The room fell silent as they took in the Pirate Queen’s words. Each, in their own way, understood the weight of them; the Descent was the deep sloping canyon that Athoes was built to guard. It was said that it led to the underworld, full of demons and despair. Robert shivered, the stories his nurse maid had told had instilled a deep fear of the place in him.
He leaned back in his chair and looked around the room, not wanting to be the first to speak. The King's words were still ringing through him, but if their journey would take them down into the earth itself, surely he needed to tell them the truth about who created the Decent and why. Robert could feel Sinclairs eyes on him, but he ignored them, instead keeping his gaze on the table. He only looked up when Osii began to speak,
"We have stories, where I come from, of the age of giants. May I tell you our story of the end of that age?"
The group nodded and settled into their seats almost instinctually, waiting eagerly for the yarn. Osii settled back and closed her eyes, collecting her thoughts, before she finally began.
"The great creator molded our world from ash and dust. They looked upon this place with great pride, and made guardians to keep it safe while they continued with their great journey. They crafted the giants from mountains, the ocean depths, and the primordial pillars. They gave them the mantle of responsibility for this world, but the moment the creator left, the guardians turned their backs on their duties. They broke their mantle and turned on the other races of the world. They fought each other for absolute power, treading the world back into dust beneath their feet.
A single human rose above the rest in strength and will, and cried out to the creator to return and help them. The creator heard her pleas and granted her great power to vanquish the titans and protect her people. She took parts of the broken mantle, crushed them into powder and imbued them with magic. She then mixed them into a lake, deep within the earth, and put obstacles in the way for any who would seek the lake. She then cursed the titans with mortality which could only be cured by water from the lake.
The titans were frantic as age began to touch their veins, and carved out the Decent in their frantic search for survival. But, alas, no titan was small enough to reach the lake, nor strong enough to break through the earth around it. The smarter titans manipulated humans into doing their bidding, ordered them to go to the lake and bring the water back. But no human ever passed the trials, and one by one the titans began to die.
They rushed to the Decent and tried to push each other deeper and deeper in, and eventually they became stuck and starved to death. Two titans had chosen different paths, however-"
"Hemrah, the only Titan to change her ways and seek to impart knowledge to the humans under her command. She helped create Ob, and we celebreate her passing every year," Kacia explained with a fond smile.
Osii nodded, "yes, it was Hemrah and Behemoth who did not seek to extend their life, but instead molded the humans around them, for better or worse. Ob became Hemrah's seat of power, and Ebulous was Behemoth's. Not much news travels from that dark continent, but it is believed that they still practice his bloodthirsty teachings."
Robert was vaguely aware of Sinclair stiffening beside him before relaxing again. He glanced over at his friend, but could only make out boredom and tiredness on his face. Nothing portrayed how he might have really felt, if anything at all. Robert looked back over at Osii, deciding he would think about it later.
Osii was watching Agatha as she asked, "So with that in mind, what do you think we'll find in the Descent?"
The pirate Queen leaned back, her eyes wide. Unlike the others in the room, she hadn't known the Decent true origins and had grown up wholly believing the hearsay.
She blew out a breath before shrugging, "from the sounds of it lots of bones and deadly things. I wasn't told anything specific, just that we'd need to travel there. Maybe I'll get more information once we get down there," she mused, staring up at the ceiling with her arms crossed.
"Maybe it has something to do with the fountain?" Kacia sat upright and looked around the room. "I mean, it makes sense since it's the only thing that's supposedly at the bottom on the Descent."
"Possibly, but no one knows if it's even real. No one's ever seen it before, remember? They all went in but never came out." Robert reminded her.
"Doesn't matter, I've been told we need to go down the Decent whether that means we'll find a fountain or not." Agatha cut in.
"You mean if we die trying or not," Sinclair snorted.
The pirate queen shot him a grin, "that's all part of the fun though, isn't it? Not knowing if you'll ever come back."
"If you're insane, sure." He shrugged as he leaned back in his chair. "I kinda like being alive."
Agatha mimicked his posture as she murmured, "can you truly appreciate life if you've never flirted with death?"
Sinclair either didn't deign to reply or couldn't think of anything to say, because the room fell quiet. They all fell back into their own thoughts until Kacia cleared her throat,
"Well, I for one think we should do a little more research. My people tell a slightly different story to Osii's, and I've been told that Athoes' library has the biggest collection of Decent related books."
"You're not wrong there, being so close gives us a bit of an advantage. There are a few exploration guides I'm keen to read, several parties have made it down the Decent to the cave entrance but not many have ever tried going further. Most get to the bottom and come right back up again."
"How long does it usually take them?" Osii's asked, crossing her arms across her chest.
"A week or so each way. Depends on how fast they move and how much equipment they are hauling."
The bigger woman nodded slowly and then looked at Kacia, "perhaps you are right. If anything, doing some research might prepare us better for whatever is down there."
"What about me?" Agatha piped up. "Are you going to shove me back into that awful hole in the ground you call a dungeon?"
"Yeah, it's where people like you belong," Sinclair sneered at her.
The pirate queen bristled at that and rose from her seat. Robert stood before she could launch herself over the table at Sinclair and put a hand up to gain her attention,
"I will arrange something with the advisors. You will be given a room and will be under guard for as long as you're here, okay?" He spoke with a finality he hardly felt.
Agatha dipped her head, almost as if she was ready to pounce across the table, and searched his eyes. He set his jaw and met her gaze with his own. Her icy green eyes bore into him, digging through him until they found his core and finally her gaze withdrew. She inclined her head and sat back down, taking a deep breath as she did so.
Robert let out a breath and looked at Osii, "is it alright if she stays in your room until I can talk to the advisors?"
The woman nodded, glancing over at Agatha and adding "no funny business."
Agatha pouted, "ah come on, you know you'd have a good time."
Osii rolled her eyes but couldn't hide the mirth in them. Robert tried his best to ignore the charged exchange and looked at Kacia, who seemed equally embarrassed at the blatent fliration.
"Would you mind talking to the advisors with me? I feel like I'd have a better chance convincing them we need Agatha help if you're there to remind them why."
He tried to ignore the way her eyes lit up and her back instantly straightened, the smile that brightened up her whole face. The way his heart fluttered in his chest as she dipped her head and spoke with a silken voice,
Robert thumped the table to gain everyone's attention, and to break whatever spell Kacia had on him, as he announced,
"Well that's settled then. Osii will harbor and guard Agatha until Kacia and I can talk to the advisors. Sinclair, if you wouldn't mind talking to the head librarian and beginning to compile some books for our research."
Sinclair rolled his eyes but nodded reluctantly, "yes, your highness" he drawled out. He stood, and stormed from the room, slamming the door behind him so hard it made its frame rattle.
"I uh, I should probably go talk to him. . ." He sighed before rapping his knuckles against the table one more time, as if it would build up some courage in him, before heading to the door.
He looked down the hallway each way and saw Sinclair storming around a corner. He swore quietly under his breath and jogged after him, rounding the corner to find him standing beside one of the windows, leaning against it and glaring down at the world below.
"Come to berate me?" He grumbled, and Robert's heart clenched a little. He'd never heard his friend sound so despondent before.
He approached slowly, as if edging towards a wild animal, and shook his head.
"No, of course not," he spoke gently and softly.
Sinclair shot him a look, but it was half hearted, less angry, more sad.
Robert stopped next to him and leaned his back against the wall, crossing his arms over his chest and waiting. He'd learned very early on that if he pushed Sinclair to speak, it would only encourage him to be silent. He would talk in his own time, and he always did, eventually. Robert closed his eyes as he waited, trying to calm his thoughts, and had been waiting so long he'd almost fallen asleep. Sinclair's voice startled him back to reality and he peeled open his eyes, blinking back the blurriness and trying to focus.
"I'm sorry. For being the way I've been these past few days." He murmured, staring out at the city. "I just . . . I guess I feel like I'm . . ." He sighed, shaking his head. "I don't know."
"Losing me?" Robert suggested quietly.
Sinclair swallowed and nodded, not daring to look at him. In everything but feelings and emotions, Sinclair was usually the more sensible and eloquent of the two, but the poor man was as emotionally stunted as a tree stump. It had taken many bloody fists, broken furniture, and quiet conversations by the dying kitchen fires to coax and painstakingly pull his feelings to the surface when they were younger. It rarely took bloody fists and broken furniture anymore, but the quietness was something he still needed.
Robert nodded slowly, and looked down at the intricately decorated carpet below their feet. It made sense, with the King away, the ambassadors quest, his father trying to murder his mother and the advisors running around like a bunch of headless chickens, he'd barely spent any time with his friend. He'd had things to do, people to see, but Sinclair didn't have many duties, and was generally looked down upon because of his upbringing. He had no friends other than Robert.
A plan began forming in his mind as he tried to reassure his friend, "I'm not going anywhere, Sinclair. It's just been busy, you know? But-" he pushed himself off the wall and fully faced the other man, "-if you want to help me, I'll speak to the advisors about promoting you."
Sinclair's eyes widened, and suddenly narrowed as he asked, "promoted to what? Don't make me that pirate's bodyguard, anything but that."
Robert waved away his concerns and smiled, "how about being my bodyguard?"
"Yeah, why not? I've had so much on my mind recently that I haven't really been thinking about security."
The memory of what Robert's father had tried to do floated silently between them. His father was a powerful man, even when behind bars. He had dirt on half of the court, and Robert had tried to keep himself from wondering what half of them were capable of.
Sinclair looked back out over the city, the corner of his lips twitching into a smile that he was trying to hide.
"If I said no?" He tried to keep his tone neutral but his eyes were bright, brighter than they had been in awhile.
Robert grinned and shrugged, "your loss, you'd miss out on the ability to boss me around for 'safety's sake'."
"Hmm, I do like bossing you around."
"You always have," he chuckled and narrowly dodged a punch to the shoulder.
"Only because you're a little punk who never listens!" Sinclair laughed.
"So you'll do it?"
He gave a dramatic sigh, "you'll only get yourself killed if I don't."
"Very reassuring, thank you."
"It's what I'm here for. Someone's gotta keep that ego in check" he joked with a shrug, pushing off the window and facing his friend with a grin.
Robert shook his head but couldn't hold back the laugh that escaped him. He threw an arm around Sinclair's shoulders and steered him down the hallway.
"Alright bodyguard, let's go talk to some advisors."