The Riverbank/ chapter 2 of Into Norwood/ book 1of Emperors and Exiles trilogy

Map of Purt during Gerome's rule

Map of Purt during Gerome’s rule

Chapter Two                              .

The Riverbank

Oirion headed to the “smallest darkest tavern he could find” on Harbor street.  He had been there the first day ad knew the way.  They would have met there if Oirion had not altered the plans that afternoon by deciding to go to a play.  Oirion and Jamie split up to meet up after they both made sure they were not followed.

Oirion went faster than he normally would have but he felt he needed a drink before facing whatever evil it was that had brought him to Brosten.  He drew a battered hood over his head and kept up the pace of one who knows where he is going and just wants to get there.  Even still, he back-tracked and confused his trail.  Twice he stopped, waited and watched, then moved on again.

There was something brewing under the crowds and streets of Brosten and every instinct told him to go quickly and find support, but he stayed, paused, and watched.  There was no support to find, his Church was corrupt and had cast him out, wizards were rogues, and wealth was dirty.  Whatever path he took, he had only one friend and that was Jamie.

Folding his arms over his chest, he pulled his cloak tight with a shiver, knowing very well that whatever was stirring in the shadows was a darkness he and Jamie could not have bested when they were at their closest.  Now they would be lucky to even understand who their enemy was before they were over-taken.  He wondered if Jamie was aware of that truth.

Dark thoughts plagued him as he reached the tavern. It was a horrid little wreck of a building.  The door had been broken many times, only to be nailed back together.  The window was boarded up and the stink of a hundred years of debauchery hung heavy in the air.  Even new, this place had to have been cheap and poorly made.  Now it was held together with borrowed lumber and heavy nails, crumbling and patched plaster, and a hundred years of grime.  He found it a little funny that the name of the place was the Broken Door.  There was some humor to that at least.

The people inside were as broken and run-down as the building.  Oirion made it to the bar and dug a few purposely broken coins out of his pocket.  He was over-dressed, but not too far from a red light district, so random wealthy lords would not be too uncommon here.  He didn’t think he looked noble and he certainly didn’t feel it, but perhaps a man like him might be hired to watch the back of a young lord, such as Jamie would appear to be when he got there.

“Whiskey,” he said.  He left the chopped coins on the bar top.  By old imperial law, the broken coins were not legal, but the laws of recent had changed that.  Silver and gold coins both, even copper and tin coins had been chopped into bits.  It made the poor able to use “coins” and maintain a hint of currency rate, but barely.  The economy across the globe was driven by the Church and the Church was driven by the pontiff.  Something in his chest tightened, maybe in anger, at the thought of the pontiff even considering they chop the coins apart.

It seemed a crime to chop a coin that was older than most trees in the empire and held a magic that kept them untarnished and mint fresh.  The faces of the empire, the great holy albatross, the avatars, angels, and emperors were all there.  The empire of the past was slowly being removed from the very hands of the people.

Oirion got a battered cup with room-warm whiskey in it.  He held it a moment, then shot the drink in one swallow and ordered another.  The second one he sipped slowly, waiting until Jamie arrived.

Jamie joined him without a word.  He looked tired and leaned on the bar with both arms and asked for wine in a weary voice.  Oirion put the coins out before the man returned with the wine.

“Long day today?” Oirion asked, trying to remember if Jamie looked that tried when he had first gotten to the inn that afternoon.

“They are so afraid of their own gifts, it’s hard to get them to even begin to see anything good in it.  Of all magics, healing should always be seen as evidence of Divine Will.” He sighed heavily and shook his head.  “It’s sad, Oirion, just sad.” Jamie’s mind had clearly gone back to his classes and he seemed to have forgotten the play.

“It’s wrong, Jamie.  Even in our lifetime things have changed.  The human population just passes too quickly and the fewer and fewer Purtans who are alive to maintain the continuity… the worse things get.”

“Careful, Oirion,” Jamie said softly.  “God only knows how closely they watch you and what they listen for.  They want you as proof wizardry is dangerous and such talk will do more then get you arrested.  But, yes, I know.  I see it.  As much as the church is not what it was when we were young, I’m sure it is less what it was in days past than it was in our youth.  For nearly an entire age, the Church of Purt has been a beacon of light and tolerance and now… its own people are scared to even lift their eyes.”  He nodded to the man who brought the wine.

“Glasses, sir?” the man asked.

“No,” Jamie said.  “Thank you, the bottle will be good enough.”  He took a drink of the wine and turned for the door.  Oirion took the last of his whiskey in one swig and they left.  Jamie offered him the bottle once outside, but Oirion shook his head and let Jamie keep it.

They didn’t talk as they walked.  They cut though the lower streets and slums of the city, down to the river and past long-abandoned buildings and collapsed homes.  They hopped a low stone wall and scrambled down a steep bank to the river.  Under a massive bridge that was threatening collapse, they stopped.  Under its great stone arches they were well out of sight from above or from a distance.  It was a good place for crime to unfold unseen.

“This the place?” Jamie asked.

“According to Tyven’s map, it is.”  Oirion handed Jamie several pages of the sketches he had been given before trying to line up the ones he still held.

“So this is that view?”  Jamie held up the sketch into the light of the moons to get a good look at them, but wasn’t sure.  It seemed very hard to see how the pictures and the place lined up until he held a sketch perfectly in line with the pillars of the bridge.  The random lines and body placement became rather clear.  On its own, the sketch could have been anything.  Jamie stepped back, putting reference points in line.  He shook his head.  “This is bad, Oirion.”

Oirion joined his partner to look over his shoulder at the sketch.  What looked like a group murder began to take on a new level of bad.  From here, at this angle they could see the bodies were put out in a circle.  Random looking lines drawn on the paper began to show something far more menacing then serial murders.

“It’s a Demon Ring,” Oirion said softly.  He looked around at the site again and saw how very well they were hidden both from the paved streets above as well as from the river below.  The ground rose up just right here to make a hidden level that had been home to the homeless and most recently to a very gruesome murder.

It was spooky in its desolation and made eerier in that it was in the center of the Brosten, or close to it.  In every direction they could see the lights of the city and from here might even have had hope of being heard if they called for help.

“It’s been cleaned up pretty well,” Oirion said. Someone had cleaned up, not just the murders, but the entire area of everything.  This place would have otherwise been filthy, but now was almost spotless.  There was no garbage, not even clumps of mud.  It had been swept clean of even the natural mess.  The worst part was that the police weren’t the ones doing it.

“So who’s doing it?”  Jamie asked, as if reading Oirion mind.  “There’s no stains, no taste, nothing.”  He sighed and put the page down.  “You really think the Church is cleaning it up or are the Summoners cleaning up?  If they do it again, will they leave it to be found?  If they are going to so much work to hide it, why not clean it up right away?”

“I don’t know,” Oirion said. “I’m not a demon master; I don’t know anything more about it than you do… less probably.” Oirion stood in the center of where the summons had taken place.  “We can’t even guess at it until we know who is behind the clean-up.  If Tyven is right, it’s the local church.”

“I don’t want to think that just yet,” Jamie said, bending down to run his fingers over the dirt to try to pick up any energy, but shook his head as he stood.  “Let’s go.  There’s nothing to see here in the dark any way,” he said uneasily.

They headed back up the long hill to the streets above.  It was a steep climb and they had to crawl back over the stone wall that ran along the top of the banks edge.  Oirion stopped and looked back just as he got to the street level.  As he did, he saw something move, down near the water.

He froze in the instinct of one who doesn’t want to be seen and he let his eyes search the dark carefully.  Jamie was still so in tune with him on that level that he caught the motion and did the same.  Oirion saw nothing more, but there was a chill to the air that was not natural.  A deep darkness moved before the fog that was creeping up from the river.

“Let’s stay out of the fog,”  Jamie said softly.  Oirion agreed.  Maybe all he had seen was the first of the wisps of night mist; maybe whatever he saw was going to hide in the fog and it was better not to meet it just yet.  With Jamie’s concern to back him up, it was time to go.

They moved quickly and silently up the streets toward the inn.  They had spent many years in the forests of Norwood and had seen many things.  They had learned to know what they were about to fight before getting in a battle. It had kept them alive for decades past the normal lifespan of Hunters.  Something was in the city and it was far more than just another vampire, a mere ghost, or a serial murderer.

They had been doing this too long to have any illusions that it was something so simple.

“I don’t know what it is, but I don’t like it,” Jamie said, once they were back to the inn.  He turned from the stairway leading to their room to go to the tap room.  Oirion followed, not ready yet to be shut into a small space.  It wasn’t so much the riverside that was bothering Oirion now, but the feeling he was again being followed.  It was almost as if whatever was at the river had caught his scent and was now creeping after him, like a hobgoblin after a child in the woods.

He chose a table while Jamie ordered a pitcher and mugs from the bar.  The inn was quiet, even with the crowd that had gathered.  Like many of the places that still hung onto the Purtan feel, the crowd tended to be older travelers and here to relax, not to cause trouble.  The tavern still held the decorative wooden detail, lost to the dark and could not be seen fully with the lamps the owner could afford.

Once this place had been lit with the magic of the city.  The king on his throne had infused the entire city with light, offering heat and running water for all the buildings built by the imperial design.  Now, with the king not chosen by the true emperor and thus not blessed by the angels, the lights had gone out.  It was not just in Brosten, but all cities of Purt had fallen dark.  Sewers no longer ran and water did not flow as it had once.  The city had become stagnate.  For good reason the older Purtans were right to deny Gerome as ruler of church and state.

Jamie set the full mugs down with care.  “You sure we want to get involved?”  he asked.

Oirion looked up at his partner.  They had fallen so far apart that such a statement seemed odd.  Had they lost what it was to be Hunters?  How could they not be involved, and yet Oirion felt it as well.  He felt too old, too tired, and too distant to really feel it was his problem at all.  Jamie met Oirion’s eyes as he sat.

“We escaped once; you really think he is going to let us do it again?” Jamie asked him.

Oirion felt his heart tighten.  They had never spoken of that year, of the truth of things.  Oirion could not remember any of it, but it haunted him.  Jamie never mentioned that year once the Church had stopped asking.  Everything had seemed to be in order, but Oirion had never felt it to be true.  With that one question, it seemed Jamie knew it was a lie as well.  Oirion wondered if Jamie had lied to him about the validity of the reports… or had blindly lied for him to the demanding questions of the church officials.  Either way, once they had left the healers, they simply pretended it had never happened.  He wondered if Jamie realized that Oirion didn’t remember anything but shadows and flickering nightmares.

“If it’s that big, who else can hope to do anything about it?  As far as they know, we are unaware of anything,” Oirion said.

“…as far as we know, Oirion.  That does not mean it’s fully true.  I just don’t want to get into this and find out you don’t want to be in it at all.”

“Of course I don’t want to be in it,” Oirion said, taking his mug, annoyed at the world and nearly everything in it.  “However, the reality is that we both are in already, if we want to be or not.”  He looked back up to his blond friend.  “Do we step aside and ignore it or do we step up and face it head on, is the question, and what’s the bigger sin?”

Jamie jerked the tie out of his hair to ruffle up the blond curls.  He took a drink of his beer, clearly troubled.

“I am involved with the classes.  There isn’t much I can just go do.  The best I can do is try to keep their eyes on me and try to figure out clues you gather.  I’m honestly shocked the Archbishop hasn’t stepped in and put us under watch yet.  I am sure he will if we are here too long.  All I know is there was something out there and there was someone who went to a lot of work to hide things.”

Oirion nodded.  “I know, Jamie,” he said.  He stopped from saying more as he noticed a man slip into the tap room, a man who was doing a good job at hiding his face in his hood and yet was not so good as to hide the fact Oirion had seen the hood before.  He took a sip of beer as the man sat at the bar.

Oirion didn’t like it.  He had spent too many years living a double life to be so accepting of someone following him.  It seemed when they did, it was never for anything good.

“Relax.” Jamie said.  “You look ready to choke someone.”

“I don’t like being followed,” Oirion muttered, but he did relax and leaned back in the chair.  “So what are you teaching?”  He changed the subject.

“The basics: how to ground and find center.  I have been introducing the concepts of shields and transferred energy.  It’s almost shocking how little they know.  Many of them are even afraid to hear what I am saying, let alone do it.  You know, I really do not think God intended for us to lose the knowledge of all of this,” he said, repeating what he had been thinking earlier in that night.

“You think God intended for the Empire to fall?”

“The Empire didn’t fall on its own, Oirion.  It was betrayed,” he said with a little more force than Oirion expected.  Jamie grunted and poured himself more beer.  “Free will is a powerful thing, Oirion.  God will aid those who serve His will, but we have to choose to do so.”  Oirion watched his partner drink while he slowly sipped at his own mug of dark beer.

Jamie had changed in the last few years.  He had actually put on weight.  He wasn’t fat, but he had developed an unlikely heaviness to him that healers just didn’t carry in their own bodies.  He had also let his hair grow longer than normal, perhaps in an attempt to control it better.  It was normally tied up tightly, the curls bound into obedience.  But there was more to it than that.  Oirion couldn’t put his finger on it exactly, but his partner didn’t look healthy in spite of the fact he was a master healer.  Oirion had to wonder why Jamie would let himself go that much.  The man’s good looks had become a tool he had learned to use well.  To let that slip from him was to lose one of the best weapons he had in the games of politics that they had to play in Koss.

He looked away from Jamie when a young man walked up to them.

“Fathers Oirion and James?”  the young man asked.

“Why is Oirion always first?”  Jamie asked, leaning back and looking up.  “Why is it not James and Oirion?”

“What do you want?”  Oirion asked.

“Uh..,” he faltered over Jamie’s question.  “The Archbishop has requested you to come to the palace.”

Jamie grunted.  “Of course he has.”  He took a long drink.

“Tonight?”  Oirion asked.  “It is late.  We were just headed to bed.”

“Tonight.  He has rooms ready for you, I am sure.”

“Alright.” Jamie drained his mug.  “Shall we then?”

“Let’s go get our things.  Come along.  You can help carry it all.”  Oirion pushed himself up from the table.

“Uh… yes, of course,” the young man muttered, clearly not having expected that.

Jamie got up, shaking his head. “Why do I so not like this?” he asked his partner.

“Because we don’t like being put in cages,” Oirion said.  “Come then, young man.  Let’s get up to the Archbishop.  We’d hate to make him wait.”

The archbishop’s palace was accessed only through the grounds of the Cathedral of Saint Tyra’ellen.  Oirion and Jamie did not have to even look at each other as they reached the great double doors.  Burdened with their travel-worn, torn and emergency-mended packs, they matched stride as they hit the aisle.  They went together, up the center toward the sanctuary.  In perfect unison they dropped their packs at the foot of the three steps leading up to the altar and sank to a knee.  Both men bowed their heads and fell into a prayer trance.  It would take hours and the archbishop would have to wait for them or go to bed.  Either way, they felt it well worth the sore knee.

Both of them were unhappy.  The fact that as soon as they gone to one of the murder sites they were called up to the palace was an even worse sign than the uneasy distaste of fog.

They took their time and let habit and their soul-bound energy work together.  They both allowed the energy to pass and flow between them, sharing the cares and powers the other held.  Wizard became healer and healer became wizard.  The unity of energies lingered a moment. Only rarely did they play this game now, since what always seemed to happen after that missing year was that as they lifted from trance, the balance of energy and peace was replaced with a mutual unease.

They were both settled in their depths, but were made even more uneasy and tense with each other.  It had been years since they had even attempted using that magic because both held parts of their souls in reserve behind very carefully constructed shields.

They rose and lifted their heavy packs.  They didn’t look at each other; neither one of them wanted to see if the other felt the same unease and shielded distance.

The young priest at the side bowed and led them to the archbishop’s chambers.

The Archbishop of Fairwah was not at all pleased to have been kept waiting.  Jamie had to work to hide his smile, but Oirion, as always, kept a perfectly stone-cold face.  The man they were taken to was a human in his seventies and looked it.  He was thin as a rail, nearly bald with a rather skeletal appearance.  His long boney hands gripped his cane as he stood glaring at the two of them.  Oirion, with perfect obedience went to him and bowed.  The man stuck out his hand to be kissed.  Oirion did not touch the man, but bowed to kiss the ring he wore.

“You’re Grace,” Oirion said simply.

“I heard you decided it was time to pray,” the archbishop said in a stern voice that was not the least amused.  His eyes were on Jamie.  The blond priest followed his partner’s example, trying to hide his distaste for it all.

“It seemed only right to pray for purification,” Jamie said, “before we came into your house.”  He bowed with a hand on his chest.  He might distrust the man before him, but he was a performer and knew his way to charm.

“You are bishops; you should always walk in purity,”  the old man scolded them.

“Yes, indeed.”  Jamie said.

“We might hold the title,” Oirion said, “but we remain Hunters… only now we do it in the city limits.  Koss is not a pretty city.  Time for reflection and prayer is very limited.  I assumed you knew this and that was why you asked us here… that we might have peace to think and pray.”

Jamie was impressed at how well Oirion was playing this.  Normally the man would say the blunt truth and seem either insane or very hostile.  Several arrests must have tamed his temper a bit.

“Two bishops come into my city and they do not come to me?  You do not even send word that you have arrived and are working in my city.  The constable may have asked you to come, but I am still you superior and you should have come to me at once.”

“We did not think our short visit worthy of your attention,” Oirion said with a shrug, once again taking the attention off of Jamie.  “Your Grace would forgive us if it seemed a slight. You are a busy man, I am sure, and we are just over-glorified Hunters.”

The archbishop, as well, seemed oddly surprised at Oirion’s manner.  He slowly looked back to Jamie.

“Don’t you think that before you teach a class on magics that you should have done a purifying blessing?”

“Very true,”  Jamie simply, bowing his head again.

The archbishop nearly snarled. “You have spent time with the constable?”

“Shortly,” Jamie said.  “It is his men I am teaching, but he seems very busy.  He was good enough to play billiards one evening, but he was very tired and said little.”

“He has not asked for your aid on any cases?”

“Why would he?” Jamie asked.  “Is there a vampire in the city?”

“Possibly,” the old man said with a wave of his hand.  “It need not bother you.  As you said, rest and retreat would be good for you both.  The matter is being dealt with.”

“Then I shall worry only for the teaching of the men I came here to educate in the name of God.”

“I expect to see you at morning mass then.”

They both nodded to him before they were led from the archbishop’s meeting chambers to quarters of their own.

Jamie glanced around the very ornate room as he tossed his packs to a chair.

“What do you think?”  he asked.

Oirion grunted as he set his own packs on the floor.

“I don’t think he likes you, Jamie,” Oirion said, sinking into a chair.

“Really?  Whatever gave you that impression,” he said with mock shock.

“I don’t think it will matter too much.  You will be very busy with that class and not here to be pestered by him.”

“And you?”  Jamie asked, as he dropped into a chair.

“I suppose I will try and study a little, rest a little…”  He shrugged.  “I was rather enjoying just walking around the city,” he lied as he looked around the room.  It was overdone to the point of being gaudy, not Purtan at all.  Under the layers of wooden paneling, gold gilding and almost chaotically decorated furnishings, the original Purtan walls were all but hidden away.  He had no doubt the room had magics set in place to both watch them and listen to them.  There was little doubt that Jamie didn’t know it as well.

“I guess if we are to be at the mass in the morning we should try and get some sleep,” Jamie said.

Oirion sighed. “I do not like this place,” he said getting up.

“Why?”  Jamie asked, more of why Oirion would say it out loud than why he would dislike it.

“It reminds me of my childhood.  It stinks of wealth.  I think I prefer the woods.”

Jamie laughed a little. “You’re an odd man, Oirion.”

Oirion smiled. “That I am,” he agreed.  “You care what bed you have?”

“No.”  Jamie said glancing at the set of beds that stood on the back wall with just a side table between them.  “Is that normal?  Two beds in a room like this?”

“It is a guest room.”  Oirion shrugged.  “Does it matter?”

“No.  Just odd we are sharing a room and didn’t get separate chambers.”

“If the archbishop wants to house us for the stay, then why would he be expected to give us separate chambers?  We aren’t that important.”

“Just… odd, I guess.”  He shrugged it off and got up to unpack so he could get into bed.

It was odd and they both knew it.  At least there were two beds this time.  Several times they had been put into places with just one small bed.  One or the other of them always made a point of making a bed on the floor or in a chair.

They had enough rumors and trouble; they didn’t need to be set up for more.  Intimacy of the bedroom sort, between men, was forbidden in the Empire these days, even between soul-bound partners.  Oirion tried to sleep but his mind kept coming back to his worries, to the darkness that had hunted the jewler and now the movement in the fog.  He did not sleep at all but watched the sky beyond the window slowly turn pink as morning drew closer.

The city of Brosten, like all of the old Purtan design, was a mix of lines and simplicity.  Grace was found in smooth flowing energy and the paths it followed.  Simplicity was an art of stone and magic.  The smallest detail was seen to and became art far more powerful than all the ornate boldness of humanity. The basilica had once been an example of that, but in the last thousand years it had been build around.  Its yards and parks had been turned into streets and gray stone buildings.

The building itself was altered and layered on with so much ornate stone, carvings, and paint that it was not even recognizable.  The once white smooth lines were hidden away to show off the wealth of the Church in complexity that was distracting and overdone.  Oirion did not like it at all.  He hated the alterations that were even more ornate inside the walls than on the outside.  He had grown up in untouched Purtan halls of what had once been the private estate of the King of Valreen and the layering of complexity seemed very offensive to him.

Where carefully laid out gardens and waterways once calmed the soul on the way to the basilica, there now was a narrow pathway and side streets from the archbishop’s palace to the basilica.  On the outside of those were no gardens either, but walled up walk-ways connecting streets with shops on the street level and apartments above them.  Fountains were no longer flowing.  They were seeping up enough water or holding enough rain to be water holes for horses and other domestic animals, but nothing of grace or beauty.

The collapse of the water system did not help the city with smell or cleanliness.  Oirion tried not to be annoyed by it all, but focused on walking to the place they were headed toward.  Once again the lack of a true king had turned beauty into ruin and that knowledge along with the stink of the city made him angry and short-tempered.

They had to pass through an indoor garden gate to a courtyard that ran along the front and sides of the building.  Here candles burned.  Priests and acolytes prayed in silence and privacy before entering the basilica itself.

The Holy Alcove up front was no longer simple in its holiness as it had been in the days of the empire, but was lit with candles and wizard lights, covered in gold leaf and set with a thousand small golden figurines of angels.  It was dazzling and almost made Oirion feel dizzy in the complex layers.  The rows of pews that faced the altar up front had changed little and seemed oddly out of place in the show of wealth and grandeur.

They slowly made their way to the side and took a seat at the end of the pew.  It was there that the altar boys sat.  The boys tried not to stare at the two famous men, but failed.  One wide-eyed boy who looked at Oirion was so in awe, he wasn’t about to pay attention to the mass.  Oirion ignored him, as he tried to ignore everyone who looked at him like that.  Some how when the mass started Oirion was not surprised that it was Gallus, not the archbishop, who led the service.

They fell into the rhythm of the words of the mass.  It had been years since both of them had been to a celebration that they were not part of.  It was odd to sit there, side by side with nothing to do but follow along.  It was a rare person who did not know the words.  It seemed all the world knew the words, but sometimes Oirion could not help but think it unlikely all the world felt the words.

Oirion tried not to think as he knelt.  His knees ached with the changing weather and the length of time he had spent on them last night.  His back was starting to ache, as well; there would definitely be a weather change.

Jamie cleared his throat softly as the people filed up to be blessed and to get a pinch of bread and a sip of wine. Oirion looked over just enough to see his partner.  Oirion followed Jamie’s line of sight to the balcony above.

There was a man up there, back in the shadow trying not to be seen.  That was clear in just looking at him. Oirion wasn’t sure how he knew the man wasn’t a priest, but a mercenary. He was not, however, but one of the watchers who had followed Oirion in the city.  It must have something about how he stood.  Oirion wasn’t sure, but he knew in his gut it was truth.  Over the years he had learned to trust his instincts.  Oirion let his eyes move along the back wall, not showing he had had even seen the man.

“Something’s up,” Jamie said softly.

Oirion had to agree.  He hadn’t been able to sleep for the feeling that he was walking into a trap with his eyes shut.  He didn’t like anything about this trip.  \As the last of the faithful went through the line, Bishop Gallus moved to serve the front pew.  They all stood up to receive his blessing and his gifts.  The man muttered his prayers and smiled at each boy as he gave them their bit.

He was a friendly looking man with a fatherly appearance to him.  He seemed an odd pick for a bishop.  Usually only the most rigid of priests got power… men like Oirion had once been.  The idea that Armond was talking to him didn’t seem so strange as he served the mass.

“His blessing upon you:  Share in His strength.”  The bishop held up the pinch of bread for Oirion to take.  Oirion took the bead in his hand, showing his rank as ordained priest that allowed him to hold it.  He put it in his own mouth himself.

“Share in His Life.” Gallus offered the chalice of wine.  Oirion took it in his fingers and lifted it, but he didn’t take any.  He merely let it touch his lips.  Bishop Gallus moved onto James and went though through the ritual again.  Jamie and Oirion sank to their knees as the chubby man ate the last of the bread and drained the wine.  He and his boys cleaned up and cleared the Holy articles before they knelt as well.  The bishop got up and began his last blessing.  There was a final note for the people before he and his young aids made the procession down the aisle and out.

The bishop was a great actor.  If Oirion was not certain that he had played billiards with the old bishop, Oirion would have not thought the man had any idea who he was.  That ability had likely kept Gallus alive long enough to become bishop in the first place.  It was hard to trust anyone with such acting skills, though.

“I have to get to the barracks.”  Jamie said, getting up with a wince.  “My knees are not so happy about the stone steps,” he smiled, “but it was worth it.  I’ll see you later.”

“Watch your back, James,” Oirion said, slipping into the pew to sit back and let the crowd leave before he got up.  He would spend the day in the holy compound, go down to the library and see what he could find. Maybe he would be inspired and something useful would fall into his hands.  He would play the game and his watchers would see him as just an old hobbling priest, too battered and tired to be of any threat.

The library of Brosten, like most ancient cathedrals, was old and expansive.  Tall book shelves stood in lines that gave a person just room to walk through them.  Shelf after shelf ran in rows, with breaks to allow one to move from aisle to aisle.  In the back of the great hall that held the books was a reading area with a number of long narrow tables.  Here a few mage lamps were glowing, giving light to read by around the clock. Oil lamps and candles simply could not be risked.

The smell of the library reminded him of his childhood at the monastery.  He had feared the room, but loved it.  He’d hide up on the balcony to read.  Waiting until dark to slip out, when no one would be around, he’d try to get to his room without incident.  Once upon a time, he had loved to read.  He had studied and written his reports with great care only to see those reports in the mud so many times before he lost the desire.  Most often those reports were knocked out of his hands by Jamie.

He sighed, shaking the past away.  He had hated those years and most all of it due to Jamie.  Jamie had been everything Oirion had not been.  He had been stunningly handsome, brilliant in class, gifted at everything he tried and, sadly, a very cruel bully.  Jamie had hated Oirion.  Oirion had been the rich fat red-headed boy with glasses that the poverty-stricken bully had taken all his anger out on.  Most of his adolescent years had been spent bruised, suicidal, and hiding from Jamie.

Oirion walked the aisle of the library not really looking for anything exactly, just letting his mind wander.  He and Jamie never spoke of those years or of family.  It was rather like the year that was lost… they never spoke of it.  Oirion still looked through crowds for faces of people he could not remember clearly; he woke from dreams missing people without names.  Maybe if he understood, if he remembered those names and faces, he might have talked to Jamie about it, but he just didn’t remember.

Reaching the end of the aisle, he crossed the open space to sit at a table with a book already there.  It was a great tome, leather-bound and dusty.  It was also spell-locked.  Curious for a moment, he slipped the lock open with barely a thought, careful to hide that he had done it, and opened the book.  He nearly laughed.

It was a book of stories; standard childhood stories, yet the pages were stunningly painted in fantastic detail. Each story had the well know lore, but also information on the true events, often with references to historical tomes.

There were also short stories on different heroes.  Followed by the true facts about the person and other random interesting information.  It wasn’t hard to get lost in the stories, even though he had heard them all.

He was reading when the door open.  He glanced up as one of the men who were sent to watch Oirion entered. He put the face to memory; he wouldn’t overlook that face again.  Pretending not to have noticed, he returned to the book and its entertainment.  It was not the man from the inn, he knew that much.   This one had revealed his face, though; Oirion would know him anywhere now.  A moment later an altar boy brought in a wooden tray with a cup of tea on it.

“Your tea, Father,” he said, as he set it on the table beside the chair.  Oirion looked up at the young man.  He was average looking, but he had the feel of one who is older then he looks. “The book you asked for,” he said, offering a black book that was rather small, but thick.  It was a copy of the writings of Saint Augustine.  He bowed as Oirion took the book.

“Thank you,” Oirion said, not really sure what was going on, but not about to play ignorant in front of the man who was in the room watching him.

“Keep it as long as you wish.  The bishop has several copies and would be honored if you had one.”

“Thank him for me when you see him.  I may not get the chance to.”

“Of course.  Good day, Father.”

“Good day,” Oirion said, setting the large story book aside.  He opened the book in his hand and found that it was just a cover of the saint’s writings.  It was not the writings of Augustine at all.  He flipped through the pages, slowly turning them as if looking for a passage that he would have taken into interest.  It was a Book of Summons, a very illegal book of summons.

The book was so old the pages were yellowed and the writing was in Old Purtan.  The language was once the common language of the people of Purt.   Now it was all but dead and lost.  Only priests and wizards still spoke it and fewer could read it.  He closed the book and sat awhile with it in his hand.  He took a few sips of tea, then rose and left the basilica.  He walked slowly back to the palace, letting himself take on the limp that was natural to him.  His spine and left hip had a stitch to them that he hid well most of the time, but now he let it show and allowed himself to look older and more helpless than he truly was.  His back ached, his bones ached in places he could not recall injuries happening, and today he felt old.  He knew he had been seriously injured in that missing year, but even with the help of Jamie, there was nothing to be said or learned or eased.  He was stuck with it.

He was met at the gate by a young woman in men’s clothing.  She wore a sash across her chest that marked her as a letter carrier.

“Father Oirion?”  she asked.

“Yes?”

“This is for you.  Would you sign, please?”  She held out a book as well as several letters for him to sign for.  They were in a bundle that had been forwarded from his Chapter House to here.  He thanked her and turned toward the palace with the bundle under his arm.

He didn’t open any letters or the bundle until he was in his room.  He took a seat at the table and untied the string.  He began to go through the letters and to read through them quickly.   Most were invitations to long overdue events, some as the son of Lord Hennen and some as the famous Hunter, Father Oirion.  One was a letter from his bother saying that he was engaged to be married again, and he would like Oirion to perform the marriage; it was two years old.  He set it aside; he’d have to write back and explain.  Another was telling him that his cousin had died.

There was a letter from his father that was, as always, lecturing and complaining about Oirion having abandoned his family and his home and that it wasn’t natural and this and that.  It was all the same things for all of Oirion’s life. Only one letter caught his eye.  It was beautifully written, an invitation to Awens from the Crown Prince himself, Tharadon Lords.

The letter wasn’t old but the date to come was several days past and for whatever reason he felt a pang of loss and regret; he’d have to write the prince back and apologize and this time sincerely. He leaned back in the chair, slid Tharadon’s letter into his inner vest before he tossed the rest of the letters aside for whatever servant to pick up and go through.

He let his annoyance settle before he opened the book that had been sent to him.  Inside were more sketches and Oirion assumed the book was from the constable.

He took out the sketches and began to look for relating details.  He was half-way through the book when he came to a folded letter.

“I need to talk to you.  Meet me at the Goblins Pot. After dark, as soon as possible, and hide this book.”  Touching the letter Oirion knew the book was not from whom he had thought, but someone else who had a good idea what was going on.  This book was from someone who risked a great deal to own it.  He set the two books aside and looked at them.  How had he gained two different books of summons from different sources in one day?  He felt very uneasy and if someone was setting him up.  Those two books would need to disappear and be kept far away from him.  Should the Church catch him with them he’d be excommunicated and put to death… or worse.

Oirion left his room.  He would miss dinner, but that would be alright.  He could explain well enough, he supposed.  It was almost dark and if someone needed to talk to him, he was not going to miss it for a formal dinner that he did not want to go to anyway.  He could feel his followers as soon as he left his room.  He took a slow limping pace, out of the halls, into the church proper, stopped to pray a moment, then out the main doors.

He was a Hunter; he had been trained to hunt and to hide.  He had been hunted by vampires and demons and this little game was little more than childs play.  He could have lost them at that point, but that was too easy.  He did not want them to know he had slipped them.  He would lead them into the city, then vanish on them.  It would not be that hard and he might well get a better look at them.

The markets would be open yet and busy this time of night as people got their last tasks done for the day.  The trick he used was simple enough.  He rounded a corner, pulled up his hood and stood up against the wall.  When the follower came around the corner Oirion cast a little flicker of energy onto a man going into a book store.  It was just enough to make a tail have his attention put to the book shopper.  It was often enough to make the tracker think the flicker of energy was his target.

The man, the one from the inn, moved across the street to take a seat and wait.  Another man joined him.  They spoke a moment.  The second man went up the street to cover the other direction.  Oirion turned, going back the way he had come.  He had seen them, but not much better than he had before.

He was known to be a great Hunter and yet few noted he was also a wizard.  Even if he wanted to deny it, he knew he was a powerful one.  He also knew things he could not recall learning and had found himself using magic often in small things ever since that year.  Everything seemed to go back to then… he pushed it out of his head and focused on the moment.

He knew where the Goblins Pot was.  It was down near the port and overlooked the ships’ harbor.  The usual customers were ship captains and less rowdy merchants.  It was designed to be private and safe with several ways out, but only one way in.

It was an old place, dating back into the imperial days.  It was well taken care of and had a menu of food options and a wall of drink choices.  Oirion kept his cloak around him to hide the robe he wore under it.  He hadn’t been able to change clothes, but the cloak he had was full and long.

Choosing a table, he sat down near the fire and wondered if he was reading a note that was not even to him.  Here he was alone and without having told Jamie.  This was madness and not safe at all.

He was about to leave when a man slipped into the chair across from Oirion. He was at least half Purtan.  He was decidedly handsome and very well dressed.

“I’m glad you decided to come,” he said.  “I can’t stay long, so I’ll talk fast.  The things that are going on are far bigger than you have any idea.  What I know is that it is a Master Summoner.  The bodies are not what are being used to summon, but are a blood price.  There is something that is being prepared for and the bodies found are the energy that will be used.  When that much power is released, it will be very, very, bad.  The archbishop has been working hard to frame me and I know that it is only a matter of time.  I have done all I could to learn what I could.

“And I am very scared for what they are doing.  I have never heard of any one as strong as what these seem to be.  They are shielding at a level that hides it all as it happens and has this city shielded as well.  It is like nothing else I have ever seen.  I cannot even begin to get word out and I cannot hope to escape.  All I can do is this,” he smiled warily: “get word to you that it is not me. I swear to every power Above and Below that it is not me.  There is an evil that is building here.  I do not know why or who, but it is big…” He looked at the door.  “Put you’re hood up and leave as soon as you can.”  He rose and slipped for the back door.  He darted for it as the front door opened and guards moved in.  Oirion bowed his head, let them pass and went out the front door.  He was far more troubled than he had been.

He had no idea who the man was or why he would talk to him, but there had seemed to be no hint of deception in the stranger.  Oirion scowled and picked up his pace.

Oirion found his way to the park and sat on a bench in the church yard.  He had hidden the books in plain sight, under a simple spell.  He layered on two illusions.  If the first spell was broken, the illusion of it being a book of poetry changed to suddenly being pornography. It would explain why he might wish to hide it and the second illusion was very strong and very well made. He figured that would make the searcher stop searching.  He just hoped the illusions of it all were not clearly made by a naive priest instead of a worldly pirate.  He was still on the bench when the archbishop walked up with an annoyed look.

“You missed dinner.”

Oirion looked up as if startled.  He looked at the old man in the near dark of the yard.  He reminded Oirion of something, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.

“What?”

“Dinner.  You missed it.”

“Oh.  Your Grace, I am so sorry.  I…” he looked around the yard.  “I lost track of time,” he rose to his feet.  “Please forgive me.”

“And what is it you were pondering here for so long?”

Oirion shook his head.

“I was lost in the past, recalling the many scars I have.  I am afraid the weather here is rather hard on me.  So low to the ocean the pressure is much heavier and my body aches.”

“Even with James as your partner?”

“If not for James, I would be dead.”  He half laughed.  “I am, however, very scarred.”  He made himself take a step with clear pain, putting his hand on his hip with a wince.

“I was going to ask you on a little vampire hunt.   Seems we found a man who has been in hiding, but I would not have you worry of it.”

Oirion smiled a little.  He wanted to be seen as weak and as not a threat at all by this man.

“I am sorry.  I truly feel my age these days.  I am afraid I am a constant drain on James at this point.  He suffers for that drain and both of us feel the years on the borders.  If you need any advice on the matter, though, my mind works well enough, I suppose.”

“If you like, I could assign you an aid,” the man said, watching Oirion with an odd expression to his face.

“That is very generous, but I am a stubborn man.  I would rather do it myself and suffer than have someone help me.”  Oirion said a bit ruefully “Maybe that is why I am so scarred.”

“You should at least come in and soak in the hot pools.”

Oirion nodded. “I think I shall, after I find a bite.”  He laughed a little to further reassure the higher ranking man.  “Again I am so sorry for missing dinner.”

“I shall see you in the morning then?”

Oirion bowed his head, feeling sick to his stomach.  He wanted to kill that man.  He wasn’t sure why, but he had to clench his fits against punching the man in the back of his head.  The archbishop strode away, leaving Oirion to the garden.

He had not even sat again or decided if he was going to go find food when Jamie was there.

“There has been another one,” he said in a low whisper, not even stopping in his walk.  “Let’s go.”

Oirion stepped back into the shadows of the wall and moved after his partner.  They did not use an exit at that point, but with several finger-holds went up and over the wall.  They took a moment to make sure the street was empty before they dropped down to the smooth pavement below and moved with a quick pace.   Jamie led the way, knowing where to go to meet the carriage that the constable had sent for them.  It was one of his own, driven by one of his best men.  They ducked inside and were moving at once.  Seeing them move, no one would have thought them to be old nor priests. They were, however, too good to be seen and slipped away like shadows.

The carriage took them to the lower side of the city, down near the docks where few people ever truly went, yet close to many areas of commerce.  They rode up to an old warehouse.  A few white-faced men stood outside, the unease clear in their stances and expressions.  Once out of the carriage, Oirion led the way into the building. He was impressed with how shielded the area was. He couldn’t feel anything out of the normal, but had a small unease in his gut that was more than the sight of the unhappy men outside.  Once inside, though, that changed.

The scene was dominated by the Summoner’s Ring which was drawn on the floor.  Both Oirion and Jamie stopped where they were to look at the horrific display.  The air stank of a foul smoke, blood, and death.  The ring itself was made of blood.  It was complex, made in three circles.  Jamie breathed in sharply at the sheer complexity at it.  Part of him had to admire the skill, even as much as it made him sick.

Laid carefully into the ring were bodies, one at the ends of each of the six sections. The constable knelt over one of the bodies while the few men in here held up lamps and a young woman was sketching it all as fast as she could.

“I’m glad you’re here.” Tyven stood.  He was white-faced, looking ill himself and a bit shaky.  “The thicker lines of the smearing are still sticky,” he said, wiping his hand on a cloth he tucked into his belt. “This is very fresh. The bodies were still warm when we got here.”

Oirion walked over to the nearest body.  It was that of a young woman.  She had been mutilated, clearly tortured, ending with her sexual organs pulled out and her breasts cut off.

“They are all like that,” the chief said, “except that one.”  He pointed to the body at the top of the ring.  That one was laid out spread-eagle and part of the ring itself.  Oirion walked over, careful not to step on the blood.

As soon as Oirion and Jamie stepped over the outer line of the ring, the shield that hid the place was broken and both he and Jamie felt as though they had been hit with a wall of foul air.  Jamie’s knees nearly buckled and Oirion had to catch him from falling.  Magics whispered in the back of Oirion’s mind, almost as if he could hear the echoes of the chanting that took place here.  He swallowed hard and steadied himself.  They walked over to the body Tyven had motioned to.

The victim was a young man, in his mid teens and noble by the look of his hair and face.  This was going to get attention.   His heart had been cut out and his throat neatly and cleanly cut.  He was cut down the fronts and sides of his legs.  He’d been sliced up the sides and down the insides of his arms, but he was clean.  He was totally white.  Drained of all blood and laid in place carefully, his cut-lines ran into the lines drawn on the floor, unbroken.

Oirion reached down to turn the arm just enough to look at the cut-line better, but as soon as he touched the skin, he was hit with a jolt of pain.  He felt as if he had been jerked hard enough to crack his spine in a hundred places, his shields were slammed with a power that left him deaf and stunned a moment, but more so, he saw and felt that same blackness he had seen a flicker of when he had given the blessing to the shopkeeper the day before.  This time it was sharper, closer.

Whatever evil was behind the darkness turned, alerted to Oirion’s presence by the touch on the dead boy. Oirion felt himself jerk back from the darkness, but the motion left something open and exposed and he heard the young man’s scream and felt the earth reel under him. He snatched back his hand, his fingers burning.  The foul taste filled his mouth and he was revolted, sickened by it.  He felt his back spasm in pain and various other old wounds exploded into his memory.  For a moment he felt and heard a raging river.

He actually made a fist, as he had once, closing around a belt that was only in his memory.  He choked on the nightmare dreams that felt as if they had been unlocked and yet were not ready to boil up; there were just too many of them.

He looked down at his hand and the whiteness of his fingers.  Drawing a shuddering breath, he made himself stand up, forcing himself not to vomit.

“Oirion, are you alright?” Jamie asked offering a hand to help steady him.

“Touch that and see what you feel?” he said carefully.  “Brace yourself first.”  Jamie knelt and touched the dead young noble.  He snatched his hand back, shaking it as if to get a foul thing off it.

“My God!” he breathed, going white.

“What?’  The constable asked.

James got up weakly.  “I need some fresh air,” he said, the sickness he felt audible in his voice.  He went outside quickly.

“The residue of the energy involved here seems to be on that one,”  Oirion said to Tyven when he had his breath back and they all stood outside. “Whatever dark power was here was cleaned up as it worked, except for that young man; something about him leaves him different…, he is separate from the others.  How?  Why?” he asked himself, trying to get as much information and insight as he could as fast as he could.  They needed to understand this right now.   Something this bad had to be stopped and the fact it had happened at all, let alone inside Purt, was almost beyond comprehension.

“Every Ring has a man laid out like that.  Usually it is a young person,” Tyven said.

“I want a list of the people in that position, everything about them, from their partners to their favorite foods.  There has to be a connection.  Why they are used and not one of the others.  It might be political, it might be the color of their hair, it might be their weight or height, or the type of blood.  Anything.”

“I’ll see to it.” Tyven promised.

“How did you find it?”

“Someone told one of the patrols that there was screaming going on down in this direction.  The officers who were told said the man was youngish and noble.  One thought he was Lord Hedren.”

“Lord Hedren?”

“He’s the son of a lord from Purz.  His father had an affair with a Purtan woman and he’s the result.  He’s a little rebellious, so he was sent up here to get him out of his father’s circle and to get him out of sight.  His father is making a bid for power and the young man was getting in the way.  I think that the old man bought the bastard a title and an estate and had the king here pretend to invite him up.  I’ve no idea what the bribery involved was, but the young man is here now and has never seen the king of Fairwah.  Whatever the case, he’s wild if nothing else.  He’s got balls and he uses them I understand – with anything that wants to be laid down.  Wouldn’t surprise me I mean, he has Purtan looks.”

“Has he been questioned?”

“Not yet.  We are going up to his estate as soon as we finish here.”

“Archbishop is on the way!”  comeone yelled a warning from up the street.  The woman who was sketching swore, gathered up her things, and took off at a jog to get out of sight.

“Actually, we’re leaving right now,” Tyven said.  “Coming?”

“I think so.  There’s nothing more I can do with that man around anyway.”  Oirion didn’t want to admit that he didn’t know what to do.  The three of them went to the front and loaded in to the constable’s carriage.  They were already moving as the archbishop’s elaborate carriage pulled up. A moment later and they would have been noticed as not just another bit of traffic but they escaped un-noted. They were around the corner and well up the next street before the old man stepped out of his carriage.

After a short visit to the estate of the young Purtan in question, they were sent on to a party across the city.  Tyven muttered under his breath about the unlikelihood that the man, being at such a party, actually had information on the crimes being committed miles from his home and further from where he was at.  Tyven grumbled all the way until they stepped out of the carriage.

“You expect the young man is here?” Jamie asked of the lights, music and loud bursts of youthful shrieks and laughter from the open windows of the grand house.

“I fully expect so,” Tyven said, “and if you two don’t want to come, I won’t blame you.”

The party was of those that always seem to be going on whose purpose was debauchery of all sorts, with no other real reason, and they saw that right away.  They were told to wait at the door and the servant of the house went to find the man.  After several minutes a young woman wearing next to nothing came and got them.  She led them through a grand hall where the wild party was going on.  It seemed nothing but immorality and fun.

The room was full of music, laughter, and drunkenness.  Several swings were hung from the ceiling with naked young people swinging in long arches through the crowds and sometimes not going back up, but provoking delighted cheering either way.  Many in the crowd wore nothing but paint, a mask and their hair.  There was a dwarven man who wore nothing at all except his hair and jewelry.  He was running about biting women anywhere they might have bare skin showing.

They were brought to a man in a side chamber that was far more subdued, but no less obscene.  He was digging in his coat pocket looking for something.  He was a slender man with the look of a Purtan.   He was striking, with ebony black hair, light blue eyes and clear fair skin. He was in the frilly style clothing that the young of the Southern Kingdoms seemed to have begun to favor in the last few centuries.

He found what he was looking for and pulled it out.  It was a crumpled letter.

“Hedren,” the constable said.  “You tell my men you heard screaming?”

“Yes, I did,” he said, “but I was told to.”  He held out the letter at Oirion. “See, this fellow met me in the street and told me to tell the patrol that there was something going on and then he gave me this… for Father Oirion,” he said.  He offered the letter with a bow and slow wicked wink.

“And you’re dutifully delivering?’  Tyven asked suspiciously.  Oirion took the crumpled letter.

“Now if you will excuse me, I am going to get drunk and commit all sorts of sins.  Care to join me, Father? I am certain I could send you home with new games to play.” He winked at Jamie.  “That is, if your partner wouldn’t mind, or better yet I could take you both on.”

“No, thank you,” Jamie said.  “There are some games we don’t play.”

“Suit yourself.”  He smiled and walked away with an elegant swagger.  Tyven was about to object, but Jamie stopped him with a small shake of his head as Oirion broke the wax seal on the letter and unfolded it carefully in case it had some sort of trap-spell on it.  He recognized the writing at once.  It was from the man from the Goblins Pot.

I was wrong.  This is worse than I thought.  I do not know what they are doing, but the victims are not being used as Blood price.  There is more to this than just demons summoning.  There is rune work that is involved and nothing like what I have ever seen.  I know of no one outside Norwood who would even begin to work at these levels.  I am very concerned, not only for the city, but the entire world.  I could see that there were 13 bloods in the working and that the demons they summoned are well known to them and working with them, not at all being forced.  At this point I would say that you should get yourself out of the city and find some real help.  I would die to see that you do get out before it’s too late.   Tysean Vallrin.

Oirion folded the letter neatly before he threw it into the fire.  Even if the ash was resurrected the unfolding would destroy it.  He stood a moment watching it burn before he turned from the fire

“Let’s go,” he said.

“Anything useful?”  Tyven asked.

“Not really,” Oirion said.  “It’s just an old acquaintance too afraid to have been the one to tell the guards.  It’s nothing.  Let’s go.”  He led the way out.  They took the carriage back to the constable’s headquarters, not saying much on the way.  As they pulled into the yard, Tyven seemed to come back from his own thoughts.

“It might be best if you are not seen with me.  The sooner you get out of your robes, the better.”  He grabbed the door and ducked out, abruptly shutting the door in Jamie’s face.  “Your Grace,” he said loud enough to be heard in the carriage.  “What brings you here?” warning the men inside of the archbishop’s unexpected presence.

“I told you to not bother with the investigations of the blood rings.”

“Out,” Oirion breathed to Jamie.  They carefully moved to the other side door, making sure the carriage didn’t shift.

“Yes, you did, and I have certainly not wasted my time, but I must record all murders.  It’s my job.  I trust that you are working on the capture of whoever is doing this.”

“You have involved Oirion and James, have you not?  You spoke to Bishop Gallus, have you not?”

“You’re Grace, I’m a busy man.  I have more crime to deal with than you have faithful.  Do you truly think I have time to take on such a case when an archbishop has offered to handle it?  Do you really think I have time to be sneaking around to deal with it behind your back?  Do you really think me dumb enough to lie to you about it?”  he asked a bit testily as the two inside the carriage opened the other door. With great care and painfully slow motion, they slipped out the door, climbing up the outside to the roof of the carriage.  They dared not drop down as their feet might be spotted and if the carriage moved they would be far too easily exposed.

They lay down shoulder to shoulder, trying not to put any weight on anything but the rails that supported the leather top.

“Shall I put the carriage away?”  the driver asked Tyven with nervousness.

“Let me see inside first,” the archbishop sneered. He shouldered the constable aside to jerk the door open.

“And why aren’t the bishops involved?”  the constable asked in a sharp tone low, standing toe to toe with the archbishop.  “You afraid of what they would find?  You have two of the best in your city and you purposely work to keep them out of it.  Why?”

The old man snarled as he looked back to the constable, “Stay out of it.”

“Get it off my streets then,” the constable snarled back.  “If you don’t, I will have reports of it sent to the king and every other king and constable in the Empire.”

“That would be very bad for your health.  Keep that in mind.”

“He’ll make a scapegoat of you,” the constable warned.  “You bumble this and the pontiff will clean it up at any cost.  Keep that in mind.”

“You are dangerously bold.”

“I may well be,” he said, “but I have been cleaning up this city longer then you have been alive.  Go home, Rennar.  Figure this out, clean it up.”

The archbishop turned on his heel and strode for his own carriage.  The one that the two men were hiding on moved toward the carriage-house to park for the night. The two slid off and were gone before it reached the inside.  They kept to the shadows of the wall to get out of the barracks yard and to the street.

They looked at each other, said nothing and stepped into a run.  If the archbishop was on a rampage and the constable was unreachable, Gallus was next and they both knew it.

Neither man had been to the house of the bishop, but knew the area it was in.  It took them far longer to scan him out then they wanted, but they found it with only a slight need to change their path.  They reached the back wall and climbed it.  Oirion nearly fell over when he jumped down, his back in pain, his stomach knotted and his mind filled with scattered thoughts.  He felt as if some sort of magic had hit him, but he could find no source.

“You alright?”  Jamie asked, concerned.

“Sore,” Oirion said, moving toward the back door.  They crossed a very nicely kept yard that was nearly all turned into a garden for the kitchen.  Tiny spring plants were starting to come up and the smell of thyme was in the air.  Oirion hoped he had not stepped on the plant…  not that it mattered too much.

Jamie knocked on the kitchen door, hoping a servant would be there cooking.  He knocked again, debating just breaking in.  The door opened, not to a servant but to the bishop.  He was in an apron drying his hands.

“James, Oirion,” he said, shocked to see them.  “Is there a reason you thought to come in through the back?  Come in, have some tea.  I was just making dinner.”

“Yes, thank you,” Jamie said, ‘but I think we should go.”

“Go?  You just got here.”

“No.  I think you need to come with us.  Do you have a pack?”

“Go?  Pack?  No,” he said confused.  “What is going on?”

Oirion glanced around the kitchen.  It was warm, old worn wood, copper pots, ancient clay crockery… it was not your normal kitchen of a wealthy man.  It looked like it had not been altered in thousands of years.  There wasn’t a single servant either.  It did, however smell wonderfully of food.  Oirion recalled he had missed dinner.

“The Archbishop is not in a good mood,” Jamie said.

Oirion opened a pot that was simmering away on the stove.  A wonderful looking stew was just getting done.

“You hungry?” Gallus asked hopefully.  “I rarely have company for dinner.”

Oirion caught the motion out of the corner of his eye and dove aside.  He grabbed Gallus, falling to the floor between the stove and the center island.  Power hit the wall over the stove, exploding the stone wall, pot-rack, and the spice shelf.  Had he not tackled Gallus, the man would have been nothing but a set of legs. Power, spices and pots exploded everywhere.

Jamie grabbed a handful of kitchen knives as he leapt.  One foot hit the island and the blonde man was over it and at the kitchen door.  The knife in his hand found the chest of the man in the door.  The wizard got the second knife in his throat as Jamie landed lightly, crouched down in a defensive stance just in front of him.  The attacking wizard crumpled in the doorway leading to the hallway that led into the front interior.

Oirion slammed a magic shield up over his partner as a second blast came at Jamie.  More than one wizard had somehow made it into the house and Jamie was the new target.  Oirion’s shield saved him from a rather overly zealous use of magic.  The power exploded off of the shield like a million shards of colored glass, blasting back at the man who had sent it.

“Time to go!”  Oirion grabbed the bishop, dragging him toward the back door as Jamie somersaulted backwards and toward the door to the yard beyond.  Another attack aimed at him just missed and exploded the floor into a millions splitters of wood.  From the front of the house they heard another blast as the front door was leveled and more men rushed in.

“But …”

“Now, Gallus!”  Oirion pulled the man out the door while Jamie took out another of Gallus’s attackers.  As Oirion got Gallus out the back door, he turned and flung his own power at the door from the hallway to the kitchen.  The explosion met the men coming through the door and hit them as a furnace blast of flame.  The force blew a massive hole in the wall and set the hallway and the men in it on fire. Jamie caught Gallus under the arm as they ran for the gate.

Jamie flipped the bolt and kicked the gate open, hitting the man who was outside it.  Jamie used a knife he still had in his hand to stab the man in the chest.  Oirion took out another with a series of blows that ended with a hard jab to the face that drove the man’s nose up into his brain.

They didn’t wait to find out if there were more attackers coming, but grabbed the bishop and were on the run.  They both had lived too long in danger to think for a moment that this was going to stop or blow over. This was about to explode into a full war and they were a long way from home territory.  All they had was a single kitchen knife and experience.

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