Morning light filtered through the tall windows of the Church of Mhyrmr, the headquarters of the Inquisition. Stained-glass colored the rays, which blossomed onto the stone tile.
Underneath the high buttresses, a crimson-robed Inquisitor with a cane casually limped across the mosaic. He made his way to the door beside the altar and began to ascend the spiral stairs, holding his arm against the cold walls to help balance himself.
The corridor at the top of the stairs was lit with etherlamps of blue flame. The Inquisitor hobbled down the hall until he had reached the ornate door at the end.
“Master Inquisitor, requesting entry,” he laughed as he knocked.
There was a moment of silence.
“Oh, Eldric,” someone replied. “Come in! Come in!”
Eldric smiled and opened the door, which he always considered much lighter than it appeared.
“I do wish you would take your position more seriously,” said the Archbishop as he sat at his desk amid a forest of papers.
“Don’t be so austere, Marven.” The Inquisitor smirked as he hobbled over to the chair and sat down carefully.
Marven scratched his head of graying hair.
“I assume you know why I summoned you?”
“No clue, as always.”
“Well.” Marven took a sip of his drink. “It’s because of a special request.”
Eldric reached into the pocket of his crimson robe and pulled out an ivory tobacco pipe with a bear engraved upon it.
“It’s a bit of a long story,” Marven said, “but I’ll keep it quick.”
Eldric lit the pipe, puffed, then blew out a perfect ring of smoke.
“Eizen Zilheim, Mirea’s current Prime Minister, has asked us to seek out a certain fugitive that he believes has escaped to Aestriana—heading to the town of Zerlina, we believe.”
Eldric coughed as he ran his fingers through the smoke.
“And what does King Reethkilt think of the venture?”
“Well,” Marven said, handing Eldric a folder thick with papers, “I think he wants the criminal to disappear just as much Zilheim does.”
Eldric opened the file and perused through the reports.
“’Iago of the Thousand Swords...’” he mumbled to himself. “He looks awfully young. What would you guess?” He scratched the side of his face. “Twenty years old?”
“He is rather young,” Marven concurred. “However, I wouldn’t underestimate him. He’s an adept mage—a prodigy even. Probably why Zilheim came to us.”
“So young to be an international threat,” Eldric mumbled as he puffed his pipe.
“Well,” Marven began, “from what I gather, he’s a revolutionary in the civil war taking place between the Elves of Mirea and the Beastfolk of the Folke Lands.”
“But, he’s not of the Beast Tribe?” Eldric raised his brow, smoke spilling from his mouth.
“No,” Marven yawned. “He’s definitely an Elf, which is even more the reason to be extra careful.”
“What exactly,” Eldric yawned as well, “did he do? This is the first I’ve ever even heard of him.”
“Well,” Marven sipped his drink, “according to Elven authorities, he murdered the Prince of Mirea in cold blood.”
“Mirea...” Eldric paused, “had a prince...?”
“It’s the first I’d heard of it as well. The Elven King of Mirea is a rather...” Marven tapped his fingers on his desk. “Anti-social and...eccentric man. Not only that, but the Elves of Mirea have long dissociated from the Church. That said, I wouldn’t put it past King Mirea to have an heir and not tell us about it.”
“The mystery intensifies...” Eldric said with a chuckle.
“Indeed.” Marven shrugged. “How he even escaped his captivity is also an enigma. According to witnesses of several guards, the door to his underground cell was still locked even after his escape. It was as if he simply...” the Archbishop said as he waved his hands in the air, “disappeared.”
“What an interesting place to go, too.” Eldric concurred.
“I sense that there is more to this than we can perceive.”
Eldric stroked his white beard as if distracted. “Isn’t that the location of the Sword Durandal?”
Archbishop Marven swished his hand dismissively.
“So, you wish me to inquire about the situation?” Eldric asked as he blew another ring of smoke.
“I would send another, but the whole thing seems shady. That is why I am sending you, the Master Inquisitor himself. I will be sending your knight along with you,” he added. “The half-Elf, Snow.”
“I would take no other,” Eldric chuckled nonchalantly.
“Very well. I’ve already arranged your airship. Check in with the Bishop of the Zerlina Monastery—see what he knows. It is about a day’s journey to Zerlina.” The Archbishop sipped his wine. “That is all.”
“Well.” Eldric slowly lifted himself from his chair and limped to the door. “I’ll be off.”
Eldric made his way down the stairs and out of the sanctuary. He slowly limped down the breezeway. The mountain air blew the flowers that decorated the courtyard, carrying their aroma with it. He stopped and stared out into the sea of clouds. It was a sight he loved, a perk of being positioned on the highest mountain in all of the continent of Lythia. When he was a child, he might have thought it peculiar to see clouds below him rather than above. But now, as an old man, not much surprised him anymore. He breathed in a deep breath as he leaned upon his sturdy cane. He never worried about the dangers of his position. The Inquisitors were a sect of the Church charged with the protection of the common world from the terrors of the supernatural, but, honestly, the thrill of danger had grown old to him.
“Master Inquisitor.” A voice from behind pierced his thoughts.
Eldric exhaled and turned to see a tall, blue-haired, young woman in armor standing at salute.
“Snow!” he chuckled with a smile. “Just out of the training yard, I suppose?
“I was ordered by the Archbishop to accompany you to Zerlina,” she said, smiling, “as always.”
“Of course!” Eldric laughed. “There’s no finer knight in all of Lythia.”
She sighed at his praises, but she knew at least he believed them. She knew he respected her, and she knew that she respected him. She had been his knight for as long as she had worked in the field, and, the more she had thought about it, the more she realized that his unspoken bond with her was more paternal than professional.
The two walked at Eldric's limping pace down the breezeway and into the airship hangar. Many were coming and going in the aerodock, which filled the air with unintelligible noise. Eldric nodded to his fellow Inquisitors who responded by frantic salute. The two passed several docks until they reached one with a large airship. Eldric slowly approached the gargantuan vessel and breathed in the misty air.
“Ah! The Airship Orca!” he said as he beheld the metallic gears and steaming pipes, “I never get tired of looking at her.”
“Yes, sir,” Snow agreed. “She is a wonderful sight.”
“Master Inquisitor!” a voice called out from among the surrounding noise.
A man hurried over to them, his solid black uniform decorated with medals.
“Hello, captain,” the Master Inquisitor said casually.
The captain stood at salute. “It appears I will have the honor of piloting her once again. The travel to Zerlina will be a day and about a half in duration. Archbishop Marven has already prepared your things and all other arrangements. We are ready to disembark when you give the signal.”
“Well, let us begin.” Eldric shrugged.
The captain turned promptly and motioned to the crew standing behind him. Once inside, Eldric, trailed by Snow, followed the Captain to the cockpit.
“Zerlina is a large trading town in southern Aestriana. It has never in its history been graced with the presence of one of your status.”
Snow helped Eldric to his seat.
“Southern Aestriana, you say?” he smiled. “I hear it’s quite beautiful there this time of year.”
The city of Zerlina was loud with the sounds of commerce as a hooded man slithered within their midst. No one noticed as the figure slipped past the crowded market stalls and into a garden in the back alleys. Concealed by the hood of his cloak, the slim man stopped.
Now prowling the solitary garden, he removed his hood to reveal his youthful face and Elven features.
“You called?” he said into the air.
Suddenly, a black cloud formed in front of him. The cloud lingered for a few seconds, then, out of it walked a large, muscular man. The Elf took a moment and studied him. He was gargantuan, his skin a deep blue. It was obvious he was one of the desert people, a Darkling from the country of Abdiah.
“Iago of the Thousand Swords,” the large man said in a deep voice, “you have arrived.”
“The one and only,” Iago said with a theatrical bow. “What do you want, Agnon? Why did you bring me to this dump?”
Agnon turned his piercing green eyes to the sky and took a breath as if he perceived something no one else could.
Iago watched him impatiently.
“What—?” Iago began.
Agnon held up his large hand to silence the other. “She is here.”
“I see,” Iago concurred. “Then when must we go retrieve her?”
“Not yet,” Agnon paused, “but in short time.”
“What are we waiting on? Hasn't your ‘Master’ grown impatient?”
Agnon waved his hand to calm the young man. “The Master Inquisitor has not yet arrived. You are the bait. We must wait for the fish to bite.”
“Very well,” Iago shrugged dismissively, “I await your orders.”
Iago hooded himself, left the garden, and was soon nameless among the crowd of faces.