Nox by Marcon de Giorgio
The large rusted door screamed as Ramiel’s hands curled around the lever and pulled it open. Rust plumed down in showers onto the grass, reddening the leaves.
“It should really change this door shouldn’t it?” Ramiel’s joking tone was unfitting.
Louise said nothing, her palms white as she clenched them. Dread filled her the instance she was given this task. What a cruel joke.
Ramel sighed. “Loulou, lighten up.”
She wordlessly stepped into the tunnel, her nose wrinkling at the putrid smell. It was too dark to see. She snapped her fingers, her palm emitting a dim light.
Ramiel whistled as she did. “Fancy. Your skills come in handy.”
She shot him a glare, trying to stop her hand from shaking as she illuminated the tunnel. There seemed to be no end as she led them through it. Her heels stepped over bones, causing them to snap beneath her soles. She took uneven breaths, willing herself to calm down. Being tense meant she’d be unnecessarily on edge, the worst thing she could have been at that moment. She glanced at Ramiel; his hands were leisurely tucked into his pockets. A smile formed on his lips when he met her gaze.
“You should show some fear. Arrogance will get you nowhere.” She warned.
“Oh, I’m scared out of my wits!” He laughed. “I took a long ass anxious shit right before we came here. It’s exhilarating.”
She rolled her eyes, unamused by his choice of words. She might have appreciated it had she been under the influence, but at that moment her mind raced on other matters. Her anxious state got slightly worse when they were met with another door. She glanced at him expectantly. He cracked his knuckles, slight sparks emitting from them as he did, and grabbed the wheel in the centre of the large door. Each turn rattled her chest. Each turn was a step closer to what was beyond it.
The rancid air increased tenfold as Ramiel pushed open the door. Louise made her way through the crack, the door being too big to open fully. The air was stuffy and weighed down on her. She stretched her arm out, illuminating the room around her. It was here, she could feel it.
Ramiel stepped in behind her, his squinted eyes surveying the darkness. “Nox!” He yelled recklessly.
Louise was about to hit him, but stopped when she saw movement from the corner of her eye. She turned, watching the abysmal darkness shift and move around them.
It used its hands to help itself stand up, its body shifting and contorting, forming the vague shape of a man. If a man had four arms at uneven length, a slouch that disguised it’s true height, and a mask for face. The figure slowly circled them, regarding them both curiously, its arms and legs moving in unnatural ways as its smoke-like body moved through the air. Louise eyed its face, a theatrical mask that gave it the look of constant euphoria. The smile unnaturally curled upwards, its snake-like tongue slithering out from between its razor-sharp teeth. The darkness of the room concealed them well, but not well enough to hide its grotesqueness. The creature stopped, a predator who had successfully observed its new prey.
It loomed over them as Louise raised her hand to see it better. She gulped, fear consuming and paralysing her. Its face was frozen into a perpetual wide smile, a mocking gaze. It knew. It knew the fear that held her voice. The fear that haunted her dreams, her memories. The creature contorted, writhed and twisted as the smoke turned into skin, the shape morphing into that of a very handsome looking man. A stolen face.
“What is it that you want from me?” It said with a low and bewitching voice.
Louise couldn’t move. She glanced at Ramiel; whose lips were parted with admiration. He chuckled, almost maniacally. “That never gets old.” She refrained from rolling her eyes, expecting him to go on.
The creature stuffed its hands into its pockets as Nox’s new face huffed. “I don’t have all day.”
Louise cleared her throat, willing herself to speak. “T-the Goddess.” she managed. “She has another assignment for you.”
Its face remained impassive, waiting for the details.
“A mage by the name of Reed. They’ve been accused of blasphemy and treason. A top tier magic user, specialised in wood magic.” She continued, tense.
Nox slowly nodded, unblinking.
“She warns you not to underestimate them.” Louise said, glancing at Ramiel to avoid its gaze. “She wants them alive.” She then gave it the news it was waiting for, “You may steal their husband’s face.”
The handsome man’s face contorted into a playful smirk, a maniacal joy. It started to chuckle. “Oh joyous!” The body began to contort into another person, a nimble woman this time. “A new face to add to my collection.” said the new voice.
Ramiel watched with awe as Nox changed shape. Louise couldn’t understand how he could be so fascinated by such a horrifying sight. He should have been unsettled! Especially when one of the faces Nox possessed was Ramiel’s old lover. She willed herself to move. Their task was done, they were allowed to leave. She was about to tell the disgusting creature this when she watched its face contort into something familiar. Her face paled significantly; the light she was emitting faltered as shock pierced her stomach. A muffled sob escaped her lips. The young face looking back at her smiled sweetly. The little girl’s eyes matched her own, her hair as black as hers. She wore the same dress she did from that night. She felt warm tears escape her; she had no control over her emotions. What a cruel joke.
The little girl’s smile turned foreign, enjoying the reaction it was getting. Louise’s hands closed into fists, the room darkening completely. She let out a raging yell and slashed through the air, a bright ray of hot light cutting through the darkness and slashing everything in its way.
“Don’t. You. Fucking. Dare!” She yelled. The creature turned back to smoke, watching her with avid curiosity. “I will not sit here and let you mock me! We’ve given you your task. Report to her once you’re done.” She arranged her collar, rage snuffing out her fear as she glared daggers at the cruel creature. Nox merely cocked its head to the side, a mocking or questioning gesture. She bowed her head, not wanting to further aggravate the situation, and turned, walking out of the tunnel. Ramiel whistled and hurried after her, he didn’t dare say a word. If it was out of respect, or if it was the fear of receiving the brunt of her anger, she did not know. She only focused on getting out of there, her steps heavy and digging into the cracked soil. She didn’t look back, not once, not until they were out of the tunnel.
She let out a ragged, but relieved breath once they were out, taking in the cold air. It was completely silent for a while, except for the occasional rattle of the greenery around them. She let herself calm down, her moment of weakness finally over.
Ramiel pierced through her brief serenity, his voice prodding at her. “What was that?” he asked. “WHO was that?”
“That’s none of your business.” She shut him up, remembering that her birthday was soon. She should light a few more candles for her this time.