Chapter XXIV: The Butterfly and the Leech (10/11)Mature

'Have you met Sapphire yet? Do you know anything about her?'

'I've met her plenty of times,' she said, though she didn't seem happy about it. 'I think she's been telling us the same thing. They want to follow us into war, find the soul of a sorceress that they think is the key of all knowledge, then build a new world without humans.' Will nodded glumly. It sounded so mechanical the way she said it, like they were steps from a manual of nefarious schemes. 'And as for what I know about her, I only know what the other guards think of her, and they all think the same. She's a skank, but there are the odd few who seem to like her, more than that, they seem obsessed with her.' Will thought of the guard who had taken a blow trying to dissuade her. 'Some of them are afraid of her, but I don't think she's as powerful as she makes out to be.'

'There are higher-ups?'

Laguna nodded, 'yes, a lot. There seems to be a rank of the most powerful, and Sapphire doesn't even qualify. One of them visits a lot, everybody's terrified of him, he always wears white. And some of the names I've been hearing, I've heard some with titles of lords and mayors, it must be how they get their funding. I wouldn't even hazard to guess how many places they've infiltrated.'

'Is there somebody at the very top? Have you ever seen them?'

'No, never. Sometimes the guards talk, I don't think they've ever seen him either. They seem terrified to talk about him, as if somebody will hear and strike them down for it. He doesn't have a name, except one: the Grand Master.' 

The Grand Master. The name chilled him, as it was supposed to. In Will's eye the Grand Master had no face except one marred by shadow. He was old, wise and cruel, and chose a title that proclaimed his dominion over everything. He stood at the front of armies, rows and rows of masked soldiers with bloodshot eyes and grey hands, and the floor below them was tiled with human bodies -

Will blinked quickly, the images like a scratching speck of dust in his eye. 'Do you have any idea what they're going to do next?' he asked. Laguna rubbed her arms and legs like affected by a sudden, uncomfortable chill.

'We all listen in to what the guards want - they're the hooded ones, they want bloodshed, in whatever shape or form. As for the soldiers, some of them want that, but others...I think they're as imprisoned as we are. We see kindness from some of them, or at least they apologise to us for what's happening to us. From what I know from Sapphire, they're still waiting for a superior to give an order, and I think they'll only do that if she finds the Host.'

'Do - do you think the soul of the sorceress still exists? And the Host with it?' 

'Maybe,' she shrugged, 'sometimes I wish they'd come forward, almost a dozen innocents have become halflings, Sapphire won't give up. But I also think that, at whatever cost, they have to stay away, because if this sorceress is as powerful as she was rumoured to be, the Mastery can't be allowed to get a hold of her.'

She's right, Will thought, knowing that somewhere within him, Maga was listening.

The End

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