Anna’s Task

It has been a couple of weeks since I had escorted Na to Carnaska and it will be within the hour that I am on the coastline of Elrid. I really didn’t want to make yet another trip to Fortna this time of year, but I had already made a promise to be here for this date and a promise is a promise. You know Anna, for someone who is supposed to be free as a bird you sure are running around that planet a lot for other people lately. Oh well, with port coming up I better get dressed.

Geh’shah is an interesting city spanning ten miles along the shore and another ten along the southern side of the Kalhardi Mountains. With the mountains being insurmountable to most caravans and the airspace north of them off-limits to foreigners, this port is the primary trading center between Kalhard and the rest of the continent. And because of the transit it also has the highest concentrated population of Yuzeima outside of Kalhard; they make up nearly forty percent of the city.

Of course, the sheer number of Yuzeima running around along the shoreline, in articles that could hardly even pass as swimwear, as I make my way toward the upper district never ceases to irk me. That could be me too dammit! I’ve collected so many luxurious bathing suits throughout my travels and any time I get to come to one of the only places on the planet where my exquisite taste could truly be appreciated she makes me wear a modest dress. And all to be a good example at that. As if I’m not going to change immediately once we are back on the ship. Whatever, I’ll keep humoring her. Especially considering she hasn’t heard the news yet.

I tap on the doorframe with the back of my hand, since they never kept the door shut anyway, and yell into the house, “Ahoy, is anyone home!?”

“Annacelia? Annacelia Maris Riknia, my baby, how are you doing!?” Before I could blink, a red-headed woman with a figure like my own and standing six feet and three inches tall wrapped herself around me and began nuzzling my cheek against hers as one does to a puppy. 

“I was fine mom,” I struggle to mumble out, “until you started suffocating me.”

“Oh, I’m sorry!” she says as she releases me. “It’s just that you haven’t stopped by in months and I was beginning to worry. You know, sailing the seas isn’t nearly as safe as traversing the skies. There are a lot of monsters and dangerous people out there. And I mean far more dangerous than a pirate armada. Oh, is that a new dress? I love the lace on it.”

“Thanks,” I respond with an attitude, “I hate it.”

That was probably the wrong response. Now she’s rattling on about how it is important to dress in such a way that you treat yourself with respect so others do as well. Seriously, I already do. I have less respect for myself now while wearing something I normally wouldn’t than when I’m commanding a fleet of nearly one hundred ships in whatever pleases me. Besides, look at this hypocrite saying all this while wearing a revealing outfit herself. 

Yoko Keisura, my mother, was at one time the best airship pilot on the planet. It’s actually how my parents met since Sutel was in the need of someone with that exact expertise. She won’t talk about her life before they met, but they had some crazy escapades back in the rebellion. Now, she doesn’t even pilot anymore. The board thinks she’s “too wild” to be placed behind the helm of a passenger vessel. Mom seems more than content being a stewardess these days, just so she can stay close to the old life. She even got her twin sister into it as well ever since she moved over here. You should see these two identical women in their skimpy pink uniforms standing next to each other. Of course, I can tell them apart. I can always tell which one is my mom. But I can only imagine how the passengers react when they are on the same flight plan and they see one walk through one door just for the other to come in from the opposite side of the cabin. Thankfully, Aunt Suru isn’t around at the moment because I don’t have the patience for more tears than necessary at the moment. All I have to worry about is the twerp.

“Hey mom, where is DeciaZ?” I ask, trying to diffuse her rant.

“Last I checked he was out back training,” she answers. “Do you want me to call him in already? I figured you’d at least stay for supper before you guys headed out.”

“Don’t worry, I’m not planning on leaving until the morning,” I assure her. “My crew always likes a good night on the town with all the lovely ladies here. Keeps morale high. Don’t worry, I’ll go grab him. There is something I need to tell both of you and I’d rather get it done all at once sooner than later.”

Strolling into someone’s yard, even of my own family, brings out an uneasy feeling these days. I spend so much of my life on the ocean that any enclosure reminds me of the unpleasant memories of growing up on the ranch. It’s more of a garden than anything, barely smaller than their house, with no real walls and only shrubs and trees acting as a partition between them and their neighbors. It’s an uncomfortable feeling of being trapped. Too far attached to your own property to the point that you and generations of your family will live and die right here. I just can’t deal with that level of attachment. I regularly give away my ships down the chain of command just to get away from my old rooms. I’ll admit that I let some tears slip out when I heard of Sutel’s death, but nothing was more satisfying to me than knowing that old house burned down to the ground. It was only built the year I was born, yet it was still around for far too long if you ask me.

“Yeeeeeee-aaaaaah!” Something screaming dives out of a nearby tree and pegs me square in the shoulder. I try to respond, but it immediately slides into the bushes before I can snag it. It can’t weigh more than fifty pounds and this dirt impression on my dress appears to have tread marks like a shoe.

“DeciaZ, you little turd!” I irritably snarl. “I’m already in a bad enough mood wearing this Bob awful dress, so don’t add to it and come inside now.”

Ouch! He flies out of a bush and punches me in my rear before zipping up a tree-like some sort of rodent. DeciaZ is my youngest brother and a bit of a trouble maker. Mom left Sutel when she was pregnant with him and as far as I know, the twins don’t know he exists or vice versa. I probably should have told them years ago. I should probably still tell them now. I honestly couldn’t care less about Sutel’s reasons for the secret if I tried, but mom’s wishes on the other hand I respect. Still, growing up without knowing his father isn’t an ideal situation for a young boy, especially a little prankster that scares away all of mom’s dates. Closest thing to a male role model he has is our cousin Anon, but I’m not even going to say that’s been a positive one. The guy gets in bar fights all the time and has even convinced the kid that a military career is a sound future. Why anyone would want to sign away their freedom to people that only have their own best interests in mind is well beyond me.

Thunk! Jumping out of a tree, DeciaZ uses my head as a springboard and flips back into the brush yet again. Okay, now I’m livid. As my other siblings would inform you, I have no patience for little monkeys. Focus girl, where is he coming from? A rustle at my four. Yeah, I got something for you little brother. I twirl around more swiftly than he expects and stare the brat dead-on as he leaps toward me.

“Tabashneh!” I shout at him while pointing. A hair-thin bolt so dark it appears bright shoots from my finger to his body and DeciaZ immediately loses all forward momentum plummeting to the ground.

“Agh, why can’t I move?” he cries out.

“Oh little brother, it’s because you now weigh twice that of what you did prior,” I cheekily respond.

“Wah- what!?” he asks, bursting out into tears.

“I understand that your undeveloped brain may have trouble comprehending this, but try to keep up,” I continue. “I cast a gravity spell on you; specifically one of the second rank. What that means is that I modified the attraction between you and the planet we are standing on two-fold, so instead of roughly twelve meters per second per second it is now around twenty-four. You might be limber and acrobatic, but your body isn’t developed enough to even attempt supporting twice that of what it normally handles.”

“I- I don’t know what you’re saying! Please just make it stop!” He screams while clearly in deep pain.

“Do you regret attacking your mighty and powerful sister, Anna?” I question already knowing the answer.

“Yes! I’m sorry!” DeciaZ wails almost incoherently.

“Fine. I’ll let you off the hook this time.” I say while snapping my fingers to release the spell. I begin to the door, but he is still lying there crying. I took it off, so get up already.

“Anna,” he yelps, “I don’t think I can move. Everything still hurts and my right arm is all wobbly.”

Dammit. I think I broke some of his bones. Why did I let my anger get the better of me, he’s only seven? It’s like a switch flips and I start enjoying the suffering of others. Even if they are family. And he needs to be ready for the academy soon. He can’t afford to wait for those bones to heal up. Mom is going to kill me… or worse. Death could actually be preferable. Come on, come on, think… Oh yeah, I still have time for that!

“Achoran!” And as I let out that word, a soft white glow surrounds DeciaZ. His crying stops right away and is replaced with the sounds of popping and cracking but in reverse. His bruises fade away, the seams on his clothes tighten back up, and his hair fluffs back to its normal shape.

“Wow, what did you do!?” He questions in complete awe.

“I used a reversion spell,” I reply while catching my breath. “I returned you to the state you were before I crushed you. Don’t get used to it. I can only revert back a few minutes or so and it takes a lot out of me. I’m pretty much tapped dry after that.”

“Thank you, Anna,” he meekly states with his head held low. “I’m sorry again for making you mad.”

I don’t want there to be more trouble than there already is so all I say is, “It’s okay, just don’t tell mom about this. Or else you may not have a big sister to make mad for much longer.”

He smiles and nods before running back inside. And that was the least stressful part of coming here. I can already tell. We still have to get through dinner and the bad news. Why is this my job? Why did I have to be born first?

Slowly, I stroll back through the garden to the threshold standing between me and my duty. Gulp. I’m trembling a little. I haven’t trembled at all in years and I’m in naval battles on a weekly basis. I’m caught off guard by a drop of cold sweat rolling down my back and accidentally bite my bottom lip in reaction. Dammit, I’m not good at this personal stuff. Why do people think I live out on the open seas? I didn’t even like Sutel, but I know she still has some feelings for him. They may have split, but you don’t have kids with someone three separate times if there wasn’t something there. I don’t even like dealing with my own emotions, let alone those of other people.

I step through the door and immediately she could tell something was wrong. It might be a funny look on my face. It could be that I’m sweating more than I realize. Whatever it is, my mother knows. It’s her job to know when something is up.

“What’s the matter, Anna? You look ill,” she says to me with a serious tone.

“Dad’s…” I mumble out, “dead.”

“What… did you just say,” she questions since I was not speaking clearly enough.

“Dad’s dead! He’s de-” I can’t finish my words. Suddenly, I feel my back slam into the nearest wall with a tight grip crushing my throat. It’s my mom. She’s still on the other side of the room, but her hand is stretched out toward and her eyes look empty. It must be her magic around my neck. 

“How did he die!? Who Killed him!?” She bellows

“I… I don’t know. I wasn’t there.” I respond while beginning to have trouble concentrating.

“Why weren’t you there!” She yells back without wasting a second.

“I was at sea for months!” She knows my life. She isn’t blaming me for this, is she? Sutel is the strongest person I’ve ever met and I’ve been all around the world several times in my time as a pirate. There is no circumstance where I’d be any help against whatever could kill him. I’d have wound dead, too.

“What of Rascal!? Nanoson!? What happened to them!?” Her voice keeps getting louder, almost impossibly. The neighbors would be throwing a fit if they weren’t already scared to death of her.

“They… they’re fine. Ras-cal is fixing the ranch.” It’d be easier to reply if I could breathe, but she is not a person that can be reasoned with when she gets like this.

“Fixing the ranch!?” She lets out in shock.

“It burnt down when dad died. Maybe in the fight… or after.” I don’t even know the details to tell her. I just have whatever Na told me.

“Where is your brother, Anna!? Why didn’t you bring him here!?” She’s grown so loud that DeciaZ has started crying and she hasn’t even noticed.

“He doesn’t even know you’re alive,” I squeeze out. “The plan was to go to Jagan.”

“You took him to that bastard’s house!?” Oh, now she’s really angry.

“Not exactly.” Why did I just say that? I should have lied. That flinging motion hits my body once again as I slam into the ceiling.

“I’ll ask again; where is your brother, Anna!?” If my vision wasn’t blurring, I’d swear her eyes were on fire.

“He’s in,” I start already anticipating the coming pain, “the rainforests of Carnashka.”

Slam. I’m sure I’m on the floor now. Gravity is starting to feel the right way in my head. The breathes are becoming shorter and longer in between.

“You left your little brother in a jungle!?” She whales frantically. “It’s bad enough you just allowed Makell to run off when he was five, but you lose Nanoson now, too!? Do you even give a single shit about anyone but yourself, Anncelia!?!?!?”

I’m pretty sure I’m going to die here. This may very well be the last straw. My mother loves me, I know she does. Still, she’s always had an uncontrollable temper and I’m certain part of her blames me for many of our family’s troubles. When I was born, Sutel became obsessed with me, spending all his time teaching me everything he could and forgetting to give her attention anymore. Then when she left, I was the de facto woman of the house. So when Makell ran away, it was my fault. When news came in that Sheereport was set aflame and she was certain from the report that Makell did it, by extension also my fault. When Nanoson had his episode that got our family’s business barred from trade with the Herminian Empire, that too was my irresponsibility as I split beforehand and didn’t prevent it. And now that Sutel is dead, it must also be my fault. Everything is my fault.

Vision is fleeting, as is my consciousness, but faintly I hear a second voice pick up. It goes, “Stop! Stop it, Mommy!! Stop!!!” It was little DeciaZ, tugging on her sleeves to stop his mother from picking on his big sister. Eventually, his voice breaks through and her glazed over look faded from her face as she let go of my throat. 

“Oh, I’m sorry darling,” she softly says changing her demeanor immediately as she turns around to console him. “Did Mommy scare you?”

She doesn’t even bother to heal my wounds. That selfish bitch. Whatever, I’ll hold my tongue. After this last errand, I’m officially off the hook with her and have no reason to come back until I mentally get over what happened here today. For now, I’m skipping any more family time and going back to my ship for the night to eat and then sleep in my own bed. This family doesn’t deserve me anyway.

Overall, it’s a nice evening. The crisp coastal breeze pressing smoothly up against my cheeks is a much need relief from the nightmarish sauna my mother calls acceptable attire. That’s fine though. I may have had to wear this dress for our get together, but I had an eerie feeling I wouldn’t be able to bear the whole night. Just a few buttons and… damn that one’s always hard to reach. There, I’m free. This season’s swimwear, straight from Muron. I’m on one of the best beaches in the whole world, might as well enjoy my walk back to the boat. I’ll fold up and leave this outfit on a bench though. I may hate it, but the shop I stole it from had it priced at eight hundred Krela. That’s a couple weeks pay for some of these people. It’ll be my charity for the week.

It’s too bad I didn’t leave any sooner. It’s about an hour to midnight and the few other people strolling about are up on the streets, lit dimly by lamps, as the scuttle homely from their favorite bars. Meanwhile, down here on the beach there is only myself strutting barefoot through the sand. I was sorely hoping to meet a stud I could kidnap for the night. Even just running into someone going the same way to shoot the shit with would have been nice. Not a soul in sight.


Wait. Did I just hear my name?


Yes, that’s definitely my name. As if a rodent were saying it.

“Anna, wait up!” I turn and see him stumbling through the sand while dragging a chest I had gifted him for his birthday last year. I wasn’t around enough to make out it was my brother by his voice, but seeing the moonlight reflecting off his shining silver hair and ruby eyes is all anyone needs. I don’t even know where he gets that from. Mom’s got deep reddish colored hair with eyes that burn like the sun and the rest of us take after Sutel with crystal blue peepers and a head of hay. Maybe it has something to do with Sutel’s other side, but that would only explain the hair. Those eyes have always confused me.

DeciaZ approaches me while wearing a bizarre sailing outfit not too different from what our cousin Anon wears the infantry is being shipped from place to place on deployment. At least it is black and gold with green accents and not that tacky pattern Fair Trade Union forces our kin to fashion. DeciaZ probably doesn’t even know those are our family’s colors either. He’s just seen me wear them enough that he thinks they’re what cool people wear. I think he kind of looks like a dork to be honest, but he’s a kid so I can let it slide. 

“Squirt, what are you doing?” I ask him rather displeased.

“I um… I’m ready to go,” he says shifting his feet nervously. “See, I got all my stuff packed for school right here in that trunk you gave me. Mommy said I had to take the skull off of it if I wanted to bring it to school though. I hope that doesn’t make you mad.”

“I’m not mad,” I reply. Not at you anyway. But Mom knows these institutions and probably just doesn’t want you to get in trouble. There more pressing concerns. “We’re leaving tomorrow. Why aren’t you at home sleeping?”

“I’m scared Mommy will hurt me,” he said with the most earnest look he’s ever given me.

“That’s ridiculous, kiddo,” I try to assure him.

“But she hurt you really bad,” he snaps back.

“So, I’ve hurt you pretty bad,” I respond callously.

“Yeah, but you fixed me after,” he quivered.

He’s right though. I definitely got temper from my mother and it’s a part of me that I resent. It’s not even so much the damage it causes either that I mind, when the person deserves it. But how can I know if they deserve it if I’m not cool and collected? My kid brother though has never deserved anything so bad that I’ve administered to him and every time I’ve fixed him after. It’s usually just a scrape, a bruise, or a mild burn, but today was the worst I’ve ever done, yet I was sorry and made everything alright. Not once has my mother ever apologized for anything she’s ever done to me and she stopped damage control after I turned ten. I don’t know what it is that happened to her that made her this way, but I can’t let myself become like her. I can’t be trapped like that.

“Okay, boy,” I say to him softly. “My guest-chamber wasn’t going to be prepared for you until the morning, but my bed is big enough for the two of us. You better stay on your side though.”

I may be hitting the sack, but we might as well make the most of our time and head out tonight. Kelly doesn’t really sleep at night anyway and he is more than capable of navigating us out to course. I hope this kid can get to sleep with the wave rocking. Na didn’t seem to have any problem. Speaking of, I do feel a little guilty about what I did to him before now that Mom brought it up. I wonder how he’s doing.

Left to right: Yoko, Anna, DeciaZ

Book Start | Next Chapter

Na’s Journey

In the fourteenth year of the Era of Change, this is the chronicling of a planet called Mirra’.

“There ya go, lad,” kindly speaks the old man working the stand in the bazaar, “that should be more than enough flour to get ya through the week.”

“Thanks, Cullen,” I respond. “It’s been such a rough season that my dad completely forgot to send anyone to restock the kitchen. Always be the first to volunteer before anyone is asked, as he always says.”

“Already such a hard worker ya are. How old are ya gettin’ now, Na?” he curiously asked. Cullen Retroyce has had a monopoly on quality baking goods in Port Claude for longer than I’ve been alive. He’s always taken interest in his customers since very few can afford his prices.

“Only nine just last season,” I smile out through my teeth.

“Hah-ha! Well, don’t go volunteerin’ to run down here every time. Yer gonna grow up too fast,” Cullen laughs off as I lead the cart westward out of town. The town is walled off on all sides except the one that faces the Eastern sea and I always love taking a moment to admire the archway of the city’s front gate on my way in and out since it is so different from the one at the ranch. I can’t dilly dally for too long, though. Ahead of me lies just about a hundred mile ride back to my family’s ranch, but it doesn’t bother me at all. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Sacred Talon Ranch and have my entire short life. I love my dad, my sibling, our employees, the animals, and even the work itself. But to be honest, and it may just be that I’m starting to be less of the little kid I’ve always been, I just want to be anywhere else. I had a small taste of that devilishly delightful desert often called adventure once in my life a few years ago and these rides to and from town are the closest thing I get to that rush.

I always like to sing on the ride between town. I’m not as good of a singer as my father, but he always tells me it’s just because I “have yet to put enough time into the art.” As you can imagine I go through a lot of songs on a route so long. A lot of them are repeats since I only know all the words to a few and the rest of the time it’s just me humming until the chorus comes back around again. My favorite song though is of the old tongue very few people speak anymore. My father thought it was of the utmost importance for all of us to learn the old tongue and used ancient songs to help us learn. This one I happen to remember the words better than most songs in my native tongue:

Měilì de mèngxiǎng jiā, huànxǐng wǒ,
xīngguāng hé lùzhū zhèng děngzhe nǐ;
zài báitiān tīng dào de cūlǔ shìjiè de shēngyīn,
yuèguāng xià de kōngqì yǐ quánbù xiāoshī!
Měilì de mèngxiǎng jiā, wǒ de gē hòu,
yòng róuhé de xuánlǜ xiàng wǒ qiú’ài shí liè chū;
shēnghuó zhōng mánglù de rén dōu hěn guānxīn,
měilì de mèngxiǎng jiā, xiàng wǒ xǐng lái!
Měilì de mèngxiǎng jiā, xiàng wǒ xǐng lái

Měilì de mèngxiǎng jiā, zài hǎishàng,
měirényú zhèngzài chàngzhe kuáng yě de lorelei;
zài xiǎo xī shàng yǒu zhēngqì,
děngdài jíjiāng dàolái de míngtiān tuìshǎi.
Měilì de mèngxiǎng jiā, liáng zài wǒ xīnzhōng,
jíshǐ shì xiǎohé hé hǎishàng de zǎochén;
ránhòu suǒyǒu bēishāng de yīnyún dūhuì xiāoshī,
měilì de mèngxiǎng jiā, xiàng wǒ xǐng lái!
Měilì de mèngxiǎng jiā, xiàng wǒ xǐng lái!

It’s a very difficult melody to sing right since the old tongue was a tonal language, but it always puts me at ease since my dad would have us all sing it before bed every night. I don’t even think I was saying half of the words right until I was five. Man, were things better back then. Everyone was still around and I didn’t feel so alone all the time. Mak would have loved these trips into town and we’d get to sing all our favorite tunes together like we used to. I think I’ll sing his favorite song to take my mind off of it. You know, the one about the coconuts? It goes-

Actually, hold on to that thought. Is that smoke in the distance? A lot of it, in fact! Way too much to be wayward travelers setting up camp. That much smoke has to be fuming from a blaze the size of a… oh. no!

Frantically, I whip at the Saedir pulling my wagon to pick up the pace. The eight foot tall, feathered, raptor let out a beastly squawk that rings through the surrounding woods like a church bell as it kicks into high gear. I kept a brisk pace up until now, but if we didn’t have to worry about losing the cargo old Sari here could have gotten us home in an hour flat. I really don’t care if we drop anything now. I just need to make sure it isn’t… my house.

As I bear witness, all four stories and two acres of the manor at the forefront of the property where my family and all of our workers lived was caked in an inferno as bright as the guts of a ripened mango. Consumed with fear and pure instinct, I rush into the burning edifice. I know that this is the very last thing I should be doing, but I need to find him.

“Dad!?” I shout at the top of my lungs which are now slowly filling with exhaust from the flames, “Dad… echk, Dad!?” Dang, why the heck did I run in here? I’m going to pass out. My vision is closing in, but an adult figure sprints directly at me as I lose consciousness.

“Na!” I hear shouted at me as a stinging pressure connected with my face. “Nanoson Riknia, wake the heck up! Don’t you die on me, runt!” That stinging sensation connects a couple more time before I jolt up. The breathe I took was so deep that it was almost as if the air I inhaled had pulled up off my back. Suddenly the world exists again and I can tell what is going on around me. A man relieved by my condition sits next to me, but he’s not my father. Well, maybe a man isn’t the proper word to use here by most standards. He is definitely what we would consider male for his species, but he is neither an adult nor human. Though we are not related at all, I know him as my brother. Rascal Riknia, or Ras’cal li Ohn as he was born, is one of the species that were here before my ancestors landed on the planet known as an Ancaima, meaning “dark one”. Rascal stands at about average height for humans and has a rather slender build despite performing strenuous tasks all day long. It is likely his species can’t get very bulky, but he is strong none-the-less. His long, shining, silver hair that he ties back in a ponytail contrasts against the graphite color of his flesh. Like all members of his race, Rascal has glossy white eyes that can still see in the light but work better in the dark depths of his native woods, long goat-like ears, and single horn sprouting out of the crowning of his head. He and I have always had the same taste in outfits and even now we have on a similar set of clothes: leather hiking boots,a long-sleeved gi top made of white cotton, a loose, black overshirt with short rolled up sleeves and matching slacks made out of soft canvas, a white sash on top of it all to keep the shirts tied down, and black, fingerless gloves. The only thing he doesn’t have on is my black headband because it always gets pushed down by his horn. My father adopted him even before Anna was born, so as far as I’m concerned he’s just my older brother and nothing less.

“Rascal, where is Father?” I ask still choking on lingering smoke.

“Na…” He is clearly having trouble with whatever he wants to say. “Let me take you around back.”

Rascal lifts me onto his shoulder and trots carefully around the perimeter of the burning building. It’s still hard to focus with what little breath I can manage, but a great sadness drowns out all other surrounding activity as I witness the only home I’ve ever known flicker away before my eyes. It’s not even my stuff disappearing that bothers me, but those of my siblings. See, two of my siblings have been runaways for several years now. They didn’t run off together. When we were five, my twin brother Mak ran off during a tantrum and no one who had the ability bothered to stop him. We were still practically babies for Bob’s sake! Sure, a few years later someone finally set out to find him, but Mak was already dead in all likelihood. Two years after Mak left, my older sister Anna skipped out on us as well. I guess one day she just had enough of this simple life, so she packed a single bag and snuck out to the port in the dead of night. She was only ten then, but I’ve always been less worried about her. I once saw her hold a ranch hand hostage with a spoon and he was like three times her size. It’s never the psychopaths you have to worry about. Still, I may never see either of them again and that junk of theirs was all I had to remember them by. Oh, but if I thought that bothered me, this… this is worse.

“Take it all in, kid,” Rascal sighs out as he sets me down, “this is what I saw first when I came to check on the house fire.” The ground around the shed just behind the house is in wild disarray. Several trees are knocked over, small craters disturb the dirt, scraps of varying fabrics are scattered everywhere, and worst of all a sword larger than the average man is chipped and lying in a sigil of blood. I had seen that sword many times in my life for it belonged to my father. It must weigh more than I do, but I’ve seen him twirl it around in one hand like a small dagger. Beneath his blade, drawn in what I assume is his own blood, is an icon I was also all too familiar with. The very reason I wear gloves is to hide my fatemarks. On the backside of each hand, I have a jet-black, slender, four-pointed star with a crescent facing out from each fold. Father told me to keep it covered because the image was one of grave misfortune and now it lay before me at the worst of times. From one of the tips followed a trail of blood, clearly leading to the source heading deep into the neighboring woods.

“Hey, let’s go! Dad could still be out there somewhere!” I scream without considering that I’m the last person to get this information. Rascal grabs my collar to stop me from running headlong into a forest that even during the day grows pitch black quicker than you realize.

“You don’t think we didn’t already send a search party, Na?” Rascal shouts down at me almost in anger that I would think he took this situation less serious than I did. “We’ve fortified this manor well and yet it has still been burning unnaturally for the last half hour before you arrived. I’ve had the few men I can spare out searching those woods nearly the whole time. I only just got back out myself when I heard you screaming, which you better be grateful I have these dark elf ears of mine or else no one would have heard you were in there. We’ll keep on it for as long as we can, but you know better than anyone what crawls those woods at night and I’m gonna have to pull them all out sooner than later. That thick trail of blood goes in for many meters before it fades off and you’re gonna have to come to terms with the same conclusion I struggled with just ten minutes ago: you and I might be all we have left anymore!”

I’ve never seen Rascal speak for that long without interruption in my life. He’s always been more of the hard-working type that just wanted to smile and listen to whatever you had to say to help the chores fly by quicker. He’s not mad at me though. Sutel may be my birth dad, but he’s also the only father Rascal has ever known. Born into the servant class of his species, being gifted to father was the best thing that could ever happen to the boy. Heck, now he knows how to run the ranch better than dad ever did and has people practically serving under him. He’s only yelling because he’s heartbroken at the loss of his hero. We all are.

That night we slept in the closest barn on the property once the fire finally put itself out and I cried until I could stay awake any longer. At least from what I can piece together. I think Rascal slipped me a tainted drink to help quiet me. I know he and the others were drinking their worries away for the time being. It’s bright out now though, I should probably see where everyone is at.

“Up you go,” Rascal hollers as he blind-sides me and plops me on a saedir. She was already packed with what few of my belongings could be salvaged.

“What the hell, Rascal?” I yell in confusion. “What happened to all that being all we have left talk from last night!?”

“I did a lot of thinking last night and until the homestead is rebuilt this is no place for someone your age,” he says with a fake grin.

“You were a drunken wreck last night!” I rip back.

“True as that may be,” he says, “Sutel always talked about you staying with Jagan should anything happen. I already sent a carrier to secure your transport and it should be ready when you arrive at Claude.”

“Uncle Jagan!?” I complain. “He lives like four thousand miles away!” He stared at me a bit confused. “Like, six and a half thousand kilometers. You know how far he lives!”

“Don’t worry, kid,” Rascal says calmly, “I’ll still be here when you get back. As soon as you have a room again I’ll send for you. You’ll always know where home is. Now get out of here!”

Without giving me a chance to respond or say good-bye, he whips the back of the saedir and it takes off gliding down the road all on its own. I could turn this old gal around, but part of me doesn’t want to. I really don’t want to see my Uncle Jagan. It’s not even really the dealing with the death in the family part that worries me as he’s lost more siblings than he has left at this point. Every time I see him, Jagan makes me study more than my dad ever did. I don’t like school. Never have. I can read languages I’m never going to need when I could have spent that time in more rodeos. But this might be what I need. Something more than just the regular trip to town. Something to break this familiar rut.

I guess it was due to the recent events, but there was something about today that I couldn’t appreciate the front gate like I normally do. I’ll just grab my single bag off Klea and hoof it from here. If I send her back before the town’s commotion startles her, she can find her way to the ranch without any problems.

I’ve actually never been to the end of town where the port was. My father always warned me against it since it is always crawling with vermin and unsavory folks. Everything we ever needed was in the town square at the bazaar anyway. The docks have a specific stench to them. Not just fishy, as the open market has that smell as well, but grimy. There is filth to the air that rolls in with the eroding salt water against the unkept boardwalk and the dirty people leaving their ships for the first time in weeks or even months. Rascal didn’t even tell me anything about who I’m traveling with. How on Earth am I going to find my ship?

“Ahahahahahahahahaaaaa!” Suddenly I’m jolted into the air by a bear hug with the feeling of gelatinous pillows pressed against my back. I already know exactly who it is. “I’ve got you runt! How long has it been?” she asks still squeezing the air out of my lungs.

“Just about two years, sis,” I struggle to wheeze out. I didn’t even know Anna was in the area, but with how quickly that carrier reached her Rascal had to know. I wonder how many other times he knew she was in town and never told me. Actually, he did volunteer to pick up the essentials just about every three months or so. That sleazeball has been sneaking around and hanging out with my sister without even telling me. He’s dead when I get back. But in the meantime, “Anna… can you please let go of me?”

“Oh no, runt. I’m not letting you go until we’re in my quarters,” she says maniacally.

“Wait… what!?” I utter in worry.

“I’ve got so many dresses and accessories and I’ve missed my dolls so much,” Anna plays out in a forcefully innocent tone that implies quite the opposite reality, “I guess just one will have to do.”

“Noooooooooo!” is all I can muster yet no amount of screaming can help me now. My sister is not healthy in the head. The signs of her sadism were evident early on in life and once Mak and I were old enough that we could understand what was happening she began torturing us in various ways. Nothing physically harmful, at least I don’t think anything was lasting. No, she preferred psychological scarring because it’s a connection between just you and her. Her most favorite activity was to play dress-up and make pretty little girls out of her dirty younger brothers. It’s emasculating, to say the least, and because it never ends with just dressing up I think I’m just going to run through this next few hours on auto-pilot if it’s all the same.

I’ve been on this boat for a fortnight now and it hasn’t been all torment from wake to slumber. It’s odd getting used to not have steady land beneath your feet all the time, but the chores are a fun change of pace from the same old things I did at the ranch every single day. The first mate even let me have his bed because he was grateful to finally have someone light enough to tie up and hoist down the side of the ship to wax it without assembling their hanging scaffold. Turns out the ship actually belonged to Anna, who as captain gave it her middle name of Maris. I can’t be certain, but I’m fairly certain my sister is a pirate queen. I know that sounds crazy since this ship seems like any other merchant vessel and I’ve seen her trading papers, yet at the same time we keep meeting up with other ships, crates bearing other companies’ logos are constantly boarded on and off, and even the captains of these other ships act as if they work for her. She could just be a very effective merchant, but I never see any money being exchanged. Either way, all the detours have added two days onto a normally efficient overseas route.

Knock! Knock! Knock! The large ornate door to my sister’s room is decorated with a mixture of flowers, skulls, and the words “Annacelia Maris Riknia, Queen of the High Seas” carved into it. Today’s the day we make shore and not once has Anna spoken of dad. She obviously knows if she is taking me to Jagan’s. Even if Rascal didn’t include it in the letter, I’ve never gone to visit him without dad before. I knock again. “Anna!” I shout loud enough that the deck crew stops to look up for a second before going back to work, “Anna, are you awake!?”

“Yuh, yuh,” she replies through the door while clearly still half-asleep, “C’mon in!”

“Ah, for the love of Bob,” I cry out while covering my eyes. It wasn’t the first time in my life I’ve walked in on my sister while she was completely naked and it won’t be my last, I’m sure. She’s just sitting there swaying around and rubbing her eye with a drunken look to her face. She wasn’t awake at all!. “Please, put some clothes on!”

“Fine, fine,” Anna groans out in judgementally, “who are you, my dad?” And she finally mentioned him. Looking at all the empty wine bottles lying around her chambers, I’d guess she is handling this worse than I am. If I want to be fair, even though she split when she was only ten that still means she spent one more year with him than I did. And she knew what he was like when mom was still around. I bet he was a different person back then, but I wouldn’t know since she left when Mak and I were two. I should bring it up now that my sister’s bare breasts aren’t staring at me eye-to-eye.

I take a deep breath and say, “Anna, we haven’t talked about his death.”

CRASH! A bottle flies into the wall mere feet from my head. She angrily grits out almost gutturally, “What’s there to talk about?” Anna scares me like no other person can, especially as she opens up another bottle of wine.

“I know it was rough between you guys before you left, but don’t you…” She slams her brush down on the vanity dresser and I quickly drop my question.

“Listen up, Nanoson!” she barked firmly using my given name. “It wasn’t like that with us, okay. I wasn’t ever close to him like you or Rascal. I don’t care that I’ll never see him again, got it!?” She faced away from me, but her mistake was doing so in front of a mirror so I can see the tears roll down her face. She struggles to wipe it down as best as she can so she may start over with her make-up. “Woo! Today is the day, isn’t it?” she asked forcing on a grin. “Why don’t you wait up on the deck and I’ll be out there when I’m done.”

“Whahahahaaaaaaaa! What are you doing?” Not but two seconds past the door and several deckhands tackle me to the ground begin tying me up. Across from us, the first mate is pouring what appears to be red salt on the deck in a big circle. This smelly ape of a man sets me square in the center of the odd looking pattern of salt facing the shore off the port side of the ship. Blam! Anna’s door bursts open and she wasn’t wearing her normal black and white vest and blouse combo. She is wearing mage dress with the fur-lined, strapless top and the front open at the bottom to show off her knee-high boots with the skulls and her fishnet stockings. Though more intimidating are the witch’s hat and the six and a half foot tall battle scythe she is swinging around. That’s why she was facing the mirror! Whether the tears were faux or genuine, she used them so I’d let my guard down.

“This isn’t funny, sis!” I shout while squirming about panicking, “You’re supposed to take me to Jagan’s.”

“No, I only said I’d get you to shore,” she retorts.

“This is why you can’t keep a boyfriend!” I scream back, but all she does shrug as if she doesn’t entirely disagree.

“Taqeph!” she shouts before snapping her fingers in the open hand. In a flash, the salt ignites into a bright red flame making the arcane symbol spread on the floor clearer to see. This is what she loved the most. Since she was a young child, before anything I can recall, Anna had studied magic. Apparently, our parents tried to get her into healthy subjects, but she had a fancy for the Arcane Arts and promising to teach her spells was the only way to get her to do anything. This one, in particular, is an overpower enchantment. It amplifies the force carried out by whoever is under its effects. Normally, you’d apply the symbol to just the user with paint or blood, but judging by the size of this circle she doesn’t plan are getting any closer to shore.

“Tell Uncle Jagan I said hi,” she says playfully as she winds up for a slapshot, “Or don’t. I couldn’t really care less.” And with that, I am off like a cannonball soaring through the sky. The force of the wind feels like sharp claws trying to pull off all of my skin from behind. The ground is coming up on my faster than I expected, though I’ve been in the air for but 6 seconds. As I descend, I crash into all sorts of trees before finally coming to a stop in the basin of a waterfall. I’m now in the rainforests of Carnashka.

I’ve only ever been in three different countries in my life thus far: my home of Thamia, Jagan’s home of Nebbana, and Carnashka since it is the closest route in between. The other two countries aren’t bad at all, but I can’t stand Carnashka. Actually, I mostly can’t stand the jungle. It looks beautiful, sure, yet it’s also a dangerous dank dump frivolously filled with ferocious fauna and flora that desperately desire to devour anything and everything. That’s right, even the plants want to eat you here. Okay, only a few of them, but that still bad enough. Because of this, there are almost no rest stops. Every single human town in Carnashka in along its shoreline where the weather most of the time and the terrifying creatures stay away. The only other villages I’d be able to rest at belong to the Goferna, or River Elves as we typically call them. They litter the entire continent of Fitsyoo and build their homes on lakes and major waterfalls that lie along the expansive river systems across the land. The only problem is the nearest stop is fifty miles away from where Anna left me. At least she dropped me off reasonably close to the route my father always used. If I can find the especially wide river than I can follow it all the way to the River Elves and hopefully make it there before nightfall.

“HELP! PLEASE, ANYBODY HELP!!!” From the distance, I hear a call to aid and screams of pain from what sounded like another child but if he had glass jammed in his throat. I don’t know why I have this instinct to run toward danger, but out here if I don’t help him who will? I finish scaling a nearby cliff face and before me lie more danger than I bargained for. Maybe fifty yards away there stands a group of seven bandit soldiers holding a badly injured Ishpah captive. The Ishpah may be the only species we are one hundred percent certain native to this planet. They can be found on every continent and many have integrated into society at large, but on average they still aren’t very technologically adept and are mostly bullied into the servant class of civilization. They range from around two the three feet tall and between fifteen and thirty-five pounds. Ishpah are the least humanoid yet sapient species having feline heads with tall, narrow ears, fur all over their slender simian body, hand-like feet with opposable thumbs, a long fuzzy tail, and mammalian wings that stretch more than twice as wide as they are tall. Oh, and there is a little glowing orb floating about their heads. No one knows what it is per se, but it seems to aid in magic and might act as a conduit for mana. This little guy looks to be wearing a leather overcoat and some khaki formal wear. Even in cities, it is rare to find Ishpah wearing human fashion, but he’s really out of place here.

This is where the trouble lies. These soldiers are Yuzeima, sometimes called Desert Elves despite not actually being Elven. Yuzeima are a desert-dwelling warrior race that raids other societies for anything they can’t get in trade. Their armies consist almost exclusively of women, but don’t let that fool you into thinking they go down easily. In their race, women outnumber men fifty to one. Due to this nature, they separate into communes with a single man who fought of other potential patriarchs and up to a thousand or so women performing all the necessary jobs of their cities. When it comes to athletic tasks even the average Yuzeima can put most human men to shame. Each one I see is nearly six feet tall with a sculpted body that looks more like a bronze statue than any woman I’ve ever met. And like any proper soldier, they are layered in armor and carrying an assortment of weapons to boot. Come on, think. I want to help this dude out, but what can I do here?

I think I have an idea! I’m just going to shove these rocks into my jacket. Oh, these coconuts, too. Anything small and blunt will do. Ten to twenty pounds should do the trick, I hope. I honestly don’t know how well this will work, but I better get up this tree anyway. At least if I am up here it’ll be harder for them to retaliate.

“Hellllllloooooooo, Ladies!” I jest to get their attention.

“What the- where did he come from!?” says the one with the brightest red hair, “Why don’t we have anyone on watch? Cut him down!”

Good, they are coming closer to me. Exactly what I wanted. From this high up, this should hurt a lot. Right as they go to draw their swords, I reach into my jacket and start bombarding them with the plethora of projectiles I collected. I nail one of them square in the nose and I don’t let up for a second.

“Retreat! Retreat!” the same woman screams. They turn and run away as fast as their legs could carry them. This pleases me yet also leaves me confused. This isn’t my first time encountering any Yuzeima in person and a swift retreat isn’t like them. The one time I saw a horde, they nearly wiped out roughly ten times their own numbers before being pushed back. Though, I’ve also never been told about them traveling in such small scouting parties like this. Whatever the reason, they are gone now.

Shimmying down the tree, I scurry over to check on the little fella. He’s got a lot of cuts and bruises on him, but nothing too deep. It looks more like surface level torture than any attempt to damage or kill the guy. It actually reminds me of the sorts of sadistic treatment Anna hands out. Not that she ever brought harm to me, but more that this seemed like the goal was psychological. I try to wake him asking, “Are you okay, little guy?” He’s barely even conscious and doesn’t respond more than a grunt. Then suddenly, a mammoth shadow casts over us both.

“Who said you could take my plaything away from me?” angrily asking the formerly missing leader of the Yuzreima party. “I wasn’t done torturing it yet!” Just seeing the feet and calves of this one I knew this was worse than before. The reason they were in such a small party and split so easily is because the women were the entourage of a particular psychotic man. Before even seeing his face, I recognize the armor and the build of the body it rested on as I slowly scroll sight upward. This is the one I met before.

“YOU!” we both shout in unison as our gazes interlock. This Yuzeima’s name is Volkov’lui ju Tala, or as we humans would say, Tala Volkov. This muscular, six and a half foot tall, two-hundred-and-fifty-pound man draped in ebony and crimson colored armor is the patriarch of the Volkovich and the crown monarch of all Yuzeima. He is one of the most feared men on the entire planet with a bounty on his head so high that it is basically a blank check. Last time we met, Mak and I trapped him into a several-hundred-foot fall that he just walked off on his way home.

“Isn’t today my lucky day,” Tala chuckles out with a terrible grin, “Now I get to pay you back for what happened at the Selmii’hetriama.” Woosh! I narrowly dodge a punch he throws the second he stopped talking.

“Dude, that was like four years ago,” I reply nervously, “get over it!” He swings at me again and I take off running with the Ishpah in my arms. I’m a fast kid when I want to be. You wouldn’t believe the things Mak and I have outrun in our short lives. This time I don’t think speed alone is going to cut it. I quickly decide my small stature might be my savior. I jump over boulders, dip under longs, and whip around trees, hoping these obstacles will keep the distance between us healthy. Instead, I hear the explosive sound of things bursting and shattering behind me. Turning my head for just a second, I see Tala bashing through everything in his path like it was confetti paper. A juggernaut with four years of suppressed anger was seeking his vengeance for me. As I turn back to see where I’m going, I slam into a rock face. Cornered.

“And now,” he says grinding his teeth a little, “I’m going to give you many, many shallow cuts.” Tala pulls out his sidearm, a single-edge, mid-length sword unique to his people. “Then, right before you die,” he continues, “I’m going to toss you a couple hundred feet off a cliff. Then we’ll be even from last time.” Mere steps before he reaches us, the Ishpah regains full awareness and his normally red orb starts glowing like white-hot fire. Tala laughs and says, “No parlor trick is going to help you now.

“Shǎnmó’èrlì!” bellows the tiny creature. Sparks secrete from all over his body with greater frequency near his orb. In a blinding flash, a gigantic bolt of lightning explodes out his orb. Tala is sent flying through the air faster than when I was launched off my sister’s ship and for a hundred yards in front of us, around thirty yards wide, the jungle was fried away in total devastation. The critter stumbles to his feet and turns to greet me.

“That was the second most amazing thing I’ve ever seen!” I squeal with glee.

“S-sorry,” he stutters out. “I w-would have tried to help earlier, b-b-b-but they caught me in the middle of a n-nap. I’ve b-basically been tossed around since I woke up.”

“That’s alright, I’m just glad we’re both okay,” I say shaking his hand. “I go by Na. Do you want to be my friend!?”

“Beats being all alone l-like I was,” he says with fewer nerves than before. “My n-n-name is Corneilahhanbossilfindsertwich.”

“That is way too long and I’m never going to remember that.” I blatantly utter. “I’m gonna call you Trigger, cause you’re like a loaded gun.”

“A nickname? C-cool! I never cared for my given n-n-n-name anyhow.” Trigger spills out with excitement.

“Are you from around here?” I begin the most important line of questioning.

“B-b-born, raised, and exiled from my tribe all but t-ten kilos away,” he responds.

“Score!” I blurt out with relief. “Help me find something edible. I’m starving.”

Left to Right: Rascal, Trigger, Tala, Na, and Anna

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