No one saw where the lunatics came from.
One moment the square was aglow with the sun-warmed colors and finery of the Festival, the vibrant noise of hundreds of transactions of all kinds, the flash of money exchanging hands. The next…
It began, perhaps, with a tug at a woman’s skirt. Or perhaps a man bending to pat a dog that turned out not to be a dog crawling around his legs. The screams began soon after. The first guardians, blinded by the crowds, couldn’t see where the disturbance originated. All they could tell was that a wave of panic seemed to seize the previously celebratory crowd, with eyes wide and white behind their festive masks as they stumbled and clawed their way past the green-coated officers.
Runners were dispatched for reinforcements while the guardians fought their way into the square to find the source. When they did, it stopped them in their tracks. It was like nothing these peacekeepers had ever seen before. These wretched creatures lurching wildly about, clawing the air with overgrown talons. The people trapped in the square with them, cowering in abject terror, their goods, possessions, dignity forgotten. The foul odor that tainted the air, a stench of filth and decay — the stench of madness. And that sound, the chattering, screaming, gibbering blather that seemed to echo instantly inside the heads of all who heard it, scraping inside their skulls, the voices of nightmares. Of insanity. Of fear.
One of the naked madmen rushed at the guardians like a rabid beast, all semblance of sentience broken and lost. A panicked reaction, a sabre blade slashed up in self-defense — and the thing was gone. Vanished.
“Ghosts!” rose the cry. “By the gods, they’re conjures!” And then, even as the remaining two creatures of horror faded and disappeared like wisps of smoke, “Who did it? Who summoned them?”
In the meantime, a platoon of marines had answered the call, deploying down the side streets that fed the square, shutting down all traffic in and out to enclose the disoriented crowds. The military commander forced his way through the shaken festival-goers till he found the senior guardian in the square.
“The streets are closed. What happened?” asked the warrior.
“A prank that shall cost someone dearly,” answered the guardian, pale with nerves and anger. “We’re looking for a wizard. No one leaves this square without accounting for themselves.”
As he turned to bark orders for the organizing of the crowd and the taking of statements, the guardian struggled to suppress the memory of those horrible, disordered things that seemed the embodiment of some kind of deep and personal hell. The face of fear. He shoved the thought out of his mind as roughly as he fell to pushing and shoving the unfortunate public into lines, furiously trying to stave off the poison of what had nearly touched him.
He was not alone in that. One way or another, the guardians of Sesus were determined to find the one responsible for conjuring such horrid specters. So they began the harsh and methodical work of sorting who was who in the mob they had netted.