The square was full of people, strange masks covered their faces and the colourful costumes seemed like something from a dream. Beautiful lanterns were lit along the street, wonderful music and laughter flowed along the canals and the smell of honeysuckle filled the air. His knee seized up. He grunted through the pain and leaned against his walking stick till the spasm passed. Was he mad coming here? The crumpled note was in his pocket. He clasped it absentmindedly as he watched the young people cavort through the alley ways and around the great fountain in the hotel courtyard. He watched a young woman take a man by the hand and lure him to a quiet corner. Her lustrous dark hair fell in waves over her shoulders and for a brief moment he allowed himself to dream that he was the lucky young man. A muscular body free of pain that he could take for granted. He shook himself from these pleasant thoughts. It was almost nine O’clock. He needed to get moving if he was to find the place. It was not all bad. The Italian sun was already beginning to ease the constant pain in his joints.
He could just about tolerate the summers in London but the winters were unbearable now. The arthritis in his hands was a constant struggle. His grip was weakening. The fingers becoming warped. He caught people staring at them when they thought he wasn’t looking, it was pure vanity that had him wearing the gloves now. For all his pain he was still handsome. He could hide his hands but the stick. The damned walking stick hurt his pride most of all. Women used to stare at him. He had cut quite the dashing figure in his day but that was when he was in the army. Now they stared because of the stick. ‘Well, we all grow old after all’ he muttered to himself as he wandered through the carnival. The cobbles were slick from the early evening rain but he barely noticed. He should feel wary. He could not account for it but it was excitement not fear that travelled through his limbs. He could not remember the last time he had felt so invigorated. The note was vague. It was pushed under the door of his suite when he had returned from his morning stroll. The day had dragged since he had opened it. It simply said ‘Come to the Orion Club at half past nine. A friend’. He was intrigued. No one knew he was in Florence, not even his daughter. She thought he was still at their villa in Tuscany but he had grown restless and had set off for Florence.
He shuffled along briskly away from the sound and light of the festival and turned down the quiet side street. The sharp sound of his walking stick clinking on the hard stone proceeded him in the dark. Then he saw it. A large house. It seemed ancient, as though they had taken an old church and added new wings in the gothic style. It was strange, a shiver rippled through him pushing the hair up on the back of his neck. The door seemed small, innocuous as he hobbled towards the building but as he approached, it seemed to grow. It was huge, wide enough for a carriage to pass through and looked for a moment like a black gaping mouth. He shuddered involuntarily and walked to the shining black door. He rapped his stick sharply against the wood and waited as the moments passed. The house seemed dark, empty. He rapped again. The brass plaque on the wall simply said Orion Club. It was the right place. His breaths seemed loud, clumsy in the silence. He began to turn away, the disappointment poignant, when he heard the light creak of the hinges. A bright shaft of light and music spilled out from the opened door. He cleared his throat. It was a private club. ‘Good evening. I received an invitation’. The solemn looking man dipped his head in a curt bow. ‘Yes my Lord. We have been expecting you. Follow me please’.
He nodded as the strange man opened the door wide for him to pass and stepped timorously into the hallway. The door slammed shut jolting his nerves. He heard his own nervous laughter and straitened his waist coat as the man proceeded up the hallway. It was a curious place. Gas lamps burned along the walls, lending an eerie phosphorous glow to the high ceilinged corridor. It seemed absurdly long. Stately portraits were hung at intervals. The walls were dark aubergine, the lamps had ornate gold fittings. He could hear the distant laughter and gaiety from another room. ‘It is my master’s annual Masque Ball tonight. He is attending to his guests at the moment, but left instructions for you to be brought to his study. He will come to you shortly’. He hesitated, before he followed the stern butler. This house was peculiar, the portraits odd. Strange men dressed in dark robes, but his curiosity got the better of him. He couldn’t help but feel he should turn back. Leave this house and its mysteries but he had come this far. He wandered down the hall towards the door.
When it was opened he was led into a vast room. It was empty save for a large circular cushioned sofa at the centre of the floor. The room was blood red, even the ceilings were scarlet in colour. The plush carpets, the curtains that shielded doorways, even the gas lamps were red. A strange sinking feeling filtered through his limbs. The alcoves covered by the rich velvet curtains seemed to lead to many other doors, it was disorientating. The room itself was circular, and as he followed the butler across the floor he could not help but look back towards the way they had come. It was unsettling but he could not be quite sure which door he had entered through. The butler had stopped walking. He realised just in time to stop himself from walking right into the man. He produced a key and lifted back the curtain that concealed the door they were to enter. He coughed lightly. ‘I don’t suppose you know what this is all about do you?’ he questioned the silent man. The butler lifted the curtain higher for him to pass beneath. ‘It is not my master’s habit to inform me of his intentions my Lord’. ‘Well no, of course not, but who is he?’ ‘A gentleman. A great entrepreneur. He is highly regarded by the city officials’.
This did not satisfy him at all. What was all this secrecy about? Why had the man simply signed himself as a friend? It was damned rude. It would all come to light soon but he was quickly losing patience. He entered the doorway. It was dark, a narrow staircase led up to a single door. He waited as the butler closed up the door behind them and then led the way up the wooden steps. The study was a small room compared with the lofty expanses down stairs. A large fire crackled sharply in the grate and he walked about the dark room as the butler directed him to a leather armchair. He sank into the seat. Relieved to take the wait off of his bad leg. ‘Would you like something to drink while you wait?’ He nodded uncertainly, ‘A sherry if you have it’. ‘Certainly sir. My master will be along presently’. He was relieved to see the austere man go. Left alone at last he looked about the darkened room. There were no windows, and suddenly he realised he had not seen a single window since he had entered the peculiar house. The desk was a rich dark mahogany, and hundreds of books lined the shelves on the walls. A large portrait hung above the fire place. Another of the dreadful figures he had seen in the hallway below. It was warm in here, too warm, he slipped his jacket off and threw it over the arm of the chair.
He was beginning to day dream when he heard the tinkling laughter from below. The party was getting into full swing now. He could hear the strange whine of violins and the raucous bluster of a group entering the circular room beneath him. The door opened suddenly, taking him by surprise. He had listened intently to the sound of the creaking stairs as the butler had left him but the man who appeared at the door way had come silently up the steps. He blustered, not liking the feeling of being taken unaware and rose to introduce himself to his host. He hated the slow, fumbling way his body rose from the seat. The pitiful moment when the shake in his leg would make him think he was about to fall. ‘Good evening’. The man gave a stately bow and straightened. He was very tall. Over six foot if he was any judge and had a reserved stiffness to him which suggested a much older man. But the gentleman could not be more than thirty. ‘Sorry for keeping you waiting Lord Falmouth. You arrived earlier than expected’. ‘I apologise, I was not sure of the area and wanted to allow for any detours’. ‘The carnival? Yes— all of Florence is in fine form tonight’. The man indicated for him to take his seat again and walked determinedly to an armchair in the corner. It was frustrating, these little formalities. The light from the fire seemed to dim momentarily. His eyes were not what they once were and he found himself squinting at the man in the low light. What did he mean by having him sit in the dark? There was something about him though. A natural command or authority he could not quite account for. He found himself sitting patiently, waiting for the man to continue.
‘Am I right in assuming that you were stationed in India some years ago?’ His attention was caught now. He had not thought of those awful years in some time. ‘Yes. I spent several years there. Famine was rife, poor beggars died in their droves. It was a harrowing experience’. ‘Not harrowing enough to stop the export of wheat though’. ‘Well no. It had nothing to do with me. I was just there to support the government in Bengal’. He was irritated by the tone of the man. What did he want to know about his years in India for? He was about to continue when the door opened. The grey head of the butler swept into the room. He placed the glasses on the table between them and nodded towards his master before he left the room. The dark look left his hosts face as he pointed towards the glass. ‘Forgive me Lord Falmouth. I do not mean to sound accusatory. It is just that your experiences there have a lot to do with why I invited you here this evening. Please try the sherry, it is an excellent vintage, from my private collection you understand’. He nodded in acceptance and took a deep swallow of the liquor. It was strong, with a bitter aftertaste, not like the type he himself kept, which was mellow and smooth. ‘It’s strong’. ‘Yes. I like strong flavours. Perhaps you would prefer something a little milder?’ He did not want to insult him so he waved his hand and took another sip of the strange vintage. ‘No. It is fine. I hope you do not find me rude Sir but I have some questions of my own’. The man raised his dark brows and opened his hands in invitation to these queries. He had very strong features. His nose was almost aquiline, his teeth white and perfectly straight. He was remarkably handsome. The eyes that stared at him in such a searching way were vividly blue. He straightened himself in the chair. Aware more than ever of the unusual heat in the room and tried to put order to his thoughts.
‘I was intrigued to get your note. I did not know that anyone knew of my arrival in Florence. And I suppose the mysterious nature of the note sparked my curiosity’. His host nodded at these statements but said nothing. ‘Well what I want to know is how you knew of my arrival? What it is that caused you to seek me out and…’ ‘And?’ ‘Well, I would like to know who you are!’ The man erupted into an easy laughter which took him aback for a moment. ‘I apologise’ he breathed through his mirth. Lord Falmouth waited patiently for the fit to pass, growing uneasy at the bizarre nature of the interview. He played with the silver head of his walking stick nervously as the elegant man stood and walked across the room. ‘I am a very well-known figure in the city and I travel extensively, mostly alone. I am afraid it has made me remise at introductions’. He opened a finely carved wooden box on the table and lifted a cigar. He ran his long fingers over the rolled tobacco and offered one to the seated figure. Lord Falmouth nodded in acceptance as the man clipped the ends with the small guillotine. He passed it to him and lit his own with a match. When the light caught hold of the cigar he held the match out to the lord. Falmouth lent forward. Sucking heavily at the small flame and looked into the man’s extraordinary eyes.
‘My name is of little consequence but as it is your wish to know it, you may call me Matteo’. ‘You do not look Italian’. ‘No. I have a mixed lineage but I am Matteo to my friends’. Falmouth nodded at this and took another long pull on the cigar. The rich aroma filled the room as the two men smoked, making the air hazier than before. ‘As to how I knew of your arrival—let us just say that I am a well-informed man. Little happens in this city without my knowing about it’. ‘You use a network of spies?’ This seemed to amuse the man and he smirked at the remark before he continued. ‘You could say that’. This admission made him uneasy. He did not like the idea of someone following him around. It sparked a memory. The day before as he had wandered around the Piazza della Signoria he had felt uneasy, as though he was being watched. He had shook it off at the time and stopped at a café for a glass of wine but now he was beginning to think it was connected to his host. He must have seen him bristle, as that strange smile of his played about his lips again. He sank easily into the armchair opposite and sipped at the foul sherry. ‘Now, we come to the matter at hand. Were you acquainted with a captain Fairfax during your time in Bengal?’ The directness of the question threw him. He had not heard the name in a long time, and all the unease that he associated with it came flooding back to him. He sat forward trying to gage the cold expression on the man’s face. ‘Yes’. A bright light seemed to radiate from his eyes. The room felt smaller, as though it was closing in. The heat nigh on unbearable. ‘How did you know him?’ ‘He was my friend. What is all this about for God’s sake? What interest do you have in the Fairfax’s? That family has suffered enough!’
‘My interest will become apparent soon enough. Where is he now?’ ‘He is dead’. ‘Are you quite sure of that?’ He was becoming angry now. It took all of his will power to stop him from raising his voice. ‘I should bloody well hope so. We buried him five years ago’. ‘How did he die?’ Falmouth sat back and drained the glass of sherry. He did not want to talk about this. The truth was he didn’t really know what had happened. Fairfax had changed. He had grown distant, pulling away from him and the other chaps. He had taken to wandering the streets when he was off duty. He searched through dust filled books. Talked with the peasants. Visited their shamans and holy men. Then he disappeared. He was gone for three days. When he returned to camp he was feverish, raving about some witch doctor. That had been it for him. He had been shipped back to England, and for the most part they had lost contact. He met with him briefly at functions when he first returned but he was not the same. When he had inherited his father’s title and money he took off. Wandered around Europe, sending the odd postcard. Then they had received word of his death, and that was that.
‘He died in a hotel fire in Marrakesh. All of his possessions were burned but they identified the body by his rings. The family had his body shipped back home and he was buried in the family crypt. Why do you want to know this?’ The tall man stood up and walked slowly towards the fire place. He hesitated before he spoke. ‘Would it surprise you Lord Falmouth, to know that I knew Fairfax? That he was in fact a member of our order’. ‘I am a little surprised but no. I had not seen him for years before he died. To be frank I did not know much about his life after he left the army’. ‘Left the army?’ ‘Well since he went home’. ‘You are then aware of the problems he experienced during his time in India?’ He puffed heavily at the cigar. There was something familiar about this person. The way he stood, held himself. The serious expression on his face while he waited for an answer to his question. But he had not laid eyes on the man before tonight. ‘No. I never really knew what happened. We were friends, but he told me nothing. He did not trust me with his secrets’. The man shifted from his pensive stance, as though snapping from some disturbing thought. ‘I do know what happened to him. What led him to join our order and ultimately what led to the death of his body. What I want to know is if you are willing to hear me out?’
Falmouth allowed the tendrils of smoke to unfurl from his mouth. He was not sure if he heard correctly. Could this man know what happened to Fairfax? ‘You have gone quite pale my lord. Let me pour you a whiskey’. He took a bottle from a draw in his desk and poured the amber liquid into the sherry glass. Falmouth swallowed a sip. The familiar burn slid down his throat. He was tired and his knee was beginning to throb but he felt he needed to listen to what this man had to say. ‘What do you mean by the death of his body?’ ‘I will come to that but I will need to explain everything for you to fully understand. Will you listen to what I have to say? Will you keep an open mind?’ ‘Yes, of course’. The blue-eyed man smiled stubbing his cigar out on the tray. ‘Good. It began simply enough. Fairfax had been patrolling in the villages with his man. An Anglo-Indian sergeant who was familiar with the area’. ‘I remember the man. He was a good card player, spent a lot of time with Fairfax in the bars’. ‘Yes. By all accounts they were good friends. They came to a village in the hills. It had been hard hit by the famine. Funeral pyres were ablaze and the acrid smell of the burning dead hung in a greasy cloud all around. The women were wailing and the children were skeletal. They had left the place badly shook. Fairfax was becoming miserable. He hated the heat, the stench, the constant death but his term was to finish soon and thought he could ride it out’.
Falmouth took another sip of the burning liquid, the stench almost reached his nostrils. He remembered it all. ‘He started having nightmares. Are you familiar with the term lucid dreams?’ ‘I think I have heard of it but I do not claim to know anything about it’. ‘Well, Fairfax began to have lucid dreams. He was aware he was sleeping, but was powerless to wake. These nightmares grew worse. He began to wake at night. He was paralysed, unable to move anything but his eyes. Gradually he became aware of strange things. A presence in the room with him. Sometimes a dark figure in the corner. Sometimes he would feel a depression on the bed beside him. As though someone had sat on the mattress but no one was there’. Falmouth felt his skin prickle, it was an eerie thought. ‘This was disturbing for him you understand. I imagine he did not speak to you or your other companions in case you thought he was weak. But something had to change, he was afraid to close his eyes and when he grew so exhausted that he could no longer stave off sleep it happened’. ‘What happened?’ ‘He experienced what we in our order call soul displacement’. ‘What does that mean?’ ‘He had an outer body experience’. Falmouth laughed, he could not help himself. The tension in the room was thick. This man might be completely mad. He was about to rise from the chair and leave when the man fixed him with his cold staring eyes. His limbs seemed to freeze, the smile dropped from his face. ‘You think that this is fanciful but I assure you I have irrefutable proof that such things are possible. The world we live in is a strange and unusual place Lord Falmouth. A sane man does well to ignore it’.
‘So what happened?’ ‘When he fell asleep he became aware of a pulling sensation. He was tugged free from his body. It was terrifying. He had no control, the worst aspect was that once he was out he could not get back in. He described standing over his body, desperately trying to touch his own arm but unable to feel anything. These experiences had to be endured. He would have to wait until his body would allow him back in. And that is exactly how he described it. It was as though his body and soul were at odds. So he sought out unconventional help’. ‘The witch doctor?’ ‘Yes. He and his sergeant went back to the village. They went to the elders and were guided to a hovel on the outskirts. There they found an ancient man who claimed to know how to control these experiences. Fairfax took a drink of the bitter liquid he was offered and then it began. He felt his grip loosen on his body. It was not terrifying as it had been at night. He felt he could control where his soul went’. ‘Where did it go?’ ‘Into the old man. I can see you do not believe me. But I speak the truth. He spent two days wondering around in the old man’s body, until he was forced out and back into his own. As you can imagine he was not the same after that. He tried to find the old man. Wanted to begin again but he had vanished, Fairfax needed to find out more. He wanted to learn how to control it. It was the greatest mystery he had ever encountered but he had been dragged back to England’. ‘Why did he join your order?’ The man smiled as though he had been waiting for the question to be asked. ‘Because we were the only ones who could teach him how to do it again’. Falmouth drained the glass and poured himself another. This was madness but he wanted to know more, needed to find out what happened.
‘Are you saying that you yourself can switch bodies?’ ‘I have done it many times. It is an interesting prospect no? To be able to see through the eyes of another. To move into a young man’s body and feel that strength and energy once more’. Falmouth gasped. It would be the answer to his dreams. ‘Why stop there. Just think, you could see what it is like to be a women, even avoid the moment of your own death’. ‘You mentioned this before. You said the death of Fairfax’s body but not his soul. Is he still out there, is he living in the body of another?’ The handsome man nodded. ‘This is the reason I invited you here this evening. We do this from time to time. We are an organisation which has headquarters in all the major cities of the world. It is crude to speak of but the issue of coin is as important to us as to any. For a price you can experience this. Many have done it before but secrecy is of the utmost importance’. ‘What exactly are you offering me?’ ‘This body' the young man gestured towards his chest before he continued 'and the knowledge of how to switch bodies as and when you like. You can have it for one week, for a price. Then you will return it to me’. ‘What is to stop me from running off in this young frame and not returning’? ‘Apart from your vast wealth, you have family. I doubt you would abandon them so easily’. This was it, the answer to all of his dreams. What was money when you lived every day in pain?
‘What do you say?’ ‘I am interested. Don’t get me wrong but I have concerns. I need time to think about this’. ‘Time I am afraid is a luxury I do not possess My Lord. Either you are in or you are out’. He wanted this, more than he could say but there something wrong. Too many questions unanswered and then there was Fairfax. He died in that fire, burned beyond all recognition. If this man was speaking the truth Fairfax switched bodies, escaped into another. If this was so then the soul of the body he had taken would have been forced into his own. He left that man to burn alive. It was monstrous. He became uneasy, that is what this man was saying afterall. It was bodysnatching. The idea of this man wandering around in his body made his skin crawl. He would be powerless, no one would believe such a tale. He would have nothing and no way to prove he was who he was. He stood up, unsettling the chair. The room had grown unbearably warm. He felt the trickle of sweat as it ran down his back. ‘No. I am sorry but I cannot do this’. His vision began to blur. The seated figure to waver. He was dizzy. ‘I am sorry to hear that’. He felt a sudden jolt, as though he had lost grip on his own flesh. He fought it back and stumbled. ‘What have you given me?’ ‘A little something to make this easier on us both’. He tried to focus on the smiling face but it was beginning to fade. The attack came again, much stronger. He felt himself rise out of his body. The room was completely dark but there was a pleasant sort of floating sensation. He snapped out of it. Forcing himself back down. He clawed his way back into his body and gasped as he opened his eyes. The man was on top of him. He grabbed his stick and brought it down hard on the man’s head. He flew from the room, racing down the stairs and stopped in the red room. The seconds seemed to fly by. He did not know which door he had come through, the room began to spin. He tried a couple but they were locked.
Finally a handle turned in his hand. He threw the door back and raced into the room. The light and sound was almost deafening. Chandeliers hung all around, the walls were covered with huge mirrors. Dozens of couple spun in a waltz. They wore the eerie masks of the carnival outside. There was no other door, no windows. He caught a flash of the man’s blue eyes and clambered through the crowd. A woman caught him and tried to spin him in the waltz. He was light headed, he needed to get away. The man was close, up ahead. He lifted a chair from the ground and threw it at the mirror. It crashed outwards. The flow of fresh air swept over his skin as he leaped from the opening. He hit the ground hard rolling on the cobbles. Feeling the crack of bone in his arm he hollered out in agony. They were staring down at him from the second storey, laughing. He needed to get back to the hotel. The world flashed in blue throbs from the pain. He got up and began to hobble and then to run, the stick was useless. He fled through the carnival, people stared at him but he did not stop till he came to the hotel lobby. He tried to control his gasping breaths and brushed the glass from his jacket. The man at the desk looked startled. ‘Give me the key to my room, and call the police’. His voice was high, the man tried to placate him but it was no use. ‘Please sir, try to calm down!’ ‘I will not calm down, I want my key. I have been attacked’. The concierge was speaking but he could not understand a word of it. His eyes caught his reflection in the mirror behind the desk. The bright blue eyes of his attacker stared coldly back at him. ‘No!’ He wailed as he felt the firm young flesh of his own cheek. He stumbled from the light of the building. ‘No!’ He whimpered in the darkened street. He wandered for hours looking for the black door but it was gone.
It is a merciless rock, a decrepit shard of granite, whipped by the sea. I had no wish to come here. A map-maker by trade, it is my first commission. By day they are grey creatures, hollow-eyed, but by night they are more terrible. I see them, from time to time. Dark wraiths clustered in the tree line, grey as famine, watching, always watching. It is the silence that is so terrible, as though the food robbed from their bellies, robbed their tongues too. I have seen the pits, though my hosts do not know it. Black gaping mouths in the ground, waiting to be fed. I have seen the mounds too, they must think me a fool. It is a hard country, as hard and stark as its people. Nothing grows here, only trees, great pines with snaring arms, drooping branches and moss crawling in their dripping wake. I long for summer, but I do not see sunlight in this place. Waiting for a ship, the desperate sight of a white sail that may never come.
I have taken to carrying a knife, and help tend the flocks of graven sheep, more bone than meat. At night the dogs come, dark-haired, white-toothed, famished. It is they who tend the unmarked graves by dark, or so my hosts would have me believe. But I begin to doubt, the horror of these living skeletons raise such unholy thoughts in my mind. The only birdsong that chimes here is that of the crow, so I stay to the house. Not the damp earthen walls and smoke filled huts of the starving but the manor house. A city of light and music amidst the dark. I try to shut out the sight. The beleaguered image of their distorted faces. They do not seem to be people at all, but a great swarm of watching spectres whose very presence chill me to the bone. How I have grown to loath them.
These people seem busy of late, employed in some secret scheme. I watch them now, as they trail through the baron fields with pitchfork and pick to some unknown place. I have tried to speak to Fairfax, but he will not listen, for what need the lion fear of the lamb. He is paler than usual, and grown lean, a stranger who cannot be found by night. I walk the dark halls of his house and spend hours reading through dust filled books. What strange stories they tell, of ghostly hounds that tenant the carcases of beasts, shape shifters, a wolf in man’s clothing.
I dreamed of the sea last night, not the broiling waters that surround this cursed island, but clear waters the colour of the sky. I fear now that I shall never leave this place, and have taken to riding roughshod across the fields and ditches in the driving rain. My horse is called fury, a black creature with a temper as foul as my own. It was on one of these maddening rides, two nights past, that I came upon it. The ruined husk of a church. It is a solitary place, the very sight of it seemed to ease my torn soul, and so I took the liberty of walking amongst the ancient headstones.
The brambles and wild reeds have taken ownership of the grounds, and coming at last to the rotted doors I entered in. The rain dripped soothingly amidst the drooping branches, for it is a truly abandoned place, the trees the only pillars that remain. There was a crude idol, carved of wood, near what must have been the alter. I picked my way through the rubble and thick webs that carpet what is left of the stone floor. Beetles scuttled from my feet and biting ants covered the mass of rotted cloth and wood heaped here and there. The smell of rot grew as I approached and saw clustered about the idols feet the small mouldering bones of forest animals. There, hung about the neck of this long forgotten saint was a string of human teeth. I spied small offerings, locks of human hair, coins, small baubles, it seemed to be a place of eerie silence that married Christian relics with pagan ritual. I shuddered at the touch of these dreadful effects and all at once I wanted to get clear of the place. I stumbled wildly from its walls, my mind full of the dark shadows I had found there and have not returned since.
I am determined now to discover the secrets of this strange Isle. For I must admit my mind of late is greatly disturbed. I had seen firelight in the hills by night, I tried to quiz Fairfax, but he evaded my inquiries, I will find no help there. I followed a lonely trail to the hills, a light mist clouded the path and it seemed as if I had stumbled into some idle dream. The lonesome caves above were my destination and I would not stop until I had seen them for myself. The hike took some three hours, the sharp ache in my legs had begun to dull, when at last the stark opening of the caves came into view. I lit the lantern, and wiped the sweat from my brow, the cool water from my flask trickled from my mouth as I paused at the entrance. I did not know what it was that I hoped to find here, but I was sure there was something in these caves. It was with this conviction I began my descent.
As my eyes adjusted to the dark I found myself in some small dwelling place. It was plainly furnished, a bed, a chair, stark comfort in the cold heights of the hillside, but there was no sign of anyone living in the rooms at present. I made my way down the twisting corridor, more rooms led off to the left and right, much the same as the one I had searched. I became confused and disheartened in my search, I could not think to what purpose this system of rooms could serve until I came to the end of the corridor. Here was a room larger than the others, it was not furnished except for a large roughhewn table, with drains carved into the floor. It seemed to be a place for butchering meat, and at last disappointed I left the rooms convinced the caves were used by hunters in the not too distant past. Before I reached the surface I came upon the charred and discarded bones of some unremembered feast. I hunched down and lifted one and could clearly see the mark of the butcher’s blade upon the bone. From the corner of my eye I could see the curved surface of another such piece and lifting it into the light I dropped it instantly and fell backwards away from the pile. It seemed to be a femur bone, it too had the indents of the butcher’s knife. A cold sweat broke out over my flesh as I escaped into the evening air. My mind raced as I half ran, half fell down the hillside, until at last I reached the road and began to doubt what it was that I had found. I am resigned to keep this discovery from my host until I can be sure of what is going on, for truth be told I begin to distrust even him.
I have picked up the trail of the wild dogs. Some sport to divert my mind from these dark thoughts. We drove them across the moor, my horse and I. Through stark winds, it seemed we gave chase for hours, swiftly and silently in the moonlight. The reigns digging bloody furloughs into my flesh, until at last I caught sight of these ravenous beasts. I heard the ghostly howl of their leader as they pounded out of sight, but I was after them at once. I howled with glee, as bestial and unholy a sound as I ever uttered in my life and I crashed down the verge towards them.
Then at once the pack disappeared, as though the ground itself had swallowed them. I leapt from Fury's back, my knife in hand, and almost slid into the gaping pit. The rain fell harder now, the stinging droplets lashed my face. Great spikes veered upward, covered in gore. I heard the meagre yelps of the creatures bellow. Then I saw them, the silent watchers, amidst the trees. My heart pounding I mounted my horse and fled. That was six nights ago. I have waited in my rooms, day after day, night after night, but Fairfax and his family are gone. I begin to think strange thoughts about my host, and I wait, for the starving watchers are bound to come.