Copyright © 2018
All Rights Reserved
Tylor Kranyak
Author of Legacy of Krazatan
     Five days after passing through Sulves they arrived at the city of Orakko. The city sat at the crossroads of two of Horagothien's major highways. It was about mid-day when they approached the city's large gates. The gates looked like they could have held an army at bay at one point, but huge imposing doors had long since rusted and frayed from centuries of disuse by being left open. The inside of the city was an absolute hive of activity with people coming and going, carts of various foods and materials being pulled all over the place, and men constantly shouting and promoting their wares from the countless market stalls and storefronts that lined every inch of the street side. They passed by one stall full of sparkling jewelry made out of precious stones and metals with a particularly wealthy looking older couple browsing the selection, while at the stall directly next to it a shabby looking young man was having a shouting match with a merchant about the horrible quality of some purchased tools and something about a collapsed scaffold.
     Over the roofs of the buildings and the countless market stalls they spotted a large castle sitting in the center of the city. Some parts of the structure were composed of different coloured stone and building materials than other areas, and one wall looked like it had been rebuilt completely from scratch within the last century or two. It looked as if it had once been a decrepit ruin before someone came along and patched up all the broken pieces with whatever they had on hand. Despite its odd appearance, there was a certain elegance to it that spoke of the city's ingenuity for bringing in the new while still honouring the old. Kai spotted dragonkins landing and taking off from the structure's many open-roof turrets and bartizans, indicating that, much like the Spire of Patriarchs in Draton City, the castle was used as Orakko's roost and courier hub.
     "Are all cities in Horagothien this big and busy?" Kai asked as he took another look at the bustling activity around him. He genuinely wanted to know since the only two other cities he had seen in his life were Nethric and Draton.
     "Other than Orakko and the main capital cities of each province, not really," Kim told him.
     Kai looked over his shoulder at the girl. Kim wore one of their spare travelling cloaks with the hood pulled tightly over her head. Lukan had decided it was better for them to pass through the city since going around it would only attract suspicion due to Orakko's accessibility to travellers. Because of this he had Kim wear the cloak in order to keep her face hidden while they were going through. It was very possible that by now the Cartel had found out Kim was no longer with her uncle's caravan and had sent messages to their men in every major city with a dragonkin roost to be on the lookout for her, so they didn't want to take any chances in case one of them was on the lookout in Orakko.
     "What's so special about Orakko?"
     "It's a traveller's city. It's on the crossroad of the Central and Ashen Highways, which gives it a direct connection to Draton City, Breniston City, Galathi City and Traghaven. Even most of the dragonkin sky routes cross here. It sees the majority of central Horagothien's traffic, because if you're travelling to any of those other cities, regardless of your method, chances are you'll be making a stop here at some point."
     "If it's such an important hub then why isn't it Horagothien's capital city instead of Draton?"
     Lukan piped in. "It may very well have been, if not for the Spire of Patriarchs." The old angel nodded toward the city's castle. "The castle here may be big, but it doesn't have nearly the amount of space and facilities that the Spire does."
     Kai looked at the castle again. "It looks pretty old, too."
     Lukan grinned. "That's an understatement. Orakko Castle is older than the city itself, older than any city in Horagothien actually. It's a relic from the Birth Era, and one of the very few structures in the world that survived the Arch Dragons' rampage, the Thousand-Year War and Krazatan's first coming. Great pains have been taken throughout the centuries to keep it standing as it's quite literally one of our last vestiges of history from a time long since forgotten. The name itself, Orakko, is the ancient word for 'respect'."
     Considering the castle's history and current state, Kai felt the name was a very good fit. "Interesting. So, where's our next stop after Orakko?"
     "That would be the village of Amar. If we continue along the Central Highway we should reach it in about four or five days."
     "Can we take a detour and hit Tulge instead?" Kim ask, and the mention of that village's name put a hitch in Kai's breath. "I heard they just opened up a clay works there, so I want to find out if it'd be a good place to add to one of our trade routes. Since they just finished recovering from that kerosus stampede eleven years ago their prices might be more amenable than some other nearby villages."
     Lukan shook his head. "We can't afford the delay. We're already taking a great risk by escorting you, and the longer it takes us to reach Hurita City the risk of our... opposition catching us increases."
     "It's already going to take us another month or so to get there, what difference is one more week going to make? Back me up, Kai." A look of concern passed through Kim's face when she met his eyes. "Kai, what's wrong?"
     "What? I mean, nothing." Kai snapped out of his suddenly sullen state, he hadn't realized he was thinking hard enough for it to show in his face. "I agree with Lukan, we should stick to the main road. There's nothing for us in Tulge anyway."
     "All right... Are you sure you're okay?"
     "I'm fine," Kai told her, and this time he managed to keep his voice steady and neutral. Kim didn't seem convinced, but thankfully she didn't press the issue. Kai was positive Lukan knew something was wrong, too, but fortunately he remained silent as well.
     They passed by a myriad more of market stalls and their assorted stocks as they continued down the street. They came to the city's center where the gatehouse to Orakko stood, although it was currently under repair or renovation if the mountain of scaffolding encircling it was any indication. Kai noticed a large pile of wooden debris shoved off to the side of the construction area and wondered if it had anything to do with that collapsed scaffold he overheard from the argument at that one stall they passed. In the dead center of the square facing away from the castle was a large statue of two angels. They stood side-by-side, one wearing a long, billowing robe that fell to his feet while the other sported a full suit of armour minus the helm. The pair's faces bore the striking familial resemblance of a father and son. Both of them had a hand clasped around the hilt of the Tenjin, which was held between them with the blade tip resting on the ground.
     Kai had seen enough of Father Kenneth’s dusty old tomes during his repentance for striking Bren in the chapel to recognize the two stone figures as Terralus and Rekai. What he thought was odd, though, was that nearly every person who passed by stopped to drop a silver piece into the large stone basin in front of the two statues. While Garrath’s chapel didn’t do the pan-handling thing because the village was too small and poor for it, Kai was sure most of the big churches in towns and cities passed around collection plate during sermons. That was inside a big secured building, though, and it seemed foolish in his eyes for people to leave their offerings out in the open where no one was supervising.
     Nodding to the basin, Kai asked, “Aren’t they afraid of someone stealing from there?”
     Kim smirked. “Not in this city.”
     “Why not?”
     “Because if they’re caught the entire city would pummel them to a pulp and drag them out of Orakko.”
     Kai grimaced. “That seems like a pretty extreme punishment over a few pieces of silver.”
     “It’s not about the silver,” Lukan explained. “Stealing from that basin is considered an insult to what the Arch Angel and his son did to save Pangaea. Orakko Castle stands as a symbol of not just what we lost from the Arch Dragons’ rampage and Krazatan’s first coming, but what was saved by Terralus’s efforts and Rekai’s sacrifice. Their statues were erected here so that everyone who travels through central Horagothien is reminded of what they did for us. It’s customary to leave a token of appreciation to our savours, and as far as the people of Orakko are concerned anything that’s placed in that basin belongs to Terralus and Rekai.”
     “Everyone seems to be giving a silver piece, though,” Kai said, a little confused. “If it’s just a token of appreciation that’s needed then why does it look like everyone’s treating it like a standard fare?”
     Lukan nodded. “A token of appreciation can mean many things, and gifts of any kind are welcome, however…”
     “The Church of Order would rather have a bag of silver than a box of trinkets and hand-knitted socks,” Kim chimed in.
     Lukan chuckled. “That’s one way of putting it, I suppose.” The older angel reached into his coin purse and retrieved three silver pieces. “Why don’t you two go pay your respects? I’ll stay here with the therasi.”
     The two of them climbed out of Trak's saddle. Kim took the silver from Lukan while Kai handed over his mount’s reins. Kim handed Kai one of the coins as they made their way over to the statues. Once in front of the monument, the girl clapped twice and bowed her head before dropping her offering into the basin.
     “What was that?” Kai asked after witnessing the strange ritual.
     “I was getting Terralus and Rekai’s attention,” she told him.
     “Excuse me?”
     “There’s no point in paying your respects to the Arch Angel and his son if they don’t see you doing it.” At Kai’s look of confusion, she clarified, “The tradition is that you’re supposed to clap twice, once for Terralus and again for Rekai, so they’ll know to look down on you, then you bow to show them your respect before making your offering.” She repeated the process for Lukan’s offering then stepped back. “Your turn.”
     Kai stepped up to the basin next. He clapped once, twice, then bowed his head. Before he made his offering, however, a young boy ran up to the other side of the basin. He was a gangly little thing with matted brown hair and tattered clothes. He looked to be about eight or nine years old, but his sunken cheeks and scrawny limbs made it hard to be sure. From the ragged appearance, coupled with an experience with a certain other street urchin, Kai thought the boy was going to try stealing from the basin. To his surprise, the boy instead clapped, bowed and made an offering of three copper.
     The pang of humility Kai felt was like a kick to the gut. Here was a kid who obviously needed the coin for himself, but instead of hoarding it or trying to steal from the basin he decided to give what little he had to the angels who were responsible for protecting the world he lived in, no matter how meager his own life might have been. No child capable of showing that kind of respect despite his circumstances deserved a life of poverty.
     Kai looked up at the statues of Terralus and Rekai for a moment, then back down at the kid who was starting to walk away. He closed his fingers around the coin he had been about to drop into the basin. "Hey, kid!" The boy turned to look at Kai with suspicious eyes that held just a touch of fear, which he assumed was from the sight of his armour and sword. Kai jogged toward the kid and knelt down so he was at eye level. Holding out the silver coin, he said, "Here, go buy yourself some new clothes and something to eat."
     The boy's eyes went wide at the sight of the coin. "R---Really?" he said with such awe and surprise that Kai couldn't help but smile.
     "Yes, really." He ended up having to take the boy's hand and place the coin in it himself as the boy was too stunned to take it. "Go on now, make it count."
     The boy beamed at him. "Thank you, mister!" he said before turning and running excitedly away.
     Kim came to Kai's side as he stood back up. "You're a real sucker. You know that, right?" she said, though she smiled at him regardless.
     "Terralus and Rekai have more than enough silver already." He nodded at the boy dashing down the street by the construction. "He needed it more."
     Kai's heart suddenly jumped into his throat as he watched the boy, too excited to look where he was going, run headlong into the legs of a therasus carrying a nobleman. The boy scrambled away in terror when the beast roared at him, and in doing so rounded into one of the workers of the nearby scaffolding who carried a hefty amount of wooden planks. They both went down, and all the planks fell on top of them.
     Kai was already rushing over to help when the therasus, enraged by the invasion of its personal space, swung its tail wildly into a nearby support beam. It snapped completely in half from the force, causing the platform above it to crumble in on itself. Workers scrambled off and away from the chain reaction of the collapsing structure, but the boy and the man he had smacked into were still pinned down under the flimsy structure.
     Kai went for the man first since he was already trying to get up. He only had a couple planks to move before the worker was free, at which point Kai hauled him to his feet and all but flung him away from the danger zone. He leapt at the kid whose legs were stuck under some of the heavier pieces. He didn't have time to worry if the kid's legs were broken or not, he could hear the scaffolding starting to fall apart around him. With all the strength and agility he could muster, he lifted the wood off the child and gathered him up in his arms. He barely had enough time to run as chunks of timber plummeted around him, and when he heard the final snaps of the entire structure coming down he dove.
     He twisted his body to roll so he would land on his side and gripped the child to his chest to protect him from the impact of hitting the ground. A moment later he felt the rush of air and dust billow over him as the spot where he had been standing mere seconds earlier was entombed under a mountain of broken planks and beams. He ignored the sounds of rushing footsteps and people yelling as he gently released the child and helped him sit up.
     With the danger now past Kai noticed that the boy was crying. "Hey, it's okay. You're safe now," Kai told him in as soothing a voice as he could manage.
     "You crazy bastard!" Kai looked up to see Kim rushing toward him with Lukan in step behind her. She came to a skidding halt before dropping to her knees next to him. "I can't believe you just ran in there while that whole thing was coming down! Are you okay?"
     "I'm fine." Remembering that the boy had a pile of wood dropped on him, Kai looked back down at him and asked, "Are you hurt? How are your legs?"
     Between sobs, the kid managed to shakily reply, "I---I don't know." He tried to move one of his legs, but only started bawling harder from the effort. Kai gently pulled back his pant legs to get a better look. The boy's right leg only had a few shallow cuts and splinters, but his left leg had swiftly reddened around the shin where presumably the bulk of the weight had landed.
     "Hold still," Lukan said as he came around and knelt in front of the boy. He ran his hands up and down the reddened leg, applying slight pressure on certain spots with his thumbs. "Can you wiggle your toes for me?" The boy nodded and the end of his battered shoe twitched in response. "Now, try rotating your ankle." Again, the boy tried to do as he was told, but this time he let out another cry of pain. "It looks like a break in the fibula. It will heal on its own, provided a proper splint is applied within the hour before it starts swelling. It's not too serious since it's not the weight-bearing bone, but you'll still need to keep off of it for two months to let it heal."
     Kai looked pityingly down at the boy. From his ragged appearance it was unlikely he had anyone responsible enough to take care of him in the time he would need to recover. "Isn't there something we can do?" Kai asked. "You know, something to help him along?"
     A look of comprehension passed through the older angel's eyes when he understood Kai's unspoken question. He looked around at the surrounding crowd, which was thankfully more occupied with the fallen scaffolding and the workers who survived it to pay much attention to a small group of travellers tending to a street urchin. "Wait a minute. Kai, take a look at this."
     Kai leaned down pretending to get a closer look, and in doing so used his upper body to block the boy's view and the views of anyone close enough to take notice. Lukan's hands glowed with a soft golden light against the boy's skin, the same light, Kai remembered with some amusement, which had radiated from the angel's hand when he cured Kai's hangover the first morning of their journey together. The reddening around the child's leg faded away in a matter of moments. Kai imagined the bone within knitting back together, the damage that would have taken months to heal mending in seconds. It still amazed him to no end to see the wonders of angel magic, and it renewed his own enthusiasm to continue his training so he could one day produce the same wonders on his own.
     "Try moving your ankle again for me," Lukan said after the light faded and Kai moved back away. The boy seemed to brace himself for more pain, but this time when he tried he was able to make a full rotation of his foot without so much as a flinch. Lukan smiled, "Well, look at that. I may have spoken too soon. It looks like your leg is just fine."
     The boy's fear and distress seemed to recede almost immediately. "R...Really?"
     Lukan nodded as he and Kai moved to help the child stand. "You should still take it easy for a few days just in case."
     The child nodded, then looked up at Kai. "Thank you for saving me, sir." Reluctantly, he reached into his pocket for the silver piece Kai had given him and handed it back. "You saved my life, so I guess I should give this back..."
     Again, Kai was shocked and humbled by the boy's offer. He immediately shook his head. "No, you keep it. You need it more than I do."
     "But... But..."
     Kim stepped in. "What might the Arch Angel and his son think if you refused his generosity?" She made a sly gesture toward the statues of the two angels.
     The boy looked between the statues and Kai before slowly closing his fingers back over the coin. He nodded and, smiling again, said, "Thank you, sir."
     "Hey!" Kai and the others turned to see a town guard and one of the workers coming toward them. It took Kai a moment because he didn't get a good look at his face at the time, but he recognized the worker as the man he had saved first. Kai had a moment of panic, but the relieved look on the worker's face as he led the guard over told him they weren't coming to make any trouble. "That's him," the worker told the guard. "He's the one who pulled me out of there. Damn well saved my life he did."
     "I'm told you're the one who helped this man before the scaffolding came down," the guard said, addressing Kai directly.
     "That's right," Kai said in as respectful a tone as he could manage. From the look of the guard's higher grade armour and the shine of his sword's hilt in its silver-trimmed hilt Kai took him for a high ranking officer of some kind.
     "Can you give me your account of what happened?" Kai went through it all, from the moment the boy ran under the noble's therasus to after the scaffolding came down behind him. The guard smiled with gratitude and a hint of respect. "You're a brave lad." he gestured toward the statues much like Kim had. "Loss of life in the eyes of Terralus and Rekai is a terrible tragedy. You have my professional, and personal, gratitude for sparing our city from that disgrace today." He looked down at the boy next. The child had taken a nervous stance behind Kai when the guard first arrived.
     Worried, Kai asked, "He's not going to get in trouble, is he? I'm sure he didn't mean to---"
     "He's not in trouble, don't worry," the guard assured him. "If anything, the man on the therasus is to blame for riding that close to the sidewalk. I can assure you I'll be having a serious chat with him when we're done here." He went down on one knee so he could speak with the boy at eye level. "Do you have a name?"
     "Jacob... sir."
     "You've been through a lot, Jacob. Are you hurt? You took a big fall from what I heard."
     "I'm fine..."
     The guard looked back up at Kai. "How about you? Our hospital is just down the way, I can take you there myself if you need it."
     "Thank you, but we're both fine," Kai told him. "But, would you be able to make sure Jacob gets home safe?"
     He nodded. "Of course." Turning back to the boy, he asked, "Where do you live, Jacob?"
     "In the east side, near the wall."
     "I'll take you home." The guard offered his hand, and the boy gingerly took it. Standing, and facing Kai and the others one more time, he said, "Again, you have my thanks. From the look of you I assume you're not from around here, in which case I wish you safe travels on the road ahead." The boy gave one last thank you before going with the guard, and as the two of them walked away Kai heard the man say, "Are you hungry, Jacob?"
     When they were alone, Lukan said, "What you did was very reckless, Kai." Kai resigned himself for another of Lukan's lectures, but was surprised when the old angel continued, "Still, you acted quickly and fearlessly, and because of that two people are alive. That kind of bravery will do you well in the trials to come." His gaze took on a sterner tone when he added, "However, I don't want you to use this as an excuse to act brashly when it's not appropriate. Instinct and a quick mind are valuable tools, but always lean toward caution and careful thinking whenever possible as that will keep you and the ones you protect alive in the long run."
     I understand," Kai said, because he really did. However, a part of him was still a little frustrated that Lukan chided him regardless of the good he had just done.
     Lukan nodded. "Good. I'll go get our therasi, we should leave now before we attract even more attention."
     As the old angel walked away, Kim came up to Kai's side and said, "Geez, he just can't give you a break, can he?"
     Kai shrugged, "I guess not."
     "Well, I for one think you did the right thing." Kai smiled at that, but as always Kim took her comment further than she needed to by adding, "It was idiotic to jump under that thing while it was coming down, but like Lukan said, two people are alive because of your recklessness."
     Kai rolled his eyes. "Whatever, let's just go." He knew he should be a little pissed by his group's tepid response to his actions, but he couldn't work himself up for it. The look of gratitude from the boy he saved was more than enough to tell him that he had done the right thing, and no amount of chiding from Lukan or Kim would convince him otherwise.