Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Chapter 2c: A Meeting with the Duke

"Would you please use the honorific when referencing Piet Lithor? At least do it when you address him directly."


"I am sorry, my friend. I didn't realize that it meant so much to him." Wellan replied. A mischievous smile twisted his lips.


His research into the prisoner's condition had taken more time than he anticipated, allowing Lithor to reach Duke Renier before he had gotten a chance to meet with him. It couldn't be helped. Wellan was thorough, as all wizards were, at least all who wanted to excel beyond the level of street magicians.


"Oh, you damned well know what it means to him. You do it just to get under his skin without appearing to do so." The Duke winked and grinned at Wellan as he added, "I find it rather amusing, but unfortunately I have to listen to his whining when you get his feathers ruffled, and I find that aspect of it far from amusing. So, if he asks, you have been officially scolded."


Wellan looked at the Duke and nodded with a feigned innocence.


The Duke chose to meet with him in the small chamber not far from the main audience chamber. He picked the room not only for comfort, but because it sat in a remote corner of the castle, away from prying ears.


After pouring himself a cup of coffee, the Duke leaned back in the soft, leather-padded chair. He sipped the coffee with both hands and propped his booted feet on a table next to the coffee decanter while giving Wellan a relaxed grin. The charming smile had closed many lucrative business dealings for the city of Renier. The same grin his father used and his father before him as the city expanded through three generations of Reniers. A knowing smile threatened to sneak past Wellan’s bearded lips. He had seen all three sets of grins but knew Duke Renier didn't realize it was a charming trademark of his hereditary line. It made him loved by the rich and poor alike throughout the city and even the neighboring kingdoms.


The Duke took another sip of coffee, dropped both boots to the floor and leaned forward. His smile vanished and in a conspiratorial voice he asked, "So… What did you find out about that unfortunate man? Piet Lithor said you want him burned to ash though he hasn't committed any real crime, other than running from the city guard. Piet Lithor also said the man is quite lively, considering his condition."


Wellan's expression grew serious as he set his coffee cup down and leaned forward on the couch, "I didn't order it burned because of any crimes that it might have committed. I ordered it burned to ash because it is a dangerous abomination."


"Hanging is an effective means of getting rid of most abominations."


"Not this one, my Duke. The thing isn't a leper. It is an undead. A walking corpse." Wellan leaned back on the sofa. "It can't be killed by any means other than total destruction of the body."


The charming smile disappeared from the Duke's face and his brows curled down with worry. "I heard the guards had trouble with them. I thought it odd, considering their sickness and all. Do you have any idea what they were doing inside my city? Do you have any idea why one was captured near my home?"


Wellan shook his head. "No, my Duke. That's the main reason I'm so late getting back here with a report. I wanted to look through my archives to find out everything I could about the undead."


"What did you learn?"


"Not a whole lot. Of coarse I didn't have a great deal of time to carefully study my documents because I was already late returning here to tell you what I had found. As soon as we're done I'll return to my archives and see if there's any other information to be gained about these creatures. In the meantime, with your permission of coarse, I would like to have the body of the abomination burned to ash and the ashes sent to me. They may aid me in learning what its purpose was, here in Renier. I would also like to meet with all the guards who were involved in the capture of the creatures."


Both men stood, knowing that the discussion was ended. Duke Renier put his hand on Wellan's shoulder. "Keep me informed, my friend."


With a nod Wellan replied, "I will, my Duke."




"Get up."


Drummen's eyes opened to stare at leg of his dining table.


"Get up."


Without grace he pushed himself off of the floor, shaking like a newborn calf. Whiskey, blood and bile covered the front of his armor, beard and hair. It was unimportant.


"Go."


He walked toward the front door. The confident stride missing, his shoulders no longer straight and proud and his expression was no longer angry. His features had turned blank, his eyes a reflection of that emptiness. He looked straight ahead but didn't recognize anything as he shuffled toward the door.


The door stood closed, but that didn't prevent him from walking. He shuffled into it and stopped, clawing at the rugged wood.


"Lift the handle. Pull the door open."


Drummen looked around the door. He didn't understand. The only feeling he had was hunger, so very hungry.


"Lift the handle. Pull the door open."


Without any instructions from him his hand found the latch. He jerked and yanked on it until the door opened, hitting his head. He didn't notice.


"Go."


He walked out the door and into the cool breeze of the night. Starvation clawed at his stomach and had there been anyone around he would have ignored the Voice and eaten, but the streets were empty. He listened for food, but didn't hear any.


"Do as I say and you will eat. Do as I say and you will feed, but not right now."


Drummen didn't care about the Voice, he wanted food, but the Voice couldn't be ignored. The Voice had to be obeyed.


"Good. Now go. I know just where to hide you until it's time for you to feed."

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Chapter 2b: Drinking to Illness

Once the night watch had calmed Drummen down, he sat on the curb of the cobble stone street, yanked his gore-covered boots off, and threw them as far as he could. He didn't want any part of that...thing on him. Drummen wanted to forget the last hour and regretted showing up for duty at all, wishing he had stayed home drinking. The thought of getting ignorantly drunk and forgetting about this whole business appealed to him more than any coddling the guards had done. A half bottle of spirits wouldn’t make the nightmare go away, but it might make him forget how terrible it all was for a little while. Without saying a word, he lumbered down the street on bare feet. His men stared at his broad back in silence as he strolled into the night.



Two hours later, Drummen sat at a food stained table in his dining room, which also served as his bedroom and kitchen, a half empty bottle of cheap liquor held between his beefy, calloused hands. The booze didn't help. The images and sounds continued to flash through his mind with unbidden regularity. The leper's wart-ridden face as he pushed himself off the ground. The rotter's gore spilling out of his side. The bastards severed hand flying through the air. The way he kept coming and coming at Drummen with eyes devoid of emotions, dead eyes. The severed head gnawing on empty air. That was the worst. He couldn't let go of that image.

He brought the bottle to his lips, taking generous swigs. Bubbles floated up through the amber liquid as the liquor gurgled down his throat. The spirits burned, but not enough to sear away the awful memories.


Drummen set the bottle down and locked his fingers over his head, elbows out. A ghastly cringe full of horrors that would not be buried contorted his face.


The godsdamned thing was dead! It was dead! It had to be dead! He was sure of it. Yet it had moved. The severed head had rocked itself around to face Drummen, its teeth viciously gnashing together. Click…Click…Click…Click…Click…Click. Stop! Stop moving! Stop looking at me! Just STOP! What he saw wasn’t possible. None of it could have happened, but it did. All of it did!


Drummen ran his quivering fingers through his sweat soaked hair and reached for the bottle. His hand had almost grasped the neck when a chill coursed through his body and the room spun. He closed his watery eyes and put a hand to his forehead. The chill went away, replaced by uncomfortable warmth. The dizziness became nauseating.


“Cheap rotgut.” He mumbled and tried to stand, but only fell back in the old wooden chair, the room tilted and warbled around him. He couldn't get his bearings. Surely he hadn't drank that much.


Without warning, the vomiting started. All of the liquor he had consumed wasted itself across the dirty wooden table. He grabbed the edge of the furniture and retched another pint of liquor onto the wooden surface. The mucus filled liquid ran between the table boards and off the edges, pooling onto the floor and into his lap. He let go with one hand, but before he could gather his bearings he turned to the side and heaved again; stomach clenching up with a will of its own. Very little spewed out. The vomit was getting thicker, leaving dark strings that stretched from his bearded lips to the floor.


"What the Hell?" Anger and frustration made him let go of the table and slam his fist down on its edge. The bottle bounced before tipping over and crashing to the table. The liquor gurgled out the open bottle to mix with the bile-laced liquor already soaking into the table.


"Awe great. That's just bloody grea…" Again he regurgitated. He couldn’t catch his breath as his stomach contracted and his face burned red against the strain. A groaning rumbled in his throat as his stomach clenched, not releasing him to breathe for almost a full minute. The familiar taste of copper filled his mouth as his stomach finally unclenched. Thin strings of blood hung from his beard and glistened on his lips.


Gasping for breath he wiped the back of his hand across his open mouth. His hand shook as he gazed, wide eyed, at the thin film of blood coating the back of his hand. Fear crawled like a spider up his back. He had never vomited blood before. He retched again. This time the blood flowed freely, painting the front of his leather armor red and soaking into his vomit stained britches.


Drummen leapt from the chair, sending it crashing to the floor. The room tilted out of control. He couldn't tell up from down as he took a wobbly step forward. The world tilted and swirled with colors and shapes as a violent flash of disorientation struck him. He stumbled sideways and grasped for the edge of the table. He didn't even come close and crashed to the ground. Drummen lay on the floor twitching, his hand raising and lowering several times before becoming still.

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