The Second Coming

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Chapter 4

It was the break of dawn and the three men walked casually towards the small home. The man in the fine cloak, who was slightly ahead of the other two, raised his hand and stopped a short distance from the dwelling. “Remember, we need to do this quietly and convince them to come with us. I don’t want you two to even utter a word without my saying so.”

The bearded man pulled a knife from inside his tunic. “Why don’t we just take the one we want and kill the others?”

The older man grabbed him by the front of his shirt. “Bloodshed will not serve us! You know that is not my way!”

The bearded man nodded quickly and the older man released him. “Hopefully the one we want is still asleep. I am confident if the others listen to what I have to say this will be straightforward.” His voice was a hiss. “And keep your weapons out of sight!”

When they reached the door the older man knocked twice, stepped back and waited politely. Within moments the door opened and a woman close to middle-age appeared. “Can I help you? It is very early for passing travellers to be knocking on doors.”

The older man smiled and nodded. “I apologise for calling so early, mistress Essmoor, but I have business to discuss with your husband. Is he by chance still here?”

The woman raised an eyebrow but nodded. “It is a little early for him to leave for the temple. Can I ask who you are?”

The man smiled again. “My name is not important. If you ask your husband to come and speak to me, all will become clear.” He sensed her hesitation and his voice became firmer. “I must speak with him.”

The woman stepped back and took a moment to compose herself. “This is most irregular, gentlemen. Please wait here.” Without looking up she walked back into the house and shut the door.

The bearded man stepped forward and was about to touch the door when the older man grabbed his arm, which caused him to cry out in pain. “I told you not to get involved. Be patient!” The bearded man shrunk backwards and scowled. The older man then turned to the greasy-haired man. “Keep him outside and only come in if you have no alternative.” The greasy-haired man nodded.

Moments later the door opened again and a man appeared; he was older than his wife, but not significantly.

The man in the high-quality cloak offered his hand. “Francis Essmoor?”

Francis Essmoor took the hand and shook it briefly. “Yes. My wife said you have something you need to discuss with me.”

*

Olbane woke, having slept poorly. Judging by the angle of the light coming through the inn window, it was around an hour after dawn. The young man rubbed his eyes, stretched, and let out a yawn. The first question he asked himself was the same one he had asked all night: why had she not come? Olbane didn’t think he had said or done anything wrong, but he was not an expert when it came to the minds of women. Olbane’s next thought was one of disbelief: he was still in Crossmoor, tucked up in bed at The Traveller’s Call, when he should have been a day’s ride east. Olbane dressed hurriedly; it had been too late the previous evening to find out why Lia had not met him as agreed, but he had vowed to talk to her the following morning.

Olbane quickly packed up the meagre amount of belongings he had with him and reached for the door handle, but stopped suddenly at the sound of voices down the hall.

“He’s in that room, the one down the corridor.” That sounded like the innkeeper’s voice. “Please don’t make any trouble; if you need to talk to him, please do it in a civilised manner.” The voice sounded very apprehensive; a brawl upstairs was not what any innkeeper wanted.

Olbane’s mind began to race; it appeared they had tracked him down to The Traveller’s Call. The young man remembered the layout of the corridor outside: his was the last room along the hall, so there would be no escape that way without being noticed. Instead, he ran to the window and looked out: the room was on the second floor, so jumping was out of the question. He was used to physical exercise, however, so climbing down would not have caused him excessive stress. When he heard footsteps down the corridor, Olbane opened the window, moved onto the ledge and looked at the wall he intended to climb down: a drainpipe to the left of the window looked the best way of getting down safely.

Suddenly the door burst open. Olbane glanced back and noticed two men: the two he fled from at the festival two nights ago.

“You! We need to talk to you!” The older and heavier man pointed in Olbane’s direction. Olbane swung out of the window and grabbed the drainpipe.

For a brief moment, Olbane thought his escape plan was foolproof, and he began climbing down effortlessly. A grunt from the window caused him to look up, however, and he noticed a pair of hands vigorously shaking the top of the drainpipe. A moment later, the ground started to accelerate towards him, and Olbane realised the drainpipe had given way. In his teenage years, Olbane was considered something of an athlete, and that ability saved him from being badly injured. While in mid-fall the young man managed to flip his legs around and land on his feet, but intense pain shot through his left ankle when it absorbed the majority of the impact. As he grimaced, he heard a shout from the room he had hastily vacated: “Well, what are you waiting for? Get down there and catch him!”

Olbane hobbled as fast as he could towards the centre of Crossmoor, and hoped the head-start he had was enough until he found a suitable place to hide. Because it was relatively early in the morning, however, there were few crowds of people in the streets, and Olbane began to panic: his ankle was extremely painful and he was finding it very difficult to put any weight on it. Olbane was almost resigned to being caught when he saw a merchant’s signboard above a nearby building. There was activity in there, and Olbane said a brief prayer to Revan asking that the people inside would take pity and offer him shelter.

Olbane hobbled across the street and burst through the door, which surprised the grey-haired man inside, who was reading a journal. “Oh my goodness! What in Revan’s name is going on here?”

Olbane did his best to calm down. “Sir, I beg you, please help me. Two men are pursuing me and I have injured my ankle; I fear for my safety if they catch me.”

The man raised an eyebrow. “And what is it they want with you, young man?”
Olbane understood why the question was put to him, but he wished it could have been asked when he was out of sight. He wasn’t feeling strong enough to concoct a good lie, so he blurted out the truth. “I am carrying something their employer wants, something that will incriminate him if given to the authorities.”

The older man thought about that for a moment. “This sounds a sticky business to me, young man, and one I am not sure I want to be involved in.” He turned his head in the direction of an open door behind him. “Michael? Please come out here!”

Olbane was wondering who Michael was when a man in his early twenties walked through the door. “Who is this? Is he causing you trouble?” Michael was more strongly built than he, and with his injury Olbane didn’t relish the thought of defending himself.

“He says he is fleeing from some men, and is carrying some documents that incriminate their employer.”

Michael scowled. “I am not in the mood for this, father. Is this another of your poor jokes?”

Suddenly, all three men turned to listen to a commotion across the street. Olbane risked a look behind him: it was Black’s men, and they were in a shouting match with an elderly woman who was waving a stick at them. “And next time watch where you are going, you young ruffians!” The two men laughed dismissively and turned in the direction of the merchant’s premises. No more than a few moments before they walked through the open door, Olbane panicked and dived behind some sacks of grain.

The merchant greeted the men in a friendly manner. “Good morning, gentlemen. What can I do for you this fine day?”

The well-built man snorted. “We are looking for a young man with sandy hair and a leg injury. He has stolen something of ours. Did he come in here?”

The merchant kept his business-face on. “Where I come from, young man, it is customary to be civil in conversation.”

The well-built man stepped forward in a threatening manner. “Look, old man. We haven’t got time for this; have you seen him?”

The young man named Michael moved between his father and the thug, and was holding a sword at least four feet long. The thug was a large man, but Michael was taller, broader and his eyes were hard and dangerous. “I’d appreciate it if you showed more respect for my father, friend.”

The thug paused for a moment as if to weigh up the surroundings; significant weapons were not often carried in Crossmoor, and the two men only carried daggers. He spat on the floor and then glared at Michael. “If I have cause to see you again, boy, you will regret this.” Michael held the gaze and said nothing. The older thug backed away from him, grabbed his companion by the arm and pulled him from the building.

It was more than a few minutes before Olbane felt confident enough to emerge from his hiding place. He rose gingerly and smiled briefly. “It appears Revan has looked favourably on me this morning. I have encountered a rare thing in today’s society: people willing to help another for no personal gain. You have my deepest gratitude.”

Michael grunted, but the merchant smiled in a more genuine manner, then chuckled to himself. “Well my boy, I’m not sure I want to know what you have taken, but I suspect those men will be back looking for you. I am Thomas Eustace, and as you have probably guessed, this is my son, Michael. From your accent, I would judge you are from north of here. Am I correct?”

Olbane moved forward, winced, and offered his hand. “Olbane Jonson, from Susanon; it is more than a pleasure to meet you.” He looked around the shop and took in the surroundings. “You have a fine business here, sir; my father is also in the merchant profession, and I recognise all the signs of success.”

Olbane knew immediately that he had said the right thing, as even Michael’s expression softened. Eustace took the hand and smiled. “We do our best, as I’m sure you and your father do.” The old man looked down at Olbane’s ankle. “You need to get that looked at, Master Jonson. I am no physician, but you will not be going anywhere if you don’t.”

Olbane nodded gravely and thought about his options. He didn’t have enough coin on him for a physician, so was forced to think creatively. “I must leave Crossmoor, but you are correct, sir: I cannot leave in this condition. How far is the temple of Revan from here?”

Michael answered. “I would guess about thirty minutes walk, but in your condition I would say at least an hour.” The other young man’s brow furrowed. “What makes you think the temple will help you? They don’t normally take in people off the street.”

“I am hoping that if I reveal where I am going and why, they will to assist me.”

Eustace nodded his agreement, and patted his son on the arm. “Michael, I would appreciate it if you can help Olbane here get to the temple as quickly and as inconspicuously as possible.” Michael opened his mouth to protest but his father smiled. “You can use the cart; you will be back here in no time.”

In a resigned manner, Michael nodded and looked towards Olbane. “Follow me; we have a cart out the back that you can sit on, and we can cover you with a tarpaulin just in case anyone else is looking for you.”

Olbane was nearly speechless. “What a wonderful town Crossmoor is to be blessed with such charitable and honourable citizens. I will not forget this.”

Olbane was led out the back of the Eustace’s premises to a covered yard where the majority the merchant’s goods were stored, ready to be shipped. Also in the yard were two medium-sized horses, tethered next to a cart. Michael untied one of the horses and stroked it gently on the nose, then placed a harness over its body and attached it to the cart. “Sit in the cart, and keep under the canvas.”

Olbane nodded and got under the tarpaulin, where he lay as flat as he could. A few moments later, the cart lurched and they moved off. It was dark under the canvas, with a slight smell of grain; it was the usual time of year when grain was sold, although his own father didn’t usually trade in perishables. Olbane thought about his next move; if the temple helped him, he would go to Lia’s home and speak to her, then head east, most likely on foot, and hope to encounter someone he could convince to give him transport. He would rather have gone back to the trading road in Crossmoor to look for assistance, but feared that Black’s men would find him again, which he could not risk. Because he had no idea what he would do if the Priestesses at the temple would not help him, he did his best to push that possibility to the back of his mind.

It was a short time later when the cart came to a stop. The top of the canvas moved slightly, and Olbane had to shield his eyes from the sunlight. Michael’s voice came from above him. “We are here. The temple is just ahead of us.”

Olbane pulled himself up and did his best to climb out of the cart. He looked ahead of them and saw the temple, a large structure with a pointed steeple, the closest thing to home the Priestesses and acolytes had. Olbane offered his hand once more to Michael, who took it. “I owe you my life, Michael. I do not take debts of this nature lightly and I promise I will repay you.”

Michael’s expression softened considerably. “You are an honourable man, Olbane Jonson.” He paused. “A friend of mine is an acolyte in the temple; her name is Carly Waterford. If you mention her name, it might help you.”

Olbane remembered the diminutive young lady in white who was with Lia the night he literally ran into her. “Carly? I have a feeling I have already met her. I clumsily caused an accident with one of her friends two nights ago and she helped me take Lia home to rest.”

“Lia?” Michael’s expression grew dark. “You injured Lia?”

Olbane lowered his eyes. “I am afraid so. I was running from the men you and your father saved me from and wasn’t looking where I was going.” Olbane resumed eye-contact. “She is fine, however. I saw her yesterday and she was in good spirits.” He neglected to mention she had not met him the previous evening.

Michael’s expression did not change. “Well, you do get around, don’t you!” His tone was sarcastic to say the least. “Well, I’ll go and check on her myself later on, just to be sure.”

Olbane’s own expression grew serious. “No-one regrets what happened more than I, Michael.” He looked towards the temple and back again at the other man. “Once again, I give you my word I will repay your kindness.”

Despite his obvious irritation Michael offered his hand, which the other man took. “Good luck, Olbane; I hope whatever you have gets to where you want it to. There are too many bad people out there.”

Olbane nodded. “And to you; may your business continue to prosper.”

Olbane hobbled towards the temple and looked up at the large and imposing structure. He wondered how on Eureza he was going to convince the Priestesses to help him. The young acolyte Carly didn’t seem too angry with him two evenings ago, so Olbane considered it a possibility that she might find someone to heal his ankle, or even do it herself. As he walked through the large doors, the grandeur of the main temple foyer washed over him. It was impressive, to put it mildly: the foyer was at least twenty horses long, and probably fifteen wide, with ornate drapes and tapestries adorning each wall. In the centre, however, was the crowning glory, a large gold statue of Revan Himself. Olbane limped towards the end of the long room, where he saw a large desk with two women in white sat behind it.

The lady on the right nodded her head as he approached. “Good morning, young man. How may the church of Revan serve you this day?”

Olbane did his best to smile. “I am in need of Revan’s healing touch, my lady. My name is Olbane Jonson.”

The woman smiled back. “Master Jonson, is it your leg that requires healing, or something else? Please be aware it is not usual practice for Revan to grant His power for something that will heal naturally, over time.”

Olbane had expected that would be her response. “It is indeed my ankle, my lady. I would respectfully ask that my case be heard, as I fear my life is in danger if my ankle is not healed today.”

She rose from her seat. “Please, come with me. We can discuss your situation in private.”

Olbane nodded and followed the woman through a door, which led to a small room. Inside there was a desk with a chair behind it, and two other chairs facing it. The lady in white sat behind the desk and Olbane gingerly sat on one of the other chairs.

“Please do not be offended if I ask some direct questions; I need to be sure your situation is as it appears.” She did not elaborate, but Olbane understood her caution: they must have had similar requests, not all genuine, and a Priestesses’ time was precious. “Now, why is it you believe your life is in danger?”

Olbane cleared his throat. “I am carrying documents that will incriminate a merchant who is based in Susanon. There are two men following me, and I injured my ankle this morning escaping from them. I fear that if they find me they will take the documents, as well as my life.”

The woman nodded. “May I see these documents?”

Olbane wasn’t sure he wanted to share them, but he had no choice. He reached inside his tunic and pulled out a number of documents, which were crudely bound by a piece of string. “These prove that Terence Black and his associates are involved in the slave trade. They are not records, but there is correspondence between him and traders in Areza that mentions human goods.” Olbane placed the papers on the table.

The lady in white took a few moments to inspect the papers, then handed them back to Olbane. “My eye is untrained in matters of commerce, young man, but the slave trade goes against everything that Revan is.” She rose from her seat. “If you follow me, I will take you to the duty Priestess.”

Olbane was led deeper into the temple, past the main chapel where daily services were held and down a short narrow corridor, which opened into a larger room with a number of chairs around the outside. At the far end of the room was a single door, which was closed. The room was quite busy: there were four others sat on the chairs, all with various ailments and injuries; Olbane surmised it was some kind of surgery, where Revan’s healing power was administered.

The woman gestured for Olbane to take a seat. “Please, sit down and the Priestess will be with you as quickly as she can. She will not ask any further questions of you.”

Olbane thanked the woman, took a seat and wondered how he had managed to get so far so easily: Revan wasn’t called the God of Pity for nothing, he surmised. The young man sat back in the chair and waited; there were four others in front of him, so he decided he might as well make himself comfortable.

*

As she often did after waking from a deep sleep, Lia dozed on and off, but she was woken occasionally by the sound of voices.

“… she is really important to my cause, and I need you to understand that.”

“Nothing about your cause makes sense!”

The last voice sounded like her father’s, but because the door to her bedroom was closed, Lia wasn’t sure. Moments later the voices quietened, and Lia dozed off again.

“…I think it is time you left, and please take your friends with you.”

“I am sorry you feel this way. May I talk to her myself? She is old enough now to make her own decisions.”

The familiar voice grew louder: it was definitely her father’s. “No, you may not! Now, leave!”

“I must say I am extremely disappointed. I had great hope that someone from a lineage such as yours would have greater wisdom.”

There was a pause, before Lia heard her mother scream. “No! Leave us alone!”

Lia jumped out of bed and headed towards the door of her room, but stopped herself before she opened it. If whoever was out there was hostile, she wasn’t in a position to do anything about it. Quickly she looked towards her small bedroom window, which was ajar; she used to climb out of it as a child, and she had no choice but to attempt to do so again. If she could get out, she could run for help. Suddenly the handle of the door turned, and a middle-aged man wearing a high quality cloak walked into the room. Lia looked desperately for something to defend herself with.

“Now my dear, there is no need to be difficult about this.” The voice was almost soothing, and despite the situation Lia found herself listening intently. “We can help each other, you and I.”

Lia came to her senses. “Get away from me!”

The man took a step towards her. “All I want to do is talk to you. I did not come here to harm you or your family.”

Lia moved her head so she could see through the door behind him, but she couldn’t see her mother or father. “Where are my parents? Have you hurt them?”

He shook his head. “No. All I want to do is talk to you.”

Suddenly there was a grunt of pain from the kitchen and something smashed onto the floor. Natalya’s voice was shrill. “Lia! Run, get help!” Lia’s eyes glanced towards the window.

“I suppose we’ll have to do this the hard way.” The man’s voice sounded almost disappointed. He turned his head towards the kitchen. “You two clumsy oafs! Get in here!”

While his head was turned, Lia made a desperate lunge for the window and she managed to grab hold of the sill. Within moments, however, a pair of hands had grasped each of her ankles and she was hauled down towards the bedroom floor. Before her head hit the floor, Lia was able to scream one word: “Father!”

*

Carly sat at her desk and was almost resigned to despair. She had spent most of the day trying to connect with Revan, with no success. Carly had even tried helping at the surgery and spending time with the Priestesses, but she felt nothing at all. How on Eureza was she going to pass the Test? Whatever they threw at her, she was not going to be able to react as the Priestesses desired, and depending on what they decided to throw at her, she might have found herself in mortal peril. Tears of frustration and disappointment welled up in Carly’s eyes, and she forced herself to calm. The Priestesses of Revan used a meditation-style technique for calming, called Revan’s Peace. The Peace was actually a breathing and relaxation technique, so didn’t require a connection, which was fortunate for Carly. She breathed deeply, forced the negative thoughts from her mind and focused on Revan. After a few moments, Carly experienced the light-headedness that usually accompanied The Peace, and felt at one with herself.

“Father!”

Carly’s eyes snapped open, and she gasped. She moved to the window to see if anyone outside had cried out, then ran to the corridor outside of her room, where she almost collided with a fellow acolyte. “Acolyte Sophia, did you hear that?”

The other young woman frowned. “Heard what, acolyte Carly? This corridor is as silent as it usually is.”

Carly shook her head. “Forgive me, I must have been mistaken.” Carly ignored the raised eyebrow of the other woman and stepped back through her door. She had known immediately whose the voice was, but did not want to believe it. Priestesses had been known to receive messages or visions when at Revan’s Peace, but it was very unusual, particularly as there was no connection to the God of Pity involved. Carly considered her options: with her Test so close, she shouldn’t have left the temple, but Carly decided she couldn’t stand by and do nothing. She would normally have gone and talked to Priestess Thereza, but her mentor had been sent to Susanon the evening before. Carly had no choice: she put on her white cloak, left her room and walked briskly through the temple. A short while later she was in Crossmoor, and on her way to the house Lia’s parent’s owned.

Carly arrived at Lia’s home and was slightly out of breath from the very brisk walk. There was no sign of anyone on the land outside, which wasn’t unexpected as the Essmoors’ had few neighbours. The door at the front of the house was open, which was not particularly unusual, but Carly ignored the usual etiquette of knocking and walked straight in. “Lia! Are you here?” Carly’s shout was greeted by silence. She ran through the house to Lia’s bedroom but her friend was not there. Lia’s bed was not made, but once more, Carly didn’t think that was unusual: her friend had never been the tidiest of people. Carly was beginning to wonder if her mind was playing tricks on her and she considered the possibility she had been mistaken in the temple. When she recalled the terror in Lia’s voice, however, she forced herself to check the whole dwelling.

She found them lying on the floor in their bedroom, and their pale faces were contorted in pain. Both Francis and Natalya’s hands were reaching up to their necks as if to try and remove something, and they both had red marks around their throats. When she realised they were dead, Carly cried out in anguish, sank to her knees and sobbed uncontrollably.

*

As Olbane ran he couldn’t think of a reason why Lia didn’t meet him the night before; he believed they had a connection on a personal level, and when she had said she would go to The Traveller’s Call, he felt she genuinely wanted to spend more time with him. Olbane arrived at Lia’s home and stopped as he reached the door, which was open; inside he heard one unmistakable sound: a woman crying.

“Lia? Is that you?” Olbane didn’t wait for an answer and followed the sounds through to a medium-sized room with two beds in. Despite the sobbing, Olbane’s attention was distracted by the sight of Lia’s parents, who were clearly dead. After what seemed like minutes, he looked at the source of the sorrow and realised it was not who he expected to see. “Carly? Where is Lia?”

The young woman raised her head; she had tears running down her face. “I do not know. I fear that whoever did this has done the same to her.”

Olbane bolted and frantically went from room to room in the small home, where he looked for any sign of Lia. After a short but fruitless search, he returned to where Lia’s parents were; Carly had composed herself and was saying a prayer of penitence over Francis’s still form. Olbane knelt, bowed his head and silently prayed to Revan until Carly had also prayed for Natalya.

Finally, Carly pulled a blanket from each bed and placed one over each of Lia’s parents’ faces. “I must return to the temple, to report this and arrange for a proper remembrance service.” Her jaw gritted with anger; Olbane noted that Priestesses of Revan were not supposed to show such emotion, but let it pass. “Then I must find out what happened to Lia.”

Olbane considered what might have happened and his heart began to pound with anxiety. Lia was not yet twenty, and if alive, she must have been terrified. Why would anyone want to kill Lia’s family? Olbane could think of no plausible reason, but then families often had dark secrets, as his own experience had highlighted. The thought of his own family’s concerns brought an unwelcome notion into Olbane’s mind: were Black’s men responsible? Olbane suddenly felt physically sick; were Lia and her parents victims of his own moral crusade against slavery?

Carly’s voice interrupted his thoughts. “You are the man who knocked Lia over two evenings ago, are you not?”

Olbane nodded. “Olbane Jonson. I ended up accepting the Essmoors’ hospitality that night and I spent some time with Lia yesterday.” He shook his head sadly. “She agreed to meet me at The Traveller’s Call last evening, but did not arrive. I suspect we now know the reason why.”

Carly nodded and was apparently convinced the explanation was genuine. “I would appreciate it if you can remain here until I have reached the temple and brought back some assistance.” She sounded like a Priestess, in Olbane’s opinion, even if she was not.

Olbane inclined his head. “Of course; it is the least I can do.”

Carly left with a minimum of fuss, and Olbane was impressed at how quickly she had composed herself. From what he understood, Carly was an old friend of Lia’s, so most likely knew her parents well. It also occurred to Olbane that the young man Michael might also wish to know what had happened. All in good time; Olbane had an opportunity to investigate Francis and Natalya’s home himself, and he hoped he would find something that would give him an indication of where Lia was.

After saying another prayer to Revan, mostly asking for His protection for both Lia and her parents’ souls, Olbane went to Lia’s bedroom, where he hoped to find something that would tell him who had been there, and what they had done with Lia. Lia’s personal room was a mess, with clothes draped over furniture and trinkets and personal effects randomly scattered along the top of a dressing table. Olbane surmised that Lia was probably not the tidiest of people, so that was most likely her doing. There was nothing of particular value anywhere, but Lia’s father was a scribe, not a wealthy merchant, so unless he was involved in questionable dealings Lia would not have owned many items of value. Olbane searched the rest of the home as best he could and took particular care in Francis and Natalya’s room, but did not find anything of note. Olbane shook his head sadly, wandered outside of the home and sat on the earth outside, where he waited for Carly to return with assistance.

It was a short while later that Francisca smiled on him and Olbane noticed a scrap of parchment on the ground a few yards away. After bending over to pick it up, Olbane examined what was part of a map. The fragment showed the eastern part of Suria, and someone had neatly drawn a line bisecting the Great Forest and Lake Moor, the two famous landmarks that separated the northern part of Suria and the lands of Areza. The young man scratched his chin; was the map related to whoever had killed Lia’s parents? It was not conclusive evidence and although he felt guilty, Olbane hoped the murderers had dropped it; he couldn’t think of a reason why someone associated with Black would carry such a map. He jumped to his feet and wondered if someone on the east side of town had seen something; if he was to catch up with them, he would have to hurry. Olbane left Francis and Natalya to rest in peace and ran as fast as he could back to the centre of Crossmoor; it was more important to find Lia than to wait for Carly.

Carly and what looked like a small army of people from the temple were halfway to their destination when they met Olbane. Carly was walking at the rear of the group, but rushed to the front when she saw him. “What are you doing here? You are supposed to be at Lia’s house!” Her voice was tinged with anger.

Olbane shook his head and held up the parchment. “I think the people responsible left this behind!” He paused to take a breath. “I think they are heading east!”

The Priestess leading the procession moved alongside Carly. “Young man, if you have information relating to this terrible crime, then please give it to me. I will ensure it is dealt with.”

Olbane held back the parchment. “I would rather take it to the watch myself, Priestess. I fear if we do not act now the murderers will be out of reach.”

The Priestess shook her head. “I must see to the souls of those who have departed first.” She paused and then smiled sadly, as if acknowledging the young man’s sense of urgency, then touched Carly on the shoulder. “Acolyte Carly, you will escort this young man and his findings to the temple, where Priestess Eliza will deal with him. Please ask the desk to summon the watch.”

Carly nodded. “As you wish, Priestess.”

*

A short while later, Olbane handed over the parchment to Priestess Eliza, who was sat next to the Captain of the Watch, a middle-aged man with greying hair and matching moustache. The mature but regal-looking Priestess frowned and handed the parchment to the captain, who examined it and placed it on the table in front of him. “Well young man, it is not much information for me to work with, but I agree it is worth taking further.”

Olbane shifted in his seat. “So you’ll have your men head out of Crossmoor and track them down?”

“We will do our best, but you must understand my chief responsibility is to guard Crossmoor. Excuse me for a moment.” The older man moved to the door of the small room and spoke briefly to a member of the watch who was standing outside; moments later he returned. “We will put out a description of your friend and patrol as much of the outskirts of town as we can, focusing on the eastern side.”

Olbane stood up. “But they could have already left Crossmoor! For all we know they are well along the trading road by now!”

The captain spoke in a level voice. “I understand your anxiety, Master Jonson, but I think this is the best course of action.”

After he left the room, Olbane went to the foyer of the temple to join Carly. “They will not post the watch further than the outskirts of town, Carly. I fear that Lia’s abductors have already left Crossmoor, and the watch will not find them.” He looked to the ceiling of the temple, almost as if seeking divine guidance. “And we don’t even know for definite they have travelled east.”

Carly moved to put a hand on Olbane’s shoulder but stopped herself; a Priestess didn’t need to touch someone to reassure them. “We must put our faith in Revan, Olbane. We must trust that He will either bring Lia home to us or give someone the courage and wisdom to find her.”

Olbane was not convinced, but did not contradict the acolyte. He nodded his head and prayed she was right.

*

The bearded man laboured as they reached the outskirts of the town, while up ahead of him his companions discussed their next course of action. The greasy-haired man looked towards the man in the fine quality cloak. “It is a long road to our destination. Do we travel on the trading road, or a little rougher?”

“Even if the watch are aware, they will not follow for long. I suspect that once we are a reasonable distance away from the town we can use the trading road.” The older man glanced over at a group of trees. “Good. They are still there.” The two men walked towards three horses that were tethered under the trees and began to prepare them for the road ahead. They turned around to check on the bearded man’s progress and eventually he joined them. He then roughly dropped the still figure he was carrying to the ground, which caused her to moan slightly.

The older man looked in the girl’s direction. “She will be waking soon. We must make her secure.”

The bearded man swung up onto his mount and the greasy-haired man passed the girl up to him. While the bearded man tied the girl to the reins, the other two mounted and the three drove their horses on.

The older man in the cloak broke the silence. “We will ride hard and only stop when we have to. Let us keep to less travelled routes until we know she won’t do anything reckless.”

Shortly after the three horses rode off, a small boy jumped down from one of the trees. Moments later he turned in the direction of the town, and ran as fast as his legs would carry him.

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