Zeke awoke to the sound of someone knocking on the door. He sat up with a start and reached for his sword. The thought that all of the mannequins weren’t dead and they were coming for him flashed in his mind. They all had decided to sleep in the inn during the night because it was easier, but the possibility that danger was still lurking about the town didn’t leave their minds. Could this be a mannequin ready to exact its revenge?
“Zeke, Simon, wake up.” It was Rafe’s voice. Unless the mannequin learned how to mimic voices, Zeke was pretty sure that he was safe. He released his sword and set it up against his nightstand.
“We’re getting up!” Zeke replied drowsily. He didn’t get much sleep during the night. He kept thinking about what had happened and found it hard to stop the memories from running in his mind. The whole town had died just because the Dark One knew that they were going to be here. He silently mourned for the people who lost their lives.
Zeke got out of bed and changed into his remaining set of clean clothes and brushed his teeth. He saw that Simon was still sleeping. He shouted to him to wake up only to be met with a moan. He was tempted to go over to his bed and rip the sheets off the bed, like his master had done to him on numerous occasion, but opted to leave him alone. They had had a rough night. Let the guy get some sleep.
He quietly opened the door and was met by Rafe. Apparently, she hadn’t left after she knocked. “Good morning, Rafe.”
“Good morning. Is Simon awake?”
“Nope, I’m going to let him sleep a little while longer.” Zeke hoped that Rafe would understand. She wasn’t one to cross, he knew this, but he hoped that she would allow him to stand his ground on this simple matter.
Rafe just shrugged her shoulders and said, “He’s going to miss breakfast if he doesn’t get up soon.” She turned away and headed for the stairway. “Just wait until we start making the bacon; he’ll get up.” She gave a soft laugh as she descended the stairs.
Zeke grinned as he followed her. He was relieved that she was taking this lightly. It was good to hear her laugh, even if it was a quiet one. His spirits lifted at the mention of the word ‘bacon’. He was hungry and couldn’t wait to dig in.
When he arrived downstairs, he found that Moralie was in the kitchen preparing breakfast. She was making flapjacks, eggs, bacon, and found some fresh squeezed orange juice in the refrigerator.
“Moralie cooks?” Zeke asked in a joking manner. “What else can you do?”
“I have yet to compile a list of my many talents.” Moralie winked at him as she flipped a flapjack. “You’ll just have to stick with me and find out.”
As Moralie finished the final batch of flapjacks, she started on making the bacon. As Rafe predicted, Simon got up and made his way downstairs. He shuffled into the kitchen and sniffed the air. He saw the spread on the table that was placed neatly in the corner and licked his lips.
“Bacon!” Simon clapped his hands in approval. “Be sure to make a lot.”
“I will.” Moralie giggled as she placed a few strips in the pan. “You’re like a bear.”
“I’ve got a bear’s appetite.” Simon patted his stomach and sat down next to Zeke.
When Moralie was done with the last of the bacon, she served everyone. They all ate until they were wholly satisfied. There were happy faces and happy stomachs all around. Zeke couldn’t remember when he had eaten so much, which had happened to be last night at the noodle shop.
“So, what’s the plan?” Moralie asked, looking at Rafe.
“We ride to the border of Septia. We should avoid stopping in any towns for fear of a repeat performance of what happened here.” The others nodded in reverence. “We will ride well into Sexton and camp outside of the town of Greenlee.”
“Sounds good.” Moralie leaned back in her chair and gave a big sigh in attempt to make more room in her stomach. “Let’s leave when the food has properly digested. I don’t think I could manage to lug my gut onto my horse.” Simon and Zeke laughed because they felt the same way. Rafe let a smile appear on her lips; she didn’t think she could get on a horse either.
Moralie stood up and took their plates to the sink. She washed them and put them away in their designated places. She knew that the innkeeper was dead, but felt that it was only right to tidy up the way she would have liked it. She dried her hands and rejoined the others.
They sat for a good hour and played card games while they waited for the food to digest. When Rafe thought it was time, they all got up and packed their belongings.
Simon was the last one to meet the others in the lobby. He carried his large bag down the stairs and grinned his eerie grin as he joined them. “Sorry, I was just making sure I left nothing behind.”
Rafe nodded her head and opened the front door. The sun was quick to greet them. They stepped outside and saw that their horses were waiting for them. They had been frightened by the raucous the night before, but they appeared to be calm now.
Everyone but Zeke was able to get on their horse on the first try. Zeke failed multiple times because his horse kept moving. Zeke grew frustrated with each failed attempt. “What’s wrong with this horse?”
“You’ve got to sweet talk him first,” Simon said.
“I’m not sucking up to a horse!”
“Then I guess you’re walking.” Simon shrugged his shoulders.
Zeke took a deep breath and glared at the black horse. He touched the horse’s nose and patted it softly. “Who’s a pretty horse? Who’s the prettiest horse in the whole wide world? That’s right, it’s you!” He said this in his best baby voice.
“Don’t patronize him,” Moralie suggested. “Talk to him like a normal person.” This amused her greatly.
Zeke complied with Moralie’s suggestion. He talked sweetly to the horse and it appeared to be receptive to his words. When the moment felt right, Zeke attempted to get on the horse and succeeded. Victory. He didn’t like that he was going to have to do this every time he wanted to get on the thing, but what was he going to do?
The four travelers were glad to put the dead town behind them. They only hoped that easier things were before them, but they all secretly doubted it.
The Dark One awoke in his luxurious bed. A sliver of sunlight had managed to sneak through the dark curtain hanging from his window. He wiped his dead eyes and sat up. He yawned and got out of bed. He dressed in a clean black robe and put the hood up to cover his face. He didn’t like looking at himself in the mirror because he would only see remnants of what remained of his face. He didn’t like to be reminded of his previous life.
He moved into his divination room and did a little light reading through his spell books. He was looking for inspiration on how to kill the wizard apprentice. That kid was tricky to pin down. He wanted to kill everyone in the Delsani party, but especially the apprentice. If he got his hands on the Alta Stone, everything would be ruined. He must not let that happen. The Alta Stone was his and his alone. The time to use it was quickly approaching. He just needed to hold out a few more days.
The Dark One picked up his crystal ball and tried to locate Lyssa. He knew that he had decided to wait another day, but he was really concerned. What did Zeke do to her? She was probably lost in another dimension, he surmised. Then an idea struck him.
Another dimension. The gears of his mind started to turn. He was brewing something evil. He could send the Delsani party to another dimension. They would be out of his hair for good. Where would he send them? There were some really great places he could go with. He picked up one of his spell books and eagerly flipped through the pages until he found what he was looking for.
The page read ‘The Night Forest’. This was one of the Dark One’s favorite places. The place was completely lethal. Anyone who wandered into the forest never came out; the creatures that inhabit the forest saw to that. This brought a wicked smile to his parched, pale lips. The Delsani party was going to die in the most interesting and excruciating ways. He almost wished he could be there himself to witness it.
He set the book down and read the summoning spell aloud. Dark clouds collected above the black castle as he spoke. Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled loudly in the mountains. When the spell was complete, he indicated where the portal to the Night Forest would be, right at the border of Septia. With the summoning done, the dark clouds dissipated and the thunder stopped. It was beautiful day on Mount Rialto and if things went well, it would be a glorious day.
The Delsani party made great time in reaching the border town of Tilden. As they approached the town, they took a detour that led them around it to the east. They debated whether they needed to stop in town to get rations. Rafe decided that they could wait until they got to Greenlee to stock up.
This news disappointed Zeke because the food from breakfast was well digested and left his stomach wanting for more. He wanted to ask how much further to Greenlee, but he didn’t want to appear to be complaining. He stifled his question and rode in silence.
They made it to the border and the guards that managed it stopped them to inquire their business. Rafe told them that they were on their way to the docks in Shurebury in Sexton. The guards looked at the party with suspicion before they agreed to let them pass. They raised the gate and the four travelers entered the Sexton Kingdom.
Zeke sighed as they went through another forest. It appeared that most of the land of the South Continent was full of trees. This bored him. He was hoping that there was more than this out in the world. He supposed he liked trees alright, but all of them looked the same. He was yearning for some beautiful fields, or some majestic mountains.
A hot breeze blew through them and caused the party some discomfort. It had been a little warm before, but the temperature went up considerably. They loosed their shirts and fanned some air through the collar. They all wondered where the warmth came from, but said nothing. It was as if they had hit a wall of heat and were not fully immersed in the mugginess.
Zeke looked up at the canopy as they passed and noticed that not as much light was shining down. In fact, it appeared that the leaves were bunching together to prevent any sunlight getting through. That couldn’t be right. As they journeyed deeper into the forest, the darker it became. Zeke finally said something.
“Are you seeing this?”
Rafe nodded her head. She was in front of them, leading the way. She didn’t recognize where they were. Something was not right. They were not where they were supposed to be. She put up her hand and commanded everyone to stop moving.
“Did we take a wrong turn somewhere?” Simon asked playfully.
“It’s hard to get lost when we’re going straight the whole time,” Moralie replied. She looked up at the canopy and noticed that there was no sunlight. She got a shiver and rubbed the goosebumps on her arm. “This place isn’t good.”
“Do we go back?” Zeke asked.
“No.” That was all Rafe said. She knew that something about this wasn’t right, but she couldn’t figure out what. She didn’t know if she should continue forward or reconsider Zeke’s suggestion. The answer was quickly made for her.
The shade from the trees suddenly grew darker. It was as if the sun was rapidly setting until all was darkness. The horses were disturbed by the sudden loss of light. Their human counterparts shared their concern.
Everyone knew that they were in trouble. Zeke knew that the Dark One had something to do with this. He wasn’t going to give up until every one of them was dead. He gulped and wondered what the Dark One had in store for them.