Posted on October 25, 2005 by Flames
Fiction by Mike Holmes Set in the world of Conspiracy of Shadows from Bob Goat Press
Danel’s blood spilled out of the ragged gash in his arm in great gouts across the floor of the main hall of the Bascillica de San Zago. Rounding a brazier, trying to concentrate on holding the wound tight, he almost plunged headlong into Brother Artemus.
“Goodness,” Artemus exclaimed, rearing up unable to miss the wound or to resist being repulsed by the sight. The blood glistened in dark contrast to the fine white shirt that bespoke Danel’s membership in the aristocracy.
A look of concern crossed the older man’s face as he considered Danel’s condition, “Again, Danel? How?”
Then motivated by the more practical concern of the potential loss of life and limb, and Danel’s look of exasperation, “Oh, come my son, we have to take care of that immediately.”
Danel merely nodded his agreement. The darkened icons on the walls of the place seemed to stare as Danel looked back over his shoulder to see if anyone might observe the pair of them leaving.
In Artemus’ room, Danel grunted with satisfaction as the monk finished tying the dressing. Artemus seemed less sure of it, “This is a dire wound. How did it happen this time?”
Danel didn’t reply for a moment, looking out the narrow window into the distance. Danel was probably back at Castle Santlar once again. Since he’d returned, the patron of the monks of the Basillica had not been the same man. Still as generous as, Danel seemed to be quite distant. Not the healthy distance of a daydreamer, but as if something were demanding that he dwell on it.
And with the injuries?
Danel turned to the waiting Artemus eventually and replied, “Like I said last time, it’s probably better if you didn’t know. Did you tell Markus to clean up the blood?”
Artemus had known Danel for ages, and it pained him that the young man wouldn’t confide in him. “Danel, you know you can trust me.”
“Artemus, you’d tell the council. And that would put you in danger,” Danel looked straight into Artemus’ eyes in a way that was almost painfully intense. “You’ll have to trust me, Artemus. It’s not safe.”
But Artemus could detect a note of uncertainty, “You must tell me Danel. These injuries are getting worse. For all I know, the next may kill you. I can’t sit by and do nothing.”
A moment of relative clarity passed over Danel’s face. “It may be too late to prevent that. There’s nowhere I can hide.”
“Hide from what?” queried Artemus desperately noting that the distant look had already returned to Danel’s face. This changed subsequently into a mask of resignation after a moment, however.
Lifting his arm to indicate the wound, “This gash was caused by one of the beasts of Santlar Castle, Artemus. A rat nearly half as tall as you or I, with the gleam of intelligence in its eyes. We didn’t manage to kill them all. And now they seek revenge. They’re loose in the city, and I think they’re multiplying somewhere below. I don’t think there’s any way to stop them now.”
“But that’s impossible,” replied Artemus in disbelief. “The council sent men with you to ensure that the job was complete at Santlar.”
Danel nodded his head in agreement waiting for Artemus to get it. A look of realization dawned on the aging man’s face, “That’s why I can’t take this to the council, they’re involved. That’s what you’re saying?”
“It must be true. The council ordered somebody to shelter some of the creatures and helped them escape the extermination,” Danel explained, turning partially away from Artemus so that they couldn’t see each other’s faces. “Now you know, and now you, too, are in danger. You can’t say a word of this.”
“I could take this to the Prelate,” said Artemus with somewhat a look of trepidation on his face at the statement.
Danel turned his face, tilted downward, back towards his friend and said tentatively, “I admit that this would be effective. In fact, I admit that this is what I secretly have hoped could happen. But I also realize the sacrifice that you’d be making, Artemus. The Prelate holds no love for you, and asking for such a favor would be your last favor. Wouldn’t it?”
Artemus shook his head somewhat in resignation, and somewhat in defiance, “Well, that’s true. Yes, I’ll likely be relegated to this position for the rest of my life. But, for one, I’ve been thinking that this is perhaps the case anyhow. It’s not so bad here anyhow.”
And changing tone to a more serious voice, “But it hardly matters. What’s at stake is at least your life, and perhaps the lives of the entire city if I understand you.”
Danel nodded in tacit agreement.
“It’s settled then,” said Artemus. “I’m off to the Prelate early tomorrow. We’ll have his word immediately and put an end to this.”
Danel nodded again, and headed to the door. Artemus sat down, the weight of this decision having taken more toll on him that he’d been willing to let show. Danel could feel it, however as he passed through the door to leave, “Thank you Artemus, I doubt I can repay you.”
Danel looked up from his book as Artemus approached with another man, the sunlight that spread across the garden fading fast. Danel noted that the newcomer had the look of a hardened warrior about him, with that bright look in the eyes that bespoke the sort of cleverness that some certain rare soldiers possess. “Danel, this is Captain Montaugne. The Prelate has seen fit to assign him to look into the matter at hand.”
Danel rose, setting the book aside, and addressed the sharply dressed soldier a bit tentatively, “Hello Captain, well met, and thanks for being of service in this…affair.”
The Captain looked around the garden, apparently expecting to see somebody. Who might this Danel character be trying to be circumspect towards? Were there, perhaps, enemies hiding in the rosebushes, or in a window above? Turning back to Danel, “Quite a nice garden here at the Basillica. But perhaps we should go inside somewhere private so we can discuss the reason I’m here?”
Danel pointed to a door nearby, and Montaugne noted the bandage on his arm. Saying nothing about it, however, instead the captain headed inside. As they left the garden, he also noted Danel’s general demeanor. It was as the monk had said, Danel had been affected by something he’d seen. Much like the effect he’d seen battle have on some sensitive soldiers. But also different in some way.
Montaugne approached Brother Artemus in the otherwise abandoned dining hall. Apparently the monk was having a late supper. He sat down across from Artemus and after collecting his thoughts for a moment he spoke. “I can’t find any evidence, Brother. I’ve been looking into this for a week now, and no matter where I go following Danel’s descriptions of the attacks or his suggestions, I can’t find a thing. I can’t go to the Prelate and get authorization for some sort of extermination unless I have something to present.”
Artemus read something in the tone of the captain, “You don’t believe him, do you, Captain? You think he’s made it all up.”
“I don’t know what to think,” he replied. “There’s the matter of his injuries. Those are no mere imagination. And I’ve seen injuries created by men before, but never anything like those. No blade made those cuts.”
“What’s more, it’s clear to me that he’s been through something that has nearly taken his sanity. Given his posh lifestyle, and what you’ve told me, I’d say it definitely has to be something that happened at Santlar or after that’s shaken him so,” he shook his head as he continued, “The more I know of the man, the more I believe him. But the more I investigate, the more it doesn’t add up.”
“I need to visit him one more time,” said the captain. “Will you come with me, Brother?”
“Danel?” called Artemus as they opened the door to his patron’s room. Both his mind and that of the captain recoiled at the sight beyond.
Danel looked up with a guilty look on his face, a face also covered with blood. The blood having come apparently from the new gash on his leg where he’d been gnawing moments before as the other two had entered. Getting up he limped to the pair needing to tell them, “Don’t you see, I had to do this. You wouldn’t have done anything if I had not.”
Montaugne recovered first, nodding and pulling the distraught Artemus from the room with him. Closing the door behind him he said, “I have my answer for the Prelate. Please summon the men from the madhouse.”
As he turned away, somewhere in the back of his mind, the Captain felt a twinge, a need to bite on something. He tried to ignore that he’d felt it.