Monday, November 30, 2015

Untitled: Chapter 8

Patrice was roused from her stupor by a soft knock at the door.

Since Camille’s sudden appearance and second untimely passing in the early morning hours, the house had been in a state of chaos. The police had responded to the disturbance, though not in time to see the two fleeing men, and had a great many questions for everyone. She could not help but feel bad for the house staff as, upon arriving for work, they were each pulled aside and interrogated; none of them had any clue what was going on.

When it was time for Patrice to be questioned, she finally revealed the truth of the previous day; how Camille had dragged Patrice with her to see the vampire, the subsequent attack and her headlong flight through the forest. She talked about the two strangers on the road risking their lives to save her from a vampire, and how they saved her a second time from her own cousin.

             Marie and Juliet both sat aghast as she talked. Henri, however, was beyond furious. Several times he interrupted to decry her as a liar and an evil influence on his impressionable daughter. Eventually, he was escorted from the room where his statement could be taken separately.

Finally, the questions stopped. The beheaded remains of both Camille and Gaspard the coachman were unceremoniously bundled up and taken for examination and Patrice was left to face her uncle’s wrath.

The three women sat in the study, Patrice, Marie, and Juliet, waiting for Henri to come. Marie sat scrutinizing her niece with an icy stare. She was not overly fond of Juliet or her daughter, but whatever she might have wanted to say, she kept to herself. If any accusations were to be leveled, they would be coming from Henri. Fortunately, she did not have to wait long. The doors to the study opened and Henri stepped inside, his eyes locked on Patrice.

“I welcomed two killers into my home at your say,” his voice was unnaturally calm, given his flushed complexion, “and now my daughter is dead because of you.”
“Uncle, I …” Henri silenced her with a hard slap to her cheek. The blow staggered her, but Patrice managed to keep her feet.
“No more lies!” he shouted, “Where were they headed? Surely they told you something of their journey? ”
“I-I do not know.” Another slap, this one sending the young woman to her knees.
“Do you long for the streets? Do you detest the home, the food, and the clothes I have given you so much that you continue to lie? Even after taking Camille from me?”

Patrice felt her face grow hot, beyond where she had been struck. She was on the verge of tears, she knew, but refused to give her uncle the satisfaction of making her cry. Instead, she heard a soft whimper from her mother. Juliet sat huddled in her chair, crying and shaking her head. “Just tell him, Patrice, tell him what you know.”

“Munich,” her voice was nearly a whisper as she struggled to keep the tremor from it, “They are going to Munich. That is all they told me.”

Henri said nothing, but seemed to consider her response. After an agonizing moment, he nodded to himself, satisfied that he had gotten the truth from her. In fact, Patrice could have sworn that she could see a tiny gleam of triumph in his beady eyes. He straightened himself and said to her, “You will remain locked in your room until I say otherwise. Cross me at both you and your mother’s peril.” With that, he turned on his heel and stalked out of the study. Patrice could hear him calling for the butler, saying, “I have several telegrams for you to deliver.”

Once she had been escorted to her room, the excitement, exhaustion, and the strong storm of emotions that she had experienced over the past twenty-four hours finally caught up with Patrice. Alone in her room - her prison - she wept bitterly and uncontrollably until falling into a deep and dreamless sleep.


The first knock woke her up. A second knock at the door, only the slightest bit louder, helped bring her muddled thoughts back into focus. “Yes?” she mumbled, wincing at the pain in her cheek. She dreaded the bruise she knew she would find when she eventually looked in a mirror. Fortunately, it did not seem to be very swollen.

A key turned in the lock and the door squeaked open just enough for Juliet to squeeze in with a tray of food and a damp rag. Patrice could tell she had been crying. When her mother saw the bruise on her face, several large tears traced their way down her already damp cheeks. Marie moved to her bed, setting the tray beside Patrice, and offered her the cool damp rag. Patrice placed on the sorest part of her face, just below her left eye.

“What time is it?” she asked her mother.
“Almost sundown,” said Juliet, “You have been sleeping for some time, and neither Henri nor Marie felt inclined to raise you for dinner.” A moment of silence passed, during which Patrice could almost feel her mother looking at her black eye. “I am so sorry,” she whispered.
“Mother, why do we stay here?” Patrice said, “I would rather we take our chances on the street than live under his tyranny another day.”
Juliet shook her head, “You do not know what you are talking about, Patrice. We have no income since your father died, no home, no means of feeding ourselves.” This was a oft-held conversation between the two of them, but to Patrice, something about it felt different this time. She felt different.
“He hit me, mother,” Patrice hissed, “Twice, in front of you. And you sat by and watched it happen.”
More tears from Juliet now. “He saw his daughter’s mangled body. Marie saw that man throw her head in the fire - they are devastated. I would be, too, if it were you who had perished.”
“You are … justifying his actions?” Patrice could not believe her ears.
“No, not justifying,” Juliet sighed, “I do not … Henri is just very upset. It will pass. He and Marie will mourn and their pain will subside.” Patrice shook her head in stunned silence as her mother continued, “Even now, he has been talking with his friends and partners. His mood seems much improved since they have arrived.”

Patrice was suddenly aware of the din drifting into her room. The boots of men, she could only guess how many, echoed up from downstairs. There was an undercurrent of menace to the noise; it was not pleasant, like a celebration, but certainly louder and more busy than a wake or any sort of memorial gathering. There was a sense of organization to it that unnerved her; Henri’s yelling might have been preferable to what was now taking place below them.

“What is happening down there?” she asked.
“Henri has been sending and receiving messages since you came upstairs.” Juliet said, “Eventually, a number of men arrived at the house. Some of them I recognize, others I do not. He has been telling them about last night.”
“Are they armed?”
Patrice saw her mother pale visibly at the question, “I …”
“Mother, do they have weapons?” Patrice looked hard at her mother.
Juliet seemed to shrink under her stare. “Some of them. Yes.”
“He means to hunt them.” This elicited a small nod from Juliet. Patrice’s anger towards her mother cooled somewhat as she contemplated this newest turn of events, though she made a mental note to finish their conversation later. She began to graze idly over the food on the tray, an action that apparently relieved her mother to some degree. “Does he know where they are?”
Juliet shook her head, “Telegrams were sent with descriptions of the men down every major road leading east, but has yet to get a response,” she leaned in towards Patrice, “He hopes to catch them before they cross the border. If he is successful, I think it will go a long way towards calming him.”
“They are innocent, mother! Wendell and Mr. Baine have done no wrong.” Patrice could feel her ire returning; perhaps they would finish this conversation sooner rather than later. Juliet sighed irritably in reply, one of the few signs of anger she ever expressed.
“Patrice, you must admit that your behavior - the stories you keep telling - has made quite a mess of everything. No one knows what is true and what is not.” She stood up, “How can you blame Henri - who has continually provided for us, despite not wanting to - for desiring justice? Who is he to blame?” Downstairs, a bell rang, announcing yet another visitor at the door.
“It is not justice he seeks, mother, but revenge,” Patrice stood to face her. “And the person to blame is Camille, though I suppose you could just as easily hold Henri and Marie responsible for raising such a spoiled, little-”
“That is enough!” Juliet cut her daughter off, an act that surprised both of them. Had the two women been listening, they might have noticed a change in the tone of the noise being made by the group of men below. “This is not the life I wanted, for any of us - certainly not a life without your father. I am sorry that he died. I am sorry that we could not afford to live on our own. I am sorry that you and Henri do not get along. But this is our life now and I have no means of making things better for either of us. You, on the other hand, seemed determined to make things more difficult for everyone.” Footsteps marked the ascent of someone on the staircase down the hall.
“Exactly how have I made things more difficult? By having opinions? By standing up for myself?” Patrice knew she was beginning to venture outside the bounds of rationality, but her pain and anger urged her forward, “Maybe by simply being born? Is that when I started to make things difficult for you mother?” Patrice was shaking, her vision blurred by tears. Her mother was in much the same condition. Juliet had just taken a breath to reply when a sound at the door interrupted them. Standing there with a malicious gleam in his eye, was Henri.
“The killers were spotted on the road to Troyes.” He aimed an ugly sneer at Patrice, “Prepare yourself for the road, niece. You are going with us.”
“Why on earth would you want me underfoot?”
“I will not risk you sending word ahead to warn them or sneaking around doing God-knows-what while I am out. I am going to keep you right where I can see you. Now get packed, we leave at first-light tomorrow morning. Oh, and if you are thinking of running, several men in my employ have been tasked with keeping watch over the house tonight.”

Patrice turned to her mother with an imploring look. Juliet straightened herself, wiped the tears from her eyes and walked out of the room.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Untitled: Chapter 7

The sun rose, warm and cheerful, chasing away the clammy chill and dense fog of the night before. Wendell, waking far sooner than he would have liked, rose to a gentle breeze rustling the leaves in the bushes and trees, birds singing at the arrival of a new day, and Mr. Baine cursing it all.

“It can't be morning already,” Mr. Baine grumbled, “I swear we just laid down two hours ago.”

“We could have slept longer had we stayed in the city.” Wendell yawned, beginning to stretch, stopping short as a hot twinge lanced out from his wound and down his arm. He gently massaged his shoulder in a vain attempt to soothe the pain.  It had been a hard trip for him on foot, wounded as he was and fighting off a the second of two changes brought on by the chaos of a single evening, not to mention the general lack of rest he had experienced since their uncertain journey began.

“And then for eternity after that when they caught us sleeping and executed us for killing Benoit’s daughter.” Mr. Baine snorted, “No, thank you.”

Mr. Baine stood up, stretching and looking around the grove they had quiet literally stumbled into the night before. He glanced over at Wendell rubbing his arm. The bandage had soaked up some blood in the night.

“Let's check on that wound and change the dressing before we hit the road.” Wendell nodded and moved to sit on a nearby fallen log. He glanced about the glade, able to see it clearly for the first time, now that the sun was up and the fog burned away.

The two of them had run nearly the entire distance to the eastern edge of Paris, doing their best to stay out of sight. The thick fog helped immensely, but soon became just as problematic for the pair as they made their way through one of the fields surrounding the city and into a stand of trees which materialized suddenly in the murky darkness. The lack of any discernible moon or starlight resulted in several exceptionally painful collisions with his wounded shoulder in the forest. Once they were safely outside the city, Mr. Baine had set about tending to Wendell’s injury by the light of a small lantern.

“The bullet was fired at such close range that it passed right on through,” Mr. Baine had sounded relieved, “You are fortunate it was just below your subclavian artery or this would have required a trip to a hospital, assuming you did not bleed to death before we found one.” Still hurts, Wendell thought to himself.

It took far less time for Mr. Baine to unwrap the bloody bandages, clean the area and dress it once more with fresh bandages in the morning light.

“Best not to leave these behind,” he said, stuffing the wad of soiled gauze back into his bag. He stood up and stretched, “Assuming they have finished searching the city and come looking out this way, the last thing we need to do is let them know where we are headed.”

Rising slowly, Wendell said, “I told Patrice we were going to Munich.”

“Bugger,” Mr. Baine sighed, “Well, I doubt she would tell her uncle anything. There was definitely some tension between them. And, she was prone to her stories.”
“She was scared.” Wendell started to shrug, but quickly suppressed the motion when his shoulder protested, “Fear drives people to irrationality.”
“Stupidity, you mean,” said Mr. Baine.
"I hope we haven't made things worse for her." said Wendell, "I would rather we take any blame for last night, and her be spared."
"Noble." Mr. Baine finished packing his bag, "but I'd rather you not say such things."
"Why not?"
"Because it very well may come to pass." Mr. Baine stood up and streched, “At any rate, we had best get going and stay ahead of anyone sent to find us. I imagine they'll not travel beyond their own borders. Hopefully we will find breakfast along the way.” 

The two men began to make their way out of the small stand of trees, one of several sitting like small islands in a gently rolling pasture.

“I can go without food, if need be,” said Wendell.
“A person recovering from a wound like yours should'nt be skipping meals,” Mr. Baine chided, “besides, not all of us are ascetics here. I happen to be rather fond of my creature comforts.”
“What is the status of our funds, by the way?” Wendell asked.
“Somewhat troubling, but it will get us a little ways yet,” Mr. Baine frowned, “I wish I'd had the presence of mind to search Mr. Gaspard’s pockets before running off last night.”
“No,” said Wendell, “They may think us murderers, but we are not thieves.”
“Honor means little to an empty belly,” Mr. Baine replied, “We will need to keep an eye out for income opportunities, then. Say, did you ever learn how to tell the future at your temple? Perhaps we could sell fortunes.”
“I have heard stories of senior monks were said to be so enlightened as to be clairvoyant, but they would never use such an ability for profit.” Wendell replied, “It is not an ability I possess at any rate.”
“Your average rustic isn't going to know the difference,” Mr. Baine said.
“Out of the question,” said Wendell.
“Oh, Fine. You're too white anyway. No one would buy into it.” Mr. Baine waived the matter off with his typical irreverent sense of humor, despite his disappointment. In their short time on the road together, he had learned that once Wendell made up his mind about something, he was unlikely to change it.

The pair arrived at a fence; a road lie on the other side. Mr. Baine climbed over while Wendell opted to bend low and step between the rails, taking special care to avoid bumping his shoulder. They began to follow the road south and east, away from Paris. They walked, side-by-side, in silence, each lost in his own thoughts. Wendell found himself glancing back over his shoulder at regular intervals, fearing at any moment to find an angry mob riding them down.

“What are you doing?” Mr. Baine asked, when the repetitive movement had caught his attention.
“If someone is after us - as is quite likely - I would like to have a bit of forewarning.”
“With your gifts, I am sure you would detect a horse galloping down the road well before we saw it.” said Mr. Baine, “Besides, you look guilty of something when you do that. We can hardly expect favors from a stranger if we carry ourselves like a couple of escaped convicts.”
“I feel guilty.” Wendell’s voice was so low that Mr. Baine wondered if he had meant to speak out loud at all.
“Of what?” Mr. Baine snorted, “Protecting people from themselves? Fighting the spread of an undead epidemic?”
Wendell did not reply.
“Are you talking about Gaspard? That had to be done.”
Wendell shook his head. “As unsettling as that was, no.” He sighed, “Last night, I very nearly lost control. I wanted to hurt - maybe even kill ...” He decided not to mention how close Mr. Baine had come to being among the bodies littering Henri Clotaire's townhouse.
“You'd just been shot. It's only natural to want to hurt your attacker.”
“I do not think I would have stopped at Henri.” Wendell’s words hung in the air between them.
“But ... that's why you spent all that time in the far east, right? Learning how to control it?”
Wendell made a lop-sided shrug, “I do not know if it can be controlled, not completely. Guided, more like.”
“Or aimed.” There was a thoughtfulness in Mr. Baine’s tone that made Wendell uncomfortable.
“It is not a gift,” Wendell spoke calmly but emphatically. A grunt was his only reply, as it seemed that his companion was now lost in thought.


They walked in silence for a long time. Occasionally, a rider or two would pass them headed in the direction of Paris, but none came up from behind. Wendell’s clothes attracted a few stares, but no one seemed overly interested in the pair. Currently, the only sounds accompanying them were the birds inhabiting the trees and bushes along the road, the crunch of gravel beneath their shoes and the increasingly insistent growls in their bellies. At the very least, Wendell thought to himself, the hunger helped to take his mind off the dull ache that throbbed in his shoulder at every step.

The sun had not quite reached its zenith when, upon cresting a hill, the pair spied a horse-drawn cart approaching an intersection ahead of them. The lone driver, a middle-aged farmer, if Wendell was any judge, glanced at the pair approaching the intersection but, as they were still some distance away, proceeded to guide his horses into a right turn.

“He's going the same direction …” Mr. Baine suddenly broke into a run. When he had covered half the distance between himself and the wagon, be began to call out to the driver, “Excusez-moi! Excusez-moi! Bonjour!”

Wendell watched as Mr. Baine caught up to the wagon and attempted to converse with the man. He noticed Mr. Baine gesture to himself and back to Wendell, who continued towards them at a casual pace, and then down the road they were all traveling; Mr. Baine was using his elementary grasp of the language to ask for a ride. It was contrary to Wendell’s nature to impose on anyone if it could be helped, but after an exhausting couple of days on the road - and now, possibly, on the run - he could not help but hope that the stranger might be moved to kindness towards a pair of road-weary travelers far from home.

The man turned to scrutinize Wendell as he drew near. He wore an expression of puzzled apprehension as he took in the orange robes and shaved head; His eyes narrowed just the slightest bit as he noticed the small circular hole and the bandage underneath. Wendell started rubbing absentmindedly at his shoulder as he did his best to project what he hoped was a non-threatening appearance.

“Bonjour.” Wendell didn’t speak French, but at least he could say that.

The man sat in contemplation for a barely a minute; to the two men standing awkwardly below it felt like an eternity. Finally he nodded and said, “Troyes.”

“Oui, oui. Excellent, merci.” Mr. Baine was visibly relieved. Mr. Baine turned to him and said, “There is just enough room on the back for the two of us to stretch out. I told him we would stay back there and help protect the wagon, should the need arise.”

“Let us hope it does not,” Wendell replied. As he turned to make his way to the rear of the wagon, an odor emanating from under the tarpaulin pulled across the various barrels, boxes, and baskets loaded on it. Both his stomach and his spirits performed a somersault in response. “Mr. Baine,” he said, “I smell food.”

Mr. Baine drew a small purse from his jacket and walked back over to the driver. He jingled it, instantly catching the man’s attention, and pointed at some of the covered lumps just behind him.

The man smiled. Now they were speaking the same language.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Untitled: Chapter 6

They had barely gotten a block when the commotion began; shouts at first and then a police whistle, thin and shrill in the night, which resulted in a handful of whistles at various distances around them. The police had been notified.

“I knew it was coming,” said Wendell, “But I had hoped to be further along.”

“It won't take long for them to converge.” said Mr. Baine, “Our chances of escaping the city are dwindling.”

The two men turned down an alley and emerged into what felt like a large open space, though neither of them could be certain in the gloom. Creeping forward, they encountered a large wall, running off to either side of them. A row of dark windows peered at them from just above their heads, all locked, as was the solitary door they found nearby. Set into the bottom of the wall, several low openings yawned at them behind rows of iron grates. Wendell tugged at several of the bars to see if they would give, but they refused to budge. The action resulted in a hot spike of pain radiating down from his wounded shoulder into his arm.

Somewhere to their left, a horse entered the area and clopped slowly towards them.

“Not good,” whispered Mr. Baine.

A gentle creak down and to their right caused both men to jump; one of the grates had swung open. Wendell looked at Mr. Baine, who shrugged and made for the hole. Bent nearly double, Wendell followed his companion through the opening and stepped gingerly down into a large cluttered cellar, careful not to use his arm any more than necessary. He reached up and shut the grate as quickly and as quietly as he was able. One breathless moment later, the horse and its unseen rider made their way past the opening, against which the two men had flattened themselves, one on either side.

“How long do you think we should hide?” Wendell whispered.

“The longer we stay still, the harder it will be to get out of the city,” said Mr. Baine, “But without knowing our way around, we are almost certain to be caught.”

“Quite the predicament, yes?” A man's voice floated to them out of the darkness. His wound forgotten, Wendell immediately crouched into a fighting stance, ready to spring; Mr. Baine drew a sharpened stake from his bag and brandished it at the darkness surrounding them. A musical laugh was their reply.

“You look ready to hop, Mr. Grasshopper,” said the voice – Wendell felt as though he had been addressed, “And you, Mr. Scorpion, have a stinger, albeit a primitive one.”

“What do you want with us?” said Mr. Baine to the empty air.

“You are running from the authorities, yes?”

“There was a … misunderstanding.” said Wendell. He kicked himself mentally for the lame explanation. He was suddenly very aware of the damp circle of fabric over his shoulder and hoped that the blood soaking his robes was not visible in the darkness.

“Oh, I know all about misunderstandings.” said the voice.

Leaning towards Wendell, Mr. Baine whispered, “Where is he?”

“I cannot locate him,” said Wendell, “He is using some sort of trickery with his voice – pipes in the walls maybe.”

This prompted a laugh that seemed to bounce around them.

“Where are you?” said Wendell.

“Why, Mr. Grasshopper, you cannot locate me because I am everywhere. There are no secrets in my house except mine own.”

“And on whom do we have the pleasure of calling?” said Mr. Baine, with insincere formality.

“Call me Erik,” came the reply.

“We are in your debt, Erik,” said Wendell.

“Indeed you are,” said Erik, “But it is not safe to talk here. Go to the far corner of the cellar, there you will find stairs leading down. I will wait for you at the bottom.”

Wendell looked at Mr. Baine; a shrug was his only reply.

The two men began to wind their way through a maze of crates and stacks of lumber. There were sheets of wood cut to look like trees and streetlights and ocean waves, then ornate furniture, cans of paint and long rolls of cloth. Wendell brushed past a rack of gaudy dresses, followed by shelves lined with armor from various periods of history and a barrel stuffed full of blunt swords.

Rounding a pile of paper mache rocks, Wendell and Mr. Baine found themselves facing set of flat wooden pyramids and palm trees leaning against the wall. Using his good arm, Wendell shifted them to the side and uncovered a large trapdoor. He unbolted it and pulled it open; the men could just barely make out a set of stone steps leading down into a darkness even deeper than the one which they stood.

“Join me below,” said the voice, “and we shall decide your fate.”

“I don't like the sound of that,” said Mr. Baine, “We have no idea what is waiting for us down there.”

“Can it be worse than what is waiting for us outside?”

“Absolutely it can.” said Mr. Baine, “A pack of starving vampires, for example.”

From somewhere in the shadows, Erik laughed. “I have seen people die on the stage,” he said, “but so far, none have yet returned. If you please, gentlemen, voices tend to carry down here.”

“I agree that this is unusual,“ said Wendell, “but we have no reason to assume he means us harm. He did let us in here. And he is clearly not a vampire, so if there are some down there, he would not meet us there.”

“Your friend speaks the truth. Come.” Erik's voice drifted up to them, this time very clearly from below. Wendell could not help but think this was intentional.

Mr. Baine, to his credit, bit his tongue. Wendell could tell he wanted to say something – a sharp retort, most likely - but the mysterious Erik seemed to hear even their whispers. Instead, he open his bag and exchanged the wooden stake for a pistol; he also withdrew a candle which he lit. To Wendell's surprise, Mr. Baine hannded him the bag.

“I can't carry all three,” he said, indicating the candle in one hand and the pistol in the other.

“You would not risk me holding it before.” said Wendell.

“Just set it down if you start to get … wound up.” said Mr. Baine.

If Erik heard this exchange, he made no comment. Instead, once they began to descend the stairs, he said, “Mr. Scorpion has improved his stinger. Was it you stung the grasshopper?” Wendell felt himself blush in the darkness.

“No,” said Mr. Baine, “and why do you keep calling us that?”

“Why?” said Erik, “There is no 'why.' Simply what is.”

“Come now,” said Mr. Baine, “There is always a 'why.' You studied this nonsense in the Orient,” he said, turning to Wendell, “tell him - everything happens for a reason.”

Wendell openend his mouth to reply and felt a familiar mix of emotion wash over him – sadness, loss, fear, anger, dispair, shame, guilt … but what he did not feel - hadn't felt for a long time, in fact - was a deeper purpose to give it all meaning.

“I … am not sure what I believe these days. But I do know that a cause is not necessarily the same thing as a reason.”

“Semantics.” sniffed Mr. Baine.

Preferring not to continue the discussion, Wendell addressed the darkness, “I forgot to shut the trapdoor behind us.”

“Worry not,” said Erik, “No one dares tresspass here.”

“They fear you so?”

“It is in the nature of man to fear the unknown,” said Erik, “and I am unknowable.”

“Mmm.” said Mr. Baine in a way that Wendell had some to recognize as a sign that his companion definitely had something to say on the matter, but was working very diligently to keep to himself. Thankfully, the two of them had arrived at the bottom of the stone stairway and Mr. Baine was now preoccupied with trying to make out his surroundings using the light of his solitary candle which flickered defiantly against a darkness so deep Wendell could feel it pressing in around him like cool velvet.

The floor on which they stood was stone. The room itself was dry, but there was an earthy dampness wafting up from somewhere ahead that was almost tangible – they were close to water. At the edges of the candlelight on either side of them, they could see rows of barrels stretching away into the darkness. The bare walls would not have been visible to Mr. Baine, but Wendell had no trouble making them out.

“Can you smell him?” said Mr. Baine in a whisper, “Probably hiding among these barrels ...” He crept silently to the nearest row, peering into the darkness, his pistol at the ready.

Wendell took a deep breath and froze. Suddenly, he leapt across to Mr. Baine and, before his companion could react, blew out the candle.

“What the devil are you doing?” said Mr. Baine. “Not all of us can see in the dark!”

“Black powder,” said Wendell, “In the barrels.” Mr. Baine went silent.

“Interesting.” said Erik.

“What are you planning to blow up?” said Mr. Baine, no longer making any attempt to mince words, “Assuming all of these barrels are full of the same thing – that is far more gunpowder than you need to deal with the likes of us.”

“Indeed.” came the reply, “This is for a grand finale of sorts. I am something of a composer, you see, and have very nearly completed my masterpiece. But now that you have seen what I have planned, I fear you will ruin the surprise.”

Wendell, who had not minded the evening chill nor the cool humidity of the subterranean room suddenly went cold. “You never intended to let us go, did you?” he said.

“That remains to be seen,” said Erik, “If I were to show you a safe egress from the city, what would you do?”

“It's none of your concern,” said Mr. Baine.

“It is if you decide to ruin my surprise by running to the authorities.” came the reply.

“We simply want to leave and continue our journey East, nothing more.” said Mr. Baine.

Wendell put a hand on his companion's arm, as much as he wanted to be out of the city, his conscience would not allow him to ignore Erik's machinations below the city, “If he intends to harm innocents, we are obligated to do something.”

“I have no intention of hurting anyone” said Erik, “In fact, the reason I have stored the barrels down here is so that they can be quickly washed away, should the need arise. There is a small lake down here that has more than enough water to neutralize the powder.“

“Will you give your word?” asked Wendell.

“I will, if you will,” said Erik, “Leave the city and say nothing of what you witnessed here.”

“Done.” said Mr. Baine.

“It is the grasshopper's word I want.”

The silence which surrounded the monk betrayed nothing of the turmoil that roiled up within him. His heart felt like a ship on a stormy sea, rocking to and fro, ready to tip over at any moment into one swell of emotion or another. If they left Paris and this lunatic killed even a single person, it would be his fault. If they tried to apprehend Erik, there was a very good chance that someone would die – Erik, Mr. Baine, possibly all three of them - blown to pieces. As desperate as he was to cure his condition, suicide was not yet an option. As far as he knew, though, Erik had not lied to them – though he seemed like someone to whom truth was a subjective matter. Was it fair to assume Erik would break his word because he was …. what – eccentric? Weird? 'Unhinged' did not necessarily mean 'evil,' but what if this man was unable to tell the difference?

“Well?” Erik's voice brought the runaway train of Wendell's thoughts to a screeching halt.

Dear God, he thought, please let this be the right decision. “We will leave the city.” Beside him, Mr. Baine exhaled. "But, if news of an explosion in the bowels of Paris reaches me, I will return for you."


Wendell didn't need enhanced vision to know that Mr. Baine was giving him a look. He could practically hear it - a look that  said 'You're going to get us killed!'

Finally, Erik said, "No such news shall reach you." Wendell found himself analyzing the reply, looking for a loophole in the words that had been selected.

After another tense moment of silence, Erik continued, “You have given your word, but grudgingly. I will now let you choose your fate – choose correctly, and your word is good and you go free; choose poorly, and I will know you were untrustworthy.”

“Because we'll be dead, right?” said Mr. Baine.

“By that point, it will not matter.” said Erik. “Now, there two paths at the end of this chamber; one leads to the forest, one leads to the river. Which will you choose?”

“How is this supposed to prove anything?” asked Wendell.

“Let's choose and be done with it,” said Mr. Baine, “I'm sick of these games. I'll see us out of here one way or another.”

“Choose.” said Erik.

“Since we came from a forest into the city, I suppose we should follow a river out?” said Wendell.

A brief pause, and Erik said, “At the end of this chamber are two arches. Go through the right arch at and follow it to the edge of the lake. Follow the edge of the lake until you reach the river's head, the river passes through the sewers of Paris and merges with the Seine, which you can then follow out of the city.”

"Was that the correct choice?" Mr. Baine asked. There was no reply.

Wendell took Mr. Baine by the arm and led him out of the chamber, following the instructions Erik provided. As they walked, the scent of gun powder dwindled until it was barely noticable in the increasing odor of stagnant ground water.

“I think we are safely away from the barrels.” said Wendell.

“About time,” said Mr. Baine, re-lighting the candle, “do you think we're walking into a trap?”

Wendell shrugged and said, “We are definitely headed towards water.”

They continued walking, taking care to follow Erik's directions lest they loose themselves in the maze of tunnels and subterranean chambers which seemed to meander below Paris. The floor began to slope down until at last the it ran into the still black waters of the swamp upon which the city was built. Off to the side, the muddy bank of the lake curved out into the darkness beyond the range of Mr. Baine's candle. Thick stone columns stood a random intervals, still and pale in the darkness, supporting the massive edifice overhead.

Skirting the lake by means of a narrow stone ledge, the two men walked until a tunnel branched off to the right, away from the main body of water. The fluid below them did not run so much as it oozed away from the lake and into the tunnel. Turning to follow the passage, Wendell noticed that the darkness lessened here and there where grates opened to the streets above them; tendrils of fog seeping lazily down to probe the pitch black veins of the city.

Finally, after what felt like an hour of walking, the pair rounded a corner to find a large circular opening. Stepping out onto the bank of the Seine, Wendell took a deep breath. Despite the runoff from the sewer and the general smell of the city hanging over the river, he found it refreshing. They were finally out of the sewers and nearly free of the city, at that.

“You know,” said Mr. Baine, breaking the silence, “I can't help but think that we narrowly avoided disaster back there.”

A grunt was all Wendell offered in reply. He was suddenly aware of how tired and sore he was, and could think of little else beyond finding a safe, quiet place to get some sleep.