Jose ran, as the demon lurched at him. Tall it stood, its hideous visage a mask of horns and spikes, its deformed torso hidden in a cloak of fire. He ran, but he couldnt escape; he never could. The Demon would get him. It always did.
Jose screamed as the Demons claw ripped into his back. He fell forward, managing to break his fall with his hands. The Inquisitor turned, rolling in his own blood, to see the Demon standing over him. Its maw widened in a smile .the vile beast took great pleasure in this. Jose gazed at it with contempt- his fear hidden by his hatred. The end would come soon, but first the demon would have its fun.
The creatures grin widened even more, and he held up a clawed fist. In his hand were two heads, still warm and red, having only recently been taken. Jose gasped. The heads of his mother and father. The eyes of his parents stared at him, their faces twisted in fear and pain. Blood cascaded from the severed necks. Jose said a silent prayer to Khanus, and struggled to keep back the tears. He wouldnt cry. Not this time. He always cried- but this time would be different.
Crawling back on his hands, Jose waited for the inevitable; the pain which always came, the death which swiftly swallowed. The relief he felt as the Demon severed his mortal coil, and sent him skywards to join his beloved family.
It didnt come. Not this time. The Demon roared in pain, as a light, as bright as heaven, erupted all around him. The beast covered its eyes with its hands, dropping the two heads. Jose shielded his own eyes, surprised and relieved- something was different. This wasnt the way it was supposed to happen. The light grew brighter, until everything, even the demon, was lost to view. Jose closed his eyes tightly, seeing the light even through his eyelids. Eventually, it dimmed, and Jose risked a peek. He was surrounded. Where before there was nothing but the charred remains of his family home, and the corpses of his parents- now there were walls. Thick walls, which seemed to be made of light itself. They shone brightly, first blue, then red, then green. Walls of pure magic, walls of essence, surrounding him, and trapping him within a small circle. Too much magic. Jose looked around fearfully. What was happening? He touched one part of the circular enclosure; it was solid, and he felt a tingle in his body as the magic tried to earth itself through him. Even as he watched, the walls grew thicker, and taller, expanding outwards in all directions. Too much magic. The world couldnt contain it. Something would have to give.
The walls grew taller still, and as they climbed they began to lose integrity, and to roll, almost like liquid. There was no escape- soon the magic would collapse, and Jose would drown. He watched, wide-eyed and full of wonder, as the walls finally collapsed, and began to fall inwards like great tidal waves. The walls crashed down on top of him, a sea of liquid essence. He tried to fight the tide, but it was useless; the current dragged him down, deep down, into its unforgiving depths. Darkness engulfed him ..
Jose gasped, and opened his eyes. He was lying in a bed, the thick red bed-clothes soaked in sweat. It was a dream. Of course. Always the same dream. Yet the ending- that was different. Every night he relived the death of his parents. But the magic, the flood hed never experienced that before.
Jose turned his head to see where he was. He was in a large vaulted room, built from stone and wood. The Banner of the Inquisition hung proudly on the wall, and candles burned on small tables around the room. There were no windows, to judge the time of day. A maid, a pretty Rhutalathian girl of no more than 17 summers, was preparing some kind of ointment in a mortar, at the far end of the room. A man, dressed in the robes of an Inquisitor, stood next to his bed.
"Ah, so youre finally awake," said the man. "I guess you felt it, too."
Jose grimaced; he still wasnt completely awake, but there was mistaking the voice. Mendoza.
"Felt what?" he managed. "What happened?" Jose tried to remember recent events. Of course there was a fight. With some wizards. His head ached, and it hurt to think.
"The essence, of course," Mendoza smiled. "The biggest flow of magic weve ever detected in Rhutalath. Well, for as long as we can remember. You screamed, even in your sleep- though you seemed to lose consciousness again, after ..I wasnt sure youd really felt it. It happened an hour ago; but youve been restless ever since."
Of course. In his dream. The magic ..it must have been powerful indeed if hed detected it whilst unconscious.
"I felt like my head was gonna explode," Mendoza continued, with a small chuckle. "Poor Brother Sebas, he collapsed. Just hit the deck like an Elf with no legs. Blood coming out of his ears. It was fascinating," he said with a cruel smile.
"What was it?" Jose asked. He feared to hear the answer; nothing that produced that much essence could be good.
"We dont know, but we have some our monks looking into it. Oh, yeah, poor Father Elias, who was already a little insane, seems to have gone over the edge, with the power of the flow. Hes locked himself in his room and hes demanding we bring him the boots of Lord Titus, whoever he may be," Mendoza continued, still laughing. "Some powerful stuff. We thought youd never wake up; even the charms of sister Bernatida couldnt get a stir out of you," he said, staring lustfully at the maid. "But I knew that the Essence flow would wake you, eventually."
Jose sat up, ignoring the jolt of pain in his head. "There was a fight ." he said. "Lightening."
Mendoza nodded, his smile gone. "Yes. A priest of Eleniel, would you believe it? A Starlord, looking after the filthy witches. Dont know what his business was. I sent my stormcrows to the inn, to help you- I wouldnt have bothered if Id known there was flaming Star-kisser around."
Jose nodded, remembering the untimely arrival of the reinforcements. "And where were you, pray tell, when your men were giving up their lives for you?"
"For me? For you, more like-" Mendoza said, a glint of anger appearing in his eyes. There was always anger in Mendozas eyes. "As for me, I was around ..guarding the exits, in case any of the witches escaped."
Jose snorted a laugh- Mendoza was a coward through and through. "So, you stopped them, then?"
"No, Im afraid not my lord. I was, in the end, occupied with pursuing the rogue Starlord," Mendoza lied. "We managed to give chase, but we lost him a few miles out of the city. Besides, its against our jurisdiction to arrest priests from the other Faiths; it would cause an international scandal."
"Even for a priest who assaulted a High Inquisitor, and aided a group of witches?" Jose said. He didnt believe Mendozas story; likely the foul man had just hidden until the danger had passed. Perhaps other Inquisitors and soldiers had chased the Starlord, but it was difficult to detect a priest over a range of a few miles. "And what about the witches?"
Mendoza shrugged, and sat lazily in an armchair. "They escaped too. We had a couple of priests following them .last report said theyd reached as far as Valaxuss forest, though theyd long gone. But with the large Essence Flow, its not going to be easy tracking them now. So anyway, I came to the Ploughman, and saw you unconscious, sleeping like a baby! So I had you brought here, to Stonegate cathedral. Nearly a week youve been unconscious. The other priests were going to give up hope, and give me a promotion, but I insisted they keep trying to revive you. I never gave up on you," he said, smiling menacingly.
Jose knew enough about Mendoza to know when he was twisting the truth. But it made no difference, now; the witches had escaped, and something big had happened in Rhutalath. Something disastrous, on his own soil. He would find the wizards and make them pay.
"Bernatida," Jose said, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed. "Get me my clothes. I have work to do."
Mendoza jumped up, rubbing his hands together. "First, father, there is something you need to attend to?"
"Oh?" asked Jose, taking his robe graciously from the maid.
"Yes, father- Father Sebastian is here, in the cathedral. He wants to see you as soon as youre well enough, he said." Mendoza smiled. "He didnt seem very happy; no not at all, Khanus bless him."
Jose cursed to himself. Father Sebastian was the Lord Inquisitor of the duchy of Isana, and outranked most of the order, except for other Duchy leaders and the pope and King; he never paid social visits to any under his command; he was usually content to let his underlings handle any administration. If he was here, it meant something important was happening ..and if it was something bad, it was guaranteed that Jose would take the blame.
"Very well," said Jose, dressing himself. "Tell Lord Sebastian Ill attend on him shortly," Jose said. "And gather whats left of your forces- after that, weve got some witches to find."
Mendoza nodded eagerly, and left the room, muttering and chuckling to himself.