Alyssa leant on the counter, her countenance a billboard of unanswered questions. She’d asked Edna about the jelly-spiders but apparently no such creatures exist in the valley, or the whole of Elemenphis for that matter. Sure, she’d said, they could’ve come from farther out, maybe brought into the bay by the current, or even washed up on the southern shores outside of the Broadheart Wood and slithered into the river, but surely somebody else would’ve seen them by now. And the way they disappeared without a trace? It sounded to Edna either magical or hallucinatory, which brought Alyssa back to the potion she’d consumed earlier that morning. Maybe it was just an after effect. After all, Edna’s potions were potent, and everybody knew that. Oh well, it didn’t explain the scream and the voice she’d heard in her head afterwards, and it definitely didn’t shed light on the strange boy who approached her soon after. No. It didn’t explain a thing.
Lost in thought, vaguely aware of a tall, gaunt figure, perusing Edna’s merchandise, she decided the events were far too cumbersome to conclude using her own devices. Her uncle had numerous books about a range of subjects to do with demons and mythologies, and maybe; just maybe, she’d find at least one answer inside those musty pages.
Edna interjected on her thoughts. ‘Alyssa, can you pass me more Mullein leaves? They’re under your side of the counter.’
Alyssa didn’t reply, she simply eased off the surface, bent down, and reached for more of the leaves and passed them to Edna. The Magnus offered a blank stare towards her vacant apprentice before shrugging and busying herself with her work.
She leant back on the counter, losing herself once more in her thoughts.
‘Excuse me, Miss,’ the gaunt figure said, in a high, drone-like voice, what sounded much like a bumblebee. ‘Can you tell me which potion you give preference to?’
Alyssa was too deep in thought to register the inquiry. She did comprehend, however, Edna elbowing her in the ribs. She jolted upright, and noticed a Purple Mage of Wyre holding out two hormone enhancers in juxtaposition. Alyssa tried to speak but was able only to produce a stammer, so Edna interposed. She said:
‘Take fifty millilitres of the blue mixture for good results.’
Alyssa drifted back into her confusion as Edna poured the desired quantity into a small tube, corked it up, and handed it to the Purple Mage in exchange for two gold pieces. The customer then converged into the busy marketplace.
‘I know things are difficult at the moment dear, but please, try and stay attentive. You’ll only give yourself a headache if you allow your mind to wallow in your troubles,’ Edna offered, before returning to her concoction.
Alyssa was preparing her voice for apology when her eyes trailed the aisle and spotted the strange boy in black advancing towards the potion stall, strolling past the Purple mage. Those eyes, a façade of innocence, were set upon her as if in stone. Heat murmured from her birthmark as he neared, and both were then distracted as a number of guards on foot and horseback raced northwardly through the town square. Some across the cobble stoned path bordering the stores, and some were pacing through the market. The buzz of anatomies stopped and scrutinised the action, many in mild states of confusion.
One of the fleeting guards stopped in the aisle, to explain: ‘there’s nothing to worry about, just a few troublemakers at the gate,’ before dashing off again.
Alyssa saw the lie in that, for a few rogues were small difficulty for her uncle and Drake, let alone the rest of Cobbington’s sentinels. No, something larger was afoot. Everybody else, including the strange boy, heeded the guard’s proclamation, and went about their business.
Alyssa, however, wasn’t satisfied. Lost in her own conclusions she failed to notice the strange boy now stood beside her.
‘What do you think is happening?’ he said, startling Alyssa.
Although she didn’t trust the boy as far as she could throw her uncle, it was a good question. Something nagged at her, telling her something bad was about to happen. Without a word she stepped out from behind the counter, past the boy, and made after the guards, ignoring Edna calling her name repeatedly.
She made the distance to the gates, doing well to stay out of sight. Uncle Cyprian was there, alongside Drake, and at least forty guards. They were armed and ready for something. On the valley side of the tall log fencing was a guard house, and a few woodsheds dotted about amongst hedges and trees. Alyssa hid behind a woodshed closest to the open gate, peering out from behind. Her uncle and Drake were at the head of the battalion, many of the guards nearest Alyssa babbled incoherently. Clearly they were terrified of something. Damn it, she just couldn’t see what. One thing was certain though, it was no mere troublemakers. Alyssa heard, and felt, a profound rumbling in the earth.
She had a nagging desire to run, yet the feeling was eclipsed with the need to know what approached. More guards rushed by her, and out into the grassland beyond the valley. Alyssa followed suit, and upon her egress from the gates, she saw them. The green, scaly demons with hooded-snake heads were more frightening to Alyssa than any bedtime story, or campfire tale ever to have passed her ears. They were tall, lizard skinned, serpentine headed, muscular and agile; eyes like tar pits. Each beast complete with glimmering trident, long and menacing.
‘Get her out of here!’ a familiar voice screamed from the sentries.
It was Cyprian, and no sooner did she realise that, hands grasped her and ushered her through the gates, which then closed in front of her eyes.
With the valley sealed, and the demons approaching, there was only one thing left to do.
Alyssa ran back to the market as fast as her legs could obey, all the while screaming bloody murder. The subject was, of course, demons. She voiced the warnings over and over as she darted through the market. Folk began looking to each other in portrayals of confusion, and soon the marketplace was in a stir as the crazy girl ran down the aisle screaming ‘demons are attacking the village!’ over and over, until she eventually arrived back at the potion stall.
Voices had by this time rose to panic level. The town square was submerged in a state of hysteria, folk running into one another trying to evacuate.
She raced behind the counter and began filling one of Edna’s bags with various potions, saying they’d need them. Alyssa’s explanations of what happened at the gates were a cacophony of babbled descriptions and incomplete events, though it did the trick. Edna spurred into movement.
Both of them were unaware the boy still stood close by, completely unmoved by the ruckus, and grinning maniacally.