Blowing out the lamp in her room in Oreville, Lucinde noticed a figure lingering in the alleyway behind the inn. To her, it seemed like the person was staring up at her window. She sent a message to her allies, Meet me in Iezecele’s room.
As she was about to knock on Gaspar’s door, he opened the door. “What?” Gaspar responded to Lucinde’s surprised face. “I heard you call for us to meet in Iezecele’s room.”
Gaspar’s part of the group, Lucinde sent through her ring.
“I appreciate it, but I don’t think you have to say it,” Gaspar said, opening the door to Iezecele’s room.
No, Val pointed at his closed mouth as he sent a message to Gaspar, she means that you are part of the group.
Gaspar started to question the others, but Iezecele cut him off, Talk about it later. I’m focusing. Iezecele had enhanced his senses to detect waves of negative energy given off by evil creatures. He was shocked to see the intense level of power emanating from the alleyway. “We should get down there.” As he urged his allies to action, Iezecele watched the person step deeper into the shadows of the alleyway.
Arriving in the alleyway, the party found it empty. “He must have noticed us watching him,” Gaspar offered, “and ran off”
“Maybe,” Iezecele hesitantly responded as he scanned the ground. He didn’t see any footprints moving away from the scene. He did notice paw impressions pressed into a few stones. “It looks like another of those dog creatures was here.”
Gaspar shook his head, whispering, “What kind of place is this Marmo? The hell they’ll bring.”
Iezecele took one last glance down the alleyway, “I suggest we all sleep in the same room tonight.”
“And set a watch.” Lucinde added.
Two days out of town, Val noticed a figure at the top of a hill. He hailed the person with friendly wave. The person waved back, signaling that they would meet again before stepping out of view.
After riding up to the spot, Lucinde examined the ground. “There’s some footprints over here, but they disappear after a few steps.”
“Maybe it was one of those Watchers that the assassin mentioned?” Gaspar suggested.
A week on the road to Beaufort, the party again noticed someone watching them. Again, Val waved at the person. Instead of disappearing, the person spread his arms up to the sky. Two ravens flew from black smoke erupting from the person’s outstretched hands. The dark birds perched in a tree near the party and watched.
“You read the report about us killing some ravens?” Val questioned Gaspar.
The warrior nodded, keeping his eyes on the summoned birds, “Yes, it was chilling.”
“Then let’s just go.”
One night, after two weeks on the road, Lucinde was on watch. She heard movement coming from the woods nearby. She alerted the others through the power of her ring and prepared herself for another monster attack.
She was unprepared for what came out. Twenty or so people came shuffling into view. Blackness flowed from all of their eyes as they steadily approached their campsite. Most were dressed in simple clothes, wielding simple objects in their hands.
As the others approached, Lucinde called out to Iezecele, “Is there anything you can do? I’m not sure I can kill these people.”
Iezecele summoned his Will and released a spray of color, knocking out a number of the people. He was able to release a second spray, knocking out a few more before the rest descended on the party.
Val moved first, drawing his short swords and slapping the flat sides of the blade on either side of a man’s head, knocking him out.
To her horror, Lucinde recognized the woman attacking her. It was the mother Everton from Everton’s Amazing Animals. Months ago, the woman had given them a show with the large bear, Brutus, when they visited the menagerie outside of Beaufort. She had been so kind to Lucinde, and now her eyes were bleeding black and she was trying her best to kill Lucinde with a silver hairbrush. Lucinde winced as she hit the woman in the face with the hilt of her flail.
Gaspar hesitated, stepping back before he could muster the resolve to attack these victims of Mesonge’s evil. He steeled his will and apologized as he knocked his attacker out.
Iezecele remembered what happened to the eyeless creature’s head when he released the healing power from the earth. The positive energy had destroyed the creature’s corpse. He focused his Will and drew forth the energy. The remaining attackers screamed in pain before dropping unconscious to the ground.
Val looked to the woods. “Tie these up. I’m going to check things out. I’ll let you know if I get into trouble.” He traveled through the woods, eventually arriving at the menagerie’s main camp. It was odd. It looked like most of the animals were still present. He peeked into a few of the covered wagons. People were there, resting peacefully. The rogue wondered why only some of them were taken over by the blackness.
He went to the center of the camp and banged on a cookpot, alerting them. The ringmaster, Thom Christopher, was first to come out. “What’s going on?” A man twice as thick as Val came along side Christopher. The rogue recognized him as the menagerie’s strongman.
Val carefully thought out what he was going to say next. This would be a tough crowd to win over. He did his best to explain that they had found a number of the menagerie’s people about a mile away. The strongman moved closer and demanded Val hand over his swords. The rogue easily handed them over, secure in the knowledge that he had several daggers secreted about his person.
He led them back through the woods, letting the rest of the party know he was returning with some people. “What have you done to them?” The strongman demanded, pushing the tip of Val’s own sword hard against the rogue’s back. He saw that his family and friends had been tied up.
Thom rushed ahead, reaching his restrained friends just as the sun rose. The ringleader saw the blackness that was seeping from their eyes dry up. He took out a handkerchief and began brushing away the black crust.
Lucinde crouched down next to the Everton mother, “Do you remember anything?”
The woman, looking frightened and confused looked at Lucinde, shook her head. “No, nothing.”
She wondered if someone had cast a spell. “Was there anyone new in your camp?”
She shook her head. Overhearing Iezecele tell Thom about how the party was attacked, “Did I?” She stammered. “Did I try to hurt you?” Lucinde saw tears beginning to well in the woman’s eyes.
Val started untying the woman, “How about nightmares? Have you had any terrible nightmares lately?”
Again, the woman shook her head. “All I remember is feeling this overwhelming feeling of hate.”
Arriving at the Basilica in Beaufort, the party was quickly ushered to a private chamber where the Channing was waiting. They party explained the fall of Karg and the likely fate of the priests they had been sent to find. They also shared the enemies they had faced, the eyeless creature and the man-beasts.
The Channing briefly closed his eyes, remembering a line of the Prophecy. “The Wolf shall twist man to create Marmo’s army.”
Lucinde shared how the blackness had infected the members of the menagerie. “How does this keep happening? These people, the infected monsters, how do they keep finding us?”
“The Wolf shall send his Bloodhound to seek out and destroy enemies.” The Channing quoted another line from the Prophecy. “The Prophecy has a number of lines about the forces of Marmo.”
Val reasoned. “Remember when the eyeless thing looked at us? Garrn couldn’t see into the room, but it seemed to notice us. The best way to find out what’s truly going on is to not be noticed. We need to find a way to hide from them.” He questioned, “So how are they finding us?”
“Before you weren’t ready to hear about the Chosen,” the Channing leveled with the party.
Val was frustrated. What did it matter if they were Chosen, if all it meant was that they would hurt those around them? “So they’re finding us because we were fingered by a deity?”
“You may be hunted, but you are not without aid. The Prophecy states, ‘The Chosen will have weapons that the Illya know not.’”
“Like this,” Lucinde dropped her flail heavily on the table. “Fat load of good it did for those people in the menagerie. They were tortured and could have been killed!”
The Channing nodded. He wished he could take all of this trouble off of their shoulders. “The Prophecy states that ’The daunting weight of the hopes and dreams of all good people of Deroge will be placed on the shoulders and backs of the Chosen.”
Lucinde nodded, accepting the duty to protect the people of Deroge. It was an extension of what her family had done for generations.
Val put his head down and let out an unhinged laugh. Upon returning to Beaufort, he had learned that Allegra had ascended the throne after the Queen had suddenly died. He could only imagine the Queen’s reaction if she heard that the fate of the Isle rested on the head of the person who nearly got her daughter killed.
Iezecele summed the situation up perfectly, “I need to throw up.”
Val’s mind was spinning. The thought that the lives of everyone on the Isle counted on him and his allies was overwhelming. Especially because it seemed to him that the enemy held all the cards. They probably had an army of beast-men. That’s why there were so many forges in Karg. Worse, there was that eyeless creature. Who knew how many of them the enemy had? Not to mention they must have some type of magic that made those monsters.
And what did they have? Some mysterious treausure and twelve haphazardly chosen heroes? And ‘weapons the Illya know not’? He felt the weight of his swords as he walked the Basilica’s courtyard. The weapons and magical rings he and his allies bore were certainly more powerful than any he had seen wielded, matching those in some of the wildest tales he told. But what could twelve weapons do against an army?
Plus, everything was so random. They had no plan. Even as they searched for snippets of the church’s prophecy, it was check here, look there. Now they would have to find an unknown treasure, and unite all lands and races against an unknown enemy. Val had no idea where they would even start.
Adding to that was his cousin’s rise to the throne. He didn’t know what to do about that. The last time they had been together, she had been gravely wounded. He had no idea what she thought of him. Did she miss her childhood friend, or blame him for her grievous wounds, just like her mother? He was also nervous about the timing. The Queen had not been ill. According to all accounts, her death had been a surprise. Val couldn’t ignore the timing of the enemy’s arrival and the death of the Queen. Was Allegra also in danger.
He noticed Iezecele trying to get his attention, “Sorry, Iezecele, what were you saying?”
The Willworker pointed to the sky. “All the birds are flying south.”
“What do,” Val was cut off as he was thrown hard to the ground. When he was able to stand, a scene of destruction greeted him. A number of small buildings had crumbled, broken by some unseen force. He heard people clamoring for aid or crying in pain. It sounded like those cries were echoing across the city.
Lucinde pressed her palm to staunch the wound on her head. “What was that?”
Val had a sinking feeling about what it could be, “Nothing good, whatever it was.”