Storm clouds smother starlight, and a breeze chills Beorn’s cheeks as he walks the length of an ancient rampart. He coughs into his fist and adjusts his warhammer and shortsword, making sure both are in easy reach at his waist and don’t clank against his dull gray armor.
Below, Jacob waves a torch. “Belazar’s having another vision!”
Beorn grunts and charges past the knotted rope he used to climb up. The rampart ends broken, as if an age ago something colossal took a bite out of the castle wall. Beorn hops over the edge and skids down the steep side. A mini avalanche of crumbling stone rolls after him. He stumbles into the grass but keeps his footing as bits of wall pelt his heels.
Jacob jogs over, quiet as a cat with only his loose tunic and trousers. “Not bad, considering that turtle shell around you.”
Beorn tightens a loose strap hanging from his half-plate. “Let’s go, circus freak.”
“Come on, Boss. Like I told Solaris, the circus gig—”
Beorn brushes by the bald man and runs to a ring of lantern-topped poles illuminating the ruins of the ancient castle’s keep. A single round room with no roof and crumbling walls is the closest to anything habitable.
Members of their band fill the entry. Beorn clears his throat, and they part, allowing him and Jacob through.
Pipit, the white-haired master sage of this place of power, sits cross-legged in front of the orcelf warrior, Belazar, who’s slumped in a padded chair. The old sage whips his arms about a fluctuating bright blue orb that hovers between the two.
“Does he still see?” Beorn stomps up to the old man. “Does he still see through the Jabberwaki’s eyes?”
Pipit shrugs. “Hard to say what’s real coming from the mind of an abomination.”
Beorn raises an eyebrow. “Belazar can see into the creature’s mind as well?”
“What?” Pipit purses his lip and static courses through his glowing orb. “No. This orcelf is the abomination. He actually gets stronger the angrier he gets… or he did before getting his soul split in that cyclopean trap.”
“I am a half-elf. Am I an abomination too?”
Pipit scoffs. “Humans are color blind. We can breed with anything.”
Belazar jerks and sits up. “It’s moving. Tall or flying. Crow-bats around with a metallic darkness dripping.” He gulps. “Snakes. They’re so big, they could be serpents. They come with it. All allies of Zenath. They come to kill us. They come to reclaim him.” He points at Pipit with a thick gray finger.
“Work with me, Belazar.” Beorn pulls off a steel-backed gauntlet and sidesteps to the orcelf. “Crow-bats or bat-crows and is the Jabberwaki flying or a giant?”
Belazar frowns and slumps back into his chair, mouth and eyes closed.
Beorn nods and slaps him across the face with his gauntlet, splattering blood on a mandala-decorated rug. “Speak your mind’s eye, soldier!”
The bulky orcelf shakes his head, dark green blood dripping from his lip. “Not sure, but bat-crows fly above and snakes slither beside… him. Maybe they aren’t so big.” He blinks and rocks forward. “It’s gone.” He touches his mouth. “I feel a distant urge to be angry with you, Sir.”
“How far is it? How much time until this Zenath-controlled Jabberwaki reaches us?”
Belazar scratches his pointed ears. “Perhaps an hour.”
Pipit claps his hands, dispersing his orb of light. “Perfect. Dawn will arrive first, weakening Zenath’s magic.” He scratches his head. “Or does dawn strengthen it? I had a Titan Age tome detailing psionic magic, if only someone could retrieve it for me.”
Beorn snorts and shakes his head at Jacob who’s perked up.
The martial artist clasps his hands. “Come on, Boss. Think of how awesome I’d be with the kind of serenity Bel has.”
At the doorway, Solaris says, “Couldn’t hurt his personality.”
“Shut it, sea bitch.” Jacob flicks his thumb at her.
She spins her hands around a sparkle of light. “How about some shock therapy?”
“Knock it off, children.” Beorn shoves Jacob past Solaris and keeps pushing until they’re away from the ruined keep. “Walk the perimeter with me.”
Jacob rolls his shoulders. “I admit you’ve an impressive grip, but I could’ve of still tossed you if I’d a mind to.”
“Sure,” says Beorn. “So now that Pipit calls it a cyclopean trap, have you forgiven Belazar for stealing your meditation ritual?”
“No.” Jacob smirks. “But I will say that Zenath weaponizing the aggression Bel left behind has me considering it.”
Beorn scratches his chin. “Master Sage Pipit confirmed Messoack’s guess. The Jabberwaki is a false monster.” He tsks. “Or rather, a created monster from Zenath’s undisciplined mind.”
“What will Belazar’s Jabberwaki be?”
“Pipit wouldn’t guess. For a sage we saved from Zenath, he’s not very forthright with useful information.” Beorn runs his armored knuckles along a mossy wall. “Pipit is sure that his former master will be quite irritated that an orcelf claimed the cyclopean meditation chamber.”
“Belazar’s rage incarnated.” Jacob snorts. “I imagine a walking pillar of fire.”
“Given Belazar’s connection with his Jabberwaki, at least we know it’s near an hour away, and the sky’s already brightening a bit. If we withdraw to the east wall. The sun will be in the eyes of—”
A guardsman wearing Badgertown insignia comes running. “Giant man, bat-crows, and b-big snakes!”
Jacob smirks. “Guess there was a vision delay.” He slips on his mystic, climbing gloves. “I’ll get eyes.”
Beorn holds up his hand. “What about those caves? Has anyone poked around in them?”
“Nope. Locals know to avoid it. Old stories of people gone missing—”
Belazar, warrior—rugged former Verdant crusader
Beorn, Ranger of Thorn—Colgrevance’s right hand
Jacob, martial artist—tumbling scout with mystic fists
Pipit, master sage—former mind-slave of Zenath
Solaris, sea witch—whimsical lover of the grotesque