Kalin – The Child of Destruction
Too much the heavens weep for the maiden lost,
‘er nothing and everything, considering the cost.
–2nd Collected Prophecies of Iberian, Book 1, Verses 245-246
Gretta Platt sat on a well-crafted stone bench in the southern quarter of the open courtyard. The courtyard was her place of refuge, a sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of her position as the Housemistress of Avedon Manor. She still worked, as was her way, writing in a large journal that rested in her lap. Gretta wore a simple linen dress; the powder blue material lay tight against her legs, allowing Gretta to easily balance the bulky yet lightweight journal. Gretta owned many dresses that exhibited her beauty, but she always chose function over elegance when it came to her work apparel.
If you asked anyone in Avedon Hill, they would describe Gretta as “the most beautiful girl in town.” This would immediately be followed by: “Of course, you’re not including Sarah Tremaine, are you? Sarah might be the most beautiful woman in all of Caern.” Comparisons notwithstanding, Gretta’s golden locks and topaz-flecked gray eyes were enough to turn any man’s head. But her position as the Housemistress of Avedon Manor kept the men in town from staring longer than they should.
Gretta raised her eyes from her journal; she lifted her chin and spied Mount Olviar to the northeast. The architecture of the central courtyard and the surrounding manor never ceased to amaze Gretta. The more than four hundred years of ivy growth, the ancient oak trees around which the manor had been constructed, the Lantis mountain range filling the horizon just above the nearly hidden courtyard walls — one could easily forget they were enclosed by stone and mortar.
Gretta sighed. She allowed her eyes to wander to the left, to a high spot on the windowless northern wall of the courtyard. How did it come to this, Lord Avedon? Mother would know what to do. Gretta blinked in an attempt to direct her thoughts back to the day to day events of Avedon Hill.
The sun had fled to the west, escaping the Grozhian skies above Avedon Hill, but Gretta had installed lanterns in the courtyard that allowed her to enjoy the gardens while continuing her work. She read out loud as she wrote. “Talik wants to meet with me about a carnival he wants to bring to town this winter. He thinks it will attract visitors to Avedon Hill and to his inn, and give the townspeople something to enjoy while the Pass is closed for the season.” Az help me… the man just doesn’t get it. She wrote for a time and then turned the page.
“Father Jorrus wants me to arrange another audience with Lord Avedon, and to convince my lord to take his warnings more seriously.” Not now, Jorrus. You chose the wrong time for one of your rants about undead threats rising in Caern. Gretta shook her head and continued writing in her journal.
After turning to another page, Gretta wrote: “Jilly asked me to go on a picnic with her to our grove east of town.” Has it been long enough? She sighed. Should I chance it?
Gretta heard something in the distance, what her mind translated as the snap of a twig or small branch. She instinctively turned her head towards the noise, watching for movement in the meticulously landscaped garden. For the next few moments the only sounds she heard was the water flowing through the fountain several paces to her left and the breeze flowing through the trees of the courtyard. The wind carries all sorts of sounds over these walls… She stared at the area for a time, at the trees and tall shrubs cared for so lovingly by the manor groundskeeper. When viewed from the only balcony window that overlooked the courtyard, the trees and shrubbery formed intricate patterns. Her mother once told her that the patterns represented Az and his Children, but no matter how long she stared at the gardens from above, she couldn’t see it.
Gretta found herself staring at the few remaining leaves twisting on their branches, holding onto their last moments of life. The simple act of gazing at the leaves made Gretta shiver. Winter is nearly here again.
The sound forgotten, Gretta turned back to her journal. “Herrjarr’s reputation has grown. He again seeks permission to sell his wares to shops in Ellyonne and Taxx. Impressive, Herrjarr—it took you less than ten years to surpass your master in craftsmanship. Gretta sighed. Maybe it is time to send the blacksmith on his way. Give Ollus an opportunity to run the smithy.
The young Housemistress turned her thoughts to the problem that rested most heavily on her mind. Oh, what am I going to do with you… what if Marrissa is wrong about–
Gretta’s journal flew into the air as she was suddenly snatched from the bench and slammed face first to the ground. A strong hand reached around the left side of her head and clamped her mouth shut. No, this isn’t happening! Gretta struggled, but with a speed beyond the woman’s understanding the unseen figure was on top of her, knee in her back, driving her hard into the dirt. With her right arm pinned beneath her, Gretta used her left hand as best she could to pull at her attacker’s arm. At the same time she tried to open her mouth and bite the hand holding back her screams, but her assailant seemed to sense this — the vice-like hand squeezed harder until Gretta’s vision began to blur from the pain. Realizing she didn’t have the strength to pull her assailant’s arm away from her, Gretta began clawing at it, digging with her nails — but this only seemed to intensify her attacker’s resolve.
With all of her waning strength Gretta flailed her legs, hoping to shake free of her attacker. A foot connected with her attacker’s torso and thigh, but the blow elicited nary a sound.
As surprising as the attack was to Gretta, it paled in comparison to what happened next. Something solid struck Gretta on the right side of her neck, causing the muscles in her head and neck to constrict in a vicious seizure. She felt as if she had been hit by a hammer –but no blunt weapon she had ever seen could maintain contact with its target in a manner such as this. It was as if the weapon had attached itself to her neck without the benefit of paste or stitching, even as her head jerked to and fro in uncontrollable convulsions. In moments the violent paroxysms spread, racking her entire body with involuntary muscle contractions.
Gretta’s head convulsed so brutally that she felt as if the back of her skull had to be touching her spine. As her back arched, head thrown back, Gretta could now see the downside-up face of her attacker–and could focus just long enough to recognize the face. No! You!? Gretta heard what she thought was the click of snapping teeth, followed by the sensation of something sharp and jagged entering the flesh of her neck. Gretta immediately lost all feeling in her arms and legs — in a matter of moments her convulsions ceased, allowing her to slump forward against the earth. Gretta could not find her voice; in a matter of moments her senses fled from her, except for her sight. Soon enough however darkness edged into her field of vision. As the darkness overcame her, the last thing Gretta saw was a leaf, falling, twisting beautifully as it fell to the courtyard floor. No… not like this–
A short time later Gretta Platt’s murderer stood over her.
I trusted you. The power of Gretta’s innocent blood caused the figure to shake in near-ecstasy. The killer retrieved Gretta’s journal and looked once more upon the corpse of the Avedon Manor Housemistress. I now have what I need… to destroy them all. Confident no one had overheard Gretta’s failed struggle for life, the remarkably unbloodied figure stood quietly for a time, breathing in the mountain air. A raise of a hand extinguished the nearby lanterns; the courtyard was soon wrapped in a blanket of darkness.
Gretta Platt’s slayer slowly exited the courtyard. We’ll see each other again very soon, Miss Gretta.