Chapter 20: The Temple

Chapter 20: The Temple

What a thrill! The warm night air crackled with power and possibility.

Dortmund had never felt so alive, so totally in control, so completely focused.

He had shown that big stupid oaf. All his practice was paying off. And he had shown Ruprecht his might, too. Ruprecht will follow me to the ends of the earth, he thought smugly.

But there was so much more work to do. This power was just the beginning of his glorious ascent. Dortmund inhaled deeply through his nose, filling himself up with the smell of Rockmoor at midnight. Of his city. He lengthened his strides and smiled.

“You see, Ruprecht, what happens when people cross me?”

He sauntered down the lit stone streets of Hillcrest now.

“It doesn’t matter their size,” he prattled on airily, “because my power comes from above.”

He turned the corner to the temple.

“And someday I’ll share some of it with you, too, Ruprecht, when you’re ready.”

He stopped and turned to Ruprecht, but Ruprecht was nowhere to be found.

“Ruprecht?”

 “With our deepest respect, sir, we wish to speak with one of your brethren.” How did Ohlen learn to be so damn charming? Boudreaux wondered to himself as Ohlen negotiated their visit at the temple. 

“His name is Dortmund,” Ohlen specified, in response to a murmured question Boudreaux could not make out from the back of the group.

Boudreaux watched the priest, or cleric, or whatever you called people in places like this, get a hard-to-read expression on his face. Like he was carefully crafting a response in his mind.

Boudreaux did not like this look. And he felt the taut fingers of impatience crawling up the backs of his legs. Ten seconds, he thought, this robe gets ten seconds before he gets a taste of Boudreaux. 

The robed man disappeared. Ohlen turned to the group and whispered simply, “He is checking.”

The temple was a beautiful place. Made of bright white stone, it had high arched ceilings flooded by light from unseen windows that gave the entire space an ethereal glow. Each of the alcoves had ornate carved friezes surrounding a single life-size statue depicting some wonderful or horrible rapturous experience.

X’andria would love to see this, Boudreaux thought sourly.

The man shuffled back into view, this time bringing a friend. Both were dressed in simple, scratchy-looking brown robes and bore looks of pained consternation.

“What has he done?” The first man asked furtively. Overhearing this juicy snippet of the hushed discussion, Boudreaux had to bite his tongue not to spoil the whole serene civilized-conversation-thing Ohlen was so good at creating.

Moments later, they left the sanctuary and headed back out into the muggy grey drizzle of mid-afternoon.

“He is not part of the brotherhood at all,” Ohlen explained as he led them purposely around the corner of the enormous building. “Dortmund is the groundsman and caretaker here.”

“How strange,” Arden gave voice to the combination of head-shaking and audible exhalations from both Gnome and Boudreaux.

“Apparently we can visit him through a separate entrance around the back.”

 “Just a reminder, everyone,” Boudreaux growled as they neared the wide wooden trap door covering the stairs to the caretaker’s residence, “that even though this is Cleaning Boy, he packs a nasty sting when he touches you.”

Boudreaux hoisted the door from the ground as though it were weightless, and Arden took the lead down into the musty gloom below.

It was dark.

“Gnome?” Arden whispered.

Two seconds and several mutters later, the cramped space was brightened by several small, revolving balls of light.

“Whoa,” said Arden. They were in a dirt basement. Above them was stone and silt, dewy from condensation or leakage or both. The walls were not smooth or linear, but more hollowed out of the earth like a partially-dug grave. Butts of candles lay strewn around the dank entry way, along with bits of discarded oddments long-forgotten outside the area of candle glow.

“Let’s move,” Boudreaux insisted, too loudly, from the rear of the party.

They advanced along. Numerous cobwebby corridors shot off in all directions, but Arden stuck to the most well-traveled route.

Dortmund was agitating in his sleep when they came upon him. Gnome’s brilliant light was virtually impossible to hide from, but in his dreamlike state Dortmund tossed and turned in an effort to shield his eyes.

The place was eerie. Jars and books were strewn along a makeshift table. Ohlen’s gaze immediately fixed upon the human skull. And there were other harder to identify parts both human and animal.

“Ruprecht has been here, but I don’t think he is now,” Arden reported in a whisper, breathing deeply through his nose.

Dortmund was already stirring awake when Boudreaux ordered, “Get up, Dorton, it’s time to talk.”

Dortmund’s jet-black hair was a mess. His sallow pock-marked features glowed in Gnome’s light like an albino worm pulled from the earth that was never meant to see the sun.

“Wh-who’s there? You get outta here,” Dortmund spat defensively, somewhere between a startled whine and a desperate command. “Get out, this is my room, you’re not allowed here.” His eyes were still adjusting and so he was squinting them almost completely shut, with a pasty hand held up to shield his face from Gnome’s omnipresent light.

“Put this on,” Gnome spat back, and threw Dortmund his robe.

“We need you to tell us where Ruprecht is, Dortmund, it is important we speak with him.” Ohlen had a slightly urgent, let me handle this guys, kind of edge to his voice.

“I’m not answering anything to anybody,” Dortmund pouted. “You get out of here. You’re not allowed in here.”

Shooting a warning look at Boudreaux, Ohlen continued calmly, “We know you are a friend of Ruprecht’s, Dortmund. We are also his friends and we would like to speak with him. If you tell us where he is, we will leave you in peace.”

At this, Boudreaux gave Ohlen a like hell we will eyebrow raise, but kept his mouth shut.

“I don’t know where Ruprecht is,” Dortmund whined. “He was with me last night, but that’s the last I saw of him. Somewhere between Westwood and here he disappeared.”

“Somewhere in Westwood when you boiled me in the street with some stupid trick, you mean,” Boudreaux couldn’t contain himself any longer and advanced forward.

“Hey, what’s this?” Gnome had crawled above them all, across the ceiling, and was upside down like a lizard on the far wall, by the table, pointing at a faint fissure in the dirt floor.

Dortmund jumped awkwardly into the air with a terrified look on his face. “Y-you stay away from that!” he shrieked. “You don’t touch my things—you’ll regret you ever came here—get out before I make you all sorry.”

Boudreaux lunged like a lion into the space between Dortmund and Gnome. “Open it, Gnome, let’s see what dark things Dorty is hiding here in his dark hole.”

“Don’t you touch that,” Dortmund squealed and he reached for Boudreaux’s enormous forearm.

Boudreaux saw the action unfold before it actually happened. He swung a closed fist down on top of the pale outstretched hand with such force and speed that he could feel bones in Dortmund’s hand and forearm give way and shatter in mid-air. The howl that followed was punctuated by the loud crunch of Dortmund’s right leg as Boudreaux pivoted and extended his heel through the space formerly occupied by his shin and ankle.

The whole thing took a second or two. Boudreaux had made only two swift motions, and again stood still in space, allowing the energy of his strikes to settle into the earth.

With his leg akimbo and bleeding from a compound fracture, and his broken hand cradled close to his chest, Dortmund was a heaving, sobbing mess on the floor.

“That is more than enough, Boudreaux,” Ohlen sighed, frustrated.

“Eww! Look in here, guys,” Gnome, stifling a gag, was still inverted on the wall above Dortmund’s now-open trap door. “From all the bones in here, it looks like Dortmund’s been leading a rich interior life of either grave robbery or butchery.”

WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE?” a huge deep voice demanded from the corridor behind them. It rang so loudly it made their ears hurt. 

Striding into the space was a cleric, dressed all in white with a big brown beard, and large brown eyes open wide with fierce anger.

Dortmund continued to shake on the floor, but became totally silent.

The cleric took in the scene, and all their faces, with a single sweeping glance, but his narrowed eyes came to focus like pinpoints on a shiny object illuminated in the hole Gnome had uncovered in the floor.

“The crown that Elgar the Wise was buried in,” the cleric’s astonished voice had diminished to normal human proportions.

“Is your business with Dortmund complete?” he demanded of the room at large.

“Yes,” answered Ohlen, at the same time that Boudreaux said, “No.”

“Boudreaux,” Ohlen looked at the big man meaningfully, “Dortmund is a powerless simpleton. He told us all he knows of Ruprecht. These things I know to be true. We are finished here.”

“THEN GO!” The cleric commanded, his voice reverberating again from the air all around them.

The last they heard was Dortmund whimpering unintelligibly as the cleric lamented, “Oh, Dortmund, what have you done?”

When they left the temple grounds, the afternoon was darker, the wind blew, and rain fell lightly but persistently from ominous grey clouds.

They walked in silence, stewing in their own minds, over all they had just witnessed.

With no other plan, they proceeded back toward Westwood along the slick stone streets of Hillcrest.Until Gnome motioned for them to stop. He dashed off the road, and they all followed like they were his shadows.

“We’re not alone,” Gnome informed them.

READ CHAPTER 21

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