Sunday, October 7, 2007

Chapter 6c: Wellan's Discovery

After meeting with Rachelle, Wellan walked the silent woman to the gates at the palace wall, trying to keep her out of the rain and reassure her that the people of Renier wouldn't come to harm. She strolled beside him, but didn't speak, often wiping her eyes, hidden within the cowl of her cloak. He tried to sound convincing, but her silence told him she remained certain about the fate of those around her. Her confidence scared Wellan. Rachelle was a seer, known throughout the city for her accurate predictions. The wizard hoped he would be able to stop disaster from falling, but her strong convictions overwhelmed his sense of security.

At the gate, he wished her well, trying to sound more convincing than he felt. The guards stood at attention, eyes fixed on the trees across the road. She nodded her head once, turned and walked away, disappearing into the downpour.

As Wellan turned to go back to the palace, one of the guards cleared his throat and stuttered, "Eh..excuse me, sir."

The other guard rolled his eyes, as if to say, Here it comes!


With a nervous quake in his voice, the first guard said, "Dale and I..."

Dale turned to him and glared, forcing him to start over. "Well, sir, you see...I was wondering if you know what's goin' on today?"

Wellan's eyebrows drew down. "What do you mean?"

The guard scratched his wiry beard and said, "Nobody's come into the gate today, other that that seer, and usually we got at least a dozen people by now. The rain don't even account for it. That, and...well, we've been hearin' hollerin' all over the place. We would've checked it out, but it's hard to tell where it's comin' from with the rain and all, plus we can't leave our post, and nobody has made their rounds to see if we need anything, or we would've reported it."

Fear's icy fingers crawled up Wellan's spine as the implications became obvious.

"Shut the gates until I return."

He turned to the guard who had spoken. "Go back to the palace and find your commander. If he isn't available, then go straight to the Duke. Tell him the palace needs to be searched for dead bodies or sick people. The dead bodies need to be locked away or burned and the sick need to be quarantined. I will be back within the hour."

The guards looked at one another and hesitated; uncertainty and fear clouded their faces.

Wellan put a hand on their shoulders and spoke, keeping himself as calm as he could, "Hurry. It's important that the palace be sealed as quickly as possible."

The first guard spun and ran toward the palace while the second guard closed the heavy iron-bound wooden doors. Wellan turned and stepped out from the palace wall. Within seconds, the rain soaked through his cloak and robes. It chilled him, but not enough to deviate him from his task.

Rain pummeled him as he walked, narrowing his senses so that he could only detect things in a small area around him. Trees could be seen to either side of the road, but only as grayed silhouettes. He wondered if the sudden driving rain might have more purpose than nature intended. Maybe to hide a vile horror from the eyes of those who might be able to stop it. The thought unsettled him.

He pulled his cowl tighter and widened his stride.

Within moments, the market opened before him. Wellan stopped.

Each morning, vendors brought their wares to this area of the city and set up tents and booths, hoping to fill their pockets with coin before the day ended. On a normal day the market bustled with activity, especially with God's Day just around the corner. The sight before him was far from normal. A few booths and tents could be seen, buffeted by the downpour, but the buyers and vendors were missing, their wares getting soaked. The rain accounted for some of the lack of participation, but it wouldn't explain why the booths were completely empty of both buyers and sellers. Not only that, but everything stood in eerie silence, other than the constant patter of the rain and the wind flapping fabrics back and forth.

Wellan walked further into the market, toward the well in the center.

All through the market he saw the same thing: empty booths, watered goods - and no people.

As he approached the well, he saw his first person. A pair of boots peaked out from the backside of the stone and mortar pipe, the heels facing toward him. The boots didn't move.

He ran to the well, water splashing with every step, and instantly smelled death. A heavy-set man lay by the well, eyes glazed open in terror and skin fish-belly white. Wellan squatted next to the man and felt for a pulse. The cool skin told him there was no need. Oddly enough, the smell of death slackened as Wellan knelt next to the body. He bent down and took another whiff. The putrid smell was faint. He stood and sniffed again. The smell became stronger. Realization flooded his mind and he bent over the well and took a deep breath. The putrid stench wafted up from the well.

Wellan slammed his open hand against the lip of the well. "Damn!"

The cities water supply had been poisoned with the infection. Everyone used the city-supplied wells. Most of Renier was probably already infected.

A shuffling sound caused Wellan to spin around. Behind him staggered five corpses, with more stumbling between the booths. They were dressed in an assorted array of merchant attire, men and women who woke up thinking that they were going to have another day of business as usual. The pallor of their skin and blank look in their eyes spoke differently.

Surprised, Wellan stepped back. The corpses advanced.

Repulsed by the sickening creatures, and not even considering who they may have been a few hours ago, he pulled back his arm and swung it forward. Hell burst from his open hand and incinerated three of the five corpses. Seven more had stumbled in to take their place. Wellan pulled both arms back and let loose.

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Chapter 6b: Piet's Dilemma

Piet Lithor cowered beneath satin sheets in the shadows between his bed and the wall. His breath wheezed through his throat and his heart pounded with a quick rhythm. He could hear each beat as the blood passed his eardrum; unfortunately, the sound wasn't loud enough to drown out the banging and scraping coming from the door.

The terror had started as Brother Clay brought the grilled quail to the table and placed before him. The quail was dried out and overcooked. Piet Lithor opened his mouth to tell Brother Clay to return the tray to the kitchen and try again. His angry comment halted in mid-breath as Brother Somners shuffled into the room. The man was hardly fit to be seen in public, wearing only his night clothes, and soiled night clothes at that!

The Piet’s mouth snapped shut and then opened again, ready to tell Brother Somners to make himself presentable in the presence of the Piet. The pajama-clad man turned toward him and the words died in his throat as Brother Somners raised both arms and began shuffling forward. The stains on the night clothes were red, a dark red.

Thank Vaspar for Brother Clay. The man grabbed a steak knife and put himself between the Piet and Brother Somners. The Piet stumbled out of his chair, sending the ornately carved furniture crashing to the floor, and backed away from Brother Somners.

Other priests and house staff stumbled in behind Brother Somners. All of them wore bloodstained clothes with arms outstretched as if begging for help, aid far beyond the Piets ability to give.

He recognized every face. Brother Moyes, the record keeper of the order, shuffled around the corner. Black ink mixed with red blood on the front of his robes. A quill grasped like a club in his ink-stained grip. Mina Trey, his personal housekeeper and occasional caretaker of his more base needs, hobbled slowly at the back of the crowd with a broken leg. Little Gorkis Rowe, a fine young man working to enter the priesthood, sped through the slower moving bodies with blood covering his mouth and hunger shining in his eyes.

It was too much for the holy man.

He turned and ran.

He raced down the hall to his room, leaving Brother Clay to fend the madness off.

His priests had become abominations. He could hear their shuffling from the other side of the door; a door barricaded by a dresser and overturned bookcase. Every sound sent a shiver down Piet Lithor's spine. The shuffling and banging spoke volumes to the Piet. The priests were telling him that they wanted him. They wanted the flesh of his bones, the organs protected within those bones. They wanted to feast on his meat and drink his blood. The priests wanted his essence, his soul. They wanted Piet Lithor to join their ranks and become one of them. He could still hear Brother Clay screaming within the dark recesses of his mind.

"Leave me alone!" he shrieked at the barricaded door.

His plea only increased the intensity of their assault. The feet sliding across the floor became more erratic, and the pounding grew louder as the abominations escalated their efforts.

Piet Lithor crawled to the end of the bed, where an immaculately polished and carved table sat. Standing upright on the table stood a sword, a holy artifact, the sword of Tyrmra the Just. Its gleaming, etched blade and intricately wrought handle almost calling to him. Rising to his knees, he grabbed the artifact by its golden handle and scooted back to his hiding spot behind the bed. He knelt with the sword between his clasped hands, as if in prayer, the blade pushing against the tiled floor with his forehead touching the pommel.

In a frantic whisper, he pleaded, "Oh mighty Vaspar the Just and Righteous. You who right the wrongs of mankind, giving the righteous strength and punishing the unholy. I, your humble servant, ask you to deliver me from this nightmare. Destroy those who wish me harm and save me from the vile clutches of the unholy, so that I may continue to lead men in your righteousness."

The banging of the unholy only got louder.

Piet Lithor lowered his voice to a faint whisper, a minor vibration of his vocal cords, "Oh mighty Vaspar. Please, please don't let them get me. I will do anything you wish, anything. I will…"

A loud crack interrupted his prayers. The door facing began to split.

He continued in silent prayer. I will give you the wizard. Yes. I will deliver Wellan unto you if you will only let me leave here unharmed. I know you hate his dark sorcery, and his haughty ways. I will make him yours. Please, Lord Vaspar, let me live to serve you.

The banging stopped. Piet Lithor felt disappointment underlining the unholy quiet, as if the vile creatures were being denied something they wanted more than anything.

Within seconds, their shuffling faded away and only silence remained.

Weeping, he hugged the holy artifact of Vaspar the Righteous to his chest.

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