It was just a normal day, like any other. Or so I thought. After some gardening and admiration of my lovely plants and flowers that surround the villa de Simonis, I decided that I might as well have a drink in the inn.
Fictor, the innkeeper, was happy enough to see me, and as I sat down in the plush cushions of the VIP part of the inn, he came over to greet me. "The daughter of the Marquis!" he exclaimed, "What a pleasure it is to see you again!" I politely greeted him and ordered a drink. As he returned to my table with the drink, careful enough not to spill a drop, I looked around the inn. Several people were sitting at their tables, drinking from big jugs and mugs.
"Do tell, Fictor, is there no one of rank and stature here tonight? Must I drink alone and entertain myself again?"
Fictor thought for a moment. "Do you mean whether or not there are more nobles around? Well, I can tell you, there is one man I might think is quite of your stature indeed. He's sitting over there, and wearing fine clothes too, methinks." Fictor babbled. "I haven't yet caught his name, but I can ask if you'd like, milady."
I thought for a second, while the man folded his hands and stood stooped over the table a bit, awaiting my answer.
"Do invite him to my table, and offer him a drink. Anything he likes, my treat." I replied.
Fictor scurried away and respectfully patted one of the more clean men on the arm. He was wearing a blue velvet jaquet with a clean white shirt underneath, but his riding boots and the mud on them betrayed that he had been outdoors for a while. While Fictor repeated my offer, the man glanced over to where I sat and looked at me curiously for a long lasting moment.
Then, he said something to Fictor, stood up and walked to my table, and the comfortable cushions I was sitting on. "May I introduce myself, milady, I am the Chevalier Thierry de Prudhomme;" he politely introduced himself. I extended my right hand for him to kiss, and introduced myself as well. "Au chanté" mumbled the Chevalier, and gracefully kissed my hand. "Won't you join me, monsieur?" I asked the man, and observed him and his manners as he sat down.
He obviously wasn't Krey, his ears betrayed he was a human, just like my parents and myself. But he appeared to speak the language fluently. Neither was he surprised to see another human, and one of obvious rank and stature, in this large city. His mask intrigued me, and he apologized for not taking it off in my presence, for the hideous scars he had underneath it.
During the evening, I started enjoying the Chevaliers company more and more. The man proved himself to be witty and smart, and he explained he was a priest. I told him about the city and how it was divided. There was a priests' guild, I'm sure, and I had also heard about about a ritualists', mages', necromancers' and alchemists' guild. But I didn't tell the Chevalier what I myself was looking for to find.
Rumour has it, there is a coven in the city. Just beyond the borders of the city, in the vast forest, there are women who secretly gather and meet. I heard rumours about Nyshra, one of the witches, who was feared for who she was. Some people claim the coven has dissipated, and the witches are nothing more then women who know the power of herbs, but dare not use their knowledge for fear of their lives.
Others claim the coven still exists, but in the utmost secrecy; and that the women are esteemed members of the Knowledge Council.
Carefully, I have been trying to learn more of these witches. I am trying to find them.
With the Chevalier by my side, I ventured out into the city. He had explained he had come through mist. That where once was no city, now was one, and he was walking in it. He thinks he may have come to another world. The tale is that of my parents, and I recognize it as such. But the Chevalier thinks there are more people, who may have ventured here and are, just like us, seeking for knowledge. Maybe there are other women who seek what I seek, maybe I can find a few directions, or clues to whether or not the coven actually exists.
That night, we met many people. We ran into a man, dressed in all blacks, who had an eerie glow around him. Perhaps the fact that he was a necromancer, as he later trusted to tell me, had something to do with that. He introduced himself to me as Ilthar, Ilthar Pallarran. He trusted me, and I trusted him, and though we tried to help each other, he didn't know about any witches.
We also met a warrior Scot named Angus, a wizard named Johann Sebastian, and many others. There seemed to be a lot of new arrivals, and I could only think of what the Lord of the city would have to say about this fact.
But not only humans came out of the 'rifts' of mist that appeared to be portals. We ran into monsters as well, and luckily I had my friends to protect me, for I am no woman of arms, and I do not know which way of the sword is sharpened. My trade is flowers, plants and herbs. A noblewoman has no need to fight, she lets someone else fight for her.
A messenger came to us, as my friends who all sought Knowledge and I were meeting in my house. The messenger delivered the message that there would be a meeting at the Manor of the Lord Thorongil, and all factions could send two representatives to attend this meeting. Through an honest vote, the newcomers decided the Chevalier, our friend the necromancer, and I should attend this meeting, and we went.
Inside the impressive manor, we were led to a massive conference table. At the head of the table sat the Lord Thorongil and the Krey Ambassador. To his right were the delegates of Thorn elves, seated next to some Dwarves. The warrior Scot was also present, and politely nodded to us. There were more people present, but they didn't introduce themselves to us. We were seated next to the Dwarves, and I counted myself one of the lucky few who could understand them. Though they had brought an interpreter, she was clearly not going to translate their chatter to Lord Thorongil before the meeting started, and I heard that the Dwarves addressed a woman with sideburns and a richly ornamented helmet as "Princess".
Lord Thorongil rose from his seat and welcomed us in his house, as soon as we were assembled. "The last few weeks have been troublesome, as most of you must have noticed;" he started. "More often, the rifts have opened, and more and more people have come through the portals. Not always have these people been friendly."
Sir Angus rose from his seat. "There were black-faced monsters who attacked us!" he exclaimed.
"Please, please, sit down. We have all been attacked. Even those who have not been in the city for a very long time. Now, I see there is a delegation of the Knowledge Council present." The Lord Thorongil looked at us and his face clearly stated he was waiting for us to talk.
I stood up, hesitantly. "My name is Lady Styx de Simonis, daughter of Marquis de Simonis. I am here on behalf of the Knowledge Council." I sighed. I had not spoken to anyone from the Knowledge Council, for their houses and places of gathering were scattered through the town and sometimes in secret places. All I knew was hearsay...
I decided it was best to try and appear convincing, and introduced my companions. Before I could speak more, the Chevalier spoke to the gathered people. "We are new here, all except the Lady de Simonis. We have been looking for the Knowledge Council, but could not find it."
Lord Thorongil laughed at us. "Truly, you must not have sought very well. Have you not even spoken to Garland?"
"I fear we have not, my lord." I spoke, and slowly sat down.
"Then, I will fill you all in." Lord Thorongil spoke with complete authority. "There have been rifts opening and monsters and people pouring out. Mostly it seems they appear from different places, different worlds perhaps. And as far as we know, they can not go back"
When the dwarf interpreter translated the Lord's words for her Princess, she jumped up. In dwarvish she yelled at the lord, "What do you mean, can't go back?" and then turned to her interpreter. "Translate that!"
The interpreter hastily obeyed, and Lord Thorongil motioned her to sit back down. "So far, we have not been able to send anyone back. I wish we could. As it looks like now, more and more and more people come into the city. And all these people need food and a place to stay. Crime rates will rise, I fear, before long. If we can not send these people back, and they will not stop coming, how soon before the city reaches its limits?" He paused to let this sink in. Some of the less clean people present didn't seem to mind, and the interpreter softly translated the words into Dwarvish for the Dwarf Princess.
"And then I am not even speaking of the attacks. Monsters, the likes of which we have never seen before. They appear from the rifts just like the people."
My necromancer friend stood up and looked at the Krey Lord. "My name is Ilthar Palarran." He introduced himself to the others. "What if somebody is sending these monsters to us. What if they open a rift to send through scouts for an army?"
Everyone thought of this for a moment. The Dwarf Princess nodded, as well as Sir Angus. The Lord thought of this too, for a moment. "Now there is something we have not thought about yet."
The discussion continued for a while, and the hot-headed Thorn Elf leader engaged in a furious discussion with the Dwarf Princess, until the Lord hushed the conversation. "I think it is in all our best interests to cooperate, work together. If we are indeed being attacked by someone, we will fall if we are divided. I would like to see the Knowledge Council dig in their libraries and Books of Ancient Knowledge, and find out all there is to know about the rifts."
With that, the meeting was over. While the Chevalier and I were still pondering what was said, he escorted me through the dark streets to Villa de Simonis, before going back to his room at the inn.
Once inside, I noticed something odd. It was the second time that day that somebody had broken in. Somebody had stolen my mother's silver goblet.
The next morning I decided to visit my new friend at his lodgings, and I sat in the inn at a table, for it is not likely for a woman alone, let alone the daughter of a Marquis, to venture into the rooms of a man. Fictor was occupied in the kitchen, making breakfast for his guests perchance, and I had not yet had the chance to send anyone else upstairs to announce my arrival to the Chevalier.
But then a woman stepped inside. She was all dressed in black and I could see that her one hand was under her cloak. And from where I was sitting, I could smell something strange. Then, I noticed a shimmer under the cloak. I looked closer and saw the woman was holding a cauldron under her cloak.
When she took a seat, I looked around the inn. Not many people really noticed the black-clad woman, and I leisurely made my way across the room. She sat quite close to the door, and inconspicuously tried to set the cauldron on the floor.
"Excuse me", I said, "do you mind if I join you?"
"By all means. What can I do for you?"
Suddenly, I knew not how to continue. I had searched for clues for weeks, months even. But now that I may have found what I was looking for, I was overwhelmed a bit.
"I think you and I may have something in common." I pointed down, towards the cauldron, and looked at the woman. "I believe we both share a fondness for certain plants."
The woman looked at me. Her eyes betrayed she was a bit curious. "But first, let me introduce myself to you. I'm so rude, I totally forgot;" I fluttered my hands a bit and smiled. "My name is Styx de Simonis."
"I am Erin." The woman simply said, and glanced at the cauldron near her feet. The fluid inside gave off a distinct lemon-balm like scent, but her cloak covered the sides sufficiently to hide the thing from view.
I pondered. This was too public a place to be speaking of such things. "Why don't we go to my house, where it's more private?" I suggested. "It's not that far..."
"Yes, I think that is a good idea." Erin said. Carefully picking up the cauldron and tucking it beneath her cloak again, she followed me outside.
When we walked the streets to my house, Erin walked closely beside me, but half a step behind. We both kept silent, until suddenly Erin spoke again. "Is it still far?"
"No, we're almost there." I said.
The villa de Simonis, the house my parents had built when they had arrived in the city, now was my home, since they moved to the countryside, not being able to cope anymore with the busy streets and loudmouthed people of the city. The walls where whitened and a clear path ran between the numerous plants surrounding the villa. The garden, that surrounded the entire house, held numerous beautiful and even more useful plants. Most of them were fit for tea, like the brambles and the yarrow I planted myself. The villa was built on the edges of the city, where space was still available. Too bad that the slums were not far off either.
I opened the door and Erin followed me inside. She carefully took the cauldron from under her cloak and slowly put it down on the table. Then, she hung her cloak over a chair and sat down. The lemon scent that radiated from the cauldron hung heavy in the air. "Perhaps I should put it on the floor..." Erin pondered. She clearly had trouble with the heavy scent as well.
"Now then;" she continued, "exactly what do you want to talk about?"
During the walk, I had decided to carefully approach the subject. It surely was no laughing matter, and the fact that information about the alleged coven was so hard to find meant that if there was a coven, they highly valued secrecy. But how to go about it?
Then, I remembered the cauldron.
"I was thinking we might discuss herbs. I have a feeling you too like to use herbs." Erin nodded. "That is correct."
"I wonder," I continued, "what kind of herbs you use. I am very fond of herbs myself, and use them for many purposes."
Erin thought carefully for another moment. "Whatever I need, the forest provides me with." she evaded my question. I decided to ask a bold question. "What about the brew you carry around. Does it contain herbs?"
Erin merely nodded and kept a close eye on me.
The conversation was quite fruitless so far, and I grew more frustrated. Then, I decided to just be square about it. I lowered my voice a bit, as if there were people around to overhear our conversation. "They say there's a coven in the city, where women use herbs for many purposes. I have tried finding them for a long time now, but have not succeeded." I glanced at her cauldron. "I have a feeling you may have more information about them."
Erin rested her back against the chair and put an index finger on her lips thoughtfully. After a few moments, she looked at me again. "And, what will you do when you find them?" Her gaze seemed to penetrate my skin, and didn't soften when I answered her. "I would want to join them, if that is possible."
Erin said nothing, did nothing, but just stared at me, trying to look into my soul perhaps. Or maybe she was thinking. In any case, I could bear the suspense no more.
"Do you know any women who are a part of this coven? Have you heard about them?"
Erin blinked. "Yes, I have heard about them in fact. And yes, I think I might know a few women who may be connected to this coven. But I think they will be reluctant to meet with you. You may have to prove you can be trusted, prove that you really have what it takes."
She glanced out of the window, before returning her thoughtful eyes to me. "We will meet again, later today. Then I can give you an answer. You must allow them time to think about this, and be patient."
I nodded. Suddenly, a change came over Erin. She picked up her cauldron with the fluid with both hands, and rolled the fluid around in it's container. "This is coming along nicely" she stated, and then she smiled. I accompanied her to the door, and saw her out. And with that, Erin was suddenly gone.
I was still troubled, and the atmosphere in my house seemed to choke me, so I too stepped outside. Erin was nowhere to be seen, and I decided to look at the circle some of the newcomers had formed on a square in the city.
The square had always been busy, and the inn was not far. People who had recently arrived through one of the rifts had marked the street with white chalk, and formed a so-called 'ritualist circle'. I carefully avoided coming close to the circle, and observed several men, if men was what you could call them, walk closer to the circle. They appeared to be men, but their skin had a strange green colour. They babbled something in their own language, and then one of the green skinned fellows shouted something in Krey.
A man in heavy plate mail, with a red moon tattooed on his forehead, stepped close to the green man. "Don't enter the ritualist circle! You will desecrate it. Do not enter the circle…or else!"
The other green skinned fellow was standing quite close, and observed another tattooed man inside the circle. He did not seem to understand why this man could enter the circle.
He spoke and his accent clearly betrayed he wasn't very used to using the Krey language. His hands groped at his red tunic, and his glasses made him look even more awkward then he was. "Or else...what?" he asked the two men.
"You'll see." The man inside the circle said. His voice had a dangerous tone to it, but the fellow didn't appear to hear it. He shrugged, looked at his friend, and stepped inside the circle.
All of a sudden, loud noises could be heard from around the square. From various directions more people came running to the sounds of a horn the man in plate mail blew. A good number of people shouted at the green skinned man, and captured him. Soon, the man stopped struggling, and they led him to the very core of the circle, and forced him on his knees. The men who were holding him, stepped back, and I could clearly see all of them had red moons tattooed above their eyebrows.
The man who had been standing in the middle of the circle had put the hood of his cloak up, the shadow of which hid his face from view. The man in plate, apparently some kind of guard, returned to the perimeter of the circle. Their leader, or so it seemed, raised his voice so that the passers-by could hear his words clearly. "Be warned, that this is what happens to people who enter the Ritualist Circle of the Crimson Moon!"
The words sent a shiver down my spine, and soon I could see why. The head of the green skinned man, who was still sitting on his knees in the of the circle, was forced down so he faced the ground. The hooded man drew his sword, and I could feel that activity around me ceased and people stopped to stare. In one big blow, the cloaked man severed the head of the poor green skinned man from his body, which now fell limply to the floor. My jaw dropped, and I looked away. The people around me stared for a few more moments, before they pretended to be needed elsewhere. After a few more moments of nausea, I recovered and turned away from the circle. I hurried to one of the houses of the Knowledge council, where I met the Chevalier again. We discussed the decapitation, and soon we all agreed that this way of executioning people, without proper warning or a clear statement of the rules, this could be very incriminating for the good name of the Ritualists, and with that, the Knowledge Council. The Chevalier offered to go talk to the people of the Crimson Moon, and Ilthar and I walked with him for a bit.
But then, I ran into Erin in the street. I excused myself from the Chevalier and Ilthar. The chevalier resumed on his mission, while Ilthar patiently waited as Erin and I walked to a quiet alley. "The coven has agreed to meet with you, but there is something you must do first;" she said; "You must prove you want to invest in the coven by finding three different herbs. You have until nightfall."
With that, she returned to the street and walked on.
I pondered my mission for a bit. Three different herbs was not such a problem, but most of the herbs I grew in the garden of Villa de Simonis were meant for tea. I needed more powerful herbs, something to show my goodwill. I needed to go into the forest.
I pondered this fact for a while. I wasn't used to the forest, for the city had always provided for me. I never went walking in the forest alone, and I could hardly separate one tree from the next. If I were to venture into the forest alone, I would most certainly get lost.
"Ilthar;" I asked my necromancer friend; "you seem to have eyes and ears everywhere. Perhaps you have heard of someone being a guide?"
Ilthar thought of this for a moment. "I can not show you the way into the forest myself, milady Styx;" he politely answered; "but I believe I overheard someone mentioning that the Thorn elves are quite at home in the forest."
I thought of this for a moment, and thanked him for his company. Without another word, Ilthar nodded politely and disappeared in the crowd. I walked the other way, to one of the houses that had been appointed to the newly arrived Thorn elves.
When I walked into the street where the building was, my eye fell on some bearded creatures that looked familiar. One of the shining helmets in particular caught my eye, and as I approached the people closer, I saw that indeed they were the Dwarves.
I slyly contemplated something. Dwarves, as my father used to tell me, were always looking for the riches of the earth, and they cared little for politics. That they had been present at the meeting with Lord Thorongil, was merely because of the fact that they had been stranded on this world.
I decided to test how well my knowledge of the Dwarf language still was, and I respectfully approached them.
"Good afternoon" I greeted the Princess and her companions politely in their own language. "My name is Styx de Simonis."
"I have seen you yesterday!" the princess recognized me.
"Indeed." I replied. "I was wondering, princess, I am trying to find some herbs for my evening meal, but the market proved fruitless. I need to go into the forest, but since the attacks I am afraid to wonder around alone. I don't know the way in the forest at all, and I'd rather not get lost and then be found by monsters."
The dwarves mumbled in agreement.
"I wonder if you could help me;" I continued. Dwarvish wasn't a very tough language, and I remembered how it went quite well. "I could use a guide, and protection, in the forest. I will of course make sure you will be well rewarded for your time."
The dwarves thought about that for a moment. The fact that I spoke their language seemed to soothe them a bit, but the princess kept mumbling something. Her companion, the interpreter I had seen the evening before, tried to softly persuade her.
"You're right!" the Princess Bellina agreed in the end. She pointed at a white-bearded dwarf with glasses and then to the taller dwarf next to him. "You will protect the lady Styx, and you are guide." The princess turned to her interpreter. "I can fight, and you will protect me too. That's enough."
"I'd like to come too!" a woman's voice called, and a smaller woman with blonde curls worked her way through the throng of dwarves. Her bare feet were hairy, and on her belt swung a wooden weapon, which I recognized as a kitchen tool.
"I would like to see what herbs you use in the kitchen." The hobbit woman stated, and the princess nodded. "Good. Then it's settled. You, you and you, and the cook-hobbit Petunia, will accompany lady Styx, and the rest will come with me." The interpreter tried to object, but the princess cut her off. "And that's that! I can fight too, if necessary. I will be safe enough with only half of my forces."
I nodded, seeing Princess Bellina did not want any more talk about this.
The walk in the forest was amusing in a way. The hobbit was never far from me, because she sure didn't want to miss out on anything I was looking at. The dwarves alternated between telling each other how many skaven they would slay, and silence because they were hunting. The guide sometimes checked with me whether or not I wanted to go in a particular direction, but I had no idea where I could find herbs. Luckily, they weren't that hard to find. And not before long the guide led us back out of the forest again.
Though we didn't encounter any monsters nor skaven, much to the disappointment of the white-haired dwarf, I never felt safer around the forest. Ofcourse I hadn't been into the forest that much before.
As we approached the city, Petunia and I fell back a bit. She had no idea what kind of herbs I had found, and didn't find any herself. I patted her on the shoulder, and with a hushed voice thanked her. "This will cover your expenses, I think, so you can cook the Dwarves a good sturdy meal. Tell them it was offered by me, as a token of my gratitude."
The hobbit woman nodded in reply, and took the five kreydits I gave her. The dwarves just marched on, and went straight for their lodgings. I said a quick goodbye and took a left turn.
Before I could return to the inner city, I had to cross the square with the ritualists, and I was shocked by the scene that occurred before my very eyes. In the afternoon sun, I saw a large, bulky figure standing threateningly over the Chevalier de Prudhomme. A woman, who appeared to be master of the thing, tried to convince someone to buy it from her, and was only too happy to demonstrate the things' power on my friend.
I remained at a distance and kept a close eye on them, my usual approach to strange creatures. The woman called back the monster before it killed the Chevalier, and I ran to help him get up.
"Are you all right?" I asked, as he carefully lay a wounded arm where it had some support.
"Ah, milady Styx. Yes, yes, I'll be quite all right as soon as I fix this." he mumbled, obviously in pain. A healer quickly helped him up, and started bandaging his wounds. The woman and her monster were gone already, and as I tried to see where they had gone, I noticed Erin crossing the square. Inconspicuously, or so I hoped, I approached her, and handed her the herbs I had found. She inspected the herbs and nodded. "These look good." Then she looked at me. "Tonight there will be a ritual, for those who want to join the coven. I will come for you, and guide you to their place of meeting. There is one other woman who still has to find a component for the coven, before she can join. We wait until nightfall."
I nodded, and then inquired after her cauldron. She wasn't hauling it around town today, I noticed. "It is quite finished, but someone has stolen it from me. It is a grave matter, for it is a Jinx potion, very hard to make, and very dangerous if it falls into the wrong hands."
That night, I was very nervous. For all I had been looking for, I had found, and I could barely believe tonight would be the night that I would meet the witches. In the end, Erin came to collect me, and as we stepped outside, there were two women carrying candles. They wore coloured cloaks with the hood up, and their faces were aglow from the large flames that leapt from the fire.
The other woman was led back to us by a third woman with a candle, and she had blonde hair, from which the heads of snakes peeked out every now and then. Without talking, we started to walk. The streets were nearly deserted and people hardly glanced at the women with candles, who were headed past the city borders.
Not very far from the graveyard, we entered the forest, and went to a secret place of meeting. Here, the women stopped walking, and the three women with candles formed a triangle around Erin, the blonde woman and me. Each one of us was handed a candle, which we held at breast-height. No words were spoken, until Erin started talking. Her voice was pleasant as if she were to sing, but a deep serious bass tone made sure it was no laughing matter.
"Guardians of the watchtowers of the North! I invoke thee." She called. Then she turned, facing East. "Guardians of the watchtowers of the East! I invoke thee." She turned to the South. "Guardians of the watchtowers of the South! I invoke thee." She turned to the West. "Guardians of the watchtowers of the West! I invoke thee."
While Erin turned back to facing us, a cold breath of wind stirred the trees around us and our cloaks, and an apparition, a man, appeared in the middle of our triangle, facing Erin.
"Why have you called me?" he asked Erin.
"There are those who want to join our coven, oh Wise One. We want to see if their hearts are true."
"A grave situation." The man nodded. Then he turned, swirled in front of the blonde woman, and asked her a few questions. I could not overhear what either had said, but after a few sentences the man looked at her intently, nodded and swirled around towards me.
"Why do you want to join the coven?" the man asked me. "You of noble blood, who need not worry."
"I want to join the coven, because I seek knowledge."
The man frowned, and answered me harshly. "Knowledge can be found in many places. But why do you want to be one of the coven?" I started to sweat. The man's gaze seemed to penetrate my skin and look into my heart
"My family is far away, and I feel lonely. I seek a new family, and hope to find it here."
For an everlasting moment, he looked at me silently. Then, with a loving smile, he nodded. After a long and warm loving look, he returned to Erin.
"I thank you for your help;" Erin said; "Return, oh Loved One, to where you have come from."
The man disappeared, leaving only the warm touch of his love for us lingering in the air.
Erin then raised the candle she was holding on her both hands and looked at both of us. "Welcome into the coven, sisters. I am your mother, leader of the coven. You, Karlek and Styx, are our new sisters, and members of the First Circle. To become part of the Second Circle, you will need to find a third witch, for in three there is power."
Then, she smiled with a warmth that could not match the candle's fire. With a final ceremonial gesture, she raised the candle to her mouth, and with one breath, extinguished the flame. Then she looked at me, and I mimicked her gesture.
With all three candles out, we silently returned to the city.
The next morning, I inspected my house some more. Since the arrival of new people, more and more items had been disappearing, and again I couldn't find some of my prized possessions. I was intent to complain about this to Lord Thorongil, and stepped out.
Soon, however, my attention was focused on something else. In one of the richer streets of the city, I saw some movement between the trees that decorated the streets. I walked a bit closer, and saw a child. She was clad in a green dress and her hair was woven with flowers. She dared not speak to me at first, but I kindly asked her where she was from.
A sudden noise startled both of us, though. Two creatures with big horns on their forehead, came walking towards us.
They obviously were coming for the child.
From the other side, Thorn elves came walking towards us. I tried to protect the child from harm, but she whispered in my ear that the horned creatures were her brothers. The Thorn elves excused themselves and accompanied all of them. Back to the heart of the forest, they said.
The child had brightened up my day, though her disappearance made me sad. Distracted from my previous mission, I decided to visit the Necromancers' tower, and inquire after Ilthar. He had tried to become one of the Necromancers Guild, and had to perform a series of tests last night, when I was in the forest with the coven. He was the only one of my friends who knew I had been very curious about the coven.
Outside the tower, I ran into an acquaintance, Phalar Rhain. He too was a necromancer, but he was quite agitated. My friend Sir Angus was following him around, and talking gibberish about being in love with the black-clad necromancer.
I immediately recognized the effects of Amoras, but I had to be sure. I was talking to the two, and suddenly a change came over Rhain as well. He answered the Scot's plea for a kiss, and I turned my head away from the scene. Indeed. It was Amoras.
When the two stopped kissing each other, I patted them on the arm and they stopped hugging each other.
"Please, I want you to promise me something." I urged them. My voice was stern, like a mother's. The two men nodded. "I want you to promise me you will not raise your sword at the other. No matter what."
They started objecting. "I wouldn't dream of hurting him! He's the love of my life!" the Scot babbled. I interrupted him. "Yes, but still, I want you to promise me."
They both promised, and walked on. Then I noticed the Chevalier standing close by. "Please, don't marry those two in the coming day. That could mean bloodshed." The Chevalier looked at me questioningly, but I was already on my way, and knocked on the door of the Necromancer's tower.
A few hours later, I had talked to Ilthar and visited Lord Thorongil. I was just on my way home, crossing the square with the Ritualist Circle, when I heard someone calling my name. Rhain and Sir Angus were both approaching me, and they seemed mad. Rhain seemed to be out of control, and grabbed my garments. "You! You said you had a love potion! You sold it to someone who used it on us!"
"Please;" I pleased sternly; "I did no such thing. Now let go of my dress and be more silent." I led them to the side of the square, and into one of the more deserted streets that led to the Necromancer's Tower. "Surely you must be aware that shouting things like that can get us all into trouble." I looked at the Scotsman, who nodded. "Besides, I didn't sell that love potion." That seemed to cheer the two up.
"So you still have it!?" Rhain inquired, and I nodded.
"Sell it to us." Angus pleaded. "Someone poisoned us with Love Potion, and we want a revenge."
I thought about this. With things from my house gone missing, and the prospect of having to find a guide or buy herbs, I suspected my resources would not last very long. Though I had a considerable amount of money, my father didn't regularly send me more, and I had to make do with what I had. After all, a woman who is by most considered to be noble, can not offer to sweep the floor of the tavern for some kreydits. I had a reputation to keep up.
I pretended to be thinking hard about this. "How much would that be worth to you?" I asked.
"Name your prize!" Rhain replied hastily.
"30 kreydits." I replied, and they both started digging in their pouches. I handed them the potion and they handed me their money.
They walked towards the inn, and I walked to the market square. I had thirty kreydits in my pocket and I was thinking about buying myself a nice necklace. The pearls I would have liked were too expensive though, but I saw a quaint little stone on a simple chain that would look great on me. I bought it, and as soon as I hung the stone on my neck, I felt a surge of power through my limbs. I felt stronger, and I looked at the stone curiously. It had a nice and bright shine over it, but otherwise there was nothing that could betray it being magical.
Erin suddenly stood behind me, and took me and Karlek into the forest. We sat down in a mossy patch between the trees, and Erin explained that the coven gathered once every several days, if they wanted to learn new potions, or speak about coven business. There was no real summoning system, and all witches found their way in and out of the forest on their own, because a lot of women emerging from the forest could arouse suspicion.
She went on and explained to us, that now that we were members of the First Circle, we could learn a potion. Erin pulled out a cauldron, another sister poured water into it, and while Karlek was looking for mushrooms, I built a fire beneath the cauldron. Carefully paying attention and writing down exactly how to make the potion, we spent a few hours in the forest.
I returned to my villa, after witnessing a marriage between two women under the effects of my Amoras potion. But once there, I was furious. My house seemed to be less safe then ever, and all the furniture had been upended. I couldn't begin to think of the mess, and of what was missing. I walked directly to the house of the Lord of the City.
"The Lord Thorongil is currently not present;" said the guard at the gate. "But you of course may enter the premises."
He opened the sturdy gates. The fortress, with inside its walls the beautiful manor of the Krey Lord, also housed the city guard and several new orders, like the Order of the Great Kilt, and the Order of the Basilisk. Both were dedicated to preserving peace and order in the city. Luckily, not all newcomers had a mind for chaos, it seemed.
I lingered a bit outside the manor, looking at well-kept horses, and people sharpening their swords. Then I heard loud voices at the gate. Apparently, the guard had a conversation with somebody who was denied entrance.
Suddenly, I saw something flying over the wall, over the gate. It was a cauldron, and the contents flew and fell on the muddy floor inside the fortress. The cauldron rolled a bit farther, and I carefully stepped closer. I recognized it; it was the cauldron Erin had with her before it got stolen.
The people outside the gate scattered, and I already saw some people had walked through the fluid that was on the floor. I stepped around it carefully, and approached the Captain of the Guard.
"I believe I know what was in that cauldron." I said in a hushed voice; "And it would be wise to avoid contact with it. Perhaps you should mark exactly where it fell."
The Captain nodded, and started barking orders. I slipped out of the opened gate while a few guards stepped back in, unable to catch the people who had thrown the cauldron.
Ilthar approached me a few streets from the fortress, and we walked to the square with the Ritualist Circle. There seemed to always be something the matter there, and this time they were right in the middle of a ritual. We both agreed not to approach the circle too much, and observed from a distance.
Suddenly, I felt someone attacking me from behind, and the pain and shock caused me to faint.
When I came to, Ilthar mumbled words of healing and spread his hands over me. My wound closed, and Ilthar helped me up. Then, I heard loud shouts. "That damned necromancer attacked that lady! Somebody stop him!"
A man with scales, known as Larloch, shouted and pointed at Ilthar. I had seen him before when I was talking to the head of the Order of the Basilisk, and he seemed to be a sly man. Now he was accusing my friend of attacking me. It didn't add up.
A few passers-by grabbed Ilthar, and as I watched and tried to stop them, I was again attacked from behind. The pain and surprise again caused me to faint.
When I came to again, one of the Crimson Moon ritualists was sitting next to me, and my wounds were once again healed. He helped me up and I thanked him, before I walked over to Ilthar.
"This is the man who attacked you, milady!" one of the men holding Ilthar said. I had my doubts about that, though. "He was standing next to me, true, but I have not seen him attack me. He's been loyal to me, and I consider him a friend." I said to the man. Then I looked at Ilthar. "Have you attacked me?" I asked him.
"No, I have not."
"I believe him." I said. "Let him go."
Surprised, the men let go of Ilthar, who looked at them with a dangerous grin. Then, he stepped close to me. "Lady Styx, I have healed you."
"I know." I said. "And when they were holding you, someone attacked me again. It seems the streets are no longer safe for a woman like me."
In the distance, I saw the Lord of the City, and I started walking towards him. Ilthar disappeared into the crowd and I addressed the Lord as I came closer.
"Milord, I must speak with you."
Lord Thorongil sighed. He had seen and spoken to me many times in the last few days, and though he had increased town guard patrols, this did not seem to have any effect on the number of break-ins at my house.
"Just now there has been an attack on my person. Twice! I wonder what kind of city this is becoming if a woman alone can not walk on a square in the broad daylight without people trying to assassinate her!"
Perhaps I was overreacting, but then again, I was still shocked about what had happened. Then I noticed the people around the Lord Thorongil. He was accompanied by the entire Order of the Basilisk, and I politely nodded to their leader. He looked troubled, as did the Lord. "This is a grave situation indeed. I would fear for your safety."
"Isn't it your job as the Lord of the City to ensure the safety of your subjects?" I asked him. He nodded. "My family has ever since their arrival been loyal to you and your reign, we have never caused any trouble, but lately a lot of things have been changing."
The Lord nodded again, and looked at something behind me. I turned around.
Behind me was standing Larloch, the lizard man, with a bunch of his comrades. I recognized my sister-witch with the snakes in her hair and our glances met for a second.
As I was facing them, in one quick move, Larloch drew a knife and put it on my throat. He grunted menacingly. "What lies have you been telling about ME!?"
The Order of the Basilisk drew their weapons and stood ready for a fight. Lord Thorongil tried to interfere, but Larloch kept his eyes on me, and shouted at them. "I don't have anything with you, this is between the Lady Styx, and me."
"Well?" he asked me.
"I have not been telling lies about you." I said. I could not for the world remember talking about this blue-scaled creature, but my voice trembled ever so slightly.
"Liar! You said to this man;" the lizard nodded to the Captain of the Order of the Basilisk; "that you had seen that I had kidnapped him."
"That is not true." I said. "Please remove your knife from my throat."
Larloch glanced at the people surrounding me, and realized he was outnumbered. If he were to harm me, he would also be signing his own death sentence. He put the knife back into its sheath.
"What the lady said;" the Captain looked sternly at Larloch; "was merely that she remembered me walking off with you after I politely wished her a good morning." I nodded in agreement.
"I have never seen you kidnap the Captain here." I tried to re-assure Larloch.
Larloch, in his turn, nodded, but he looked very thoughtful at the Captain, the Lord and me. Then he turned around and walked away with his bunch.
I turned towards Lord Thorongil and the Captain, trying to control my shaking hands.
"See? That is exactly the type of thing that should not be occurring in this city!"
The Captain apologized. "We've had some trouble with him and his group. They usually terrorize the slums, and the vicinity of the slums. Your house is not built in the safest part of town."
Lord Thorongil continued. "We will of course try to protect you, that is something I owe every one of my citizens. But I can at this time not spare anyone to be your guard. I hope you do understand. With the monsters attacking and the trouble brewing inside the city, I need all the men I can get. I can not spare a single one."
"Please;" the Captain of the Order of the Basilisk said, and he took my arm; "allow us to accompany you to your safe home."
I smirked. After the furniture being upended and the windows being thrown in, I had quite had it with my house.
"I am afraid I've taken to another place of lodging. For the time being I reside in the inn. My house has been so thoroughly molested and raided, it looks like a war has been going on in it. Half the furniture is gone, there is nothing left of value, and I had the Dwarves cut down a tree from my garden to block the entrance. I figured that was the only way my house could be safe. Even if I can't access it either."
I paused for a second. "In the future, I hope the city will be safe again, so that a woman alone can live in a house where here possessions and herself are safe."
Continue to Part II >>