Manny pounded on the door to Dr. Harlow’s house, the glass orb firmly in the grip of his free hand. Aestas hung back, still troubled by the shock the little ball had given her. Manny didn’t seem to be affected in any similar way. Perhaps Dr. Harlow would have an answer.
The door was opened, but not by the doctor. Morgan smiled at them. “Hello, Manny. And Aestas! Back from your walk, I see.” His grin slipped as he perceived their agitation. “What’s wrong?”
Manny looked at Aestas. She made no move to speak, so he began uncertainly, “Aestas . . . We . . . found a dead man in a boat.”
“What?” Morgan looked half incredulous, half amused. “A dead man? Really? Now—”
“Please, can we talk to Dr. Harlow?” Manny interrupted. “We found this on the man’s body, and we think Dr. Harlow may know something about it.” He held out the orb for Morgan to see.
Morgan examined it briefly, then declared, “Well, I can’t make heads nor tails of it.” He peered at them closely. “Where did you find this dead man?” he asked seriously.
“A little ways west, in a boat that washed up on shore. We left him there.”
“Well, then,” said Morgan, “you can pick the doctor’s brains over your mysterious object, and I’ll go and see this man for myself.” He moved aside and waved them inside, shutting the door behind them.
“Ah, hello there,” said Dr. Harlow. He was sitting at a table, enjoying a mug of ale. “I heard my name a few times . . . is there something I can do for you?”
Manny looked uncertainly at Aestas again. This time she roused herself enough to take the lead. “We found this,” she said, indicating the orb in Manny’s hand. He obligingly held it out to Dr. Harlow. “We think it may be important. When I held it, I felt . . . flashes of things. It was strange. Do you know what it is?”
“I never felt anything,” added Manny as Dr. Harlow took the orb. The doctor turned it about in his hands with an interested expression. He tapped it a few times with the tip of his finger and set it down on the table. He stared at it long and hard; Aestas and Manny took seats for themselves and waited. Finally Dr. Harlow looked up, his interested expression intensified.
“It appears to function as a communication orb,” he said. “The White Knights of Falador and the Slayer Masters use similar objects, imbibed with spells to give them the ability to relay information. What information this orb may relay, and from whom, I don’t know.”
“Do you know how to activate it?” Aestas asked. “Or what I might have done to activate it?”
“Not a clue,” Dr. Harlow said. “Here, take it. Maybe you can figure it out yourself.” He handed the orb back, and Aestas reluctantly took it. She turned it over in her hands, examining it as the doctor had done, wondering how she was going to make it work and whether she even wanted it to. The first experience had not been a pleasant one. Dr. Harlow was asking Manny about where they had found the orb; Aestas ignored them. The orb was important, for sure; the man, may he rest in peace, had given his life to deliver it. He had slain a vampire in the process, quite a feat . . . vampires . . . urgent . . . danger . . .
A vast hall was spread out below, magnificent in a dread way; the stone was dark and cold, wrought into fantastic and terrifying shapes, the tapestries depicted scenes of violence and bloodshed, the candles burned blue. In a shadowy corner rose a statue of a strange being, one no longer seen in Gielinor. In front of the statue was a throne, beautiful and grotesque. Upon it sat a being both terrible and beautiful; human in shape, but unimaginably pale and strangely . . . wrong. He stirred upon the entry of another being, less beautiful and less terrible but one of his kin nonetheless. “Theus.”
The one called Theus dropped to one knee before the throned creature. “I bring news, my Lord Drakan.”
Drakan rose and descended from his throne. “Rise.” He ignored the thanks from Theus and strode over to a small table set against one wall, which held a silver pitcher and crystal goblets. “News of what sort?”
“Not good, I’m afraid,” Theus answered. “And with Count Draynor gone, the situation is unfortunately more difficult.”
“Draynor has been dead for years,” Drakan said indifferently. “It is high time you moved past it.” He poured a goblet for himself and swilled the ruby liquid about. “What is this news? I’ll not wait upon lamentations for past trifles.” He took a drink from his goblet, revealing a flash of fangs.
Theus fidgeted at the reproach, but continued on. “My Lord, there is a knight of Varrock who has, to all intents and purposes, gone renegade. Our spies in Misthalin have no inkling of his whereabouts, and neither do his superiors. He has broken all contact with them. When last he was seen, he was searching frantically through old records in the Library of Varrock, some of which he took with him. More recent documents have been reported missing from the castle records.” Theus paused for breath. “Nearly all of the documents from the Library were related in some way to vampire lore.”
Drakan stopped in the act of raising his goblet for another sip. “What of the castle records?”
“Reports from the village of Draynor on the demise of the Count.”
“Do you think one of our agents has been compromised?” Drakan set his goblet on the table and turned to face his vassal directly.
“I do not know, my Lord. All of them reported back less than an hour ago, several with the news I have just imparted to you. None of them have been found out, but that does not rule out the possibility of a traitor.”
Drakan began to pace, his icy calm beginning to crack. “I want that knight found. He can tell us where he got his information; we cannot afford to investigate our own people when there is so much to be done. Draynor is the obvious place to look. Send a pair of Vyrewatch at once.”
“Yes, my Lord. Before I go, you should know that the Wilderness forays are going well. The base is growing larger all the time and our allies increase. The people of Gielinor know nothing of what is soon to befall them.”
“All but our knight of Varrock.”
The scene in Aestas’ mind faded. There were still voices around her, but they were different than the ones she had been hearing, and muted by her groggy mind. The orb rolled from her fingers and thumped to the floor.
“Aestas!” Suddenly everything snapped clear, and Manny’s face loomed large in her vision, rocking back and forth as he shook her by the shoulders. “Wake up!”
“I’m fine, I’m fine!” Aestas exclaimed, extricating herself from Manny’s grip. He stumbled back, looking rather surprised at Aestas’ sudden vigor. She rose from her chair, somewhat unsteadily.
“I say, you gave us quite a turn there,” said Dr. Harlow. “Were you seeing something? You must have been. Well, what was it? Come on, now!”
Aestas tried to form her thoughts into something coherent. “Vampires . . . Drakan . . .” It sounded like nonsense even to her. Her attempts at communication were interrupted by a knock on the door.
“Confound it!” exclaimed Dr. Harlow, but Aestas was already moving to answer it, a sudden feeling of fate overwhelming her. She opened the door. A man was standing there, a very scruffy-looking man with a few days’ worth of beard and a rather large pack. He looked rather taken aback by Aestas’ quickness, but recovered himself almost instantly.
“Hello,” he said. “Are you Aestas?” Aestas nodded. The man seemed relieved and glad, but only for a moment. His expression quickly became one of urgency. “Aestas, my name is Prysin. I need your help.”