Paid in Full
The journey to Viros took Father Mazeon and Pratt much longer then the pair had anticipated. The distance to the city was not an overwhelming measure from the boundaries of the Evermist Valley but the path itself was a wholly different matter. Viros, had gotten the worst of the red rains, since the initial deluge of blood came from the sky. Some reports had stated that they rains had never fully ceased over the city. Neither of the Councilmen knew how much of the rumors and stories could be corroborated with fact but the reality that correspondence with the Vermillion Council brothers stationed in Viros had been little more than nonexistent gave some credence to the stories.
It was when Father Mazeon and his newly anointed brother entered into the realm of Viros that they were able to see the toll the red rains had taken on the region for themselves. The roads were all washed out by the showers of blood. The earth in Viros had been transformed into a vast sprawling marsh, something akin to the swamps that housed the Bloodwoods Clan north of Rayward. The relatively flat and innocuous landscape of Viros had become a perilous place for any to dare traveling. The muck filled stretches of road were the easiest parts of the trip. In many placed the travelers path had been eroded all together and erased from existence. The elder Councilman and the boy had to do their fair share of cross country riding and improvising when it came to making progress in their journey.
The boy and his teacher were beaten and weary form the long hard ride but they were in infinitely better shape than the mounts that carried them. Father Mazeon’s horse had gotten stuck in a sinkhole for half a day on the trail. Pratt’s pony had fallen several times and nearly broken one of it’s legs on multiple occasions. The two Councilmen felt a mutual sense of self-loathing for the arduous toil and hardship they inflicted upon their mounts. Their saddle bags were now two days empty of carrots, so food rewards and motivators for their valiant steeds’ efforts were not to be had. The only currency that the pair of Councilmen had to incentivize the continued labor of their steeds were high praise and the promised of warm stables, extra hay and bottomless bags of fruit and vegetables.
Pratt looked back over his left shoulder when he heard the sound of Father Mazeon’s horse stumbling in the mud again. The boy saw his elder brother skillfully keeping his balance atop the unsteady beast. Pratt nearly called out to the man and offered to come to his aid but Father Mazon guided his horse through the rough patch of ground before Pratt could speak. The boy allowed himself to breathe deeply for a few moments as the other red clad traveler caught up to him. The pair exchanged a look of unified misery as they continued on the way to Viros. Pratt stroked the neck and mane of his pony and gave the creature several kind words as it started moving through the muck and mire once more.
“I think that we can make it to the city before she lets loose on us again,” said Father Mazeon as he motioned up towards the threatening red clouds.
“I hope that is the case. Rains aside, my pony can not take much more off this unstable ground. When we get to Viros I would like to get him a proper meal and warm stable for the night,” Pratt said to the other Councilman. The boy then leaned forward in his saddle and spoke softly to the golden little creature that carried him, “You would like that, would you not.”
“We will all enjoy something hot to eat and a warm place to rest. Neither of us will be much good for scouring the archives until we have recovered from the trip,” Father Mazeon said as he warily guided his horse around another large patch of soft earth.
Pratt frowned while he recalled many of the unsatisfying traveler’s feasts he had partaken of on the long trip to Viros. “I think that I have not had a proper meal since Blackcloud. At this point I will happily settle for something that is warm and has not been soaked by the rains. I have no appetite for blood,” Pratt said with a belly full of hunger.
“You and I both brother,” Father Mazon said in hearty agreement.
The boy’s breath caught in the back of his throat when he heard Father Mazeon address him with the proper fraternal title of the Vermillion Council. Pratt’s travel weary eyes went down to the scarlet robes that adorned his body. Even with the heavy layers of caked mud and dirt the bright red of his clothes managed to peek through all the grime. Pratt was reminded of how abrasive the new fabric was and his hands went to the spot where his cloak’s hood chafed below his chin. Wearing the red cloak was still a foreign experience to the boy. Despite the historically unerring judgment of Father Mazon, on some level Pratt sill felt like he was unworthy to wear the cloak and be called a brother of the Vermillion Council.
Pratt and the other Councilman kept pressing on towards the city of Viros. Their resolve was nearly broken and so were their mounts by the time they saw the outline of Viros’ walls against the skyline. The image of the towers and keeps rising above the parapets of the city wall gave both Councilmen a sense of renewed hope. Even Pratt’s pony seemed to have its spirits lifted with the city in sight. The thick waterlogged terrain lost some of its power against Pratt and Father Mazon as they soldiered on dauntlessly towards Viros and the promise of rest. Seeing the goal so close was motive enough for the boy and his teacher to combat the swampy ground with a second wind and increased pace.
“We will be inside the city in no time at all,” said Father Mazon with a broad sweeping smile on his lips.
Pratt shared in the elder Councilman’s jubilation. “It looks like the weather is starting to turn favorable as well,” said the boy while he glanced up at the thinning clouds in the sky. He felt an indescribable sense of relief for his chapped and chafed inner thighs. The skin between his legs had been rubbed raw and bloody by the sweat of the ride and the rains of blood from the sky. He could already start to feel how pleasant it would be to peel off his damp clothes and wash away the filth of the travelers path with a warm dunk in a soapy tub.
Pratt was lost in the fantasies of cleansing water, piles of blankets on a soft mattress and medium rare meat served with vegetables drowned in butter when he heard a sound that cut through him like a hunter’s arrow. The boy knew the sound instantly even though he had only heard it once before. It was the bestial cry of the chimera, Koin. Pratt had not been able to push the sound of the creature’s viper’s nest symphony from his mind since the night they had crossed paths with Koin. The brother Councilmen shared terrified looks with each other before turning their eyes to the path behind, where the sound of Koin’s wicked speech originated from.
“On that night my flesh was made into a burned ruin by your fire and deceit. I demanded an offering and proper tribute and you were found wanting. I have suffered greatly at your expense and bore the burden of a crippled body for your insolence. I promised to find you and collect the debt that you owe. Your debt will be paid now and I shall reap the profit,” Koin said as its towering muscular body plowed through the mud of the travelers path.
“No he’s found us. We were so close,” Pratt said in despair as he looked from the muck covered chimera closing in on him and then back to the safety of Viros’ formidable city walls.
“The way is as treacherous for him as it is for us. Viros is not far. We can outpace the thing,” Father Mazeon said with defiant courage as he looked at the beast wading thru the swampy earth.
Pratt and Father Mazeon heeled their mounts to move as fast as possible towards the city. The two navigated the disastrous path and called upon every last reserve of mental and bodily fortitude that they had in their arsenal. The pair sparingly check offer their shoulders every so often and felt their mettle threatening to break as they saw Koin’s wrathful strides decreasing the space between them.
“I will see you made as you made me and then I shall continue to wrap my claws around everything of value that this pathetic land and you human wretches have to offer,” Koin snarled with murder in it’s voice as it pulled it’s hooves from deep in the muddy ground over and over with ominous repetition.
Father Mazeon looked at the diminutive distance between the steeds and the monster that pursued them. He looked at Pratt and felt his heart cast off the darkness that had fallen upon it as he accepted the reality that was staring him in his face. “Brother, keep for the main gate,” said the Councilman with eerie clarity and calmness in his words.
“Yes, but we can not make it to the city before it reached us,” Pratt said with alarm.
“We can not but you can,” Father Mazoen said as he pulled his horse from the main path and began to cross the rough country that sprawled out parallel to Viros.
“What are you doing?” Pratt screamed at his teacher.
“It can only pursue one of us and the beast would rather hunt me than it would you,” Father Mazeon shot back.
“No, I belong at your side,” Pratt said urgently.
“Stay the course, I will try for the rear gate of the city. At least one of us must reach the archives or all is for nothing,” responded the veteran Councilman. Father Mazeon looked back and felt a well of mixed emotions as he saw that Koin had diverted from the main path as well. The red robed man looked from the rancorous beast that bore down upon him with impressive speed and spoke a final sentiment to his surrogate child. “We are they who serve, in his beloved name,” Father Mazeon spoke the words as strongly as he could before commanding his mount to ride through the harsh wetland and being consumed by the power of the moment.
“In his beloved name,” Pratt called out as resolutely as he could. The boy watched Koin take after the other man. He witnessed the doomed pursuit as long as he could bear and hoped against all odds that Father Mazeon would evade the beast that chased him. Pratt swallowed hard and fought to keep the sting of tears from his eyes as he ordered his pony to make for the front gate of Viros. Pratt pressed on down the travelers path, alone.