--Chapter Seventeen: The Dark Arts
The man riding into town wore a brown body-length hooded cloak. A mask covered his face above the nose, and black gloves covered his hands. When he saw Isa, he dismounted.
“Good day to you,” he said. His voice was sufficiently bland, the accent unidentifiable. “Might this, by any chance, be the village whose name is the same as the road?”
“It is,” Isa said. She had already labeled him in her mind as “mage, probably of the dark arts,” but beyond that, she could not identify anything peculiar about him. Dark mages went around the country wherever they pleased, usually looking for a challenge. Eventually they would travel to some town where a wealthy person needed a favor. Then in would come the mage first to make that person believe in the power of the dark arts and second to work out a deal for payment. The best mages never worked for free, but the biggest perk of their job seemed to be the thrill of getting away with bigger and bigger scams every time and trying to break personal records. At least, this is how Isa saw them; some would have said mages had real powers. Isa would not believe this, though.
Many people feared these mages, especially the ones who claimed to be practitioners of the dark arts, because of the “evil magic” involved, but Isa feared these mages for a different reason: they were too underhanded for her liking, and a person always had to keep his or her guard up when addressing such a rogue. Isa would be polite and answer the man’s questions as well as she could, but she would not give more information than absolutely necessary.
The man smiled and said, “Ah, well, what do you know. It was actually as easy to find as I was told. I wish all directions were so simple to follow as ‘Go straight on this road, and you’ll hit it eventually.’”
It was a simple jest. Isa smiled.
The man approached her and said, “I do not suppose you know who I am or have heard of me?”
“You look like a mage,” she answered, “but I do not know who you are.”
“Good intuition,” said he.
Isa’s father, having heard the horse as well, walked out of the house. Isa saw him and waved. The mage turned.
“I see I’ve attracted a bit of attention...”
Well yes, thought Isa. But that’s what you meant to do. Now, what is it you want?
The mage turned back to Isa and said, loudly enough that Harro could also hear him, “My name is Sosstrikahs. I am a mage of the Warrik Order, fifth rank. I am here because an employer sent me for the specific purpose of finding out a simple fact. Would you be so kind as to tell me: was there or was there not a battle on this very spot last summer?”
“Yes, there was one battle.”
“One battle,” Sosstrikahs repeated. “And was it part of the war between Incria and Desdon?”
“Of course,” Isa said slowly. Would it be for any other war? she wondered.
“One last question, then. Was there a dragon present, and if so, did he determine the winner of the battle?”
“There was a dragon,” said Isa, “but he did not determine the winner, because nobody won the battle.”
“The dragon killed every soldier. If there were any left alive from the battle, they must have run away.”
“You don’t say...” He turned to Harro, who by this time had walked up to them and was listening. “Did you both see this?”
“We watched from the hotel window,” Harro said, nodding. “We saw the dragon and the aftermath.”
The mage quickly mounted his horse and said, “Thank you. You have both been very helpful.”
Then he took off toward the East, the same direction he had come from.
“What was that all about?” asked Harro.
“I don’t know,” said Isa. “But we just saw a mage who actually didn’t bother to show us any magic... That’s not normal...”
“It means his employer hired him to get information via whatever means possible,” Harro said. “Usually the only ‘magic’ those mages have is a dagger hidden in a sleeve. If they have to go to certain lengths to find things out, even if it means making certain threats in the process, they’ll do it. Be thankful he got what he needed without it.”
“Who do you think sent him?”
“We’ll find out soon enough. He said he was from the Warrik order; I’ve never heard of that one.” He walked back to the house and said, “Best not to worry too much about it, dear. I’ll tell Till, Roth, and Dauvit. If the mage returns, one of us should be there to see to it he doesn’t play foul.”