Arthen felt like he had climbed far from starving in the streets of Acres as he walked the streets of Ionmur, looking for fixings to make his own bed. Ionmur was a larger city than Arthen had ever experienced. The many dangerous people that roamed around the streets made him careful of going down any alleyways that were too suspicious.
Before Booker had left to follow Frayne and let them loose in the streets, he had given Talon and Arthen each a crudely printed map of the city. All along the edges of the paper were notes on specific areas that would help them along on their first quest for the order and for themselves.
The city of Ionmur was laid out in a peculiar way according to the map. It was carved on the slopes of the Five Pointed Fist–the tuft of mountains at the end of the Long Arm–and encroached on the great river of Asura’s Handle. The Five Pointed Fist held five pools from the running water of the mountains that spat out waterfalls feeding into a lake. The lake was somewhat elongated, and it looked to Arthen to be more of a fat mouth of a river that fed into Asura’s Handle. The structure of the city lay on top of this lake which created a great separation of its two halves.
When Booker, Oakley, and Frayne had taken them into Ionmur, they had entered the city from the eastern gate which led into what was once the original city of Ionmur before the Ovellans’ Conquest when Adgonna was queen of old Ialnem. Much of the eastern side of the city had been demolished, reconstructed, reorganized, and repaved in the span of over a thousand years, but the old bones of the streets and many remaining ancient buildings stayed unchanged.
When the Ovellans turned Ionmur from a capital of the Alaun to a trading hub of the Eastern Kingdom, they sliced a canal through the eastern half of the city to allow the flow of trading ships to navigate easily into the lake where they made port. The canal flooded much of the land and wall that touched the lake on the east side, so a large part of the old city was left abandoned and the wall retreated eastward. Old Wall Road was the original edge of the city and the old wall was torn down to be reconstructed more east for the expanding side of the city.
When it didn’t make sense to keep expanding the city eastward, the Ovellans reached across the lake and constructed the city to the west. They built mighty halls, monuments, romantic statues, arches and stone paved streets on the west side of the city. A trading port was built with many docks and so merchants and businessmen flocked to live on the west side of city where it was open and spacious for expansion while the east half remained stagnant and cluttered. Noble families were formed and lived for generations on Ionmur’s west side and eventually the governor’s estate was moved from old Adgonna’s keep to a majestic palace on the hill across the lake.
Even after Anlaith’s Reconquering, the dynamic of Ionmur’s layout and population remained the same. But to most citizens as Booker had pointed out, it had become even more divided.
Both halves of the city were connected by a long stone bridge that crossed the expanse of the lake and was basically a small town of itself where other buildings and houses were built on both of its edges. This made the bridge a crowded expanse of leaning wooden wells, inns, and shops hunched over the Heart Road and cascading onto the lake’s surface. In the center of the bridge, and as such in the very center of the city, was a great bubble of open stone pavement that served as the city square.
Even with a map Arthen became lost in the city just to marvel at the streets and all the unique structures that were packed into every nook and cranny. He could tell that in every side street and little alley he saw had to have had hundreds of episodes of tiny events that spanned generations. The bridge was the most interesting–it was a complicated mashup of old Ovellan stone buildings as the base with post-Reconquering modifications and add-ons made of old wood and ingenuity.
Arthen had spent the whole day wandering the city with sunlight warming his bones. At dusk he was making his way westward down the bridge. An unnatural tide of the crowd around him pushed Arthen toward the city square. As he grew closer, an eerie silence grew more and more prominent as one or two isolated voices punctuated the empty atmosphere.
“Look upon them and know them as your enemy,” an amplified voice said. It seemed to hang above their heads like a cold cloud. “Our father has died at their hands. Your brothers and sons continue to die from their savagery. Now something must be done. Time has come to pay! Know thy enemy!”
Arthen squeezed into a gap in the standing crowd to see the scene in the square.
A long parade of people snaked through the street, bruised, bloodied, and shaking. Olive-skinned and auburn-haired men and women were barefoot and chained, marching in threes in a slow and haunting step. The clinking of their chains and the padding of their feet on the stone street were the only nonverbal sounds emitted. Golden Legionnaires and Capital Lawmen mingled on their flank to shove paraders along.
Their miserable faces peered downward, avoiding the gaze of Ionmur's citizens who watched them in restrained silence but with unrestrained looks of disgust. Several citizens called out “Thou is my enemy! Vengeance! Burn, burn, yes you’re going to burn!” as they threw pointed antagonizing fingers at the prisoners.
But Arthen could spot many citizens observing them with quiet pity in their eyes, also haunted by the atrocious display in front of them.
“They are Reachlings,” a man’s voice spoke quietly behind Arthen.
Arthen turned to see a handsome man looking at him. He wore a dark green Brockway cape under a patchwork cloak, his blonde hair hidden underneath a hood.
He must work for Faust, Arthen thought looking at the green Brockway cape.
“They’re war prisoners,” Arthen said .
“Yes,” the man said. “Paraded through the streets so we may see who they want our enemies to be, who to hate, who to blame.”
“...we shall reign down upon them fire and fury the likes that have not been seen since Enoch wept.”
Arthen looked to the source of the loud voice ringing out. On a high platform there stood a regal-looking man in luxurious deep purple clothing embroidered speaking to the crowd through a giant acoustic horn.
“Who’s he?” Arthen asked.
“Rafer Trevathen. The Marshall of Fair Haven and the governor of Ionmur. You have never been to this city, have you?” the man said.
Arthen shook his head.
“...if you’re not with us, you’re with them!”
“I haven’t been here that long either, well, not long by most citizens’ standards. A couple of Sorrows past. But a city like this grows on you and infests your soul quickly. You can feel the anger and resentment of these citizens. You can feel their skepticism. They don’t buy into this.”
Arthen continued to look at the parade passing by. As the Broken Spirits member spoke to him, a Reachling in the parade–a lone prisoner with their face not facing downward–looked straight at the two of them. His neck arched uncomfortably forward like it didn’t remember how to hold a head upward. His dark eyes were sunken and bloodshot punctuating his stare. He looked at Arthen, then to the rebellion member, then back to Arthen with a gaze penetrating every fiber of Arthen’s being.
Arthen stared back, with his brows knitted dolefully. Even after running, bleeding, unconsciousness, and near-death experiences over the past few weeks, a well of pity settled as a heavy weight in his chest for this fellow being. There seemed to be things happening all around Ialnem that didn’t make sense. People were taken from their homes to parade in foreign streets and cursed by other humans who were told to do so by someone else.
“You feel it too,” the man said.
The Broken Spirits member came more toward Arthen’s side and faced him directly. “Why did you come to this city?”
Arthen was still lost in thought and lost in disgust. For the longest time, he had only seen the ruthless Golden Legion soldiers as their own separate identity. But now Arthen was aware of their string-pullers. He was aware of the people like King Breagan, his council, and Rafer Trevathen who were making decisions that affected him from far away, people who he had never seen, met, or even knew they existed. He was aware of an establishment that had shifted his life so much, taking his home, and now even more acts of cruelty were being performed. His family deserved better than what they got, and they deserved better in name than what they were currently getting. But Arthen’s answer still remained the same from when he told Booker. “I came here to expose the truth.”
The man nodded. “That’s exactly the answer I need, Gleim.”
When Arthen gave him a puzzled look, the man offered his hand to him and said, “Thank you for joining my resistance.”