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Damien was led into the study of the massive but foreboding mansion. A deathly hush pervaded throughout his walk, as if there was a prolonged funeral procession taking place. The oppressive atmosphere had seemingly blanketed every facet of life here, even the birds that should chirp and fly about were absent.
Looking out through the ornately decorated windows, he could see that the grass on the lawn had grayed out, the once-lush trees now totally devoid of leaves and color. Damien remembered there being a few sculptures adorning the now-barren gardens but now, they were all gone, replaced by the footmarks of marching soldiers.
Naturally, he asked Cassius as to why this place became like so, and the old butler replied that they had to let go of the gardening and landscaping team as Dukakis couldn’t fully verify the backgrounds of the workers and thus risk a potential breach.
It was the same with the housekeeping staff – only the most trusted servants were retained while the rest was either dismissed or sent on an indefinite leave.
“Chaotic,” Damien muttered the one word that popped up in his head. Because that’s what it was, chaos.
Many of the furniture were covered in white sheets as well, which would serve to lesson the need to dust them often. Artworks were covered, suits of armor standing guard were covered, the unused rooms were locked tight, and there was a patrolling unit consisting of two men walking around every so often.
“Lord Dukakis is not in at the moment,” the smartly-dressed adjutant stood at attention and addressed Damien when he enquired about his brother’s whereabouts. “But he is scheduled to return to his office before the nightfall.”
It was the same for Donatella, his older sister. She was away on her assignments to eradicate the pockets of Barbarians that had infiltrated the Empire’s borders. There was no word on when she was expected back either.
That meant Damien couldn’t avoid ‘it’ anymore.
Taking a deep breath, he knocked on the study and waited until he heard a sharp reply. “Enter.”
The heavy curtains were drawn over the shut windows, very little light entering the room. Countless books on tall shelves on one side, and to the other, a generously-sized fireplace. In it, a hearty flame bellowed, filling the room with a high degree of heat, almost making it feel like it was a middle of Summer. And there was this subtle but noticeable smell of bitter medicinal herbs floating in the air.
In front of the blazing flame, an old man covered neck-deep in thick, woolly blanket was sitting on a chair, looking rather pensive but alert.
His thinning gray hair was slicked back, cheeks gaunt and the skin pale, but his eyes shone brightly and sharply.
At first, Damien did not recognize this old man. Yet, the more he stood there and stared, the more familiar it became. The nose, the lips, the furrowed brows, those unforgiving, scrutinizing eyes. It was without a doubt Count Caleb Lucius Lomax, but much, much older.
Damien took another deep breath and muttered in shock. “Father? You…. have certainly aged.”
Count Caleb Lucius Lomax narrowed his eyes and stared at Damien and his missing arm, before opening his thin lips.
“You’ve decided to show up now? Hmph. ‘Tis an unfortunate timing on your part, son. Now’s not the time for pleasantries, as the events have dictated so far.”
Besides the Count, an aged maidservant was attending to him. She wordlessly drew a new chair for Damien to sit opposite his father.
He remembered this woman. She’s been serving Caleb even before he was born, or at least that was what he’s been told. But he couldn’t exactly recall her name.
So he simply nodded his appreciation and sat on the provided chair, and studied Caleb’s face closely.
It was true that the once-robust military hardman looked wane and spent. It had been too long since he last saw his father, but Damien was pretty sure a person shouldn’t age this dramatically, especially in the case with his old man.
“What happened to you?” Damien asked, licking his dried lips unconsciously. The room’s temperature was not only high, but the heat also had an effect of making the air dry and parched. As a result his lips were cracking up from the lack of moisture.
“The enemy,” Caleb replied curtly. “A cowardly, underhanded tactic to destabilize the entire region. But do not mind it, I shall overcome it.”
“How, father? You look half dead already. Never mind overcoming anything, you may not even sustain this…. charade much longer.”
Damien grimaced deeply as he spat out the words.
Truthfully, he didn’t care much about what happened to this man. He was certain of that. Yet, seeing his once-domineering father withering up like this, he felt an unexpected emotion rise up from the hidden depths of his heart.
It was worry.
And that made him momentarily angry. How could he be worried about this vile man-creature? Thus, to deny his foolish emotion, he uttered some crass words hoping to erase this ridiculous sentiment right out of his mind. It didn’t work.
The pair of sharp eyes gleamed like ice as Caleb shot up from the chair, throwing off the blanket in the process. His raised voice was full of righteous anger.
“Charade? You don’t get to lecture me, boy!! You who have discarded the proud and noble name of Lucius Lomax in search of cheap thrills, only to call on it when the occasion suits him, does not hold the right to raise his voice, in my house!!”
Damien was shocked further by the sight of his father, now in full view and unobstructed by the blanket.
Once, Caleb was a towering man, as tall as the giant Barbarians, leading some to question whether he had a little bit of the Northern bastards’ blood running in him.
Once upon a time, Caleb’s shoulders were broader than that of an oak tree. His fists were thicker and more calloused than that of a drake’s skin. His legs were thicker than most man’s torso, too. He was a freak of nature, in other words.
Yet, the person that stood before him, rambling in madness and rage, was a frail old man with a shriveling figure, desperately clinging on the last vestige of his glory which was now clearly eroding away by the combined curses of time and the previously-mentioned unknown illness.
Damien’s heartstrings twanged. His knees grew suddenly weak at the sight of the former tyrant in front of him.
What the hell happened to you, old man?!
Damien nearly muttered out his confusion aloud. Thankfully, he held back just in time, only thinking it inwardly.
Spittle escaped from Caleb’s mouth as he berated his disappointing son. His words, however, entered Damien’s one ear and left swiftly via the other side.
Rather, Damien was too occupied with observing the withered old man before him to really pay attention. Caleb still wore his military uniform but now with his weakened, frail figure, the formerly-impressive garment looked comically out of place, hanging loosely on the man’s shoulders.
Dozens upon dozens of medals of valor hung on his chest, weakly reflecting light from the fireplace, clinging and chiming like cheap trinkets that they were whenever Caleb moved animatedly.
“Dukakis shouldn’t even have contacted you. Useless. Utterly useless!! What a disappointment like you can do? Hmm? I hear you couldn’t even save your own child. Your help is not needed here. Nor do I lack for your sympathy.”
Caleb spat out sharply, before falling back on the chair with a loud thump. The maidservant quickly pulled the blanket over her master and stepped aside. She looked troubled but wisely kept her mouth shut the whole time. She knew better than to interfere.
The silence pervading in the study was chilly, much colder than the air on the outside. Damien wasn’t affected in the slightest, however. Instead, he was fuming inside.
He had half a mind to punch this weak old fool in the face but somehow managed to bring some sanity back into his mind. The last thing he needed was the added aggravation of getting physical with a dying man and then finding himself in a doghouse for it.
Finally, Damien was calm enough to open his mouth.
“I didn’t come here for you, so rest easy. I came here to see to another errand. And to speak to Dukakis. Since he’s not here, I’ll be on my way, then.”
He got up, turned on his heels and left without saying anything else. Cassius looked troubled as well but silently he bowed before the count and left hurriedly to follow Damien.
Caleb grimly stared at the dancing flames in the fireplace before slamming his fist down on the armrest of his chair. The maidservant next to him twitched a little but again didn’t say anything.
Caleb gritted his teeth, staring at the flames with increasing intensity as if he was trying to bore a hole in them with nothing but his sheer willpower. He looked angry, bitter, defiant.
Inwardly though, he was cursing his weakness. His weakness at unable to beat this thing eating away at him, his inability to say what he thought of as he sat in this darkened room, his weakness to stop himself from unwittingly meditating on his life, and finally, his inability to say something, anything, as an apology to his children.
He felt a stab of pain in his chest. Caleb coughed severely, bringing a handkerchief to cover his mouth, catching the phlegm of blood on the fabric in the process. Seeing the crimson stain, he frowned deeply.
The maidservant brought a goblet that contained a medicine concocted by a local apothecary, but in truth, Caleb distrusted it. He drank this disagreeable and foul-smelling liquid for a while now but it hadn’t helped. If anything, he felt worse.
Before he could take a sip, he saw the reflection of his aged face on the medicine’s surface. The man staring back looked tired. If he squinted a bit, he could see a little resemblance to the son he just had verbally abused for no good reason.
This made him feel even worse. Everything he did, was for his children’s sakes. He felt his current state very much the definition of unfair. His father did the same, his grandfather too, and so he carried on the family tradition yet, why was that his own bloody kids looked at him like he was the villain?
It was so damn unfair.
Grimacing deeply, Caleb took a gulp of the foul medicine.
Damien stormed off to the outside of the mansion. The sour taste lingered no matter how hard he tried to remove it. Cassius was behind him, handing over the Young Master’s thick coat at the foyer.
“Won’t you reconsider, Young Master? There are plenty of rooms available in the mansion.”
“No, it’s fine. I can’t be under the same roof as that man anyway. I’ll find an inn near the local Adventurers’ Association branch. I’m more comfortable that way.” Damien chuckled without mirth. “Right. When Dukakis returns, please inform him I’ve arrived in the city. Tell him I’ll come and speak to him tomorrow.”
Cassius could only nod, as he watched Damien walk away and enter the stagecoach. The old butler sighed weakly, knowing there was little he could do.
Damien instructed the driver to take him to the Adventurers’ Association outlet in the city. He roughly remembered the location of it, but wasn’t sure if it had moved. After all, it was near the Eastern Gates of the city, which was going through a hefty renovation at the time of Damien’s departure.
The forlorn four story building stood as before, uninviting and drab just like the way he remembered it. There wasn’t much activity out front but judging by the time of the day Damien knew there shouldn’t have been too many bodies here. Otherwise, now that would have been an unusual sight to worry about.
Instead of heading in, Damien searched for and found an inn frequented by the Adventurers, both local and visiting, like himself. He was surprised by the number of rooms available. The inn was as good as empty. It meant that he could haggle for a lower price for a room, so that was a bonus, in a way.
Still, counting the pathetic amount of coins left in his pocket, Damien could only sigh weakly. He needed to start finding a way to earn money soon. Otherwise, he’d have to rely on his family’s generosity. He didn’t mind leeching off Dukakis or Donna but just thinking about Caleb’s disapproving face made him not want to do that.
So, after almost a decade of not being an active Adventurer, he was starting again. He was more wizened, for sure, but also missing an arm. He wondered how would that go.
Adventurers in Noa, especially those in Argos Empire, weren’t exactly adventurers as the title might have suggested. In short, they were a bunch of freelancers possessing a variety of skills, fighting being one of them.
Adventurers acted in places where there was a shortage of manpower. If there were not enough hands in a construction site, then the low ranked Adventurers took up the slack. If there was an outbreak of bandits in a remote territory and the nearest garrison couldn’t do a thing about it due to some nonsense like jurisdictions and such, then it was the Adventurers who went and subjugated them.
If there was a need for rare ingredients that were difficult/dangerous/tedious to obtain, then Adventurers were hired. In some cases, where the security of a region was at stake, the local lords would hire Adventurers to bolster the strength of the local garrison.
Or, in some cases, Adventurers were hired to locate a lost pet. Maybe a stolen heirloom. Or even, search for a suitable house for the clients to move into. Basically, Adventurers did whatever, as long as it was above board.
Damien wondered whether Dukakis had done precisely that, hiring Adventurers to bolster the security of the city. Or was there the issue of trust that stopped him from hiring any and all who came calling, due to the Barbarian threat?
Making up his mind on what kind of requests he’d look up, Damien headed to the Association building. The layout was pretty much the same as it was in Lafayette, giving him a certain sense of deja vu.
Looking at the Request Boards he couldn’t help but frown a bit. There were the usual Fiend extermination requests and the like, but the numbers available was pitiful. The three Boards here were barren, like the garden of the Lomax mansion.
Damien was troubled by this. Of course, he could earn the small amount of coin he needed to put food on the table. After all, he didn’t come here looking to get rich.
No, he came here to find clues regarding the organization responsible for his son’s death. Money was to keep himself fed, and to keep a roof over his head without worrying about the disapproving eyes of Caleb constantly trying to lord over him.
Ideally, he’d find jobs related to the world of merchants. Mikael’s information was reliable and the man he mentioned, Westbrooks, was a merchant so if Damien could talk to a few in the same trade, he might be able to track the man down.
As for why he was doing it in such a roundabout way? Of course, he could have just asked Dukakis about the man. Hell, he could just walk around and ask a total stranger he met on a road, even.
The trouble was that Damien had no idea on how entrenched the influence of this Westbrooks was. For all he knew, his brother could be under the deep pockets of the man and inadvertently tattle on him. That’d be bad.
Simply by mentioning the merchant’s name might make Dukakis do something unnecessary. Damien would like to avoid that as much as possible. So, by relying on his status as a Gold ranked Adventurer named Damien Lucius, he’d find this Westbrooks, and beat the important info out of him.
The lack of suitable jobs was hampering him in this regard somewhat.
Damien pondered as to why this was happening. Every city with the exception of the Capital, the Association saw fit to establish a branch since they deemed there was enough work to go around for its members. Marlborough, being in close proximity to the Mountains of North, always held plentiful work for all.
There was only ever a single reason Damien could blame this anomaly on: the Barbarians and their nefarious activities. If that was the case, then….
Then there was little he could do, regarding that matter. He had a few questions himself about the whole mess but if no one asked him to do anything, then he would not butt in. He didn’t feel like bothering with it either at the moment as well. Too many complications where he didn’t need it.
Looking around, Damien tried to read the atmosphere inside the branch. It was eerily somber, almost unnaturally so. As if someone deliberately said something rather awkward and no one knew how to handle it like adults. There were a few men milling about in the second floor bar, but none of them had any discernible expressions.
They all simply chugged down copious amounts of liquor like it was water. Seeing them, even Damien felt a bit depressed for some reason.
Should I switch to Plan B?
Damien mulled softly, before making his mind. The plan B required more of his coin to be spent, but no one said he’d need to do it right away. Instead, he’d scope out the lay of the land first, then act accordingly. But before that, he’d need to attend to another matter.
So he left the branch building and headed for where a certain retired blacksmith was living on the outskirts of the city.
Crossing the city to the Western side, Damien shrank his presence as much as possible, not wanting to leave behind any sort of impression as people saw him walk past. He wore the thick coat rather loosely over his shoulders, like as if it was a cape, which effectively hid his missing limb from the casual view.
Good thing was, even though this city of Marlborough was where he originated from, Damien knew even less people here than back in Lafayette. It was a funny situation for sure, but at the same time, perhaps a godsend for the things he was planning to do.
As he walked, he saw increasingly frequent scenes of patrolling units of half a dozen men performing spot checks right there on the streets. The soldiers roughly shook down all they found suspicious, ignoring the voices of protest and on one occasion, even using the threat of violence to diffuse a potentially dicey situation.
To say the tensions were running high would be an understatement of the year.
Nevertheless, Damien successfully navigated through all the craziness and made his way out of the city. Utilizing his Gold ranked Adventurer status, rather than that of his family name, he was not held up too much by the guards although he received a distrusting stare or two.
Walking past the bare crop fields Damien made his way towards a certain little hamlet half an hour’s walk away. There was a small settlement here consisting of about ten families, building and living a small community, largely unaffected by the goings-on in the city proper.
His destination was one particular dwelling right at the rear of this little sleepy area. It had a sturdy wall, a smoking chimney, and a clinging sound of metal hitting metal.
Damien stood before the slightly ill-fitting door and knocked hard.
A few moments of nothing later, the door creaked open and a pretty young girl around the age of ten poked her head out from the open gap. Her face was covered in soot here and there, her unruly mob of brown hair pulled back loosely behind her, her inquisitive eyes studying the one armed person smiling toothily before her.
“Uhm, can I help you, mister?” She asked, tilting her head slightly.
“Yeah. I am looking for Ged. Is he in?”
“Grandpa? He is in but right now he’s real busy. Can you, like, come back later?”
“No can do,” Damien shook his head. “I got things to do later on. Got too much stuff to do and all, you know. Can you tell your grandpa that a man named Damien Lucius wishes to speak to him? It’s about a commission.”
“What’s a commission?” The girl asked, looking confused.
“Uh, it’s work.” Damien suppressed a smile and answered simply. He forgot that not all young kids were smart like his own. It was better not to spew tough words at this little girl and create a misunderstanding of sorts inadvertently.
“Oh, alright, then. Wait here.”
The girl disappeared into the gap, closing the door behind her.
The low hanging clouds obscured the sun above, pretty much rendering the already-gray sky even more gloomier. The enclosing weather Damien noticed before was rushing in, fast. The prospect of him trudging through the muddy streets for his plan B was becoming a reality at a rate he didn’t care for. Naught he could do about that now.
After a short break, the door opened up, and a short old man appeared. He was stocky and powerfully built, emanating an aura of strength of a much younger man.
“Ged. Been a long time,” Damien smiled and nodded at the man.
Ged snorted wordlessly, before gesturing him in to entering the smithy.
Damien entered and was immediately greeted by the kind of heat that could put most deserts to shame. A furnace was in the middle of cooling down on the opposite side to the entrance, a glowing hot metallic item resting on a jet-black anvil. The smell of coal and ores of indiscernible origin filled his nostrils. He found it rather nice and rustic. Quite nostalgic, as well.
Ged gestured with his hands, silently asking what did Damien wanted from him.
Smiling ruefully, Damien pointed to his missing arm. “I need your help with this, right here. Like back in the day when you made a false limb for that Silver-ranked Adventurer.”
Ged raised an eyebrow, then leaned in closer to take a look at the damage. He made Damien unbutton his tunic and reveal the shoulder and a little of stump remaining of his right arm. It had been a long time and the wounds had healed properly but there were clear scars left to remind all who looked at it the deathly battle he had to go through.
The stocky old man examined for a few moments, before mumbling wordlessly to himself. Seeing this, Damien asked the girl who was curiously observing the two.
“So, uh, your grandpa is still not talking to anyone?”
“Must be tough.” Damien smiled at her.
“It’s alright. He’s been liked that since before I was born, so more or less, it’s fine.”
She shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly.
Ged never talked. As far as Damien could remember, the blacksmith never talked to anyone, ever. That even included the Count as well. That took some balls.
No one dared to make a mountain out of this quirk due to the fact that this mute man was a legendary smith who could work miracles if he felt like it. For some reason though, he was always selective about the choices of commission he took on.
Thankfully, one of them was when Damien came around to have his Frostbane serviced right after he had acquired it. The relationship of sorts formed back then, allowing him to come here and request for a prosthetic limb.
There were various types of false limbs available on the market. Damien didn’t want to buy them. The reason was that none of those could match up with what Ged produced on his off day.
However, Damien never could really find the time to commission the smith to craft one for him until now – for one, placing an order had to be done face to face, thanks to Ged’s personality. That meant Damien had to leave Riverfield for a period of time which he was reluctant to do. Now that the circumstances had changed, he was here, and he was going to get himself a limb.
As for paying for it…. he was thinking of sending the bill to Dukakis. He might not feel like leeching off his family for his food and lodging, but for this amount of money, he thought that Caleb owed at least this much. In his mind it made sense, so that was his bit of convincing argument if anyone asked.
Ged nodded and pursed his lips subconsciously as he pondered a bit. Then he beckoned Damien to follow him.
The trio left the smithy and headed to the fairly large storage, behind the workshop itself.
There was a huge metal gate blocking the entry. Ged stood before it, mumbled a few words and placed his left palm on the door knob.
A wan light emanated from the knob, and an Invocation Array activated with a swishing sound. An Invocation circle appeared and rotated on the door, and an elaborate chain of unlocking animation showed up on the circle with accompanying clicks and clonks.
Inside the storage, there were dozens upon dozens of items waiting for their fated chosen ones. Whether they could enjoy the light of the day remained to be seen, however.
Ged went to a large but flat chest that rested on a worktable. Once more, he murmured a Requisite Words, activating another Invocation circle on the top of the chest.
Damien was slightly surprised at the content of this unusual looking chest. Inside it, a metallic arm resided. It looked like something that might have fallen off a suit of decorative armor.
Damien asked Ged, but as expected, he got no verbal answer. Instead, the mute blacksmith picked the arm up and gave it Damien, while pointing at his stump. It was at this point Ged’s granddaughter began explaining the item.
“That’s an advanced Invocation tool grandpa made a couple of years ago. When you put it on, it links with your own Aeterna Pool and connects to your soul. You can then move it around like it’s your own arm. Plus, it’s got lots of other hidden functions, you see. It’s one of the very best item grandpa has ever made.”
“Uh, alright. But, uh, I can’t use Aeterna at all. Sure, I’ve got a Pool, but that doesn’t matter if I can’t call on it, right?”
“No, no. It’s fine, fine. Grandpa is smarter than you, mister. He knows what he’s doing, you see. The arm links to your Pool without you doing a thing. It’s all au… au, auto…uhm…”
“You mean automatically?”
“Yeah, that.” the girl nodded enthusiastically. “I say, mister, you’re smarter than the average guys coming here to get a weapon for themselves!!”
Damien looked at the arm. If it did what was advertised, then it was perfect in every way possible. However, he noticed that it had a left hand attached to it.
“Thanks, Ged. This is wonderful. How long do you need for the change of the hand?”
Ged narrowed his eyes, pondering a bit more. Then he raised his fingers, three of them at the same time.
“Three days. Got it. Now, how much will it cost me?”
Ged shook his head, then beckoned Damien once more to follow him. The metallic arm was left behind the storage as they left and headed for the main house. The large metallic gate closed by itself, the Invocation array activating to secure the contents inside.
Ged produced a small parchment and handed it over to Damien when they arrived at the living room of the house.
The granddaughter offered up an explanation after seeing Damien’s slightly confused face.
“That’s a job request grandpa was going to put up in the Association. But then those stupid Barbarians did something and he couldn’t. He wants you to take it up and complete it.”
“I see,” nodded Damien. “I don’t see why not.”
This arrangement was better for him anyways. It could be a slight problem with the local Association since the request didn’t go through them, but not that Damien cared about that either.
He unfurled the parchment and took a closer look at it. It was about finding someone to collect an unpaid due. Even better, this someone apparently worked for a well-to-do merchant operating out of the city of Marlborough.
This matched perfectly with Damien’s own plan B. Smiling, Damien rolled the parchment that contained a rough drawing and a name of the person and he looked at Ged straight in the eyes.
“Consider it done. I’ll bring a good news soon. See you later, Ged.”
As he walked briskly out of the house, the granddaughter followed him out. She looked at him with a skeptical gaze but didn’t say a thing.
Damien asked the girl as he suddenly remembered something rather important. “Oh, right. I don’t even know your name. You know mine, though. What’s yours?”
“Alright, Gemma. See you around.”
Damien just managed to enter the Western Gate before the heavens opened up. The falling rain was bitterly cold, as if it was Winter already.
Shrinking his presence back as much as possible, Damien entered the grimier parts of the backstreets, his aim to observe and to listen, and of course, to ultimately locate the man.
Originally, he was going to trudge through the various watering holes in the seedier side of the city in order to find someone living on the wrong side of the line, preferably a thief, and to talk to him or her for a snippet of information. That was his so-called plan B.
He figured that as far as knowing who’s who locally, no one could beat an active thief. He would possess all the knowledge on the fat cats of the city, especially when it came to the identity of the merchants.
But now that Ged had asked him to find this guy, it seemed like things might get less complicated. All he had to do was to find this man, and then get the necessary info out of him. Which would let him acquire the prosthetic arm for free. Well, almost.
Then, he’d devote himself to knowing more about this Westbrooks before moving in for the kill. A good plan, or so he thought to himself. Sometimes, the simplest plan was the best.
He did try to find the merchant mentioned in the parchment first, as that was the easiest thing to do, what with the name of the business conveniently written on the request form.
The person he was looking for, though, wasn’t there. After asking the other employees, he got a lead about his man frequenting bars down by the Southern section.
That was the rougher part of the otherwise already rough city. Damien wasn’t looking forward to going there. Not because he was fearful, no, but because he could see there might be some unforeseen variables happening down there during the current climate of uncertainty. Not that discouraged him, obviously. He soldiered on foot, not minding the bitterly cold weather and the falling raindrops.
The thick coat did its duty to protect Damien from getting too soaked, which he was thankful for.
The grime here seemed more grimier than back in either Argos or Lafayette as the harshness of the weather got worse. And the folks Damien encountered on the road seemed just bit more on guard than usual, a little less friendlier to a stranger than before. All totally understandable.
While remaining mindful of that, Damien fleeted in and out of the various bars and joints, his eyes always on the lookout for the guy he was searching for.
Eventually, his feet led him toward a particular establishment near the Southern Gate. Here, the districts surrounding the Gate itself, there was more than a fair share of ruffians wanting to carve up territories among themselves. Usually, on a normal day the city garrison had their hands full quelling the miscreants here, but due to the Barbarian threat, it seemed things looked even more hectic than usual.
Soldiers and checkpoints were seemingly on every street corner. Damien saw more than a few men tied down, faces in the mud while waiting for a transport to the city barracks for a questioning. All the faces, either peeking out of the helmets of the soldiers, or those walking by, or even occasionally looking up from the ground below – they looked tense, tired, wary, haunted.
They were the faces of those living in constant fear. A fear of the terror threats, a fear of the fidgety authority figures with no target to aim at, and a fear of not knowing how it would all end.
Damien skirted past all that trouble and headed to the establishment, located on an extra-nasty looking street. Here, ironically enough, no patrols could be seen. Nor was there a checkpoint, but a few suspecting gazes thrown at his way.
It was now well and truly dark. The evening had come in early, and combined with the rubbish weather, the darkness grew real fast. The streets lamps lit up one by one, except here. Only the lights coming from the half open windows managed to dispel a bit of this darkness and illuminate the way to the bar.
As he approached the pair of swing doors to the joint, Damien sensed a rush of movement from the inside so he stopped in his tracks and tilted out of the way.
Might as well – because as soon as he stopped, a disheveled figure crashed out of the doors as if he was throwing himself out. This figure tumbled on the dirty street’s floor, rolling like a ball until coming to a stop near some collected trash on the opposite side.
The figure stood up quickly, his eyes bloodshot, caked mud clinging on to his unkempt, messy beard.
Damien could instinctively tell that this man was very much scared for his life. Whatever trouble this man got himself into, well, Damien couldn’t be bothered. After all, he wasn’t the one Ged was looking for.
As he was about to turn around to enter the joint, the man suddenly shouted. “Sir Damien? Is that you?”
Damien reacted. He turned to see who could it be that had recognized him, only to miss two men trying to rush out of the doors. And the result was that the lot of them got tangled up rather inelegantly.
However, Damien kept his wits about him and quickly extricated himself from the mess, standing up to face the bum-like man who had identified him out of the blue.
When his eyes met those of the disheveled bum, Damien felt he knew this guy from somewhere. But he wasn’t too sure who could it be.
The dirty, disheveled man grimaced at the men who collided with Damien, turning on his heels and began running away at full tilt.
“Move outta way, fool!!”
One of the fallen men roared at Damien, shoving him aside as he got up before giving a hasty chase. The other man grumbled and pulled himself up, showing a slight bruising on his forehead where there was a small cut. He eyeballed Damien venomously before going after the fleeing man.
Damien stood there, pondering again.
Who could that be? I’m sure I know that man from somewhere. But…. who?
Wait a minute. That voice…. Those eyes…. Could he be….
Jonas Bremble?! That snooty son of a dog from the Institute? What the hell is he doing here?
Synopsis: Somewhere in the universe, there was an altar. On it, laid a bloody eye as big as the sun itself. It burst with light and bathed the entire star system in red.
"The aura of an ancestral artifact!" Someone's voice rose in surprise.
The Great Galactic Era had begun.