126.96.36.199. The Mausoleum of Mysteries Two days after Rael’charon delivered his strategy in Levides Palace, he and Emperor Sage the Fifth ride out Myrcalia along the countryside. Wait, what are they up to here? To take a rest, relaxing and vacationing in this place with fresh air and beautiful natural scenery while all their comrades are working around the clock, rallying the troops and get them in shape in a week’s time for the Crusade?
Well, if we take a closer look at their hard, serious faces, one may say that they’re on a mission of equal or greater importance than the Crusade. Also, they don’t talk during the ride, both being so eager to reach their destination, hardly enjoying the scenery. The cunning and wise elf just rides behind the exalted sovereign quietly, as one word from him can make this young, temperamental ruler change his mind. Before too long, they finally arrive.
Rael’charon follows the Emperor inside as he marvels upon the pyramid-shaped, large building in the front of a hill. It’s seven floors tall, and is about as big as a rural castle. The architecture is somewhat ancient, dated back several centuries before the Fireheart Era. Actually, what impresses the elf more is the complete history of Arcadia carved as bas reliefs on its walls.
The history of Arcadia began with the Declaration of Unification between the Kings, Princes and Dukes, all seven of them in the region to form a stronger Empire under one rule in defense against monsters, orcs and dark creatures from the underworld. And then, the Empire successfully defended against the orcs, thus by the leadership of the hero, Lesnar Geine the Arcadians freed Borgia from the orcs’ rule, pushing them back as far as Gremion and let them reside that cold, harsh region. Geine then became the third Emperor and the Parthenians monumented his name as the name of the a planet in the solar system. *)
(* See Book One, Chapter Seven for Planet Geine
The walls depict more events in history until the time of Sage the Fireheart who married Anne-Marie Geine, the last Heir of the Geine Dynasty and founded Deveraux Dynasty after he helped vanquish Vordac the Dark Overlord.
The last entry is of Antoine Deveraux, son of Sage the Fireheart who liberated Arcadia from the vile Mandrach Urganon’s reign of terror.
Rael’charon is so fascinated with the whole story until Cristophe’s voice snaps him back to reality.
‘Here we are, the inner chambers of Arcadia Mausoleum, tomb of our Emperors. Here is where princes and consorts rest in peace. It’s slightly going undergrond and not very deep in the catacombs where distant royal families lie. But still, we have placed many guards and traps in case someone is foolish enough to steal in this tomb. If you go here without me or a member of a royal family, you will alert the guards and they will activate the traps the moment you set foot in this place’.
‘I understand, Your Majesty’, says Rael’charon submissively.
The first basement floor is, like the upper floors, neat and bright, with marble floor and tables filling the room. On the marble tables lay dead bodies, all well preserved and embalmed with nothing but the best materials and covered with glass covers so the visitors can recognize them and the bodies stay preserved in magically air-vacuumed spaces. The air itself reeks of incense and myrrh, namely the preservatives.
Paying respects to the departed, Rael walks with his head low, following Chris without looking at the bodies. They walk here and there as though searching for something, and when Chris finds the one he’s looking for, he gets down on his knees and bows, the elf follows suit. Chris gets up and does the same thing in front of the tomb next to it. Rael follows again, and when he gets up he recognizes the bodies at once, saying,
‘My respects to Prince Alexis and Queen Mathilde of Arcadia, may you resume your rest in peace.’
Chris says, ‘No wonder you recognized my mother. You have visited Levides when I was a child. I still remember you for that, and for that memory only I gave you the permission to inspect Alexis’ body in this place.’
‘I understand, Your Majesty, and I’m sure that the thing that I’m about to do won’t spoil that memory. I’m just trying to help you answer the questions in your mind.
Did Robert kill your brother?
Was the Dark Forces’ attack during your absence accidental or part of plan ‘divide and conquer’?
How to divide the Alliance? What’s the Alliance’s weak point?
If Robert didn’t kill your brother, then who did?
What did they abduct Empress Eloise for?
There has never been a trace of insanity in Deveraux family, why did it start within your strong-willed father?
You already knew the answers of some, and some others must be answered through this examination. And here is an additional question: Did your brother really die?
So now, I’m asking you again. Do you want all these questions answered?’
Chris answers, ‘Actually, I’m not interested in digging a hole that has been dug. I’d rather concentrate with the Crusade.’
Hearing that, Rael’charon’s expression changes and he turns away from Alexis’ coffin, saying, ‘In that case, there’s no point carrying on with this examination. If only I knew you would say that in Myrcalia, we wouldn’t make this fruitless, time-wasting trip. It’s pity, though. If only you dig deeper, you might find what you’re looking for.’
‘So, you mean I haven’t dug deep enough?’
‘Will all due respect, yes, you haven’t. And if you go to Crusade with your mind full of doubt and guilt, the enemy will surely use them as your weak point and attack there only until you break and succumb to it. And without you, the Heir of Vadis as leader, the Crusade will likely fail and the Dark will once again reign over Arcadia – or worse – the entire Eternia!
The key to your answers is here, in your brother’s body, in front of your eyes. So, for the last time, do you want me to examine your brother’s body at the risk of desecrating it, and get all your questions answered?’
After a bit of thought, Chris sighs and answers, ‘Well, I do. You know I can trust you on this, and only you, because you have helped Robert before. Go ahead, Counselor, dissect his body if you need to. I’ve learned that the future of Eternia is far more important than my brotherly and filial love.’
‘Very well, then. I shall begin the examination now.’
Chris knows just what to do. He draws a bit of blood from his finger with a needle Rael brought, and uses that finger to press the button on top of the tombstone with the name ‘Alexis Deveraux, Prince of Arcadia’ carved on it. The magical device recognizes the blood sample, and the glass cover begins to open from the middle, sinking down into the stone pedestal as it’s highly magical, exposing the body to open air for examination purposes.
Rael’charon examines Alexis’ face and body, from top to bottom with his sharp eyes and immense power of concentration. Just as he is about to take Alexis’ death tunic off, Chris interrupts him, saying, ‘Let me do it’. Slowly but carefully, Chris unbuttons the tunic with his shaking hands. Rael can see Chris’ face drastically saddened as they see Alexis’ torso, all embalmed and is in a good shape except for the battle scars and the patched-up mortal wound on his chest from the sword that penetrated his heart all the way to his back. Chris keeps on staring at it with teary eyes while Rael’charon carries on with examination.
Considering all natural and supernatural possibilities, Rael interviews Chris about Alexis’ features, presses the corpse’s face and body at certain points to verify the information, and takes notes as necessary. He also examines with mandrake extract (to reverse the effects of transfiguration) and several alchemy substances that react with the body, yet the body remains normal as is.
At this, Rael concludes, ‘Only one method remains: We have to dissect this body’.
‘Lo, for what?’ Chris demands, ‘the royal physicians have perfomed an autopsy on him, and so far they concluded that it was just an ordinary murder’.
Reacting to this, the elf takes out his scalpel anyway. Chris suddenly shouts, ‘Stop, Rael!’ that somehow makes Rael jump in shock (which is an unlikely reaction from an elf) and accidentally cuts Alexis’ face with the scalpel.
‘Oh, sorry! I’m very sorry, Your Majesty’, says Rael with a whim.
‘You did that on purpose, eh, elf? I once had an elf as girlfriend, so I know that an elf can’t be easily shocked.’
‘Well, for a 150-year old elf like me who lives so long and so far away from Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life, we tend to be more sensitive to less natural environments. Anyway, I can still fix the face, look...’
The cunning elf takes out a salve, and stops when sees Alexis’ face, muttering,
‘Interesting... very interesting.’
Puzzled, Chris asks, ‘What’s so interesting?’
‘Take a good look at your brother’s face.’
Chris looks at the cut on Alexis’ face real carefully. It looks like an ordinary straight cut deep on the cheek, but as he gets closer, he sees the cheek skin slightly peeling.
‘Naturally, a cut won’t peel the skin. If that happens, there is only one explanation to that.’
‘This is not Alexis’ natural skin, as though he’s wearing a mask or something,’ Chris concludes.
‘Exactly. And this mask is of human skin taken from the back or someplace, and processed either with magic or masterful craftmanship. Maybe I’ll try peeling some more just to make sure.’
‘Go ahead, Counselor. I also need to know.’
‘Well, here goes nothing.’
The elf carefully moves the scalpel beneath the peeled skin, cutting and peeling some more until half the face skin is peeled off, leaving the other half intact as evidence.
Apparently, it’s indeed a mask and the face of another man shows beneath the outer skin layer. Rael’charon gasps as he recognizes that face as...
‘Sir Eldric O’ Brennan.’
‘What? One of the three Lorean Knights who fell in the Battle of Myrcalia?’
Rael nods, saying, ‘Actually, Sir Eldric was the missing one, and now we know that he, not Alexis was murdered to frame Robert, to make you attack Lore in revenge, leaving Arcadia and other nations vulnerable for attack. Divide and conquer.
So, with this evidence in hand, there are two possibilites now. One, the Dark Forces have abducted Alexis and turned him into a mosnter or anything, using all means to use Alexis’ power for their own dirty, rotten goals.
And two – pardon me for saying this – Alexis must’ve been in league with the Dark Forces all along, and I’m afraid he’s actually the Heir of Vordac.’
Chris is so crestfallen on hearing this. ‘My brother – a traitor? No way. He was the apple of my father’s eye. He was so strong, so talented, never lost a fight. You’re just being absurd here, Counselor.’
Rael answers, ‘Well, if you put it that way, let’s assume that he – like your wife – was abducted. I’m unclear of their reasons, but one thing for sure, the Dark’s prime target is you.
You, of all your strengths and weaknesses have earned the status as Vadis’ Heir and became the central figure in this Crusade. The Dark Forces hoped to crush the Light by crushing his leader. And how to crush the leader? By attacking his weakness. And how to crush the leader’s weakness? By attacking the ones you care most, one by one: Your brother, your father, your wife...
Hmm, now I may assume that your brother and wife are still alive because the Dark wants to use them as hostages to threaten you, to lure you into their trap, to catch you in a defenseless position and then they’ll kill you all anyway. Or worse, they can and will use you three as weapons against your kind – by the worst way you can think of.’
Chris thinks for a while and then concludes, ‘Well, thank you, Counselor. Now I’m enlightened and ready for anything, for any tactic the enemy might pull, and go to war with a firm heart.’
Rael responds, ‘Good for you, Your Majesty. Now, let us wrap this face back so we can present this evidence to the others...’
‘Pithy... I must disagree with zat.’
Chris and Rael quickly turns and see the speaker standing on the entrance.
‘Monsieur du Bois?! What are you doing here, without my permission?’ says Chris with surprise. He presses the button and Alexis’ coffin closes.
‘Yes, I came not by your permizzion, but by your brothair, Alexis’, rest ‘ees soul. ‘Eere, zee. Fireheart Medallion. ‘Ee gave me zis to clear zee guard posts ‘een deactivate zee traps, just like you did.’ He takes out a golden medallion with a shape of a heart in fire and shows it to all. ‘Well, ‘eets more stylish zen zee ancient Geine Medallion, I’d say, and it worked!’
Enraged, Chris shouts, ‘That medallion is for royal family only! My brother won’t give his key to non-blood relatives! He couldn’t be that reckless!’
Talbot reacts, ‘Ohoho! But maybe ‘ee did! ‘Ee gave it to me, saying zat ‘ee wouldn’t need zis in case ‘ee departed from zis world in zee many battles ‘ee was in. ‘Ee trusted me fully, zat lad, and I sure ‘oped zat ‘ee would become L’Empereur, not some...’
‘ENOUGH! Enough of your slithering tongue! Now I demand you to surrender that medallion at once and go back to your duties! And that’s an order!’
‘An ordair? Why, of course I shall go back. But first, let me explain what I discovered ‘eere and what made me express my disagreement.
I zee you ‘aave let Monsieur Rael’charon perform a sacrilege upon your brothair’s remains – tsk, tsk – ‘een found out about zee body replacement. ‘Een zen, YOU two planned on telling everybody about it – ‘een zat’s wot I disagree upon. You zee, I cannot let you ruin zee schemes I’ve made long ‘een perfect: Deaths in Arcadia, you trial in Valanis, zee infiltration in Myrcalia, Alexis’ death, timing of the Dark Campaign, ‘een – oops – even zee Crusade you’re planning ‘ees being exposed zu zee ‘Eir right now. All were all my avant garde masterpiece!
Your knowledge upon disguised cadavers did reveal a flaw, an undesired scratch on zat perfect masterpiece ‘een I can’t allow ‘eet zu happain. Zo...’
Suddenly, Talbot throws a pouch towards Rael and Chris. The quick-handed elf throws a knife at that green package that pops, spreading a green mist of powder in the air.
‘Look out! It’s the One Hour Agony poison!’ Rael warns Chris. Both of them close their nostrils, but alas! They have inhaled a small dose of that poisonous gas and fell on their knees.
‘Ha ha ha! Zee great strategeest ‘een Vadis’ ‘Eir falling in a simple poison trap! Guess intelligence, might ‘een speed can’t always win against pure, simple bit o’ cunning, eh? Now I just got zu get out of ‘eere safely. You two will die in an ‘our, so, farewell, and zee you two in ‘ell!’
As Talbot turns and starts to run away, Rael shots a throwing knife with the last bit of his strength. It hits Talbot’s right shoulder.
‘OUCH! Damn you, elf!’ He shouts, and the double-crossing tactician darts off with the knife still nested on his shoulder.
Chris also gathers his last strength to look into the glass casket where the evidence is kept. To his shock and dismay, he sees Eldric’s corpse (disguised as Alexis) rotting so fast, only the bones and skull remain.
‘Oh, no... t-the evidence is gone...’ Chris mutters under the poisoning effect.
Rael’charon rummages into his pocket and takes out a vial of mandrake extract, saying, ‘Never leave home without it.’
He immediately drinks half of the all-poison antidote and gives the rest to Cristophe.
‘Too bad I only brought one for emergencies like this. Mandrake extract is not the best antidote for this poison, and with half the dosage, we can only buy time until help come.
That corpse rots the same way, same speed as any victim of the cursed dagger Ultimatum. MacLair might be dead, but the dagger can be in anyone’s hand now since it was stolen in Valanis. Now, let’s move as close to the exit as possible. I’ve called for help through telepathy, and she’ll be here any minute now.’
Now Chris knows why Rael stays calm all the time under that pressure of life and death. He has prepared everything! Five minutes later, Ney the elf sorceress along with Carolyn who also holds a Fireheart Medallion arrive on th spot with several guards.
‘Hurry up! Carry them to the palace infirmary or they’ll die!’ Carolyn shouts out instructions while Ney tends to Rael.
‘How’s your condition, brother?’ says the she-elf.
Rael answers feebly, ‘Weakening by each minute, Ney, the same with the Emperor here. Thanks for your help.’
Chris can barely mutter ‘Thanks’ as four guards heave him on their shoulders.
Rael asks Ney, ‘How about Talbot? Did you capture him?’
Ney just shakes her head, ‘No, I’m afraid. It seems he had chosen another path, probably a hidden exit.’
‘A hidden exit even I don’t know about,’ Carol adds.
‘It’s no wonder, since Talbot was Alexis’ right handman, being trusted more than a brother,’ Chris mutters bitterly.
The group then moves quickly to the infirmary, with no time to waste and the V.I.P. lives at stake.
‘So, you called us here just to tell us the plan’s changed,’ says Adler that night, in the same garden-view meeting hall with only the full moon hanging on the starless sky.
All Paladins and Commanders are present, including Rael’charon and Emperor Sage the Fifth, who are apparently recovered from the One Hour Agony poison.
The elf tactician responds to that, ‘Precisely, Viscount. But first, I need you all to know that there is a traitor among us.’
‘What? Who is it?’
Almost all who are present express their surprise, looking around, left and right for suspicious faces, mostly to Dar’gum the orc and Kyflynn the dark elf.
The latter cooly comments, ‘That’s easy to guess. Only Snakebeard Talbot isn’t among us tonight, so he must be the culprit. Just straight to the point, Rael. What the hell happened?’
Rael nods, ‘I was just going to tell you straightaway. Monsieur Talbot has poisoned me and the Emperor inside the Royal Mausoleum and ran away. We were there to examine Prince Alexis’ body to investigate about his death, and before we found anything, the body rotted quickly to its bones, just like a victim of the Ultimatum dagger. Luckily, the infirmary here have the right antidote to that poison, so here we are.’
Chris quickly gives Rael the look, to which the elf returns with a ‘trust me, I know what I’m doing’ look on his face.
Hernan comments, ‘How dare someone desecrate the dead that way. The one who got the nerve of such perfidy must have a secret so dark it worth destroying the body to conceal it. For a body to rot so quickly to its bones, it’s not natural. It must be the Cursed Blood effect.’
‘To put it short,’ Rael concludes, ‘It’s all part of a plan, the mastermind of which has confessed before he fled. The murders in Arcadia, the attacks, ambushes on heroes with potential, even the Siege of Myrcalia, the ‘divide and conquer’ tactic and the information leak in Freidle and Hail’varan, he took credit of it all.’
Kyflynn bangs the table and comments, ‘I always knew he is a scumbag. I might be the foul-mouthed one but this Talbot is downright rotten. Better a body rotting to its bones than a rotten heart.’
Rael continues, ‘For once, I agree with you, Flynn. And with Talbot escaped, the enemy must have known about the plan of the Crusade and its details. They also must have expected us to change the plan for sure upon this much exposure.
So, it’s like a game with all cards open. We’ll just try to cover one or two with our hands, with hope that the enemy won’t expect this move. And like a game of chess, we predict the opponent’s moves and plan to make the opponent sing to our tune.’
‘So, how will you deliver these unexpected maneuvers?’ Eidos asks, looking around in case there’s an eavesdropping device hidden somewhere.
‘I have prepared them all in here,’ says Rael, taking out several red envelopes from his bag and shows them to the others.
‘Your instructions are written in these scarlet letters, like the ones sent to invite heroes to the mission in Enia’s Sanctum. Only the recipients can read them. The difference is, once you’ve done reading it and putting it back in the envelope, it’ll dissolve. So, read it now, read it later, read it here or anywhere as long as it’s in secret. Memorize the instructions, and put it back into the envelope. Do exactly as you’re told, or you’ll be punished according to the martial law.’
The elf tactician distributes the letters personally, handing them to the recipients, one by one. Some of them read the scarlet letters righ away, and when they want to say anything, Rael’charon already gets up, saying,
‘Keep these secret. All your questions will be answered in the field of duty. This meeting is adjourned. Good luck, fulfill your destiny. May the sun shine upon you and the earth give you life.’
The blond, long-haired elf walks briskly out of the meeting hall. All eyes are fixed upon him. Some of them whisper to one another. The Emperor just sits still and looks thoughtful. Robert gets up and follows Rael’charon.
Kyflynn, on the other hand, turns very serious and stares at the unopened scarlet letter on his hand, murmuring, ‘May the moon bring you good fortune and the stars guide you through the night.’