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part one.
IP: 95.149.91.89



By sunset, the steady stream of dismantlement had reached its final phase; the last man to succumb to the fourth curse was released.

And so the people of Shaman sighed and curled together and slept easy in the relief of that cool, crisp night... until the sunrise, when the fifth curse struck.

---

Rats are omnipresent. They know all the secrets of the men and the scandals of the ladies – they know every whim of the heart, every story told, every use and misuse of delicate morals and consciences people insist on spinning their lives around. They know where the food is, even when none can be found; they know every harmful substance, where to find it and how to avoid it; they know every nook and cranny, every hiding place, every shortcut and every invisible corner. Where people starve, rats thrive. Where people deceive and lie and wallow in mysteries, rats get on with their day to day lives. They, unlike people, are content with who they are, and are content to accept their lot in life without the compulsive need to question everyone and everything in existence. Rats know that there is no why – there simply is. Rats know right and wrong as easily as black and white. They know that sickness and bleeding are wrong, and that a full belly and a warm place to sleep is right.

The rats know when the girl staggers haphazardly across the room and collapses into a heap on the floor, and they know that it is wrong.

A lone rat with a single ear pokes her nose out of a hole in the skirting board, twitching her whiskers in curiosity. She watches from a distance as the girl’s hair fades from a fiery auburn to a silver-white, rendering her more easily recognisable, although One Ear had, of course, known her instantly from her scent. The fearless rodent wastes no time in scuttling over to her and pressing her body against her neck, feeling for the pulse of life. There’s a very pregnant pause, broken only by a faint scuffling sound. Moments later, another rat pokes his head out of the skirting board.

“Dead, huh?” Right Paw Missing Two Toes asks.

One Ear twitches her namesake. “Yup yup,” she agrees.

---

Adonis awakes feeling strangely liberated. The pink streaks creeping across the blue velvet sky are crystal clear; beyond them, he can just see the last, most tenacious stars clinging to visibility before the light of the rising sun sweeps them away. The labyrinth is partially obscured by an eerie fog and Adonis’ feet and hands are dripping with dew. Inhaling, he can taste the rich freshness of the early morning air, infused with a thousand delicate aromas – rabbits with their young kittens, some distance from here and out of sight, the scent of their droppings particularly pungent; the smoky flavour of last night’s bonfire, still gently smouldering, and – especially enticing – the underlying waft of new bread baking in someone’s oven. Only one sound – the rackety chirrup of, it seems, every bird in existence.

Still only semi-conscious, Adonis stretches sleepily and plods off towards the stream – the sharp, cold water will wake him up properly. He barely notices the unusual absence of wildlife (scarce though it is, in post-flood Shaman) until a young girl skips absent-mindedly into his path, screams and runs back into the shrubbery. Adonis blinks and peers back over his shoulder, but the only thing behind him is the windy dirt road. Maybe he spooked her with his stealthy quiet steps, because she hadn’t expected to see him there? Shrugging, he continues on his way.

Despite the fact that he’s sure he heard the general murmur of activity only moments ago, the stream is deserted by the time he gets there. Puzzled, Adonis peers into the water.

His heart skips a beat.

---
To be continued tomorrow.


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      • part two. -


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