The Hall of Kings was filled with peasants and nobility of lower rank. Today was the Day of Audience, when everyone from Marete and the surrounding islands could come before the king and have their grievances met. Stating his case was one of Marete's few farmers, for while the sea around Marete was rich in its particular resource, the land on this volcanic isle was acidic and unproductive. Yet this particular farmer was very wealthy. He had acquired land and planted one of the only crops that would flourish in the otherwise unfertile ground: coffee.
The king knew all of this and knew he should be listening to the farmer's plea, but his mind was elsewhere. He had recently been thinking of the hypocrisy of his office, how he had become King and Chief Thief, how this would affect his ability to rule, but this is not what occupied his mind at the moment.
Now he was thinking of his beloved, the one he had sent to oblivion when he had chosen Erana in her stead. His reasons for choosing one over the other were not simple and it had been a difficult decision, but he had thought that Erana would be most willing and able to help with the current crisis in Silmaria and so, denying himself his own happiness for the good of the people, he had chosen Erana. After that there was yet another decision and hope for his own happiness, for he was asked to sacrifice his life for Erana and willingly had, hoping that if he could not be with Katrina in life, he would be with her in death. He had taken the blows of the Manes gratefully, thinking when he woke up he would see the face of his beloved and hear her voice, yet the face he saw when he awoke was that of Erana, and the voice, that of the Guardian. Then he had despaired, but for the good of these islands, his islands now, he had pressed on. He had taken the crown thinking that it's responsibilities would keep his mind off of the one thing he had truly wanted in his life. It could not. He continued to dream about Katrina, he searched books of legend for some way he could bring reach her in oblivion, he searched books of spells for some way to bring her back. When his duties took him away from this he thought about her constantly, and what he might have done differently.
Just then his thoughts were interrupted by the low voice of his advisor:
"Your Majesty, they are awaiting your judgement"
King Tallin realized that the farmer had stopped talking some time ago and was standing there, as was his accuser, a young nobleman, both getting more impatient by the moment
"I'm sorry. Logos, would you mind giving your ruling on this and the remaining disputes." It was not a question and he did not wait for an answer, as he rose from his throne and stalked off to his chambers he did not notice the sigh and slightly sad look given him by the centaur.
"The State judges in favour of..."
* * *
As he entered his chambers, giving orders that the guards were not to let anybody through, he looked around his chambers and noticed, on top of a large stack of books, a bag of coins. Ugarte had left his cut, or, more likely, his cut minus what the thief had skimmed off, of the payoff from various robberies around the city. In reality the King and Chief Thief of Silmaria performed few of his duties, passing those of the State on to Logos, much to his dismay, and the less honest ones to Ugarte, who did not mind in the slightest, likely because he was receiving thirty precent of all profits in addition to the ten to twenty percent he was probably taking off the top and the revenue he was receiving from the Dead Parrot.
Tallin ignored the books and the money, both were useless to him. The information he needed was likely available in only one place in this kingdom and to that place he would never go, for, though she had no way of changing the fact, she only brought back the cause of all his pain. Yet as he thought about it he knew there was also one other place he could go for the information he needed, it wasn't in his kingdom, in fact, it wasn't in any kingdom he knew of, but he had reached it once and he hoped he could do it again. He needed to travel back to the land of his father and from there to WIT.
Quiltan looked over the crowd of people, searching for the king he had heard so much about. He saw two men leaving, one, a wealthy older man, had a slight smile on his face, the other, an arrogant young nobleman, looked even haughtier than most he had seen. A centaur, standing beside the throne, was calling for the next applicant for the King's judgement. Apparently, the king was sitting out this day and one of his advisors was presiding instead. Seeing no one coming forward, Quiltan pushed his way through the crowd and gave a slight bow to the centaur and another to the empty throne.
"Speak", came the deep voice of the King's advisor.
"My name is Quiltan, I come from the distant lands of Mordavia bearing a message from the Boyar there, to the Hero, Tallin."
"You could have left your message with the guards at the gate, they would have insured it would be received by the King."
"The message is not written, and I promised the Boyar that the message would go from my mouth to the ear of the King. I have sought for any news of the one who had become a Hero in four lands, and now, I hear, has become Hero and King of this land. This is the man I must speak to." There was no hint of deference in his voice.
Logos voice announced for all to here: "This audience is over, I thank all of you for coming."
Logos motioned to the messenger to follow him through a side door to a relatively small room.
"You say you are from Mordavia, tell me, did you meet Tallin there?"
"I said I came from Mordavia, but I was only passing through. I am a courier and a master of words. I am a singer of songs and a teller of tales. I am a Harper."
"Master Harper, the King is not able to see you at the moment, but if you would stay with us this day and dine with us this night I am sure a meeting could be arranged.
With a nod and a small smile the Harper agreed, "I am not yet a Master, but I consent."
* * *
A small table was set up, around this table were pillows to recline on, and two people were doing so right now. They had been waiting for some time for the other two to appear. Logos had sent off two messengers to find the King and then, becoming impatient, had excused himself and went off to find the King himself. Now Quiltan was conversing with the other dinner guest, but she seemed distracted. She replied to all his questions with mumbled assent, if the question required more, she ignored it. Using all the skills he had learned from his Master he could not draw any more of a response out of her. He only knew her name, Elsa, because Logos had introduced her. Finally he asked her the question he had been avoiding, he asked her the cause of her distraction. He could not have predicted the response.
"If you must know, the King visited me this afternoon and asked me, if he had not accepted the throne, would I have. I told him I most definitely would have, as this is the reason I came to Silmaria. He then invited me to this dinner and told me that there was something that would be announced here tonight that I should hear. I do not know what this is."
After this statement she seemed less jittery and told him about her home and her family, her father, whom she loved and her brother, whom she despised. She told him that she had remained here for a few months to decide where she would travel to next, for she did not want to return to Spielburg. She was now a hero of two lands and was on her way to rivalling the reputation of Tallin. While they were talking, Logos returned with a piece of paper in his hand. He looked shocked, and, more than that, very sad. He gave the paper to Elsa who read it and than handed it to Quiltan with a frown. It was a note from Tallin that read:
I have thought on what I must do and realized that with anything I chose I will be drawn farther away from the duties I have taken upon myself. I now know that I will never be able to give Silmaria the King it deserves and so I abdicate in favour of Elsa von Spielburg. She has proven her worthiness in the Rites and I can only hope she will rule better than I. I thank you Logos for your unswerving devotion, and I know this will come as a shock to you, but if you advise Elsa half as well as you advised me, and she listens half as well as I should have than I know these islands will be in much better hands than they were with me as King. Thank you most dearly for never condemning me, even when I piled all my responsibilities upon you.
Your ex-King, Tallin
* * *
Ugarte sat in the Dead Parrot and watched Nawar dance. He had long ago fallen in love with her but he happened to know she was in love with the King, or, to be more precise, the ex-King. He had known of the abdication before anyone except the King himself, he had seen him write the note and had also seen him write a second note addressed to the new Chief Thief. Ugarte had liked this Hero truly and as a result had only skimmed five percent off his cut as Chief Thief. He also knew why he was leaving and about his obsession over the former Dark Master. It was Ugarte's business to know everything. Of course, since he had taken on his new responsibilities, he had expanded. He did little of the information gathering himself anymore, though he still did some, just to keep in practice, but most was done by others whom he had hired. He had to admit it was more efficient, but a whole lot less fun this way.
Being distracted by his thoughts he did not notice the new King of Silmaria enter. He did not even see her when she came and stood right in front of him. Finally he was startled from his thoughts when she cleared her throat. Good way to get yourself killed, he thought, getting distracted like that. He looked up at her as if he had known she was there the whole time. At least no one would know she had surprised him.
"I know you are now Chief Thief and I also know you have been gathering a large spy ring." She said and looked at him expecting to see him at least somewhat startled. It didn't show on his face. She continued, "I wish to hire you and your spies to perform certain tasks for me."
Now it was his turn to surprise her: "Ah, Your Majesty, I was wondering when you would grace this humble inn with your presence. I would be happy to provide you with my services for the sum of, say, two million drachmas a week. But perhaps we should discuss this in another place."
Ugarte knew that it was likely no one in the room could hear them, but it would be suspicious for the new King of Silmaria to be talking with the owner of a low-class inn. He also knew everyone here was under his payroll, but wouldn't bet a wooden drachma for their loyalty.
* * *
Ugarte led Elsa to a small hidden room in the back of the inn. She then outlined her plan to produce and send spies to every kingdom and land in Glorianna. Ugarte thought it over and responded:
"You realize this will cost more than the original price I set, much more."
"Yes. Do not worry, you and your underlings will be payed richly." She seemed to think of something else and said with a sly smile, "One other thing, you will have to stop your thieving and give information exclusively to me."
Ugarte started choking on his drink as she walked by him and left the inn. It was an interesting proposition he had to admit, and in regards to thieving, well, what she didn't know couldn't hurt her, or him.
* * *
Quiltan packed up the instruments he had with him: his small, delicately carved harp, the symbol of his trade and a gift from his Master when he had named him a Journeyman, and his flute, which he had carved himself, very plain, but perfect in tone, the first instrument he had made which had been accepted by his Master.
The only other things he carried were a change of clothes, some trail rations and a small dagger. His Master had frowned at him carrying even this weapon saying: "A Harper's weapons are his voice and his harp." Quiltan had shaken head and explained, "Not everyone will listen to words, Master." And his Master's reply, "They will if you are a true Harper." Then he had made his good-byes and wished him well on his journeys.
Now Quiltan was leaving on another journey, or maybe part of the same one, he still had a message to deliver, after all. And he still had yet to use his dagger.
After three months aboard ship, Tallin truly wished he had found some sort of teleport spell in the books he went through, or at least had a magic carpet like the one he rode on when he first travelled to Shapier. As it was, he still had quite a ways to go overland, then through an all-but-impassable mountain range and across a scorching desert. Or he would have to, if what he had found didn't pan out. He could have come to a port a lot closer to the land of his adoption, but this one had something that would make his trip much faster, or at least, he hoped it would.
The first person he asked for directions had no idea what he was talking about, nor did the second, or the third. He began to get disheartened, thinking that maybe the place he was searching for did not exist anymore, or maybe it had never existed except in the author's imagination. Then he saw something that gave him hope, an inn, not what he was looking for, but the name had been mentioned in the book he had read. He asked another person and got a vague hand wave and a murmured, "Somewhere over there, I think." He followed these directions, asking others as he went and finally narrowed it down to a small, dilapidated shack on a dingy street in the outskirts of town. It was not what he had been expecting, but the sign, nicely hung despite the rundown surroundings, proclaimed this to be the place he was seeking.
He knocked on the door, trying not break it. A pleasant, feminine voice rang out "Come in, the door's open." With no lock, and only one hinge, he did not see how it could be anything but open.
As he opened the squeaky door, he heard her say, "Ah, Tallin, I was expecting you sooner, hmm . . . have trouble finding the place." He noticed the voice was different than the one he had heard through the door, this one was more motherly, and he almost felt ashamed for not getting here on time. As he looked at her face, it seemed to change too, though unless he compared it to the face he saw when he arrived, he would not even notice it. It would flow from one to another, never stopping. He then examined his surroundings, it was a clean house and bore little resemblance to what he had seen on the outside. He didn't wish to think about this, so he asked her the question he came to ask:
"I need to go to Shapier, and I have read that you can send me there, will you? I can pay you richly." He indicated the large purse he was carrying, the one Ugarte had given him, all the money he could get without rousing suspicion.
"Indeed, no coin from any realm you could get to would be of interest to me." She said this in the voice of an aloof noblewoman, looking down her nose at him. She continued, and her voice changed to that of a miserly crone, "But there is something you could get that would induce me to do what you have asked." Her voice changed again, mellowing and turning somewhat sly, "And why is it you wish to go to this place, to visit your father, maybe?"
Not sure who he was talking to he answered the question, and then asked one of his own: "I need to enter WIT. What do you require me to get?"
The answer came in a helpful voice, "You realize you will not be able to enter WIT by the same entrance you did before." He had not realized this, and for a moment he was at a loss for words. Then he heard a calculating voice . "I could send you directly to where you want to go, but there is the matter of a price." This brought Tallin's mind to somewhere he would like to go more, but before he could ask: "Of course, anywhere I send you must be in this world, I could not send you, say, to the Underworld."
So instead Tallin asked, "What is the price?"
A loud, commanding voice intoned: "You must find something for me and something for yourself, but these things are one and the same, for to travel to the land of Wizards and to pass from there to the land of the dead, you must get the Staff."
Did she mean a magical staff, he could not think of anything else? He had tried once to make his own staff, but had not found the necessary wood. And she had said "the" as if it were a particular staff. "Where is this staff? How can I find it?"
"You have seen the Staff, it is the Staff of the Guardian."
* * *
Quiltan had found out what ship the Hero had left on, but had arrived hours too late to deliver his message. The next ship going to the same destination was not leaving for another twelve days. In the meantime, the Harper had stayed in a nearby inn with the name of "The Dead Parrot". Considering the fact that he did not have any money, he had offered his talents for room and board, plus the money people gave for his performance. It was a standard arrangement, for any inn featuring a trained harper would bring in much more money in the increased number of patrons than it would lose from putting them up for a few days. By the time he was ready to leave he had made enough money to live on for a while.
As he had left the inn, he had been approached by the proprietor. Ugarte had asked him if he would be willing to work for him, promising that he would be well paid, and all he had to do was listen for interesting news and report back using a certain magic box with the words "Erasmus' Handy Dandy Walkie Talkie" printed in rainbow colours on the front. He had declined the offer, stating that he was a harper, not a spy. He had then boarded the ship and set sail for Adinasia. Luckily the winds were good and the ship had made the trip faster than expected. In fact, Quiltan was soon to find out that the former King had arrived only two days before.
Asking around he was quickly able to locate the place Tallin had been seeking and, not knowing what he would find, had found what he was least expecting. It was a virtual palace, surrounded by well-cut shrubberies, with water flowing from the top floor over beautiful stained glass windows. He walked to the ornately carved oaken double-doors and pulled the silver and gold twined rope, hearing a mellow chime as the bell rang inside the house. A matronly voice called out, "Just a minute, dear."
As the door opened he could not match the face to the voice, but wait, now they seemed to match perfectly, his eyes must be playing tricks on him, but then again...
"Ah, Quiltan, why you're not supposed to arrive for another few days, I'm afraid I just can't keep moving appointments around like this. You're all going to have to learn to be on time, but since my ten o'clock is late, I think I can fit you in." She said all this in a professional voice Quiltan had trouble associating with the voice he had heard earlier, something weird was definitely going on around here. Of course it was his job to find interesting stories, and this woman definitely seemed interesting, though he couldn't seem to get a concrete picture of her face. He was opening his mouth to explain his reason for coming when she said: "He'll be needing your help, you know, and you'll be needing his."
"Who will be needing my help?" He said this, not knowing what else to say.
"Why, the Seeker of the Knowledge of Death, of course, the one you know as Tallin. He's waiting for you."
Waiting, for me, but how does he know I'm coming, he thought, and was about to ask when she continued.
"He doesn't know it's you he's waiting for, but you are the one with what he needs."
"I know many things, but . . . " Quiltan was interrupted.
"Give him what you came to give him, that is what he needs, though he does not know it. You will find him at "The Dart Inn", go there now."
* * *
He found his way to the inn, on a sign was a dart pointed at a door that was painted like a dartboard. He walked through the door beneath this sign, entering a well-lit, smoke-free common room. Despite the uninventive name this inn looked like a first-class establishment. He saw some men playing the game that was this inn's namesake, and a few others, socializing at various clean, wiped down tables. Siting down, he was approached by a large man, with wisps of hair on his head, wearing a white apron. He also had a jovial expression on his face, showing he was always ready to laugh, and likely found humour in most things in life.
"If you would be willing to provide entertainment, I could put you up and give you three Taraks a day." He indicated the harp case on his back and the empty stage. "Plus all the money in that jar over there at the end of the night." He said, pointing out the empty glass jar set just to the left on the stage.
"Thank you, I will consider your offer, but at the moment I have a message to deliver to one of your costumers. His name is Tallin, and if you could direct me to him, I would be very appreciative."
"Tallin," he paused, "I'm sorry, I don't know the name, could you describe him?"
He gave him the description that Mordavia's former Burgomaster had given him.
"Ah, yes, the fair-haired one, I know him. You'll find him in an upstairs room, down the hall, third door on your right."
Quiltan thanked the man, and again promised to think on his offer. He then went upstairs and down the hall tothe appropriate door and knocked, then, after a short pause, knocked again. When he received no answer after the third knock, he retraced his steps and insured he had followed the innkeeper's directions. It was indeed the third door on the right.
Listening at the door he thought he heard a strangled gasp, and the sound of shoes scraping on a rug. Quiltan, not knowing what else to do, ran down the hall and launched himself off the stairs. He landed and saw the innkeeper with his mouth agape and eyes wide, staring at him.
Quiltan quickly explained the situation, and asked the man to open the door. He was somewhat flustered, but managed to pull out a ring of keys and start climbing the stairs. By the time he opened the door, Quiltan was just about ready to knock it down himself. Instead he readied himself, and pulled out his dagger. As the door opened, he saw a man on the floor, a splash of blood soaking through his shirt. Above him was another man, gasping for air. Quiltan quickly realized that the one left standing was the one he had been searching for.
Tallin extended his hand, "I'm Tallin," he sucked in a deep breath, then, pulling his hand back to his chest to join the other one, grit his teeth and continued, "but you probably already know that." Another deep breath. "You must be the Harper." He collapsed.
Ugarte turned the dial on the large transceiver (Erasmus' Handy Dandy Walkie Talkie Sender/Receiver). No matter what he did he couldn't seem to get any more volume on the cryptic message. It was something to do with a king and massing a large army to invade . . . somewhere. The message continually faded in and out. The Spymaster didn't know how King Elsa had acquired these transmitters, but right now he didn't care and was calling them about fifty different things in his head, none of them had to with Handy, Dandy, Walkie or Talkie, though quite a number had to do with Erasmus. Looking the box over again he saw a small red button labeled "help". Seeing nothing else to do, he pressed it. Immediately, a bearded man and large rat appeared, each dressed in a pair of dirty, blue overalls, and on each pair of overalls was an embroidered patch, one that said "Steve" and the other, "John".
"I can never get these suits right, John, uh, I mean, Fenris. Maybe I should try getting them custom embroidered."
"And well you're at it, mine could use a little alteration, the arms are too short and the legs are too long."
"Um, excuse me, sir, but I could use some help here." Ugarte knew that, no matter what you said about them in your head, you should always be polite to wizards, and even be careful what you are saying in your head when they're around.
"Quite right, that's why you pressed the button labeled "help", I suppose the Receiver is riddling the reading of relevant writing."
"Or maybe the sender is sieving the shipping of selected surprises."
Ugarte didn't know what they meant, but he decided to speak up "O, great wizard, you're wonderful invention will not play the whole message, sent by, uh, um, a friend, and keeps fading in and out. I cannot seem to get the information I need."
"Well let's see," a book suddenly appeared in front of the wizard repairman, the pages started flipping and then stopped, Erasmus ran his finger down the page, mumbling something like " . . . fading . . . Receiver . . . ", ah, here it is, "Now where is that wrench." He looked at the pockets of his overalls, then at Fenris, finally he announced, "Ah, I remember," and succeeded in pulling it out of the air in front of him.
"This requires the very precise adjustment of delicate hardware." He preceded to wield the large wrench as a club, banging it against the side of the receiver. "There. It should be fixed."
Ugarte adjusted the dial again, but all he received was a large amount of static.
"Hmm . . . I guess the only other thing it could be is another wizard jamming the signal. Though why he would try to jam a private message to a friend, I don't know. Maybe it's because these particular transmitters are only supposed to be used for spy transmissions. You could try adjusting the frequency, though, and tell your friend to do the same." With the last word both he and the large rat disappeared.
Ugarte was just about ready to kill all wizards and the King, too, for good measure.
* * *
Tallin started to open his eyes . . . and immediately closed them again. He had a large headache and his chest felt like a sack of grain was set on it. Wincing at the pain, he tried the first aid spell Erana had taught him. He felt somewhat better and was able to sit up and look around the room.
The first thing he noticed was the Harper Logos had told him about, curled up in one of the large chairs. He decided not to wake him, and he got up to get some food from the common room. He fell right back down on the bed. The spell had healed him, but he was still weak. Remembering he had some food in his pack he decided that it would have to do, and was just about to crawl over to it when the Harper awoke. The Harper smiled, then grimaced as he stretched his aching muscles.
"You're awake," he gave him a sheepish grin, "And I guess I feel asleep. I'll go get us some food, you're probably pretty hungry."
"Thanks." Tallin said and laid back on the bed.
Sometime later, the Harper came back with the innkeeper in tow, each carrying a large tray of food.
The innkeeper had a huge grin on his face. "It's true, the Hero is awake. I brought my famous Saurus Stew. It'll have you back on your feet in no time."
Behind the innkeeper, came a small boy carrying a collapsable table, he set it up beside the bed and the trays were set on top of it. Pulling his chair up, Quiltan introduced himself, then they both set to eating. Tallin hadn't eaten since he fainted and Quiltan had eaten only when food had been brought to him.
After the food was done, Quiltan asked Tallin if he knew why he had been attacked. Tallin said it was probably just a robbery, somebody had marked him out on the street for his large purse and then followed him back to the inn.
"It was stupid, really. I, of all people, should have known not to flash money around like that."
Quiltan accepted this as a plausible explanation, but something about it didn't seem right. Putting aside his doubts, he decided it was time to deliver his message.
"The Boyar, Dmitri, has become concerned. Recruiters have been sent through the land, seeking men for an army. They come, carrying a decree, signed by the King, stating that they are bolstering their defences to prepare for an imminent attack. Neither I, nor other travellers, have heard anything about this attacking army."Quiltan paused before continuing. "There is something else, I was stopped at the border, my bag and harp case were thoroughly searched. I believe that I only made it through because they found nothing and the commander was fond of music. Still, all my sheets of music were confiscated. Luckily, I know them all by heart, except a composition I was working on."
Tallin thought about this for some time. "I suppose I will have to return to Mordavia, but can I ask you to do one thing for me, no, two things, actually. First, return to Silmaria and tell Elsa of this, and ask her to notify my father and Rakeesh about it. The second I can only ask, and I will not blame you if you refuse. I am not able to enter Hades again without a certain staff, the paradox of this is that the staff I require to aid me is already in Hades. I ask you to retrieve this staff for me." Tallin looked up at Quiltan, his eyes imploring him to help, as if from his very soul. "If you agree, I will teach you certain spells which will aid you in this quest, as well as how to enter Hades."
What Tallin said filled Quiltan's mind with many questions. "I do not know any magic. And why do you wish to enter Hades again, I thought once would be enough for anyone?" Actually, it would be twice, he supposed, since everyone must enter it once.
"No magic...ahh...I see, you have never been taught. Still, the power is in you, I can sense it there. I suppose I will have to do more then teach you a few spells then. As to my reasons - you have a right to know, I suppose." A look of extreme sadness came into his eyes "Love, no more, no less. My beloved is lost and I must bring her back or join her there. If you don't help me, I will have to find another way."
"I will go." Quiltan agreed. He supposed he would be a part of a story, instead of just telling it.
Quiltan and Tallin stayed up the rest of the night, by the time dawn arrived Quiltan was able to call on his power and cast a few spells. One, called "Aura", would protect him from the life- draining affects of the undead. Another, "Obtain Object", would be used to get the Staff of the Guardian. The final one, "Summon Demon", would require the power of the Staff to control and would distract the Guardian so Quiltan could get away. Finally, as the sun rose above the horizon, Tallin told Quiltan how he could enter Hades. He then gave him what he called a "Mystic Magnet", saying that this one was linked to another in a certain room in the palace and would transport him to that room.
As Tallin went downstairs, to pay the innkeeper, and thank him for his wonderful service, Quiltan disappeared.
Tallin walked out of the inn and headed to the only place he could think to go. A ship would take far too long and couldn't take him the whole way, not to mention the border guards. Going overland was out for the same reasons. Tallin was hoping he had something he could use to pay for the trip, or that a promise to see to it later would be accepted.
As Tallin was walking down a side street, absorbed in his thoughts, a boy bumped into him, mumbling an apology. Recognizing the old pickpocketing technique, Tallin quickly grabbed the hand that had snatched his purse. Looking into the boy's face, he guessed he was about fifteen.
The boy looked startled to have been caught. "What's the matter? I says I was sorry." He covered.
A quick search revealed the purse in a hidden pocket.
"All right, ya got your purse back. So what ya gonna do with me? And how'd ya catch me, anyway?"
Tallin dropped the boy's wrist. He placed his thumb on his nose with the hand held perpendicular to the face and the fingers outspread, he then wiggled his fingers while focusing his eyes on his thumb and patting his belly with the other hand.
The boy just stared at him like he was crazy. "You some kinda jester or somethin'?"
Tallin was surprised. "You don't know the thief sign? Aren't you part of the guild?"
"Sign, guild? Are you mad?" The boy looked genuinely confused.
"You could get yourself killed working without the guild's permission." He remembered his brush with death in the alley in Spielburg, the only thing that saved him had been the sign. "Here, take this." He gave him a handful of coins out of the purse. "How long have you been on the streets, anyway?"
He took the coins, amazed. "Thanks, mister. You may be crazy, but you sure are generous. I don't get much, not many rich people around here. Been on the streets all my life, I think, or at least as far back as I can remember. I'm Salak, by the way." Listening to his voice, he heard the accent common to the lower class of the region, but there was something strange about it. "So, where ya goin'?" He indicated the pack.
"Mordavia," he answered, seeing no reason to lie.
"Huh? Where's that?"
Tallin gave a small smile. "Two months that way," he pointed to the easy, "Or just down the street."
"Uh, huh. Mind if I join you?" He didn't sound too sure.
Tallin smiled. "If you wish." He really didn't mind. The fact was, the kid reminded him of himself.
Tallin and the boy headed down the road to be confronted, not with the shack he remembered, but a jet black gazebo. Tallin stepped onto it to, seeing nothing out of the ordinary, besides the fact that it wasn't supposed to be there. Immediately upon entering the scenery changed. He was still on the same gazebo, but around him was a clearing in a large, but sparse forest. It looked vaguely familiar, but he couldn't seem to place it. The boy was not with im anymore.
He turned around and was face to face with the ever-changing woman. She smiled, and on her changing face it seemed to writhe, widening, then thinning, stretching, shrinking. It did little to comfort him, if that was even its aim, and only served to unnerve him more. Her face, then returned to its normal, unreadable expression and she spoke:
"You have you sent another to gain that which you were to obtain. Tell me why."
"I am not able to get the Staff because I have already entered Hades once and am unable to do so again." He remembered trying to reenter Hades, soon after he had become king. Nothing had happened, the water had not responded to his words. Seeing that she was not satisfied, he continued, "Besides, there are problems in another land that I have been asked by a friend to see to."
She waited a moment before continuing. "So, you think you can accomplish both missions by sending another to accomplish one of them." It was not a question. "You are not only a great hero, but also a great leader, though you don't know it yet." She paused. "I will send you to where you may complete your other mission. Walk through the opening to your left, and be careful, one who you know will stand in your way. He cannot be turned from his course, he must die. Walk through the exit to your left and you will be come out just south of Mordavia, walk to your right and you will come out by castle Boyglavaf, where Alexander, the ruler of Trassia resides. Choose.
Tallin wished to see his friends, but didn't think that he could find the information he needed in Mordavia, so he walked turned his right and walked forward.
He came out on a well-trodden road, leading, in the distance, to a large castle. Suddenly he heard a noise behind him. He turned around and discovered the boy he had met in Abanasia.
"What happened? You disappeared and then I ended up here. And then suddenly you appear here, too. Am I going crazy like you?"
Tallin tried to explain what had happened, but he didn't really know himself, all he could say was that neither of them were crazy. At least, he didn't think so.
* * *
They reached the castle and Tallin saw that it was much larger than he had originally thought. They came around from the side, through the dense forest in that area. He knew that most castles and palaces had secret passages in them, at least all the one he had been in did. He had discovered one in his father's palace that led from the Sultan's chambers to a cave in a cliff in the desert, he assumed there was a similar one in Rasier. Then there had been the one in Mordavia, and Ugarte had discovered a number in the palace in Silmaria. He hadn't had time to explore in Spielburg or Tarna, but he assumed it was the same there. The problem was finding them. He had no idea where to begin looking, the one in Shapier he had found by accident, in Mordavia he had gotten his info from the Chief Thief and Nicolai and he hadn't found the ones in Silmaria. The only thing he could do would be search around and look for anything out of the ordinary. He told Salak his plan.
"I guess that's probably better than assaulting the front gates, but it'll take lots of lookin' and lots o' luck." He thought for a second. "And it'd probably be better if we split up, we'd cover more ground that way."
Tallin didn't like it, but he had to admit it would probably be faster. He agreed, saying they would meet back here again before sundown.
* * *
After a fruitless day of searching Tallin had returned to wait for Salak. That had been hours ago. It was nearing midnight and Tallin was preparing for a futile search when Salak appeared beside him. He seemed to be much quieter than the last time he had seen him.
"I found it!" He whispered excitedly. Tallin quickly forgot the time or how much he had been worried.
"Where?" He asked, then said. "Show me. It'll probably be better to go tonight, while it's still dark."
Salak took him to a large grate, covered in undergrowth. Looking closely, Tallin noted that it wasn't real plant life, and had a cloth-like look to it. The grate was rusted, but looked like it had been pried open recently.
"Did you go inside?" Tallin asked.
"Yeah, it led to an old, unused wine cellar. I didn't go any farther."
"Okay, wait here. If I'm not back by morning, find a place to hide out and come back tomorrow night, if I'm not back after that, leave, I won't be back."
Tallin climbed down the ladder and followed the path to the wine cellar Salak had told him about. He looked around and noticed that it had been freshly dusted and swept, in denial of Salak's claim that it was unused. Knowing something was up, he looked around as three people, all carrying knives, stepped out from behind racks to the right, left and directly ahead of him. He also saw a small figure stepped silently out of the shadows behind him.
"You have just walked into a trap, foolish hero." Salak spoke with the same strange accent he had before, and Tallin was finally able to place what was wrong with it, it had the Slavic intonation that he had first heard in Mordavia.
Quiltan found himself in the centre of a red circle on the floor. He noticed that there was a small hinged trapdoor underneath him, as well, probably where the other mystic magnet was hidden. He walked out of the room and found himself in a long, unremarkable hallway. He started walking to his left, for no particular reason, hoping to find someone who could direct him to the King.
He walked around a corner and nearly ran into the object of his search carrying a large stack of papers.
"Quiltan? When did you get back, and how did you into the palace without me knowing? Did you ever find Tallin?" He was obviously not someone she had been expecting to see.
The harper explained about meeting Tallin, the Boyar's suspicions and the mystic magnets. He left out the part about him going to Hades, though.
"I'll talk to Erasmus and Shakra immediately, they should be able to contact the Sultan and Rakeesh. Now, if there's nothing else, I have somewhere I have to go." She brushed past him and headed down the hallway.
Now quite thoroughly confused, he walked in the direction Elsa had come from, hoping it would lead him to someone who could direct him to the nearest exit. Walking for several minutes, he came across a servant who showed him to the main entrance.
After coming through the gates he headed toward Science Island, picking up a few rocks as he went. He jumped into the gondola and managed to hit the lever on his fourth try. Swinging around on the small cable, he looked down and saw the rolling waves far below him. He held all the tighter to the sides of the gondola.
When it finally stopped, he managed to climb out of the gondola and walk through the entrance to the artificially-created island. Sitting in a desk was one of the strangest men the Harper had ever seen. He was wearing a white lab coat, pretty standard for a scientist, but his thin face, wide eyes, permanent grin and the wisps of white hair flying back from a receding hairline gave him a demented look.
The seemingly mad scientist greeted him. "Hello, I am Dr. Cranium. You seem to have the look of an adventurer. I've met many adventurers in my time, but most have the unfortunate tendency of getting themselves killed. Pity, many of them could have had a promising career as a scientist. One I met was particularly promising, helped me with a number of my experiments. I seem to remember he had a rare disease, though, very dangerous, usually fatal." He paused before continuing. "I am the scientist on duty at the moment, so any questions you wish to ask regarding scientific endeavours should be addressed to me."
Quiltan remembered hearing about this doctor in Mordavia, though he had left by the time he got there. The Harper introduced himself, then told of Tallin and how he had told him to borrow the flying gondola they were studying.
"Ah, Tallin was the name of the adventurer I knew, though it could not be the same one, since I left before he did. Anyway, I would allow you to use the gondola, but it has been disassembled to study it better. If you would like to wait, I'm sure they will have it back together it . . . in two or three months."
"Um, no, thank you, I'll just find another way. Good day." Quiltan turned, noticing the green man and woman standing on a platform above him as he left.
He carefully climbed back into the gondola, sitting down and holding tight as it followed its pre- assigned course. He walked through the east gate and decided to talk to a local fisherman. He looked at the Dead Parrot, where he had stayed when he was here before. He had heard that, in the past, it was only open in the evenings, but when it had changed ownership, the hours had been extended and it was now open most of the day and night.
Turning toward the docks, he saw a fisherman repairing his nets. He was able to hire him and get a ride to the beach near the former Dragon Pillar. From there he would easily be able to hike the rest of the short distance. He stated he would be back soon, after he got some coffee from the Dead Parrot and pick up a few things in Town Square.
* * *
Elsa thought about her brief meeting with Quiltan, that had been a surprising development, now she had something more to talk to Ugarte about. She had asked him to meet her at the Dead Parrot this morning. It was safer at this time, as, though the inn was now open this early, few people visited it.
The spy network had been getting little useful information of late. The communicators she had gotten from Erasmus had stopped working altogether and so information had to travel through a secondary system, passed from operatives to the spy masters, who gathered the information and sent it off to Silmaria. Elsa did not like having to wait, she hated not knowing what was happening, especially when they were as important as the information Quiltan had disclosed to her.
She walked through the passage Ugarte had shown her, that came out by the docks, and entered the inn, then climbed the stairs to the pre-arranged meeting spot. Ugarte was already there. As she sat down and told him about Quiltan's message, comprehension seemed to dawn in his eyes.
She moved on to other things, and they were talking for some time. When they had finished discussing everything she had planned, she got up, walked down the stairs and ran right into Quiltan for the second time today. They were both stunned, to say the least.
Quiltan managed to regain his composure first. Tactfully, he avoided asking her what she was doing here and instead asked: "Have you spoken to Shakra or Erasmus yet?"
Seeing the offered loophole, she stated that she was just going to talk to them, and would he please excuse her.
* * *
Quiltan stepped out of Elsa's way then downed his second cup of coffee, hopefully this would keep him awake long enough to get out of Hades, he was tired after the long night. He left the inn and went up the stairs, bought some fruit, a gyro, a box of chocolates and a pepperoni pizza. The fruit was for him, he was pretty hungry and would probably be more so after the long hike, the other food would hopefully work as a bribe for the three-headed dog guarding the gate to Hades. He picked up an amphora from Wolfie and devoured an apple and a couple of bananas as he walked back to the boat. He then, promptly, threw them up, and all the other food he had eaten in the last few days. He had forgotten how sick he got on small boats.
The journey to the beach was otherwise uneventful, as was the walk to the stream. As Quiltan finished the verse told him by Tallin the water in the amphora ran out. A tremendous shaking occurred, knocking Quiltan to the ground. When he got back up, he was standing near a large entryway, and could see nothing but blackness inside. Walking toward it he was greeted by the three-headed guard. When he offered them the food they refused, saying: "Are you kidding, last time we let someone bribe us, we got in trouble with the boss." Then the second head continued "Nearly took our heads off." Followed by the third head finishing "Yeah, and I happen to like my head exactly where it is."
Quiltan didn't know what to do, now, but he thought, if he could get them out of the gate, he might be able to get by them. First he cast 'aura' on himself, thinking he may not have time to do so later. Then he stood back and began taunting them. Finally, when he called them 'yellow- belly sons of a cur', they charged. He barely was able to roll out of the way and ran through the gate as fast as he could.
He ran down the left path, avoiding the blows of the Lemures and Shades and the spells of the Manes. He then secured the grapnel that Tallin had given him to the top of the cliff and quickly climbed down. When he got to the bottom, he cast 'aura' again, shook the grapnel loose and rolled it up, then ducked to avoid the blow of the Lemure. He ran for the gate he had seen from above, then ran down the path and through the Dragon's jaws.
He could feel his strength sapping and knew he couldn't keep this up for much longer. Breathing rapidly, he again cast 'aura' and prepared for the final stretch. Drinking one of the two potions Tallin had given him he felt better and started running again. He managed to make it to the place where Tallin had said he met the Guardian. He saw him standing there and before he could say anything, he cast 'obtain object' on his staff, drank the second potion, and prepared the 'summon demon' spell.
As he finished the spell, he heard the voice of the Guardian warn him: "Wait . . . ", but the spell was already cast. He saw the demon materialize, but no more, as he was caught in an unexpected recoil, and dropped the staff as he fell forward, unconscious.
"Walk with me, and don't try anything, these guys won't take kindly to it." He indicated the three men with knives with the point of his own. Looking at these men, he was reminded of Bruno. Tallin had no doubt that all three could plant a knife in him before he could do more than move a finger. He decided it would be better to follow directions for now. As he walked forward with Salak, the three men took up positions behind him, all with a good view of his back.
Salak walked beside him and after a few minutes walking through the well-lit hallways, he began to speak. "You are probably wondering why I did this. You see, I told you truth when I said I had lived all my life on the street, that is, until about nine years ago. At the age of seven the Director found me on the streets of Abanasia, he brought me here and left me to be taught with these three and another, Franz, who you have also met, under the Teacher. My fellow pupils, the Director, the Teacher and one other were the only people I saw for all these years. The other was a friend, she would talk to me about all sorts of things and she taught me to read. About two years ago, a messenger came to the castle and both the Director and the Teacher left. She, who had visited regularly before, would only visit once in a while after that.
"We," he indicated those behind him as he spoke on, "Continued to train on our own, and were fed by servants who appeared after the others left. The servants never spoke. About a year after the others had left, she stopped visiting altogether. Finally, about six months ago, the Director returned, he told us that the Teacher was dead. He talked to me and Franz alone about a mission, telling us we were to return to Abanasia and wait for someone there. We were to recover something from him. Franz had been searching your room, looking for the thing, when I can only assume you came upon him and killed him." He looked at Tallin for confirmation.
Tallin looked shocked and spoke slowly at first. "I went into my room and laid down on my bed to get some sleep, I awoke when I heard a closet door open. He must have hidden in there, waiting to get away. When he saw I was awake he attacked me, trying to strangle me with his bare hands. I killed him."
Salak nodded, a snide smile on his face. "I tried to get the thing myself, thinking you might have it on you, all I found was the worthless purse. Then you caught me, I'd never seen someone so quick before. Anyway, when I heard you were going to Mordavia I figured I could deliver you directly to the Director." His smile broadened for a second after the unintended pun. "That's how we ended up here."
Tallin had a number of questions, but the one he asked was: "What was it you were searching for?"
"That's the funny thing, all he wanted was the statue of a black bird. Oh, and one other thing the Director told me before I left. He told me what had happened to my friend, he told me you killed Katrina." If he had been looking at Salak's face, he would have seen the barely restrained murder when he said that last part. As it was, he was stunned, he continued walking mechanically through the large doorway ahead and came upon a thing that brought him right out of his shock.
Sitting on a throne with a large smile on his face was the man Tallin could only assume was the Director. "Ah, Tallin, it is such a pleasure to meet again." Ferrari's smile turned cold. "We have so much to discuss."
* * *
Quiltan shook his head to clear it and immediately wished he hadn't. His head felt like it would explode at any moment. The voice that suddenly boomed around him didn't help either. "Foolish boy, did you think you, a mortal, had enough power to control a demon, even with my staff. You are lucky that I was here to send the creature back where he came from. I do not know where you learned that spell, but you would do well to forget it. Now, why is it that you have invaded my domain and tried to take the Staff of Death."
Quiltan spoke slowly, trying not to aggravate his already large headache. "I was sent by the Hero, Tallin. He wanted the staff to free the one he loves from oblivion." He decided to stop as he couldn't seem to form a complete thought.
"Ah, that one. I offered him a choice, but I knew the choice he made was not from his own heart. If he seeks to free another from the binding of Death, then the Staff would be his way to do so." The Guardian paused, seemingly thinking. "For this one I will do what I have done for no other. I will allow him my staff. He has shown himself resourceful and freed the world from one who even I could not contain, the Dark One, who's name will not be spoken." The staff floated from the hand of the Guardian to the hand of Quiltan. "And tell him this: there is another who's power is great, who would use this Staff to become more powerful than death itself. This one seeks to destroy the Staff, and thus break the Barrier of Death. If this Staff is released unrestrained it will destroy the world with it, but if released under the Carrier of Souls, the power over Death and Immortality will be given to the one who releases it. This one will take the rest from those in oblivion and force them to be servants' to every whim. This one will then gain control of both death and life." After this pronouncement, the Guardian waved his hand and Quiltan was teleported away.
* * *
"Before we can have our most interesting conversation, though, I must deal with my lackeys." Ferrari turned to where Salak was standing and nodded to someone behind him. One of the three men who had followed Salak and Tallin to the throne room came forward and put a knife across Salak's throat. "For failing to complete your mission and allowing another to lose his life, you will be given a quick death. May you serve our Master better in the next life."
As the knife was drawn across Salak's throat, Tallin screamed, "No-o-o. . . ."
Without thinking he rolled forward, feeling the wind of two knives sailing over his back. He came up on one knee and turned to where Salak had been standing. As the young pickpocket sank to the floor, blood spurting from his neck, the man who had killed him found a knife in his own throat. Sensing the danger to his right, Tallin turned again, throwing two more daggers where he saw flashes appearing. Hearing the other two go down, he then rolled to the side as two knives thunked into the floor where he had been a second before.
Getting up, he turned to Ferrari, a dagger ready. "Up until this point you have done nothing deserving death, at least that I have known, but for this you will die. Stand up and come with me," He gave him a wicked smile, "I have to get some information from you first." As he looked into the Director's eyes, he did not notice the dagger, dulled with a liquid that seemed to draw light from the room, in Ferrari's hand. He did feel the danger, though, and, as the dagger entered his left arm, he saw the look in Ferrari's eyes as his own dagger went through the murderer's heart. Then the world disappeared around him.
Here ends Part I: "Shadows of the Past", watch for Part II (unnamed, as yet)