We could be Heroes
The trapdoor dropped us into a long and winding tube that twisted and turned in such a manner that several times I could have sworn that I was actually sliding upwards. I tried to stop my breakneck descent, but the tube too slippery and too wide for me to brace my arms or legs against the sides.
The tube went on for quite a while, which gave me time to reflect on the day’s events thus far. Just that morning, I was resting on my bridge, letting the cool water run through my toes as I watched the clouds pass. My life had been calm, peaceful … a touch boring, but at least I was in control. When did I lose control? Did I ever truly have it?
Sunlight glimmered ahead of me, rousing me from my thoughts. I twisted around as I flew from the tube and managed to land on my feet in a mass of hay. As I steadied myself, I noticed that I wasn’t that far from the waystation in front of the palace.
The warm summer air felt nice, especially after being in the cold air of the palace for so long. Feeling a little better, I started toward the palace waystation when a scream that grew steadily louder reminded me of my fellow ‘hero’. Moments later, Arc shot from the tube and landed face down in the pile of hay.
“By the Creator!” Arc spat out a mouthful of hay, “That man’s a complete loony!”
“He’s certainly a bit eccentric.” I agreed.
“My uncle’s eccentric. That man’s a complete raving loon!” He brushed the rest of the hay from his clothes, looking distinctly annoyed.
Part of me wanted to admonish him for speaking of the king in that way. At the same time, however, I agreed with him; Iniagus was insane. Reprimanding Arc would only have made me a hypocrite. In the end, I simply said nothing.
Arc glanced back at the palace. “What do you think about it? I mean, all that stuff about prophecy and evil and all that?”
I sighed and shook my head. “To be honest, I don’t know what to think anymore. I just want to go back to the Saybaro and try to forget that today ever happened.”
“Can’t blame you for that. I gotta get back to the Center myself.” He gave me a nudge in the ribs and a wink he probably thought was sly. “Working on a big project, you know. Revolutionary, scientifically speaking, of course.”
“Of course.” I could tell from his tone that he wanted me to ask just what it was he was working on, but I really wanted to be alone at the moment. Holding out my hand, I said, “Have a safe journey home.”
Looking a bit put out, Arc shook my hand. “You too, man. Hey, if you see any ‘Evil’,” He made quote signs in the air with his fingers, “Give me a call at the Center. Just ask for Arc. I’m something of a celebrity at the center, so they’ll know who you’re talking about.”
Giving me an impromptu salute, he headed on toward the waystation, leaving me alone with my thoughts.
My encounter with Iniagus had pretty much sapped any excitement I had from being in the city, so I decided to just head home. I wanted to rent a floater for the trip so I could back at the Saybaro before night fell. Unfortunately, though I was well versed in the operation of such vehicles (having worked on many with Uncle Ann), I apparently needed a license to rent so much as a bicycle.
As there wasn’t a transport service that would take me as far as the Saybaro, that meant I was going to be returning home on foot. After another visit to the Penumbra district to pick up some traveling supplies, I headed out of the west gate of the city and started the week-long trek to the Saybaro.
The hiking trail ran parallel to the road for a few hours, far enough to keep the noise level down. The roads parted eventually, the trail going through a thinly forested area, which was also good as there was plenty of shade.
When I rested at night, I often spent hours in meditation. I had a lot to meditate on: my life in Wenapaj, my attempts to better myself, the time and work I had put into the Saybaro.
It was the fact that my assignment at the Saybaro was nothing more than fluke courtesy of Iniagus that disturbed me more than anything. I could have easily been sent to Brigsonstrat to guard stream generators, or to the satellite uplink towers in Wukice, or even sent to repair the windmills in the plains north of the Saybaro.
Still, I had been sent to the Saybaro and tasked with guarding a bridge no one would ever have reason to cross. As I thought about it, however, I felt my spirits lift. Some people would’ve sulked about being posted in such a remote location. Others would’ve no doubt lodged a protest, perhaps even quitting the Royal Guard altogether. I, on the other hand, had made the Saybaro my home. I fixed the mansion, I trained myself to be a better guard, and I guarded that bridge like no one else. No matter how or why I ended up at the Saybaro, I had taken a bad situation and made it into something good, improving myself in the process.
That realization somehow made me feel better. I was a touch more cynical perhaps, but I was ready to resume my station at the Saybaro Bridge despite the fact that there was no real reason to do so.
Three days into my journey, while I was resting beneath a tree and eating lunch, my thoughts turned to Iniagus’s prophecy. In truth, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. My newly-born sense of cynicism wanted to write the whole thing off as the nonsensical words of one who had long since departed from the realm of sanity.
Still, history was full of stories where people ignored obvious warnings and met their demise. If the prophecy was true, if Arc or I was destined to fight against this ‘Evil’, my own inaction could have serious side-effects. What if Iniagus was right? What if something bad was about to happen?
The moment that crossed my mind, I lowered my sandwich and looked around the sunlit grove. The trees swayed softly, the wind whispering gently through the leaves. Birds were chirping, and there were a few butterflies flitting around a cluster of wildflowers nearby. All in all, it was serene … or was it?
Snorting, I continued eating my sandwich. No, the prophecy was just nonsense cooked up by Iniagus to amuse himself at our expense. Vinta was at peace, and there was nothing to suggest that would change anytime soon.
Eight days after my meeting with Iniagus, I finally was within sight of the Saybaro. Never before had the old mansion been a more welcome sight. Ignoring the ache in my bones, I pushed myself forward until I had crossed the creaky bridge and was beneath the shade of the oak tree in the courtyard.
Despite everything that had happened, being back home put me totally at ease. Here, there was no ‘Evil’, no hustle and bustle, and most importantly, no Iniagus.
I tossed my pack beside the tree, hung my sword belt on a thick stub of a branch, and plopped myself down with my back resting against the tree’s broad trunk. Though it was only my intention to rest for a bit, I was soon sound asleep.
I dreamt I was standing at my bridge, facing the courtyard, only there was a fountain where the tree once stood. The tile that surrounded it looked as though it was brand new as well, without so much as a single weed having worked its way through the gaps between stones.
As I watched, the tile began to degrade, breaking apart and crumbling before my eyes as weeds slowly claimed them. The fountain split and collapsed, crumbling until nothing was left but dust and a few fragments that were quickly buried beneath the weeds. A tiny sprout shot from the center of the rapidly deteriorating stonework moments later and grew until it became the fully grown oak tree. All of this happened in a matter of seconds, and as things often do in dreams, the occurrence seemed perfectly natural to me.
A shout from the other side of the bridge distracted me. As I turned, I saw Princess Sera engaged in combat with what appeared to be one of my training dummies. Someone had written the word ‘Evil’ on the dummy’s chest with a black marker.
What was really strange (aside from the dummy leaping around on its own, of course) was the enormous sword that Sera wielded. The blade was easily as tall as she was, thicker than my arm, and without a doubt extremely heavy.
Despite the obvious difficulty in wielding such a weapon, Sera controlled her assault with expert skill. Using the weight of the blade, she was able to follow up swings and thrusts with hand-to-hand combat moves, essentially flinging her body around as much (if not more) than the sword she held.
After an oddly thrilling battle, she managed to plant the blade straight across the ‘Evil’ on the training dummy’s chest. The blow knocked the dummy apart, its arms and legs still twitching in a most disturbing manner.
As she hefted the blade in the air and began dancing a victory jig, I heard the front door of the mansion slam open. King Iniagus leapt through the doorway, wearing what appeared to be a chipmunk outfit. “Congraduration! This quest is happy end!”
Arc, who for some reason was wearing the dress that Iniagus had promised the bride of the chosen one, came running out of the mansion. He tried to cross the bridge, but naturally I wouldn’t let him cross. He kept trying to push his way past until I picked him up and threw him into the river with an enormous splash that caught me full in the face.
I awoke with a sputtering start, the moon of Everblue already high in the sky. As I sat up, I realized I was dripping wet. Someone had actually thrown water on me, water from the river by the taste of it.
“Hey, you awake?’
I glared at the speaker. It was Arc. He was holding a mostly empty bucket.
He made a face. “Don’t call me that. My name’s Arc!”
“Why did you just throw a bucket of water at me?”
“I, uh, I thought it’d be funny?”
I glared at him. He smiled back, showing off a shiny set of braces and a bluish tinge to his teeth that suggested habitual use of crystallic. Letting the bucket drop to the ground, he grabbed my hand and helped me to stand.
Slapping me on the back, he said, “So, how’s the whole prophecy thing going for you?”
“I just got back.” I told him, ruffling my hair in a futile effort to dry off that only succeeded in making my hair even more of a mess.
He stared at me. “It’s been over a week! What did you do, walk back here?”
“As a matter of fact …” I said, but Arc was still talking.
“I picked up a floater as soon as I reached the outer city. Had a time convincing them that my license was real, but I just flashed ‘em my Center ID card and that was that. They gave me a real beat up old floater, though. I’m surprised the damn thing didn’t break down before I got home.”
“I see.” I collected my belongings from the tree and started to head toward the mansion. Arc followed along, his mouth running nonstop.
“Yeah, that project I was telling you about? Didn’t work out so well. Kind of blew up actually. Not my fault though; I didn’t think interfacing Glyche Technology with Kindred artifacts was a good idea. I musta told Kanook a hundred times, Glyche was a technological society, and Kindred, well, Kindred were into that whole touchy-feely magic stuff. Magic’s unpredictable, and wouldn’t you know it, I was right. At least his eyebrows will grow back eventually.”
“Indeed.” I replied, not really sure what else to say.
“So anyway, I’m poking through the database looking for a new project to play with, when I find old records about several Glyche facilities that are supposedly in Wenapaj. I do some searching, and guess what came up?”
“I honestly don’t know.”
“Come on, guess!”
Sighing, I said, “I don’t know. Here, at the Saybaro.”
“The Saybaro! That’s right!”
My hand froze just before reaching the door handle, the impact of what Arc had said hitting me with the force of a solar flare.
“Just what do you mean by facility?” I asked, putting my free hand on my hip.
“A full research and development laboratory, complete with constructors, living quarters, and who knows how much cool Glyche stuff.”
“I’ve lived here for over a decade, Arc,” I said, “and I’ve never seen anything that would indicate anything like that.”
Unperturbed, he said, “It would be well hidden. This is the Glyche we’re talking about, after all.”
I stared at him, scrutinizing him and his story. If he was right, then perhaps my assignment wasn’t just a fluke after all. In Rimstak, I had heard of people posted at positions near known Glyche facilities as a kind of warning system. Had Iniagus known all along?
“If you’re right,” I said, “And there is something here …”
“You could have one heck of time bomb under your house.” Arc said. “Don’t worry, though, I’ve got something that will help.”
I don’t know how I missed it before, but Arc had left a long object resting against the side of my tree. As he retrieved it, I realized with a start that it was a massive sword, identical to the one Sara had used in my dream.
Whereas Sera had hefted the massive weapon easily, Arc could barely lift it. Small wonder: the sword easily weighed as much as he did.
By the time he returned to my side, the young man was breathless. His face flushed, he held out the sword expectantly.
Hesitantly, I took the weapon from him. It was extremely heavy, even with the point resting on the ground. Still, thanks to my reconstructive efforts on the Saybaro, I was no stranger to heavy lifting. With a little difficulty, I was able to lift the blade.
Size aside, it was your basic sword. The blade was at least four feet long, the slightly curved cross guard and hilt another foot and a half. The cross guard was curved slightly toward the hilt, and seemed to have been cast along with the rest of the sword. The two-handle hilt had also been reinforced with something white and very hard; marble perhaps, or ivory.
As I took a closer look at the blade, I noticed that it had been inscribed with many small runes, of what origin I couldn’t determine.
“It’s Kindred.” Arc told me, sounding even more proud of himself than usual, “We found it in a ruin near Naidyr. I haven’t translated all the runes on it as of yet, but as far as I can tell, this was used by Kindred to fight against the Glyche corruption.”
I handed the weapon back. “That’s impossible. The Kindred left Vinta thousands of years before the Glyche arrived.”
The moment I let go of the weapon, the point fell to the ground with a loud clunk. Again struggling to lift it, Arc said, “Yeah, that’s what everyone else thought, but the Kindred ruins we discovered were dated at only three-thousand years ago.”
“I suppose there’s no evidence that all the Kindred left at the same time, but what does that have to do with the Glyche? How would one sword fight corrupted coding? Even putting that aside, you can’t honestly think that you could wield …”
I stopped; Arc had just tried to swing the weapon. Oh, not at me; he was facing toward the tree. Still, from the look in his eyes, I could tell that he was imagining himself fighting core units.
The blade hit the ground and stuck there. “Sorry, what’d you say?” He asked distractedly as he tugged at the hilt.
I rubbed my temples again. Though I had undoubtedly been asleep for hours, I was still groggy and my whole body was sore, no doubt to my lengthy journey.
“Tell you what, Arc, come on inside. I’ll make up a bed for you on my couch, and we can talk more about this whole Glyche thing in the morning.”
He perked up instantly. “Really? Awesome!”
As I deactivated the security and opened the door for him, he punched me in what he must have thought was a playful manner. “This is gonna be so cool! I mean, the two would-be heroes of Wenapaj bunking together!”
I started to close the door, when I realized that he had left his weapon stuck in the ground. Pulling it out with a hard yank on the hilt, I said, “I really hope I don’t come to regret this.”