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Hello Reader!

 

I am the Sooty Author. You may call me Sooty. I am just posting some little tales here for fun. I hope you enjoy them!

❤ Sooty

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Arya of Sundired Hope

Chapter Four:

Prince and the pirate have a discussion. Arya finds a hidden treasure map.

Prince Kogret laid upon the floor of the Black Snow as he recovered himself from the earlier whack to the head from the giant. Prince Kogret held his head as he opened his eyes slowly. The hit had been earned when Prince Kogret had tried to escape into the De Young and warn his father about the pirates. Prince Kogret put away any tears he had to shed and carefully tried to listen to the voice of the giant and an older man.

The two dropped to whisper until at last the giant growled, “Get up boy! We know that your awake!”

Prince Kogret peered out at the giant and the old man. The two pirates exchanged glances as the giant said to the old one, “Go tell the captain the boy is awake.”

“Aye, aye Mr. Dulen . I will get right on it,” the old pirate put down his deck of a card.

Mr. Dulen  looked up as a cheer came from above and music started. He hunched as stood by the bars of the small prison. This Mr. Dulen  was smoking a pipe as he sat on a barrel. He stared at Prince Kogret.

The young prince swallowed, “So what now? You have killed my uncle, my father, and my crew! What have you left to do to me?”

Mr. Dulen  chewed on his pipe and said, “You are indeed the crown prince, right?”

“So, what if I am?” Prince Kogret held up his head high.

“It matters little to me,” Mr. Dulen  shrugged.

“Then why ask!?” Prince Kogret grew crossed with the giant. It was the same man who had hit his head. There was no use in being friendly.

The old pirate returned, “The captain says she will be down when she’s good and ready. She said to give the lad water and bread. Nothing else for his royal highness.”

Mr. Dulen  smirked ever so slightly, “Very well, O’Raily. I am happy to follow her orders. For your highness we will fine the best water and bread crusts around!”

Prince Kogret sunk down in the prison. It had very little room about, not to mention the smell of something ungodly. He embraced his knees and tried to think of a way to get out. He always needed a way to get justice for his family. But how?

. . .

Casey held the rigging of her ship and watched the waves around her. She closed her eyes and tried to remember what it was like to be a sailor instead of a pirate. She could only recall the embrace of the seas and the wind calling her. The kingdom of freedom and no limitations. The Pirate Queen of Discord was she. She closed her eyes. The treasure was clear in her mind. She could make out what it was like to be around James. But a sailor on the old ship seemed unreal. Casey licked her lips and tasted the salt.

On her arm, she wore a band ribbon. She was glad no one dared to ask her why she bothered to mourn James, not verbally anyway. It just happened by the way it did. She had gotten so much as a question from anyone, just Mr. Dulen  dared to stare at it. But he still spoke not about his thoughts. He had gone away to watch the prisoner. It was fine with Casey it wasn’t like she needed to tell anyone about what she had done or her thoughts. She watched the waves and sneered at herself. She thought, So I poisoned the blade. I am a pirate. He’s a troublesome-he was a troublesome merchant. The man had it coming. It wasn’t like I threw his body to the sharks. I left them something to bury. I should have thrown him into the sea.

Casey bumped up and down with the waves, I don’t why I should have bothered with keeping him alive for so long. I am glad to have him dead. I left the wench alive and map is somewhere among out spoils. I would search for it until we make port. There is nothing wrong just moving along.

She watched the pirates jolly finding their chores around them. Casey yelled out to them, “Crack open the rum and strike up a song! We have won and ought to have fun now!”

The men smirked, “All for the better captain we will have it all!!”

“Aye! We make port in a day! You will have the comfort of women and riches to spend! Be proud of your work, you gentlemen of fortune!”

“Aye, aye!!” The pirates yelled and ran to greet their celebration.

Casey nodded her head as she found herself humming a song to herself. She thought thru her riches and try to take into count where she might find the map. She would ask Mr. Dulen  to help her search around for it as well. O’Raily could be trusted as well. Casey nodded again to herself and smiled.

. . .

Arya stepped out of the carriage with her new lute in hand. Her old one would take weeks to repair the shopkeeper told her. Arya insisted she would pay with what coin she could to have it whole again.  She walked along the still wet grasses of Uncle Charlie’s yard. It was still the evening of the day of the funeral. The wake of Captain Shaw had came and went. The others were either at the ship, the church, or at the inn. There was still much for Vivian to do. Doctor Basil insisted on staying at the church for a longer time. Cecil needed a bottle of ale and an inn to bring him comfort. Cookie went to sharped Cecil back to the inn safe.

So Arya had come on her own to her uncle’s home. Arya carried forward with her new lute and mulled over the song that Captain Shaw wanted her to sing for the Shaw family. She took a deep breath and went to knock on the door. Aunt Wilma opened the door and smiled meekly at Arya. She gestured her in.

Arya muttered, “Thank you, Aunt Wilma.”

“My sweet niece, thank you for coming on this dark day. You could sing the song in the morning. It has been a long night. Come supper with us and sleep on our sofa. It might do you some good to stay with family for a spell.”

Arya nodded and hugged her aunt tightly as she let the lute down to the ground. Aunt Wilma closed the door and waved the carriage off. The driver waved and was off. The door softly closed with the bolt. Arya’s little twin cousins were playing in the kitchen with pots and pans. They had finally stopped wailing and seemed as right as rain. Arya grinned just a little. Wilma took Arya’s hand, “Come, my child, let’s get you a warm drink. Then we can get you a warm gown.”

“Yea. . .” Arya nodded.

“Uncle Charlie is upstairs tending to the light. He will be down when we supper. Go sit by the fire or play with your cousins. I will finish cooking,” Aunt Wilma said.

Arya yawned as she found a spot on the sofa. She placed her lute upon the table next to her. She felt her eyes get heavy as she leaned against the pillows. For so long she had been awake. A quick nap won’t hurt, even if the twins were giggling as they beat the pans. They had a right to be gay. After all they were so small and most likely Aunt Wilma made haven heavenly. Arya yawned again as she sunk into the pillows. A quick nap and to supper with the rest of her family.

When dawn broke the sun poured into the room. A heavy cotton blanket laid upon her with her boots upon the carpet. Arya rubbed her eyes and saw the fire was long gone out. She sat upon the sofa and grabbed at her boot again. They had tired out from the rains of yesterday. Arya was about to put on her boots, when she saw the twins. They were still in their night shirts as the hurried along with instruments in one hand and the other one with music sheets. The taller one Eric will his button nose beamed his father’s smile at Arya. Eric held up his small flute and said, “Hi Cousin Arya!”

“Hello Eric,” Arya waved.

Kim the shorter one waved his sheets, “Cousin Arya will you help us play?”

“Yes, Kim and Eric, I will help you play. In fact, I have a very special song for you all,” She pat their heads, “ But we must wait for your mother and father to wake up.”

Kim smiled, “Mama is in the kitchen.”

“Papa is upstairs thinking about the state of the universe,” Eric said.

Arya got up and went to follow the twins to the kitchen. Aunt Wilma stood by the stove moving plates about as a soup boiled on the stove. Arya walked in slowly as the twins went rushing in like wild animals. Eric pulled on Aunt Wilma. Kim shouted at the top of his throat, “MAMA!! MAMA!! ARYA HAS A SONG TO TEACH US!”

“Oh Kim, no shouting inside,” Wilma replied as she took Eric’s hand from her dress. She pat the boy on the head, “Alright boys, you can tell me about the song. Just go sit down and get ready for breakfast.”

“Yes, Mama,” Eric uttered.

Kim nodded, “Yes, Mama.”

Arya watched the children as they ran off to the table and found their chairs. Eric almost knocked over his chair. Kim nearly slipped off his chair as he went to his chair. Both boys wiggled about in their chairs. Kim put his music sheet on the table, while Eric held out his toy lute. Arya drifted over to the able as Aunt Wilma kept stirring at the stove. Arya looked over the sheet of music from Kim. She practiced with her cousins a few bars of the song they were learning.  Arya was pleased to be with someone who had a more chipper attitude. As they formed a chorus together, Wilma looked back at them and put down her spoon. At last she said, “Okay, boys and Arya, what song did you want to sing?”

“Well, Aunt Wilma, we will need Uncle Charlie to come down so we can to do it,” Arya said.

“I will go get him,” Aunt Wilma nodded and headed out.

Arya and the twins were left to sing a long for a while. The girl knew plenty of children’s songs to keep them content. The twins paused for a second once they ran out of sheet music. They exchanged looks as they waited for Arya to think of something else. The girl ppered down at her own instrument in thought. It was true she had many more songs to sing. They were all there children’s songs. But nowadays she did mostly sea shanties for adults. She was about to do some song about a princess, when finally Uncle Charlie and Aunt Wilma came. The two came and found seats  at the table. Arya weakly smiled at all of them, “I know a lot as happened. But Captain Shaw waited me to sing you a song as part of his requests. So please let me express it as a way to let you know he loved you all very much.”

Aunt Wilma placed her arms on the twins. Uncle Charlie nodded, “Go ahead Arya. Let us hear what you have to sing.”

Arya held up her lute, “One night as boy, I asked me father to tell about life.

He said, ‘Lad, ya got a heart as expected of me kin. So let me begin.

The history of life it repeats.

The song goes through the heart with all its feats.

It pierces the mind.

It will mark the soul in time.’

One night as a young man, I  asked me father to tell me about memory.

He said, “Lad, you are bright.

Here we are right.

Here we are kept tight.’

He pointed to his heart and head, ‘In the sweet memories of time, it all passes on.

But linger on the feeling.

No reasons to forget.

Not a second.

It is all set.’

One night as a man, I asked me father to tell me about death.

He said to me, ‘Me son, there is nothing to fear.

Now give me your ear.

 For life always carries on in the end.

 There are only beginnings.’

The twins clapped loudly as Arya put down her lute. Aunt Wilma smirked a little and turned away to clean a tear from her face. Uncle Charlie slowly clapped and then got up a paused as he saw a light in Arya’s pocket. He pointed to it, “My child, you have a light in your pocket.”

Arya raised her eyebrow and reached into her pocket. It was the paper that Captain Shaw had written the letter. She pulled out the music sheet and saw it had the writing on it. Arya narrowed her eyes to study the writing. She called to Uncle Charlie to come see the writing on the paper. His eyes widened as the glowing writing faded from view.  Uncle Charlie motioned for Arya to come with him. He left the twins and Aunt Wilma in the kitchen. The two of them hurried upstairs to Uncle Charlie’s study. He pulled out an old book of fables. He pointed to it, “Arya, did my brother give you a fable book?”

“Why yes Uncle Charlie. He gave me one for my birthday. He always fancied himself a bit of a writer. It didn’t help that when I was younger I wrote on the captain’s books by mistake. He made up new parts for the stories that I ruined.”

“Well, my child, here this map that has showed up is a special piece. It is a treasure map to a special thing. I know in our two fable books there is most about the treasure that James must have wanted us to know.”

“I had wanted to do . . . I have a gift from the captain in the ship, if what you are saying is true, Uncle Charlie. Do you think my gift might help with the subject?”

“I think it just might be . . .We could check with the scholars at the university to see if they know more.”

“Yes, Uncle Charlie. I will ask the mates of the ship as well. I am very sure that Vivian and Doctor Basil might know why or what the captain meant by giving us this map.”

“Alright Arya. . .  There is one more subject I wanted to speak to you about since James has passed.”

“Yes, Uncle Charlie?”

“I know very well you are a young woman. You are very much in your right to make your own choices about how you wish to live. But as a young woman I just wanted to let you know if you want you don’t have to be a mate on the ship. I would completely understand,” Uncle Charlie put his arms behind his back.

“Uncle Charlie, I would keep going on the ship. The captain has trained me as a deck hand.”

“I know, my child. I just wanted to be sure that you know that you have choices. You have choices to work here in town as a merchant. Or you could say here with me and Aunt Wilma. We could use the help around the home. You know. . .”

“It is okay, Uncle Charlie. I am sure the next captain of the ship will welcome be aboard the ship.”

“Also wanted to mention Arya, if you wanted to study or marry you could think about that too. We would surly be able to find a way to support you in those efforts as well.”

“Uncle Charlie, I know about all the choices that I need to and can make. I have long discussed them with the captain before hand. I know that I have a lot of chances if I want them. But I want to be a mate. Not to mention, if the paper we have here is to a treasure. I want to research it for the shake of the captain.”

“Arya, you are a brilliant girl. The seas are very dangerous. I want to be sure that you will not be sorry for it. Also that you will be as safe and possible. I know that pirate wants to get at you. I love you, niece. I just want to be sure that you are happy with your choices.”

“Okay, Uncle Charlie, okay,” Arya nodded as she peered about Uncle Charlie’s study. It was a humble place with molded ships about the shelves.

Uncle Charlie looked again at the treasure map and handed it back to Arya. He sank down into his chair in his study. He meekly smiled at his niece, “This treasure map and all the adventures it offers will be a young person’s game. Arya please just be careful as you do about these things.”

“Yes, Uncle Charlie, I will be as careful as I can be,” Arya said to her uncle.

 

 

Arya of Sundried Hope

Chapter Three

In which we go to visit Charlie Shaw with sad news about James Shaw.

Ah, this is it, Thought Captain Shaw after Doctor Basil finished up. He leaned back in the bed with the real pocket watch now gone, who knew when it would stop ticking. Captain Shaw watched as Doctor Basil reach for the door and call in his officers and his beloved daughter. Very well thought Captain Shaw as the three came in at a slow pace. Each one came to find their spot around the bed. Vivian reached out and held his hand. Cecil lingered back in his old cap and stoically waited for the news. Arya without her lute did not appear as her usual self, but she came all the same. She sat next to Vivian.

Doctor Basil rubbed her hands together nervous. The old sea witch never had gained a bedside matter. Captain Shaw smiled and laughed a little, “Alright. Let us hear the news Doctor Basil. No sense in dragging it out.”

She looked over the three. Two her own sweet children and the last the own captain’s. Oh, at the rate they had been on the ship. She might as well have told them their own father was dying. Doctor Basil started, “Captain. . . It is not easy for me to say it to everyone. . . The blade she used was poisonous . . .”

Vivian held Captain Shaw’s hand, “Please don’t say it is so. Captain Shaw, it didn’t look like it would be-“

“Vivian, I am no wee child. There is no reason to sugarcoat it or go against it,” Captain Shaw said quietly.

Ciel whispered slowly, “Oh cap. . .”

Arya went white in her face. She covered her mouth as the old captain coughed and wheezed. He smiled at them and patted Vivian’s hand, “Now, now, my friends there is no reason to be glum. What is done is done. We will say what needs to be said and move on from there.”

Captain Shaw smirked at them all and nodded, “Now I have not much time left. So hear out an old man’s request for me.”

“Yes, captain,” They agreed.

Captain Shaw turned to Vivian, “You see the crew well paid and make to add double for today’s shift. No ifs and or buts. You be sure to mind those books well. And be sure to select a new captain when the time calls for it.”

“Aye,” Vivian chocked.

He turned to Cecil next, “You remember what I taught you about navigation. Don’t be afraid to use the stars instead of the maps.”

“Aye, cap,” Cecil said softly.

“And Cecil one more thing,” Captain Shaw said.

“Aye cap?” Cecil asked.

“Be good with the lady folk and try not to cause too much trouble,” Captain Shaw laughed.

“Aye, cap . . .” Cecil said in a quiet voice.

 

Captain Shaw turned to Arya last of all. He held out his other hand and coughed slightly. The bandages on his side were a deep crimson. Arya went closer to her adopted father and held his other hand. Captain Shaw fondly looked her over and said, “You have turned into a fine young woman. Don’t lose the gift I gave you. Sorry it isn’t a lute. But there be an enough coin about to fix yours or get a new one.”

“Father-“ She started.

But Captain Shaw shook his head, “Let me finish, lass. You do me this favor. It is not much of one.  At least the first. . . I just need you to play a song for Uncle Charlie and Wilma. I need you to play that song. . . I-it will be good for them for to hear. Then you let them know that I love them.”

“Yes, Father,” Arya held his hand tighter.

“The harder one. . .” Captain Shaw coughed softer and shook himself awake, “The last one is very important to keep in mind. I wrote out the details in the gift. You don’t have to accept it. . .  Doctor Basil can do it alone. But if you could do it for me. . . I will be grateful. . . And see it in your heart to forgive those who do you wrong, lass. Be kind to others. Lastly watch over the crew and such.”

“Yes, Father,” Arya fought back her tears.

“I am glad you are all here for this time. . . Now, don’t weep. Alright! You-you make merry for your birthday. . .  You celebrate you and me today. No need to be all teary. I’d much preferred you all tell each other bad jokes and smile. . . Don’t forget I am still captain around here. So don’t you forget I love ya fools.” Captain Shaw had a small grin, “Got it?”

“Aye, aye, Captain!” They said. (Some sniffs and tears were hidden.)

Captain Shaw gathered his blanket and yawned for one last time. His grin grew into a contented smile, “Good, good. Now . . . I . . . will get some rest. . .”

They were silent for a moment until Doctor Basil moved them aside. She held his wrist for his pulse and felt it get weaker and weaker. Doctor Basil gravely turned to the others and spoke not the words. For they knew with this last action the good captain of the Flaming Lotus was dead.

. . .

One pirate whispered to another in the aftermath. He and his friend were hidden amongst the barrels debating a subject at hand. The first pirate was of average height and had a big bushy beard. His wore a rough spun tunic and green pants. The other pirate was an older man with long white hair and had an eye patch. The older pirate sat playing with cards on a table. The younger pirate paced. Both of them were setup to guard over the prisoner from earlier. It seemed that the boy had passed out from grief over the sinking of his father’s ship. Neither pirate considered it to a great depth and had their own thoughts to think over.

The younger pirate said, “All twisted up inside with fears and uncertainty. It all fills up. The stress goes about and fills my head. Does it make sense to you?”

“You had one date with the captain. Don’t make it sound like you’re going to marry her. But in short, I suppose it doesn’t really make sense to me,” The older pirate licked his finger and drew several more cards, “I have been sinking into my own bliss of never having to think about the cost of everything else. I went on to become a pirate. Captain Casey asked me to join her and joined her I did.  Now, here we are.”

The younger pirate cursed, “The worse part of everything is feeling continuously in the way. Doesn’t that just eat you up? Or rather wouldn’t that eat you up? I mean it eats me up!”

“Shut your mouth! I am trying to play a game here!” The older pirate growled.

“I just. . . I just . . . I don’t know,” the younger pirate sighed.

Mr. Dulen  came down the stairs with Captain Casey following. The two pirates stood up right away to the arrival of the first mate and the captain. Casey peered at the two and then over at the prison. The boy was laying still and made not a sound. She narrowed her eyes as she peered at the young pirate, Young Paul, and the older pirate, O’Raily.  Paul stumbled to attention as O’Raily nodded and got up from his card game. O’Raily smiled at Mr. Dulen  and Captain Casey he pointed to the prisoner, “The boy is still fainted, Captain. I suppose a hidden prince will be worth keeping him alive.”

Mr. Dulen  mutedly moved aside for Casey as she said, “Yes, O’Raily. I suppose the boy prince was worth sparing. Too bad we didn’t know his uncle was a duke. The ransom would have been fatter.”

Paul spurted, “Yeah, it is a good thing is father was not a king. Just some common sea captain the queen fancied, huh?”

Mr. Dulen  rolled his eyes.

Casey answered, “Yes Paul, good thing. . . How about you go help in the kitchen now, boy? I need to speak with the men here.”

Paul flushed and scrambled off to the galley. Captain Casey turned to O’Raily and Mr. Dulen . She pointed to them, “You two will be in charge of the care of the boy. I will be working with the crew to deal out the spoils from the last two ship. I also think it is high time we make port before we see if he have James’ map. The men need a break.”

“Aye, captain,” said Mr. Dulen .

O’Raily shrugged and nodded.

Casey spun around and left the two with the prisoner. O’Raily sat back with his pack of card and licked his finger as he counted his piles. He said to Mr. Dulen , “Beware her, my giant mate, I used to be first mate. She always treats us right as crew. But first mates she does things. Unnatural things. I warn you right.”

Mr. Dulen  loosened his arm and nodded, “I know she is a sea witch with power. We just did battle with the oddest crew.”

“Umm. We are technically a very odd crew too. We don’t just come here. We are chosen, Mr. Dulen . What sins lead us here, we are now here. Aware or not of the tales we are now in,” O’Raily went back to his cards, “Just as long as you know what we are and how we get here.”

. . .

The merriment that Captain Shaw requested was only meet with a half-hearted attempt. Sure enough the pirates did not find the fireworks. Nor were the brilliant decorations as wonderous as before from the birthday party. The clean up from the attack took several hours and many of the crew couldn’t feel a bit jolly. The instruments were only played a slow mutter. The gentle waters and the terrible storm that had come earlier now just left the sea with a sickening rock. She pulled and pushed the ship along its course. Cecil held in the wheel in a gloom. Vivian had gone about checking on the damages with the carpenter. Cookie refused to make anything more than a basic soup as the galley was all mixed up. Doctor Basil was to catch up on patching up people. It would have dragged on through the night until they docked at Turtle had it not been for Arya.

The girl took seriously the requests of the captain. She had not touched the gift he gave her until dusk. It had been beaten about in the battle, but the gift as bruised and beaten as it was in good condition.  She walked around with only a part of her messed up lute. Arya closed her eyes as the crew limbed and groaned their way around the ship. The other musicians had not the spirit to play beyond just a spiritual hymn and melancholy tunes. There was a sputter of words which were no louder than the sea. Arya pocketed her broken lute piece and went up to Mull, a deck hand, and asked for his violin. The man was dressed in a battle worn suit of gray. Mull handed it over without much fuss.

Arya tried to play the bow and strings. The thing sounded like a dying cat. Mull snickered just a little as he watched her try again and again. By now the other musicians had stopped playing to watch the attempts. Wordlessly, he held out his hands for his violin back. Mull played a few scales as the girl listened and hummed a few bars. One of the musician jested, “Come on, Arya, stop making the cat die. Just let Mull play.”

“Well, bless my heart! You lot have not gone deaf and mute. Look, Vivian gave us orders to make joyous. You play like you’re dead,” Arya frowned at them.

The musicians shuffled. Mull looked at his violin, “Arya, the captain would have done good to teach you to play more then the lute. The violin can be sweet.”

“Mandator fun! Wee! I am having so much fun!” The musicians heckled.

“Well fine!” Arya smiled and gestured to the instruments, “Then for the honor of the captain, let’s play something right. We can truly find a good song the captain would have liked to hear.”

Mull chewed over a thought in his head, “I know that the captain wanted us to be all jolly and such. But it is such a queer thought. All we feel is sorrow.”

“Yes, lass. How can we make ourselves happy when all we has is pain?” One of the musicians sighed.

Arya fiddled with the lute piece in her pocket. She begun, “I suppose I cannot tell you. We are people of music. How about you listen to a song the captain taught me. Then we will see if you feel against his last wish for us.”

So she sang. She sang and she sang with all the pain and hurt in her. There were no real words still just some humming at first. But she moved it and shaped it into something else. She had not fought back the tears she felt for the captain. No she let them flow freely as she worked through it. She tried to remember the good and the bad. Arya drove deep in herself to remember his request. No tears he had asked for. No, tears. He wanted everyone to celebrate and to laugh and cheers. So her mind reached for the feelings of joy he inspired in her as her father. Arya held tight to the piece of the lute. The song trembled in her heart. She had not asked for the day to end as it was. She opened her eyes and watched the sunsetting down. At last she escaped from the wordless tone and words rolled off her tongue,

Here upon the deep blue sea,

The tides rocks us up and around.

He was a man told us all tales of far and wide.

He was our captain with his scarred-up hand and weird nose.

He may have done to rest in his bed, but he lives on in this song.

He inspired us as he had to.

He was a clown like the time he made a fake dragon out of drift wood and scared old  Gab.

Or went he told jokes about ghosts that were as bad as bad came.

He was a man who thought skiing could be done in sand and landed on his face.

Get a glass of rum and set aside your tears.

Today we celebrate our old captain and all he stood for.

There were some snickers from the musicians as they picked up the melody. Arya belt out with her tune,

Get a glass of run and set aside your tears.

Save them for the church tomorrow.

Tonight we light the fireworks

Tonight we remember how he tripped over foreign words like when he couldn’t say: Communication.

Mull added, “Into especially when he said it wrong to the Queen of Yellow River!”

Cecil howled out, “It was a hot night over in Yellow River that day!”

Cookie came above decks and heard about Yellow River. The chef smiled, “Oh let’s not forget how young Ciel got in hotter water for it!”

The glooming crew heard the musicians and joined around to hear the song. Arya reached within her heart and tried not to stumble on tears. She thought hard of the captain and his warm smile as he sorted through documents, but he could only write his entries backwards. The girl rang out with her tune and by and by more of the crew came together. It seemed to do the trick as the crew started to join the song and dance a little jig. Foolish they were on the coming of dusk. Indeed, very foolish were they as they went on. But a party the captain asked for and by Gods a party they would continue to have in his honor. Together they went on and sung.

Doctor Basil slipped away from the strangely happy crew. She held the pocket watch in hand and stood watch next to the captain’s body. There were some traditions that one had to have. She would see that Vivian honored his requests. But this one the sea witch would do. No need for ghosts and haunting. She had covered all the mirrors and opened the windows in the captain’s room. He was covered in a suitable blanket and tucked in nice. The candles burnt low and the room filled with the music from outside. Doctor Basil sat tiredly by the foot of the bed and weakly smiled. She thought, So, it came to an end here and yet not.

. . .

This is the part I have already know. I have been here before. I have ran through these steps. I know every bit there is to know about Turtle. Turtle always moves at its own pace. It doesn’t matter if you want the town to run faster or slower. Things just get done in Turtle, however it wishes it done. The mail comes at its own good and right sped. If there is a problem, which is rarely a problem, then it is dealt with. The only problem with Turtle was always with the arrival of the Flaming Lotus and Captain Shaw.

Perhaps hardly matters what is or was familiar. We just are here catch in the movement of things. It is true as true can be I have walked these streets and have been to these shops. I know the people here and they have not really changed. I spent every summer here when the seas were too rough for us to go anywhere else like the Captain would pretend. Albeit, he made up all sort excuses about why we needed to stay the summer in Turtle. We were never attacked by Casey once we reached here. I never understood the reasoning. Maybe magic? Maybe it was the navy? Or maybe we were not worth bothering beyond my birthday. A lot of things in God’s good Earth make very little sense to me.

Like why is the captain dead? Why my brother Jake? And how come is my lute now broken?  Does God not like me anymore? And why does the Pirate Queen and her men only loot up once a year?  How do the pirates just leave? It would be a childish question to ask of the divine? Could it be ghosts or magic? I have been told not to let my mind wonder about what it is all in reality. But why did we do the last plan? What was so special about singing such a love song? Was it just to bother the old pirate? There are many things that I think are odd around the ship. But I have been trained by Captain Shaw not to ask so many questions.

I am so mad and filled with despair. I know what is coming next. I know what I have to do. It isn’t a fun thing I have to do. It isn’t a thing I wanted to do. I wanted to be on my way to the market for selling things with the captain. I wanted to have arms full of candies and toys for the twins,  Eric and Kim. I wanted to have come to land with Captain Shaw and have us a good pint and stories. I had wanted to come quickly over to the lighthouse to visit Uncle Charlie and Aunt Wilma. Yet here we are instead. Here we are with the carriage in more bloody rain falling on my bloody head!!

Arya put down her journal covered in mistakes and ink spots. It had come to her attention that her journal would surely be ruined. She slipped in back into her pack and stared at her feet. But in the breaking daylight which was not much due to the rainclouds, she insisted on writing. She could not sing anymore with her hoarse voice, nor play a single note with her whole lute still in pieces. Mull said he would take it out for repairs. The whole bloody ship needed repairs all over. The police were off taking reports and the undertaker was talking everything over with Doctor Basil. Vivian had not come as she had to manage shore leave and more without Captain Shaw. So it left Arya and Cecil to go.

The carriage ride had been filled with the same amount of sorrow both of them had expected. Arya had sung all she could to honor the request of the captain. Now came another and the sad news. She had not bothered to try and take in the details of the ride up the hills to her uncle’s. Nor did Ciel. He had not bothered with lighting his pipe. He just wore his black heavy coat with a grave heart. Arya had chosen her best coat of gray. She had dark circles around her eyes and her skin was terribly pale. Her hands held the book from Captain Shaw. She had not opened the book again after she had read the letter and saw the book of fables. The other gift sat waiting back in her closet of the room. She would be sure to take it back to the brick house later. Vivian would be making arrange there in the evening.

The carriage bumped and came to a stop. Here small drops of the fat rain came into the carriage. The windows had been left opened with Cecil’s request. He had not wanted to deal with the stuffiness of the carriage. He acted as if he was thousands of years old. Arya had just reasoned that he hadn’t wanted to be seen crying too many tears as they drove along. The driver called out for them to get down and said he would wait for them. Arya opened her door and hopped down into the pouring rain. The drumming of it upon the carriage made a little tune of thump, thump, thump. Arya tiredly waited for Charlie to climb down from his spot and join her in the rain.

They went across the soggy grass without so much as a word between them. Arya looked up at the stone lighthouse with its shining light spinning around and around. She felt the pit in her stomach as she came closer to the door of her uncle’s home. She lifted her hand on the door and lowered it. Cecil walked next to her and peered up at the flooding light. He sighed and in the dripping rain from his hat waited just a moment. She pulled her coat hood closer and peered at her feet again. There was no easy way about it. Arya again lifted her hand and knocked on the old wooden door.

It took some time with the rain and the chill and plenty of knocking. There was shuffling on the other side of the door with a candle light coming closer from under the door. Uncle Charlie called out, “One moment, please, one moment.”

He unbolted the door, opened the door, and held up his candle. He was a pouty man with a short body. His hair was a frosty brown with his sweet eyes. His robed kept the cold away as he moved aside to let them in. He affectionately beamed at his favorite and only niece and the wee mate, “Welcome my dear Arya and ah little Cecil, so good to see you. Back to port already! So good to know we can all have dinner tonight! And where is my brother? Still on the ship? Or is he trying to be clever? Where are you, James, you dog?”

Arya peered up at her uncle as she meekly came in. She started slowly, “Uncle Charlie please listen-“

“Oh, you will not get me this year! I know last year I fell for him hiding around the side. Well he shall not get me twice!!” Charlie watched at the two came in. Then he peeked out the door with glee. He shouted, “Come on your devil! Get out here! I bet you’re the driver this year! Hohoo!”

“H-h-he is dead Charlie! He died last night!” Cecil spat out sorely. He turned away and covered his face.

Uncle Charlie’s face dropped. He paled in his rosy cheeks as he held the door. He gulped and smiled, “What!? Come now! He cannot- cannot use that joke twice! It wasn’t very funny then! I. . . I believed it when we were in school together at the creek. . .  But-but he is too old to do it again! Come on now where is the jester?”

Arya bite her lip and said, “Uncle Charlie it is true. . . He died last night by a pirate attack.”

“Arya, Arya . . .say it is not so,” Uncle Charlie continued to hold the door. He leaned out the door once more, “JAMES SHAW YOU’D BETTER NOT BE MESSING WITH ME! YOU BLOODY SON OF A GUN! GET OUT HERE!”

Arya grabbed his hand and shook her head. He quietly closed the door. There was the little drumming of the rain against it. The fire crackled for a while. Then finally Uncle Charlie said, “You aren’t just letting the old dog just mess with me right? Right? It is just a joke. . . He loves himself a bad joke. Why I remember he said that he got a kid before you Arya. He said he got it right from a lady. Why I thought he meant a child! He comes back with a goat-“

“Uncle Charlie. . .” Arya said.

Cecil composed himself and faced the man. He watched as Uncle Charlie leaned against the door, he started, “Charlie. . . We saw it happen. We aren’t joking. Please understand how hard it has been for us . . .”

Slowly, he bolted the door and walked into the cheerful living room. There the small sofa and chair waited with a wood table. A cup waited next to teapot. Uncle Charlie made his way to the chair. His voice no louder than a whisper, “Oh heavens. . . Oh gods. . . What-what shall be done. . .You aren’t kidding, right you?”

“No, sir,” Ciel said in his dripping coat. It was hard to tell of the tears.

“I-I am so sorry, Uncle Charlie,” Arya swallowed with her hoarse throat.

Shaking Uncle Charlie tried to pour himself tea. But the pot shook so much that the lid nearly flew off. The man put it down and was beside himself with grief. He covered his face, “Wha-what will I tell Wilma and the boys!? What in the worlds will we do? And how did the pirates do it!? And why!?”

So, Arya told him of all that had happened to the ship and the crew. She told him of the final moments of old Captain Shaw.

Uncle Charlie shook as he finally go himself his cup of tea. His tears dripping into it. He quietly said, “I see. . .What of everything else? I  . . .I mean the funeral and everything else. . . It was our father’s ship . . .”

“First Mate Vivian will make the arrangements with the ship. She will keep after the ship and crew. The captain wrote up a will all nice and neat. We will be following that,” Ciel said shortly.

Arya added in her somber gloom, “Uncle Charlie, I am sorry to have to tell you all of this. But we will need . . . I need to sing you a song with your whole family. It was Captain Shaw’s last request.”

He held his cup, even as the warmth of it left. He put it down and stared at the cold tea. He gathered what sense he had, “Of course, Arya, of course. Just . . .Just let me get something stranger than tea. . . Coffee. . . Yes, coffee seems right. You still drink it, right Cecil?”

“Yes, sir,” Cecil answered.

Uncle Charlie stood up, “I will get the coffee started. There is much to go over and much more to deal with. I will need to break it to the boys and my wife. Please go wait here and make yourselves comfortable.  I am sorry for my manners. Can I get you anything food or drink?”

“No thank you, Charlie,” Ciel muttered.

“No thank you, Uncle,” Arya said.

They watched him march off into the stairwell. Mindlessly Cecil took off his coat and left it dripping on the coat rack. Arya followed suit and took off her cloak. She watched the small droplets fall off her coat and onto the floor. Cecil drifted over the sofa. Arya walked carefully around the toys from her cousins on the floor.  In the glow of the fire and sofa’s comfort, they spoke not. Arya bowed her head as she let her tiredness grow and wave down. She felt Cecil hold her hand. Arya muttered thanks and looked at the living room window.

A wail came from upstairs with smaller cries of children. Uncle Charlie had finished his business with the family upstairs. But he did not return right away. It took a while. A drained Uncle Charlie came back down the stairs with a deep grave appearance.  He went away to the kitchen to get the coffee on. For what felt like a lifetime, Uncle Charlie was away.

With much wailing and screaming, Arya and Cecil waited for the coffee to brew. Cecil crossed his arms in his attempt to regain his own warmth. Arya peered into the flames of the fire, it was still dying with a few ambers. Uncle Charlie returned mutedly and carried a tray with a few cups. He went to the fire and put in a few more logs. He poked at the ambers and sparked them back to life. Uncle Charlie fell heavy into his chair as he picked up his cup and peered inside of it. Words were lost in to the crackle of the fire and the drumming rain.  Uncle Charlie swooshed around his coffee and opened his mouth to speak and failed to say much else. Cecil picked up his own cup and begun, “Do you know a good dentist out here? I have chipped my tooth in the last battle. . . I haven’t really had time to think about it. . .”

Uncle Charlie sighed, “Did your onboard doctor tend to it?”

“No, Doctor Basil was busy with everyone else, “Cecil tried to reason, “Haven’t had time to trouble her over something so simple.”

Arya reached out for the cup of coffee. But withdrew as the normal everyday chatter just was far off. She dropped her had and despairingly looked at her uncle. At last between dental and idle chatter came Aunt Wilma came down. She was a puffed eye woman with a green robe covering over her white gown. Her nightcap was with tiny pink roses that she clearly did all by her own hand. Her thin face was ashen as she finished coming down the final stairs. Aunt Wilma rushed over to Arya and hugged her. She said, “My poor niece, I am here for you. I am here for you, if you need anything at all. Please let me know.”

“Yes, Aunt Wilma,” Arya hugged her back.

Wilma let go and hugged Ciel as well. Her cheeks were still fresh from tears as she said, “The same thing for you Cecil. I know James looked after you and your sister as you served on his ship over these last ten years. You are practically family as well.”

Cecil nodded, “Thank you, Mrs. Wilma.”

Arya said, “How are the twins? Should I go check on them?”

“Don’t worry about your cousins, dear. I just came down to get them some water and cookies. We will have a nice long talk about it we will. For now they know their Uncle has gone to join their grandparents and their older sister in heaven,” Wilma quietly nodded, “Excuse me, I will finish taking care of them. I will be back later to talk.”

Wilma bustled back up stairs before Arya could mention the song. She peered back at Uncle Charlie who was burning a hole in his cup. Cecil coughed as Uncle Charlie came back to attention. He dried his face of fresh tears rolling down his cheek. He spoke again, “I suppose we better get ready for the mass. I will head over to the ship to help anyway I can. Arya is there anything else you need?”

With her sore throat, she swallowed. The words were all beaten up inside. She scanned about the room and finally remembered what Captain Shaw told her. Arya said, “Later tonight, I have a song to sing from Captain Shaw. I will do it then, my throat is raw. My lute also needs replacing. . .”

Cecil added, “I will be needing Arya as well. There were a few things to be done at the old captain’s house.”

Uncle Charlie nodded, “Okay. . . Okay. . .”

Cecil softly asked, “Do you still want to know about the attack? You brother fought bravely-“

“No, not now Cecil. Perhaps another time. . . Go and take care of what needs to be done. I am going to see to. . .To here. . .” Uncle Charlie said, “Please stay as long as you need. I will be doing you know. . .”

Uncle Charlie stood on for a while again holding his coffee cup. Cecil got up, placed his cup upon the table, and motioned for Arya to come along. She kissed her uncle good-bye on the head as she could hear the low crying of her cousins. She looked up the stairs and tried to go up. But Cecil grabbed her arm and shook his head. Wilma could care for the twins. They would surely meet up with her at the funeral. Arya turned back to the door and gathered her coat. Cecil was ready and slipped out the door. Arya followed behind with the rain pouring down in sheets as they returned back to the carriage.

The driver took them back down the hills to town. The city lanterns were all lit up and swaying in the wind. The carriage back to the estate of Captain Shaw. There the little garden sat in its usual state of sweet rose gardens and nice lawn. Captain Shaw saw that a gardener would stay on the grounds and keep the house while he and Arya were off to sea. The carriage came to a jolt and stopped dead by it. Cecil got down and made his way to the front door. Arya froze as she stood outside of the brick house. The street lanterns flicked here and there.

It hurt so much to see it and not have Captain Shaw racing ahead of her like always. He would have sweet meats and cakes from the bakery each return to port. He called the little brick house the Manor de Shaw. It was filled with all sorts of knickknacks from around the world. The jackal mask was the first thing to meet you at the front door. Arya exhaled as she approached the door and walked into the garden.

The roses were wilted and not healthy. Arya lingered on and thought how the gardener needed to talking. But she had never minded if the garden was a little more messy or anything. Arya kept going and took her key from her pocket. She closed her eyes as Cecil placed his arm on her shoulder. Arya looked at him and smiled just a bit. She swung open the door to the strange world of Captain Shaw. In they went and Cecil closed the door. There were things in every spot of the house. Unlike the ship where the captain had believed in order and neatness, his home would be no better than a junk shop. Arya and Cecil went into the darken house. Arya went over to the heath of the living room and went about lighting a fire.

Ciel wandered through the living room and picked at a few strange shells and feathers. He turned to Arya as the fire flicked alive. He said, “You wanted to come to your house, what is it you wanted from here?”

Arya leaned on a wall with a growth chart. The captain thought it amusing to guess how tall she had been when she grew up. He made up measurement like an inch for when she was five. Arya thought it silly and went along with it. Last year she had been properly marked at her height of five feet. She placed her hand next to the writing of the captain. It was all backwards like normal. She looked at Cecil, “I just wanted to have a little space from everything happening.”

“I see. . .” Cecil nodded as he looked around the room.

She bitterly laughed, “He thought my favorite color was pink this whole time.”

“I thought your favorite color was sunset yellow,”  Cecil toyed with the feathers before him.

“Hmm, it is. He never did figure out, even though I . . . I guess I never thought of trying to tell him,” Arya frowned.

“Umm.”

“It doesn’t feel real does it, Cecil?”

“No. . .”

“It was one death. We have had much more on the ship-“ Arya covered her face and tried to be strong.

“Arya, it wasn’t just any person. It was the captain,” Cecil said shortly.

“But crying and wailing is not what he wanted us to-“

“We cannot keep swallowing our feelings for forever. We have to feel out way through this. True he didn’t want tears. We did it his way. Now let it out. . .” Cecil said.

Arya felt the tears running down her cheeks, “I-I don’t want to go to the funeral! Please don’t make me go!! We did our part last night!! I . . . I sung . . . I sung. . . And I sung until daybreak. . . Ciel. . . I can’t be there with the tears and wails. . .”

“I know. . . I know. . .” He hugged the girl, “But the whole town will be going we ought to go to. Hell, I bet all the merchants and teachers. There is no one that the captain did not know was going to linger all about here. I mean he got around and spoke with everyone. There is no one I cannot think of that didn’t speak with him.”

“Then let them go! They can go!” Arya wept.

“Come Arya. . .” Cecil pat her head, “You have to be there for your family. You got Charlie, Wilma, and the twins.”

“Cecil! Cecil! It isn’t far! I could have taken the shot! If I had shoot her! I- I could have saved him!!” Arya buried her face.

“. . .”

“AND THE CHURCH!” Arya shouted with snot from her nose. She cried, “The church, Cecil. . . It will have all the people dressed in black and sniffling. They all be mourning and everything!!”

“Look I know you want to scream and wail like the mourners. I do too.”

“You know it seems strange to mourn either way?! Heck, it was weird to celebrate. . .” “What would you have us do then?” Cecil said as he stepped back.

“I . . . I would have him buried among the waves like my brother,” Arya dried her tears with the sleeve of her coat.

“Arya. . .A good Christian burial was what the captain willed. We have to respect his request it is not like we can just go against his wishes,” Cecil quietly said as he placed his hands upon her shoulder. He gently added, “Go to the funeral. You won’t have mourn like the mourn. But for Charlie, for your family. They will need you there.”

“I could have done more Cecil!”

“I know. . . I could have too, but I followed his plan. I listened to him. . .”

“Now! Now! Now. . .I have to keep admitting he’s gone. I delivered the news to my own family and it was heartbreaking. I don’t think I can do it again! I can’t do it again!”

Cecil turned away uncomfortably, “We have to face it. The captain is gone. We hauled in the ship and got the news though the town. But we cannot just undo what has been done.”

“But. . .”

Cecil offered what comfort he could think of, “ We could go after Casey. We could attack her when she is not expecting it.”

Arya groaned, “We have tried that! You know as well as I do we can never find her before hand! Jake had a method of-”

“Your brother was short on several ideas-“ Cecil scoffed. He felt his face drain of color, “Arya I am so sorry I didn’t mean to say that! It has been a very long night and day-“

“Don’t make this about Jake! You don’t know him!” Arya shouted.

“You are making it about Jake! I mean I am making it. . . Er. . . I mean-“

“I don’t want to talk about my brother! My brother did the best he could!”

“Oh God! Arya I what I meant was he is an idiot-“ Cecil covered his face, “I am an idiot. Arya! I mean to say!”

“I know, Cecil. . . I know. . .” Arya put up her hand as she stopped a small painting of her and the captain. She was so girly in it with her curled hair and rosy cheeks. The captain looked ageless in the painting with his finest sailor outfit. The background was the rose gardens of the brick house. She turned back to Ciel, “I-I didn’t mean to lose my temper. It is just so much happening. . .”

“We will go do this whole funeral thing together alongside the crew. We shall not be alone as we go. . .”

“Alright,” Arya said as she placed her hand on the frame.

There was not much else to happen between the brick house and the church. Sure many things could be said about the setup for the mourning. Or one could argue more about the nature of things, all those little things like getting the flowers or hiring out the church. But the point was all those things were not important for our tale. We still not linger upon the posies for the wrath or the black ribbons in the church. I will get us to the important part for you to know.  We open again upon the church yard where the casket of James Shaw rests upon the soil. Indeed, all the town had arrived from the youngest to the eldest of the people. From the priests to learned man to the local bartenders. There was not a soul that did not know of the kindly James Shaw.

With all the weeping and wailing, the crew of the Flaming Lotus stood out among the graves in their finest Sunday clothing. Arya stood close to Vivian and Cecil. Doctor Basil and Cookie bowed their heads in prayer. The Shaw came last out of the church as the young twins had the hardest time in leaving the church. Arya then left the side of her beloved friends to join her uncle before the casket. Uncle Charlie rung his hands together as came forward. The young priest, Father Mattis, held the good book and bowed his head. Uncle Charlie had last words to say, if only they would come out. Charlie coughed and said, “I suppose we heard all that Father Mattis had to say in the church. Anything else I may add might just ruin such a beautiful bit. . . It is just. . . I have one last thing I would like to add. We go through this all of this time, our lifetimes. We follow along with a muted silence or perhaps as we go we have words to spill.  I mean say that people have worries. . . Er. . . I mean. . . Look people have words to say and actions to act out. We live and we suffer, we go through lots of things out here you see. It can be really hard as we struggle through life. I ought to know I am very fortune to have made it this far in my life with all the people. James Shaw, my brother, he did all of those things with a smile. I  know. Look I know that James Shaw was a man of his word. He was also a man of words. Yes, I know I am a simple lighthouse keeper. I am not the same sea voyaging explorer as James. He would always find the right trinket or spot to awe people with his discoveries. But he was a man to be admired for everything he stood for.”

Uncle Charlie sobbed, “What I am guessing I want to get at is . . . Is . . . Well, I know I have never been a person of action. I haven’t been much of a person of words either. I usually keep of myself. But we are here to remember. . . So, let us remember my brother, the man called James Shaw. May God rest his soul.

The crowd nodded and were left to their thoughts. Vivian came forward with a bundle of white roses and place them on the coffin. She said not a word about the captain. She just continued her way to the church. Next Doctor Basil approached with some folk from the university. They placed several necklaces of shells upon the captain’s grave. Cecil lingered back. The others came forward in their own due time. Crying and sniffing filled the church. Arya looked away to the ground as it all carried on. She finally went as Wilma carried the twins.  They quietly passed the casket and rejoined with Uncle Charlie.

The wake after the funeral would be full of just as much despair. Arya took it all in time. She could not bring herself to join her uncle at the lighthouse. Nor could she bring herself back the ship. She didn’t want to go back to the brick house either. Still she needed to perform the song for Uncle Charlie as requested by Captain Shaw. So, she did.

Arya of Sundried Hope

Chapter Two

Captain Shaw’s request for a song and the magic scroll.

Much, much earlier in the day of celebration and merrymaking. There was a much brooding and sulking from the lady pirate and wrath of the sea Captain Casey Grace McDonald. Her nickname was the Queen Pirate of Discord. She sailed with no guidelines or code of honor. Casey did what she wanted for the benefit of herself. Not to say she was a heartless demon that didn’t care about anything. No Casey did have some heart to her. All be it that her heart was as black as sin. Casey care about three things in the whole world: herself, her rotten crew, and treasure. Being a crew member of the Black Snow did not gain you much favor with you messed up. You just had a faster death and a good Christian burial, if it fit the will of the captain.

Casey ran her ship with an iron fist and crimson lips with a silver tongue to boot. She made her will know by one method or the other. Many of the crew preferred the second. She clicked her tongue in thought as her men made busy on the ship. Casey walked across the well-maintained ship with its blood red pain and spotless decks. There were rumors that the ship became red from all the blood that the Black Snow slipped on her deck. Casey did not debate the matter. Her ruby boots marched across the deck. She was in a terrible mood. Casey knew the hour and the what it meant to the little game she had been playing with the moron. Her snowy white coat fluttered behind her. Small snowflakes drifted down and got catch in her raven curls.

Casey huffed and splat at the ground, Cursed by a moron and made a villain. I will show him what it means for a woman’s wrath!

Quietly the pirates of the ship step slightly more aside. The first mate, Mr. Dulen , silently pointed someone to mop up. The giant with his bonze chest and woolly vest walked with stride behind Casey. She narrowed her sweet golden eyes under her brim of her fancy lace commander’s hat. With her head held high and pose to kill, Casey held out her hand as Mr. Dulen  automatically stopped behind her. He directly and wordlessly wiped out a bottle of rum. Casey grabbed it impatiently and drank with wild abandonment. She yelled, “Men! You damn seadogs! Do you know what accursed day it is?”

“Aye, aye, Captain!” The pirates shouted.

Her pale face grew into a mask of sweetness, “Does anyone know where the bloody ship is supposed to be?”

There was dead silence. The pirates shuffled about and turned their eyes to their chores.

Mr. Dulen  with his deep and honeyed voice said, “We do not, Captain Casey.”

“Who oversaw leading up on navigation after them, hmm? I thought we had a lead, Mr. Dulen ?”

Mr. Dulen  with a stone cool face said, “Mr. Rockwell was to lead us on our course. The lead was provided by young Koret.”

“Hmm, yes. . . Yes. . . Mr. Dulen  give me the notes about the whole affair again,” Casey threw the rum bottle down with a crash as Mr. Dulen  handed her the notes.  She studied them and hollered, “Kert! Mr. Rockwell! Front and center! NOW!”

The two pirates were pushed forward from the crew members.  A young man of fourteen and a middle-aged man with a graying beard were left trembling. They scrambled about as Casey peered down at them. She threw up the notes in the air and pulled out her silver sword from her belt. She shouted to the helmsman, “Change course by 15 degrees!”

“Aye, aye, captain!” The helmsman raced to change course. The other pirates did not delay or question the change of course. They went about to their work, but listened as what would happen to those unfortunate souls. Casey ran her fingers along her blade and pricked it so that the blood dripped down. She said to Mr. Dulen , “First mate, what be the punishment for betraying the ship to the navy? Refresh my memory?”

“Death, Captain Casey, with the method left to you,” Mr. Dulen  said.

“Hmm, yes,” Casey smiled wickedly, “I ask for very little of the crew, right Mr. Dulen ?”

“Aye, captain!”

“I do not ask for much. I let you all pillage, loot, riot, and everything else. I just ask for one thing. Just one thing. It isn’t much, right Mr. Dulen ?”

“No, captain!”

The two pirates scanned around for help. Neither the young or the middle-age man plead anything at first. Then the middle-aged man got on his knees and begged, “Captain Casey, please have mercy on my nephew’s life! It was my stupid brother who planted us here from the navy. He thought if we were here he would stand a chance of capturing you. Everyone know you try and hunt down the Flaming Lotus here.”

“Oh everyone knows I go seeking that ship, hmm?” Casey smirked as she drew closer with her blade, “Mr. Dulen , do care to answer why we seek James’ ship?”

“Aye, captain! We seek his ship as he as the map to the greatest treasure there is in the world,” Mr. Dulen  answered.

“You want me to spare your nephew, huh?” She placed the blade on the middle-aged man’s neck.

“Yes! Please spare him!”

“Uncle Berry!” The youth protested.

The man swallowed, “I will tell you anything you want, but spare him.”

“Of course, or course. I will dare not touch a single hair on the boy’s head. What is the name of the ship your brother is with? And what is your brother’s name?” Casey flashed a smile.

“His name is Kurtis! His name is Commander Kurtis Von! They make sail with the De Young for the Kingdom of King Drew! Please let the boy be spared-“

The man did not finish his sentence as Captain Casey the Pirate Queen of Discord lopped off his head with a quick strike. She cleaned the blade on the boy’s green coat. The boy grew ashen in his face and buckled on his knees. Casey peered at the boy and rolled her eyes, “Boy, your name is Koret, aye?”

The boy didn’t speak as his trembling hands touched his uncle’s body. Mr. Dulen  struck the boy on his head with an old palm. The boy shrieked in pain and shook as he peered up at the giant and the pirate queen. He said, “A-ay—ee, Aye, I am Korget Von.”

Casey rolled her shoulders and put her sword back into her belt. She gestured to Mr. Dulen , “Lock him up down below. When we find the De Young will be sure this rat be delivered unharmed.”

“Aye, captain,” Mr. Dulen  motioned for the boy to be taken. The others grabbed the young man up and started dragging him away.

He flinched and trembled, “You will really let me go?”

“Aye, boy, I don’t go back on my word,” Casey huffed as she turned on her heel. Mr. Dulen  had the body pulled off the deck and thrown overboard. The young man would be dragged under the ship to the hold. Mr. Dulen  gained pace with Casey again. He asked her quietly, “Would you like me to arrange the usual release?”

“I want to be there to see their ship sink. We have time before we get to James. . .”

“Are you sure, Captain? We had this problem.”

“Doubt me not, Mr. Dulen . I know how I will deal with this. Just give me sometime to think about it. I will be in my cabin. Keep course just about where the traitors were leading us. We will ambush the ship. Then I will know what I need to know about James,” Casey promptly went to her cabin.

Casey kicked her ruby leather boots back on her desk. Maps of the world surrounded her with pins about. There were marks of hit up targets and alliances. The pin with the label “Flaming Lotus” sat upon her desk. It hadn’t been on the maps for a while, that damn James Shaw had been careful over the last few months. It was damn strange how the ship always seemed to escape her grasp. The same could be said of her and her ways.

Casey knew damn well she was cursed with her own lot in life. She got it from the damn rotten coward left her to fate. True she had ran through these thoughts before and again. It wasn’t like it went anywhere. She had this pull with snow and the cold. It left her freezing all the time at first when she and James discovered the Fruit Immortality. Now two normal mates of a sailing ship with no knowledge of the myth and legends were in for a trip. Heck, she was still passing as a cabin boy back then. James a longtime friend helped her land the job.

Casey remembered she wanted to select the bright pink flower of jade. It was so unusual to find on an island with no natives. Casey thought it would be something nice to give to that lily-livered snake James. He had been all lovey with when they first started the voyage. He said that he had like her smile and laugh. Just as she reached out for it on the treasure pile that was when she found the golden pocket watch. It was a funny thing with a small clown on it. She held it up and pointed it out to James. He lifted out a black snowflake hairpin and placed it just behind her ear. He said it would be a good and fine piece for her to wear. It would have been lovely for their wedding. Heck, the treasure would have been enough to see them to the end of their days.  But a funny thing happened went on as he held that watch. He got different. She was left with the cold and the snow. She should have gotten the flower.

Casey puckered her lips in thought. So, this year she had to deal with the navy and James. How troublesome! HOW TROUBLESOME!! HOW TOUBLESOME INDEED!!! Oh but the fun they will have with tearing apart the sailors! Casey scanned over the maps with all their pins. It was easy to see how they were all in their own little patterns. But where could have the coward ran to with his little toy boat. Not to mention her map! It was hers by every right. She had found it first, but that no good low life rat stool it from right under her. Damn him! Damn the girl! Damn all of them!

How did they keep running? And why did they get under her skin? Oh she would be damned herself, if not for Mr. Dulen  he always seemed to be in the right place to keep things all in order. Speaking of who, Mr. Dulen  knocked loudly on the door as Casey dropped her feet down. He stiffly entered in with a quickly bow and cleared his throat, “Captain, we be approaching the range to attack the De Young.

Impatiently, Casey answered, “Good sneak up on them and show them what we are made up of.”

“Captain.”

“What is it, Mr. Dulen ?” Casey snapped and tried to compose herself. Her normal cold temper ran hot with the thought of James and that girl. She shouldn’t take it out on her crew. Casey took a deep breath, “Yes, Mr. Dulen , what do you need?”

“I go more information about the De Young from the boy. He said that he spoke with the little runt that James keeps. They are headed back to Turtle this year,” Mr. Dulen  said sternly.

“Back to Turtle? James never goes back home this time of year. He always tries to be sneaky-“ Casey stood up and grabbed Mr. Dulen ’s arm, “Would try and be clever! Of course, he would try and go back to Turtle!”

“Shall we still open fire on the De Young, captain?” Mr. Dulen  coolly said.

“Later! We will go after the Flaming Lotus first!” Casey narrowed her eyes on the map, “. . . Unless you and the men can sink the De Young right away. And keep the boy. We can throw him overboard later.”

“Aye, aye, captain!” Mr. Dulen  smiled and went out to bark his orders.

. . .

Many of the crew were scrambling to their feet to deal with the oncoming threat. Captain Shaw shouted out orders all about. Arya held a spyglass that Vivian handed her. She stood aside in thought as she watched the flag flapping in the air. There on the cursed ship of Captain Casey flapped with the air. The crimson flag of a skull with a cross bones. It was weathered and worn. She grabbed tightly onto the rail of the ship. Arya sneered as she remembered how the dread pirate tricked her older brother and her into the service aboard her ship. Arya’s nails dug into her flesh as she remembered how poor Jake had been taken as Casey’s plaything. Jake may have been dumb. He may have been a brute. But he didn’t earn his way to the judge’s wrath over in The Red Coast. Nor did he earn the noose around his neck.

Alas, poor Jake did not get saved by Captain Shaw as she did. Jake had been hung for treason against the crown and piracy. Arya had been spared as she only was nine when they were caught. It was Captain Shaw, who took her in as a good deed and reforming. Afterall, how could a young child understand they had been part of an evil plot? Nor why would anyone trust a small child to proclaim the truth about the battles more.

Vivian grabbed Arya’s shoulder and pushed a gun into her hand. The first mate stood sternly in the overcast sky. She whispered to Arya, “Just like we practiced this whole time. Aim steady and be true. Don’t let the witch get in your head. Focus on orders and protecting the ship, lass. If you get the chance, lass, aim for the witch’s heart.”

“Aye, aye,” Arya whispered as she kept the gun tight in her hand. There was no lack of practice since the last couple of pirate attacks. One did not live as cabin boy without learning a thing or two about fighting.

Vivian pulled her pipe out of her mouth, frowned, and perked up her head. Vivian placed her hand on her sword as she turned back to Captain Shaw. He stood tall and held his sword just at the handle. Captain Shaw shouted to the crew, “Mates to the cannons and make ready for battle!”

“Aye, aye, captain!” The men shouted.

. . .

Yes, there had been a fearsome battle that went fast pace and quick. No one could have believed the sped of the fighting. There had been cannons firing and shouts of command. Casey had been lost in her own bottle of rum as she shouted things to the crew. It was around the time of the third bottle of rum, did they come closer to the Flaming Lotus. It was when she could make out the tips of the other ship and its form, did she become aware of the world again. The rum always did things to her head, but it made her think of warmth again. It felt as if there was a fire within her finger. Oh well, now she felt awake. Not just surrounded by men who were at her service and she their captain.

Casey straighten out her hat on her head.  The feathers fluttered in the winds as Casey stepped away from the helm and moved forward. The words for the attack roared from her lips as the snow and the winds wiped around. They rounded the Flaming Lotus.  Cannons and smoke filled the air. Casey looked up and saw the darkened clouds and wiping snow. She couldn’t help, but ask herself, Did I miss part of the battle? And something does feel all strange? Like. . . Like we have revisited all of this?

Casey shook her head and alone the thought. A small and sad melody seemed to haunt the edges of her mind. Just a little echo. Something nagging her. Casey had left a memory or a dream somewhere else before now. She adjusted her hat once more and touched the snowflake pin still attached to hair. It eased the thoughts of the melody and ideas just like that. She fearsomely stood before her men and felt her mouth move. The orders flew about as she got to the ropes and pointed to the ship.

The melody ebbed in as she held the rope. There upon the Flaming Lotus was a sparkle of sunlight and fire among the clouds, snowfall, and now rapidly madden seas. It glimmered and took Casey’s attention. She got lost again as it seemed to call out to her from a distance. A feeling. A real feeling. Remorse. Regret. Anger. Shame. Guilt. Hurt. A depression of tidal wave of feeling came rolling with the soft tune. It played louder. The ship of the Black Snow flickered in her view.

An far off voice asked, “Is it magic you seek? Power? Wealth? What would you trade for your heart’s desire?”

An answer, “I would give my happiness for him to have his desire.”

A haunting laugh, “Oh? How noble? You would give so much for someone who does not care about you in return. So, have your will. I will take what is due to me.”

Casey bit down on her lip so she could taste the blood. The continuous snow wasn’t real. No crewmate ever saw it. No one felt the cold she felt. The magic was not real.  Nor had the book of spells and the flickering sounds of the pages. Nor could anyone else hear the ticks of James’ pocket watch. She would not let anyone know her terror of it being real or not. Nor would any of the crew dare to debate her. She knew that Mr. Dulen  saw to it.

Casey licked her lip and waved her sword forward.  The ships came side to side the fighting raged on, Casey strolled along with her blade at her side. The sweet amora of iron and salt filled her lungs. She coolly went across the planks with Mr. Dulen  clearing her way. Her seadogs were busy with mopping the fool with James’ men. It was too easy this year. No real fight, perhaps James was losing his touch. Proudly Casey held up her head just as Mr. Dulen  pushed a sailor off the boarding plank.

With the small drifts of snow falling upon her hair, Casey scanned the horde of James’ fools. She reached down for her gun and looked about. Oh, her crew had orders, on a hair upon the head of James and his runt of a daughter were to be harmed. No, it was her job to hurt them. Casey narrowed her eyes as Mr. Dulen  chucked someone else out of her way with his blade. Her ruby boots planted themselves on the Flaming Lotus. Casey exhaled as she lifted her gun and shot it up in the air. It seemed like an endless waltz. She had been chasing after James for ages. It was a fact she only seemed to find him once a year upon. She knew there were reasons for these subjects.

Hell, she knew very well that she must have stumbled upon magic in her time with the treasure. The black snowflake it something to her. How she had been changed? Casey knew not of warmth she knew. She could have figured that her mortals had loosened as she slit the neck of her former captain and lead a rebellion. One did not just become the Pirate Queen of Discord overnight. Casey held her figure on the trigger. She needed to get the map, the pocket watch, and the girl. She would be able to set it all into action then. Casey aimed up to the heaven and boom went off. Someone held into the water from the shoot. Just as the snow and the wind let up to a still silence.

“Listen up!” Casey shouted, “Listen if you damn dogs care about your rotten lives!”

The fighting of her men came to an end. The sailors of the Flaming Lotus were uneasy as the boom still echoed upon the still seas. Casey rolled her eyes as Mr. Dulen  moved and pushed many bodies out of her way. Casey peered around the sorry lot before her.  Is James losing his touch or were these men getting weaker each year?  Thought Casey.

She yelled out, “Give us Captain Shaw, the little wench he calls daughter, and the map! If you do so we will make sure your death is swift and clean. Resist and fight back then be prepare to face a fate worst then death!”

The wench, James’ newest pet and lover, Thyme (or was it Vivian?), stood over the mass of sailors and pirates. Casey studied Thyme as she was shouting something or other about staying loyal. It was a similar one from last year. Casey paused and studied Thyme (Vivian). She had surely been much younger last year. She had a bunch of wrinkles under the layers of make-up. Casey watched her lips moved and went to her eyes. Casey pondered, Wait, she wore glasses now? No matter. Where is the tiny creature? I need the runt and the map back.

Her focus was broken with a louder voice yelled out and the sailors cheered on. Casey scanned the crowd and found the face she was looking for. There was the right wench that was James’ lover. Casey held up her sword, “Come on now. Give me what we have come for!”

The wench called out, “We will not surrender anything to you! We beat you back each time!”

Casey put her sword over her shoulder. There was cord struck. Not a figurative one. No, a actually song was playing. The was a toneless melody being strummed as she scanned the sailors. There were cords being played. Two voices were singing together a melody she knew. She steeled her nerves and left behind that memory. Casey wiped out her sword and growled to her crew, “Get to work. Bring me the girl and the captain unharmed. Do to the rest as you wish!”

There was a cheer as the blood and chaos resumed. Mr. Dulen  stride with every one of her steps as they went along together. Casey tightened her grasp on the sword and remembered where she was. There were no ghosts, ghouls, or supernatural. It was all a practical thing to understand. No magic. This was a world of the solid hardcore facts.

The world got lost that melody. Instead with the slow ticking of the pocket watch. It was slowing down. Casey could feel with each step she took to on the deck. She was getting closer to Captain Shaw. Among the battling souls, there came James. He marched forward with a lute and beside him was the rotten girl. Together they played a soft tone. One without much volume. Casey narrowed her eyes at the pitiful man and his little lute.  James bravely came forward between sword swings and gun powder. The girl was taller now. . . James was older. . . Casey felt a heat come into her. The flash of light was coming from James’ pocket.

Mr. Dulen  attempted to block the passage of the two with their silly lutes. It was like a wild dream. James touched the side of her head and she felt the warmth of his hand upon her head as he brushed the hair where the snowflake sat embed there. He whispered to her, “Come on, Casey. Just this once. Let’s change this. I am so tired of following the same path. . . Don’t let it blind you. Surely, your soul hasn’t become so corrupt?”

Casey shook her head and refocused as Mr. Dulen  backed into her. He was blasting off a pistol with his giant bear like arms. He rough voiced shouted, “Captain! Captain you have a cut on your face! Are you okay?”

The Pirate Queen of Discord held her sword up high as Mr. Dulen  covered her front. She yelled, “Yes, Mr. Dulen ! Show these rotten dogs what we are made of!”

“Aye, aye, captain!” Mr. Dulen  charged ahead.

Casey held her sword and tried to put things back in order. There was no lute playing. Captain Shaw was off battling her crew. The rotten girl was blasting her gun off. Casey ran her hand over her cheek and frowned. Indeed, she was wounded. Something funny was going on. Something funny had been ongoing since the treasure. Was something taking over her mind? It didn’t feel so bad or confusing expect for this time of year

. . .

Arya fought her way alongside Cecil and Vivian. They were busy with keeping the pirates away from Captain Shaw. Arya shot into the pirates as they got pushed back to where Captain Shaw shouted out to the crewmates. He drew his sword and told Cecil and Arya, “Get you out of here quickly!! Casey has come!! Get on with the plan!!”

Arya spun about as the captain grabbed a rope and swung forward to meet with the Pirate Queen of Discord. He held up his sword and stood stock still before her. Around his neck was a golden pocket watch. It seemed to radiate light. Arya stumbled back as a pirate tried to strike her. She ducked low and tripped up the pirate. Then she searched around for Cecil. The navigator held his pistol high as he fired into an attacker. He hollered, “Come on, Arya, to positions!”

Together the two mates started to climb the ropes. There among the clattering and shouts, they raised above it all. Arya held her gun at the ready as Vivian taught her. Vivian and Doctor Basil had gone to guard Captain Shaw’s back. Cecil was still climbing through the rigging. Arya watched as the Pirate Queen of Discord twist and duck her way toward Captain Shaw. The two stood with each other between the chaos around them. A giant kept the other sailors from the two. Captain Shaw held up his gun at the ready, but then he drew down his gun. The Pirate Queen nearly dropped hers. Arya could not make out the words they were speaking.

Captain Shaw was fast with his blade as the Pirate Queen dropped down her gun and went to a blade. They were racing back and forth. Arya lifted her gun and waited for Cecil to get to his position. The rigging was seated on rocked and jiggled as a heavy hand pulled on the ropes. She looked down and saw the giant was claiming up toward her.

. . .

James Shaw held his breath as he kept his sword steady on Casey. He knew what was right and wrong. He had always been a righteous man. Here he stood before his former friend and lover.  He felt his hand on the pocket watch around his neck. It seemed unfair that it had come down to this. But he had followed what the sea witch had told him. How does one undo a curse so wicked that it can corrupt a soul? How do you do it without killing or harming the other? If had chosen to let hatred fill him he would have long ago vanished. And if he had allowed any crew to harm Casey, it would have been much worse. . .  He did his best to be honest with his men about the conditions of the ship. He paid more then any other sea captain in the lands. He always did well with his men. There was always plenty of shore leave time.

But did it matter with the terms of battling a god’s curse? Did the crew truly understand the terms of it all? It would make sense that most of the crewmates were selected by Doctor Basil herself. Not just anyone would be fine with the unusual requests of the Flaming Lotus. Normal dealings with merchants and kings were the run of the mill. But the stranger bits that only part of the crew really understood. So much blood had to be spilled. . .  So much had been done to try and undo what a foolish task he started as a young man. But this was not a job for a sham of warlock. Nor was it a job for an old sea dog. He knew he was out of magic and running out of time.

Took a deep breath and thought over his life. It hadn’t been bad. He lived a good one. He and Casey had fine adventures before the treasure. If what the sea witch told him was only half true it would be more then enough for him. He had done as he was told. He got all the items and research done so that the others could finish what he could not.

The ship rocked with the heavy waves. James had out the puff of air as . . .

He coolly aimed his blade at Casey, “You don’t have to do this. You still have a choice. Come on, Casey, I know there is some good left in you.”

She swallowed with a pained looked. Ah, the face that would do more than launch a thousand ships. James watched her get all twisted up inside.  She begun, “You have no clue what you have done to me!”

He slowly went through with words. This was the tricky part.  To kill or to spare? To be killed or spared? No one really remembered how Captain Casey the Pirate Queen of Discord left the Flaming Lotus each year. Not anymore who wasn’t aware of James’ secret like Doctor Basil. James sighed a little to himself. He had used up all his attempts in the last few years since Arya had come. This was his last time, then it would have to be Arya. He hoped to the Fool that he had the right words this year. Or it would be the last they would both dance this dance.

Steadily and subtly, James gestured for the others to play on their instruments. Arya lifted her lute and strummed along as a melody formed. Cecil begun to hum along as the temperature dropped.  James shivered as his breathe puffed in front of him. His sword off to the side as he extended his hand. He had enough of ghost stories and magics. James just wanted his friend back. He cleared his voice again with the pocket watch glowing brighter. James said, “Come on Casey! Let’s end this! I know you can hear me! Break free this time!”

“Oh, Captain James turning yellow this year!” Casey advanced forward with her blade towards him.

James ducked as Casey swung at him. He looked down as the ground turned to a light frost. The battle of sailors and pirates carried out. James closed his eyes for a half a second as the song gained a volume. He thought to himself, The sea witch said this work! It is my last chance!”

James threw his blade away on the ground. The other sailors stopped for a second but remembered their orders. James heard the shuffle of that troublesome giant, Mr. Dulen . At least Vivian and Doctor Basil had found a way to get him busy. James drive again as the black snowflakes started to whip about the sky. He looked up at the pale face of Casey, all her beauty still frozen from when she was a young woman. James called out again, “CASEY! YOU CAN HEAR ME!”

Casey swirled around with the grace of a cat. She narrowed her eyes at him, “FIGHT ME! YOU WILL FIGHT COWARD!”

James rolled out of the way as the next swing of the blade out stuck in the deck. He ran behind Casey as the melody picked up speed and became louder. The melody was beginning to form. The Pirate Queen of Discord screamed and covered her ears. James could just make out the faint runes on the ship’s deck. Doctor Basil and Vivian were giving shouts and yells far off with the giant. James could spy Arya playing upside down in the rigging. Cecil was aiming at the giant. The song had not reached the proper part of the lyrics yet.

James felt the cold wind of Casey’s sword as she swung at him. He plead to her, “CASEY! LISTEN! LISTEN!”

. . .

Arya held her fingers over the strings as she played the tune as Captain Shaw told her to. The melody had to be felt from within the heart he had told her. So played she did with the intent of her heart being known to Captain Casey. She wanted that woman to know what she took from her life. She wanted her to know what her brother meant to her. Arya kept her mind on the song. She felt the rigging sway and move with the weight of Mr. Dulen . But he did not climb on. It would seemed Vivian and Thyme were busy with attacking him.

Arya begun to tell herself a story. Her fingers moved across the strings. But her mind went on with her own story: Once upon a time there was a girl. Long before she could really remember she had two loving parents who lived in a beautiful house. It was a huge home among the clouds with walls made of shells and sand. Her mother was a mermaid and her father was a sailor from a faraway land. Together the sailor and the mermaid had two children. They had the girl and a boy. Now one day, the mermaid fell very restless as she knew she must go to attend the king’s side among the waves. The mermaid packed her bag and went off to the sea to tend the king. Well, the sailor and the children carried on waiting for the return of the mermaid. Not long had passed when the sailor was called away for a war. The sailor left his son in charge of his daughter. It was a very long time the boy waited for either parent to return. But no one came home. The boy took his infant sister and went to find his parents. Never were they found.

Instead the boy grew into a man and lead his sister to the city. There she had lived a hard life as a ragamuffin among the busy city. Her older brother, Jake, attempted to do them right. But Jake was not a bright boy. No Jake decided that he liked a couple things a lot. It made it hard for Jake to hold a job to support himself and his sister. Jake loved his drink and his women. Money went fast with much a taste. But still Jake tried to do what was right for his young sister. He was strong and hearty and if they went to sea there was little trouble with drink and women. Jake tried to be a good brother. It just never seemed to work out.

One day Jake had accepted the offer of a sea captain for a high rate and adventure. Arya would even be allowed to travel with them, given she accept being dressed as a boy and become the cabin boy. Arya did not reject her brother’s offer. They had not much of a choice unless she wanted to choose to beg more on the street. The girl got in boy’s clothing and followed her brother to the ship of Captain Casey.

Arya felt the rope snap under her as she nearly dropped her lute. She threw her lute over her shoulder and slung herself around the mast. She knew not a beat of the song could be missed. Arya looped her leg on the back of the rope and flipped upside down.  The lute stood firmly in her hands just as Cecil went from soft humming to bellowing out his tune. Arya peered over Cecil as there were pirates aiming and missing at him. She got tangled upside down with the lute under her figures. The captain’s plan was a mad one, but he said he could get Casey to do down. Vivian added that the captain wanted her to attack once the time was right. After all, Casey wanted James and Arya alive.

Arya held her fingers as she heard the shouts from Vivian. The giant had fire upon the first mate and got her on her foot. Doctor Basil hacked at his arm with her sword. Arya hung about in the air as Cecil picked up and the words came booming over the fighting. Arya had to focus now. If she didn’t give her all in the melody the plan would not work.  She closed her eyes and went back to the story in her head:

For her brother’s choices they were trapped with pirates to their lives. They suffered through much under the cruel hands of Captain Casey.  She lead her brother very dark paths and she herself was being left astray-

Arya paused as one of her strings snapped and Ciel was being attacked by a pirate with a sword. His song was interrupted as he shouted and blasted his pistol. Arya peered at Captain Shaw without his sword and speaking with the rotten pirate. Arya shouted out the tune the captain had taught her. The melody was jumbled and hard to catch as she hit her notes wrong. Being upside down and trying to play the lute was doing her no good. Arya gathered her lute and closer as the giant freed himself of Vivian and Doctor Basil. Arya tried to play on as the giant got near, but with the swaying seas and jumbling of the ropes. The girl threw her lute at the giant with great force.

He grunted and was stunned for a moment as Arya grabbed onto the rigging and up righted herself.  She had lost her spot in the song. Cecil was no longer singing. But Casey had sure turned around and aimed her gun at Cecil. Captain Shaw tackled her down and got stabbed on his side. Casey got to her feet and kicked Captain Shaw. The Pirate Queen of Discord called to her crew, “Loot the place! Take all you can!”

Vivian shouted, “Sailors defend the ship to your deaths!”

Arya rushed up from her point as Mr. Dulen  was hot on her heels. She spat at him pulled herself to the top of the mast and got a whole bird’s eye view of the chaos of the battle. She spotted Captain Shaw struggling to his feet and now Arya knew why Vivian had given her orders as well. Arya made ready to aim at Casey, but she recalled the struggling Cecil with his pirates. Arya hesitated as Captain Shaw got up and grabbed the Pirate Queen from behind and disabled her. Arya took the shot at the other pirates.

. . .

He was indeed hurt. It was a bad hurt which only get worse as long as things carried on as they did. There was not much else to do now, but to pled and then. . . Well. . . There was only that left. James Shaw held Casey from behind. She was wild with her sword and screams. The song had not finished. He could not subdue her gently. It would have to be the other way. James whispered in a last pled, “Casey, please stop fighting. You still have a chance. This is the very last chance I can make for you. Please stop and let me take the treasure piece back.”

Casey screamed savagely, “I wanted to take you alive! But dead or alive will work! Men kill them all!”

James closed his eyes as he knew what was to come next. He grabbed Casey harder and forced her to drop her sword, but the pistol would not be let go of. The giant was giving up on the girl and coming to the aide of his mistress. James scanned around and found Thyme and Vivian in position for their own rite. James embraced himself as the pirates were gathering about and coming in closer.

. . .

It had happened quickly. Just as every year before hand and now for the very last time, the pirates had been sent away. Just like a very bad dream. Just like that. Casey was gone back to her own depth of hell. Oh, the ones who could say how were soon not able to say how it happened. Vivian and Doctor Basil hurried about the deck helping the sailors up. Cecil hopped down from the heights of the rigging and searched about for the captain. Arya, too, got herself back to the deck and searched for her adopted father.

There on the deck was the wounded captain. He stood bravely covering over his injury as he reviewed the sailors and the battle damage of everything. There would not be enough magics to ease the conflict this year. Captain Shaw listened to his own breath and the ticking of his pocket watch. It was very slow now. He straightened himself out and called out, “Doctor Basil, come to me at once. I do need your help now. The rest tend to the injured and dead.”

Cecil nodded and went with Vivian to tend to the other. Arya lingered on before her adopted father. She raised an eyebrow at his tone. There was something awful here. This year the pirates did not loot them. Nor was there any sign of the fallen pirates. Arya peered around for Captain Casey’s ship in the waters or the storm that was just here. It was not fitting well at all. Arya approached her father when she crunched her broken lute. She frowned but hurried to Captain Shaw anyway.

Arya said, “Father, are you okay? I see that you’re bleeding.”

“I will be . . .” Captain Shaw stopped himself from the word fine. He said, “I just need the doctor to tend to me. Go now and help the others as a good mate should.”

Doctor Basil hurried along to Captain Shaw, “Aye, lass. Off with you. I will take care of the captain.”

And off she went to rejoin Vivian and Cecil. She paused to asked Vivian, “Do you understand what happened here?”

Vivian shrugged, “It is the same thing that happens every year.”

. . .

Casey stood back on the deck on her ship. The snowflakes continued to fall upon the deck of her ship. No one ever noticed the chill or the lack of warmth. Casey shook her head as the ship sailed further away from the Flaming Lotus. The men were rejoicing with all the spoils from the navy ship and the items from Captain James’ office. Casey leaned on the rail with her commander’s hat beside her. She clicked her tongue in her mouth. Mr. Dulen  silently was beside her with a cup of rum. He drank in a somber tone.

The Pirate Queen of Discord grabbed onto her sword. The blood was gone, but something lingered on. Casey held her hand around the pocket watch. It didn’t tick or tock. The little tarnished image of a clown was on top. Casey brought the watch closer to hear. It was quiet. No spark of light. The Pirate Queen scanned the darkness of the sea and how the clouds lay overcast. She narrowed her eyes and faintly saw the stars. The snowflakes flicked out of view. Casey instead hear that melody, the one from James. Casey grabbed the pocket watch tightly in her hands and chucked it into the ocean.

Casey blinked once again. The snow was gone. She turned to her crew and saw nothing out of place. Just a group of loyal sea dogs and making merry. Casey peered at her hands and saw the ruby of blood on her fingers. Mr. Dulen  simply handed her a wet cloth. Casey took it slowly and whispered to him, “Something is different.”

“Aye, captain,” Mr. Dulen  muttered.

“He did something to me,” Casey shuttered as glanced out. The Flaming Lotus was gone from sight and the haunting melody was gone. Casey brushed her hair behind her ear. The snowflake was no longer touchable by her ear. She threw the rag back at Mr. Dulen . He took it and handed her a bottle of rum.

Casey held it and paused, “Mr. Dulen .”

He took a deep drink from his cup, “Aye, captain?”

“Do you believe in magic?” Casey swirled the rum about her cup.

“Aye, captain,” Mr. Dulen  nodded.

Casey could feel warmth returning to her fingers. It did not stay long as it faded. There was an iciness which would not let up. It wrapped itself around Casey’s heart. The few morals she had left remained together. But there was a deep waking in Casey’s soul, which had been waiting for this moment. She asked Mr. Dulen , “Have I ever told you how I became captain?”

“No.”

“Do you believe in ghosts or gods? Do you think it is possible we are ghosts?”

“No, captain. I believe in my sword and my aim, captain,” Mr. Dulen  smirked with his gun right at his side, “Captain have you too much to drink today. Ghost and ghouls?”

Casey paused, “Have I told you of the treasure that James hides?”

“No, captain,” Mr. Dulen  raised his eyebrow.

Casey started about the island about magic and more.

. . .

Captain Shaw stood upon the bed in his room. He placed his hand over the wound. The details of Vivian’s dream echoed in his head as he thought over his fate. It as he thought before did not matter what choice he had made. The end results were still the same. Here it was as it comes and it came. Captain Shaw watched the slowing ticks of the pocket watch. Ah, here the final parts would fall into place. He watched as Doctor Basil sat beside him with the redden bandages. The others were still outside the doors. The sea witch’s eyes glimmered as she spied the pocket watch. She sighed slightly, “We tried all we could, Captain. I see the magic is running out now. Casey got the one she was searching for, eh? I suppose then your plan was not a complete loss.”

Captain Shaw looked quietly at the one in his hands.

Thyme said, “Shall I let them in yet?”

“Thyme, your bedside matter is something to desired,” Captain Shaw grinned, “I admit I have never been much of a spellcaster. Just a seadog who figure out a trick or two.”

“You. . . Oh Shaw. . . I just wished we could have done more,” Thyme rung her hands together.

“That gift is not meant for me. Make sure they don’t use it for me. Never for me,” Captain Shaw swallowed back some pain.

“Captain Shaw-“

“Listen here, sea witch. I hired you and your children to see this all through to the end. Be sure it goes well this jest cannot go on. The conflict ought to end now. It was never a very funny joke. I should have done better . . .” His eyes shaded over with a golden haze.

Thyme covered her mouth, “The Fool’s pocket watch. . . Captain Shaw! Focus! You have very little time left.”

Captain Shaw shook himself, “Oh right, right .  . . Before you do the thing you do so well, Doc. Could you promised to send all the research and hidden artifacts to the university? And be sure to take the pocket watch and put it away. . . The one Casey has is the last magic I got. That one there was a cheap knock off. . .  Well, this one. You know what it does. Lock it up until you or someone can put it back to the treasure.”

“Aye, James, I can do that,” Doctor Basil whispered to him, “But will you give them any hope? We could still make it to shore, James. We could cure it then.”

“No lying about these things, Thyme. We know what is happening and why. And will you just let this be as I wish?”

“Yes, James, I can,” Thyme kissed his cheek, “I can.”

“Good, good, my dear sea witch. . .” James held his hand over the wound, “Go call them in. It is about time.”

Thank You, My Dark Lord

Chapter Five:

Jamming to Think Again

Susan’s hands rest on the terrible, awful book. Zhe thinks the fable beautiful. But the real instructions are far more unpleasant. Zher tired eyes peer down at the illustrations and the graphic details. Susan’s stomach feels weak. The former dark lord stares down at the potion and the list of items.   Zhe could not bring zherself to try and attempt the current thing Efe suggested. Susan swallows in the dim and terrible library. Zhe folds over a page without much thought. Susan snaps the book shut and refocuses zher mind like Madam Stacy had taught zher. Susan mouths to zherself in silence the motto from the last twenty years: I may have been evil in, but it does not mean I cannot change. A chill goes down Susan’s back, zhe nearly killed some with the gun. Zhe is lucky it did not work and seemed to be a toy.

Zhe shakes zher head with the memory of Dominique and Efe right behind zher. Susan turns around to Dominique and motions to the whole room. Zhe commands, “Please do something about this whole place. I feel as if I am still in a stupid Hot Topic.”

Wordlessly Dominique waves her hand and the room brightens up with the lanterns. The gloomy décor of demons and dragons fades away into a plain library. Susan sighs as zhe knows it is only an illusion. The terrible items are all about and just beneath the surface.  Zhe  holds the book in hand as Efe asks, “What do you think, Lord Susan? It is wicked and evil. It is enough to complete your master plan of twenty years. I know you have been very secretive about the plans for our operations over the last decades. But surely this will do well with your plan. I mean not push either as your last plan seems to have failed.  And surely all this talk of being good and seeing therapist is nonsense. A joke, right? The whole thing, my lord?”

Susan lowers zher head with zher snowy hair falling over zher face. Zhe thinks, I have indeed failed. . . I have not the heart anymore. . . I thought I have told them that already.

Dominique places a hand on Susan’s shoulder. She quietly whispers, “My Lord Susan, do you truly mean you’re no longer evil? Do you wish no longer to avenge our people because of King Uther and the Merlin? You do not jest?”

Susan shoves the book back over to Efe’s hands. Zhe snaps at Efe, “Please take me home now. I have a lot on my mind.”

   Efe replies, “You are home, my lord.”

“Take me back to Sunnydale House. I need sleep. I have appointments to keep and applications to fill out,” Susan says.

“My lord, must you return to the apartment?” Efe pulls out his wand.

Dominique offers, “We can go with you, Lord Susan.”

Susan, “NO! I mean. . . No thank you. No thank you for your offer.”

Dominique puts down her hand. Efe has automatically pulled out his wand to defend himself. Both knew well of Susan’s dangerous temper. They embrace themselves as Susan paces and hugs zherself. Zhe thinks on, If they come back to my apartment again Strongarm and Madam Stacy will truly know I have had guests. They will investigate me again. I don’t want any trouble anymore. It was my fault for coming with these two. I just lost my head at the mention of Flincher. Ugh, what am I going to do? They are unstable fay. They also just committed crimes. Maybe I should go back and report them?

            Susan paces along the floor of the library. Efe and Dominique stay frozen in their places. The wrathful Susan could see to their deaths in a second, if displeased. Zhe stops to look at both of zher followers. Zhe rubs zher head, How am I going to get them to return me home? They may as well kill me, if they think I am truly weakened and reformed. I most likely still have because they are not very bright. I have proven no brighter for coming here. Stupid! Stupid! I need to call the Magical Protectors and Madam Stacy.

Susan stares down at zher ankle. All zher magic is suppressed with it on. Zhe had gotten use to not having any more at all. Zhe tries to get around the problem of no magics. Zhe declares, “I . . . I mean to say.  . .Aha! You are most cunning Efe and Dominique. Of course I would be testing you. I needed to see if you could endure my trickery.  If I had become good, why I would have been enchanted by those disgusting wizards and witches. My action of being reformed is so genius, I am the first prisoner to escape the Lunar Prison.  Now, if you do not listen to my requests you will ruin my master plan. I have worked on it for the last two decades!

“What type of plan is my lord?” Efe smiles.

“We.  . . I . . .” Susan ponders, “I have made them believe I am on gracious terms with that scum Benet. The whole gun affair was to throw them off. I knew Benet was going to get married to that fat idiot Nadir.  I plan to go to their marriage and ruin everything. I will kill both of them in front of the Magical Community. Then rain death upon Witch’s Way with the fury of all the Underground Fay. We will burn the rest of the world in fire. But first I need to return to my therapist and probation officer as not to get anyone to question my reformation.”

Efe chuckles with his hand on his weapon. He lowers his hand and offers, “My lord, we can still remove the anklet. It will allow you access to your Black Magic-“

“DO NOT TEMPET ME ANY FURTHER!” Susan yells.

Efe jumps, “My lord?”

“I swear if you keep trying to order me into action I will kill you with my bare hands!” Susan shakes zher fist at Efe. Zhe tries to hid zher fear and confusion.

Dominique gently says, “My lord, we seek you please you. We wish to bring terror upon the mudanies and the Magical Community. No one must forget the horrors that the fay can do.”

Susan curses, “Just . . . Just open the bloody portal. You are delaying all of my plans you fools!”

Efe smirks, “Oh my lord, you are funny as ever!”

“Stop testing me!” Susan growls.

Efe takes the book and tried to return it to Susan, “Do not forget the book, my lord!”

“You keep it!” Susan shutters at the thought of the gross thing in zher apartment.

“But my lord-“ Efe forces it back into zher hands.

Angrily Susan takes the book, “Fine.             Now portal time!”

Efe and Domininque says, “As you wish, Lord of Mischief and Dread!”

They walk Susan back to the portal cycle outside.  Efe begins the spells. Susan goes thru the portal and returns to the apartment. It is sunrise. The calendar on zher wall reads session with Madam Stacy at ten in the morning. It has little star stickers and smiley faces. The other dates have appointments with Strongarm in a few days. If Susan were good, zhe would be free of the anklet in the next few weeks. Zhe would be able to have fun at the senior center. Susan could go see the Oceanside Lane for the first time in age. Zhe could travel back to Wunderland, the last theme park Flincher and zhe had been too.

Susan picks up the old, old, practically ancient phone from zher side table. Zhe tries to dial it. But zhe finds it poofs into a vase of flowers. Zhe slumps down in one of zher chairs with a tiny cat pillow. Susan wary from the day and exhausted yawns. Zhe up the cursed book on zher coffee table and rubs zher head. Zhe would be able to speak with Madam Stacy in a few hours. Zhe kicks off zher boots with a thump. The warmth of the fireplace is comfortable and cozy. Susan yawns again. The sun’s rays peek pass Susan’s curtains. Zhe stands up slowly and tightens more of the curtains. Zhe drifts over back to zhe room. The bunny customs hangs on the back of the door.  Zhe closes the door, zhe could deal more with the whole mess with a nap. Zhe climbs into bed and covers her head.

The hours vanish as the sun creeps into Susan’s room.  Susan groans at the invasive light. Zhe sits up and tries to estimate the time. Zher stretches throws off zher blankets. Susan had yet to purchase a clock to keep time, or magical one. Zhe judged the time at sometime around seven in the morning. Zhe groans.

A knocking comes from Susan’s front door. A raspy voice calls from the hallway, “Mx. Susan Banies, it me Boris Strongarm. I am here to check on you. I have got messages that unusual activities have been occurring within your apartment.”

“Shit. . .” Susan whispers. The wards and spells must have had an alert inside of zher apartment. Zhe had accepted the half-way house on the bases that the spells and wards were to protect zher from others who wish to do zher harm. Zhe closes zher eyes. Zhe had been hoping that the whole probation was earnest. Zhe may be a former dark lord, but zhe expected more out of the Magical Protectors.

The softer tone of Madam Stacy adds, “Susie, I am here too. I know our session is not for another two hours. But I am concerned about your health since yesterday’s news and Strongarm’s call to me.”

“Shit. . .” Susan curses again. Zhe calls out, “Did Lloyd call you?”

“Yes, Susie, Lloyd called us. His job as the housekeeper and house brownie is to ensure the residents are safe. He checked with his fellow house brownies. They reported you weren’t home,” Madam Stacy says, “We are here to check on you.”

Zhe stumbles forward with zher limp.  Susan thinks, Damn the stupid trap that backfired all those years ago. Damn it to hell! Stupid leg! Stupid hexs! Zhe searches around for zher cane. Susan grabs it from the floor and tries to make zherself presentable quickly. Zhe staggers over to the door.  Zhe opens the door, “Look, it is a lot for me not to wake up in a cell. It is the first night I have had as a free soul. Would you blame me to being a bit out of sorts?”

Madam Stacy coolly wakes in, “No, Susie, it is perfectly acceptable that you would be as you feel-”

Strongarm walks into the cozy hold. He scans about the apartment with his green eyes. His spiked black hair is nearly hidden by his flat cap. His large winter jacket makes him seem huge and portly. His steps are heavy in tennis shoes. Strongarm outfit is mismatched fabrics and designs. A wizard truly no clue what mudanies wear in their everyday life. He has a leather bag to his side, which he takes out a clipboard. His wrinkled face softens with concern. Strongarm says, “In your apartment, Susie, there were different spells performed: two portal cycle charm, two quick change enchantments, and several summoning of drinks.  The drinks of choice being of blood, ale, and beer. Susie, who came here?”

Madam Stacy puts up her hand to Strongarm, “Easy, easy. You make it seem like zhe is guilty of wrong doing before we even ask questions. Zhe has a right to explain. Susie?”

If I tell the truth about Dominique and Efe, will they think I am linked to the crimes. Zhe looks at both of them. Susan swallows, “Well about that. . . I had two unexpected guests get into my place yesterday.”

Strongarm, “Huh. . .You had magical guests last night, okay. Some old friends?”

“Yea. . .” Susan weakly smiles. Zhe peers over at Madam Stacy. The little goblin closes the front door. She travels about the living room to the coffee table.

Strongarm frowns, “Mx. Baines, you know very well that there are restrictions about guests here in Sunnydale so late at night, especially magical yielders.”

“Yea. . . I know that. . . I just forgot last night,” Susan staggers over to a chair near the fireplace. Zhe spots Madam Stacy grabbing the book on the table. Susan points to it, “Madam Stacy, Mister Strongarm, umm. . . Er . . . I want to go to the Magical Protectors.   There is evidence I need to give to them.”

Madam Stacy holds up Sundried Hope. She reads it slowly to herself the words in the first passage:

Sundried Hope 

The Request 

The lights were dim on the rocking ship as tides ebbed and flowed. There was a soft ringing of the church bells in the distance. The town was off in the distance just like a few dots of lights on the horizon. The lighthouse shone with its great beam through the dark skies. The church bells rang out again for the midnight services.  It was only a few hours from the celebration of Christmas.  Still, the crew was all holding their breath. All of them were warily at their places they had hardly recovered from the previous attack by the pirates. But the patchwork repairs would suffice enough until they arrived at the town.  They would not tend to their wounds rather they took solace in one thing- they victoriously defended their load and their ship. But it came with a high price. Their beloved old captain suffered gravely. 

In the captain’s room, the officers gathered about the old captain. His room was a clutter of maps, books, models, and charts. Everything was everywhere. The floor was hard to find. The dotted trail of crimson from the door was the hint of something amiss. The old captain in his dusty blue coat and white shirt sat quietly on his bed. His took shallow breaths as his brown eyes scanned his officers. His fingers unconsciously curled about his bandages by his chest. Doc Basil with her aluze strip of eye makeup and large disc earrings gravely held the bandages. Her tight black bun of hair, did nothing to stop the sweat. Her apron was stained a sickly red.  The doctor frowned deeply at the results of the tests.  

“Cap. . .” Doc Basil whispered. 

“Aye, Doc?” 

“Cap. . .” She sniffled in sorrow, “It is . . .” 

“Out with it, Doc!” The old captain smirked, despite his pain. 

“OH CAP!” Doc Basil held his hand. 

The old captain patted her hand weakly, “Now, now, Doc. It is what it is!” 

“Don’t say it is true!”  The first mate,  Vivian Tashi, covered her mouth. Her refined makeup was still smeared from the rain and gunpowder. Her round glasses had a clear crack on them. Her hair was matted against her ruby red headband as her earrings jingled.  Her navy dress barely hid her sidearm. Her form sank into a chair. Her foot was in bandages. The battle fire had clipped her there. 

 There stood the navigator, Cecil Wa, stoically watching by the foot of the bed. A well-worn sailor cap hid his black oak hair. His many earrings glimmered in the light as he lowered his head from the news. He turned away, and his neck displayed dragon tattoos.  His callous hands locked close together with silent sorrow.   His loose shirt with medals from service held out his proud chest. In the side of his mouth, his cigar dangled as his face remained collected. 

  Then the dearest crewmate to the old sea captain, Miyuki Nozomi Arya, the bard of the ship and deck hand.  Her relationship with the old captain was his- adopted daughter. He saved her from life on the streets as a ragamuffin and from the dread Captain Samantha. Miyuki held her hands tight around her lute. She had hoped to play a song to cheer up the old captain. Her snowy jacket hangs half off her body with tears from a sword fight. Her skirt was stained in seawater and wreaked of gunpowder. Her short auburn locks spun about her head below her headband.  

The old captain smiled, “ Doc Basil, I need not be treated like a meek lady. I know my fate. It was the cost of doing battle with pirates.” 

Doc Basil turned away, “Cap, the wound is indeed fatal. The sword wounds were poisonous!” 

“Aye, aye, Doc. You warned me of the possibility of not living to landfall,” the captain coughed, “Should that happen. . . Well. . .Now ye all need to hear me out. I have a few last requests.” 

“Sir?” Cecil asked. 

Vivian bowed her head. 

Mutedly Miyuki came closer. 

“I pray we get to land soon. But should this old sea dog give his due before I make it to the priest and the church. I need these things done. Doc Basil, see all me records about the foreign lands we have found be given to the university.  Ye have been right by me. See that our discoveries are used well. “ 

Doctor Basil said, “Aye, cap.” 

“Vivian, see to all the arrangements in me will, even the small details about me ward here. Then be sure to pay all the men properly. A fair share for everyone. No being light. Keep the books in order. Then when the time is right be sure to elect a new captain. Ye have done well, Vivian. Ye have done well to serve me,” He nodded to her. He turned to Cecil, “Cecil. . . For god sakes don’t get lost anymore. And stay away from the ladies and their troubles.” 

Cecil quietly smirked, but there was a pained look in his eye. 

The captain turned to the girl. He held out a piece of paper and his voice dropped down to a raspy whisper. He happily smiled at the girl as she came closer. He horsley coughed and patted the girl’s head, “ Miyuki, you have been like a daughter to me. My request of you is simple. I hope ye don’t mind humoring me.  My request for you is to play this song at Charlie’s lighthouse.”  

“Is that all, Cap?” Miyuki said. 

“Ye ought not waste a second of time once we make it to shore. You must get away quickly  You have to get Charlie, to allow you near the top of the lighthouse. There you must sing, Miyuki. Sing with all of your heart. This is my request to you,” the old captain smiled as he allowed her to take the paper. 

The ship rocked back and forth. There was a hush in the cabin as the captain took a heavy and labored breath.  As he exhaled a window busted opened and the lights of the cabin were all put out. A storm was brewing on the horizon beyond the keep of the sleepy town of Hart. But for the crew of the  Great Blue Heron, they mourned for the old captain died. 

Madam Stacy narrows her eyes on the page and passes it to Strongarm. He turns over the plain looking leather book. He too reads the beginning. Strongarm says, “Mx. Baines all of this is a children’s fable. I see no reason why a tale of seafarers ought to be criminal evidence. I am more concerned about the spells performed in your apartment.”

Madam Stacy taps her foot, “Susie, how is this evidence?”

“In the back of the book! There is a spell to bring back the dead! Efe and Dominique they came here to try and get me to use it. They want me to return to my former ways,” Susan declares.

Strongarm flips the pages, “Mx. Baines, I understand your former associates may have come to call upon you.  I even understand they may have asked you to continue your former ways. I am glad you are reporting this. We can ensure tighter protection around your household. . . We may even have to relocate you from Sunnydale House. Efe and Dominique? Efe Wunderland of the Department of Mundane Affairs and Dominique of Environmental Protection of Fairy Rings? Those two again? You know they were proven innocent of any wrong doing in their last trail. Your testimony proved invalid due to lack of evidence.  You even retracted your statement hours before it happened. Those two are saints! But you want me to believe this book is evidence? The pages in this children’s book go blank before the end of the chapter one.”

Susan staggers over, “I read it a couple of hours ago! It was all there! Plus I am the one who help set them up in office. I gave them the one who gave them the cover stories and alibis.”

Strongarm reads aloud:

The Song 

Creak. Pound. Creak. Pound. Creak. A candle flickered with each step. The shutters  rattled with the coming moans of the wind. His leathering hand rubbed his eye as Charlie hobbled over to the door. Charlie’s body ached as he leaned over on his cane. He pulled his robe closer to his body. The roar of thunder came from outside as the drizzle slowly increased. The door sounded again. Creak. Pound. Creak. Pound. Creak.  

Charlie called out, “Coming, coming. Hold on just a moment.” 

There in the soaking rain was a girl, a woman, and a man.  Charlie held up his light The girl turned and waved to the carriage. It went in haste back to Hart. The girl turned back to Charlie. The lighthouse keeper held up his light. Then he realized it was members of the Great Blue Heron.  There stood Cecil, Vivian, and  Miyuki.  Cecil in a thick overcoat held a tight hold on a lantern.  Vivian quietly waited with her umbrella. Miyuki in her black cloak drenched and cradled in her arm was a lute. The lighthouse keeper gestured to them, “Come in quickly. You all will catch yourself a death of cold!” 

He kindly held the door open to the lighthouse. The three came in slowly.  Charlie huddled in the warm of his robe. He pulled the door back all to allow  his unexpected guests. He fought against the wind to close the door again. It was Cecil who easily pushed the door shut again. The trio came into the dimly lit hallway. Vivian folded her umbrella and left it by the door. The howls of the storm remained outside the house. Charlie stared at them in disbelief. His guests slowly left their cloaks and coat on the coat rack by the door. Charlie warmly gestured for them to follow him into the kitchen where the hearth was warm and bright. The lighthouse keeper settled in a fine rocking chair. One he had made himself. A second chair stood empty next to his own. The one of his wife, who slept soundly with his two sons in the back. His small dog sleepily wagged its tail from its bed and perked up at the new company.  The fine creature hopped into its master’s lap and contently stood. The three sat in their seats in grave silence. Charlie patted the dog’s head and said, “What can I do you all for you? Would like some tea? Maybe some coffee?” 

There was no an immediate answer.  

Charlie went on, “It is good to see you all. I am glad to see you back from your last trip. Very nice to see you Miyuki. I bet my brother has many new tales to share. He’ll most likely be on his way soon to brag about his latest discovery or acts of bravery! He he. That old fiend. Tell me, what keeps him?” 

“We have not come on happy times, friend,” Vivian said. 

“What do you mean?” Charlie asked. 

“Captain Shaw has died today,” Cecil answered. 

“My brother!!” Charlie sank in his chair.  He quietly placed his hand on his heart, “How!? When!?” 

“Uncle Charlie, we were attacked by pirates on our way into port. They ambushed us. . .” Miyuki grabbed at her lute. 

“It was not just any set of pirates,” Vivian rubbed her arm with a hardened gaze, “It was Captain Samantha. She had not seen fit to leave us be since we had a run in with her off the coast of Africa. It would seem that she bares us bad blood still for Miyuki’s confession of Captain Samantha’s wicked crimes against the crown!”  

“The old captain fought well, but poison has been his undoing. Captain Shaw passed on just before landfall,” Cecil said. 

“Wilma and the boys will be devastated! Oh poor Shaw!” Charlie covered his face. 

Miyuki pulled at her dress. The scar from when she encountered  Captain Samantha and the Brillig Crew was not forgotten. They took her out to sea before she had met the saving grace of Captain Shaw. The girl had been captured by the police in a different city. It was Captain Shaw that had stopped her fate from the gallows. But the scar from Captain Samantha remained on her neck. She put her head down low at the thought of the sickening pirate. Their last encounter had been intense for all. But now it was over. Her hands curled around her lute.  

“Uncle Charlie,” Miyuki interrupted the mourning man. 

“Y-yes. . .?” The lightkeeper sniffed, “ What is it child?” 

“Captain Shaw had asked me to sing a song at the top of the lighthouse right away,” Miyuki said. 

“He asked you to do what?” 

“Captain Shaw said it was his last request for me to sing him a song on the top of the lighthouse.” 

“But. . . But Miyuki-” Charlie stood up with a pale face. 

“I will not be in the way of your devices, Uncle Charlie. I just need to be there to sing for Captain Shaw,”  She declared. 

“But you know that singing there is against the rules of the lighthouse, especially at night,” The poor lighthouse keeper folded his arms, “Surely we could wait until the storm passes and maybe even for daybreak.” 

Cecil raised an eyebrow, “Forbidden by the rules? Your own flesh and blood has passed on. His only request for Miyuki was to sing here.” 

“Yea, Charlie, since when has it been a rule here for no songs,” Vivian raked her wet hair from her face. 

“It has been that way since my great-great-great grandfather took over this lighthouse from the last keeper. No songs are to be sung in the Lighthouse of Hart, especially at night!” Charlie started to become cross. 

Vivian raised up in her chair, “The child was asked to sing for Captain Shaw. It is his last request. We of the Great Blue Heron have come to ensure this request fulfilled. The song must be done tonight.” 

“Good heavens! The lot of you! I have had the grave news of Shaw’s passing, and you come here demanding things from me!!” Charlie hobbled to his cane and pointed it at them. 

Miyuki gently got up with her lute, “Uncle Charlie. . . I am very sad that Captain Shaw is gone, too.”  

“Miyuki. . .” Charlie sighed at the girl. He scanned over to Vivian and Cecil, “There are rules for a reason. .But . . . But Miyuki can do it. You two must stay down here. Only family of the lighthouse keeper can go.” 

“Fine,” Cecil shortly said. He exchanged a knowing look with Vivian. 

“Very well,” Vivian nodded.  

The dog jumped up to its feet and jumped about with excitement.  Gloomy, Charlie lifted a candle from the kitchen table. He turned to Miyuki and leaned on his cane. His little dog dashed about his feet and wagged its tail. Miyuki came along with a quiet step. Vivian settled back in her chair. Cecil bowed his head and went to the hearth for warmth.   Charlie lifted up the lantern warily. With steps one at a time, they went up the steps of the lighthouse. The wooden steps ached with each fall of the four feet. Charlie hobbled and bobbled with the light. Miyuki stepped along her lute hardly making a sound. The thunder cracked outside  shoot a trembling fear into Miyuki. She shuttered with the little dog hopping up the stair in front of her. Miyuki did not know how long it took for Charlie and her to reach the top step. But they arrived among the crackle of the storm and the moaning of the winds.  The torch of the lighthouse faithfully spun. 

Charlie held up his lantern with Miyuki at his side. The spinning light went round and round. The lighthouse keeper watched as the light spun around. He had made the adjustments for the oncoming storm earlier. The glass rattled with the passing winds. Charlie was sure the lighthouse would be fine. He had seen the worst storm. Miyuki quietly strummed her lute. It was not very loud over the howls of the storm. But she strummed on. Her voice quivered on with weakness. The daunting day had fully struck her. Everything had been calm with the passing of the captain, even on his deathbed he had laughed. Miyuki tears rolled down her cheek. Her voice barely muttered over the thrashing of the trees below.  Charlie called, “ Miyuki, no one will be able to hear that song. You are singing too weakly. If we are going to do this for Shaw. You must speak up!” 

Miyuki choked on a sob. There had a flood of emotions in a short time. Everything had gone everywhere. The ship was battered and beat. The crew is tired and acted bravely. For now the Pirates had retreated and so did Captain Samantha. But for how long? How long will this moment last? And worst of all. Worst of all. Her beloved guardian, Captain Shaw, was no more. Her hand clamped down on the strings. The piece of paper from the captain was tucked between the folds of her sleeve. Charlie spotted the writing from Captain Shaw’s shaky hand. He took hold of it with a careful s gaze softens with beads of tears.  He called out to Miyuki, “I understand why Shaw wanted this song. I wish he had chosen another. . . I wish he had done something else. . . But I guess it is now time. . .Come on, Miyuki! We can do it together!” 

Miyuki weakly nodded. She rubbed her nose on her arm and lifted her fingers to play. The song that she knew so well from all the nights that the old captain sung it to her. She played. Charlie placed her hand on her shoulder. Together they sung with a full hearts, 

“One night as boy, I asked me father to tell about life. 

He said, ‘Lad, ya got a heart as expected of me kin. So let me begin. 

The history of life it repeats. 

The song goes through the heart with all its feats. 

It pierces the mind. 

It will mark the soul in time.’ 

One night as a young man, I  asked me father to tell me about memory. 

He said, “Lad, you are bright. 

Here we are right. 

Here we are kept tight.’ 

He pointed to his heart and head, ‘In the sweet memories of time, it all passes on. 

But linger on the feeling. 

No reasons to forget. 

Not a second. 

It is all set.’ 

One night as a man, I asked me father to tell me about death. 

He said to me, ‘Me son, there is nothing to fear. 

Now give me your ear. 

 For life always carries on in the end. 

 There are only beginnings.’” 

There they stood with the whipping winds and cracking lightning. Charlie dried his tears as he peered out at the stormy seas.  His hand returned the note to the girl. She quietly and carefully tucked it into her pocket. The lighthouse keeper held his lantern over toward the stairs and bowed his head. Miyuki lingered on at the top of the lighthouse. The paper she held seemed to shimmer for a moment. The words melted away in the spinning light. Everything of the ink vanished and reassembled back together. There was a map of the seas and a detailed account of treasure. Miyuki turned to Charlie as he made for the stairs. She said, “Uncle Charlie. . . I think you ought to look at this.” 

Charlie turned back around at the glimmering ink. He dropped his jaw, “What in the blue heavens!?” 

Madam Stacy takes the book gently from Strongarm. She too sees the pages are blank beyond the beginning chapters. Madam Stacy states, “Susie, I have to agree with Mister Strongarm. It is nothing more than a fable.”

“You’re a seer! You must know I am right!” Susan pleads.

“Susie, my powers of foresight has told me nothing about this. When the moon is new and then I will search for it. But for now I will side with Mister Strongarm. You have a lot on your plate. You have many stressors. If someone were indeed in your apartment, perhaps your mind was too tired to recall properly?”

Susan rubs zher head, “Why won’t either of you believe me?”

“Because Lloyd said last night there was a party. He claims to have see two people trail behind you and go up to your room.”

“Ugh!” Susan puffs.

“Mister Strongarm, why don’t you head back to your office. I will take over from here. Susie appears to be very tired,” Madam Stacy says.

“Yea. . .” Strongarm writes on his clipboard. He walks back over to the front door. He nods as he opens it, “Good day everyone. I will be return back for our appointment.”

Madma Stacy takes a seat on the chair. She places the book back on the coffee table. Madam Stacy readjusts her scarf around her shoulders. She begins for a split second there is a flicker of mischief, “Susie, I can stay longer if you wish me too. We can talk about why you believe what you say is true. I believe you. You have known I have had your back in the past. You have told me all sorts of things about you. We have worked together as doctor/patient for years.”

The former dark lord pauses. Zhe knows very well when others plan to cause trouble. Susan had been silent in revealing zher truest nature to the wizards and witches. They did not even know zhe was a fay. A very old magic user, yes. But a fay, no. Fay are very rare in usual cases today. Zhe appeared more humanish. A kinda dead one. Coming back to life from the dead could do that to a person. Zhe says, “Madam Stacy?”

“The toy gun at the shop was a nice event. I am glad your magics have backfire in such a nice matter. Your heart knows truly how you feel,” Madam Stacy folds her hand in her lap.

“You knew it was real?”

“I am a seer, Susie. A therapist is my first and foremost my job for you,” Madam Stacy’s eyes shimmer again, “I know you will make the right choices as the time comes. You will not have an easy path back to being out of prison. The Wizard and Witch Community is beginning to forgive you for your doings. But trust and forgetting the wounds will take time, Susie. I told you that many months ago.”

“I know. It is just why-“

“Susie, everyone can be good or evil. We have gone through this. It is up to you and only you to decide how you will act. Likewise, everyone makes errors. I am not here to judge you for right or wrong. I am not your creator or final judge. I am your therapist. I am here to listen to you and help you,” Madam Stacy unfolds her hands and goes to the fireplace, “Not all heroes starts start off good.”

 

 

Thank You, My Dark Lord

Chapter Four:

Howling Good Times

Benet and Nadir make their way with Eugene to their apartment above Green Men Flowers. Benet flips on the lights within the apartment. The apartment is neat and well put order, minus the endless plants and plenty of books on spells, charms, dragon folklore, and other subjects like how to enchant your car and other modern devices. The plants and the books on every free shelf are loving arranged with care. The bean bag chairs are well kept with deep navy coverings and throw pillows with tiny images of dragon-cats. An enchanted fireplace keeps the room comfortable in the cold autumn night. Fairy lights hand from the ceiling. The walls are filled with prized ribbons from dragon racing and dragon-cat breeding. Other wall decorations are pictures of family and friends. A painting, albeit terrible, of a forget-me-not hangs by the fireplace with Nadir’s name signed. One of the first gifts Nadir made for Benet while they were dating.

Benet enters and notices the television is left idle. He flicks it off. It is an older television from the early 2000s rest on the stand. Different game consuls are neatly in place with controllers tucked away. The collect of game cartridges are orderly with their labels. All of them belong to Benet as gifts from his godfathers, Wolfie and Joseph. Eugene snuggles into her basket with her toy mouse. Her purring fills the room. Benet smirks and tosses his shoes to the side and heads over their bedroom. Nadir slips off his shoes by the door, carries his wand in hand, and enjoys the wooly area rug on the ground. It is a sky blue pattern which his granny woven for him as a house warming gift. Nadir walks over to the old record play from his granny and the records she gave him. He tucks his headphones and MP3 her for the night.

Nadir holds his wand motions to the kitchen. A cup of water floats out of the cabinet and gets water from the tap. The tap turns off with no fuss. Slowly the cup comes over to Nadir. The wizard says good-night to Eugene and flicks his wand at the lights. They flicker off as Nadir holds his cup in hand and goes to their bedroom. The bedroom is filled with earthly tones of brown and green. Benet had enchanted the ceiling to have stars twinkle and the moon go through the natural phrases. He had done it for Nadir as he realized Nadir missed living in the countryside where he could see stars. Nadir took great pleasure in seeing the stars. Their bed had tree branches surrounding with vines growing on it. The collections of plants and magical items spread to the shelves and cabinets. Modern lamps glow with soft light. Benet already changed and in bed. He turns and teasingly yawns, “Did you really need magic for all for that?”

“Says the man who will magic up breakfast, rather than cook it,” Nadir snickers as he sees the time on their old clock. It is well past and acceptable hour for bed. Halloween thru Day of the Dead may be a holiday for some witches and wizards, but Nadir still needed to run the shop and submit the reports to Celeste. Benet is lucky with his racer job, he just needs to go feed the dragons and groom them tomorrow. No races until the next full moon.  Nadir adds, “What will you do until we go see your godfathers  and your besties tomorrow?”

“I will probably hangout with the most awesome wizard I know in his amazing flower shop,” Benet smiles as he starts to dozy off.

“Hehe,” Nadir settles his wand on the nightstand.  He ponders Madam Stacy’s stern express about the toy gun. He quietly asks, “Are you sure we will be safe with Susan released now? What something starts again? It is has been so calm over the last twenty years.”

“Nadir, be at peace. Zhe is not going to hurt us, if zhe was zhe would have done it already. Zhe is on the straight and steady. I trust zher,” Benet pulls up the blankets.

“I am sure you are right. Don’t forget to charge your phone,” Nadir pulls out his cell and charges it. Benet digs out his and passes it along. The cell phone has cracks on the screen and there is tape. Another new phone would be due in a few more weeks. The tenth phone in the last year. Only Benet would be such a modern wizard with problems with newer technology. Nadir is surprised he could manage to use anything after 2000.  Nadir shakes his head and charges it too.

Benet kisses Nadir’s cheek, “Good-night, darling.”

“Sweet dreams,” He answers and clicks off the lights.

In the morning, all is calm. The mists have parted and the bright sunshine pours through the flower shop windows. Benet watches over the shop as Nadir takes a web cam chant in back. The laptop Benet decided on wearing a simple green shirt with jeans to watch over the shop. Nadir had selected his normal uniform of a green shirt and jeans as well. His name tag pinned to his shirt as he goes over the shop’s account. Soon they would been at Wolfie’s Tavern. Benet crushes the numbers with his pen.

In the back, Nadir sits before the computer screen with Celeste on the other line.  She is a professor of Herbology and Cures from the North American College for Witches. Nadir and Celeste had contact through Musette, after all they were half sisters. Celeste is a rather young witch of nineteen. Her dark complexion does well with her powder blue and yellow robes. Her professor cap was at an angle with her feathers on the side. Celeste pours through her notes with her tangling blue earrings moving. She looks up at Nadir, “I am sorry my old friend. . . I have no new results in my work. I have been continuing on from what research you left behind, but I feel that the Mind Poison Hex cannot be carried out further at this time. I know that a associate of mine is promising new leads.”

“It is okay Celeste. Have you had a chance to read over my latest cover breeding study? I have been using mandrake root, lavender, and cat tail. It might cause the current solution to progress further once turned into a potion,” Nadir reads through his notes.

“I will have to try it once it is brewed. It may take up to three weeks to see results. Not to mention the testing phase,” Celeste points out.

Nadir’s alarm beeps. He picks up his phone, “Sorry, Celeste, I have to go now. Benet and I have a big appointment to keep.”

“Oh? What is the appointment?”

“We are going to announce our engagement to our extended family and friends today,” Nadir says with a yawn. He blinks as he realizes the news slips from him.

Celeste shouts with joy, “When did you get engaged? What it last night? Tell me everything!”

“Umm . . . Um. . .” Nadir flushes, “It was rather simple. Benet purpose to me back in the summer. It was at the last day of July. We went walking in the park to get ice cream from our favorite vender. As we turned on the path, Benet went down on one knee to tie his shoe. Then he just asked me to marry him. I said yes.”

“That’s adorable Nadir! When are you going to have the wedding?”

“We are thinking sometime in the spring. All the other details are being sorted out.”

“AHH, SO ADOARBLE!”

“Okay,  Celeste, I have go to. We are suppose to brunch over at Wolfie’s with Musette, Curtis, and the godfathers.”

“Okay, okay! I promise to not tell my sister!” Celeste waves, “We will take more later. Bye!”

Benet puts down his pen as Nadir calls for him in the back. They would make their way to Wolfie’s Tavern shortly.

. . .

In the dim light of the fireplace, Dominique counts the fire crystals in the hearth.  She recounts the mission to silence the disloyal followers went nicely. She and Efe had chosen to act in the place of the Dark Lord. Dominique loved Susan and respected most of zher words. She has some words she wishes to tell zher lordship, but patience is key. Efe with a quick move of his wand is back in his leather armor. Dominique notices the two as they came to the living room. She snaps her fingers and returns to her blood splattered outfit. She straightens up her hair as she studies Susan.  Susan wears a gray dress with white rabbits sown on it, which was a fine piece of craft Susan made at the Senior Center. Zhe place a dark purple headband on.  Zher pale pink boots tapped on the carpets. Zher expression is dark and somber as zhe scoops up zher bomber jacket and cane. Efe and Dominique come to see the slight limp in zher step.

Efe and Dominique summon a portal over the Baines Household. The mansion is located far from the fair city of Lapis. Zher pale pink boots hardly make a sound as they arrive to the driveway. Dominique and Efe come behind zher while wearing black cloaks. Efe takes Susan’s hand and bows, “Welcome back to your home, my lord. The others are standing by in the mansion for your orders.”

Susan peers up at the large plantation house. It is deep in the wood. The whitewash paint had been kept well by the others. The trees and the gardens had been watched after. Fairy rings were scattered across the front yard. The many windows had a few candles glowing in them. Zhe looks to see the tire swing still left unharmed by the large oak tree. Susan eyes the portal back to zher room back to the halfway house. The portal closes on the cozy apartment. Now in the damp of the night with the eerily house, Susan turns forward. Susan follows behind Efe and Dominique inside the damn house. Ah, the main room. Susan recalls how zhe was into gothic styling. Zhe thought it was fearsome. Now, it is only sad in the dusty mansion. Zhe sighs. The main room echoes with the call of Efe, “Make haste, my fellow heathens! Zher lordship has returned! Lord of Mischief and Dread come to the Baines Household!”

The other followers appear with sudden flicker of the candles. Eight loyal followers all in their black robes come to the main room. They bow.  Susan says, “Stop being dark and brooding. Do we look like a gothic store for children? Please turn up the candle light and do something about the decoration. It is like a haunted house at a children’s theme park.”

“My lord? This is how you left it,” Efe drops his jaw.

Dominique wipes out her wand and complies. The candles flare up and decorations change to something more bland and normal. Susan nods and zhe nudges Efe, “Take me to the book. I want to see proof. Once I have seen it, I want you to take me back to my apartment. If I am gone too long my therapist and probation officer will be worried.”

“But you are the Dark Lord, you answer to no one!” Efe says.

“Great! I am glad you remember. . . Would you all please take off the black cloaks? Steve, Fairfield, Bones, Shadow Dancer, Joyce, Frankie, Arty, and Ruth. You are wonderfully in the Halloween Spirit, but this is odd just . . . Whatever. . . Do as you please,” Susan goes to the stairs and waits for Efe.

The followers whisper to each other. Efe and Dominique come up the stairs to Susan. Efe leads the way to the library. As they pass through the halls, Susan sees Flincher’s room. The door with her wreathe of dried out poises. Susan lingers at the handle as Efe and Dominique carry on the hallway. Susan places zher hand on the handle. Susan thought, Flincher. . . Do I do you right now?

Susan did not bother giving details of about zher adopted child, Flincher. Not to many follower. Not to any living soul. Dominique had a vague idea about the relationship. But no other soul understood the scale of how important the young witch had been to Susan’s heart. She was a brilliant young witch. Flincher knew that evil was pointless. It was Flincher that made Susan realize, too. Susan was not trying to be wicked anymore.  She had declared that Susan had stopped truly being evil several hundred years ago. Flincher had pointed out that Susan’s rage of the death of her people was old and nearly forgotten about Susan. Susan had become bland in evil. Flincher is the one who pointed out how Susan should become a chef or a lawyer. Susan had agreed.

Flincher left Dark Lord to start fresh elsewhere. Flincher gave up magic and even broke apart her wand. She went to live among the mudanies. Flincher decided she would open a restaurant. But death had other plans for Flincher. During Flincher’s training to become chef, she taste tested a chicken wing and she accidently chocked it. Susan hadn’t been there. Zhe had been busy with zher final showdown with Benet. A whole deadly maze and traps all set up. It was one of Susan’s minions who told zher the bad news. It broke Susan.

“My lord?” Dominique lingers behind zher.

“I- I am fine,” Susan snaps around. Zhe remorsefully plans zher hand on her shoulder. Susan says, “I am sorry Dominique.”

“Yes, my lord, it is fine,” Dominique bows.

Susan quietly goes forward behind Efe. Dominique follows next to Susan.  The trio goes on down the hallway. The halls are dimly lit from each lantern hanging to the ceiling. Each lantern shimmers with dim light with more gothic décor. Susan huffs to zherself at the dark and dreary area. Zhe stares down at zher pale pink boots click down the wooden hallway. Efe stops just before the deep rosy doors. The ominous carvings of the door have images of dragons and demons all about it. Susan huffs under zher breathes and misses the understated sunny nature of zher apartment. Efe swings open the door. He hurries along the library to pull out a book.  Efe whips around and produces the book to Susan. He declares, “Here we are, my lord. The answer to you conflict.”

Susan read the title in the dim light. It says, Sundried Hope.

. . .

Benet and Nadir stand before the portal cycle. Eugene purrs between their legs as the couple beams at each other. They escaped from their uniforms just before their important brunch. (The uniforms something Benet had suggested, but they only wore them were they were both in the shop. It made a funny introduction of: “Hey welcome to the Green Men Flowers!” Nadir would say. “There are the flowers and we are the green men!” Benet would point to themselves. It has real flare at least according to both of them. But the joke wasn’t has funny when they were not in the shop together.) Benet selects to keep his violet locks pulled into a ponytail. His nicest jacket had hidden burnt marks under patches from Ma Plum. They were patches of small dragons, especially lung dragons. Oddly enough to the arrangement of clothing are brilliant duck yellow cow boots. Benet favored them so. His red bandana is neatly place upon his gray shirt. His dress pants had a store tag on them. Nadir giggles as he removes it from Benet. He says, “You really are something, Benet. You still look like you came from a thrift shop. A quick change spell out have done you far better.”

“Blah! I know you won’t want me another other way! Oh daring, you look fabulous in your outfit. I bet you Joseph will love it!” Benet kisses Nadir’s forehead and readjusts his glasses.

Nadir swirls around on his heel of coffee colored suede shoes. His leather biker jacket compliments with band shirt of the Shrieking Heads, a death mental band in the Magic Community. Nadir jeans tattered here and tear.   He keeps his wand at the ready in his sleeve. Nadir’s long hair is tamed into a presentable braid. Nadir smiles, “Now you are just flattering me Benet. I-I still feel nervous telling everyone.”

“Come on, darling, we have been planning this reveal for weeks. We will be great!” Benet takes his wand from his pocket.

“I just don’t like public affairs,” Nadir fiddles with his zipper.

“We are not going to be announcing it to the press. We are just telling out families. Nadir, you know I respect your respect for privacy. I have told not a soul besides who we agreed upon the great news. It is the greatest news of my life, but I am happy to have a small wedding with little fuss. I just care about spending the rest of my life with you,” Benet takes hold of Nadir’s hand.

Nadir bites his lip. He swore he would not complain one bit about the Dark Lord aspect. It had been Benet’s only request for the planning. All Benet had wanted was to finish with the past and make amends. Nadir peers at Benet’s big beautiful eyes behind his glasses. He smiles, “Yes, Benet, I know. I am very happy, too, to be marrying the man of my dreams.”

Benet nuzzles against Nadir hugs him. With a swoosh of his wrist and tap, Benet summons the portal to Wolfie’s Tavern. The two pet Eugene softly on the head and make their way out. The portal pops them in the manager’s room of the tavern. It is a rich manager’s office with fine wears on display of magical and mystical sorts. Records of different musical albums are on the walls with photos of their musicians. The blinds of the window are open to a nice view of a water front. The desk in the room is gold leaf with rich crimson chairs sitting neatly next to them. Although the truth be told, it is more of a jazz bar. But Nadir and Benet preferred tavern as it made it seem more old school. (Nadir and Benet had a love for the mudanie games about wizards and dragons.) It is really known as Howling Good Times. The glow from the portal fades away. The portal circle here has several more names under many more locations.  As the circle shimmers with a light glow, the circle nearly disappears from sight. Waiting joviality are Aunty Page and Godfather Joseph.

Aunty Page is an older dark skinned woman of her mid-forties. Short on her height and heads under both Nadir and Benet, her highheels tend to make up for the difference. She is the star of the place as the singer of Howling Good Times.  Aunty Page wears her usually golden shawl, slick silver dress, and tasteful belt made of coins. Her short curls of Indian ink are frosting over with tips of white on her head. Her golden eye shadow makes her green eyes pop. She gives them bear hugs and wet kisses leaving dark purple stains on both of their cheeks. Aunty Page says, “It feels like it has been forever since I have seen you boys!”

“I am so happy to see you, Chrissie and Nadir! How is the shop doing?” Joseph says. He is a muscular man with an eye patch over his left eye. (Lost during his struggle to prove his innocent during an murder, which Susan famed him for. He nearly got put into prison, but lucky the Magical Officers found evidence to clear him.) His one good eye is a marvelous greenish blue. His wild black hairs flow about. His muted rose smoking jacket has a snowy owl pinned to it. His pastel purple shirt has its buttons loose at the collar. His shined up black dress shoes tap against the floor at an unheard melody.

“Mr. Joseph, Ms. Page, good to see you both,” Nadir grins.

“Nadir you are practically family. Call me Uncle Josie!” Joseph smirks.

“Please boy, you are kidding me? We have friends since you attended that magical school of yours. Just Aunty Page,” Aunty Page hoots, “Are you sweating, Nadir? Whatever could have you nervous?”

“N-nothing Ms.Page-I mean Aunty Page,” Nadir starts to hide next to Benet.

Benet says, “It is good to see you too Uncle Josie, Aunty Page. The flower shop is good. I have been spending more time there in the off season,” Benet hugs Joseph and kisses Aunty Page on the hand, “Where is Uncle Wofie?”

“Oh my dear boy, he is out in the bar fussing over all the little details. It is not everyday our little godson comes back around to visit us. No less with all his best friends and boyfriend. It is so rare with everyone so busy!” Aunty Page fixes her curls.

“Why don’t we join him before he tries to organize our food by color order and calories?” Joseph motions to the door.

“That’s why I love that man!” Aunty Page walks out the door.

“I personally love him for his good looks,” Joseph jokes.

“Hehe, we both have our reasons to love are darling Wofie,” Aunty Page goes to the front room.

After the hubbub of the kitchen and salutations by all the staff to Benet and Nadir, they come the main longue are. The music of upbeat Jazz music fills the whole Jazz Bar. Customers idly chatter way with each other. The bartenders and the servers swirl about the floor taking orders and delivering dishes.  The interior of the Howling Good Times is filled lavish chairs with subtle patterns of paw prints. The tables are filled with patrons dining and drink contently. The jazz band plays on stage with its three different members. The walls are filled with posters of jazz singers, each one framed neatly on the wall. The bar is fully stocked with spirits and the bartender waiting on customers. The whole place hosts small imagery of wolves on the ceiling of the bar and the logo of a wolf on the employees’ shirt collar.

As they approach their table, Aunty Page smiles, “Alright boys, here I leave you.  I need to get back on stage. I have been warming up all morning to sing. See you in a bit.”

“Alright Aunty Page, see you!” Benet waves.

Aunty Page hops over to the stage and takes the microphone. She begins to sway with the instruments and sings with the tune. A waiter comes to whisper to Joseph. He frowns and shakes his head, “Excuse me, Nadir and Benet. It would seem that there is a problem over at the bar. I will need to help out. We are short handed today as one of the barkeepers called out sick.”

“But Uncle Josie-“ Benet reaches out for Joseph.

“Don’t worry, Benet, I will be back for dessert. We unfortunely have a thriving business to keep going. I am sure missing a Halloween Brunch is not a big deal,” Joseph chuckles and shrugs, “You’ve got Wolfie and your best friends. They should keep you busy for a bit.”

Joseph nods and goes over to the bar. Nadir pats Benet’s shoulder, “It is okay, they don’t know the important news we have. You did say you wanted it to be a surprise.”

“I just thought they would take the day off for the brunch in,” Benet looks toward the reserved room for their brunch.

“Well, you know your godfathers and Ms. Page-I mean Aunty Page live for this place. It has been good to them over the years. They are very active in their business,” Nadir holds Benet’s hand, “I am sure they will be thrilled once we tell them.”

“Yea!” Benet perks up as he pushes open the door.  Wolfie is chatting with Musette. Wolfie is a sleek man in his late 50s. His curly brown hairs are smooth back on his head with gel. His beard is timed neat and short across his face. Wolfie has a deep burn scars across the left of his face. He adjusts his white leather collar under his plaid shirt. His lengthy body looms over the table. Everything for brunch from the eggs to the toast is laid out in an orderly fashion. Musette wears a nice muddy brown long coat. Her spiked up blue hair is hiding her goggles.  Her button up jean dress peak out from under it.  Wolfie puts down his folk and rushes up to Benet and Nadir. Musette coolly rolls her wheelchair over to the others.  He shakes both of their hands and says, “Benet Nadir! Long time no see! I believe the last time you both visited was around Thanksgiving.”

“The dragon races do keep me busy,” Benet smirks.

“Oh Nadir! Thank you for dropping in last weekend. I do enjoy your company for play rps,” Wolfie nudges Nadir on the arm.

“The last dugeon crawl was crazy!” Nadir laughs.

“Did you lose both of my lovers on the walk over here?” Wolfie shakes his head.

“Yes, they went off to attend to the bar and the stage,” Benet grumbles.

“Those two would keep working, even if the world is end. Trust me, they almost tried when what’s their name released Dark Forces on Lapis. They nearly kept going. It was me who dragged them away from bartending and singing. Hard to do work, if there are no customers still alive,” Wolfie sits back down, “I was just telling Musette here about that adventure.”

“It is a very interesting tale!” Musette patiently waits for her turn to speak. She begins, “My buddies, how have you been? How is the racing? Not that I really need to ask you Benet. I have seen you come in second place and third at the whole cup.”

“Quit it, you are going to embarrass me!” Benet says.

“How is the flower shop, Nadir? My sister has told me you two are doing well,” Musette says.

Nadir goes to find a seat, “We are getting called to do a lot of different work. I have found around the holidays, especially Valentine’s day is when we get the most orders. How is your family?”

“The kids are out terrorizing their grandparents for the holiday. My wife is out putting flowers at her grandaunt’s grave,” Musette wheels herself back to her spot.

Benet next to Wolfie and starts to serve himself, “How is the whole medical racket? Are you having much luck blending the mudanie stuff with the healing potions?”

“White magic does not work the same on mudanie clients. I have been trying different ways with the mudanie officials and doctors, but the results have been only half successful. It is pain when the White Magic for healing requires the healer to take on the pain of the patient. It is not very effective system to use on others,” Musette shovels a piece of toast onto her plate.

Wolfie piles bacon and eggs on his plate. His fork digs deep into his dish as he chews, “It is a noble effort, Musette. Not every witch is willing to take on the front of caring for mudanies and use magic.”

“Eh, I am trying my best,” Musette butters her toast, “Since the whole reveal of real magic and the whole witches and wizards are real, not many mundanies really believe in us. Merely acknowledge our existence, but not  much else. Many mudanies still think we are New Agers, Faith Healers, fakes, or magicians.”

“I have notice that a few years back,” Nadir shrugs as he eat his own food.

Benet laughs as he gathers some eggs, “You would think they would have taken us for a big deal.”

“Well, they don’t believe us because they cannot see everything we see,” Wolfie chops down on a piece of bacon.

“Mudanies will believe us in time,” Benet chews on his toast as he picks up his cup of water.

Nadir scans over the other empty seat, “Where is Curtis? He said he would be here.”

“Oh Curtis is running late. He got stuck with babysitting his nephew, Jamie, last minute. He said he would be here in the next half hour. Curtis is cool with us getting started without him,” Musette answers between gulps of her ale.

“I see. . .” Benet rubs his head.

Musette slips on her ale in thought, “Hey Nadir, my sister told me that there is something important you wanted to tell us all.”

“What!? You told Celeste the new about our engagement?” Benet crosses his arms, “Don’t tell me you told them about you know who yet?”

“WAIT YOU ARE ENGAGED AT LAST!?” Wolfie cheers, “ CONGRATULATIONS!! I HAVE TO GO TELL EVERYONE ELSE!”

Wolfie runs out the room and shouts, “ MY GODSON IS GOING TO GET MARRIED! PAGE, JOSPEH! THEY ARE ENGAGED AT LAST!”

Cheers of good wishes fill the jazz bar. Drinks are spread around by the godfathers. Nadir bangs his head against the table in disbelief. Benet sighs heavily at the spoiled surprise.  Musette claps her hands at both of them, “Congratulations you to! You have been dating for such a long time! I am so happy for you!”

“Why did you tell Celeste? And you didn’t them about the guest?” Benet stands up from his chair.

Nadir gives a silent thumbs up to Musette. He slowly starts, “It just slipped. I swear I didn’t mean to!”

“Nadir!” Benet huffs as he goes to the door.

“Look I didn’t say anything about the guest,” Nadir pleads.

“What guest is so special? Is it Principal Lionhearted? He would be wonderful to invite!” Musette claps her hands.

“Ehh . . . Benet, why don’t you use your magic on Wolfie? He is telling everyone the news!” Nadir deflects.

“I am not going to use a paralyzing spell, muting spell, or any charm on my godfather! That is outrageous!” Benet grabs the handle, “Besides, we agreed we would tell everyone who was important. You said you wanted a small, private affair-“

“About that. . .” Musette sighs, “I kinda invited a reporter from the Oracle Times I thought the news should be spread. You know since you two are so romantic.”

“What type of logic is that!?” Nadir flushes as he picks his head up from the table.

The door swings open with Joseph rushing in. A great racket of noise comes the lounge with the crowd cheering and clapping. Aunty Page announces the great news to the crowd of people. The reporter for the Oracle Times is somewhere in the crowd. Wolfie  chatters away with the report giving the news. Drinks on the house are being passed out. They are taking a load of notes.  Joseph grabs a hold of Benet and cheerily says, “It is so wonderful to hear you are both finally going to tie the knot. I am so excited! I cannot wait to walk you down the aisle, Benet, with Ma Plum and Wolife! You are going to have a spring wedding right?  I know the perfect place to hold it!”

“Uncle Josie,” Nadir says with his redden face, “You will need to know about that  Benet had some news for you. He has asked someone else to do that. I would have supported you more.”

“W-what? What do you mean?” Joseph asks.

Musette rolls her wheelchair over to them, “Yea, who else could do that for Benet?”

Benet frustrated and fuming, yells,” SO WHAT IF YOU WE INVITED SUSAN!?”

Dead silence greets the mention of the former Dark Lord.  No wizard or witch bore such a cursed name since Susan started to rein zher terror over several decades ago. No one in polite company still uttered openly about Susan, even if the former Dark Lord is a saint now. The musicians cough in the quiet. Aunty Page turns all snowy white at the mention of Susan. Wolfie  in mid toast drops his wineglass on the carpet splashing the reporter.  Joseph drops open his jaw and turns all tomato like. Musette whips out her wand fully and scans the room. Musette with great restraint and pose puts away her wand as she realizes the scene unfolding.

The reporter excitedly howlers, “Saintly Miracle Wizard forgive Newly Reformed Villain!  What a scoop!?”

Joseph bites his lip and hisses, “Get out .  . .”

“Why, Uncle Josie?” Benet freezes by the door.

“Get out of this bar,” Joseph says more firmly.

Benet frowns at his godfather, “Uncle Josie, I thought you would be pleased at all of our news.”

“GET OUT OF THIS BAR NOW!! AND NEVER SPEAK OF THAT PERSON AGAIN!” Joseph points to the back room. His knuckles clench in a fist so tight his hands tremble.

Aunty Page drops her microphone and hurries over the screen, while Wolife offers to help clean up the report. She takes Joseph’s hand as spins back around to the crowd. Aunty Page  mutters comforting words to Joseph. His fist slowly starts to rise at Benet.  He barks at everyone, “GET BACK TO YOUR OWN BUSINESS!”

Aunty Page says coolly to Benet and Nadir, “Maybe you boys should listen and go. We can talk more later.”

Nadir nods as starts to leave, but Benet stands his ground. He says, “Zhe has every right to be invited as much as the next person. Zhe has changed zher way!”

Joseph turns to Benet, “Zhe is the reason why I have burn marks on half my body. Zhe is the reason why  I nearly ended up in prison. Zhe is the reason why Wolfie has nightmares about the past. Zhe is the reason why Page nearly died. Zhe caused your best friend to be in a wheel chair. Zhe destroyed half of Witch’s Way. Zhe is the one who caused the uproar of the fay all those years ago. Zhe is the sole reason why  your parents’ are not alive to this day! Tell me, oh dear godson, what has zhe done to be forgiven of all zher sins!?”

“Zhe has been doing community service for the elderly-“ Benet stands stern forward to Joseph.

Aunty Page looks down and somberly says, “It does not change the thousands dead by zher hand. Nor the lives damaged by all the battles, zhe caused. Nor does it change all the horrible things zhe has done.”

“I believe Susan ought to have a second chance!” Benet says.

“ALL ZHE SHOULD HAVE IS A DEATH SENTENCE!” Joseph shouts, “NOW GET OUT OF THIS BAR!”

Musette remarks quietly, “He has a point . . . Zhe is not a good person.”

“I believe Susan’s reformation! I think zhe has changed, if you cannot accept this. . . Then I guess we have nothing more to speak about,” Benet somberly starts to walk back to the portal circle.

Nadir comes over to Benet and takes his hand. He nods, “I believe in zher as well!”

“BOTH OF YOU ARE MAD! NEVER RETURN HERE UNTIL YOU HAVE YOU SANITY BACK!” Joseph bellows.

Aunty Page reaches out, “Oh Benet, Joseph! Please stop! Boys!”

“Fine,” Benet and Nadir walk together back to the manager’s room.

Joseph storms back over the bar and where has a drink. Musette goes to comfort Aunty Page, who is remains in stock at the turn of events. Wolfie hurries after the couple to speak sense into them in a much gentler tone. The room slowly gets back to business. A plain man with pox marks on his body and a very bad flat cap over into the bar. He, in his bland outfit of black, strolls over to Musette.  He asks, “What did I miss?”

Musette groans, “Everything, Curtis.”

 

 

 

Bold and Earthy

Report Twelve:

The Palace and the Child Emperor

In retrospect. . . I do not know what I expected to happen. I cannot say I am disappointed in the fate that comes to me. But the truth of the matter. . . I am recording of this at the end of the whole adventure. I am sure there would be no way to record anything while we were doing the mission. I am not sure of how anything else. Let me start at the beginning. I mean. . . I got a lot of down time now I have made my choices.  I can tell you now. Whoever you are. I know you have been listening and reading my logs. It is not like I didn’t know for a while now. It is not hard to track you down.  I will tell you I have been honest. I haven’t lied. I may have left out a few things here and there. But it does not matter now. I know you have been compiling my reports and other documents for your own reasons. Whoever you are I hope you gain something from what has happened.

But I will highlight this fact first: I am coming home. I am going back to my family. I am will not regret the end. So let’s get started, shall we?

It started off fairly simple. (Hold on. I am getting a call from Jenna.) Right, where was I? The city was a wild thing with people everywhere. More than I had seen out in the creature’s lands. The people were all dressed in deep blues and grays. It did not matter if the person was a beggar or a rich man. All the colors were all the same. The designs were all very crisp and clean with their fabrics. The men were in neat suits with hats. The women were in long shirts with bonnets. Here and there was a mixture of carriages and steam cars. The city had bridges for trains and street cars. I stared out the window with wonder. Not so much as we had been the creature lands. But the familiar nature of it to some amusement parks at Earth.

You know? It was like one of those historical amusement parks. The houses and business were in an art deco. I would say one placed in the 23rd Century. The whole retro arty take on the old West. All of them were painted right properly with bold and brilliant colors. Splashes of greens and whites were between yellows and reds. I swear a peacock would have been embarrassed by the amount of popping colors. Interestingly enough on each street there were connections of wires. It would appear the whole thing had only recently put in the last several years. Odd. . . I did not notice those types of line when Meo, Sage, and I escaped. All the people crowded about busy as bees dealing with the oncoming festival. The banners for the Festival of Ages marked the coming of the new year. The people were all about getting ready for the eve of the eve of the year.  So many merchants called out their wares for sale. Shoppers gathered to buy what was out.  We came along in the carriage a few allies from the main road for the Palace.

Sage hopped down and came to our door. He flushed with a bow as he scanned us over. We had changed into clothing more suiting of our surroundings. Sage himself still felt like a sore thumb with his flaming bright jacket. He had abandoned his humble coachmen coat. He smirked, “Miss Meo, Blue, Ryu, and Hikaru. This will be your guys’ stop. I have your papers here.”

He waved them at Meo. She took them calmly. Meo had arranged her hair in a neat coil of a braid. Her dark skin with faint scares seemed horribly misplaced among the Empire. The people of the Capital were all fair. But Meo had assured me that she would pass as a servant. She hopped down with her long navy skirts. She properly smiled and curtsy, “We ought to be able to handle it from here.”

I straighten up my chief outfit. There white apron and shoes were all too nice. Too nice for the reality of what was going on. I swallowed and started to grab the bag with Ryu inside of it. The small creature shook his head and grabbed a cloak. He pulled up the hood and laughed, “Come now. I have ridden long enough with you all, especially in that bag there. I will be able to go in my own way.”

Meo sourly said, “You know the plan, Ryu. No time to be silly now.”

Lim and Hana were all dolled up in their make-up and jewelry. Both wore garnished dresses with flowers printed on them. Their hair was fashionable done with buns and hats covering their fox ears. The two sisters looked at each other. It was Lim who spoke, “She is right Ryu. Now is not the time to act on your own. We have come this far together. Everything is going well.”

Ryu shrugged and whispered, “You will have to forgive me. But you seem to forget the barriers placed upon pure bloods in getting in the Palace. A detail I did not forget. You all are either mixed blood or human. Don’t worry. I have orders from you know who.”

Hikaru stepped down from his place on the coach. He wore a clean and neat servant outfit. His shaggy hair neaten to a ponytail. He said, “Ryu is right. Now let him go. My group has an appointment in the kitchen. We cannot be late. And Lim’s group a meeting with the court.”

Sage smirked, “Go then. Go. We must not be late. Everyone remember the conditions for meeting. If all goes well, we ought to be back here within three hours. If things go south, then head over to the docks. Crow and his ground will have a boat for you there.”

Ryu nodded and in a flash the little creature was gone from our sight. I turned to Hikaru and Meo. They waved silently to the others in the carriage and started on their way to the street. I lingered on a second as Sage winked at me and climbed back onto the carriage. Lim leaned out of her carriage window and said, “Hey lover boy, take care of them! They are like family to me!”

Sternly and proper, the stony face of the older sister popped out.  Hana said, “Be still and calm. You can do what has to be done.”

I nodded oddly at them. Had I ever noticed back then that we switched back to the tongue of the Empire. No. No not one bit I had I noticed. I supposed it was due to the jewel still on my ear. There I turned away from the carriage and onto the sidewalk behind Meo and Hikaru. My dagger was packed into the folds on my well polished boot. My laser sat contently in my shirt. My log and my personal belongings had all been stored back in the carriage. There would be no point in carrying around those things. I would have hated to see my log book and herbology text damaged needlessly. I picked up my pace to meet with the other two. Our code names were simple. Meo was Margo Stanton. Hikaru was George Shoemaker. I was John Smith.

As I caught up with Meo and Hikaru, I slowed down. Meo glanced at me and nudged me. She pointed to my ear and hissed, “It is improper from a man in the Emperor’s court to wear jewelry. Do not dishonor your family, John Smith, with your carelessness.”

“Oh, right!” I said as I slide the earring from my ear. Then, then all that had been so easy to understand around me vanished. The conversions of all the people on the street went silent for a half a second. Then a sharp ring. Just as the clarity had been with the earring. Then all the languages were broken and strange. There were dialects to the Empire tongue. There were other sounds. I rubbed my ear as Hikaru grabbed my hand. His ancient eyes were glimmering with thought.

He pointed to the Palace, “Let’s go, Mister Smith. We cannot miss our appointment.”

“Of course, Mister Shoemaker,” I smiled as I rubbed my ear.

Our journey to the Palace was swift and with the same ease we had coming in. Our papers and entrance to the main gate was a piece of cake. The guards hardly batted an eye at three servants and official papers.  We came to the courtyard of the Palace. The Palace was a vast manor of solemn thing of night with strikes of silver and golden. It had several wings from the front gate. The windows of stained glass glimmered in the Fall sunlight. It had be built I suppose with a sense of humbleness or something. Perhaps in the Empire, the colors of navy and black were for the Lord or something. Maybe they were holy. Whatever the reason, all I could think of was a raven’s feathers.

The courtyards of the Palace were surrounded by ornate gardens. Rows of flowers all lush and cheerful hues of pinks lined the walkways. The ornamental lawns twisted and curved in all sorts of patterns. I swore I spotted a hedge maze to the side of it all. I dropped my jaw in awe as I studied it.

Hikaru jerked my hand and I turned back to the pathway. We hurried along with many other staff members. It was a busy scene. Many servants rushed this way and that. Tons of decortications were going up for the Festival of Ages. There were candles were lined along the walkways. Little figures of leaves and flowers were being tastefully arranged into garland. I had not anymore time to observe as the others ushered me forward toward a side entrance. We were after all headed toward the kitchen until the time of which we were required to move to elsewhere.

A large woman named Elsa came and checked us into the kitchen. She read over our paperwork. She rubbed her nose and it was then I saw a small silver pin in her hair. The large woman scanned us from head to toe. She snorted, “You lot are highly recommended from Mistress Mary, eh?”

Meo curtsied, “All our papers are in order Miss Elsa.”

“I know Miss Mary well. Her household is highly regarded. You all must be hell of a set of servants to join us on the eve of our busiest one of the year. Look here, Miss Stanton, Mister Shoemaker, and Smith, I don’t have the time to babysit you all. I am the head chef here in the royal kitchen. I need you to do your task quietly and quickly. You get?”

Meo said, “Perfectly clear.”

“The less you talk, the less noticeable you be,” Elsa poked Meo’s arm, “Your accent is clear as day. Be mute, if any of the noble bother you.”

She eyed Hikaru and myself, “You two talk?”

Hikaru bowed his head, “Yes, ma’am.”

I stumbled on my words, “Yes.”

“Well don’t bother either. I got jobs for you to do. Mistress Mary been kind enough to fill in for the missing hands I had here. The lot of those three got a damn cold last minute! Anyways, boy you were be cleaning the potatoes in the backroom. Don’t play with the dumbwaiter in the back of the kitchen. A tiny child like you, Mister Shoemaker, should know better. It leads directly to the main hall! No playing in there! Off to it boys!”

As we went I heard Elsa say, “Girl, Miss Stanton, you will stay back here too. Those scars will make you unsightly for the nobles. You will be in charge of the soup with me. You will do exactly as I say.”

I turned as Hikaru and I walked our way to the back of the kitchen.  I picked up a potato and started to wash.  I could still remember the chats with Meo about murdering this kid emperor. I was so sure we could avoid it.  I was sure of everything in that moment. I wanted to laugh as I thought of falling in love with Lim. It was impossible to be in love with such an awful person. Blah!

Hikaru in time waited for a moment for when we were alone. He studied the dumbwaiter and as the busy staff rushed here and there approached it. With his hand extended he pulled upon the air and a chain reaction happened. A waiter bumped into a large pot and several others dodging about. A clash of pots, people, and food sounded. Else grew red at the commotion and barked orders. One of the serving girls had twisted her ankle and several more were stained in soup. I hurried over to Hikaru as he climbed in. I started to pull on the rope. The slender youth was easy to vanish from the kitchen level to the main hall. All smoothly so far.

Meo helped the others help up the giant mess in the kitchen. Else with her large presence gave a sour eye to the tripped serving girl. She pointed and loudly order, “Miss Stanton!”

Meo presented herself with a curtsy.

“Miss Stanton! You will help these messy lot to the maids. We cannot have our staff all ruined! Be quick! Call them! Gather more towels!”

Meo bowed and hurried out. I huffed to myself as I continued to clean the potatoes. Of course, I knew what the others were up to. Crow’s team went to the seas of try and establish an escape route for us.  Or at least what I gathered was that. I think it had to do more with taking over the harbor as a way of diversion.  Daichi’s team was dealing with the Palace guard to keep our pathways clear.  The others went together to face the main entry with the performers for the Emperor.  Our goals in the end were reduced to simple choices: speak with the Emperor or kill him dead.

Our team was to try and speak with the Emperor. We were to try and get to his inner chambers by quietly sneaking off from our cooking tasks. Elsa being part of the Silver Mist would a lot us time to get underway. First off with Hikaru without much show. Then Meo with a simple task.  Last was me. I .  . . How was I to slip away? It was simple. I wasn’t.

True the natural citizens of the world could blend better than me. Meo and Hikaru were blessed with Fate at their backs. I, however, was not talented like them. I was brought along was Fate demanded I be brought. Hikaru and Meo were to make it out by their own means. Me? I was to wash and peel potatoes for a bit. Then Elsa was to call me to deliver something to the Emperor himself. It wasn’t a hard assignment. It wasn’t supposed to me. Elsa turned to me with fluster face. Her red checks huffed as a servant boy came with an order. He said to her, “Mistress Elsa, the Emperor is requesting his afternoon tea now.”

“Bothersome! Boy look at the state of my kitchen! My servers are all stained from here to Heavens! What am I do to now?” Elsa boomed.

The boy frowned, “Mistress Elsa, I don’t know!”

She grabbed my shoulder and winked at me. I meekly smiled at her. She shook me, “You potato boy! You know anything about teas?”

I nodded.

“Good! You are clean and neat enough. Take the trolley over to his highness and give him his damn tea!” Elsa growled and swung around the to kitchen staff. They all hurried to their own business.

I gathered the trolley and managed to follow the boy. I nervous looked around the rich Palace. The interior was deadly quietly. Many painting hung on the walls. I could only guess they were the royals before the Emperor. There were other paintings of religious types. It was clear some of the paintings had angel like beings. I stepped along as the boy continued to an inner chamber.  It had been so easily. So easily. I came to the inner chambers with the trolley. The tea set rattled in its place. The servant boy bowed and called out, “Emperor Alexander, we have your noon tea.”

He was a mere child. No other then the servant boy next to me. Emperor Alexander sat upon a fine chair with a velvet backing. His clothing was an ivory white coat with gold trim. His brown locks were short upon his head. No crown was upon him. Nor did he wear any jewelry. He sat studying a book in his lap. His face was friendly and open. He smiled brilliantly at the servant boy, “Thanks Chip! Tell Elsa she doesn’t have to hurry too much now. I can hold off for lunch.”

“Yes your grace!” The boy bowed and left.

I stood. I tell you I stood right there. For it was then I saw the others.  Hikaru stood  just beyond the opening of the room with his fingers on threads. Meo proudly blinked at the boy as she sat in another chair. Her familiar was by her feet. The lynx licked its paw. I stared at the Emperor as he motioned me in. I quietly walked away from the trolley and watched Hikaru’s threads glimmer. Inside the room was a chamber filled with books and landscape paintings. There was an orderly desk with a stack of papers and scrolls. The Emperor coolly took the chair at his desk. He watched us all and finally declared, “Good day all. Would any of you care for a cup of tea?”

“No?” I answered confused.

“Very well,” Emperor Alexander said as he sat back in his chair. He pointed to us, “I have been pinned as you desire. Now, tell me what is the meaning of all of this? Who are you people?”

Meo held up her hand before I could answer, she narrowed her eyes. She motioned for Hikaru to answer, “We have come to take to you. We represent the people your Empire has been attacking for the last several thousand years.”

“Huh. . .” Emperor Alexander laced his hands together.

Meo cleared her throat, “Your tutor, Albert, did express you would be hard at first.”

Emperor Alexander leaned forward, “Have you word from Albert? I have not let the word of his disappearance be breathed by anyone!”

Meo said, “He has been long for some time. He said he has been gone for a better of ten ought years.”

Emperor Alexander paused, “That’s not right. He has only been gone the better of a half a year. . . What has become my tutor? What have you people done to him?”

“We have harmed not a head upon the man’s head. It is by his account your people have done him wrong,” Meo pulled out a packet of paper and presented it to him. The lynx got up and delivered them to the Emperor.

The Emperor scanned them. He bite his lip, “I see it is his hand writing. I can see this much is true. But what trickery are you up to? Surely you are demons and witches alike here to do away with the Holy City! Tell me, why I should not call for the guards?”

Hikaru frowned, “Your grace. You have remained collected thus far.”

“It is only because of the angel who came to me last night. The women with the golden hair and white dress, Grata. She told me the Creator would come to be today. She told me he would come in plain clothing with a girl and a man in his company. I see you are here. But how can  I trust you! Look you have worked your magics to keep me calm so far.”

Meo looked over to Hikaru. The boy huffed, “Your grace, I am Hikaru Yul of Salgo Yul’s kin. I have learned from the Creator and embrace him as his vessel.”

Emperor Alexander held the report and stared at Hikaru. He pointed, “I remember you. My father dismissed the dishonor placed upon your family. It was one of the last things he did before his murder. Yes, I remember you. You were there for the Honor Restoration Ceremony for your sister, Kino. But your brothers and you fell into a terrible lot. I remember from my reports. The famed warrior, Shen, and the head alchemist, Daichi, died on route to deliver a message. Yes, I remember your family.”

Hikaru motioned to his side, “These are my companions. The lady is Seer Hotaru Meo. The gentleman is Tank Blue Brute. As I said, we come to reason with you about the War. We have come to beg you not to continue marching upon Creature Lands, but to enter into a Peace Treaty.”

“What war?” Emperor Alexander said, “What is the world is a seer? What is so important about this other gentleman to be here?”

I blurted, “You know the Great War. The one that has taken over the last dozen of decades. The one that raged on over land and magic. The Creatures, or rather demons, had been hurting the Empire. Therefore the Emperor ordered that all Demons be thrown into the Forbidden Lands. You know that war!? Plus this woman can see into the future! I was brought along here because if I don’t find a way to talk to you. Then someone is going to do something terrible to you!”

Emperor Alexander folded his arms, “See here! You don’t have to be moody. I am the one being held at point here.”

Hikaru said, “Do want a display of power? You want be to show you my divine skill? I can do it, if you don’t believe me!”

The Emperor held up his head, “Maybe. First explain to me, why I should listen to people who have captured me and keep me in my chambers. Tell me why should I consider even taking action. Give me one good reason.”

I opened my mouth again, “”

Emperor Alexander said, “I don’t disbelieve you. But I have given no order for marching. We have enjoyed a break from the War. There have not been anymore reports of demons in several years. The Pope has however been pushing to get rid of the Forbidden Lands-”

Hikaru lowered his hands as the threads vanished, “So he has been the one to order the new attacks?”

Emperor Alexander sighed rubbing his head. The boy got up from his chair, “I have known the Pope all of my life. I don’t want to be rash about what is happening here. You have had a chance to present your case. I have written documents that could be easily forged. Or Albert forced to write. I am afraid I need something more solid. Show me that you are truly holy as your claim and I will ensure the end of whatever evil plot is afoot.”

So Hikaru did. He showed him alright. He put on all the threads and started to pull. He shone beautifully with light. There was an image of something I could not begin to describe of wonder. The outline of a much older man (rather a being) behind him and a pair of feathered wings. The Emperor fell to his knees in prayer. Hikaru released the threads. There was a muttering of a prayer and no Hikaru.

. . .

Dear Doll Face,

We have a lot of work ahead of us. We did not fail. Nor did we succeed. The whole secondary backup plan thing has gone in a completely different direction. I had hated I was on team Kill-a-Kid, but I had been waiting for the chance to follow through with our own plans. You know that damn Pope. He likes to lurk about in the background. We had tried to explain to our allies that the foe was him. But they wanted to strike at the heart of the problem. They wanted that kid’s head on a platter. So I had decided to go with the Kitsune sisters. I may add it was an intense reunion.

Lim was still a little sore that I had walked out on that bill at the tea house. Hana was all sour about having to leave the nunnery just as she finished her vows. They are lot different than they had been back in the day. We had been touring around the country side for a bit as a warm up with the real thing. I did not bother to inform Tank about the other affairs or the assignments we achieved without his notice.  I am proud to report the messages to our Silver Mist members has been delivered. Furthermore, the assignations of the dangerous political figures were all hushed. Their bodies are in places will not find them. I am just kidding about the last part. I don’t plan on really, really hurting people.

Our job in the operation you may have already figured. We were to do the last part of the job should the talks fail with the Emperor. We were also to find a way to expose and get rid of the Pope before he can silence the Emperor. I hate these more complex jobs. Anyways, there we were. I had the two sisters and myself in the throne room of the Empire.  We were getting ready to stage ourselves for the entrainment of the Pope and the Emperor. I must admit the fact we were at the tryouts first to see first we were fit to amuse the Emperor. It was the Pope, who you know served as the lord chamberlain while the child emperor grew into power. He was the one we had to gather favor with.

I will state that the sisters have been known for their alluring voices and more colorful side of things. It has always been within our nature to adapt to the tastes of the Empire’s audience.   The fame and reputation of our little troop “Ladies of Melody” kept us in the presence of the Pope. He is an old and ancient thing. Just as I remember in the pits of that dark damp dungeon. (He can rot in Hades as far as I care. ) He came out in his snowy robes and watched us. We played it safe with the national anthem and some hymns. The Pope watched us carefully.

I may add for all my undercover work I am glad I spent so much time in the Empire. The gathered information from Daichi and Shen proved useful. Indeed the Pope was using magical items to scan each of us for glamour. The idea of pure bloods being the easiest to detect is still clear in the Empire. I saw him with a stone with a hole in it. He must have been trying to scan each of us for changes. Lucky for us, I thought ahead. I know the girls did not like it. But I packed on them anti-magic items. We are bound in magical energies. Just raw talent. I will have to thank the guards at the prison for tipping me off to such items.

We had a grand time bellowing out beats and songs. I played on a lute. It was the best thing I could do without the use of stage tricks and magic. I must add the lute is by far out of style out here. Heheh. The Pope scanned us as we finished and bowed. We were awaiting his orders and the signal from Ryu for our action. Ryu was to act as are scout from the other team, if we were ever to act or not.

The ancient jerk walked down from his high seat next to the throne. He clapped slowly and stopped before us. He motioned for us to raise our heads. I smiled and stared at the old wrinkled face, “Sir?”

“Well played! I knew the troop from the countryside news. You have been well liked by the peasants. I dare say even a few noblemen speak well of your lot. Tell me where ever did you come from?” Pope Francis grinned with his dried up skin.

I spoke first, “We come from near the shoreline.”

“What city would that be? I have not heard this style of music in an age,” He smiled.

Long have we lived in our personas. So many missions carried out in it. So many different outfits and other personas. It was Hana who answered, “We come from Happiness, your holiness. It is the city we have long lived in as children.”

“Hmm, Happiness. It is a nice little sea town. I believe I have been there once. Tell me, how is the city of Happiness nowadays?”

Lim curtsied a little, “Your holiness, we have not been to Happiness in a long time. We have gone about performing and perfecting our music in the countryside for a spell.”

“Indeed a spell. I have last heard of your troop performing several years ago. Do tell me, where is the violist in your group? Where is the third lady of the troop as well? I have heard most of those two. Not to mention of the beauties of the ladies. Your troop sings well. But where are the show runners?” Pope Francis asked.

I said, “Your grace, we come to you in a humble state. The two others of our troop have married and started a family elsewhere in the colonies. As for the stars you seek.  They are here. Just in a humble form. We came to sing for the court, not be vain in our appearance.”

This seemed to please him as he thought. He held up his stone as he scanned the room. He was searching for something. The old fossil stopped right near the area where I last spotted Ryu.  He paused again, “In Happiness, would you say you the mayor. . . What was his name? Mayor Henson, was he a good man to your town?”

“Henson?” Lim echoed. There was never a Henson in our reports. We researched the town of Happiness for ages. Our background story was solid. There was no Mayor Henson there.

Hana stepped in, “Your holiness, maybe your memory serves you poorly. There has been no family or Mayor Henson in Happiness.”

“Did I say Mayor Henson? I meant Father Henson of the Church. He was a grand school teacher,” the Pope blinked slowly as he stared at our hats. He pointed to them,  “Father Henson would have taught all his schoolchildren no hats inside. Of course you are a group of performers. It is all proper for you.”
Lim said, “Oh yes, Father Henson. How could I forget him?”

The Pope sighed about ready to call the guards. There was a large flash beyond measure at the time. It rushed through the whole area. I am not sure how far it spread. But without even having to guess. . . Hikaru must have allowed the Lord of All to escape him. The next thing I knew everyone seemed to have this feeling like we did that the Creator had returned to us. The Pope did not give us a second thought. He ordered the guards to deal with us as he rushed out of sight. He need went to see to the commotion was. We fought our way through the guards smoothly enough. But I must say. Your theories were correct. The Pope was the true decision maker in the Palace. Now we have our hands full of the Pope.

Wait for my next letter for further details, Mami needs me to braid her hair. Plus I think you have figured out by now what happened to us next.

Your Friend,

Sage Gawain Fia

. . .

Dear Tank Blue Brute,

Please forgive me for breaking away from the final moments of my time. We have come a long way together. We had gotten out of the human prison. We got out of all our other adventures. We have survived the battles, the snow, and the other journeys. We will not have very long together until my condition. I mean one way or the other I am destined to my life’s end. Not a charming topic. Nor a prefect beginning to the series of notes I have been making for myself and you. I hope you will have it in your heart to forgive me one day. . .  I set you up on the path you walked. I placed everything as I saw fit for my benefit.

I wanted the war to end. I wanted there to be very little bloodshed. It is true now we have the Lord of All awake, he may drive others away. He will not. He will most likely accept the help of the colonist after you to care for the lands. The Lord of All will allow both the humans and the creatures to exist in separate realms of being. We could not find a peaceful way to share. There was no easy fix of us or them. We had to choose to split everything apart. How long it will hold? I would say a few hundred years. By then the colonist will come back to us.  They will try and tame our raw lands.

Will it do us any good? Maybe. Maybe by the time your people return, we may have learned to share and forget. Maybe by then the Wars and the sins will be washed away. There will be no more magic for the humans. The creatures will keep all the special life force for themselves. Will any on them accept the reality that they are one and the same? I guess only time will be able to tell with the returns of everything.

You go back to your home planet. Go back and return to your garden. Set time aside for your sister. Confess your feelings of happiness of seeing Harrison. Tell your parents how you really feel about them. Try and figure out a way to deal with your other siblings.  Go and look upon all you knew, including your favorite anime. Ask your: Am I happy? Do I want to stay with the Earth anymore?

Tank you have done great things here on Gaia. Do not forget the adventures you have been! Do not waste the knowledge you have gained! You will not be able to find a thrill as the same as our time together. You most likely will not want to. I can tell you as you get further and further from my world, there will be plenty to think about. You will not be able to return to Gaia. You will not see these lands again. You will be free of it all. You will return back to Earth. When you do get back,  I hope you are happy. I hope you will live a life worth having.

I will miss you, Tank Blue. There will be no other who has known me as you have. Thank you for being my friend.

Indeed by Hikaru’s reveal to Alexander, I fled. I slipped out of the door to meet Grata and Yao. The winged creature rushed in after me. She would serve as guardian to that boy even in his end. She was and always will be a loyal friend. I hurried passed her with my sight of the Future to lead me to Yao. She found her way to the courtyard with swift feet. A clearly raggedy thing of cloak and mud, she could never hide her true nature nowadays. Yao was to lead me on my final way to the ship. I had foreseen it clearly. At the ship, your sister would find you at the docks.

However, Yao and I had to deal with something else first. It was going to be Sao. I write all of this before hand, Tank. I did not want to miss a chance to just to explain why. I did not want to leave you wondering. It is just. . . A somber experience.

Yours Always,

Meo

 

 

 

 

Bold and Earthy

Report Eleven:

I Don’t Know

Now I have established by now my report log is just a personal journal. I mean come on I haven’t written any real notes about the botany of this planet in ages. I could really bring myself to want to record anything since Sage and Meo brunt my original set.  It is not worth trying. I not trying to be negative about my rescue from here. But I have been having a thought. Beyond my own study, who would be interested in the information of Gaia? Would it be a good idea to allow the information to be handled by the Intrepid Incorporated?  I have concluded: No. No it is not worth letting people know about the resources of the planet.  If I am lucky, I will meet up with Jenna. She will be able to argue to keep the reservation on this planet. I am sure there must be legal way to prevent colonization. I am very sure, if Jenna is on the planet she must have come up with a plant.

I  am glad to report our entrance to the Palace was easy as hell. Everything slipped together with ease. It is easy to slip in with a kid who can put at the strings of Fate and a seer. We managed the time just right. The whole festival around here made everyone in the capital busy with their celebrations. There were thousands upon thousands of sellers and visitors. The citizens were in their best clothing. I am currently not in a place to paint a word picture. There is a lot going on as we are leaving behind the carriage and horses at a nearby inn. Lim whispered about us going off to our deaths. Ryu and Hana had insisted in ignoring her. Hikaru and Meo were very assured of our success today in the Palace. They say the job ahead of us should be no sweat.  They had told me that we had someone in the inside who knew the Palace inside and out. Sage had said nothing to our final discussion.

I know I only have a few minutes here. I am feeling good about this whole go talk to the child emperor bit. I am sure we can do it. We will not have to harm a single soul going in. I have decided to remove the battery from my laser. I am using the battery to charge something else I crafted together over the last few days. I must admit I feel confident about it, because I received a note from Jenna. She has promised to meet me over at the Palace’s kitchen. I might be able to get everything done by dusk!

I cannot wait to get back home! Oh I bet I really need to water my plants. I mean my auntie must be tired of watching over them. The latest season of Lady Luna must be up by now. I bet I will be able to sign up for a Master’s Class in Plant Care. I will just be patient or something. It will be fine. What could possibly go wrong? Hehe.

. . .

Dear Doll Face,

I am glad to hear that you have managed to survive the attack on the city.  The time has been difficult to cover here at the main mission. The Silver mist will be pleased to know the discussions at the Alliance have been realized. We may have little support for the revival for the attempt to establish peace. But should we make head way here, we will gain support to take down the Great Barrier and reestablish political relationships with the Empire. I must add that the others are on tasks to deal with their own issues. Daichi has done to meet with the other Silver mist members.  He will be gaining their support. His unit will be working to disable the Palace guards during our own mission. I trust Bonny and Grata can figure out a healing potion for our captured brothers and sisters in the prison here.

What of Yao? Why have we summoned her out to the field? I know there has been much doubt about Yao joining us. She has gone to join with Tokey to help broadcast the discussion of Hikaru, Emperor Alexander, and Tank to the Empire. I must say the use of radio would be brilliant.  The intel was correct about the technological development.   They have managed to discover radio weaves and managed to make something of a network throughout the kingdom. The Empire is moving much faster in their discoveries than expected.  Doll Face, I am not sure how much time we have to spare before the end game. Heck, I am not sure if you are going to read my notes now.

I know, I know. You have been following the plan set down by your sources. The plans tend to contradict each other. Our alliances with Yao, Sao, and Meo are stressed. I know for a fact that each one of the seers is working toward their own goals. Sao is working to maintain the current situation among us all. She does not wish for the seers to disappear nor does she wish for us to give up the fight completely. Meo works towards ending the far in a swift motion now. She seems to have some to an understanding of her lifespan ending soon. The fear in her eyes is not false.  As for Yao, the seer of the past, she does not communicate her personal intent with us all. I dare to ask you, what did Yao tell you, Mary? What will you not share with me?

Crow has gone about his arrangements to work with the Nomads. They are planning on poisoning with guards with the coffee. It is now quiet popular in the Empire. I am glad the research has held. I suppose the method of putting a sleeping herb in the mixture would not be all that hard for the Nomads, especially since we have Jenna here in the Capital.

I have to go, Mary. The hours before the mission starts are short.

Yours Always,

Sage Gawain Fia

. . .

Sao and Yao,

What would you have me do? Better yet, my dear sisters, what would you do? I thought we had an agreement about my fate at this dark hour. I thought I explained my fate so crystal clearly to you. You both wrote you understood my thoughts. Yao, you agreed that the people, our people, never learn from the past. You told me that they did not have the right to a future, if they could not learn from the past. You seemed so willing to side with me when I expressed how tired I was of being a seer. You wanted nothing more than to escape your state and join Scholar in death. Then there is you Sao. Sao, you agreed with me, too. You had told me that you saw no way to end the war. You acknowledge you were at a loss about how to survive in our situation. You had wrote you got it. Have you both lied to me? Why do suddenly receive letters from both of you now going against what has been set in motion? Cannot you see why I go? Lono is dying. I am, too.

Have you forgotten why my state is such? Why I am choosing to follow fate to my death? If I fight against it and survive my encounters here, what will wait for me in life? I have counted to see how long the illness will return. . . It never fully went away. I kept it from my birth to now. The Gift of Gaia has decided for me the span of my life. If I follow the plan, we will make it. Lono will live on. I will seek a new life as a plant. It is not a bad ending. I will just leave the kingdom of people for plants. You must trust me on my plan. We will make it. The War will end. We will have peace among our people. We just need to deal with the Emperor. I have both Hikaru and Tank Blue to do it.

I will not submit to either of you. I will not turn back now, Sao. I will not simply go back to the temple and tolerate my lifetime as a seer. I refuse to take Tank Blue and provide an heir to my powers. I swear I will be death either way before you have a child out of me. No continuation of the linage. There is no way you will me to provide my powers to Tokey either. He could only take from Yao.  Yao, you say another set of seers have faced this choice. They took it in their own way. Look at how the cycle continues. I will not listen to you either. I do not wish to go back. I will not be stuck in another cycle.  In the end both of you suffer from your own desires. Sao, you wish for no change. Yao, you cling to the past.

What of Meo? What should my life mean for me? I have done so much to others. I have served to others as well. No, sisters, I have worked very hard over the last several years to arrange what fate brings. I am tired now. I live and yet not. I have not life that belongs to me alone. I am part of the Gift of Gaia. I am sick of it. All of it.

You speak to me not without knowing. You will see as I have seen it all unfold before you even have a change to gain sense. Once it is all in motion, Sao, you will know first. . . . Yao will see next. You will gain insight into the undoing of fate. You will understand how it all concludes. We are the sisters of the thread. We have witnessed and saw. We will be free of our duties as they will be fulfilled. We will no longer have to live for other’s will.  Our life will not be for the tasks given to us.

The boy god will ascend and reveal the path to the end. We will be blessed with freedom from the threads of our lives. Once the words are spoken and the actions taken, the hero of the stars will sort us all out. My breath will meet its last. Lono will strengthen. Don’t you see why it must all fall as this will? You will. I swear. You will understand once the time is right.

 

The Oracle of the Future,

Meo

Chili Fries

Report Eight:

Missing Pieces of a Tin Can

I opened it as I was waiting for our last member. Ryu and Yuki were busy with their own activities. I opened the box as I thought it would change how I felt. It did not change a single thing. It made it worst.

Inside the box. . . Inside the box. . . Kitsune found pieces of my escape pod. I do not know how or when. But she had it found. Some of it has been made into a refined blade. Does it make sense now? No. But I can still see on the blade the words: Escape Pod 3903, S.S. Tsunami. I want to blame Meo somehow for her magical whatnot. I stare at the polished blade of white metal and silver handle. I blink as I see my blue eyes now hidden behind my wild dyed brown hair.

I remember . . . I remember the sorrow and desperation I experienced as I had been in the escape pod. I had banged my fists against the controls with fury. I swear panic was coming ever closer as I made my transition. I was afraid of what was going to become of me in the moments I was left alone. I had plead and begged for someone to hear me. I limited supplies, but I still had energy in the ship. Hours, days. Long, lonely day. After all those long days passed as I came to a conclusion. I had a choice. I could face the fact I was on an uncharted planet have minimal transmissions and enter into hibernation until I was saved. Or I could commit myself to a blast of energy and have a wider range of transmission followed by low ranged ones. However, I could have to enter into the world. I decided on the second once I saw the planet could support me and there was nearby human life.

I did my second choice. Once I did I heard a crackle in my receiver. It sounded like someone had heard me. Like a faint snicker on the range. The exchange was over in a second as the line was dead. I shouted for the person to hear me. No one answered me. I made a message at that point and left it on repeat. I had hope someone would come along for me.

I slump over the box as I hear the rabbits shuffle about. The door open and someone walks in quietly.  They place their hand on my shoulder. I look up. There stands Kitsune with board smile. No guards and no fancy leader outfit. She does not even have her fancy outfit of silks and butterflies. She had fixed her hair into a simple bun and decided to wear a brown peasant dress. Kitsune walks into the room and bows to Yuki and Ryu as they come to the front with packs on.  She kisses my forehead affectionately, hugs me, and says, “Blue, you look sad? Are you okay?”

Something shifts within my heart. My head feels like stars come crashing down in the moment I have peered on her fresh sweet face. I have struggled a lifetime to fight back the fears of everything from the stupidity of my siblings to the lack of kindness of my father. As I hold the wreckage of my escape pod, I suddenly want to I thank Kitsune. I have been filled of ought to and ought nots. The desire to run from Ryu and Yuki is now crushed. Heck, even my simplest reason of wanting to see Meo seems lacking in meaning. I panic for a moment and check to make sure I have not drank any water offered to me by Yuki or Ryu. There is none.

I feel hot and cold. I know I am not poisoned. Maybe they did something else!? Oh I really don’t want any more games! I mentally melt down.

Yuki speaks up, “I think your husband-to-be misses his people.”

“H-h-husband-to-be?” I hardly say.

“It will be okay, Blue. I promise on my life we will find a way to get you back to your people. The Forest Mountain Clan owes you much thanks for the return of Meo,” Kitsune tenderly touches my hot face. I glup. She giggles and flashes her fangs at me.

Yuki studies my face, “I do believe he may possibly worry about Sage as well.”

“Heheh, little old me. I have to say I am very fine,” Sage declares as he enters the door with the cloak of the Vitoz on his back.

I feel disgusted at the sight of Sage. I sink into my chair out of hatred and the fact I am being ignored.

He bows, “I must say I do love Mountain Forest Clan adoptions. You as an outsider brother will surely please her family. Heavens knows they need a male heir.”

“Hush, now Sage. You know your role now,” Kitsune rolls her eyes.

“Oh yes. Now you have your information, I must miss the wedding. I admit it ought to be a fun wedding,” Sage shrugs, “But don’t you worry I will watch your city while you are away. I was once part of the Vitoz Gang, while Hana was here.”

“Yes, yes,” Hana groans.

“Kitsune! You will not leave him in charge!” Yuki worriedly says.

“I would rather die than leave him alone with the gang,” She shakes her head, “Sage and Son are going to work together with Oz during our absence.”

“Wise as she is clever,” Sage smirks, “No worries. Your city will be standing when you get back. I say it is a pretty sweet deal. Don’t you say, Blue?”

I sputter, “W-w-w-eeddding?”

“Wow, you are behind in this chat,” Sage pats my head, “Yes, a wedding. You have those in your society right? Are you more like the Nomads? Little matter. It is all in name and show.”

“M-m-me in a wedding?! Me and her?” I utter.

“Blue. . .” Kitsune offers gently. She points to Sage, “Now off with you! You have duties to perform!”

“Oh you are becoming sweet on him, eh?” Sage sheepishly grins as he goes for the door, “Okay. I will go now. Goodbye Ryu, Yuki, and love birds. Best of luck to you all. And Sport, take care of yourself for now.”

Sage laughs merrily out of sight. I panic and check on my wallet and my belongings. They are all here. Kitsune turns to Ryu and Yuki goes over a checklist of materials. I feel myself burning in my head. I go over to my bag and try to review everything I have had. Kitsune pauses halfway between her chat and reaches down to the box I had. She pulls out a book and holds it up for me to book at. I cannot understand the title. Kitsune points it out, “It is an herbalist book. You said you studied plants. . .  I know you have not had time to study with all your adventures. I thought this would help. ”

“You’re all mad!” I shout, “I-I cannot be bought! I remember what happened to me in your shop! Do you think just because you give me a sword and a book you can do this!? And I have agreed to no marriage!”

“Peace, peace, Master Blue,” Ryu enters to the chat. He places his tiny paw on my knee, “The fox women of the Forest Mountain Clan are odd in affections. If Kitsune pushes too much with gifts, it is my own ill advice. I thought since I had more experience with humans I would have an understanding of their courting and mating habits.”

I shrink into the chair, “C-c-c-courting. . .and mating . . .H-h-habits?”

“Brother, I think he is starting to become grave,” Yuki’s tiny voice says, “He forgets he made his agreement with Kitsune.”

The blood in my face draws away, “When did I do that?”

“Blue, do you remember when you accepted the very first cloak from me?”

“Yea. . .”

“It was a special order because it was a proposal cloak,” Her voice is as sweet as ever.

“Excuse me!?”

“The carriage is here now!” Yuki declare as she hops outside. Ryu inches away outside as well.

I in a stupor turn all around, “What!? What!!? WHAT!?”

Kitsune climbs into the chair next to me. She takes a hold of my hand and stares into my eyes. I shift about uncomfortably with the box in my lap and my bag between my feet. She leans over and kisses me on my lips. I stay stunned my chair. I smile. I smile like an idiot. We get out things together. She laughs and leads me outside to a carriage.

 

Report Nine:

Longest Ride

Screw me. How does one have two conflicting reports? Is there something wrong with me? If I am reviewing my records correctly, which I am. I have gone from wanting to escape this planet and returning to my sister and friend to being engaged to an insane person, who may I remind you. (Yes, myself. I am talking to you. ) She kept me locked up in her household as a slave over an unpaid bill, I was humiliated, I was mocked, and now I am being treated like something to be bought. I have managed to go over all my data entries on food and drink, since the snow crone insistence. It can assume that I have actually be drugged by the Painted Lady berries. I have been rushing through the botany book Kitsune gave me. There are several others I could assume based off this knowledge here.

Oh Tank, haven’t you been studying the plants around you? No, myself I have not been being a complete nerd about my field of study. But Tank, you love to work with plants and study them? It is true I love to work in botany.  I enjoyed taking care of the plants on the S.S. Tusami for food purposes and balancing their conditions to help maintain living conditions in the ship. As a botanist, shouldn’t I be out in the field every moment taking notes on my subject?  I mean a whole new world not on the maps. I should be oh so excited! Well I am sorry to disappoint you myself, I was busy running like a madman from humans who wanted to capture me. Surely you had time to sit down and see the many plants around you? Yea, I should have. I had a collection of notes in the beginning of this adventure. Heck, I even had samples.  Where are all your tools, samples, and notes? Let me remind you of the great magic trick of Sage back seventeen weeks among. He sold my notes to start a fire which he said would save my life as we were camping out in the snow. Then Sage used all my tools to break us out of prison. And my samples, Sage and Meo ate them to survive in the snowstorm we were in. No big deal really!

And let us not forget I failed the study of foreign plant types, which was why I was working under Doctor Tom. (I bet she does not care I missing. She never did notice me about.) Anyways, let me sum up my knowledge: Don’t eat wild berries or mushrooms.  Never try to argue with an elf about what a plant is feeling. Do not touch the rings of mushrooms with green grass and flowers, while in the dead of winter. It will only lead to unhappy times. Whatever! Who care about the matter of the fact I have not been studying like I should have?

As I sit in this carriage with the two rabbits and Kitsune, I wonder what the acceptable choice is here.  I have been trying to decide if my feelings are real. I am able to think somewhat clearly as I am paranoid about my condition. I have been reading in the botany for a counteraction for what is wrong with me. It leans knowledge to me if it is the Butterfly Kiss mixture that Kitsune talked about, I will have to figure out something. Everything else is about water mixture with another plant.

If I look at her, I feel myself starting to grin. I shake my head and keep my eyes outside on the passing scenery. The carriage is nothing to write home about. It is a plain looking thing. I suppose it is the point of allowing someone like Kitsune to leave without much notice. The scenery outside provides a better view of Masami. It has been a while since I first arrive to this city. The first time was by foot and a great hurry to hide from some elves. It was clear that Sage made friends with his fellow elves. Ah, I do enjoy seeing the city from afar.

The road outside of Masami to the Forest Mountain Clan goes along the coastline. I can see all the different buildings and ports of ships.  If I had not been kept as a prisoner inside of it, I would have love to have explored the picturesque landscape of towers, bridges, and the government section. (I don’t count my visit to Oz’s house). The whole city is nestled in cliff sides with waterfalls running on the outside of the city. Hell, I would have been enthusiastic about seeing the temple of the Goddess Gaia, the Temple of Gaia is one of peace and balance.  I can see the large statue of the goddess stand outside of the main port. She holds her hands up to the sky with a pearly white orb. It shimmers with magic. I know when Meo was around she had told me if I paid attention I could see the Great Barrier, an aura of magical force to keep the lands of the creatures safe from humans.

I rock with the carriage as we go over a rougher section of road. I have calculated and thought over my course of action. At the next rest stop is a nearby town. It is called Noah. It is a not a big trading town, but it should have the necessary means to create a cure. If I do not cure myself within the next few hours, I can safely control my impulses and avoid Kitsune. The drug should be out of my system by sunset. In regards to the whole marriage arrangement, if I have read my notes carefully. I think Meo has told me how I can avoid such an arrangement with the Forest Mountain Clan. If I can prove Kitsune has been in the battlefield, which I am very much I can. She will not be able to try and marry me. Otherwise, I can bolt to the south of the village. It is a doable task.

As we drift further along our way, I fidget with my hands. Yuki places a tiny paw on my lap. I jump at the tiny hand. I look over at the rabbit. Her cute nose twitches as she watches me. I wave at her. Yuki breaks the silence, “Master Blue, are you still longing to go home? You look pale.”

“Who me? You don’t say,” I chuckle.

“I think there is more upsetting him,” Ryu said. I looked over at him. Unlike his darling sister, there was now a rough air about that rabbit.

I nervously peer back at Ryu and Yuki. The sweat starts to form on my forehead. I fumble in thoughts as Kitsune turns her attention to me and leans to place her hand on me. I flinch and draw back. I feel myself with the odd sensations. I thought I could keep my calm, until we reached the Forest Mountain Clan. I feel myself shutter as she is looking at me. I run over what the list of plants and cures. I have shank back in my spot as her eyes dig onto me. It is wrong to think this thoughts. It is not right to have joy in those eyes. I watch her treat her hand away from my head. Her eyes narrow for a second and she frowns. I point my finger at her and shout, “Stay back! Do not come near me!”

“Blue, are you alright?”

I freeze for a moment, “I-I am . . . I am fine.”

“Ryu, do you think Blue is okay?” Kitsune says with concern. She is so caring. Stop it, Tank!

Ryu twitches his nose, “Kitsune . . . If you wish me to fully look at him, please stop the carriage.”

My inner terror stops as I look over at Kitsune. I grin again like an idiot, “I am fine. Thank you.”

Kitsune becomes puzzled, “You are pale and sweating. Maybe we should pull over now?”

Yuki speaks, “Noah is not for a several more miles. I think it is wise to check on him now.”

Ryu hops to the side of the carriage and calls for the driver to stop. The carriage trots down to a standstill. I will myself to look outside of the window. I can see the twisting road along the coastline. I feel my stomach growing in knots as Kitsune talks to Ryu and Yuki. Ryu jumps to my side of the seating. He places his tiny paw on my arm as I grin at him. The rabbit nudges me again for my attention. I turn to him with a daffy expression. Ryu shakes his head and points to Kitsune and Yuki.  He states, “Can you both step out for a moment, please?”

The rabbit and the fox woman leave outside of the carriage and wait. I feel my heart rate slowing down. The box from Kitsune I know is still tied up in the back of the carriage. But all of my other belongings have stood with me. Ryu hops closer to me. He gestures for my hand. The rabbit places his paw over my hand. I stare at him awkwardly. Ryu scans over my arms and face. I can feel the few beads of sweat dropping from my face.  Ryu notices the earring on me. He draws me closer.

His voice is low, “Master Blue, who placed the earring on you?”

“Umm, Meo. . .”

“How long have you been wearing it?”

“Several weeks I guess.”

“Where did Meo get the earring?”

“From Kitsune.”

“And I have been told you are no normal human. Right?”

“I am from outer space.”

“Do you feel like you are lost in a dream? Are you currently in a panic?”

“Every time I see Kitsune I feel as if there was the warmth of a thousand super novas exploding within me,” I blather out before I can think. I freeze in horror, “God, help me! I have lost my mind!”

Ryu tapped his foot on the ground in thought. He gestured for me to move closer and I did so. His tiny paw wrapped around the earring and with some pressure, he crushed it. The jewel crumbled in his tiny paw and he dropped the pieces of the jewel on the carriage seat. He studied the fragments as I sat there with a feeling of ease.  His little eyes narrow in disappointment as he selected to say something. Then Ryu’s rough voice started, “I used to be a field medic in the Second Great War. In the Third Great War, I became a specialist in medicine for both creatures and humans. I was part of an infiltrator team with Kitsune and her sister.”

“Huh. . .”

“My point being,” Ryu sighs, “I have a general understanding of how the two sisters operate and how funny they think they can be with their cunning. They may look young to a human eye, but they are several hundred years old in human years. I am mostly considered with what games Kitsune would wish to play with you.”

“What does the jewel earring have to do with anything? And why should I trust you?” I say. I am very sure Kitsune and Yuki can hear us. I have learned in the past creatures have very acute hearing. It is hopeless to whisper here. The only reason why Kitsune and Yuki may not be listening is because of politeness. I snicker just a bit at the thought. Like Kitsune would respect my privacy.

“The jewel seems to have been enchanted by someone,” Ryu nudges his head to the side. He flicks the pieces away out the window, “Kitsune herself does not have this type of skill. Trust me. Her skill set does not include enchantments. I just wonder about Meo and why she would enchant it.”

“Again, why should I trust you?” I repeat my question.

Ryu turns to his small bag. He pulls out a small package and offers it up to me. I open it and find Meo’s necklace. She always hide it among her clothing. It was her prized belonging she kept throughout her travels. She said it had been her grandmother’s and her great grandmother’s necklace. It was a family heirloom.  The fortune teller only showed it to me once when we were both in imprison together.  I raise my eyebrow, “Okay. Say I slightly believe you and I know the others are listening. Why bother sending the others outside?”

“The enchantment on you will still be active with Kitsune here. I cannot guess how you have additional side effects,” Ryu shakes his head.

“Additional side effects?”

“Yes, it appears that you are under a protection enchantment and something of a love potion. . . I cannot make it clearer how the two intermingle with your biology and how you will react in time. I would not say it is deadly. But I ought to watch over you closely considering how you are now.”

“. . .Uhmm. . .”

“A good solution would be to blindfold you,” Ryu nods. He hops to the door and calls for Yuki.

“Wait!”

“Yes?”

“Couldn’t Kitsune ride outside? Or maybe I could?”

“You are right. We can do that. You can ride outside with the driver,” Ryu agreed.

We continued on our way. The carriage carried out without much delay. My thoughts became clearer with Kitsune riding inside of the carriage. Yes, it was true the fox woman could and would not be caught outside of the carriage. Not for all the money in the world she had said. It was not a defined trait for her to do as a fox creature in the middle of the road to her hometown. So, Kitsune with haste and fury went into the inside of the carriage. She was undoubtedly displeased by the news of Ryu’s discovery and huffed inside the carriage. It was like someone had spoiled her favorite game. I knew I was grateful to Ryu for the break.

I was left to sit with the driver of the carriage. It was some fox creature with a crest like the one on Kitsune. He was the color of snow with his white fur. His blue eyes were hidden by a large straw hat.  I only saw them as he peered up at me. His long and pearly fangs flashed a smile at me. He unlike Kitsune looked like he could pass as a regular fox. He did have on a shabby green kimono.  As I sat beside him and listened to the mutterings of Ryu, Yuki, and Kitsune, the driver smirked to himself. He held the reigns for the horses in his hands and made the carriage continue on.

The driver said in a hushed tone, “I am Kitsune’s relative. You may call me Kin, formerly part of the Forest Mountain Clan. I have travelled a great length to assist her on her journey back home. What is your name?”

“I am. . .” I pause for a second, “They call me Blue. I am of the People of the Stars as Meo put it.”

“Ah, the fortune teller as given you wise advice about your name, I see. The same is true for Kitsune and I. We have many nicknames and one true name. It is good luck to keep your true name secret.”

“So I have heard,” I sigh, “She did not tell me about you.”

“We foxes like to keep our secrets, if it can be helped. I suppose I am not necessary for the plan. But it is wise to use caution, Blue.”

“Huh,” I looked over the landscape. I had a thought, “What do you mean formerly part of?”

He winked, “I caused a spot of trouble back in my day. I can still escort my relative home, but I am not going pass the first gates. I have a simple task here and I am happy to help.”

“Right,” I sigh as the world sped by.

“Do not worry about everything else,” Kin smiled, “Ryu and Yuki will keep Kitsune from mischief. I promise you. They are very respectful rabbits.”

“Thanks,” I roll my eyes.

The coastline disappeared and many other little valleys. Places came and went. We arrived into Norah after several hours of silence. In Norah, I still prepared my solution for the poison I endured. If there was a real poison in my system, I do not know. But I can say without a doubt, I was much happier to have the cure (and extra dozes) just in case of the poisoning again.  Even with the cure, I still had some remaining feelings for Kitsune.

We went on with the rest of the ride. It was uneventful. It was then at the very end we came to the gateway of the Mountain Forest Clan.

 

Thank You, My Dark Lord

Chapter Two:

Retreat

When Susan fainted, the two wizards debated about the backroom for a rest space for Susan. Madam Stacy checked the background for triggers.  Eugene slipped out to the front of the shop. The dragon-cat slipped over to Nadir’s legs and purred. Nadir lifted up the fluffy creature. Meanwhile, Madam Stacy decided it was better to bring a bean bag chair out here and rest Susan. The backroom’s banners and articles about the Enchanted School could make Susan uneasy.  Now the decide how to handle the situation, Madam Stacy fans Susan’s face as zhe lays on the bean bag chair of the back room. The goblin turns to the two wizards. Nadir pets Eugene nervously as Benet shakes his head. Benet sighs, “I thought it was going so well. . .”

Madam Stacy paces, “We are taking healing steps. This one was to be your last big step Benet and Nadir. . .It appears Susie has more work to do. Susie and I have been working hard over the last decades to help zher recover from the past. . . But it I forgot to warn you of  triggers.”

“You mean about our past adventures?” Nadir asks.

“No. . . No.  . . Not just those. The mention of you know who. She is a sensitive subject for Susie, zhe did not resolve everything with her before the accident,” Madam Stacy carefully takes out a notepad from her pockets.

“You mean the one where F-“ Nadir asks.

“Yes, yes, that one,” Madam Stacy says, “Please do not talk about it now. Susie tends to come to pieces when anyone even says her name. We had been reaching a break through. I thought meeting with you Benet and Nadir would resolve the sensitivity.”

“Oh,” Nadir lows down at Eugene.

“Should we can a magic bus to give you guys a lift? A taxi? Or maybe we should phone a doctor or a healer?” Benet takes out his cell phone.

Susan groans, “I may be old, but I am not a child. You don’t need to fuss over me.”

“Oh Susie, how do you feel?” Madam Stacy says. She pulls the gun with the banner from Susan and motions for Benet to put it away. Benet quietly takes it away and puts it on the counter by the cash register.

Susan looks around and picks up zher cane from the floor. Zhe lowers zher eyes to zher feet. The invite remains on the floor from the earlier fuss. Zhe calmly lifts zherself up from the floor and dusts off zher clothing. Zhe neatens zher bob, “I am pleased at this honorable opportunity, but I will need some time to think about it.”

“It is okay that you are not okay with the situation right now, Susie. We can discuss it further in our next session,” Madam Stacy nods with the jingle of her headdress. She motions for Nadir to get the shop phone, “Please could you ring up a taxi. I believe we have done enough for the night.”

“Yes, very well,” Nadir goes over to the counter next to Benet. He starts to dial on the phone with Eugene on his shoulders.

“Listen, please. I am not so soft nowadays. I want to say something before you send me off back to my own home,” Susan leans on zher cane. They stop and listen to Susan. Zhe collects zher thoughts. Nothing is going according to plan. Not even the simplest one. Susan swallows. It is getting complex. Zhe realizes with the two wizards standing together holding hands, zhe is at a loss. Susan says, “I wanted to thank you for having me in your shop tonight. I know I have not always been kind and good. . . I have been trying so hard with my second chance. . . Er. . . I . . . I wanted to thank you. I am sorry for any trouble I have caused. . . I know it is not enough. . . I cannot fix everything I ever did that was wicked. . . I-I j-just am  . .. I am truly sorry. . . So sorry  . . .”

“It is okay. I have forgiven you a long time ago. Like I said, it is fine now,” Benet grins.

Nadir takes a firm hold onto Benet’s hand. They both knew the process of recovering from the Dark Lord’s deed had taken years of therapy and reflection. Nadir was hurt from the Dark Lord. Benet had nearly been destroyed. It was with the help of Professor Plum, Curtis, Musette, and all of their friends they pulled through. Heck, the whole effort to reform and have the Magic Community even think about forgiving Susan was brought about by Benet’s efforts alone. Madam Stacy’s role was to iron out all the details and smooth the trauma all parties suffered. The goblin therapist may have had questionable methods, but she had had stunning results. Nadir weakly says, “Yes, you have been forgiven a long time ago.”

Susan covers zher face. Zhe had not expected this result. Susan shields zher face to hid the frustration, sorrow, and confusion. Zhe mutters, “Madam Stacy, I will wait out for the taxi.”

“Yes, Susie, we can wait together,” Madam Stacy comfortingly pats Susan’s arm. She lifts up the invite and holds to Susan. Zhe takes it and tucks it away.

“No. . . I will be okay by myself. . . Good night everyone,” Zhe stoically says.

“Good-bye! Please come back and visit soon!” Benet says.

Nadir manages a weak wave.

Madam Stacy says, “Good night Susie. We will have a session to discuss all of this tomorrow. Please call, if you need me.”

Zhe walks out with zher cane and waits outside for zher ride. Zher hand wraps tightly around the cane’s orb. Zhe flushes with zher head low to hid fresh tears rolling down zher cheeks. Zhe keeps her back to the flower shop window. Zhe did not know what zhe would tell zher loyal followers back at the Sunnydale House. Zhe hardly understood why zhe even came here. Zhe just had wanted to spend zher time over at the Halloween party as a bunny.  Zhe balls zher fist. Zhe wants to end the struggle. Susan thinks, Between good and evil, which is it I am choosing again? And how could the gun backfire like that? I know I am old. . . But it sparked with magic. . .Did I do it? What am I becoming? What of my goals? My vision?

Soon the taxi pulls up and drives away the former Dark Lord. Madam Stacy turns to Benet and Nadir as the couple studies the toy gun on their counter. The goblin paces for a moment as she steps with the heavy steps of all her bangles. She nods knowingly with her knowledge. She holds out her hand for the toy gun and its banner.  Nadir hands it to her. Madam Stacy coolly states, “Mister Nilson and Mister Soledad, you both did splendidly with Susie. Susie is going to face a very hard time with transitioning back to society both the Magical Community and Mundane. There are those who would try and lead Susie down the wrong path. Susie and I laid down a foundation to guide zher. I can see zher efforts.”

Nadir nervously sighs, “It still feels like zhe could go back.”

“We have faith in Susan. Zhe is clearly trying. It will take time. Susan has changed over the last twenty years. I think the reformation is going well,” Benet declares.

Madam Stacy points to hidden signs of wards and traces of protection spells. She looks over at Nadir, “I trust we will continue to practice trust. I do not blame you for your wary nature. Nor you Benet for the wand up your sleeve.”

The wizards exchange glances. Madam Stacy feels the weight of the toy gun and the banner. She could see the prediction was correct. The toy gun had indeed been real, but with the whole affair of older wizards making technology backfire in unexpected ways. It was clear Susan had second thoughts. Madam Stacy nods at the evidence. She would update her log about Susan’s behavior. Madam Stacy ponder, If this technology so easily backfires, why did Susie take the taxi? Zhe would only make it a block or two. Perhaps the event had been too much and a quick escape was needed.

Madam  Stacy places the toy gun back on the counter. She proudly tells the two wizards, “I believe I am done here for the night. May I please use your portal circle to return to my place of business?”

“Of course,” Benet motions and takes Madam Stacy to the back room.

Nadir remains with Eugene in the front to close up shop.  He pets Eugene’s head as he goes to lock up the shop. He flips off the neon sign and turns off the open sign.  Nadir turns all the locks and pulls down the shades. He goes over to the light switch with Eugene happily at his heels.  Nadir pauses at the door handle to see the toy gun with the banner. He picks it up and tosses it into the trash can.  Slowly he shakes his head. For the sake of Benet, Nadir will follow him and his plans to the ends of the Earth. After all Nadir loves Benet without a doubt. The night outside with its misty and dampness goes on serenely. The venders have gone home. All the people wander away to their beds and the bars close at last call.

Arya of Sundried Hope

Chapter One

In which pirates attack the good ship, Flaming Lotus.

She had been on a brim of a dream. A dream of something important. Something she couldn’t forget and shouldn’t have forgotten. But it slipped so quickly between her fingers that dream it was like water. Maybe it was even a memory?  The sunlight poured through the porthole in her cabin. She woke early in the morning of her fourteenth birthday. She knew very well that she would be promoted from cabin boy to a mate today. Arya had been on service to the Flaming Lotus since her ninth birthday and her adoption from Captain James Shaw. Arya rolled out of her hammock and scooped up her lute.  She strummed it a bit to hear the cords.  They were off a bit. Arya fiddled with the pegs. Aw, pretty harmony.

She would need to be on deck shortly to perform the morning wake up song. The girl had the talent that was almost supernatural to wake up just before the sun. So, Captain Shaw assigned her to the morning call. Also, it was better then just a plain whistle. Arya went quickly cleaned her face. She studied for just a half of a second, the light scars from her time as cabin boy for the Pirate Captain Casey. Her room was more of a closet, had always been her kingdom since Captain Shaw had give it to her all those years ago. It wasn’t like the pink and cute room back at their house.  Arya still hadn’t the heart to tell the captain her least favorite color was not pink nor that she did not really approve of Dulen  bears anymore. Arya just loved that Captain Shaw tried very hard to please her. Plus, it helped that they only made port in Turtle like twice a year.  The Port of Turtle was okay with that large brick house. True the garden surrounding it was lovely.  But the Flaming Lotus was their home.

Arya racked up her wild mud colored hair as her brown eyes scanned around the place.  Yup, her room was still neat and tidy. The hammock was rocking along with the boat. The small room, if you insisted on the room, was with small trinkets here and there. A few crude drawings were on the walls of musicians or music sheets. She put down the lute into the hammock for half a moment. Then she tossed off her night shirt and gathered her work outfit. The faintest of tattoos was on the nape of her neck. Arya grabbed her favorite scarf in order to hide the delightful present of Captain Casey. Nothing too special just a tunic and pants. Arya tossed her lute over her shoulder with its strap. Arya grabbed her cap from its peg and raced out to the deck.

Ah, the sea was salty and sea. The Flaming Lotus rocked gently along with the morning sun yet to wake up and the last of hues of night and her pretty stars clanged to the sky. Arya bounced up the stairs with a careless abandonment as she brimmed with joy. The girl loved the sea. True, the sea could swallow boats and a man whole in a few moments. But it was a risk that one had to accept as a sailing merchant, sailor, and explorer. Arya smelt the of sweet sage and tobacco burning from a pipe. A sign of Vivian was on bed. Oh and the scent of a heavy musk of coffee. Cecil must have found a merchant from the last port to sell. The navigator was nothing short but in move with his muddy water.

Arya peeked around the top deck. The Flaming Lotus deck lanterns swung back and forth as the ship dipped now and then. They twinkled like fairies thought Arya. Not that she believed that fairies were real. It was not something she liked to admit to anymore since now the crew would always point out she was a little too for fairies and tales. Arya studied the angel of the sun and the stars. Ah, the direction was right on. Not that Cecil never got the direction wrong. Arya watched as the night crew yarned and cheered her good day as she bounced her way up to the helm. Arya grinned and nodded to the night crew. The good men and woman of the ship relaxed for a moment for the wakeup call.

As Arya came up to Vivian and Cecil. Vivian’s pipe hang between her lips as she lost in thought. The shades of painted on red never faded from her lips.  Nor the rouse and powder ever seemed out of place, especially as they traveled through the world.  Her rounded black glasses made her eyes just a bit bigger, even if she seemed to be tired with the night shift. Vivian huffed and puffed upon her pipe. Her jacket of navy was pressed nicely and kept well.  It just about hided her sidearms on her hips. Vivian puckered her lips in thought. Quietly Vivian muttered, “Cecil, I swear to you to Heaven. I have had a dream about all of this before. I told the cap about it. He seemed slightly spooked. Do you think I should let it go?”

“Indeed. . .  It is a lot to think about,” Cecil nodded. The faded military cap rested well upon his short cut mane of brown curls. Not that Cecil was Arya’s senior by much; perhaps by no more than five or six years. But he acted sometimes like he was thousands of years old. Cecil’s many earrings gleamed with the low lantern light. His callous hands wrapped themselves idlily at the whelm. His patched-up leather jacket was kept closed to his chest. Hidden under his selves were the unseen beginnings of his dragon tattoo. When Arya was younger; Cecil showed her his tattoo to make her feel less uncomfortable about hers. He told her about a mighty dragon who had a big library. He said Captain Shaw had a story about it. Cecil tended not to share with many about the tattoo.

“It was funny how things were changed slightly. But I swore we have been here before,” Vivian puffed on her pipe.

“It is possible it happened. There is much to happen in the world. I do not doubt we could have been here before,” Cecil drank his coffee with a hand easily on the whelm. Cecil yawned a little as his blue eyes watched the horizon.

“Do you think it can be a foretelling thing?”

“Could be, could be.”

“It was a troubling dream, Cecil. I swear it looped around and each time I would only . . . There were all these details that were off. I just couldn’t tell you what it was. Well, let us say no matter what I did in the dream it just kept happening.”

“Have you asked Doc Thyme? She is very good with the understanding of such subjects,” Cecil rolled his shoulders, “Good morning, sunshine. What are you going to play this morning girl?”

Vivian dropped her train of thought, “Ah, sun spot, you are up bright and early as usual. I am glad you are up. I will very pleased to give you a good gift this year for your birthday.”

“I plan to play Morning’s Grace. I wanted to be sure it was pleasant and uplifting,” Arya grinned. She held her lute and paused, “What is all of this about dreams?”

“Mind me not, sun spot. I just was having a thought,” Vivian smiled, “Come and play. We need to retire for the night. I am sure Captain Shaw will be glad to be awaken by your sweet melody.”

“I am sure he will be. I just hope he doesn’t give me another toy. I swear I am done with toys. I am nearly a fully-grown woman,” Arya said proudly.

“Sure, sunshine,” Cecil grinned and swallowed the last of his coffee.

Vivian put aside her pipe and pat the girl’s shoulder. She said, “Play then, woman.”

The girl lifted her lute and started to stroke the cords. Sweet music erupted from the strings and woke up the crew from down below. The sailor awakened with joy. In his private room, the weathered and true captain stood at his desk. Once what any woman would have swooned for, now was battered with age and wrinkles. Ah, the fair captain had faced much in his long life. His fingers tainted with shade of black as he put down his ink well.  His face with deep laugh line was trapped in a frown. Captain James Shaw stood alert with a fresh drying inked scroll before him. He narrowed his eyes at the drying ink. The melody from Arya reached his ears and he closed his eyes. The ink before him lit up for just a second in a dim silver. Then vanished into the black ink. Captain Shaw exhaled and touched the dry paper. Then he sealed it into an envelope in a book.  As the sweet melody of his daughter played, the old sea captain placed his hand on his hip.

Just then Doctor Basil busted through the door. The doctor carried a tray of tea and a bottle filled with pills. Her wrinkled hands jiggled with several bracelets of ivory. Her small eyes beam with happiness as she proudly carried in the silver tray. Her graying hairs were covered by her scarf. Her purple dress of cotton was protected by a well-worn white apron with a red cross on it. On her shoulder sat a side bag filled with all sorts of odds and ends. Doctor Basil stopped as she peered at Captain Shaw. She called out, “Oy! Captain Shaw! Have you some with the old wound again? I got your meds!”

Captain Shaw pulled on his royal purple coat and tried to hide his expression. He smiled his usual jolly smile and laughed, “I am good with you around Thyme, even better to know that my daughter is at her post. How are you today?”

“I am right fine. Thank you, sir. But there is something queer today. . . I feel it in my bones, sir, if you don’t mind me pointing it out,” Thyme jiggled as she reached the desk. She put it down on the desk.

Captain Shaw gathered his cup and held it in his hand.  He watched the ship sway gently back and forth. He muttered softly, “First Mate Vivian seemed to believe she had a telling dream. You ought to ask her for details about it later.”

“Captain?” Doctor Basil scanned him carefully.

“Thyme, I need you to be ready for anything today. I don’t want you to worry too much about me. Go now and find First Mate Vivian. I will need to get ready to get some special orders ready,” Captain Shaw folded his arms behind his back.

“Sir? You don’t really think it could be time?” Thyme said.

“It may just be . . . I am not going to lie when I say I wasn’t expecting it,” Captain reached out for the tea and drank slowly. The taste of the honey and the lemon did not veil the bitterness of the herbs. He swooshed around the tea a few times and did not finished. He reached down from his desk and pulled out a bottle of rum.

“Captain, you know I told you not to drink anymore. It has been well over ten years. It is very poor for a man of your age,” Doctor Basil paused and considered.

“If this be the day that the sea takes what she gave, I must be aware. I know what I go can do and what is left to do. Now, good doctor, humor an old man.”

“But sir, it could have just been a dream,” Thyme whitened.

“Thyme, you are as aware of these happenings as much as I am. I did not hire you for your doctoring skills alone. A good sea witch as any you are.  You have been a mighty fine help to me over these last few years. I must say I am glad that I got all the adventures that I did. I set it all good and square for them. There is no reason to fight what comes. I know well if I don’t go out fighting it would only be a matter of nature,” Captain Shaw smiled and laughed fully, so much so that his tummy shook.

Doctor Basil listened as the music upstairs faded. She nodded with an understanding of what could be meant. She spun on her heel to return to the upper decks.  Captain Shaw pulled out a pocket watch from his coat. The worn-down image of the Fool stood on top. Thing was so old and yet kept perfect time up until today. Captain Shaw gently smiled as the second hand slowed down. Soon a great epic would occur. He would not get to see it, nor the shores of Turtle. He was aware of it. Afterall, he had many tales of travel and trips. It didn’t hurt to pass it onto someone else. Captain Shaw drank a little more of the rum. Arya’s gift sat just below the book with the envelope. It was a nicely wrapped box with a pretty pink bow.

Captain Shaw thought to himself, She has been a good daughter. Best any man could ask for. God’s know I have no clue how I would have managed without the crew. Vivian has been a good mother figure. Heck, the whole crew as big happy family. Hmm, it will be a good day for everything. I hope Charlie and Wilma don’t mind I won’t make it to dinner tomorrow. Enough of lamenting and lingering. There’s a celebration to be had!

Captain Shaw left the bottle of rum behind and scooped up the book and gift together. Happily, he marched onto deck as the morning crew a raised and finished breakfast.  Peeks of the sun’s crown were raising above the horizon. The moon retreated to bed with the stars winking out with her. The night crew gave a healthy clap to Arya as she bowed on the upper deck. The joining crew and Captain Shaw cheered. Captain Shaw made his way to the front just as Doctor Basil asked Vivian to come away for a discussion. He eyed to the two women as they went down below. Captain Shaw loudly proclaimed to the crew, “Today be a special day. Today my daughter, Arya, has put in her time as cabin boy to rise mate. But, also, it be the day that she turn to the dawning new age of womanhood. Let’s have a cheer for Arya!”

“Hooyah for Arya,” the sailors cried out.

Captain Shaw reached finally to his daughter. Ah, his sweet little Arya was all grown up. He placed his hand on her shoulder. The girl held onto her lute with a big smile and flushed with all the attention. She grinned at her father. He lowered his voice to her as he slipped over the book and the gift to her, “I am proud of you, my girl.”

“Thank you, Captain,” She smiled.

“Don’t open it until nightfall,” Captain Shaw whispered.

“Why?” Arya asked as she held the wrapped gift.

“A secret,” Captain Shaw chuckled and hugged her.

“And what do we get, Cap, on this happiest of happy days?” Cecil yawned. The other crewmates laughed and echoed the sentiment.

“Of course, the lot of you want something,” The captain rolled his eyes. He held his hand over his pocket watch and fiddled with it, “Well, Cookie there was going to make you all a little bit of curry. A nice meal should be fine for the lot of you. I say Cookie, you think you can have something good made in the next few hours before noon. I think. . .”

“Aye, captain, I can do it,” Cookie grinned with his chief hat popping above the crowd.

Ciel yawned with his coffee and smirked, “And what of some fun and game, Cap? Will we do what we normally do each year?”

“Oh yes, Captain! I would love to dance and sing with the crew at dusk,” Arya grinned as she held her gift and book.

Captain Shaw darkened for just a second. The crew was cheering and laughing. They knew normally he paid them double on Arya’s birthday. He always brought out the best rum and food. Some years there were fireworks and more depending on the port. This year Captain Shaw could make a good guess of what fate waited for him. He shook his head, “No not this year, crew, not this year.”

“Oh, but Cap!” Cecil sighed with disappointment.

“Father. . .” Arya said.

Captain Shaw scanned the calm seas and the glimmering horizon. They were coming soon. It was only a matter of hours. He shook his head again. To be prepare or to celebrate with reckless abandonment? It would not matter which way. The celebration would be ruined later. They would come either way. A sober crew would be somber later. A drunken crew of joy and laughter could at least enjoy the now. They would hurt later. Either way they would be just fine. Captain Shaw stared upon the face of his daughter. Ah, Arya with her smile and wild hair. A regular little imp. He weakly smiled, “We do it now! Come on Cecil look alive and get the rum! Cookie go get to it! The rest of you make right and ready! Get the decorations and the lot of you who are dead tired, wake up! We have a celebration to have!”

The crew cheered with joy and happiness.  Off they went to gather the decorations and their own instruments. Cecil smirked and left his cup beside the helm. He stretched and hopped down to join up with the rest of the crew with their celebrations to be had. Captain Shaw lingered on with a gentle smile for Arya. The girl, or rather, young woman smirked as she studied her book and wrapped gift. Captain Shaw had so much he wanted to tell his daughter, but the words got stuck as Arya looked up at him. Arya shook the box, “I hope it isn’t anything like jewelry or breakable. You know that I am rubbish with those type of things.”

Captain Shaw smirked, “No, lass, no a bit of that such. I know you really aren’t into as you say rubbish.”

“Hmm,” Arya shook the box again.

“Off with you, lass, get you about to helping the others. No sense in staying idle here. I am sure the others will demand a song shortly.”

Arya laughed, “Aye, aye, Captain!”

Captain Shaw held the wheel in his hand. Just a few more hours. He could feel it softly in the wind. With the jolliness of the ship and the crew running about like schoolchildren, Captain Shaw was sure not to miss the saddened face of Thyme as she surfaced from her chat with Vivian. Arya strummed her lute and dance around with crew members down below. The old captain could just about hear the lute in the storm. He could just about make out the fog horn. It was true he had no magic to foresee the future. But Thyme had shown him it all years ago. All before he was wise enough to understand what and who he had and would become. The captain shook off the foreboding thought and got to back to the business hand. He cheered on and joined the merriment.

Indeed, it was a merry making couple of hours. The rum ran well among the crew and was shared freely. Music ring out of every instrument and song from every lip. The fireworks were to be held off until after dark the captain said. There were jokes and laughter was without a sign of end. Captain Shaw lurked about to ensure that things didn’t get too sloppy. He did not bother to stop the rum. He made sure to order Vivian and Doctor Basil to drink not.  They were to watch over the youngest mates Cecil and Arya.  The captain shared a good number of dances with his daughter. He made sure to speak with every mate and give them all praise. It had been a good party.

The clouds came slowly, very slowly, so slowly that no one noticed as they ate up the sun. Nor did any feel the drop in the pleasant heat of the day. It grew cooler over the hours. Or how strangely did no one see the early waking of the moon.  Cecil snapped out of his haze of rum at the oddities of changes. It was then he took notice of the fog. Oh and the nervous three off in the together. Cecil paused midway of a bottle of rum and nudged Arya. He pointed to the captain, Vivian, and Doctor Basil.  Arya turned to see the three speaking by the mast. They appeared to be attending a funeral. The captain was holding a golden pocket watch in the noon sun. Arya frowned and her cords plucked sour.  She stopped playing her lute and moved it to her back. She said to Cecil, “What do you think they are talking about?”

Cecil leaned against the ship’s rail, “Don’t know. . . But it can’t be good.”

The lookout, Billy Jon, above yelled out, “AVAST TO ARMS! TO ARMS! THERE BE PIRATES IN THE WATERS!”