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The King Trials 2: Beyond.

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~ A Change of Plans~

Lancia harbour.

The brine scented winds blows its cold, salty breaths.

The sounds of numerous hooves clopping on hard wood wanes as the carousine slows to an eventual standstill, as if it too is reluctant. Solaris bends down automatically to refasten the laces in his boots. I pick up my royal blue, long coat and peel my arms into the sleeves. The laundress cleansed my cloths well, I can still smell the lingering fresh fragrance.

“So, this is truly happening,” Brennon says whilst aggressively shoving on a fitted cinnamon-coloured jacket, over his leather jerkin closeup with lapels. “We are leaving Urium. Deserting all we know, the people we know, and the safety we once knew.” He frees a wry scoff. “Not that we were any safer inland either.”

“Despite our dalliance with death—” Treyton runs a quick hand through his medium-length hair, strawberry wisps still cling to his temples, “—you are still unchanged. It takes a special kind of being.”

Brennon’s mouldy green eyes set on him the way I lock my anchoring point of my arrow on a target. “It takes a strong being. Whether or not I ascend the throne, which I will, I will not be tainted by the High King’s death-defying tests.”

The door of the carousine opens, Brennon stands promptly. “Unlike all of you,” he begins and props his collar, straightening the breast line. “I am not weak.”

My eyes peruse the interior. Dario, Brennon, Markiveus, Solaris, Treyton, Vince and myself. The last of the purebloods. Despite Brennon’s supercilious claim, all of us have changed, both in appearance and something deeper. All of the remaining Herems have grown out their hair between neck and shoulder-length, either with natural comb overs, side parting or central parting.

I however merely had my hair trimmed back to its original length: waist-high.

During phase one of the King Trials, their intrinsic development was glacial. But they are commendable rivals in action, eager to appease the nobility of the chosen societies, willing to assimilate to their ways and livelihood. Steadfast to every challenge, no matter how unimportant it seemed, like trying to locate a ‘golden’ apple.

But nothing altered us all than the Blood Games.

The killing, the losses, the corpses. It was so much more than a dalliance with death; it was like something malevolent was summoned. Death was impartial, merely a collector of those slain, reaping lives and revelling in the blood sacrifice that we made to it, all in the name of macabre entertainment. Under the guise of a traditional symbolism of their history and the suffering, that all past Sorcians endured.

I went in whole and came out empty.

Something happened to me, it is like something was stolen from me and something enigmatic took its stead. Something I cannot explain but it feels hollowing, constant, like morsels of me are being chipped away gradually.

All I know is that I do not feel the same. I feel different. Altered. Scathed.


I glance up at Vince standing over me, wavy sheets of his dark hair curtain his cheeks. He plows a hand through the centre, redirecting the flow of dark waves from his face.

Wordlessly, I rise and I follow him out as the last of us exit the carousine. The coachmen are still offloading our luggage from the trunk. In tribute of the victorious purebloods, we were allowed to keep any weapon of our choice whether it belonged to a Spartan, or the weapon we fought with during the matches. Along with select jewellery for us, each with fine woven cloths, cloaks and supplies for our journey.

I was even allowed to keep my battle attire that I wore in the Games, and by my choice, a Spartan’s bow equipped with a stock of steel-tipped quivers.

On the long stretch of Lancia’s pier with various styles of boats docked on either side, we are at the very end. The sails of every different boat are a kaleidoscope of colours with a medley of patterns and diverse fashioned insignias to represent either trade or denomination of people.

The structure of the boats was erected for the purpose of it. The long ship, a large, open, galley-style vessel suitable for beaching and easy re-launching which proves useful for long-distance commerce, for sea merchants who wish to transport larger and heavier freightage.

Another type of ship is a barge-style fat-bottomed boat. Wide and spacious, built sturdily enough to be beachable so that it could land at a wide range of locations along the tidal coasts of northern Urium. Their hulls are more rounded than those of long ships or other galleys.

The ship our convoy of Avangard soldiers, Duce Merian’s private carriage and our carousine are all lined up in front of a wingler. A wingler is one of the fastest models of air travel with a long, slender and irregular shaped body, broad and deep for maximum capacity to be held whilst still traveling at impeccable speeds.

The name is a short term for a winged ship. A wingler has multiple air fans with triple masts and side sails. Extensions on the hull that airborne will fan out the several, sprawling sails like a modified forelimb of a winged creature. This wingler has sails shaped like the first dorsal fin of a fish, coloured a stewed cherry red with larger nautical bonnets, layers of fabric attached to the boat, and designed in a way that it causes the wind to drive the boat along the sail.

They are crew members crawling up and down most of them, handling the forestay, cables and ropes attaching the mast to the bow, and the missan—the mast rearmost sail closest to the aft. Two crew boys manage the bowsprit, a spar jutting from the front of the vessel used for ropes to secure the mast and sail to the front of the vessel.

And when we launch, halyers, ropes used to hoist the sails will be raised.

This wingler, I would say, is an innovative convergence of a carrack and barge with elaborate rigging. The foresail and foremast are steadied with the help of ropes attached to the bowsprit projecting from the forecastle.

Beyond to the surrounding sea dappled with the sweetest blues and pools of delicate greens.

Like a shepherd, Duce Merian herded us together. Partnered crew boys extract a portable staircase that is integrated into the ship’s hull, letting it down and allowing others to retrieve our belongings and carry them to wherever their Captain directed.

“I just wanted to say congratulations to you all for making it thus far,” Duce Merian says, his dull groomed hair forever in a pomade style. “I know it was not easy what you went through, but it is nothing compared to what one of you will face when you are chosen. The burden of kingship weighs more heavily that you can possibly know.”

Encircled around him, silence binds us together. Regardless of the hollering, neighbouring sailors, the crashing sounds of lapping waves, whooshing and spurting against the stands of the pier.

Attentiveness tunes out every noise.

A rumpled line strikes his forehead. “One thing, I will tell you.” Thoughtfully he adjusts the crimson sash with the Crown’s crest, drawing it closer to be in align with the gold one. “For the greater good, the High King has had to ally himself with evil to defeat an even greater evil. Nothing is black and white but a thousand shades of compromises and sacrifices.”

My gaze sinks to all of our shiny boots, newly polished.

“On that note, for phase two; beyond Urium, we will have new travellers.”

Curiosity hoists my gaze back up. Duce Merian pauses, hooking us all with suspense as the other Herems exchange looks of snarls and curdled lips. His cheery, callous tenor makes it sounds like they are the replacements of the Herems we have lost, even though I know that it is impossible.

“The Hische twins, a brother and a sister,” he reveals. But I was already informed. “The same Hitsches that pioneered ahead on the quest to not only locate Velheim and other locations in advance but prepare them for your advent. It was a pure miracle that any, let alone all of them, consented but that is because they have their own ulterior motives.”

“Then, where are they?” Markiveus asks, shoving his hands into the pockets of his brown leather locomotive jacket with leather bindings on the sleeves. “The twin witches?”

Duce Merian glares back at him reproachfully. “They are not a pair of weak, ill-willed witches, Herem. They are skilled sorcerers whose abilities are praiseworthy since they gained an audience with both unknown and legendary civilisations, erections thought to be spun from lore and myth.”

“Duce!” a being yelled in Doxsorin from on board.

Duce Merian twists around and we all look up at the Captain approaching the flank and setting his beefy hands on the railing, observing us all from above. A thin stalk of some plant hangs out from the corner of his mouth, dangling.

His captainship is marked by the intricacy of his garnet-coloured uniform, the ruby embellishes on the breast of his long coat and the medium height spikes that jut out from his shoulders. I glance skyward to the billowing flags amongst the sails, the symbol of a tidal wave. The marks of a pirata.

Piratas are the elite and honourable versions of ordinary pirates and scoundrels. Instead of using their explorative and thieving skills to either rob airborne or sailing ships. They use their skills in service of high masters, people in the higher tier of our society, to obtain valuable assets or venture to distance places to locate things that they cannot.

And I suppose the Crown had it arrange that they will be our air fare to places that none in Urium would ever want to go. Beyond.

“Captain Eelfort, greetings,” Duce Merian says in a perfect change of tongues, speaking Doxsorin as if he were a native to Sorcia. He extends a graceful hand wave.

Tangerine eyes skim over all of us in one full circle. “Come aboard, you and the purebloods. There has been a change of plans,” he says in a way of an offer, but his commanding tone is one of a true Captain.

Our circular clump tightens into a single file as we flock towards the elongated staircase leading up to the top deck. Once I reach the base, something in my periphery demands my attention. Attracting my eye, my gaze is captured by Primus Kelan.

Awash by a brilliant noontides sun. Armed in his full Primus uniform, burgundy armour gleaming, cape rustling in long ripples behind him. His hand rested on the pommel of the sword, inky eyes trained on me, undistracted by the wisps of black that flutter along his forehead and temples, the rest of his luxuriant hair slicked back, the sides maintained to a short, low fade.

I have not spoken to him in weeks. Not after he came to inform me of his departure and as he disclaimed that he would only return when it was time to leave. And that was true, since he only arrived last eventide. Even then we did not speak, he did not visit me or even see me as he did routinely. But I am certain that it was because he was occupied with urgent matters, he is after all a Primus.

“Hera Aurora, if you do not mind,” Markiveus says with an insolent tone grated by irritation. “Some of us are eager to board the ship of doom and sail to our deaths.”

I stabs him with an off-shoulder look before I proceed. Brushing past hustling crew members, Captain Eelfort leads us to the primary balcony that overlooks the main deck and all below. On the spine of the deck, there are three pits, wooden rings with three steps that lead down to the stands positioned in the centre that hold up the masts.

Captain Eelfort stops and allows us to gather around him. The thin straw of some plant bopping at the corner of his reedy lips. A grim look steeps into his face, straining the edges.

“What language do they speak?”

Duce Merian flicks a flippant hand. “Arkian is fine.”

He nods curtly and establishes solemn eye contact with us all.

This is clearly not good news.

“There are three things you must know of me,” he pronounces slowly, carefully, the pitch of his voice fluctuating. Uncomfortable with the tongue, but adequate of a skill to be coherent. “Only three things that I care about. My ship, my crew and wealth. Exactly in that order.”

Duce Merian folds his arms readily, a worried frown puckers his face.

“I cannot commend that we voyage beyond Urium’s borders, not now. We have enough perils in our homeland, we cannot afford ones of the unknown.”

Duce Merian juts up a halting finger like he’s silencing a child. “I do not care for your qualms. You were paid extravagantly, and you gave the High King your word that you would guarantee our air fare.”

Vexed, he gnaws on the stem of the thin plant. “And the High King guaranteed our safety to all under his banner, I suppose we both broke our promises. As for the payment, I will happily give it back. All the riches in the realm are useless if I have buzzards pecking at my eyes.”

His eyes shoot askance and Duce spins around to watch Primus Kelan ascending the staircase with two hooded beings following behind him, their identities shrouded by matching cloaks, a washed-out pale red. The one figure is much taller with broader shoulders and the other petite one has a feminine frame. The two are followed by the rest of the Avangard squadron.

“Primus!” Duce Merian shrieks, his panic echoing. “Primus, over here, please.” Flagging him over frantically.

Primus Kelan nods Reinsbure over. He whispers something to him and gestures to a random passing crew boy, Reinsbure nods obediently whilst he imparted his instruction. Alone, Primus Kelan saunters towards us and joins Duce Merian’s flank, dwarfing both him and the Captain.

“Our fine Captain here is abandoning his accord with our High King,” Merian informs with an acidic tone.

Primus Kelan merely shifts his inky gaze on the Captain. Immediately Elfort’s eyes widen with regret and he flaps up a quick hand of surrender, a rough palm exposed.

“Not abandoning but amending the accord, Primus,” he says with a shuddering voice, pivoting to bow deeply to him in a show of respect.

“It is too late for that,” Primus says unequivocally. “A transaction was made, and you consented, not just to anyone but to my, our High King. To go against your accord, you go against him and that will be met with swift retribution for you and your crew.”

Captain Eelfort straightens, but his gaze remains bolted to the ground. “If there is punishment, let it fall on me. I do this for the sake of my crew, they have wives and family they wish to return to. The Black Death has crippled the food security of many households and they wish to provide for their families with what they can.”

A tamed ferocity in his eyes fades. “How far can you take us?”

Primus,” Duce Merian says pleadingly. “You cannot possibly be considering—”

He mutes him with a hand chop, cutting him mid-sentence. Then he nods at Captain Eelfort, motioning for him to continue.

“To the last port of Urium, Tandem, the breach between the border and the outland territories. I can also arrange for carrier bags for you to store supplies, pitch-up tents, and sleeping bags. Where you go, imperial chests that hold your luggage will only slow your travels,” he says and jerks his chin in a direction, I glance aside and glimpse the crew members still hauling up our luggage, most of them need two pairs of hands to carry.

Brennon rolls out his infamous groan. We all look at him pinching the top bridge of his nose. “Forgive me, I have trouble comprehending this.” He raises a bumbling hand, theatrically expressing perplexation. “You mean to tell me that we must walk, by foot, trek to a mythical city, beyond Urium, where we will be ripe for the taking to any unknown, perilous beasts of the wild?”

Solaris nods eagerly. “I hate to agree with the blabbering Herem, but to fly is one thing. Walking through unexplored, strange territories, we could be journeying through perils undiscovered, which means we will not know how to defend ourselves.”

Duce Merian nods passionately in his direction and jabs his gaze back at him. “We have a strict timeline which was already delayed when we departed the Shamburn region. The Velheim dignitaries are expecting us this full moon, we cannot afford to offend them with unpunctuality.”

I lift my hand and clutch onto the pendant, drawing instant comfort.

“I will not begrudge a Captain for prioritising the wellbeing of those under his authority, I would do the same,” Kelan utters with sheer dominance. “We will be vulnerable, but that is why my squad and I are here. We will need to arrange an alternative plan, and also we have the twin Hitsches to navigate for us.”

Captain Eelfort plucks the straw from his mouth and uses it to point at nothing. “I can also arrange for a few horses, and mules to carry your luggage. There are a few villages on the strip that threads the border, there you can purchase more.”

Primus Kelan’s shoulders rise with a deep inhale. “Very well, Captain. Have the purebloods shown to their allocated sleeping quarters.”

The Captain snaps a nod. He looks beyond us and outstretches an arm to the sky, his lips narrow to sound a quick, high-pitched whistle, beckoning one of his crew.

“Captain, take me, the Hitsches and Duce Merian to your map room,” Kelan orders. “You are going to help us charter a walking route to our destination.”

“There are no atlases in Urium that document definite land masses, pathways or any topography of what lies beyond,” Duce Merian objects with dramatic hand gestures. “Nothing precise that can guide us safely.”

Without breaking eye contact, Primus Kelan outstretches an arm to his left and snaps his fingers twice. On cue, the hooded figures approach, the other Herems part to give way to them.

An ominous energy invades my senses, something I have never felt before. I can normally detect motives, the truth of a being whether friend or foe through the natural energy they radiate. But for the first time, my senses are scrambled by mystery.

“That is why they are here. They can do what we cannot.”

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