Chapter 14: Lost
The same light from the passageway the other side of Acropolis bounded her in blinding bliss. The air was not darker, but cooler. Circinus glided bravely into the light. Medora was right under their nose, the next stop on the journey, but the unicorn city had returned sooner. Aside from the marketplaces, the sprawl opened into wide boulevards of stone mosaic, shining whiter than Acropolis, and inlaid with lavender alabaster. The buildings were crowned with decals of gold. The streets dipped into a river wide enough to breach the sea.
That was the moment Acacia and Andelko looked up to the sky. The city was not underground; the man-made cavern entrance was. The city revealed itself in openness. Even further away were the swirling cone spires of the main fortresses. Even wider and broader it was than Agora-atlantisia.
Mandolin and tamburitza players huddled on the street corners. Andelko went up to one of the mandolin players and asked for an armory shop and an exit. The man pointed to the other side of the spires supposing it was close to a shop. Acacia hoped anyone knew the exit from the city closest to Medora.
The hustle of the streets silenced her after she had another vivid vision. Jan’s father spoke with velvet tunes yet irrepressible murmurs. “Jason-son, never let the fruit fall into any other hands. It is our world.” Jason hesitated, “Father, I can’t go after it. It doesn’t even belong to Daphne—belongs more to you than me.” His father shared a sharp appeal in his eyes, intensified by age. Jason’s visage yet was full of innocence while his eyes opened, honest and wise. His dad looked like he needed to fling a dagger at him but instead dispensed his son a key. The exact copy Acacia carried from the passageway.
This time Acacia kept her divinities to herself, waiting for the entire picture. Her closest priority was finding costumes for the ball. Much inheritance waited for her behind doors of the passage, but it felt best to ration for fear it wasn’t her possession.
A squabble broke their attention. Two merchants accused each other of letting go a thief.
“It wasn’t I, it was Milko—that rapscallion boy, always beleaguering me. You let him go.” Acacia tried best to tune in, but the conversation escalated with hurry.
“You, always beleaguering me—make up for my loss or I’ll recompense all for the war.” The younger merchant swiped his sword from the instigator’s sheath. Perhaps the younger merchant was his slave or apprentice.
“It was you, boy, and believing you; and it was the unicorns that helped do it!” The accent of unicorns resounded unmistakably with tilting rhythms in his voice, and unmistakably mixed with the accent of Chiron’s tribe. Distant cries of other unicorns were heard.
“The unicorns aren’t in need of my help for their deeds.” The older merchant practiced the same slide of hands, removing without permission the large scimitar from the sheath of his junior. As he grabbed it, the older merchant tried to slice at his wrist, and as he hopped away, his head, but the younger man hopped over the sword in a lithe movement, so the blade caught earth. The younger merchant’s features grew fierce and mischievous. Then his face transformed into a less lined and looser form. Years of grudges and grief dissolved from him.
His heart changed as instantaneously as his face. It shrunk to the size of a boy’s. His clothes even transformed from the elegance of the Turkish silk robes to the clogs, quilted red overalls and scarves of a folk dancer complete with a fez. The moment he revealed his boyish demeanor, he ran off, pushing away the crowds with his spectacle. His clogs clacked on the pavement.
“Milko! You again—I will curse you back into the elements of which you’re born! Baptism by death, m’boy.”
Perhaps he was a spirit or an age-shifting shape-shifter.
The boy chuckled with each clack. Acacia ran after Milko and her party followed. Milko was their chance to find out more about the City of the Unicorns and knowledge of the older man’s take on the war.
Andelko yelled, “Don’t go after him Acacia, he is a mischievous bug, a squirm, the old man was rightful in his anger. I’m unaware of the war, but we can’t avoid it.”
“He must know an awful lot about the unicorns. I’m unsure of the man’s stance on the unicorns, but if we find Milko, we will find exactly his master’s meaning.” Acacia reasoned.
“Exactly what he intended.” Chiron spoke disturbed.
Finally, Acacia caught up with the humanoid boy, clutching him and threatening him with his scimitar. Something unexpected disrupted Acacia’s conscience. Milko started spurting tears. He was heard all through the streets crying. Suddenly, she received bizarre looks.
“I didn’t mean to steal anything. I don’t have food and besides, Ondrea gave me the job. Blasted work!” Milko spilled.
Acacia whispered, “You say Ondrea? Well, bring me to him!”
Milko wriggled, “If you buy me fruit. The fruit is soft, oh so sweet, and the city is full of its preserves. The jars, they make towers out of them.” He squealed. “Don’t hurt me. You can’t take me.” Acacia constrained him wondering if his shenanigans would stop or if they would later be worth the while. She didn’t like interfering, but the unicorn city seeped with suspicion. Some hopefulness rose in her words.
“I can give you something greater than a fruit. How about a new costume? And a finer weapon?”
“Okay, I’ll tell you where Ondrea went: just don’t fall for his ploys.” His whispers resonated encouragingly but his tears came too late.
“But first you must give back that man’s sword.” Milko sighed and then dashed up to the merchant. The merchant, however, did not return Milko’s dagger.
“Boys shouldn’t play with swords.” He puffed. The merchant’s brow rose in frustration and furrowed in confusion. Milko kindly returned the look.
They were dejected but Milko returned to them and the party reached the spires after crossing a river with a golden bridge. Behind the spires, were dunes and mountains so high yet so concealed, they housed many jeweled caverns. The most unicorns anyone has ever dreamed of lived in the gemmed pockets. The light twinkled in the caverns going in and out like the stars of the outer earth. In the City of Unicorns, the day’s hours faltered to run according to any schedule adhering to the outer lands. Day refused to leave the caverns as well. As their delayed sky sank, the caves glowed even brighter.
We aren’t in the earth, but nearly shielded from it. Acacia searched for an unseen skylight or translucent shield protecting the subterranean world, or even a portal. Clouds climbed to the stratosphere and bent into a signifying arch back to the horizon. What lay behind them was the desert and the only entrance to the vast valley of cities that if contained, would be more enormous than the empires outside of Domain.
Andelko returned from an armory shop and bought enough weapons to equal two large bundles and bushels and a new scimitar for Milko. The boy twirled the scimitar with effort after Andelko handed it to him, but admiringly, caressed and thumbed the edge of the blades.
“I lost my family,” Milko saddened, “it wasn’t their fault, but I wish there wasn’t a war. I don’t point to the faults of anybody else for the war either. Simply, I need an ending.” He further explained how his village was burned after the last unicorn war and the greatest fall of the unicorns. “Long since, I have been orphaned. I’ve been orphaned much longer than you’ve been alive.”
Andelko broke his defenses. “I’m sorry for your circumstances, and as High Sailor of Medora, I offer you a training position in my ranks.”
Milko almost refused, but he gave in just so he could find a home. He had been working with merchants for a few weeks, promised an apprenticeship but sold as a slave, so the prospect didn’t scare him as much as the transition. Acacia bought him a new eye mask for the masquerade along with a miniature robe and pointed shoes with pom-poms. He adorned a crown of silver rays with diamond droplets at the tips, mimicking the rain of Hyas’s tale and fanning out the rays of dusk. The new costume truly made Milko transform.
“I can take you to Medora, but our journey is cut short,” Andelko admitted. “You would be very helpful to tell us where our fugitive, Ondrea, is hiding.”
“I saw him where you’re going. He taught me what I know...I don’t think you can help me find my parents.” Andelko stopped in protest with a gasp escaping his throat.
An itch clawed at Acacia’s mind and it was decided. “I am taking you to Medora,” she affirmed.
The spires rose around them like fjords. Occasionally, a shy unicorn would flit and make swift behind an alcove, embarrassed by its unintended fierceness. Andelko was still uneasy about the unbaptized spirit-boy. His character changed in an instant, but with a little discipline he would soon be capable of earning a high-mast vessel and without conning, rule over all the merchants.
Just as Andelko was about to dispel his plan, the boy vanished. Even the forest, would hinder to explain.
Acacia moved her thumb in front of the moon, proving it had turned five degrees in the Eastern horizon and proving the night was past. They spent copious time in the Lost City and Chiron and Circinus tried to convince Acacia it was the end of their journey.
“The only way I can repay you is to take to more ventures and steal your rights to give them back to your kind.”
“Like you, Acacia,” Chiron reasoned, “I have lost kin and many I thought were dead, and worse, dead and in turmoil. You prompted us to bravery but there is nothing we can do for the past, so we can’t stay here.”
“But the least I can do is repay you.”
Chiron fidgeted. “I remember your promise and now I remember mine.”
“They are safe here, your kin, Circinus, Chiron; we can always return.” And Chiron did not dither. Circinus bowed to allow her to ride his back.
The day resumed its cycle and the sky spread out, stretched by feathered wings of the yawning clouds. Desert stretched between the spires and the caverns. The caverns caught the sunset showing forth a warm aura and revealing a narrow pass in the ridge. The pass was mistaken as a dry stream bed, but it was obscured by sparse palms and brush. Hidden beyond the ridge were dark, lush mountains. Steam-like clouds rose from the pass as the sun rolled betwixt the ridges like a marble in a storm drain. The dyes of evening bled over the horizons and twinkled on the heads of the cavernous ridges.
The troupe did not see the city after morning. The only thing left behind was longing.