Chapter 23 - Suspicions
The days leading to the Council passed with little excitement. Jeronem spent most of his free time at the Center of Knowledge. Mikaen spotted him in the palace very rarely, usually at meals. Even then, Jeronem was usually studying. With Jeronem busy with his schoolwork and Jyle busy with his duties as Cygros, Mikaen found himself with an overabundance of time.
Fortunately, Tirinia was more than happy to help him occupy that time. The two of them were inseparable as the days began to turn into weeks. They talked and argued about magic and technology, sparred in the gardens, explored the more remote areas of the palace, and even managed to sneak in a little shopping. The shopping was for Mikaen for the most part; the arrival of his wings would make his already limited wardrobe obsolete. Still, Tirinia tried on more than just a few outfits, always keen on Mikaen's opinion.
At night, the two seemed to always end up on either the Shoran or Galden balcony, talking about their pasts, their homes, their lives, and everything else. The first week saw Tirinia sitting close to Mikaen as he spoke of his time on Earth. One week later, and the True Knight had his arm around her shoulder to keep away the chill in the air as she spoke of her desire to become a teacher of History in the Longshore Center of Knowledge. Three weeks after their first meeting, the words became soft kisses and tender caresses under a moonlit sky.
Of course, Teria still kept a watchful eye on her sister and her new paramour. While she too had warmed on Mikaen somewhat, Teria had made it quite clear that she wasn't quite ready to become an aunt yet. Romance in Longshore could be a bit on the quick side, but it was still considered good manners to introduce oneself to a bondmate's parents before consummating the relationship.
Mikaen and Tirinia were fine with that, however; they were perfectly happy taking it slow. Tirinia felt uneasy about telling her parents about Mikaen, though sooner or later she and Mikaen knew they'd need to let Mister and Missus Myssohn know about their relationship.
Unfortunately, that had to wait; communications with Longshore were garbled at the moment due to interference from Hurricane Gob, a massive storm system crossing the Myriad Abyss. While it was currently wreaking most of its havoc on the Cleftan region, the effects of Gob were evident even in Muonsol; Mikaen and Tirinia's trips into the city came to a halt as storm after storm hit the idestan capital, making travel outside the palace a bit difficult and a lot wet.
Despite the rain, Mikaen enjoyed his time in Muonsol, though one thing began to bother him as the fourth week began with no sign of the other delegates. One hadn't made a single appearance in weeks, and it was beginning to worry Mikaen.
With Tirinia's aid and his curiosity about his mysterious benefactor reawakened, Mikaen began poring through the library in search of relevant information on the denizens of the Elsewhere. While there was still a good deal of contradiction, Tirinia had found several accounts of historical figures who seemed likely to be Dreamers. It was all speculation, and neither of them really expected to find anything useful, but it was nice to have a shared interest that didn't involve combat.
The fourth week was just about to pass. Mikaen and Tirinia were in the library as usual, though they had to sit at opposite ends of the same table after one of the librarians caught them snogging in the nonfiction section. Oddly enough, the librarians didn't mind Tirinia putting her feet on the table. She didn't wear shoes; apparently most Shoran tribes didn't, as their feet were covered with fur much as the rest of them. Only the pads of her feet were bare, and quite sensitive as Mikaen had already found out much to Tirinia's chagrin.
"Don't." She said in a warning tone as Mikaen's hand 'accidentally' wandered near her foot.
Mikaen gave her his most innocent look. The look she gave him made it clear even without the bond that she wasn't buying it for a second. Reluctantly he pulled his hand back and continued looking through his book, 'The Age of Excelsia'.
"It's amazing how a historian can take something quite interesting and make it seem dull." Mikaen commented idly. "Woman fights killer robots, re-establishes the Balance sect, and ... wow. Both of them? Anyway, they make it sound as dry as an algebra textbook."
"The movie was great." said Tirinia, her eyes focused on the pages of 'Secrets of the Soulstream'. "My aunt played one of the tigreth invaders. I heard there was a sequel in the works, but ..."
After a few moments of silence, Mikaen glanced up only to see Tirinia eyeing the row of bookcases to her right with a surprisingly serious expression.
He started to ask her what was wrong when her voice whispered through his mind. "Someone just said your name."
"Small surprise." He thought back. "They've been talking about me since I first got here. 'The Cygros's old war buddy.'
"I don't think so." Her eyes narrowed. "It's a woman's voice."
"Shh!" Tirinia continued reading, but Mikaen could tell it was just a ruse from the way her right ear twitched.
He almost dropped the book when he heard the voice through Tirinia's ears.
"You're overreacting, Rydiana." said someone that sounded suspiciously like Jyle.
"Am I?" said the second voice, this one feminine. "The Cleftan representatives said there were no signs of the other groups. With all the other disappearances-"
"Other disappearances?" The pseudo-Jyle asked, voicing Mikaen's thoughts.
"Didn't you see the report on the news last night?"
"Actually, I was more interested in the newscaster." Mikaen repressed a mental snort; the kid was sounding more like Jyle by the minute.
The feminine voice sighed exasperatedly. "This is serious, Jek! Something is going on!"
"Look, sis, I know you're worried about Tyrn, but the guy's one of the most skilled energists in Jai Vye. I'm sure he can take care of himself."
The name was foreign to Mikaen, but not to Tirinia. Mikaen was curious, but Tirinia quickly held a finger to her lips before could open his mouth.
"He would have sent a message by now." The woman's voice continued, sounding worried "He'd be here, I'm sure of it."
"I agree, but do you really think bothering dad's old war buddy is a good idea? I mean, we don't even know the guy. Suppose he says no? Suppose he tells dad about Tyrn?"
The female voice made a scoffing noise. "Dad said Mikaen was known as 'True Knight' back on Earth. With a name like that, how could he not help? Look, I don't care if he tells dad! I just want to know Tyrn is safe."
There was a sigh from the male voice. "Look, sis, if you're really that worried, I'll go grab the Jenkins twins and check it out. There's no reason to bring a complete stranger into it."
"The Jenkins twins? Did you land on your head at your last practice? I'm not trusting Tyrn's safety to those two flakes. I'm asking Mikaen, and that's that."
There was the sound of light footsteps, shortly followed by the sound of slightly heavier footsteps hurrying after the first. "Okay, say that there is something going on: the guy's been living in Homestead for over half a year. Homestead, Rydiana! Do you actually think that he'd be able to do anything after months of doing nothing?"
Mikaen narrowed his eyes at the bookcase. It was one thing to talk about him behind his back, but it was another thing altogether to question his abilities. Nodding at Tirinia, he rose from his chair and walked over to the bookcase just as the male voice added, "I mean, he's got to be out of ..."
The male voice trailed off as Mikaen strode around the bookcase and headed toward the two conspirators. They were both idestan, one a male about Mikaen's age, the other a woman who appeared slightly younger. The male looked amazingly like Jyle, only with typically dark idestan skin. Mikaen would've known it was Jek even if he hadn't heard his name come up in the preceding conversation.
Mikaen fixed his gaze Jek, who looked like a young Jyle. "Out of practice, huh?"
"Crap." Jek muttered. "I told you they were bonded."
A sense of smug self-satisfaction floated across Mikaen's mind as Tirinia walked up behind him and slipped her hand into his. Mikaen let the young idestan boil under his gaze for a moment longer before turning to Jek's sister, a pretty young idestan woman with light brown hair.
She seemed as nervous as her brother, but managed to say, "S-sir Mikaen, I'm Jyle's daughter, Rydiana. I'd like to ask … that is, if you wouldn't mind-"
"Ah, so this is where you two have been hiding!"
Rydiana and Jek jumped at the sound of their father's voice. As Jyle approached, Rydiana whispered something in Jek's ear. He nodded before turning his attention back to Mikaen "We'll talk about this later."
"I see you met the kids." Jyle said, watching as his children disappeared down an adjoining corridor. "What were they asking you about?"
"I'm not sure." Mikaen gave his old partner a grin. "I think you scared them off."
Jyle waved a hand dismissively. "Meh. They probably wanted to hear stories about Earth. They ate those up when they were younger, especially Jek. Good day, Miss Myssohn. I see you're still holding on to Mikaen with an iron grip."
Tirinia blushed, her hand tightening around Mikaen's. This made Jyle chuckle.
"Good on you." He said, nodding approvingly. "You'll be a good influence on him. Keep him outta trouble.
Tirinia opened her mouth to respond, but was interrupted by a burst of music that seemed to come from her right pocket. She pulled out a cellphone and glanced at the screen for a few moments.
"Teria's looking for me." She gave Mikaen a peck on the cheek. "I'll see you at lunch, okay?"
"Okay, Tyr. See you later."
Mikaen watched Tirinia as she left the library. She turned long enough to give him one last smile before disappearing behind the heavy wooden doors.
Jyle plopped down onto the seat beside Mikaen with a relieved sigh. "Ah ... so, things are going well between you two, I take it?"
"I hope so." Mikaen blushed at his response, much to Jyle's amusement.
"I'm glad. She always was a sweet girl." After a brief pause, Jyle added. "Maria would've approved."
"Yeah, she would've liked her." Mikaen agreed. "Teria too. I can just imagine all three of them getting up to all kinds of trouble."
"I hear that." The smile on Jyle's face was tinged with relief. "I'm glad. She'd have wanted you to be happy."
"I know." Feeling awkward, Mikaen let out a small cough and asked "So anyway, what's the word on the other delegates?"
"Cleftans just showed up. Can't blame them for being late; hurricanes are always hard to work around on Vinta, what with the size of the Myriad Abyss."
"And the others? Jai Vye, Rimstak, and Ronisgald?"
"Eh, probably delayed by Gob. Communications are still a mess, but I'm sure they'll be along once it's safe."
Mikaen knew Jyle well enough to recognize that the Cygros was worried, even if his tone was confident. Still, even if Mikaen wanted to help, he wasn't sure how. As such, he didn't press the point.
Jyle hit the table lightly and said, "C'mon; let's go for a walk."
As Mikaen rose from his seat, a slight pang of pain flashed across his back. It subsided almost instantly, but not instantly enough for Jyle not to notice.
"You okay?" Jyle asked, concern in his eyes.
"I'm fine." Mikaen told him. "Just a little spasm, that's all."
"Trystan said you were getting close. How are you feeling? I mean in general."
Mikaen resisted the urge to sigh; Tirinia was fussing over him too at that point. "Well, I can't fit into my armor anymore. Even my shoulder plates feel a bit tight. Weird thing is I don't feel any different."
"What do you mean?" Jyle asked as they left the library.
"I thought I'd feel, y'know, encumbered. Like someone stuffed a pillow in my back or something."
"Well, you don't look much bigger. Maybe that's normal. A shame the Jai Vye group isn't here; Windstar's eldest had his Gineros last year. He might've been able to give you some info."
They walked through the hallways in silence for a few moments. There had been a brief surge of activity after Mikaen's arrival, mostly preparations for all the representatives. As the days passed, however, the excitement quickly turned back into the normal routine. A man with a vacuum slowly worked his way down the hallway with barely a nod at the Cygros.
"I've told them about the ear-buds." Jyle muttered, frowning at the servant as he continued down the hallway.
Mikaen chuckled and shook his head as they continued walking. "Some things are universal. So, where are we heading?"
"Meeting room. I thought you might like to get a look at the Cleftan delegation."
Shrugging, Mikaen said, "Sure. I might as well kill some time before lunch."
The Cleftan Region was a trio of large landmasses to the southeast of Ircandesta. Mikaen knew little of the country other than it was covered in a perpetual storm. He knew nothing of the people that lived there; he was fairly certain he had never seen a Cleftan pass through Homestead.
As Jyle opened the door to the same room in which the Cygros had met with Mikaen, Jeronem, and the Myssohn sisters, Mikaen knew for a fact he had never seen a Cleftan; he would have remembered anyone looking that strange.
There were two people sitting on the other side of the large table, but Mikaen could only guess at their gender; both of the Cleftans were completely covered by clothing. Mikaen supposed there must be some cultural significance to the colorful attire that covered every inch of their bodies, but their eyes were covered as well; one wore goggles and the other some manner of visor.
"Greetings Cygros Cressia." said the one with the goggles. "I trust everything is well in Ircandesta?"
"As well as ever, I suppose. How was the trip, Councilor Dreas?"
"More interesting than I care to explain." The Cleftan Councilor let out a tired sigh. "That's the last time I go overland during a hurricane."
The other Cleftan nodded at Mikaen. "Who is this?"
"Councilor Dreas, Councilor Yrrid, this-" Jyle gave Mikaen a pat on the back, "-is Sir Mikaen. He's representing Homestead at the Council."
"A sentient representing Homestead?" The Cleftan named Yrrid asked, amusement in her voice. "I should like to hear the story."
"Yrrid." Dreas said, looking sharply at his fellow Councilor, "Now is not the time."
"My pardon." Yrrid bowed her head.
Coughing, Jyle said, "Well, I'm glad you arrived in any case. We're still waiting on the Jai Vye, Ronisgald, and Wenapaj delegations to arrive."
Yrrid and Dreas exchanged a look at this, though what kind of look they exchanged was open for debate.
"That's odd." Dreas said as he turned his attention to the Cygros. "Usually we're the last to arrive. Is there some kind of problem?"
"No problem." Jyle said just a little too quickly. "Just delayed due to the wrath of Gob, no doubt."
"Jai Vye perhaps, but Ronisgald? They could've traveled overland; Gob's nowhere near them."
After a moment's hesitation, Jyle said, "Well, maybe they're just being fashionably late. You know how King Iniagus likes his entrances."
The door to the meeting room slammed open, making everyone at the table jump. As they turned, a skinny man in regal attire befitting a renaissance festival leapt through the doorway and held out his arms.
After a few moments of silence, Jyle turned back to the Cleftans. "Ah, I see the Wenapaj delegation has arrived."
"Indeed we have! How lucky for you!" The man paused for a moment to twirl one of the tips of his magnificent bushy red mustache before taking a seat beside the Cygros and propping his feet up on the table. Mikaen caught Jyle's eye only for the Cygros to quickly shake his head and mouth the word 'later'.
"We were just talking about the-"
"I know, I know." Iniagus said, waving off the rest of Jyle's statement. "We've been holding up the Council. Couldn't be avoided, and I'll tell you why."
"Actually-"Jyle said, but Iniagus was already talking again.
"It all began few weeks ago, at my youngest daughter's birthday party. Sera just turned three, and she just had to have one of those Dreamspark pillows they make in Longshore. So what could I do?"
"Go to Longshore?" Yrrid suggested, drawing a sharp look from Dreas.
Iniagus snapped his fingers and pointed at Yrrid, saying, "Exactamungo! Well, it just so happens that I already had a trip planned; we're trying to diversify the ecosystem in Wenapaj by importing some animals, and I needed at least two of the Triumvates' okay on it."
"Wait a second," Mikaen said, raising his hand to stop the conversation. "I'm sorry, but isn't that really dangerous?"
"Oh, it's extremely dangerous, especially with air travel being so expensive of late. Fortunately, we found a solution."
"Not doing it in the first place?" Dreas asked, but it was clear from his tone he didn't have much hope.
"Wrong!" Iniagus said cheerily. "We only got big strong creatures that should be able to survive the trip."
There was a long moment of silence at the table.
"Oh, it's okay." Iniagus told them. "We're air-dropping them into the country. Safest way for everybody, I'm sure."
Another long moment of silence followed. Mikaen wasn't sure if he should laugh, or quietly go find a guard.
Iniagus started to continue, but Jyle quickly cut him off. "It's fine, your Majesty. To be honest, you aren't the last to arrive. We're still waiting for Rimstak, Jai Vye, and Ronisgald."
Iniagus's eyes bugged out slightly, making him look even more comical. Really? Wow. That is a surprise. I mean, The Guildmaster's usually a bit late, but hey; he's Rimstakken. What do you expect? The Triumvates, on the other hand, would eat their right hands before showing up late. So where are they?"
"That is what we were just discussing." Jyle told him. "As I've already told the Cleftan and Homestead delegates, they've probably just been delayed a little."
"Must be some delay." Iniagus said, sounding puzzled. "I was told the Guildmaster's group had already departed. I was a bit surprised; usually we take the same transport since our countries are so close."
The silence that followed was much more ominous. This time, it was Mikaen who first spoke.
"Jyle?" He asked, looking at his old friend expectantly.
Jyle sighed and said "Look, I'm sure there's a good explanation."
"There had better be." Dreas said. "It's been decades since a country's abstained from the Council."
"There's nothing wrong." Jyle insisted, his eyes on Mikaen. "Look, the weather should be cleared up in a few days. I've got engineers working to boost the signals, so we should be able to hear something by then."
"If they aren't already here." Mikaen added. He may have suspected something was wrong, but there was no reason to unduly worry the other delegates.
Jyle gave him a grateful nod. "Exactly. Until then, you might as well make yourself at home."
"Excellent!" Iniagus said, clapping his hands together, "Then we might as well start with lunch! I am famished!"
Jyle gestured to the door, saying, "They should be serving lunch about now. It's nothing fancy, but-"
"But nothing! I love hobnobbing!" Iniagus looked at Mikaen curiously. "Do you hobnob much?"
Mikaen wasn't sure what to say. Fortunately, Iniagus didn't seem to expect an answer; without another word, he leapt up from his chair and headed for the door.
"Well," Jyle said, shaking his head. "He's as spry as ever."
Dreas snorted. "That's a polite way to say it. I suppose we'll take our leave as well. You'll let us know when there is news of the other delegations?"
"Of course." Jyle said, standing up with Dreas and Yrrid. "Until then, I hope you enjoy your stay."
"Thank you, Cygros Cressia. Until the next."
"Until the next." Jyle repeated.
Once they were gone, Jyle sank back into his chair and let out a sigh.
Glancing over at Mikaen, he let out a chuckle and said. "Never thought I'd end up a politician. Thanks for the support, by the way; I kinda thought you'd be the one putting me on the spot, not Dreas."
"Oh, believe me." Mikaen said as he rose from his chair. "I am suspicious; every instinct in me tells me there's something wrong."
"And?" Jyle asked, raising an eyebrow at his old friend.
"And Vinta isn't Earth. There aren't any Revs here and the monsters seem to avoid the major cities. You say it's fine, and I'm inclined to believe you. Now if you'll excuse me, I think Tirinia's wanting me to meet her for lunch."
Mikaen had scarcely reached the door when Jyle called out, "Mikaen?"
After a few seconds passed without comment, Mikaen glanced back at Jyle. The Cygros was still sitting at the table and facing the opposite wall.
"What is it?" Mikaen asked.
Jyle shook his head. "Never mind. Go have lunch with your girlfriend."
Mikaen gave him a mock salute."Don't have to tell me twice."