Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Chapter 3

Chapter 3:
Petronius received the news from his superiors Harloynus Gilo and Renard Gazonus, and from the wise head of Azmar Guido Lancellus. They had summoned him for a meeting with the purpose to tell him what had become of his good friend Halloran Davernas.
“Sit down, Petronius,” said Guido with a soft voice, “there is something we need to talk to you about.”
He did as he was told without saying a word. He knew that when he was called by the head of the village and by the two commanding officers no good news could come. He expected to hear that a war had just started or something along those lines. His friend was the last thing on his mind at the time.
“I understand you were friends with Halloran Davernas,” Harloynus Gilo, the commander of Azmar, said with a firm tone.
“Huh?” Petronius was surprised. Of all things he never expected that these people, military men basically, would mention the scientist.
“Are your or are you not?”
“Yes, yes I am. Did he do something wrong?”
“Petronius…” started the old man Lancellus, but Harloynus interrupted him.
“He was murdered last night. We found his body this morning.”
“What?” This caught him off guard. Of all people he would think could be murdered Halloran was the last. Who would want to murder a scientist in the middle of the night? It did not make any sense, unless…
“We believe it is the work of the killer,” said Renard, speaking for the first time, “the one your time has been sent to investigate. We understand your loss, I’m sure you were good friends. He was a good man and…”
“Enough!” snapped Harloynus, “We are not here to give Petronius our condolences. We are here to inform him of the situation. The killer has struck again, this time to someone close to you. Now you’ll be more motivated to find any information useful to catch him. Remember your orders: you and your team are to make a reconnaissance of the forest surrounding Azmar. We think he might hide there for there. Now, don’t waste your time crying for your friend and go assemble your team. Tears will not solve this problem. Dismissed.”
“Yes, sir!” Petronius stood up from his chair, turned around and exited the room.
“You didn’t have to be so hard on him,” said Renard when he had left, “he just lost a friend after all.”
“We cannot waste our time on sentimentalities. He has already killed five people. We have to stop him as soon as possible.”
A couple of hours later Petronius met up with his team. It was as usual: Evrardus’ compromise to the mission, Johannes’ cockiness and Avelina’s coldness. This way they wouldn’t be able to complete the mission, he thought.
“Listen up, kids, there has been a new development,” he started, “there was another killing last night. Another scientist. I knew him, he was a good friend. I’d like to stay for the funeral but we have a mission to complete. We surely can’t spend too much time waiting around for another murder. We will leave soon, tomorrow if possible. We’ll probably spend a few days in the forest so pack what’s necessary. And get ready.”
“At what time tomorrow and where will we meet?” said Evrardus.
“We’ll meet at the east entrance to the village. Be there before sunrise. And remember to get everything you may need. Any other question?”
“Are you completely sure that the strategy you outlined yesterday will work?” said Johannes, “there might be flaws in it.”
“I hope you are not trying to say something about me…” said Evrardus defensively.
“No, I’m not, but if you relate when I speak about flaws…”
And there they went again. Petronius knew that the key to the success of the mission was for them to work together. But that couldn’t be helped with words, they had to live with each other, stare at the face of danger as his father would say, to learn to work as a team. Instead trying to stop their fighting he spoke the most silent member of the team:
“Yes?” her blank expression remained.
“What do you make of all this? I have not heard your opinion.”
“I think that if we work together according to the plan we might succeed.”
“All right, that’s the smartest thing I’ve heard all day. Be here on time tomorrow.”

His mind was off as he walked around Naporia. Domenico Zilio kept thinking about what had been told to him the past few days. He had always been doubtful about all things regarding religion. He had never believed in a god, he had never gone to church as a child, and he had never considered himself as a man of faith. But what he had experienced since he arrived to the city –what he had seen on the very first night- scared him. All those tales of the supernatural, of ghosts and demons, of gods and the devil, of the magic that was practiced up to the northeast (what did they call it? Seidr?), he had never believed any of that. But then, all of a sudden, he came to a new town following a mission from the king and three days in and his set of beliefs had been turned offside down. He was a mercenary, no more, not a man of any god. Then why was he starting to believe? Was it what he had witnessed? No, that was not it. Sure, it had made an impression on him and it had certainly influenced what he thought, but the main reason to why he was starting to believe in all those tales was not that. The man Aloysius Donato was very convincing, but it weren’t his words that did the trick. There was something behind them that made them so… believable. Truth, that was what was behind them. Deep down him he knew that everything that had been told to him was true. He had never believed in anything, and yet nonetheless…
His internal philosophical ramblings met a halt suddenly when he, at the local market to which he had gone to buy some food for his supper, saw that woman. Helena, Aloysius’ wife. There was something disquieting about her, and yet it was so deliciously intoxicating that he couldn’t help be drawn to her. He wasn’t a man to believe in love, in sexual pleasure yes, but then again it wasn’t exactly that. There was something beyond human comprehension that drew him to her.
“Mister Domenico, it’s very nice to see you.” She said when she saw him.
“Mrs Donato, the same goes for you.” Upon looking at her eyes directly he got lost in that endless dark blue.
“OH, Helena, please. How has your time been at Naporia?”
“What? My time? I have enjoyed it so far,” he lied, “it’s only been three days but I am starting to like this town.”
“Good, good. And how are the talks with my husband going? Has he convinced you yet to join him?”
“Well actually I think he is not trying to convince me.”
“Oh, and how is that?”
“I don’t know how to explain it, but he doesn’t seem to be making an effort to convince me. He speaks to me as if I was already convinced, as if I already made part of his movement.”
“Ha, well that is Aloysius’ talent. He is a very smooth speaker. But is it working?”
“I… I’m not really sure. I think there is a part of me which is starting to believe…”
“And the other part?”
“Other part?”
“You know, the other part which does not believe.”
“Well I guess that’s the part where common sense dominates.”
“You are not a very religious man, are you?”
“No, to be frank no, not really.  I have always harboured doubt in my mind.”
“I see. I’d even say that you are not here from your own decision.”
“What? Why would…”
“Please spare me the act. It may fool Aloysius but not me. I know a man who doesn’t want to be where he is when I see one.”
“All right. The truth is that I was sent here against my own will. I have a goddamn job to do here. But it was curiosity which sparked and…”
“I told you to spare me the act. I know that you are here, in this movement, against your will. It is not curiosity which brought you here. But don’t worry, I won’t tell my husband. It’s not my business to do so, and besides I like you, you seem to be a good man.”
“Well, let’s hope you are right.”
Helena smiled and said “I always am.” She then started leaving but then she turned around and said: “Soon my husband will want to talk to you again. He’ll have a proposal for you and you will accept. Bye, mister Domenico.”
“Bye, Helena.”
That conversation had been even stranger that the ones with Donato. She had known, she probably knew more than she let out. There was something disquieting about that woman.

The chambers of King Cunradus Marquart was unusually full of people when Hermannus Marquart, the king’s brother and successor to the throne, walked in. Inside were Apollonia, Caleb, Libeste and Ditmarus, all gathered together to check on the king’s health. A scare a couple of hours ago had everybody think that the time had come and their king was departing, but it had quieted down now and the king was in stable health. There was never more than two people in the room, and much less two people of high status. Usually it would be either two maids cleaning up, or Apollonia checking on her husband and a maid. But when the possibility that the king would die manifested all showed up. He didn’t die though, but they stayed for a while. And then came a man who never visited, who had not seen his brother in perhaps a good portion of a year. Everybody was surprised to see him, but it wasn’t a pleasant surprise. Apollonia frowned, Libeste clenched her teeth, Ditmarus cursed inside his mind and Caleb was confused. When the kind saw his brother he spoke loud and clear:
“Leave us.” It was the order of a king.
“But, Cunradus,” started Apollonia, “you are not back to full health and…”
“I will not ask again.”
“Uncle, she is right…” said Libeste.
“I said I will not ask again!” it seemed as if he had regained enough energy to bark at others.
They did not need to hear it one more time. They all stood up silently and walked outside of the room, not without giving a menacing look to Hermannus, but he wasn’t paying attention, his eyes were fixed on his brother. There was no compassion or love on his eyes, but neither was there hate nor anger. There was a plea, a plea shouted with a loud menacing voice.
“How are you holding?” Hermannus said when everybody had cleared the room.
“Death is breathing over my neck,” Cunradus answered, “but that old bitch cannot win against me. She’s tried in the past, but she has always failed.”
“She’ll win eventually. She always wins.”
“Is there something you wanted to talk about?”
“Yes, but I wanted to check on your health first.”
“We haven’t seen each other for about six months, perhaps even more, then there is a scare that I might be dead and you come before me. You are not alone though, all those bastards you saw here are just the same.”
“Those bastards include your wife, your unnatural son, and your nephew and niece, who are also my children. One of them is a bastard accurately.”
“So what? They don’t care about me. They just want to sit on my throne. They seldom ever come to see me, one jump scare and they are all here giving me shit.”
“That’s not true. I always see Apollonia come here in the mornings, and Libeste tells me she comes to visit you often.”
“They are a bunch of interested vultures.”
“Do you have to be an asshole even on your deathbed?”
“Wasn’t there something you wanted to talk to me about?”
In this moment Hermannus left all of his pride aside, and the menacing and commanding tone that had stained his voice quickly disappeared. He got near to Cunradus’ bed, a place which he had previously always kept at least two meters away from, and kneeled besides it to be on the same eye level as his brother.
“Cunradus… brother… it is no secret that you have few moons on this Earth left. Everybody knows it, and everybody wonders about the next king.”
“Would you go straight to the point?”
“By the ancient law I am to be our successor. I would become the next king in the case that you die. But people are already questioning if I would be a good ruler. Hell, I have not even stepped on the throne and people already think I will be bad. My own children seem to be plotting something. It’s like they do not think their own father will be a good king. But they are not the only ones. I concur with them. Being king isn’t something that I have ever wanted. I am happy with my investigations, but if I am to wear the crown all that would disappear. Brother, I am asking you, can’t you change the law? Can’t you make Caleb king?”
“The ancient law states that the king’s heir has to be related to the actual one in blood, you know that. Even if I wanted I could not change it. The elder council would not allow me to.”
“Then make Ditmarus king, he’d be a good one.”
“I don’t think the elders would allow that someone who is not either the king’s son or sibling sit on the throne. I think it is written in the ancient law that is has to be either of them.”
“Brother, please, isn’t there anything that you could do? I would be a lousy king. I am interested in alchemy, a practice which is pretty much banned in the kingdom.”
“Don’t give me that bullshit, young brother, you are to be king. We both know that you are much wiser than I ever was. There is nothing I can do. I didn’t want to be king either, but it was a position I had to take when I was thirteen.”
“Thirteen is very different than seventy two.”
“You’ll be wiser, perhaps not as strong as a young man, but you’ll know what’s best for the capital Hythe and for Royaume as a whole. There is nothing that can be done, the laws can’t change.”
“Then there is only one thing that I can ask of you.”
“And what may that be?”
“Do not die.”

The next day had come and the team had gathered where they have agreed. Petronius was the first to arrive, followed by Avelina, then Johannes and Lastly Evrardus. He had stayed up all night thinking about the mission, trying to figure out how to best use his abilities. But also he was being troubled by Johannes and his arrogance, but had come to the conclusion that it would be best for them to make peace and work together.
“Good morning, guys,” said Petronius when everybody had arrived, “good to see you are all here. Thank you for joining us Evrardus. Anyhow, we must depart for our mission now. It looks like you’ve gathered everything you need.”
Evrardus had brought his sword –that is, the sword that had belonged to his father years ago, before he had died-, which had not seen combat in years but had served as practice. Johannes carried two long blades on his satchel, and he was very skilled with them and knew how to make the most of Seidr using them. Lastly, Avelina had brought a bow and twenty arrows, as well as a dagger. These kids weren’t joking around, Petronius thought. That is one thing that the academy had thought them very well: always be prepared.
“Good, let’s get on the move.”
Johannes went straight ahead, being in the front of the team. Behind him went Petronius, strategically placed in case if they were attacked he could protect them, and Evrardus right behind him. In the back went Avelina, whose use of Earth type Seidr and Water type Seidr could be good defence on the rear.
After some time walking through the forest Petronius called for a stop.
“Guys, we must stop for a second. But this is not a break, this is a moment that I’d like to test your abilities.” They all gathered. “This will be simple: using the energy from this are show me your ability to control Seidr. I have seen the three of you in the past, but this is the opportunity for me to see your strengths before real combat. I waited for this moment so we could have already entered the forest and you could sense the energy here and use it to your benefit. Johannes, you go first. The sun is up and there is no sign that it will rain today so you won’t be able to use your lightning technique, but I understand you are very proficient with air techniques. Please show me that.”
“All right, I will.”
Johannes left his pack on the ground and took a step forward. He stretched his right arm in front of him and concentrated for a moment. He closed his eyes and let the energy from the air move through his body. The key to Seidr use is to employ the energy of one’s surroundings. Usually a person has more sensibility towards an element than another. In Johannes case he was sensitive to both lightning and air, and what he was doing was letting all that energy enter his body. He would then channel all that energy into his arm, and then in a movement he would release it, creating a powerful attack. That is what he did: he swung his arm towards the trunk of a tree, and the result was that it was sliced in the middle, not completely though.
“Well done, Johannes. But you have to be quicker about it. When you are in battle the enemy won’t let you concentrate.”
“I know. I just did it so I could accumulate all the energy possible so I could show you my power. I did, however, stop halfway through that tree. I didn’t want it to fall down and make a mess.”
“That’s good thinking. Okay, Avelina, you are up.”
Without saying a word, as usual, Avelina gave a step forward. She as well closed her eyes and concentrated for a second. She had her left arm extended towards East, pointing at a lake that neither of them could see. A moment later a sort of water blade had formed surrounding her arm. She then pointed it towards another tree and let the water move quickly towards it. It did not slice it, but it did pierce a hole that went straight to the other side.
“Great job, Avelina, great water Seidr. Care to show us some earth one?”
“Ok.” She said without much excitement. She then placed her right hand on the ground. She spend the next few seconds feeling the energy that was being build up inside her arm. A moment later she released it and a rock five meters away was sent straight to the sky by a long mass of earth that erupted from the ground.
“Well done,” said Petronius impressed, “very well done. You kids sure know how to dominate this energy. Evrardus, you are up. Did you bring anything to ignite a fire?”
“Yes, yes I did.” Evrardus looked inside his pack and took out a bow of matches. “Okay, everybody take a step back, this might be dangerous.” It was no secret that he had difficulties controlling his Seidr, so they did as he said. He lit up a match and closed his eyes. He started concentrating, feeling the energy flowing from the match to his hand, then to his arm, then to his whole body. Of all the elements, fire was the one with the most energy that could be used. Perhaps only lightning matched it, the real difference is that the latter was much harder to control. But fire itself was very difficult to get a grasp on for all the energy that it released. A few seconds later Evrardus opened his eyes and the flame at the tip of the match grew bigger and stronger. He tried to direct it towards something but that poised a problem: they were in a forest, and anything he could direct it at would spread and burn. He decided to direct it upwards towards the sky, but when he took his decision the flame had shortened a lot, reaching even lower than when the match was first struck. He had let all the energy of the fire go away without being able to use it properly.
“Sorry, Evrardus, perhaps if you train harder,” said Petronius placing a hand on his arm, “I know fire is a very hard element to control.”
He looked around and saw Avelina’s expressionless face looking straight at him, and a little behind her Johannes condescendingly looked away.
“Damn it!” Evrardus murmured.

Domenico heard a knock on his door. He was lying on his bed, shirtless and with an empty bottle of spirits on his night table. A problem he thought he had sorted out in the past, he reflected, was returning now in a moment of uncertainty and confusion.
“Just a second,” he said, getting up and putting his shirt on.
When he opened the door he saw Aloysius Donato standing there. His kind expression was gone from his face, he looked rather concerned, and actually was a bit pale. With the voice of a preoccupied man he said:
“Mister Domenico, please come with me.”
They walked out of the hostel and started walking through the streets of Naporia, which were unusually crowded for the time of the day, a little before sunset. Aloysius ignored every question made by Domenico in the way. They finally arrived to the man’s house, but did not enter through the front door.
“Your house? That’s all the mystery?”
“Wait.” He said.
He directed him towards the back of the place where a big stone wall covered the way. Aloysius approached the wall and placed both of his hands on it. It seemed as if where he had placed them there was something engraved in an old language.
“Obnask!” Aloysius said with a very strong voice. The big stone wall then opened through the middle. Inside only darkness could be seen, except for a little pathway on the floor. “After you,” he said turning to Domenico.
“No fucking way I’m entering there…”
“Brenna,” he said without looking away and a set of torches got lit up. “Please.”
“Holy shit.” Domenico said before going in.
The pathway was long, the walls were damp and full of spider webs, and Aloysius remained silent. They finally arrived at a door with a circle painted in front. Aloysius then touched it with the tip of his fingers –Domenico could see that he put each one in a specific place- and said “Kveykva”. The circle then started giving off a very bright white light. The door then opened, revealing a small room.
“What the bloody hell is this place?”
“It’s a safe house. Please, I’ll explain everything inside.”
They went in and the door closed behind them. For a second the room went into complete darkness, but then Aloysius said once again “Kveykva”, and a small orb of light started hovering above them. It wasn’t big but it was enough to illuminate the whole place.
“All right, can you now tell me what the hell is going on?”
“This is the safest place in Naporia. No evil force can enter this place, it is protected by Lord Ubros himself. I brought you here because there is some information I need to tell you, but they cannot be heard by any other ears.”
“So you have to pull your creepy magic shit?”
“It’s not magic. You have to be more respectful towards the Lord when you are in here.”
“Fine. What is it?”
“There is a demon in the town. I’m not quite sure when he arrived or where is he hiding, but I assure you that there is. Lord Ubros told me himself. If what I sense is correct then this is no ordinary demon, but apparently it is Edur’s right hand man. He is on a special mission here. But that is not the important part: I don’t know exactly what it is, but I know that it involves you.”
“Me?! Why the hell would it involve me?”
“I told you I don’t know, but apparently you are important to some people in the spirit world. I did tell you that you were special in some sort of way.”
“Yeah, I can take your being special and the lord’s mission bullshit, but being chased by demons now?”
“There is something that I want to ask of you.”
“And what is that?”
“I want you to help me find this demon.”
“What? You want me to find the goddamn demon that is after me?”
“You either have two options: you can either hide away here where no force of evil can touch you and you’ll be safe, or you can fight off these things that want you. As of what I have learned of you in these past few days the first option won’t appeal much to you.”
He remained quiet for some time. He didn’t know what to make of the situation. He didn’t quite believe what he was being told, but after seeing what he had that day, how that magic hideout appeared, he sure knew there was something going on. The thought of demons scared him, but he didn’t want to stay in that creepy place for much longer time. He made a choice.
“I’m in.”

It was late at night and the old Hermannus Marquart was walking around in the castle. He was a little restless, as if something was after him. His talk with his brother that morning had not eased his fear and now the reality of becoming king was dawning upon him. Being king was such a nuisance, and since a very young age, when his father was killed with him being barely one year old, he had the notion that kings were killed. Of course he could not remember the exact moment, but as he grew up and people told him about his father and how he had died that idea started growing inside his head.
“Father?” he heard Libeste’s voice behind him.
“Oh, hi, dear. How are you?”
“You look tired father, are you okay? You may be sick.”
“No, no, don’t worry about me. I am only a bit tired and concerned for your uncle. He appears to be doing fine now. I think I’ll head back to the lab.”
“What’s this, a family reunion?” he cursed inside his head when he heard Ditmarus’ voice coming from the other side.
“Haha, no, I was just leaving,” he tried to get away but Libeste held his arm.
“I was telling father that he should rest,” she said to her brother, “he looks ill.”
“Yeah, he sort of does. Are you all right, papa?”
“Kids, don’t worry about me. Your father has to go back to the lab, the findings of alchemy are surely near to be discovered. If I am the one to dig out all of the secrets of this ancient craft I will become famous. I’m going now, see you tomorrow.”
He got away as fast as he could. He could not face his own children in that moment. He didn’t know what, but something was nagging on him. He was bordering on paranoid. He got to his lab and started the machine. He tried to concentrate on his experiment, distilling essences and mixing substance, but couldn’t. His mind was somewhere else, in that throne that never should be his. If he was to become king he would have to abandon all of his research. His passion for his beloved science would be gone. All the secrets like the essence of the universe and the formula for eternal life would be lost since he would see himself in the need to forget all of it. He was so absorbed by his concerns that he did not notice when something in his experiment went wrong and the whole lab exploded. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Chapter 2

Chapter 2:
“I am sure you are pretty confused with what you just have seen,” Aloysius said to Domenico as he served him a cup of tea. After witnessing the unexplainable event Aloysius had taken him to his own house, promising answers to all his questions.
“Confused doesn’t even begin to cover it,” Domenico was very shaken, “What the bloody hell was that?”
“That was an act of God.”
“You are shitting me…”
“No, I am telling you the truth: what you witnessed was just me doing the labour that Ubros, master of life, has bestowed upon me. The man you saw was possessed by a demon.”
“A demon? What the fuck does that mean?”
“You know what a demon is, don’t you?”
“Of course, but I thought it was the sort of bullshit tell old people told to children for them to behave.”
“Oh, demons are real, trust me. I have encountered quite a few in the past, including the one you saw last night. The act you witnessed was an exorcism. I freed that man from the torment he was suffering from being that demon’s vessel.”
“Holy… all right. What happened to the man? Is he dead?”
“Oh, no, quite the contrary, he is better than he was before. He is weakened from the exorcism but he doesn’t have the demon within him anymore. It was a very successful ritual.”
“Successful? So I take it sometimes is not as much?”
“Yes, unfortunately the exorcism goes wrong and the person dies or the demon escapes, sometimes even both.”
“Okay, let’s say I believe this nonsensical story. You said you were doing the labour God bestowed upon you?”
“Yes, that is right. If I remember correctly I never got to tell you the complete reality of Ubros, did I?”
“No, I believe you didn’t.”
“All right then, I will tell you. As you know Ubros is the god of life and illumination, he is the one who rules over our fate. He is a very powerful being that advocates for us, human beings, in the spiritual realm. When we die, our souls go back to him if we were loyal to his teachings. Unfortunately, he is not the only one who wants our souls. There is another deity, a more mysterious and evil one who lurks in the shadows waiting to snatch us. His name is Edur, the god of death and shadows. Behind the curtains of our world there is a battle going on between these two gods, fighting eternally for our souls. If we are loyal to Ubros we’ll return to him and our spiritual energy will serve him as fuel for him to conquer over Edur. That is why we have to spread his teachings, he has to win the fight.”
“Okay, all right, nice lesson in mythology, but any of that doesn’t explain what the hell happened last night.”
“Well you see, Edur has many ways to obtaining what he wants. He is devious and mischievous; he has plans to win the battle. The demons are his creation, they are beings whose only goal is to lure in human beings into darkness. If a person is possessed by a demon that means that he has been in darkness throughout his life, because they can only take over people who are leaning towards Edur, but that does not mean they can’t be saved. It is an exorcist’s job to return those people to the light. Several years ago I had a calling: the lord Ubros gave me a very special task: first to spread his teachings throughout the world so people can know about his existence and follow him, and second to fight the forces of evil and darkness in this world. That is what you saw last night, Domenico.”
Domenico remained silent. He wasn’t sure about what he had just heard. He didn’t know if he believed him or not. In the past all these stories would have sounded like bullshit to him, but after seeing what he had the night before he wasn’t sure any more about anything.
“It’s…” he finally managed to say, “very hard to swallow… that’s a lot of… information, I guess… I don’t know what to believe…”
“Oh, it is normal that you feel that way, most people go through a process after they see the unnatural for the first time. But I can assure you that if you saw it was for a reason: the lord Ubros put you in that alley that very night so you could witness what was happening.”
“No, that’s not true, I woke up because of a strange noise and I followed it.”
“Ubros wanted that to happen. Trust me, nothing happens by chance in this life. For what I can tell, which right now might not be much, is that you are meant for something big. Lord Ubros has chosen you.”

Before the sun was up Apollonia entered her husband’s chambers. She seldom used them anymore as they were supposed to be hers as well. She slept at another room nearby, but every morning before sunrise she entered the King’s chambers so Cunradus wouldn’t notice her absence. Perhaps if he woke up he wouldn’t notice it either despite her not being in the room. His illness made him forget about many details of life. Sometimes he thought he was some decades younger and that he was to lead the country to victory in a war, but he was too weak for even standing up from bed. The illness was slowly eating his mind and his body away. The chamber had become a nursery for him rather than a place to sleep in. Some may consider that Apollonia should stay all night inside in the case that the king stopped breathing while he slept, but she couldn’t stand a whole night inside that place. The sickness could be smelled in the air. She frankly didn’t care if the king died, because she knew for certain it was going to happen. She only cared for the when.
Apollonia poured some water in a cup and drank it. She was tired. She had spent a lot of time looking after her husband’s health. It was as if she was a mother looking out after a sick baby rather than a wife, and much less than a queen. She had even contemplated the idea of suffocating Cunradus herself. It would only take putting a pillow over his head and wait for it to happen. But she was smarter than that. She knew that for some reason someone might walk in and find her in the act. And besides it was only a matter of time.
“Apollonia?” the old, weak and raspy voice of the king startled her. She turned around but saw that he was fast asleep. “Apollonia?” he repeated. He was talking in his dreams.
For a moment there she thought it was a sweet thing, and all the tiredness and hatred she had towards him almost disappeared, that was until he spoke the next word:
“Aythe? Aythe? Don’t go.”
Rage filled her heart and the desire to kill him returned. But she couldn’t, she had to calm herself. She knew it wouldn’t be wise to murder a king, and besides, as she had said to herself so many times in the past (perhaps even years), it was just a matter of time. The king had been in that state for almost a decade, and since then people were thinking that it would only take some time for him to leave this world. But the old king had fought. It had been a long and fierce battle, but it all pointed that it was reaching a conclusion, and that wasn’t favourable for Cunradus. But then again, people never knew when it was going to happen.
Apollonia left the room, just as she had done the previous day, in complete silence. When she closed the door and turned around she was surprised to see standing there, as if waiting for her to leave, her niece Libeste.
“Libeste! What are you doing here?”
“I came to see uncle. How is he?”
Apollonia gave her a sharp look as an unpleasant feeling reigned over her. There was no lost love between the two women, some may even say that they hated each other. In Apollonia’s eyes Libeste was just a pretentious little brat who thought she was important because she was the daughter of the brother of the King. On the other hand, Libeste saw Apollonia as an old woman full of malice that was not to be trusted.
“He is as he has always been,” Apollonia said annoyed, “he is fighting to recover. He does not want to be bothered.”
“I’d like to see him, nonetheless.”
“Why so early in the morning? The sun is barely up.”
“I like to check on him if he had any complications while he slept. After all, no one is with him through the night.” She said these words with bitterness, hoping they burnt into Apollonia. And they did.
“So you come here every morning? I have never seen you. But let me tell you this: it is not your place to check on him if he survived the night. When he was in perfect health you did nothing for him, but now that he is dying you try to look out for him. If you ask me you have a hidden interest.”
Libeste gave her one of her big fake smiles and answered:
“And what kind of motive can I have? Can’t I check on my uncle?”
“Listen to me, you little brat: you may think that the men in this castle are deceived by your smile and your charm, but that doesn’t work on me. I will tell you that there are eyes and ears in every wall of this place and they all whisper to me. I am aware of your intentions, and let me tell you they won’t work.”
“And what intentions may those be? I don’t have a bastard son that I want to sit in the throne.” Shock ran through Apollonia when she heard these words. Libeste then came close to her ear and said in a very low tone: “You are not the only one who can hear whispers.” With that she took a step back, smiled one more time and then walked into the king’s room.

Evrardus and Petronius met up with Johannes and Avelina shortly after their conversation at a small restaurant at the village. That was the first time their team gathered completely.
“Ok, kids, you all know me, and you know each other. You know we will be forming a team in order to complete a mission. I have already been given this mission so listen carefully as I explain the details.”
Evrardus was the only one paying attention: Johannes was looking around, he didn’t consider hearing to what Petronius had to say worth his time, and Avelina’s mind was, as always, elsewhere.
“As you’ve heard there have been several murders going on around the town the past few weeks. Four is the count so far, but we believe that number will rise. The targets are all known scientists. But here is a detail that has been kept from the news reports: all four scientists worked on similar projects. We are not sure if they were the same, though, but they certainly are linked. The details of the projects have not been revealed to us, but we know that they were of utmost secrecy. Our mission is not to find the killer. Our mission is to make a recognition of the zone of the forest that surrounds Azmar. We believe the killer might be around. Also, it is possible, though not confirmed, that he uses Seidr. The murders have all been through stab wounds, but there are hints that he uses it.”
Johannes had finally paid attention to what Petronius had said and then spoke up:
“Well, I don’t know if we are supposed to find him or not, but if we do certainly know that I won’t run away.”
“Johannes, in the case that we do encounter him I will face him alone. You are all still too inexperienced to fight a trained assassin.”
“But you might need help,” Evrardus said, “we are a team after all.”
“I don’t know if you’ll be able to help,” said Johannes acidly.
“What? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It’s nothing against you, but in the academy you could not control very well Seidr, remember? You might be a burden, even worst, a danger to us all.”
“Hey what’s your problem? We are a team and we are supposed to help each other.”
“Yeah, well as I said, you might not be of any help.”
Evrardus clenched his fist as anger boiled inside him.
“Who the hell do you think you are? Just because you were top of the class doesn’t mean that you can go around telling people if they are good or not!”
“I don’t say it because I was top of the class. I say it because I saw how you acted and how your Seidr works, and let me tell you there is much to be desired. I am just stating what every normal person would notice.”
Evrardus fist fell on the table as he was preparing to insult Johannes when Petronius with a firm, authoritarian voice said:
“Enough! Evrardus, Johannes, you are both members of the same team. You cannot be fighting each other. It is true Evrardus that you have had issues with your Seidr control, but it is not your place to rub them in his face Johannes. With practice you’ll get better, and with team work our mission might be successful. So please bear in mind that if there is tension within the team our objective will suffer. Stay together and you’ll achieve what you desire. So, if that is settled, I’d like to mention a few strategies that we might assume if we get into trouble.”
Throughout the whole meeting, Avelina did not once open her mouth.

The next morning Domenico’s doubts and angst had lessened, and yet an uneasy feeling that could not be shaken off still possessed him. He thought he would have that sensation forever. All that Aloysius had told him the previous night still lingered on his head, replaying like an endless roll of footage.
After having his breakfast at his hostel –a very badly cooked bacon with eggs and an orange juice which consisted in mostly water- he went to see Aloysius. Even if he did not understand he still needed to speak to him. However, he somehow doubted that all of his questions would be answered. But he had a mission to do, one which he had forgotten almost completely since the night before and had now abruptly sprung into his mind with no warning.
Aloysius’ house was a very big one. It looked like one of a lord or some sort of important fellow –Domenico was not too good identifying highly sailing people in aristocracy-. He was amazed by the house, though. It was clear that the following that the man was gathering was certainly paying off. Perhaps that entire story and the theatricals last night were no more than that… but then again, the scene he had witnessed first-hand was nothing that could be easily staged. And why would they want to trick him, a person who was nothing more than a curious individual who took an interest in their religion? They didn’t know his links with the king. Or did they? A little paranoid feeling started to creep on his back when suddenly he heard the voice of Aloysius from behind him.
“Ah, Mister Domenico. Very nice to see you this morning.”
Domenico turned around, trying to disguise what he had just felt, and shook Aloysius’ hand.
“Good morning. Mister Donato…”
“Oh, Aloysius, please. I don’t like when people call me Mister Donato.”
“Right, fine. Aloysius, I am having a very hard time trying to digest everything you said to me last night.”
“I’m sure you do. That is normal in most people who have the either good fortune or bad luck, depending on where you stand, to encounter what you did.”
“Do you really believe everything you said to me?”
“Absolutely. There is no doubt that troubles my mind.”
“Even what you said about me… being special and shit.”
“Of course I do. I believe that you were put in that alley for a reason. The Lord Ubros has big plans for you, my boy.”
“Yeah, about that, I don’t know. I am not a very religious man.”
“Well that doesn’t matter. You were brought here by your curiosity, which shows that you really have some sort of faith within you. And the fact that you stumbled upon with what you did, and may I add that nobody had before, means that you have a bigger part to play in all this. You see, only a few people are selected to know and participate of the exorcisms. Usually Ubros points them to me before anything happens, but you arrived just in the middle of one. If you don’t want to believe that you were meant to be there then that is a high amount of chance and coincidence if you ask me.”
Domenico remained silent for a few seconds. Everything he had heard since the night before was making him go crazy.
“So what part am I supposed to play?” he said finally.
“That is for you to find out. I will tell you when you are ready.”
“And when will I be ready?”
Aloysius was opening his mouth in order to reply when the voice of a woman coming from another room interrupted him.
“Aly? Aly is that you?”
A door closed and a few seconds later a woman a couple of years younger than Aloysius, beautiful and with grace, entered the room.
“Yes, Helena, I’m in here.”
The woman came close to him and gave him a kiss on the lips. She then took her overcoat and put it in a char besides.
“Helena, this is Domenico. Domenico, my wife Helena.”
“Hello…” Domenico started saying.
“How do you do?” she extended her hand so he would shake it. She fixed her deep green eyes on his black ones. Behind her beauty there was something mysterious, perhaps even sinister.
“Mister Domenico here,” said Aloysius, “is interested in our movement. He is thinking of joining our flanks pretty soon.”
“How wonderful!” she then spoke to him, “My husband has taken notice on you. That must mean you are special.” She then turned to the other man one more time. “I will go upstairs and take a bath. It was a long day. Care to join me?”
“As lovely as that may sound I have work to do. I promise to make it up tonight.”
“All right then.” She then turned to Domenico and smiled. “Don’t keep him too busy or he will go crazy.” And went upstairs.
Aloysius followed her with his gaze as she disappeared into a room above. He then kept his eyes down as his mind diverted from the spot.
“She is a beautiful woman.” Domenico said, mostly to take his host out of his trance.
“What? Oh yes, yes she is. Listen, as much as I would like to keep answering your questions there are other matters I have to attend. We’ll speak later.”
“Ok, sure, don’t worry.” And Domenico exited the house. It had been a weird, unexpected experience. He had never thought that Aloysius would be married. There was something bewitching about that woman.

In the archery field Ditmarus was concentrated in his practice. He was a very dedicated knight, even if he hadn’t seen real combat in his lifetime. Sure, he had fought in duels and championships, and he had fought off a burglar or another, but he had never been in an actual war. He still considered himself, and many did too, powerful and a good knight. He was sure he would be a good king. However, there were those who thought the contrary. He knew perfectly well that some people of the kingdom did not consider him the ideal king. He had heard rumours that some even supported Caleb, a bastard, over him. The reasons to this he ignored. All these whispers were brought to him by friends who mingled in the lower caste circles, and even if he could not bring himself to do so it was useful having people inside them. Perhaps that was the reason he was not liked.
“Hey Ditmarus!” a shout interrupted his inner monologue. He turned around to see that behind him was coming, with a bow and a pack of arrows, Wilhelmus Laurentze, his brother in law, husband of his dear sister.
“Son of a bitch…” he murmured.
“Ditmarus! How are you? I thought I’d find you here.”
“What do you want, Wilhelmus?”
“I thought I would join you in your archery practice.”
“Did my sister put you up to this so you could spy on me?”
“What? No. My wife doesn’t tell me what to do.”
“You are a horrible actor, Wilhelmus.”
“Hahaha. I don’t know what you are talking about. I just thought I could practice some archery with my brother in law.”
“Damn it, fine. Want to do a little competition?”
“Sure. What do you have in mind?”
“Five arrows. The one who hits closest to the centre of the target wins.”
“What are we betting on?”
“How does a pint of beer sounds to you?”
“You are on!”
“Great, you go first.”
Wilhelmus drew an arrow from his satchel and placed it on his bow. He tensed it for a couple of seconds and then let go. It hit in the outer region of the target. He was good, not great, but just good.
“So listen, Ditmarus…”
Ditmarus then got up and quickly drew an arrow, placed it and tensed the bow. He fired and the arrow landed nearly in the centre of the target.
“…my wife tells me that you might be having something worrying you lately…”
“I don’t wanna talk about my sister.”
Wilhelmus then repeated the process. This time the arrow landed a little nearer, but not as close as Ditmarus’.
“Well, she is worried about you. She thinks that you are concerned about your father’s mental health, pondering if he might be a good king or not.”
“I said I don’t want to talk about it.” His next arrow landed even nearer than the one before.
“I’m just saying that you need to not think about this stuff… it is as if they are eating you from the inside, or so she tells me.” His arrow went even further from the target this time around.
Ditmarus was getting angry each time Wilhelmus opened his mouth. It was obvious that Libeste had put him up to this. She had sent her own husband, a fellow with little brains, to gather some information from him, to see if he was planning something or at least if he had something in mind. Libeste was smart and manipulative, not to mention resourceful, but he knew her a little too well. He knew how to deal with her plotting. In cases like this in which she used another human being to take advantage of a situation it was better a direct approach.
“Listen to me, Wilhelmus,” he said with anger in his voice, “I don’t give a shit about what my sister may think is happening to me, so whatever the hell she tells you to do you can just forget about it. She thinks that you can get information from me, well that’s too bad. I don’t have time for this bullshit so stay the fuck away.” He then fired one last arrow: this time it landed straight in the middle of the target. “You can keep your damn pint of beer.”

In a small canteen in Azmar Petronius and his friend Halloran were having a break from their respective works. Petronius from trying to juggle the tense relationships within his group and explaining the mission to an immature group of recently graduated students. On the other hand, Halloran was a scientist who researched into the origins of Seidr and alchemy. He had tried and failed several times to understand both crafts from their essence, but he always failed. It was, of course, a very hard job.
“Well you at least don’t have to deal with children the whole day,” said Petronius trying to cheer his friend up, “my group are three kids, of which two can’t stand each other and the third one doesn’t open her mouth, not even to say hi or to ask a question or to even go to the bloody bathroom.”
“Yes, that might be true, but at least you don’t see on a daily basis your whole work become useless. I am starting to think that my line of job is a waste of time and effort. I should have pursued the practical uses of Seidr like you do.”
“Don’t say that. We the normal people need the intellectuals just like you. You guys are the reason why we know what we know. A person might be strong and skilful, but if he doesn’t have intelligence then he is sure to fail.”
“Thank you for the kind words, my friend. But still, I don’t think that I have ever done something useful in my entire career. I mean it has all been useless experiments and researches into stuff we don’t know, much less understand.”
“Hey, but what about that project you had a few years ago. You were recruited by a team of scientists and you worked on it for like six months. You told me you were successful at least to some degree.”
“I can’t say anything about that, you know it.”
“Yeah, I guess I do. Won’t you ever tell me what was it that you science guys were doing back then?”
“Perhaps someday when I am free of all obligations as a man of science.”
“Haha, fair enough I guess. You sure have an awful lot of secrets when it comes to your practice, especially when it’s about this matter.”
“Maybe, but then again is not because I don’t want to share this information, it is because I am not allowed to. There are several details in the things we did that you better not know, my dear friend, or might stop liking me.”
“Haha, that might be true.”
“And besides, you have your young group of children to tend to. Perhaps they are young right now and perhaps they hate each other, but in the future they will all become excellent warriors that Azmar and the whole kingdom of Royaume can depend on, especially if they are under your tuition.”
“Well, I sure hope you are right.”
“I’m sure I am, never being wrong in the past.”
“I’d like to differ, but I guess I can’t.”
“That’s right, brother. Anyway, I have to go, or the wife will kill me. I’ll leave the money so you can pay.”
“All right, Halloran, take care.”
“Take care.”
Halloran exited the canteen a little drunk, but not drunk enough to not be able to get home. He had to walk a few blocks and streets, but he enjoyed walking, at night even more. The weather at night was cool, instead of the terrible heat that attacked in the day during the time. A couple of blocks before arriving to his house he turned by an alley. It was nothing knew, he always took this route when he walked from the canteen to his place. But this time there was somebody waiting for him in the alley.
“Halloran Davernas?”
“Who wants to know?”
“Halloran, after everything that happened those many years ago, I thought you’d remember me.”
The man stepped from the shadows and in shock Halloran recognized a face he had so hard tried to forget. The man drew a knife out as he got closer to his victim. Halloran tried to run, but the man casted a concrete barrier in front of him, against which he stumbled onto.
“Shit, Seidr…” Halloran murmured scared.
“Time for you to answer for your sins.”
Halloran did not have time to run again. Before he could even get up the man had already stabbed him in the stomach.