“Cecil…? Why are all those men dancing?” Ben asked, staring mystified across the Fabulian courtyard.
The mid-morning sun was just peeking around the corner of the castle walls, throwing hazy summer light down through the twisty-branched trees. Despite the tall stone towers that surrounded Fabul, there was a living world that flourished within the walls. A wide-open courtyard boasted an ornate hanging garden, complete with a small serene looking pool and babbling waterfall. Trees of many strange shapes posed green canopies to the sky while flowers seemed to bound out of the ground like rainbowed fountains.
To one side of the courtyard was a wide-open area where the grass was a closely cropped carpet. There were many men there, most of them with heads shaved bald or sporting only a braided top knot of hair. The sunlight gleamed off of bare, well-tanned and muscled torsos as they danced, their motions smooth and flowing like water.
They would move. Then pause. Move again, changing positions, sometimes stretching and folding or spinning. Then pause. It was almost hypnotic to the eye.
The Master Wizard had stopped to watch, despite the fact that he was supposed to be following the rest of the group to meet with King Yang in the throne room. Something about the whole picture was peaceful and inviting, even if the Fabulians were strange looking humans.
I’ve never seen a dance like that. It looks fun…
Ben’s contemplation was broken by a half-snort, half-jeer of the Ninja King, Edge. His face plainly spoke a you’ve-gotta-be-kidding-me look which left the Half-Lunar wondering what he had said that was so funny.
“Edge…” Cecil gave the Ninja a slow frown in response.
“Master Ben,” Porom gave a kindly smile, “Those men aren’t dancing.”
“Oh…?” the Half-Lunar wrinkled his brow in confusion. “Then what are they doing?”
“I think its part of their battle training, Golbez,” Cecil replied patiently. The Paladin had seemed to become more and more so after Ben had recovered from his wounds in Troia. Though it was hard to tell why.
Ben could only respond with more confusion. Battle, after all, was depicted as lots of loud, charging humans swinging weapons at each other. Not this peaceful, mesmerizing, dancelike stream of motion.
“Yeah. I think the Monks are weird, too,” Edge gave a smirk and thumped Ben on the shoulder as he walked by. “Pretty poses aren’t going to save anyone’s ass when it comes to real hard-core battle.”
“Maybe not, King Edge,” a thick accented voice carried from the stairway just ahead, “But a clear mind makes wiser choices than one that loses focus upon the first battle call.”
Ben turned his attention to the sound, recognizing the owner of the voice at once – King Yang of Fabul. Though the Half Lunar knew very little about the soft-spoken warrior, he remembered that Yang had been one of the few that did not protest his appearance at the Meeting of Nations before hearing the situation out.
There was a feeling of calm and control about each step that the king took. Every word that he spoke was measured and thoughtful. King Yang held himself with a strange blend of regality and a veteran’s knowledge.
Cecil seemed to have no doubt about King Yang helping us. Though… I still can’t understand why Cecil chose to come to Fabul rather than return to Baron. I thought he felt that protecting the people was more important than chasing down Incrytan…
“Yo Yang! What’s hanging!” Edge chortled in return, walking over with a wide, familiar grin.
“My men brought word of your incoming ship not long ago,” Yang replied solemnly. “I apologize that I could not make better arrangements in so short a time.”
“No… I apologize for coming in on so short a notice…” Cecil answered with a grim frown. “We’ve got a few pressing issues that we need to take up with you.”
“Of course, Cecil. Say no more…”
The dull complimentary talk of the grown ups began to fade out in the background as Chase gave a delighted croon, “Coool..!”
The Master Wizard’s head turned to see the boy staring up at his reflection in the gilded underside of a gold-crested dragon statue. The image was long and snakelike, the head reared back with a fierce expression of guardianship. The eyes were crafted of some sort of blue-green gems that sparkled as the light grazed over their surface.
“Wow..?” Ben breathed, inching closer to take a better look. His hand carefully traced along the smooth curve of the statue’s neck, feeling the little indentations where the scale patterns were imprinted in the metal.
It took the Half Lunar a moment to realize that all talk had faded into silence and that puzzled expressions were now watching him. Straightening a bit, Ben peered over at the group of kings.
Then he cleared his throat, “It’s a nice dragon?”
King Yang digested the compliment for a moment before breaking into a quiet smile. With a slight bow of his head he murmur, “Your appreciation of Fabulian art is welcome, Master Golbez. I’m happy to know that it pleases you.”
“We should get something like this for Baron, Cecil. The hallways are all so dark and stuffy?” Ben suggested.
“Um… Golbez. Don’t forget what we’re here to do?” the Paladin’s face was one of slight embarrassment. And a hint of amusement.
“Sorry…” Ben folded his hands behind his head with a boyish frown.
King Yang, however, was offering a genuine smile, watching the two brothers through mysterious, slanted eyes. He then made a motion with one hand that prompted the group to follow before he turned on his heel, leading the way deeper into the castle.
Fabul was a castle-city. It was unlike Baron, where the city was separate and sprawled up, around the fortress. Here, it seemed that the people, nobles and peasants alike, shared living space within the Fabulian castle itself.
At first, he saw mostly warriors. But as the group progressed further towards the heart of the fortress, Ben found that there were also small groups of women and children. Their voices were quiet and calm to his ears, echoing the natures of the warriors in the courtyard below. Even the children were somehow more contained.
What a strange feeling this place gives. Not at all like the motion and hustle of Baron’s city.
The calmness was pleasing to Ben, somehow. And he found himself observing and enjoying his surroundings with far more ease than he had on his first walk through other cities of the Blue Planet.
It didn’t take long before tall, tapestry-lined walls rose up before the group. The large polished-wood doors folded and creaked open, admitting them into the wide, stone throne room. Though the carpet was deep and plush and the walls ornately clothed, there was still a sense of balance and thought to the design. Everything had a place in the harmony of the whole piece, down to the pink flowers in the pale blue vase in the far corner.
A row of dark-skinned men stood on either side of the carpet, dispersed in between the tall stone pillars of the throne room. They bowed in unison as King Yang made his way between them, a real respect that had been long earned on the battlefield, rather than just a political or ornamental display of obedience.
King Yang didn’t speak a word as he reached his throne at the top of the dais. He merely motioned with one hand. The men on either side of the walk way bowed once again and began to file out of the room in a quiet, orderly procession. Within a few minutes, they were alone with the Fabulian King. No time was wasted as the conversation began.
“How goes your journey, Cecil?” Yang inquired, settling down on the edge of the large throne. Even the way that he sat spoke of a warrior rather than a king.
“I wish we could bring better news to your kingdom, Yang. But, I’m afraid right now, time is of the essence,” the Paladin answered with a grim face and a tone to match it.
“I see. What do I need to know?”
“We have just arrived by airship from Troia… which was not a promising thing to see. Much like Mysidia, the city has been destroyed through what we think is a mis-guidance of the elemental Crystal that used to be there,” Cecil informed the room.
“Mmm… grave news indeed. Were there any survivors?” King Yang frowned, steepling his fingers.
“You talking about the hot chicks?” Edge grinned.
“Thankfully, yes. A good deal of the populace was able to escape and take refuge in the forests. However, the Crystal’s destruction wasn’t the only concerning thing we found there,” the Paladin motioned with one hand. “It seems there was an army of peoples that had also moved in to take control of Troian’s fortress when we first arrived.”
“We’re not sure of their origins… but the seem to be similar to the Elven kind that were rumored to have lived in the forests there. They call themselves the Daear…”
“Pain in the ass, is what Cecil means,” Edge snorted from behind.
Yang arched one eyebrow at the ninja king.
Already used to such outbursts, Cecil continued as if it hadn’t even happened, “They seem to have some sort of vendetta against both human and Lunar kind from what we’ve seen.”
“They thought they had it over on us but we gave it to them good where it hurt the most!” Edge interjected.
“I assume that means you were able to drive them out of Troia?” Yang translated quietly.
“More or less. Out of Troia, yes. But we haven’t stopped their progression,” Cecil responded, pressing his lips together. “Even now, they are threatening an invasion upon Baron itself.”
“What?!” the first crack across the face of Yang’s calmness formed. “Invading Baron? Cecil… what are you doing here, then?”
There was a moment of silence. The big question lingered in the air.
Cecil peered down at the carpet under his feet. Then he shook his head. “Your kingdom is in far more danger than Baron is. As long as the thief that stole Incrytan is loose and your city houses the elemental Crystal…”
The weight of the trailed off words didn’t need to be clarified. Everyone knew what was suggested. Everyone had seen what had happened to the other Crystal-bearing nations. No one wanted to know what it would be like to live through the destruction that was caused.
Not this city… it’s so peaceful here. So calm. The people seem kind. It can’t be destroyed because of my Crystal.
Ben didn’t realize he was bunching up his fist until Chase’s little hand touched his knuckles. Instantly, he relaxed his hands, trying to keep his thoughts from showing outwardly. It had gotten more difficult to do that lately… and he couldn’t tell why. Even Edge had joked about being able to “read Golbez like a book.”
Though how that is possible, I don’t know. It’s not like I have any pages. Nor writing scribed on me, for that matter.
The Half-Lunar chanced a glance at the back of the Ninja’s head.
Humans have such odd phrases.
Ben’s chin jerked up, “Uhn?”
He realized that Cecil was peering at him with a frown. “You haven’t heard a word I’ve said to you?”
“Sorry…” he mumbled quietly.
That’s another thing that’s been happening lately.
Distractions. They were everywhere. Ben thought that once he had gotten used to the overwhelming feeling of the Blue Planet that his senses would become accustomed and dulled to the myriad of light and sound. But he was wrong.
Now, more than ever, things tugged at his senses and baffled his concentration. It was as if his growing awareness of the human peoples actually increased what he could feel. Emotion of others. Now that he had begun to recognize and understand, the impact of the signature of other people’s emotion was growing stronger within his mind.
It had gotten to the point that Ben found himself mimicking, acting and reacting like the humans did.
“I was asking you for ideas on how best to secure the Crystal?” Cecil repeated with a soft sigh.
“Well,” Ben attempted to cover his lack with an intuitive look. “I’d have to see the layout of the Crystal Room before I could answer that.”
“Dude,” Edge retorted instantly, “Weren’t you the one that sacked Fabul and swiped the Crystal during the War? You can’t be telling me you don’t remember this place looked like.”
Ben’s mouth shut with a click as Chase’s supportive grip around one finger tightened. Even Yang couldn’t hide the wince that struck out over his face. Cecil made a quick turn towards the Ninja shooting the darkest scowl that a Paladin could manage.
Finally finding his voice, the Master Wizard shook his head slowly, “No… I’m afraid I don’t remember anything that happened here. Nor much of anywhere else during the War, for that matter.”
Edge looked like he had something on his mind to retort to that, too. But with Cecil’s glare and the court of Fabul watching him, he wisely chose to hold his peace.
After a bit of silence, King Yang nodded slowly, “Though I do not know how much time we will be afforded, I think that Master Golbez speaks sense when he suggests that we plan for tactics of defense. Our fortress can withstand the coming of the Daear troops.”
“Just like it withstood during the Crystal War,” Edge pointed out with a huff.
“That was during a time when we had little way of trained men in our forces. Times have changed, King Edge,” Yang replied with a grim face. Then he rose to his feet, motioning to a doorway in the far corner of throne room, “Come. We will conference further.”
There was still a sour taste in Ben’s mouth as he watched the others follow the Fabulian King to the door. Something about Edge’s statement still clung to him, tickling the back of his mind with the feather of irony. For here the Dark Lord was, facing another siege on Fabul… but this time, he would be on the inside, looking out.