The trek through the pass went faster than it did when Artorias had led them, as everyone was quite eager to get home. They were through in several hours, and on their way back to Vale Town.
They arrived back in the small city after an uneventful trek by sundown and made for the storehouse they’d been staying at. The party got settled in, while Roland went to the longhouse to speak with Torfinn.
The chief was busy mediating an argument between a pair of merchants when Roland arrived. He’d gotten word of the knight’s return to the city beforehand and had expected Roland to come.
As the paladin walked in, Torfinn smiled, and silenced the bickering merchants with a wave of his hand, followed by a stern look when one raised his voice to complain. “Ah! Sir Roland! Welcome back! I assume this means you’ve found what you were looking for?”
“Yes, I have, and I must thank you for the assistance of both you and your tribe.”
“Nonsense! This is what friends do for each other, no?”
“Indeed. Well, I also came to thank you for your hospitality, and to inform you that my party and I will be leaving tomorrow morning, and I’m hoping you can assist us with gathering a few day’s worth of supplies. We can pay in silver, of course.”
“Sure thing, no problem! Just don’t forget…”
“The diplomats? I remember. You have my word as a paladin of the Bull Kingdom, I’ll have a diplomatic party sent north as soon as I arrive back in the capital, you can expect it within the year.”
Torfinn smiled joyously. “Good! Hopefully, our alliance will last longer this time!”
Roland returned Torfinn’s bright smile, and said, “I hope so, as well.”
So, Roland returned to the storehouse, and Torfinn had a few warriors escort the squires around the marketplace, augmenting their severely depleted supplies for the journey back through the southern mountain pass.
None of the party was looking forward to journeying through that pass, however much they wanted to go home. They had little choice, though, as it was the only known path that would take them where they wanted to go. The smuggler’s path was already blocked, and even if it wasn’t, Marquis Grandison wouldn’t simply let them walk through his territory after killing his men. There had been maps of the Frozen Mountains that showed other routes through, but they had all been lost when House Raime’s palace in Teira was destroyed.
There were a few distant cadet branches of House Raime still kicking around the Plateau, but none could access the private archives deep beneath the palace ruins in Teira, and all the other houses of the Great Plateau were relatively young, three hundred years old or younger, and didn’t have reliable maps of the Frozen Mountain Range.
Thus, the passage protected by Clear Ice Fortress was their only option.
The next morning, the party set off with their fallen comrades in tow. Half of the day was spent just returning to the Frozen Mountains and the pass itself. There were a few small villages in the area, but Roland decided to make camp at the foot of the mountains, just outside the pass.
They all got as much rest as they could that night and began the arduous journey through the pass the next morning.
They navigated sheer cliffs, rocky paths, and frozen forests, resting in freezing caves. It was a hard and deeply uncomfortable trek, but they were all strong and healthy mages, so after three and half days, they emerged on the south side of the mountains, exhausted but otherwise fine.
The knights on the walls of Clear Ice Fortress recognized them, and opened the gate, allowing them back into the Kingdom. They only stayed at the fortress for a single day, as they were quite eager to return to civilization. They had spent almost three weeks in the vales and were beyond happy to be back on their horses and moving south.
The first big city on the road home was Teira, near the center of the Great Plateau. There were a few towns and villages along the road, but they just rode right on past and arrived in Teira only two days after leaving Clear Ice.
Roland was proud of what everyone had done and arranged for the best rooms he could find on such short notice. The bright lights and city noise of Teira was barely on everyone’s mind as they made directly for the beds and passed out. Roland, Sir Andrew, and Sir Roger were the only three who didn’t, as they brought the bodies of the fallen men-at-arms to the local royal garrison and arranged for them to be sent to their families. Once that was done, they went back to the inn and joined the others in sleep.
The following afternoon, Roland called everyone into his room. He was staying in one of the nicest rooms in the hotel, which was saying something as the hotel was one of the nicest in the city. It had marble floors, walls covered in painted murals, and a courtyard with a garden that was open to the sun.
Once everyone was gathered in his entrance hall, Roland spoke. “Alright, I’m going to give everyone three days of rest here in the city. Go out, have some fun, and relax. Just be back here by noon on Tuesday, got it?”
Everyone’s faces broke into smiles, and they had to contain their excitement. Fortunately, they didn’t have to contain it that long, as once everyone nodded in acknowledgment of Roland’s order, he dismissed them all.
Victoria sped off to find a tailor for the silkgrass she had brought back, and all but dragged Luke along with her.
Kevin, John, and two of the men-at-arms made for the biggest merchant forum in Teira.
Roland, Dame Sheira, and Sir Roger decided to wander this ancient city, visiting the major attractions like the Lightning Fields, Konstantine’s Dome, and the immense library on a hill near the southern edge of the city.
“Hey, Adrianos, want to come with us?” Sir Andrew called out.
The man-at-arms glanced at Sir Andrew and the three other men-at-arms with him. They all had rather lascivious looks about them, so he could guess where they intended to go.
“Let me guess, you’re all off to the red-light district.”
Sir Andrew and the men-at-arms grinned at him. “Of course, we are. We’re going to toast to our fallen brothers and find some girls to warm our beds. You should come with, you’ve earned some female attention.”
Adrianos smiled apologetically. “Nah. I’m going to the Exarch’s office.”
Sir Andrew raised an eyebrow in confusion. “Do you have some business with the royal governor?”
“No, but I need to use their comm stones. My, uh, my sister was always frail, and she came down with a nasty illness before we left. I’m sure she’s fine, but I’m still worried, so I’d like to call home and touch base.”
“Alright, I understand. Family’s important, you should take care of yours. Anyway, I’ve heard some enticing things about the Red Lamp, so if you do decide to join us, that’s where we’ll be.” Sir Andrew clasped Adrianos’ shoulder, and he and his group left.
Adrianos smiled at them and began making his way to an imposing building in the center of the southern district. This place was the Exarch’s Office and was the only building for about five hundred feet, as all the others around it had been demolished. It wasn’t very fancy, in contrast to the opulent palaces in the same district, just a large rectangular building about five stories high, the very picture of a dry, boring, bureaucratic building.
The Exarch of Teira himself was just someone sent to keep the peace in the city after Archduke Kyros Raime had been assassinated, but he wasn’t a polarizing man. He did his job well, and no one hated him. He wasn't particularly beloved, either, but so long as the people weren’t taking advantage of the fall of House Raime to rebel against the Bull King, then all was well.
Adrianos walked up to the large door and pushed it open. The interior of the building was far more decorated than the outside, with marble floors streaked with spiraling black patterns, thick red carpets, and walls adorned with paintings. Adrianos didn’t even glance at any of the decorations as he walked through the large atrium, and approached the large granite desk, behind which sat a dozen receptionists.
He asked the nearest available receptionist for directions to the comm stone room and walked as swiftly as he could there. His hands were starting to shake with excitement, and his heart beat far faster than it should at the speed he was walking. This was to be a very important call and could possibly mean going back to the home he hadn’t seen in over a decade, so it was natural that he was getting nervous.
When Adrianos arrived at the communications room, he approached the manager’s desk.
“Here for a call?” the manager asked disinterestedly.
Adrianos gave him his I.D. papers, and the manager closely scrutinized them, freezing for a moment when he noticed that Adrianos was of House Isynos, but he recovered quickly. When he was satisfied, he gave them back, and asked, “Where and who do you want to call?”
“Lord Justin Isynos, Exarch of Calabria.”
“Very well. Follow me, please.” He led Adrianos down a nearby hall, and into one of several rooms branching off from it. The room was very dark, with heavy black curtains lining the room, and only a single magic lantern in the center of the ceiling. The curtains had been enchanted to dampen noise, so unless Adrianos was shouting bloody murder, no one outside the room would be able to hear what was said inside.
“Wait here, please.” The manager gestured to a comfortable looking armchair, which, apart from a low table in front of it, was the only piece of furniture in the room.
The manager left the room, and Adrianos sat down in the chair. About ten minutes passed before the manager returned, with a bright blue stone in one hand and a stand to set it on in the other. He first placed the stand, then the stone upon it, and began activating a series of magic glyphs on the stand.
The stand was a large black box, about the size of a suitcase, and was covered with barely visible runic symbols, forming an incredibly complex web of interconnected magic glyphs. These glyphs controlled where the accompanying stone would seek a connection, and it required an extremely intricate knowledge of these particular enchantments to connect to the right stone in the right place.
After a few more moments of poking the stand, the fist-sized stone began glowing brighter, and it began to gently hover about two feet off the stand. The manager finished up, then glanced over at Adrianos.
“When you’re done, simply activate this magic circle.” He pointed to a small orange circle the size of a fingernail on the front of the stand. “If there are any problems, feel free to come get me.” And with that, he left the room, giving Adrianos some privacy.
The stone pulsed several times over the next few seconds before a gruff voice was heard coming from it.
“Calabrian Exarch’s Office, how may I help you?”
“This is Adrianos Isynos, I need to speak with Lord Justin.” Given the way these stones worked, the man on the other end knew exactly where the call was coming from, and thus didn’t need Adrianos to confirm his identity.
“Lord Justin isn’t in the building, currently. Is this urgent?”
“Ok, you can either leave a message or wait for us to inform Lord Justin of your call.”
Calabria was over a thousand miles to the south of Teira, located on a large river that flowed from the western ranges of the Frozen Mountains, then running south through the capital and splitting off to several merchant cities on the coast of the southern gulf. Trade goods would flow from these cities upriver, passing through Calabria where the river split and entering the lake in the middle of the capital. This flow of goods through the city had made Calabria rich, and there had been a lot of outrage among the nobility when King Julius had assigned a noble that no one had ever heard of before to administer it.
Compared to the much larger cities of Teira and the capital, Calabria looked quite small, but it still had a respectable population of about one hundred thousand. The largest building by far was the summer home of an exorbitantly wealthy merchant who lived in the capital, but the residence of the Exarch far outstripped it in terms of luxury and elegance. It looked quite similar to the royal palace, with intricately carved and painted murals on the white stone walls, decorative marble columns and blind arcades, and red roof tiles. The entire palace had been built around a central courtyard large enough to have both an expansive garden and a stone platform big enough to train upon in the martial and magical arts.
Currently, this platform was occupied by a grizzled older man, a sixth-tier mage with short brown hair and enormous muscles, and a young woman about sixteen years old, a third-tier mage, with long silver hair loosely tied in a ponytail, a fit, attractive figure, and stunning blue eyes. They were sparring with sword and shield, with the older man providing instruction.
Above them, from a balcony on the third floor, another man was proudly watching his daughter train with the master-at-arms. He, too, had silver hair that almost sparkled in the sunlight, and eyes like a crystal clear blue lake. He carried himself with an air of authority, and despite his thin and unimpressive frame, an aura of strength and vitality emanated from him.
This man was Lord Justin Isynos.
“Yes! Your aggressiveness is very good! But you still leave yourself open!” The master-at-arms deflected the young woman’s strike and kicked out, sweeping her feet out from under her. She fell to the ground for perhaps the fiftieth time that day.
“You’re focusing too much on your upper body, leaving your legs and feet open. If you lose your footing in a real fight, your head will soon follow. Again!”
The young woman leaped back to her feet, and with a great roar, threw herself again at the master-at-arms. Her assault was swift and unpredictable, every strike would be a killing blow had her opponent been mortal, but none penetrated the master-at-arms’ iron-clad defense. Everywhere she struck, his shield would appear, and he easily deflected her attack again and bashed her with his shield, knocking her back to the ground.
“Keep yourself lower to the ground. A low center of gravity will help resist shield bashes and body slams.” He demonstrated by spreading his feet slightly farther apart and keeping his knees bent.
As Lord Justin watched, the door to the sitting room behind him opened, and Timotheos, one of the mages sworn to House Isynos walked in. Timotheos bowed, then whispered a few words in Lord Justin’s ear, “We’ve received a call from Adrianos. He says it’s urgent.”
Lord Justin nodded, then turned back to the two training beneath him.
“Valeria! That’s enough. The rest of the day is yours.” He smiled down at his daughter, who looked a bit aggrieved, but gave her father a slight bow and hopped down from the sparring platform, closely followed by the master-at-arms who was still talking about how she could improve.
Lord Justin turned back to Timotheos. “Well, let’s go see what Adrianos finds so urgent.”
The two swiftly walked out of the palace, crossed an enormous garden, and arrived at the back entrance of the Exarch’s Office. A few moments later, they had entered a room very similar to the one Adrianos was in, except Lord Justin’s was larger and far more richly decorated. The curtains were gilded with gold, and the chair even resembled a throne.
But, Lord Justin didn’t care about the decorations, and immediately sat down while looking to the hovering orb before him.
“Adrianos! How have you been?”
“Very well, my lord. In fact, I have discovered some information of monumental importance.”
“Ah, that’s what I like about you, always getting straight to the point. So, what have you found?”
“The hiding place of Artorias Raime and his son.”
That stunned Lord Justin. His eyes widened in shock and his relaxed and easygoing expression froze upon his face. He recovered just as quickly, however, and asked, “You’re sure? If you’re right, then we might be able to go home very soon, so if you’re mistaken…”
“A tall dark-haired man from a family known for its lightning magic. He stated his name was ‘Artorias’, and he has a son about sixteen or seventeen. Sir Roland, the paladin I was accompanying, came to the same conclusion I did and privately asked the man if he was Artorias Raime, and the man himself confirmed it!”
Lord Justin tried to maintain his calm look, but it started to slip, as inside he was a maelstrom of excitement. He glanced back at Timotheos, then back at the stone.
“I’m sending Timotheos and a few others on my fastest horses. They’ll be in Teira by tomorrow, and you’ll lead them to Artorias and his son. Get this done, and we can all leave this trash pile of a kingdom.” He gestured to Timotheos to come forward and speak with Adrianos, hammering out the details of where to meet.
As the two were leaving the Exarch’s Office to return to the palace, Lord Justin said, “Go grab three others of your choice and take my Saternan horses. Oh, and best take a vial of Souleater Venom as well, just to be sure.” Souleater Venom was extremely rare, but Lord Justin had been given three vials when he was sent to the Bull Kingdom.
“Yes, my lord.” Timotheos ran off to gather his team, and Lord Justin calmed his exuberant heart, regaining his calm and serene attitude.
Until about a week and a half ago, this was the longest chapter I'd written for this draft of the Storm King at 3064 words. That honor now goes to Chapter 60 at 3433 words, assuming I don't heavily cut it down when editing.
If you enjoy the Storm King, let me know in those comments down below! And please consider heading over to Royal Road and leave a rating or review!