The sun and sea enjoyed their brief reunion, the raging swirls calmed by its caress, but it wasn’t meant to be. It rose into the gray murk over, and the sea thrashed again, rocking the boats and soaking the ports of Lam Berel. The roads and paths beyond were ravaged by the storm, thick, muddy puddles forming to the sides of the cobblestone, threatening to swallow it and tear it apart, to return it to its natural splendor.
However, there was a halo of light along it, the rain not daring to touch Terra’s faithful as they quickly approached. Bubbles and his lovely dignitaries were warmed by the sun, almost summer-like in its rays, thankful for being allowed a window through the mire and misery that the storm wrought on all. It had given them flight, hastened them towards their goal.
And his execution.
Bubbles was no fool. He knew they had no inkling to show mercy, not for what he was or for what he had done. The looks they gave him when he thought he wasn’t able to see, when they thought they were in his “blind spot”, only drove it deeper.
Again, though, Bubbles was no fool. He had guided them to town, but what good was simply being in it? They didn’t know the way, the ways. They didn’t have a single understanding of the city’s vast culture. They didn’t know its flow, and would stand out as much as bared jowls if they started to ask weird questions.
They would most likely get the same response for doing so as well, so he kept quiet on everything about the town. He kept the focus on them their entire walk, which was far easier than he expected. Who knew the ladies of faith were so narcissistic. Vain, at that. Madam Volum especially. She was truly what he expected to come out of Terra’s, or any of the Divine’s, wonderful establishments.
Lady Naomei, however, piqued his interest. Unlike Madam Volum, she was not as willing to spread the gospel. It was the silence that made him truly uncomfortable, that opened the window for his plan to fail.
Thankfully, the Dark Ones seemed to have given him solace this day.
They reached the stables beside the trader’s entrance. Merchants were tending to their wagons, their horses, getting them ready for another long day of hauling. Their boots were coated in mud, drying fast in the bright sun that graced their presence as much as the ladies. They stood a moment, basking in both, before returning to work, adding fresh, grimy layers to their soles as they lumbered back and forth from the storehouse to the left of the arch that let them into town.
However, something else seemed to have caught Madam Volum’s eye. She raised her hand; Bubbles knew this because his throat started to tighten and burn. He was held there, locked in place by those chains, paling the sun’s rays as they burned on his neck, until she strode by. Her hand fell, pointing at the road beyond the gate. There were chunks missing, as if the cobblestone was dug through with a long trowel. Some of the buildings even showed damage; one seemed to have been completely demolished, the debris cleaned and lined up in carts before the street. Others simply had small indents in their fabric awnings, some deep grooves along their sandstone levels.
“What happened?” Madam Volum said, not to anyone in particular, as if she expected someone to stroll up and answer –which was exactly what happened. The Terrahn merchant’s skin was a deep bronze, gleaming in the sunlight. The sweat on his burly arms and bare chest shimmered like dew, untouched by any hair. His eyes were a deep blue, sparkling with such life, far too much for anyone that should be up at this time, beaming down upon the Madam, easily a foot taller.
“You didn’t see it along your walk here?” He said. His voice betrayed his age, so squeaky, fighting to change from its boyish squawks to the inevitable growl he will one day force to carry. “A Garolot was being kept under a house in that district.”
“A Garolot? Full grown?”
“Rumors floating around say it was only a baby when it first arrived, but something happened to it to make it mature real quick. There’s already a troop out to hunt it, but I’m shocked you didn’t see it trot through the plains last night.”
“It must have been when they decided to consummate their love with the Divines in their dreams,” Bubbles mumbled, chortling, garnering a dirty look from both Madam Volum and the Terrahn. Oh, and pain. Always pain.
“I wouldn’t be talking like that if I were you, shadman,” the Terrahn said, chortling, and hooked a thumb at his own neck. “It’s only a matter of time before you are fried.”
Bubbles gasped, freed of the fire once more. His legs shook, stomach roiled, wanting to spill, but he kept it down. Instead, he shrugged, still chuckling away, as if it meant nothing. In the end, it really was nothing, after all.
“I highly doubt they would kill me.” He stated, smiling wide. “At least, not yet. They have no idea where to go in this city... Heh... Although I would bet you would love to try to taste some... forbidden fruits and volunteer, you would be put behind schedule. So go back to being a good little tool. Lift those crates, load those horses. If you’re lucky, maybe they’ll be your company tonight.”
He only laughed harder, louder as the Terrahns’ gazes deepened, but Madam Volum finally caught on to what he had done. Yes, he saw that burst of fire and hate in those otherwise somber and serene eyes in such a soft and welcoming gaze, and he had no doubt she would have loved to light up those chains at that moment, to prove him wrong, but where would that leave her? In a city of thousands, tens of hundreds of thousands? It really isn’t wise to discard the one person that could eliminate it to a handful, and so Madam Volum would have to spare him. Begrudgingly... for the moment.
The Terrahn started to look real uncomfortable with how much he was laughing. He excused himself, leaving with a dirty look, the vitality he showed, the vigor and drive he had soured by Bubbles’s very presence, which only made him feel better. They were beings of clay, and he always had a liking to molding things to his desire.
And so he had a spring in his step that aided him over the holes. The wind seemed to lift his feet even further, guiding him towards the center of town, to the Shelled Aceon. He stopped, right in front of the doors, and planted himself, grumbling as he was forced to wait for his executioners to catch up, already knowing this was a waste. This would be the obvious place the crew would end up, after all, the most common locale to visit in Lam Berel. They could stake out and watch for them. It really was only a matter of time before he saw one or all of them, but the real reason was that this was the most densely populated area of the city... Though, as he waited, he started to doubt his own choice. No one would stand up for him, so rude as they tried to shove through to either get in or out. Couldn’t they see he was there, staying out of the rain... also, being this dense, he came to the conclusion that this would not do. Not do at all.
So... he decided someplace else... Madam Volum and the quiet sister finally caught up, only to lament as he seemed to sprint across the open courtyard. He shoved into people -men, women, children; it didn’t matter, though he particularly enjoyed when they were the smaller variety. Much more of a satisfying crunch- making his way to the hill towards the Faun District. Travelers, merchants, everyone from so many walks of life. In fact, he could have sworn he saw a pair of Faun carrying a Zephyrian, but, when he looked back, they were lost to the crowd, lost to the endless ocean of personalities.
If only it were as easy to lose his dignitaries.
Even in a crowd, they stood out, as if the people refused to sully or diminish their presence in any way. The sun following them helped as well, but the very air around them seemed to radiate with purity, leaving them in their own little spheres that made through the crowd with ease. It seemed the gathering just... parted, not really conscious that they did it, and always kept that space around them, never yielding, not even in the thickest of it, until they came out on the other side.
Madam Volum had a genuinely curious look on her aged visage; she gestured back to the crowd, at the tavern and stores, buzzing with life.
“Wouldn’t those areas be a perfect place to start, Itchyoman?” She inquired. “It seems they are the greatest attractions in this city.”
“That’s why it’s not, you see,” he said, still chuckling, but not at what happened earlier. There was something even funnier brewing, and he would have the first... and last laugh. “Do you really believe those that wanted to lay low would risk blowing their covers so?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Lady Naomei piped up at last. “As long as we find Olivier-”
She cut herself off, struck silent by Madam Volum’s glare. But it wasn’t long when Bubbles was glaring at her as well. A Terrahn approached, a plump lass who was a bit on the other side of the hill in age, but her cheeks were blushing bright, as if she was a school girl again.
“I couldn’t help but overhear,” she said, cheeks burning brighter as she continued. “Do you mean Captain Olivier?”
“You know him?”
“You know where to find him?” Madam Volum added, the small smile she gave sending a chill down Bubbles’ spine.
“Not now, but I do hope he made it out all right.”
“Why? What happened?” Lady Naomei said.
The portly lass sighed, tugging at her hair. The bun was already started to loose- and gave up when she gave it the lightest of pulls. The entirety fell behind her in long, wavy lines, glistening gold in the sun surrounding them.
“It wasn’t his fault, poor dear,” she said. “He simply got swept up in the worst sort.” Lady Naomei repeated her question, her tone more demanding, needing, which stole the heat from the Terrahn’s cheeks, pushed into her eyes, instead. “What is he to you? Because I am a jealous sort-”
“So you two are lovers?” Madam Volum said, and her tone was nothing but cold.
“Well, not yet, but I know we will be.” The Terrahn giggled. She cooed, letting go of her hair as she cupped her face, squeezing those plump cheeks, as if to keep the rising warmth down once more. “I haven’t felt like this in a long time. It’s like I’m a budding woman all over again-”
“Back in, what, the first age?” Bubbles cut in, still chortling. “It’s a good thing the boy ran. I wouldn’t wish such a fate on anyone.” He sighed, shrugged, and dismissed the Terrahn. “Shoo shoo. You’re useless to us. We don’t need a hag over the hill lusting after a newly found fetish.”
The Terrahn scowled at him... then smirked.
“Well, you’re wasting your time if you are going to check the Faun District. It’s where he ran from last night. From there... I may be useless, shadman, but it’s better to be useless than worthless. At least I’ll still be alive later, and able to save my sweet from a dark path.”
She bowed her head to Madam Volum then Lady Naomei before parting. All three looked after, watched as she disappeared into the crowd, but Madam Volum made sure it wasn’t for long. She cleared her throat, and turned her ire back onto Bubbles, the chains starting to warm on his throat once more.
“Where now then, Itchyoman?” She said. “Every moment that passes it is showing how pointless it is to keep your around.”
“I wasn’t wrong, though,” he said. “He was in the Faun District until something went awry.”
“Maybe it was around the same time as the Garolot,” Lady Naomei mumbled.
“No,” Madam Vollum said. “That woman was blissfully unaware of any monsters aside lust last night. It must have been after, where he and some of his crew most likely encountered her wherever in the Faun District-”
“Then wouldn’t our best bet be to check where the Garolot came from?”
“What purpose would there be in doing so? Olivier wouldn’t have been involved in that... would he?”
That gave her pause, which continued to pique Bubbles’ interest, feed into his curiosity. What was the relationship between his target and this annoying believer.
She shook her head, and looked right into Madam Vollum’s eyes, unyielding.
“There is no telling what he may have been involved with, after all these years,” she said. “He has strayed far from the flock; only the Divines truly know the depths of his heresy.”
‘Or lack thereof,’ Bubbles saw her lips start to say, but kept silent. Probably for the best; the Madam wanted a bloodbath with no guilt... Eh. Probably would have felt none either way. Truly a moral, upstanding person.
“Then what do we do?” Madam Vollum pressed. “You spoke up. You want to take charge, so here you go.”
“I didn’t... Standing here won’t accomplish anything, but neither will following every fancy. At least, not all together-”
“Very well, then, Lady Naomei. If you truly believe there is no connection with the Garolot, then go ahead and check. If anything, it’ll give us evidence for the Mother to... purify this city, completely and utterly, when we return. Meanwhile, the Itchyoman and I shall check elsewhere.”
Lady Naomei nodded, and rushed into the crowd. However, when she did, the sun left with her, dousing them in rain again. That ray of light parted the sea of heads until she was on the other side, gone as she dashed down the street surrounded by wagons. It was only the two of them now.
Bubbles made sure to keep his smile goofy as Madam Vollum looked his way. Not too wide, not to sinister; he didn’t allow it to get any bigger, even when Madam Volum looked away. No small feat, when everything was going his way, but he could not let her know that. He had to at least act that she was in control.
“So, where to now, Itchyoman?” She spat out, the chains on his neck warming a touch.
“As I’ve said, the center of town is too busy. It would be too conspicuous for them to be here. Since we know he left the Faun District, at least for the moment when that Terrafat told us, and your lovely lady is covering the other side of town, that leaves us the Itchyoman District... and its many warehouses. Dark, forgotten; what perfect places for vagabonds and heretics to hide.”
What perfect places to hide dark deeds, indeed, he thought, finding it harder to keep his face straight as he lead her down the street by the tavern. Thunder rumbled overhead, but the rain had slowed. Lightning crashed, but it’s light refused to follow them where he went. There was plenty of light for what he had to do, and even that would be swallowed into the dark soon. As fashionable as they looked, he sort of grew tired of his accessories. He wouldn’t let them go to waste, though. He wasn’t an animal, unlike the beast that kept him on that leash... soon...