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“Hey, doc! How long are you going to keep me trapped in here? I’m healed, and the boats in dock!” Val whined, eager to do anything other than lounge around the sickbay waiting for her current caretaker to allow her to leave.

“Stop fussing.” The man said quietly, “I was mending your shirt.” He turned back to face her revealing his grizzled face and scarred arms. “If you plan on seeing any more combat, I’d suggest investing in some armor. Or not getting stabbed”

“Oh ha ha,” Val mocked the man rolling her eyes, “Since getting stabbed is something you choose to do.” She sat up in the bed wanting nothing more than to get out of her bedrobe and catch up with Kyron. She’d told him to go on ahead, and take Srough to the palace while she waited to fully heal.

“Besides, I’m not a very experienced doctor in all honesty. I wanted to make sure the work I did was sufficient before sending you off.” He gave an apologetic shrug, “But it’s not like I was trying to heal your brain or anything. Just a simple patch job on your lung.”

“And my side.” Val nodded acknowledging the man’s work before practically leaping out of bed. She grabbed her shirt and moved behind a changing screen to return to her normal attire. “I do appreciate the work you did though doc. Saved my life. Do I owe you anything?”

“What? Are you kidding me? You saved everyone on the boat, I won’t let you pay me a single vaylir. I feel like we should be paying you for your help!” The doctor laughed, “But that would make you an official mercenary wouldn’t it?”

“Official? No, I’m not registered, unofficially it probably would though.” Val remarked as she finished dressing. “I’d rather not join that kind of guild anyway. I’m hoping to enlist in the military next year actually, I feel like I’ll be able to do a lot of good there.”

“Depends which side you ask, but I’m willing to bet you’ll do fine there. Anyway, I’m going to go check in with Leon, and make sure all the other wounded have healed up properly as well.” He then left the room, leaving Val to her own thoughts.

Feels like I’ve been going nonstop for days. She mused to herself before realizing that she had in fact not had a chance to get a proper rest since she’d left Brackshore. Val gave a heavy sigh and took a moment to just look at the room she was in. The wooden planks surrounding her, and the general emptiness of the room. Aside from a few tables and other beds, there was nothing needless in the room. “It’s efficient, that’s for sure, but there’s no tools for non-magical healing. Guess he might not be trained for it”

Upon leaving the sickbay and reaching the main deck of the ship, Val saw the capital’s river harbor. The river was so wide at this point it was nearly impossible to see the far bank and the cliff’s edge just beyond the shore. Facing the capital, it seemed impossible that any race could build the city that was filling Val’s view.

It stretched for miles in either direction, and some of the higher spires seemed to touch the sky. The beautiful marble bricks forming the main palace were clearly visible from nearly any angle and the entirety of the city seemed to shimmer with an unnatural energy. It was unlike anything Val had ever seen, and even though it seemed extravagant and over the top, she was enthralled by its majesty. The smooth architecture, the colors and even buzz coming from the docks was intoxicating, drawing Val forward wishing she had the time to visit every shop, inn and back alley, but she was here on business. The sightseeing would have to wait.

The pristine dock was heavily populated, forcing Val to dodge between the crowd in order to make any significant headway. Most people Val bumped into wore indifference on their face but helped to direct her into the proper flow of traffic, but there were several people intent on berating her errant ways.

Val apologized and resumed her march with the crowd, simply not wanting to cause a scene, or cause any further delays. Once she cleared the main dock and stepped onto the stone streets she found herself able to breathe in her own space again and was finally able to get a closer look at the population without coming in contact with them. “So many people.” She muttered in disbelief.

“Sure is don’t you think?” a chipper voice sang out behind her, “Say, lady, you came with the shark right? The magistrate said I’d find you here. Your friends are waiting for you, but they haven’t started their meeting yet. I must say you lot gave me quite the startle bringing a chondricthian into the capital like that.” Val turned to find a petite girl with an elaborate grey dress, and jewels adorning her silver hair that framed her tanned skin.

“I,” Val started, “I’m glad you found me so quick. I think I’m already lost and I’ve only just left the ship.” She laughed sheepishly and rubbed the back of her head. “I’m Val. Can you lead the way back for me?”

“Sure I can!” The girl beamed before skipping out in front of Val, “Just stay close behind me and we’ll be there in no time.”

Val nodded and began following the girl as she’d been instructed, “So tell me, what’s your role here? In the capital that is.”

“Oh, I’m a maid at the palace. I clean up the place and run errands for the members of the court. I’m trying to save up enough money to make it into the jester’s guild.” She chuckled, “Oh, by the way, I’m Zali. But you can call me Zali”

“You just said the same thing twice,” Val commented, amused by the girl’s apparent pickiness on the subject of her name. “So Zali it is.”

“You got it!” Zali smiled, “Tell me, Val, what was it like traveling with a chondricthian? I hear they’re absolutely voracious and can eat an entire elephant on their own!”

“Well, not exactly, but we did have to bring a ton of extra rations for her. Maybe a full deer, not an elephant. Sometimes things get blown way out of proportion.” Val answered thoughtfully, noticing that as they came closer to the palace the streets were less packed, and the entirety of the area seemed more high class.

The rough cobblestone paths transitioned into a leveled and smooth grey paving stone road that began to rise up a hill. “We’re nearly there now.” Zali smiled jumping up ahead of Val, “Wanna race there?” The girl smirked at Val seemingly certain she’d win.

“I suppose we could, but I think that would be a little unprofessional to arrive causing a commotion like that. I’ll take a rain check though. Race you at a more appropriate time.” Val apologized, finding herself wondering how old Zali was.

“Ugh, fine.” The girl dragged out every syllable possible to emphasize her annoyance, “Anyway when I left, the magistrate was in a meeting with Pacisa the Peacekeeper, and they’ll probably be a while, so I doubt you’ve missed anything.”

Val nodded, unsure of who the peacekeeper was, but continued her march towards the palace with Zali constantly badgering her the entire way. Other people might have grown quickly annoyed with the young girl’s constant chatter, but Val’s patience hadn’t been tested yet. The pair laughed and talked until they reached the palace doors, and Zali grew quiet, “Time for me to get back to work. This way.”

Val was surprised by the sudden shift in tone but understood that the girl had used her time outside of the palace to vent her true personality, that she was unable to show in the role of a servant. The sudden shift also raised more questions but left no time for answers as Val was ushered inside the fine walls of the beautiful building.

Her eyes quickly adjusted to the softer lighting the indoors afforded and saw Kyron and Srough sitting in a pair of seats near the empty throne. She quickly traversed the sparse courtroom and sat next to her allies, “Sorry I’m late guys. Hope you weren’t just waiting for me.”

“Val is not late.” Srough smiled showing her razor sharp teeth, “Val arrived much sooner than anticipated with her wounds.” She then stretched backward with all six of her arms, using them to flex her spine. “Chairs are weird. Makes my back hurt. And what am I supposed to do with my tail? I can’t just sit on it!” She grumbled with her tail sticking straight up behind her against the back of the chair

“I guess you wouldn’t really need those underwater would you?” Kyron mused, “You could just float pretty easily if you needed to rest in one place”

“Yes, that is true. I’m afraid with how long we’ve been waiting I won’t be able to sit a moment longer.” The chondricthian stood from her perch and twisted her back again, “I grow impatient with this waiting.”

The instant she spoke a door opened and a venerable figure dressed in a long ornate purple robe appeared, with a smile wide on his face. A white beard framed his square jawline, and a small patch of balding was visible from his front. The robed man walked with smooth strides towards them, “It’s unwise to grow impatient with titans, lest they grow impatient with you. Pacisa is ready for you.”

“Hey wait a second!” Kyron interjected, “We came here to see you didn’t we? Who is Pacisa?” He pointed a finger towards the man he assumed was the magistrate.

“Pacisa is the titan, Peacekeeper. Show your respect to them. When I heard word of your journey here I sent a request for Pacisa to mediate this discussion.” The magistrate gestured to the room he left.

“Come friends! Let us discuss the matter at hand.” A gentle voice came from the room, “We must uncover the truth behind the chondricthians’ plight.”

“After you.” The magistrate gestured towards the room, and followed them inside, “We have a lot to discuss.”

When Val stepped into the room she caught a glimpse of a grey figure, but before her eyes could focus on it she was met with a man near her own height instead. His eyes caught her own and she saw a shifting color making it hard to determine if he was actually a human. Even the man’s very presence made Val feel at ease. It was as though he was literally making her stress melt away.

Before Val could speak, however, Kyron caught the man’s attention, and before their very eyes the man’s blonde hair lengthened, and he transformed into a woman as she began to speak, “I am Pacisa. The Peacekeeper, and as I’m sure you may have guessed by now I am a Vincoral.” The woman smiled before continuing, “I do apologize in advance. The first time people interact with me can be rather jarring to see me transform every time I change who I’m talking to.”

As if to demonstrate this issue she turned towards Srough, and four additional arms began to sprout from her sides, and her skin faded to a dark grey. Within moments there were two chondricthians in the room, and then moments later only one again as Pacisa began to address Kyron, “I do appreciate your willingness to put aside your conflict with the chondricthian for the greater good. The world would be worse off without them.”

“I’m not nearly so noble.” Kyron said humbly, “I just saw an opportunity to make life easier for my village.”

“That’s not entirely true now is it?” The titan smiled knowingly, “If you truly just cared about saving your own village why not let the chondricthians die off? It would save you the trouble.”

Srough growled at this callous remark, “The chondricthians are too powerful to go extinct.”

“You read me like a book. Although maybe the cover was written in bold lettering.” Kyron said sheepishly, “Yes it would have been easier to deny the chondricthians and just take their fishing lands when they were too weak to fight back, but this was the right thing to do.”

“Now, Speaker Srough is it?” Pacisa began, transforming back into a chondricthian, “I am terribly sorry to hear of the plight facing the chondricthians. What can Relania do to help?”

“Peacekeeper Pacisa, I hope that the leaders of Relania will be willing to lend us the aid of their mages to determine where our people are being taken. Anything to help would be appreciated.”

The titan then turned back to the robed man, “Magistrate Taylk, are these terms agreeable to you? Can you afford to spare any mages?”

“Well, I don’t have any direct control over the military so I can not personally decide that matter. However, I am of the opinion that we can not spare even a single soldier for the matter. With Sekalia refusing your visit Pacisa, we may have to prepare for the eventuality of war.” The magistrate explained without compassion.

“Simply because the northern country refuses my visit does not mean that they are planning for war. Perhaps they feel that I am there to take something that belongs to them. If tensions were higher, then I might be more forceful about visiting them.” Pacisa chuckled, “It’s not like it would be hard for me to get a worshipper to allow me access.”

“Well, if we were to spare anyone.” The magistrate thought aloud, “The best bet would be one of our scryers. But they’re all on scouting expeditions and not slated to return for months. It would be at least a week before we could even get a message to the nearest outpost that a scryer is stationed at.”

“What about a warper?” Val chimed in, “With teleportation couldn’t it be possible to get there faster?”

“Not much faster. Teleportation is a very exact science, and the farther you go the more strain it puts on the body. The record for teleportation distance is only three hundred feet. A horse would likely be faster than that.”

“Then what if we went to find the scryer?” Kyron piped up, “We could head straight for the coast after finding the scryer closest to the ocean, and then we could meet up with the chondricthians from there. We don’t have to go back to Brackshore. The ocean’s not a pond after all.”

“That settles it then. The magistrate will provide the location of the scryers outpost, and then you three will go find them.” Pacisa smiled, “Then when we uncover the truth of the chondricthian disappearances.”

“I’ll go find the commander, and collect a map for you.” The magistrate said and hurried out of the office.

“I’m glad that went smoothly, I have another appointment I have to attend in the west. I couldn’t delay much longer. So I too shall be departing. I wish you three the best of luck!” Pacisa smiled and left the office following the official that had summoned the titan.

The room was silent for a full minute before Val broke the emptiness, “I don’t think I should go with you Kyron. Everyone is going to be worried sick about me. What if they send out search parties and find the battleground where you were ambushed?”

“Are you serious?” Kyron exclaimed throwing his hands up in the air, “You tell me all the time you’re looking for a chance to prove yourself and now that one stares you in the face you want to back off? Yes, your dad will worry, but he knows you can take care of yourself, and if they find the ambush spot they’ll notice your body isn’t among the dead. And thirdly, if you’re worried about them worrying, we’ll just send a letter letting them know what’s going on and that you’re okay.”

“There is something concerning me though, Defender Kyron, how is it that Pacisa and the magistrate knew we were coming?” Srough stroked her chin gently, “He said that he sent for Pacisa as soon as he learned of our journey.”

“And I never heard anyone tell them that the chondricthians were going missing.” Val said with a grimace, “But they knew about that too. It’s suspicious.”

“Actually we had to fill out a form with the nature of our business here. That’s how they knew about that one.” Kyron chirped, “Doesn’t explain them knowing in advance.”

“Speaker Srough has two proposals. Firstly we say nothing and remain suspicious of the magistrate, but use it to our advantage to look out for other shady trappings he may lay for us. Or secondly, we ask him about it and operate under the assumption that the Relanian military has spies who knew about the spies who attacked us.”

“I say that we take the first option. If we say nothing and act as though we suspect nothing then the magistrate will act as normal. Then if we’re attacked on the road again we’ll know the truth.” Kyron whispered.

The conversation came to an abrupt halt as the trio heard approaching footsteps. Moments later Taylk returned to the office holding a rolled up paper. “Here is your map. I suggest you hurry, the scryer is set to investigate the scarred lands at the end of the week. You’ll want to find them before they go in there.”

“Thanks for your help magistrate. We’ll be on our way.” Kyron nodded, prompting the group to stand. “The chondricthians will probably owe you one. They hate that.” He winked as he exited the office, and Srough merely smiled in agreement.

“Oh! I almost forgot!” Val ran back to the desk and scribbled a note on the paper. “Can you mail this to Brackshore? It’s for my father.” Val asked the magister, “I just want him to know we’re all alive still.”

When the magister agreed, Val was content and left the building with her allies once again faced with the city. “Let’s resupply and then we can start the next leg of our journey.” Val smiled walking side by side with her friends. “Can’t wait to see how the big city reacts to a big shark.” She teased nudging Srough, who tried to suppress a grin as they aimed for the market district.

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WhisperZero

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