▲▼▲ - 3:7 - ▲▼▲
Vic stepped across the gangplank and onto the pier. It was a sunny blue day, the air smelled of saltwater, the wind brisk, the Muslim traders smiling and laughing with their Christian counterparts.
All seemed at ease.
He walked up the pier, admiring the tan stone architecture, the cobblestone pavement and roads, the arched windows reminiscent of more Byzantine times.
The Knights Hospitaller had used this island as its base for more than a century. An entire century of raiding and pillaging the Turkish coasts and raiding heretic merchants and other general piracy. Yet it seemed with the emergence of a new brand of heretic, those dreadful players, the divide between Muslim and Christian had shortened.
Now, a new schism had torn the Order asunder, and it appeared the Pax Universalis had taken its place.
Vic paused his stride when he noticed the terrified stare of a young man in armor. Chainmail, white tabard with a gold cross. "Yes?" Vic said.
"Oh, apologies," the man said. "I, uh, was not expecting an inquisitor to visit."
"No one does."
"Well, sir," the boy said with a crack in his voice. "Normally, we receive word from the Vatican ahead of time before such visits."
"A pity," Vic said. He walked over to him, each step draining even more color from the young knight's face. "Tell me, knave, are you with the Knights of Rhodes?"
"I, uh..." he stammered.
"Take me there."
"Y-yes sir, at once," he said with a nod. It was a chilly day, and yet sweat poured from him.
Vic followed the young knight up the town streets, narrow stone roads flanked by walls of buildings. A series of doors and windows in spotted intervals, torch lights, and brick houses. They took a corner, up an incline, past a grove of evergreen trees, and they soon found themselves at the gate of a tan-colored castle.
This far up the hill, Vic could see far into the deep blue Mediterranean, and on the other side, land in the distance - Anatolia. "This-this way sir," the young knight said. "This is the palace of the Grandmaster."
Vic followed after, nodded at the shifty-eyed, bearded paladins at the gate, then paused when the gates' iron bars slammed shut behind him.
This was a common occurrence during his routine visits to castles and walled towns. Guilty-minded nobility and aristocrats would always behave this way, and it never failed him that they be guilty of some heresy. What did fail him, however, were the powerful connections that pulled at the Vatican to save such heretics.
Vic stepped into the courtyard and gazed at the walls around him. Thick stone, well-kept battlements, flags flapping in the breeze bearing the golden cross. This was a proud place and strictly maintained.
"Hello!" a voice bellowed. It echoed off the walls of the courtyard. "I was not aware of such esteemed guests today!" A face peered down at him with reddened cheeks and a broad smile. An older man in good shape, with a white sailor's shirt and leather adventurer's pants. Graying hair and week-old stubble.
The young man spoke with downcast eyes. "Sir, this is our Grandmaster, John."
Vic offered a polite bow. "Good afternoon. I am Inquisitor Vic Donnadieu. Today I speak on behalf of the Vatican."
"Ah. So it shall be. Come in, friend!"
Vic soon found himself in an open room fit for a king. The balcony was open, the brisk air wafting in and rustling the curtain veils. Sunlight poured in, reflecting off the sea and bringing its blue into the room. Distant ocean sounds and the echoes of the city faded in.
Vic sat on the comfy couch. The Grandmaster sat across from him, holding a chalice. He smiled politely at Vic as a young tanned-skinned woman filled his cup. She started over to Vic, who shook his head at the attempt. "No," he said.
The woman left, a distant door clacked shut, and they were alone.
"So tell me, Vic the Inquisitor, how are you these days?"
"Well," Vic said.
There was a cold pause between them. Vic knew why, for he was terrible at small talk.
The Grandmaster feigned a cough. "Uh, so what news do you bring from the Father? Anything new of note within Christendom?"
Vic nodded as he stared out the balcony from his seat. "Another new heresy has grown within the Holy Roman Empire. Protestants, they call themselves. They are predominantly less mystical, but no less dangerous."
"I see. And how goes your search?"
Vic furrowed his brow at him. "Which one?"
Vic thought a moment, then answered. "He was not in the new world, the last I checked."
The Grandmaster nodded. "Rumor has it, he was in the far east."
"Is that so?"
"My men have had numerous clashes against his forces, one recently in a region called Tibet."
"The Templar Magi."
Vic brought out his notebook, scribbled a note, and paused. "I was aware of the clashes between yours and the Templar Magi, but I was not aware of Mondego's role in this. I appreciate your information."
"Indeed," the Grandmaster said. "It seems that the devil is consolidating his power. We would do well to exchange information regularly."
"We would," Vic said. He scribbled another note, then paused, then closed his book and stuffed it into his robes. "I have one question for you, Grandmaster."
"Just John," he said.
"The church reports on rumors of a recent battle between the Pax Universalis and the Templar Magi, but with a small group of unaligned heretics present." Vic stared into John's eyes. "A youth was taken after this event."
John gritted his teeth for a moment, then fell back into a fake smile. "This is correct."
Vic was unwavering in his glare. For him, this was usual business. "Was the boy a user of the dark arts?"
"Did the boy willingly cast black magic for the purpose to harm, maim, or otherwise kill?"
Vic sighed, then nodded slowly at him. "Then if the boy is innocent, then why not return him?"
John crouched forward in his seat and sat his chalice on the table. He stared into the untouched wine. "I admired the boy's spirit, and beyond that, he told me that he was the heir of a foreign throne." He sighed, almost with guilt. "By treating him as an honored guest, I hope to foster good relations with him and his nation in the future, between Christendom itself and the new world."
"The new world," Vic echoed. "The boy is not from the far east?"
"The new world," John said.
"And you have no intention of returning the boy?"
"Of course," John said. His smile was absent. "I will train him for however long he wishes, and when he feels ready, he will return to his homeland. That, I can guarantee."
Vic sighed. The Grandmaster showed no signs of wavering from his resolve, and it seemed that the boy was in no present danger. In his heart, Vic hoped that would satisfy what his handler's wanted from him.
"May I see this young man?" Vic asked.
John paused, then nodded. "Certainly."
Vic followed him through the narrow hallways of the castle, beneath the dim passing lights of torches, to the other end of the keep.
John paused at the front of a heavy iron door. It was unlocked. He creaked it open. Sunlight poured in.
It was a corner room, offering a better view of the coast and the sea and the distant Ottoman lands than what the balcony offered. Cool air raced past them and down the hall.
Two young women smiled back as if interrupted in the middle of heavy flirtation. Between them, a tan-skinned male was turned away, the upper half of his body struggling to slide into a set of armor.
It fit, and his head poked out. He turned to Vic and John. "Hello, Grandmaster." His hair was short but stuck out in the front, his sides shaved down to fuzz. This was a haircut Vic had seen before on Player cultists, but this boy had no such aura.
"Good afternoon, Ediha," John said.