Controvetta Kingdom yr. 306
The prosperous nation is at the mercy of perpetual war with the “Neighbouring Nation,” over the highly coveted Alpha Matter. The holy relic that has been sought out for centuries is legend to grant its potential owner the ability to bend the Universe to their will or so the “legend goes,” they say. The drunkards of Controvetta Taverns speculate that Alpha Matter is simply a priceless artefact that can be sold for a handsome fortune to the Controvetta Church, who in turn believe it contains immaculate holy power. No one knows for sure what shape or form Alpha Matter takes or if it even exists, but the never ending search for it has transformed ambition into obsession in the hearts of royalty, holy men, scholars, and common men alike.
Castle walls have been erected around the Controvetta Kingdom since the rise of military authority, to encase its citizens for their protection, only allowing a select amount of legitimate merchants to grant them access to the vast wilderness surrounding the bordered nation. Abundant in resources for lumber, farming, hunting and mining, just to name a few tricks of the common trade, the ever growing economy of Controvetta Kingdom is all thanks to the hard working denizens that specialize in their respective trades as the circulation of Gold and Silver escalates.
Due to the endless bloodshed and the rising need for healthcare between Controvetta Kingdom and the Neighbouring Nation, the Castle Kingdom has resorted to introducing a tax system to help fund the war. By collecting calculated fractions of its own people’s Gold and Silver, they begin to replace common currency with lesser metals such as copper, nickel and bronze. The more precious and more valuable metals are melted and forged into weaponry, and tokens of pride. What were once used for common trade in an otherwise prosperous nation have now become the materials manufactured to bring about humanity’s downfall.
A shimmer of radiant light flashed through the cavern corridors. An indistinct vibration of noise rattled the stalactites hanging from the high ceiling in sequence with the ever changing beams of colours. The cool, whistling wind filled the silence as squeaky wheels rolled upon the uneven dirt. The merchant’s cart rumbled over grooves and stray rocks causing its contents, an array of ambiguous items, to bounce off its surface, only to fall back down with an unsettling rattle.
Gaugheren Caliburous, the little boy in tattered shoes, a nearly decent sized tunic and dirt brown pantaloons followed from behind the cart. He had always wanted to come along with his merchant father on his travels for sale items and today was his lucky day, but there was something about this cavern that gave him the feeling that his presence wasn’t the only thing that was different about this particular venture. He expected to be out in the Controvetta Wilderness endlessly plucking herbs from the Earth or collecting lumber, but the mysterious cavern piqued Gaugheren’s curiosity.
Drake continued to wheel the cart from behind him at an unhurried pace, and with ease, for he constructed a cart attachment that connected its handle to his belt as if to make it an extension of his body movement. He was a medium built man with the same shaggy hair his son shared. He wore a puffy sleeved shirt beneath a brown traveler’s vest, puffy matching pants tucked into leather boots, as well as a satchel that hung at his side. Normally a man of his stature would struggle to carry such an amount of weight on him, but his body and fortitude had grown accustomed to the excess baggage that came with the profession.
“Can we go back to town?” Gaugheren asked as he ran past the overflowing cart to catch up to his father’s side. A stock pile of un-assorted items beckoned to either snap the wheels off the cart or simply fall out of place. Rusty swords, a pair of daggers and an oversized shield lay upon plucked herbs, randomly sized logs of wood and other items that have yet to be appraised. “I think we have enough stuff to sell for today.”
“I didn’t beg your mother to give you the day off from school for nothing.” Drake grinned as he roughly patted his son’s head, causing his unruly hair to scatter even more so. “Besides, aren’t you the one who wanted to see what I do for a living?”
Gaugheren frowned as he ran his hands through his hair to fix it. “Yeah, but it’s cold and dark here. What if…” He paused as his father approached a long winding stone bridge that connected from the platform they stood on, to a platform for they could barely see off in the dark distance. “What if all the stuff we collected falls off the edge?”
“Don’t tell me you’re scared all of a sudden,” Drake said as he squinted his eyes while giving his son a devious smile. Shock set over Gaugheren’s face then he frowned once more and shook his head. “Gaugh, my boy, it’s about time I teach you about sticking to your word, because word is bond. You wanted to come along and here we are. You wanted to take a detour in the wilderness and then investigate the strange light coming from this cave, and here we are! You wanted to see what it was like to be an adventurer for a day, and well here—”
“Less talky, more walky!” Gaugheren crossed his arms in a huff and tried his hardest to maintain his tough façade. Drake burst out in laughter that echoed through the cavern.
“That’s better! Now come on.” Drake proceeded to step onto the bridge, but the right wheel of the cart slipped off the edge of the bridge and the pile of weaponry, stacked high on the cart, slid off into the pitfall. They gasped, exchanged glances, and then watched the rusty sword and the large shield fade into nothingness. For a while there was a long silence until a distant clanging of steel and silver indicated how far the fall was. “Ah the ring of silver, such a beautiful sound, it’s like music to my ears. What I would give to have some more ounces of it. It looks like we’ll have to keep the cart behind if we plan to make any.”
“How about over there?” Gaugheren pointed at a small black opening at a nearby wall. It appeared to be big enough to store the cart’s width.
Drake nodded and unhinged his cart connector from his belt to lift the stray wheel back onto ground. He wheeled it back manually into the opening that Gaugheren suggested, but before he pushed it all the way in, he pulled it back out to look through the cart. He pulled out the pair of daggers that were thankfully still in the cart and handed one to Gaugheren, who simply held it horizontally across his palms like a ritualistic offer. Drake gripped the handle of his dagger and took a moment to gaze at the craftsmanship of the blade before swinging it in less than amateur technique.
“What are these for?” Gaugheren emulated his father and wielded the dagger, but didn’t play around with it just yet. He simply looked in awe at the comfort of the weight it had in his hand. Due to his tiny stature, it looked more like a sword when wielded by him.
“Just in case we find some rare mushrooms, the alchemists in town might give a hefty price…or if we run into trouble.” Drake tucked the dagger into his belt.
“Cool! We’re gonna fight monsters!” Gaugheren then proceeded to jab at the air and then swing the blade with fluent grace. A criss-cross of angles swiped at the stale air and he smiled at the delight a weapon in his hands gave him.
Furrowing his brow, Drake placed a hand on Gaugheren’s shoulder and said, “Now be careful with that and only use it in an emergency. You don’t want to be cutting yourself by accident.”
Another flash of luminous light traveled from across the bridge, but a bit longer than the previous ones, along with an eerie vibration. Gaugheren broke off from his father’s hold and scuttled towards the bridge, dagger in hand like he was a warrior in battle. He jabbed at the air with the same swiftness as the bats that flew over head.
“Hey, wait up and watch where you’re going!” Drake shoved the cart into the wall’s opening and it fit like a glove. He followed after Gaugheren the muttered to him self, “I swear that kid needs to make up his mind. Is he a fraidy cat or a fearless adventurer?”
The two Caliburous walked alongside each other across the long winding bridge, into the uncertain darkness, ever so careful not to pay attention to the pitfalls at their sides. The closer they approached, the more frequent the flashes of light were, along with the mini tremors that now begun cracking vibrating the stalactites that protruded from the ceiling. They heard a snap from above and turned around to watch a stalactite drop and crack apart on the path behind them.
“Don’t worry, just keep your wits about you, boy,” Drake reassured Gaugheren, but the little scamp was already walking ahead in utter curiosity as to what was up ahead. “At least that answers my question, but there’s still a matter of those flashes.”
The entire cave began to erupt and the father and son adventurers lost their balance momentarily. Gaugheren fell on his bottom and Drake quickly picked him back up, gently pushing him along to pick up the pace. Gaugheren was still stumped from his fall and took a while before gaining the speed his father desired that they should run at. The further they got, the narrower the bridge became, and the more complicated the twists and turns were. Drake allowed Gaugheren to take the lead so he can keep an eye on him and to ensure he didn’t fall behind.
“What’s happening?” Gaugheren asked between pants of exasperation.
“I don’t know! Maybe we should turn back?” Drake said trying his hardest to hold onto his swinging satchel. “Perhaps we should get you to safety outside first and then I’ll go deeper alone to find out what the light is!”
“Who’s scared now, papa?” Gaugheren managed to say before another tremor caused the both of them to stumble to the floor. They lay low as the musky dungeon quaked and immediately stood back up once the vibrations settled enough for them to move freely. The labyrinth ahead was almost in sight, but they still had a long way to go before reaching it.
The path further on would have been shrouded in darkness, being so far from the cavern entrance, but the constant glimmer of energy illuminated the trail. The loud vibrations emanating from the flashes caused Drake to cover his ears, and the light shone to nearly blind his tightly squinted eyes, but Gaugheren appeared to be un-phased by either obstacle. Drake had to slow his steps, lest he fell to his doom taking one wrong step off the narrowing bridge.
Finally, the bridge straightened in the remaining distance, and the labyrinth was just up ahead in a few paces. Caused by another tremor, a giant stalactite began shaking high above Gaugheren, and its surrounded circumference cracked away. Pellets of pebbles rained down on Gaugheren, pelting him to the ground. The stalactite snapped off the ceiling and made its way downward on Gaugheren’s head. Drake picked him up once more and shoved him forward, and took a leap backward for himself, just in time to evade the rocky spike that plunged through the floor between them. Drake and Gaugheren ran in opposite directions from each other as the bridge crumbled at the crunch of breaking rock.
A cloud of dirt dispersed to reveal a large pitfall between the separated bridges. Drake could see Gaugheren still running off in the distance.
“Gaugheren!” He called out, but the little boy continued onward, determined to find out what was at the other side. Drake judged the distance between the separations and decided that it was too wide to jump over. “Wait here and I’ll try to find something in my cart to cross over this…or you can keep going, that’s fine.” He sighed out a cough of dust, kicked at the dirt beneath his feet and placed his hands on his hips.
Tall support beams towered over Gaugheren as he gazed at the lit entrance between them. Stone serpents and vines looped around the beams, a strange decoration to be found in such a bland cavern. The corridor lead to a marble tiled floor, glistening in its turquoise magnificence. At first the tiles were scattered over in random sequences between unfilled spaces of dirt, but as Gaugheren approached further within, the tiles were arranged in consistent order. He slowed down his steps to catch his breath, yet still refused to look back to check if his father followed him in, let alone come to a complete stop. On the walls of the tunnel like corridor were unlit lanterns, which were unnecessary right now anyway since there was enough unnatural light emanating from the labyrinth within.
Gaugheren’s tattered shoes somehow produced a clapping sound after each step he took and reverberated against the solid marble walls. He looked down at the dagger that he still held in hand and raised it across his chest as he delved deeper into the depths of the cavern. A beam of white-blue light took over the reflective surface of the blade, but Gaugheren paid no mind as he made it to the end of the corridor and into the labyrinth. The marble tiles continued to fill the floor inside and the walls and ceiling were made of an unnatural blue rock that sparkled like rhinestones from the pulsating light.
The source of the flashing lights and possibly the tremors that preceded them seemed to have been resting upon whatever was lying above the steps that stood before Gaugheren. He peered up the marble steps and couldn’t look away from the excruciating brightness that seemed to have innately drawn him ever closer to having his curiosity fulfilled. He made his way up the staircase, each step growing heavier the more he ascended.
He finally reached the top after a battle with gravity, and before him was a thin and tall podium. A decorative stone dragon spiralled around the podium and resting atop was a shining stone orb that was encased between the dragon’s talons. Between the shimmers of light, Gaugheren could see strange runes engraved around the orb, but the more he focussed on trying to decipher them with what little education he had, the more the light burned his retinal resolve. He was still too amazed to cover his eyes or look away, ignoring the burning sensation that gripped the back of his eye sockets.
A pungent aroma burned the insides of his nostrils and a sound like shatter crystals assaulted his ear drums. Gaugheren stood motionless with a floor dropped jaw, staring at the magnificent orb. His pupils dilated constantly in accordance with the flashes of radiant light illuminating the labyrinth. A sudden stillness and euphoria enraptured all the feeling in his body and his grip on the dagger loosened. The hilt slid out of his fingers and the dagger fell to the floor, but he couldn’t hear it the blade clink against the marble, for the sound overridden by the continuous shattering noise the orb produced.
“Gaugheren Caliburous.” Faint whispers of his name traveled through his ears like a voice that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. He slowly lifted his arms to reach our and touch the orb, then the podium shrunk and adjusted its height to suit him. Without hesitation, Gaugheren grabbed onto the orb with both hands and was welcomed with an intense heat that scorched his palms with a throbbing numbness. It felt as though his flesh was being burnt into bone, but his skin remained in tact as his palms made contact with the vibrant orb. “Chosen…you’ve been chosen…”
Bursts of light shone through Gaugheren’s eye sockets, his nostrils, his ears, then finally out of his mouth before he could scream in resistance to the stone orb’s sensational touch. He knocked his head back as he attempted to release his hold on the powerful relic, but it seemed to have symbiotically attached itself to his hands. He did manage to lift it off the podium, but that only generated more of an assault to his senses. The podium disintegrated particle by particle from the top down and vanished into thin air.
The light traveled visibly through Gaugheren’s veins and the stone orb dimmed into a dull gray. The beams of energy shooting out of Gaugheren’s head faded and restored the pupils to his eyes. The orb began to part from his latching fingers and hover in the air as its stone gray surface darkened it into an ebon sphere that floated and rotated above his head. The tiny platform which the podium stood on expanded in all directions until the marble floors met the rhinestone walls and finally blocking the staircase that lead down to the cavern.
A black vortex formed beneath Gaugheren’s feet and encircled him, and from it emerged seven shadow figures that crept against the floor. He stood in stunned suspicious terror as the shadows began to take on humanoid forms around his feet. The Seven Shadows detached themselves from the floor and manifested into physical beings that now crept beside the terrified boy. They all growled at a low hush and hissed at Gaugheren, the hair on his neck to stand.
“What are you?” He asked with teeth chattering and knees quivering. The Shadows’ faces began to reveal the mockery of features with crimson eyes blazing like the flames of the Underworld, and oversized maws with sharp incisors that were formed at the separations of their mouths. They surrounded him from all directions as he surveyed his surroundings for an exit.
“We are the Ultimate Sins,” they replied in unison and in throaty grumbles, “the ones that delightfully rob petty humans of their true essence.”
“What—” Gaugheren froze for a second before crouching to pick up the dagger. As soon as he gripped the hilt, the shadow standing in front of him kneeled down and wrapped its claw around his throat, digging its ethereal nails into his neck. He stood up quickly to slice the Shadow at the wrist and it shrieked in an unearthly tone. Its claw remained gripped around his neck, but slowly disappeared. With a grimaced face unnatural to Gaugheren’s innocent demeanour, he lunged at the handless shadow and stabbed it in the chest, causing its being to disperse into a puff of black smoke.
As the air cleared before him, Gaugheren seized the opportunity to run past the Shadows and create distance from them. They all bared their incisors as their crimson eyes blared with fury at the loss of their comrade. Gaugheren held the dagger in both hands and alternated between pointing at one Shadow after the other with the tip of his blade.
From his left, one Shadow glided towards Gaugheren and as he was ready to counter attack, another Shadow coming from his right came at him in a blur of movement and drop kicked him in the chest. The impact sent Gaugheren off his feet and plunging backward into the wall behind him. He fell face first with the dagger still in hand. He tried to push off the ground, but collapsed again due to the weariness in his head.
The same Shadow that was going to attack him originally continued to glide towards Gaugheren, while the others approached at a more patient pace. The Shadow grabbed Gaugheren from the back of his collar and dangled him off the floor. It opened its free hand to extend its ebon claws, while he tried to shake free. In his attempt to squirm out of its hold, he managed to kick the Shadow in the face and then broke free causing a rip in his shirt from where the Shadow hung him. Gaugheren held his dagger arm across his chest and slightly twisted his torso to the side. The shadow lifted its arms to protect its sore face, if the being could even feel pain that is, and in one clean backhanded swipe, Gaugheren decapitated its hands and head off its ethereal body.
With the murderous momentum he gained from his countermeasures, Gaugheren ran past the puff of black smoke, dashed towards the Shadow that drop kicked him and leapt in the air to deliver the dagger deep into the Shadow’s head. As he pulled it out upon landing, the Shadow vanished and the remaining four Shadows attempted to attack all at once this time. Gaugheren held the dagger upright again and spun around swinging the blade in random arcs to drive the Shadows away. They flanked him from all four directions and snarled viciously; momentarily weakening his will and making him wonder which will attack first.
“Stay away from me!” Gaugheren exclaimed, screaming for the first time in his life. He continued to spin around every few seconds, dagger held out in defence, and anticipating which direction he will have to cover. When he grew impatient, he dashed towards a Shadow while the other three behind him approached his attack in attempt to intercept it. He held his dagger above his head and swung it in a downward arc to create a diagonal slice across the Shadow’s body. He slid past the black smoke it became and tried to put all his weight in his feet to stop him self from sliding.
One Shadow snarled maniacally as it flew over head and kicked Gaugheren in the back. He stumbled forward and as he was about to hit the ground, he twisted around and fell on his back. That same Shadow lunged towards him with its claws ready to dig into his flesh, but he held his dagger out upward causing the Shadow’s stomach to plunge into the dagger’s point, and ever deeper into it until it disintegrated like its fellow allies.
As Gaugheren stood up, one of the remaining Shadows of Sin appeared out of nowhere and dug its claw through his chest with an unsettling squish of muscle and bone. It didn’t tear a hole in his flesh, but he could feel the claw squeezing at his heart, like five bending and piercing blades through a hunk of raw meat. The Shadow let out at throaty growl with a dualistic pitch, a baritone and a high pitched growl mixed into one resonating tone. The second remaining Shadow of Sin slithered behind him, opened its mouth wide and dug its pitch black incisors into Gaugheren’s skull. He screamed so loud that it soon tore his throat and muted his voice as he fell to his knees and dropping the dagger to cover his ears.
The black orb that floated about in the air returned to its lifeless stone gray colour and ceased spinning to fall to the ground with not so much of a bounce against the marble floor. Gaugheren’s eyes rolled back and darkness overtook his vision as the Shadows of Sin merged into his body while returning to their translucent form.
The double sun shone overcast the cloud blanketed sky. Gaugheren blinked his eyes a few times to adjust the blur of sun rays peeking through the clouds. Turning his head was the defiance of gravity, his anvil head throbbed as he attempted to survey his surroundings. The Twin Suns served to pry his eyes open any time he grimaced from the numbness that shook his skull.
The sound of a wooden wheel turning against ground beneath Gaugheren rattled his injured little body. He managed to tuck his chin into his chest as he lay flat on his back in an empty merchant’s cart. Wheels continued to roll over paved ground as he felt a spherical object clasped to his chest. He looked at his hands and encased between his tiny fingers was The Stone Orb, runes carved around its circumference, but unlit at the moment. Only where the suns shone is where select runes emitted energy. The cart came to a halt and he drifted back to sleep from the solace of ceased movement.
Drake unclipped his belt from his cart, kicked the stand to keep it in place, and walked around to observe the back of the cart. He took a thick dusty tome from his satchel and looked at the strange orb Gaugheren latched onto so dearly. Drake flipped through the yellowing pages until he saw a picture of an artefact that vaguely resembled the Stone Orb.
“Could this really be Alpha Matter?” Drake continued to flip through the pages containing its information. According to the book, it should have been emitting an eerie glow that was almost blinding, but at the moment, it just looked like any other hunk of rock. Still it would be quite the pricy artefact that one could sell to the Merchant’s Guild. Once the interested ones get to appraise the artefact to confirm its legitimacy, they each would start to name their prices. He let the thought settle and he felt a wave of queasiness ache at the pit of his stomach.
Drake clipped the hook back onto his belt and carried the dusty tome as he approached the city gate. The Vast Wilderness lay shrouded in a cluster of tall trees, with a small dirt path paved in an opening that connected to the castle walls of Controvetta. Grey stones were tiled in the path to indicate the town checkpoint.
Two knights stood on opposite ends from each other with a closed metal gate between them. They stood in place with halberds in hand, with the bottoms of their poles seemingly planted in the ground. As Drake approached, the knight on the right walked over and blocked the gate.
“Present passport,” he said slamming his halberd in place.
Drake reached into his pocket at the side of his satchel and pulled out a black leather hand sized booklet. A golden threaded Controvetta Crest was stitched on the front of the booklet. A crescent moonlike C on a slant symbolized the nation’s pride and flag. He handed the passport to the city guard where he were to open it up, flip through the records of Drake’s daily passes out of the city. On each page was horizontal lines separated by a column on the left with dates printed downward behind the margin. On the right column were spaces, squares for entry and exit stamps. Blue ones indicated exit from the city and as the knight took out a stamp from his belt, he marked a red one to indicate re-entry into the city. He nodded at his partner who then pulled a lever to slide the gate open, which rose from the stone floor with the rattle of steel against stone.
Drake wheeled his cart through the gate with Gaugheren out in the back. He took a moment to stash away his passport and tome into his satchel and continued into town. Along his path was an array of beautifully placed stone tiles paving the flat Earth. Sign posts were in every corner, indicating street names, each wooden arrow pointing in straight and sometimes curved roads. To his sides, numerous wooden and brick buildings scattered about in organized fashion. From stores to restaurants, he made his way through the business district of Controvetta.
The streets rustled with activity, even with the abundance of different businesses; around the sidewalks were some streets vendors selling their goods straight from their carts. Drake made his way through the customer clustered streets and peered around for the Merchant’s Guild. A place where merchants can talk shop and make friendly trades in goods. A place drake always wished he can waltz into comfortably as if he belonged. Today was Drake’s day for he had Alpha Matter in his hands. But not for long, for a handsome amount of Gold and Silver will be exchanged for it, or so he anticipated.
Drake came to a complete stop as he stood before a red bricked building with a sign post that read “Merchant’s Guild.” It was two stories high and wide enough to span across three houses. Drake unhooked his belt from the cart and detached himself from it. He wheeled it into the building. Gaugheren was surrounded by an array of items that managed to remain in the cart, though a few items had to be discarded in order to have maximum speed during Drake’s daring escape from the collapsing cave.
Drake entered the Merchant’s Guild, showed his passport once more to the secretary and made his way to the main foyer. Merchants stood around, sat at designated benches and all spoke in rapid and loud tones. Gaugheren squinted his eyes from the noise and then rubbed them as he sat up.
“Attention, everyone!” Drake called out, falling on deaf ears. “I have found the Legendary Alpha Matter!” The chatter began to quiet down and the merchants turned to face him. At first, silence ensued, but it was soon broken as the room erupted into laughter.
Gaugheren frowned at the surrounding merchants as he hugged Alpha Matter close to his chest. For a brief moment, it flashed black then returned to its gray hue.
“That’s impossible!” A merchant said. It was Dale, a pottery merchant that still managed to get more sales than Drake. “Legend has it, that only those with the heart of a warrior can obtain it. You don’t look like any warrior to me!” Dale pointed at Drake’s scrawny arms, some laughter resumed, while most of the merchants no longer paid any mind and went on with their business.
Another merchant joined Drake’s side. His name was Harman and he had rat like features, and had a few greying hairs. He was also scrawny, but his exposed arms were muscular. His buck tooth smile always made Drake, a normally peaceful man; want to punch him in his mouth.
“Drake, old chum,” Harman said putting his arm around Drake. “You just can’t call things out like that at the Merchant’s Guild. No need for false alarms.”
Drake shrugged Harman’s arm off and grabbed Alpha Matter from Gaugheren’s hands. “False alarm? What do you call this then?”
Harman laughed. “That’s just a crummy old rock. It must be coincidence that it turned out to be in the shape of a ball.”
“I’m not too sure about that,” Dale said. “I mean look at those runes. It may not be Alpha Matter, but something valuable nonetheless.”
“What do you know?” Harman shoved Dale aside and took a closer look at the Stone Orb. “You’re just a pottery merchant. Go make another vase or something.”
“Perhaps we should show Headmaster Duncan?” Dale asked. “Only he has access to the most exclusive tomes. Maybe he can appraise it for us.”
“Actually…” Drake trailed off, holding tightly onto his satchel. He shot a glance at Gaugheren who just stared back blankly. “There is no us. I found this priceless artefact, but I appreciate the suggestion.”
Harman snatched the orb out of Drake’s hands and fixed his on it as he spoke. “As if Duncan would give you the time or day. Half the time, you don’t even know what you’re selling. Look at this junk! No wonder no customers are accustomed to you, you’re not even familiar with the crap you collect.”
Gaugheren slid out of the cart, scuttled towards Harman and kicked him in the shin. It took a few seconds for Harman to respond, but when he did, he dropped the orb for Drake to catch, then rubbed his shin.
“You little brat!” Harman shook his fist at the little boy and Drake laid a hand on Gaugheren’s chest to gently move him aside.
“No don’t bicker, son, it’s not worth it.” Drake said smiling and winking at him. “He’s right, I haven’t decided on what wares to specialize on. I’m no merchant—”
“Damn right you’re not,” Harman said. “Go take your useless rock elsewhere, no one’s gonna waste a single copper on your trash. They never had and never will.”
Drake looked at them with wide eyes and dismissed himself from the heated conversation. “At least I’m not heartless,” he rebuked. “I already surrendered to my own inefficiency, so why do you continue to bring me down?” He was tempted to whip out the tome from his satchel and show Harman the chapter on Alpha Matter, but he would hate to be found out for stealing from the Headmaster’s shelf. He should thank Harman for teaching him how to pick locks, but random skill assistance wasn’t enough to overshadow all the times Harman had continuously debunked his credibility as a merchant. This time especially.
Gaugheren looked up at his father, with his eyes on the verge of watering, then frowned again at the rat faced Harman.
“Let’s go,” Drake said taking Gaugheren by the hand. He left his cart behind and tossed the Stone Orb into his satchel as he stormed out of the Merchant’s Guild. He released Gaugheren’s hand once they got past the door and into the bustling streets of Controvetta.
“Why do you let that man push you around?” Gaugheren asked as they headed towards the exit of the business district.
“They’re just words, they don’t hurt me.” Drake said staring at the cobblestone road beneath their feet.
“Well I think you’re the best merchant ever!” Gaugheren jumped, pumping a fist down as he landed.
“Don’t try to make me feel better.” Drake turned to Gaugheren as they continued to walk. “I’m a fraud.” Gaugheren’s eyebrow began to crease and Drake sighed. “I’m going to let you in on a little secret and you can’t tell anybody. Not even your mother!”
Gaugheren stood and stared for a moment then nodded.
“I never wanted to be a merchant in the first place.” Drake signalled for them to resume walking. “I just want to explore the world beyond these castle walls. Once they were built, my dreams were killed. I only pretend to be a merchant just so I can be granted access to the Vast Wilderness, even just for brief hours of the day. I hate how the castle kept us small and I can’t even venture far beyond the Vast Wilderness because they just have more walls! It’s all I have though, even if it doesn’t feel like enough. We were not meant to live imprisoned between castle walls God damn it! Oh sorry, I’m trailing off…”
“It’s ok, I’m still listening.” Gaugheren said. “Then why don’t you just go on an adventure?”
“It’s too complicated to explain to you…plus I already have you and Rhea to take care of. I wouldn’t dream of abandoning you two just to get lost on my own. Oh boy, oh no! I chose having a family over exploration and settled for being a pseudo merchant. I don’t regret it through.” Drake sniffed and wiped his nose. For the remainder of their walk home, they remained silent.
The Controvetta streets were packed with activity and so it was a long walk home that ended by early sundown. The Caliburous men lived in a humble thriving neighbourhood consisting of wooden shacks built on dirt. An area neglected by the castle’s choice of economic improvement, but the neighbours did well to keep their community in tact. Aspiring merchants and simple merchant under hands all lived here.
When Drake and Gaugheren came home, Rhea had already been preparing dinner over their stone and coal stove top. There already were stove tops that ran on steam tanks, but the Caliburous weren’t that blessed or rich.
Rhea turned away from the pot of fish stew and looked at Gaugheren. She noticed the dirt on his face and clothes and then ran towards him, completely ignoring Drake. She kneeled in front of Gaugheren and said, “oh my son, are you okay? What have you gotten yourself into?”
“Just a little adventure mishap,” Drake said.
“Just a little adventure mis—” Rhea rolled her eyes and sighed. “Where have you two been and why are you covered in so much dirt? Why does Gaugheren have a bruise on his forehead? You never come home this dirty from work, so what kind of trouble did you two get into out there in the Vast Wilderness?”
“None, don’t you worry,” Drake said placing his hands on her shoulders.
“Don’t worry?” Rhea bolted upward to stand and face him. “Don’t you know how dangerous it is for a child to be wandering in the Vast Wilderness? There are wild animals abound, bandits and worst of all, assassins.”
Drake chuckled and caressed Rhea’s face. “Assassins aren’t real. You listen to too many bar stories. Assassins are just a group of people the King’s men created to scare us into thinking that we are under any threat and that we must depend on their service to keep us protected.”
“Don’t fill out son’s head with lies, if assassins aren’t real, why is there so much talk about them? There have been reports recently of unexplained deaths, and the only possibility is crafty assassins who flee the scene before any evidence can be left around.”
Gaugheren tugged on Rhea’s dress and she looked down on him. His eyebrows were creased and as he had his hand on his stomach, it grumbled viciously and the serious disposition in Rhea’s face softened. She apologized to both Drake and Gaugheren for her sudden outburst and began setting their table with plates and utensils. Gaugheren and Drake took their seats at the table as Rhea fetched the cooked fish along with steamed rice to platter at the center of their table. They all joined hands and bowed their heads in silent gratitude for the little bit of food they were able to scrap up each day and have the privilege to eat.
“I’m sorry, honey,” Drake said as he began cutting equal slices of fish for all three of them. “Me and Gaugheren were in a cave picking some rare mushrooms, right son?” Gaugheren looked up at him and shrugged. “Yes, that’s why we got dirty. It was a very dusty and humid cave, but next time I will make sure that Gaugheren and I stick to venturing safer terrains.”
“There isn’t going to be a next time,” Rhea said. “Gaugheren, you’re going to have to catch up on the homework you missed from school today.”
Gaugheren groaned and slumped in his seat, but as Drake placed a slice of fish onto his plate, he sat right back up and began munching away before his father could also add rice to his plate. His parents now had both of their plates filled with food and as they ate, Drake eyed the satchel he placed by the coat rack. His stomach filled with excitement, he could not wait to read more upon it after dinner.
At nightfall, a cold chill permeated through Controvetta in the radiant moonlight. The street vendors had all taken their carts and shop stands down, all shops were closed, and all that was left open was the tavern and church. Only a handful of people walked the streets of Controvetta at night, mostly drunkards hobbling their way back home or aristocrats returning home from high end entertainment and social clubs.
Harman crept into one of the lower class neighbourhoods, home of the Caliburous in particular, along with a woman in a lab coat. Harman himself no longer sported the garb of a merchant; rather he was dressed in thinner fitting clothing that consisted of a robe tied by a cloth belt, and pants that were tucked into leather boots. He had a dagger sheathed at his belt that he kept stroking the hilt of as he walked along the neighbourhood.
The woman in the lab coat on the other hand was Lilika Maccuchi, the Chief Alchemist that belonged to the Deadly Arts Academy. She had strawberry blonde hair which was tied up in a bun and thick glasses that either marred or enhanced her natural beauty, depending on which way you looked at it. Her coat seemed to fit well over her slim frame, but little would a regular passerby guess that within the confines of her coat, an array of glass vials containing deadly poisons were attached to the pockets inside.
“You better be sure about this,” Lilika said. “If Alegarth finds out that this thing’s a fake, he’ll have our heads.”
“Trust me,” Harman replied. “I’ve stolen Headmaster Duncan’s tomb of artefacts countless of times. I made my self a copy of the pages that included Alpha Matter, and I swear it, that Drake Caliburous surely has the orb.”
“But the shape or form of Alpha Matter is unknown,” Lilika said standing in front of him to stop Harman in his tracks. “No one even knows if it truly exists. What if that hunk of rock is just that? A hunk of rock that just so happened to be shaped into a sphere?”
“It was too perfect and smooth to just be a coincidental rock,” Harman said. “Besides, I remember the runes. I didn’t get too hold it for too long because of that wretched child of Drake’s, but I know for a fact that the runes matched the ones in the book.”
“Alright, if you say so.” Lilika stepped aside so that they could continue their walk. “Now remember, minimize conflict and get in and out of there as quick as possible without leaving a trace.”
“Shut up and don’t tell me how to do my job. Who’s the assassin here?” Harman frowned at Lilika, and if she was intimidated by his aggression, she made no gesture. He took her silence as an agreement and continued onward to the Caliburous home.
Lilika knew that Harman was but a lowly thief in their guild, but she stayed her tongue so that the mission could be done before she could pass any judgement towards her rat faced companion. She knew better than to compromise a potentially important mission by simply doing what did best, which was to verbally scorn others so much that she didn’t require the use of a blade to pierce the heart of man.
Harman found the house he had marked with a kunai blade struck into a mailbox post in front of the Caliburous home. He had told Lilika about just how simple it was to follow Drake after the Merchant’s Guild incident in which he humiliated him in order to ensure that other merchants did not believe for a second that Drake, a merchant without specialty, had gained possession of a legendary artefact.
With pick locks in hand, Harman began jabbing the thin and variously shaped pins into the keyhole of the front door. He tried a variety of pins until two specific ones had caught onto the teeth of and gears of the keyhole. Lilika took the chance to survey their surroundings to see if there would be any potential witnesses. With her thick glasses on, her sight would be as good as any assassin of the guild she was part of.
Once the keyhole clicked open, Harman unsheathed his dagger and placed the blade between his teeth as he entered into the house. Lilika followed him in from behind with her back towards him so that she could continue her look out. They hug along the walls in the dark house and crept towards where the moonlight poured in through the window.
Harman came across a lantern above his head and so took out a flint and stone to strike a flame into it as to illuminate the house. It was a simple home, a one room containing nothing but a kitchen, as well as a few seats on the far wall that constituted as a living room just inches away from the round and tiny dining table. He peered through the closet by the front door, the cabinets in the kitchen and closing drawers not so inconspicuously. The slamming of drawers and doors startled Lilika and she put a finger to her mouth in a shushing fashion, but Harman only returned a derisive look.
“We don’t have much time,” he whispered. “We need to be as quick and as thorough as possible.”
“Yes, but you can still do that by silently shutting the doors, you dimwit.” Lilika said giving him a quick whack in the head. “Close them slowly.”
“What did I say outside?”
“I don’t care what you said outside,” Lilika yelled, her whisper turning into a yell due to the lack of control for her anger. They heard a creaking noise from the bedroom and turned their heads toward it. Drake’s mumbling voice spoke reassuringly and made a bigger noise of getting off the squeaky bed before opening the bedroom door. “Quick! Hide!”
Lilika and Harman ducked down behind the kitchen counter and peered over the corners to watch Drake head into the main room.
“That’s odd. I could’ve sworn I blew out that lantern.” Drake wiped his eyes, yawned and walked towards the lantern, took it off the wall and instead of blowing out the candle, he shrugged his shoulders. “A snack would be nice right now, though.”
He headed towards the kitchen and Lilika and Harman had to crawl around the counter. As Drake began opening the pantry, Harman took the chance to bolt into the open bedroom door. Lilika reached out to him in attempt to stop him, but couldn’t say anything in fear that Drake would get suspicious. She gritted her teeth and continued to watch Drake obtain a midnight snack of bread as she distanced herself from him. She slid under the dining room table, hoping that there was just enough shadow to mask her presence underneath.
Within the Caliburous bedroom, Rhea was sound asleep on the master bed while little Gaugheren lay in a tiny bed of his own on a makeshift mattress on the floor. It was essentially a blanket over a stack of hay that Harman noticed jutting out from the edges. Harman took one step that creaked on an uneven floorboard and Gaugheren stirred slightly where he lay. He turned over and pulled the cover over his shoulders for extra warmth.
The Alpha Matter orb could be anywhere in this room, Harman thought, but luckily he wouldn’t have to search too high or low. He reached underneath the bed frame and felt a solid sphere met his fingers. “Too easy,” he whispered to himself.
“What are you doing under there?” Drake called out from the other room.
Harman grabbed the orb and bolted out of the bedroom. In the main room he could see Drake standing by the counter with a butcher’s knife in hand, while Lilika was sliding out from underneath the dining table.
“You don’t want to trouble us,” Lilika said putting her hands up in surrender. “Trust me.”
“Trouble you?” Drake said placing the lantern down on the counter. “What are you doing invading my house like this?
“Exactly that,” Harman said tossing the orb up and down in his own hand while wielding his dagger in the other. “We’re invading your home for a little piece of this legend.”
“Harman?” Drake couldn’t help but scream. “I knew you were a snake, but I never thought you would be low enough to bother me at my home. How did you even find out where I live and what are you doing with Alpha Matter? Give that back to me. After all, wasn’t it you who said it was just a worthless piece of rock?”
“On the contrary,” Harman said smiling and holding the orb steady. “My boss has seen it before, and this truly is the legendary artefact.”
“Headmaster Duncan says it’s just a myth, he believes not a single word of its existence.”
“Duncan? Oh you are sorely mistaken, that’s not who my true boss is.” Harman’s voice contained a sinister element as he spoke. “Perhaps you’ve heard of the Great Assassin Alegarth.”
“Still your tongue, Harman!” Lilika said.
Drake took a moment to think. “The one who lead all those poor knights to die in the Great War?” Drake broke out in a laugh and began approaching Harman with his butcher knife. “I’ve never been in a fight before, but I hate that stupid face of yours. You should pose no threat against me if you’ve been so misguided to think assassins are anything short of great.”
“What’s going on?” Rhea said from within the bedroom. And as soon as she rose, Harman grabbed hold of her with his dagger arm, and in one fell swoop, he had his arm around her neck and his dagger held up to the side of her head. With his other hand, he tossed Alpha Matter towards Lilika and she caught it before it hit the dining table.
“Move another inch and this bitch gets it.” Harman said chuckling as Rhea struggled in his grip. As she was about to scream, Harman covered her mouth with his hand and began stroking the side of her head gently with his dagger, shushing her into even more panic.
With Alpha Matter tucked beneath Lilika’s arm, she reached into her inner coat pocket and took a tiny glass vial containing a crimson substance. “This is a vial of perpetually reproducing fire ants; they leave a trail of flame behind their wood feeding frenzy. Drop your weapon now if you want to live to see another day.”
“Please, this is the only home I can afford,” Drake said. “Besides if you release that now, won’t it kill you too?”
Lilika smiled and opened the vial. She carefully dabbed the tip of it over her shoulder and for a moment, Drake could see tiny embers float down and begin to crawl around her shoulder. But almost immediately, the embers were doused by a blue a mist, assumingly also killing the pests in the process. “I’ve doused my coat with a cooling agent that will render me immune.”
“You’re out of options,” Harman said. “Try to stop my colleague her and I slit your wife’s throat. Try to stop me, I slit your wife’s throat and we burn your house down. So put away that knife and let us walk out of here scot free.”
“Then I could just report you to the city guard afterwards.”
Harman chuckled and pressed the knife point a bit deeper into Rhea’s temple so that a tiny slit of blood appeared. She squirmed and he held her mouth even tighter. “And what would you tell them, that assassins broke into your home to steal Alpha Matter? According to your daily doctrines, neither of us exists. You’d just be seen for the nut that you are.”
“Daddy, what’s going on?” Gaugheren said standing a few steps behind Harman.
“Everything is just fine, my boy, just get back to bed and we’ll handle this.”
“It doesn’t look fine to me.” Gaugheren’s voice began to waver into a whimper. “Who are you and why do you have my mommy?”
“Just shut up and listen to your father, kid,” Harman said jabbing the knife into Rhea’s side. She let out a scream that was muffled by his hand and began to cry while trying to fight free from his hold.
Gaugheren took a step a back, wide eyed and with a floor dropped jaw. “D-don’t hurt her. Stop it.”
“Or else what?” Harman turned around to face Gaugheren. Drake was crying out for him to let her go, but he ignored it while he marvelled at the sight of blood dripping off the tip of his usually unused dagger. He looked Rhea did in the eye in her panic and began to breathe heavily, while using a maniacal grin as his only way of keeping himself from going into a frenzy. He stepped closer towards Gaugheren and slit Rhea’s jugular. Blood spurted out and Gaugheren watched as the life flow out of his mother’s throat. “What are you gonna do now, kid?”
Being the age at the fragile age that he was, Gaugheren did all he could which was fall to his knees and cry. Harman released Rhea, and when she hit the floor, Gaugheren ran by her side to see the last light of life leave her eyes. They remained open to stare him in the face.
Lilika could barely hear a little voice weeping from within the bedroom. With Alpha Matter under her arm, and Drake ready to attack Harman for killing his wife, Lilika proceeded to head for the door. Drake disappeared into the room momentarily, and then the clash of steel on steel panged throughout the night. Harman and Drake emerged out of the room swinging and clanging their weapons at each other.
The crimson vial was still left open, and the redness of the fire ants within was getting lighter in hue. Lilika could not dread the thought of letting a single vial, tiny as they may be, go to waste because of all the time and effort she puts into concocting each Cyanide. As Harman kicked Drake away into a wall by the kitchen counter, Lilika took the opportunity to throw the vial right at Drake’s hand. The glass vial shattered against the butcher knife and began crawling onto the wooden handle.
Drake dropped the butcher knife and shook the sting of heat off his hand, and already, the fire ants began to reproduce where they enflame. They gnawed at the wood, chomping bits and pieces away so that when they crawl over them, the trail of flame behind them could easily turn it into dust.
“Put the flame out, we’re not done here.” Harman said.
“Correction, you’re not done here.” Lilika smirked and fixed her glasses at the bridge of her nose. She patted and stroked the orb under her arm, anxious to see how pleased Headmaster Alegarth would be with her for having retrieved Alpha Matter. “This was supposed to be an easy job. We go in, we get out. The casualties are on your hands.”
She turned away to open the door, but Harman threw a kunai below the door knob, managing to lock everyone inside. She tried to pull it out, but it was irremovable. The embers had become an inferno, engulfing most of the Caliburous shack in flames. Only a few patches of free space to walk around was left on the wooden floors. Lilika had to immediately pull her head up, lest she got burnt by the flames surrounding her. She was now but a shadowy figure crouching in the flame, holding her cloth mask over her mouth that she also soaked in the cooling agent.
“We’re not leaving until we kill them all.” Harman said advancing towards Drake. His first step was hindered by Gaugheren clutching tightly around his ankle from behind.
“I said stop it,” Gaugheren cried out, biting into Harman’s calf, causing him to swing his leg and slam Gaugheren into the nearby wall. The little boy flattened against the wood, cracking a dent of his body outline on it, and crumpled to the floor. He sobbed while Harman stepped over him and stabbed Drake in the heart without so much of a struggle.
Lilika’s eyes widened as she gauged Gaugheren’s reaction. She saw the sorrow in his eyes, the anguish filling his face as he stared at Harman who pulled the dagger out with a maniacal laugh. He turned to face the downed boy with a malicious grin on his face, as if to say “you’re next.” But Gaugheren didn’t waver. He maintained his stare of contempt as he picked himself off the floor. A flash of bright white light shone through Gaugheren’s eyes, and within that one second, Harman was too busy closing his eyes in attempt to stifle his laughter.
That’s when Gaugheren decided to attack.