All Hands In
The prompt for this month was "All Hands In". I had a very hard time coming up with something for this.
The storm outside raged and howled. It was the deafening crack of thunder that woke me from my troubled slumber. With the flash of violet light still painting the stone walls, I jolted upright in a panic. Sweat dripped from my worried brow as I looked around the stark room, trying to remember where I was. My shaking hand tugged at the soaked fabric of my shirt, absent-mindedly rubbing at the sore spot on my chest. The salt-infused liquid seeped through bandages and into the ragged open wound on my palm.
With a sharp, debilitating pain, the memories came flooding back to me. I had been traveling to Arkham through the mountain passage. I had recently been ordained the headmaster at the school there and was eager to inspect the grounds. It was a relatively short trip from my hometown of Chatham, so I was not terribly worried by the encroaching storm. I had sent the bulk of my possessions ahead and was looking forward to a late-summer ride through the countryside and mountains.
The storm came on quicker than I had anticipated. The rough passage through the mountains only complicated this and wildly threw off my original estimates. As I neared the crest of a sizable climb, it was the same damned thunder that unsettled my mount’s nerves. The gelding reared up and due to my surprise, threw me from my perch. I tumbled back down the path and into darkness.
Looking at my sparse surroundings, I had no doubts that I was someplace as ancient as the mountains themselves. The squall carried on outside and beat furiously against the wooden shutters. Despite the shutters’ protest, the thick stone walls were indifferent to the torrential rain buffeting them.
Taking a moment to clear my senses, I pulled the scratchy blanket from my legs. Whomever had taken me in not only bandaged my wounds, but also redressed me in this simple night-gown. It felt like cheese cloth and the slight breeze from the window easily passed through it and cooled my balmy skin. The patchwork stone floor was cold against my bare feet and if not for the throbbing in my head, I might have screeched in protest.
The room stood in darkness and I was only able to make out details by way of the pulsing lightning. Sitting on a simple wooden table was a lantern. Shuffling towards it, my hands found a book of matches nearby. The warm glow of the meager flame inside brought little comfort as I was able to take in my surroundings.
Holding the wrought iron casing in front of me, I was greeted by a vision from the middle ages themselves. Stone encircled me like a mausoleum. The only furnishings in the sparse room were the worn wooden table and the small cot from which I awoke. A large wooden door fastened with iron hinges stood as the only portal to my domicile. With nowhere left to go and nothing else to do, I ventured forth in search of my enigmatic host.
Very quickly, the remainder of the building turned from castle to cathedral as I crept from what was clearly the living quarters. Where the bedrooms were sparse and barren, the chapel itself was grand beyond description. Unbelievably high ceilings vaulted above me and faded into the darkness. Magnificent stained glass windows adorned the towering walls and confused my pained mind even further with their bizarre depictions of perverse beings. Some seemed to have the form of man while others resembled nothing my mortal eyes had seen.
As I worked to the altar, I could hear the faint sounds of singing. Though soft and quiet, it flowed to me with a haunting beauty. My legs moved of their own accord and the pain that filled my form faded with each step. Entranced, I continued my pursuit of the melancholy melody.
Kneeling before the altar was a small woman clad in white. If she noticed my presence, she gave no indication of it. Instead, she sang and the words became clear to me.
Put your hands in and don the guise of the wolf
Put your hands in and crown thyself with the mantle of the deer
Put your hands in and drink of the blood
Lift your gaze towards the old ones and pray
Pray for eyes worthy of looking upon their divine form
Drink in the blood of feeble man and wallow in his weakness
Put your hands in and feel the strength of the blood
Put your hands in and feel the gods flowing into unworthy flesh
The creaking of my lantern caused a final response from my host. My mind failed to comprehend her visage turn to horrors unknown. My eyes were transfixed as they burned. Her song continued where I did not.