|Series||Beyond the Veil by Enodoc|
|Previous||Doom on the Brain|
|← Doom on the Brain||Chapter Chronology||Crux, Cordis →|
It was late evening when the King, Melisi and Sam arrived back at the gates to the City of Aurora.
"Perhaps it would be better if we waited until tomorrow to speak with Priestess Mara," said the King.
"As you wish, Sire," replied Melisi.
"Let's meet in the morning by the shrine in the market square, and we can head up to the temple together."
"You know where to find me if you need me," said the King.
It was no secret that the King owned a piece of property in the city. When Reaver Industries rebuilt Aurora during the first three months of the King's reign, most of the properties were returned without charge to the people. One house, however, was never claimed.
"Perhaps Your Majesty would be interested in an official place of residence in Aurora?" Reaver had said. "I can offer you a fair price for it."
Rumours circulated that Reaver had actually ordered construction of more buildings than was necessary in the hope of making a tidy profit from newcomers or tourists to the place he now described as 'a light blooming in the darkness'. The King was initially reluctant, but when nobody had moved in for two months, he decided it could do no harm. He also wanted to make sure Reaver did not profit from the misfortune of others. The house was called Sandsky, and was located up a small side-street behind the pawnbroker.
When the King first moved in, Jasper made a rare appearance out of the Sanctuary to assist with the furnishing. He and the King agreed that it would be most suitable to furnish the house with native Auroran furniture, so that it did not look out-of-place or overly lavish compared with the residences nearby. The purchase of the furniture also provided a much-needed boost to the Auroran economy.
The guard Peter greeted the King as he approached the house. "Ah, Your Majesty. I had heard you may be residing here this evening. I sent for the steward to ensure everything was in order for your arrival."
"Oh, you shouldn't have gone to the trouble. I'd have been quite happy sleeping on the floor," replied the King. "Thank you, though," he added, when he realised Peter looked disheartened.
"No trouble at all, Your Majesty," he said, cordially.
The steward was an eager young man named Orin, who managed the King's Auroran estates when the monarch was in Albion. He was initially appointed by Kalin as a liaison and messenger to Bowerstone, to enable her to focus on the governance of the city. He put himself forward for the additional position of steward when the King made Sandsky his official residence, although the King had no intention initially of hiring any staff.
Beside the house, a small structure contained a well, or 'kannat', as the Aurorans called it. Orin was in the process of fetching water.
"Orin! How are you?" called the King as he came up the path.
"Ah, Your Majesty. Very well, thank you."
"What's this then?" asked the King, indicating a large statue-like object situated between the kannat and the house that had not been there before.
"Well, I thought what better decoration for the front of the Hero King's house than a statue of one of the great Heroes of old?"
"I'm afraid I don't know much about the Auroran Heroes. Who is it supposed to be?"
"Well, actually," said Orin, hesitantly, "I don't know. It could be Tannar the Great, and yet all the statues here look the same to me, and I don't know one from another."
"Hmm," said the King, "I always wondered whether they were all supposed to be the same person or not. Tannar is the only one I know of, because Himilcar asked me to find a lost statue of him for the temple once. But that one was tiny compared to some of these."
The King turned to go into the house, and walked straight into a banner.
"Ooh, sorry, Sire," cringed Orin. "I had a royal standard hung above the door, but the tapestrier has not yet come to shorten it."
"Perhaps you should have had it shortened beforehand?" said the King dryly, brushing the banner aside.
Orin followed the King into the house and set the water on a table. "Have a good night, Your Majesty," he said, and bowed himself out.
Sam bounded in. "Hey, boy!" smiled the King. "We've had quite a day, eh?"
"That Melisi is a strange one," he mused, stroking Sam's ear, "I had no idea she could shoot like that, and she seemed so at ease in the canyons. But then she completely lost it when we got to the Veiled Path."
Sam cocked his head quizzically.
"Ah well, it's probably nothing."
Later, however, as he lay in bed, the King couldn't help thinking he had forgotten something.
* * *
A semi-tuneful noise was ringing around the city as Melisi walked down the hill. As she came around the corner, she noticed a large number of people crowded around the shrine. Some were doing little dances, while others were cheering. Still more were unsure whether to be cringing or clapping. Standing in front of the shrine stood the King, playing a small stringed instrument Melisi had not seen before. He looked up and smiled as she approached. Hoisting the instrument over his shoulder, where it seemed to completely vanish, he made his way through the crowd towards her.
"Good morning, my dear!" he cried. Melisi blushed. She had only known the King for a couple of days, and already he was treating her like a close friend.
It's nearly over, she told herself. We just need to get up to the temple, and then I can get back to work, and he can go off adventuring in the desert. I don't think I could manage any more of this 'gaining experience for expeditions'.
"Good morning, Your Majesty," she said, once he had made his way over. "Are you ready to meet with Priestess Mara?"
"Yes, of course. And these are for you as well." He flicked his Guild Seal and a bouquet of multi-coloured flowers appeared in a flash of blue light.
Melisi blushed again, and suddenly decided the ground was very interesting. She twiddled her long hair in her fingers and looked up through her fringe. "Thank you," she said, sheepishly.
"Do you know what sort of dyes Priestess Mara is planning to make with them?"
She looked up, confused. "Dyes? Priestess Mara?"
Ah. Of course. The Priestess had told her a few months ago that she had asked the King for help in restocking the flowers needed to create the sacred dyes that the Temple was famous for. These must be the next flowers due for delivery. And not ... anything else.
"Err... no, I'm afraid not," she said, hastily. "Let's proceed on up there then, shall we?"
* * *
"I see. I had hoped that it was just another of his crazy theories, but from what you have described, it sounds like it could be more serious than that." Priestess Mara had just heard a full recount of the King's meeting with the Prophetic Hermit. "I did some research after the first time we heard about the lost city from one of the hermit's followers," she continued. "There was once a great city, possibly as great as Aurora when they were both in their prime, that lay beyond the Windswept Expanse. Relations between the two cities were amicable until sometime around 800 years ago. It is not clear what happened, but the cities stopped trading almost overnight. The Great Gate was then constructed between the two lands. Whether this was a selfless act by the city to protect Aurora from an unknown danger, or a defensive measure by the Aurorans, is not documented. What we do know is that Saler the Righteous and his soldiers patrolled the area for almost four years afterwards, until they were satisfied of the Gate's integrity."
"If there are potential dangers to Aurora from another city, why hasn't Kalin been informed?"
"Ah, Your Majesty, but this is not about politics. Kalin could not help directly even if she wanted to, and it may have been too late by the time she sent Orin to you. That is assuming she even believed the prophecy to start with. No. There are forces at work here that only a Hero can deal with."
"But why did you ask me to go?" queried Melisi. "You have the authority to send Orin to Albion yourself."
"As I said, my child, I wished for you to accompany the king to gain some experience."
"It was certainly an experience," muttered Melisi.
"And I look forward to the time when you can join me again!" declared the King. "It was most enjoyable sharing a quest with someone again. Hobson is perhaps not the best company for such things."
"Why wait?" said Priestess Mara. "I'd be happy to give her indefinite leave to continue accompanying you on this expedition to the south."
Melisi blanched. "But Priestess!" she exclaimed, "I have work I need to get back to, here at the temple!"
"Don't worry about it, my child," said Priestess Mara, not noticing her apprentice's angst. "Your duties will still be here when you return."
The King grinned discreetly at Sam. "It would be a pleasure to have you," he said.
"Oh, thank you, Sire," Melisi said, hesitantly. "I don't wish to get in the way."
"Not at all." He turned back to Priestess Mara. "You were explaining about the Lost City and Telysian? Do you know where we should start investigating?"
"The city was called Zorya. There are no further records of it following the construction of the Great Gate, so I know not what fate has befallen it. I'm afraid I also know nothing of this Telysian the Hermit mentioned. Perhaps Telysian and the fate of Zorya are intertwined somehow. Perhaps indeed the Hermit foresaw the same fate befalling Aurora."
The King exchanged glances with Melisi.
"Sounds like Zorya would be the best place to start, then," he said. "We'd better get going." He turned to leave.
"Majesty," interrupted Priestess Mara, holding up her hand, "I'm afraid getting there will be a challenge on its own."
The King stopped. "I'm sorry, Priestess. Please continue."
"Nobody has gone beyond the veil for centuries. The Great Gate cannot be opened simply by holding A..."
She trailed off.
"Sorry? Holding a what?" asked the King.
"Hmm?" said Priestess Mara. "Oh, I'm not sure what I was thinking then for a moment. Anyway, the documents tell of passageways built into the cliffs of the Veiled Path which lead through to the Windswept Expanse. It is believed that somewhere within those passageways lies the mechanism to open the Great Gate."
"Alright, then. Thanks for all your help."
"Oh no, we should be thanking you, for heading out with the sole aim of saving Aurora, again."
"And thank you for allowing me to accompany you," said Melisi, courteously. She was still not too keen on the idea, however.
"Please inform Kalin of what we have learned - even if she doesn't fully believe it, she needs to know of the potential threat to Aurora."
"Of course, Your Majesty. Good luck."
Priestess Mara bade them farewell and hurried off towards Kalin's house.
The King, Melisi and Sam made their way back towards the city gates.
"Oh no, I forgot to give her the flowers," groaned Melisi.
"Never mind, there's bound to be more where they came from. You keep them. They really bring out the colours in your eyes."
"Do they?" she said, confused. "But my eyes are brown."
It was the King's turn to blush. "Well, I wasn't sure what you'd think if I said 'the colours of your robes'."
She giggled, then suddenly stopped. "Oh, my robes!"
"What about them?"
"Well they were okay for one day, but an unknown amount of time out in the desert? I don't know how practical that would be."
"There's no immediate rush. Go home and find something else, if you like."
She looked around, uncertainly. "Oh, but I don't think I have anything really appropriate."
The King thought for a moment. "Let's go to Robes Are Us. We can buy something there."
She stared at him apprehensively.
"Oh, not more robes, obviously," he clarified. "That would be pointless. They sell a lot more than fancy-dress wizard outfits."
She smiled. "That's true, I guess. But I could never afford something from there."
"No need. Choose anything you like. I'll pay for it."
"Your Majesty! I could never ask for that!"
"No need to ask," he replied, directing her towards the shop, "I offered." When she still looked hesitant, he added, "And I insist."
* * *
"Beautiful!" exclaimed the King. After much deliberation, Melisi had picked out an outfit that was not only practical, but also accentuated her svelte figure.
"Do you think so? I'm not too good with new clothes."
"It's lovely," agreed Yola, the shop owner. "The fiends of the desert don't stand a chance."
"Let's get moving," said the King.
Orin was waiting for them by the city gates, a small pile of bags sitting beside him. "I've prepared some supplies for your expedition," he enthused.
"We won't be able to manage carrying that as well," said Melisi, concerned.
"Oh no, my lady," agreed Orin. "You will be travelling light, with just the essentials." He indicated the smallest two packs. "The rest will be delivered to Jasper for storage, and can be accessed when needed."
When the pile of bags had diminished to nothing, the steward bade farewell to the King and his newest companion.
The journey back to the Veiled Path was uneventful, as though the denizens of the desert were avoiding them for some reason.
"How do you suppose we are going to get through the ga— Do you hear that?" Melisi stopped and squinted into the sunlight. Somewhere nearby, she could hear a strange noise, a sort of wooo-oooo, wooo-oooo, as though something was trying to attract their attention to its existence. In the bright afternoon light, she finally made out a small, round object, embedded in the cliff wall of the gorge. It was glowing a faded red colour, and was almost indistinguishable from the dusty red of the cliffs. "Whatever is that?" she asked.
The King looked to where she was pointing. "It's called a flit switch. It can only be activated with the power of Will."
"Ooh, Priestess Mara has told me about Will," she said, excitedly.
"Unfortunately it's not as interesting as it used to be. My father, the old Hero King, could use Will with his bare hands. He could summon walls of flames, rend lightning from the sky, raise the dead, spread chaos through the minds of his enemies, even slow down the flow of time... and I have to use these things." The King held up his hands, revealing two gauntlets.
"Why so different?" asked Melisi.
"His power was unlocked by the Chamber of Fate in the old Heroes Guild itself. My Guild Seal pales in comparison to the place of its very creation. It seems my father imbued some of his power into the gauntlets so they could channel the inherent Will in another Hero into specific forms."
"Still sounds impressive to me," she said, kindly.
"Well thank you. Let's see what this does then, shall we?"
The King focused on the flit switch and thrust his hand towards it. A bolt of electricity flew from his fingertips and the small orb went flying through the air. It span around in circles and came to rest at the King's feet.
Wooo-oooo! it said, as it became a brilliant blue. The King started to draw his sword, but decided to just kick the switch instead. It flew behind him and hovered in front of his Auroran companion, mockingly going wooo-oooo as it turned yellow.
"Quick! Shoot it!" shouted the King. Without hesitation, Melisi whipped out her pistol and fired. The force of the bullet sent the flit switch careening down the gorge, ricocheting off the walls and disappearing over the top of the canyon.
"Oops..." she said, meekly.
"Don't worry, it'll be back."