Chapter 20 - Book of Fates



The Fates decided the knight will focus on competence.


My divine, all-powerful Fates, you decided that the knight will continue as the nice guy, compelled to help at every turn, fixing problems left and right, only happy when something around him is going wrong. The classic hero complex.


***

The town of Last Haven rises out of a barren oasis of cracked earth, besieged by the jungle on all sides. Its patched and weathered high walls are erected like a collar turned up against the coming storm, obscuring all but the terracotta roofs and two taller buildings in the middle of the town.


With a twinge of anger, Ren observes a group of men and women shackled together by their ankles, sowing white dust onto the ground. It is a slaving town. The guard on the workers, another Gatekeeper, waves a curt hello to Raki, who responds in kind.


“The Noxis curse is strong,” Raki says, misreading Ren’s disapproval for curiosity, “but even it can’t grow on spoiled land. That is why we burn and salt everything around us.”


“If the earth is spoiled, then where do you get your food?” the knight asks, but he’s not listening. Don’t be rash, Ren, he tells himself. Freeing a handful of slaves and getting kicked out in the process won’t help anyone. He glances at the handmaiden walking beside him. She keeps her eyes fixed in front of her, the heartless witch.


“We raid the Temple of Cirus cultists for the fish they catch and we have our prisoners grow food-stock underground. It is not an easy life, but we’ve survived.”


As they approach the town, the knight sees a dry moat dug around it, filled with defensive spikes and traps.


“Mostly the Noxis mutants do not work in groups,” Raki explains, “but the cultists have begun attacking in waves. We believe they plan a decisive battle to destroy our town for good.”


“Why do they want you destroyed?” The knight asks.


“They are insane. Fanatics. They believe that the curse is purging all evil on Ferax and will only end when we’re wiped out. Their highest calling is to be one with the Proto Noxis, curse them.”


“What is the Proto Noxis?”


“It’s what we call the large green creature that comes in the night, absorbing Noxis mutants and disseminating cursed pollen,” she glances at Dawn, suddenly embarrassed and gives a little bow, “Of course, you know that, Lady Cirus. Forgive my nattering tongue.”


At the gate, they part ways with the Captain of the Gatekeepers and her scouts as the women continue to the quarantine tents, but not before they introduce their guests to the guards manning the entrance.


“I bring salvation,” Raki bellows up at the walls. “This young elf is the second coming of Lord Cirus, the divine Lady Cirus herself. She has urgent business with Nitanna.”


She smiles at Dawn as the heavy iron drawbridge clatters down, then bows deeply and heads off.


The news of their arrival must have spread quickly across the town, because a curious crowd gathers at the entrance, clamoring, pointing, and craning their necks to see. As more people flock in, the Eternal Knight stoops down to Dawn and says: “Lady Cirus, you might want to experience this from a safe height. Climb up onto my shoulder.”


One handed, he gives Dawn a lift and waits for her to settle down on his shoulder pad before continuing through the town. The initial hesitation turns to cheers and joyous praise as people see Dawn glide over the masses, her elven ears red with delight. She waves at them — as divinely as possible — thrilled by the colorful confetti flying against the brilliant evening sky, catching in her long hair. Ren takes in the happy, thin faces, the kids skittering under his feet. Life always flourishes, even when surrounded by such darkness, he thinks.


“Prince knight sir, is it wrong of me to think I could get used to this?” She asks. “I never imagined I’d have people cheering for me. We’ll that’s not strictly true — when I was little I hoped to become a professional dancer. I hoped to get standing ovations after my heart-stirring performances. But, oh, this is so much fun, isn’t it?”


The Handmaiden huffs, irritated. “Would you at least attempt to look like a divine instead of an overexcited child? I would prefer to leave this hovel of a town before this herd sees through your brilliant scheme.”


It takes them a long time to make their way to the center of the town. The labyrinthine streets and the crowd eventually lead them to a round plaza where the knight stops, stunned. Above the plaza two buildings hang in the air, torn off their foundations, casting shadows on the gathering below them. Like Turcifa’s tower, they hover weightlessly, turning in a slow rotation.


He sighs and mutters: “I have a bad feeling about this,” but continues walking, pushed from behind by a giggling group of little girls. He breathes in relief as the parting crowd guides them past the floating buildings and leaves them on the doorstep of a ground-bound stone dwelling, distinguished only by a blue and white banner stretched above its door.


It’s dark inside, with braziers illuminating the room in deep orange hues. A silent gathering of men and women waits to witness the divine. Against the back wall, the knight sees a woman — better dressed than others in this room, with a key hanging from her neck — seated deep on a heavy stone chair. Her hair is streaked with grey and her voice carries command when she speaks: “It is an honor to welcome the prophesied one. I am Nitanna, the elected ruler of Last Haven.”


Ren sets Dawn down. The girl stands up straight, flicking her hair back. “The honor is mine,” she responds taking a step closer to Nitanna. Ren sees an almost imperceptible bounce to her step as he and the Handmaiden follow behind. The girl is having fun.


Nitanna nods. “Your arrival is a blessing to us. You must already know of the horde of mutants heading this way, I’m sure. I almost lost all hope after a group of rebel slaves took our blacksmith, putting an end to our evacuation plans. I thank you for answering our prayers, Lady Cirus. Last Haven is yours to rescue.”


“Yes, I — “ Dawn stammers at first, then finds control of her voice and continues more confidently. “Of course, I am here to help you, but I must save my strength for the upcoming battles against the Proto Noxis. That is why my avatar, this armored knight, will fight for me!”


Impressed by Dawn’s quick wit, Ren steps forward and bows to Nitanna. “I am at your service,” he says.


A gasp of awe and approval runs through the audience.


“Before we can help, I must ask for something,” Dawn continues. “My knight has slain many Noxis in my name and seeks your aid in restoring his fighting capacity.”


“I seek the assistance of your dwarven blacksmith to repair my armor,” Ren adds. “Is he the one who was captured?”


“You are correct. If you wish to employ his skills, you must first return him to us. But time is running out.”


Return him to us… the knight bristles, hand flexing on his oar.


Nitanna didn’t notice, continuing: “He was working on replicating an artifact which allows our houses to float. Surrounded by the forest, we cannot guide the whole town out of here unnoticed before the Noxis arrive. The flying houses were our last chance of evacuation. Bring us back the mutinous scum — we’ll get our escape and you can accompany us. We’ll see to your repairs at our leisure from the air.”


“What was the slave rebellion for?” The knight asks. Dawn looks up at him, worried.


“Slaves rebel if they’re not kept in check. There’s nothing more to it. My lady Cirus-“


“Your slaves come from the Temple of Cirus.” The knight cuts her off. “Don’t you think the bloodshed could be avoided if you freed them?”


“We don’t have time for this impertinence. My people are about to die in a monster attack. My lady, shall I prepare a map for your avatar or do you have more questions I can answer?”


***

Ren is running a little hot, but surely our hero has enough sense to think things through?


Option 1: The knight says they'll let the blacksmith and the slaves go. He can fight the Noxis one-armed.


Option 2: The knight will seek the blacksmith for help with his arm, but he won't return anyone to slavery. Last Haven's been fine so far. They'll figure out something.


Option 3: The knight agrees to Nitanna's plan and helps the townsfolk evacuate. He can deal with his arm and help the enslaved cultists once they are clear of the Noxis.


***

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Author's note:

Hello wonderful people!

We wanted to give you a heads up that BoF will go on X-mas holidays after chapter 21 (the week after next) and we'll resume the first Friday after the new year.


Also, there are eighteen days left to join the Patreon pledge drive! We'll mail all subscribers two Run Freak Run posters as a thank you for your awesomeness!

Have a great weekend!


Love,

Kaya & Silver





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