In the Great Hall, all of the Guardians who’d gathered the day before had returned.
“What does it say?” Philip asked.
“Alliance,” Henry responded.
The room was silent, though the air was filled with a sense of confusion.
“Alliance?” Philip repeated.
“Some kind of trick?” Thomas suggested.
“Could be,” Arthur said, “But if that’s the case, the question isn’t why, but why now?”
Some in the room seemed even more baffled.
“Arthur, can you elaborate?” Henry asked.
“This can’t be a trick,” Arthur began, “At least I don’t think so. If it is, it sure took the Vesuvians a long time to think of. None of the Rheans have ever tried to trick us before, not like this, and they’re not stupid. This is completely unprecedented. Think of it. Open talk, trade, exchange of information.”
Philip asked, “Where’s the Vesuvian who delivered this message?”
Thomas spoke, “Ten minutes ago, he was still outside the gate.”
Henry looked to Arthur, “What could have possibly happened for the Vesuvians to be so desperate all of a sudden?”
“Who knows,” Arthur said, “The important thing to remember is that they’re requesting an alliance, not peace.”
“Good point,” Philip said, “An alliance usually means to join forces against another.”
“Forget it!” Thomas laughed, “We’ve pursued peace with them countless times and they’ve never cooperated. Let them sweat it out this time.”
Arthur was quick to counter, “According to Sara, our Guardian who fought the Vesuvians two nights ago, it appeared as though the Vesuvians were not cooperating, perhaps even fighting each other. Now I don’t know what that means-”
“I’ll tell you what it means.” Thomas snapped, “It’s all part of some plan to trick us into this ‘alliance.’”
“Enough!” Philip said, “Both of you have valid arguments, but there is simply no way to be sure at this time.”
After a moment of silence, Arthur spoke, “There may be a way.”
Philip looked to him, “How?”
“Let’s talk to the Vesuvian before jumping to conclusions.” Arthur said.
“Doesn’t mean he won’t lie,” Thomas said.
Arthur became visibly agitated.
“Thomas!” Philip said, “You’re a fine Guardian, perhaps one of the best. But Arthur has seen and done more than most in this room, so I will say this only once. Shut up!”
Embarrassed, Thomas’ head dropped.
“Shall I bring the Vesuvian?” Arthur asked.
“Not without an escort,” Philip said.
Thomas was quick to volunteer, “I’ll go.”
Philip waved him off, “After what you just pulled? No! You’re lucky you didn’t kill the Vesuvian! Arthur, find Sara. The two of you will escort the Vesuvian here. I want her involved with this from now on.”
Arthur immediately stood and was on his way. As he walked through the Citadel, he ran into Richard, “Have you seen Sara?”
“I just spoke with her,” Richard answered, “She and several others are watching the Vesuvian outside.”
“I should have guessed. Thanks.” Arthur said.
Leon was sitting on a boulder near the main gate, not minding the dozens of eyes watching him like a freak show.
“He must be crazy to come here alone,” William said, as he and Jacob stood guard along the wall.
Jacob stared at Leon, “How do you know he’s alone? Some of these guys can turn invisible.”
Arthur continued his search and found Sara. He stood by her, watching Leon.
“It’s him,” Sara said, “That’s the one that got away.”
Arthur looked, “The Consular wants us to escort your friend here.”
“Yeah right.” Sara smiled.
“I’m not kidding.” Arthur said.
“Why?” Sara asked.
“You’ll see.” Arthur said, “The Consular himself wants you in on this.”
Sara never took her eyes off Leon once she and Arthur passed the gate. When they came to within just a few feet, Leon stood and pulled his hood back.
All things considered, Sara found Leon to be an average-looking man with short hair and a clean-cut face.
Leon offered a handshake to Sara, “Hello.”
“Hi,” Sara said, accepting Leon’s hand, “I’m Sara. This is Arthur.”
“My name is Leon. Have you come with an answer for me?”
“No,” Arthur said, “Follow us. We need to speak with you.”
Dozens of soldiers frantically worked to clear the streets, pushing people aside and diverting carriages.
Arthur walked side-by-side with Leon.
Sara was several yards ahead, working with the soldiers. They eventually arrived at their destination. The air in the room was tense as Leon entered.
“All of you please have a seat,” Philip said.
As Leon sat, he spoke, “The Vesuvian Council is expecting me to return soon. I’ll try to answer any questions as best as I can, but time is of the essence.”
“Why is that?” Philip asked.
Leon looked at several of the Guardians before turning to Philip, “Can I ask you something first?”
“Very well.” Philip responded.
“Where do you go when you die?” Leon asked.
Philip was sure the others were just as dumbfounded by the question as he, “Um...well...we...”
“What do you mean?” Sara asked.
Leon looked to Sara, “What is your afterlife like?”
Puzzled, Sara answered, “It depends on what you believe.”
Leon’s eyes went wide, “You don’t know?”
“Why? Do you?” Philip asked.
“Of course,” Leon said, “When Rheans die, they pass on to a place called the Netherworld, and a few days ago we found out that it’s been invaded. In order to stop it, we need your help.”
Philip paused for a moment, unsure of what to say, “This world is filled with many strange wonders, but it’s hard to imagine how you intend on stopping this invasion.”
Sara found it amusing, “I hope we don’t have to die!”
“Who or what has invaded your Netherworld?” Arthur asked.
“Pelasgians,” Leon replied, “They’re a... collective of sorts. They come from a place we call the Shadow Realm. As for dying, don’t worry, we have a gateway to travel between lands.”
All eyes were on Philip, “Leon, I understand you are short on time, but we must discuss this further. I’ve arranged a room for you in the Citadel. We will have an answer for you by morning.”