Ruby had to admit that the shoes they provided for her were comfortable. But the stares she got from passers-by as she walked through the city were not.
Her guide was a scholarly young man named Democritus, tall and thin. He led the procession, speaking a constant stream of choppy English so accented Ruby struggled to understand him. Ruby walked behind him, flanked by two grim-faced soldiers.
A young man in a hooded brown robe and dark sunglasses followed close behind them. Ruby would glance back at him occasionally. To her surprise, he responded with a smile. Ruby had seen several Ord Priests in Cavaheim, and they had always been dour or smug. This was the first time one of their number had shown a hint of something approaching kindness. He was young, Ruby realized—not much older than her. Was he a trainee or something?
"And this on our left is the Hall of Politic Philisophics," said Democritus the guide. "It is here that we examine the history and the future of governance."
"I have a question," Ruby asked, raising her hand.
Democritus turned and smiled. "Yes?"
"Some people have Greek-sounding names in this city. Your name, just like Argolese and Hera."
Democritus nodded. "Yes. Cavaheim is historically a seat of knowledge. The brightest students have traveled from all lands, bringing their distinct cultural influences with them."
"So, there's a Greece in your world?"
"A once great empire, fallen long ago. Is there not a Greece in your history?"
"Well, yeah, but... nevermind."
She walked with her head down, the world out of focus. She still didn't have her glasses. People steered clear of her procession as they walked, but almost all of them stopped and stared when they saw her. She couldn't see their faces clearly, only impressions of widened eyes and jaws hanging open.
With the translation device tucked in her ear, she heard fragments of the whispers spoken by passers by.
"...she's real? Is this a joke?"
"Why is she with an Ord priest?"
"An Ord priest? In daylight? She must be important. I mean, for such an escort."
Ruby remembered Hera saying that the Ord preferred the night. But the king's advisor had stood beside the throne, just out of the glow of the skylight. And here with her was another Ord.
As she thought on this, Democritus droned on about the history of Cavaheim and its architecture. "This was a courthouse for centuries before the Starrik Empire fell. Converted to a debate hall after the—"
"I've got another question," Ruby interrupted. "I thought the Ord only came out at night. But he's here." She pointed a thumb over her shoulder at the priest.
Democritus turned, his eyes widened. "Your question?"
"Well, do they stay out of daylight or not?"
Democritus frowned. He spoke in his own language to the priest. Ruby heard the translation in her right ear. "Your grace, she asks about you—about the effects of daylight? May I answer?"
The Ord smiled, his eyes hidden by his sunglasses. He nodded assent.
Democritus straightened and spoke to Ruby (she had difficulty listening, the translator picking up on the words he'd mutter to himself before relaying the translation). "This is Hakk-Kahn," he said, nodding towards the Ord. "He is only half-Ordish by birth. The sunlight is not as potent against him."
"But why is sunlight bad for the Ord?"
Democritus looked uncomfortable. "The Ord people once lived underground. They have mastered magics that thrive in the shadows. They do not enjoy daylight. It weakens them and their powers, but it does them no permanent damage."
"There was an Ord with the king, in the throne room, right under the skylight."
Democritus's eyes widened. "You saw the Gahn Shikvaht in his throne room?"
"Yes, and the Ord Priest."
Democritus stared, mouth agape. This lasted for an uncomfortable few seconds. Finally, he composed himself and said, "This is most likely the high priest Jarrock. He is no less an Ord than any, but he is very powerful. Perhaps the sunlight does not weaken him as much."
They continued up the hill, passing buildings. Democritus was much more comfortable discussing the history of buildings than he was talking about his Ord escort.
Ruby only half-listened. She thought once again about what Hera had said. Ruby was this city's only hope. But what should she do? This was a city filled with soldiers, with magic priests, and the looks of shock on the faces of passing strangers made it clear she wasn't entirely welcome.
Her audience with King Basha had left her even more uncertain. Someone had to stop the king, but he wasn't the monster she'd expected. He actually believed he was doing the right thing. He would kill innocent people, but he didn't like killing. On her trek across the forest to Cavaheim, she'd pictured herself fighting a scaly evil overlord like a boss fight in a video game. Basha wasn't a lizard creature. He was just a man. And to be honest, he was... kind of good looking.
She was so lost in thought, she didn't pay attention to their destination.
"The citizens of Cavaheim built this statue only three years ago," Democritus said, pointing up. "Honoring the exalted one that will bring us a glorious paradise."
They were in the city square, a vast garden topping a hill. Manicured hedges lined flagstone walkways. Flowers, some of them on stalks as tall as Ruby, filled stone circles all around. A huge statue towered over it all. Ruby had to crane her neck to take in the robed, hooded figure. The giant stone man, his face hidden in shadow, held a sphere embossed with continents in one hand and a rat in the other. Its base was blue, with huge rune-like characters across the front.
As they stood beneath the statue, a crowd gathered. They spoke in hushed whispers, keeping their distance. All eyes were on Ruby. The soldiers accompanying her procession looked disturbed by the gathering. They drew their swords and faced the crowd.
"Where did she come from?" a man shouted.
"What does it mean?" added a woman further back. "She is the Lady Chaos. Is she responsible for the chaos in this world?"
Hakk-Kahn, the young Ord priest stepped up between Ruby and the crowd. A hush fell over them as he approached. "People of Cavaheim, you have nothing to fear," he said, raising his hands. "This is Ruby Tanner. That's right, 'Ruby'. The scholars among you will recognize the significance of that name. It means 'Hope.' She is a bringer of Hope, long prophesied to come in our hour of transformation. And she has allied herself with the Holy Usurper."
Ruby remembered what the note from Elric had said. She had to pretend she didn't understand his words. But how could she stand by while this Ord lied about her?
"It was Argolese who said she'd bring hope," another man in the crowd said. "And Basha killed him—killed him with the help of your people. How dare you agree with him now?"
The Ord's face turned cold. The crowd hushed as he glowered at the man. "You are scared and confused, so I will forgive your treason this once. Only the Holy Usurper knows the reason for the prophet's sacrifice, and I do not question his judgement. Do you?"
No one spoke. Hakk-Kahn let them ponder his words for a moment before continuing. "Ruby Tanner has agreed to stand with King Basha when the fires of Kaj'jic rise once more. She will lend her power of Hope to the spell of transformation, liberating the world from chaos."