The Chronicles of Estiah

Chapter 11: Trick

"What the... You tricked me!" Nikkum's legs suddenly felt so weak that they started to crumble.

"Foul beast, you gracefully took my paralyzing tea for medicine," Saar turned to the guards, and continued "Chain him up before the effect wears off!"

While most of the city guards were still reticent to advance, the Slayers promptly jumped in and neutralized the revolting rage. The tellium chains they used were so heavy that even the beast fell on his hands, only to have two Slayers' swords pierce them through. A crimson liquid started pouring out and a roar of hatred and pain shook the surroundings, only to echo in the dark sky.

"What are you afraid of!" the Slayers yelled at the guards, now completely petrified by horror. "He can't move, take his Charms away from him!"

Nikkum lowered his head so low that no one could see his face. Or rather, no one even tried to look at it since so much chaos and destruction must have been written on it. At the Slayers' repeated command, some city guards finally closed on the exhausted animal and stripped with trembling hands his tribal necklaces which held many Charms.

Saar raised an eyebrow slightly, watching the overdramatic scene of the monster's capture.

One of the slayers made a sign of the hand, and the guards around Nikkum took a few steps back. He gripped Nikkum's hair with one hand, and raised the other to the sky. Everything became silent, as if all the bystanders had stopped breathing. They knew what the Slayer was about to do, and some of them even turned their heads away. Small shining light shards sprung out of Nikkum's head, slowly flying toward the Slayer's hand, as if he was ripping away pieces of Nikkum's soul. The beast howled once more, but the sound of rage and anger had turned into that of agony.

It only lasted a few seconds. The glimmering light condensed and formed a crimson crystal the size of an apple. The slayer released his grip on Nikkum's head and did not even look at it fall heavily on the ground. He was glaring at the soul orb in his other hand and whispered:

"Such purity, such beauty... This is our man, no doubt about it... You don't often come across a spirit with this potential..."

He tucked the crystal into his coat and gave a side glance to Saar.

"Yo, kid. That was pretty brave of you to feed poison to that wild animal. You'd better not trick us as well. Sir Abedgar will make the judgment anyway. Follow us for now. Guards! Carry that monster."

Saar shrugged, but didn't make any protest.

"This man appears to be unconscious, I can't get him up." A city guard who tried to burden the dead weight of Nikkum on his shoulder cried for help.

Four well-built men had to run in to carry the tranquilized bull. Dragging him to Abedgar would be a laborious task.

In consternation, one of the men hesitantly asked the lead Slayer who was overseeing the whole situation: "Shouldn't we treat his wound? Abedgar the Venerable may not be pleased to meet him in this awful state."

The reply was cold-blooded: "Don't bother, an execution awaits him anyway."

In spite of teleporting shortcuts, the way to the holy man was truly a pilgrimage for those who were carrying Nikkum. Since everyone feared the dormant beast might wake up at any time, it was an inconceivable idea to take the tellium chains off. The extraordinary parade attracted many Zealians. Used to seeing splendid displays of magic, the city people were this time offered the rare scene of a monster's capture. The raw and brutal methods reminded some of the old times when people had to stalk animals on their own legs and retrieve prey with their own hands. In this city, many were the ones who used magic in every small task for its convenience, without realizing how addicted they were becoming to it. The Curse of the Old Gods was a harsh lesson, but still, memories quickly waned in the flow of time. Quite watchful, Saar seemed to be amused by everyone around him: the young children's curious heads, the hyped adolescents' rushing legs, the veteran travelers' laughing mouths, and the old women's praying hands. However, he was hardly able to hide his delusion in humanity in those smiles, something incomprehensible which was completely mismatched with his age. Still, the parade went on, with the tightly chained bull in his slumber and tense butchers leading the way to the slaughterhouse.

Abedgar had his own glorious chapel in the east wing of Zeal Palace. The sun had dispersed the dark cloud, and the snow white walls were reflecting every ray of light as if the whole chapel were illuminating itself. The holiness of the place was enough to make the crowd of spectators halt their steps, the few unrespectful were quickly stopped by vigilant guards.

"So many innocent angels floating above the door of doom," Saar raised his head in admiration, "that's why I love sculpture - none of them are going to fall."

"Quit your blabbering and get in! You'll soon hear Abedgar the Venerable's judgment." A Slayer pushed Saar through the immense door.

"Judgment? I don't think I've fallen so low that I have to hear the judgment of a fake Hierarch." Saar's tone was as mocking as ever.

The distrustful blasphemy incited some reaction from the crowd, but the protests were instantly shut out by the clapping of the main door.

"Is that what so-called messengers of the gods think about themselves nowadays?" Saar was looking at Abedgar who was sitting on a levered holy throne, looking down on him.

"You will pay for this insolence!" A guard took a step towards the young sorcerer and released a halberd. The flash of the Charm illuminated the inside of the chapel in blinding colors, the inner walls were completely covered in gold and gems, including Abedgar's throne.

"Sir Abedgar, your chapel is truly dazzling. Literally of course." Saar's compliments weren't releasing the tension, "Still I think one of your gods should be upon there."

At Abedgar's sign, the guards chained up Saar as well.

"You would have done that eventually anyway." Saar liked the situation, "but do you think the chains make any difference? I mean, your Slayers are ready to strike at any moment. And as a spell user, I'm not that suicidal to go against four, five... seven of them, if I'm counting those two hiding behind the pillar."

"Very wise." Abedgar stood up and started to walk down the stairs with a condescending look on his face.

Saar shifted his shoulders a little.

"Oh wait!" Abedgar stopped to laugh out of blue, "Do you actually think I will come close to you, and let you attack me or take me hostage? Don't take your elders too lightly, my son, I've seen through your pathetic trick. You used your friend as bait to lure me out, to keep the Slayers busy, and you are aiming at the very moment when I think I'm safe to strike, right? I won't move a step further from here, and my eight personal guards will take you down before you even make your first step up here. Yes, our god should sit here, if he would actually show up someday. As for now, I'm his word, his avatar. I'm as powerful as he is, and as immortal as him as long as no one can reach me."

"Very wise." Saar shrugged again, seeing another Slayer emerging from the shadows behind the throne.

"Drag him out right now, together with this sleeping pig." Abedgar threw a disgusted look at Nikkum who had no reaction to the whole scene.

"Understood, my venerable sir." The guards were men of duty.

"And have them executed immedi--"

"I have found a Shard of Eternity" Saar's sudden words stunned the man who was playing the death judge.

"-- at dawn." Abedgar had to finish his sentence, with his mouth twisted.

* * *

After being locked up in the third cell of concealment underneath the chapel, Saar started to examine the dark place he was in. The foul smell must have come from decaying dead bodies, and the windowless cell made breathing hard. The jumping flames of candles on the walls were practicing their dances of the ritual of execution: taunting and teasing the life of prisoners.

"Can I wake up now, geezer?" Nikkum finally spoke.

"In my plan, you would have gone on a rampage when you were called 'pig'."

"Your plan? You told me... hum... to play dead and nothing else. I guess... hum... not everything went like you wanted." Nikkum appeared to have trouble talking normally.

"Yes and no. I just wanted to talk to Abedgar."

"And he threw you ... hum... in jail."

Suddenly a hysterical laugh pierced the heavy air of the underground prison. A woman was laughing from the cell next to theirs.

"Was it... that funny?" Nikkum was perplexed.

"I assume so." Saar tried to turn his head, but the Slayers were cautious enough to lock not only his arms and legs, but his neck to the wall as well.

"I saw her when I was... hum... carried before her cell. She didn't even have chains on her... It's unfair that ladies... hum... got treated nicely even by the bad guys." Nikkum whined as he assessed all the metal chains he still had over his body.

The laughter continued.

"I wonder... if she's mad." Nikkum forced his body up.

"Mad? She's laughing harder than I've ever heard."

"Mad. Crazy. Insane... Normal people don't laugh this way."

"Agreed. By the way, stop talking in that weird way, you're creeping me out. Is it the soul reclaiming that turned you this way?"

The laugh stopped.

"She thinks that's not funny." Saar laughed instead.

Nikkum only had the tellium chains wrapped over his upper body, and stood up easily. His smooth movements indicated he only faked the burden of weight in front of the portal. "So, are we waiting?"

"Yes." Saar was a little annoyed by the fact that Nikkum could move freely in front of him. "Stop jumping around, and stay put when Abedgar comes, I'll do the talking."

The woman's laugh burst out again.

"Not again. I think she's just laughing at things we don't find funny. Nikkum, say something stupid to stop her from laughing."

"Like... eh... I show you the trick of opening a lock with my feet?"

Saar looked down at the barbarian's bare feet which didn't appear very agile. The laugh became more agitated than before.

"I said something 'stupid'."

"You think... hum... that I can really free you with my feet?"

"Never mind."

The laugh echoed through the underground cells.

"Silence, you're in Abedgar the Venerable's presence!" A guard's yell brought some order back to the shadowy place.

"Stay put, Nikkum. This man is impatient."

"But what is a Shard of Eternity?" Nikkum backed up to the wall, not wanting to draw attention to himself, in order to hear the discussion that was going to take place.

Saar kept the secret to himself as he saw the holy man approaching the cell. He was right, Abedgar had a strangely restless face, like a stray dog who was unsure how to deal with strong preys, and almost drooling. As a Slayer inserted an iron key into the cell door, Abedgar hesitated a few seconds before making a sign to the guard next to him. The guard closed up his ear.

"Are you certain you've removed all their Charms?"

"Definitely, my venerable! All of the barbarian's Charms are in the back room. The boy, however, had not a single charm on him. Can you believe it! And he was so full of himself back there..."

Abedgar stepped back to cast a suspicious glance on a smiling Saar.

"Are you sure about this? Even children carry Charms nowadays"

"The only thing he had on him was a valuable-looking ring. It had an oddly shaped fire rune pattern on it so we first thought it could be a charm. The lead Slayer tried to gauge it, and yet found nothing. It's probably a keepsake, but we took it anyway."

"Bring me that ring" the hierarch ordered.

A few moments later, the guard came back holding a small box in which the ring was laid. Abedgar took it and started examining it on the torch's light.

"Imbued Angelium? No, it is too light...humm... that kid really is full of surprises..." As he placed the ring on his own finger, he waved his hands to drive off the guards, and turned to the four Slayers who looked nervous, "You too, leave me alone with them."

The Slayers looked at each other, certainly doubting Abedgar's unwise decision, and only backed off when Abedgar repeated himself.

"Please don't go near that young man, Sir." The Slayer with the key in his hand reminded the man he worshiped as he closed the door.

"I know, I know..."

Saar was still struggling to move his head, he appeared more concerned with the laughing woman than the man who locked him up. Meanwhile, Nikkum was now pressing himself against a corner, looking at Abedgar with dark eyes. Abedgar was fully aware that the beast was fighting hard to keep back its anger, as he could see the outpour of flames in his eyes. And yet, he couldn't help himself walking upon Nikkum to enjoy the beast's emotional confinement.

"The next time you want to have an audience with me, make sure your sister stays at home."

Nikkum replied with a tempestuous gaze, and his body was shaking in rage.

"You know, these men... with faith, they are blinded by their belief, and no longer need to look at what they're living in. They'd do anything for their beloved Hierarch, and I do pity your loss. And as a man of grace, I'll happily send you off by morning so you can join with your sister. Oh, that's if she's your only sister."

Nikkum suddenly spat at Abedgar's face.

"How dare..." Abedgar was outraged by this scandalous impoliteness.

Then his eyes followed a small orange gem which bounced from his cheek, and was falling down.

"Don't!" Saar cried out. That order was shouted in an unnatural loud voice, with such violence that the whole cell shook. The devices holding Saar vaporized in a blast that blew a large hole in the wall he had been tied to.

But it was too late. Saar could not stop that blatant light bursting from Nikkum's gem, and neither save Abedgar's head from being smote by that sharp-pointed piece of metal.

Nikkum had released a huge spear and kicked it through the Hierarch's forehead.

"Imbecile!" Saar was freed, but by the time he rushed to Abedgar his hands only reached a corpse. "This was not my plan!"

"But this is my trick." Nikkum shrugged, and broke the chains with his muscles in a roar. Tellium was strong enough to hold a frenzied beast, but Nikkum was much more than that...

Saar had the word 'furious' written all over his face, and yet he could not let it out on Nikkum since it was a part of the deal that both men had something to hide.

"Raise him from the dead?" Nikkum's irony was always misplaced.

"You smashed his brain into..." Saar peeked on his hands which were holding Abedgar's head, covered in white collagenous gelatin.

"Dead men don't say stupid things." Nikkum didn't know when to leave people alone.

"Now you are officially on the Soul Harvesters' wanted list." Saar sounded serious.

"You mean 'we'!" Nikkum laughed, "No one is going to believe your plan of monster capture again."

"I guess I'll have to keep you around a little longer..." Saar sighed.

"I won't let you go before you fulfill your promise anyway." Nikkum could be stubborn when he was focused on something.

"Let's forget about him and get out of here. He may appear to be important publicly but he's only a small fry among the Soul Harvesters." Saar's yielding was reluctant and regretted.

"So you have business with Soul Harvesters as well." Nikkum didn't expect to actually have the young man at his side.

Saar bent over Abedgar's corpse and picked up the Harvester's emblem now soiled with blood. "I had some questions for them." He slowly removed the only elegant ring from the sea of jewelry on the dead man's hand, and put it back where it belonged.

Nikkum slammed the cell door open, only to hear Saar's discontented remark: "You're going to attract the guards."

Nikkum pointed at the large cavity in the wall with a smirk, and rushed to the entrance. Saar understood that he had no other choice, and started to walk as well. He could already hear Nikkum wreaking havoc and the guards' painful shrieks. He shook his head and started to head out with gloomy thoughts. Suddenly, he turned his gaze to his right arm while passing the second cell.

A woman's pale hand was clinging onto it.

"Let me out."

A small grin bloomed again on Saar's face.