Enam -- the town where a Breaking had been sighted and the last known location of Loque, according to the message Wendol had received -- was just visible on the horizon. Wendol didn’t slow his pace, beginning to look around for signs of nearby damage, knowing that a full Breaking would inflict visible damage.
Around him, the forest was tightly packed together. There were few signs of any paths around and even fewer signs that anything out of the ordinary had taken place recently. The soft sounds of birds and crickets were abundant, creating a calm ambiance within the shaded ecosystem.
Wendol didn’t notice that they, him and his horse, were slowing down until his horse had come to a complete halt. Looking around for a moment and not spotting anything other than a small stream in their path, he pushed the horse’s ribs with his toe. However, to Wendol’s surprise, his horse reared back, throwing Wendol to the ground.
Stepping forward, Wendol stood in the stream and looked at his horse watching as it nervously stayed behind the small dribble of water. “What is it?” Wendol quietly asked, turning to look up and down the stream.
Looking upstream, it took Wendol a moment to spot, but there was a sudden lack of color. “What in the world…” Wendol murmured under his breath, trekking along the water to get closer.
Stepping past a bent tree, a sudden wave of fear ran over Wendol. The sense of death was in the air, the forest twisted around the stream. Wendol continued forward, ignoring the sudden urge to turn and run.
Standing in the middle of the stream and spinning around, Wendol looked at the distraught forest. Something had happened here, all the color had been drained leaving everything a dreary grey.
The only color left was the occasional sign of blood, just a few drops splattered along the rocks. As he stood there, it took Wendol a moment to realize that everything was silent, even the sounds of the bird had vanished.
“They were here,” Wendol murmured, sighing to himself. “But were they leaving or arriving?”
Wendol remained stoic for a moment, continuing to look around the area. Spotting nothing else of significance, not even signs of footprints in the dirt, Wendol began heading back downstream.
Remounting his horse, Wendol turned his path further down the stream and towards the outskirts of Enam pushing away from the scene behind them. With a slight tap of his foot, Wendol’s horse cautiously continued forward, attempting to avoid the stream as they rode.
Pulling back as he neared Enam, Wendol slowed his horse to a walk. The small, disguised village was silent in the early morning. The streets were empty, soft, flickering candlelight illuminating the houses along the path. Spotting nothing out of the ordinary, no signs of further damage or chaos around, Wendol dismounted and slowly began wandering through the village.
“Wendol!” a voice, that of a woman, called out from behind. Spinning around, Wendol spotted an older woman, greying hair tied up in a braided bun, standing behind him. It took Wendol a moment to recognize her, having only met her once before: Loque’s mother.
“Hello. Is Loque around?” Wendol casually asked, little of his masked concern bleeding into his voice.
“No. He left yesterday morning, why?”
Wendol nodded, “Perhaps I should visit for a bit before I head off.”
“Of course, why don’t we head back to my home. You can give your horse a touch of rest and I’ll cook something up,” Loque’s mother offered, giving Wendol a small smile.
“Thank you very much,” Wendol replied, giving a curt nod to Loque’s mother and trailing behind her through the small village and to a house on the outskirts of the town. As Wendol was tying the reins to a wooden fence, Loque’s mother set a pail of water next to the horse before turning back to the small house.
Wendol took a moment before following soon after, looking around the compact abode. A few smaller stools had been placed to the side, a single table placed at the center. Two small cots were pressed against the far wall, on either side of a fireplace.
Lifting a large pot from over the fire, Loque’s mother busied herself for a moment as Wendol awkwardly stood in the entrance. Noticing him standing as she spooned some of the soup into wooden bowls, Loque’s mother gestured to the stools stacked to the side. “You can grab one and have a seat, if you’d like.”
Taking a seat, Wendol graciously took the bowl from Loque’s mother’s hands and set it before him. “I’m sorry, but I should cut right to the bone of this. Was Loque acting weirdly the last time that you saw him, yesterday was it?”
Loque’s mother didn’t respond for a minute, continuing to gather her own bowl and sitting down across the table. “It’s hard to say. He was fine before he left, but when he did leave he mumbled something about someone coming. Loque also was in a right state, scratching at his skin as he rode away. I thought maybe it was just something for the job, but I’m not certain.”
Wendol didn’t respond, just nodding. Dense silence hung in the air for a long minute before Loque’s mother spoke, “Why? Did something bad happen?”
“I’m not certain. I got a message last night about a Breaking in this general direction. The only one I knew of who would be this far out around now is Loque. It’s possible that he Broke and realized it, which would explain why he left abruptly,” Wendol replied, speaking slowly as he thought.
Loque’s mother covered her mouth with a single hand, her voice wobbling as she spoke. “Do you think that he’s still alive?”
Wendol sighed, his eyes cast down as he spun the bowl in his hand. “I’m not sure. It’s possible, but I’m also afraid what might come next if he survived the first wave of psychosis and release.”
Before either could continue, there was a knock on the door. Loque’s mother hesitated for a moment but rose and opened the door. A young man, dressed in clean clothing, stood at the door, a small scroll in his hand.
Bowing his head slightly, he spoke in a soft voice, “Is Wendol Evisal here, I do believe that’s his horse.”
“Yes, come in.” Loque’s mother swung the door open the rest of the way, letting the man step inside.
Wendol immediately stood, a sense of dread coating the room as he accepted the scroll. Tearing the wax seal and unrolling the message, Wendol’s eyes skimmed over the page latching onto a single sentence: “Possible Broken sighting at Kkimate.”
Loque’s mother hesitantly spoke up, seeing the look of fear coming across Wendol’s face. “Is it about my son?”
Wendol nodded after a second, simply stating, “He may have gone to Kkimate to look for me. I should probably head out now, thank you for the meal.”
“Of course, it was nothing. Just… just promise me that he won’t die a painful death,” Loque’s mother replied, tears streaking down her cheeks.
Wendol took her hands into his own, promising, “I’ll do everything I can to save him. You have my word.”
Sweeping out of the room, Wendol mounted his horse. The messenger followed behind, stepping into his own saddle and turning his horse to look at Wendol expectantly. Wendol didn’t give the messenger a second thought, spurring his own horse forward and turning to the South.
The sun, nigh upon peaking within the sky, had long past sunken beyond the horizon. Mirrored now by the tiniest of slivers of the moon, the two riders, a man upon a great steed and a messenger boy, came back upon Kkimate.
Wendol was riding ahead, looking towards the city. The nightly silence, one he had come to recognize, had fallen. Light exploded from the front gate, a stream of people whisked in and out of the city as whispered rumors began to spread.
Dismounting several meters from the gates, Wendol spoke to the messenger first. “Would you mind taking care of my horse for a moment?”
“Not at all.” The messenger took the reins, dismounting from his own steed.
Stepping forward, Wendol instantly spotted the source of chaos. A body, tossed lifelessly to the ground, sat in a pool of blood splattered against the worn dirt path. A great crime had occurred, the sign of the destructive waves left following the rise of a Breaking.
Wendol’s arrival went mainly unnoticed, the buzzing of the people around the body continuing on, undiverted in their work. Keeping his distance, Wendol hovered around the edge observing the constant shifting action.
“Wendol!” exclaimed one of the men working around the body, Tein Worsir, the current head of the guards in Kkimate. Tein stepped up next to Wendol, looking at the body. “Quite a mess we have on our hands. Heard you wound up leaving to deal with a Breaking, any luck with that?”
Wendol let out a small laugh, shaking his head slowly, “No luck there. They’d already left and probably caused this whole mess. The worst part is, I knew the poor kid.”
Tein let Wendol’s words hang in the air for a moment before breaking them down with his own, “How young is this one?”
“24,” Wendol replied curtly, noticing Tein’s uneasy look.
“They seem to keep getting younger. Was this your last apprentice as well?” Tein’s voice was quieter, sorrow layered upon the stress within his tone.
“It’s a dangerous time, but, yes, the cases keep spiking,” Wendol replied, his words bouncing through the air settling against the ground softly. Pausing for a moment, Wendol murmured his last sentence, "It was Loque."
Tein sighed again, “I really liked that kid. He was always good with those skills of yours, must have pushed it too far.”
Wendol nodded, continuing to examine the scene in the silence. Spotting a spread of particle, appearing as dirt, Wendol wondered aloud, “Did he take the Bloodstone?”
Through his peripheral vision, Wendol noticed Tein nodding. “It seems like something happened. Most of the footprints have faded since it occurred yesterday morning, but, from what we have been able to make out, it seems like Loque was struggling.”
“Were there any witnesses?”
“Not really, though one of the guards mentioned seeing someone riding to the West on horseback midmorning.”
Wendol frowned. West was towards the ocean, and the isle. “He’s probably trying to find me by heading to the isle.”
A worried look drawn across his face, Tein hesitated before speaking, “Do you really think that he’s that crazy. Facing the Gods without any preface or preparation.”
“Breakings destroy the mind, it’s hard to say what kind of state he’s in,” Wendol replied. “Do you have a drink, I could use something before I head off again.”
“Yeah, I can go find something, but are you really going to chase after him?”
Wendol responded with a tight nod, turning back to the messenger. “Thank you, why don’t you head back. It’s getting late and I’ll be off again soon.”
The messenger bowed, thanking Wendol as he handed over the reins and headed in through the gates. Left alone in the near darkness, Wendol sighed, taking a seat on a small rock. Exhaustion had begun to wear at him, but he still had a good several days ride ahead of him.
Looking to the horizon as the moon shone down upon the night, Wendol Wearily steeled himself for the inevitable deaths woven into his future. But, even as mentally prepared as he was, the night was only beginning as the worst was yet to come.