More Than Just Whispers
-Aodhiim: Vakama City Catacombs-
He stepped into the catacombs beneath Vakama City warily. He held a torch in his right hand, and its flickering light was the only one to be seen. A few steps ahead of him, Takua Pyre – his closest friend, and a one of the Pyromancers – led him deeper into the tunnels, running a hand along the wall to avoid losing his way.
After what felt like an age in the dark, Takua spoke. “Stick to the middle of the path, and watch the torch. We’ve reached the vaults. A single spark in the wrong place would be enough to collapse the entire city.”
A drop of sweat ran down Tex’s back at the words, and he shifted uncomfortably. “That’s why I’m here. The Knights and the Imperator both are… growing uncomfortable with storing the darkfire down here. It’s too big a threat.”
“They should have made these worries known sooner,” a new voice called from behind, echoing through the tunnels.
Tex turned, spotting the newcomer right away, her face lit by her own torch. It was Efandril Aodh, leader of the Pyromancers, and the Protector responsible for re-discovering the secrets behind the recipe for darkfire. It was an extremely volatile substance; purple in color and liable to burn or explode at the slightest bit of movement, or if too hot, or if contacted by even a single spark. Its destructive capabilities were legendary, and it had once given House Darkfire their name, before they – and the secrets to its creation – were eliminated after a failed rebellion over one hundred years ago.
“I beg your pardon?” he asked, as Efandril reached them.
“I meant exactly what I said. They should have made these worries known sooner.”
Efandril beckoned him to follow, and, after sharing a look with Takua, he did. She led them to the entrance of one of the many storerooms; in the light of the torches, he could just barely make out the jars filled with darkfire.
“These catacombs were originally built to hold darkfire,” she said, staring into the storeroom. “It’s why we started using them during the War of Five Kings, after I started up the Pyromancer’s Guild. We needed a safe place to store the darkfire when it wasn’t being shipped to the front lines.”
Tex frowned. “It’s peace time now, though. Surely there’s another location we could store it?”
Efandril sighed, and the sound was filled with frustration. Tex could sympathize; he was rapidly tiring of the Knights demanding he find a way to move the darkfire himself.
“There isn’t anywhere else,” she said. “By the time we were creating the darkfire, we had no idea how long the war would go, so we never placed a limit on how much we would make. I tried asking the Imperator to build us a safer storage location, one separated from society.”
“Not just a storage location,” Takua murmured. “We wanted our own… village, so to speak. Where we could live, create the darkfire, store it, and ship it out.”
“But by that point in the war Aodhiim was barely holding on,” Efandril continued, the fist not holding her torch clenching at her side. “We had just taken back Vakama City from Chloe Saryian’s forces. We had Protectors re-building and strengthening both Walls, and then developing the camps near them into Madacus and Valmai. The Imperator couldn’t spare us any men to build a single storehouse, let alone a village. So we stored the darkfire down here. And then, when the war ended, all of Aodhiim’s spare resources were dedicated to building Silodas.”
This, Tex already knew. After Vakama City had been taken by the Protectors of Jungle during the War of Five Kings, Imperator Sil hadn’t trusted the security of the city enough to continue using it as Aodhiim’s capital. He had instead shifted all the nation’s resources to the south to the lands of House Ash, where a new capital had been constructed. Silodas doubled as Aodhiim’s only major harbor, and its location made it more difficult for enemy land forces to reach, if they were even able to breach the Walls.
“Silodas hasn’t had any major expansions being built for two years,” he said. “Why not now?”
Efandril turned her eyes on him, looking both resigned and worried. “We could try, but… there’s so much darkfire down here now, and it’s so volatile. If we were to make a single mistake while transporting it, the results could be cataclysmic; and that’s before accounting for how damaging an accident could be politically. During war-time we could simply blame it on the enemy… but now, more than ever-”
“-the nation respects strength above all else, I know,” Tex said, rubbing at his temples with his free hand. “It stays here, then. I’ll let the Imperator and the Knights know. Hopefully it’ll be enough to get the latter off my back.”
“Suggest our village idea to them,” Takua said, shrugging. “It’s too dangerous to move the darkfire that we’ve already stored, but that doesn’t mean we have to keep storing everything that we make here. If they’re willing to build us the village, we can make it and store the new stuff there.”
“I suppose,” Tex said slowly, before another thought occurred to him, worry prickling in the back of his mind. “Is there any particular reason why you’re still making it? The war ended over a decade ago.”
“It is the Imperator’s wish that we be prepared,” Efandril said. It was clearly something she had rattled off more than once. “Karamu has the Temple of Time at their disposal, and we have no idea who holds the Staff of Annona. He wishes to have the darkfire on hand as our own deterrent… and as a weapon, for the inevitable war to come. You’re a Loremaster. You’ve heard the whispers.”
More than just whispers, Tex thought, but aloud he only murmured, “the Great War.”