The young monk shivered and looked around himself, as though expecting attack. His elders were consumed with the business of spell casting, weaving words and energies into a tapestry, a cloak to hide this thing. They said that if it fell into the wrong hands, it would bring about the end of the world.
Brother Stephan did not always understand what was said around him. He just knew that since he had taken his vows, his eyes had been opened to a world he'd never thought possible. That he still wished was not possible. Demons and demigods and vampires...stuff of children's stories. And adults' wars. He knew that his order had a role to play and that he, therefore, had a role to play. Without them, the world would be destroyed. They were the last...one of the last vanguards against the night.
"We have little time," murmured Brother Carolus, the order's Seer. "The Storm approaches." The sound of chanting increased, and Brother Stephan shuddered at the power that surrounded him. His hair stood on end. He knew that this spell existed at the ragged edge of reality and possibility, and that performing it was risking annihilation, much less completing it. But to leave the artifact vulnerable and unmasked was to guarantee annihilation. For the universe and all of its inhabitants.
Brother Stephan shifted the grip of his sword in his sweaty hands. He was little use here, and he knew it - he was only allowed to be present due to the fact that he was young and relatively strong, and so could heft a sword with more agility than most of the other monks. Three other young monks completed a square with him, one posted at each of the cardinal directions. He risked a look behind him, and saw a human form coalescing in the circle that the elder monks had formed. It was almost done.
He did wonder why it had to be a child, though.
Suddenly there was such a burst of power that it sent Brother Stephan to his knees, supporting himself with his sword, his breath taken away. Turning, he saw a girl sit up - thin, gangly, with long brown hair and wide brown eyes. She looked at him for just a moment before the monks touched her forehead, all together, and she vanished. Sent into hiding, Brother Stephan knew. Somewhere safe. Somewhere away from them.
The brief silence was broken by a sound like gears grinding, like wind rushing through a void.
The four young monks raised their swords, while the elder monks spoke quietly among themselves. Brother Stephan watched, trembling, as something faded into existence in the corner of the room. A blue box. His blue box. He slid his foot back and whispered prayers, preparing his soul.
The box arrived.
The elder monks behind him collapsed. One made a horrible rattling sound as he did so. Brother Stephan did not look behind him, but he had to force his hands into stillness. Had he done that? Just by arriving?
The door opened, and out stepped a man. No. Not a man. But he looked like a man. Tall, thin, in a suit and long coat, rectangular glasses perched on his nose. He looked around the room, his eyes icy. When they fell on the elder monks, he scowled. "No," he growled. "No, no, no!"
He ran up to them, past Brother Stephan, who found himself paralyzed, and knew his three compatriots to be likewise immobile. The creature knelt by the bodies, some sort of glowing blue stick hovering over the body of Brother Carolus. "Cyanide," he hissed. "Of course. Couldn't let anyone capture them to find out where they put it. Too smart for that. Too paranoid." He paused. "Not that they were wrong. Damn it. Just a minute earlier..."
He turned and met Brother Stephan's eyes. Brother Stephan raised his sword, but it was a defensive gesture. He couldn't hurt this creature, not with a sword. He knew that. If he had come earlier, what had the elder monks thought they could do? He knew the answer. They expected him to cost the Ka Faraq Gatri a few moments' time wasted in killing him.
He barely noticed the creature moving before it was right in front of him. He sucked in a breath. "Don't be afraid," the Ka Faraq Gatri said. "I'm not going to hurt you. But it's extremely important that you tell me whatever you know about what they've done with the Key."
"I will die before betraying my order," Brother Stephan said in what he hoped was a defiant voice. The creature narrowed his eyes. Brother Stephan's knees went weak. But then, inexplicably, the creature's expression softened, and he looked sad...unutterably sad, filled with depths of grief that Brother Stephan would never, ever understand.
"I know," he said softly. "And I'm sorry about this." Before Brother Stephan could react, or flinch, or anything, the Ka Faraq Gatri placed his hands on either side of the monk's head, and slipped in.
It wasn't pain, not exactly. It was an invasion, but it was a gentle one. The Ka Faraq Gatri was moving quietly and expertly through his memories, hoping to grasp something that could help him find the Key. But he had underestimated the monks.
The creature left his mind and stared at him, his fingertips still against the monk's temples. "They left you completely in the dark," he said. "They've asked you to be prepared to give your life for something they told you nothing about. And you are. You are prepared."
"If my life is the cost of defending the universe, I pay it gladly," Brother Stephan said resolutely.
The Ka Faraq Gatri let his hands drop to his sides, and shook his head slowly. "Amazing," he whispered. "Every time I think I have you lot figured out. But you can't help me." He looked down once more at the crumpled bodies of the elder monks, and something like pain flashed across his face. "And neither can they, not anymore."
He turned away and walked back to his box. Brother Stephan stood, and then against all his better judgment, said, "Is that it?"
The creature turned and frowned. "What, did you want to fight? Because I'm no expert but I can tell you're rubbish with that sword," he said. Brother Stephan said nothing, and his face smoothed into an unreadable mask. "Ah. You expected me to kill you."
Brother Stephan continued to be silent.
The creature shook his head. "No, no no, Brother. I don't want to kill anybody. I was coming here to make sure a lot of people don't die. Now it's going to be harder. But it's not your fault." He paused, waiting for Brother Stephan to say something. When Brother Stephan could not find the words, he frowned again. "I really, really don't want a fight."
"I don't either," Brother Stephan said hurriedly. The Ka Faraq Gatri grinned at him, and slipped into his blue box, fading away to wherever it was he had come from.
Brother Stephan was left gripping his sword, confused and lost, but mostly...mostly relieved.
Brother Stephan lived for fifteen minutes after that. The Beast followed the Storm.