‘Are you a Keeper?’ A stranger asked as they slipped onto the stool next to Balan. Their face hidden in a giant hood. From the size of it, the person looked small, perhaps a woman, but the voice had him confused, but of course he knew that it was safer than to ask. In stead, he didn’t reply, and went on to finish his half eaten dinner of a lamb and pepper pie, which was a little heavy on the pepper and had seen to it that he’d had a few pints. ‘A word from the Red Fort.’
Balan looked around the pub, making sure they were not being heard, no keen eyes lingered nor eager ears twitched. ‘A word?’
The stranger passed a slip of paper, drank his shot of a drink and slipped of the stool. Balan waited till the person was out of the pub before slipping money for his meal, and left with his stuff.
He had to find a safe place to read the message, the walls everywhere in Quaint Town had ears, some good, but more often than not, spies. He hurried out the pub and took a right turn down an alley way he’d walked a fair few times. Today, it somewhat looked darker than normal, like the light from the oil lamps had a harder air to pierce, thicker. He felt an arm grab him and pull him into a wall that gave way before he knew he’d even been approached.
‘Relax, I’m not going to harm you,’ a voice ringing with familiarity spoke from the pitch black. ‘Or don’t you know that this town isn’t as quaint as it pretends to be?’
Balan laughed, bringing out his moonstone and chanting its incantation. The tiny stone shone bright, its moonlight lighting up the immediate surroundings and before him stood an old friend, a friend rumored to have been long dead. ‘And don’t you know not to sneak up on Keepers like that? We are powerful, you know, all smiting and stuff!’
The two men laughed and embraced. The shorter man holding Balan by the two hands and laughing still. ‘You’ve gone skinny my friend.’
‘And you’ve gone smaller it seems. How is that even possible, Merith?’
Merith laughed. ‘It takes a lot of magic to make physical changes and painful, but it’s been worth it. My old self has a death warrant out on him.’
Balan nodded. He knew too well. In the last crusade to save the family and the realm they are sworn to protect, he had lost too many friends and family to a tyrant. He looked at the wall where they’d portalled in. ‘What’s out there?’
‘The Black Guards. These streets are filled with them. The Sights are the only ones that can see them and even then, they are cloaked well.’
Merith drew a mirror rune on the wall and the bricks turned semi-see through. ‘There were at least 3 Guards on the alley way and you were walking straight into their hands. You know what they do to Keepers these days?’ Balan shook his head. He hadn’t really been living in the Sight realm the last decade. He’d made the human realm his home.
Merith removed his rune and the brick turned solid again. ‘Rumor has it that they are tortured and turned, and those too stubborn are flayed, burned, cursed ecetera. Their newest recruits for the Black Guard are said to be these turned Keepers, which means any safe routes you know are not safe anymore, all safe houses are compromised, any wards are brought down, and so on. You get the idea.’
It occurred to Balan then why The Hallow and Myra especially were making new wards even Keepers couldn’t cross. ‘I landed on the Reeds when I was heading for The Hallow.’
Merith nodded. ‘So the word for the Red Fort?’
Balan squared his shoulders and pulled out a sealed scroll from his long trench coat. ‘By the order of the Grand Monk, all Keepers are summoned immediately for an emergency summit. Your have two days to gather them.’
‘On the sly?’
‘If what you say is true, yes. We can’t risk more Keepers being ambushed by the Black Guards. You spread the words, I’ll let the Masters know.’
Merith looked at the summons somberly. ‘It’s the war that was foretold, isn’t it? This is the beginning?’
‘Maybe. I don’t know. Let’s hope it’s nothing other than a pesky pest control.’
Merith nodded. He handed Balan a small clear crystal. ‘Wait a while after I leave to use that. It will get you as close to the Citadel as possible. Too much magic surging from one spot will alert them.’
Balan nodded. ‘Fare thee well.’
And just like that, Merith was gone in a surge of white light as the crystal hit the ground. And Balan waited, a fair while before using his own stone.