• ERIC BUTLER

The Ephraim Godwin Chronicles - The Early Years: The Awakening Part 9

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 5 contains Chapters 17 & 18.


CHAPTER SEVENTEEN


Baron Hall woke with a start. What was that? He held very still, straining to pick up the sound again. His room was dark, the windows covered with thick black quilts. For the past week, he found it impossible to sleep with any light slipping past the openings. Hall once wondered if it wouldn't be better to go and relocate his chambers to one of the rooms in the lower levels. However, a quick inspection told him they were not acceptable to a man of his status.


A clang sounded outside his room. Hall sat up, waiting to see if it sounded again. After a few moments, he slipped from the bed and shuffled to the door. Pressing his ear to the wood, he waited. These past few months his hearing and sight had grown sharper and while he now viewed them as gifts, initially they were curses.


Hall shuddered at the memory of those first few days, and the overload of his senses. Every whispered word became a shout, and the light of day burned away his vision. After a week, on the edge of madness, the skull spoke to him. With its guidance, Hall was able to take these cursed gifts and use them to his benefit. Yet here he was, straining to hear something. He shook his head in irritation and opened the door. Why should I be the one hiding? Let the one making the noise cower in fear. Emboldened by his thoughts, he stepped into the hallway. Several lights burned low, casting the walkway in shadows. With his newfound vision, it was clear as day and would be like this for a few more nights.


Clang...clang...clang.


The Baron stalked down the hall, passing up the stairs and continuing to the end. He flung open the door and strode in, with each step his boldness grew.


Clang...clang...clang.


It was louder in this room, almost as if a bell was marking the hour. Hall stood in the middle of the room. It was empty, cleared out months ago when he realized what the room held.


Clang...clang...clang.


Hall scowled. Yes, it was coming from below. It was not a message to cower from but a beckoning to answer. He stepped to the inner wall and slid his hand across the stone. His fingers came across the unevenness he sought and pressed down. A rumble moved through the floor to the wall and after a moment, a section slid aside.


Baron Hall hovered by the opening. His chest swelled with pride at being chosen, but a tiny voice whispered in the back of his head. A tiny voice warning him that he was in danger, that he was a fool. Shaking his head, he let out a huff of anger and growled, "Nonsense... I am the Lord of this estate."


The tiny voice flitted away, leaving him in silence before the noise sounded again.

I must hurry...the skull awaits.


***


Ms. Hatty Morris stood in the doorway, a look of worry etched on her face. She entered the house sometime before and while no one answered her calls, the house was not empty. After making her way to the kitchen, she found the Vicar sitting at the kitchen table. His elbows resting on his thighs, his chin resting on his fists, and a blank stare on his face. As far as she could tell, he wasn't staring at anything in particular and for a moment she wondered if he was conversing with their Lord and Savior.


However, now that some time had passed, she wouldn't be sure the man was even alive if not for the slight rise and fall of his chest and the occasional blink. Hatty stepped over to the man and placed her hand on his shoulder. For a moment he offered no recognition of her touch, but then his head snapped back and his eyes locked onto hers.


"Ms. Morris," he said, a slight slur giving his words a snakelike sound.


"Are you feeling all right?" she asked, moving her hand to his forehead. He was clammy, but she didn't think him feverish.


"Huh?" he asked after a pause.


"Are you unwell, sir?"


He blinked at her a few times before his jaw slacked open. A spot of drool formed at the corner of his lips and Hatty sighed. May the Lord forgive me this...as well as the Vicar. Her arm shot up and swung down in an arc. A loud smack sounded as her palm struck the Vicar on his left cheek.


His hand sprang to his face and a wounded look passed over his gaze, "Good Lord woman..."


Hatty studied the Vicar as he trailed off. Would she need to land another blow? His eyes were now sharp and focused. She noticed mostly on her hands as if waiting for her to strike again. Guess not. A chuckle slipped out as she moved to the kettle.


"A thousand pardons, Vicar," she said as she heated the water, "That seemed the quickest way to help. How about a cup of tea?"


"Yes...that sounds nice. By chance have you seen my brother today?"


CHAPTER EIGHTEEN


Ephraim opened his eyes. Sunlight filtered through a flimsy curtain and warmed his face. He took a deep breath, causing a coughing fit that forced him to roll over on his side. As each cough racked his body, he struggled for breath. Spots appeared before him, flashing and popping like tiny fireworks.


"Ah, you're awake," a woman said from the shadows.


Ephraim wrestled with the sheets twisting around his body as his coughing worsened. He wanted to sit up, to be free of the sheets around him, but with each cough be found himself more tangled and light-headed.


"Shh," the woman said gliding around the bed before kneeling by him. His eyes widened as they locked onto Lady Farkus's face. She reached out and gently moved his hair back from his forehead. A sad smile danced across her lips as she stood.


Ephraim clawed at his throat, his coughing cutting off all air. She helped him sit up and produced a glass. She tipped it, forcing the cool liquid to slide past his lips. He gulped quickly, trying to keep up with her pouring and soon his coughing subsided. Lady Farkus helped him lay back and leaned close, her lips brushing against his ear.


"I promise this will be all over soon, my dear."


Ephraim struggled to speak but her face slowly faded as his world went black once again.


***


Baron Hall stood at the bottom of the steps, sudden fear preventing him from entering the room. The skull sat on the pedestal at the center. It pulsed in three quick bursts of color, each color sounding like the gong of a clock bell. Hall shook with every clash, as it grew louder with each one.


"Enter."


Hall moved to step forward but hesitated.


"Enter." The voice this time was soothing and the color of the skull slipped into a light blue hue.


Hall took three steps and stopped a few feet from the skull. Its dark sockets suddenly flaring to life with an orange glow. The light from the skull illuminated the room, and Hall wondered just how it made its way down here. Could it have always been in this room, hidden below the estate?


"I am here," Hall said to fill the quiet, uncomfortable with the realization of his summoning. He struggled with the sudden urge to kneel, his teeth grinding in frustration.


"No need for that," the skull said. Hall relaxed as the urge disappeared. The skull flashed a deep blue before returning to the pale blue. "We are so close to the end...just a few more things and you will rule this land."


Hall enjoyed hearing that, his fear washed away as he imagined his destiny coming true...he would soon be master to all. All it required was a little blood to be spilled...nothing he found terribly difficult to do.



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