And so we have the final entry of Open Slay. Have a happy holidays, everyone! See you soon.
Oh, click here for Part 3.
Jen watched Bill’s body jerk on the claws, reveling in the savage satisfaction that glowed within her. She couldn’t think of a more deserving end for the bastard. How many nights had she endured of the pig writhing over her, snorting out his perverse sentiments? Too many, and she was glad to see their end when the beast jerked its hand, its claw no doubt bursting Bill’s black heart.
She thought it might have been appropriate for the beast to give out a bloody roar now in celebration of its savage victory over the man, but it remained silent, studying Bill’s dead body. Goosebumps rose on Jen’s body as it lifted Bill’s body a bit more and then flung him against the far wall. The heavy man rattled the walls, knocking a few pictures to the floor.
Now the beast raised its head and turned, setting its gaze on her. She controlled the situation, but still it unnerved her, adding a quivering stomach to shaking hands.
She remembered her grandfather’s advice: Stand your ground. No matter what, stand your ground. It must know who’s in charge.
She touched the charm and shook her head, but the beast didn’t seem to understand. It took two steps forward, its claws dragging the floor, making a horrendous noise.
Stay calm, her grandfather said in her head.
Far easier to hear than to do, but she extended the charm toward it with a trembling hand. “No. You can’t harm me, great-grandpa.”
That stopped the beast in its tracks. It cocked its head, studying her as it had studied Bill’s corpse.
She nodded, chancing a step toward the thing. “That’s right. Gustav. You remember Gustav, your only son?”
It considered a moment longer and then nodded.
“He was my granddad. He told me all about you. He told me about this,” she said, and nodded toward the charm.
The beast – no, Aaron, he had a namea nd she had to remember that – took a step backward.
This gave her the courage to take another step. “He told me about Gertie’s case. Do you remember that?”
It put a hand to its chin, at last nodding.
Good. This might not be so difficult. “Do you know where it is?”
It nodded again and pointed one icy finger at the fireplace.
The snow in the fireplace had long ago melted, leaving a small puddle; even this showed her the way, though, as she saw ripples spreading from the center of the puddle, as if it flowed into some unseen hole.
She looked back to Aaron. “Thank you.”
Aaron said nothing and did nothing. He simply watched her as she went to the fireplace and crouched, tracing the water as it swirled toward that single point.
When she leaned close, she could see the water slipping into a crevice between two of the blackened gray stones. She reached into her jeans pocket and pulled out her Swiss army knife, sliding it beneath the closest stone. It fought her for a moment, and she had to double her effort, slamming her palm against the knife. At last the stone popped up, flipping over in mid-air. She pocketed the knife and picked up the stone, her heart soaring as she found the ornate brass key affixed to the bottom of the stone. She pried it loose and cast the stone to one side.
She heard Aaron draw close as she dug into the hole in the floor, her fingers closing around an object wrapped in black satin.
A thrill shot through her. This must be it. She could almost feel her grandfather’s presence next to her. . She removed the object with great care, setting it on the floor before her. She sat down next to it, caring nothing for the wetness that began to spread on her bottom. Her focus had cemented onto her hands, and they were deft, pulling the satin from the object.
It took only a moment to reveal a small box carved from rich mahogany., Its surface had been coated in lacquer at some point, and a brass lock set into the top. She pulled the key from her pocket and slid it home in the lock. She gave it a single twist and a latch inside the box clicked, popping the lid open
She swallowed hard, running a finger over the edge of the lid. At last she lifted it and cooed. The machine inside the box was as beautiful as she had expected. Crafted from brass and wood, it was the size of a turkey egg, with mechanical arms that could spin on an axis around a small green crystal in the center. A brass crank had been attached to the right side of the sphere, and even all these years later she could see that turning it would fire the arcane engine.
Her grandfather spoke in her head: It’s the only thing that can free them.
But it was so beautiful, and if even half of the legends about it were true…
She looked over her shoulder at Aaron. She wasn’t entirely comfortable with how close he had gotten, but she didn’t feel safe challenging him. “You have no idea what you’ve done for the world,” she said, and hoped that he would comprehend.
He kept his maniacal gaze settled on the box.
She resisted an urge to clutch it close to her chest, to keep it from his profane vision. Ridiculous, of course. He had touched it many years and many times before her, and it was the key to freeing his spirit from its attachment to this land.
But so pretty…
Remembering herself, she took her hands from the box. Its history had never been clear – her great-great-grandmother Gertie had found it in her mother’s cellar, apparently, but little had been passed down about it before that. Jen had enrolled at the University to get at its historical records and discovered that similar devices had been created in the 1800s, based on a theorized set of common ancient blueprints. Legends of strange events surrounded it, including sightings of the undead.
And now it was hers.
“So much to learn,” she said, running a finger along its filigreed lid. “Maybe it wouldn’t hurt if I just studied it for a little while. I could figure out how to save you and – ”
That’s when she felt an enormous tearing pain, ripping into her back and out through her abdomen. A freeze soon replaced the pain, spreading from her core. She stared down at the ice that had pierced her flesh, eyes goggling.
Stupid. So stupid.
Her grandfather had warned her. Aaron did not suffer fools gladly, even if they were family.. She had been so stupid. He would never allow her to take the device inside the box, not with freedom in sight.
Her head spun, and Aaron withdrew his ice claws. She slumped to the ground, surprised that the cold – and the pain – had begun to fade. “Not so bad,” she murmured, and rested her head on her arm, staring at the box. She hoped that it would be the last thing she saw on this side. Maybe death wasn’t so bad, if things like this could still exist.
Aaron did not allow her even that consolation. In the next moment his frozen left hand slammed down on the device, shattering it into so many pieces of wood, glass, and gears.
She gasped, but she recognized the wisdom of it. So long as it existed, it would tempt people, and he would always be driven to kill.
Aaron groaned – it was the first sound she’d heard from the spirit – and its heavy body fell upon her, sending shockwaves through her dying body. She cried out and covered her face as the ice beast melted rapidly, becoming a freezing puddle that soaked through her clothes to her flesh.
The shock was too much; she felt her body shutting down and let it come. She had failed, but she had set her great-grandfather free. There could be some pride in that.
She let the world go.