Ira, Uuco, V’vendy and Corax watched Dragon Face sprint off into the sunset, each of them very, very confused.
Eventually, Ira turned away and walked over to the hogtied Priestess. “What do you know?” She demanded.
The Priestess licked her lips and sneered. “First, I need your word–” She started to say.
Lady Ira drew her sword and held it to the Priestess’s throat. “No,” she said. “You’re going to tell me something useful in the next ten seconds, or you die!” Ah-ah-ah!” she chided as the Priestess opened his mouth to talk. “I’m not done talking: you’re going to tell me something useful in six words or less! If you utter a word more…”
Ira let her sword drift up the Priestess’s cheek. “…I’ll take your other eye,” she said.
The Priestess swallowed hoarsely, eye filled with panic and hatred in equal measure.
“Five seconds left to live,” Ira continued. “Three, two…”
“Find the man,” The Priestess hissed. “Not the…group.”
Lady Ira frowned. She touched the tip of her sword to the zealot priestess’s throat, and then drew it away. She then took the cloth gag and stuffed it back in the Priestess’s mouth.
“Mm-mph!” The Priestess muttered, glaring daggers with her eye.
“Cocoon this heretic in rope,” she announced to the city guards, “and throw her in my villa’s dungeons. Send patrols out into the city to arrest hoodlums and tend to the injured s!” The city guards glanced at each other. “Now!” Lady Ira shouted. The guards rushed to follow her instructions, hauling away the Priestess and her lackeys, throwing them on the backs of their chariots.
Ira glared fiercely after the Zealot Priestess, then relaxed and sighed as she was born out of sight.
V’vendy stepped up next to Ira. “Why did you make her answer in six words?” She asked.
“That woman is a born liar,” Ira replied softly. “I have no doubt she sought to trick us into accomplishing her aims with that oiled tongue. So I put her under pressure, made her speak without thinking.” Ira smiled thinly. “And she let something interesting slip.
“Find the man…not the group,” V’vendy repeated to herself. She looked up. “It wasn’t a group of magicians that crafted that explosion…one person did that!”
“One man, she said,” Ira clarified. “So we’re looking for a man who can blow up an entire building with one spell.” She clenched her fist. “And we likely have no one who can equal him.”
“Hoo-boy!” Uuco exclaimed, crawling out from underneath the wagon. “I knew you were a noble-born Harper…but I didn’t know you were that noble, Ira!”
Ira glanced at Uuco, toying with one of her earrings. “I wished to be one Pilgrim among many, and not make you uncomfortable,” she said softly.
“To the Hidden Gods with that!” Uuco exclaimed, slamming a fist into his palm and sending purple sparks flying. “If I’d know, I could have made you pay for all of my meals!”
Corax turned and nudged Uuco away from Ira with his tail. “What I think Uuco means to say,” the dinosaur warrior said, “Is to think nothing of it, Lady Ira.” His head feathers twitched. “We all have our secrets.”
V’vendy nodded soberly. “After we hunt down the Zealots in the city, ” she said, “let’s come clean to each other, over a pitcher of wine.”
Ira nodded. “I agree,” she said.
Corax and Uuco glanced at each other.
“Very well, ” Corax said gruffly. “I shall reveal my secret when the time comes.”
“Not before I reveal my deep dark secret!” Uuco retorted, pounding his chest. “You’ll see! It’s the secret-est of secrets!”
“Of course it is,” Lady Ira said patiently, sheathing her sword. “Of course it is.”
T Pilgrims walked through the gates of Baruck and into the shadow of the Infinite Temple.
The streets of Baruck were crowded with people, colour and sound.
Artisans and farmers hawked their wares from stalls and blankets along the side of the streets, while aristocrats in palanquins and merchants on carts tried to push their way through a sea of commuters flowing in and out of buildings. Priests clad in face-concealing hoods and veils marched to the thumping of drums, parting a way through the crowds without effort.
The sides of buildings were coated with spiral hex sigils that gleamed with purple mana-light, while bolts of cloth dried on ropes strung between buildings. And above all this, the magnificent Infinite Temple, marred by a pillar of smoke that city-folk would fearfully glance up at from time to time.
V’vendy was dazed by the colour and clamour of Baruck. She closed her eyes to blot out the noise, focused on the flowing wind with her hair feathers…
…And sensed an unnatural gust coming from above.
Her eyes snapped open. “We’re being followed,” she whispered
Ira tensed and kept up her casual walking pace. “Where from?” She asked
“Above and to the left, along the rooftops,” V’vendy replied.
Corax looked around the city streets, raising his head above the crowd. He noticed a break in the seamless row of clay buildings ahead. “There’s a alley coming,” he noted. “Ambush?”
“Agreed,” Lady Ira said softly. She looked and spotted Uuco the Witness buying a skewer of falafels from a vendor. “Over here, Uuco!” She shouted, waving. “We’re going to visit an old friend first!” She hesitated. “A very pretty friend!”
Uuco’s ears perked. With a burst of static and dust, he darted up next to Lady Ira. “Why aren’t we moving quicker?” he demanded. “I’m not that old, you know!”
The Pilgrims turned left into the alley. Ira drew her sword and pulled a Seeker Stone from her pouch. Corax hefted his sickle-blade, while V’vendy a bow and arrow. Shards of pottery and desiccated food husks crunched under their footfalls: a vagrant slumped against the wall took one look at them and scurried away.
“Where is our pursuer?” Ira whispered to V’vendy.
V’vendy closed her eyes. “Still following behind and to the left. Come closer,”
“If I threw you,” Corax said, looking up at the alley rooftops, “could you get to the rooftops and force our follower down?”
V’vendy unslung her bow and drew three arrows from her quiver, clutching them in her fingers. “Uh…yes, I think so,” she said.
“Hold on a sec!” Uuco whispered. “Where’s this friend you mentioned? Why are we whispering? Why are you guys pulling out weapons–Oh.” Uuco clamped his mouth shut and gathered a small ball of lightning between his cupped hands.
Lady Ira listened carefully, tuning out the crowd noises coming from outside the alleyway. After a moment, she heard the sound of feet stepping on stone above them. She turned and nodded fiercely to Corax.
Corax dropped his sword and extending his clawed hands. “Now, V’vendy!”
V’vendy hopped feet-first into the dinosaur warrior’s claws. Springing off his legs, Corax hurled V’vendy into the air with all his strength. Ira strummed a tune on her Harp: a blast of purple-hued wind rippled through the air and propelled V’vendy even higher.
V’vendy rose above the alley and landed across from the green-cloaked figure on the other roof. She nocked an arrow to her bow and drew it back, aiming for the cloaked ‘s pursuer’s leg.
The green-cloaked figure let out a muffled curse and leapt down into the alley, bouncing from one wall to the other and landing in a crouch in front of Corax. V’vendy leaned over the rooftop edge and took aim…then slowly released her bow’s draw. “You!” she exclaimed.
Corax swung his sickle sword at the mysterious figure, carving a gap in his green cloak. The green-cloaked figure threw back his torn garment to reveal a tunic studded with sewn pockets containing pointed lead bullets. He pulled a rope sling from his belt and drew a lead bullet to load it with. With a ‘Bang’, the lead bullet was knocked out of his grip. Ira’s Seeker Stone bounced off the ground and alley walls, landing back in her hand.
“Lightning Time–!” Uuco shouted. He thrust out a finger rimmed with a jagged halo of static.
“Wait!” V’vendy called out from above. “Stand down! I know this one: he’s not a Zealot!”
Ira froze, and then closed her fingers around the Seeking Stone in her hand. “Is she telling the truth?” She said to the cloaked man. “Reveal yourself!”
The mysterious figure hesitated, then lowered his sling and pulled back his green cloak’s hood, a cloak similar to V’vendy’s own.
Beneath the hood was a square-jawed face with honeynut-brown skin, hair like fresh moss, and pointed ears. A crooked hairline scar ran down his cheek, as thin and as dark as a break in pottery
Uuco clapped his hands together. “A Firstborn?” He exclaimed, pulling his clay tablet off his back and taking out a reed stylus. “Oh wow! I’ve haven’t seen one of you in centuries!”
The First-Born grinned shyly, revealing teeth the colour of beach-stone. “Sorry for the misunderstanding,” he said in a grizzled tone. “The name’s Rintha: I hunted with V’vendy in the past, and unless I miss my guess, we’re all hunting the same prey today!”
He paused for drama. “Zealots!