Balan landed roughly upon the Whispering Reeds, several miles away from his intended target, The Hallow, one of the only few protected sanctuaries of The Keepers of Light left on Earth. He looked up at the waning moon, and sighed. Lucky it wasn’t a full moon. He was smack in the middle of the Southern Wolves territory. Had it been a full moon, he would have been shredded by now. Those nasty little buggers had a habit of hiding in the reeds as they approached the Quaint Town, hunting for those wayward teens out here on their Keeper training.
He felt something slimy and cold slither past his ankle and shivered. ‘Darned Nymphs!’ He dusted off his long leather coat and stomped his feet hard on the ground. The vibration rippling around him for a hundred meters or more, and he could hear the skittering of the beings. ‘That’s right. Keep away. Man on a mission here!’
By dawn, he knocked on the tall, wooden door, carved with centuries of history upon its face. A face whose carvings mysteriously moved up as new events took up space on the bottom. The older the stories, the higher up they went until the door disappeared with the air. Balan looked at the bottom most event, which was the coronation of King Antal, sometime a year ago. No major event had happened since that could change the course of the Veiled World. No event till now that was. He could see a new event beginning to take shape on the very bottom. A story that was vague and murky yet.
Balan knocked again, harder this time and heard the faint vibrations run up the panel.
‘Coming!’ A voice boomed from the other side. ‘What’s the impatience? You realize what time it is?’
The door swung open and there stood Monk Misser, garbed in nothing more than his pale gray shorts and shirt. It was a freezing morning but that didn’t seem to faze the old man. ‘What do you want Keeper Balan? What’s the meaning of this unholy hour’s visit?’
Balan quickly slipped inside the compound and the door swung closed silently. He always thought that was a weird thing, for a door as heavy and as thick as it was for it to be absolutely silent.
He bowed to the Monk briskly. ‘Apologies my dear sir, it’s an emergency.’
The Monk stared at him. ‘I am no knight, Balan. And this isn’t the safest hour to be arriving.’
Balan looked around the courtyard they were standing in and a chill ran down his spine. The ancient trees were sleeping and he could hear them breathing. Eeriest sound he’d ever heard. He’d never much liked those trees at night even during his training as The Keeper of Light.
‘Pardon me, Master Misser, I’ve travelled long to be here, and I would have been here hours ago, but I don’t know why I overshot The Sanctuary and landed at the Whispering Reeds. My compass must be off.’
Monk Misser faintly smiled. ‘So it’s working.’ Balan understood then that other wards must have been put up since his last visit. ‘Myra has been trying to conjure new wards for ages, and she’s been successful it seems in casting a deflection ward.’ He started walking off down the path, to the main entry of the building, and Balan followed.
‘Though it seems she wasn’t as successful in getting the ward to touch ground, otherwise you’d have never been able to get past the Reeds. I must tell her in the morning.’
Balan quick shuffled behind the surprisingly agile man, whose age must be nearing at least two centuries.
‘Three,’ Monk Misser corrected as if Balan had said his thoughts aloud. ‘So what’s your emergency? The Keepers don’t normally come to us for help unless it’s for training, illness, or retirement.’
Balan took off his necklace and handed it over to the man as they walked through the main doors.
‘Your Seeing stone?’ There was a hint of surprise in the Monk’s voice.
‘I cannot explain what I saw, nor how to report it. Best you watch it for yourself and advise me on the course of action, or even if caution is worthy. Though I doubt that would be the case.’
‘Who brings a Seeing Stone, Misser?’ the head of the Hallow walked out into the ante chamber from his chapel. ‘Ah, Keeper Balan. Long time.’
The man reached out for the stone and ushered the two men into his office further down the chamber. He looked like he’d been up for hours. But then again, Balan had always heard rumors that the Grand Monk did not sleep. He did not need to.
‘What has you worried Balan?’ He put the stone on his desk in a small crystal abode.
‘I believe it’s a Black Widow, Master.’
The two monks passed ever so slightly worried looks at each other before the Grand Monk asked them to pull up a chair and sit.
‘There hasn’t been a Black Widow sighting in centuries.’ He mumbled an incantation and Balan’s stone began glowing a weak green. The Monks stared at it, their eyes flicking minutely as if they were watching something. No doubt the visions Balan had been gathering the last year as he followed the case of Mrs Bigum and her mysterious wealth and her equally mysterious home.
It seemed a long while before the two men came out of their trance with measured looks.
‘We have a lot to do young, Balan. Send word to your hold. We need as many Keepers as the Red Fort can spare.’
Balan nodded, but his curiosity hadn’t abated. ‘What did you see, Master?’
‘Earth’s doom. Now go! Take the fastest wings and go. We have already lost so much time.’