The next day we travelled to Nextar. Nothing out of the ordinary happened. Part of me still felt a little uneasy that Artemis and Arion found out my secret, but I worked on pushing those feelings away. Those emotions could have possibly interfered with the mission.
It was late in the evening when we were at the edge of the forest surrounding Nextar. The only things separating the city and us were a big field and a giant stonewall. Once past those, it seemed rather simple to travel through the city streets and find our way to where Eva was. Especially in the daytime when the streets are packed full, and no one really pays attention to anyone else.
The thing was if the bridge a while back was on guard for Arion, then the gates would definitely have guards on the lookout for Arion. It was just one more problem to deal with. We already had so many, it hardly seemed to make that much of a difference.
That night we sat by our campsite coming up with a plan.
“Once we get into the walls, if we get in without raising any alarms, then we’ll be able to easily make our way to the castle,” Arion announced. “The only problem is that Eva will most likely have the Royal Guard manning the entrances, and they are supposed to be looking out for me. If they see and recognize me, they’ll try to kill all of us on sight. This problem causes more than minor complications for us.”
“Okay then,” I commented. “So what’s your plan?” By then, I knew he usually has a plan for things like this. If I didn’t, then that would have been rather depressing.
As he sighed and changed his body position, I imagined he rolled his eyes at that part, but there was no way I could really tell for certain. Overall body language, like hunched shoulders or tilting their head, I could sense from others easily because it changed the weight they put into the ground. I could feel that shift in the body weight and determine their position, and the closer I was the more clear their body position was for my sense of touch. If I was close enough hand positions could become apparent due to the tension and lack of tension it created throughout the body. But even then, other things such as lifting an eyebrow or smiling, I couldn’t sense.
Arion then told us, “I was thinking we use the lynphoma again to get through the outer wall.”
“You guys have used it already though,” I answered remembering that a person can wield it only once.
“You haven’t yet,” Artemis chimed in.
“Well, there’s the slight problem of me having no idea where I’m going when I use it,” I told them.
Artemis put a hand on my shoulder as she informed me, “We’ll guide you Raven. You’re not the first blind man that needed to be guided somewhere.”
Arion then commented, “Isn’t it ironic that the blind man can fight a demon single handedly, but he needs help getting through a wall?”
I glared at them and stated, “For the record here, I still don’t want everyone to know that I’m blind, so stop bringing it up.”
“Sorry,” Artemis replied. “We’re still getting used to the fact. It’s a little hard to take in.”
In response to that comment, I grunted because I knew she was right.
“So, as I was saying,” Arion continued. “Raven uses that to get all of us through Nextar’s outermost wall. If we leave an hour after sunrise we should arrive when the crowds start getting large, making it easier for us to move around without being noticed.
“After that it would be impossible to go through the city with the lynphoma on without attracting a lot of attention to ourselves, which we don’t want yet. So we’ll have to take it off. But, I know secret ways into and through the palace that will allow us to navigate it without any guards catching us.
“Then all we have to do is fight our way through the people Eva has under her control, while trying not to kill them. Also we’ll have to fight people who just sided with Eva on their own free will. Then we kill Eva and release everyone and everything that was under her control.”
We already discussed what time we should attack Eva. Since I found out that Eva was keeping guards and security up when in her mind, we thought that security would be doubled at night making it so sneaking through the city and palace would be more difficult then during the night. Daytime was a better option.
From my time in Eva’s head we also knew that she would have less people around in the Council Meeting. The magic that filled the Ranvier Council Room prevented almost anyone coming in who wasn’t on the Council, the Steward’s family, or the Royal family. Only on the King or Queen’s invitation could anyone else enter in. Arion was still the rightful King, so Eva couldn’t get anyone else to come in. Eva couldn’t move where the council meeting happened or else it wouldn’t have the same binding on the law because only the rightful ruler could change where the meeting was met. So, it appeared that during the Council was the best time to attack.
We decided to do it sooner than later because we had no idea whether Eva might come up with something in the time it took us to get some support in our attack. It was better to strike quickly and hard.
“Sounds like a plan,” Artemis replied cheerfully. “I think we can get it done before dinner time tomorrow. What do you think, Shade?”
Shade barked saying, “Most of it.”
Artemis nodded and replied, “Yes, we probably wouldn’t be able to finish all of Eva’s allies off before dinner, but we’ll get a large portion of the plan done.”
“Artemis, can you understand what Shade is saying?” I asked because she always seems to know what he’s saying.
“No,” she replied while tracing her tattoo (her body weight shifted to the point where I could tell she was touching her right arm with her left hand, and I heard that she has a habit of doing that, so I could easily know that was what she was doing). “But I like to think we know each other so well we don’t need to understand what the exact words are to communicate with each other.”
All I did was nod because she had no idea how right she was in this aspect.
The next morning anticipation hung in the air around us like fog. All of us knew that today was the day everything would change in Ranvier, either we’ll come out on top or we’ll be defeated and probably dead.
Despite these odds, I felt a feeling of peace. I didn’t know why, but the thought of my death never scared me. I always felt like it was nothing to be afraid of when I died. It was only bad when someone else I knew died, and I was left behind.
Arion would pace and constantly run his fingers through his hair. His head moved side to side as if he were always looking for something.
Artemis sat down near where Arion was pacing and would have conservations mostly with Shade, who barked and panted back at her as she pet him. You would think she felt no worry, but a few times of running her fingers through her hair and tracing her tattoo suggested she wasn’t completely worry free. I got the feeling that she acknowledged her fears, accepted them, and then didn’t let them hold her back.
When it was an hour after sunrise, we started to move. We reached the field separating the wall and the forest in no time. We waited a little ways in the trees when we noticed that there were actually people outside the walls. A lot of them.
“Who are they?” I asked because I could tell how many they were and where they were at, but what they were doing was a mystery to me.
“They appear to be a lot of the citizens of Nextar,” Artemis told me.
“They must be outside doing some dances and games like they do about once a month,” Arion commented.
When Arion provided that explanation, the movements the people were doing made a lot more sense. I could tell that the younger people were definitely doing some games.
“This works to our advantage,” Arion murmured. “No one will find it suspicious of us walking up to the wall with all the people around. As long as we go through the wall unnoticed.”
“I guess we’ll see how observant these people are,” I grumbled.
“Don’t worry, they won’t spot us,” Artemis told me as she started to move forward.
I sighed and followed after her. Arion walked next to me.
We soon were in the crowd, and I hated it even before we stepped into it. There were so many people, sounds, and things to feel that I had to work on focusing solely on right around me in order to make sure I didn’t go on sensory overload with all the people around.
We reached the wall easily enough. A few seconds after we did, Artemis pulled the lynphoma out of her pocket, where she had been keeping it safe. I felt the others turn around, and then they faced me. I assumed that they thought we were safe to go.
The others then grabbed my hands. Arion bent down a bit in order to get a strong hold on Shade’s fur. I briefly wondered if the others thought this was awkward, or if this was just me who felt that way. I then decided it was, most likely, just me.
Artemis placed the lynphoma around my neck and the world vanished. The same sensation of feeling nothing expect Artemis and Arion’s hands and having the sounds vanish away happened. The same feeling of panic was starting to well up inside of me, but I didn’t know how to get rid of it.
“Just move forward,” Artemis then told me.
I steeled myself and started to walk forward. I felt myself pass through the wall. It felt like a cool mist. Once on the other side, Artemis continued to give me instruction, since she then knew that I needed it really.
“Now, move a bit to your right,” she’d say. “Arion, how’s your side looking?”
Arion gave her the all clear, and Artemis took the lynphoma off. All the sudden the senses rushed back to me, and I could feel the world again.
I used my senses to feel and hear around. There seemed to be no one losing it, so I assumed that no one saw us go through the wall.
“Now we just have to travel through the city and the palace,” Arion commented. “Avoid hundreds of guards, probably still run into a few guards, and defeat an enchantress.”
“Let’s go then,” Artemis replied with her voice sounding a bit too cheerful for the occasion.
Arion led us through the streets of Nextar. I had never actually been to Ranvier’s capital before. I remembered why in a few moments. The crowds were everywhere. I thought it would only take me a hour in this city for me to end up with a massive headache. I was so done with it.
We walked through the streets. In a city as big as Nextar, no one really paid attention to us. They probably saw weirder groups than us on a regular day basis, so we were nothing special.
About eight minutes later, Arion muttered, “Curse it all.” He was rounding a corner, but stopped and backtracked right back around the corner. He then stopped moving. There were people surrounding the palace on all sides, but I could now guess that some of them were guards due to Arion’s reaction.
“How many?” I asked as I was trying to tell who were the guards and who was just regular people.
“About five,” Artemis answered.
“Where do we need to get in at?” I asked. I thought we weren’t taking any conventional entrances so I didn’t bother pointing the people at the entrance out.
“We need to make it around that corner by the ash wood trees,” Arion told us. “But there are only three other people on the street, and they’ll probably spot us. You saw how quickly some of them recognized us last time.”
I sensed the corner with ash wood trees led to a small street with only one entrance.
“Leave it to me,” Artemis answered.
That was good because I was still trying to come up with a plan.
“Shade, would you mind helping me distract some guards?” Artemis asked him.
Shade barked that he would help, then zoomed off running and barking. About thirty seconds later, Artemis took off after him.
It was obvious what they were doing. Shade crashed into one of the guards. About twenty seconds later Artemis was “helping” get Shade off the guard and apologizing for Shade’s unusual behavior.
During this time, Arion and I rounded the corner and headed around the corner that had ash wood trees on it. There were three buildings on that street; two of them appeared to be storehouses. The other one was an old church. It was kind of strange it was still up, since it felt ancient and not the most cared for. I wondered if anyone even went there. If I was there, I would think that the building was going to collapse on me at any point.
We waited a minute for Artemis and Shade to come around the corner. Once they did, Arion started heading into the church. I walked in feeling out of place. I felt strange that it wasn’t an Elvish religious building. I was tempted to pray to my main god, Loxias, to explain what I was doing in a building that didn’t worship him but some other god that the other creatures than elves believed in. However, I didn’t pray then. Most of the time, I only prayed at night like I was taught to.
Arion stepped in, and the rest of us followed. I then realized that this was just the shell of an old church. The inside was now a run-down bar. There was only one man, who I presumed to be the owner, inside. He was a regular human according to his aura. He watched us come inside. The way he staggered back indicated that he seemed to be shocked by our presence, which was very understandable since I couldn’t imagine anyone coming inside that building.
“Have any room, Jehan?” Arion asked the barman.
“There’s always room,” Jehan answered, his voice shaky with some emotion that I couldn’t name.
“Thank you,” Arion replied and walked up to the bar and sat right in front of the barman. Unsure what to do Artemis, Shade, and I also sat down.
“Isn’t it interesting how times change?” Arion spoke. “This place used to be packed full of religious leaders. Now it just has some interesting leaders in it.” Arion then tapped on the counter with a strange rhythm.
The barman then answered, “A lot has changed since then. You certainly seem like an interesting leader.”
Arion nodded and replied, “True. Maybe that’s because I think a good ruler must learn that change is necessary for the improvement of society. Even when it seems difficult to let the past go.”
At that moment I felt the barman slid Arion a key. Arion took it.
“It’s good to have you back,” the barman whispered. At that point, he got up and left. Once he left the room, Arion got up to the front of the room. He moved a painting where there was a key slot on the wall behind it and put the key inside. A door then opened up in the wall. It was a magic door, so it could only be sensed when open. Once it opened, I could tell that the passage led to the palace. Arion quickly stashed the key somewhere out of sight before heading inside the passage.
We all stepped inside and started moving through it.
“So, I take it that’s not a normal church, bar, or whatever you call it?” Artemis asked.
Arion then answered, “Well, in most aspects it is. It provides drinks for people who can buy them, even though they aren’t the best, they’re cheap. Good place to hang low. But, it has held a secret passageway to the palace for a while now.”
Artemis was turning her head all around the place as she commented, “The barman seemed to know you.”
Arion nodded as he explained, “He knows me from when I would check out that the passageway was still working.”
“Did you do that often?” I questioned.
Arion shrugged and answered, “Not really, I guess. Once every few months, maybe three times a year.”
“That turned out useful in the end,” Artemis responded.
Arion simply nodded in response.
We continued to move along the passage.
After a while, Arion told us, “Here we are. Just stay quiet and follow me.”
We then crept outside the passage. I could feel that there was no one outside of it. When we got out, the passage closed up and the magic sealed it up. It was as if it had never been there, except for a light trace of magic that I could feel.
We then started to move across the hallways. Arion did a great job at picking halls and rooms that were unoccupied. Even after over a year, he knew the place better than anyone.
At one moment he, unintentionally I believed, whispered, “Why Royalty needs such big palaces I still don’t get.”
I realized that him and I were thinking along the same lines.
I had to stop him a few times because there were some people or guards moving down the halls or were in the rooms. No one saw us as we crept from room to room. For once, we were getting some good luck.
After about a half an hour, we were cramped in a closet as a bunch of people walked down the corridor we were in. Arion was taking the opportunity to get the crowns out of his pack. Artemis had the idea that some people who aren’t under Eva’s control might recognize Arion easier with the crowns on and decide not to fight us. Both Arion and I thought this was a bit of a long shot, but we both knew it couldn’t hurt.
As I studied the people going by, I marveled how long ago it seemed to be since we got those crowns. How I just thought that it would be one of the only things I would do before going back to my solitude.
The thought then occurred to me that after that day, I may have been able to go back to my solitude. Most of me was praising the fact that I would be able to be on my own again. I wouldn’t have to worry about others and their emotions. I could go back to my regular routine.
But a very small part of me that I almost couldn’t hear seemed to not want to go out on my own again. It wanted to stay around the people that I had been traveling with.
It disturbed me. I had always been a loner. I couldn’t imagine not going off on my own. I didn’t exactly know why, but solitude always felt the best for me. All the sudden, I got the urge to get out while I could.
I pushed these thoughts away though. I had a mission to complete. Once the enchantress is off the throne, then I would run off, but not a second before then.
“People have passed,” I announced. We then continued to move along the corridors.
A few minutes later, we were around the corner from the council chambers. There were three guards outside it. I could tell it was currently in session. There were nine people inside. I guessed that the people inside were Eva, Tark, and the seven council members.
One of them did have a strong enough aura that I could feel it from rooms away. I knew it was Eva’s aura. I remembered feeling it as I felt her life story fold out from around me. It felt strange to suddenly feel it in real life. It at least meant that she didn’t know that we were there, because she wasn’t using her artifact she found to disguise her aura as she should around enemies.
I told the others what I sensed in a low voice, so the guards wouldn’t hear, and they nodded.
“There’s a passage that leads into the room,” Arion told us. “It’s just a crawl space between the walls. It leads in by a shaft that appears to be there for air.”
“Why is there a hidden way in?” I asked, puzzled that this would exist.
“It’s to provide a way out for the members to escape if they are under attack,” Arion lectured. “Only a member of the Royal Family can open it.”
“Magic?” I asked because I couldn’t feel a passage in any of the walls, probably because it was shielded by magic too, so I would only feel it when I was on top of it.
“Well, we have a better way in than knocking on the front door, so that’s great,” Artemis replied, sounding strangely close to what I would call happy. I didn’t understand how she could be so happy. I then questioned if I was interrupting it correctly.
“We might want to take out the guards now,” I informed them. “We wouldn’t want them to come in when we don’t want them to.”
“They can’t unless I let them,” Arion murmured. “But they can still shoot arrows into the room, I guess. So, what do you suggest?”
“Knock them unconscious and lock them up somewhere.”
“That sounds good to me,” Artemis replied. “We just have to make no noise while doing it, don’t we?”
I nodded and suggested, “How about we each take out one guard?” The others nodded in agreement.
“Shade and I get the farthest one,” Artemis replied.
“Closest one,” Arion claimed.
I guessed I got middle.
In hindsight, I really didn’t give them a warning. I just pulled out my sword with my right hand and one of my knives with my left then went around the corner. My companions then hurried off after me.
We each went for our man. When I got to my man, I saw he was only armed with a sword. He made an overhand stroke and I blocked it with my sword. I thrust my knife hilt at him, and it hit him on the head. He then dropped to the floor unconscious.
Arion went at the man with a strong swipe with the sword from the left side. The guard blocked it, but didn’t see the right hook coming until it knocked him out.
Artemis quickly went after the other guard and managed to punch him in the head before he could react to her speed. Shade then helped the unconscious man fall quietly to the floor.
I listened to find that since none of the guards called out, no one inside of the chamber noticed. It made sure that things would continue to run somewhat smoothly.
We then quickly locked them inside of an empty room.
Artemis, Shade, and I followed Arion as he led us through the hallways. He led us to a small hallway. Arion looked for a specific spot then pressed his hand against a brick. The wall opened up as if welcoming back Arion to Ranvier.
Arion paused for a bit. It was understandable because whatever took place on the other side of the passage held the future of kingdoms in the events that happened there. It was simply a lot of pressure.
The moment passed though, and Arion then firmly moved into the passageway. Artemis, Shade, and I then moved after him.