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Chapter One: Missing Inheritance

The smell of blood was quickly filling the water, surrounding her. The smell may have been pleasant to the noses of some Merlocks or other sea smelling creatures, like the humans’ catfish, but it repulsed Sertius Bluebolt. She knew that something was different, no matter what her mother said. This was the fourth human raid in the past week. The underwater Merlock city of Asbthan was paralyzed with fear, with citizens too afraid to go outside the edges, and traders too afraid to come near. Her mother, Sepvus, the lord of the city, refused to talk to her or told her that everything was alright. But Sertius knew that was not the case. Sertius swam up too a small boat and thrust her knife through the hull. Her mother believed that as leaders, they should lead from the front and fight with among their women. Sepvus and three other Merlocks swam up to help Sertius the boat. A harpoon was thrust down towards Sertius. She dodged easily, but Sepvus was swimming right behind her. Sertius turned and shouted but Sepvus was looking the other direction, fighting a human-trained catfish. Sepvus’s body started it’s slow ascent to the surface of the ocean. The Merlocks defending the area of ocean pulled back, retreating under the weight of the new wave of humans. There were even more than they had previously thought. They regrouped back at the city, ready to attack the boats when they came near. Sertius was sitting glumly on a rock, still confused about what had happened. It still seemed more like a dream anything else. A young Merlock, about Sertius’s age approached her. “Did Sepvus die?” After a moment, Sertius replied with a sullen nod. The girl just stood there for a moment, thinking. Then, raising her spear above her head, she shouted “For Lord Sepvus! Lord Sepvus!” Many others soon joined in the chant. Just then, one caught sight of the shadow of advancing boats. The Merlocks roared forward, leaving Sertius there, staring into water. About an hour later, the Merlocks returned to find her still just sitting, staring. But they had her mother, not quite dead. “She is beyond healing, my lord.”, the doctor told her. So she still just sat there, now staring at he mother. “Come here, my child.” When Sertius came close, her mother was mumbling under her breath. She bent her head close, to hear what was coming from her mouth, but only caught a few words before her mother’s mouth stilled forever. “It’s under the throne… … drawer… …the plan… …you must. not…” Then Sepvus sucked in the last water she would ever breath through her gills, and died. She wandered the royal palace uselessly, searching, searching for something. She just didn’t know what. She found no throne in the palace. There were so many Thrones were pointless human seats, designed to make the rulers feel more important than those they ruled. Drawers weren’t much help either. She had searched every drawer in the kitchen herself. She was growing tired. Her head was getting foggy. She floated asleep, swimming in a hallway. She was dreaming. She was trapped. She didn’t know how, where, or when. But she heard voices. “Pah. There is no hope for Ilroy Oak.” “You, of all people, should know that there is always hope.” “Oh, and why should I know that?” “Do you not remember the battle of Welshing? Has your memory gone soft?” “Everyone knew I was going to win that, even you admitted it. Now whose memory’s gone soft? Besides, that was war, this is pol-” “Silence, you fools. I bring important news.” “And what would that be?” “Did I not just tell you to shut your mouth, Idiot?” “Actually, you said to be silent. And you called me a fool, not an I-” “Do you want the news or not.” “Speak.” “The Sharp Guild lords are dead. Slain by Merlocks this day.” “No joke?” “Most certainly not a joke. But most certainly not true either. It was not Merlock who did this job. Merlocks do go for this sneaky stuff, but this was no stab. Nor poison I do believe.” “So how did they die?” “They just died. Just like that, they were perfectly healthy. He was even giving a speech to his court. Then, in the middle of a sentence, he just died.” “Strange” “So why were you talking about Merlocks?” “They’re blaming it on Merlocks.” “Why?” “Who knows?” “Who cares- auggg!” “What, what?” “Pain… so much pain” “Are you ok?” Then she awoke, instantly forgetting her dream. She was in bed, staring up at the ceiling. A servant had probably brought her there. No big deal. So why was she so freaked out all the sudden? Then it came back to her. Her mother was dead. Dead by a human spear. She was now the ruler of Asbthan. And it was time get to work. She swam out of bed, calling for a servant. A old man swam to her. “How my I serve you, lord?” “Find me a throne.” “A throne?” “Did you question me?” “No, my Lord.” He quickly swam away. She had many more painful days and nights, waiting. She knew she was waiting for the throne. Some throne, any throne. But she also felt something deeper. In her gills, in her eyes, in her tail. The feeling grew around her, until she felt like it started to consume her. She wandered from room to room in the great building, trying to escape the feeling that was eating at her. She watched little kelp wave in the current. She watched small fish eating kelp. She watched as crabs ate small fish. She watched a squid eat a crab. She watched a s shark eat a squid. And a baby Merlock. She saw a shark eaten by mourning Merlock mother. She knew she was waiting for something more. Something was going to happen. Chapter Two : Another Day

The sky was grey, the air was cold, and there was work that needed to be done. Not unusual for an early spring day, in fact more common than not, but it still made Jalben feel down. He looked in every direction, eying the tree line around the village as he always did. He walked to the stables, trudging barefoot through the damp ground and small rocks that formed the path that he always took to the stables. He drew our the cow, affixed the plow with deft motions, gained with years of practice. It took all day to plow the field, 10 boring hours that became increasingly unbearable as the sun crept slowly across the sky. But this was nothing new, of course, it was always like this. It always had been. And it always would be. At least there was the wizard. Ethard, often just called ‘the wizard’ was generally disliked among the people of the village. Jalben liked him, but that was pretty much it. His parents had warned him about talking to the wizard, told him no good would come of it, but didn’t stop him. Jalben liked his parents. They were kind people, always had him in their heart. Sometimes he wanted to blame them for the isolation he felt, trapped in the village, but he knew they were not to blame, even if they did not understand him. Ethard was old, at least 85. He was certainly the oldest person in the village, that was for sure. His use of magic pushed most people strongly away from his house at the edge of the village, but it intrigued Jalben. However much the people disliked him, people often came to him in times of crisis, with the sick or with some strange problem. However, there had always been people who hated the wizard and his magic ways, called him a trickster or con man. And their numbers were growing these days. After his usual long day of plowing, Jalben ate a quick dinner and headed of to the wizard. His path took him through the main part of town, where there were a few more people than in the other parts of the small town. On his trip, he always talked to at least people he met on his way. He didn’t really have any good friend, save the wizard, but he liked to be caught up on what was going on. According to one man, there had been two more mysterious deaths that day and night. One was Nartix, the mad man, he was always talking to himself, so no one really cared much, but the other was Jack Reegar, a friend to almost all, and the town leader if there had been one. One old woman, buying goat meat from Joash, the goat herder, said that it was the wizard for sure this time, there was no denying it. Jalben knew Ethard would never do something like that, but he held his tongue. When he finally reached the wizard’s house, his sprits rose. He was especially sore today, he didn’t know why, and he was sure the wizard would have a potion or spell for him, he always did. The wizard greeted him with absentia, it would seem, as he was nowhere to be found. When he knocked on the door, there was no answer. When he stepped inside, there was no one there, so he searched the whole house, with no progress. He was standing in the library, when he was startled by a voice that appeared to be coming from directly in front of him. “Hello, Jalben” It was definitely Ethard, and he even seemed happier than usually. Then he suddenly appeared, standing right there in front of Jalben. He cried out, for it was even more startling than the voice. “Woah! What was that?” “That, my dear Jalben,”, the old man answered, definitely more cheery than usual “was invisibility. A new spell I have been trying for quite some time, and finally mastered.” “It turns you invisible?” “Indeed.” “Um… so I have this pain in my leg, do you have a-” “Potion, yes in fact, I do.” As Jalben sat down on his usual chair, his mind began to wonder. His trips here were like his one chance to escape the village, to exit into the outside world. The wizard was always happy to give Jalben a potion or perform a small spell to relieve Jalben of some pain or insignificant problem. This was one of the only time that he had actually shown him one of his larger spells. But that was no matter. What Jalben came here for was the stories. In his many, many years, Ethard had been to many, many places outside the village, he was the only one not born in the village. He told stories of giant Aurochs, sneaky Merlings, great Dragons, crafty Appees, and monstrous Krakens. It seemed the old man always had another story to tell him. Sometimes Jalben wondered how many of them were real, but the wizard insisted that they were all entirely true. “The potion worked perfectly as usual.” “Of course. Would you expect anything less from your dear old wizard?” “Oh, no, never.” “Good, good. Now I don’t suppose you came all the way here just for a pain in your leg, no?” “Tell me about the Krakens.” “The first Kraken was created thousands of years ago, by a great Dragon wizard. Who knows why? He was probably just bored. Maybe wanted to terrorize people all over the world for thousands of years. It’d be just like a Dragon to do that. So our story today take place more than twenty years, when I was first coming to the island. It was a big boat. Huge boat. I never imagined any movable object could be so big. Of coarse now it doesn’t seem so big, especially with what came next, heh, heh.” When the wizard told his stories, it was almost as though he was talking about another person. He would laugh at his unfortunate perils and sometimes almost jealous of good things that happened to him. This was partly why Jalben sometimes thought that his stories were mere myths. “It had been days since the last sight of land, and they said it would be at least another week before we saw any more land. The sea was calm, the sky clear, and I was happy. Then, out of nowhere, waves started washing against the side of the boat. Big wave, certainly, but there was practically no wind. I was on the edge of the boat at the time, peering ahead into the air and the water. My eye caught on a shadow growing in the water beneath the boat. There was something down there, that was for sure. And for sure, it made me scared.” Jalben could almost feel himself there, standing on the edge of a huge boat, looking into the horizon. The stories of ocean had always had a wondrous aspect to him. It was so huge, thousands and thousands of miles across, and who knows how deep? There could be anything down there. There could be whole worlds down there, and no one would even know it. Ethard said that there was three times as much space in the ocean than on land! Three Times. Of everything on all the continents, there could be three copies down in the ocean. And to think that the most water he had ever seen was the river that ran through his village. “A huge tentacle slapped up on the side of the boat, and then another and another.” “The boat was cover in tentacle, some of the reaching all the way around and back down into the water on the other side. Then the boat started sinking. There was no time for the crew to react. Its not as though there was anything they could have done, anyways. Those things have dragons’ scales, you know. Then the boat was gone. I was plunged into the water, and had to swim up the surface. I just swam there for about a minute, wondering what to do next, where pieces of ship started to float back up. I reckon the damn beastie spat them out when he realized they were made of wood and nor flesh. He wasn’t trying to sink a ship, he probably thought it was a whale or something. I grabbed onto a piece of wood and pulled myself up. Fortunately, I knew an easy compass-spell, and navigated my way back to the shore.” “Wow. So how big do think that thing was?” “I think that one was a pretty big one, actually. They usually grow to be about 200 feet, but I bet that one was at least 250.” “And do they really have the scales of dragons?” “They do. Scary, huh?” “Well, Dragons still seem scarier. They are smarter, and they can fly, use magic, and breath fire. ” “Ah, but Dragon hunting is much easier. They can’t just disappear beneath millions of miles of unknown water.” “I guess. But they’re still scarier.” “I suppose they are scarier, but that’s not always what matters.” “Fine I’ll admit that.” “Concede.” “What?” “Concede means the same thing as admit, at least in this case. It means that you’ve let me win. I would have used it in that situation.” That was another good thing about seeing the wizard. He always had new vocabulary and grammar to teach Jalben. This put him aside from the other people in the village, for he often noticed the flaws in their grammar, or when they didn’t have quite the right word to use in a certain situation. Perhaps this was one of the reasons that he didn’t really have any friends in the village. It was another thing that made him feel trapped, stuck inside a village where he didn’t belong. “Is it not time for you be going?” The wizard more telling rather than asking, well it was really more like reminding that he needed to be home soon. “I suppose it is. Bye.” “Goodbye”, the wizard returned, turning invisible. Jalben walked slowly back to his house, to go to sleep again to awake the again for just another day. He dreamt. He was alone, stuck in a room. He couldn’t see, he could feel, he couldn’t even smell, but somehow he knew he was in a room. Then he heard voices. “Listen. He’s got to go to the Flame Guild.” “Not ‘got to’.” “Huh? What do you mean?” “He doesn’t have to.” Jalben assumed it was the same two people talking, it had to be, but it seemed like every time one of them spoke, it was using a different voice, sometimes soft and quiet, or sometimes gruff or loud. “Why not?” “There is another way.” “Is there. I can’t think of one.” “He could contact the Iblink.” “Iblink? Who are the Iblink?” “They’re a group of Merlocks . . . sort of.” “Sort of? You mean, they’re sort of Merlocks?” “No. I mean, they’re sort of a group. They do a lot of battling among themselves. I suppose they’re a bunch of different tribes of Merlock. They would hate being referred to as one group. Despise all the others, pretty much. The area of their fighting gets bigger every year, swallowing more cities. It’s becoming a real problem for the bordering Merlock nations.” “So how could that help him?” “Well, you see, I did a bit of research. There’s one of them that looks near identical to him.” “How? Aren’t they Merlock?” “There is a tribe of them. They call themselves Merlocks, and they act like Merlocks, sure enough, breathing water and air, swimming, walking, but they look suspiciously human. I think this one would pass him well enough.” “Oh? And are they strong enough?” “They seem pretty adept at fighting with a sword. Like him, only a lot better. If he hired the guy, it might work out.” “Interesting. And, uh, how did you happen to come across this useful bit of information? Just bored, and had a few free minutes on your hands, so decided to search randomly through a far away Merlock land in the water?” “Ha ha. No, I was just listening to one of your long, boring stories, and so I had a few years with nothing interesting going on, and so I-” “Ok, ok. Just tell me what you were doing.” “Well, you see, I’d come across of piece of information, that I think I shall be sharing with the council at the next meeting. Oh, just in a deceptive, controlling sort of way.” “Sometimes it seems like the two of us really control the council, not that old oaf of a leader.” “Indeed, the two od us. Or just me. Anyways, the piece of information that I found was that it turns out Morgan Sharp is working for the Growers, secretly.” “What, really?” “Yep.” “This is great! That ought to get them sweating in their seats, those Growers. Think they’re so damn powerful. This definitely violates the agreement, doesn’t it?” “Definitely.” “So how did you discover that?” “Oh, I can’t tell you all my secrets very well, can I?” “Don’t you trust me at this point?” “Don’t trust anyone, fully. Not at times like these.” “Can you at least tell me how you discovered this thing about the Iblink guy?” “Ah, yes, of course. Well, you see, when I discovered my piece of information on Sharp, I also got a bit of information about some Merlock events in the Iblink realms. I think our Growers’ Guild man was doing research on the Merlocks. He had a lot of information on the Iblink. Anyway, one piece of information I uncovered described someone who sounded mysteriously like our, uh, well, we shouldn’t say the name-” “I know who you’re talking about.” “Yeah, so I looked into it and found that the Merlock looked almost exactly like him.” When Jalben woke up, he didn’t remember having any dreams.

Chapter 3: The Message

The throne was great big monster, and completely rusted over. She couldn’t imagine what it was here for. It was definitely human forged. She feared she would never know what it was for. She hated not knowing. But the throne did indeed have a drawer in it, and that was what mattered. And the drawer contained a letter. And the letter was very important. Or so it seemed. And so she hoped. She now knew what she was waiting for. It was the chance to do something. To make up for her mother. To make up for her fallen soldiers. To make up for her dying city. This letter was that chance. Long ago, this island, now known as Cenes, was once just another spot of ocean on the planet. It was not only that though. It was the ground for dozens of Merlock cities, together containing over a million Merlocks. Then the island was wrenched from the sea, killings those Merlocks and destroying their cities. But the island was still unstable. It was ripped from the ocean with magic, and magic was what kept it up. Remove the magic, and the island would come crashing back into the ocean, restoring the Merlocks their glory. This was her chance. This was her Purpose. Her first task would be to find this magic. It would have take hold in some. . . thing. It could be anything, really; a building, a landform, and object, possibly even a plant. Merlocks could not be away from the ocean for long. She would need allies. Allies on land. Possibly even humans allies. But why would anyone living on the island want to help her do this? She would need the most desperate of allies, thirsty for money. But desperate allies were never good to have, She would need someone cunning. But not too cunning, that would be a problem. They would have to be just the right amount of clever, and- what the hell was she doing? She wasn’t picking out allies at a market. She would have to go with whatever she got.


It had been a week since she had discovered the Message, and she was finally prepared for her trip for the city. The city, called Fairehelm, was one of the biggest on the island. Composed entirely of humans, it was the very city that had been harassing her city these passed weeks. She regarded the city itself with much contempt and loathing, as toward anyone who lived in it, just on principle, but she hoped to find someone willing to work for her cause. Of course, she would not be heading directly to the city. She had a better plan. She knew they would not join her in her actual cause, of course, but she had concocted several stories that she was ready to dispense, depending on the nature of her possible new ally.


It was the dead of night, and Sertius and several of her most trusted women were sneaking ashore, about half a mile from Fairehelm. “How do you plan to get into Fairehelm, my Lord? We cannot just walk right in. And their dogs can identify us and our Merlings by smell.” “You think I do not know this? I will tell you if I seek your council.” “But I do have a plan. There is another, smaller, city, called Fosan, located a day’s journey inland from here. It is not so heavily guarded against our kind. We will need to quickly find an ally there, who will help us contact someone in Fairehelm.” “How will we reach it, if it is a day’s journey away?” “We will head east from, to a river. We will follow that river the rest of the way.” “Rivers are freshwater. We need saltwater to survive.” “Look at this.”, she said, holding up a chunk of strange white stone. “Salt. When we need to moisten our bodies, we will build a whole. We will carry water from the river to the whole. This salt can be dissolved in the pool of water.” “One hunk of salt that large will no be nearly enough for even one M-” “You fool! You think I have not thought of that? I have several bags of these things. They are packed in all of our bags. Cease your blathering and walk!” The Merlock already was already walking, but she was not so foolish as to respond.

   As they trudged along in silence, Sertius listened to the call of an owl. She heard the snap of twigs underfoot. She smelled the scents of flowers, trees, and animals. She felt the wind on her body. It was all so foreign. She had not come out of the water since the humans started attacking her city, four years ago. And even before that, the trips had been few and the durations short. It was fascinating, but dangerous, for the Merlocks could not stay out of the ocean for to long without dying.       

When they reached the river, it seemed like it was just in time. Sertius’s body had grown sore and dry, and the other Merlocks were acting sluggish as well. But even then, there was still more work to be done. They took out their shovels and started digging a large whole, about 3 feet wide and 3 feet deep. When it was done, they dug a small trench from the stream into the pool. Sertius watched the water flow. She thought it was interesting that the ocean was made up of water that seemed so small and insignificant here, flowing slowly into a whole smaller than a single room. Of course, even this water was significant, for without it she and her women would dry up and die. That was certainly not insignificant. Her life affected that of her village, and that of this whole island. She hoped. No doubts now, she told herself, this is my hope. This is my destiny. Once the pit was full, she threw in one, two, three chunks of salt. Then she lowered herself into the water. The water was soothing, soaking into her, calming her, making her feel whole in a way that the land could not, even with all it’s beauty and wonder. When she was done, she climbed out, threw in three more chunks of salt, and the next Merlock climbed in. It took them just over half an hour. Longer than she would have liked, but there were six of them and three Merlings, and she would not take the chances of risking dehydration on their journey. They traveled ahead, following the river uphill. It would continue this way for at least a dozen more hours, until midday. She hoped that there would not be more defenses at the city of Fosan than she thought there were. Her information was a bit shaggy, since no Merlock had ever traveled there, as far as she knew. A thought pooped into her head. It was not a fully formed thought, and it was slipping away. She was trying to hold on to it, to bring it back. It was something to do with. . . grow. The word ‘grow’ was pulling on her, trying to tell her something. She also had a feeling that she was being blamed for something. But the though itself was gone. She hoped it would see fit to return to her some day. Sooner, preferably. She hated it when thoughts ran away from her like this. You’re mine!, she wanted to shout, and force them to return to her and tell her their secrets. Sometimes she could tell that there was something that was lurking just outside of her mind. This was one of those times. One was of her women was approaching her, slowly getting closer as they walked. She was Perdid Terit. Perdid was a good soldier, and very loyal, hardworking, she would always do what she thought best for her people. However, she was not the most sociable of Merlocks, and would not talk without something meaningful to say. She did not like this. She obviously was going to talk to her, and it was not going to be chitchat or small talk. That meant that it would be relevant, and so it would probably be important. When the Merlock finally spoke, it was in a quiet voice, almost a whisper. “Are you sure this is a good idea, m’Lord?” “How can you ask me that? Of course it is. I do not act without good reason.” “I quality that I greatly respect of course, m’Lord, but I only ask because word around was that you were going to do something foolish our of anger, striking out in vengeance for the queen.” “I am queen now.” “I meant the old queen, you’re mother, but what I said still holds true.” “I am not acting out of anger. Or vengeance. I act to help our city, our people. You tell them that.” “I will, my Lord.”

Chapter 4: Unsatisfactory Goodbye

Anger towards the wizard was growing in the village. Jalben could sense it, even from his isolated position. With the mysterious deaths growing in number, at least one every day in a population of less than 2 thousand. Jalben had told the wizard that it was time to leave the village, and even packed him a bag with a compass, clothes, water, food, some potions and magic ingredients, a knife, and some flint. But the wizard had refused. The wizard was even more aloof than Jalben though, and knew that he was doing no harm, so it would mash over. That was why he was unprepared when they stormed his house to kill him. Jalben was there too, at the time. They were on the second story, the wizard was brewing an interesting potion that would allow him to see through paper, when Jalben heard the front door break with a loud crash. He looked out the window to sea a mob of people, pitchforks, torches, and all, armed even with bows and arrows. Acting quickly, the wizard handed the invisibility potion to Jalben, poured out his current potion on the floor, and started brewing a new potion. “Why’d you give this to me? You need to drink it, to escape.” “There will be no escape for me today, I am afraid.”, the old man replied, stirring furiously as he dumped a small packet of some strange powder into the cauldron. “Did you think they would just let you walk out of here untouched?” “I didn’t think about that. But I still can’t drink this, you have too.”

“Those are brave words,”, the wizard said as he snatched the potion from Jalben’s hand, and smashed it into his teeth, forcing him to drink it. “But you have no choice in the matter.”

Jalben turned invisible and he spat out shards of glass, just as the people reached the top of the stairs. The doorway was blocked by the mob, so he grabbed the bag he had packed for the wizard, and climbed out the window, barely holding onto the pieces of wood, as he spat out the last of the glass fragments. He was running as fast as he could, sprinting several yards with each step, heading towards his house. He heard a deafening explosion when he had run about twenty yards. He spared a glance backwards to see the house in flames, bits of wood and debris flying upwards in a cloud of smoke. He had taken the mob down with him. When he caught sigh of his house, all that was left was a smoking pile of burnt wood. Panic was taking control as he ran for the woods. As he ran, he saw two disfigured bodies floating slowly down the river. One was wearing a blue dress and the other had his clothes completely burned off. But Jalben didn’t need to look at their clothes to know who they were. When he reached tree cover, he just kept going, stumbling over rock and jumping over root. He knew there would be no returning to Taervost. Overcome by panic, he ran even faster than he had thought was possible, as if to escape the past that he was leaving behind in the village. He stopped to breath on a large rock. He checked his compass: he had been running west-northwest. He knew that the village’s river ran west, so that must be towards the ocean. He started running west. He wiped a tear from his eye. When it came night, he built a fire and lit it with his flint in order to stay warm. This was quite lucky for him, for unknown to him, the fire kept off much more terrifying monsters than the cold. But the night was cold, and he was afraid he would freeze if the fire went out for too long. He searched for an idea, and eventually found it. He pulled a long vine off of a nearby tree. He threw it over the branch of a tree, then tied one end to a large piece of wood, which he put in the fire, vine end up. He tied the other end of the vine to another, smaller piece of wood, which was hanging over where he would sleep. When the large piece burned, it would lower the small piece, which would bump him on the head, hopefully waking him up, to stoke the fire. It worked perhaps too well, burning a little too fast, waking up a total of 15 times throughout the night, and once before he was even able to get back to sleep. He kept moving at the first time he was woken that there was enough light to see. He kept his westward route. He thought he heard the sound of rushing water, and strayed a bit off his course, in order to investigate. Sure enough, it was a river. He wondered if it was the same one that ran through his village. He followed it down for about an hour when he got his answer. A body in a blue dress was floating down the river. Panic once more taking hold of him, he ran directly away from the river. He kept running until his foot snagged on a tree root and he fell face-first onto to the ground. Breath. Breath. He felt the panic leave his body. He slowly rose to his feet. There was leaf stuck to his face. He peeled it off. When he resumed his journey, he cut a wide circle, eventually cutting back to the river. As Jalben continued following the river, the ground started to slope down more noticeably. As it sloped even more, he lost his footing and started sliding down on the ground, which was now comprised of dirt and large rocks, one of which cut his hand when he tried to grab it to hold on to. His fall accumulated more and more and more rocks, until it he landed with a crash on a flat shelf of earth. He was now covered in rocks, and soon found that it would be difficult getting out. It took him several minutes to break free of the rocks, and when he did, he was covered in scratches and cuts. He discovered that he had been lucky in one respect however, as the shelf that his little landslide had stopped on was overlooking a massive waterfall, at least a hundred feet above the water bellow. Jalben heard a loud growl, and pun around just in time to see a set of two clawer legs, attached to a wolf’s body, aimed straight for his soft, unprotected face. When the wolf struck home, leaving his face a bloody mess, it leapt back, sending him to the ground, and landed perfectly on all fours. He tried to get up, but slipped on the ground. The wolf circled in for another go, but Jalben turned himself around just in time, blocking the blows with his back. He quickly sprung back to his feet, pulling the knife from his bag. The wolf backed away, preparing for another strike. The next strike was aimed for his knees, but Jalben sunk the knife the knife into the creature’s back. When the wolf pulled away, the knife went with him. And unfortunately for him, Jalben’s legs had taken quite a beating from the claws. And as if things weren’t already bad enough, Jalben was starting get tired, his arms and legs sore from escaping from the rocks. The wolf seemed badly injured, but it was definitely still alive and scratching. When the wolf sprung at him next, he tried to grab it, hoping to over power the beast and pull his knife out. But the beast gave him no such chance, because when it landed on him, the force sent him to his knees, and he stagger with the sudden pain of all his wounds blaring at him. Then the wolf turned and walked of the cliff, falling to its death in the cold water below. What the hell? Jalben was totally confused, to say the least. Then word grew into mind, as if he was being spoken to by someone inside his mind. The god works in subtle ways. He knew enough of magic to smell this, and this definitely smelled of magic. Someone was definitely helping him. Did they think that they were a god? And what was subtle about this? It was pretty obvious. They must’ve controlled the wolf and forced it to walk of the ledge. Then Jalben noticed something that he hadn’t before. There were three wolf cubs, lying dead in the pile of rubble from his slide. He dug away more rocks, revealing an empty cave. This must have been their cave. Their home. I killed this wolf’s cubs, thanks to my stupidity, so naturally it wanted to kill me. And now the wolf is dead, fallen of this cliff, with no descendants to live in it’s place. The sky was growing dark as clouds started to bot out the sun. He could tell that it was going to rain, perhaps even storm. When the clouds drifted, their shadows parted down bellow and fog cleared, revealing an abrupt end to the land against a large blue band, spanning all the way to the horizon. This must be the ocean. It was so large. He could barely wrap his mind around it. His eyes eventually drifted form the horizon to a smaller brownish-grayish blot on the edge of the land, touching the ocean. He saw smoke rising form it, and when he focused, he could barely make out the shapes of buildings. Jalben’s thoughts were interrupted when a sudden flash of a bright light a loud BOOM marked the strike of lightning on a nearby tree. Hail began to pelt against his skin, re-flaring his wounds. At first he had hoped to break free of the storm and head to the city as quickly as he could, but he had realized that would not be the case. He was just barely able to get inside the cave before exhaustion and pain claimed him for the day.

Chapter 5: The Guilds

The city of Fosan was not as large an Fairehelm, but it was still reasonably large. Sertius hoped that they would be able to get in by merely wearing concealing cloaks and pretending to be short humans, but she feared it would not be enough. She had heard that the security for entering the city was fairly lax, but she was not sure. They approached the gates of the city unresisted, but Sertius still feared that trickery was afoot. Perhaps there were guards posted throughout the city that would check them? Perhaps they were supposed to go to a certain place to register whenever they entered, and there were people watching the entrance that had marked them down and were sending catchers after them. Sertius spotted a large building with a green leaf with crossed swords behind it emblem sprawled, painted, across the side of the building. She decided that would be a good place to investigate. The door opened outwards, revealing a large lobby a several chairs and a desk with a door behind it and human staring out into space seated at it. When they entered, the human turned towards them, and watched them as they approached. “What is this place?”, Sertius asked the human. “You’re new to the city.” “Indeed we are.” Sertius wanted to give away as little information as she could, but she saw no point arguing, since the man seemed to already know. “This is a Growers’ Guild building. The Growers’ Guild specializes in control of all things horticultural and botanical. We also like sword fighting.” “What do you do though?” “We do what any other guild does. Seek power and the betterment of our practice.” “There are other guilds?” “Of course. You really are new. Are you new to the island?” “Uh. . . yeah.” “Hm. Well, yes there are other guilds. The guilds are in every city on this island. Some are more powerful than others, and some have more control in certain cities than others. This city, for example, is controlled practically entirely by the Growers’’” “What other guilds are there?” “Well, among the most powerful are the Growers’’, the Fire Guild, the Sword Mages, and the Iron Guild, but there are at least two dozen others. This island is well known throughout the world for its magic.” “Tell me, which guild is the most powerful in the city of Fairehelm?” “Fairehelm is actually a pretty dived, but I would have to say that it’s the Sword Mages or the Iron Guild. The Iron Guild is one of the main enemies of us Growers’. Did you have reason to come in here, or are you just going to ask me questions?” Sertius had already come up with a cunning plan. “I have important information for the leader in this city.” “I’m sorry. He’s all booked out until… let’s see… January third, one thousand, three hundred, six.” “That’s in over a hundred years.” “Don’t get cocky with me, little man. And we do have a waiting room.” “So who can I talk to?” Sertius was getting annoyed. “There’s me.” “Who is the highest person in your guild that I can talk to?” “Also me.” This wasn’t working. She would have to figure something out, and quickly. “I can put in a good word about you to your superiors. Or I could just go to one of the other buildings and when they help me I’ll put in a bad word about you for your superiors.” “Well, I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to let you talk to head wizard in this building.” “Very good.” “But your uh. . . gaurds, have to wait here.” “Fine.” She told her women to stay there, as all but Perdid could not speak the language of humans. The man led her through the door behind his office, and barked at a man sitting at another desk near the door on the other side to take his place until he got back. She followed him through a long hallway, up three flights of stairs, and down another long hallway. He stopped in front of a door with a green x on it. “When you put in that good word, my name is Herman.” He opened the door to reveal an empty room. “He’s not here. Odd. You’ll have to came back again another time.” “I’m afraid I don’t have another time.” “Well, I’m afraid that he’s not here.” “I think something fish is going on here.” “Funny hearing that, coming from you.” Sertius froze. “I could tell what you were the moment you stepped in this building. As if I would ever lower myself to make dealings with your kind.”, the man spat. He swung a heavy boot at Sertius, knocking her backwards against the wall. She drew her both her knives, her preferred weapons. He grabbed what she had thought was the wall and pulled it off, revealing a layer of moss and dirt underneath the cloth. He reached out to touch the moss, but by the time his hand touched it, his head was falling to the ground. She feared that going back out through the hallway would be too dangerous, so she lowered a rope and climbed out through the window. She risked opening the door in order to call out her guards. She feared that they would’ve been taken, but it seemed that this hostility was just on the part of that one human, and not the guild as a whole, even that building. However, even so, she would have to try another building, as she would probably not receive a warm welcome. Oh, wait. Word will spread quickly. What if they are all told to be weary of short, cloaked figures? She was afraid that it might be a risk she would have to take. She hated taking unnecessary risks. She hated taking risks of any kind, really. She decided that she would have to try another guild. The man had said that the main guilds in Fairehelm were the Iron Guild and the Sword Mages. The Iron guild were hated by the Growers’’, but who hated the Sword Mages? She would just have to find out. But how? She didn’t know who she could ask about guild-related topics. She led her women through the city, on the lookout for anything that would help her. She spotted a small inn on the side of the road. An in would be for visitors, and visitors don’t know things. It seemed like it would be a good place to start. She opened the door, revealing a bar and restaurant. It was practically empty. That was unfortunate. Large crowds are easier to slip into. And she had hoped to be able to get information without actually buying anything. She walked up to the counter and asked the bartender for a beer. “What do you know about the guilds?”, she asked him. “As much as anyone living on this island, I suppose. You new here?” Was it really that obvious that she was not a resident? Everyone seemed to figure it out at first glance. “The Sword Mages are strong in Fairehelm, no?” “’r so they say.” “What guild is an enemy of the Sword Mages?” “All guilds be the enemies o’ all others. I ain’t never heard of no guild bein’ on peaceful terms.” Why did the man insist on talking so horribly? “But some are more hostile towards others. Like the Iron Guild and the Growers’” “The Growers’ and the Iron Guild be great enemies, true enough. I can’t think of anyone else who’s as fierce foes as them though.” “Do you know why they are such bad enemies?” “No one does. At this point, they just hate em’ other always. You don’ wanna be thought an Iron Guildsman in this town. But they say that the top people know the reason.” This was bad news. She needed a strong guild in Fosan that had hate towards Fairehelm. The Growers’ Guild had been perfect for her plan. But by now they had probably told all their members not to trust small men in dark cloaks. She would have to disguise herself, perhaps. Maybe there was wizard who could make her look different, temporarily? But all of the wizards must be in the guild’s pocket, and even if she could get one of them to work with her, Growers’ didn’t seem like they were much for illusions or polymorphing. If she continued to search the city, she might eventually find something.

Chapter 6: New

Jalben half-awoke, a hard object poking into his head. Where was his pillow? His arm searched around for it. He grabbed something soft and pillow sized, and put it under his head. He drifted back to sleep. Jalben shifted in his sleep, rolling his head to the left. When he did so, he awoke with a start with a sharp pain his head. He reached his hand to touch his head, and drew it back with blood on it. Suddenly fully awake, he sat up and pulled of a dead wolf cub which had had it’s teeth in his head. He quickly threw it down in the cave. Much to his surprise, the corpse fell down into the cave, and kept falling. He heard it bounce and roll a long way down into cave. He looked out of the cave. The storm was still raging. Making a crude torch with a thick stick, a lot of tree sap, and his flint, he headed down into the darkness. The tunnel took a sharp turn only a few yards past where he could see from the entrance of the cave. He thought he was turned almost all the way around. His compass didn’t work in the tunnel, unfortunately. It only spun in random directions. There must have been magnetic material in the rock. This made Jalben feel uneasy, he was afraid of getting lost, or stuck in the rock. He could image himself getting trapped, surrounded on all sides by rock. What if there were multiple routes, and he went one way without realizing there were others? It could be a maze, a horrible labyrinth trapping him down there until he starved to death. He proceeded more slowly and carefully from there, making sure to check the walls for other passages. After a few moments, the tunnel sloped slowly downwards. The slope increased until it felt like it was completely diagonal. He felt fear rising in him, thinking about his previous slip. It may have been his fear taking effect, or merely that it was so steep, but he lost his footing once more. As he slipped and fell, it was like his previous fall all over again. Almost like déjà vu. He remembered when the wizard had thought him that phrase. They were not actually words in the common language, but actually incorporated from the old dragon tongue. Then, just as he was starting to fear that he would land on a cliff earth shelf-overlooking waterfall, and fight a wolf again, his fall slowed. He sort of caught himself, then flipped over and landed on the ground, front first. His face was bloody, and his nose was sore, but he picked himself back up and found that he was standing on stone steps. Then he realized that he had lost his torch when he fell. He looked up the cave and could just make out its glow. However, there was light, and he was able to see, but there didn’t appear to be any source of the light. It was as if it were coming out of the air itself. It must be magic, he thought. He struggled forward through the tunnel for hours and hours. It felt to him like it had been at least a dozen, but he would soon find that it had not. The tunnel abruptly ended. So abruptly, in fact, that he had almost walked right into the stone wall and the end of the tunnel. He searched for an exit, and found a circular panel on the ceiling that yielded when he pushed it up. He pushed it of to the side, and putting on hand on each side of the hole, hoisted himself up. Upon exiting the tunnel, he found himself in a small courtyard. The ground was covered in soft, green grass that felt pleasant to his feet after walking so long in the hard, stone tunnel. On all sides he saw walls made of brick, and to the left was a door. In front of him was a boy sitting on a bench, looking the other way. Jalben couldn’t tell what he was doing. “Hello?” The boy spun around, but when he saw Jalben, he turned back to whatever he was doing, muttering something under his breath. “Yes?”, the boy replied. He seemed a few years younger than Jalben. “Um. . . where is this?” “What?” “I mean, where am I?” “Are you not a servant?” Jalben was trying to be cautious, for he was afraid the boy would get mad at him. It seemed like the boy must have been important here, because he assumed that Jalben had been one of his servants. “I, uh. . . I just climbed out of that tunnel.” That seemed to get the boy’s attention. He quickly spun around, holding a strange blue gemstone in his hand. Suddenly Jalben felt himself unable to move his arms or legs. He started to fall over. When he landed, the blow hit the back of his head, reinjuring his previous wounds from the wolf and the wolf pup. He blacked out. When he regained consciousness, he was staring into the eyes of the boy who had been on the bench. “Awake at last. I told my uncle you were a servant who had tripped and went unconscious well he fell. I said I would deal with you. You seem to have quite a lot of other cuts and bruises thought. What happened?” “Nhhh. . .” He was still in much pain from his fall. “What?” “I, . . . need a minute,”, he managed to croak out some actual words this time. “Ok, ok.” Jalben laid there, his head clearing. Many, many questions were swirling through his mind. Where was he now? Who was this boy? What had that tunnel been for? Why had he fallen? Had this boy used magic? “I- I’m good now.” He tried to sit up, but he still couldn’t move. “But I can’t move my arms or legs.” “Yeah, and its going to stay like that until you explain to me what you were doing in that tunnel. Were you spying on me? And you’re all cut up, what happened?” “I didn’t know where the tunnel would lead me. I was trying to escape the storm.”, Jalben groaned out. His voice was still weak, barely audible. “And your cuts and bruises?” “Uh. . . wolf” “What? You went through the old entrance?” “There were multiple entrances?” “Yeah. I used to use the old entrance but a family of wolves took it as their home. I didn’t want to disturb them, so I created a new entrance.” “Using magic? Are you a wizard?” “I am. . . well, a weak one. I haven’t learned much, yet. I know a lot of magic for my age, though. And I didn’t build the tunnel, I found it. So what happened to the wolves?” “They’re. . . uh. . . they’re dead.” “You killed them? How? You have no weapon, and you don’t look like a wizard to me.” “I wish I knew that myself.” “So, uh, what happened?” “I was walking down the hill, and I tripped. It started a landslide or something, and covered the mouth of the cave, killing the pups. The big one attacked me, and would’ve killed me, but then in just walked off the cliff, into the waterfall.” He decided he didn’t need to say the part about the voice in his head. Maybe it was just his imagination, and the boy would think he was crazy. Maybe he was going crazy. “So I’m not trying to be seem nosey or anything, but I’ve never seen anyone up there. The roads go north and south. What were you doing up there, anyway?”, the boy inquired. “Nosey?” “Huh? What?” “What does ‘nosey’ mean?” “Oh, it means that I’m always getting into other peoples’ problems when I should be minding my own business. My uncle says that I’m always too nosey. You don’t come from this town, do you?” This boy just kept asking questions, when Jalben himself had so many to ask. “I’m not from this town, that’s true. I come from a little village up behind the mountains behind where the cave is.” Suddenly Jalben remembered what had happened in the village only two days ago. All of his memories came pouring back into his head. He remembered the body floating down the river. The blood in the water. His house burnt to the ground. The people storming the wizard’s house. The wizard. . . His panic started to return again. Fortunately, he was still unable to move his arms and legs. “I didn’t know where any villages up there. Huh. How odd. It must be pretty small. Is it small?” “Said it was. . . little” He managed to say between heavy breaths as he struggled against the invisible magic holding him in place. “Oh, yeah. So, why’d you leave?” “I-I don’t want to talk about it.” Jalben was beginning to gain control of himself again. “O.K.” “Can you let me free now?” “Promise you won’t hurt me.” “What?” “Just promise!” “Fine. I swear I won’t hurt you.” The boy pulled out the blue gemstone and suddenly Jalben was free once more. He got up and sat on the bench the boy had been sitting on before. “So what’s you name, boy?” “Julian Sharp. And don’t call me ‘boy’. Yours?” “Jalben Farmer. I only called you ‘boy’ because I didn’t know your name. Where am I?” “This is the city of Fairehelm. The biggest on the island.” “Wow. How many people are here?” “No one knows for sure, but they’re guessing it’s around 80,000.” “Eighty thousand! That’s insane! My village only has about two thousand people.” “Are you sure there’s a village where you said, up behind the mountains.” “Sure as anything. Lived there for 15 years.” “Huh. Two thousand people. That is small.” “Well, it didn’t seem small to me. But this place sounds huge.” “I suppose it is pretty big.” “Would you mind showing me around the city?” “A tour? Well, guess so. I’m not really the best suited, because I don’t really go out much. . . but-” “Oh, come on. Where’s the door?” “Follow me.” Julian led Jalben out of the courtyard, through several rooms, including a library and a kitchen, and out into a empty road. “I don’t see any people.” “That’s because we’re on the edge of the city.” “Why do you live on the edge of the city?” “Well, let’s just say that my uncle isn’t the most popular guy, ok?” “Um, alright.” Julian led him through street after street, each getting larger than the next. It wasn’t until the fifth turn that Jalben actually saw someone. From there, the streets started getting more and more populated. By around the tenth, but Jalben wasn’t really sure, because he had lost count, the street that they turned on to was filled with people. There were people everywhere. He had never seen so many people in one place before. It appeared to be a market. There were people yelling out “Apples! Apples!” and “Who wants some fresh bananas!” It seemed like there must have been at least a hundred people in this street alone. They could barely push their way through the crowd. The next turn brought them onto a much, much wider street, but this one only had people on the edges, and two large lanes of carts and wagons going through the middle. The street mas so large, Jalben thought it must have been wider than his house was. Or, well used to be. He quickly started thinking about other things. “This is First Street. Most of the roads in the city are like this. It intersects with Main Street. There are so many people, you’ll see people here at night as well as day.” “Wow.” Jalben said, staring at a giant building. It was so tall. He counted the stories. Six! There were six stories. “Oh yeah, it’s pretty tall, isn’t it. There are buildings like that all over town.” “It’s six stories. . . the wizard’s house was the only building in my village that was more than two stories.” “The wizard? How common was magic in your village?” “The wizard was the only one. That’s why they killed him.” “They killed him?” “Yeah, I-I. . . they killed my parents too.” “Ooh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t know, I-” “No, no it’s okay. They would’ve killed me too, but I got away. The wizard, he could’ve. But he. . . he. . .” “No, you don’t have to talk about this now if you don’t want to. I’ll be happy to hear it when you feel you’re ready.” “Yeah. . .yeah, yeah, thanks.”

Chapter 7: The Growers’ Guild

They had to get new water soon, Sertius knew. Her soldiers and her were all beginning to get a little sluggish as they dried out. Water itself would be easy enough to come by in this town, but they needed it to be a pool, so they could put in the salt, and they needed it to be in a private location so no one would see their true race. They could potentially head back to the river, but she over wanted to do that if they had to, because if they did that every time, it would only leave them four or five hours between every time they would have to go to the river. It would use up their salt to quickly for the time they would get in the city. And she needed to make sure she kept enough extra for the trip back to the ocean. Her little band walked through the city silently. They looked quite mysterious to any stranger who might see them. A group of six very short dark figures, wearing cloaks and hoods so covering that you couldn’t even see their faces. Each member of the group even had their own pack on their back, closed away and so each with its own mysteries. Indeed, the people would have been even more confused had they known what was inside those mysterious packs: Over fifteen pounds of salt, many gold coins, and three merlings; the fish-like assassins that worked for the Merlocks. They were able to turn invisible whenever they wished. They would have to split up in order to search the city more effectively. Let’s see. . .we have at least three hours before we have to get to the river far enough away from the city. It takes no more than 40 minutes to get there. She would need a leeway of at least half and hour to gather everyone up. That leaves about one hour and fifty minutes. She led her women to a distinct building with a tall clock tower on it. “We will split up, in order to search the city more effectively for an isolated pool of water or something else suitable. We will meet up right here in one hour and fifty minutes. All of you with merlings, have them invisible. Instruct them to follow you and to come back here to tell me if something happens to you. The other three of us shall go together. If you have not returned or sent word by two hours and twenty minutes from now, we will presume you dead, and continue on our way to the river. If anything deadly should happen to me, return to Asbthan directly to bring the news.” The exact time would not be a problem; Merlings had an amazing internal sense of time. The three with Merlings went off in different directions, and Sertius and other two without Merlings went in a different direction, heading up the road that the tall building was on. She thought it would be good to check the river where it ran through the town to see if there were any hidden places that would work for their purpose. One of the other Merlocks was going to check less populated places of the town, to see if there were any abandoned buildings with water. Another one was going to check the perimeter of the town to see if there were any pools of rainwater or anything else that work, and the last one was just going to wander through town looking for anything of interest. She thought that there might be an empty watershed that they could use. She hoped those were pretty common, and they would be pretty easily accessible to Merlocks. The problem would be sufficiently isolating the water so that the salt would not just disperse through the river. Maybe there would be a boat on the water that they could fill with water and use. That was an interesting idea. They walked down along the street to the river. Hardly anyone was out on the streets at this time of day. By the moonlight, she could see that the river was just a few roads down from where they were walking. Still, it was strange that there were so few people on this busy road, even at night. Where they reached the water, there was still no one there. It was flowing quite quickly, they would find nothing of interest here. She would have to search up or down the river to find a better-suited spot with a slower flow. She stared up at the sky. She thought she saw a strange shadow over head. It was probably just a bird, but something about the movement in the corner of her eye made it seem less. . . natural. As if it were trying to evade her vision. To avoid detection. She knew it was probably nothing, but it made her feel uneasy. They walked up the bank of the water, on patches of sand, grass, and rock. Something was definitely wrong. She thought she had seen more shadows out of the corner of her eye, and there was no one around on any of the streets they passed, save for one man sitting on his porch a couple yards head, about fifteen yards from the bank. It was good that there were less people to avoid, but this was definitely not normal. “Has anyone else seen anything?” “What do you mean, my lord?” It was Perdid who replied to her. The other Merlock in their group was Huxle Grandof, and young Merlock, no older than 12. “I keep seeing things out of the corner of my eye. Shadows, creeping.” She usually didn’t share her concerns such as this with her women, for she feared they would start not to trust her if the believed her to be mad. But this definitely seemed more serious. “I haven’t. Huxle?” “Nah. The most interesting thing I’ve seen so far was a dead fish.” “How odd.”, Sertius hoped that this meant that it was just her imagination, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something going on. “Who goes there?” The man on the porch shouted at them as he sat up. They must have walked into his property. “I’m Sertius Bl-emy” She managed to catch herself from saying he last name, but not her first. She hoped it wouldn’t mean anything to him. “That don’t sound like no name I never heard of.” Why did humans insist on using such horrible grammar? A truly awful species they were. It must just be from lack of education. But that of coarse also stemmed from the problems of the species itself. “Uh. . . we come from the other side of the Island.” “Oh?” Now she was sure she had seen something. A bird shape, a large bird swooped down ahead. She could hear it now. Then suddenly, in a flash of caws and fluttering, a net fell from the sky and entangled the three Merlocks. She looked up, several dozen large birds carrying the sides of the net. She quickly pulled out her knife and started hacking at the net. She saw that her guards were doing the same. But the birds were flying upward, carrying them higher and higher above the ground. Cutting it won’t work. We’ll just fall to our deaths, at this height. Whoever trained these birds must have known what they were doing. “Stop, don’t cut the net!”, she cried to her women, but it was too late. Perdid had already stopped, realizing the same as her, but Huxle hadn’t caught on, and the warning came just a moment to late for her. She swung free of the net, falling through the air, but when she realized what would happen next, she cried out, but nothing would stop her from her death at the ground. If a free fall would not work, they would have to make the net lower slowly down, by somehow increasing the load. “I have an idea, m’lord.” “Well? What is it?” “If we kill just some of the birds, it will lower the net to the ground, more slowly.” Sertius pulled out her knives and threw them at one bird each. She hoped she would be able to retrieve them. They were nothing special, well forged with good materials and all that, but she had grown attached to those two over the years, She had trained with them since she was less than four, and had slain her first enemy with them when she was seven. Each knife struck true, but these were big birds. The wounds made them falter for a moment, but they kept flying. However, they did let go of the net, and flew away slowly after circling the net a few times. It was not enough though. There were more than thirty more birds, and the net was still rising. Perdid was fiddling with something in her hands, that Sertius was unable to see. “What are you doing, Perdid!”, she yelled. Perdid then threw Sertius a ball of rope, and when she pulled on it, she found a knife tied to the end. Swing it in circles my lord! You are more skilled than I.” Sertius did, and after it got to speed it worked like a charm, taking of several birds with each spin the net started dropping around when she would guessed there were maybe ten birds left, so she stopped spinning. The net gained momentum as it fell, and it was up quite high. The birds struggled against it for as long as they could, but they eventually let go when it started going to fast. They landed on the ground with a thunk, but both uninjured. Her feet were still tangled in the net, unfortunately. She also saw that Perdid was not any better off, herself. And the man who had been on the porch was walking toward them, a stick in his hand. “You’re a crafty one, you are.” He said, walking up to Perdid. He places his stick on the ground, and shoots of vines shot up, entwining Perdid even more so. “. . . but it’s you that I’m here for. ”, he said, approaching Sertius. When he got closer, she saw his face, and a gasp barely escaped her lips. “You. . . but. . . how?” It was the man from the Growers’ Guild. “You did not really think you could kill me so easily, did you?” “I slice off your head. How are you still alive?” The man laughed a huge, booming laugh. He stroked his beard with one hand, still wielding the stick in the other. “I’m alive. . . because I’m not who you think I am!” He let out another huge laugh. “I’m Ilroy Oak. The man you killed was not me, but my brother, Ruefold Oak. He is -was my twin. Now tell me: Who are you? Said your name was Serbly- something or other, but I’m guessing that was a lie, no?” Ilroy Oak? She knew that name. But where? How? That was no Merlock name of course. “It was. My real name is Haggard Greenfinger.” “Uh-huh. And you expect me to believe it now, when you jut admitted that you lied to me before. Give me your weapons.” Sertius reach out to hand the man one knife, handle first, but when the man reached out for it, Sertius spun it around and lashed for the man’s hand. The act of spinning it had given the man time to react and pull his hand away, but by now Sertius had freed herself and leapt forward at the man, aiming for his throat. The man hit Sertius out of the air with his stick, and act that Sertius had never before seen performed by anyone, let alone a slow looking large man with a heavy stick. She backed away to where Perdid lay, and quickly slashed away the vines that held her. But when she cut the vines, the pieces split apart into many small strands that then quickly merged into one thick root, which shoot at Sertius, stabbing her through the arm. And pinning her against the ground. When she tried to struggle free, pains shot through her body and she could do it anymore. Perdid got up and grabbed the knife in order to cut the root and free Sertius, but the man was there and knocked Perdid away with his stick. “Hah! We are not even on the same level, me and you.”, he said to Sertius. “I am the top man of the Growers’ Guild in this city, and the second top man of the entire island. My brother was weak. He only had his position thanks to me. He was nothing. And you are nothing. I could kill you right now, if I so desired.” He laughed another huge, booming laugh. “Do you want to see my power? Even now, you do not grasp the enormity of it. Do you see what I did here? This but a fraction, a small sliver of my power, even at night. And when comes day, my power will be even greater than that. When it is day, I could destroy every single building in this city, if I wished to that. You are nothing! Do you understand?” But he didn’t give Sertius time to answer. “But I am no fool. There was some reason that you wanted to talk to someone in the Growers’ guild that day. It was probably just to exploit us or beg for money, but I have to know, seeing as my brother now lays dead for it. Tell me.” “I understand that the Growers’ and the Iron Guild are bad enemies.” “Indeed.” “And the Iron’s are powerful in Fairehelm.” “Some would say it is the Sword Mages who hold power there, but yes.” “You are enemies with the sword mages too, no?” “Yes. Get to the point. Now.” “I wish to bring down Fairehelm once and for all.” “It is the biggest city on the island. But that would benefit us greatly. How do you propose to do such a thing? And what’s in it for you?” “I seek only revenge. They killed my parents, and my grandparents.” This was sort of true; they had killed her mother, but her father had been killed for treason, and her grandparents had died of other causes, some of which may have been relating the the humans in Fairehelm, she didn’t really know. “Oh yes, I almost forgot that you were a Merlock. But just how do you plan do this?” “Us Merlocks have a, uh, recipe I suppose, for making a type of magical explosive powder. There exists in Fairehelm, a perfectly shaped and designed statue, placed in just the right spot in the city. If we can put the explosives in just right, we should be able to knock part of the statue off in just the right way so that it fires straight for a certain window of the great tower in the city. When that piece of the statue explodes, it will destroy the tower, which will collapse over the city. There’s a bit more too it than that, but that’s the basic idea. Uh. . . what was with those birds? Did you use some power to control them?” She had come up with the lie while they walked through town. She thought it sounded plausible enough. “Oh, the birds are just trained. I suppose you could say they were just a test. But did you say a statue?” “Yes. The Iron Guild use it for secret meetings. It points in a different direction each time they have a meeting. They use a spell to send a beam through the statue, and it points at the window of where the meeting is, alerting them to let the person in. It was a very good system, but my spies were able to figure it out. When the piece of the statue is fired in the right place, it should mess up any spell that they using, and use that power to increase the explosion.” There actually was such an explosive that the Merlocks were capable of making, and she planned on making this powder, but she had a different plan for what she would use it for. “I think I have heard of such a powder before. But what do you need our help for?” “Didn’t I say? We need sufficient magic explosives. It will take a lot.” “And only you Merlocks know the secret right?”, he said, a hint of a mischievous smile crossing his face, just for a second, before he suppressed it. She knew he was planning something that would probably not be good for her, otherwise he would have no reason to hide his smile from her. She thought carefully before she spoke next, making sure she didn’t have a single word out of place. “Only some of our wizards known how. I don’t know how, and the only wizard that I had with me just died when they fell from that net.” She had actually not brought any wizards. She hadn’t thought they would be useful on this trip. Perhaps it was actually good that she hadn’t; she didn’t know what this man was planning, but she feared it did not the best interests of her or her people in mind. “Tell me, what is your real name? I’m not buying anything of what you told me before. And I’m no fool. You are obviously Sertius Bl-something. That name sounds suspiciously familiar. You said you lived near Fairehelm. That was no lie.” This man was no joke. He far too clever for her liking. “You obviously wanted to do something with that powder in Fairehelm, but I imagine it was not what you told me? You Merlocks are clever ones, or is that just a trait reserved for the royalty?” She shouldn’t have been surprised, but it still amazed her how much this man knew. “I figured out why I thought that name was familiar. The Merlock Lord, Sepvus Bluebolt, died last week. Sepvus mean the sixth of that line in m Merlock, and Sertius mean the seventh. That makes you her heir and now the Lord of that city. What was that city called? Wait, don’t tell me, I know. Oh yes, it is called Asbthan.” What the hell? How did this man know so much? “How much your people value you?” “Uh. . . what do you mean?” She knew exactly what he meant, but she needed to buy a little a time in order to create a reply that gave away as little as possible. “Nice stall. You know exactly what I meant.” God, this man was too smart. He gave her a boot, causing immense pain to shoot through her body from the wound in her arm. “How much do your people value you? Tell me.” There was no point in trying to lie now. He would not doubt know if she did, and punish her with another kick. “The royalty are very valued by the people. The people do not know me much, but my mother was very well.” “Very good. Both of you, come with me. You know what will happen if you try to run.” They had no choice but to follow. He led them into a Growers’ Guild building only a few blocks away. Her body was drying even more, and she realized that they needed water, and fast. Surely Ilroy would not want them to die. Right now, at least, of course. “We need water. To soak ourselves in. Salt water.” “Hm. That was why you were by the river. We have a bath. You may use it.” He led them through the building to a room with a large empty wooden bath in the middle. Other that that and many buckets of water, the room was empty. He closed the door behind them. “Get on with it.” When they were done, he brought them to a prison cell at the bottom of the building and took their weapons.

Chapter 8: Fairehelm

Julian had shown Jalben all around the city, through crowded streets, past huge buildings, over bridges. Jalben was amazed at the size of it all. At first he hadn’t seen how it was possible for a city to contain eighty thousand people, but now he was no longer skeptical. He was also amazed at the magic. There seemed to be so much in this city. You could find magic trinkets in every little shop, novice wizards in every alleyway, there was magic everywhere. Julian had also explained the guilds to him. The Sword Mages and the Iron Guild were always battling in this city, but there were also many small guilds that sought power here. Most were hidden away to avoid detection and not cause conflict, but the Iron Guild and the Sword Mages’ building had their emblem painted across them in clear view, as if to display their power, saying, We’re not afraid of you. You can’t hurt us. Jalben had explained that his parents had been important in the Sword Mages Guild, but they had both died mysteriously on the same day. There had been no trace of poison or anything. People said it had been the Merlocks. He was truly entranced by this city. He thought of every person living in the city. Each person together made this wondrous city. He wondered how many of the eighty thousand people in the city were magic users. Probably at least thirty thousand. “You see that?”, Julian asked him, waking him up from his thoughts. He was pointing at a corpse hanging from a rope in the middle of a large open area with four roads circling it. The corpse was quite small, and upon closer inspection, it was no human corpse at all, but a scaled fishlike humanoid corpse. “This is a Merlock?” “Was, yes. It was the one that killed my parents.” “Oh. . .” “It’s OK. It happened half a year ago. I’ve gotten over it. They didn’t care for me much anyway.” “Why not? You’re a quite skilled wizard, isn’t that what they would’ve wanted?” “They didn’t want a wizard. What they wanted was a Sword Mage.” “What do you mean?” “I mean, that there is difference between a sword mage and just any wizard.” “OK, and what is that difference? Why couldn’t you have become a Sword Mage?” “There are two answers to that question. I’m going to tell you the answer that you would get if you asked a Sword Mage.” “I take it that is not the answer that you think is correct.” Julian did not answer to that. “Being a Sword Mage requires three things: Proper control of magic-” “Which you have.” “Yes, yes, just let me explain.” “The second thing is that you must be determined to the cause. That’s where it goes wrong, for me.” “What’s the third thing?” “It doesn’t matter. The important thing is that I’m not dedicated to the cause. They knew that form very early on. My uncle, Morgan Sharp, was never a Sword Mage either, unlike his dad and his brother, my dad. No one really expected him to be though, my father was the one that everyone expected. My uncle was really quite shunned for a long time. Perhaps that is why he turned out so bad.” “And that’s why he didn’t become a sword mage?” “Well, it’s probably because he never could learn magic. But maybe that only happened because everyone expected him not to.” “The wizard once told me: ‘If everyone expects someone to be one way, eventually they will be that way.’” “Hm. Maybe. If that were true, wouldn’t no one really be in control of themselves.” “What do you mean?” “Well, if everyone only did what other people thought they would, it wouldn’t really be them choosing their actions, it would be the other people.” “Oh. Huh. Wait, but they don’t only do what other people expect them to, they also do have free will, but other people can just change the person’s views.” “A lot of things in life are just about the point of view. Like war. In war, both sides think that they are right. They both know that they are right. But from the outside, people who aren’t involved in the war don’t really know who’s right or who’s wrong. Often, it doesn’t even seem that important. It’s also like that in the guilds, but no one else sees it. That’s why I could never be a Sword Mage. They aren’t really right, any more than any other guild. It’s just about the perspective.” “Perspective?” “Yeah, that’s what I said.” “No, no what does perspective mean?” “Oh, oh. It’s like the point of view. How you look at something. Literally or metaphorically.” “What does metaphorically mean? Do all the people in this city know so many words as you?” “Metaphorically means. . . uh, it’s hard to explain. It means something that’s not real, but it’s not made up. . . it’s, uh not a lie, but it represents something else.” “I think I understand.” “Oh, and not everyone here knows as much vocabulary as me. In fact, you probably know more than most people. Here, watch this.” He walked up to a food seller, selling apples on the side of the road. “Hello, sir.”, Julian said to the man. “What may I do fur ye?” “I’d like two apples, please.” “That will cost ye fur coppers.” “Here” He handed the man four copper coins from his pocket. “Here is yur apples, boy.” The man handed him two apples. “Did you watch that?”, Julian said to Jalben as they walked away, handing him apple. “That was incredible. His grammar was so bad, too. This is an apple?” “Oh, yeah. I guess they don’t have them in your village. They come from qute far away, off of the island.” “Why can’t they be grown on the island?” “It’s to cold for them here. They grow on trees, and it would be a pain to build all the greenhouses that it would take to grow enough of them.” “Why not just use magic, then? And what is a greenhouse?” “They don’t have greenhouses in your village? They’re not very common here either, actually, but a greenhouse is a small building made of glass, so the light goes in and heats up the plants, but the heat is trapped by the glass. It heats up the plants a lot.” “But why no use magic?” “Anyone who has enough magic to that isn’t bothered with stuff like that. Anyways, it provides jobs for merchants and sellers, so it’s not any big problem or anything.” Jalben bit into the apple. It had pretty tough skin, but it when he bit into it, but it tasted quite sweet and was very juicy. He finished it quickly, and even ate the core. All that was left was the stem. “Wow, that was good.” Julian had only eaten a few bites of his apple. Jalben was a lot bigger any stronger, and appeared to be older. How old was this boy. “How old are, Julian?” “Thirteen. How old are you?” “I’m fifteen.” So he was older. It wasn’t really surprising that he ate so much. In his village, a strong body and strong arms were the most important things, but in the city of Fairehelm, it seemed less important, especially for young rich boys like Julian. Julian was quite skinny, in fact. He seemed very week. “Why are you so skinny?” “I don’t know. I’ve always been skinny. Weak. I suppose I would have been even more of a disappointment if my parent had been in the Iron Guild.” “What does the Iron Guild do? I mean what is their Magic? And what is the Magic of the Sword Mages, actually?” “It’s best not to talk about guilds right in the middle of a lot of people. You could easily offend someone or a few people, or a Guild of thousands of people.” Jalben looked around. They were in a quite crowded street. He hard hardly even noticed it. He imaged that was happened for people who live here for a long time. Julian probably didn’t notice it at all anymore; he had lived here his whole life, even if he did live in a somewhat less crowded part of the city now. He looked at the people nearby. He saw a young girl, trailing right behind her mother, who was carrying a basket, probably with some fruit in it. He saw an old man with a walking stick, walking forward slowly. The man seemed almost blind. He saw a man in a chef’s hat carrying a bag of bread loaves. He saw a young man, maybe in his early twenties, wearing a loose cloak, which Jalben noticed had the faint outline of six swords, three on each side of the man. Most of these people seemed peaceful seemed peaceful enough, but who knew what they were really hiding? The baker could pull out a knife hidden in his shirt. The old man could only be pretending to be blind and weak, and beat someone with his walking stick. Even little girl might be hiding something. Her mother could have something really dangerous in that basket of hers. And that man with the swords; he definitely didn’t seem very friendly. Was he a Sword Mage? If he wanted to, would he use some magic to kill Jalben, or merely stab him with his swords?

Chapter 9: Die?

The cell was grey and dark, the beds uncomfortable, and the only toilet they had a bucket in the corner, but they were treated well enough, fed enough to not be hungry. There was also a small pit filled with water in the corner for them so soak in, and they had been allowed to keep their salt. They had been told that Ilroy was busy right now, but would return when he was ready. Other than that, the guard would tell her nothing. When she asked to speak to someone who was in charge, they had refused saying that the only one who had control of their imprisonment was Ilroy. It seemed that they were in some sort of secret imprisonment, and Ilroy didn’t want anyone finding out about it. She would have a few choice words to say to Ilroy when he got back. She had counted out six days so far when Perdid got sick. One morning Sertius had woken up to Perdid’s coughing, and from there it had only gotten worse. She was coughing all the time, had barfed three times, and almost choked once. Sertius had begged the guards for some medicine, or anything to help Perdid, but they said they had been instructed not to leave until Ilroy got back; they had all the food and supplies that they would need for a month. Sertius hoped that it would not take nearly that long. Perdid had stopped eating, she would only lie in her bed and groan. Sertius had tried many times to talk to her, but she had gotten no reply in over a day. It was day nine. On day eleven, Sertius started to give up hope. Perdid’s skin was icy cold to the touch, and she still hadn’t spoken since day eight. Perdid was still breathing on day twelve, but her body was getting thinner and thinner, weaker and weaker. Sertius could see Perdid’s ribs pressed up against her scales, and Sertius could feel Perdid’s heart getting weaker. The guards still refused to help. Sertius wanted to strangle them. On day thirteen, Sertius was woken up by the cell doors opening. Ilroy stepped inside. “I understand that she is sick, correct?” “Does she look healthy to you?”, She could barely contain her fury at this man, he just left her here, trapped in by these idiot guard to watch Perdid die of some sickness But she knew that anger would get her nowhere, so she was careful of what she said. “I’ll take her to a healer.” “Good.” “And you’ll stay here.” She should have expected as much, this man was no fool. There would be no point in him letting her come with them. She just hoped that Perdid would be alright. Ilroy left with Perdid, and so Sertius was left even more alone, with only the idiots of guards left to keep her company. Not that she wouldn’t have liked it more if they weren’t there. It was now day fifteen, and there had been no sign of Ilroy or Perdid since they had left. Sertius hoped this was a good sign, and that Ilroy would have returned if Perdid was dead. But maybe she had died, and he had just left to do something else again, and would return after another two weeks in order to bring her the news. But until then, she still had hope. Then, a question popped into her head. Why is this such a big deal, when you hardly flinched when Huxle died? She did wonder why that was the case. Maybe it was all the uncertainty. She had no way to know if Perdid were dead right now, or if she were recovering, or if she were getting worse, and could die at any time.


Ilroy had finally returned, bringing news of Perdid. She had a parasite living in her stomach, and it had been killed. She was recovering from health now. Ilroy had brought her with him on a trip that he could not tell her of, but he had put in her a locked pack on his back, as the Merlocks carried Merlings. But even the Merling bags are not locked. This is disgraceful. She was carried by over hills and through roads, she could tell a little from the noise and the shaking of the pack. Roads were generally smooth, dirt paths pretty smooth, but several time she had been sure he had been climbing some sort of wall, and once he had even tripped. She knew they had left the city long ago, from when the noise died down. Strangely, she did not dry up. Ilroy gave her food and water to drink, but even the water should not have been able to save her. Ilroy had forbid her from talking, though, and when she broke the rule, be didn’t give her food for a while. Although she still feared she might dry up, she just didn’t. She decided it didn’t really matter much. Maybe he had cast some spell to keep her from drying up, or maybe it was something about the pack she was in. She had tried to escape from the pack several times, but of no avail. She knew that even if she escaped, Ilroy would be able to recapture her easily, but she had thought she might have been able figure something out when she escaped. Of course, I didn’t matter if she wasn’t able to escape in the first place. Ilroy didn’t even realize that she was trying to escape. It seemed as though several days and nights went by, but Sertius was not really sure how many; it seemed like Ilroy would put down the bag and do nothing for many hours, and she would fall asleep, only to wake up much later when they were already moving again. Things were going pretty normally, she thought it had been about five days, she had fallen asleep previously when they were still moving, and awoken by a voice, which she supposed was Ilroy’s. “Get up.” “Wha-?” “Get, up.” He said the words slowly this time, as if she were not able to understand them the first time. Which, of course, she hadn’t really been able to. But the second time, she quickly returned to her senses. When her eyes focused, she found herself in a strange place, surrounded by green. It must have been a room, she supposed, but the ceiling was glass and the ground, walls, and most of the space in the room was covered with plants. From the light of the ceiling, she saw that it was either morning or afternoon, but she couldn’t be sure, because she couldn’t see the sun and didn’t know which direction was which. To her left, she saw Ilroy standing, talking to another man. The man had along beard, reaching down to his waist. He looked quite old. “Hello?” “Sertius, this is John Forest.”, Ilroy introduce the man with the long beard. “Head Guild Master of the Grower’s Guild.”, the man finished. “Oh. . . Ok.” “Tell me, does such a statue exist?”, John demanded. “Oh, from what I told Ilroy? No. It was a lie.” If they truly wanted to know, they would surely find out soon enough, and when they did, it would be to her discomfort. “It’s what I said, sir.”, Ilroy said to John. “Yes, yes, you were right. Alright, we have some important things to do.” “Come here.”, the Guild Master beckoned them as he walked farther into the room, disappearing from sight in the foliage. Ilroy picked Sertius up to her feet and pushed her forward. She stumbled forward, trying not to fall behind and get pushed by Ilroy again. They followed the Guild Master through the room, and he led them farther and farther in. It turned out this room was much larger than Sertius had imagined. They stopped in a clearing, surrounded by many trees. John touched a tree, and after a moment the roots began change. They sprouted up from the ground and joined with branches that grew from the tree’s side, forming a seat for the old man. He sat down very slowly and carefully, as if afraid that one wrong move would have dire consequences. For a man that old, maybe it would. The man had access to very powerful magic, no doubt, but he was physically weak. Ilroy just stood, and Sertius stood as well. “Well?”, she asked, getting impatient. “You know something.”, the old Guild Master said, after a few seconds. He said it very quietly and slowly. “I know many things, in fact.” “You know something important. Very important. Tell me.” “What makes you believe that?” “Why did you come here? You came to the land for some reason. And it was not in order to help us bring down a city of eighty thousand people.” “You don’t think I would kill that many people?” “Quite the opposite, in fact. I think you plan to kill more people than that. Tell me what you were planning.” “No.” “So you were planning something.” “I never said that.” “Oh, but you don’t need to. Tell me now, or you die.” Sertius had to think about this for a moment. If she died, her plan would die with her. She was the only one who knew it. Even Perdid, who probably knew the most of anyone else, still didn’t know what the flesh of the plan was. But these people obviously needed her for something. They wouldn’t dare kill her, if that were the case. Which it obviously was, since they were even bothering to ask her these questions in the first place. “No.” “No surprise there. Bring the ah. . . hostage, Ilroy.”, John commanded him. Ilroy disappeared into the plants. And returned about a minute later, carrying an unconscious Perdid. “Is she all right?” “She’s perfectly fine. She completely recovered from her sickness.” “Why did you even bother helping her? And why is she unconscious?” “You will not speak unless you are giving me the information that require. Tell me now: Why did you leave the water to come onto land and come to the city of Fosan, and talk to the Growers’ Guild?” “To get vengeance on the city of Fairehelm, by destroying it.” “She’s lying.”, Ilroy told John. “I know.”, the old Guild Master said. “It’s true!” Sertius insisted. She knew she would be stuck, but she had no better idea of what to say. “Tell us now, or she dies.” “If she’s your method for making me talk, you wouldn’t dare kill her.” “Indeed, you are right. That’s the problem with hostages. Well, one hostage that is.” “Yes, and unfortunately, you only have one.” She knew this was in fact no victory for her, and she feared what would come next. “Bring her along.” Ilroy picked Sertius up again, and leaving the room, carried her to a small cage, barely big enough for her. He locked the cage. He also picked up Perdid and put in an identical cage. He then carried the cages and placed them in a small carriage. As he brought her to the carriage, Sertius noticed a similar, but much larger wagon next to it. Their wagon was closed on all sides, making them unable to see out. Ilroy got onto the front of the wagon, she could identify his silhouette against the wall, so she assumed John would be in the other one. The wagon started moving forward, and she heard the other wagon beside them. “Ilroy!”, she called him, by name. She had considered something more like ‘Hey, bastard!’, but she had decided against it. “What.” “Where are we going?” “We are going. . . to Asbthan.”

Chapter 10: The Iron Guild

Their tour of the city drawing to a close, and they headed back to Julian’s house. “It’s my uncle’s house, really.” “His name’s Morgan Sharp, right?” “Yeah, but it’s probably best not to mention that last part.” “What last part?” “‘Sharp’” “His last name? Why shouldn’t I say it?” “It’s a Sword Mage name. You know his experience with the Sword Mages.” “Ah. So, uh, is this a good place to ask about the guilds? You said to wait until there were less people.” “This is as good as any. Ask away.” “So what does the Iron Guild do? What’s their specialty? And same question for the Sword Mages.” “The Sword Mages use magic to manipulate swords. They can use just one, or many sword.” “I saw someone with six swords.” “Yeah, probably a sword mage. But anyways, they can use their magic to propel them through the air, and use them for normal sword fighting, wielding several at a time.” “Wow. What about the Iron Guild.” “The Iron Guild is one of the stranger guilds. Their magic is. . . weird. They can manipulate metals, not just iron. They can change the shape of the metals, and, well, it’s really quite bizarre.” “Is that what your uncle is now?” “No. Like I told you, he’s no wizard of any kind. But does work for a guild. He doesn’t want anyone to know, and he doesn’t think I know. So if I tell you, you’ll have to promise not to tell him, or anyone else.” “Sure. Which guild?” “The Grower’s guild. Their huge enemies of the Iron Guild.” “Oh. Now I can see why you didn’t want me to talk to you about this while we were out in a large group of people.” “Yeah. So what are you going to do now?” “Oh! I hadn’t even thought about that. You thought I was your servant, and you told your uncle that I was a servant. Couldn’t your uncle hire me as a servant?” “I suppose that would work. All of our servants live in the house in the servants’ quarters.” “OK. Let’s just ask him.” “We should be careful, though. You should always be careful around him.” “Why?” “It’s just a good idea to be cautious. He’s can be very clever, in his own way, and very hard to deal with when he sets his mind to something.” When they reached the door of the house, Julian produced a small brass key From his pocket, which hey used to unlock the door. I took a few moments and a lot of jiggling to unlock it, and almost more strength that the young boy had to open it. Jalben wondered how the boy had managed to get through the door when he was any younger and weaker than he was now. He didn’t ask, though. Julian led him back through the hallways of the house that Jalben assumed he must have use before, when they left it that morning, but he didn’t remember the old ones or recognize the new ones at all. The house looked big on the outside, but not quite so big as it seemed from the inside. They passed many doors as they went through the hallways. It seemed to take several minutes to navigate to where Julian’s uncle was. When they found him, he was sitting in a small room at a desk, scribbling on a piece of paper with a pen, filled with blue ink. The man resembled Julian closely, but fatter, taller and with no hair. Jalben wondered why the room was so small if the house was so big. Were all the rooms this size? If they were, there must be hundreds. Julian spoke to his uncle politely. “Uncle, may I have moment, please?” “Julian. What is it.” “This is Jalben. He would like to work a servant here.” “Hm. I just happen to have need for a new servant. Is he from this Fairehelm.” “Uh. . . no. He’s not from the island.” Jalben thought that was actually a good way to describe, since he knew basically nothing about the island and it’s cities. “Very good. You may leave, Julian. Stay here, Jalben, was it.” Julian walked curtly from the room, turning left into the hallway. “Yes. My name is Jalben, sir.” The uncle had a strange of asking questions. It seemed like he didn’t actually ask them, he just stated them. Was like he wasn’t asking a question; he was telling you to give him a piece of information. “Right. You shall live in the servants’ quarters, and be served food each day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Besides that, you shall be paid ten silver coins each week.” Why did Julian seem to dislike his uncle so much? He seemed friendly enough. “Um. . . alright.” He really didn’t know how much money was worth. They didn’t use money in his village, but he understood how it worked, he just didn’t know how much a silver coin was worth. Jalben had bought an apple in the market for four copper pieces. . . no, that was two apples, so each one was two copper pieces. How much were copper pieces compared to silver pieces. He knew silver was generally worth more. Did this mean there were gold pieces too? “Do you have any possessions to move to your new room.” Jalben had completely forgotten where he was, he was so deep in thought. That seemed to happen to him more than he would like. “I only have this pack, here on my back, sir.” “Hm. You one week until your work starts.” “Do I get the rooms and food until then?” “Yes, yes.” “Where should I go to get my stuff?” “Dern.” “What?” Jalben didn’t know what he was talking about. Suddenly a man was standing next to Jalben. He must have been standing behind the door. He was tall and lean, wearing all grey. He wore a strange hat, a circle of grey metal with about ten metal spikes hinged on it. The spikes were all balanced upon one another above the center of his head, and it looked like one wrong movement from the man, and they would become unbalanced and hinge outwards. Indeed, the tall man seemed to walk very carefully, but most certainly not slowly, for when the man beckoned Jalben, he followed, but had to struggle to keep up with him. “Uh, what is your hat? They don’t have those where I am from.” “They don’t have them where anyone is from. I am the only owner of one of these. I hoped you would ask.” He reached up with one hand and grabbed the ring. He held out the index finger of his other hand and placed the ring around the finger. “Watch this.” With his first hand, the man reached inside his shirt and pulled out three apples. Jalben didn’t see how there could have been any room for apples. Something was certainly strange about this man. He threw the apples in the air. On his other hand, he had started spinning the ring faster and faster. The spikes pointed outwards in all directions now. The man released the ring, and it sliced each of the three apples neatly in half. The ring got within a few feet of Jalben, and he could hear a whirring noise. The blade embedded itself into the wall, and then went limp when the spinning stopped. “Wow. That was impressive.” He was impressed. Wait a minute. . . “You’re just a Sword Mage, aren’t you?” “Pah! Of course not. They are fools. Using magic to do what cannot be done normally, I can tolerate, but they use magic for mere sword fighting, which can be done without it. It makes me sick. I don’t magic to be strong. What I just did there was a weak throw. I once killed a twenty foot aurochs with one throw.” Jalben didn’t know what an aurochs was, but he didn’t want to sound stupid, so he didn’t way anything. The walked to the wall where his hat had imbedded itself, pulled it out, and continued walking, Jalben struggling to keep up behind him.

Chapter 11: You Win

The carriages had stopped on the shore of the island next to Asbthan and Fairehelm. Perdid had been left in her cage in the carriage, but Sertius had been brought out to the shore. Ilroy picked up her cage and placed it in a small boat, barely big enough to hold the cage. He pushed the boat out into the water. What the hell are they doing? They no doubt had some plan, she knew, but she hadn’t the slightest idea what it was. He boat drifted out into the water, pulled by the wind. Farther and farther it drifted. It reached where she knew the edge of her city was. She knew the city guard would no doubt act soon, assuming it to be a human boat, though it was strange for just one boat to be out alone. Sure enough, as she floated deeper over where her city was, a spear was thrust through the bottom of the boat. It clanged against the steel of her cage. The next spear missed her cage but still punctured the boat. The water started rushing in. This was their tactic. With a boat this small, they needed only one good hole to sink it, so they backed off after that to avoid further injury. Indeed, the boat sunk quickly with the weight of her and her cage. As they fell through the water, the boat flipped away and floated back up to the surface, but her cage continued falling. The Merlocks quickly realized who it was in the cage, and rushed to help. One well-placed thrust from the spear of a strong Merlock was enough to burst the lock. When Sertius swam out unharmed, the Merlocks cheered and grabbed her, carrying her back to the palace. Was very tired, having gotten scant rest in that horrible cage, and quickly went to sleep, forgetting about everything else.


She must have slept less than an hour, because she certainly didn’t feel rested, and the people were still practically cheering about her return. Why were they so happy? The two other groups of Merlocks she was with must have come back to the city, bringing word of her death. She wasn’t quite sure why she had awoken, but then she heard another shout. “Wizards are attacking! Powerful wizards! Wake the Queen!” “Wake up, my lord.”, said a quieter, softer voice, nearby. “I’m awake, I’m awake.” She looked to find that the voice came from one of the Merlocks that had come with her to Fosan. “We had thought you dead, my lord. We searched for two days, but gave up and came back here to bring the news.” “What about the wizards?” “Yes, uh there seem to be some wizards attacking the city. They are controlling the seaweed, and using it to kill innocent people.” “How bad is it?” “There’s probably already a hundred dead.” “What?” She grabbed two knives, and pushed past the Merlock and out the door to her room. She ran as fast as she could down the hallway, and out the palace into the water. She swam through the water, as fast as she possibly could. She could already smell the blood running through the water. She kept swimming. She could see the blood now. She kept swimming, closer and closer, faster and faster. Now, she could hear the screams of the innocent Merlocks being killed. She kept swimming, drawing nearer. Now she could see the Merlock children and men being torn apart by tentacles of seaweed. She could see about a dozen humans, peeking over the side of a boat, floating far above, at the surface. Up there, everything seemed so serene, and from above the water, it would have seemed as though nothing were amiss. She saw a young boy Merlock child run out of a house, pursued by a slime green tentacle of seaweed. The child ran past her, and tried to hide behind her, but the tentacle grabbed the child by the ankle and dragged her back. Sertius drew a knife and sliced the tentacle grabbing her ankle, severing about two feet of it. The rest drew back, and the lunged for the child again. Drawing the other knife in her other hand, sliced the tentacle into several pieces, and hacked it back and back, all the way to where it sprouted from the sand. Then she heard a scream from behind her. She turned, to see the Merlock child attacked by another tentacle. It wrapped around the child’s waist, lifting her into air, and then the end of it curled around the child’s arm. With a sickening crack, it wrenched the arm right out of the socket, blood spilling through the water. Sertius swam for it as fast as she could, but the tentacle drew backward, taking the child with it. It ripped off the young Merlock’s other arm and both of his legs. It cast the body back to the water, to die. She knew what she had to do. She swam up to the boat, prepared to hack against any tentacle that tried to stop her, but none seemed to fight her. She swam up to the surface, surfacing right next the boat. She lunged out of the water at the first man she saw, John Forest. But was pulled back by a tentacle of seaweed that caught around her foot. Another and another grappled her, pulling away her weapons, and bringing her up above the water, holding her there. “Stop! Stop!”, she cried, “Stop the madness down there!” “We just did.”, replied John. “What do you want?” “Tell me why you came on to the shore.” “All of this is just about that? Why is it so important to you.” “That is not your concern right now. Answer my question. Or I kill another hundred of your precious citizens. Answer me quickly, or else.” She could think of a lie fast enough. She might have to tell the truth. No, wait that was good lie. “I. . . uh-” “Too slow. You were obviously going to lie.” “No, I-” “Another lie.” A Merlock was drawn above the water for Sertius to see. Several tentacles forced themselves down the unfortunate Merlock’s throat. She started to choke. Then, the tentacles started pulsing and the woman tried to breath, and suddenly her body exploded, the tentacles ripping her apart form the inside. She could even scream. One tentacle grabbed one of het eyes, and placed it in John’s hand. He crushed it between his fingers. “Tell me the truth.” She did, talking as quickly as she could, hoping to avoid the deaths of any more Merlocks. “When my mother died, she gave me a note. It said that the island was made using magic, long ago. Where it is now was the home of over a million Merlocks, living on the sea floor. There is an object, a place, something, somewhere on the island. If it is destroyed, the island will sink back into the water.” “Perfect. Perfect.” “What? How does that help you.” “You shall see, you shall see.” Ilroy picked grabbed her and pulled her into the boat. The seaweed pushed them quickly back to shore.

Chapter 12: Boom Working for Morgan sharp wasn’t bad, Jalben soon realized. The other servants all seemed to complain a lot, only when Morgan was around, of course, but it didn’t seem so bad to Jalben. He wasn’t sure if this was just because they were just complaining, or if he was actually being treated better. Of coarse, he hadn’t actually started working yet. Maybe that was why he was happier, although it wasn’t their jobs that the other servants complained about. They mostly didn’t like the pay, or didn’t like their small rooms, or didn’t like the food. He didn’t start working until about two weeks later, when he started handling large, heavy boxes. Small carriages would pull up to the storage of the house, and he would unload them from the carriages, and stack them up. Six or seven would come each night, and the next night three, much larger carriages would pull up the next night, and he would have to load them all back up again. Strangely enough, he would work only at night. His boss had also forbid him from looking in any of the boxes. He didn’t really care, though, and although he often got very curious, he assumed that there would be some sort of magic watching him, or something like that, so he never looked inside. He wondered why Morgan had chosen him for this job. Why had he needed another servant? He already had many others. The curiosity about this question was growing, he had to know the answer. He hadn’t talked to Morgan for days; he had his orders and he followed them out. Since he always had to work at night, he had sort of rotated to a nocturnal schedule. But today, he stayed up late through the day, hoping to encounter Morgan during his usual hours, which Jalben knew he would could be found in his office. While he was walking from the servants’ quarters to Morgan’s office, he encountered Dern, walking the opposite direction, carrying a slip of paper. The man looked quite grim, but he was always friendly to Jalben. “Where you going, lad?”, Dern asked Jalben when he saw him walking that way. “Aren’t you supposed to be sleepin’ right now?” “I, uh I need to ask Morgan something.” “What? Maybe I can help you, lad.” “Uh, no, only he knows the answer.” He wanted to be careful, he was afraid that Dern wouldn’t let him pass if he knew that his question was of much practical importance. “Ok, lad, but be careful. Don’t go poking your nose in places where it doesn’t belong. Some nasty things can happen that way.”, Dern warned, but he let Jalben pass by. Jalben knew that the man was not merely trying to scare him, but he took little note the words. He continued to Morgan’s office. He knocked lightly on the door. Ne reply came. He knocked harder, fearing that Morgan would be out for some reason. But when he knocker harder, louder, and answer did come. “Some in.” He stepped in to the room. “What is it, boy?” “Uh, I have a question, sir.” He had been so sure before, but now he was getting a little nervous about it. “Well? Be quick about it.” “Well, uh, why did you pick me to do this work? You already have plenty of other servants, don’t you?” “Listen, boy. What you’re doing, and why you’re doing it, is my business. You should just focus on the work itself. You should focus on how you’re going to do it. Alright?” “Uh. . . alright, sir.” This man was obviously hiding something. Did he think that Jalben was so stupid he could not realize that? Jalben turned and walked out the door. “Oh, and one more thing.”, Morgan said, before Jalben was out the door. “What, sir?” “This job was out of pity, so don’t go wasting what you’ve got. You better be careful, if you don’t want to end up in big trouble.” That last part Jalben definitely didn’t doubt, but the man’s first sentence was an obvious lie. Pity? Hardly likely.


“Yes, odd. Very odd indeed.”, said Julian. Jalben had asked him what he thought about the things that had been going on. Jalben had come to talk to him, and they had gone out of the house to avoid any detection or possible spying. “And you still don’t know what’s in these mysterious boxes?” “No, your uncle told me not to look in them.” “And you just listened?” “Well, yeah. I didn’t want to get into any sort of trouble.” “Didn’t want to get into any sort of trouble? And yet you were willing to ask him why he had chosen you to his face?” “Are you making fun of me?” “No. So anyways, we need to find out what’s in these boxes.” “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” “Oh yeah, of course. You know, a teacher of mine once said that knowledge is power.” “What does that even mean?” “It means that information is useful. It can be a tool, a weapon, a shield. Knowledge makes you stronger.” “How can it make you stronger? That makes no sense.” “Ugh. Not physically stronger, metaphorically stronger. More powerful.” “Oh yes, ‘metaphorically’.” “You got a problem with that word?” “No. But, uh, why do you think he might have chosen me for this particular job?” “It is quite and interesting question. I think I have theories.” “What are they?” “Maybe he thinks you’re to stupid to understand what’s going on.” “Hey! Why would he think that?” “Well you are a bit uneducated, compared to him or me. And you’re effectively not from the island, like you told him. So that means you know even less about important affairs.” “Well, I suppose so. But do I really come across as that stupid?” “Not really. But my uncle has always sort of looked down on uneducated, poor people.” Jalben was starting to like that man less and less. “So, uh, how are we gonna look in these boxes?” “Oh, that’s easy. When do they usually bring them?” “1 pm.” “Wow, that’s late. Why would they bring them so early?” “I dunno. Where do you suppose they’re shipping them from?” “Good question. If they were shipping them from far away, maybe they leave there early, and only get here that late.” “Yeah, I guess that makes sense.”


Julian waited with Jalben for the box carrier to come. They stood in the doorway, looking out for the carriage that they knew would soon pull up. They only peeked out occasionally, because it was raining quite hard, so they preferred to stay inside as much as possible. “So, what are you actually planning to do when the guy gets here?” “So, since I think you might be right about the warehouse being monitored magically, we’ll have to bypass that.” “Yes, but how?” “So, we’ll start to load all of the boxes normally, but much more slowly. Then, we’ll continue to load all of them, except the last one. That one we’ll leave in the warehouse. Then, when the guy leaves, we’ll bring it outside and examine it.” “But it’s raining. What if that damages the contents?” “Unlikely. I don’t think these boxes are waterproof anyway, they must not care if it gets wet.” “I guess so.” Then, the carriage pulled up. The driver was a fat, round man with a short beard. He was mumbling something unintelligible under his breath. Jalben started loading the boxes, but slowly. Julian tried to help, but was not nearly strong enough to lift them. Jalben loaded all of them, except for the one. The driver didn’t seem to notice there was one short. How could he? There were more than a dozen boxes. Jalben never bothered to count them, but he figured there wasn’t even always the same number. The carriage pulled away down the road, and when it got out of sight, he picked up the and remaining box and carried it outside. He placed it on the wet stone edge of the road. “How are we going to open it?” It was sealed on all sides with no opening, hatch, or door. “I’ve got a knife.” “How will a knife help? A knife can’t cut through this wood, unless it’s super sharp.” “We can use it for prying.” “OK, where is it?” “Here” Julian passed him the knife. Jalben stuck it into a slit between two pieces of wood. He pulled as hard as he could, trying to pry out one of the pieces of wood. It was lifting up just a little, so he pushed with all his might, hoping to get break it off. Unfortunately, the knife snapped first. “Uh. That didn’t work.” “Hm. I wonder if we have some sort of metal pry bar.” “Why didn’t you just look for one of those before?” “It wasn’t as easily accessible.” “And you thought that a knife would work to pry apart thick wood?” “I didn’t know how thick the wood is. And you thought it would work too!” Then, they heard the sound of footsteps behind them. “Quick! We need to hide.”, he whispered to Jalben. Jalben picked up the box and followed Julian, who ran around the house, between it and the next house, a gap barely big enough for him to get the box through. They ran through the passage, back behind the house, and into a small shack. “What is this place?”, Jalben asked. “It’s an old hut. You see, it’s not really quite on anyone’s property, so no one bothers to tear it down.” It was only one room, with one door, four chairs, two beds, and a table. Jalben set the box down on the floor. “So how will we open it now?” “Oh, there’s a pitchfork over in the corner there.”, Julian said, pointing. “It may work as a pry bar.” Jalben picked is up and tried to use it to pry the pieces of wood apart. But it didn’t work. The pitchfork was to think to even fit into the slits between the boxes. “Why would they make it so hard to open?”, Jalben wondered aloud. “Maybe they’re going to use it as a building material.”, he thought, also aloud. “I don’t think so. It’s probably just something important. Maybe it has to be opened with magic. Actually, I think I’ll try just that.” “Is there some sort of opening spell or something?” “Yeah.” Julian picked up the pitchfork in one hand, and started at it for a long moment. Then, his finger squeezed it harder, and it melted between his fingers. The liquid metal seemed not to harm him. It dripped down, but when it hit the floor it disappeared, creating a strange grey smoke. The smoke swirled, concentrating around his other hand, solidifying into a small metal lump. It was perfectly round. He touched it to the box, and one single piece came un-nailed. The nailed just came loose. Julian pulled out the piece, throwing it aside. They both peered into the box. It was full of a strange white powder. Julian picked up a handful of it, and looked at it closely. He smelled it. “What is it?”, Jalben asked him. “I’m not sure, but I think it may be explosive.” “Explosive?” Suddenly, Jalben remembered that terrible day, when the wizard’s house had exploded in thousands of pieces, taking the mob of villagers with it. He remembered running, sprinting as fast as he could from the house, just trying to get away. He was barely able to control his panic now. And Julian didn’t even seem to notice. Julian lit a candle and placed it on the table. He took a pinch of the powder and tossed it at the candle, backing away to the other side of the room, where Jalben was. He missed. He took another pinch, and threw it again. This time, it landed on the candle, and instantly exploded with bang. It completely destroyed the candle, and left a charred hole through the table. “Wow, that stuff’s strong.”, he commented. But it was too much for Jalben. He kept remembering the explosion of the wizard’s house. He remembered just trying to run, to get away. He did that now. He ran as fast as he could, to get away. As he ran, heard Julian shout. “Wait! Come back! Lift the box!” That brought Jalben back to his senses. Then, Julian came running out, and seconds later, the shack exploded. Now, Jalben knew, was the time to run. He ran back to the house, and crept back to his room as stealthily as possible. He hoped that Julian would make it back to his room without getting caught.

Chapter 13: War

“What is your plan, you Bastard?”, Sertius spat the words at Ilroy. “Why should I tell you?”, he replied. “You’ve already destroyed my town, my reputation, ruined my body. Will you deny me this too?” “Yes. And, what about your body?” “I know what you did. Whatever spell it was that you put on me to stop my body from drying out, it also stopped me from living in the water for more than a few hours. I did not realize it then, because I had more important things to think about, thanks to you, but now I do.” “It was no spell, technically. It was a potion which I mixed into you drink.” “Spell or potion, you think I care, traitor?” “What’s with all the insults suddenly, little fish? I am no traitor. I never agreed to help your cause. And you had better watch your tongue when dealing with you captors.” “Why do you keep me, now? Have I not fulfilled your purpose?” “Oh, my plan has more to it than you know.” “You should hope so. ’cause otherwise it sucks.” “Do you want to know why I came here?” “Yes.” “Well, I will not tell you my plan, but I will tell you what everyone will soon know.” “What?” “There is war. Between the Merlocks and the guilds.” “What? Why?” “The Merlocks seek to sink the Island. But together, the guilds can fight for the safety of the island as a whole.” “You told them? Why? How does this help you?” A smile crept slowly across his face. “You do not need to know. But I do have other work for you.” He unlocked the cell, and grabbed her by the arms, pulling her out. “We don’t even know where the thing is.” “Ah, but we do. And it is said that the Merlocks do too.” “But we don’t.” “You will soon.” He pulled out a map of the island, and pointed to a city labeled Chroma in at the north of the island. “Chroma. That is the city we are in now.” H grabbed her and pulled her with him as he walked outside the building. He brought her to another building, labeled with the Growers’ Guild emblem. They went inside, and she realized it was the same building where she had met John Forest, the building filled with plants. Just as before, the room seemed to go back forever. “This room goes back a long way, spiraling underground. It is the place you were looking for.” “Why are you telling me this?” “Why do you care? You have the information you need.” “I have the information that you’ve given me. Why should I even believe it’s correct?” “Yes, well, unfortunately, we had to give out the correct information, because many guilds are doing rigorous testing to on the site.” “Ah. So what do you want of me?” The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a rock, engraved with some markings that Sertius didn’t understand. With his other hand, he pulled out a blue and a green gemstone. He clapped his hands together, opening them. The gems and the stone were gone, but one of the hands glowed with green light, and the other with blue. The two colors mixed, and he wiped his hands, spraying the color off through the air. The light melted into Sertius’s skin. She didn’t feel anything, but then the strange symbol from the stone appeared on her chest. “What did you do!” “I suppose you could call it a curse. If I see fit to have you die, you will die. I shall also grant this power to John Forest, and several other trusted members of the Growers’ Guild. Additionally, if any magic is detected trying to deactivate it, it will inform me and the others instantly. Also, it allows us to monitor all of your actions and gives us your location.” “Why? If you saw to kill me, why cannot you just do so?” “Because we are setting you free.” “What? Why?” “To continue your plan.” “Why would you do that?” “So you may continue your plan.” “I still don’t understand how that helps you. You’ve informed everyone, which practically insures the failure of my plan, and of course you don’t want it so succeed, but if that was all you wanted, you would have just killed me.” “Perhaps you will never know. You may go now.” She walked slowly away, down the street. She remembered his map. This city was at the northern part of the island, but not quite on the coast. Her city was practically directly west of the island. She didn’t have any money, or anything, at all. How was she supposed to get back to her city? Surely Ilroy would help her, but she was not about to run back to him and ask for the help of the Grower’s Guild now. Then she realized something else. She was a Merlock. Apparently, it had just been declared that Merlocks were fighting the Guild, well, basically everyone on the island. Perhaps she would have to ask for Ilroy’s help again, as much as she didn’t want to. Then, a man spotted her. “Hey! It’s a Merlock! Kill it!” A man near her backed away in disgust, and people started calling for help. She ran, back to Ilroy, and most people moved out of her way, afraid of her. She spotted Ilroy and ran up to him. “Help! These people will kill me!” “Huh.”, He said, with an evil grin on his face. She hoped he was not going to laugh. “It’s alright, people. I work for the Growers’ Guild. This one is a hostage.” People almost stopped, for a moment, but then one called out, “Kill it!”, then others joined in the chant, “Kill it! Kill it! Kill it!” “No. I need to interrogate it, in private. Do not worry, it will not escape.” He picked her up under one arm and carried her back into the Growers’ Guild building with the great plant room. When they were inside, he put her back down. “I did not think of that.”, he said. “We will have to bring you back to the coast by your city, and release you there.” “Why were they so hostile?” “Well, you are officially at war with them, now. However, you are sort of right?” “Huh? How so?” “People in this town have always been hostile towards Merlocks. They are considered fish, and are hunted as such. This is the town where me and my brother grew up. That explains his behavior that day that he died. This practice of hunting, has, in fact, been spreading. Fairehelm had a shortage of food this year, thanks to a fierce battle between the sword mages and the wild whisperers, one of their main suppliers of food. That is why the hunted Merlocks.” Hunting Merlocks. . . for food? That was why my mother died? They shall pay for this. They shall all pay.


“We’re almost at the shore, fish.” “So, what exactly will happen if I stay in the water too long with this potion on my skin?” “Hm? Oh, it doesn’t matter. That stuff will come of with rigorous scrubbing.” “Ah.” “Here we are.” She hooped out of the carriage, and ran for the water. Over to her left, she saw the city of Fairehelm, some ways off in the distance. She ran into the water, but it didn’t fell as good as she had imagined it would have felt. It must just be this potion on me. She swam through the water, bearing directly for her city. It took her no more than ten minutes to reach it. She swam down through the water, landing in front of her palace. She walked in, the guards bowing to her, and she headed to her chambers. She would wash herself right away. When she was done, completely convinced that she had removed all of the stuff from he skin, she left her palace in order to determine the damage to the city from when the wizards attacked. She swam through the unharmed areas, into the area of the attack. It did not take long. She could see many dead bodies still floating up above at the surface. It seemed as though the destruction to the city itself was quite little, but the deaths were far more significant. Then, she heard a shout form behind her. “There’s a messenger for you, my lord!” “What? From who?”, She turned, to see a young Merlock man walking towards her. “She didn’t say, my lord.” The man stopped, now that he had given his message. “Where is she?” “She waits in your palace, and she said she wishes to speak to you only, in private.” “Very well.” She walked back to her palace, thinking about what this messenger might want.


Sertius and the messenger were sitting privately in a small room, lit from the light shinning through the glass ceiling above. “I come bearing news from lord Moshow.” Sertius remembered the lord Moshow. He was a very large Merlock, especially for a male, and lord of several cities northwest of the island, and the only male Merlock lord she knew of. “What is the news, messenger?” “Having heard of your plan, he wishes to offer you assistance in whatever form you shall need it. When the island falls, she asks only that he would have the territory of the northwestern corner of the island, and that you may keep the rest for your own people.” “My people do not need more water. The water shall be open to any Merlocks who wish to live there. And he may be lord of the northwestern corner, but she must follow the rules that all who enter my land must. He may be lord of her own realm, but she must bow to me as the king of the Fallen Land.” She liked the sound of Fallen Land. “The Fallen Land, Lord?” “Yes. That is what it shall be called. Now, you go and tell your lord Moshow that I shall gladly accept any support he may give me, and that he shall have the water territory he wants, if he accepts my terms. Also, he must come here himself next time, to swear to me.” “What kind of help shall you be needing, Lord?” “She shall have that information once he agrees to my terms, understand?” “Yes. May I sleep here for the night, so that I may return to lord Moshow in the morning.” “Of course.” Sertius walked from the room, thinking about what her next course of action would be. She had to remember that Ilroy was always watching her, and could end her life at any moment. No one had commented on the mark on her chest, but she supposed that was just grace and courtesy. She didn’t doubt that it would be easy to get someone to remove it, but then Ilroy would know, and undoubtedly kill her. What she was doing must help him some way, but she couldn’t imagine how. There were really two reasons that she hadn’t told the messenger what sort of support she would need. The first was the reason that she had said; she didn’t want Moshow to know her plans if she couldn’t trust him yet. But the second reason was that she didn’t yet know, what her plans were, herself. What would be the best course of action to take? It seemed as though they would force her to use military force at this point, for sneaking which had been her original would be impossible. But a military conflict would certainly lead to a crushing defeat, without even the slightest damage to her enemies, at least with the forces from her city. There were several other Merlock lords that she knew would come to her aid, and a few more that she hopes would. It would be the benefit of all of them to see this island destroyed, and her being lord of the Fallen Land wouldn’t hurt them, if they took her side. But a military conflict on land would be a disaster. An army of Merlocks couldn’t last long on land, and most would probably have never even been on land before. But she couldn’t think of another way to do it. No doubt Ilroy couldn’t think of a better way either. The was probably preparing the guilds to fight the Merlocks in just that sort of battle. Chapter 14: The Wizard

“Was that really that impressive?”, Jalben asked. “It was. The explosion destroyed the entire shack, and the area it could have effected was even bigger.”, Julian answered. They were sitting in a little shop in the city. Jalben was eating some bread and Julian was drinking tea. “But couldn’t you use magic to create a larger explosion quite easily.” “Maybe, but magic would have to be use detonate the powder.” “So? This was obviously created using magic.” “It didn’t have to detonated using magic. Anyone could have a crate of that stuff and blow up an entire building. And since it takes no magic to detonate, you could have a thousand crates of that stuff all in place, and detonate them with a single spark. It could destroy an entire city, probably.” “An entire city, of eighty thousand people!” “Indeed.” Julian sipped some tea from a cup. “We’ve got to tell someone!” “Who can we tell? There’s no one.” “Isn’t there some sort of city leader? Some lord?” “Ha! Only the guilds rule on this island. And which one can we go to.” “Either one, it doesn’t matter. Something has to be done.” “There’s one problem.” “What?” “Who are you going to tell?” “It doesn’t matter.” “Yes, it does. Pick one.” “Ok, what if I tell the Iron Guild.” “Then, they find that my uncle is guilty, the kill him, and me too.” “Then you can come with me, and be helping to tell them.” “Ah, but I am a Sharp. They will recognize me and take action against me, if they get any chance worth their time.” “Ok, then we tell the Sword mages.” “That’s not any better. They wanted me to be the next great Sword Mage Guild Master. There’s no way out.” “So what can we do?” “Nothing. There’s no way out.” “But what about the explosive powder? What if someone is planning to destroy the city?” “That is unlikely.” “Oh, yeah. . .They wouldn’t need to leave them at your uncle’s warehouse if they were just gonna bring it somewhere else in the city.” “My uncle’s warehouse!” “Yeah, what?” “Why would he help the Merlocks? He works for the Grower’s Guild!” “Oh yeah. Aren’t they the main opposition of the Merlocks?” “We’ve go to get to place more private.” Julian threw some coins on the table, and walked out the door quickly, but didn’t quite run. Jalben followed, matching the boy’s pace. It was dark outside, the sky grey, but with no rain, however, it seemed enough to keep people off the streets. The fact that it was night and that this was not a main street seemed to help to. “What was that about?”, Jalben asked him. Of course, he didn’t feel like he was one to judge people for attacks of panic. “Why would my uncle help the Merlocks?” “Maybe he doesn’t know it’s them?” “I don’t think so.” “I knew you hated him. But if he works with Merlocks. . . you don’t have to think of him being that way, not you own uncle.” “So what if he’s my uncle? It is what it is.” Suddenly, just as he finished his phrase, Julian coughed, choked, and spat out blood. He fell to his hands and knees, then his strength faded, and he slumped down on the road, limbs sprayed out around him. Jalben reached down and picked up the boy. His chest was still from breathing. Jalben checked his pulse. The was nothing. What just happened? Did I do this, somehow? He couldn’t control his limbs, he ran, he just ran, in the direction that he was facing. He darted around people, dodged carriages, and circumvented buildings. He eventually reached the wall of the city, and turned left, following them around. He kept running, and all the events of the past month filled his head. He remembered the explosion of the wizard’s house. The dead bodies in the river. He remembered the body that followed him down the river, continuing to chase him even after he had escaped. He remembered the second explosion, of the shack behind Julian’s house. Julian. . . He remembered the boy’s body, fallen to the ground, dead. He ran out through the open gates to the city, past the guards, who barely seemed to notice him, and didn’t seem to care at all. He continued his journey out into the woods, up and down a small hill, over a root, across a path, across a road, he kept going, until he was completely lost. Ha no idea which way he had gone, but it didn’t matter. He kept running. He must have run for hours. He just kept going, at this point he didn’t even question what he was doing. Then, a dark shadow passed over him, and words swam into his head like they had that day when the wolf had walked off the cliff. A game is no fun without a sporting chance. And the god cares not for games without fun. Jalben looked up, and saw a giant black dragon flying above him. It folded its wings, and landed about a hundred feet away with a loud swooshing sound and the sound of trees snapping under the weight of the colossal beast. Come here, little thing., The voice said through his mind. I will not harm you. Jalben felt a strange desire to obey the voice, and come closer. Was there anything he could do if a dragon wanted to kill him anyway? He walked closer, and saw as the dragon cleared out a space within the trees with its might arms and legs. “Hello?”, He tried to project his voice as much as could, but even that seemed tiny before the might of this dragon. You need not talk. Just think, as the god does. He tried to think, sending the words to the dragon. Are you the god? I was once. Then what happened? I grew old, and my power left me. Even now, my power is weakening. Soon I shall live no more. But I will do what I can. Do what you can for what? For this island, Cenes. I built this island, I’ll have you know. You built it? Yes. I used magic to tear it from the depths of the ocean. It took an enormous amount of power. Are you the one who saved me from the wolf? Yes, that was my work. But that is the most of my abilities, now. But you are in the form of a dragon! Doesn’t that take a lot of magic. No, you see, a dragon was my original form. Back when I first lived, they hunted dragons all around the world. So me and many other dragons left the lands of humans and fled to the wild lands. But I knew my magic would be great, and I would not let this stop me. All of the great wizards were humans, so I transformed myself into a human, and walked among them, learned from them. My magic grew, until it surpassed all others, even the great human wizards. My knowledge grew along with my power, and all others seemed foolish to me. Their ignorance chased me, and once more I fled the lands of humans. I knew the wild lands would offer me no respite now, so using my great power, I wrenched the floor of the opens up, creating a new island. Not surprisingly, humans followed me even there. I knew I could not run from the humans forever, so I used my power to inflict pain upon all those who said foolish things. All who said foolish things? Yes. Watch your mouth, for one wrong word on this island can cost you your life. Such is the price for incurring my wrath, even that of long ago. Long ago? If you made this island, how old are you? This island must be thousands of years old. I’ve heard that dragons live long, but not this long. My power was so great, I found the secret to immortality. The magic holds in my body even now, but it has taken all my power, so I have very little left. I am not able to even hold a human form anymore. But you will what you can, to help the island? Yes. I shall do what I can. Why did you chose to help me, and come to me. What you have told me here is of great importance. Wait. You. . . cast s spell, killing those who would speak foolishly? Yes. You killed Julian! He did, in fact, speak foolishly. I was watching. However, he would not have died there, from what he said. What do you mean? I mean, the spell on caused him pain and injury for what he said. He would not have died. But he did! How? He choked on his own blood, in fact. That’s even worse! Jalben would have to be careful here. He wanted to rip this dragon to pieces, but he knew it could easily crush him with a single step. Also, this dragon seemed to want the island not to be destroyed, since he built it. You never told me why you chose me, of all people. You will be in the right place at the right time. You have the right purpose, and the right will. You are very fit for what will come in many other ways. How do you know this? What will come? There shall be conflict, between the Merlocks and the humans on Cenes. Jalben noticed that the dragon basically brush his first question aside. Everyone knows that, now. There’s going to be war. The guilds are working together to prepare to fight the Merlocks. Together, the guilds hold great power. But everyone says that the Merlocks must have some other plan, they would not be so foolish as to attack a united island. They will have another plan, no doubt. The time for this island will grow short. We must act quickly. Suddenly, the huge creature’s wing came to motion, sending huge bursts of wind downwards and outwards. The creature rose, and picked up Jalben, gently, carefully, in one claw. The dragon rose higher into the sky, carrying Jalben. Where shall we go, young human? We must go to the city Loshar, where the building is. The building that holds the magic that holds up the island. Yes, we shall go there. I remember the way. I remember when I built that tunnel that the building is made from. It goes all the way down to the ocean floor. What do you plan to do there? We have to tell the guild masters about what Morgan Sharp was doing in Fairehelm. They flew for several minutes in silence. Jalben thought it was wonderful being able to look at the landscape from so far up. He could see things in a way that he had never been able to before. They were very high up, above the highest birds. Why do we have to be this high up? Are you scared of this altitude? No, not at all, I was just wondering. Indeed, I don’t have to fly this high, but I though you might enjoy the view. Young dragons always want to fly up high. It is quite fun, but you get bored of it eventually. I assumed you had never flown before, and would enjoy the opportunity to view the landscape from our current height. Yeah, well you were right. It’s quite nice. I can almost match up what I see with what I remember from a map.


Jalben must have fallen asleep, because he didn’t remember seeing Loshar come into view. But there it was, a small patch of brown and grey by the ocean. The dragon was flying low over the trees, to avoided being spotted by people in the city. The dragon then pulled his wings back, and landed is a clearing of trees. His claw with Jalben in it stayed up, as not to crush Jalben. He then slowly, carefully, turned it sideways, placing Jalben on his feet, and released him. Dragon, what is your name? When I was a dragon, I was named Armor. The dragon put an accent on the ‘ar’, so it did not sound like ‘armor’, but more like ‘are-more’. When I was a human I was known as Arthur. I would prefer it if you just called me dragon, though. Why? You have to go now. Time grows short. Jalben knew how to take a hint.

Chapter 15: Enemies

Moshow had arrived earlier that day, but Sertius had been fighting a human raid and hadn’t been able to come back until late in the afternoon. “I am very sorry to keep you waiting, Lord Moshow.” “Lord Sertius. At last we meet, face to face. I haven’t seen you since you were a little girl.” Sertius had almost forgotten that Moshow was that much older than her. Age didn’t show much on Merlocks. “Will you accept my terms, Moshow?” “I will, with one exception.” “What?” Sertius didn’t like where she felt this would be heading. “Once the island falls, I should like to have your city under my rule as well. And that would be, ah, outside the border of what you seem to be calling the Fallen Land.” “Yes, that is indeed what I shall be calling it. And since I shall be ruling it as well, that is what it shall be called. By all.” “So will you agree to my terms?” “Yes. Then it is agreed?” Sertius did not want to do this, but she decided that she would have to. She would need all the help she could get. And if all went well, it would hardly matter who controlled that one city, when she ruled all of the Fallen Lands. She hoped that she could restore the population that to above what it had been before, and already astounding one million Merlocks. Humans somehow fit even more people than that on the island in its current state, with a more than two million current residents. “Yes.”, Moshow replied. “But what kind of help shall you be needing?” “I do not yet know. First, we need as many as we can get to help our cause. I hope that the Three Cities of Irzbeck, Rosham, and Umble will heed my call, but I cannot be sure. Do you know of any others?” “The Farmen will surely help us.” “The Farmen? They refused to help us when the plague struck, and we were starving and helpless. I was not alive, but you were. Do you not remember? It was before your realm was powerful. The only ones who could help us were Farmen. They marched their army straight past us, to help their allies in the Three Cities.” “They may not be on the best terms with Asbthan, but I think I shall be able to get them to join. There are also the Ulbink tribes.” “The Ulbink? They are savages, a divided people. They waste all their time fighting each other. They do not even border Cenes.” “Ah, but they border my cities. I have a plan. If I take a small army and bring it through there, I should be able to conquer the tribes one by one, even though together they would outnumber a small army ten to one.” “Many have tried to conquer the Ulbink before. Any empire ruling over them will not last. It cannot be done.” “Ah, but you see, I will not hope to rule them. I will pick a tribe that I think will be loyal to me, and place them at the top of the new empire. They will be ruled by themselves, but it should be easy enough to get them to fight for me.” To fight for me. Not us. Sertius had noticed slight differences in his choice of words. He would no doubt place himself as being in control of as many of their allies at once. She would have to be very careful, and not give him the chance to gain too much power. Her plan for slowly amassing large numbers of Merlocks in the Fallen Lands after the island suck would only work if they were unopposed until they started expanding their borders. But that would have to wait. It was more important to take down the island first, however she could. If she was unable to do that, nothing else would matter. “Very well, lord Moshow. You do what you can with the Ulbink and the Farmen. I shall get the Three Cities on our side.” “Farewell, my Lord.” And with that, he was off. She watched him depart north, to his realm. She would have to make sure that he did not have total control of his recruited cities. “Perdid!” Perdid had been waiting for her in the front room of the palace. Perdid appeared quickly. “Yes, my lord.” “Send out a messenger to the Maeter, the lord of the Three Cities. Ask hes if she will join me with our goal of sinking this island. Ask her if he will pledge to give me whatever type of help that I require. If she helps us, she shall be given the southwestern corner of the Fallen Land, but for any land that he controls that lies within the Fallen Land, he shall have to bow to me as well, as Queen of the Fallen Land.” “Will that be all, my, uh, Queen.” “You shall also send a message to the Council of the Formen to ask if they will join our cause.” “Will they have any promise of land, my Queen?” “No. I do not intend for them to accept this offer.” “Indeed, I do not think that they will. But why do you send it, then?” “I send it to ensure that they will not accept Moshow’s offer either.” “Doesn’t it help you if he gets more Merlocks on your side?” “He will doubtless find another group to join our cause, without informing me. That is not the problem. The problem is that he is positioning himself to have far too much power among the Merlocks that join us. He had planned to be barely holding onto the Formen, a power that is out of my personal control at this point anyway, and he is planning to form a united Ublink nation that is indebted to him. They were practically the perfect opportunities for him to have complete control over two groups of Merlocks. He hopes to far overwhelm me in terms of followers, but I will have more that just the three cities on my side. You will also send a message to the Lords of the east and west depths. They are sure to join us, and while they are al the way across the island, they would be sure to Moshow’s next choice after the Formen.” “Will that be all?” “Yes. Wait. Where did they go?”, She said, holding up a map she had been looking at. “Who?” “The city of Urborg.” “They were swallowed into the madness of Ublink over a decade ago. Didn’t you know?” “Huh. No, that’s odd, but it doesn’t really matter. Wait, so the land that is considered part of the Ublink has actually grown bigger?” “That is correct. It has grown substantially bigger.” “That could be a problem, if Moshow gets it under his finger.” “It would still help you take down the island. Whatever he is planning, that would have to be part of his goal.” “I hope so. Send the messages. The one to the Formen has to be as fast as possible.”

Chapter 16: Trapped

Jalben wandered through the city, looking for where he might find the leaders of the guilds, or at least the Growers’ Guild. It had been easy to get into the city, but once inside it was way more complicated than he would have liked. All he knew about where to find them was that they often were around the building. The important one, which held the magic to the island. But he didn’t know much about the building. There were many rumors, of course, but they were pretty much all the information he had. Some said it held a great tree, enormously tall, that stretched up to the sky, and touched the ocean floor, supporting the island. Some said it looked just like a normal building, disguised to any who didn’t already know where it was. Some said it was so large it held a full forest. Some said it had a single vine inside, which would strangle anyone who entered unwelcomed. He figured one of them would have to be correct, but maybe not. The dragon had said that it had a tunnel that went all the way down to the ocean floor. What the dragon had said must be correct, though, even if the rumors weren’t. He continued walking through the city, still more of a wander than a real search, because he didn’t know what to look for. He thought he’d just keep his eyes open and look for anything that seemed suspicious. If he saw anything that resembled any of the rumors, he would investigate it more closely. He saw a tall building, very tall, that might hold a enormous tree in it. It was far taller than any building near it. But wouldn’t an enormous tree still need light? It surely couldn’t be inside that building. Maybe they gave it light and energy magically, so it wouldn’t grow weak. The island being supported by a tree seemed sort of worrisome and unlikely, even if it was a giant magical tree, but the idea still seemed kind of cool. Well, he decided he may as well check it out. He walked closer to the building. He noticed it was quite skinny for how tall it was. A tree couldn’t be that skinny, surely. It would need branches. He heard a loud chime coming from above, and looked up at the top of the tower again. He could just make out a bell hanging at the top. Just a bell tower! Well, the place he was looking for certainly wasn’t in there. He kept looking. He wandered down street after street. He saw many ordinary looking building, matching one of the rumors, but he couldn’t very well investigate each one of those. He investigated the largest building he could find, hoping to find a forest, but it took him almost an hour to sneak in, and it was just warehouse. Where was the damned building? What did it look like? He couldn’t even find a Grower’s Guild building to go to ask. Of course, he had tried to ask people, but everyone he had talked to seem to not understand what he was saying. Apparently they spoke a different language. He continued down a street, loosing hope, the sky growing slowly darker as the sun got closer to the horizon, when a man walked up to him and said, “May I help you, sir? You seem a stranger in this fine city.” “Uh. . . sure. You speak the common tongue?” “Oh, of course. Everyone does.” “Really? I tried talking to several people, but they didn’t seemed to understand what I was saying. They seem to speak a different language.” “How odd.”, the man replied. “I’ve don’t know what language that would be. I can’t think of any other languages that are that common in Loshar. But how may I be helping you, sir?” “Where can I find a Growers’ Guild building?” “Wait. First you must pay, kind sir.” “Pay? What? I haven’t got any money.” “No money? Why exactly should I waste my time helping someone who hasn’t any money to pay me with?” The man seemed to be talking to himself more than anyone else when he asked that question. Jalben knew it was unlikely that he would get another chance to get help, so he acted quickly. “Well, I have a nice map.” He pulled out the map of the island that he had brought with him. “A map? Let me see it.” The man snatched the map out of his hand, and stared at it for a moment. Then he threw it back. “That map’s not worth shit. Don’t you got anything better?” Reaching into his pocket, Jalben found the compass that he had used when he had fled his village. “I have a compass.” “Oh?” The man seemed more interested now. But before he could look at it, they were interrupted a pair of men standing several yards away, wearing all grey. “Stop right there, thief.” The man Jalben had been talking to bolted, running the opposite direction from the men. He obviously thought they were after him, but it didn’t seem like that was the case. “I’m no thief.” Jalben simply said. Then Jalben recognized them. They were the men he had tried to talk to, but had seemed to only speak a different language. One of them pulled out a crossbow, and aimed it at Jalben’s chest. “Hold it there, thief.” The other man snickered. “What do you want? I didn’t steal anything.” Jalben insisted. His hand was still in his pocket, clutching his compass. “Take your hand out of you pocket, boy.” the man holding the crossbow said. The other man whispered something to him, inaudible to Jalben. Then he too pulled out a crossbow. “Take your hand out of your pocket, boy. ” he repeated. “We’ve got orders to take you, alive or dead.” The other man kicked him lightly, whispering something else that Jalben couldn’t make out, but it seemed frustrated. Jalben knew what he would have to do. He pulled out the compass, and threw it at the man on the left, aiming for the man’s crossbow. Both the men fired at him; he heard their bows click. But when the man on the left fired his arrow, it collided with Jalben’s compass, and was deflected to the side. Jalben charged forward, toward the man on the left, but the man on the right had fired his crossbow directly at Jalben. The man on the left struggled to reload his crossbow. Was running full speed to the man on the left, but the bolt that the man on the right had fired was heading straight for him. Then, before it hit him, the bolt slowed down. Its speed disappeared, and soon it didn’t even have enough momentum, and it fell to the ground. It must be Armor’s work. But Jalben didn’t have time to think about that now. Jalben crashed straight into the man he was charging for. The man was lighter than Jalben, and fell backwards, letting go of the bow, which he had just loaded. Jalben grabbed the bow, and fired it straight at the other man. The other man was loading his crossbow, and couldn’t have done anything to stop the bolt; but Jalben had missed. Jalben threw the crossbow at the man, just before he had time to fire. The man held up an arm instinctively, to block the blow of the crossbow, giving Jalben just enough time to run at the man, knocking him backwards. The man stumbled, but managed to recover his footing. Jalben snatched the bow out of his hands as he struggled to keep his balance, though, and aimed it at his head. The man held up his hands and cried, “Ok, ok, you win.” But Jalben saw the shadow behind him, and fired the crossbow right in the face of the man he was looking at, and leapt to the side, dodging a blow from the fist of the man behind him. The man whose fist Jalben had just dodged quickly picked up the crossbow that Jalben had thrown, and loaded it. Jalben still had a crossbow, but he had not crossbow bolts to load it with. The man held up the crossbow, aimed right at Jalben’s heart. “Hold it, now.” But Jalben didn’t want to. He held up both of his arms, making an x in from of his chest, and charged at the man. He heard the click of the crossbow and the hiss of the bolt through the air, and when he charged at the man, he started pulling his arms apart to start landing blows. But suddenly his arms couldn’t move. It almost took a second to register, but he felt a sharp, throbbing pain through both his arms. He looked down, and saw his arms still in an x in front of his chest, a crossbow bolt through both of them where they overlapped, and blood pouring from the wound. He must have started bringing his arms apart just in time to stop the force of the bolt, he realized. Had he done one thing differently, the bolt would have been through his heart, right then. The man started at Jalben, wide eyed. He didn’t speak, he didn’t move. Jalben pulled his arms apart, slowly, the pain tearing at his mind. The bolt dislodged from his left arm, but stuck in his right. He then carefully removed it with his left arm. The man started to load his crossbow again, But Jalben was a step ahead of him, having already put the bolt into the crossbow he had. He aimed it at the man’s head. “Drop it.” The man threw the crossbow to the ground. “Drop your bolts, too.” The man did as Jalben instructed, dropping his bag full of crossbow bolts to the ground. “Back up.” As the man backed up, Jalben carefully picked up the other crossbow, the bolts, and the bolts the other man had been carrying. “Who sent you?” “I, uh, we, uh, we were told you stole a-” The man’s voice was shaky with what Jalben assumed was fear. “That’s a lie. Earlier, you pretended you didn’t speak the common language.” “Well . . . that was, uh, we were told not to hurt you, if we were able to, but if we had to, we could . . .” “If you had to? In order to do what, exactly? You know I’m no thief.” “Y-yes, no thief sir, but he told us not to let you find the, uh . . .” “Not to find the what?” “The, uh building where the plants, uh, are.” “Which building? Bring me there.” “The building where the Growers’ Guild . . .” The man seemed to have overcome his fear, finally. It had been getting sort of annoying to Jalben. “The Growers’ Guild! What did they want with me?” Jalben sensed that something was afoot there. “He didn’t say why.” “Who is he?” “I don’t know who, but he works for the Growers’ Guild, I guess.” “Bring me to this building. Now.” “Ok.” The man walked back up the road, the way he had come. Jalben followed. Chapter 17: Allies

“Listen, Perdid. It’s only feasible to have so many allies when you’re fighting in a position like this. The east and west depths have joined, joining me in particular, not Moshow. Plus, we have the Three Cities, also through me. He may surely come with a united Ublink power, and some other Merlock lord that he can convince, but I will have the east depths, the west depths, and the three cities.” “Don’t forget that he has sworn to serve you, and agreed to your terms.” “As if that means anything. Even if he doesn’t decide to openly declare war on me after the Island sinks, he could easily instruct someone to make sure I don’t leave a battle alive, and it will surely seem an accident, that I was merely killed by the foe.” “If he does manage to gain control over the Ublink though . . . they will be quite a powerful nation.” “Indeed, I shall have to be careful. Send messages to the three cities, and both of the depths. Oh, and Moshow too, of course. Tell them that we shall have a meeting, here, of all of the rulers of each different nation. Tell them that it shall be held here, in one week from this day. They will be there.” “Right away, my queen.” “Oh, and they don’t have to be as fast, but make sure they’re secure. I don’t want any of these going astray.” “Yes, my queen.”


Coatl, the ruler of the Three Cities, and the leaders of each of the cities, had shown up for the meeting the earliest. They had arrived the previous day, and chambered in the palace that night. All of the others showed up the following day. The rulers of the East and West Depths, Yosaku and Yumir, came with an escort of soldiers, about a hundred, for each of them. Moshow did, in fact call upon another nation, he informed Sertius, as the Formen had declined his offer. The nation that he had gotten to join them was Lesmois, a kingdom of two large cities and a dozen small villages, north of Moshow’s land, founded and ruled by a merlock named Lesmois. He also informed her that he hadn’t had time to unite the Ublink, but he was working on it currently, and that fighting was surely going on as they spoke. “Not to much fighting, though, I should hope. It would waste resources on both your and their side.” “Yes, of course, my queen.” She had gathered all of them at one table, with her at on end, Moshow to her left, and Coatl to her right. After Moshow was the leader of the West Depths, and after Coatl was the leader of the East Depths. Lesmois sat at the end, and although she didn’t seem to show any displeasure at it, Sertius was sure she must have been brooding inside. “We are gathered here to discuss our plan to bring down the island known as Cenes.”, she declared, “For any who do not know, there is a building in the city of Loshar.”, She said, holding up a map of the island. “This island contains a great magic, the power that holds up Cenes. We need only destroy this building, and the island shall sink back to the ocean, from whence it came.” “Why don’t we just send Merlings to destroy it?”, Asked Lesmois. Sertius answered her, “Well, there’s two reasons: One, they have put up all sorts of defenses, magical and physical, around the city. Two, it can only be destroyed if a large amount of explosive force is applied to it.” “I suggest we smash down the city with a hundred thousand soldiers, and then use our explosive powder to blow the thing back into the ocean!”, Yosaku announced. “They are preparing for that exact king of battle, Yoasaku.” Yumir said. Sertius only listened. It was Coatl who spoke next. “What if we create a huge bomb, a great mass of explosive powder, and drop it onto the building from far above, out of their reach?” “And how exactly would we do that?” asked Lesmois. “We have recently captured a Dragon in one of my cities, the city of Rosham. If we use it to carry the powder, and drop it from above . . .” “One dragon will not be nearly enough to carry all of the powder that we will have to use.” said Sertius. “Oh. I did not know that.” Admitted Coatl. “Obviously.” muttered Lesmois. “What was that?” “Perhaps you should think next time, before you talk, I mean.” “Oh, and I suppose you always know exactly what you’re talking about?” Coatl pulled a sword out from her belt, and held it up in front of her. “Oh, I see,” mused Lesmois. “When she fails with words, she goes straight to the swordplay. How typical.” “Enough!” Bellowed Sertius, with all the voice she could muster, which wasn’t much, due to Merlocks’ small bodies, but it was enough to quiet the lords. “Coatl, Put away your weapon. Lesmois, quiet your mouth. We did not come here to start war amongst ourselves.” Moshow had probably picked Lesmois, or merely instructed her, to act like this, in order to spark conflict. She might be able to address this, and counter it, without formally announcing the problem, however, she thought. “Remember, here, we want to put all other matters aside, for the sole purpose here is for us to work together against the humans on the island. Whatever other conflicts you may have, bag them until this is over. This should be above anything else.” That seemed to settle down the conflict, at least for then. Coatl said, “Well, for starters, no matter what else we are planning, we need to start making the explosive powder.” “I already contacted some allies on land, and am already producing powder and shipping it to them, for storage. I’ve got it covered.” said Moshow, with a sneer. “We have actually recently taken up a large store of it, in the West Depths”, said Yumir. The sneer quickly left Moshow’s face. “Very good.” he said quickly, and coldly. No one other than Sertius seemed to notice his quick changes in facial expression. “Well, we’ll need to bring all of this powder to a more accessible location.” Sertius said. “One of my cities, Quormin, would be the best location, as it is the closest to the city of Loshar.” Said Moshow. “Fine.” Said Sertius, “But we still haven’t solved the main problem here.” “It seems like we don’t have much choice.” Coatl decided. “They way be preparing to defend from exactly this, but I think we will have to fight them on land.” “Agreed!” said Yosaku. Moshow also agreed. But the others were not so sure. “There has got to be another way,” said Lesmois. “Some way more efficient than open war.” Coatl argued, “We don’t need your tricky, deceptive ways, Lesmois.” Whether it was Coatl’s simple argument, or merely the desire to avoid conflict among them, it seemed to convince Yumir. “Fine. Let’s fight.” Lesmois looked to Sertius for help. “I’m afraid the vote has spoken, Lesmois. We fight!” A cheer went up from those six Merlocks. “Rally your forces, and bring them to the city of Quorim. Yumir, I will expect you to have brought all of the explosive powder that you mentioned. And Moshow.” Moshow turned to look at her. “You had better bring a united Ublink nation behind you when you come.” Then, she spoke louder, to the whole group of them. “We shall meet there with all of our forces, in two months time.” Then they started leaving. Sertius sat there, in her chair, just staring, for what must have been at least ten minutes, thinking. Then she remembered that she had important things to do. “Perdid!” She had to wait another minute, but eventually Perdid showed up. “Yes, my queen?” “Why do they follow me?” “What do you mean, my queen?” “I don’t have the largest army, so they cannot fear me. I may have brought the news of the possible destruction of the island to their ears, but that matters little now.” “They need someone to follow.” “It could just as well be Moshow.” “I think your other allies distrust Moshow almost as much as you do.” “Maybe . . . well, I certainly hope so, I hope so.”

Chapter 18: Verdict of the Guilds

The man lead Jalben through the city, often looking back to see if the crossbow was still pointed at him. Jalben had been afraid that people would get alarmed when they was someone pointing a crossbow at someone else, and forcing them to do something, but no one really seemed to care. That actually sort of alarmed Jalben even more. But he had to focus on what he was doing. He wouldn’t have been surprised if the man was actually leading him into some sort of trap. However, the man did seem quite cowardly, so maybe he would just do what Jalben had told him to. Sure enough, the man brought him to what must have been the building he was looking for. It was large and made of glass, and filled with plants. It had the Grower’s Guild symbol painted onto the front of the glass. He addressed the man who had led him there. “You may leave now.” The man hesitated, as though he were waiting for something. Jalben didn’t like the way that seemed. He held up the crossbow again, pointed at the man’s chest. “Leave. Now.” At that, the man turned and ran. Jalben faced back at the doors. There were no guards in sight. He opened one of the doors, and walked inside. When he did, a man stepped out from behind a tree, and pointed a stick at him. Suddenly all the grass on the floor around him started to shake. “Who are you, and what guild are you from?” This man seemed not to be able to tell if he was a wizard, but Jalben could just make it seem like he was. This man was obviously from the Growers’ Guild, so Jalben would have to pick a different guild. “I’m Samuel Scorcher, of the Flame Guild.” “Huh. Never heard of you. You may continue. The meeting’s just straight ahead, just keeping going straight.” Jalben walked forward. “Wait!” The man called. Jalben turned around. “If you’re a flame guildsman, why do you carry a crossbow?” “Oh, I was just hunting some birds, and didn’t want to cause to much commotion, or risk a fire, or anything.” “Why were you hunting birds?” “Oh, just for fun, and to eat them, too.” “But you need to cook them to eat them. And that takes fire. So why didn’t you just use the fire to kill them. It would be more easily controllable for you, too.” “Uh . . .” The man lifted his spear, and the grass around Jalben started to shimmer and flex, but Jalben ran forward, farther into the great room. Just as he thought he had gotten away, and started slowing down, a large tree branch swung out and wrapped around him, lifting him into the air. Smaller shoots coming off of it attacked him, removing his crossbow and the bolts. Then the man appeared again, from out of the plants. “We’ll see what they have to say about you.” The man then walked back the other direction, to the door. The tree branch that was holding him stretched out, moving him further down. Then, it passed him into the branch of anther tree, which then turned, passing him into the branch of the next tree down. The trees proceeded to do this, passing him all the way down, until he found himself in the branches of a very small tree, with his feet in ground, but his arms and legs bound by the tree. He looked around, seeing a circle of several dozen people, sitting in chairs on the dirt, in a clearing. A man approached Jalben and said, “What do you have to say for yourself, trespasser?” “Uh . . . I bring important news for the ears of the guilds?” “Oh, important news, is that it?” The man gave a chuckle. “Listen everyone, this man has some important news.” Nearly all the people turned to look at him. “Uh, do you know of the man, Morgan Sharp?” Many heads nodded. Jalben noticed two people look at each other and grin. One of them seemed to barely contain a laugh.