“Where is Dayson?” Stravor had spoken to a passing serving girl as he stepped into the bar of the Silverhide Inn.
She bobbed a curtsey. “He will return in the morning. Called away he was, Sir. D’ye wish a table?”
“Yes, girl. One by the warmth, and a jug of Dayson’s finest ale.”
The girl led the big man to a table near the fire. Stravor pulled a gold coin from his pouch. “Do not stop the drinks, is that clear?”
Nodding, the girl answered, “Yes, Sir.”
Stravor only grunted as he sat down. The heat from the fire is great, yet it does not reach the cold within me.
The Searcher scrubbed his face and then let his hands drop. As his gaze moved from the tabletop, he noticed other patrons staring at him.
“Fuck off,” he said, to no one in particular, and eyes quickly jumped back to their companions.
The serving girl stood waiting at the bar while Arei, the night barman, finished the order for another. Once finished, he asked, “Mina, what do you need?”
“Two glasses o’porter and a jug of the landlord’s best, please.”
No one got Dayson’s finest ale, unless the innkeeper himself says so. “Who ordered that?”
“Him, there by the fire. He asked for Dayson directly when he entered.” Mina lowered her voice. “I’ve seen him before … a Searcher he is. Done killed someone at Dayson’s asking, once, as the thug was causing trouble.”
Arei looked over at the big man. Damn, I do not need trouble from a Searcher this night! The bartender smiled at the girl and said, “I’ll get your order.”
“Arei, he gave me this and said to keep the ale coming.” Mina handed over the gold.
“He could drink for three days with this. Fine, let me know when he’s dry.” Arei put the gold coin into the box. Dayson’s finest for you this night, Searcher. Dayson would kill me if I let two days free takings slip through my fingers.
“Here you are, Sir.” Mina set the jug and a pewter tankard down. “Anything more?”
“Aye, food. Bread and meat.” Stravor handed over a few silver pieces. He held up a gold coin. “This is for you if you serve me well.”
“Sir, I am not a comfort wench … I am sorry … I cannot, Sir.”
The Searcher’s eyes widened as he realized what the girl was thinking. “No. No, I do not mean to bed you. Simply serve me well, here.”
Mina blushed brightly and she whispered, “I’m sorry, Sir. No offense.”
“None taken. Please just bring me food.”
“Aye, Sir.” Mina nearly ran from her customer to the kitchen.
Her tray was quickly filled with a bowl of nuts and dried berries, slices of rare roast Gotesian were on a plate with several rounds of buttered bread, as were fresh greens and spicy dunion.
Mina had never seen anyone drink as the Searcher did. He’d arrived at six, and by ten was on his tenth jug.
“Sir, I shall bring another, but then my day here is done.”
Stravor dug into his pouch. He held up another gold coin. “This will be yours if you stay until mid-eve.”
“All right, Sir. I’ll stay until then.” After dropping a small curtsey, Mina went to find her patient husband. He came for her each night to ensure her safety.
“Vardel, see here …” Mina held out the gold coin Stravor had given her.
Taking the coin, Vardel’s eyes grew wide. “Where … who … what did you do for this?”
“Nothing other than serve food and drink!” Mina glared at her husband. “He promises another if I stay to mid-eve … two hours more. Will you come for me then?”
Softening, Vardel drew his wife close. “I am sorry … I did not mean to say … I know you would never … it is just so much gold.”
Mina smiled. “And another if I stay … he has been fine, and he does not care for women in that way.”
“You do not have to do this … one gold coin is amazing ….”
“For another two hours I can get us another.”
Vardel smiled and kissed his wife. “I will return at mid-eve. Then enough; we shall go home together.”
“I will be ready. Thank you, my love.” Mina stood on toes to kiss his cheek. “See you again soon!”
Stravor watched the couple from his quiet corner. When the girl returned, he ordered another jug. “Sit with me, girl. Have a cup now that your time is done.”
“Thank you, Sir.” She brought another smaller tankard for herself when she joined him.
Stravor poured for her.
She smiled at him. “Thank you.”
“Will your husband mind you setting with me? Fear not for I respect your union.”
“I am grateful.” Mina sipped her drink. “He will not mind.”
“That’s good. I am glad for the company.”
Mina smiled at the big man. “They say you are a Searcher for Hemothracene.”
“Is it not hard?”
“Aye.” Stravor swallowed his drink. “At times it is.”
The serving girl watched the Searcher’s face, for something like anguish crossed it briefly. Aw, I feel pity for this man.
She smiled at him again and said, “Do you have someone in your life?”
He sat straighter. “I did but no longer. He … he … died.”
“I am sorry.” Mina reached over and took Stravor’s hand gently.
Stravor gazed down at the woman’s slim fingers. He squeezed back. “Thank you. I miss him greatly.”
The door to the Inn opened. Mina’s husband had come back, albeit early, as he had promised he would.
The Searcher released the woman’s hand. “Your husband is here. You should go.” He dug in his pouch for the promised coin. “Thank you for your service and for sitting with me.”
Mina glanced at the coin, and as much as she wanted and needed it, she said, “But, I have not earned it, Sir.”
“You have … please. I promised it.”
“But my husband comes early, I have not stayed the full time.”
Stravor took Mina’s hand. He gently turned it palm side up, placed the coin in it, and then pressed it closed. “Please, take it as I give it.”
“Then …” Mina smiled softly. “I thank you. Good night, Sir.”
Stravor watched the woman go and greet her husband. He watched the man smile and hold his arm open and his wife thread hers through. They left together laughing softly. Other patrons began to leave also as mid-eve grew near.
Arei approached his last customer. “Searcher, Sir? Do you require more before I close?”
Stravor peered up. He should have been drunk but was not. “Yes, a room, another jug of ale and a boy.”
“Thank you. Please take room four. I will send the jug of ale and boy up to you.”
Stravor got to his feet and made his way upstairs.
Once in his room, Stravor stripped down to only his leather trousers. He settled on the bed to smoke and to wait.
“Enter,” the Searcher replied, when there was a knock.
The door opened slowly, and a handsome, slim young man entered. He carried a jug and two pewter cups. He remained by the door after he’d pushed it closed.
Stravor lay on the bed and eyed the young man. The generous mouth, the slight pull of fabric across the boy’s chest and biceps spoke volumes. Rough trousers held up by a drawstring framed the lad’s seemingly generous manhood, and sat prettily on his hips.
The Searcher’s cock stirred. He held the boy’s gaze with his black eyes. He smiled as the lad’s nod followed his hands as rubbed his thickening member. “Come man-boy, bring the ale and pour a measure for each of us. Then take off your clothes, for you will not need them until morning.”
“Aye, Sir. I am called Casec.” The lad crossed to the small table and put down the jug and cups. He poured ale into each. He served the Searcher, and then moved around the bed. After putting down his own pot of ale, he slowly undid the ties of his shirt and slipped it off. He lay it over the arm of the chair behind him.
Stravor observed unblinking. He enjoyed watching the boy entice him, though he didn’t need it. The lad’s fawn skin and dark brown nipples made him swallow. He licked his lips and spoke when the boy reached for the trouser ties. “No. Come around here to me.”
The lad removed his slippers and walked barefoot around the bed. He stood silently beside Stravor. When the big man’s hands touched his hard belly, Casec gasped softly. His cock pushed against the imprisoning material.
Stravor ran his hand upwards and pinched the pouty nipples one after the other. He sat up and reached for the lad’s hips. The Searcher then pulled the ties and slowly pushed Casec’s trousers down. He glanced up at the lad when the boy’s hard cock sprang upward when finally released. The lad’s lips parted, and the pretty eyes had closed.
“Mmm, your cock leaks.” Stravor took the boy’s balls in his left hand and squeezed. “You are ready.” The big man’s meaty hand stroked the boy. “You will give me your seed, boy, now.”
Casec groaned as he came, shooting over his chest and belly. “I … I am …”
“Clean yourself up and then come to bed. The night has only just started.”
As the darkness softened, Stravor rolled over; it was warm in bed. Keter was beside him. The Searcher covered the warm body with a heavy arm and pulled the lad closer.
“Oh, Stravor.” Keter’s words were a sigh.
The Searcher felt the boy’s soft hands on his arm. “Mmm, boy you feel good. Feel what you do to my cock … to me.”
“I do feel it, and I do love you.”
Stravor nuzzled his beloved’s neck and drank in the boy’s scent.
The Searcher’s eyes opened. Something was wrong.
The dream grew into realization. “What have you done with Keter?”
The Searcher saw what was before him; brown hair, the wrong smell. Imposter!
“Get out!” Stravor shoved against Casec, as he remembered. “Get. Out.”
The lad was awake but confused and scared. “Stravor, Sir … please. I will go.”
Stravor threw off the covers and got out of bed. “Take your things—” He picked up the boy’s clothes and shoved them into the lad’s arms. “Be gone! Get! Out!”
Anger and frustration spread through Stravor. He threw the ale jug at the door, its dregs spilling onto the floor. He overturned the small table.
Dayson had flown up the stairs and had made to open the door as Casec yanked on it from inside. The still-naked lad stepped into Dayson’s arms.
“Are you all right? Did he hurt you?” Dayson glanced quickly at his young employee.
“I’m fine … He was fine, and now … now this morning … he is crazy.”
A crash from inside the room accentuated the lad’s words.
“Go down the back way and bathe.” Dayson hugged the trembling boy. “Then to the kitchen for food. I will come to see you soon.”
“Yes, Sir … thank you. I did what he asked, Day.” The boy struggled into his trousers.
“I know. I will see to this lout.”
Nodding, Casec moved slowly down the back stairs.
Dayson entered the room just as Stravor sat heavily on the bed. “God’s teeth, Stravor. What has gotten into you?” Dayson stood over his friend and gestured toward the door. “What did Casec do to anger you to this point?”
“Nothing?” Day threw his hands into the air. “If nothing, why are my tables knocked over, bedsheets ripped from the mattress and my ale jug and contents on the floor?”
“I dreamt of … I thought ...”
“A bad dream, are you saying?”
“Not bad … just wrong.”
Dayson realized something was indeed not right. “Stravor, what has happened? Where is Keter?”
Stravor put his hands over his face and his shoulders shook.
“Stravor?” Dayson sat down. He placed a hand on his friend’s back. His voice was soft when he said, “Stravor, where is Keter?”
The Searcher wept openly now as he said, “Dead.”
“Dead?” Dayson closed his eyes and struggled for his next breath. “What do you mean dead? Tell me what happened out there. Did something happen between you two? You are acting like you cared for him.”
“Is it impossible?” Stravor hissed, “Damn you, Day.”
“How long have I known you? Since we were little lads still out with our mothers? How many have you loved? One?”
Stravor wiped away his tears and rubbed his hands on his thighs. “Yes, I cared. He became of my heart, Day.” The Searcher got to his feet and stared unseeing out the small window. He met Dayson’s eyes. “He was of my heart, and I killed him.”
Dayson stared open-mouthed. It was a moment before he could speak. “Wait … what? You killed him? You? Why would you? What do you mean?”
“I killed him as I had been ordered. I brought his soul back as I had been ordered.” Stravor bent to pick up the small table and righted it. Returning to the bed, he pulled on his trousers.
“Ordered? Why? He was just a boy.”
“Hemothracene said Keter was a witch of the Magoph Coven.” Once again Stravor’s head dropped into his hands. “He said I was to bring his soul back.” The Searcher turned to his friend. “Keter knew though, Day. I said I would run with him, though we’d be hunted. I said I would run. I had the blade tipped to his chest. He said, I know, and he reached forward, put his hand over mine and pulled the Sword into himself.”
“Blessings Come! … Stravor—”
There was a pounding on the door which made both men jump. Each got to his feet.
Stravor reached for his weapon as the door swung open.
Arei stood there. “I am sorry, Sir.” The barman bowed slightly. “Searcher, Sir … your father has come and asked me to fetch you to him. He is outside in a cart.”
Stravor glanced around him. He found his shirt and put it on. His eyes then met Dayson’s.
“Just go on, Stravor.” Dayson nodded at his friend. “Go and I will tend to this room and things here.”
The two grabbed each other’s forearms, and Stravor said, “Thank you. I will return soon, Day.”
“Aye, go on now and see what your father needs.” Dayson left the room.
Stravor finished dressing, fastened on the scabbard, and then made his way downstairs. Outside, the winds blew cold and clouds roiled in the dark skies.
Something isn’t right. Stravor shivered as he stood on threshold, and chastised himself aloud, “Be you man or child? Take hold!”
The inn door closed behind Stravor. Spying his father, the Searcher joined him in the cart.
“Son, we must go home. You must rest and then we must talk. Something is afoot.” The Elder picked up the reins and tapped Lesha with the long reins. “I have had visions ….”
Stravor gazed at this father but remained silent. An old man’s folly.
Once back at his familial home, Stravor helped his father into the house.
“While you are in the stable, bring me my Sword, boy.”
Stravor helped his father into his chair. “Father, do you think it wise …?”
“Aye, I need the connection to help me see.”
Stravor left his father and then put the cart and horse away. As he led Lesha to her stall, Shade nickered to him.
“Hello, horse. Give me a moment and I will come to see you.”
Once Lesha was lightly groomed, fed and watered, Stravor walked to the stall next to hers.
“Shade.” The Searcher reached over the gate to scratch the long ears and wide forehead.
The pony stood quietly.
“I will return again soon, but now I must speak with my father.”
Stravor remembered his father’s request, and found the well-wrapped sword on a shelf in the tack room. It was silent as he lifted it down. His own was oddly quiet also.
After leaving the barn, Stravor walked across the tidy yard and into the house. He paused after closing the door. It smells like home and I am weary. But it matters not ... there is my duty.
Elinor came out of the kitchen. “Stravor! It is good to have you home. Your father is worried as am I.”
“Aye, I will go to him.” Stravor put the silent sword down and drew his mother into his embrace. “It is good to be home. I will stay awhile.”
“Good. Both you and Shade need rest.”
“We both suffer from the … the same malady.” The son kissed his mother’s cheek. “I will go and see Father.”
Stravor threw up his hands in frustration.
“He brought you home at my asking. You need to rest. Please.” Elinor placed her hands up on Stravor’s shoulders. “Please.”
The big man gazed at the worry in his mother’s face. She is not blind. “Aye, Mother. You are right. I am tired. I will rest after I deliver what Father asked for.”
“Thank you.” Elinor kissed her son’s cheek and watched him walk up the staircase.
Stravor knocked at the Elder’s door.
“I’ve brought your Sword, Father.” Stravor entered the room, and lay the wrapped weapon on his father’s desk.
“Thank you.” The Elder gazed at his son as he tarried. “Is there something you need, son?”
“Yes, Sir. I wished to ask …. How do you, after so many years of service, how do you block his eyes on your thoughts?”
The Elder smiled. “How, indeed. Sit, and I will tell you. First, though, remove your Sword. Then take mine and place them both down the hall in your old room. Not side-by-side, on opposite sides, boy.”
Stravor did as he’d been asked then returned to his father’s rooms.
“Close the door, boy. Sit and we’ll begin.”
Stravor spent the next two days in the company of his mother or himself. His father took meals in his room, shunning even the shortest of visits. He said, he needed to be alone in order to make sense of his visions.
Often, Stravor and Shade went out walking or they settled beneath the False Hickmore. The tall, broad-canopied tree had always been there, in the northwest corner of their property.
The rough black bark contained many insects and attracted hammerbeaks that tapped on it, hunting for food. Stravor would sit and nap against the tree, while Shade grazed nearby. They were comfortable together.
The Searcher often sat thinking that he should attend his lover’s body. That he should visit the crypt and properly lay the boy to rest. Yet, he resisted and put the thoughts out of his mind. As well, he thought little of the Sword of Harman which stood in his room, ignored and unmissed. Questions about why came and went like the snuffing of a candle.
But on the second day, Stravor did notice the cooler winds and the gathering dark clouds. Also, the silence of the little song birds and stressed trees that began to drop their leaves. Shade, too was restless and often stopped his grazing to look around and test the scents the came on the wind.
“Perhaps I was wrong to doubt myself, pony,” Stravor said to the little animal as it grazed near him. “Something isn’t right.”
On the morning of the third day, the family sat together over sweet bread, ripe Gotesian milk cheese and tea.
His father placed his mug on the table. “Son, how are you feeling?”
“Better, Father,” Stravor answered.
“Do you think we can talk. I do not wish to hurry you, but ….”
Stravor glanced at this father. “Have you seen something?”
Pushing away from the table, Stravor the Younger got to his feet. “Very well, Father. Let’s go to your room and talk, for I have noticed things also of which we should speak.”
“I shall bring tea,” Elinor offered.
The two men smiled at her and leaving her in the kitchen, made their way upstairs.
“Come in, son,” the Elder Stravor said. “Sit down; we must talk. I’ve been getting visions from Hemothracene.”
Stravor sat on a hard chair across from his father. “What kind of visions? What are they showing you?”
“Turmoil. Much of it. It has something to do with … the body of that boy. Stravor—”
“Keter’s body? He is dead, his soul is in those damnable walls. He lays in the crypt.”
Stravor the Elder stared at his son for several seconds before saying, “Are you sure that … Keter is dead?”
“Of course! He was run through by the Sword of Harman. I had his soul within me. You know as well as I, for that to happen, the body must die.” Stravor stared at his father, who remained silent. A thousand thoughts ran through Stravor’s head. “He is dead.”
The Elder said softly, “He was a witch.”
Stravor’s frustration rose. “Then he is a dead witch!”
“For how long has he been dead, son?”
“God’s teeth!” Stravor rose and paced. “Two weeks now. I lay him in the crypt four days ago.”
“Where did you come by your amulet … it is Fathril, is it not? How did you come by it?” The Elder reached out but was not surprised when his son stepped back. He dropped his hand.
Stravor held the amulet as he backed away from his father. “Keter. He made it for me.”
“When he gifted it, what did he say to you, boy?”
The Searcher growled, “Why does it matter?”
“Please just amuse me by answering your old father’s questions.”
Stravor dropped into his seat. “He said, he fashioned it from his own. That Fathril was the living stone; that mine was a remembrance; and to leave his on, even in death.”
In that moment, Elinor entered the room. She carried a tray laden with tea pot, mugs and milk. “Here is some refreshment for you.”
“My thanks, my love.”
“Thank you, Mother. It’s excellent.” Stravor rose to take the heavy tray. “I can fix the tea.”
“Thank you, Stravor.” Elinor smiled at both men, then left the room.
The Searcher spent several minutes preparing two cups of his mother’s strong tea. To his father then, he handed the drink and a small plate with several teacakes. He then sat down with his own.
The Elder sipped from the steaming mug. “Where were we?”
“You were asking about my amulet and Keter.”
“Yes.” The older man placed his cup down carefully on his desk. “I went down into the crypt yesterday morning. I examined the body.”
“Father! Why?” Stravor dropped a cake back onto his plate. “It’s too difficult for you—”
“That’s as may be, but I managed. Now, stop fussing and listen.” Stravor’s father sipped again, and then continued, “I unwrapped the body to view it.”
“It had to be done! Did you not notice the lack of decay? The wound has the look of something that is healing.”
“What? How can this be? I pulled the blade from him myself.”
“Think, boy! Use your head rather than your brawn.” The father leaned toward his son. “Put the clues together so that you can see the full picture before you.”
“This is … are you saying all this … everything … was preordained?”
“To a point, yes, I think so.” The Elder rubbed his face. “The Witches of Magoph never accepted Hemothracene. They called him a false god and vowed to bring him down one day. I believe this is that day, and Keter is the one sent.”
“God’s Teeth! All of this … all!”
“Stravor, not all. Not your feelings for each other.”
“Why did he not just tell me the truth?”
Stravor the Elder smiled gently at his boy. “Listen to me. Hemothracene knows your thoughts. Had you been part of the plan knowingly, it would not have worked.”
“Worked? What has worked?”
“First, answer me this. Did Keter say anything before he died?”
“Do you know it all?”
“Good, remember it.”
Stravor sighed. “I will, but what do you mean? What has worked?”
“Nothing yet. I can feel Hemothracene’s conflict. He is being pressed. His attention is divided, he is distracted and that weakens him. Now is the time to finish it.”
“Do not interrupt.” The Elder spoke quietly but firmly. “You now need to trust in me and the love you have for your boy. Prepare the cart, we must go to the Hall. And, wear the Sword.”
“Father, I do not think …”
“No, my son, it is not one of your strong suits. But do not start now. Be as my child and obey me.” The father reached for his son’s hands. When he received them, he squeezed and watched his child in earnest. “Simply obey me now, Stravor.”
After a moment of pause and contemplation Stravor rose. “I will get the Sword, and the cart ….”
Returning from the stable, Stravor the Younger was surprised when he went to aid his father in coming down the stairs. The man was dressed in his old Searcher’s garb with his weapon—the Sword of Charist—strapped at his waist.
“Just help me down the stairs, boy.”
After heaving another sigh, Stravor replied, “All right. Slowly, Father.”
Outside, Shade stood quietly between the shafts of the cart and the harness. He snorted when the two Searchers came from the house. However, the little animal did nicker softly at Elinor who followed.
Stravor’s mother stood by the pony’s head as the two men climbed onto the cart. She stroked his broad head and rubbed the long thick ears. “You are a lovely fellow.”
“Mother, you spoil this beast.” Stravor picked up the long reins.
“You both deserve spoiling. At least Shade allows me to.” Elinor smiled at her boy. “It wouldn’t hurt you to allow me to do the same for a bit longer.”
The Elder Stravor grinned as he elbowed his son. “Listen to your mother, boy!”
With a broad smile and shake of his head, Stravor said, “Aye.” He said to his male parent, “Let us go, Father.”
“Yes, son.” The Elder held out his hand for his wife.
“Please, both of you be careful,” Elinor said.
“We shall be careful, my love, and will return to you soon.”
Elinor watched as the cart moved smartly out of the yard. Her left hand sat lightly at her throat as she whispered, “I hope so.”
Birds which normally sang brightly, were silent, as the cart trundled through the forest along the hard-packed path. The wind, which had been constant, was still. Trees stood like unmoving sentinels. Dark clouds were becoming inky.
Stravor glanced at his father. “Something feels wrong.”
“Aye, lad, it does. Let us visit the Inn before the Hall. See if Dayson has heard of anything untoward.”
Once they crossed the town border, all seemed quiet.
“Father, it is nearly midday and it looks more like the town before the sun has risen.”
The Elder gazed around. “Aye, it does. It is very still. Ask the pony to hurry, Stravor.”
“Come on, horse.”
The pony increased his speed when the reins were felt on his rump.
Several minutes later, Stravor stopped the cart in front of the Inn, jumped down and walked to the door. The place appeared to be closed, but the door opened when the Younger tried it. He glanced at his father. The Life Sword moaned softly.
“Go in. Find out what you can.” The Elder picked up the reins. “I will turn the cart around.”
“Aye. I’ll return soon.”
Inside, the bar was quiet. Dayson stood alone in the place but for one patron. The innkeeper lifted his head from wiping the bar when he heard footsteps.
“Stravor! It’s good to see you. Ale?”
“No. Thank you.” Stravor sat at the bar. “Has something happened? It is so quiet. The town ….”
“Aye, something is wrong, but I don’t know what. People fear going out and do only when necessary. There is a feeling about the place in the last days … a wrongness.”
“I saw only one or two people seemingly in a hurry.”
“I have had three customers in two days. I’ve told the staff to stay home until whatever this is is over.” Dayson leaned on the bar. “Earlier I walked around … Stravor, have you been to the Hall?”
“The feeling is powerful there. The red glass tiles are now black. I don’t think—”
Stravor got to his feet. “I need to go.”
Dayson trailed after, asking, “You’re going there? Is it safe …?”
As they left the bar and stepped outside, Stravor watched overhead for a moment. “It has darkened.” He climbed back into the cart. “It is as we thought; we need to get to the Hall. Whatever it is, is happening there.”
The Elder nodded and shivered. “These clouds do not seem natural.”
The three men looked up as black shapes billowed.
“Stravor, let us leave the pony in Day’s stable.”
“Yes, that’s a good idea,” Dayson agreed.
Nodding, the Younger jumped from the cart and helped his father down. He then led the pony into the stable yard. The Searcher, aided by his friend, unharnessed Shade and led him to a stall.
“You wait here. It’s safe.”
Shade snorted softly as Stravor patted his neck.
Dayson reassured the Searcher. “I’ll take care of him.”
After a final pat for Shade, Stravor turned to his friend. “Thank you. Day, if something should happen to me and my father, please return this one to Mother.”
Day swallowed and nodded. “I’ll look after it … both of them. You have my word.”
“Stravor, what do you think it is? What is going on?”
“A war, I think, but I do not know how to fight it.” Stravor hugged his long-time friend. “In case … I do not return … thank you.”
Dayson held on tightly. “Come back.”
“It is my hope.”
“Be careful, my friend.” Dayson laid his hand on Stravor’s forearm. “Please.”
Stravor placed his hand over the innkeeper’s. “Aye. I much as I can be.”
Leaving the stable, Stravor found his father waiting at the front of the inn.
“Let’s go, son. The wind is beginning to rise.”
Stravor linked arms with his father as they began the walk to the Hall of the Dead.
“Father, this wind, it is not of nature’s doing.”
“No, I fear it is not.” The Elder had raised his voice and held more tightly to his son. “We must hurry.”
Quickly the wind rose, pushing the men back. They bent into it, forcing their way forward. Its howling stole their words nearly before they were spoken.
Litter, leaves and branches flew at them. The men struggled onward; right and left arms linked, and the other arm held before their faces to protect from the flying debris.
The wind and what it flung smashed windows in stores and houses. Shrieks of fear and surprise were heard and then carried off in the storm.
As the two rounded the corner, the sight of the Hall’s plaza made Stravor stop in his tracks. “God’s teeth!”
The Hall and the plaza around it were no longer welcoming. “Father, see here. The statue has cracked, the tile is as Day said. Red turned to black ….”
“Aye, we need to get inside.”
Stravor dragged his eyes from the Hall to his parent. He had opened his mouth to ask how, but instead screamed, “Down!” He dropped, pulling his father with him as a tile broke free of the Hall and spun toward them.
Not daring to walk as pieces of the Hall blew off, they crawled to the entrance. Finally reaching the building, they rose and moved quickly through the open door.
Inside was dark but it was not silent. There was a low keening each of the Searchers could hear. It came from the main hall. The two men gazed at each other and reached for the comfort of their own weapon. Together they moved forward, deeper into the Hall. On their hips, each of the Life Swords glowed brighter; azure and fuchsia reflected from the obsidian floors. Footsteps echoed back from the walls.
The door to the Lord’s Hall was unbreeched.
“Boy, ask for entrance.”
Stravor dropped to his knees, bowed his head and repeated the words:
Oh, Hemothracene, God of Death;
Keeper of the Undead; I beg thee,
I who am your servant and slave
Before thee I kneel; hear my plea
So I, Stravor, may do your bidding
Through this sacred entrance; allow me
He rose and placed his left hand on the door. In response, it opened, scraping over the glass floor, leaving deep gouges before it stopped. Both Searchers slipped into the Hall.
Inside, the noise they had heard increased; the volume nearly too loud to bear. Stravor winced and glanced at his father.
“What is it?”
“A war from within the Walls.” The Elder smiled. “Come on, we must find a way to help.” The old man took a step forward.
Stravor grabbed his father’s bicep. “Help? How?”
“I don’t yet know, but we must help them.” The Elder shook off his son’s hand and walked forward.
“Father …” the younger Searcher followed his parent.
As they moved deeper in the darkness they were suddenly pressed from all sides.
“What …” Stravor felt the bodies on all sides of him.
“It’s the Ones Who Watch, boy.”
“God’s teeth! What do they want?”
The answer was a whisper in their minds. “It is time. Our power is now. Only you have the way. Take us now so we may enter the fray.”
Stravor the Younger’s eyes widened and he said to his father, “What do they want? They can’t mean ….”
“Aye, boy, they do mean it.” The Elder pulled the Sword of Charist from its sheath. Then with no hesitation he plunged it into nearest One.
His eyes wide, Stravor stared at the scene before him; seeing the soul leave the One Who Watched. It travelled up the blade and into his father. With his next breath, he freed his own weapon and followed his father’s lead.
The Elder moved to the monolith after taking a sixth One. One by one he released them into the walls.
Stravor now carried five souls. The final One stood before him. Stravor held the Sword of Harman in his left hand; the tip nearly touched the shining floor. He spoke to the last of the Ones Who Watched.
“Why are you doing this?”
“Searcher, we have watched this place, the people, you and the god. We have seen and learned. What we saw was not good for the people. The Witches of the Magoph Coven knew of the now, and sent us to watch. Our eyes were removed in order that we would see clearly. We saw and we must now forfeit this reality and fight with the souls who reside in these walls. Together we can stop Hemothracene and his plan.” The One reached out and touched Stravor’s shoulder. “It is all right. We know of what we do; press the blade home.”
The Searcher lifted the blade, placed the tip against the giant’s chest and pushed. The Sword slipped easily through skin, sinew and bone until it rested in the heart. The soul did not resist; it seemed to welcome the steel. It travelled up the length with no reluctance. Stravor heard the One’s voice say simply, “Thank you.”
The corpse remained upright until the weapon was removed. Stravor caught the slumping body and helped it gently to the floor.
“Quickly now, Searcher. Release us!” all the souls cried in unison.
“Aye.” Stravor slid the steel into the monolith; kneeling as he did so. The six souls quickly slipped out and into the walls. He watched as each briefly flashed white as they entered.
As he got wearily to his feet, his father was beside him. “They will help stop this God of Death, son”
“Boy, do you recall the words Keter said before he died?”
“What were they?”
Stravor, sheathed his weapon and rubbed his face. “Oh, they were odd. He said, ‘Though I am gone from this shell, hold my place, protect me well … Keep me safe a month, not more … I must be two so we can win this war.’ And then I — Father!”
The Elder pushed the Sword of Charist into his son’s heart. Stravor’s arms flailed and then grasped his father’s wrists.
“Find your boy … help them.”
Stravor’s soul was reluctant to leave, but the weapon pulled it from the body.
Tears ran down the Elder’s face as he withdrew the steel from his grown child’s chest. “I am sorry, son … but they need you.” He laid the body down and then walked to the monolith. “I will return each day.” He pushed the blade into the stone. “Find this place so I can return you to yourself. I pray I am right.”
The Elder watched Stravor’s soul leave the Sword. His son’s face was clear in the wall for only the briefest of moments.