-Strange – 9 Pages –
The Ringing of the Bells: Part I
The city of Laketown was awakened abruptly by the ringing of the bells. A thunderous roar resounded across the entire city, from the West wall to the Lake Gate and Fish Port. Every citizen was alerted, as though with shouts from above. “TREA-SON! TREA-SON! TREA-SON!” It started from the Blue Palace on Crown Hill. Then it echoed from the Tower of the Guard. Soon, it was coming from dozens of towers and turrets all over the city.
The Capitol Guard sprang into action as fast as the bells did. The palace was secured, all the gates were shut, guardsmen began combing through the city, and a sizeable detachment was sent to secure Port Town and the two ports. But despite the Guard’s efforts, it was simply too late. Before anyone realized what had happened and before the bells even began to ring, the traitor had already exited through the River Gate into Port Town.
Two guardsmen were walking towards the gate up the main road when the bells began to ring. They had just given up their post at Fish Port, turned in their weapons, and were on their way back into the city. They shared a fearful look. The ringing of the bells could mean many things. It could mean that they were about to endure a siege from a hostile army, or worse, combat a large insurrection within the city.
They ran toward the River Gate to meet with the guardsmen standing post there and find out what they were in for. There were few people out on the streets this early, but they ran into several on their way. Most of them were commoners, whom they told to get inside and that everything would be well. Not far from the gate, they saw a nobleman. He wore a black cape, a brown leather vest, a black tunic underneath, dark brown trousers, and a pair of shiny black boots. A silver brooch in the shape of a fox was pinned to his cape at the shoulder. It was the Royal Justice. He was responsible for judging and prosecuting highly dangerous, as well as highborn, criminals.
“Lord Devoue!” Bart, one of the guardsmen, cried out. “Do you know what the bells are ringing for?”
“They are ringing for my sake. A traitor has escaped from the palace.”
“And you came out yourself in pursuit?” The Justice was known to be more hands-on than other nobles. They took his silence and rush to get past them as a yes.
“You should rendezvous with the guardsmen at the gate, they need more men to secure that post.”
The two guardsmen were puzzled by this for a moment, as Lord Devoue himself was heading in the opposite direction. But they took it as a command from someone who understood the situation better, and continued on toward the gate.
When they reached it, it was already shut. But they could see a guardsman in a turret above the right side of the gate.
“Ho there! Do you need us here?” This time, it was Andre who spoke.
“I’m not sure,” the guardsman in the turret shouted back, “but a rider is approaching down the main road, looks like he’ll inform us. Standby, maybe you’re needed on that side of the wall.”
The whole situation seemed more and more peculiar to the two guardsmen. But they took this moment to catch their breath after running up the street.
The sound of bells was deafening. One was ringing in the turret on the left side of the gate. It filled them with a sense of dread. Their stomachs were churning, and their mouths were dry. They were dizzy. It was the fourth hour, and they had been up since midnight. Bart started to feel the beginnings of a headache.
After a few moments, the gate began to open. The guardsman they spoke to earlier shouted from the turret. “It’s Lord Devoue. He’s a traitor! And he’s trying to escape.”
A stab of painful shock hit them both. They turned on their heels. Andre shouted back to the guardsman in the turret, and the one on horseback who had just come through the gates. “We just passed him on our way here!”
The man on horseback began to trot past them. “Where did he-“
“He was headed towards Fish Port.”
The rider broke into a canter. Bart and Andre followed as fast as they could.
They couldn’t see far. The city was covered in fog. It hovered over the streets like a giant grey blanket. Luckily for them, Lord Devoue hadn’t been able to get very far. They saw him up ahead. It looked like in his rush to flee he had crashed into a stack of crates filled with oranges, and caused some commotion. A few people gathered around as a merchant came out of his home to see his goods spilled across the cobbles.
“My oranges! What have you done?” He bellowed, before realizing that it was a noble that was sprawled on the ground amongst crates and oranges. Lord Devoue picked himself up, and saw the guardsmen approaching. He grabbed an empty crate, and smashed it in the horse’s face as the rider approached him. The poor beast reeled and went out of control. A large splinter was lodged in its’ eye. The rider was struggling to stay seated, let alone regain control. Lord Devoue disapeared into an alley behind the citrus merchant’s house. Moments later, Bart and Andre arrived at the scene. They slowed down for a moment, but then continued on in pursuit of the traitor. There was no time to help the rider who had fallen off his horse, or the merchant who’s goods were being taken by passersby in a free-for-all.
They stayed on the traitor’s heels like a pair of wolves on the hunt. Their exhaustion gave way to a fixated determination and unyielding vigour. Lord Devoue’s betrayal was not abstract to them. The thought of how easy it would have been to stop him then and there on the street, when they had first met him, filled their mouths with ash and acid. But thoughts of what could have been did not stay at the forefront of their minds for long. They were a hungry pair of wolves, and their prey was getting away.
Devoue began to weave through the intricate alleys of Port Town. Left and right, and right again. Then left and back on his course. His cape fluttered behind him as though a pair of wings. As though he was about to fly away from their grasp.
Bart got close enough and grabbed hold of it, digging his heels into the ground to come to a stop. But before they could catch him, Devoue undid the strap and flinged the cape at their faces. Andre swatted it aside, but Bert lost his balance and stumbled backwards. He lost the feeling of solid ground beneath him and the next thing he knew, he was on the ground.
All he saw was a grey mist. He felt as though he had just downed a pint of strong ale. His body turned stiff and numb. He felt something tickling his head. It suddenly felt like he was in a puddle of something wet and sticky. He reached up with his hand to feel it.
‘A pomegranate,’ he thought. ‘I must have fallen on an old pomegranate. That’s rich.’
Then the grey turned to black, and his hand dropped to the ground.
The Ringing of the Bells: Part II
Richard was drifting, as though a spirit, over a vast forest. The sky was clear and open above him. Below him, a sea of green. The forest continued as far as the eye could see to the west. In the east, at the edge of visibility, a mighty mountain range stretched across the horizon. Beneath him, Rich could see a river cutting across the forest. It flowed from the foot of a lone mountain rising from the sea of green straight ahead, in the north. This was where Rich was headed, in spite of his will.
The mountain wasn’t as tall as others, but it dominated the scene. Perhaps because of how relatively flat the rest of the landscape was. Unlike most mountains, this one had no trees growing on its’ surface. The stone-like greyness of the base gave way to a dark blue hue. The peak was covered in snow, giving the mountain a glowing white crown.
A warm breeze came from the south, riffling through Rich’s hair and brushing against the back of his neck. He heard the singing of birds and the rushing of water from below the trees. The sun shined brightly overhead, warm and soothing. As the breeze began to pick up, it made the trees sing a song of their own. Their leaves rustled in the wind, as though the entire forest was letting out a big sigh. Rich closed his eyes and let out a sigh himself.
The breeze grew stronger. It blew away the sun’s warmth, and silenced the birds. Soon, it made the trees begin to groan and creak. It continued to increase, until it was a wild and untameable wind. Up ahead, the crown of the mountain erupted, giving way to a giant plume of ash and smoke. As it soared across the sky, the pillar began to grow outward. Dark fingers stretching out in all directions, even against the wind, covering the earth until no sign of the sun or the sky was left. Yet, a light remained. Not the warm and pleasant light of the sun, but a bleak and dead light that seemed to come from nowhere.
By this point, Rich had reached the mountain. He saw that it was entirely covered in ash, which was now falling from the sky like snow. Bolts of lightning began to shoot down from the sky, cracking like whips. The thunder resounded in Rich’s ears, until all he heard was a high pitched ringing. Wherever the lightning struck, it started a fire. Soon, the entire forest was in flames.
Rich was carried up and settled down on the top of the mountain. The snow-capped peak was completely gone. In its’ place was a large crater, filled with blood. Its’ stench filled Rich’s nose. Along with the smell of smoke and brimstone. He turned away from it, and looked to the north.
On the north side of the mountain, the river (which looped around it on both sides) was split in two. The two rivers encircled a large open plain, which was lifeless and baren. Far in the north-east, the mountain range looped around and cut across the entire horizon on the north end. From those mountains, in the far north, a sea began to flow. It came, as though from within the mountains, and rushed across the plain. It crashed through the forest and uprooted trees. It roared and splashed in powerful waves, hundreds of feet high. As it came near, Rich came to realize that it was not made of water. It was a sea of blood.
The waves crashed into the base of the mountain, and flowed all around it. The blood continued to flow, never slowing down or running out, until it filled the earth from north to south and from east to west. Nothing remained but the lone mountain, and the mountains on the horizon. Then, slowly, the blood began to rise higher and higher.
As the blood came closer, Rich almost stumbled and fell. He was at the edge of the crater, with only a foot or so of ground to stand on. The blood rushed up and flowed over his feet. It quickly filled up the crater, and continued rising rapidly. Rich had to start swimming. It was hard to keep his head above the blood. It was rising as fast as boiling water in a kettle. Soon, Rich found himself submerged completely in blood.
He felt something large and hard smash against him on its’ way up, and he grabbed hold of it. It was a log. It carried him to the top, and he could finally breathe in a large gulp of air. But as he was catching his breath, he slipped and fell back into the blood. It rushed into his mouth and into his eyes, stinging them with a fierce heat. His mouth was full of blood. But it did not taste like blood. In fact, it tasted like nothing. As though he had just taken in a large gulp of water. When Rich came back out, he couldn’t withstand his curiosity. He carefully took a sip of the blood, to try it again. This time, it tasted like warm milk mixed with honey.
Unbidden, Rich’s mouth opened wide and the stuff, whatever it was, rushed in. Then, when he was submerged and was drinking the substance, it turned to blood again in his mouth. He tried desparately to close his mouth and swim back to the surface, but his arms and legs turned numb, his jaw would not shut, and his eyes were opened. Blood was all he saw and felt. It was in his eyes, in his ears, in his nose, and in his mouth. He choked on it and gagged, but could do nothing. Then, suddenly, as though he had consumed all of the blood, he found himself on the edge of the crater once more. There was no more blood around, only in the crater, filling it to the brim. The forest was gone, and the river too. All that remained was dirt. The world had turned into an empty, lifeless void.
The smoke was gone, and the sky was clear again. The sun shined in Rich’s eyes, blinding him. It burned with a fierce summer heat. Rich looked into the crater and realized that it was no longer filled with blood, but with a rich red wine.
Rich could see right through the wine. He examined the floor of the crater. For a moment he could not believe what he saw. Then he remembered everything he had seen before, and this sight seemed almost natural in comparison. Nothing out of the ordinary for this strange world.
What Rich saw was gold. Not a small cache somewhere in the corner of the crater, or a few slabs laying about. The entire floor of the crater was covered in gold. It shined through the wine, as though a second sun. And it called to Rich.
He never had a distinct love for money or wine, though, of course, he enjoyed them both as all are prone to do. But this time was different. This time, it was as though all Rich had ever wanted in the world was in that crater; and, he needed only to reach out and claim it. His mind was clouded, as though he was already drunk on the wine, and his body felt numb. Powerless to do anything other than what he felt compelled to do. Filled with an unrelenting desire.
Rich jumped, entering the wine with a splash. He opened his mouth wide, and drank. It was rich and sweet. Though he was not breathing, he did not feel as though he was losing breath or drowning. He let his entire body go limp, sinking towards the bottom, and basked in the wine.
It was odd how fast he was sinking, rather than floating at the top as one usually would. He tried to float up, but his legs wouldn’t move. He looked down to see a pair of golden legs. His legs. The gold spread quickly up his torso, like a cold shiver. Terror filled his mind. He tried to scream, but could not. He tried to swim up, but half his body was already solid gold. He saw his arms turn to gold before him. Then it finally spread to his head, and he was covered in gold. A solid statue.
Suddenly, the wine disappeared and Rich was falling towards the ground. He smashed into the rock, splinters of gold flying in every direction. Then he awoke. He felt a dull pain in his temple, where he hit the floorboards. His blanket was wrapped around one of his legs, the rest of it hanging off the edge of the bed. A jar of wine rolled across the floor. Thunder, waves, and the shouting of pannicked men could be heard outside. The cabin moved, heaving to and fro. Rich struggled to rise, and stumbled towards the chest at the foot of his bed. He quickly put on a pair of pants, and ran out the door.
What he saw on deck was a scene of pure chaos. Sailors scurried back and forth like busied ants. The captain and the first mate were both barking orders. Rain came down as though someone had upended a bucket over the ship.
A crewmate bumped into him and grabbed hold of his shoulders. He was a young deckhand. Blonde with blue eyes, yet unwithered by the life of a sailor. His clothes were completely soaked, and his hair came down to his eyes, like a mop over his head.
“You’d best get inside, Lord Devoue!” He yelled over the hubbub. “We’re caught in a storm.”
Richard broke free of the young sailor’s grasp and stumbled back inside the captain’s cabin. He picked up the jar of wine and sat down on the bed, popping out the corck with his mouth. A shiver ran up his chest and over his arms. He wasn’t sure whether he was trembling from the dream or from the fear of what he saw on deck; or, from the fact that he was half soaked in water. He took a swig of wine, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, closed the jar, steadied himself against the headboard with one foot on the bed and another on the floor, and closed his eyes.
Be sure to stay tuned for Parts III & IV: Coming Soon!