Chapter 8:



Harvest Moon 2, AS 632. Farmland, near Aphysbia City, Kingdom of Farrus, The Sundered World.

The Sunviewers traveled through the farmland once again, returning once again to Aphysbia city. This time, however, their numbers were increased by one: they were accompanied by the man calling himself Cyton, whom they had freed from the goblin lord Sin-Dee. However, it was clear that Cyton was too injured to walk all the way back to the city, and the other four were also quite tired from their battles. Rachel offered a suggestion. “Why don’t we borrow a horse and cart from one of these farmers?” the cleric suggested. “We just got all that money from that monster.”

The rest of the group agreed. “I’ll do the talking,” Appraiser said confidently. “I’m good at persuading people.”

They all tiredly made their way to a small but solidly build farmhouse that clearly had a cart parked outside. Although it had looked near by, it was getting close to dusk by the time they reached the location. Erenata halfheartedly suggested camping for the night, but Cyton objected. “Please, you must take me to the king tonight. My business is urgent,” he begged. With a sigh, Appraiser strode up to the farmhouse’s door. She sharply knocked on it.

The door was opened by a leathered old man in simple peasant attire carrying a torch. “What is it?” he asked, looking at the five figures clustered by his door.

Appraiser spoke up. “Please, we need to get to the city, but we’re too wounded to walk. We would like to borrow your cart and horse for a day. We’ll pay.”

The man shook his head. “Now see here lass, I can’t lend me cart and horse to any person who wanders by. Go away.”

“Please,” Appraiser said. “This is urgent.” She offered her most winning persuasive smile.

It was a critical failure. The farmer simply shook his head and made to close the door.

“All right, negotiation is over,” Appraiser whispered under her breath. She stopped the door with her foot, drawing out one of her long knives. She held it to the man’s throat. “I insist,” she said in a low voice.

The farmer, unsurprisingly, panicked. “Help, help!” he shouted, running back into his home.

“Wait, don’t go,” said Appraiser. She instinctively tripped him, causing him to fall face-first, dropping his torch directly into a pile of sheets, which promptly burst into flame.

The other three adventurers, who until this point had hung back, now rushed forward. The farmer misinterpreted their actions as aggression. He clambered back, grabbing a poker from the nearby fireplace. “I won’t have this, you hear?” he said, brandishing the iron rod like a sword. “I served in the king’s army, so prepare yourselves, whippersnappers!” He made several thrusts with the poker at Appraiser.

“We don’t want to fight you—” Appraiser said, dodging his attacks.

“Oh, now that we be in battle, stand aside good friend Appraiser,” said Erenata, happily joining the fray by running into the building. The house was now partially on fire, but the farmer didn’t want to leave. He exchanged blows with Erenata. The trained half-elf warrior easily disarmed the feeble old man, knocking him out with a strong strike to the head with her wooden sword.

From outside the burning building, Cyton nervously called out “guys, I see a bunch of people coming this way! They’re carrying torches and pitchforks.”

Descartes, who had slipped away in the chaos, came around to the front of the building leading an old horse hitched to the cart that the group had spotted when they approached the building. She said, “get in?” As the inferno blazed and the mob approached, all five of them piled into the cart. Erenata had the presence of mind to drag the farmer out of the burning building before leaving. As the group drove away from the scene at the old horse’s top speed—a plodding walk—Rachel tossed a bag of coins back in the direction of the unconscious man.

The rode in stunned silence through the night; Descartes was driving the horse. The silence wasn’t broken until Appraiser began chuckling. Rachel looked at her disapprovingly as she said, “that was not funny.”

Appraiser was laughing out loud now. “Oh come on. Somehow, we went from wanting to rent a cart to knocking out an old man, burning his house down, and stealing his horse?” She was barely understandable from the laughter. “You have to admit, that’s pretty funny. How did we go from killing a goblin queen with no effort to failing that spectacularly?”

Appraiser’s laughter was joined by Descartes also bursting out laughing. “Did you see the look on his face?” the tiny shy girl laughed. For someone who rarely spoke, Descartes had a shockingly loud and full laugh.

After a moment, Erenata joined in laughing as well. “That was indeed a comedic blunder,” she said.

“You guys,” said Rachel with a look of reproach. Still, she was clearly smiling as well.

Cyton said “sometimes these things happen in the great quests. The most important thing is for me to deliver the message to the king tonight.”

Erenata asked “what is thy message that be so urgent?”

Cyton nodded. “I suppose I owe you that much, as a thanks for saving me.” He sat up, taking the appearance of a professor about to give a dusty lecture. “As you may know, this nation—the Kingdom of Farrus—has long been antagonistic toward the Sulmon Magocracy, hundreds of miles away. Tensions have come to a boil in the past few months after the Farrus’ annexation of several islands that were previously under nominal Sulmon control. Many are expecting Sulmon to respond with a declaration of war. However, I was dispatched by the Archmage Ruler of Sulmon to try to broker a peace treaty.”

Rachel scratched her head. “I don’t understand all of the political stuff, but basically, you want to stop a war, right?”

“To put it simply, yes.”

Rachel nodded. “I can support that!”

Cyton continued “Farrus is an economic powerhouse but has little military might. It relies on bribing assistance from every neighboring country. Meanwhile, Sulmon has the largest mage army in the world. A war between those two would cause damage to the entire continent, killing millions.”

Erenata nodded in agreement, saying “I shalt aid you on your mission to save countless innocent lives, friend Cyton.”

Appraiser said, “as long as there’s some money in it.” Descartes gave a thumbs-up from her seat driving the cart.

In the cart, the journey did not take long. When they reached the city gates, although the sun was fully down, there was still a bit of traffic coming through the gate. The guard eyed a few of the scorch marks on the wagon but didn’t say anything. Even in the darkness of night, the city streets were lit by lamps glowing with tiny balls of magic. Many shops and buildings were still open, lit by the same magical illumination.

The king’s palace was easy to find. It sat in the center of the city, towering over the rest of the buildings in its size and splendor. It was surrounded by a massive wall around the entire palace grounds. Descartes drove the cart to gates in the walls. Nobody was entering in or out of these gates, which were closed and locked. No fewer than ten heavily armed and armored knights stood at attention outside. They immediately took note of the cart with its five occupants. One of the knights gestured at them. “Move along,” he said in a gravelly voice that sounded like an undergrown teenager imitating a gruff war veteran. “Loitering outside the palace is a crime.”

Descartes halted the cart. Cyton hopped out, approaching the knight. “I am an official courier from the Sulmon Magocracy, here to speak with the King of Farrus.”

The knight gave a skeptical look. “The official currier rides in an old wagon, huh.”

“There were…complications on the way,” Cyton explained. “Here, I have my arcane writ of diplomacy.” He traced his fingers in the air, creating a shimmering illusion that formed the shape of several glyphs before dispelling.

“I’ll have to send for a court mage to inspect that,” the knight said.

In the cart, watching the interaction, Rachel smiled. She leaned toward Descartes, whispering “Watching Cam talk to himself as both of these characters is so cute.” At Descartes’ disapproving stare, she jumped. “Oh, right. I can’t say that in character. Oops, sorry. Keep talking, Cam.” She sat down, looking embarrassed.

After an awkward few minutes of silence between the knight and Cyton, a middle-aged woman in glasses and a robe hurried outside. The knight explained Cyton’s claim of being a messenger. When prompted, Cyton again created the shimmering illusory glyphs. The glasses woman inspected them for a moment before confirming their authenticity. The knight looked surprised. “And here I thought you were faking it. I was looking forward to roughing you up.” He waved Cyton inside.

Cyton said “those four women are coming with me,” pointing back at the Sunviewers. Erenata and Appraiser both agreed with him.

“And who are they, exactly?” the knight asked.

Appraiser called out “we’re his bodyguards. Apparently, he gets kidnapped by monsters whenever we’re not around.”

The knight shrugged. “Fine, you can all go in. Just leave the old cart outside.”

The five were escorted inside by the glasses woman who had inspected the magical writ of diplomacy. “The king is dining,” she explained. “So deliver your message and leave quickly.”

They were escorted into a surprisingly small dining room, where the woman left them. The walls were paneled with engraved wood, with small alcoves that held more of the magical illumination. In each of the four corners stood a guard at attention. In the center of the room was a rectangular table. There were enough seats for up to eight people at the table, but the only person seated was an old man in royal attire, moodily picking at a rice dish. He looked up when the five entered the room. “You’re the messenger, yes?” he asked. “What do you have to tell me?”

Cyton stood forward. “Your majesty, I bring a message from the Archmage Ruler of Sulmon. He desires to conduct peace negotiations with you. However, there are many powerful mages in Sulmon who desire war and would consider this very conversation treason. Thus I was dispatched alone, in secret, to facilitate this meeting.”

The king shook his head. “That old fool. He knows I only took the islands to alleviate the refugee crisis. Bah, no matter.” He stood up. “Thank you, messenger. We need to move quickly. I fear the factions you spoke about will not be happy to hear of this meeting.”

As the king spoke, the room seemed to dim. At first, it just looked like a trick of the eyes. However, after a few moments, the light had lowered enough to be fully perceptible. “What is going on?” whispered Rachel. Nobody could answer her.

From the growing shadows a figure materialized. It looked like an amorphous blob of shadow, but it quickly congealed into a humanoid figure. It was dressed entirely in a black robe that covered every inch of its skin. The robe shimmered in the flickering of the magical light, seeming to almost blend in with the shadows. The only part of the figure that was not black was a long, curved blade held in its outstretched hand.

For a split second, everyone in the room stared the figure; while its eyes were invisible under the hood of the robe, it seemed to be staring back. Then it moved as fast as blinking. One moment it was in the middle of the room; the next, it was in front of one of the guards, the curved dagger buried in the guard’s neck. The guard didn’t even have time to whimper before collapsing to the ground, blood spurting from his wound.

The room sprang into action. The other three guards converged on the figure, drawing their weapons. The king shouted “assassin! Assassin in the dining room!” The Sunviewers and Cyton also rushed toward the shadowy assassin. In the few seconds it took them to cross the distance, the assassin had already cut down the other three guards as swiftly and gracefully as the first.

Erenata was the first to reach the shadow. “Begone, foul fiend!” she cried, swinging her wooden longsword. The assassin lithely ducked under her strike. It rolled beneath her feet, using its momentum to trip the half-elf warrior before springing to its feet again. Decartes, recovered somewhat after the rest in the wagon ride, fired off two blasts of fiery magic at the figure. It dodged both easily. Descartes cast the same spell a third time. This time, the assassin somehow parried the magic fire using the dagger, redirecting the blast at the king, who was attempting to flee out the door. The redirected fire hit the king in the small of his back, causing him to crash to the floor. With a horrified expression on her face, Descartes said “I’m sorry” just before the figure in black buried the dagger into her thigh, causing her to collapse.

“I’ve got you now,” said Appraiser, who had taken the opportunity to get behind the shadowy assassin. Wielding a dagger in each hand, she made two strikes: one at the shoulder, the other at the back. Both landed, drawing some blood, but neither seemed to deal any serious damage. Without even looking, the assassin kicked backward with incredible force, launching Appraiser into Cyton and Rachel, who were both approaching. All three tumbled to the ground, leaving the assassin unchecked.

With no more obstacles, the assassin sped toward the king, who was still moaning from the fire blast. It moved impossibly quickly and sinuously, almost like a snake, dagger raised. The king futilely raised his hands to cover himself. The assassin contemptuously kicked the hands away and struck with the blade.

It was over with the one blow. The dagger buried itself deep in the king’s throat. He convulsed, coughing up blood. The assassin released the dagger and stood up, pressing its hand to the wall. As quickly as it had appeared, the assassin melted back into the shadows. In a blink of an eye, it was gone, leaving the only survivors as the four Sunviewers and Cyton. Erenata, who was nearest, checked the king. She shook her head sadly as she said “he is dead.”

Walking over, Cyton said “I recognize that style of dagger. It—” Whatever he was about to say was cut off by the sound of running feet outside of the room. The door burst open to reveal the same middle-aged glasses woman accompanied by a number of knights. Seeing the bodies lying around the room, she shrieked. “Assassins have killed the king!” she cried. “Capture them!” She pointed at the Sunviewers and Cyton.