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Prior to the Penance

The small sparsely finished room was lit brightly by exactly seventy-three candles.  Father Ora Moonwall sat hunched over a design on the wooden floor, compass and yardstick in one hand, sharp piece of chalk in the other.  The only sound was the occasional sputter of flame from the candles, the scratching of the chalk on the floor, and the incessant grinding of the old man’s molars whilst he concentrated on his designs.   

Squinting through his thick goggle lenses, he considered the drawn figure splayed across the hardwood, attempting to decide where the next line segment should be placed.  Placement was exactly the sort of thing Brother Lapis never fretted over; but then neither had Moonwall… in his youth.  Now, he seemed to eternally stumble through the darkness, searching for the proper placement. 

His lower back was a raging firestorm from hours of leaning hunched over the design, but the true agony emanated in throbbing waves up from his bony knees, resting as they were on the unforgiving wood.   

Father Moonwall relished the pain.   

In the brief moment when the old man’s attention had shifted from the design on the floor to the pain flowing through his body, he realized someone was knocking on his chamber door: he wondered for how long.  He was simultaneously pleased with his achievement of the Archimedean State, and aggravated that he had broken it by selfishly shifting his attention to the pleasure he took from the pain.    

He decided, as he slowly and awkwardly rose to his feet, that his penance for the break in concentration would be most severe.  As he slipped his outer robe back on, he continued to grind his molars together, imagining the agony which was to come. Brother Dominic stood in the hall, holding a tray of cocoa in one hand, the other behind his back; the brother looked happy, that annoyed Father Moonwall.  He peered down at the hot beverage with a withered sneer. 

“What is this?” he asked, in his usual clipped manner. 

“Your cocoa, Father.” Lapis replied pleasantly..  Moonwall looked up at him, and sniffed derisively.  Shuffling into his room, he motioned for Lapis to follow him inside.  “You look like the cat who caught the canary, Dominic.” 

Brother Lapis entered, setting the tray down on a small table.  “A message was tacked to the door this morning.” he said. 

“You still resist me. I have something for you which may convince you to pay more heed to my work.” Moonwall said, staring down at the design on the floor, arms folded. 

“I believe this message is from Effingham.” Lapis said. “I overheard that he has been seen around town again. He must have been the one who left the fish on threshold of the cathedral.” 

Moonwall looked up from the design, his strategy for the day forgotten.   

“A warning.” Lapis continued, holding out the folded sheet he had been keeping behind his back.  Moonwall snatched it away, holding the paper close to his face, his head turning as he read each line slowly.  He seemed to be scanning the page as much as reading it.   

“So! He still lives!” Father Moonwall crumpled the page in his gnarled old claw of a hand.  “This must end now.” he said quietly to Lapis.   

“This can’t be a credible threat.” Lapis said. “What can one man do? He has lost everything.” 

“It is a foot in the door.”  Moonwall growled.  “Should the Builder seem to accept this nonsense, it opens the door for all manner of perversity, no.  This Church of the Dagon must be stamped out, once and for all.  I should have salted the earth of where they walked when I had the chance.” 

Lapis cocked an eyebrow. 

Moonwall turned to him, catching the expression briefly.  He frowned even deeper.  “See that preparations are made for anything we may need to finish this.” 

“Yes Father.”  Turning on a heel, the brother strode toward the door.  As the footsteps of Brother Lapis began to fade down the hallway, Moonwall uncrumpled the page.   

Reading it over again slowly, a large ghoulish smile spilled across his prunish features.




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