Of Armor and Bone: Chapter 22
Bently had removed the suit of armor and hid it under the woven blanket that had been provided to him in his room. He could feel the familiar sense of lethargy in his body as the magical forces ebbed from his limbs. Downstairs, he could see the woman- the one who had addressed herself as the Arcanus- pacing about the head of the long stone table at the end of the room.
The spry man named Shiloh sat at one side of the table, with the mage at the opposite. Chin sat back in the chair, quietly smoking his pipe while Shiloh stared daggers at him.
Both Charlstine and Shiloh stared at Bently as he descended the last few steps down towards the ground floor. “Mr. Bently of Xiandol, please have a seat.” The Arcanus offered, a hint of insistence in her voice.
Bently quickly took up one of the wooden seats beside Chin, glancing at the mage tentatively. “Tell me, when you put on that suit of armor, what do you feel?” Charlstine called out. She placed her hands on the hard stone of the table, peering across the surface at Bently.
“Power.” The soldier remarked.
“That power…” Charlstine pursed her lips. “Is the same that runs through our veins. Is that right, Mr. Chin?”
The mage hesitated, taking one last deep inhale from his pipe. “It is similar.”
“Lady Arcanus!” Shiloh spoke up, slapping his palms on the cold, hard stone surface of the table top. “I must tell you of these men, those who wear this armor of magical power.”
Charlstine propped herself up and began to pace once again. “You know I wish not to hear it, Mr. Shiloh.” Her voice held a tinge of distaste. “You should have known to leave behind your urges for violence once you came through the gates of this city.”
Shiloh slumped back in the chair and avoided looking in Bently’s direction.
“As a Tuleforian, I’m sure you can recount the brief history of bloodshed we’ve had to endure here, suffered by these people of Arkyan.” Charlstine posed, her gaze pointed to the back of Shiloh’s neck.
“It is not something I can enter into with any detail, Lady Arcanus.” Shiloh admitted.
“Mr. Bently, then.” Charlstine turned her sights across the table. “You, who was civilized enough to not draw his weapon, even while threatened by force from another.”
Chin exhaled a slow stream of purple smoke from between his lips as he peered sideways at Bently.
“If I remember, the first of it was just before I picked up the sword in the name of Xiandol, myself. A little over five years.” Bently blinked slowly, the lessons returning to him. “Just slightly north of the pass here, we… the Xiandolan miners… began digging in search of the artifact. They ran across some tunnels that had been dug by Arkyan. When the two peoples came into contact… the Xiandolans attacked them. Ruthlessly, they say.”
“Correct. The River Mudan here was once very rich with gold, you might also know.” Charlstine began to explain. “There is a large vein of the material in the side of the mountain to our west here. At least, there was. With each spring thaw, the waters from the melting snow would erode away bits of the mountain, depositing the heavy flakes of gold in the riverbed, all the way out to the ocean. Eventually when the panning of gravel at the bottom of the Mudan became more and more fruitless, they turned their attention to the mountain itself.”
“Those mine tunnels were never meant to find anything but gold, then?” Bently spoke up.
“By the time the magical energy was sensed, the mine had long since been exhausted. Some still dug around, hoping to find some hidden pocket that had been missed, but it was often little more than a fool’s errand.” Charlstine took a deep breath and finally took a seat at the head of the table. Her gaze moved back and forth between the two sides of men. “You can imagine what all those people thought when people returned to the Range to start digging again.”
“A new fortune to seek after.” Chin said raspily.
“The attack forced the Arykan people to permanently withdraw.” Charlstine said calmly. “Those in Tulefore city gave no inclination of wanting to lend aid- this province no longer providing its stream of valuable minerals, nor being of great strategical importance.”
“Is that why you’ve distanced yourself from the Empire?” Shiloh perked up.
“That is true only for the original residents of Arkyan.” Charlstine waved her hand outward in the direction of the city. “The Seat of the Order chose to take up here because we shared a disdain for conflict the same as the residents. After all, we of mage blood come from all over.” She concluded, nodding at Chin. “It was simply a travesty that the laws of the lands in which we resided allowed for us to be so easily forced to be the tools of normal men. Therefore, it was the first act of the Order to have our kind to be required to be excluded from conflict.”
“Milday!” Shiloh stood and roughly pushed back his chair. “If that is truly what you believe, I can not fathom how you look so easily past the soldier here in front of you now, who arrived wearing armor created by the powers you call your own!” He gestured forcefully at Bently.
“Mr. Shiloh, I am neither condoning the action nor encouraging it at this moment.” The Arcanus stomped her foot loudly, the sound reverberating about the room. “It is your superiors who wished for myself and the Order to make a decision on a matter affecting you. May I also remind you that both sides of the conflict in the Sing Mountain Range are here today, having left your forces short of men. Perhaps this moment may be an opportunity for you to find common ground.”
Chin pushed back his chair loudly and rose to his feet. He gave a quick tap on the bottom of his pipe, spilling dark embers out of the bell. “If our history lesson is over, I must suggest that we turn in for the night. You have foreseen the trial taking place tomorrow morning, if I am not mistaken, Lady Arcanus?”
“Thank you, Mr. Chin, that is correct.” Charlstine nodded. “I apologize for having you up this late, especially after just having arrived earlier today.”
The mage began to walk about the room, before picking the staircase that lead up to his room. Charlstine nodded to Shiloh and Bently before disappearing down one of the dark hallways, her robes flowing out behind her.
Shiloh watched for the woman to move out of view before turning to Bently to speak. “There is another man that bears the same armor as yours, who is still about the Tuleforian front.”
Bently pulled apart his crossed arms and leaned into the table. “Mandabus.” He whispered, studying Shiloh’s earnest expression.
“That is his name, then.” Shiloh pursed his lips. “We never got any information from him.”
“You spoke to him?”
“We had under our control, for a brief time.” Shiloh continued, his voice low. “He attacked our settlement, brazenly at that.”
“That sounds like Mandabus.” Bently smirked. “Aside from the part of getting captured. Was it your mage again?”
Shiloh pulled his seat up again and studied Bently’s face. “Our Captain. Your forces aren’t the only people with access to arms with these strange magical forces.”
“Hmm, and yet you’re so against such powers supposedly.” Bently pondered, his smirk shifting into an apathetic frown. “By the sound of it, though, it seems like he slipped through your fingers.”
“It is no laughing matter.” Shiloh pounded on the table with his fists, creating a dull, hollow sound. “After taking the life of our Lieutenant Commander, he fled. That thing is no longer a man…”
“What do you mean by that?” Bently growled.
“Then you have no idea why we’ve been summoned here, then?”
“There is a judgment to decide for you mage, is it?”
“He was found to be a user of dark magic.” Shiloh paused. “Your… Mandabus revealed to us that the mage had stripped him of his humanity, leaving him a hollow being inside that shell of armor. The only thing he can fathom is the taking of our Mage’s life.”
Bently let out a long, rumbling sigh. “He should have returned to Xiandol with us.”
“He was heard saying that your Kingdom meant nothing to him anymore. You’re likely fortunate that the case is such.”
“Why do you say that?” Bently interrogated.
“If a man… a beast… such as him were found to be working under Xiandolan command, you and your comrades wearing that armor, using those weapons… those who forged those armaments too… I doubt the Arcanus would so easily look the other way. The Order would certainly make some sort of ruling on it.” Shiloh stood and slowly leaned in toward the center of the table, his face growing closer to Bently’s. “The way I look at it, your attack those weeks ago on our settlement was just short enough of a war crime for the Order to overlook it.”
Bently sat quietly, unblinkingly, as Shiloh stared him down. The bodyguard, finally satisfied, pulled away and quickly jogged up to the stairs that lead up to his room.