Terra scratched her back. “It’s itchy,” she said. “And it’s a little loose in the chest. And the ass.”
“It’s ramswool,” Nalya said. “And it’s a fine dress.” It was made by the finest dressmaker in Telemenn specifically for Nalya, which is why it was a little loose in the two aforementioned places. Terra’s small frame didn’t quite match up to Nalya’s full figure.
The five of them stood around the entrance to the stables. Quick had made a new friend with the stableboy, who was delighted at meeting a Tyl that didn’t run away or hide from him. The two were running around the stables, ducking in behind the quads and disturbing the horses.
“I don’t get it,” Ryan said. “Why does she have to dress like a local?”
“The Prophet’s Hall is a very secure place,” Nalya explained. “They won’t let you in if they suspect anything funny about you.”
“What about her hair?” Cale asked. “That’s pretty funny.”
Terra twisted up her nose and gave Cale a playful finger. “I’ll just tell them I dye it.”
“Aye,” Bayne said. “I been thinkin’ about tha’. Ye could probably turn hair that color using bloodcrawler’s ink.”
“Bloodcrawlers?” Terra asked.
“Aye, little desert crabs. Ye can find them in Rasza and Vector. Scare ’em, and they spit their ink at ye.”
She put her hands up. “I don’t want to know.”
“It’s a sound plan,” Nalya said. “That’s precisely what you should tell anyone who inquires.”
“So, if it’s so hard to get in to see this Sephalon guy, how are you getting in so easily? With a guest, no less?”
“Because he’s my uncle,” Nalya said. “My Mother’s brother,” Nalya said. She smoothed out the dress she was wearing, then looked back up at Ryan. “Is there something wrong with that?”
“No,” Ryan said. “No, it’s just… So he’s royalty, then?”
“Not exactly,” Nalya said. “He gave up his rights to nobility a long time ago, when he chose to be a Seer in Halen over a Lord of Rasza.”
“Rasza?” Terra asked. “I thought your family was from Halen.”
“It’s… hard to explain,” Nalya said.
“She defected,” Bayne said. “So did I. Now don’t look at me like tha’, Lass,” he said in response to the intense glare Nalya directed at him. “They’ve a right to know.”
“Wait, you’re both Raszan?” Cale asked. He shook his head in disbelief. “But… you have a family house, don’t you? In Cilasia?”
“Yes,” she said. “I have a right to it, I am Ruus blood. But the house was originally built by the King of Halen for the Ruus family, who have long held strong ties to Halen.”
“So you’re both traitors?” Cale asked.
Bayne growled. “Watch your tongue, Lad. Lawkeeper or no, I’ll put ye in yer place.”
“Bayne, stop it,” Nalya said. “Not traitors. It’s… difficult to explain.”
“Well then start at the beginning,” Cale demanded.
“I can’t… it’s a very sensitive matter,” she said. “Not yet.”
“Why not?” Cale asked.
“Because she doesn’t trust us enough yet,” Ryan said. Nalya glanced at him, then looked away, a shamed look on her face.
“Oh, that just doesn’t fly,” Cale said. “Who the hell do you think you are, lady?” he asked.
“Boy–” Bayne growled, but Nalya put her hand up.
“You waltz into our happy little lives, convince us there’s an army about to march down First Avenue, and then take us on a wild goose chase through Middle-Earth to see Gandalf and rally the armies of man! You go through all this fucking trouble, and you don’t even trust us?” He looked to Ryan. “I’m not going another foot with these people until they tell me what the fuck is going on.”
“Fine,” Nalya said. “I will. I’ll tell you exactly what’s going on.” She was angry, that much was evident. “I was on a scouting mission through the Disputed Lands, given the task by a King testing my allegiance– I was to remain behind, ascertain the extent of Vector’s influence, and then return with a report. I went against his orders because I believed that some lost people truly needed my help, and I took the risk of leaving my men behind under the command of a handful of lieutenants in order to get them that help, and to get some of their questions answered.” She took a breath. “That’s what’s going on, Constable.” She looked to Terra and Ryan. “Why I’m no longer Raszan is my personal business, and I’ll thank you to stay out of it.”
Cale stared back at her for a moment. “Fine,” he said. “If that’s the way you want it.”
“Dude, you were a little harsh,” Ryan said to Cale. “You kinda had that coming.”
Cale just looked at him coldly.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “Forget it, it’s in the past. There are more important things to consider than bickering.”
Cale sighed, then nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “You’re right.”
“Terra and I must go to see the Seer,” she said. “I cannot say how long we’ll be. We’ll meet back here when we’re finished.”
“Yeah, I wanna go check out that zoo,” Ryan said. “I could just imagine the kind of things they’d have in there.”
“Bet you couldn’t,” Terra said, then winked.
A few moments later, the group parted ways. Quick stowed away in Ryan’s backpack while the boys went to go see the menagerie in the city park. Terra and Nalya, however, went to go find some answers.
The Prophet’s Hall was another stone building. It was a large central structure with high walls enclosing it in with a large courtyard, and two tall towers. The building seemed to be made with one solid piece of marble, carved to perfection. The architecture was breathtaking, and Terra found herself captivated by it. She marveled at the lack of right angles. No sharp corners in this place, it was all curved. Even the interior was the same way. Men and women walked around, many wearing spectacles with books or other papers in their hands. Nobody even glanced at them. A man seated at a desk just inside the building, however, looked up at Nalya.
“Ahh, my Lady Nalya. Here to see your uncle?” He smiled warmly. He wore a funny blue hat, big and bulbous, covered in some kind of felt with gold tassels hanging off. It looked somewhat like a second-grade crafts project.
“Yes,” Nalya replied. “Is he available today?”
“I do believe he may have some free time. He’s been so much better since your last visit,” he said. “But he does have a busy day ahead of him. Tea with the Master today, I’m afraid.”
“Of course, I won’t take up much of his time, but I’m only in Arronay for a short period.”
“And your friend, lady?” he asked. “Who is she?”
“Her name is Eluria, from Rasza. My uncle knew her father well. He would want to see her.”
The man looked her up and down for a moment. “Your hair is very curious,” he said to Terra. “How do you–”
“Bloodcrawler ink,” Terra said. “I soak it in bloodcrawler ink.”
“Ah,” the man replied, then nodded. “I believe we can allow this,” he said. “Just this once.” He turned to a man wearing a thick purple robe which looked more ceremonial than practical standing by a set of stairs. He had a long metal staff in his hand. “Gantz!” he yelled. “Go and inform the Seer he has guests, would you, my boy?”
The man with the staff nodded and turned up the stairs. For a few moments, he was gone, then came back downstairs. “He will see them,” he announced.
“Good, then,” the man in the blue hat said. “Follow me, my Ladies.” He stepped out from behind the desk and led the girls over to the stairs. It led to a winding staircase that Terra assumed was heading up into one of the towers she had seen. Gantz was already standing at the top, next to a thick wooden door. The man in the blue hat pushed the door open and stepped inside.
There he sat, on a small sofa in the middle of the room. He was a plump man, wearing a thin blue robe, sporting a full white beard with absolutely no hair on his head. He looked up at them as they came into the room, and wore a wide, warm smile.
“Honored Seer,” he said. “You have guests.”
“Nalya, my wonderful niece!” he exclaimed. He then leveled his gaze at Terra, raising an eyebrow.
“It is good to see you, Uncle,” Nalya said. “Of course you remember Eluria?” she gestured towards Terra.
“Eluria! Of course! My, how you’ve grown! You must tell me of things in Telemenn!” The man quickly embraced Nalya in a warm hug, and then did the same to Terra. Terra wasn’t sure how to take it at first, and shot Nalya a questioning look. Nalya gave a subtle head-shake, which Terra took to mean play along.
“How is your health, Uncle?”
“Oh fine. They say I’m going senile, but I say that it’s perfectly normal for a man my age to bathe in the fountain!”
Terra almost laughed. Was this guy for real? The great Seer?
“Well, they may be right, Uncle,” Nalya said. “It’s usually frowned upon for a man of any age to bathe in a public fountain.”
“Bah,” he said, with a wave of his hand. “They said the same thing about singing from the window. Said that maybe the world didn’t like my voice, but I sing a beautiful song.” He opened his eyes widely. “Would you like to hear it?”
“Well, I thought we might–”
Too late. The Seer busted out, singing loudly in a low voice. It sounded like opera to Terra, but it had the feel of an old-time ballad. She couldn’t make out the words, he was intoning them too much.
“I do hate to miss your song, Honored Seer,” the man in the blue hat said. “But I have duties to attend to.” He bowed and then began to back out of the room.
“Yes, yes,” the Seer said with a wave of his hand. “You’re interrupting!”
But the man was already gone. Terra looked over and saw Gantz cock his ear to one side, listening as the man in the funny blue hat went down the stairs. He gave the Seer a curt nod.
“My apologies, Child,” the Seer said to Terra. “But we must speak quickly. There are many ears in this place who would work against us. You are, of course, of the Halo?”
She nodded. “We came across about a week ago.”
“Of course you did,” he replied, then smiled. He looked to Nalya. “I’m sorry for not warning you beforehand, Child. But would you have done things the same if I had?”
Nalya shook her head. “No, I probably would not have,” she said.
“Then you brought the others? The lawkeeper and the warrior?” he asked.
Nalya nodded. “They are in the city, with Bayne right now.”
“Hold on, what’s going on? Why were you acting like that before?” Terra asked.
The Seer looked over to the tall man standing at the door. “Gantz is loyal to me. We can trust him. But the Watchers think me senile, and it’s important they continue to, for reasons I fear I cannot yet fully explain for lack of time. But it’s important you listen to me child. When first you came to the Pactlands, you had a dream–”
“That doesn’t matter right now. That dream was given to you by the very same being that called your people to this place,” he said.
“What?” Terra seemed taken aback. “Being? Why did it do that?”
“Because she is in danger,” the Seer said. “Because she may be dying.”
“Who?” Terra asked.
“Why, Eiden of course,” he said.
“Eiden was responsible for this?” Nalya asked.
“Wait, isn’t she a goddess?” Terra asked.
“Not a goddess, child. Gods and goddesses are notions dreamed through ignorance and superstition. Eiden is not a goddess, she is a being just like you and I. She just exists in a different place.”
“A different place? What are you talking about?”
The Seer sighed. He seemed to be nervous, constantly looking over towards Gantz. “You’ve heard of the Daemon?”
“Demons?” Terra nodded. “I don’t think they’re the same as in our world. Back home, demons were like… monsters.”
“And many of them are just that,” the Seer explained. “But not all. They are like you and I. Capable of both goodness and evil, but they live in another plane of reality, with much different physical laws which govern them. I’ve spent a lifetime researching them, what they stand for, and what they’re capable of.”
“So this Eiden character. She’s the one who brought us from Earth to the Pactlands?” Terra asked.
The Seer nodded. “Without a doubt. She is also the one responsible for your visions.”
“So she could send us back, right? She could send us back to Earth?”
The Seer sighed. “I’m afraid it’s not so simple as that. She may have summoned you across, but it was at great personal risk to herself, and it’s doubtful she’d have the power to send you back. I’m afraid you’re stuck here.” He placed a hand on Terra’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, Child.”
Terra merely remained silent for a moment. She then looked up at the Seer. “Why us?”
The Seer shrugged. “I could not say. It could have been any number of reasons. Perhaps one or more of you already had a connection to our world, or perhaps it was chance. I doubt even the last Green Seer could have told you.” He leaned back in the chair. “Nonetheless, your magicks were sorely needed in this world, that’s the only reason I could think of why Eiden would pull you across to us.”
“Our magicks?” Terra asked. “We’re not exactly well versed in magick.”
“They had no knowledge of magick or lore when they arrived,” Nalya said. “It wasn’t until afterwards that some showed signs of the gift.”
The Seer looked confused. “But my visions… I saw many things; powerful magicks–”
“Machines, Uncle,” Nalya explained.
“Machines?” He thought it over for a moment in his head. “I see.” He shook his head.
“There is more to it,” Nalya said. “While coming from their town, we’ve come across a number of things thought lost to the ages.” She looked to Terra. “Proof positive that there is more at work than merely chance.”
“Things lost to the ages?” the Seer asked. “Pray tell.”
“We came across a tribe of Featherclaw,” Nalya explained. “Who had in their possession the Twilight Blade.”
“Truly?” the Seer looked impressed. “Flenn’s sword?”
Nalya nodded. “There is no doubt. The obsidian looks as though it were cut just yesterday.” She reached into the purse she carried at her side and removed a book. “And the very next day we came across an old Herbalist who held this in her possession. I believe it to be the real thing.” She passed the book to the Seer.
“Amazing! Maer’s Last Word!” He turned the book over in his hand. “I can feel the enchantments within. This book was designed by a master Artisan.”
Suddenly, Gantz cleared his throat and tapped his staff on the stone outside the door. The Seer looked to Terra quickly.
“We have little time, I’m afraid,” he said, then passed the book back to Nalya. “That book may hold more answers than I can supply, keep it hidden from prying eyes.” There was another quick tap of Gantz’s staff, and the Prophet loudly slapped his knee. “And that’s when he told the bearcat he didn’t even have a gilded feather!” He laughed hysterically.
Terra caught the hint quickly, and joined the old man’s laughter, barking out in a nervous laugh, then genuinely as she realized how ridiculous she sounded. A moment later, the man with the funny blue hat came to the door.
“I am sorry to interrupt, honored Seer,” he said. “But Master Horace insists you have tea with him. He has a busy day ahead of him, and it cannot wait.”
The Seer sighed. “I’m sorry, my girls,” he said to Nalya and Terra. “But duty calls.” He stood up, started to walk away, and then turned briefly to Terra. “Do visit again soon. I hope to see you both again soon.”
With that, Mika Sephalon left the room.
“That’s a Bearcat?” Ryan asked. He looked at the thing, locked behind iron cages, it was at least as big as a bear– but it was a cat. Probably how it got its name. Even for its immense size, it seemed rather weak. Its ribs were completely visible, as though it had been starved. The animal looked up at the group in mild interest, but for the most part just lay motionless on the ground inside of its pen.
“That frail thing?” Bayne said. “Nay, that’s a pussycat. Wild bearcats are twice as big, this thing’s been broken.”
“Broken?” Cale asked. “Like, whipped?”
Bayne nodded. “Probably. Or worse.”
“Don’t tell Terra that,” Ryan warned. “She’ll go on a crusade. She loves animals, and she’d shit if she heard animals were being treated like this.”
Quick squeaked in approval. He was now sitting on Ryan’s shoulder, excited to see the menagerie himself. Cale was about to suggest putting him away, but Bayne stayed his hand telling him that it was a festival. As long as he stayed with them, nobody would care.
The menagerie had been set up on the park grounds near the city center, and Ryan immediately found it more like a circus. Men dressed in silly outfits roamed around, performing back flips and juggling for the crowd. They were just like clowns. There were a number of large tents set up.
The animals were the main attractions. They walked to the next cage, a large encasement that held a small spiketooth. Ryan examined the thing closely. A spiketooth it was, but imposing it wasn’t. He had never seen what Boomer saw the first morning at Kamper’s Korner, but he was sure it was cooler than this. It lumbered around shiftlessly, watching the people who gawked at it with hollow eyes. The one time it opened its jaws, Ryan could see that all of its teeth had been pulled. He gasped upon noticing it, and felt truly sorry for the animal.
“That’s not cool,” Ryan said. “They busted his teeth out.”
“Would ye want to deal with a monster that size if he had strength and teeth?” Bayne asked. “Sure, they run at the sight of their shadow, but if you were to ever corner one…”
“It’d own you,” Cale said.
Ryan shrugged. “I was a dinosaur kid. He just… I dunno, I just expected my first dinosaur would be more imposing.”
“What, the featherclaw weren’t imposing enough?” Cale asked.
Ryan shook his head. “No, they were cool. But I guess I don’t count them as dinosaurs. Unless our dinosaurs had their own little civilizations going.”
“Up until a week ago I wouldn’t have thought so. But now,” Cale said, shrugging.
After taking a few moments to snap some pictures, Ryan moved onward. An enclosure was made around a small pond, and inside he could see someone swimming around. He looked at the sign. It read Sierrin. He looked to Bayne.
“Ocean monsters,” he said. “They lure sailors and fishermen with their song. They never come back.” He put his face close to the cage. “I saw one once, years back. That doesn’t look like a Sierrin.”
The person swimming around climbed out of the pond and relaxed in the sun under a tree. She was a young woman, fully nude, except her hair was green and she had a set of fins under her arms. The sight made Ryan flinch.
“Wait, so she’s fake?”
Bayne nodded. “Aye, I think so. She’s human.”
Ryan laughed. “This place is a scam,” he said. He turned to Cale. “Arrest them.”
Cale put his hands up. “Hey, you said it yourself. Out of jurisdiction.”
Ryan just rolled his eyes, then looked over to the large tent nearby. “What’s in there?” he asked.
“An illuminator, more than likely,” he said. “They create illusions, tell stories in the air.”
“Like movies? How?” Ryan asked.
Bayne shrugged. “I’ve no idea. That’s a magick I never learned anything about.”
Cale looked at the tent for a moment, then turned back to Bayne and Ryan. “I want to check it out.”
Quick squeaked his approval, and jumped up and down on Ryan’s shoulder.
“Aye, I suppose we could. Shall we, then?”
When the entered the tent, the show was already well underway. Both Ryan and Cale stared at the image of a man battling a strange creature that was hanging in the air above them. It was so fine, so detailed and realistic– but no sound effects. Instead, a man with a booming voice spoke.
“And so it was that Rasshauer Flenn took the Twilight’s Blade fully formed from the Crest of Zeitguth, and struck the beast down with it,” he said. Ryan looked at the sword. It looked somewhat like the sword Silvereye had given him, but with a few differences. The dark-haired barbarian hanging in midair was using a broadsword, a two-handed blade. The obsidian blade hidden neatly at the King’s Consul was much smaller, much lighter than depicted on the… screen? What did you call an image hanging in midair? A hologram?
Ryan decided to go with hologram. “That’s amazing,” he said. “That’s my sword.”
“The Crest of Zeitguth,” Cale said. “I’ve read something about that. Zeitguth was a monster made of magma that was terrorizing a city–”
“Tal Perin?” Bayne asked.
“Aye, that’s in the Disputed Lands. High in the western mountains, almost to the Raszan border. Nobody has been there since the times of Flenn. The El’Dar call the area home now.”
“El’Dar?” Cale asked. “You mentioned them before. At Orynn’s cottage. What are they?”
“Aye, big lumbering fools. Territorial and hateful of man. They prefer to be left to their own.”
Cale nodded. “Well, let’s hope we don’t have to deal with them.”
Bayne only shrugged. Ryan’s attention never left the light show before him. They went back to the show. Flenn was now pulling his sword out of a dead beast, and raising it high in the sky.
“And so Flenn said unto Eiden, bless this weapon! May it never chip or fade! May it never break or become unpolished! And Eiden heard him, and made it so.”
“Is this true?” Ryan asked. “Is that sword unbreakable?”
“Maybe,” Bayne said. “But if it’s not, would you want to test it?”
Ryan thought about it for a moment, then shook his head.
The show continued on for another ten minutes, and then everyone clapped and filed out of the tent. Ryan, Cale, Quick and Bayne stuck around for a few moments, discussing what they had seen and comparing it with what Cale had read in the Tales. It wasn’t long before a men dressed in a thin white tunic and green trousers walked up.
“You enjoyed the show?” he asked.
Ryan looked over and started nodding dumbly, not sure what to make of the man.
“I’m sorry for interrupting,” he said. “I don’t mean to intrude but I saw you come in. Your way of dress– it intrigues me.” He gestured to Ryan’s t-shirt. “My name is Lexi Ghernon, Illuminator.”
Ryan looked down at his shirt. He chose to wear his Pink Floyd shirt, the one with the Dark Side of the Moon album cover. Then he looked back at Lexi. “Wait, you’re the guy who did all that?”
Lexi nodded. “Yes, I’m a seventh year Illuminator,” he said. “I’m only traveling through Halen right now– only just arrived here from Dey last month. I’m heading to Las Drui to study under the High Illuminator, Atzlan Soam.”
“Well, it’s nice to have goals,” Cale said.
“I beg your pardon, sir, but I must ask where you got your shirt from– and your pants, they look a strong material.”
Cale nodded. “Denim pants, cotton t-shirt,” he said. “We get it from Dunsmith, our hometown.”
“Dunsmith? Indeed, I’ve not heard of it. Where is it?”
“South, along the Aegel Coast in the Disputed Lands.”
He seemed taken aback. “The Disputed Lands? You are Freemen?” Lexi seemed somewhat nervous now.
Ryan shook his head. “No, we’re Canadians. It’s kind of hard to explain, but Dunsmith isn’t like any place you’ve ever been.”
Lexi looked back at Ryan. “I see.”
“No, you don’t,” Ryan said. “It’s just… It’s new. You’d have to see it for yourself.”
Lexi raised an eyebrow. “Last night I heard tell of a man who played beautiful music who claimed ancestry from another world–”
“Yeah, that’d be us,” Ryan said. “Dunsmith is originally from a world called Earth.”
“Earth?” Lexi took it in for a moment. “I can’t say I’ve heard of such a place, but I’ve little reason to doubt. I can tell merely by observing you that you don’t hail from the Pactlands at large. Does Earth lie beyond the Soundless Path?”
“You could say that,” Cale said.
“I would think that you could have chosen a better settlement than the Disputed Lands, what with Vector’s push as of late,” Lexi said.
“We didn’t exactly have a choice in the matter,” Cale explained. “We just kind of showed up in the Disputed Lands.”
“Still,” Lexi said. “Tammil Cuerian won’t make it easy for you.”
“Aye, that’s true,” Bayne said. “He’s already raided a number of Freemen settlements. And Dunsmith stands right in his way.”
“With Ajjiro Ryde as his tool, I’d wager,” Lexi said.
The conversation continued for a few moments before a man came from backstage and bellowed at Lexi. It was obvious that he was the narrator of Rasshauer Flenn’s story. Ryan explained a little bit more about Dunsmith, and when they parted, Lexi wished them luck on their journey.
After they left the tent, Bayne looked at the sun. “It’s getting late,” he said. “The ladies may be back soon.”
Ryan shrugged. “Yeah, we might as well go back. I’ve seen what there is to see here.”
And with that, the four of them turned towards the King’s Consul, and left the menagerie behind, and not once did they notice the woman in the black hair shadowing their every movement.