The Red Blade
Part Seven – Purpose
An intense rumbling peel of thunder rolled across the darkening sky, a cacophonous report that promised much more to come. Across the gloom laden sky, vast banks of clouds piled up, spilling over each other in their haste to sweep down on Ardanium. The smell of approaching rain suffused the warm air. Soon would erupt one of the sudden summer storms that at times would crash across the plains, swelling the river fit to burst.
Carse and Athradies walked slowly through the streets of the city. All around them, the citizens were on the move, reacting to the storm like displaced ants whose nest had been overturned, seeking out places of shelter before the deluge arrived. Athradies walked with the air of one unconcerned, as if the coming storm was but a minor inconvenience, strolling along with an easy stride. As ever he was aided by his ever present staff.
“You have seen the city, my boy, its highs and its lows,” he said conversationally. “Tell me, what is wrong with it?”
Carse stepped aside to allow an old woman, a slave, carrying a basket of cloth, to scurry by, her dark eyes heavy with concern. “Wrong with it, Master?”
Athradies nodded, his staff clattering on the pavers with each step. “Yes, my boy. What is wrong with it?”
“There is nothing wrong with it,” Carse replied. A frown creased his forehead as he tried to understand what exactly Athradies was expecting of him.
Athradies responded with a derisive expulsion of air. “I do not mean the physical locale, though even that can do with some work after the years of neglect it has suffered. No, I mean the feel of the place, the citizens who call it home, the way it does, or does not, function. We have trained you to be observant, to think where others would simply believe what they are told, to consider what you are seeing before making rash judgments. Put that to use.”
They walked in silence along a near empty street, a sight most unusual to behold in Adranium, while winds tugged at their togas and gusted fallen leaves about then. Carse pondered Athradies question long, considering all that he had heard and seen and experienced. At last he came upon an answer he felt satisfied the question.
“I would hazard to say that very few care much for the city.”
Athradies nodded in agreement, though the mere fact of agreeing with Carse’s statement left him looking most morose. “Precisely,” he sighed. “Each cares only for themselves, as per the tenets of the Philosophy of Self, as espoused by that upstart Cratocles. There is no pride in the city any more. There used to be, once, when I was young, when the city gleamed and stood forth as a shining example of the Akuvian culture. But no more. Even the Qaiqalites, who live in a den of depravity and iniquity, have a pride in their city, misplaced as it may be, but not here.”
“Is that necessary a bad thing?” opiononed Carse, commencing a debate with Athradies, for he knew the old man well, and long had they discussed, disputed and questioned many matters during his long hours of studying the Mysteries. “Pride has led to many a war between the cities, and many terrible excesses.”
“That is true,” Athradies admitted, as above crashed a fresh peel of thunder, rattling the tiles of nearby buildings. “But as well, the lack thereof has led to the downfall of cities as well. They fall into disrepair or ruin, or worse, allowing their cities to fall under the sway or rule of outsiders. Tell me, if someone was to die in the street today, what would happen?”
“Very little,” responded Carse.
“Nothing at all,” Athradies stated, “Not at least until some citizen offended enough by the sight and smell of it paid another to have the body removed. Now ponder further the ramifications of each only being out for their own benefit. How do they interact with each other?”
“They do not care for the other, not unless doing so in some way aids them first and foremost. Any benefit the other receives is just a consequence of that and not the intended goal.”
“Precisely,” Athradies replied, nodding most vigorously. He halted his steps as they came to the exact spot where the two had first met all those years ago, before the market forums, now, for the most part abandoned. There he peered up at the churning clouds above. “And if they do not care for each other, then they will not help each other when they are in need, either, for what is in it for them? If a crime is committed upon another then they will simply ignore it and hope it does not occur to them in time as well. What, then, is the logical conclusion of that reasoning?”
Carse looked around the now empty marketplace, though he did no so much study it, instead running through permutations of thoughts in his mind, his observance of it superficial at best. “There will naturally arise those who take advantage of the situation,” he replied at last.
“And so it is with our once great city,” Athradies said, sighing deeply. “There has arisen a breed of men who hold this city in their thrall, preying upon the self-centred apathy of the citizens that allowed this situation to develop in the first place, and there are none who are willing to day aught about it.”
The sky was rent asunder by a great sheet of lighting ripping across it, followed moments later by a terrible assault of sound, and, as if they were a sign for the storm to commence, the rains began.
“A most disturbing state of affairs, Master,” Carse said, raising his voice so as to be heard over the growing storm. “But surely if the citizens do not care what happens to anyone else, then they would likewise not care what happens to those transgressors either, and will not lift a hand to aid them.”
Softly Athradies whistled a tune, in which were hints of the peals of trumpets ablaze and the roaring of waves, just as the rains began to pour down from above in a terrible deluge, yet it barely touched them. Instead it seems to bend away just above their heads, flowing to the ground.
“It is true,” Athradies responded, setting off walking again, into the market forums. “That is why they have brought in foreign mercenaries from beyond Akuvia to protect them.”
“Disturbingly prudent of them, it would seem.”
“Sadly so,” Athradies agreed. “Evil as they may be, they did not rise to where they are without some degree of intellect to guide them.”
“Why are you telling me all of this, Master?” Carse asked, a curiosity as to the reasons for the debate heavy upon him.
Athradies walked on, sheltered from the rain by the shield he had brought forth with the Mysteries, his staff rapping against he ground. “I once tried to do something about it, my boy, but sadly I failed. I was not strong enough, and nor could I persuade others to aid me, self-obsessed as they were. There comes a time when a stand must be made, though, when matters must be taken personally in hand. This city may be dying, but it is my, our, city, and it may be that we can in some way turn it around before it is too late. Do you know why I chose you all those years ago, my boy?”
Carse shook his head in reply. “Not truly, though you did feel that I had talent that could be trained.”
“That is true, if only in part,” Athradies admitted. “It happened not long after my own attempts to save the city had failed, when despair had gripped my heart and I mourned deeply for the city I loved, feeling that its last hope had been lost. Then I heard you singing and I had my hopes renewed. I saw more than simply a boy who had talent with his voice. I could sense the ability you could possess with the Mysteries, even if you did not yet know it, and the use towards which it could be put. In fact I saw one who could save the city where I had failed.”
“Me, master?” Carse responded, shocked to the very core by such a concept. “How could I do that?”
“You are far more accomplished than you perceive, my boy, having received an education the envy of any.”
“But what of the others, of Ilafra, Prador, Akamaba, even Madame Natazde? Surely they are better suited than I.”
Athradies shook his head at that and favoured Carse with a smile. “They have their skills and talents, but they can not do what the others can. You, however, can accomplish all that they can. You are proficient with the blade, can converse and reason, have acquired Prador’s skills and subterfuge, and, something that none of the other possess, you have an ability with the Mysteries. That makes you special, my boy, one who can achieve truly great things.”
“But I am just one person, Master,” Carse pointed out.
“All it needs sometimes is just one person, if their cause is righteous,” Athradies responded. “Come, my boy, let us return home. There is a tale I must tell you, and something you must see, to understand what needs doing, and what you are capable of.”
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