3. The Sight-Stealers

Enoa looked between her attackers and the strange new arrival. She didn’t know how capable this oddly dressed man was, but at the very least he’d managed to quiet the two attackers. “Yes, please!”

“Okay.” The man nodded and began to stretch. He swung his arms in wide circles. “You never know when something’s a local tradition, or a festival event, and when it’s a genuine attempted robbery. Plus, your mask looks a lot like their faces, so that’s pretty confusing.”

“This is none of your concern.” One of the Sight-Stealers pointed a knife toward the Wayfarer. “Leave now and you will leave with your life.”

“Excuse me.” The strange man turned toward the two assailants. “I’m having a conversation, right now. I’d really appreciate it if you waited your turn.”

The Sight-Stealers didn’t offer a second warning. One of the two ran straight at the Wayfarer, blade forward. The attacker moved quickly, his footfalls nearly silent. His companion stepped to the side, trying to get behind Enoa’s would-be rescuer.

The Wayfarer caught his attacker’s wrist. Enoa hadn’t even seen him move. Suddenly, the Sight-Stealer had simply cried out, his charge cut short. The second assailant stopped in his tracks, as well. The Wayfarer twisted his attacker’s wrist until the knife fell free. Once released, both Sight-Stealers stepped away, as the fallen blade fell into the Wayfarer’s outstretched hand.

The first Sight-Stealer squeezed his eyes shut and threw both arms out to his sides. He let out a small moan.

“Hmm.” The Wayfarer held the knife up to his goggles. “One hundred percent iron, huh? So how’d you do it? Was this a magic trick like a magician? Just fooling the eye? Just an illusion?” The first Sight-Stealer continued his odd stretch, now silent. The second also made no sound, so the Wayfarer kept talking. “Or was it real magic? Sorcery? I’m a little embarrassed I can’t see the difference, but I’ve only dabbled in both.” He shrugged.

“I might want to take a peek at this again later.” The Wayfarer looked around, Sight-Stealer knife still in hand. He eyed a nearby telephone pole and tossed the knife in a single, smooth motion. The knife flew up and buried itself into the wood.

Without warning, the first Sight-Stealer groaned a second time. He sounded genuinely pained. He growled, yelled. The assailant sounded like he was trying to lift something extremely heavy up several flights of stairs. His fellow didn’t seem surprised by the sound, but Enoa and her rescuer definitely were.

“Come on now,” the Wayfarer said. “There’s no way I did any real damage to you. How about we all call it a night.”

The man continued to scream. He opened his eyes, wide open, as wide as the caricature face on Enoa’s mask. He raised his gloved hands. All the air around him turned hot, hot enough, fast enough that there was no doubt the Sight-Stealer was the source. Enoa stepped away from him.

With a cracking sound like breaking bone, another blade appeared in the Sight-Stealer’s hand. It was significantly smaller than the first he’d conjured, only a few inches long, but it had a wicked barbed edge.

“Aww.” The Wayfarer said. “Take a look at that cute little thing. It sure sounded difficult to make. You should be proud of yourself. I bet you could find a matching shadow box down at the festival so you could show off that sweet little thing to all your friends. ”

“No games.” The second Sight-Stealer spoke. Both attackers crouched down, their blades outstretched. “Draw your own sword, traveler. Let us see who you really are.”

“Nah.” The Wayfarer shook his head. “My sword lights on fire when I draw it out of the sheath. Imagine the damage it’d do in a residential area. I mean, I bring it everywhere, just in case, but I don’t see why I’d need it now.”

They attacked him, both at once. Enoa thought of intervening, somehow, but it all happened so fast. The attackers moved with grace and precision. They lived up to the physical reputations of the Sight-Stealer stories. They showcased reality-breaking fighting prowess.

But they weren’t fast enough to get the best of the stranger.

Enoa couldn’t tell if the Wayfarer wielded any odd ability of his own. He was fast, maybe not superhuman, but he was a practiced fighter. His every movement was measured, planned. This man knew himself, his body, his capabilities. And he knew the steps to this particular dance. Two on one, blades against his wits and his fists – he’d done this before. He knew how to judge the speed of his enemies’ movements. He knew exactly when he had to move. He knew exactly how he had to move.

Both attackers failed to touch the Wayfarer. Both charged, blades ready, prepared to truly hurt the man. The knife-holder stabbed toward his side, toward his kidneys. The Wayfarer dodged that attacker, which sent him hurtling toward his fellow. Both attackers fell to the side. They stumbled in a way that made them look very, very human.

The Wayfarer chuckled and met Enoa’s gaze. “Looks like these two were spending too much time down at the beer tent.” He pointed both of his index fingers at the flailing men.

The Sight-Stealers regained their footing and silently attacked again. Except, this time, the barbed knife-wielding attacker rushed straight at Enoa. She had no experience fighting people with knives. She didn’t have time to run, but she sank into a crouch. If she dodged the first attack from the man’s knife, maybe then she had a chance to get away.

The knife-wielder stopped moving when the Wayfarer grabbed his robes from the back. The attacker struggled in the Wayfarer’s grip. The Sight-Stealer stumbled, his boots slipping on a slick icy patch of sidewalk. The attacker fell. His chin met the ground. He groaned again, winded and unmoving, his robes spreading out around him.

But the Wayfarer had given his other attacker enough time to strike. The diversion had worked. The second Sight-Stealer stabbed his blade into the Wayfarer’s coat, in the center of his back. The strike was aimed to kill, to murder, to end the life of this strange newcomer.

The knife stopped when it hit metal. There was some kind of armor, woven deep into the fabric of the Wayfarer’s coat.

The Wayfarer lashed out with his elbow. He struck the Sight-Stealer, right in the face. The attacker stepped back, his knife still buried in the Wayfarer’s coat.

“Ah!” He drew the knife from the coat. “You left a hole! Do you have any idea how bad I am at sewing?! You assholes wasted at least an hour of my night.” Before the second Sight-Stealer could act, the Wayfarer struck him in the chest. The attacker staggered back into Enoa’s storefront.

The Sight-Stealer’s robes let out a crunching sound. A few small pieces of ceramic or pottery fell free of his robes and slid down to the sidewalk at his feet, before breaking into further shards.

Enoa knew that pottery. She’d seen it every day for years, that blue floral pattern. It had been a small work of original Nimauk creation, over a century old. It was small enough for the robed attackers to steal and hide. Now, that item was broken, shattered beyond repair.

“They robbed me!” Enoa said. Both Sight-Stealers rose to their feet.

The first Sight-Stealer threw the short knife at Enoa. She’d expected to be attacked that time, and she fell back to the ground. The knife flew far over her head.

The Wayfarer ran to her side, allowing the Sight-Stealers to sprint away, back up the hill, their footfalls still quiet, their steps unbelievably fast.

“They could have more items from my shop!” Enoa pointed after them.

“I can probably catch them.” The Wayfarer appeared to be judging the distance between himself and the fleeing attackers. “Yeah, probably. Hey, will you please stay here, at your store, while I’m gone?”

“What if there are more of them?” Enoa looked toward her dark storefront. There could be any number of people waiting for her there. She had no idea why anyone would come after her or her antiques. Who were those men? They obviously were strictly human, but what about the magically appearing blades? How about the other Sight-Stealer at the train? The train where her name had been called, she’d almost forgotten the message from the old man. What was happening?

“Who are you?” She asked.

“My name’s Orson Gregory.” He extended his right, gloved hand. She shook it. He quickly pulled his hand away and began backing up the street. “I’ve been looking for something for a long time, all over the world. I think it might be here in your store, but if you want me to catch them, I have to go now.”

“My name’s Enoa Cloud. What are you looking for?”

“I don’t know yet.” Orson rushed after the Sight-Stealers who had almost vanished from view, up the darkened hill. He didn’t run as fast as they did, not even close. It wasn’t clear what his plan was to catch them. He turned his head to the side and looked back at her. “We’ll talk more later. Stay safe!”

Enoa watched him charge up the hill. Several feet on, it looked like he stepped into a side street, but either way, the strange man vanished.

Enoa had nothing left to think about, but her problems. Why had the old train man been looking for her? Why was everyone after her? She remembered what the old man had said, “she’s the only one who can stop this.” She’d never stopped anything.

Just then, she began to hear distant talk. She heard the growing murmur of people walking up the hill. Whatever discussion had gone on down at the festival had come to an end. Everyone was headed back to shelter, headed hopefully back to safety.

Their presence made Enoa feel more confident. She marched into her store and flicked on the lights. Everything lit up. Everything looked normal. It looked undisturbed, save for the gap where the stolen and broken Nimauk pottery once rested. She debated calling the Sheriff’s Department, but decided to wait for Orson’s return.

Enoa looked at the outer door. Nothing appeared broken. Had they picked the lock? Maybe.

Enoa ran to the laundry room and the false-bottomed trashcan where she hid most of her money. She opened the slot in the base of the can and drew out her safe. Not one bill was missing, every coin in its place.

She checked the countertop register, as well. The petty cash she kept inside, as change and a decoy for burglars, that was there too. The Sight-Stealers hadn’t broken in looking for money.

Enoa walked to her small office, set a few feet behind the checkout counter. She scanned the room with her eyes, seeing nothing amiss, finding her desk, papers, and the other oddments how she remembered them.

There, in the corner, waited the stash of her aunt’s personal effects, items that had sat there undisturbed for months and months. The old walking stick and assorted journals and books, it was all still there.

Enoa took a quick look at the walking stick. It wasn’t a stick at all, actually, despite what Sucora Cloud had called it. It was a long piece of dull-colored metal and looked almost like a vintage TV antenna, only much thicker. Aunt Su had kept it hanging from her office’s wall for Enoa’s entire life. It clearly had some significance to her, but she’d never shared what that was. It wasn’t an heirloom to Enoa, her family, or her culture. Enoa had never requested an explanation. Now she’d never get one. Enoa lifted the walking stick for the first time in years. She twirled it idly between the fingers of her left hand and did not return it to its hooks on the wall. No, she needed a weapon. Whatever this odd keepsake had been, now it would be a useful cudgel.

Enoa put away her Sight-Stealer mask in a drawer. Then she searched the rest of her office and found nothing disturbed. Evidently, the burglars, whatever they were, didn’t care to steal her bills or business financial records.

Enoa quickly swept up the remains of the fallen pottery, outside. She placed the remains in an empty box. Then she closed the door behind her. She considered locking it, but didn’t. Hopefully, Orson would soon return. She placed the box of broken pieces in her office.

Systematically, room-by-room, she searched her home, her doors, her windows. She found no sign of any other living thing and no signs of forced entry.

Satisfied, she returned to her office and printed a copy of her official inventory spreadsheet and began to check her store. She would need to search shelf-by-shelf and item-by-item.

Enoa had searched only a single shelf of stoneware when the cars began crowding around her shop. First, she saw a large van with tinted windows. She tried not to stare and wished she’d drawn her storefront blinds, but more vehicles arrived, some parked in the street, their flashers lit. Then a truck stopped right outside, a large gun mounted on the back. Could someone have called the authorities about the break-in, or was this about her connection to the train man?

Enoa ducked behind the shelves. She should’ve locked the door, despite her fears. Now the next problem could stare right into her store.

A whole crowd of the red and blue armored personnel had begun to congregate at the entrance. A few held rifles. The rest had long spears, swords, and other blades. Scarce ammunition saw these modern mercenaries armed like knights.

Someone else shoved through the armed crowd. This woman was tall, her graying hair tied back. She was lean, muscled, strong. There was a small badge on her chest.

The Sheriff eyed the private security, her expression calm, but unyielding. “Do nothing. Say nothing. Do not act unless I tell you to do so.” The Sheriff’s muffled voice barely reached Enoa’s ears. The older woman eyed the closed sign in the window and knocked on the shop’s door. “Enoa, are you in there? It’s Sheriff Webster. Could I please speak with you?”

“Yes, I’m here.” Enoa quickly walked to her door and opened it. She tried to avoid looking at the red and blue armored lines behind her. All security forces had turned. All helmeted faces stared at her. “What’s happening?”

“Enoa.” Webster sighed. “Thank God you’re alright.” She looked in the younger woman’s eyes. “Can we talk in private? Something happened at the opening ceremony.”

“I don’t know that old man, the man from the train.” Enoa stepped back and allowed the Sheriff to enter the shop. She closed the door behind them. “I’ve never seen him before in my life, but something is happening with me. Men broke in here. They were armed, but I was helped by a traveler. One of the tourists, I guess. The men who broke in, they robbed me and the strange guy who helped me, he’s gone to chase them down. I was checking my…” She held up the inventory list. “What’s happening?”

“I don’t know.” Webster looked back toward the storefront window, where the assembled security force, gathered outside, waited for them. She eyed the men warily. “I know this wasn’t you, but right now…” She lowered her voice. “These men, private security hired by order from the town council. They want to question you privately, so we need to make sure everything is in order before they do anything.”

“Thank you.” Enoa whispered the words. Question? Did they believe she was connected to the train crash? How?

“I’ve known you a long time.” Sheriff Webster laid her hand on Enoa’s shoulder. “But right now, something is happening that threatens this town and every single person in it. And I’m so sorry, but whatever’s going on seems to involve you.”

“What should I do?” Enoa had not left Nimauk since the shutdown, not once for five years. But in that moment, she could only think about running away. There were other safe, happy places scattered across the country and the world. She could find one. She would escape.

“People died on that train.” Webster shook her head. “Seven that we know of. And with your help, maybe we can see to it that no one joins them.”

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