Back to Arratan
Other Ailissan guards at the entrance of the tent took Adano’s and Jolan’s biometrics again, apparently to make sure that they were really who they appeared to be. When they entered the tent, more armored guards were looking at them in a hostile fashion and stopped them with crossed spears. “Sorry, you may not enter without permission. New orders from the city council. What are your dealings with the dragons Zathinax and Chahezla?” the senior elf guard asked them.
Jolan stared the guard in his eyes and stated without hesitation: “We relay information critical to our mission to bring the traitor Zaphenix to justice. Interference with our mission may nullify our offer to the republic of Alyade.”
The guard looked very displeased about this announcement and retreated with the words: “Please stay here, I will need to discuss this with my superior officers.”
Jolan told Adano in private: “Watch closely and learn. We are the Scintillating Mist Hunters of Arratan. We won’t let ourselves be pushed around easily. They might try to intimidate us, but our collective reputation and power as Scintillating Mist Hunters of Arratan is a great asset that can intimidate anyone standing in our way. More often than not, that is a bluff, but don’t show any signs that might tell them about that!”
Adano however was worried about the specifics of Quest and asked Jolan: “What is this Quest mode about? How is it turned on or off?”
“It’s on as long as you have any Quest items in your inventory. The armor you got from us obviously qualifies as that. Exiting Quest mode is possible at any time, but comes with severe penalties. You will lose all the Quest items in your inventory, your skill levels will be diminished, and you won’t be able to return into Quest mode for 72 hours. So, please don’t do that. The penalty for dying within Quest is less harsh, since it doesn’t affect skill levels and material reconstruction happens within 24 hours.”
“But when you aren’t in Quest mode, you can’t be harmed by Quest players, correct?”
“Yes, that much is correct. But you wouldn’t want to risk getting the reputation of being a quitter, would you?”
Before Adano could reflect on that prospect, they were greeted by a tall white unicorn in full titanium plate armor with three yellow stars on her face plate and a mesh of her horn adorned with lots of shiny white crystals: “You are Jolan Evertim and do not possess the authority within the Scintillating Mist Hunters of Arratan to decide on the dealings with the republic of Alyade. I am general Ellen Carter and possess the authority of putting you under arrest for threatening our security. Do not mess with me. You think you can use your reputation as leverage, but you don’t impress me.”
Jolan tried protesting about this brash threat, but general Carter continued after a break that lasted only a second: “Who do you think you are? You lot come to our capital city with a son of the infamous Kyutarvek Anissar in the proclaimed search for his other son who you claim to be a traitor. This looks mightily suspicious like one of the crazy plots of your fancy clan. We have no interest in your dangerous intrigues. But I’ll give you a chance. I’ll let you talk with your dragons, if you agree on being interrogated by the city council on what’s really your deal here. Accept that offer or get out of here. Otherwise you’ll be put under arrest. I’m not willing to negotiate with you.”
Now Jolan could ask an important question: “What are the terms of that interrogation?”
“You’ll be requested to give full testimony to the council until a final decision about the request of your tribe has been made. Until then you may not leave the citadel of Ailissa. You may or may not get isolated from the other members of your tribe.”
In private, Jolan told Adano: “This isn’t worth it. Our mission is to gather more information in Ailissa. We can’t do that properly while confined to the citadel.”
Even surprised by his own sudden bravado, Adano replied: “That’s ok. You can continue your search for information in the city. I’ll face the council in the meantime. I don’t really know anything about your mission anyway. Just give me the information package that we got from Inselm.”
Jolan had no time to dissuade Adano from his plans. He spoke to general Carter: “I agree with your terms and am willing to get interrogated by the city council. May I talk with Zathinax first?”
Ellen Carter addressed Jolan: “What about you, Jolan Evertim? Do you want to join your colleague, or will you go your own way?”
Jolan transmitted anger about his rash decision to Adano, but hid it from everyone else. She replied to Ellen Carter: “No, I’ll join my other teammates in the city. Goodbye.” Afterwards she stated publicly: “Farewell, Adano.” Then she quickly turned around and walked back towards the city.
Now Ellen Carter asked Adano: “Please tell me about you, Adano. What’s your exact position within section 73 of the Scintillating Mist Hunters of Arratan?”
Adano protested: “You specified that I’ll get interrogated by the city council, not you. May I now talk with Zathinax, please?”
Ellen Carter snorted and replied: “I’m not interrogating you, I’m just curious. You may visit your shaman. If you insist on meeting Zathinax immediately, follow me.”
Even though Adano could sense that Ellen has been disappointed by him not answering her question, he seemed to have gained some respect in her eyes. He followed her through a gate in a partition of the tent and got to see Zathinax and Chahezla, surrounded by dozens of heavily equipped Ailissan soldiers. The dragons looked unhappy about their situation, but were delighted that they got a familiar visitor.
Zathinax asked Adano: “What is happening? I’m not getting any proper information here. It’s like a prison cell erected for the two of us.”
Before anything else, Adano transmitted the information package from Inselm to Zathinax, which he received among the anger from Jolan. He greeted Zathinax and Chahezla: “Nice to meet you again. I’m sorry the hospitality of the Ailissans doesn’t come close to the standards of Sol.”
After he gave Zathinax the opportunity to absorb the information of the package, he addressed him in private: “According to the information package we got from this so-called Inselm the Hooded, I arrived in Arratan two minutes after a complete lockout of the habitat. Can you confirm that?”
A minute later Zathinax replied: “Well, according to Arratan, you arrived in the habitat ten minutes before the lockout was put into action. You were teleported to our location twelve minutes afterwards.”
This reply came as a shock to Adano, but he hid the discomfort from the guards surrounding him. He wanted a clarification: “Are you sure this is the truth? I have no memories of having been in Arratan prior to my arrival at your fireplace.”
“I can confirm that this is the information that I’ve gotten from Arratan. If what you say is true, this means that your memories have been altered. I’ve just asked Arratan about this, and she admits that this has been done – in accordance with the permission you have given her for that action.”
Adano asked his internal AI helpers about whether they could find anything that might hint at his or their memories having been altered. He didn’t expect them to find anything. If a complex had edited his memories, his helpers would have been affected likewise and the traces of that manipulation would have been hidden too well for them to find out without help from the outside.
There were still two other possibilities: Arratan or Zathinax could have lied to him. That’s why he needed to talk with Sapestris in order to rule out at least the second option. But if Arratan really had lied to them, the situation could have been nastier than expected.
He didn’t know how much time he had left, so he used it to ask Zathinax: “Jolan told me to ask you about any strange events that happened before I arrived here in Arratan. What could she have meant by that?”
At first, Zathinax was reluctant to answer, but eventually he told Adano: “She probably meant the disappearance of gods that started about 30 to 40 days ago. A lot of gods apparently went on journeys out of the blue, but haven’t been seen afterwards. It looks like there has been a sudden mass quitting of gods. A pattern that stood out was that the gods that had disappeared had Paxist leanings during the Long War. Maybe they knew that another big war was brewing up and they left in preemptive protest.”
The Long War? Paxists? Adano had no idea about the politics within the Arratanian Quest game. He had to ask: “What was that Long War about? Who are those Paxists?”
“The Long War was an Arratan-wide war within the Mevara realm that partially also affected other realms. It ended five years ago, but had lasted for 41 years, hence its name. It had escalated due to the influence of the Bellist faction who glorified the war and wanted it to go on. The Paxists, on the other hand, wanted it to stop. The Bellists had slowly lost their influence as the war had raged for over 25 years and became increasingly vicious. Nevertheless, it only officially ended with the unconditional surrender of the meta alliance Crystal against the victorious meta alliance Maelstrom. Matters have normalized since the end for the war. Cities have been rebuilt, the game went on normally.”
“Was there another highly unusual event besides that disappearance of gods?”
“Well, there’s of course the betrayal of the Scintillating Mist Hunters of Arratan that my brother Zaphenix has committed, but I don’t want to talk about that. Today I’ve been interrogated on that matter way too much already.”
“I’m sorry. Is there anything else that I should know about?”
“Yes, we don’t know if or how your sudden appearance here is related to the recent events. But there must have been a reason why you’ve been sent to section 73. Please do not leave us. Do not betray us. We probably need you, and you probably need us.”
“Do you happen to know anything about this Inselm the Hooded?”
“Never heard about that person before, but that doesn’t matter. I have independent verification of his claims from Arratan.”
“May I have access to that verification data from Arratan?”
“I am afraid not. Shamans and priests are not allowed to share secret data files they receive from Arratan with others. That’s another strict policy of Arratan.”
“Is Arratan really perfectly trustworthy?”
“As far as I know I haven’t been deceived by her, yet.”
“But she’s not always required to tell the truth?”
“She almost always tells the truth, and that’s usually good enough. It’s not like she had any malicious intentions.”
“Thank you for your honesty.”
‘This is bad. This is really really bad,’ Adano thought. If the habitat spirit was the only source of global information and that source wasn’t reliable, everyone could be manipulated to degrees that were hardly imaginable under normal circumstances. But at least Adano now knew about that possibility. It made his situation harder, but it also opened up the possibility that this lockout was just a lie.
While he had the opportunity to talk with Zathinax and Chahezla, he could also probe further, according the lines that Danisho suggested. He let his assistant ask Chahezla about the relationship between Zathinax and Sapestris, while he himself asked Zathinax directly: “Is it typical for tribes in Arratan to have two shamans?”
“It’s the maximum number of acting shamans per tribe. Arratan wouldn’t accept three active shamans per tribe. Since tribes want to have access to parts of Arratan’s knowledge two shamans is the natural number. A single shaman could become unavailable or unreliable at any time.”
“Does Sapestris have the same level of access to Arratan as you?”
“Yes, we share the same confidentiality level.”
“Has Sapestris always been honest with you?”
“As far as I know, yes.”
“Why are you shaman and she vice shaman and not the other way around?”
“She simply was less eager to take over the prime role.”
“Do you consider her to be a good friend of yours?”
“Most definitely. Where are these questions coming from? Has anyone talked to you about us?”
“Yes, it was Danisho. Should I be wary about what he tells me?”
“Danisho is trying to play detective here. I’m not sure what he’s trying to accomplish with that. He probably has his own hidden agenda, but that’s quite typical for Arratanians in general and Scintillating Mist Hunters in particular.”
“If that’s so, what is your hidden agenda?”
“Maybe I just want to find out who I truly am. I’m a hopeless romantic believing that we have some kind of true self that we can discover. Of course I’m aware that in reality the world constructs us with any interaction that we have with it, but I don’t care about that view. I believe that deep down there is something inside of us that just waits to be uncovered. Even if it’s just a bloody mess.”
“Why would you want to uncover it, if it might just be ‘a bloody mess’?”
“I have the hope that it’s more than that. A shining gem hidden below the deepest abyss of our souls that we usually have access to. And if there’s nothing like that to be found, at least I will have tried.”
“At the very least that’s quite a poetic cover story. Thank you for that. Oh, and a friend of mine had similar views. He called it the ‘inner character’ of a person. It’s that what we rely on, if we are deserted from all the technology and social support that usually helps and guides us.”
“Sounds like you were sent on a journey to discover your own ‘inner character’. Perhaps you have to thank your friend for that.”
“Unlikely. Perhaps. I don’t know. At the moment I don’t even know how I am supposed to feel about this whole situation I’m currently in. It’s just a brutal messy challenge for me.”
“You are tested whether there’s a real gem inside of you or not, and the latter possibility terrifies you?”
“Wow, you’re really not making this easier for me. Just before you said that, at least I had the illusion of having at least some grip over my destiny.”
“Nobody has a grip over their destiny. There’s only cause and effect. Cause and effect are driven by truth, and truth bloody hurts.”
“Sounds like you’ve been hurt a lot by a very particular truth.”
“Everyone will face truth eventually.”
Suddenly Adano had an intuitive insight what he might mean: “What truth? That aspiration leads to death?”
“So you know this saying about Aspirant Training. But do you really understand what it means?”
“It means that the person you are has to die in order for a better person to come to life.”
“You call it ‘better’. What if it’s just ‘different’? The wise are a hive mind. Their components are very much alike. In a world that values diversity on a fundamental level, in which there is a sufficient cognitive weight in the wisenet, this creates a contradiction. Nobody who isn’t a wise should try to become one. It’s just not reasonable, since its more valuable to have a diverse population of naïve, rather than more wise. But to conform with the Liberty Guidelines, the naïve at least are given the opportunity to become wise. We live in this wonderful world in which everyone at least has the chance to become anything e wants. Such a nonsense! We fill out the roles that destiny has chosen for us. And make no mistake, ‘destiny’ is wisenet.”
“What a bleak outlook. That sounds like something they say to discourage people from even attempting Aspirant Training. To me it sounds like you have had different views at some earlier time. What has changed your mind?”
“Have you ever lost someone to Aspirant Training?”
“No, have you?”
“It’s absolutely horrible! Either it completely erases their spirit, or it breaks them apart from the inside. In either case, the result is pretty equivalent to death. That’s the meaning of the saying ‘aspiration leads to death’. There’s also this nice addition of ‘death leads to rebirth’. Yes, true, but rebirth of what? You can’t step into the same river twice, but for Aspirant Training it’s even worse. It’s the perfect firewall.”
“Has anyone in this tribe attempted Aspirant Training?”
Zathinax’s tone had been becoming ever more warning, but this question triggered some cold rage: “Do not play with the firewall! It will turn you into ashes!”
Adano recollected that it is often said that someone attempting Aspirant Training even messes up everyone around them. Was this the answer to the mystery of the sadness that surrounded Zathinax and Sapestris? Have they both had a friend that attempted Aspirant Training and was ‘turned into ashes’ during that process?
He checked back with what his assistant had found out from Chahezla about Zathinax and Sapestris. She admitted that basically the whole tribe knows that they have some kind of special relationship, but nobody seems to know what really happened to or between them. Chahezla also suggested to stop snooping.
But he wanted to confront her with his ideas: “Do you know of anyone here in this tribe who had any contact with Aspirant Training?”
Chahezla returned angrily: “Raising the topic of Aspirant Training is pretty much anathema here in Arratan! If you insist on trampling on our taboos, you will quickly find yourself completely alone and deserted.”
Well, at least he hit a nerve here, so there must have been something to it. But how this connection looked like exactly was hard to gauge, especially because it was such a strong taboo topic.
With having offended the dragons by discussing taboo topics and his questions at least kinda answered, he felt that it was the right time to say goodbye to them, for now.
Adano told the surrounding guards that he’s ready to talk with the council. Ellen Carter wasn’t anywhere near him. Apparently she had more important matters to attend to. He was asked to wait a minute.
After a while a human sorcerer with long red hair and a long red robe entered and introduced himself to him: “I am Rake Venice. I will accompany you during your hearings with the city council. Please don’t be afraid, Adano. We are a civilized people.”
Having been intimidated with the threat of arrest by their unicorn general, Adano doubted the sincerity of that statement, but he was willing to interpret it as demonstration of personal goodwill. It was also hard to miss that Rake Venice was followed by two human bodyguards armed with bows, swords and daggers. He couldn’t really blame them for taking appropriate security precautions. After mustering his new ‘companion’ he greeted him: “Thank you for your politeness. I probably don’t need to introduce myself to you, but I’ll do it anyway. I am Adano Rahec, guest member of section 73 of the Scintillating Mist Hunters of Arratan.”
“Good. Nice to meet you, Adano. Now that we’ve finished introductions, let’s get to business. Please follow me to the teleportation circle. It will take us directly to the hearing room within the citadel.”
Adano did as told and stepped into the same teleportation circle that Lady Vanya previously used to appear in front of the crowd. It was now hidden in another compartment of the tent. When he, Rake, and his bodyguards were all ready within the teleportation circle, it was energized by the sorcerer and he immediately found himself in a large white room with lots of wooden chairs.