Chapter Sixteen: Jukhavra

The cart pulled in, and the group stepped out into the first real town they had seen of any sort since leaving Lente.

The streets were filled almost entirely with people in bright, single-colored clothes, cheap and simple in design. Some women had wicker baskets in their hand, most of them holding their child's hands or walking beside their husbands. The older men all wore a single black shoulder pad with an insignia beneath indicating a rank of some sort, and almost every young adult was armed with a small weapon. Qarcil nimbly hopped from the cart and paused for several seconds, watching them pass like he'd never seen so many people before. Rose walked up beside him, nudging him to get his attention, and smiled. Vingrun sat in the cart for a moment, arms folded, while Isang tossed the Mask under his pack, climbing down quickly.

He looked up, but Vingrun wasn't making eye contact. He sighed, scratched his head, and entered the city.

"Bring me back some medicine, if you can," Isang heard Vingrun say as he walked away. Hesitation slowed his step like a heartbeat, but he moved on.

The first area of Jukhavra was almost purely shops and small houses, buildings made of warm-colored stone adjacent to one another with bright awnings extending from the middle. Wooden stands with every kind of treasure imaginable lined the streets. Everyone was smiling, talking excitedly, or laughing. The farther Isang walked the more he saw how happy everyone was, and even the people that he met regarded him with perfect courtesy, bowing and curtseying and tipping their hats.

Lynn would fall in love with this place, he thought as he returned their gestures with smiles and waves. The sun felt bright, almost too hot on his fragile skin, even invasive, unlike it had before. He wished for dark, at the same time wishing against it.

Qarcil slipped off Zeru and tucked him into his jacket. "It is better if people do not see this mask."

They turned and entered the more shadow-heavy area of the early market, where the sun only reached the tops of the buildings. It was quieter too, and warriors were more commonplace than the children and young girls. The awning colors changed from the bright reds, yellows, and greens to deeper, more somber colors; burgundy, grey, purple. Resting against the stands were weapons: spears, swords, body-length shields, all things useless in the Realm. Qarcil's eyes examined everything intimately, his head turning back and forth like a machine, his face and mouth perfectly straight. Rose was at his side, remarking on things she saw: clothes, jewelry, raw medicinal ingredients.

He answered her every time, unlike he thought he would have. No matter how loudly or suddenly she spoke, it was relevant or interesting. Her previously irritating tone was more melodic now, and she was clearly happy to be back in a town. The people he didn't mind, even when they stared at him accusingly- a side effect of keeping his eyes wide and curious. It was the poor quality of the goods that concerned him. He took a deep breath, tossing his head back.

Rose smiled. "Look at your hair!" she laughed. "The silver tips are shining in the sun. How do you get it like that?"

"It is natural," he said. "This is not the time to be slowed by pointless questions. We have to find medicine, as well as food, as well as-"

"Don't be so serious!" she insisted, hooking her arm in his. "Come on, I see something over here."

"What on earth are you-"

"This way!"

"You there!"

Isang jumped. "Me?"

"You look like bright, competent young man!"

Are we talking about the same Isang? he thought, flashing as brilliant a smile as he could and approaching the stand. The awning above it was the exact color of Lynn's eyes. The man standing there was short and fat, with a thick mustache and beard, and massively strong arms. Isang only glanced at him for an instant, surveying his wares, before his face was forced upward in shock.


Dakid chuckled, crossing his arms, his yellowed teeth shining in the sunlight. "Isang," he said. "Never think you see old Dakid in Jukhavra, right?"

"I thought you were in Kael. What brings you here?"

"As if you need ask," Dakid spreads his arms across the stand. "Business!" His voice went low. "These folk are poor, cut off from rest of world. They don't know good price, so when big jolly Dakid come along, they pay anything!"

"You swindler..." Isang scratched his head, still in disbelief. "Don't think I'll fall for your trap as easily."

"No!" Dakid's fat hands swung in front of his face determinedly. "Of course no! For you, great deal on everything! For you, they're cheap, closest to what they're actually worth."

The stand was littered with sleek black instruments; machines.

One was fist-sized, jagged around the edges with a dozen small blades concealed in fetal positions inside a clear case. The silvery lining had ridges much like a man's knuckles. A small strap wound around, just about the length of someone's wrist, solidifying it as a weapon. Isang picked it up and fit it on, feeling a slight suction as it adhered to him almost perfectly. He clenched his hand into a fist, and the blades sprang out, whirring to life as they slid back and forth.

"Holy shit..."

"They only a hundred-forty piece," Dakid grinned. "Tear a man apart in mere seconds. I see every weapon here in action before bringing them here. Only the finest Ganio products. You not find anything even remotely similar to this for at least another year, maybe two. A steal."

"I bet," Isang shook his head in disbelief. "Wait. Ganio? A country at war is finding time to sell you weapons?"

Dakid's grin went wider, his large mouth unusually fitting on such a fat face. "Don't look at me like that, Isang," he laughed hoarsely. "Dakid get all of his goods cheerily. I know a good deal, I take it. Ganio's war effort has made them desperate. They sell anything!"

So even creations like these are just low-tier goods. I hope I don't have to see what they give to their soldiers... "It's because they're not used to fighting," Isang murmured. "They've never taken part in a war before, so they're pulling all their resources and acting like Asdire people. Still, though, this weapon is too good for this market."

"No weapon is too good for market!" Dakid reminded him proudly. "Here, try this."

Next he gestured to a dagger, as long as Isang's forearm, much longer, sharper, and more professionally made than his special gift. Isang slipped the razor knuckles off- flinching as the blades retracted instantly- and picked it up. It was lighter than a twig.

"What does this do?" he asked. "Shoot lightning?"

"Arsenic poison, but good guess."

"Arsenic what?" Isang dropped the dagger hurriedly, curling his hand toward his jacket. "Dakid, what kind of crap are you dealing here?"

"Is all necessary," Dakid said darkly, catching his gaze immediately. "I'm doing these people a favor."

"Dakid... I don't see how you're helping anyone. These are weapons, they kill people. How could they be necessary?"

"Open your eyes, Isang," Dakid's smile didn't retreat an inch. "This war is good as over, and it's not even gotten off ground yet. I've seen Ganio's machines, and I tell you now: Sages are no good, no disrespect to you of course, but they won't do anything against these things. Mages, were they alive, would bring a fighting chance, but the only thing that stop this industrial onslaught is more industry. As much as I hate it, I admit a new era is coming forth. So, you see, I help these nice people. They defend themselves now, they have a fighting chance! My profits come in, my goods are popular- you see yourself how irresistible they are- and I come back with more. Bigger. Faster. Deadlier. Wars become a thing of past ages, and everyone happy."

Isang shook his head. "You know I have the authority to arrest you, right?"

Dakid's smile capsized in an instant, his cheeks reddening with shock. "Sawhare?"

"Sages are magic military," Isang said grimly. "If I wanted to, I could have all of this confiscated to Lente without a second thought. And part of me really, really wants to."

"Ah, no, no! That not necessary, good friend Isang. You don't want to see that happen."

"You can't bribe me."

Dakid laughed as he bent down, reaching into his stock, and slapped something onto the wooden desk. Isang almost took a step back as he recognized it.

Smooth, pure silver, curved at the end with a sleek, serrated edge, the falchion was grinning back at him from the sunbathing wood. The handle was pure, bright green cloth, with a crimson ribbon dangling off the edge. All along the edge, he saw a dark violet glow, pulsing to life like a breathing chest. The violet caught his eye the most, he knew it well, despite how seldom he saw it. The enchantment gave the blade a certain eloquence, putting to shame the fine shine and the sturdy handle, as well as the eye-shaped guard.

Demon-cutting silver.

"What is this you have here?" Qarcil asked, ignoring Rose tugging on his arm. He gestured to the large, round green fruit.

"Uh, that's watermelon."

"Water... melon?"

"Yeah, it's a gourd. Melon. Thing. It's a fruit. You eat it."


"Master," Rose said drearily, using two arms to try and move him. "I see something over there."

Qarcil glanced at her, and nodded submissively. He turned back to the fruit seller. "Go nowhere. I have a need for food, and I may return here later. If I do not find you, things would take a turn for the worse."

Ignoring the horrified look, he turned and approached the adjacent stand, relaxing to allow Rose to pull him over. The people swerved to avoid him, commenting on his appearance, especially his eyes, though he was now focused on the desk before him.

"Qarcil, is this..."

"It is," he said curtly, dislodging his arm and picking up a bright yellow vial. He rose it to eye level, peering through it at the merchant. "Rousche."

The man smiled, his thin, wiry mustache twirling upward. "So you know the product?"

"Of course," Qarcil set it onto the wood. "I created it."

The man froze. "Wh... what?"

"I am Qarcil Pheriah, the Sage of Matter. I am head of Lente Sage Court Division 5's Research and Development department, as well as a caster of the fourteenth level. By all rights, the laws of the Lente Sage Court, not to mention my pride... I hold the authority to have you terminated, here and now."

"Master!" Rose gushed, clapping a hand over her mouth. "You don't actually..."

"As a user of the Rousche, do you not agree that it is not yet ready for field testing?"

"No way!" the man insisted. "This was made in Asdire, I know the creator myself! I can assure you, Mr. Sage, I have every right to sell it, by law of Asdire!"

"Asdire has no control over this land," Qarcil said firmly, his voice not losing an inch of its usual, cold calm. "Here, the only rules that apply are those of Lente, and the Sage Court. As I am sure you are aware, this is uncontested territory, or 'up-for-grabs' as you might say. As the original creator of the Rousche, I have every right to relieve you of your supplies."

"Well, I'll be happy to take this claim to court."

Qarcil's eyes flickered up to him; he flinched, his jaw hanging open.

"No need."

Qarcil took one of the four bottles and popped the cork open with his thumb. Before she could react, he turned to Rose, gently cupping her chin upward, and tilted the bottle into her mouth.


"Drink it," he commanded, intensity suddenly swallowing the neutrality of his voice. "All of it, if you do not mind."

"What the hell do you think you're doing!" the merchant yelled, grabbing his arm and trying to pry it away unsuccessfully. Rose grimaced, wincing as she drank the yellow liquid, her throat quivering and twitching. She stepped away, coughing, clutching her neck, sinking to her knees.

"Now," Qarcil said. "She has consumed the product, my product; she is my apprentice, and as such, I hold the rights to her intake of the Rousche. What I am doing, good sir..." He took another bottle, dragged Rose to her feet, and eased it into her mouth as she tried to push away. "Is exercising my right."

"You don't have the right to do that!" the merchant barked, though he made no move.

"Your right is to sell this unlicensed product, and I am being generous enough to give you the benefit of the doubt. However, once it is in her throat, it becomes my product, unless you wish to take this matter to the Sage Court, in which case, I will be happy to direct you to the appropriate paperwork and protocol."

"You bastard!"

Qarcil swept up the other bottles, sliding them into his tight, deep pockets. He hooked his arm back around Rose's, and looked into her shivering eyes.

"Let us find somewhere for you to relax," he proposed. She swallowed, nodded slowly, and followed him away from the stand.

Colors aside, it was the exact same sword Isang had seen in his mind, when the voice first contacted him. Every detail was crystal clear like a recurring dream, or a perfectly manifested desire.

"Dakid... this is..."

"Exactly what young Demonologist needs battling the Dark, yes?" Dakid chuckled. "And for you, my good friend, is free. Or can you, eh, not be bribed?"

Son of a bitch... it's perfect, simply perfect. "Dakid, I don't... I can't accept it."

"Oh, but of course," Dakid's arms disappeared for a moment, resurfacing with a black sheath. "Isang, look at me."

He looked up, feeling the heaviness of the weapon as he held it in both hands. Dakid's smile was gone, as was his fear. His face was filled with genuine concern, as well as caution.

"We know each other long time, yes?"


"I know trading. I keep up with events, I see opportunities and I take them. This, Isang, is very good opportunity. Were I you, I take this opportunity. This weapon made especially for your journey. I hear... I hear the lovely Lady Lynn disappear recently."

"How did-"

"Trade is a raging river of talk, word is never dormant. Lord Windsor is not take this sitting down, I saw this as you supposedly left the city, not too long ago. Luckily I was just passing through, but he make hell for the Sage Court." Dakid tried to stifle a laugh. "Things no go so well, now that everyone recognize the upcoming war. This winter... I can see it. More blood will fall than snow."

"You people aren't kidding with this war, are you?"

"Beware the Rousche. It goes on public market in two weeks. Sages by the truckload. I not want to be the everyman when it does, too. From what I gather, Asdire and Plinth are setting up a contract. Asdire relinquishes all of its weapon, Plinth gives its resources, and the Rousche is given freely to every single person from here to Lente. Ganio will face an army of sages. The Court, it seems, is going to have their hands full. But none of that concerns you, does it?"

Isang took the sheath, and clipped it onto his belt. "It will once all of this is over."


"The Sage Court is helping me retrieve Lynn," he said calmly, sheathing the sword, never taking his eyes from the blade. "In return, when I have her back, they will force me into the war. This is just an assumption, but... it's the kind of thing they'd pull. I can see the hearings now, the papers and the orders. If I don't comply, they might even find a way to hold onto Lynn." He rubbed his eyes, shaking his head.

I can't believe it, he thought, his mind suddenly racing.

"Things getting rough for my old friend, Isang?"

"Things have been getting rough for a long time," Isang said. "But... I won't report you. Not yet. Just try to keep out of trouble."

He grasped the sword's handle, and walked off.

The sun was at its peak as Isang began to feel queasy. His hand clutched the sword, and his head longed for the mask. He staggered once, almost colliding with a young woman. She jerked out of the side and scolded him loudly, to which he just waved off once. He tried to shake off his sudden weariness, and hurried away from the crowds. The people gasped and diverged as he broke into a small run; the buildings were funneling inward, growing closer together. The awnings disappeared, as did the stands, and the short stone houses converged.

He spun to the side, dizziness swarming his vision, and saw a small opening. He ran through it without hesitation, wedging himself between two houses and emerging outside of the market, deep within the grassy town itself. His neck was hot, his arms ached, and his head wouldn't stop pounding. He cursed under his breath, left hand still clutching the handle like his life depended on it, and staggered into an open, grassy field. He lost his balance and hit the thick, dirt ground, both hands now clutching his hair.

What is this pain? What's happening?

Looks to me like you're too far from the Realm.

No... not you. I thought, I thought-

I won't go away simply because you came across a Mask, Isang, or do you not understand? I am a part of you.

That doesn't make SENSE! What part? Why? Studying the Realm? I've never heard of anything like this before. Why won't you just leave me alone!

Your pain is not my fault. It's not even yours. It's the Realm's. You need to get to a Gate, or find a demon, or sink into darkness, or the pain will just get worse. Your injuries haven't healed, but they don't hurt, and for that I will have your thanks. Until then, however, you need to look out for yourself.

I... my head feels like it's splitting open.

That's the withdrawal. Find some darkness, or it will find you.

No... No... No...