Ch 10: Sun's Guard
Mykul awoke to a sharp pain in his leg. Ever since the cave it had either been the leg pain that woke him up, or the nightmares. The leg pain was less often after his healing, but nights like tonight still came. He was glad it was the leg pain this time, the mental anguish was harder to recover from. What surprised Mykul most about the nightmares was that they weren’t all about the troll, and getting killed by it. Many nights he had dreams where he couldn’t find his way out of the forest, left alone to starve and wither.
But today was just leg pain, and all he had to do was bear it. He turned and planted his feet on the ground, wincing as he moved. The pain would lessen as he moved around more, a great irony he thought. He stood, using the bedposts to pull himself up. He decided it was time to take a stroll by himself.
Sam had been amazing, but she was always there. He hardly had time to think without her worrying over him. It was just a leg after all, he’d survive with, or without it. He wanted to walk the streets and see the sparkling city in his own time.
His room at the inn was dark, and he wasn’t quite sure what time he had woken up, but it certainly wasn’t morning yet. The dwarves had a lantern with some flint in the room for him. He struck the stone and gave himself the light he needed to dress himself.
He had hardly noticed the night before, but the bed really was made for Dwarves. The short straw mattress could barely hold him tucked in like a ball, and the wooden supports groaned with the pressure of his full weight. Mykul dressed as hastily as he could, eager to see the streets. His vest felt loose around his chest and stomach, only further hastening the feelings of hunger he held. The stories of yore never mentioned how often he’d be going hungry on an adventure, and this one had just begun.
Dressed, Mykul crept out of his room attempting to be wary of waking the others. Just because he was restless didn’t mean he had to be inconsiderate. He also didn’t want Sam knowing he left, she would just hustle him back into bed and try to nurse him even further.
Mykul took the stairs slowly, using the sanded guard rails to ease him into every step on his bad leg. Creeping down, his breathing became labored and he realized he might have signed himself up for a task he wasn’t ready for. Going back up the stairs didn’t seem like a feasible option either. He took a few deep breaths and continued downward.
The bottom of the stairs opened up into the common room of the inn. It was dimly lit with shadows flickering across the tapestries that hung about the walls. Haldon sat atop a stool at the bar smoking a cigar and fingering through papers. The Dwarf looked up, noticing Mykul’s entrance.
“Short night?” He asked. Mykul began to work his way over to the dwarf, masking his labored breath.
“It’s the leg, never quite healed right. What about you?” Mykul pulled out the stool next to Haldon and sat down.
“Dwarves don’t sleep,” Haldon replied. That was something he had to remember for his ballads, Mykul thought.
“If Dwarves don’t sleep, what are the beds for?” Mykul asked. Haldon took a puff of a cigar and raised an eyebrow. “Oh… Oh! That’s why the sheets were crusty.” Mykul and Haldon shared a laugh. The dwarf hopped off the stool and walked behind the miniature sized bar. He pulled out another cigar and held it up.
“Would you like a smoke?” The Dwarf asked. Mykul decided why not, and nodded his head. Haldon pulled a cleaver out from under the bar, cut the end and lit it with his nearby lantern. “Well I ‘ought to tell you about the curfew. Sun’s Guard will attempt to arrest you without a writ of passage.”
Mykul puffed on the tabac, and closed his eyes to enjoy the light buzz in his head. “What’s the curfew for?” Mykul asked. Haldon puffed on the cigar and shuffled the papers around.
“Officially, they say to protect the citizens. But it’s just the Guard’s way of searching for dissidents. They figure anyone out at night is an enemy of the crown.” Haldon scribbled something down on one of his pieces of paper. They appeared just to be financial documents. Mykul didn’t take Haldon and Golun for meticulous accountants, but the stories did talk about how Dwarves never let a single gold go unaccounted for.
“What happens if they catch someone?” Mykul asked. He couldn’t imagine it was anything good, but getting captured on the grounds of treason could make for an interesting tale… if he lives to tell it.
“Some show up a few days later, bruised and beaten. Others disappear. You can use your imagination for what happens to the ones that never come home. Humans are a nasty bunch.” Mykul didn’t have the same sentiment. He hadn’t been in the city long, but from the people he knew in Cavros, humans were creatures of love and care.
“I guess I’ll just have to not get caught, eh?” Mykul replied. He began to hobble towards the inn door and make his way outside before a “hey kid,” came from Haldon. When Mykul turned to look, the dwarf threw him a polished walking stick.
“Someone left this here a while ago, you look like you could use something to help you get around.” The stick was a dark wood with a grain pattern that twisted and turned. Mykul had never seen a wood like this in his life. It looked alien to him, almost like this kind of tree couldn’t possibly grow on this world.
Mykul gave Haldon a nod with a grin and left the inn, stepping into the cool Tivan night air. The street outside was calm and surprisingly brighter than he anticipated. The moon was either full, or close to it. The city held a faintly white glow with the moonlight reflecting off all the marble stone the city was composed of.
While Mykul couldn’t see anything moving in the night, he could hear the sounds of life all around him. Birds tweeted atop buildings, he could hear the light squeeks of mice clinging to walls, searching for food in the shadows, and he heard the sound of cold steel on the stone, clanking in unison.
That must be the Sun’s Guard, he thought. Mykul decided he would rather have his imagination do the work when it came to what the guard did with those caught at night, so he started moving away from the sounds of the sabatons.
Mykul walked, not really knowing where he was going, or paying attention to the path he took. Life was about living, he thought. Sometimes it was best to throw caution to the wind and enjoy the experiences in front of him. Most times, he thought. The rhythmic clack of the stick against the stone kept him moving.
A lit up window caught Mykul’s attention. It was on the ground floor of what looked to be a very quaint house. He crept up to the window and looked inside to find a couple with two young children, all gathered around a small round table with simple stools. The room lacked furniture. The table was the room's main staple. Inside there was a countertop that held neatly arranged utensils and a fireplace, around it were small cushions arranged neatly.
The family were in simple clothing but had hairstyles in which he had never seen before. The father had a shaved head, except for one small top knot at the back. The mother and daughters hair were bunched up into large balls on either side of their head, and the young son just had long flowing hair that stopped at his shoulders.
On the table there sat a lantern, and the father was holding a book up to the light and reading aloud to the rest of the family. Mykul was surprised this man could read. The room painted a picture of very lower class people, that of which rarely had the opportunity to learn literacy. Mykul felt a pang of jealousy, how could he be the bard he longed for without knowing how to read?
The father was reading a classic story, one Mykul’s father had told him as a child. The story of Bonyo the Axeman. It was a fable that even the lowest log-cutter could become a hero with great honor by doing the right thing. While the story was Tivan, their accents were heavy and outed them as travellers from somewhere far away.
While the accent was heavy, Mykul could understand what was being said.
Mykul leaned against their wall next to the window, listening to the story. Memories of his father kept flooding in and he began to tear up. Would he ever get to see his family again? Would he even be able to walk home and tell his father of the great accomplishments he dreamed of, or was he destined to become a craven cripple who would die in a hole? Mykul’s self-pity was interrupted by a voice.
“Would you like to come in?” Mykul was immediately startled. The mother was at the window. Looking at her he realized the whole family had noticed his eavesdropping.
“It’s cold outside, come in. You obviously enjoy the story.” Mykul was stunned. They had caught him snooping and offered him shelter. He nodded and the father opened the door for him, offering him a stool at the table.
“Thank you for your hospitality, I was just walking by when I heard the story,” Mykul said. The parents smiled and the children giggled.
“Bonyo would always help someone in need!” One of the children said, his accent was much less defined than his parents. He was a small lad, could only be about five or six years. He only had some linen trousers on, and his long hair was a complete mess. His sister next to him was slightly younger and wearing a simple dress with a small flower embroidered on the chest, she just nodded along with her brother.
“Bonyo hero!” She said. Mykul smiled and nodded with the children wiping away another tear. The family introduced themselves. The father was Yinwe, the mother Fang, the boy was Han, and the daughter Lin. They were refugees from the land to the west. They came to Tiva to escape the corrupt Has dynasty. They didn’t give any further information than that but Mykul wasn’t going to press them on it. After introductions, the mother gave Mykul a light rub on his back and urged the father to keep reading. Mykul sat with them, listening to the story of Bonyo, laughing and smiling along with the children.
After what Mykul had felt was around half an hour, the mother said it was time to put the children to bed, and left upstairs with her kids. The father closed the book and put it atop his small countertop before returning to Mykul at the table.
“You’re troubled, aren’t you Mykul?” He asked. Mykul frowned as he began to wallow in his self pity once more.
“I left my home for adventure, and adventure found me.” Yinwe urged Mykul to tell his story and get it off his chest, a request Mykul obliged. He first spoke about home, and his longing to tell great stories, becoming a renowned bard. He spoke of Rhavin, without using his name of course, the troll, Sam, Linwara, and the hard road to Tiva. When Mykul was finished with the story that ended with him in Tiva, Yinwe gave Mykul a solemn nod.
“You say you set out, searching for adventure and great stories,” Yinwe said. “Do you not believe you’ve found it?” Mykul didn’t believe he had found a great story. One where the storyteller becomes a cripple doesn’t sound great to him.
“I’ve found pain. The one person who may be able to fix my leg, we cannot find as nobody will speak of her.” Yinwe scratched the bald skin in front of his topknot.
“You search for the lich,” he responded. “The ageless one the king despises.” Mykul hadn’t heard her described as a lich, but ageless and despised by the king definitely sounded right.
“Madira,” Mykul said. “She’s the one who cursed my friend, and the only one who may be able to teach my other friend to use his powers. I need to help them, help myself. I can feel myself changing already. It’s harder to smile, to laugh.” Mykul knew he was being careless telling Yinwe about magic and curses, but there was a generosity and caring in his eyes that put him at ease.
“The lich lives in her manor on the coast. The second largest building in Tiva. The only citizen Farryion cannot evict.” Fang came down from the stairs having put the children to bed. She wore a white gown with a floral print. The arms of the gown were long and wide, hiding her hands.
“Those who visit the lich often don’t come back, and those that do change for the worse. She does not value life. She draws people in with magical promises, and while she never lies, she never tells the whole truth. Beware.” Mykul had heard stories similar from his father, although they were tales about desert djinn, not a lich.
“There are others who can help, but no less dangerous. They are a collection of magic users who plan to overthrow the King. They hold camp in the woods to the west, but you cannot find their camp as it is shrouded in illusion. They must find you. But if they suspect you are an agent of the king they will simply kill you.” Mykul couldn’t believe it, he had found a gold mine! Yinwe and Fang had all the information he had been looking for, and more! Fixing his leg and curing Sam could be closer than ever.
“How do you know all this?” Mykul asked. While he was glad he had found Yinwe and Fang, why would they be telling all this to him? He didn’t want to feel suspicious of his new friends, but couldn’t help but believe that this was all too good to be true. Yinwe looked at Fang who gave him a slow nod in response before she spoke.
“We, like your friend… were gifted by our patron.” Fang held out a hand in front of her. Mykul wasn’t sure what she was doing until he realized he was no longer sitting upon his stool. He was suspended in the air about a foot over it!
“Gifted indeed!” Mykul said. Fang lowered him back onto his stool and he stood up quickly, ignoring the pain in his leg. “Could you help us? We can pay, we have gold and can even work for you. If you can help us, then we wouldn’t have to seek the other options out!”
Fang and Yinwe both frowned in unison. Fang placed her hand upon Yinwe’s and looked at her feet.
“I’m afraid we are in the same position as you Mykul. We only barely understand the gift, but have opted to learn no more of it. To hide who we are, live a normal life here in the city. Magic brings only pain in Tiva.” Mykul understood. These people didn’t want to bring any danger to their children. He could imagine what lurked in the shadows. Their top priority was going to be family.
“I understand,” Mykul said. He was about to tell Fang and Yinwe it was time to leave until a bell began to sound in the home. He couldn’t see the bell, but heard it like it was pressed up against his ear. Fang and Yinwe began to scramble, moving the chairs and table in a flurry before his eyes. Yinwe opened up a hidden trap-door that was under the table.
“You must get in, Sun’s Guard approach. If they see you here, we don’t know what they’ll do.” Mykul, in a daze, followed instruction. He climbed into the hole in the floor, grunting with the pain from his legs. Climbing into the crawlspace, Mykul could see the room clearly from below, as if the tiled floor was transparent. It had to be some kind of enchantment. How did he always stumble into these wild scenarios, he wondered.
The heavy knock at the door was preceded by the clanking footsteps of steel on stone. Fang had gone upstairs, for what Mykul could only assume was to protect the children. Yinwe moved to the door and opened it. As soon as the door was opened, men in white and red tunics and full plate armor pushed their way into the home. They carried polearms with shortswords on their hips. Five men in total entered the home. The one in the back, unlike the others, wasn’t wearing a helmet.
The one with his face bared spoke to Yinwe.
“I’ve heard reports that you let in a stray. As you know there is a curfew and anyone out at night is to be handed over to the Sun’s Guard on suspicion of treason.” The man who spoke sported a full mustache that framed his mouth like a horseshoe. He was old, Mykul couldn’t quite place him but the man’s hair was gray and he sported crows feet and deep wrinkles in his face. Despite that, he didn’t look like a pushover. He had an imposing stature, and large forearms that weren’t forged overnight. Yinwe gave the man a deep bow and spoke.
“I am so sorry to trouble you, but we have not had any visitors this night. It is just me and my family.” The man walked around the small room and stopped at the countertop, placing his hand upon the book Yinwe was reading earlier.
“Eastern fables for children,” the man said aloud. “And how is it some foreign peasant can read, much less our language?” He held up the book to Yinwe and tossed it on the table. “Search the house,” he ordered his companions. Three of the men went upstairs while the remaining guard searched started to tear apart every nook and cranny on the bottom floor, throwing all their belongings onto the floor.
“Please sir, I am just a simple advocate of Vironious. All I wish is to raise my family in peace.” Yinwe gave the man another bow.
“Just a simple advocate of Vironious. The western god of war and death? Where is the simplicity in that?” The three other guards came from the stairs holding Fang and the children.
“This is all we found in the bedrooms, Sir Malice.” Fang held her children close to her while the guards had a hand on each of her shoulders. Fang and the children all looked towards Yinwe, waiting for him.
“Alright, advocate,” Malice said, drawing his sword. “Show me where your fugitive is or I’ll have to pry the information from the children.” Yinwe sighed and nodded his head. He began to remove his shirt which he twisted up into a roll.
“In a world where violence is unavoidable, I pay respects to he who decides the victor.” Malice rolled his eyes and began to walk towards Fang and the children. He began to raise his sword-arm when Yinwe used the rolled up shirt as a whip on Malice’s face.
With Malice stunned Yinwe darted forward landing a succession of palm strikes, knocking Malice to the ground. As he fell, Yinwe moved to several of the other guards, sweeping one’s legs with a kick, knocking him to the ground and poking out another’s eyes through his helmet.
Fang did not stand idly by. She used her magic to crush the helmets of the guards holding her shoulders. With an audible crunch, they collapsed onto the ground, leaking blood through their crumpled head armor.
Mykul decided now was the time to spring into action as well. He pushed the hatch open and crawled out next to where the tripped guard layed. Fang was ushering her children out into the night while Yinwe worked Malice with several more punches to keep him debilitated.
Mykul managed to push himself to his feet with his new walking stick only to be grabbed on the ankle by the guard who was prone. Mykul used his stick to smack the guard on the head which allowed him a chance to break free.
“You will never catch Mykul the great,” he said with glee. Mykul hobbled past Yinwe and Malice, and out of the house into the street. Fang and the kids were nowhere to be seen and Mykul shouted out to Yinwe.
“Yinwe! It’s clear!” Mykul looked back to find Malice had somehow gotten the upper hand on Yinwe. The guard commander held Yinwe by the neck and his sword was planted firmly in Yinwe’s belly.
“Run Mykul, save yourself!” Yinwe shouted back. In a moment Yinwe’s eyes flashed blue and the small room flashed with the same shade of blue. Mykul shielded his eyes from the overbearing light. Heat washed over Mykul and he was knocked to his feet. When he opened his eyes, Yinwe was gone and Malice was knocked out cold against the wall.
Mykul, once again, pushed himself to his feet, struggling through the pain. Looking around the dark street he noticed Fang and the kids in the shadows of an alley, looking at their home. Coming their way was another patrol of Sun’s Guard. Mykul couldn’t let anything bad happen to them after what they did for him, but he couldn’t fight. He decided he would use himself as bait to get them out of there. The guards were in full plate and he wasn’t. He might be able to outrun them even with his bum leg.
“Hey, Sun Shits! Over here!” He screamed at the patrol down the street. “I’m out here spreading treason. Come stop me!” He used his walking stick to smack the ground a few times, and took off down the road.
His hobbling appeared to be effective, the soldiers were just as slow as he was.
“How are you going to catch me in all that steel!” He taunted them. As if in direct response to his question a crossbow bolt zipped past him, striking a nearby building. Oh fuck, Mykul thought, that’s how they are going to catch me!
Mykul began to hobble in a serpentine pattern, his heart skipping beats as a bolt would fly by, narrowly avoiding him. His mind darted and searched for a place to hide. He turned down another street, giving him moments to hide. On the street there was an empty vendor’s stall. This is it! Mykul limped to the stall, opened the compartment and crawled inside. His walking stick didn't fit, without more time he left it underneath the stall. It was hidden from the side he came from, but it stuck out on the other end. All his hopes were on the guards not paying the stall too much attention. He didn’t think anyone had seen him crawl in it, and now he just had to stay quiet until the guards passed by.
The loud clanking of plate armor alerted Mykul that the patrol was on him. The noise grew louder and louder until Mykul could tell they were right next to the stall.
“Come out little piggy. If you come out now we’ll make sure to show you mercy.” Mykul focused on keeping his breathing slow and quiet. He heard one of the guards lean against the stall and let out a terrifying sound: “huh?”
Mykul’s heart was beating faster than he believed possible. His leg ached, and his arms were trembling. A crossbow bolt pierced the stall and into his shoulder. He cried out in pain and heard the sounds of all the guards surrounding the stall. Mykul was grateful he could at least save what was left of the family if he was to go.
A flash of blue light blinded Mykul and he shielded his eyes. When he opened them he was in a place he had never seen before. A blue-ish white sky loomed over him, and he was standing in a field of grey grass. Several trees with bright sky-blue leaves peppered the landscape in front of him. He felt weightless, and his leg no longer caused pain.
He jumped forward and rolled into the grass. He didn’t know what had happened, but he was saved.
“True divine intervention!” Mykul shouted. He spread out in the other-wordly grass and looked up at the alien sky. Could anything greater have happened, he wondered. Mykul heard footsteps and found a shirtless blue man holding a spear making his way toward him. The man had no face, and was almost not a man at all. He appeared to be made of a gas, or a cloud. It was only the shape of a man.
“You are not saved yet.” Mykul heard the words from no particular direction, but knew it to be the mysterious figure. “I require vengeance. Agree to slay those responsible for the murder of my herald and I will grant you the power to do so.”
“Who are you?” Mykul asked. He had a good idea of who he thought it was, but he wanted to be sure.
“I am the arbiter of justice, honor, and war. You may know me by Vironious. Agree to avenge Yinwe, and you will survive. Decline, and awake where you were prior. The next words out of your mouth must be “Yes,” or “No.””
Mykul didn’t feel like now was the time to be a smart-ass or ask any questions. Saying no didn’t seem like a real option, that was just accepting death. He didn’t believe Vironious to be worse than death and made his decision.
“Yes,” Mykul said.
“Then awake my champion, find your staff, and mete out unequivocal justice.” The words came from all directions at once, and Mykul’s vision blurred into the white-blue light.
He awoke back into an explosion. The stall where he was hiding had burst from within. The force had knocked the surrounding guards to their backs. Mykul felt unlike he ever had in his life: powerful. His leg no longer hurt, the spot in his arm where the crossbow bolt penetrated him was sealed up without a single scar. While the guards struggled to stand, Mykul found his walking stick, his staff, at his feet and picked it up. The staff felt different. He couldn’t tell exactly what it was, almost like it was a natural extension of himself. At the top were runes inscribed all around its circumference. He couldn’t read them, but they were glowing with the same white-blue hue of the alien plane he found himself on moments ago.
Holding the staff Mykul felt a bloodlust take over. He grinned at the guards still coming to their feet and began to move towards them. Like a whirlwind Mykul began to twirl, using the staff to lash out against those in the Sun’s Guard uniform. It didn’t matter if he hit the steel plate or flesh, the staff held true, denting steel like it was a warhammer, and scorching any flesh it touched like an open flame.
Mykul laughed, and took deep breaths of the burnt flesh as he made his way through the patrol. It was only seconds by the time Mykul had stopped the hearts of all the men in the patrol. After the explosion they didn’t stand much of a chance. But his job wasn’t done yet, he needed to find Sir Malice. Mykul jumped and performed a heel click out of glee as he ran back towards Yinwe’s house, hoping to find Sir Malice still knocked out.
Mykul couldn’t believe the rush he felt in killing. Is this why people murder, he wondered? Is it from the killing itself, the meaning behind it, or the fact that he was killing murderers themselves. Mykul realized he didn’t care right now, he just wanted to taste Malice’s blood.
When he arrived at the house, Mykul was left disappointed. Malice and the other surviving guard were gone. They must have fled while he was fighting the other patrol.
With Malice gone, Mykul felt the rage and life inside him fade. He was left now only feeling tired, achy, and disgusted with himself for how he had enjoyed killing. It was like he was a different person. The flood of emotions and thoughts he felt weren’t controllable, they assumed control. He could have just debilitated those guards with his newfound powers, he didn’t have to kill them, but he did.
“I made a deal with the devil,” he said to himself. Mykul closed his eyes, and whispered a prayer to Mother Eyvos for forgiveness. “I guess it’s time to go home.” He knew he would have more nightmares now.