Thursday, October 25, 2007

Chapter 8a: Lithor's Artifact

"The righteous will scatter before the unrighteous like dust is blown from an ancient book."


~Secret Holy Scriptures of the Waken Book




P
iet Lithor stood in the entryway of his home, standing on the balls of his feet, his eye shoved against the peephole in the door. He studied the courtyard, where Brother Rayne and Brother Foster aimlessly shuffled through the drizzling rain and short grass, neither paying any attention to the other. They looked foolish, tottering back and forth on their bare feet and bloodstained robes. Brother Foster’s small hat, a symbol of his divine authority, had slid down his brow, almost covering his eyes, adding to the ludicrous appearance.


He looked past the priests, to the front gate. His priests always locked it at dusk and unlocked it at dawn. He needed to know if it had been opened before everything fell apart. The well partially blocked his view and his vision blurred when he tried to look at distant objects. He moved his head sideways, to get a better angle on the peephole, but the peephole was small enough that it didn’t help.


“Blasted well!” he growled in frustration, momentarily forgetting that silence was his friend. He cringed and looked over his shoulder, making sure no one heard. Other than the faint sound of water dripping from the eaves, silence still filled the house. He didn’t think anyone remained. When he had finally gained enough courage to leave his room, the mansion stood empty of living souls. He hadn’t heard the shuffling footsteps of his deranged priests or seen them stumbling about. The only priest he had seen was poor Brother Clay, laying in a pool of blood; his insides strewn about him. Piet Lithor had never seen so much blood. He didn’t realize the human body could contain such a quantity.


He felt remorse for Brother Clay and more than a little shame at his own actions. He should never have left the faithful priest to defend his retreat. He should have been a braver man and stood with Brother Clay. The priest may have been saved if Piet Lithor would have stayed and helped him. Of course, they might both have been killed, and what purpose would that have served? He hated his cowardly actions, but had he stayed, he would have died beside the priest, his blood and organs would now be mixed with the faithful man’s. Yes, he had made the right decision.


Holding the sword to his side, he bowed his head and said a quick prayer for Brother Clay, that his soul be well recieved by Vaspar. The prayer only lasted seconds. His situation didn’t allow time for such niceties, not when maniacs roamed the halls and grounds of his home. His eyes opened and he scanned the room to make sure none of his priests were sneaking about. The room stood empty and quiet.


With a short prayer to Vaspar, Piet Lithor cracked the front door open. The creak of the hinge reverberated through him like a hammer on a gong. Cringing, he peaked through the crack to see if the two priests heard the noise. Brother Rayne had stumbled and fallen and was pushing himself upright, wobbly shoulders tipped precariously to the side. Brother Foster had walked out of Piet Lithor's narrow line of sight and was nowhere to be seen.


“Have faith in almighty Vaspar. He saved you once, and I doubt it was just to let die an hour later on your doorstep,” He mumbled to himself.


With a steady push, Piet Lithor opened the door enough to get his portly body through the gap. Brother Rayne struggled on his knees, still working to get himself in a standing position. The Piet had seen him in this submissive position almost every day for the past seven years as the priests prayed together to Lord Vaspar. The memory both saddened the high priest and terrified him, reminding him that the man kneeling in the grass hadn’t been a mindless killer twenty-four hours earlier.


He still couldn’t find Brother Foster.


Cocking his head to the side and stretching out as far as he could reach without leaving the dry safety of the entryway, Piet Lithor looked toward the front gate. Even with the well out of the way, the drizzle and his poor vision worked against him. The blurred portcullis looked to be open, but the fuzzy shadows made it almost impossible for him to tell. He would just have to go and hope for the best.


He stepped into the drizzling rain and stopped. Five feet to his right, hidden by the edge of the entryway, stood Brother Foster. The hat-wearing priest no longer appeared ludicrous to Piet Lithor with his hands rising to grasp the high priest and his mouth open in silent hunger.


Piet Lithor stumbled backwards, automatically lifting the holy sword of Tyrmra between himself and the grasping priest. The blade glowed with a foggy blue light and the handle quivered as if appalled or hungered by the abomination facing it.


The mad priest’s head turned to the side and his hands lifted to cover his face, as if ashamed of what he had become in the face of such a holy relic. Piet Lithor side-stepped around Brother Foster and towards the front gate with the sword held between them. His eyes only left the sick man to see where the other priest stood. The priest stepped back, never dropping his hands or turning his head.


When Piet Lithor stood between the priest and the gate he ran. His heavy frame hadn’t moved so fast in years, and he gasped for breath, pushing the ache that painfully formed in his side. As he reached the gate, he turned to see what the priests were doing. Brother Rayne, his bloodstained robes now filthy with mud and grass, stumbled toward the high priest along with the recovered Brother Foster. Other priests, ones that Piet Lithor couldn’t see from the entryway, shuffled through the yard in his direction. He knew each lax face that swayed in his direction and felt a twinge of betrayal. He had known all the men for years, and now they were after his flesh, his blood, maybe even his soul. After all of the things he had done for them year after year, this was the payment he received. He shook his head, reminding himself that they couldn’t control their actions before turning back to the gate.


The portcullis blocked his exit.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Chapter 7c: Rachelle's Walk

Madam Rachelle stumbled through the streets of Renier in a daze, a bundle of cloth grasped to her chest. Legs dangled from the cloth and swayed as she walked, one foot bare and the other wearing a small leather shoe.


After leaving the castle, she had returned home. The deserted streets and eerie silence didn’t intrude into her thoughts. Her mind roamed elsewhere, focusing on every detail of her conversation with the wizard.


When she reached her home she brushed through the door and froze. Mia lay in the middle of the floor. Rachelle had asked the young girl to watch after Tanilla while spoke to the wizard. The girl’s head lay in a pool of vomit and blood, terrified eyes open and staring at the leg of a small table. Her hair formed a dark halo, making her face even whiter by contrast.


Rachelle ran to her and rolled her over. Her voice quivered as she cried out Mia’s name. She touched the girl’s cheek; cold flesh told her what her eyes refused to believe.


Tanilla!


She stood on trembling legs, a lump of terror gathered at the base of her spine as she raced to the child’s room. Her worst fears were confirmed when she saw her five-year-old daughter lying on the floor with arms outstretched as if reaching for the door. A shriek burst from Rachelle’s throat. She ran to her daughter, picking the child up and holding her close. The cold, little body slumped against her, arms dangling at her sides.


She had raised Tanilla by herself for the past three years, since Raman went out on a merchant boat and never returned. The loss of her husband had been devastating, but she didn’t have time to wallow in self-pity. She had a daughter to raise, a little girl who depended on her for everything. Rachelle had to be strong for her daughter's sake.


There’s no reason to be strong now, she thought as she cradled her daughter’s cold body in her arms and cried. Tears streamed down her face as she laid the child on her bed and tenderly wrapped her in a blanket before pulling her close again. Her breathes hitched in her throat as she walked through the house and out the front door, her daughter’s limp body pressed tightly against her. Rachelle went through her actions automatically, pure instinct without thought. Her reasoning had buried itself deep within her, unable to face the bitter truth, her body taking control. She had to see to the needs of her precious baby.


The world around her vanished as her feet slowly carried her back to the castle. She barely noticed the shambling corpses, slinking out of doorways and between houses. Rachelle continued down the road, ignoring the people as they grouped together and shuffled behind her, slowly gaining ground and numbers. She ignored everything until her cherished bundle began to shift and squirm.


The movement yanked her mind back from the void it had retreated to. With hope in her heart that she didn’t trust, she lowered her daughter to the cobblestone road. Then she noticed the crowd of people behind her. She saw the blank look in their eyes and the blood coating their mouths and clothes. A few she recognized as neighbors and clients. She willed her vision to shift into another spectrum, a spectrum of life and death, love and hate, future and past. The people’s auras stood out, like holes in the fabric of the universe, worse than the smoky shading of death. Dozens of black silhouettes tottered in her direction, forming an undulating black wave.


She willed her normal vision to return.


Not understanding, but refusing to loose her baby twice in one day, she hugged the child to her once again and ran down the road, toward the castle. The bundle she carried fought and squirmed against her grasp. “Shhhhh…it’s gonna be okay, baby. Mama’s got you.”


She stopped, frozen in place as more bodies stepped out of the manicured forest on each side of the road ahead of her. She stepped back, but with the bodies advancing from behind her she had nowhere else to go.


“LEAVE US ALONE!” she screamed, knowing it would do no good. Hope drained away, to be replaced by gut wrenching fear and despair.


Dropping to her knees, she pulled Tanilla’s head to her shoulder and stared at the ground as tears fell to the cobblestone road.


Pain flared through her shoulder. She pulled the bundle away and looked at her squirming daughter. Her arms rose against the constraining blankets. A small circle of cloth opened and closed in the center of the girl’s head as her mouth chomped up and down.


She needed to see her daughter's face; hear what she tried to say. With shaking hands, Madame Rachelle unwrapped Tanilla from the blanket. She shuffled backward and gasped as baby teeth snapped together behind lips pulled back in a snarl. Her short arms reached out for her mother, but not for a hug. The sight that hurt Rachelle the most though, was the lack of recognition in her little brown eyes.


Rachelle held the struggling girl at arms length while her mind began retreating again, going behind the dark door of her consciousness where none of these events were happening.


Suddenly the girl’s hair wafted up in a spray of red and grey. A steel arrowhead dripped blood onto the girls shoulder. A feathered shaft stuck out from her daughter’s other temple. The girl stopped struggling.


“Don’t just sit there. Run!” a colorfully dressed man screamed from between two trees while notching another arrow onto a short bow. A similarly dressed woman released an arrow into the crowd steadily closing in on Rachelle.


Her mind snapped. Her daughter slid from her hands as she stood, rage enveloping her. Rachelle’s world glowed with auras. The diseased crowds a black mass of waving forms, the trees a patchwork of bright greens with sparkles that flashed and danced. Houses swam in a gray haze, and the man who shot the arrow through her daughter glowed a deep, pulsating red; the object of her rage and hatred.


Her left hand curled into a fist, fingernails cutting bloody crescents into her palm. Her head rolled back. Open eyes faced the cloudy skies. A chilling scream erupted from her throat as her hand flashed toward the man and a wave of blue energy burst from her fingertips and slammed him, throwing him into the air and slamming him against a tree where he slumped to the root covered ground in a daze.


Rachelle collapsed to the ground, her thoughts retreating to the safe place behind the door within her mind.

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