Glodean, the girl dipped in gold, and Agnes were nearing Kobo on the Octo Trail. Glodean complained about having to walk all the way there.
“Well, it would be hard to escape Ondello unnoticed in a golden carriage, dear,” Agnes noted.
Agnes hated to admit to herself that she had enjoyed her conversations more with the troll Troxie than Glodean. She wondered if she and Troxie had really been friendly after all. Because of the kindness and indifference of the freaks, she had survived an unplanned trip to the outer Crescent and Ondello. At some point, it would be wise of her to mind to her own affairs but she wasn’t ready to give up meddling yet. There was no point in rehashing the days past, she was glad to be unharmed and eager to get back to Kobo to fix Nestor’s latest fiascos.
“They shouldn’t be out here. Quick behind this tree.” Glodean pushed Agnes roughly again towards a tree.
“When we get to Kobo, you won’t be manhandling me anymore,” Agnes told Glodean.
“Hush, it’s a horde of vamps and it looks like that witch Mercy is on the trail as well.”
“You’d think they would just fly to their destination. They don’t need the trail. Must be some sort of meeting of the undead.”
“The vamps and witches are supposed to stay in the Crescent. ”
“I am aware. Mercy tried to destroy Kobo. I’ll never forget her cackle.” A black bat flew past Agnes’ face almost hitting her cheek with its wing. “What…what was that?”
Declan Mortis III stood tall in front of Agnes. “How rude of me I almost cut your face with my nail. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is…”
Glodean’s golden eyes glowed in the dark. “Declan Mortis the third.”
“You are lucky Glodean that I don’t like the taste of gold blood. I said allow me to introduce myself. Not you introduce me…”
“What do you want vamp? To trade courtesies?” Agnes laughed.
“Humor, I do like. Things are about to get very humorous to me. I must ask though because humans are so mindful. Why try to hide when you smell like a thousand smashed up berries blowing in a violent wind? I can sniff you out. And your friend’s whole body glows in the dark. I can see you from the other side of the bridge. I suppose you are on your way back to Kobo. Myself and my vamps are headed to the Ash village.”
“You don’t care about breaking the treaty then?” Agnes questioned him. “It clearly states that you freaks are to stay in the Crescent village.”
He flashed his sharp toothed smile at her. “A peace treaty. That’s cute. An ancient scroll signed by your ancestors that tells me where I can and cannot go.”
“Agnes, how do you want to die tonight?”
Glodean jumped in. “You don’t scare us fangs. You don’t want to deal with Mattau.”
“Your uncle. I’d prefer dealing with Nestor. Out of respect for him, I will tell Mercy to leave one of you alive to deliver a message to everyone’s favorite cursed man Nestor,”Declan Mortis III declared.
“You wouldn’t dare,” Glodean scoffed.
“I dare to do whatever, I please,” Declan Mortis III calmly replied. “You must pay for your rudeness to the immortal king.” He pretended to bask in his own glory through the darkness. “Mercy, dear come here a moment.”
“This is such a treat,” Mercy badly danced over to them. “Couldn’t get much better.”
Declan Mortis III grabbed Agnes by the neck as he spoke to Mercy. “One of them dies tonight. Since you are a guest of the vamps, I’ll let you decide. Agnes or the decorated one Glodean? Either one would be deeply missed by their species.”
Nestor had been contemplating Kobo’s fate and his remaining leadership ambitions. He was sitting in the prayer room when a distressed Grant entered.
“Sorry to interrupt you here.”
“What is wrong, Grant? Do we have a new berry deal?” Nestor closed his book and stood up.
“We do, Nestor. You won’t like it.”
“It always ends up favorable for us.”
“Not this time.” Grant gestured for Nestor to have a seat. “It’s been a long journey for my heart as well.”
“Alright.” Nestor sat down across from him.
“Mattau wants to see Kobo’s beast problem first hand in five days.”
“Can’t do. The beasts don’t stay long. You’ll have to go back and tell him. We can let them run out of berries if they want to be difficult.”
“Nestor. He sent two of his men with me. They are staying with Sam. I didn’t know what else to do with them.”
Nestor stared intensely into Grant’s eyes. “O’h, I will escort them out, then.”
“Nestor, he threatened me with talk of war.”
“There will be no wars. Mattau simply wants us to cave to his future demands.”
“He thinks you are lying about the beasts. He will not accept a beast head. He wants his two men to see a beast infestation of the berry fields to prove that it is dangerous for us to get the berries for them.”
“That many beasts at one moment?”
“There’s more. To make things worse, he bought Agnes from a troll. He wants to learn how to make the berry tarts. He even threatened to kill her if we don’t comply with the deal.”
“Yes, at least we know she’s still alive. This Mattau sounds like a savage man. Nothing like his father.”
“We should see the beasts if we simply go near the fields.”
“No. We won’t see the beasts if we go looking for them. We’d only be wasting time. You said five days?”
“Yes, five days. We can at least hope to see them. Nestor, I am very worried about this. Kobo has never had a war. We don’t need enemies. The freaks could outnumber us. And we are on bad terms with the Ash village now.”
“Don’t worry. I’m going to fix this.”
“Should I go get Rayden and the other protectors? More minds, quicker plans.”
“Not just yet. Grant, listen to me carefully. I’ve been lying about the beasts in the fields. I’ve been lying for forty years now to up the fee on the berries. There have never been any beasts but we are going to get Agnes back. Also, while I’m coming clean, Hettie brought children here, against my wishes, from an orphanage for lost children of the Octo Trail. I had to kill Hettie because she became a threat to Kobo.”
“You did what?
“Which part is unclear to you? Nestor asked.
“All of it. You said you killed Hettie?”
“I did. The protectors helped me.”
“Rayden helped you kill her?”
“Of course not.”
“You killed one of us?”
“She put us in danger, she did,”Nestor insisted.
“And you have kept us safe? She was my friend, your flame. How could you? You told me she was exiled. I’ll tell everyone what you have done! Nestor, you don’t belong in Kobo. You broke code!”
“The code that I wrote when I was a young man! Where were you?”
“It applies to everyone.”
“Her behavior was treasonous, period! Grant, hear me. There is going to be a war. Either with Ondello or with the beasts. If you are not going to help me, help Kobo. If you need to leave, leave now. I’m not going anywhere and I don’t need you in my way.”
“I will defend Kobo not you. You said the beasts are not real. You lied for forty years?”
“How then can we go to war with these unreal beasts?”
“I have an idea.”
“An idea of yours? Mattau said no ideas or he will kill Agnes.”
“It’s going to be alright, trust me. I need you to get Lottie for me.”
“Yes, Lottie. Tell her to bring the directory of witches. She’ll know what I mean.”
“Directory of what?”
“Witches! Witches, Grant! We don’t have time for you to second guess everything I say.”
“Nestor, you’ve misplaced your mind?”
“Lottie is the next Punishere of Bristol. Go get her!”
“She’s female if you haven’t seen.”
“She’s the next Punishere, like I said. The knights of the Punishere came here looking for her while we were in Ash village. They are searching all of the villages.”
“The knights came here to Kobo? You are just speaking of this now! A Punishere living here with us, but you wouldn’t let Glodean even visit. More secrets? How many lies have you told us? Told everyone? Even if Lottie is the next Punishere, Mattau is in Ondello. We are in Kobo. Punisheres are only effective in Bristol. How could she help us?”
“I’m thinking that Lottie can help us find the right witch.”
“A witch for what? The last one burned down part of our village and put a curse on us.”
“Yes, but a witch can create many beasts for us to show to Mattau.”
“Goodness sakes, Nestor. No!”
Nestor suddenly fell out of his chair, his body thrashed around on the floor. “No, No, No!”he screamed.
Grant knelt down and tried to hold Nestor’s body still in one place. Grant had never seen Nestor have such a dramatic reaction to a vision before. Bloody tears streamed from his eyes. Grant didn’t want Nestor to suffer or die in front of him. He hated Nestor presently but had such a long history of loving him. “She killed them both Grant. Declan Mortis III said to let one live.”
“What are you talking about? Who killed who? Who is Declan Mortis III?”
“The new leader of the vamps. Mercy and the vamps on the Octo Trail near Flaco. I saw it all, Agnes was supposed to give me the message.”
“Message… What message Nestor?”
“The message was… get rid of the garlic, the garlic!”
“Garlic? Wait you are saying that Agnes is dead? But Mattau didn’t kill her. Who else died?”
“Grant,” Nestor’s voice diminished to a whisper before he fell into a deep sleep. “She didn’t hesitate. Mercy killed Agnes and your flame, Glodean.”
END OF BOOK ONE