Miguela avoided her companions for the next few days because she didn’t believe that she had the strength to withhold the truth from them. Instead, Miguela spent her days justifying her role in the Archmage’s façade. Often, she could convince herself that she was doing the correct thing, but the feeling would not last long, and she would have to start again, finding a different way to convince herself. This morning, she was jotting down the pros and cons of keeping the Archmage’s necromantic secret when there were two swift knocks at her door, followed by a folded parchment sliding under the crack. Miguela walked across her chambers, tentatively picking up the parchment and unfolding it.
I must apologize for not getting in touch sooner, but I had to lay low for a bit. We need to talk. Meet me in the shack this afternoon. If you do not show up, it will be the last time you hear from me.
Miguela changed her clothes to a green and yellow riding dress with black trousers. She belted her red steel dagger on her hip and made her way to the main gate.
Miguela arrived at the main gate to see Dontino on duty. The large Ramon greeted her with a smile as she approached.
“Scryer Miguela, how are you this morning?” Dontino said.
“Master Dontino, I am doing fine. I would like to travel into the hamlet today,” Miguela replied.
“Do you need an escort?” Dontino asked.
“Not today. I am just going to visit the hamlet. But I would like a horse if possible,” she answered.
Dontino hesitated before finally speaking again.
“I can arrange a horse for you. Come with me.”
Dontino barked some orders to the other guards and then led Miguela towards the stables.
The stablehand ran out to greet Dontino. The young Arzan appeared to have a lot of respect for the large guard.
“Get the scryer the horse that is accustomed to her,” he ordered not unkindly.
“And your steed?” the stablehand asked.
“No need,” Dontino replied.
The stablehand quickly went about his task of prepping the horse for her.
“Scryer Miguela, please be careful,” Dontino said as they waited for the young Arzan to finish.
“Is the Archmage still pressuring you to protect me?” Miguela inquired.
“No. I would hate to see a person like you get hurt.”
“Person like me?”
“Yes. A kind, good person. The Five Kingdoms has far too few of those.”
“Isn’t that just a polite way of calling a person naïve?” Miguela commented, laughing at her wit.
Dontino responded by holding his meaty thumb and index finger close together in the universal gesture for a little, causing Miguela to laugh again.
“I will be careful. Thank you, Master Dontino,” Miguela said as the stablehand led her horse out of the stable.
“Good lad,” Dontino said, flipping the stablehand a copper bit. The boy knuckled his forehead and hurried back inside the stable.
“Always take care of the people who prepared your food and your steeds,” Dontino said sagely with a wink.
Miguela thanked him again and gently spurred her horse to a trot. The memories of Tomus and his twisted neck were still fresh in her mind, so she kept the horse at a reasonable pace. The night Miguela and Koal encountered the witch was a blur in her memory, but she managed to remember the location of the shack and found Koal waiting in the open field. The grizzled bounty hunter smiled with a look of relief when he saw her.
“Scryer Miguela, I am so glad you decided to come,” Koal said, helping her dismount her steed.
“I admit that I was curious. I also realized that you are quite a resourceful man to get a message to me in the compound as you did,” Miguela said as they walked her steed to the hitching post outside the shed. She hitched her horse, and Koal sat on the steps, so she followed his lead and did the same.
“If there is one thing that I learned in life, ducats will get you access to almost anything, including more ducats,” Koal replied with a chuckle. They sat on the steps in silence for a moment, and then Koal spoke again. “I asked you to come because I wanted to warn you about Archmage Belvi.”
“Since our last encounter, I have looked into the history between you and the Archmage. It seemed he was a part of a case that led to you losing your bounty hunter’s license,” Miguela said, hoping to catch him off balance and make him wary about telling lies to her face because he didn’t know how much she knew.
“Something like that,” Koal replied with a rueful chuckle. “It would be best if I started from the beginning. You might remember, as I explained before. Many considered my family to be some of the best bounty hunters in the Five Kingdoms. However, years of peace made business slow. By the time I took over the family business, jobs with large payouts were becoming rarer and rarer. So when I got the offer to arrest Othal Ezzo, I ignored my common sense and jumped at the opportunity.”
“Ignored your common sense?” Miguela asked.
Koal nodded with a look of shame on his face before speaking again. “Yes. Everything about the arrangement should have made me turn away from it. I did not know who was hiring me, and when we met, the man was masked. The man produced the necessary papers but did not give me time to get them authenticated. However, the number of ducats offered would allow me to not worry about the lack of work for some time. Mages always fetched good prices, and necromancers usually doubled that because they would fight to the death to avoid capture.”
Miguela could not help but feel sorry for the bounty hunter, but she was still not seeing how any of this made the Archmage wrong. Koal took the contract without doing his due diligence after all.
“I got the job done. Othal did not go down easy, but I was prepared, and that preparation saved my rear end. However, once the authorities arrived, they discovered that my papers were forgeries, and I became a criminal. The only saving grace was that Othal was indeed a practicing necromancer. The Vestigare were content with letting me walk, and compared to losing my freedom, I was satisfied with taking the loss on the bounty. But then I saw Archmage Belvi strutting into the manor. I instantly recognized his voice and how he moved. I was consumed by rage attacking him right in front of the Vestigare, which was a huge mistake because attacking an Archmage is a major crime.”
“How can you be sure that it was him?” Miguela asked.
“I would ask the same question if I were you,” Koal said, shaking his head and exhaling sharply. “After the Vestigare put me in shackles, the Archmage insisted on speaking to me alone. At that time, I foolishly believed that he would right the wrongs that he inflicted on me. Instead, he was livid that I had the gall to attack him and berated me for thirty minutes, telling me that all I had to do was keep my mouth shut, and it would have been over. He promised me that my crimes would send me to the gallows. If not for my family’s sterling history of working with the law, the magistrate would have sent me to the gallows. Rather than executing me, they did the next best thing and stripped me of my heritage and ability to earn a living. After settling with the courts, I fled the city in fear that Archmage Belvi would attempt to finish what the courts did not do.”
Miguela sat in silence, digesting what Koal told her. He did not have any physical evidence besides his story, so it was hard for her to put much faith in it.
“Thank you for sharing that with me,” she said after a moment.
Koal nodded and locked eyes with her. “It has been so long since I told anyone the tale. It feels liberating. So, what next?”
“I am unsure, to be honest. I need more than the word of a disgraced bounty hunter to take action, no offense,” Miguela answered as tactfully as she could, and to her surprise, Koal nodded in agreement.
“I would not expect anything less, but I hope this gives you the motivation to pay more attention to Archmage Belvi and his actions,” Koal said after a moment.
His comments resonated with her current situation. If only she had been paying more attention to the Archmage this entire time, she would not be so confused right now. Koal spoke again, breaking the silence.
“I will be around for another fortnight or so. If you need anything, find the guard Helix. Do you know Helix?”
Miguela remembered the Arzan guard, so she nodded in confirmation.
“Find him, give him this, and tell him to bring a message to Koal,” Koal explained, pressing a gold ducat in Miguela’s palm.
“Do I get to keep the ducat if I don’t need you?” Miguela quipped, causing Koal to laugh before standing up.
“Sure, consider it payment for listening to my tale,” he said.
After they said their farewells and Koal helped her mount her steed, she headed back to the compound and returned the horse to the stables. The twin suns were making their descent towards to the horizon as she reached the front gate. Dontino was still on duty as she made her way past the doors.
“Welcome back, Scryer Miguela,” Dontino said, waving like a giant child.
“Thank you, Master Dontino. Please enjoy the rest of your evening,” she replied, walking briskly to her chambers. She wanted to be alone and think about what she should do about the Archmage.
Miguela sat on the edge of the bed for hours, thinking how crazy she was for considering investigating an Archmage of Archmage Belvi’s standing. When a knock on her door made her jump, Miguela walked across her chambers, pausing with her hand on the doorknob to calm down before opening the door. Standing outside were Caecilia and Henna. Miguela immediately noticed the seriousness of their moods and that they carried no bottles of wine.
“Come in,” Miguela said, gesturing inside the chambers. After the three settled in their cushions, Miguela waited until they were ready to tell her why they were there. Finally, after minutes of awkward silence, Caecilia spoke.
“Miguela, can you help Henna?”
“I changed my mind. Coming here was a bad idea. Sorry to bother you, Miguela,” Henna quickly interjected.
“Miguela is our friend, Henna. She will help, and then you will know for sure,” Caecilia said, shooting Henna a stern look.
“Help how?” Miguela asked.
“Henna believes that something horrible has happened to Poe,” Caecilia started before giving Henna an encouraging look to continue. Henna sighed and continued.
“As Caecilia said, I am sure something has happened to Poe. I have not heard from him since he left on caravan duty, and I know he would have written to me by now,” Henna explained.
“She wants you to scry a bracelet Poe gave her a few years ago,” Caecilia added quickly, not giving Henna a chance to back out.
“Poe gave it to me as a keepsake of his feelings. He said no matter what happened in the future, Poe wanted me to have a reminder of what could never be,” Henna said, unfastening a silver bracelet and handing it to Miguela.
“Poe said it was his grandmother’s before his. It was the closest thing his family had to generational wealth,” Henna added, tears welling in her eyes.
“Of course, I will help. Let’s go now,” Miguela said.
“See? I told you,” Caecilia said, standing up excitedly.
They made their way to scrying room number seven, doing their best to avoid being spotted by too many people as they walked. They quickly lit the torches, and Caecilia prepared the pitcher of water and mugs. Miguela sat in her usual seat while Caecilia and Henna crammed in the other seat together across from her.
“It is interesting because my partner and I sit oppositely,” Henna commented nervously.
Miguela sat the bracelet on the table and looked directly at Henna before speaking.
“Are you sure you want me to do this? If I cannot scry Poe, then that means he is alive, but if the spell works,” Miguela allowed the unsaid words to linger in the air.
Henna nodded in response.
Miguela cast the scrying spell, and she knew it was her imagination, but when the rune latched onto her ley, there was something predatory about the feeling this time. She focused on the bracelet and braced herself for the torrent of information she hoped would not come. Unfortunately, it did come, slamming her in the and Miguela was Poe Shihap. She grew up in the streets of Arzal until brought into the service of Henri, a wealthy merchant. Complications arose in her life as she fell in love with her master’s daughter, Henna. She agreed to leave Henri’s service to give her master peace of mind but vowed to herself that she would find a way to be worthy of marrying Henna without offending her former master.
Poe sat on his bunk in the guard quarters. He figured he was in a lot of trouble because he let Henna and her friends out at night, but that Xandran one, Miguela, took down a dangerous witch, so there should be some consideration for that.
Suddenly, the rat-faced Arzan guard, Roni, appeared at the door. It figured that he would be the one rounding up the guards involved. Roni was always trying to curry favor with the Archmage. Roni was short for an Arzan, so much so that he probably had to look up to some Nawahl. He had thinning greasy, blue hair. His sharp nose and buck teeth gave him the appearance of a rodent.
“The Archmage would like a word with you, Poe,” Roni said in a forced friendly tone that sounded as out of place coming from him as a hound purring.
Poe said nothing and stood, following Roni. They turned down a hallway that took them away from the Archmage’s office.
“Where are we going?” Poe asked, breaking their silence.
“The Archmage wanted to speak to you in private. He did not want any interruptions,” Roni said, looking over his shoulder, smiling weakly.
They arrived at a thick door deep within the compound, past the scrying rooms, in an area seldom visited even by the guards.
Roni opened the door.
“After you,” he said.
Poe saw the Archmage standing in the middle of the room next to a long flat table. He walked past rat-face, deciding if the Archmage were going to punish him, he would take it with his head held high. Poe took only about three steps into the room before two pairs of hands gripped his arms tightly at the biceps. He also heard the door close behind him. Poe frantically looked around and was not prepared for what he saw. Two big, undead Arzans were gripping his arms. He tried to fight back, but they lifted him with ease and carried him to the table where they set him on it, holding him down. Roni deftly fastened him to the table.
Archmage Belvi did not move the entire time. Suddenly, he stumbled backward and started breathing heavily as if he had just finished sprinting. Abruptly, the two undead bodies crumbled to the brick floor, lifeless.
“Poe,” Archmage Belvi paused, catching his breath. “You are exactly the type of guard I would never have hired. I don’t trust any of the other guards, except for Roni, who has proven his loyalty many times. I can always count on greed as a motivator. Most guards are at least loyal to con. But you, your loyalty lies in different areas.”
“Then why did you hire me?” Poe asked, stalling for time as he unsuccessfully attempted to work free of his bindings. The Archmage laughed.
“I guess I can indulge a question. I hired you because the Academy insisted on it. Your former master is well-connected. I would love to chat more, but I cannot be away from my duties for too long,” Archmage Belvi started as Roni unrolled a cloth wrap, and Poe heard the sound of metal instruments clattering between his feet.
“You see, I cannot have you endangering my tools with your misplaced loyalties. So, first, you will tell me the names of all of the guards involved, and then I will have Roni dump your body in an unmarked shallow grave. You may begin, Roni.”
Then the pain started. Poe was unsure how long Roni tortured him, but he did remember telling them every name of every guard he had an agreement with to make the pain stop.
“Enough, Roni. I will take care of the others later. Roni, kill him, and dispose of the body after I leave,” Archmage Belvi said in the same tone that a man might ask for extra sugar for their tea. The rat-faced Roni stood over and genuinely smiled this time as he slashed a blade across his throat. Poe quickly began suffocating on his blood, and the only thing he could think of before the world went black was Henna.
Miguela’s eyes snapped open, and her hands inadvertently went to check her throat. She quickly realized where she was and saw Henna crying with Caecilia comforting her. Both ladies looked at her expectantly as she sat up.
“Henna, I am so sorry,” Miguela said, and all three of them began crying together.
- Tokyo, Japan
Charles K. Jordan was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. He attended university in his home state, as well, where he studied Information Technology. After graduating, he decided to move abroad to experience more than what he had seen in the United States. He found his way to Japan in 2003, and since then, he has called Japan home.
Charles K. Jordan was always drawn to fantasy, sci-fi, and adventure. When he was a young child, the first novel he read was Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery by Deborah and James Howe, and from that point, he was hooked. Since then, he has found inspiration and heroes from various writers in all forms of media. Some of his heroes include Robert Jordan, J.K. Rowling, George R.R. Martin, Quentin Tarantino, Terence Winter, Garth Ennis, and Glen Cook, just to name a few. Ever since that fateful day that led him to pick up Bunnicula, he knew his calling in life would be to create and hopefully contribute to someone’s growth and dreams.
Charles K. Jordan vowed to himself that no matter what happened in his life. He would never stop dreaming, writing, and creating.
The Five Kingdoms of Cordizal series available on Amazon:
Book 1: Scourge of the Five Kingdoms
Book 2: Dogma of the Five Kingdoms