It was deep into the night by the time they reached the Lodge, with both moons now high in the sky. They were all winded from running, and Eyiel noticed Corthus seemed to be more fit to the activity then his appearance seemed to dictate.
"Hello?" Ardarrion called out, voice barely a whisper through the burning of his lungs, as he knocked on the door of the Lodge. They heard someone approach from the other side, but the door did not open.
"The hour is late," came a male voice from the other side, "and our spaces full. Speak, traveler, why do you come while the moons are high? Surely you know of the danger at the night."
Ardarrion paused to think before speaking. "Surely," he said slowly, "you could not even spare a fire for the night? Our journey makes us cold, and the warmth would be appreciated."
For a while there was no response, then the door slowly opened. A man with ash hair leaned out carefully, and looked around past the three. Not seeing whatever he was looking for, he nodded slowly. "Surely," he said quietly, "we can spare a flame for the Kreis. Come in, quickly."
* * * * * * ** * * * *
The bard, who was actually the only one in the building, led them through a secret panel in a wall to a hidden room, which had a couple of beds and a table. Eyiel went and laid down one one of the beds, while the men sat around the table to talk.
"So what brings members of the Order out here in the middle of the night?" Seeing the two curious at his expression, the bard pulled out a pendant from around his neck, then opened up a hidden clasp. A small ring was inside, bearing a signet with a symbol. The symbol was rather ornate, but bore at the center of it's design the symbol of the Order. "Our troupe," he added with a smile, "gains mutual benefit for its alliance with the Order."
"I see," Corthus replied. "Have you heard of any rumors lately?"
"It's our job to hear of things, of course. But is it true? Something that can stop the Messerweiß?"
Ardarrion nodded slowly. "Unfortunately," he sighed, "it is true. We were sent here by Brother Ingran, did you know him?
The bard nodded. "Yes, I knew the priest. It was he that introduced me to the troupe. So what happened to him?"
"He was attacked. Kibios of the school by here, he is one of them."
"Ardarrion," Corthus said, looking at Eyiel. She had fallen asleep, though the expression on her face was not pleasant. "What do we do now?"
"What do you mean, Corthus?"
"She knows now, far more than any lehrmädchen would normally."
Ardarrion nodded, understanding his concerns. He looked back at her, and smiled. "If we could initiate her, then that is what we would do."
The bard raised his eyebrow, and leaned back in his chair. "Just like that," Corthus asked in surprise. "Are you sure it would be safe?"
"She is my student, Corthus, and she is my wife. She grew up in the town of the school I teach at. I am sure she is not a spy."
"But," Corthus replied, some annoyance in her voice. "Can we trust that she would not betray us if captured? If that monster were to appear in your town, would she be able to defend herself?"
"She is strong, both of power and of will. I have no doubts in her."
"Wait," the bard interjected. "Hold on, 'monster'?" He searched his clothing for a paper and a writing utensil.
"Yes," Ardarrion replied once the bard was ready to take notes. "Brother Ingran had his knife taken from him after a spell Kibios used stopped him from being able to control it. But the key was a strange beast that he used, which could move right through the fields."
"It walked on all fours," Corthus added. "It was nearly as tall as a person. It was made of magic energy formed over a metal mechanical skeleton, skin thick and leathery. Kibios called it 'Polonium Black'."
"Polonium," the bard said under his breath once he finished the notes, and rubbed his chin in thought.
"Know anything about it from your learnings, bard?" Ardarrion leaned forward, curious about the man's reaction.
"It sounds familiar," he said as he folded up the paper and put it away. "I would guess that they just chose the name by chance. If I remember correctly, it was one of the old substances, the burning ones."
"Radioactive?" Corthus asked. After thinking for a moment, the bard nodded.
"Directly related to what destroyed the world, then," Ardarrion said as he lowered his eyebrows. "There's no way that they just chanced on the word, even if it doesn't actually have any Polonium in it they definitely named it that on purpose."
They said nothing else for several minutes. "It is late," the bard finally said, "and with this information there is much I will have to do tomorrow. If you will excuse me, I will take my leave." The other two nodded, and the bard stood from the chair. He went over to the wall, pressed his hands in certain places, and the secret panel opened again, then closed behind him as he walked out of the room.
Ardarrion stood and went over to the bed, laying down next to Eyiel and pulling her close to him. She fidgeted at the movement, but didn't end up waking up. He used his toes to kick off his shoes, letting them fall haphazardly to the floor. Corthus remained in his chair, lost in thought. "What is our next move, then, Ardarrion?"
"We have to continue pretending, Corthus." There was fatigue in his voice, though more from the thought of what was coming than the actions of the night. "Kibios doesn't quite match the description I had heard, so there has to be more than just him involved. We will go along with him for now, we need to find out as much information as we can about them, without drawing attention to ourselves."
Corthus sighed, and went over to the other bed. "You're right, I guess. If we could get back to Central to inform them of what we have found, it might help."
For a moment, Ardarrion did not reply, he simply brushed his hand through Eyiel's hair gently. "That is," he finally said quietly, "of course, hoping they haven't been infiltrated themselves."
"Oh," Corthus said, the thought sour in his word. "There was that summon to this meeting."
"Hopefully, it was just one of the enemy having copied the signet enchantment. I would rather think it that way then think that we are being sabotaged from the inside."
Ardarrion turned his head to look at Corthus. "Get some sleep, Corthus. It is not much longer until the day, and it's a full days travel back to Jeatroth. You don't want to be caught traveling at night, not with the threat we have now."
"Agreed. Good night, Ardarrion."
The man fell asleep quickly, and began to snore slightly. Ardarrion instead did not sleep, staring at the ceiling for a while. He then got back up out of the bed, and went over to the wall, pressing his hands against it the same way he watched the bard do it. The wall opened, and he stepped back into the hallway that led to the rooms.
The bard was standing there, much less to Ardarrion's surprise than he would have expected. "You changed your mind, then?" he asked him
"I never said I was going to actually sleep," the bard said slyly. "Nice girl you have there."
"Yes," Ardarrion said. "I had been in love with her ever since she first became my student, but it wasn't until this mess began that a chance to be with her presented itself."
"I thought something unusual was up. You were attacked by one of these creatures as well?"
Ardarrion gave him a puzzling look, and he smiled slyly again. "It is my job to notice every detail, dear sir. 'Bard' is simply a catch-all term that we go under, our job description places us much closer to spies. I noticed from the way you were moving that you didn't have the weight on your shoulders."
Ardarrion chuckled. "I see, not bad. Yeah, I was attacked, by someone else besides Kibios. The spell blocks the mental interface with the device. Eyiel has my Messerweiß now, I had nothing else I could do in the emergency."
The bard nodded in understanding. "Did Kibios know this?"
"He didn't, which is perhaps at least one benefit we have to this situation, they're not organized enough to share information.
"I want you to let me know anything you find out from your investigations. You can find me in Jolix." The bard nodded, and turned to walk away, leaving Ardarrion standing there alone. He walked into the front room, and looked out the window. The clearing in front of the Lodge was brightly lit by the moons, but he could see nothing in the dark forest beyond that.
"My dear," he mumbled to himself as he looked out the window. "My dear Eyiel, I fear for you. I fear for me. And I fear for the future of our world. I do not know if I have the power to protect you, and I hope that it is not put to a test." He sighed, and headed back into the room to get some sleep before the morning.