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The night was crisp and cold. Above a thin scud of clouds the moon rode on a wave of troubled dreams.
Clarissa jumped lightly from the cart and paid the driver. He nodded curtly and slapped the reins gently across the horse's back. The air was filled with creaking and rumbling as the cart began to roll north, back towards Kinsale. Slowly the unnatural stillness of the night began to reassert itself.
She set her face to the cold knife-edge of the wind and began walking towards the crumbling remains of the monastery in the distance. The driver of the cart had refused to take her any closer. This was believed to be a place of evil, and the townspeople avoided it at all costs.
Clarissa's thin and tattered cloak provided little resistance against the freezing gusts of salty wind that assaulted her from the southern shore. In the sky, the moon was ringed with wisps of dark cloud. The stars were like chips of ice in the heavens.
As she approached the ancient monastery, she fancied she could hear something over the whistling of the ever-increasing wind; a high shrill sound, like the shriek of a tortured soul, seemed to float out from the ruins to where she stood, still a mile away. Even as she began to shudder in fear, the sound stopped as though it had been cut off with a knife. She thought briefly about turning away -- about leaving without the answers she sought, answers she hoped she would find in the monastery. But the sudden savage howling of a pack of wild dogs not too far to the north changed her mind. She resumed struggling towards the desolate wreck.
After perhaps an hour, she reached the doorway. It gaped blackly, the remaining stumps of leather hinges with splinters of wood still hanging from them revealing that the door had been forcibly removed at some time in the distant past. She stepped carefully into the dark entryway, terrified that at any moment some monstrosity might come rushing out of the blackness toward her. She peered around in the gloom, poised on the edge of panic. Nothing moved but dust motes.
Clarissa reached into her cloak and pulled out her small lantern. She lit the wick with a few sparks from the tinderbox she kept in her stocking and opened the little door set in the side of the lantern cover. Warm golden light flooded the small chamber.
She gathered up her courage and, treading lightly, proceeded into the hallway that led to the rest of the monastery. Motheaten faces leered evilly at her from the tattered tapestries that lined the walls.
Clarissa shuddered and raised the lamp higher, trying to see farther ahead. The floor emitted a sudden loud creak as she stepped over the threshold of the next room. She screamed and whirled around, sure that some hideous monster had come to tear her to pieces. The crazed pounding of her heart subsided as she realized the source of the sound.
Peering through the gloom, she could barely make out a dusty staircase leaning haphazardly, held up only by virtue of its attachment to the second story landing.
She moved to the side of the stairs, her cloak dragging through the thick dust, and gently gripped the railing. The entire flight of stairs suddenly began to collapse.
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