The Chronicles of Estiah

Chapter 12: Escort

"Let me out, brat." The woman in the second cell repeated in a firm voice.

"Maybe add a 'please' to the end of your sentence? After all, I am saving you here." Saar was entertained by her arrogance even though she should have been on her knees, begging to be taken out of this place without tomorrow.

"Blasting the lock away shouldn't tire you much," The woman was not negotiating but ordering. "You save a pretty princess as a bonus."

Her bragging about a royal heritage was not something Saar could confirm, but at least she was not lying about her beauty. Most people would have a ghostly face after spending so long in this barely illuminated sepulchral crypt, but when Saar's gaze moved up the grasping arm, it fell upon a face of astonishing beauty. Countless high quality canvasses depicting "the most beautiful maidens" and innumerable popular books describing the aesthetics of such creatures would pale in comparison to this nymph, shining from behind the iron-barred door. Her plain and torn prisoner clothes only emphasized her appearance. Saar observed that she did not have the elegance of a well-mannered queen, the warmth of a preaching sister, or even the purity of a devoted maiden. Her beauty was both softer and harder, radiating a strangely harmonious aura that dispelled Saar's earlier frustration and anger altogether. The young man unconsciously grabbed the ring on his left hand, and began to rub it nervously. He couldn't remember feeling such inner peace, and it irritated him; stirring the deep anger that drove him. The contradicting emotions caused his arm to recoil violently. He would not allow his rancor to be appeased by this unknown woman, not yet. In her eyes he could not help but see the burning face of the ghost that haunted him; a ghost he knew too well.

"Do it already, I don't want to spend one more second in this putrid cell." Her harsh words, in complete opposition to her looks, brought Saar back to reality. Her presence here might very well be the consequence of this acid tongue of hers.

"Playing crazy wasn't going to get you out of here anyway." Saar was finally back on his feet, wearing his slightly vicious grin.

"Did I do something weird again? People often tell me I do... "The woman paused a little, "So... are you going to save me or not?"

"Well, everything about you is strange." Saar's insatiable curiosity sometimes made him do things which surprised even himself. "Stand back."
A brief gleam and a crimson flame burst from Saar's ring, melting down the lock in the blink of an eye.

"Get out, woman." Saar seemed to need to show his superior arrogance, or maybe simply his masculinity, as if to compensate for his childish appearance.

"Now go get my belongings from the back room and escort me to a safe place." The woman seemed convinced that she had the upper hand... and maybe she did.

Saar scowled. "Don't expect me to take orders from you. You are treating your life saver too lightly, and without gratitude." Saar reminded her.

"Stop babbling and get going, little brat."

"Don't go thinking I'm just a ki-..."

"Please? ...Pretty please?"

Any man would become defenseless before those shimmering purple eyes, emitting such an air of mystery. Yet Saar could not bear to look directly at them, for an unknown, nauseous feeling was rising through his body. Losing his confidence, he withdrew and turned away. Pretending to comply was the only escape that he could think of, so he focused his mind on the back room where the groan of mutilated guards could be heard clearly. Nikkum didn't seem to need a hand; he was obediently carrying out his duties as a cleaner. The men blinded by faith who sought to stop the beast did not fare any better than rats before the wrath of a maid armed with a broom.

When Saar entered the room, five Slayers had cornered Nikkum, looking anxious for their master Abedgar's condition and unsure of what had happened. Despite this confusion, they had their hands full fighting against Nikkum, who was demonstrating his excellence in close melee fights.

"Woman, stand behind me..." His sentence ended halfway complete. As Saar watched with horror, the fragile princess charged into this brutal scene without a second thought.

"What?! Wait!" Saar didn't panic often, but when he did his face had little to hide.

The back room served mostly as a storage room, and because of Nikkum's cyclonic fight style, Charms from broken bags were scattered all over the place and mixed in with various other valuables. Charms mostly existed in the form of gems or small metallic trinkets, so the floor was submerged in a sea of jewelries and pieces of gold, with injured and dead guards strewn across them, moaning. Unfortunately, while fights born of greed usually ended with one side keeping its life by giving up its treasures, Nikkum was an executioner who could not be bribed. To kill or to be killed, barbarians' fights had always been brutally simple.

Despite this, a recently rescued and supposedly defenseless woman simply stormed in, ignoring the murderous beast before her.

"Where's my magnificent robe?" She crouched to look for something on the ground while Nikkum's axe barely missed her ears. The swing was intended for the Slayer next to her, but to Nikkum she was no more than a wooden chair; slightly hindering his blows.

"Where's my splendid crown!" She pounced to the right to pick up an intact bag like an agile feline, dodging another of Nikkum's fatal blows with the most unimaginable luck in the world.

Saar was watching the chaotic scene with mouth agape, forgetting about his own presence for a few brief moments. With so many events and thoughts to occupy his quick-thinking mind at once, even Saar experienced a rare moment of sheer overload. As a hurricane tore through the room, caused by the bloodthirsty bear performing his ruthless slaughter and the playful cat tossing around her toys, Saar finally came to his senses.

"Your beloved Hierarch is going to meet his maker soon if you don't go to him right now." Saar knew what to say in the perfect moment.

"He can't be alive! My spear went right through his head!" Nikkum had to argue.

Saar let out a deep sigh and shot a murderous glance at the one who cared for nothing but blood. The Slayers' reaction was quicker than expected. All of them immediately retreated from Nikkum and ran past the young man; each racing in the hopes that they could still save their master and fulfill their oaths of loyalty and protection. Nikkum tried to follow, only to be stopped by Saar. With his other arm Saar grabbed the woman, who was still desperately searching for her belongings on the ground.

"We ought to leave. Stay close; I'm going to perform a teleporting spell. Don't blame me later if you lose an arm or two because you moved too much."

The warning was perfectly effective. Just like two capricious children frozen upon hearing the yell of their parents, the hurricane subsided as quickly as it had started.

Three pale blue balls of light spewed out of Saar's ring, and started swirling around the group with increasing speed. After a flash of blinding light faded, the three fugitives found themselves in an empty courtyard. Nikkum and the girl remained as still as stone. Saar released them both and quickly looked at the surroundings. Shabby buildings without light had an eerie feeling under this moonless sky; a few withered cherry trees resembled dancing skeletons in the dark night, quietly absorbing the breath of living beings. The invisible smile on Saar's face expressed his relief about not causing another commotion with a high-profile teleporting spell; the late hour was favorable to them.

"We're in the ghetto quarter of Zeal." Nikkum remarked without moving his mouth.

"You expected us to be in the middle of Triland's desert? I just cast an extremely complicated spell without the use of a scroll and while carrying two dead weights, so that's all I can do." Saar was panting. Distorting space for three human beings was really no simple matter. One was massive with his body, the other was burdensome with her complex mind.

"By the way, you can move now." Saar finally caught his breath.

Nikkum relaxed his muscles and pointed to the woman who was now sulking. "Who's this?"

"A woman." Saar's reply was not very informative.

"I can see with my eyes that this is a woman, thank you." Nikkum would not be satisfied with such an answer.

"Hey, stop calling me 'woman'! I'm still young enough to be called 'girl', or if you're trying to flatter me, 'lady'. And my real name is just as pretty as I am!"

"And what would that name be?" Saar found everything about her intriguing.

"Lily."

Nikkum ignored Lily's every word and insisted on his question: "Who's this?"

"The laughing wo... eh, girl who was next to our cell." Saar finally understood what Nikkum wanted to know, but had to correct himself when he saw the gloominess building up on Lily's face.

"Don't take pets when you can't afford to protect them." Nikkum wasn't happy about the intruder.

"You say it as if you could protect Elissa!" Saar was obviously picking the thing that hurt the most to say, as Abedgar's premature death was still bitter for him.

"She wasn't my pet, and she followed me on her own. How many times do I have to say that?" Nikkum wasn't a man of periphrastic words. When he had to explain, all he could do was to repeat himself.

"Then she died." While Saar usually sounded mature, he was easily betrayed by his deep-rooted stubbornness during these childish quarrels.

"Say that again!" The anger was clearly going to explode soon again.

"Woah, woah! Stop it guys, will you? I absolutely have no idea what you are talking about here. ." Lily had to repeat the word to show how alone she was in this spontaneous discussion. "I should be the one crying here, can't you see my tears? Yeah, I'm so sad at the moment because that brat got me out before I took back my precious robe! And you, big one there, who are you? And who is this Elsa... what was that again? Whatever, if you want to argue, at least let me in. So, where were we again?"

"None of your business." Lily's chain-fired words let Nikkum chill down, he was settled back into his lone-wolf attitude again.

"Call me Saar, and this is Nikkum, the left hand of chaos, ferryman of the crimson sea." The young mage never liked giving up a battle of words, so, on a whim, he spontaneously invented ridiculous titles for Nikkum.

"My robe!" Lily seemed to pay little attention to the much-awaited introduction. She was on her knees, screaming, with her hands bracing her head as if a huge stick was hitting it.

Nikkum was wordless and apathetic. Saar slammed his right palm onto his own face, wondering if letting Lily out of prison was really a wise decision.

The windows of one of the buildings lit up. It looked like the owner had finally been awakened. No doubt he thought that the commotion was simply some mischievous kids who wanted to continue their party late at night. The door slowly opened to reveal night man holding a lantern, glowing with a dim light.

"If you are seeking a place to rest, we only have one room left." The man said.

Saar looked up. There was a plate hanging over their heads. Thanks to the man's lantern, he was able to read the signs over it. "Inn: The Duck's Gallows"

"Yes, it's an inn, the best you can find in this run-down corner of Zeal. Don't wake people up if you don't plan to stay." From his tone of voice, the innkeeper was not pleased with the unexpected guests.

Saar certainly didn't want to spend any more time in Zeal, even if approaching the main gate at this time of the night would only attract attention from guards. It was especially dangerous as the news about the death of Abedgar could have been relayed to every guard post by now. However, the choice to leave vanished as Lily uttered a cry of joy and rushed through the doorway.

"Lady! Lady! Please don't wake up the other guests!" The clerk had to chase the animal running wild.

Nikkum and Saar exchanged a nod of head, and followed. They both knew they would need to keep a low profile here.

"You pay for the mess she makes." Saar pointed his hand to the unfortunate man who was sighing and collecting pieces from a broken vase.

Nikkum replied with an unhappy glare.

"Do I look like I have gold? Young men nowadays are poor." Saar lift a little his black mantle several times to show there was no sound of metal. "By the way, isn't your gold bag bigger than before?"

"I just filled it randomly with stuff lying around while I was retrieving my Charms." The tribal necklace with finely polished panther teeth was resting on its master's chest again.

Following the debris of items devastated by Lily, the night man led the two men to a small room. The decor was rather simple, two wooden beds and a few chairs. The standards did vary a lot according to the quarter of the city people were in; this kind of inn would undoubtedly an insult to any merchants visiting Zeal. The night man lit up a candle with a frightened glance to the dangerous beauty that was sitting crouched on a chair, with arms braced around her knees.

As she saw Nikkum and Saar come in, she shouted in protest: "There is no way that I spend a night with them in the same room!"

"My dear princess, with all due respect, we certainly wouldn't be disturbing your charming night if we had anywhere else to stay. And you didn't mention that the escape mission included finding an inn, providing food, and..." Saar made a stop, looking at some trampled flowers that clearly didn't belong to this room with pity, "paying 'extra' fees."

"There is absolutely no way, that I, a refined girl, will breathe the same air as you countrymen, in the same room." Lily told them petulantly.

"Well, you didn't complain much in that underground cell."

"That place was much better before you were brought in!"

"Let's see, that barbarian will be happy enough if you throw him a carpet and let him sleep in a corner, but me, I have to recuperate after so much effort." Saar was quick at taking one of the two beds.

"Hey geezer, I'm paying for the room here!" Nikkum protested.

Lily promptly jumped off the chair and walked up to the huge warrior who was a head taller than her. With a much discontented look, she extended her right hand.

"What?" Nikkum was baffled.

"Money!"

"Why should I hand out my gold to you?" Nikkum was even more perplexed.

"Money!"

"But what for?" The giant was so confused that he unconsciously admitted that he would give Lily what she asked.

"Money!" The third reply was voiced in a shriek that made the lights in some of the inn's rooms light up.

"You don't want to attract more attention than this." Saar turned his face from the light, pretending to sleep.

Nikkum sighed, but as he couldn't stand Lily's stubborn sense of entitlement, he put three pieces of the shining metal in her palm to show his surrender. "I'm fine with a corner, as Saar said."

"More!" Lily's triumph had to be absolute.

"What, you want to buy this cursed building?" The beast was finally becoming enraged.

The night man, who had lost much of his annoyance from earlier, timidly raised his hand: "Sir, our inn is not that cheap..."

One glance from Nikkum sufficed to make the man run out of the room. Lily helped herself to a handful of metal in the gold bag with such agility that Nikkum completely failed to react. Then she dashed out to chase the clerk. Saar could hear one screaming voice and another hesitant reply.

"Which is your best room here!"

"I beg your pardon, good lady. All rooms are taken as I said in the doorway. Please calm down, you are disturbing..."

"I'm going to wake them up anyway to exchange for a room."

"Our rooms are all identical, you won't find any better than yours..."

"Hey, anyone want to trade a room for fifty pieces of gold?"

"Please lower your voice..."

"Sixty pieces of shining gold!"

"Please..."

After running back and forth through the corridor three times, the night man trailing behind her and begging, the impulsive princess stopped in front of the room they had first entered. Saar made a little sound of grief, still hiding his face against the wall. Nikkum was sorting out his Charms next to the window. A shimmering moonlight pierced the sky, making them glow in silver splendor. Long before the Curse hit the lands of Estiah, soldiers used to polish their pieces of armor and weapons before a battle; now their life solely depended on those little radiating Charms. Although little care was needed, Nikkum still fixedly examined each panther tooth from his necklace and all the other Charms tied to his belt as if he was holding onto his life, his soul. Charms didn't carry any scent of blood, but their reek of death was perceptible for their owners, telling them that, one day, they might also be ferried away by those odorless killing tools. As Nikkum ruminated on the truth about Charms and rubbed away a small taint, his eyes fell on an intruding purple gem. The Charm was completely out of place among his belongings. He was lost in contemplation and almost forgot about the crazy girl for a moment till he heard a loud stomping sound.

Lily had kicked open the door of the room opposite to theirs in her frustration that no one had answered her offer.

"How dare you ignore a lady's request, pretending you're asleep? Even a pig doesn't sleep that soundly!"

Nikkum was totally amazed at how immoderate the girl could be, to the point that he dropped the Charm he was polishing on the floor. As he could see from his angle while picking it up, a rigorous man in his twenties was inside the room Lily had barged into. The commoner's clothes were unable to hide his royal refinement, and his eyes were emitting grace instead of the anger any man would have shown after being disturbed during his rest. His restrained air captivated the fancy of the girl in front of him, just like a princess stunned by meeting a handsome and unknown prince from afar; speechless and drowned in amazement.

The peace was overdue, and was broken by the young man's soothing voice: "Celius at your service, my Lady."

Lily shut the door of the room where her escorts were resting with a brutal slam.