Before opening their eyes, Aedon and Eree took a moment to clear their heads. Karavan teleportation felt different to what they were used to. During the journey, the feeling that they had been wrapped up took hold of them. Cut off from the exterior, they hadn't felt their bodies being dispersed into the network, as they did during Kami teleportations. However, they had felt the same heat start off in their skull and then spread to their whole body.
They opened their eyes and saw the gray shape of the altar. A quick look was enough to tell them that they had reached their destination. The immense trees, scorched by the autumn, removed all doubt. Yrkanis, the botanic city, greeted the two young Fyros.
They took the closest street, towards the centre of Yrkanis. Staring all around to examine the architecture of each building, they didn't notice some of the Matis giving them suspicious looks.
"It's magnificent!" cried Eree. "I would never have believed it could be so lovely, all this vegetation. It's so..."
"...overwhelming," finished Aedon.
Eree smiled and took his hand.
"Have you been sent by Ambassador Lato Nivaldo?"
Aedon and Eree turned round. An old Matis with thin, expressionless lips was watching them coldly.
"Yes, we're to meet Duke Niero di Va...," began Eree.
The Matis cut her off dryly.
"Fine. Follow me, if you please!"
The two Fyros looked at each other, surprised by his manner. The Matis had already started down a street without so much as a backward glance. With a shrug of his shoulders, Aedon followed suit, accompanied by Eree.
"I am Dino Valetti's steward," he said. "He charged me with coming to find you and taking you to his office."
Aedon was very annoyed by their guide. Eree, in contrast, was making the most of the city and taking everything in.
"Do you think it will work?" he murmured in Eree's direction.
"Of course. The script's already been written for us. We just need to be good actors," she replied softly.
Aedon felt his stomach knotting with nerves. He concentrated on remembering the meeting they had had with Partacles in his office before their departure.
"What we say here doesn't leave this room. I chose you because Di Vanochi will see in you two young, gullible and easily-manipulated Fyros."
Aedon was astonished by the senator's words, but said nothing. Partacles seemed a lot less relaxed and friendly than during their meetings in the bathhouse.
"Di Vanochi is a treacherous homin but very intelligent. So you'll have to pay attention to every single word you say!"
He got out of his chair to walk round his office.
"The Zoraï Guide, the Great sage Mabreka, wishes to get the Book of Revelations to us, in which the words of Ma-Duk are recorded. The relic is of the greatest importance for our two peoples!" he emphasised.
"Surely you don't want us to transport it ourselves?" asked Aedon, incredulous.
"Of course not! I'm not that crazy," he said with a smile. "I want you to go and see Di Vanochi and make out that you're two young Fyros hungry for dappers. We know that the Duke has got wind of this shipment. But he has no idea when it will set off, or what route it will take from Zora. I want him to stop investigating it...he's perfectly capable of finding it out."
He paced in front of them, head bowed. He seemed to be thinking as he spoke.
"So you're going to give it to him."
With these words he turned towards them. He had a worrying smile on his face.
"Sorry?" asked Aedon, amazed.
"You're going to reveal the right date to him, but a completely different route. The one that you're going to tell him about leaves only one option for an ambush... the Knot of Insanity gorge. The group he sends will get a little surprise there. Then we'll have, I hope, proof of Di Vanochi's guilt to present to the king of Yrkanis. Mabreka also counts on ridding himself of the tribe which acts for the Duke. Lately, those mercenaries have greatly upset the Zoraï's plans."
"But he can't attack a Zoraï convoy. That would be tantamount to declaring war!" Eree exclaimed.
"Of course he can't. Apparently he'll use a tribe from the Withering. Di Vanochi is prepared to do anything to attract the favour of the Karavan and the king. He's convinced that afterwards he'll be a hero to his people and that Yrkanis will shower him with honours. However, he prefers to cover his back and not run the risk of being discovered."
"But... if he discovers the deception, we're dead!" cried Aedon.
"You didn't think it would be easy, I hope?" asked Partacles, feigning astonishment. "You'll have to justify yourselves to the Duke, and I've already prepared an explanation for you. Your contact with the Black Faces guild wasn't insignificant. Their close link to the Burnt Faces, the elite imperial guards, allowed Galeos to get the information which you now possess. His penchant for alcohol revealed this little secret to you," he said to Eree, smiling.
He approached the two Fyros.
"You will be handsomely rewarded by the empire once your mission has been accomplished."
He leaned forward and put his hands on their shoulders. He gripped them with a formidable strength.
"But, if for even one second you think about betraying me, I promise that you'd rather find yourself in the middle of a kitin colony."
He hadn't raised his voice, but there had been no need. His expression and his grip were proof of just how dangerous and determined the homin was. He paused, staring at the two Fyros, who were trying to ignore the pain, and, as if nothing had happened, smiled again as normal and let go of their shoulders.
"In spite of all that, bon voyage! I hope that you appreciate the exoticism of Yrkanis. We'll meet again when you get back."
The senator didn't give them a chance to respond. He sat back down at his desk and returned to his affairs.
The steward led them to a circular building set back slightly from all the rest.
"If you want to come back here, this is the south-east of the Yasson district," said Dino Valetti. "This is the Duke's private building."
Two guards were posted at the entrance. They paid no attention as the steward and the two Fyros passed.
Dino Valetti stepped into the lift, followed by Aedon and Eree. At the first floor the lift opened onto a bright room. A Matis in his thirties was sitting behind a desk, head bent over some documents. The two Fyros stepped into the room, and, without a word, the steward closed the lift doors again. The two young homins were left alone with the man whom they could only assume was the Duke.
To be continued...