Story Of A Young Fyros - part five¶
Aedon and Eree felt uneasy. The Duke still hadn't raised his head from his documents.
"Excuse me, we…"
"One moment!" the Matis interrupted.
The room fell silent once again. The two Fyros were still standing in front of the lift, and looked at each other apprehensively.
Finally, the Matis put the documents aside and raised his head. He stared at the two young Fyros before him at length.
"Welcome to you," he said with a smile. "I am Duke Niero di Vanochi. I'm very sorry, but my role requires me to take care of incredibly boring paperwork and I very often forget my manners."
With these words he stood, and with a grand gesture invited them to sit on the two chairs facing his desk.
"Move a little closer, that's it. The ambassador was full of praise for you in has last dispatch. You have done excellent work with those herbs. Just as well, for yubo meat is so flavourless without them."
He sat back down at the same time as them.
"Lato told me that you would like to stay here for a while, is that correct?"
"Yes, but money…" began Aedon.
"…is always a problem!" exclaimed Di Vanochi. "Don't worry, I have a few missions for you. Oh, nothing too bad, mostly just collecting raw materials, since you're so good at it."
He stared at the two homins, who felt ill-at-ease once again.
"What's wrong? You seem afraid. And yet Lato told me that you dreamed of coming here."
"It's just that…" began Aedon uncertainly.
The Duke leant towards him, suddenly more interested.
"Well, we aren't here to earn a few dappers with little missions," continued Aedon.
"What?! I grant you the honour of being the first Fyros to work for me. I trust you and you throw it back in my face?" bellowed Di Vanochi.
"Not at all," Eree hastened to say. "We would be honoured to carry out those missions for you. But we have something much better than herbs to offer you."
The Duke's face lost the red which had coloured it for a few moments. He had now regained his calm and his smile.
"We want to be paid five hundred thousand dappers. We won't say a thing till we get it," said Eree.
"You must understand, some of my business has nothing to do with the crown. I can't withdraw such a sum from my personal accounts when I don't even know the nature of the information," he said with a sad expression.
He stood up and moved to the right of his desk.
"I'll need a lot more than a simple promise to give you that amount," he said, folding his arms. "Tell me a bit more, I'll decide if it's worth it."
Aedon looked at Eree. Each seemed as unsure as the other.
"I've been able to obtain important information on a Zoraï convoy leaving for Pyr," admitted Eree.
"Why come and see me?"
"I heard that this kind of information was of interest to you. My meeting with Aedon gave me an unexpected opportunity to make money from it."
The Duke seemed to doubt Eree's words.
"The only problem is that I already know a lot about this convoy. What information do you have?"
Again, the two Fyros looked at each other, each waiting for the other to make the first move. The formidable Duke left them no choice.
"We know the date of the convoy, as well as the route it will take."
"And may I ask how two young Fyros, without experience, without connections, without dappers and without loyalty, came by information for which my best agents have searched in vain?"
He had looked round. His smile had disappeared, he examined their reaction closely.
Eree kept her cool.
"Oh, I've got connections, believe me!" she said, raising her voice. "I'm a member of the Black Faces guild!"
"Congratulations!" replied the Duke, a fake smile on his lips. "I still don't see how someone as insignificant as you would come by this secret."
Aedon began to stand up. He had had enough of the Duke's manners.
"If you wish to see out the day, I advise you to sit back down, young homin."
He hadn't moved, but his gaze forced Aedon to sit back down.
"Apologies for the interruption, please continue," he asked Eree impatiently.
"My guild has close ties to that of the Burnt Faces, the elite imperial guards. The head of my guild knows about all their missions, they haven't done a thing wrong. He also has a good relationship with shooki alcohol and he bragged too much to the wrong person…"
Eree gave a wry smile. Di Vanochi, hadn't moved. He looked at her, searching for the slightest sign of weakness.
"I don't believe you…," he began.
A shiver ran down Aedon' spine.
"… but given that I don't currently have any other sources of information, I'm going to try placing my trust in you."
There was nothing reassuring about his smile.
"I'm listening, what do you know?"
"The money first," said Aedon, who had regained his composure.
"You have understood, I think, that I believe you are lying to me. I therefore hope you understand how generous my offer is. I suggest two hundred thousand dappers straight away and an extra five hundred thousand if the information is revealed to be correct."
"But that's more than we asked for!" said Eree, astonished.
"I know. It's just a little bit of encouragement to help you give me the right information… but if you need any more encouragement, my guards will be happy to provide it."
He returned to his desk and picked up a small bell. He shook it quickly and Dino Valetti entered the room straight away.
"Yes, my Duke?" he asked.
"Bring a bag of two hundred thousand dappers, quickly," ordered the Duke.
The steward left right away. The Duke stayed where he was, staring at the two homins without saying a word.
A few moments later, the steward returned holding a bag. He put it on the Duke's desk and left as quickly as he had come.
"There's your money. Take it," said the Matis, pointing to the bag.
Aedon stood up and grabbed the purse.
"Now, tell me everything," he said, smiling.
Eree revealed everything they knew.
"I thought that those vermin would pass through the portal. They hope to reach Pyr as quickly as possible."
The Matis rolled a map of Atys out on his desk.
"Here's where we'll have to ambush."
He pointed to the Knot of Insanity gorge.
"You like to travel and discover new cultures, isn't that so?"
The two Fyros looked at him, incredulous.
"Magnificent!" he said, without waiting for an answer. "In that case you'll organise this attack for me!"
"What? Us? But…"
"Of course, one of my most loyal guards will accompany you… For if you have deceived me, I want you both dead instantly."
He hadn't lifted his eyes from the map. His last words had been uttered in a frighteningly casual manner.
"Sorry?" said Aedon, astonished.
"Enough talk! You leave in an hour. You have a long journey ahead of you. Natto!" he shouted. "Natto will accompany you in the
Zoraï land and look after your… welfare. You're going here, into the Grove of Umbra."
The two Fyros turned round to see the Matis warrior who had just come in.
"May I introduce Natto, the head of my guard."
The Matis greeted them with a nod.
"You're going to meet a friendly tribe which has already… worked for me: the Antikami," continued the Duke. "Natto will be there to make sure everything goes smoothly. They are to attack the convoy. The booty will be divided in two: the pillage for them and the Book for us. Natto, you will bring it to me immediately, accompanied, I hope, by our two friends. You have little time, leave now."
Natto gestured for them to leave the room.
The time that followed was devoted to preparing for the journey.
"We'll use Karavan pacts to get to the Grove of Umbra. There we'll have a day's walk to the tribe's camp, if we're lucky."
The Matis talked as he walked. It hadn't taken long to buy their scant provisions.
They were now heading for the Karavan alter.
Aedon and Eree had had little time to visit the magnificent Matis city. They had made the most of every second, looking round wide-eyed. This short visit had allowed them to forget their mission a little. The Matis warrior, who had seemed so cold at first, explained the history of the city to them.
"I know that you'd like to see a bit more of Yrkanis, but we have too little time. You'll have plenty of time to make the most of the city when we get back. I think that you should stay here. Or far away from the Kamists at any rate."
He looked a lot friendlier than he had in Di Vanochi's office.
"This is us. Wait for me here, I'm going to speak to the Karavan Host."
The two young Fyros remained at a distance as Natto headed towards the Host.
"It's working so far," said Aedon.
"Yes, I think he trusts us," agreed Eree
"Shame we have to betray him…"
The two Fyros looked at each other sadly.
"What's wrong with you two," asked Natto as he came back. "Don't be afraid. The Zoraï lands where we're headed are hostile, but I'm used to going there. There won't be any problems."
"We're all set," Aedon said to him joylessly.
"Are you still having doubts about your actions, is that it? Listen, you have to make choices in life. You've already made yours. You can't back out, no matter what happens. So accept it and live with your decision!"
The Matis' words made Aedon feel even more downcast. He tried to smile nonetheless.
"You're right. We're going to a new country. I'll have seen more new things in one day than in my whole life."
The Matis burst out laughing.
"There you go! That's much better. That's what teleportation's for!"
He gave them each a pact.
"Before you break it, I want you to remember a few rules. You walk where I walk, you speak when I tell you to speak, you obey my orders without discussion and you don't play at being heroes. Can I trust you to do that?"
Eree and Aedon both acquiesced.
"Excellent. Alright then, lets go!"
He crushed the pact in his hand and disappeared the next instant.
"He's right, we can't back out now," said Eree.
She broke her pact and vanished too.
"Okay… let's go."
This time the journey was better. Ignoring a slight headache, Aedon opened his eyes.
Several strange animals were watching him. They were rotund and enormous. Their globular yellow eyes were pointed at him. One of the animals began to approach him. It had a long trunk from which protruded small tongues of fire. Aedon instinctively put his hand on the hilt of his sword.
Natto held him back.
"Don't worry, it's just curious. Wombaïs are as gentle as lambs, as long as you don't bother them. Some Zoraï tribes have even ridden them!"
The wombaï was in front of him and began to snuffle at his tunic with the end of its trunk. Natto gently pushed it away. The animal hesitated then turned back to rejoin its herd.
Aedon looked around. He was in front of the Karavan alter, right in the middle of a plain.
"Is this the land of the Zoraï!?" he exclaimed.
Eree also looked disappointed.
"I thought it was a jungle."
"Apart from the grass, you'd think we were in the desert," agreed Aedon.
"This is normal, we're on the border of the country here. It allows the Karavan to carry out the tests they need to on the Goo. They don't react the same way as the Kami to this disease, they think that studying it will allow them to control it and thus eradicate it. It's better than running and asking for help from homins. Would you fight that if a Kami asked you?"
He turned round and pointed towards the horizon. Aedon saw the disease which was eating away at the country. A lilac sea extended from one edge of the plain to the other. Vapours escaped from the earth as it was consumed. The smell was unbearable, even from this distance.
Aedon instinctively put a hand over his mouth and nose.
"Don't do that, even if the vapours are toxic, at this distance, there's no risk. The Goo only infects homins when it's concentrated or when there's been a prolonged exposure. We have a certain amount of resistance to its destructive powers."
Aedon moved forward to get a better look. Natto quickly grabbed him.
"You're better not get any closer, there can be Goo springs under the earth which rise up when someone walks over them. It seems that this thing, whatever it is, is intelligent. We'd better leave, the further we are from here, the better."
They moved away from the altar, heading west.
"This region is very dangerous, there are more than just wombaïs here. Occasionally you come across kitins, and there are bandits.
The worst, of course, are the gibbaï which wander about everywhere."
The Matis waked quickly.
"It's not far to the camp, but I prefer to keep away from the Goo, we'll have to make a few detours."
To be continued...