Chapter 7
A New Land

Nereidium, Sea of Atlantis

"There was never a strong drive for exploration in my time. I wonder if it was in any era. The thought of even going outside your own town was almost fanciful. The scope of my travels hearkens back not to the days of legend, but those of myth."
--Excerpt from the assorted writings of Mark the Guardian

Mark and his companions followed Nereus through the network of tunnels for at least two hours. Their destination was a vertical shaft positioned in the eye of a swirling vortex. Through the vortex, they caught their first glimpse of the sky since the pirates' attack.
"I will reverse the maelstrom," Nereus told them. "You should land by the coast of the nearest landmass. Brace yourselves, for it may be painful." The fishman made a stiff bow. "I wish you well and I hope you find what you seek. May gentle currents guide your path."
Nereus then turned to the maelstrom and began chanting. The maelstrom flexed at the pace of his chanting, its pulsations becoming more violent as the chant quickened. Nereus then began to recite the chant backwards, and the funnel of the maelstrom reached up into the sky. The group was sucked up the shaft and caught in the spinning of the maelstrom. When they reached its apex, the maelstrom released them, flinging the hapless companions high in the air. Screams broke out among them as they crashed into the water.
Much to Nereus' credit, they landed in the perfect area, not too deep for their armor to sink them and not so shallow to be crushed on impact. Disoriented more than hurt, they slowly waded to shore. While the others were wringing out their clothes, Felix looked around, seeming to recognize the area.
"It appears we are in Arma," he said, "a land in the North just east of the Central Continent."
"How far is this place from Gladius?" Mark asked.
"Very far, I fear," the old knight replied. "We will need more than barrels and planks to cover the distance, but I happen to know where we can get a ship. The city of Porto Sul should be several furlongs north of here."
"Porto Sul?"
"It means 'South Port' in the local tongue," Felix explained.
"Woi's i' cowll'd Sowf Poh' i' i's in th' Nowf?" Jasper joked.
Felix answered him seriously. "It is the farthest south of all of the settlements here."
"Oi seh thay doan' tech ye Templahs 'bow' hyumah nun," the thief snorted.
It only took a few hours to reach Porto Sul. Unlike the cities of Gladius, there was no city wall and most of the roads were paved. Hundred of people constantly moved throughout the city like bees. Mark could only wonder if Sandstone bustled this much in its glory days.
The city was full of people from practically every corner of the globe. They spoke many different tongues, but Everardian was not among them. The prospects of easy communication were looking rather bleak when a strange man approached them and immediately greeted Felix in Imperial. The old knight quickly prompted him to speak in Bannish for the benefit of the greater part of the group.
"Welcome to Porto Sul, friends," the man said cheerily. "I am called Rodrigo. I am with the Hospitality Service, an organization that caters to the needs of our many foreign guests." He looked to Felix, who he apparently assumed was the leader of the group. "Now, Master Templar, how may I be of service?"
"We need to speak with the magistrate," Felix said. "We would like to charter a ship."
Rodrigo bobbed his head in agreement. "Very good, sir. I will take you to city hall."
"Mark, come with me," Felix said. "The rest of you, go with Rodrigo and get some supplies. Meet us here in about an hour."
Felix took a stack of gold coins and gave them to Rodrigo. "I want you to take these solidi to the moneychanger. Get a good exchange and you can have ten percent." He looked to the others. "This will be your allowance. Sonia, see that it gets spent wisely."
Edward clearly did not like Felix trusting Sonia over him, even though he had made no effort to endear himself to the old knight. While the others followed Rodrigo to the Merchant District, Felix headed inside the city hall with Mark following close behind.
"The people here will try to fool inconvenient foreigners by speaking the local tongue," Felix said. "Do not fall for it. All official business is conducted in Imperial and most of them know Bannish as well."
"Why are you telling me this?" Mark asked.
"Two reasons," the old knight replied, holding up two fingers, "and two lessons for you. One, you should never come alone to the negotiating table. There is always strength in numbers. Two, always bring someone into your plan. You have a better chance of succeeding that way."
Mark simply nodded. This was only the beginning of Felix's lessons and he needed to absorb as much as he could. It felt like he was a novice all over again.
Thanks to Felix's privilege as a High Templar, they were quickly led to the magistrate. A slightly plump man with a case of the jitters, he bowed respectfully to Felix and addressed him in Imperial.
"What brings you here today, Master Templar?"
"I come to charter a ship."
"Why not use the regular transports? Surely they can get you to your destination."
The magistrate was trying to get rid of them, but Felix was not so easily deterred.
"I will not be traveling on the usual lanes," the old knight said.
"Where will you be headed?"
"To an island off the coat of the Southern Continent. We will stay there for a month and then go to Gladius, where the contract ends."
The magistrate could not believe what he was hearing. "Gladius? No ship has been there in over twenty years!"
"Which is precisely why we need to charter a ship."
"Why not sail to Ardova and find a ship there?"
"Ardova is no friend of my order. As you should know, they were playing all sides during the dispute in the Holy Lands. We routed their mercenaries, detained their merchants and confiscated all the goods they were funneling to the enemy. The Principe has declared that any Templar found in Ardova or its allied territories will be put to death. The protests of the Grand Patriarch have yet to move him."
"Well, there is a problem," the magistrate replied. "The ships of foreign nations are free to come and go as they please, but our vessels are being kept in port. There has been a spate of pirate attacks and the Viceroy declared that the ship would not go out until reinforcements arrive from the Armada."
"We cannot afford to wait. Is there nothing we can do?"
"Might I as how much you are willing to pay?"
"Money is no object. My order will cover the charges."
"In that case, I have been granted the authority to draw up waivers to allow ships to leave under special circumstances."
"Well then, the problem is solved."
"Not quite. Surely you can appreciate my trepidation, but your order has diminished somewhat in influence. I need a gesture of your good faith."
Felix held up his right hand, the one bearing the mark of Red Chi-Rho. "This should suffice."
"Please, be reasonable."
The Crusader sighed. "Very well, what do you want me to do?"
"We have been hearing reports of disturbances in the northern territories. A large percentage of our exports come from that region and we cannot afford to have any interruptions in our shipments. All I ask is that you investigate the trouble and report back to me so I can take the necessary action."
"So be it. Shall we put the deal in writing?"
The magistrate recoiled, but quickly tried to regain his composure. "Oh, that is not necessary."
"I think it is." Felix's voice took a sharp edge. "It would be unfortunate if you decided to alter the terms later."
The magistrate relented to the pressure and called in a scrivener to draw up a contract. Felix personally dictated the terms to ensure that there were no loopholes. With the scrivener as a witness, Felix, Mark and the magistrate signed and sealed the document. The magistrate clearly did not want to deal with Felix and was none too happy about the transaction. The old knight did not seem to care much about the magistrate's feeling, particularly in light of him maligning the good name of Felix's order.
When Mark and Felix left city hall, they found Teresa and Jasper waiting for them.
"Where are the others?" Mark asked.
"Your friend, um..." Not being well acquainted with him, it took Teresa a moment to remember the man. "Ignatiy, yes, Ignatiy, he insisted on making more of his bombs. Sonia sent us ahead to meet you."
After what happened on the raft, Mark was not especially comfortable with the idea of Ignatiy making more bombs. Still, they could prove to be useful in the future. Sonia must have been thinking along the same lines, otherwise she would have stopped him.
They found Ignatiy at a potter's shop, where he was trying to find adequate vessels for his explosives. Everyone except for Sonia and Ignatiy were standing around outside. Edward looked like he was in a particularly bad mood.
"Stupid wench," the Prince grumbled. "After that scrawny madman nearly killed us all with his damned contraption, she's letting him make more!"
Edward complaining was nothing new and there was nothing Mark could do remedy it. Ignoring the Prince, he walked into the shop and saw the rail-thin firebug already carrying several sacks slung over his shoulder. The shopkeeper's assistant was busy carrying an armful of short round pots Ignatiy had picked out. Sonia was leaning against a wall near the entrance and glanced at Mark as he came into the shop.
"I know what you're thinking," she said, "but those bomb things can be real handy in a pinch."
"It's okay," Mark replied. "I was thinking the same thing myself."
Once Ignatiy had picked out all the pots he wanted, Sonia went to pay the shopkeeper. It was only as Ignatiy was heading out that he noticed Mark. He beamed at the sight of his old friend.
"Hey, Mark!" The firebug proudly held up a burlap bag full of his new acquisitions. "I'm gonna make some beauts with this stuff. It'd be better if I could make the shells myself, but this sword lady says we've got to go soon."
"She's right," Mark said. "Have you got everything you need?"
Ignatiy nodded. "Yeah, this is it. We'd better take it outside of town to make them. I don't wanna get arrested again."
"Actually, we're heading out of town now."
"Did you get a boat?" Sonia asked.
Felix stepped in to deliver the bad news. "Unfortunately, no, we cannot charter a ship without a waiver from the magistrate and he has insisted that we do him a favor first."
Sonia was reasonably suspicious. "What kind of favor?"
The old knight stroked his beard. "We will be going to the north country to investigate some disturbances. It should only set us back a week or so."
"We've all got weapons," Edward pointed out. "Why not commandeer a ship?"
Jasper clapped. "'E's b'cum th' Prinz o' Feeves noo!"
"No," Mark said sternly. "We'll not steal from these people. If we do, we're no better than the people we're fighting against."
"You're too damn impractical," the Prince grumbled. "You're going to get us all killed."
"What kind of king would steal from the people?" Sonia asked in a sarcastic tone. "Never mind, you have four generations teaching you."
"Silence, wench!" Edward snapped.
Felix had no intention of letting them get into a protracted argument. "Enough!" he shouted. "Your lesson for today is that you must control your tempers. Do not be gadflies for one another. Disunity in the ranks will break an army faster than the strongest foe."
Trying to change the subject, Mark asked, "Do you know what's in the north country?"
Felix nodded. "Yes, I do. The borderlands are dominated by a massive glacier descending from the Northern Icelands. There the seasons mean little. It is like winter all year round."
Edward rolled his eyes. "Great."
Ignoring him, Felix continued, "Even though we are not where I intended for us to be, it does not mean I cannot train you. You have much to learn if you wish to challenge Randwulf and his Marauders. This is our first step to Darkwall."