Chapter 2 Earth

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The marketplace is empty.

Marpidium’s usual center of trade and gossip greets the foggy morning air with silence. Tables and large baskets normally filling the space are stored safely away. The crowds usually milling about are gone with no signs of returning.

Standing close to the center of the marketplace are four figures. Captain Almuran Kostia, his quartermaster Maris, Ari Flandine Gurek, and Kemp Romijn stand close together. The cool morning air sends a shiver through the small group.

“Are we early or is everyone just late?” Ari asks.

“Meeting at dawn means different things to each person. It won’t be much longer,” Kostia says.

Movement in the fog ahead of them proves Kostia’s words true. Four groups walk towards them. Each group had four people and Ari’s thoughts return to Kostia’s lessons about the pirate laws.



“Each captain is allowed to bring three men with him. One must be either his quartermaster or first mate. The other two can be whoever the captain chooses. They can be part of his crew or not,” Kostia says.

“That’s weird. Who do you usually bring besides your own crew?” Ari asks.

“Some pirates hire men for added protection. Smaller, rogue pirates or mercenaries. It’s rare, but not unheard of,” Maris answers.

“The two men are to be protection for the captain and quartermaster or first mate. No fighting may occur during the negotiations, but the journey to the decided location and from are fair game. Many negotiations end before they even begin.”

Ari stares at the thin book in her hand. Maris gave it to her. It held the vague outlines of pirate law. Some were expected: Every man shall obey civil command and his commander in all respects or he shall forfeit his share of the expedition. Others surprised Ari: Any man found gambling his share, be it dice, card, or any other form of game, shall be punished with accordance to the articles or by vote amongst his peers. The ultimate decision shall be made by Quartermaster or, if he cannot deem appropriate punishment, by Captain.

The laws were vast, but vague. At the beginning and end of the book, were added notes by, Ari assumed, previous captains. Guidelines, no laws be found here. One especially caught Ari’s eye. Sail true to heart and the laws shall be child’s play.

“I hear your man Kemp has a unique magic,” Kostia says, breaking Ari’s thoughts.

She meets his eyes and nods. “He does. Is that why you requested he be one of the two?”

A smile forms on Kostia’s lips. “Maybe. Have you put thought into who I might choose for the second?”

“It’s your choice. I could make a suggestion, but—”

“You. I want you to be the second.”

Squeezing the book in her hands, Ari slowly nods her head. “I had a feeling.”

“Do you want to know why?”



“Let’s see how well you paid attention,” Kostia says in Ari’s ear, pulling her from her memories. “Can you identify who each captain is?”

Ari stares across the marketplace at the approaching pirates. Her eyes bounce from each group to the central figures of each cloister.

“Farthest left, the big guy,” Air says nodding her head in the direction of a large man wearing a vest. He consciously takes smaller steps so the three around him can stay close. “That’s Rim Cruudler, captain of Three Blades. Sailed with Audra the longest and was given his own ship to captain the latest of those vying for the title. He knew Audra when she was still only captain of a single ship. He’s originally from a small island off the north shores of Deirak and was one of the few of her crew who opposed her fighting in the Blood Wat with my parents.”

“Good. Next?”

“The woman wearing…a men’s uniform? That’s Cerise Bobeto.” The woman in question is surrounded by three other women. Scars on the right side of her face are covered by her hair as a gentle morning breeze moves across the marketplace. “She’s the only woman besides Audra who rose through the ranks faster than a man. She captains the only all female pirate crew on the seas. She views Audra’s title as an opportunity to prove women are superior.”

“I’m impressed.”

Ari looks at the next in line. A tall, gangly man with leather straps across his face. He walks as though usually he carries a large weight on his back. “The man with his face covered is Babin, no last name. No one knows where he came from. He is stronger than he looks and his weapon of choice is a large double bladed axe on a change. His goal is to bring the fear of pirates back.” Ari looks at Maris and smiles. “I know you said, bring the glory of pirates back, but everyone I’ve ever heard of use that term really means fear.”

Maris nods his head in agreement. “He is the enigma of those wishing to claim the title. He’s never shown interest in it until recently.”

“And the last captain.” Ari stares at the man dressed in the finest clothes she’s ever seen. The hat on his head has a large feather that twitches at every movement of his head. He’s the only one smiling out of the four and the men behind him keep a good distance. He meets Ari’s gaze and a strange look comes over his face. She recognizes it as intense curiosity and a chill runs through her. “That…that is Aisling Ophius. The only member of Audra Sellin’s crew who actively tried to murder her but was never punished for it.”

The groups stop in front of them as the fog lifts. The four stare at Kostia each with a different emotion in their eyes.

“Fine morning to you all. It’s always grand to see you Rim, Babin, and Cerise.” Kostia says. He turns to Aisling. “Can’t say the same for you, Aisling.”

Aisling nods his head at Kostia. “I understand your apprehension, Kostia. But I do hope the negotiations will go smoothly…without any interruptions.”

“I hope for that, too.”

Aisling’s eyes move to Ari and Kemp but linger on Ari. “I see you chose not to bring your crew. Who are these two?”

“My protection.”

“Ain’t that sweet,” Babin says, crossing his long arms across his chest. His eyes trace the scars on Ari’s face. “None of your crew wanted to protect you so you had to go find two strangers?”

“Two people who don’t know what you did to us?” Cerise adds. “What you did to Lady Sellin?”

Kostia eyes Rim. “Anything to add, big guy?”

The large man takes a deep breath and avoids Kostia’s eyes. “Their eyes are, eh, the eyes of those who have, eh, lost much.”

“Does that include their voices?” Babin asks.

“We choose to remain quiet since we are unfamiliar with your rules and don’t want to inadvertently say something that will escalate the negotiations into fighting,” Ari says, her eye meeting Babin’s.

Something she hadn’t noticed when she first saw him was his eyes. The leather straps distracted her. Babin’s eyes are a strange pale brown, but that isn’t the strangest thing. Each eye has multiple pupils. True some are deformed, but there are clearly two pupils in one eye and three in the other. Ari expects him to look away as she stares at the abnormal eyes, but he doesn’t. He seems proud of his strange eyes the way he defies her expectation to look away.

“Who are the ones vying for the title of Pirate Lord of the East?” a voice thunders over the gathered group. Everyone turns to a large walkway leading up to the center of the city. A woman stands in the middle of the walkway, her arms crossed over her chest. The towering ship in the distance behind her almost seem to shrink in her presence.

The groups walk towards her, stopping in front of her in a line with the five captains standing separate from their comrades. The woman wears a dress, but she stands as though she wore pants. “My name is Ethela. I served as Lady Audra Sellin’s Quartermaster before her death. Today I shall be the neutral party to these negotiations. Who vies for the title of Pirate Lord?”

“Captain Almuran Kostia of the Black Heart Pirates vies for the title of Pirate Lord of the East,” Kostia announces.

“What is the basis of your claim?”

“Lady Sellin declared me her successor in front of fifty men and women of her flagship, the Broken Corral.”

Ethela eyes the others. “Can any confirm this declaration?”

Maris steps forward. “I can confirm the declaration.”

Three others step forward, Rim and two of his men. “We can confirm the, eh, declaration, but disagree with the decision.”

Nodding her head, Ethela’s eyes move from face to face. “Who else vies for the title of Pirate Lord?”

“Captain Aisling Ophius of the Bloody Corral Pirates vies for the title of Pirate Lord of the East,” Aisling says, bowing his head.

“What is the basis of your claim?” Ethela asks, her eyes narrowing.

“The combined vote of all those who sail beneath Lady Sellin’s flag. Minus Captain Kostia and his crew.”

“Can any confirm this declaration?”

Babin, Cerise, and Rim step forward. “Aye,” they all answer in unison.

“Captain Babin of the Death Axe Pirates relinquishes his vie for the title to support the claim of Captain Aisling Ophius and denounce the claim of Captain Almuran Kostia.”

“Captain Cerise Bobeto of the Siren Queen Pirates relinquishes her vie for the title to support the claim of Captain Aisling Ophius and denounce the claim of Captain Almuran Kostia.”

“Captain Rim Cruudler of the Three Blades Pirates, eh, relinquishes his vie for the title to, eh, support the claim of Captain Aisling Ophius and, eh, denounce the claim of Captain Almuran Kostia.”

Kostia and Maris both stiffen. Ari senses the shock and surprise in the two men. They never expected the others to so easily relinquish their claims. Even less so to give their full support to Aisling.

Ethela glares at the groups. “Am I to understand this is now a fight between the desire of the Late Lady Sellin and the, apparent, desire of all pirates under her flag?”

Aisling smirks and looks at Kostia. “Do you see the futility of seeking the title, Kostia? Even if you win, none of her ships will sail under you.”

Maris steps forward to stand beside Kostia. Ari and Kemp, not sure what to do, mimic him.

“Well, then I guess,” Kostia starts before raising his eyes to Aisling, “I’ll have to find new ships and crews deserving of sailing beneath the Pirate Lord of the East’s flag.”

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Chapter 1 Earth

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“Toss it,” Syrah says, grabbing handfuls of left out food.

“But look at it! It’s gotta be worth something,” Rone says, holding the bracelet in such a way it catches the early morning light.

“Won’t be worth much if you’re dead.”

Rone stares at his sister with wide eyes. “Why would I be dead?”

Stuffing her dirty bag with as much as she can, Syrah shushes him. “Not so loud. Don’t you even know why every body’s hiding in the big ship?”

“I know about the pirates. Everyone’s been talking about their big fight,” Rone grumbles, throwing the bracelet over the side of the walkway into the water below. “But they’re fighting each other over some stupid thing.”

“Have you ever met a pirate?”


“They’re murderers. Wouldn’t think twice about killing kids. And if they don’t kill ya, they take you away as a slave.” Syrah ties her bag tightly and heads off down the walkway.

Rone hurries after her, grabbing a bruised apple from the left overs. He turns it over in his hands, his stomach growling softly. “That doesn’t sound too bad. Then you get to be a pirate.”

“I didn’t say what kind of slave, did I?” Syrah says, glancing at her brother over her shoulder. Her dirty hair falls over her face and she blows it away with a quick puff of breath. “I’ve heard stories of pirate captains chaining small boys to their beds for nightly duties.”

The blood rushes from Rone’s face. he didn’t need to ask what she meant by duties. When times were really bad, he’d heard of many dock rats doing whatever it took to find a meal. Syrah always promised no matter how hard times were she’d never do that to him. Though she never said anything about herself.

They walk in silence through the abandoned city. The only sounds are the water hitting the docks below and birds searching for food above.  The homes were dark, empty. Everyone escaped to the center of the city seeking shelter from the coming pirate war.

All were welcome to the large ship at the center of the city during the dangerous time. Including dock rats, the many abandoned children throughout Marpidium. Some were abandoned when their families died from illness, murdered, or were lost at sea.

Syrah and Rone weren’t truly brother and sister, but Syrah found Rone floating in the water when he was a baby. Another dock rat thrown to the sea. His mother could’ve tossed him in the water out of shame or he could’ve washed into the city from a shipwreck. Syrah took him in. Perhaps because she was lonely or she saw an opportunity to add a second set of hands to scavenge for food.

Syrah was abandoned after her parents ventured out to sea for wealth. All they found was death and never returned. Or maybe they found the wealth they sought and simply chose not to come back for their child.

The truth of dock rats would always be the lack of knowing why they were doomed to be abandoned. But Rhone never felt abandoned. Syrah raised him on the docks and they were lucky to have one another.

Though he didn’t understand why, though she spoke of all the dangers of pirates, they weren’t with the rest at the center of the city. There was supposed to be lots of food and shelter from the sea air. Syrah claimed this wasn’t actually available to the dock rats, but he didn’t believe her.

There were no other dock rats scavenging for food on the city docks. As far as he knew, they’d all gone to the safety of the larger ship.

Rone walks into Syrah’s arm. He stops and looks up at her. Her eyes dart back and forth, her tongue pushing out her bottom lip. Rone recognizes the look. Syrah heard something. Something that meant danger.

Without a word, Syrah grabs Rone’s hand and drags him down a small alley. Stacked boxes make an easy ladder to the roof of a nearby house. Syrah climbs quickly, dragging Rone behind her. He tries to keep up, having trouble with only one arm available. Syrah nearly pulls his arm off as she lifts him to the roof. She lays down flat on the roof, placing the bag of food next to her. She motions Rone to do the same and he does.

Laying on the roof, Rone strains his ears to listen for any sound. He wants to ask Syrah what she heard, but knows he’ll only get a finger to the lips. When Syrah hears something that convinces her to move to higher ground, Rone knows it means trouble.

“You followed?” a voice asks below.

Rone’s blood runs cold. They’d almost walked right into pirates. How Syrah heard them…thank the gods she’d heard them.

“Nah. No one left in this, eh, city. They’ve all, eh, holed up in the big ship.” The second voice is deeper, an accent thick on the tongue.

“I ain’t worried about the locals. Last thing we need is our plan reaching the wrong ears.” The first voice is gruff, reminding Rone of someone with a sick throat.

“Are you insinuating I can’t scope out perfectly good places to meet?” a third voice, a woman asls angrily.

“I’m insinuating we ain’t all perfect at making good decisions.”

“Enough bickering,” a fourth voice booms over the others. “We’re here because tomorrow is a big day.”

Syrah turns her head enough to meet Rone’s eyes. She motions with her head forward. She wants to move closer.

Rone furiously shakes his head. There are too many, one of them will spot them for sure. He reaches out and takes a handful of her shirt. He tugs on it gently, trying to urge her further from the voices.

She hits his hand away and slowly crawls forward. She abandons the bag of food and Rone grabs it for comfort. He watches her move carefully up the hump of the roof. She stops at the top, only allowing her head to peek over.

Rone squeezes the bag in his arms tightly before following. He struggles to be quiet and bring the bag with him, but his fear of it rolling off the roof overwhelms him to keep it close. He maneuvers his way next to Syrah and carefully peers over the top of the roof to see the owners of the voices.

“Our dear friend Kostia is still under the impression he is the rightful heir to the Pirate Lord of the East title.”

The fourth voice belongs to a man dressed oddly for a pirate. Oddly to Rone at least. His clothes are cleaner compared to the other three standing around him. He wears a large hat with a scarf hanging from the back and a large feather that dances at each movement of his head. A sword is on his hip, poking out the back of his coat.

“From what I’ve heard, many of late Lady Sellins’s men believe it, too,” the woman says. Her hair is cut short on one side. On the other she keeps the long strands braided and tied on the side. Her clothes are big on her, and Rone realizes she’s wearing men’s clothes.

“The same men who ain’t staying on to serve under him.” The owner of the first voice sits with his long legs hanging off the dock. He leans against a large double-bladed axe buried in the wood. He traces his finger along carvings on the blade. A chain rattles at his movements, one end wrapped around his right arm and the other end attached to the axe. The man’s face is wrapped in leather straps covering everything except for one eye and his mouth.

“They are, eh, too loyal to Lady Sellins to, eh, continue serving under another.” The man with the accent is the largest of the four. His arms bulge with muscles and this vest barely covers his chest. He wears three swords on his hip, two on his right and one on his left. Two of the swords match in design, but the second on his right hip is shorter.

“Too loyal to not pick sides, you mean,” the woman adds. “We all agree under no circumstance should Kostia be allowed to inherit the title.”

“That ain’t why I’m here,” leatehr straps says, tapping his fingers on the blade of his axe. “I’m here cause if I fight this war fair, I’ll lose. I understand the need for alliances.”

“And if we cut the head off the sea serpent, the rest will stand down,” the woman says, a smile growing on her face. “Then we can properly divvy up the territory as it should’ve been all along.”

The clean man rests a hand on the hilt of his sword and nods his head, the feather on his hat twitching at the movement. “And I make that promise to you here and now, as the one who will inherit the Pirate Lord of the East name. But if any of you betray that promise, I’ll be sure nothing remains of you, your crew, or any part you played on this day.”

“The threats are misplaced,” the woman says.

“We would never have, eh, come here if we weren’t, eh, prepared to follow you.”

“Big guy ain’t lying. What purpose would it serve to betray you now?”

“Then does everyone remember their role?” clean man says.

“Aye,” the group responds.

“Good. Before the fighting even begins, Kostia will meet his end.”

Syrah grabs Rone’s arm and pulls him back down the roof, away from the pirates. She stares at him with wide, terror-filled eyes. “We heard something we shouldn’t have.”

Rone nods his head. He wishes they were inside the large ship at the city’s center. What good does the extra food do them now? If they’re caught having overheard scheming pirates, they were both surely dead.

A loud sound echoes through the air. Syrah and Rone nervously glance back towards the group. They can’t see the pirates over the top of the roof, but something else catches their attention.

Moving straight into the air is a chain. It takes a second for Rone to understand why a chain was hanging in the air. Syrah grabs him and drags him off the roof, sending both falling onto the boxes they used to climb up.

The large double-bladed axe lands where they’d just been laying, burying into the roof of the house. The chain falls to the roof before going taut as someone climbs up to the roof.

The man with leather straps reaches the roof and stares down at Syrah and Rone. He easily picks up the large axe and rests it on his shoulder. “Just some kids, huh? Eavesdropping ain’t very respectable, little rats.”

Syrah leaps to her feet and again drags Rone behind her. He trips, but manages to stay on his feet as they run. Syrah darts down branching paths. Even Rone can’t keep track of where they are, hoping that means the pirates can’t either.

Turning a corner, Syrah slams into the massive body of the accented pirate. He tries to grab both Syrah and Rone with his large arms, but both duck under his legs, Rone kicking the one place he knows to be sensitive to men. The large man doesn’t flinch, but instead tries to grab for Rone’s leg. Syrah pulls him quickly out of reach and they continue running.

They round a corner and see the large ship at the center of the city. They have a clear path to it and push their legs hard. The doors may be closed, but Rone is sure Syrah knows of another way in. She taught him many times, nowhere is completely closed if you look hard enough.

A loud sound from behind catches Rone’s ear and he turns his head to glance back. “Don’t look!” Syrah yells.

Rone’s foot catches on a warped plank of wood and he falls to the ground. He feels a great rush of air above him and Syrah’s hand releases his. He tries to grab for it, but when he looks at her his heart stops.

Buried into the walkway ahead of them is the large axe, a dark liquid rolling down its large blade. Syrah stands frozen in front of Rone, a similar dark liquid pooling at her feet. Rone’s eyes stare in horror at Syrah’s face, staring at him with empty eyes from the ground in front of her body. The axe cut her diagonally from where her neck and right shoulder meet down to below her left ribs. The portion still standing falls to the wooden dock with a terrifying thud.

The chain of the axe rattles as the man with leather straps walks up next to Rone. He winds the chain up his arm and sighs. “I was hoping to just hit her neck, but these walkways make it hard. Ain’t got a lot of time to straighten the shot. And you two moved like rats fleeing a sinking ship.”

Rone feels warmth between his legs and tears fall from his eyes. If he hadn’t tripped, he would’ve been dead. Syrah was dead. They were so close to safety.

The man with straps walks to the axe and picks it up. he wipes the blood from the blade with the bottom of his torn coat.”Now, what’re we gonna do with a piss smelling dock rat?”

“Kill him. He heard our plans. He might warn Kostia,” the woman pirate’s voice says from behind Rone.

Slowly sitting up onto his knees, Rone glances behind him at the woman. Standing close to him, he notices small scars and burn marks on the right side of her face.

She glares at him and kicks him across the face. “What are you staring at?”

Rone is thrown to the ground by the kick and his eyes spy someone watching from one of the close-by houses. He pleads with his eyes for help, but the eyes only watch in fear.

A sharp pain in his back brings a gasp to his lips. The pain intensifies and cuts through him. He tries to lift himself up, but somethign stops him. He turns his head and ses a sword buried into his back. The woman holds the hilt of the sword and pushes it further in.

Rone’s breath grows shallow and everything around him slows. He stares back where he saw the eyes only to be greeted by darkness.

Next Chapter 

The New Year 2019

Happy New Year!

I apologize for being MIA most of 2018. I wish I could say it was because I focused on writing, but reality struck again. Bills, work, obligations, and more forced me to put things on the back burner I never wanted to…including this web serial.

But with a new year comes a new refreshed me. Though there is still a lot of reality punching me across the face, I’m hoping this year will be a tad more forgiving.

January is going to be a busy month. Book Three of the Source series is coming. My goal is to begin posting chapters before the end of this month if not earlier so keep an eye out for Book Three: Earth.

I want to thank every one of you for checking out my little serial. I know it’s rough not having a set release schedule and I appreciate any and all patience. I hope this year, 2019, will be the year everything falls into place and my own schedule can become stable enough to return to regular release dates.

This series is truly near and dear to my heart. I hope you all will continue on this journey with me and thank you for still being here.

Chapter 27 Water

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“Audra Sellin raised you. Do you mean she was…” Crofton’s voice trails off.

“Your mother?” Ari finishes his question, shock evident in her tone.

“No, not my mother, but she gave me a chance to start a new life. She found me stowing away on her ship when I was a child and chose to keep me on. I wasn’t the first stowaway, but she saw something in me that convinced her to let me stay. She was the only one. I was useless when it came to the everyday chores and many in the crew wanted to leave me behind every time we dropped anchor.”

Kostia waves a finger at Maris. “Maris had been a cabin boy then, sold to the pirates to pay off his family’s debts. He was a hard worker and quick learner, a trait the men of the ship found more valuable. We were the youngest of the cabin boys and both came from destroyed families so we grew close. He’d try to help me, sometimes even tried to cover for me, but all the men knew who was the better sailor.”

“They never understood why. Tried to tell me I was wasting my time showing him any kindness,” Maris says. “I chose to make my own choices in who was worth my time.”

“And Audra…Captain Sellin, she refused to abandon me.” Tracing his fingers on a nearby map, Kostia smiles at distant memories. “She taught me how to fight, everything about navigation, how to read words and maps, and the laws of pirates. She took me to meetings between her and other captains and several times when she spoke to the other pirate lords. She had me train with the other officers on the ship, learn everything I could about how to sail, how to read the weather and sea, and what true loyalty meant.”

“She was teaching you to be a leader,” Tal says, a hint of understanding in her voice. Ari understood, too. Her teachers in Kellahn, her true teachers, had always been the ones who knew what it meant to lead, what it meant to fail as a leader and grow stronger. Those who fought alongside her parents during the Blood War, those who made the long, dangerous journey to escape the terrors of the Arena.

Memories soften Kostia’s face and he looks at Maris. “She was teaching me to be a captain. She was a pirate lord, she had many captains who sailed beneath her flag. As she grew older she realized many were already anxious for the day she died, waiting to take her title. She wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of a clean inheritance. She wanted me to be the new pirate lord of the east. So I became a captain under her flag and Maris became my quartermaster.”

“Quartermaster?” Indra eyes the man with the gauntlets.

“Second in command,” Maris says. “When Captain Sellin gave Kostia his first ship, I refused to stay with her. I knew my place was with him, my purpose was to be at his side. When I left, several others chose to join us with Captain Sellin’s blessing. These gauntlets were a gift from her quartermaster, my mentor.”

“You both seem to have done well for yourselves,” Tal says.

“But if Audra Sellin chose you to be her successor, why are the other pirates fighting?” Ari asks.

“Pirates have laws, but when it comes to choosing pirate lords…the laws are purposefully vague. A living lord can choose their successor, but others may still fight for the title if they feel they’re better suited.”

“Why don’t the other pirate lords stop the fighting?”

“Why would they waste their time getting in the middle of other pirate’s affairs? Speaking of wasting time, enough reminiscing. Make your call to your group. There’re a lot of preparations we still need to deal with.”

Resisting the urge to ask more questions, Ari moves close to Crofton, Tal, Indra, and Kelis. “All right, let’s update everyone.”

Kelis pulls out the white stone and blows on it, a blue light emitting from deep within. Ari notices Kostia and Maris watching closely, their eyes locked on the stone.

“Kamen here.”

“Kamen, it’s Kelis. We found Tal. We need you to connect us to everyone.”

“Got it,” Kamen’s voice says from the stone.

“Interesting,” Kostia says, standing and walking towards Kelis. Ari and Crofton block his path. “I was wondering how you planned to talk to your group from here. Magic users, are you?”

“A number of us,” Ari says. “Do you have a problem with that?”

Smiling, Kostia shakes his head. “No, have a few on board as well. A number of whom joined the crew to escape from Deirak.”

“What about you and him?” Crofton asks. “Either of you magic users?”

Shaking his head, Kostia walks back to the desk. “Nope. We’re both from Deirak and I’m sure you’ve heard how rare magic is there.”

“Everyone’s listening,” Kamen interrupts. “Whenever you’re ready.”

“Tal is safe. We found the men who took her and we now have a ship willing to take us to Deirak. But…” Ari eyes Kostia, his smile greets her back. “First, we’re going to help the new Pirate Lord of the East claim his title.”





Playing with the pendant around her throat, Ari stares out the window. The rooms at the Rotten Rotrauk are tight with four single beds taking up much of the space. The only other thing in the room is a table with a lamp…and the window.

The sun is setting, its final rays lighting Marpidium as though it was on fire. Birds flew inland from hunting for fish out at sea, some finding their homes in the city while others fly overhead.

Kostia had been very specific in his instructions when they left his ship. Her entire group were to return to the inn to gather their belongings and await one of Kostia’s men to come for them after the sun set. As insurance, he kept her father’s notebook promising to only return it after the pirate conflict was settled.

Many gathered in Ari’s room after gathering their belongings, a strange nervousness filling the air. Tal and Indra stand by the door, Indra refusing to leave his wife’s side since rescuing her. Kemp and Vesna sit on the bed closest to the window.

“We shouldn’t be getting involved in this pirate war,” Vico says, sitting on the bed against the far wall. He’s sitting at the foot of the bed, leaning forward. His right leg bounces with nervous energy and his hands are clenched tight. “This isn’t our fight.”

“We don’t really have much of a choice, do we? Unless you found another ship willing to take us to Deirak?” Crofton asks from the bed one away from Vico. He’s stretched out on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. He turns his head to look at the other man. “But we know you didn’t.”

“It doesn’t matter what we should or shouldn’t do. The fact remains we need to get to Deirak and no other ship is willing to sail. We’re stuck with the pirates,” Ari says, her hand squeezing the pendant. “And I think we were meant to sail with them.”

“What do you mean?” Tal asks.

Turning to face the group in the room, Ari releases the pendant and crosses her arms. “For one, this pendant. But if we really think about it, what’s the best way to enter a country while being hunted?”

“Sailing on a ship many would actively avoid.” Kemp shakes his head. “But they’re also criminals. Some of those other ships may attack us.”

“Not if everyone’s as afraid of sailing to Deirak as they say.”

A knock on the door silences everyone. Ari nods to Tal and she opens it cautiously. Lorel walks in, a bag swinging in her hand. “Hope I’m not interrupting anything too important, but there’s a couple guys asking for you down at the bar. Guessing you found yourselves a ship, eh?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“Got some things for you. They may be helpful if you make it to Deirak.” Lorel holds the bag out to Vico, the closest one to her. “Most of it’s the most recent information we’ve gotten about the wars over there. I have family in Deirak. Their last known location is in there, too. They’ll give you a hand if you need it, as long as you mention my name.”

“Why are you telling us this?” Ari asks.

“I owe that first group a lot for helping me with the inn. You came from the same place, knew them pretty well I’m guessing. This is how I plan to help them. By helping those who don’t need to ask.” Lorel heads out, turning one last time. “Don’t keep those guys waiting too long. Pirates make my patrons a wee bit nervous.”

Tal closes the door behind Lorel and looks to Ari. “We ready?”

The group quickly gathers in the bar, meeting Kostia’s men. They give Lorel one last farewell and head out of the Rotten Rotrauk.

Walking across the bridge connecting Marpidium to the mainland, Ari stares up at the large ship at the city’s center. The sun has finished setting and the sky darkens. The usually lively city is quiet as most of the citizens prepare for their last night of peace before they move into the safety of the ship.

Glancing behind her at the group following, Ari hopes they’ve made the right decision to trust the pirate Kostia. There’s no guarantee they could even really help him in the fight for the pirate lord title.

But there’s no other choice. She’s so close to Deirak she can feel her father’s hand guiding her path. Underneath that, the fear of those chasing them makes the scars on her skin ache.

She made her choice. Now she prays it was the right one.

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Chapter 26 Water

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“Come again?” Ari asks.

“As captain of this ship and future pirate lord of the east, it wouldn’t speak well of the reputation of Captain Almuran Kostia if I simply let you and your little group there go without some form of payment.”

“I’m assuming that’s you, then?”

“Aye and for your freedom, as well as the freedom of all your comrades, I’ll be needing you to pay a…well, let’s call it a toll, shall we?” the pirate Kostia says, looking to his men for confirmation. They eagerly agree, laughing or whistling at Ari and her comrades.

“We don’t have any money. There’s nothing valuable in that bag your man stole.” Ari moves closer to Crofton, Indra, Kelis, and Tal.

The man holding the bag in question appears next to his captain. “Feels heavy to me. And word on the docks says they’re looking to hire a ship.”

Taking Ari’s bag, Kostia smiles at her. “Now how do you plan on doing that with no money?”

“Offering to work. Some folks value muscle over gold.”

“You’ll find very few in Marpidium who agree with you. But I’m curious what’s in this bag. You seem awful keen to get it back so there must be something valuable to you in here. I like valuable in all sense of the word.” He opens the bag and digs through the contents. He pulls out Ime’s journal and Ari stifles a quiet gasp. He turns it over in his hand, judging its weight. “Interesting. That explains the weight.”

He holds the book out to his right and a man wearing metal gauntlets takes it. Continuing to dig through the bag, he pulls out a small object wrapped in cloth. His eyebrows rise out of curiosity and he hands the bag back to the man who originally stole it. He unties the cloth revealing a blank medallion on a white gold chain, black paper, and a black ribbon. Grabbing the medallion, he holds it up revealing a symbol sewn into the cloth.


“See, they’re worthless to you. Everything else in that bag is worthless, too.”

“Interesting.” Looking at her, his eyes fully take in her face. “If that’s true then you wouldn’t care if I had Thache throw it into the sea.”


The man holding her bag, Thache, eyes the captain clearly confused. But he walks towards the edge of the ship and holds the bag over the railing.

Fear overpowering her, Ari rushes towards Thache. Kostia grabs her by the arm, twisting it behind her easily.

Ari’s companions try to move to help her, but the men surrounding them block their path. Crofton’s hand rests on the hilt of the dagger on his belt, but he’s able to resist drawing it, barely.

Kostia motions towards Thache and the confused man quickly pulls Ari’s bag away from the edge.

Leaning over her shoulder, Kostia laughs softly in her ear. “Doesn’t seem worthless anymore. Interesting.”

“Stop saying that,” she snaps at him, wincing in pain.

“You’re wrong.” Holding the blank medallion in front of her, he moves it back and forth. “This necklace is very valuable. Where did you get it?”

Her eyes watch the motion of the medallion. She tries to grab it with her free hand, but he twists her other arm, stopping her.

“Where did you get this necklace?”

“Why do you want to know?” Ari angles her head to meet his eyes.

“We were given it in Kellahn,” Crofton yells, drawing the captain’s attention from her.

“Kellahn?” the man with metal gauntlets says in surprise. “You’re from the legendary city?”

“Quiet, Maris,” Kostia says. He smiles at Crofton, but looks back at Ari. “Do you know what this is?”

“We were told it would show us allies where there may not be any. Are you allies? Or enemies?” she asks.

Releasing her arm, he steps back from her. “That depends…why are you looking for a ship?”

“We need to reach Deirak.” She rubs her sore arm, facing the young captain.

“Deirak? No sane sailor will take you there right now. What’s so important there?”

“Ime Gurek is there.”

“Indeed, the rumors say the same here.” He places the necklace around Ari’s neck. “Interesting. We’ll take you to Deirak.”

“What?” Tal gasps, shocked at the ease the captain agrees.

“On one condition,” he adds. “You and your companions are going to help me win the title of pirate lord of the east.”

“Captain, do you really think that’s a good idea? We don’t know if we can trust them,” Maris says, the forgotten book in his gauntleted hand.

“What do you say to my conditions?”

“If we help you become pirate lord of the east, you’ll take us to Deirak. What does that entail?” Ari asks.

“Offering work. Muscle will be more valuable than gold in this instance,” Kostia says, smiling knowingly at her.

“You mean helping you start a war in Marpidium,” Tal says. “In two days, if I’m not mistaken.”

“What are you talking about?” Ari asks.

“Those vying for the pirate lord title are going to fight in two days. That huge ship at the center of the city is preparing to shelter everyone while these pirates destroy everything.”

“Was that what you were trying to tell us before these guys nabbed you?” Crofton asks.

Indra nods his head. “The panic at the center apparently hasn’t reached the rest of the city, but they’re preparing for an all out war.”

Glaring at Kostia, Ari takes a step back from him. “You’re going to put an entire city in danger to decide who should be in charge?”

“Where else would we do it?” he says.

“The open sea, like normal pirates.”

“Normal pirates?” he eyes his men and chuckles spread through them. “What do you know about pirates? Our business and our laws are very specific.”

“Laws? Didn’t know pirates had laws,” Crofton says.

“We do and part of those laws require us to give notice to any city chosen to be the grounds for any major conflict between fellow pirates. The last thing we want is for innocents to be harmed during one of our spats. There’re plenty of other times for us to cause damage for fun.” Kostia takes Ari’s bag from the pirate still holding it and throws it to her. “Do you agree to my terms?”

Eyeing her father’s journal in the gauntleted hands of Maris, Ari squeezes the bag close to her chest. “I need to discuss it with the rest of our group.”

“Time is a factor. The fight may be in two days, but tomorrow will be a day of preparation.”

“All we need is some privacy.”

Kostia hesitates, but nods his head and waves his hand for them to follow. Maris follows his captain closely and the others of the ship make way. Ari waits until her group is beside her before following.

They walk to the back of the deck towards a set of double doors with colorful glass windows. Opening the doors, the group is surprised to see couches, tables, chairs, and a large desk. Dark rugs cover the wooden floors and every open surface is covered with maps, strange trinkets, and other items ranging from paper to food.

Kostia sits on the edge of the desk as Maris closes the doors behind them. “All right. Privacy.”

They stare at him in silence until Tal steps forward. “Not true privacy with you and metal hands there.” She jerks her thumb towards Maris.

“You can trust him to keep quiet concerning your discussion.”

“That’s not what she means. When I asked for privacy, it included you as well,” Ari says.

Laughing, Kostia grabs an orange from a bowl of fruit and peels it. “You haven’t officially accepted my condition. That means you’re still my captives until you convince me otherwise.” He eats a slice of the fruit.


“That medallion you’re wearing has a very precise meaning and only one person may ever imbue it to non pirates.”

“A pirate lord,” Maris adds.

Pointing a slice of orange at the medallion around Ari’s neck, Kostia smiles. “And that particular medallion could only be given by the pirate lord of the east.”

“Audra Sellin,” Ari says. “She brought pirates to help fight in the Blood War.”

“She did. Defied all the lands of Deirak and the other pirate lords to do it. She truly gave no second thought to how others viewed her and greatly resented being told what she could or couldn’t do.”

“You speak of her so fondly,” Indra says, his eyes narrowing in suspicion.

Finishing his orange, Kostia throws the peel away. “I’d better. She raised me.”

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Chapter 25 Water

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“They’re heading for the western docks?” Crofton asks. “Isn’t that where we are?”

“Kamen, tell everyone to keep searching for a ship. We’ll take care of Tal,” Ari says, quickly.

“R-right,” Kamen says, shock clear in his voice.

Kelis puts the silent stone away, looking at Ari. “Who’d be able to take Tal? Besides Indra, I can’t imagine she’d just let herself get snatched.”

Nodding her head, Ari grabs her bag and digs through it. “I don’t know. But we need to try to cut them off, see if we can surprise them.”

Leaning close to her, Crofton peers into her bag. “How do you plan on cutting them off? There’s more than one way to reach the western docks. We don’t even know where Tal and Indra were when she got nabbed.”

“How hard can it be to find people carrying a woman they’ve clearly kidnapped?” She pulls rope out and hands it to Crofton. “Just in case.”

He stares at it and snorts. “In case what? This is barely enough to tie up a child.”

“Be creative!”

“Why not just use your wind magic or Kelis’ water?” He points to Kelis who flinches. “There’s an endless supply of both.”

“On these narrow walkways and large crowds? That’s a smart move.”

“It’s better than a string.”

“Um…” Kelis tries to speak, but the two ignore her.

“You could trip them, you could make a trap out of it, or you could sneak up behind them and strangle them.” Ari searches through her bag again.

“What else you got in there? A toothpick? Maybe I can give them a splinter.” Crofton ties a loop on one end of the rope, the only thing he can think of to do.

“You’re being awfully negative all of the sudden. Do you want to save Tal or not?”

“I do, but we don’t even know who took her.”

“Shouldn’t we start searching?” Kelis asks, trying to calm the two down.

A man rushes at the three, grabbing Ari’s bag from her hands and shoving Crofton off the walkway into the water below. A second man follows close behind and slams into Ari, knocking her to the ground before swooping Kelis off her feet. A third man places a bag over the frightened water mage’s head and cuffs on her wrists and ankles.

The wind is knocked from Ari’s lungs, but she quickly recovers. Climbing to her feet, she stares after the three men, their laughter and whoops of excitement echoing back to her. She nearly runs after them, but remembers Crofton and hurries to the edge of the walkway.


His hand slams onto the walkway next to her and he pulls himself from the water, coughing. “Go! I’ll catch up,” he gasps between large gulps of air.

She nods and runs after the men, glancing back only once to make sure Crofton makes it fully out of the water. As he does, she returns her full focus on the four figures far ahead of her.

Taking a deep breath, she touches her magic. She breathes out and feels a rush as her magic releases. The brands on her body ache at the taste of magic, but her only concern is getting Kelis and her bag back.

She moves faster, passing those on the walkway with ease and catching up to the thieves. They notice her behind and try to lose her by turning down sudden walkways. She manages to keep them in sight and urges her magic to increase her speed.

The men whistle and yell back at her, mocking her. Anger fills her and she tries throwing a concentrated blast of air at them. They seem to think two steps ahead of her and dodge or move behind those on the walkway who haven’t noticed the chase yet. People are knocked into the water and shouts of surprise and anger follow Ari, but she keeps focused on the group ahead of her.

A sharp, high-pitched whistle to her right surprises her as three more men appear from another walkway. Two carry a familiar figure between them and Ari’s eyes widen in shock. One man throws a large barrel at her and she falls to the ground to avoid it. It splashes into the water behind her as the three men run past.

“Tal!” Indra yells before tripping over Ari. The shock of a body suddenly falling on her causes Ari to shriek. The two meet eyes and immediately try to disentangle themselves.

“Hold on,” a third voice says. Dripping water, Crofton helps Indra to his feet then Ari.

Without another word, the three sprint after the two groups of men. They lead them to a less crowded area of the western docks, an area filled with dead fish and strange carcasses. The smell makes all three gag, but the men are unperturbed.

The ones not carrying Tal or Kelis throw fish behind them, making the walkway a slippery hazard. Using her wind, Ari clears a path, but a rogue fish finds a way to cause each of them to stumble.

The men climb the gangplank of a large ship with no sails and men and women sitting at tables. Leaping onto the tables, the men knock food and drinks to the floor, scattering the patrons. Two high whistles echo above and rope appears as though from nowhere and the men grab tight.

Ari, Indra, and Crofton scramble through the sudden crowd of people watching the men swing as though to land in the sea below. Unable to push through, the three leap onto the tables and come to a stop on the bannister of the ship.

“Where do they think they’re going? There’s nothing but water,” Crofton gasps.

The men release the ropes and fall, but instead of crashing into the water, they disappear. The crowd makes surprised noises and search the sea for any sign of the men.

Scanning the area where the men disappeared, Ari reaches for the ropes swinging back towards them. One flies up into the sky, disappearing like the men. Angrily, she takes a deep breath and jumps. Crofton and Indra, realizing too late to stop her, try to grab for her.

She grabs three of the ropes to keep them from being pulled up. Swinging forward she exhales and magic pushes her back towards the ship. Grabbing her legs, Crofton glares at her. “What’re you doing?”

She shoves one rope at him and another at Indra. “Come on! They’re getting away.”

Indra takes the rope and jumps off the ship. Ari follows with Crofton, begrudgingly, doing the same. Indra releases the rope and falls, disappearing the same way the men had.

Ari and Crofton follow his example and as they fall, a ship appears out of thin air. Crashing into the wood of the deck, they roll forward and crash into Indra. All three collapse on the deck and stare up at about fifty men. Most have their weapons drawn and aimed at the three unexpected guests.

“Release me, right now!” Tal’s furious voice cries behind them.

Sitting up, Ari turns her head. Two men are holding Tal and Kelis, each with a knife to their throat. The bags are removed and the two blink at the sudden light. Focusing they spot Ari, Indra, and Crofton, but the knives at their throat cause them to freeze.

“Well, well, well, that was pretty clever. Not many would jump into the unknown like that,” a velvety voice says from behind the large group of men. They clear a path and heavy footsteps approach them.

A man stops before them and all three look up at him. His thick boots end just below his knees and the pants are loose enough to allow for easy movement. A black sash is tied around his waist with belts over top of it with weapons, pouches, and other accouterments on each one. A black vest over top a cream colored shirt is embroidered with emerald green and gold.

The coat he wears, a dark green close to black, reaches nearly down to the floor, the sleeves open underneath to allow better arm movement. Leather arm braces on top of the sleeves keep them in place and strange cloth is wrapped around his hands instead of gloves. Several gold rings adorn his fingers and tattoos are barely visible peeking out from under the cloth.

His black hair falls across his shoulders and the black scarf around his neck, the waves moving like the sea. A scruffy beard covers all, but one large scar on his cheek, but still he appears young maybe only a few years older than Ari.

She slowly raises her hands to show she has no weapons, her eyes constantly moving from the man’s face to the weapons at his sides. “We only came to get our comrades back. Your men took them and something precious to me.”

He stares past her at Tal and Kelis. “Aye, my men do enjoy causing a little bit of ruckus when we’re here. Especially when they lay eyes on such exotic women.” Laughter rolls through the large group.

Indra clenches his fists and stands. He takes a step towards the man, but Ari holds her hand out.

“You shouldn’t say that. One of them’s a taken woman.”

“I can see that now.” The man whistles and the men holding Kelis and Tal quickly undo their bonds and push them towards the three. Others grab at them to move them along faster. Crofton and Indra catch them and pull them away from the eager men.

“Now that thing precious to you I won’t be giving back so easily,” the man says.

“And why is that?”

He leans his head to the side. “Wouldn’t do for the future pirate lord of the east to simply let you go without something given in return, eh?”

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Chapter 24 Water

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“Are you sure splitting up is the best idea?” Crofton asks, leaning against the wall of the bridge.

“We need to find a ship quickly. The longer we stay here the more dangerous it is.” Tying the string of her cloak tight, Ari adjusts the cloth to be sure the brands on her face are covered.

The patrons in the Rotten Rotrauk barely cast a glance at her, but standing at the entrance to the bridge she already noticed many eyes linger on the marks burned into her skin. Heddy didn’t ask the circumstances of the marks, but Ari knew it was only a matter of time before her curiosity got the better of her.

“How will we know when someone’s found a ship? What if we find more than one? How do we choose? How are we going to pay them?” Crofton’s eyes watch each person pass them, glaring if they stare too long at Ari.

“You’re forgetting about Kamen.” She turns to the third person standing on the other side of Crofton. “Kelis?”

Jumping at her name, the young water magic user holds up a white stone. “If anyone finds a ship, they can contact Kamen with this and he’ll tell everyone instantly.” Kelis had been surprised when Ari asked her to search for a ship with her and Crofton.

Vico had been surprised, too. He joined his sister and Kemp leaving earlier in the morning.

Smiling, Ari nudges Crofton’s arm and makes an amused sound. “Scared to be alone with the two of us? Afraid you’ll be outvoted?”

Crofton stares at her, his eyes darkening. “Okay, but what about money? We barely had enough even before Lorel told us ships stopped sailing. What’re we going to do now?”

“We have other things to offer.”

“We do?”

Grabbing him, Ari squeezes his upper arm. “We have muscle and magic users who can be helpful. Worse case, we risk staying here awhile and het work to make enough money.”

“You know we can’t do that.” Crofton glares at a group ogling Ari and Kelis.

“Then we better hope we find a ship. Let’s go. Everyone else has already left.”

The three cross the bridge, Marpidium city proper growing before them. Hundreds of masts climb to the sky like hands reaching for heaven.

City is a misleading title. Something closer to what it actually is would be Harbor Island. Though perhaps at one time the city originated on the coast, it didn’t take long for it to ease its way into the sea. As more and more ships sought shelter and a place to trade, the docks grew in number.

An entire vast network of docks and no longer seaworthy ships creates the entirety of the island. So many docks were built or ships added on, the great labyrinth of dead ends and never ending pathways cause many to become easily lost. Those who lived in the city found it easier to move with the docks in order to increase their businesses. Many ship crews didn’t want to wander far from their vessels in case they needed to set sail sooner than expected.

Unlike most cities where the center tends to be the lifeblood, Marpidium’s outskirts are where the action can be found. With so many ships filling any available space, hundreds work endlessly to satisfy the sailors and gain their gold.

Ships circle the city, searching for an opening at the docks. Those that have given up drop anchor off shore or manage to find room at forgotten docks by the bridge towns, the remnants of Marpidium’s origins. Those who couldn’t find room on the Harbor Island remained behind, choosing to serve those who travelled on foot rather than those by sea.

At the center of the city, an immense ship towers above the surrounding docks. It’s unclear from its appearance where it originated from or what its original purpose could’ve been.

Ari stares at the large ship with wonder, but she knows she’ll have to ignore the feeling for now. It’s time to find a ship to Deirak.






“Tal, we should be heading to where the ships come in.” Indra’s calm voice easily booms over the noise of the crowd.

“We are. We’re just taking a more scenic route. How can you not be eager to explore this place?” Tal moves through the crowd, many clearing the way when they see her and Indra walking towards them. But eyes linger on the two unable to discern whether they came by ship or from the mainland.

Instead of heading straight for the docks, Tal wandered towards the center of the city. The large ship caught her eye and her curiosity told her something of interest was probably waiting for her there. So, she’s been dragging Indra along to satiate her inquiries.

The crowd isn’t as thick as the docks, but the walkways are narrower. The ships this far into the city are businesses and overstuffed inns. Loud voices and laughter echo out and an occasional drunk sailor lay passed out on small areas, hands or feet dangling close to the water. Some inebriated men wander the walkways singing songs of sailing, open skies, or even legendary men of the sea.

As Tal passes them, they whistle and call to her. Most tend to stop once she shows no interest, but one becomes emboldened by his drunken state. He reaches for her only to have her grab him by the wrist and toss him into the water.

His mates rush to his rescue, a couple preparing to fight on his behalf. Indra and Tal draw their weapons and the fight leaves the tipsy men.

“Let’s keep moving. They’re not worth the effort.” Tal walks away, Indra soon following. They both sheathe their weapons as the men disappear from view.

They continue heading for the towering ship at the center of the city. Only hitting dead ends twice, they finally reach their destination. The hull of the ship is bared open, stairs clearly visible. Strange decorations cover the walls, symbols painted on the dark wood. But the truly awe-inspiring thing is the sheer size.

To Tal, it rivals the mountains she’s seen in the distance. She’s never seen anything so huge made by man. Magic must’ve been used to some capacity, but a man was no larger than a rat when standing next to the ship. What could its purpose possibly have been?

Angling her head to stare straight up, Tal feels dizzy. Indra places a hand on her back to keep her from falling backwards.

“You used to do the same thing when you were little,” Indra says. “You’d stare up at your father and fall back.”

Embarrassment flushes her cheeks. “Yeah, and I’d fall on top of you cause you were smaller than me…once.”

“I didn’t want you to get hurt. You were always getting hurt.”

“Some things don’t change.”

They head into the open ship. Men and women rush in all directions. Why, the two couldn’t understand. Some carried boxes filled with food, weapons, or some other unidentifiable shapes. Others speak quickly in hushed voices, afraid of curious ears.

Grabbing a man walking alone, Tal smiles as sweetly as she can muster. “What is this place?”

“What?” The man doesn’t act as someone who’s been stopped suddenly by strange people. He acts as though their disturbance is an unexpected obstacle to his day.

“What’s the purpose of this ship?” Indra asks.

“What? Why’re you bothering me with stupid questions? There’s a major crisis going on.” He tries to break free of Tal’s grip, but she’s by far the stronger of the two.

“What crisis?”

“An all out pirate war is coming to Marpidium. Don’t you know anything?” He wriggles free and runs off.

Tal and Indra glance at each other before Tal grabs an older woman. “What is this ship?”

The woman glares at Tal, twisting the papers in her hands tightly. “You won’t leave me alone until I tell you, will you?”

“That’s right.”

“Every ship that docks at our city must pay a docking fee. It doesn’t have to be money. In fact we prefer food, weapons, or any other kinds of supplies. We store all of it here not for any greedy reason. It’s in such events as we’re facing. If all out war of any kind comes to Marpidium all the residents, and those who’ve paid their docking fees, retreat to this ship. It’s a safe haven to protect our people.”

“How can it protect anyone with a giant hole in it?” Indra asks.

The woman eyes Tal. “You’re a magic user, aren’t you? You should be able to answer that better than me.”

“What does that mean? How do you know I’m a magic user?” Tal asks.

“All magic users have a specific kind of air about them. You’re no different.” The woman sighs and points down. “The hole you’re referring to can be closed. The rest of the ship is below the water, kept there by magic. Once everyone has retreated into the ship it’ll be covered.”

Indra looks at the wood of the ship. “But how can this wood protect anyone? It must be hundreds of years old.”

“Thousands,” the woman corrects him. “There’s an old magic mixed into the wood. It’s far harder than any metal. Only a specific bloodline of magic users can even put a dent in it. They live inside, but even they don’t know the origins of this ship or why their magic can cut it.”

“And there’s enough room for everyone, you’re sure?”

“Absolutely. What you see of the ship continues beneath the sea. We can fit two Marpidiums if needed. Anything else you want to know?” The woman inches away, eager to be free of the two.

“What is this pirate war?” Tal asks.

“The pirates are sick of fighting. Those vying for the title of pirate lord of the east are going to have the deciding fight here. If you’re smart you’ll leave before they get here.”

“When will that be?”

“Two days.” The woman leaves, finished talking.

“Guess we have a time limit here,” Tal says. “We should let everyone know.”

Nodding, Indra motions her to follow him. “Not here. The…chaos is uncomfortable.”

Placing a comforting hand on the side of his face, Tal smiles at him. “Reached your limit already? Let’s go.”

They leave the excitement of the ship for somewhere more private. Fewer people walk by as they turn down a pathway leading to a dead end.

Once sure they weren’t followed, Indra pulls out the white stone Kamen gave each group. “Hope this actually works.”

“Kamen’s a great connector,” Tal says, playfully nudging him.

“Yeah, when he does it right.” He holds the stone up to his lips and blows on it. The white stone glows blue.

“Kamen here. What’d you find?” Kamen’s voice rises out of the stone.

“This is Indra and Tal,” Indra says. “We haven’t found a ship, but we did hear important information.”

“Hold on, let me connect everyone. It’ll take a second.” The stone stops glowing.

“How long do you actually think it’ll take him?” Tal asks.

Indra smiles at her with a knowing look, but before he can answer a heavy force slams into his back sending him sprawling on the ground. He’s barely able to hang on to the stone, but he sees two figures grab Tal and, placing a bag over her head and strange handcuffs on her wrists and ankles, carry her off. The heavy thing keeping Indra down leaps off him and he watches as a third man follows after the other two.

The stone in his hand glows. “All right, everyone can hear you,” Kamen says.

“They took Tal!” Indra jumps to his feet and chases after the men.

Voices crowd the stone, but one rings loud and clear. “What happened, Indra?” Ari yells.

“They took Tal!” As he spots the men ahead of him, Indra realizes where they’re going. “They’re taking her down to the docks on the western side!”

“We’ll save her,” Ari confirms.

The stone stops glowing and Indra knows one thing for sure. He will get his wife back.

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Chapter 23 Water

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They quickly split into groups of four and make their way to the rooms on the second floor. The beds offer much more comfort than the cold ground and soon everyone is fast asleep.

The morning greets them with the sounds of waves crashing and sea birds crying out. The smell of freshly cooked food lures them down to the main room and they eat until they can’t fit any more in their stomachs. Lorel easily handles the group’s appetites and drinks seem never-ending.

The few other patrons from the night before sit in the same seats, almost as if they never left. They seem more open to speaking with the group, if only out of curiosity. The former Redland raiders were of particular interest with their rugged clothes and appetites.

“So our next step is finding a ship to Deirak,” Tal says, finishing her fourth helping of meat. “We’ll have to go into the city proper for that, I have a feeling.”

“With so many ships I hope it won’t be too difficult to find one. But do we even have enough money?” Kemp asks.

“We’ll worry about that when the time comes,” Ari says. “First, we’ve got to find a ship.”

“You won’t find any heading to Deirak,” Lorel interrupts, appearing next to Ari.

“What?” Crofton asks.

“There aren’t any ships foolish enough to sail to Deirak right now and you should give up trying to get there.”

“Why?” Tal asks.

“You’re trying to go there but you don’t know about the wars?”

“Wars? What wars?” Vesna asks, fear entering her voice.

Lorel places her hands on her hips. “Let’s see…there’s the war between Cassack and Eirak, the two major countries of Deirak. They’ve been arguing over territory for years, but it only recently exploded into all out war after the prince of Eirak stole away the princess of Cassack.”

“Stole away?”

“In retaliation the king of Cassack killed the brother of the prince, but still his daughter is held in Eirak and no one knows if she’s even still alive.” She shifts her weight and snags a piece of meat from Ari’s plate. “Then there’s the civil war in Meiran that’s been going on for about five years. Every year they say it’s getting close to a conclusion, but then it only escalates. No one really understands why it’s happening. Then again, Meiran is a very exclusive country. Very few ever travel there and those who do find it difficult to be allowed entry.”

“Why’s that?” Tal asks.

Eating the small piece of meat, Lorel smiles. “The people of Meiran believe those from other lands only bring disease, discord, and destruction to them. They say the ruler forbids the people of any outside influence and as a result they’ve developed an extreme distrust to any not born in their borders.

“And, of course, there’s the continuous war between magic users and non magic users. Or rather, the hatred of magic users.”

This catches everyone by surprise. “What do you mean?” Kemp asks.

“Unlike here, magic is not as prevalent in Deirak. Powerful magic users are rare and the few known across the land…were tyrants or created devastating catastrophes.”

Crofton locks eyes with Ari. “That’s a lot of wars going on at once.”

“And a lot of danger for magic users,” Vesna says, squeezing Kemp’s arm.

“That also doesn’t even begin to cover the pirate attacks.”

“Pirates, too? Can’t get any better than that.”

Placing a hand on the back of Crofton’s seat, Lorel leans down close to him, smiling. “I’m not finished. Pirates have always attacked ships traveling between Myldea and Deirak, but now they’re activity has increased since the pirate lord of the east died. They’re not only attacking travelling ships, but also each other vying for the title.”

“Audra Sellin died? How?” Ari asks.

She never met the pirate lord of the east, but her mother told her how Audra had been the only aid from Deirak when the Blood War truly broke out. She also assisted in protection, helping small cities plagued by rogue groups of sympathizers for the Blood King.

“She died a lot older than most pirate lords. Don’t really know how, but some say it was in her sleep, natural.” Lorel’s tone softens. “A far more pleasant death than many pirate lords could even dream of having.”

“When did she die?”

“About five months ago. Out of respect for her passing, the pirates parlayed a truce for two months. They didn’t attack a single ship and their crimes were forgiven. But once those two months passed, the violence increased exponentially.”

Crofton shrinks away from her, his discomfort clear on his face.

“And then there are the rumors that even have the pirates rarely venturing too close to Deirak.”

“What rumors are those?” Ari asks.

Standing up straight, Lorel slowly moves towards her. “We don’t hear as much here on the coast compared to the city, but there are stories of monsters hunting ships across the sea.”


“I don’t know any more details, but I’m sure if you ask around the docks in the city someone would be willing to tell you more.”

“You said we wouldn’t be able to find a ship.”

“Not one sailing and even if you were able to convince someone to sail, I doubt you have money enough for anyone to risk their lives.” She shrugs. “But sailors love telling their tales. You’ll find no lack of men willing to talk.”

One of the few patrons from the previous night waves to Lorel and she leaves the group to mull over what she’s said.

“What’s the plan?” Kemp asks.

“We need a ship to take us to Deirak. So there’s only one plan,” Ari says, finishing the last of her drink.

“We find one.”

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Chapter 22 Water

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They divvy up the last of the supplies amongst the twenty members of the group and continue along the coast.

In the distance a small bump rises in the horizon. As though it had emerged from the sea, a large city fights the waves back. Where most cities would pull away from the water, further inland, the city before them embraced it. Built off the coast, the sea surrounds the city on all sides. So many ships fight for room at the city’s docks when one spot opens up, three or more attempt to fill it.

Four bridges connect the city to the mainland via large gates. Towns are built around the gates and it’s one of these the group decides to aim for before night fully overtakes them.

With a goal in sight everyone’s speed picks up. The idea of fresh food and warm beds fills them with renewed energy.

They reach the closest town, fire starters lighting the last of the lamps as folks hurry to their destinations for the night. Two relaxed guards sit on either side of the entrance, their eyes briefly glancing at the group walking towards them, clearly feeling no threat.

“Inns are all by the dock gate.” The larger of the two guards points behind him using his thumb, an amused smile forming on his lips. “If you can find a room.”

The other guard stares at Ari, a flash of recognition in his eyes. He turns away, but not before Ari catches him.

“You got any recommendations?” she asks the younger man, trying to sound friendly.

The younger guard shakes his head, his eyes locked on the ground. “They’re all good.”

“But which one do you think we’ll have the best chance finding a few rooms at?”

The guard lifts his head, meeting her eyes, but quickly looking past her to the other guard. Seeing the older man not paying attention, he takes a deep breath and leans close to her.

“Before you reach the dock gate, there’s a nasty lookin’ alley with a broken gate. If you follow it you’ll find the Rotten Rotrauk. Woman in charge’s name is Lorel. Tell her Heddy sent you and she’ll treat you good.”

The name of the inn startles Ari. Memories fill her of her mother telling her stories about those she fought alongside with. She remembers the story of the Lakeen brothers fighting beasts and Kylii losing his arm to a rotrauk, but her mother was able to fully heal him.

Nodding her head in thanks, Ari eyes Crofton and he nods in understanding. The group moves past the gate, walking close together. Making their way towards the dock gate, the buildings become distinct. Signs hanging above the doors show images of beasts, food, drinks, or beds. But all were inns of varying sizes. Loud voices echoed through the doorways and windows and shadows danced against the light.

Ari spies a broken gate leading into a dark alley and she motions the group to follow her. They leave the well-lit walkway and noisy inns for the damp, quiet alley. Small, scurrying animals run from the group, dodging into piles of unidentifiable muck.

A low glow warms the alley and exiting the alley, they find themselves in front of a building separate from the others. It’s built on the edge of the cliff, wood barely keeping it from collapsing into the sea below. Lanterns hanging on either side of the doorway cover the entrance with warmth. Unlike the other inns, there’s no shouting or loud voices coming from inside.

“We sure this is the place?” Kemp asks, eyeing the wood holding the building.

“That sign looks like a rotrauk to me,” Ari says, pointing to the sign above the door. A rotrauk on its back with flies above it are carved into the dark wood of the sign.

“So, are we going in?” Tal asks.

“Why not? Where else are we going to go?” Ari turns to the group. “Does anyone really want to sleep outside again?”

The faces in the dark alley give her the answer she expected. They move out of the alley and enter the Rotten Rotrauk.

The inside is warm and inviting, the tables spread throughout the room close enough to create a homely feel, but also far enough private conversations can be had. A few patrons sit at separate tables, one laying his head on the heavy wood next to his empty drink and others huddle close together, talking in private.

Opposite the entrance, a bar counter is flanked on either side by two doorways. One is closed while the other shows a hallway with multiple doors leading off to rooms. Above the bar, a balcony shows more doors as well as a hallway leading further into the inn. A stairway on the wall to the left leads up to the second floor.

Standing behind the bar counter, a young woman works on bottles, organizing them and making notes on paper. She doesn’t look up at the group, keeping her attention on her work. Her long hair falls over her shoulders, hanging above the counter. The waves mimic the motions of the sea outside and the sound of the water seems to echo through the inn.

Ari eyes the woman at the bar counter, leaning close to Tal. “Have everyone sit and rest. I’ll see what the boarding situation is.”

“I’ll go with you,” Kemp offers.

“Me too,” Vico adds.

Nodding, Ari heads towards the bar followed by Kemp and Vico. The others find empty tables and sit, a few laying their heads on their arms. Crofton sits facing the bar to keep an eye on the woman.

The three sit at the bar in front of the woman. Ari leans forward on the counter, watching her work quietly.

“Sorry, no rooms left. All booked up,” the young woman says without looking up.

Kemp and Vico turn to glance around the room, before staring at each other in disbelief.

“Seems pretty empty to me,” Vico says.

Placing a hand on his shoulder, Ari smiles at the woman “That’s too bad. Heddy told us this was the best inn in town. Told us Lorel would treat us well.”

Hearing the name Heddy, the woman stops working and slowly looks up at Ari. Her eyes flash with recognition and she has a slight catch in her breath. Quickly she recovers and she crosses her arms over her chest. “I doubt two of those things. This isn’t the best inn in town and Heddy doesn’t say well. He’d tell you I would treat you good.”

“And the third?”

“It sure is too bad we’re all booked up.” Her dark eyes peer behind the three at the bar at the rest of the group. “Though I might be forgetting a few folks who recently checked out. Let me check my log.”

Reaching below the counter, Lorel brings out a thick, dusty book. She opens it to one of the first few pages. Tracing her finger on the page a sly smile forms on her lips.

“Well, look at that. Five rooms opened up on the second floor. You’re lucky tonight.”

“Only five?” Kemp asks.

“Hmm, maybe I read it wrong. Maybe there were only two?” She stares at Kemp with the same sly smile.

Grabbing Kemp’s arm tightly, Ari shakes her head. “Oh no, you could never make a mistake. Thank you. Now about payment…”

“What’re you talking about? You already paid.” Lorel puts the logbook back under the bar counter, giving Ari a knowing wink.

Nodding her head, Ari motions the two men to head back to the group. They both hesitate but understand they don’t need to help. Once they’re safely back with the group, Ari faces Lorel.

“Thank you. I guess I should ask, why?”

“You could.” Lorel crosses to the end of the bar, grabbing keys from the wall. Walking back to Ari, she also grabs a bottle. She places everything in front of Ari. “But I don’t have to tell you.”

“You don’t. But something tells me you don’t do it for everyone Heddy sends this way.”

“What gives you that idea?”

“Just an observation.” Ari grabs the bottle and takes a tentative drink. “Interesting choice, Rotten Rotrauk.”

“Is it?”

“Are there many rotrauks around here? I always heard they lived mainly way down south in the Minn Fields.”

“Do they? Interesting that you know that.”

“How long have you had this inn?”

“You’re very inquisitive about inns, aren’t you? Let’s see, the building has been here for probably fifty years.” Lorel’s expression changes slightly, as though she knows what Ari’s trying to ask her, but is enjoying the misleading. “I’ve owned it for almost twenty years.”

Ari’s heart pounds excitedly. “Twenty years? And was Rotten Rotrauk what you always wanted to call it?”

“Nope. Got the name from my first guests, a large group that passed through here around that time. Filled up my whole inn and paid me enough to really get started. The guy in charge had a strange name.”

“Do you remember it?” Ari asks, struggling to keep the eagerness from her voice.

Lorel cocks her head to the side, leaning back slightly. “No.”

Ari’s heart fell.

“But I remember the name of the guy who gave me the idea for the name Rotten Rotrauk. Said it was in honor of his young and stupid days.” Lorel laughs to herself and a slight blush fills her cheeks. “Kylii Lakeen. I remember because he had a twin brother.”

A flash of warmth and excitement fills her. Her father had come through this town, this very inn. She was following his path and the realization…she could almost feel her father’s presence.

“You all right there?” Lorel’s question breaks Ari’s reverie. The young woman leans on the bar counter. “Looks like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Ime…Ime Gurek? Was that his name? The guy in charge?” Ari’s voice shakes. She knows it could only be him, but she needs to hear someone else say his name.

“Might’ve been. Why does that matter to you?” Lorel’s eyes hold Ari’s gaze.

Neither sees Crofton approach.

“Ari,” his soft voice still surprises both women. “We should let everyone get some sleep. How’re the rooms coming?”

Snatching the keys form the counter, Ari stands and moves away. “Five rooms. We’ll have to split up into groups of four.”

“The rooms are the last five down the hall upstairs. Three on the left, two on the right.” Lorel walks back to the bottles she was working on, placing Ari’s forgotten drink in a bucket on the floor.

Crofton leads Ari back towards the group. She glances back at Lorel and sees her wink back.

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Chapter 21 Water

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He’s being called, his master’s rage filling him with heat. He can’t keep Him waiting.

He tells his companions to stop. They do, understanding. They feel the master’s rage and shy away from him.

He goes to meet with his master. When he enters his master’s room, the rage forces him to his knees.

You intend to betray me. Plotting your own plans and making promises without my knowledge.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, master.”

Don’t lie. Pressure surrounds him, forcing his body completely flat on the ground. You think I don’t see everything you do?

Struggling to turn his head, he grunts at the struggle to be sure he’s able to speak. “You see all I see. You hear all I hear. You know all I know.” The pressure lessens and he sits up. “But this will make everything easier.”

Explain how you could possibly think I would approve of what you’ve done. The one you place so much faith in has already failed me before.

“You must trust me, master. This is simply a contingency, a backup in case the worse happens.”

Silence. The rage has subsided, leaving curiosity.

I see. Perhaps I was too rash. Rejoin your group, but I’ll be keeping an eye on this so-called contingency.

He returns to his companions. They stare at him with the same distant looks as others his master controls.

“It’s time to leave Myldea. We need to prepare for our little air mage’s arrival in Deirak.” His companions make no move to acknowledge they understood him, but he’s grown used to this.

The one called Erled holds his arms up and the group clasps hands before disappearing.

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