Waking up from my deep slumber, I see Meriden and Regios talking. She didn’t seem to like him all that much before, because she didn’t fully understand the situation, but now there she was casually conversing with him. She is actually sitting next to me, holding my hand in hers. When I shift my weight trying to move, she looks at me and smiles. My injury doesn’t seem to be too serious as they don’t show any worry.
“So, what happened?”
“Boy, I have to tell you, somebody up there really doesn’t like you. You remember what happened?”
“Hmm. We were talking about the darkness and what it is doing. Then you told me something unbelievable and I tried to kill myself by drinking some Heavenbrew. Right?”
“Yeah, sounds about right. I thought you went crazy, asking me all those questions. If I didn’t know any better I would have thought you were part of the cult. And then you were shouting at somebody up above. They must have heard you, because you got hit by a chandelier. My place does not have chandeliers. I actually gained much from your misfortune, that much mithril costs a lot of money. I must thank you for the service done for my nation. He he.”
And there he goes laughing at his own jokes. His expression is almost peerless, perfect smile, but I notice a slight wrinkle for an instant. Materialising chandeliers don’t often bode well for people.
“So what, my trauma was so severe that I spent last month in coma? Will I be able to walk?”
“Actually, there was only a slight crack in your skull. It healed in a few hours. You’ve been passed out for the last two days from the alcohol. Nrogara used all the headache remedy you asked him to produce, just to wake you early. You would be out for the rest of the week otherwise. Thank you for the cure by the way.” Meriden says the last part and gives me a kiss. I must have saved a few lives.
“Yes, thankfully you didn’t drink the Godsend Heavenbrew like I am sure you wanted to. That stuff is locked up and hidden behind seventy two seals and a puzzle. What you drunk was an inferior type of Heavenbrew, the Angel-Tear. It is not as strong and is just barely lethal to normal humans. You would be ok eventually.”
“So I am still on this side of the pearly gates, left to deal with the absurdity of the situation.”
“Right… Do you want to wait before talking?”
Regios is clearly interested but he tries to be discreet.
“It’s ok, don’t worry. I was just put off because it seems that not only humans copy whatever they read from fiction.”
“Well, firstly the Zone is something I remembered from fiction works in several worlds. The Zone pretty much always fits the same description as the one here. I just don’t think I ever encountered one.”
“I thought you don’t have any memories of your past?”
“I don’t. What I do have are some of the skills and knowledge gained previously. The fiction works regarding the Zone are some of my favorites, as I seem to have read them across various lifetimes. When you described it to me, the details quickly surfaced. I just didn’t imagine that somebody would turn those books into reality.”
“You think some god decided to emulate a work of fiction in this world? Being a grandson of one I can tell you, they are not all powerful to just will something into existence.”
“Maybe they didn’t make it from scratch, but perhaps influenced it a bit. Or maybe it’s not a god.”
“Nothing. Just an idea too wild to entertain.”
We stop talking for a while. Regois seem to want to know more about the darkness and the Zone, but with Meriden here he doesn’t say anything.
“Ah! Why did you ask about the person who got her wish granted?”
“That was also a folklore legend from a different world. I lightning-clad God of Thunder, wielding a mighty hammer Mjolnir, with strength unrivaled by any other. His name is Thor and he is an enemy of Ice Giants.”
“Hmm. Yes, I can see the irony.”
Once again we fall silent. Meriden notices that we don’t speak much, so she gives me a quick kiss and goes off to “train some guards”. She likes to pass on her strength and wisdom to those in need.
“So, what do we know about the darkness?”
“I know nothing about the darkness. But I know that monolith is just a distraction to keep us from looking in the right direction. If the works of fiction are right and I have no doubts that they are, the Zone and the monolith originate from somewhere beneath the temple, where the elders of the cult joined their powers together to create it. Neither the Zone nor the monolith are important, we should just ignore them.”
“So we know nothing important then? We don’t even know how to get close to the temple and you are saying that we should ignore the Zone.”
“If my knowledge is of any indication, we need to get some gear enchanted against mind magic. That is what main characters usually use. What we should focus on is identifying the source of the cult’s power.”
Regois stops talking and looks as he is deep in thought. I think whether these circumstances are just a coincidence, or a direct meddling by some god, who wants the cult to succeed and who reads little too much science fiction. Or is it a situation manufactured by some third party for shits and giggles. I would be doubtful of that, but if chandelier suddenly appearing out of this air is of any indication… It doesn’t matter, I won’t have any say in the matter regardless. Gods are beyond me.
What I wonder is if I will have to venture into the Zone. If you look at what happened to me in this life so far, you would imagine that I should go there. I seem to appear in the right place at the right time. Am I the main character of this particular story, or is my advice good enough to move on.
I think I often dreamt about venturing into the Zone, adventuring, looting the artifacts, fighting mutants and uncovering its secrets. There was a certain romance to the whole idea of constant danger and the possibly of waking up with your head in someone’s mouth. But I wouldn’t have the safety of my people, my fiancées’ and the possible future of the realm weighing on my shoulders.
Also, this is not a sci-fi world. I’m supposed to have guns and machines to help that sort of thing. As I am now, I can barely comprehend what guns do and what electricity is. This doesn’t seem to be my kind of adventure…
“The darkness seems to be reminiscent of the one fourteen thousands years ago.”
Regios stops my train of thought. Fourteen thousands is the time of the Guardians and the formation of six daughter Val tribes.
“You think this is the same darkness as the Great Beasts tried to fight?”
“The temple is one of many built at the time before the fall of the Guardians. Last time there also was a large area of effect magic that corrupted whoever was inside it. It is actually the origin of the Naga species, as they were once sea elves. Once the Guardians sacrificed themselves, the entirety of the area surrounding the epicenter collapsed underwater. The center of that calamity is very close to what used to be a temple, like the one in the jungle in my territory.”
“That seems to point to the same enemy. But we still don’t know what the darkness is. Also, if that happened that long ago, my knowledge on the matter might be just a fluke.”
“You are correct. We will try to employ any tactics you may give us, but we cannot be certain that they will work. Also, will you…”
“Absolutely not. I will give you all the knowledge I can remember, but I personally won’t be going there, at least not at this time. I don’t know what my role in this world is, but it sure as hell not some hero type who goes off and solves every problem solo. It may not seem like that, but I see myself as more of an adviser, a force pushing others forward. Take my intended for example. Do you think any of them would be where they are today without me. Hell, Eleanor would be a stuck up bitch with no redeeming qualities about herself. Sorry dear.” I say, whispering the last part up to the heavens quietly.
I take a couple of breaths to compose myself.
“Even looking at yourself, you said that I helped you clear some bottlenecks you were stuck on because you got a tiny bit of knowledge from a person my fiancée trained. How much my influence will push you directly? And how much my influence will change the world? I can’t risk my life, hoping to solve the problem by myself. Besides, Meriden won’t let me go alone and I will not expose her to that danger.”
Regios nods in understanding. He knows that what I am saying makes sense and it would be dumb of me to come charging forwards.
“I know that Val are supposed to be the guardians of the realm, but I am not all Val, I am but one man. Last time it took the strength of six Great beings and I only have the power of three, however little of that power is in me. If I go now, and you somehow get Meriden home, without me her words won’t carry much weight. I will be made into a martyr in the war against monsters which will affect the realm and will give darkness enough time to cover the rest of the world.”
Once more Regios nods. I pause slightly for a small breath. Talking takes a lot out of you if you do in non-stop.
“I have people to take care of, just like you. And I don’t mean just my fated ones. I have a small faction relying on me back home.”
“Right. What will happen to them if I am gone? They are not Val people, even if they are under protection of Elaya and others. I doubt they will be tolerated much once I am gone.”
I stop for a moment, considering best course of action next.
“What I believe the best thing I can do is to go back home and relay everything we learned so far to the elders. We will let them talk to the other nations to see if they want to forge peace together with you. Meanwhile, I will prepare some Val tribesmen, who will then come to your lands to fight the darkness. I won’t need the elders’ approval for that, safeguarding the realm is our duty and it doesn’t matter who is in need of our help. If a certain monster nation just happens to lend some help in their quest, it won’t be against the rules, even if there is an open hostility or even war. To Val people, our duty to save this realm is above anything, even conflict between races.”
Regios keeps silent with a somewhat grim expression he understands that a war might happen regardless of my words. Monsters never were thought of well, and perhaps if I wasn’t an outsider, even if just in spirit, the possibility of peace would have been nonexistent. I would have to pull my own weight to convince others of Regois’ wish for peace.
“I am sorry that I sound like a coward, who tries to hide behind his people and his responsibilities. My main duty just like the duty of any Val is to this realm first and foremost, regardless of my own feelings. And I believe this would be the safest course of action for all of us.”
Regios looks at me, his expression becoming lighter. In his eyes I can see understanding and… Respect?
“No. You are not a coward and you don’t sound like one. You sound like a leader. You think of your people before yourself. I know if it were not for them, you would already be halfway between here and the Zone. I am just like you, I would be willing to lay down my head for my people. I am just a little scared.”
“You? A two thousand year old dragon is scared? Did somebody steal your balls or were you a girl all along?”
Amused smile crosses Regios’ face.
“No. I have been alone in this for a long time. I only had generals and advisors, but they only follow me because I am strong. You, you were willing to die for your people, even though you knew you had no chance against me. And now you stand before me as an ally. I am scared that your people might not want to take this road and instead throw away the chance peace. I don’t want to face you. You are a… Erm…”
“A friend? Is that the word you were searching for?”
“Geez, no, we are two millennia apart. A comrade. Yes. We are comrades.”
I stand up from the bed, little shaky from still being intoxicated. Standing on my wobbly legs I hold onto the bed with one hand, while putting another on Regios’ shoulder.
“That we are. As a comrade and as a friend I promise you, even if my people go to war against you, I will not strike a fatal blow against you or your people. I might have to bruise you up a little though.”
Regios looks at me with appreciation in his eyes. He is not going to say it, but he is glad to have me as a friend. We spent little time together, but that’s enough to understand that we are kindred in spirit.
“You humans always go mushy on me. What is it, did you suddenly grow a vagina?”
“Look who is talking. Not wanting to fight a disgusting human, what happened to you? Did the old lizard suddenly turn senile?”
He shows a toothy grin and we both laugh. I sit back down on the bed and we stay silent for a while.
“Staying here is nice. But we should start thinking about our departure. The faster I get home the faster we can start talking about peace.”
With an audibly sad sigh, dragon agrees with me.