The New Guard (Crossroads Book 1) (8 page)

With
these words the woman dropped the mirror and another piece broke off as it
landed. Ferreter grabbed the woman’s shoulders shaking her slightly. “Tell me
of the last travelers. Who were they? Where did they exit?”

The woman
moaned out an answer, “Two angels, a human, might two. Jumbled they are. Hard
to part they are. Come to Haven’s Road, far, far.”

“Haven’s
Road,” Ferreter muttered in mild astonishment, “that is in the Second Kingdom.
Is it even possible for a gateway to move like that?”

The woman
merely began mumbling, “The Way a river, twisting, turning,” over and over
again. Ferreter stood, well aware that he’d get no more from the Way Watcher.
He left the foul smelling dwelling and stood outside the doorway, looking
around. It didn’t take him long to sense his next quarry.

Leading
his horse, Ferreter moved deeper into Dead Hollow. Within moments he came to a
raucous gathering of goblins and two very minor demons. They seemed very fresh
from Hell, living up their freedom until they attached themselves to a host.
The demons’ backs were to Ferreter; thus, they did not see him approach. The
goblins, however, quickly became guarded, easily identifying Ferreter as a Void
Rider. Within seconds, the demons realized their companions’ attitudes had
changed. They turned where they sat and were greeted by the snarling muzzle of
Ferreter’s hound.

Ferreter
smiled at the fear his arrival produced and greeted his soon-to-be allies. “May
the stars all die,” he began.

The
demons quickly finished the statement, as their eyes darted back and forth from
the hound to Ferreter: “and the Void’s darkness cover all.”

“Wonderful,”
Ferreter’s grin broadened. “I have need of your services. I am going to press
hard toward Haven in the Second Kingdom. I need you two and your companions to
meet me there.” The goblins shrank back at the acknowledgment of the presence.
“I take it you two can possess animals?”

Both
demons nodded.

“As to be
expected. Multiple animals at once?”

“I am so
skilled, Void Rider,” the larger of the two demons said. “I can possess several
large animals. My comrade is skilled with many small creatures.”

The
smaller demon shot the slightly larger one a nasty look and was about to
protest when Ferreter spoke back up, “Excellent! This is what I need.” Ferreter
pointed to the smaller one. “I need you to get me some birds with good sharp
claws and beaks like ravens, not simple song birds.” As the smaller demon
nodded, Ferreter shifted his focus to the slight larger demon. “I need you to
possess several good mounts for your goblin associates. All of you will meet me
outside the south entrance of Haven two nights from now. We have a very
profitable target to hit, one that will increase the standing of us all.”

The
demons were pleased with the prospect; they elbowed each other while grinning
at their good fortune. The goblins, however, were more guarded with their
expressions and attitudes. Ferreter knew their reservations stemmed from years
of service to the Darkness, but he also knew they would obey the clearly
dominant being. Therefore, his parting comment was directed to the minor
demons.

“Don’t be
late; the hound doesn’t like it when a hunt is interrupted.”

Ferreter
was satisfied to see the demons sober up and begin to nod vigorously. With that
matter settled, Ferreter mounted his horse; soon both the horse and the hound
broke into a run.

*

Vex was
pleased to have the easiest job, which also promised to lead to the greatest
amount of reward. Yes, there was the problem of the angel and the Sword of
Truth, but these were not insurmountable issues. The Sword Bearer was human and
would be travelling with his younglings. The roads between here and the Central
Kingdom could be made quite treacherous.

After
only an hour on the road, following the trail Ferreter had given to the hound,
Vex
realized they were heading toward Oswald’s Farm. It was
an obvious place to find shelter as it had one of the strongest thresholds in
all the twelve kingdoms. Neither the hounds nor the riders would be able to
break down the barrier. However, there was one way to bring it down: by
pressuring those inside. Vex called the other Riders to speed up so there would
be enough time to test his plan. Within moments the horses and hounds were
speeding toward Oswald’s Farm, calling upon their Void powers to maintain the
pace. Thus the distance that took the band of children all day to cover only
took the Void Riders hours to travel.

It was
still early in the second watch when Vex’s band arrived at Oswald’s Farm. The
riders sat upon their mounts, staring at the manor while Vex explained his
plan. “Under normal circumstances there isn’t any way we can get in there.
However, if the barrier was to fall, or the Sword Bearer was to come out to us,
we’d have all the time left in the night to harass and eliminate these whelps.”

“An’
how’s da barrier suppose ta jus’ fall, Vex?” This came from Gall, who had taken
off his hood and looked mockingly at Vex. Gall’s face was swollen and puffy,
and he sported a nose that showed signs of several breaks. His dark red hair
was merely stubble on his head, missing in several places where long scars
dominated. With his hood on and when he was not speaking, Gall was an imposing
Rider, but when he spoke out and had his hood off,
Vex
felt he was in the presence of a country bumpkin who just liked to brawl.

“I
means
,” Gall continued, “our forces ‘
ave
been
fighten
dat
barrier
for generations.”

Without
looking at Gall,
Vex
smiled a thin lipless smile. “Why
Gall, all we have to do is infuriate the Sword Bearer so he comes charging out,
or get an Oswald to betray their guests. If they betray their guests, well
then, the Oswald’s Farm will no longer be a sanctuary and we can take them
apart at our leisure. If, however, the Truth Wielder comes charging out, well,
he’ll forfeit the sanctuary’s protection and allow us to bring him down.”


Supposin
’ none of dis ‘
appens
?”

“We’ll
set a day watch over the place. We’ll track them as they leave and harry them
all along the way. Eventually they will be out in the open at night and we’ll
take them down one by one. In reality, we only need to kill one. One of them
dead breaks the possibility for this twelve to unite the kingdoms with blood.
However, the more of the twelve that die, the better.”

All the
Riders nodded. Vex smiled and called forth an arrow from the darkness around
him. He pulled his bow from its holder on his saddle and notched the arrow. Vex
nodded to the others and each one formed their own missiles, a combination of
throwing knives, spears, or small axes. All four riders took aim and loosed
their weapons in unison. When the projectiles hit the front door to the manor,
they exploded in a horrendous clash of thunder and a brilliant flash of light.

The Dark
Riders were momentarily deafened and blinded; the hound whimpered in pain. Vex
also felt some pain in his arm, as if some of the protective force that
destroyed their missiles had leapt out to sting him. As his vision began to
clear,
Vex
urged his mount forward. He strained to
listen for any commotion inside the manor. The hound moved forward as well and
added its senses to Vex’s. Vex began to hear the murmuring of voices right by
the door. They were discussing the threshold and the Void. Hearing his master’s
name,
Vex
called out.

“We seek
the Sword Bearer and his kin. Surrender them and we will leave you in peace.”

His
answer came back in seconds. “Hollow words, servant of the Dark. Leave now,
before my Coterie brothers and I hunt you down and strip you of your false
life.”

Vex took
pause. The Sword Bearer was in there with Coterie. It was unknown how many, but
even a few could even up the odds. The angel was in there too. Very well,
Vex
thought, the Riders would have to go with their backup
plan.

“Sword
Bearer,” Vex called, “you will have to leave this sanctuary sooner or later,
and when you do the Dark Riders will come after you.”

With that
the hound began to bay, and Vex signaled the Riders to pull back. Within
moments they were down the road and the manor house was only just visible. Vex
looked at his fellow riders.

“I will
take the first day watch and follow them should they leave. Follow my markers
at nightfall, and we’ll see where we are and what trouble we can create.”

They all
nodded, Gall a little more smugly than the rest. Vex ignored him and set off
for the distant woods, looking for a hiding place and preparing the information
he would give Caliban during the third watch.

Chapter
7

Morning came
crisp and clear. The light of the new day shone through the guest rooms the
children occupied. Those that did not begin to rise with the sun were brought
around by either the Beagle or David. After seeing to their immediate morning
needs and changing clothes, the children were brought downstairs to meet a
flurry of activity.

The
youngest Oswalds brought the children to a table full of various foods and
provided them with small leather sacks. “Your father and the Coterie brothers
say you are to eat in the saddle,” said the young Oswald girl. “Place enough of
each food in your bag for your morning meal. It is all cured, so it won’t spoil
if you don’t eat it all at once.”

Having
said her piece, the young girl left and joined the others in preparing supplies
for their departure. There was a great deal of activity to join, too. Already
there were over a dozen small packs with rolled up mats beside them. Outside, a
long string of horses
were
being saddled. In a corner
of the room, one of the Coterie was looking over a small pile of assorted
weapons. Sister Oswald was assembling small parcels over by the kitchen. All
around there was much to see.

As the
children finished loading their breakfast sacks, David came over. He looked at
each of the children and nodded. “The Oswalds are a true blessing. The new
clothes you are wearing will help you blend in when we are in towns or met on
the road by strangers. Being such a large group, we’ll still stick out between
towns, but there’s no helping that. We’ve been given food supplies, some first
aid supplies, a change of clothes each, and various other camping supplies.”

David
pointed to the piles of goods. “Each of you, grab a bedroll and a pack. Brother
Oswald will help you secure it to your mount or a pack animal. I know most of
you have riding experience, but we’ll be at it all day. The oldest will pair up
with the youngest and ride two per horse. The horses are being led on a rope
because they aren’t good with sudden changes; they are to be riding horses for
nobles in the Seventh Kingdom. All of our supplies have been arranged so we can
easily carry them ourselves when we are without horses.”

“Brother
David,” Brother Oswald quietly interrupted, “we are also going to give you an
older plow horse which can serve as a pack animal when you and the Coterie
brothers separate.”

David
smiled and clasped Brother Oswald’s hand. “Thank you; I did not come here
expecting this much help. You are truly a blessing among men.”

Brother
Oswald bowed modestly, but could not say anything as the Coterie member who had
been inspecting weapons approached.

“Truth
Wielder,” he said to David before turning to Oswald, “Brother Oswald, I’ve
selected some good weapons the eldest can carry.”

Nic
looked at his father in surprise. David just nodded and said, “Considering what
has happened the last two nights, I thought First Thunder’s suggestion of
arming you was prudent.” David paused and placed his hand on the Coterie
member’s shoulder. “By the way, this is Fleet of Foot; he is the youngest
brother of First Thunder. He’s taken the liberty of selecting some weapons out
of their stock and from Brother Oswald’s stores.

“I’m
aware of the games you all played in the woods, but these will be real weapons.
I’ll train you as well as I can; however, we’ll have to get all of you teachers
when we get to the Central Kingdom. We are not in a position to go without
weapons.”

Fleet of
Foot led the children over to the table where he had laid out some weapons.
David picked up two small daggers, pulled them partway out of their sheaths,
and nodded. He handed one each to Esther and Eve.

“Those
are only for protection when there is no other option. I expect you to seek
shelter first; however, since you are also responsible for your younger
siblings, you’ll need methods other than running to help out. I’m proud of how
you protected the younger ones when the Dark Riders caught you on Earth.”

Deborah
had been looking around the table as her father spoke. “Dad, I’ve never been
one for fighting. I played sticks with Mel and Nic when we were younger because
they wouldn’t leave me alone until I fought one battle, but. . .” Deborah
trailed off and gestured at the table. “If I were to use any weapon, I’d prefer
a staff because that’s what I defended myself with back then.”

Fleet of
Foot smiled. “Rock uses a staff and has a spare one I’m sure he’d lend to you.”

Deborah
looked at him and then at her father, questioningly. David answered her, “Rock
is the middle brother of our three traveling companions.”

Deborah
bowed slightly to Fleet of Foot and said, “Thank you.”

Meanwhile,
Mel had picked up a hatchet and was looking it over. Fleet of Foot caught his
attention and then said, “Hand axes are a specialty of the Coteries. They are versatile
as a tool and a weapon. Are you familiar with this type of weapon?”

“I’ve
used hatchets before, but as a tool only,” replied Mel.

“I can
show you some tricks as we travel.”

Everybody
turned suddenly at the clash of steel, only to see Nic and Silas eyeing each
other. Nic’s hand was around the hilt of a small sword and Silas’ hand was on
top of his. Their struggle to take possession of the sword had rattled it
against the other weapons on the table.

David
sighed, “Boys, stop.”

After a
moment more of glaring at each other, they both released the sword.

David
sighed again. “Nic, you take the sword and a dagger. I’ll teach you some
blocking techniques with both.” David put up his hand to forestall Silas’s
complaint, which was apparently on the tip of his tongue, judging by the look
on his face. “Silas, stop. Now if I remember correctly, you and Mel are always
practicing with my old high school archery gear. Why don’t we get you a bow?”

David
motioned toward Fleet of Foot, who said, “Yes, we have several spares. He
should also select a dagger, so as to have a close range weapon.”

David
nodded, and Silas grabbed a dagger near Nic’s hand. Then Eve spoke up, “I use
that archery set too, and I can shoot as well as Silas any day.”

David
massaged his temples before answering. “Very well, Eve, but you all have to
stop fighting amongst yourselves. There are far too many enemies out there
without creating enemies within the family. Now everybody
get
your things and let’s go.”

Packing
up, securing weapons, and mounting took a little over half an hour more. By
then, both David and the Coterie brothers were eager to be underway. Farewells
to the Oswalds were brief as Brother Oswald assured them they would always be
welcome at Oswald Farm. Not even the Beagle noticed the shadows in the distance
shift momentarily as a cloaked figure moved deeper into the surrounding fields.

Mel ended
up on the lead horse of the eighteen strung-together riding mares. Fleet of
Foot had insisted on this, as he wanted to show Mel some tricks with the
hatchet as they rode. Deborah rode with Dinah, Nic with Mary, Eve with
Jeremiah, Silas with Ruth, and Esther shared with Hannah. David rode a horse
separate from the line of horses, but had the pack horses secured to his mount.
First Thunder and Rock also rode their own horses, and they varied the speed of
their mounts as they switched from rear guard to forward guard. The Beagle rode
atop several bundles secured to the last of the tied up mares. Every now and
then the Beagle would jump down and circle the group, going far to the front,
wide to each side, and far behind as he did so.

Just
after a midday rest, Fleet of Foot suggested the group of children could spread
out further as they all, except the youngest, showed fair riding skills. So it
was when they remounted, that Deborah, Mel, Nic, Eve, and Silas had horses of
their own. This left Esther to ride with Dinah, Hannah with Mary, and Ruth with
Jeremiah.

The rest
of the day went smoothly, and the group made quick time with the use of the
Coterie horses. However, as the sun neared the horizon, David and First Thunder
sped up the procession’s pace as they were still a few miles out from the next
sanctuary.

“We are
not out so far that we can’t make it by full dark,” First Thunder mentioned,
“but it would be best not to risk your group.”

“We have
a tail,” replied David; “of that I’m sure.”

“The Void
Riders would be at risk if we caught them in the light of day, but, I think
they’d be willing to take the risk. Do you know why you’ve been called here?”

“I have a
strong suspicion, as did Brother Oswald; I’m sure you do, too. Why does He ever
bring twelve of the same bloodline into the Crossroads? We now also have
powerful enemies standing against us.”

“You’ll
have to tell them, sooner rather than later. They need to be prepared. Fleet of
Foot wants to continue on with you.”

David
looked over at First Thunder, with a mixture of surprise and thankfulness
washing over his features. “I couldn’t ask any of you to risk more than you
already have,” David replied.

“He wants
to be part of it,” said First Thunder. “I’ve agreed. Rock and I can make this
delivery without him. He is versed in many weapons; not a master, but well
suited to help you teach basic skills.”

“I cannot
guarantee his safety; however, I would appreciate another set of trained hands
and eyes. Will we part company at the Southern Cross then?”

“Yes, we
are going on to Council Rock. . .”

First
Thunder and the rest of the procession were brought to an abrupt halt. In front
of them, a bright being materialized in an explosion of rainbow color. It wore
a simple robe that shimmered in the waning light and its features were not
fully visible due to light reflection, refraction, and transparency. Upon its
back a large set of feathered wings sparkled like many different jewels, each
no less or more solid than the rest of its body. When it spoke its voice seemed
to be a mix of both male and female tones.

“Be not
afraid,” it said. “I come with news of dire importance.”

The
Beagle moved in front of the group. “Speak your message for we all serve He who
is the Word.”

The being
bowed its head in acknowledgement of the Beagle. “You,” it started pointing to
the Beagle then everybody else in turn, “the Truth Wielder, and his offspring
are to go to Council Rock. Demons have fully vested their schemes there and are
in the process of amassing forces to fail the Seventh Kingdom. Warriors of the
Word will be sent to you when battle is joined. The time for the new kings and
queens to take their places upon the thrones of the Crossroads has come.

“To you,
Sword Bearer, I give you this news; your wife and unborn child are being
escorted to the Central Kingdom where they will await your arrival after your
first child has taken control of Great Hall at Council Rock.”

With that
final statement, the being vanished, becoming at once more translucent and
refractive at the same time. Silence reigned, not even the sounds of nature
intruded. Then, two beats of a heart passed and a single bird called out in
song. David turned to his children, who were already shifting their gaze to him
instead of the now vacant spot on the road in front of them. He noted the
expressions of bewilderment, wonder, and incredulity in their faces. Facing
forward once more, he began speaking.

“That was
an angel undisguised,” David spoke softly, yet everyone there could hear him,
“one that confirmed what I’ve suspected for the past few months.” David took a
deep breath before continuing. “As I told you, very few people have traveled to
the Way World and returned to their planet of origin. I knew I would be called
back; the Beagle and the Sword of Truth were constant reminders of the job I
still had to do. I originally hoped you children would be spared the hurt of my
disappearance when it came. However, as more and more of you were born, I began
to wonder if you were not to join me. When we found out your mother was
pregnant with a twelfth child, I dreaded the truth of what that could mean. I
dared not speak my fears, for in speaking the truth would be revealed.”

These
words were spoken with David’s back to the rest of the group. Finally, he
turned his horse around and faced his children. “I have told you of the twelve
different kingdoms within the Crossroads. What I did not tell you, though, was
that each of the kingdoms is held by a member of the same bloodline. Currently,
and for eight generations, the thrones have been held by the race we call
elves. However, over the past two generations, the forces of the Void have been
able to infiltrate and corrupt the dynasty until now it is near collapse. In
the history of the Here Between, this has nearly happened several other times.
Before the end times, it will happen again. We have been tasked with bringing
about a stronger order by claiming the thrones of the twelve kingdoms. You and
your unborn brother or sister are to be the next kings and queens of the
Crossroads.”

David
stopped and felt the burden he had carried for many
months
double as the truth of his words set in. Before he could speak again, Eve, who could
no longer hold her tongue or anger in check, spoke up.

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