[ If you have been linked here directly, please click here first to read the disclaimer. ]
CHAPTER 11 ~ NEGOTIATION
It was a long walk from the house that Valois inhabited whenever he paid a visit to Midnight Hollow, but he was accustomed to the exercise. As to the chill fingers of the fog that permanently shrouded the town, a long black cloak gave him what scant protection he felt necessary from that, though he rarely felt anything but comfortable in all temperatures.
Mist swirled around his feet, scattering like playful puppies as he walked; the most purposeful stride on these streets on this night. Doors were locked, windows were shuttered, and not a soul was to be seen.
Valois Fulcanelli walked alone to Death's door.
"Ask not," he whispered, and reached up a pale hand to tug on the bell pull. It sounded over the valley; the sonorous note of the funeral bell, the reason why all the townsfolk had locked themselves safely indoors. The bell tolled not for them, but they would not risk being out in the cold night air lest its fear take them from the world.
Some might expect such a door to open with a creak deserved of a horror movie script, but it swung in on silent hinges, admitting Valois to a parlour so devoid of colour that he was the brightest thing in it.
You deny Us entry to the house of your soul, beast. Why do you visit Us?
The door closed behind Valois and he bowed low. "My Lords, I have come to negotiate."
For your freedom? That cannot be given. You knew that when you took this form.
"For a companion, my Lords."
Hm. Walk with Us.
The cemetery was, if anything, colder than the rest of the town. Valois did not flinch as frost rimed his skin and clothing, and he came to a halt in a small bare patch between the tombstones, waiting as the Lords gathered behind him. Something small and scratchy scuttled over the toe of his boot, but he paid it no mind. There were plenty of crawling, scratching things here, and one of them might soon be him if this did not go well.
Make your plea, beast.
He turned to face Them, lowering his gaze and placing both hands together in a facsimile of prayer, though this was no earthly worship; rather it was a respectful supplication. Shards of light speckled the cemetery as the moon rose and slithered her long fingers through the dead scrub and trees.
"My Lords know that for many centuries I have wandered this earth, and shall continue to do so until it dies and I fade with it. "
Your own decision.
"Not mine!" Valois countered, his tone heated. "My father's decision. Not mine. He chose this life for me when he took my mother."
Yours was a monstrous birth. We should have taken you then.
Valois dared to look up at that, a glimmer of moonlight catching his eye, but he faced Them squarely. "My Lords, why did you not?"
We were curious. Your father had bragged that he could evade Us through you, and We decided to let him prove himself wrong.
"But he did not," Valois whispered.
He did not. And thus you, beast, have defied Us for centuries. You continue. You linger. You are the worm that spoils the apple of the world. Why should We grant the plea of one who has frustrated Us for so long?
Valois closed his eyes and bowed his head. "I am lonely."
There was a long, hollow silence, punctuated only by the hooting of an owl.
We shall confer.
Valois listened to the murmuration of the Lords, his eyes remaining shut, his senses focused on the sounds of the night, the scents of the mouldering earth and the dead, and the prickly calm frigidity of the air.
We have decided. Give Us the name of your companion and We will treat it as We treat you.
Valois opened his eyes and turned to face Them, tamping down the relief that surged through his body. The Lords could sense all things, and happiness was not something They cared overmuch for. "His name is Gunther Goth," he said.
It is known to Us. Its family have welcomed Us for many generations. Your plea is granted, on one condition.
He had feared this. "Name it, my Lords."
It must lose something precious to it. We do not do this lightly, beast. It must make a sacrifice to Us before We will ignore it for eternity.
One of the cowled figures took a single step closer to Valois.
You know what you must bring Us. Now begone from Our sight.