Hi all, here is the next chapter. It's the longest thus far, so be warned. As always, comments and advice are welcomed. Enjoy!
An Alternative Viewpoint
Roshan followed Rika and Isa down the dark corridor, trying hard to suppress the flutters of nervousness he was feeling in his belly. Roshan was beginning to wonder how deep into the building they would get, when the two women halted outside of a door identical to the six or seven others they had already passed.
“This is it,” Isa said and knocked on the door.
There was a scrabbling noise, and then a slit opened in the door, shining a warm glow out into the hallway. Two startling blue eyes appeared and a man’s voice said, “The shadow in the daylight…”
Roshan blinked at the non sequitur, but Isa made a chuffing sound. “Really, Simon?” She asked aggrievedly. “I just went through this with Syd.”
Simon’s eyes made a slight movement, as if the man had shrugged, and he said “It’s for them, not you.” His eyes flicked toward Rika and toward Roshan, who swallowed. He certainly didn’t know any passwords.
Isa gave an exaggerated sigh, but Rika cut her off. “The shadow in the daylight is lost in the night.” She completed the phrase firmly before continuing, “and Roshan here is with us. As a guest,” she stressed the word, “until his story can be told.”
Simon’s eyes moved as if in a nod, and the door clicked open. Rika and Isa entered the brightly lit room ahead of Roshan, and he caught a glimpse of a simple, homey space with a rough-hewn table and chairs before the door abruptly slammed shut. He heard Isa’s startled, indignant squawk, and then silence. “Uh, Isa, Rika?” He asked into the darkness. There was no response. “This has not been my day,” he muttered to himself, and sank down against the wall across from the doorway, his head in his hands.
Rika winced as the door slammed shut behind them. She wondered what Roshan was thinking, out there alone in the dark hallway. Meanwhile, Isa was already loudly protesting to Syd. Isa stood nearly a head shorter than the tall, elegant woman, but she showed no signs of intimidation as she harangued the leader of their small group. “How could you shut him out like that? We promised to protect him!”
Syd held up her hand, her dark brown eyes flashing with their own dangerous spark. Isa tried several more admonishments before lapsing into a sulky silence. “You’re late, you blew up a city block, again, you exposed us to the Stripies, and you brought back a runaway of unknown providence!” Syd listed their transgressions, counting them out on her fingers. As always, she remained calm, but Rika could tell from the way her eyes smoked that she was reaching the end of her legendary patience. Isa opened her mouth to defend herself, but Syd cut her off again. “Let us speak in here,” she gestured towards her bedroom, a small room off of the main living space, before turning and entering it. Isa stalked in behind her.
Rika rolled her eyes at Simon, who permitted himself a small smile. “Never a dull moment with them,” she said, smiling back at him.
“It is ever thus,” he said sagely in his deep, slow-rolling baritone.
Rika looked around the plain kitchen. Half chopped vegetables and a pan on the fire denoted that someone, likely Simon, had been preparing the evening meal when they arrived. She slapped a hand to her forehead. “The shopping, Dar-Alos curse it. We left it behind!”
Simon nodded. “Syd was not pleased. I am not pleased, either.”
“Sorry…” Rika felt sheepish. She looked around again, “Where’s Trentor?” She asked, missing the presence of the most gregarious member of their cell.
Simon shrugged. “Looking for you two, where else? You arrived almost a bell past when you were supposed to have returned.”
Rika sighed. “That’s almost average, these days, but I guess with the explosions and the watch rushing about…” she trailed off with a start, realizing she had forgotten Roshan, sitting alone. She ran over to the door and slid open the slit. The golden light shone out of the room and down onto the figure sitting slumped and depressed against the opposite wall. “Roshan!” She whispered.
He lifted his head, his eyes very tired. “Yes?” he asked.
“Bear with us a few moments longer,” Rika said apologetically. “Isa and Syd need to let off some steam. Hopefully you’ll be able to come in soon.”
“Alright…” Roshan’s voice quavered a bit.
He must be reaching the end of his rope, Rika thought. Who knew what else had happened to him before they’d come across him. This was not the homecoming that she and Isa had hoped for, although, being the sensible one and all, perhaps Rika should have known better.
Simon handed her two steaming earthenware mugs filled with chicory, and then pointed towards the door. “Take care of your guest,” he said.
She sniffed one of the steaming cups, wrinkling her nose at the bitter aroma, and went out to Roshan, settling down against the wall beside him.
He accepted one of the mugs with a grateful expression on his face. “Thank you,” he said. “What is it?”
“Chicory,” Rika said apologetically.
“Fine with me.” He sipped gently and made an appreciative noise. He looked up at her expression and grinned. “I do grant, however, that it is not for everyone.”
“So you’re Thesian, then?” Rika asked, curious. “They’re the only people I know who like the bitterness, save for Simon.”
Mid-sip, Roshan made an mmm of assent before setting the mug down. “My mother was Thesian, and my father was a landholder from Alis, near the foothills of the Cnònic Iaranna.” He shrugged. “You know how it is. Oldest child to the land, second to the sky, third to the sea.”
Rika nodded. She did know how it was, being a second child herself. Hascillis and Alis had similar traditions regarding inheritance. The first-born inherited the land, the second was sent to a university, and the third joined the navy or the army, whichever was more relevant to the family interests. “So you were at Eolas?” She asked, fishing for more information. Now that they had stopped moving, Roshan seemed more inclined to talk than he had been previously.
“Yes, I… was… at Eolas. If things had gone well this past 5-day, I would have had my Maestery.” Roshan answered with a heavy sigh. “As it happened, they did not.” He spread his hands, “and here I am. Wherever here is.”
Rika made a sympathetic noise. Her own university career had had a similar abrupt ending. However, before she could say anything, Isa appeared in the doorway. “Syd wants to talk to us,” she said seriously, and her eyes flicked to Roshan. “All of us.”
“So your… discussion with Syd went well?” Rika asked.
Isa half smiled, half grimaced. “Some talking, some yelling. Mostly her talking and me yelling, but we came to an agreement. She will hear Roshan’s story, and then we will decide what to do next.”
Rika grinned inwardly. Syd’s patience was as endless as the desert sands from whence she came, but she still clashed often against Isa’s fiery temperament. Rika thought that Isa was secretly proud of her ability to elicit a reaction from Syd, but she would never say so out loud. “It was ever thus,” she intoned, aping Simon’s harsh Crystalin accent, drawing a full smile from Isa. Rika rose to her feet and extended a hand to Roshan. “Come on,” she said. “Come meet the family.”
Roshan took Rika’s hand, still confused about what was going on. Still, he was grateful for Rika’s sympathy, and for the mug of chicory. The bitter-root beverage was doing an admirable job of clearing the fog from his head, and he felt better able to manage his present circumstances.
The three of them filed back inside the room. A large man, Simon, he presumed, was holding the door for them. Roshan was surprised at his height. He must have had to bend down to peer through the door slit, and was almost a full hand taller than Roshan himself. Simon had short-cropped red hair to go with his blue eyes and maintained a serious expression on his face, although both Rika and Isa smiled up at him as they walked through the doorway.
One other person was waiting in the room, standing in the doorway leading to the rest of the suite. She was a tall, striking woman with long dark hair held back with a simple tie. While Simon was dressed in utilitarian laborer’s garb, she had on soft, fawn colored breeches and an ornately embroidered blouse – as well as an expression that could only be described as ‘stormy.’ Once Isa, Rika, and Roshan had all entered the room, the woman made a gesture and Simon carefully shut and latched the door. Roshan tried not to gulp.
She continued to survey them all without speaking for several long moments. Finally, Isa broke the silence. “So, uh, this is Roshan…”
The woman stepped forward and extended her hand. They clasped arms in the northern style, with hands on each other’s wrists. “Welcome, Roshan. I am Syd. We are honored to have you as our guest, with all the associated privileges and responsibilities” she stressed the last word, shooting a glance at Isa, “that the status entails”.
Her accent had a melodic lilt, and Roshan struggled to place it. It was similar to some of the Dakian accents he had heard, but slightly less refined. Still, he knew the people from that region set great store by the old traditions of hospitality, so he cudgeled his memory to remember the traditional response. “As your bread is mine, my sword and my word are yours,” he offered, hoping for the best.
Syd’s eyes widened a tiny bit. “You know the old courtesies?” she asked.
Roshan shrugged. “Some of them. My parents were firm believers in proper etiquette.”
“Well,” she said, seemingly gratified. “Welcome again. Isa and Rika you have met, of course,” she gestured at the pair. Rika in particular looked relieved at the friendliness. “This tall man here is Simon, weapon-master and occasional philosopher.”
Simon stepped forward, still impassive but with a friendlier cast to his mien. “I much prefer the latter to the former,” he said, taking Roshan’s wrist in a firm, calloused grip.
“Pleasure to meet you,” Roshan said, returning his grip.
“Our final companion will return shortly,” Syd interjected. “He’s busy rescuing the shopping that these two abandoned. Hopefully he will be successful, or we shall go hungry until we can next attend the market” She spared a glance for Rika and Isa, both smiling guilty smiles. “When he returns, we will eat. After, we will talk and see how we can help each other.”
They all sat around the table, and Simon provided more mugs of chicory. Grateful to have longer to calm down and regain his equilibrium, Roshan sipped his drink in silence, as Rika and Isa carried on a quiet conversation. It was another half of a bell before the final member of the group returned, bags of vegetables hanging from his shoulders. The man was short and swarthy, sporting a black beard and big, bushy eyebrows. When Simon let him in, he feigned surprise at Rika and Isa, a comical expression on his face. “Why, it’s the elusive ladies!” he exclaimed dramatically. “We thought you lost, gone forever!” He threw the back of his hand on his head and feigned a swoon. “How delightful that you are safe and sound and returned to our humble abode!”
Rika and Isa both rolled their eyes irritably, but Roshan noticed that they were smiling, too. Syd was not, but he would have sworn that he saw a crinkle at the corner of her eyes. “That’s enough, Trentor,” she said. “We have business to attend to.”
“Naturally, my lady, naturally. But food first, no?” Trentor said, as he pulled the bags from his back and began unpacking them into the cupboards above the hearth.
Syd nodded. “Yes. Simon?”
“Almost ready, sir,” Simon said crisply. While they had been waiting for Trentor, Simon had been putting the finishing touches on the evening meal, which looked and smelled like some form of hearty stew. He turned to Trentor. “Did you manage to get bread?”
“Certainly, my boon companion.” Trentor pulled several long, thin loaves out of one of the bags. Simon broke them into chunks and placed them at intervals around the rough table, before ladling out stew into bowls and passing those out as well. “Let’s eat.”
The meal passed companionably, although Roshan took no part in the banter. Mostly, it was a speedy exchange between Trentor and Rika and Isa, leavened by an occasional slow comment from Simon. Roshan had grown used to the boisterousness of the communal tables at Eolas, but this was one of the stranger meals he had taken part in. Ater-Volantis’s population was always comprised of a mix from all of Alis Dak, but this group was more diverse than most. With her sepia complexion and head-scarf, Isa was likely from the southern city of Tes, while Rika’s blondness denoted ancestors from the City of Hascillis. Simon could have been from that region, as well, but his manner spoke more to a heritage from Demard or Crystalis. Syd remained a mystery, and Trentor, however dark and hairy he might be, could have comfortably hailed from anywhere. Since the joining of Alis and Dak, increased trade and commerce had mixed the cities enough that a man of his average features could have claimed to be from any of the six grounded cities.
Whatever the case, the stew was delicious and Roshan had several helpings, not having eaten a proper meal since his defense. Finally, the table was cleared and Syd spoke at last. “We have broken bread, and now it is time for business.”
“Yes,” Isa jumped in. “Why were the Stripies after you?”
“If I tell you, will you tell me who you are and what you all are doing here, and will you help me get out of the city?” Roshan asked, still determined to find out.
Isa and Rika looked at Syd, who nodded slowly. “On my honor as a Caratid, we promise to help you as much as we are able. The other part depends on you. Be honest with us, and we shall return the favor.”
Roshan had heard stories of the honor and prickliness of the tribes that roamed the northern wastes near Dak. Deciding that he needed to trust someone, however risky it might be, he nodded and said, “Seems fair to me.”
Syd gestured toward Roshan, “then the floor is yours, Maester…”
“Orjuwani” Roshan said. “My name is Roshan Orjuwani. I am… I was a journeyman at Eolas University, studying Fòrsic theory. However…” It was a relief to unburden himself to these people, who, although strangers, had been both friendly and welcoming. He laid out the whole tale, his research, Filias’s warnings, the review board, and his subsequent flight from the watch, up until the timely rescue by Rika and Isa. The group listened quietly, although Rika, Isa, and Syd nodded knowingly in several places, and Rika and Isa especially seemed interested in the descriptions of his and Aki’s experiments. Finally, the tale came to an end, and the table sat in silence for a few moments. Then, the questions began.
Unlike the review board, there was no malice here. Rika and Isa asked foremost about his research and findings, including his theories, as well as Aki’s devices, while Simon and Trentor interrogated him about what Filias had said, the make-up of the panel, and how he had managed to get away. All four seemed impressed with his quick thinking in utilizing his spare crystals, although Roshan had felt that that particular bit of resourcefulness was more a product of desperation than a mark of cleverness. Meanwhile, Syd said nothing, her expression hardly changing. As the questions wound down, she cleared her throat again. Producing a glowing, silvery crystal from her sleeve, she shook it, and regarded it expectantly. When nothing happened, she nodded, and turned back to Roshan. “You speak truthfully.”
Roshan was hurt by her use of a truth crystal, but decided that until he knew more, he could not blame them for their untrustworthiness. However, he was gratified to see that Isa looked offended on his behalf. “Indeed,” Syd continued, “your tale is one that we are all familiar with. Rika and Isa” she gestured at the two women, who nodded, “were both forced out of university for pursing research similar to yours. The people ruling this city, this country, are jealous of their interests, and do not allow alternative ways of thinking to challenge their power and preconceptions.”
Frowning thoughtfully, Roshan considered her words. Buried in the minutia of research and the daily life at Eolas, he had spared no thought for politics beyond what filtered through the student grapevine. Perhaps, he now realized, he should have. “Am I right in supposing that you all represent such an alternative viewpoint?” He asked slowly.
Rika and Isa faces split into identical feral grins, and Syd gave a small smile of her own. “We do. We are part of a movement that opposes the corruption and malfeasance of the leaders of this country. We publish broadsheets, we hinder their oppressive policies, and we protect those threatened by the regime.”
Roshan nodded, it was a lot to take in. “So, what are you doing in Ater-Volantis?” He asked.
Rika looked to Syd for permission, and at her nod, said “surveillance, mostly. Keeping abreast of the news and doings of the capitol.” She grinned, “following the latest in Fòrsic research, too.”
“So you can see why we are excited to have found you,” Isa interjected excitedly. Syd shot her a quelling glance, but she only shrugged. “It’s true,” she said.
Syd sighed, “Isa is right, if overenthusiastic. Your knowledge and expertise would be a boon. We are due to leave the city soon, if you are willing, you may accompany us.” She held up a hand, forestalling anything Roshan might say, “we do not expect you to share our aims, merely your research. In exchange we will assist you in eluding the watch and escaping the city. What say you?”
Roshan looked at Isa and Rika’s eager faces, and then around at the other members of the group. “What do I have to lose,” he asked rhetorically, “I’m in.”
Chapter 7 can be found here.