The weeks that followed my initial discovery of the Saybaro facility were quite nice. The Hydro-Electrical Plant was a mess, but with Mick and a team of skrievers helping, we had the place up and running in a week.
With the facility’s power secured, we turned our attention to the rest of the Saybaro. Fixing up the mansion with Mick, Arc, and a team of skrievers was much faster than doing it alone. It took another month of work on our part, but we finally managed to clear all the rubble out of the second floor. The rooms were unfurnished, and the ceiling of the second floor was mostly tarp and wooden framework, but having the rubble dealt with felt like a major victory.
I was surprised when Arc continued to stay at the Saybaro. He seemed reluctant to trust Bethany and Mick, though he agreed not to tell anyone about the hidden facility. I don’t think he ever bought the idea of a Glyche that was immune from the Corruption.
Bethany, on the other hand, had listened to every word we had said with an open mind. After explaining Iniagus and his prophecy, she immediately insisted that Arc and I begin a strict training regimen.
“Many prophecies have a basis in fact, Jimmy.” She had said, “As the Inheritor to this facility, you have a responsibility to stay alive.”
From that moment on, Arc and I spent at least three hours every day training. Fortunately, the facility was equipped with a massive hologram chamber, where we ran randomly generated obstacle courses and sparred against computer-generated opponents. Mick trained with us as well, though his flight unit made any obstacle course barely more arduous than a slow jog.
The facility was also equipped with a very nice medical bay, which Arc found out the second day of training after a badly-timed jump. I ended up in there more than once for sprains, mostly from sparring.
When I wasn’t training or working, I was standing at the bridge as usual. Mick usually stood out there with me, though Arc never stayed more than an hour (I don’t think he cared for being out in the sun too long). We usually just told stories of our past lives; Arc’s shenanigans in the Center, my adventures in Rimstak, and Mick’s memories of Thomas Desygan. Bethany often joined in via PIM, telling us stories of the Saybaro back in its heyday. Three months after Bethany appointed me her Inheritor, I couldn’t even remember what it had been like to not have them there.
Just when I was settling into the new course my life had taken, things took a rather swift turn for the strange …well, stranger.
“So my friend opens the door and sees Squiggles and Frodrick standing outside, completely covered in Nacho cheese, chicken feathers, and hamburger coupons. Before he can say a word, Squiggles turns to Frodrick and says, “See? I told you so!”
Mick, Bethany, and I laughed heartily at Arc’s story. Mick, Arc and I were in the recently renovated living room. I was sitting cross-legged in my new armchair, while Arc and Mick were both seated on a large cushy sofa that Mick had found buried under rubble on the second floor. One of the legs had to be propped up with an old dictionary, but it was in great condition otherwise. Bethany was listening via PIM, her efforts to build and install hologram emitters in the mansion still in progress.
“Did he ever figure out what they were talking about?” Mick asked, a smile on his silvery face.
Arc shook his head. “Not a clue, not even now. Squiggles thinks it’s funny, and Frodrick is afraid it might be viewed as improper to ask.”
I chuckled again. “I had no idea the Center of Knowledge could be such a lively place. I’d love to stop by sometime.”
Snapping his fingers, Arc said, “Hey, there’s an idea! Let’s go to the Center!”
Mick perked up, but I shook my head and said, “You’d have to go without me.”
“Oh, come on!” Arc persisted, “Iniagus suspended you from your duties for the whole stupid prophecy thing. Come on, it’ll be a blast!”
“It would be an excellent opportunity to broaden our horizons.” Said Mick.
They both looked so eager, I couldn’t help but laugh. I opened my mouth to reply when a loud alarm made the three of us jump.
“It’s the perimeter alarm.” Bethany said over the noise.
“That’s strange.” I said to myself, “It’s too early for it to be Devon again.”
“WHAT?” Arc shouted, his hands clamped tightly over his ears.
Shaking my head, I shouted, “I’ll see who it is. You both stay here for the time being. Bethany, could you turn the alarm off?”
The alarm stopped moments later.
“Thank you.” Shaking my head, I headed for the lobby. As I approached the front door, I could hear the sounds of someone banging on it from the other side.
“Coming!” I called out as I hurried over to the door and entered the thirteen-digit pass-code that Bethany had practically drilled into my brain.
It took me a second to recognize the strange man who was standing outside the door. He was dressed in an extremely bizarre set of clothes: blue jeans, a turtleneck scarf with one sleeve cut off, an arm warmer on the bare arm, a sandal on his right foot and a bunny slipper on his left. He wore a glimmering white cape with matching hood, and an enormously thick pair of glasses. Despite all of that, the giant red mustache was a dead giveaway.
“King Iniagus?” I said incredulously.
He quickly held a finger to his lips to silence me. Looking over his shoulder as if he were checking for pursuers, he whispered, “Call me Gheraldio Fastien, loyal citizen and friend to all.”
Before I could reply, he darted inside and said, “Close the door!”
I complied, glancing around outside for a moment first. I didn’t see anything.
As I turned around, Iniagus rubbed his hands together and said, “I don’t suppose you could give a little drinky to a loyal citizen and friend to all such as myself.”
“Of course. Let’s go the, uh …” My eyes suddenly fell on Mick, who had just stuck his head out of the living room door. I quickly grabbed the king’s shoulders to prevent him from turning around. “Can I take your coat?”
“No, no thank you. It was a gift from the Queen, you know. Very rare dye to get it this white, you know. Nice, eh?”
No doubt realizing my predicament, Mick ducked back into the living room. I released the king. “Well, in that case, let’s go to the kitchen so I can fix you a drink.
I kept my eye on the living room door while I led Iniagus to my kitchen. Fortunately, Mick had the presence of mind to stay out of sight.
Once in the kitchen, I led the king to my nicest chair. “So, what’ll it be, your Majesty?”
“Shhh!” The king glanced around nervously. “Gheraldio Fastien, that’s who I am!”
“Of course. What can I get you, Mister Fastien?”
“Mine’s a brandy.” He replied smartly, “But I wouldn’t say no to a glass of sentient wine, if you have some around.”
“I have some vintage xemptarian geen wine. Claudius Gardens, of course. It’s for cooking purposes, but I’ve only used a little.”
“Of course you have, you sly dog!” He gave me a roguish wink that made him look all the stranger.
“So,” I said as I set the mug in front of him, “I presume you’re here for a good reason.”
“Oh yes, very important business. First things first, though!” He grabbed the mug and took a big swallow. When he lowered the glass, his eyes were crossed.
Coughing, he managed to wheeze, “Not much of a year, was it?”
“It’s xemptarian,” I said, trying hard not to laugh, “Even they tend to drink very little.”
“I can see why.” After a few moments, his coughing finally died down. Before I could stop him, he took another swallow from his mug.
Oddly enough, this time he seemed fine. “Ah, this is a much better year. Tasty, even. Anyways, I was saying something, no doubt profound and important. Er, what was I saying?”
“You were going to tell me why you’re here.” I reminded him.
“That’s right! Right, right, right. Well, I’ve run into a little domestic problem. It’s kind of hard to talk about.”
“Take your time.” I said, sitting down with a glass of green tea.
He let out a sigh. “Well, to be perfectly honest, it’s my eldest daughter.”
“Sera.” I said, nodding.
His eyes narrowed. “What have you heard? Was it you?” He was on his feet in a moment, prodding my chest with his finger. “Yes, of course! You must be the kidnapper!”
“Princess Sera’s been kidnapped?” I said, alarmed.
“Don’t play dumb, Jimmy! I know you’re involved! Did you work alone, or did you have accomplices?”
“Your Majesty, I-”
“Gheraldio Fastien!” He screeched.
My patience was growing thin. I was prepared to forgive him for sticking me in the middle of nowhere, especially now that it turns out there was a Glyche facility under the mansion, but I wasn’t going to go to jail on a madman’s whim.
“Look,” I said, rubbing my temples, “I didn’t kidnap your daughter. I haven’t even seen her since she left your throne room at the palace.”
Still looking suspicious, Iniagus picked up his mug and took another sip. A blissful expression fell over his face almost instantly. “Ah, that really hits the spot.”
He stared at the table as though mesmerized. I waited patiently, but apparently he stopped to think and forgot to start again.
After a minute or two of silence, I coughed politely. “Uh, Mister Fastien?”
He jumped at the sound of my voice. “Jimmy? What are you doing here?”
I sighed, and said exasperatedly, “I live here, sir. You came here to tell me that your daughter was kidnapped.”
“My daughter, yes! You’ll never believe it, but she was kidnapped!”
“So I gathered.” I said, fighting the urge to rub my eyes.
“She was stolen! Stolen in the dead of night. Such a shame too.”
To my amazement, Iniagus actually cried, only pausing to down the remaining contents of his mug. I filled it again, oddly fascinated.
Choking down a sob, he said, “To be taken away just after hearing she was going to marry a hero. It’s just so tragic!”
With a wild sob, he threw his arms around me, inadvertently tossing the contents of his drink onto my kitchen floor. I patted him awkwardly on the back, not sure what to say and slightly light-headed from the strong smell of the spilled wine which even now emanated a blue-green haze.
Releasing me, he seemed to gather himself. Hitting the table with a closed fist, he proclaimed, “We must rescue her. Please, Jimmy; you and Arc are the only potential heroes I know. Won’t you help?”
“Well,” I said, not really sure how I was going to suggest that the princess might not have been stolen, “I do want to help, but I wouldn’t it be better to send a large armed force to-”
“You fool!” He thundered, hitting the table with his fist again, “I can’t just send the army scouring the countryside, or people will think I’m nuts!”
I was sure we were way past that point, but I didn’t tell Iniagus that. Out loud, I said, “Of course I’m willing to help, Mister Fastien, but are you sure she was taken?”
He nodded vigorously. “Positive! Someone tore the window of her room open, left a horrible mess; buncha deep slashes on the wall and burn marks everywhere.”
“That’s certainly cause for alarm.” I said, secretly wondering just what could’ve happened to leave the mess Iniagus described.
“But I know she’s alive because there was no blood or leftover bits.” He looked to me for encouragement. “I mean, she would have fought to the death, right?”
I imagined she would have. No one in their right mind would just let themselves be carried away, not even if faced with marriage to Arc or myself. The burn marks stuck in my mind as well; there were plenty of mages on Vinta, but they were policed by the Centers. No, this wasn’t just normal Iniagus goofiness; Princess Sera was likely in trouble.
Nodding, I said, “Don’t worry, you’re highness. I will do my best to find her and bring her home unharmed.”
Iniagus embraced me, which as you can probably imagine was extremely awkward for me. “You don’t know what this means to me, Jimmy. She’s my absolutely, most favorite oldest daughter!”
“I don’t doubt that.” I said, extracting myself from his grip as gently as possible. “First things first, however: we should start by investigating her room more thoroughly, to see if we can’t find out who or what kidnapped her.”
“Yes! Excellent thinking as always. Let’s head out immediately.”
He dragged me halfway out the door before I could pull free, “A moment, your Majesty! I need to grab a few things before we set out. Arc is here, along with another friend of mine, and I’d like to bring them in on this.”
“Of course! I shall wait for you …” He paused dramatically before thrusting a finger toward the door. “… outside!”
Without another word, he dashed out of the mansion, slamming the door behind him. Arc and Mick peered out of the living room door again.
I hurried over to them to explain the situation. “Someone or something kidnapped Princess Sera, and I’m pretty sure this isn’t Iniagus being crazy. Whoever it was climbed to the side of the palace and tore through the wall.”
“A bomb?” Mick asked.
I shook my head. “No way to tell. That’s why we’re going to go investigate the scene. Bethany?”
“I understand.” She said. “Iniagusville is out of my range, but I’ll work on a way to get in contact with either you or Mick so you can update me on the situation. And Jimmy?”
“Dammit!” Arc said as my PIM deactivated. He pulled off his goggles and threw them on the ground. “I knew it was too good to be true!”
“Excuse me?” said Mick.
“Whichever of us was the hero was to be given Princess Sera’s hand in marriage,” I said, “though I’m pretty sure that the king would’ve required us to have actually fulfilled the prophecy first.”
Arc shrugged, a rather silly grin on his face. “Well, sooner or later, something was bound to happen. Since you aren’t interested in the whole hero thing, I figured I’d take care of it.”
If Arc wanted the title of hero, he could have it as far as I was concerned. What mattered at the moment was finding out what had happened to Princess Sera. Her special someone was probably beside himself with worry.
Of course, there was a problem; I wanted Mick to come along as well. Unfortunately, one look at Mick would probably send a man of Iniagus’s disposition into hysteria.
“We need to investigate.” I told them, “But we’ll need a disguise for you, Mick.”
Arc leapt up and down, his hand in the air. “Ooh! I got it! Let me take care of it!”
I should’ve been more suspicious, especially after months of hanging around Arc, but at the time I was too focused on our mission to properly think about it. “Good. Get his disguise and meet me here; I’ll pack some supplies just in case.”
By the time I packed the basics, and returned to the Lobby, Arc and Core were waiting for me. Core was now wearing a set of the exact same clothes Arc was wearing, right down to the flight goggles and brand-name sneakers. No effort had been made to hide his face, and several of his joints were clearly visible.
“There’s no way this is going to work.” I told them. Truth be told, I was having a hard time not laughing.
Arc patted me on the back, “Come on, he looks great! Besides, He’s not wearing the hat. Mick, put the hat on.”
Shrugging, Mick put the hat on his head. He looked like … well, a core unit in a pair of Arc’s clothes and a baseball cap. Arc quickly turned it around so the bill was facing backward, which did nothing to change my initial observation.
Another honk made me glance at the door.
“It wouldn’t do to keep our liege waiting.” Mick pressed. If anything, he seemed excited.
Sighing, I said, “Come on then.”
“Ah, finally!” Iniagus said as we exited the mansion, “I was wondering how long you …”
He fell silent as he saw Mick. For a few moments, I was sure that the admittedly flimsy disguise had been blown.
“Ah, Mister Fastien,” I quickly said, “I’d like you to meet our friend, Mick.”
“Friend? Really? My word. For a second, I thought he was a core unit dressed in ill-fitting clothing and wearing a baseball cap.
“Your Majesty,” I said, putting a hand on Mick’s shoulder, “I give you my personal assurance that he is as much a man as you or I.”
“What’s wrong with his face?” Iniagus asked, poking a long finger at Mick’s silvery cheek.
Arc piped in. “He has a rare disease he caught while working at the recording industry in Ronisgald.”
“Er …” Arc looked at me for support.
“Chromeitis.” I said, fighting hard to keep a straight face. “Perhaps you’ve has heard of it?”
Iniagus scratched his chin, murmuring, “Chromeitis, huh? You know, now that you mention it, I think I have heard of it before.” Glancing at Mick, Iniagus leaned forward, whispering, “It’s not catching, is it?”
“No, Mister Fastien. It is perfectly safe.”
Iniagus nodded and slapped Mick on the arm. “Well, you’re welcome addition to … by the Creator, you’ve got well developed biceps! Hard as steel! Anyway, glad to have you aboard. Everyone climb in so we can get going!”
It was then I realized that the vehicle the king had driven wasn’t a floater; it was an automobile.
“By the Creator.” I said.
Iniagus mistook my reaction for admiration. “Ah, it is a fine car, isn’t it? Vintage year, you know.”
“I can see that.” I said, eyeing the ancient vehicle, “It is safe, right?”
Iniagus slapped me on the back, saying, “Now Jimmy, everyone knows that driving wouldn’t be fun if it weren’t just a little bit dangerous.”
I looked at the car again. Oh, the paint job was nice, and it wasn’t billowing smoke or anything, but then again, the floater Devon and I had taken to Iniagusville had seemed all right up to the moment it started falling from the sky.
Arc pushed past me, calling out, “Shotgun!”
Sighing, I climbed into the backseat beside Mick, who seemed intrigued by our mode of transportation.
“This is a combustion-powered vehicle, right?” He asked.
“Don’t remind me.” I said as Iniagus turned the car around and started to drive away from the Saybaro.