Chapter 23: Broken Minds
After their escape from the Samanao prison the group decided not to test their luck further by staying in town. The king would likely be extremely uncomfortable with outsiders running amok in his kingdom and the prisoner the group found in the tunnels dressed like the king was likely of great significance as well, considering he looked just like the king and was kept hidden away from the other prisoners.
The time Suzanne and Alice had spent studying maps of the region paid off as the group of six was able to find a secluded cave to sleep in that night. The next morning, the other man the four had rescued from prison, who was named Frank, left at first light to go back into the castle town. The four were suspicious of Frank's eagerness at going back to the place that should be most dangerous to him but had to admit he had made a point before leaving.
"Like I told you guys, I'm with the rebellion," Frank had said. "We can help you guys! And you can help us! Do you know how long we've been waiting for something like this to happen? Besides, I'll be safer than you guys. To the king, I'm just another rebel for him to torment and kill. You guys are the outsiders who broke the seal. And that guy looks just like the king, was given his own special cell and everything. He has to be worth something more than me. And I know the city; I grew up in the castle town. I know the place well."
With that, Frank left to meet up with the rebellion. This left the four to turn their attention to the other man they had rescued from prison. When the group had made their escape, they had been forced to cast a sleeping spell on the man to keep him from alerting all the guards in the city to their escape. The spell did not last long enough for them to clear the city. Fortunately for the group the kingly-looking man was considerably calmer upon waking up. Apparently seeing himself out of the dungeon did wonders for his mood. He did not scream and fully cooperated with the rest of the escapees. After Frank and the kingly-looking man awoke the four decided to get some answers.
"Hello sir. I am Suzanne and these are my comrades: Ron, Thomas, and Alice," introduced Suzanne. "May we ask who you are?"
"Who I am?" echoed the man. As he had when the group had first met him, he began to look around the cave as though he only now realized that is where he was. After a few seconds the man came out of his confusion. This time, instead of crazily screaming at the group, the man stood up from his spot and took another good look around the cave. But it was not confusion that marked the man's face this time. Even with his tattered robes and many scars the man suddenly had a regal bearing to him; he looked around the cave as though it were not good enough to hold a man of his kind.
"I am King Crayton the Fourth," began the man, introducing himself with a sudden show of bravado. "I am he who is worthy to wear the Crimson Robe. I am the keeper of the Mirror of Ra. I am he who rules these lands," his voice was then filled with the utmost loathing, "regardless of what imposter sits upon the throne."
"So it would appear," replied Suzanne. "The problem is that upon that throne sits someone who looks exactly like you save for the fact he does not have such grievous wounds or spent time in prison. How do we know you are not the imposter?"
The man initially flared with anger at Suzanne's question but the man's anger, along with the royal aura the man had just given off, was replaced again with the confusion the four were used to seeing from him. "I do not know," the man answered, weakness marring the voice that had seconds ago sounded so proud. He stared off into space as he spoke again, "I do not know how I even know I am not the imposter."
The man's proud and royal voice is what spoke next, "But I am the king. And I will not sit idly by while that villain sits upon my throne and kills my people. If you people do not plan on helping me to regain what is rightfully mine, than my time is wasted with you."
"Slow down, Your Majesty," said Suzanne, calling him by the title to help put the man at ease. "That other man from prison says he is a member of the rebellion. Ironically, the rebellion is probably your best bet at getting your throne back. He should be back within a few days."
This seemed to satisfy the man, who sat back down. As he seemed much calmer now the four took a step outside of the cave to discuss what they had learned.
"Did you see him after Susie asked how we could know he wasn't the imposter?" asked Ron. "Despite what he said, he looked like he didn't actually know that he wasn't for a moment."
"Torture destroys the mind as much as the body," said Thomas darkly. "I can only imagine how long he's been in that cell or the suffering he's been put through. Perhaps he is a random prisoner that was tortured to the point that he actually believed he was the king. Given what we've seen of the one that sits upon the throne now, I wouldn't put it past him to take sadistic pleasure in such a practice."
"Personally, I believe this man is more important than a random prisoner that just happened to get the short straw," said Suzanne. "Did you see him when he gave that introduction? We've interacted with a lot of people over this adventure and only a select few can draw themselves up with the proud bearing we saw from that man, if only briefly. I don't know if he's the true king of Samanao but he is a noble of some high standing. Perhaps a political rival of the king's? That would also explain the special treatment."
"Is it possible that it's actually the same man?" wondered Alice. "There are curses that can destroy the mind. And Frank said that he saw the king go down that tunnel every day but he didn't come back up through the prison. He must have left through the tunnels like we did. Maybe it's the curse that makes him so ruthless to his own people. It infects him with incredible evil. Then he goes down to the dungeons every day and turns into what we see here, a man who doesn't seem like he would want his people harmed, from what little we've seen of him. He fights against the evil, a terrible battle that produces the appearance we see now. Finally, the evil wins out, repairs his body for another day of malice and the cycle repeats."
"But that would mean this one king is here with us," said Ron. "People will soon notice if the throne is empty."
"You both raise excellent points," said Suzanne. "I think we should go under the assumption that this is a different man than the one who has been on the throne. If they are one in the same it won't be difficult to figure out. Within hours the castle town will be ablaze with rumors of the king's disappearance. When Frank returns, that'll probably be the first thing he says to us."
"If Frank returns," said Thomas. "And even if he's been completely truthful, that may also be dangerous. If this guy sitting in the cave is the one and only king, the rebellion will probably be here in force. Could you imagine how much it would help their cause to eliminate the king before open warfare even begins?"
"Another good point," replied Suzanne. "We may have two groups to defend this cave against."
"I wouldn't mind if Alex led an attack here," said Ron with a scowl. "I'd love to get a crack at that little vermin."
"That coward would never put himself in danger," said Alice with equal disdain. "He didn't even show himself to us until we were surrounded by soldiers and zombies. And did you see how he cowered at my threat? That was great!"
"I almost forgot!" said Suzanne suddenly. "Do you remember that 'the boss' bit from yesterday? He clearly wasn't referring to the king. Someone else is pulling Alex's strings."
"But if that's true, how far does it go? Is this boss working with the king or is the king working for the boss? And how does that guy in the cave factor in?" wondered Ron.
"If the cave king is right then maybe the imposter is also working for Alex's boss," theorized Alice. "Maybe the imposter is a figurehead with the boss being the one running the land."
"All this talk reminds me of something I was wondering from yesterday," interjected Thomas. "When we first came upon King Crayton he was yelling about some 'foul beast.' I didn't think about it at the time because we were all more concerned with the horribly traumatized man screaming at the top of his lungs. But now I'm wondering: what if this boss is a monster?"
"What if the boss is the Archfiend!" exclaimed Alice.
"Wait a second," said Ron. "The whole reason we're on this 'the boss' thing is because that's not a respectful name to call royalty, as Susie pointed out yesterday. Wouldn't it also be disrespectful to the Archfiend?"
"But Alex isn't a monster, at least not biologically," replied Alice. "Maybe he doesn't hold the Archfiend in high respect. Or maybe the Archfiend doesn't care so much about his title. Or maybe Alex is the kind of cowardly prick that would sing the Archfiend's praises when it's around but tries to seem all high and confident when it's not around."
"Hold it guys, we're jumping to a lot of conclusions here," cut in Suzanne. "We don't even know for sure there is a monster yet. The 'foul beast' he was referring to could be the imposter. If the imposter makes a point of torturing him every night I can see why King Crayton would call him a foul beast. Now we have a lot of theories and I think we'll get closer to the truth if we just ask His Majesty some more questions."
"Are you sure that's wise, Susie?" asked Thomas. "The last question you asked almost gave him another episode. Asking him to relive what he's been through in the slightest will likely upset him some more."
"I know that and I wish we could do this in a more understanding way but we don't have the time," said Suzanne. "Besides, he didn't have any trouble talking about the imposter. It was his identity that troubled him. Maybe asking him about the imposter and the foul beast will have a strengthening effect on him; help him reaffirm his identity. It's worth a shot. Tom, you keep watch here for the moment. We don't want anybody sneaking in while we're distracted."
Suzanne, Ron, and Alice went back into the cave to speak with King Crayton. The man had completely regained his proud composure while the four had been talking. He sat upon a rock as though it were his throne.
"Your Majesty, we have some questions for you," began Suzanne. "When we came upon you in your cell, you thought we were a trick by some 'foul beast.' What is this foul beast?"
"A hideous, disgusting monster," answered the man. "A bulbous and ugly humanoid with green skin. In his true form he stands much taller and far wider than any man. A brutish monster with more muscles than brain and a sickening taste for human suffering."
"What do you mean by 'in his true form?'" asked Suzanne.
"The beast has acquired some foul magic to compensate for its lack of intelligence," explained the man. "The ability to change its shape. As you have seen for yourselves, the beast is able to mimic my appearance perfectly."
"You mean to tell me that this beast is the imposter?" Suzanne asked, noticeably surprised.
"That is correct," answered the man.
"We have seen such an event once before," said Suzanne. "In Jipang, a vicious dragon named the Orochi took the shape of their leader. Alice, how common is this magic among monsters?"
"Even among monsters, the ability to shape shift so perfectly is rare," answered Alice. "While we never saw the original Himiko it would've been impossible for the Orochi to fool the people of Jipang for any length of time without exceptional shape shifting accuracy. This is not completely surprising as the Orochi was a dragon and dragons themselves are rare and powerful. In this case, we've seen the copy and original first hand and can attest to similar accuracy here. However, from what His Majesty has said the imposter is a troll: the same monster was saw paintings of in the castle. From everything I've read, trolls don't possess any magic at all. Of course, I also thought that trolls had orange skin."
"But if the imposter were a troll, it would make a lot of sense," said Ron. "It would explain the paintings in the throne room. It would explain the imposter's malice towards the people. It would even go along with our theory of Alex's boss being something else pulling the imposter's strings. This boss gives the troll this shape shifting magic and has it serve as king here to further its own ends."
"And if that boss were the Archfiend," said Alice, continuing off Ron's thought. "That would make even more sense! That would explain why the boss itself isn't the imposter; the Archfiend is busy preparing for its conquest! And the Archfiend lives in the Necrogond, it likely has tons of trolls in its employ! Plus, the Archfiend would definitely have the shape shifting magic we've seen here! With this scheme, the Archfiend would eliminate Samanao from the coming war!"
"Your Majesty, can you tell us anything more about the imposter, specifically if it seemed to be working for anyone or anything?" asked Suzanne.
"I can confirm that the brute did not concoct this operation on its own," replied the man. "That stupid monster does not have the intelligence required. I believe I heard you mention Alex?"
The three nodded their heads. The man continued, "That 'man' is not human either. He too uses the foul magic. That man is really a small devilish looking monster. This monster definitely has some magic in it. They are not the only ones either. There are some sinister women that arrived with the imposters as well. They used evil enchantments to seduce my generals and are likely keeping them enchanted to keep them under their control. They too are not really human."
"Those must be the same women that were in the throne room," said Suzanne. "That explains their evil auras and how all of them have red eyes. Your Majesty, what about this boss we have heard about? And have you heard of any connection to the Archfiend?"
"No," replied the man, shaking his head. "I only know of the others because I saw them when I was captured. Since then, I have been kept in the cell you found me in for every hour of every day. The only words that evil beast has given me were to gloat over the suffering of my people."
"As for the Archfiend," continued the man, and the three could see his regal composure leave him again. "I do not know for sure that he is involved but your theory seems logical. If that is the case then all of this is my fault. I am the one who cut this land off from the world. When outsiders came here, years ago, they tried to warn me about the Archfiend and I sent them away. It was soon after that I was captured."
"All of this is my fault," said the man, his head facing the ground as he kept shaking his head. He repeated the sentence over and over, getting more and more worked up as he did so. Before the three realized what was happening, the man had lost it again.
"All of this is my fault!" repeated the man again, now screaming. "I am no king! I am no ruler! I could not even protect my people! Why could that beast not have killed me and spared me of this torment!"
It took some doing but eventually the group was able to calm the man down. This came not a moment too soon as Ron thought he had seen a figure flying on a broomstick nearby; one of the spies like the one the four had encountered on their way to the castle town. Fortunately, the figure gave no sign that she had heard the man's screaming.
It was the middle of the next day that Frank returned, accompanied by five armed individuals. Ready for the worst, the four stopped them at the mouth of the cave, hands on their weapons. Frank's group was similarly cautious. One of the men in Frank's group stepped forward, a man looking to be in his mid-twenties wearing light armor and carrying an odd looking sword: the middle of the blade was hollowed out with a metal bar halfway up the blade connecting the two edges. The hilt was gold and very large with a green colored grip. A quick visual sweep of the group revealed that all of Frank's group save for one man and Frank himself had similar weapons.
"So you four are the outsiders," said the leader. "I am Matthew, of the rebellion. May I have your names?"
"I am Suzanne and these are my companions: Ron, Thomas, and Alice," introduced Suzanne.
"I have to admit I find everything Frank has told me hard to believe," said Matthew. "But then, after he was arrested I never thought I'd even see him again. He tells me you have a powerful key that aided in your escape. May I see it? You don't need to give it to me."
Alice was hesitant to take the key out until Suzanne signaled that it was alright. Matthew's group eyed the Final Key with great interest.
"What do you think, Sam?" asked Matthew to the man who did not have a sword. The man named Sam was wearing a crimson robe similar to the man the four had met immediately upon arriving in Samanao.
"There's no doubt, there is powerful magic in that key," answered Sam. "It is possible that is how they were able to get past the seal as well."
"Alright, you can put it away," said Matthew to the four. "Frank tells us that you helped another prisoner out: a man that looks just like the king. May we see him?"
Suzanne signaled for Alice to go get the king. "His Majesty, King Crayton the Fourth," introduced Alice upon returning with the man. The man had once again regained his proud composure. After a brief moment of confusion, Matthew's group gave a bow to the kingly looking man.
"It is as we've heard; you look identical to the king, save for the scars and the tattered robes," said Matthew.
"You mean that imposter looks identical to me, save for the wounds he has inflicted upon me," said the man indignantly.
"Forgive me, Your Majesty," apologized Matthew. "But you must appreciate the situation we are in now. You may look just like King Crayton but upon the throne sits another man who also looks like King Crayton. Tell me, how is it this came to be?"
Over the next few minutes, the man retold his story to Matthew's group. Suzanne's group pitched in the details and theories they had come up with as well. The tale noticeably surprised Matthew and his men.
"That is quite a story," said Matthew after they had finished. "When were you replaced, Your Majesty?"
The man's confusion once again surfaced. Suzanne's group could see that Matthew and his men were surprised by his sudden transformation, which the four had seen several times now.
"I do not know," said the man finally. "Time ceased to have any meaning while I was in that cell. I would not have even been able to distinguish day from night were it not that the monster always came to torment me at night."
"Alright, let's establish a timeline," suggested Suzanne. "Eight years ago, a group of outsiders came to Samanao. They told you about the Archfiend but you sent them away. You told us that you were captured soon after. Do you remember how soon?"
The man's eyes started darting around again and Suzanne was worried that he would have another screaming fit. But the man was able to answer the question, "Just over a year, I believe."
"That adds value to your story," said Matthew. "I and many members of the rebellion, especially the older ones, remember a king who cared about his people, a king who would never abuse his people as is now happening. That king began changing about six years ago. Laws were made harsher and harsher until now, when people are being executed every day.
Matthew puts his sword away. With a sigh, he said, "Alright, I trust you. As incredible as your story is, it all fits. Men, put your weapons away."
Most of Matthew's men followed suit. However, one man refused to do so.
"Your wanderlust gets the best of you, Matthew!" shouted Matthew's man. "Your wish to see the outside world clouds your judgment! I have heard nothing but a string of coincidences so far! Surely if you believe that monsters can pull off such a wild scheme than you can believe that these outsiders can come up with a story that fits the facts!"
"Very well, Victor, you may keep your weapon out if you choose," replied Matthew.
"Since you have trusted us, we shall trust you. Ron, you keep on your guard to match Victor. The rest of us will put our weapons away," said Suzanne. "Now, shall we discuss matter further inside the cave? I feel that we are exposed out here."
Matthew agreed and the 11 people went inside the cave. Ron kept his weapons at the ready and an eye on Victor, who did likewise.
"Victor is not the only one who will not accept your story," said Matthew after everyone other than Ron and Victor had sat down. "It is not lightly that even I accept your story and the rebellion is not filled with people that want the seal on Samanao broken. Many joined only to protest the king's harsh methods but are just as mistrustful of outsiders as he is. They will not believe you without proof."
"You bring up a good point," admitted Suzanne. "Even we have found this turn of events hard to swallow. And the rebels are not the only ones that need convincing. If we did manage to put this man on the throne and oust the imposter surely there would be many who would see this man as the imposter and believe that the true king was assassinated. That could very well lead to civil war. Your Majesty, is there any way you know of to prove your identity, beyond a doubt?"
As had happened the last time he had been asked to prove his identity, the man stared off into space. "I told you, I do not know how I even know I am the king!" said the man, despair in his voice. "But I know I am! I know I am…" The man kept repeating that phrase to himself.
Fearing an outburst, Suzanne quickly consoled the man, "It is alright, Your Majesty, we believe you. But that still leaves us in a pickle."
"Perhaps we should move on to another topic for now," said Matthew. "Frank tells me that you recognized the names of Simon and Mathias when you were in prison. He also tells me that Simon is kept in the Shrine Jail, a prison for exiles that lies far to the northwest of here, in the Narls Sea. As far as we know, the prison is only known to Samanao. I take that to mean you have met Mathias or one of their comrades?"
"We met Mathias in a village called Luzami. It is a village of exiles, used by several nations," answered Suzanne. "There is some sort of anti-magic field on the island so nations use it to get rid of scholars and mages. It was Mathias that told us much of what we know of Samanao."
"How were you able to find Luzami?" asked the kingly man. "It is one of the best-kept secrets among the various rulers of the world. We call it the Lost Island, and for good reason."
"That would require another story by itself," answered Suzanne. "The short version is that we heard about it from a group of seafarers that spend a lot of time in that region." Suzanne would have elaborated further but knew that associating the four with pirates would not sit well with the king and would probably not sit well with Matthew and his group either.
"Anti-magic!" shouted Sam suddenly, startling everybody in the cave. "That reminds me! Your Majesty, do you know where the Mirror or Ra is?"
"But of course!" answered the man, his kingly aura returning to him. He quickly realized what Sam was getting at. "Why did I not think of it before? The Mirror is the answer to all of our problems!"
"You mentioned the Mirror before," said Suzanne. "What is the Mirror of Ra?"
A sacred treasure of Samanao," answered the man. "It is kept hidden away from most of the people. The knowledge of its whereabouts is given only to the true ruler of the land. And as the true ruler, only I have this knowledge."
"Forgive me for asking, Your Majesty, but would this knowledge only be looked on as another coincidence?" asked Thomas. "Even if the people find the Mirror where you say it is someone could always claim that you extracted that knowledge from the true king. Speaking of which, if this Mirror is so important than how is it that the imposter doesn't know about it? Forgive me further for bringing up bad memories, but he tortured you every day for years. Surely, he could have gotten you to give up the location of the Mirror."
"You would be correct but the stupid brute never asked about the Mirror!" exclaimed the man. "The idiot took far too much pleasure in simply tormenting me and hardly ever tried to make use of its torture. It is likely the beast does not know about the Mirror's power or significance. The Mirror is part of our culture so it is mentioned a lot, especially in the castle. However, since only the true ruler knows where it is, nobody every tests the ruler on its location. The people simply assume the ruler knows where the Mirror is from the moment of his coronation, when that knowledge is passed on from the previous ruler to the next by whisper. And since the Mirror is such a fundamental aspect of our culture, everybody knows what power it contains and so nobody would ever think to mention it. The stupid beast probably heard about the Mirror over and over but never thought to question where it was or what it does. It probably thought it was just some pretty mirror that the people admired, stored in the castle treasury somewhere."
"But the Mirror of Ra will now be what saves Samanao!" continued the man excitedly. "For the power of the Mirror is the power to reveal the world and all its occupants as it truly is. As one looks into the Mirror one will see past even the most powerful of illusions. We only need the Mirror to prove my identity then! When my reflection is given by the Mirror, you will see me exactly as I am now. When that beast's reflection is seen in the Mirror, you will see the ugly green monster I have told you about."
"That is wonderful, Your Majesty! How difficult will it be to acquire the Mirror? Is it held in the castle?" asked Suzanne.
"No," answered the man. "It is in a cave some distance away from the castle; a deep and dangerous cave. That is the unfortunate part. Since we never have needed to use the Mirror and since its location is to be known only by the ruler of Samanao there is nobody to guard or occupy the cave to keep monsters away from it. And since we do not want the Mirror to be found and stolen by some random burglar the cave it is in is deep enough that any such person would be turned away by the monsters within. In this way, the monsters serve as the Mirror's guardians."
"Then, Your Majesty, let us serve as your swords and shields. Bring us to the cave and we'll help you extract the mirror and save Samanao!" said Matthew.
"Hold it!" yelled Victor suddenly. "I have had enough of this! Matthew, you cannot possibly mean to extract the sacred Mirror of Ra! To have the knowledge of its whereabouts spread to a group of people who are definitely not the true rulers of this nation!"
"Does this mean you believe this man is the true king?" asked Matthew.
"I believe he looks just like him and that whatever foul magic that could be used to duplicate the king's appearance could certainly steal the knowledge of the Mirror from him as well," answered Victor. "I will not profane the Mirror by allowing a group of people, especially outsiders, to the Mirror!"
"Victor, haven't we already profaned the sacred traditions of Samanao by rebelling against the king?" asked Matthew. "Desperate times call for desperate measures. If this man is an imposter but takes us to the Mirror, the Mirror will work to the rebellion's advantage. Regardless of what happens, the Mirror will help us help the people. Surely you can see that!"
Victor opened his mouth to protest but then quickly shut it. After some more time thinking finally Victor agreed, "Alright, Matthew, you're right. I will allow this on only one condition: we must be the only ones to go, and without the outsiders! I will not have outsiders know of the Mirror's location. Surely the six of us are more than a match for any monsters in the cave."
"Though I believe we can use any help we can get, your demand is acceptable to me," replied Matthew. "But what about Suzanne's group? Do you trust us enough to leave His Majesty in our care?"
"I would hear my comrades' opinions on this matter," said Suzanne.
"I trust them," said Alice. "They seem to truly have the good of Samanao at heart."
"I agree," said Ron. "I believe these are virtuous men."
The three looked to Thomas who gave a sigh with his response, "We have no other choice that I can see. This could very well be another trick but without trusting them the Mirror will never be found. And without the Mirror, I can see no other outcome but civil war. But I still have a bad feeling about all of this. How do we truly know these are members of the rebellion? Even if they are, how do we know members like Victor won't decide to ambush us while you're away, deciding to get rid of the outsiders?"
"We will still need your key to get at the imposter," said Matthew. "And we would certainly appreciate your help in infiltrating the castle to expose the imposter to the Mirror. Despite what you might think of Victor, he would never kill you in cold blood. He is simply being cautious and I'm sure we can all respect that."
"Then certainly we can take some extra precautions, as well," said Suzanne. "How about this: we will leave His Majesty in your care and while you are gone we shall move to another cave. We shall disclose its location to Matthew, and only to Matthew, who will give his word of honor not to disclose our location to anyone else until it is time for him to seek us out again. Is everyone fine with this?"
Matthew and the kingly man nodded their heads. Thomas was clearly still uneasy with the idea but eventually gave his assent. "Fine. I believe Matthew is a man of honor. I will trust him," he agreed.
"Then it's settled," said Suzanne. "Matthew, we will leave His Majesty in your hands."
The four settled on a new location to move to and showed Matthew where they would be. Matthew vowed not to disclose their location until he personally led a group to them. The four moved to another cave in the hills and waited for Matthew to return. Four days later he and the king did return, without the rest of Matthew's group.
"Oh my goodness," gasped Alice, who had been on watch when they spotted the two. "Guys, come here, they need help!"
The king looked more or less the same as he had when they had left. He was wearing different clothes and though these new clothes had some tears in them he was otherwise no worse for the wear. On the other hand, Matthew was in much worse shape. His right arm was a bloody pulp with the bone visible in several places. He had severe burns all over his skin. The king had been supporting Matthew as they walked. Thomas and Alice immediately went to work healing Matthew's wounds.
"What happened?" asked Suzanne.
"It was the other prisoner, the one called Frank," answered the kingly man. "On the second day of our journey we started hearing some incredibly shrill shrieks in the distance. Every time we heard one of those shrieks, Frank seemed to get more and more agitated. We thought he could not stand the sound, I must admit it was quite annoying."
"As we neared the cave of the Mirror," continued the man. "There was a particularly loud shriek. It must have been close by. At that shriek, Frank went into a rage. He began grabbing his head and then beating himself until finally he let out a shriek of his own."
"Brainwashing," said Thomas grimly. "I've read about it. One of the reasons Desmond was so hated was because he was a huge fan of it. You use torture to break a person's mind and turn them into your slave but not even the victim knows it. The shriek must have been a trigger."
"That must have been why Frank was kept alive," said Ron. "It was clear he'd spent some time there. We should've wondered why he would still be alive when the king is normally so eager to execute his prisoners."
"We were so busy worrying about the king that we forgot to check on Frank," noted Alice.
The man continued his story, "We tried to get Frank to be quiet but it was too late. They were upon us in force after that. A bunch of kongs and ugly women riding broomsticks. Before they saw me, the women seemed disappointed. It was clear they were hoping to have found the rebellion's center of operations."
"Kongs?" asked Alice.
"A giant turquoise gorilla," answered the man. "We call them kongs. Back to the story, the enemy forgot about the rebellion when they saw me. To Frank's credit, they tried to find out what our mission was. Clearly the brainwashing was still affecting him but he fought against it. He ended up taking his own life rather than tell them anything."
"The fighting was fierce," continued the man. "Matthew quickly realized that we had no hope of winning. He ordered a retreat. But our pursuers were many. We ended up splitting up to try and shake them. One of the others put on my robe to draw the enemy away from us. They knew it would almost certainly be suicide. In the meantime, Matthew and Victor went with me. They fought their best to protect me. Victor fell in my defense. Matthew gave his body to protect me." The man spoke with heartfelt gratitude in his voice.
"I'm afraid he's going to be giving more of it," cut in Thomas. "His wounds aren't fresh enough for us to fully heal. We can keep him alive but he's going to lose his arm."
Thomas was able to get Matthew in stable condition but as he had said, Thomas had to amputate Matthew's arm. The next morning Matthew was able to talk with the group.
"Why did you come to us?" asked Suzanne. "As a member of the rebellion you must have many people you could go to. People with a warm bed that you could stay with."
"But I'm not sure who I can trust," replied Matthew. "That's another reason the rebellion has been slow to move. It's not just because we fear we don't have the power to move openly against the king, it's because inside the rebellion is a lot of mistrust and deception. I picked my team because they were the ones they could trust the most. Now that they're gone… I didn't know who I could turn to."
"So out of all the people in the rebellion, there was nobody else you could trust?" asked Suzanne. "You would trust outsiders above your fellow rebels?"
"In a way it's because you are outsiders that I trust you," answered Matthew. "Samanao is a mess right now. It's not just the king that is the problem, our people are in disarray. Sometimes it seems like everyone has a scheme; like everyone is just out for themselves now. But you're outsiders; you are apart from all of this. Maybe it was my wounds affecting my mind but I felt that you were the ones I could trust the most."
"We're honored that you felt that way based off our one meeting," said Suzanne. "So what do we do now? We still need the Mirror."
"I will give you the Mirror's location," said the kingly man. "In the meantime, I will stay here and look after Matthew."
"Are you sure about that, Your Majesty?" asked Suzanne. "You want to give the location of one of your nation's most sacred treasures to outsiders? And you won't even accompany us to the cave?"
"It is as Matthew said, I feel that I can trust you," answered the man, who seemed more like a king than at any time the group had seen him. "And someone has to look after Matthew. He won't be able to travel for a little while in this condition and he certainly cannot go into town. There will be too many questions; it will be too easy for the imposter to figure out who he is and end him. Besides, I have to repay my debt to him."