Jose El Norid, High Inquisitor of Tol Goroth, sat back in the high-backed oak chair, and looked around at the congregation which had gathered in the Meeting Hall of Baron Juan's house. He was impatient for the proceedings to begin. He'd arrived less than ten minutes ago, intent on finding the wizards who were running wild through Rhutalath, and determined to capture them. Instead, he'd been ushered to the baron's house, on what he'd been told was a matter of grave urgency. Six Inquisitors, and their retinue, had been killed at the bullfight, and the Baron thought it necessary to conduct a meeting. Jose wasn't sure what his part was in all this. He was angry that the Inquisitors had been killed, obviously, and he suspected foul play. But he found it doubtful that a wizard or sorcerer could be responsible. Wizards tended to keep their head low in Rhutalath, wisely fearing the Inquisition. He found it more likely that it was some rogue terrorist group, like the Cor-Vorondor, who disliked the Inquisition. As distasteful as he found such groups, they were a problem for the army or the militia. Jose had too much work to do with heathens and sorcerers to waste his time chasing disgruntled citizens. Still, six of his brethren had been killed, and it was at least necessary for him to gather that facts. Replacements would have to be found, and the threat assessed. He sighed at the waste of it all. A waste of good men, and a waste of his time. And all because of a bullfight. He hated bullfights. Nothing but a barbaric blood-sport. He wondered why some of his pious brethren would be spectators to such obvious cruelty.
He looked around at the other people in the oak-lined room. Baron Juan sat at the head of the wooden table, his fat paunch resting on the table-top. His fingers and moustache were sticky with the grease from a chicken he was devouring, and red wine stained his white chemise. Jose had refused both the meal and the wine, wanting to be on his way as quickly as possible. To the Baron's right sat his son, Marcos, a man who possessed more wit and less paunch than his glutton father. Marcos was reading intently a report, probably given to him by an eye-witness at the event. The other guests included Pedro, the captain of the Guard, Gomez, the leader of the fighter's guild, and three nobleman in town for the market. The nobles had been introduced to Jose, but his attention had been elsewhere. He had better things to do than talk to half-wit nobles who had only attended the meeting to gawp and listen to rumours.
"Apparently, the Baron's Stand collapsed," said Marcos in his thick Isanian accent, "Dropping the Inquisitors into the arena." Jose was only half-listening, wondering what his Stormcrows were up to whilst he was detained in this meeting. Drinking and gambling no doubt. He didn't trust most of the Stormcrows- most were heavy drinkers, and few were religious, despite their oaths. Most Inquisitors travelled with a whole retinue of the templars, but Jose thought them incompetent. True, Rhutalath wasn't safe these days, not even for an Inquisitor, but Jose kept his escort to a minimum. Witch-hunting was his business, and he didn't want some drunken and under-zealous guard getting in his way. He shook his head, knowing that by now his small band of Crows would be over-indulging in wine.
"Possibly an accident?" Gomez enquired. "The arena is quite old, and badly-maintained. Putting a small army of heavily armoured men up there was an accident waiting to happen. How old is the arena, exactly?" he asked the Baron.
Juan mumbled something around the chicken leg he was gnawing on which suggested that 'The arena is fine, thank you very much, and even if it wasn't I'm not given enough money to pay for those kind of repairs.' He belched, to further prove his point.
Marcos turned a page in his notes, and pretended to read the information, though Jose suspected he already knew every detail on the report. "Possibly an accident," the young man conceded, "Though what happened next is unlikely to be. According to one witness, all the bulls were then stormed out of their stalls, and into the arena. There's never more than one bull in the arena." Marcos said. "Well, two sometimes, if the matador is particularly good."
"Then who let them out?" Enquired one noble, a fragile looking man dressed in yellow. "Surely if you can find out who did it, and why, the case is closed. " The man's voice was whiney, and he seemed bored. Jose could relate to that.
Marcos shrugged. "No one let them out. According to a few witnesses, the stall doors, and I quote, exploded. Exploded!" He emphasised the last word.
That peaked Jose's attention, and he sat up in his chair. "Are your witnesses reliable?" Jose asked, his interest suddenly piqued. He'd been worried that his prey, the two wizards, would be long gone now, and gaining even more ground as he sat here. Yet if what was being described was true, it was possible the wizards were still at large in the town.
"As reliable as can be, in an hysterical crowd," Marcos replied. "Yet the arena itself is testimony. Most of the doors have been blown from their hinges, and the floor is covered in their shards. You're welcome to inspect it for yourself."
Jose didn't answer, preoccupied as he was with his thoughts. He knew who he was looking for, both the faces and names of the wizards. Other Inquisitors relied on trial and interrogation to determine if someone was a wizard, yet Jose was special. He had been blessed with dreams, visions from God. The dreams revealed those he was to hunt, usually quite clearly, and the location in which they were to be found. He'd had just such a dream that afternoon, a waking vision, and it had shown vividly who his prey was- an old Ardanian man, by the name of Morandor, and his young apprentice. If he closed his eyes, he could see them clearly, each contour of their face, every stain on their clothing. They were wandering free in Stonegate, and until they were captured no one would be safe.
"Was there anyone suspicious?" Jose asked, suddenly glad he had come to the meeting.
It was Pedro's turn to answer, beginning his reply with a curt nod. "A couple. One, an old man, was seen jumping to the arena floor. He spoke to Milas, the prisoner, before running out of the gate."
"And the other?" Jose asked, wondering if the first was the old wizard who he'd seen in his dream. If so, the man had gall- for a wizard to openly defy the Inquisition in a crowd of thousands was......well, rare to say the least.
"A heathen, wearing the trappings of a Starlord. He didn't arrive with the old man, but seemed to be helping him. He made trouble, attacking two of my guards, and stopping me from arresting the old one." Pedro said.
Jose dismissed the second fellow- he had no recollection of any Paladin of Eleniel in his vision. But the first man; he was intriguing. "This old man? Can you describe him?"
Pedro shrugged. "Can't rightly say if there was anything distinct about him. Old man, short white beard," Pedro thought for a second. "Arrived earlier today, with four others. A healer, by trade, he claimed." The guard captain frowned. "At least, that was his reason for coming through the swamp." he added.
Jose almost leaped out of his chair. From the swamp? That was where he had sensed the magic earlier. And his dream had shown them trudging through marshland. It had to be him. "By Khanus, why didn't you mention this before! Where are they staying?"
Pedro didn't seem perturbed by the Inquisitor's outburst, and instead smiled. "At the Ploughman. Had one of my boys take them there myself. Suspicious, I was." Pedro added proudly.
"An idiot is what you are!" Jose said. "You've allowed two wizards and their minions into a town, and allowed them to kill six of my brethren! You're lucky I don't have you hung!" Jose's voice was icy steel.
Pedro blanched at that, and Marcos seemed to be intently studying his papers. The nobles stared with exaggerated interest at random furnishings, and only the Baron seemed unaware of Jose's ire. The fat man threw a chicken bone onto his pile, drank a mouthful of wine, and broke the silence with another long burp. "My dear Jose," Baron Juan said, "Do sit down. The night is young, and these wizards aren't going any where. I'll have my men apprehend them. Have some wine."
Jose bowed respectfully to the Baron, though his face was fixed in a scowl. "Your men, my lord, aren't fit to apprehend a dead mule! With all due respect, I ask to take leave so I can see to these men myself."
"As you wish, Don Jose." Juan said, dipping his finger in some warm cheese fondue. "Hurry back, or I can't guarantee we'll have any food left." He sucked noisily on his finger.
Jose simply nodded, before bowing again. He fixed Pedro with another scowl before marching towards the door. He had a job to do. He had to find his Stormcrows and arrest two wizards and their aids. After that there would be a trial and an execution, and the streets of Stonegate would be safe again. For the first time this evening, Jose smiled.
The night was bitterly cold, a stark contrast to the oppressive heat of the day. An icy wind blew down from the White Mountains many leagues to the north, and howled noisily through the narrow streets of Stonegate. Grendel, stood atop the roof of a clockmakers in the southern part of town, shivered in the cold. The wind bit at him, making his face sting and his fingers numb. He wished he'd brought his cloak with him, or at least a coat. Still, at least the wind had blown most of the clouds away. The night was clear, and the half-moon shone brightly, illuminating the town with an eerie glow, and lighting the rooftops for Grendel.
He looked once to Maree, who was slowly edging away along the roof, behind him. Her teeth were clenched against the cold, and her nose and cheeks were bright red. He was surprised she hadn't frozen to death already, dressed the way she was. As much as Grendel liked Maree's new clothes, he wasn't sure they were altogether decent. He certainly got embarrassed walking down the street with her- all the leering and whistling and suspicious looks. Of course, the darkness cloaked them from the embarrassment of the day, but still the clothes weren't suitable for this particular weather. He'd asked Maree if she was okay, whether she was cold, and didn't she think she should change. Maree had responded that she was fine, despite her constant shivering, and that Grendel really should mind his own business.
Grendel crouched now, to avoid being silouhetted