They listen.

With wide, hungry eyes, and an unending appetite, they listen to you as you talk.

Anything and everything. Your first kiss, a problem you’re having, the story behind your tattoo. They sit across the table at the local tavern, as a person you just met.

They take it all in with immense satisfaction.

But they direct it, to perhaps the story of your wife, your husband. How you met. Once the words fall out, they never go back in.

The Akamei. The listeners. The story-thieves. The Self-Stealers.

By the time your conversation is over you have no memory of yourself at all. You can recognize your loved ones, but have no memory of why.

And filled with youthful energy the Akamei that listened to your life can live another 20 years. They move on to the next town.

My brother was a victim.

He was a headstrong warrior for the magistrate. Always willing to boast, and always willing to talk to anyone who would listen.

After I had not received any letters that month, I went in search of him.

He was there. A fighter with no personality left. He had told the monster everything. I was greeted with a strange look.

“I know you from somewhere,” he said.

“I am your brother!” I said.

His face only shifted to concern.

I grabbed him by the shoulders.

“I am your brother! We lived in the same house for years! You taught me how to fish!”

“I believe you. I simply cannot remember any evidence.”

I checked his mouth. The telltale white stripe, down the center of his tongue made me shiver.

After speaking with his superiors I learned it had happened after one night. A single night passed and my brother was lost to me, and his comrades. His fighting spirit had died, and his rousing personality was gone.

He wandered through life, repeating the motions and feeling nothing.

An Akamei. A monster of old.

I would have my revenge.

I procured pure alcohol, and a priest, convinced to aid my cause, consecrated it. If I could get close, I would dash it on the monster, and some of the stories it kept loosely within would have a chance to escape.

Also with me, was a pistol. It had been my brother’s. It had been a gift from me, inscribed with his name on the barrel. One ball waited, packed in with my rage. I had carved a small three pointed star into the bullet.

The symbol was from a god it betrayed to keep living. It began as a human, and it made the choice to go with Siafon, one of the old gods.

Wind blew in from the north, the smell of grease wafted from the tavern in front of me. Bits of snow trickled from above, and swathes washed off the roof in stinging waves.

I readied myself for a confrontation with a deep breath. Snow, wind, and the spirit of revenge followed me inside as I crossed into the candle-lit tavern.

People talked, glasses clinked together. My eyes scanned the room, meeting everyone’s eyes for a second.

Only one pair stayed locked onto their table partner.

A young woman. She looked at boy across from her. It looked to be his first drink of ale.

My grip tightened on the pistol under my coat.

She was entrancing. Long eyelashes batted towards the boy, and he swung his mug of ale around, spilling it as he spilled his stories.

I pushed the people aside as I approached…