“There were powers, in an older time of this world of ours,” muttered the Rags Woman, “who still roam today. Just to look at them, you’d think they’re people, just like you, but something else is in them. They’re heirs to something stronger. They have to be.”
Marleena listened with wide eyes, fingers teasing the frayed end of a ragged stuffed bear, unsure whether she should follow the Rags Woman as she waddled deeper into the alleyway. “Why must they be?”
“Give us a hand, love,” replied the Rags Woman, pointing to the pair of dumpsters nearby. Marleena knelt to create a step for her elder, thinking the Rags Woman must indeed be made of little other than her namesake to weigh so little.
From amongst the trash, the Rags Woman continued. “To protect us. To keep from us the terrible things that still lurk about from the ages of their ancestors.”
“Like monsters?” worried Marleena.
The Rags Woman’s head popped over the lip of the dumpster. “Oh, yes, girl. Monsters and worse.”
Her matted head darted back down as a figure paced down the alley toward them. When she drew near enough, Marleena saw it was a skinny girl, not much older than herself, dressed in athletic gear and a hoodie, carrying an incongruous, worn-leather backpack.
“Oh, come out of there, Sentry. Hey!” said the girl, kicking the dumpster’s side.
The Rags Woman skittered over the edge of the dumpster like a spider and bent down before the girl. “What need have you of your lowly servant, my lord?”
“Quit it. Just tell me where Christos is. He’s not returning my texts.”
“I have heard rumors, your mightiness, that the Starmage consorts with the Vinequeen.”
“Tsk. I’ll have to talk to them both. Don’t make me come back here and tell you to stop scaring this girl,” she said, pointing to Marleena, then walked away.
“Who was that,” whispered Marleena.
“Eight rulers, in their power, locked away the King Under Stone, his chains only to be broken by the leave of all. A Ninth lives in exile, forever protecting from threats inside and out. The Swordking. And that was his one thousandth heir.”