"What is taking that woman?" Mias wondered out loud as he approached the window in the parlor and looked out over his property.
Abernos, who had finally removed his panties from his antlers and put them on to cover himself, was hungrily devouring a plate of food the housekeeping spell had just delivered. He glanced over at Mias, chewing his mouthful of food loudly, "Maybe she's bonding with the horses?"
Mias was skeptical about that possibility. A sense of dread was beginning to squeeze his chest, but what perplexed him was the lack of reason behind the sensation. His senses didn't perceive anything unusual nor had anything crossed into the magical field that surrounded the perimeter of his land, but still the weight over his heart only grew heavier the longer Elle made him wait for her return.
"If you're so worried, why don't you go check on her?" Abernos asked.
Because Elle would surely complain about him being paranoid she would run off again, Mias thought. He wanted to stray away from aggravating her and in order to do so, he faced the task of placing "trust" in her.
"Look, if you're going to brood about it, I'll go check on her," Abernos said when Mias hadn't responded to him.
"Do as you will," Mias said. He knew Elle would never badger Abernos, and though he didn't like the idea of those two being together, it would set him at ease if Elle was retrieved peacefully.
Abernos got up from the table and left the parlor. His usual friendly smile faded from his face as he exited the mansion and approached the stables where Elias awaited at the fence with an unconscious Elle draped over his shoulder.
"Does he suspect anything?" Elias asked.
"He's none the wiser, Lord Elias," he said dryly.
"Perfect. Well done Duncan." Elias snapped his fingers, cancelling the transformation spell over his servant.
The white haired vampire stared blankly as he returned to his original form, but remained clad in Abernos' pink panties. "Might I get dressed now, sir?"
"Oh, but you look dashing," Elias snickered as the two entered the forest and returned to their camp. He carelessly tossed Elle's body into a tent where the real Abernos also lay unconscious. Elias enhanced the enchantment around the tent that set up a barrier to seal whatever the designated area contained. "This is all going way too well."
"I concur my lord, but perhaps celebration is premature at this stage. We cannot underestimate Lord Mathias's power." Duncan said as he changed back into his usual attire.
"I'm well aware, but that fool will once again act on emotional impulse. I'm certain of it."
"So you've said many a time before my lord." Duncan calmly reminded him.
Elias chuckled. "But the game has never had this many players Duncan. To think, I'll have the pleasure of shedding the blood of two banished Stag princes along with my dear brother's."
"And what of the woman?"
"If she's as beholden to my brother as I suspect she is, I'd like for him to witness my claiming her as my own before I slit his throat. Ooh, it gives me shivers to imagine just what sort of face he'll make in that moment when he realizes keeping his heart was what doomed him~!" Elias danced around the tent merrily before flopping down on his bed of pillows. "Ahh, oh Duncan, I've never been happier."
Mias impatiently rapped his fingers against the table as he waited for Abernos to return with Elle. After ten minutes, he stood up, completely fed up with waiting, and marched to the front doors. So help that Stag if he absconded into the night with Elle once again. As he swung them open, he noticed a piece of paper tacked into the thick wooden door with a dagger. His eyes widened as he snatched the note from the blade and read it:
"Salutations, my dear brother. Alas I cannot be there in person to exchange pleasantries, but I do hope you're doing well. A shame the same cannot be said for your beloved lady. Should you wish to give her salvation from death by my hand, you'll return to the main estate within three days time. Our Father and younger brothers miss you so. It would do you good to visit Mother in her days of ailing health as well. I look forward to greeting you at the front gate. Elias."
Mias clenched the letter so tightly in his hands it burst into flame from the uncontrolled surge of magical power within Mias' body. He grit his teeth to momentarily restrain his anger, but there was no spell to contain his rage for much longer than a couple seconds. He screamed at the top of his lungs, "ELIAS!!!!!!"
A familiar voice called out to him after his shouting ceased and Mias looked down the center road leading to his manor to see Berenos sprinting towards him. The sight seemed to shock him back to his senses as he realized a much grander plot must be afoot. Something about "Abernos" from earlier didn't smell right. He carelessly cast blame over the scent of ale that hung off the Stag's breath, not taking the time to realize the characteristic musk of forest dwelling creatures was not present. It must have been Duncan. He wouldn't have overlooked anyone else.
Berenos appeared as if had gone rogue as he snatched Mias up by the front of his shirt, lifting him up the distance required so they'd be face to face. "What have you done?!"
"What are you talking about?" Mias said rather calmly, despite the threatening boom of the Stag's voice.
"Your mad doppelganger has taken my brother!" He shouted, holding up a letter in his other hand.
Mias eyed the parchment and quickly connected the dots. "Let me guess, he's asking for you to head to the Dormaeus Estate within three days time?"
"So you are in on this
" Berenos growled.
"I am not," Mias said firmly. "He's taken Elle as well."
"What?!" Berenos lifted Mias off his feet and slammed him against the stone entryway of the manor. "You bastard! How could you have let this happen?! I still thought Abby and Elle were on the run from you! I hear no news in over a week and suddenly there's a dagger in my door with a note saying he's been taken! Just what the fuck is going on here?!"
"I rendezvoused with the runaway couple within 24 hours of their escape. I can't account for your brother's whereabouts after that, but I assume he stayed in the village until he was eventually kidnapped by Elias. As for the reasoning behind Abernos' kidnapping, I think it's obvious Elias means to exact revenge for the injuries you gave him, which means he wants to kill you."
"Very well, if it's my blood that must be shed as retribution so be it. I knew what I was getting into when I attacked him. I won't let my brother sacrifice himself for me, not again."
"How noble, but Elias won't honor you. He'll most likely take Abernos' life before yours and make you watch. That's the kind of man he is."
Berenos bared his teeth and dug his nails into Mias' flesh as he tightened the grip on the sorcerer's chest. "And you'll let him kill Elle
"It's unusual for Elias to give a grace period, which must mean he's away from the main estate as well. He won't kill me until he can readily present my head to our father, so we must intercept them before they reach the Dormaeus lands."
"Then what are we waiting for?!" Berenos dropped him flat on his hindquarters.
"It's not as simple a trek as you think Stag." Mias winced as stood up and rubbed his bruised buttocks. "Elias' magical forte is concealment. Catching up to him isn't the problem, it's finding him. There are methods of dispelling the charm of course, but again, you need to find what's hidden first. It's cheap, but brilliant trick, and perfectly fitting of Elias."
"And you don't have some sort of magic-sniffing hound that could help us?"
"There is one such creature
" Mias said hesitantly.
"What? What is it?"
Berenos' eyes widened and his ears fell back. "You can't be serious
"They eat magical beings so of course they have a nose capable of sniffing out magic. Of course this means I'd also be on the menu. As a steward of the forest, one might yield to you, but here again we face the challenge of locating such a beast."
"So what are we supposed to do?! We're utterly fucked if we don't think of something! Please! I'll get what ever you need! I'll do anything to save my brother!" The expression on Berenos' face briefly reminded Mias of his younger self when he was still in denial of Elias' change, or rather lack, of heart.
Mias sighed quietly as thought over their options. He could try a location spell, but no doubt Elias had made sure all members in his party were shielded. There was always the hope that Elle's feisty nature would drive her to flee, but Elias wasn't the type to let his prey so easily escape. The more his mind sorted and weighed their choices, the more the ability of a ghoul shined. "I'll summon the fog gates
"I've opened the portal to another realm before. Opening the dimensional pocket that harbors these beasts shouldn't be that difficult."
"Are you mad?! Even if you do successfully summon the gates, there's no guarantee the beast will aid us! He'll want something in return and unless you've got a magical chicken to toss him, I don't think he'll be interested!"
"Then you think of something! You were a prized tactician, weren't you Prince Berenos? Show me what wisdom the forest has granted you!"
Berenos lowered his head, accepting the insult as punishment for his failures as an elder brother, but then a thought occurred to him and he raised his head up. "The forest. I've made countless rounds for years now. Every manner of bird and beast knows me. While none can sense magic, there's an aura to the forest. Elias would undoubtedly disturb their senses."
"Even if he's contained within a barrier, that barrier itself gives off energy, correct? That energy must resonate and disturb the forest's natural flow. A winged imp uses sonic locating senses to keep from bumping into trees. Though they cannot see, should one avoid flying in a certain area, that would indicate the presence of a barrier."
"Winged Imps... Easy enough to find, but how do we get one to help us?"
"Leave that to me, but prepare your summoning spell just in case," Berenos said as he ran back into the forest, his hooves determined to find a winged imp even if he had to run all night to catch one.
Mias averted his eyes as he began signing his hands in the fashion appropriate for his summoning spell, "a clever idea indeed, but I do have something to offer a ghoul as payment and I can't afford to let this continue much longer