The city was quiet.
After spending a full day to reach Reo City from where they landed across the island, Efon and his army hid in the hills and observed it until nightfall. What disturbed Efon about the past few hours was how calm everything was. There were signs of soldiers and local Reo going about their daily activities, but as far as the scouts could see, there was no main enemy garrison to be found. On the other hand, Reoa had been occupied for three months, so it could have been that the city’s defenses were simply neglected. Nevertheless, Efon suspected an ambush would await them from the buildings if they snuck into the city directly.
But he had another plan.
When night fell, Efon led his troops to one of the outlying hills. After about twenty minutes of digging, they dug out the entrance to the city’s underground tunnels, which was covered by a thick wooden door. Reo City had an elaborate tunnel system for people to move around during the day if necessary. In olden days the system was used much more extensively, but eventually the Reo developed a habit of hibernating during the day and moving during the night and the tunnels eventually fell out of use. As such, they were in very poor shape, and there was no guarantee that they would not collapse.
Efon descended first, and all the Reo after him. As they continued through the tunnel, the passageways eventually grew wider and wider until they could fit at least seven people shoulder to shoulder next to each other. Efon marveled at how a passageway so old could still be so fit for use hundreds of years later. The Reo often lamented that their technology was much less advanced than the Elysians, Siori or even the Breori. But in that moment Efon swelled with pride, ruminating about how difficult it must have been to carve out these tunnels.
After about an hour of moving silently in the dark, the Reo army came upon passages that were lined with smooth stones, indicating that they had reached the edge of the city.
“There should be a hidden opening into the Hall of Kings near here. See if you can find it,” Efon told the first line of soldiers who subsequently passed the message back to the others.
Efon referred to the building now known to most people as the “Toya’s Hall” by its old name when long ago the Reo had their own kings. He did not know what the opening would actually look like, but only believed the rumors that it was somewhere near the edge of the city. It made enough sense that the kings of old would not want the public tunnel to lead straight to areas near the palace before branching into their private quarters. It would not give them enough time to react.
The Reo army spent a considerable amount of time touching the walls, and applying pressure to different points but there was no opening to the fabled Hall of Kings Passage.
“It was the move I would have made too.”
Efon’s heart sank.
“Surprised that I could see in the dark?”
The man’s Breori had an Elysian accent.
“You are not Reo.”
“No, unfortunately not.”
Efon and the Reo behind him shielded their eyes as a light filled the tunnel. The man had lit a torch.
“My name is Roen and I am taking care of this fine island for the Empire,” he said.
“Back out!” Efon shouted, urging his soldiers to retreat.
“That won’t do any good. The knights you ran into on your way in are waiting to cave in this beautiful complex from outside.”
“Then you would die too.”
“Yes perhaps I would. But even so that’s not a risk you would want to take would you?”
Efon gritted his teeth.
“Come, High Xaguun, come with me.”
Efon made as if to channel from his right hand but nothing came out.
“Not here unfortunately. You should know that these tunnels are element proof. How do you think your ancestors could prevent a collapse every time two high affinity boys had a fight?”
Efon was utterly humiliated that this daywalker seemed to know more about Reo City than he did. Truthfully, he had only been to Reo City to visit once in his childhood, and spent most of his life on Breor. Efon only knew of the tunnels’ location through intelligence gathering, but it dawned on him that it would not be difficult for a non Reo who cared enough to find out where it was, or even the fact that it was channel negating.
“You’d best follow me,” Roen repeated.
Five minutes up ahead, Roen pressed some small object into the wall and it opened, leading to an even wider passageway. It crossed Efon’s mind several times to simply kill this Elysian man, but with the High Dune Sect ready to bury them alive, it would take them about two weeks to die slowly, which he was not willing to subject his people to. Moreover, his curiosity was piqued by Roen’s understanding of this complex, and he wanted to see the journey through. Eventually Roen led them to a tall set of stone steps, which led to a trap door that opened to the cellar of the Toya’s Hall.
“Your people make some fine wines. A shame that it was never sold abroad.”
Efon stayed silent and Roen nodded in understanding.
“Come, let’s talk in the hall.”
A further complex set of stairs and halls later, the group emerged at the Toya’s quarters behind the main hall. Roen opened the door to the hall and beckoned them to follow. Efon stepped slowly and carefully into the main hall, then took subsequently wider steps until he could see the central area. His eyes roamed from the paintings on display toward the throne.
His eyes narrowed.
What Efon saw made his blood boil. Two different Reo women of exceeding beauty even by Reo standards and very physically well endowed were wearing tight red lace dresses, chained by the neck to the side of the Toya’s chair.
“Let them go…” Efon hissed.
He gripped his right wrist with his left, but after a few seconds nothing had channeled out through his hand.
“The blood channel,” Roen explained.
There were people who said that channeling blood was related to the water element and was done in ancient times. Like the sun, moon, metal and wood elements only semi legendary figures were recorded to have done it, and incomplete records vaguely link the blood channel to The Gift. But Roen was clearly not Reo and Efon could not sense any elemental affinity in him.
What is going on?
“It is frightening how much you can discover by just digging into the right resources. The information for earth shattering techniques is hiding in plain sight, and yet we do not take hold of it. It is one of the fatal flaws of both the Reo and the non Reo: complacency in knowledge.”
Roen grabbed his spear and thrust it expertly outward, pointing it toward Efon who was about fifty paces away.
“This will only end in the old way. Vidaal, show me your will to live.”
Efon unsheathed his sword and held it overhead in a high guard, lunge stepping four times before slamming it down on Roen.
The Elysian admiral blocked upward with his metal spear, a loud clang resounding through the room. Roen whipped the spear around and cut upward at Efon’s side, which he blocked promptly. In a flash, Efon raised his sword and sliced diagonally downward at Roen’s opposite side, moving so quickly that most of those present did not see it, but Roen did, and shifted his hands on the spear such that the blunt end took the hit. While the block deflected the attack, Efon’s sword still made a shallow cut along Roen’s right side.
While Roen’s spear was still engaged with Efon’s sword, Efon released the end of his sword with his left hand, grabbed a dagger from within his robe and stabbed Roen in the stomach. Roen opened his mouth wide, lunging forward and biting Efon in the neck.
The manner of attack was so unexpected Efon stood in shock, unable to move. Within seconds, his grip and vision grew weak, and he let go of his weapons, crumpling to the ground. Efon tried to plant his hands on the carpet to stabilize himself but to no avail. Roen’s voice was echoing in the back of his head as if they were still in the tunnels.
“A shame...A...shame. I expected...professed such a love for his...and culture to know more.”