Bradely Morrel was in trouble again. He’d let a secret slip from between his lips, and now everyone knew. Personally, he didn’t really understand why Gabe Brockton was so upset that Mandy Kestle knew he fancied her. Sure, Amelia Cart was furious and Sissy Day had cried and Thomas and David Kestle were ready to pound Gabe into a pulp because they never had liked him very much, but Bradely still couldn’t understand why not a single person would talk to him.
He was roaming the streets alone now, completely aimless and sulking in the highest degree. Why were thirteen year old boys expected to keep secrets? He hadn’t meant to tell anyone, but it’d just slipped out.
“Bradley Morrel!” The sharp voice of his mother cut through the town as she marched towards him. Anyka Morrel was a whip-thin woman with a voice that always snapped and eyes that always worried. “You were supposed to be home by now! Your father will be waiting.”
Bradley cringed. “Do I really have to go with him, mum? I don’t want to be a scribe, what’s the point of me staying at Old Gloom for a month?”
“Don’t call it that!” She grabbed him by the arm and began to haul him down the street, disregarding the fact that he was several inches taller than her now. “You shouldn’t disrespect Olen Glaum, it’s bad luck.”
“It’s a building. A rotting old building made of crumbling, mossy stone and it’s filled with people like father who do nothing but wallow in musty paper and read about dead people. I don’t want to go.” Anyka said nothing until she had dragged Bradley all the way inside their home. When the door slammed shut, she spun around.
Wild eyed, she hissed, “Don’t you ever talk about Olen Glaum or your father like that ever again. Do you hear me? You’d better learn to mind your tongue before someone goes and cuts it off!” Before Bradley could shoot back a retort, his father walked round the corner. Baeden Morrel was much like his wife, tall and thin, but he rarely talked and had pale, pale skin from his lifetime of work indoors.
“Ready?” His voice had grown softer since Bradley had last seen him. It was paling with his skin until one day, he was sure, his father would have a voice no more.
“Give a moment. I just need to finish packing a few things.” A baldfaced lie, both his parents knew. He hadn’t packed a single thing yet.
He stuffed as much as he could into a haversack, not really caring what got put in. He wasn’t planning on staying at Olen Glaum for a month, not if he had anything to say about it. His parents were waiting silently when he tromped down the stairs, both casting disapproving looks his way as he clattered towards them.
“I’m ready to go,” he muttered. Baeden nodded shortly, kissed his wife on the cheek, and opened the door. That was all the goodbyes they would have.
A heavy silence hung between Bradley and his father as they made their way along the winding road to Olen Glaum. Though Bradley had a thousand questions, comments, and arguments he wanted to bring up, he knew his father wouldn’t answer any of them and didn’t even bother trying. He could at least have the decency to tell me a bit more about Olen Glaum. All he knew was that it was an old castle, a small one, and that the Order of Scrolls had taken it over decades ago. Now only scribes lived there, many under a vow of silence. I can’t imagine being quiet all the time. I think I would rather die.
Soon Olen Glaum came into view, shrouded in an evening mist. It was just as miserable and decrepit as Bradely had expected. But he soon learned it was only like that on the outside.
No one greeted them when they entered. Not a single soul was in sight. No sound was heard but their own footsteps. The inside of the castle was immaculately clean, the doors all made of sturdy oak and iron, the inner walls all impenetrable stone. It must take an army to keep this place this clean. But still, there was no one around.
“Where is everyone?” His voice echoed through the halls, too loud, even to his own ears.
“Hush boy; you aren’t allowed to speak here.”
“They’re all waiting in the main hall for your initiation. You can not speak. Do I make myself clear?”
Clear? He’d never been so clear in his life. Bradely couldn’t remember ever hearing his father say so many words at once. “Yes sir.”
“Good. Leave your bag by the door. We would’ve been able to go to your room first but you were late getting home.” Bradley did as he was told, a sick feeling rising in him. Something was off about all of this. He hadn’t been told he was being initiated. And now he wasn’t allowed to talk, but his father was talking more than ever? And why is the outside of Olen Glaum such a disaster when the inside looks like this?
The doors opened, and Baeden led the way. As soon as he crossed the threshold, Bradley wished he could sink into the floor. Rows open on rows of people lined the center aisle, eyes fixed on him, all perfectly silent. So silent that they could no doubt hear his thundering heart beat. They all wore the same dull gray robes, all but the man up front. His robes were royal blue, the collar and cuffs embroidered with gold floss.
“Welcome, Bradley Morrel.” His voice was soft, but it filled the hall like thunder. “The time has come for you to join our order in the same way your father, and his father, and his father, and his father did.” They were up the aisle by now. Bradley’s father stopped him at the end with a tug on his sleeve. The blue-robed man turned, sweeping his arm towards a massive fresco on the wall behind him. “For centuries, the Order of Scrolls has hunted through the annals of the world to gain knowledge. For knowledge is power, and in life, only those with power will survive. We have fought against those who would steal our power away since before Olen Glaum was even built. We have fought against the darkest monsters in all the Planes.” Bradley’s eyes trailed along the fresco, taking in images of gray-robed men fighting great beasts of fire, and creatures of the sea, and horned Daegren with bloody grins, and the things that he’d only heard of in scary stories.
“We have made many sacrifices through the years, to gain knowledge and to protect it. Which is why,” he turned back around, meeting Bradley’s gaze. “We vow upon our first day here to never speak of these things to outsiders. Not to our wives, not to our children. Our vow of silence is for those outside these walls, for in here we hold the greatest and most terrible secrets.” His eyes bored into Bradley, a threat rising within them. “Can you keep this secret Bradley Morrel?”
He swallowed hard, his mouth drym his tongue slow. He knew what he was expected to say.
“Yes. I can.” It was a lie.
“So you fight monsters then?” Bradley was chasing after his father as he led them up flight after flight of stairs. The initiation had been long and dreary, and Bradely only remember bits of it. The bits about monsters
“We keep things from waking up or getting into our Plane.”
“Waking up? How do you do that?”
“Most of these beasts wake up every decade or so to feed. If there’s a ready source of food waiting for them when they wake up, they’ll eat and go right back to sleep.” They took one last flight of stairs and came to small door. Opening it, they found themselves in a tight little room with a bed and a trunk and desk and nothing else. “We have a Deaen’amata waking up next week, and we haven’t found enough people yet.”
“Found people for what?”
Baeden stopped and turned to his son. “What do you think these monsters eat?”
Bile rose in Bradley’s throat as horrible understanding washed over him. “You–you feed them people?”
“Just enough to satiate them. And it’s people no one will miss; vagrants, beggars, criminals and the like.” He tossed Bradley’s haversack onto the bed. “In fact, as soon as you’re done unpacking that, follow the stairs down the next lowest level and help me in the kitchen.s We have to put a bit more meat on the sacrifices.”
“A bit–a bit more… meat.” He could hardly believe what he was hearing. People… they’re sacrificing people…
“Hurry would you? I don’t really want to take a dozen trips down to the holding cells with trays.” He clapped Bradely on the shoulder as he walked out, and he had to restrain himself from flinching at his father’s touch. They’re feeding people to monsters. The thought ran round and round in his mind. They’re murderers.
And they expect me to be just like them.
His time in the kitchen went by in a blur. They’re fattening up the sacrifices. No one really spoke to him, not even his father. They’re preparing for mass murder. It was easy for Baeden to fall back into his silent ways, and Bradley didn’t try and stop him. I can’t help them with this. He went back up to his room after dinner, alone. I’ll be a killer too if I go along with this. Half the night he tossed and turned, guilt and terror plaguing his mind. I have to do something. There were just some secrets that shouldn’t be kept.
It was silent again as he crept down the stairs. There was no one in sight.
All he had to do was be quiet.
Down, down, down he went, slipping through doorways and sneaking through halls. The main doors groaned as he pulled one open, just far enough that he could squeeze through. Then out on the road he ran, leaving the horrible Olen Glaum behind him as he fled. The fog had thickened, hiding everything but the road right before his feet. It was cold outside, and his legs soon ached from from running.
But he had to tell the village what was really going on. A week, his father had said. A week before another monster woke up. Maybe we can kill it. There’s got to be a way. Maybe–
Something wet and slimy caught his foot. WIth a scream, he went flying head of heels, crashing into the ground and sliding on the damp earth. He dragged himself upright, dazed, blinking in the night to try and find what had tripped him.
There–something on the ground. It looked a bit like a root or a twig.
Until it whipped away into the mist.
“Bradley, what are you doing?” His father’s voice came from somewhere in the gray, but behind it was another noise. Something that slithered and scraped and breathed in hissing gasps. A dark figure emerged from the fog, and by his side were two others, wearing the same gray robes. “You couldn’t even keep a secret for a few hours?” Honest disappointment showed on his father’s face, and it was sickening.
“I–what is that?” A fourth figure rose from the darkness. A woman’s figure, but far too tall, far too thin. Lank, black hair hung loose, reaching the ground, and her mouth full of teeth was bared in a grin that crept too wide across her face. Her eyes were golden orbs that cast a faint light down upon them all.
“Sometimes you have to know when to defeat a monster and when to make a deal.” Someone grabbed Bradley from behind, another in gray robes with a grip of iron. “But you’ll learn that soon enough.” He turned away. “But enough talk for now, we need to get back to Olen Glaum. We’ve got a long night ahead of us.”
Baeden turned back, casting a sad look at his son. As he did, the sky cleared for the briefest moment and moonlight shone down upon them all. The silver light cast strange shadows, giving Baeden and the others twisted faces and horns that curled and curved and eyes that had nothing in them at all. The monster-woman looked normal for half a second- just a young girl with dark hair and a white dress. Then the clouds condensed once more, and the moonlight was gone along with the shadows.
“I’m afraid that if you won’t keep quiet,” Baeden said, “We’ll have to make you.”
The drugs made Bradley’s head fuzzy. He felt nothing when he poked a finger inside his mouth, and couldn’t bring himself to feel horrified when he drew his finger out and found it covered in blood. The monster-woman was standing in the corner of the room, a grin still slicing her face in half.
“See? That wasn’t too bad.” Baeden washed his son’s blood off his hands and began cleaning his tools. “And now you won’t ever have to worry again about telling other people’s secrets. Anyka did tell me about that issue you caused among your friends. But you don’t have issues like that anymore.” He set the tools on a cloth beside him, the torchlight glinting off the metal. Two other men helped him clean up and get Bradley into bed. They talked amongst themselves like this was a perfectly normal situation and there was nothing wrong and there wasn’t a monster-woman standing in corner watching them all with predator eyes.
And they slept without guilt and rose in the morning as if nothing had happened the night before.
Nevermind that they’d mutilated a child. Nevermind that they’d scarred him for life. Nevermind that they’d made themselves a mortal enemy.
At least Bradley was quiet now.