“Don’t you at least think it was a little suspicious?” Ezra asked as they walked down the dirt road.
“You’re being paranoid again,” said Lorien.
“Call me paranoid one more time, elf-boy.”
“Ezra,” Katryn said gently, “Don’t you think that maybe you can be just a little too careful sometimes?”
“Tell me that when you ignore me and end up dying a horrible death.”
Katryn sighed. “Look, remember that blacksmith who you followed around for a week in Blacktrees?”
“He’d put poison in peoples’ blades!”
“You paid him extra to do that.”
“Doesn’t make it healthy.”
“What about the Count of Redcliff?” Lorien pitched in.
“I’ve never met a count who wasn’t out to kill me.”
“That’s because you’re usually out to kill them.”
“And how about the old washerwoman?” Katryn added.
“You can’t tell me that you thought that was her natural hair color!”
Katryn and Lorien gave each other a long-suffering look, and Ezra had to restrain herself to keep from reaching for her knives.
Just then, Cory and Muffin came running around the bend towards them.
“There’s a fork in the road,” Cory said. “One way goes to the city, and the other way goes to the castle.”
“How did you know that?” asked Lorien.
“There were signs.”
When they reached the fork, sure enough, there were two signs posted. One read, ‘GREENWOOD CITY- POPULATION: PRETTY DAMN BIG.’ The other read, ‘DARGHZIN’S CASTLE. TRESPASSERS WILL BE FED TO THE CROCODUCKS.’
Ezra wondered what the hell a crocoduck was. It sounded made up. Looking aside, she noticed that Katryn’s face suddenly seemed even grimmer than usual.
“Hmm? Yep. Let’s go.” She stomped off in the direction of Darghzin’s castle, looking anything but okay.
The others shrugged at each other and followed her.
The road leading up to the castle was winding and ominous, fairly standard as these things went. After a while, Lorien called for them to stop so he could set up some magical shielding.
One at a time, he tapped them lightly on the head with the tip of his staff. The magic was cool and tingly. Ezra shivered a bit as she felt it engulf her body and contract inward, wrapping itself tightly around the center of her magic. It was difficult to describe where, exactly, she felt this, as the magic didn’t technically have any physical location. Lorien had explained it to her once, but he’d lost her when he started talking about transdimensional planes and wibbly-wobbly balls of stuff. She'd begun to suspect that wizards just made things up to look smart.
They continued on, more slowly than before. Finally, the path widened out as the castle came into view.
It wasn’t an especially unique castle. It was a simple, boxy fortress on a hill, surrounded by a field of blackened ruins. The ruins, however, appeared to be something of interest, or at least, Katryn was treating them as such.
“The bastard,” she growled, just barely audible. “The Pratchett-damned bastard.”
Katryn walked, quickly and purposefully, up to the castle. Bemused, the rest of the team followed her.
“Katryn,” Lorien tried to say, “should we really just…”
She made an unintelligible snarling noise, and the elf quickly shut up.
Ezra noticed that Katryn appeared to be counting the ruins as they walked past them. They looked like the remains of old cottages, separated by what might once have been small farm plots.
Katryn halted, suddenly, at the castle’s moat. She looked jarred. Then she drew her broadsword, swinging it deftly around and punching it deep into the soft earth.
“Can you believe it?” she said, looking angrier than Ezra had ever seen her. “That asshole built a moat over my house.”