My Enemy, My King: Part One
The Spotted Lupe adjusted his wide-brimmed hat and looked down at the letter in his hands as he sat beside the campfire.
It has been many years since you have wielded your blade in the service of Qasala. As your king, I command that you return to the city of your birth and work in its service once more. I have a mission of extreme importance that requires certain skills. You have these skills. When you reach the city, you will meet your companions and be informed of what it is you are to do for me. Seek an audience with me in the throne room as soon as you reach Qasala, and do not delay in your travels.
Do not disappoint me, Alaric.
King Razul of Qasala
Alaric sighed. He didn’t want to go back to Qasala – he’d been having all the adventure he needed helping Bones and Marchell and Lerkin and all of the others fight off bandits in the Haunted Woods. Qasala was hot, dry, and dull to him – and plus, there were the rumors about King Razul.
He looked down at the letter – he certainly didn’t write like a madman. He did write like it would be very painful if Alaric dared disobey his summons. And while he didn’t mind avoiding Qasala, if he incurred the king’s wrath it wouldn’t be safe anywhere.
He smoothed out his red tunic and knocked a couple crumbs off it from his dinner, and looked down at his worn boots. Maybe spending time in Qasala would at least give him a way to let the mud dry – he was fairly sure that he’d had wet feet for the last couple of weeks.
But those rumors kept playing through his head. None of them were pleasant – there were stories of people who had disappeared in the middle of the night, of ancient parchments with strange sigils, and of magical experiments going on in the deep underbelly of the palace. They said the king was looking for something – looking obsessively. And that was a little scary.
The king was a little scary.
Alaric looked down at the letter. Do not disappoint me. He knew that he either had to keep going on this isolated path through the borderlands, or turn around and run as fast as he could before King Razul could find out that he’d disobeyed.
He’d heard tales from Bones and Jan of another sword-for-hire who’d disobeyed a summons from King Razul.
They said that the Qasalan bounty hunters caught up with him in Tyrannia! Tyrannia! If I offend the king enough, there’s no way in Fyora’s name that I’ll be able to get away. And I don’t want to live the rest of my life in a dungeon.
He sighed. He just hoped that this “extremely important” mission wouldn’t be something too dangerous. Sure, it’d be a bit of an adventure – might be fun – but it wouldn’t be fun if he ended up getting himself killed.
The next day, Alaric walked into the outskirts of Qasala. He kept his satchel close to his side, since the urchins here would quite gladly slip their fingers into his pockets. He didn’t begrudge them it – he knew what it was like to be hungry. But he could use the coin himself, and he’d rather they make their living off someone without places to go and a king to try and meet with.
Then he saw a tent that he recognized – a multi-colored affair with numerous peaks constructed out of patterned fabric and a beaded curtain across the door. He leaned in, pushing the beads aside. “Zorsha!”
A gold Aisha – wearing a soft pink outfit, heavy makeup, and enough jewelry for three or four people – looked up from her table. “Who dares to call the great seeress by her – Alaric! For heaven’s sake, Alaric, don’t just waltz in like that – I have a reputation to maintain.”
Alaric patted his old friend’s long ears. “Ah, Zorsha, you’re a fine seer without all the smoke and mirrors.”
Zorsha crossed her arms. “What’s the point of being able to See people’s futures if I don’t get to indulge in a little mystique? Now, sit down, take a cup of tea, and tell me what you’re doing back in Qasala! I remember you telling your family you wouldn’t be back here unless they were carrying you in a sarcophagus!”
He was comfortable telling her what was going on – he pulled out the letter. “A summons from the king. He has something he wants me to do.”
The Aisha’s eyes widened. “Oh, Alaric!”
He winced. “Please don’t tell me that you Saw this ending badly.”
She crossed her arms. “You don’t need future sight to know that dealings with the king don’t end well. Please be careful!”
He held out his hand to her crystal ball, only to have it smacked away. “No! If you end up dead from whatever dirty business the king wants of you, I don’t want to See it happen in advance. You can hardly go back now, and I know it, so let’s not make it worse than it is!”
He smiled. “I’ll be fine, Zorsha, you know it.”
She frowned. “Alaric, not everyone travels the world and risks their tails for the adventure, or for the honor, like you always have. Some people have darker motives. Much darker. Please, Alaric, keep yourself safe. Guard your heart – you’re too kind, and it’ll betray you amongst company like you may find yourself in.”
He adjusted the beaded headdress his friend wore on her forehead. “Oh, I’ll be fine. And I’ll come back when I’m through and you can give me a reading and tell me what thrilling adventures and daring heroics await me next.”
She swatted him, and he laughed as he left the seer’s tent and entered back into the hot morning sun.
Still, even though he knew that Zorsha was just worried about him, and that she hadn’t had a vision about him, he couldn’t help being unsettled by how concerned she had been. She didn’t have any other magic, but she was a very good seer, and what if all that worry was her sensing something more?
Oh, you’re fretting like an old woman. You’ve got your sword. You’ll be fine.
It wasn’t too much longer before Alaric leaned against a pillar before the grand door to the Qasalan Palace. He was eating a Qando Pita and a Queela fruit before he went in – he wanted to face whatever was going to happen on a full stomach, but he was fairly sure that the king would object to him eating street-vendor food in the royal presence.
There was nothing else for it... he had to stop dawdling. The guards were looking at him suspiciously, anyway, and King Razul didn’t seem like he’d be understanding if he had to fish his sword-for-hire out of the dungeons in order to give him his mission. So he presented his letter to the guards, with the red wax seal bearing the king’s mark. They looked at him askance – he knew how he had to look to them. The only thing he had that wasn’t battered and worn from two years of hard living in the Woods was the sword he wore. I don’t care – I don’t want to get in a fight with you two. I know you’re just doing your jobs. But I’ve got a job to do as well, and I like my fur just how it is, so I can’t let you stop me from completing it.
He walked into the palace – the dark stone entry hall was cool and quiet. Very quiet. He hadn’t actually been in here since he was a child, in King Harad’s day. But he remembered that it had been bright and bustling and full of people. Now it might as well be a catacomb.
Perhaps the nobles who had to live here and the servants and scribes who had to work here thought it wisest to tread lightly around a king who was very likely mad.
Corridors spread off the main hall, but Alaric knew that neither of those held his destination. This palace had not been built to hide the king somewhere among the piles of offices and private apartments – the throne room was behind the opulent doors right in front of him. For a second, Alaric was afraid to touch the golden handles, fearing that some of the dirt or fruit juice still on his hands would rub off. He reminded himself that he was a seasoned warrior who’d successfully crossed swords with some of the nastiest that the Haunted Woods had to offer. He had every right to be here, and he wasn’t going to let grand architecture make him feel small.
He threw open the doors and walked in.
“Ah, Alaric, so glad that you finally decided to join us.”
King Razul stood in the middle of the room, not too far in front of Alaric. The shadow Kyrii was tall and broad-shouldered, and the red robes he wore – ornamented with enough gold to satisfy Zorsha – only added to the impression of his size. Alaric had to look up to meet the king’s eyes – very pale grey eyes that seemed to be somehow vacant. Not lacking in intelligence, or in sense, but in something else. A heart, maybe? His sanity?
There were three other Neopians in the throne room – an Eyrie, a Hissi, and a Techo, all travel-worn and tough-looking. But Alaric didn’t pay too much attention to them at the moment. He bowed low to the king. “I am sorry, my liege. I traveled here as quickly as I was able.”
The king looked away from him. “No matter. We are here, and we must get to work.
“Have any of you heard of the Orb of Khammar?”
Alaric hadn’t, but the Hissi gasped. “The Orb of Khammar – that’s only a legend!”
The king’s eyes flashed. “Well, then, if you are so enlightened, perhaps you would care to tell the story.”
To be continued...
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