It was a relatively dark night, with the moon shining in a way that made it feel further off than usual. The ocean was somewhat visible, but directly ahead it was obscured by the form of the two narrow, unreal creatures that waited before an open portal in the sky. Cato and the others were frozen in place, the only sounds being that of the ocean beyond and their careful breathing.

And they were not dead.

That was the part that had Cato’s attention. The last time they had encountered one of these creatures in the open, it had torn a man twice Cato’s size in two without any effort. But here stood a pair of them, standing menacingly in front of them and demanding the book that Pel clutched tightly.

The creatures had not moved since they ‘spoke’ the demand. They wanted the book. But which book? Pel had taken two from the now-collapsed cave system, as well as the one they’d escaped the city of Oriona with. Why did they only want one? Or did they only know of the one? Or…

Or were they afraid?

Cato narrowed his eyes, trying to make out some hint of anything on the creatures just a few feet away. They were the same mask of jet-black, almost liquid-like skin from head to toe. There was no sign of any clothes, or anything beyond a stretched, humanoid shape to even hide beneath clothes. The faces were not really faces. Instead, all that Cato could see were oval shaped heads populated by two features: Solid black eyes that somehow were blacker than the skin around them.

There was no fear to be seen there. There was nothing to be seen except for a revolting feeling that what was there was a humanoid-shaped hole in the world. Or rather, two of them. Two of them, and then a literal hole between them, through which Cato could still see hints of red-robed priests and a landscape most politely described as “unpleasant.”

Give. Us. The. Book.

Cato’s bones shook at those words again. Somehow, even without sound, they were more forceful. More demanding. More…it was fear. They were afraid. They had to be. There was something in that book. Something in one of those books that scared these unnatural creatures.

It took some effort, but Cato managed to turn his head and look to the others. Kyros had his hand on his sword, gripping it tightly, but seemed frozen in place. The brothers exchanged a short glance, both unsure what exactly they could do but together sure that something here was different.

Anica was looking to her side to Pel. Cato thought he heard whispering, but somehow found it hard to focus on any sound other than his own breathing. Those creatures seemed to dull all of the senses and replace everything with a desire to get away that was not easy to combat. But Anica seemed to be handling it well, almost completely ignoring the creatures.

And then Pel moved. Just slightly. She nodded to Anica at first, then took a small hand off of the tome she held in her hands and made a quick motion. There was a brief contracting of the air, a cracking sounding, and then a small flame floated there in her hand. Slowly, she inverted her hand to hold the flame just above the tome, glaring over it all straight at the two creatures.

When Cato looked back to the pair, he saw something he had not expected. They had taken a step back, their oddly long arms raised just slightly.

Fear.

“You will leave this place or we will destroy the book,” it was Anica that spoke, her voice forceful enough to command an army.

You. Would. Not.

The ‘words’ did not shake Cato to the core as they usually did. They were wrong, yes. Just as wrong as the creatures that did not speak them, but the fear the not-words created previously was gone.

“We will,” Anica’s response was stronger than before, and very much a promise, “You will leave this place. You will not come back. Or the book burns.”

The two creatures shifted oddly, their bodies angling towards one another as if they were looking to see which one of them had an idea of what to do. A moment later, they took another step back, the both of them now just another step from the portal behind them.

We. Will. Not. Forget.

One of them backed through the portal first, a strange rippling of the air occurring at the same moment. The other stood tall, its head tilting down like a predator inspecting prey.

Time. Is. Irrelevant. We. Will. Find. You.

With those ‘words’, it backed through the portal. There was a ripple, a flash, and then they were alone on the beach. The four of them looked to one another briefly, and Pel still carefully held the magical fire above the book as she looked around them.

“That was different,” for the first time in years, Kyros said what everyone around him was thinking.