Snapping out of his daze, Creance said, “Because of that night, your father and I both understood the Network’s stand on protecting the country in a passive way. They felt that killing was a senseless thing to do. Your father felt shamed and disgusted because of his actions that night. While we learned to resist killing as a way of solving issues, Voler discovered the opposite. He began to invite it; he began to thirst for blood and the power he had over others when he could control them or knew he could defeat them in a fight.”
“Did you have other run-ins with Voler? Why didn’t you stop him if you knew who he was? How do you know you can trust Epier if he’s tied to Voler?” Kiri asked, her eyes lighting up.
“Your father knew the only reason he had lived that night was because of Voler’s inexperience with a sword and because I pushed him overboard.”
“So you had saved his life and he knew it?”
“Yes. From that point on, our friendship grew stronger. We looked out for each other and learned from each other and of course, from our mistakes.
We did have other encounters with Voler. Mostly we tried to avoid him, we felt that he had changed and became a person we didn’t like anymore; not that we liked him a whole lot to begin with. We never really had any big problems with him. He would come back to our town and try to gather others our age to join him. Some saw him for what he was; thinking he was a few pickles shy of a barrel. Others did join him, some never to be seen again.
We didn’t stop him because we didn’t think he was that dangerous. You have to remember, he was only a teen like us. We didn’t even see any of the destruction or problems he was causing until much later when he had grown in power. By that point, we wouldn’t have been able to stop him if we had wanted to, he had become too powerful. It then became an issue for the Network. When your father took over the Network, we silently made an agreement; that we would use the Network to take down Voler. Before he died, he made me swear to several things, one of which was to uphold that agreement and see to it that Voler was defeated.
As for Epier; he was always a good person at heart but, made some wrong decisions. Voler knew how to manipulate him to do what he wanted. Epier would fall for it every time, mostly because he had a strong desire to feel needed and excepted. Epier would often come to us asking for advice on how he could get away from Voler. He would take our advice and it would appear as though he may succeed when Voler would turn the tables and manipulate him in some way so that he felt he was trapped and he would have to stay.
There were several times when Voler tried to kill us, Epier put his own life in the way to save us. We would see him a week later and you could still see the scars where Voler had punished him; whipping him to within an inch of his life. You see, Voler would never kill Epier, he could manipulate and use him too easily, but he wouldn’t stand for insubordination, so he would punish him severely.
By the time Epier had become an adult and had developed the common sense many do at that age, he realized that he wouldn’t be able to leave Voler; at least not alive. More importantly, he realized that he could do more good than harm in his position. He came to us one dark moonless night; he called to us from the shadows. We built a small fire and we could tell in the small light that his face was white as a ghost; he was afraid of Voler but, more afraid that we would turn him down. He asked us, no more like begged us to let him work for the Network as a spy within the newly formed Envahir.
We were reluctant at first, we felt that he may be setup by Voler but, he gave us information which would prove to be true. As time went on, he continued to provide us with information and our trust in him grew. His information was always correct. We questioned him about this one time and he said, ‘If I ever gave you wrong information, you would cease to trust me, and my cover with the Envahir would be blown. For that Voler would surely kill me.’ He has never been wrong about information and never misled us.”
“But what does all of this have to do with you being my protector and where do I come into the story anyway; does Voler know who I am and what else happened with my father?” Kiri asked, eager to hear as much as possible.
“After the first adventure, your father’s education of the leadership of the Network continued. He came to realize that his reluctance to lead the Network was due to fear of the unknown and inexperience; much like that of your own reluctance. Eventually he did accept it and grew stronger as a leader. He was a good leader.
I was always by his side and because of that, I also grew stronger within the Network. Many years later, you were just a baby; we had a run-in with Voler. We were traveling; we came across Voler and some of his men. We discovered later that they had planned the ambush. Voler wanted to kill your father but, he realized that by taking you, he would hurt your father even more and collapse the Network. Voler’s plan was to kidnap you and mold you into his image. If, for some reason, he was not able to kidnap you, he was willing to simply kill you. We weren’t prepared for a fight; we chose to flee instead of fighting. Your father distracted Voler by fighting with him while I ran with you. It was then that I heard the agonizing scream; your father had been wounded. I quickly hid you, so you wouldn’t be found and went back to help your father. Your father was lying on the ground, wounded and unable to walk, protecting himself with his sword. Blood was pouring from Voler’s face.”
“Voler’s scar!” Kiri said.
“Yes, exactly.” Creance said, “It was only a matter of time before your father no longer had the strength to defend himself. I came running up, grabbed his sword and was able to deflect Voler’s attack. When I did, I was able to hit the wound on his face with the side of the sword; this caused him to scream in pain, I took advantage of the moment and kicked him in the chest sending him hurtling down the hill. I picked your father up and carried him to where you were, wanting to get each of you as far away as possible. As we reached where I had hidden you, one of Voler’s men had discovered you and was trying to run off with you. Immediately, I dropped your father, this sent him screaming in pain but I was focused on saving you. I ran and flung myself at the man, the three of us rolled down the hill and over the cliff. I had a hold of a tree root with one hand and your basket with the other. The only problem was Voler’s man was hanging on for his life to your basket. I fought to keep you upright so you didn’t fall out while the man fought for his life. He eventually lost the fight and his grip slipped.
I climbed back up with your basket in my teeth. I don’t think I ever saw your father so relieved. I tended to your father’s wounds and traveled as fast as I could carrying the two of you. We found shelter in a small cave until your father was able to travel on his own. It was during this time that he appointed me your protector. He said that I had always been his unwilling protector and that if I was able to do that and was willing to give my life for you, that there could be no better or more trusted protector.”
Creance sat quietly, looking at the stream. Kiri didn’t speak, understanding that he needed the time to reminisce.
“As for the other question you asked earlier”, Creance said, “if Voler knew who you were when he had come into your inn, he would have killed you immediately. For he knew what you mean to the Network and what that would do to the Envahir. However, I don’t believe that he would have reason to suspect who you were. You see, after this incident, we felt that there would only be more attempts upon your life. We decided to leave your basket behind and hide you the best we could among our belongings. We then spread the rumor that you had fallen over the cliff and died. Your true existence was only known to a few within the Network. It was not long afterwards that you and our father moved to this town to begin a new life. He ruled the Network from your inn; using those he could trust to convey his wishes to the Network. He was grooming you to become the next leader of the Network when he died.”
“How did my father die?” Kiri asked.
“That is not a story I am able or willing to share for it is not mine to share but another’s.” Creance said.
“Who’s story is it to tell? Who will tell me the story?” Kiri asked.
Creance shook his head, “That I cannot say. However, what I will tell you is that when your father was dying, he asked me to renew my oath to be your protector. Which I did. Immediately following his death, I came here and watched over you from a distance. Now you understand why I was there to pull you from the fire. I was coming that evening to see you and talk to you alone. To try and tell you your story because I felt that it may now be the time especially since Voler was getting so close to you; it may only have been a matter of time before he discovered who you were. When the soldiers came into your bar that evening, I knew I wouldn’t be able to talk to you. Had Voler seen me, he would have definitely recognized me immediately and he would have figured out who you were before he even left your bar. So I stuck to the shadows and waited.”
“Thank you.” was all Kiri could think of saying.
They stared at the water flowing in the streambed. Creance picked up the sword and unwrapped it. He ran his hands over it.
“As leader of the Network, this was your father’s sword. By your birthright, it becomes your sword when you accept your duty to become the leader of the Network. Your father was hesitant just as you are. Many great leaders do not feel they are great, only doing their duty, what is right and treating others with respect. However it is those exact qualities which make a leader great.
I saw those qualities in your father just as I see them in you. While you may be hesitant to take on the duties you have been called for, I believe that you won’t be able to ignore them. I also feel that you have a need which desires to be filled; a need for justice and making things right. But the choice is yours, you may choose not to lead the Network or you may choose to fulfill your birthright by leading them. While you decide, realize that your decision effects more than yourself.
Why don’t you sit here and think about things for a while and make your decision. When you have reached a decision, I will be at home.”
Creance laid the sword on the log and walked back to the hut.
A while later, the door to the hut opened and Kiri stood in the doorway holding the sword. “I don’t know what else my life would hold for me if I didn’t accept being leader of the Network. I have nothing left and no future otherwise and I want my life to have meaning and purpose. Also, I feel that this is what my father would have wanted me to do. So yes, I accept the position as leader of the Network.”
“Yes it is what your father would have wanted for you. That is good news that you have chosen to be the leader. Otherwise I would have had some difficult explaining to do, for you see, when I sent Leste off with our news; I also had her relay the news to the council that you had accepted the position of leader.” Creance said.
“How could you be so sure I would’ve accepted?”
“Like I said, I would’ve had some difficult explaining to do. Although I knew you were your father’s daughter and like him, you would rise to the calling.”
“Where do we go from here? What comes next?” Kiri asked.
“The first order of business is to have Sallan teach you how to use the sword you are carrying.”
With this Sallan stood up and led Kiri outside to train with the sword. Kiri learned quickly because much of what she had learned from small arms fighting could be related to the sword; along with practice, it wasn’t long before she could handle the sword quite well.
That evening, Kiri told Creance that she was going back into the town to gather what information she could before they marched on the Capital. Creance objected but listened.
“We need to gain more information before the Network can finalize their defense and we need to know where the Envahir stand and what their plans are. If what Blesser has told us is true, Epier will not be able to get to us to give us the information we need. Who better to go retrieve the information other than someone who knows the town and has made it in and out before without any issues?” Kiri explained.
“You are too valuable, if you were to be caught and it was discovered who you were, it would mean the end of the Network.” Creance objected.
“I am no different than I was the last time I entered the town.” Kiri said.
Creance continued to object but knew that it was futile.
“As damn stubborn as your father was.” Creance complained.
Kiri left that evening with only one difference, by her side she carried the sword. She found the town crawling with many more soldiers which made her entrance into and through the town so much more difficult than it had been previously. The roads into town were blocked off and fortified with more patrols. Even the perimeter of the town was being patrolled by the guards. Kiri had to time the guards’ movements to be able to sneak past them to get within the town. She stayed in the shadows and hid more frequently. Soldiers were now moving in and out of several of the larger homes of the townspeople.
Kiri made her way through the town and found the house she was looking for. She found that gaining entrance wasn’t as easy as she had hoped. Once she had made her way in, she moved slowly and quietly. When she was sure that the house wasn’t occupied by soldiers, she grabbed a lantern, lit it and closed the shutter. She quietly made her way to the bedroom and slipped inside, closing the door behind her. She glanced around to make sure the window shutters were closed tight. She nudged the bed with her foot. The lone figure grumbled and rolled over. She kicked the bed.
“Wake up”, she whispered.
“Huh? Hmmpppf. Who’s there?” the voice asked.
“Shut up. Scream and you’ll be dead before the sound escapes your mouth.” Kiri said.
“I … I know that voice, who’s there?”
Kiri opened the shutter of the lantern just enough so a beam of light fell on her face.
“Kiri, is that you?” he asked, “We thought you were dead, thought you died in the fire.”
“Yes it is me, mayor and no, I didn’t die in the fire. Not that anybody around here would’ve come to my aid.” Kiri said.
“I … we, I mean to say…”, he stumbled for words.
“That is not of any concern now. It is not why I am here. I need to know what the Envahir is planning and when.”
“I … I can’t tell you that, he would have me killed.” the mayor said.
“If no one else is here, how will he know?”
“But what if he finds out?”
“Mayor, you can either live as a coward or you can try to fight for your survival and maintain your dignity; and yes, you run the risk of dying but if you did, you would go knowing that you did everything in your powers. What has he promised you? Do you really believe that he will come through with his promise?” Kiri asked.
“But, but I’m trapped, even if he doesn’t give me what he’s promised; he knows things, things which nobody else does and CAN’T know! If I don’t do what he wants then my life and my family will be destroyed.” Mayor Smithson explained.
“Is it better to die with dignity or live and face some small amount of shame and humiliation and ask for forgiveness?” Kiri asked, “Doesn’t he hold this power over many of the people here? If everyone faced their shame, isn’t it much easier to ask for forgiveness. Also, if everyone faces that shame, isn’t he then less powerful? What is your decision Mayor, are you going to live as a coward or fight for your life?”
Mayor Smithson was silent for a while, Kiri wondered if he had fallen back asleep.
“What do you want from me?” the Mayor asked.
“I need to know everything the Envahir is doing and what actions they are taking. When they are planning on marching on the Capital and how are they going to do it. Then I have a special job for you.” Kiri said.