The Whispering Game-Maker – Part 2

2016072916170169297

           She couldn’t believe her eyes. She didn’t want to anyway. She never saw something like that even in her worst nightmares, but that was only because her brain always woke her up before such a horrific image covered her mind. This time it felt like someone was forcing her to sit through the nightmare, now she was seeing something her eyes won’t ever be able to erase.

The adrenalin flew over her veins like a carp through the river, but she couldn’t move a single muscle, not even to scream. The absolute horror completely paralyzed her, and the more she thought about waking up, the more she felt discouraged and utterly terrified.

“Wake up, wake up!” came a high-pitched whisper followed by a scary echo filled laugh. The force holding down on me lifted off of me and I woke up. It was 10:07AM, I overslept. I just hoped everything that happened last time was just a stupid dream fuelled by all the nonsensical horror movies I watched over the weeks. I did not want to take a chance even though all this seemed so juvenile and spurious. I just stared at the wall, not thinking, blank and stiff as a board.

A chilling alarm sound broke the silence and scared the bejeezus out of me. I took the phone and the alarm read “IT WASN’T A DREAM. GET READY AND ALL THE BEST ”. I am sure I never set an alarm last night.

I didn’t remember being that scared in my life and that was just the beginning. That idea only made it worse. If that was even a possibility.

My parents always complained about how I never observe things around me and how I never pay attention to things going on around me. I totally thought this would be the one quality that would actually help me ignore any movements or unusual things that are about to happen to me. Little did I know that, when fear kicks in every small sound, movement, shadow etc have double the impact and your senses go up a notch.

The moment I got down from the bed I felt scales and a something squishy. Out came a shriek and I looked down, there was nothing. Just a clean wood floor. I looked under the bed without putting my legs down, nothing again. I slowly walked out of the room and into the hall, it felt like there were a thousand eyes on me. Tip toed down the hall and tried to finish reading a comic or at least just use it as a distraction to just pass time.

Suddenly the whole place grew too cold, I got up and went to the closet to take out a blanket. The closet creaked open and there they were, 2 golden eyes staring. I slammed the closet and ran to the balcony, took a deep breath of fresh air that filled my lungs. I closed my eyes for a minute and the moment I opened them everything was pitch black. I waved my arms around, I was stuck in a box.

Suffocation and anxiety took over in no time, I punched and kicked the box but nothing happened. My heart pounding harder than it ever had and to make matters worse something moved under my feet, the same squishy scales. I started to jump on them still continuing the punching and there again, 2 eyes at a distance of an inch from my eyes but this time they were red and I could tell they were filled with anger. I closed my eyes.

“Goodbye. Please kill me.”

Those were the words I could come up with at that moment. I fell to the floor and looked up, the closet was open and I had fallen out from inside that. Crawling and crying I reached the corner of my room, sat there with my head on my knees I wailed, cried and shivered at the same time. I dozed off in that position.

I could hear a quiet buzzing noise that woke me up. I chose to ignore it. It stopped. It was my phone. I ignored it 4 times, I did not have the energy for me to get to the phone and answer it.

Suddenly the buzz turned into a high pitched shrieking and in the shrieking, I could hear my voice “SAVE ME! SAVE ME! answer the phone! AHHHHH!!…” and the shriek died out. Silence. My heart began to pound again, I crawled slowly towards my bed to reach for my phone. I reached for the phone and flipped to see the screen.

“TOO LATE” were the words flashing on the screen.

I threw the phone out of the window without thinking or even trying to understand the consequences of the action I just took. I jumped on my bed wrapped my blanket tight and waited for my inevitable death.

Buzzz…

Vibration again. Startled, I stick my head out and look at the table beside my bed. There was my phone.

“HAHA! NICE TRY!” it said this time.

I look at the time and it was 6:11PM. The torture was over for today. The moment relief snuck in the lights went out and I passed out the very next second.

Everything was pitch black and then the nightmare started again, the same one I woke up to in the morning. The one where I see my death through a third person’s eyes.

 

For the previous part, click here : The Whispering Game-maker- Part 1

The Soul Keeper and the Guardian, Chapter 5

The deadline

 

Click here for Chapter 1 of the series

             Things weren’t working out in my favour but I never expected them to. I was about to set something in motion that would change life as we know it and I just didn’t have enough time to do it right. It had to be rushed and thus resistance was inevitable. Just like this defensive mother in front of me. From her point of view, I’m just a sinister thief who’s trying to deceive them and trying to take their peaceful lives away from them. She’s pointing a sickle at my face which is a totally fair reaction on her part. I’ve tried my best to talk myself through this situation but I only seem to keep making it worse with every next word I utter. Now, a new element has walked into this scenario. As it turns out, the old man I spoke to in the bar happens to be the Lord of Vereen. I am not sure if his appearance here is going to turn the odds in my favour but I’m willing to roll the dice on this one.

 

‘Oh yes lad. I’ve been the lord of this prison for about three decades now. People often do tell me that I never dress the part, or even act it. When was the last time you saw a noble getting drunk at the local inn in the middle of the day?’ he said smiling as he walked inside. He walked past me to Mirriam and made her lower the sickle. Her face tried to contain her ever-growing rage and it was clear that she didn’t want to explode in front of the lord.

 

‘I’m sorry to admit it but I did overhear your conversation while I was at your doorstep. I never could resist some drama.’ he said to Mirriam. He then turned to me and began. ‘You’re Mikhail’s friend aren’t you?’

 

I nodded. It wasn’t entirely true as I barely knew him. But we were comrades of a great cause and just stating that he actually is a friend of mine would win me the Lord’s trust.

 

‘Mikhail. He’s the one who deserves the title of the lord. He handles the business, he talks to the people, he provides for the people and keeps this place and it’s people warded from the malignant claws of the world outside. He’s worked by my side for the last decade and made this place what it is. He’s like a son to me’ his eyes were losing focus. Suddenly, he looked up at me. ‘I’ve been locked up in this place for a while but I’ve also lived a rich life before everything collapsed around us. I’ve been places and I’ve met people. All kinds of people. That’s one of the perks of being a noble.’

 

His attention now diverted to a very confused Mirriam. He slowly walked up to her and asked her to take a seat. She sat down on the couch and he sat right next to her. ‘Mirriam, how much do you know about the soul?’ he asked her.

 

A question like that seemed pointless to her. The brow-raise on her face was trying to imply that she was disappointed in the lord for even considering to think about the situation. Unable to protest, she did give it a thought. ‘I don’t know much but I do know that it is the force that connects all life.’ She clearly knew more but she didn’t want to discuss the science of the soulkeepers. Not right now.

 

‘Mirriam, you wouldn’t know this but just around the time you moved to Vereen, all but one of the soulkeepers were murdered in their sleep. The soulkeeper of the light fled out of the country and was never seen again, leaving the entire place soulless. The murderers made sure to break the cycle and destroyed all delivered eggs so that the soul wouldn’t pass down to new prospects. They even went as far as to pillaging the soul temples.’ Mirriam was baffled to hear this as Wilson went along with the tale of the soul keepers.

 

‘This move backfired. The fabric of the soul started to crumble in the entire country. Greenery died, animals limited procreation and the climate kept getting worse and worse. The entire country has been dying ever since. The entire country except places like ours.’ He continued. ‘Like our friend Randall here, I too have spent a considerable amount of time with soulkeepers. By spending time with them I gained a decent understanding of the soul. Before Mikhail ever came here, I was at the liberty to leave town at my will. Out there in the early years after the massacre, I felt a strong emptiness in every town and city. I always had the suspicion that the soul was slowly dying in places outside Vereen but I was never sure about it. Then Mikhail arrived and with his own understanding of the soul he hypothesized a similar explanation and confirmed my suspicions. He had a fair understanding of the soul and our consensus was that Vereen had managed to latch on to the soul unlike the rest of the country.’

 

The grievous tone in which he told this tragic tale was really hitting the nails on Mirriam. Even I, who has known the tale for such a long time felt the weight of his words. Whatever it was that he was trying to do, it was working and I let him go on knowing that he would do a much better job than I.

 

‘The two of us took upon the responsibility to seal this place and protect the last surviving fragment of soul. Mikhail did everything from managing operations to planning the expeditions and all I could do was become the town mascot. While Mikhail was busy handling all the important tasks, I had time to sit back and think. Being a mascot isn’t too much fun so I did a lot of drinking and thinking in the time I had. My theory was that our town was the host to a prospect. Three kids were born around the time of the massacre. Clyde, Vivica and your son Edward.’ It was coming. Both me and Mirriam could see it and she did not want to hear what was about to come.

 

‘Soul keepers stand out Mirriam, even when they are prospects. Randall saw it and so did I. For the last three years, I’ve observed these three kids. While they are all odd in their own way, Edward is a particular kind of peculiar. Soul keepers have a natural affinity towards all soul bearers. Their compassion is enormous and overwhelming to an astounding degree. They are immune to all diseases and the most notable trait is how the environment reacts to them. A prospect is loved and protected by every creature that’s not human. Most creatures are extremely protective of a prospect and are even willing to go as far as give up their life to protect them from any harm.’ The old man kept going at just the right pace. This is what I should have done but I was not a familiar face either.

 

‘I’ve known it for some time now Mirriam. Your son Edward is the soul keeper. The last soul keeper in the country. I’ve known and I’ve done nothing. I didn’t know what to do. But someone has come along. Someone who knows what to do.’ He looked at me trustingly.

 

‘But…but he’s a thief. He’s just a thief’ said Mirriam. Of course, what would a thief do.

 

Wilson came to my rescue again. ‘I was not supposed to tell this to anyone. Mirriam, our Mikhail was a thief too. A notorious one. He was a member of the thieves guild just like our Randall here. Mikhail left that life behind to only conserve this little town and Randall is doing just the same.’

 

She was lost in thought and it was the perfect time to offer my piece. ‘Mirriam, I originally came here to scout this town. The thieves guild is expanding its influence across the west by establishing control in one place after the other and the next settlement in line was Vereen. On my way here, I saw Ed in the woods and soon came to the discovery that he was a soul keeper.’ I paused. It was time to make a proposal and I had to make the stakes clear. ‘After seeing him and this beautiful town, I was reborn with a new mission. I loved the way the world was and I want things to go back the way they were. The only thing that matters to me is now to protect you and your son and fulfil his destiny as a soul keeper.’

 

It was assuring, but not enough. I moved closer to her and stared right into her eyes. ‘There are people coming Mirriam. A group of men from the guild follows me as a means of backup. They serve as a safety net for the operation. Once they come here, it exposes the town and the secret behind it to the entire nation. People will come and eat away at everything and you and your son will end up as spoils of war as a best case scenario. They are about a day or two behind me so we are running short on time. We need to leave this place right now.’

 

She clamped her hands on her face and tried to wrestle through the terror in her heart. ‘Why? Why did it have to be him?’ she was close to a break down.

‘I’m sorry’ that wasn’t going to comfort her but it was necessary.

 

‘Where are we going? And when are we coming back?’ she asked in a trembling voice. The question confused me. Did she not understand what was going on? Was she unable to think properly? I looked at Wilson and he looked back at me with the same concerned expression. He went on to enquire.

 

‘Mirriam, do you not know?’ She looked at him, expecting more bad news. ‘Know what?’ she asked him.

 

Wilson took a long pause before answering. ‘A prospect has to blossom into a full-blown soul keeper by the time he or she is 16 years of age. The prospect can only live if they have hatched the egg in their 16th year. Mirriam, your son has less than two years to live!’

 

 

 

end of volume 1

Next chapter coming soon

The Whispering Game-maker- Part 1

16ae27c1ccc384ff3be70472aaee6c25

 

I awoke in a panicked sweat. God it was bad.

Was I dreaming?

There certainly had to be some explanation for why I was now a simmering pig, drenching my sheets and pillow in sweat. Nothing made sense. I needed to catch my breath.

I kicked my feet over to the edge of the bed, feeling like the weight of the world was on me, and stumbled over to the small bathroom of my apartment, to cool off.

I hopped into the shower, and let that refreshing cold water free me from the turmoil of my body. No shampoo, no soap, I just needed the sweat to be gone.

No more than two minutes later, I was back in decent shape. I’d still have the sheets to clean if I didn’t want to deal with the nasty scent all night, but it seemed awfully late. I could deal with them for the rest of the night. But regardless, I felt okay again…had a strange, new, and even worse feeling come over me. I didn’t know how to describe it in words, but something wasn’t right. It was a gut feeling. A damn strong one.

I whipped the towel around my legs and body quickly, and left the Bathroom, shutting the door behind me. I threw on a second set of clean Pyjamas, did a quick spray of the air using deodorant to mask the lingering scent of sweat, and got back into bed to return to my rest.

As soon as my head touched the pillow, the phone on my nightstand began to vibrate violently.

Who could be calling me at such a late hour? I thought.

I didn’t want to take the call, but I felt like it would just keep going otherwise. I held the phone to my ear.

The caller ID was unknown, and strangely, all the text on my screen was red, not the phone’s usual UI elements of blue and white text.

I could hear the sound of some stifled giggling.

“So, you’ve succeeded in avoiding Her, already?” came a suave voice with a deep tone.

“…Excuse me?” I replied. It sounded like a prank call, I didn’t recognize the voice as anyone I knew. My old roommate David was known for the occasional prank, but this clearly wasn’t him.

“Oh, come now. You were no more than an inch away from her, and you didn’t have the heart to introduce yourself? Not very gracious of you.” came the response, tutting.

I rolled my eyes and then got back to him. “Look, I’m just trying to get to sleep her-” I was abruptly interrupted.

“And I have information that might just save your life. Well… return it, at least.”

I wanted to hang up for being rudely interrupted, but the next thing he said was just intriguing enough for me to hear him out.

“…Are you threatening me?” I said.

“On the contrary. I’m here to help.” was his response.

I sat silent for a moment, wondering what the man’s motive might be. “I’d like to offer you a deal.” he said.

“A… deal?” I said, confused.

“If you’ll allow me a moment of your time to explain myself, of course…” he said.

“Shoot.” I said, just wishing he’d get on with it.

“In case you were otherwise unaware, you are dead.”

“…Dead?” I said, while trying to interpret his meaning.

“Yes. Dead. The type in which your mortal coil has been snuffed out, and you are now merely a soul. As it happens, your corpse is sitting in the local morgue, while your  family are out of town with friends and relatives.”

“Cut the bullshit.” I said, ready to hang up. That whole statement made no sense. I was right here.

“Oh, you can hang up on me if you please, but you’ll soon regret it…” He said.

“Then start making sense!” I shouted, my patience finally starting to wear thin.

“I’ve been quite honest with you so far, but I’ll do what I can to clear things up for you. That ‘Friend’ of yours, Richard? The one who offered you ‘Superpowers’ beyond your wildest imagination, in exchange for nothing more than a quick injection… Well, he did you quite a disservice.” he said.

“You were injected with Krokodil, that ghastly substance that brings new Russian lowlifes to my door, daily. I wish I could say you had a pleasant death, but I can’t lie to you, in good faith.”

“…If I am dead… how are we talking? Explain that.” I said, scoffing.

“Oh, that’s very simple. As I said, I offered you a deal.”

“I looked over your case, and my poor heart was just so moved to find how unfairly you were treated…” I couldn’t believe how mocking his voice was. This guy cared nothing for me.

“For the moment, I have temporarily returned you to life. Course’, that’s conditional on how you handle yourself from now on.” he said.

“And what would you have me do?” I retorted, sick of the baseless statements so far.

“Survive. For no more than a week. I would hope someone as capable as you could do that much.” he said.

“…A week. You don’t think I can live a week? I’ve been alive for over 20 years. What’s one more week…” I responded, feeling good about myself.

“Oh, I can’t pretend that your usual routine places in you in any harm, no… But you’re not alone right now…”

I pulled a face of pure disbelief, having been looking at my empty room for the entire conversation.

“Listen. There’s nobo-”

Scratching sounds at the bathroom door. Very distinct scratches. Fingernails, no doubt.

He was right.

I bolted outright out of bed, grabbing the pistol I’ve kept in the drawer beside my bed for just such an occasion. I made my way towards the bathroom, wondering just who the hell was in there. I had just come out of there minutes ago, and it was empty.

I reached for the doorknob, when the voice came from the phone again. I could hear it all the way from across the room.

“I wouldn’t advise that, if I was you…” Came a serious tone. I walked backwards to the bed, continuing to stare at the door, talking with the phone in one hand.

“You see, down here, she’s affectionately known as Lamia. One of the older demons, and easily the most eldritch sight we have. I called a vote to see what the board wanted to see you deal with, and she won by a landslide.”

“…What fucking vote! Just who are you??” I finally screamed. The stress of the bathroom scratching getting to me, and this call continuing to wind me into madness.

“You haven’t guessed? I go by many names, but your kin usually just call me the Devil.”

“…The devil?” Funny as hell, but I was actually considering that he was telling the truth.

“I’ll help you to understand your task. It’d be no fun to watch you perish so soon, after all…”

“For the next seven days, you will have to contend with Her being in your presence. She will materialize close to you, starting from 10AM, and leaving you at 6PM sharp. This could be from your cabinet, under your bed, anywhere unseen, really. Dark places are a surefire favorite dwelling for her.

“She’s not terribly keen on being looked at. Frankly, it’s the thing she hates most. I’ve observed some truly abhorrent butchery of those who can’t pay her the respect of remaining unseen. If you catch so much as a quick peek of her, you’ll understand.”

“She may be kind enough to let slide some unconscious reflections, after all, you humanshave a very wide gaze. But, that’s in her court. I wouldn’t rely on her mercy, myself.”

“…I can’t look at her?” I said. “…What’s stopping her from coming out?”

“She’s not awfully familiar with your world, and your architecture. Usually, you’ll find her tormenting souls on the third rung of the underworld, so please, forgive her naivety.”

“I kid…” he said, laughing. “She could open the door, but she’s a good sport. If you manage to trap her as such, you can consider the threat over for the night.”

“She has a handful of supernatural abilities to help her out. Low-level telepathy to move or rotate objects, the ability to absorb and reform light into other forms of energy, mostly used to overload or dim light bulbs…”

“But worst of all, she has a particularly cruel tendency to make your hear things that aren’t actually there. She can imitate any voice, or sound naturally. Expect her to save that for the later days, though. She should only employ that if you’re doing a good job.”

“Ok, ok… I’m getting some of this.” I said, wishing this was all just some dream.

“Now, while I did call her a good sport, it’s only fair you don’t cheat yourself..”

“Cheat?” I said, confused.

“Well, your task is merely to avoid to looking at her. You could lock yourself in an empty room with no windows, lock the doors, and be done with it. Or you could turn on all the lights in the house, and keep her from appearing anywhere. Anything of that nature, really. There are several ways to exploit the rules, but she’s been granted special permission to break her usual restrictions, if you can’t respect a fair challenge.”

“….Ok. I think I get it… Is that it?” I said.

“Mostly. Your life is as it was, before your death. You can go about your day, and prepare for the challenge during the daytime, just be sure to have your strategy in place before 10AM. Having trapped her in your bathroom, you’re safe for the first night. You could sleep in peace, but I suspect you’re too troubled for that right now…”

“If I’ve forgotten anything, I can call you back. There’s a lot of money riding on you, right now. I can promise you that you don’t want to fail this test. You’ll be tormented for all eternity if you disappoint some of the bigger demons, betting on your survival. Well, then. I think that’s all. Farewell, and good luck with your life.”

Click.

The call was over. And I was an emotional wreck right now, faced with my very survival.

If I could trust ‘The Devil’, or so he said he was, then I was safe for the first night, because of my accidental fortune.He might have said a lot of questionable things, but he was right about one thing.

I wasn’t getting a fucking second of sleep tonight.

 

(Unnamed Story)- Chapter 12: Together. 

Ingram ran with Daisy in his arms while Elia ran beside him removing Daisy’s hair from her eyes and the wound on her head. Ingram’s handkerchief was tied around Daisy’s head but it didn’t help much. They ran on the rocky and dusty roads of Hauyne barefooted, the roads burned their feet but didn’t burn their spirits. Getting Daisy to an chirurgeon  was their only goal. 
             The run had become significantly harder. Elia disappeared, his hands ached, his legs gave in and he fell to the ground. He blinked, Clarice had fallen right in front of him. He got up picked her up and ran, he didn’t know where to go but he just ran. The handkerchief tied on Clarice’s reduced the bleeding but didn’t stop it. He ran hoping to see Bennett. He ran hoping someone would come to their help. He ran thinking about the time when Daisy was in his hands exactly like Clarice was right now. He loved them both dearly, he wasn’t ready to let go of any of them this soon. 

            She opened her eyes. Her eyelids still felt heavy, but someone was holding her hands. She slowly turned to her side and saw Bennet there, her beautiful eyes filled with tears instantly, couldn’t hold it in anymore. Glimpses of last night flashed in her head. Clarice knew what she had put Bennett and Ingram through. After all she had put them through they still were holding onto her. This made her cry even more. A knock on the door and Ingram came in with breakfast. He looked at Clarice, gave her a smile and fed her himself. She burst into tears again. 

           “Why?” she said, half chewing and half crying. 

           “Because you would’ve done the same for us” said Ingram, stuffing more food into Clarice’s already filled mouth. 

           The sound of crying woke Bennet  up. “How are you feeling?” He asked her the moment he woke up. He was happy that she was eating and alright. The Chirurgeon walked in and spoke to Bennet about Clarice and gave him a few medicines. 

            They walked of the chirurgeon’s place. Took a cart and made their way back home. The ride back was silent. While Clarice slept in Bennet’s lap, Ingram was lookin at a map of Dybbukh he found in Clarice’s cloak. He examined the map and imagined what would’ve happened if Clarice had not been found, he forcefully snapped himself out of it and gave Bennet the map and asked him to look at it. 

             Dybbukh was a very sinister place. The king there committed a macabre series of murders on everyone who spoke or went against him. Slavery and prostitution were their predominant businesses. All these business were owned by the king and his ministers, while the few others in the King’s court had decent lives. The rest of the kingdom were slaves who worked for a meagre amount and women of the kingdom were forced into prostitution. 

            Bennet put his hand on her forehead. He gave her a very affectionate look. The cart slowly pulled into their street. They woke Clarice up and they carried her gently into the house.

           The sun rays slowly turned orange and sneaked out of the house in a hurry. The night swept into the house. Clarice opened her eyes gently and she saw 4 eyes beaming at her with a lot of happiness and concern as well. A small fear took over Clarice. She finally came to terms with what she had done and what happened to her. She had left Bennet and Ingram. She had caused them a lot of pain and was scared that they wouldn’t forgive her.

              Ingram held her hand and said ” I want to find Elia and Daisy as much as you do but I’d never want to lose you. So sacrificing yourself or putting yourself in harm’s way won’t help our family. I beg you Clar! Please never even think of doing something like this ever again” 

             “We are in this together” said Bennet. 

The Soul Keeper and the Guardian, Chapter 4

A Confounded Mother

Click here for Chapter 1 of the series

‘Randall. Does she know you? Have you ever met her or Kenny before? Because, if not, it won’t be easy to convince her to leave. Do you want me to accompany you?’ I was glad to see Mikhail get back to his calm self. My multiple assurances had given him ample comfort to move on with the situation at hand.

‘I’m sorry Mikhail, but this is something that I have to do alone. I bear the burden of a secret just as you do. I hope you understand.’ Surely, it seemed that he could work with that. Understanding the position I was in, he gave me an affirmative nod.

 

‘Here, this should be more than enough to take care of them.’ He handed me a large pouch, full of coins. ‘They’re not used to a harsh lifestyle and suiting their needs out there will cost you an arm’.

‘That’s kind of you Mikhail but I can take care of them. There’s no need for this.’ I offered the pouch back to him. ‘We have more than we need Randall. Even spending 10 bags of gold like this wouldn’t faze us. Listen, they are like my family and their well-being is my responsibility. Let me do my part.’ He smiled coyly.

 

‘All right, I won’t turn down free money if you’re being so insistent’. I weighed the bag in my palm. ‘And that’s a lot of money. I could buy a dozen horses with all this dough. Well, thanks for that. But I implore you to not let your guard down once I leave. I’m going to try my best to avoid anyone else from coming here but just in case something goes wrong, be prepared. Do not station your men at the town borders. The follow-up squads are a team of three. One or two of them march into the town for inspection while one of them stays outside waiting for their return. In case the mission is busted, the one waiting outside rushes back to base to bring reinforcements.’

 

Mikhail watched in shock as I described the protocol to him. ‘When did the guild become so meticulous?’ He asked me in awe.

‘We’ve had to change tactics since we banded together again. Before the Knight of Wisdom first nabbed and disbanded our guild, we were quite disorganised and sloppy. That was a good lesson for us to and it drove us to being more careful with our future endeavours. Anyway, in case the follow-up group somehow does show up, furtively send guards in through the forest. You managed to spot me so easily so I don’t expect you to have trouble spotting them either. They won’t be trying too hard to hide as long as they have nothing to hide. The ones waiting for the return for the rest of the party will probably loom around in the forest path. Eliminate them first before ambushing the others inside.’

 

Mikhail seriously absorbed everything I was offering to him. ‘Are you really okay with this Randall? I know how much you care about them. Your brothers in the guild.’

 

‘Trust me Mikhail. This is really difficult for me. Never have I wished such a fate upon my brothers but our mission here is larger than their lives. It’s bigger than you and me and we understand that. This is why we are willing to make such sacrifices.’ I hooked the pouch he gave me on my belt. ‘Remember. These men are as skilled as they are sly. Do not underestimate them for regular troopers. Their job is to slip out of the tightest knots. You have a lot of men here but they are all inexperienced. Strategize carefully or it will be the end of this town.’ That made him nervous but he needed to understand the stakes before walking into something like this. He has plenty of men like I stated earlier but the follow-up squad is the best at what they do and a bunch of inept soldiers won’t be much of a problem for them. The odds of them capturing or slaying the squad are quite low so I’ll have to try my best to make sure that it doesn’t go so far.

 

‘All right Mikhail, I’ll take my leave. I wish you luck for the many uncertainties in the near future. What you are doing here is quite noble and your work has been extraordinary. You’ve played a great role in preserving the last remains of the soul. History will remember you for that deed. I hope for the sake of us that we never have to see each other again. You’re a good man and I’ll ever be grateful to you for trusting me.’

 

He was quite tired and confused. He didn’t say anything in response but gave me a respectful nod. He walked with me all the way to the inn where Sheena was still tied. I untied her loose and climbed on top of her. Just as I was about to start I saw Wilson Fawk blast out of the entrance of the inn. ‘Hey lad! I see that you’ve met our chief merchant.’ He shouted to me as Sheena slowly walked away.

‘Oh yes Wilson. I was glad to see that my old friend was the maker of this town. See ya later old man’ I waved to him as I left.

 

 

‘Oh, he knows you too huh Mikhail! What do you reckon he wants from the Forrests?’

 

‘Ah, the classic squeeze information out of a drunk man in a bar. You know, you should be the last person to give away free information to a total stranger’

 

‘He’s seems like a good man Mikky. I’ve met too many people in this lifetime. Judging people is one of the very few things I’m good at. Moreover, I knew that you were next in line to meet him so I didn’t have much to worry about. You know, you seem like you have a lot on your mind. Why don’t you get to work? I’ll go walk this booze off’

 

 

***************************************************************************

 

tumblr_mn9a3d0vAo1rk81neo1_500

The riveting smell of the harvest ready crop filled my lungs with ecstasy. The farmlands were the most beautiful part in this town even though they didn’t look as opulent as the town-centre. The plush scenery was a gift to these eyes of mine that haven’t seen much apart from gloom and despair. After a few minutes of riding it was hard imagining that I spent the last decade in the wastelands. I imagined setting up a cottage on the edge of the town. Tilling and sowing in the morning and relaxing in this paradise in the night. What a peaceful and beautiful life would that be? Why would I ever leave this place again?

 

The first sight of a carrot farm blew that innocuous dream out of my mind. I came back to the reality which I accepted years ago. A life without sin is not a life of mine. Blood and treachery are my closest friends and a bunch of thieves are what I have for a family. People like me do not deserve a plenteous life like that. It’s for the regular folk who’ve suffered as a result of poor choices made by a puerile king. I don’t deserve that life until I redeem my sins by giving that life to the people first. This is the only way I know that can wash my countless sins away.

 

“Mirriam and Edward” said the signpost on the fence of the carrot farm. I promised myself that I wouldn’t leave this place without them but I had no clue about what to tell them. How do you explain something like this to anyone? How do you expect someone to leave everything behind at the command of a total stranger? I had no answers to these questions. I didn’t have time to prepare for this so I decided to act on instinct from this point onward.

acr-farm

I knocked the door twice and awaited response. When there was no answer for a while. I knocked again.

‘Wait up Ed! You’re unusually sooner than usual today’ I heard a soft feminine voice come from the inside. It grew louder with every consecutive footstep I heard. ‘Done playing alre….?’ she paused when she saw me.

 

‘Hello….. Mirriam?’ I asked in a slightly confused tone. Apart from the greying roots of her long and wavy black hair, she looked really young to be a mother of a fourteen year old. The boy certainly got his looks from his mother. A pointy chin, a small but sharp nose and a long neck. The only thing he didn’t inherit were those brown eyes as he had crystal bluish-green eyes. She was in a farmer’s attire and was sweating hard when she opened the door. She quickly wiped her forehead with her sleeve as I greeted her and gave me a smile behind two very confused eyes.

‘I’m Randall, a friend of Mikhail’s. I wanted to talk to you about something and he told me that I could find you here.’ I looked around both ways and asked her ‘Do you mind if I come in?’

 

She paused for a moment to take it all in but finally caved in. ‘Oh please, do come in.’ She opened the door completely to let me in. I stepped in and followed her to the lounge. The insides of the farmhouse were more elegant than the rough exterior. ‘We’ve never had anyone visit from the outside. I was a bit surprised but then a friend of Mikhail’s is always welcome here. Please, have a seat.’ She offered me a seat on a jute couch in the lounge.

 

‘Oh no, it’s fine.’ I reluctantly refused. This was not a friendly social visit and I wanted to get to the point really quick. ‘I presume your son isn’t home’

 

‘Edward? No.’ She responded in a way that defined the impossibility of that scenario. ‘He stays out all day long. He doesn’t get along with the rest of the kids for some reason but he still manages to find something to kill his time.’

 

I kept looking at her wondering how to break the news. When the silence began taking its toll, she began. ‘So! You wanted to talk to me about something?’

 

‘Yes!!’ I responded abruptly. ‘Yes’ I said again in a much gentler tone. ‘It’s about your son.’ I could feel her discomfort as soon as she heard that.

 

‘What is it?’ The spunk had died out of her voice.

 

‘I met him on my way to the town. I saw him in the forest. I even spoke to him.’ I kept strategizing on how to go on. This was no easy task. Her attention got heavier with every moment of silence. ‘Ma’am, I….. I have good reason to believe that your son might be a soul keeper.’

 

Her eyes told me how peeved she was at me. A reaction so full of rage and disgust as if I had told the most offensive joke of the century. It probably was. ‘I don’t understand what you’re talking about. You’re saying that my son….. my Edward is a soul keeper?’ She asked me to make sure that that’s exactly what I was implying.

‘Yes.’ I had nothing more to say to her. Nothing safer, nothing more comforting. ‘Yes, I do’

 

‘Do you understand what you are talking about? Who are you anyway and what makes you think you can just barge into my house and say such a putrid statement?’ Rage quickly seeped into her voice. It was completely understandable.

 

‘Listen Mirriam. I am Mikhail’s friend. I come from the capital. Not the west. From the mainlands.’ I didn’t have too many words so I had to make every word count. ‘Look. I know it sounds crazy. I can hardly grasp the magnitude of things as I say them. It’s just as shocking to me. I used to know a couple of soulkeepers back when they weren’t an extinct breed. I’ve worked with them long enough to identify a prospect. Believe me. Your son is a prospect’

 

She rushed to the door. Pointing her hand outwards, she yelled at me. ‘LEAVE!! NOW!!! I won’t listen to another word of this.’

I squeezed my face with my hand thinking of a way to make her listen. I wasn’t going to leave without them.

 

‘Please. Hear me out Mirriam. This is not a joke. Your son, he’s fourteen right? Just look at the facts. Tell me, when was the last time he was sick?’ Her angry red eyes started to flutter with hints of shock. ‘You must have also noticed his affinity with animals. You must have noticed how they flock around him. He looks like a natural, doesn’t he?’

 

Just when I was starting to make progress, the kid showed up at the door. Mirriam grabbed by his arm and pulled him into her protective grasp. The scared and confused kid spotted me and a hearty smile cleared up his psyche. ‘Hey mister!’ He exclaimed happily. He then turned to his mother. ‘Hey Ma! Shugu hurt her wing today and was bleeding out. This man saved her life.’

‘Shugu, that pigeon?’ She tried talking normally to not spook the kid out yet.

‘No!! The sparrow’ The way he responded highlighted his disappointment in his mother’s bird-name-remembering skills.

‘Oh, that’s very nice Ed. Listen why don’t you go inside. Just stay there for a while hon. Do not come out till I tell you to. This man will be leaving now.’ The kid didn’t want to go in but she had made it very clear what he had to do. She walked him inside and came to face me again. ‘Listen Mister. I don’t care what you say. You need to leave. Please, just leave and never show yourself to us ever again.’

 

I bowed my head down. ‘I’m sorry Mirriam. I can’t. I can’t leave here without him.’

Without hesitation she drew her sickle out of her belt. Pointing it towards me, she made her threat. ‘You’re not taking my son anywhere. Leave now and don’t make me use this.’

 

I raised my hands and faced my palms in her direction signifying that I had no intention to fight, resist or even defend myself, making clear my stance on total surrender. ‘We don’t have much time Mirriam. If we don’t settle this now, things will take a very ugly turn.’

 

‘What do you mean we don’t have time’ she asked me. She was notably scared. I could make things up so that things tip in my favour but I knew that lying now would only cement bad things for us in the future. I had to be honest and clear about this.

 

‘I’m a scout for the thieves guild. Some people are going to show up after me so we need to leave before they arrive. Mirriam, you need to get your son to safety before more people find out what he is.’

 

‘THIEVES GUILD? A THIEF!?’ She walked to me with the sickle on her stretched out arm.  She stopped when it was an inch away from my neck. I didn’t shudder and my wide open arms still screamed surrender.

 

‘You should put that down Mirriam. Even with a sickle in that position, there’s no way you can hurt him. He’s quick and you’re not a person who could ever hurt someone else.’ She and I quickly turned our gaze to the source of the voice which came from the door. It was old man Wilson.

 

‘Lord Fawk!!’ She uttered in absolute shock. The sickle was still on my throat.

‘Lord? You’re the lord?’ I said, muffled in shock.

 

 

Here’s the next chapter : Chapter 5 – The Deadline

The Soul Keeper and the Guardian, Chapter 3

A Convincing Bargain

Click here for Chapter 1 of the series

Being held hostage isn’t fun. This wasn’t my first playing captive and it sure as hell wasn’t my last go at it. In my line of work, something like this isn’t considered out of ordinary. I knew that this was ultimately going to lead to a very constructive conversation so I didn’t bother wasting my time and energy looking for escape routes and weak links in the squad holding me hostage. Instead, I just basked in the peace and glory of this peculiarly beautiful place.

e671ee4fbb7ad2339be802d54585df8a

The town centre was much busier than the inner parts of the town. Anomalous things weren’t an anomaly around here. Every person I could see was clearly well off. Everyone had all the food they needed, they wore the best clothes you could buy in a place like this and it applied to even the smallest vendors. The structures in these parts were extravagant for a small town and were very well maintained. I saw several specimen at the butcher’s porch that people would sell their kids for in the mainland. I saw a few stalls sell apples. Apples!! A single apple would sell for 2 golds in the mainland. These weren’t even imported from the outside. The apples were clearly grown here. Only one thing could explain how these people were able to grow apples in the desert lands of the west.

 

I saw a lot of things that I never hoped to see again. Things of the past that I thought would never resurface. The sight of all this made me well up. Now, we were at the gates of the lord’s keep. For the first time since I entered the town, did I see guards. The thugs around me were just hired muscle. The guards opened the gate and we walked in.

 

The lord’s keep wasn’t too extravagant. It was no better than the rest of the buildings in the town centre except for the size. The keep was huge. It was large enough to cram every person in the town if they needed shelter in special circumstances. The grounds spread wide and were well-tended. Multiple teams of guards circuited around the grounds which felt quite unnecessary. The place looked like it had too much security. Much more than it could possibly need.

 

We made our way inside the building through the main door into a giant hall. Two parallel stairs ran up to the first floor like most manors and on the sides were offices, quite heavily occupied and busy. I was taken around the stairs and into a very shady room. They asked me to sit inside while most of the party left except two who stood guard in front of the room. I still had all my weapons and equipment on me which made me wonder why they went to such lengths to abduct me but never bothered to disarm me. That’s the most reckless and irresponsible work I’ve seen from an abductor yet.

 

My feet twitched while I sat there thinking about how I was losing precious time. I kept thinking about my encounter with the boy over and over again. I was convinced that I was right about him but I still kept looking for any explanation to prove myself wrong. How convenient would that be? Time flew and after what seemed like half an hour, the guards called me out. I walked out and they escorted me to a room beside the office near the stairs. The door was closed. One of my escorts walked up to the door and knocked thrice.

 

‘Come in’, came a voice from inside.

The escort opened the door and I saw the back of a man, sitting on one end of a long table. He had long straight greying hair and wore a lavish robe. I walked in with my escorts who directed me towards a seat on the opposite end of the table. One escort stopped by the door and closed it from inside while the other one stayed by my side.

 

‘Please…. Have a seat’ said the man. He only looked a few years younger than me and was sporting a very calm and confident demeanour. I sat down facing him, waiting for him to speak. He peered at me as soon as he saw me but shook his head and began.

 

‘I’m terribly sorry for putting you through such a tiresome ordeal. You see, we don’t get too many visitors here. As you may have noticed on your way here, we have more than a few good reasons for being so cautious. It’s been years since I’ve had to do something like this. That’s how uncommon a visitor is for us. So, tell me. What brings you to the town of Vereen?’

 

‘I’m very sorry about abruptly troubling you my lord. I just came here looking for an old friend of mine and I recently learned about his demise which leaves me with nothing more to do here in your town. I assure you that I will leave here at once without giving you any more trouble.’ The man looked reasonable so I had to walk the same road as him if I were to get out of this fix without causing any problems. But the man suspiciously peered at me again as soon as he heard my voice.

 

‘Haha, please. Do not mistake me for the lord. I’m just the head of the merchant’s guild in this place and I provide counsel to the lord. He is too busy to worry about such trivial matters so I decided to deal with it. I used to be an outsider just like back in the day and I have a strange feeling that I’ve seen you before.’ He leaned forward in his chair as he peered at me. This would be the worst place for my cover to break.

 

‘I don’t suppose you have. I’m sure you must be mistaking me for someone else. I’ve never been to this place before and I come from a place much farther than the capital. I have no memory of seeing you either.’ I tried to be as composed as possible.

‘It’s not just your appearance. This voice, I remember it.’ Suddenly his eyes opened wide.

‘Do you mind pulling your left sleeve back?’ he asked me with excitement.

I looked at him for a few seconds and put my hands on the table. ‘Actually, I do. I would like to leave. My business here may be unfinished but my employer expects me to show up soon.’

 

‘Oh but we’re not done yet. Please, I insist.’ He sneered at me as he said that. Both the guards in the room squeezed their hands on the hilts of their swords to show me that they meant business. I leaned back on my chair and sighed. Slowly, I pulled my left sleeve back, revealing the long scar on my forearm. I knew I was busted.

 

‘If it isn’t Randall Smith!!’ he said in total astonishment. ‘What in the world brings the Randall Smith to Vereen!? Definitely not an old friend.’

‘How do you know me?’ I asked him. Not too many people knew about the scar. He sighed in response to the question and commanded his guards to leave the room for the two of us. As they left, he began again.

 

‘You may not remember me but I was in the guild back in the day. A few years before it was disbanded by the High King. I wasn’t a big name like you. I was just a fence who dealt with the small rat thieves. Back then almost everyone in the guild knew about that scar and how it came to be.’ He smiled. ‘I still find that story hard to believe.’

The small clues were enough for me to pick on. I closely examined his sharp, pale face for a while. ‘Sheepus… is that you?’ I knew my guess was right when I saw the shock in his eyes.

 

‘Wow Randall. I consider it an honour that you remember me even though it has been so long. But I don’t go by that name these days. My days as a small time fence are behind me so as a merchant in the nobility, I use my real name. Mikhail Holloway. I insist that you keep my past between us. I’ve left that life behind for a long time and I don’t want it to affect my standing in this place. You see, I’ve got a good thing going on here and I don’t want anyone to mess it up.’

‘You don’t have to worry about that Mikhail. I’m just here to meet someone. It’s a one-time thing. I assure you that I will forever be out of your lives once I’m done with my errand.’ I told him reassuringly.

 

‘Who is it that you want to meet?’ He asked me inquisitively.

‘Mirriam Forrest. I was hoping to meet her husband Kenny before I came here but I recently learned of his demise so I’ll have to make do with her. I have something that belongs to them. All I want to do is deliver it and see how she’s doing before I leave.’

 

‘No! How do you know Kenny? I did a thorough background check on him after his death. He lived in a remote island before he came here. He hardly knew anyone and lived a reclusive life. There’s no way you know him. Who sent you?’ I grew uncomfortable as his stance got more and more offensive. Kenny’s murder was probably one of the very few blotches on his perfect record with this perfect town and the mention of his name had seemingly hit a nerve.

 

‘Wait a second. I know that the thieves guild was re-established since the cold war. They’ve established strongholds throughout the Western Kingdom. Don’t tell me you got back into the guild.’ He paused and stared at me for a moment while my resolute silence gave him the answer to his questions. ‘You’re a scout for the guild, aren’t you?’ I remained unshaken throughout. Neither did I respond nor did I react. I could talk my way out of a situation like this with most people but fooling someone as smart and well-connected like Mikhail wasn’t something I could manage. This was the time for negotiation, not deception. An alpha merchant like him wants to cut the best deal possible and I had to come up with the best bargain if I wanted a way out of this.

 

‘You!! You’ve doomed this place.’ Astounded, he stood up from his seat. ‘All these years I’ve cloaked and protected this town. The era of despair hit immediately after the Waynecastle massacre and trade was just tumbling in every corner of the nation. I couldn’t bear the ugly sight of it so I fled back here, to my hometown. I didn’t have any family back here, but this was my childhood home. I was surprised how different this place was from the rest of the world. I worked with the merchants here for a year. We ventured to different towns and cities and saw how the world around us was crumbling. We merchants understood what we had while the rest of the townsfolk to this date remain obnoxiously ignorant of the outside world. They don’t know the plight of the people living outside and that was only because we merchants protected them from this information.’

 

‘After the one year I spent travelling and trading, I realized why Vereen was still alive and prospering. I felt the presence of the soul in this place. That realization gave me a sense of mission. After learning about the darkness and desperation glooming around, I took a pledge to protect this place from the evil outside. Taking charge and leadership was the first step. I quickly climbed the ranks in the trade business using my skill and experience as a fence. I vowed to the lord to hide this town from the world outside.’

 

‘A lot of steps had to be taken. Firstly, we made it so that going out of the town was frowned upon if you weren’t a merchant. Then the merchants were asked to hide the truth about the suffering of the world outside, even from their own families. We understood what was at stake here. We had to keep the circle small so we kept other people from trading outside. We always had enough money so we created all kinds of jobs here so that every single person had something to do without having to leave town. We hired guards and maids that we didn’t need. Hired accountants, bankers and bureaucrats that we could do without. We made this town completely self-sufficient. Everyone has a job and everyone is wealthy.’

 

‘We also have very planned and careful trade expeditions when we venture outside. It’s a smoke and mirrors expedition where we make plenty of diversions and keep circling around to hide the location of our place. Our caravans are heavily armed so we have never faced an ambush either.’

 

‘For over a decade we’ve remained hidden, we’ve remained safe. But now it’s over. You’ve come here and you’ve marked this place for death. We’re strong but we’re not strong enough to face the thieves guild. Once the word reaches out we’re doomed. Everyone would rush in here and ravage this place till there’s nothing left. The desperate folks outside will eradicate the last piece of soul from the country just to live on for a few more days.’ It broke my heart to see the man’s psyche get torn apart. He knew that everything he built and protected all these years was going to crumble. The one thing he swore to safeguard was about to be taken away from him. He was vulnerable and this was the time to strike the iron.

 

‘Listen Mikhail. None of us in the guild ever suspected that this town would still have the greens. Judging from the placement of a small town in a position so awkward in the maps, we expected it to be a wasteland. I was shocked to the core when I walked in here. It didn’t take me long to understand what was going on here and as you might know, I have good reason to feel the presence of the soul compared to most people. I knew what was at stake here. What you have here is beautiful and important and it needs to be protected. I understand that. Now, if you kill me or keep me locked up, it won’t be long before a follow-up party shows up. Trust me, they won’t be too easy to capture and squeeze. Their duty is to observe and report back to the guild and that will attract a lot of attention. Not the kind of attention you need.’

 

I had laid down the stakes for him and it was time to make the offer. ‘I don’t want the guild to ever set foot here. I know it’s absurd to ask this as a thief, but give me a chance. Let me try and take their attention elsewhere. I can’t guarantee you total success but even today I am a top member in the guild and my voice is taken seriously.’ There was no collateral that I could offer but I couldn’t give him anything more than basic assurance. ‘This place is much more than a chest to be looted. This place is the future of the world. I’ve seen too much despair in this world and I don’t want to see the innocuous people here to have to face the same fate.’

 

I stood up and walked up to him. I placed my hand on his shoulder and assured him. ‘Consider me a part of your mission Mikhail. The guild is my family but I’ll even face them if I have to protect this place. Only a few people know about my venture here and I’ll do whatever it takes to ensure their silence. Let me go and deal with the situation. I just have one request. Grant the Forrests’ permission to leave this place.’ A million thoughts ran through his head as soon as he heard my offer.

 

‘Why?…. Why them? What do they have to do with anything?’ The offer was solid but he needed to understand the this strange variable.

‘I’m sorry Mikhail but I can’t tell you anything about that and I don’t want you to think any more about that. The safety of this town is of the utmost importance and their exit won’t hinder it. I’ll ensure their security outside and make sure that they are under the best care. They have an important role out in the world that they can’t fulfill by living here. I know you have a lot of questions but I am not at the liberty of answering them.’ He sat back down in his seat and rubbed both his hands on his face while considering his options.

‘I know it’s a lot to ask. Entrusting something so valuable to a thief like me is an enormous gamble but you know my history and you know I have enough reasons to protect the soul.’

deal-with-devil

After taking a moment to think, he looked up to face me. ‘I used to look up to you Randall. You were an adept thief but more importantly you were a great man. You always put the interests of your fellow-men before you and that’s why everyone respected you. Please Randall, don’t betray me. You can leave and so can Mirriam and her kid. They are family to me, like every single person in this town. I am entrusting everyone’s fate on to you. Please….. do not forsake us.’ He stood up and shook my hand. I gave him a promising nod and we left the room.

 

 

Here’s the next chapter : Chapter 4 : A Confounded Mother

The Soulkeeper and the Guardian, Chapter 2

A spirited inquiry

Click here for Chapter 1 of the series

This was not good. My mind got cloudier by the second like a raging typhoon. I needed to figure things out before someone else found out about this. My arrival here had already marked this town. Something was still off about this place. A place so serene wouldn’t have survived all these years without someone protecting it and the secrets within.
Slowly, me and Sheena made our way through the forest while reminiscing about the latest discovery. The best option at hand was to assassinate the child before he ventured out into the world. A world so cruel and decaying which will devour him before he even gets to flap his wings. Sadly, that kind little bird won’t survive in its own nest for any longer. He had the misfortune of my sudden appearance. It won’t be long before the eagles come hunting and the vultures feed on what’s left of it.
I don’t have long but I have enough time to fix this. The forest started clearing up as I reached the end of the path and I was in the farmlands now. This town was pretty much structured like the last prosperous settlements on the continent. Farmlands on the outer circle, the housing ring inside it with the markets spread across them. The Lord and the prime merchants in the inner circle. Of course the difference is that the towns didn’t fortify each ring with huge walls. Every ring seamlessly merged with each other, eliminating most class differences. That was the difference between the grand cities and the timid towns. While the city folk distanced each other, the town communities were a single unit, living together as equals to sustain themselves and their own town. That’s what most towns were like back in the day. But since the Waynecastle massacre, the little prosperous towns have turned into putefying slums.

 

This beautiful exception was a breath of fresh air. I felt like I was reliving a pleasant, lost memory. It felt as if I was transported two decades back in time, back to the good times. The plush farms told me that these people had more than they needed. I didn’t want too much attention and luckily the sunny summer noon was keeping most folks inside. It took me no more than 20 minutes to get through the farmlands which made up most of the town. I still hadn’t seen as single soul outside. As the residential hub got closer, I could hear a dull afternoon market bustling. I got down from Sheena to keep my cover and avoid any unnecessary attention and made way through the shabby roadside markets.

 

There was enough noise and chatter to drift through these streets unnoticed but the townsfolk had clearly taken notice of me. Noises dulled and glances shot at me as I walked through. It was clear that these people weren’t used to visitors from the outside. One of the vendors made a run for the central market as soon as he spotted me. Word was about to spread of my arrival. I didn’t waste any time and walked into the nearest alley with Sheena. We walked through them and made our way towards the centre. A few turns and twists later, I found myself in the busy town centre. I pulled my hood up and kept walking at the edge of the giant circle till I found an inn. I tied Sheena by a pole outside and walked into the place.

1cea4a7c05108486c8bf8b102cc7d1f2

It wasn’t too lively. This being the middle of the day, only a couple of drunks sat around chugging mead down their throats. The innkeeper was at the bar wiping away mugs at the counter. He slowed down when he noticed me and got back to what he was doing as our eyes met. I slowly pulled my hood down and walked up to him. He was a heavy-set man with a large hanging belly held together by his apron. His small semi-bald, egg shaped head looked odd on such a huge body but his thick bushy mustache made up for it. I took a seat at the counter beside a frail old man.

 

‘What’s the best mead you have?’ I asked the innkeeper.

‘We have some Jilliperbrew mead but if you want something on the stronger side, we have some Lancaster too’, he said.

‘Jilliperbrew will do’ I put three silvers on the counter which he swiped away. ‘One Jilliper coming up’. He had to walk into his stores as his barrel was dry.

 

‘That kiddy mead never gives me the kick’, the old man beside me muttered. He was simultaneously drinking two meads from two different mugs but it looked like he had just started his session for the day. This was the perfect opportunity for me to scoop some information out. ‘It just helps me warm up for the real stuff. What’s that you got there?’ I asked him.

‘I got bored with sipping the same shit all these years that I now have to drink two different things at the same time to keep me from getting bored. A thousand times I’ve asked this fat-ass to get me some new mead from a new place but all he’s ever done is disappoint me.’ He emptied one of his mugs and slammed it on the counter.

 

‘How do you like your spirits?’ I asked him to grab his attention. He looked at me with his eyes wide open. ‘Spirits? I’ll take any spirit that I can get my hands on. It’s been years since I’ve seen a spirit in this rotten place.’ An energetic retort slowly turned sad at the end.

‘You know, you’re in luck today old man’. I slipped my hand inside my cloak and pulled a small bottle out of my pocket. ‘This here is a small serving of Volosil. They are usually used to light up a fire in the most adverse conditions but they do make for a good drink. It’s a single shot but it’s enough to send you flying’ I put on a smirk as I knew I had already won him over. He zoomed in on the tiny bottle and looked up at me with big wide eyes. I gave him an affirmative nod and he took it out of my hands.

 

‘Bless you lad’ he said with enormous gratitude. ‘Never thought that I’d ever see a spirit again before I died here in the middle of nowhere. I’m gonna save this for a rainy day.’ He put it in his fanny pack and shuffled through his coins. ‘So, how much do I owe you?’

‘Ah, don’t be ridiculous. It’s on me. Just glad to fulfill another man’s age-old wish’ I told him in a very ludicrous tone to which he chuckled.

 

‘You don’t look from around here. Where are you from?’ he asked me to make conversation as a form of gratitude.

‘I come from the capital. Actually I’m here on business. I was looking for an old acquaintance of a friend of mine. Goes by the name of Forrest. I wanted to have a word with him.’

‘Forrest? That poor lad died 10 years ago. Murdered’ he sighed. ‘Such a shame. He was a newlywed. Left behind a pretty young widow and a 4-year-old son on their own.’

‘Murdered?’ I asked him while I put up my best “shocked” expression.

 

‘Yes. He was out on one of our caravan expeditions. He got separated from the rest of the crew while he was in the capital. They looked for two days and finally found his body lying by a drain with his throat slit across. He was buried in the capital as they couldn’t haul a rotting body for the 10 day ride back from the capital.’ He paused for a while. ‘We should have let him stay. He never wanted to leave the place, never wanted to go with the caravan. Always asked around for someone else to sell his produce but nobody ever bothered to help. He was a good man. A good young man who died too soon.’ He took a large gulp from his second mug till it ran dry.

 

‘I didn’t expect that things would go so bad’ I told him. ‘But I have something in my possession that belongs to him. I was planning to hand it to him but I guess it belongs to his family now. Where exactly do they live? I’ve never met the man himself before and I have no idea who his wife is either.’

‘You’re looking for Mirriam. She lives by the farms with her weird kid. She’s the only one who grows carrots around these parts so her house shouldn’t be too hard to find. It’s about time someone from their past showed up. As you know, Kenny was an outsider unlike us. Nobody has ever visited him or his family since he moved in here fifteen years ago with his newlywed wife. We don’t get much outsiders here in this place anyway. It’s locked up too deep inside the drylands.’

 

‘Thank you’ I told him as I got up ready to leave. He looked up at me curiously. ‘Hey, what about your Jilliper?’ he asked me with a look implying that I was committing a great sin by wasting good mead.

‘I’m running short on time. You can have it, that is if you don’t mind some kiddy mead’. We both laughed.

‘All right, I’ll take care of it. By the way, if you need anything else, come looking for me. I’m Wilson Fawk.’

 

‘Alright Wilson, I’ll be seeing you’, I said as I walked out of the place. I hastily walked up to Sheena. As I began untying her hitch from the pole, I felt shadows creep up on me from every direction. I looked up and men with clubs and axes had surrounded me. ‘Leave your horse here and come with us. Don’t try and stir up trouble, we don’t want any either.’ said the only one of the men wearing armour and wielding a battle hammer.

 

I knew that I couldn’t fight my way out of this. ‘All right, let’s get on with this’. I left Sheena tied to the pole and walked with the group of ten armed men towards the lord’s keep.

 

 

For the next chapter : Chapter 3 : A Convincing Bargain