18 Apr Journey into the Manenverse: Part 1
Let me just start off by saying your usual host, Olivia, is fiiiiiine. She’s a little tied up at the moment, but I assure you, the ritual sacrifice is entirely consensual.
Now that that’s out of the way, hi! I’m Manen Lyset, author, pumpkin-head, and occasional doodler. I’m taking over the blog today to whisk y’all off on a little adventure through what I’ve come to call ‘The Manenverse’. The name is kind of self-explanatory, but this is a series of four related stories taking place in the shared universe of many of my tales. If you want to strap in for a ride, you’ll see likely see some familiar faces and learn new things about them.
Before each part, I’ll list out any related stories. While I don’t think you need to have heard/read them to follow, the series might be more enjoyable if you know who’s who.
- I thanked the man who murdered my only friend: Audio – Text
- He who listens for wishes: Audio – Text
- He who listens for wishes – the girl and the puppy: Text
Part 1: The Wish-Granter and the Crow
The crows cawed as he strolled down the alley towards the bar. There were hundreds of them perched on every light post, guard rail, and flying circles above. There were so many, they blotted out the night sky, where the hunter’s moon had only begun peeking through the clouds. Their small, beady black eyes were locked on him and their beaks pointed at him like an army of archers ready to launch. They looked like church gargoyles: foul creatures that, in spite of their own hideousness, managed to express their self-righteous, sanctimonious, disapproving judgement on anyone dumb enough to catch their gaze.
William Grant came to a stop, tipped his trilby at them, and gave a light nod of the head. This could have been taken as a simple, courteous greeting, if not for the threatening look hiding behind his wry grin. One that whispered, Try anything, and I’ll pluck every single feather off of each and every one of you one by one.
They cawed in response.
He opened the creaky wooden back door and was immediately met with a wall of horrendous, outdated, bleating techno music blaring louder than a jet engine. The barrier was meant to keep unwelcomed guests out, but the moments between the door closing, visitor verification, and the sound seal being restored were so agonizing, he almost turned back.
The runes lit up, and the music quieted to a tolerable hush.
He followed the familiar signage down the corridor to the bar, and once there, spotted a man in a bulky trench coat with the largest crow he’d ever seen perched on his shoulder. He sat next to him, a smug grin spreading across his lips as he placed his trilby on the counter in front of him.
“Darl! What a lovely surprise! I didn’t expect to find you here tonight,” he said, in a cool and casual tone.
Darl, or rather, Darlig, kept his eyes on the mirrored wall in front of him. “I go where the flock leads me.”
With a flick of the hand, Will ordered a drink. “Yes, I saw your little friends outside. There seems to be quite many more than last time we met.” He paused, leaned in as close as a lover, and whispered, “You’re not losing your edge, are you, Darl?”
Darlig ignored the snide remark.
Will continued, “It must be quite tiring doing what you do, fighting a losing battle. Don’t you ever wish you could end your-”
Darlig’s bright golden irises leered at him from the corner of his eyes. “I’ll stop you right there. I am not one to fall for your trickery.”
Will chuckled as he pulled away and shook his head. “Trickery? Please! There’s no trickery involved. I grant wishes, that’s all,” he said, waving a hand dismissively. “I’m simply offering to grant yours.”
The crow on Darlig’s shoulder seemed to hiss in contempt. Darlig reached a hand and caressed its neck soothingly. “It’s all right, Gale,” he cooed. His voice became sterner, but held its usual dark stoicism as he replied, “I do not need my wishes granted. Especially not by the likes of you.”
Will raised his hands in a defeated gesture. “No need to be so uptight about it, dear Darl. I just want to help you. We’re on the same side, you and I.”
Now, it was Darlig’s turn to hiss. His nose wrinkled in disgust and the lump on his back twitched, causing his trench coat to flutter. “We are not on the ‘same team’. You reap souls. I save lives.”
William’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “REAP SOULS? Blimey! What do you take me for? I don’t ‘reap’ souls! I take,” he brought his finger and thumb close together, “itty bitty slivers of people’s lives in exchange for granting their wishes. There’s really nothing that malevolent about it. I’m not some gargantuan evil overlord from the deepest recesses of Hell. You’re giving me far too much credit.” He motioned to Darlig. “Hell, if anything, you are so much worse. You literally murder people. Pun intended.”
Darlig looked at his drink, maintaining his calm demeanor in stark contrast to Will’s increasing vivacity. “I don’t take souls. I just end the lives of those I must.”
Will rolled his eyes. “Same difference.” He tried to pet Gale, but the massive crow nipped his fingers, so he placed them on his lap instead. “There’s no need to be so antagonistic, old chap. I just figured perhaps you wanted to be free.”
“I’m free as a bird.”
Will snorted. He wasn’t sure if that was meant as a joke. Darlig’s deadpan expression and tone didn’t leave much room for interpretation.
“Yes, yes. But I mean, free of your duties?” he offered.
“I’ll be free once the last crow flies into the night,” answered Darlig.
William stared at him in disbelief. Was he really that naïve? “You know that’s NEVER going to happen, right? Your murder of crows will continue to replenish and grow, because there will ALWAYS be people out there slaying children. That’s just how humans are. Your duty will never end, you know that, right?”
Darlig took a moment to digest William’s words. He swirled what was left of his drink in his glass while Gale hopped from one shoulder to the next. The bird crooed and cawed and nudged his cheek with its head.
“It doesn’t matter,” he whispered, golden eyes locked on the liquid in his glass, “This is what I do. It’s what I am. Nothing will change that.”
“Good grief, are we melodramatic today,” uttered Will. “You know, I could help you. You just need to wish it.”
“I will serve without shortcuts. They,” Darlig motioned to the ceiling, but it was clear he was referring to the crows, “deserve that much.”
“Alright, alright. I can see when I’m beat,” said Will, as he stood up from his stool.
He pat Darlig’s back, but instead of a solid surface, he felt the soft cushion of his fellow demon’s concealed wings. He wondered what it’d be like to be like him, to be able to fly. But to be chained down by all those boring duties, he thought. The grass wasn’t always greener on the other side.
William Grant smacked the rim of his trilby still on the counter, sending it spinning through the air. He caught it right-side up on his head, and gave Darlig a final nod goodbye. There were others out there making wishes tonight, he’d find a few playthings.
The techno music blared again as the wooden back door opened and shut behind him. The murder of crows was still standing vigil in and above the alleyway. They never strayed far from Darlig, or vice-versa. You know, Will wasn’t entirely sure who was bound to whom.
He began to make his way down the path, but as he did, he heard that damn music starting and stopping again. He looked behind him, but all he saw was blackness.
The murder came on him, clawing and biting at every exposed surface of his skin. The wounds healed, sure, but it didn’t mean he couldn’t feel the pain. He yowled and swung his arms at them, but they just kept coming. He was grossly outnumbered.
Suddenly, he felt a sharp pain in his thigh. Through the cover of feathers and beaks, he caught sight of Darlig’s clawed hand clasped around a silver dagger plunged deep into his leg.
“You son of a-”
He ignored the birds and reached for the dagger, fighting off Darlig’s slender fingers for the handle. He tore the blade out of himself, but as he did, he heard a sharp snap.
No, bones don’t snap, they crack.
It was something metallic. William twisted himself away from the birds and crouched down to inspect the dagger in his hands. The crows slammed into his back like a streak-free window and bit through his preacher’s coat. Some even began chomping at his already-healing stab wound while others followed his head movement and tried biting out his eyes, making it hard for him to see what he needed to see.
There’s a piece missing, he realized, as he looked at the tip of the knife, it’s still inside me.
The pain in his thigh felt searing hot, like someone had dropped a lump of burning coal into him. The longer it stayed there, the more it hurt. Will was no measly werewolf, but silver was always a little problematic for him, especially when it got inside. There was something about its purity that just didn’t agree with him. It needed to go, fast.
Little fibers were webbing their way from one side of the cut to the other, closing the wound as though stitching back together every piece of skin tissue and muscle all at once. Will dug his fingers into the chasm, stretching and tearing those little filaments like the seams of one’s favorite pants one keeps hidden at the back of the closet in the vain hope they’ll fit again one day, even though they never will. The fibers worked around him at first, grazing against his fingertips as he searched the cavity for the shrapnel lodged deep inside, but they became more aggressive. They had a job to do, and they were going to do it regardless of the foreign objects getting in the way. The tendrils tightened around his fingers, healing the wound so fast, he had to pull out or risk his digits getting stuck in there permanently.
There were bigger fish to fry anyways. Well, birds. Lots of them. Pecking at him relentlessly.
“Darl, call them off!” he demanded. The collective flaps of their wings was deafening. He wondered if Darlig would even hear him.
Through the cacophony, he heard Darlig’s clear and soft reply, “You know children don’t listen to adults.”
Darlig sat on a set of concrete stairs in front of him, his large, midnight-colored wings exposed to the night air. Gale was still on his shoulder, but there was another, smaller crow on his lap. He looked at it rather than at Will.
“I’m sorry, little Kayla. I cannot kill him. He’s immortal. This is the best I can do. Will it be enough for you?”
The small crow chirped. It flapped its little wings and it took off into the air. William followed his flight path up to the rooftop, where he lost it against the stark black sky. Kayla, he thought, that name sounds familiar. The image of a hospital bed and her name written on the patient chart came to mind. Kayla, that’s right, the little cancer victim whose wish he’d granted. Puppy, if he remembered correctly. She’d wanted a puppy. Was that what this was about?
“Hey genius,” he growled, as he pushed himself back to his feet, “I didn’t kill your little bird buddy!”
Technically, it had been the cancer. He’d only sped things along.
The crows continued to attack and squawk as he tried to remain upright. The pain in his leg made it hard to stand straight, but his anger cemented him to the spot.
“I don’t make the rules, I merely go where the flock leads me,” answered Darlig.
Will stomped his foot on the ground, and immediately regretted it when a spike of pain climbed up his thigh and around his back. “Murder! It’s called a murder of crows, you feather-fucking imbecile!”
Darlig inspected his sharp, claw-like fingernails, ignoring Will’s growing agitation. “Calling them that leads to misunderstandings. Can you imagine if I asked the barman, ‘Would you mind if keep my murder in the alleyway out back?’” He laughed. “Besides, they prefer being called a flock.” His golden eyes set on Will with the sternness of a father scolding his child. “They don’t want to be known as ‘murder’-ers. They’re not the monsters here, William Grant, you are.”
Will felt his cheeks burning red with anger. “I didn’t kill anyone!”
Darlig remained cool, collected, and stoic. Everything Will normally was when he was on duty. He ran a hand through his raven hair and shrugged dismissively. “She would have lived longer if you hadn’t stolen her time.”
Having had their pound of flesh, the crows began to disperse and took point circling the skies above. William heaved heavy breaths as the scratches and bite marks closed in on themselves and disappeared from his skin, leaving only streaks and splotches of black blood behind. Shame his clothes couldn’t perform the same magic trick: he was in rags and his signature trilby might as well have been a visor, for all the material that had been chewed off of it.
“I’ll,” Will panted breathlessly, “I’ll get you back for this, Darl!”
He took a step towards the crow demon, but pain shot up his leg like a lightning bolt, grounding him in place.
Darlig calmly pushed himself to his feet. The veil of stoicism lifted just long enough for him to smirk a victorious smirk. “I really wish you wouldn’t.”
His wings flared out, and he took off to join his murder. He had other duties to attend to.