“Haaaa… haHehe- Hahahaha!” Breathing heavily, Narissa began laughing as they came to a stop near the western skirts of Garnikul. They had put quite some distance between their group and Shiar’s residence, and the lack of pursuers was a welcoming sign. With a bittersweet smile on her face, she quickly wiped away the few tears that were escaping and turned to address the four women behind her. “Here.” Extending her hand, she revealed a small idol barely the size of her palm. Intricately carved out of clear crystal, two small rubies were embedded in its eyes.
Still trying to catch their breaths, the four women looked at the object and then to each other in confusion.
“Narissa you…” Kaidus remarked with astonishment from the side, seemingly fine after their less than elegant escape.
“I snatched it on our way out.” She swiftly answered with a grin. Using the excuse of taking his toys away, she had knocked two guards unconscious and broken the women out of their confines after the confrontation with Shiar. “Although this will never be sufficient for what that bastard did, it’ll do for now.” Stepping toward the four women, she handed it to them.
“That- that belongs to Master Shiar. We have to return it.” One of the women reasoned with an almost fearful tone. “He’s going to be angry. He-”
“He locked you all in his cellar.”
“That was because-”
“Stop it.” Narissa rebuked. “Shiar’s not going to do anything as long as he’s still like that. Trust me.” She held out the finely crafted idol again. “You should be able to sell this for a sizable sum of money. Divide it amongst the four of you and leave Garnikul.” Seeing none of them accepting it, she forcefully placed the idol into the hand of one of the women. “Or bring it back and live the rest of your lives as slaves.”
“But… where are we supposed to go then?”
“Do you have families?” She questioned, and they all shook their heads with uncertainty. “Relatives?”
“M-my cousin lived in Imvera-…” One of them answered sullenly after a short moment of silence. “Maybe they’re still alive. Maybe I can find them…”
“I’m sorry.” Narissa replied with a disheartened look. After her team left the cove, they had found the ruins of Imvera. Suffice to say, something tragic had occurred and judging from the expressions of the four, it was old news. Her line of sight turned to the young man who should have also seen the ruins.
“What is it?” Kaidus questioned, catching her eyes.
“S-sorry. Where were you going anyways? Why are you here?” She quickly replied, inquiring about what had been on the tip of her mind.
“My destination was the Plemara Mountains, but from the look of things, I might have to make a detour.”
“Detour?” She echoed.
“Vick should be in Esperen gathering information. I’ve already accomplished most of what I had set out to do, so I’m thinking it is time we regrouped.”
“Esperen? But you heard what-” Staring at Kaidus, she had almost forgotten the events that took place only a short while ago. The unsettling memory of the boy’s arm ripping through a man’s body, those cold yet critical eyes that halted her steps, and the unrestrained display of force against Shiar’s stubbornness. None of that vicious brutality was present anymore, but she could not stop the fear from crawling up her back. In her panic and frustration to answer her own troubles, she had failed to consider why the boy was alone or why he was in Garnikul. Only now after breaking through her worries, did Vick’s warning from all those days ago truly solidify in her head. Make no mistake. He is very dangerous. The words reminded her.
‘Those eyes again.’ Kaidus mused to himself. It was not surprising. She had caught him in a moment of anger, and though she had hidden it well, it was not something someone like her could easily overcome. “Narissa?” He questioned, keeping up a show of ignorance.
“S-sorry. I was- I just-”
“Sorry? About what?”
“No, never mind… I don’t know what I was saying.” She replied, her voice becoming a little less audible with each word.
Sensing the impending silence, “Well, it doesn’t look like anyone is following us.” Kaidus quickly stated the obvious. “What will you do? Hide? Or search for your parents?”
“I-…” Narissa looked to the four women. They were as uncertain as she was.
“If you are going to leave, I believe the sooner the better.”
“Right.” Something clicked in her mind and Narissa hastily straightened herself. “I’m sorry to bring you all out like this, but I will be leaving Garnikul. What about the four of you?”
The women looked at each other. “This is stupid, I should never have left. I’m going back.” One of them who had been oddly quietly spoke up with dismay and walked away.
“Maron?” The other three called out in surprise.
“So what if it’s the life of a slave? At least I’ll have a roof over my head, a place to sleep, and nice hot meals throughout the day. If all that is required of me is to do some housework and warm the master’s bed, then I’m rather content. Better than getting myself killed or captured on the road.”
“You were a prisoner!” Narissa called after her.
“I don’t care!” The woman snapped back and disappeared beyond a corner.
Stunned, Narissa stared at the three who were still present. “I… I’m sorry. I should have thought that through.”
After an awkward moment of looking at each other in silent deliberation, “I want to leave.” “I also want to leave this place.” “If I can find my cousin…” The three women all spoke one after another.
A crude smile slowly returned to Narissa’s face. “Again I’m sorry.” She quickly apologized, lowering her head to express her sincerity. “I can’t promise much, but a few members of my crew are hiding out in Eegas waiting on word from me. If you don’t know where to go, how about going there?” She suggested, thankful that her decision to help them was not completely wrong and misguided.
“Eegas? But that’s at least four days ride away. How are we ever going to get there?”
“There is a man named Miyon who frequents the Green Briar near the southern market. You’ll usually find him drinking alone, but he’s a trustworthy person and can help you find passage to Eagas. That idol should be more than enough to pay for his services as well as your fares.” Narissa quickly explained about what to do for the trip. “Once you get to Eagas, look for Big Bethan’s Embroidery. Ask for Donal, and tell him that Narissa sent you. He will help you.” She added.
With a brief farewell, the three ladies departed.
“You’re not going with them?” Kaidus inquired as they were left alone by the side of an alley.
“They’ll be fine, Miyon is very accomplished in his business.”
“Actually, I was hoping to ask if I can accompany you to Esperen.”
“What? It’s perfect. If Vick has been gathering information in Esperen, maybe he might have some clues pertaining to my parent’s whereabouts. Not to mention, I would sleep a lot better knowing that I’m traveling with a mage.”
“I cannot find fault in your logic, but I am certain that that is a bad idea.
“And I am certain that I should have pilfered some clothes instead of that figurine.” Narissa replied with a sheepish grin and looked down at the gray cloak.
“It’ll be just until Esperen. Jakob said he was heading to Karpes when we split. If I can get to him, he should be able to help me. Until then, I would feel a lot safer if I am traveling with you.”
“Hah… planning to use me again?” Kaidus sighed, hearing the willful plea in her voice much like earlier.
“I won’t slow you down, I promise. Catch.” Narissa pulled out a small black stone from within her dress and tossed it to Kaidus. “Payment for your services, and don’t forget, you still owe me for bringing you here.”
‘Curses.’ He thought to himself as he caught the black stone. It was a black gul, worth 100erns. “I believe our previous agreement was mutually beneficial?”
“So is this.” Narissa returned a shameless smile and pulled out two more guls from the folds of her dress. “You’re heading to Esperen anyways, I’ll even pay you.”
“Let me guess, Courtesy of one Lord Shiar?”
“I might have taken more than a few erns when I first made my escape, but who’s keeping track?”
“I believe I might have underestimated you.”
“Oh?” Taken aback at the sudden praise, Narissa’s smile widened. “I guess I should take that as a compliment. Well? Consider the favor repaid if you agree.”
‘I just did you a favor.’ The words came to mind, but instead of saying so, “Traveling expenses are on you. Non-negotiable.” He replied. With very few options and an unwillingness to let her travel alone after what happened, Kaidus turned and walked away, having acquiesced to her request.
“Thank you Kaidus…”
“?” The tone of Narissa’s voice had changed, and he turned back to look. Her smile was gone, and there was a solemnness to her expression. One of heartfelt thanks, a sign of genuine gratitude.
“I mean it, thank you. I don’t know what would have happened to me had I not ran into you.”
“I’m sure you would have managed.”
“I-… I don’t know why you did what you did back there, and I will not delve on it. I am merely thankful to not be locked up in Shiar’s cellar right now, and that my parents might still be alive.” She gave a dry, troubled chuckle.
“Don’t force yourself on my account. It was unsightly, and I apologize for having you witness such a thing.”
“That’s not what I-” Narissa’s mouth froze as her eyes caught movement from underneath his shirt. “Kaidus! There’s something crawling on you!”
“I know, keep your voice down.” Kaidus calmly replied while at the same time gesturing for Narissa to lower her voice. “He was quite worn out. I didn’t think he’d wake up so soon.”
“Well seeing how you’ll be traveling with us, let me introduce you.” Placing his arm near the front of his shirt, the young serpent slowly and drowsily slithered out from between the buttons. Coiling around his arm, it gave a tired yawn and turned to glare suspiciously at Narissa. “Narissa, meet Zirus. Zirus, Narissa.”
“A- Th- Wh- You gave it a name?! And what is that thing doing under your shirt!?”
Standing on guard, Troyle quietly waited outside the palace’s audience hall. It was the first time he had accompanied the lord to the palace, and from the sound of what was going on inside, things were not looking good. “…” He glanced at the two knights standing on both sides of the large double doors. Their lax postures and idle conversation was unbecoming of their place as palace guards, but such did not matter to him. Nodding with a smile as one of them looked over to him, Troyle continued to stand vigilant.
Though it has been more than half a turn since their return to Ferrent, the date for Ralfus Vatenger’s trial had yet to be set. Immensely different from when his own son had been convicted, the process of the Mystiks Guild’s investigation and the King’s own decisions to appoint a royal court was being stalled day after day.
The doors soon opened and Lord Varath stepped out, looking extremely upset. Without a single word, Alzin Varath continued walking and Troyle fell in beside the lord.
On their ride back to the 11th ward.
“The evidences are unsubstantial?! Magic was not found to be involved in the death of the victims?!” Lord Varath screamed, planting a fist into the seat of the coach as it moved through the 13th ward.
Troyle sat silently opposite the lord, unwilling to let his own anger boil over.
“That lying sack of-! FUCK!”
“This is my fault. I should never have relinquished his son back to him. Had we come straight to the 13th ward as planned, this may have turned out differently.”
“But it is. You allowed me the final say, and I made the wrong choice.”
“NO! He played on both our sentiments as fathers. I could have made the decision, but I was too weak and I pushed the decision onto you.” Lord Varath countered, sitting forward in his seat. “I did not think that bastard would stoop so low after giving his words as a nobleman.”
“What about the continued testimonies of the two men we brought back?
“Relegated to lies of desperation when pitted against the Vatenger boy’s statements. The investigation forces are still searching for those who escaped after the attack to verify the claims.”
“But not unheard of. We’re dealing with Lurus Vatenger here, that man has the means. I knew he was protective of his sons but I didn’t know he also had the king’s ear in this. I miscalculated.”
“I’m not letting this issue go without a proper trial. There will be justice for Oris and Kanaar’s families. If the Mystiks guild and the knights will not help us, then we will just have to find our own evidence. I will revisit the prisoners and get the names of their accomplices. We can put out a bounty for them. We can-”
“Alzin.” Lord Varath stopped. It was rare for Troyle to call him by his given name. “There is no need to put out a bounty, it would only reveal what we are trying to do. If you can get me the identity of the accomplices, I can ask my contacts within the mercenary guild to look into our issue. It might take some time, but it’ll be better than being completely blind.”
“Right, of course. Seeing how the court will not come to terms with our requests, I leave it up to you and your contacts.”
-Elsewhere. Two days later-
The northwestern border of Darsus, a stretch of land that juts out like a large horn trying to gouge the sea. A land of stone and sand, very little grew upon its rocky elevations and storm-worn shores. Yet upon its desolated landscape, there were two men staring out to sea as if watching and waiting for something.
“Did you know that the locals call this place the Gorge Peninsula?” A man, clad in iron questioned as he looked out across the water.
“I did not, but I did hear something about this strip of land being like a withered horn.” A second man replied. Wearing a brown cloak to protect against the winds, the man’s hood concealed much of his face except for the two eyes that were carefully scanning the turbulent horizon.
“That’s because of the waves. The constant battering against the rocks on all sides have created a hazardous barrier around this peninsula. Along with powerful winds from the west and north, barely anything grows here, hence the withered horn.” The armored man explained as he rotated his body to survey the wide and barren landscape.
“Why are you telling me this?”
“So I can ask: why in the four god’s names are we all the way out here?”
“That is none of your concern. Your role was to guide me, and you have done so. If you wish to leave, I will not stop you.”
“Look, I’m just trying to make sure you don’t go jumping into the water alright? This place is dangerous. If you get too close, a sudden surge and the waves will drag you away before you even know what happened.”
“I am well aware, you need not trouble yourself with my safety.” The second man calmly replied, not taking his eyes away from the darkening horizon.
“Well then, if that’s the case…”
“What is it?”
“I was hoping, would it be possible to pay me a little more for coming all this way with you? Just a little more if I may ask. This wind and atmosphere here are really detrimental to my health and all… Hehehe…”
Shooting an irritated look at his former guide, the cloaked man took out a green fer and toss it before the greedy man.
“Much appreciated, sir. Good luck with whatever it is you are looking for.” With a wide grin, the ironclad man left.
The cloaked man turned and continued to watch the water.
As evening toiled about, what he had been patiently awaiting emerged in the distance. A single ship’s silhouette upon the waves of the setting sun.
The man swiftly extended his hands to his sides. “Asiran! Daza Naar Tarak! …” An incantation began flowing out of his mouth and mana curled around his arms as the spell came into fruition. Bending down, the man placed his palms on the ground as the incantation came to an end. The rocky outcrops in front of him shook briefly as the rocks began shifting together, merging and extended outward into the water. Extending above the waves, the rocky protrusion flattened out and smoothed into a wide platform. With enough room for the incoming ship to dock, he stopped the spell and stepped out onto the elevated path.
Soon enough, the large ship began slowing down and eventually came to a stop beside the makeshift stone dock.
The sound of movements and loud commands came from within the vessel and within moments of docking, a group of individuals strolled out.
At the forefront, wearing a dark suit of armor was an aleithian man standing larger and taller than the rest of the group. Two curved horns extended from the man’s forehead, clearly denoting his lineage as a member of the dvuron clan, one of the five ancient clans of the aleithian race.
Behind the horned man were three others:
An old balding man wearing a thin black robe with a smile of intrigue on his face. Although seemingly ordinary, the old man exerted a calmness that screamed of danger, and as he moved, a thick and visible coat of mana could be seen bending the light around him.
Following the old mage was another aleithian man. A feathered Tiirin, and also a member of the five ancient clans. Even more daunting than the first, the man was jittery and walked with a crazed grin while his eyes darted to and fro. Two wings jutted from the man’s back majestically, and though his feathery appearance was handsome and refined, the smell of blood trailed behind him.
The third was a small figure covered in a black cloak. A woman perhaps. Nothing out of the ordinary, the figure moved quietly behind the others and did not pay any attention to their surroundings.
“You are?” The large Dvuron man questioned as the group descended from the ship.
The lone mage who had been waiting for them quickly pulled back his hood to reveal a man in his early twenties with short brown hair and dark eyes. Quickly kneeling before the group, “Ahros sends his apologies for not coming to receive you all. I have been tasked to guide you all while he finishes the preparations.”
“You came alone?” The old man questioned, and a waft of ice-cold air coiled around the mage.
“Y-yes sir.” The man replied, his voice almost lost to the sudden aggression.
“Your magic leaves much to be desired, but it will serve.”
“You do not know who I am, do you?”
“My apologies. I have not had the opportunity to understand much of what is happening.”
“Hmph. They send a new recruit to welcome us. The nerves.” The large dvuron man grunted in displeasure and stepped forward.
“Mallak.” One word from the old man, and the large aleithian man stopped in his tracks. “The welcoming matters not.” The old man stared at the kneeling mage. “Now tell me. What is your name, young raezil?”
Keeping his head down, the mage opened his mouth. “I am Mirat. Mirat Klivus.”