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Cold Iron Burns (The Wild Man Season 2)

Once Upon a Time, Eilhu awoke from a fractious, confusing dream with perspiration beading in the hairs on his chest, breathing hard like he was in battle. His grief was a suckling infant with a voracious appetite. It fed until his bones were hollow but when he awoke, there was the hope within him of an accord being reached. He got up from the bed, went to the bowl of water and splashed water onto his face, snorted a little of it into his nostrils and looked out onto the courtyard.

It had been his home but the efforts to renew his connection felt forced and not by his own hand.

He recalled the golden pond and the shimmer of light on water was there whenever he closed his eyes.

The cerulean blue of Mirabelle’s eyes was there too, a splinter in his mind which hurt to contemplate. Eilhu’s palms hurt and when he opened his eyes, he saw scarlet crescents where he had clenched his hands so hard it caused him injury. He flexed his fingers and inhaled through his nose in a slow hiss.

Paul came to him after receiving petitions and found him in bed, his knees brought up to his chest and golden hair in a curtain falling over his face, mute with agony. He sat down with a sigh and waited for his nephew to acknowledge him.

‘It pains me to see you like this.’ He said.

Eilhu peered through the curtain of hair at him.

‘My pain is my own.’ Eilhu said.

Paul nodded in understanding, seeing the faint glimmer of connection renewed between them.

‘ If you wanted to talk, I would listen.’

Eilhu sat up, slow and cautious as a foal testing its limbs, brushed his hair from his eyes.

‘What does talking do? A man is his actions, not his words.‘ he said.

Eilhu’s lips drew back over his teeth and the beard around his mouth was damp as he got up from the bed.

‘I trust you will retire to the garden?’ Paul said.

Eilhu went over to the garden.

‘You misunderstand me, uncle.’ He said.

Paul’s heart danced with a small hope of reconciliation between him. He treasured his nephew through to his bones and late at night, he would whisper to the darkness of his hopes for Eilhu to succeed him. Eilhu turned his head and smiled at him.

‘I seek revenge, and I believe you hold the means to it.’

Paul swallowed, prickling with a caution which pooled in the wounds he carried, made them throb and sing as he debated whether to risk candour with his nephew.

He gave a small nod and Eilhu raised his eyes.

‘He raised me uncle, I can feel his presence.’ He said.

Paul folded his hands in his lap and pursed his lips.

‘He is here, bound in cold iron until I decide what to do with him.’

Eilhu came to his uncle and dropped to his knees, eyes bulging in their sockets as he took his uncle’s hands in his.

Paul sought to stuff down the flames of delight at such a turn in events. Their reunion had been stilted and disconnected, but now the parts of his soul which were a shrine to the boy glowed with a renewed faith.

‘I want to see him.’ He said.

Paul bit the inside of his cheek and squeezed his nephew’s hands. Eilhu’s face was tight with need as they gazed at one another. A revelation came to Paul’s lips, a confession which would change everything between and around them but he decided against it.

‘Yes, it is important for you to see him. The queen’s murder was by his hand.’ Paul said.

Eilhu swallowed and lowered his chin. Fat tears welled up and trickled down, dissolving into his beard.

‘Then I must see him. If only to know.’ He said.

Paul steeled himself for disappointment but this victory, silent and ethereal unmanned him. He asked Eilhu if he wished to see him straight away but Eilhu shook his head.

‘I must prepare myself. It’s not an easy thing to consider.’ Eilhu said.

Paul let go of Eilhu’s hands and placed his right hand on his shoulder.

‘Would you like me to come with you?’ he said.

Eilhu shook his head and rested his hand atop his uncle’s and gazed into his eyes with such depth of feeling it was like staring into the sun.

Paul got to his feet and smiled down at Eilhu.

‘I will show you his cell then leave you to it.’ He said.

He would not, he decided, but Eilhu deserved closure and Paul knew opening the wrong door would undo everything.

What haunted him afterwards were the consequences of opening the right door.


Paul walked with Eilhu, down through the winding tunnels into the bowels of the castle. Eilhu wrinkled his nose with distaste at the fetid, warm stench which clung to each stone like a jealous lover as they walked but kept his face still.

‘Why does it stink so much down here?’ Eilhu said.

Paul coughed into his fist and nodded before he spoke.

‘Cold iron burns.’  He said.

Eilhu grimaced and swallowed, tasted something dank and ugly in the air down here. They stopped outside a cell door and Paul unsheathed a dagger from his belt, flipped it over with a smooth, practiced flick of his wrist and offered it to Eilhu.

Paul’s eyes sparked in the gloom.

Eilhu took the dagger, held it up to the light and inspected the blade. The edges  gleamed, forged from good steel and cold iron.  He hid his feelings and gave a small nod.

Paul opened the door and stepped to one aside.

Eilhu took a deep breath and walked in as the door closed behind him.

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A Violent Loyalty (The Wild Man Season 2)


Once Upon a Time Paul limped down the winding passage towards the cell where he communicated with The Dust. Paul kissed his fears full on the lips but his nerves ran like stallions on the shores of his soul. He unlocked the door to the cell and slipped inside, letting his eyes adjust to the gloom within. The cell was small, slick and dark like an open wound stinking of old blood, sweat and shit in every breath. In the farthest corner, something had grown there.  It was a desiccated ball of chitin, dripping with strings of translucent mucus and pulsing in time with Paul’s heartbeat. He tried to look away, to focus on the ritual of communion which allowed him to communicate without risk of attack.

The Dust came, ragged fingernails scraping down his spine and the hot, wet breath of a rapist at the back of his neck.

‘We’ve had fun with your little hunter.’ It said.

The sacred texts and histories related to The Dust contradicted one another in terms of its origins. Paul, ever the pragmatist had found the rituals and wards to summon and control it but as time went on, he entertained doubts about his actions. He was aging and each time he communed, another sliver of his soul decayed and fell away.

‘Don’t mock me.’ He said.

The Dust laughed like an unrepentant mourner and the darkness coalesced towards him, denied by the wards which protected Paul from harm. The ball in the corner pulsed with a gruesome enthusiasm.

‘Is that him?’

The Dust was silent and the ball split, spewing a torrent of black bile, seething with small, fat grubs onto the packed dirt of the cell. A hand reached out, the fingers thin and tapering to claws which curved over followed by a forearm ridged with jagged lengths of bone, the skin having healed around it but still carrying the pink of infection. The abhorrent birth throes spat the thing out, human in shape but as it lifted its head, it smiled and revealed several rows of tiny, sharp teeth underneath black lips and patches of yellowed beard. Paul could not meet its gaze, seeing too much of Ernst in the reconfigured anatomy. There was intelligence there, the kind which inspired children to pluck the wings from butterflies and men to hurt their women in places which would never heal. Paul fought the urge to vomit or weep and turned his head.

‘Your only true child.’ It said.

Paul pressed his knuckles against his closed mouth and squeezed his eyes shut.

‘Shut up, damn you.’ He said.

The Dust laughed and Paul saw the perpetual damnation he had surrendered to. He was a king in every part of his kingdom, but here he was servant to a master who was a genius in the art of cruelty. Paul sighed and looked into the darkness.

‘It needs to play.’ It said.

Paul coughed and nodded. The parts of his intellect which saw the picture from an elevated perspective considered the application.

‘I know somewhere.’ He said.

The Ernst-thing mewled like a starving infant being fed pebbles and Paul ended the ritual with a wave of his hand and backed away. He said he would return with instructions and a location.


The Galloping Horse was a small inn, popular by its position on the first stretch of good road out of the forest. Ingrid and John had run the place with more elbow grease than talent and when Ed, their nephew came to him, with a talent for making bread which was not burnt and raw and stews which smelled of rich memories, they had found a life, small and hard like a stone in a boot, but not without its pleasures. The rooms were full, and all of them worked to keep the beer, wine and food coming to their patrons. The sun had set, and Ed was looking forward to sitting down when Ingrid came up and pinched the back of his neck which made him yelp with indignant surprise.

‘Go to the stable, horses are playing up.’ She said.

He snarled at his aunt, rubbed the sore spot where her nails had dug in and wiped his hands on his apron.

‘Don’t let the loaves burn. Uncle John blames me when it happens.’ He said.

Ingrid hissed at him and rolled her eyes. He strode past, thirteen years old and thin from constant motion and a spare diet, walked outside to the stables. He took a breath and a thick, metallic scent clotted in his nostrils.

Spilled blood.

Ed froze, seized by a jolt of utter panic before he flung himself towards the stable. He swung open the door, overwhelmed by the stink of blood and in the shadows, he saw the glistening pink ropes of intestine, dragged and slashed to ribbons in a shuddering pile. Themare, ridden by a hedge knight had been kindand even tempered, but now Ed could make out one sightless, staring eye at him. He he backed out, opened another door. The stallion had reared at him, and Ed had dodged a hoof to the temple with more luck than skill before muscling it into the stable.

Its head sat on the floor, stared up at Ed with a final pleading look in its eyes as a thick pool of blood spread out, pieces of straw floating away. The rest of its body laid in the back as Ed saw a pale, emaciated figure hunched over it. Ed heard the gristle of torn flesh and the flat, damp sounds of feeding before he turned on his heels and ran.

He heard someone screaming and realised it was him. The stable door flew open and Ed stared at the door to the inn. He had fostered a grim acceptance of his life there, burns from the fire and bruises from his relatives, an ache in the small of his back and knees which was his only companion.

An impact knocked him forwards, the breath forced from his lungs as he clipped his chin and caught the tip of his tongue between his teeth, sent it flying like a pink, meat fly as his mouth filled up with blood. He tried to call for help but hands clamped either side of his head and twisted. Ed felt the bones in his neck wrench, cutting off the words before he could speak. His last memory was his perspective tilting and looking down at his headless corpse.


Ingrid pulled the batch of bread from the oven, eyes narrowed against the smoke and bitter ashes which spewed from the oven. Ed had allowed this to happen, and she itched to transfer her failings to him with a sharp pinch or a good slap. John loved his nephew and wouldn’t lay a hand on him, pointing out how his cooking kept people coming back. She heaved it onto the table and coughed, expecting his skin between her nails when she heard the tinkling of broken glass and a cry of alarm. John bellowed and she ran through to the main room of the inn. The patrons were on their feet, backing away as she muscled through and saw what came through the window.

She swooned, but regained herself as she saw the head which landed face up on the wooden table. Ed’s last expression had been disbelief and terror, carved into his muscles and frozen forever. Her eyes went from the head to the broken glass as a shape filled the gap, curling its elongated fingers around the frame as it hissed with carnal anticipation. It darted forwards, too quick and quiet to be anything human, leaping at the nearest patron and sinking its teeth into the man’s neck with abandon as it wrapped its legs around him. Ingrid ran towards the back, the wet cacophony of violence reaching a terrible pitch as people tried to flee the carnage.

John was in there, but Ingrid kept running, barrelling through the door and fleeing into the woods without looking back.

She ran until her lungs burned and her legs were hollow, unable to stop even when a low branch smacked across the bridge of her nose and sent a flare of pain up into her forehead. She ran through the pain, but the branches overhead shook with a terrible urgency and she felt blood drip onto the crown of her head from above before she looked upwards and saw an emaciated figure leap onto her from above.

She stared out at nothing and unable to explain what happened. Her skirts were soaked with blood and the patrol traced her path back to the inn. One of them reported this to their commander, and the regent.

Carrey received the news with a closed expression.  He called for a scribe to compose a letter.

It had begun.


Ingrid laid in the apothecary’s quarters, silent and unmoving. Something turned in the pit of her stomach and opened its eyes.

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The Blind Appetites of Plants (The Wild Man, Season 2)

Once Upon a Time, Mirabelle awoke to the echoes of prayers reverberating around the chamber, pulled from a lustful, twisting dream like a fish from water. The air shimmered with the heat and she reached for the wide wooden bowl of water, washing away the grit from her eyes. Her travelling clothes were too thick for the climate, and she had a white robe and a Shayla, a headscarf which she put on with care, recalling how Asra wore hers. She walked around the room, marvelling at the woven tapestries, the furred textures and  colours were sensuous enough to take her breath away. Banners and tapestries at home were martial celebrations, fallen enemies and lauded victories in colours of blood and soil. The Caliphate was a place where sense and spirit were indivisible, knowledge seen as a weapon to equal the sharpest spear. Mirabelle was here on business, but the atmosphere had seeped beneath her skin.

Eilhu would love this place. The thought was bittersweet and she pressed her palm against her collarbone, fighting the ache of his absence.

‘Good morning, your highness.’

Asra stood in the doorway, without a Shayla but wearing a red loose gown which had the liquid sheen of silk, stressing the lean length of her physique as she smiled at Mirabelle.

‘Please, I am Mirabelle.’ She said.

Asra’s smile widened as she rolled her eyes, gestured towards Mirabelle with her tattooed fingers.

‘Mirabelle.’ She said.

Mirabelle’s nascent mood dived downwards and she recalled her father, both in life and death.

‘I owe you an explanation.’ She said.

Asra offered her hand, her dark eyes weighted with expectation and curiosity.

‘Over breakfast, then?’ she said.

Mirabelle took her arm and they went down to eat in the garden.

They took the long route through the qusur, a series of tunnels which ran through the reservoir. Mirabelle took it all in with awe as Asra showed her the gardens, but stopped at a corner kept apart by a large wall and a spiked metal gate with a large, ornate lock set into the centre. The change in temperature made Mirabelle shiver, but it was a pleasurable sensation to wander through the cool darkness.

‘I expected to meet the Caliph.’ Mirabelle said.

Asra nodded as she retrieved a key with a slow flick of her wrist and turned it in the lock.

‘All in good time, Sir Carrey sent word of what you needed and it is something I can provide.’ She said.

Mirabelle enjoyed the low purr of Asra’s voice, cultured and erudite with a note of dark power which resonated in the hollows of her bones. She fought the tender sparks of nerves which flew up within her.

‘You’re more informed than I.’ Mirabelle said.

Asra pushed open the gate and waved Mirabelle through.

‘You wish to know the face of your enemy.’ She said.

Mirabelle gasped at the variety and tumescence of the plant life.

Thick, purple vines with swollen berries dripping white, pearlescent liquid.

A horned bush which undulated in patterns of exploration, a sinuous, blind dance which unnerved and intrigued Mirabelle.

A tall bank of yellow flowers, which hummed, the pressure and volume pooling in Mirabelle’s sinuses until she swayed on her feet.

Asra put a hand on her shoulder and drew her backwards, which made the effect of the plants lessen until it became a curiosity.

‘What are those?’ Mirabelle said.

Asra took her arm and led her from the garden.

‘As an exercise, ask yourself the question and we can discuss your answers.’ Asra said.

Mirabelle frowned with polite distaste but Asra chuckled.

‘I offer knowledge but you must earn it.’

Mirabelle turned and faced Asra.

‘I’ve had to trick the people I love into believing me dead, Lady Asra, the least you can do is answer a straight question.’ She said.

Asra locked the gate and appraised Mirabelle with care.

‘You face an enemy who has feasted on the bones of Gods. Some idiot summoned it.’ She said.

Mirabelle paled and sucked the cool air into her nostrils, the hiss of a candle flame extinguished in a single deft pinch.

‘They murdered my father.’ she said.

Asra bowed her head.

‘No, I meant an idiot in they have unleashed something they cannot hope to control.’  Asra said.

Mirabelle thought of Carrey, Eilhu, her father. The people who loved her.

‘What does the garden have to do with it?’

Asra shook her head.

‘Ask yourself and answer it as we break our fast.’ She said.

They feasted on dates as sweet as stolen kisses, milk as thick and rich as a lover’s thigh. Asra asked Mirabelle for her answer.

‘They’re plants.’ Mirabelle said.

Asra nodded in agreement.

‘What does a plant want to do?’ she said.

‘Feed and grow.’ Mirabelle said.

Asra clapped her hands together.

‘Does it know reason?’ she said.

Mirabelle shook her head.

‘Then it becomes a matter as simple as black and white. What are you to do?’ she said.

Mirabelle swallowed, recalling the agonies she faced at the hands of this unknown antagonist.

‘Find out what it takes to kill it.’ Mirabelle said.

Asra smiled, as cold a gesture as a knife drawn across a throat.

‘I like you.’ Asra said.

(The Wild Man – Omnibus from the beginning. Season 2 is

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A Perfect Cage (The Wild Man Season 2)

A Perfect Cage
Once Upon a Time, Eilhu travelled deep into himself, the days rushed past him like dust on the wind as he went through the motions of living. He slept like a hibernating animal, ate when reminded and no one recalled engaging him in conversation past a few words. He had faced armies and tourneys, but it was grief which wounded him.

His Mirabelle was dead.

Paul found him pliable, easy to manipulate from one location to another. Eilhu retreated into himself and no one cared to follow him inside.  He breathed and moved, but they were reflexes over acts of will.  Paul found him in the walled garden, sat beneath the large birch tree, a canopy of flowers sending drifts of petals downwards. The guards stood at the gate, their backs to the garden as Paul limped over and smiled with sympathy at his nephew.

‘Oh my boy, your suffering reaches out to me.’ He said.

Eilhu looked up. He had grown a beard, and Paul stopped, struck by the resemblance to his parents. The resemblance was not in the line of his jaw or the colour of his eyes, but the invisible scars of grief and loss. Paul swallowed down a slick bolus of guilt, willed himself to choke it down and play the regent again. Eilhu stared at him like the north wind blew in his direction, his full lips were pale and cracked and his skin was taut over the bones of his face. Loss was a disease without hope of a cure.  Paul separated his involvement, hid it in the cold, dark spaces of his heart where even he feared to look.  Eilhu did not speak, instead turning his head as petals landed in his beard and hair, to hide the tears which came.

‘Leave me alone.’ He said.

His voice was a cutting whisper, and Paul gritted his teeth together as he forced himself to kneel before his nephew.

‘I cannot watch you waste away, Eilhu. You’re my nephew, and gods be willing, someday heir to this kingdom.’ He said.

Eilhu shook his head as though roused from a disturbing dream.

‘I don’t want it. Any of it.’ He said.

Paul’s injuries made this act of kindness painful to perform but he reached out and touched his nephew’s face with pale, trembling fingers.

‘No one does, Eilhu.’ He said.

Eilhu tucked his chin into his chest, folded his arms over his face and sobbed. Paul stood up and gasped, damp with sweat and suffused with an ugly, barbed guilt which dragged down his insides.

‘I will leave you to grieve. If you wish to speak of it, you know where to find me.’ He said.

Paul limped away, left Eilhu to his grief. Pretending to sympathy would prove a valuable tactic in gaining his trust. Paul looked at his hands, believed them clean and then signalled to the guards to clear his path back to the castle.

When sleep washed over Eilhu, he accepted its gift without question.


His dreams taunted him, glimpses of her face, bright bursts of her voice which pierced his soul like an arrow punching through his flesh. He would awake gasping and tearful.

Eilhu was in the forest where the branches overhead grew so thick they blocked out the light. It was a damp, cool evening and he stood by the golden pond where his finger and hair had turned to gold. He got to his feet, leaned over and saw the shimmer of his reflection in the pond’s surface, shifting and warping as a breeze caressed everything in its path.  The silence was a living thing, pressing upon Eilhu like a restless, damp lover as he looked around him. The years had not touched this place, but he felt apart from it, guided by the raw pull of his loss towards the poison balm of perpetual darkness. He wanted to bring her here, and the denied opportunity punched him low in the stomach.

‘You brought your torment with you.’ The Wild Man said.

Eilhu looked around, hearing the voice but unable to trace the origin.

‘Where are you?’ he said.

Eilhu paced the edge of the pond, searching for him.

‘I can’t be here, but I come to your aid, Eilhu as I always have.’ He said.

Eilhu hissed and clenched his fists.

‘Did you have anything to do with her death? Or her father?’ Eilhu said.

The Wild Man fell silent.

‘Never.’ He said.

Eilhu stopped, his eyes sore and wet from grief, as he wiped his face.

‘How do I escape this? I walked into a perfect cage and there’s no child to steal the key for me.’ Eilhu said.

The breeze caressed his scalp and the heavy scent of blossoms filled his nostrils, tart and sweet on the tongue.

The Wild Man sent him not words, but feelings.

‘A part of you is within me, and you must reach into it. See the action, not the statement and follow it through. I shall meet you there.’ He said.

Eilhu awoke, spat petals from between his lips and sat up. His pain continued, and part of him wondered if it would ever leave him, but he could act. He smiled, a grin which would have given Paul pause, alive as it was with wildness and determination.

M B Blissett
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New Kingdoms (The Wild Man, Season 2)

Once Upon a Time, Carrey sat with Mirabelle, two people sharing secrets which had cast the kingdom into a fragile accord. One of those secrets was Mirabelle, murdered by a maddened servant.


There were others, but some of them were unknown even to them.


‘This is your idea?’ she said.


Carrey rubbed his temples and inhaled as they sat in the chambers assigned for the dead queen. He had kept her hidden, even from his wife and children, let alone the court. Mirabelle noted the flecks of silver in his beard, a few weeks of rule aging him more than a life of battle and service. She wondered if she bore such ravages, and if Eilhu would notice them.


If.  She prepared herself for the possibility although it stung like a cut in the roof of her mouth. Nobility was preparation and Mirabelle took more from her father than his eyes or the dimples in her cheeks.


‘I cannot afford to spend effort pretending you’re dead when discovery is an unguarded glance away.’ he said.


She grimaced and looked about her.


‘Well, I’ve left once, one more journey won’t hurt, will it?’ she said.


Carrey picked up his goblet and took a deep draught before he set it down.


‘You’ve not asked where I am sending you.’ he said.


Mirabelle raised her eyebrows, her heartbeat gaining pace as she appraised Carrey.




She travelled alone, dressed in the robes of an apothecary with letters of introduction folded into small pockets on her person. Her hair was dark with oil, worn away from her face in a long braid which fell down between her shoulder blades. It had been three days ride from the castle, escorted through a side gate just before dawn with Carrey accompanying her.


‘If he returns, will you send word?’ she said.


He took her hands in his, and tilted his head, smiling at her with a fragile warmth.


‘I will come find you myself, your highness.’ he said.


She blinked away tears but held her head up and met his gaze.


‘See you do, Carrey. It is my command.’ she said.


His smile wavered and he bowed from the waist, his eyes never leaving hers. They glinted with the deep fire of honour and she knew he would keep his word.


Three days of riding took her to the port. She handed over one of her letters to Boyle, a captain who ran regular sorties across the oceans. He had all his own teeth, and a nose for intrigue but the mention of Carrey’s name made him soften and he bowed to her once he had read the letter. She handed him a doubloon for his trouble and he offered the use of his cabin.


She accepted. He led her below decks and she thanked him.


She sat down on the hard, narrow bed and wept herself to sleep.




The air shimmered with heat, lending it a brutal weight as Mirabelle looked over the water, saw the tall, winding structures of the city and heard the heartfelt call to prayer. She had seen emissaries from here, their dusky skins and dark eyes, the habits of praying several times a day and the lists of admonitions their god gave them.


Boyle coughed to announce his presence and she glanced over her shoulder.


‘Your first time?’ he said.


She managed to nod but nothing more. The sight of the city had robbed her of speech.


A small group of soldiers met her, swathed in white robes with strange curved swords hung from their waists and wrappings around their heads to ward off the worst of the sun. They were tall and broad, stood without wavering in the oppressive heat of the day.


When the woman stepped forwards, Mirabelle grinned. Large brown eyes, with a silk headscarf and robes, all in a deep, regal scarlet. Brown-red patterns of beautiful intricacy snaked down the backs of her hands. She had a pair of the curved swords, worn either side with jewelled hilts which caught the sun in flashes which made Mirabelle wince. The woman brought her hand to her forehead and smiled, showing white even teeth.


‘Your highness, welcome to the Caliphate.’ she said.


Mirabelle curtseyed.


‘I do not have the honour of your acquaintance.’ she said.


The woman smiled and shook her head.


‘Allah created us as equals, but I have the advantage of birth and position.’ she said.


She extended her hand.


‘Your highness, it is a pleasure to meet you.’ she said.


Mirabelle asked her name. The woman blushed and curtseyed.


‘I am Asra. I understand you need my father’s help.’ she said.


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The Wild Man Season 2 Omnibus

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Thought and Taste: An Interlude (The Wild Man, Season 2)

Once Upon a Time, The Wild Man sat in his cell, surrounded by cold iron, which burned his skin and caused agony at the slightest contact. His mind touched on the infinite, an evolving structure like a plant or a symphony, capable of experiencing memories as though he were present, experiencing every sensation again and again. Such a scale was not the gift you would imagine, but he had made the best of it. We cannot know the infinite, so let us refuse to fail and watch him awhile. He refused food and water, and despite the threat of torture, his encounters with Paul were polite, chill affairs which ended with Paul leaving the cell in thwarted silence. The air was dry and cool here, and each breath brought knowledge of his surroundings to him.

He tasted the thwarted ambition of Paul, bonded to injuries which roared within him at such a temperature it inspired pity within The Wild Man.

Pity and fear.

It reminded him of a broth, too much salt and not enough meat to give nourishment. Each swallow tasted of bile and he was grateful when Paul passed by.

He caught the warm, fresh scent of the servants and guards above him, heard their footsteps as the patter of rain through spring foliage and sipped from the goblet of human activity to quench his eternal thirst for connection. It did not feed him but The Wild Man knew the truth of a place or a person through his senses.

A banquet of tiredness, exhaustion, love, hate, fear and indifference.

Eilhu was here. His scent allowed The Wild Man to taste his grief and it was bitter, raw on his tongue like the meat of something which fed on poison. The Wild Man wanted to spit the taste from his mouth but he knew there was power in fluid. Blood, saliva and semen. He sought to reach Eilhu but the cold iron seethed at his attempt, sent the single, hopeful thought dashing to the ground like a bird with an arrow through its breast.

The Wild Man knew there were other forces here with him. They prickled with hatred and pain, a million nerves stretched and strained, played like a cacophonous orchestra to an audience they hated. Within the pain and hatred was a power to rend earth and sky, called from places no man reached without paying a terrible price for the journey, let alone the destination. It knew he was there, and it seethed to touch him. It offered the pleasure of power, but the gift was an exchange which would see him trade one cage for another.

He made his cell a home, a place to rest and observe. The Wild Man refused to gnash and wail in his bonds, he offered no plea or excuse for his actions. He was.

Instead, he waited and thought. A single seed taking root in inhospitable soil and thriving without sustenance.

All was as it should be, and judging by the screams from the adjoining cell, another fate altered and set on a different course. The Wild Man could touch the infinite, but never predict it. He read the signs available and where the portents were uncommon and vicious in their turns of fortune. He saw ends and beginnings in everything, apart but defined by the surrounding reality.


Darkness. Something gave a second breath, warm and fetid like an interred grave. Eyes which would never see the light, blinking and within the riot of new anatomies, poisonous organs bloomed and swelled, tasting and raping the air around them as it adjusted to the reconfigured limbs. It was a man once but now, shat from darkness into darkness, it adjusted itself and cried out in a terrible joy. It was appetite taken beyond limits, loyal beyond death and it represented a new front in a terrible, ancient war fought across millennia. The appetites of gods and monsters slaked on the flesh and fortune of men.

It was a weapon in search of a war.

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