The Sky Greets
Walking through the streets by myself, taking in the quiet scenes of a city waking up. Something was relaxing about the entire scene. I could feel a small warmth in my chest as I caught glimpses of villagers going about their day. Fathers saying goodbye on their ways to work, children gathering things and running between stalls for final ingredients, trading, and buying amongst themselves for their parents.
LIfe does find a way, huh? Though even with all this happening, how many of these people were real? Or was this all just background to fill a scene of players for people like heroes and villains and Pagemasters? I shook my head slightly trying to clear away such thoughts. Clarion said the ones who were real would stay, and I needed to believe those things.
I was making my way to the other side of the city where the cheap taverns and rooms were located. Finding the pirates was an easy enough matter. They weren’t really hiding at all, just spread out to deal the most damage rumormongers can do, it was trying to find their central point that proved challenging.
The man himself, Captain Hook, was staying off to the sidelines and merely spreading his word from a central point. Smart move to keep himself from being caught someplace less secure, and also smelled of trying to draw someone into a trap. Anyone wanting to meet had to go to his home turf.
I wasn’t intending to spring anything just yet. Mostly look around and gauge how much of a problem removing them was going to be. I didn’t have any real spying or stealth skills so it was all just a matter of trying not to look too conspicuous. The best I could hope for was just trying to keep my distance for a few hours, observe, and hope these pirates weren’t that good at counter-observation.
Interestingly enough, the pirates weren’t guarding their base of operations, they had a couple of hired mercenaries guarding the entrances of the rundown looking tavern. I wonder how much pressure they put on the proprietor to have that happen. The windows were covered with cloth inside, which was a rarity around here, most of the windows were too small that covering was actually detrimental, or had shutters on the outside.
It didn’t look like I was going to get much here, I could watch the pirates walking in and out of the tavern all day but that wasn’t going to tell me anything that useful, and my stomach was starting to tell me it was time for lunch. I was getting ready to turn and leave when someone started walking up behind me.
“Red Hero. The Prophet would like a word with you.”
I turned to look, trying to hide the surprise on my face. It was one of the mercs guarding the tavern. I steeled myself for anything and gave a quick nod to the guy. While this could turn into a mess, I felt confident enough in myself to get away before anything started going horribly wrong. Though I felt like I was stepping into a lions’ den before I was ready.
“Take me to him then.”
The merc guided me into the tavern with barely a side glance from the two guards posted outside, though I sensed one tightened his grip on the hilt of his sword he didn’t have any other reaction at all. Inside a handful of pirates were sitting about eating breakfast or leaning against the support beams nursing hangovers from last night, I received a couple of glances from the group but most seemed not to care too much. I guess this wasn’t that much of a trap after all.
Toward the back of the tavern stood a long skinny man, his black flowing locks running down his back as he faced away from me and looked into the fireplace burning in front of him. His stance was one that simply screamed, ‘I’m just doing this because I’m expected to as the villain.’ His red overcoat was hung over the back of a chair, along with a slightly flamboyant hat. There wasn’t much mistaking the man for anyone else, especially as he lifted up his right hand, twirling it into his long mustache.
“Welcome, Red Hero. Or should I call you…. Pagemaster?”
I stood still and quiet, not letting his question get to me. I had already expected he knew the moment his guard called me over. But I wouldn’t give him the pleasure of confirmation or denial. He turned towards me affixing his beady blue eyes to mine with a smile that involuntarily sent a shiver through me.
“Not bad, not bad. You aren’t as easily rattled as the Blue one. Or the fragile little Violet. I’m surprised they found a new friend to join their crusades.”
“Is there something you wanted to talk to me about?” I asked, putting a little bit of annoyance into my voice. I didn’t want to talk with him about my teammates, even if Clarion and I had questions about those two ourselves. I wasn’t about to trust anything he said about them.
“You’re a new element. I don’t know if your friends have told you how many times we’ve faced each other. But, I know this is for certain the first time that we have met. And as a courtesy of someone who hasn’t been placed on my list of enemies, yet I felt that you would be the one who should know that I’m not here to ruin what you are all doing. This time at least.”
“And so you are doing this all out of the goodness of your heart, making Blue out to be a monster going to destroy the kingdom? Turning the people against the king?”
He laughed with a dark smile on his face, reaching down to the table between us, lifting up a goblet designed to fit onto his hooked hand and taking a drink before answering.
“Oh no. I fully understand how black my heart is, Pagemaster. But the groundwork I place here will help with the things to come. It’s all part of a greater plan you see, one that even with my Eton trained mind would have not completely realized myself. One that I hope you will not interfere in, or else I might just let this kingdom burn to the ground and start fresh elsewhere.”
Before I knew it, my blade was in my hand and moving up to point at his neck. Except it never reached. The goblet bouncing across the floor with the ringing of metal while his hook and expertly captured the blade and turned it away from him.
He pushed it away and drew his own sword, looking quite gleeful as he moved around from the table, his men scattering to the walls to get out of the way. I took guard stance and watched him, the two of us circling each other watching for openings in the others’ guard. I could already feel my breathing tensing up.
I could feel it in the air as he looked at me. Decades of fighting with others like me, I gripped tighter to the hilt my katana trying to decide my first move, my eyes watching his looking any signs he would attack first.
I shift and feint to the right, but he barely moves his blade, the swords only lightly crossing with a clang of metal. I barely have time to react to his counter, his full body rushing up towards me I step back. The first time I’ve been on the defensive since I arrived in this world. His hook swings down trying to rattle the blade out of my hands. I shift my grip and strafe to the right taking a swing before he could try to pivot.
Fast. Faster than anyone I’ve ever met before. His sword met mine with a jarring force I wouldn’t have expected from someone like him. Clashing together he locked my blade to his and pressed forward. Looking at me with tinges of red in his eyes.
“You aren’t the first Red Pagemaster I’ve faced, Hero. Let’s talk like civilized men, shall we? You Americans can do that, can’t you? We were already getting along up until now. Or were you just waiting to attempt an assassination?”
I took a deep breath and let go of my blade, dismissing it as I looked at him, trying to gauge his person. He merely smiled and motioned for one of his men to pick up the goblet and replace the spilled wine. Returning his sword back to its scabbard and taking his place on the other side of the table again. We let the silence in the tavern remain until I decided that I had nothing to lose right now.
“I’ve heard you remember things, but how could you possibly know about things that haven’t happened yet? Got a little cheat book or something?”
His eyes glanced toward his coat for a moment, I guess he wasn’t good at keeping a poker face as I was. I tried to take a side glance noticing a pair of books hiding inside his coat pocket. I didn’t want to give away what he had revealed to me, so I couldn’t look long enough to see anything else about them.
“I’ll keep that as my little secret, for now, Pagemaster. If you feel better about it I do promise that I won’t be the one who will ruin your attempts at this Sleeping Beauty. But I’m not going to let you just have it that easily. I offer that on my Honor as an educated gentleman.”
I looked at him carefully, there was no reason to take him at his word. This could all just be playing a game with me to make sure the rest of us are caught out as fools, but there was too much unknown to know for certain. And for the time being, I would be able to leave this place alive, there’d be no point in just telling me all this after he already proved he could defeat me in combat.
“Is there anything else you wish to tell me. Before I take my leave of this place?”
He chuckled deeply, picking up his goblet again and taking a long sip from it. Making me wait on purpose. Hammering in the fact that I was at his beck and call in this situation. I gritted my teeth slightly in annoyance.
“One last thing, as a word of caution about your friends. If you know anyone who can look at souls, you might be fascinated to see their condition. Maybe even compare it to yours.”
I kept a straight face while his eyes glittered with some hidden thoughts, only returning a curt nod and farewell before departing from the tavern. Moving swiftly down the streets away from there. His words hadn’t eased any feeling of uncertainty in my mind. In fact, it was worse, though I had expected as much in the first place. That man was not to be underestimated and even then I’m not sure I had a good measure of him at all.
I took a circuitous path from the tavern, trying to lose any possible followers that might be trying to trail me. For all I know, Hook let me go to find Blue and Violet so he could get us all in one go. Though I had my doubts about that, it would be in character, but then again from the original book, anything could be in character for him.
After one such backtracking loop, I managed to look on with some surprise with someone actually trying to clumsily follow me. He was wearing a set of ragged looking armor I almost thought he was from the merc group that was working with Hook. moving onto a side alley I quickly ambushed him and knocked him out before trying to find out who he was.
Digging into his pockets I pulled out a set of traveling papers, they were for permission into the city from a foreign nation. Like a passport in this world, I guess. My stomach was feeling slightly unsettled as I looked at the paper in my hands. Hardland. This guy was from the troublesome kingdom nearby. What was he doing spying on me? Or was he initially spying on Hook? More questions needing answers. I sighed and stuffed them back into the guy’s pocket, leaving him propped up against a wall as if he had passed out drunk before making my way back through the city.
It was probably time to eat anyways. I’ll head to the main streets near the gate and get some food there before I start looking into this new problem with Blue. If we have foreign spies snooping around it could mean things are going to get worse really quickly.