Santon roared with rage as the slime burst forth from the wall, engulfing Bree in an instant. He tore at it, trying to save Bree from the vile slime, helpless as it filled her.
“No!” he bellowed.
The slime disappeared inside of her. She screamed, and then all at once stopped. She fell to the ground a motionless heap. The slime seeped out of her mouth and nose, slowly reforming before Santon. He stood, grabbed his bastard sword and swung it at the slime again and again, tearing slowly through its rubber-like bulk.
Bree opened her eyes. Santon smiled, and then frowned. Her eyes glowed green. Both of them. A sickly, green mold throbbed and pulsing upon her hands. He could see no skin beneath it.
Santon ducked as the slime launched itself at him.
Bree stood in a jerky, clumsy motion, and then turned, walking slowly up the stairs, back to the monastery above.
Santon growled and sliced into the slime again. “Bree!” he shouted, as she walked away. “BREE!”
She made no response.
“She is possessed!” Nes called from across the room.
“Take the slime!” Santon shouted at the brothers before charging up the stairs after Bree.
Despite her jerky, unsure movements, she proved quite quick. Santon had barely reach the landing and already she was out of sight.
He cursed. “Bree?” From down the stairs he heard Fudin pummeling the slime with his fists.
“Save the woman!” Nes called from below.
Santon took off at a run, checking the rooms as he went. He found her on her hands and knees, forcing her way through the tangled foliage in the central courtyard. “Bree! Come back!”
She paid him no heed and disappeared into the maze of plants. Santon tried to follow after her but proved too big. Somewhere from within he heard the shifting of earth.
Santon eyed the tangle of plants. He drew his bastard sword and slowly, swung it at the nearest tangled, clump of vegetation. It took a few strokes to trim any of it away, and to make matters worse, Santon had no idea where Bree was within. If she did not come out on her own, it would take a great deal of work to find her. He kept swinging. He would not leave her. Not her.
Eventually, Nes and Fudin joined him.
“Where is she?” Nes asked.
“She went inside, but I couldn’t follow her.” Santon replied without stopping.
Fudin nodded. “It is unnaturally thick.”
Santon laughed, dropped his sword and threw himself on the ground. “You’re telling me.” He was exhausted.
Fudin picked up Santon’s sword and held it out awkwardly before him. “I will take a turn. Rest.”
Santon nodded, grateful for the reprieve.
“We defeated the slime without difficulty,” Nes said. “It seemed less cunning after you left. I think whatever sentience was driving it transferred itself to Bree.”
“Are you saying she’s possessed by slime?”
Nes shook his head. “No. Slimes and oozes are instinctual creatures. They have no drive, other than to consume. But, I believe that something had taken residence within them, some kind of presence which, through the slime, took hold of Bree.”
“Well, it can’t have her.”
“I don’t know that we have a choice in that, my friend.” Nes said sadly. “It is up to Bree.”
Santon fell silent. For a few minutes, all that he heard was the shuffling of earth from within the plants, and an uncertain hacking as Fudin cut his way into the garden.
“I find you are surprisingly fond of the woman.” Nes ventured.
“I think you’ll find I am fond of most women.”
“You know that is not what I meant, Santon. Is it because she is a foreigner?”
Santon laughed. “I’ve seen Northerners before.”
“Then why her? She is foolish, impetuous, irritating beyond belief.”
“I don’t believe that is any of your business. Besides, I don’t want to bang her if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“It’s exactly because you don’t want to… become intimate with her that I am worried.”
“And here I though you were going to defend her honour.”
“You treat her differently. As something more, but I cannot fathom why.”
“Let it go, Nes.”
“I am afraid I cannot. It is just us out here. Fudin and I are forced to rely upon you and I need to know that this” he gestured at the movement from within the bushes “will not consume you. I need to know that when we find the woman, if the possession cannot be stopped you will not break.”
“I need to know that if she emerges from those bushes and lunges at you with a sharpened tree branch – “
“You will do what needs to be done!”
“Tell me the woman will not be the end of you.”
“I am not a fool.”
Santon smiled then. A full blown, gleaming, radiant smile. He laughed. “You wait until I tell my fabulously rich and powerful Father about how you have insulted me, Nes. He will be most displeased.”
Nes quirked up an eyebrow. “I am sure.”
“Careful. You’re in a land of Merchant Kings, of which my father is one of them. You’ll have to pretend at fear better than that or someone might suppose you had a powerful father yourself.”
Nes narrowed his eyes. “Quite right.”
Santon’s eyes drifted back to the garden. “Anything else?”
“There was a crypt beyond the laboratory.” Nes said. “Hundreds of dead were within.”
Santon shrugged. “A rather large crypt for a place this size.”
Nes shook his head. “Not buried, Santon. A battle took place below.”
“A battle? In the crypt?”
Nes nodded. “It seems that the monastery was attacked before its fall… by villagers.”
“Were they opposed to the faith of Sarenrae?” Santon asked curiously. Not many were, her faith was extremely prevalent in the region.
Nes shook his head. “That is what troubles me. They were all followers of the Dawnflower, down to the last man.”
“Then why would they attack the monastery?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps the monastery was involved in some kind of foul practices, though I found no evidence suggesting that was the case.”
“What about the lab? Alchemy can be a dangerous pastime.”
“I found alchemical formulae down there, but nothing condemning. Restorative ointments mostly. Some paints and pigments.”
“It might have been the villagers who were committing the evil acts.” Santon mused. “If so, we might find evidence of it in Kelmarane itself. There is no closer village.”
Nes nodded. “It could also have been a religious schism. Though it is rare among the faithful of Sarenrae, it has happened a few times since the birth of her church.”
Santon frowned. “I doubt it. It could have been political. Temples tend to command great power, especially so far from the capital.”
Nes nodded. “Even among the faithful, power is a temptation.”
Santon paused, falling silent again. Power was always a temptation. Especially among those who already had some.
Nes stood. “I will begin the odious task of cleaning this building.”
Santon laughed. “You? Best take your brother with you, then. I suspect you don’t have many back up robes left.”
Nes nodded. “Fudin! Come!”
Santon stood and took his bastard sword from Fudin’s hands. Fudin nodded and set off after his brother.
From within the courtyard earth continued to shift, but no other sound was heard.
He frowned. What could she be doing in there? Digging? He raised his sword and began cutting his way through the thick vines and trees.
It didn’t matter. He would find her. He would save her.
He had to.