Chapter 8 - The Stone of Fairgriffen
“Permission slips for four griffins, our best flying mounts. Here’s the document, signed by all the honorable representatives of Fairgrifen’s high council, myself included. And, as requested, here’s a map of our island, with every city, village, town, and even bandit hideouts that we know off.”
Faircloth grumbled. His office was very large, bigger than most accommodations Arata had stayed in. It had a lot of free space as it only had one desk, a chair, where he was sitting on, and a cabinet.
Pixa took the documents for the mounts and the contract and Kazuki took the map. Jomiko had her arms folded while Arata was talking to Midori.
“If we’re agreed, I’d ask you for some private time with Sanpu and Fuun’na. I’d like to resolve our private business.”
“Sure,” Jomiko shrugged, extending a hand towards Sanpu, “key to your house, please.”
Sanpu smiled and passed it to her. “You still remember the way?”
“Of course,” she said while turning around to leave, “let’s go, guys.”
They left the room, passing through four guards that were standing outside the door. One of them bowed their head and gestured to indicate that he’d show them out.
Meanwhile, another guard closed the door, leaving Faircloth and the twins alone.
“Give me a second,” Faircloth requested, closing his eyes in concentration. He waved his hands around, lightly and slowly for a couple of awkward minutes. The twins eyed each other. Sanpu raised a question with an eyebrow and Fuun’a explained through an eye-roll that she knew what was going on.
He was screening for spying spells, and blocking them. Sanpu didn’t know it but still he shrugged, trusting his sister. They hardly ever had to tell each other things like those.
After he was content, Faircloth opened his eyes. “Uhm, yes, indeed.”
“Very well. Did you perhaps stumble upon a rock?”
They raised an eyebrow.
“You’re going to have to be a little more specific than that,” Fuun’na pointed out, allowing for Sanpu to finish the thought: “this building’s is a rock.”
“You didn’t, then. My agents said the guild had in their possession a very important, very old treasure of ours. Do you know anything about Fairgrifen’s history?”
“No?” Sanpu asked, “a bit,” Fuun’na said.
“Well, doesn’t matter. A stone, the size of a fist, was stolen from our national treasury a few days ago. I tracked it to that man I sent you to assassinate. My agents would retrieve it in the confusion that followed.”
They opened their eyes in realization. Sanpu looked at Fuun’na with interest, “so that’s why he sent us.”
She looked back at him, adding, “he wanted a mess.”
“I employed marauders for marauding work, I’m sure you don’t care. You’ll be compensated before you even leave the building, as agreed. But the stone wasn’t in his possession. From the reports I’ve been given…it was given to this bull character.”
“We did see him,” Sanpu mentioned. “He met with the guild leader just before we did,” Fuun’na added.
“Yes. I want you to retrieve it.”
“Well, once we retrieve the Bull, we’ll have retrieved it,” Sanpu pointed out.
“No…” Faircloth trailed his voice, drumming his fingers on the desk, “I want it for myself, why do you think I haven’t reported the theft?”
“Ah,” they both whispered sagely, glancing at each other in amused realization.
They held hands as they looked back at Faircloth. They both said, “sure.”
“Aren’t you going to ask why I want it?”
“Why should we care?” Fuun’na said, shrugging, followed by Sanpu. “I’m betting the bull came here to get it, which maybe means he’s got as many connections as you do? True or not, you’re not gonna say anything to make us not want to do it.”
“So just hope he doesn’t, either,” Fuunn’na said playfully.
Faircloth’s half-closed his eyes in a threatening grunt.
“Humpf, I think sometimes you forget you’re only pawns,” Faircloth told them straight in the face. Sanpu and Fuun’na laughed back at him, indifferent to his insults.
“It’s so hilarious,” Fuun’na commented.
“What?” Faircloth asked, clearly disgruntled.
“How you guys’re always so convinced that you’re playing chess,” Sanpu answered with an easy smirk. “Price’s double what we’re getting for retrieving the bull, quadruple if we have to face a group of enemies as strong as him.”
“And your life, if you screw us over,” Fuun’na added.
And then they both looked at each other and adding, giggling and simultaneously: “but that goes without saying.”
Faircloth sniffed, clearly angry. Their snotty attitude always made people angry and they liked it like that. They liked to have them angry and emotional.
The twins nodded and turned to leave. They took their money, divided into two pouches, and headed out to their house to meet with the others.
It was a long trek but they took only half an hour marching at a brisk pace. The sun had reacted its peak in the sky when they arrived there.
“Ah, finally,” Sanpu tried to open the door but it clicked uncooperatively. He realized the door was locked.
“Guys?” Sanpu yelled out, to no avail.
“Don’t bother, big brother,” Fuun’na told him, sighing very deeply. “That Jomiko never changes.”
A few hours later, Jomiko and the rest finally showed up. They were sweating, visibly tired, with their necks and foreheads and whatever other skin they had uncovered duly tanned. Except for Kazuki who had his doll skin.
“Got lost?” Fuun’na asked in a mocking tone.
“Shut up,” Jomiko threatened angrily. Instead of opening the door, she impatiently kicked it open, breaking the lock.
Inside, she simply dropped on her back under the cover of shade.
“Ahhhhh, so hooooot,” she complained.
“I’ll get some water for everyone,” Pixa offered, skipping across the room.
“Thanks, Pixa.” Midori tiredly sat on a chair. Their accommodations weren’t that bad. They had a big enough bedroom, a bathroom, and the living room. It had a large table with four chairs and two windows on two of the walls. It only had the ground floor, though. Midori took one of the chairs, sitting on it reversely to rest her head down on her arms.
Fuun’na and Sanpu entered after them, not raising an issue about the door. They’d be leaving soon, after all. If anything, they felt stupid for not doing that earlier.
“Look at the bottles, I think we still have some water on them,” Fuun’na told Pixa, sitting down.
“Or wine,” Sanpu mentioned. “Or wine,” Fuun’na added over him with a giggle.
They both sat down, Jomiko didn’t move, lying plastered on the floor like she was hurting. Arata took the other chair, sighing extremely tired. He was still hurting all over, having not healed properly yet from the fight. Most of all, his bandaged hands still shivered in wet blood. The wraps around them had not enjoyed the sun exposure.
Kazuki went to the table and spread the map open in between them all, staying on his feet with no visible signs of exhaustion. He didn’t allow anyone a moment’s rest.
“We’ve lost his trail by now so the only thing we can hope for is to guess where he’ll be going, and catch him before he leaves this island. So let’s think here. Arata, what did he say that I didn’t hear?”
“Hm?” he looked at Kazuki a bit dazed, and then up in thought. “Nothing, he just ran.”
“Right, the rest was calling us idiots and bidding farewell,” Kazuki remarked in thought.
“Yeah, that he did. Like…three times,” Arata mentioned, glancing at the map. “This is where we started out, where we first met him,” he pointed at the name of the village, “DustySpeck.”
“Right, let’s think. The bull first hired us to kill the beast at DustySpeck. He then met with a general goods salesman in ClearPebble, anything special about him, Midori?”
“He has great contacts here,” Midori answered with a muffled voice, “he can get in touch with high-profile people.”
“Right,” Kazuki went on, scratching his chin. Pixa, meanwhile, was serving everyone glasses of water. “So the bull came here for something. And he needed contacts for that.”
“And I think we caught him on the way out,” Arata passively mentioned. “Thanks, Pixa. No way was he planning on coming back after crumbling the wall like that.”
“Yes,” Kazuki raised a finger without looking away, “good point, Arata, good point, so he came here and resolved his business in less than a day…”
Meanwhile, Pixa was crouched over Jomiko, pouring a glass of water over her opened mouth. She gurgled, enjoying the freshness, “ahhhh, oh geez, I’m so tired. Thank you, Pixa, thank you.” Pixa giggled.
Sanpu and Fuun’na were teasing each other under the table, giggling and laughing like children pecking at each other. Probably because they were children pecking at each other.
“By the way, how did you get to the wall so fast?” Arata asked.
“That doesn’t matter now, what kind of errand can you resolve in a day?”
“But I’m curious…” Arata pouted.
“Courier?” Midori asked, over Arata’s voice.
“Because I informed myself, Arata,” Kazuki told him, glancing at him with a hint of impatience, “Fairgrifen didn’t choose its location, it was built around an ancient piece of rock and conformed to its surroundings the best it could. That part of the wall is over a long-since dried up moat which makes it the lowest part of the wall by a few dozen feet. That’s enough to make it preferable if you’re looking for a quick climb.”
“Wooooow…” Arata’s eyes showed the glow of how impressed he was.
“Wait, what did you say about that rock?” Sanpu asked, containing a giggle, “stop it!”
“Ok ok,” Fuun’na conceded, letting go of his leg.
“The rock?” Kazuki glanced at Sanpu, perplexed “it’s just an origin legend. Written accounts are scarce and more filled with imagination than with facts. Why do you ask?”
“Because his business was a pickup,” Sanpu informed them, “The bull took a stone from the thief guild. Some great national treasure, Faircloth asked us to retrieve it for him.”
Now one would be surprised Sanpu would give up such information so absent-mindedly. In fact, it annoyed the more paranoid aspects of Fuun’na’s personality. Yet, knowing him, she wasn’t surprised in the slightest. He really didn’t care for underhanded tactics such as secrets.
“What?” Kazuki’s voice seemed to indicate a great big puzzle had been solved, everyone else looked towards him.
In the background, Jomiko was dragging herself over to the bathroom to drink all the water there, Pixa was grabbing onto her legs, concernedly trying to stop her.
“No…Jomikooo, you’re going to drink it aaaall!”
“But I need moooooore…” She face-palmed the ground, reaching out with her hands in desperation.
“Yeah, it was stolen some days ago apparently but Faircloth wants it for himself, for some reason. He asked us to give it to him and him alone.”
“I’m guessing you weren’t supposed to tell us that,” Arata pointed out. The twins just shrugged and giggled.
“The stone of Fairgrifen,” Kazuki said and they all looked at him. “It’s part of a legend, it’s supposedly the only remains of some ancient material. The only known sources of it were exactly where each main city-state established itself. Each city supposedly has a stone, like a fossil, of what was once a huge rock… which emanated power. This is good, it narrows—”
“Excuse me, power?” Arata asked.
“Yes, not just magical, though. Legends say it enhanced life. People lived longer, it was harder to get sick or tired, and it enhanced all kinds of abilities: physical, mental or magical. But it doesn’t matter, it’s just a legend governments are okay with being a possible history. What matters is this narrows it down.”
“It does?” Midori asked.
“Do I need to spell it out? It means he has an employer. And that means he’s running back to him,” Kazuki told them, eyeing the map. “He must assume we’re after him so he’ll be rushing.”
“Do we bet his employer’s on another island?” Arata asked while Jomiko tried to pull herself into the bathroom, having grabbed at the door’s frame, with Pixa still in tow.
“Yes,” Kazuki replied, “again, he attacked Fairgrifen, I doubt he’s planning to stick around its territory. If he isn’t, we can comb over the island afterward, but let’s assume he’s running for it before he’s caught.”
“He’d need a boat or a flying mount,” Midori pointed out.
“Right, and that means either Fairgrifen or…” Kazuki trailed the map, “the harbor cities. Every other city will only have ground-based transportation.”
“What if he steals one? Or one of the bandit hideouts is in league with him and has one ready for him?” Sanpu asked.
“What if he does have a flying one but just left it parked?” Fuun’na mentioned.
“Then it’s up to luck on the first one. Then we’re screwed on the second one. And to the third one, he didn’t have a flying mount, he would have been using it to travel around.” Kazuki rolled up the map. “I’d bet he’s going to Aellea since he’s a Lan but we should cover every possibility. We’ll split up. Jomiko, come here.”
“But I’m thirstyyy…” she moaned, half inside the bathroom.
“Fine, we’ll decide our teams without you.”
“No no, what, what teams?” She peeked out, at them. “For what?!”
“We need to split up to cover both harbor cities, west and east,” Midori let her know, her voice sounding clearer now that she had deemed herself to raise her head a bit out of her arms. “Though while I have a turn, I’d like to inform you all I’m staying here.”
They looked at Midori with expressions ranging from inquisitive to offensive.
“All I wanted was to get into the city,” Midori apologetically told them, “I’m in. I’d like to enroll in the academy and get my certificate. Then I’ll be a real alchemist!” She smiled wide with a fist raised in triumph.
“That’s fine,” Arata said before Jomiko could complain, “you don’t really owe us anything. Thanks for your help.”
She nodded, smiling awkwardly at Arata.
“Sorry…I feel like I used you to get in…”
“You did,” Jomiko said, spitefully crossing her arms.
“It’s fine, Jomiko,” Kazuki said, glancing down at Midori patronizingly, “we could use an eye back here anyways. We might be completely wrong and he might return. Keep an eye out and let us know if anything weird happens, can you do that?”
Midori glanced away trying not to feel guilty, and failing that, nodded in agreement.
“Alright, well, whatever,” Jomiko walked to them, and punched the table, cracking it a bit. “I dunno what the bull needed the beast dead for or why he wants that super stone but he messed with the wrong pack of adventurers!” Jomiko licked her lips. “From what you said, though, I think he’s too much of a magician to not have any connections with Spellgate, so I’d bet there.”
“Any of them are possible, that’s why we’ll be splitting up. We’ll make a much better time than him since we’re using the Griffins. We’ll converge on both port cities and try and catch him wherever he’ll show up. Sounds good?” Arata asked.
“Sounds great, that settles it,” Jomiko grinned, as excited as ever and thus punching her own palm to the sound of a tiny thunder.
“Let’s get a move on!”