It was the worst way possible to end the journey to Blackcolud. It had been a totally uneventful affair the entire time that the trio had been making their way to the dark city from the Grand Abby. The whole time during the trip there was an air of uneasy surrounding Father Mazeon and the two children. While the caution that they exhibited was well warranted there was no sign of the monstrous chimera that had threatened to hunt them. In fact none of them had received even so much as a splinter, bump or scrape. The weather had been utterly mild and even pleasant at times, until now that was. On the final day of the journey to the place that the veteran Vermillion Councilman had grown up, the tell tail clouds that foretold of the red rains gathered in the sky overhead.
Father Mazeon looked back at Pratt on his pony. The boy was doing an admirable job of keeping pace but he was nervously looking at the darkening sky. Both Father Mazeon and Pratt had yet to experience the red rain falling while outdoors. It was something that neither of the two wanted to become acquainted with. The Councilman’s prime interest was actually rooted in the mood of Tinaca who was sat behind his apprentice. The girl had survived one of these storms and felt the full bore of the crimson tempest. The man feared that she was going to have to relive the trauma again before she had even recovered from the first time the rain fell upon her. Father Mazeon was able to steal a few occasional glimpses of the girl’s face when she leaned out from behind Pratt. Tinaca’s face was unexpressive. The child gave no indication that the turn of the weather was frightening to her. The Councilman wondered if she was incredibly brave or if she was irrevocably scared from the past storm. It was impossible to tell.
The Councilman saw the gate to Blackcloud coming up shortly down the traveler’s path. He could feel the thickness in the air and he knew that it would not be long before the clouds opened up and assaulted Argaia with a downpour of blood once again. He wanted to be within the safety of the city before that happened. The layer of smog the encircled the towering Spire of Blackcloud would help to keep the rain form soaking them. The man reflected and realized that this was probably the only time that he could think of that he was grateful for the menacing plume of filth that shadowed the city he had grown up in.
“Come on and hurry up. We need to get into the city quickly. The weather won’t hold much longer,” Father Mazeon called back to Pratt and Tinaca. He managed to keep his voice from showing the sense of unease that was overtakeing him. The Councilman heeled his horse on and the beast increased its pace from a leisurely walk into a brisk trot.
“Yes, Father,” Pratt responded as he gave his pony a soft kick in its side. The animal matched pace with the Councilman’s larger horse. Pratt felt Tinaca tighten her grip around his waist as they started to ride faster. The boy quickly looked over his shoulder at the young girl in the saddle behind him. “It will be ok. We will all be safe once we are in Blackcloud,” Pratt said to the girl as comfortingly as he could manage. It was not easy for the boy to act a fount of encouragement while his mount was engaged in a lively jaunt but his kind words seemed to pierce Tinaca’s solid mental isolation. She even gave Pratt the faintest of smiles for his efforts. Pratt felt a sense of pride and accomplishment at seeing the girl’s mood elevated.
It was only a matter of moments before the riders had reached the main gate of Blackcloud. The rod iron portcullis was down and there seemed to be nobody else making an effort to enter or exit the city. It was unusual to see such little foot traffic at the main point of travel for one of Argaia’s largest and oldest metropolises but the impending red rain was proper cause for such an anomaly.
“Who calls on Blackcloud?” came the sound of a sentry’s voice from the parapets over the gate. The travelers could see the man along with several other guards. Their faces were covered in soot and dirt. It could not be determined if the uniforms that they wore were black in color or if they were just that filthy from the pollution of the city. They all carried long bows. The weapons were strung but none of the men had bothered to nock arrows.
“We are they who serve,” responded Father Mazeon. He drew his hood tighter around his face as he felt a change in the wind.
“Red cloaks at the gate!” cried the sentry to some more guards below.
It looked like some hushed conversation transpired on the ramparts above the gate. Things were whispered back and forth for serval moments. It was not easy to see what was going on in the shadowy area over the entrance to the city. Father Mazeon was able to make out the form of another guard taking a perch on the parapets. The man was larger than any of the other sentries and walked with a sense of self-important bearing. The Councilman hoped that that he and his charges would not be delayed entry into the city much longer. He could feel the faintest droplets of moisture in the air. The storm was going to break at any moment.
“And what of the girl you have there?” said the new man on the ramparts. The guard spoke with a commanding baritone voice. It was obvious that he was the ranking member of the City Watch posted here.
“She is under the protection of the Vermillion Council. She is my charge,” retorted Father Mazeon. He cast his eyes back at the two children sitting on the pony. Pratt was showing evident signs of apprehension. Clearly he was fretting about the possibility of being turned away from the safety of Blackcloud. Tinaca was still wearing a mask of indifference.
“You arrival is unscheduled. Father Randor has said nothing about a Councilman coming to call today. What business do you have in this city,” inquired the Watch Captain in a stern yet even voice.
Father Mazeon immediately saw thru the man’s ruse. He respected the Blackcloud guard’s attempt to ascertain the truth. He remembered how often it was that the people of Blackcloud rarely spoke the unveiled truth but the Councilman was in no mood to play coy games of lies and secrets. There would be time for secrets and deception in the very near future if all went according to the Councilman’s plan. “I should think that Father Randor has said nothing to you of my arrival. That brother of the council has been tending to the Abbey’s in Rustwatch and Silverwood since last summer. You would have been better served to speak with my council brothers Frally and Tonovan. They are the senior brothers of this city but I am certain that you already know that. As far as my business in Blackcloud that is something of a private nature. How much longer would you care to detain me and keep me from my duties?” Father Mazeon said with a small grin and playful cadence.
There were a few moments where nothing passed between the Councilman and the city guards save for the gusts of wind that signified the coming storm. The tension was broken by the rattling of chains as the heavy portcullis began to rise. “Welcome to Blackcloud,” said the Watch Captain.
“In his beloved name,” responded Father Mazeon as he guided his horse to enter the city walls.
Pratt and Tinaca followed behind the Councilman. Father Mazeon noted the stench of Blackcloud as soon as he was past the gate. The odor of the city rekindled memories from a life led so long ago. He hoped that he would never have to return to this place but he knew that Blackcloud was the best chance of protecting Tinaca. If someone had a secret they wanted kept then Blackcloud was the place to bury it. If the chimera wanted to find the girl then it would need to be possessed of some considerable power in order to track her once the Councilman had properly sequestered her. It sadden Father Mazeon that he was going to have to unearth some of his old skeletons in order to protect the child. It was a difficult return home for the man and being inside the smog and garbage filled streets was not an easy burden to bear. The weight of his homecoming was lessened as he heard a clap of thunder above. Father Mazeon told himself that it was better to be confined in a city with the memories of a sorted past then it was to be trapped on open ground when the red rain began to fall. Still the Councilman was counting the seconds until he could be free of this horrible place once more.