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City of the Dead

(Vatican City, 1690)

Saint Peter’s Basilica, for all it’s pretension, rests upon an old Roman cemetery. Below the Vatican’s mosaic floors lies a necropolis of known tombs and unmarked graves. This underworld is filled with the bodies of the holy and not-so-holy, referred to by many as, “the city of the dead.” It is in this place of departed spirits, in the bowels of Beauty’s earthly domain, that a wretched soul awaits certain destruction.

Terror…terror of the unknown courses through his shivering body. Ankles shackled, arms tied over his head, Matteo Imperiali lay in his own filth, stretched out on a medieval torture rack of indeterminate antiquity, perhaps dating back all the way to the Inquisition.

Last evening, as he lay with his lover, hooded men set upon him in the sanctity of his own home. His first thought was, impossible! as they bound and gagged him, rolling him up in a tapestry they ripped down from his bedroom wall. Thrown into the back of a cart, his muffled screams barely escaped through the gag and thick fabric, as he heard the clatter of the wagon wheels on cobblestone. The cart moves slowly forwards to what he surmised, is either ransom or certain death.

What comes next

All night he lay on that rough wooden slab of the torture instrument, dreading what must surely come next. He’d heard about the rack, horror stories of popping joints and torn ligaments, of people literally pulled apart in agony by devilish mechanism. After he calmed down enough to think, he decided they must be after information, or ransom, or both. If they wanted him dead, his throat would already be slit and his body floating in the river.

A faint, scratching noise disturbs the darkness. Straining to hear clearer, an unmistakable sound issues from the corner of the room beyond his feet. After a moment, there it is again! Trembling, adrenaline surges through him at the thought of being unable to move away from the threat. Again, it moves, seemingly closer, as he imagines little feet, scampering across the filthy stone towards him. Perhaps a rat! Matteo hated the thought of being touched by such vermin. A germophobe by nature, washing his hands multiple times a day, the thought of such a vile creature touching his flesh made his skin dimple, almost making him heave. There were stories, terrible stores, of prisoners shackled to dungeon walls being eaten alive by hordes of rats, until only their bloody, disfigured corpses remained.

Waiting, hoping it would go away, suddenly he felt something cross his bare legs. Screaming through the gag, he flopped his body violently. God, not my jewels! he thought. Listening, he heard nothing more, realizing his efforts may have vanquished the furry threat.

What do they want?

Trying to refocus on what information would be most valuable to his captor, Matteo heard faint footsteps drawing towards him, then the unmistakable creak of a large door, as hooded men filed in with torches, taking up positions on both the foot and head of his aching body. The dungeon stank, but the petrified man before them stank more. Some of them washed his filth away with ice cold water, but did not clothe him. Then another splashed, what must have been rose water, on him, drops hitting him from head to toes.

Presently, another servant brought a small, round wooden table and set it about five feet from him. Then three others brought a large, ornate chair and set it down with a thud beyond that. Still another carried in, to his dismay, a large platter, covered with a white cloth, most likely torture instruments, laying it down on the table.

Everyone waited in silence.

After what felt like an hour, a tall, grim man in a monk’s robe strode in saying, “Good God, cover him, I’m about to eat breakfast!” as he pulled away the white cloth from the platter with a flair and sat down.

Still gagged, Giuseppe Imperiali looked at the monk’s face incredulously.

Breakfast at the necropolis

Eating his meal, seemingly unconcerned about the naked man before him, the monk said, “More wine,” as one men took his glass and hurried out.

At his leisure, taking the cloth and patting his mouth dry, the monk finally looked at the hapless man before him. His steel grey eyes were cold and calculating, as he waved the meal and table away.

Wretched creature, Tim thought to himself, he is no more guilty than the average cardinal in the hallowed halls above. I detest this sort of thing, but he must be made to understand the gravity of his situation. He finished musing grimly, if it came to it, I’d turn the wheel myself.

Nodding towards one of the men at the head of the table, he flicked his finger, commanding, “Tension.” two men turned the wheel attached the ratcheting mechanism. The ancient gears creaked as Matteo’s feet raised off the table, his hands above his head pulled together as his joints stretched. Screaming through the gag, more in anticipation of what was coming next than actual pain, he struggled valiantly, but entirely in vain.

The big monk continued to study him.

With another wave of his hand, everyone left as the monk leaned forward, using the tablecloth to carefully remove the gag from the terrified man’s mouth.

I’m rich, I can pay!

Finally free, coughing and sputtering, a desperate Matteo offered, “I’m rich, I can pay anything you ask!”

The cardinal leaned back, silver crucifix gleaming in the torch light, unmoved.

“Information! If its information you want, I know things! Many things! Things that could bring you great power over powerful people!”

Still, the monk said nothing.

Desperation filling him, the man said, “Father, forgive me for I have sinned!” In a torrent of confession, saying things that made even Tim wince inside, the frightened man confessed everything and anything he could think off. Trailing off, Matteo saw it made no effect on the steely eyed monk.

Swallowing hard

Staring at the frantic man before him, until the desperate soul could not hold his gaze, the monk finally said, “Shut up, I’m not your priest.”

The man, terrified into submission, swallowed hard, then held his peace.

The big man in the chair said, “Now we understand each other.”

The cardinal called out and his servants filed back into the room. Pointing at one, he said, “release the tension.” Fumbling with the unwilling mechanism, perhaps due to rust, the man finally got it to release. Matteo’s arms relaxed as his feet thudded on the wood, body relaxing to the utter relief of the trembling man.

The big monk abruptly rose, saying, “Make him presentable, then bring him to me and, for God’s sake, make sure he doesn’t stink!”

Best let her sleep

(Realm of Elysia)

James ascended the stairs, coming upon Brenzel, as she lay in Darren’s feathered bed, snoring loudly. James lifted up the covers, thinking, Good, she’s still clothed. Even though Elysians never lie, James couldn’t fight old habits. He just had to make sure nothing had happened.

Standing, looking around and sighing, James thought, Best to let her sleep it off. She’s gonna have one hell of a headache when she finally wakes up.