The Endless Horizon

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 15 (v.1) - Return to the City of Fools

Submitted: July 30, 2019

Reads: 64

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Submitted: July 30, 2019

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-15-

Return to the City of Fools

 

 

 

Since our speaking with Asrael, doubt had indeed festered in the corner of my mind. A damned thing, speculation, causing you to question everything you once thought you were sure of. Though I didn’t believe the absurd notion that Israfel had taken advantage of us, I had to question our decision up until this point. Here we'd followed this path without ever stopping to look for an alternative, without ever stopping to wonder if we were wrong in our judgment.

How were we to know if our actions truly led to our desired goal? What if, in killing the archs, we had become the villain, and Asrael the hero? After all, virtue was only relative; unjust, evil, amoral, these were merely the names we gave our opposition after we assumed ourselves righteous.

Why is that everything had devolved so far, grown so convoluted just as we entered Chenglei? For every step forward we marched we fell two steps behind, that was how it felt. Now I make the lone ride to Abdera on a whim. I had no reason to believe that he would be there when I arrived aside from a single letter, but still, I pressed on. It'd been days since I left Cordella on her own, and I could only hope that I'd see her again soon, that my rash decision wouldn't cost us our acquaintance. I was confident in her capabilities, and of my own, but I knew that walking back into the city in which I was considered a traitor would be no small feat.

When the grand towers of the city would again rise from the horizon, so did my feelings of worry. Now that I was here, how was I to even gain entry? My face was surely sprawled across countless papers and my name through every tavern. More and more my head filled with unease until I came to the Southeastern gate. Standing between me and the archway was a crowd of townsfolk, unhappy by the looks of it. Unlike usual, there were no guards outside attending the entryway, no one to intercept travelers at the gate. Instead a voice called to the horde from within the wall itself.

I came closer and identified the speaker as a plain-looking guardsman with a stern look his face. He spoke from a small aperture in the rampart, a window to the city within.

“Entry to Abdera is not permitted at this time. You may only enter if requested by name of an existing citizen.” His monotone suggested that he read off of a script, answering with the same canned response each time someone assailed him with their outrage.

In all of my time in Abdera I'd never once seen it placed on lock-down. In the event of a crisis, the walls could be shut and opened from the inside. Although the city could be rather strict with entry, this level of scrutiny was unheard of for such a massive and populated citadel. All of these merchants and travelers were forced to stand in wait, hoping that someone within the walls was waiting for them. I dropped to the ground, lead in hand, and pushed my way to the front of the crowd so that I could better speak with the man in control of the gate.

I laid my hands on the inside of the window and addressed the guard. “Why has Eisendale blocked the means of egress into the city?”

“Entry to Abdera is not permitted at-” he began again, evidently not hearing me clearly.

I muttered indignantly and tried again, only this time I raised my voice such that I could be heard amongst the squabble of an angry mob. “I've been summoned by a guardsman!”

His countenance didn't at all shift as he moved to the next part of his script. “What would be the name of this guard, and under what name have they requested you?”

“His name is Havlynn, he should be awaiting my return. My name is Kaiser Arrowood.” I bit my lip hoping that Havlynn was still in the guard and could vouch for my entering.

A shallow valley formed between his brows as he began flipping through a stack of parchments in front of him. As he thumbed through the countless names I started to examine his person. He was a wider man, with a thick face and the shadow of a beard across his chin, but it was not his appearance that stood out to me, rather, it was his attire. The crest that signified his loyalty under the Duke was marred by a deep, deliberate gash.

The guard had stopped on a page, with his index finger settled in one spot as he squinted to confirm his reading. “Kaiser Arrowood?” the guard asked, as if in disbelief. Without another word he stood and disappeared behind the inner part of the wall.

From the other side I could hear hushed chatter, and then the distinct sound of a crank. The gate was being lifted, and behind it waited a new face in addition to the guard I was already familiar with. As the opening got larger, some of the more desperate men and women around me clambered to the forefront in a vain attempt to squeeze past the guards. They were inevitably pushed back, and I entered with ease. The gate dropped behind me.

“It's really him,” whispered the unfamiliar of the two guards to his partner, making little effort to conceal his surprise.

“Now if I know Havlynn, he's probably kicked back at the tavern throwing back his weight in spirits until he's fetched for duty. Look for the Silver Stein along the west side.”

He didn't waste any time before heading back to his post, leaving me alone with the other guard who'd been marveling at me since my setting foot past the gate. He peered back to see that his comrade had fully left and then faced me again.

“Lot of people 'round here have respect for you, Lynn's made damn sure your name isn't run through the mud. Still, I'd be careful of announcing it too loudly; you caused the Duke a mess of bad publicity, and he'd stop at nothing to put you down if he hears you're paying a visit.”

He hustled back to wherever he was stationed before, leaving me to ruminate on my own. If I wanted my question answered, I'd have to first find Havlynn. Only then could I worry about pursuing Israfel.

While I passed through town, I couldn't help but feel the life and color had been sucked from what was once a metropolis so vibrant. The streets were full of litter while in the air there hung a foul odor. Few people wandered the streets and those that did appeared miserable. Had my actions truly contributed to such a horrible outcome? If so, how could any of the people that live here have anything but contempt towards the person that caused it? Just as I had the day that I left, I felt great shame in walking through these streets. I'd hoped my doings would be the cure for change, not spark symptoms worse than the disease.

The Silver Stein didn't at all stand out from the surrounding buildings, just another gray construction blending in with countless others. I neared the storefront and pushed open the thick wooden doors, sounding a little bell over the door.

The reek of alcohol permeated the room, as did the stench of those drinking it; however, the room was brimming with life compared to what I'd seen on my way here. Unlike the outside, the interior was alive with dance, fiddle music, and of course the usual drunken clamor. Despite the stale air, it was refreshing to see people so sanguine. I walked forward into the circle of patrons, hoping to find Havlynn amongst them. I nearly leapt from my skin when a hand my shoulder. I met the face of an ostensibly giddy Havlynn.

“By the blood of Christ, Kaiser! What brings you back after all this time; after a spot in the fray? Here, let the men have a look at ya.”

With his grip still tight on my shoulder he dragged me a table and pushed me into the seat.

“Somebody put a damned beer in this lad's hand, this 'eres the man that made it all happen. Raise your glasses for Kaiser Arrowood!” A boisterous cheering reverberated through the room and my skull alike. He thrust his tankard into the air, inviting others to do the same.

I was stunned, lost on just how to feel. A tall mug was set in front of arm's reached. I quickly took it up and sent it down, hoping it'd serve to numb the sharp pain in my temples. It hit the table with a thud.

“That's the spirit! Another one on me bartender!”

I wrenched his raised hand out of the air. “Dammit Havlynn! We need to have a word in private.” My stern glare sobered his glazed eyes.

His acrid breath pierced and burned my nostrils as he spoke, “Of course.” I followed him around to the back of the building with grit teeth. “So what brings the escapee back to the escaped?”

“You've got to tell me what happened since my report to the Duke. What in God's name has afflicted this kingdom in my absence?”

“Well, days after you left, we carried on with the coup. When the Duke caught wind of our plans he sent out his soldiers, but many of them revolted.” A dirty grin spread across his face in contrast with my own expression. “Now they've got themselves locked within the inner sanctum, and it's only a matter of time before the aristocrats yield to all the worker's and farmer's that they depend on.”

Angry chills went down my spine; his ignorance and that of the Duke were evidently not so dissimilar. “How can that be a good thing? What you've described is civil war!”

“You're not thinking clearly Kaiser, this is everything we've wanted.”

“Who wanted this?! The streets are layered in filth, refugees are locked outside the walls, and still nothing has been done about the wyvern threat! How could either side come out of this ordeal unscathed?”

“But Eisendale will finally fall,” I could hear him try to reason with me, though the steam was fading from his voice.

“And we'll be soon to follow. I understand as much as you that Abdera Eisendale is another matter altogether, this city needs to be unified lest it falls to flames. By this rate you'll destroy each other before any drake will have the chance!

He fell silent for a moment. “It's too late.” he swallowed and brought his hands to his face. “We're beyond peace now. There's no way that we could breach the inner wall, let alone have them wave us through without having our throats.”

I didn't say a word, for I was torn between two moralities. My respect for the Duke had been long lost, but the lives of every Abderan was at stake. Worse still, I was heavily accountable for the events that led them to this point. The problem was time. I hadn't even started to search for Israfel and I'd just been drafted into what seemed a certain war.

“Curses! I- I caused all of this mess Kaiser. Instead of face the bleak truth I sat in that damned bar and drank until I forgot what I was worried about. Now we've little time before crisis on two fronts, and there's no way to fix it.”

“We're in equal parts responsible, don't let the blame fall on you alone. We have to make this right, and you need to command your troops.”

“I'm not fit to lead. I only stepped up when the need arose; I'm just a fool in captain's facade.”

“Stop with your pity! You led them this far, you can lead them the rest of the way. We need only a plan and place to discuss it.”

He regained composure and his posture straightened. “Right, give me the rest of this day to rally my ranks and we'll meet again at central command.” He offered his hand. “I promise I won't disappoint.”

I took it firmly whilst maintaining eye contact. “I'll be there first thing in the morning.”

I was left with the better part of the day, but having entrusted Havlynn with his own task I'd been left without one myself. And so again I walked the dank streets in shallow hopes that I still had an abode to return to.

At some point along the way, I was forced to stop due to a gathering of people that stood in my way.

“Excuse me,” I asked politely as I attempted to weasel my way past the group without hassle.

They all wore the same red shade of clothing except for one woman among them whose long clergy robes hung as low as the bags beneath her eyes. She was in her elderly years as was clear by the deep wrinkles that ran through the skin on her face.

“You sir, are you a man of faith?” she asked me out of the blue. With her question I could suddenly feel the eyes of everyone on me as they eagerly awaited my answer.

“I- I don't...” I stammered, not knowing how they expected me to answer.

“The angels will be upon us soon,” she said in an almost melodic voice, “And when they do they'll free this land from the shackles of sin and those that commit it!”

While the crowd erupted in cheer, I silently redirected my path and continued on to my house.

Whether there was a God above I could not say, but I knew one thing for certain: the "angels" would soon fill the sky had no qualms killing saints and sinners alike.

~~~

A dense scent of must permeated the cramped dwelling and seeped out through the door when opened. Likewise, a thick layer of grime caked the windowsill and furnishings, though this ultimately could have been there the last several times I stopped by, each occasion weeks apart at the least.

It was then I remembered why I had come to Abdera in the first place, and upon seeing no sign that Israfel had been here, I hung my head in resignation. All this time wasted, and for nothing. On nothing more than a hunch I came all this way, and now I’d been involved in a war of fools; I was being forced to stay here to pay for mistakes both past and present.

I sprawled out my limbs still sore from travel and collapsed onto the less than luxurious cot, dust filling the air as I did so. It was almost funny, the way my return so heavily mirrored my exit. As if no matter what I went through, I was destined to return to the place that brought me life. Staring at the ceiling I couldn’t help but wonder how Cordella occupied her time.
 


Piercing light bled through my closed eyelids, causing me to shift and squirm looking for a better position in which to sleep. After a few attempts I finally sighed and just threw all of my sheets to the floor in one tall heap. I knew that if I didn't get up now, I'd stay in bed all day, and I'd been doing enough of that already. With Kaiser away on his own personal quest, I hadn't much to do myself.

It'd now been almost a week since he'd left me to my own devices in Mochada, and it was amazing what could change in that amount of time. I only wish that Kaiser could have been here for the miraculous recovery made by the once sunken city. For the first time in months, Mochada was being soaked not by rain, but by rays of warmth and light. The sun washed down upon the town much in the way that the storm did, only without the disastrous effects.

I stood in front of the mirror on the wall and started to brush my sprawling mess hair. Before Kaiser's leaving I'd agreed to give him a month's time, but now I felt certain that that was too long. In all of my time alone I had very little to do besides sleeping and filling myself to bursting with every species of freshwater fish imaginable. I had expected myself to be caught up in helping the village for a good while, but the village had come together and finished up most of the necessary reparations within a few days. Being an outsider, I also didn't much want to assert myself into the problems of such a tight-knit community.

I winced in pain as a sudden knock at the door caused me to sharply tug at a knot in my hair. In my time here nobody had yet gone out of their way to speak with me.

“One moment!” I called out as I rushed to answer the door. “Good morni-.” The words froze in my throat when I saw that it was Asrael who had been knocking.

I stepped back and assumed a defensive stance. “What business could you possibly have with me?! Did you not hear Kaiser’s warning?”

“I heard it clearly, but if I’m not mistaken he’s since left on his own mission, out searching for Israfel if I ventured a guess.”

Since our last meeting he had exchanged his robes for an elaborate maroon tunic. Along with his attire, his facial hair had likewise been tended to with his beard having been closely shaved.

“You shouldn’t be here Asrael. If you intend to attack me you’ll find it a difficult endeavor.”

Despite my words of worry, he showed no signs of malice. His hands were slack by his side and his countenance dulled. “I came to do no such things, I’m here to tell you what more I know of Israfel. Once I saw how deeply the connection ran between him and Kaiser, I knew only you would be willing to listen to reason.”

My posture relaxed as we conversed, but my eyes remained cautiously locked on his person. “And why do you believe I would listen to you? Unless you’ve forgotten our clashing ideals, what reason do I have to trust you over Kaiser, you who aimed to kill us a mere week before today?”

“Because my judgment is not clouded by idolization,” he retorted. “I see Israfel for the man he is, not the one that Kaiser so staunchly defended!” He took a momentary pause before continuing, this time with more control. “I mean only to inform you, and if you wish to cast my words aside as falsehood then you may well do so. I simply ask that you draw your own conclusions from what I have to say.”

In his speech, I could sense the blazing hostility he felt towards the man she spoke of, but I held mixed feelings. Kaiser was my ally, and thus I felt I should have faith in his judgment; however, I was also responsible for protecting him just as he would do for me.

“What is it then that you seek to gain from assuring our wellbeing?” I finally begged the question.

He answered softly. “We may be enemies, I won’t try to convince you otherwise, but at the very least you and I seek a like end. Israfel on the other hand, though I don’t know his plottings, I know very well the man behind them. The same man that Kaiser now seeks council with.”


© Copyright 2020 Ignis Vulpes. All rights reserved.

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