A few halls away Azariah spent the last few minutes pacing back and forth in the room assigned to her and Vylasgarden. Vylasgarden observed her checking every wall twice but found no other exit than the entrance from the hall and she already knew that it was guarded by Theod-Rah’s imperial guards. There wasn’t even a window to this room. Theod-Rah made sure to keep her where he wanted her and Vylagarden knew that Azariah was very much aware of it. Vylasgarden sat on the floor with crossed legs; her wounds from earlier were still fresh and were still causing her pain but brief moments of meditation helped ease it. She breathed deeply and with every breath came a pulse of her qi, and slowly she began to heal. Azariah sunk to the floor and began to weep into her hands. After several moments of enduring Azariah’s crying, Vylasgarden got up from her meditation to console her. “You will endure,” she told Azariah.
“You do not understand,” Azariah said looking up at Vylasgarden. “My secret is out. My father could be on his way now to get me. He will surely lock me away in a tower for another century.”
Vylasgarden considered her for a moment, “Theod-Rah gave you his word that he’d keep your secret in his interest.”
“That is what he says but I fear he may tell my father anyway.”
Finally, Vylasgarden asked. “Why did you leave your kingdom?” It was a question Azariah was not expecting. She stopped her sobbing and whipped the tears from her face.
“For over a century my parents forbade my sister and I from leaving the boarders of our province. Until now I have never experienced life outside the Civil Kingdoms.”
“Why would they forbid you leaving?” Vylasgarden followed.
“Because my father has made many enemies in his long lifetime…” Azariah hugged her knees and rested her chin upon them. Again, Vylasgarden considered her. She somewhat understood Azariah’s pain and decided to sit next to her against the bed.
“Do not call me that,” Azariah interrupted sternly.
“Azariah,” Vylasgarden started again. “I cannot say that I know what it is like to go through what you are going through right now, but what I do know is that I would give anything to see my children again. Perhaps that is what you mother and father are thinking this very moment.” Azariah looked up at Vylasgarden. “He may be a king, but he is also a parent. One day you may or may not know what it is like to have children, but until then consider how lost your parents must feel without you.”
“Vylasgarden I wish I could give you your children back. You of all people shouldn’t have suffered that lose.”
“Just promise me one thing,” Vylasgarden followed.
“For as long as we will know each other, our relationship will be an honest one.”
“Yes, of course. I just⏤”
“I understand why you lied and I do not blame you for distrusting us, but now more than ever we need to rely on one another to survive. Can you do that?” Azariah threw her arms over Vylasgarden’s broad shoulders and began weeping again. Vylasgarden rolled her eyes but also smiled slightly as she put an arm around Azariah and patted her back. During their embrace, Azariah noticed the guards outside addressing someone in the hall. Paranoia began to settle as she perked her ears and listened carefully. She could hear the voices of the two guards that stood in front of their door but she also heard some familiar footsteps; wooden heeled boots knocking against the stone floor and leather moccasins ungracefully sliding across the stone as well.
“What is it?” Vylasgarden whispered.
“It’s Riker and Kruzco,” Azariah whispered back. She then heard Riker’s voice next. He was asking the guards about the Shining City’s Music Theatre. Why would he be asking about that? She thought to herself. Then she remembered the conversation he had with the musician earlier outside the palace. She and Vylasgarden waited but no knock came at the door. In fact, Azariah listened as Riker and Kruzco’s footsteps faded away down the stairwell. “They left us,” she said finally. Vylasgarden sensed disappointment in her voice.
“I am sure they are just going out to enjoy themselves without us for the night,” Vylasgarden assured Azariah as she reassumed her meditative pose. Azariah did not reply she just remained motionless in front of the door in silence. Vylasgarden closed her eyes but felt an overwhelming energy coming from Azariah’s side of the room. She became uncomfortable with Azariah’s stillness and could not resist her no longer. Vylasgarden knew that she was not going to be able to meditate with this severity of stress in the room. “Do you want to go after them?”
Azariah replied with haste, “Yes.”
Kruzco and Riker exited the front doors and down the long steps escorted of course with a pair of palace guards. “Why we out here again?” Kruzco asked.
“Because Kruzco, we want to go see the night life here in the Shining City,” Riker answered. He was talking funny and more than usual Kruzco thought. First, he was explaining how important it was for him to leave the palace that night, and now he was acting strange around these guards.
“Look I just need to visit someone who is here in the city,” Riker finally said.
“Why not tell others?” Kruzco followed.
“Because…” Riker started but interrupted himself by playing a quick tune with his flute. A fiery aurora of magic manifested from his instrument and rained on his and Kruzco’s clothing like falling mist, and suddenly their clothes looked elegant and fine. Kruzco’s furs and leather transformed into a fine blue nobleman’s suite with studded cufflinks and black leather boots. Though he looked different, Kruzco noticed that his clothing felt the same as before. Riker’s adventure clothing fancied into a cotton white blouse, grey trousers, and a grey corset vest. His rapier had transformed into a golden walking cane. “…I rather not involve them under the current circumstances.”
“Meaning the princess is not very happy with me right now and I don’t want to deal with her pettiness,” Riker explained. Kruzco vaguely understood what Riker was talking about; it was something about princess Azariah being jealous about something unimportant. He understood basic common but dwarfish was his native tongue from all the communities of dwarves he lived near in the Principium Province. The streets were for the most part empty within the inner circle, but one could hear the nightlife on the other side of the of the inner walls. Zionder drums and chanting was heard on the other side of the wall and Kruzco became mesmerized by the silhouettes of dancers seen stretching up against the buildings courtesy of a massive bonfire. Kruzco and Riker walked across the way to the city theatre. It was an impressive square building that had a golden two-meter-tall figure standing atop it; no doubt of the emperor. As they climbed the stairs to the entrance, they were greeted by massive wooden elongated tribal masks resting on the pillars. There were two rows of blazing braziers on either side of them which illuminated the building with dramatic hue.
Atop the stairs was a labyrinth of hemp rope meant for a line of people to await entry. “Uh, you sure we not late?” Kruzco asked. He and Riker looked around. Not a single person was there, not even guards. But then he heard the neighs of horses from around the corner of the building and a smile peaked from Riker’s face.
“Come on, we may not be too late.” They came around the corner and saw about a dozen or so large carriages and horses with nearly fifty people all packing instruments and equipment for travel. Riker began walking forward but after a moment a guard intercepted him.
“The concert is over my lord. This is a restricted area,” the guarded stated.
“Yes, but I just need to see someone for a moment,” Riker replied anxiously.
“I am sorry my lord but⏤” an approaching older human interrupts the guard. He had white spiked hair and looked to be no more than twenty more years older than Kruzco.
“Come now guardsman, it is only a pair of fans of tonight’s performance,” the man approached Riker and Kruzco and extended his hand. “Carleton Buckley, the conductor. But you already knew that,” the man said gleefully. Kruzco sneered at the man as his hand came Kruzco’s way. He grabbed the conductors hand and immediately noticed how soft his pale hands were. Weak, he thought.
“Hello Professor Buckley. I am here to see Raven Ralohana,” Riker replied shaking his hand.
“Raven Ralohana?” Buckley questioned. “She is just the harpist. Do you not know who I am boy?”
“Sir, I know you and I know Raven. I came to see her before you all depart,” Riker replied.
“Wait just a moment. I know you,” Buckley started.
“Indeed, you do. I was in your class on music theory four years ago back in the Civil Kingdoms.”
“Baron Von Riker,” Buckley said heavily then began maniacally laughing.
“Yes, yes,” Riker replied to the laughter. “Now will you please tell⏤” he continued before being interrupted by the approach of Azariah, Vylasgarden, and an entourage of palace guards.
“Riker!” Azariah shouted as she and Vylasgarden walked up on the scene. She was wearing her disguise from before.
“Ah! Admirers, finally!” Buckley rejoiced as he redirected his attention to the women.
“Um, no,” Azariah replied. “What are you doing out here?” She demanded referring to Riker.
“Go back to the palace. This does not concern you Azariah.”
“Can you go an instant without thinking of yourself?” She said to him angrily.
“I am not sure. Can you manage to do as you are told for once?” Riker replied.
“I do not take orders, I give them,” She followed as she invaded his space with clinched fists.
“Stop it, the two of you!” Vylasgarden roared in a draconic tone that boomed throughout the courtyard of the theatre. To his own surprise, Kruzco was stunned by this outburst and feared Vylasgarden a little more than his first precations. Silence followed and even the people packing their belongings into their carriages stopped what they were doing and watched fearfully of the blue sarkany before them. Everyone involved remained stunned and Vylasgarden retreated from her position with shame. Eventually Buckley spoken up.
“Guard. Get these people out of here,” he commanded. “They are disturbing the peace.”
“Wait, no, I have to see her,” Riker panicked as the guard began to strong-armed him.
Buckley ignored him and walked away into the crowd. “Raven Ralohana does not have time to talk to the likes of you,” Buckley called back to Riker. Riker began to shake with fury as he fought and shouted against the guard. Eventually the guard pushed him hard and took the opportunity to use the space to draw his sword.
“Riker stop this madness!” Azariah yelled at him but Riker only glared at the intimidated guard. Kruzco knew that look. It was the look of a man who only saw an obstacle to his means. Suddenly Azariah was standing in his way but her expression was not haughty, instead her face showed concern and gentleness. Kruzco saw Riker’s anger melt away and the guard watched him carfully. “Is this really that important to you?” She calmly asked as she glanced at his balled fist. Riker looked down at his hands and saw what had become of him. He looked up at her and sighed.
Azariah turned to her entourage of guards with her head high. “Will you pleases assist us gentlemen?” The guards reluctantly approached the guard of the theatre and had a whispered conversation with him. After a moment, they all approached the conductor and his orchestra.
“My lord, please bring the woman forward they seek,” one of the guards requested.
“You cannot be serious,” Buckley replied. “For goodness sakes, we have to be ready to leave in the morning.” The guards only stared at him. Buckley sighed deeply and said, “Very well. Has anyone seen Raven Ralohana?” he called out into the crowd. The crowd then began buzzing as people searched. Azariah turned back to Riker.
“That is the last thing I will ever do for you,” she said as she stormed off the way she came down the stairs followed by her entourage. Vylasgarden went after her and right before Riker could say anything, a feminine voice was heard from the crowd of musicians.
Baron Von Riker
Riker looked and from the crowd a dark haired myrkálfr she-elf stood before them. Riker blinked as if he were dreaming. There she was and just as beautiful as the day he last saw her. More beautiful really. His heart fluttered as she came near. “Raven. I’ve found you,” he said as they embraced and kissed. Riker’s eyes rolled to the back of his head as their lips locked. Intoxicating, he thought.
“I was not sure if I would see you again,” Raven told him still holding his body.
“I did promise that we would see each other again.”
“Where have you been since graduation?” she followed.
“I found work entertaining at a tavern on Unum Island and every day since we parted I longed to be with you again,” he told her with loving eyes. “I could not stay away from you.”
“And here you are. The stubborn halfblood I fell in love with some time ago,” she replied flirtatiously.
“Unfortunately, our reunion must be short I’m afraid.”
“My friends and I have to go away to earn a large sum of money,” he held her face in his hands. “And when we do I will find you again and buy you that home in the Civil Kingdoms we had talked about years ago.”
“My dear Riker, I did not know I meant so much to you,” Raven said with a facetious smile. “I could have sworn you would have charmed another woman into your life.”
“You and only you will be the woman for me,” Riker said before kissing her once more. He then paused for a moment and looked into her eyes. “Marry me.”
“What?” Raven’s grey skin flushed white.
“Marry me,” he said again but more softly. “I want to be your everything and you mine. May our love be ever tangled in each other’s lives.”
Raven looked at him lovingly, but before she could answer him, the union was interrupted by the crashing of armor and impalements of weapons into bodies. A scream pierced the night sky like a bolt of lightning:
It came from behind them, down the stairs from the city’s center. They all rushed to the top stair of the theatre and looked down to witness a hulking halfblood orc standing over Vylasgarden, princess Azariah, and all the entourage. Their bodies slumped and unconscious. Riker moved Raven behind him and Kruzco crouched next to them.
“Who is that?” Raven asked but Riker did not answer. Instead he started to descend down the stairs with his disguised rapier in hand.
“What did you do to them Jared?” Riker calmly said as he neared ground.
“Nothing worse than what I am going to do to you,” Jared replied with pure distain in his voice, and as he began to meet Riker at the base of the stairs, a nervous Perry began to tie the subdued women together with some hemp rope.
Jared stomped toward Riker and from seemingly nowhere a flying Kruzco came down over an unsuspecting Riker with a flaming brazier bowl and as he came down on Jared’s head, Jared delivered a powerful backhand that sent Kruzco sideways and knocked Kruzco over many other braziers that rendered Kruzco stunned. “Your friends cannot protect you,” Jared threatened.
Riker drew his rapier. “All I want is this to be between you and me,” Riker advanced toward Jared who dodged the attack and countered with a punch that connected to Riker’s face. Riker stumbled and dropped his weapon and in the same instant Jared grabbed Riker by the collar of his shirt and lifted him into the air.
“I trusted you and you took my people away from me,” Jared’s works were both hate and hurt. Raven came behind him and smashed her harp against his massive body. Jared turned toward her with Riker still in his hands. “Now I am going to take your people away from you,” he told Riker with his intense yellow eyes. Raven backed away slowly and called for help but not even the city guards running at the scene dared to intervene.
“Jared…” Riker began to struggle. “Don’t hurt anyone else… It’s me you want.”
“We were past negotiating when you lead my brothers to their deaths,” Jared said through his gritted teeth. Riker lifted his hands and brought them up to Jared’s head.
“I don’t think you understand how this is going to end,” Riker said before touching his fingers to Jared’s temples attempting to cast the sleep spell on him again, but Riker felt a pushback as if the energy from the spell was countered. Fury rose from Jared’s eyes who remained awake. “How...?” Riker questioned. “It’s… not possible.”
Jared began to laugh maniacally as he started to strike Riker with his fists repeatedly. “Your tricks don’t work on me anymore.” Riker’s face began to swell and his vision blurred as he struggled to remain conscious. All he could hear were the gasps and shrieks from the onlookers and the cries of his lover nearby; and all he could do was utter the name of the one who saved him before.
Each blow delivered by Jared’s first rung like beating drums in Riker’s ears till Suddenly, he felt a warmth from within him that grew hotter and hotter and eventually he became so warm that Jared had to let him go because of the singeing heat that came from Riker’s body which was now glowing red. Jared and all the witnessed shielded their eyes from the intense light that radiated from Riker. Riker suddenly screamed in agony as a wave of fire expelled from him in all directions like a great explosion.
He found him lying on the steps. He must have passed out. He remembered the pain he felt moments ago but it was all gone now. The burning and even the swelling in his face was gone as if it were cured. He looked around himself and saw that everything was still as if time had stopped and left him alone. Jared was in front of him with his face shielded with a forearm, Kruzco looked as if he was in the middle of standing from being thrown earlier, and Raven also looked as if shielding herself from Riker’s heat wave just moments ago.
He went to her and every step he took echoed as if he were in some confined space like a great chamber. He called her name but she did not respond and she did not move. He was left with only his voice keeping him company in this invisible void.
What is this? he thought but he heard aloud as if he had spoken the words. “Phoenix are you there?” From the night sky above, he heard the beating wings of some grand flying creature. He looked up and saw a gargantuan illuminated bird swooping down into the city and perched atop the theatre. The bird shed golden embers that rained down on the theatre steps. The bird watched him carefully and Riker took a moment to look around again. Everything was still frozen in time.
Your power is greater than I could ever imagine.” The bird just moved its head curiously. “I need a favor from you.”
I have already done you a courtesy, Riker heard from all around him.
“Yes, but I need one more. Please. I will not ask for anything else.”
Never have I encountered a mortal that demanded so much of me. If it were not for our fates being intertwined I would not have intervened.
“What does that mean?” Riker asked and at first the Phoenix did not say anything. “What do you mean our fates are intertwined?”
All that you should know is that you and I have started a chain of guaranteed events that none, not even I can change.
“I don’t understand.”
In time you will see.
“My life is important to you then,” Riker realized as he stood before the Phoenix. “I need you to eliminate Jared the halfblood orc from my life,” Riker said.
Your vengeance and rage will consume you if you chose this path. Using power out of hate will only lead to irony and the destruction of one’s self, the great bird conveyed to Riker.
“I do not care how you do it, I just want him gone,” Riker replied coldly. “What do you want in exchange? A sacrifice?” Riker questioned and a moment later the chain scars on his forearms began to illuminate with an orange fiery light.
Until you have successfully secured my sacred flame, and only when you and your companions have championed yourselves, you shall have the life you have always wanted.
“All I want is to be with Raven and give her everything she needs,” Riker said to the Phoenix.
Despite this you have decided to abandon her for this quest.
“I have taken this quest for her. So that we can live the life she and I always wanted.”
Very well myrkálfr, as a sign of cooperation I shall grant your second favor, the Phoenix spread its large vibrant wings which created a light that blinded Riker’s eyes. When he opened them everything around him continued as if the moments before never happened. The difference was that Jared and Perry were nowhere to be seen.