Chapter 10 - Missionaries
The road to Muonsol is a long one to travel by foot. Vinta is a large world after all, and Ircandesta is easily one of the largest of its continents. Mikaen and Jeronem already trekked for a week across the trail to Muonsol, and according to Jeronem, they still had a ways to go. Still, most people going to Muonsol didn't walk there, a fact they were reminded of regularly as airships and floaters soared through the sky high above them. Elduran offered to summon something they could ride, but they unanimously refused; somehow, starting their adventure on foot seemed more appropriate.
They met with little trouble from animals or otherwise. The main roads of Ircandesta were well maintained and protected by numerous enchantments, courtesy of the Center of Knowledge. What few aggressive creatures were there wouldn't bother people without being bothered first (such as Jeronem's durien, as Mikaen was quick to remind the vuestan every time he was inclined to go exploring off the path).
Not that there was only the path and the forest, mind you; like in any post-industrial society (magic, tech, or otherwise), the roads passed through a number of cities and towns. They stopped by a few of these on the way, usually to check into an inn or hotel for the night, or to have a meal that neither of them had to cook. During one of these visits, Mikaen met his first idestan.
The idestan range from lightly tanned to jet black in skin tone, typically are taller than the average Galden, and are usually fair-haired. Their most distinguishing trait, their pointed ears, also led Mikaen to another discovery; despite the similarity in their appearance, the term 'elf' is considered a highly offensive racial slur by the idestan people. Fortunately, Jeronem stepped in and mollified the idestan before the situation could escalate.
Despite the occasional hiccup, Mikaen and Jeronem were both in high spirits. Mikaen felt positive that getting home was in his grasp, provided Elduran was correct. If Trystan could teach Mikaen how to return home, perhaps coming back wouldn't be so difficult. Once the Revs were eliminated (it was astounding how simple a goal it seemed when he thought about it), Mikaen would return and continue the life he had made for himself back in Homestead.
Of course, the idea of roaming across Vinta had merit as well; he had read of many fascinating places that he'd just love to visit: the underwater country of Jai Vye, the ever-changing Cleftan Region, the technological superpower of Rimstak, and the wide, sweeping plains of Longshore. Still, he knew that no matter where he went that Homestead would always be waiting for him at his journey's end.
Jeronem seemed to be thrilled to be away from Homestead and his parents. He was even more excited about his upcoming exams at the Center of Knowledge, and talked of little else during the trip. He spent hours storing spells in his staff, only to spend about five minutes emptying the same spells for practice. One of Jeronem's favorite spells was a burst of prismatic light that transfixed the target (which, for lack of other options, meant Mikaen) and obscured the target's vision with a rainbow of color. Mikaen had never taken mind-altering drugs before, but he imagined the effect must be similar.
One morning, nearly two weeks after they had left Homestead, Mikaen and Jeronem had been walking for about an hour when they heard the sound of snoring. Much to their surprise, the snoring turned out to be coming from One, who they found sound asleep under a tree beside the road.
Jeronem stopped a moment after Mikaen, a curious look on his face. "Who is that?"
"It looks like One." Mikaen said in a hushed tone.
"One?" Jeronem's eyes went wide. "Wait, you mean Dreamer One? That's him?"
Seeing Mikaen's nod, a grin spread across Jeronem's face. Without another word, he started tiptoeing over to the Dreamer.
"What are you doing?" hissed Mikaen. "Jeronem, don't-"
Jeronem waved impatiently at Mikaen without looking at him, but that wasn't why Mikaen fell silent; another One appeared just behind Jeronem with an air-horn in hand. Winking at Mikaen, One tiptoed in sync with Jeronem until they were only a few feet away from the sleeping One. One quickly darted out of Jeronem's field of vision as the young vuestan glanced back at Mikaen with an impish smile on his face.
Jeronem drew in a large breath, but just as he started to let out a shout in the recumbent Dreamer's ear, One held the air horn up and let out a rocketing blast that made Jeronem leap at least two feet in the air. He spun about, hands over his undoubtedly throbbing ears as he glared at the now-laughing Dreamer.
"I'm sorry." One managed between laughs, "That was just too perfect."
Jeronem glared at the Dreamer, hands still over his ears. "It's not funny! By the Creator, my ears are still ringing!"
"Easily fixed." One snapped his fingers. "Better?"
Jeronem lowered his hands, a look of disbelief on his face. "Yeah, actually."
"Glad to hear it." One said, clapping Jeronem on the back and earning another glare. "So, how are you two finding the road?"
"Long." Mikaen replied. "and why are you here?"
"Here to give you some advice, actually. Oh, relax; it's nothing like that."
Mikaen looked down to see his hand clasped tightly around Justice's hilt. Flushing, he released his grip. "Old instincts."
"Nothing wrong with that." One told him. "Better prepared than dead. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know to take the right path the next time the road splits."
"That's not right." Jeronem looked suspiciously at the Dreamer. "Dad's directions say go left."
"Both paths will get you there. I'm just sayin' that the right path might be a bit more interesting."
"Uh-huh." Mikaen said, putting his hands on his hips and fixing One with a skeptical look. "And what character-building obstacle have you set up for me there? Monsters? Angry hell-spawned fiends? A cranky dragon perhaps?"
"What?! You really think that I would stoop so low?" One asked, a mock look of hurt on his face. "I'm shocked to the core, the very core sir, that you think I'd do such a bad, nay horrible thing. Well, if that's what you think of me, I'll take my leave. Good day, sir!"
Turning on his heels, he marched past Mikaen and Jeronem toward a door that Mikaen was fairly certain hadn't been there moments ago. Mikaen was slightly surprised to see the door open to a room much larger than the tree should have been able to contain. It was fairly bland; white walls, grey carpet, and table in the corner with a beige vase resting on its top. A man in traditional butler garb stood in the center of the room bearing a tray with a single glass of some partially translucent dark brown liquid.
"Tea, sir?" Mikaen heard the butler ask as the door closed shut of its own volition. Moments later, the door vanished without a trace.
"That was ... odd." Shaking his head, Mikaen motioned to Jeronem, saying, "C'mon; let's get moving."
Another few hours passed without incident as they continued down the road, speculating on what they had just seen. They weren't so much bothered by One; Mikaen's studies had prepared him for a certain measure of eccentricity in the denizens of the Elsewhere. The mysterious door and the room beyond was a point of some interest however, as the nature of the Elsewhere and the gray rooms within was not known to any but the most select norms.
After a few minutes they did indeed encounter a fork in the road. Baths looked identical, and there was no sign to indicate where either path may have led.
Jeronem glanced at Mikaen. "What do you think?"
Mikaen fished out the One's makeshift compass and let it fall to the ground. It spun around a dozen times or so before pointing to the left path.
As he knelt to pick up the paper, the paper suddenly pointed back toward the right path. A moment later, the compass pointed back toward the path behind them.
One was toying with him, that much was obvious, but to what purpose?
A surge of annoyance tinged with defiance came over the wayward knight. Snorting, he started down the left path. After a few moments, he glanced back to find Jeronem still staring at the fork in the road, looking pensive.
"Are you sure? I mean, he said-"
"I never was one for taking the easy path." Mikaen motioned for Jeronem to follow.
Still looking nervous, Jeronem hurried after Mikaen. The path was a bit more winding, but otherwise no different than the road they had traveled thus far. As the hours passed, the floaters and airships flying overhead became few and far between. Mikaen and Jeronem were both glad, as it was much easier to enjoy the beauty of the forest without the constant whine of engines piercing the air.
They had only been walking for a few hours when a feeling of apprehension washed over Mikaen. He stopped abruptly, his hand moving instantly to Justice's hilt.
Jeronem continued a few more steps before he noticed Mikaen had stopped. "Hmm? What's wrong?"
Mikaen didn't reply. His attention was focused on a rather nondescript brush a little ways from the path. He had learned long ago to trust his instincts, and at that moment his instincts were screaming that someone was there.
Jeronem walked over to Mikaen and put his hand on his shoulder. "You feeling all right?"
A tell-tale click shot through the air, followed by the whine of an energy weapon charging power.
Mikaen spun around and tackled Jeronem to the ground. Before Jeronem could protest, a blast of blue energy shot from the bushes and enveloped the area where he had been standing. Leaves kicked up in his hasty retreat hung suspended in the air as though held by invisible strings.
Jumping to his feet, Mikaen pointed at the bush and shouted, "Burn!"
A stream of fire erupted from the tip of his finger, consuming the undergrowth in moments before dying out.
Two monks wearing the robes of the Celestial Church leapt from the charred remains of the undergrowth and fled in opposite directions.
Hoisting Jeronem to his feet, Mikaen said, "Jeronem, you g-"
"-get the one on the left, right." Before Mikaen could protest (he intended to tell Jeronem to go hide), Jeronem swept his staff around, creating a disc of light beneath his feet that swiftly sped off with the young vuestan riding it like a skateboard.
Shaking his head, Mikaen rushed after the other monk. Adrenaline surged through him as he sped through the forest floor. While he never had been one to go looking for trouble (at least prior to Maria's death), he nevertheless felt excited to be back in action again after his seven month hiatus.
Mikaen's monk was fast, but not quite fast enough. With a flying leap, Mikaen tackled the robed man to the ground, knocking the gun-like object out of his hand. The monk made a grab for it, but Mikaen kicked it beyond his reach.
The monk stuttered, his eyes full of terror as Mikaen pressed the edge of his sword to his throat.
"Why did you attack us?" Mikaen demanded. "Who are you working for?"
With a final fear-filled glance, the monk promptly vanished.
After the initial shock faded, Mikaen spun around, his keen eyes scanning for any sign of the monk, visual or otherwise. There was nothing, not even the snapped twig or a remnant swirl of stream energy.
He was still looking around when he felt something poke him in the back. He spun around, his sword slicing through the air, but no one was there. Feeling another odd poke, he spun about again but once again saw no one.
"What the-" he said.
A burst of pain across his back, much harder than a mere poke, made him fall to his knees. The pain spread slowly across his back, growing more intense by the second. It was as though something was moving beneath his skin, every motion more agonizing than the last. His mind awash with confusion, Mikaen tried desperately to claw at whatever had just struck him to no avail.
The pain drove him to his knees. Just as it became more than he could bear, it stopped, leaving nothing but a lingering ache.
Mikaen remained still, his breathing slowly returning to normal. He was still kneeling in the grass when an out of breath and annoyed-looking Jeronem pushed his way through the forest overgrowth. The annoyed look on his face was quickly replaced with concern. "By the Creator! Are you okay? Did he shoot you?"
"I-I don't know. I don't think so."
"Come on, up we go!" Jeronem helped Mikaen to his feet. "Just walk it off."
"Wait! The monk dropped his weapon."
Jeronem looked where Mikaen indicated and quickly picked up the weapon with the end of his furry tail. Together, they limped back toward the path.
"The other monk?" Mikaen asked, as they hobbled along.
"He got away too. I don't understand it; I almost had him, and then BANG! He's gone! No residual magic or anything!" Shaking his head, Jeronem helped Mikaen sit down on a large stone on the side of the road.
"Thanks." Mikaen said gratefully. "Any idea what that was about?"
"What, the monks or you?"
"The monks. Don't tell me that's how they convert the unbelievers on Vinta."
Jeronem sniggered and shook his head. "Back before the Council maybe. I dunno, Mikaen; your guess is as good as mine."
Once ache fully faded, Mikaen asked, "What about that device he was using?"
"Oh, yeah!" Jeronem swung his tail around so that he could relieve it of the strange device. He fiddled with it for a few moments, his eyes wide with unmasked curiosity that quickly turned to annoyance. After a few moments, he let out an exasperated sigh and tossed it to Mikaen. "I think it's broken."
"Maybe in the fall. Give me a sec." Mikaen turned the weapon around in his hands. He probed it gently for switches, wishing that Jyle was with him; all tekkers were good at analyzing and manipulating new technologies, but Jyle was a master. He could have lifted the weapon from the monk and used it against him in mere seconds.
As Mikaen's probing fingers pressed against a small indention, a blue light shot from one end of it, encompassing Jeronem. The young vuestan went completely rigid, as though frozen in place.
"Jeronem!" Mikaen dropped the device instantly. The moment he took his finger off the trigger, the blue light faded.
Jeronem seemed no worse for wear. "Sorry, you said somethin'?"
Relieved, Mikaen retrieved the device. "It's some kind of stasis beam. They weren't trying to kill us; they were trying to capture us."
"Capture us? But why?"
"Ransom, I'd imagine. You are the son of Homestead's Elder, after all."
To Mikaen's surprise, Jeronem blew a raspberry at him. "Get serious, Mikaen. Even if they happened to know who I was, they'd risk pissing off my father and a nation of spell-shapers."
"Not exactly the healthiest plan."Mikaen admitted as he looked back at the weapon. It felt very much like a pistol in his hand, though the device looked considerably different than any handheld firearm that he had seen. Unfortunately, there were no marks of any kind branded on it, not even a manufacturer's symbol.
Mikaen paused a moment before admitting, "One tried to warn us."
"You think we should go back?" Jeronem asked.
A few hours later, Mikaen and Jeronem reached the fork in the road once again, only to find One sitting beneath a tree that had certainly not been there earlier.
"Not a word." Mikaen told him as they passed, causing the Dreamer to grin all the more widely.