The Minister’s estate was a large rambling farm, enclosed within dark brown brick walls. Along the top of the walls were hung banners displaying the royal coat of arms. A small shrine was undedicated as if it were free to worship any religion, this shrine was darkened with age and small copper bells were tied in groups of three along one edge. The wooden gateway led out to a wooded parkland filled with animals from all parts of the world – not just from the Dragon Empire.
I was surprised to see Master Togo talking with what looked like a monestary official. Master Togo introduced us to the young man called Yijo Than who offered to guide us towards where the minister was heading.
Master Togo said he would be glad of the guide as the parklands were wild with many out buildings as part of the zoo. As we approached a gate, we saw a small boy running up the hill away from us. Members of Master Cho’s personal guard were walking towards us in a small group. As they approached, their faces turned green. This was all the warning we had before they attacked.
Yijo led the way to a cobblestone courtyard, much like the courtyard at the start of the estate. It was clear this had once been an important area – something had happened here in Cantha’s past. In the center of the courtyard on a man made hill stood a giant cherry tree, but unlike the other trees we had seen on the island, this one was not flowering – more, the leaves of the tree were twisted as if burned by winds of fire.
This next gate was locked, Yijo pulled keys from his pocket and warned us to be careful, as it was almost time for the animals to be fed. The terrain here, like the rest of the island was beautiful. With pretty wooden bridges over deep crevices, flowing streams and trees of all colours, from the now familiar cherry to oaks and redwoods, their leaves in the midst of changing with various shades of red, brown and gold.
As we approached the bridge, there were shouts of yelling ahead, and we could see two men running – one after the other.
“Nooo! Wiango! Don’t you recognise me! It’s me, your brother! Help!” one of them called and then fell silent, dead from his brothers sword.
“What could turn brother against brother?” Master Togo mused thoughtfully studying the bodies of both brothers. There were odd green spots on the face of one. “Do not touch it.” Master Togo warned as Cynn drew close. “It might be poisonous.”
Yijo stared at Master Togo, the fear on his face was becoming clearer. His hands shook as he unlocked the next set of gates. Already we could hear animals crying, screaming. The noise was deafening.
Rounding a set of stone stairs that led down into the private zoo. I hardly listened to Yijo’s words about Master Cho’s collection of rare and exotic animals from all over the world. Something had happened to them.
I recognised the flightless moa, but all the animals seemed to be out, killing each other as well as their handlers. Bodies both human and animal lay everywhere. Each of them had the same green spots we had seen on the guards.
Moas, pigs, wolfs, lynx, bears, stalker, grawls. These were all familiar to me from Tyria. I felt wretched as we killed them all. But we had no choice. The animals were wild with fear and feeding frenzy. Animals that normally only ate seeds and grains were pecking at flesh. They all had the same green marks.
Our group ventured on up the hill and past a huge waterfall, the water was tinged red with blood. A house stood ahead, as we approached we could hear groans and moans. Servants dressed in the livery of Minister Cho, in dark brown wool with a dragon embroidered on their chest were stumbling around in a daze.
They too also wore the green mark and they looked as if they had gone mad. Bows, knives, poleaxes. Anything they could get their hands onto was a weapon. And they were as intent on killing each other as killing us.
Minister Cho was leaning over a table in a private sanctuary at the back of the house. He was breathing heavily, his guards wary as we approached. No doubt they had heard the noises as we had killed our way through the house.
He seemed relieved to see Master Togo. “My friend.” He whispered and then gagged, clawing at his throat. Spots of green coloured vomit erupted and we jumped back. He too was infected with this disease.
Gasping we stood around staring at the body of Minister Cho and his dead personal guard. Master Togo leaned over and said a prayer for the dead, his hand wavered over the ministers body for a moment. With tears in his eyes, he rose and turned to us.
“Go on to Ran Sung Gardens and find Ang the Ephemeral, tell him of what you have seen here.”
On to Ang the Ephemeral!