Comfort on This Terrible Night
Though he grips the static wooden handle of the doorway into The Lodge, Albey does not have the strength to open it. The Poet is broken, a ‘man who had little and lost it all anyway, and so the strength seeps from his legs and he collapses into the dirt, tears cutting dark streaks through the pale tan dust caked to his cheeks.
To hold anguish within oneself is to drink acid in hopes of aiding digestion. The day, painting the sky in burning oranges and scarlet reds, dips halfway into purple night when Albey’s eyes finally dry up. He does not rise but is pulled to his feet by a call of duty, a sense of a promise made and an oath taken, of a prophecy he must fulfill. There are two tasks he must complete before he allows himself to rest, and only one of these requires daylight. After kicking the door open and propping it there with a rock, Albey goes to the shack behind The Lodge.
Ram’rl the Unfallen did not come up with such a mantle on his own. Never one to speak words unspoken by those around him, the ‘man’s talent did not lie on his tongue but in his hands, in his limbs, in his core. In his heart, even, though few knew it; Albey met him in a woodland tavern, the closest thing Ram’rl had to a home back then. He smelled of piss and spite and drank enough to where there was no room under the table for the legs of anyone else, for that’s where he kept his many empties. Albey tried to join him and was told to get lost, so he challenged the oaf to a grapple. Ram’rl, whose honor was unquestionable even back then despite the fact he had no friends to confirm it, accepted without hesitation.
It was to be a battle solely of fisticuffs, no weapons nor armor nor anything of metal. Ram’rl outweighed Albey by at least three barrels – not those Ram’rl drained – but he was clumsy, uncoordinated, and intoxicated to the point of belligerence. Albey, who at that time went by the mantle of the Unfound, knew how to throw down with the best of ‘em, and that did aide his cause. He had the stamina and the speed, but unfortunately he lacked the strength to bring Ram’rl to his knees, let alone to the ground. In the end they fell together, exhausted past the point of standing, and when the crowd dispersed they returned to the tavern and Ram’rl allowed him a seat at the table. They were not equals, but they drank as such, and soon a bond was formed. When the taps ran dry they left for the trails and found Iuqon meditating in a circle drawn with white powder. He was waiting for them, or so the Mage did say, and ‘twas he who gifted Ram’rl the mighty sledge and Albey the quill and scroll. Thus The Triad was born… but that was all a very long time ago.
Albey, who has grown much stronger since then, opens the door of Ram’rl’s shack and steels himself for the task at hand. Though he preferred the mighty sledge, Ram’rl the Unfallen was not picky about his weaponry; the shack is no larger than an outhouse built for two, and it wastes not a hair of space. Weapons both blunt and sharp are stacked from floor to ceiling in no recognizable pattern, and lining the walls are various sets of armor which Ram’rl never wore, for they were all too small for his form.
What was once his form, that is. Now he could fit in any of them, for only his bones remain.
The Mad Poet recognizes some of these weapons – swords long, short, and broad; daggers meant for defending and knives meant to be thrown; halberds and axeheads mounted on long poles of wood; spiked maces of solid shaft and spiked flails linked to their handles by chains; the ‘man even had himself a shield, one sporting a gauntlet and three blades, two of which sprang from the knuckles – but the armor sets are unfamiliar. Some are black, some are brass, some are redder than blood, and all of them are terribly heavy, but Albey does not falter. It takes many trips, far beyond the capacity to be counted; by the time the sun winks out and the waning moon rises, the shack is empty and The Lodge is full.
They were never big on decoration, The Triad. Inside The Lodge were three beds beside which stood three nightstands upon which sat three metal lanterns. These lanterns did not burn oil nor gasoline, though they did require fuel; the quill gifted to Albey by Iuqon the Mage, much like his papyrus scroll and Ram’rl’s stainless sledge, is enchanted with a kind of sacred magick. At the center of the quill is a bottomless pool of black ink, ink which fades shortly after it dries, which burns hot enough to incinerate rotting wood; this very ink is what fuels the lanterns and does so without exhaust. Albey lights his own lantern but leaves the others sat upon their nightstands, where they shall sit unlightened forevermore.
He looks around him then, at all of Ram’rl’s spoils of the many wars he fought, at the dancing reflections of the lantern’s flame. They cover the floor from wall to wall, the armor laying on top of the blades for their stands were bolted to the floor of the shack and Albey is not a carpenter. He looks at Ram’rl’s bed and the depression in the center of the mattress; at Iuqon’s bed, which looks as if it never rested a body; at his own bed, which sits somewhere in the middle. It looks comfy, warm, just as inviting as ever, but he does not wish to rest upon its softness. Albey the Mad Poet does not seek comfort on this terrible night, he seeks pain, physical pain, something to overwhelm the ache in his heart. There’s one thing left for Albey to do, a secret he must protect, but Iuqon burned before he could share with Albey what that secret was. All he knows is The Lodge contains it, whatever it may be, and so in The Lodge Albey shall stay. For that reason he cannot sleep in his bed, for if he does so his sleep will be deep indeed, and if an intruder slips in they will do so undetected. The dying wish of Albey’s comrade will go unfulfilled and Albey shall have to live with that for the rest of his life, surely a fate worse than Death, even a Death died alone.
No, Albey’s sleep must not be sound, and so the Mad Poet sits his lantern on the floor and lays himself down beside it and slowly closes his eyes…
“What in the name…?” The flickering flame and leaping shadows vaguely conceal what he sees. He squints. “Impossible…”
Albey props himself up on his hands and looks up towards the ceiling as if it were the starry sky, as if to ask the divine ones if he has really stumbled across what he swore an oath to protect, but the divine ones tell him nothing. There is only one way to find out for sure, and that is to look for himself.
Iuqon’s bed groans as Albey pushes it out of position. In the center of the floor beneath it, a long square of wood so unfaded it appears to have been stained just this morning, sits a sealed trapdoor with a padlock holding it shut. Albey takes the lock in his hands and the shackle breaks clean off, as if it was only there for show. Not a speck of dust flies as Albey opens the hatch, and the hinges do not squeak. Beneath him is a deep, dark shaft with a ladder offering a way down. At the bottom of the narrow pit is a dim white glow, the color of a burning magelight.
Without pausing to think Albey kills the lantern, returns it to the nightstand, and begins his descent. He closes the trapdoor above him.
This has been the third subchapter of the Exordium of The Face of Fear, a novel about bigfoot written by the writer in Untitled Bigfoot Project. Here is everything you need to know about it:
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