Chapter 19 - Familiar Faces
Mikaen told Jeronem everything that had happened during the test as they walked through the streets and bridges of Muonsol. Jeronem listened patiently until the story was finished before giving his opinion.
"Well, you're either very courageous or very stupid."
Mikaen laughed at the assessment. "Probably the latter."
"Well, what you saw in your exam was a load of durien fodder. I met the Cygros once; he's pretty young, to be honest. I can't see him killing off reps either, not without invoking the wrath of the rest of Vinta. Question is, why did you think he'd be trying to kill us?"
"Everything you saw came from your mind. I just took the test too, remember? Your mind cooked up an evil Cygros capturing and killing reps."
Mikaen sighed. "I'd like to think that my time in the Knights of the Star has been to my benefit, but I guess it has left me a bit paranoid. Our little encounter with the monks didn't help either."
"I can see your point." Jeronem scratched his cheek, a thoughtful expression on his face. "I've been thinking about the monks too, to be honest. I still can't figure out what that was about."
"Well, maybe the Cygros will know."
A smirk appeared on Jeronem's face. "Or maybe he's the mastermind behind it all."
As they passed through the shopping arcade, Mikaen asked Jeronem, "How much of what I saw in that test was real? I mean, this place looks pretty much the same."
"The Center of Knowledge keeps a record of the memories from anyone who takes an in depth examination for use in future tests, probably to make sure that the information is as up to date as possible. I don't really know how in depth it is; Dad's the one who explained it to me, and you know better than anyone how long-winded he can be."
"What about Teria and Tirinia?" Mikaen asked hesitantly.
A knowing smile crossed Jeronem's face. "Well, Teria's Tirinia's sister, and Tirinia's fresh on your mind, so it's natural for their images to be called up. I saw you in my exam too, y'know. I only met the Myssohn sisters once, about five years ago when I tagged along with mom and dad to attend the council. I was only a kid then, but they were both capable of taking care of themselves. I wouldn't worry."
As they passed a small fast food restaurant, Jeronem stopped and turned to Mikaen. "I'm gonna go get us some breakfast. Wait here a second, okay?"
Jeronem disappeared into the restaurant, a bell on the door ringing as the door closed behind him. With nothing better to do than wait, Mikaen sat on the edge of a large fountain and took in his surroundings.
The shopping arcade was built on a large platform placed higher than the residential areas. As in Mikaen's test, the area looked much like the malls and shopping centers of Earth's Pre-Devastation; shops set in lines along the roads, each carrying a unique selection of goods, from the latest clothing styles to top-of-the-line technology. Several large stores caught Mikaen's eye; Zuen Tech Industries seemed to be largely focused on technology while Meridia seemed to carry supplies and equipment for the more magically-minded. In the middle was Sol-Mart, which seemed to be a more traditional retail store, similar to the one in which Mikaen had lived before joining the Knights of the Star.
Several young idestan children zoomed by on hover boards, drawing stern looks from their elders. Teens wearing stylish (and often bizarre) clothing, joggers, couples, families, and the occasional security guard passed by Mikaen as he sat on the bench and waited. He found it rather comforting; there were only a few places on Earth where people could go about their daily lives without having to worry about the Revs, monsters, or a multitude of other threats that people faced after the Devastation.
At a large shop not too far from where he was sitting, Mikaen saw four men in blue vests struggling to move a heavy-looking pallet while a squinty-eyed idestan, presumably their boss, yelled at them to hurry up. Mikaen was amused to see that although the group bickered amongst themselves, they flipped off their boss in a surprising show of unanimity whenever his back was turned. Mikaen was so engrossed with watching the antics of the group that he didn't notice One and Two walk around the corner behind him.
Several young idestan maidens in tank tops and mini-skirts blushed and giggled as the two Dreamers passed. Eyeing their curvaceous forms with a grin, Two asked, "As much as I love sightseeing, what are we doing here?"
One jerked a finger behind them. "You forget about your little buddy already?"
Much to Two's dismay, Wong had appeared moments after One and Two reached Muonsol and had followed them around like a puppy ever since.
"Hey, can I be Narrator Number Three?" Wong asked as he hurried to keep up with them.
Two replied curtly, "For the fourteenth time, no!"
Pouting (as he had done the previous thirteen times), Wong asked, "Why not?"
Two sighed and said in a strained voice, "If we let you be Narrator Number Three, the next new Dreamer might get it in their head to be Narrator Number Four. Having more than two Narrators would ruin the joke."
Wong whined, "But I want to be a Narrator too!"
Two snapped, "Well I want a million bucks, a blowjob, and some nachos, but I don't see it happening anytime soon!"
One stopped the group and pointed to the restaurant Jeronem entered prior to the Dreamer's arrival. "Okay Wong, listen up; most of the time, you're gonna want to keep a low profile when in the mainstream, which means acting like the norms. Can you do that?"
"Oh boy, can I ever!"
"Good. Go into that store and get three croissant sandwiches with sausage, egg, and cheese, three drinks, and an order of hash browns. Can you manage that?"
"Ten-four!" With a salute, Wong about-faced and marched through the restaurant door.
Two snorted. "I told you he was-"
An ear-splitting scream issued from the restaurant. Wong leapt out of the door a moment later, a bag of food in his hand. With a wild look in his eye, he sprinted away from a large and surprisingly fleet-footed woman who was screaming, "GIVE ME BACK MY BREAKFAST, YOU LITTLE BASTARD!"
The group of men moving the palette dived aside as Wong slammed into and through the palette, sending soft drinks flying and fizzing through the air in a glorious display of chaos and carbonation. The woman bowled over two of the workers as they tried to get up, still screaming as she continued her pursuit.
Looking tired, the workers began to reassemble the stack, their boss yelling at them even more. One and Two traded glances and shook their heads with a sigh before following. As One passed the boss however, he paused for a moment before making a small gesture with his rune hand. The effect was immediate; the boss fell face-first into the ever-growing puddle of sugar-water. One bowed to the worker's cheers and hurried after Two as the boss lay sputtering in the fizzing puddle.
Mikaen, who had watched the incident with no small amount of amusement, quickly stood and started to follow the Dreamer. "Hey, One! Hang on a second!"
"Where are you going?" Jeronem raised an eyebrow at Mikaen, a drink in each hand and his tail wrapped around the top of a small and slightly greasy paper bag.
"That guy, " Mikaen said, "He was-"
"Oh, the thief? Don't worry about it. The restaurant will give her a complimentary meal when she comes back. Sad to say, this sort of thing happens all the time."
"But it was …" Mikaen turned to point out One, but the Dreamers were long gone.
Jeronem shook his head. "Like I said, don't worry about it. How about some breakfast?"
Sighing, Mikaen said, "Breakfast sounds fine."
After eating, Mikaen and Jeronem set off for the palace. The midday heat of the twin suns was scorching but the cool breeze that blew beneath the canopy of leaves kept them cool as they made their way to Muonsol Palace.
One of the guards stationed at the front entrance looked Mikaen over as if searching for some critical flaw before asking Jeronem, "We've been informed of your arrival, Representative Thistlethorn, but who is this?"
Jeronem gestured at Mikaen. "Sir Mikaen of the Knights of the Star, a friend of the Thistlethorn house. Mikaen and I will be representing Homestead in my parent's stead."
The guard looked as though he would have liked to object until Jeronem showed him the official paper signed by Elduran. After peering at the paper for a few moments, the guard reluctantly let them pass.
The entrance hallway of the palace was as glamorous as the outside of the palace. Huge golden statues of creatures both beautiful and horrific lined the crystalline walls on either side of Mikaen and Jeronem. The carpet covering the floor had been woven into an intricate pattern of colors that seemed to sweep around each other in a manner that was quite pleasing to the eye. Mikaen would have liked to look around some more but they were nearing the doors to the audience chamber, as indicated by the jester standing outside the entrance.
"Ah," said the jester, grinning widely, "wee little Jeronem from Homestead comes to Muonsol with a … whoa!"
The jester's voice fell flat as he took in the knight's appearance.
Giving his most friendly smile, Mikaen said, "Sir Mikaen of the Knights of the Star. I'm filling in for Elduran on behalf of Homestead."
The jester forced a bow. "Of course, your knightliness, of course. Ah, the great and mighty Cygros told me to admit both of you when you arrived."
The doors to the audience chamber opened, revealing the throne room of the Cygros of Ircandesta. The throne room was lined with full-bodied trees, the lower branches of which converged around a golden chair situated at the far wall. Glass windows were fitted in the space between branches, giving a small view into the rooms beyond, or more accurately, giving those within the rooms a large view into the central chamber. The entire chamber was illuminated by a a magnificent crystal chandelier that hovered far above the smooth marble floor.
Hundreds of idestan watched as the two representatives from Homestead slowly walked through the chamber. Mikaen focused his attention on the distant throne, trying to suppress his natural dislike of crowds. The lone figure (presumably the Cygros, Mikaen reasoned) reclined on the living throne. At the moment, he was rubbing his forehead, presumably on the account of the small group that currently stood before him.
"How many times have we been through this?" The Cygros asked, the strain in his voice audible even to the distant Mikaen, "I can't justify funding your project."
"But your Grace, I-"
"The answer is no, Bevel! Just like the last six times! Find another location, or another project, or another person with more time on their hands ... and for the love of the Creator, don't waste my time with this again!"
The Cygros tapped at something on the armrest of the throne. The three idestan vanished with a small puff of smoke.
"Just teleported outside." Jeronem assured him. "It helps clear out the queue."
"I bet." Mikaen replied, not feeling particularly assured.
The Cygros was still shaking his head as he called out, "Next!"
"C'mon." Jeronem patted Mikaen on the side and motioned for them to move.
As they approached the throne, Mikaen took in the Cygros's appearance. He wasn't the first fair-skinned idestan Mikaen encountered during his stay on Vinta, but there certainly had not been many. Of course, being an idestan and all, the Cygros could have been centuries older and still look the same age as Mikaen.
More than that, however, something about the man struck Mikaen as familiar, but he could not put his finger on it.
"It's been a long day, so pardon me if I skip the pleasantries." said the Cygros as the two approached. "Now who are you, and what do you want?"
That voice, that face ... it was impossible, but Mikaen could never forget either.
"Well, for starters, you could at least pretend to be paying attention." Mikaen called out in English.
The Cygros's head jerked up, his eyes wide. Mikaen stared back, bemusement narrowly beating out his surprise.
Jeronem's jaw dropped. "Wait, wait, wait! He's that Jyle?"
There was a moment's pause before the Cygros leapt off the throne and hurried forward. Mikaen met him halfway with a bear of a hug that sent a wave of surprised murmuring through those watching.
As they clasped hands and clapped each other on the back, Jyle said, "I shoulda known no two mothers would be cruel enough to give a kid a name like Mikaen!"
Mikaen grinned. "As charming as ever, I see."
"Ain't I just? Hang on a sec." Former Knight of the Star and current Cygros Jyle Cressia hurried back to his throne and tapped one of the control panels embedded therein. "All right everyone, we're done for now."
A disappointed murmur swept through the crowd. Looking annoyed, Jyle said, "I know you lot love your boring politics and all, but that's all your getting today. Now scram!"
The people began filing out of the observation rooms with surprisingly little complaint. Mikaen guessed this wasn't the first time Jyle had called an early day.
Clapping his hands together, Jyle said, "Right. Follow me, gents."
"Where are we going?" asked Mikaen.
"Somewhere a bit more private. I want to hear all about what you've been doing since you disappeared and I get the feeling it's gonna take a while to explain."