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Tigbolter Town’s jail house was different from the other buildings in the village. The town’s buildings were usually made from wood, bricks and mortar. Tigbolter Criminal Housing was made mainly out of concrete. It was the largest building in the town, dwarfing the mayor’s office which was the next largest house. It took up one and a half acres of land and was two stories tall. There were very few small windows along its cement walls. Surrounding the building was a large, metal fence guarded on each of its four sides by armed men and women.
Inside of the building, in a small chamber room located furthest from the front entrance on the first floor, sat the keeper of the criminal house. A short and portly man with hardly a hair on the top of his scalp but plenty along the back and sides of his head, like a furry brown ruff, sat behind a desk moving wooden pieces along a chess board. He was Chisbaulf Vaudeville, keeper of the Tigbolter Criminal Housing prison for over twenty years. His job was an important but incredibly dull one during the winter, weeks before an event the townspeople called The Forest Wait. In between checking up on the guards every hour or so there were drone stretches of time in which he passed by practicing strategies on his chess board. Most men and women would practice their reflexes or physical exercises, which was the established norm for the Deusling race, but the keeper found it wiser to train one’s mind then their bodies. He was strange and different from others that way.
Chisbaulf wrapped his fingers around a knight, questioning whether he should move it one square or the other. After several moments of deciding he made his decision. He knew of some chess players who spent minutes staring at the chess board, planning out all possible strategies before making a single move. This was not the type that Chisbaulf would ever wish to meet. A man who planned for more than a few minutes was not to be trusted, befriended, and would probably not be a great holder for conversation. Constant practice to hone instinct was the key to victory. And if constant practice taught one to plan for more than a few minutes before touching a chess piece than that person had practiced improperly. Chisbaulf hoped to one day prove this philosophy by playing a match with somebody.
There was a knock on his bolted door. “Come in,” he said. An armed guard entered. He was a young man who had begun working just a year before. “What is the problem, Kristopher?” said Chisbaulf.
“Sir, a man outside has an official request to see you,” Kristopher said.
“Does he have a letter of permission signed by the mayor himself?” Chisbaulf asked. He often chose not to interrupt his practice for any less than a letter from the mayor of Tigbolter himself. Chisbaulf did not like speaking to people he could not fire.
“Well, don’t keep me waiting, young man. Hand me the letter,” the keeper said.
The young man did not approach Chisbaulf. “Sir, he insisted on handing you the letter personally.”
The keeper looked up at the nervous man. He was frightened, but not of being reprimanded or Chisbaulf himself. Chisbaulf wiped his brow with his hand. “Did the man have a black streak across his hair?”
“Yes sir.” the policeman said.
Without skipping a beat the keeper stood up and walked out of the room, beckoning Kristopher to follow. The hallway just outside the room was calm and comparatively quiet. There were paintings of the past mayors of Tigbolter aligning the cement walls. Past this hallway was a door that led to one of the many cell hallways. The cells were filled with people. They were thinly clothes, not ideal for the winter. Each cell held hot coals inside a cement hole. Covering the hole were iron bars. The prisoners huddled around the coals for warmth.
“How does our tiny town hold so many criminals?” Kristopher muttered a little too audibly.
“Do not ask questions like that. The answers aren’t for everybody,” Chisbaulf said. Kristopher did not ask what he meant but did watch the prisoners as they walked by. Many of them were too cold to heckle them like during the summer. They only stared at him in ways that suggest utmost violence given the opportunity. You’re lucky that you aren’t in here, the looks said. You would not last a minute. If you’re lucky, you’d be driven mad. Mad like some of them prisoners I know you’ve moved upstairs. Yeah, just like them, little guard.
Kristopher stopped looking at the prisoners. He and Chisbaulf left the room.
A lean man in black waited at the front entrance. He was tall, easily the tallest man in the room, dwarfing the two armed guards around him. He was a pale man with slit like eyes and rather thick lips. His hair was grey with a black streak, like the reverse of a skunk. He wore a blue necklace, a scandalous choice seeing as jewelry was meant for women in the conservative town of Tigbotler. Two guards watched him. He was a frequent visitor of the prison but the security was strictly maintained.
The lean man held a folded paper in his hands.
The door opened and Chisbaulf entered, followed by the Kristopher. Kristopher nodded to one of the guards, who nodded and left. Chisbaulf looked up at the lean man.
“Liam,” he said, curtly.
“Chisbaulf,” the lean man said. He unfolded the paper and lowered it down, eye level to Chisbaulf. Chisbaulf knew better than to reach for the letter. He glared annoyed at Liam for a long moment before analyzing the letter. The mayor’s signature and seal was very real. The contents of the letter was not important. Chisbaulf motioned for the guards to allow Liam to enter with him.
Back in his office Liam sat down on a wooden chair. Chisbaulf took his place at his desk and cleared away his chessboard and pieces. He reached for an ink pen and paper. He half considered revealing his unused Gap Roamer Wax pen simply to impress Liam, but decided it was best not to remove it from it’s parchment seal just yet.
Liam stood, staring at the concrete walls. The candlelight flickered at Chisbaulf’s constant rummaging and the flapping of paper. Then it stilled. There was a moment of complete silence before Chisbaulf broke it.
“I suppose you are here to discuss the, er,” Chisbaulf waved a hand collectively, “the Forest Wait that’s happening in a few weeks.”
“I am,” Liam said. “The event is taking place at a terrible time this year.
“It will be terrible, having to deal with all of the merchants this year. It’s a shame it had to take place this month,” Liam said.
“I suppose the mayor must be losing sleep with all that’s happening,” Chisbaulf said.
“We all are, Chisbaulf. People are napping at the town office right this moment. I myself have had barely a night’s sleep this week alone. Did you know that, along with setting up the prisoner offerings, the mayor has delegated to me the complex task of directing the town market square? I have to make things as orderly as possible to set up all of the safe rooms for all the merchants,” Liam said.
“I take it that must be a difficult task?” Chisbaulf said.
“Dreadful, Chisbaulf. Simply dreadful,” Liam said.
“Well, if you allow me to, I could help in whatever way I can. I have a keen eye for strategics. If you showed me whatever plans you have for the market square I could give my recommendations, an unbiased point of view.”
“With all due respect Chisbaulf, I would rather let my hired help deal with the specifics,” Liam said.
“I see,” Chisbaulf nodded disappointed. “I suppose we had better get started on discussing prisoners. I have to say that I’m not fond of this part of my job. I like to deal with these people as seldom as possible. They make me sick, the things they say and the things they are convicted for. It’s no wonder the cities are willing to give them to us for so cheap.” The prisoners of Tigbolter Criminal Housing were the most undesirable people imported in secret from prisons across the country. They were bought and paid for from Tigbolter, who considered them an investment that payed off year round.
“I blame the city that many of them were born in. It can’t be healthy being surrounded by buildings, living under the shadows of city walls. These forests that surround us is what keeps us all thinking straight,” Liam said. At this Chisbaulf laughed deliriously, which annoteyed Liam. “It’s quite true! Our woods may be hostile but it’s healthier for the mind. Deuslings were never meant to leave the woods to live in smoggy, polluted cities.”
“Yes, well, I can say this about The Forest Wait; it will be a pleasure to not have to deal with a majority of these prisoners when this is over. Especially those upstairs,” said Chisbaulf. “I hope it will be a peaceful spring this year.”
“I have heard that this year’s batch of criminal folk are the worst in decades,” said Liam.
“To put it lightly! I have more insane folks on the second floor than the slightly less touched men and women down here,” said Chisbaulf.
“Well, I have good news for you, Chisbaulf.” Liam leaned forward and placed his hands into a ball. “We have decided to make your job easier this year.”
“Oh?” Chisbaulf said. He leaned closer, as if he was about to be told a troubling secret.
“The village has benefited from a healthy year for farmers this year. Usually, farmers apply for tax exemptions during the winter, exemptions that we have no choice but to allow otherwise we’d have to arrest every farmer in the town. This season, however, the harvests were so successful that all of the farmers have payed up their taxes in full, probably to qualify for benefits during the spring. With this tax, the office has decided to hire a specialist to help you pick out the best prisoners,” Liam said.
Chisbaulf frowned. Every year he had the task of choosing different prisoners to perform a certain task for the safety of the city. The task was most likely fatal and the mayor’s demands as well as personal ethics dictated that only the truly unrepentant were chosen for the task. He did not enjoy having to investigate his prisoners and interview and interrogate each sociopath in the jail and the idea of a hired help sounded nice in theory. However, it could also mean prolonged interviews and interaction with the criminals, especially if Chisbaulf did not agree with the help’s decisions or suggestions.
Liam must have sensed Chisbaulf’s trouble because he spoke up, “You must realize that we are only thinking of the town’s well being. The man we’re sending for will help to sort out the quality of the prisoners to provide to the town and whichever you and he determine are unfit for the task will be sent to Bacchus for whatever use he has for them.”
“What sort of help is this man?” said Chisbaulf.
“He is a doctor. Not of herbs and treatment of people’s bodies, mind you, but a graduate of Capital Uruk University. He’s a doctor of the mind,” Liam said.
“I don’t believe we have any doctors of the mind in Tigbolter,” said Chisbaulf. “Except for the old croon.” Chisbaulf shuddered to even think of the old lady of Tigbolter whom was known as the Tigbolter Witch. She was despised by almost everyone in the city.
“We are sending for a man in Orvid City. He has already agreed to the journey in spite of the dangers. He’ll be assisted by our best guards,” said Liam.
Chisbaulf shrugged. He didn’t understand why Liam was treating this news in his usual grim and secretive manner. “What else are you not telling me?”
“Since we are sending for someone to enter our city, Bacchus will definitely be following the guards,” said Liam. “We’ve kept matters as quiet as we could, but there is a good chance that it was for naught.”
“Bacchus always does his utmost to protect those who enter the Elith Woods. What harm could his presence have? He could serve as extra protection against the things that live in the woods,” Chisbaulf said, but even as he said so the trouble dawned on him. Liam confirmed his suspicions.
“Bacchus is the receiver of the inferior and less useful prisoners if our plan goes swimmingly. The professional has agreed to sort the prisoners so that the city will use the prisoners who are somewhat sane and have more of a chance to survive the task they have been conscripted into and Bacchus will receive whatever low grade, completely insane and irredeemable prisoners to use as he pleases for his insane and dangerous hunts. However, the council is not convinced that Bacchus is unaware of our plans and with good reason,” said Liam.
Bacchus was a man who served a large and important role in the community, though nobody would admit so except reluctantly. Within the dangers of the Elith Woods, Bacchus was responsible for the safe passage of many who traveled to and fro between Tigbolter and the major neighboring cities. Tigbolter willingly provided him “assistants” and “apprentices” as he called them from the Tigbolter Criminal Housing. Since it had became apparent that whoever Bacchus was given as an apprentice had more of a chance to survive the Forest Wait it used to be tradition that he was given those who seemed repentant and redeemable. However, this led to the bunch of prisoners who were chosen by the city to perform the dangerous task of the Forest Wait, which was a horrifying and mainly fatal ritual which survivors of were almost unheard of, being insane and irredeemable people who performed a sub par job. It was now a regular arrangement for Bacchus to receive the insane and incapable. It is rumored that he had become frustrated with this arrangement.
“You’re afraid that Bacchus will contact the professional and convince him to supply him with the more capable of prisoners and I suppose you want me to keep a close eye on the professional and question all of his decisions,” Chisbaulf said.
“The men we have sent have been ordered to bar Bacchus access to the man. However, mishaps predictable and unpredictable are bound to be possible and the council is trusting you to survey the actions of the professional. Report if you believe that Bacchus may have made contact and struck a deal with the man,” Liam said.
Chisbaulf gave a smile and a wink. “I will do my best, sir.”
“Forget doing your best. Just do the task,” said Liam. He wiped his brow. “Do you mind if I take a swig from my flask?” he said.
“By all means. I take it you must be exhausted from all the work you’ve undoubtedly been busy with,” Chisbaulf said.
“There is not a single task regarding the horrors of the forest that doesn’t sap at a man’s constitution,” Liam said. He removed a flask from his belt and pressed it to his lips, taking light sips. Chisbaulf believed he smelled alcohol. He watched Liam curiously, fiddling with his pen. He looked down at the parchment he had taken out. He had yet to write a single word on it. Liam put his flask away and looked down, solemnly. “It’s dirty work, always. Dealing with prisoners, with that fool, Bacchus. Dealing with that witch.”
Chisbaulf nodded. Bacchus was a man who lived outside of Tigbolter Town who few knew personally. He was shrouded in rumors, none of them very flattering. Although, he was not nearly as loathed by the town as the Tigbolter Witch. The two were frequently seen speaking together. Chisbaulf thought of the witch and Bacchus as allies to Tigbolter, and he believed that in spite of anything Liam said, so did the mayor. Against the beasts that lay in the Elith woods, even their unpleasantness and general disgusting practices were tolerable.
“Have you ever seen one?” Liam said, his voice almost a whisper. “One of the beasts from the woods?” His eyes were merely slits now. Chisbaulf wondered just how much sleep Liam was getting these days.
“No. Have you?” said Chisbaulf.
Liam nodded. He looked at the dark portions of the walls where the candle light failed to illuminate. “There was once a time when the mayor hired the town doctors to study the creatures. The council believed records should be kept of the creatures, perhaps to put an end to the mysteriousness of the subject. This was three years ago, I believe.”
“I’ve never heard of this,” Chisbaulf said.
“It was a top secret project. Of course, to study the creatures the doctors required a specimen, preferably a fresh one. Requests were made to Bacchus and the old witch. The witch we asked immediately. She downright refused. She was simply being difficult, didn’t want to bother with us non-magic folk more than she thought she needed to. They say that in her little tent she keeps live, tiny specimens in cages and I believe it,” said Liam.
“And Bacchus?” said Chisbaulf. The story, whatever Liam was about to say next especially, had his interest.
“Well, you know you can’t just find Bacchus and ask to speak with him. We sent him a carrier dove letter and expected a response, either via bird or in person within a day or two.”
“I was not aware that Bacchus owned a carrier dove,” said Chisbaulf.
“He doesn’t. The council has a reserve dove trained to follow Bacchus if we need to contact him. The old witch helped train it, I don’t like talking about it. Anyway, the morning right after the message was sent the bird comes back with no message from Bacchus. We didn’t hear from him in a week and we all believed that he refused the request. But on the eighth day, one day after the mayor disbanded the doctors and the entire project was put to rest, Bacchus comes to the office holding not one, but two wrapped up bodies of the most gruesome, unnatural creatures I have ever lay eyes on.” Liam’s gaze became hazy.
“The absolute most frightened I’ve ever been was walking in on the doctors when they were summoned to the mayor’s office. They had just opened the presents that Bacchus brought. I…I believe I may have fainted. I don’t know, I know somebody fainted and it could have been me.”
“So you’ve seen them, then?” Chisbaulf said, tightly gripping his pen in one hand and nervously scratching the wooden desk with a finger from his other.
“I have. You see, I was trusted to speak with Bacchus that day,” Liam smiled slightly, a haughty pride in his expression muddied by stress and horror. “I am one of the few people at the office that can speak more than a few words to Bacchus without being intimidated. The man insisted on staying with the doctors in their autopsy room as they examined the corpse as he felt responsible if they mishandled the body and were somehow killed by it. These were perfectly trained men and women, but I think I agree with the decision in hindsight, as those bodies were wretched! Not that it did not irritate and sicken me back then.”
“Really?” Chisbaulf was more fascinated at the bodies of the monsters and wished that Liam would begin talking about those instead of rambling on about his dialogue with Bacchus. It may impress Liam’s children, if the man ever had children to impress, or even his fellow workers at the office but Chisbaulf was one of the few men in the town who spoke with Bacchus once a year and Liam could not tell him anything new about that. Then again, Liam seemed to enjoy boasting his importance and Chisbaulf was sympathetic. The man was clearly taking the time to relax and would probably head right back to work once he left the comfort of Chisbaulf’s room.
“Well, I questioned Bacchus a little about why he didn’t respond immediately and whether he wished to be payed immediately or whether we should simply add the cost for the bodies to his payment for that year’s second Forest Wait. I would have questioned him more thoroughly, maybe even chastise him for his lack of adult professionalism. But disgust and curiosity of the bodies overwhelmed me. I looked over the shoulders of the doctors to see the bodies being dissected.”
Liam was quiet. He pressed his fingers to his temples and closed his eyes.
“The specifics and details escape me, possibly because it was then I might have fainted. I don’t know. What I do remember was some bits and pieces.”
“Are you quite sure you want to continue talking about this subject? We can stop if you don’t feel comfortable, Liam,” Chisbaulf said, sounding more patient than he felt. He was eager to hear more.
“I’ll be fine. Do you wish to hear about this? It’s quite a frightening topic and perhaps a bit disturbing,” said Liam.
“Definitely,” Chisbaulf said.
“Well then. One of the creatures was necks,” Liam said, straightening himself as if to compensate for his previous lack of dignity.
“Necks?” Chisbaulf said.
“I believe it was made completely out of necks, aside from a large bulb of bones and organs wrapped up in skin. It had necks and hideous mouths instead of limbs. I remember that much of that particular specimen,” Liam said.
Chisbaulf tried to picture what Liam described. A spider creature, perhaps, with ribs and organs visible beneath mammalian skin, perhaps. Instead of legs, Chisbaulf imagined elongated necks sticking out of the creature at random places of the “nucleus” of the body with animal mouths sticking out of the end.
“Besides necks, neither of the creatures had anything remotely similar to regular animals. Their feet, or at least the one who had feet at all, was covered in what the doctors described as eyes. Their mouths resembled slits of plants that bled human blood,” Liam said.
Chisbaulf made a change in his mental picture. “And the other?””
“That one was worse than the other. The doctors were especially fascinated by it. It had teeth covering its entire body, but only one mouth. It had feet with eyes, like i said, but not in the way a person or a gap roamer, or even a dog or cat have feet. Its feet were potruded straight from the creature’s mouth, in fact, and seemed to be made up of small, bone like orbs held together with, what are they called? Ligaments, with an “eye” in each one. The most sickening part of that isn’t even that. The sick part was that, within the mouth, when they opened the creature up, they discovered a small, bleeding film of flesh that was pierced and ripped apart by the legs. Bacchus himself said that the feet of the creature was formed inside the creature’s body and it shed them every day,” Liam said.
Chisbaulf, more fascinated than disgusted, had already put together what Liam was saying. “So, this film in the throat…I suppose it must heal?
“So, you understand then. Bacchus theorized that the creature slept at night and that the feet were shed when it slept. But the feet that grew back pierced the newly mended film every time it needed legs and when it needed to eat. The doctors said it was probably excruciatingly painful for the creature,” Liam held his throat, as if imagining the pain it must have felt. “But don’t you see the true horror of all of this?”
“That such creatures exist at all, and so close to the town?” Chisbaulf said.
“Yes, Chisbaulf. That is a terrible thought. But the true horror of these creatures is how much pain these creatures go through and what it says about what they are capable of. Think about it. We deuslings are made to naturally experience pain, but not self inflicted and not at such a degree. We are meant to feel pain and we can judge how strong we are by how much pain we feel. It’s the reason men who perform physical labor are usually stronger than men and women who work in offices, like me. They feel more pain and can take more pain than me, or women.”
Chisbaulf wondered if Liam had ever spoken to a woman before or even knew about their biology. But he did understand what Liam was saying.
“But these creatures? They seem to live in pain. Pain is breathing to them. In one regard, these creatures are superior to us by a caste. They are more powerful than us because while we consider pain and wounds something horrible and avoid, they consider normal and live with,” Liam stopped and looked at Chisbaulf, as if he had said something impressive. Chisbaulf said nothing. He sighed quietly. He had listened to Liam enough.
“Interesting, Liam. You’ve given me nightmares for a week. But don’t you suppose that you should be leaving for work, now?” Chisbaulf said.
“I’m sorry, Chisbaulf,” Liam said, probably under the impression that his dramatic speech had truly shaken the keeper. “The mental doctor should be arriving in a week or so. I enjoyed our conversation, immensely.”
“I’m sure you did,” Chisbaulf said.
Liam got up, took a final swig from his flask, and left. Chisbaulf looked down at his blank paper. He thought hard about what he had been told about the monsters. He had always known that the forest was home to these horrible beasts, everyone in the town knew this and it wasn’t a very well kept secret either. However, he had grown up on tales that the monsters were, perhaps, big bad wolves, or perhaps large animals. He had always heard the theory that they were grotesque, nightmarish and eldritch creatures but they were recent rumors. Perhaps they were started by the project Liam described?
To think that the mayor had once desired information about these creatures so badly that he had doctors dissect the creatures. What a foolish idea, Chisbaulf thought. But was it though? Liam had never said that the project was unsuccessful.
Chisbaulf looked up from his desk. He ran out of his room and caught up with Liam, who looked at him surprised.
“Liam! I have just became dreadfully curious, and won’t sleep right for days if I am not told, did the project ever unearth any information? Do you know?” Chisbaulf said.
“No. I wasn’t present at the dissections after the first day, but according to the doctors they could not discover what they were looking for. Each day of dissecting those slowly rottening corpses turned up confusion: organs that should not function as far as we knew, bones that did nothing bones should do for an animal’s body, and many more vile discoveries. I heard that the doctors found the job a perplexing and cumbersome one,” said Liam.
“I see,” said Chisbaulf.
“To make matters worse, each day was costing the town more and more of its tax money. When the corpses decayed beyond usefulness we gave up on the project altogether,” Liam said.
Chisbaulf thought for a moment. Liam made to go but Chisbaulf stopped him.
“Wait. Was Bacchus himself ever interested in the project? Was he there when the doctors performed the surgeries after the first day? Did he check up on the specimens at all?” said Chisbaulf.
“I would imagine not, but I think you’d have to ask the doctors themselves for that. Is this bile fascination afflicting you important? Because, as much as I would love to loiter in this cozy prison, I have work to do,” Liam said.
“Yes, yes. I’m sorry. Just dreadfully curious, you understand.” Chisbaulf watched Liam exit the hallway. Then he turned back to his room. The faintest beginnings of an idea was forming in his mind. When he reached his office he looked down at the blank parchment on his desk. He picked up his pen and began to write.
((As you can see, the politics and technology isn’t too medieval but not modern as well. This story is becoming more and more intricate yet fun to write as I continue. I have it planned out a good way in so far.))