Rafe and Moralie were enjoying their dinner at a local pub. They were talking about how far they should ride tomorrow. Rafe wanted to at least reach the border of the Septia Kingdom by nightfall. She was in a hurry to get to Mount Rialto. If she didn’t get Zeke there within a week, it could spell disaster for the whole world.
Moralie was sipping on some hot tea when she asked, “Have you told Zeke anything about the quest we’re on?” She stared at Rafe as she took another sip.
Rafe shook her head. “I’m surprised he hasn’t asked. He’s been very agreeable so far.” She took a bite of her steak and chewed thoughtfully. She didn’t want to tell him what his role in the quest was going to be until it was too late for him to turn back. Things could get messy if she had to strong arm him into playing his part. Right now, ignorance was bliss.
“You’re going to have to tell him soon.” Moralie set her mug down and gave Rafe a playful look. “He’s going to have questions and you’re going to have to be ready. He’s only been with us two days. He’s getting a little anxious with all of the sudden threats against his life.”
“I know,” Rafe replied. She had been thinking about it for the past two days. “I just want to get a little further before I tell him what he’s mixed up in.”
“You’re afraid he’s going to hate you,” Moralie said. “for leading him on.”
“I don’t care if he hates me.” Rafe cut another piece of her steak and placed into her mouth. She really didn’t care if he hated her; she cared if he would do as he was told. She thought that Zeke was a nice kid, but the fate of the world was at stake. She needed to know that he would hold up his end of the plan when the time came.
“You’re so cold.”
Rafe knew that Moralie was judging her; she didn’t half mind. She had a job to do and it was her highest priority, everything else came second. She suddenly lost her appetite and pushed her plate away from her. She had wanted dessert, but the conversation had soured her stomach.
Moralie was the first one to notice the silence. The pub had been really jumping before with people talking excitedly and music being played on the piano, but there was nothing now. She looked around and saw that the surrounding people were still. No one moved a muscle. Moralie tapped on the table at Rafe to get her attention.
Rafe looked up from her plate and scanned the room. There were people standing and sitting in different locations in the pub, but no one spoke a word, no one moved. This was most strange indeed. Something was wrong and she was upset with herself for not noticing this sooner. Whatever was happening, she and Moralie were right in the middle of it with no defensible way out.
“We need to get out of here.” Rafe stood up and grabbed her sword which had been leaning against the wall by their table.
“You don’t think the proprietor would be upset if we didn’t leave a tip, do you?” Moralie liked a free meal when she could get it. She stood up slowly and grabbed her bag that contained her daggers.
The both of them gazed at the frozen people and waited for them to make a move. No one so much as flinched. They eyed the door and saw that it was unobstructed. They hastened their steps towards it and that was when everything changed.
There was a creaking and then the sound of splintering wood. This stopped them in their tracks. The noise was coming from all around them. There were a few people by the door that started to move, their motions were jerky at best. The people sitting at the bar stood up, the sound of wood splitting apart accompanied their movement. They all crept their way toward Rafe and Moralie.
“Oh, this is not good,” Moralie said. She clutched some of her daggers and prepared to fight.
Rafe unsheathed her sword and held it out in front of her. The people kept approaching them as they shuffled. The people by the door arranged themselves in front it, blocking their escape. Rafe brandished her sword and issued a warning for them to let her pass. The people didn’t say anything to acknowledge that they understood what she said.
“These people are possessed by some evil spirit,” Moralie surmised. It was the only explanation she could come up with. One of the people tried to touch her, but she brushed him off. “Why are we still here? Let’s push them out of the way and get out of here!”
“Let us out or I swear I will cut you,” Rafe shouted. The people didn’t seem to hear her. Rafe lifted her sword and stabbed one of the men in the chest. The man seemed unfazed by his new injury. She withdrew the blade and found it devoid of blood. She stared at it and was astonished. She gazed up at the man and saw that there was something wrong with his face. His skin was bubbling and popping. In a matter of seconds, the skin suddenly melted away and left only the blank stare of a wooden head. She gasped at the sight of this. All of the people that surrounded them had their faces melt off. It left a slimy mess on the floor. They continued to circle around them.
“They’re wooden puppets,” Moralie said, disgusted by what she had seen. “They’re not real people.”
“Good, then they won’t mind if I do this!” Rafe swung her sword and sliced one of the mannequins’ head off. It rolled to the floor in a simple thump. The other mannequins shook as their heads began to emit a horrible roaring sound. The lower part of the heads split open to reveal mouths with splinters for teeth. Their hands grew long claws that were ready to slice into them. This horrified Rafe and Moralie and caused them to back away.
“What kind of trickery is this?” Moralie asked.
“This is dark magic to be sure.” Rafe gathered her wits and charged at one of the wooden puppets standing in front of the exit. Her sword pierced right through it and out the back of it. She used the momentum from the charge to push the puppet out through the two wooden doors and onto the street. Moralie left the pub and joined Rafe outside. Rafe pulled her sword out of the puppet and sliced its head off. It let out a sigh as the spell wore off.
“Take the heads off!” Rafe commanded.
“Easy for you to say!” Moralie pulled out a couple of her daggers and stared at them. The daggers didn’t lend themselves to quick slicing. She grinned as she remembered that she had a trick up her sleeve. She reached into her bag and pulled out six black daggers. These were special because they were made by a wizard who cast a spell on them. She had been waiting for an excuse to use them.
“It’s time to light up my life!” Moralie watched as the mannequins slowly stumbled out of the pub. She attached chains to her magic daggers for easy retraction. Once there were enough mannequins in the streets, she threw the daggers at them. She counted to five and then watched as smoke began to rise out of the hit mannequins. In a matter of seconds, they caught fire and collapsed to the ground. She pulled on the chains and the daggers returned to her.
“Fancy,” Rafe chimed. She readied herself as more mannequins came at her. She spun her sword and hacked and slashed at anything that came near her. Heads were rolling on the ground when she was done. The mannequins reached out to touch her, but Rafe cut their hands off before finally removing their heads.
Mannequin bodies piled up in front of the pub. Between Rafe’s beheading and Moralie’s incendiary tactics, they were dropping fast. They couldn’t believe that the pub had been occupied by so many.
Rafe wondered how she could have missed all of this. She admonished herself for not picking up on their presence before this happened. She was usually good at picking up disturbances, but this one slipped right past her. She made a mental note to be more observant.
As the last two mannequins exited the pub, Moralie made quick work of them. As she retrieved her fire daggers from their chests, Moralie chuckled. She had been enjoying herself and was almost sad that there weren’t any left. She wiped the sweat from her brow and sighed. “Do you think this was an isolated incident?”
Rafe shook her head. “This was trap set up by some evil force. You can bet that there’s more throughout the town. Whomever is gunning for Zeke is after all of us now.”
“Who would have the power to make an entire town a trap?” Moralie asked.
“The person who knows we’re after the Alta Stone.” Rafe sheathed her sword and started walking away from the pub. Moralie followed closely behind. “We have to find the others. Chances are they were met with the same welcoming party.”
“But they could be anywhere.” Moralie didn’t like the idea of having to search the whole town for Zeke and Simon; though it would give her another chance to play with her fire daggers again if they ran into trouble.
“We’ll head to the inn. If they’re looking for us, they might head there.” Or at least Rafe hoped so. It made sense to her, it was possible that it would make sense to Simon as well. She hastened her steps, leaving Moralie to attempt to match her pace. Rafe had tunnel vision; she had to make it the inn in time. She had to make sure that Zeke was alright or this quest was all for nothing.
“Could you walk any faster?” Moralie asked, panting. She groaned as Rafe sped up. “It wasn’t a challenge, you know!”
The inn was within sight. Rafe slowed down and felt relieved. If Simon and Zeke were alright, they could pack up their things and leave this town behind them.
Just before they could reach the inn, a group of mannequins walked into the open. They stood defiantly between them and the inn. Rafe estimated that there were about thirty mannequins. She grinned. Not even enough to be a challenge, she thought.
“You take the ones on the left,” Rafe said, drawing her sword.
Moralie took out her fire daggers and stared at her opponents. They appeared to be making the same decision.
The mannequins split into two groups and crouched down, ready to pounce. Rafe and Moralie took battle ready stances. No one moved for thirty seconds. Then as if a timer had gone off, both sides sprung into action.
Rafe charged at the enemy with her sword held high until she brought it down to fell a mannequin. It reached out and clawed at her right arm as she decapitated it. Its body fell limply to the ground, head lolling beside it. She didn’t stop and raced toward the next one, ignoring the pain in her arm.
Moralie let her daggers fly and plant themselves into the chests of six mannequins. She kept her distances from them and waited for the embers within to catch fire. In a matter of seconds, flames burst out and consumed the mannequins. A shrill whistle sounded as the magic rose out of them. She was beginning to enjoy that sound. She pulled on the chains and extracted the daggers from their chests. They fell on the ground where they continued to smolder. Another set of five raced towards her. Moralie wasted no time in repeating her process. Once those were expertly disposed of, she pressed forward.
Before she was able to confront the next set, she felt a hand touch her on the shoulder. She thought that it might have been Simon or Zeke, but as she touched the hand, it was wooden and full of splinters. She left out a scream and the hand tightened and placed another hand on her other shoulder. It pulled her against its body and dragged her a few feet. Moralie dropped her chain of daggers as she tried to pry the hands off of her. They were like stone and unmoving. The other mannequins raced for her with their claws ready to slice.
“Rafe!” Moralie shouted.
Rafe risked a glimpse in Moralie’s direction and saw that she was in trouble. She sliced the mannequin she was fighting in half and turned to help her friend. The dying mannequin reached out and clamped a claw around Rafe’s right foot. She fell to the ground, dropping her sword. Another mannequin arrived and held her down. She struggled to get free, but they proved to have superior strength.
“Be careful with them, boys,” said an elderly woman’s voice behind them. “We need them in pristine condition.”
The mannequins picked Rafe up off the ground and held her. The ones that held Moralie came forward and stood ready for more instructions. The instructions came from the woman who owed the inn. Rafe sneered at the old woman and wished that she could get at her.
Greta walked over to Rafe and touched her chin. “I like your spunk,” she said. “Now, I promised my master that I would take great care of you.” She looked at Rafe’s bloodied arm and clicked her tongue. “Well, not that great of care, I suppose.” She let out a short laugh. She signaled to the mannequins that held Moralie to come forward. “And you, my dear, are lucky to be alive. I hear you had quite the day yesterday. No matter! You’re mine now. Bring them inside.”
Greta led the mannequins towards the inn. Rafe tried to wrestle them, but she failed to free herself. She grunted in frustration as they led her into the inn. She hoped that Zeke and Simon were still out there somewhere, safe. She allowed herself to be carried inside and started thinking of a way to get out of this.