A troubled private detective. A woman betrothed against her will. A young lord with powerful magical abilities and dangerous secrets. A former prostitute. A man who framed himself for murder. A peculiar dog that...probably wasn't always a dog.
Here we have six beings, joined together by fate and supernatural forces, who are soon to be deprived of the old, familiar masks they have for so long hidden behind--their masks of falsehood wrought.
[ I ]
Six shall go, three men, three not,
All in masks of falsehood wrought,
Bearing a piece for every queen,
Into the land of light unseen.
Make the three of dreams align,
And worm shall fall at three, six, nine.
On the list of all the potential careers that Mr. Hector Wilsby might have envisioned for himself, “garden guard” would have had to rank somewhere between “telepath” and “dragon groomer.” Yet here he was, standing in a wooden alcove outside the metal gates of the Royal Gardens, wearing a suit of armor and holding a pike. He had had the job for about a week now, yet he still couldn’t quite wrap his head around the whole concept of it. Why would a garden need two armed sentries posted at every gate? Wouldn’t an occasional patrol be sufficient to deter most trespassers and vandals? But, he supposed, it wasn’t his job to worry about such things.
It was late—sometime past midnight, by Mr. Wilsby’s reckoning. It had rained earlier that day, and now the October air was saturated with a layer of thick mist, which glowed brownish-yellow in the lamplight and made the world around his post seem close and indistinct. Dreamlike, almost. On the opposite edge of the gate, he could see the dim shape of the other watchman, who appeared to be leaning against his corresponding shelter and picking his teeth with a twig. He could also make out the front of the building that sat across the street. That was about the extent of his vision.
The gate rattled.
Mr. Wilsby jumped in surprise and whirled around to face the source of the noise, as did the other guard. Upon seeing the cause, he sighed in relief. It was just a crow. Or maybe a raven. (Those were the bigger ones, right? He couldn’t remember). At any rate, a large black bird had landed atop the gate, causing the metal to jangle. Nothing to worry about. Although it did feel a bit ominous. And he didn’t like the way it was looking at him.
“Shoo!” he said, waving his hand at it.
The bird croaked in response, but it did not budge.
“Get on,” said Mr. Wilsby. He grabbed one of the metal bars of the gate and shook it roughly. “Away with you!”
“Urrk.” Its voice called to mind thoughts of coffin hinges and creaking crypt doors. “Eerrrk.”
Mr. Wilsby gave the creature a poke with his pike. It squawked and flew off of the gate and into the garden, alighting on the ground beside a hedge of roses.
“I wouldn’t do that, if I were you.”
He turned to look at the other sentry. “What?”
“My mam always said you should never anger a raven.”
So that’s what it was. A raven. He had been right—partially. “Why’s that?”
“Bad luck, or something,” the other man replied. “Anyhow, they’re big birds. Probably attack you if you provoke ’em too bad. I’ve heard they can claw your face off if you don’t fend ’em off quick enough.”
Mr. Wilsby glanced back towards the raven. It was pecking at something on the ground, but it stopped and looked up at him almost as soon as his eyes came to rest on it. He noted its sharp beak and menacing talons and thanked the gods that it hadn’t chosen to confront him when he had nudged it with his weapon.
A short distance down the cobblestone street, a solitary horse-and-buggy emerged from the fog. The slow clip-clop of hooves, accompanied by the groaning of wooden wheels, disturbed the silence of the night. Both guards turned to face forward once more to watch it go by, and they continued to stare in its direction it long after it had vanished into the swirling miasma.
“Good evening, gentlemen,” said a woman’s voice from behind them, on the other side of the locked gate.