After a night of rest, Alistair went through the motions of assigning items and boat passes to the group, so that they could be prepared for departure at a moment’s notice. He entrusted the group’s funds to Eyron, who happily obliged to hold onto velvet pouch laden with enough gold to support the four of them for about a month if they were careful enough with their money.
Upon closer inspection of the boat passes, however, Alistair realized that they were all expired—by a year, at best—much to his irritation. With the money they’d been given, it would hardly be enough to gather the supplies they needed and boat passes. Lovely…having to spend money when one really shouldn’t be spending it.
“Why don’t we check the taverns?” Eyron suggested.
“Hrm. And what do you expect to find there?” Levi gave Eyron a scrutinizing look as he stood in the den area, arms folded. Levi had trouble understanding the ways of some of the nobility in Freeport; many of them found it quite suitable to weave a pint of mead into any situation. He sniffed and looked down to readjust his white gloves before moving to tie his long, brown hair into a ponytail.
Returning Levi’s gaze with a questioning arched brow, Eyron spoke a tad slower as if Levi was too thick to understand his unmentioned reasoning. “There are bulletin boards within the taverns as well. We could find a job or two there.”
The disdainful frown on Levi’s face did not vanish. “We could find more savory jobs elsewhere,” he uttered, “And I would rather not visit another tavern for a proper few months after the madness that took place just yesterday.”
Before Eyron could retort, Alistair finally spoke. “And I would say that we have no room to be picky.” Alistair pushed himself from the wall he had been leaning against, still wearing the same stoic expression on his face from earlier. “We’ll pursue whatever occupation we can perform within reason. Once we’re able to purchase proper boat passes, we won’t have a need to perform odd jobs, I assure you.”
After browsing quickly through the surprisingly short list of odd jobs posted at the closest tavern (since The Regular Place had been temporarily closed for repairs), the group settled on assisting an elderly man’s notice asking for someone to help him cleanse his home.
The troupe set out the elderly man’s home by late that afternoon. The group stood quietly arguing amongst themselves about the exact location of the home, holding the map at any and every angle they could in an attempt to prove one another wrong.
“This couldn’t be it.”
“Where else could it be?”
The subject of their argument sat proudly towards the north. A manor with a tastefully olden design, ivory pillars and grandiose windows bathed in the midday light. The draperies within were drawn back so as to allow more light into the dwelling (if not to, at the very least, vaunt the impressive tapestries and furniture that adorned the halls and the den within).
After a few more frustrating rounds of bickering, the group finally made their way to the mansion, some still undecided whether or not they had traveled to the wrong establishment. When Eyron used the heavy doorknocker, it boomed so loud that it made the others flinch. And although the unusually loud doorknocker seemed to shake the entire manor right down to its foundation, none came to answer the door. Impatient to find out whether or not they had picked the proper address, they helped themselves inside.
Clearly this manor was not the building that needed any type of cleansing.
Everything was spotless—from the floors to the intricately-carved balustrades on the long, curving staircase, to the mantle on the fireplace, to the golden, coiled doorknobs, to even the crystal chandeliers that hung high above them. Even the scent of the manor, as stale as it was, held a certain cleanliness to it. A meticulous feel itched at them, as if their very presence was sullying the entire expanse of the manor.
Eyron’s voice echoed like an eerie song for a long while until it seemed to melt into the very walls.
“Perhaps it was a prank,” mumbled Levi. “Everything seems to be in order here.”
“You never know. There might be a room they don’t like to be bothered cleaning or something. A kid’s room, maybe.”
“Is that not what nannies are for?”
Levi and Eyron immediately fell into a hush at the sound of the noise. It was such a delicate noise, but sharp enough to land on their ears, despite how muted the sound was altogether. However, no matter where they looked, they could not discover the source of the noise.
Alistair’s eyes shot up to look at the second floor.
A maid. Dressed in the traditional long-sleeved, black-and-white outfit, she would appear to the commoner’s eye as any other maid. However, in the eyes of those from highborn society, they would recognize this woman as the Housekeeper, the maid whose duties were to not only continue to maintain the establishment itself, but the staff within. A proud-looking woman with her short, peppered hair swept back into an intricate bun, topped with a small hat. Her gaunt figure seemed to compliment her beady, faded-blue eyes with crow’s feet and her too-long nose in an inexplicable way.
Alistair nodded, “That we are. Are we to speak with you about where to begin?”
With a quick snap of her wrist, the Housekeeper beckoned the four to follow her. After turning to exchange a brief glance with the rest of the group, Alistair made his way up the grand staircase. The others followed behind shortly after.
Opening a door to the second-to-last room on the left-hand side of the upper floor, the maid stood by for the group to pass by, folding her hands in front of her hands. Levi stole a glance at the Housekeeper as he went by. Her cold eyes stared back, her strict frown never once lifting from her face. Without a word, Levi continued into the lavish waiting room.
The door clicked behind them.
The only noticeable sounds were the sprightly cracklings of the wood in the fireplace. Looking above the mantle of the fireplace was a rather ostentatious picture of the Housekeeper, her expression in the picture the exact same cold look as she had been giving them before.
“Nice to know she has a pleasant side,” murmured Eyron as he placed his hands behind his back, leaning back just enough to puff his chest out in a way that distinguished the blue-stockings from the rest of society.
The long, oaken table that occupied the wall opposite of the looming portrait of the maid sported an impressive feast: roasted meats that steamed and displayed their multitude of seasonings, stews still bubbling quietly in their containers, freshly-baked breads accompanied by several fruit spreads, a variety of sweets nestled in a decorative basket, and red and white wines that should only be saved for the most significant of occasions. Overall, it was an overly-generous quantity and quality of refreshments for just a group of temporary chambermaids. The five-branched, silver candelabra in the center had been lit, its white, dancing flames just now eating away at the wax beneath their thrones of wick.
This room should have been pleasant. However, something felt rather unusual. That same itchy, meticulous feeling the troupe felt in the main entrance of the manor was within this room as well, however this was a new feeling. A more obvious feeling, as though something was doing all in its power to make itself known.
And yet, they waited in a diligent silence, settling themselves down into the over-stuffed armchairs and decorative couches as they waited for their employer to greet them. They all fell into their own thoughts as they waited, fixing their gaze on a golden curve in the couch or a pattern in the carpeting. Xilaire faced the door; however she was unabashedly focused on the food, peering at it sidelong. From time to time her stomach would voice its cravings, but she never ventured to the table.
A half hour inched by.
Tired of fidgeting and avoiding each other’s irritated glances, Levi finally rose from his seat. “I doubt that this Housekeeper is leading us on in any way,” he murmured as he reached for the door, “however I think we’ve spent enough time here. If they wished for their manor to be cleaned properly and wished to hire those who would help, they should have, at the very least, done us the simple favor of being here when we—“ His voice faltered as he opened the door, a rush of cold air throwing itself into the room. Dust crept over his shoes as he peered out.
Frowning at the unnatural darkness, Alistair reached down and picked up the oil lamp he’d rested between his ankles and rose to his feet. After using one of the candelabra’s candles to light the lantern, he crept towards the doorway carefully, glimpsing out into the hall.
The smell had drastically been changed. It smelled as though every last laundry basket within the manor had been emptied into the hallways and left to stagnate for ages. The scent was pungent and would remind one of an elder—enough to be noticeable, yet not enough to cause one to gag. Even with the oil lamp lowered, it was rather easy to see the amount of dust that pervaded the air. But beyond that, not much could be seen aside from the vague silhouettes of the furniture.
Eyron and Xilaire rose to their feet silently after a long while, moving towards the doorway, grouping behind Levi and Alistair as they stepped into the gloom. The oil lantern whined as it rocked gently back and forth from its handle as Alistair lifted it above his head.
The sunshine that bathed the windows had gone completely; the entirety of the manor had fallen into disrepair and ages of decay in hardly an hour. The manor was even more unearthly silent than it was before, making the group yearn for a groan of wood or the sound of papers being shuffled. Even the friendly sound of the fireplace would have done them well.
Alistair turned to face the guest room the Housekeeper had ushered them into, tapering his breathing enough so that he could listen for the faint but telltale signs of the crackling embers.
The only sound he was able to distinguish from his own breathing was the breathing of his companions.
Strangely enough, the guestroom was left entirely untouched, as though their presence had prevented the room from altering itself.
Eyron made to speak, but only exceeded in letting out a sharp puff of air. Clearing his throat, he tried again, his voice a low, shaking murmur. “What do we do now, then?”
“What else is there to do? We leave.” Alistair uttered as he continued to carefully down the hall until he finally reached the staircase. A few within the troupe started as they began to make their way down the loud, groaning steps towards the manor’s entrance. As grating as the sound was, it was a welcomed change from the overall, noxious silence that poisoned the place.
The woman picked up her walking pace just enough to reach the doors first, pulling one of the heavy doors open. With a resounding clonk, the doorknob turned, the hinges squealing as the door swung wide…
“What…what is this?” Levi breathed.
The door led nowhere; it revealed only another section of the manor’s wall, a tapestry hanging where there should have been an open space.
“This isn’t—the windows. Try—!” But what caught Eyron’s eye stopped him from fretting any further about the windows. The windows, the once-lavish curtains a molding gray, only gave way to another section of wall. And, almost as a cruel joke, the space where the windowpanes should have been were filled with small oil paintings of various landscaping and still life.
A deep-set panic began to fester within the group.
“Are we stuck here? That couldn’t be! Did I fall asleep…?” Eyron moved a hand to his face to pinch his left cheek, temporarily deforming the large, crescent moon scar that rested there.
“Of course you didn’t.” Alistair’s voice was impressively level despite of the supernatural happenings that were taking place around them. “Now, since we obviously can’t just walk away, we’re going to have to find a way out of here.” Arching a brow, he looked from left to right, letting his eyes fall on the many olden doors that lined the walls of the first floor. “The question is where to look first.”
There was no math to their decision; they chose the first door to the left of the entrance simply because it was the closes to them. Within was a small study, equipped with a small chest next to an oaken desk, a fairly-large bookshelf, and a wardrobe. The woman’s attention immediately drifted to the bookshelf, her storm-gray eyes glinting with intrigue as she held up her index finger, tracing a line slowly in the air as she quickly skimmed the titles of the books on their spines. Levi followed her lead. After a moment, they both found a pair of hefty tomes apiece, carrying them as though they weighed no more than a novella.
While they inspected the bookshelves, Eyron and Alistair had begun to comb through the desk, finding a multitude of papers containing documents of importance from ages ago, letters to officials and lists for equipment, house staff members, and provisions. Among these assorted records sat a letter in an opened envelope, its wax seal already torn away from the letter. Alistair read through the heartfelt plea of the homeowner, every stroke of the pen sharp and narrow as though it were written in a rush.
The homeowner was speaking to his beloved wife, expressing his worry for his family’s safety as well as his own. He had regretted to part himself from his family in such a manner, but the homeowner insisted that it was for everyone’s well-being, and refused to tell his wife where he would be fleeing to. For my own peace of mind, he urged, leave the manor behind. Take the children and find a sanctuary far away from the city. I will find you when my enemies no longer pose as a threat. All my love to you and the children. The name had been smeared and replaced with an inky thumbprint, possibly from the writer not taking the care to wait for the ink to dry before moving to stuff the letter into the envelope.
As Alistair began putting the envelope away, the silver-haired woman had already knelt down to open the small chest, rummaging about within. Atop of the stack of papers she found inside, there was a signet ring. The style of the ring was of a simple sort with a small diamond and intricate engravings on the inside of the ring. Without a word, she took the ring and slipped it into one of her skirt pockets. Next to the stack of papers was a journal with nothing but numerous curved runes unfamiliar to the woman’s eye. Nevertheless, she handed it to Alistair to keep without a word.
“Did anyone else happen on anything of interest?” He asked as he turned the leather-bound journal in his hands.
Eyron shook his head. “Other than that letter and the things we’ve already found on the desk, there’s not much of interest.”
“I uncovered some books that could prove useful to my studies,” Levi murmured. Then, raising his brows, he nodded at the woman. “What did you find, lass?”
She turned to look at Levi, her brows lazily rising as a lilting “Hm~?” escaped her. After a few moments of no response, the woman finally waved her hand in an equally lazy manner, saying, “The same~”
“I understand that books can be quite the benefit when one has the time to read,” Eyron frowned, “but what we need is a surefire, quick way of leaving. Not one that requires us to sit and study for weeks on end.”
“Do you have a better suggestion, then, lad?” Levi asked, returning the frown with one of his own.
“Right. First, my name is Eyron. Eyron Farhaven. Feel free to use it at any time. Second, it would be more methodical to go looking rather than sit about with our noses in several lengthy books.”
“And expend our energy when there might be a simplistic answer in any one of these books?” Levi scoffed, readjusting his hold on the thick tomes. “Sounds like the pure opposite of efficient—”
Levi cut himself off, snapping his head towards the study’s exit. Eyron followed suit as the other two looked on in mild confusion. The faraway sounds of feet on tiles itched Levi’s and Eyron’s ears, accompanied by the echoing laughs of children.
Eyron stole a glance at Levi. “Did you…?”
“That I did.”
Silencing his steps, Levi crept towards the darkened doorway, readjusting his gloves with jerking, almost agitated movements. Once he reached the doorway, he paused, listening once more for the laughter. It continued for a brief moments, abruptly coming to a halt, plunging the group in the eerie silence yet again.
Only, this time, did not feel as alone or isolated as they had before. A crowded sensation discomforted the group as the air began to feel tense around them, causing them to shift in place in attempts to alleviate themselves from the sensation.
A dull series of heavy thuds broke the oppressive silence, startling a few in the group. They turned their attention to the wardrobe, where a thin layer of dust had been jostled from it. If their ears heard correctly, it sounded as though flesh had brushed against the polished wood of the furniture. The hair on the back of their necks began to stand on end.
There was one final thump as the doors of the wardrobe began to groan from being pushed open. Alistair and Eyron readied their swords while Levi took a strange, defensive stance. The woman, although she had set her tomes down on the desk in anticipation, remained rather calm in the back of the party, holding her quarterstaff casually behind her. Finally giving way, the doors swung wide open, something falling to the floor. All of their worries burned away as they eyed the sight before them.
A large, muscular man had fallen from the closet, wearing a simple tunic and slacks, holding onto a faded-silver tankard. The room began to become saturated in the stench of alcohol as the man moved to scratch his side with his free hand and resume his pleasant sleep.
The men turned at the sound of the woman’s unfamiliar voice as she sashayed her way to the slumbering man. “Addy~” Once she reached him, she propped the quarterstaff against the wardrobe, bending down to the sleeping man’s level.
“Addy?” Eyron murmured.
“You know this man?” Alistair asked.
The woman nodded, moving to lift the gent by the crook of his arm. “I’ve known Friend Ademar for years now.”
“And, somehow…you’re not fazed at all that you’ve found him catnapping in a cupboard.” There’s a slight hint of amusement on Eyron’s face.
Instead of commenting, the woman did what she could to attempt to carry the man about a full head taller than she, grunting quietly as he leaned heavily against her. Levi’s shoulders heaved as he let out a small sigh, striding over to the young woman and taking Ademar by the arms. “Here, allow me.”
“I’ve done this several times before~ It isn’t a bother at all.” But it seemed as though Levi had not bothered to even listen to the woman as he draped Ademar’s arms over his shoulders, grimacing at the stink of mixed liquors on Ademar’s breath. A quiet “hmm~” escaped the woman, but she protested no further. Instead, she gathered up her quarterstaff and returned to retrieve her tomes.
Despite discovering Ademar, the unnerving, tense feeling did not leave them. It lingered heavily and seemed to attempt to weigh the group down, almost as though they were standing just underneath the warm, heaving underbelly of a giant beast.
“Levi! The–!” Eyron took a step away from Levi, staring at a spot near the hem of Levi’s robes. There by his side, was the faint outline of a small child, its hand outstretched to Levi, attempting to tug on his sleeve.
Levi dared not move. Although this specter carried the resemblance of a small child, it could have been an illusion to create a false sense of security. The residents of the spirit world were finicky and unpredictable; Levi had to extract extreme caution while handling these beings, regardless of how they seemed from first-glance.
“Would you look at that,” breathed Eyron. “Hey, there.”
“Careful.” Levi’s words were a bit sharper than normal.
“There’s nothing wrong with it, look at it. It’s a little boy. I doubt it wants to hurt you if it’s standing so close to you that way.”
It became clear to Levi that he would need to take careful care of the ones around him, seeing as they were all probably as ignorant as the blonde noble.
As he stared at the surreal newcomer, Levi’s red eyes immediately began to analyze and break apart the possibilities that could be creating the entity, then attempted to discover the type of spirit it was. But before Levi was able to fully begin to understand the simplicities of the spirit, it disappeared from view without warning.
The bookcase that towered behind Levi , Ademar, and the woman leaned forward, threatening to topple down upon them. Before either Levi or the woman had time to escape, the bookcase had collapsed on top of them, books hitting them in the heads and splaying themselves across the floor in the process. Eyron and Alistair scrambled to push the bookshelf off of the three, setting it upright against the wall. Stealing a glance at the bookshelf as it rested against the wall, Alistair noticed that there was no possible way a sturdy bookshelf such as this one could have fallen on its own. It had to have been pushed.
The woman had already risen to her feet with her tomes and quarterstaff in hand. She seemed a bit ruffled, but nothing more. Levi groaned under the bulk of Ademar’s still-sleeping body, rolling the man off of him so that he could rise to his feet. Once situated, he recollected Ademar. “Well, that confirms my concerns,” he grunted as he took hold of his tomes. “I suggest we find a way to guard ourselves from the phantoms that plague this place. Other—”
Before he is able to finish his thought, one of his hands is yanked away from his tomes, a high-pitched whizzing sound coming from Levi’s skin. Bellowing in pain, he seemed to struggle against the air a moment before finally rendering his hand free from the unknown assailant. The others grimaced as Levi carefully lifted his glove from his hand to reveal a hand-shaped burn wound that still seemed red-hot, as though it were continually burning. After replacing the glove, he jostled Ademar so that his chin wasn’t digging into the middle of his shoulder blades.
Alistair made a motion to the rest of the group as he swept out of the room. “Get out of there. All of you,” he murmured. “And stay on your guard.”
“And this is why it would have been unwise to have sat down to attempt to sit and study those tomes of yours,” Eyron mumbled under his breath.
Although Levi’s face was now contorted into a seemingly-permanent show of pain, his irritation was transparent as he hobbled behind the group, Ademar still sleeping happily on Levi’s back, gripping his tankard as a child would their favorite bedtime doll.
Before rushing into the next room, Alistair raised the lantern to eye-level. He peered into the lantern frowning. They needed more oil for their lantern and soon. If they didn’t come across any shortly, they would be groping about helplessly in the unnatural darkness until the hostile spirits tired of their presence. I’ll tend to it as we move along, he thought as he entered the room next to the study.
Four beds were aligned the north and south walls apiece, adding to the room’s crowded appearance. There were small chests at the foot of every bed—much to Eyron’s light-fingered pleasure—that still retained their durability despite how aged they were. Aside from this, there was not much to see. The walls were noticeably bare in comparison to the other rooms, even if they were dilapidated and crumbling to pieces in places. Each bed was accompanied by an end table as well—simplistic and functional, with no hint of decoration like the majority of the furniture pieces in the rundown manor.
Eyron went to each bed, looking under the sheets idly. “A guest’s room, no doubt.”
“Or the servants’ quarters,” Alistair said, moving to one of the chests. Setting the lantern on the ground, he moved to lift the top of the chest, noticing straight away that it was still locked tightly. After long, irritating moments of attempting whatever he could to force the lid of the chest open, Alistair snatched up the lantern again, frowning. As if to justify his annoyance, he shot a look to the oil in the lantern. The oil seemed to have diminished considerably in the last few moments. Frustrated, he kicked at the chest, startling the rest of the group as the loud sound of glass breaking reached their ears. Alistair backed away from the chest as the floor around it began to dampen and the age-ridden, thin rug that lined the center of the room.
“Is that oil?” Levi asked as he nodded a head to the chest. The woman tilted her upper body along with her head, lazily staring at the oozing, pungent mess on the floor.
Alistair ground his teeth in irritation, but refused to allow the others to take note of this and quickly brought himself under control. It was no matter—they would just have to find oil elsewhere.
“Oh? Look here.” Turning his attention to Eyron, Alistair watched as Eyron fished about in one of the end tables, the sounds of crinkling paper and clinking glass echoing in the room. With a self-satisfied smirk, Eyron pulled out a container of lamp oil. “It seems we lucked out, hm?” He handed the oil over to Alistair, letting him take his time refilling the lamp.
After a moment, Alistair tapped the side of the container gently against the lantern, trying to pull every last drop of oil from it. “There,” he murmured, “That should last us for at least a full day or two.”
“Where do we go from here?” Eyron asked.
“Perhaps we should separate,” Levi said through clenched teeth, his speech a bit strained. He was still favoring his inflicted hand. “We can cover more ground that way and find other items that we may need later on.” He murmured something under his breath about his hand hurting.
“As idealistic as that would be in any normal given situation, we should stay together,” Alistair said, turning to the door. “It wouldn’t be wise to go off without everyone’s aid into a…supernatural environment. There’s no telling what—”
Looking to their feet, the group froze in place.
The floor purred, the tremors rising up from the floor shaking their bones.
“An earthquake?” Whispered Eyron.
“I doubt it. Highly,” said Alistair. Although his words were coolly spoken, it was clear that they his words were laced with a dull sense of alarm. Moving his hand to the door, he flung it open, lifting his lantern over his head. “But I don’t wish to find out just what that noise was. There are more rooms to check, so pick up the pace and—”
Again, the rumbling trickled throughout the manor. The roof ceiling high above is jostled just enough to let loose a gentle fall of plaster that created a small mist around the group as the plaster strikes the ground. Without a second thought, Alistair began striding towards another door, just about ready to try the handle.
A puff of white plaster fell from Eyron’s otherwise-perfect hair as he hurriedly ran a hand through it. “Is the whole place about to come down?”
Levi shook his head. “That’s not what it sounds like to me…”
Eyron turned to take an account of the quieter members of the group. Ademar slept soundly still on Levi’s back while the woman’s attention was fixated on something in the main room. “Do you see something interesting, my dear?”
The woman, however, said nothing.
Following her gaze, Eyron noticed a voluminous, thrashing mass about the height of three armchairs stacked atop of one another from foot to the very top of the chair, in the center of the main room’s floor. Unfortunately, in the given light, it was difficult to pinpoint just what the mass was. Without looking away from the strange mass, he murmured, “Alistair.” Alistair, however, was busy attempting to open the door, turning the handle over and over. Eyron’s brows furrowed in frustration. “Alistair.”
“What?” Alistair hissed, looking up from his work.
“Hold your lantern this way.” Eyron nodded towards the mass.
After taking a moment to hesitate at the peculiar sight in the dark, Alistair lifted the lantern, watching as the light began to pool in that direction. Little by little, the mass began to take on even less of a shape than before; just a crawling, thick mess of purple-and-black. What was even stranger about the misshapen figure was that it left no trail of any sort, although it carried the look of a moistened tower of cloths, yet it seemed to have the look of a cloud at the exact same time. The moment the light touched the lump it froze into place, although the dark colors within it continued to move about at a slower pace.
“We need to go.” Alistair’s voice was more even than it was before, but it was even easier to pinpoint the unease in his voice. “Now.”
“Where do we go?”
“Anywhere, elsewhere, somewhere. We just have to distance ourselves from…that.” The mass stirred and arced itself violently, so that its form seemed several times larger than it was originally. The group jumped and began to take Alistair’s lead as he began to backpedal towards the doors lining the sides of the manor. The mass of the strange figure increased and contracted rapidly as the rumbling in the floors began to grow as well.
Eyron pointed as he inched his way towards one of the doors lining the walls. “To the study. To the study!”
“That’s suicide. It’d trap us in there!” Alistair snapped. Searching frantically for an exit of some sort, his gaze finally landed on the grand staircase. There was a plain-looking door that had been inched open just enough for him to see the stairwell within. As a gurgling, gut-rattling roar blasted from the massive figure, Alistair called out above the noise, waving his arm in a beckoning motion. “Keep close!”
As one unit, they tore towards the stairwell, the tremors from the figure’s advance throwing their footing. Levi was left at a terrible disadvantage in comparison to the rest of the group. He trudged as quickly as he could towards the stairwell with Ademar seeming to purposefully weigh himself down on Levi to the point where he looked as though he were about to topple onto the floor. Nonetheless, Levi withstood the substantial extra weight and somehow found proper footing among the quaking ground enough to continue to keep stride with the rest of the group.
Flinging the door open, they filed down the stairs one by one, careful not to trip and fall down the steps. Not even halfway down the first flight of stairs, the sounds of wood splintering and plaster being torn through overwhelmed the sound of multiple, rapid footfalls on creaky, wooden stairs. They shielded themselves from the debris that the figure threw about the stairway in its thrashing and rush to push its way down the stairs with their arms, covering their eyes as they descended until they reached the bottommost floor. Levi, however, remained untouched by the rubble since Ademar shielded him several times from various bits of plaster and chunks of wood that would come hurtling from farther up the steps towards them. Ademar didn’t seem to mind being a human shield all too much as he continued to doze away.
The floor they had fled to was a basement-turned-cellar, with an impressive number of barrels stored throughout the entire room. But the group had no time for liquid merriment as they skidded to a brief halt, looking for some form of shelter.
“There!” Alistair took off down a long hallway he’d spotted after Levi was able to finally catch up to the group. At the end of the hall was a large, iron door. So far, it seemed like the only valid, viable option in regards to their safety. The rest of the group was close on Alistair’s heels as they forced their burning legs to continue their torture.
During their sprint, Eyron had dared to glance behind them to see just how far away the deformed menace was. His face immediately flushed and donned a deep green tint as he heaved and began to vomit, slowing down just enough to catch the attention of Alistair.
Although he dared not look at the strange entity behind them, he did cast a glare at Eyron. “Do you want to be left behind?” His voice could hardly be pinpointed over the gurgling roars of the fast-approaching mess, no matter how loudly Alistair bellowed. However, Alistair’s strained facial expression spoke just as many volumes to Eyron. After a few moments more of stumbling over his own vomit, Eyron was finally able to grasp a hold of his gag reflex, thanking the gods that he had miraculously avoided soiling his clothing as he picked up his pace.
Alistair and the woman were the first to reach the heavy iron door. They slammed their bodies against it out of haste, catching themselves somewhat with their outstretched hands. As Alistair pulled on the handle, the woman pulled along the side of the door, tugging at it with greater and greater force as they realized that the stubborn door was opening far slower than they ever would have liked. Eyron busied himself with ushering Levi and Ademar past the iron door first, lightly shoving Ademar’s back to hurry Levi inside quicker. Eyron disappeared behind the door shortly thereafter.
The woman and Alistair hurriedly slipped to the other side of the door, fighting the obstinate door one last time in an effort to close it. The crashing and tumbling sounds of the figure had grown so close that their ears had begun to ring and their teeth clattered against one another. To their dismay, the door squealed and came to a halt, leaving a considerably large gap that the creature could easily slip its body through and trap the group. As Alistair continued tugging on the door, the woman withdrew from it, allowing Eyron to take her place. Levi stood at a considerable distance, inching his way steadily from the door. Ademar was still blissfully asleep on Levi’s back, a goofy, open-mouthed smile on his face, drool leaking steadily from the corner of his mouth and onto Levi’s shoulder.
Eyron hollered over the increasing noise, still looking rather green in the face from earlier. “It won’t budge any further!”
“Like hell it won’t!” But before Alistair could act on his words, the manor seemed to lurch towards the group as the weight of the creature fell into the iron door, its gurgling roars building in a rapid crescendo until they reached their peak, shaking the manor until the plaster from the ceiling toppled to the ground in great chunks. The group down below dodged as best as they could to escape the torrent of plaster as it rained down, scurrying to one side of the room and then the other as quickly as their aching feet could take them.
An uncomfortable hush fell over the group as the plaster ceased its assault, the roaring at an end. Although their chests heaved and cold sweat drenched their faces and arms, no sound came from them. As though expecting the being to fade into existence within the confines of the iron room, their eyes darted about frantically, their collective fear reflected within them, moving their feet constantly, poised to flee at a moment’s notice. A heavy feeling hung in the air for a long while before it seemed to shed away from existence, like a fruit’s skin being peeled and discarded.
The silence felt as hostile as the roaring beast that lingered somewhere outside.
Their temporary sanctuary seemed to have been built for such an emergency—an all-iron room with several cots, chests for storage lined along the wall parallel with the door, a study desk, and three fully-stocked bookshelves, the majority of the books concerning biology and lore. The only things out-of-place about this panic room were the walls themselves; they seemed strangely gritty, as though something had been smeared all along the walls of the room. After tending to Ademar and placing him on one of the cots, Levi and the woman turned their attention to their tomes and the various books on the shelves. As they tended to their studies, Alistair and Eyron focused their attention on the chests lining the walls, grumbling to one another as they did so.
“‘It’s suicide,’ he says,” Eyron murmured as he struggled with a lock. “And so here we are, trapped in this room instead.”
“It’s a much better choice of security in comparison to that study room you wished to hide in,” Alistair retorted as he moved a small object about within the lock, attempting to pick it. “At least this is a reinforced room.”
“True as that may be, we’re still holed away in this room and that thing—” the lock trembled in Eyron’s hand at the mention of the strange creature “—is still out there. It’s probably just beyond the door, waiting for one of us to leave.”
“Speaking of, what did it look like?”
Eyron heaved at the question, but refrained from vomiting. “I don’t remember, and I don’t think I care to remember. What we need to be concerned with is how to get out of here.”
Alistair made no response, as his attention had been completely absorbed by picking the lock. Frustration began to build as the obstinate lock made sharp clacking noises, signaling one failed lock-picking attempt after another. “Damn…” With each attempt, his patience grew thin.
Ch—Alistair held his breath at the promising noise and carefully inched his lock-pinching instrument about with slow, investigative movements. Eyron watched with an air of both annoyance—for not acknowledging his statement earlier—and slight amusement.
“Come on. Damn it, it’s not this difficult.”
Throwing the lock away from him, Alistair lifted the chest up to his midriff. “I don’t have the time for this nonsense…!”
“Here, set it back down,” Eyron chuckled, “I’ll handle it for you if you’d—”
Alistair had other ideas in mind. Hoisting the chest over his head he grumbled under his breath:
The chest makes a savagely satisfying clattering noise as the wood splintered and broke away against the iron wall, women’s nightgowns and other clothing spewing onto the floor in the process. Eyron peered up at Alistair, a distasteful frown on his face. “Was that entirely necessary?”
Bending at the waist, Alistair began to sift through the garments with one hand, tossing a nightgown at Eyron without looking at him. “Seeing as it got me the end result I was wanting, yes.”
After a long moment of rummaging, Alistair lifted a small, leather-bound book from the clothing pile, turning it over in his hands. “Ahh. Now maybe we’ll get a few more answers.” Opening the book, Alistair’s look of mild intrigue quickly changed to that of smoldering irritation as he tossed the book to Eyron. “Nevermind. There’s nothing there of use.”
Eyron flipped through the pages as Alistair made to heave another chest into the wall. “…Love poems?”
“Poorly-written ones, at that.” More clattering wood and ladies’ clothes littered the floor. This continued for a few minutes, until all nine chests had been successfully destroyed, the goods within moved about and searched, leaving Alistair completely at a loss.
While Alistair’s and Eyron’s chest-throwing, poem-reading activities took place, the woman seemed to have forgotten her interest in her tomes for a brief moment, turning her attention to the desk situated just to the right of the three bookcases. Opening the side compartment to the desk, she discovered a ten-pound bag of salt in a burlap sack. Her eyes analyzed the bag for a moment before her gaze drifted upwards, towards the walls. Levi watched her carefully as the woman lazily placed her fingertips on the wall, lightly brushing them downwards.
Her eternal smile twitched, threatening to broaden. As she removed her hand, she retrieved the bag of salt, placing it on the floor near the foot of Ademar’s cot. Settling herself down at the foot of the cot, she returned to her reading, keeping her place on the page with her thumb and pinky fingers.
After a moment, however, her hand stopped moving, as did her eyes that had been darting all about the page. Her sharp, storm-gray eyes snapped up to meet Levi’s wine-red eyes. He had been watching her the entire time. Although her lazy smile had broadened considerably, she said nothing.
“Something catch your attention over there, lass?” Levi asked, gesturing to the wall.
She only responded with a lazy wave of her hand before returning to her reading.
Arching a brow at the woman, Levi stayed quiet for a while, allowing her a bit of time to read a paragraph or two before speaking up again. “That doesn’t tell me much, you know.”
Raising her head again, the woman moved her hand in a strange intricate way as she pointed to the wall. “They used salt-water to ward off the spirit~”
“I suppose we should thank the one clever enough to protect this place, seeing as it saved our hides,” Levi murmured. He opened his mouth to say something else, but cut himself off as he turned back to the woman. She had already gone back to her reading. Again, he waited a moment before addressing her again. “What’s your name, lass?” This time she did not pause to look at Levi; she simply continued to read as though she had never heard him in the first place. He cleared his throat. “I’m called Levi, if—”
Levi closed his mouth again and went back to his own cot, flipping through the pages of the books he’d just retrieved from the bookshelves. No use in attempting to initiate small-talk when the other person was clearly uninterested.
[Keep an eye on this chapter for new sketches! Written/Illustrated by Satu; assisted by Celt, Bird, and Dazz.]
January 24, 2012