Before Solaris had risen to her noontime vantage, Zviecoff was scrambling into action. Knights of the Order marched towards the harbor as the Sea Lords spilled out of every orifice in Rivergate. What was left of the GraiLord and Ipativian resistance hustled from checkpoint to checkpoint, using the mysterious distraction in the bay as an opportunity to get back to Mountaingate. Ekaf, Nogard, Bold, Zach, and Acamus had begun to ride the elevator up to the second tier. Joe, Machuba, and Zalfron had just stopped before the Burner. Then came the resounding, bleak clap, the simultaneous shattering and pounding of a banshee’s thunder. For a moment everything stopped.
Hermes and Zalfron wandered the city beneath the omnious shade. Souls slipped in and out. First Joe and Theseus visited. Then Machuba showed himself. As Joe lost consciousness and collapsed in the stairwell, Machuba stole Zalfron from Total Darkness and the spell was broken. But before Machuba came, Theseus left and he did not return to the world of the living. And as the spell dissolved, time took just a moment longer before it returned.
Not an elf nor a minotaur budged. Every black garbed soldier and every dark robed wizard froze in their tracks. Even Hermes had been rendered immobile and unconscious.
Death stood in the broken courtyard beside the bush that hid all that was left of the Blue Ridges’ hero. A cat strolled out from between his skeletal legs. The feline observed the kilt and seal of the minotaur then plopped down on her rump and turned to watch Death.
Death continued to stare in silence.
The black cat meowed.
Are you crying?
Death flinched. The cat paced over to the material remains. There was no body. She climbed onto the seal and reached through the thick metal plate with her nose. The feline’s head was completely submerged before she pulled out an old rusted key. Taking another look at her suddenly-sedentary friend, the Librarian shrugged. Purring, she slid back into the folds of his robe and disappeared. Death stood in the courtyard a moment longer.
“Good bye, my friend…” the reaper whispered, then he slipped into the shadows and time, once more, swept over the world.
– – –
Murky clouds swam over the face of the moon. A handful of stars broke through the cumulonimbus’ wall, but they barely held a light to the glowing ember of Zviecoff. Constellations of torches crisscrossed through the icy capital. Soldiers, pirates, and mancers alike hastened to rebuild the structures they’d torn down. The city was being resettled.
Above the city, looming like the shadows of the clouds rolling in, rose Zvie Castle. Wedged between the foothills of the Vanian Mountains, the Imperial Road, and Mountaingate, the castle was all that was left of the GraiLord/Ipativian resistance in Zviecoff. No fires burned in the courtyards and no torches flickered in the windows. The mazes of frozen walls even hid the glow of energy from the crow eyed voyers in the city below. Their opponents had no clue how many elves and minotaurs were garrisoned there and that alone kept Shalis from ordering the final push to secure the last corner of Zviecoff.
Deep within the stronghold, in a large chamber that had once been a legislative battle ground for politicians, Shaprone Ipativy paced about his loyal subjects. He was confident that they could hold Mountaingate and that the Order could not threaten Zvie Castle. Unfortunately, he was equally confident that the Order could hold onto the city. Though his more optimistic comrades considered this a stalemate, Shaprone did not. They held the short end of the stick. Zviecoff wasn’t defined by its castle or by its gates. Zviecoff was defined by the star pillars and market places, the neighborhoods and public parks, and ultimately the culture of the people within its walls. Zviecoff had been reborn, like an anthropod immerging from ecdysis. And all that was left of the city he knew, all that he and his comrades had to show for their resistance, was the moulted shell. But how could they retreat? How could he abandon the capital?
Watching the brooding knight pace, Joe’s gang (without Joe) pondered as well. They’d finally gotten settled. For most of the evening they’d been helping with the casualties. Assisting the wounded and burying the dead. Bold had spent hours tending to Zalfron until finally he was forced to take a break to meditate. The meditation quickly turned to sleep. The others found themselves amongst the dozing soldiers, exhausted but wide awake.
“What now?” Zach asked.
“We go after Joe.” Ekaf replied.
“Darkloe? Yea right, mon.” Nogard scoffed.
“No, Icelore.” Ekaf corrected, “The Pact wasn’t in Zviecoff today, the Order was.”
“Are you sure they weren’t both?” Machuba asked.
“Even if they were,” Zach said, “Zalfron told Bold that Hermes’ plan was to take Joe back to Icelore, as a gift for the Witch.”
“Still, mon,” Nogard shrugged, “Icelore, Darkloe, bode be impossible.”
“Not so, my friend,” Acamus came over, joining the conversation, “my father freed the Samurai when they were in the dungeons of Icelore.”
“Dey had an army.” Nogard stated.
Acamus gestured to the resting men and women around them, “As do we.”
“This isn’t our army,” Machuba said, “they’ve got no interest in saving Joe.”
“No,” Acamus agreed, “but my father, yes.”
Shaprone had been listening from afar but now he joined in, “Invading Icelore may not be that bad of an idea.”
From the expressions on Machuba and Nogard’s faces, Shaprone could tell the boys were unconvinced.
“Follow me,” Shaprone said, “all of you.”
The boys got up and followed the knight out the chamber. They walked through halls of almost pitch black, where they could only see the mist of their breaths, until finally they came to a vast window pane. The city glimmered before them.
“The Order has put down their anchor. Do you know how many they’ve got here?” Shaprone turned to the boys, “The Samurai’s Army faltered in Icelore because they’d backed Talloome into a corner. Shalis is spreading out from Icelore, she’s left the island vulnerable.”
“You really dink so?” Nogard asked.
“Yes.” Shaprone said, “If nothing else, the odds are better than they’ve been previously.”
“You’d abandon Zviecoff?” Zach asked.
“Haven’t they already?” Ekaf muttered.
“Watch your mouth, Knome.” Acamus snapped.
“He isn’t wrong,” Shaprone admitted, “I’ve been coming to terms with it for the past few days…”
“You’re actually going to leave Zviecoff?” Machuba asked.
“No. Not completely. We’ll keep Mountaingate and protect this castle. But that isn’t Zviecoff. Look out there, that is Zviecoff and that is the Order’s. Both Shalis and Adora. And how many soldiers? I once was incharge of the barracks in Icelore and I can say, with confidence, there cannot be much of the Order left in Icelore.”
Gazing upon the city, no one doubted his claim.
“We cannot wait for them to get settled here yet we also cannot attack them here, no, they’re prepared for that. Yet, we must attack. We must attack…and that leaves only Icelore.” Shaprone sighed. He hadn’t turned away from the window. He seemed almost as if he’d been talking to himself, “We’ve got to be quick…”
“How long would it take to get dragons down here?” Nogard asked.
“Depends on the size of this storm.” Shaprone responded.
“We could sail.” Ekaf suggeseted.
“From here?” Zach asked.
“Ofcourse, the Monoceros.” Ekaf said.
Nogard did too, “Weren’t you dere wid us in Rivergate?”
“The Sea Lords won’t have touched it.” Acamus claimed.
“Why not?” Zach asked.
“You’ve heard the story of when Theseus destroyed the Sea Lord fleet?” Shaprone asked.
The boys nodded.
Ekaf hopped up to the plate, eager to tell the story anyways, “Supposedly, Theseus told the Sea Lords that he would spare the ship for now but, if they were to ever meet again-”
“Ever mess with the minotaurs again-” Acamus inserted.
“-then the vessel would be reclaimed and Barro himself – Aquarian’s favorite Delian god – would damn any who tried to re-retake it.”
“The Sea Lords were scared enough of the ship before we hijacked it.” Acamus chuckled.
“So you dink it’s still docked at da harbor?” Nogard asked.
“Even if the Sea Lords would touch it, where would they go? They’d have to go through Poricoff, through Triskele Point.” Shaprone stated.
“Then how’d they expect the Monoceros to get here in the first place? That was their plan before we hijacked it.” Zach countered.
“Was it?” Shaprone asked.
“That is strange…” Shaprone murmured.
“How could we even get to Rivergate from here?” Machuba asked.
Shaprone dropped the mystery, saying, “There are tunnels all throughout the city-”
“Yes!” Ekaf exclaimed, “I showed them!”
Shaprone continued unphased, “-we’d have to leave now, before the storm breaks and the tunnels fill.”
Still unconvinced, Nogard cried, “But Rivergate be crawlin, mon!”
“Not anymore.” Zach said, tapping the window pane.
All eyes returned to the city. Though the rest of Zviecoff flickered like fire as the Order consolidated their victory, Rivergate was a black smudge before the bay.
“You see, my friends,” Acamus said, “the Sea Lords are done with the Monoceros.”
Zach was still doubtful, “So long as they haven’t already left with it.”
“I’m surprised they didn’t dessert the minute Acamus showed up with that spear.” Shaprone chuckled.
“Let’s do it!” Ekaf exclaimed.
“We’re actually going to Icelore.” Machuba realized.
“Not immediately.” Shaprone said, “I’d like to stop in Ipativy, run the idea by my superiors and see if I can muster more men.”
“And I believe I should head to Recercoff, to do the same.” Acamus said.
“You’d have a hard time in the tunnels anyways.” Ekaf muttered.
“Dis really be our plan?” Nogard asked.
Acamus and Shaprone looked to each other, shrugged and nodded.
Nogard moaned, “I dought Zviecoff was crazy, now Icelore?”
“We don’t really have a choice.” Zach concluded, “We have to save Joe.”
Machuba agreed albeit with a stomach churning from anxiety. He summoned and swung the Suikii just incase but the blade did not perform.
“And Theseus.” Acamus reminded them.
“Selu,” Shaprone said, clasping his only hand upon Acamus’ shoulder, “if all goes well, this may not only save our friends but end this war!”
– – –
His right forearm engulfed in a blade of ice, he sliced through the scalp of a zombiefied knight. Pivoting, he gutted another. Still they marched away, paying no mind to the screaming man slashing through their comrades. He stopped. A steady flow of drops trickled from the tip of the ice encasing his arm and hit the carpet only to evaporate as the encroaching flames nipped at the one handed man’s ankles.
Johnny ran from the church, shoving his way through the zombies as he stumbled across the crumbling courtyard. Shalis abandoned me! But it is better she be safe. That glorious face, away from danger, that body…oh that body, her perfect-
The image of his right hand laying alone on the church floor was branded upon his brain. Could a healer make him an entirely new hand? Doubtful. Fortunately, the giant chunk of ice around his wrist kept the pain away. But it was a short term fix. Johnny was beginning to feel the threat of frost bite.
As he mulled over how to handle his situation, he continued to flee deeper into the city. Whipping around corners and bolting down alley ways, lest his subjects see him in a such a weak state, Johnny Pigeon ran. When he finally came to a stop, coming to a conclusion that he must melt off the ice and force the wound to scab with flame, his eyes caught movement to his side.
“FREEZE!” He shouted.
But it was Johnny who didn’t move.
“Hello, Mr. Pigeon-”
The speaker was, at first glance, a white fox. However, this fox was twice the size of a wolf with teeth bigger than minotaur fingers.
“-with my help, you may make it out of Zviecoff.”
“Who are you?” Johnny yelled.
Not taking his hand off his belt buckle, he turned his gaze to catch a new comer. It was a fishfolk, dressed in light armor and armed with an ordinary blade. The amphibian’s face was rippled with burns starting from his forehead and continuing on down the nape of his neck.
“I am Aqa Eniram-”
“Yea, but who’s the talking fox?” Johnny snapped.
The fishfolk let out a long sigh and turned to his furred companion. The fox shook it’s head slowly.
“He is offering you a chance to join us,” the fishfolk continued, “but first and foremost, my Master is offering you a chance to live.”
“What’s it cost?” Johnny asked.
“Revenge.” The fox said.
Johnny raised an eyebrow.
“The pyromancer.” Aqa elaborated.
Johnny didn’t need to hear another word, “I’m in.” Then he turned back to Aqa and asked, “Any chance you’ve got some aquannabis?”
– – –
Solaris illuminated the thin fabric of the elf’s tent. The old man stretched. His head rocked back to yawn. He ran his fingers through his silky strands of silver hair and stopped. He didn’t feel quite right. Hearing clanking outside, he reached for his eye patch.
“Saint,” the guard began from outside the tent, “you’ve got a visitor.”
Tying the straps behind his head and sliding the patch over his eye, he turned to face the entrance.
“Says he’s the Bard?”
“Let him in.”
The guard didn’t question. If this were any other noble, the guard would’ve never let such an odd fellow alone with his employer, but this was no ordinary monarch. The Emperor’s palace, the Cathedral, was the largest man-made structure beneath Solaris, yet he lived in the garden and slept in a tent. He dressed in ascetic robes and rented out the castle to facilitate the rehabilitation of the Trinity Nation’s criminals. The guards had to keep track of who was wanted for what, all throughout the Empire, because the Cathedral was the constant victim of jail-break schemes (one of which had began the War on Mancy). Thus the guard was not ignorant of who the Bard was. The Bard was a known conspirator with the enemy, he’d defended Talloome Icelore and the mancers against the Samurai. Nevertheless, the guards let the criminal through as they had with many others before. It wasn’t a rare occasion for villains to stroll into the tent of the Emperor of the Trinity Nations. Nor was it rare for them to stroll back out, skip back to the harbor, and sail away unscathed.
On that warm, late summer morning, Saint knew the Bard wasn’t visiting for small talk. Dressed in a suit of red and black, the Bard approached. He was a bearn and stood nearly eight feet high. The bear-man’s beady eyes twinkled as he waited for the Emperor to speak.
“What is it?”
The bearn cleared his throat and clasped a fist to his chest before beginning his song.
“It is a day to mourn, as I regret to inform, a good friend of ours is dead. The ice will be torn, old hatred reborn, now that Hermes lopped off his head.”
Saint took a deep breath. Hermes killed Theseus? Hermes? Saint couldn’t believe it, despite knowing in his heart that the Bard wasn’t lying. Still, his disbelief shielded him from the full punch of the revelation. He exhaled slowly and asked, “Do the minotaurs know? Does Acamus know?”
“Acamus knows not and Joe has been caught, Zviecoff the city has fallen. Along comes the fox, as tempers grow hot, and the Knome guides them all in. As the Guardians cry, the Knome will lie, and Acamus will take it for truth. Yes, many will fight, many will die, and we’ll see what the Earthboy can do.”
Saint sat back on his cot – the Emperor’s bed. The Bard’s song reminded him how quickly things had been moving. He wondered which hero would fall next. The reality of his father’s death finally struck his core and resounded, rattling his consciousness, like the chiming of a great bell. A tear rolled down from his good eye. He had tons of questions but couldn’t speak. The Bard was silent for a moment. He observed Saint curiously. It had been many years sense he or anyone for that matter had seen the old elf cry.
“The minotaur lived over a thousand years. He worked to train a thousand peers and granted evil her sense of fear! Why mar his record with a tear? Drink a beer, recall his cheer, his goofy grin from ear to ear! Let sorrow have nothing to do with the late great Icespear!”
“I’ll need someone to drink with.” Saint stated.
“Ah, my friend, as our friend would say,” the Bard chimed, “I’m a busy man, but not today.”
– – –
Screaming to the heavens above, the gate before Castle Icelore rose. Shadowmancers, necromancers, and black garbed knights stood scatter throughout the courtyard between the wall and the castle. They were sparse, Icelore was practically a ghost town, but every soul on the island wanted to see whether what they heard was true or false.
Hermes strode through the gate with his skeletal face turned to the sky. The green flames that engulfed his body stretched nearly a yard from him in every direction. The curious bystanders stumbled away to keep out of the banshee’s deadly aura. Though Hermes was the point of all this attention, not a soul batted an eye as they all stared in absolute disbelief at the GraiLord Seal, held in Hermes’ right hand by the straps that once clung to Theseus.
High up in a tower jutting out of Castle Icelore, Shalis Skullsummon stood watching. Her wound had been healed. No sign remained that she had been there, in the great minotaur’s last fight. She couldn’t chase the dry taste of jealousy. Yet that jealously was meager compared to the fear which sickened her – the fear that her people, the people of the Order of Mancers, might begin to think Hermes stronger than herself. Watching the undead bearn progress, she prayed to her Delian gods that Hermes might begin to believe it too so that she could remind him, and the world, who ran the Order.
As for Hermes, he saw Shalis watching from high up in the castle. He knew it hurt worse than the blade Theseus shoved through her belly for her to see him take full responsibility for the kill. He also knew he was the Order’s one and only banshee – which he believed gave him as much leeway as he intended to take.
“The time of legends has passed!” Hermes roared, staring straight into the eyes of the Witch way up in her tower, “New powers are rising! I am Hermes Retskcirt. Pity any who get in my way. We are the Order of Mancers – the only force fighting for the liberty of all magicians – and we will liberate Iceload from the bigotry of the Ipativians and GraiLords!”
The crowd was silent, they all watched Hermes as if they were children and he was their parent. They looked at him, he realized, like the minotaurs would look at Theseus. I am the new legend. He would’ve felt chills if he were more than bone. First there was Creaton, then Flow Morain, then the Queen of Darkness, could I be the fourth? Exhilirated, he continued.
“All we have to do is cross the ocean and take it, no one can stand in our way! Together, we can tame the two headed snake that is Iceload!”
The crowd exploded. Even though the majority of the Order was not present, the cheering was so loud the foundations of Castle Icelore rattled. Hermes’ name was roared over and over, while Shalis watched, silent and alone, from above.
– – –
A scorching red light forced its way between Joe’s eyelids. Blinking, what he saw made him shiver. The world around him was still cloaked in darkness but not the same sort of darkness that had shut out Solaris with Hermes’ spell. This darkness was a background, there was no ground, no roof, no walls, just pure endless black interrupted only by the fiery figure of a man. Joe recognized the man immediately for he had seen him the night he became a pyromancer.
“Am I dead?” Joe asked.
Agony didn’t respond. The flaming figure merely took a step towards the pyromancer and raised a finger to point at the empty stone in Joe’s chest. Joe was puzzled.
“Do you want the stone back?”
“Why are you here?” Agony asked.
Joe was unsure how to respond, “Because I ran out of fire?”
The man shook his head from side to side. The black was whisked away and the two began to soar high above a spinning blue sphere. When they stopped moving, Joe recognized the sphere as a planet. The Abbim. Mystakle Planet.
“Why are you here?”
“Because Ekaf brought me here.” Joe replied.
Once again, Agony shook his head. Hovering along side Joe he pointed to the stone in Joe’s chest. Then he asked a final time, “Why are you here?”
“To save the Samurai?” Joe suggested.
Agony’s shoulders sagged. He began to drift away, towards the sun Solaris, while Joe began to descend back towards Mystakle Planet.
“To save the world? To save-”
“To save life as we know it.”
The fiery being was suddenly back along side him.
“Don’t forget that.”
“But how? Everyone is stronger than me. Where are the Samurai? Where is Grandfather? Where is Ekaf? Where am I? How can I of all people save the world?”
“Don’t give up, don’t break character,” the fire said, “rise up like the sun.”
– – –
“WHERE IS SHE?”
Joe woke up to find himself held against a wall by his throat. Fiery pain followed by numbness slowly spread along his neck, reaching out to the rest of his body. It was Hermes who held him and though the man’s scarred white skull showed no emotion, Joe could tell he was on thin ice. But he didn’t know why.
“Drop him or you’ll kill him.” Shalis snarled.
Joe fell to the hard stone ground. Hermes stepped to the side and the scantily clad necromancer stepped forward. To Joe’s amazement, she showed no wound, not even the hint of a scar from where she’d been stabbed by Theseus.
“Where is she?” Hermes growled once more.
“Who?” Joe asked.
“You know who, you little-”
Shalis cut Hermes off, “Your cell mate, Sunasha.”
“I just woke up!” Joe stated.
“You’ve been in here for three days you lying sack of shit!”
“Joe,” Shalis said, her voice soft and soothing. Crouching before him, she cupped his chin in her hand, “you don’t have to be here, you can join us up above, but you have to comply. Where is she?”
“Who?” Joe moaned.
“Did he consume her?” Hermes asked Shalis.
“Preposterous,” her hand flew off Joe’s chin to whirl in the air, emphasizing the banshee’s foolishness.
“He is bright.” Hermes noted, asking, “How much fire did you give him?”
Turning from Joe, she hissed, “Should the Sun Child be dull?”
“Never seemed very impressive before.” Hermes stated, “He is acting this ignorance.”
Joe interrupted, “I just woke up! Last I remember, I was in Zviecoff!”
“We’ll be back.” Shalis turned to Hermes, “Let’s go.”
Shalis gestured for the banshee to lead the way and then followed, closing the cell behind her.
All alone, Joe stood and gazed about his humble abode. The cell was made of some sort of cold stone. There were two holes, one a barred window near the top of the door and the other placed in a corner. The smell immediately told Joe the purpose of the second hole. As for furniture, the cell only held one cot and the cot itself was quite spartan – it reminded him of the one he’d slept on in Bonehead’s cave. A taught animal hide stretched between four wooden poles that appeared to have been sanded halfheartedly. There was nothing to do but sit and think and so he did.
What happened to Theseus? Or Zalfron? Or any of my buddies for that matter. And this fire in my chest, wasn’t I out? Isn’t that how I passed out and ended up here? Reaching to his bruised throat, he felt no cursed-bone necklace. And the Suikii! Holding his right hand out before him he waited for the cold touch of the ancient blade. The Suikii didn’t come. I’m lost and abandoned. Gazing about the cell, he was puzzled. If my cellmate escaped, couldn’t I? Have I really been here for three days? He had no answer. The cell looked quite tight. All there was to do was wait.
– – –
“How could she have escaped?” Hermes demanded.
“She couldn’t.” Shalis stated.
“Then he consumed her.” Hermes stated.
They were marching up the winding stairs that led out of Icelore’s abysmal dungeon. Their ascent was serenaded by the moans of the encarcerated.
Hermes pressed her further, “You’re defying logic.”
She stopped and faced the banshee, looking down from her vantage a few steps up, “Are you defying me?” Stepping down to be eye level with the bearn’s skull, she continued, “Who is the Sheik?”
Hermes was silent.
“The time of legends has passed, has it Hermes? What am I, Hermes? Am I one of these legends or am I one of these new powers you spoke of?” She spat on the stair by the banshee’s foot, “Hermes Retskcirt, hero of the day, promising the people that the war has been won. Ha!” She waited but was not interrupted. Victorious, she concluded, “Don’t forget your place, Hermes.”
Hermes replied with only a blank stare. A stare that Shalis returned for a minute before reminding him, “When the Queen returns, she will know who served her without fault, who worked to prepare Solaris to glorify her and who did so to glorify themselves.”
She spun around and continued the climb. Hermes watched her walk.
– – –
Hours slid by until finally the door to Joe’s cell opened. A figure stumbled in, feet click-clacking on the stone, and the door slammed shut. The figure, Joe noted, was female. Leaning against the wall Joe sat against, the girl caught her breath then fell onto her butt beside him. Joe found himself staring at the hooves she’d staggered in on, then her tail as she used it to wipe the tears threatening to fall down her cheeks.
A gmoat, Joe realized, “Sunasha?”
“What?” Her voice trembled.
“Are you Sunasha?”
The gmoat watched Joe, momentarily forgetting her sorrow in bamboozlement, “What?”
“Who are you?”
“I’m Lo, you thought I was Sunasha?!”
Joe shrugged, “I don’t know.”
“Do I look like her?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know what she looks like.”
“She was your cell mate!”
“That doesn’t mean…” Joe took a deep breath and almost laughed in exasperation before explaining, “The first thing I remember since I woke up here was Hermes’ hand around my throat demanding to know where Sunasha was…I don’t know anything. I don’t know who Sunasha is, I don’t know how long I’ve been here – don’t even know where this is.”
“Agreed.” Lo muttered, “Who are you?” She rolled her eyes and smirked, “The Sun Child?”
Joe couldn’t withhold a scoff, “Folks seem to think so…”
“I’ll say,” she laughed, “you’re all the rage in Solaris.”
“Great…” Shaking his head, he let out a loud sigh, “looks like they’re in for a big disappointment.”
“Oh no,” Lo’s smirk shriveled, “you haven’t heard?”
“You’re a joke.” Lo stated.
“No, I’m not trying to be mean,” she scooted nearer to Joe and placed a hand on his thigh to legitimize her sincerity, “they never really thought you were the Sun Child.”
This did not help.
“Not that you aren’t!” Lo released a frustrated breath between her teeth, “I’m talking about the folks in the Trinity Nations…the Tenchi Kou Warriors and all…you haven’t exactly matched their expectations.”
Joe was beginning to get defensive, “Just by getting captured?”
“Girn knows what they’ll say when they hear about this…” Lo muttered before answering the question, “I’m talking about all the killing of policemen in Tadloe then-”
“That wasn’t me!”
“-running off to the Aquarian Ocean to help a bunch of rebels before-”
“We were running from Hermes!”
“-picking up arms with the minotaurs and electric elves in Iceload.”
“They needed help!”
“All the while, the Trinity Nations is trapped in a stalemate with Creaton in Darkloe.”
Joe was amazed, “I’ve been running for my life sense I came to this planet!”
“I’m not accusing you of anything!” Lo promised, “I’m just saying that’s what people are saying.”
“What the…How the…” A million excuses ran through his mind before he settled on one, “I’m just some kid from Earth, what the hell’d they expect?!”
“The Sun Child.” Lo shrugged.
“We were trying to get to Saint to figure out what to do,” Joe groaned, “but every step we took towards God’s Island sent us spiraling off in another direction…”
“Tell that to the TN casualties…” Lo muttered, as if Joe wouldn’t hear, realizing her mistake she quickly added, raising her voice, “It isn’t all your fault. A lot of people have lost faith in Saint too after his Mystakle Samurai failed to bring world peace.”
Joe’s crestfallen posture remained unlifted.
Lo continued with an even softer tone, “Not everyone’s lost hope…” but the return of an earlier thought derailed her efforts to comfort as it slipped off the end of her tongue, “then again, I doubt anyone knows you’ve been captured just yet.”
Joe sighed, “I don’t understand how anyone knew about me to begin with.”
“You’re a pyromancer and this is a time where everyone is looking for something or someone to have faith in or something or someone to blame – especially the papers.” Lo matched Joe’s sigh, “These last couple weeks, we’ve been in a real drought as far as hope goes. Rumors of heroes and villains spread like wildfire in climates of despair.”
“Poetic.” Joe managed a laugh.
Lo bowed the brim of an invisible hat, “Tis my forte.”
“Are you a writer?” Joe asked.
“A bard, yes.” She gave Joe a twisted smile, “You’re kidding right?”
Her smirk was replaced with a blank stare, “You don’t recognize me?”
“Girn!” Lo cried, “You’re an idiot!”
Joe scooted away from her, “Can we ask Shalis for separate cells?”
“Sorry,” Lo giggled, scooting back beside him, “didn’t mean to hurt your feelings, I thought you were being funny.”
“Unfortunately,” Joe admitted, “I’m just clueless.”
“Well I told you my name, didn’t I?”
She rolled her eyes, “I’m Lo.”
“Uh…” Joe scratched his head and offered a half smile, “still clueless…”
“I’m an alien, remember?”
“So am I, but I knew who you were!”
“It isn’t like I don’t recognize you on purpose!”
“We’ve never met!” Joe paused, a lot had happened in the last week and a half, could he have forgotten? He asked, “Have we?”
“No!” She cried. Slapping a hand across Joe’s mouth she held the index finger of her free hand to her lips and said, “Shhh…”
She dropped her hands then got to her feet. After clearing her throat, she sang, “Marvelous, marvelous, carvin up this guitar with this, band that can jam like goddesses.”
Immediately Joe felt he recognized her voice. If nothing else that rhythm…is this…
“Marvelous, marvelous, solace is blissful thoughtlessness and damn this jam accomplishes.”
“Oh!” Joe realized, “You’re Lo – the musician, Lo!”
Plopping down to sit cross-legged before Joe, she bowed her head.
“I have heard of you!” Joe exclaimed, laughing, “This is crazy! I haven’t even been on this planet for two weeks and I must’ve heard that song on three different occasions and now I’m locked up with the very artists herself!”
Lo beamed, exuberant in her victory, saying matter-of-factly, “I knew you’d recognize me.”
“How’d you get locked up?” Joe asked, “Is the Order anti-art?”
“I was doing a concert in Zviecoff when they told everyone to evacuate.” Lo explained.
“And you didn’t leave?”
“I could’ve,” Lo admitted, “but there were a lot of people there who couldn’t, a lot of my people.”
“Delain gmoats,” Lo nodded, “most of them were destitute. It wasn’t like the Ipativians were offering them new homes elsewhere, they were just telling folks to leave, and the Knights definitely weren’t sympathizing with my kind.”
“But Zviecoff was completely empty when we got there!” Joe exclaimed, “Empty of civilians, atleast…”
“Yea…” Lo looked down at her lap, “the Ipativians did wind up taking care of some…but the rest were holed up in abandoned homes or living on the streets when the fighting started.”
Joe gasped, “What happened?”
“Most of them became fuel for the necromancers and shadowmancers.” Lo stated, “Only a few of us were lucky enough to be shipped back to Icelore.”
The haunting image of the bobbing bodies that filled the bay of Zviecoff forced its way back from the depths of Joe’s consciousness and punched him in the gut.
“Though I wouldn’t consider us lucky.” Lo sighed, “Every gmoat they saved was sent down here, fated for execution like the rest of the prisoners.”
“Why’d they bother to bring you back just to kill you?” Joe asked.
Lo shrugged, “They like seeing us suffer.”
“We’re Delian Gmoats.”
“Delian, you mean like the religion?” Joe asked.
“Yea, from the other solar system.”
“Wait…” Joe hesitated, then released his guess, “you mean all of yall are aliens?”
“What do you mean by yall?”
“Not the ones from Solaris.”
“So you aren’t all aliens.”
“Haven’t you met gmoats here?”
“Yea but…I’m sorry,” Joe ran his hands down his face, “I’m completely confused.”
“Yea,” Lo let out half a chuckle, “me too.”
“Assume I don’t know anything about any of this.” Joe stated.
“Do you want me to try and explain?” Lo asked.
“Yes please, may help me better swallow my decision.”
“Shalis says she’d let me live if I work for her.”
“And you’re going to say no?”
“Ah, well then, yes,” Lo scooted forward so that she could pat Joe’s knee, “this story will definitely justify your decision to die.” She cleared her throat, “This is the story of Shalis Skullsummon, but before we get to her, I need to explain how the Order of Mancers came to be…”