The next week of our journey back to Yoria was filled with non-stop magic training. I made it my goal to find every limitation and oddity of our new ability in an effort to rebuild my understanding of the fundamentals of magic. How long could I maintain a single enhancement? Did casting without an implement consume a different amount of mana than casting with an implement? Was there a difference in the difficulty of using multiple enhancements at once? A new world of questions had been opened to me, and I hunted the answers voraciously.
While I tested the limits of my abilities, Lia worked towards a greater mastery of what I considered the fundamentals of magic. With nothing to do every day but practice and think about practice, she advanced quickly. The most basic spells that I taught her on our adventure to Atsal came easily to her now, and she was able to successfully use the Combat Acceleration enhancement which had eluded her on the road. Although she couldn’t sustain it for very long before she grew tired, I was thrilled with her progress, and her mana reserves came back stronger every day.
Lia’s curiosity and hunger for improvement also grew day over day. We continued our friendly tradition of sharing facts and stories about our lives in our downtime, but she often filled her free moments with more practical inquiries. She asked countless questions on a wide variety of topics, from combat maneuvers, to magic, and weapon types. I usually had the answers she was looking for, but we had a rapidly growing list of things to test and learn together.
Her constant questioning led us to another new discovery on the magic front. We had just broken for lunch when Lia voiced the innocent thought. “Do you know all of the combat enhancements, Lux?” She leaned back with a relieved puff and took a small bite of bread. “Are there any more that you haven’t taught me?”
“I know every technique I encountered in Alderea, but I’m sure there are plenty more I don’t know,” I said as I rubbed some dirt from a bruised apple. “In terms of combat enhancements, I’ve shown you all the ones I know.”
“Hmmm.” She seemed dissatisfied by the answer. “Do you think we could make up some new ones? Maybe we could try saying a bunch of words and see which ones do something.”
I stopped just short of my first bite of lunch as a worried look came to my face. “I wouldn’t recommend that, Lia. While magic is certainly an amazing tool, it can also be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.” My hand twitched reflexively as the memory of my tests in the dungeon came back to me. “When I first tried to make fire with magic, it spread down my sword and immediately burned my hand. If I had done that without using an implement, who knows what could’ve happened. It might have burned me from the inside out.”
Lia looked at me with a mixture of alarm and disappointment, and I felt guilty for rejecting her idea out of hand. “Maybe,” I continued, “We could come up with a list of ideas that would be safe to test today. No combat magic, of course, but some simple enhancements couldn’t hurt, right?” Her face lit up with excitement as she nodded. We worked for the next hour on a carefully curated group of potential abilities, and when the testing was complete, we had two new enhancements in our roster: Strength and Pain Reduction.
Between our hard work and constant conversations, it was easy to forget what waited for us at our destination. Our days were full of laughter and self improvement, and sleep was easy after our intensive training. Commander Savitz continued to keep us out of the heavy shackles from our initial arrest, much to the obvious chagrin of the rest of his unit. He hardly spoke when he brought us our rations or let us out to relieve ourselves, but the mix of scorn and fear on his men’s faces spoke volumes. Still, for our roles as captured criminals on the way to face judgement, we enjoyed a comfortable existence.
On the day we finally arrived in Yoria, the full gravity of our situation set in quickly. A few hours past dawn, the familiar sound of our cart’s wheels shifted to a harsh clatter of wood and metal against stone, and I knew we had passed through the city walls. I could see the recognition in Lia’s eyes and, although she masked her feelings well, I could tell she was afraid. As the wagon continued it’s noisy journey down the city streets, I calmly crossed the aisle and sat down between Lia and the door. I took her hand and intertwined my fingers with hers, and together, we waited for what was to come.
When our procession came to a halt, I heard a large group of soldiers arrange themselves at the exit to our cart. The door squeaked open to reveal Savitz, who held two sets of manacles, and a retainer of six guards who stood behind him with their weapons drawn. “Lux,” the commander barked out, “approach the door and allow yourself to be restrained. Any failure to follow orders from here on out will be considered an act of aggression against the Golden Throne, and will be punishable by death. Are we clear?”
“Yes sir,” I replied, my voice cool and even. Gently, I dropped Lia’s hand and moved to the door with my wrists held out before me. I noticed the quality of the manacles was significantly increased compared to my previously destroyed pairs, which I found deeply amusing, but I resisted the urge to laugh. Once my arms and legs were chained, I was pulled down from the wagon by the nearest two guards and led forward a few paces.
I found myself in a dim stone alcove lit by a single, sputtering torch. Before me was a large iron double door, guarded by two men in different uniforms than the men under Savitz’s command; they wore intricate padded doublets over their chainmail with the Yorian crest proudly emblazoned on their chests. With a quick glance behind me, I realized that the exit to the alcove was perfectly filled by the prison wagon. It looked as though the wagon had been specially designed for that singular purpose; with my new knowledge, several odd features and designs on the back of the wagon’s metal doors now made perfect sense as they locked into small hooks in the stone alcove’s walls. Clever.
“Now you, girl.” Lia was similarly cuffed and led to stand beside me at the center of the guard’s formation. Savitz moved to the head of the column and nodded to one the gate guards, who banged his fist against the heavy door three times. After a short delay they swung open, and our small party entered the keep. A long stone hallway stretched out before us. The ceiling was oddly low given the size of the doors that lead inside and left me less than a handbreadth of clearance from the top of my head.
We walked in an oppressive silence, filled only by our echoing footfalls off of the narrow passageway walls. I came to an odd realization as we pushed further into the belly of the keep. These men are truly afraid of us. It was clear in the close quarters of the prisoner tunnels; the guards seemed to stay as far away from us as possible, and looked away quickly if I turned my head in their direction. The man directly to my right was so white-knuckled in his weapon grip that the blade trembled noticeably as he walked. What sort of reputation do we have, exactly?
In the distance, a junction in the passageway came into view. Our hallway ended where it connected with the next passageway, with two signs on the opposite wall presumably an indicator of what lay to our left and right. Lia shifted closer to me as we turned down the left hallway. “We’re heading to the throne room,” she whispered. “The prison is the other direction.”
I nodded. It seems our judgement is to be immediate, then. That’s for the best; I’m tired of waiting. Soon after the turn, we reached a steep staircase which ended at a heavily barred door. Savitz reached it first and knocked, and a small viewport opened to reveal a pair of squinted eyes. The door was unlocked and pulled open with a screech of metal on stone, and our party filed into an uncomfortably small room on the other side. Aside from a door on the opposite wall, it was an entirely barren chamber.
Savitz crossed the room and moved to open the door, but paused to turn to us. “You will wait here until the King is prepared to see you.” I heard Lia gasp beside me, and I turned to see a stunned look on her face. The commander then turned and left the room, followed by four of his guards. Our last two escorts took up flanking positions on the exit door and stared us down awkwardly, their discomfort plain on their faces.
With an awkward shuffle, I shifted next to Lia and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. She gazed up to me with her eyes filled with fear, and her mouth tried to form words to no avail. I shook my head with a gentle smile and leaned down next to her ear to whisper. “Everything is going to be alright, Lia. I promise. I’ll do all the talking, but I need you to look confident and strong. Can you do that for me?”
Lia gave me a nod, then leaned her head into my chest. I rested my forehead on the top of her head in my best imitation of a reassuring hug, and began to speak under my breath. “Greater Strength. Greater Agility. Heighten Senses. Pain Reduction.” The sudden flare of energy seemed to surprise Lia, and she jumped back slightly to look at me in alarm. Her quick movement startled one of the guards, who called out in a panicked voice.
“H-hey! What are you whispering about over there?” He moved to investigate, but hesitated after the first step and stood stiffly in place.
I quickly whispered the last of my enhancements. “Windstep. Combat Acceleration.” Satisfied, I whirled to face the guard. “Oh, I’m sorry,” I started quietly, increasing the volume of my voice as I continued, “Was I speaking too softly for you? I can speak up!” By the end of the statement, I was yelling.
Panic flashed on his face. “Keep your voice down!” He said insistently as he glanced over his shoulder at the door.
“Well, which is it? Am I too loud, or too quiet?” I shouted. As the enhancements took hold, I could feel the steely cold grip of adrenaline on my accelerated mind. Focus. Use everything you have. Control the room. Read your enemy. It was far too easy a feat to frazzle the door guard, but it was a necessary warm up.
“Too loud!” the guard whined, his voice cracking. His grip tightened on his sword as he pointed it vaguely in my direction.
I casually glanced down at the weapon with an exaggerated pause, then leaned towards him with as much malice as I could muster. “And what, pray tell,” I asked coldly, “do you intend to do with that?”
Any color that had remained in the man’s face drained away and left him a sickly pale green. He tried to stammer a response, but was interrupted when the door behind him opened and Savitz entered the room. The commander looked us over and nodded. “Follow me.”
When we exited the small room, I struggled momentarily to keep my face held in the impassive mask I wore when dealing with tough situations. The massive scale of the chamber we entered took me by surprise, and the opulence of the decoration was stunning. I couldn’t help but marvel at the construction of the hall; enormous stone bricked pillars rose up to a ceiling so high it disappeared in shadow, and the floor was lined with lush carpets and beautiful plants. The floral notes combined with the smell of incense and burning torches to create a rich, satisfying bouquet.
Lia and I followed Savitz forward towards a row of plants and turned past one of the stone pillars. There was a louder and more pronounced gasp than before from Lia, and my breath caught in my throat as I finally learned what the Yorian crest was based on. Before us stood a raised dais with a massive, ornate throne. The chair itself stood almost ten feet tall and gleamed with a polished gold shine in the sunlight. An intricately detailed crescent moon was held above the seat with golden rods, and the entire seat was upholstered in a cushioned cerulean fabric.
Though it was by far the most lavish throne I had ever seen, I hardly noticed it in comparison to the stained glass window on the wall behind it. An enormous circle at least six stories in diameter, it sparkled in the morning sunlight in a display of craftsmanship so beautiful I could hardly believe my eyes. It depicted a dark blue sky speckled with stars and a golden crescent moon in the center. The window was so large it lit the entire front half of the throne room, glowing with such intensity that it seemed to make the sunlight behind it even brighter.
Savitz led us to a position roughly ten feet from the edge of the dais, then stepped aside. I took a quick glance around the room and was surprised to find the chamber empty. Where are you hiding? Curious, I scanned outward with a wave of detection magic. The energy rushed up and over the dais and continued to the back wall, where I found two doors blocked from my line of sight by the raised platform.
One door led to what seemed to be a simple barracks. The walls were lined with armor stands and weapon racks, while the middle of the room was crammed with long benches covered in steins and scraps of food. I counted twenty men milling about within the room, all dressed in beautiful plate armor and flowing cloaks. Another door at the back of the room led to a tightly curled flight of stairs heading in both directions, spiraling up and down out of range of my vision. While the bulk of the armored men looked to be engaged in casual conversation with one another, one man stood alone with his ear to the door and an intent look of focus on his face.
The second door behind the dais led to a council chamber with a large oval table surrounded by posh, high-backed chairs. It was less populated than the barracks, but I knew in an instant that the people inside were to be my judges. A young man sat at the head of the table, dressed in elegantly patterned robes with an intricate crown of woven gold on his head. He leaned back against his chair with his feet kicked up on the table, clearly bored by the small council around him.
Three men in simple habits stood at his sides in close proximity, all animated to different degrees of worry and distress. The man close on his right wrung his hands nervously as he spoke, and the other two watched the face of the apparent ruler with great anticipation. Although I couldn’t hear anything that was said, the constant fervent gestures towards the throne room indicated that I was most likely the topic of conversation.
I relished the opportunity to gain the upper hand in the coming encounter, and watched the rest of the secret conversation carefully. After a long series of eye rolls and dismissive hand gestures, the young man stood from his chair and moved to the door where he addressed two soldiers standing guard. One bowed deeply before he left the room, crossed behind the dais before us, and entered the barracks. After a brief conversation, the soldiers filed out of the room and took up various positions around the front of the room.
My eyes opened slowly as I withdrew my extended mana and took a small step forward, partially shielding Lia with my body from the line of men before us. Even though I knew it would do little for her if it came to a fight, the gesture comforted me nonetheless. The council chamber door opened again, and the stairs behind the dais squeaked as the advisors took their places next to the throne. The counselor who had been most active in their previous conversation, a short, rotund man with a long white beard, approached the front of the raised platform.
“You are now in the presence of His Royal Highness Virram Yorrell, King of Kaldan!” the man proclaimed in an airy, unsteady voice. Lia immediately dropped into an awkward kneel, but I stood unmoving. “Though you have committed great crimes against the people of Yoria, the King has shown the depths of his compassion by summoning you here for personal judgement.” I scoffed loudly, which drew harsh stares from the two seated councilors. The chamber door opened once more as the speaker took his seat beside the throne, and Virram Yorrell appeared from behind the dais, flanked by two guards.
The young king took his seat and scanned us quietly. While he took his initial estimation of us, I finished my analysis of him. Judging by how intently his advisors attend to him, he’s either completely inept or new to the position. Maybe both. He’s certainly never heard the word ‘no’ before, if his discussion in the council chamber is any indication. If the people employed to give him advice are that submissive, I can’t imagine what he’s used to among the servants and common people. I resisted the urge to grin. This might actually be fun.
“So this is the man I’ve heard so much about these past few weeks?” Virram said, glancing at his advisors. “I expected somebody more...impressive, based on the stories.” He paused for a moment to give us another once over, then motioned to Lia. “You should follow her example and show respect to the man judging you for your crimes.”
“I’ve been told before that I’m not very good at showing respect, I’m afraid,” I said with a shrug. “Especially for royalty.”
The room fell deadly silent as the councilors watched Virram in suspense. With my enhanced senses I heard a slight click as his jaw clenched, but he recovered quickly with a dismissive laugh. “That may prove to be an unfortunate decision for you.” Every word dripped with arrogance, a clear display of his belief in his absolute authority; the tone made the hair on the back of my neck stand straight.
Virram extended his hand, and the closest advisor handed him a sheet of paper. He held it out with an exaggerated snap of his wrist and read the contents aloud. “Lux. Arrested for two counts of assault and attempted murder. Currently wanted for the crimes of evading judgement and the murder of seven guardsmen. Should be considered extremely dangerous.” He lowered the rap sheet and cocked his head. “Do you understand the severity of your situation now? Perhaps you’ve suddenly remembered your respect for royalty?”
I smiled. “I fully understand the situation.” There was another round of silence as the men on the dais waited for a show of respect that never came.
“The punishment for evading justice is double the original sentence,” Virram eventually responded. “The punishment for the murder of a city official is death. You murdered seven of my city guards.” He seemed to pause for dramatic effect as he watched me for a new reaction. “Guards, I might add, who were beloved by the citizens of Yoria.”
He doesn’t seem to understand when a tactic has failed. “As I said, I fully understand the situation.” I watched with delight as one of the councilors stood in a huff and pointed at me angrily.
“You are addressing the KING, you lowborn scum! If you don’t show the proper respect, I’ll have the guards—” The man cut himself off abruptly as Virram raised a hand. The young king had a devious grin on his face as he shook his head.
“Please, Gullen. As your king, I hoped you would have more faith in me. There are better ways to proceed than yelling,” he chided as if he were talking to a small child. The councilor sat down sheepishly, and Virram once again motioned to Lia. “You there, girl. I’ve been told that even after you were informed of this man’s crimes, you chose to fight my men instead of aiding in his capture. That is a serious crime. Tell me your name, and explain yourself.”
Lia looked up from her kneeling position to address the king. “My name-”
“She,” I interrupted loudly, “is the girl your seven dead guardsmen kidnapped, wrongfully imprisoned in the dungeon, and intended to torture in order to gain leverage over her father.” The words echoed harshly across the hall. Even though I had expected he would attempt to leverage Lia against me, the tactic still rankled me, and my bitterness managed to break through my calm facade for a moment. I recovered quickly and continued. “I don’t see how she is relevant to my sentencing, though.”
“I will decide what is relevant to your sentencing!” Virram snapped as he slammed his fist against the arm of the golden throne. I barely held back a smile as he attempted to compose himself. He cleared his throat and wiped a small drop of spittle from his lips, then spoke again in a more even tone. “You seem to have a death wish, Lux. Any sane man would know by now that the only way out of this chamber is by my good graces, yet here you stand insulting the most powerful man in Kaldan with witty quips. It appears nobody has ever told you that you are too smart for your own good, and that it will—”
“We can leave this charade behind anytime you’re ready,” I interrupted loudly. “As much as I’m enjoying your lovely show, I’m more interested to hear exactly why you need my help, and what you’re willing to offer me to get it.” I knew my strategy was a gamble, but the odds were stacked in my favor from the two previous encounters in my two previous lives that had played out in the same way. If this works, I’ve won.
Virram recoiled in shock, though whether it was due to my statement or the disrespect of being interrupted, I couldn’t tell. The advisor closest to him jumped up from his chair and rushed to the king’s side. He whispered into Virram’s ear so quickly, I could hardly keep up. “My king, I think it would be in your best interest to adjourn to the council chambers so we can discuss—”
“Shut up, Olten. By the Primes, shut up before I kill you,” Virram hissed. “How the fuck does he know?”
“It’s impossible, sire. The only people that know are sitting beside you.” Olten’s eyes flicked nervously towards me as he spoke. “There is no way. It’s impossible.”
“No, it’s clearly possible, because he just fucking said it!” Virram shot back. “One of you told somebody, and whoever you told got a message to him.”
Olten shook his head vigorously. “Please, King Yorrell, if we could return to the council chambers...The guards can take him away, and once we’ve discussed this we can figure out—”
“NO!” The king shoved Olten away with a hard strike to the shoulder, then stood and turned to me. “I should have you killed on the spot, you miserable shit!” The sounds of a dozen swords rang out at once as the guards posted around the room all drew their weapons.
Virram’s third councilor leapt from his seat in a panic and moved to the king’s side. “Please sire, think about what you’re doing! Remember what we discussed!”
“Eppet, your king is speaking!” He waved away his advisor and took a step towards the edge of the dais. “If I give the word, my men will kill the both of you without mercy.” Virram raised his hand up over his head and looked at me expectantly.
“I’d like to avoid bloodshed, if possible,” I said calmly. “It would be a shame if I had to injure your loyal guardsmen, especially when I’m willing to cooperate.”
A look of pure puzzlement came to the young king’s face. He chewed on the statement for a moment before a twisted smile came to his face and he began to laugh. “This is the man you wanted?” Virram turned to his advisors. “Are you sure?” Another laugh seized him before he could continue. “He’s a madman!” His breath came in short, raspy gasps, and I could hear his heart pounding erratically in his chest; it was clear I had pushed him to his breaking point.
“You three!” Virram pointed down to the three guards nearest the raised platform. “Go teach the prisoner a lesson in respect. Let’s try to avoid permanent injuries, but make sure he understands his mistakes.” He turned and walked back to his throne, meeting my gaze with a smirk as he sat down. “When you’re finished, we can have that discussion about how exactly you’re willing to cooperate.”
The chosen guards sheathed their weapons and made their way around the side of the dais. With a quick turn to Lia, I suffused my mana into the heavy shackles and whispered, “Shatter.” The metal surged with energy as a deep crack spread along the surface, and I easily shook free of the bonds. I placed a gentle hand on Lia’s shoulder and leaned in close to her ear. “I’m sorry about all this, Lia. I need you to back away now, okay?” I could see that she wanted to protest, but she instead gave me a small nod and shifted behind me.
As the guards came into range, I shot a quick over to Commander Savitz. He pinched the bridge of his nose and looked away with a slight shake of his head. I laughed as I raised my freed hands and took a loose stance against the approaching trio. To their credit, my lack of restraints hadn’t slowed their advance, and they spread out to completely block any possible path towards the king. Behind them I saw Virram watching from his raised seat on the dais, clearly proud of his control over the situation.
Before the guards decided how to press their numbers advantage, I launched ahead towards the center target. My combat enhancements flared to life, and I reveled in the new sensation of increased strength. Having lacked the ability to fully test the new spell on our wagon ride to Yoria, I had settled on the only proof of concept test I could think of: lifting Lia. Before the enhancement it had been a simple, though slightly awkward task to pick her up in a classic bridal carry. After using Lesser Strength I could raise her up with a bicep curl, with what felt like an equal amount of effort.
The power of Greater Strength combined with my usual suite of enhancements propelled me forward so quickly, I didn’t have time to level a fist at my target’s head. Instead, I crashed into his chest with my shoulder and sent him spiralling backwards to impact hard against the dais. A dumb grin spread across my face as I processed the extent of the new power. This changes...everything! I slipped into a boxer’s stance and slid towards the guard on my right, who seemed momentarily stunned after watching his fully plate-armored companion get tossed like a ragdoll across the room.
I struck out with a quick jab and caught him in the shoulder. The metal caved in around my fist and sunk into his shoulder, which drew a roar of pain from the guard. He swung back with a wild haymaker from his empty hand, but I had already moved in anticipation. The strike flew above my head and carried the man towards me as I wrenched up with a devastating uppercut to his chest. I heard ribs snap as he lifted off the ground, then collapsed into a heap.
My final opponent charged towards me and managed to connect a gauntleted punch with my side before I could reposition after the previous attack. I let the blow push me away and used the momentum to spin in a tight arc to re-engage him. I knew the punch had injured me, but between the adrenaline in my blood and the new Pain Reduction enhancement, I could hardly feel the wound. When he threw out a second punch, I caught the blow in my palm and stopped his arm easily. With a hard tug I spun around and pulled him over my shoulder, then whipped him down to the floor with a heavy crunch. The wind hissed out of his lungs, and his limbs fell limp as he passed out.
With the first set of threats initially dealt with, I took a moment to process my surroundings. The entire combat had lasted only a few seconds, and my audience was just starting to react to the scene before them. I confirmed that all three guards were incapacitated, then moved to a quick self-assessment. My right hand was slick with blood, and a numb pulsing in my side indicated a rib injury. I hadn’t noticed in the moment, but my punches against the second man’s plate armor had apparently dealt as much damage to my hand as it had to the metal. The severity of the wounds caught me off guard. Pain Reduction might be a more dangerous tool than it is useful.
“Greater Healing, Wounds,” I muttered under my breath. There was a pronounced tug on my mana reserves as faint green energy wound itself around my hands and tingled over my side. I took a long, centering breath in and out, then casually strode back to my initial spot before the dais. Lia watched me with concern as I returned, and I gave her a reassuring smile. With a snappy spin on my heels, I turned to face the throne and clapped my hands which, though still covered in blood, were now completely healed. “So! Would you like me to give you my list of requests now, or should we start with an explanation of the situation?”
Virram sat horrified against his high-backed golden chair. His head spun side to side as he looked to his councilors, all of whom held the same expression as their king. “What?...” Virram trailed off. “What just happened?” He looked to Commander Savitz and repeated the question with an increased level of distress in his voice. “What just happened?!”
I smiled up at him. “At your orders, someone was taught a lesson in respect.” A stifled chortle of laughter came from my right, and I turned to find Savitz with a hand to his mouth. He coughed a few times, then turned to stare straight ahead at the wall across from him.
The king’s councilors finally regained enough sense to counsel, and they quickly swarmed Virram’s chair to whisper furtively at him. Each of them spoke over the others which made the conversation difficult to follow.
“Sire, we should leave immediately. It’s no longer safe here-”
“My king, this man cannot be allowed to leave here after what he’s done!”
“No! This works to our benefit! If he’s willing to work with us, we can give him his trifles and be free of the situation!”
“If we could just go back to the council chambers-”
“His disrespect is too great to ignore! Would you have him rewarded for such insolence?!”
The advisor named Gullen slapped the arm of the throne angrily, and the other men fell silent. “Your Grace, this situation is to your favor. We can grant him whatever small requests he wants now and send him off with the Third Commander’s squad to alleviate our issues in the South. While he’s away, we can decide what punishment he deserves upon his return to the capitol.”
Olten’s face paled and his lip began to tremble while Eppet whispered meekly in response. “What about the girl?”
Gullen scoffed. “Who cares about who he wenches with on his travels? Let him cut her hands off like the last one for all I care. As long as he agrees to the terms, give him whatever he wants!”
Virram stared blankly at him for a long moment in silence before nodding weakly. The other councilors returned to their seats as Gullen approached the front of the dais. “The King has declared that you have passed his test! Your skills are indeed as great as we have heard, and he would now like to offer you his terms for a letter of full pardon.”
I bit my tongue and nodded. The time for antagonizing has passed. Unfortunately.
“Due to your unique and extensive set of skills, the King has chosen you to undertake an important mission for the good of the Kingdom. You will join an elite group of soldiers destined for the southern country of Attetsia.” Gullen paused as he weighed his next words. “There have been...disturbing reports from the border as of late. After years of a tenuous alliance brokered by King Yorrell, Attetsian officials have ceased communications with Kaldan and closed all entry to the country. Our sources in the area have reported…” There was another uncomfortable pause. “...Unnatural creatures.”
There it is. With my suspicions finally confirmed as truth, I felt conflicted. This isn’t something I wanted to be right about.
“The safety of his citizens is King Yorrell’s top priority. As such, we are only sending our very best to deal with the situation. Mobilizing the royal army would cause undue burden and stress on the country, and avoiding any panic over news that may be exaggerated is key.” Gullen spread a hollow grin across his face. “Of course, you will be compensated for your actions. In addition to a pardon for your crimes, the King will meet any reasonable requests you have in preparation for this important mission.”
It was finally my turn to smile. “Excellent. First, I expect there is a retainer set aside for me?”
Eppet nodded. “Naturally. Five hundred Imperials, to be paid upon accepting the mission.”
Lia gasped loudly behind me, and I fought off a chuckle as I continued. “Second, I’ll need a similar full pardon for my travelling companion.”
“Consider it done.”
“Third, I would like to meet with the king’s armorer. I have gear in need of repair and commissions in need of making.” My mind buzzed as I thought through a long list of new equipment ideas.
“That can be arranged.” Gullen made a small motion to leave. “Is that all?”
“No. I expect assurance that this is a one-time contract. I am not joining the king’s army, and won’t be expected to perform any duties beyond this one mission.”
The councilor nodded. “Of course! Should you successfully complete this mission, you will be free to leave with no repercussions or expectations.” Everything about the way he spoke told me it was a lie, but I knew there was nothing to gain from a confrontation.
“Lastly, I will not be joining a pre-assigned squad for this mission. I choose my own travelling companions.”
Gullen was taken aback. “Th-that’s...non-negotiable, I’m afraid,” he stuttered. “We are all aware of your exceptional skills, but a task like this is not something that can be done alone.”
“I never said I would be alone,” I replied with a quick look to Lia. “But I need people I can trust to watch my back, not…” I motioned to the three guards who were still sprawled out between us. “They would just be in the way, you see.”
“As I said, this is non-negotiable.” Gullen looked annoyed as he responded, and a bead of sweat trickled down his nose. “There are many factors that have been carefully determined by King Yorrell, and he has only selected the very best—”
“How about one?” Virram’s voice surprised both myself and Gullen. “I will select just one of my soldiers to accompany you, and you can choose any other travelling companions you like.”
That’s a better deal than I thought I’d get. I nodded. “I can accept that.”
Gullen retreated back to Virram’s side and whispered in his ear. “Just one, your Grace? Are you sure that’s wise?”
Virram nodded and leaned down to Eppet’s ear. “We’ll send my Shield.”
I heard a small gasp from the councilor. “Sire, you cannot send away your sworn shield.”
“I am the King, Gullen. I can do what I please,” Virram whispered sharply. “Besides, it’s the most logical choice. Of the Trinity Guard, my Shield is the strongest by far. Who better, should the need arise to deal with…” Virram flicked his head in my direction. “Him.”
There was doubt in Gullen’s voice when he responded. “Yes, my King. You are wise beyond your years, to be certain.” He bowed deeply, then scurried to the nearest guard and whispered, “Bring the King’s Shield to the throne room. Immediately.” The guard nodded and descended from the dais to exit through the barracks.
“I am glad we could come to an amicable agreement, Lux.” The king’s voice had regained its former tone of haughty superiority. “Should you succeed on this mission you will be rewarded handsomely, far beyond your initial retainer. I trust you have grasped the severity of the situation, and the level of discretion it demands?”
“I fully understand the situation,” I repeated again with a wry smile.
Virram’s eyebrow raised in annoyance, but before he could respond the barracks door opened again. The guard whom Gullen had sent away returned to his post, and was followed by a woman I could only assume was the King’s Shield. She stood over six feet tall, with caramel skin and rich, flowing auburn hair that brushed down just past her shoulders. She was fully adorned in beautiful silver scale armor, the tips of which seemed to sparkle with multiple colors under the light of the stained glass window.
While she cut an impressive figure in her dazzling armor, my focus was entirely drawn to the shield buckled to her right arm. It was an oval shield about five and a half feet from top to bottom, and it looked to be made entirely of stained glass. The edge of the shield was bound in a silvered steel similar to her armor. The face of the shield depicted the same moon and sky scene as the enormous window behind her.
The woman moved to the side of the throne and rested the massive shield on the ground before her. “You called for me, my king?”
Virram stood and moved to the front of the dais, motioning for the woman to follow. “Lux. This is Valandra Sesaude, the leader of my Trinity Guard. She will be your royal companion for the duration of your mission.”
Hi there. I'm Adam, the author of the "Restart Again" series. I started this writing project in the spring of 2019 as a fun creative outlet, and much to my surprise, I actually stuck with it! Fast forward to a year later, and here I am with the first book completely finished, and the second well under way. It's been a great experience, and I'm glad I have a chance to share it now!
I'd never heard of this site until recently, when one of the Amazon reviews for this book suggested I share it here as well. I'm not entirely familiar with how the site works, and whether or not it's frowned upon to just come here to share fully finished products that exist on other sites. With that in mind, I plan to drop a chapter on here every Sunday and Wednesday until the entire book is posted. If you enjoy it, hop over to my website to find the latest news on the project, and a link to the Amazon page where you can buy the eBook/paperback. I hope you enjoy it!