Rose opened her eyes and yawned. She didn't sit up yet; she just laid there and tried to hold onto the dream for as long as she could. She would remember and cherish that day for the rest of her life.
After a few minutes she sat up and replayed the events of the past few hours in her head.
After finding Van at the other side of Fellwood Forest they ate a glorious meal of pork chops and noodles and shared with Van their trip through the woods.
Van was silent all the way to the end of the story. After Rose and Grim had finished talking he let out a low whistle and said, "Wow. That sounds like quite an adventure."
"Adventure?" Grim said. "We were almost killed!"
"Well, that's what an adventure is," Van teased. "What do you think that beast was? And why didn't it attack you?"
Rose shrugged. "I have no idea. I've been trying to figure that out ever since it happened."
After they'd eaten Van laid out some blankets on the floor of the moto-wagon and Rose and Grim practically past out on them while Van continued the drive to Bermshire.
Now Rose was awake and refreshed. The light filtering through the windows told her it was early evening so she'd only been asleep for a couple hours. She climbed up on the bench at the front of the wagon and opened the small window between the wagon and the driver's seat. "How much farther?" she asked Van.
"Funny you should ask," Van said and pointed ahead. Rose looked and saw a great mountain wall in the distance spanning from horizon to horizon-the Hills of Hentershire. "Probably about fifteen or twenty minutes before we get to Bermshire's gate."
"Finally," Rose breathed. She felt and odd feeling she couldn't quite put her finger on. Of course she felt happy and relieved, but this odd feeling was beyond that. It was more a sense of accomplishment and completion. Is this what it feels like to complete a quest? she thought. Whatever it was, it felt great.
She turned back and woke Grim (not without much protest) and then went back to the window to watch their approach to the city.
Bermshire was not the biggest city in the kingdom but it was an impressive sight nonetheless. Like most cities its walkways were made of cobblestone, but unlike most cities, its main streets were paved asphalt to accommodate wagons and cars. The buildings were made of brick and painted all sorts of wonderful colors and were topped with slanted roofs of slate, shingle, or thatch. People of all races and regions bustled in and out of shops all day purchasing their items and selling their wares or just making small talk and spreading the city's gossip. The main road was lined with shops of all sorts: bakeries, clothing boutiques, hardware stores, grocery stores, a new-looking electronic shop, a new-looking electronic repair shop, travel agencies, and a large blue building name Wally's Mart. Sprinkled here and there were restaurants and even a few pubs with typical pub names: The Hare's Hair; The Iron Horse Head; Quiet Johnny's; and the Blood-Soaked, Maggot-Infested, Putrid Meat Wagon.
This last establishment was where Van's moto-wagon stopped. "Welcome to Bermshire," Van said as he opened the door for his passengers.
Grim read the name of the pub and made a disgusted face. "Why are we here?"
"The Meat Wagon? It's the best pub in town. Come on in, I'll buy you a good hot meal."
Grim was more than eager to accept the invitation, but Rose stopped him. "We have business that must be attended first and foremost."
"Aww…" Grim groaned.
Rose ignored him. "Where is The Lincoln Hotel?" she asked Van.
"The Stinkin' Lincoln?" He laughed to himself, but stopped when he saw that Rose and Grim didn't find it humorous. He cleared his throat and pointed to his left at the road leading east. "Just follow this to Evergreen Street. and hang a left. It's just around the corner."
"Thank you, Van," Rose said then extended her hand. "Thank you for everything."
"My pleasure." Van accepted her hand with a smile.
Rose then bowed. "If ever we meet again," she recited the farewell of The Grim Rose.
"Then shall our meeting be in good spirits," Van said and bowed as well.
Rose turned and led Grim down the road. "I can't wait to get rid of that thing," Grim said, referring to the box which had brought them to Bermshire. "Then we can take Van up on his offer." His stomach growled in anticipation.
"I can't wait either," Rose said. She could see the green road sign indicating Evergreen St. and a jitter of excitement shivered through her. She ran through her father's instructions one last time.
They were to meet Lars Ungbar at The Lincoln Hotel (they would know Lars by the black rose he would be wearing in his vest pocket) and ask him to recite the Grim Rose oath. Once he did that they would hand over the box and their quest would be complete.
Rose stopped short when she heard a siren. A large steel car shot through the intersection of Evergreen and Main with red and blue flashing lights. Her heart sank as a bad feeling swept over her. "Come on," she instructed and jogged around the corner in the same direction as the police car.
As she rounded the corner she saw a large group of people gathered around the front of a building talking frantically. She noticed with dread the sign above the building's doorway: The Lincoln Hotel. She rushed forward and asked a kindly looking woman what was going on.
"Oh, it's terrible. A man was murdered in there. Someone shot an arrow through the window and struck the fellow right in the heart as he ate his supper." She pointed at the front window of the building and Rose could see a hole where something had shot through.
"What's a little girl like you doing with a sword like that?" the woman asked.
Rose ignored her and ducked and weaved her way through the crowd to the window. A group of police was gathered around a table, blocking her view. She looked around the hotel's foyer for Lars, but didn't see anyone fitting his description.
"What is it?" Grim asked at her side after fighting his way to the front.
"Someone's been killed."
"Killed?" Grim gulped.
"Yeah," Rose said. "That lady said he was shot with an ar-" The word never escaped Rose's lips. At that moment one of the police officers moved aside, allowing Rose a glimpse at the victim. Her eyes were drawn to the arrow sticking from the man's chest, but that wasn't what made her freeze.
Right next to the shaft of the arrow was a black rose.
She couldn't breathe and her legs turned to jelly.
"Rose?" Grim asked when he noticed his sister start to sway on her feet then, before he knew what was happening, Rose shot off back through the crowd. "Rose!" Grim took off after her. She was hightailing it back the way they'd come. "Rose, what are you doing?" he asked when he'd caught up with her.
"We have to find Van," she said.
"Van? Why? I thought we were meeting someone at a hotel. I thought we were done."
Rose shook her head. "We're not done, Grim. Our quest has just begun."