Remnant Moon: Chapter 1

As promised, here is the draft of the first chapter of Remnant Moon. For those who plan on reading Prism World and who don’t like spoilers, however, I’d suggest not reading this post. Though I am setting up a new story here in Chapter 1, I also sum up the end of the first book, so proceed with caution. And to those who are willing to read this selection, happy reading and please leave feedback! I would like to know how I can make this story even better than the last.

—————

Chapter 1

Festive music echoed through the window pane as a warm golden glow illuminated the snow outside. From my perch in a gnarled old tree just beyond the window, I could see three children chasing each other in circles around the room. The oldest was a boy of possibly 8 with a mop of unruly, jet black hair and a pair of familiar, coal-black eyes. He was currently being pestered by two small girls who looked to be about 3 and 6 years of age.

I could see a fireplace on the opposite side of the room, a warm fire flickering in its hearth. Then came muffled adult voices. A man and woman entered my view. The man knelt down to sweep all three children into a warm embrace. The woman smiled before lowering a plate of cookies to the children’s eye level.

They look so…happy.

I sighed and my breath came out in a great white puff. Then I slid from my perch and a moment later I was listening to the crunch of snow beneath my feet as I stepped out onto the desolate streets. I wasn’t worried about someone noticing my footprints. With the heavy snow that was falling, it would soon seem as though I had never been there.

How long had it been now? I paused in the middle of the street, looking up to the dark, clouded sky. I stood silently as the snowflakes landed like cold, wet kisses on my face. Eight years? Had it really been that long since I had seen her?

Lightning…

A forlorn laugh escaped my lips and I set off down the street again.

Scythe, you fool.

It had been eight years since I had seen my sister. Not that she would have missed me. No, she was better off without me interfering with her new family. That was why I had watched them instead. But still…for some reason, my heart felt heavy. Back then…back when I had heard that my sister was alive and that she had escaped from the Phantom Legion…there was a time when I had silently hoped she would join me some day. It wasn’t as though I was lonely though…right? I was Scythe, a Phantom, a heartless assassin whose only desire was to kill…to smell the intoxicating aroma of blood. So I couldn’t get lonely. I couldn’t…

A familiar sound caught my ear and I turned in the direction it came from. A moment later I had stepped into the loud, suffocating atmosphere of a local bar. So much noise…so many people…so many pleasant distractions. I loved bars as much as I hated them. The noise, lights, and musty air that came with them was obnoxious, but there was always something to keep me from thinking, and that I liked.

I could see all eyes turn toward me as I knocked the snow from my boots. I always stood out among the crowd with my tight black clothing, my black trench coat hanging open even in the bitter cold of winter and my bladed polearm braced against my shoulder. I ignored the frightened stares as I made my way up to the counter.

“Don’t look so scared,” I said, leaning against the counter and giving the frightened bartender a grin. “I’m just here for some whiskey.”

The man poured me a shot without a word. I laughed at his perturbed expression as I gratefully accepted the whiskey. I downed the shot in a single mouthful, then turned and leaned my back against the counter, my elbows braced behind me. The people had gone back to what ever it was they had been doing before I entered, but there was a general feeling of tension in the air now, and every once in a while my ears caught the word “Phantom” being whispered around me. I could feel a grin creeping onto my face. Ah, yes. Phantoms.

It had been 8 years since my sister, Lightning, and the rebel leader, Leif Covent, had managed to lead a successful revolution against the government that had, for so long, kept the Phantoms as pets. At last the Phantoms had found freedom from the masters and had been given the right to join the rest of the human race. Except…we had gained that freedom only in theory. It was true that, by law, Phantoms were now to be considered citizens of the recently freed Elcanth, but that didn’t mean the people themselves had accepted us with open arms. Hatred and fear burned deep. Few of us found it easy to walk the streets like normal humans. And now that the mass populace knew about our magical powers, we were no more human to them than we had been during the days of the Phantom Legion.

It had been a long, hard road for my race. A few of us, like Lightning, were viewed either as normal people or, at worst, with a mixture of fear and awe. Lightning was a Phantom, but over the 8 years I had been gone, I had learned that because of who she married and what she had done, my sister was well respected. There had been a few others who had managed to carve out new lives in the world of light they had been introduced to. Mercy, Lightning’s mother, seemed to have learned quickly how to live among the other people. She cared for my sister’s children and I had seen her around town frequently since my return a couple weeks before.

I had received word of marriages among my people, and for the youngest Phantoms, our new government had set up a study program so that they could go to school. Some, such as myself, had even spent the last 8 years working for the military. But…there were some of us who couldn’t join that world. I still had control over the vast majority of Phantoms from three of the old Alphas, but those I did not control had, for the most part, sunk into the underworld. I had lost count of how many older Phantoms had ended up in jail…or worse. We certainly hadn’t redeemed ourselves over the 8 years since the fall of the old government. Despite everything Lightning had done, few possessed the willpower she commanded. No, most of us had ended up like Lightning’s old adversary, Blade. We simply couldn’t seem to escape the demons of our past.

“That’s a pretty scary weapon you’ve got there.”

I turned at the sound of a woman’s voice. She was average in pretty much every way. Not the ugliest woman I had ever seen; certainly not the prettiest.

“Don’t worry,” I smiled back. “I only use it on the bad guys.”

“Do you even know who the bad guys are?” the woman asked, crossing her arms and looking at me.

“What do you mean?”

“You’re a Phantom, right? I’ve heard the stories.”

“Oh?” I leaned toward her, a wry smile on my face. “What kind of stories?”

“About all the murders,” she replied, shifting slightly. “About how you only know how to kill.”

I chuckled. Fool. To assume I was like every other Phantom. Was she like every other woman? Well, perhaps she was. There was one way to find out.

“There are other things I’m good at,” I smiled sweetly.

“Like?” she looked doubtful.

I scooted a little bit closer to her.

“Well, I seem to have a natural talent for meeting the most beautiful women in the world.”

She seemed pleased by my words, though she tried to hide it.

“You think you’re cute, don’t you?”

“You know I am.”

“So is killing and meeting beautiful women the only thing you know how to do?”

“I’ve got some secret talents.”

Now she voluntarily edged closer to me. I could smell alcohol on her breath. Not drunk yet, but it wouldn’t be hard.

I watched as she motioned to the bartender.

“Two chardonnays,” she said.

A moment later we both had the glasses in our hands.

“Now, tell me about these secret talents.”

She looked up at me, batting her eyelashes slightly as she did so. I smiled. I had a way of putting women off their guard.

“Hmm,” I chuckled, raising my glass and allowing it to clank slightly against hers. “It would be better if I could show you.”

***

The moon was sinking low in the sky by the time I woke from my sleep. My hand brushed against smooth, warm skin and I opened my eyes to look at the woman lying asleep beside me. What was her name? Had she even told me? Certainly if she had, I didn’t remember it.

Quietly I slid out from under the covers and proceeded to put my clothes back on. It was always the same. No matter where I went, the women were cheap. Cheap entertainment. They didn’t need the government to breed them. They willingly did that on their own.

As I slipped my arms into the sleeves of my coat, I paused and glanced out the window nearby. I had only ever met one woman who had been able to resist my charms. Alice Lee. My sources said she was married now. She had children, too. I sighed as I lifted my weapon to my shoulder. Oh, well. She was certainly the most interesting woman I had ever met, but it wasn’t as though we had ever had any potential together. I had killed her friend, Amos. She would never forgive me for that.

I stepped forward toward the door, then paused and glanced back one more time in the direction of the bed, back to the woman I had spent the night with. She wasn’t so bad, though it was hard to tell who she really was given the fact that she had been drunk. In any case, though, I didn’t expect to meet her again. I turned toward the door and stepped out of the room.

It’s not as though she’ll miss me. No one ever does.

The air was cool and crisp when I stepped back out into the night. The snow had stopped falling. I could hear the sound of vehicles driving out on the main streets. Every now and again one even passed my way.

My feet moved deftly under me. It was how I had lived most of my life. I had no reason to live; I just did. And I wandered because I simply didn’t care.

I could feel a tingling in my veins, and I paused. I set the pole end of my scythe down on the snowy ground and watched as the curved blade sparkled in the moonlight. I could almost smell the scent of blood, though there was none. I bowed my head and began to laugh bitterly.

Three weeks. It’s only been three weeks, and I’m already back to this?

I lifted my free hand and stared down at it. I had always had the craving to kill. Comes with being raised as a Phantom, I suppose. When I was young, the cravings were fun. It was a need for excitement that a good kill had been able to fulfill. But now? I was 36 years old now. The thrill of youth was slowly draining out of my veins. The need to kill had become more than entertainment to me. It was like a drug…no…a poison. It was like a poison that was slowly eating away at my sanity. Each night, I found it progressively harder to sleep. Each day I found my mind turning more and more frequently to my need to kill. It was becoming harder to control my impulses. And some days, I found myself wishing that I could be the one to die, just so I would not see the day when I lost control of myself.

My laughter died away almost as soon as it had begun. Trying to ignore the urges inside me, I set off down the road again. I hadn’t gone very far, however, before the sound of a distant gunshot caught my ears. I paused, turning in the direction of the sound. There was silence for a moment, then the sound of another gunshot. This time it was closer. Delighted at the possibility of an interesting distraction, I set off in search of the sound.

It wasn’t as though the sound of gunshots was a surprise to me. Actually, it seemed to be a relatively common occurrence. For as much effort as our new government had put into cleaning up the cities, crime was still rampant in the shadier districts, and gang fights weren’t unheard of. I myself had only ever run into a handful of these incidents, but I can’t say it had ever turned out well for the gangs when I did. They weren’t the sort of people the law was eager to save, so they were fair game for Phantoms with an urge to kill.

Another gunshot went off as I came to the corner of a dilapidated building. Careful not to let my guard down, I peeked around the corner and down the roughly-paved alleyway. Immediately the slim figure of a woman came into view, charging around a corner, fire flashing from a pistol in her hand. I could hear shouting in the direction she had just come from. Men’s voices mostly.

Heh. This may turn out to be more interesting than I thought.

I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on, but whatever it was, I was entertained, so for the moment I chose to remain hidden behind the corner. The entertainment was short-lived. The woman didn’t seem to know I was there. If she did, she certainly showed no signs of that awareness. She was running in my direction, but the pavement of the alleyway was slick with ice and dotted in potholes. In her haste to escape her pursuers, her foot caught on the uneven ground. The next thing I knew, she was surrounded by a group of about a dozen men.

“Shouldn’t we just kill her?” one of the men asked, kicking the woman’s gun away from her hand.

“Nah, she’s too valuable,” another man said, grabbing a handful of the woman’s dark brown hair and yanking her up into a half-sitting position. “We’ll make her squeal a little before we kill her.”

“You had better kill me now,” the woman snarled as the man tipped her face up to look at him, her eyes glittering a faint gold in the darkness. “Taking me alive would be a waste of your precious time.”

“Shut up, wench,” the second man, I assumed he was the leader, huffed, smacking the woman on the face.

“It doesn’t matter what you do,” the woman continued, seemingly unfazed by the abuse. “Patski’s got you cornered. You’re merely biding time until your defeat.”

Patski? What was he up to now? This was just too interesting to pass up.

Time to make my grand entrance.

“You’ve got a sassy mouth,” the gang leader said, slapping the woman again. “Save it for the interrogation. Cooperate and I may even give you a painless de-”

The snow on the ground spattered crimson as the blade of my scythe bit deep into the man’s back. I watched as he fell dead at my feet, his spinal cord severed in half, his blood staining the grey-white snow.

“I believe you meant to say ‘death’,” I grinned, looking at the startled people in front of me. “Next?”

Almost simultaneously, the men turned their guns on me, but it was already too late. They had been stunned long enough to give me the advantage. A moment later, 12 bodies lay in crimson heaps on the ground. Then I turned to the woman, who was massaging her sore neck.

“We can’t have such a beautiful lady sitting on the ground like this, now can we?” I smiled, reaching out my hand toward her.

I was surprised when she batted it away.

“Cool it, loverboy. I’m not interested,” she huffed, shoving herself to her feet.

I laughed, stepping back and resting the end of my weapon on the ground.

“You could say thank you,” I said, watching her brush the snow off the seat of her pants.

“You could have jumped in sooner,” she responded.

My grin broadened. No damsel in distress here. She actually seemed put-off that I had helped her.

“You act as though I shouldn’t have helped at all.”

The woman ignored me for a moment as she plucked her pistol from a snowdrift and cleaned it. Then she looked around at all the bodies.

“I’m not sure ‘helped’ is the term I’d use,” she sighed. “And here I thought Phantoms left clean kills.”

“What kind of kill strikes you as being ‘clean’?” I asked, following along behind her as she set off back the way she had come.

She paused, looked back at me, rolled her eyes, and continued walking. And so I followed her.

We walked in silence for several minutes. Every now and again the woman would glance back irritatedly at me, but seemed to be trying very hard to ignore me. That just made the game more fun. It must have been 10 minutes before she let out an exasperated sigh and, spinning around to face me, exclaimed, “Why are you still following me?!”

“Following you?” I feigned innocence. “Who said I was following you?”

“What do you call marching along behind me for the last who-knows-how-long?”

I smiled sweetly.

“I’d call it going in the same direction.”

She threw her hands up in the air in frustration.

“It’s the same thing! What do you want?!”

My grin broadened and I took a step toward her.

“There are a lot of things I want.”

Immediately she lifted her pistol.

“Don’t make me shoot you.”

Well…that’s nostalgic.

I raised my free hand in submission.

“Alright, alright. There’s no need for violence. I was just wondering how you know Patski.”

The woman’s face paled slightly, and for a moment she lowered her gun a few inches.

“Why?”

“He’s a friend of mine.”

“Bullshit,” she replied, stiffening. “Cut the act or I’ll shoot you right here.”

“You’re not the trusting sort, are you?”

She lifted her gun again. I could tell she was getting nervous.

“In my line of work, there’s no room for trusting outsiders. Now, I don’t care if you saved me or not. Just turn around and walk away before I have to hurt you.”

Well, this isn’t much fun.

Before she could even blink, I grabbed her gun hand and spun her around in front of me, my chest pressed against her back.

“Maybe I’ll have to take your pursuers’ advice and torture you a little bit to get the answers I want,” I chuckled, my lips close to her ear and my voice low.

“Good luck,” she bit back.

Before I knew what was happening, she tossed her gun to her left hand and shoved the barrel of her pistol over her shoulder toward my face, forcing me to release my grip on her. She spun around to face me, but I swung the pole of my weapon around behind her knees, causing her to fall on her back in a pile of snow. I dropped my weapon and pinned her wrists down on either side of her, my body straddling her’s. A sly grin crept onto her face and I could sense her knee moving upward. I released her wrists and rolled sideways before her knee could make contact with its target, grabbing up my scythe as I did so. She bounded to her feet, but in that moment I wrenched the gun from her hand. She stumbled backward, reached inside the back of her pants, and a moment later I was staring down the barrel of another gun. Then we both stood still.

“How many of those do you have hidden in there?” I questioned, laughing slightly in amusement.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” she replied.

“Are you going to make me investigate?”

“You are a repulsive man.”

I laughed, then lowered the gun I had taken from her and threw it on the ground at her feet.

“You win,” I smiled, turning to leave. “I’ll just have to ask Patski myself.”

“Wait.”

I turned back to look at her.

“Hm?”

“You…actually know him?”

“You could say that,” I replied. “He helped my sister during the rebellion, and I worked with him some to exchange useful information.”

“What’s your name?”

I smiled and leaned on my polearm.

“Guess.”

She paused, then a disgusted look crossed her face.

“Scythe.”

Her voice came out low and defensive.

“Aren’t you smart,” I smiled back.

“Can it, pervert. God, and they say I’ve got a smart mouth.”

“You’ve got a pretty one.”

“You don’t quit, do you?”

“Where would be the fun in that?”

“Is irritating people your idea of fun?”

I paused and glanced down the empty alley nearby. A sigh escaped my lips.

“Maybe so.”

For a moment we both stood in silence. Then she leaned down and picked up the gun I had taken from her.

“Hey,” I said, not looking at her. “What’s your name?”

There was a slight pause. When she spoke, her voice was soft.

“Elaine,” she replied. “Elaine Claire.”

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