Thursday, November 1, 2007

Chapter 8c: Lithor's Run

Leaving the priests behind, he continued on. He intended to walk to the Duke's palace and report the horrid affliction of his priests to the Duke himself. The Duke would send his guards to capture the sick priests, and hopefully a cure would be found for the disturbed men. If not, he would have to send a message to the order and have new priests brought in. He hated training new men. It would take months to show them how to perform their duties to the Piet’s exacting ways.


Within minutes, he reached a fork in the road. His tired body begged for rest, but this business had to be taken care of as quickly as possible. He turned to the northeast road, toward the castle. The south road led to the holy temple of Vaspar. He was intimately familiar with both roads.


Piet Lithor's clothes were soaked completely through and his breath wheezed in and out of his lungs as the walls of Castle Renier appeared between the trees in the gray, drizzle-filled distance. Relief coursed through his tired body. His pace quickened.


As the wall got closer, he noticed the blurred forms of people wandering across the road, back and forth along the wall. Odd. I wonder what’s brought so many people out on such a foul day?


A guard stepped out of the trees, a short distance in front of him. Piet Lithor waved his arms at the man while calling out in a breathless strain, “Guard…guard. I need your assistance right now!”


The man’s head flew up and his arm reached out as if asking for assistance. Piet Lithor stumbled backward; the relief he felt dissolved with the speed of a spoon of sugar in hot tea. His call not only gained the attention of the guard, but also a dozen other citizens who began stumbling in his direction. No! This can’t be happening. Has the entire world gone mad?


He turned and fled. Fear replaced his exhaustion and humbled his self-righteousness. He blindly ran through the drizzle as it grew into a downpour. His wet and filthy robes clung to him like a second skin, a discomfort that he hardly noticed. He had to get somewhere safe. Is there such a place, a place where the deranged masses couldn't go?


Vaspar. The holy temple of Vaspar.


Through the sheets of rain, ghostly outlines became visible on the road ahead - shambling, terrifying forms.


Piet Lithor stumbled off the road into the trees. The canopy of leaves lessened the downpour as he cut across the leaf-covered earth, huffing and dodging around the many obstacles he encountered. Cutting through the forest shortened his run to the temple. He broke through the foliage and onto the open road in no time.


The temple sat off the road before him. Trees shrouded the structure, hiding the beautiful stonework and stained glass in shadows. The Piet didn’t remember the building ever looking so ominous before.


A group of people stood in a line, just past the community well that served as a gathering spot for the parishioners. They stood and stared at the holy temple as if waiting in anticipation.


He stopped and stared at the temple. Faces peered out through the narrow openings that served as windows. Fear masked the people’s faces. He recognized Dray, the winemaker. His wide eyes stared out at the waiting people while Lana, the wife of the blacksmith, said something to him and pointed to the well. Whatever she had said he ignored.


Why didn’t the people at the well go inside? They stood as if held back by an invisible barrier. The thought nagged at his mind only a moment before he realized what it all meant. Holy ground! The ones at the well were inflicted by the vile curse that had turned his priests and the rest of the city into lunatics, and they couldn’t approach the temple because it sat on consecrated soil. The ones inside were like him, normal and sane. That had to be it.


He took one last look at the human line standing behind the well and made his decision. Holding the Sword of Tyrana before him with both hands, he ran towards the crowd of madmen, toward the temple. As he approached, the sword burst into blue luminescence and the crowd turned to face him. Their blank eyes gazed into his very soul with a madness and hunger he didn’t think possible. He didn’t slow as he crashed into their midst and barreled through, knocking one poor soul to the ground, past the invisible line. He almost tripped as he stepped on the soft stomach of the fallen woman and continued to run towards the temple. He reached the steps as the mindless woman thrashed in silence on the ground; water and mud splashed into the air as she convulsed. He reached the door and beat on it with the pommel of the holy artifact while the woman’s skin began to blister and smoke. The door opened and hands pulled the high priest into the temple as the woman’s thrashing subsided into weak flinches and her skin dissolved over her skeleton and dripped onto the holy ground.


“Thank Vaspar you made it here safely, Piet Lithor!” a tear filled voice said.


In front of the temple, the woman’s flesh smoldered and dissolved away from a blackened skeleton.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Chapter 8b: The Gate

He had never opened the portcullis before; that task belonged to brother Craige, who must have succumbed to the illness before the task could be done. If Brother Craige could open the gate, then he shouldn’t have a problem with it. He backed toward the wall, keeping the stumbling priests comfortably in view. Their lurching forms slowly advanced, but if he could find the gate mechanism he could still escape before they reached him.


He turned and immediately saw the wooden door, intricately carved in the likeness of his God, set into the support pillar of the gate. He pulled on the nose and lifted the door, shaking his head at his own sacrilege, exposing a plate-sized steel wheel with wooden handle at the top. This is going to be easier than I thought.


Holding the sword behind him to keep the priests at bay, he reached in and pushed the handle in a clockwise direction. The wheel didn’t move. He pushed the other way. The wheel still didn’t move. With wide eyes, he looked over his shoulder, making sure the priests were still a safe distance away. They shuffled toward him, but the priests still had a ways to go before they would become a threat. The Piet leaned the sword against the wall and grabbed the wheel handle with both hands. He pushed the wheel again, and it began to move, and the portcullis lifted an inch. Pushing the wheel took all of his not-so-considerable strength. It was a fight to get the wheel to turn even one revolution, but with sweat mixing with the constant drizzle, he kept turning the wheel until the portcullis sat a few feet off the ground; high enough for him to crawl beneath it.


He pulled his hand from the wheel and it spun backwards, lowering the portcullis. He dove into the box, grabbing the handle with both hands and stopping the wheel.


“Oh blessed Vaspar, aid your humble priest.” Though not completely true, it was a statement he mouthed whenever a project exasperated him, and this particular chore had him exasperated beyond measure.


With both hands in place, he lowered his head to his sleeve and tried to wipe some of the sweat and rain from his eyes. The damp sleeve didn’t help.


A splash erupted behind him. Piet Lithor’s neck crackled, twisting to look over his shoulder. Brother Rayne tottered thirty feet behind the panicked high priest. He couldn’t let go of the wheel to grab the sword so he swung his head back to the wheel, looking for a latching mechanism. His gaze darted all over the shadow-cloaked box, seeing nothing. Then he saw the dark line of a bar sitting flush against the side of the box. He let go of the wheel with one hand and slapped the bar down, wedging it against the handle. The portcullis dropped an inch before hanging in place.


Piet Lithor didn’t stop to congratulate himself. Driven by fear and necessity, he reached for the Sword of Tyrma and wheeled around to face the threat that stumbled toward him. The sword's blue glow erupted down the blade at Piet Lithor’s touch. He swung the artifact up, creating a barrier between himself and Brother Rayne, a blue arc of light like the afterimage of lightning it dissipated just as fast. Brother Rayne did as brother Foster had, turning his head aside and holding his hands up before his eyes as Piet Lithor backed toward the portcullis.


His back touched the gate and he squatted down, sword held protectively in front of him. The other priests were still advancing a short way behind brother Rayne as the Piet lay on the ground and scooted through the gate, mud and grit staining the front of his white morning gown.


Appalled at his filthy appearance, but wanting to get as far away from the sick priests as possible, Piet Lithor ran up the tree-lined road as fast as his tired body could carry him. Before he lost sight of his home, he looked back. The priests stood at the portcullis, hands reaching through the iron bars like prisoners asking for food. None of the mindless men had the sense to crawl under the portcullis. A half-hearted smile crossed his lips as he witnessed their ignorance.

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