Chapter 2, Scene 2
â€œWhat a dump.â€ Cathak Lodaris cracked his neck, looking around the hamlet with disdain from horseback. His crimson armour, polished until it almost shone, gleamed in the afternoon sun, emblazoned with the symbol of Hesiah, and his short daiklaves hung loosely at his belt, ready to be drawn. He smirked, looking around. â€œEven an Anathema wouldnâ€™t be caught dead in a place like this.â€
â€œThatâ€™s for us to decide, isnâ€™t it?â€ Sesus Mirron chuckled softly, and Lodaris shot him a disgusted look. The wiry little Air Aspect took entirely too much pleasure in his work, and was thoroughly disgusting to be around. Lodaris would be just as happy when this Hunt was over; he would never have to deal with the little monster again. â€œAfter all, if these people are sheltering the monsterâ€¦â€
â€œThey arenâ€™t, Mirron.â€ The last member of the group spoke, and Lodaris nodded. Ragara Juani was an exemplary Dynast, fresh from the House of Bells, and her calm, soothing voice had kept Lodaris from strangling Mirron more than once in the past week. If he werenâ€™t an Immaculate, he would even considerâ€¦ resolutely, he steered his thoughts away from such temptations, and began to ride forwards, as Juani continued. â€œEveryone that weâ€™ve talked to simply said that the Anathema and his servants were coming this way. Most likely, this town is merely another stopping point for their crusade.â€ As the group continued, she looked around thoughtfully. â€œThis place is very run-down, though. I wonder if they have fallen on hard times recently.â€
â€œPah!â€ Lodaris spat, springing from his horse as the trio approached what seemed to be the villageâ€™s only inn. â€œMost likely, they simply had a bad harvest. Donâ€™t worry so much, Juani.â€ He raised a hand to the stableboy. â€œYou there! Come stable these!â€ The boy shook his head, looking afraid, and Lodarisâ€™s eyes narrowed. â€œWell? Now, boy! Are you deaf, or simply slow?â€ Beside him, Mirron slid from his horse, fingering his knives as he watched the boy speculatively.
â€œLodaris, he probably doesnâ€™t even speak High Realm.â€ Lodaris blinked, and opened his mouth to reply, then shut it. He had become so used to the Realmâ€™s tributaries that he hadnâ€™t even considered that they were riding beyond the borders of the Satrapies. He muttered something under his breath, as Juani began to speak in a smooth, murmering voice to the boy, who nodded aprehensively, stepping forwards to take the horses. Feeling foolish, Lodaris quickly fished into his pouch and handed the boy a yen. The boy took it with a broad smile, which faltered slightly when Mirron spoke to him in the same tongue. Juani shot him an annoyed look, but pressed on. As they entered the inn, Lodaris lowered his voice and spoke to her.
â€œWhat did he say?â€
â€œHe told the boy that if anything happened to his horse, he would kill every animal in the inn.â€ Her voice was sour, and Lodaris shook his head. For a Child of the Dragons, Mirron showed remarkably poor restraint. He made a mental note to be present when the horses were presented, and then turned his attention to the inn itself.
It was friendly, in a shabby sort of way, and the innkeeper stumbled over himself to come over, offering greetings in accented High Realm. Lodaris smiled, and nodded curtly. â€œGreetings, innkeeper. We will not likely be spending the night. We are in search of a dangerous Anathema, responsible for two murders already a weekâ€™s ride away. He appears to be a simple boy, brown-haired, but he is a murderous fiend.â€ As he described the boy and his three companions, the innkeeper paled.
â€œMasters, such a boy was here not twenty minutes ago. In factâ€¦â€ The innkeeper frowned, looking past the three towards a table. Turning, Lodaris saw nothing but a half-empty bowl of rice and a mug with a small amount of cider in the bottom. He looked back with a raised eyebrow at the innkeeper, who hurried on. â€œThe girl, the younger one. She was just here a few moments ago.â€
â€œShe canâ€™t have gone far.â€ Mirron chuckled. â€œWe can find her andâ€¦â€
â€œNo need.â€ Juani shrugged. â€œIf half of what we heard was true, heâ€™s tricked those mortals into thinking that heâ€™s some sort of hero. If we remove him, they will be no threat.â€ Mirron glared at her, and she turned back to the innkeeper. â€œDo you know where he is?â€
â€œHe went into the mountains to the north, toâ€¦ ahâ€¦â€ The innkeeper stopped abruptly. Sweat beaded on his forehead, and Lodaris stepped forwards.
â€œWellâ€¦ ahâ€¦ he didnâ€™t say. Something about a spirit.â€ The innkeeper smiled nervously, and Lodaris frowned, looking at the others, one hand falling to his swords. He looked to the others, and Juani stepped smoothly into the lead, even as Mirron began to slide a knife from his sheathe.
â€œNever fear, master innkeeper. We can protect you.â€ She smiled winningly, and the innkeeper gulped. Within minutes, the whole sorry story was laid out; the Shasti, the boys, even the fact that the innkeeperâ€™s daughter had vanished, presumably to follow the Anathema into the mountains.
As they left the building, Lodaris shook his head. â€œRidiculous. If this town had an Immaculate monk, they could have gotten word to us immediately.â€ He frowned, and cracked his knuckles. â€œAfter we stop this Anathema, I intend to have words with this spirit. Just because it lives outside the Realm is no reason for it to betray its duties to such a degree.â€
â€œIndeed.â€ Mirron looked back at the inn thoughtfully. â€œShould we do something about those broken relics, I wonder? If the Anathema outflanks usâ€¦â€
â€œTheyâ€™re broken. It would be a waste of time.â€ Lodaris led the way forwards, the others flanking him. â€œItâ€™s far more important that we catch the Anathema before he reaches this Shasti creature. If he allies with it, it could prove to be dangerous.â€
â€œOn the other hand, if he means to destroy it as part of a plan to bring this town under his sway, we could wait for him. After all, he has demonstrated a tendancy towards corrupting mortals already. He would be weakened after battling a spirit.â€ Mirronâ€™s voice was soft and thoughtful, but Lodaris shook his head.
â€œThe risk is too great, and the benefits too low. We can fight this creature. He was forced to resort to his anima to defeat a pair of mortals; he is no experienced monster. With a powerful spirit on his side, however, there is no telling what he might be able to do, especially if it can alter his followers.â€ As they reached the edge of town, Lodaris smiled grimly. â€œBesides, what need have the Princes of the Earth for subterfuges such as those?â€