“Needle in a Haystack…”

“One thing that confuses me, Rintha,” V’vendy the Deathweaver asked her fellow hunter as they pushed their way through the city crowd. “Why did you follow us in secret? Why not simply walk up and greet us and avoid that pointless fight?”

Rintha the Firstborn, Hunter and far-traveler, bashfully scratched his moss-like hair. “Well,” he said. “Do you know how many people in the land wear green, hooded cloaks that they draw over their head? The first two times I spotted someone I thought was you, they turned out to be complete strangers…the third time, it was a wicked Humbaba out to kidnap children!”

Rintha touched a finger to the hairline fracture scar on his cheek. “So when I saw you in your cloak, surrounded by all these bizarre–”

Corax and Ira glared at Rintha, while Uuco cheerfully scribed notes in the clay tablet levitating in front of him.

“–Friendly looking people, ” Rintha amended, “I thought I’d watch you for bit, make sure you’re actually you,” He shrugged. “That did not go well, “ he admitted, “and I am sorry.”

“Apologies can wait,” Ira mused. “Tell me, Rintha: what have you learned about the Temple explosion so far?”

“Rumors and gossip, so far,” Rintha replied, pushing a street urchin aside as she tried to snatch a sling-stone from his large array of pockets. “Some claim the Hidden Gods were offended by their temple’s paltry furnishings, while others profess it was the work of demon. Other believe it was a foul spell cast by heretics with stolen mana, which seems more likely…”

Rintha paused. “But I believe in one rumor above all…that the fearsome blast was the work of a Roarer.”

“A Roarer!” V’vendy exclaimed, eyes, narrowing, hair-feathers bristling. “You really think our chosen prey lies in this city?”

Rintha nodded. “That’s what my instincts tell me,” he said.

Ira choked. A Roarer. Beings transformed into gateways to an endless well of mana and magic. Soul so suffused with power that any speech or gesture from them could produced miracles…in uncontrollable, catastrophic amounts.

“Roarers?” Uuco declared, snorting and stroking his mustache. “Bah! They’re just a made up, legendary myth! There’s no way they could exist!”

Rintha looked down at the elderly Nobble. “You talk a lot about things you know nothing about, little chronicler,” he said.

“Oh, but I do know it, boy!” Uuco declared, waving his reed pen back and forth. “I’m hundreds of years old, y’know! I’ve wandered all over, and I’ve never met one of those highfalutin’ Roarers you keep blabbing about!”

“Because you’d have died if you met one-!” Rintha replied hotly.

V’vendy got between Rintha and Uuco and set fingers to each of their lips.

“Shsh,” V’vendy muttered. “Shshshshshshsh….”

“But-!” Uuco started to say.

“He doesn’t–!” Rintha started to object.

“Shshhhhhhh…!” V’vendy continued. Uuco and Rintha’s protests subsided.

V’vendy lowered her fingers. “Um…you usually come up with the plans, Lady Ira,” she said. “What’s our next step?”

Ira glanced at Rintha, resting a hand on her harp case. “I’ll defer to the judgement of your friend for the moment,” she replied. “How do we track down our prey, hunter?”

“The epicentre of the explosion like has no clues due to the, well, explosion,” Rintha said, twirling his sling around in his hand. “So we search the surrounding area and look for any survivors of the blast, witnesses who may have seen what happened.”

“Given the size of that blast,” Corax drawled, plucking a molted feather from his back. with his talons, “we might have our work cut out for us.”

%%%

Down in the more prosperous streets of Baruck, a squad of charioteers raced north, bearing hogtied Zealot prisoners to the Royal Dungeons.

One prisoner, after working her mouth for a span, managed to spit her gag free. As quietly as she dared, she craned her neck up and glanced around the chariot. Two City Guard stood to her left and right, while a driver flicked reins and urged the horse teams onward.

The Priestess pondered her options. Her mouth was free, so she could use her Evolved Voice. She could blast the Chariot to bits with a shout, but then she’d still be hogtied, and apt to break her skull on the road. She could sing the guards into muddled sleep…but the amulets dangling from their wrists would shield their minds long enough to spear her through.

The Priestess though long about what she would say, what word she would utter to inflict her will on the world. She reached a decision.

Unlock,” she said.

The knots on her rope bindings unravelled.

The belt buckles on the kilts of the chariot guards sprang open, as well as those on the horse yolks.

The strap on the Priestess’s eye patch loosened.

The charioteer captain spun around, raising his spear. “She’s loose!” He shouted, snatching a clay tablet from his belt and pinching it between thumb and forefinger. “Get–!”

The charioteer captain glimpsed the smirk of the Priestess as she rose from her cast-off husk of ropes. He glimpsed the eye behind her falling-free eye patch.

It was a normal eye. No, it was an eye with a endlessly coiling spiral of an iris. No, it was a blazing orb, an inferno of blinding orange.

Balor!” The Priestess uttered.

And then there was Fire!

%%%

The Pilgrims and Rintha strode up the stairs of the massive, monolithic Infinite Temple, passing by twin pillars of stone gryphons.

Soon, Uuco started to wheeze. “Hidden…Gods…damn…these oversized stairs!” he moaned, pulling himself up over the edge of one step with arms and legs.

“Do you need–?” Rintha asked.

“No!” Uuco shouted, knots standing out on his thin, tiny limbs. “I got this!”

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