Edge of Darkness: The Broken Circle
Episode 9 - Unexpected Problem
Rashid had steeled himself against the fury he expected from the report, but in spite of his mental preparations he still flinched at the angry outburst.
The flesh that was once Baroness Marina Lightheart stood upon the highest tower in the fortress of Redwall. Rashid had not seen the baroness since her abduction, and it shocked him how much she had changed in a month and a half. Marina was once comfortably plump. Now she looked exceptionally frail and her skin seemed to hang on her unpleasantly – as if it were much too large for the bones and muscle within. Her cheek bones stood out clearly upon her once attractive face. All told, the body appeared on the verge of death, but Rashid knew that the power behind that body was very much alive – and one of the most dangerous forces in Ondoron. One incurred the wrath of the Hand at his own peril.
The nearly-skeletal hands of Marina Lightheart curled like claws at her side as she leaned forward. “We were very thorough in our purge, Rashid,” the former baroness of Ashwick hissed. “We did not miss one.”
“As I said, great Lord,” Rashid said as he knelt in submission, “it is a suspicion on my part based upon the information that I have been able to acquire. The sworn statements are all here.” Rashid held out a scroll case full of papers. “I am not claiming that you are wrong, Lord Hand. As you will see, the tale of her arrival is extremely curious. She knows both far more and far less than one would expect for someone her age. She wields certain powers – powers that seem remarkably similar to those of her predecessor…..”
The Hand violently snatched the scrolls from Rashid, then tore open the lid with surprising strength. The Hand then began to read. Rashid remained on one knee with his head bowed while awaiting the judgement of the Hand.
After nearly a half an hour of silence, a deeply uncomfortable Rashid heard the Hand fold the papers. “Most…..intriguing my friend.” Rashid heard the Hand’s current body shift from where it had been standing by the edge of the wall. “You did well to bring this to my attention. You may rise.”
Rashid let out a quiet breath of relief and looked up. His knee throbbed from kneeling on the stone for so long, and his muscles burned from the strain of maintaining the position. “I do not know how this happened, but I am happy to hear that I have been of service to you and our Master. What are your orders, Lord Hand?”
The body that once belonged to Marina Lightheart now crouched on the top of a parapet while facing Rashid, with her head tilted to that odd sideways angle. Rashid was struck again at the Hand’s resemblance to a bird of prey. Marina’s hands were steepled in front of her and her eyes were little more than slits as the Hand plotted. “This reeks of Telarus,” The Hand said, drawing out the ‘s’ sound in the name with an angry hiss. “If there was ever someone that could find a loophole in the rules, it is he.”
“Do you think this could be a trap?” Rashid asked. “Perhaps a distraction placed here to draw our attention away in these crucial last hours?”
“No,” The Hand said after only a brief pause. “He has an unusual amount of empathy for these people. If your suspicions are correct about the girl, this is his attempt to reach them and to perhaps warn them of what is coming.”
Rashid nodded. “Should I arrange for her to be eliminated?”
The Hand considered briefly. “No, not until we find out if our suspicions were correct. And even if they are, we must discover how Telarus brought this about. Until we know how the Archseraphim did this, we cannot be sure he will not simply send another replacement if we destroy this one.”
“I understand Lord Hand,” Rashid said with a bow. “I shall send my best men to capture her….”
“No,” The Hand said, opening her eyes and piercing the foreign prince with her half-dead gaze. “Not yet. Put some of your stealthiest men in position and have her watched. Ensure that they are ready to grab her at a moment’s notice. In the meantime, I would like you to take personal charge of another mission.”
“Of course, my Lord Hand,” Rashid replied immediately.
“Take some of our best scouts with you and go to where the farmer claimed he found her. Search the area, and question the farmer and his family and anyone near that location about the details of how she came to be there. Look for any evidence of who this young woman is. Then bring it directly and immediately back to me.”
Rashid bowed lower to conceal the smile upon his face. “As you wish, Lord Hand. I thank you for your confidence, and I promise that I shall not let you down.”
“Pray to Kal’Dan that you do not let me down,” the Hand said calmly. “Do not come before me again until you have something. If I see you before then, or if you fail in your mission, your deepest nightmares will seem pleasant in comparison to what I shall do to you. Understood?”
Rashid paled somewhat, remembering the punishment he had received for his failures in Ashwick. “Yes, Lord Hand. I shall not fail you.” He repeated his promise.
“Good,” The Hand said simply. With an oddly graceful movement, the perching noblewoman turned to face out over the barren expanses of Maledictus Petram. “Everything else is proceeding according to plan.”
Rashid felt a moment of discomfort. “I….. have heard that the Atretheon children have been rescued, and that the Herald was destroyed.”
“As I said, everything is proceeding according to plan,” The Hand repeated. “I am somewhat disappointed that the Atretheon boy survived, but it makes little difference. He is too weak to pose a threat to us. And Trigonum is already defeated. They need only remain distracted a little while longer. Soon, they shall drown in a tide of blood. Trigonum shall be ours. And with this foothold, the whole of Western Luminairre shall fall. Each passing day places another nail in this pathetic Empire’s coffin.”
The laughter of the Hand was certainly not human.