They Who Serve
Viros made for a fine prison. The city was far cleaner and dignified than somewhere like Blackcloud. Viros was infinitely better fortified than the barrens of Northfell or the verdant hills of the Evermist Valley. The city where Pratt was currently detained was, admittedly, not so fine and lavish as the opulent manors and estates of Lighthouse Bay. The Councilman ruminated on the fact that were he to be surrounded by such extravagance and comfort that he would have a difficult time keeping his perspective. Pratt was under no illusion, he was indeed a prisoner in Viros. It was not the city or any of it’s frightened residents that detained him but the threat of what lay beyond the walls that was the source of the boy’s incarceration. Outside the protection of Viros, the realm was filled with rain of blood and the monstrous chimera.
The Archives of Viros had become Pratt’s home since entering the city. The boy realized this was more out of fear and neglect than anything else. Were it not for the perpetual beating the city took at the hand of the bloody rain then his lot in Viros would likely have been much different. Pratt could not imagine that turning a portion of the archive’s map’s and cartography section into a sleeping area would have gone over so well with the head librarians. This was also to say nothing of the makeshift stable’s the Pratt had erected in the building’s foyer for his pony.
The solitude of the grand building suited Pratt in a way. The isolation that he was afforded was precisely what the Councilman needed to process his grief. Pratt had not been able to move the body of Father Mazeon, let alone look at the corpse since his first day within the walls of the Achieves. For now a simple drape from one of the smaller foyer windows served as a funeral shroud for Pratt’s mentor. The boy was reeling from the emotional blow that Father Mazeon’s death had dealt him. While Pratt wanted to begin his research into the best way to combat the chimera and put an end to the red rains his morale was in no place to do anything more than survive from day to day.
Pratt felt his belly beginning to grumble as he stirred in on his makeshift cot. He had eaten the last of his provisions the night before and now Pratt was close to ravenous. The Councilman tossed and turned as his hunger grew more intolerable by the moment. He heard the rustling of his pony echoing through the lanes of bookshelves from the haphazard stall that he created for the animal. Pratt was sure that his mount was bosting a similarly rampant apatite by now, having had made due with surviving on meager oats and nuts. The Councilman knew that he was going to have to go in search of sustenance in the immediate future. Part of the boy’s conscience was grateful for the dilemma because he knew that the onset of a crisis, no matter how minor would put an end to his wallowing and sorrow.
Pratt could almost hear the chiding of Father Mazon as he rolled off of his mattress of papers and parchments. The boy’s teacher would have never stood for such a prolonged display of self-indulgent pity. Pratt rubbed his hands over his belly in an effort to sooth the rumbling within. The Councilman reminded himself of Father Mazeons final words as he started making for the main entrance of the archives. This time when he played the memory back he did so not as a lamentation but as a set of instructions. In his last moments Father Mazeon had given Pratt a compass of sorts. The boy settled on the fact that beginning serious academic pursuits in his current state was folly and the denizens of Viros were currently locked solidly away behind study doors and bared windows so there was one piece of Father Mazeon’s instruction that made the most sense to start carrying out. Prat was determined to make contact with the other Vermillion Council bothers stationed in the city and with any luck join them for a hearty supper.
“I know. You are not the only one who is hungry. I will be sure to bring back something for you to fill your belly with,” Pratt said to his pony as the flustered creature shook its wavy main and stomped it’s hooves on the chilled stone of the archives foyer. The boy stoked the animal’s soft golden coat and whispered comforting sentiments into the creature’s ears. The soft words of the Councilman seemed to be sufficient enough to calm the pony. Pratt made himself smile at his loyal mount before exiting the front doors of the archives.
Pratt tenderly trod down the steps of the grand building. The boy found a comforting irony in the foreboding red clouds that loomed over the city. He realized that were it not for the bloody overcast then he would have likely been severely blinded by sunlight. The sun had nearly become a foreign concept to him after several days locked within the darkened library hall. Pratt pulled his red cloak tight as he felt moisture in the air. He hoped to all good fortune that he would be able to avoid catching a soaking while traversing the streets of Viros.
In the back of the Councilman’s mind, he hoped that nobody would come to call on the archives while he was out and about. He did not want to have to explain his steed using the main landing of the building as a sleeping quarters. Pratt rested on the fact that he had seen no sign of people leaving the safety of bolted doors since he entered the city. It seemed unlikely to the boy, that people would suddenly find the courage to venture out into the streets. Again the Councilman found the silver lining in the red clouds that hung over Viros.
Pratt was fairly certain that the Vermillion Council would have stationed it’s stronghold in Viros close to the archives. It only made too much sense to the boy that his brethren would have wanted the wealth of knowledge afforded by the libraries of books, scrolls and other academic paraphernalia close at hand. Pratt was unsure exactly what he was looking for but he knew that he would likely know it once he saw it. The Council did not have a full on Abbey erected in Viros but he knew that brothers of the council rarely made themselves difficult to find.
Pratt wandered the slick cobblestone streets of the city close to the archives. He kept his eyes open and attentive as he scanned the building for something that looked like it belonged to the Council. He let his mind drift a bit while his body searched. Pratt found himself attempting to recall some of the names of the brethren assigned to the city. Pratt could barely remember the number of Councilmen in Viros, let alone their names. He wondered if there was even a Father station in the city or if it was a senior brother who held the most authority as Viros’s Vermillion Council representative.
The Councilman’s postulation was ended when he turned a corner on the northern side of the archives. Pratt found himself looking at something akin to a storefront. He was able to identify it as a Vermillion Council stronghold at once by the scarlet front door that bore the founders mark. Pratt went straight to the door and rapped his knuckles against the thick wooden planks. After several moments of silence the Councilman knocked on the red door with increased force. Silence endured once again and Pratt felt his morale threaten to break. Before the boy’s mood could darken any further a wavering voice came from behind the locked door.
“Who calls on the Vermillion Council,” said the meek voice from the other side of the crimson door. The speaker seemed to barely be able to get the formal words past their lips.
Pratt cleared his throat and readied himself to speak. “I am he who serves,” said the boy. Those words still felt unnatural for him to say. Pratt could sense movement on the other side of the wooden barrier. He guessed that his introduction was the last thing that the Councilmen here were expecting to hear. Pratt detected some swift words being spoken between two or more men within the building but he could not make out the precise words.
After the sound of keys turning and blots sliding into an unbarred position the red door slowly creaked open. Within the Council house a trio of desperate and haggard brethren awaited Pratt. The three Councilman looked like they were being controlled by the fear that gripped the rest of Viros. Pratt was expecting to see strong and determined brothers awaiting him here. The red robed men cowering in this place were underwhelming to Pratt and were no doubt a far cry from the caliber of Councilman that Father Mazeon was. In the span of a single breath the mounting hunger that had plagued Pratt since leaving from the archives was gone. The boy’s appetite had been replaced by trepidation and disappointment.
Pratt waited for some acknowledgment from the Councilmen in the house but after a few breaths of awkward silence passed Pratt spoke, “Greetings my brothers. I am Pratt,” he said while looking over the faces of the three Councilman. The youngest of the trio look to Pratt like he was only a few years older and still very much a boy himself. The other two had paltry more seasoned look about them.
“Greetings brother. I am Gin. This is Bartholomew and Hanzel. Please come in,” said the eldest looking of the three.
Pratt stepped into the house and noted the merger contents of the place. It seemed like all that the Councilmen did here was by and large carried out in this one central room. “Are there any more brothers here?” Pratt asked Gin.
“There was Father Hatch but he left me in charge when he was summoned to the conclave at the Grand Abbey,” Gin responded. “What news do you bring? Are the red rains to end soon? Was the conclave a success?” spouted Gin excitedly. Upon seeing Pratt the older boy’s face lit up like it had not known hope for some time.
Pratt waived his hands and silenced the exuberant outpouring of his brother Councilman. The boy took a heartbeat to stele himself enough to deliver the crushing news. He had not realized that there were parts of Argaia that were unaware of the tragedy that had struck at the Grand Abbey. “I have grave news. As you know the red rains have brought a terrible blight to our land. Many people have fallen prey to the creatures that the rains have spawned,” Pratt said slowly with a long breath out to work up his courage. “The Grand Abbey and our brethren who attended the conclave have been added to than number,” Pratt continued with as much mettle as he could put into speaking.
The words and their weight pressed down upon the three other Councilmen standing in the room. Hanzel, who was the most childlike in appearance was the first of the three to speak. “We are alone now? What are we to do?” said the boy with a hopeless inflection in his words.
The other two Councilmen jumped in with their own fearful conjecture and words of distress. The three Viros Councilmen were on the cusp of mortal panic. It was clear to see that none of them were mentally fortified for a crisis like this. Blood falling from the skies and rampant death were the last things these young men had expected to endure when they swore allegiance to the Vermillion Council. It enraged Pratt to see such a shameful display of cowardice from men who wore the same color cloak as he did.
“Stop it and come to your senses all off you!’ Shouted Pratt passionately. His forceful words silenced the mounting hysteria of his three brothers. “I know that times are dire and you all probably expected to spend most of your days in study and conversation but remember that, we are they who serve. Viros and Argaia as a whole are going to demand a lot more from us in the days to come. We do not have the luxury of cowing behind locked doors. The people need us for guidance and the chimera still need to be defeated. We have much work to do,” Pratt said with a magnificent fire in his voice. As he spoke the words he could almost feel the gentle hand of Father Mazeon on his shoulder.
“In his beloved name,” said Bartholomew after the sting of Pratt’s speech faded.
“In his beloved name,” echoed Gin and Hanzel. Both of the Councilmen made noteworthy attempts at keeping their voices from quaking as they spoke.
“What shall we do now?” asked Bartholomew while directing his voice at nobody in particular.
“I think we should all talk. I would like to know more about each of you. I feel that we are going to need to rely on each other as much as the people of Viros will rely on all of us,” Pratt said with a sagely quality.
“That is sound,” Gin said with an affirmative nod of his head, a gesture that was repeated by Bartholomew and Hanzel.
“But before we begin the enormous task before us, I need you all to come to the archives and help me with something,” Pratt said solemnly.
“What is it brother?” asked Hanzel in a calm and innocent cadence.
“Inside of the archives we have a remarkable brother Councilman who is in need of proper funereal rights,” Pratt said while holding back a torrent of grief.