A Stain Upon the Earth
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A Stain Upon the Earth

By the time Atlas looked up from the cobbled streets, the sun, or at least what passed for a sun around here, had already begun to set. The orange rays played like a kaleiodscope through the prism of spiderwebs and tree branches as the streetlamps were lit one by one. Long, arcing shadows surrounded him, reminding him all too well of the souls which had been lost here. As he sat, a soft sobbing was heard inside the clinic, and Atlas decided he could stay no longer.

Atlas' footsteps were the only thing which disturbed the deathly silence in the now darkened town. None other than him dared to walk outside under the cover of darkness. Perhaps this was the smart choice. As he continued down the road, the frequncy of lit streetlamps became lower and lower. No matter. A flash of sparks surrounded him, and a small circling orb of fire began to hover in his palm, casting the encroaching darkness away.

Down the road, about a mile into the dark, the outline of a chapel was slightly visible against the backdrop of foliage. The silhouette seemed… off, though. As Atlas approached, the anomaly within this location became clear. Perched atop the steeple, a bizarre creature rested: some form of abnormally large insect stood ready. It looked, on a closer inspection, like some form of gigantic grasshopper, but with an almost skull-like face. Plates of bone and chitin wreathed its body, as some form of protection from… something. He was not sure what, nor did he intend to find out. As Atlas stood observing this creature, it noticed him as well, and broke into a fit of high-pitched, shrieking laughter. Atlas stood and waited for it to calm down.

"I mean you no harm, creature. Let me by."

The creature broke out into another fit of deranged laughter, and Atlas ducked inside the chapel. Inside the building was a mess. A thick cloud of dust hang in the air, undisturbed by wind and rain. Destroyed and scattered chairs lined the entrance; tiling on the wall had been ripped off and scattered. Some wood on the wall seemed to have at some point been frozen, then thawed over time, and blade strikes were visible still in the wooden paneling. In a darker corner of the room, inside a recessed portion of the wall, sat a decapitated skeleton, a stake driven through its chest. The handaxe was, in fact, the same as Atlas had read about in Valentina's journal—the small carving on the handle made sure of it. Atlas knew she had been here, and something interesting was sure to result from this expedition. He picked up the handaxe, and tossed it in the air a few times, feeling its weight in his hands. It was a piece of high quality, something which Valentina Eckhart would have carried during her life.

Atlas reached into his pack calmly, quickly securing the worn journal. A cursory flip through the pages revealed the section which Val had written about this particular place. As he looked through the pages of the notebook, the details of this place came rushing back to him. Though much still lay within the bowels of this place, what he was looking for lay in the once-hallowed grounds outside. Though he had never seen this place before, he knew exactly where to look. Though it had been four years since, when he found the patch of ground he was looking for, the bloodstains on the earth below were visible, clear as day. These bloodstains had peristed through the test of time, and their durability was evident of one thing only - Vampyr blood.

This is where she was turned. Atlas thought to himself.

Her turn was something of which Atlas knew little, to his own regret. She had wrote sparsely of the event itself, only the mental anguish which had come with it. Atlas did his best to avoid those sections of the journal. It always depressed him to read them. It was best to simply overlook those sections of the notebook and try his best to track her previous path. At times, though, it was impossible for him to ignore. Though he did not have enough time to really justify it, it was hard for him to not share in her sadness on occasion. He felt upset at himself for this. He had seen enough horrible things, enough bloodshed, enough loss, he did not need to indulge in the sadness of some dead girl. He steeled himself and continued to investigate the scene.

A few whispered words and a sprinkling of some salt on the soil, and the ground began to shift and change. The dust of the earth began to shift, forming two human figures. One stood above the other, the standing male figure wearing a mask, and the female figure kneeling before him. The male figure reached out his arm, slashed across a vein with a fingernail, and a stream of dust poured from the figure. The powder coalesced across the dusty female figure, who then promptly collapsed. The dusty figures then reconsituted back into the earth from which they had come, the eternal bloodstain remaining.

More cackling laughter echoed from above. A shrieking, manic voice called out to Atlas from the steeple of the chapel.

"You can't save them, you know! There is nothing you can do."

Atlas stared at the ground for a moment, observing the detail of the bloodstain below. He burned its fractal-like pattern into his mind, and took a deep breath. In an exhausted voice, with a heavy heart, Atlas responded.

"I know. I know I cannot save them. And I know I cannot save the people in that village from the sickness which you bear. In the face of your worms, your pestilence, I can do naught but await my own eventual end. For all my strength and skill, I am just one man, and there is little one man can do in the face of all this. I know I cannot save them, but I can record their stories. That is all I have ever been able to do. Now please, leave me to my work."

Atlas scooped some of the blood-stained dirt into a vial, placed it gingerly into a wooden box, and continued walking. To the North lay the greater mountain ranges of the region. Stood high and proud against the stars, the mountains, largely unexplored except by the hardiest sort, beckoned Atlas. He knew this is where Val had gone next, seeking the answers which lay beneath the mist.

Atlas surveyed the massive spires of stone which lay in the distance, set his course, and began his newest journey.

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