Chapter 22: The Heart of Noblesse
Ivak wandered through the house, everything was in shades of grey and the constant sobbing made it even more dismal, there was a pall of sorrow. It was however beginning to annoy Ivak more than anything else.
Ivak was in relation to the house the same size as a pixie, he found it made searching for the source of the sobbing, the pixie, quite difficult.
“If it was Fatho here and not me, he’d find her no problem. Well, that’s an unfair comparison”
It was possible that Ivak would have then started a conversation with himself where he tried to play up his strengths, but as it was he caught sight of something that made him freeze in place in abject terror.
It was a creature that was a cross between a cat and a snake, though it looked more like a cat’s head with a thick cat tail for a body, than a feline serpent. It was about the size of a regular house cat, though this meant it was quite a bit bigger than Ivak. Ivak had encountered the creature in his books.
It had a number of names, Cerpent, Tubecat, Pest Gobbler, Glutton-cleaner and a few others. Tubecat is the one most used though.
Once upon a time they did not exist in Kigan, they were a creature made by mages, one of many before the Grand Prohibition was cast. In a lesser sense they were exactly the kind of thing had led to the Grand Prohibition being made. One of the least of the folly of mages.
The tubecat is an insatiable species, it is extremely difficult for it to feel full and it will even kill when full. Decent people would kill a tubecat on sight, such is the gluttony of the beast. Among regular people and the merchants that deal in such animals, the tubecat is prized for one purpose.
There is few creatures as good at clearing wee folk out of a household.
They are bought, sold and bred to kill wee folk.
Though some people would like to buy a tubecat, there is rumours of them killing and eating their own owners, and certainly it would only be a fool that would invite a tubecat into their house if they have children or eggs.
One final horror of these ghastly creatures is that their gluttony and inclination to slaughter is often so great that it can spawn minor malignant spirits. In spite of these downsides, there is still larger folk who buy them and use them and people who breed and sell them.
Ivak had read a few books by weefolk and in particular he had read a few when he had been a child. One author’s account of how she was the lone survivor in a house that got a tubecat gave him nightmares for weeks.
Had Ivak not been so afraid, he would have thought about why there was a tubecat inside Quil’s heart. He tried to sneak away. This was a futile action, as the smell, sight and hearing of the tubecat are top notch. He broke into a run as the beast spotted him and began its pursuit with a hiss.
He dashed into a crack in the house wall, but he did not stop running as the tubecat was great at fitting through tiny spaces, even regular cats are quite good, but they are limited by the fact that they have limbs.
Ivak displayed athleticism he never knew he had, leaping and hurdling the various things that poked out of the inside of the walls, he could hear the tubecat behind him. He even thought he felt its breath upon his back. He paid no heed to where he was going, and as a consequence ended up in a dead end, a crooked little nook. He could not return the way he came as the tubecat’s head blocked the entrance.
Ivak pulled back his body as far as he could against the end of the cubbyhole, the teeth of the tubecat snapped mere inches from his body. Ivak’s head was filled with the pounding of his own heart. One thing brought him to his senses, Quil’s sobbing had not stopped.
He calmed down as much as he could with a savage beast hissing and spitting at his face. He began to think about why there was a tubecat before him. He was in the pixie’s heart. There should only be himself and the heart’s owner. That would mean that before him was actually…
The Tubecat was taken aback at the sight of Ivak smiling.
“What are you smiling about fool! Invader of this house, I’ll devour you!”
That clinched it for Ivak, apart from anything else, tubecats cannot speak. The tubecat was Quil. She had unconsciously taken that form to defend her heart from him, an unknown invader. To her perhaps the fiercest guardian she had encountered was a tubecat. Ivak wondered if the pixie had once herself been trapped in a cubbyhole by a tubecat once.
“Hello, I’m Ivakilnah DuVulk, what is your name?” He asked.
The setting of the house began to crumble away, the form of the tubecat blew away like dust at the simple question.
Instead there was before Ivak a mere sobbing girl with butterfly wings and chitinous limbs, right in the middle of a large(for pixies) patchwork hammock and quilt, there was a number of these hung up in the crude room Ivak was in. There was a few well loved handmade toys, tops, stuffed creatures and other things.
“My name is Quil, do I know you?”
“No, you don’t, I came here to help”
As soon as the word help came up, Quil wept louder, and the surroundings shook.
“I can’t, I can’t help you, I don’t know how, I’m weak, I’ve tried my best, isn’t that good enough? I’m tired, I’m so tired”
Ivak was confused, he hadn’t asked for help. He wasn’t sure exactly what was going on, but there was some issue with helping people, or being asked to help, that was clearly the situation she had gotten stuck in.
“Why are you so tired?” He asked, not questioning how responsive she was to him.
“I tried to help, really, I don’t know if did, why does it have to be so hard? I thought I was doing right, not all of them came, nothing is working out like I thought it would. Was it just a bother to everyone? Should I have done it?”
Ivak still wasn’t sure what to make of this, she seemed to be worrying about what her people thought of her actions, if she did the right thing, but something seemed amiss. He had however noticed something.
“Why are you accusing yourself?” He wondered aloud.
Quil jerked back but did not reply except to let out choked sobs.
He wondered if he was looking at it wrong, what if instead of her worrying about her actions, she was deliberately trying to find fault with them?
“Are you unsatisfied with the choice you made?” He asked.
“Yes, I thought it’d be better, but it doesn’t seem to be working…”
The room darkened, and Ivak was surprised to find rising water around his ankles.
“…but it is for the best isn’t it? They need to be safe, better for all of them, right? Isn’t that right? I had to do that. I couldn’t just leave them. I couldn’t abandon them”
The water was rising, but Ivak thought he had it now. He could hardly believe his own ears. To have been caught by so simple a thing.
“You didn’t want to do it did you? You didn’t want to use the orb for them, you wanted something else, and you are ashamed of that.” he said.
The water was up to Ivak’s neck, he began to flail, he didn’t know how to swim.
“No… My wings, I think of them as my lucky wings, but a hedgemage once took interest in me, as a curiosity, he said that I could become a skilled enchantress, with the right training, he couldn’t help me, didn’t want to either. I was going to use the orb to get a teacher, or something.”
Ivak was drowning, but he was so close. He wanted to slap Quil in the face. In spite of the water, he spoke, his voice tearing through it.
“You didn’t want to help them, but you did anyway! THAT IS THE POINT, YOU DID ANYWAY!”
The water vanished and Ivak thudded against the floor. He rose up and confronted Quil.
“Wouldn’t most people just look to themselves?” He began.
“Everyone has these thoughts, you’d be something amazing if you didn’t, I could have just left you here to die, would have been far easier, but that wouldn’t be noble, it wouldn’t be right.” He ranted.
“What are you doing, being ashamed? You are already being more noble than many nobles!” He continued.
“I-i…” Quil tried to interject. She was no longer sobbing and there was light and life in her eyes again.
“Really this is actually kind of sickening, your failure just displayed how nice you are! If I had failed it would have been due to some horrible reason, not being ashamed of being flawed! Right that is it, I’m done, finished!”
As soon as Ivak said that, the sigil in his eye flashed, his heart-crest activating.
Ivak found himself being hugged by Claroosa once more.
“Thank goodness you are back again, please don’t find some reason to go in again, I’ll lose years from my life” She said.
Ivak was a bit dazed.
Quil appeared moments after, plopping onto Ivak’s head.
She had continued the trial and completed it successfully, next to no time passed within the heart of the castle. She was now the sole owner of the castle.
She quickly fluttered up and away from Ivak. The two stared at each other, there was shouts of joy from the weefolk.
“Castle, give ownership of yourself to Ivakilnah DuVulk, I do not want to be mistress of this castle”
There was gasps from the weefolk, even from Fatho and Claroosa. Ivak however understood. Quil didn’t want the responsibility. There wasn’t any shame in that, it was after all a heavy chain.
-Ivakilnah, you are now the owner of this castle and the orb until such a time as your spirit ceases, all greater functions are open to you-
Ivak sighed. With that, it was over. He only had to return home.
* * * * *
It had turned out that one of the functions that was enabled for the owner was the ability to find rooms. It also turned out that the maker of the castle had actually thought of weefolk when making the castle. It was riddled with secret rooms for weefolk, including kitchens, dining halls and all manner of rooms for various purposes, even a library.
Ivak was more than content to allow the wee folk to live in his castle, and he left a favourable impression on them as he left with Fatho and Claroosa.
The orb however did not return Ivak to where he had last touched it in Kigan, it did not even transport them to where Quil had last touched it, which is probably for the best considering how small she was and where she might have used it. Instead they were in an unfamiliar forest of blue-leaved trees.
“Where are we?” Ivak asked. “Well, it doesn’t matter, Fatho can just guide us back”
Ivak was in quite good cheer. Claroosa was curiously silent.
Fatho himself had some kind of thing out in his hands and was slowly turning around and around. He stopped and held out what it was. It looked like a hand made from ashes. The hand cracked and Fatho cracked with it.
“Well, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy some of our time together, but I never want a trip like that again, since I’ve taken my pay and the Hand’s, I’ll be going now, goodbye!”
There was a gust of wind and Fatho’s body and the hand of ashes both blew away, both as ashes in the wind.
Ivak was left staring dumb-founded.
“W-what’ll we do Claroosa? How are we going to get back? Are we going to starve to death in the wilds after all that?”
“Compose yourself milord, you have the orb of the castle, so we will always have shelter and food, it might take us some time, but we’ll get home”
“Oh, yes of course, still quite rotten of him to bail on us like that! Though, I can kind of understand him wanting to end his journey. Well, what direction do we head in?” Ivak asked.
“We can simply get out our locusfinder” Claroosa said, searching their supplies for said artefact.
“I’m afraid milord, the locusfinder is gone” She said after a while rummaging.
“Well, how about we head in that direction?” He said, pointing randomly.
“Very well milord”
Ivak and Claroosa went on, beginning their journey home.
Epilogue: Wandering Hearts
Fatho thought it a bit odd that part of the conditions and payment of the job was that he was to steal most of their sense of direction and any aids to navigation that they might have, but since it was what the client Claroosa wanted and it was what the Lords and Ladies had agreed to, he didn’t question it.
The weefolk all settled in quite nicely, and in time the events they had undergone and Quil and Ivak would become nothing more than the reasons for festivals.
Quil would go on to attract the attention of a powerful mage, and thus begin her apprenticeship and education in the ways of magic.
The dishonest merchant Nagar had of course been driven out, and would continue to peddle and be driven out, it was almost like the growing and shedding of leaves from trees.
Haelosther, the High Crest of House Vulk was greatly content with the results of what Ivak and Claroosa had gone through. He had to spend some time convincing Yagmalral not to scour the Lords and Ladies from Welterine though.
The Heart of the Castle was content once more to have a master.
Galshea remained undisturbed, for Ivak’s tale merely passed through that mystery.
As for what adventures, tribulations and events in general Ivak and Claroosa encountered on their way back to House Vulk, and indeed whether they managed to return to House Vulk? Those are tales for another time.