Chapter Six, Part Three

Her hands covered his face, leaning forward on her knees. The princess hadn't moved since she had been placed beside him in this vehicle. He could look back now and chuckle at the thought that the princess's vehicle was extraordinary. Jacques' airship was almost ten times its size. The cockpit sat six, enough for Jacques, who was the pilot, his two prisoners and one guard. The second of his henchman had gone to confiscate the princess's small two-seater. They sat in the middle, Shalassah behind Jacques and himself beside her, having a good view of Jacques' remarkable piloting skills and the intricate dials, levers, and buttons on the dashboard. There was a short and narrow passage behind him, and beyond that passage was the hatch where they had entered, the receiving room a fairly large size, almost the size of an ample cell.

He still couldn't believe that he had witnessed his first -- and second -- murder a mere five minutes ago. For what purpose? Why the fatalities? Their deaths were unnecessary and preventable. He kept his eyes on Jacques, desiring himself to speak to the man and question his motives, but the guard sitting diagonally behind him was keeping a hard eye on him. It made him most uncomfortable. Jacques flew his ship in silence, never turning his eyes from the front window. Perhaps he grieved for his fallen comrade.

He didn't know how far the city of Morra was from here, but as of yet, he had seen nothing but mountain ranges and coniferous forests below. Immediately below. Jacques flew tightly and low to the terrain,  the tips of conifers often brushed the bottom of the ship. And the ride was not uncomfortable in the least.

He made the sign of Horafah again on his left breast. Once sufficed, but it was not a light matter. Kal looked up, willfully blocking out the man behind him who stared.

"Jacques."

"Hm?" Jacques tilted his head up but his eyes remained at the path before him.

"There was no need to kill that man."

"Monk, I had no choice. Your god can forgive me."

"Their blood falls into your hands, Jacques, it would take great understanding and faith on your part to receive his forgiveness."

"What was the man’s name?"

"Leucrota," Kal replied slowly, noticing Shalassah leaning forward, more tense than before. Were she crying, he couldn't quite tell, but he was sure of it.

"Very good," Jacques was pert. "And yours?"

"Kal."

"Kal, I hold no grudge against you. I won't ask what you are doing with the princess, it's not my business to know, but at this point, you've seen a little too much for me to let you go your own ways. God-fearing or not, I'd place as much trust in you as I would the next man." Still, he made no effort for eye contact.

"Your discretion is understood," Kal said. "Where are you taking us?"

"To -- what --" he leaned closer to the windshield, peering into the distance. They had just crested a rather high mountain ridge, but then Jacques slowed his ship significantly and began to hover, not yet lowering the ship to follow the descent.

Kal sat up in his seat and looked, too, squinting against the afternoon sun that glinted off the dash. The mountains, these Phorreigh Mountains, were old and wide, creating a great divide between borders, and he could see the range leveling off somewhere in the far distance, almost touching the horizon. But the wavering of heat at the horizon blurred his view. He glanced at Jacques.

Jacques raised his hand above his head and beckoned. "My scope, quick."

The guard stood up and Kal watched him retrieve a slim tube, extracting it section by section as he rushed it over to Jacques. Jacques snatched it from his hands, never taking his eyes off the horizon. He raised it to his eyes, and the cabin was silent except for the almost imperceptible hum of the afterburners coming from the rear of the ship. The guard didn't say a word.

A minute passed. Jacques put the scope down and without warning, accelerated to a lightning-fast speed. He raced over a few more mountaintops, then slowed to a stop again at the peak of one, this time keeping parallel to a crest of a rocky cliff peak. He took the scope to his eyes again, peering in the same location for a minute more.

Kal still could not see anything. Again, he wanted to speak with this curiously and fashionably dressed man, but with the guard standing directly in front of him, he felt it was most certainly out of place.

Jacques handed the scope back to the guard, who dutifully turned around to return it to its place.

"Ovado must hear of this." Jacques sat down hard in his seat and put the ship in high gear, the landscape zooming by at more than a hundred miles an hour.

Kal gripped his two shoulder straps, having never traveled at such speeds before in his life. The mountains sped by below him as Jacques kept a loose altitude with the terrain. Kal noticed the landscape turning a lighter hue of green now, the conifers more sparse, the valleys wider and flatter. Soon, he began to see thin sandy lines through the grass, small black and white dots with grey roofs, farmhouses and barns scattered below like clovers on a mossy rock face. This was what they called civilization, the heart of the Dalathould Empire. He took the site in ardently, his eyes slowly rising with each approaching crest to see what the next valley had in view for him. He'd given up looking to the north for whatever Jacques had spied through his looking glass. Whatever it was, it put Jacques on edge and made his lips taut.

A black fleck in the sky to the eastern horizon appeared on the console before Kal could see it with his own eyes. This technology sent thrills through him. The black fleck became larger, even larger, though it still had to be miles away.

"What is that?" Kal exclaimed, curiosity overriding his uneasiness.

"Transport. We'll just stay out of their way here." He began maneuvering the ship to the north, descending even lower. "You don't get out much, do you, Kal," Jacques replied.

"This is the very first time."

Jacques cast a side-long glance at him for the first time, a twinkle in his eye not unlike the one Kal had seen not so long ago at Mono Luthor's foothills. "First time, you say? First time to Morra, as well?"

Kal nodded.

Jacques emitted a short chuckle. "How endearing. I promise you I will make it a good trip, yes? Hm, where were you going before I was most inconveniently forced to borrow the princess?"

"To the Holy Church of Morra."

"Ah. Well I'll consider your release. Any particular reason why you're going there?"

"My Father wills it," Kal said softly as it suddenly occurred to him that the turn of events would certainly cause Father Gensia unneeded distress.

He laughed out loud. "Father Gensia kicked you out, really now," Jacques looked back at him again. "You must be a terrible monk, though I'd hardly think so."

Kal frowned and prepared to deny this dreadful assertion, but Jacques turned around all the way to look upon Shalassah, who still sat motionless, her hands covering her face.

"Oh, princess, by the way, what exactly were you doing at Mono Luthor?"

She gave no response.

"Hm," Jacques paused, exchanged a glance with Kal, and faced his dashboard. "Just trying to make conversation, lass. Silence suits me well enough, though. Ah, here we are."

The ship began to slow, and Kal looked up eagerly. They were still in a valley, farmland etching the land below, but as they rose over another crest, Kal held his breath. The mountain range formed a perfect crescent to a long valley that stretched for miles to the south, a perfect cul-de-sac surrounded by ancient and natural walls. A thick and magnificent cataract arrived from the east, dropping its heavy load in criss-cross formation down the cliffs and steep landscape, gathering itself in a small lagoon at the bottom of the mountains and then snaking south along the eastern ridge. Here lay the capital city of the Dalathould Empire, Morra. Thick walls surrounded its immense size, which began from the entire northern face of the mountain behind it and stretched for long miles into the lush green valley. Another airship was approaching from the south, though this one was smaller than the transport ship that had disappeared from their view.

"What do you think?" Jacques kept his ship at a hover and was gazing at Kal, a smile playing on every feature of his face.

It took a moment before Kal could take his eyes off the site. "It's so, I never imagined such a, well, I never quite grasped the image of how forty thousand people could fit inside a city. But, I believe I can understand it now."

Jacques raised his head and laughed. The image of him killing his own guard flashed through Kal's mind in a prickly second. How could such a light-hearted man, capable of slitting a man’s throat without caveat, have such a casual conversation with a monk? The image haunted him. "You just killed two men, Jacques," Kal exclaimed, not having joined in the man's innocent mirth.

Jacques lowered his head, a very different visage, serious and morose. "Don't concern yourself about my conscience, brother monk. You may not understand this now, or ever, but I did what was necessary, for both your sakes, as well as mine."

Kal glanced at Shalassah. She sat like a statue, and it was not untrue that Kal wished to arouse her voice, if not just to hear Jacques' justification of his actions. But even now, she feigned disinterest. At least that's what he thought it was. "How it was for our sakes, I am curious to know."

Jacques raised his index finger and waved it back and forth slowly. "My liberties have been tied behind my back--"

"You work for the guilds!" Shalassah jolted to a start, her eyes red and hazy.

Jacques, unmoved, looked at her from the corners of his eyes. "Well, well, well, the princess awakens. And a clever deduction, miss. I am at your service." He touched the brim of an imaginary hat. "I would have introduced myself sooner to you if it had been allowed. I'm not really fond of secretive sneaks, you know?"

"Don't you dare!" She recoiled from him, the guard taking a step closer to her from behind. "You are the cause of all this trouble! Thieves! Murderers!"

Again, Jacques only looked at her, his eyes masking whatever he really felt. Perhaps he really was genuinely as amused as he appeared, Kal wondered.

"Misunderstandings, my lady. I would be careful with that hatred if I were you, it can make people dislike you most vehemently."

"You disgust me!" Shalassah squeezed her eyes shut and turned her head away from him.

Jacques looked at Kal, who looked back at him. "Vicious, that one," Jacques whispered. He turned back to the dashboard, taking the ship out of neutral. "Don't worry princess, I'll be out of your sight very soon for a while. As for Kal," he paused melodramatically. "I pity that he has to spend that time with you."

They slowly descended down the mountainside, gaining little speed as if Jacques wished to avoid any particular attention.

The End

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