Gresten leaned out of the guardhouse and looked down the street. There were a few straggling whelps, but they would no longer be of the slightest threat to Gresten without the help of stronger demons beside them. He knew this area from before. He wasn’t too far from Saint Rudolph’s church.
The prince navigated the streets, remembering them from a more sheltered part of his life a mere four months ago. It had not been long, but it felt like a lifetime ago. Gresten effortlessly cut down the whelps with Zell as they approached. Each dead demon was one that would never hurt another soul again. He could not hope to kill everything in the city this simply, but it was a start.
The church was ahead of Gresten once more. He walked up to the doors and entered, ensuring to close them behind himself. Saint Rudolph was bowed down in prayer by the altar, so Gresten sat quietly a few feet away to let the priest focus.
“I’m pleased to see that you are back,” said Saint Rudolph turning to Gresten with a caring smile on his face. “You look weathered, young prince. Weathered, but strong.”
“Thank you, Saint Rudolph,” said Gresten standing up, then kneeling with his head bowed. “I would not be here were it not for your previous hospitality and training. A spell as simple as Push has saved me many times over.”
“I thought it would be of assistance to you, young prince. It is among the most basic of spells, but that can often be the most effective.”
Saint Rudolph walked over to the aisle and sat down, gesturing for Gresten to sit down beside him. Gresten arose from his kneeling position and sat.
“What brings you back here, my son?” asked the saint.
“I do not plan to stay long. I wanted to make sure that you were okay and then to thank you.”
“I am more than fine. I am very grateful to the True One to see you alive and well. I had heard through the grapevine that you were imprisoned.”
“Through the grapevine?”
“Word travels fast even in a city with no people.”
Gresten remained puzzled and Saint Rudolph chuckled at his expression. “Wagner heard it from a man in the prison, but he had not heard any updates in a few months. Contact with prisoners is difficult.”
“I’ve been in the prison, I’ve been in the Caves of Cavaurus, I’ve been in Asmuth Swamp, and I’ve been in the Sanctuary. It’s been quite a journey.”
Gresten told his story, in great detail, to Saint Rudolph. If the prince could be honest about everything with anybody, it was him. The whole time, Saint Rudolph stayed silent while listening to the story.
“That’s everything, your reverence,” concluded Gresten.
“That is quite the adventure you’ve had, young prince,” said Saint Rudolph. “You truly believe that Hurm is your brother?”
“I cannot say that I know him well, but we have met. He has never removed his mask in my presence, so it is entirely possible that he is Prince Germund.”
Gresten nodded in silent agreement.
“This Reinhold you speak of,” Saint Rudolph continued. “He never revealed his face to you, nor his full name?”
“No, he did not. Do you think he could be my brother?”
“No, he is not. His full name is Reinhold Lochmeria. He is your first cousin. Your father’s brother’s bastard son. You suspect something is off about him, you say? I suspect that it’s because he knows who you are now. Reinhold made it his mission when he arrived here to kill Za’gerath personally and he likely suspects that you’ll try to do it first. He wants the glory. Be careful around him. I do not believe him to be a bad man, but I do believe him to be ambitious to a fault.”
Gresten contemplated what he had just heard. It made a lot of sense regarding his last interaction with Reinhold and why things were so tense.
“I’m expecting Master Wagner along this evening with more supplies,” said the saint.
Saint Rudolph and Gresten talked a while more before Gresten joined the saint in a few prayers. The prince had ensured that he prayed regularly, even while training with Lady Silke. She was not a follower of the True One like he, but she usually left him to it.
“Saint Rudolph,” called Wagner as he burst through the door.
“Yes, Master Wagner?”
“I’ve received word that Prince Gres—”
Wagner stopped once he spotted Gresten kneeling by the altar. The prince arose and walked down the steps to greet Wagner.
“It is good to see you, sire,” said Wagner.
“And you, Master Wagner,” said the prince, giving Wagner a courteous nod.
“I had heard from Alvaro that you were long gone from the city.”
“Alvaro knew who I was? I had been very careful not to tell him my name.”
“I don’t believe he knew who you were, but he described you and I was able to work it out.”
Saint Rudolph shook his head. “Alvaro is no good. I do not know why you continue to risk associating with him, Master Wagner.”
Wagner looked uneasy. “I know he’s a vile fellow, your reverence, but he’s an excellent source of information in the city if you toss him a coin.”
Gresten stared at Wagner with thoughts of his friend Horban’s death running through his head. Gresten had known Horban for only a few hours, but the Rochian had left an impact on the prince.
“You’ve had a run-in with him?” asked Wagner with an uncomfortable look on his face.
“He killed a friend of mine before attempting to kill me,” said Gresten. He could not hide the contempt in his voice, nor did he want to. The prince explained everything about his time in the mines to Wagner.
“I’m sorry to hear all of that, sire,” said Wagner sincerely.
“I urge you to be wary, Master Wagner,” said Saint Rudolph.
“If you can point me in the worm’s direction,” urged the prince, “I would be more than happy to take care of him.”
“I’m afraid that Alvaro is already dead,” said Wagner. “That man has made it out of some of the most slippery situations imaginable and lived to tell the tale, but his greed got the better of him in the end.”
“What happened?” asked Gresten.
“A bounty hunter took him out.”
“Eburhard?” asked Saint Rudolph with a slight cock of the head.
Wagner nodded. “Eburhard. I’m not sure of the full details, but Eburhard is a fearsome warrior when he’s got a bounty. Don’t get me wrong, he’s friendly on the surface, but you don’t want to get on his bad side.”
“I do not like to speak ill of the dead, but I am not saddened by this news,” admitted Gresten. The room went quiet for a while.
Saint Rudolph was the first to speak, breaking the silence. “I think that we should move on from this rather unpleasant topic and enjoy a nice meal together before you both take off into the streets again.
The three men ate a dinner of cooked pigeon and bread. Afterwards they enjoyed a couple of fresh apples that Wagner had retrieved from the same forest that Gresten had swam to after escaping the prison.
Gresten told Wagner of his tale and Wagner spoke of his own adventures in Altburg. The prince had seen the maps and walked the streets, but he never quite fathomed how big Altburg was. Even during his earlier travels, he had never been past the Runder to the north side of the city. He had only been to small parts of the southern half of the city and the prison on the central island.
“You should see some of the secrets this city holds, sire,” said Wagner. “The houses near us right now are mostly for the common folks, but some of the old elite at the north had their own manors with large swathes of land. You would not expect it if you’ve only seen the tightly packed streets in this district. The traps, both mechanical and magical, that secure their treasures are more dangerous than almost any demon.”
“I will be sure to avoid it at all costs then,” laughed Gresten. “I have a good grasp on most of the demons here at this stage and I don’t wish to test my fortune beyond that.”
“That’s fair,” chuckled Wagner.
“I have a question plaguing my mind that one of you may be able to answer,” began Gresten. “Why is it that the city fell so easily? Altburg was home to some of the most valiant knights and powerful wizards. Did nobody fight?”
Saint Rudolph bowed his head. “Za’gerath played a long game, prince Gresten. He had driven the best and brightest from the city. As the city was corrupted from the top, it trickled down throughout the ranks. The most capable chose to leave and many others met unfortunate ends before that. By the time the assault was launched on Altburg, nobody was willing to fight for what it had become.”
“It is sad,” said Wagner. “I am originally from a town in southern Lochmeria. There were many who left Altburg over the years and settled in the surrounding lands, including my home. We sympathised with them and took them in, not realising the extent of the damage done to the city. Silent invaders and parasites sucked on the blood of this city and left it a husk, leaving the citizens to become strangers in their own county.”
Gresten was sheltered from most of this on the Isle of Green. It was a small island of no more than two hundred inhabitants. A few dozen in the fort where Gresten, his mother and their servants had resided with mostly farmers, fishermen and their families living elsewhere on the island.
Gresten retired to the sleeping quarters shortly after dinner, weary after his battles in the Sanctuary earlier that day. It was a pleasant evening of peace after such a trying time since departing from Lady Silke’s home. The prince slept soundly and had a dreamless night for the first time in a long time.
In the early morning, Gresten prepared to depart from Saint Rudolph’s church once more. As the prince began saying his goodbyes to both Wagner and Saint Rudolph, the saint halted him.
“I will give you a blessing once again, Prince Gresten. This is the most powerful blessing I can give offer you. You will not notice what it does, at first, but I promise that it will help you. Please kneel down by the altar.”
Gresten walked to the altar and kneeled as he was asked. Saint Rudolph stood in front of him and began to pray. The saint’s hands glowed a warm golden colour and he placed them on Gresten’s temples. Gresten felt a slight static, but he was at peace.
“That should do it,” said Saint Rudolph. “Do not ask what it does, just know that it will help you.”
“I appreciate everything you’ve done for me, your reverence,” said Gresten, on his feet again. “Your wise words, your kindness, and your faith in the True One has created a beacon of hope for stragglers like me. I only hope that someday I can repay you.”
“Your success so far at ridding Altburg of evil is payment enough. I only ask that you see through what you started.”
Wagner walked over to the prince. “I wish you the best of luck, once again, sire. I know for certain that the Bridge Guardian will pose no threat to you this time. You have grown powerful over the last few months. I can see it written on your face.”
“Thank you, Master Wagner,” said Gresten. “I’m sure we will meet again soon.”
Gresten gave his final farewells to both and departed from the church for the second time. It felt familiar, yet new. When he had left the first time, he was seeking answers to the questions he had about his father. This time the prince left with a stronger sense of duty to his kingdom. A stronger sense of duty to his people. He was determined to not let those who had helped him along the way down. He would fulfil his promise to Sir Brand and Altburg would be reclaimed.