The New Guard (Crossroads Book 1) (10 page)

While he
was hunkered down checking saddle straps on the riding horses, David took a
moment to talk alone with the Beagle.

“There
was no attack last night,” the Beagle stated.

“I
noticed,” replied David. “Do you sense any of the Void’s forces near us?”

“No, and
I have not felt any since a little while after the other angel delivered God’s
message.”

“Do you
think they heard the message?”

“It is
the most likely conclusion. They might have chosen to mount their forces closer
toward Council Rock. I do not really know what the Riders can be up to because
our weakest point would have been last night. Once we get close to more
civilization, we can make a better stand at night.”

“I’m
afraid we don’t have only the original band of Void Riders against us now. The
Fallen Star has no doubt been informed of our arrival and is taking a personal
interest in our activities. The Dark Riders are no longer our biggest threat.
The forces of Hell are subtle and strong, and when we walk into ‘civilization’
we walk into an arena in which the Dark One enjoys many advantages.”

David
spoke the word ‘civilization’ with a sneer in his voice. He knew the dangers in
the wild and could combat them with a sword; the dangers in the cities and
towns required diplomacy, maneuvering, and an ever watchful eye for the hidden
knife. The Beagle sneezed at David’s tone; whether in agreement or
admonishment, David could not tell.

“Beware,”
the Beagle spoke urgently; “if the Originator of Lies does indeed know about
you it will either try to eliminate you or convert you. You are more likely a
target for elimination, and your children are no doubt going to be courted by
the darkness. I’ll inform the brothers of our conversation. You should start
practicing your fancy talk, as you will no doubt have to start presenting
yourself as the Truth Blade to those more cunning of politics than you. Trust
in God and choose your words wisely.”

With
that, their conference was over and their worries truly began.

Chapter
9

The night
had been productive, and Vex’s plan began to solidify quickly. By the end of
first watch, he had reunited with his part of the band and they had moved
swiftly toward Council Rock. Along the way they encountered a quartet of
chiropteran. These twisted mockeries of dwarves and avian were not necessarily
loyal to the Void, but they served well enough. To insure their service,
Vex
placed a compulsion upon the four bat-like creatures,
requiring they spread the news of the new twelve to at least that many Void
beings before they could do anything else.

By the
middle of second watch, Vex’s Dark Riders had made it to Ven, a town just south
of Council Rock. Within the past generation, the entire town had fallen to
Satan’s demons and become a stronghold for the Void. It was here that Vex’s
plan was usurped.

Vex and
his riders rode into town and made their way to the local tavern, the Fatted
Calf. At this time of night, there were still a few mortal revelers, but their
companion demons had them deeply mired in various vices and therefore dead to
what was going on around them. Vex ordered drinks and began recruiting, in
hopes of having a mixed band of demons, thralls, Dark Riders, and other
Void-loyal beings to meet the incoming kings and queens.

As the
night progressed,
Vex
became fully assured of himself
as more and more Void forces clamored to aid him. What he hadn’t noticed was
the lanky, angular demon disguised as an elf that had entered and left during
one his retellings of his glories to come. Vex also failed to notice when the
Void Hounds entered through the back. Once again the demon who had come into
the tavern briefly returned, accompanied by a squat demon wearing a human
guise. The hound circled Vex as the demons stepped forward and caught Vex’s
attention.

“Void Rider,
we will speak.” The human/demon spoke. Vex turned and recognized the two as
demons, although the disguise of the human-looking one was nearly perfected.
The other demon wore a good shell, though its ears were pointed too sharply and
there was a burning redness to its eyes.

Vex
smiled, sensing he’d attracted the aid of two powerful demons. When he spoke it
was with a confidence he’d soon lose. “My dear demons, who might you two be?”

The
human/demon turned his head to the elf/demon and nodded ever so slightly. The
elf/demon nodded back and stepped forward. “Our names, who we are, does not
matter. What matters is who we bring with us.”

The
elf/demon grew stone still and the room did likewise. Then its lips began to move
ever so slightly, and a droning filled the building from the floorboards to the
rafters. The mortal patrons slumped over, completely wrapped in
unconsciousness. The demons began to twitch. The hound seemed to grow in size
as every hair on its body stood on end. Vex began to doubt. A dark rift opened
in front of the elf/demon and a voice emerged.

“Void
Rider.” The voice, if it could be called one voice, was a mix of three parts
mingled together seamlessly. One part sounded melodic and enticing. The second
part was deep and authoritative. The final part was like the headwinds of a
summer storm. “I am the First Acolyte of the Void. I am the voice of dissent.”

A wave of
power flowed out of the inky rift, and the Void Hound grew in stature and stood
on its hind legs. With lengthening, clawed hands the hound took hold of Vex. “I
am your master, the one to whom all demons bow,” the voice from the rift
boomed.

At these
words, every demon fell down to their knees and supplicated to the voice
emanating from the rift. Whispered names reached Vex’s ears: “Lord of
Darkness,” “First of Hell,” “Mortal’s Damnation,” “Fallen Star.” With each new
name,
Vex
knew he’d miscalculated somehow in his
planning and might not live to learn at what point he had gone wrong.

“Beelzebub,”
Vex began pleading. However, his whining was quickly silenced by the tightening
grip of the twisted Void Hound.

“Silence!”
boomed the voice. “I wish to speak to all of the Dark Riders involved in this
at once.”

Though
miles and kingdoms apart, communication between bands of Void Riders is made
possible through the use of the Void Hounds. Just at the southern border of the
Second Kingdom and the great city that was the Central Kingdom, Ferreter was
thrown from his horse as his hound took hold of him. The hound tripled in size
and weight and pinned Ferreter to the ground. The hound’s eyes became pitch
black, then slowly showed the scene in the Fatted Calf. In the desert of the
Eighth Kingdom, Caliban was similarly forcefully unhorsed and pinned. He too was
greeted by the scene in the tavern.

“Now that
I have the attention of all of you, let us begin by having you explain why I
was not privy to the knowledge you all seem to have of this new twelve.”

For
Caliban and Ferreter both, the voice issued from the rift within the tavern and
resounded out of their prospective hound’s muzzle. Caliban was no fool and knew
a major player when he heard one. He took in the scene at the tavern and
realized he was dealing with one of the highest ranking demons. In fact, for this
demon to have control over the Void’s own hounds, it could only be the Fallen
Star.

“Master
of the Fiery Lake,” Caliban said with deep respect. At the same time, the hound
in the tavern turned to the rift, became a black glossy looking glass so as to
show Caliban, and echoed his voice. “I was not aware that you were not included
in our original plan. One of your demons sought out our former leader with news
of the coming of a new twelve. The demon spoke of a student learning under the
Magi, Verger Rex. It seems Rex became convinced of the coming of a new twelve
and had calculated which race they were to come from. The demon had a great
deal of information, including when the Gateway would open to admit the new
twelve into the Hub World.”

Silence
followed for half a minute and then the voice issued from the rift once more.
“Who was the demon?”

It was
Ferreter who responded, knowing that silence was death, “Weaver of Chaos, we
were never given a name. You know how guarded your servants are with their
identities.” The image in the hound in the Fatted Calf shifted to carry
Ferreter’s image and words. “However, I can show you its true appearance.”

Ferreter
lifted his head so it touched his hound’s head. The image within the hound in
the tavern shifted from Ferreter to the images gleaned from the Rider’s mind. A
pale elf appeared, then slowly morphed until the fake shell fell away and the
true visage of the demon shone. The form resembled a human figure in a fuzzy
photograph. A sooty substance streaked with red flowed through its nearly
insubstantial body, adding definition when it reached the boundaries of the
frame. Twisted limbs were barely visible, and the remains of wings appeared
from just behind the figure.

Ferreter
then asked, “Do you know this demon, Creation Breaker?”

Instantly,
a wave of energy pulsed out of the rift, through the hounds Ferreter was
talking through, and into his body. Thousands of tiny flaming needles grew
under Ferreter’s skin and he screamed until his voice broke. Only then did the
voice from the rift speak, “I know all of my subjects, Rider.”

Ferreter
flailed, his mouth trying to form words, his mind trying to send a reply, but
it was Caliban that finally spoke. “Lord of the Dark Host, my associate
misspoke; he merely meant to ask, do you recognize, from our seeing, your
servant?”

Caliban
would not have normally spoken up for another, even a fellow Rider, but
Ferreter was uniquely skilled and it would be a long time before he could be
replaced. At the end of Caliban’s words, Ferreter’s form fell limply to the
ground; the only sign of his living was his deep desperate breaths.

“Yes,
Rider, I do,” the voice responded. “I sense from your mind that you are on its
trail. How goes your hunt?”

“We’ve
lost the trail in the desert here in the Eighth Kingdom. The scent of the
anthope has obscured the markers. It may have fallen into their hands.”

“Very
well, I will deal with the tracking and punishing of this servant. I require
your skills here at Council Rock. Before that you will tell me all you know;
you had better be quick, as the third watch is well underway.”

Chapter
10

Rebekah
looked at her face in the mirror and sighed. She had developed several more
freckles from her exposure to the sun. Her fair skin always did this, and it
annoyed her. How many days had she been stranded in the wilderness? Was it two?
One? No, one and a half. There was the crossing, and then one whole day in this
strange reality. No longer did she think this place some delusion. No, this was
reality, one she was just coming to terms with but never felt she would truly
comprehend.

Rebekah
sighed and tried to clear her head from all the random thoughts. She continued
combing her long, wet, strawberry-blond hair, once again wishing for a hair
dryer or a little makeup. It wasn’t as if she ever wore a lot; she just didn’t
like how the freckles were overbearing without foundation and how tired her
eyes looked without liner. David would have said she was fussing over nothing
and tell her how beautiful she looked. The sincerity in his voice always made
her blush and feel more attractive. However, David was not here. She sighed and
put down the brush, realizing her mind was wandering again.

She had
been constantly worrying about the rest of her family; however, the acolytes
that ran Haven’s sanctuary, the Owl, and her guardian angel kept her engaged.
The Owl conversed with her whenever they were in her assigned room, the
acolytes welcomed her help wherever she offered, and the Fox comforted her
during those times in between.

Rebekah
volunteered in the kitchen where she met her first dwarf, a joyous young lady
who was newly wed to another dwarf who kept the cellar stocks and saw to the
catacombs. In the garden, she assisted an elderly weald and several gaeder. She
also helped in cleaning rooms, which is when she met the Coterie acolytes who
were mainly guards. The temple physician was an elf, as was his young assistant
healer, Alawnwee; she was assigned to help Rebekah with care of herself and her
unborn child.

Alawnwee
and Rebekah didn’t have too much in common, though the young elf maid was a
transplant same as Rebekah. She had just come of age on the elven home world
when she crossed over. She had not been alone. However, one by one she lost her
companions through a yearlong trial that left her hurting spiritually and
fearful. It took some time, but Alawnwee became determined to take back some
control of her life and established a life in Haven. Rebekah admired her for
this, and a strong kinship formed between the two women.

Through
Alawnwee Rebekah learned more about the other races that populate the Way
World. Rebekah was fascinated to hear the stories of the nisse, and quickly realized
that in her world they would be called fairies. She was also able to quickly
identify the limnaid as mermaids, the polyheme as giants, and the avian as what
humans pictured angels to be. Rebekah’s education was not to be complete,
however, as Alawnwee would hardly speak of the other races such as the anthope
(who sounded like shape shifters) and several different creatures she would
only call the Twisted Ones.

*

Dawn of
the fourth day since the crossing brought the Owl fluttering into Rebekah’s room.
She sat up as best she could as the Owl perched on the window ledge.

“Greetings,
friend,” Rebekah called out.

The Owl
bobbed up and down in greeting. “Good morning, Lady Rebekah.”

Rebekah
shifted uncomfortably in bed. The discomfort had nothing to do with her
pregnancy and everything to do with the new information the Owl had shared with
her about her children’s fate. Since then, the Owl had started calling her Lady
Rebekah, in honor of the status she would be accorded as mother of the future
kings and queens of the twelve kingdoms.

She took
quick control of the emotions bubbling up inside her by reaching out and
stroking the Fox’s fur. The Fox, who had not stirred from its spot on the bed
when the Owl entered, did so now in order to give Rebekah better access to the
full length of its body.

“Do you
have news?” Rebekah asked hopefully.

“Yes,”
the Owl replied. “Though there has been much activity regarding your family’s
arrival, your husband and children had a safe night without any encounters.”

“Do they
still travel with the Coterie allies you spoke of?”

“Indeed.
I would not be surprised if they were to gain more allies this day. Trust that
God will expand the circle of protection around you and your family.”

“Yes, I
know; it’s just that protection can only go so far. I’ve read through the Bible
plenty of times, enough to know that even God’s chosen face dangers and trials
that can harm them.”

“Harm
them? Yes. Change them? It has happened many times. However, none of God’s
chosen were ever abandoned.”

Rebekah
continued to stroke the Fox’s fur. Tears of fear and frustration brimmed in her
eyes, but did not fall. The Owl glided over to the bed and landed at Rebekah’s
feet.

“I have
more news.”

Rebekah
wiped away the tears and looked up at the Owl. She nodded her head so it would
go on.

“The
carriage set to bring you to the Central Kingdom arrived last night. Craftsmen
are refitting it for a smoother ride and will have it done by sundown. You are
set to leave the day after tomorrow.”

“Why not
tomorrow?” Rebekah asked in surprise.

“Tomorrow
is the Sabbath, and in Haven it is strictly honored. The Gates to the city will
be closed at dusk tonight and will not be opened again until the dawn following
the Sabbath. Besides, your own circle must be formed.

“In
addition to the Fox and myself, the horses and the two coachmen, a small guard
of fifteen Coterie warriors heading to their ancestral houses will also
accompany us. Finally, your nurse, Alawnwee, will ride with you, to stay by
your side through your pregnancy and beyond.”

Rebekah
was delighted by the news that Alawnwee would accompany her, but quickly became
puzzled. “Alawnwee said she loved Haven and could not see why anyone would
trade it for the crowded fortress city, Dauntalus. Why would she choose to join
me there?”

“Alawnwee
is very strong in her obedience to God and has answered the call of God’s
herald. She trusts strongly in the security that is Haven, but is willing to go
into more dangerous territory out of love. It is her love of the Word that
drives her desire to please Him and those He has put in her life. The healer
under whom she serves has implored her to seek more training to strengthen her
skills. She respects him and wishes to honor him. Additionally, she has grown
to cherish you these last few days, as you have her. For these reasons she will
go where she is sent.”

“I will
be honored by her company and friendship,” said Rebekah.

“Be sure
to tell her that. She is strong of faith; on the other hand, like you, she
still fears what the future will bring.”

A not so
distant noise of dishes clanging brought everybody’s attention to the door. The
Owl quickly turned back to Rebekah.

“That is
her now. She’s bringing you breakfast, news of the carriage, and news that she
will travel with you. You two can prepare together. Enjoy the Sabbath service
tomorrow. I’ve other tasks to complete before our departure. Good day to you,
Rebekah.”

With
these last words the Owl took off, flying back out the window. Seconds later, a
small knock at the door announced Alawnwee’s arrival. Rebekah called for her to
enter and thanked her for the morning meal. As the two women shared breakfast,
they shared their hopes and fears of their future in Dauntalus.

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