by Max Barry

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Region: Coldonia

The Ghostwater Co.

A pair of stained glass doors flung open, and a man raised his eyes to watch as a black shrouded figure stepped through the opening. The red glass fell shut behind the Stranger as the man stepped forth, the light dimmed quickly as the man walked, and two shadows followed in his wake.

A black-clad businessman stood at the far side of the room, watching impassively as the heavily robed man entered the lobby. The Stranger passed by the chairs and various other patrons who lounged about on the couches sipping champagnes or were networking with other patrons. The businessman watched as one Patreon laughed by the side of the fireplace on the far wall, and the flames seemed to cackle back the same utterance. Not that anyone paid it any mind, focused as they were on their own dealings.

The Stranger appeared before the desk with two shadows trailing in his wake. He pulled his robe close to his body and pulled down his dark hood, and he looked towards the businessman with an empty gaze. "This is the Glasswater Co, yes?"

The businessman nodded. "It as you say."

"I have something, and you may want to see it."

A gravelly voice echoed from behind the Stranger. "We have something."

The businessman reached down to his jacket, straightened his gold business tag, and then spoke. "Would you prefer an open viewing or a personal room?"

"A personal room."

The gravelly voice sounded again. "Yes, yes."

The businessman reached down to his desk and slid a hand underneath the marble service. He flicked a switch, held a hand over a small black panel, and then bent low to speak into it. "I need room 247 reserved for a meeting, for the next hour."

The Stranger nodded, and his shadows repeated the gesture, although at staggered intervals.

The businessman spoke. "Come along now."

A moment later, the businessman turned and walked away. The Stranger followed in his wake, passing first through a blacked-out glass door, then through a long meandering hall. Various statues passed his gaze, some holding treasures centuries old, and others held artifacts that would string the eyes of a normal observer. Still, the Stranger looked on unfazed.

The pair reached an open room with a black label '247'. The businessman turned and reached into his suit jacket and pulled out a small set of keys. He flipped through the keys and pulled until he reached a gold skeleton key and tested it against the lock; the man raised an eyebrow as the door flung open on his first try. The Stranger nodded and stepped past the businessman and entered the room.

A solid iron table sat there in the room, with no chairs and no other accessories present. The businessman nodded as he took in the sight for a moment, then stepped inside and followed the Stranger into the room, taking care to close the door behind himself. He flipped on a light switch by the door's side then turned to the Stranger. The businessman balked as he turned, seeing the two shadows now sat across from each other at the table, taking up two of the four sides while the Stranger occupied the third. The businessman nodded, wiped his brow and tried to prevent his face from paling. "Very well, I prefer to begin these meetings with introductions. My name is Neren."

The Stranger shook his head. "I am here for business, not pleasantries."

Neren looked towards the shrouded figure and the two shadows who made no attempts to hide their movements. "As you say then..."

The Stranger reached into his robes and pulled out an old grimoire, the leather of it showing severe burn marks, and drops of melted gold clung desperately to the old aged cover. He slammed it down onto the desk and looked towards Neren. "Do you know what this is?"

Neren shook his head. The shadow on the left hissed and reached onto the table, speaking in harsh tones. "It is the book of trials."

The other shadow slapped the first one's hand away from the book. "It is the book of lies."

The shadows stared at each other, both motionless as the air in the group grew heavy. Neren looked towards the Stranger who stood between the shadows. "What is this book?"

The Stranger smiled, only noticeable as his hood moved faintly. "It is a book detailing an experiment, one which seeks to purify the world."

"Go on."

The Stranger continued. "The great book states that the world's waters retain a small amount of divinity from the last Lavosian Cycle. If that is true then it may be possible to return home, return to our fair lady's garden."

Neren raised an eyebrow and leaned forward on the table. "Oh?"

The Stranger cackled and threw open the book, an ink-stained page lay bare. He pointed a wicked finger towards the pages and the splotchy ink they were filled in. "In the oldest of legends, it says that the heroes of old split the impurities of the water and used pure divinity to fuel a device. That device brought them home, to our garden."

Neren's face remained impassive although on the inside he felt a steadily growing burning sensation. He reached out to the book and saw a crude illustration of a burning star. The burning star was trapped in a box, and below them, a man stood who was splitting a lake into two streams. He was directing one stream towards the box and the other back towards the earth. Neren flipped the page and saw the box now took on a pointed form and aimed towards the sun, he looked towards the writing and saw it was written in the archaic Bandai script. He turned his gaze back towards the pointed box and the burning star within it.

Neren, as if by a compulsion that was not his own. "How much are you asking for this book?"

The Stranger smiled. "I do not want your wealth. All I ask is that went you return to the garden, take me with you."

Without any hesitation, Neren held out a hand. "I shall."

The Stranger cackled and reached out to cross the table, grasping Neren's hand with a chilling touch. The shadows laughed in turn and spun about the room before disappearing. The last thing Neren heard was a faint voice whispering. "The price must be paid, as the oath is now sworn."

Neren blinked and the Stranger was gone, only the book sat before him. Burnt leather and melted gold filled his vision. "We, of the Ghostwater Co. always pays our debts."

Tag: Astoniland, Deskoslovakia, Novika, Ueshido, Monarch Gardens