Hey, kids! The Write-a-Thon is chugging along, regardless of the Summer’s crushing heat!
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For the duration of the Write-a-Thon (and perhaps beyond), in addition to the ministories (i.e., stories with no more than 2,000 words) I’m writing for “Snack-Size Stories,” I’m also writing longer pieces that I will share in a serial format ((hence “Serial Scribblings) This story, True Believer, is written in four parts and takes place in the Circe universe, which contains the novels entitled Cleo and Meander and La Barceloneta (excerpts of which have been published here and here on this blog). This story features characters from La Barceloneta and is set some years before the time of the novel.
As always, your feedback is both welcome and deeply appreciated.
The afternoon air was thick and hot, redolent with the smell of vegetation and, in the shadowy corridors of the abbey, less pleasant things. It was a festival day, but both courtyard and abbey were silent under the blazing sun. A single fly entered the main courtyard on iridescent wings, circling the perimeter lazily before settling onto the blood-stained face of a man who lay sprawled atop a bit of garden statuary, his filmy eyes staring sightlessly. When this foray provoked no immediate retaliation, the fly moved further up the sun-swollen flesh, pausing here and there to sample the effluvia before settling onto one of the empty eyes, where it began to feed in earnest. Soon the courtyard was alive with sound and color, but the celebrants here walked on six legs, not two. At nightfall, the larger scavengers emerged from the shelter of the surrounding jungle and took their fill; when Huascar, the village boy the monks paid to clean the stables and perform small repairs, showed up the next morning, lunch in one hand, broom in the other, he only made it two steps into the abbey courtyard before dropping the broom and putting his lunch pail to another use entirely.
“Gods of sky and sea, what happened here?”
Two men were standing in the archway of the abbey, hermetes held high, the flickering glare of the lantern-stones illuminating the charnel house that spread before them. At least two dozen bodies, mostly monks from the look of things, although the taller of the pair thought he saw at least three women and what looked to be two children amongst the carnage. The man who had spoken turned to his companion and grimaced, pushing up the brim of his sombrino and dabbing at his forehead with his kerchief. “Daniel, I…I…” The man thrust his torch into a bracket by the door and turned away, vomiting noisily into the undergrowth just outside the entrance. Daniel Nova, alcalde of both the city of Pyr and the larger prefecture of Sylvanes, ran a calloused hand over his thick black mustache and suppressed a sudden twinge in his own gut. “Inri’s Teeth, Chris, didn’t I tell you not to eat before we came up here? Still, better out here than in there, I suppose. No sense mucking up the evidence.” Not that there was much concern about the integrity of the crime scene at this point, he thought wryly. What the bugs hadn’t infested, the ocheltos and huersos had devoured; he wasn’t even certain about the total number of victims, since the bedamned cats were known to drag their prey up a tree for safekeeping, and the huersos…well, they didn’t leave much in the way of anything besides footprints and scat, and the latter wasn’t likely to prove useful in identifying the deceased. Chris stepped back into the light, dabbing at his mouth this time. “Sorry ’bout that, Daniel. Tina made rabbit and nopalitos for Thirds, and you know I can’t resist her sauce.” Daniel smiled and patted his deputy’s shoulder. “Apparently. Now, if you’re done sharing Tina’s sauce with the local flora, do you think we could take a closer look at the murder scene? I don’t want to be here when the sun comes up and sets these good people a-roastin’ once more.” The smaller man smiled and put his stained kerchief in his coat pocket, then nodded.
Three of Circe’s four moons were out tonight, but with the dense clouds that carried the Summer rains hanging fat and heavy in the sky, only a faint silvering touched the scene beyond the bright circles cast by their hermetes. The pair split up, circling the courtyard, their free hands resting on their sidearms. “Looks like something out of a tapestry,” muttered Chris, stepping over the twisted upper half of a body before stepping over its lower half several paces later. “One of the bad ones, like in those temples out on the coast.” Daniel nodded grimly. “Yeah, except that these weren’t Chauc’s followers. That kid, the one who decided to share his lunch right over there by the abbot, said they were Joshers.” Chris knelt beside the nearest body and rolled it face up. It was a woman, her face serene and untouched by the violence that had torn the rest of her body. Chris brushed the dried mud from her high cheeekbones and set her back gently. She almost looked like she was sleeping, if one could sleep comfortably with a spray of three-inch holes drilled through their chest. He suppressed another lurch of his stomach and tugged gently at the leather thong around her neck; it came away with a wet snap. Dangling from the blood-soaked leather was a copper cross, the stylized figure of a man etched into the thin metal. “Yeah, they’re Joshers, all right. What the blazes were they doing here? I thought they all lived over in Agraria.” He put the necklace into one of the small containers on his waist belt, then pressed a button on top; the tiny pump in the lid cycled out all the air and then the tiny screen top of the container flashed the date and time. Daniel had reached the opposite end of the courtyard and was now circling back around. “They’re an odd bunch, Chris. They send out a lot of missionaries, even more than the Chauc folk. You know Bill Rodgers, up Serramiento way? He says they’ve got three churches and a school built just over the border in Circe proper. Bill said the Prefect’s ordered them out of the capital, because they keep converting his best donors.” He reached the abbot and knelt down next to him, waving Chris over. “I’d say his proselytizing days are over, in any event,” said Daniel, but there was no mirth in his tone, only resignation. “Chris, you ever seen wounds like these? Even in the Frontier Wars?” He took out a swab and cleaned the blood from around the one in the middle of the abbot’s forehead. “Look at this – same size goin’ in as comin’ out, with perfectly smooth edges. Some slight burn damage, but if that’s from powder I’ll eat my boots. And where the hell are the rounds?” Chris shook his head, mystified. “I dunno, xefe. They look like gunshot wounds, for sure, but you’re right – too smooth, too clean, and way too many. What did they do, stand in line and wait for him to reload?” Daniel eased the fallen abbot back to the ground and stood up, brushing the dust from the knees of his jeans. “I want Moco and his team up here at first light. Tell them to bring everything back to the xuzaga and to make sure they search the jungle for anything odd. There might be a few more of these people out there in the trees somewhere.” Chris took out his pad and began to write. “Oh, and tell them to make sure they vacuum anything we might need later. I don’t think anything of value is gonna endure another day of Sivemes sun.” The two men turned and headed back to their horses, light on evidence but heavy with thought.