“Listen,” he says. His name is Roth. He’s the leader of a group of rebels that have been plaguing the kingdom for three years. I’ve spent half that time tracking him down, infiltrating his followers, his inner circle, and then befriending the man himself. He’s just returned from a temple raid with an arrow in the gut and half the soldiers he’d left with. The king had learned of the raid and set an ambush. The king had learned of the raid because I’d told him.
“I need you to take this.” Roth holds out a trinket wrapped in leather. I know what it is. It’s the reason I hadn’t killed him immediately.
The Finix crystal.
I take it from him; my head spins with sudden power. My hand warms, my fingers itch.
Roth groans in pain. The district’s whisper of Roth Aeton like he stands ten feet and would kill anything that moved and then laugh about it. The truth, as truth tends to be, was more complicated.
“It’s the last hope for us.” He says, and I wonder if he has known my true identity all along. Perhaps that is why he had told me so much of himself, how the king had murdered his wife and taken his daughter to some nefarious end. He had told me of his dreams of a better world – I thought it just idle conversation- now I wonder if he had been trying to convince me to join his cause in earnest.
“Just…” He says, blinking too fast, breathing too fast, it’s all too fast. “Just, don’t let them know you have it.”
No, Roth Aeton is no butcher. But he is no saint either. He has killed innocent people. He has stolen from the poor. He was deeply flawed.
Not just flawed. Evil. He was my enemy! I am a seeker! Appointed by the king himself to root out the corruption that plagues the districts. Stopping Roth Aeton has been my life’s work. So why are there tears in my eyes?
“Roth-” I say, searching for the words. “I’m sorry!” I splutter, not exactly sure what I’m apologizing for.
Now that I have the Finix crystal, I will return to the king. It had been months since I’d had a decent meal. I imagine the look on the King’s face when I hold the crystal out to him. The greedy pleasure it will give him. The reward he will give me.
“Find.” Roth manages a smile, manages to grab my forearm with his last gasp of strength. “Find your brother.”
Those three words echo and bounce and prod and confound. Find your brother. The trees seem to say the same -the smoke – the birds chirping – find your brother.
I’m still sitting there twenty minutes later when the riders who had pursued Roth after the raid reach our camp. The rest of the rebels have fled. It’s just me sitting by the fire and Roth Aeton’s lifeless body.
They level their flat bows at me, and I stand up, defiant of their calls for my surrender.
“My name is Rin Falco. I am the King’s seeker, charged these twenty months to bring the traitor Roth Aeton to justice. Behold.” I gesture to the fallen rebel, and the soldiers lower their weapons, unsure if they should believe me.
I tuck the Finix crystal into my cloak. “Please carry a message to the king. Tell him I’ve not yet found the crystal.”
I turn without looking at my messengers and start walking north, towards the mountains, towards answers.
© 2021, Aaron Zimmerman. All rights reserved.