“He was getting old, anyway.”
“I know. This certainly wasn’t unexpected.”
“Well, let’s head out and call someone to come over.”
“Wait.” Luke peered closer “Look at this.”
Zaid grunted, wishing this could be over and done already. “What?”
“Look at his chest.”
“Eh . . . huh.” He shrugged. “So? He had a heart attack.”
“But we found him looking quite peaceful as if it happened in his sleep.”
“Luke, are you afraid to say the word death? He DIED, that’s what happened!” The first teenager sighed, clearly annoyed.
“What about the scream, Zaid?”
Luke seemed unnerved. “Isn’t there something missing?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t know him.” Zaid straightened his belt impatiently. “We checked it out as you asked. Come on. Let’s go.”
Luke rubbed his eyes, his voice catching. “We went to the same church.”
Zaid rolled his eyes. “Wasn’t he the guy everyone called ‘Trout Stare?”
“This is him.” Luke’s mind was working so fast he could barely keep track of the information he was recalling. “I know there was something he always had with him; if I could just remember . . .”
“What?” Zaid snapped. “Let’s get out of here before the police show up to investigate.”
Luke released a hitched sigh. “I know,” he said, his motivation deflated.
“You’re never going to find adventure. I mean, you. How could you ever do anything?”
Luke closed his eyes, believing Zaid’s cruel words. “What if . . .” he trailed off.
Zaid was starting to tire from having to repeat the same word. “What?”
“Nothing. It’s nothing.”
“Then let’s go already!”
Luke bit his lower lip before he turned and followed his classmate back to the sidewalk, a gnawing worry nibbling his still developing confidence. I wish . . . He shook his head as his door clicked shut.
No more trouble for today.
Listen to the self-appointed leader.
Don’t get in trouble.
* * *
Temthael ducked inside and drew his sword, his thoughts revolving back to the hundreds of Angéic warriors perched on the roof above him. They’ll alert me if the murderers return. Crossing through the orderly house without any disturbance, Temthael only needed a glance at the dead man’s face to confirm his dread. It was such a small thing – the thief must have hoped nobody would notice its absence.
Temthael knelt beside the dead man’s resting place and pulled back the edge of the bed sheets, placing his hand over the man’s heart, finding what the boys had not seen earlier.
A small, triangular shaped wound had been stabbed into Gregory Corlop’s skin. An unnatural yellow tint had already begun to spread around the infected area. Temthael recognized it at once. This death had been purposeful, that was for sure.
Temthael frowned as he pressed his hand against the fatal injury. The man’s body was still warm. He had died recently, not even an hour ago. But by whose hand?
Temthael turned towards the door as five ornate, ancient clocks began striking the half hour, each ringing slightly off from the others.
Curious, and quite suspicious by the whole situation, Temthael stood and passed through a hallway lined with bookshelves to Gregory Corlop’s office.
The desk seat drew his eyes instantly. Watches of all sizes, colors, and brands completely hid the arms of the sturdy, thick chair. Their little hands ticked off each second so sharply, it sounded more like rain on the roof than clicking machines.
The ceiling fan cast shadows when Temthael flipped on the lights. Normally, he would take caution with the lights, as they often gave away his location. However, the office had no windows, so he felt secure with the action.
Narila stepped through the door frame, her silver shield gripped firmly in her left hand. Her dark hair poured over her shoulders like falling water, and her casual tunic was, as usual, clean and unrumpled. What seemed to be a cape hung behind her, lightly brushing the floor when she moved. ‘Have you found it?’ Her transmission was not in the word form printed here for you to read. Rather, her thoughts reflected her worry and blurred images, more like a steady stream than a string of words.
‘No, it was stolen just like the others. He’s the second Beholder we’ve lost this week.’
Narila folded her arms, leaning against the gray wall. ‘Usually, we only find one every hundred years. The enemy is gaining footing. He’s not taking the cautions he used to.’
‘That will lead to his downfall.’
She held her arms in front of her to form an X shape. ‘Indeed.’
After a pause, in which they were both lost in thought, Temthael asked, ‘how many were found in the past century?’
Her answer rattled them both. ‘More than half.’
At the same time she spoke, a crisp clang sank through the ceiling.
They dashed back to the main door and flung it open, their swords raised.
Innumerable Dragon Loyalists lunged from the sky, their faces shadowed by rippling masks of darkness, their horny talons carrying weapons of their own.
‘Why did they stay to fight? The Beholder is already dead.’
Narila gasped. ‘But what they want is still here!’
A gang of the hideous beasts trapped the two Angéic warriors beneath suffocating material. Cords cut deep.
Temthael threw it off, ensnaring three Loyalists, crushing them to sand.
His blade met the twin daggers of another bloodthirsty creature. He grabbed its slippery wrists and thrust it into the ground. Even the greatest warriors were put to shame by Temthael’s centuries of training and growing his skill.
A Dragon Loyalist snarled, its beady eyes narrowed with malice.
Temthael twisted his sword.
Narila swept the creature’s balance out from behind it.
The warriors drew their swords as they joined Temtheal and Narila.
‘We sensed their arrival, but we were overwhelmed almost as soon as the first pair of eyes appeared,’ a warrior reported.
‘How many?’ Temthael lifted his sword as yellow eyes began to open, illuminating the ground eerily.
Temthael and Narila raised their shields together as the Angéic warriors prepared for the battle that would surely follow.