CHAPTER 13: CALMNESS AND CHAOS
“Mr. Lock?” whispered a voice.
“Mr. Lock?” said the voice louder.
Lock’s eyes shuddered open to see a young woman standing in the doorway; she was wearing the colors of Velxeer.
“His majesty summons you and your companions for breakfast,” said the girl and walked away, shutting the door behind her.
Lock was still half asleep as he looked around the room he had awoken in and remembered that he was in Velxeer. The room that King Luther provided for him was fit for a king in its own right. Lock stood and walked to the mirror next to the oak door and looked back at his bed; the softest thing he had ever slept on.
The room itself was canvassed in lavender wallpaper, framed photos of flowers, and carpeted floors; Lock thought it strange to walk on clothed floors when the material could be used for garments, What a waste. Lock glared at himself in the mirror. It had been so long since he had a shave, his stubble was now forming into the start of a beard and he hadn’t been eating much lately so his stomach was becoming smaller by the day, though he knew he would never be skinny. Lock scoffed at his own image and turned to get dressed. Lock threw on his clothes, bandana, grabbed his Damascus, and headed out the door to head for the royal dining room.
Lock walked down the hall into the main concourse and stopped before the two staircases leading to separate areas of the castle; he couldn’t remember which way to go for it had been a couple years since he had been here.
“Sir?” asked a young boy carrying several chain mails.
“It’s been awhile. Where does the king have breakfast?” asked Lock.
“Of course, take the right staircase, eighth door on the right then go down that hall and it’s the third door on the left,” smiled the boy before walking past.
Lock went up the correct stairs to the next floor and took the eighth door on the right, then went into the third door on the right. He swung open the door and saw a man in a shiny red robe kneeling before a large cross on the wall.
“Third door on the LEFT,” muttered Lock.
The man looked behind him and his eyes lit up when he saw Lock standing there awkwardly. The man stood up quickly and walked toward Lock.
“Hello my child. Do you seek guidance?” asked the priest bowing his head.
“Yes I do, Father. Where’s the dining room?” asked Lock nervously.
“Just across from this room, my child,” sunk the priest.
Lock nodded a thank you and back out of the room quickly. He shut the door and exhaled, he hadn’t been spiritual for close to a decade and he wasn’t about to start now.
Lock walked into the dining room to see King Luther, Smith, Ray, Chuck, and another man sitting at the large oval table made of mahogany. Along the walls were several armed guards standing stoic, Hope they’re not gonna be looking over my shoulder while I eat, thought Lock.
“Good timing,” said Luther as Lock entered the door while simultaneously a few servants entered the door on the opposite wall.
Lock nodded and went to sit next to Ray.
“Been waiting long?” whispered Lock to Ray.
“No. You just missed about thirty minutes of Smith kissing Luther’s butt and Luther commending himself on his genius plan, ya lucky bastard,” murmured Ray.
The servants put down a plate of food in front of everyone at exactly the same time. Lock looked down at his plate wondering what it was; it was a yellow, green, brown, and gray ball with some kind of leaf sticking through the top like a flag out of an anthill.
“We don’t actually have to eat this do we?” asked Ray quietly.
“Yes. I promised I’d be respectful,” mumbled Lock angrily.
“Excuse me your majesty, but do your guards have to be here for this?” asked Lock.
King Luther stood up and looked around to his men.
The guards standing along the walls saluted their king and walked in single file out of the room. The king sat down and nodded at Lock and Lock nodded back respectfully. Lock was a little bewildered, Why is he being so nice to me this time? Did he promise Smith the same? Or did he just grow up since a couple years ago?
“Before we partake in the Florentine Bormagino, let me introduce one of the men going back with you,” announced the king.
So that’s what this crap is, thought Lock.
“This is my number one; Captain Reuben Antleon,” continued the king.
Ray leaned over to Lock to make a sarcastic remark no doubt.
“Reuben? Like the sandwich?”
Lock chuckled as did Ray at his own remark. They laughed together and looked over to Smith who somehow heard them and was glaring angrily at them. They straightened up and quietly ate their food.
Tara was in their hut alone reading the book Ruthie had given her. ‘Dr. Anersen confirmed the once perceived notion that the spellgene may pass on either chromosome. However, the X chromosome spawns a stronger strain than the Y chromosome. In other words, when a woman passes her magical abilities to her female spawn they have the potential to be more severely stronger than a male from either parent.’
“Hmm, so if my mother had it then I’m the most gifted spell caster?” said Tara aloud.
“Not quite,” said Pearl as she walked into Tara’s hut, “The strongest spell casters have a mother and father with the gift.”
“You read the book?”
“Yeah, Smith made me and Lock read the book when rumors of you surface about a month ago.”
Tara nodded as she closed the book.
“Tara!” yelled Ruthie from outside the hut, “Get out here.”
Pearl smiled at Tara and left the room. Tara walked out confused of what the fuss was about.
“What’s the matter Ruthie?” asked Tara.
She pointed out to the ocean where it was midday. Tara looked out to sea and saw what Ruthie was so excited about; Leviathan.
Leviathan was hundreds of years old and about five hundred feet long with green and blue scaled skin. Leviathan resembles the largest snake you’ve ever seen with winged fins every hundred feet and a pointy beaked nose. Tara froze as she saw it leap out of the water over a thousand feet into the air.
“The legend goes,” began Pearl, “Leviathan was once a threat to humans but a group of brave warriors battled it for ten days and ten nights without rest until Leviathan finally retreated back into the ocean to circle the planet protecting us in repentance for its malevolence. It comes here this time every year to dance for us.”
They all looked at the Leviathan as it jumped in and out of the water wiggling and dancing for its audience.
“It’s so serene,” smiled Tara hypnotically.
“Yes, though some people fear it. Say it will return for a second fight,” warned Ruthie.
It was getting to be late afternoon as Ray, Lock, and Chuck went sightseeing in the town of Velxeer.
“Whoa! Did you see the size of these peaches?” yelled Chuck holding up a peach almost as big as his own head, which was huge in its own right.
“That’s really something,” said Ray.
Chuck paid for the peach as he ate it then followed Ray and Lock as they were heading into a weapon store. Lock gazed down at the glass case filled with knives of all sizes, lengths, and widths.
“See anything good?” asked Ray looking at swords on the adjacent wall.
“Nothing better than what I already have. You?”
“Maybe. Can I see that one?” asked Ray to the clerk as he pointed to a sheathed dress dagger colored emerald.
The clerk handed it to him and Ray examined it. He unsheathed the double-edged blade looked at its sharpness very closely.
“How much?” asked Ray.
“It’s free, by word of the king.”
Ray dug into his pocket and dropped down a reasonable amount on the counter.
“You have a family, don’t you?” Lock raised his eyebrows at the clerk as they both walked out.
When they walked out they saw a Velxeer guard running towards them waving his arms in the air.
“What do you suppose-?” asked Lock rhetorically.
“Mraybe e wants mah peesh,” mumbled Chuck with his mouth fool of dripping juice that waterfalled down his chin.
“Mr. Lock, please come quick. Trouble.”
“What’s the matter?” asked Ray.
“He’s here. He’s here.”
“Who? Spit it out, man,” ordered Lock.
The four of them ran in the direction of the castle side-by-side.
“How many with him?” asked Lock.
“Ballsy,” said Ray.
They ran into the main entrance to see Smith and Luther facing a tall man of about six and a half feet with a large sword along his back wearing a black hooded cloak over a dark red sleeveless body suit. The man’s face was dark skinned with a long goatee, evil eyes, and a crooked smile of malcontent.
“Leave my home, Krazz! We have nothing to speak about,” ordered Luther.
“Give the empire what we desire or die.”
Krazz’s voice was deep and without emotion.
“Nobody threatens the Returners!” yelled Lock drawing his sword in unison with Ray drawing his newly purchased blade.
“Lock, no!” yelled Smith.
“So, this is Lock,” said Krazz turning towards Lock.
“Yeah, you want some?” asked Lock.
Krazz smiled like he was hungry for a fight.
“Where is she? Where is my girl? The spell caster, she belongs to me.”
“She is not your property, she’s a person,” interrupted Ray.
“That’s right Krazz, she’s one of us now,” said Smith with conviction.
“I have vowed to protect her,” said Lock walking closer to Krazz, “And if killing you make her safer, so be it!”
Lock rushed Krazz and swung his sword down trying to split his face down the middle. Krazz wrapped his fingers around Lock’s blade as it stopped in mid-flight; Krazz’s blood dripped down the blood droplets falling to the floor. Lock struggled to move the blade down further but it refused to travel onward. Lock was shocked that this demon could stop his blade so easily. Krazz smiled maliciously before kicking Lock in the chest with his humongous boot sending Lock flying twenty feet back. Krazz threw Lock’s sword in the opposite direction as it bounced and clanged around.
Ray thought about attacking but quickly realized that a predator to Lock would be his murderer, so he sheathed his blade.
“Now, give me the girl, give me the castle and you won’t die!” yelled Krazz at Smith and Luther.
Lock got to his knees as Krazz’s back was turned and drew a throwing dagger. Smith looked at Lock and nodded his head discouraging Lock’s idea. Lock glared at Krazz wanting retribution more than anything. Everyone was silent. Krazz wiped his bloody hand on his suit and began making his way for the door.
“Have it your own way,” said the large imperial.
Lock stood up as Krazz left through the door.
“How the hell did he get in?” asked Ray remembering all the surveillance in and around the town.
“He’s Krazz,” answered King Luther.
“Why the fuck did you stop me!” yelled Lock so loud his own ears vibrated.
“Because, you can’t kill him,” said Captain Antleon walking down the stairs to them.
“Think about it Lock,” started Smith, “If that ‘thing’ can stop your sword without even trying, then you don’t stand a chance. Besides…I sensed something from him. The same feeling I get from Tara.”
Smith wanted Lock to get checked out in the infirmary but he rejected the request. Lock spent the rest of the day thinking. My girl? Who did he mean? Tara or Alex? The rest of them assumed he meant Tara because they don’t know of Alex’s past. But how would he know that I rescued Alex and that she didn’t just escape? Does he know about our involvement with Harmon? Will he be in Harmon? Smith senses Tara’s gift? Does he know about Alex too? Lock tried to come to some conclusions to his questions but didn’t arrive at any.
Lock, Ray, and Smith stayed in Velxeer for four more days planning with Luther and his men the future battle in Harmon as well as a location where messengers from both sides could meet on a daily basis in case a war should break out in Luther’s kingdom; Chuck stayed behind. With three days till they had to position themselves within Harmon they boarded the train to take them home along with twelve Velxeer archers and Captain Reuben Antleon.
On the trip back to Returner’s HQ the sixteen of them sat in the same car. Lock and Ray had noticed that pretty much everyone employed by the Velxeer army was a robot emotionally.
“So…” said Ray breaking the silence, “How long you been with the military, Reuben?”
“Captain Antleon,” corrected Reuben.
“Excuse me?” asked Ray confused.
“My name is Captain Antleon and you will address me as such. And in answer to your question: I have been with the military since 2618 when I turned fourteen. Anything else?” answered Reuben with debonair rudeness.
Lock began laughing.
“What’s the joke?” asked Reuben.
“Nothin’. But rest assured, I don’t think ANYBODY will be asking YOU anymore questions,” laughed Lock at Antleon’s expense.
“Mmmm,” hummed Chuck as he ate bread (an entire loaf in his hands with multiple bites taken out of it.)
Ray leaned to Lock’s ear before speaking.
“You think the archers are as much ‘fun’ as their captain?” Lock nodded.
It was Tara, Ruthie, and Pearl’s last day in Sandria and they were determined to make the most of it. Tara was awakened at sun up by Pearl followed by Ruthie.
“Come on girls. I have a surprise for you,” yelled Pearl running outside.
“What’s she so bubbly about?” asked Ruthie.
“That’s the same question I’m always asking you in the morning,” giggled Tara.
“Leave me alone, I had a rough night,” said Ruthie holding her head.
“Yeah I know. I was the one that carried you home remember?”
“You didn’t carry me…you just helped me walk.”
After thirty minutes, Ruthie was finally ready to get to her feet and leave the hut where Pearl was waiting on the outside. They walked over to the large log building in the center of town where Elizabeth was waiting. Pearl and Elizabeth led the way up the stairs to the second floor while holding hands and Ruthie and Tara followed.
Once they reached the second floor they went to a door that covered a ladder leading to the roof of the inn. They got on to the roof and saw a long cord descending down into the ocean.
“I hope your strong swimmers,” asked Elizabeth as she stripped to reveal her bikini.
“I grew up in the water,” strutted Ruthie past Tara as she began to disrobe as well. “Tara?” asked Pearl taking off her shirt to reveal a tube top, but left her shorts on.
“I get by,” smiled Tara being more than modest.
“You’re not gonna swim in your dress, are you?” asked Pearl.
“She’s shy,” giggled Ruthie.
Tara frowned as she slid her dress straps down her shoulders and slid down her dress.
“Not anymore,” smiled Tara as she stood there in her underwear.
Tara went over to the cord and grabbed the handle that would send her traveling down into the cool blue water. She took a deep breath and took a small running start and leaped off the building with handle gripped. Tara sailed through the sky a hundred feet in the air gradually descending, she felt the cool breeze brush her face and push her hair back. Tara had an idea; she closed her eyes and concentrated before releasing the handle in mid-flight.
She was over the sand when she released her only lifeline as she felt her body glide through the air without the use of any support. She was manipulating gravity, I’m flying! She opened her eyes to see the water fast approaching. She took a deep breath just before diving into the water headfirst. Her head popped back out of the water to see her three companions staring at her trick. Tara smiled and waved up at them, but they didn’t move.
“That was really something Ter,” said Ruthie as the two of them walked back to their hut at sunset to get dressed for the night festivities.
“Learn something new every day, I guess,” said Tara smiling as she slid her wet hair back.
“Ever seen sky fires?”
“What’s that?” asked Tara with inquiry.
“They’re these little balls of light that shoot up from the ground and when they get high in the sky they explode in sparks of color,” explained Ruthie acting out the effect with her hands.
“Sounds like fun.”
It was nightfall when Lock and the others returned to headquarters. Everyone in the car stood and Reuben looked at Lock and pointed his palm toward the door.
“After you,” said Reuben waiting for Lock to enter first.
“No, by all means. I don’t like certain people behind me,” said Lock accusingly after Smith was out of hearing range.
Reuben walked ahead and Lock was the last to exit the train. Once inside they saw that only a few people had returned home early, luckily the cooks were among them and dinner was being served.
“Good to be home. Though…Velxeer was nice,” commented Ray.
“Indeed,” agreed Smith, “Lock, show these men to the dorm. Captain Antleon will stay in the spare Returner’s room next to mine.”
Lock nodded in affirmation.
“Come on guys.”
The twelve men followed Lock toward the hall leading to the men’s dorm.
“I’d like to speak to you afterwards,” called out Smith.
“And I’d like to talk to you,” yelled Lock without looking back.
The men’s dorm was pretty much the same layout as the women’s, only twice the size.
“Alright boys! Throw your belongings on any bed without a blanket and I’ll pass out blankets after dinner,” ordered Lock, “Any questions? I’m hungry!”
“Where should I sleep, SIR!” yelled a voice from the group.
“Was I not clear?”
“It’s against my religion to share a room with men, SIR!”
“Huh? Oh! You’re a… I apologize. Come with me,” said Lock realizing they had sent a female soldier along with the eleven men.
Lock walked alongside this girl towards the women’s dorm.
“What’s your name soldier?” asked Lock trying to get a sense of emotionality from someone from Velxeer.
“Number ten, SIR!” Lock rolled his eyes as they approached the door.
Lock banged on the door three times.
“Hello! Is it safe for a man to enter?”
“Come on in,” said a dainty voice from within the room.
Lock opened the door and entered with Ten to see that only a handful of young girls were present in the dorm.
“Emma, can you give this young lady a blanket and show her to her bed. She’ll only be staying for a few days,” instructed Lock.
“Sure,” answered the girl as she closed her book and stood up, “I can put her above Ruthie.”
“Fine,” said Lock before leaving the room.
Lock went back down the hall into the dining room where he smelled boiled chicken cooking, then he proceeded to Smith’s room where Smith and Lars were already talking.
“Lock, we were just discussing Harmon,” said Smith who was sitting at his desk while Lars was leaning against the wall.
“Smith was telling me that Chuck had to stay behind, but I think we can manage anyway,” confirmed Lars, “I’m going to give you guys some privacy.”
Lock grabbed Lars by the arm as he tried to leave the room.
“I didn’t see Alex in the dorm.”
“Haven’t seen her in a few days,” whispered back Lars just before leaving the room and closing the door behind him.
“Well…” asked Lock to Smith.
“I know about Alex, Lock,” said Smith glaring at Lock.
“You know,” he said calmly, hoping that Smith didn’t in fact know anything.
“Yes, you’re a fool to think I didn’t.”
“Oh man. Listen, she’s a valuable asset despite what we both know about her.”
“I’m not talking about Alex, this is about you.”
“Me? What about me?”
“I specifically ordered you to not get sexually involved with anyone inside these walls and you promised me!” yelled Smith as he slammed both fists down on the table.
Lock was relieved.
“We haven’t been sexually involved yet.”
“Yet is right. I see the way you two look at each other, it’s unstoppable. Just…keep it to yourselves, please.”
“You had something to talk to me about?”
“What? Oh right,” said Lock remembering his question, “Why are you so spineless with Luther? You act like he’s your king when he’s not.”
“I am being tactful, Lock. Something you know nothing about. Think carefully, you act hostile to the ruler of a kingdom and he won’t want to help you. Or he could simply just wipe you out because he doesn’t like you, that can’t happen. As Returners we have to survive, we have to prevail. That is why I have already sent out messengers to the Returners positioned around this half of the continent; for aid. With their help, Velxeer, and ourselves we can defeat the empire in Harmon.”
“Yes sir,” said Lock as he saluted Smith, which he rarely ever did, then left the room to have dinner.
At dinner, the present Returners sat together as always, the inhabitants of HQ were scattered among the tables, and Captain Antleon was with his archers who absolutely refused to sit with anyone involved with the Returners; they segregated themselves in their own private table.
“Clyde, how’s the leg?” asked Ray.
“Almost a hundred percent,” he answered.
“Good,” said Lock after chewing some of his chicken leg, “Then you will be joining us in Harmon.”
“Yup, gonna have a good number what with the Velxeer military at our side, providing that the girls make it back unscathed. Oh and Doc’s coming too,” said Clyde.
“Looks like it’s gonna be Smith all by himself here. And the little ones of course,” scoffed Ray.
The wheels in Lock’s head began grinding against one another, we will be away at Harmon leaving defenseless people here, Alex, an ex-imperial told me of this attack and right now she’s missing. Lock couldn’t eat another bite; he was beginning to feel full and his brain was busy with other matters. After dinner everyone went off to their beds to get some sleep, Harmon was four days away.
The moon was directly over her head as Alex crept quietly into the Returner’s hideout, she entered the dining area; pitch black. Alex took a quick look around tuning her ears into the elements to hear movement of breathing as she tip toed toward the hall leading to the women’s dorm. Suddenly, a hand flew over her mouth muffling her lips and another hand bent her left arm back. Her assailant spun her around and threw her into one of the stonewalls, she felt her back crack as her attacker’s right hand was now on her throat and the left hand was holding a knife to her heart.
“Where were you?” said the voice.
“Lock?” she asked squinting to make him out.
He pulled her towards him by the neck and shoved her back into the wall again,
“Are you setting us up?”
“I can’t breathe.”
“That’s the idea,” said Lock holding the knife closer so she could feel it, “Why were you there? Will I be seeing imperials at my front door?”
Lock’s right hand could feel the struggled breathing from her throat, so he released and she dropped to her knees trying to get her breath back as she hacked saliva onto the cold, hard floors. She looked up at him still gasping for air.
“If that was the case. Why would I come back?”
“To throw me off the scent.”
“No, I swear. I went there to seek out more help. Able bodied persons willing to fight for our cause.”
Lock looked down at her as tears streamed down her face, not tears of a death fearing girl, but those of a woman that lost the respect of a man she cares for. Lock may not be tactful but he could spot a liar when he looked into their eyes and he didn’t see a liar crying on the floor. Lock sheathed his knife back onto his leg and offered her a hand, which she took as she came to her feet.
“And…” asked Lock wiping the tears from her cheeks.
“Fifteen more. Snipers that will meet us at the rear entrance at dawn, not imperials,” she assured him.
“I’m sorry, Alex. The pieces just fit, you missing while all of us in Harmon on your word alone, it just sounded like a trap to me. My Returner’s instinct overpowers my heart.”
“I’ve never seen you like that before. So cold-blooded.”
“I’ve never seen you weak before.”
“I liked your intensity,” flirted Alex.
“Go to bed, we’ll inform Smith of our new advantage tomorrow,” said Lock aloud, “Let’s just pray that he doesn’t smell Empire on you.”
“Right,” said Alex just before retiring within the wall of separation.