• ERIC BUTLER

The Ephraim Godwin Chronicles - The Early Years: The Awakening Part 13

This story takes place 5 years before the first Ephraim Godwin Chronicle Serial. It will be longer than a simple stand alone story so I will be releasing parts of the tale every Wednesday. Part 11 contains Chapters 25 & 26.


Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE


Thaddeus Hall struggled to carry the buckets through his manor without spilling a drop. The red liquid sloshed about, threatening to spray over the edge. Soon all will be revealed...or so the skull promised.


The Baron sighed, content that when all was said and done he would rule over more than these simple lands. Kings and Queens would bend their knees to bask in his glory. The world will tremble under my gaze. A smile danced across his lips at the thought, but slipped away when he thought of Selina.


First, I need to deal with the vixen. He nodded to himself as he moved down the hall to the final room. Placing the buckets down carefully, he stretched his aching muscles. They seemed more tired every day. The skull promised such things would stop once he completed the task but doubts crept around the back of his head.


Hall sighed in irritation. Has the skull done anything to make me doubt before? The thought bounced around his head until all uncertainty was gone. His fingers pressed against the locking mechanism. The door swung open as he grabbed the buckets. Now was not the time for doubt...not this close to the end.


***


"Watch out," Ephraim cried out, his hands grabbing at his brother's coat through the bars. He pulled Henry to the side as the bowl in Selina's hands slammed into his shoulder, cracking in the middle. A startled yelp slipped from Henry as Ephraim pushed him away from Selina as she moved to strike him again with the pieces. The torch slipped to the floor, landing with a spray of sparks as Henry fell.


With a wordless snarl, Selina slashed down cutting the back of Ephraim's hand as he pulled them away. Henry pushed up to his hands and knees. Selina spun towards him and kicked out with her left foot connecting with the side of his head. Henry slumped down with a gasp.


Ephraim sprang forward grabbing Selina's arm and pulled her roughly into the bars. The fragments of pottery slipped from her fingers, shattering on the stone floor. He reached around and gripped her free arm, twisting her to face away from him before lifting her and pulling back once again. Her head struck the bar with a clang, and she went limp in his arms.


Ephraim kept a hold of her, locking his hands to tightly pin her arms to her side. He refused to have any more surprises, and decided to wait to make sure this wasn't another ruse. This madness ends now.


"You know nothing of madness," a deep voice spoke from the shadows. Ephraim strained to search the room but the light from the dying torch failed to offer illumination more than a foot from his cell.


"Who's there?" he asked, pulling Selina closer. A low moan slipped from her as the bars pressed into her back.


"Does it matter?" the voice asked as a shadow rose and moved toward the light. "What hope do you have trapped in a cage?"


The voice tugged at Ephraim's memory, but he struggled to place it. The form stopped moving, still hidden in the shadows. It seemed to be studying Ephraim, who grew nervous under its watchful stare.


"I have hope with every breath I draw," he said, his head held high. He would not be intimidated by some nameless shadow.


A deep booming laugh came from the shape, "I forget how headstrong you English can be. Here let me help you understand your situation."


The shape moved closer to the torch, the light illuminating the voice's owner. A gasp slipped from Ephraim as he stared at the giant from his dream. He studied the horns, as the man bent to retrieve the torch. They were unlike any he had ever seen before, somehow both smooth and rough and a color of brown Ephraim expected only existed in the oldest and deepest parts of the forest. As the torch light shined on the antlers, runes, familiar yet still foreign, began to glow and sparkle in the torch light.


"With Lady Farkus and that bumbling fool, Thaddeus Hall, I will soon remove all hope from your disgusting kind," the giant said, a satisfied smile on his lips. He tossed the torch through the bars, and snatched Selina from Ephraim's grasp.


The giant took a deep breath, holding it a moment as satisfaction flooded his face before he exhaled slowly. He nodded slightly, offering a wink as a loud whoosh sounded behind Ephraim. The giant stepped back into the shadows and for a moment, Ephraim thought to observe his escape as the flames grew higher behind him. Instead, the room was empty save him and his unconscious brother.


Ephraim turned to inspect what the torch had lit, stunned to see Tanner's smoldering body standing. The flames grew hotter as the corpse stumbled towards Ephraim, who tumbled to the side.


"Henry," he called out, raising his voice as he repeated his brother's name.


He avoided the wandering torch as he moved to snatch up the blanket crumpled in the far corner. It was rough, worn through in spots, and covered with something that Ephraim was grateful he couldn't identify in his race to put out the fire.


He threw the blanket over the stumbling corpse, before knocking it to the ground to pat out the fire. As the room plunged into darkness, Ephraim wondered exactly what the horned giant meant to do with Selina and the Baron. More importantly, is there time to stop him?


CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX


The Baron stood in the room with the Skull. An ache settled into his neck and shoulders as he placed the buckets down. Time was slipping away, and Hall worried he would not complete his task before the change. The skull promised him all would be revealed this night.


Yet it sits, quiet. Hall stalked around the pedestal studying the lifeless bone. Had it all been an illusion? Did that Gypsy witch cast a spell on me with the help of that treacherous Risewell?


"No," the skull whispered, a dull pink glow surrounding it a moment before disappearing.


Hall stopped, after a moment's hesitation he reached out and lifted the skull. He studied it, waiting for it to speak again. Am I hearing voices...have I gone mad? Anger built in his chest, suddenly aware how insane it all was. Shaking his head he slung the skull against the wall, pleased to witness the bone shatter into pieces. What was that?


Hall tumbled forward, falling to the floor before scrambling to a red stone the size of a man's eye. Bone fragments cut into his palms and knees, but they were not felt in his hurry to pick the gem up. There was warmth radiating from the stone, but he sensed it was fading.


The stone flashed twice, its color matching the deep red of the blood he carried up in the buckets. Hall studied the stone, turning it around, searching for anything to make sense of the situation. Again the gem flashed, but this time Hall realized the warmth was almost completely gone. He glanced at the buckets. The skull had requested the fluid, but had provided no further instruction other than to drain it from the traitor.


Hall shuffled on his knees to the buckets, blood soaking his pants as more bone sliced through the material. He pulled the stone close to his face, frozen with indecision. Should I wait for confirmation? If he had waited in that bloody war on the Continent, he might still be over there. A hero instead of exiled to the bloody countryside.


Another pulse, but only one and Hall decided he could not wait any longer. The gem slipped from his hand, splashing into the blood filled bucket. Time slowed to a crawl. A quiet settled throughout the room, and Hall bit his bottom lip. Was that the correct choice?


The bucket began to shake, red frothy bubbles broke through the surface as the blood began to boil and steam. Hall stared in fascination as the bucket drained of the blood, leaving only the stone at the bottom. The gem pulsed with a deep red color. He reached in, his eagerness overriding his sense of caution. A hiss filled the room as he snatched back his hand with a howl.


"Damn you," he growled at the stone before stuffing his fingers into his mouth. He relaxed as the action soothed his burnt finger tips until the copper taste of Risewell's blood filled his mouth. His eyes glazed over as his heart began to beat faster.


The empty bucket shook once more as the gem began to vibrate and hum. Its nonstop red light pulsing broke through the Baron's trance, and he grabbed the bucket's handle with his free hand before turning it over the second bucket. The gem slipped below the surface with a hiss. He watched again as the blood boiled before disappearing to the bottom.


He leaned forward, staring at the gem as it lay dormant at the bottom of the bucket. The color so dark, he couldn't tell if it was red or black. Wisps of steam rose from the surface as the room filled with the scent of fresh blood. Hall's eye twitched as he inhaled deeply; savoring the smell and wishing he had saved some of the bucket's contents for himself.


The bucket shook once more, and as Hall leaned closer, the stone sprang out, striking against his chest. Smoke rose as the stone burned though the layers of clothing the Baron wore until finding his skin. An inhumane cry filled his ears as his flesh melted around the gem. His eyes rolled back as he went rigid, his body rising until only his toes touched the floor.


We can finally begin. Tears ran down the Baron's cheeks as the skull's voice caressed the inside of his mind. They were now whole.



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