The ragged man cackled wildly, and the young one started at this in suprise. “You wish to know why I am here?” he whispered with a heavy French accent, “How I got here?” These words took a tone that almost instilled some presence into the shell of a man. The dry skin of his face creased as he smiled and then flinched as he broke into some mix between a wheeze and a cough.
The young one at first had not believed the contorted husk could draw breath, and indeed still wondered at this. But as his eyes adjusted to the cacaophony of natural light, he was reassured by the gentle rise and fall of its chest. How is it that this thing is alive? The young ones face contorted this way and that, finally realizing what the old man had said. “How is it possible that you are alive, Senor… Many days have passed since the great destr–“
“Many mysterious things in life, young one, are only to do with the great mechanisms of God.” The wretched thing had pleased itself by this answer and now was content to repeat, “You wish to know how I got here.” This time it was not a question. The man seemed to summon a great will inside himself and pull his head upright. A light from the sky above shone down into the face of the paradox, revealing not the eyes of defeat, but of a passionate and dangerous victory. “Very well,” the husk of a man continued. “It began several days ago, several Frenchmen and I departed from Morocco in an attempt to return to dear civilized France. However this was not God’s will…”
*     *     *
“The moonlight reflected off of the water ten thousand times as the soft surface carried us to shore. The last nights on the water had been hard, and the sister ship had been lost. What a relief you can imagine it was finally see the land approaching from a distance as if on the outspread palm of God. If not for the moon we would have missed the land that night, and perhaps we would have lost ourselves along with the last tattered rag of hope we had waved so vigilantly.
“As the ship docked, near midnight, I watched the sailors carry out the necessary maintenance to keep the ship safe in the event of a storm and then retreat to the sub-levels where they slept. I waited longer, admiring the great structure and all of its intricacy. The building was actually carved right into the great mountain behind of it. From the looks of the place it was a religious institute of some sort. The elegance of the place let this be known to all who pass, and probably even deterred many would-be invaders.
“At last, the other diplomats emerged from the decks below in their fine garb. It was finally time to seek an introduction with the people of this establishment. I walked briskly across the starboard side of the ship to catch the crowd of my peers and was greeted casually by my comrades Louis and Pointer. Debarking the ship, I followed the few men up a wide street to the heavy wooden doors that were set into the front of the structure.
“A child of maybe fourteen awaited us there, and showed us into a side door. He explained to us that because of our late arrival we would not be presenting ourselves to anyone, but we would be given quarters for the night. The boy then beckoned us to follow down the winding corridors and directly into what seemed to be the mountain.
“A few minutes later, we arrived at a narrow hallway built of stone. There were several ornate oaken doors on either side. The boy opened each door and showed us in, describing the manner of the locking mechanism. As I walked into my room I felt a quick sense of foreboding. ‘Will the ship be alright?’ I asked myself. But I consoled my doubts and took my much-needed sleep with gratitude.
“I awoke with a start, to find sweat beading on my brow. ‘What is that rediculous clammer at such an hour?’ I asked myself -- The halls were literally echoing with screams of pain and anguish. Thoughts of hidden torture chambers and long dark passages tumbled through my mind. What if these people betray us! The boy had not even told us where we were. We don’t even know where we are! And now, my brothers are being slain by the same barbarians whom we begged asylum from? This surely is no godly establishment!
“There was only one thing for me to do. I could not hope that these oak doors would keep the enemy out, so I dressed myself as quickly as possible. Putting on my sabre, I unlocked the deadbolt and pulled the door open. A draft of hot air hit me in the face like a cannonball, and I reeled back as I choked on the penetrating fumes. The entire building was on fire! This was an attack. Someone was attacking this establishment! I slammed the door back shut and sat down on a trunk to contemplate my situation. Although I am as fine as any man with a sabre, I fear that someone in defense of this haven could mistake me as the enemy.
“I continued to question the integrity of my plight when I heard a scream and a thud outside of my door. I rushed to the entrance, drawing my weapon, and turned the deadbolt. The door was pushed open at this point from the outside, and a young man’s body slumped to the floor in the entryway. He gurgled once, and the blood drained from his throat onto the cold stone floor. This displeased me greatly, and I turned to face not an expected imposter, but a MOOR! What in God’s name are these sacrilegious little devils doing in a seaside place like this…
“The Moor yelled something at me in his queer language and aimed his scimitar for my face. I parried his stroke almost easily, and thrust the point of my blade into his belly. The skin tore across his front side, but still he pressed the attack. Parry, thrust, Parry, thrust. The man only had so much rage, and after a few short minutes of this he slumped to the concrete, thoroughly dead. Little did I know that there was absolutely no chance for me to escape.
“I turned down the hallway, for there was only one direction of exit, and ran for all I was worth. Remembering as best I could the way out, I followed the tortuous paths for fifteen minutes. Apparently the real conflict was out of doors, and the lone Arab was just looking for the easy kill. What an utterly disgusting cult. I turned the nearest corner with this thought in mind to find a scimitar aimed at my face. Two short gashes marked my cheekbone as I skidded to a halt and fell backwards onto the ground. The Moor pursued me as I skittered backwards, much like a crab. However, I tripped on my cape as I reached the end of the hallway and crashed headlong into a stone wall. My vision blurred and turned red as I slipped away from the world.
*     *     *
My body rocks back and forth, the sloshing of water audible from somewhere below. I can no longer see, but my hands are tied somewhere above me, and from them my body is suspended over what I expect to be a great distance. “I will die of thirst first, and the carrion birds will fly down and pick at my body until only the skeleton is left. You see, young one, the ways of the great Gods are mysterious, but it is not without reason that I hang here. I slew one of them and for that I must, in their eyes, suffer.” The young one was quiet. He wiped the crusts of salt from the old man’s eyes and brought him water. The ragged one denied the water and stared on with tears he could not cry.
“The more I suffer, the quicker this pain shall pass, and therefore I must deny myself the pleasure of survival.”