Captain Aker sees it first. Just through a gap in the trees, a small cabin shrouded in darkness. Their patrol had only been searching for a day of what was expected to be a week long search, and the trail of footprints they had been following had gone cold hours ago. Rimmer is the first to speak.
“Come on then. Let’s get her body and go, might get home before sunrise.”
Salis steps forward to puts a hand on his friends shoulder and says, “Have faith man, she may very well be alive. Think of it, we will be heroes among the Guard! To have found and rescued a lovely maiden from the clutches of evil! Is that not the stories that inspired you and I to become Dark Guards?” His eyes shine in the darkness with a childish wonder that makes even Rimmer smile for a moment, but then the Captain brings them back to reality.
“Hold your tongue and your hopes Salis. Stories are just that, stories. It appears abandoned, and even if we find her, sheismore than likely dead. Now move it. You take Rimmer and go around the back. Carter, you and I will take point.”
Rimmer and Salis slink away, happier to live in a haze of dreams than reality. Carter and Aker move through the trees and slowly make their way to the door. Carter draws his sword and stands behind the Captain, ready to defend against whatever threats may lurk within.
The Captain raps on the door three times.
“To any and all residents, this is a Captain of the Dark Guard. As citizens of the Empire you are required to open your doors upon this request. We are in search of a missing girl and have reason to believe she was taken this way. Is anyone there?” They listen for a response, and hear nothing. The Captain knocks once more, and harder.
“Wait, what was that?” Carter leans in closer to the door.
“What did you hear?”
“I don’t know, it was very quiet. Just listen.” Aker leans in and puts his ear to the door. He listens, and waits…and waits…and then he hears it. A slight whimper, almost inaudible. He yells for Salis and Rimmer to go in, then kicks the door. It cracks, but only a bit.
“Carter, help me!” They stand side by side and kick in unison. The crack splits deeper into the wood.
“Again!” With this kick, the door explodes inward. The men rush in, swords drawn. Moonlight spills into the room from the doorway to reveal a small room, with a circle of crudely drawn symbols forming three rings bordered by some candles. The floor is littered with debris: knapsacks, dust, vials, pieces of clothing, the shattered remains of a chair, and many other things. The far corner of the room holds the only thing intact and of value, a chair with a young woman bound to it by ropes. Her head hangs lifelessly against her chest and her lustrous hair covers her face in a disheveled mess that in its own way is strangely beautiful. Carter runs past his Captain to the girl and lifts her head by her chin to look into her eyes. He looks into faded emerald eyes, with what appears to be gray rings along the outer edges. A strange mix of colors that would disturb Carter were he not so focused on finding signs of life. She stirs a bit and she seems to gain some awareness of her surroundings. Carter begins to cut away the ropes.
“Well? Is she alive?” Aker watches Carter lean closer to her. He turns around.
“Yes! She speaks!” She falls forward into Carters arms, exhausted. Aker is overwhelmed with joy. Rarely is a young girl kidnapped and then found alive and unharmed. Aker begins to call for Salis and Rimmer but they enter from a doorway near the back of the room, hand in hand with a wild eyed and naked man.
“Found him running around the woods in back of the house. Must have been out there for hours, his feet and fingers are black with frostbite. We tried to question him but he just rambles on, speaking nonsense.” The man struggles with them and speaks quick words of gibberish. His eyes dart around the room but don’t seem to look at anything, but beyond them into some unseen world. The most disturbing thing about him was not his naked and frozen body, or bulbous, wild eyes, but his smile. He grins from ear to ear with a wicked smile that never faltered, and had cracked his frozen lips they smeared his face with blood. If insanity could be painted, this mans face would be a perfect subject.
“What should we do with him Captain?”
“Take him with us. He won’t need a trial, just confirmation from the girl that he is her attacker. Once we have that we will either lock him away or execute him, whatever the court masters decide. Carter, grab the girl and carry her, she is clearly too weak to walk. Let us go, the trek back is long and the storm is picking up once again.” He is right, the wind has started to become more intense, and now sings a soft chorus through the little house.
Salis and Rimmer struggle as they force the man to walk cooperatively, and Carter lifts the girl up into his arms. After a short time, he looks down upon her face once more and is met with a surprise. The slight gray rings are no longer just rings. The eyes have lost the emerald hue they once held in favor of this cold gray color. And there is more. The life they once held is gone. He panics and thinks she may have passed away in his arms, but no, she breathes quietly, still in her odd, trance like state of obliviousness. He thinks he must be crazy, that in the darkness of the cabin he thought they were green, but he was mistaken. Eyes may fade in color, but they certainly do not change from one color to another, and if they do it is not in such a short period of time. She shifts her weight a bit and comes to her senses.
Her voice reaches all of their ears in just more than a whisper, and is smooth as silk.
“My heroes, you have saved me. You deserve something for your bravery.”
“Oh no my lady, we ask for no such compensation. Your safety is reward enough,” says Carter with a smile. As he does, the madman begins to cackle, softly at first, amused by that which only he can see or hear. She says something in response to Carter, but only he can hear over the mad laughter. Salis tries to speak over the mans laughter.
“What says she?” But the laughter grows louder still. The wind also seems to favor the madman, and picks up once more. Carter’s response is lost to it.
“What?” Louder and louder still grows the laughter. The man can barely walk in his stupor, and the wind rises to a banshees shriek.
“Once more my friend.” Captain Aker takes it upon himself to end this game. The cracking of bones against black steel is accompanied by silence. The wild man slumps in their arms, and his shattered jaw hangs lifelessly. They all look about them, for the wind has ceased its assault on their ears as well. Salis tries once more to learn what the sweet maiden wished to tell them.
“Now that he is silent, what say you? Does she have more to say?” He looks on with anticipation.
“She says she will not be deterred. That she has something for us. A gift.”