Casey Mendez examines the near-empty glass in front of him. He couldn’t remember if this was his ninth beer on his sixth night coming to…
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I can barely see through the smoke of still lingering fires. The charred musk of flesh fills the air. The village of Masthead is in ruin in the wake of pillaging by the Crimson Horde. Barren is a few yards ahead of me investigating a corpse sitting slumped in the remains of a nearby house.
“Anything?” I call out.
He replies with a grunt. I notice a nearby church, cutting an imposing figure amidst the smoke. Somehow it still seems intact. Opening the doors reveals at least a dozen corpses hunched in prayer, stricken down without even realizing it. A body lying prostrate on top of an altar catches my attention. Getting a closer look, I turn the corpse over to reveal the face of a woman. Red hair frames her face and beautiful emerald eyes stare deep into my soul. Freckles dot her complexion, and a mole graces her neck. She is adorned in a thin milk-white robe and an accompanying veil clearly meant to be a sacrifice to whatever god this village held dear.
I see something in her hand. I reason that she must have been clutching it in her last moments. Wresting it from her stiff fingers, I find that it’s a ring, inlaid with streaks of what looks like black gold and a deep purple stone. I hold it up to the light to examine it when I feel a hand on my shoulder. Turning around dagger drawn, I am greeted by a smiling Barren.
“Easy there. That ring you got there will catch us a bag of gold with the right buyer. Good find. We should get going, though, before the Honored show up.” he says.
I don’t answer. Barren takes a few steps back towards the entrance to the church, whistling softly to himself. I look down at the ring still ensconced in my hand, turning it over and over, searing into my mind all the different ways the ring’s gold band catches the sun’s rays. I slip the ring on my finger.
The temperature drops suddenly. My field of vision narrows. I feel a chill across my neck as the church is bathed in darkness.
“Hello, my lover,” a sickly-sounding voice says.
My joints are stiff, and my breath is visible in the unnatural chill. The only thing visible to me is the pulsing ring on my finger that seems to give off a slight warmth.
“Megalos knows all. He wouldn’t have arranged our union if it twas not meant to be. My answer is yes. I suspect in the next few months, we will become quite close, all in preparation for the big event,” the voice continues, punctuating the last part with a mischievous chuckle.
The church returns to as it was. The cold is gone, and my vision comes back, except I feel a throbbing pain in my left hand. Maneuvering the ring up a bit on my finger, I see it has seared the flesh beneath it, almost the bone. I try to take the ring off but it won’t budge, as if an unseen force is preventing it. Looking back at the woman, I can’t help but think a slight smirk now countenances her face.
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