Foresna, Lardeth, and Falnii were enjoying a nice, romantic rail ride during the night. It was on a private, open-roofed coach that was powered by an engine. It was going slow along a branch line along the continent’s southern coast. Foresna breathed in the salty air. “Man, this is a nice view,” sighed Foresna happily.
“I have to admit, no view in the Over-realm can match this,” agreed Lardeth.
“You know,” mused Falnii, “I’ve never been to the Galdredan Lava Kingdom before the Endeavor had to come here.”
“What do you think so far?” asked Lardeth.
“…It’s lovely,” sighed Falnii happily as she leaned her head onto Lardeth’s shoulder. She then brought Foresna’s head down to her lap and stroked his hair. They all gave a contented sigh as the coach continued its leisurely run down the track. Their eyes soon shut as they let the noise of the coach’s wheels on the track bring them to sleep…a sleep that was interrupted as the coach suddenly lurched as it went over a set of points to a siding! Foresna moved to the front of the coach and hit the brakes as the coach traveled between two rows of freight cars. The coach stopped and the three looked at their surroundings.
“What in the Depths…?!” snapped Foresna before he made a call to the nearby signal box. “Excuse me,” he began as the Signalwoman operating the box accepted the call, “my lovers and I were taking a nice tour down your line when we ended up in a siding. What’s going on?”
“I’m afraid, Sir,” replied the Signalwoman, “that all trains had to be diverted into a secluded area, by order of Queen Narven herself.”
“What for?!” demanded Lardeth as he and Falnii joined Foresna.
“She wouldn’t say,” replied the Signalwoman, “only that it was part of a project.”
“Oh, peachy!” grunted Lardeth.
“Thanks,” grumbled Foresna as he ended the call.
“Just once,” sighed Lardeth as he looked towards the sky, “I’d like to have a romantic excursion with at least one of my lovers without something going wrong!”
“We’ll have to make sure Queen Narven hears of this,” declared Falnii.
“You know, I rather hope Calandra takes the throne quickly,” muttered Lardeth. “She seems to have her heart AND head in the right…” a noise then interrupted him, a noise that froze his soul! “Th…that noise!” he squeaked.
“Might have been the wind,” gulped Foresna.
“No, I recognize that sound!” insisted Lardeth. “Don’t you remember?! Dad’s ghost engine made that sound when it whistled!”
“Lardeth, we all saw him and his train reach the Heights last year, remember?!” urged Falnii. Another noise then rang out. They saw five white streaks in the sky.
“What were they?!” asked Foresna.
“If they weren’t going so fast, I might have seen them,” mused Falnii.
“I caught a glimpse of them!” called Lardeth.
“What did they look like?” asked Foresna.
“A broomstick band of five, all in white!”
“Isn’t that what Malnar, Gorfanth, and Arsha saw?”
“Sure sounds like it,” muttered Falnii. “We need to talk to them when we get back.”
Orbak was walking through the corridors of the Endeavor as the overhaul was finishing up. With any luck, Endea would wake up within two days. As he passed by a conference room, he heard the conversation. “You saw them too?!” yelped Malnar as she met with all those that had seen the broom rider band so far.
“They were rather difficult to miss,” replied Lardeth.
“What’s going on here?” asked Yunfeen as she stroked Beruka’s middle head.
“Wait a minute,” called Termaf, “isn’t this their anniversary?”
“…Whose anniversary?” asked Arsha.
“Oh, yeah, it is,” remarked Malnar. “There’s an Under-realm legend about a five-rider band that died.”
“Oh, yeah, that one,” recalled Yunfeen.
“Mind telling those who aren’t initially from the Under-realm about it?” requested Foresna.
“I’m sure I told you about them?” asked Gorfanth.
“I can’t say as I recall any stories like that,” remarked Arsha.
“Nor me,” supplied Lardeth.
“News to me,” reported Falnii.
“I have to agree with my old home’s Crown Prince,” muttered Tufarmem.
“I’m surprised,” muttered Beruka. “I would have thought you’d have heard it from Loondal.”
“Well, it’s not a happy Ghost story,” warned Malnar. “Heck, I’d hardly call it a ‘Ghost’ story.”
“What WOULD you call it?” asked Arsha.
“…A Ghoul story.” Her audience was then captivated. “They’re the first Ghouls, prototype Revenants. During the War of the Realms, my first ancestor, Intrag the Conqueror, was growing more impatient with the stalemate the war became. He ordered his top mages to create unstoppable soldiers for him to conquer the Realms or suffer horribly.
“The mages soon came up with a theory. Vampire blood has been known to have mystic properties, even going so far as to revive recently dead animals of all Realms and give said animals a smidge of Vampire powers. So, they theorized that a generous amount of Vampire blood would revive recently dead soldiers.
“When Intrag heard the plan, he ordered them to enact it. They scoured the Realms for five of the greatest warriors, killed them, and then applied Vampire blood, taken from Vampires who had failed Intrag. Intrag came to see the bodies walk on their own. He was impressed and gave the order to mount brooms and fly about, spreading his gospel.
“Unfortunately, something was wrong. The Ghouls didn’t understand Intrag’s instructions. They simply flew around the skies of the Under-realm. When Intrag heard the reports, he was furious. He mounted his own broom and pursued them. He ordered them to return home for reeducation, but they refused. They said that they were under orders to fly around the sky and they must complete that mission.
“Intrag was enraged. He fired his own magic, but nothing phased them. Whatever damage they suffered, even under his strongest magic, they shrugged it off and resumed their patrol of the sky. They didn’t shoot him down, just went around him constantly. Intrag was furious. His mages had failed him, and they were executed on the spot. That was mere days before the Message was discovered.
“Many have tried to undo what was done to the Ghouls but were unsuccessful. They are cursed to forever wander the night skies of the Under-realm, appearing only on the anniversary of their creation, earning the name ‘White Riders’. Any who catch sight of them, woe be to them.” Malnar ended her story and her audience was in some form of self-reassurance.
“W…what kind of…woe?” gulped Falnii.
“Any kind,” answered Gorfanth, “from the most minor to the most major.”
“Oh dear,” sighed Orbak from outside the conference room. He went towards the entrance ramp without another word.
Calandra was in another dress fitting session. There was one particular wedding dress that caught her eye and she decided to try it out. It was a little loose fitting on her, but she liked the design. The Royal Seamstress was taking measurements and making decisions on alterations. “Now, the shoulder-revealing collar is, in my opinion, a nice touch,” she mused.
“Maybe,” sighed Calandra, “but I want to drape my arms around Elmar’s shoulders when we kiss.”
“Well, with that in mind…” muttered the Royal Seamstress before someone knocked on the door.
“Come in!” called Calandra. Orbak then entered the room. The Royal Seamstress knelt in his presence.
“What can we do for you, your Majesty?” she asked.
“I need to speak to Calandra about certain…sightings,” explained Orbak. The Royal Seamstress was confused.
“Er, would you mind leaving us alone for a sec?” asked Calandra.
“Um, very well, your Highness,” mumbled the Royal Seamstress. She then left the room. Once the door closed, Calandra turned to Orbak.
“There were more sightings?” she asked.
“Foresna, Lardeth, and Falnii saw them last night,” confirmed Orbak. Calandra flopped into a chair.
“Great, now we’ve got THREE sightings in the span of two nights!”
“There’s more. When all the witnesses came together, Malnar told them about the White Riders.”
“That’s gonna cause panic! Not what Mother was hoping for!”
“But exactly what you and I said would happen.”
“Does Mother know? Should we tell everyone?”
“Your mother knows and, when we met, she voted ‘no’ on saying anything.”
“Your Majesty, I know this operation is predicated on secrecy, but Mother’s being stubborn right now. She needs to understand that if there are any more sightings, the word ‘covert’ won’t mean a damn thing.”
“You know better than I do that Andwayla has a knack for remaining ignorant, even in the presence of overwhelming facts.”
“So, what, we just let this play out?”
“We don’t exactly have much choice.” Calandra sighed in defeat.
“All right, I’ll alter the event schedule as best I can to at least minimize sightings. With any luck, we’ll keep the situation from escalating.”
“I daresay the Divine Ones will have their work cut out for them in answering prayers for good luck.”
“No kidding. This could be what gives Dr. Borg the excuse she needs to strike against us.”