Weird Tales Entry for Jan 2018
|“Mortagan, here, now!”
“Yes Master, coming,” Mortagan said. He shuffled down from the wooden ladder he had pressed against a tall dusty bookshelf. The Revival of Dark Arts by Raspituel Darkstar was clutched to his chest by his crooked arm. His stumpy legs buckled as he hit the ground.
It was hard being a hunchback, but Master was kind enough. Mortagan’s only wish was that they’d move to somewhere smaller. A dark, abandoned lighthouse on a hill was hardly inconspicuous. In fact, it was almost asking for the fire and pitchforks.
Mortagan shuffled into the study. Old oak tables, covered in twisted knots, were pressed against every wall. Pristine embalming tools hung from the walls and shone in the candlelight. Alchemic equipment bubbled away in the far corner. The room was thick with the smell of death. A rat was on a circular table, spliced in two. Prongs and copper wires protruded from the rat’s heart, winding to a silver crown laid upon the Master’s head.
Mortagan looked at the ground and lifted the book into the air, “Your book Master,” he looked up, “Any luck with Gregory?”
Master sighed and took a long draw from his pipe. He wore a white tunic and white trousers, covered with a thick, black leather apron. Matching gloves reached all the way to his elbows.
“I’m afraid not, Mortagan. No matter how much magic energy I force through his heart, Gregory does not rise,” He sighed again.
“Poor Gregory,” Mortagan looked at the rat. Sadness tugged at his heart, “He was a good boy.”
“He was,” The Master stood up and removed his crown. He dusted off his apron, “I will give him a proper burial, and don’t you worry. For now though, here is the reason I called you.”
Master walked to a desk and lifted a small ornate chest. The wood was pale and flaked at his touch. Intricate runes had been handcrafted across its surface, and a little golden lock held it shut.
“I need you to take this and, in the cover of night, bury it in the town’s graveyard.”
“What is it?” Mortagan asked.
“That doesn’t concern you.”
“What does it do?” Mortagan asked.
“That, also, doesn’t concern you.”
“Will it hurt anyone?” Mortagan shifted on his feet.
“It might, but that concerns neither of us. Progress at any cost Mortagan, remember?”
“There is one rule. Do not open the chest, no matter what. You understand?”
Mortagan nodded and took the chest from Master. It was much lighter than he expected, but as he held it, there was a pulse of vibration. The small chest had beat to it. Mortagan lifted it to his ear.
“Ah!” Master looked down his glasses, “This is a perfect time to quell your curiosity Mortagan.”
“Yes, Master. I will do as you ask.”
Mortagan’s hooded cloak was soaked through. The rain battered down upon the muddy footpaths of the small frontier town. It had snuffed the street torches and left only the golden beams of firelight from folks’ windows. Sneaking towards the graveyard was easy. With limited light and sodden, unhappy Guards who refused to step from their posts, Mortagan could have skipped to the Graveyard, singing a merry tune. Even then he would have only been told to be quiet.
Mortagan paid his respects with a moment of silence before digging between the graves of Woodsman, Rodger Stewart and Smith, Logan Hammerhand. It didn’t take long for the shallow dig that was needed as the soft ground gave way. Mortagan gingerly placed the small chest into the hole and patted down the soft mud with light taps from the flat of his shovel.
Lantern light burst through the trees from the road as two Guards moved along the outside fence. Mortagan dropped flat to the ground and pulled his cloak around him.
“See, there is nothing here,”
“Mrs Tavistock said she heard somat, go in and check.”
“I’m not going in there, it’s creepy. You go in there,”
“No chance,” The light got closer as the Guard raised the lantern higher, “Might just be wolves, Mrs Tavistock is always going on about that creep in the lighthouse, and the cretin that waddles behind him. Let’s go back. I’m getting wet.”
Mortagan tensed under the sharpness of their words.
“The town will run them out soon, you heard right?”
The light faded as the Guards retreated. Mortagan’s chest thumped, his heart raced. His mind felt light and airy. He stood and ran, from the Guards, and from imaginary wolves. They made him run all the faster.
A cart full to the brim with chests, bags and equipment had been fastened to the fence outside the lighthouse. Two large stallions grazed in the rain on patches of wet, yellow grass.
Master rushed from the door in his thick coat and threw another bag into the cart, “Mortagan! You’re back. Brilliant news. You didn’t look in the chest after all then.”
“No Master, I didn’t. What is all this?”
“We’re leaving. This town isn’t as open-minded as we are. Tomorrow, they will realise what it means to cross me.” Master pulled a scrunched up parchment from his coat pocket and handed it to him.
“Leave, Now! Your kind is not welcome in this town. You’re trouble, and we know it. Take the hunchback with you!” – Town Council.
“Why do they hate me?” Mortagan asked.
“Because we are different. Don’t worry Mortagan. When sunlight hits the ground tomorrow, the Sucklebush heart in that chest will bury this town in thorns.”
“People will get hurt?” Mortagan stood stiff and looked Master in the eyes.
“They will,” he said.
“Good,” Mortagan hobbled up into the cart and took the reins, “Did you bury Gregory?”
“I did,” Master sat next to him.
“Then let’s get out of here, and find more open-minded people, Master.”
Master laughed and snapped the reigns from his hand, whipping the horses into motion, “You, Mortagan, have potential.”