The dead men and their crosses looked like giant crumbling flowers as they emerged from the rich soil of darkness that covered the cold floor. The dusky basement of the church seemed like a greenhouse designed to foster the development of those wonderfully dead florae, a garden of decay and shadows. The darkest flower loomed above me—its thorns were an eternal and cutting stare, its fragrance a heady mixture of withered rage and interrupted purpose. The crucified hunter’s shadow fell across me, and I tumbled into the icy hollow left behind by his terrible dream.
The garden was pruned and pampered, carefully arranged and maintained with the diligence of a doting mother. I wondered what manner of thing would want me to destroy such an artist. Yet there was a sense of preservation and escalation to my collision course with Mr. Trill and his dream—as if the beauty of the man’s work required my intervention, to allow it to spread and take root.
There were books and journals scattered across a nearby table. Rude though it may be, I began to read from them. The books were all so very pious, bordering on pretentious. The journals however, were not difficult to tolerate. They were the reflections of a man who lived inside a cold obligation, a mechanical penance that unfolded with small emphasis upon its material effects. The reward for his labors was intangible and withheld, merely the hope of reward. His deathly garden was not an end, but rather a beautiful and necessary side effect of his means. He was an unconscious artist—perhaps the most powerful kind of artist—one who forgets themselves entirely within their creation, becoming the purest medium for dream.
I didn’t need to read the journals long to realize the identity of the man I hunted. He was known as The Crucifier. It was a much less subtle title than my own, and I’m fairly certain it missed the point of his undertaking entirely—much as my title missed the point of my work, subtlety or no. According to one of his journals, he saw himself as the reincarnated fifth prefect of Judea: Pontius Pilate. His profession was nothing less than the destruction of all false prophets, which from the number of his works, were more numerous than I would have expected.
I went about reading the journals in an attempt to convince my prey that I was taken well off my guard, too absorbed in the matters of his dark dream to pay any attention to my surroundings. But I found something as I read, something that truly stunned me—a drawing of a pack of demonic, hungry wolves. It was as if The Crucifier had transferred the image directly from my own dream into his notebook. However, the picture included an alien figure. A solitary creature stood amid the sea of wolves, hooded and gripping a red crook. The words scrawled above this strange being read, “The Shepherd of Wolves.”
Unfortunately, my contemplation cost me my vigilance. I had committed a potentially fatal mistake. The Crucifier set upon me from behind the shadows, cloaked in hunter’s silence.
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