Chapter Two: Border Town Trouble
It was sunset when the party arrived in Border Town, so they decided to stay in an inn for the night. They guessed that they'd want to be fully energized for what was bound to be a trying day. They didn't even know half of it.
The next morning they were up at dawn, bright and early. Tyrell muttered a few complaints under his breath about getting started so early, but when Karis reminded him that the sooner they set out the sooner they'd be home he dropped it. Amiti, Himi, and Eoleo didn't seem too happy to be up at the crack of dawn, either, but it was Sveta who was especially nervous.
"Sveta," Karis said when she saw Sveta twitch her nose and rub her ears for the third time, "You don't have to come with us if it puts you in danger."
To this, Sveta glanced to where the guys were discussing how strange it was that Eoleo couldn't equip a longsword, then back to Karis. She now had a faint smile on her face. "I want to come. It's not an issue. It's time Morgal's borders are opened again, now that... Now that their leader is no longer under dark influences."
Karis looked at her with understanding, and put a hand on the new queen's shoulder. "Volechek would be proud to hear you say that, Sveta."
Sveta sniffed and wiped at the tears that had beaded up in her eyes. "Thanks, Karis."
Amiti happened to glance over in time to see Sveta's tears, and he abandoned the rest of the guys and their conversation to see what was going on with the Wind Adepts.
"Is everything all right?" He asked, genuinely concerned.
Sveta nodded, smiling at the prince. "I just... It's still painful to think about Volechek. I'll be okay."
Amiti nodded, a serious expression on his face. "Yes. I understand. I'm sorry."
Eoleo came over to the three of them then, grinning mischievously as he said,"Are you ladies ready to go, or are you going to keep us waiting all day?"
Karis pouted. "Really. It was you guys who were keeping us waiting with your trite conversation."
Amiti, who had been put off a bit by Eoleo's comment, smirked at Karis's comeback.
"We're ready if you are," Sveta said, fully composed again.
Eoleo nodded, and with a nod towards Matthew the group set off.
The border was still shut off, but Sveta went inside and spoke with the guards for a while and managed to get their group the okay to cross.
"Be careful," One guard warned, however. "You kids might be tough warriors, but that doesn't mean you can't get yourselves into trouble."
"We're not just tough warriors!" Tyrell beamed, "We're the children of the Warriors of Vale!"
"Well, some of us are, anyway," Amiti corrected him.
"Yeah, but the rest of us are important in our own right," Himi said.
"Yeah," Eoleo agreed.
The guards shared a glance. "Regardless, you kids should still be careful over there. Lord McCoy has been acting a bit odd lately. I'd avoid him at all costs."
"Can do," Karis said. "We've heard all about that."
"Okay. We'll just open the gate for you now... But don't advertize this, okay?" The other guard said.
Matthew nodded, and once the gate was opened they went on through. Eoleo and Tyrell high-fived each other, and Karis grinned at Sveta. All the others had smiles on their faces, too. They were officially in Bilibin now, one step further on their way.
"It feels like forever since I've been here..." Karis said, looking around the city, "I was a kid when Dad took me here last."
"It's been many years since I've been here, too," Sveta said, a wistful tone in her voice.
"I've never been here in my lifetime," Amiti said.
"It's not really that great a city," Rief said.
Kraden nodded in agreement. "Bilibin has only become more corrupt than ever in the years since the Golden Sun. We should heed the guards' warning and be away as quickly as possible."
Everyone nodded, and made haste through the crowded city. It was not an easy task. Salesmen dotted the streets, each trying to sell different equipment and items, some so obviously inferior to what the warriors had on them they wondered why the vendors even bothered.
When the heroes passed under the shadow of McCoy palace, they fell silent. Only Sveta dared glance up at the palace from beneath her hood, and she let out a sigh.
"What is it?" Matthew asked.
"I... have a bad feeling about this," Sveta muttered.
Even as she spoke, two guardsmen caught sight of the party where they stood in the middle of the street. One of them pointed towards Sveta—in hindsight, wearing a face-concealing hood was rather suspicious—and they both nodded and started walking toward the party.
Sveta couldn't suppress the low growl that emitted from the back of her throat. Matthew frowned, glancing from Sveta to the guards then back to his friends again. He looked as though he were about to give them the order to run for the far gate and get out of Bilibin city.
However, Sveta caught his arm and forced him to meet her gaze beneath her hood. "No, I think it's long time we settled this conflict. Let me handle this."
And with that, Sveta let go of Matthew's arm and walked right up to meet the guards face-to-face. She held her hands up in a a gesture of peace, smiling at the men and trying to appear as amiable as possible. The soldiers took one look at her and attacked.
Sveta saw it coming and dodged, but her hood fell to her shoulders in the motion. The guards seemed to double their efforts now that it was clear that the Queen of Morgal was their target. The gesture of peace—a show of empty, weaponless hands—hardly meant anything coming from a beastman Adept, after all. She could kill them just by looking at them if she wished to.
But she wasn't trying to. All she wanted was to settle the trouble between Morgal and Bilibin. That was all. But clearly, these stupid people didn't want to listen to her.
"Stop this foolishness!" Sveta shouted, anger glaring in her eyes.
Matthew took a step forward, ready to come to her aid, but she growled and glared at him. Though she didn't speak, her voice was clear to him. Don't get yourself involved.
Matthew frowned. He wasn't the kind of guy to just sit by and let someone fight it out alone. He took another step forward, followed by his friends, and Sveta frowned at all of them.
The last thing she wanted was for her friends to get involved with her country's problems. She sighed, realizing that it was pointless to stop the rest of the party—they were such good friends, but so stubborn—and jumped back, claiming the high ground on the rocky overhang leading up towards McCoy Palace where it stood proudly atop the high, craggy hill. She looked down at the soldiers, anger and determination lighting up her forest-green eyes.
"Stop and listen to me, if only for a moment," Sveta all-but growled. "I didn't come from Belinsk to start a war with you. I came to help my friends solve a problem that concerns all of us, beastmen and humans alike. If we are at war with one another, it will only make this situation worse. My brother—the late king of Morgal, Volechek—he has..."
Sveta's voice faltered momentarily, but she caught herself, taking a deep breath and going on. "My brother, unfortunately, died in the recent events. Yes, it hit Morgal hard, too. Harder, perhaps, than other places—considering that the Eclipse began in Belinsk, after all. Many of my people lost their lives because of it, including my brother."
She stopped talking, and to her surprise the people standing below were silent, listening. Sveta took another breath and stood as tall as she could, smiling down at them—her eyes meeting Matthew's for strength.
"It is long past time for us to put aside our differences, is it not? Time for us to stand together and re-build?"
"Well, the young lady has spirit, I'll give her that."
Everyone's attention snapped to the top of the stairs leading to McCoy palace, where an elder man stood with his gaze fixed on Sveta.
It was obvious that this man was the current Lord McCoy, the son of the late lord that Isaac's party had met up with on their quest. Sveta gazed at him, her ears noticeably twitching in anxiety. Lord McCoy shook his head at her.
"You really think that just marching up to my palace and giving a speech like this will really end the conflicts between our countries?"
Sveta shook her head. "No, but I'm hoping you'd at least be willing to sit down and listen. My friends and I have other duties at the moment that we must deal with... But if you could arrange a meeting with my adviser, I'd appreciate it. In the wake of the Eclipse... In the light of what may yet happen if those responsible have their way... Now is no time to be fighting amongst ourselves."
Lord McCoy frowned at Sveta, his expression stern. She didn't turn her gaze away—rather, she met his eyes with a determined look in her own. Sure, she had never counted on becoming Queen of Morgal—she'd thought her brother would live longer, would marry, have heirs of his own—but now that the position was hers, she wasn't about to cave to anyone.
She knew she was a poor follow-up to Volechek, but she'd hold her own for his sake and for the sake of her people.
Lord McCoy was the first one to look away. "Very well, girl. There is quite a light in your eyes—I'll do as you request. I can't promise that the negotiations will end well, but... I'll speak with your adviser."
Sveta smiled, nodding as she leapt down to rejoin her friends. The guards stepped away as she landed, backing toward the palace. Sveta turned to face Lord McCoy again, her braids whirling about her in the wind.
"And I'd better not hear word of foul-play. Your soldiers attempted to invade once already—we'll be ready if you make any such move again," Sveta said. For extra emphasis, she held up a hand and looked it over, purposefully letting her claws catch the sunlight.
Lord McCoy's face paled slightly, and he nodded. Point taken. Do not get on the bad side of the beastmen. He'd heard nightmarish tales about their combat style already, and did not wish to experience any of it first-hand.
With that, Matthew and his company made their way through the rest of the city and out the far gate. The soldiers let them by with only a glance to Sveta, who kept glaring at them whenever they seemed about to hesitate. Sure, she wasn't as ruthless as her brother had been at times, but they didn't have to know that, did they? If they were a little scared of her, so much the better. She could show them her kind side later, when they agreed to be her ally.
Needless to say, it was only when Bilibin was far behind them that the party let out a joint sigh of relief, as though a shadow had been lifted from them.
Little did they know the shadows that lay ahead were darker than the ones they'd left behind.