“And who exactly are these Keepers?” asked Bastiick.
“The Keepers are our rulers.” The boy repeated ominously. “They’ll rule everyone and everything.”
“That’s a mighty big challenge for the Keepers to undertake.” V rose up to stand his full height. “But some of us already have a queen and many people these days prefer not to hold allegiance to royalty. Is that what your Keepers seek to be, kings and queens?”
The boy continued looking insulted by his questions. “The Keepers will destroy your kings and queens.” He stood straighter, puffing out his chest. “The Keepers are our rulers. They’ll rule everyone and everything.”
“Yes, I believe you told us that already,” said Seth. He looked at the girl while nodding at the child intent on proclaiming world domination. “Your brother seems a little single-minded.”
“He’s not my brother, he’s my cousin.” The girl shook her head. “And it’s not his fault. One of the Keepers put him and everyone else under a spell.” She cast an annoyed glance at the boy. “After that, no one in the village would shut up about how wonderful they are.”
“A spell?” Sylvia gasped. “Did a group of magicians put a spell on everyone in your village? I think that’s what happened to the people in mine.”
The girl shrugged. “Well, I guess they must be magicians but they didn’t call themselves that. At first there were just three of them. They sang a song that made everyone want to do whatever they said.” She rose her chin up proudly. “I could tell they were up to no good and covered my ears until I knew they were done singing.” She flopped a hand toward her cousin. “Arthur didn’t believe me when I told him he shouldn’t listen to it and he ended up under the spell too.”
“So your mesmerized cousin’s name is Arthur.” Deigen gave a partial bow toward her. “And yours, little miss?”
The girl crossed his arms. “Mother always told me not to give my name to strangers.”
“Wise advice indeed,” V agreed. “Well I’m, Vandalarius, which you may shorten to one letter as everyone seems wont to do. Also we have Deigenhardus, content to be called Deigen. Easier to remember and pronounce are our friends Sylvia and Seth. And the gentleman who retrieved you from the tree is Bastiick.” He pointed at himself and the other members of the group while delivering their names. “And since we’re no longer strangers-” he extended open palms in the girl’s direction.
“Megan.” The girl spoke her name as though she still expected providing it to be a bad decision.
“Pleasure to meet you dear Megan.” V copied Deigen’s bow and waved his arms at the empty houses surrounding them. “Now these Keepers who visited seem to have taken quite a large following with them. You said there were at first only three? How many more appeared?”
“I don’t know.” Megan shrugged. “I suppose there must have been ten or so of them all together. The rest showed up a few hours after everyone was enchanted. Me and Arthur hid in the tree when they commanded all the people to leave.”
“I didn’t want to hide!” whined Arthur. He shot a plump finger at Megan. “She made me go up the tree and covered my mouth so none of the Keepers could hear me calling them to come back for us!”
“It sounds like your cousin did you a grand favor,” said V. “Though I suppose that’s a little hard to accept when you’re under a spell that would make you think otherwise.”
“Can’t you counteract that with the mind control power or whatever it is you used on the tavern keeper?” asked Sylvia, pushing the boy toward him.
“Well, let’s see.” V leaned toward Arthur, staring into his eyes. “Arthur, you do not think the Keepers should be rulers. You have independent free will and you are freed from their spell.”
The boy blinked twice. “The Keepers are our rulers. They’ll rule everyone and everything.”
V stood straight again, giving Sylvia a resigned shrug of failure. “Looks like the answer to that would be no.”
Sylvia sighed. “Great. Whatever magic the Keepers are using must stronger. The only thing to do now is confront them.”
Seth’s face scrunched up in confusion. “Come again?”
“Right.” Deigen hopped back on his horse and glanced down at the children. “I trust the two of you have at least some idea as to where they went?”
Arthur turned on point and began walking away from the group. “This way.”
Deigen nodded. “Good lad.” He directed his horse forward. “Everyone follow the boy.”
Seth maintained his spot under the tree as everyone else began following the children. “I’m not certain this is a such wise plan.”
V paused his stead to turn and face him. “Seth, we need to find the rest of the stones and figure out what happened to Sylvia’s family.”
“And our only option is to follow two spellbound kids we know nothing about toward dangerous villains we possess even less knowledge of?” asked the zombie. “Is there really no other way to go about this?”
“Only one of the children is spellbound and we at least know their names,” argued V. He gave a tug on his horse’s reins to get it in motion again, calling out over his shoulder, “And there will be danger but that’s no reason to become a coward now.”
“Coward? You people are the ones who need to be worried about danger, not me!” shot back Seth as he began hobbling behind. “Somehow I doubt it will be a huge surprise if I’m not the only zombie in this merry little group of ours soon.”