Chapter 44: Dead or AliveJuly 1, 2020
“Long live King Caiphus! Hail Prince Kaleb!”
The crowd was large, and the cheering echoed down the small back alley, loud enough to hurt. Coslo winced, clapping a hand over one ear as he looked down at the girl next to him.
Princess Vara. Now an outlaw. A traitor to the Throne.
She had slumped, defeated, when the herald in the market square announced her mother's impending execution. Coslo and Vara were about the same age, both thin and dirty, and Vara’s clothes—once palace finery—were now as dusty and torn as his own. Coslo’s hair was a dark brown, greasy and ragged, and his eyes were quick, always moving, watching. As she pushed herself to her feet, Vara’s eyes were sunken and tired.
She looks lost. Scared, Coslo thought. He’d seen plenty of children with that same expression. He knew what it felt like himself. She’s alone.
…and worth more than you could ever spend, he realized. Coin. Food. Warm clothes. One word to the watch and— Coslo shook his head, dislodging the thought. What had the king and his slow, stupid soldiers ever done for him? For anyone?
Coslo’s mind raced as Vara pushed herself to her feet. When she turned to face him, Coslo saw something burning through the tears. Vara was furious.
“I won’t let them hurt her,” she said, reaching out, one arm scraped and bloody from an earlier fall. “Will you help me?”
“I’m just a a thief.” Coslo said, holding up his hands. “This is big deal stuff. It’s not thieving, it’s politics.”
“You’re quick,” she replied, an edge to her voice, “and you have those visions.”
Coslo winced, “I dunno. I can’t control ‘em… they just happen.” The orphan looked down at her still-outstretched hand, and—the sensation was sharp and sudden. He was falling, no, running. His legs and lungs burned, but he couldn’t stop. Around him, the air stank of dirt and rust, and—and there was Vara’s hand again.
Coslo took a step back, head pounding. He’d had the same vision the first night Vara had sheltered in old man Wyatt's junkyard. He’d never had the same vision twice before. This was different… important. She was important.
“O-okay,” he said.
Vara blinked, “Really?”
“Yeah,” Coslo nodded. “I have t’ trust my instincts, right? An’ it’s the right thing to do. Besides,” he added with a gap-toothed grin, “if we survive, you’ll owe me big time.”
Vara smiled, something brief, fierce, and sharp.
“Come on,” Coslo said, taking her hand. “I have an idea.”
“I will admit,” the businessman said, his voice smooth and amused, “that I did not expect my day to include a wanted princess and her pet urchin.”
Coslo and Vara stood in the large office of a semi-derelict mansion in one of Argenport’s more dangerous neighborhoods. The man sitting behind the large oak desk was tall, with dark hair, a weathered face, and a fine leather coat. The high-collared shirt he wore beneath was a crimson silk, and the polished grip of a pistol protruded from his belt.
“But you did agree to see us,” Vara shot back, her arms crossed. Next to her, Coslo scowled.
Dizo nodded, “I was curious. Why come to me?”
Coslo took a step forward. “Rumor has it that the Cabal can get in an’ out of the Spire dungeons. If that’s true, we want in.”
“To speak with the former queen, no doubt,” Dizo said, raising an eyebrow. “If I did have such information, it would be costly.”
“I’ll pay,” Vara said immediately.
Dizo chuckled. “And how, exactly? You have no money. No connections. No power. And a sizable bounty on your head.”
“Like you need the money,” Coslo snorted. “Nah, we have something much better.”
“And that is?” Dizo asked, steepling his fingers.
Coslo shot a glance to Vara, who nodded. “Her father’s attention. Or his distraction,” the boy said, his mouth suddenly dry. If this doesn’t work… “How many patrols are the Crownwatch missin’ while they’re out chasing her? I bet there’s loads the Cabal can get up to while the Throne is lookin’ elsewhere.”
Dizo had a good poker face, but Coslo saw a gleam in his eye, and felt the man lean forward, ever so slightly. Gotcha. The orphan spread his hands wide. “Tell us how to get into the dungeons. Tell us how to free Eilyn, and the king will have much, much bigger things on his mind than the Cabal and its business.”
Four hours later, and the pair were standing in a claustrophobic, underlit hallway that fell away into rough-hewn stone steps leading down into darkness. Dizo’s instructions had taken them through the sewers, winding their way beneath the city until they had found a well-concealed doorway hidden in a rocky, slime-covered wall.
“I can’t believe that worked,” Vara said as the door shut behind them. “These are the dungeons.”
“Been here before?” Coslo asked distractedly, craning his head to peer into the shadows.
“Once,” Vara replied. “My father wanted to show me what happened to people who… challenged his authority.”
Coslo shuddered. According to Dizo’s sources, Eilyn was being kept on the lowest floor. Without another word, he and Vara turned, and descended into the dungeons beneath the Spire.
They moved quietly, stopping to listen at every doorway. The descent was slow, and Coslo could feel Vara’s frustration building. Once, as they crept down a long, empty hallway, Coslo went pale—the warmth of firelight, and the smell of tar and leather—and quickly pulled Vara into one of the abandoned cells as a soldier in heavy mail rounded the corner ahead. The guard’s gait was unhurried, and the pair pressed themselves into the dark corners of the cell, Coslo fighting to keep his breath quiet and steady. After minutes that felt like an eternity, the guard passed, and he exhaled.
“That was close,” Vara said, her voice barely above a whisper. “Did you see that he was coming?”
Coslo nodded. The vision had been brief, but it had given him a moment’s warning. But why would a guard be down here so late? he thought as they slipped back into the hallway. In front of him, Vara gasped, freezing in place as a low laugh rolled through the cells. In the hallway ahead—between them and the stairs down to Eilyn—stood a tall umbren with glowing eyes. His robes were simple, but pieces of ancient, burnished copper hung in the air above his shoulders and head like armor.
“Little Vara,” he said, the words carrying through the still air.
“You,” she hissed, eyes wide. Out of the corner of her mouth she whispered, “My father’s advisor.”
Coslo twitched his hand, and a small knife dropped from its hiding place in his sleeve. He took two steps to put himself between the radiant and the girl, gesturing with the blade. “Just keep moving, mister,” he said, trying to keep his voice steady. “We don’t want no trouble.”
“Trouble?” the radiant asked. His eyes flashed, and Coslo yelped as the knife turned to dust and fell through his fingers. This is bad, why didn’t my visions warn me, Coslo thought. Before he could move, he felt Vara step up beside him. She met the radiant’s gaze, and the shadows seemed to darken around her as she said,
“I am going to free my mother. You can’t stop us.”
The radiant’s lips peeled back in an alien grin. “No… I don’t think I will,” he replied. “Your resolve is impressive. But I do not require someone like you… this time. I shall watch your little rebellion with interest.” Robes rustling, he strode past them. As he exited the hallway, the umbren added, “If you ever require a teacher, child, you know where to find me.”
“What was that about?” Coslo asked, wiping his hand clean on his grubby shirt.
“I… don’t know,” Vara said, wincing. “My head. Why was that so familiar? He felt. I-” she shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. Not right now. Come on.”
The deepest cells below the Spire stank of damp and mildew. Like in my vision, Coslo noted as he and Vara rounded a corner. Only one of the cells in the next hallway was lit by guttering torches, and Vara ran towards it with a cry.
“Mother!” Vara called, throwing herself forward. Coslo saw a woman in dark blue robes leap to her feet, hands flying out in warning. As Vara touched the heavy iron bars, emerald energy pulsed around them, and she flinched back, crying out in pain.
“Vara! How are you here?” Eilyn asked, her voice awash with surprise, pain, and fear.
“Daraka's dead,” Vara said, her own voice hollow. “I… I didn’t know what to do. I ran, hid. When I, I heard they were going to execute you, I—” her words dissolved into a sob. “I couldn’t let them.”
Eilyn’s eyes shone with tears. She reached for the bars, but stopped short. Coslo saw her gaze flick to him, then back to her daughter. “I am so sorry.”
“We’re going to get you out,” Vara said, gesturing to Coslo, who jerked to life, fumbling in his pocket for a roll of lockpicks “This is Coslo. He’s a thief. And my friend.” Feeling out of place in this reunion, Coslo busied himself with his tools.
“It’s no use,” Eilyn said, as Coslo selected a pick and reached forwa—burning, arcing light, and ringing pain—he flinched, the vision had been nearly as strong as the shock itself. Carefully, he tossed the slim tool between the bars, where it met another searing flash of energy. “Rolant’s handiwork,” Eilyn explained, anger crackling beneath her exhaustion.
“T-then we’ll find a key,” Vara said, desperation seeping into her voice.
Eilyn shook her head. “Caiphus has the only copy. I’m sorry, child.”
“N-no!” Vara shouted. “We came all this way! I… I can’t.”
Sweat and fear, rust and dirt, Coslo’s head swam with memories of his earlier vision. It lead me here… for what? He looked up, and met Eilyn’s gaze. Her hands were clenched into fists, as if it was the only way she could stop herself from reaching out to Vara. But her eyes had gone hard, seething with a storm’s fury. Somewhere, maybe a floor above them, Coslo heard the clank of armor. His eyes widened, and Eilyn nodded, ever so slightly. Oh. Coslo felt his stomach drop, and he numbly put his tools away.
“We need to leave,” he said. “Let’s get back to th’ junkyard. We’ll… think of something. Maybe Wyatt can help.”
Vara tried to speak, but no words came out. Carefully, he knelt down and put a hand on her shoulder. She doesn’t need a thief right now. Just a friend. Someone to pull her back up.
“The guards will be down to check on me before too long,” Eilyn agreed.
“No,” Vara whispered, as Coslo helped her stand. “I won’t let them. I… I’ll try again!”
“Vara,” Eilyn said, a note of command entering her words, “look at me.” Vara did, and Coslo took a step back, eyes scanning the shadows as Eilyn continued. “Caiphus is trying to take something from us. From you.”
“What do you mean?” Vara asked, drying her eyes with a dirty sleeve.
“Something he’s planning with that witch of a sister. Something to do with Kaleb, and you.” Carefully, Eilyn leaned down until her face was level with her daughter’s. “They’re trying to take your birthright, but they can’t. The Throne is yours. Caiphus can take my crown and call you a traitor, but there are laws and pacts that his words cannot change.”
There was a noise at the top of the stairs, and Coslo’s head whipped around, “They’re coming!”
“Go,” Eilyn urged. “There are stairs at the other end of the hall, too.” Vara opened her mouth to speak, but her mother silenced her with a look. “You are brave. You are fierce.” Her smile softened, and she said. “You are my daughter. Remember what I have said. Now go.”
Vara nodded once, then turned. Coslo started to follow, when Eilyn reached for the bars. Green light flashed, but she did not flinch.
“Coslo, wasn’t it?”
“Look after her. Help her, if you can. Please.”
Coslo looked up at the queen, then ducked his head. “I will.”
Then he turned, and hurried to catch up with Vara as they returned to the junkyard to lick their wounds. Caiphus’ grand festival—and Eilyn’s execution—were less than a month away
Something to think about over the holiday weekend: the next promo card quest begins Monday, alongside an announcement about multiple promo card quests for July!
Read more Eternal lore here!