The Church was abandoned—that was really the only way to describe it. The doors were shut tight and only a track from the road to the belltower through the waist-high grass showed the place to be visited at all—and probably by Catherine if Max was reading the situation correctly. The small graveyard was around the back, in a stretch of grass between the church and the low shrubs that marked the beginning of the beach dunes. There were two mausoleums, one so old and weathered that they couldn’t make out the inscription on the lintel, and the other now overgrown but clearly stated the name of the occupants within.
“Quintus,” Tebryn said. “The one place on the island the Marque wouldn’t look is his own family tomb?”
“Well, no one’s cared for this place in a while,” Max said. “You don’t need to be a gardener to see that.”
The book was exactly where Catherine said it would be, although at first—and even second—glance the bricks at the back of the room looked identical to each other.
“Why wouldn’t they? A good secret hidey hole isn’t good if it stands out,” Tebryn asked when he counted the rows, and bricks and then tapped several bricks in sharp succession.
“What, you didn’t know which one it was?”
“She didn’t say which brick to start counting at and whether the corners count,” Tebryn said. “I think it’s the middle one though, just let me…”
There was the scrape of brick against crumbling mortar and Tebryn shone his lantern into the little cavity. “Got it, he said, pulling out a battered, leatherbound journal. “Come on, let’s walk slowly out of here and back to the Small Castle,” he said, shoving the book inside his jacket and snuffing out the lantern.
“Rule one after a heist. Look inconspicuous. Walk. Slowly. Talk. Laugh. If you’re really wanting to be inconspicuous in a crowd, hold hands with a lover, hug, whisper intimate nothings. Or just pretend to, nothing screams innocent bystander like two lovers smooching.”
“Are you saying we should make out?” Max asked. “Cause no offence, but—”
“No one would buy it,” Tebryn said without turning a hair. “Everyone watches the new people and notes who stands close to who and who shares secret, lovey dovey glances. So let’s just do the slow touristy walk, aye?”
Back at the sign of the Small Castle, the men retreated upstairs to pore over the journal, or at least, the latter entries of it as most of it was fairly generic entries around tending to an isolated island parish.
26th of January
That night, I really felt it. For three years I lied to myself, convincing myself that it had been nothing more than a bad dream. But as they say, dreams area a reflection of reality. I write the lines to process through my ideas and in case I fail, hoping that in the hands these notes fall into, they are of use.
9th of March
Today I visited the remains of the boat. It was not just a simple freighter, nor a military ship. It was a floating prison. They were carrying something…something that was freed when it became shipwrecked. The ship’s log has disappeared, but I found some texts in which they talked about two captives and of an artifact used to contain one of them . The more dangerous one. There were also a few notations on its operation, but I heard a strange sound and…panicked. I hid them under some loose planks below the commander’s cabin and left, running.
18th of March
The Marque walks like a man, but is not. It feeds off of our fears and our desperation, which make it strong and powerful. It is trying to drag us to someplace, neither hell nor purgatory, but wherever it is, it is full of the darkness. The entire island is sinking slowly into that nightmare and sooner or later, there will be no possible escape for anyone.
3rd of April
I have suspected it for a long time, but I have confirmed my fears. It enters people’s dreams, and it swallows them in the darkness, turning them into its servants, into ‘Darklings’ as it calls them. It waits and watches and bides its time but it seeks to take control of the strongest of us, and Catherine and I have become its new prey. I do not know the reason why, but she does not seem to be affected, although it is costing me more and more to sleep in peace. I do not know how much longer I can stand it.
I must hurry.
8th of April
I do not believe that it can die by conventional means, but I know that there must be some way to completely destroy it. I have not yet discovered how, but if it is still possible to avoid the fate it intends I need to find the way.
12th of April
Its secret is in the old Cathedral. I know it. Somehow, I have always known it hid something that is of extreme importance to it there, but that it is also afraid of. I have have surreptitiously observed it with my telescope as it entered the ruins on more than one night, although it always goes alone and carries a strange clock in its hands. The clock looks slightly like the device that appeared in the schematics that I found on the boat, but now that I am being watched, I cannot return there to gather them.
My time is running out.
15th of April
I cannot wait any longer. Marque Cavalcanti—if that is truly what that thing is called—has realised what I am doing and has sent its Darklings after me. I have spent several days studying the notes that the Inquisition made of the Cathedral; I must enter it to discover how to end our danger. If I have understood the notes correctly, the numbers on the panel of the central room indicate which are the correct letters needed to find out what the three names are that open the entrance to the inner sanctuary. I have decided to leave these notes for Catherine in case I fail.
If you are the one who reads this, little one, always remember that I loved you like a daughter. May God guide my hand.
The sudden snap of pages slapping together roused Max from a fitful doze. “Did you find anything?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Tebryn said. “There’s a shipwreck, and some documents on it that might tell us how to defeat whatever it is we’re up against. Also something about ruins and a Cathedral. We have to go there after.”
“Cathedral? That’s a bit grand for a church that has it’s belltower as a separate building,” Max said, clambering to his feet with a yawn.
“I think Father Scott meant a different building. He calls it the ‘old’ cathedral where something’s hidden. I doubt he meant his own church.”
“We should give the book to Catherine,” Keith said, who had been reading over Tebryn’s shoulder.
“Yes, I suppose we should,” Tebryn said after a moment’s pause.
“He wanted her to have the book,” Keith pressed.
“And she might know where the shipwreck is.”
“Do you do anything that isn’t out of self interest?” Max asked.
“Not if I can help it,” Tebryn said, flashing Max a smile. “A man’s got to eat, you know.”
Not only did Catherine know where the shipwreck was, the insisted on coming with them.
“I’m in this now,” she said. “And I can’t hide anymore. But what happens to me when you’ve defeated the Marque?”
“Whatever you want,” Tebryn said. “It’s your life and you’ll be safe once the Marque is gone.”
Catherine looked around her small cottage, and at the small, worn book in her hands. “I don’t know. There’s so many memories here. And not good ones.”
“Then you can come with us,” Keith said.
Putting the book down on a small table, Catherine nodded thoughtfully. “Let me get my cloak.”
The stretch of rocky beach that Catherine led them two was several hours away to the northeast, taking them through farms, grassland and then along an overgrown trail through the woods to a cliff of dark rocks, the high tide line demarcated by red and green seaweed that hung in hairy bundles and limp strands in the cracks and crevices of the seabed.
“Good timing,” Catherine said as she stood just shy of the clifftop, the wind tugging at the hem of her undyed woollen dress. “I’d suggest tying your rope around one of the rocks over there,” she added, pointing to a pair of rocks that jutted out from the cliff like a pair of horns. “I’ll wait for you here.”
Looking over, Max could see what would be a rough path leading down the cliff and through the wet rocks and rockpools to where the ship sat. Or part of it. It had broken into two main parts, and the bow was almost completely rotted through, leaving only the blacked, barnacle clad ribs giving any indication that it had even existed. The length of the mainsail was mostly intact, and jammed at each end into protruding rocks. Waves crashed against the artifical barrier, thundering against it with a force that dissipated by the time it reached the ship, and probably had prevented them from knocking the ship itself more than they had. The stern thrust up into the air, perched so that the rudder swung freely some ten feet above the waterline.
“I think we can get in through the hole in the side,” Tebryn said. “It must have smashed in on the rocks.”
Max shook his head. “No, something smashed its way out. Look at the way the boards are broken.”
“Something?” Keith asked as he finished tying off the rope and threw it down the cliffside, tugging on it before starting his way down.
“Someone,” Tebryn said.
“Are we actually saying a mild mannered cigar loving old man bashed his way out of the side of a ship?”
“Are you actually saying you appeared on the beach this morning after falling asleep in his barracks in Archangel and are now searching for a red book?”
“Not just any red book,” Max objected.
“Uh huh, family heirloom miraculously lost somewhere in your dream teleportation,” Tebryn said with a grin as he started down the rope. “You sure you’re going to be okay with all that chainmail?
“I’m used to it,” Max said. “Besides we might need it.”
Tebryn shook his head. “If you fall and drown, I’m telling.”
Max grinned. “I’d better not drown then.”
The interior of the ship was dank, and smelt strongly of salt and rot, but not nearly as much as Max had expected. Two grooves were scored into the floor leading to the hole, running parallel to each other and up along the tilting walkway towards the stern of the ship. Ahead of them was a stairway leading upwards, covered in the white and black of seagull crap, about the only thing remaining on this level of the deck. There were also closed doors off to the right at the end of the ship, which, in Max’s experience, wasn’t normal for ships. Of course, most ships weren’t this large or squat. It almost looked fortified, even in its broken down state.
“Something was dragged out,” Max said, staring at the grooves in the floor that ran up to the closed doors. “I wonder what it was.”
“We should check the Captain’s cabin first,” Tebryn said. “That’s where Father Scott was.”
“Normally that would be on the main deck, right under the quarter deck.”
Tebryn nodded. “Let’s go up there, then.”
“And the doors?” Keith asked quietly.
“Later,” Tebryn said. “We know there’s something to find in the Captain’s cabin, so let’s make sure we get those before the tide comes in.”
The deck above was fairly dry, despite the salt spray and lack of strong sunlight. The wood creaked alarmingly under Max’s feet though, and he hoped the extra weight of his armour wouldn’t send him crashing down into the hold below. The cabin door was shut, but opened easily under Tebryn’s touch. Inside the cabin, most of the soft furnishings had been eaten away by moths of the tiny armoured beetles that seemed to live everywhere there was drying seaweed on any form of beach. Even so, there was enough of the heavy cloth banner on the wall that the double beaked, winged cross of the Tol Rauko was still visible, and Max saw Tebryn blanch.
“It makes sense,” Max said evenly.
“I take it you—”
“Aye,” Tebryn said simply. “But it may just be that hiding’s no longer and option.”
Max nodded. “Loose planks?”
“Aye. And anything else of use while we’re at it.”
They didn’t find much, and most of the trinkets were rusted by salt and worthless, but they did find a package of documents, wrapped in oilskin.
“Looks about right,” Tebryn said. “Definitely plans for something clocklike.”
“Do we have to make one, do you think?” Max asked.
“I don’t know,” Tebryn said, refolding the documents into their oilskin protector. “I hope not, as it seems to require magic that I doubt we can find here. Shall we check the rest of the ship?”
“You mean the doors in the hold?” Max asked.
“Aye. Perhaps there’s something in there that might answer our questions.”
The doors at the stern of the hold opened smoothly on hinges that should have rusted, but hadn’t. Glancing in they saw nothing but darkness, and that didn’t change even when Tebryn lit his lantern and held it up to cast its glow into the room. Stepping in they found the light from the lantern dimmed noticeably when it crossed the threshold, almost as if the flame was dying. What little light the lantern did cast showed that the walls, floor and ceiling were lined with sheets of a strange black metal that danced the dim light with swirling patterns of purple and green.
“Do you need more oil?” Keith asked as Tebryn checked his lantern.
“No,” the redhead said. “It has enough oil, the wick’s fine and the flame’s burning normally. It’s just…less bright.”
“Well, if this was a Tol Rauko ship—and a prison ship at that—then this is exactly the sort of thing you’d expect,” Max said, running his fingers over a circular indentation on a low pedestal that sat in the centre of the dark room. “I wonder what they were transporting?”
“Not what,” Tebryn said, staring at the twisted metal remains of a large cage. “Who.”
“Someone called Galeal?” Max suggested, running his fingers over a bent but still intact plaque on the cage.
All three men looked up at the collection of iron bars, each one easily the thickness of Max’s biceps. The ones at the front of the cage had been forced outward and bent at strange angles to provide enough room for a large person to slip out. The cage itself could have held a proverbial ogre and heavy bolts secured it to the walls and floor.
“All right then,” Tebryn said. “Next question: what was in the second cage?”
Looking along the wall, Max saw cage brackets hanging loose from the wall and holes where bolts had been ripped from the floor. This cage had been smaller, and two parallel grooves the width of the cage were etched into the floor, leading to the door and out towards the side of the ship.
“And where on the island is it?” Max asked.
“Locked up in the cathedral according to Father Scott’s notes,” Tebryn said.
“And where’s that?”
“No clue,” Tebryn said cheerfully. “Let’s ask Catherine, shall we?”
The lantern flickered and Max could swear the darkness was pressing in on the light—and on him—and the chill was putting his teeth on edge. “You want us to go find it? That’s very…brave of you.”
Tebryn waved a hand. “Enemy of my enemy, and all that rot, aye? Father Scott seemed to think the Marque is afraid of whatever’s in the cathedral. Hopefully it will help us—or want to help us.”
“What about the clock thing?” Max asked walking almost too quickly to the doorway out of the metal room.
“He needs it,” Tebryn said. “Let’s hope we don’t.”
This post was written by Matthew Lang, with additional text from Eike Germann