The Beginning of the End

June 2018
A dreadful wind dashes through the rainy Prague night. It flies straight past the skyline-defining Prague Castle, refuses to be enchanted by the gorgeously-lit Old Town Square, and even crosses the iconic Charles Bridge without a moment of pause or wonder. So fast and committed to its path is it, that one might have thought it was running away from something. Something terrible. It doesn’t stop once it’s past the banks of the Vltava; it keeps heading away from the city until it’s gone, never to return. That gust of wind was lucky… the 3 million people who called this city home wouldn’t be.

Praguers had already started to notice the changes, but before now they were subtle, fleeting. Maybe they had picked up on how rarely the sun had actually shone this summer, and how in its place were gloomy, overcast skies, rain, and increasingly vicious thunderstorms. Maybe they had read the news and seen the sharp uptick in the city’s crime rate. If they were in the right place at the right time, they may have even heard the low rumblings coming from beneath the Prague Castle, the source of which was anyone’s guess. There would be a lot more guessing to do now.

It had been raining and thundering all day; that was new to no one. But suddenly, for a few moments, everything stopped, as if the clouds had run out of ammunition and required a reload. Once they fired their weapons again, however, the very nature of the storm had changed. The lightning had only been intermittent before, but now it was non-stop, the sky flashing bright and going dark every few seconds, like a faulty film projector. The lightning travels from cloud to cloud, as if someone were playing a massive game of “Connect the Dots” in the sky. Then, in a quite spectacular moment, the full picture is revealed, the path drawn by the lightning bolts having somehow solidified and suspended itself across the horizon, but this time its illuminating hue having shifted from a bright white to an ominous dark crimson. For a few precious moments, the entire city of Prague bears witness to the image of a monarch’s crown painted in pure red electricity, looking down upon its subjects on the streets below, already self-assured of its majesty. And then the image disappears, but not before releasing an earth-shattering broadside of thunder, the sheer power of the noise even fiercer than the Allied bombs dropped on the city over 70 years before. When the noise dissipates, things appear to have gone back to normal, the clouds having run out of bullets for good this time, their hunger for violence sated. But when the rain resumes, it is not as it was before, as anyone exposed to it would soon discover. For the raindrops had inherited the crimson color of the sky it fell from, and its taste would have made any vampire lick their lips. It was bloody strange.

There was no denying it now: things were changing, and they were changing for the worse. For the rest of that night, everyone in Prague wished they could be like that gust of wind.

This begins The Red Jackals of Prague.
Thanks for reading.

(Cross-posted on FMCU)

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