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 was my mother.”

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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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Happy New Year

As 2017 comes to a close it’s time to really reflect on what goals were made, accomplished, or not quite reached. But those are last year’s goals. It’s time for 2018 goals.

Finishing Water is first on the list. It’s over halfway finished and the next chapter will be coming January 4th so keep an eye out for that. Following Water will be the next book in the Source Series: Earth.

Next on the list is editing. I’m going back to the beginnings of the Bloodfall Trilogy. Nothing major will be changing, only small things to keep continuity clear. Hopefully, you won’t even notice them.

This next goal is a bit more noticeable. Over the next year, I hope to tweak the site. Minor things have already begun, but be prepared for more noticeable changes happening across 2018.

Thank you for finding my story entertaining enough to keep reading! I hope I don’t let you down with what comes next.

I hope you all have a happy new year and 2018 treats you right!

~J. A. Ludwig

Chapter 20 Water

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The coastline doesn’t change much as the day goes on, but many in the group still find the sight awe inspiring.

The sea catches the light of the sun, making the water glimmer like jewels. The powerful waves slam into the coastline with such force, it’s amazing the rocks don’t split. Even beasts lying out on the rocks take the full force of the sea, but reappear from the white waves unmoved.

Large beasts far out in the sea pop out of the dark blue water, clouds of air appearing above them before disappearing beneath again. Occasionally smaller animals and fish jump out of the water, their bodies spinning or flailing wildly. Birds nesting in the cliff’s side swoop down to catch the excited fish in their beaks. Several times, two birds fight over the same fish, wings whapping each other in a crazy dance. Yet, somehow both birds remain in the air.

Those pulling the wagon find many bumps and hazards as they walk close to the edge. The movement doesn’t bother Ari, her much needed sleep too deep to be disturbed so easily, but soon the group veers away from the coastline. The path eases and those pulling are grateful.

Hours pass and when it’s time to switch pullers, the group decides to stop and rest. The sun is lowering in the sky and winds blowing from the sea send chills through the group. Night is still hours away, but the air is already cooling. A small campfire is built to cook food and the ones who’d been pulling the wagon lie down to sleep.

Others lay in the grass, staring up at the stars and telling stories. Hands appear above the grass as storytellers point out constellations. The rest sit around the campfire, preparing the food or trying to gain warmth.

Crofton stares into the small flames dancing around the bottom of the pot. The stew isn’t boiling yet, but the aroma makes his mouth water. Voices talking quickly to one another grab his attention and he spies Guto, Link, and Sten standing at the head of the wagon. They peer beneath the wagon before shaking their heads and walking towards the small group around the fire.

“We’ve got some good news and some bad news,” Guto says, sitting down next to Crofton. “We’re nearly out of food.”

“Tell us something we don’t know,” Tal says beneath a sigh. Indra gently nudges her and she shrugs.

“And the wagon’s showing signs of breaking down.” Guto holds up a piece of wood broken off from the wagon.

“How? It’s moving well, what’s wrong with it?” Kemp asks.

The larger man waves his hand at the two standing behind him. Sten and Link cautiously walk forward, joining the sitting group. Link’s large eyes dart around, resting on Vico and Vesna. They avoid his eyes, clearly knowing what he’s thinking.

Sten takes one of Link’s clenched fists in his hand to calm the man down. “It’s being held together by strings and gods know what else. It’s been barely holding together since we were attacked by raiders in the Redlands…the first raiders.”

“I don’t understand, it’s never shown any signs it was barely holding together. Wasn’t it checked before we left?” Kemp asks.

“Out of the three wagons that survived the initial attack, this one was the least damaged. We fixed it as much as we could with help of course, but this was always going to be its last trip.”

“Turner, the head of our caravan, had been saving up for new wagons. This one alone lasted, what? Ten years?” Guto looks to Sten for clarification.

“Thirteen. The others, longer.” He sighs. “It’s a miracle any wagons made it this far. Traversing the Redlands isn’t good for any caravan using wheeled transport.”

“That’s why we never used anything like that,” Tal says. “The sands and terrain were more suited for beasts.”

“You said there was good news?” Crofton asks, turning the conversation back onto Guto.

Crossing his arms, a large smile grows on Guto’s face. “When we get to Marpidium, we won’t need it anymore.”

“How is that good news?”

“It’ll make it to Marpidium,” Link interjects. He shrinks away as all eyes turn to him. “At least, if the small adjustments Sten and I just made hold up.”

“They’ll hold up,” Sten adds. “If there’re no more sudden downpours. It’s a miracle it didn’t fall apart while we were digging it out.”

“Lot of ifs,” Vesna says.

“Sounds like we shouldn’t be resting. Unless, folks don’t mind carrying what few supplies we have the rest of the way,” Tal says, patting Indra on the chest.

“There aren’t many. Shouldn’t be too much whining,” he agrees.

“Are we saying the best option is to abandon the wagon?” Kemp asks.

The group hesitates, no one wanting to be the one to make the final decision. The rest of the group, former members of the Redland Raiders, listen to the conversation in silence. Some hope to abandon the wagon, so as to no longer pull it, while others wonder if perhaps it may be useful to keep dragging along.

“We leave the wagon,” a voice calls from the wagon.

Everyone looks to the one who spoke. Leaning on the side of the wagon, only her head and arms visible, Ari smiles at everyone. “Since no one else was going to say anything, I’ll take responsibility. We leave the wagon. But after we eat and rest, we keep moving.”

“Are you sure?” Vico asks.

Ari locks eyes with Link. “What do you say? Do you want to keep lugging this thing around?”

“No. It won’t even be worth anything if we try to trade it. Especially without…animals to pull it.” He lowers his eyes, a flash of sadness crossing his face.

Sten squeezes his hand, the other man smiling weakly up at him. “Dragging it around isn’t helping to forget, either.”

“All right. I’m going back to sleep. Wake me when everyone’s ready. I can’t make all the decisions,” Ari says, disappearing into the wagon.

“That settles it, then,” Guto says, clapping his hands together. “Now, let’s eat!”

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Chapter 19 Water

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He watches her drift off to sleep, not surprised it doesn’t take long. He’d seen how her pace had slowed, the circles under her eyes darkening. He noticed it long before he did.

The brands on her skin send a shock of memory through him. The symbols he adopted during his time, knowing their beauty whether on flag or flesh. The reminders of those he witnessed receive the marks. Though he never saw it done to such an extent. How angry the elder must have been to cover her so liberally. How he must have wanted everyone to see her shame.

He glances towards the rest of the group, but they’re still distracted by the expansive sea. Some even venture close to the cliff edge, peering down at the crashing waves, no one noticing the two missing.

Kneeling down, he stares at her sleeping face. He sees them. He sees their resemblances in her face. Even how she speaks reminds him of those two. Rage fills him and he reaches a hand towards her, wanting to take the throat and squeeze the life from her.


The thought is loud and sharp in his mind. He jerks back, his hand rising to his head. Wincing, a low laugh rumbles inside of him. “Didn’t like that, did you?”

He feels the desperation, an almost gnawing at his mind.

Let me out.

“Oh, getting a bit demanding now. Upset I so easily traded places with you?” He stands, moving to the edge of the wagon.

We have a deal.

Jumping off, he stretches his arms over his head, cracking his back. He enjoys the feeling of a body again. How long did he stay trapped at the bottom of that hole? How long did he fester in the darkness?

“You need to be patient. I’ve done you a favor, you know.”


He feels the curious mistrust in the single word. Turning to the wagon so he can see Ari, he smiles. “Solidifying your bond. Reminding her who is truly the one there to hold her up.”

Silence. He senses thoughts flashing, followed by subtle agreement.

Let me out before someone notices.

“Very well.”

Crofton gasps, quickly running to the wagon. He leans over the wood to check Ari. He doesn’t see anything he may have done to her, but it only calms him slightly.

He feels him, watching from inside. The ease with which he took control…he covers his right eye with his hand.

He needs to pay better attention.

“You all right?” a voice asks behind him.

Jumping, he quickly turns and sees Vico standing a few feet away. His eyes move from Crofton to Ari back to Crofton.

“Ari hasn’t been sleeping. I convinced her to rest.” He tries to keep his voice calm, wondering if the other man heard him. “She nearly fell over from exhaustion.”

“She hasn’t been sleeping? Why didn’t she say anything?” Before Crofton can respond, Vico slaps his leg. “Of course she didn’t say anything. She’s as stubborn as Vesna.”

Crofton bites his tongue, not liking the friendly tone the other man uses when speaking of Ari. Not wanting to start an argument with Ari sleeping, he tries to walk past Vico, but the man grabs his arm.

“I thought I heard you speaking to someone.” Vico’s grip is tight, not allowing Crofton to pull away.

Crofton’s heart pounds in his chest. Could he have heard everything he said? His hand slowly dances over the hilt of the dagger on his belt. The very dagger he used to kill three already.

Releasing him, Vico gives him a friendly smile. “I’ve seen you tossing and turning lately. You two are both stubborn, but you understand the importance of rest. If you need a little nap, too, no one would mind it.”

“I’m fine.”

“When Vesna loses sleep, she tends to lose what little filter she has. Once I overheard her talking to a fly. It wasn’t an interesting conversation, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone threaten to pluck each hair from something so tiny. Rest if you need it.” He shrugs his shoulders. “But you’re your own man.”

“Where’s Ari?” Tal asks, walking up to the two. “Are you two having another fight? Are we going to have to go looking for her again?”

“She’s sleeping on the wagon since she hasn’t been able to sleep at night,” Crofton answers, happy to talk to someone else. “I told her we’ll wake her when we reach Marpidium.”

“Which brings up my next question. Do we know how to get to Marpidium?” Tal asks.

“Follow the coast,” Vico says.

“Thanks, I figured that,” she says, giving him an incredulous look. “Which way? We can’t risk heading the wrong direction. There’s no time and no telling how much distance we have between the ones following and us. They could be closing in now for all we know.”

Head west.

Crofton shakes his head, garnering curious looks from Tal and Vico. He waves his hand to signal it’s nothing as Vico turns to Tal.

“My guess is to head west,” he states, crossing his arms across his chest. “Deirak is northwest of Myldea. I’d only assume the main trading city would be located at the northwest point of the continent.”

“That’s assuming we’re actually east of the northwestern most point. How confident of that are you?” Tal asks.

Head west.

“I agree with him,” Crofton says. “Our best chance is to head west.”

Eyeing the two men, Tal slowly nods her head. “Glad to hear you two agreeing for a change.”

“Don’t get used to it.”

“I don’t plan to. Shall we head off?”

Gathering the group from the view takes some encouragement, but soon they’re back on the move. After assurance from Crofton they won’t wake Ari, those pulling the wagon soon pick up a brisk pace.

They follow the cliffs for several hours, birds flying overhead out to sea for food only to return to the cliffs and their nests. The blue sky and saltwater air revive the group. New energy fills them as they feel this step of the journey coming to an end.

If they can reach Marpidium.

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Chapter 18 Water

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Two days they cross the fields.

The grass only changing occasionally, but still remaining lush and green. The second day, clouds roll across the fields dropping rain on the group. They continue walking until the rain becomes so heavy they can’t even see their hands in front of their faces.

Huddling close together, they try attaching large pieces of cloth from the top of the caravan wagon to the ground, creating a tent. The rain still soaks the cloth, dripping onto the chilly group. Several crawl under the wagon to make more room beneath the makeshift tent, but the muddied ground makes it miserable.

It takes several hours for the rain to pass, the clouds disappearing in the distance as quickly as they came. Kelis does what she can to dry their supplies, but moves to cleaning those covered in mud. Others do their best, hanging wet cloths over the sides od the wagon until she can dry them.

Once everything is dry and ready to go, the ones pulling the wagon find it stuck. The muddy ground, used to the rain, swallows the wheels as they try to move it. Even with the help of half the group pushing as they pull, the wagon remains stubbornly stuck.

Eventually, the group decides to try digging the wheels free. This takes several hours as when they free the wheels enough to move, they only get stuck a few feet away. Soon the ground dries enough the wheels stop becoming stuck and they finally continue on towards the coast.

Ari walks with the wagon, needing to keep her hand on the wagon to keep her moving. She’s been unable to sleep through the night. Between her fear of the new magic and nightmares she finds herself staring at the stars until the sun rises. The endless fields don’t help with her exhaustion, the repetitive scenery blurring.

Her pace slows as she stares at the waving grass, her hand separating from the wagon. The wind grows louder as the group and wagon move farther and farther from her.

A sound rises above the wind. It reminds Ari of the river back home in Kellahn, the sound of the water rushing over the rocks. But this is louder, more powerful, sounding more like thunder the longer she listens.

The grass blurs, the green darkening to a blue so beautiful it reminds her of sapphires. A shadow moves smoothly across the blue fields, growing larger as it approaches her. She watches the shadow, a sense of dread slowly filling her. It grows larger and larger, impossibly large. A fin cuts through the blue, taller than anything she’s ever seen.

A blubbery back rises from the fields, too large to possibly be real, but the fear growing inside of her makes her heart race. The shadow continues to grow larger as it moves closer and closer. A low roar grows from the depths and the air sizzles with electricity.

“Look at that,” an excited voice shouts next to her.

She snaps back to the present, her eyes wide. She’s still walking next to the wagon, her hand resting on the heavy wood. The fields around them are still green and no shadows are moving beneath the waves of grass.

But the thunderous sound still fills the air.

The wagon comes to a stop as those pulling it eagerly walk forward, stopping several feet away. Excitement is palpable and many point downwards. Ari takes a moment to make sure she has the energy to walk without holding on to something. She forces her legs to walk forward, trying hard to seem like nothing is wrong. What she sees when she reaches the rest of the group makes her forget her exhaustion.

The fields abruptly end in a cliff dropping off and the sight beyond fills the group with awe. Many in the group are viewing the sea for the first time, the exceptions being Vico, Vesna, Link, Sten, and Guto. Though from their expressions, the sight is still inspiring.

The sea is a beautiful deep blue, but as it grows shallower, moving closer to the shore, the water lightens to aquamarine and even teal. Large waves crash into the cliff side, shooting white foam high into the hair and drenching the rocks below. The air is filled with the smell of salt and fish, as birds fly down to catch fish from the waves.

Ari remembers her mother describing the ocean, but she never appreciated the wonder of it until now. The water stretches far into the horizon, the sky seeming to go on forever.

Standing next to her, Tal takes a deep breath. “Gods above, I’ve never seen anything so…”

“Endless.” Indra takes Tal’s hand in his, a glimmer of fear hidden behind his wide eyes. “It’s as though one could journey to the land of the gods.”

“Let’s focus on getting to Deirak first,” Kemp says. “The land of the gods can wait.”

Crofton walks to Ari’s other side. “We’re getting closer to your dad. He’s waiting on the other side.”

She turns to look at him, but the excitement of reaching the coast drains the last of her energy. Her knees buckle beneath her and she falls forward. Crofton quickly catches her, surprised by her sudden collapse.

“Are you okay?” The worry in his voice brings a smile to her lips.

“Just tired. Haven’t been sleeping.”

She tries to stand, but Crofton swiftly lifts her up over his shoulder. He carries her back to the wagon and sits her on the back.

“Why didn’t you say anything sooner? We could’ve stopped to let you rest.”

She shrugs. “I couldn’t sleep at night, I didn’t even think to try while the sun was out.”

Glancing up at the wagon, Crofton climbs up and shifts the few supplies left to the side. He grabs blankets and lays them down before holding his hand out to her. “Come on.”


“You’re going to sleep. Even if I have to hold your eyelids closed myself.”

“I’m fine.”

“You can’t stand. I doubt you can walk any further today.”

She takes his hand, allowing him to pull her onto the wagon. She sits on the blankets, but doesn’t lie down. “It’s not fair to everyone else. If they’re walking, I shouldn’t be napping.”

He gently places his hands on her shoulders and lowers her down. “We can argue, or you can sleep. I’ll wake you when we reach Marpidium.”

Her eyes droop now that she’s lying down and a yawn escapes her. She points at him and smiles. “You better.”

As her eyes close, he places a blanket over her and she succumbs to her exhaustion, hoping for a dreamless sleep.

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