They had gone miles and miles into the woods, hiking up the mountainous terrain until his legs burned with the effort. Just as he was about to confess that he needed a break, an enormous house came into view between the trees. When he thought enormous, he wasn’t using the term lightly – it stood at well over five stories tall, and was easily as wide as an American football field, if not wider. Grandiose French doors sat front and center on the first floor, with wrought iron enclosed balconies protruding off the face of the house like rungs on a ladder, crawling upward on each side of the door in two perfectly aligned rows. Marble columns framed the entryway. The flat roof was only interrupted by chimneys poking out – at least three that he could see – and was wrapped with more wrought iron, and Graeme wondered if it was to keep someone in or out.
A sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach said, both.
They left their packs a few yards into the woods, hidden behind and among a small gathering of large rocks around an enormous oak tree with roots as thick as Graeme’s thighs.
“I have a terrible feeling about this, Gabriel,” he confessed in a low voice as they traipsed across the remaining terrain leading up to the doors.
“I know,” she said, and the conversation was over.
The doors opened as they approached and Graeme knew they were in for a world of problems.
A cowled man, roughly six-foot-five – a full six inches taller than Graeme – greeted them in silence between the open doors. His cloak was the deep black onyx of space on a starless night, and Graeme couldn’t make out a single feature among the shadows of the hood. Hands as pale as ivory grasped opposite elbows as he crossed his arms, his fingernails nearly an inch long and stained a pale, sickly yellow. All Graeme could hear was the sound of himself breathing and the hammering of his own heart.
Gabriel said, “We bid you greetings, Warlock. We have been sent by Tasaria, we were told you might be able to help us.”
The voice that answered left a queasy feeling to settle in Graeme’s throat. It was hollow and hard, broken up by raspy vowels and an edge that he couldn’t place. “Tasaria does not decide who we aid. Who are you?”
“You would not know us, Warlock. We are simply travelers, hoping to barter with you for a protection spell.”
“You will tell us your names.” There was no question. It was a command, and Graeme hated being commanded like he was a peasant. But it wasn’t up to him to answer the Warlock, it had already been decided that Gabriel would do the speaking.
She was the only one with any power against the Warlock, and so she must be the one to decide when they needed to bend and when they needed to retaliate.
Gabriel said, “My name is Gabriel, and this is my companion, Graeme.”
“Gabriel,” the voice repeated, rolling the name over and over on it’s tongue. “You are the Angel Gabriel. What does an Angel need with a Warlock?”
“Something we would prefer not to talk about where curious ears might overhear, Warlock.” She did not take a step forward, but she did not step back either. Gabriel stood her ground, her spine straight and her jaw locked. Her hazel eyes glowed with the same luminescence he’d seen in them when he’d woken from the second attempt at possession by the Destroyer. “We have given you our names, is it not fair to have yours?”
A pregnant silence lingered in the doorway between the Warlock and Gabriel; it was clear that they were weighing each other. The Warlock eventually broke and said, “My name is Arroy. Come inside and we will discuss business in the safety of my study.”