The knights startled, the mages seemed just as tense, if not more so. It made sense for them to be. Knights were good targets, but mages made better honey, better meals for bees.
“In the caves?” A knight asked, “I thought they only settled where there were corpses.”
“How many poachers may have been dragged inside by whatever else might have lived in there?” Balros asked. “What else might have been killed for the territory?”
“How long had it been allowed to fester until it brought griffin and chimaera down and set the forest ablaze,” Mage Castillo asked. She cast a seeing spell, and Valon watched it enter the cave and vanish into the dark.
“Well?” Valon asked.
She shook her head, “Nothing. Either there are too many of them that their energy is disabling the spell or there’s something else–”
The air shook, and he heard a soft song from within the cave like a siren’s lullaby. The horses startled. Valon felt it shake the earth as the other knights seemed spooked.
“What is that?” Captain Belrose asked.
“It’s not a creature,” Mage Castillo said. “That’s pure magic calling out. I can’t understand it.”
“Calling out for what?” Asher asked.
Valon frowned, hearing the song again and making out the words just barely as the same song he heard among the golden mist from the gemini hydra.
“Do you hear that?” one of the knights asked.
“A song… “
Valon looked at the man, “You hear it?”
The man nodded. Valon worried his lip, “By chance are you a twin?”
He looked at Valon, “How could you possibly know that?”
“It is known that hydras of all variety have an affinity for twins,” Valon said. “Is it possible that these are crystal caves? Maybe nebulae crystal?”
Nebulae crystals became opals when they were drained of magic and had the ability to mimic the abilities and characteristics of any other kind of magical crystal. They could take in magic and store it. If the crystal caves were connected to the coves of the ocean, then it wasn’t unlikely that a Gemini hydra’s magic had been added to it, captured, and had been luring twins into a death trap, only adding to its powers when they had all died inside.
Mage Barlow gasped, “You think some of the poachers might have found out about it and started this?”
Valon nodded, “The blood of a twin on a nebulae crystal that might have picked up some affinity from a gemini hydra would be enough to accelerate the development of a bee’s nest, especially if there was a steady supply of corpses.”
Bees were drawn to death and magic, they didn’t care much about the character of it. Even their natural predators were fair game if they were already dead. However, if the nebulae crystals in the cave became tainted, or remained tainted, it could cause an issue in the future. Bees would be attracted to the area because it would always feel like a nest to them. They would have to force the bees out and purge the cave.
Mage Castillo shook her head, “It’s impossible. Not without knowing how big the hive is.”
Captain Belrose groaned, “Poachers would have had to have a mage to lead them in, how the hell would a trained mage not understand the danger of it?”
“They could have died too, but mages are not above greed,” Mage Barlow said. “Who do you think might of spread the word if all the poachers ended up dead?”
Something worried Valon more than that. It was near impossible that there were bees in the cave before the poachers arrived, so how did the poachers end up dead in the first place?
Captain Belrose swallowed, “For now, we head back and widen the barrier. I will leave you and Sir Esther to contact the mage guild for guidance on the matter.”
They turned back, the song followed Valon back through the forest and even at the distance he could hear it. They expanded the barrier and set up a rotation of knights around the area. The leviathan had calmed a bit lying down beside the burning forest. The griffin and chimaera had settled among the rubble.
When they arrived back at the keep, another battalion of knights had arrived along with mages. Captain Belrose commanded the defenses of the keep and got them shelter for their horses.
Valon sank down against the wall of the large room they were using as a dining hall for the battalion.
Balros sat beside him, “Never again.”
He laughed, “Worried about me?”
“How could I ever face Ezra, let alone your parents if…”
Valon took his hand and squeezed, “It will be just fine.”
“You need to get married if only so someone else can keep you out of trouble!”
He laughed. Asher approached them nervously as Valon took the loaf of bread off his tray and began to eat.
“May I join you?”
Valon smiled, “Of course, Sir Milrac.”
He sat on Valon’s other side. Valon looked at Balros who seemed to be holding back a grin. Valon eyed him with suspicion before looking at Asher. Asher’s eyes didn’t lift from his plate as he ate, but he could feel his tension in the air. He was so close Valon could feel his body heat. There was a slight tremor in his hand as he lifted food to his mouth.
“Sir Milrac, are you–”
“Are you Sir Esther?”
Valon looked up at the knight who stood over them.
“I am,” Valon said.
“Captain Belrose has asked for you.”
He nodded and stood. Balros sighed. He stood and walked by Queste who eyed from behind her veil and stood up after he passed, following him out at a safe enough distance. They reached the room where Captain Belrose had convence the meeting.
Before he entered, he heard them arguing and wondered what the problem was.
“You know who I am? I should have you stripped of rank and title!”
“I am here under royal orders, Sinisa Lowen,” Captain Belrose said. “With all due respect, whether you agree with the order is irrelevant to the order as it stands.”
He sneered down at the paper bearing Valena’s seal and glared at him, “You think that high-born whore has any power here?”
Captain Belrose drew his sword and had it at Sinisa Lowen’s neck before Valon could even manage to get angry.
“You will be held in contempt of the throne,” Captain Belrose seethed.
“Captain Belrose,” Veda said as she sauntered in, “Surely, we can come to an agreement? It would do you little good to attack a nobleman even with all of your clout.”
Valon clenched his jaw and tried to keep his eyes neutral. How many knights had she come to an agreement with before about this issue? How much of the Bjori military had been taken in by whatever she had promised them?
Captain Belrose drew back, “Sinaki Ali, so glad you could join us.”
She chuckled lightly, “Well, when the shipments to my capital city hadn’t arrived, I thought it prudent to investigate. Bellkeep is an important trade port.”
“With all due respect, Sinaki Ali,” Captain Belrose said, “On royal orders, I will be taking over Bellkeep’s command and Sinisa Lowen’s authority until this issue is resolved.”
Her eyes narrowed, “Very well.”
She turned to look at Sinisa Lowen. They met each other’s gazes for a while before he turned around and straightened his jacket, “Very well. What is it that you need?”
“Nothing from you,” Captain Belrose said. “As I said earlier, this is a distinctly magical problem. Word has been sent to the mage guild.”
“Is that really necessary? We would hate to cause a panic,” Veda said, “Over something so small. Leviathans come onto land in the south all the time. It’s well documented.”
“Never before has the Blue Forest burned and not heralded a catastrophe,” Captain Belrose said.
“Catastrophes can be dealt with and I highly doubt the mage guild will make its way here anytime soon.”
Captain Belrose’s back straightened and Valon had a feeling that this wasn’t the first time he’d come up against this. Intrigued, Valon waited as Veda sat on the edge of the table.
“As I said, an agreement can be struck. The leaders around the Blue Forest will be looking to Bjori for support if the storm continues this way. It would be best to get the situation under control as quickly and as quietly as possible. No one has been harmed and the longer we refuse to come to terms, the longer the threat lingers.”
Captain Belrose swallowed, “Mage Bellamy, have you heard word from the mage guild masters yet?”
“No, Captain. My message returned unanswered.”
Veda smiled, “Well, captain? Should you not put your sword away and tell us exactly what is going on?”
He hesitated, his hand clenched and his shoulders relaxed, slipping his sword back into its sheath. The royal order was enough to get them there, but if they didn’t cooperate, they wouldn’t be leaving. No doubt Veda had already closed the gate heading back to the capital. How many people have been taken prisoner in the south for this ploy?
What was the point of the ploy?
Who knew how long she had been evacuating people from Bellkeep.
Had she evacuated anyone from Bellkeep? His stomach churned and he prayed that she had.
“Tell her what you know,” Captain Belrose began. “Sir Esther.”
He almost smiled. It was smart. No mage of the mage guild’s forces would be able to lie to her, but as a knight, presumably of the royal knights, he was allowed to lie as much as he saw fit to protect the interests of the crown.
He took note to reward Captain Belrose and lifted his head, “Bees, Your Grace, have taken up residence in the caves beneath the griffin and chimaera’s dwelling. Their growing presence, we believe, is what has triggered the disturbance in the Blue Forest. The caves may be connected to the coves, tainting the water with their honey and agitating the leviathans nearby.”
She picked at her nails, “And what is the solution for such a problem?”
“We will have to find a way to force the bees to relocate.”
She smiled, “That seems to be an easy fix. I imagine a few mages can manage to levitate the corpses out of the Blue Forest easily enough. Collect some honey while you’re at it. We are a bit short of it as of late.”
Valon swallowed and he could feel the anxiety of Mage Barlow beside him.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t bring those sorts of mages with us. We’ll have to wait for reinforcements from the mage guild for such an endeavor,” Valon said. “Honey collection is a specialty practice… As for the corpses, it is doubtful that there is enough of the corpses left to do so, nor would it be effective.”
Her eyes narrowed, “So what is your solution?”
Valon looked at the other mages, they said nothing and he turned back.
“We don’t have one as of yet.”
“Then I scarcely understand what use you all are,” Veda said and sighed. “I expect you all to have an answer soon. There are great changes to come soon and it would be best to have this under control sooner rather than later.”
She dismissed them all and Valon left a small monitoring spell just inside the door as they left.