The Champion's Companion Ch. 08byBlknMild611©
Marcos and Kaarthen got to Grippe on the edge of the chaotic lands after the main gates had closed.
"So, I thought you were important?" Kaarthen said noticing he wasn't even trying to present himself to the gate.
"This close to the lands of chaos they don't speak to two people in black who stroll up after dark. Nevertheless, that doesn't matter. Let me ask you: if there is a way in, and if that way was quick but dangerous, what would you say?"
"I thought we were immortal? But that doesn't matter I'll follow you." Kaarthen said. Inside she was curious.
"Come along." Marcos said with gleeful mischievousness.
They followed the wall until they came to a cemetery outside the city.
"Grippe is inside the lands of Menthino, they represent themselves in court, and pay a portion for the common defense. Nevertheless, they didn't ever give rights for anyone to come in openly. About six hundred years ago, an epidemic swept through here and the city called in others to help in the crisis. The city of Leethon sent people. Half of them were state spies. They cut several tombstones that lay against the city wall in an intentionally useful manner."
"Why do you trust them so much if they are so inconvenient?" asked Kaarthen
"Grippe is not a city in the traditional sense. They are a mining company set forth last cycle. However, that's what makes them good for my purposes, they survived. Not completely, they don't know or remember that they are the oldest city, but they still mine. They have better than six in ten of surviving a cycle perhaps even eight in ten. Therefore, I bought the city."
"So, again, why are we sneaking in?" Kaarthen said following him up onto a mausoleum.
"The only two ways it could be destroyed is by disease from the inside, which is controlled hopefully by the walls and really isn't a complete loss. The other way is internal unrest that continues for extended period. If that happens, I will kill whomever I have to, to keep the city secure." Marcos said hopping to the top of another statue.
"I collected a great many powerful and useful things here, weapons mostly. I thought one day Dark Mother would be challenged and the god would have a champion I couldn't beat directly. Now, for whatever reason that hasn't happened, but I can't destroy this stuff." Marcos huffed, and jumped up to the top of the wall. They were several meters high in the air. Around them pale moonlight illuminated hills and trees. In the city, lights and noises of a movement were everywhere. "The security is all completely necessary. You'll find the people of Grippe don't get out much and are usually ignored if they do." Marcos waited for Kaarthen to traverse the tricky climb.
"They value usable technology and the like to show it off. They like the attention they get for it, so lots of them would be trying to show off for a new face. So just smile and please don't ask questions."
"Interesting, but Marcos, why leave a way in?" Kaarthen asked after she jumped over. The way down was easier and nobody was around.
"Because now, only I know about it." Marcos said starting ahead.
The two slinked through the night. Flameless candles and streetlights fascinated Kaarthen. All the work was done in shiny brass with exposed parts that boggled the mind with the complexity. Some lit windows showed contraptions everywhere lining walls and tables.
The people rode odd chairs with wheels that moved. Their feet spun a chain that moved the strange craft. Everyone seemed to have one. The crafts varied in size from those pulling carts or some so small one had to stand atop it, there were no horses in sight. The many crafts all made a racket as the metal or wood wheels scratched and ground over the paved cobbled stones. The loudest noises were from whistling noises like giant teakettles off in the distance.
The two earned a few odd looks from the residents as they made their way further into the city. Most women were dressed in tight swooping dresses with narrow flowing skirts that emphasized their hips and bosoms. The men were covered head to toe in layers of buttoned jackets, hat, and long skinny pants. Lots of people wore goggles on their foreheads or on their eyes as they rode around. The people were all of various colors but they didn't seem to have tans. Even the darkest brown-skinned people seemed to have none of that vibrancy of time in the sun.
They arrived in a large open square that had a large bank, municipal town hall, and stage with a seating area for gatherings lining the edges. A fourth building sat back behind zigzagged stairs and a tall iron wrought fence atop a stout stonewall. On two sides, large wooden drawbridges were raised for service deliveries. One brought things to the front. The other entrance was cleverly sectioned off. It ran towards the back of the four stories tall, stone building on the left side. Directly behind the rectangular structure the stone face of mountain seemed to butt up against the back.
This remarkable and at the same time subtle building was where Marcos led. He produced a key at the outer gate and they walked in. Marcos took her around the side of the extended entranceway to a glass door that looked much more like one of the full-length windows. He opened it and ushered a gawking open-mouthed Kaarthen inside.
Kaarthen was shocked, and the wonder wore off as she stepped in. The interior of the building was not furnished. It was a barren cave like passage. Before them, was a solid seamless stone cut square that made a passage for Marcos to walk along. Just as they entered the passage, a gap between the cave and the fake building's facade caught Kaarthen's eye. Looking up, Kaarthen could see lamps lighting all the windows visible from outside.
Following the passage to the left, then turning right, they reached the perimeter of this disguised building. Kaarthen could make out stairs taking them down. After fifty steps, they reached a door on the right that Marcos opened. Inside looked very much like an elaborate high temple.
"Wow I'm sure the goddess would be proud of your piety." Kaarthen said looking around. She reflected real internal thoughts of wonder at what her champion had been doing.
Before her were hundreds of various statues. All the statues were from different cycles, and were done beautifully. All the aspects were represented. Seductive coy femininity, wantonly lewd maternal fertility, and stoic severe death. Some times the statues were rendered obviously pregnant.
The wall was covered in mosaics and portraits of her full form. She sat in a black toga. Her body was her ebony skin and floating obsidian hair with the pitch-black voids of eyes and silver mirrors of pupils. Some were done in the traditional three-armed form with her sitting, pinching an exposed nipple between her thumb and fingers of her left hand, delivering birth to a skull with one right hand, the second right arm was raised holding up a rose.
That gave her pause.
"I have seen lots of images of the Dark Mother, never have I seen her with a rose in the third hand. It was always done with a downward dagger or an up held sword." Kaarthen commented quietly.
She saw another portrait. It was not as well done, and almost hidden, but it reminded her of others for some reason. Looking back and forth the Goddess was who noticed it.
"You did the paintings yourself, didn't you?" Kaarthen said truly amazed.
The background was the common feature. It was the same temple as when they first met. In others the main temple in Mavvus was the background or clearly over her shoulder. The pictures and portraits varied in size growing in style and detail, culminating in the complicated mosaic on the long wall.
"I did it all myself. This is where I have stayed as two cycles started. Only that one is not mine, an artisan gave it to me." He said, indicating an excellent work. The goddess only once had him go to Dar Delis. However, the portrait was coldly generic and vague in accuracy compared to the others.
"But why the rose? You can't even see if it's dark red or black." Kaarthen said squinting and stepping forward.
"A long time ago I was unable to have healthy children and I felt cursed. Remember, when I was first... created, the children I had were vampires. I know that an immortal depressed over their conditions, or eternal existence is an odd thing but it happens." Marcos walked over to stand next to her looking at the painting. "I wanted perfection, I asked Dark Mother to give me mortal children, as normal as others. She did, but she did not allow me to take wives after that. I was quite surprised that she had you become my Companion. I meditated a lot over it and that dark form never returned. After that, it was always her other aspect of Death that dealt with me. I thought perhaps if they were separate aspects, my Host couldn't be close to me for some reason and withheld herself. It seemed she wanted me to be a tool and act as a tool. In addition, it seemed she wanted me to be hers alone. I thought when I reached that part of the portrait she killed my love and yet she perhaps loved me. The rose fit the aspect. I had thought about displaying it. Women, especially those in power who feel they can't, act in similar ways when their emotions become powerful. I have known many queens and nobles who thought themselves above impulse and emotion. Their efforts and training for control naturally try to inhibit that whimsical, or primal feeling. Usually bad things happen when it's repressed too much. They become excessively distant and cold, or obsessive when they want to be closer and warm. People of power, or responsibility are always taught little of love, they think it a distraction. Uncontrolled and unexpected it is much more insidious than a distraction. I think it is no different from horse riding. You aren't really in control, the horse very easily could kill you, but you may guide and hope the rules are common between both of you. If you're able to train yourself with schedules and limited timely satisfactions, love can be fulfilling as you continue your work. Like any addiction, I suppose. So to answer your question, it is both red and black."
"I see I like it." Kaarthen sobbed quietly, and turned away. Internally the Goddess was weeping over his story. It seemed mostly sad for taking so long to come to him, and it was greatly conflicted over admitting its presence.
"I'm really glad you like it. I feel it is for you. I thought you would perhaps enjoy it." Marcos said looking on the painting and smiling.
A pregnant pause hung and Kaarthen froze suddenly, with every sense on full alert. Her mind replayed every time he looked at her or she felt his gaze, every word shared or its tone.
"Does he know?" They both thought together.
"Come on, this place isn't a temple. I want to show you a few other pieces." Marcos said internalizing the tension. The Goddess had never had an aspect for guile or subterfuge. Giving him a companion who was identical to her aspect was more than sheer vanity. The Goddess likely wanted a reminder nearby.
The repository of statues and paintings ended with two short stairs leading down. A flat area with metal carriages that looked heavy and solid arrayed in neat rows. They seemed ready to pour out some door and have free reign on the countryside.
As they walked in an old man was sitting on a bulky metal carriage smoking a pipe. "Welcome back. I see you found a woman." Said the obviously blind man. He hoped off the carriage.
"Yes, it was a long trip or a short one depending on things. You have kept the place well in shape." Marcos said looking thing over. He seemed to take pride in the metal carriages. "We'll be going upstairs and returning shortly. I'll need my Title box if you please." He added after rubbing a carriage.
The old man had perked at the mention of 'upstairs', but went wordlessly to the shadows and returned silently with a black footlocker three and a half feet wide and two deep. He placed it before them and backed away to the metal carriage to resume his smoking.
Marcos opened it. Inside was a gleaming gauntlet. It lay at the bottom edge it was an open frame with three struts coming down the upper forearm to the articulated wrist, hand, and finger sections. The fingers had tiny sharp claws and all joints were spun out of the way to not be visible or covered in flaps. The underside had three buttonholes across the wrist; behind the holes, the forearm was plated to the elbow. Just past the elbow, a framed semicircle plate had a silver crown on the seat of a throne with sun-like rays along the edge of the semicircle.
"Wow! Is that gold?" Kaarthen asked wide-eyed.
"Yes, but it's only plated in certain parts. You'll soon see all army officers have one of these. The Royal family has gold. I am among other things the chief patron of the Royal family. This country was founded by me but I don't waste all my energy running it."
"So the king just does what he wants and you wear this?" Kaarthen asked
"Kind of like that. First, you must know there are a king and queen. The King is the Immortal Crown of Menthino. He is also the lead general and I am the chief. He is required on the field for any campaign. I raise and train all eligible men for the crown. I also crown them. And, despite clear instructions I have eight times so far had to kill them." Said Marcos. He placed the gauntlet on, pulled out individual straightened wires, and bound parts that came together along the bottom. He pulled out another robe and a behind the back crossed sword holster
"The Queen is the Noble Sister of the Eternal throne of Casspil. Despite what that sounds like, she really just does ceremonies to the Goddess. In state affairs, she usually handles trade and diplomatic functions. In war, her powers are nearly nullified. The King handles the Court and tasks military preparedness but cannot invade until that happens. Technically, the Queen is sovereign of the eastern portion of Menthino into Alcanton. That land was part of Casspil, but Alcanton was never developed. It is an entangling mess every time it's attacked. Since it cannot be held, I integrated the two royals. The Queen is by now, not even remotely related to the King. They are however, intentionally raised as if they are brother and sister. Upon the coming of age of the future Queen, I take the girl on a secret journey through the lands of Alcanton. It's one of the last times usually they ever leave the capital until they are crowned in Dar Delis. After that, most queens never get to leave Menthino."
Marcos had finished dressing. He wore a traditional hooded black robe that ended below his knees, and was split in the back up the middle. Two blades were crossed behind him and poke out slits below his elbow. Both were single edged and full-length. One was a Menthino straight sword of black steel. The other was a slightly curved specialty sword.
The robe tucked into the elbow subtly accentuating the gauntlet. The swords, when drawn, slid cleanly and the sheaths tipped up through the split in his robe.
"Well let's see what changed upstairs." Marcos said now fully dressed. Turning to the back, he opened an armoire, walked into it, and gestured for Kaarthen to follow. Incredulous, she got in too and was surprised by a jolt and the armoire started to elevate. A few moments later, they stepped out into a mostly empty interior of the building above.
"So this is the mine?"
"Yes the city boils the rock dust and it releases stuff that can be burned which then boils more water. All that comes from another much larger mine, this is just a tunnel now. Here? Could you sit here please?" Marcos said, indicating to Kaarthen a contraption with a chair seat and a bar for her feet to rest. She was confused looking at it even the wheels had spindly lines going everywhere.
"This is interesting, those crafts outside were a lot louder," Kaarthen said, noting the ride was smooth and quiet.
"That's because this one uses a lubricated chain, and has tires softened for durability."
"So what's up ahead?" Kaarthen said trying to take her mind off the weird flying sensation. She felt kind of sick with the odd sensation and could feel herself getting dizzy.
"A weapons storage and recovery vault holding some of the most powerful weapons of the last six cycles. Some were forbidden even then." Marcos said pulling up to the end of the giant tunnel.
A steel door stood at the end next to a mammoth set of double doors. Marcos opened it with a key from his gauntlet.
"I'm showing you this in hope that if the Goddess knows something I don't or something happens to me you can get here and fight it out."
"What could happen?"
"Whatever happens?" Marcos answered cryptically.
Marcos opened the door. Inside a vast workshop was laid out with various weapons and oddities in various states of assembly. The room had a hundred foot ceiling and extended for almost half a mile back into the mountain.
A man came up wearing goggles that magnified his eyes making his pupils take up the whole lens. He stopped a few feet away and addressed them.
"Hello sir! Back already I see! We have done marvelous things since your last visit and we're ready for the test!"
Quickly he hurried them to another room and set about bustling and clearing a spot on the floor for them to stand. The room was not wide but long and narrow. On the far wall, a platform like a bed stuck out and tarp covered a large round cylinder underneath. To either side of the platform holes were cut into the walls large enough for the bed sized platform to side through. The cylinder continued through the holes, but was exposed at either end.
"I thought this room would be perfect for the test. Let me just take the tarp off...Now as you can see this is a large cylinder dart. Its full length is twenty-six feet but as you instructed sir, we removed what you called the 'warhead'. We analyzed and studied the propulsion end and found that this was made to go to only one place when it was made. We figured political tensions must have been high to create and keep a weapon facing one city. We also recovered from the 'silo' as you called it, references to Astrokos, with world maps of incredible detail. Two computers were recovered and we are using a decryption computer to understand the language." The man finished proudly.
"I see, Ham this is my Companion Kaarthen. From now on, if you see her or she needs help be sure to do what she asks." Marcos said gesturing. "I'm glad things are going well, I was down stairs and saw everything was clean tidy and nothing had rust. I know it's hard to keep things out their ready." Marcos clapped him on the back.
"Be sure to enjoy your companions too once in a while." Marcos said turning to leave.
"Sir! You don't want to test it?" Ham implored.
"We can't test it in here Ham"
"Are you sure?"
"Yes Ham, it will get very hot and likely suffocate us. Please return it, and concentrate on the 'warhead'"
Marcos left Ham in the room and Kaarthen followed him back into the large workshop. They walked past dozens of men and women busily staring and attending to the parts and pieces before them.
Walking to the far end of the cavernous room he finally reached another door. He walked in and Kaarthen found that there were several buildings inside the cavernous room. They had a lived in look with clothes hanging on strings. Several women wearing colorful robes were working gathering water, or in fields of green under bright lights. The front building was a grey stone though it was smooth and seamless. It was five stories and was forty yards wide with double doors in the center. It had several balconies along the front with tapestries hanging. Several more structures that were similar were behind it in lengthwise rows.