Today sees the final installment of an all new, absolutely free three part serial, “Deo Viridio”. The first installment is HERE and the second is HERE, and any and all re-tweets, ‘Likes’ and comments are welcome.
And now, on with our feature presentation!
“What—what is that?” Jobson whispered, frozen in place.
“Viridius,” St. Cyprian said grimly.
The name struck the air like a gong and the thing shifted attentively, shaggy head turning, its mane of sheaves and husks rustling as it fixed them with an inhuman gaze. More barley words thrummed through the stones, carrying the scent of onions and sugar beets. A hand made of wheat sheaves and flowers stretched out in a gesture of command. It was used to command, for had not men always served it?
“Get back,” St. Cyprian said, grabbing Jobson by the shoulders. “Ms. Gallowglass, three rounds rapid, the walking cornucopia if you please!”
Gallowglass, crouched on the stairs, cocked and fired her Webley. The heavy bullet punched through the thing’s chest, showering the air with seed pods and wheat hulls. It barely staggered. It started forward and where it walked, things grew, spilling up through the stones like a living carpet of greenery. It spoke again, and the words, unintelligible, held the sound of a field of growing things in a storm.
It wasn’t speaking in Latin, or even some ancient Briton dialect. Instead, it spoke seasons and smells and memories. Ancient images of the land as it was and as it could be. Of long crumbled temples and the ancient standing stones they had been built over. History, one layer of soil on top of another and the folk of the land spilling blood one year after the next down the long winding road of centuries, quenching Viridius’ thirst. The god had made the crops grow and made the land prosper and all it asked in return was a bit of blood, a bit of companionship, a harvest-Persephone given up to the Hades who walked behind the rows.
Flowers sprouted in the cracks in the walls and floors, and from above, the prayers of the faithful fell down like rain. Wheat stalks punctured the few patches of black soil, and the scent of harvest time hung thick and rank on the air, mingling with the petrol fumes and creating a dizzying haze.
Jobson yelped as the fingers of wheat closed gently on her wrist. Her revolver growled and the nettle-mouth creased in what might have been a smile as the bullets vanished into the torso. If the swords of the Romans had not harmed the god, what use hornets of lead, the voice seemed to say. A sound like the buzzing of insects and the soft rush of stalks bending in a wind caressed their ears and tugged at the deep, atavistic wells in their souls. There were bones in the stuff that made up Viridius’ form. Shattered and brown, they rode the undulating mass of briars and moss like grisly treasures turned up by a trowel. There were hundreds of fragments, thousands, each all that was left of a sacrifice, each the only marker they would receive.
St. Cyprian swung the lantern against the shaggy head, hard. Glass burst and the thing shrugged him aside with one long arm. The lantern fell, rolling away, splashing oil across the giant. Viridius pulled Jobson close, its shape enveloping her. Gallowglass fired again, and her bullet struck the stones near Viridius’ leg-stalk, scratching a spark and lighting the oil that dripped from the limb.
The wheat and brittle briars caught instantly and the sudden rush of heat was followed by a deep, rolling moan that caused the house above to groan in sympathy. The stones shifted and were shoved aside by more briars and nettles that struck out at St. Cyprian and Jobson, stinging them. Viridius staggered, tearing at its burning matter. Jobson wrenched her free and fired again, as St. Cyprian jerked her back, away from the wash of flames. “Up the stairs,” he barked.
Viridius screamed. The sound was like a green tree popping in a forest fire. Briars scuttled up the stairs, seeking to snag their legs and arms. St. Cyprian grunted as they bit into him and he fell onto all fours on the steps. The fire crawling across Viridius had reached the petrol. Flames crawled across the stones, obscuring the faces and shapes that grimaced there. St. Cyprian pulled at the briars, his fingers and palms being cut to ribbons in the process. Jobson bent to help him. Gallowglass stood at the top of the stairs, the Webley bucking in her grip as she put another round through the burning, roaring mass of Viridius.
The roars grew fainter as the thing retreated back through the archway, stumbling blindly through the flames that pursued it. Its groans were echoed from above. The briars trembled and released St. Cyprian as the intelligence that had guided them fell back from the conflagration. Bleeding, the occultist shoved Jobson up the stairs ahead of him. Gallowglass was already above, her re-loaded Webley swinging about to cover the circle of robed and masked shapes that stood scattered throughout the ruins of the house.
Faces masked behind sheaves of wheat and stiffened vines watched them as they moved slowly away from the smoke boiling out of the cellar. Already the floor was growing hot as the flames began to hungrily seek out new sources of fuel. None of the gathered worshippers made a move to stop them. Instead, they simply watched and then, as if they’d been given a signal, they departed, trotting out of the ruins and making their way towards the vehicles that had brought them.
As they made their way into the clear air, Jobson watched Viridius’ worshippers depart. “A bit anticlimactic,” she said, coughing as the smoke coiled about them.
“What makes you think this was any sort of climax?” St. Cyprian said, limping towards the Crossley. When he reached the car, he leaned against it wearily. Gallowglass began to rummage through the boot for a first aid kit. Jobson looked at St. Cyprian.
“What do you mean? You burned that—that thing, whatever it was, up. It’s gone!”
St. Cyprian winced as Gallowglass daubed at his hands with ointment. “What happens when lightning strikes a field or a forest, Ms. Jobson?”
Jobson frowned. “It burns.”
“And then what?”
Jobson’s frown deepened. Then her eyes widened and she looked back at the column of smoke boiling out from the ruin’s innards. “It grows back,” she said softly.
“Yes. It grows back, stronger—hungrier—than before. Let’s hope it takes more than nine years this time, eh?” St. Cyprian said.
To download the ROYAL OCCULTIST PRIMER, a free PDF containing three previously published stories click HERE.
A number of the Royal Occultist stories are available in audio format via Bandcamp.
And the first Royal Occultist novel, THE WHITECHAPEL DEMON, is available via Amazon.com and Smashwords. The Whitechapel Demon sees St. Cyprian and Gallowglass go up against a secret society of murderists and an other-dimensional doppelgänger of one of history’s most notorious killers. The book serves as an introduction to the world of the Royal Occultist as well as delivering an exciting adventure for new readers and old fans alike to enjoy.