The fourth installment of my novella, Artisan.
|Four men. A monk, a mercenary, an elf, and an artisan all walked down the stairs slowly. Many things filled their minds and with their eyes fixed on the floor they confronted the sheriff at the mansion's front door.
Sheriff: Hey. What happened, I heard some pretty nasty sounds.
Pannan lifted his eyes and looked into the sheriff's.
Pannan: Patricius offed himself. It's a suicide.
Amnar: Right there in front of us...
Sheriff: You guys look like you've been through a lot. Where y'all plannin' on headin'?
Amnar: Anywhere other than this plantation.
Sheriff: Let my deputy escort you then.
Amnar: Sure. Whatever.
The group followed a young and silent constable down the path and just beyond the estate gate. They walked the road heading toward the city of Pelagiadus until nightfall. Then they found a calm place surrounded by tall grass just off the path and set-up camp--one small tent for each of them placed around a fire-pit.
After a simple dinner of jerky and ale, everyone went off to bed.
Art woke-up suddenly and tried to let out a yell, but a leather glove firmly covered his mouth. He took a look at the thing that tried to silence him, but he saw no face. Only a skin-tight mask of black leather that hugged something resembling a human head. The jet-black color of the leather made it seem as though the mask had no place to allow the eyes to see or the nose to breathe.
Muffled screams poured from Art's nose as he shook violently, but as quickly as he had awaken, he fell back to sleep. The prick of a poisoned needle--the last thing he remembered. Everything became black and the world faded away.
December 30, Year 1267
The next morning came for Amnar. He slid out of his tiny tent, grabbing a tinderbox before moving to the pit. He made a fire to heat breakfast and then went to check on Art. He carefully opened the tent only to notice no one slept within. His head looked to the sky and he yelled, in case his friend was near.
No response came...not from anywhere.
Amnar: Pannan! Zanril! Wake-up! Art's gone!
They both crawled outside, still with the look of fatigue about them.
Zanril: What? Amnar?
Amnar: Art's gone. He's not in his tent, and I don't think he's near by.
Pannan: Hold on...I think I just heard something.
An arrow flew out of the stalks of grass and nearly struck Pannan in the back. Amnar had caught it in his hand; its tip had been smothered in a black and thick tar with a strong acidic scent to it.
A single man clad head-to-toe in dark leather, with a short bow on his back and a dirk in hand, jumped out of the tall meadow grass and came down with his knife ready to strike Pannan, who, at just the right time, grabbed the assassin's leg and smashed him against the ground. While he lie stunned, Amnar and Zanril wasted no time in removing his mask--just a pale man--and holding him to the ground.
After placing his foot on the assassin's throat, Pannan began asking questions.
Pannan: Who are you?
Attacker: I am Luciferus--the holy bringer of death.
Pannan: Why did you just try and kill me?
Luciferus: It is the divine will of God and His Church.
Amnar: So the Inquisition hired you?
Amnar: And Artorius?
Luciferus: We captured him.
Amnar: Where is he?
Amnar: Where is my friend?!
Luciferus pulled a hidden blade out and attempted to launch it into Pannan's throat, but before he could Pannan crushed the assassin's.
Amnar: What the hell?!
Pannan: It was him or me and you know it. He said Art was near, we're going to have to go on that. What type of places does the Inquisition usually hold people?
Amnar: Abandoned Imperial forts and annexes in city under works.
Zanril: How do you know this?
Amnar: I will explain it sometime later; Pannan know of any places like those near here?
Pannan: The nearest place like that would be the abandoned Imperial Fort of Tertius.
Amnar: Then let's get everything ready and get moving toward it.
Zanril: Okay...let's go get Art.
The three wasted no time in grabbing only what they needed and then rushing into the grassland, determined to rescue a friend.
Feeling the cold irons on his wrists and ankles, Art opened his eyes. He looked at the limbs of his now half-naked body and felt the rough boards of wood to his back--he laid on a stretching rack. He then looked around the room. The floor and walls were windowless and made of old, blood-stained stones; only the very device he lay on and a furnace stood out. Three vertical, rusty metal bars looked like the only means in and out.
This crude gate opened and three men in red robes entered. Two wore exotic masks; the third did not need one. He looked like a gentle enough old man, but his blue eyes had a sinister glare in them. He smiled wide when he saw Art, but not in a comforting way at all. No...this man's smiles never carried any warmth with them--only a bitter, biting, almost artistically ironic, cold.
Art: You're the grand inquisitor.
The two masked men stayed silent as the old one spoke.
Old Man: Yes. I am. I made the trip all the way from the Imperial City just to speak to you...out here in the middle of nowhere. Please, call me Tomas.
Art: Why am I here? I have done no heresy...I have not even faced a tribunal!
Tomas: But you have. All of your kind has...I didn't bring you here to punish you. I am not a punisher; I am a torturer. You're here because you have something I need to summon my master.
Art: Your what?
Tomas: My master. Art, to put it bluntly, we've all been judged unworthy, and I happen to agree. I have your onyx stone, and soon I will have the stones of your friends as they come to rescue you.
Art: So what? They're just stones.
Tomas: Don't lie to me Art; that is unwise. You know these little onyx shards are more than just shiny gems. Once I have all five I can open a door.
Art: What do you mean?
Tomas: I mean that once I gather all five stones justice can happen. Man will be an obstacle no more.
Art: What? Why do you want to destroy humanity?
Tomas: Breathe the air around you and tell me what you smell.
Art picked-up the scent of rotting and burning flesh. He smelled cruelty and fear, but he remained silent, not wishing to comply with anything this grand inquisitor ordered.
Tomas: I smell a mistake. I smell the cruelty of our kind.
Art: Cruelty which you know you are a part of.
Tomas: Of course I am. I am human; I am weak and unworthy. But, I am also a champion among men to at least have the strength to admit that life is a mistake. I thought of killing myself for a while--it seemed the only sensible thing to do, being that I could not justify my own existence, but then the daemon spoke to me and told me that I had one purpose left. Do you know what that purpose is?
Art: Where's Aemilia?
Tomas: He told me I could help him bring eternal justice, peace, and order to the world in the only way possible--through extermination of the only ones who stand against such things--us.
Art: You're completely insane. Tell me where Aemilia is now?!
Tomas: Do you still delude yourself, thinking that there is anything worth fighting for in the universe? That your life could ever have any meaning? That there is beauty out there? Do you think that this idea of love has any real place anywhere? Take this Aemilia of yours for example. She ignored you--you who "loved" her. She would rather get abused by some old pervert than be anywhere near you. Why? For free jewelery and a more comfortable bed. Just like all women and men, she is only a whore.
Art: Burn in hell! Where is she?!
Tomas: Sensitive? Still in love that destitute thing you call a girl--a beloved--a petty and false justification of your own meaningless and lonely life?
Art: How do you know so much? Shut up! I don't need you telling me--you of all people--about love--love of all things!
Tomas: My sources are of mysterious and infernal origin even to me. They see all and relay what they will to me. They tell me about Aemilia among other things, and I can assure you that these "noble" thoughts of yours--the reason you left your estate to begin with are fruitless and pointless.
Art: Well why don't you ask these "infernal sources" where Aemilia is and give me a damn answer?
Tomas: She's with these infernal ones...well...she will be soon enough.
Art: You son of a bitch! Tell me where she is right now!
Tomas: Hahahahah...or else what?.
As Art shook violently, the grand inquisitor laughed harder and harder--almost matching his level of laughter with Art's shaking.
Tomas: No, but I will stop Aemilia's execution so long as you don't ask me to kill her.
He howled with pain as one of the masked inquisitors began to operate the stretching rack, pulling him apart slowly.
Tomas: Now ask me to kill Aemilia.
Art: What? No...no...you sicken me.
The machine stretched Art apart more and more.
Tomas: Why? Why do I torture you so? Well, to be frank it's because your pain is my pleasure...inquisitor, give him some more.
One of the masked men did so. Art screamed this time as he heard his bones pop from their sockets.
Tomas: Ask me to kill Aemilia and it will stop.
Art: I will never hurt her!
Thomas: Why do you suffer so much for the tramp? She doesn't even care about you. Hell, if she saw you right now moaning and shrieking like a little bitch being raped, she would be completely apathetic so long as I offered her a shining pearl or a phial of perfume.
Art: People like you will never be happy.
Tomas grinned even wider.
Tomas: Oh, but I beg to differ. Inquisitor!
The machine pulled Art apart to the point where his skin began to tear.
Tomas: Ask me to kill Aemilia.
Art: I love Aemilia. No!
Tomas: Love--what a stupid little concept. Irrational, disgusting little thing people use to try and rationalize their existence. That...that is what sickens me...It seems obvious that I could mutilate you until death, but you still won't ask me to kill Aemilia. You grasp onto this false idea of "love" that thus far has really only led you to pain, for some whore who doesn't notice you--someone who hates you.
Art: I love Aemilia.
Tomas: I got that.
Art: I love Aemilia.
Tomas: I heard!
Art: I...I love Aemi--
Tomas: Shut the fuck up!
He took some time to cool down and grinned sickeningly again.
Tomas: Do you love children?
Art: Shut up.
In reply, Tomas chuckled.
Tomas: If you had to choose between Aemilia and an innocent young child, which would you choose?
As he said this, an inquisitor brought in a child followed closely by her mother. Both looked starved and were covered in cuts and bruises.
Tomas: Put her in the furnace.
Art's eyes shot open with a fearful wrath as the masked inquisitor placed the child in the furnace.
Tomas: Make it warm in there for her, it would be a terrible shame to have her shiver.
The masked inquisitor lit a fire just beneath the furnace. The child inside and the mother both began to cry.
Tomas: Put the flames out and remove the child only when our guest here asks us to kill his "love".
Art: You...no! You said that the world was unworthy, well this is the kind of crap that makes it that way. Just stop now! Please for the love of God stop now, Tomas!
Tomas: God and love both hold no value for me. There is only one way to save that girl and you know it. Either her blood or Aemilia's will be on your hands.
Art: God! Oh, God! Please save her! Please!
Tomas: Hahahah...bargaining with the old man? Well let's see if He does anything at all. Let's see how much He loves His children.
Tomas: You will have to make your choice quickly, Art. I can smell burning flesh--forgive my use of trite poetry, but that scent is truly like a rose's to me. I can imagine the fire slowly boiling her skin and muscles; her hair is certainly history by now. Oh yes...Art, perhaps Aemilia's life is worth this beautiful scene.
The girl in the furnace screamed--frightened and in pain. Art imagined her as Tomas had described it. He wanted to vomit.
The Mother: Please! Sir, just please ask him. You know that they'll kill her anyway.
Art: I...I can't.
The Mother: Please! Do it! You cold bastard do it!
She cried hysterically as the girl in the furnace still screamed a horrific song. The song that the girl, the devastated mother, and the groveling lover composed put the grand inquisitor into a state of ecstasy. He laughed uncontrollably, with an honest joy; in any other place he would be called a good and jolly person--his laughter seemed so honest.
Art: Tomas...I...I said...I said stop.
Tomas: Or else what?
Art: Stop...stop it...NOW!!!
He shook with more fervor than he had before. He felt a power in him that he simply could not explain. He experienced an odd sensation. Something magnificent--majestic.
Art: I said stop right now.
And then the fire beneath the furnace blew out and the sound of shrieking and wailing from within suddenly stopped.
The bruises and scabs that had polluted the mother's skin faded away. Slowly, she began to garner the glow of life back in her...slowly she regained her beauty. However, she was still pale, not sure if her daughter had just died or been saved.
Tomas stared at Art in shock. He too looked different--no longer a monster so much as a cowardly old sadist, who knew that his time had come.
Tomas: No...not you...anyone but you!
He darted out of the room, and soon after the masked inquisitors in the room drew their longswords. They crept towards Art and the mother, but halted when a younger inquisitor burst in and exclaimed a warning.
Young Inquisitor: We're...we're under attack I think. Quickly come and help!
They all ran out.
The mother stared paralyzed at the Furnace, and then she and Art heard crying. She sprung onto her feet and opened the Furnace, grabbing the unharmed, unburnt child and hugging her tightly. They both let out tears of joy.
She turned to Art.
The Mother: You...you are our savior. Thank you. Thank you so much.
Art: I am just a lowly artisan.
The Mother: Then you are the lowly artisan, our savior. Let me free you.
She used small scraps of metal on the floor--tools used for delicate torture--to pick at Art's wrist locks. She helped Art off the rack.
Art: I think my arms are still dislocated. Er...We should try and escape.
The Mother: I can't pick the lock that would get us out of this chamber, we're going to have to wait for someone to come in, kill him, then sneak our way out of this dungeon.
Art: Sounds like a plan; until then let's make ourselves ready.
Blue grass ev'rywhere.
The mist gives the fortress life.
The men bring it death.
Driven forward by a sense of duty to their old friend, Amnar, Pannan, and Zanril marched across the foggy meadows toward the ruins of a fort abandoned by its makers centuries earlier. The moss and ivy-covered walls had crumbled in many places, creating gaps that rendered the rusty gatehouse useless. Inside the walls some of the buildings--the barracks, the commandant's house, the warehouses--were crumbled, but the headquarters stood still in-tact, and more importantly, so did the dungeon underneath.
Cold sweat dripped down Amnar's face, from determination, anxiety, and fear--fear of Art's well-being, but also fear of something more personal.
The three stepped over a pile of rubble and found themselves walking through a dusty courtyard straight for the structure in the middle.
Zanril: Amnar, have you ever taken a life before?
Pannan: It's never a pleasant experience.
Zanril: But the results can be sweet and good.
Amnar: Yes, I have taken a life once before.
Amnar: I'll talk about it some other time.
Pannan: Okay...Are you both ready?
They now stood before the locked large iron and wood doors of the headquarters. All of their weapons were drawn except Amnar's, who still hesitated.
Zanril: Amnar, are you prepared to take a life today?
Amnar: I hope I do not have too.
Zanril: Don't hope too much.
After taking a deep breath and calmly closing his eyes, Amnar shot them open and just as suddenly delivered a spinning back kick to the door, breaking it open. Inquisitors inside had been using the building as a place to eat and sleep and enjoy the comforts of life as their victims starved and suffered below; however, six now stood with longswords ready. Two more rushed up a staircase from the underground--their blades also drawn.
Inquisitor: You made a mistake coming here. You are violating sacred grounds. Leave now!
Amnar: We're here for our friend, Artorius Iustinianus.
Inquisitor: There isn't anybody here by that name; leave.
Zanril: Don't bullshit us!
Amnar: Look, let us go down there and check, and we won't have any trouble.
Inquisitor: No. Leave. Now.
Amnar: I won't ask again--
Loud cries could be heard in the distance, coming from the dungeon downstairs. The voice of a little girl began to wail and scream wildly--a voice full of disturbing, troubling and pure pain. At that moment, something triggered in Amnar. An anger all too familiar to him.
He grasped the hilt of his katana and, with a single grand tug, drew it in a grand and quick motion. The light that poured through the window slits bounced off the shining, curved blade. The veins on his reddened hands showed as he gripped it ever so tightly. He looked into the eyes of the inquisitor who he had just spoken to with intense wrath and hate for a couple of seconds, and then, without another thought, sprinted right up to him and cut the man into two--shoulder to hip.
Letting out a blood-lustful roar, Zanril fired an arrow into the adam's apple of another inquisitor as Pannan sliced open the gut of a third, releasing his blinding battle cry.
Within seconds all eight of the red-robed monks laid dead, dismembered and full of holes and gashes. The three rescuers took only a second to catch their breath.
Amnar: We need to save that girl right now! Let's go!
As they sprinted toward the dungeon, they heard the voice of a young inquisitor coming from below. It became louder and clearer as they came closer to it.
Young Inquisitor: We're...we're under attack I think. Quickly come and help! Let's--
An arrow from Zanril's bow interrupted his warning. Two more inquisitors ran out of a room, slamming the door on the way, they spotted the three invaders--especially the archer--and attempted to escape death by sprinting in the opposite direction. Within three seconds, both of them fell to the ground with large arrows sticking out of their backs.
Amnar could hear Art's voice coming from behind the recently-shut door.
Amnar: Did you hear him?
Pannan: Yes; let's move it!
Pannan had just begun charging forward when a metal door shot open and smashed into his front. Another trio of red monks poured out only to be cut down one by one.
Zanril: How many of these guys are there?
Amnar: Seven left.
Zanril: How the hell do you know--
Amnar: Later! Art's through that door.
Without further interruption, the three ran up to the rusty gate. Amnar tried to simply open it, but it was locked.
Amnar: Art! Hold on! We're going to get you out of there.
Art: Thank God.
Zanril used the keys he had looted from a body and opened the door. He glanced at an open furnace and then at the mother and daughter.
Amnar: Who are they?
Art: They helped me.
Mother: He helped us. It was a miracle.
Amnar: I heard a little girl screaming?
Art: I don't know how, but she came out of that furnace unharmed.
Mother: It was an act of God.
Art: It was like magic. I just; it was like I wanted something to happen more badly than anything else and it did.
Mother: Is it safe out there, monk?
Amnar: We will take you all upstairs to safety.
Art: The grand inquisitor is near. He knows where Aemilia is.
Amnar: Then in that case--
Pannan: I will take them upstairs, Amnar; you and Zanril should go get what we need to know.
Amnar: Okay. No time to lose. Zanril, come.
Zanril: Aye, aye.
Amnar: There's only one place he could've gone.
The two, weapons at the ready, walked more calmly down the old fortress hallway, stabbing and slashing open seven individual inquisitors on sight, as they encountered them.
The deeper and deeper they went the narrower and more full of traps, the corridor became. Carefully and with great patience, they overcame these obstacles and made it to the end of the tunnel, lit only by a single, dim, hanging lantern. Out of the dark, a man dressed in white plate armor, wielding a mace, attempted to charge Amnar, but instead ran into a katana held out in the air. His gasping last breath spit blood onto Amnar's already-crimson robes.
Amnar pulled his blade out of the warrior.
Zanril: A templar.
Amnar: A bodyguard.
He heard the sound of frantic panting, so Amnar pulled the lantern from its rusty chain and pointed the light at the sound. The grand inquisitor tried desperately, but to no avail, to squeeze through a crack in the wall which led into a cavern. He stopped immediately when Amnar put a sword to his neck.
Amnar: Answer my questions or I'll kill you. Understood?
Tomas: Who are you?
Amnar: I said my questions, you cruel old shit. Why is Art here?
Tomas: They told me to bring him here.
Amnar: Who is they?
Tomas: The daemons.
Amnar: Like the one that attacked Patricius's estate?
Amnar: And Aemilia? Where is she?
Tomas: With them.
Amnar: Where is "with them"?
Tomas: In hell.
Amnar: So she's dead?
Amnar: Then what do you mean?!
Tomas: They took her to hell, through a portal.
Amnar: Okay then...How do I get there?
Tomas: I don't know.
Amnar: Answer me or I'll make you bleed.
Tomas: Please! I can't!
Amnar: Turn around.
He did as he was told. Amnar looked at his face, he pulled his sword back as he saw the look of a scared old man. It did not resemble a daemon or a monster in any way--it was the face of a sweet elderly man in the midst of mortifying fear.
Amnar: What have I done?
Zanril put his hands on Amnar's shoulder as he backed off.
Zanril: You saved a dozen people from being tortured to death by sick things like this man. He thinks he can save himself by putting on a mask of humanity, but it is only a mask.
Amnar: But...he's still a human being.
Zanril: Only in flesh. Letting him live would be to doom hundreds if not thousands to a slow and painful death.
Amnar: But...You're right...you're right...
Amnar: Shut up. I'll give you two options. One, you tell me how to get to Aemilia and I cut your head off. Or two, you don't tell me and I throw you in the furnace and cook you.
Tomas: You wouldn't...
Amnar: That's what I thought too; I will, your "holiness".
Tomas: And become a monster like me?
Amnar: If that's what it takes to save my friend then hell yes!
Amnar: Zanril! Let's take him to the furnace.
Tomas: Wait! I don't know how to get to Aemilia's realm, but I know how you can find out.
Amnar: Then you better speak up.
Tomas: There is a witch named Hecate who lives in the forests to the south of here.
Amnar: How would I find her?
Tomas: Anyone in the town of Tertius near here will know better than I!
Tomas: Now please let me go.
Amnar: I made a promise I intend to keep...You know, for all the fear and terror you've caused, you sure are a coward.
Tomas: Please! Oh, God! Please--
Amnar lifted his katana and swiftly beheaded the grand inquisitor.
Zanril: You did the right thing.
Amnar: I...I guess...I need to be left alone for a while.
Zanril: We should meet with Pannan.
Amnar: Okay. Let's get going.
He sighed, and slowly stood himself up. Solemnly, he slid his sword into its sheathe, and dragged himself back toward the others. His robes, soaked in blood, felt heavier than normal.
He whispered to himself something as he slowly moved along.
Amnar: Am I the villain or the hero? Did I do evil or did I do good? What was this?
Zanril heard this and briefly stopped. He turned around and smiled at Amnar.
Zanril: Amnar, you are the hero. You did the good thing and...Amnar, this was a miracle--a lowly Artisan's miracle.