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Insidious Whispers

Little Boy Lost

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The woman screamed for help as she dove into the canal. She had heard the rumors of crocolisks and worse lurking in the waters, but none of that even entered her mind when she saw the small body floating face down under the bridge. Only one thing mattered: saving the child.

The small boy was motionless as she grabbed him under his arms from behind and dragged him up to the dock.

"Cold, so cold," she whispered to herself, desperately attempting to slap the pallor out of his round face, then shaking his shoulders. "Come on. Come on. Talk to me," she urged through gritted teeth. "Help!" she screamed again as loud as she could.

A few passers by heard her and rushed quickly to her side. "Someone get a healer!" she yelled at them. A man ran off in the direction of the cathedral.

"I'm a healer," a man in an intricate robe with a pair of ethereal wings at his shoulders said, stepping through the growing crowd and kneeling down beside the woman. He laid his hands over the boy, but rather than infusing the limp child with light, nothing happened. An expression of confusion came over the man's face. "I'm sorry. He's... been gone too long. There's nothing left. Is he yours?"

The woman wiped tears and canal water from her face. "N-no. I... think he's one of the orphans."

"Someone go call the Matron," the man called, and another obedient would be hero ran off in the direction of Cathedral Square.

The woman wiped at her face again, hooking a drenched lock of hair behind one ear. "What is... is he wearing a tabard?" she asked, sharing the man's earlier confusion.

The healer moved his hands from over the boy, revealing a gold hammer on a field of violet. A murmur went through the gathering crowd. Whether or not any of them recognized the symbol, none came forward.

Orphan Matron Nightingale arrived quickly, two priests from the Cathedral in tow. The priests nodded to their compatriot, frowning sadly when he nodded solemnly to them in response. "Oh, Tommy! No! I told him not to play near the Canals. How many times did I tell him?" She ran forward, falling to the boy's side and wrapping her arms around him, gently rocking him. "I told him. I told him."

The boy's would be rescuers stepped aside, allowing the Matron her space. As the woman smoothed the child's wet hair, she suddenly stopped. "What... what's this?" The boy's head fell limply to one side, and a small square of plain linen embroidered with a perfect, simple black circle could be seen stitched crudely into the skin of the boy's neck. "By the Light!" the Matron exclaimed. "This was no accident..."

The priest who had tried to revive the boy laid one hand on the Matron's shoulder. "Now let's not rush to any conclusions."

The Matron stared at him, her eyes wide with shock and fear. "Someone is after our children."

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The Cathedral was dark and quiet at this time of night except for the lone light dimly guiding the lost to the cathedral's dias and the echoes of a heated discussion dancing with a wavering dissonance through the empty passages and corridors from somewhere far below the main rooms. The voices rose and fell and bounced off of each other like pieces of a broken memory. The guards, which had been called in as extra security since the attack on the orphanage several days prior, stood like statues at their post outside of the room that had been used, previously, as an office for the medics. Now, however, where once there had been tables with books on the art of first aid, now a handful of straw pallets had been laid out across the bare floor. The children for whom they were meant, however, now displaced twice over, had huddled together in a corner, none seeming to be able to sleep even days later, and each with their own story to tell as the adults argued below.

"The orphanage was attacked and burned in broad daylight! Farms were sacked all along the river. And then Tommy..." a female voice, which had emerged adamantly above the others to sound more clearly through the darkness of this Cathedral of Light broke off just then with a choked sob and then returned with a vengeance, "...you cannot tell me they are not after our children!"

The discussion broke again and only fragments could be caught issuing up from below.

"--that tabard is of the Horde--"

"Sanctuary would never--"

"Haven, Your Emminence, bore the same--"

"--FRIENDS of the Horde! Bloody traitorous filth!"

"Where did he get it?"

"He DIDN'T get it, it was put ON him!"

"--that thing on his neck"

"--sewn on--"

"Bastards..."

"Why a black circle?"

"A black circle?"

"--an Onyx Sun, there were flyers--"

"--vigilante fool brought this on us--"

"Who would do such a thing??"

"Who? You mean what."

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Hearing the angered voices of the adults a bit more clearly than any of the children might have liked, one of them whimpered as a dozen pair of wide eyes looked to one another in the darkness, full of fright, except for one pair.

"It was the water man," the fearless boy spoke up in a tone meant to disturb the other children. He sat up against the wall, free of covers. Grubby hands were trying to master turning a coin over and over on dirty knuckles.

"You're just trying to scare us," said one of the girls, an older one, who had two younger children huddled under each arm. She held them tighter and glared with scolding indignation at the boy across from her.

"Am not. They want to know, but they didn't see what I saw. Miss Cindy mighta, but they didn't."

"How did YOU see it?"

"Simple," the boy explained. "I was at Miss Cindy's an' I just finished up moving all these boxes, right? She said it was a damn shame what with the orphanage bein' attacked an' all. I told her bout my collection of orc fangs and how they were all lost now--"

"You never had no orc fangs!"

"Did too!" the boy snapped back defensively. "I just never shown 'em to no one, so they don't get stolen or nothin'. They was my pa's, an' they sell for good money to the right people. But they're all gone now anyway, huh?" The fearless boy's demeanor fell for a moment, the other orphans going quiet as well, and then he spoke up again. "So ya'll wanna hear 'bout the water man, or ya wanna yap about some dumb old orc teeth?"

After a few more moments of silence from the kids around him, he decided to go on.

"Miss Cindy said that was a damn shame, too, losin' my pa's orc fangs like that, an' said since I done such a good job moving things for her, she was gonna give me a big ol' piece of cake before takin' me back to the Matron. Then right as she put down the biggest slice of cake I ever seen infronna me, there was all kinds of noise outside. The guards were going crazy! Yellin' bout the Horde were comin', 'an to get inside n'all that. So Miss Cindy shut up the doors and windows real good and took me upstairs. She said we should get under the bed an' be real quiet. She was so scared, I thought she was gonna start cryin' on me, but I told her I'd kill any troll or rotbag that came up them stairs.

An' that's when I heard 'em... There were so many of 'em, the floor was vibratin'. I swear the entire Horde musta come up from the nether itself! With that an' all these guards shoutin' an' chasin' after 'em, I thought my ears were gonna burst. But it quieted down real quick. Miss Cindy was shakin' but she said they was prolly goin' for the King, an' not to move anyway. So we waited all quiet-like, an' then you could tell when they hit the Keep, could hear it all the way over here, an' everything else was real quiet. But then she said she heard somethin' downstairs, so she crawled out from under the bed an' grabbed a broom, an' told me to stay put an' keep away from the windows an' all that.

But I ain't afraid of no nancy elves or dumb orcs, so when she left, I crawled out an' went to the window to see if I could see any of 'em, but I ain't seen nothin'... not at first, anyway. I was just about to go look for Miss Cindy, an' that's when I saw somethin' movin' in the canal. It looked like a wave at first, but that don't make no sense, right? So I kep' watchin'... an' then this thing came up out of the water..."

"Was it a croc?" someone asked in a tiny voice.

"No it ain't no croc! I seen plenny'a those. Nah, it was like... the water turned into this big blob with arms an' a head an' came up out of the canal an' onto the street. An' I was lookin' at it real close, cause it wasn't all clear or nothin'. There was somethin' inside'a it."

All of the children seemed to tense, then, suddenly more afraid of the darkness than before, now that there were no adult voices coming up from the chambers below the Cathedral to remind them that they were not as alone as they felt right at that moment.

"W-w-what w-w-was i-in n-n-it?" stuttered one of the other children.

"What do ya think was in it, dummy?" the fearless boy asked in a low tone. He frowned and looked away from the other kids. "Miss Cindy musta seen it, 'cause I done heard her screamin' downstairs, but it moved down the canal a ways an' I couldn't see it no more. Wasn't long after that, I heard some other lady screamin' for help an' all that... the lady that found Tommy 'an all..."

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Another small group of children had tucked themselves beneath a dark blanket stretched across two chairs after the lights had gone out and the adults who stopped to check on them had gone to sleep, but still not one of them had been able to close their eyes to the nightmares, so they spoke in fervent, terrified whispers in the shadows to keep themselves awake and the darkness and fear at bay.

"I'm scared to walk by the canals now."

"There's crocs in there, I know it. I seen people fishing 'em."

"Tommy wasn't eaten by a croc. He just falled and drownded"

"But maybe a croc grabbed him and dragged him in!"

"Oh no! We're going to have to stay in the Square forever!"

"That's not what happened." A voice that dared to talk aloud, but still quiet enough not to wake the adults said.

A dozen eyes turned to face the one who had spoken, all of them staring at the brazen girl in wide-eyed silence.

"What happened then, Cass?"

"Did you see Tommy that morning?"

The eyes blinked at her. Finally, one head shook in the negative. "But I heard them saying he must've been there for hours. Maybe he went out to play before breakfast."

"You didn't see him," Cass explained, "because the monster took him away in the night. I saw it!"

One girl's chin quivered and her eyes filled with tears. A boy piped up with a defiantly hissed, "Did not!"

"Did too. Before anything burned. Before the fighting and everything. I heard a noise when I was sleeping and woke up, but I didn't make a noise because I was scared. It was a man, a big man, huge, even fatter than you. He took Tommy away. It was too dark to see a lot, but the man had evil, glowing red eyes."

The eyes all stared wide again. "Tha's not true!" the boy hissed again. "'n why didn't you tell the Matron? Huh?"

"Are you stupid, Jack? Because then the monster would come back for me. So you brats better keep it quiet, hear?"

The teary-eyed girl sobbed and squeaked, "Yes, Cass. We won't tell no one."

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