“Aye,” Bertha nodded. “Those two say they be chasing that monster, yet I’ve yet to see any chasing from them. I let them stay, hoping they would do something about this.”
The two men started whispering to each other yet again. “And the beast has escaped?” I asked.
“I fear it is still somewhere near. The animals are behaving most peculiar. And I can still smell it. That stench.”
I could not smell anything. To be frank, I had a hard time believing Bertha’s story. I knew of no invisible beasts. Such things most likely did not exist.
“Ye say people had their intestines ripped out of them?” Isolde asked, her blonde locks shaking violently as she hopped up and down with excitement. I could hear Cillian take a deep breath. His face became pale as a sheet once again. “I think ye know of such creatures, Matoya.”
“Aye, there are a couple. A manticore seems most likely, considering how often they lose their way on the moors. But no manticore can hide itself from sight, sister.”
“There are tales in the North,” Cillian began. Everyone’s attention turned to the red-headed lumberjack in an instant. The rosiness returned to his face twofold, as he hesitated, coughed, scratched his beard once, and began once again, his gaze fixed on his feet. “I meant to say, in the North people talk a lot about warlocks carrying out nasty rituals on all manner of creatures. They say dogs came back without tails, ducks came back with teeth, and that… and that cats went all invisible like. Them birds never knew what got them.”
“Beg pardons, Cillian, but ye’d be better off ignoring such country gossip,” I told him, his electric blue eyes now fixed on me. “What the country folk understand of the intricacies of magic is simply pitiful. Such stories have as much merit to them as–“
“I fear your companion is correct, m’lady,” a voice deep enough to reach the very darkest, most locked away secrets of my soul, interrupted me. For an instant, I was in shock. I turned to see the two men that proclaimed to be chasing the beast standing right behind me. They pulled down their hoods, at which point I realized their cloaks were clasped with the gryphon sigil – they were none other than the Knights of Haegyn. The one who spoke to me was forty to fifty years of age by the looks of him. Deeply set emerald eyes, neatly trimmed dark golden hair, a similarly well-groomed goatee, a nose of ideal proportion and shape covered in numerous scars – his face had an incredible allure to it. The speaker’s partner had a face most gallant as well, if much more youthful and naïve-looking. His sandy hair was longer, though groomed as that of his companion, his grey eyes bigger, his chin clean-shaven. A boy, no more than twenty. Probably a knight of two months, no more. “My apologies for eavesdropping, yet I believe it is no chance that our paths might cross, as I feel we might be of much aid to each other.”
“Ye didn’t seem eager to be chasing down the beast before,” Bertha said with a no little hint of irritation in her voice.
“We stood nary a chance against the creature, m’lady. And yet, with the help of this woman and her companions, we may yet slay the foul beast. For unless I am mistaken, we have been grace by the holder of the Crystal Eye, Matoya.”
I was taken aback. Still, no fear took me. There were only two of them, and I had both Isolde and Cillian at my side – should they try to take the Eye by force, I would come out the victor. And yet, I’d rather not risk anyone’s over it if it could be avoided, now. “Aye, I am Matoya. And if ye know that, ye should just as well know that despite me youthful guise, in truth I am much older than ye can most likely imagine. And I consider addressing me without introducing yerself to the lady first mighty unbecoming of a Knight of Haegyn.”
“My sincerest apologies,” said the green-eyed knight. “As you have properly deduced, we are Knights of Haegyn. They address me as Sir Gilroy and this is my protégé, Sir Alistair.”
“And why is it that ye assume we can help each other in this predicament, Sir Gilroy?”
“We both strive for the same result – vanquishing the foul creature. We were sent here by our retainer to bring peace to this moor, as there have been rumours of an invisible beast bringing destruction to the area for some time now. Yet our scouting party has dwindled along the way. Many fell victim to the beast. In the end, it is only Alistair and I that are alive. We know how to track down the beast, yet we stand no chance against it alone. You, however, m’lady, are knowledgeable about beasts of all shapes and sizes, and your spell-slinging abilities are known throughout the land. And thus, I implore you. M’lady, will you do us the honour of helping us liberate this region of the bane that is the invisible manticore?”
The two knights knelt down on one knee each, but only Sir Gilroy lowered his head. Sir Alistair fixed his gaze into me, which seemed incredibly odd. I could see Isolde’s face become blood red once again. A peculiar sense of satisfaction always overcame me whenever I saw that expression. Still, I knew something was wrong with all this. I knew knights had their duties to fulfil, but someone had to have sent them on a mission specifically to track down this foul beast. And they know what it is. And yet, as Bertha kept looking at me pleadingly, I knew that there was no avoiding this. For what good is it being a witch if you’re not a good witch?
“Fine,” I said to them. I could feel the looks Cillian and Isolde were giving me, but it had to be done. “Sir knight, know that we shall aid ye.”