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Artemis James and The Foxwirth Curse
Brother Robert stepped out of the cathedral, taking in a gulp of the damp, chilly air. The pattering of the rain on the cathedral roof was the only noise in the quiet abbey. He cupped a hand over the flame of his candle, shielding it from the elements. Brother Robert pulled up his hood, running to the dormitory.
He stopped at the sound of footsteps crunching on gravel. Brother Robert peered into the distance, listening intently for any sudden movements. He leapt at the sound of thunder, the tiny monk placing a hand over his chest. Just my mind playing tricks on me. Brother Robert told himself as he scuttled to the dormitory. Another loud clap of thunder sliced through the drumming of rain. Brother Robert glanced up at the bruised sky, gasping as a jagged claw came to his tender neck. The monk dropped his candle, the flame sizzling away as it hit the earth. He clasped his hands together, mouthing a prayer. Tears streamed down the monk’s weather-beaten face. The talon drew nearer to his neck, inching closer to Brother Robert’s doom.
The claw sliced his throat with ease, Brother Robert gagging as blood spurted out of the wound. He dropped to his knees, collapsing on the mucky ground.
Artemis James tugged the hood of his cloak up, his brows bunching into a tight frown. He let his staff drag on the ground, allowing his sore muscles to relax.
The boy trod up and down the steep, dew glazed hills. The hazy fog nearly blanketed the nearby village of Foxwirth. Artemis could dimly see smoke rising from the red bricked chimneys. The closer he got, the louder it grew until he was caught up in the hustle and bustle of village life.
Many of the houses were tiny hovels clustered together, a narrow street leading to each. A putrid scent burned Artemis’s nostrils, the lad placing a hand over his nose. A large manor house lay in the center, the walls spanning high above the boy’s head. The shops lay inside the walls, merchants bargaining prices and tipsy men stumbled out of the taverns.
First he stopped at the baker, giving him a silver coin for a loaf of bread. Artemis checked his change, giving the baker a quick thank you.
As he waited in line at the butcher’s, gossiping women caught his attention. A large stout woman with bloated red cheeks stood beside a petite blonde woman.
“Did you hear about the monastery up north?” The large woman asked. The blonde woman shook her head.
“Well, monks are dropping like flies up there. Four dead already! There a being murdered. Completely drained of blood, they are.” The woman explained. A boggart’s doing. Artemis thought. There could be no other explanation.
The Foxwirth Monastery attacks were swirling through Artemis’s mind by the time he arrived at his master’s house. It was a two story home with ivy climbing up the sides. A red bricked path snaked its way to the front step where Mr. Preston’s direwolf, Backbiter, lay. Backbiter’s long pink tongue lagged out of her gaping mouth, revealing threatening deadly fangs. She immediately recognized her master’s apprentice, resting her head back on her crossed paws. Artemis opened the iron gate, making sure to hook the latch. He glanced at the window, noticing Mr. Preston watching him intently with his arms crossed. Artemis sucked in a gulp of air, stepping into the house.
A tense feeling filled house as Artemis placed the sack of provisions on the mahogany table. He could hear the clunk clunk of boots on wood. Slowly, he started unpacking the food, waiting for the monster hunter to approach.
At last Mr. Preston stepped into the room, looking Artemis over coldly.
“Didn’t forget anything lad?” He asked. Artemis shook his head.
“No Mr. Preston.” Artemis replied. Just as the monster hunter was about to leave, Artemis asked, “Have you heard about the recent attacks at the Foxwirth Monastery?” Mr. Preston scratched his whiskered chin.
“No, I don’t believe I have. Why do you bring this up lad?”
“I heard the local women say that the monks were drained of blood. So I thought-”
“Why were you eavesdropping? Don’t you know that you should mind your own business!” Mr. Preston interrupted.
“But Mr. Preston-” The monster hunter raised his hand.
“I don’t want to hear anymore of your sorry excuses. Put away the provisions and go check on the monsters!” Mr. Preston ordered. Artemis gritted his teeth in frustration, slamming an apple on the table.
Artemis peered into the dark cell, studying for any life. He jabbed his staff through the metal rods randomly, a sudden shriek echoing through the dungeon. Artemis stepped back as a bony hand reached out toward him. Artemis departed the cell, making his daily rounds. Each cell was designed to hold a specific monster, for there was far less chance of anything escaping. If, by any chance a monster did escape, Backbiter would hunt and kill the creature.
He wrapped his black cloak around his lithe body as he scampered back to the house. Mr. Preston sat by the fire in the drawing room, his head nodding as he began to doze off. Artemis clambered up the steps to his room, taking his leather bag and stuffing his supplies into it. He pulled on his sheepskin jacket, making his way to the kitchen.
Artemis slowly opened the cupboard, pulling out a loaf of bread, tucking it into his bag. Poking his head into the living room, he gazed at the sleeping form of the monster hunter. Sighing with relief, he walked out into the dreary weather.
Artemis clipped off Backbiter’s chain, clutching the direwolf’s leather collar. Confused, Backbiter stumbled behind him, stretching farther and farther away from Mr. Preston’s house.
The lad strode in the direction of the monastery. The day Artemis became the apprentice of a monster hunter; he was told that his duty was to serve the land of Skydin. He had his heart set on helping the monks, deciding the so-called murderer was no more than a boggart.
A boggart is a servant of the dark, many hostile, others rather friendly. The boggart at the monastery was most likely very dangerous. A prayer book and a bell do nothing to expel a boggart, only irritating the boggart more.
Artemis’s boots squelched as he strolled down the puddle ridden road. He knew his way well, thanks to the many hours of studying and copying down maps. His eyes flashed across the hilly meadows, the chilly, damp air nipping at his cheeks. Backbiter trod beside him, her snout wagging in all directions as she took in new smells. The light grey sky complemented the healthy green of the fields. Crows cawed ominously as they swooped in the sky, studying Artemis and Backbiter with hungry eyes.
The path wound into a thick, dense forest. Squirrels scampered across the forest floor, cheeks bloated by acorns. The strong scent of pine burned Artemis’s nostrils. Birds chirped noisily in the trees, swooping down to snatch an unsuspecting worm. Moss climbed up the sides of tree trunks and small shrubs sprouted from the dirt. He stopped for a moment, placing his bag and cloak beside a bush, scraping some dead leaves on top of his possessions.
Artemis could see a bell tower poking majestically above the treetops. He came before the great pine doors of the monastery which towered high above Artemis. A man in a dark brown hood poked at of the crack twixt the doors, his eyes carefully scanning the lad and his direwolf.
“Yes?” The monk asked. Artemis cleared his throat, his fingers clutching Backbiter’s collar.
“My dog and I have been traveling for many days. I was wondering if my dog and I could stay for the night.” Artemis said. The monk thought for a minute, finally opening the door wider. The monk motioned his hand.
“Come on then.” The monk said. Artemis stepped forward, tugging the direwolf along.
The first thing Artemis noticed was the small shack where four plump pigs were kept. They squealed loudly at each other, crowding in the small shack for warmth. Monks toiled in the fields, wiping away dribbling beads of sweat off their brows. Some stopped to analyze Artemis, eyeing the pure black direwolf with apprehension. Large stone buildings stood prominently, walls wearing with age.
“I must tell you young sir that there is a murderer in our midst, so you must tread with caution. “ The monk notified him. Artemis nodded.
“I will keep my dog with me at all times, if, that is, you allow me to bring her into the buildings.” Artemis said. The monk studied Backbiter with a doubtful eye, finally nodding a yes.
“She can, but her keep her well away from the frater.” The monk said.
The small monk led Artemis to the spare room in the dormitory. It was tiny and quaint, a small straw bed in one corner, a stone fireplace on the other.
“Someone will come up and bring you to dinner.” The monk informed. He instantly departed, shutting the wooden door behind him.
Artemis sat down on his bed, studying his temporary room. He knew Mr. Preston would notice his absence quickly and the first place he would search would be the monastery. By then, Artemis hoped to have bound the boggart and be on his way. He was confident that Mr. Preston would be furious. Artemis prayed that Mr. Preston would not terminate his apprenticeship. Mr. Preston specifically said it Artemis placed a toe out of line, the boy would be sent back to the servant life he had before.
A month before, he and his master stumbled upon an ancient gate. Somehow, Artemis opened it, releasing a powerful entity which nearly killed him and his master. Mr. Preston and Artemis’s relationship had changed drastically since then.
A rhythmic rapping came from the door, breaking Artemis’s thoughts. He stood up, stepping toward the door.
“Stay.” He ordered Backbiter, who loyally obeyed.
The monk led him through many corridors to the frater. Long wooden tables were spread across the room. Monks sipped their steaming soup in silence, glancing at the newcomer. Artemis sat down on the bench were a bowl of hot soup and a piece of bread lay for him. He immediately tucked into his meal, finishing in three minutes.
A petrified scream rang out. Heads of monks swiveled to the right, a mixture of fear and confusion swam on their faces. A small group if monks scuttled outside to investigate. Artemis tagged along, hoping to catch a glimpse of the boggart.
A large monk was sprawled on the ground and had a huge ragged gash across his throat. The man’s eyes stared into nothingness, all life dashed from his eyes. A look of pure horror was etched on his face, his neck twisted at an odd angle. Artemis’s brows knit together as he studied the dead monk. He realized this could not be the work of a boggart. A boggart would not be so sloppy.
One of the monks tentatively knelt down toward the fallen brother. He pressed two fingers against the monk’s thick neck, checking his pulse. He shook his head.
“Poor brother Walter.” He said, noticing Artemis. The monk frowned slightly as he gazed at the boy.
“Who are you lad?” He questioned.
“I am Artemis James. I needed a place to stay for the night. A kind monk allowed me to have a room for the night.” Artemis explained. The monk nodded.
“I am Brother William.” Brother William introduced. The monks said a prayer for Brother Walter, bringing him to the graveyard. Artemis assisted them, hobbling to their destination. They placed the monk on the ground; two other monks went to fetch shovels. Brother William covered the murdered monk in white linen he fetched, blood from the fatal wound dying it red.
“I don’t know who could have done this. Do the Gods have no mercy on us?” Brother William said.
“I don’t think it’s a who we are dealing with. I am a monster hunter’s apprentice. I had suspicions it was a boggart, but now I don’t believe it any longer.” Artemis said. Artemis expected Brother to send Artemis on his way immediately. Monster hunters were not particular popular in the lands. They were believed by gullible townsfolk to be demons disguised as humans. They were no such things.
Luckily, Brother William wasn’t gullible, accepting being in the presence of a monster hunter’s apprentice immediately.
“What do you believe it is then?” Brother William wondered. Artemis shrugged.
“I am not sure now. I know it’s not a man because they do not drain their victims of blood. This is what led me to think the murderer was a boggart,” Artemis said. “Could I ask some questions on the recent murders?”
Brother William nodded.
“When did the attacks begin?”
The monk thought for a moment.
“About a month ago. It did not happen as frequently as it does now. Also, some of the monks went missing, never to be seen again.” Artemis took note of this, thinking of every monster that fit the description. Nothing came to mind.
As Artemis and the other monks buried their fallen brother, he began to wonder if he should not have come to the monastery without Mr. Preston. He had just barely finished his third year of his apprenticeship, barely qualified to handle boggarts and low-level imps. What if it was something much more powerful at work?
Artemis led Backbiter through the forest, scraping away the leaves off his leather bag. He decided that whatever entity was being held at the monastery, he needed to be armed.
Backbiter tugged furiously against Artemis, wanting terribly to run off into the distance. Backbiter’s strength outmatched Artemis’s, the direwolf speeding deeper into the wood.
Artemis galloped after the direwolf, hoping he didn’t lose her. Mr. Preston had paid good money for her, and if Artemis lost her, he knew his monster hunting days would be over.
He found the direwolf paddling through a small pond, barking wildly at the direction of a cove. Artemis followed suit, splashing into the icy depths. His teeth clattered as he swam toward Backbiter. The direwolf raced into the cave, her ferocious bark echoing as she went deeper and deeper into the cave. Artemis galloped after Backbiter, halting for a brief moment to light his candle. He continued until he came to an abrupt halt. His jaw dropped as an expression of pure and utter horror spread across his face.
Suspended by chains, bodies of dead monks and woodland creatures hung lifelessly. Blood dripped from the slashes on their necks into metal buckets below them. The monks’ skin was a pasty white, their eyes unseeing. Bones were piled high into a corner, chunks of red flesh still clinging to their owner. Flies spun around the bodies wildly, the soft hum of their wings fluttering was the only noise. A putrid smell wafted from the bodies and filled Artemis’s nostrils, causing him to gag. Backbiter trotted up to Artemis, dropping a bone at his feet. A shiver crawled up his spine.
Artemis immediately snatched her collar, gawking at the horrid sight before him. He snapped out of the daze, dragging a reluctant Backbiter out of the cave.
Artemis returned to the abbey, images of the cave swirling through his mind. What sort of creature would do such a thing? Never had he heard of a creature that would suspend its victims by chains and dripped its victim’s dry of blood.
Artemis was shocked to see Mr. Preston speaking to Brother William. He had his arms crossed, a livid look on his face. Artemis ducked behind a bush, watching as his master spoke to the monk. Brother William gestured a thumb at the forest, Mr. Preston immediately setting off. His strides were brisk, his black cloak flowing behind him. Backbiter tugged against Artemis, galloping to her master. His stomach tossed with nervousness as Mr. Preston’s eyes turned to the bush. Mr. Preston scratched Backbiter behind the ear as he stared at the shrub.
“Come out lad. I know you’re there.” Mr. Preston called. Unwillingly, Artemis stood up, sulking over to the monster hunter. In one swift movement, Mr. Preston cuffed him behind the ear, scowling at his apprentice.
“You daft boy! You steal my dog and take off to deal with something you heard from gossiping women!” Mr. Preston barked. Artemis rubbed his aching ear, glaring up at his master.
“Mr. Preston, what I heard was true. Something is killing the monks. Look, I’ll show you where-”
“Shut it boy. I am tired of your pathetic excuses. I’m going to bring you back to the slime hole which I-”
“For once just listen to me! I’m not lying to you!” Artemis interrupted. Before Mr. Preston could grab his arm, Artemis dashed off toward the cave. Mr. Preston sprinted after him, still swift for a man of fifty years. Artemis leapt into the water, hurrying to the cave. He knew this would be the only way to show Mr. Preston.
Artemis flopped into the cave, water dripping from his sopping clothes. He stood up, jogging into the cavern as he lit his candle. The small light illuminated the cramped cave. He heard the crunching of boots on stones.
“Boy, when I find you I swear I will-” Mr. Preston stopped midsentence, gawking at the scene before him. His mouth hung open, eyes flashing across the bodies.
“So you weren’t lying lad.” Mr. Preston whispered. He stared for a few moments, placing a hand on Artemis’s shoulder.
“Let’s go tell Brother William about this. They will want to bury these unfortunate monks.” With this, they departed.
“So you think this is a demon at work?” Brother William asked. Mr. Preston nodded.
“I believe the demon usually comes out at night, so we will have to attack then.” Mr. Preston explained.
“We will have to have lure. The demon seems to have taken a fancy to monks, so we will need someone as bait.”
“I will.” Brother William volunteered. Fear flickered across his face as he imagined facing a demon.
“I will give you salt and iron. This will injure the demon. You must throw it when the demon approaches.” Mr. Preston told him.
“Would holy water have any effect on it?” Brother William wondered. Mr. Preston shook his head.
“If it was able to walk on holy ground, I wouldn’t believe holy objects would have any effect on it.” Mr. Preston clarified.
They went through the plan until dark, quickly preparing. Finally they set off, leaving Backbiter behind as they went into the forest.
Artemis and Mr. Preston hid in bushes, waiting anxiously for the demon. Being seventh sons of seventh sons, creatures of the dark could not smell them. Brother William slowly walked about, clutching a lantern in one hand. He nearly jumped out of his skin at every little sound, pausing for a moment to listen. He pressed on, the snake of fear coiling around his heart.
A deep roar smashed the silence like shattered glass. Brother William froze, his eyes darting about. He set down the lantern, taking handfuls of salt and iron from his pockets. Artemis gripped his staff, his hands clammy with sweat.
From the corner of his eye Brother William saw something. His heart pounded wildly in his chest, perspiration trickling down his back. Another roar broke out, only closer and louder. Brother William almost kicked over the lantern, his whole body trembling.
Suddenly a strong scaly arm wrapped around his neck, beginning to strangle the monk. Brother William chucked the salt and iron behind him, instantly being released from the demon’s grip. It wailed in pain, glaring dangerously at the monk. Boils began to form on its face as it clawed the salt and iron out of its eyes. It was four feet tall, completely covered in dark green scales. It had bat-like wings, long horns protruding from the top of its head. Its teeth were too large for its mouth, poking out of its swollen lips. The demon hissed at Brother William, preparing to strike. Artemis suddenly realized this was the demon he released. A sense of dread and guilt flooded over him. He could not let another innocent person die from his mistake.
At that precise moment, Artemis and Mr. Preston leapt from their hiding place. They hurled a cloud of salt and iron at the demon, its wails amplified. It flapped its wings to push away the salt and iron, only making it worse. It coughed and sputtered, spitting phlegm at Mr. Preston.
The demon leapt at Artemis, claws reaching out toward Artemis’s face. He butted the demon with his staff, smashing the demon’s head with the end of his staff. It bore it’s fangs at him, raising its arm for another swing. Its claw barely grazed Artemis’s cheek. Artemis gritted his teeth, wiping away the blood dribbling from the cut. He raised his staff into the defensive position, countering all the demon’s attacks expertly.
The demon bounded on Artemis, leaning in for the kill. Artemis fell to the ground with a thump, pain erupted twixt his shoulder blades. Artemis seized its arms, using all his strength to heave the demon off him. It pressed down on him, inching closer and closer until Artemis could feel its hot breath on his face.
Mr. Preston booted the demon off his apprentice, extending a hand to help him up.
“Now Artemis!” Mr. Preston yelled. Dropping his staff, Artemis unsheathed his blade, running full speed at the creature he unleashed into the world. As it was beginning to rise from the ground, Artemis jumped onto the demon, sending it to the earthen floor once again. The demon gasped as it noticed the glint of silver in Artemis’s hand. He thrust the blade downward, driving the knife directly into the demon’s heart. It screeched, arms flailing wildly from the horrid pain. A burst of red light leapt from the demon’s eyes and mouth, leaving as quickly as it came. The demon’s body became limp and lifeless.
Artemis stood up, wiping the blood off his hands. He looked up at his master, who nodded with approval. And that was all Artemis needed.