It was quite, slow going, and most of all boring; the half of the group that liked books and long research were all gone investigating the asylum. The other half sat at the table trying to stay focused on the endless stack of books that walled them off from each other. Harren had been reading for two days straight and his eyes were starting to cross, he needed a break.
“Hey Sanford, you are from Burgenbees right. What is it like?”
The elf that was at the table with them closed his book wanting the answer also, anything to avoid that angry pile of books.
“You know it’s nice.”
Harren was amazed at the simplicity and avoidance of his answer; “It has to be more than just nice! It is the capital, biggest city out here, what is it like?”
“I don’t know I lived there my whole life, never thought of it before. It just is. It is like every other city I figure, just really-really big.” Sanford could tell they wanted to hear what happens in the big city, he knew he would not win the fight of avoidance, and he was afraid to disappoint them. “I have lived there my whole life and not gone down every street, or in every store, there is always something new. I mean, well it is not all new all the time there is old buildings and people. Ok… Well what… There is a lot of things you need to watch out for in the slums; someone is always trying to pull something off. Sometimes they just want your boots, your coin purse, sometimes it is sinister. I think those country folk got it easy, lots of fresh air, open space, not too many people, animals and whatever. It is mostly crowded, too crowded, growing up I shared a room with another family, eight kids in a room the size of this dining room. In the summer you were lucky to live on the first floor so the roof didn’t leak, in the winter you were lucky to be upstairs over someone else that had a fire place. Lots of people live like that, people are always sick, one house will be sick and then that house across the street gets sick, eventually everyone gets sick. The landlords are monsters too, they don’t care where the money comes from, as long as it gets paid and no one dies in their spaces. It smells bad all the time, even in your house the bad smells find their way in. Do you know what heads up means? That is what you call before you empty your chamber pot out of the window to the street, like I said it smells bad. You would think that the rain would clean everything up, wash the streets clean, it doesn’t, that fresh rain makes fresh sludge and reinvigorates the stink. Most of the sewers are in the better parts of town and the sewers that we got are boarded and masoned shut so the people can move things under the city, we live like pigs in our own filth. Winter time is bad, a day like today there would be people dead in their bed from the night before, frozen solid, they line the streets, they don’t get them every day. We found one that just kept getting snow piled on it one year, it was sad because when it starts to get warmer you feel a bit better, but that man was sticking out of a melting pile of snow, makes you remember where you are, and never forget it. There is an underground dog fighting ring that is pretty good, sometimes they use other animals; dog fighting is not illegal, it is just an exclusive club of sorts. If you stay to the better part of town they have the arena that has weekly fights; that is what you have to avoid. If you get arrested you are most likely going to end up the meal to a tiger, the dog fighting club is more on a working man’s budget. In the slum there is not too much work, you are either a whore or a cutpurse, it is best to scam your way out and not look back; most people leave as sailors, mercenaries, or what have you to make money and send for their family; that is kinda what I am doing right now, don’t make fun but I am doing this for my mother, sorry. So everybody is always watching each other; we watch the guard, they watch us, the guild watches the guard and the well-to-dos, the well-to-dos watch other well-to-dos hoping that everyone is watching them and whatever fancy new thing they want to show off. Any time you go into a city you get watched, not this city though it is too proper got too many well-to-dos. That’s funny too, whenever a big shot needs to do something illegal or meet someone in secret they always go to the worst part of town, I wonder where the scummy part of this town is, there is always a dark underbelly. If I had a copper for every time that the ‘Black Daggers’ blackmailed some sorry up-and-to-do for going to the whores, or having a secret meeting, or doing lowlife things like the rest of us. There is something to talk about, it’s weird to think of a crime syndicate as the slum’s city guard but it kinda is. I don’t agree with everything the ‘Black Daggers’ do, but they are fair; they run everything from the slums through the cities underground, for a person like me you either work for them, work against them, or pay them off monthly to keep your teeth; I have really nice teeth. My opinion they are the best thing for the slum, no one gives us help, half the time their hush money fed entire families, you just never snitched. You always turned your head out of respect and walked away when they was thieving. One time, I got lucky, found some well-to-do that just got the tar beaten out of him and boots taken, whoever did it forgot the coin purse. Two platinum coins and a pile of silver, and don’t you get high and mighty on me; I was eating rats, almost sleeping in the streets, didn’t have any shoes, and I am not justifying what I do but a boy has to eat. He was some rich fool he could spare it, he was going to the whore house anyway, I am not going hungry so a rich prick can get his jollies off. That’s how I got out of the slum anyhow, bought some new nice clothes and a bath, the black daggers noticed and said I cleaned up nice and could help fool merchants and whatnot. They took me around the richer parts, not to brag but I am really good with ‘fixing’ a lock, always watched my back with them though, I seen them turn real quick; they don’t like us freelancers doing too good. Yeah so, the rich burbs, they got these streets made from blue cobble stones, really nice, after it rains they look like a river with everyone walking on the water. They have lamp posts with oil lamps, green grass, tall buildings set a bit off the street. It smells good too, that is the best thing; it is not one smell pursay but more like the bad smells just aren’t there. Someone is always wearing perfume, or the fresh breeze carries the smell of flowers or cut grass; you can always tell how nice a place is by the way it smells, always remember that. They have these rich people stores that sell candy, and cake; I had a cake from one of those stores it cost more than a working man makes in a week, it is the best thing I ever ate if you have the money you got to try it if you ever go. Ok so you go to the separating gate to the well-to-do part of town, and find the bronze fountain with the man on a horse holding his sword high, there will be a small foot bridge that goes over the stream follow that and just go straight down the street, it is that blue cobblestone stuff, not really the main road more of a row of shops that cost too much money to shop in. There is a garment store, a boot store, I think there is still this store that just sells things to put on a study desk, couple more really pricy stores, and there is the cake store in the middle of them. Its painted white with a pink sign, it is the family name or something, but they have small tables in the front that overlook that stream, and the garden across the small street. You sit down and tell them the type of cake you desire; chocolate, yellow, there is a red one, something they called marble, all with really thick whipped cream and fruit, I had chocolate with white cream wild-berries and some strawberries too, best thing I ever ate. Then they bring out the cake on this silver plate on a stand thing, like a special plate table, they do not let you cut it yourself, you wave them over and they do it for you, they even put it on these white little plates, and keep bringing you tea, high class.”
Sanford stopped for a moment to see his colleges had lost interest with his tangent, but they were sitting there wide eyed thinking of this mystic chocolate cake on a tiny white plate.
“Yeah the food is really good across the wall. You don’t need to go to the rich burbs to find good food though. Down on the pier there is fish straight off the boat, us poor folk usually stick to the lobsters, those sea spiders, they are good too. They make good noodles, bread, olives, outside the slums people are real big on cheese and smoked meats, and I don’t see what the big deal is about. One thing about the capital is that people are always importing things so there is all kinds of food from all over, they got this spicy curry stuff from Northern Rilycia, even some of that elven stuff. What else… Oh like I said there is always new things, like glass windows, black powder for pistols, they make buildings bigger like that lady at the temple was talking about, umm, there is a watermill saw that makes lumber, it always smells good there. Actually it is becoming common now but they were the first to have glass windows; that was amazing, hard to open from the outside too, but you could see right in at what you wanted to take. They make these really tall big buildings out of polished white stone, there is domed state house, fountains, bronze statues, so many really nice houses. There is a big open area just over the wall, the ‘Hudush Common”, that’s where I saw Ibrahm in the circus, there is always something going on there. A couple times a year they make it a farmers market, everyone sets up their tents and wagons and sells things right out in the field. Every year the jousters come and have a great big tournament all big noble well-to-dos. That is fun lots of out-of-towners come for that, touristy types, not gonna lie keep your coin tight, the ‘Black Daggers’ pick that place clean every year. So, if you guys are planning to go there just stay with the touristy areas, look at the old buildings and temples, stock up on gear and whatever, go to a few taverns, trust me it is fun. Well, I say this with the kindest intentions; get a body guard or something. No demihumans live in the city, hardly any visit, people still really hate elves, again no offense just don’t want to see you guys get hurt. Anyway, there is a whole lot of museums with paintings and sculptures; actually that is what I want to see. People always say that we have the best collection of art in the world, it is right there on my door step and I never have been. Hopefully we can get some coin on the side of whatever we are doing; those places cost money to just walk around them. I guess you can get anything in the capital if you know where to look and ask. Go get that cake I mentioned.”
The three daydreamers chained to the books buried their faces back to work when they heard the lock turn knowing the foremen had returned; it was the other half of their group. Their meeting with Nate Bodo created more questions than answers; clearly he was mad, but had his three decade stay add to his delusions? Klind was nice and accommodating for a price but to directly ask him for more information on the patient may raise more questions that they would not want to answer or leave open for any spy to question. They had to have something written on him for the length of his stay, a log, possible a book given the amount of time he was with them. Mimi said they were deeply hallucinating at times; Nate may not of been able to handle it, this could all be part of his past drug induced imagination that never went away. They had gotten stories from too many sources and nothing had brought them in a straight line or simply fit with anything else.
Justen made his way to the dining room fireplace, sitting on a chair near the table perched dwarf, he started to warm his hands before speaking. “Whoa it is really bitter outside. Did you fellas find anything in those books?”
Harren tried to force his eyes open big to readjust his vision from the handwritten book he held. “These quatrains read like nonsense, two hundred and fifty eight vague incomplete sentences that are so broad they could mean anything. Those things that were quoted in that note we found, they are not even quatrains, not even in the book. Unless they are four or five that is missing, there is a happy note from the author stating they were ‘missing from the original manuscript and left blank intentionally to recreate an authentic copy’. This Crowzig was an idiot, and the people that buy into this book are idiots.” Harren reached for the parchment he had been taking notes on to read off the list of key words from the book. “The ‘Marcou’ is mentioned a couple times near the end; along with a knight, monster, cannibals, something with a ten horns and seven heads, a plague, a doom prophet, a star, a creature of legend, Astrosis’s boulder, finished with an angle that is going to burn the world. Really this is the type of book you read to your kids when you tuck them in at night.”
His joke fell short.
“Alright, so call me an idiot maybe it is not all nonsense, ‘233- Babbling the invaders flee, The Marcou still laughs with no knowledge, deep hole, pit of the earth, rises a nameless horror.’ The other ones before it could, and I stress could reference that glass pyramid that was destroyed two years back in Port Julia, 231. I am convinced 232 references the orc invasion this past Autumn in Razel, and Bannist joining the war. So if we are in ‘233’ who is the Marcou, what hole, what pit, what horror? If this book is written in any order there is,” Harren fumbled through the book to find the page he book marked, “234- seven bodies, seven trips, seven sons, unearthed graves a century old, not enough holes for all his sons, they get up and fight again.’ That would be after the Babbling Bannist fleeing. See, it is too vague; I still do not want to believe it. How did you guys do?”
With his hands facing the fire palms first Justen talked over his shoulder. “Good work, good catch. ‘Deep hole, pit of the earth, rises a nameless horror’, well at least we got something from Nate after all. He kept raving about sixes, ‘that which had no name’, and eyes and teeth. A little bit of math, six by six by six is two hundred and sixteen; does that get mentioned in anything?”
Harren had a questioning look on his face, “I believe it does; where did I see it?” He began fumbling through the book again with determination in search of a clue he quickly disguarded.
Justen started again while the dwarf searched. “So the asylum is very creepy, and Nate is flipping mad. We still do not think we are getting a complete story, and to ask again may raise too many questions. After three decades there should be something written down somewhere; we think,” looking over his shoulder to Sanford and Pierre, “you two should break in and find something written. Lanius can tell you of a window to a vacant stairway that should get the two of you in, if you guys also agree that is.” Both Sanford and Pierre looked at each other with a silent agreement to what Justen proposed.
Harren perked up, “HA! ‘Missing from the original manuscript and left blank intentionally to recreate an authentic copy’, quatrains 213 through 216 are missing!” He turned the book around eclipsing his face, taping his forefinger over the author’s edit.
Ibrahm and Lanius followed their frozen comrade to the fire hoping to capture some heat; both looked like they wanted to join the conversation. Justen turned keeping his back close to the fire, “Alright, well now I don’t feel so bad about trudging around in the cold all day. Obviously if they have been lost to time any conventional means to track them down has already been attempted. Crowzig is one of those weird topics that scholars love to talk about and make assumptions of his predictions; I have been caught in too many of those debates.”
“Yes you are correct; I too have heard some of my professors ramble on about their Crowzig theories endlessly. If there were anything on the topic it would have undoubtly surfaced by this point. The missing four is a hot topic amongst my teachers, everyone has their personal theories, but that is all they are.” Lanius finished his statement with a slight nodding of his head showing agreement with his own statement.
“If Nate knows of the 216 quatrain he may know what it says, maybe the ‘riddle of sixes’ he would not shut up about is the quatrain. Random idea, since this reads sequencelly what happened during the quatrains we are looking for? Because it already would have happened; could we just follow the clues backwards through important events and see what was not mentioned? Or maybe it was just too boring to write down. I am so very glad you guys want to go check it out; I never want to go to an asylum again, way to creepy. I really hate tight spaces full of crazy people; much rather be here with Sparky.” Ibrham reached up scratching his fox behind the ear.
Everyone seemed happy that some sense was beginning to be made from the unusual collection of information they have acquired. Breaking into this secure building will be much easier than trying to break out, any plan that they would create had to be influenced with that in mind. The plan needed to stay uncomplicated there would only be two going. Enter through the window Lanius mentioned, try to find anything written on Nate that may answer some questions that he created, and the group that already visited the asylum today unanimously agreed that they should avoid the basement from what the guard told them. There was a discussion to the layout of the building, an attached contingency plan was devised, and wide eyed the dwarf watched as his study group left him to the task alone, stranded again on this secluded island of a table.
Sanford knew that an elf didn’t get cold easy, and his elven companion added extra streets to their route so they could avert the phantoms he imagined would trail them. It was cold, the extra time walking out in the night air had cut through his gloves and boots the winter bite felt so cold it burned.
“Enough! I’m not going to be able to climb if my fingers freeze off first!”
The elf stopped mid maze creation, “We need to cover our tracks.”
Sanford looked at the well-traveled street; there were hundreds of foot prints from hundreds of people pressed in the mud and snow; the two sets he and the elf were leaving melded into the backdrop of redundancy, perfect unnecessary camouflage.
“You run around the in cold, do what you need to do. We just added, what, maybe two miles to an already tediously long walk, I’m done. I’m going to get a pint, got to warm up.”
Much to Sanford’s surprise Pierre continued to plot out the foot maze by himself, “I will get you when I am done.”
Sanford entered the tavern down the street, he had enough time to enjoy two pints of warm beer and take his boots off to warm his toes back to life before Pierre returned. The elf never sat down, he just loomed over Sanford until he forced the last bit of his tankard down, redressed and they were out the door. Thankfully it did not take long to complete the rest of the journey.
It was late when they arrived at the asylum; blessed by a cloudless night and a moon that was brightly amplifying the snow; which caused Pierre to squint not to be blinded. This moon worked to guide them, and his human associate would not be blinding his superior elven night time vision with a candle or torch; he knew they would have no problem going unnoticed in the night if he could just Sanford to stop chattering his teeth. They looked to the large white building that shone like a beacon across the yard. The moon neglected to show any of its black shutters making the large building look as it boasted large black holes that festered with abyssal wounds. Approaching the beacon by the main walk and then staying close to the building to loop around in search of the second floor window. There was large piles of snow recently removed from the flat roofed building careless thrown to the ground below, making it very easy to walk the perimeter worry free of leaving noticeable tracks. Finding the window was easy, thanks to Lanius’s directions, everything was as it was described. Pierre less effected from the cold started first, he made short time of the icy stone wall.
“There is an elf outside the window climbing the wall, Mr. elf save us, let us climb with you!”
Several other voices began to yell from the building calling for the savior elf. Immediately there was a more baritone voice that parted what was believed to be another psychotic episode from the asylum, it yelled out threats, confirmed there was no elf outside, and helped to weigh the consequences for another outburst at this hour of the night. Pierre laughed to himself ‘the one and only time I ever want to see a guard.’ At the black shuttered second floor entrance Pierre inserted his shimmering opaque created dagger between them, taking only slightly longer than he hoped he was able to flip the latch and gain silent entrance. Sanford needed several attempts to get up the wall; luckily there was a large pile of roof snow to catch his fall on the ground below him, twice. Pierre pulled him into the window easily when he got into arms reach, “No more drinking on the job”. It took Sanford a minute to warm his fingers enough to function on fixing the lock before him. It was like walking around inside the building plans they discussed over the table. Beyond this door would be ascending stairs to the locked third floor door behind that would be the whitewashed hallways, and small rooms for the patients. The door to the third floor opened slowly and quietly, down the whitewashed hall there was a low candle light warding off the darkness. Several voices three of which were arguing about the recent hand of cards their comrade had just played, then there was the repetitive Bodo chant of sixes from the distance.
Staying to the abundant shadows they passed by many doors with external accessible locks, each holding a unique noise and lunatic. Pierre halted mid-sneak causing Sanford to collide into his back. The wall was odd, not as flat as the rest of the whitewashed boards that created the hall, ever so slightly curved at the bottom like it was dragged on the stone floor forced into place. It was big enough to be a large door, and Pierre was convinced that it was. Sanford casually reached over the elf’s shoulder and pressed the wall causing it to open to a stone set of stairs leading down.
“What if it was trapped!” the elf almost forgot to whisper.
“It would not be, too many loons running around, this would be set off regularly, not good for business.”
Pierre did not like the human logic at all, there could have been another beam of fire like with the floor box, or spears that shot up from the ground, he stepped back to let the confident human proceed first, no elf blood would be spilt tonight by any careless basic check. The flight of stairs were wider and taller than the false door they had opened; almost identical to the stairway they had entered in across the building; Pierre closed the false wall behind them dragging it into place and securing it with a wooden dowel conveniently attached by twine. They continued down the stairs into the darkness following what little light Sanford’s freshly lit candle allowed, stopping on a landing. A doorway had been filled with new masonry and they assumed it was at one point an entrance to the second floor; more stairs down shared this platform. The combination of landing, new masonry filled door, and downward stairs happened again on what they believed would be the first floor. Sanford felt nervous looking into the blackness, the downward passage led down one more flight to what everyone said to avoid, the basement. He felt as though his candle seemed to dim, like it too was afraid of the sub-terrain insanity they were warned of, it wanted to go back upstairs as much as he did.
“This goes against everything we planned about in the plan.”
Pierre looked at his frightened comrade as he past him to take the lead.
A lightless single room was at the end of the foreboding stairs. They were fortunate to find a glass oil lantern at the entrance; they lit it so they could both see the room better. The oil lantern first exposed three impressive stone walls and one oak wall that were standing opposite to the entrance stairs. Their eyes adjusted to spy a long work table in the center of the room that was equipped with leather restraints for a person’s neck, hands, and feet, there was also a few other tables that had strange objects on them. Different colored glass vials erect in holders, alchemist grinding stones, copper wiring, steel rods, and the big metal device. Quickly passing everything else they went right to it, paying no mind to the colorful glass vials or torturer table.
Shinny well-polished steel, the size of a quarter keg of ale lying on its side, the bottom was flat but the top kept to the ideal of a keg. There was a small shelf that was depressed into the side, it had a darkened glass like backing and several knobs built into the shelf like top. Save for the shelf the steel surface was featureless. From the end that rested closer to the head of the torture table came a hose made of well fastened and preserved animal intestine, it was bloated full by a liquid allowing it to keep its in shape not to collapse. Attached to the end of the hose presented another oddity, a funnel like hat with a chin strap made of well worked tin and molded glass, neither of them wished to place the funny cap on themselves. It mocked them holding back the secret to its purpose; they toyed and prodded at it for some time; neither could figure out how to get the machine to function, they had no idea how this device could be an instrument of torture.
After the time of failed experimentation on the steel keg like find they searched the room further. Knowing that there needed to be more than what was easily on display Sanford went to the oak wall to look for any other hidden clues. As he started his search he noticed that there was a device built into it, a trap. Both he and Pierre took their time disabling the trap so the poisonous gas it begged to release was no more than a threat. The hidden door was easy to find after the well hidden obstacle, it opened inward, and was in much better construction than the previous fake door. Inside was no larger than a latrine, but it was full to the brim with books, papers, and illustrations, stacks of handwritten pages piled high to the ceiling, unstable giant pillars of patient notes. They eventually found the hand written book that was being kept about Nate Bodo in a pile dedicated to what they assumed were other delusional inmates. The book was large, cumbersome, and heavy; thirty years of note taking in one package. There was still many pages blank near the end; it was also dated, its last entry being three weeks ago.
Pierre heard it faintly, through the wall, a screeching, gut wrenching screaming, accompanied by syllable like blood curdling throat tears; no human could ever make that noise. He found another door in the oak wall they had completely overlooked. He waved Sanford over while gesturing to be quiet with a finger over his lips. Sanford placed his ear on the new fake door, it took him a moment to comprehend the incomprehensible; the color ran from his face leaving him completely placid. He hung his ear to the door as if it was nailed to the wood, frozen. Pierre gave him a smack to the head which successfully knocked the sense back into him.
“I refuse, I completely and adamantly refuse, there is no way in the Nine Hells you can get me to open this door. This is the plan, that is not the plan, we need to stick to the plan, why can’t you stick to the plan?”
Pierre’s silence to the last question frightened Sanford, the rest of the group had been questioning Pierre’s sanity and he was being presented with another prime example. He could tell the elf would, if he had the ability to, open that door without consulting him. How could he spend hours leaving useless tracks in well-traveled streets being above the caution level any other in the group possessed just to blindly want to open a door. They stood there at an impasse staring at each other in silence trying to win the wordless debate.
“We, or just you, can come back. We know where it is, let’s tell everyone else.”
“Stealth man, stealth. Confronting mutant tortured whatever they-may-bes is not stealth.”
Sanford won the fight, he was happy that is was short because that was his only point to debate other than he was terrified of what lurked behind the wall. They got what they came for and it was time to leave, they placed the room in the condition they found it deciding not to venture into the horror beyond the fake wall out of the scope of the detailed plan. They used the dreary stairs that led them below back up to the third floor. Sanford made more noise than he should have closing and dragging the secret door causing his fumble to awaken the screaming maniacs of the third floor. It was as if an alarm had been sounded; it started with the one yeller, then a second, third, fourth, fifth, joined in until it became countless. Neither of them wanted to stick around for the rest of the show and ran to the door, luckily it was still unlocked from their entrance. For the third time of the night Sanford found his way backside into a pile of snow from the side of a building. They both quickly left running up the walkway and out to the street. Sanford swallowed hard to catch his breath, “I refuse to go on the extra walk you are planning in your head, and I am going straight home.” Pierre watched as Sanford left his sight and he completed an additional course to repel any trailing phantoms.