The Mysteries of Malfait, part XII

Philippe entered the narrow opening in the cave wall. After only a few paces, it turned to the left. As he rounded the curve, the dim light from the cave entrance was extinguished. Presently, the passage became steep, and in the complete darkness, Philippe was forced to crawl on his hand and knees to make any progress. The tunnel’s sides had been worn smooth perhaps by the steady flow of water, or the intentional work of someone, or, Philippe realized with a shudder, some thing.

More that once, Philippe’s hand grasped a slime-covered edge, or something soft that gave way to his grasping hands. He told himself these things were patches of lichen or mushrooms that somehow grew in this light-less world.

Even if they were less wholesome, Philippe dared not slow his accent. Every moment he delayed was one more moment that his fair and pure Isabel was in the clutches of the diabolical Comte du Malfait. In his haste he slipped and hit his knee. The pain forced him to pause. However, visions of the Comte subjecting Isabel to licentious kisses and wanton embraces spurred on Philippe with renewed vigor.

After climbing how long he did not know, a weak light appeared in front of Philippe. With some difficulty, he pulled himself through a crevice at the end of the tunnel and found himself in an open space. From somewhere above, a lone shaft of light illuminated a roughly circular cavern. Philippe heard, and then saw, water washing up on the chamber’s rocky floor. Clearly, although is was not visible, the ocean’s waves entered through some submerged passage. To his right a stream of water fell from the shadow-shrouded ceiling. Philippe imagined that this was fresh water finding its way down from high upon the cliff he had seen towering above him before he entered this world of clinging darkness.

At the spot where the water falling from above meet the water flowing into the chamber from the ocean, there was a large stone. By some unknown hand it had been shaped into a rectangle slightly larger than the size of a coffin. As Philippe’s eyes fell upon this stone he shivered.

For a moment, Philippe was able to tear his eyes away, and  opposite from the sinister stone he was able to discern a stairway carved into the rock. However, an invisible force brought his gaze back. He believed he knew what the stone was, but he had to know for sure.

Philippe walked over to the alter – for that is what Philippe suspected it was. After the briefest inspection his suspicions where confirmed. The narrow end of the alter – the end the met the edge of the water – was covered with a dark stain. Around the edges, symbols, the like of which Philippe had never seen, had been carved into the rock. He circled the stone and at the end opposite the dark sinister stain, Philippe was halted by the carvings. At this spot, Philippe was able to understand the carvings. They were were not from some hellish alphabet. No, these were in the alphabet used from the time of Caesar down to this very day. And they spelled out a word, a name, Philippe knew: MALFAIT.

The demon Lotan had spoken the truth. He was indeed near his prey. Philippe looked back at the stairs disappearing up into the darkness and a picture was painted in his mind. Upon the high cliff sat the chateau of the evil Malfait, and down those steps the Comte had brought a multitude of victims to be sacrificed to that demon from the watery depths. No matter what pact Philippe had made with Lotan, clearly Malfait had promised Isabel to the foul demon, but was now unwilling to hand her over. The Comte intended to keep the sweet Isabel for himself. Thus, Lotan had given Philippe aid to punish Malfait for breaking the bargain.

Philippe realized he was doing the work of a most foul creature. But was not Malfait equally foul in his own way? If an evil master had instructed Philippe to shoot the master’s rabid dog, how could Philippe be blamed? The dog had to be shot regardless of the nature of its master.

Thus resolved, Philippe made his way up the stairs. While the passageway was narrow, it was straight so that the dim luminescence of the sacrificial chamber was not lost. The stairs terminated at an oaken door. The door’s bolt was undone so Philippe hopefully tried to push it open. But the door did not move. Philippe increased his effort but it would still not budge. Clearly, the door was bolted on the other side. Philippe reflected on this peculiar fact. Namely, the door could be bolted so as to keep someone or something in the sacrificial chamber, or to keep someone or something out. He shivered in the cold dampness.

Presently, Philippe heard voices on the other side of the door. At first they were indistinct, but they became more clear as they neared the solid door. A woman was speaking to someone: “And do it right for once. You must go all they way down and dump it into the sea.”

A man replied: “I shall, I shall. I know what needs doing woman!”

These words were followed by the sound of a slap and the woman spoke again: “I’ll take no sass from you. There’s nothing to fear. The Comte wouldn’t let any of his playthings hurt either one of us, my dear,” she said and then cackled.

“Well that is the truth, my love. I shan’t be long,” the man said.

Philippe heard something heavy scrape on stone and then the squeal of rusty iron. Clearly the man was unbolting the door and going to deposit something – most likely something vile and unwholesome by the sacrificial alter. In a panic Philippe looked around. Near the door’s hinges there was a small crevice. Hoping against hope that the shadows would be sufficient to hide him, Philippe pressed his body into the space.

The door jolted open an inch or two, and then slowly creaked open. The man muttered something as he came into Philippe’s view carrying two buckets full of some noisome liquid. Without hesitation, the man started down the stairs leaving the door open.

Philippe stifled a cry of joy. He had gained entry into Malfait’s dark chateau! There was nothing to stop him now. Seeking to emulate a cat he slipped into the chateau and found himself in what was evidently the scullery. At the far end, a set of stairs was visible. Resisting the urge to run, Philippe made his way across the room, and paused at the foot of the steps to listen for the woman. Then he ascended the stairs which terminated in what must have been a grand dining room at one time. Now, there was naught but a table too small for the room upon which stood a pair of tarnished candlesticks holding the yellowed stumps of candles. The corners of the room were dominated by thick cobwebs. Discolored rectangles on the wood-paneled walls revealed where paintings had once hung. The floor was covered with a blanket of dust – except for a single path which lead through a set of double doors on the far side of the room.

Reasoning that the servants – for that is who the man and woman certainly were – created this path as they waited upon the twisted Comte, Philippe crossed the dining room. Through the double doors Philippe found the main hall of the chateau. Across from where he entered was a massy door that served as the main entrance to the chateau. Above him, lost in shadow, a gallery encircled the room. At that moment, the setting sun must have broken through the clouds for its powerful rays pierced a large stain-glass window above the door and painted the room red. To his left and right were wide staircases from the floor of the main hall up to the gallery.

In the red light, he could make out the path through the dust. It led to the stair on his right. Philippe tightened his grip on the envenomed dagger and mounted the stairs. Once he reached the gallery, a hallway materialized out of the gloom and from it Philippe heard a faint wail. Was it the wind winding its way through this ancient and crumbling edifice? Or was it Isabel?

Possessed with rage and fear Philippe hastened toward the sound. Occasionally, he paused to listen at one of the multitude of doors that lined the hall. Finally, he came to a door under which light spilled out into the now pitch-black corridor.

Philippe grabbed the door handle and was about to throw open the door when a fancy formed in his mind. What if the serving woman was the only person in the room? She would raise the alarm and Philippe would lose the element of surprise. Or what if Malfait and Isabel were in the room but on the far side of the it, and the Comte had a weapon near at hand? Philippe would not be able to reach him in time to prevent the villain from doing some violence to his poor, innocent Isabel.

Stooping down, Philippe peered through the keyhole in an attempt to discover what lay upon the other side of it. The room was faintly illuminated by a fire, but his view was greatly circumscribed by the narrowness of the keyhole. However, he did have a view of a large bed, and upon the bed lay a slight figure who had to be Isabel. All was silent.

Philippe stood up. He would creep into the room. If Malfait was there, he would do his bloody deed, and then take Isabel and escape. If Malfait was not present, he would take up Isabel in his arms and carry her away to safety. He would deal with Malfait at some later time. Dabbing the sweat from is brow with his shirt sleeve, Philippe steeled himself and took hold of the door handle.

Continue on to Part XIII…

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3 comments

  1. Okay, I thought your last cliffhanger was suspenseful, but this one is one of your worst (meaning, best). I simply MUST have another installment. In the meantime, I enjoyed your description of Philippe’s journey from the subterranean vault (and sinister sacrifice room?) to Isabel’s bedchamber. Wonderfully evocative. Will he manage to subdue Malfait or find himself Malfait’s prisoner? Please, please update soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you enjoyed his journey! I really wanted to give it a physicality to contrast it with Philippe’s previous more dreamlike episodes. If the Fates are kind, you should not have to wait too long – I’ve already started to write the next installment.

      Liked by 1 person

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