To say that a strange man stood at the gates of Rene’s estate would have been a grave understatement. With a white-gloved finger twirling the end of a bushy moustache and a top hat that could have at least three bunnies stuffed into it, the man peered through the spear-tipped grates into the trimmed hedges of the old philosopher’s garden. A subtle sneer sliding across his lips, the gentleman lowered his gold-framed monocle while he scanned his surroundings. Not a soul was to be found waltzing about the gardens, let alone anyone willing to let him in. Archibald stopped toying with his moustaches, preferring to tap his index finger against his chin while he pondered on what could be happening.

Rene had been an oddball, but he was also a self-proclaimed “Scholar of Metaphysical Constructs and Empirical Fallacies”. With his treatise on the origin of truth being that data’s veracity depended only on one’s feelings rather than any objective analysis, he had been amongst the most famous egomaniacal pseudo-intellectuals that had graced the face of academia.

In truth, Archibald didn’t understand the first thing of the man’s Magnum Opus, and it only made him wonder how leeches like Rene manage to become Fellows at the University of Winsworth. But that still didn’t explain why there was no one within the gardens. To think that a man whom had been sponsored by the Queen Herself had next to nothing in the way of security was peculiar, to say the least.

“Hullo, Hullo, Hullo?” Archibald would have loved nothing more than to see a lone house servant come dashing from behind the hedges and attend to him. Yet it was only that lonely silence that responded to him.

Archibald tsked, and began to remove his white gloves at his own pace, tossing them over to the floor nonchalantly. His hands had been stuffy under those, and what he had once been proud to call his flawless, porcelain skin was now caked in a layer of sweat. Shaking his head to no one in particular, Archibald sighed and opened his black waistcoat from one side.

There had been a abundance of pockets stitched on to the fabric, each of them in possession of an item of memorabilia. An old locket with his daughter’s picture in it, a packet of bullets that would come handy when he had to draw his pistol, and an old love letter he had always told himself he would throw away but had yet to do so. I’ll be rid of it by the time I leave the gardens, I’ll remind myself.

He produced an iron lock pick, inserted it into the lock of the gate, and fidgeted around with it until the metal barrier creaked open. As expected, there was no one that came to the sight of his entry. Archibald adjusted his monocle back on his right eye, and taking the revolver in his waist, he began to load bullets into it while he walked about the gardens.

Philosophers and scholars of all manner of disciplines had been known for their eccentric tastes when it came to aesthetics, and Rene was no exception. The cobblestone path that cut through the center of the estate was surrounded by sculptures that had been fashioned into the shapes of various objects. Among the sculptures there was one of two men, one of them a midget being hoisted on the shoulders of the taller man under him, there was a marble rendition of a man squatting on the ground with a polished sapphire exiting his nether regions in the place of excrement, and there was another quartz pair of two brawny men having a go at a game of leapfrog. He could only wonder what manner of income one must have to afford such statues, let alone ones with real sapphires being used to represent human waste.

By the time Archibald had reached the ivory fountain that rested as the centerpiece for the estate, he could have counted at least five other replicas of the same sculptures cropping up in no apparent order. Licking his dry lips, he cupped his hands for a drink of the sparkling water of the fountain, which fell icy down his throat. Afterwards, past the fountain he made his way up through one of two sets of stairs with marble balustrades, until he found himself facing the manor of the old philosopher.

“My, we’ve certainly a rich one on our hands now don’t we?”Archibald knew it would have been wiser to remain silent while he sneaked into the estate, but that building was so luxurious that it was impossible not to comment on it.

With tall, square windows nestled between the ruffled pillars that supported the manor, Rene’s home was a sight to behold. Chiseled buttresses in the shapes of cherubs and seraphs guarded the walls of that grand palace of the philosopher, with a blue banner bearing the image of a rose flapping while the wind pelted it. It was here that Archibald would have expected to be apprehended by an army of house maids and servants, but only the rustling of leaves and a howling wind could be heard around him. He squinted his eyes in the direction of the windows, and took notice that most of them had their drapes drawn on them. Approaching Rene’s abode, he could see that one of the double-doors that led into the house had been left open.

He knows I’m coming here now doesn’t he? That doesn’t explain the missing house staff…maybe they already caught on to his secret. There was no doubt that Archibald was being forced into a trap. The Turtillians were never subtle beings to say the least. Not having a lick of common sense, they would often leave a trail that only a blind man would be incapable of following. And even then, there was a large chance of that blind man stumbling into them by accident.

Archibald took a firm grip on his revolver’s wooden stock, and holding his weapon above his head, he slinked inside of the manor with the gun barrel always pointed ahead of himself. A smooth tile floor that gave the semblance of having just been swabbed was what Archibald had first encountered upon entering. There had been vases and pottery with wilted leaves that made one think that they had shriveled up long ago.

Hovering his revolver while he swept the room, there was a deathly cold that had seized him. The wide chamber that was before him grew hazy with each passing moment and then that chilly sting of mist began to caress his arms. Swirling in tendrils and clouds, a fog had begun to settle within the manor’s first floor. The hairs on his arms and legs bristled with goosebumps and his revolver swung toward the wide set of stairs that loomed before him inside of the chambers.

“You can quit the games, Rene.” Turtillians, whom were never fond of being caught, would often tease their potential victims. It was one of their habits to play mind games with them by practicing some foul manner of sorcery.

The fog parted down the middle, creating a clear path toward the set of stairs, where there had been a black silhouette waiting at the top. Swathed in a dark cloak that encompassed most of its body, the shadow on the steps drew a fair hand from the folds of his fabrics. The gaunt thing that it was, the figure extended a finger toward Archibald “Games, Riftweaver Archibald? A fine metaphor if I may say so myself, a game this is indeed. One whose outcome will straddle between our lives…or deaths.”

Truly disappointing. Archibald had expected Rene’s behavior to be different to that of the other Turtillians, but as it stood, the faux-philosopher was as predictable as they came. But it wouldn’t matter, in the end, he would lie dead. Taking great care in the removal of his monocle, pocketing it within his coat, Archibald allowed the steel barrel of the revolver to face Rene “There are an infinity of ways in which this scenario could play out, Rene. You die at the hands of my fists, at the end of my revolver’s barrel, or…” he wrinkled his moustache in deep inquiry “actually, those are the only ways that this could ever end.”

When the last word exited Archibald’s mouth, Rene gave out a sickening cackle as he strode down the white steps of his manor. The cloak now splayed behind himself, Rene’s features could be seen in their entirety. What Archibald had once thought to be smooth skin had grown coarser than he would have expected when up close, and that same skin had been flushed with a forest green hue that was ever-so faint. There was a wide-brimmed hat that rested on his head, which he promptly cast over the balustrades until it hung limp on a wooden peg on the stair’s landing. His bald head shone in its full glory on that day, threatening to blind anyone that would stare on for more than a few seconds.

“You know nothing of our kind, Riftweaver, we control every part of your country, your media, your books, and your philosophy. The Turtillian Enclave shrouds itself in secrecy while we pull the cords of your society with every passing day, the Hive Mind is unstoppable. What can one Riftweaver do to us?” a slimy sort of baritone came in the guise of his voice and Archibald’s fingers tightened their grip on the holster of his revolver.

“You would be surprised, Rene.” the words came and went, the noise of a bullet ricocheting off a marble pedestal resounding in the halls to fill in that silence.

A waft of smoke slithered away from the revolver’s barrel, as Archibald stared down at the space in which the Turtillian had stood. Save for a chipped chunk of marble that came off from his bullet’s impact, little else had changed in the scene. His revolver’s barrel still hot after the shot, Archibald straddled his legs and glanced over his shoulders with every chance that he got. But there was no sign of Rene.

The mist that permeated the first floor of the manor shifted as a blurry shadow darted through it. The tendrils of mist mingled and collapsed upon themselves while the flitting figure of Rene ran through them. Archibald’s eyes danced in their sockets, tracking down the fleeting figure with frightening accuracy, but before he could zoom in for a shot the shadow would always glide away. As though made of the mist himself, Rene had managed to camouflage himself entirely.

“The die is cast, Archibald! The Union of Tortuga shall be reborn, and the Hive shall be the new Empress of this world!” vanishing like smoke, so did the voice of Rene come and go.

Archibald just had to wait for his moment. Peering through over the head of his weapon, his hand followed along with the fleeting shadow of Rene’s. The swirling mass of dark that dashed through the mist began to slow down…slower…slower…until for a moment’s notice it’d gone to a pause. About to squeeze the trigger, Rene leaped out of the mists and Archibald’s revolver flashed for the span of a moment.

His whole body being forced back by a weight that was incalculable even to one such as himself, Archibald’s revolver clattered across the smooth tile floor while his two struggling hands  wrestled with those of the alien Rene. The hulking beast now over him, Archibald was aware that the pseudo-intellectual had revealed his true colors.

No longer the lanky man who had stared him down from the stairs earlier on that day, Rene had become a monster in every sense of the word. His bald head had shrunk to the point of making it look as though it was about to slide back into a carapace. His skin was strangely humid, and was now a vivid green color which had been contrasted only by the feral flash of his amber eyes.

Grunting and panting and wheezing and coughing, Archibald strained under the weight of the Turtillian. The creatures had pudgy fingers that could smother him under their embrace, and pushing back against them worked as well as a child attempting to lift an anvil. As their two arms stood rigid against one another, each exerting their lot of force into their moves, Archibald’s tendons flared up with utter pain. Biting down on his teeth until his gums began to bleed, Archibald had been able to prevent the mongrel from snapping his ribcage in half, but it was unclear how long he had to be rid of the beast.

With each breath he took, he felt as though he tossed a twig into the flames of his pain. His legs growing numb under the sheer weight of the Turtillian, there was no apparent way out of this all. His veins throbbing, Archibald did the only thing he could do, and he jerked his head upwards as far forward as he could, launching his top hat into the face of his foe. It was a desperate move, but–

“AGAAGAHAGGAHAGH!” Archie’s lungs expanded with relief and the Turtillian reeled back in some kind of pain. But all he had done was throw his hat at the alien, what could have happened? “THE DARK, THE DARK HAS TAKEN ME!!!”

At a loss at first, Archie sneered when he realized what he’d done. Luck, being on his side the way that it was, had caused the top hat to lodge itself on the Turtilian’s bald scalp, the head of the alien small enough to have the hat fall down to cover his vision. Rene scrawled his arms all the way up to his face, but his meaty appendages were by far not tall enough to reach the head. Natural selection had been in Archibald’s favor.

“YOU WILL DIE ON THIS DAY, RIFTWEAVER! DO YOU HEAR ME!? DIE!” The distressed Turtillian screamed out.

With a casual stride toward his fallen revolver, which he then picked up,  Archibald brought his revolver to bear witness to the alien scum “I’m sure we’ll be able to talk this one out…” Archibald winked at the Turtillian from under his monocle “in hell, of course.”

Before the Turtillian could respond, there was  bang of Archie’s revolver and then a smattering of black ooze came upon the white tile floor when Rene’s Turtillian head had exploded. The thick and now dead body of the Turtillian stumbled backwards a few times, until it could finally bear its weight no longer. With a thud that was to be heard across the whole of the premises, the gory corpse had slid on a puddle of its own blood and fallen.

Archibald blew a waft of smoke away from his revolver, holstering it the second that the job had been done. Yet there was still sweat rolling down his cheeks. He had done it this time. His previous kills had been Turtillians that no one really knew anything about. Local leaders, small business owners, and a few merchants back at Winsworth. But he had done it now.

A public figure lay dead at his feet, a foremost philosopher of his time. Fallen at the hands of some stranger, some brigand, some thief! How could anyone have allowed such a degenerate into the vicinity of one of the wisest minds in the Winsworth Emperium? He could imagine the headlines on the newspapers already. ‘Shady Man slaughters Great Teacher’, ‘Philosopher Found Dead in his own Home’, and ‘Murdered Thinker sparks suspicions of Political Motivations at play’. Archibald had slain a goliath on that day, and it would have an unprecedented effect on society for years to come. What would the world do without Rene? How would they think? How could they go on?

“Oh, well,” Archibald took out his monocle and rummaged through his coat until he could find his personal neckerchief. Prudently, patiently, and pensively, he swabbed the monocle until it had a clear vision while on his eyes “not much we can do about that now can we?”

Sparing one last triumphant glance at his dead foe, Archibald tucked his hands deep in his pockets and made his way out of the mansion. Who knew? Maybe he’d be able to catch a decent meal before the Hive Mind’s lackeys started on his trail.