From Ryzom Wiki
Night had just fallen. The last rays of sunshine had dipped below the horizon, taking their comforting warmth with them. Wrapped up in his cover, Aedon was cursing his boldness. He should never have trusted what the old fool had said. A new world being built in the west? How could he have believed such a thing? There was nothing but desert as far as the eye could see. Not even the slightest trace of civilization out here.
It had been almost five months now since he had left his clan. For five days now they had been wandering in no man's land searching for the path of the exodus towards the new cities. An old traveler who they had taken into their camp and helped regain his strength had told them the story.
Scornful smiles had broadened on the faces of the fifteen members of the clan. Nobody could believe such a story. Everybody knew that nowadays the world was populated by nothing more than small tribes and nomads living a hunter-gatherer existence. There was not a single city that had managed to repel the invading monsters that had streamed up from the depths of the planet. Nonetheless, nobody challenged the words of the old man. It was very common for men of a certain age to begin to lose their faculties. In any case, even if nobody believed such stories, everyone loved to hear about them as they harked back to childhood memories of dreams of fantastic worlds.
Despite this, Aedon had taken the words of the old man quite literally and when the men and women of his tribe had turned in for the night, he sat with the traveler so he could ask more questions - and he was astounded by the answers he received. He had finally found a way to escape his dull and humdrum destiny, as he had always wanted. He would become a hero. He would show everyone what he was capable of. He would prove to his people that the world was blossoming once more.
At dawn, his parents pleaded with him to change his mind, but being as stubborn as a madakam, he was not about to change his course for anything. And so begrudgingly, but knowing full well that he would return very quickly, they decided to prepare a pouch of takoda roots for him by way of nourishment, as well as a blanket to keep off the cold of icy nights.
The jeers and laughter of his fellow youngsters was ringing in his ears as he left the camp. Only the old Fyros offered him a friendly gesture of good luck.
- "I'll be the laughing stock of all of them, if I come back now! he said to himself, clenching his fists."
A strong wind had come up in the night, and grains of sand were buffeting his face, half-hidden under his blanket.
He had hardly any provisions left and knew that he would very soon have to decide to go back or else carry on. If he continued, he knew that he would not have enough food to make the journey back. Unless he managed to kill one of those lousy yubos with the knife his father had given him.
In the end he slept until early morning, when he was pleasantly surprised to see that the wind had died down and a glorious sun was shining overhead.
He climbed out from under his cover and had a long stretch. Suddenly he saw a yubo. He was rooted to the spot and hoped that luck would be on his side. He lowered his head and noticed a large block of amber less than a meter from him. He bent forward and grabbed hold of the amber, all the while making sure that the animal munching on a pine tree did not notice him. Once he had a good hold of the chunk of amber, he drew back his arm and threw it with all his strength at the yubo.
There was a sudden loud bang and the amber exploded in a thousand shiny fragments in mid-flight.
Aedon' jaw dropped and he was dumbstruck on the spot. With that, the yubo fled at breakneck speed.
- "Am I losing my mind?" he said to himself, having just seen the impossible.
A shiver ran down his spine. It was the beginning of the end. The sun must have driven him crazy. He heard a short laugh behind him. He spun round, but there was nobody there. Fear mixed with a feeling of disquiet took hold of him. I've gone mad! he said to himself again, terrified at the idea of dying in this way. Again, he heard the laugh behind him. Turning his head quickly, Aedon thought he made out a strange shape that vanished in an instant.
- "Who are you?!", he shouted.
I have to keep calm, he tried to tell himself. There must be an explanation for this.
- "Show yourself!, he roared.
One thing for sure, he had enough strength left to put up a fight. He could feel his heart beating in his chest like the drums of his uncle Denarius. Then, out of thin air, a being hardly one meter high appeared, floating at eye-level.
- "Well met, young Fyros, what is your name?"
- "Aedon, he replied trying to fathom what has happening."
That's it - I've gone mad! Unless...? But that's not possible. Nobody in his clan had ever seen what he was thinking of. Believing in the world being reborn was one thing, but in legendary beings such as these?!
- "Don't be afraid, I'm a friend of your people", he said before smiling at Aedon.
- "There wasn't a tooth in his head. How could he possibly chew his food?" thought Aedon, who shook his head, rebuking himself for thinking such stupid questions at a time like this.
- "You are a Kami? he said, hardly believing it could be true."
- "This is indeed the name for our people in the language of homins, the Kami replied."
He disappeared suddenly. Aedon rubbed his eyes, believing that his reason had been playing tricks on him - but suddenly there was a tug on the sleeve of his jacket. He turned his head and to see the Kami had returned.
- "How is this possible?!" he said, astounded.
The Kami smiled again.
- "There are many things that you must learn and many you must forget. Atys is much more complex than your people can imagine. We, the Kami, are capable of marvelous feats and are willing to share them with you, if you learn to trust us. Atys needs young men full of keen spirit. Atys is far from being fully cured. We are counting on the young generations to repopulate and bring life back to Atys."
- "Can you teach me how to disappear and reappear again? asked an enchanted Aedon who no longer had any doubts about the truth of what he was seeing."
- "That and many other things. But patience and hard work I ask of you. There are many young men such as you who I have brought to Kaemon to serve their apprenticeship only for them to become vulgar layabouts, hungry for wealth and power."
- "I am not like that! I swear to you! he said before lowering his voice somewhat. I beg you not to leave me. I will do anything you wish so that you might take me to this town. I will prove to you that you were right to trust me."
The Kami floated up two meters in the air and looked down on him from this height.
- "So be it, ready yourself then for a great journey. The nearest city is very far from here", said the Kami.
Aedon stuck out his chest and stared defiantly at the floating being.
- "I am ready to follow you to the ends of this world. I will be able to face up to whatever dangers come our way", he said with genuine enthusiasm.
- "Never lose this adventurous spirit, young Fyros, as you will learn very quickly that life can be just as dangerous in the towns as in the more remote areas."
The Kami came back down, floating near Aedon. He looked him straight in the eye and added: "You will need all your strength for your apprenticeship. You are very lucky indeed that you came across me here, as you may have wandered for many years without ever finding one of us. I'm also going to save you a long walk and teleport you to your destination."
- "Teleport?" said Aedon.
He knew the term from fables, but a strange feeling was coming over him. Dissolve into nothing in one place and re-appear hundreds of kilometers away? Despite the heat, an icy shiver ran through his bones.
- "Are you afraid?"
- "No," said Aedon, unconvincingly. "I am ready."
The Kami smiled and was in no way fooled by the bravado of the young Fyros. He made a single gesture and suddenly the ground all around Aedon seemed to disappear. Very quickly however, Aedon vision became perfectly clear again. Tears welled up in his eyes and trickled down his cheeks. A small village stretched out below. Buildings. Homins like him. It was unbelievable. He had done it! He was a hero.
A hand slapped him on the shoulder. He cried out in surprise. A female laugh greeted him. A young Fyros girl was next to him.
- "You're a newcomer and should learn to be more discreet if you want to survive", she said pointing to a capryni who was watching them menacingly.
- "These herbivores can be very nasty when they sense hostility!"
Aedon nodded, momentarily dumbstruck.
- "Come with me, you have to go and see Boethus Cekian. He will explain many things to you - there is a lot to learn before you can think about going to the great cities."
A light wind refreshed his memory.
- "I have a whole new life ahead of me here", he said to himself, heading down towards the tower.
Night was falling on Pyr, the capital city of the Fyros Empire. It had been almost a month that Aedon was living in the city, and he was becoming familiar with all of its nooks and crannies. He went into a shop and caught the attention of the merchant.
- "Dylion, look what I have for you! Two magnificent gingo skins. I skinned these beasts just for you!" He laid his pack down on the counter.
The old merchant rubbed his chin and finally, halfway convinced, touched the skins.
- "These weren't young gingos! The skin isn't soft anymore. What do you expect me to do with them?" the merchant mocked. "Here, I'll give you two hundred dappers, because I'm in a good mood."
Many a warrior would have felt the blood rise to their faces and turned to seek another merchant, ranting all the way. But Aedon knew his homin. He knew that this was only his way of starting the bartering.
- "Two hundred dappers! That's not even enough to pay for a night at the inn. Normally, I would ask you for three times that much! But I believe that you might really be one of the poorest merchants in town, so I'll let you have them for five hundred dappers."
Dylion Tindix lifted his eyes to the sky, as if he had been stabbed. The bargaining went on for a good ten minutes until they had finally agreed on three hundred dappers. Feeling rather satisfied with his day's accomplishments, Aedon hefted the beads in his palm. He wandered aimlessly into the Bath Lane and stopped in front of the city hammam. He looked at the sky and decided that there was enough time before dinner.
He entered the lobby, where he was met by an attendant.
- "Good evening. May I help you?" He asked with a honeyed voice.
- "Yes, show me to a dressing room so I can undress. I'm in a hurry to take a bath."
The homin bowed quickly and invited him to follow. The place seethed with a hot, heavy atmosphere. Going down a long corridor with many doors, Aedon congratulated himself for making the right choice. He had spent the day hunting and sweating under the hot sun. His muscles needed to relax in the heat of the baths. He went into the cubicle that his guide had shown him. He undressed completely before opening the other door that led into the steam baths. Steam filled the entire room, which was lined with green amber. He came up to the big pool and felt vexed by the large number of bathers, who were mostly Fyros.
He sat down on the edge of the pool, leaned forward and stretched out his arm. The water was very hot. He frowned and hesitated for a second before deciding to slip into the water. He inched his way in slowly, controlling his breath as he went.
He stretched his arms out along the ledge of the pool and closed his eyes.
- "This is the first time I've seen you here. Have you been in Pyr very long?"
Aedon opened his eyes and turned his head to the left. He saw a Fyros who was perhaps in his early forties.
- "A month, but I don't plan to stay any longer than I need to," answered Aedon, hoping the conversation would stop right there.
- "Why leave us so soon? Don't you like Pyr?" the stranger continued.
- "I want to discover new homin lands and see their wonders. I'm thirsty for knowledge."
- "I thought so!" he said, laughing. "My name is Partacles, I'm one of the senators who governs our people in the name of Emperor Dexton. I'm in charge of military affairs and and the Kamis know that that is important business!"
- "Except for the Kitins, I don't see any conflicts to worry about", said Aedon, who didn't like the turn this conversation was taking.
Partacles moved closer to Aedon and added in a low voice: "Do you really believe that peace among homins can last forever? Think of the Karavan's ambitions and you'll see why the Matis will jump at our throats as soon as they get the chance. Peace has only lasted because each group of people is still too weak to think of expanding their territory. But things happen faster than you can imagine. The four homin races are rebuilding their lost empires. Our good emperor will rebuild his imperial residence, and I have personally named several generals who will be in charge of recruiting for guilds for future stakes."
Aedon frowned worriedly. He had no desire to enter into such considerations. He was a warrior and an adventurer, and he didn't care about politics. Why was he being told all of this? Partacles laid a hand on his shoulder.
- "I need young Fyros like you to be my agents. We don't have all the information we need about what is happening among the Matis and the Trykers. Are you willing to be one of my spies? Before you answer, know that there is plenty of fame and fortune to gain. Plenty for a young homin. Think of all the things that you'll be able to buy…"
Aedon' mind began to swim in confusion. When he left his village, he had no idea how much the world was changing. War between homins might well come again. He felt a bitter taste in his mouth. He shook his head and looked Partacles straight in the eye.
- "I'll think about it, but I'm not promising you anything," he said.
- "Take your time, young Fyros. There is nothing worse than excessive zeal and rash decisions." With these words, Partacles let go of the ledge, swam to the steps of the pool and climbed out. Aedon relaxed at last. He had so wanted to be left alone. He knew nothing about the ways of society, and he really had no desire to learn about it.
He lingered for several long minutes, steeping in the hot water and the steam that rose from it. Before leaving the hammam, he took a cold shower that tightened up his whole body. Once he was dressed, he went back out onto the street and savored the gentle breeze that made its way into the narrow streets of Pyr. Partacles' words seemed to be far from his mind. His stomach had been rumbling for several minutes and his thoughts were on having a very substantial meal. He went up Dexton Street and came to the Fountain Square. The bar was on the left. Without a moment's hesitation, he went into the building and sat down at a free table.
A trio of musicians was playing a traditional melody. Three young Fyros women were dancing very graciously between the bar and the front tables. In the light from the lanterns, their movements were subtle and delicate. Aedon ordered a scrath beer and a grilled rib of bodoc with braised larvae. Despite the harmonious swaying of the young women, his thoughts finally returned to the words of Partacles. With money, everything would be so easy! No need to spend long hours hunting just to earn barely enough to pay for lodging. He could live however he wished without worrying about tomorrow. Even girls would be easier! He shook his head with a sardonic little smile. Only the ancient ones still thought women could be bought. Ever since the forced exile into the Prime Roots, Fyros society had seen drastic changes. Fyros women, inspired by the example of other peoples, learned to assert themselves, and the regent Leanon was a prime example. If a Kami could read my thoughts right now, he would teleport me instantly to the middle of the desert, he thought, letting a smile light up his face.
- "Do you mind if I sit next to you?" said a voice with a very distinct accent.
Aedon lifted his head and met the eyes of a young Matis.
- "Please be my guest," he answered.
The Matis sat down next to him. He had a rather debonair sort of face, with large blue eyes and a trim beard that aged his appearance a little.
- "I love your city. You are very lucky. Did you know that Pyr is the largest homin city on Atys?"
Aedon shook his head, although his eyes were on the beautiful Fyros dancers who were starting a new dance.
- "You aren't very talkative, but maybe I should introduce myself. Lato Nivaldo, Matis ambassador. I am here to build ties with your people. I like to believe that there can be lasting peace between us."
- "That isn't what I have heard elsewhere…" Aedon began.
- "Oh, really?" said Nivaldo, surprised. "Tell me, what have you heard?"
Aedon was furious with himself, and lifted his beer to his lips. He had been caught out like a beginner! The Matis was trying to milk him for information. Maybe he had even seen him talking to Partacles. He had to watch every word he said.
- "The Karavan don't like us very much, and they say you are among their strongest defenders," he said, choosing his words very carefully.
- "That's true, but it's no crime to have an opinion. Jena is our Goddess, and she guides our actions, but nowhere do her precepts teach us to use force to spreads the good word."
Aedon made a skeptical face.
- "No. But do you really respect our beliefs?"
- "Do you really think that I would have volunteered to be an ambassador to your people unless I loved them? If only you could visit our country, you would see how mistaken you are to think of us as crazy fanatics."
- "That would be wonderful, but what would I do there, with no dappers and no place to sleep?" said Aedon, who hoped this would end the conversation.
Nivaldo looked concerned and furrowed his brow.
- "Yes, money is getting more and more important in our world, but maybe there is a solution. I have been appointed by Duke Rodi di Varello, who is the equivalent of one of your senators, and is in charge of commerce among other things. He sent me to bring back some of the bitter aromatic plants from your country."
Seeing Aedon's inquisitive look, he answered without waiting for the question.
- "The nobles of my people are very fond of rare things, including these herbs. Bring me back, let's say, five bags of them and I will talk to the Duke about you. I am sure that he will have some lucrative missions for you once you are there."
Aedon told himself that there was no escaping his destiny. Between Partacles' propositions and those of Nivaldo, he was going to have to leave the region. So be it! It would happen. But one thing was certain, he would be working for the Fyros and would never betray his people.
- "I will think about it, but I have to say that your proposition is tempting, and if you buy the next three rounds, I think my decision could be easily influenced in your favor."
The Matis smiled and took some dappers out of his coin purse.
- "Here, I think this will be enough to let you finish your evening in the finest establishment in Pyr. Come back with the plants to this same place in four days," he said, moving towards the door.
Aedon looked down, took the dappers and weighed them in his hand.
- "So, is this the price of treason…?"
Aedon had returned to the hammam twice in the hope of finding the senator again. Second time around his luck was in. The homin made the most of the beneficial effects of the waters in the large pool.
- "I'm a Fyros and I would never have accepted to work for them. I love my people," replied Aedon.
Partacles smiled broadly at him. He liked this kind of young homin who put honour and their homeland before money.
- "Well, let's not disappoint our Duke. You're going to accept his proposition, and give him as many aromatic plants as he wants. It's a good way to gain his trust."
- "I'll need help," said Aedon, who realised the significance of his decision.
He would never again be the innocent and carefree young Fyros that he'd been up until now. He was entering another sphere, for better or for worse.
- "You will make contact with the master forager Galeos Ion. As head of the Black Faces guild, he will be able to help you find the necessary men and equipment to collect the plants. He's a bit of a rough character, but you can trust him, the Black Faces have always served the Emperor. You'll go and see him tomorrow, the guild hall is on Leanon Street."
Aedon nodded and was about to leave the bath when the senator grabbed him by the arm.
- "Be very careful, young Aedon. No one will be able to help you if the Matis find out that you're deceiving them. Don't talk too much. Silence is you're best ally."
Aedon thanked him and took his leave.
Instead of feeling calmer after he left the hammam, he was instead exhausted by the conversation. He had just entered the service of the Emperor and already he felt the pressure weighing on his shoulders. It was abundantly clear that he would not be allowed to fail.
Aedon went to the Black Faces' guild hall the next day. The building was a hive of activity. Those who were returning from expeditions showed off the fruits of their labour as they recounted the previous day's exploits. Others, meanwhile, were preparing to leave and were checking their equipment one last time, as well as the location of the supply fields that they intended to work. Still others seemed to run the guild itself, since they were answering all the various questions that were put to them while at the same time giving out orders left and right.
Aedon asked to speak to Galeos Ion. A homin of a certain age, deep in discussion with three Fyros that Aedon identified as desert foragers by their equipment, was pointed out to him. The fine dust covering their clothes indicated that they had undoubtedly returned from a hard night's work.
- "… an excellent quality! I see that you have mastered the extraction of dzao fibre. Not before time. Go and see Mila Abygrian, he may be able to put you in touch with a craftsman looking for raw material."
As they thanked Galeos and took their leave of him, Aedon, who was patiently awaiting his turn, approached.
- "Ah, you must be Aedon, they told me you'd be coming. I'm Galeos Ion…"
He called over two young homins who were talking in a corner.
- "… and these are Eree et Mokra. They belong to the Black Faces guild, which I run. They will help you in your task."
The young homins greeted each other briefly.
- "We know that there is a place on the edge of the burning forest where the ground is rich in aromatic plant grains," said Galeos. "Be very careful, they aren't easy to extract. The supply field there is of excellent quality too, so again, be careful. You'll have to handle the spring cautiously if you don't want it to explode and all the precious materials to disappear into the ground again. But if you manage, the three of you should be able to extract eight bags in a day. As long as you don't blow it up!"
Galeos let out a great booming laugh.
Aedon was dismayed. This was a funny way of receiving him. He raised an eyebrow.
- "Eight bags? I only need..."
- "What did you expect, young Fyros?" Galeos cut him off dryly, all of a sudden serious again. "That we would work for you for free?
That I should put two of my apprentices and three mektoubs at your service just because you ask for them?" Aedon felt the hairs on his arms stand on end. He almost reacted to the violence in Galeos' words but thought back to Partacles' advice: silence is your best ally. Aedon scowled and bit back a retort.
- "I see that you've understood. Perfect. We're already well into the morning. I advise you to get going if you want be back before nightfall."
- "I like working by star light," said Mokra.
- "Much good it'll do you, I'm sure that the goaris will agree. I wouldn't like to lose three good mektoubs for no good reason. Go on, leave, and bring honour to the guild and the Emperor."
Galeos returned to his business without another word, leaving the three young Fyros together.
- "Don't worry, he's always like that, but he's a decent bloke," Eree assured him when they had left. "Come on, let's go to the south stables straight away, the mektoubs are ready to leave."
Once they got there, Eree exchanged a few words with the stableboy, who brought three animals out of the paddock.
- "I hope that you've ridden a mektoub before, otherwise you'll have to join us on foot," Eree mocked him, holding out the reins. "But we're sure to have finished before you arrive!"
Aedon wasn't sure he appreciated the young girl's sense of humour.
- "Don't make that face Aedon, she's got the same sense of humour as Galeos - you'll get used to it eventually, just like sawdust under rain."
Aedon wasn't sure he understood the comparison but didn't ask for an explanation. He simply walked up to his mount and jumped into the saddle with the greatest of ease.
- "Okay, forget I said anything," commented Eree.
- "We're going along the pass through the canyons. I love it there, there's hardly anyone around. Lots of people are afraid of those lands. It makes me ashamed to know that there are so many fearful Fyros!" said Mokra.
- "We're here to prove the opposite, right?"
- "You said it!" replied Eree.
Whooping in unison, the three young Fyros cheerfully spurred their mounts into a gallop across the desert.
They galloped for almost an hour before arriving within sight of the big, charred trees. Sweat ran down their foreheads. The animals, continuously beset by kicks, hadn't been able to relax their efforts and bellowed with exhaustion as long strands of drool hung from their wide-open mouths.
- "This area looks good to me, what do you two think?" asked Mokra.
- "As good as any other," replied Eree.
Aedon nodded. He got down from his mount and stroked its trunk. She had earned a little reward. He took a ball of crystalised honey out of his bag and gave it to her. The animal devoured it in seconds.
- "Now, leave me to it," said Eree, taking a few steps forward.
Aedon watched her with curiosity. She took some green powder out of a small pouch and began to rub it gently between her hands. Her expression betrayed deep concentration. The powder started to glow weakly as her face screwed up with the effort. She threw the powder onto the ground. All of a sudden, Aedon saw the sawdust sucked into the ground in several places. He couldn't get over it. Either she had been very lucky or she had an exceptional sixth sense. Four green bubbles, the springs, had risen out of the ground.
- "So, who are we thanking?" she boasted, hands on hips.
Aedon couldn't hide a smile. Finally, he liked this girl. Her rebellious attitude, her tomboy ways, her beige hoben uniform - she was sublime!
- "Thank you, thank you, but don't think you're getting off that easily. Catch!" replied Mokra, throwing her a pickaxe.
These two have known each other for a while, thought Aedon. He felt a stab of jealousy.
Aedon took his own pickaxe down from his saddle as Mokra and Eree began extracting the plants. More at ease with a sword than a pickaxe, Aedon watched them for a moment. Eree dug into the spring's green gangue to collect the precious plant it had brought to the surface while Mokra busied himself strengthening the spring's sides so that it didn't suddenly blow up, wiping out all their efforts.
He turned towards Aedon.
- "Never used a pickaxe before? Come on, I'll show you how, we'll need a hand soon, you'll see."
They spent nearly four hours digging non-stop. They swapped over at regular intervals: one used the pickaxe, the other strengthened the spring, the third rested.
By the end of the day they had filled their bags. After loading them on the mektoubs, they finally rested and took time to eat. The sun was disappearing behind the horizon as the first stars begin to twinkle in the sky.
- "I think we've earned our salary," said Mokra.
Despite his training as a warrior, Aedon could no longer feel his muscles. He never would have thought that digging could be so tiring.
- "But's it worth it," he said, stretching out on the desert sawdust.
- "Dappers too, yeah, that always helps," said Mokra.
- "To pay for the journey, yeah..." he let slip before biting his lip.
Why do I always say too much? he thought.
- "What are you talking about?" asked Eree, interested all of a sudden.
He wanted to keep quiet, but as Eree looked at him, burning with curiosity, he knew that the battle was over before it had even begun.
He told them everything, making them promise not to reveal a thing.
- "What a story! To think that all of Pyr has been watching you since your arrival!... And you really want to go there?" asked Mokra. "Ugh, nothing in the world could make me do that!"
Eree remained silent. Aedon leaned towards her.
- "You won't say anything, will you?" he asked, praying that he could trust her.
She seemed to hesitate, then answered.
- "If you'll agree to let me come with you, I promise not to say anything."
He had expected anything but that. He didn't know how to reply.
- "You said that the Matis was struggling to find Fyros prepared to work for him," she insisted, " so he shouldn't have much problem accepting it, should he?"
- "…But… what about Galeos?"
- "Galeos? He's not my keeper! I'm sick of digging up sawdust. I want to see what the rest of Atys looks like. Anyway, whether you like it or not, you haven't got a choice. I'm coming with you and that's that!"
Aedon was careful not to say anything, but, as they started their return journey, his face was lit up by a big smile.
In the offices of the Black Faces guild, Galeos welcomed the three bags that were brought to him more warmly than he did the news of Eree's departure. He grumbled for a little while, but, faced with her determination, had no choice but to let her go.
Lato Nivaldo was much easier to convince.
- "Gladly, I'm happy that you've been able to win people over to my cause," the ambassador smiled, once Aedon had finished explaining the reason for Eree's presence.
- "Even if I've trouble imagining that Yrkanis could be as beautiful a city as Pyr, I'm in the mood for an adventure."
- "Very well, go to the Karavan altar to the south of Pyr. TheKaravan Host knows me, he'll give you pacts for the capital of the Verdant Heights. Don't worry, the quality of the plants that you brought me will easily allow me to pay for both of your journeys. I'll let the Duke know you're coming, he's all you'll need…"
Listening to the Ambassador's final instructions, Aedon felt his heart accelerate in his chest. He was going to discover a new region, another people. Eree and he looked at each other and their eyes shone with excitement at the thought of the adventure which awaited them.
Before opening their eyes, Aedon and Eree took a moment to clear their heads. Karavan teleportation felt different to what they were used to. During the journey, the feeling that they had been wrapped up took hold of them. Cut off from the exterior, they hadn't felt their bodies being dispersed into the network, as they did during Kami teleportations. However, they had felt the same heat start off in their skull and then spread to their whole body.
They opened their eyes and saw the gray shape of the altar. A quick look was enough to tell them that they had reached their destination. The immense trees, scorched by the autumn, removed all doubt. Yrkanis, the botanic city, greeted the two young Fyros.
They took the closest street, towards the centre of Yrkanis. Staring all around to examine the architecture of each building, they didn't notice some of the Matis giving them suspicious looks.
- "It's magnificent!" cried Eree. "I would never have believed it could be so lovely, all this vegetation. It's so…"
- "…overwhelming," finished Aedon.
Eree smiled and took his hand.
- "Have you been sent by Ambassador Lato Nivaldo?"
Aedon and Eree turned round. An old Matis with thin, expressionless lips was watching them coldly.
- "Yes, we're to meet Duke Niero di Va…," began Eree.
The Matis cut her off dryly.
- "Fine. Follow me, if you please!"
The two Fyros looked at each other, surprised by his manner. The Matis had already started down a street without so much as a backward glance. With a shrug of his shoulders, Aedon followed suit, accompanied by Eree.
- "I am Dino Valetti's steward," he said. "He charged me with coming to find you and taking you to his office."
Aedon was very annoyed by their guide. Eree, in contrast, was making the most of the city and taking everything in.
- "Do you think it will work?" he murmured in Eree's direction.
- "Of course. The script's already been written for us. We just need to be good actors," she replied softly. Aedon felt his stomach knotting with nerves. He concentrated on remembering the meeting they had had with Partacles in his office before their departure.
- "What we say here doesn't leave this room. I chose you because Di Vanochi will see in you two young, gullible and easily-manipulated Fyros."
Aedon was astonished by the senator's words, but said nothing. Partacles seemed a lot less relaxed and friendly than during their meetings in the bathhouse.
- "Di Vanochi is a treacherous homin but very intelligent. So you'll have to pay attention to every single word you say!"
He got out of his chair to walk round his office.
- "The Zoraï Guide, the Great sage Mabreka, wishes to get the Book of Revelations to us, in which the words of Ma-Duk are recorded. The relic is of the greatest importance for our two peoples!" he emphasised.
- "Surely you don't want us to transport it ourselves?" asked Aedon, incredulous.
- "Of course not! I'm not that crazy," he said with a smile. "I want you to go and see Di Vanochi and make out that you're two young Fyros hungry for dappers. We know that the Duke has got wind of this shipment. But he has no idea when it will set off, or what route it will take from Zora. I want him to stop investigating it…he's perfectly capable of finding it out."
He paced in front of them, head bowed. He seemed to be thinking as he spoke.
- "So you're going to give it to him."
With these words he turned towards them. He had a worrying smile on his face.
- "Sorry?" asked Aedon, amazed.
- "You're going to reveal the right date to him, but a completely different route. The one that you're going to tell him about leaves only one option for an ambush… the Knot of Insanity gorge. The group he sends will get a little surprise there. Then we'll have, I hope, proof of Di Vanochi's guilt to present to the King of Yrkanis. Mabreka also counts on ridding himself of the tribe which acts for the Duke. Lately, those mercenaries have greatly upset the Zoraï's plans."
- "But he can't attack a Zoraï convoy. That would be tantamount to declaring war!" Eree exclaimed.
- "Of course he can't. Apparently he'll use a tribe from the Witherings. Di Vanochi is prepared to do anything to attract the favour of the Karavan and the king. He's convinced that afterwards he'll be a hero to his people and that Yrkanis will shower him with honours. However, he prefers to cover his back and not run the risk of being discovered."
- "But… if he discovers the deception, we're dead!" cried Aedon.
- "You didn't think it would be easy, I hope?" asked Partacles, feigning astonishment. "You'll have to justify yourselves to the Duke, and I've already prepared an explanation for you. Your contact with the Black Faces guild wasn't insignificant. Their close link to the Burnt Faces, the elite imperial guards, allowed Galeos to get the information which you now possess. His penchant for alcohol revealed this little secret to you," he said to Eree, smiling.
He approached the two Fyros.
- "You will be handsomely rewarded by the empire once your mission has been accomplished."
He leaned forward and put his hands on their shoulders. He gripped them with a formidable strength.
- "But, if for even one second you think about betraying me, I promise that you'd rather find yourself in the middle of a kitin colony."
He hadn't raised his voice, but there had been no need. His expression and his grip were proof of just how dangerous and determined the homin was. He paused, staring at the two Fyros, who were trying to ignore the pain, and, as if nothing had happened, smiled again as normal and let go of their shoulders.
- "In spite of all that, bon voyage! I hope that you appreciate the exoticism of Yrkanis. We'll meet again when you get back."
The senator didn't give them a chance to respond. He sat back down at his desk and returned to his affairs.
The steward led them to a circular building set back slightly from all the rest.
- "If you want to come back here, this is the south-east of the Yasson district," said Dino Valetti. "This is the Duke's private building."
Two guards were posted at the entrance. They paid no attention as the steward and the two Fyros passed.
Dino Valetti stepped into the lift, followed by Aedon and Eree. At the first floor the lift opened onto a bright room. A Matis in his thirties was sitting behind a desk, head bent over some documents. The two Fyros stepped into the room, and, without a word, the steward closed the lift doors again. The two young homins were left alone with the man whom they could only assume was the Duke.
Aedon and Eree felt uneasy. The Duke still hadn't raised his head from his documents.
- "Excuse me, we…"
- "One moment!" the Matis interrupted.
The room fell silent once again. The two Fyros were still standing in front of the lift, and looked at each other apprehensively.
Finally, the Matis put the documents aside and raised his head. He stared at the two young Fyros before him at length.
- "Welcome to you," he said with a smile. "I am Duke Niero di Vanochi. I'm very sorry, but my role requires me to take care of incredibly boring paperwork and I very often forget my manners."
With these words he stood, and with a grand gesture invited them to sit on the two chairs facing his desk.
- "Move a little closer, that's it. The ambassador was full of praise for you in has last dispatch. You have done excellent work with those herbs. Just as well, for yubo meat is so flavourless without them."
He sat back down at the same time as them.
- "Lato told me that you would like to stay here for a while, is that correct?"
- "Yes, but money…" began Aedon.
- "…is always a problem!" exclaimed Di Vanochi. "Don't worry, I have a few missions for you. Oh, nothing too bad, mostly just collecting raw materials, since you're so good at it."
He stared at the two homins, who felt ill-at-ease once again.
- "What's wrong? You seem afraid. And yet Lato told me that you dreamed of coming here."
- "It's just that…" began Aedon uncertainly.
The Duke leant towards him, suddenly more interested.
- "Well, we aren't here to earn a few dappers with little missions," continued Aedon.
- "What?! I grant you the honour of being the first Fyros to work for me. I trust you and you throw it back in my face?" bellowed Di Vanochi.
- "Not at all," Eree hastened to say. "We would be honoured to carry out those missions for you. But we have something much better than herbs to offer you."
The Duke's face lost the red which had coloured it for a few moments. He had now regained his calm and his smile.
- "Tell me."
- "We want to be paid five hundred thousand dappers. We won't say a thing till we get it," said Eree.
- "You must understand, some of my business has nothing to do with the crown. I can't withdraw such a sum from my personal accounts when I don't even know the nature of the information," he said with a sad expression. He stood up and moved to the right of his desk.
- "I'll need a lot more than a simple promise to give you that amount," he said, folding his arms. "Tell me a bit more, I'll decide if it's worth it."
Aedon looked at Eree. Each seemed as unsure as the other.
- "Why come and see me?"
- "I heard that this kind of information was of interest to you. My meeting with Aedon gave me an unexpected opportunity to make money from it."
The Duke seemed to doubt Eree's words.
- "The only problem is that I already know a lot about this convoy. What information do you have?"
Again, the two Fyros looked at each other, each waiting for the other to make the first move. The formidable Duke left them no choice.
- "We know the date of the convoy, as well as the route it will take."
- "And may I ask how two young Fyros, without experience, without connections, without dappers and without loyalty, came by information for which my best agents have searched in vain?"
He had looked round. His smile had disappeared, he examined their reaction closely.
Eree kept her cool.
- "Oh, I've got connections, believe me!" she said, raising her voice. "I'm a member of the Black Faces guild!"
- "Congratulations!" replied the Duke, a fake smile on his lips. "I still don't see how someone as insignificant as you would come by this secret."
Aedon began to stand up. He had had enough of the Duke's manners.
- "If you wish to see out the day, I advise you to sit back down, young homin."
He hadn't moved, but his gaze forced Aedon to sit back down.
- "Apologies for the interruption, please continue," he asked Eree impatiently.
- "My guild has close ties to that of the Burnt Faces, the elite imperial guards. The head of my guild knows about all their missions, they haven't done a thing wrong. He also has a good relationship with shooki alcohol and he bragged too much to the wrong person…"
Eree gave a wry smile. Di Vanochi, hadn't moved. He looked at her, searching for the slightest sign of weakness.
- "I don't believe you…," he began.
A shiver ran down Aedon' spine.
- "… but given that I don't currently have any other sources of information, I'm going to try placing my trust in you."
There was nothing reassuring about his smile.
- "I'm listening, what do you know?"
- "The money first," said Aedon, who had regained his composure.
- "You have understood, I think, that I believe you are lying to me. I therefore hope you understand how generous my offer is. I suggest two hundred thousand dappers straight away and an extra five hundred thousand if the information is revealed to be correct."
- "But that's more than we asked for!" said Eree, astonished.
- "I know. It's just a little bit of encouragement to help you give me the right information… but if you need any more encouragement, my guards will be happy to provide it."
He returned to his desk and picked up a small bell. He shook it quickly and Dino Valetti entered the room straight away.
- "Yes, my Duke?" he asked.
- "Bring a bag of two hundred thousand dappers, quickly," ordered the Duke.
The steward left right away. The Duke stayed where he was, staring at the two homins without saying a word.
A few moments later, the steward returned holding a bag. He put it on the Duke's desk and left as quickly as he had come.
- "There's your money. Take it," said the Matis, pointing to the bag.
Aedon stood up and grabbed the purse.
- "Now, tell me everything," he said, smiling.
Eree revealed everything they knew.
- "I thought that those vermin would pass through the portal. They hope to reach Pyr as quickly as possible."
The Matis rolled a map of Atys out on his desk.
- "Here's where we'll have to ambush."
He pointed to the Knot of Insanity gorge.
- "You like to travel and discover new cultures, isn't that so?"
The two Fyros looked at him, incredulous.
- "Magnificent!" he said, without waiting for an answer. "In that case you'll organise this attack for me!"
- "What? Us? But…"
- "Of course, one of my most loyal guards will accompany you… For if you have deceived me, I want you both dead instantly."
He hadn't lifted his eyes from the map. His last words had been uttered in a frighteningly casual manner.
- "Sorry?" said Aedon, astonished.
- "Enough talk! You leave in an hour. You have a long journey ahead of you. Natto!" he shouted. "Natto will accompany you in the
Zoraï land and look after your… welfare. You're going here, into the Grove of Umbra."
- "May I introduce Natto, the head of my guard."
The Matis greeted them with a nod.
- "You're going to meet a friendly tribe which has already… worked for me: the Antikami," continued the Duke. "Natto will be there to make sure everything goes smoothly. They are to attack the convoy. The booty will be divided in two: the pillage for them and the Book for us. Natto, you will bring it to me immediately, accompanied, I hope, by our two friends. You have little time, leave now."
Natto gestured for them to leave the room.
The time that followed was devoted to preparing for the journey.
- "We'll use Karavan pacts to get to the Grove of Umbra. There we'll have a day's walk to the tribe's camp, if we're lucky."
The Matis talked as he walked. It hadn't taken long to buy their scant provisions.
They were now heading for the Karavan alter.
Aedon and Eree had had little time to visit the magnificent Matis city. They had made the most of every second, looking round wide-eyed. This short visit had allowed them to forget their mission a little. The Matis warrior, who had seemed so cold at first, explained the history of the city to them.
- "I know that you'd like to see a bit more of Yrkanis, but we have too little time. You'll have plenty of time to make the most of the city when we get back. I think that you should stay here. Or far away from the Kamists at any rate."
He looked a lot friendlier than he had in Di Vanochi's office.
- "This is us. Wait for me here, I'm going to speak to the Karavan Host."
The two young Fyros remained at a distance as Natto headed towards the Host.
- "It's working so far," said Aedon.
- "Yes, I think he trusts us," agreed Eree
- "Shame we have to betray him…"
The two Fyros looked at each other sadly.
- "What's wrong with you two," asked Natto as he came back. "Don't be afraid. The Zoraï lands where we're headed are hostile, but I'm used to going there. There won't be any problems."
- "We're all set," Aedon said to him joylessly.
- "Are you still having doubts about your actions, is that it? Listen, you have to make choices in life. You've already made yours. You can't back out, no matter what happens. So accept it and live with your decision!"
The Matis' words made Aedon feel even more downcast. He tried to smile nonetheless.
- "You're right. We're going to a new country. I'll have seen more new things in one day than in my whole life."
The Matis burst out laughing.
- "There you go! That's much better. That's what teleportation's for!"
He gave them each a pact.
- "Before you break it, I want you to remember a few rules. You walk where I walk, you speak when I tell you to speak, you obey my orders without discussion and you don't play at being heroes. Can I trust you to do that?"
Eree and Aedon both acquiesced.
- "Excellent. Alright then, lets go!"
He crushed the pact in his hand and disappeared the next instant.
- "He's right, we can't back out now," said Eree.
She broke her pact and vanished too.
- "Okay… let's go."
This time the journey was better. Ignoring a slight headache, Aedon opened his eyes.
Several strange animals were watching him. They were rotund and enormous. Their globular yellow eyes were pointed at him. One of the animals began to approach him. It had a long trunk from which protruded small tongues of fire. Aedon instinctively put his hand on the hilt of his sword.
Natto held him back.
The wombaï was in front of him and began to snuffle at his tunic with the end of its trunk. Natto gently pushed it away. The animal hesitated then turned back to rejoin its herd.
Aedon looked around. He was in front of the Karavan alter, right in the middle of a plain.
- "Is this the land of the Zoraï!?" he exclaimed.
Eree also looked disappointed.
- "I thought it was a jungle."
- "Apart from the grass, you'd think we were in the desert," agreed Aedon.
- "This is normal, we're on the border of the country here. It allows the Karavan to carry out the tests they need to on the Goo. They don't react the same way as the Kami to this disease, they think that studying it will allow them to control it and thus eradicate it. It's better than running and asking for help from homins. Would you fight that if a Kami asked you?"
He turned round and pointed towards the horizon. Aedon saw the disease which was eating away at the country. A lilac sea extended from one edge of the plain to the other. Vapours escaped from the earth as it was consumed. The smell was unbearable, even from this distance.
Aedon instinctively put a hand over his mouth and nose.
- "Don't do that, even if the vapours are toxic, at this distance, there's no risk. The Goo only infects homins when it's concentrated or when there's been a prolonged exposure. We have a certain amount of resistance to its destructive powers." Aedon moved forward to get a better look. Natto quickly grabbed him.
- "You're better not get any closer, there can be Goo springs under the earth which rise up when someone walks over them. It seems that this thing, whatever it is, is intelligent. We'd better leave, the further we are from here, the better."
They moved away from the altar, heading west.
The worst, of course, are the gibbaï which wander about everywhere."
The Matis waked quickly.
- "It's not far to the camp, but I prefer to keep away from the Goo, we'll have to make a few detours."
As Natto had said, they often had to stop and choose another path. Several times, they turned back to avoid groups of gibbaï, who were easily spotted thanks to their midnight-blue fur. They could even make out a primitive red. He was a lot bigger than the others and his bristling hair made it look as though he was on fire.
- "That one is called Gibbakya by the Zoraï. He leads the degenerates of the region. I've already had an encounter with him, believe me, we're better off getting out of here."
The primitive raised his head and began to snuffle around.
- "Hurry, I think he's spotted us."
They walked for a long time without saying a word. Finally they saw the distinctive lilac of the diseased earth in the distance.
- "I thought that you wanted to get as far away from the Goo as possible," said Eree.
- "What you're seeing, even if they're the same colour as the Goo, are the tents of the Antikami tribe's camp. It's the traditional colour of the Zoraï. I don't know why they kept it if they hate their people so much. These madmen go so far as to mutilate their masks to challenge the Kami. They only keep the bare minimum, without that, they couldn't survive."
- "What do you mean? It's only a mask, the Zoraï wear them to be close to the Kami."
Aedon had never had much to do with the Zoraï. He saw their masks as religious snobbery.
- "Not at all!" replied the Matis. "The Zoraï mask is fixed to their soul by Kami magic. To remove it is to lose their vital essence. Just taking off little bits, even that's complete madness. The Antikami don't have any horns on their masks. What's left are the bits they couldn't take off. Hurry up, we're running late."
They approached the tents. They were immense, and had been made from rich, costly materials. The three companions advanced cautiously, Natto in the lead. Four Zoraï appeared at the corner of the first tent, blocking their way. Each one was armed with a long pike. Aedon glanced back. Four more Zoraï stood behind them, blocking their escape.
- "Don't worry," said the Matis, "they've recognised me. The chief will be here soon."
Aedon and Eree didn't feel at all reassured. The Zoraï came closer, their threatening pikes at chest height.
- "My name is Natto," he shouted. "I wish to talk to Pei-Jeng Luun."
- "And here I am, my friend."
The four guards before them moved aside to make room for another Zoraï. Smaller than they, he nonetheless moved with confidence.
Behind his mask, his eyes didn't have the mystery of the other Zoraï that Aedon had already met. They were plain, almost empty.
- "Welcome. Have you brought us some new diversions?" he asked.
- "Yes, another favour for the Duke. I've brought the usual payment."
- "And them?"
He pointed at Aedon and Eree.
- "The Duke wants to be sure of their… loyalty."
- "I see."
He turned his gaze away from the two Fyros, who were of little importance in his eyes.
- "How much have you brought us this time?" the head of the tribe asked.
- "The usual amount: three hundred thousand dappers."
- "The usual amount has doubled, my friend. The last mission cost the lives of seven members of my tribe."
The Matis didn't seem surprised.
- "The Duke thought that you would want a little extra. He has therefore provided for another five hundred thousand dappers after the mission. And there is the small incentive of serving your own interests as well."
The head of the tribe looked at the Matis intently.
- "Our interests? You'll have to explain, my friend."
- "The mission is to attack a Zoraï procession and retrieve the precious Book of Revelations."
- "What's the catch? The Duke has never been generous. Why this sudden change?" asked Pei-Jeng Luun.
- "Let's just say that he's very keen to see this mission carried out successfully, as I'm sure you are. Consider it a bonus for your previous service."
- "This is momentous news. We will strike at the heart of our enemies. Tonight we will throw a great party, tomorrow we will leave."
- "No," said Natto dryly. "We must leave as soon as possible. We have to be at the Knot of Insanity gorge tomorrow at dusk for the attack."
- "As you wish."
The head of the tribe turned towards a Zoraï beside him.
- "Pingi, my daughter, you will head the tribe in my absence. I want thirty warriors ready to leave in an hour. In the meantime, you can rest in my tent," he said to Natto.
He invited them to follow him. The guards had already left to get ready.
Night had just fallen. The Zoraï tribe had marched at the double throughout the previous night and had arrived at the gorge in the afternoon. All but the look-outs had been able to rest.
The whole tribe was ready to fight. They had spread out around the gorge so as to leave no way out. They had been waiting for over an hour, with no sign of the procession. The two Fyros began to worry.
They had remained on the cliff top, Natto beside them. Once the attack began, Aedon knew he would have to act fast and kill the Matis. Although he liked him, he knew that Natto was too loyal to the Duke to let them live.
Aedon could just make out two of the tribe's look-outs. They had returned to report to Luun. It only took a few moments. The chief turned to Natto and quickly signed to him.
- "They're coming. Just ten guards and two chariots, they'll be here shortly. Ten guards? Impossible! Why are they protecting such an important convoy with only ten guards?" said Natto, worried.
He suspects, thought Aedon. It's almost time.
A few minutes passed in total silence. Aedon could no longer see the Zoraï below them at all. Then, little by little, torch-light transformed the gorge. The rocks were turned from dark black to orange.
The first Zoraï guards were visible, each one holding a torch. There really were only ten guards. They surrounded two chariots pulled by mektoubs.
The guards were heavily armed and looked closely at every little crevice in the gorge.
They quickly reached the ambush point. The Antikami silently moved under cover to get into attack position.
Just as the tribe was about to launch the attack, a blue light appeared in the first chariot. All the Antikami stopped, taken aback. The roof of the carriage exploded. A Zoraï magician was in the middle. Magic particles were still running down the length of his amplifiers. Around him, another three Zoraï also stood up. Then the second chariot exploded. In this one stood a Fyros magician. Four other Fyros had already jumped down from the chariot during the explosion. Aedon had never seen them before, but he knew they were Burnt Faces, the elite guard. They ran towards the Antikami, who were still dazed by the effect of the surprise. The first fell quickly from a sword blow.
Pei-Jeng Luun pulled himself together and ordered the attack. Unfortunately for the Antikami, the Kamists were too organised. The Zoraï warriors fiercely protected the chariots from which the magicians cast their incantations. The tribe's marksmen were the primary targets of the fast Fyros warriors.
Aedon didn't see the rest of the fight. He had been so astonished that he'd forgotten about Natto. With a violent back-hand, the Matis drove him to the ground. Eree tried to attack the warrior from behind, but he blocked her hand and her dagger fell into the gorge. With her other hand, Eree tried to hit him, but the Matis was much faster than she. He broke her left wrist with disconcerting ease. She let go a cry of pain before being thrown to the ground.
Natto turned back towards Aedon who was getting to his feet.
- "I trusted you, traitors," he roared.
He had unsheathed his sword.
- "We remained loyal to our people, and to homins."
Aedon did the same with his weapon.
- "Remained loyal to homins? You've been manipulated and controlled like puppets!"
He made a first attack. Aedon knew that he couldn't beat the Matis' strength and dodged it. The blade missed him by a few centimetres.
- "Why look for conflict at any price? The people are at peace and the Duke looks for war."
Now he attacked. He aimed a quick blow at the Matis' neck. But the warrior was experienced. He blocked the attack and put out his hand to take the hilt of Aedon' sword. Brute strength won out and Natto sent the Fyros to the ground with a blow from his shoulder.
- "The people will never be at peace! Face it!"
The tip of his blade touched Aedon' throat, who felt the blood begin to flow down his neck.
- "Miserable servant of the demons, you should have picked on someone your own size."
A rock hit him right in the face, crushing his nose in a crunch of broken bones. Aedon turned his head. Eree was on her feet, holding her arm, and grimacing in pain.
Natto grunted. He had let go of his sword and was clutching his face. Aedon didn't wait any longer and kicked the Matis violently in the chest. He was caught off guard by the violence of the unexpected blow. He took a couple of steps back and his foot hit the cliff-edge. He disappeared with a horrifying scream.
Aedon stood back up and approached the gorge. Natto was at the bottom. One of the Zoraï warriors approached him with a torch.
The Matis' body was deformed like a dislocated puppet and his blood stained the rocks below him.
The Zoraï looked up and signalled to the two Fyros to come down.
The Kamists hadn't suffered a single loss. Only one Antikami had been taken alive. The rest of the tribe had been destroyed. The magicians healed the two Fyros' wounds and put them into one of the chariots.
- "We're going back to Zora. Mabreka wants to thank you, you've done a good job. The journey will take some time, rest while you can."
— the Chronicles.