"Yule's gravedigger hut was more cramped than usual."
"Inside was of course, Yule, but there was also the weak, beaten girl in his arms and two individuals looking at him with half suspicious and half shocked eyes."
"They were Holy Knight's Luna and Zera who had followed Yule in order to interrogate him and after a long while of back and forth they came to uncover a disturbing truth."
"The poison contractor they were chasing was somewhere in Sirus and this disease was his doing. Luna who was staring at the pile of diseased bodies in the cart, gripped her sword tightly, only one thought was on her mind."
"We were too late again."
I looked at the magical compass in my hand whose pointer was spinning wildly indicating that the poison artifact was somewhere nearby, then I glanced at Zera who was looking at me as well, she knew too.
We had both heard the recounts of recent events from this gravedigger named Yule, a plague of unseen fatality had spread through the town, everyone was susceptible and many had already died.
Turning my attention bac to Yule I watched him gently place the sick girl onto the only bed in the hut, and begin to pat her with a moist towel. I gripped my sword tightly in frustration.
We had been to late.
"Hey. You're both Holy Knights aren't you?"
"That means that you make contracts with gods to get power right?"
"So can you heal this girl?"
I opened and closed my mouth to respond but I couldn't, we didn't have a contract with the God of Healing, we couldn't heal that girl.
Zera saw my hesitation and responded for me.
"No, we don't have that kind of power unfortunately, but we did send a request for healers to come, they should arrive in a day from nearby."
" Mm. She only got sick recently, I hope she can survive until then."
Yule got up and nodded slightly, before turning to us, my eyes widened a bit. While the words he was saying sounded caring his face was...
Zera began to question Yule while I just observed him, something was very strange about this gravedigger.
"So, what else do you want?"
"Just a few questions then we will be on our way."
Yule walked over to a small cooking pot and began to make what looked like porridge, he waved his hand motioning Zera to continue.
"How long has this been going on for?"
"About 3 weeks."
"Did any events take place 3 weeks ago, a large gathering maybe?"
"Nope, no gatherings this time of year."
"Maybe a suspicious individual showed up during that time?"
Yule stopped stirring and looked pensive.
"There was a new merchant who came, Baron's Bizarre Bazaar. Odd squeaky fellow, sold cheap quality goods though and gave away free drinks to customers, his shop smelled strongly of candy."
Zera and I looked towards each other.
"Is that person still in town?"
"Last I saw yes. Big flashy signs you shouldn't be able to miss it."
"Alright thanks, those should be all the questions. The healers should arrive within a day."
I bowed towards Yule to thank him for his help.
"Thank you for your help today gravedigger and the service you've given to this community, the healers will arrive soon to relieve you of your work but until then I pray you enjoy your meal."
I stayed bowed for a while but only silence responded to me, I looked up and saw that Yule had not turned away from the porridge he was making, helpless I turned to leave.
As we were leaving I finally heard a soft voice mumble out.
"It's not for me."
I looked back confused, then looked towards the sick girl on the bed, my eyes saddened as I realized.
He was cooking for her.
Leaving the hut a cold gaze entered my eyes.
"This new merchant seems to be the only thing out of the ordinary that happened at the start of this, the compass indicates that the poison artifact is within this town somewhere and it appears that merchant is still here as well."
"Let's get this bastard."
After entering town it wasn't long before we found the merchants store. We both stood staring at at windows filled with odd looking clothing, trinkets and vials of colorful liquids. Atop the store in big yellow letters was the store name:
'Baron's Bizarre Bazaar!'
A sign about a promotion was hanging from one nail.
'Get one free Bizarre specialty drink with each purchase!'
Luna and I looked at each other before I pulled out my sword and kicked in the door and rushed in yelling.
"Holy Knight authority, do not resist!"
Zera promptly walked in behind me with her hands clasped ready to cast a spell.
"We just want to talk!"
I raised my eyes at her.
Really, 'just want to talk'?
Looking around the inside of the store we couldn't see anyone and more importantly.
My nose scrunched up in disgust and I saw Zera move her hand to cover her nose. It smelled like somebody had died in here, horribly rotting.
"I thought he said it smelled like candy!?"
"It's most likely that the candy smell was a perfume meant to cover up this. Luna, look over there!"
I glanced to where Zera pointed and there I saw a door behind the counter, and more importantly there was light coming from that door.
I nodded and began to walk towards that door. As we got closer to it the horrible stench began to strengthen, it made me want to gag.
Soon we were right in front of the door and we could hear mumbling from the other side.
Someone was in there!
I gripped my sword then kicked open the door.
"Holy Knight Authority! Do no-"
What I saw made me freeze, I saw a small fat man in a suit with rolled up sleeves with his back towards us while working on something zealously, presumably the so called Baron. He looked back at me with crazed eyes.
"I'm preparing something special, something very very special, I'm preparing a gift for my lord, a BIG GIFT. So DON'T, interrupt me."
Zera leaned over and whispered to me.
"He has the poison artifact."
I glanced past the crazed Baron and saw him working on mashing together some plants in what looked like a very unassuming black crucible. The table was filled with vials and vials of pink liquid, my eyes narrowed.
He gave away free drinks to customers.
"Zera he's poisoned the entire town."
Baron smiled widely when I said that.
Baron: "Oh you know! Great, great, great, great, great! I was feeling sad that nobody knew it was me, nobody was appreciating my work! Have you come to admire me? Only Pravus admires my work."
My eyes shook at his words.
Pravus?!? Was he working with the same Pravus who slaughtered Itzes and attacked the border? We must capture him!
I raised my sword to his face.
"No, we've come to capture you, you will be trialed for your crimes. Surrender and come with us."
The Baron blinked a few times never stopping the work he was doing with his hands, he spoke in a confused tone.
Then his sickly smile returned to his fat face.
"Sure thing, but first tell me how this taste!"
The Baron quickly grabbed the crucible he was working in and threw its contents towards my face, I moved quickly to slice him down but the fat rat was deceptively fast and ducked under my swing.
A mess of green liquid splashed onto my skin and the Baron pulled out a knife and began to lunge at me.
I move to deflect but my reaction time is too slow. No it's not my reaction time, I'm sluggish, my muscles are shaking!
Poison, I've been poisoned!
My eyes widen as the knife gets closer and closer and just before it stabs into me electric tendrils shoot out past me into the Baron.
"Arggggg ugh guh ugh guh ugh guh!"
As the Baron is convulsing on the ground I look back to see Zera with her hands clasped who had just finished casting a spell.
"Luna! Are you alright?"
I nodded my head weakly.
"Yes, it's just my movements are slow due to whatever he threw at me. Thanks for saving me, I didn't know you could use quick spells."
Zera looked at me concerned as she checked over my poisoned spots.
"I only know a few and they are all weak spells."
She gestured to the Baron twitching on the ground.
"Look, he's not even dead, he'll get up soon we should capture him."
"Yes we should."
I walked over slowly towards the Baron as I frowned.
Sirus wasn't a border town and the Baron had an artifact stolen from the Holy Empire and yet he also had something to do with Pravus, this wasn't good at all.
"Let's quickly bring him back to the capital for interrogation Zera, I have many questions."
"Yes you and I both-"
Zera's response was cut off by a loud shuffling and then I head a sickening sound that shook me to the core.
Shink. Drip Drip.
Looking back my eyes widened in horror as I see a knife head pierce out of Zera's abdomen, blood dripping to the ground.
"L-luna r-r-run *cough*"
Zera's weak voice is cut off as she coughs up a mouthful of blood before falling to the ground weakly.
A figure cloaked in black rags stands behind her still holding the knife.
"Zera! You fiend!"
I dash forward to attack the man but stumble as my muscles continue to shake.
Dammit I'm still poisoned!
The man looks at me fall then laughs nervously before cautiously inching towards me with the knife. In his eyes I see a look of desperation and determination to kill.
"No hard feelings but please die for me!"
He lunges out towards me with the same dagger he stabbed Zera with.
Time slows as I see blood drip off the knife as it inches closer to me.
I ignore the knife approaching me as my gaze is locked on the ever increasing pool of blood around Zera.
The laughing Zera.
The cute Zera.
The Zera who always followed me.
Zera was dying.
I won't allow it.
"GOD OF JUSTICE GIVE ME STRENGTH TO SLAY THIS FIEND!!!!"
Yelling out I summon up all my remaining strength with the most basic of enchants and slice out. I feel my blade connect.
The man's hand holding the knife plopped to the ground followed by a stream of blood as the man clenched his bleeding forearm.
"Arghhhhhhhh!! My hand!!!"
I had cut off his hand.
"You bitch! I'll gut you-"
The man's voice caught in his throat as I stared up at him coldly, I was struggling to my feet.
I wanted more than just his hand, I wanted his life.
The man in rags hesitated looking between me and the knife repeatedly before reaching out towards the knife. Seeing that I began to chant out another power spell.
"God of Justice, I see the demon. I hear the demon! He stands before me now, grant me your strength, grant me your speed and grant my blade the sharpness to deliver your divine judgement!"
The man in rags flinched seeing cold power flow about my body, he was afraid. He quickly turned to run abandoning his plans to attack anymore.
"GRAH, you'll regret this!"
"I won't let you!"
I was still sluggish but I had some strength back thanks to the spells. I started to run after him but I heard a rat like laugh behind me, I turned, it was the Baron.
"KHEK KHEK KHEK KHEK, I'm impressed lady, that poison was enough to paralyze a lion and yet you're still standing! I'll have to prepare something stronger next time."
My eyes stared coldly at the Baron who was holding the poison artifact in his hand while opening a back door.
He was escaping.
I took a menacing step towards him.
"You think I'll let you go scum?"
The Baron took a fearful step backwards before laughing.
"No, you are strong, I have no doubt you can catch me. But can you catch me and save her?"
The Baron pointed behind me towards Zera laying on the ground in a pool of blood. My eyes shook as I saw her taking ragged breaths.
Can I save her?
"The choice is yours, till next time lady."
The Baron gave me a toothy smile before running out with the artifact.
I stood there in silence staring at the door gripping my sword in fury before taking a deep breath and rushing to Zera's side. I also grabbed the man in rags knife before wrapping it up and tossing into Zera's bag, it could prove useful later to track down that man in rags.
Of course I would choose her.
I pulled some bandages out of Zera's travelling bag she had with her before starting to wrap the wound.
"Stay with me Zera, stay awake!"
Luckily the knife had missed anything vital but it was bleeding profusely, the bandage was able to help a bit but she would need a healer eventually. I saw her mouthing something and leaned in closer to hear her.
"You're so loud meathead..."
I saw her smiling at me weakly and I let out a relieved laugh.
"Looks like you're okay for now, I'm going to pick you up, we need to find somewhere safer for you to rest."
Using the remaining time on the enhancements I picked up Zera and walked out of the store, a frown was plastered on my face.
"A-a-am I that heavy?"
I looked down into my arms and saw Zera weakly blushing, she had noticed my frown and assumed it was because I was struggling to hold her up.
"Haha! No not at all, you're as light as a feather, its just that..."
"They got away, it's just like that incident at the border, they slipped from our grasp once again."
I nodded and winced, that's exactly what I was thinking.
"But it's not the same you know."
I looked down at Zera surprised, she was weakly grabbing onto my hand which was holding her. I could see sweat running down her forehead, she must have been in great pain.
"This time we got here earlier, the healers who we called will be able to save everyone left, it's not the same and we still know how to catch him."
I let out a deep breath and forced a smile onto my face.
"You're right, don't worry about me lets get you someplace safe."
"The townsfolk have all locked their doors and wont answer, where will you take me?"
"I'll take you back to that gravedigger, I'm sure he will take us in for a night."
Zera looked at me like I was crazy. I shrugged.
"I've got a good feeling he's more caring than he seems."
"He's going to turn us down."
"No he won't."
A few moments later at Yule's shack.
As a door slammed in my face I heard Zera weakly laugh at me.
"Ah it hurts to laugh but the look on your face is priceless!"
"He turned me down...."
I kicked on the door with my foot and yelled out.
"HEY YOU, ANSWER THE DOOR THIS MINUTE."
"Aren't you a gentleman?"
A voice sounded out from behind the door.
"Are you really just going to leave us two defenseless maidens out here in the cold!?!"
I could hear Zera's laughing in my hands, she was mumbling something.
"What a horrible judge of character, hahahaha!"
I pouted a bit hearing that.
"Come on! You're never going to get a girlfriend if you're like this!"
I heard a loud sigh from behind the door and then it swung open revealing a very annoyed gravedigger staring at me with a frown.
"I don't want one if all women are like you."
Zera burst into laughter in my arms.
"Bwahahahaha! It hurts, it hurts, stop making me laugh!"
"What! Y-you scoundrel!"
He looked at me and the wounded Zera in my hands again before sighing.
"You're not going to stop making noise unless I let you in are you."
I frowned more.
This gravedigger was quite rude.
"N-no, I'm not so undignified to do such a thing, we will leave if you refuse."
He raised his eyes at me.
He motioned to the scuff marks on the bottom of the door where I was kicking. My face instantly went beet red.
"T-t-t-that was d-d-different!"
I could hear Zera trying to stifle her laugh with her hands. I looked down at her frustrated.
"H-h-hey stop laughing!"
I looked back to Yule and saw him massaging his forehead.
"Fine, you can stay. But you can only stay until the healers come tomorrow!"
"Yes now come in quickly so I can close the door, it's drafty, I don't want Julie getting cold."
I nodded and looked down at Zera with a smug expression, she only rolled her eyes at me.
"Is Julie that girl we saw here before, the sick one?"
As I was chatting with Yule we entered the small hut and eventually ended up before the bed with the girl Julie on it since the hut was so small.
Yule: "Yes she's very sick so I want to keep her comfortable until the healers come, oh, by the way you can't use the bed since she's on there. Ill put some blankets on the floor for your hurt friend."
See he is nice!
I looked down at Zera again to mocker her but her gaze was else where, the happiness from laughing before could no longer be seen in her face.
She was staring sadly at the bed.
I looked towards the bed as well and my gaze instantly turned serious.
"Here I've put down the blankets, quickly put you're injured friend down here, I'll have some porridge ready soon-"
I quietly cut off the talking Yule.
I heard him walk up beside me looking concerned.
"What, is your friend hurting?"
I knew he was caring, but right now, that just made this so much harder.
Seeing me not respond he quickly looked towards the bed as well. I felt Zera gently grip my hand.
There on the bed the girl Julie was laying.
She wasn't breathing anymore.
I gently closed my eyes as I whispered to him.
"Julie's dead Yule."
Late Fall, 1450 AG (After Gods)
Dear Sir High Inquisitor,
I have just tallied our monthly stats and have concluded that we should be able to easily meet our War Quota for this month, you can entrust it to me my liege.
As for the missing inquisitor issue inquisitor Luna is currently in the field conducting her challenge to retrieve a stolen artifact. Apparently she was able to track down the theif to the small town of Sirus where he had been conducting foul deeds poisoning the population, we've dispatched healers so no more than half should die, no worries there.
Albeit there is one small issue I would like to bring up with you my liege, while Holy Knight Luna is very skilled in battle she has shown signs that she may become... insubordinate. But not to worry, I took matters into my own hands and increased the difficulty of the trial.
If she survives then her insubordination will be worth it.
If not... well there are always other Holy Knight candidates!
As always, Praise the Empire!
The Dependable and Timely,
-Border Manager Farks