Chapter 27 Edit
"The Gods reward the loyal, the honourable, the kind, the hospitable and the faithful with unending glories both in life and death. Go forth, and serve the Gods, by serving your fellow men."
---The Book of Sallund
The walls to Jyptia were created long ago with very potent magic, coupled with special magical artefacts, that shaped the very earth into the mighty structure. The most resistant wall in recorded History. Never had anyone managed to pass that wall without permission of the Jyptians, and only a few ever tried.
Inside the massive structure there were barracks, where the gate guards and summoners stayed, waiting for any visitors. Months would pass by between the rare traveller would reach the walls, and even more time until anyone was admitted in. But the guards in charge of the walls, and their families, had access to the best food, drinks, books, services and clothes, for free, since the very security of the whole kingdom depended on them.
It was the day after they astounding arrival, and the members of the Freedom Army only left the infirmary a few minutes ago. The magic of the summoners cured their injuries, but they still had to rest until now. When they finally received new clothes and left the infirmary, they noticed that almost everyone in the barracks was wary of them, when they asked why, Drindell answered impatiently:
"For the same reason they had the trouble of building this wall. They're wary of outsiders, lad."
"Not all of us," said the first summoner they met, coming nearer them, "But you are lucky to be travelling with Drindell anyway, otherwise, you'd be dead by now."
"Zanzoo...long time no see, my good chap, solved your problem with Kilem?"
"The Kiniuk gave up three weeks after you left. They don't make good disciples anymore. How's Klamor by the way?"
"...Dead. We're having problems in Ruivoca."
"The new king?" Drindell, looked at him, surprised, "Some people here know there's a whole world outside these gates. Too bad about Klamor though. He was a great wizard, and a good man. I trust you accomplished his last demands?"
"Yes," said Drindell, taking a small box linked to a straw, around his neck, "Burnt with his own spell."
"Then you must be on your way. But...besides this, what else brings you to these lands?" he paused for a second, observing Drindell's expression, "You wouldn't bring these others otherwise."
"Good old Zanzoo, always a step ahead of me. If I didn't know you I'd say you learned to see the future while I was away. Yes, there are other reasons. Like I said, we're having problems in Ruivoca."
"I see. I beg that you don't tell much more. I don't think my countrymen would approve of your ulterior motives, and I am far too loyal to openly lie to them. Last time Jyptia aided other people in their affairs...those were dark times. And the great majority of our people will need many years to recover."
Drindell nodded and looked through the window, to the swamp and the desert beyond.
Marin and the others were being lectured by another summoner about Jyptia. They were given golden pendants with green jewels.
"Those are the sign that you are accompanied by a wizard. You will have free and safe passage as long as you wear them. Never take those off. Try not to stray too far from Drindell. It is not common for a wizard to bring so many companions. People will be suspicious, but they shall honour the ancient pact between our people. Also..."
He turned face-to-face with the group, "There may be some of us...a chaotic lot, that don't recognize the right of outsiders to walk upon our lands. I assure you that it is a very small fraction of our population, but they exist. They are, of course, unlawful, but the long-seeing eyes and far-hearing ears of the amon cannot see all. I would be careful, and keep within the more...ordered parts of Jyptia."
Hobenrûd smirked, "People trying to kill us? Now, that's unusual."
Marin lightly kicked Hobenrûd's ankle, eliciting a frown from him, before saying, "Don't worry sir, we will take care of ourselves."
"The very safety and survival of Jyptia depends on our ability to protect our lands from outsiders."
Leaving the men behind to do their business, Anita and Marin decided to go explore the city. They wandered down the many streets, taking a bit of time to look here and there, inspecting the variety of items for sale. But to Marin, it seemed that Anita was looking for something...else, something which would not be so easy to find. Indeed, by nightfall, though they had wandered through over a hundred stores, their purse was as laden with money as when they had started.
"I guess we'll just have to admit that we failed to find anything of interest, and search some more tomorrow," said Anita to Marin, who was still a bit confused as to what Anita was doing here anyway. They had now gone a long way from the gates where Drindell probably still was...
"What are you looking for, exactly?"
"I don't really know," Anita replied, as if mesmerized by the variety of things out for sale along the commercial avenues and not looking at Marin at all. "But, I will know when I see one." With this said, they turned around to begin the long journey back home, and came face to face with an envoy of guards, the captain of which was facing them with an angry face.
"Outsiders!" he shouted in his guttural voice, "What have you to explain?"
Anita merely pointed to the jewel she wore around her neck, and Marin did the same. Yet the captain's anger did not dissolve, it merely hardened. "So, someone disloyal dog has forsaken its loyalty to Jyptia and allowed you two rascals into our land? Men!"
"Sir!" was the shout from about two dozen subordinates, each wielding a weapon.
"Get them!" Then the captain walked backward while his men surged forward with their weapons out.
Marin drew her sword with a szzzzinggg! and brandished it as if her life depended on it, ready to strike, and Anita took out her giant green fan, waiting for the optimal moment to strike. The forces clashed, and all around them were the screams of the denizens rushing away from the battle and all possible danger. Though vastly outnumbered, Marin had the advantage of position--she could not be surrounded--allowing her to clash again and again with the two nearest soldiers.
The metallic clanging of blades was interrupted by a falling crate of oranges, the round fruits rolling around on the ground and tripping the nearest soldiers, who struggled and collapsed in a heap, allowing Marin to point the sharp end of her sword at the four soldiers beneath her, ready to slice their heads off. She smiled with pleasure as the other soldiers backed away from the walk-in market stall. "Well? Have you four anything to say?" Marin asked the four soldiers sprawled on the ground.
"You're screwed," was the reply of one. Marin was about to chop his head off when suddenly a dozen more soldiers appeared at the entrance of the market stall and aimed their bows and arrows at them. In desperation, Marin looked from side to side but saw no escape route.
Then an idea hit her. She ducked to the ground, lying flat on the earth like the four soldiers, and as if on cue, Anita let loose the fury of her fan, generating a twister which spun outward from the stall, ripping apart the roof and picking up a variety of fruits. The archers fired their arrows, several of them being knocked aside from the winds but the others finding their mark. Anita gasped as the iron-headed arrows bit into her tender flesh, and soon collapsed from the excruciating pain, while her life blood drained away. The twister meanwhile sped at the soldiers rapidly, picking them up with remarkable ease while the astonished captain ran away as fast as he could. Nearly all the soldiers flailed around helplessly in the air as the twister ascended the clouds, taking them along with it.
Marin looked at the shallow-breathing Anita and knew that she would have to find help as soon as possible. She struggled to bring Anita into an upright position so that she could bring her along, away from the market stall. She saw a few civilians nearby, and shouted to them, "she's gravely injured and needs assistance now!" Several of them rushed to where she could only hope were doctors or wizards of some sort...
Just then, Drindell and Zanzoo stumbled out into the marketplace, Zanzoo nearly dropping the crystal orb he held in his hands. "There!" shouted Drindell, and rushed over to Anita's side before taking a potion of red liquid from out of his sash and dabbing Anita's wounds with it. "She'll be okay," he said to the worried Marin right next to her.
"What has happened?" asked Zanzoo as he too rushed up.
"We got ambushed by two dozen xenophobic soldiers," replied Marin.
"Well, where are they now?"
"Anita's whirlwind carried them all away into the firmament." Looking back at Anita, Marin noticed that the red liquid had disappeared, and along with it, the wounds. The arrows were being steadily pushed outward, and one by one they collapsed onto the ground.
"Don't worry, Anita is now made whole again," said Drindell. "Another reason why I advocate the path of a wizard rather than that of a sorceress." He retrieved a pink-purple potion from his sash, and uncapped it underneath Anita's nose, causing her to awaken.
"You feeling better?" asked Drindell. Anita nodded, then realizing that she was no longer injured, joyfully smiled with evident relief.
"How'd you know that we were here?"
"When I saw that you had left, we knew you were bound to get yourself in trouble, so I looked into my crystal ball and used it to track you two," said Zanzoo.
"And now, it's time we get back, before they come again," said Drindell, and they returned to the barracks where the weary travellers would be staying for the night. "Oh yes, what were you doing wandering the streets?" Zanzoo asked Anita.
Anita shrugged, a bit embarrassed that she had caused the two wizards so much trouble. "Just an artefact."
Zanzoo laughed. "Oh, newcomers! Never know the differences between Jyptia and the rest of the world, do they? Look here, Anita. You won't be finding artefacts randomly in the market stalls. Jyptia has a lot more magic folk than elsewhere, so any and all magical items have been found. Now, if you would like, I'll give you my crystal ball," Zanzoo offered.
Anita smiled. "Oh, how can I accept? I ought to get one on my own..."
"Now now now, if that's troubling you, I can instead offer to let you borrow it, and if you use it to good effect, I'll let you keep it, how's that sound?"
Anita smiled again. "Thank you so much, Zanzoo," she said, holding the orb with one hand and hugging the wizard with the other. Drindell and the others looked on with joy.
But before going, Zanzoo, still uttered some words, "The threads of time are too many and too chaotic to be easily understood by human minds. You may easily see the present in nearby places, but the farther in time and space you go, the less you can trust what you see in the ball. So don't rely too heavily on it.
"A messenger was sent to the amon, with my recommendations. I have a certain degree of influence in the court, so he should send a expedition of dragon-riders here, and then to Ruivoca. I'd recommend you stay in the city and rest. If you were so desperate as to come to Jyptia, the perils you face must be great, indeed."
"A wizard must provide aid for those in need, despite of nationality or creed."
---Klamor, the Hydromancer
Shortly after the sun rose the next day, the party went out to town. They decided to stay near Drindell, to make sure that events like those of yesterday didn't repeat. Marin and Anita, knowing where the shops were, led them to the nearby marketplace, where they replenished their supplies, and Gilbert bought some exotic goods from Jyptia, intending to sell them in Ruivoca.
Marin was looking at assortment of mirrors made from a strange silvery metal that reflected better than bronze, when she felt something on her shoulder, she turned her head and saw a skeleton hand, with golden rings and golden bracelets tapping her shoulder, she shrieked, jumped out of the spot and pushed the skeleton hand away.
Hobenrûd laughed, and waved with the skeleton arm, Marin panted for some time, calmed down, and laughed too, faintly, "Jarnia! Have you been stealing tombs now?"
"I bought it on one of those tents. It's called a inoss. Decorative skeleton parts with gold. I thought it was nice-looking," he explained, between gasps of laughter, "Also, I wanted to lift the mood. We can't do anything until the dragon-riders come, so we better enjoy ourselves."
"And that's your idea of enjoying yourself?" she said, trying to sound stern, but smiling.
"Well, that's one of my ideas," Hobenrûd started saying, before being interrupted by Drindell, "But before anything, I have a very important thing I must do. You might wish to come together. It may be interesting."
And soon thereafter the group started hiking mount Kalamar, just outside the town, led by Drindell. Hobenrûd, still waving the skeleton arm around, asked what they were doing.
"Hiking up the mount," said Drindell, said, matter-of-factly.
"But what for?" Asked a curious and anxious Anita.
"Have patience lass, I told you it might be interesting to see. But one thing I can tell you, this mount was the home of my master, Klamor, before he moved out from Jyptia due to...political disturbances. He lived at the top of it, in a cave he shaped from the earth, under the eyes of government officials, when he was denied the right to live in the town."
"Interesting. I suppose Klamor left useful artefacts in his home?" asked Gilbert, already thinking on the possibilities and advantages this would give his movement.
"No," said Drindell, holding a box on his hand, "I believe what he didn't bring with him was looted already."
"So...what are we going to do there?" said Hobenrûd, touching Marin's shoulder again with the arm ("Stop 'doing that!" she said, still smiling).
"You'll...oh, there it is," they had reached the top of the mount, where, on the midst of shrubbery and grass, two tall pillars of sand stood motionless, on either side of a cave, too spherical to be natural, carved on a large rock formation.
The group walked to the cave carefully, pausing to examine the pillars of still sand. Except for Drindell, that stood behind, with his arms crossed, still holding the box.
"What? Is there something wrong?" asked Marin. But Drindell didn't answer, he walked to the column to right, took a wristband from his bag and put it on, before, while whispering some words, inserting his hand into the pillar, and moving it up and down, as if searching for something. After some time he took his hand out of the pillar, holding a transparent sphere filled with orange liquid. The pillar disintegrated.
He did the same on the left pillar, this time, taking a sphere filled with purple powder, under the puzzled stares of the rest of the group. He then opened the box that he carried, and put the two spheres in it. Then he closed the box and shook it violently, presumably breaking the spheres, and said:
"These are the ashes of Klamor, he told me that when he died I would have to do that for him, since I was the last person living he could trust with such," he then opened the box and poured its contents on the ground, a black liquid.
"When I was a child, I was the weakest lad in the whole village, I had no interest in farming, or hunting, I preferred to look at the plants, read books on them, see how things worked, how the flies looked like closely. And that, in my village...I would be better off as a bird born without wings.
"But one day, a man appeared on my doorstep, terribly wounded. My mother and I cared for the man for almost a week, time that he passed almost invariably unconscious. The man had a bag -the one that I carry now- filled with strange things, that in my childish mind, I found interesting. Most interesting was an incomplete translation of Encyclopaedia Magicka, that, as I know now, Klamor was working on.
"I ended up burning down a house with my ineptitude and curiosity. There was much commotion and they threatened to kill me. The next day Klamor woke up, and, hearing of all that happened from my crying mother, and she asked Klamor, not knowing he was a renowned wizard, since foreign news weren't important in our backwater village, to take me to my relatives in Pulti," Drindell paused for a second and looked down to the ground.
"Klamor agreed, but on the way there, I asked him to teach me how to do things like those I done in the village again. His only answer was to look at me and raise his eyebrows. I told him that I wanted to learn how to do it right, so that when I did it again, it'd be in a good way.
"Klamor told me, and I remember very well, to this day, 'Well...I have no disciples, and I have no pressing matters, and for you, an uneducated boy to do such a thing, a minor trick for me, yes, but still an astounding feat for you...I believe you have talent, boy, and yes, I accept the duty to train you in the arts of magic, as long as you recognize me as your master.'
"I accepted, and in the next day I took the disciple's oath. Then, he took me to Jyptia, where I completed my training. We remained good friends when my training was over, and we served the new king, after our return, in the wars against Lukavia and Sumdo. But then, after some time, the degree of corruption of the king became too blatant to be ignored, and Klamor actively fought him, while I stood back.
"Klamor was killed, and I went back to my village. Mum was dead, died from the plague, didn't have money to pay for medical assistance. I went to Pulti and managed to show the population there that revolution was the only way. And the rest you already know," he finished, still looking intently to the ground.
"And he wanted that his ashes be thrown here. But why you took that things from the pillars?" at that moment, the puddle of black liquid started glowing and an eerie sound, with no visible source, could be heard at the top of the mount.
Starting from the puddle, the grass around the mount started becoming more and more verdant and flowers started sprouting out of the ground, soon, the top of the mount went from a arid savannah with dead grass and some shrubbery, common throughout Jyptia to a field green grass and flowers of varied colours. And, at the place where the black liquid fell to the ground, a strange tree grew up.
Where other trees would take months to grow, this one grew within seconds, and it kept growing until its height was about three meters. Then branches grew out of the trunk and leaves sprouted out of them. This was the greatest tree in the land of shrubbery and grass that was Jyptia.
"Klamor wanted to give something back to the land he grew in. His last spell will make land nearby more fertile, and neither this tree, nor these flowers will ever die while the spell is working... But don't tell the Jyptians. Klamor never liked when people praised him for anything."
"The veil of falsehood is a thick one, but the fire of truth will inevitably burn through it."
After three days of waiting, the regiment from the amon finally reached the city.
The dragon riders, wearing sparkling bronze armour and mounted on mighty reptilian beasts paraded through the city streets, toward the Jyptian wall. While the population watched, some smiling, some cheering, some angry that aid was being given to the outsiders and some simply mesmerized by the hundreds of soldiers.
The three or four regiments (sources conflict on this point) paraded around the town while an envoy of the amon left the ranks, accompanied by two bodyguards to speak with the outsiders. The members of the Freedom Army were waiting in the audience room of the mayor, located inside the wall. Making sure they were presentable.
The envoy rode up the ramps built in the wall to allow mounted transportation. The bodyguards entered first, and announced, "The most wise vizier Kalhim A'salub Jefezaar. Defender of Jyptia and envoy of the amon. Be respectful on his presence all that fear the wrath of Geres."
The vizier entered the room on his dragon, a great, blue coloured beast, with large wings and yellow eyes without pupils. Marin suddenly became wide-eyed, Hobenrûd asked what was wrong, but she didn't answer. The vizier stepped down from the dragon, and proclaimed:
"In the name of the amon Rá, the great and invincible, Geres guide and give him glory, these regiments of the mighty dragon riders will be offered to the Freedom Army to aid them in their fight against the tyrannical rule of the current king of Ruivoca, and as a sign of our desire for an enduring friendship with the future regim..." the vizier suddenly became wide-eyed, stopped talking, and blinked a few times.
After some seconds, he blurted out, "P-princess Marin!? The-there must be a mistake! I...I can assure you, your highness, the letter sent to the amon didn't...we...if he knew it was you and your noble father asking for aid, obviously the amon would have sent ma-many more regiments. It must be a cons..."
"What the hell?" asked Hobenrûd, puzzled.
"If we knew this was an official mission we...the ones responsible for this will be persecuted, your highness, I can assure you...I-I'll go myself to the capital and request more regiments for your father."
"Priscilla..." started saying a confused Anita.
"Did he say Marin?" asked a less confused Gilbert.
"This is a mistake. She's not...Marin is the king's daughter, Priscilla wouldn't..." tried to reason Hobenrûd, mostly to himself, while Drindell kept silent.
"He's telling the truth," said Marin, unwilling to continue the deception, "Kalhim was sent to the palace some months ago...to tell my father the amon wouldn't send any aid to Ruivoca..."
"What..." tried to say Hobenrûd.
"I...am Princess Marin of Ruivoca."
"Heh...I did think you were suspicious when I first saw you." said Gilbert, smiling, but with scheming eyes.
"I am not sure I understand..." said the puzzled vizier.
"...You used us!" Hobenrûd yelled furiously, "You used me!"
"No! I..." Marin tried to reason.
"You just wanted to take the throne for yourself!"
"...yes, at first, but not now! I...I care about what we're trying to do!"
"'Yes, at first'? Now would be a good time for you to start lying again, bitch!" Hobenrûd yelled again, lunging at Marin. The others constrained him, except for Gilbert, that stood away.
"Please! I was going to tell you...but...I thought that once you knew I was the princess..." Marin tried to reason with him, but was interrupted by another furious lash, "What!? That we would know the truth!? That you've been lying to m...to us all this time!"
"Calm down, lad." Drindell told him sternly.
"Don't tell me to calm down!" Hobenrûd answered angrily, and backed away from, Marin. Without any other word, he left the room, followed by a much calmer Gilbert.
"I was going to tell..." Marin said again, too lowly for Hobenrûd to hear.
"It's not your fault lass, he just needs tim..." but Marin had already left the room, going to the opposite side.
Anita recovered from the shock, "Why don't you seem surprised?"
"I am," Drindell said, "but even though her name changed, Marin is still the same person, he'll just need time to understand that."
The vizier, still confused, scratched his chin, "What in heavens just happened here?"
"Angry, she was so angry! She was angry because he didn't make her as angry as she thought he would."
--The Curious Case of Sir Galfron d'Amela
Drindell had left the wall, to watch the parade, Anita decided to stay and see it from a distance, through one of the windows. After some time she became bored and decided to watch it closer too. In the way, she passed near Marin's room, and asked if she was alright. Marin didn't answer.
Anita decided to leave her alone, and kept going. A few minutes later, she saw Hobenrûd leaving his room and going in the opposite direction, Gilbert stood in the doorway. She didn't want to bother Hobenrûd, so she asked Gilbert, "Where's Hoben going?"
Gilbert glanced at her and went back to staring at nowhere in particular, before answering, "Kill the bitch, I suppose," matter of factly.
"What!?" Anita exclaimed, he couldn't have meant what she thought, could he?
"He seemed pretty angry when he left, and he was talking about Marin."
"You...we gotta stop him!"
"I'd rather not interfere. I'm a crippled bowman, what good would I be?" he said, with a calm smile.
"But...Drindell! I have...no, he's too far, he'll never...what I'm saying!? I've got to stop him myself," she concluded. She wasn't with her artefacts, but she had to do something, so she ran to Marin's room.
Marin heard knocks on her door, it was probably Anita again, so she didn't make a move to open it. She didn't want to talk at the moment. But then she heard Hobenrûd's voice, she thought he was going to listen to her, and in her enthusiasm, she didn't notice the controlled anger tone of his voice.
She unlocked the door, and the moment she did so, it was violently flung wide open. The figure of Hobenrûd appeared in the open portal, with his sword unsheathed, menacing.
"What you're doing!?" Marin asked, stepping back.
Hobenrûd replied in a creepy, near baritone voice. "You...betrayed us.. DIDN'T you!?! It was thanks to YOU the Sardinians knew where to find us. It was thanks to YOU that that guy almost killed me. WASN'T IT!?!"
Marin backed off in fright, her voice quaking. "No, No! No, Hoben, listen to yourself, I saved your life there. Remember?" Hobenrûd took another step forward. "Would I have done it if I had betrayed you?" asked Marin, emotionally distraught from her failure to convince Hobenrûd of her positive intentions.
Hobenrûd only slightly slowed his pace and continued taking ponderous steps forward, shouting: "Why should I believe you?!? Everything you ever told me was a big LIE! You NEVER cared about the people I tried to help!" Hobenrûd wracked his memory for what other reasons he held. "Even... You were the responsible for their suffering! You and that demon father of yours!"
For a short moment he was at a loss for words, but then he resumed, hatred surging through his veins: "You are everything I was trying to fight against!" he yelled at her.
Marin replied, though she was half afraid to speak. "H-Hoben...I... I didn't know of their plight...! I... I didn't care--but that was because he told me that it was the right way!" Marin drooped her head, unable to continue looking into Hobenrûd's eyes. "When I joined you... yes, yes, you're right, all I wanted was to get the throne," and she looked back up his impressive figure, tears on her eyes. "But--not now... Not any more! I've seen so much of the pain that I didn't know about, and I've--I've learned to care-"
"Stop...lying!" Hobenrûd said, hitting the wall with his flamberge, making a deep cut in the soft rock. Deep inside, he was struggling between two conflicting wills. He thought Marin to be quite helpful, she had never left his organization... Yet the other half of his mind told him that she was lying, that he hated her, he hated Marin, that was right... before he knew her, and that part of his mind told him he had to keep hating her. He raised his blade yet again.
"Hoben, stop this!" Marin pleaded for mercy while instinctively reaching to the scabbard clipped on her sash to pull out her kris, prepared to parry any attacks. She barely noticed her heavy breathing.
Hobenrûd tried to slash at her, but just as he did so the other side of his mind kicked in again, stopping his attack halfway and giving Marin just the advantage she needed to block the attack. He seemed to want to kill her, but didn't want her to die.
His deep voice continued fulminating. "You lied to me, you betrayed me, you...I trusted you, I really trusted you. More so than Gilbert!! I thought that you might...might understand what I was trying to do..."
Hobenrûd halfway looked down, lost in thought. "In a way Gilbert couldn't. Gilbert couldn't care about just another poor bastard even if he wanted to. But I thought you..." he spoke angrily but his fury was faltering simultaneously. He then tensed, and gripped his flamberge even more tenaciously, half expecting Marin to strike back at him in a desperate bid of survival. But Marin did not strike back.
"Hoben, I did, and I still do. Just because I lied to you about who I was doesn't mean everything I did was espionage." Hobenrûd's only answer was to attack her again, though Marin sensed a growing discomfort within the great warrior, as if his conviction was faltering every moment he gazed at the intensity of Marin's defiance....