Ferrent. 13th Ward. Royal Audience Hall.
“Is this all?” Sharpening his gaze, Sarjace J. Roulus Dalzon looked up from the report in his hand, “All these days, all the men under you, and this is everything your investigation has amounted to?” He questioned, carefully analyzing those kneeling before him.
“My apologies if your majesty has found my findings unsatisfactory.” With his head down submissively, a man wearing the red and white of the Mystiks guild relented, his voice flowing like still water.
Behind the man, four others were also kneeling quietly with their heads down.
“Findings? These excuses and pointless conjectures?” A swift retort, “Tell me. How is this possible?”
Raising his head, unlike the graying of his beard, two sapphire blue eyes glistened observantly from the man’s slender face. Expression unchanging like it was frozen, “We are also at a loss in that regard, your majesty.” Darvont Elutus Kalzorr, Head of the 12th ward Mystiks Guild answered, keeping his voice steady. “The various skirmishes throughout the city should have been our greatest leads, yet there is no residual mana for our seekers to trace. We have also been unable to find a single body, shred, or hide of our enemies. It’s as if they had all simply vanished into thin air during that brief night, guiding all our pursuits into futility.” Locking eyes with his king, Darvont kept his gaze still and confident, not allowing his king to peer into his thoughts.
“And that darkness?” Holding up the report, “A spell employed by the enemies to mask their retreat, was it? Does the Mystiks Guild truly believe that?”
“The very matter is still up for discussion and everyone has their own speculations, but the consensus seems to be so.” Darvont swiftly replied, “Assuming we are correct, it would answer many questions.”
“What of the questions that are unanswered?”
“We are still in the process of figuring that out, your majesty.”
“Hmph. So, no explanations on how this happened without your notice, no trails to follow, no names or bodies to bring to justice, and lastly… no answers or countermeasures for a spell that can consume this whole city.” Sarjace scowled with discontent. Narrowing his eyes, “Am I free to assume that the Mystiks Guild still knows nothing at all, beyond the fact that this was the doing of Tal’hrus?” He questioned, scrutinizing the five mages.
“… Yes.” Darvont answered and quickly lowered his forehead to the floor. “I am ashamed and have no excuses. For this failure, I will gladly accept any and all responsibilities.”
Sitting forward in amusement at the statement, “You?” King Sarjace snapped back, “You think you alone can shoulder the thousands of lives that were lost due to the guild’s negligence?”
“My king. It was my lack of foresight and vigilance that such wanton destruction found its way into our midst. As such, this fault is mine and mine alone. I implore you, please do not blame anyone else.”
Sarjace looked to the four mages behind Darvont, “And you four? What say you?”
“Sire.” Instead of the mages, again, it was Darvont who answered, “It was due to the efforts of the guild mages that we were able to minimize our losses. I hope that your majesty will show leniency and consideration toward his many loyal subjects.”
“My loyal subjects?” Scoffing at the remark, “Do you include yourself in that, my lord?”
“I do, your majesty.” An instant reply.
Discarding the amusement upon his face, “I find it humorous that you would.” With a callousness to his voice, King Sarjace stood up from his throne and slowly ambled forward, “Remind me again… WHAT is the purpose of the Mystiks Guild?”
“It- It is of course to protect and serve this city, your majesty.”
“And WHO does this city belong to?”
“…” Facing the floor, Darvont Elutus Kalzorr reluctantly closed his eyes, “This city belongs to you, your majesty.”
“Then would it be wrong to say that in a sense, the guild exists to serve me?” King Sarjace queried, looming over the mage.
“It would not, your majesty…”
“So enlighten me.”
“Yes, your majesty?”
“Why do you… my ‘loyal subject’, continue this farce?”
“Farce?” Taken aback by the question, Darvont lifted his head only to be met with a harsh glare.
“Do you believe me blind and deaf? That I cannot see what is happening within my own city? That I would not hear about what happens inside the confines of the Mystiks Guild?”
“Your majesty, I don’t understand.”
“But you do,” King Sarjace swiftly countered, staring down at the mage. “The whispers of treason that you have so carefully concealed and buried, going so far as to restrict even my own court mage from disclosing it… just where in this report is it?” He spat the words out and threw the pages before the mage. “To think you would dare to ask for leniency while withholding such secrets from me.”
“That?” Darvont calmly replied, keeping his facial expression in tandem with the tone of his voice, “Forgive me, but I did not deem such matters to be worthy of your majesty’s attention.” He carefully supplemented, lowering his head once more. “The issue was but a tragic misunderstanding on our part, and has already been ruled as such by those who were present at the time. Had I not ordered a decree of silence and the truth were to reach the populace, it would have tarnished the reputation of the Mystiks Guild and by extension, your majesty’s own. In these direst of times when your majesty must have the complete faith and trust of the people, I felt that the blunder of arresting and accusing two innocent citizens would only serve to complicate our situation.”
“… how considerate of you to have kept me in mind.” Releasing the intensity of his scowl, King Sarjace turned around and slowly returned to his throne. Sitting lazily back down on the seat, “Lord Darvont Elutus Kalzorr.” He named, projecting his voice as loud as possible, “For allowing our enemies into the city under your watch. For your inability to bring justice to the people… to the bereaved families of this fair city. I, Sarjace Jeziar Roulus Dalzon, hereby relieve you of your duty as Head of the 12th ward Mystiks Guild.”
One of the four mages behind Darvont cried out, their voice filled with disbelief at the sudden and unexpected ruling.
Yet with the raise of an arm from Darvont himself, the mage instantly stilled his tongue as the King continued in annoyance.
“You are to be restricted to the confines of your home until I have deemed otherwise, and you will no longer trouble yourself with guild matters. As for your replacement, I shall appoint someone else within the coming days. I thank you for your years of service, and hereby officially dismiss you of any further obligations.” King Sarjace commanded, voices resolute and firm.
“Your majesty, please reconsider!” One of the mages quickly begged, raising their voice anxiously.
“Were it not for Lord Kalzorr’s swift actions, many more would have suffered.” Another hastily spoke out, “If anything, it is the guil-”
“Enough. Ryvaas, Evier.” Silencing his subordinates, Darvont quietly looked up to his King and bowed his head once more. “Your majesty is merciful and magnanimous. I shall never forget your benevolence, sire.”
Clenching his fist, King Sarjace stiffly and irritably stood up as the double doors closed upon the opposite side of the large hall.
“Sire, how about some wine? I can have the servants bring a jar to-”
Instantly rejecting his steward, he quickly made his way toward one of the side passages, halting as he reached one of the six large supporting pillars.
“Have your men continue observing the guild. I want to be ready for whatever they are up to.” Sarjace ordered, not turning to look at the presence that was now emerging beside them.
“And the target?” An unfeeling but prideful voice answered from the pillar. The shadow that had been cast on one side of it quickly shifted, revealing two dark eyes from within.
“Given the opportunity, finish the job.”
Eyes smiling at the ruthless command, “Of course, master.” The voice replied and vanished back into the shadows.
“Sire…” Lorhan whispered cautiously from behind as the presence disappeared, leaving them alone in the empty hall. “Is it really wise to trust one as such?”
“Trust?” Sarjace retorted, finally turning to look at the now vacant pillar. “I would be a fool to put my trust in such a person. Thankfully for us, it is coins he is after and not trust.” Reaching out, he touched where the man had been hiding within the shadows. Not a single shred of the man’s presence or mana could be felt. “And as you have seen for yourself, his skills are without a doubt second to none. To be able to conceal his presence from the famed Ice Sage of Dumierre… it is no small feat.”
“That- that is true, but I fear that this will only invite-”
“It is not up for debate, Lorhan.”
“I-… of course, sire.”
“Then enough with the second guessing.” Continuing his steps toward the side door, “I will be in my study. Have the royal secretary draw up a list of suitable mages within my court and bring it to me there. I wish to decide on the new replacement as soon as possible.”
Without waiting for a reply, he proceeded forth through the passage with all his dignity in tow.
1st Ward. Southern District.
Standing behind his lord, Troyle’s gaze slowly drew away from the sobbing widow before them and slowly settled onto a young boy standing beside the charred kitchen arch of the small residence.
The boy was clutching a leather vambrace to his chest and there was anger in his tear-filled eyes, yet the child did not make a sound as he watched his mother crying.
“I’m sorry. I did everything I could.”
Lord Varath’s apology entered his ears and not looking away from the child, Troyle gritted his teeth, biting down his own anger.
Because of him, because of his complacency, the child had become fatherless. And now, the justice they had been promised would never come as well.
“I wish that my wealth and influence was enough, but they are not. And at this point, it would be detrimental for us to continue pushing further. I hope you understand.” Alzin Varath added, bowing low to the woman across from them.
“Y-yes… I understand…” Amidst silent tears, a feeble voice deprived of hope quietly answered.
“But that does not mean you both are out of options.” Alzin Varath continued. Not lifting his head, he reached into his cloak and pulled out a sizable pouch before presenting it forth. “This is for you and Adeim. I have made sure that there is enough in there. Enough until he comes of age.”
“Please take it.” Alzin pleaded, keeping his head down.
Hastily getting up from her chair, the woman took hold of Alzin’s arms, “My lord, please. Please raise your head.” She entreated as she attempted to pull him up.
Seeing the woman panicking and his lord refusing to lift their head, “Yuralai.” Troyle spoke, interrupting the anxious widow, “Please take it.”
“But how can I-”
“Please. It is his lordship’s will. Do not hesitate.”
Her two dark eyes stalled onto his own as if searching for verification, and with a nod from him, “T-thank you. Thank you….” The woman reluctantly took the pouch and fell to her knees.
“No… thank you, my lady.” Alzin Varath softly replied before raising his head again. Fixing his posture on the seat and composing himself, he turned his attention back to the widow, “With that, there is something else I wish to ask of you, my lady.”
Seeing the sudden change, the woman quickly drew in her emotions, “Y-yes?”
“It is sudden, but I have decided to uproot my family elsewhere. Troyle here along with a few of the others have already decided to join me on this. If you are not against the idea, how about coming with us?”
Facing the window, he could not help but stare at the devastation around them as their carriage rattled back toward the 11th ward.
Thick lines of soot stretched endlessly across the sides of buildings and roads alike, designating where large flaming walls had been erected during the attack. In their proximity stood the crumbling houses that had been scorched black by the flames, and strewn all along both sides of the main road with no end in sight, were countless emergency tents hosting those who had been displaced from their homes.
The scene was a far cry from the last time they had visited the 1st ward, but seeing it, he could not help but feel fortunate for his own family’s circumstances.
“You’ve been eerily silent since we left Oris’ house.”
The words came from in front of him and Troyle quickly turned his focus from the outside to his lord.
“Mind sharing what’s on your mind?” Alzin added, staring back at him.
“My lord,” Forcing his own thoughts away from the devastation, “I… I’m wondering if this is the right thing to do?” Troyle calmly answered, holding back the myriad of other questions within his own mind.
“If what is the right thing to do?”
“Leaving like this.” He elaborated, “Oris and Kanaar, along with their families… they deserve better than this.”
“I know.” Alzin Varath replied, sitting forward solemnly, “But unless you are willing to set that thing in your sword free, then our options are pretty limited. Especially with what’s happened.”
Following his lord’s gaze, Troyle lowered his eyes to the two slim swords next to him. The weapon housing the familiar had reappeared by itself within the Varath manor upon their return, and they had not dared to question it.
“I… I am not.” He quietly conceded, recalling what it did to a room of mages. What it had effortlessly done, to one of the Five Flames.
“Then all we can do for them is offer their families some form of security, while looking after our own.” Alzin Varath replied.
“Yes, my lord.”
Seeing Troyle’s troubled expression and sensing the discomfort within the carriage, “Don’t look so disappointed. Let me just tell you now that this isn’t over yet.” Alzin Varath quickly stated, “We will bide our time for now and wait for this to blow over. Once it does, I will petition his majesty once again.”
“You will?” Troyle questioned, surprised at the unyielding resolve.
Turning to face Troyle, Alzin smiled. “Don’t look at me like that. I’m just unwilling to sit back and allow that ignoble and treacherous walking discharge of a man to get away with what he did.”
“Then I must apologize for thinking otherwise.”
“It’s fine. As a great man once said, ‘Anger and vengeance are powerful tools, but a true man must know how and when to employ their patience’. I might not be that great of a man myself, but I too, can be patient… if not persistent.”
“I’d say persistent would be an understatement.” Troyle quipped, finally forcing a smile out of himself.
“Hah? Yea okay, fair enough.” Alzin lightheartedly admitted with a grin of his own and leaned back, “I mean… just who wouldn’t be if they knew what I knew?” He replied while staring ponderously at the empty seat across from him.
“You gave your words. Don’t forget that.” Troyle swiftly reminded.
“I know!” With an exaggerated groan, Alzin Varath sighed and slumped further down his seat. “I know… which is why I’m regretting it so much right now.” He pouted, looking to be lost in frivolous thoughts.
And for the span of a few breaths, they continued in silence as the somber atmosphere returned.
Hurrying to sit up again, “Do you have any idea when he’s coming back?”
“I don’t. We have yet to receive a single letter as well.”
“I see…” Straightening himself, Alzin quickly returned to his usual poise, “I just keep wondering what might have happened had he been here, you know?” A frightened but overly curious smile crept onto his lips.
And, “I do.” Troyle quietly concurred.
“What do you-”
“My lord. Do you think Kanaar and Oris’ widows will accept your proposal?” Troyle quickly interrupted, not wishing to dwell on the matter further.
“Hmmm…” Easily taking the hint, “Lady Aury has family here in Ferrent, so I’m not sure about her. As for Oris’ widow… I believe she was from outside the city. If either of them was to join, I think it will be her.”
“So a possible eight families.”
“Yes.” Alzin confirmed, “What about you? How are your preparations coming along?”
“A few minor things need to be accounted for and the house will have to be sold, but I have already acquired the service of the merchant’s guild for these very matters. Even if our escorts get here before everything is taken care of, my family will be good to go.”
“That’s great. Then I shall continue to trouble you.”
“It is part of the job, my lord.” Troyle replied, returning a wry smile.