The Chronicles of Estiah

Chapter 23: Oracle

Saar shrugged his shoulder away from Nikkum's fingers: "Don't touch me. If this is what they want, then I'll do what I must."

Nikkum giggled: "I doubt our righteous bodyguard will sit idle while you are sending sinless commoners flying. It looks like your plan has backfired again."

Saar was not amused: "Who are you siding with?"

Nikkum turned his neck as he warmed up: "Need to ask? Just the opposite of whatever side Celius is taking."

Saar shook his head in dismay: "Is that empty head of yours only capable of thinking about a fight? I'll talk first."

Nikkum cared little: "Are you going to talk them out?"

The young magus philosophized: "Words are a powerful way to display strength as well. Like lions roaring at each other to compare their prowess, human words can be very persuasive also."

The warrior repeated: "Are you going to 'roar' them out?"

Saar quickly realized the pointlessness of the discussion: "Why am I wasting words on you anyway..."
Saar knew how short his time was to save the one holding the information. While the best weapons these peasants would release were dull farming tools, he could not afford a long fight against a knight who excelled in protection. And he needed Celius to be on his side for other reasons as well, so making himself an enemy of Justice and Righteousness was certainly a bad idea. He consciously realized his earlier action was a little rash, and now he had to deal with the consequence. Fortunately enough, wordplay was his forte and deception through lies his daily life. He remembered this exaggerated story where the admiral made his worst enemy succumb before him only by orating a lengthy speech. If such a folktale was popular in taverns, as a well-learnt scholar he needed no effort to trick this mob of ignorants into believing something that did not happen. Saar was merely a man of arrogance who had no doubt in his abilities, and coincidentally his abilities usually exceeded others' expectations.

The youth stepped up in front of the angry group to start the theater: "I sincerely apologize for what happened to your man. The panic and dismay that I experienced seeing such a close friend of mine in this state made me lose my mind for a second. However, please by all means believe that we traveled here with no ill intention. I quickly realized that we should not let despair take over our minds, but hope. Yes, hope, as despite their terrible condition, this is the one thing that we must offer to both my friend and your venerable Oracle.”

The villagers exchanged some whispers.

Saar continued: "Let's make no mistake here, our most important goal is to save someone. The Oracle for you, and Duriuk for us. Shall we really stand here and waste our time while two men are dying? If any of you knows what good deed is right for this moment, you should really start worrying about what is missing here."

The orator was naturally referring to the cure that both parties needed so badly. The mob became restless.

Then Saar rallied: "Actually, to our dismay we have found out that the self-proclaimed doctor was nothing but a deceiver. She not only demanded an unfair amount of compensation, but she eventually revealed her wicked plan: The cure she was preparing may not be able to save anyone after all. Worse of all, she claimed she needed a living man's heart to complete her dark medicine, it was of course something we would never allow."

At this point, the amassed villagers were like water at the boiling point, some hostile shouts were heard.

Upon this successful display of his moral obligation, Saar was convinced he gained support among the good people: "Fortunately, a friend joined us back there, and she happens to be a legitimate expert in medicine. This lady here is eager to help both our man and your Oracle. She assured us she would bring them back to life, and without compensation. We only need you to trust us and let her give it a try. If you still prefer your own doctor, we left her at the cliff north-east from here. If you send out people now, perhaps you'll still be able to catch up with her and confirm my words if you need to."

After concluding his play with a false choice, Saar smirked in satisfaction. Whatever the villagers were going to do was no longer his concern. As long as he could access his source of information, he cared little about the fate of the doctor. He had brought Lily with him, that made him the savior of the day. After getting the crowd to side with him, he knew he got his bodyguard back as well.

Celius definitely had things to say, but when he watched two mercenaries run past him, he realized it had been a bold mistake to let Saar speak. The glinting fire in his eyes showed he was indeed angry and frustrated with himself, but for now he had to go along with the situation and hope the mercenaries were not hired to kill.

On their way to the Oracle's house, slightly disappointed, Nikkum turned to Lily: "I didn't know Saar could come up with this much verbal diarrhea on the spot. It's just weird to see how he retold the truth with lies only."

"You're sorry you didn't get to fight?" Lily was more worried about whether she was able to live up to the young man's expectation.

"I'll get my chance later." Nikkum looked confused, "I don't understand why Celius is still around, he's the type of guy who will never go along with Saar."

"Then why you are hanging out with him? In Zeal you were talking about that girl..." Lily tried to remember something.

"Don't think too hard on it. Bad guys just hang out together." Nikkum interrupted.

"But you don't seem bad to me. You didn't really drop Karya down the cliff to piss off Saar." Women always have good intuition.

"That's how you look at things." Nikkum sped up to move away from this pair of purple eyes that could see through any fence he put up around his heart.

"Wait up, Nikkum, I have something to ask you." As Lily started to run, flowers and feathers fell all over the ground.

Saar was leading the way: "Lily, save your questions for later. I expect you to do something for me, remember?"

Lily unhappily shouted: "Yeah, I'm expected to cure the incurable."

Saar shot back a glare full of warning.

Lily continued to yell: "I just happen to have the right remedy, in the right place, at the right time. Glory to the Old Gods, lives are going to be saved."

Saar shook his head: "What’s the problem with this woman..."

Upon entering the room, Saar made up an easy excuse to keep the villagers out. As he turned to Lily, he noticed this apparently mad lady had genuine skills for this very situation. Her Charms shined with the emerald light of healing, filling the room with a fresh odor of herbs. As her gentle hands caressed Duriuk's face, the dying man's skin turned a much better color. The doctor looked calm and experienced in her every gesture, and various Charms were applied in surgical precision over Duriuk's body. While Saar was now staring at her excessively inspiring costume, Nikkum perceived an unusual sadness on her visage. However, since he had no idea at all about the cure the doctor was performing, he simply kept his mouth shut.

Lily was feeding a strong poison to her patient, its highly stimulating effects would revive any dying man's heart but only to bring it closer to its eternal rest faster.

When Duriuk was finally brought back from the edge of hell, he opened his eyes to see a familiar face: "Lily, is that you?"

"What!" Saar had clearly not anticipated his informer would know some insane stranger he rescued from Zeal.

However, Lily was the person who had the most confusion on her face: "Who are you? I don't know you!"

"Lily, don't leave me..." Duriuk breathed with difficulty, "I was a father to you. No, not a father, I was more than that..."

"I don't understand." Lily's expression showed only astonishment and shock.

"I made you what you are today..." Duriuk struggled to reach out his hand to Lily's face.

Lily, not used to meeting someone more insane than her, bounced back: "For the sake of all that's Holy, I know my mind is not right. What sane reply are you expecting me to give after you barking this nonsense at my face? 'Hi, Dad?'"

The rest of Lily's party simply stood there speechless. Celius knew too little about these travelers to have any comprehension of this scene, while Nikkum was naively wondering if she chose the wrong type of remedy. Saar remained silent, seeking to find a logical answer, but his troubled face showed he was unable to link a low prisoner's past to a high officer of the Soul Harvesters.

Meanwhile, Duriuk kept groaning: "Lily, it's me who took you in, who cared about you... Try to remember."

"I lost my mind but I have my memories, I remember I was little... with mother... But just some part of it, when I think about it, my head just hurts... Ahhh!" Lily literally broke down, her headache not faked.

Recovered from the surprise of the impromptu reunion, Saar signalled Celius to escort the lady out of the room. The number of questions he had for Duriuk only kept growing, and yet the man's life was unmistakably running out. He was undecided about where to start, he thought he had rehearsed well enough to dig out whatever Duriuk was hiding, and yet at this moment his curiosity about Lily was plainly killing him.

"Lily, come back... Don't run away..." Duriuk might not be her father but he was truly acting as if he was losing his daughter.

"She's not going away, just give her some time and she'll be back soon." Saar interrupted the emotional cries of the dying man, then grabbed his head, "Now look at me. You don't know me but it doesn't matter. You worked for the Soul Harvesters for years, you were the supervisor of most of their little dirty experiments. Look straight in my eyes, and tell me what I want to hear: How did you lose the Shard of Eternity that was in your possession? I need to know when and where!"

Duriuk was hopeless: "Lily, I'm here..."

The gravity in Saar's words surprised the warrior in every way: "Listen Duriuk, if you want to live, answer my question. I discovered you were the last man holding onto one Shard of Eternity, I don't know how many laboratories you have destroyed while messing with it, but we both know the Shard itself can never be eliminated. I'm not interested in how you become an outcast of the Soul Harvesters, but I know for a fact that you could not possibly bring the Shard out with you. Now tell me, where did you hide it?"

Duriuk's eyes finally met with the young man's, his face forced a wry smile.

"Are you mocking me?" Saar could not be more serious, and his voice turned to a much deeper and rumbling tone, "Tell me about the Shard! You must have discovered something if you gave up all you had in the guild. Your position back in the Soul Harvesters already allowed you unimaginable influence and power, but that was not enough. You wanted the truth, you devoted your life to seeking answers you'll never find. But if you tell me the whereabouts of the Shard, I'll tell you something that will let you be at peace."

Duriuk's eyes widened, then he started to laugh hysterically.

Saar seized the dying man's hair, and lowered his face to the man's eye level: "What's the point of carrying your secrets to your grave? If you want to prove your life has not been meaningless and your efforts have not been in vain, then tell me everything you know. You may watch me after you die, but don't make things more difficult than they should be. I'll find the Shard even without you telling me, it's only a matter of time. Don't regret it after death takes you in."

Duriuk halted his laugh: "So what do you know about death?"

The scholar was suddenly challenged with one of the greatest mysteries, even without answer he had to retort: "That's why I'm seeking the Shards of Eternity. After working on one of them you must know how much knowledge they hold. Aren't we similar? You're dying but I still have good years before me, don't you want me to answer the question for you?"

Duriuk resumed his laugh, only more agitated this time: "Answer for me? This ignorant youth is going to answer it for me, ha ha ha!"

Saar had nowhere to let out his irritation: "What's funny? What do you want in exchange for your secrets?"

Duriuk's heavy breath and sick laugh intertwined: "Because I've already got the answer? What can you offer to a dying man? You can't threaten him, you can't bribe him, you can't even talk to him since you have no idea what he's going through. The light of enlightenment hit me when I managed to peek into the Shard. That was this brief and yet overwhelming. Why did I abandon it all? Isn't it obvious? I'm not as crazy as Greydam is, I had to run away from Shard seekers like yourself, and staying on the top of the Soul Harvesters would have been the fastest way to die."

Saar appeared to see the outcome of the discussion and concluded with a cold voice: "You have made yourself clear. If you have any final words, it's about time to say them all."

Duriuk calmed down: "I won't tell you where the Shard went but since you pretend to share the same curiosity as me, I should at least tell you something as my parting gift to a fresh brat. Ask yourself what you see in the sky when you step out of this room, what's up there, what's repeating and what's eternal. The answer is obvious but it reveals the meaning of life and death. Man is afraid to die only because he doesn't know what is next and none have answered this yet. The Shard of Eternity allowed me to see, it gave me the same eyes as that of the Old Gods. I know what's to come and what I am going to be. I still cling onto this life, it is not because death scares me, but rather I am terrified by the after-life now that I've learnt what it is made of. I saw so many horrible things in my life, I carried out some of them and I was put through others... but to tell the truth, I've never been this afraid before, afraid of the shadow taking me in when the light in my heart runs out..."

Watching Duriuk slowly closing his eyes, Nikkum, who had been speechless until then, could not resist meddling: "Saar, I think your man has broken down like our princess."

Saar hated to say it but he was powerless. He let the man lay down: "Suit himself, I guess I need to go to Eclis now. Didn't you have some business with him too?"

Nikkum held up Duriuk's hand then watched it fall freely: "Not anymore."

Saar remembered something, then called: "Lily? Can you 'revive' the Oracle please? We're leaving."

The agitated lady was back in the room, together with Celius and some villagers. After glancing quickly at Duriuk who had only very weak breath by now, she questioned Saar with a look, asking if he was certain he wanted her to do the same to the Oracle. The young man nodded slightly.

Shortly after the same poison run down the skinny and aged body, the Oracle opened his eyes before the now overjoyed villagers. Saar gestured to his group to follow him out of the room, as he knew it was wiser to leave before Celius and the villagers discovered what was actually done to the patients.

Right before he stepped out, he heard the Oracle speaking.

"I see the burden of the stone, a knight locked in silver chains. The further he seeks redemption, the greater disasters he brings."

"I see the luster of the fragment, a lady drowned in liquid insanity. The more eager she yearns for life, the harsher reality she meets."

"I see the hope of a promise, a beast dwelling in a crimson past. The more he remembers about humanity, the closer to death he smells."

Saar had always been intrigued by the prophecies, so he looked back and met the Oracle in the eyes.

"And then, I see the soul of the undying."