Lineaments of Coming Night

Part VII

Although I am versed in history,” Habakkuk said after all the eyes in the room had turned towards him, “it is not I that is best suited to this aspect of matters. I would like Abafouq to tell you of the history of the Chateau Marzac so that you might know from whence the evil that is even now working to destroy this world has come.”

Abafouq walked up to one of the empty seats at the council table and climbed into it. He stood within the chair and balanced his hands on the table before him. He was short but swarthy of skin. His cheeks were wide and full, and his shock of hair was white that trailed down his neck before disappearing into his cloak. “Thank you, Zhypar.” The kangaroo had found a seat for himself as well next to Lord Avery, and Lindsey sat on the other side of him. Guernef lowered himself to his haunches and watched the gather assemblage with predator’s eyes. Nobody was willing to return that avian gaze.

“The Chateau Marzac was built a few thousand years ago on the site where the ancient Åelf city of Jagoduun was destroyed. Jagoduun was destroyed in the first and most cataclysmic confrontation between any of the races of this world,” the Binoq said with a rather strange smile upon his face.

“Tell me,” Baron Linnell of Menth interrupted, “just how many races are there upon this Earth?”

Abafouq held up his hands in defeat. “I do not know. There are many upon this world, it is true, though the most numerous are humans in this day. Once the Åelves were, though their day has waned. We Binoq were always one of the smaller races.”

“That we can see,” Christopher replied with a gruff smile. The look on the badger’s face was just jocular enough that it was clear he did not mean it as an insult.

Nevertheless, Duke Thomas gave his vassal a stern look, and then returned is attention on the Binoq. “Do please continue.”

“As I was saying,” Abafouq continued, standing a bit taller in his seat so that his head was higher than most of the others sitting. “There are many races in this world. Lutins and Giants live to the north, but none of them are so well organized or as discerning thinkers as we three gathered here. Humans, Binoq, and Nauh-kaee.” He gestured his hand back to the white gryphon who did not seem to care whether he was included or not.

“But eleven thousand years ago, there were no humans here in the North. Humans lived on the Southern continents in tribes and bands. Åelves ruled the Northern continent, while we Binoq lived in the mountains and the low hills near them. There were dragons and Nauh-kaee amongst the high peaks, and I have read how there are even other races that live amongst the shoals and deep in the seas. And of course, other creatures who inhabit the night. The world was full of life and magic. And humans were beginning to discover it then too.”

“Forgive me,” Lord Donel said, stifling a yawn. “I’m sure the history lesson is terribly interesting, but I thought that you said you were going to explain what happened to Patriarch Akabaieth.”

“He is,” Habakkuk shot back, casting the noble a rather dubious stare. “Patriarch Akabaieth was murdered for events that happened eleven thousand years ago.”

“Come now,” Donel said, clearly sceptical. “You cannot possibly believe that? No one alive then is still upon this Earth.”

“That is true, in a way,” Abafouq pointed out, “but that does not mean they cannot affect our world. I will try not to speak too long on this, but there is much that needs to be said and understood.”

The doors at the front of the council chamber opened then, and a rather uncertain hawk hopped through the doors on her talons. Her eyes took in the vast array of people assembled already and they went wide. Especially when she saw the Nauh-kaee. She returned his steady gaze for a moment, her own golden orbs just as clear and intense as his. And then she turned to the horse lord. “You sent for me, your grace?”

“Do join us,” Thomas gestured to the table. “Have a perch brought for Jessica.” One of the pages was quick to grab a log by the hearth and bring it over to a place between two seats for her to stand upon. She nodded gratefully to the boy and cracked her beak in her best imitation of a smile. With a quick hop, she stood and folded her wings behind her.

“I am glad to see you join us,” Abafouq continued, his own eyes wide as he surveyed her form. “We are speaking of a time very long ago. Eleven thousand years in fact. Humans had begun to learn magic, and had grown powerful. They looked to the North and saw the vast splendour that the Åelves had created and coveted it. And so, they formed armies, and led by nine wizards, they marched on the nearest city, that of Jagoduun.

“It was like an army never before seen then or since by humankind. Millions marched to the war with the Åelves, and soon, they were striking at Jagoduun. The Åelves fought bravely, and they did slaughter many humans in the long siege. But it was not with arms that this battle was finally decided. It was magic and the obsession of one Åelf that brought this decade long’s struggle to its horrific end.

“The Prince of Jagoduun – Yajakali was his name – felt that the only way to defeat the human army was to defeat the nine wizards. And so in secret, he conceived a plan to sap their power, and he hoped, to forever steal the power of magic from men. At least, that is how it is written. We do not know exactly what Yajakali wanted of course, but the tales tell of his hatred for humankind and his thirst to destroy them.

“And to do so, he created three artifacts of such unspeakable power, that none have ever seen their match in any age that has come since. Not even the fabled bowers of Carethedor where it is rumoured the dead can come back to life could compare. Though they appear to be made of gold, unnatural elements went into their forging. It is said that black rock that had fallen from the sky was woven into the forge, but I do not know if that is true either. Regardless, three items he created, he slaved over them for many months, and as time passed, he became more and more obsessed with them, leaving his own people behind so that he could work in secret beneath the spires of Jagoduun.

“He first crafted a dias with nine facets. At the centre of the dias was a nine-sided depression, and at each end was a pedestal with a jewel. Nine in all. The second item he fashioned was a censer, covered in jewels and with pictures of demons cavorting with humans, engaged in debauchery and pedastry. Again, the censer had nine sides, and it stood atop the dias in the depression. There were chevrons on each face to mark how the censer and dias should go together.

“Lastly Yajakali fashioned a golden blade. He folded the metals together a thousand times before he was done. The hilt has nine sides, and it is said that the sword sings. It is also said that it drinks blood, human blood only though. But no matter. What is important is that Yajakali created these three items so as to draw out the power of the human wizards and destroy the human army. He did it to save Jagoduun, but by then, Jagoduun was lost.

“Upon the night of the Winter Solstice, Yajakali cast his spell, not knowing that at that exact moment, the nine human wizards had banded together to cast a spell of their own, one that would have torn down the walls of the city and ended the siege. The elements were particularly good for the spell, and the magical forces were at an apex. But with both spells activated at once, the wall that was torn down, was not the one that the humans had intended.”

Abafouq took a quick breath. Nobody was interrupting him now nor seemed interested in doing so. Though it was also the case that few of those present seemed interested. He frowned at this but finished his tale anyway. “A tear to the Underworld was formed then. Yajakali and the nine wizards were all killed. Jagoduun was utterly destroyed in that moment, and the land north of Jagoduun fell into the sea. The human army scattered back to their homelands. None went near that blasted land which quickly festered and became a swamp which it remains to this day.

“We have come far in the eleven thousand years since that horrible day. But so too has the Underworld. It is a place of unspeakable evil, and it wishes only to spill out into this world and consume it. The power of Marzac remains to this day, and unless we can seal the rift there, this world will have no hope.”

“I thought you said the place was called Jagoduun,” Lord Barnhardt asked, even as he dipped his webbed fingers into a bowl of water and splashed some onto his face.

“It was,” Abafouq replied. “But the Boreaux family, one of the Southlands lines, was charged with making sure that the evil did not spread. They named the land Marzac. And it was they who built the castle that stands over those remains, the Chateau Marzac. It was the one crucial mistake the Boreaux ever made in their stewardship, and it has plagued their family ever since. Now the seas have shifted and Marzac is once more attached to the Northern continent. And once more it is stretching out its hand. If we are all not banding together to stop this evil, then we will all be enjoying a very horrible fate.”

“This all sounds like fairy tales to me,” Lord Calephas pointed out. “And it is told to us by a fairy tale as well! A Binoq of all creatures.”

“We Binoq are not fairy tales,” Abafouq said angrily, leaning forward over the table once more. “Come over here and see how much a fairy tale I am!”

“That is enough,” Duke Thomas snorted. “But this does sound very fantastic. How does this relate to today?”

“You know,” Habakkuk said firmly. “You know what was taken from Lord Loriod’s estate.”

At that, Macaban, who had been named Mayor over Lorland began to shudder visibly. The donkey covered his ears with hoof-like fingers and he began to shake his head back and forth. “No, please! Not that again!”

“Macaban!” Thomas gestured to the pages. “Get him some wine. Get us all some wine.”

By the time that they had brought the donkey some wine and managed to get him to drink of it, the doors were opened again, and three figures walked through. Thomas smiled slightly when he saw that Misha had accompanied both Charles Matthias and some donkey. That must be James, one of the four that Habakkuk wanted. Why he would want him, he had no idea. But then again, very little he’d heard so far had made sense anyway.

“Well,” Charles said as he looked about, his eyes widening at the scene of so many nobles arrayed before them. “Good afternoon, lords.”

Misha looked at them dismissively, turning his gaze to Duke Thomas. “I hope you do not mind, your grace, but I was there when Kee delivered your message, and felt I should attend.”

“You are more than welcome here, Misha,” Thomas waved with his hands for the three of them to find seats. The table was becoming quite crowded already. “May I present the Lords, Barons, and Mayors of the Northern Midlands. You’ve already met Habakkuk I believe. This is Lindsey of the timbercrews, Abafouq of the Binoq, and...” he drew a blank when he looked at the imposing gryphon. He did not look for long, but returned his gaze to the small man.

“Guernef, of the Nauh-Kaee,” Abafouq supplied. The Binoq looked at the rat and then the donkey, noting the fox only slightly. “Ah, you must be the Sondecki.”

Charles glared then and crossed his arms. His withering gaze fell upon the kangaroo who regarded him blandly. “Ah, is it to be that time, Felikaush?”

Lindsey narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “How did you know that name?”

The rat turned on the big man. “And how did you?”

Lindsey opened his mouth to speak, but then shut it again. Habkkuk shook his head and let out a sigh. He had hoped that Charles would have forgiven him for all that he had tried to do, but it seemed that the rat was still stubbornly holding onto his grudge. “No, nobody else say anything. Charles is right about one thing. It is time I admitted who I really was. Please, all of you join us at the table. I will tell you my secret, and then we will resume with what must be accomplished today. You all have the right to know this too.”

“Are all your Council meetings this full of drama, your grace?” Lord Calephas asked sarcastically. But he said nothing more at the Duke’s warning stare, looking instead to his left at Macaban who was just now recovering from his fit. Calephas leaned in a bit closer and whispered something to the donkey. Macaban turned back to the Lord of Giftum and nodded his slowly, clearly thanking the man.

Habakkuk waited until all were seated. The table was now almost completely full. The room was growing very warm with so many present, not to mention the lit lanterns that adorned the walls at each corner and the chandelier that gently swayed overhead. The table was crowded with fancy cuffs and hands, not to mention a few paws, and the goblets of wine that the pages had hastily brought at Thomas’s request. The kangaroo grasped his own between his fingers and took a small sip, letting the rather dry taste wash down his throat. It warmed him even further, though he knew that he should relish being warm while he still could.

“My story begins three thousand years ago,” he began with a gentle wave of his paw. “You have all doubtlessly heard of the mad Felix of Lee.”

“I have not,” Mayor Wiclaf of Soren said quickly. He had a farmer’s face and hands, Habakkuk noted. Whereas those like Calephas and Donel would have been taught the history of the Midlands in their youth Wiclaf learned of fields and crops. He knew when to sow and when to reap, but he would not know anything of the days of yore.

“Mad Felix of Lee lived three thousand years ago when the Suielman Empire ruled most of the known world here in the Northlands. When Felix of Lee came of age, he began to have visions. At first he did not know what to make of these strange apparitions, sights of people and places he did not know, words that came to him that were meaningless at the time. But as the days stretched to weeks, and the weeks to months, and the months to years, it became obvious both to himself and to others that these visions were becoming true.

“At least some. His visions were very powerful, and he was put into prison by the Suielman Emporer who wished to control his power. Felix of Lee wrote down the visions he saw, and did his best to arrange what he saw chronologically. But the strain of his visions, the separation from his family, and his life in the King’s dungeons took their toll on this good man, and he grew quite incapable of understanding the world he was in. All he understood were the visions he saw, and how they fit together.

“Felix of Lee’s legacy is the manuscripts he penned in his final years cataloguing his visions that were still to come. They spanned the next three thousand years. We are at present reaching the end of his prophecies. Some here have known this for a few years now, and there can be little doubt who the Horse Lord spoken of in the final stanza refers to.” Habakkuk did not look to Thomas, but he could see that several eyes slid towards the equine duke.

Habakkuk spread his paws before him, nodding his head to Mayor Wiclaf. “And that is who Felix of Lee was. My own story is tied into his, and now you will be able to understand and appreciate it. I spoke of Felix’s family, for before he was put in prison, he had a wife, Claree, and she was pregnant with a son. The Baron of Lee bade her flee the Suielman empire, and so she boarded a boat sailing to the Southlands. What the Baron did not know was that Felix had given Claree one of his final visions before being imprisoned, and spoke to her of a place where she could raise their son in safety, and where his name might some day be spoke of with reverence and honour.

“Claree disembarked in Sekio as the Baron had suggested, but she then took another ship that was making the long voyage to Stuthgansk in the far east of the Southlands. From there, she took another ship that brought her round the Ebony Archipelago until at last she came to a small village named Kutelis. The very next day, her son was born in that land. She named him Felikaush, which in the Southern tongue means son of Felix.

“They stayed in Kutelis, where they gained the notice of the Lord, a man by the name of Asmi. Asmi saw great promise in them both, and liked the thought of having a foreigner in his court. He was even more pleased when Felix’s son, at the age of fifteen, began to have prophetic visions. While not as powerful as his father’s, he nevertheless possessed precognition.

“It was fortunate that Lord Asmi was a reasonable man. He saw the advantage in having a prophet, but he was not foolish to dismiss his advice. Felikaush only spoke truthfully of what he saw in his visions to Lord Asmi. Asmi faithfully took the advice, and the village of Kutelis grew and prospered. Felikaush married and had children of his own. And when each of them attained the age of fifteen, they also began to have prophetic visions. Within ten generations, the village of Kutelis grew into the city of Fellos. Lord Asmi’s line was absorbed into the more potent line of Felix. Every descendent of Felix possessed some prophetic ability, some were greater than others of course, but it followed no patterns. Some even displayed their abilities before they turned ten.

“In the many long years that followed, Fellos became a centre of learning for all of the Southlands. Their libraries were the largest and most complete in the world. In the many wars between the city states of the Southlands in the next three thousand years, Fellos always remained neutral. And none ever thought to attack them. But prophecy had foretold that one day, an enemy would strike at Fellos and destroy it utterly. And when that day came, Yajakali would once again stretch out his hand to claim this time for the Underworld.”

Habakkuk paused then, fighting back the pang of memory that threatened to burst from his eyes as tears. How many faces had he banished from his thoughts, how many voices? The laughter and tears of his childhood had been there, and now it was but a ruin smote upon the earth. He would speak of it soon enough though. He lifted the goblet to his muzzle and took a quick sip.

“Forgive me. But we come to the painful part now.” He set the goblet down softly and took one more breath before continuing. “Sixteen years ago, the order of the Ebon Dragon, an enclave of mages that resides in the Ebon Mountains and upon the bluffs of the archipelago of the same name, stretched forth their hand to conquer the cities of the East. Though they were finally stopped by an alliance between Hevagn and Stuthgansk, their sights were first set upon Fellos. They coveted the knowledge that Fellos possessed, hoping that by acquiring it they might gain some advantage that would be able to destroy their age old enemies. In that they failed, for the books they sought had been removed from Fellos a year before. But in destroying Fellos they succeeded. There is nothing left of the city, its immense library that was once a beacon of learning and scholarship for the world, or its people.

“Except for one.”

Habakkuk licked his snout once and nodded to Charles. “You have guessed rightly that I am a Felikaush, Matthias. It was I who left Fellos the year before it was destroyed. I was given charge of the books that were to be kept out of the hands of the Ebon Dragons, as well as many other precious volumes. I posed as a merchant of rare books and travelled the Western Southlands for much of the next seven years. I knew what was to come to Fellos, for I myself had foreseen its destruction. I was only fifteen at the time. My own talent had blossomed early. I was considered the most gifted of my generation. Now I am the only one of my generation.”

Lindsey reached out a hand and gently patted him on the side. The kangaroo regarded the northerner with a small smile, though it was forced. He felt the ache of ages bearing down on him. How many nights had he gone to bed crying after that vision in which he had seen childhood friends being slaughtered, their heads raised up on pikes to decorate the tents of their enemies? And then how many times had he burst into tears anew at seeing those friends still alive, trying to understand what had upset their friend so? He had told his parents of the vision, and they had forbade him from telling any other. As he had grown in years, and the time drew nigh, he understood why he could not tell them their gruesome fate. He ached as he listened to them make plans for their future, a future that would never be, but still, he had said nothing.

Truly, in times of darkness, there was no joy in being a prophet.

And so, his one prayer the whole of his life had been the same as Yahshua’s prayer in the Garden – “Let this cup pass from me”.

“Are you all right?” Malisa asked as she leaned forward to get a better look at his face.

“I will be,” Habakkuk said. “This tale has many ghosts for me.” He bent down and took one more sip of his wine and then continued. “As I said, for seven years, I travelled the Southlands in the guise of a merchant. And in fact, that is what I became. Some of the books I was told to safeguard I have dispersed amongst mage clans opposed to the Ebon Dragon. The rest I have kept in my own library. I made copies and translations of several of them, and I have been rather surprised to discover how a few of those have even found their way here to Metamor in the hands of others.” He nodded once to Jessica, who was nodding her own head in return.

“Ten years ago, I journeyed to the Northlands and continued in my guise as a merchant. I was drawn to Metamor early on because of its own library, but something drew me further north. I stayed for two years in Arabarb and the surrounding country-side, before I felt the need to once more continue my travels. Four years ago, I decided to come to Metamor, and I joined the Writer’s Guild a month later. It was during that time wandering the Midlands that I began to correspond with others who knew of the growing danger of Marzac, and I planned and coordinated with them as to what must be done.

“But, as Matthias has guessed, I am a Felikaush. I am a direct lineal descendant of Felix of Lee. I am in fact, the very last descendant of Felix, the final prophet in his line. And I have stayed silent up until now, because I had no choice. Now, the time has come, for me to share what I know with all of you, because Marzac is making its final moves, and we can risk no more delays.”

Habakkuk took a long breath then, lowering his head as he let it go. He had not even said all of it either, but he had said enough. More even than he had ever told Lindsey, the one person he considered a confidant in all of Metamor.

“So,” Baron Pedain mused after a moment’s uneasy silence. “You are a prophet? Then tell me, will the harvest go well this year?”

“Or more importantly,” Lord Jaran Calephas interjected, “will the war come to our cities?”

“Will I have any more children?”

“Will my house continue to prosper when I am gone?”


“Please!” Habakkuk held out his paws, eyes wide and filled with sullen anger. “I am no parlour magician to satisfy your curiosity. Prophetic visions do not come when I want them to, but when they are needed, and sometimes, when they are inconvenient.”

“But,” Lord Calephas put in, his smile vanished from his face, “have you had any visions to give us guidance in any of these questions?”

Habakkuk could see Misha rolling his eyes and shaking his head in disgust. The kangaroo pondered for a moment and then slowly nodded his head. “There is one thing that I can tell you. I have seen a vision of a vast throne room with an upraised dias upon which sat a magnificent throne. Sitting in the throne is a horse dressed in resplendent garments and crowned king. Before him, his loyal vassals are bedecked in jewels. At the bottom of the dias, shackled and chained are the horse’s enemies and all who have betrayed him. They are dressed in rags and sackcloth, riddled with leprosy and consumption.”

The kangaroo clasped his paws together, and his thick tail thumped the ground once. “That is the only vision that I have seen any of you within. I hope it will give you some guidance.”

“Which of us are honoured and which of us are cast low?” Baron Pedain asked, a look of worry crossing his features.

“I should think it would be clear on its own, Baron,” Habakkuk replied, smiling lightly. “But I have wasted enough time with my own tale. There is still the matter of Marzac to consider. The censer, one of the three artifacts fashioned by Yajakali, was brought to Lord Loriod sometime last Winter. Mayor Macaban, forgive me, but I have to ask you one question of that time.”

The donkey who had at one time been Loriod’s steward nodded his head gravely. “I am over the shock of it now,” he said, though there was still a quaver in his voice. “Ask what you will and I shall try to answer. Those days are still confused in my mind.”

“Of course,” Habakkuk nodded gravely. “When did Loriod first come to possess the censer, and who brought it?”

“It was in early March last year,” Macaban replied. “It was brought by carriage in a box that none of us were allowed to touch. I only remember that I had no desire to touch it at all, and it was the strange men who had brought the box that carried it into the tower where it was kept. It was after they came that Loriod began putting spells on the rest of us.”

“And it was that time,” Thomas added with heavy voice, “that Loriod began to grow more erratic. Loriod had always been greedy and foul, but those last two months were especially loathsome. It was as if he had abandoned all restraint.”

“And he had,” Habakkuk replied. “He had been approached for this task even before the winter. He was promised much in return. The weather spell anchored secretly to Metamor was a part of that. If it had not been discovered, then Lorland would have been the only farmland not washed away in the floods. We would all have been forced to serve Loriod as many of you have already surmised.”

“How did you learn of this?” Malisa asked. Andwyn’s own eyes had grown wide at these revelations.

“Apart from being a prophet,” Habakkuk said, allowing himself a wry grin, “I also have very large ears.” At that, Baron Christopher let out a loud guffaw.

“So Marzac conspired to put Loriod in charge of the valley?” Lord Avery asked, his long tail twitching furiously behind him.

“I do not think so at all,” Habakkuk replied with a shake of his head. “It would have taken Loriod several years to consolidate firm control over the valley. And even had he succeeded in washing out the crops last year, there would have been too little food, and our forces would have been weakened. Nasoj may have been successful in destroying us, which did not fit in with Marzac’s plans for Metamor.”

“What are Marzac’s plans for Metamor?” Misha growled. “Are you ever going to tell us them?”

“I do not know for certain. But let us consider what has happened since Loriod overreached and was cast down and destroyed. Who was it that killed Loriod in the end?” At this, he looked to the hawk. “Jessica, long have you studied the notes of your master Wessex. Who did he say was responsible for Lord Altera Loriod’s murder?”

Jessica shifted on her perch a bit, looking around the room consciously now that she was the centre of attention, if only briefly. “It was the same man that he found next to the censer. Zagrosek. The Sondecki.” Charles tensed at that and bore a very unpleasant moue, but no one else seemed to notice.

“This Zagrosek,” Habakkuk went on, his tone that of a master lecturing his apprentices on their first day, “he has been to Metamor again several times. It was he who killed the Patriarch. And I know he has been seen in other instances, though not always in the flesh.”

“Wessex’s dreams,” Jessica pointed out. “He was in my master’s dreams.”

“And just what was he doing in those dreams?”

“He was trying to get my Master to undo the binding spell that he’d done on the chamber where the censer had been before Zagrosek stole it back.”

Habakkuk shook his head. “Yes, you are right that Zagrosek wanted that binding spell undone. But why would he want that?”

All eyes returned to the hawk. Jessica lowered her head in concentration. “Because when the censer was stolen back, it tore a hole to the Underworld in that chamber.”

“Matthias,” Habakkuk said then, turning on the rat. Charles returned his stare dubiously. There was a sullen anger in those eyes. “You were the last one to see Wessex. What day of the year was it, and what was he doing?”

Charles continued to glare at the kangaroo for a moment, his eyes seeming to cast out a warning. But he sipped at his wine and spoke in stiff words. “Winter Solstice. And Wessex was dead. His throat had been cut. He was casting some spell. I had never seen it before. But it was very complicated.”

“Did he complete the spell?”

“Yes. And when he did,” Matthias went on, not waiting for the inevitable question, “a Shrieker came out of the hole. The Keep itself trapped us in the same room with the Shrieker. We were able to kill it, but... it was not an easy fight.”

“What happened after it died?”

“It was sucked back up into the opening, along with what was left of Wessex’s body, and then everything went back to normal. We went to alert somebody, but then we discovered that Nasoj had invaded again.”

Habakkuk nodded at that. He looked to Jessica again, his face unhappy. “I am now going to draw these two threads together, and I think we will gain a much clearer understanding of why our enemy chose Loriod for an ally. It seemed so foolish, but it was perhaps even more clever than we can still guess. Wessex was tasked to undo his own binding because only he could remove those spells. The censer itself already exists between worlds. It’s very essence is a tear between this world and the Underworld. But most of the time, it can do nothing but corrupt those who would near it.

“But on certain days of the year, days when magic is at its peak, its very nature can force the opening wide enough for a Shrieker, a creature of the Underworld, to escape.”

“Just what are you saying?” Malisa asked, eyes narrowed.

“I’m saying that the censer never left Metamor.” Habakkuk paused as all around the table absorbed that morsel. “Zagrosek did not steal it back, he merely hid it here for a time when they could use it again. Wessex’s spell interfered with that, prevented them from reaching it. That is why Wessex had those dreams of his, and because he proved so adroit at resisting their dreams, that is why he is now dead too.”

“I think the next question that we would like to see you answer is clear,” Andwyn said, curling his wings about his chest more tightly. “Who planted the dreams in Wessex’s mind?”

“That is the right question,” Habakkuk said with a nod towards the bat. “The answer is, it was the hyacinth.”

“A flower?” Lord Barnhardt asked dubiously. “What sort of flower gives people evil nightmares?”

“A hyacinth, as I said.” replied the kangaroo without any hint of mirth. “A couple months ago, I was reading one of the very books that I had penned. There was a poem contained in one of the chapters that constantly surprised me every time I read it. This was a book I had penned. I should have remembered every detail. But each time I read the chapter with that poem, it surprised me. I read it as if I were reading it for the very first time. The poem went like this:

Singularly standing in the sun
Abreast of all and everyone,
It’s blossoms old though never wilt
and cups to dream the absinthe filled.

It draws things from here to nigh
From below the ground and above the sky;
Deep down where the rocks still grow,
That is where its roots do go.

Speak unto it, leagues away,
A fortnight’s journey in but a day.
A road not seen in any land,
Is the road where hyacinth stand.

“A hyacinth, if properly treated, can act as a fog of absinthe in a land. Its power steadily grows in time, so that we will forget more and more that is important. Anything related to it and anything that the one who planted it wanted us to forget, we forgot. Just as I forgot this poem after I had read it. I realized that something was amiss after reading the chapter with that poem several times, and I studied it line by line, and thus, was able to discern its nature.

“Then, I tasked another to destroy the hyacinth, and he was successful. The power of our enemy was greatly weakened in that moment, but not destroyed all together. It is a reservoir of power, one that our enemy can no longer use. I mention this because I believe that it was not until the hyacinth was planted in the gardens that Wessex began to suffer his dreams. Whoever planted the hyacinth here at Metamor, is our enemy. And that enemy, is somewhere in this castle right now”

“But couldn’t they have just planted the flower and then left?” Thomas asked.

“No,” Habakkuk shook his head ruefully. “The hyacinth itself could not have created those dreams. Another had to direct them. To do so properly, they would have to be close by.”

“Yes,” Jessica added. “Wessex said that his dreams went away when he travelled to Lorland.”

“My head is spinning with all this,” Misha waved his paws in the air. “Who is our enemy and why haven’t you told us already?”

The kangaroo ducked his head for a moment. “There is just so much still to explain, but you are right. The enemy has been under our very noses this whole time. He came with great fanfare and has since slipped into obscurity.”

“By Akkala!” Jessica squawked, her wings spreading out. Her eyes were wide with shock as understanding began to dawn within them. “It’s Yonson! Yonson. Weyden told me that he stopped his carriage when he saw a hyacinth growing in the road. He had it uprooted and brought with him and then planted in Metamor’s gardens after he arrived. And yes, Wessex didn’t have his first dream until after Yonson arrived. How could we not have seen this?”

“We did see this,” Matthias snorted at last, rising to his hind paws. He slammed his fist on the table, though it did not crack, so he must not have used his Sondecki in the blow. “When he arrived, claiming to be an ambassador from Marzac, we knew it was a danger. I warned others to stay away from him. But, after a while, he did nothing, and we all just forgot. We just completely forgot about the danger in our own midst. Damn!” He slammed his fist into the table again, upending his goblet of wine. He did not bother to catch it.

Nor did anyone else, for at just that moment, all heads turned when the doors to the council chamber burst inwards. A very frazzled raccoon stood in the doorway with a worried skunk trailing along after him. “He’s here!” Rickkter declared with a snarl. “That bastard Sondecki is here!”

“Who?” Thomas asked heavily, a tremble coming into the horse lord’s voice. All of the nobles looked at the entrance of the raccoon mage with nervous trepidation. No longer were they simply listening with vague interest. Now, they were sitting back in their chairs genuinely frightened.

“Zagrosek!” Rickkter snarled. “And some bitch Runecaster. I saw them walking to the castle.”

“What happened?” Misha asked, already standing up and stepping to the raccoon’s side. Charles took a few steps closer as well, but he kept his distance from the Kankoran whose hackles were raised completely. He looked less like a man than some enraged beast.

“That bitch cast a spell that tried to crush my heart.” Rickkter’s snarl was descending into bestial growling rather rapidly. “I was able to break it, but it has taken me all this time. Now I don’t know where those two have gone. They left no trail at all, damnit!” And at that he did let out a series of chittering expletives that could never have come from a human throat.

“The Runecaster? She stopped Wessex from saving the Patriarch,” Jessica pointed out.

“They will have come to join Yonson,” Abafouq said, once more standing in his seat. “With the censer once more in their possession, who knows what they can do with it.”

“But why now?” Mayor Tabit asked quietly.

“Because today is the Summer Solstice,” the Binoq replied.

“And if the censer by itself could bring forth one Shrieker on the Winter Solstice, who knows what it can do with three Southlands mages.”

“What censer?” Rickkter asked even as Kayla put her paws on his back to steady him. “And what does Zagrosek want with Yonson?”

“The censer of Yajakali,” Habakkuk replied. “And it was Yonson who planted the hyacinth you destroyed. He is Zagrosek’s ally at Metamor.”

“Yajakali?” Rickkter asked, his eyes narrowing in curiosity. They then widened with sudden recognition. “The Marzac legend? Here? By all the Gods and Daedre. Where are they?”

“The Belfry,” Duke Thomas said as if he were standing on the other side of the castle. “They are in the Belfry. I gave Yonson permission to use the Belfry several months ago. I had not stopped to think what he might want to use it for.”

Misha drew the great black axe from his back and hefted it in his paws. “Then we go to the Belfry. Your grace, send word to George. I want him to round up every scout he can to follow after us. Oh, and have him arrest Yonson’s guards. They might be corrupted too.”

“Not Weyden!” Jessica cried out, her wings fluttering behind her in fright. “He never went to Marzac. He told me so. Please, no!”

“I’m sorry, Jessica, but we cannot take that chance.” The fox’s grey eyes scanned those at the table. “All of you, come.” His gaze went past Abafouq to the wide empty space and he blinked in surprise. “Where did the gryphon go?”

Habakkuk turned about and blinked as well. But it was Abafouq whose voice announced, “Guernef’s disappeared! Did anyone see him leave?” And indeed truly, the area where the white gryphon had once been sitting on his haunches much like a dog was now empty.

Many shook their heads. Most of the nobles looked completely confused, but they remained seated, unable to move, perplexed beyond words at what was happening. But the others stood to follow after Misha and Rickkter. Duke Thomas gestured with his hands. “Go there now! You don’t have a moment to lose. I’ll alert everyone else.”

“Let’s go,” Rickkter snarled, before turning back out the door, Kayla following along behind him. Misha and the rest were only a pace behind. Habakkuk smiled wryly and hopped along after them all.

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