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Demons: The Forbidden Kings

By Izzy Gibbard All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Other

Blurb

Diara Vettan was a young huntress who was forced to provide for her mother and younger sister when her father and brother abandoned them. It was an ordinary day when a mark of a black cross appeared on her and her sister's arm. Their mother wept for days. They didn't know why. She wouldn't tell them why.. Several weeks later, a mysterious man appeared at their door, bearing the same mark on his wrist. It was he who told them that they had become two of the most feared people in the world. Demons.

The Door

Vezra De’heren sat at the bar in the noisy inn, wringing his hands nervously as he waited for his drink. He kept his eyes on the wooden surface which his elbows were resting on, only looking up to thank the female bartender for his drink.

The inn was filled with custom. A band was playing jubilant music in the far corner; many people were dancing. Vezra had already had one man and three lonely women come up to him and ask him to dance. He politely denied them all, promptly pointing to his cane which was leaned against his knee.

His age was beginning to slow him physically, but his looks said nothing of his ailments. He was dark skinned, tall and muscular. He had shoulder length black hair, tied back in a loose knot and a beard which was intricately laced with beads. Many people looked at him with awe as they came to the bar to order their food and drink.

However, what these punters didn’t realise is that Vezra was the last person they would want to be associated with.

Ensuring no one was around, Vezra pulled down his left sleeve, revealing an ornate black cross which had been embedded into his skin. Quickly, he hid the mark again and sighed.

Vezra was known as a Demon.

Demons were much like mages and necromancers. However, their talents could not be learnt, and very rarely could they be matched in strength. This was why they were so widely feared.

Legends told stories of the Demons being atrocious people; slaughtering the innocent and building cities in order to rule on the corpses of civilians. Mothers would tell their children fables of how if they didn’t finish their chores, or didn’t eat their meals, Demons would take them away and use them as their slaves.

But no one knew the good side of Demons. This was because the information had been hidden.

Vezra lived on a long island named the White Island. It was a part of the realm of Ferrenwinn, which stretched across an additional two islands and two countries.

In the centre of the White Island was Vezra’s home. A cave, buried underground and its entrance concealed by a tall waterfall. With him lived three women; Demons much like himself, but far younger, and a man who was human, but an exceptional mage.

Inside the cave was a great, round, sand coloured door, encrusted with runes, symbols and intricate patterns. A door considered to be a myth. Tales proclaimed that behind the door was a wonderful treasure of gold and gems.

However, Vezra thought differently.

In order to unlock the door, five ebony crosses had to be collectd and correctly placed into their respective holes in the door. Vezra already had two, and they both looked just the same as the cross tattooed on his wrist. The three Demon women he lived with also bore the same mark. It was a Demon’s brand.

Vezra believed that the door sheltered many secrets and that these secrets may be the key to the Demons’ salvation. Maybe so that they would no longer be considered heartless monsters. Maybe they may be able to live amongst the humans and the elves and the dwarves.

But sometimes he thought he might just be a wishful thinker.

“Ya’ could at least try ’nd smile,” the barkeep said, snapping Vezra out of his day dream. He glanced up and his brown eyes sparkled.

“Oh, but it seems like so much work,” he said in his deep, captivating voice.

“Penny for your thoughts?” the lady responded. She was a similar size to Vezra, but shorter and had long, golden hair which swayed gracefully as she walked the length of the bar to clean it down.

“A penny would not be enough,” Vezra said.

She was clearly disappointed in his answer, as she didn’t speak to him again for several minutes. Vezra finished off his ale and played with the flagon for a little while before the bartender came and took it from his hands.

“Pay up, pretty boy,” she smirked, holding her hand out.

“‘Boy’?” Vezra said, digging into his coin purse and scraping out a couple of gold pieces. He placed them in her hand. “I daresay that I am older than you, darling. Or does the greying hair not give that away?”

“Piss off, Vezra,” she winked at him, pocketing the money.

Vezra did as he was told. The inn had emptied a few customers since he sat down and he was able to weave his way slowly around the dancers and the merry singers, being careful not to trip anyone up with his walking stick.

He stepped out into the harsh, winter air. The wind went straight into the back of his throat, causing him to cough as he strolled along the path.

The village of Blackstone was the closest settlement to them. They didn’t go into the village too often, as they didn’t want their faces to get recognized too easily. Vezra, however, was born in Blackstone, which is why he was the one who normally went to get him and his companions supplies.

Vezra pulled his hood up and tightened his belt before setting off down the hill. Soft snowflakes were fluttering through the air. Around him, parents were dragging their children indoors for dinner, shops were beginning to close and market sellers were beginning to pack up their stalls.

Truth be told, Vezra missed being in the village. It was small and out of the way, but it was quiet and had a nice atmosphere. A friendly atmosphere.

Vezra approached the bottom of the hill. As the land began to flatten, he stepped off to the right and off the path and into the woods. Many of the trees had been stripped bare of their leaves, allowing a small amount of light to shine through.

“I had better hurry,” Vezra thought.

The woods were not the safest of places; even during the day. Wolves and bears were a common problem which Vezra could easily deal with. However, there were beings which lurked in the shadows of the trunks and the undergrowth which were far more difficult to contend with.

Haunters.

Commonly, Haunters were a rarity and many hunters would go through their lives never seeing a peep of one. However, it was said that the dangerous ghosts lurked around places which held good fortune. Others said that they guarded places that had seen much death. Some even said that they protected places which should never be discovered.

The forest which surrounded Vezra’s cave was filled with Haunters. He blamed their presence on the door which stood in his home.

To normal people, Haunters were completely silent. People would feel them before they saw them. They caused people to become nauseous, cold and dizzy before appearing and striking them down with their black magic. Any noise which a Haunter made would be a scream.

But this was not the case with Demons. Demons could hear the gruelling cries of Haunters. Most of the time, they parroted the same thing: “LEAVE OUR LAND AND WE MAY SPARE YOU.” Or: “YOU DARE DEFY OUR SACRED PLACE?”

An advantage to their presence was they prevented hunters from discovering the Demons’ whereabouts. Hunters, hikers and general rabble had never even gotten close to the lakeside, let alone Vezra’s little hidey-hole.

Typically, Vezra maintained a very calming demeanour. His thoughts were rational, his ideas were considerate and his level of panic always remained far lower than anyone else’s, even when it should be a time to panic.

Even still, as he wove around the trees, stepping over roots, squeezing through bushes and using his stick to block off nettles, he couldn’t help the small sigh of relief which escaped his lips as he heard the comforting thunder of the waterfall flowing.

The ground descended steeply and came to a lake, surrounded by an oval shaped cliff which was built up by large boulders and was open at one end. At the opposite end, the waterfall crashed down into the partially frozen body of water.

Vezra made his way around the narrow dirt track which engulfed the lake. He had become well accustomed to the uneven ground and ice, so he followed the pathway with ease until he came behind the waterfall. The sound was deafening, but it was a sound he was used to and comforted by.

Directly behind the waterfall, a small gap had been dug into the rocks. On the right hand side of the gap was a small symbol of a black ‘X’. Vezra placed his palm over the top of the cross and whispered.

“I am chaos and I am salvation. I am the dark and I am the light. Allow this dear Demon passage, for I fear I could do more damage.”

He had implemented this password when he had discovered the cave and the door. It allowed him and his fellow Demons access; their human friend had a separate password which also allowed him passage.

Beneath his hand, the man felt the rocks rumble gently. The one in front of him moved aside and allowed him to enter a tunnel which led into the cliff. Another cross greeted him past the entrance way. Lightly, he brushed his fingers over it and the rocks behind him closed up as he followed the tunnel around a sharp corner. Torches were lit on the walls, making the path very hot and stuffy. Eventually, he came to an old wooden door which he opened using the iron handle.

The room which followed was a large, high ceilinged area, which Vezra named the Hall. The entirety of the Hall was fashioned out of the cliff’s rocks which had been smoothed down and moulded to fit around the shape of the great, sand coloured door which was at the far end.

The Hall was lit solely by torches and braziers as there were no windows. In the centre of the room was a long, rectangular table with six chairs around it. Dotted around were barrels, chests, drawers and wardrobes. A cooking station stood by the table, the smoke from the fire going up into a chimney which led into a cave which was no longer accessible.

A small forge, a potion station and several more benches were also placed around the room. Four doors, two on the left and two on the right, were embedded into the rock walls.

Vezra shut the oak door behind him and dragged off his robes. He hung them on a steel hook which protruded from the wall and staggered in towards the table.

At the table sat three people; two women and a man. The man was scruffy haired and short and wore baggy, torn clothing. He had a very young face, but was in fact the second oldest in the group.

The woman who was sat beside him was the youngest of the group. She had shoulder length, brown hair and bright green eyes. She was helping the man, who was focussing on crafting potions.

“Greetings,” Vezra spoke to them as he approached. He hooked his cane over the backs of one of the chairs.

“Have a nice drink?” the woman asked, a small amount of envy coming through her voice. She had a pretty voice to match her pretty face.

“It was pleasant,” Vezra nodded and smiled. “Nothing eventful, however, my dear Erin, so try not to seem too disappointed.”

Erin chuckled and went back to grinding up whatever plant she had in her small dish.

“What are you making, Hari?” Vezra said to the man. As he looked up sharply, Hari’s hair flopped down in front of his eyes.

“The first batch of immunity potions were unsuccessful,” Hari said, looking down again. His voice was laced with disappointment, as well as being high and squeaky.

Vezra placed a hand on the young man’s shoulder.

“Mistakes are good, Hari,” he said. “How would you know of your successes if mistakes were never made?”

Hari frowned for a moment before catching Vezra’s eyes. He smiled and went back to rifling through the half a dozen books he had stacked on the table.

Vezra moved to the opposite end, where the other woman was sat, her arms folded across her chest, glowering down at a map of the realm.

She was the most unique of the group.

Sky blue hair and piercing brown eyes; she was just as tall as Vezra and immensely strong. It was rare to see a happy look on her face, which was why Vezra didn’t feel obligated to ask how she was as he approached.

“Searching for something?” he asked, sitting down beside her. He saw her look at him out of the corner of her eye. “Planning something, maybe?”

“Everything alright in the village?” she said defensively, completely ignoring the man’s question. He wasn’t surprised, so he continued to humour her.

“I was asked to dance by several pretty ladies and one beautiful man,” Vezra replied with his brow raised.

“You take far too much pleasure in that,” the woman mumbled under her breath. Vezra heard her, but didn’t comment.

“Everything was as it always is,” he continued. “No news of anything from anywhere. I daresay it was rather boring.”

In response, the woman grunted.

“Is Diara still out hunting?” he asked.

“Do you see her here?” the woman snapped and Vezra frowned.

“Well, for all I know, Hari could have finally fashioned an invisibility potion which worked,” Vezra said calmly.

“It nearly worked! It was only Miss Erin’s eyebrows and nose which showed this time!” Hari piped up from the other end of the table. Vezra grinned at him and Hari puffed his chest out proudly.

“A potion of happiness might be the next one on the list,” Erin muttered loudly. Vezra saw the sky haired grip the map in her fist out of anger, but she didn’t even look up at the younger woman.

“You have been awful quiet lately,” Vezra spoke back to the woman, shooting Erin a stern look. “Anything you would like to discuss?”

Initially, she completely dismissed him, but Vezra wasn’t taking silence for an answer this time.

Serena,” he urged, grabbing her wrist. She snatched it back and glared angrily at him.

“Do not call me that,” she growled. “I’m not Serena anymore, Vezra; we go over this every single fucking day.”

Vezra gave a sigh and ran his fingers through his hair.

“…Lightning…” he said slowly. Her eyes became more soft, but she was still clearly angry.

Serena ‘Lightning’ Thomas. She was the third eldest in their group and most certainly the most stubborn one of them. Violence was often the only plausible solution to her, especially when it came to defending her friends.

But deep down, she was shattered. Broken. All of the heartache she had been through had turned into anger instead of sadness. Never had she ever been truthful with her feelings. She always pretended not to care. But Vezra believed that, out of all of them, she really cared the most.

“I…I still think trying to find help in Dorric is our best plan,” Lightning said, now opening herself up to him. She removed her arms from her chest and ran her fingers along the map.

“Seeking help from the elves will either be a disaster or a blessing,” Vezra said thoughtfully.

“We’re more likely to get help from them than anyone else,” Lightning urged. “I agree, but if we get an elven army on our bad side, we might as well just go and jump into the underworld ourselves,” Vezra argued gently.

Vezra and Lightning were always at loggerheads. Vezra always wished to think plans through thoroughly before executing them. Lightning, however, thought that it was best not to waste time and jump into the deep end.

However, Vezra enjoyed moments like this where he and Lightning were discussing something which they disagreed on without raising their voices. It never happened often, but Vezra learned to cherish it when it did.

“I’m not suggesting we go to the Lord and Lady and ask them for help,” Lightning rolled her eyes. “I had an idea earlier.”

“Enlighten me,” Vezra said.

“…The University of Magic.”

“Oh, so it’s not a new idea.”

“I never said it was,” Lightning pointed out. “Your nephew works in their library, right? The one you exchange letters with sometimes. Why can’t he help us get in?”

“He might be able to,” Vezra said. “But it would not take long for us to be discovered, especially in such a high profile place.” He thought for a moment and raised his hand when he saw that Lightning was about to give a counter proposal.

Unless,” Vezra said. “He speaks highly of a teacher there; the Destruction teacher, goes by the name of Talin. Perhaps Moreley could arrange something on the down low with him.”

“How do we know we can trust Talin?”

“Well, I would trust my nephew not to lead us into shackles and a guillotine. If I could find out a little bit more information on Talin and give Moreley the idea, he may be able to resolve something.”

“Is Talin Elven?”

“Not that I know of. However, gathering from my experiences in the northern countries, many of those from Shattershell and Dorric do not appear nearly as…Weary of us Demons.” He shuffled forward on his chair and looked at Lightning.

“What do you wish to intend from this?” he asked.

“I want to know where the rest of those fucking crosses are,” Lightning said, leaning back. “You’re convinced that whatever lies behind that door could mean we could come out of hiding. Finally clear our names.”

“I pray so,” Vezra said. “However, I still worry that whatever is there may not be what we require at all.”

Lightning let out a half-hearted laugh and shook her head.

“Surely, surely, we are better off not sitting around here on our arses and actually doing something?” she demanded.

“I am not disagreeing with you,” Vezra answered calmly. “When it comes to the University, I believe you are right; it would be the best place to begin.”

“However,” his voice went stern very suddenly. “After that stunt you and Erin pulled in the King’s City, even the northern countries will have posters up of you.”

Lightning looked away. Vezra caught Erin’s eye and she began to fluster, so quickly engaged in conversation with Hari.

Lightning and Erin had travelled to the most southern city on the island; the King’s City. It was an expedition they took part in once every month in order to stock up on essentials which they couldn’t get from the nearby villages. Myst was the closest city to them, but it was one of the worst places for them to go. No one could turn a corner in Myst without seeing a bounty poster for one of the Demons.

Lightning and Erin would teleport themselves to a small, abandoned campsite just outside of the King’s City. Within a few hours, they would return to the site, loaded with raw materials, some foods, equipment and clothing, before teleporting back to the lake.

The last time they did this, it did not go so swimmingly.

A well-known advantage to being a Demon was the teleportation skill. No other being was able to do such a thing, not even the most talented of mages.

The previous time which the pair magically transported themselves to the fishing camp, it was being demolished by guards. Before they could even think about retreating, Erin was locked in shackles and Lightning was forced to kill two of the guards to retrieve her.

The entirety of the King’s City was now on high alert. Patrols had been doubled and outposts had considerably more officers guarding them than usual.

“I had to rescue Erin,” Lightning argued. “What choice did I have other than to do what I did? It was seven against two.”

“That seven, most painstakingly, turned into five,” Vezra frowned. Killing was never in his nature; not unless it was strictly necessary. “If you had fallen back and returned here, we could have gone and rescued Erin together.”

“Oh yeah, and that would have been a great conversation with Diara!” Lightning snapped. “‘Hey, so the plan didn’t go so well. Your sister is now in shackles and will be executed by sundown!’.”

“What’s the matter with you two now?”

Neither of them had heard a fifth person enter the Hall. Vezra turned around on his chair and saw an older version of Erin standing in front of him. She had a bow in one hand and a dead deer over her opposite shoulder. Her leather and fur clothes were stained with blood.

“I did not hear you come in,” Vezra confessed.

“Here,” Lightning strode to her and hoisted the deer onto her own shoulders and walked towards their little kitchen.

“Hey, sis,” the blood stained woman greeted Erin.

“Are you okay, Diara?” Erin asked, a concerned look glazing over her face at the amount of blood which soaked her sister’s clothing.

“Perfectly,” Diara answered with a smile and sat opposite Hari. “What are you working on?”

“Drink,” Hari said abruptly. He handed Diara a small vial of cloudy, blue liquid. She looked at it quizzically.

“What—”

Drink,” Hari repeated, not appearing to be paying a lot of attention as he combined more and more ingredients into a little glass bottle.

Diara looked at Erin, who merely shrugged. After taking the cork out of the bottle, Diara drunk all the potion in one go. It tasted like melted iron, causing her to gag as it burned the back of her throat.

“Stand up,” Hari ordered.

Still coughing, Diara did as she was told. Hari, who was at least six inches shorter than her, got up as well and pushed her into the open space of the Hall. Everyone was watching with great interest.

“Stay,” Hari said. He moved away and turned to face her. “Stand still.”

Daring not to move, Diara rooted herself to the spot, almost choking in her desperate attempts not to cough.

From his hand, Hari formed a black sphere out of thin air. It danced and rolled in place just above his gloved palm. Small sparks began to emit from it.

Before she could protest, he cast the spell at Diara. It hit her just above her belt and enveloped her in bolts of lightning.

It was a strange sensation; Diara could feel every spark as they wrapped around her, but the feelings were not of pain. It was as if she was simply being prodded with small, blunt objects.

After several, aggravating seconds, the spell wore off and Diara looked down at her hands. It looked as though she had just put them into an open flame. Burns and blisters were already appearing, but they didn’t cause her any pain.

“Hm,” Hari mumbled thoughtfully. He had pulled a pocket sized book and quill out from his torn shirt pocket.

“Hari, what—” Diara began but was silenced by the little man.

“Stay,” Hari said again and went over to the table. He returned to her empty handed.

“Fascinating,” he muttered, looking at the burns on her wrists. “An immunity to pain; but not an immunity to being wounded.”

With a snap of his fingers, he fashioned a small blade out of thin air. It was purple and produced an odourless smoke.

“Hari, what are you doing?!” Diara cried but to no avail. She watched as he ran the sharp edge of the blade across her palm. Blood poured from the wound, dripping onto the stone beneath their feet.

“Anything?” Hari said, looking at her. His eyes sparkled, making him look insane as he glanced down hopefully at the gash.

“N-No,” Diara shook her head. “Nothing.”

So, no harm from magic; no harm from blades,” Hari said to himself, walking back over to the table. Vezra, Lightning and Erin all stared at Diara, completely silent, mostly from shock of what they had just witnessed.

“Would Miss Diara be averse to stripping naked, jumping into the lake and contracting hypothermia?” Hari asked Diara seriously.

“Yes!” Diara said, her eyes widening. She had already known that Hari was eccentric, but this was beyond his usual madness.

“Fine, fine,” he dismissed, writing quickly and scruffily into his book. He turned back, a wary look on his face. “Oh, uh, Hari cannot heal you until the potion has worn off.”

Diara rolled her eyes and scoffed. She went over to the kitchen and grabbed an old cloth and used it to bandage up her hand.

“Was it supposed to make her immune to pain?” Erin asked the little man suspiciously as he continued to jot down in his book. When he didn’t respond with anything more than pausing for a few seconds, Erin wasn’t surprised and joined Vezra and Lightning at the other end of the table.

“The only issue with going to the northern countries is getting there,” Lightning said, observing her map again.

“I would not perceive that as being the only issue, but it is one of the most substantial,” Vezra nodded, also poring over the map.

“Wait, what’s going on?” Diara asked, coming back over to them with her roughly bandaged hand. Erin saw the state of it and sighed.

“Come here,” she said and Diara went to stand by her.

“Lightning thinks there are positive aspects to paying my nephew a visit,” Vezra explained as Erin recovered the wound. “I could not agree more; if we were not the most hunted people in the realm.”

He briefly explained about the ways of which the elves could possibly help them learn more about the door, adding in a short explanation of the teacher at the university named ‘Talin’.

“But he isn’t an elf?” Diara said, puzzled.

“Not to my knowledge, no, but Moreley thinks highly of him,” Vezra answered. Diara had dragged a chair around so that she was sitting at the corner of the table in between her sister and Lightning.

“He would want something in return, though,” Erin interjected.

“Perhaps whatever lies behind that door would be payment enough for his aid,” Vezra said to her.

“Please,” Lightning scoffed. “He would be putting his neck on the line for a group of convicts; he would want something substantial.”

“Knowledge is worth more than gold and jewels,” Vezra said flatly.

“Depends on who you ask.”

They fell into a silence. Hari’s mutterings and grindings were the only noise which penetrated the solemn lull. The atmosphere appeared to alter; a mixture of frustration and despair. Desperately, the four of them were trying to devise a way of which they could possibly make Lightning’s idea work.

Even Vezra had to admit that he was tired of doing nothing. The last time had found a crest was several years ago, and it was purely by chance that he had walked into the pawn shop in Blackstone as the owner was displaying his new wares. Vezra didn’t believe his eyes at first when he saw the shining, ebony cross staring up at him beneath the glass display case.

All of them wanted to know what the runes on the edge of the rounded doorway meant; whether they had any relation to what might be hiding inside.

Each of them had different ideas as to what was locked inside: Vezra thought it was a library of old books and records; an entire room filled with the history of every Demon who lived before them. Hari thought it was a room replete with enchantments and incantations, information on how a Demon was so strong. Diara considered the insides to be an armoury of unique weaponry and armour which only a Demon could wear.

Erin had always been under the impression that a place so old and so tightly secure could only be rife with treasure beyond a person’s wildest imaginations.

Lightning constantly bounced between ideas. Sometimes she would agree with any one of them, but other times she was convinced that they would open the door to find nothing at all.

The silence lulled over them for a good ten minutes before Diara finally piped up.

“Well, we can’t all go,” she said. She pointed at Vezra. “You have to go.”

“Blatantly obvious, considering Moreley has met none of you before,” Vezra chuckled.

“We may end up killing Hari if we teleport him such a distance; even just to the north end of the island,” Diara added, speaking loudly so the man could hear her. He didn’t appear to pay attention.

Demons could move a non-Demon from one place to another using their skills, but any large distance could result in them being wounded, or worse yet, killed.

“Okay, but all four of us can’t go,” Lightning said. She gave a sigh and scratched the back of her neck. “Maybe you and Vezra should be the only ones who go.”

“What?! No!” Erin protested immediately.

“You’ll be fine here, Erin,” Diara said soothingly. “Light and Hari will keep you safe.”

“I’m not concerned about me, idiot!” Erin snapped at her sister, now on her feet. “I’m worried about you two!” She paused.

“You’re going into a country which is inhabited predominantly by elves and a lot of them don’t like humans.” She looked across at Vezra, who tried not to catch her eye, but was unsuccessful. “Elves are different. Aren’t they?”

Awkwardly, Vezra shifted on his chair and glanced back and forth between the two sisters.

“Well…Yes,” he said slowly. “Yes, in many ways they are. Their natural gift for magic being one of their most unique traits.” He sat forward and ran his fingers through his hair. “None of you have ever encountered an elf, have you?”

The three women shook their head in unison.

“Typically, they are very hard headed, even more so than you,” Vezra continued, casting a brief eye at Lightning. “Many begin practicing magic at a very early age. So by the time they become adults, they are very skilled.”

“Weren’t the elves divided into two cliques?” Diara asked and was surprised when Vezra gave a hearty laugh.

“Oh, my dear, that division still remains,” he said. “Dusk Elves and Dawn Elves are still at war, but in a somewhat peaceful manner.” The confused expressions facing him provoked him to explain.

“In many Elven cultures, war is a thing that should not be entertained, no matter how detrimental a disagreement may be. Obviously, rebel groups still come out of hiding every so often, meaning that the Dusks and the Dawns bind together to defeat them.”

“But when a rebel group is not present,” he continued. “Dusk Elves and Dawn Elves hate each other from a distance. However, if the area between them comes too close, they will turn on each other.”

“But the Dusk Elves are more likely to strike if the time comes?” Erin asked.

“Not necessarily,” Vezra shook his head. “Both sides fight for what they believe to be right. When something comes in the way of that, they will strive to get it out of the way, no matter what the cost.” All the women passed looks. “Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?” Vezra said and they all nodded again. “Dorric is split in two, as is the City of Dorric. However, there are many cities, towns and settlement across the country which wouldn’t allow the entry of those of the opposite faith, even if they were dying from thirst or starvation.”

He ran his hand over his face and sighed, looking pleadingly at Erin.

“My dear, I am inclined to agree with Lightning on this,” he said. “Despite the price which is on your heads at the moment after the incident outside the King’s City, a big group of us suddenly turning up at the University of Magic.”

“This is still providing Moreley is willing to help us,” Diara put in.

“He will be, I’m sure,” Vezra said.

Erin looked disappointed and worried. Slowly, Vezra reached across the table and laid his hand on top of hers.

“I’ll take care of Diara,” he said softly, smiling.

“More like I’ll be taking care of you, old man,” Diara teased. She turned to her sister. “Alright?”

Begrudgingly, Erin nodded.

Nothing more was mentioned about the expedition to Dorric. Erin had fallen quiet and didn’t speak much to any of them. Often they would see her sat at the table, looking lost in a daze.

Diara didn’t like leaving her sister; she much preferred to have her by her side, especially when travelling so far away. It wasn’t often that they did have to separate. Normally, they were attached at the hip, particularly when Erin was growing up.

Hari travelled to Blackstone the a few days after the conversation to send the letter which Vezra wrote out to his nephew.

Hari caught the morning market in the centre of the village. It was held in a large, stone courtyard which was secluded by fir trees. After his brief visit to the courier’s office to send the scroll, he went and browsed around the stalls.

It was busy and snowing heavily. Floods of people, predominantly women, shopped quickly at each stall, wrapped up in heavy fur pelt coats. Many cast Hari a strange look as he sauntered past them.

The man paid no attention; he was aware he stuck out like a sore thumb in the crowd. Dressed in his oldest, most torn clothing, he walked about, humming merrily.

“That all for you, love?” the woman at the produce stand asked him as he handed over the herbs and ingredients he had collected.

“Yes, please,” he said politely, pulling out his coin purse. He counted out his money twice before handing it over.

As he waited for her to finish packaging his things, he took a quick look around. On the opposite side of the courtyard was a band of guards, dressed in polished steel armour, vibrant red capes attached to their pauldrons. Intricately sewn into the capes was a gold emblem of a bear.

“That’s the King’s Guard,” the lady at the stall told Hari, who had seen him staring at them. “Must be something drastically wrong if they’ve travelled all the way from the King’s City to here.”

Hari nodded, only partially acknowledging what she had said. He took his parcels off of the lady and stuffed them into his knapsack.

Thanking the vendor once more, he turned around to leave, but before he had even put his first foot forward, he found himself face to face with a large member of the King’s Guard.

Hesitantly, Hari went to sidestep him, but the guard caught the back of his robes and dragged him off to the side.

Once he was up against the treeline, Hari was able to take a look at the person who had manhandled him. He was significantly larger than Hari, and had short brown hair and a face that looked very familiar.

When the guard was happy he wasn’t being overheard, he lowered his voice and growled down at Hari.

“Shouldn’t you be in school, boy?”


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