Hardcore: Qi Worlds

Chapter 101

Chapter 101: Captive 9

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The remnants of the Vanguard ran all the way to Warthague with Kyandre the former Whitecloak Justicar struggling to keep up. They did not make it easy for her, setting their normal swift pace.

“Oh come on, I need to rest,” Kyandre said breathlessly her lungs burning. She was not normally a complainer, but Gisael and Reyas set a gruelling pace.

“You can rest, we will keep running,” Gisael said mercilessly.

“You do not know the way,” Kyandre retorted.

“Oh, we are only a day out now, as you said it is due south, we can manage that,” Reyas replied. “Come on, up, up, we must arrive before it is too late.”

The trio were worried that the Myrkalfar could have already left the city, so much so, they did not wait for Alejo to recover. They left immediately with Gisael forcing herself to move and them to follow. The people of sandstone did possess a few different beasts of burden or mounts. But the great lumps of lizard meat were far too slow for their needs.

Finally, after five days of torturous running through the desert, the plains, and lastly swamp; the city of Warthague came into view. Several plumes of smoke, spread throughout the city, ominously whisking their way into the air.

“This is…,” Kyandre began and then after consideration said, “what defeat looks like?”

Reyas shrugged.

“We will not know until we see with our own eyes,” Gisael suggested.

As they approached the outside of the city, they saw the aftermath of a battle, scarring on some parts of the walls and other parts damaged significantly. There were no bodies, however.

Kyandre, wearing her white leathers led the group into the city. She had given up her white cloak, but the leathers were hers, they were well made, and she liked them.

“It is eerily quiet,” Reyas said in a hushed tone.

“Let’s head to the square and if that is empty the royal castle,” Kyandre suggested.

It did not take them long to find signs of life, people were moving about completing seemingly normal tasks. They were not running screaming nor were they enslaved. Kyandre stopped an older woman, “what has happened, we have just arrived from Sandstone.”

“It was terrible,” she croaked, “the Southsiders rioted, stealing everything that wasn’t nailed down. The whitecloaks were outnumbered do severely, there was nothing they could do.”

“But what happened in the battle with the Myrkalfar?” Kyandre asked frustratedly.

“Oh the Paladins and Blackcloak Captains took care of them, the King didn’t even need to fight I heard,” she droned.

Reyas looked at Gisael, they were well out of reach of Benzhi, but the two still shared the common link when in close proximity despite him being not being present. This news was confounding, heartening, frightening and sad all at the same time.

Were the Myrkalfar who attacked Warthague weaker or were the defenders that much stronger? The old lady mentioned paladins and captains plural, where Sandstone had only one paladin and a single blackcloak captain.

“Is the capital that much stronger than Sandstone?” Reyas asked Kyandre.

Kyandre looked hurt, she was a Sandstone native, she eventually nodded, “yes,” she said exhaling a breath she had held.

Gisael and Reyas shared thoughts at high speed coming to a conclusion quickly.

“Will the defence at the Reach be as strong as here, or is it likely similar to Sandstone?” Gisael asked.

“It would be strongest here, but they would have sent a force to Sandstone or the Reach once the battle was won, if not both,” Kyandre replied, “we should report to whitecastle.”

“Report?” Reyas queried, “you are not a whitecloak anymore.”

“Yes,” Kyandre replied frowning, “but you defended Sandstone and were successful in that defence. They would appreciate this news delivered through mundane methods, although they would have had confirmation from the Governor through the land core. We should talk to the Governor or his assistants, see who they have sent to the Reach.”

“And catch them,” Gisael answered.

As the women walked through the city, they could see the damage was done by the populace rioting and not by a battle. Tensions between the people and the ruling class must run high in Warthague. Lawlessness had not taken place in Sandstone to anywhere near this scale.

Underneath the damage, the city consisted of old and new quarters. The older were over a hundred of years of age, made of stone with coverings of moss and vine.

The city of Warthague sat on the edge of gigantic wetlands, which would take weeks to traverse from north to south. Although Warthague was the southernmost city of Loctris, it was on the northern border of the swamp.

The new part of the city had wooden buildings with predominately dirt roads, it was dirty and in some parts muddy. This was the section of the city where the have-nots lived, but within it, there was the odd wooden building that was majestic. Tall, large eaves, painted, high windows and a slate roof. Neither Reyas nor Gisael was architecture connaisseurs, but they were impressed with the odd building.

Whitecastle was well named, it was made from a few different types of white stone, the only part of the name that did not describe it was merely calling it a castle. It was almost a city within the city, dozens of large white buildings collected within the whitecloak quarter with the central building being the one which for which it was named. Two towers shoot to the sky with a great hall connecting them at their base.

The pair followed Kyandre into one of the white buildings where she requests a meeting with the whitecloaks stating they are from Sandstone and in particular the battle of Sandstone.

After being shuffled from waiting room to waiting room, they were finally shown into a meeting with three whitecloaks, a Justicar, a Paladin and one of the Governor’s senior aides.

After a preamble introducing the participants, the Justicar began.

“We have gathered justice, martial and governance representatives to interview you three as a group. This is to ensure we give you a fair hearing and proper exchange of information coming from to the correct body. Before this meeting, all three of us reread the transcript. We know of your participation in defence of Sandstone. Our first question is quite simply, why are you here?”

Gisael spoke before anyone else could, “we are looking for the Myrkalfar. As Sandstone celebrates a victory and that no one was taken, there was one, Benzhi, we seek to follow another group of Myrkalfar back to their world to rescue our leader.”

She cut through all the crap to the heart of what they wanted. The Paladin nodded in appreciation of her straightforward honesty, wanting to rescue a comrade was entirely understandable, but what they were proposing was not only dangerous, it did not sound like they would have aided in defence of Warthague if given the opportunity.

“Well,” the justicar began, “answer our questions, and we will aid you in any way we can.”

The whitecloaks began to pepper the three with questions, which they answered honestly they had nothing to hide. Taking the justicar at his word that they would be given information after being cooperative. The Paladin defended Kyandre’s decision to leave the whitecloaks in search of redemption in the form of assisting the Vanguard. He called it a quest worthy of a Paladin, were she a Paladin she would have been allowed to pursue this quest, only as a Justicar had she been hamstrung.

When through the crucible of a whitecloak interrogation the Justicar, Paladin and Aide relented and agreed to answer questions of the three.

Kyandre, being the most experienced of the three began, Gisael would take over if she felt anything was missed.

“Can you give details on the Reach? Who is defending, have you sent aid, has there been any reports?” Kyandre asked

“The Reach is the furthest city from Darkdauge, the Myrkalfar have not arrived at the city yet. And yes we have sent aid, it will arrive before the Myrkalfar, and we expect to be victorious,” the Aide reeled off.

Reyas and Gisael knew there was no chance they could arrive before the Myrkalfar, they had made another mistake, they headed to the wrong city.

“Is there any way the Whitecloaks can send us to the land where these Myrkalfars hail from?” Kyandre asked.

“No,” the Aide answered succinctly. He did not even check with the Paladin.

“So if there are no other questions?” he Justicar asked.

Gisael and Reyas looked at Kyandre, they shook their heads sadly. It seemed like they had reached a dead end.

The meeting was wrapped up, and the trio left sadly. But it wasn’t long before the Paladin chased them down as they walked into the city proper, feeling lost and without a clear direction to their goal.

“There was something you did not ask,” the Paladin said as he pulled up alongside. “I respect your quest, and I wish to aid where I can.” It spoke volumes that he had not offered this aid during the meeting. Where there were people, there was always politics. The three beautiful women said nothing and waited to hear of his aid, they were desperate at this stage, and their hopes hung on every word.

“You did not ask if we could portal you to the Reach,” he said.

Kyandre slapped her head, how could she be so stupid.

“If this is so, why did you not portal to Sandstone?” Gisael asked.

“We did, but our battle was long after yours and no one of power was going to leave the capital to assist Sandstone, even if we wanted to. The decision had come from the King, the capital would stand even if the others fell, we could help them recover after. This had been the way in the past.”

“It does not matter,” Kyandre said, “what matters is we get to The Reach now, before the Myrkalfar attack.”

The Paladin nodded, “follow me,” he said.

The Reach was on the west coast of Loctris, situated on the great ocean. It was a city in two parts, a castle on the cliffs overlooking the bay and the docks themselves. The docks were surrounded by predominately a shanty town, warehouses, large buildings and a few mansions. The larger buildings were traders, supplies, inns and brothels. The inns not only served alcohol and food, but they were also hotels and casinos as well.

The castle on the cliffs was sometime residence to the king, while the smaller buildings housed the local governor and whitecloaks. The Reach was a smaller city in population to Sandstone, but it was colourful and thriving. It was also a dangerous place, blackcloaks outnumbered whitecloaks in this city, it was their second largest base after the capital.

“The word is they will arrive tomorrow,” Kyandre said.

“We should go out and meet them,” Gisael said.

“That is crazy,” Kyandre said apprehensively.

“If they come and are defeated like Warthague, then the way to Myrkalfar will be closed to us,” Gisael said, “it is a risk, but, I cannot see another way.”

“I do not wish to sound cowardly, but I know his heart, and I fear we will let him down. He would not want us to die trying, what if he found his way back just to discover we threw our lives away trying to reach him. We have already lost Anastasia we cannot add our lives to hers,” Reyas said sadly.

Gisael nodded slowly and sadly. “This is the reality, do we risk all to reach him, or do we trust in him.”

There was a long pause as they considered the two options deeply.

Suddenly Kyandre exclaimed, “I will go alone!”

She continued “either I can strike a deal with the Myrkalfar or I will die alone, there is no need for all of us to be in danger.” The trio knew they were no match for a Dread Lord, perhaps they could take out four knights if they fought one by one, but if the last Dread Lord was anything to go by, defeating one did not enter their plans.

“There is a chance that if they are losing the Dread Lord escapes through a portal,” Gisael said, ignoring Kyandre’s solo suicide offer for now.

“I cannot see how this is likely, even so, I was unable to follow the last Dread Lord, the bitch did not even use a portal, she was sucked through the planes directly,” Reyas said.

They were back to Kyandre’s offer.

“He will not care if I die,” she said softly.

Gisael shook her head, “How can we live with this?”

Kyandre retorted, “how can I live with the battle of Sandstone?”

“She has a point,” Reyas said. Through the connection she appealed to Gisael’s cold side, it was logical. ‘We have already lost Anastasia, we cannot lose another.’

“How will we convince them to open a portal for us?” Reyas asked.

“I have a plan,” Kyandre replied.

The masters of the coterie met with Fain. She and Grandmaster Sevrys had recently returned from the Daughter of the Val’Sharam’s palace, and they had decisions to make.

“Our plan to purchase the second has come to nought, the Daughter purchased him for three thousand kernels,” Fain began. There was much consternation over the cost, they thought they could purchase the second for a little over a thousand qi kernels, the eventual cost was way out of their reach.

“Is the second in better condition there than at the hands of Dread Lord Azrul?” one of the portal masters asked. The coterie referred to the person once known as Benzhi, now known as Fury as the second. Simply because he was the second being with an affinity to qi, apart from the Aether Dwellers themselves who were qi beings.

“In my opinion, he is in a much better place,” Fain answered.

Grandmaster Sevrys laughed out loud, “they let him kiss her and did not thrash him within an inch of his life for the impertinence. I have never been in such a tumultuous meeting in my life, and that is including when I frequented the flesh houses sealing gimp slaves in the slums of the dark.

Fain gave him a recriminating look, “the second has formed a bond with the Daughter. It will be both good and bad. We were unable to seal him, Sevrys did not even need to sabotage key seals the second undid them after studying the weave for a short time.”

“He did what?” several masters petitioned. The embarrassed grandmaster explained the evens of the breaking down of his seals.

“He is the second, who else could learn in moments what has taken you a hundred years to master,” the master of crystals said in a worshipping tone.

“He is a man, be careful not to think of him as the second qi sage. He is an impertinent baby in comparison,” Fain instructed. “He has the capability, but it is the same as any talented slave. He is not a reincarnation nor the qi sage.”

“How do you know?” the master of crystals asked, “he could be the reincarnation of the qi sage, how would you know that he is not.”

“His memories showed nothing to indicate he was,” Dyrk offered, “but, he may be impertinent now because of the loss of his memories. He was a great leader before the wipe, he defended his people and land with his own strong sense of honour.”

Fain looked at him as if to say ‘you are not helping.’ She was trying to stop the qi scholars from becoming enraptured with the second. They would lose rational perspective if they became ardent worshippers of a second coming of the qi sage.

“We must free him,” a portal master pleaded.

“To do what?” Fain answered, “to go where? What would happen to us?”

“We are not warriors,” Grandmaster Sevrys added, “the might the Daughter can bring to bear is considerable. She makes the Dread Lord look week. She even has a Myrk Paladin, Ghehena, as his jailor.”

“Does she know who he is?” the master of crystals asked.

“I believe she does,” Fain answered, “the cost she paid and the fact he alluded to being used nightly tells me they mean to breed with him, to add his affinity to their bloodline.”

“That would unbalance everything and not just amongst the Myrkalfar. Wars could start over this, a great war,” Dyrk speculated.

“His seed will not create more beings with an affinity to qi,” Fain stated.

“How do you know?” asked a portal master.

“Because I am a descendant of the original qi sage,” Fain answered. Her statement shocked the coterie, only her most trusted colleagues knew this information. There was a reason Fain had white eyes and yet was not Royal. There was a reason she was talented with manipulation and had such a strong qi core that she was referred to as a genius. Her ancestor was a concubine of the qi sage over two thousand years ago. She knew that the original qi sage had many children and while supremely talented, none of them had an affinity to qi.

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