Chapter 24 – Information Revealed
Sixteenth of Learning 1142
Aranya Freesh sat in her office, which was currently warded against scrying. She sat at her immaculately neat wooden desk, polished to such a shine, it looked like it might have never touched paperwork. Her leather chair was comfortable but not too comfortable, nor were the two empty chairs across from her. The door was locked, so no one could intrude. She was attempting to establish direct communication with her counterpart in Rish, or rather, a mage she had hired was attempting this. She sat waiting. She knew when the spell was complete, she would feel it.
It was all happening so fast. Too Fast. They had only just learned the location of the boy they were searching for from an impossible flaming parrot. Which led to her using a message spell to set up contact with Andeon Walsh, head of the Rish chapter of the Adventurer’s Guild. Normally such messages are responded to in hours, not minutes, but apparently she had caught him at just the right time. And now, she was attempting to arrange passage to Pelaro for the Misfits of Karmenon. No one was this lucky. The gods had to be involved. And she was a part of it. She felt fortunate, because she didn’t deserve it. No one did. There wasn’t a person alive that could honestly say that this wasn’t above their pay grade.
Though they had never spoken directly, she knew Andeon’s reputation and had little doubt he knew hers as well. This wasn’t conceit on her part. Aranya’s fame ran further than the borders of Karmenon, not only for her reputation as a guild mistress, but as an adventurer in her own right. Her list of accomplishments was well known enough that anyone who had attained the rank of guild master would be aware of her exploits. Aranya used her reputation as she used any other tool at her disposal, which is to say efficiently.
The linking spell she was waiting on was one that very few people could cast, and the cost of maintaining it was quite high from both a mana usage point of view and a monetary one, so the conversation would have to stay brief and to the point.
Message spells had been used to arrange the contact, so that both parties could be alone and warded at the scheduled time. Secrecy was of the utmost importance now. As it was, Aranya didn’t like widening the circle of people who knew about Merck Vanderoth. She was glad it was Andeon she had to deal with. He ran his chapter much the same way she did hers. Efficiently. She hoped the reality matched his reputation, because she was going to have to trust him, a thing that did not come easily to her. She felt the front part of her head expand, though she knew it wasn’t physically changing. It was an opening up of sorts that was impossible to describe, but it was the kind of thing one felt when they were just starting to get a headache.
“Can you hear me, Guild Master Walsh?”
“I can. To what do I owe this honor?”
“I have a situation you might be able to help with. You are warded against eavesdropping?”
“Good. What I am about to tell you is for you and you alone. You’ll understand why shortly. I have no doubt there are those close to you you will tell, your trusted inner circle. I can’t stop you from that, but I urge you to extreme caution. You will know why when you hear the story. It will sound incredible, but it is all true. I have verified the parts that can be verified myself.”
“Intriguing. You have my attention.”
“A short time ago, a man who had been a Level 4 Swindler tied to the god of thieves suddenly changed both classes and gods. He is now a Level 1 Priest of a different god, though he does not know which. He has lost all his previous skills. He also had a vision in which he was told what needed to happen to end the Undead Threat.”
“So I thought, but it was verified by the High Priestess of Iorana here, a deeply respected member of the community.”
“He’s searching for a boy, who we recently learned is in Rish. A noble. Black hair, about thirteen to fourteen years old, but that’s just a guess. Apparently this boy is key to the entire thing. This Priest needs to find him.”
“Intriguing. We had a very strange encounter with a young man that fits that description only a day or two ago. He’s a prince, son of King Terrence.”
“No, his other son, Prince Dahr.”
“I wasn’t aware he had a second son.”
“A bastard, but formally acknowledged now. He registered a guild with us called Lost Wisdom.”
“Interesting name. Do you think he might be the boy we’re searching for?”
“He was able to perform inexplicable acts, including casting a spell without incantation.”
“Not unheard of, but not something a young man could do. Only the most powerful mages in the world could cast something like that. Tier 3 at least.”
“What spell did he cast?”
“I don’t know the name of it, but it summoned a flaming parrot that spoke. Quite the trick.”
There was a long silence.
“Guild Master Freesh, are you there?”
Aranya preferred the title guild mistress, but didn’t take the time to correct him. She was too stunned at the revelation that the boy for whom they searched had seemingly summoned the parrot that had been able to invalidate the protection spells on her most secure rooms.
“Yes, I am. We had a visit from that same parrot.”
“It seems that the boundary between what is possible and what is not has moved. This Priest is traveling with a guild team who has a Beast Master with them. She went up six levels in one night. She jumped from a Level 4 Hunter to a Level 1 Beast Master.”
“At the risk of repeating myself, it’s impossible.”
“And yet she has a pet kreve that she controls completely. I’ve seen them together myself. And you well know that no Level 1 Beast Master could tame such a creature.”
“I do. What is it you want of me?”
“If this prince is the person we are after, you’ve already done it. I’ll arrange a portal to Rish from here for the team that brought this matter to my attention, which now includes the Priest, and let them get on with whatever it is they’re going to do.”
“Glad I could be of service.”
“The name of the team is the Misfits of Karmenon. The leader is a serpent lord named Ressssen. The Beast Master, Striker, will be with them, as will the Priest, Merck Vanderoth. It’s an interesting group.”
“I look forward to meeting them. You have a chirkir operator ready?”
“Of course. I’ll get set up and send you a message spell when we’re ready.”
“I’ll have my chirkir placed on a priority standby then.”
“Much appreciated. It was good to meet you.”
“You as well.”
As soon as she stood up, the spell was broken. So many coincidences. This had to be the work of the gods. Nothing else would explain it. At least the guild master in Rish had knowledge of the team and what they were doing should they need support. To be sure, she’d send a message formally requesting that they be given whatever assistance required, but it wouldn’t be necessary.
No guild master in the world would turn away a potential solution to the undead problem.
Eric lay in his bed, unmoving. He was having one of his nightmares. He intentionally hadn’t taken his medicine as he normally did, and so he returned to his dream where he lay motionless, eyes closed, barely able to feel his body, listening to the ever-present beeping. That’s all there was. Again he strained to open his eyes and again, nothing happened. There were no voices this time. No one talking. There was nothing but darkness and a singular persistent sound that he could name but didn’t understand.
He felt like he wasn’t alone but could discern no reason why he felt that way. It was almost as if he could sense a presence nearby. Suzanna entered his mind, which was odd because he didn’t even know who she was. She was a name with no associated image. How did he know her? How could he know her?
Was this like his other nightmares before? He couldn’t remember them. He had been younger then. Was this a nightmare at all? Nothing was happening. Nothing was after him. It was less like a dream and more as if he had traveled, but to where?
For a long time he lay there, and then he heard rustling. Movement. Someone fussing over him. Moving his head on the pillow. Why couldn’t he open his eyes? He wanted to see. From the touch it felt like a woman’s hands, and again he thought of Suzanna. How did he know that name? Who was she? Why was he here? Was it really the same place he had once dreamt about?
He heard humming. A woman’s voice. He felt a pang and realized he missed her. The feeling of knowing and not knowing overwhelmed him. He strained his mind to try to remember anything about those old dreams, but a combination of time and medication had done the job. The shreds of memory he did have were elusive, and there weren’t enough of them to form a tapestry. He focused on the tune. She used to sing that to him. What was the name of it? He couldn’t remember. But snatches of it came to him, a child’s song that he was sure Prince Eric had never heard…not in the waking world.
I would swim through clouds for you, I would drink the sea, I would hold the world for you, if you’d just love me.
He could find no meaning in those words. Nothing to even tell him he was in another world. Things like the clouds, the sea and the world were something every reality would have. There was nothing there to verify he was in another world… nothing except the beeping.
Then another sound intruded. It was distant at first, but then it got louder and then he was physically pulled out of bed by an irate Chari, who wasn’t about to wait for him to wake up.
“Wha…what’s going on?” he asked, realizing that she had indeed pulled him off the bed. At least his top half. His feet and ankles were still on the bed and his legs leaned against it.
“Up, sleepy head. I have Kalutu waking Dahr.”
“What time is it?”
“It’s early, but we have to start early today.”
Resigned, he pulled his legs off the bed and made a bold attempt at getting to his feet. Chari helped him up. He wasn’t embarrassed to be in his night clothes in front of her, though she’d never seen him in them before. He wondered at that, then forced the thought away.
“Because we’re getting married today.”
That drew him up short. “Married?”
“Yes, you know. Like Sheba wanted us to. Unless you don’t want to marry me.”
“No, I mean yes. Dammit, of course I want to marry you, but today?”
“Mmmhmm. Get it out of the way. We have a lot to do.”
“Chari, where is this coming from?”
“I cost us a day of training. I brought us back into the Other Realm, and we got nothing for it. But it’s coming. We both know it, even if we don’t know what it is. I don’t want to use the word but it feels like…”
Eric finished the sentence for her. “Destiny.”
She nodded. “You feel it too.”
“So do I,” said a sleepy voice from behind them. “But then, I’ve known it was coming for a while.”
“How?” asked Eric.
“I told you. I have visions.”
“You did tell us that,” said Chari. “Though you haven’t ever told us about those visions.”
“Can we move this to the anteroom?” asked Eric. “My bed is disarrayed, I’m disheveled, and I need to get dressed.”
Chari smiled gently. “You know, after tonight, I’m going to be seeing you in the mornings.”
“Wait, you’re moving in here?”
Chari looked at him like he was mad. “No, silly. We’ll get our own chambers of course. Your room isn’t big enough for the two of us.”
Eric looked around. He didn’t see why not. “What of Dahr?”
“He’ll keep his room, I assume. It’s all up to your parents really. Or Leata. Anyway, it’ll get taken care of.”
Eric looked nervously at Dahr, who shrugged. “I think we have bigger things on our mind, Eric. You don’t have to worry about me. I’m not a little kid anymore. And I’m not alone. I have Kalutu…and George.”
“Yeah, you should probably get his real name one of these days.”
Dahr shrugged again. “We have bigger problems than that too. Let’s get dressed and find Leata. We’ll spent some time with her while we eat, then we can track down Maynor for combat practice.
They all agreed, and Chari returned to the anteroom with Kalutu.
“So you’re getting married today. Will you be marrying Prince Eric alone, or both of the princes?”
Chari stared at him. “What? You can only marry one person, Kalutu.”
“That’s what they said about familiars and masters, so I had to wonder.”
She studied the familiar. Was he smiling at her? She wasn’t sure. “Kalutu, did you just make a joke?”
“It was my first. What did you think?”
Chari shook her head, grinning. “Good job, Kalutu.”
For a brief moment, Chari thought about what he’d said. Marrying both of them. In so many ways they really were like one person, and here was Eric, on his wedding day, worrying about if Dahr would be lonely. She really wasn’t marrying just Eric. She was marrying Eric and his bizarre relationship with his half brother and former servant. It was something she hadn’t really thought about, but she thought about it now.
She had grown up as an only child. There were servants and other noble’s kids, but she was independent. Had always been so. But Dahr and Eric had a real connection. Normally she would expect her relationship with her husband to be more important than any other, but Dahr wasn’t just important to Eric, was he? He was becoming important to her. He’d registered Lost Wisdom for the three of them, so if nothing else they were members of the same team. But it was more than that.
Chari didn’t really see Dahr as separate from Eric. She knew they were different people, but she had met them together, and they seemed to come as a package deal. Which meant in a very real sense, she was sort of marrying both of them. Even their familiar served them both. She wasn’t sure how she felt about all this, and wished she had thought about it sooner…not that it mattered. Sheba had told her she was marrying Eric. She felt like she should be marrying him. And if she was sort of married to Dahr too, well, that wasn’t too bad. She liked him. He wasn’t like Eric.
He was mischievous, didn’t think things through as much, and did what needed to be done. And it’s not like she’d be sleeping with him. He’d just be there when she woke up, with that stupid half grin and his easy going charm.
What was she thinking? She was marrying Eric, why was she thinking about Dahr? It was as if she couldn’t think about either of them without the other. This was going to be a long life. At least, she hoped that was the case. Because she really did feel like everything would be coming to a head very soon. A shudder passed through her body. She looked up to see if Kalutu had noticed, but he was sitting at a desk, writing something.
“What’s that?” asked Chari.
“I’m just jotting down some ideas. Keeping a record.”
“I didn’t know you could write.”
“Apparently it’s one of my skills as a familiar.”
“Does it help? The writing I mean.”
“It does. It helps give me perspective. So much of what’s going on is still strange to me.” He turned to look at her, without moving from the desk. She felt her skin prickle. No human could turn their head that far.
“Well, carry on then.”
She went to check on Eric, because being alone with her own thoughts at the moment wasn’t quite working for her. And she wanted to get going. She glanced back at Dahr’s door. Marrying both of them? I am so screwed.
Then she chuckled and knocked on the door just as Eric was opening it. Dahr was only a moment behind.
“Let’s get going,” said Dahr, excitedly. “I’m hungry. We should stop by the kitchen first, see if we can’t snag a breakfast pastry.”
Kalutu left his work to dry and stood to follow.
The four of them left the room. There were two guards standing down the corridor. When the four emerged, the guards looked quickly away and started walking. Eric sighed.
“Who are they?” asked Chari.
“The guards my father said he wouldn’t put on us. He’s worried.”
“Do you blame him?” asked Chari.
Eric shook his head. “Of course not. But they’re not going to do any good, I fear. Whatever is coming is coming for us, specifically.”
“His name is Merck,” Dahr said.
“What?” Both Eric and Chari turned to look at him.
“Merck Vanderoth. He’s probably not coming alone, but he’s one of them.”
“And how do you know that?”
“I told you,” said Dahr, a bit peeved. “Visions.”
“And who is this Merck Vanderoth?” asked Chari, stopping and crossing her arms, forcing the princes to stop.
“He used to be a Level 4 Swindler, but he’s not anymore.”
“What is he now?”
“I think he’s a Priest of George.”
Chari was getting annoyed. “And you didn’t think this was worth mentioning?”
“Was it? How does knowing it help us?”
Eric laughed, which annoyed Chari even more. “He’s got you there. Knowing the name of who’s coming isn’t really all that helpful.”
“Was he really a Swindler?”
“Yeah,” said Dahr, “but I think he’s better now.”
“Oh good,” said Chari. “Remind me to hide my jewelry.”
“He’s not going to steal from you. George asked him to find me.”
Dahr looked sheepish. “I don’t think I’m supposed to say.”
Chari was getting angry now.
“Dahr, George said we could share information, didn’t he?”
Dahr winced. “He did, but you’re really not going to like this.”
Now Eric got involved. “Out with it, Dahr.”
“I think we’re supposed to solve the undead problem.”
Both Chari and Eric stared at him, mouths gaping. “And you didn’t think this was worth telling us?”
“I didn’t understand it,” Dahr said defensively. “And I still don’t. How could the three of us end a threat that entire armies can’t end?”
“Maybe,” said Eric, “The solution to the undead problem doesn’t require an army at all. Maybe we’re supposed to discover something?”
“But why us?”
Dahr looked annoyed. “See, this is exactly why I didn’t say anything. You’d spend all your time dwelling on this while we should be training.”
Frustrated, Dahr continued quickly down the corridor. Eric and Chari hurried to catch up.
“It’s okay, Dahr. We’re not upset with you,” Eric half-yelled.
“Speak for yourself,” muttered Chari, under her breath.