“Eventually, even the teachers at the Academy of magic were coming down with the illness. The Black Doom, some started calling it. By then, no doctor or nurse would go near the place; there was no point, if they could not cure it. The residents of the academy were left to try their own solutions. There were four professors– experienced wizards, really– who left before the illness could take them. They listened to all the news about the academy until the day that the very last person had disappeared.”
“Are you saying that the academy was left empty?” Cerys gasped.
“A ghost town, you might call it,” James sighed. “The four wizards who had left before went back to search for survivors. The place was a mess, what with nobody cleaning anything. The strange this was, if you didn’t know about he Black Doom, it would have looked more like everybody had left in a hurry, without making their beds or tidying their rooms or taking care of the dishes. The place smelled terrible, but you could hardly tell that a sickness had come through. The towels that had been used to wipe the black mucus from the mouths of the patients was gone. It was no longer on the sheets, where before they had coughed it up.”
“How strange!” Himeko commented.
“Indeed. Something was definitely not right. Unfortunately, no spells for detecting magic, or curses, or anything else, turned up anything. The wizards spent the entire day searching the academy before they decided to leave. It was after sunset by then, and when they got to the front doors, they found they way blocked by two of those black… things that we saw of the road earlier. They fought them, took them down with a few powerful attack spells, and left. A couple of days later, they came back to check one more time, and found two piles of grey ash where the monsters had been.”
“Is that why they only come out at night?” Cerys asked. “Does the sunlight destroy them?”
“That could be the case. Our wise men have been trying to figure it out for months now and–”
“Months?!” Cerys shrieked. “This has been going on for months?”
“I’m afraid so,” James told her.
“Just when did the first student at the academy become ill?” Himeko asked.
“Over a year ago,” James told her, his tone grim. “That is not the whole of it, though. We learned the hard way that those black creatures are what became of the missing students.”
“They– they turned into…” Cerys said, gasping at the thought of it. “No!”
“How do you know this?” Himeko asked.
“Remember the strange way they were speaking earlier? One of them wasn’t using the underworld tongue. Not long after he wizards reported to my father about those strange creatures, they started to come to the villages at night. One of them was able to speak the common tongue, though his voice was hoarse. The things he said made us know for sure that they had once been human.”
“So what you are saying,” Cerys said, “is that there is an illness that turned people in black mucus monsters?”
“We game them a name,“ James told her. “We started calling them noir beasts.”
“You know a few things about them, then,” Himeko said, trying not to sound so grim. “They cannot survive in sunlight, and they used to be human.”
“If one it were so simple,” James sighed. “We have fought many of those black monsters, and we started keeping counts of how many we defeated. All across the barony, we have destroyed more noir beasts than there were people at that academy.”