Puckleflup was hungry, and that was unacceptable. He had been wandering the chapel and yard all morning, and could not find one scrap of food anywhere. He had raided Lorcan’s pantries, searched the fruit trees and bird nests outside, but not a single thing to eat could be found. Neither had he been able to find Dobble, and that was especially irritating. Normally, on days like this, he would send Dobble to snatch something from a neighbor’s table, but that miserable, fat, two-bit…humph. You couldn’t rely on anybody these days.
The goblin grumbled loudly, matching the sounds emanating from his empty belly. “Dobble!” he called out. “Dobble, where are you? You better not be hiding from me and stuffing your face with something delicious! After all I’ve done for you, I would at least expect you to give me the first bite!”
All of a sudden, footsteps came from down the corridor, walking briskly to the main hall where Puckleflup stood. Puckleflup cowered, and scuttled out of sight, hiding himself behind a bench. Just a few days ago, he and Dobble had stolen Lorcan’s sacramental silver, and the Irish priest had come unhinged. They had given most of it back of course, bur he didn’t seem to appreciate their sense of honesty and fair play. He had threatened to nail their ears to the door on a number of occasions, and Puckleflup was not eager to test Lorcan’s good will today.
Lorcan emerged from the hall, looking somewhat cheerful, and swiveled his head as if looking for something. He was carrying a small parcel in his hand, which gave off a faint, yet delectable smell of bread. It made Puckleflup’s mouth water, and it took all of his willpower not to groan with hunger. Whatever was in that parcel, he wanted it dearly, but he knew better than to put his life in danger by stepping into Lorcan’s line of sight. As he stood in indecision, Lorcan called out, “Puckleflup? Was that you? I just wanted to tell you that I found the rest of the silver you stole.”
‘Impossible,’ thought Puckleflup. He was a master of hiding things. Once he put something away for safe keeping, there was no chance at finding it again. Sometimes he would hide it so well, even he couldn’t come across it again. The priest would have to be some kind of bloodhound to-
“It was under my bed,” said Lorcan, brightly. “You left it there as a joke, didn’t you? Just a game of fair play, am I right?”
Puckleflup hit himself on the head with his fist. Lorcan heard it and chuckled. “It’s all right. There’s no hard feelings about the silver. I have it all back, so no harm, no foul. “He lifted the wonderful-smelling parcel, holding it out to the room at large. “As a gesture of solidarity, I bought a little something for us to share. It’s a meat pie. I asked Shay specifically for it. I haven’t seen Dobble around, which is too bad for him. It’ll have to be just us two, I suppose. Or,” he grinned mischievously, “I can just eat it by myself.”
Puckleflup straightened, his long ears perking up in interest. At the thought of one of Shay’s meat pies, all thoughts of self-preservation vanished. He hurried out from the cover of the bench, and looked up at Lorcan, who was smiling warmly at him. Puckleflup regained his composure, doing his best to imitate a polite, dignified posture, a mildly interested expression on his face. “A pie? Why, that is rather kind of you. Yes, it is too bad that Dobble can’t join us. I suppose I can sit down to have a bite or two with you.”
Puckleflup only used his manners when he wanted something very badly. Fortunately, the priest seemed to be buying it. Lorcan smiled even more widely, and gestured over to a table with two stools. They walked over to it, and Lorcan sat down to unwrap the pastry. Puckleflup stood on the other stool, trying to keep his mouth from watering. The pie looked magnificent, and the smell made Puckleflup cry a little. Lorcan cut the pie into two large portions, dividing them between the two of them. Lorcan ate slowly, savoring the taste and texture of the pie, while Puckleflup nearly punced on it, and begun shoving as much of it into his mouth as he could handle. In a few minutes, both had finished, their portion, and sighed contentedly.
‘This human isn’t so bad,’ thought Puckleflup, as he patted his now bulging belly. ‘Gullible, but not bad.’ He looked up at Lorcan, who was looking at him expectantly. ‘Oh!’ thought Puckleflup, ‘he probably wants me to thank him. Shallow of him, but I’ll humor him.’ “That was scrumptious, thank you. There was something different about it that I can’t quite put my finger on.” He held up his hand, and stared at his fingers for a moment. “What was in the pie?”
Lorcan’s eyes got a dark, mischievous glint to them. “Oh, you know,” he said, waving his hand dismissively. “Beef, onion, garlic…” he looked intently at the goblin. “Dobble.”
Puckleflup was licking his fingers with glee, and needed a moment for Lorcan’s words to reach his brain. Suddenly, he froze, a look of horror growing on his face. He looked down at the crumbs on the table in front of him, his eyes wide, and his mouth agape. He looked up at Lorcan, who had evil triumph written across his entire face.
“Let this be a lesson to you,” said Lorcan. “Don’t steal my possessions.” He stood up, stretched leisurely, and walked past Puckleflup, patting him on the head as he passed. “Don’t take it too hard. At least Dobble gave you the first bite. He tasted delicious, didn’t he?”
Lorcan opened the door to the chapel, and stepped into the sunlight, leaving the shellshocked goblin seated at the table as he closed the door behind him. He cackled maliciously, and walked out onto the road. He turned to look back at the chapel. Above the doorway, hanging from his ears, suspended from a small rope, sat Dobble, his melancholy eyes looking down at Lorcan. From his feet hung a small sign that read: Exodus 20:15. Lorcan smiled up at the goblin. “How are you Dobble? Hanging in there?” The goblin glared down at him, and made a rude gesture with his long fingers. Lorcan laughed. “Don’t worry, Puckleflup will find you soon enough, and he’ll get you down. He’ll be delighted to see you.”
Lorcan turned, and walked down the road toward the village, whistling merrily. Oh, how he’d enjoyed that! Perhpas the joke had been a little dark, but they’d get over it soon. He could imagine that the second those two got back together, they’d start planning the next prank to play on him. He enjoyed the intellectual challenge of thinking up new ways to outsmart the tricksters. It kept him on his feet. They were devious, but he was eager to prove himself to be more so.
Suddenly, as he turned a corner in the road, he had to leap aside as Laddy nearly barreled into him. He was wearing an odd assortment of clothes (which wasn’t too unusual for him, all considered). He wore his usual kilt and tunic, but he had a bright pink leopard skin draped over his shoulders, and he wore a helmet that most definitely wasn’t his. It was black, with dark gray scale mail running down the back of it, a golden design faintly resembling a cross standing out on the back. “Laddy, what’re you-“
“Hide me!” hissed Laddy, as he leapt behind Lorcan and crouched down. Lorcan did his best to spread his cloak and hide the fellow Irishman, making it look like he simply had his hands on his hips and was watching the sky.
Moments later, Veron came bolting around the corner. He stopped briefly, panting heavily, and looked at Lorcan. “Where is he? Where’d he go?” he growled.
Lorcan pointed down the road a little ways, where it split into one path to the chapel, and the other leading toward the woods. “He ran into the forest,” Lorcan explained, doing his best to look sincere. “What’d he do now?”
Without answering, Veron took off, sprinting toward the woods. Waiting until he fell from sight, Laddy straightened up, and walked out from behind Lorcan. “Thanks a ton mate,” he said, chuckling, “you’re a natural wall.”
“Yeah, well, what can I say, I’m gifted,” said Lorcan. “What are you doing?”
Laddy shrugged. “Nothing really. I was bored, so I took Veron’s helmet…” (Lorcan couldn’t see Laddy’s face through the helmet, but he could imagine him smiling wickedly), and a few other things from his room. Oh, and his breakfast.”
Lorcan smiled. “This does seem to be a day for pranks. I’d run though, before Veron comes back. I have other things to do in town, so I’ll be seeing you later.”
Laddy nodded. “I’ll leave you to it then.” He turned, and walked briskly away.
Lorcan continued his walk through town, enjoying the warm weather, and the hubbub of the townsfolk about their business. Some people would smile, wave, or salute as he walked by, and Lorcan would do the same in return. He still didn’t know many of the people here, but they were nice enough to make him feel like they were all friends anyway.
As he reached the other end of town, he found Shay’s home. It had needed to be rebuilt since the fire a little while ago, so it was still small, and the bakery wouldn’t be done for another month or so, but just about everyone in the Garrison had offered to help, so it likely wouldn’t take too long. Lorcan saw Shay through the window, kneading bread to bake for her family. As he approached, he called out, “Hello Shay! Did you know Laddy has scale mail on his helmet?”
Shay turned, and smiled when she saw him. “What? No way! When did that happen!” She laughed a little. “Hello Lorcan, what are you up to?”
“Oh, nothing in particular. Just enjoying the nice day, running a few errands. Thank you for the meat pie, by the way. Puckleflup and I really enjoyed it.”
Shay nodded, pleased. “I’m glad you liked it. Did you share with Puckleflup? That’s nice of you.”
Lorcan grinned. “Well, I wouldn’t go that far…” He explained the morning’s prank to her, laughing at the look on her face as he laid out the details. She was making a valiant effort to look horrified and indignant, but couldn’t keep her giggles back.
“Oh, that’s wicked! You should be ashamed of yourself!” She held on to her affronted expression a moment longer, then broke into laughter. “Don’t…don’t do that again,” she gasped through her laughter. “You probably took years off of poor Puckleflup’s life.”
Lorcan shrugged. “One can only hope. Don’t worry, I won’t do it again. I don’t plan on feeding that little bottom-feeder anytime soon.” He looked toward the village. I’ve got a few things I need to do in town today, and I should probably get going. I’ll see you at training tonight.”
Shay nodded. “Alright, get out of here then.” She scrutinized Lorcan’s face for a moment and said, “Are you alright? Your eyes look a little red. Not been sleeping well?”
Lorcan waved his hand, trying to look nonchalant. “I’m fine, just some bad dreams, that’s all. They usually happen around this time of year.”
A shadow of concern fell over Shay’s face. “Anything you want to talk about? If there is, my door’s always open.”
Lorcan smiled. “Thanks. For now, I’m alright. I might just get some manner of herb to help me sleep better. Farewell for now.” He waved goodbye and set off again towards the town’s square. It’s true that he hadn’t been sleeping well. Ever since he’d gotten back from his adventure with Ul’vade, he’d been plagued with visions of the monastery. Around this time of year, they usually happened, as it was the same time of year that the monastery had burned down. But recently, the dreams had become more vivid; more real. He kept seeing visions of his friends, Dorian in particular, all in their final moments. Sometimes, if the first of seconds of waking, before he was fully conscious, he could swear that he could see Dorian, watching him, a look of pity on his face.
And then, there was that woman. In some dreams, as Lorcan walked among the slain, viewing the carnage of the ruined monastery, he would see this woman with pitch-black hair and a red dress watching him from afar. He could never quite see her clearly, but he could see that she was barefoot, and that she seemed to be surveying the dead, and keeping an eye on him. She seemed to blur around the outline of her body, and there would be some odd kind of movement about her, as if there were more than one person standing in the exact same place as her. Lorcan knew it was an odd dream, and it was probably just that, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that this woman was waiting for him.
He shook his head, clearing it of his dark thoughts. Maybe there was something going on, but fretting about it wouldn’t do him any good. He smiled, just noticing Ul’vade coming up the path to meet him. They’d agreed to meet up at the Drunken Dragon for lunch, and then to go duel on the training ground. He clapped his friend on the back, and they set off for the tavern.
Hours later, when the sun had gone down, and most people in the village were in bed, the forest grew restless. It was the night of a new moon, where the walls separating the fae from mortals was weakest. Titania and her court held their feasts and festivities in the night, enticing foolish mortals to join them, and never be seen again. Spirits, good and bad, ran free to do their bidding, and, in the darkest corners of Woodland, evil stirred, and sought to spread its influence.
Haute was in an excellent mood Though he couldn’t leave his den, his influence could still spread beyond his prison on the night of the new moon. He gave so many people such horrid dreams these nights, and filled their hearts with fear of the woods. And, if some young maiden was so foolish to stray into the trees, perhaps to catch a glimpse of the fae, or some other folly youth commit, she would find something else entirely. He had his eye on one such sweet young thing currently. She steadily getting bolder, delving deeper into his neck of the woods on certain days. Soon, she would be just close enough for him to-
Ah, but he was rambling again. He had other things to plan. Soon, he supposed it didn’t matter if some maiden wandered into the forest or not. Everything would belong to him anyway. As he stood, musing, a dark portal materialized behind him, spilling dark, unnatural fog, and the faint sounds of terrified screams sounding through it. From the fog stepped a tall, robed figure bringing with him a dark ominous feeling, and leaving a sense of something unnatural and decaying in the air. Everything about him emanated darkness; all his clothes were made of dark leather, or an odd black cloth, that seemed to be made of darkness itself. His outline glowed a faint purple, and he seemed to flicker slightly, like a flame, as if he weren’t completely there. He held many rings on his fingers, and a number of amulets around his neck. His head was hooded, and his face masked by a dark bird mask. No breath came from the long beak, and there seemed to be nothing behind the lenses where his eyes should be.
“Well hello there,” said Haute, cheerfully. “I was hoping you’d drop in again. What dastardly plan shall we concoct this time, hmm?”
A dark, reverberating voice emanated from the figure, echoing oddly in the air. “Has he been given the mask?”
Haute frowned slightly. “Yes.” An edge of bitterness crept into his voice. “I don’t see why the whole ordeal with Mimir’s Well was necessary. I could have just given him the mask without wasting time on some wild goose chase. Or, if I had perhaps been permitted to drink the water-“
“NO.” The word resonated in the room. “The quest was necessary. If my plan is to succeed, the priest needs to accumulate as much power as possible. The mask, as well as the water, needed to fall into the boy’s hands. He will continue to grow, under my watchful care.
“Ah, your watchful care,” said Haute, sarcasm evident in his voice. “Yes, because everything has gone spiffingly so far, under your meticulous, watchful, care.”
The cave shook for a moment. The figure’s voice turned dangerous, and his purple glow seemed to grow stronger, making the air around him ripple. “Do not mock me demon. Everything is proceeding as planned. He has drunk of Mimir’s Well, and has begun to unlock his power. Next, he will meet with one of the Tuatha de Dannan, and he will grow yet stronger. Soon, he will be ready, and when he becomes strong enough, I will deal with him personally.
Haute nodded, though reluctantly. “Yes…this, PLAN of yours. What exactly, IS this plan? If you were more open with me about it, I could-“
“NO.” The word echoed again, more forcefully this time. “You will not interfere. Lorcan MacBroin must follow his path without outside influence. When the time comes, he will either join me, or he will die. Either way, he will serve his purpose. This world will be left unprotected. You, demon, will be free, and I will be more powerful than ever.”
Haute licked his lips. “Fine. And what, pray tell, will I do in the meantime?”
The man lifted his hand, and flexed his fingers in a fist. The dark portal opened up again. “Instructions will follow. Do nothing until I return. Only watch Lorcan, and report when I return.” As suddenly as he’d come, the man stepped backward into the portal, and vanished.
The cave was left silent, save Haute’s grumbling. Who was this creature that had the audacity to command him? But, he couldn’t argue with his power, and he could smell a good plan when he heard one. For now, he would watch, and wait. Lorcan MacBroin had gotten the better of him once, or so he thought. He would allow the priest to gain greater magic, and when the time was right, he would pay most dearly for his arrogance.