Chapter 21. Armour

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Having spent the night on a pirate ship surrounded by scoundrels and miscreants, Cyme had made it her duty to protect her older, younger staff member. She had only managed to get a little more than a cat nap before Tila woke up with the energy of a adolescent puppy.

Being exhausted, Cyme had failed to wake up when Tila had initially attempted to rouse her. It wasn’t more than ten minutes later that to her shock and embarrassment, the Orian found herself being carried down the street by Tila, who had lifted her up as if she were no heavier than a sack of potatoes. It didn’t make it any better that people were giggling and laughing at the pair’s antics.

Awake, Cyme immediately began to assault her co-worker with questions. “How are you so strong? How did you pick me up? Where are we going.”

Tila did so and continued her march down the street trying to inform her fellow staff member as to her inexplicable strength. “I told you before that I took on the debts of the people who couldn’t afford it.”

So you could have sex with Frank.” Cyme said. Cyme soon found out how strong Tila was as she was thrown into a nearby alley like a abandoned sack and was pushed against the stone wall with enough force to take the wind out of her.

Who told you?” Tila’s voice was a deadly whisper and it promised great physical harm.

Cyme, and trained veteran, pulled her sword out and held it against Tila’s throat. Before she could offer her own threat, Tila grabbed a hold of the blade with her naked hand and squeezed the metal as if she were draining a wine skin.

The bronze blade broke off and Cyme looked at the remains of her sword. Her trusty weapon looked like a broken tree branch. She turned her attention down to her attacker and into the eyes of a brewing storm. For the first time she saw the sleeping wolf that hid under Tila’s nearly perfect mask.

How had Cyme missed it? How had Tila kept this dark and dangerous thing that lurked inside her? How had she not realised that Tilla was absolutely insane? And how was she so freakishly strong?

Being so heavily outmatched the Orian used that undervalued art of talking. “No one told me. One look at you and it’s clear that you’re in love with him.”

Tila kept her murderous gaze on Cyme for a moment before she allowed the taller woman to fall to the ground. The Orian had never meet anyone so powerful before, Tila strength and durability were the stuff of drunken stories. Cyme was sure that if the woman wanted to, the smaller woman could have taken her head off.

Coughing her lungs up, Cyme saw Tila walk away into the busy street, “Wait,” Slowly, after some work the Orian managed to catch up with her co-worker. “What was that? How are you so strong.”

Tila kept her eyes straight ahead, caring nothing for the Thebes who took one look at her clothes with interest. “You don’t remember it but I got hurt during one of your sister’s ideas to get rid of the debt. Frank healed me but I asked him to make me stronger. I didn’t want to be weak anymore. He took me to a surgeon who put things inside me.”

What is a surgeon?” Cyme asked unfamiliar with the term.

A healer. One that uses knives to remove unwanted organs.” She saw Cyme’s horrow, “Do you not have somebody who amputates legs in your armies.”

Oh,” Cyme winced. She was trained in minor healing remedies and knew of that particular practise. “So this… Surgeon put something inside you and you became stronger? What else did he do to you?”

Things that are none of your business.” Tila said. “Before you ask it is expensive. So expensive that I might never be able to pay our master back.”

If it is so expensive, why did you agree to it?”

I told you. I have nowhere else to go. I have no need of money. The Abstract and Frank are all I have. If I can serve him better than I will.”

Loyalty was something that Cyme could respect and was an amiable trait. As a solider and as an Orian, she could understand the other woman’s reasoning. But Cyme was only temporary aligned with Frank’s goals, Oria and her unit were her major concerns. The faster that she got free of this debt the faster she returned home.

Now that she knew that Tila was no naïve servant but someone who knew of Frank’s world, Cyme could get some questions answered. “About this debt that I owe, tell me about it. What did I and the other Red Spears do to get this debt in the first place?”

We didn’t just jump around saving you and your sisters, Cyme. I, the other slaves, and the Red Spears had obtained a sizeable debt. You and the others waited tables for a week until we all decided that we needed one big score. We helped Frank harvest an unstable rift.” Tila said.

But…” Cyme was shaking her head. “We did this. Before I mean.”

That time it took only half-a-day. The rift was located in the mountains of a faraway land of which has not been discovered, yet. No man had ever set foot there, though we discovered later that something was there with us.”

What do you mean?” Cyme asked not understanding what Tila was saying.

Remember when Frank said that some things can accidentally get through the rifts? Well, this one was hungry. Two people died, and I got savaged. Frank had the creature stuffed and gave its killer the trophy.”

Cyme frowned, “My sisters said that we had debt. That the fish raining down was the result of Frank being angry with us.”

I can not say what was going through their heads. The last potion that your group bought were amnesia potions for you.”

Thoughts of why she would want to forget anything crossed Cyme’s mind but she could think of none, “Why did I want to forget?”

Tila’s place slowed, “I shouldn’t have said anything. Just… Just forget it. It’s your business, not mine.”

This time it was Cyme who pulled Tila back, “Wait. Tell me why I wanted to forget about something.”

Tila shook her head, stubborn to stay quiet, “It’s not my place to say. All I can say is that you drank the potion of your own free will. No one forced you, no one tricked you. I don’t know why your sister wanted to get back to the Abstract. I just want to go to Frank and take a long rest in my own bed.”

There was something in the other woman’s expression that said that the matter was closed. Cyme desperately wanted answers but it appeared as if Tila was not willing to give them. “we will continue this later,” Cyme promised.

They were approaching the garden and already they could see a crowd forming and guards posted in strategic positions. Somewhere in the weeds and trees they heard a man scream.

Fuelled by the need for answers, Cyme pushed the crowd aside and approached the entrance.

Halt,” A guard with a spear called out.

Tila grunted as she managed to poke her head through the forest of curious bodies, “Our names are Tila and Cyme. We are assistants of Frank.”

Several minutes later and the pair was walking towards an smaller gathering of men who were arguing amongst themselves. To the side two men were admiring a small stack of silver bricks while a third larger man was admiring a red battle axe.

What caught Cyme was the familiar stench of blood. As she and Tila grew closer they saw that Frank was wearing his star coat and his skin was once again a deathly white.

Frank caught sight of his assistants, “Did you have a pleasant night’s rest?” he asked in that bone chilly voice that caused Cyme’s knees to buckle and her heart to thump.

The men surrounding Frank gave the two women a withering glance before focusing their attention on the wizard.

A man in bronze armour spoke clearly, “Sorcerer. The Enseen threat grows bigger everyday. Give me an army so I might protect our lands.”

You already have an army, though you do not use it. Offer the slaves not freedom but citizenship. Offer their children good schools and training.” Frank went into his bag and pulled out a folded piece of parchment which he handed it to the armoured man. “What you need is strategy and knowledge about your enemy and the land.”

What is this?” the man in the armour unfolded the odd piece of parchment several times before revealing the largest map that Cyme had ever seen.

That,” Frank said, “Is the current map of the Enseen realm. You see current roads, outposts, troop locations, and the layout of forests and mountains. These will change in time but you can copy the map and use them.” The sorcerer pulled out two more folded maps, “This one is your own lands, and this one is of Ajax.”

Cyme hadn’t realised that she had been drooling until Tila nudged her. Being a soldier she understood very well that current and detailed maps were worth more than gold and reinforcements put together. Knowing the land, understanding how best to move your army, and where possible traps and ambushes lay won wars. Using the terrain a wise general could vanquish a force far greater than his own.

The man in the armour sweated as he examined the map and then the sorcerer, “And payment?”

Frank pulled out a blue dagger with a ruby on the handle, “This knife is enchanted to steal the life force of people and animals and send them to me. I ask for one hundred lives. Upon taking the last life the dagger will disintegrate and our deal will be concluded.” He handed the evil dagger to his client who tested its weight.

Be careful.” Frank added, “One scratch from that thing and a full grown man might pass out, on the bright side the one holding it will leech some of the power of his victim. Kill a man and you will find your wounds heal and your own strength return.”

From the expression on the man’s face, Cyme suspected that he would have seen the dagger as the real prize in the transaction. A weapon that can drain your enemy of his strength while giving you a piece of it was the stuff of legends.

Impatient, Cyme spoke up. “You know where the door is?” While she would be more than ready to hold back her tongue if it was her true superior, the Orian saw the sorcerer as an obstacle to be overcome and not her better.

Heads swung from the Orain and then back again at the sorcerer. Frank smirked, “Of course.”

Anger driving her, Cyme picked him up by the collar. “Then why don’t you get it? Why did you have Tila and I scrambling to find it?”

It should not have surprised her. Frank had repeatedly shown not a single thought into protecting that door other than shoving it into a hole. Every since she had heard that it had been stolen, the Orian had been building herself up, wanting to get it back, fearing that whatever it was that Frank had trapped in it would escape and find its way to Eba. Just as she had speculated, Frank knew where the door had been all this time and had not informed her.

The sorcerer appeared more disappointed than upset that his employee was even asking this, “To save you.” Seeing the confusion on both women’s faces, he elaborated. “When they couldn’t get the door, several factions thought that it would be a good idea to take you two as hostages.”

Cyme pushed him back, feeling insulted, “I do not need your protection, I am a warrior of Oria.”

That is part of the problem. The government don’t see you as my bodyguard, they think that you are Princess Keramídi.”

The laughter that flooded from the warrior’s mouth came out as sudden and intense as a summer rain, “Ha ha ha ha. They think I am Princess Keramídi?”

Well, aren’t you?” One of Frank’s clients asked.

No.” Cyme said feeling like banging several heads together.

Her princess left her with bar tab. Now she has to work it off.” Tila said.

Oh, I did that to my brother once.” one man said with a laugh, “He had to clean the stables for a week.”

Tila looked to her master, “What did they think I was?”

Frank thought about his answer for a second, “My lovely assistant, of course. Somebody who I deeply rely on.” the sorcerer thought it best to change the direction of the conversation “As for why I don’t just grab the door, I told you before. I didn’t want to be around if that thing opens. Anyway, it’s safe. Urilus has it.”

What?” Cyme said.

What?” two of Frank’s clients yelled equally surprised.

Frank nodded and pointed to a sixty year old man in a toga, “He stole it from Provik this morning. Barnus killed his nephew. It wasn’t much of a fight.” He looked to the old man, “By the way, your nephew was having an affair your wife and favourite prostitute.”

I fucking knew it.” Provik yelled.

Which one? The wife or the whore?” Frank asked.

Focus!” Cyme cupped Frank’s chin and forced him to look her in the eyes, which turned out to be a mistake as it once again caused her to dance around the joy sun. Managing to turn her gaze away, she growled, “Listen to me. I and Tila would appreciate it, if we got the door back. Just snap your fingers and call it back like you did your bag.”

I can’t,” Frank said firmly, “when I call the door I am phasing it out of this reality, then I am calling it back to this reality. I cannot do that while it is also juggling a rift. It would destroy the Abstract, and it would void the warranty.”

Seeing that his staff were having their doubts about his honesty, Frank attempted to put their minds at rest, “I am the only one in this reality and on this planet who can open the door to the Abstract. You neither have the technology nor a viable power source. It can’t be done.”

What about the thing on the other side?” Tila asked, “You said that it was powerful.”

The sorcerer let out a grumbling sigh, “Sure, whatever is on the other side seems to be willingly throwing black holes at the rift, but this isn’t a brute force matter. This is a puzzle. The most that the other side has managed to do is push through is a low level telepathic field.”

He saw the blank faces of the people around, “Mind reading and manipulation.” he explained.

Everyone sucked in a breath at the thought that there was a creature out there that was able to read other people’s minds.

And that’s nothing to you?!” Cyme shouted. “Frank, you told me how that rift drew people into creating that mine. How it turned people evil.”

Frank pulled out the piece of glass that he had been playing with. “Listen. This is what’s coming through the door.” He held up his hand, “Now, this has been filtered and sent through a translator.”

The voice that filled the air sounded both worried and young. “Open the door. Open the door.”

See? It’s just the same thing over and over again.” Frank said.

Open the door.” the voice said.

Cyme pointed at the glass, not sure if she wanted to touch it, “If that is coming from the door, why is it causing so much trouble?”

The man who just got a shiny new cursed dagger leaned forward to hear, “A.a child? Is that a girl’s voice?”

Maybe,” Frank said, “it’s a voice that you can trust isn’t? A little girl in trouble, that is just catnip to a fraternal parent or child. Me, I don’t trust it. As for the mine, that was when the rift was buried under dirt and whoever was on the other side probably wasn’t aware of it.” He glared hatefully at the glass. “I am going to take everything from these scam artists, and then I’m going to slam the door in their faces.”

Open the door.” The voice said. “Please, please. Open the door. Open the door. Nikolajs.” The whole garden turned their focus on the glass rectangle.

What did it just say?” Cyme asked, her tone showing concern.

Nikolajs, open the door. Yes Nikolajs, we are your friends. Open the door and we can play. The evil man separated us. He put us in here.” The voice changed from a small girl to something else. It sounded hollow and full of desperation and hunger. “Let us out.”

Frank tapped his finger on the glass and put it back into his pocket.

The man called Provik frowned. “Nikolajs, that’s Urilus Marus’s son.”

Struck by an idea, Frank moved to his bag and pulled out the medicine bottle that he had used to cure Nikolajs’s case of insanity, “May cause your chakras to itch, don’t take while driving, don’t take with alcohol. Yeah, yeah. Oooh shit.” He cursed and rubbed his face.

Noticing the sudden mood change in her master, Tila knelt down beside him and asked, “Master, what is wrong?”

May cause temporary low level telepathic powers.” Frank said as he stood up. “Gentlemen, I am sorry to say this but I am closed for today due to an scheduled thorn event.” he gave each of his clients a small paper card, “If you survive and you are still interested in doing business, please don’t hesitate to call.”

He looked to Cyme and Tila, “I am most definitely heading towards a fight. Are you two in or…”

I’m in,” Cyme said. For the first time since she became inducted into the sorcerer’s insane world, she felt like she was in her element. She hadn’t had a good fight in a while and she was starting to feel as if she was getting soft.

Tila hesitated for a moment until she finally nodded, “I… I can not speak of my time before, but I have have some experience in throwing punches.”

You sell yourself lightly,” one of the men grumbled.

Frank looked at his chalk white hands. “I suppose that I need to change clothes again.”

His coat of stars morphed and changed, the material going from soft fabric to a hard ceramic. The sorcerer’s hair dissolved and dripped down his face like hot black wax. The wizard appeared at ease however, as the vile gunk began to take on a life of its own, morphing into shapes as if by invisible hands and transforming into the shape of a helmet. Instead of leaving his face bare a visor made of black glass shielded his features.

There were now slits for his eyes, no way for him to breathe, and yet, something told the his audience that he could still see.

Within moments the sorcerer was wearing a bright red and black suit of alien armour, which covered him from head to toe. The back pack and duffel bag were seemingly melded with the ceramic suit.

By the Gods,” one of the men breathed.

Cyme felt her heartbeat quicken as she viewed this new side of her employer. Her eyes landed on Frank’s new armour, the way it sculpted to his muscles, the polished surface. She knew that only the stupid and the dead thought such stylish adornment would make them better fighters, but she had to admit with his size he made for an intimidating foe to face.

Frank examined his fingers while casually shoulder shrugging to remove any stiffness. When he spoke his voice sounded filtered and muffled, as if he were speaking through a horn, “Thank you for shopping at the Abstract.”

With that, he wrapped his arms around both Tila and Cyme, and the souls of his boots ignited.

Both women let out a long terrified scream as they rocketed into the air, leaving several frightened old men, a trail of smoke, and a stream of urine behind.

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