Chapter 13: Dark Corridors

Chapter 13: Dark Corridors

They looked at each other for a long time in that alleyway, not sure of what to say next. Something in Dortmund’s manner put quiet, ruined Ruprecht at ease. Feeling at ease around another person was a welcome change indeed. For Dortmund, Ruprecht’s obvious anxiety and confusion were like delicious confections for his starved ego to gobble up.

“Are you,” Ruprecht stammered at last, “in The Brotherhood?”

“Oh yes, Ruprecht,” replied Dortmund without hesitation. “The temple is mine, actually, would you like to see where I live?”

The lie was so easy, Dortmund believed it himself.

With no alternative in mind, Ruprecht conceded to be led across the street, through the bushes bordering the temple grounds, and around the back of the great structure to Dortmund’s basement stairs.

“Very few people are allowed in here, Ruprecht,” Dortmund said with gravity. “I hope you know how special this is.” And he bent over and pulled open the large flat wooden pallet that covered the dark stone steps winding down into the space beneath the temple.

Being underground again felt good to Ruprecht. As soon as they left the daylight behind them, he had a strong sense that he just wanted to stay here in the darkness forever. Dortmund lit a stubby candle and held one hand in front to protect the flame as they wound through a network of damp narrow passages.

“I like this place very much,” Ruprecht spoke for the first time since leaving the alley. His voice was stronger now. “Lately I’ve had a little trouble knowing exactly who I am and what I want, but here I feel clearer, more centered.”

They had reached Dortmund’s chamber. He used his little candle to light several large lanterns, and soon the flickering flames set the space aglow.

The room was densely packed but very orderly and clean. Stacks of books sat on Dortmund’s table. On the highest one perched a human skull. There were several earthenware jugs, and an array of cruel-looking iron implements that might have served surgical purposes. A woven rug covered the center of the ancient stone floor, around which waited several simple and sturdy wooden stools.

“Tell me about yourself,” began Dortmund awkwardly.

Ruprecht studied the rug at his feet, and replied, “As I said, I’m not altogether sure of much these days. Maybe you should go first.”

“Very well,” said Dortmund, eager to spin his tale. “Here we do all the things you’d expect. We shelter orphans, train those who take the sacrament and show great promise, heal the sick, and give hope to the masses. The usual stuff.” He paused to lick his lips, “but I have developed further interests of my own. Passions, you might say. Having learned the healing arts, I have decided to become a master of…” he was searching for the right words, “I have begun to master greater powers.”

Ruprecht did not know what Dortmund meant by “greater powers,” but he was feeling more and more at home with each passing moment. His new friend’s casual demeanor caused Ruprecht to feel as though he could say anything without enduring the judgmental reproach of Gnome, the disapproval of Boudreaux, or the pity projected upon him by X’andria and Ohlen. Of all his old companions, Arden seemed the most accepting, but even Arden’s searching gaze made Ruprecht feel guilty just for being himself.

“I don’t remember much,” he blurted, as if in a trance, “but I’ve been told what happened by others and so I have begun piecing it all together in my mind.”

Dortmund held his pale, pock-marked face motionless in attention.

“There were five of us in a cabin in the forest. Ohlen found a little black orb, like a marble, that he said was the most powerful thing he had ever seen. We invaded a goblin hoard to free villagers who’d been taken captive, and Ohlen dropped the marble by accident after taking an arrow in the shoulder. I was kneeling just a few feet away.”

Ruprecht was droning on in a monotone, totally unaware that Dortmund’s shoulders were hunching now, his back arched almost like a hound raising its hackles.

“The orb hit my hand.” He absentmindedly pulled back his robe from his left arm to show the scarred mutilation left behind by the sphere’s whirring blades. “It grew these barbs that swam inside my hand. It invaded my body and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it. Hurt so badly. But it was thrilling at the same time.”

Tears were welling now in Dortmund’s wide eyes. A gnawing hunger awoke deep within him, and his pulse became deafening in his ears.

“I felt so much power.” Ruprecht paused as though trying to recreate the feeling, even if only for a moment. “In a flash, I saw fire and ice, blinding light and total darkness. I experienced the most unbelievable bliss stoked hot by the torment and suffering of countless souls. It’s like I was feasting on their pain. And I wanted more, I deserved so much more. I was so close to having it all.” His maimed hand reached outward into the dim room and grasped the thin air in front of him.

Dortmund was standing now, leaning forward, as if he thought he might be able to experience what Ruprecht was describing if only he could get close enough.

Ruprecht seemed to snap out of it. “Anyway, everything just seems so bland now, Dortmund. I’m so confused. Every part of my body craves that power and ecstasy, yet I know the suffering I caused is wrong. It’s terrible. I know that. I just… there’s just a loud voice inside my head that simply doesn’t care.”

Suddenly Ruprecht felt exhausted. The weight he had been carrying had finally been lifted. He sat silently for a few seconds, Dortmund hovering above him like a spider waiting for the right moment to ensnare its prey.“Ruprecht,” Dortmund rasped, his tone saturated with lust and desperation, “where is it now?” He moistened his pallid lips again, “Where is the orb now, Ruprecht?”

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