Wait, This Chapter Doesn't End in '-tions'?
You know the drill.
Thanks to Starway Man for beta-reading this chapter.
This is your just slightly too late Christmas Present, my readers.The Prophecies Cycle
Book I: The Red Moon Rises
Chapter 14: Wait, This Chapter Doesn't End in '-tions'?10 to 13 Days until the Red MoonThe Golden Goblin Inn, Olvikun City
Barony of Olvikun, Kingdom of Arenso
Wesley entered the taproom of the inn they had stopped at for the evening, immediately making a beeline for the table that Fred and Gunn were sitting at. Fred was nursing some kind of fruity looking drink, taking fairly small sips. Unsurprisingly, Gunn had a mug of ale in front of him.
Behind him, Lilah trailed into the tavern. She'd insisted on following him when he'd left to buy them supplies for the last leg of their journey, and he'd been unable to shake the woman. Fortunately, Wesley had not needed to kill her – thought why that was fortunate, he wasn't quite sure. She had continued to refuse to give any of the information she'd promised she had, always saying that she would tell them 'when the moment was right'.
“It should take us about five more days, give or take, to reach the borders of the Lordship of Sunnydale. From there, perhaps two days to the town itself. The place where the Master was sealed away is north of the town.”
“We're cutting it pretty close then, Wes.” Gunn commented. “If its only ten days from now, rather than thirteen – will three days be enough?”
Wesley shrugged. “By then, hopefully, both Darla and Luke will already be there, and thus we can focus all our efforts on killing them and only them. Though we will have to be very careful. If Giles' estimates about the size of the cult are close to accurate, each one could have upwards of three hundred vampires with them. It depends on how much of their respective followings manages to reach Sunnydale in time.”
“Six hundred vampires...?” Fred said softly... “How can we – I mean, how would they feed so many?! There's no way they can support that many vampires in one place for long!”
“Well, those that arrive earliest – indeed, the ones that have arrived by now – are probably preying on the people of Sunnydale Town and the surrounding communities. Who knows how many of those unfortunates are dead by now.” Wesley replied, softly. “But as for feeding them all, they'll probably stop killing the humans they feed on at some point and drink just what they need, rather than gorging. That will allow one human to stay alive and possibly feed them for weeks, if need be. And, they can
survive on animal blood. They just hate the taste. But still, when they're on the road, hungry vampires with no convenient humans to snack on will eat whatever animal is handy. The same would likely apply here.”
“They prefer to eat otters and voles, actually, if they can get them. The blood tastes nearly as good as human.” Lilah added. The other three looked at her. “I'm Black Thorn. We know more demonology than anyone.”
“Because you traffic with them.” Wesley said sternly.
“Of course.” She smiled. “Best way to learn about anything is to spend a lot of time up close and personal studying it.” Then she shrugged. “Anyway, in terms of getting past however many vampires end being there, we won't have to worry about the bulk of them.”
“How is that?” Wesley asked, skeptically.
“Hundreds of vampires of two competing sects of a cult like the Order of Aurelius in a fairly small area. You do the math. It will be a tinderbox at best, open warfare at worst. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if Darla and Luke encourage it. If their two sides fight, and one becomes the clear winner, then that winner can throw them all at the opposing childe of the Master.”
“So if we're lucky, the vampires will do half out work for us.” Gunn noted, following her logic.
“Not just that....” Fred said, thinking out loud. “Maybe, If we do it right, we might even be able to actually spark direct open conflict between the two sides...” She shook her head, clearing it, “Did you get everything I put on the list?” She asked Wesley, changing the subject.
Wesley nodded, putting a large cloth sack on the table. “I told the local Alchemists' guild that I was with you, and gave them your chit.” He reached into his pocket and handed an metal disk with an elaborate design carved into one side, “Speaking of, here's that back.” Fred took the chit and slid it into her pocket. “I'll freely admit I have no idea what you have in mind with all this. Care to enlighten me?”
“Not...yet. Soon, though. And the holy water?” Fred asked.
“The amount you wanted is in there as well.” Wesley nodded.
Fred nearly bounced in her seat eagerly. “Excellent.” She picked up the bag, lifted it a few inches off the table, then set it down down and turned to Gunn, offering one of her patented irresistible smiles. “Charles, could you carry this up to our room so I can get to work?”
Gun looked at her for a moment, and then in the best traditions of all husbands and boyfriends throughout history, inevitably caved and stood up. He grabbed the bag, lifting it easily, then walked towards the stairs in the back of the taproom, up to the floor with all the rooms. “You know, this really isn't that heavy.” He complained half-seriously to Fred as she walked behind him. “You didn't need
me to carry it for you.”
“No, I didn't.” Fred admitted, still smiling, “But why would I bother carrying it myself when I have you for that?”
“Sometimes, I wonder if the only reason you agreed to marry me was so that you could make me your personal packhorse.” Gunn muttered, faking hurt.
Fred smirked, and then hit his arm lightly. “It wasn't the only
“Ah, young love.” Lilah said to Wesley as the couple faded out of view and earshot. “Those two act so sweet. Makes me want to throw up.” She took a sip of her drink, then frowned at the mug. “Then again, it might just be the shitty excuse for ale they sell in this place.”
“Probably that.” Wesley replied, sliding his ale across the table away from him. “Then again, all the ale they sell here in Arenso is crap. Its like making love on the beach.” Lilah raised an eyebrow. “Fucking close to water.” Wesley explained. “Give me good quality Britillian Ale any day of the week.”
Lilah smirked. “Missing the mother country?”
“Always.” Wesley replied, stone faced.
“Then why don't you go back?”
“Because Travers wants me dead, and the Isles are completely in his pocket, these days.” The corruption of Giles' days had only gotten worse. Indeed, it had reached the point where it wasn't corruption any more, so much as just normal daily business practice.
“True.” Lilah agreed. “Still, it keeps the Black Thorn from getting into Britillia. Your ex-boss doesn't like the competition.”
“Yes. Never thought I'd be thankful for anything Travers did, even if that is just an unintended side-effect.” Wesley commented. “Speaking of, what exactly does
this 'Black Thorn' do, apart from try to steal rare mystical tomes, traffic with demons and try to stop the end of the world?”
“Power. What else?” Lilah replied smoothly. “The Order of the Black Thorn is about power, for itself, and its members. Any kind of power will do.”
“And what exactly does it want to do with this power? What do you
intend to do with this power?”
“Whatever it wants. Whatever I
want. Its quite liberating to be evil, Wesley. You should try it some time. With your skill, you could go far.”
“I like my soul where it is, thank you very much.” Wesley stared at his mug of ale as he said that.
“So do I. Haven't sold it or signed it away to anyone. Don't need to. We're not dark cultists. Demons are for serving humans, not for being served by them.”
“You can't control the dark forces at work in this world, Lilah. Not without them coming to control you. There's a reason why no kingdom or nation since the Dark Time has tried to harness demons or dark magics to bolster its armies.”
“Really? What reason is that? Because the science of magic and the study of demonology has advanced quite a bit since then, Wesley.” Lilah pointed out. “And the reason why no kingdom has ever tried to use demons or dark magics for their own aggrandizement is because of the Church of Adun and the Daughters of Sineya, more than any inherent risks. You know what royalty -any
royalty - is like, lover; just like you know how governments are not known for their far-sightedness, or their caution.”
Again, Wesley shook his head. “The example of the Dark Time is a powerful one, Lilah.”
“But also one that's far in the past. After a dozen centuries, people don't take it as a cautionary tale about what to not do - but rather as an instance of 'they failed, but I'm smarter, I'm luckier, I'm more powerful, and I'm better than they were, so I can succeed'.” Lilah smirked. “And quite frankly the Black Thorn is all those things, and will succeed where its predecessors failed.”
“Stop giving me more reasons to kill you.” Wesley said sourly, getting up. “The list is as long as my arm already, and it's getting progressively harder to justify keeping you alive to myself. I'll see you again in the morning.” So saying, he went up the stairs and entered his room.
Lilah took another pull of her ale, frowned in distaste and set the mug down. Then she got up, walked onto the upper floor and went into her room. They'd gotten three, since Wesley had refused to share with her. Annoying, that. Lilah figured she would have to up the ante with him soon, which was risky; but the potential reward was so
worth it.Wilkins Castle
Richard Wilkins III, Baron of Olvikun, was not a happy camper.
Running a Barony was a great deal of work even at the best of times, and also running a kingdom-wide network of informants and warlocks on top of that was just too much for any normal man to handle. Still, this particular Baron was hardly 'normal', and viewed his personal spy network as the icing on the cake which was his personal demesnes.
Wilkins paused in his thoughts and looked up from the agricultural report he'd been reading. He stared idly ahead for a moment, then set the report aside a moment. Grabbing another sheet of parchment, he picked up and re-inked his quill, speaking his words aloud as the black feather passed across the page.
“Note to self: Have Miss Downsworth make her special chocolate icing cake for after dinner tomorrow.” He set the quill down and picked up the report again, picking up from where he'd been reading before and effortlessly picking up his previous train of thought.
The problem with his two roles was that there was just too much dull, boring, uninteresting busy work that he couldn't just fob off on an underling. Well, technically speaking, he could. His Seneschal, Alan Finch was certainly a capable young man, and already handled an impressive amount of the grunt paperwork. Wilkins always could hand more of the work onto him and his staff. But he couldn't just do that. Not because the man was overworked – though he was. Every time Wilkins saw Alan, the young man looked more and more agitated and stressed. Probably because of the all the bodies he's had to bury, I'd wager. The boy needs to learn how to relax.
But no, it wasn't that that was stopping him from handing more work to Alan. His Seneschal would cope somehow, he always did.
The reason, really, that he did so much of the boring work himself wasn't because of a lack of capable subordinates to do it for it. No, the reason he couldn't just hand it off, the reason he did it all himself was because he was just so darn civic-minded! If you were going to have a job, you may as well do it right, and you may as well do it yourself. And he had two.
So, sure, he was a Dark Warlock of rare power heading a vast conspiracy to gain wealth and power and to influence events across the kingdom to his fancy – much like his father and grandfather and his father and his father, ad nauseum
for the last four hundred years – but he was, like all those ancestors had been, also the baron of the third largest barony in the Kingdom.And golly gee, if they could do both jobs, and do them well, then gosh - so can I!
Which would be why, he considered, he was reading this report on crop yields in the western marches of the barony.
He was interrupted again by a light tapping on the door. “Come in.” He told Alan Finch – no one else would bother him at this time of the evening, and he would only do so if whatever it was was deadly serious.
The door opened slowly, and sure enough, it was Alan. The young man walked in, wearing his customary nervous and overly serious expression. That boy is always like that. He needs to lighten up! Enjoy himself!
Wilkins decided then that finding a way to brighten his seneschal's mood would be a new project of his.
“What is it, Alan?” Wilkins asked.
“Ahm...I'm afraid I have some bad news, your grace.”
“Bad news?” Wilkins shook his head. “Can't say care much for bad news. Always the worst kind of news. And it always ruins a good day.” He gestured at Alan. “Continue.”
“Ahm...there's – that is to say, your grace, I've learned-”
“Alan, please.” Wilkins interrupted. “How many times have I told you: 'Don't call me 'your grace'? Its too darn stiff and formal! If you can't bring yourself to call me Richard, at least just call me Sir, or Baron Wilkins. They're not quite so stifling, at least.”
“Ah...yes, your – sir. Yes Sir.” Alan Finch managed to stammer out.
Wilkins smiled broadly. “Good! Now, carry on. You were saying?”
“An....an unattached Agent of the Black Thorn has been spotted inside the city, Baron Wilkins.”
Wilkins took a breath. Not a deep breath, but a light, normal breath. Carefully, slowly, he stood up from his desk and walked over to the window – taking a moment to push his chair in – and looked out of it, onto Olvikun City below, resting as it did at the foot of the hill that Wilkins Castle sat upon. He clasped his hands behind his back.
The Black Thorn. Bad news indeed, they were. Eternal sticks in the mud, also. Always trying to interfere with him and his plans. And, he hated to admit it, their network was more powerful than his. He had never seen first hand the magical skill of the trio of sorcerers that led the Order, so he didn't know how he matched up against them. But while his network ranged across just the Kingdom of Arenso, the Black Thorn ranged across the entire continent.
It was odd to find one of their operatives in Olvikun, though. Wilkins had thought that past experience had taught the three mages never to send any of their agents into his city again. As far as he could tell, they knew his network was based here; but the Black Thorn didn't know that the mysterious warlock from Olvikun City that stymied them where he could, and Baron Richard Wilkins III, were the same man. Which was quite helpful. It would be such a bother for the Daughters of Sineya to find out that he used dark magics and trafficked with demons. They'd be no real threat if they did
find out, granted, but Slayer blood was always so hard to get out of the carpet and his clothes.
“Which one.” There were only so many unattached agents in the Order, perhaps twenty, at his last count. Which one they had sent would tell him what they were planning.
“Lilah Morgan.” Alan supplied. “Also...she's traveling with three members of Rupert Giles's group, from up in the Free City of Kayden.”
“That old Watcher?” Wilkins turned to Alan. “Well now. Any indication as to why they are traveling with her?”
“None. They are staying for one night at the Golden Goblin. There's, ah, no indication they are staying long term.”
“That's something at least.” Wilkins considered. “Have they done anything else?”
“One of them bought a number of supplies from the local Alchemists' Guild, and then a lot of holy water from the Church of Adun.”
“I see. Well, gosh, now I'm hungry; bad news always seems to have that effect on me. Go find Scodran, and tell him to get a virgin's heart out of storage.” Fortunately for Alan, Wilkins was looking out the window again, and so didn't see the Seneschal grow pale and nearly throw up.
“Y-Yes sir.” Finch stammered out, then nearly ran from the room.Next Time, on Red Moon Rises: Darla and Company make their way out of Sunnydale Town, human cattle in tow, as Luke and his group reach their destination first. When the two Children of the Master meet for the first time in centuries, though, things don't go as planned.