-What, who are you, kid? And how did you get in here? – asked Ceannard surprised.
-I’m Oigearan, Sir. I’m just looking for my sister. We were playing outside and I saw her enter the stables and followed her here. I’m sorry if I scared you! Are you scared?
-What? No, I’m not scared! How did you get past the guards? It’s a long way from the stables to this room. Where is your sister? What’s her name?
-She’s called Deugaire, Sir. We were playing outside when the storm came. She entered the stables and I followed her, but she wasn’t there anymore when I arrived. I saw an open door that leads inside the Fortress and I entered to find her. I saw no one else on my way here, Sir!
-What do you mean no one? Ahhh, those damned guards, I’ll have their heads put on a stake for letting the Fortress undefended. Come, let’s find your sister.
-Thank you, Sir! I think she went upstairs. I heard something before I entered this room.
-Fine, let’s go! Miss Deugaire, can you hear me? – the Governor shouted.
-Deggy, where are you? Deggy, I found a nice man that wants to help me find you! Come on, Deggy, I’m not playing anymore! Just, come to me, sister!
-Miss Deugaire, I am Governor Ceannard! Please, come out of hiding. You are not allowed to be in here. This is the Governor’s Villa, a private residence. You cannot play in here. Come out, now!
-Oh, I can play wherever I want, Governor! – said a little girl’s voice from behind Ceannard.
-Aw, where did you come from, girl? – asked Ceannard.
-From the ceiling!
At that moment, Governor Ceannard felt something growing behind him. He could feel cold filling the air around him. He turned to look at the boy, but what he saw was no child.
A terrifying creature, with yellow eyes and translucid skin, was watching him, hissing and waving its talons in front of him. He could hear a hissing laugh from behind. The girl was gone too. He was surrounded.
-Very clever, mister Governor! You found out our little secret. Too bad you won’t be able to tell anyone else. – said the creature that used to be the girl, Deugaire.
-No, you cannot be Kelpies! Those are just creatures from old children’s stories.
-Now, now, mister Governor! It’s not polite to call a girl old… or non-existent! Especially when she’s right in front of you. Isn’t that so, little brother?
-Yes, sister! – hissed the creature called Oigearan. Not polite at all, Governor.
-Guards, guards, help me! – screamed Ceannard. Sound the alarm! The Fortress has been infiltrated! Guards!
-No need to yell, Governor! – Said Oigearan. Also, no need to put anybody’s head on a stake either. We handled that for you already, didn’t we, sister?
-No, what have you done to my men? – the Governor shouted in disbelief.
-Nothing, compared to what we’re about to do to you, Sir! – hissed Oigearan.
-You can try, you miserable beasts! Come and show me what you are, aside from hideous! – Ceannard was furious and ready to fight, ready to kill those evil, hissing creatures. He owed it to his men.
With a swift move of his right hand, Ceannard drew his sword and point it at the head of Oigearan.
-Oh, I love it when they put up a fight, don’t you, sister? It’s way more fun than those who never see us coming.
-Shut up and fight me, devil spawn! – hurled Ceannard.
In a fraction of a moment, he found himself fighting for his life. Sparks came out of his blade when he deflected Oigearan’s talons and then the same with Deugaire’s.
He battled them viciously and even managed to cut Oigearan on his shoulder. His years serving as a sword-master in the King’s Army have come to his aid, but this was an unfair fight. He was duelling two opponents at once and he had to cover his back if he wanted to get out of there alive.
Ceannard sprung swiftly after he gave another blow that was blocked by Deugaire and made his way to the wall. At least he couldn’t be attacked from behind in this position, but he knew it was just a matter of time until his enemies would get the better of him.
With an unnatural burst of vigour, Deugaire jumped on the nearby wall and leapt back at him with all her might. His right side was now unprotected as his blade was holding Deugaire’s claws at bay, but he saw how Oigearan was drawing closer. He had no way out, so he prepared to fell the icy talons pierce his ribs. He closed his eyes expecting the burst of pain to rush in, but nothing happened.
Suddenly, he heard Oigearan scream in agony!
-Die, you unholy spirit! Leave this realm and never return! – shouted a man in a robe, while hitting Oigearan over his head with a wooden staff.
-Ahhh, mage! This is not your fight! Leave my brother alone! – hissed Deugaire.
Ceannard felt how she loosened her grip on his blade as she was distracted and acted quickly. He pulled his sword as hard as he could and as soon as he got it free, he stabbed her in her stomach.
A crippling scream came out of her lungs. It almost made Ceannard fall onto his ass. He pulled the blade out and watched in horror as the kelpie fell on her knees. Black blood covered his steel. Oigearan saw his sister laying on the floor and jumped to her aid, attacking the Governor in despair, but he was struck down, midair, by the mage’s staff.
Ceannard stood there for a brief moment, unable to comprehend how he was not dead yet! He could see Oigearan’s claws coming toward his heart and he couldn’t defend himself. Now, that he had a moment to realize what was happening, he saw fire everywhere around.
From all the fighting, a candle fell on the ground and set the window curtains on fire. It was rapidly growing now and the whole room was turning into a giant oven. He felt a hand grabbing his forearm.
-We need to go, we don’t have much time! The kelpies will soon recover and they will kill us.
-Who are you? – asked Ceannard. What do you want from me?
-I’m Ionnsach and I just want to save your life! Now, let’s go before they get back up. My friend is waiting for us outside. Hurry, we have to jump out the window.
-Jump? Are you insane? We’re on the third floor. We might as well let them kill us. It’s suicide to jump from here.
-Just trust me, please! Follow me and jump, now!
Ceannard watched as the man ran towards the window and jumped right out. Then, he turned his head and saw Oigearan getting up and preparing to attack him again. Without thinking, he followed the mage and in a fraction of a second, he found himself plummeting fast. He saw how the grassy yard outside the Fortress was approaching him and he put his hands to protect his face out of reflex, expecting to feel his bones crushing against the ground below. But that didn’t happen!
He opened his eyes and saw how the grass almost touched his nose, but he was still. And alive! He raised his look and saw Ionnsach pointing his staff at him. A small white light was coming out of its tip, and, as he followed the beam, he noticed that there was a kind of blanket of that white light under him.
-Quickly now, get up! We need to go!
Ionnsach helped him get on his feet. There was a horse waggon nearby, waiting for them. An old man was the carter. They got in the back and the old man got the waggon underway.
-Good work, Ionnsach! Is our friend well?
-Thank you, Professor! Yes, I think he is fine. He is a great fighter and a true master-swordsman. He managed to face two kelpies at once.
-A great swordsman he is, Ionnsach! And it’s a good thing too. Our other friend needs a good teacher.
-Who are you people? – asked Ceannard.
-Friends! – said the old man.
They got out in time, but as Ceannard looked back, it was clear that the fire would destroy most of the Fortress. That was a great blow for him and for the people of Bhaile. The most heavily guarded building in town was now a giant torch. At least he still had his life and his attackers were trapped in there with no chance of escape. The series of murders would now come to an end. It was a victorious defeat, he thought.
Far away, in the peasant’s corner, Lieutenant Andar just got out of the brothel and heard the alarm sound. He looked in the direction of the Fortress and was shocked by the image that his eyes fell upon. The Governor’s Villa was on fire. The flames reaching for the sky were visible even from that far away. He could have sworn that he saw two figures fly away right out of that blazing inferno. He whistled after his horse and immediately mounted it and hasted towards the Fortress.