed her eyes, and she heard a lot of movement in the dungeon castle area, but never opened her eyes.

“What do you think you are doing?” Shukujo questioned her.

“Can’t you tell?” Kein spoke through a sleepy voice. “I’m thinking.”

Shukujo peered at her closed eyes and commented, “You have a peculiar way of thinking. You have a peculiar way of doing many things.”

“People keep saying that,” Kein spoke as she grew ever tired. “I didn’t think I was that weird.”

“Baka, you are the most unusual person I have ever met. You are even more unusual than my dearest friend.”

“I didn’t know you had a weird friend,” Kein spoke as she smiled, thinking of Shukujo’s imageless friend. “I bet she’s a Kumovon just like you, and probably just as pretty.”

“She was very pretty,” Shukujo told her. “She was very beautiful.”

“It must be nice having a friend,” Kein spoke. “Tell me some of the things you would do together.”

“We would climb the highest mountain on a cloudless night and peer up at the ocean of stars. She taught me her constellations, and I taught her mine. She liked to talk about the love of her life, the one she would marry and have many children with. I would tell her how I had no interest in marriage and children, but I was secretly jealous that she had already found her mate. She enjoyed singing, but much to the regret of my ears, she had no ability in such things.”

Kein imagined everything the Kumovon spoke of as she teetered between the waking world and the one of dreams, and she asked, “What other things would you do together?”

“We would…” Shukujo began, then realized she had dropped all of her carefully placed guards, opened up to this human, and thought about a past she wanted to forget, so she immediately dropped the conversation and said, “I would not sleep if I was you.”

They had come so close to having a normal conversation, and Kein was saddened that she was back to being considered an enemy. She said nothing to Shukujo’s comments. She didn’t know what to say, and she was very tired.

Shukujo stated, “I have banished a few of my children from my lair.”

“You shouldn’t have done that,” Kein said as she opened her eyes, hearing of the tragedy, and she saw that Shukujo was in her usual spot near the white borderline. “They’re your family.”

“They are my precious family,” Shukujo told her. “And I cherish each and every one of them.”

“Don’t banish them if that’s the case. Forgive whatever they’ve done and bring them back to your arms. Nearly anything can be forgiven.”

“They have done nothing wrong,” Shukujo told her. “I only sent them on an important mission that they must complete before I allow them to return.”

“Oh… that’s different then. I thought your banishment was a permanent thing,” Kein muttered as she fought closing her eyes that were growing heavier by the heartbeat.

“You actually should be asking me where I banished them to,” Shukujo told her.

“No questions right now,” Kein said. “I’m too tired to ask any…”

She fell asleep just as a baker’s dozen small dog size spiders descended on their webs down to where Kein slept.

“Baka…” Shukujo spoke softly. “Sleep then… and let all your hard work be for nothing.”

The Kumo’usagi were not normal spiders as one might find in the human world. These spiders had a hive mind with whatever Kumovon they associated with. Shukujo ruled them as a queen, and she directed them to make their way to the human and arrange themselves, so that they could bite her all at once. The Kumo’usagi were very light for their size, and Kein was such a heavy sleeper that she never woke when they moved across her. Eight Kumo’usagi maneuvered themselves and took up position two on each pant leg and sleeve covered arm. Four Kumo’usagi took position on her jacket protected chest, and one spider made its way to her face. They were all in position, but the one moving for her face. It crawled up her neck and stepped across her cheek, then Kein’s eyes popped open, and she quickly put a hand to her cheek. She noticed the other spiders on her and stood, shaking them off as she pulled the one off her face. She looked down at the twelve as she clasped her gloved hands close to her chest as if protecting the one spider.

“Stop!” she yelled, and the Kumo’usagi did so.

“What are you doing?” Shukujo questioned her children. “After her… You cannot return until you have sunk your fangs into her.”

The twelve Kumo’usagi started after her once more.

“Stop!” Kein ordered them again, and then she looked to Shukujo and told her, “Make them stop before it’s too late.”

“You cannot simply step on these spiders and kill them,” Shukujo told her. “They are hardier than they look.”

“I know, just don’t let them touch me,” Kein said as she pulled her gloved hands away from her chest and looked at the thirteenth Kumo’usagi, she looked at it as if she had accidentally crushed it. “I’m afraid it’s too late for this one.”

“What do you mean? You could not have killed it.”

“You’ll probably think I did something worse,” Kein told her as she showed her the Kumo’usagi in her hand.

Shukujo looked at what had been a bloodthirsty Kumo’usagi bent on doing his Kumovon’s will, but now… Shukujo noticed a different aura about him. It was as if she was looking at a fluffy kitten instead of a deadly creature.

Shukujo shrieked, “What did you do?”

“I’m sorry…” Kein sincerely spoke as she held the thirteenth Kumo’usagi tenderly in her hands. “I was so tired… I didn’t mean for him to crawl on me and touch my cheek.” Kein turned her gaze to the Kumovon and told her with a heavy heart, “I’m sorry, Shukujo. I should have been more careful.”

“Return to me,” Shukujo ordered her children, and the twelve Kumo’usagi immediately obeyed. “Return before you are also infected by…” she started, and then she questioned the human, “What did you do to my child?” Shukujo sensed she till had a connection with the Kumo’usagi, but his affection and allegiances were split, and she knew of nothing that could do that, so she questioned, “Is it some sort of spell or curse?”

“It’s just me,” Kein told her. “Spiders like me. If I make contact with any, they seem to like me even more.”

“Kumo’usagi are not spiders. They are of the Kumovon, and they only hate humans.”

Kein set the thirteenth Kumo’usagi on the ground near the white borderline and said, “Go on… Go back…”

The thirteenth Kumo’usagi looked up at her with his eight large puppy-dog like eyes, then crawled back to Kein, and rubbed up against her like a cat.

“No… Go back… Please go back…” she said, and then she directed her next words to Shukujo, “Please take him back. I can’t keep him. He needs to stay with his family.”

“I will not have him back. He has been infected or you have cursed him.”

“Please don’t. Kumovons love their Kumo children as if they were family. Please… call him back. I can’t be responsible for him.”

“You need to take responsibility,” Shukujo yelled at her. “You are the one who did something to him.”

“Please, I’ll do anything you ask of me, just take him back.”

Shukujo thought about it, and then she said, “Bring him to me… Bring him to me over the Kumo’sakai, and I’ll accept him.”

Kein knew that would mean her death, so she asked, “Why is it so important that I cross the white borderline?”

“I merely want to kill you,” Shukujo replied. “I hate all humans.”

“Why is it so important that you kill me? You don’t seem to be after any of the others down here. Why do you hate humans so much?”

“The only importance that you have is that you are human, and all humans must die.”

Kein bent and picked up the Kumo’sakai as she told him, “Come on Thirteen. I’ll take responsibility for you.” She walked over and lay down back in her spot, keeping the Kumo’sakai close to her chest as she stated with a little anger, “Keep your children away from me unless you want something like this to happen again. A child should never be abandoned by their family. You should have taken him back no matter what, but I promise…” Kein spoke with compassion in her voice, “I will love him in your place.”

She turned Thirteen and set him on her chest so that he faced her. Kein had never seen this type of creature before. All the spiders around the lady were actual spiders, not Kumovon children. Kumovon children made it sound like these creatures were Kumovon offspring, but they were more like pets, cherished pets. Kumo’usagi would appear to any human like some sinister demonic rabbit with eight large eyes, but Kein saw them differently. The Kumo’usagi did look like rabbits, but more like fluffy gray bunnies the size of a small dog with eight dark black eyes, and eight legs instead of paws. What made the Kumo’usagi look like bunnies were these large furry antennas that came out of the top of their heads that spiders normally didn’t have. The antennas looked like fluffy bunny ears, and the Kumo’usagi used these ear-antennas as an additional way to hear. Kumo’usagi like other Kumo children could understand speech. Kein gently stroked these ear-antennas which calmed her and Thirteen, and she forgot about the trauma she just experienced and hoped he had found the same simple peace. She continued to stroke his ear-antennas, and as she held him, the large spider-like creature reminded her of the joyous times she spent with the lady.

Shukujo paced along the Kumo’sakai for a few minutes, and then she asked, “Where did you get this curse? Did you trade something with the mummy? Of all the Residents, I fear him the most, him and his curses and scarab beetles.”

“I’m not talking to you,” Kein told her. “You tried to kill me while I was sleeping, but more importantly, you abandoned Thirteen.”

“You have named my Kumo child already. I guess he cannot keep the name I had given him since he is no longer mine, and you have no right to criticize me about the care of my children,” Shukujo told her. “You are in the Mortem, you should expect anyone of the Residents to try to kill you at any time, so do not chastise me for seeing an opportunity and snatching it. Now tell me where you acquire such a thing to sever the link that is between me and my children.”

“I didn’t sever your link. It’s still there. I’ve learned to always be on my guard so that I don’t cut any threads between those of family, and anyway, I’m not talking to you,” Kein told her as she pouted. “Go away. I have to think.”

“What is there to think about? You are going to die here, most likely by my hands and fangs.”

“I need to find the Atlantian a book he has never read,” Kein told her. “The problem is that I heard he is very old, older than King Ammon, so he has read a lot of books. I could find him a very rare book, but there’s still no guarantee that he hasn’t read it.” She glanced at her backpack as she added, “I do have one very rare book, but I don’t want to ever part with it. I’m still learning from it.”

“Why not tell him the story of your soon to be short boring life?” Shukujo said, mocking her.

“Tell him my story?” Kein said as she sat up. “That’s not a bad idea. Thank you. Thank you, Shukujo.”

“Why are you thanking me?”

“Your idea is good,” Kein told her. “And I don’t think I would have ever thought of it on my own.”

“Do not thank me. I did not intend to be helpful. Never thank me… Actually, I take my idea back. You cannot use it.”

“Too late,” Kein spoke excitedly as a little light trickled into the hopelessness she had. “The idea has been planted, and I’m going to run with it. Thanks again.”

“Do not thank me! Never thank me, baka!”

Kein set Thirteen on the floor and quickly left, heading to Dr. Jekyll’s room.

 

Sometime later…

Kein left Dr. Jekyll’s lab, went to the Atlantian’s swamp, and she called out, “I’m back!”

He soon appeared out of the water and moved to the dock below the twenty-foot one.

“Mi cha, do you remember my warning?” he questioned her.

“I do,” she replied. “That is why I brought you a one of a kind story that has never been published.”

Kein tossed some papers that had been stapled together, and he caught them and flipped through them.

“Did you make this?”

“I did. I also wrote it. Dr. Jekyll said I could use some of his office supplies.”

“I see that you have all of your appendages,” the Atlantian started. “What did you have to trade to acquire these?”

“Nothing. I just waited till he was really really busy and asked him if I could have some of his supplies. He waved me away, so I took it as I could have them. I’m not sure he even knew I was in the lab.”

“He can get that way when he is working,” the Atlantian told her, then he looked at her crude book, and read its title, “The Kumovon And The Little Girl.” He peered up from the book and said, “Is it a fairytale?”

“No, a true story. I was never one to make up things, so all I could write about was what happened to me. Does it meet your requirements?”

“Allow me to read it, and then I will tell you if your life is yours for a few minutes more.”

The Atlantian sat where he stood, and Kein waited while he read through the book, and after some time, he closed the book and stood.

“What did you think?” she asked.

“It meets the requirements of a book I have never read, so I will acquire the Waters of Life that you requested.”

“What did you think of the story?”

“The book’s binding was put together in haste. The drawings within it are crude, but they were drawn with care and love…”

“You can tell that just by reading it?” Kein interrupted.

“No, I can get a sense of things when I touch objects. I can tell if someone is telling the truth through the air, but I have to make physical contact with a person or object to get a sense of things,” he answered, and then he said, “The story’s style is as if a child wrote it. Was that intentional?”

“No, I don’t think so. My writing is still… I need more practice.”

“I do like the story. It is… what is the word I am looking for. It is endearing, and you say it is all true?”

“Yes,” Kein replied.

“Why did the Kumovon not devour you?”

“I upset her,” Kein replied. “I did something very wrong, so she didn’t devour me.”

“I do not think you understand my question,” the Atlantian stated. “At any time the Kumovon could have eaten you and left the cavern. Human flesh is very nourishing, so no matter how small you were, she could have eaten you, healed any injury she might have had, and left at any time.”

“Eat… Devour…” Kein spoke softly. “I thought they had different meanings. I didn’t realize back then that they meant the same thing. I think I took her wanting to devour me as…” She paused and then said, “Clans and houses devour those who they want to bring into their family, and so as a lonely child, I thought she wanted me as her own.”

“The book you wrote actually gave me my answer,” he told her. “I just wanted to know if you had accepted the truth yet. You must have been a very lonely and desperate child if you wanted a Kumovon to devour you.”

Kein thought fondly of those seven months with the lady as she said, “I was lonely, but…” She placed her right palm on her chest over her heart, then she made a fist as if grasping her heart, and said, “I also really cared about her, and at the time, I thought she cared about me.” Kein dropped her hand to her side as she continued, “I now doubt the feelings I thought she had towards me. I believed with all my being that when she was better she would take me with her, but the lady abandoned me. She left without saying good-bye.”

The Atlantian spoke, “I still do not believe you realize the extreme danger you were in. The Kumovon wanted to slice you open and eat your intestines, and yet you treated her as a dear teacher, no… more than that. You treated the Kumovon lady as if she was your birth mother. You are not Kumovon, but you were a very confused little girl.”

The words he spoke had a power to them, almost as if he touched her very soul with them and brought the memories dear and tragic to life in a way that rampaged through her defenses, and it allowed uncontrollable tears to stream down her face as she said, “I know… The more I’m here, the more I realize that.” She wiped the tears away as she said, “Why would she want me to be part of her family? I was just something to pass the time. I was just food to her. I was a way to escape her prison. I was just…”

“I see I have touched on something sensitive,” the Atlantian spoke, and then he said, “I am sorry. My intentions were not to make you cry.”

“It is fine. I have already stopped crying,” Kein told him.

“You have fulfilled your part of the bargain, so I will go now and acquire the Waters of Life in the vessel you left. It will take me some time. Return after the witching hour, and I should have it by then.”

The Atlantian went and stored the book Kein had written in one of many wooden chests that lined the docks, then he went and grabbed the vessel, and returned to the swamp water. Kein watched as he went, then she went and sat on the end of the dock, and since she was alone, Kein wept bitterly into her palms.

 

Elsewhere…

Controller’s room…

“The Atlantian has made the human cry,” Blue Wolf spoke up. “My Resident has earned quite a bit of points for himself.”

“He has also earned you a lot of money from the Emotional Fund,” Controller told her.

“What is this Emotional Fund?” Yellow Dragon questioned.

“It is an endless pool of money that pays out to Coaches in money and to Residents in points when certain criteria are fulfilled.”

“I understand,” Yellow Dragon said. “One of the criteria must be to make a participant cry. What other criteria are part of this Emotional Fund?”

“There are many,” Controller told him. “Examples are laughing for joy; it is rare and one of the highest payouts, and there is also screaming in rage or anger, but it is one of the lowest payouts. This particular fund has blind criteria, so only after they have been met and paid are they known.”

“I understand,” Yellow Dragon stated. “Would any of the Coaches like to strike a bargain with me? I will pay to know what other criteria are known by them for the Emotional Fund.”

“I will take you up on your deal,” Blue Wolf spoke up.

“You are nearly as new as me,” Yellow Dragon said. “I would prefer to see if one of the other Coaches will take my offer.”

Green Serpent said, “I will if the reward is worth my time.”

“Here is what I will pay for each blind criterion that is known to you,” Yellow Dragon stated as he sent the amount to Green Serpent.

Green Serpent looked over the amount and said, “A bargain has been struck.”

“A bargain has been struck,” Yellow Dragon replied even though he had already said it.

The two Coaches switched to a restricted feed that only the two of them were on.

Yellow Dragon said, “Tell me what you know.”

“I know of three blind criteria for the Emotional Fund,” Green Serpent began. “Someone reveals a secret to another, and both the one telling the secret and the one hearing the secret earn points and their Coaches earn money. The second is a reunion takes place within the Mortem. The more joyous the more reward. The third thing is a wrong is revealed between two participants. Either someone informs the others through the Inquisition Seat or a confession is made. Those are the blind criteria that I…”

Yellow Dragon interrupted, “I know what the Inquisition Seat is, but I thought it was against the rules of the Mortem to… how should I put it? It is against the rules of the Mortem to reveal anything about a participant that is not revealed within the Mortem.”

“You’re correct about that,” Green Serpent stated. “But there are also exceptions to that rule.” He paused and said, “We should return so not to miss too much.”

They disengaged their restricted feed.

“Good, the two of you are back,” Controller spoke. “Let us go around and see if anyone would like to make any new wagers.”

“I would like to wager that my Resident the Kumovon will kill the human by the end of this day,” Green Serpent spoke.

“I will take that wager,” Red Phoenix stated. “I wager this human will last at least four days among the Residents.”

“I will take that wager,” Purple Rose said. “I believe the human is too kindhearted to survive within the Mortem, so I would like to add something to our wager.”

Red Phoenix said, “I will hear you out.”

“I not only believe this human will perish, but I wager she will perish in a very painful way that will last several hours.”

“What a terrible thing to say?” Blue Wolf spoke up. “Are you wishing this poor human ill-will?”

“I have no feelings either way towards this human,” Purple Rose replied. “I am merely forecasting her inevitable end.”

“I would like in on this wager,” Green Serpent spoke. “I would like to wager on the side of Purple Rose.”

“I accept your joint wager,” Purple Rose said. “Would anyone else like to join in?”

“I’m still very new at this,” Yellow Dragon stated. “I think I’ll step back and watch the outcome of this.”

“What about you, Blue Wolf?” Purple Rose questioned.

“I guess I can make it ladies versus gentleman, I am in,” she replied. “I do like to root for the underdog. I also see this kindness of hers. I think it is a useful tool for her and has many ways that it can be used.”

Controller spoke up, “Are there any other wagers at this time?” He waited a few moments, and then he said, “There is not, so I call the wagering at an end for now.”

 

Basement Level…

Kein finished her cry, dried her eyes, and moved on to King Ammon’s room. She wanted to update him on her progress and wanted to ask him her other question for the day. She was in better spirits since crying. Kein usually never let herself get to the point of breaking down, but for some reason, she felt better after doing so. She called out to King Ammon, but he never answered, so after about twenty minutes, she started through the tomb, calling out to him.

The Egyptian tomb passages were dark and in ruins, and Kein expected some creature or thing to spring out of the darkness at her and try to take a bite out of her, but none did. She noticed light ahead, then the passage ended, and a large valley with a river flowing through it was on the other side of the tomb. The place was gorgeous and full of life and light, and she stood there in awe of the sight and never heard King Ammon approach her from behind.

“It is a wondrous sight,” he said in her mind.

Kein jumped with the intrusion to her thoughts, and then she spoke, “You startled me.”

“I did not expect for you to venture through the tomb or that luck would allow you to find this place. You are braver than I thought.”

“I never expected to see a place like this,” she told him. “I thought your domain would be all creepy and full of… darkness,” she spoke, then turned to him, and asked, “Was that rude of me to say?”

“It was,” he replied. “And you have used your final question, but I will allow you one more for today.”

“Oh…” Kein complained. “I keep wasting them.” She noticed that he peered at her differently than he had when they stood before his tomb near the hallway’s door. He didn’t seem as angry, so she asked, “If you were me and you wanted to survive the week among a group of monsters, what question would you ask you?”

King Ammon seemed to smile at her, not that she could tell a difference with his skeleton expression, but his essence seemed amused by her as he said, “Follow me. There is something I want to show you before I answer your final question of the day.”

She followed him to the edge of the large river, and the valley was like she imagined ancient Egypt would be. He led her to a small dock, then they boarded a large Egyptian boat about 150 feet long, and King Ammon used his power, and the oars magically rowed them down the river. Kein walked towards the front of the boat and looked out at all the wonders before them.

“What do you see?” he asked her.

There were so many things to see like how the native animals interacted with the environment, how the water flowed along the banks, how the afternoon sun moved along the sky, but what caught her eye was a single white flower growing along the banks.

“I see…” Kein began. “I see beauty in many things.”

“Tell me about one of them,” he spoke in her mind.

“That flower,” she started as she pointed. “Some might say it is ordinary, but look at it. It simmers almost silver when the sunlight catches it just right, and I believe I can already smell its sweet honey-like fragrance even from here.”

“It is called the Amisi Rose.”

“A rose? It looks more like a… a multi-layer daisy but all white.”

“It folds up at night and appears more like a rose,” he told her. “I named my daughter after this flower. Her name was Princess Amisi Azeneth.”

“Azeneth… Doesn’t that mean she belongs to her father?” Kein asked.

“It does,” he replied. “Princess Amisi Azeneth was my whole existence after her mother died. I cherished her more than my own life, but in the end, that was not enough to keep her safe.”

“Did her life end in some tragic way?”

He replied, “She was taken away from me by someone I trusted, by someone I should never have trusted.”

“I’m sorry,” Kein told him. “Why did you want to show me this place?”

“When Princess Amisi Azeneth was young and I was still the most important man in her life, this boat and this place along the Nile was one of her cherished spots. You seem very like her, so I thought you might also appreciate seeing it.”

“I do. Thank you.”

They stood at the front for another twenty minutes, enjoying the sights and smells of the living world around them.

“There is something I would like to share with you,” King Ammon told her.

“What is that?”

“Come, and you will see,” he said as he walked to the very front of the barge and motioned to the horizon in front of them. “This is what I wanted to share with you.”

The sun quickly and unnaturally moved forward in time and then slowed as it set over the horizon in front of them, throwing out a brilliant rainbow of light Kein thought couldn’t exist in her world, and she was filled with wonder and awe and gazed at the sight unblinking till the last ray vanished into the twilight. Torches on the barge immediately flickered on as she continued to stare at a now dark horizon.

“It was so beautiful,” Kein replied, then turned to King Ammon, and told him, “If something like this can happen within the Basement Level, within a Mortem that only wants to claim lives… just think of what can be accomplished if light can outshine darkness.” She paused, and then she asked, “Are sun rises as beautiful?”

“Judge for yourself,” King Ammon said as he turned and walked to the back of the barge, and she followed.

The sun peeked over the Eastern horizon and threw out a blazing orange color that burned across the sky. The sunrise was just as magical as the sunset, and Kein felt all warm inside, knowing this scene of endings and beginnings was what King Ammon wanted to share with her.

“Is it ever dark here?”

“Only if I allow it,” he replied. “Darkness is here for only a few minutes each day.”

She turned to him and saw him more as a caring father than a rage filled mummy, and she said, “Princess Amisi Azeneth must have cherished these times with you.”

“I believe she did,” King Ammon replied, then after a few seconds, he questioned, “Daughter of fear, did you also have someone close to you that you lost?”

“I did,” Kein answered as she thought about the lady.

King Ammon questioned, “Does it hurt when you think about this person?”

“It does,” she replied as happy and sad memories of her past took turns occupying her mind.

King Ammon sensed the anguish of a child within her, a child still trapped within the body of this woman.

“I experienced so much joy with her, but it hurts to think about the lady,” she spoke and then asked, “How can so much happiness also bring pain?”

“One of life’s great mysteries,” he told her. “Look at the river, and see how it flows. Life is the water, and the rocks and banks are circumstances we encounter. The water continues to flow, but is changed in different degrees, depending on what it encounters, and so is life. Joy, hatred, happiness, envy, and all our other emotions are the ripples caused by these encounters, and we as the water can only move forward, bringing the ripples with us.”

“I think I understand,” she told him. “You believe we are the water, and we’re forced along the banks.”

“Yes,” he replied. “Sadness and joy is a part of life and cannot be avoided.” He headed back to the front of the barge as she followed, and then he said, “Look… and take care to observe. Look at the flow of the river,” he spoke in a soothing way in her mind. “See how calm it is. See the smoothness of the current. Do you feel a part of this water? Do you feel a part of the current? See the joy…” King Ammon spoke and said as if a command, “Relive the sorrow.”

She watched the flow of the river as his voice became more and more distant, and then she blinked, and they appeared to be someplace else along the Nile, and King Ammon was standing on her other side.

“Did something happen?” she asked.

“What do you mean?”

“It’s just that… It looks like we’re at a different spot along the river, and I thought you were standing…”

“Time does flow differently here,” he interrupted her. “I should have warned you beforehand. Time here can move forwards and backwards at my whim.”

“Oh…” she replied, but not sure that was the peculiar sensation she felt.

“What were we talking about?” she asked as if pulling out of a haze. “I remember how you were telling me life is like the river, but what were we talking about after that?”

“Family,” he replied. “Fathers and daughters… Mothers and daughters…”

“I don’t remember,” Kein said as she sniffed and realized her nose was runny and her eyes were watering.

“You might have gotten too much sun,” he told her. “Allow me to end the day.”

He lifted his right hand, and the sun that was high above them immediately set, and for the first time in a long time, night lingered over the river valley. The torches on the barge flickered on again.

“Do you have total control of your domain?” she asked him.

“Nearly,” he replied. “This is the Mortem.”

She blinked a couple of times as more of her senses came back to her, and then Kein remembered why she had come in the first place.

“I forgot to tell you that I have the Atlantian going after the Waters of Life, and if all goes well, I’ll have it sometime late tonight.”

“I would be careful if I was you when dealing with the Atlantian,” King Ammon warned her. “He is a peculiar sort and should not be trusted.”

Kein didn’t know what to say to his comment, so she remained silent.

“I will now answer your final question for the day even though I did allow you other questions. The question I would ask myself if I was you would be what I would ask all of the Residents. You should ask what is it that we want from you.”

“What all of you want from me?” Kein repeated as she thought about his reply. “I’ll take that to heart as I interact with all of you. I would like to leave now.”

“I am surprised that you have not asked me the question.”

“I’ve already used up all my questions for you today and… I don’t think I want to know the answer yet. I mean, I hope to change the answer, so I shouldn’t waste a question on something that will hopefully change.”

“You are very peculiar,” he told her.

“I’ll take that as your way of telling me that you’re starting to like me and maybe you don’t want to feed me to your beetles.”

“They are not hungry today,” he replied.

They said no more on the subject and quietly rode on the barge till the dock magically appeared, then she disembarked, and he followed her onto the small dock.

“I would like for you to meet me here from now on,” he told her. “It is my way of showing you trust, a trust I wish to build upon. I believe you will have no problems transversing my tomb to come to this river valley since you have already done so.”

“It could have been just blind luck,” she told him.

“I doubt that,” he stated. “There is something about you that is… special.”

“You’ll make me blush if you keep saying things like that,” Kein told him. “I’ll meet you here the next time I come.”

“I will bid you farewell till next we meet, daughter of fear.”

“Why do you call me, daughter of fear?”

“Are you not she?” he questioned.

“I’m no one’s daughter,” she replied.

“You are wrong,” he told her. “Many will vie for your love, and many will use your love against you.”

Kein didn’t know how to take his warning, so she merely ignored it and said, “I think you’re mistaken about the daughter part. I am Kein after all. I am no one’s daughter.”

She turned and headed through the tomb.

“You are wrong about one thing, daughter of fear,” King Ammon spoke softly to himself. “I can already see my Amisi Azeneth within you.”

 

Shukujo’s lair…

Kein returned to the dungeon castle area still sniffing and wiping her runny eyes. She headed directly for her pillow, and Thirteen spun down on a web from the corner above her and landed on her arm as he chirped happily. Kein picked up the Kumo’usagi and snuggled with him, so glad to see a friendly face. Shukujo seemed to know immediately when she arrived and came out to give the red nose and red-eyed woman a greeting.

“Welcome back, one I will soon kill.”

“Hey,” Kein replied as she petted Thirteen. “I’m glad to be back.”

“Ask me your question and be done with it,” Shukujo told her. “I grow tired of waiting on you.”

“You make it sound like you’ve been thinking of me all day,” Kein spoke in a toying manner as she looked to Shukujo. “It just warms my heart, knowing you care. I’m so glad you’re looking out for me.”

“I am not looking out for you, and I do not care!” Shukujo yelled louder than she planned to and lowered her voice before saying, “I care nothing about you. You and I have no other connection than you are a nuisance to me and I want to make you scream. Making you cry is too easy, so now I want to hear you shriek in agony.”

“I don’t think you’ll have to wait long,” Kein told her. “So far it sounds like these Mortem points are all based on how cruel and wicked someone can be. I guess there are no points for being kind or considerate down here.”

“You are among monsters. Does a human expect such things from us? Your kind and ours only kill one another, but if you think it will make a difference, I can kill you while I smile.”

“I would like to see your smile, but not at the expense of my life. I’ll just have to find another way to…”

“Baka! Do you believe we are playing some sort of game here?”

“It’s that what the Mortem is? And that’s not a question. I see the Mortem as some sort of giant game to entertain someone.”

“Are you talking about the Mortem Masters?” Shukujo questioned her.

“They’re a group of people,” Kein replied. “I get this feeling that the Mortem is designed just for one person’s enjoyment.”

“Even if you are right, what does that knowledge benefit you or me?”

“It has no benefit right now,” Kein replied. “Shukujo, you couldn’t possibly want to be here, and if you do, whatever your reasoning, it must be…”

“My reasoning…” Shukujo interrupted, “… is none of your business. You would be better to utilize your energy into surviving. Your chances by the moment become slimmer.”

“You’re right, and thank you for your advice. I’d be in real trouble in the Mortem if you didn’t teach me things.”

Shukujo started to let out a scream of frustration, but instead, she merely glared at the human and said, “You are welcomed, but do not expect any future advice to be helpful. I do mean to kill you. I mean to kill all humans.”

“Okay,” Kein replied as she continued to pet Thirteen, then her eyes grew heavy, and she shut them and nodded off.

Kein fell asleep, and her unguarded mind filled with images. She had made a mental vow not to intrude on Shukujo’s past, but with fatigue and sleep, Kein slipped into Shukujo’s mind as she had with all the other Residents. She saw a Japanese style mansion and hundreds of slashed bloody bodies scattered about. She heard screams of sorrow and then of rage, and Kein felt… she felt this uncontrollable bloodlust. Kein realized she was seeing Shukujo’s past, so she forced herself to wake, and sat up breathing heavily for all the terrible sights she saw.

“Nightmare…” Shukujo spoke with a slight hint of pleasure. “I wonder if I will be rewarded for your sleep terrors.”

Kein made no reply to her comment, but she did stare at her with this sad expression mixed with sympathy as if Kein had peered into her atrocious nightmares and not her own. Humans didn’t possess that ability, so Shukujo dismissed that idea.

“Should you be sleeping when there is work to be done?” Shukujo questioned her. “Do you not still have things to do?”

“I do,” Kein replied. “I shouldn’t close my eyes until it’s time to sleep.”

“You should never close your eyes, baka, for death will be all that you will find.”

“The advice is sound, but it’s impossible for a human not to eventually fall asleep, so I should thank you again for allowing me this small space. I feel somewhat safe here.”

“And that is why you are a baka,” Shukujo told her. “A fly should never feel somewhat safe in the spider’s lair.”

“I’ve always felt at home in the spider’s lair, and for some reason, I feel really safe with you like a familiar safe.”

“You keep insulting me with your talk. You must understand that you can trust no one here. We are monsters…”

“I heard a different tale when I spoke with Labaron. He made it sound like you two knew each other very well and that… some sort of disagreement came between you two.”

“The vampire is a back stabber and a liar,” Shukujo spoke as hatred that wasn’t aimed at Kein seethed from her voice. “He may have fooled me with his charms, but I will not fall for them again.”

“You were close then. I wasn’t sure. I can’t tell when he’s lying to me.”

Shukujo questioned, “You can tell when someone’s lying?”

“Me..?” Kein pointed to herself.

“Who else is here, baka?”

“Please don’t count that as a question,” Kein pleaded. “I was just startled from sleep, and I’m a little groggy.” She waited for some sort of response from the Kumovon, and when none came, Kein stated, “The vampire does like to talk.”

“You mean he likes to hear his own voice,” Shukujo restated.

“You’re right. I was just trying to be polite,” Kein spoke as she laughed. “He actually was the only one among all of you that looked like he actually wanted to talk to me when I entered his parlor, but I kept leaving. You should have seen the expression on his face each time I left.”

“Do tell,” Shukujo spoke, and then she asked, “What was it like?”

“It was like… How do I put it? It was like he couldn’t believe or more like he was shocked that I kept leaving,” Kein replied as she laughed again. “It was like he was appalled that I could pry myself away from him, but most of all, I believe he was surprised that I ran. I ran the first two times.”

Kein laughed for a third time, and Shukujo slightly smiled as she imagined the bane of the vampire when his prey fled his wilds not once but twice. Shukujo was curious as to how the human survived three trips to the Crimson Parlor, but then she remembered that the vampire had just fed and that it had been a long time since he had human companionship. Shukujo’s thoughts went back to the bane of the vampire, and she was very amused by what the human had done.

“I could imagine that,” Shukujo stated.

Kein petted Thirteen for a few moments, and then she asked, “Shukujo, why do you hate humans? You don’t have to answer that if you don’t want to, but I don’t believe all Kumovons hate humans, but you seem to really hate them.”

“I decline to answer your question if I have an option. My hatred is my own, and you do not need to know anything about it.”

“That’s fine like I said, you don’t have to answer, it’s just that it’s hard for me to understand how you feel,” Kein said. “I don’t think I ever hated anyone. I’ve disliked a few people, but hate… It has to be something like anger, but it never goes away.”

“You do understand,” Shukujo told her. “Hatred never goes away. It is always in the back of your mind. It is how I have survived in this place. If I did not have my hatred, I… I do not know if I would still be alive.”

“This is another question you don’t have to answer,” Kein began. “How important is family to Kumovons? My real question is would you leave someone you cared about behind, I mean, would you abandon them?”

“I would never, and I cannot see one of my kind doing something like that to one of their own family. Are you thinking about that Kumovon lady you mentioned earlier?”

“Yes, I want to understand the relationship we had. She said she wanted to devour me. I thought that meant she wanted to bring me into her clan, but I just wasn’t big enough. If this was the devour she meant, why did she leave without taking me?”

“Baka… to us monsters devour just means eat and nothing else. You should be thankful that she didn’t devour you. I would have the moment I saw your defenseless naive presence if I had been in her position.”

“Right…” Kein replied, feeling a little heartsick. “I should be thankful she left.”

Kein sat up, placed Thirteen on the floor, then turned away from Shukujo, and wiped her hands over her face as she said, “Enough talking about things like that. I have a Mortem I need to win, and I need to ask you one more question.”

She turned back around, and Shukujo noticed her eyes were even redder than they had been when she first came into her lair.

“I want to survive this week, so that I can go home,” Kein stated. “You want to kill me because… umm… you’ll enjoy it. Both of those things can’t happen, so one of us is going to end up very unhappy.”

“More like dead,” Shukujo commented. “What point are you trying to make?”

“Isn’t there something more you want than to make my wish impossible to achieve? I thought if there was something else, maybe we could help each other out. Surviving alone is very hard.”

“I will offer you this advice, baka. We are all alone here. Understand that, and you might survive a few hours more,” Shukujo told her, and then she emphasized, “We are all alone here.”

“Maybe whoever is in charge of the Mortem wants you to think that way. Maybe they don’t want all of you to work together because that’s the only way to win the Mortem.”

“I tried once to work with one of the other Residents, but he only ended up betraying me,” Shukujo said, and then she insisted, “I will trust no one again.”

“The vampire…” Kein muttered, and then she asked, “Is there a way we can work together that doesn’t involve a need to trust me? There must be something you want more than to make a human dead.”

“There is nothing I want that you can help me attain,” Shukujo replied. “You only wasted your questions pursuing the possibility. You are truly a baka.”

“At least you didn’t lie to me, and I clearly see where I stand with you,” Kein replied.

“Do not stand with me,” Shukujo told her. “Do not even stand where I can see you.”

“If that’s what you want,” Kein said as she started for the door. “I do need to…”

“Wait, I change my mind,” Shukujo interrupted her. “First I want you to answer some of my questions.”

“Okay,” Kein said as she walked back over to where she was standing. “What are your questions?”

“What sort of hex did you place on the one you call Thirteen?”

“Hex?” Kein repeated as she glanced at the Kumo’usagi who had started to crawl up the wall to the corner where he had made his home.

Thirteen felt that Kein was paying attention to him again, so he paused and looked at the new addition to his family. She saw his eight puppy dog eyes and wanted to snatch him from the wall and snuggle him again, but she resisted the urge.

“Yes, see the way he peers at you,” Shukujo pointed out. “It is almost like he likes you, no, I would say adores you. He is my Kumovon child, so he should only look at me that way, but his fondness for you seems to be greater, unnaturally greater even though you are a human.”

Kein glanced at her gloved hands and then said, “I’ll only apologize to you one more time for taking him away from you, but I did warn you to call your children back.”

“I do not accept your apology as I did not accept it then,” Shukujo told her. “I want you to answer my question.”

“I didn’t place a hex on Thirteen, but that doesn’t mean a hex isn’t on me,” Kein replied as she walked over and held out her hand for the Kumo’usagi to crawl across it. He gleefully crawled into her palm and balled himself up so he would fit, and Kein noticed how light he was for his size as she said, “It does seem he really likes me, but is it real or some curse? I wish I knew. I want to believe Thirteen’s affections are real. It would make life a little less harsh.”

“Kumo’usagi are not affectionate.”

“They’re not, so this is unnatural?” Kein questioned as she petted him. “It took me a long time to realize that normal spiders were acting unnaturally around me. Spiders are also not affectionate, but they were with me. I just thought Kumovon children would be different since they’re more like your people than spiders.”

“As I said, you must have placed a hex on him either intentionally or unintentionally, but I do find one thing peculiar.”

Kein asked, “What is that?”

“Your affection towards him. Do you not see him as grotesque? Is he not like some monstrosity from your nightmares? Do you not see him as some grossly hairy beast that wants to hurt you?”

“Not at all,” Kein replied as she felt the life essence of the creature in her palm. “I see him as beautiful, not as pretty as you, but wondrous in his own way. Don’t you think the same? All your children are wondrous, and it’s been very hard for me not to pick them up even though I really want to.” She thought about what Shukujo had told her before, and then Kein asked, “Are you saying that your Kumovon children aren’t affectionate with you?”

“We are not talking about me,” Shukujo told her.

“I guess not,” Kein said, and then she held Thirteen close to her cheek as she stated, “I love how soft he is, and how he cuddles up to me.” Her eyes widened with delight as she added, “Listen… He’s purring.”

“Purring..? Kumo’usagi are capable of purring, but I have never heard one do so,” Shukujo said, and then she ordered, “Give him to me.”

“Are you saying that you’ll take him back?” Kein questioned as she moved to the white border line. She nearly handed him over, but then she demanded, “Tell me you won’t hurt him.”

“What kind of Kumovon do you think I am that you believe I will hurt one of my own Kumo’usagi?”

“I am questioning your hatred of humans. Would you hurt Thirteen just to make me suffer?”

Shukujo glanced at the fluffy Kumo’usagi Kein held with care, and then she answered, “I would not. They are family.”

Kein set Thirteen down, and then she told him, “Go on to Shukujo.”

Thirteen crawled across the Kumo’sakai, and Shukujo picked him up and took a firm grip of his bunny-ear antennas as she said, “I am surprised that you believed me. I tricked you so easily. Now come on this side of the Kumo’sakai or I will hurt Thirteen.”

Kein didn’t hesitate and moved to cross the white borderline, but then she stopped and said, “No, you won’t hurt Thirteen.”

“Sure I will.”

“No, you won’t,” Kein insisted. “You won’t do it because I have to be right about you.”

“What do you mean?”

“You won’t… you can’t hurt one of your family. I have to be right about this.”

Shukujo tightened her grip on his bunny-ear antennas as she said, “You are wrong about Kumovon. We devour our own.”

“No!” Kein yelled, and this was the first time Shukujo witnessed her become angry. Kein shouted, “You won’t! I have to be right about this!”

“It looks like I have touched on a sensitive subject,” Shukujo spoke. “Why is it so important that you be right? Are you still pouting over that Kumovon lady you claim you knew?” She studied Kein’s agitated reaction, and then she said, “By your response, I am right. There is more to the story between you and that Kumovon lady, is there not? You two became close… no… We do not become close to your kind, so it must be that you became close to her. My poor baka… You are upset that you do not know if the friendship you struck with your lady was one-sided. You might be even more upset over that point than you are upset that I am going to hurt this Kumovon child.” Shukujo paused, waiting for an answer, but Kein held her tongue, so Shukujo told her, “I know something. I know of the whispering specter that you have been trying to keep at bay. I know what this vengeful specter whispers in your ear each time you think of the lady.”

“What would you know?” Kein yelled.

“I know that your kind does not stand a chance here. I know that the Mortem will eat you alive. I also know, my poor baka…” Shukujo pointed at her as she accused her, “I also know that it is your fault that the lady abandoned you.”

“You can’t know that,” Kein insisted. “I never told anyone, so you can’t know that.”

Shukujo vowed to herself that she wouldn’t let up on antagonizing the human and spoke, “In your mind, you became very close as close as a mother and daughter could become, but you are the only one who saw it that way.”

“Shut up…” Kein told her in nearly a murmur.

“Why are you upset? I only speak the truth. I know… I know that she cared nothing for you, and the proof is when you gave her a new name.”

“Shut up…” Kein spoke louder. “You can’t know this.”

“I do know this. I have seen your pain. I have seen what should have been a warm joyous moment for a child turn into a cold flurry of confusion and doubt. It… that very moment has caused you to go on a quest for the truth, but I am afraid that you already know the truth.”

“You know nothing,” Kein shouted back as panic set in, and the misgivings she had snuffed out, rushed back like the furious flames of a rekindled wildfire.

“Do you remember how your lady reacted when you blessed her with such an endearing name?” Shukujo questioned her. “You thought she would be delighted to be honored with such a name. You thought she would wrap her arms around you and give you the kiss a mother would give a daughter, but nothing like that happened.” Shukujo’s next words crawled out of her mouth as if malice had grown eight legs, “Baka… You gave her such an endearing name befitting one you thought loved you, but she only screamed at you…”

Kein shook her head, denying everything she heard, denying that this Kumovon could know her deepest shame and sorrow. She denied it within her mind with furor as she backed up and repeated with anguish dripping from her lips, “You can’t know this… You can’t know this…”

“You called her mother and…”

“Shut up!” Kein screamed as the tears she had been holding back, tears she normally sealed away deep within her broke through her carefully laid barriers and came gushing out. “Don’t say anymore! Shut up!”

“You called her mother out of great affection and… and she rejected your love. She rejected you and your silly thoughts and beliefs. The only thing you shared with her was time,” Shukujo told her as Thirteen tried to wriggle from her grasp so that he could go to Kein, but Shukujo held a firm grasp on his bunny-ear antennas. She told the human, “What agony the lady must have been in to put up with one such as you? A tiny little morsel not even worthy enough to eat.” Shukujo continued her onslaught, “You are a baka now, and you were a baka back then. Loneliness blinded you to reality. I still do not know why the lady stayed so long with you. It is more likely that you exaggerated the length of time you spent together.”

“You can’t know this…” Kein said while she gave a numb ear to the Kumovon. She stumbled back a few steps and hit the wall with her back as she spoke, “No one should know this.”

Shukujo witnessed the pain she dealt against the human, and she believed it was enough for now, so she released the hold she had on Thirteen and then stroked his head as she said, “It seems I do not need to hurt him right at this moment. I found another way to hurt you, and I should score very high for it.”

“You did hurt me,” Kein replied as her tears continued to flow. “Why would you want to hurt me in this way? I haven’t cried in nearly a year, and that’s all I seem to do in this Mortem.”

“Causing tears… actually I should say… causing tears of sorrow ranks as one of the highest non-lethal scorings,” Shukujo told her. “How could I pass on such an opportunity? I should be set for a few days now.”

“How did you know? You couldn’t possibly know what happened that last day with the lady,” Kein insisted.

“Look at where you are. You skip around the darkness, forgetting you are among the vilest of creatures, the cursed, and the damned. You should be more cautious.”

Kein wiped away her tears as she said, “I should be more cautious. Did you have to teach me this lesson so harshly?”

“Teach you?” Shukujo nearly laughed out. “Are you substituting me for the lady just because I happen to be a Kumovon.”

“Maybe,” Kein replied. “But you’re the one who showed me my error in allowing my trusting nature to have free will here.”

“Tell me what you have learned then, my baka,” Shukujo instructed her.

Kein began as she controlled her crying, “The mummy… King Ammon… he did something to me, didn’t he? I heard that those cursed can gain power by feeding on pain. I just thought that nourishment would be pain caused by physical wounds. I never thought the pain would be…”

“Emotional?” Shukujo interjected as she set Thirteen on the floor. “Humans are such weak creatures.”

Thirteen started for Kein as he desperately wanted to console her, but Kein shook her head, so Thirteen turned and headed for the others of his kind.

“You are a harsh teacher,” Kein told her. “Have you been this harsh to your other pupils?”

“I have had no students, and I do not wish for any. I will gain valuable resources with the points I have made off of you if you happened to learn something from the experience, what is that to me. Now tell me what you have learned my non-student?”

“I let my guard down and the mummy fed on my pain,” Kein replied as she felt like she was back in school. “I was a baka, and a baka gets no gold stars.”

“Gold stars?” Shukujo questioned. “What is this in reference to?”

“It’s a sticker given as a reward,” Kein replied. “Gold being the highest honor.” She thought about what the Kumovon told her, and then Kein questioned, “Even if King Ammon fed on the pain of my past, how would you know about it?”

“You are way over your limit of questions,” Shukujo told her. “But I will tell you that those who are cursed must manifest the pain they feed on into something tangible before they devour it.”

She thought about her explanation, and then Kein stated, “You mean you saw it? You saw my pain… you saw my memory of that terrible day, but that would mean…” Kein paused as she thought about details she let stagnate, and then she said, “The Residents have ways of watching other Residents; it has to be how you know. Labaron had a button that gave him thirty minutes of privacy, and I thought it was from Controller and the Coaches, but it was from everyone. All of you have been watching me. King Ammon manifest my pain and you were able to view it. My deepest shame and everyone saw it.”

“You are not very quick, are you?” Shukujo scolded her.

Kein wiped away the last of her tears as she stated, “The Mortem’s point system it’s… it’s based on pain and suffering.” She closed her eyes as she envisioned a large building rising up through the darkness, and she spoke, “The Mortem is a massive tower to gather all this pain and suffering, but why do something like this? What is the real purpose of the Mortem? Could it be that I was right? You are all being duped into participating in this Mortem for someone else’s gain?”

“The moment I think that you are a true baka, you go and say something that is beyond the wisdom you should have,” Shukujo told her. “I have had a similar assumption.”

“For the Mortem to continue, pain and suffering must be prolonged, so the Mortem has to be very hard so no one can win, and no one has won the Mortem,” Kein spoke, and then she questioned herself, “How am I supposed to win the Mortem if so many others have tried and failed?” She pushed herself away from the wall and approached the white borderline as she said, “No wonder all of you are the way you are. You’ve all been down here too long.”

“Are you suggesting we need to step out into the light? Do not forget we live in darkness.”

“Monsters walk in the light and saints move about in the darkness,” Kein told her. “What is important is the light and darkness within you.” She looked around the dungeon castle area, and then Kein said, “I pity all of you.”

“You pity us. Because we are forced to make others suffer? Have you forgotten what we are?”

“I pity you, not because you are forced to make others suffer, but that you choose to,” Kein replied, then she noticed the unlucky numbered Kumo’usagi that had become her responsibility, and she said, “Thirteen was very scared when you threatened him. You made him suffer, and he’s one of yours.” She stepped right to the white borderline, peered up at Shukujo high above her, and asked, “Did you suffer when you made him suffer or did you feel nothing? If you felt nothing, you’ve been down here too long.”

Shukujo glanced in the direction where all the Kumo’usagi gathered, considering what the human had warned her of, and then Shukujo told her, “I believe you are right about that point. I have been down here too long, and for pointing this fact out to me, I will answer one of your earlier questions I refused to answer.” Shukujo moved away from the Kumo’sakai and deeper into her lair as if she was afraid to face something, and then she turned and said, “I once deeply cared about two humans, and they betrayed me. They betrayed me in a way that I couldn’t forgive them, and so I made them suffer in ways that I deemed fit for their treachery, and then I killed them.”

“Are they why you’re here?” Kein questioned her.

Shukujo started to answer, but then she just said, “Who is to say?”

Kein turned, but then faced the Kumovon and said, “I was right. You didn’t hurt your Kumovon child.”

“Did not and could not are two different things. Remember that, baka,” Shukujo told her. “It would seem with the amount of lessons I have given today, I do have an annoying student,” she stated, and then she asked, “Are you going to give me a new name? Perhaps you will call me sensei?”

“You have seen the pain of my past,” Kein spoke. “Do you really want to be called by a name I intended to give to the lady to show her I meant no disrespect?”

“No, I do not need a name associated with pain.”

Shukujo went deeper into her lair, and Kein watched her leave until she couldn’t see her anymore, and then she went and lay against her pillow in the corner. Kein sat there for a long time as she battled the demons Shukujo brought up with her tormenting and teaching. She also tried to ignore the grumblings of her stomach. Kein kept thinking about the bowl of cherries Labaron had sitting on his coffee table, and finally, she couldn’t take it anymore and went to his room. The werewolf pup was still nowhere in sight, and Kein was finding it odd that he hadn’t appeared.

Chapter Eight

If Wishes Were Fried Fishes

Controller’s room…

All five coaches were present on the feeds as Controller continued with another session.

Green Serpent smacked the palm of his hand on his desk as he spoke, “I thought there would be more threat to the contestant’s life.”

“She does seem to be fairing well against the Residents,” Blue Wolf stated.

Red Phoenix restated, “You mean she is not dead yet.”

“It is only her second day,” Yellow Dragon said.

“Still,” Green Serpent spoke up. “I would like to increase the level of threat against her.”

“In the past, we have agreed to such things,” Purple Rose added. “But that was against a Resident and only with permission from their Coach. Controller, since Kein is a contestant, what do the rules dictate against such a request?”

“This has not come up before. I will need to consult the Mortem Masters,” Controller answered. “If you all will excuse me, I will go consult with them now.”

Controller’s feed went dark.

“I also will take this opportunity to take a break,” Purple Rose said. “I will return shortly.”

His feed went dark.

Sometime later…

Both Controller and Purple Rose feeds returned.

“I have spoken with the Mortem Masters, and they have said that they will allow it as long as at least three of you Coaches agree,” Controller stated. “Green Serpent, tell the others of your plan, and as long as two of them agree with you, your higher threat level may be granted.”

“My plan is very simple,” Green Serpent stated. “I only want to grant one of the Residents their wish.”

“Are you talking about your own Resident. I like that idea,” Red Phoenix spoke up. “This Mortem needs a little more excitement.”

“Yes,” Purple Rose agreed. “We should give one of the Residents one of their wishes.”

 

The vampire’s parlor…

Kein entered, and Labaron was nowhere in sight. She looked to the bowl of cherries, and the bowl was nearly full. She wasn’t about to steal them, so she wasn’t sure why she had come. She had nothing to trade with the vampire, nothing she was willing to part with, so Kein turned to leave when…

“Ma chère, you came back, good… I can tell you the story I promised you.”

“I actually didn’t come for the story,” Kein told him as she stared at the door, a little afraid to look him in the eyes.

“You have finally admitted to yourself that you can’t resist me, so you have come to fling yourself at me.”

She turned around, but kept her gaze away from his as she replied, “I’m not sure why I would throw myself at you like I would a knife, but…” Her stomach grumbled again as she finished, “…desire as brought me here.”

“Really… come then,” Labaron urged her as he walked over to the couch and sat. He patted the cushion seat next to him and said, “Come here and tell me all your desires.”

Kein moved to the spot she had stood in the last time she was in the parlor as she admitted, “I don’t know if I’m ready to go that far. Baby steps and all.”

“I promise, I’ll be gentle. Come… Come…”

“Gentle about what?” she asked.

He studied her seemingly bashful demeanor and couldn’t tell if she was playing a part to get what she wanted or she really was unlearned to certain things of the world, so he questioned, “Are you really a lamb? This wolf would love it if you are a lamb.”

“I thought the werewolf pup was the only wolf here,” she stated. “Or do you refer to one of your familiars?” Kein thought about it some more, and then she asked, “Or could it be what I had heard during my schooling is untrue… Are there creatures that are half-born? Are you a werewolf and a vampire?”

“Heed this warning, ma chère. You should never speak of such vile and detestable creatures. Chimeras are only legend. There are no half-borns. The mingling of certain infections, as you put it, is impossible, and the pairing of different creatures can produce no offspring. I’ll take no offense in you calling me as such for I believe no offense was intended. Others wouldn’t be so understanding, and they would instantly rip your head off.” He allowed a few moments to pass so that his warning sunk in, and then he said, “When I referred to myself as a wolf, I was merely… No, I believe your ears are too young to hear of such things just yet. I will educate you slowly.”

“I already have a harsh teacher,” Kein told him as she instinctively wiped her eyes as if they were full of tears. “I don’t know if I need another.”

“Harsh..?” Labaron repeated as if offended. “I would be no such thing. When I teach you things, they will be very pleasurable. My teachings will take you to heights of ecstasy.”

“I think we’re talking about two different things, and I’m not sure I want to know what you’re talking about especially if it has to do with your vampire mojo. Could we get back on subject, and I mean the subject I was talking about?”

“Yes, of course. We were talking about your desires, but first… Did you not make me a promise?”

“A promise..?” Kein repeated as she finally made eye contact.

Labaron motioned to her feet with his head, and she glanced down at them.

“Oh, right. I had forgotten,” Kein said, and then she took a step forward. “Okay, I did it, now… You have something I want, and I’m not sure how to ask for it.”

“We’ll make it a game then. Don’t speak with your mouth, ma chère. Let your body do the talking,” he told her.

“I’m really not sure what you mean, but I’ll try,” Kein replied, and then she lifted her arm and pointed her finger at the cherries.

From his perspective, it looked like she was pointing at him, so he said, “Now I’m the one who really doesn’t understand. Your body needs to give me another clue.”

“I was never good at these types of games,” she admitted. “Couldn’t I just tell you what I want?”

“The game has just started,” he told her. “Don’t ruin it with impatience.”

She pointed again at the cherries and then to her closed lips.

“I’m imagining many things, but I believe none of them are what you intend, ma chère. I believe you need to throw your soul into expressing your desires.”

Her stomach growled real loud, and then she smiled and said, “I don’t know about throwing my soul into it, but there… My body speaks.”

“You’re hungry?” Labaron questioned as he realized his guessing was nowhere near her actual appetite. “So your desire is for..?”

She pointed at the bowl again and answered, “I would like to trade for your cherries.”

“Of course you would. What else would I have that you would desire?” he spoke somewhat disappointed. “I have thrown out my allure at you many times, but it seems to have no effect on you. I have encounter only one other creature that is immune.”

“Are you talking about Shukujo?”

“You have been paying attention. You’re a very good student,” Labaron told her, and then he asked, “What are you offering for trade?”

“I have nothing of value or anything that you would want,” she answered.

“But you do have something that I want,” he stated. “You can’t be that naive as to what a vampire wants.”

“I know you crave blood, it’s just… I’ve been taking these supplements, and even when I don’t take them, they stay in my bloodstream for about three to four days. I just don’t think I’ll taste good.”

“I now understand. I once feasted on this woman who took garlic and well… I was sick for a week.” Labaron questioned, “Is it the same thing?”

“You could say that,” she replied. “Is there anything else that I could trade with you?”

“What I was thinking of before, but I think I’ll wait till your garlic free. Even just the thought of it puts me out of the mood.”

Her stomach rumbled again, and she pleaded, “There has to be something.”

“Maybe you could help me with a problem,” he said as he stood, excited about the idea. “I notice you’ve been spending a lot of time with… Shukujo, you call her… I’d like you to…”

“No,” she interrupted. “I won’t do it, and if that’s the only way I can…”

“You haven’t even heard what I want you to do,” Labaron spoke angrily.

“Of what I know and understand about you two’s relationship and how the Mortem’s played, I imagine you want me to do something Shukujo won’t like.”

“I would have thought you’d jump at a chance to get back at her after what she just said to you.”

Kein muttered as her face flushed slightly, “Nothing’s a secret here.”

“Not unless you have one of these red buttons,” Labaron told her as he motioned to his.

“I’m learning that slowly… Is there anything I can try to acquire for you that you want in trade for the cherries?”

“How about your time?”

“What do you mean?” Kein asked.

“I want you to come sit by me on the couch while I tell you the story of Labaron and Lafayette.”

“I don’t know. The idea sounds a little dangerous to me.”

“Let’s strike a bargain. I will never harm you in any way while I tell you a tale, and for every two minutes you stay with me, I’ll give you one cherry.”

“It is a deal if you will also include ten minutes after your tale is over that you can’t harm me, harming me includes taking any of my blood or trying to use your mojo on me, and you give me a handful of cherries to start with.” She added to explain her added conditions, “I want to be able to enjoy your tale and soak in your story once it’s done without fear of a vampire’s bite, and I’ll need my strength if I’m to give you my full attention.”

Labaron replied, “A bargain has been struck.”

“A bargain has been struck,” Kein spoke.

“Come now…” Labaron urged her as he once again patted the cushion seat next to him. “Come and sit.”

Kein went and sat so that she faced the vampire, then he allowed her to grab a handful of cherries, and Labaron began as she greedily munched away.

“Once there were twin boys born to Baron Henry Bayard and Baroness Mary Bayard. The twins both had hair dark as the night just like their mother’s, but only one of them shared her eyes.”

“You’re not identical twins?” Kein interrupted.

“No, we were what you call fraternal twins, and please, don’t interrupt my tale.”

“Sorry, I’ll stay quiet,” Kein said as she went back to eating the last of her cherries in her hand.

“Sit back and relax,” he told her. “For our story goes like this… In 1888, outside of New Orleans, Labaron and Lafayette were born into privilege… one might say they were born with a silver crawdad in their mouth. They grew up as close as brothers could be, closer when their loving mother passed on. Their father didn’t have much to do with Labaron, and even less to do with Lafayette who reminded their father of their mother. The time their father did spend with Labaron was to teach him the ways of the family business and the ways of wayward men, not that Lafayette lacked experience with women. Far from it… The boys grew into older teens, and Labaron became curious with the occult and all things related to the night. Lafayette also enjoyed the night, but only what pleasures food, wine, and women could bring him. When they turned twenty-one, their father passed on and left them all of his wealth. Labaron and Lafayette didn’t squander their wealth, they invested it, and hired a manager to take care of the family business so that the Bayard Twins could indulge in other matters. They were well known for their parties and threw one nearly every night.”

“I don’t mean to interrupt again, but I’ve been dying to know since you mentioned it,” Kein spoke, and then she asked, “What color were your mother’s eyes? You mentioned it and then forgot all about it.”

“You do like details in your stories. I’ll penalize you for interrupting my tale again, and I’ll make you answer a riddle to discover the answer. Here’s the riddle. Some believed I was made of cheese, not so. I come in threes in a season, but if four should appear, I am the third one in a row. What am I?”

She had no clue what three things appeared in a season, so she focused on things once believed to be made of cheese, and she knew of one right away, but instead of returning to the part in the riddle about the seasons, she took a guess by adding a color to her conclusion.

“A blue moon, for once in a blue moon,” she replied. “Your mother had blue eyes.”

“She did,” he answered. “Now allow me to continue my tale. Labaron became intertwined with this mysterious woman that he always made excuses as to why he never introduced her to his brother. Labaron began to spend less and less time with his brother at their parties, and Lafayette feared that maybe his brother’s bachelor ways may be coming to an end. Lafayette one night followed his brother while he went to rendezvous with his lover. Labaron became angry when he discovered Lafayette followed him. The mysterious woman, Ms. Felicite Yvon became interested in both of them, and she wished to throw a dinner party for both of them. Later that night when the brothers returned home, Labaron told Lafayette he didn’t want him to come to the dinner party, that he wanted Felicite all to himself. Lafayette agreed that he wouldn’t attend the dinner party the next night. Lafayette went to bed, but he couldn’t sleep. He thought about how his brother had changed. Labaron was never around when it was day, and he had become very pale and ate little. Lafayette became concerned for his brother, not because of jealousy, women could do that and had come between the brothers on occasion, but Labaron wasn’t acting like himself. He was crazed in a way, obsessed like a mad man, so Lafayette broke the promise he made his brother and went to the dinner party. Lafayette hid himself away from the two lovers, hoping to hear something that would explain why his brother had changed so. Needless to say, he overheard something that caused him to have an argument with his brother in front of Felicite. The brothers took their argument outside of her manor, and they ended up at a cliff high above the ocean.”

“Umm… I know I’m going to be penalized again, but are there high cliffs in Louisiana. The cliff you speak of I can imagine maybe somewhere in New England, but I can’t imagine a huge cliff in Louisiana. It would be like you telling me you stood on a mountain in Florida.”

“You right… you will be penalized again for interrupting my tale. There might not be tall cliffs in Louisiana, but there was one on the back of her manor. Now… if you don’t stay quiet, I will nibble on your ear.”

She made the zipper across her lips motion and waited for him to continued his story.

Labaron spoke, “The brothers ended up in a fight, and one of them fell off the cliff to his death. The other mourned for his brother’s death, but ultimately he received his wish from Felicite.”

Kein sat there stuffing cherry after cherry into her red stained lips, devouring his entire bowl as she waited for him to finish his story, and when he didn’t, she asked, “What happened then?”

“That is the end of that tale. I have many tales. Would you like to hear another?”

She finished the last piece of fruit, then licked her cherry flavored lips, and said, “It’s getting late. I guess I’ll be going.”

“Before you go,” he started. “I’ll let you have half of these cherries every day if you can guess which of the brothers I am.”

“You haven’t given me much to go on so far,” Kein told him, and then she realized she had less than ten minutes to figure the truth, and she did want the reward. It would guarantee her much needed nutrients during the Mortem, so she peered into his face, hoping some slight expression would give away the answer, and that’s when she noticed, that’s when it clicked in her head, and she answered, “You must be Lafayette.”

“I should have never bargained my cherries over something you had half a chance at guessing at,” the vampire stated.

“Yay! I’ll have cherries every day now I don’t have to worry about starving to…”

He covered his face with his hand as if defeated by her, and then he started laughing as he spoke, “I can’t believe you actually believe me. You think I’m Lafayette.”

“Don’t lie to me. I know your Lafayette.”

“I am not,” he said. “I am Labaron, and I have always been curious about things of the night, and here over a century later, I’m one of those things.”

“How can I be wrong?” Kein questioned him. “Did you tell me a lie at some point in your story?”

“I did not,” he said as he reached over and touched her cheek. “I would never lie to you.”

Kein gasped slightly as images fell from the darkness like stars plummeting to the earth. These images whispered of his past and told a tale even he didn’t know. The images startled her, but his touch flustered her even more, so Kein quickly stood up and headed for the door. Fear had kept her safe from such things in the past, but fear was silent because fear was a little curious.

“Ma chère, do not leave. I will tell you more of my tale.”

“Not right now. There’s someplace I need to be,” she told him and then mumbled, “I need to be anyplace but here.”

Kein rushed into the hallway, shut the door behind her, then leaned against it as she tried to clear her thoughts. Labaron had been truthful to her; he hadn’t lied to her. She touched her cheek where his cold hand had touched her.

Controller spoke over the intercom, “I overheard you tell the vampire that you take a supplement.”

“I do,” Kein replied as she snapped out of her thoughts that were confusing and a little frightening, and then she questioned, “Why do you ask?”

He suggested, “Maybe you should request this supplement as a bonus.”

“What do you mean?”

“I guess you don’t have a Coach to tell you all of these things,” Controller spoke, and then he explained, “A bonus is earned when you help a Coach attain a certain bet. The Coach doesn’t have to be yours to attain it, so even though you are a contestant, you can still receive bonuses. I only need to know what the supplement’s name is to place it in one of your bonus slots.”

“How many bonus spots do I get?”

Controller answered, “Normally three.”

“The supplement’s called colloidal silver,” she told him.

“I know of it,” he said. “That supplement has no garlic in it.”

“I never said it did,” Kein stated. “I only said it was something like garlic since silver does agitate vampires.” She waited for him to say something, and when he didn’t, she said, “I would like the colloidal silver as soon as I earn this bonus.”

Controller said, “You don’t have a room yet, so I will send a chest in for you. Would you like it set up by your pillow?”

“I don’t think Shukujo will appreciate me moving in, but I guess it can’t be helped,” she replied. “I’ll only be here another five days, and then after that, I’ll have won the Mortem, and I can leave.”

“There is always the possibility that you’ll die.”

“No, I’m going to win. I can’t stay here.”

 

Some time later…

Kein spent the rest of her time after listening to the vampire’s tale in Dr. Jekyll’s lab. She had become curious about Dr. Frankenstein’s monster or more like Kein told herself that was the reason for hiding out in the lab. She was looking over the mad scientist’s creation, taking notes on what pieces were missing. Dr. Jekyll had again agreed in his not really paying attention way of loaning her a writing pad and pen. She set the pad and pen on the shelf behind the monster when she finished, and as tiredness seeped into her eyes again, she thought about everything that had happened to her that day. Only two days out of the seven had gone by, and Kein faced death so many times. She didn’t know how she would survive another five.

The end of day chime rang on the grandfather clock within the lab that had a steampunk theme to it. It was positioned next to the cabinet in the first room. Kein pulled from her thoughts, grabbed the pad and pen, and headed for the Atlantian’s room. He wasn’t there, and he didn’t appear when she called out, so she waited on the first dock, looking over the notes she wrote in the pad. Ten minutes later, bubbles rose from the depths of the dark water, and the Atlantian crawled out of the water with the clay vessel.

“Welcome back,” Kein told him as she smiled.

“It is good to be back since it is you who greets me,” he told her.

“Were you able to find the Waters of Life?”

“I was and it was unguarded for something as important sounding as its name. I filled the vessel full.”

“Thank you. Was there anything else you were wanting me to find for you?” she asked him.

“I would actually like to give you something. You fulfilled my requirements on finding a book I have never read before, which in itself I would say was a very difficult assignment, and all I had to do was go for a long swim which I do every day.”

“You don’t have to give me anything. The Waters of Life are enough for the bargain we made.”

He said, “Then allow me to give you something as a gift. You may take three books from my collection. It is very vast and extensive, so I probably own any book you could think of.”

“Are your books underwater?”

“No, I keep all of them in the chests you see scattered about my domain,” the Atlantian replied as he pointed to a few.

“I thought the chests would be bigger, but they’re not big at all. By the way you talked, I thought you have thousands upon thousands of books, but those chests look like they barely hold five.”

“I can understand your confusion about the chests. Each is connected to a portal where I store all of my books. I would not be able to carry them where I go unless I had such a portal. There is a disk on top of each chest, simply place your hand upon it, and think about the book you would like.”

“I have no idea what books to request,” she told him, and then she asked, “Can I think about it and request them at a later day?”

“You may, but I do suggest one book or more like a journal that you might be interested in,” the Atlantian told her. “I have acquired one of Dr. Jekyll’s journals. It is extensive on his experiments and also includes the account on how Mr. Hyde was created, but they also…” He paused, and then he said, “I should not give away anything. It will ruin the read.”

“So no spoilers then?” Kein stated.

“Spoilers?”

“Telling someone the ending or giving away crucial points of a book and/or show to someone who hasn’t read it or saw it yet, and it usually ruins it for the person.”

“I see,” the Atlantian replied. “Yes, no spoilers.” He motioned for her as he said, “You may come down and retrieve the journal and the vessel.”

She climbed down the first ladder, and then paused at the second as she glanced at the five-foot dock.

He questioned her, “Why do you hesitate?”

“My fear of drowning,” Kein replied.

“If I held your hand while you were down here, would that help your fear?”

“I think it won’t help my fear,” Kein told him. “I’m still afraid that you’ll drown me.”

The Atlantian laughed, and then he said, “Your honest, and you say the most unexpected things.”

“Please don’t take offense. I want to trust you. I want to trust all of you, but…”

“We are within the three hours that follow the witching hour. I cannot harm a Resident within this time.”

“I understand that, and I understand that I’m not a Resident.”

The Atlantian told her, “I have a feeling if luck remains on your side, you will soon become one, but I will tell you that the three hours also protect you.”

“I feel really bad asking, and I know it’s rude of me to ask, but do you mind going back into the water?”

A bright expression crossed his face as he told her, “Mi cha, you are just like my beloved sister. She was also very afraid, but I could usually soothe her fears.” The Atlantian continued to look at her as if he saw someone else standing there, and then he said, “For this one time, I will do as you request.”

He jumped into the water, then resurfaced, and swam backwards some distance away from the dock. Kein slowly climbed down to the five-foot dock, she made her way to the next dock, then to the vessel, made sure its lid was secure, and she picked up the vessel. She walked over to the chest, set the vessel nearly half her size down, and while keeping her eye on the Atlantian, she placed her palm on the disk and thought about Dr. Jekyll’s journal. While she was there, another book came to mind, so she requested it, and the chest had it, so she took both books. She placed the red leather journal and the book in her backpack, picked up the vessel that was thankfully lighter than it should be with water in it, and she headed back to the top dock.

“I noticed you took two books,” the Atlantian said as he pulled himself back on the lower dock, and then he asked, “What other book did you request?”

Kein reached the dock that was five feet off the water, turned, and stated, “You like games, so I’ll make it a guessing game. Every time we meet you get one question and one guess or would you prefer that I just tell you?”

“I will play. Have you read this book before?”

“I have, but not in a long time. It’s one of my favorite books,” she replied.

“You give away quite a bit in your answers,” he told her. “But to utilize your answers, I will need to become more acquainted with you, so you need to survive.”

“I know on both points, and I do plan on surviving. I plan on winning the Mortem. I just need to make it through these next five days.”

“Make sure you do. There are a lot of games I wish to play with you and many many more I wish to teach you.”

“Till our next game then,” she said and then added before she left, “Thank you again for the Waters of Life.”

Kein went out into the hallway and entered King Ammon’s tomb, carrying the clay vessel with great care so not to drop it.

“I’m here,” she called out as she set the large vessel down. “I have the Waters of Life.”

King Ammon arrived, floating to her in his sarcophagus, and then he left the safety of his crypt and moved to her.

“I thought we spoke on this earlier,” he began. “I said we should meet by my barge and you agreed.”

Her voice betrayed the anger brewing inside her as she said, “We did agree to that the last time I was here, but at that time I didn’t know that you stole something from me.”

“I stole nothing from you.”

“I was told that you stole some of my pain,” Kein said, and then she asked, “Is this true? Did you steal from me?”

“How did you find out? I will place a curse on the one who…”

“Does it matter who?” she questioned. “It doesn’t change the fact that you stole from me. You wanted me to trust you, but how am I supposed to trust you now?”

“I needed to feed. I need to regain my strength. There is something I must do that acquires a lot of power. The process does not hurt you, I made sure of it.”

“You never asked,” Kein yelled at him. “You just took. If I had taken something from you without your permission, like say I took something that held a cherished memory of your daughter, what would you have done to me?”

His answer was immediate and fierce, “I would have had my scarab beetles eat you alive!”

“Right!” she shouted back. “You would have gotten angry, and gone a little overboard with your retribution, but still… You would have gotten very angry with me.” She pointed to herself and asked, “How’s that any different than how I feel?”

“There is no difference,” he replied as he discerned the grievous act he perpetrated against her.

“Okay, now that you have hurt me, and you know that you were wrong to do so, what are you supposed to say to me?” Kein asked as she tried to read his reaction, and he seemed to be at a loss, so she questioned, “Don’t know? I’ll give you a hint. You’re supposed to say.” She sounded it out for him as she spoke, “I… am… sor… ry… I… am… sor… ry…” Kein realized he wasn’t getting it, so she just told him, “I’m sorry. You’re supposed to say I’m sorry.”

“I am sorry,” he replied.

Kein eyed him as if she was still upset with him, but she couldn’t hold the pretense of outrage for long and gave in, letting go of her harsh feelings towards him, and she said, “Fine. I accept your apology.” She took a deep breath and realized how tired she was, but the day or she should say night was far from over, and so she inquired, “You said the process doesn’t hurt me, so why didn’t you just ask?”

“I did not think you would consent. It is pain… Most people do not want to share their pain.”

“I’ll be honest, I don’t know if I would have agreed, but now we’ll never know. This does set things back between us. I sensed a kindness about you, and I wanted to believe that you would help me, that we could help one another, but now I don’t know.”

“Will you withhold the Waters of Life from me?”

“No, I’m not that angry,” she replied. “Just please, in the future ask if you want something and just don’t take it.” She motioned to the clay vessel she had set in the sand and said, “The waters are yours.”

“What do you want in return for them?” King Ammon asked.

“I’m still a little angry with you, so I don’t think there’s anything I want or need from you,” Kein replied, then she pretended to storm out when she noticed Thirteen by her feet, so she picked him up and discovered a small letter tucked between his bunny-ear antennas. Kein removed the letter and read it over, and then she sighed and muttered to herself, “You would pick now to finally ask something from me.” She turned back around and faced the mummy, telling him, “It would seem I do have something to request of you.”

“Anything, and I will grant it if it is within my power.”

“Hear my request first. I don’t know what I’m asking for, so I won’t hold you to your promise,” she said and then spoke, “I would like the Blight Stinger.”

“I do have it. Why do you want it?” King Ammon questioned.

“It’s for Shukujo.”

“If I give you this, will it help you in some way?”

“I believe it will,” she replied. “Shukujo has refused to ask anything of me before now. I would like to fulfill her first request as I have done for all of you or almost all of you.”

King Ammon lifted his bony hand, and a metal amulet in the shape of a scorpion with a large red gem in its centered appeared in his palm.

“Take it, and with this gesture, I hope one day you can forgive me.”

Kein took the amulet, and the metal was cold, but the red gem felt warm to the touch and also familiar. She examined the gem and saw that something was inside it.

“Is that the stinger? It’s so huge.”

“It is,” he replied. “It is also only the tip of the stinger.”

“Thank you,” she said and headed for the door, carrying the Stinger Blight in one hand and Thirteen in the other.

King Ammon watched as she left and felt something he hadn’t felt in a very long time. He experienced regret and wished he could take back his actions. The human was so much like his daughter, even the way she got angry and quickly let it go.

 

Kein made her way to Shukujo’s lair and found the Kumovon waiting on her as she entered.

“I have the Blight Stinger,” she said. “What is it for?”

Shukujo questioned her, “Do I need to tell you before you will give it to me?”

“No,” Kein answered, then gave the amulet to Thirteen, and Thirteen took it to Shukujo. “Will you tell me what’s it for?” she asked after Shukujo had it in her possession.

“I have acquired a pest and haven’t been able to get rid of it. The Blight Stinger will help me dispose of the unwanted vermin.”

“You should have asked me sooner. I might have been able to get rid of this pest for you.”

“You really are a baka.”

Kein said, “I wish you wouldn’t belittle me.”

“I wish you were dead, but we can’t always have what we wish,” Shukujo told her, and then she ordered, “Now leave. I have things to do.”

Kein stared at her for a few seconds, then turned, and headed for the door as she said over her shoulder, “You’re welcomed.”

Shukujo called after her and asked, “Do you believe I should thank you?”

She turned back around and asked her, “Was it something you could have gotten on your own?”

“I suppose not.”

“Are you thankful that I got it for you?”

“I suppose so.”

“Don’t you think you should thank me then?” Kein asked.

“I suppose so,” Shukujo replied, then cleared her throat, and said, “Thank you, baka. Thank you for the means to eliminate my pest.”

“You’re welcome,” Kein spoke, and then she asked, “It wasn’t so hard now, was it?”

“No, and I seemed to get a little wicked pleasure out of it.”

Kein wasn’t sure what she meant by that, but she also didn’t question it, so she left the room, stood in the hallway, and wondered aloud, “Where exactly did she want me to go?”

She thought about the other Residents and decided on which would be the next safest room and decided on Dr. Jekyll’s lab. He, for the most part, left her alone, and she could investigate Dr. Frankenstein’s monster a little further or more like curl up behind the shelf where the good doctor couldn’t see her and try and sleep. Kein had at one point looked at all the clear glass jars, but couldn’t figure out what the clear liquid was in each, and she decided at this point not to remove the lid and smell the substance. She started for his door when she heard a child crying, and it was coming from the part of the hallway she had never explored. Kein thought it might be the werewolf pup. She hadn’t seen him at all that day.

“Hello,” she called out as she headed into the darkness in the direction of the sound.

 

An hour later…

Shukujo’s lair…

“You can wake up now,” Shukujo told Kein whom she had through deceptive devices captured her and brought deep within her lair where she strung her up by her wrists so that the tips of her shoes barely touched the floor.

The unconscious Kein never stirred, so Shukujo moved over to her, reached down, and smacked her several times on the cheek.

“Idiot henchman… Green Serpent should have used someone a little more careful and not in such a hurry to capture the human. I believe whatever he knocked her out with, he used too much on her,” Shukujo snapped as the Kumo’usagi listened. “She’ll probably be out another half hour. I guess I can try out the Blight Stinger and see if it will ward off her curse, but first…”

Shukujo lifted herself from the huge spider’s head and slid down his body to the floor. Kumovons had humanoid forms and would join themselves to a Kumo’uma to give themselves added strength and speed. She was a head taller than Kein and still wore the red silk Kimono with white flying cranes and gold highlights that flowed down to her ankles. She also wore the Blight Stinger around her neck.

She lifted it as she told her children, “Green Serpent said this amulet had other uses. He said I could peer into her memories by just looking at her and grasping the Blight Stinger. He also said that these memories will be much clearer than what the mummy can manifest on his own when he uses his power to consume pain.” Shukujo walked over to Kein and peered at her as she questioned her children, “What do I want to see in this miserable human’s past? I know…” Shukujo grasped the amulet as she said, “Show me where and when you first learned the Kumovon lullaby.”

The enchantment took hold, and Shukujo was no longer standing in her lair, but she had been thrust into Kein’s past as if she was a spectator.

 

Kein’s past…

About a week before the lady left…

“Playing with any spiders today?” Bruno questioned her as he surprised young Kein and snuck up behind her as she sat on a bench behind the school.

“No,” she replied to the boy. “I’m only sitting here working on my writing.”

He looked over her work, and then he said, “Your handwriting is messy. No wonder none of the families want to devour you. Who would want to devour such a weak thing like you?”

“Why do you care so much to tease me? Why do you even talk to me?”

“I get bored,” he told her. “And you are easy prey.” Bruno watched as she ignored him, and then he said, “I learned something today. I learned that you are now the only student here who has not been devoured. There were ten, but now you are the only one who has no clan or house. The other students are saying you’re truly cursed and that no one will ever devour you. The others say you will be all alone forever and that you’ll never have a proper name. You will always be the one whose name means not a.” He mocked her, “Kein, the nothing. Kein, the pitiful. Kein, the stupid.”

“Stop it!” she yelled as she stood. “I will be devoured. I will, and then…”

“No one or thing will ever want to devour you,” he told her as he shoved her to the ground. “You will always be a not a! Kein, not a daughter! Kein, not a sister! Kein, not a friend! Kein, the undevourable!”

She ran away from him into the woods, then down to the underground temple, and shouted, “Lady! Lady!”

“I am here,” the lady spoke as a figure of a Kumovon female riding a Kumo’uma appeared, but the Kumovon’s face was hidden by darkness. “You do not need to shout. What are you upset about?”

Kein held back her tears as she asked, “Did you say you would devour me?”

“I did.”

“You said you would devour me when I’m big enough.”

“I did,” the lady replied.

“Am I big enough yet?”

“Nearly, why are you in such a hurry?”

“All the other children…”

“Go on,” the lady urged her when Kein said no more.

“All the other children have been devoured by a house or a clan. I want to be devoured too. I no longer want to be…”

“What do you talk of, child? Are the other children at your school being devoured? What creature would dare enter the grounds of the school and…”

“No, they have already been devoured,” Kein said as her whole body trembled with despair. “They all have a family. When will you devour me?”

“I do not think I understand. Has some monster entered your school and consumed your fellow students?”

“No, no monster has entered our school.”

“I understand now, and I believe it is I who is confused. Tell me of these children who have been devoured.”

“Head Mistress Blindheart said that few children are devoured at birth. They must be very special for that. Most are devoured when they turn three and the family sees that they’re worthy. On occasion a child is devoured by a clan or house they’re not born to,” Kein explained, and then she asked, “How much bigger do I need to get? I’m already six.”

“Little morsel, you are very confused,” the lady said as she leaned her head on her elbow that rested on the large spider’s head. “I almost feel sorry for you, but as is your lot… I would say that you will be big enough for me to devour in another two to three weeks. You will be my final meal before I leave this place.”

“And you will take me where you go? You’ll devour me, and we will leave together?”

“Yes, little morsel. I will devour you, you will be within me, and you will go with me.”

Kein ran over to her, quickly climbed up a boulder, and for the first time, she wrapped her arms around the lady’s neck and said, “Thank you. Thank you. I thought I would be alone forever. I thought I would be Kein forever.”

The lady jerked back, not expecting such an attack from a small child. Kein sobbed as she hugged her very tightly. The lady wanted to grab the child and toss her away from her, but the more Kein hugged her and sobbed, the more the lady thought of her own nieces and how she missed them. In a moment of weakness, she placed her arms around Kein and returned her hug.

“I guess it is true what they say,” the lady spoke softly as she stroked young Kein’s head. “When those around you turn their hearts from you, even the darkness is inviting.”

The lady continued to stroke her head, and then without considering what she was doing, the lady sang in a sweet voice to help calm her, “My child… My child… Why has sleep not touched your eyes? Do you fear the howling wind or the creatures of the night? There are many things to fear and many things that fear us but know one thing, I am here. When the shadows fall and night has come, know I will wrap you in threads of white. When beasts of darkness prowl and eat, know that I am here as I wrap you in threads of white. No one will hurt you… No one will harm you… I am here, and you are safely tucked in my threads of white. Time has come to shut your eyes as I spin my soft web around you. Fear not my child as you sleep in my cocoon’s warm embrace. My threads of white will hold you tight, so when shadows fall and night is here, know I love you and you are safe.”

The lady finished singing sometime later, and Kein said, “That is very pretty. Sing it again.”

“Have you completed all of your assignments?” the lady questioned her. “I would hate for you to leave anything undone once I devour you.”

“I completed them, but I still haven’t gotten your name just right, but I will have a name for you before it’s time for us to leave,” Kein told her. “I promise.”

“I will sing for you again.”

The lady started the song over, and Kein sang with her in her soft child-like voice that couldn’t carry a tune. The lady sang it over and over till Kein fell asleep in her arms.

 

The present…

Shukujo pulled out of the memory as she released the amulet, and she stared at Kein with this glare.

“There is no possible way that happened,” Shukujo told her. “There is no possible way…”

“Okasan…” Kein spoke out in sleep in a desperate call still caught within the memory the amulet induced, and then a tear streaked down her cheek as she repeated, “Okasan…”

Shukujo took a few steps back from her as she felt wet droplets roll down her own cheeks, and then she said, “It would seem that we have both scored high off of each other today. I never thought something like this would make me cry.” She picked up the Blight Stinger and peered at it as she said, “It must be this enchanted amulet. Green Serpent did warn me to be careful.” Shukujo walked around her as she said, “I will be careful. I only need to nullify the enchantment you have over my children. I do not need to see anymore of your past. I just cannot understand how you are able to manipulate your memories. There is no possible way a Kumovon raised you and cared for you as you remember.” Shukujo sobbed as she insisted, “A Kumovon would never take a human’s precious child and treat her as if she were of her own flesh and web.” She regained control of her emotions and stated, “Maybe you had this curse all along.”

Nearly an hour went by as Shukujo patiently waited for Kein to wake; she had planned on tormenting the human till 3 A.M. came about, but with it already fifteen minutes past it, Shukujo could more forward with her plans. The human finally started to stir after the official start of the third day of her Probation Period. Shukujo had all her children take their places as she stood on her own feet in front of the human. Kein slowly opened her eyes to see Shukujo staring at her with this wickedly evil grin. Kein peered at her for a few seconds.

“You shrunk,” Kein spoke still very groggy.

“What do you speak of?” Shukujo questioned her, then glanced at herself, and said, “Did you not know this is our true form? The large one you are referring to is called a Kumo’uma, and he is a separate creature from myself.”

“A Kumo’uma…” Kein repeated, then looked up before Shukujo could motion, and saw her larger half hanging upside down above her on a large web. “So it’s like a giant Kumo’usagi.”

“You sensed where he was even in your muddled state,” Shukujo spoke as she became upset. “You knew where the Kumo’uma was even before I motioned to it.” She looked to the Blight Stinger as she said, “I am beginning to wonder if I am using this amulet correctly.”

Kein was very confused. The last she remembered she heard a child crying and went to investigate, but she couldn’t remember anything after she entered the dark area of the hallway. She guessed she had been knocked out by a drug; she felt kind of woozy. Kein regained more of her senses, and she realized where she was and that she was suspended off the floor by her wrists. Somehow she wound up in the feeding chamber of a Kumovon. There were hundreds of other bodies within the chamber all wrapped up in body length cocoons. Kumovon did this to their victims so that they could take their time and wait for the victim’s insides to liquefy and then they could feed on them.

“Someone attacked me… I think he was a vampire,” she muttered. “I also remember purple smoke with silvery sparkles. I feel so weird…”

“The vampire must have used a knockout smoke laced with silver in case he also had to deal with the werewolf child,” Shukujo told her.

Kein looked around again as she regained more of herself, “I can’t be here.”

“Are you afraid?”

Kein thought about it, and then she said, “Not yet… that’s why I need to leave now.”

“You are very unusual,” Shukujo told her. “I cannot let you leave just yet. I just started.”

“Started? Started what?” Kein questioned, and then a few things suddenly came to mind, and she said, “I’m in your lair… I’m in your lair beyond the white borderline.”

“Your relocation is a gift from my Coach,” Shukujo explained. “Coaches, for the most part, can be helpful. Look what mine gifted for me.”

“Let me go…” Kein yelled as she wriggled to free herself. “I need to leave before…”

“Before what?”

“Before fear sets in,” Kein replied.

“I believe I am losing my touch if fear has not set in yet,” Shukujo told her. “I will just have to rectify that. What are you afraid of?”

“Being here when fear sets in,” Kein replied.

“You have such cryptic answers sometimes or is it–” Shukujo questioned as she tapped Kein’s forehead with her finger, “–your brains have been scrambled?”

“Please, you have to let me go,” Kein pleaded.

“Now that is more along the lines of what I thought I would hear. Beg some more. I really like hearing you beg.”

“Fear is quiet right now. The smoke has made fear sleep…”

“I think the smoke did a little more than make you sleep. Are you high?”

“It is hard to think,” Kein told her. “My head’s so cloudy.”

“It will wear off soon enough. Right now I want to test this amulet out and see its full potential.”

Kein peered at the amulet as her vision blurred, and then she asked, “What is that?” Kein felt something waking from within the amulet, and she gasped before questioning, “Is that the Blight Stinger?”

“It is and this is the first time I have seen you react out of fear of it. I am curious though. You brought me this amulet and yet you are afraid of it now.”

“It’s awake now,” Kein told her, and then she asked, “What are you going to do?”

“I am going to have my Kumo’usagi finish what they had started. You see this special amulet will nullify any enchantment you might be using against me to subdue my children,” Shukujo replied, then she spread her arms, and commanded, “Come my children! Come! It is time to feast!”

The Kumo’usagi crawled in from all over the lair and headed for the webbing that bound her wrists.

“Don’t let them touch me,” Kein pleaded as she tried to free her hands. “Don’t let them touch me!”

“You should be screaming,” Shukujo told her. “When I devour someone, I take my time with them, and I am going to take special care of you.”

“Please don’t! I don’t want the nightmare to happen, not again!” Kein shouted, and then she whispered to herself, “Don’t be afraid… It’s okay. Don’t be afraid. I’m here… I’ll protect you.” Visions of death surrounded her, and Kein begged with her whole heart, “Please… don’t do anything to Shukujo.”

 

Elsewhere in one of the Coaches’ office…

As with the Residents, Coaches couldn’t leave the building the Mortem took place in, so they each had an office above ground. One of those Coaches reviewed video of the contestant right after she had survived Opening. Each Coach had been permitted to ask a question through Controller, and each Coach only had access to the video of their question and video of how the human answered it. This particular Coach watched the reply to their answer for the first time.

 

Video of earlier within the Black Arrow room…

“Final question, and this one is a little odd…” Controller told Kein.

She inquired, “Odder than the third one?”

“Afraid so, but what can I do but ask it,” Controller answered, cleared his throat, and questioned, “Of all the monsters that are on the Basement Level, who is the most terrifying and dangerous monster? You can take your time. You must need to think about it. There are so many to pick from and…”

“I don’t need anytime,” Kein stated, and then she replied, “And the answer’s easy. The most terrifying and dangerous monster is me.”

The End-Next Click Here for MOM1 Part Three

or go to www.KristieLynnHiggins.com

 

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Monster of Monsters #1 Part Two: Mortem's Contestant

Monster of Monsters #1 Part Two... Light and darkness... Love and revenge... All Kein wanted was to be devoured. As an orphan, she had been told since joining her school that it was very important that a house or clan devour her, so when she met a creature promising to devour her, she was confused at first, but then she was consoled that someone wanted her. A world of monsters and a world of humans... A world of joy and a world of terror... Loneliness can be a very strong emotion, but it can also be a very strong motivator, so even when a creature of the darkness invited her to come to her, innocence heeded the call. Kein began an adventure of heartache and joy as she walked the paths of shadow and light. She would discover what it was to be devoured as a dangerous game drew her into a deadly realm of wishes, revenge, hope, desires, love, and horror.

  • ISBN: 9781370391455
  • Author: Kristie Lynn Higgins
  • Published: 2017-07-28 09:05:22
  • Words: 43434
Monster of Monsters #1 Part Two: Mortem's Contestant Monster of Monsters #1 Part Two: Mortem's Contestant