Stories of Adelwreth

Abyss

“It does not become a gentleman of your lineage,” said the headmaster, Mr Swann. The man shrivelled his lips about after completing the sentence. He was not only disgusted but deeply disappointed.

Alexander sat holding a kerchief to his cheek. He did not care much for what the moustached man said. He inspected his ripped jacket from beneath his swollen eyelid, then inspected his kerchief. The blood had dried up.

The headmaster rambled on about pride and gentlemanlike conduct. Alexander looked at the heavy wooden furniture, the long, deep brown desk, the musky leather books and the thick sunlight-blocking curtains.

“Mr Thule!” yelled the headmaster. Alexander lazily turned his gaze to the man. “Your attitude and conduct are most detestable. Have you not heard a word of I am saying?”

Alexander looked at the man. The words fell around him. In his mind, if the words were aimed at him, they were poorly aimed. They missed their mark completely.

“I wonder if Miranda would come with me,” he thought and cocked his head. The most peculiar shadow danced in the room.

The headmaster shouted, pleaded, and yelled at him. After some time, the door opened and Mr Dennedon entered. Mr Dennedon was the man who dealt the punishment. The lashes rang out in the quiet hallways, strangely unaccompanied by screams of pain. Alexander did not care for pain. It did not bother him.

***

Out in the courtyard, which was surrounded by high stone walls and patterned with pane glass windows, he walked past the boys he had fought with. They looked in a much worse condition than him. They too had received their punishment. He nodded and tipped his hat to them. He was glad that the semester had finally come to an end. He longed for the work in the fields… sunny days, pouring rain, even howling wind. He smiled as he arrived at the cobblestone road outside the school. Further down the street, he could see men exiting Lütz Tavern drunkenly.

A carriage rolled up with an elderly yet fit man driving it. The man nimbly leapt down and opened the carriage. Alexander’s uncle had arranged the carriage as per usual and he climbed in. He set his suitcase on his knees and thanked the driver. The driver quickly inspected the carriage then hopped up and began their journey. 

***

The city was blurry outside the carriage, and almost seamlessly the streets and houses passed by. The countryside looked much clearer, once they passed the dull cemetery outside the city. Hills and farmland rolled by. Alexander hung out the window, breathing in the sweet, clean air. They stopped at the crossroads and gave the horses a drink. Alexander clambered out and looked about, deep in thought over the calf he had helped birth last summer. He wondered if she had been well. By now she would have been a great beast. He suddenly focused his attention on a rock and kicked it. It flew away from him, hopped and turned, and clanged against the metal ring around the spoked carriage wheel.

The elderly driver scowled at the boy, patted the horse on the back and came to inspect the wheel, sitting down on his haunches. Alexander looked up the road towards Thule Estate. It was time for farming, he thought and got back into the carriage.

***

The carriage rolled up the road and delivered the boy into the custody of the awaiting butler.

***

That summer Alexander had tended sheep. He led them to water and pastures and fetched those stubborn sheep who had wandered off. Wandered off himself. Hunted all sorts of fowl and protected the herd as best he could. The calf he had helped birth had indeed grown into a lovely cow. His uncle had said that once Alexander was old enough, he would sign her over to him. Alexander wanted nothing more than to live the life of a farmer. There was, however, a slight problem with his plan. Alexander had been sent to Adelwreth by his father to attend school and college, and become an academic person. His father had writ to him that he had the hopes that Alexander, being amidst the people of the island and holding great stature as to his heritage, would someday become an important political figure. Alexander did not want that for himself. It was really Miranda’s fault. His cousin had slipped the idea into his head. Adventure. The simple adventure of being in nature each day.

***

Summer ended and the carriage fetched Alexander again. It rolled down the road of the clear countryside, stopped at the crossroads, and then into the blurred and dull city. Alexander had then entered his dorm, set down his things and went looking for something. Trouble, he decided. Trouble was what he was looking for.

***

Alexander spent that night in the detention centre. Mr Swann had scolded him yet again about ungentlemanlike conduct concerning his fellow classmates and scholars. So there he sat, in the vast, dead silent hall. Bookcases lined the sides of the hall and tables stood evenly spaced in the centre. At the far side sat Mr Constad, a thin man with a grand moustache, clothed in a grey suit and jacket. Alexander found this amusing. 

On finishing his assignment, Alexander stood up to return the book on mathematics he had used to its place on the shelf. He squeezed it in between other thick leather-bound books and finally hammered it into place. The sound echoed through the hall. Mr Constad cleared his throat, scowled at Alexander and continued scribbling. Alexander whacked the book a final time and turned around. A metallic clang rang out softly and dully as if something had been dislodged and fell down on the hard wooden floor. He stopped and looked up at Mr Constad, who seemed annoyed but unaware of the sound.

Alexander stood motionless for a second, then moved to investigate. He crawled around the back of the bookcase. The sound still rang out softly, fading slowly. He peered through a crack on the bottom shelf—he was sure it had to be there. He thought about what it might be: a coin, a trinket, something of value, or perhaps a clasp of one of the books. Whatever it was, Alexander simply had to find out. He had been stuck in the detention centre for four hours, and desperately needed some sort of entertainment. He took a dozen books from the bottom shelf and searched the bookcase. Finally, he happened upon a broken panel. It looked like someone had smashed through it with a hammer. He stuck his hand in, feeling around for it. He wondered why no one had mentioned this hole in the bookcase. Surely someone had come around in need of these books. Surely someone would have made a fuss about this hole. If they could send a boy to detention for only beating up a few others, then surely they would not overlook something like this.

His hands touched something hard, smooth and cold. The sound had completely faded away now. He gripped the thin thing and withdrew his hand from the hole.

He did not know what he had expected, but this oddly shaped tuning fork definitely was not it.

***

In the dorm, he lay in his bed, marvelling at this silver thing he had found. He turned it over and around and wondered at its perfect, seamless construction. The books on the bottom shelf he had discovered were those types of books that no one ever bothered to read here in Adelwreth. At least, no one in this school had bothered to read them, or would ever bother to read them. Alexander flipped over onto his side, supporting his head with his hand and started tossing the thing into the air and catching it. From his piano classes, he knew what normal tuning forks were used for. That they were set in a key that the piano itself could be tuned from. His thoughts wandered to how those had looked and then to what this could be. He wondered in what key it was and tapped it on his bedside table.

***

Alexander woke up in a cold, dark and humid place. He was shivering, not because of this, but because of where he had been just moments before. He had been stuck in that place for who knows how long. The grotesque, throbbing flesh and creatures with many eyes flashed in his mind. He shivered and felt at his neck.

“Surely it was a nightmare,” he said out loud.

Moments before, he had been bitten on the neck and torn apart. The pain was more intense than anything he had felt before. Nothing Mr Dennedon had done to him could ever compare to that sensation.

There were murmurs in the dark around him. He sat up, looking for his matchbox and oil lamp. They weren’t there. Neither was his bed or blanket.

“Surely this is a nightmare,” he said again.

He had from time to time had nightmares from which he struggled to wake and then, knowing it was a dream, had bent the dream to his liking. Only, this time, it didn’t work. Nothing he did or imagined seemed to have an effect on this cold, dark, damp place.

He heard sobbing in the distance. He could hear cries of old men and screams of the deranged. He got up and walked to and fro until bumping into an old bony man with a beard that had grown for decades.

“Ah…” said the man in a soft, soothing voice. “It has been such a long time since we have had a new arrival here, in this dungeon of blisssss.” The man stretched out the s so long that it made Alexander uncomfortable.

“Please,” said the man sharply. “Do tell how you have made your way here, young man.”

Alexander looked up at the old man, seeing in the dark that the man was sitting against a pillar; his eyes burned like coals in the dark. 

“Come now, come now,” soothed the old man. “I will tell you first my tale if that will put you at ease.”

A scraping noise came from Alexander’s side. He looked that way and saw another old man scraping his head against the ground, crawling on all fours, groaning softly.

The man against the pillar leaned forward and whispered in Alexander’s ear. “Don’t pay much attention to them. They have been here for many lifetimes and have all but lost their sanity.”

Alexander struggled to draw in a breath and stepped back, alarmed at the old man’s unwarranted invasion of his space. The man sat back and stroked his bald head with his bony hands.

“Wilhelm Wickden,” he cried softly. “The son of Wick, the hope of the world, the prince—” he let the s-sound stretch and ring out “—of Adelwreth.” The old man froze and his gaze seemed to pierce Alexander.

“Ah, yesssss,” he continued. “I can remember it as clear as this morning, not like these other foolsssss.” He flicked his finger, pointing at the living carcass-like men roaming about in the dark. Alexander felt compelled to stand there and listen as if the man had some power over his body. It gripped his soul, his wishes, his intentions. He felt his body sit down to listen; felt his desire to hear this man’s story, but he did not wish it. Alexander was no longer in control of anything. He moved his mouth to speak but it did not obey him.

“A great evil had come from the North—demons if you will. Creatures with many eyes and many teeth with no other desire but to kill, maim and corrupt. There was no reasoning with them. There was no hope against them.” The old man sighed.

“Cities, lands and entire countries fell to these creatures, and they seemed to multiply by daylight. Soon they infested most of the earth as we knew it. Yet, my father, the Great King Wick, had a plan.” The man chuckled and started crying, yet there were no tears. Steam escaped those burning coals that he had for eyes.

“He rallied his brothers and together Wickden, Wickdel and Wickren sailed by ship to assault the spawning ground of the creatures. Oh, there were hundreds of ships, the grandest army that this world has ever seen, young man, I tell you, our banners waved defiantly in the wind as we approached their shores.” The man struggled and stood up, looking somewhat heroic.

“We slaughtered those creatures from shore to shore, and their servants, those wretched Vorgen, who opened the door to that plague. We were so drenched in blood and weary from battle that at night, by the slightest sound we would rise up, ready for battle.” The man slammed the air with his fist.

Alexander sat captivated, yet he did not want to be. He wanted to escape this nightmare; he wanted to run away from everything, from this place, this school, his responsibilities—everything.

“We stemmed the outflow of creatures to the world, and we received reports that the lands were being reclaimed. We built three fortresses: Adelwreth, Denewreth and Delewreth, after the great kings who set out on the endeavour. And for years we fought and slaughtered and killed, but we could not find the source of these creatures. They seemed to appear from thin air.” He spoke then, as if in deep thought. “I did not believe it until I saw it for myself.” 

Alexander, listening to the man, still captivated—imprisoned—suddenly felt a slight feeling of freedom. Yet then he was feeling sorry for this strange old man. Perhaps this dream was meant to teach him some lesson of sorts. He had heard of such dreams.

“W-what… did… you… s-s-see?” whimpered Alexander and swallowed.

The man snapped his gaze to Alexander as if he had forgotten the boy was there. His face contorted in a fit of rage but then, within a few moments, grew old and fatigued again.

“They did spring forth from thin air,” he continued absent-mindedly, looking about him as if he did not know where he was or how he had gotten there.

“I saw it for myself. A great black tumour grew in the air a few feet off the ground… grotesque and violently, throbbing and stretching until it tore open, revealing great fangs, a gaping maw, spewing forth creatures onto the land. It disappeared from sight almost the way that it appeared as if a door was being shut. Clamping the teeth, sometimes killing the final creatures escaping from it.”

Alexander felt more freedom and ventured to say something, but the man continued his story.

“So it came that we discovered that those creatures were not from here.” He then laughed wholeheartedly. “Can you imagine, boy, that a sound could open a doorway to another world? No? I surely could not. Yet, king Wickdel devised a way to assault these creatures on their own shores. So he opened the door and stepped through with what was left of his armies, never to be seen again. The defence of Adelwreth then fell to me. I grew old, I grew weak, yet still, we defended the world against this scourge.” He stood in silence for a long time.

“A man called Thulas built this place after what had happened to king Wickdel. A place to catch those who fell to the creatures on their shores. Sadly he passed away before properly instructing the rest of us on how to escape this place.” The old man then proceeded with the cryptic instructions with a voice that, Alexander guessed, was impersonating Thulas. The broken instructions were seared into Alexander’s mind. He held onto it and memorised it.

“But then we finally used that sound to seal the doorway in place. Now…” the old man said in a friendly voice. “Tell me of our beloved world and all its doings, comings and goings, the people and so on.”

Alexander’s lips moved on their own, his voice rose on its own, and he conveyed all the knowledge he had about history—all that he had learned in school. He spoke as if he had studied for a semester, diligently cramming all the knowledge into his tiny head for an exam that his life depended on.

He spoke of the invasions into Spain, the Crusades, and the Holy Roman Empire. He told the old man of the Huns and the Mongols and the New World. He told him of the colonies and of the slave trade and the whaling endeavours and about all those things that were noteworthy inventions.

Alexander ended his long and tiresome lecture with his own life’s tale.

The man looked tired, fell back against the pillar and slumped down as if completely exhausted. Then he started sobbing.

“Go,” said the man softly. “Get out of my sight!”

Alexander was released from imprisonment and he ran. He did not care where he was running to, only that he had to get as far away from that man as possible. In the distance, he heard a long and sorrowful roar.

Alexander spent what felt like an eternity in that cold, dark and damp place. He eventually found the pathway by sheer luck.

***

Three days after he had been in detention, Alexander awoke in his bed. His neck felt as if he had been struck with hammers and his limbs felt as if they were frozen. He promptly got up, quit school and went to live on the estate with his uncle, Mr Thadeus Thule, and worked on the farm.

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