Chapter 1: Return of a Hero
“Your reign ends now.”
Amado Aguila’s voice thundered through the Roaring Tyrant’s throne room. The demand echoed throughout the Great Hall until it reached a lone figure on the opposite side.
I’m coming for you.
Amado could feel his blood rush as he drew closer and closer to the end of the massive golden throne room. He could swear that the resonating clack of his shoes grew louder with every step, that each gilded pillar he passed shook as it felt the tremors of his footsteps.
The king sat steadfast watching the boy traverse the throne room. He raised his dark eyes to the young hero, now at the foot of the high throne.
“Do you really believe you can defeat me?” the king said with a smirk.
“He who has conquered empires and broken souls will not fall easily.” he rose from his throne.
“It’s already over, tyrant.” Amado yelled. “You’ve lost!”
“Are you really that arrogant, boy?” the tyrant jeered. “Do you believe I have nothing left in store for you?”
Amado didn’t blink.
“I’m ready to take down anything you throw at me.” Amado scoffed.
“Are you really?”
“Are you sure?”
“I have an army outside waiting for you.”
“I have two.”
“No you don’t.”
“Yes I do.”
“Well I have three.”
“Where are they?”
Amado could no longer hold his laughter back. Neither could the Roaring Tyrant. The two burst into laughter. The king descended from the steps leading to his throne and embraced his nephew.
“I’ve missed you, tito Felipe.” Amado said.
“I’ve missed you too, Ado.”
King Felipe laughed heartily and gave Amado a strong pat on the shoulder. They walked themselves out of the throne room and through the side door into the Royal Garden.
“What just happened?” A young inexperienced guard in the other room was listening to the loud conversation through the door at one of the exits.
“Royals.” scoffed the other guard. “You get used to them.”
The king and his nephew sat in their hand carved wooden chairs. The sun shone through the stone and granite courtyard surrounding them. Narrow marble columns accented with vines hung from potted plants around the archways. At the center of the courtyard was a quiet black water fountain surrounded by a small pond with imported lily pads that bloomed on the hour.
“How’s the kingdom, tito?” Amado asked. “Constitutional monarchy is treating you well I trust?”
“It’s doing wonderful. I attend a charity gala or two and ‘Kris deals with the politics. We play to our strengths and the country doesn’t burn down in flames...”
“Still the Roaring Tyrant to his stoic Prime Minister?”
“Always. You know it’s a bit like when we were kids.”
“Really how so?” Amado asked.
“Good morning.” a man in a tailored pinstripe suit walked into the courtyard. “I hope I am not interrupting.”
“Makris! Nonsense, we were just talking about you.” Felipe said heartily. “Makris you remember my nephew Amado.”
“Of course.” he said. “You’ve grown much since I’ve last seen you.”
The Prime Minister spoke with a refined articulation that Amado never grew tired of. It reminded him of the many attempts at scolding he received from Makris as a child that were never followed by any form of real punishment. Makris’s voice was the narrator of Amado’s bedtime stories read from scrolls written on Makris’s old parchment. His voice was nostalgia.
“I try.” Amado smiled widely. “Great to see you, Makris.”
“I’ve heard of your exploits outside the city. Quite the adventurer you’ve become.”
“I like quests.” Amado sat back in his chair. “They get me out of the city, let me see the world.”
“Good. Well, a young man needs his freedom.” the prime minister smiled.
“Indeed.” Felipe said. “Sit down, have a drink with us.”
“I can’t. I must go soon. I have a meeting with the farmer’s guild an-”
“Oh come on. My nephew is here. We’ll just borrow you for a few minutes.”
“I really must-”
“It’s Aurum Wine.”
Makris sighed and Felipe handed him a beverage of gold in a crystal mug. Makris took a big gulp from the cup. Felipe smiled. Makris progressed slowly until he gulped the entire mug down. He broke his posture, closed his eyes, and threw his head back.
“I needed that. I really did.”
“That’s my boy.” Felipe said.
Amado raised his glass and Felipe and Makris obliged him with a loud clank.
“Amado,” Makris asked. “You are eighteen already, right?”
“Well, in a few months.” Amado said.
“Close enough.” Felipe laughed.
“Well I guess it can’t be helped.” Makris sighed. “Pour me one more please.”
Amado poured as the Aurum wine flowed smoothly from the mouth of the bottle.
“Now, I have a favor to ask of you my nephew.” Felipe said.
“I need you to do a quest for me.”
Amado’s ears perked up.
“A quest you say?” Amado swirled his wine. “I’ll drink to that.”
“Please stop giving the boy reasons, Felipe.”
Felipe roared with laughter.
“So what would you have me do, tito?”
“I have a new hobby.” Felipe said.
Makris rolled his eyes. Felipe tapped the table twice and a digital interface appeared on the marble surface. Felipe propped the hologram vertically by dragging it upward and then swiped the screen to the right.
“Have a look.” Felipe said.
Amado scrolled through the images displayed on the screen.
“Old books and scrolls?” Amado asked. “Why am I looking at pictures of books and scrolls?”
“I’m collecting first editions.” Felipe said. “I want you to fetch me this one.”
Felipe scrolled through the digital index until he reached a name on the list without an official picture. Instead, it showed a blurry outline of what the object may look like. The image collapsed into Felipe’s palm as he grabbed it and expanded into a list of images and news articles as he released it. There were pictures of sightings of the object, all of which were marked with an “X” and the word “Forgery.”
“All of these are sightings of the Tome of Fulfillment.” Felipe explained. “It’s a document written by the scholars of Hidros long ago that is said to explain untold secrets of history”
“Interesting.” Amado said. “But I’d hardly call it a quest. Going to the antique store for an old scroll isn’t much of an adventure.”
“Amado,” Felipe said. “The last place this Tome would be is within the borders of Lupana.”
“I was hoping you would say that, tito.”
“You must track it down. There is a group of elders in the Hidros Valley that are said to descend from the scholars.”
“And I have one last request.”
“And that would be?”
“Bring Rakori.” Felipe took a sip of wine. Makris almost spat his drink out.
“Felipe,” Makris said. “With all due respect to Amado, Rakori has never been outside Lupana before. She should be supervised by someone with a few more years of experience.”
“Rakori?” Amado grinned. “She’s an adventurer of the Guild now? Last I checked she was still pulling little boy’s hair on the playground.”
“Graduated at the top of her class in the Junior Guild last month.” Felipe said proudly.
“I feel old, tito.” Amado chuckled. “Of course I will bring her.”
“But King Felipe-” Makris protested.
“Wonderful!” Felipe said.
“Makris, this isn’t my first quest.” Amado said. “I am Amado of the Broken Chain, after all.”
“Fame and titles do not equal experience.” Makris reasoned. “You do make a good point but I am only saying she should wait for her sister Nina to return as scheduled.”
“Nina will not return for three more months. Amado is more than capable.” Felipe said.
“I suppose.” Makris sighed. “But he is only seventeen.”
“It will be fine.” Amado assured him.
“Of course you will be careful with her. No harm should come to the princess of Lupana.” Makris said.
“Lighten up. Makris, she is my cousin after all. And she is in the hands of a famous adventurer.” Amado said.
Makris rolled his eyes.
“Please do not let your fame go to your head, Amado.” Makris said.
“Of course not, tito Makris.”
“I wish you safe travels my nephew.”
“Oh but tito, safe travels are never quite as fun.”
She sat at the balcony of the palace with her father. The third floor balcony was a terrace with a full dining area shaded by a wooden awning during the day. It was evening and the area was lit by torchlight and by the glow of the restless city. The terrace was accented with lush palms that swayed unceasingly in the cool wind. Rakori was troubled.
“I thought you didn’t want Nina to take you?” Felipe asked.
“It’s not that it’s Nina, Amado’s no better.” she frowned.
“Rakori, they are both elite adventurers. I don’t know what you want.”
“Then you haven’t been listening.”
“Remind me then.”
“It’s just... I want someone that is assigned to me because I earned it, not because I’m a royal. If Amado or Nina take me I’ll never get credit for my own efforts.”
“Rakori I don’t understand.”
“I want to be known for my own successes.”
“And you will be.”
“But I don’t want any special treatment. I don’t want any handouts.” Rakori explained. “I want to be responsible for my own accomplishments. I can’t do that if I get called out for nepotism benefits on my first quest.”
“Wrong.” Amado appeared at the entrance of the terrace.
Rakori stared incredulously as Amado sat at the table while the servers poured his cup.
“Sorry I’m late. Forgot the shortcut through Barros Market.” he took a sip from his cup.
“But you’re wrong. Royal celebrity supervisor or not, they will always pin your successes on your privilege.” Amado said.
Rakori looked down at her plate.
“And they’re not completely misguided when they do.” Amado said.
“No.” Rakori said sternly. “You do not get to dictate whether my accomplishments are attributed to my efforts.” Amado shook his head.
“I’m just telling you the facts.” Amado said. “What people think. What the circumstances are.”
“Listen, I work hard to perfect my skills.”
“And you can work as hard as you can,” Amado said. “But you have to admit the royal magic tutors that teach you everything in advance from birth is a hell of an advantage.” Amado continued.
“Even if I didn’t have them, I would’ve worked just as hard.”
“That’s probably true.” Amado admitted. “It doesn’t matter to people though.”
“Then what’s the point?” Rakori demanded. “What is the point when nothing you do will be attributed to you? No matter how hard you work?”
Amado tilted his head.
“The point isn’t to show everyone your accomplishments, Rakori. It’s to do something with what you learned.”
Rakori rolled her eyes.
“What?” Amado said.
“What would I be doing then? Do crazy quests like you? Become a celebrity?”
“Rakori...” King Felipe scolded.
Amado stopped his uncle.
“It’s not about fame. It’s not about completing the most dangerous quest. It’s about what you achieve.” Amado explained.
“And what is that? Retrieving a collectible item for my dad?”
“Oh it’ll be much more than that.” Amado smiled.
“I’ve been briefed on the mission objective.”
“You’re never quite briefed on the real objective, Rakori.”
She looked around the table.
“Am I missing something here?” Rakori said.
Her dad shrugged.
“I’d rather let you figure it out than tell you about it.”
“You’re really just gonna keep me waiting like that?”
It was quiet, but not silent. Words weighed heavily in the air like dense fog lingering on the terrace.
“Maybe there’s something we can do in the meantime.” Amado suggested. “Have you gone ‘on the lake’ yet?”
“The lake?” Rakori asked.
“Amado,” the king said. “The Junior Guild has discontinued the Lake Running tradition.”
“Then I’ll just have to take you Lake Running myself.”
Rakori squinted her eyes.
“Is this gonna be illegal?”
“No, no.” Amado said. “Just trust me.
“Just trust you?”
Amado reached into his pocket and held out a sleek silver remote that chimed as he pressed it.
A small twinkle of light punctured the night sky. It drew closer and closer until it began to resemble a sleek, streamlined ship with two wings that curved inward at the front and back as if two crescent moons had been attached at the wing tips. Soon enough it was hovering by the balcony opening its beetle wing doors.
“Rakori, step inside and meet the Latiko.” Amado said proudly.
Rakori peeked inside. The interior was spacious. The windshield had state-of-the art navigation interface and command center built in. In the back were two red leather sofas and a black recliner. Each seating area had a compartment behind it where ice buckets for drinks could be kept. At the center of the room was ship’s secondary command table that could act as a center for cartography, travel logs, communication, broadcast input and output, and recreation.
“My own private mobile penthouse.”
“Thank you.” Amado said. “The kitchen’s through the door in the back.”
Amado hit a switch on the side that revealed a descending staircase in the wall.
“Downstairs are the sleeping quarters. Second door on the right is your room. You can put your stuff down there. There are private bathrooms in each sleeping quarter and one on your left when you go through the kitchen.”
“Not bad kuya.”
Amado hit a metallic black “push-to-start” button and the engine started to roar like a hurricane. The control panel lights began to glow and icons appeared on the dashboard.
“How are we floating if the engine isn’t on?”
“Simple.” Amado said. “What you got here is a state-of-the-art Dual Engine.”
“This runs on magic?”
“Absolutely. It’s powered by magion particles. The lower engine emits a constant low-level levitation frequency. The upper engine uses a high powered wind propulsion spell controlled by the nav system.”
“Indeed.” A bright voice chimed in.
Rakori looked around the ship.
“You installed an AI assistant onto the ship?”
“My name is DIANA, Digital Intelligent Artificial Navigation Assistant.” the ship chimed in.
“Diana, take us to the Gray Lake up north.”
“Ado, are you taking her-”
“Just a little lake running Diana.” Amado said.
“But the law prohibits the continuation of this practice.” Diana said.
“I knew it was illegal!” Rakori boasted.
“Hush hush.” Amado said. “Only your dad knows we’re going. I’d like to keep it that way.”
Rakori lips pursed into a half-smirk.
“You still haven’t told me what all this is about.”
“Of course,” Amado said. “In due time.”
“Set a course for the Gray Lake” Amado said.
Diana let out her automated sigh.
“Please.” Amado said. “This isn’t half as illegal as last month when we-”
“We do not have to relive that.” Diana interjected. “Setting course for Gray Lake.”
The engine howled as it whipped powerful winds to the ground. Rakori couldn’t look away. Outside, the ground moved farther from the ship as it drew nearer to the stars above.
“Forward!” Amado declared.
“If we must.” Diana groaned.
In an instant, the ship soared through the winds of the night sky past the borders of Lupana, into the surrounding jungle. Rakori was enraptured with scenery that passed her by at breakneck speeds. The trees that blurred into a single verdant landscape and the stars that swept through the sky like chariots of light, all kept Rakori at the edge of her seat.
Her eyes broke from the window.
Amado pointed to the other window.
Rakori’s heart stopped.
A vast silver body of water that skimmed shimmers of moonlight across its surface laid below them. The palms surrounding it stood still in the absence of a lake breeze. There were no animals rustling through the vines, no fish to send quick ripples through the lake. Instead, great specters of bright blue that moved like solar flares tripped across the surface like skipping stones.
“What is it?” Rakori’s voice quivered.
“Our entertainment for the night.