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The Quest - Chapter 2by Glen Sprigg
The crowd began shouting in both amazement and frustration. Alexius swore viciously and leapt forward, his sword drawn. He slashed where Ludwig had been standing only seconds earlier, but he met only air.
"He's turned invisible!" shouted one of the Krondar, but Alexius shook his head.
"That damned mage of his must have come for him," he said with a bitter tone. "He's not here."
There was a stirring from the crowd, and the Sheriffs came rushing back to the circle. "How could he have escaped?" demanded Multhim. "What magic did he use?"
"I don't know," answered Alexius, though Multhim had not spoken to him directly. "I'm a knight, not a wizard. Bargle must have been watching, and teleported him out or something." He spat on the ground where his hated enemy had cheated death again.
The Sheriffs did their best to control the angry crowd, but it was several minutes before the hin began to accept that justice would not be done today. Alexius stood there, his insides writhing in anger, as the Krondar and the Sheriffs slowly dispersed the crowd. When he was finally alone, the knight sunk to his knees before the weather-beaten pole and began to weep in silence.
Alexius ducked underneath the big man's wild swing, and the sword scraped hard against the stone wall. The young warrior feinted to his right, drawing his opponent off guard. Then Alexius lunged in the opposite direction, slashing with his lighter blade under the big man's guard. The sword cut deeply into armour, and the big man roared in pain. Holding his side, he smashed down at Alexius with only one hand on his sword.
Alexius blocked the strike, but it took all of his strength; this man was incredibly strong. Turning the heavy sword aside, Alexius reversed his blade and thrust it directly at the warrior's chest. The sword pierced his chest plate, and the big man slowly sank to his knees, the rage in his eyes dying away.
Alexius looked around the wizard's workshop. Gorak stood over the body of a dark cleric who had tried to attack the mage, Merrick. Serinyella was busy fighting off an enraged dwarf who had charged her the instant Alexius' company had entered the room. Erren had shown that she did indeed know how to use a sword, as she wiped it clean of the blood of the enemy mage.
"Is that all of them?" asked Alexius, flexing his arm. He had taken a glancing blow just above the elbow, and he tried to keep the blood flowing properly to his hand.
"Not quite!" shouted a voice. Alexius whirled to face the speaker, a lightly-armoured man with a short sword. Alexius instinctively raised his hand to defend himself, belatedly remembering that his sword was still stuck in the warrior's chest.
Before Alexius could move, the cold-eyed man suddenly fell, his sword falling from nerveless fingers. Behind him stood Serrah, her body trembling as she pulled her short sword out of the man's body. She looked at Alexius with wide eyes, her breath ragged with grief.
"I-I never killed a man before. I didn't think I could ever do it...it just happened so fast. I couldn't let him..." Her voice trailed off as Alexius moved to stand before her. He placed his good arm on her shoulder.
"You saved my life," he said in a quiet voice.
She nodded. "I didn't want to kill him."
"There wasn't much choice."
They stood in silence for a while. Tears slid down Serrah's cheeks, and she wept quietly.
A shout from behind them drew Alexius' attention. Brother Kanterius and Gorak held up a large gold tiara set with dozens of gems. "I believe this is what his Lordship sent us here for."
Erren's eyes were as wide as saucers. "That's the most incredible thing I've ever seen!" she breathed. "May I see it?"
Gorak looked at her, his eyes narrowed. "It's not for you," he said. "We're giving it to its rightful owner."
Alexius turned away from Serrah. "Let's get out of here; our time's almost up. His Lordship is waiting. Leave the bodies here. Merrick, get your nose out of those books. They're not yours! And remember, the tiara belongs to his Lordship; we split the rest amongst ourselves."
The companions quickly gathered their treasures. Gorak, one eye watching Erren closely, carefully stowed the marvellous tiara in the bottom of his pack.
Alexius turned back to Serrah, who had wiped her face dry. "I'm sorry," she said. "I'm just not used to this sort of thing."
"It's all right," he said gently. "Killing isn't something you get used to. I hope I never enjoy the thought of killing another human being."
Alexius stormed into the embassy past the startled guards. A clerk made the mistake of getting in his way, and the knight walked right through him, shoving him aside. When he reached his quarters, he yanked his helmet off his head and smashed it against the wall with a scream of rage. He drew his sword, which blazed into golden fire, and raised it high over the desk in the corner.
A sharp voice from the doorway brought him back to reality. Turning, he saw Lazlo in the doorway, his eyes blazing. "If you want to destroy a building, go buy one first. This is the King's property, and you're a knight. Get hold of yourself, man!"
Alexius threw his sword down. It bounced off the floor with a loud clang as the knight stormed to the doorway. He grabbed Lazlo by the front of his doublet and lifted the bigger man off the floor.
"HE GOT AWAY!" screamed Alexius into the wide-eyed Lazlo's face. Alexius was not a big man, but he was lifting the hefty diplomat with the ease of unbridled rage. "HOW COULD HE GET AWAY?!"
"For Halav's sake, man! Put me down at once!"
"Did you have anything to do with it?" demanded Alexius, ignoring Lazlo's words. "Was this planned by the throne? Did the King take some pity on his cousin and get him magicked away?"
Lazlo was no stranger to fighting. He swept his foot, cracking it against Alexius' knee. Alexius staggered, releasing his hold on the diplomat. As soon as his feet touched the ground, Lazlo slugged the knight in the jaw, sending him backward into his room.
"I know you're grieving over Serrah, and you're not totally in your right mind. But if you speak treason again, I'll have you arrested and brought before the king to stand trial!"
Lazlo spoke in a quiet voice, but his words penetrated Alexius' mind. The knight got to his feet, then slumped down on the bed, ignoring the pain in his jaw.
Lazlo watched him for a minute, then dismissed the guards who had gathered behind him. "Now tell me what happened, and try not to explode again."
Alexius stared dully at the floor. "He escaped. Damn his eyes, he escaped again."
"I don't know. Some sort of magic. It must have been Bargle. They started throwing stones, and he disappeared."
Lazlo frowned. "Bargle? From what I understood, Bargle betrayed and abandoned Ludwig when the hin invaded. Why would he come back to help him now?"
"I don't know. I don't care why, either. All that matters is that the bastard escaped again!"
They two men looked at each other for a moment. Finally, Lazlo asked, "So what will you do now?"
"I'm going to go home. Make your report, I'll get it to Mirros."
"There is no 'then' right now. There might be one later." Alexius' voice was as cold as a grave, and as alive.
Lazlo's face softened as he observed his friend. "Alexius, you should talk to a priest."
Alexius laughed, a bitter sound with no joy in it. "What good will that do?"
"Trust the Immortals. We don't share the same beliefs, my friend, but we do have something in common. You've always been a faithful knight, and you're an upstanding member of the Church. I've heard some of the knights talking about you; they say you're a favourite of Diulanna, even though she's not a part of the Karameikan faith."
"I've always honoured her," agreed Alexius. "She's the Patroness of Will."
"Yes, and you've always had a stronger will than any other man I know. You're not the kind to give in to despair like this." He walked across the room and picked up the knight's helmet. "I don't know what the answer is, Alexius. But you'll have to find one. You're too good a man to roll over and die. Serrah wouldn't want that, and neither do you."
"So you think I should seek the guidance of the Immortals, is that it?" asked Alexius with a bitter smile.
"I think you should get back to Mirros and at least talk to a priest. Who knows? It can't hurt." He tossed the helmet back on the bed. "I know you, Alexius Danellaran. You've taken a terrible blow, and most men would cave in under that kind of pressure. But you're not most men, are you?"
He walked to the door, then stopped and turned back to face the knight. "I've heard a lot of words describing you, and not one of them was 'quitter'. Don't let that be the last word on your life."
He left, leaving Alexius to stare at the dented crest on his helmet.
"I want to thank you for your efforts," announced Lord Kaerin Penhaligon. "You have certainly earned your reward, and more." The companions beamed at the praise, and more so at the reward offered to them. Kaerin smiled at each of them in turn, until he came to Erren and Serrah.
"In addition, you have my thanks for apprehending these thieves. They will be dealt with swiftly and according to the laws." He clapped his hands to summon the guards.
Alexius darted a glance at Serrah, then stepped forward. Clearing his throat, he addressed the lord of the manor. "Milord, I must correct you on this matter; they are not thieves. They were of great help to us in your uncle's laboratory. In fact, it is possible we would not have survived had it not been for their help."
Kaerin looked at the young warrior closely. "Are you suggesting they be allowed to go free?"
Alexius nodded. "It would be wrong to prosecute them as common criminals, Milord. It was only with their help that we were able to recover the tiara that now adorns your lady's brow. There were others down there, who were trying to steal your family heirlooms. Erren and Serrah were invaluable in that battle."
Kaerin looked at Brother Kanterius. "Does he speak the truth?" he demanded of the young priest.
Kanterius looked at Alexius for a moment, then turned back to Kaerin. "They did help us, Milord. Serrah saved Alexius' life in that battle, and he owes her a great deal."
Kaerin looked at the two women. Serrah's eyes were downcast before the nobleman, but Erren returned his gaze with her own. Finally, he turned back to Alexius.
"You ask a great deal of me. They were trespassing on my family property, and there is no doubt in my mind that they were intent on stealing from me. Why should I allow them to go free?"
Alexius glanced over at Serrah for a moment. "Milord, I would gladly give up my share of the reward in return for their freedom." Serrah looked up at him then, and he smiled gently. "There are more important rewards than money."
"Spoken like a knight," said Kaerin with a nod of approval.
"Hey, he doesn't speak for me!" said Garok. "I'd rather take the money."
"Oh, be quiet, you warthog," chided Serinyella. "You've got enough."
"I'm a dwarf. There's no such thing as 'enough.'"
Alexius could not sleep. He tossed and turned, his mind haunted by the sound of Ludwig's mocking laughter. He could almost see the Black Eagle's oily smile, taunting him and his failure to see von Hendriks brought to justice.
He stood up, shaking off the visions in his mind. He opened the window, allowing the cold night air to blow the cobwebs from his head. Looking up to the sky, he began to pray.
"Diulanna, I have honoured you and been called your favourite, though I have never worshipped at your temples. Lend me the strength to get through this tragedy. I know Serrah would want me to try to live a normal life now, but I can't do that without her. I don't know what to do. Please help me find meaning in my life."
His only answer was the howl of the wind. He stared out into the night as the snow swirled about the streets. Somewhere in the distance came the cry of a wolf.