The light of the early morning was painted in swatches and shades of various violets, blues and oranges. The sun was rising, but it was doing so tentatively, creeping up on the world and ever so slowly dispelling the darkness of the night. The night remonstrated, becoming envious yet fascinated shades against the edge of light. The never-ending battle raged on silently; Rhylor watched on as such.
He carefully inspected the swatches of orange and purple, and the creeping sunlight on the horizon. From his spot outside the barn on a bale of hay, he felt so incredibly small just looking at this painted marvel.
“Hey, wake up,” he said to Vankesa who was slowly ambling out of the barn.
“I’m awake, you idiot,” he responded a little icily; “that’s kind of why I’m walking.” Rhylor decided to ignore that.
“Look at the sky,” he said instead.
“It’s nice,” Vankesa said, with only the slightest wonderment coming into his voice. Then his usual tone took over. “But what’s so great about it?”
“Lots of things,” Rhylor said, giving him a mysterious smile. He jumped off of the bale, deciding something unconsciously as he walked off toward the front door.
The dawn followed. It swept in after Rhylor as he pushed back the door to Tarja’s house. Light crept in, creating playful shadows that danced behind objects mournfully. Sleep hovered lightly on everything, and Rhylor was compelled to drop onto the floor and sleep again on the cold floor.
“Tarja?” he called up the stairs, fighting off the need. “Garril? Ardray? Anybody?” His voice trailed lightly up the stairs, hoping not to shatter the peaceful barrier of thinnest sleep. Slowly, Rhylor took the first step up the stairs. He made sure it was light, so the old boards would not gripe under his weight. Soon, he arrived at Garril’s door.
“Hey, wake up,” he said to him lightly. Garril awoke promptly, rising like a tired ghost from the grave of its being.
“It’s so early,” Garril mumbled, looking out a small window nearby. He stood from his bed and shuffled to the door.
The two of them soon woke Ardray and Solnel, Tarja and Artturi and then Elinan. Vankesa had been downstairs the whole time, drinking from a mug and staring, locked in thought, at the outside world.
Breakfast was made not long after that. The smell of frying fish and spices sizzled impatiently and bubbled over the grill. The smell was rather intoxicating, smelling more like a Galdartan inn rather than a simple farmhand’s work. None of them, save for Artturi, had ever been to Galdarta, and this odd new smell of fish and peppers shocked their senses with a wild opening of cultural doors. It was a strong smell, but enticing.
“Fish?” Vankesa said just a little disparagingly at the spicy-smelling plate laid before him. That was all Tarja needed.
“What about fish?” she intoned inhumanly, turning her head almost all the way around to glare at him with one icy eye. The room froze silently.
“Fish,” Vankesa droned quickly. “Yeah, fish. Fish is good.” And with mock voracity, he tore into the slice of fish and shoved most of it into his mouth all at once. Tarja smiled, and the talking resumed happily. Everything was happy.
Once breakfast was over and the dawn made way for the morning, everybody was suddenly all business. Those who had weapons strapped them on someplace convenient, and they sparkled dimly in the new crisp light. Their faces were determined and hardy—save for Vankesa’s, twisted in disgust at the fish he was forced to eat.
“All right,” Garril said in a businesslike tone. “Where are we headed?”
“What does the paper say?” Ardray supplied, motioning at Elinan. It had fallen on Elinan to keep the glowing vase, mainly because she worshiped Kaneru and it was he who made the vase anyway.
“The paper doesn’t say much,” Elinan replied. “It says we choose where to go, but the events are going to happen anyway.”
“I say we go to Elvinia,” Garril said, a little too quickly.
“Why Elvinia?” Solnel asked. “Why not Athastre, or Elytris? Or even Gerodathia?”
“Because Elvinia is literally right down the road,” Garril replied, pointing down the rest of the way down the Caspedile Road. The capital of Elvinia was quite obvious from there, with is vast gate and wide, straight streets.
“It’s logical,” Artturi conceded. He shrugged around his cloak and took the rein of his horse. Jumping on its back, he raised his arm in a very flaunting manner. “Onward to Great Elvinia!” he announced in a loud voice. He started on, leading the mock charge toward Elvinia with the rest of them in an arrow like formation.
The morning was clean, crisp and blue. It had won, for now.
Queen Anukka of Elvinia was always an impatient one. It seems she was like her sister, who ultimately inherited the same intolerance for idleness from their father. She hated to admit it, but for once she was actually bored. There was nothing at all to do in the castle, seeing as that doltish Syrregain had gone off to terrorize more people in Sycracia, and he had taken half the military compound with him.
So Anukka was left alone in that sparkling-interior castle of which outside was made of heavy stone. She sat—to her dismay—idly on her throne watching the morning light shift across the glowing marble tiles. So much time, nothing to do. It was maddening! She flicked at her hair, scratched at her cheek, tapped her feet, fiddled with her crown, folded out ruffles in her dress, brushed at her eyelashes, adjusted her socks, adjusted her collar, adjusted her sleeves—
“Your highness?” A steady voice from across the room interrupted her actions.
“What?” Anukka asked a little testily. Could he not see that she was busy?
“We see somebody at the border, your highness,” her right-hand man informed her, stepping into the room. His gold-tinted armor shuffled noisily in accordance with his step.
“Who are they? And where are they from.”
“It is impossible to tell, your highness,” he admitted. “Their leader seems to be Elvin, and could I make out three more Elvins with them. A couple look to be Paitish, one of them is definitely Athastrian by the way he was shooting off his mouth, and one of them was a Sycrate.”
“An odd group,” Anukka speculated. She lifted one foot off of the throne, and it instantly shot back down. “Damn,” she whispered venomously.
“Is it still there?” her right-hand man asked a little fearfully.
“Yes,” she replied. “That idiot Syrregain doesn’t seem to trust me even when I can’t do anything in the first place.” The curse that Syrregain and that sword Lacrymosa had placed on her was utterly intolerable. It made the blade’s evil power resonate strongly throughout her body of course, but it kept her bound to the throne until the sword takes it to mind that she should be set free. Anukka almost retched at the thought of being manipulated and controlled by that sword.
“Should I see to it that they aren’t here to cause trouble?” her right-hand man asked.
“Do that,” she replied wearily. Anukka leaned her head against her hand, a sign that she was about to go into one of her daily lapses of sudden energy loss: another side effect of the curse. It sapped her like a sneering cold venom, living in her veins and draining her of what little life she had left.
It seemed that she had only fallen asleep for no more than a minute, when an amateurish guard came bounding up the steps to the throne room.
“My Queen,” he said in a reporting fashion. “We’ve identified one of the group coming towards Elvinia to be the son of Aseva Vrysze; the one called Vankesa. He is a wanted thief across much of Val Boran.”
“Him,” Anukka mused, memories clicking into place. She remembered Aseva Vrysze—before and after Syrregain plucked her out of that lonely old road and forced her back to Elvinia. She was a troublesome little woman, Anukka admitted to herself. It was good that she had her killed when she did.
And then Anukka had a thought. If news that Aseva Vrysze was dead reached Vankesa, that would surely make him revolt. And then he would take his complaint to the Anukka, which would leave him out in the open, totally helpless. Killing two birds with one stone. Anukka absolutely adored the idea.
“You,” she said to the guard, who was turning to leave. They sound of her voice, laden with sadistic intention made him turn. “I want you to gather some people and carefully spread news that the prisoner is dead.”
“As you command,” he said involuntarily.
“And spread it carefully. I want it to dribble out to him like a rat’s blood gushing from its body as it’s crushed to death.” She smiled faintly. “That is all.”
“As you command, your highness.” He hit his fist against his breastplate in an honorific manner, and turned to descend the stairs. Anukka could hear his armor clank away noisily as he vanished out of sight.
An amused smile started to form on her face. She would kill two birds with one stone if Vankesa was brought to Elvinia. She could get him enraged, and then that would make him start killing. Then she would have an excuse to toss the bastard in prison.
Or, she could keep him around. Someone with his kind of skill would be useful. Oh, what a grand scheme this would turn out to be!
“You!” she suddenly called to a guard. “Get the cook to make me something. All this scheming while that idiot son of mine is away has gotten me starved.”
“At once, your majesty,” the guard replied. He headed down the hallway and he vanished from sight as Anukka sat there on her throne ravenously eying nothing.
At last they landed in Elvinia. It was afternoon by the time they arrived at the gates of the ornate capital city of Stavel. The sun painted the horizon angry shades of orange and red, making the sky look alive with all kinds of premonitions. The group paid no special attention to it, but the steeds they rode seemed especially sensitive of it. Elinan’s steed even went so far as to turn around the moment they passed through the gates, but she gained control of the disobedient horse.
It was late afternoon, the edges of dusk fringing on the horizon. It was impertinent that they find an inn—and soon.
“I still don’t see why we just can’t go to the castle,” Garril was saying. “I’m sure they’d recognize me.”
“Do you honestly think they’d let you in,” Vankesa responded; “even after seven years?” Garril cast an eye out over to the towering castle that was the Palace at Stavel.
“Maybe not...” he conceded, and wearily, they continued the search for a suitable inn.
When at last they found one toward the center of the town, it was getting darker. The center of Stavel did have the castle, but it was also the poorest part of the city. That was made possible ever since Syrregain ascended the throne: because those people were closest to the castle, he taxed them more. And so that area became a seemingly permanent ghetto.
“This place is so vile,” Ardray noted, keeping clear of the filthy water holes in the middle of the road.
“Blame that on Syrregain,” Vankesa said bitterly, eying the people crowded around each other for heat. Their hair was mussed and dirty, and their skin was gray and filthy. They were giving the traveling group less-than-agreeable looks as they ambled by. What was worse was that they had no escort to fend them off should the crowd start getting a little too wary.
“These people scare me,” Elinan said, clinging to Artturi suddenly. She felt him jump a little at her touch, but aside from that he did nothing else.
“Just ignore them,” Tarja told the group. “Keep in mind that these are people too, and as is human nature, they’ll react impulsively.” That silenced the rest of the group’s protest, and they plodded along the road. With an inhuman strain of will, they ignored the strange-eyed homeless people lining along the road.
When at last they reached an inn that was a goodly distance from the castle, night had fallen. Stars had come out of their hidden cloister of sky to grace the near-complete darkness. The night was alive in a cacophony of commonplace noises of the crickets and owls. No sign of the friendly sun was left, and the stoic moon had risen to take her place in the sky.
Upon arrival at the front door of the inn, they parked their horses in a nearby stable without waiting for the owner to come and do it himself. It was rather late, and they assumed that there’d be nobody about. When they pushed back the door of the inn, however, the owner was still awake, sitting at a counter.
He was a short man, but then again most Elvins were. He had pale blond hair touched at the sides with aged silver, but there was still a kind of youth about him. He was reading a book by candlelight, and the candle flickered impatiently against the sudden breeze that the opened door let in.
“Szetel nunda,” Artturi said to the man. “We’re looking for a place to stay. IS your inn available?” “Quite,” the main said with an almost naïve expression. “All the rooms are vacant. How many of you are there?” “That’s good,” Artturi replied. “There are seven of us here. How many people can you fit into a room?”
“Speculatively,” the main said; “I’d be able to fit all of you into a room. But that won’t be comfortable. There are four beds in one room. So that’ll be three in one, four in another?”
“That’d do just fine,” Artturi said with a short nod. Then he made way for the rest of the group to gather inside the inn. It was a pleasant inn, from what they could see in the darkness. There was a relaxing smell to it, imparting a calmer feeling.
“I’ll be right with you,” the man said as he reached under his counter. He produced four thick wax candles, and using his already ignited candle, he lit them. “Take them,” he said, gesturing to Tarja and Artturi.
“They smell,” Tarja noted as she took one from the counter. “Not a bad smell, of course. They smell like—”
“Flowers?” the main cut in. “I know. Now, if you’ll come with me.” He pushed back a door that led into an even darker hallway whose only light was their floral-scented candles. The small orb of pale orange guided the way to their rooms.
“Sort yourselves however you want to,” the man said as he opened both doors. As they parted to make way for him, the dim glow of his candle gradually vanished as he proceeded down the hall.
It ended up being Tarja, Artturi and Vankesa and Garril in one room, with Elinan, Rhylor, Ardray and Solnel in the other. They really didn’t care about the arrangement; they rather just randomly filed into the rooms, distracted by their own fatigue to care. The ladies were dirty, of course, but Elinan never cared about that, and Ardray and Tarja were simply too tired to try and look for the bathroom. It wasn’t long at all before they all drifted off into what could have been simultaneous sleep.