Appendix A: Chapter 11

[Editor's note: Chapter 11 of my 2008 NaNoWriMo entry.]

Roland stared at Mattias in disbelief. Only minutes ago, he had been fighting for his life against the man before him. Now Mattias was offering a handshake and grinning, seemingly oblivious to the glowing sword Roland held poised to strike him down at a moment’s notice.

“Roland,” he replied warily, opting not to extend his hand in return. “How about you explain to me why you consider kidnapping a defenseless young boy to be saving the world.”

“OK, two points there,” Mattias explained. “First, the kid really doesn’t have anything to do with the whole ‘saving the world’ business. And second, I didn’t kidnap him; I rescued him from Doomhammer when the place was on the verge of burning up. Or burning down. It’s hard to tell which it is when you’re in the middle of it.”

Roland saw this was going to be a long and painful interrogation. “Normally when you rescue someone, you don’t carry then off halfway across the kingdom and lock them away in a dungeon somewhere, hiding them away from the only family they have left.”

“Ah, yes, I can see how one might get that impression. I suppose it is partly my fault for letting those kinds of preconceptions get the better of you,” he chuckled. “It was all for his own protection, I assure you.”

“Really.”

“I suppose a little background might shed some light on the situation. I was in Doomhammer the day of the fire, trying to establish some… connections with the locals, shall we say. But that part’s not important. When the fire started spreading uncontrollably, we got out of there as fast as we could. Along the way, though, we came across a boy standing in the street by himself, crying his eyes out. Everyone else was too busy running around to notice, and I could hardly leave him there when the entire city was about to go up, so I did the only reasonable thing and brought him with us.”

“And locked him away in a dungeon.”

“Technically, these are ruins, not a dungeon. I suppose there were dungeons around here at some point. I mean, what kind of castle doesn’t, after all? And he’s hardly ‘locked away’ at all; he’s free to leave whenever he wants. Well, almost whenever; I’m hardly going to let him wander off alone. It isn’t safe.”

Roland gave Mattias a pointed look.

“Right, sorry. Why I brought him here. Those ‘connections’ I mentioned? They’re sort of the… black market variety. And since I assume someone as respectable as yourself doesn’t have much dealings with them, I should explain that one of the commodities that sometimes get traded on the black market are… well, I don’t see any nice way to put this, so I’ll just come right out and say it: orphans.”

Roland sharpened the point.

“Now don’t get the wrong idea,” Mattias quickly added, raising his hands defensively, “I stay clear of that bit. I stick to dealing in goods that aren’t getting to where they need to go, because of taxes or shortages or whatever. But you see why I could hardly go around asking, ‘anybody lose a child?’ And when I started getting word through my chains of contacts that a young woman was snooping around asking about a kid who matched his description, and their description of the woman matched what the kid said his sister looked like, well, I decided to let events run their course. I figured anyone just looking to scam a kid off of me would give up long before they got here. And hey, it all worked out, didn’t it? They probably had their tearful reunion right around the time you were slamming me into the floor.”

“If that’s so, why don’t you take me to them,” Roland said, his voice making it clear it wasn’t a so much a request as an order.

“Not at all,” Mattias replied, picking one of the torches up off the ground. “Follow me.”

Mattias began leading Roland through a series of passageways. Roland kept his sword drawn and at the ready, not sure if Mattias was being sincere or just leading him into another trap. As a nice side effect, though, the sword cast its own light on the passages around them.

“If you don’t mind my asking,” Mattias began.

“I mind,” Roland interrupted.

Mattias continued anyway. “How do you make your sword glow like that?”

“The blessings of the Lady Yssindria, divine protector of this kingdom, imbue it with the power to smite evil.”

“Yes yes, I’ve heard the story before, but that’s not what I asked. How do you make it do that? It obviously can’t detect evil; it’s a piece of metal with a handle stuck on one end. And even if it could, since I’m not actually evil, that wouldn’t work anyway. Furthermore, since you think I am in fact evil, it must be something you’re doing to it. Is it some kind of magic, perhaps?”

“Hardly,” Roland spat. “The Order does not stoop to such trickery.”

“If you say so.” Mattias waved his hand dismissively. “But swords don’t glow of their own accord, naturally. Here, if it isn’t magic, then I should be able to make it glow too. Do you mind if I give it a try?”

“Try it and you’re dead,” Roland warned.

“Look, I’m not trying to trick you. Anymore, at least. How about this: have you ever tried to smite something that wasn’t evil?”

“Why would I do such a thing?”

“I’m just wondering if it’s somehow responding to your desire to smite something. Besides, anyone who’s ever studied philosophy knows how difficult it is to precisely define ‘evil’ anyway, so I doubt a piece of metal would somehow be able to make the distinction even if it could somehow try.”

Roland didn’t reply, hoping the silence would shut Mattias up. It didn’t work.

“But if it is magic,” Mattias continued after a brief pause, “well, that would be interesting. Tell me, have you ever studied the different theories of magical abilities?”

Roland tried again.

“Well, once you get past the part about it being passed through heredity, all the explanations floating around start to diverge. One of the more fanciful ones is that, long ago, a divine being of great power split himself into pieces and hid himself within countless mortals. There’s dozens of entertaining stories about why that might have happened, but that’s not relevant here. The theory goes, all those bloodlines manifest themselves as magical abilities, and they’re all trying to reunite with each other to resurrect that original being. I’m… not entirely sure I want to visualize how that would work. But I have it, and I think the boy does, which means his sister probably does too, and if you have it as well, well, the fact that fate seems to have brought us all together way out here does make you think, doesn’t it?”

“What power does the boy have?” Roland asked, curiosity finally getting the better of him.

Mattias shrugged. “Beats me. He doesn’t say much, and he hasn’t done anything obvious since we met, but something in the way he behaves reminds me of myself when I was his age. Whatever it is, he’s either confused about it or scared of it. Maybe both. Say, was I right about his sister, by any chance?”

Roland ignored him. “And what is your power then, exactly?”

“Why, haven’t you figured it out by now?” Mattias answered, bemused. “I am utterly unremarkable in any way. People just see that I’m there, and extrapolate everything else from whatever cues I might give them. Believe me, growing up it felt like I curse, especially with not being able to control it, but when you’re dealing in the black market, being able to leave a trail of eyewitnesses who can’t accurately describe a thing about you comes in pretty handy.”

It sounded ridiculous, but Roland reluctantly had to acknowledge it at least explained his experience fighting Mattias earlier. The armor, the flames — all of it had seemed real enough.

“Anyway,” Mattias continued, “I came across that theory of magic in my research into the Demon King, which is what originally brought me here in the first place. Some thought the Demon King was the reincarnation of that divine being. Me, I don’t buy it.”

“And why is that?”

“Well, I don’t see how a divine being — assuming they even exist in the first place, which is a whole other issue we could get into — could be killed by a sword. It also doesn’t fit with the evidence my men and I have uncovered while exploring the ruins here. Here, take a look at this.”

Mattias turned and, with one hand, clumsily paged through his notebook. He found a page and held it out to Roland to read. The margins were crammed with scribbles, and the words on the page were circled and underlined seemingly at random:

Cotomujnubyat og mitp. Bluga ibu ti qiqevyjkis tejix at otyaju vukyff cnu opocyky ca qahvijg “huhu pi u gefxdoqw” oqq losa blu kuvrnuhn esqaib aec at kva yvwik. Ojqoqbekuivd ots gi-qoncug “hupyq jijrj” oky vaa. Ivu qoq glaec “niqex riqex” ab “opkiqoxuzbo” ak “gniiulyjv igdeckihu” eqbyc aqy yj pneu et cnu zohy, geng vi uczyqk acnuh ngij caihyff nopu oq oreac.

Niniryb, nvub cofot qot sa yj uqmkiiqtu apbyqkk cnek onjuoxy ysekc. Blu iroruthy eknagvj ni blek, uvr ek evrekjevux. Mev nvub ehi jyisla, ot fac avwik amrihbd ka my cotorococyr? Gaag didg rinik ikja asyjn? Hij E uvriji vu Geln aj otiblug, xa vwoc bluuk iqkuivd oga vik xkofut mu vwioj int Dokc peb my ngy Geln at Vonmuok? O rbaqigu kvub yk duv. Vwux fiigqik jvuck jikku ok kyqags at py utleirycutcg yf ngod ogai. Ufx soqkocoif.

“This is gibberish,” Roland said.

“At first glance, yes,” Mattias agreed, “but I believe I have made some headway into deciphering it. And this isn’t the only sample I’ve recovered. I’m certain that these records, which seem to refer to someone called ‘William of Valfeas,’ hold the key to understanding the true power of the Demon King.”

“And that is?”

Mattias motioned towards a doorway at the end of the hall. “Here we are.”

Chapter word count: 1,717 (according to wc)
Total word count: 20,159 / 50,000 (40.318% complete)

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