102. The Minutes Before
182 1 9
X
Reading Options
Font Size
A- 15px A+
Width
Reset
X
Table of Contents
Loading... please wait.

Fredrick waited at the corner of the building, his cloak pulled far over his head. Auro and I stood behind, mud smeared over our faces. Far above, the dull light of the twin moons peered down into the city like the eyes of the Everstar itself, and I could feel the mantle of its expectations pressing down upon me. Crumbling towers and smashed walls rose up around us, casting long shadows on the neat stone roads. Those paths, unlike their skyward brothers, maintained a uniform unity past the gates of the city, a stage that seemed frozen in a time of plenty and strength. The decaying bones of the city rose from this unwavering foundation of rock and stone, their leaning walls and fallen turrets built by decidedly less capable hands.

 

As we had started into the city, it had seemed odd at first just how well the roads had managed to hold up when everything else had long since declined, but it was not long before the secret of the quality of the road had become clear. It was when we stopped by a pile of rubble that I noticed a few bricks had been pried from the earth, probably by someone as curious about the path as I was, and I had noticed something astounding.

 

For some reason, the Fangpeakers of Ithin Narnil had bound a spell in the small brick. And every other brick in the city’s roads as well.

 

When the buildings themselves were lucky to receive a few dozen runes per wall, I found it hard to understand why the floors themselves had been constructed so carefully. What had caused the now scattered builders to build it all in such a way? Why had they put so much effort into perfecting the ground and not their own homes? Had they run out of patience halfway through? Had they run out of time or money?

 

Actually, the fact that I even had time to wonder about it was the more interesting point.

 

Even the gate had been silent and empty, with not a single sentry in sight. In fact, the whole city had appeared deserted, nor were the fires we had seen yesterday anywhere to be seen. The only sight was frozen stones and eerie towering silhouettes against the skies. It was silent and dead.

 

And even worse, it was starting to look like I threw mud on my face for nothing.

 

Fredrick finished his search and stepped out into the street, and we followed. It was a wide avenue, probably the main street when it was still an actual city, but still there was no movement in the gloom. Still, we had only taken this road as a last resort, only after finding no other way up to the higher level. 

 

“There’s certainly a lot less people than I thought there’d be…” I muttered. “I suppose I shouldn’t complain, but…”

 

Somehow, a part of me regretted the fact that it wasn’t more of a challenge, though I couldn’t quite understand why. Why would I want an infiltration to be dangerous? Dangerous things weren’t supposed to be fun. That was a fool’s thoughts. 

 

So why did I keep thinking about it?

 

“It makes me think it was all a demon trick.” Auro whispered. “Are we sure we shouldn’t head back?”

 

“Be quiet.” Fredrick snapped.

 

I rolled my eyes and kept behind him as we continued up the road. It slanted upwards, and gradually we made our way up the hill and onto the upper level of the city. 

 

There was one more gated checkpoint at the top, though the walls were much thinner around this level than the outer ones were. Nobody stood guard here either, and we passed through without any challenge into the main square of the city.

 

It looked pretty small as far as squares went. It was roughly rectangular, flanked by what were once two story buildings on all sides. A stagnant fountain simply ordained was in the centre, and a simple geometric mosaic had been made with the stones underfoot. Rubble was piled up against walls of what I could only assume were merchant stores or high end housing. It was narrower on the side facing the gate, though not quite enough to pedantically joke about its ‘square’ designation. 

 

Surprisingly, it was actually rather clean in comparison to the rest of the city. Rubble had been swept out of the centre and into piles against the walls, leaving room for some dozens of tents to be erected in orderly rows next to the fountain. Crates of supplies were stacked next to a makeshift stables, enough for a hundred people to make it clear through the winter and probably most of the spring, though I couldn’t imagine how poorly it would taste by then. Cold fire pits made of debris stone were clustered around the perimeter. The only chaotic thing about it all was the strange lumps of fabric that seemed to have been dumped everywhere.

 

Still, no one was around. The camp was obviously recently used, but there were no guards, no soldiers, no anything.

 

A touch unnerved, I stepped first towards the camp.

 

“Well, that’s a step closer, I suppose.” I muttered.

 

“I don’t understand…” Fredrick said. “What happened…”

 

He trailed off as we got closer, stopping to stare at one of the piles. A second later, his hand went to his hilt.

 

I followed his gaze, and my breath caught in my chest.

 

Buried under the piles of fur was a man. He was splayed against the ground like some demon, and I could see a metallic glint under his red cloak.

 

Rintazh swept through the air, barely missing Auro in my haste to aim it. 

 

Miti-!”

 

“Stop!”

 

Auro practically tackled me from the side, and we both fell to the ground in a bundle of limbs. 

 

Quickly, I scrambled away and back to my feet, but the image of a soldier rising from the ground to stab me hadn’t come to pass. He was still on the ground unmoving, even though Fredrick was now crouched right above him.

 

Gradually, the alarm began to fade, and I lowered my sword. Auro was slow to stand up, wincing painfully at her arm as she did so.

 

“Is… is he alive?” I asked. “What happened here?”

 

There were at least two dozen of them collapsed around the plaza, all as still as corpses. Some had fallen seemingly in the middle of camp tasks, and yet others were piled around campfires and scattered cards.

 

“He’s still breathing.” Fredrick said. “In fact, I would say he’s actually sleeping.”

 

“What? That…” I grimaced.

 

Of course it was the demon. We’d been exhausted for days now, so it shouldn’t be surprising that even the senate’s men were affected by it. But then why did it seemingly strike them all at the same time? And they’d apparently been functioning enough to be doing chores when it had. 

 

Auro’s face went pale, and she stepped closer to me.

 

“If it can do this… Shouldn’t we leave? We can’t fight against something like this!”

 

I found that I couldn’t really argue against that. It would be one thing if we had Fathers Hans with us, or maybe a paladin team, but how were we supposed to beat something that could knock out a whole company of thaumaturges? I certainly didn’t have any spells to block something like this, and the last time we’d fought mind-demon bullshit we’d pretty much won by pure luck. I wasn’t holding out hope that it’d carry us a second time if we tested it.

 

Heedless of our worry, Fredrick began to rustle through the man’s pockets, and he had a small key ring with him when he stood back up. He looked around for a second before he started towards the most intact looking house in the plaza.

 

Auro and I exchanged a look and followed.

 

“Captain was probably holed up in there.” He said as we stepped around a sleeping guard.

 

“Why do we need the captain?” I asked, curious. 

 

“Guys, the demon…” Auro said from behind.

 

“Because.” Fredrick said. “The captain should be keeping an expedition diary, if he’s following protocol. Might as well see if they’re really searching for what we think before we go kill ourselves.”

 

I could see Auro start shaking from the corner of my vision.

 

“K-kill ourselves…” 

 

“I doubt he’d just write that he’s looking for a Lmenli.” I said. 

 

“Yes, but I’m assuming he’s civilised.” Fredrick said. “And if so there’ll be some mention of a mining operation, maybe even a ledger if he’s paying locals. And if we’re lucky, there’ll be a map of the mine. If they’re even mining, that is.”

 

“Guys…”

 

I nodded. 

 

“I suppose that makes sense.” 

 

Fredrick unlocked the door and we went inside, Auro tugging on my sleeve.

 

Surprisingly, the building was somewhat clean inside. A hanging lamp was still glowing underneath its hood, and it wasn’t even obvious that the building had no roof from the first floor. Four closed doors flanked the mudroom hallway, and when I opened the lamp they seemed normal enough to me. 

 

Fredrick inspected the knobs.

 

“They must’ve brought new locks with them.” He said. “None of the keyholes are rusted.”

 

He kept a hand on his sword sword hilt as he began to try the keys.

 

“That’s a pretty strange thing to bring on expedition.”

 

“Guys, shouldn’t we be…”

 

“Not at all. They could’ve bought them in Fangpeak. Or maybe they knew they were coming here and wanted… damn it.”

 

He cursed.

 

“Our guard didn’t have the key. This must be an officer’s room.”

 

“S-should we look on the others?” Auro asked.

 

Fredrick shook his head and drew a few lengths of metal from his pocket with a small smile.

 

“No need. I keep picks on me. Have ever since that day.”

 

That day? Wasn’t that… Ah! The first raid. It was so long ago I’d almost forgotten about it! I still don’t know why I learned that skill in the first place, though. My time in the capital was boring, sure, but what use would I normally have had for something like this? All I remembered was reading a bunch of books and lazing around, but I supposed I’ve had spurts of productivity before…

 

I suddenly remembered the small pick in my shoe, and I frowned.

 

Wait… where did I learn that? I wasn’t remembering that wrong, was I?

 

I furrowed my brow as Fredrick fiddled with the lock, deep in thought.

 

Lockpicking… breaking and entering… fighting? I’d learned how to do that before I got to Minua, right? It had to have come from Marcolo, or maybe Silst. Though I couldn’t really imagine either of those two knowing any of those skills to begin with. Was it in Andorlin? Did Corto teach me? 

 

There was a click, and Fredrick nodded to himself.

 

“Got it.”

 

He pushed the door away, and I did the same with my worries. 

 

The office was dim inside, with only a small bundle of blankets at one end and some rubble and a chair serving as a desk at the other. The streetside wall, once the home of windows and fine draperies, was now boarded up and covered with a sheet of fabric. A small gem-lamp sat on the makeshift desk, illuminating a man wearing an ornate mask around his neck as he snoozed.

 

“Even the officers?” I muttered. “You’d think they would’ve brought people who could withstand it.”

 

I tried not to think of what would’ve happened to these men if we hadn’t come along. What might still happen to us.

 

“How long have they been like this?” Auro asked. “It couldn’t have been before yesterday, right? That patrol you saw was just fine, wasn’t it?”

 

“I’m not sure if ‘just fine’ is really accurate.” I said. “But you’re right in that they were awake. Bare minimum, really.”

 

Fredrick ignored us and started looting the man, turning out his pockets and searching the area around the desk. After a few seconds, he pulled a small bound book out and opened it up.

 

Auro and I crowded around behind him to peek over his shoulder, but I quickly found that the words were not quite normal Veroline. Instead, they seemed to be some kind of extreme shorthand, or maybe even some kind of code that I couldn’t understand.

 

Evidently Fredrick seemed to anticipate this, because he soon began to read aloud from a few pages in.

 

“We’ve set off from Verol on our mission, as told to me by Captain Relard of the Veroline Royal Retinue.”

 

He skimmed through a few pages, and I could just catch what looked to be a few jotted lists written upon them.

 

“He lists the weather report, the men he’s taking… thirty thaumaturges, apparently, and three political prisoners. He details the route they planned on taking, and all the stores he allocated.”

 

Political prisoners, huh? Wonder why they’d do that. Maybe labour? But then, three wasn’t nearly enough for that. No, if they were mining they’d have to be either locals or the sold- Wait, thirty?

 

“Only thirty?” I asked. “Are you sure?”

 

“That’s all he wrote.”

 

“Then this wasn’t the force that ambushed us then?” I asked. There were more than thirty just in that ambush.”

 

Fredrick shrugged.

 

“Could’ve been local mercenaries.”

 

He turned back to the book, only to grimace a second later.

 

“What is it?” Auro asked.

 

He shook his head and read aloud.

 

“‘Even I find it hard to believe the task laid upon me, let alone the numbers I have been given to do so. For my liege has given me the Hunt of the Gem of the Deep, of that old Fangpeaker legend given substance in some old wood in the hinterland. A Lmenli! Hardly did the orders reach me that I had to laugh aloud, only to find that Captain Relard was serious. The Star as my witness, I still don’t believe it as I ride here…’”

 

He trailed off, letting the truth of the matter sink in.

 

A Lmenli. They believed one was here. Is here. And they’re digging for it!

 

“It’s actually here…” I said. 

 

Despite Silst’s explanations, a part of me hadn’t really thought the thing had existed. That we’d never get the skysteel for whatever experiment he wanted to perform. Who could truly think that such a mythological object really existed on the planet? An artificial font of magic capable to granting a new lore of magic to all of humanity, to give its wielder control of a new aspect of existence, to bring back the old ages of mankind?

 

“A Lmenli…” Auro said, her old fear seemingly dissolved. “It really exists.”

 

Fredrick continued flipping through the diary.

 

“Don’t get too excited.” He cautioned. “Just because they thought it was here doesn’t mean… Ah.”

 

He fell silent again, ending with a strange stifled breath.

 

“Fredrick?” I asked.

 

“‘It is true.’” He read. “The demon we caged in that man has led us right to it. Skysteel has begun to appear in the walls like stars in the sky, so much that I am sure we are close.’”

 

And so the skysteel rumour was true as well. Everything was finally coming together.

 

I pushed on my sword and stood up.

 

“That’s enough for me.” I said. “There’s a Lmenli waiting for us down there. And for the good of Verol, that has to come with us.”

 

The others slowly nodded.

 

“For Verol.” Fredrick said.

 

Auro looked back at the officer before sighing.

 

“F-fine.” She finally said. “For the Star. But I won’t forgive you if any of us die!” 

“Do you care to explain what in the abyss all that was about?” Breale asked.

 

There were a thousand subjects Breale was not confident in, and yet a thousand more that she knew next to nothing about. Not even her tutors had thought that the more esoteric sciences or baser lowlander cultures were right to devote time to, nor was she particularly adept at debate or communication despite their best efforts. So ignorance was not an unknown feeling for her. Noble families and neat rumours, however, had never inspired such an emotion.

 

Breale, Luis, and Silst sat in a dim room high up in the keep. The rest of her guards were stationed in the rooms to either side, and two of them even now stood guard right outside the door. Even despite the truce Lord Cantres had imposed on them, they were under no delusion that an assassination plan wasn’t being made.

 

And the moody room only served to intensify their paranoia. It was obvious the maintenance had been neglected for some months now, probably even longer than the demon’s spell had lasted. The fastenings were slightly rusted, the shudders were loose, and the fabrics were faded. Even the gem lamp’s frame was bent and misshaped, as if some drunk had thrown it out the window one night. Besides the one bed, there was only a small sitting table in the centre of the room, and since there were no cushions to be found the two of them sat on some blankets that had managed to survive the trip. Breales travelling supplies laid in a corner behind the door, though her knife and its scabbard had found a permanent place at her belt. 

 

Luis and the dragon on his shoulder continued staring at the few maps and letters they’d scrounged up, each one relaying recent news from further south. Because of the mountain passes between Minua and the rest of Verol, Fangpeak was actually relatively easier to reach from the central duchies during the winter, and even continued to receive mail and news from Fanula and ducal Verol throughout the blizzard seasons. The news hadn’t been good thus far.

 

“It’s just as I said to them at the meeting.” Luis said idly. “I’m a relative of Lord Cantres. Somewhat distant, true enough, but my family was a cadet branch of the Faln Cantres.”

 

“I got that much. I mean like…” Breale pretended to think for a second. “Why the hell were you hiding that! You were attending the thaumaturge courses at the academy, weren’t you? That’s illegal! Treason! You made everyone think you were lowborn!”

 

Luis smiled, though Breale couldn’t find any mirth in it.

 

“I never said I wasn’t.” He said.

 

“Being related to a star-damned duke kind of begs to differ.”

 

Being a noble wasn’t really a ‘choice’ one had in Verol, that Breale knew all too well. Just because one class was higher than the other didn’t mean the noble could just decide that they didn’t want those benefits and hide out in the valley villages like some hermit. It was the Divine Right of the Star by which they ruled, after all, not the ‘Oh shit you are granted insane power for no reason’ right.

 

Or so she’d been told, at least.

 

Luis chewed on his lip for a second.

 

“Could you keep a secret, Breale?”

 

A secret? What could he possibly be hiding?

 

“Of course. We’re friends, aren’t we?” She snorted. “It’s not like you’re the only noble I know who’s learned magic, anyway.”

 

Really, what was that law good for anyway? It’d been put in place to reduce the power of nobles, but clearly those laws hadn’t worked very well. The Senate existed, after all.

 

“And you, Silst?”

 

Is there really any point in asking him? He couldn’t tell anyone besides Saphry even if he wanted to.

 

The dragon nodded, and Luis took a deep breath.

 

“Have you heard of the Coelrics?” He asked. “They used to own some estates down by Lotres and Mistvale.”

 

She shook her head. Minor baronies and estate lords just weren’t as important in the grand scheme of things, so their families weren’t well known outside of their local lands. She doubted people in Trenlend or Fanula would know too much of the Mavericks and Cice, either, and they were somewhat famous for various things in Veroline history.

 

“That’s not too surprising, I suppose. Everybody’s forgotten.”

 

“Forgotten?”

 

“Well, we don’t own anything anymore. There’s a reason I’m not Luis faln Coelric, after all.”

 

Luis took a deep breath, and Breale waited for him to continue.

 

“Have you heard of the Bavoy Massacre?” He asked.

 

Breale rolled her eyes.

 

“If you’re going to tell this story by asking a thousand questions, I might start punching it out of you.”

 

“Have you?”

 

Breale tried to remember, but nothing initially came to mind. It was something out of Ostip, right? Certainly something with that name happening recently would be something she’d heard of, but…

 

Suddenly she remembered.

 

“Bavoy? Wasn’t that over a decade ago?” Breale asked. “Something about the Butcher Baron who slaughtered all his peasants with magic? Don’t tell me…”

 

She faltered as a dangerous gleam came to his eyes, and she couldn’t help but jump as he slammed a fist onto the table, shaking the papers and rousing Silst from his perch.

 

“A damned lie!” 

 

Breale unconsciously fingered her dagger, though she couldn’t truly believe what she was hearing. Even more so, she regretted speaking at all.

 

His eyes were furious and wild, and he got up to start pacing between the door and the window.

 

“There is no bigger injustice than what happened to my family.” He said after a few seconds. “No larger betrayal.”

 

She stayed silent. From what she remembered, the story had been that some baron in the isolated backwoods of Ostip had started researching magic because of a lust for power, only for that research to corrupt him. It was said it fried his brain and made him turn on his villages, razing them to the ground in the process. It was only when the Duke of Ostip arrived a few weeks later was he brought to justice and killed.

 

A cautionary tale for the magic law if there ever was one. Or at least, that was the only frame of reference by which she had ever heard of it.

 

Silst landed on the table and exchanged a look with her. Normally, Breale found it hard to read his facial expressions, but the curiosity emanating from his eyes was obvious now.

 

“Betrayal?” She tried.

 

“There was no massacre there, save for that of Verol’s abyssal honour.” Luis cursed. “Duke Neanlin. Lord Agos. King Esiland. Crooked, all of them. The only care they give this country is that of the headsman and the stockpile collector. Half the Dukes are corrupted, Breale, and the other half are blind!”

 

Breale’s hand shot up and pulled him back down to the table.

 

“Will you quiet down! These walls aren’t made of whitewood, you idiot.” She scolded. “And explain this from the beginning, will you! You’re just confusing me with all this ranting when I barely know the official tale.”

 

Luis blinked in surprise.

 

“Oh, yeah… of course.” 

 

He sat back down and took a deep breath.

 

“How should I start? I suppose it should be…” Luis flashed her a weak smile. “Yes, I’m Luis faln Coelric, heir of the Estate of Bavoy and the most handsome noble in the south of the Lmeri. I grew up near the forest of Mistvale, near the steps to the Argetlake. Sort of a ways off the roads, something I used to hate when I lived there. Rugged groves of greenleafs, Faril fowl as numerous as the clouds. Survived the plague even, back a few centuries, and stayed loyal during the collapse of the empire.”

 

He really has a way of giving me emotional whiplash. Breale thought.

 

“If we want to brag about our homes, I’m fairly sure I’ll just concede the point.” She said.

 

Luis laughed mirthlessly.

 

“I only say this because its important. Bavoy was a peaceful place, and in a wholesome wood. When I was growing up there was no worrying about the duchy or the kingdom, and the people living there were content to live their lives in the traditional ways. My father tried not to bother them, except for hosting the festivals at his hall for all to come. What I’m trying to say is this: my father was a good man, and his estate an idyllic estate. We had never called upon the Duke for help, not in the lifetime of our oldest chronicles.”

 

“And then the magic happened?” Breale asked.

 

Luis’s brow furrowed.

 

“The demons came first. Livestock disappeared from the woods, and then people from their homes. We lost three village headman in the estate before we even knew what was happening. Our retinue would always get there and find nothing, though. Not even a body. One time, my father and I even went with them, but nobody could tell us anything about the incidents. Always the dead of night, and nobody ever saw a thing.” Luis cringed. “Until we found the first demon, at least.”

 

“Ah…”

 

“It was a grotesque thing. Three grey spindly legs growing out of the body of some fleshy abdomen the size of a man. A type of demon called a Hordelthrin. Our retinue were thaumaturges, as are they all, but we were no match for something like this. It turned a quarter of us against one another, only stopping when one of our captains stove it through the heart. But, alas, that wasn’t the only one. We were forced to adapt quickly.”

 

“So your father learned magic to fight against them?” Breale asked. “Why not just ride for Lotres and bring back the duke’s men? Surely it wasn’t just for pride, right?”

 

“It was at first, I’ll admit that.” Luis said. “But it wasn’t just the demons we fought. The villagers grew irate with us quite quickly, and eventually they left their homes to besiege our hall with those damned demons in their midst. Must’ve been a dozen of the things when the mob finally reached us.”

 

“They fought with the demons?” 

 

Breale couldn’t say she’d heard very many stories like that, and certainly none recently. Enthralling demons existed, certainly, but the type of magic they used was either short-lived or merely rendered them catatonic. She’d never heard of even six managing to create an army and attack a settlement since at least the middle centuries of the age. 

 

“Yes… But that’s not the worst of it. They weren’t enslaved.”

 

She blinked.

 

“Err, what?”

 

“The Hordelthrin doesn’t have the capability to mentally enslave a man.” Luis said seriously.

 

He surely doesn’t mean…

 

“Surely they just enraged them all and sent them towards you, right?” 

 

“They would’ve killed each other if that was the case.” Luis said. “No, they were following willingly. Through some cult or bribery I wouldn’t know for sure. Kind of reminds you of today, doesn’t it?”

 

“And this was a decade ago?” Breale demanded. “I thought the demon attacks started just in the last couple years! But what could that-”

 

Silst leaped onto the table, startling the both of them. Then, he scratched a few small characters into the wood.

 

“Test?” Breale read.

 

Luis nodded.

 

“That’s what I think too. Bavoy was isolated from the rest of Ostip, a perfect place to collect wayward people who don’t know any better to summon some demons.”

 

“But wait, how did you survive this then?” Breale asked, suddenly thinking of that. “Were you not in the keep?”

 

“I was. They couldn’t get inside easily, though. My home wasn’t a proper keep, really, but we still had stores for at least a few months, and they didn’t have the equipment to properly assault the gate for a few days.”

 

“Then…”

 

“Our guard captain had taught us some magic in the months before.” He continued. “We had all a rudimentary understanding in how to channel, and even more importantly, an understanding in how to overchannel.”

 

Breale stared at him in disbelief.

 

“You… planned on killing yourselves?”

 

Luis grimaced.

 

“My parents figured it was better to explode than cut our throats. They couldn’t bear to kill me themselves.”

 

“That’s pitching horrible. To make a child rip themselves apart?”

 

“I’ve heard it’s painless.”

 

“Still…”

 

Dying like that was far from pretty, Breale knew. And even worse, it was commonly believed that the process damaged the soul as well. It pretty much was never done, even among the eastern kingdoms of the Falings.

 

“As you can imagine, it didn’t go as planned.” Luis sighed. “Once they breached the gates, Mother went first. The blood…”

 

He shuddered.

 

“Well, let's just say nobody had any taste in fighting after that. Even the demons fled. My father and I could only stare. That horrible ripping…” Tears appeared in his eyes, and he wiped them with his sleeve. “You can feel the soul tear, Breale. It lingers.”

 

“By the Star.” She muttered, clutching her chest.

 

He was silent for a few moments as he composed himself.

 

“The Duke came later. My father and I hadn’t moved in a day when he’d come. I don’t remember much of what happened, but he apparently executed my father for treason on the spot. I didn’t notice.”

 

“What in the abyss? Why?”

 

“He used magic. That’s what he said at my trial, at least.” Luis’s eyes grew angry again. “Esiland oversaw it. Neanlin hadn’t had the heart to do his ‘rightful justice’ on me on the spot, so he took me to the king to do it. The heart!”

 

He laughed bitterly.

 

“Our great King stripped me of all my titles, forbade me from speaking of it, and sent me out without anything more than the clothes on my back. Though it didn’t quite matter, if I’m honest. I heard later that the entire estate was apparently razed.”

 

“Razed!” Breale exclaimed. “I thought you drove them off!”

 

“Aye, we did. As best as I can understand it, Duke Neanlin killed everyone there. He’s one of the cultists, the damn bastard.”

 

Razing an entire estate! Who would do such a thing?

 

Breale remembered the ball at the palace, and suddenly it became a lot more believable.

 

“He is allied with Lord Agos.” Breale said.

 

“Yep. And he tried his hardest to kill me afterwards, too. He definitely regrets having any ‘heart’ now!”

 

He threw his arms behind his head and leaned back against the wall.

 

“There you have it! Ostip’s full of bastards, I’m technically not a noble, and the King’s either an idiot or a cultist himself.” He smiled. “It certainly made me sympathise with the Burgund, I’ll tell ya.”

 

Breale’s mind swayed, amazed. 

 

“I didn’t know you were carrying all of this all this time… why didn’t you say any of this before?” She frowned. “The fact that the large scale demon attacks started so long ago is vital information!”

 

She didn’t exactly know how it was vital, but it felt to her like it was something Endril, Fredrick, and Lord Belvan would want to know.

 

Silst shook his head in agreement.

 

“Well, I was forbidden of speaking of it, wasn’t I?” Luis laughed as if that was a joke. “More because of how unbelievable it is. A Duke and the King possibly complicit in demon attacks? Who would believe that!”

 

“We would’ve.” Breale said. “I mean, we already knew Lord Agos was, and Duke Neanlin has aligned himself with him. The king though? I’m not sure your story implies that one.”

 

Duke Neanlin wasn’t really known for his charming personality, after all, and it was his duchy that spawned the lamentable Lord Agos. Breale could easily imagine him wanting to summon demons to seize control of the country, not matter what harm he’d be doing in the long run.

 

“The King is as guilty of my plight as the Duke.” Luis said firmly. “He sentenced my parents after the fact, and he spun the story into the tale it is now. And I doubt he even investigated the razing of Bavoy. The blood of my family is on his hands, and now thousands more since then. If anything, he deserves the collar the senate have made for him. He deserves worse. And he’ll get it.”

 

A flash of nervousness shot through her spine at that.

 

“Ah, I’m sure he was tricked… We’ll have to see after we fix all this. Lord Agos is the real villian, remember that.”

 

“If you say it, my lady.” He clicked his tongue. “That’ll have to wait until after we convince Lord Cantres at the meeting tomorrow. He’ll never side with us if we do anything while we’re both guests.”

 

Breale snorted.

 

“Unfortunately.”

 

At Lord Cantre’s command, the two sides had been forced to declare a truce for the time being, at least until they left Ithin Sele. He had declared that he would hear both before he decided at a special debate tomorrow, showing a surprising amount of energy in comparison to how he’d acted in the minutes before.

 

Still, Breale didn’t quite trust that Lord Agos wouldn’t just seize Fangpeak’s help by force, either. The defences of the city were at an all time low thanks to whatever spell was placed over it, and neither Breale or any of her soldiers knew where the source could possibly be. Demon or otherwise.

 

Luis got to his feet and stretched. 

 

“I better get going. We’ll want to be up early tomorrow.”

 

“Night!”

 

He made to leave, only to pause once he put his hand on the knob.

 

“Oh, and Breale? Please think about Esiland. What would you do, if it had happened to you?”

 

Breale watched as he left, shutting the door with a quiet click behind him.

 

She sighed and locked eyes with Silst.

 

“I really wish he wouldn’t he wouldn’t ask questions I don’t want to answer.”

9