Chapter 263 The Keys
The woman looked at her for a while and then started laughing, “By the gods.”
“Alright… then I will humor you. The necromancer you see in that machine, he’s powering all of this. All the knights attacking you outside. I need a healer to wake him up safely and I need an army to destroy the knights still binding him to this place. And then we need to cleanse this city of its enemies.”
“Typical old queen of a ruined kingdom.” Terok complained, “Do you have the keys to the treasury and armory?”
Ilea held up a hand to him, “It’s the king isn’t it? The necromancer… he locked himself in his chamber after his son…,” Emotion flashed over the woman’s face as Ilea retold what she had read. “You went in as well. What was the goal with the knights?”
The queen was silent for a while, “To protect Tremor from its enemies… I wanted to be with him. When I heard about our son. Perhaps it was a mistake. The runes and enchantments placed on this chamber were the most intricate, most expensive he could get. They had to be locked for his cursed machine to work. And he needed someone here to look over him.”
Ilea was pretty sure he didn’t but her thoughts weren’t voiced. A hard look at Terok shut him up before he could start. “Why didn’t you leave? Get help?”
“Nobody came. For half a year I stayed down here, waiting, anxious. Nothing ever happened. I rerouted some of his machine’s energy to one of the life support units and developed mist to keep me inside. When I woke up, however many years later, nothing had changed. I tried getting out but the idiot is the only one who can control the enchantments directly. I had to pry my way out. Took me nearly a decade. At least he had thought about food and water.” She explained, looking at the machine.
“When I finally did get out, the Kingsguard attacked me. They couldn’t pass into the chamber but somehow the city had turned into a dungeon. Either we were abandoned or whatever had happened to the dungeons in Rhyvor had caused this too.”
Terok sat down on a chair, “Do you have the keys though?”
Ilea sighed, “We can’t kill the kingsguard. There are other things lurking in Tremor that I can’t kill either. Nor do we have an army, not that I think it would help against anything. What I can offer though, is a healer.”
Her eyes lit up at the mention, the silver glinting with hope, “Bring him here then.”
“Don’t worry about that. The dwarf has a point though, do you have the keys?”
The queen looked at her and then at the dwarf, channeling her fury. Ilea snapped her fingers in front of the woman’s face before she could lash out again, “No. I don’t have the keys, I wouldn’t have spent ten fucking shit years trying to get out only to be attacked by those who swore to protect us. If you wake him up he might know where they are, maybe he can open the doors for you immediately.”
“I don’t trust her.” Terok said.
Ilea agreed, she was obviously holding something back. She believed the general story though, the queen didn’t seem like someone who would act this stupidly without the necessary emotional weight she had endured, “Look. Elana? I’m Ilea by the way and I can heal so maybe we can wake him up. We’re not here to torment you but we’re not here to save you either. Your kingdom is lost, it has been for thousands of years probably. Now I’d gladly help if we get anything out of it. Being honest would be a good start.”
The queen shook her head and murmured to herself, “I need… where are my clothes…,” She said to herself, walking to the chair and putting on the dress, silver roses depicted on the white silk. Its tight cut emphasized the malnourished state of her body. Ilea let her walk to the machine where she put a hand on the glass, “Maro darling, we have visitors. Can you not deal with them I’m so terribly tired.” A sob left her, Ilea looking at Terok who twirled a finger near his head.
Who wouldn’t go crazy being trapped in here. The story matched up with what she had read in the captain’s log. “Terok check the machine, if we can safely wake him up without Kingsguard rushing in here to slaughter us, we might as well talk to him. Maybe he does know something about the keys.”
The dwarf saluted and went to work, avoiding the sobbing woman hammering her hand on the glass. Ilea carefully walked up to her and took her hand in hers. Sending healing mana through her body, she noted that even from the hard hammering the woman had sustained no injury. Level two sixty after all.
“Come, you’ve probably not eaten anything real for a while.” She said and summoned one of her restaurant meals. The queen looked up and smelled at the food. Her eyes remained teary before she shoveled it into her mouth with the provided fork. Ilea put away the plate and led the woman to one of the smaller rooms where a beautiful wooden table and several silver chairs adorned the white marble floor. A painting of a pair of humans clad in royal attire hung on the wall. “Do you have lights in here?”
She had calmed down, wordlessly touching the wall where a small metal plate lit up. Warm magical light flooded the room, Ilea immediately recognizing her as the woman in the painting. Older, without the smile or the beautiful blond hair that reached far below her shoulders. A sparkling queen with a charming king. His silver hair was shorter, clean shaven with a hard jawline. He was taller than her in the painting, his green eyes almost piercing out of the canvas. “He hated it.”
Ilea turned to the woman who looked at the painting as well, “Hated the formal clothing, the speeches and appearances. Rhyvor would have fallen decades earlier if it weren’t for me.”
“Does it matter now?” Ilea asked.
Elana looked at her and then back to the picture, “I suppose it doesn’t. Thank you for the meal Ilea.”
“Tell me about yourself, about the king and this kingdom.” Ilea wanted to make sure she wouldn’t wake up a necromantic death god of old. Getting some more backstory might help her with a decision.
The king was called Maro Invalar and he was apparently the most charming man Elana had ever met. The stupidest as well apparently. Them with their group of adventurers had ventured into the unknown, only to find several undiscovered dungeons. Building a camp between them, on a mountain that reached high above the surrounding lands was the beginning of their long journey. A journey that led to the foundation of Tremor and the kingdom of Rhyvor. The wealth and power from the dungeons as well as resources found in the area made them influential quickly. Elana and some of her teammates quickly showed they were good at other things than fighting and adventuring, becoming the ministers of trade, housing as well as owners of the local adventurer’s guild and inns.
Everybody loved king Maro, people from far away flocking to the newly formed kingdom and swearing fealty on his name alone. The initial assassination attempts, power struggles with the nearest human and dwarven kingdoms as well as internal conflicts flared up in a fire of politics. The two of them decided to marry, to set an illusion. The king apparently had little interest in ruling and the inherent responsibility but Elana was born for it, born for the cutthroats, the schemers. He was the benevolent king, the one who loved his people, many of them quite literally.
Elana on the other hand lived a life of duality. Acting as the disinterested queen who could be easily influenced by external powers on the one hand and being the iron ruler on the other. It was of course a tale she told and Ilea had no way of getting proof for most of it. There were some things she could verify however. The soul rippers being one of the beasts in the dungeons nearby, the name and nature of the captain of the guard as well as many events Elfie had translated in the log book. Elana even knew about the wines and their history mentioned in the second book Ilea had found initially.
“It’s impressive. I’m inclined to believe your story, queen regent of Rhyvor. However you could’ve written those books yourself and planted them for us to find.” There were of course some things like the Soul Ripper’s actual existence that she couldn’t have made up.
Elana groaned and held her face with both hands, “Ilea please. Why would I do something like that? I told you I can’t go out, the kingsguard attack me just like they attack you and I lack and ability to travel through space. I can travel through earth but Maro the idiot that he is wanted everything in bloody marble.”
“What’s their armor made of?” Ilea asked, thinking about things not mentioned in the log book.
Elana looked at her, “Stonehammer steel if I remember correctly. It was mined not too far from here. The best metal we could source ourselves.” The queen explained.
Ilea tapped her leg. She was putting the woman through quite a lot more scrutiny than she had either Elfie or Terok. Neither of them however asked to wake a necromancer in control of creatures that could wipe her out. That fact somewhat justified the behavior to herself. “You said you need an army to destroy the knights that bind him to this place. What did you mean? Can’t he simply let them fall or make them kill themselves?”
Elana shook her head, brushing away a tear. Ilae didn’t know if it was a fake one or not, “They’re of a higher level than he could have ever raised. I think the dungeon took over, somehow. An unprecedented event but he’d probably be able to understand. Somehow. As stupid as he was in certain aspects, the country was built on his personal strength and that of our guild. He was the best necromancer we’ve ever seen.”
“The machine is still using his mana and life to fuel them. If you kill enough of them we’d be able to wake him up at least. Perhaps once there are only kingsguard left he’d be able to assert some control. I don’t know. Why would I ask of you to kill the very bodies that would be his army just to wake him up?”
Ilea didn’t see a reason but she wasn’t a necromancer either. It just somehow screamed death to wake up what lay slumbering for so long. Then again most of the people she’d met so far would scream, knowing she was cooperating with an elf. Plus didn’t she have necromancer friends already? And they weren’t so bad. Even after all this time. I’m still more inclined to help than not to. Ilea sighed and then smiled. It surprised her. Perhaps she just didn’t care about consequences and wanted to give people a chance? There was little reason not to believe the woman’s story. The only thing was not knowing if the king would somehow be evil and kill her, Terok and the elf. The problem was that he was too high a level for her to identify him.
She tapped her finger on the table. It wouldn’t cost her anything, to use her healing mana to somehow wake him up. She could check on him before to see how the machine actually influenced him. “Any state secrets you want to share? Nasty cult offerings of virgins and blood sacrifices?” Ilea had her elbows on the table, cupping her helmet and head within.
Elana blinked but kept looking into her eyes, “When we were younger… just adventurers on a journey to explore the west, it never occurred to me that I would have to kill humans, my countrymen and women. That I would have to order traitors to be executed, on evidence that sometimes wasn’t quite as convincing or turned out to be planted. I remember them all, even after all this time. We tried to be fair, tried to have laws that would benefit most but once you rule, you know how hard it is to keep everyone satisfied, to keep control and power. Sometimes I had to ignore crimes, had to look away when people vanished. Because we were not in a position to go against the perpetrators, either financially or because of their possible influence.”
Every word was spoken with deliberation, pauses between each sentence and a hard gulp in the end, “I do not know your sense for morals. There were certainly diverse views in and around our kingdom, in the very council to me even.”
“Was there slavery?” Ilea asked, the queen lifting an eyebrow at the question.
“No. There was no need. Our country was formed by adventurers, warriors and mages of high renown. To even come here was a dangerous journey, going through dwarven and sometimes elven lands even. We had all the labor and wealth needed for an economy without slavery. I will be honest that if it were needed, I would have implemented it. Instead we slaughtered our enemies, killed whole armies in wars over ridiculous claims or envy. Tell me what is better?” The question wasn’t rhetorical, the queen looked at Ilea as her lip quivered a little. Spending all this time thinking about what could’ve been done differently, what was right and what wasn’t. If she really had been the ruler of a kingdom she definitely had her own hell here in the chambers of the king. If she really cared and this wasn’t just an elaborate act.
Ilea sighed, “Personally? The decision sucks but killing them might be the better thing. If you don’t want them to turn against you again. Bringing them far away and just setting them free might be the nicest option but it doesn’t make sense financially. Idiots might question the strength of a kingdom that does that. Maybe incorporating them into your own armies? You’d need the trust to do so or the iron rule to execute it.” Ilea thought about ancient civilizations on earth. The problem here was controlling groups of mages and warriors capable of superhuman abilities. Even with hostages, money, harsh punishment, it was a higher risk than mere humans. And it would be slavery still.
The queen smiled, “There’s more in your head than I initially expected.” Her tone was cold, a smirk on her face as she studied Ilea, “It’s nice.” She said, “To talk… with someone after all this time. I had nearly forgotten. Ilea, I’ve decided to trust you. If you decide not to wake him for another year or even ten, I understand. Just please… free us from this… prison.” Her hand formed into a fist. “Thoughts like the way you explained plagued my mind day and night. In the end I prioritized our own people and murdered our enemies.”
Ilea sat back and smiled, “Do you regret it? Being the queen of this land?”
Elana smirked and then laughed, “I would have had you flogged for that question back in the day.”
“I’d like to see you try.” Ilea said and leaned forward, cupping her head again.
“You are not quite as untested as I thought. You are young aren’t you? Peculiar… your set of thought, morals. Perhaps the times have really changed. Not as I had predicted. Perhaps you are not from here at all.” She smiled inquisitively. Ilea might have been intimidated if the woman wasn’t so frail looking. “I do not regret anything. I question my decisions, I question and revise, only to be better the next time. Now perhaps, there simply is no next time.”
Ilea definitely enjoyed talking to her. She believed her story. If it really was all made up to manipulate her then Ilea would be impressed. The emotion, body language, the stories and the way she told them. Royalty with decades of experience…, She reminded herself and smirked, “I’m not from this world.” Ilea said. Nobody knew her in the north and at this point even an elf hadn’t reacted in any particularly weird way to hearing it.
Elana nodded once, “Rare. I might have thought as much if your level was higher. Realm travelers are the rarest breed. Perhaps you had not intended to come here?”
“You know of its possibilities? What do you know about people not intending to travel through realms?” Ilea seemed too eager, she knew it.
“I could sell you this information for your help but I think gaining your trust is better. I apologize if this offends you Ilea… it is a way of thinking I have cultivated for so many many years. I think we could have been friends perhaps, long ago. When I wasn’t shouldering the responsibility of a kingdom and its people.” Elana said as she sat back.
“You’re not anymore.” Ilea simply stated and smiled.
“This city remains… my husband remains. And the creatures still bound to this place. Perhaps after all is taken care of, I might be free.” She paused, looking at the painting for a while before she answered Ilea’s questions, “Scipio, a mage from our original party had always been interested in the phenomenon of realm travel. He even aspired to learn it someday.” She shook her head and chuckled, “The man invaded a dwarven city just to talk to a captive of theirs who claimed to be from a different world.”
“Was he?” Ilea asked.
“Perhaps. He was a dwarf still. Scipio returned with economic ideas unheard of as well as agricultural suggestions that led to Rhyvor’s fame for wine. Perhaps the dwarf had simply been extraordinarily smart, a pioneer of his time. Or perhaps he really was from another world. Scipio had collected records on similar people in the past but they were few and rare, most discredited as madmen and women. He wanted to explore the elven lands to the south, claiming they would be the ones to have realm travelers amidst them. Of course he only assumed as much because of their secrecy and their ability to appear and vanish as they pleased.”
Ilea was certainly interested, “What happened to him? Did he find what he looked for?”
“Who is to know? Scipio never returned from his journey. We met someone who claimed to be from another realm around twenty years later, or was it thirty… sadly they came from a desert planet of survivors, not much to be gained for a kingdom the likes of Rhyvor.”
“Did you believe him?”
Elana shrugged, “A level three hundred sand creator is not something easily dismissed.”
Ilea laughed, “And he couldn’t have helped you out with your city’s problems?”
“The man had long been gone. He talked about finding a desert and founding a library of sorts. I don’t know if he ever succeeded. Didn’t hear about it in my lifetime at least.” The queen replied.
“You’re not quite dead yet.” Ilea smirked.