Saturday, October 29, 2016

Serial Saturday: "The Clan of Outcasts" Part 12--Exchange

Kaidan and Javira Clissander, "The Twins"

Part 12

The gates swung open slowly before the small family huddled just outside them. A mother and her two young children slowly inched their way into the courtyard. 

The one on her right—a boy barely eight years old, with deep green eyes and soft red curls—hunched closer.
"Are you certain we should be here, mother?" He whispered. Their tattered clothes seemed dreadfully out of place here. It was too grand a place for the likes of them.
"Of course, dear," his mother answered. "The castle was in need of a washerwoman, and the summons allowed me a small apartment of my own on the palace grounds."
The little girl—no more than three minutes older than her brother— shrank into her mother's skirts as servants intent on their duties stopped to gawk rudely at the newcomers. 
"Mama," she whimpered, "I'm scared!"
Veransa Clissander held her children's hands a little tighter as she was confronted with the misgivings weighing on her heart. She swallowed the doubts and shook her head. "Now then!" She spoke as much to herself as to her children. "We cannot let fear of what may be, and what others tell us should be, get in between us and what is! We—I have received this opportunity, and it won't do to let it go to waste merely because we weren't at all sure about how this would all turn out." She met the gaze of both her children. "Chins up!" She instructed them. "Smiles on! You know that we have worked hard to arrive at the point we are at, and we have earned this new situation, which promises to provide for us for as long as we need it."
The boy blinked his eyes as they wandered the lowly service halls in the bowels of the castle. Only their mother seemed to know just where to go. She turned the corner and a man stepped in front of them, as if he had been waiting for their approach.
"Oh there you are!" He cried. "When you said you would arrive today, I had no idea it would be so late."
The dutiful mother bowed her head. "My apologies. The market was a little more crowded than I was expecting."
The man sniffed. "Hm, yes; well, you're here, so you might as well get started right away. Peraven!" He raised his voice only slightly as a woman in plain clothes with full skirts joined him and immediately took the daughter's hand. She frowned and tried to twist away, but Peraven's grip held as she also moved to herd the children away from their mother.
She reached for them frantically. "What are you doing?"
"Come now, Veransa," the man chided her. "Surely you did not think we would allow you to bring children down there! Do not worry; Peraven watches the Crown Prince, as well. They will be in good hands while you work."
Peraven's wide skirts served as an impassable barrier as she goaded the children onward, toward the stairs that would bring them to the main level of the castle. 
"Come along," she cooed sweetly. "What are your names?"
The boy sniffed as he thought of his mother, all alone. "K... Kaidan," he stammered. 
Peraven turned her gaze to the little girl, but she hung her head without a sound.
"'S my sister, Javira," muttered Kaidan. "We're twins."
"Kaidan and Javira?" Peraven repeated. "How wonderful you get to join us! Come and meet your new friend; his name is Beren, and I think you'll get along just splendidly!"

Kaidan let a smile play around his lips as the memory resurfaced of his arrival at the White Castle. 
The governess had been all smiles and sweetness during that first meeting, but after becoming acquainted with her young charge, the quick, keen, troublesome Prince Beren, it became clear that this was merely an act on her part. Beren was a few years older than the twins, a fact of which he was rather proud. He was accustomed to palace living and took delight in constantly correcting the two newcomers, often making fun of their frequent mistakes when they behaved in a way contrary to the prescribed protocols of etiquette—but in spite of all his knowledge of behavior, there was something he could not quite do: subvert the all-encompassing governess. Not a moment did they spend out of her sight, not a minute of their collective days was spent free of her pervasive influence. 
Whole years passed without Kaidan and Javira even once getting to see their mother. For all his defiance and stubbornness, Beren had yet to uncover a vice or a weakness in the implacable woman. Then came the day when Javira, not quite twelve but fast becoming a woman, happened to catch the shift in Peraven's demeanor every time a certain knight marched by. It happened to occur at the exact moment that Beren was attempting to sneak another scone, which was something she frowned upon. The lad would surely have been discovered and punished—if the knight had not decided in that instant to stop and let the sun glint off his armor. Peraven did not look away as his mailed hand lifted toward his chin, as if he intended to remove his helmet so she could glimpse his face—
The scone vanished, the hand dropped, and the moment ended. Javira glanced at her brother, and the bond they shared confirmed that something significant had happened.
Kaidan glanced out the window to the servants' lodging, where Peraven and Captain Fortin of the King's Guard lived, happily enamored with each other. 
Finding out what distracted the all-present governess wasn't the only thing that happened that day. Very soon, Kaidan found that he, too, had an almost uncanny knack for getting things to happen just like he wanted them to. The three youngsters could do as they pleased as long as Peraven continued to look the other way, and as soon as Beren promised to make Kaidan his personal servant, the capable child-minder suddenly found herself the object of an affectionate proposal, and promptly decided that her charges were quite mature enough to look after themselves. 
Kaidan moved into the room adjacent to Beren's chambers, and Javira fairly floated downstairs to the massive washing room to find her mother.

Kaidan moved to the parlor just outside his room, and found his sister already waiting.
"So soon?" He asked. "How is she?"
Javira wouldn't meet his eyes; she spoke slow, in short breaths, as if she had trouble making the words come. 
"Mother is well; she knew right away." Finally, Javira whirled to face her brother, the silky red hair tumbling down her back as the full, bland skirts swished. "She knows our Gift!"
Kaidan tilted his head. "Why is that such a terrible mystery?" He asked.
"Is it not strange to you?" His sister demanded. "Siblings, possessing the same Gifts? How would she even know of our Gifts if they are supposed to be unique to the individual?"
Kaidan shrugged and moved to place a hand on her shoulder. "It is not so strange; we are twins; we share a lot of traits."
Javira turned her head away again. "She said our father had the same Gift." This time, she spoke with an edge sharp enough to cut.
Kaidan couldn't help reacting to her words. "Our father? Since when did Mother ever speak of our father?"
Javira pressed her lips. "She told me all about him; she said that the Gift he had would cause others to do what he wished. He used it on her."
Kaidan nodded. "And basically forced her to marry him; I get the picture. But Javira, the man is no doubt dead somewhere, or at least not even thinking about us! Mother escaped from him."
Javira shook her head. "No; our father is the reason we are here. Mother said he convinced her to take the job, even if it meant giving up her children. In return," she scowled, "the scoundrel gets a stipend of his own, which he has used to buy a mansion all his own, where he resides in comfort—"
"While we must be content with inferior beds and second-rate castle lodgings," Kaidan finished with understanding. "I agree; it's not fair."
"What do you suppose he somehow used his Gift to change ours?" Javira murmured. "What do you suppose would be the Gifts we were meant to have?
"Can a Gift be changed like that?" Kaidan responded. 
Javira hung her head and her lips twitched. 
Kaidan's instinct was never wrong. "Oh, sister, you didn't."
"I wanted to!" She looked up with fervor. "I chose one of the gardeners—he was making flowers right there in his hands and planting them instead of just weeding and caring for the plants already there. I just wanted to see—" she faltered.
"And?" Prompted her brother.
Javira shook her head. "I couldn't do it; if it is possible, it must be only with family, and only before a Gift has manifested."
Kaidan peered closely at his shaken sister. "So why are you still troubled? What happened to the gardener?"
Javira crossed to the edge of the room. "My influence caused him to exude an entire bouquet in the sight of his overseer. Some guards took him away. I am afraid—"
Kaidan took his sister by the hand and led her to the couch. "You don't have to be afraid, Javira. King Balwyn is not opposed to employing Gifted people; Prince Beren even showed me his Gift."
The lines of worry disappeared, and she even tried to match her brother's smile. Clearly she regarded the prince well. "Beren is Gifted?"
Kaidan nodded. "He can manipulate water, and even exude it from his own hands. He told me his father keeps a record of Gifted people, and professes a desire to see them all gainfully employed in occupations that benefit the kingdom and utilize the unique Gifts."
Javira's smile dimmed. "Records can be dangerous; what real benefit would ones like us have for the realm?"
"You have said the very thing that went through my head when I first heard the news," Kaidan confirmed. "We know that, based on what our father did with it, such a thing could only lead to harm if it were made known."
"And yet our father remained unknown, so he was able to destroy all our lives with his Gift!" protested Javira.
"Keeping the record is inherently neutral, so long as the intent is beneficial," Kaidan affirmed. "But if there might be other Gifted people out there, and men like our father continue to have their way—"
"We must figure out a way to use the record to find each person," Javira concluded. "We can use our shared intuition to discern which are legitimate needs, and which individuals need to be stopped."
Kaidan nodded. "I know of at least one person whose influence is far too pervasive, and needs to be controlled or at least diminished."
Javira finally relaxed. "Then perhaps the solution is not to use the King's record, but to create our own."
In the pause, the clock in the Prince's parlor chimed. Javira stood. "I must return to the servants' quarters," she said. "Mother has reserved the cot next to her for me."
Kaidan joined her on his feet, and hugged her close. "We will find a solution for this, Javira, I promise," he whispered.

Javira lay in her cot, watching her mother's sleeping body curl close, the arms forming a protective barrier over the chest.
"Don't worry mother," she whispered into the night. "We understand. Men like father don't deserve to live unhindered. He will be stopped." She closed her eyes and fell asleep to the echoes of that comforting thought.

The next morning began with a scream.
Javira bounded to wakefulness as Veransa shrieked long and loud, holding her bloodied hands before her. But whose blood was it? A swift investigation revealed that during the night, Habram Clissander had been murdered with someone's bare hands. Since the only likely conclusion was also the most obvious, Veransa Clissander, his abused wife, was found guilty of the crime (though she professed no knowledge), and the death sentence swiftly followed.

Kaidan and Javira again conferred, this time both wearing clothes of the deepest black—though no cloth in the world could convey the depth of their despair.
"It must have been father!" Kaidan declared.
Javira couldn't understand how her whole world could have fallen apart so suddenly. "Why would father want to kill himself?"
Kaidan began pacing. "Who knows? Perhaps to be rid of us forever. Now we are the children of a drunk womanizer and a crazy murderess. Can you imagine the mess we would be in if our Gifts were revealed now?"
Javira clapped her hands to her cheeks. "No one can ever know what we are!" She gasped in horror.
Kaidan met her gaze with determination. "The Gifts are not a benefit to society, no matter what the King says. The only ones who can truly help the realm are you and I."
Javira blinked in confusion. "But what can we do? How can you be so sure?"
Kaidan stopped pacing and dropped into the seat next to her. "Don't you see?" He said with eyes alight. "Fate brought us to the palace. We alone can hide our Gifts and prevent them from ever being discovered, even while we use them to reach our goal, the one position where we can do the most good: we must become heads of the Royal Council, and bend it to our will!"
Javira felt her brother's Gift overwhelm her mind, but she welcomed it; she always trusted her brother completely. "Yes!" She enthused. "We will cleanse the realm of all the Gifts, so that no one will ever experience the terrible tragedy we have faced today." She smiled, as the more she thought about it, the more it felt right. "So, Kaidan," she stood by her brother's side. "Do you happen to have that list you finished yesterday?"
"I do!" Kaidan drew the piece of parchment out of the pocket in his cloak. Javira glanced at the first name.
"It appears we have our first target," she mused.
At the top of the parchment stood a name, in bold strokes:

KORSAN NASROK, KING'S ADVISOR. Beside it, another column listed the respective Gift: MAGIC.
Javira smiled; they had their work cut out for them, but they could handle it together.

It was a strange sensation, Erlis thought, to be dragged along the corridors by nothing but magic influence. She had complete freedom to turn her head to either side as her feet marched forward of their own accord. They stood in what seemed to be a disused operating theater, with high dark windows, all shattered, and two deep troughs, roughly human-sized. Her stomach churned.
"This is where the Council—"
"Conducted the experiments on the Gifted ones, without the knowledge of the King," Zayra hissed, her head lolling. She giggled as she ran a hand around the rim of one trough. "I guess you could say this is the cradle where I was born!" She laughed but her ecstasy turned to a scowl as she whirled on her prisoners. "And it will be the coffin where I die, to be reborn yet again!"
Aurelle noticed a lone wire draped over the edge of the trough. With her eyes, she followed its length to the edge of the room, up the wall—and by then she saw the other end: coiled around the wrist of another woman wrapped in wire, dangling (thankfully right side up) from the ceiling!
Erlis heard her gasp and followed her gaze.
"Edri!" She cried.
Zayra leaned against the trough and laughed. "Oh yes! I decided that I was tired of being the one experimented on, that I wanted to try an experiment on my own! See, it didn't work, last time she put her hands on me; she couldn't fix my brain. So I wanted to see what would happen if I siphoned off all her Gift, and transferred it to myself with this wire." She jerked to her feet and clapped her hands. "Then I will have TWO Gifts!"
Erlis shook her head. "A Gift ceases when it is taken. It can only remain a Gift if it is given freely."
Zayra stuck out her lip in a pout. "Well, how do you expect me to do that? I can't very well ask her!"
Erlis sighed. "Zayra, I am sorry for what happened to you, but this is not the way to help yourself. Please, let us go and—"
Instantly, all the doors in the space vanished. The windows only led to other, doorless rooms. 
Erlis felt her whole body jerk as Zayra slapped her across the right, human side of her face.
"Do NOT address me as anything other than Your Highness or My Queen! I AM QUEEN!"
Aurelle stepped forward. "Your Majesty," she said slowly. "Please release that woman; taking her Gift cannot help you. There is not even a guarantee that your method will work!"
Zayra scowled. "It must! I demand that it works!" She picked up the wire, and immediately the suspended body gave a jerk. A blue spark illuminated the wire around her hand and spread along the wire, eliciting a deep wail of pain from the soldier—but the blue light barely made it half the distance between the two before it faded to nothing.
Zayra wasn't fazed; in fact, she seemed almost excited. "Did you see that?" She squealed, tugging on the wire some more and making the body jiggle. "I demand that you wo—"
"ENOUGH!" Erlis roared, angry flames flashing in her dragon eye. She lunged forward to yank the wire from the madwoman's hand, but Zayra shrank back. 
"Stop!" She whimpered. "Don't touch me!" 
Erlis felt the wave of resistance pushing her back as Zayra said it; her Gift gave her the power to make her whims reality. 
"Please," she begged, "my... My Queen." The title came as barely a whisper. "There is another way; if you let Edri go, I can give you something that will in fact help you more than Edri ever could."
Zayra leaned forward, a hungry gleam in her eye. "What is it?"
Erlis pulled up the sleeve of her right arm, all the way up to the scales and plated shoulder. "Dragon's Blood, infused in my body."
Zayra inhaled slowly. "The most regenerative substance there is," she whispered. 
Erlis nodded. "I will give it to you freely, as much as you need; only let Edri go!"
Zayra weighed her options for only a moment. She shrugged and dropped the wire. "Oh very well; she wasn't much use to me anyway." With a quick pull and a twist, she released the mechanism holding Edri aloft. Aurelle barely had time to catch the body as it crashes toward the smooth floor tiles. Immediately, she set about untwisting the wires. She looked up and locked eyes with Erlis.
"Go," the Dragon nodded. "Tell the others where I am. Tell them not to come for me."
Aurelle bundled the unconscious Edri in her arms and turned toward the window—but it was still filled in on the other side.
Zayra perched coquettishly on the edge of the trough. "Ah-ah!" She wagged a finger at the women. "Our business has not finished—and you really don't think the Healer was going to do everything herself, was she?"
Aurelle left Edri propped against the wall as Zayra lay down in the trough. 
"You," she pointed to Erlis, "in there." She indicated the other trough.
Erlis had no choice. She crossed to the empty trough and lay down.
Zayra held out her arm. Erlis did the same.
"Hook us up!" Commanded the Queen.

Korsan watched the trees; they were much older than the last time he chanced to pass through the area. He sensed Velora watching him as they crossed the river that had grown deeper over the years.
She put out her hand. "Look out for the—"
Korsan sidestepped the loose rocks neatly and landed safely on the other bank.
A small smile played around the Alpha's lips. "You know my village?"
Korsan chuckled. "I knew your parents, young one. In fact, it is your house I was hoping to—"
He stopped as they arrived in the clearing.
Velora's voice came strained. "You'll find it much changed from when you were here last," she whispered.
Korsan surveyed the devastation. No house was left standing. The entire area stood inches deep in soot and rubble.
"What happened?" He asked.
Velora shrugged. "One moment, we were all huddled in our homes as the storm raged outside. No one even knows which house caught first, but it didn't take long for it to spread, even in the rain. Father made a hole in the wall, and I escaped..." She stopped by a patch of ashen mud.
Korsan swept forward and placed a hand in a divot filled with freshly-turned earth.
"You won't find it here."
The voice was barely a whisper, and yet the speaker had no scent so it was several members before Korsan and Velora found her: a woman, dressed in gleaming white, with magnificent wings all bent and shattered spread beneath her.
"Who are you?" Velora demanded.
The woman looked straight at Korsan. "One who knew the Prince," she said. "I tried to help him—"
"What have you done?" Korsan hissed.
"What was necessary." The woman didn't appear to be bloodied, but she sounded very weak, and her skin was so pale it looked almost translucent. Most puzzling of all, she still had no scent.
"I took his memories while he was a prisoner on that pirate ship. I carried them as we traveled together into the Harbor. I led him here and put the memories in the crown. I had hoped he would put it on before heading to the castle, but—" she gave another shuddering gasp as her eyes rolled in her head.
Korsan lunged forward and took her hand. "But what? Did he put it on? Does he remember?"
Her head lolled. "I don't know; we parted company. I don't know. I must depart so I can recover. I'm sorry." She faded out of sight before their eyes, in a burst of brilliant colors.
Korsan stepped back. Velora watched him carefully as the stench of his fear rolled off of him in waves. "What is it? Who were you talking about?" She asked. "What memories? What Prince? Is she talking about Jaran?"
Korsan gripped his talisman so hard the gems bruised his skin. "When you were but a babe, Prince Beren Seramis, the Crown Prince, departed on a pleasure cruise with friends who would betray him, and he left behind the True Crown. Only the one who wears the True Crown is fit to sit upon Balwyn's throne, and only the one who sits upon Balwyn's throne is fit to be his successor. The Twin Regents no doubt plan to use Jaran as bait to lure his brother, and if he doesn't remember who he is, then he will no doubt yield the crown in exchange for his brother. We must get back to the castle!" The old Mage took off running through the forest. Velora had to draw upon the Wolf within to keep pace with him.
"I don't get it!" She pressed. "What do you mean, if he doesn't remember? Who has the crown now?"
"Velora!" Korsan didn't slacken. "Prince Beren is Harlock, the man with no past!"
"Oh blast!" She snarled. "And he's headed to the castle a long while ago, to try and rescue Jaran!"
"We need to stop him before he hands over that crown!" Korsan agreed as the White Castle loomed into view.

Harlock landed in the throne room, the antique crown hanging from a loop on his belt.
Slow applause caused him to freeze and peer defensively at the shadows in the front of the room.

Javira and Kaidan Clissander sat upon the two thrones where the King and Queen once sat. To avoid the penalty for breaking the law, they had draped the golden seats with heavy black fabric, to sit upon.
"Well done, Beren," Kaidan nodded. "I was wondering when exactly you would make it back from your pleasure trip!"
Harlock snorted. "You are mistaken; my name is Harlock." He saw Jaran and the other kid, a young wharf rat with barely any clothes, kneeling in irons at the foot of the dais. The end of Jaran's chain rested in Javira's hands, while Kaidan held the other.
Javira regarded him smoothly. "You seem to know your way around this palace very well, for a sailor," she mused.
Harlock shrugged. "What can I say? I have a keen sense of where to find things, and it just happened that this was the only room with people in it." He saw them glance to the side, where a gorgeous woman in rich clothing sat in a gilded cage, her hands gripping the bars so tightly that her knuckles gleamed as white as pearls. "Hello, what's a pretty thing like you doing locked up?"
"Leave her!" Kaidan barked. When Harlock turned back to him, he continued in a silky tone. "So then, you know nothing of this Beren person? And your name is Harlock?"
Harlock nodded. "Oh yes, and I'm taking your prisoners."
The twins exchanged a glance. "Both of them?"
Harlock shrugged. "Well, I was going to just take the tall skinny one, but the pickpocket I think works with a friend of mine," he gestured toward the cage, "and if I am not mistaken, it doesn't look like the pretty one actually wants to be here, either."
Azelie rattled the bars of her cage, but no sound escaped her lips.
Kaidan glanced at his sister. "What do you think, Javira? Should we just let them all go?"
Javira tilted her head and regarded him closely. "Not for free, of course. Naturally, if you're coming here to liberate the hostages we've rightfully collected," she gestured to the two unmoving in front of them, "you should at least bring something of value to us."
Harlock seemed to scrunch his face as he considered it, but he shoved his hands in his pocket and shook his head. "Yeah, I've got nothing."
There was no missing the sudden elevated tension as both twins leaned forward.
"What about the crown you carry?" Kaidan licked his lips and tried in vain to keep his voice steady.
Harlock glanced down and unhooked the crown, spinning it around his wrist like a juggler's hoop. "What, this old thing? I found it buried in the woods somewhere, can you believe it? Nah, this isn't worth the dirt I scraped it from! Ask me for something else."
Both twins were on their feet now. 
"Did you put on the crown or not?" Kaidan snarled, even as Javira shouted at the saw time, "Give us the crown!"
Kaidan grabbed her shoulder. "No! It's no use to us if he's already worn it!"
Harlock chortled. "Worn it? With all the manure I had to shift to get it? No thanks, I am not in any way interested in putting that anywhere near my face, thank you very much!"
Kaidan held Javira's gaze. "Is it true?" He asked.
Javira's eyes shifted to lock onto the trembling Azelie. Her expression relaxed.
"He knows nothing," she confirmed.
"So," Harlock was tossing the crown in the air and catching it. "Are we making this trade or not?"
Kaidan smiled. "Of course; one crown for three prisoners."
Harlock gasped through clenched teeth. "Yeesh! You two drive a hard bargain. Oh well; at least we're all getting what we want. Catch!" He tossed the crown higher this time, and toward Kaidan. The Lord Regent lunged for the diadem as Harlock yelled, "NOW!"
Immediately, Damaris jumped to his feet as flames engulfed his body, so hot that the iron turned to red liquid and dripped from his wrists. 
Javira barely had time to resister a spark from Jaran before it slammed into her with so much energy that it sent her rocketing backward across the room. The bolt melted the locking mechanisms off the cuffs, and soon Jaran was free as well. 
Damaris still flamed as he approached Azelie's cage and melted the door right off its hinges, allowing her to crawl out. 

The four Outcasts stood together as Kaidan rose to his feet, gripping the crown in his hands. Slowly, as Javira struggled to recover from the lightning blast, Kaidan placed the crown on his head and closed his eyes in anticipation.

Nothing happened.
Kaidan snatched the crown off to look at it closely, but it was the last move he ever made, as a sudden frigid blast covered him in water and froze solid. 
Harlock clenched his fist to stop the flow of ice. 
Javira had gained her feet and clutched the side of the throne. She glared at Azelie. "You!" She screeched, "You were in his mind! You told me he didn't remember!"
Azelie smiled, but Javira could no longer read her thoughts. She had hidden them—just as she had hidden the slew of new memories in Harlock's mind.

Meanwhile, Harlock plucked the crown from Kaidan's frozen hand.
"Beg pardon," he said, "but this isn't yours."
Javira lunged at him, but a bolt of energy from Jaran knocked her flat.
Harlock winked at him. "Thanks, brother."
Jaran smiled. "Anything for my brother."
Damaris groaned. "Can we please just get on with this?"
The newly-crowned man stood on the dais, pulling aside the heavy swath of fabric.
"I am Prince Beren Seramis, Son and Heir of King Balwyn Seramis, and rightful ruler of this realm!" He sat on the throne, and around him, the darkened castle thrummed to life.

In the next instant, a terrible scream split the air.
"What was that?" Jaran asked, stating at the open window. He had heard that scream before.
"It came from the Laboratory Tower!" Azelie answered.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

NaNoWriMo 2016: Introducing "The Amazon Triangle"!

cover designed and created by Lia Wayward

A few years ago, I was innocently laying in my bed, when into my brain popped a bizarre sequence that I immediately wrote down. It had no context; it had no ensuing events. It was intense, vivid, and I loved it, but I had nowhere to put it.

Some time later, I also started thinking about the film Sahara (the 2005 version starring Matthew McConaughey, although my absolute favorite character was Steve Zahn) and what an underrated film that was, and how hilarious it would be if somebody made an adventure film like that, that wasn't all about suggestive situations and stereotypical females and crude jokes—but actually an intriguing adventure that was imaginative fun for the whole family.

The first thing I knew for sure was the kind of characters I would have: two father/son couples: one British, one American, and then a mother/daughter pair where the mother is British but the daughter American. The second thing, since I essentially had 3 pairs of characters, was that the theme would be "Triangles," since I could take what amounted to 2 love triangles (British father once dated Mother; she dumped him, he became good friends with American father; fast forward to when all their kids are adults, and Mother's Daughter is now dating American's son—and none of them have any idea about how their families are connected) and throw them into a perilous situation in the middle of the most famous triangle in the world, the Bermuda Triangle. I went ahead and drummed up something that could pass for an intriguing yet impossible situation that would involve all of them working together to figure it out, and it was a nice idea, but still pretty skimpy and it would involve a LOT of VERY meticulous research, which I was not prepared to do at the time. Or ever. Or at least not till I could just like you know quit my full-time job and making a living with JUST my writing...

Anyhow, I plunked out some premise notes for the idea, shelved it, and promptly forgot about it.

Until this year.

By early this year, I was very sure of 2 things:

1. I wanted to somehow create a context for the Amazon scenes I had;
2. I was somehow going to use the Triangle idea to do it.

There was just one HUGE problem: the Amazon is thousands of miles away from the Bermuda Triangle. How in the world was I going to use both locations if they are so far apart that, even if the cruise were to crash or break down somehow, necessitating my main characters to escape in a raft together—they could choose LITERALLY ANYWHERE ELSE CLOSER??
Yeah... No way a cruise ship could be blown 2,000 MILES OFF COURSE!
Rationality says they'd hit Cuba before South America... but this isn't "The Cuban Triangle"!

Answer: Nothing a little time/space dimensional warp can't solve!

All of a sudden, that span of empty ocean between Bermuda and the Amazon becomes a swirling vortex of wibbly-wobbly because of an interdimensional crash sometime in the mid-1940s... 1943, to be precise. The very same moment that a platoon of Japanese naval soldiers were on their way up the coast of South America to try and launch an attack on the Eastern US. Dimensions collide, they get caught in the time warp, and have to repeat each day 100 times before it moves on to the next one. Everything naturally occurring in that space is reset and repeated: same fish swimming by, same birds flying over—the only thing that doesn't change is that one boat. They can't leave the time warp because of the dimensional crossover. Any attempt to cross the boundary just transports them to another point within that same area. The only point at which they can leave the water is the side that leads to the Amazon River—and even then, they can only set foot on land for a maximum of three night falls. On the fourth sundown, the time warp fluxes and they're back on the boat again, along with anything they managed to pick up in the 3 days. There were some ships that actually made it out of the warp and were picked up by Allied troops within those 3 days (unwittingly 2 years later, in 1945), and so they escaped the "reset" (also giving rise to the realization of the "Japanese Holdouts"), but that was it; four boats still remain out of the original seven.

So what does this dimensional crossover have to do with the Amazon mermaid idea? 

What do you suppose lived in that other dimension?

That's right; a Japanese scavenging party encounters a fearsome race of terribly tall women living in the jungle—and these women are also mermaids, acquiring silver-grey scales and tails when submerged in water. So when the cruise ship crashes and our dysfunctional main characters get caught in this dimensional trap themselves (via the Bermuda Triangle) they discover the mermaid Amazons AND have to avoid being captured by the Japanese (who still believe the world is at war, and they want to be able to use these powerful superhuman beings against the Allied armies) while they figure out how the dimensions got crossed in the first place, and how to fix it. Throw in the relationship tensions, and it's enough material for quite a thrill ride!

Also... For those of you who have enjoyed my NaNoWriMo "1K-A-Day" shares... there's going to be a small change with that. This time around, rather than just sharing bits from what I'm writing, I will also intersperse excerpts with posts about my writing experience. Where does it come from? What problems do I face in writing and developing a plot, and how do I overcome them? How does someone who works full-time find time to write in a given day, anyway? I'll be posting as frequently as I can here on the blog--And then when December comes, I'll start posting the whole thing on Wattpad so you can read it! If you don't know what Wattpad is, here's a helpful blog post about it. If you're interested in reading the stories I have on Wattpad (Including the EXCLUSIVE urban fantasy "The Water-Man") Here is a link to my profile on Wattpad. I will say that an account is free, and you don't necessarily have to be writing a story to have an account--there are thousands of writers on there, and we need readers, too!

Stay tuned for more fun! I look forward to sharing this journey (yet again!) with you all!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Serial Saturday: "The Clan of Outcasts", Part 11--Betrayal

Harlock "The Castaway"
(Also Beren Seramis, The Crown Prince)

 Part 11

High in the branches of a tree, a small bird perched on the edge of a tiny nest. Three eggs lay nestled in the down. It would be not long from now until the time they would hatch. The proud little bird bent to inspect her clutch, when a furious wind nearly carried her away. 

The arrow narrowly missed the nest but sailed high among the branches, dropping finally some distance away.
"On your left, Kaidan!" Crown Prince Beren Seramis peered keenly at the spot where his arrow fell. He had been aiming for the squirrel now safely stationed on an impossible branch, chattering away at him. 
Kaidan brushed aside his unruly red curls and wiped at the sweat pouring down his neck. He offered the arrow back to the prince. "Perhaps Your Highness might try a larger target," he mused.
Beren shrugged. "Nah, I think I'm done for the day." He handed the bow and quiver to his servant and ran a slender hand through his spiky, dark hair. "Let us return to the castle and see what a mess my father has gotten himself into!"
The two young men turned their horses to the road and set off in a light trot.
Beren glanced sidelong at his servant and saw a pensive frown on the boy's face.
"What's wrong, Kaidan?"
The servant sighed. "Forgive me, Prince, but I do not think it wise to treat the King's business so lightly; after all, you will be King, yourself, someday."
Beren snorted. "Yes, and then I will bear the scrutiny of old men who think they can rule better than I can, and who delight to whisper behind my back while slathering me in compliments to my face!" He shook his head. "Some say my father's generosity in putting Gifted citizens to work in whatever capacity uses their Gift is a generous one—but the Council is convinced that there will come a time when the Gifted ones will rise up and demand even more rights."
Kaidan shrugged and tried to diffuse the tension. "That is only conjecture—"
"I hear them talk, Kaidan!" Beren snapped. "I know what they say behind Father's back, the way they corner me in the hallway or talk around me as if I don't exist."
"You have the power to change anything that does not please you—"
"But what if I don't want to change anything?" Growled the prince. "What if I would rather just continue having the freedom to be myself and make my own choices, and let the Council run the kingdom?" He forced himself to calm down when a small river sloshed through the grass toward him, flooding the forest path and causing the horses' hooves to sink in the mud.
"It's not as if Father is really doing any ruling just now, either," Beren continued. "His rules and convictions might be fair and just, but the Council takes his laws and amends them with their own stringent regulations, giving the illusion that he doesn't care about the kingdom, when in fact the laws themselves are produced out of a caring and considerate heart, to protect both Gifted and unGifted people!"
Kaidan answered calmly, letting Beren have his own fire without adding fuel to the discontent. "You do not wish to be King, Prince Beren?"
The young man huffed and urged his horse a little faster. "I don't like being manipulated and forced into a choice I don't want to make," he stated.
"No one can force you to do something against your will, Highness," Kaidan reminded him.
They arrived at the gates of the castle and two stable hands met them to take the reins and care for the horses.
Beren stroked the neck of his steed and cupped his hands under the animal's nose. There was not a well nearby, but his palms overflowed with fresh, clean water. The horse drank its fill, and Beren released his hands, shaking them dry and wiping them on his sleeve.
"I've tried to get Father to use more precise wording in his laws, but he says he won't—he says he would be more worried about compromising what he believed based on someone's interpretation, than of the outcome of that interpretation. He stands by the laws he makes."
"The laws that are unjust?" Kaidan supplied.
"Not by any of his doing," Beren muttered, "but yes."
They reached the main entrance just as a crowd of young men staggered through the door, yelling and whooping and carrying on.
"What's all this?" Beren asked. He recognized the young men from his fencing class in the city—for the services of the realm's Master Swordsman, Sylvanis, was available to all, and not restricted to the castle.
"Old Silly-Van has taken ill!" One of the boys threw his arm around Beren's shoulder. "He won't be able to teach for a few days—and that's just enough time for us to join the pleasure cruise on a short trip to the Imperials—won't you join us, Bear?"
Beren felt his frustration lift as he listened. The Imperial Islands were devoted entirely to every sort of entertainment, and pleasure cruises circulated regularly. He could leave and return in the space of a couple days, and find enough to divert his mind from the cards of the kingdom, without missing anything of grave importance.
"Well, I would certainly love to, Hancock," he replied. "Provided my father has not already made plans."
"Come on!" Hancock persisted. "What's a few days? He'll hardly even miss you before you will be back!"
Beren's eyes traveled to his servant.
Kaidan nodded. "Do what you think is wise, Prince—a temporary respite would not go amiss."
Beren grinned; wisdom had very little to do with this particular decision. Besides, he thought, it would be good to make this decision for myself, to strike out on my own.
He patted Hancock on the shoulder. "Don't leave without me," he assured him. "I'll just go pack my things."
Hancock cheered. "We leave at dawn!"

The next morning, a cloaked figure stopped by the Mage's door and left behind a small chest. By the time Mage Korsan opened his door and discovered the chest, the Prince had missed the morning meal. Korsan sighed as he laid eyes on the crown Beren left behind. Why would the Prince do something so foolish—and just when the Queen would have told her son that he would soon be welcoming a brother? Days turned into weeks, with no sign of the Prince. Word spread about pirate sightings around the Imperial Isles, and that they had attacked at least one pleasure cruise, but no one could be sure whether anyone had survived the attack or not. 
King Balwyn fell ill, and the Queen delivered a healthy baby before passing away, herself. The Council claimed Regency, and Korsan found himself banished from the castle. On his way out to the Wilderness, the Mage stopped by the house of a trusted friend.
"Gordan!" He greeted him warmly. "How does your little family fare?"
Gordon's wife smiled at the Mage. "You see well," she mused. "I have only just learned that I am carrying a child."
Korsan swung his talisman before the woman's belly, flat though it was. "It will be a girl; what would you name her?"
The goodwife's eyes shone with hope. "If it is a girl, I want to name her Velora."
Korsan nodded and turned back to Gordan. He gave the woodsman a small chest, tightly locked. "Keep this safe," he charged him. "Keep it hidden. The one to whom it belongs will come searching for it—but do not reveal its existence to anyone else."
Gordan nodded and resolved to bury the chest in the hard-packed ground under his own bed.

Korsan had left a message of his own, to be delivered to Beren, wherever he may be found, telling the prince what he had done to keep that crown safe. Unbeknownst to everyone save the Pirates and the unfortunate traitors in the Prince's entourage who arranged the attack in exchange for vast sums and the opportunity to disappear from creditors and bookmakers, Prince Beren had been imprisoned, beaten and starved long enough to deprive him of his memory, and forced to serve on the pirate ship that had mounted the attack. For more than a decade, he slaved on many ships, abandoning his name as his merciless masters never used it anyway. At last, the ship he was on encountered a mighty storm, facing waves that no sailor had ever seen. Only one boat survived—a lifeboat, carrying the nameless deckhand. The waves crashed over the boat, tossing the man to and fro, but never overturning it. He lost the oars one by one, and then merely rode the churning sea, praying for the sight of land as the blackness of unconsciousness overtook him. As if Fate finally heard his plea, the sea quieted, and a miraculous current carried the boat and its nearly-dead passenger toward the harbor on the mainland—the very same harbor, as it happened, that he had departed all those years ago...

Aurelle huffed as Erlis nearly lost her a third time in the twisting streets.
"Remind me again where this contact of yours told us to meet her?"
Erlis pulled up short as the harbor patrol marched past, covering her face with her hood and turning away. Only when the soldiers passed out of earshot did she dare move or speak.
"Edri told the contact that she would be waiting just inside the western courtyard, and we would find the west gate unlocked."
Aurelle grabbed Erlis by the shoulder as someone started pointing and whispering. A quick illusion aimed at their eyes, and the villager immediately forgot whom she was looking at and went about her business.
"I wish Velora and Korsan could have come with us," she muttered as they moved on.
"Korsan said he needed to retrieve something, and he needed Velora to help find it," Erlis reminded her. "Evidently whatever it is holds the same importance as getting us into the castle to rescue Jaran and the Phoenix."
"His name is Damaris," Aurelle supplied with a snort. "I just hope we aren't too late; what do you suppose they will do with them?"
Erlis felt her pulse accelerate as the castle walls came into view. "Jaran is a Prince, so they cannot morally or legally do much with him; Damaris, as a known thief and a wharf rat, I am not so sure."
The gate stood just ahead. Erlis glided forward and gave the latch a gentle push. It swung open without a sound.
The healer turned to Aurelle. "What do you see?" She asked the Illusionist.
Aurelle examined the figures on the palm of her hand. "Three soldiers along the wall; two in the parapet, one posted along the corner."
Just then, the figures shifted. Aurelle clenched her fist and the image vanished. "We go now!"
The two women dashed forward and made it to the door without causing any alarm. Carefully slipping inside just before the next patrol rounded the corner, they found themselves in a long, dark tunnel that seemed to slope under the castle itself. 
"If I remember rightly," Erlis mused, "we did come to the right place, since the dungeons are down here."
Aurelle gasped. "You think they're in the dungeon?"
A rippling laughter carried down the tunnel toward them. Aurelle and Erlis inched forward till they could finally see a pale sheen of light emanating from a doorway. Within the doorway stood a figure in armor, her long crimson hair swept back to reveal the jagged glint of three scars: Edri Rodan, the girl who stepped in front of a lion to heal a Gifted man. 
Erlis sighed with relief as they neared her. "Edri, it is good to meet you—" she stopped.
The eyes that met hers were not those of a healer. Crimson dye still dripped off the ends of her hair. Erlis tried to back away, but found that her body no longer listened.
The imposter laughed again.
"Well! So this is what had my bodyguard on edge in the last few days!" Gushed Zayra, the Mad Queen. "She's fine, by the way; I have her all nice and tucked away with happy thoughts. She thinks it's yesterday, can you believe it?" Another maniacal cackle. Zarya turned. "Follow me." 
And Aurelle and Erlis did; they had no choice in the matter. 
"Where are you taking us?" Aurelle demanded as they ascended the stairs heading away from the dungeons. Evidently the Queen did not share the same sympathies as the rest of them, concerning the welfare of the two captive friends.
"We're going back to where it all began," said Zayra.
"What do you want with us?" Edri asked as they walked toward the entrance to the north tower. She had never been in it, since the Council had reserved it for their "scientific experiments," but she had often heard the screams.
"What do you think I want?" Zayra snapped. "I want to be Queen! And you two are going to make that happen!"
"How?" Asked Aurelle. "We're Outcasts, we don't have the authority—"
Zayra stopped short and stamped her foot. "It's not the authority I want, it's the power!" She screamed. Whirling on them, she pointed to Erlis. "You are a healer with more power than Edri could ever dream of! I want you to do what she never could: heal my broken brain." She broke into a wide smile. "Can't have a Madwoman for Queen if she's going to demand 'Off with their heads!' at any moment! And you," she pointed to Aurelle. "You're an Illusionist and a Seer. Your visions can tell me where the True Crown is: the Crown of Prince Beren."
Aurelle glanced at Erlis, who was rubbing the scales on her hand again. "Why do you need the crown?" She asked slowly.
"Idiot!" Zayra shrieked. "Because only the one who wears the True Crown is fit to sit on King Balwyn's throne as the undisputed ruler! Those Black Twins think they can just charm everyone into getting their way..." She sauntered around behind the women and hooked her arms through each of theirs. "But I will be the one with all the power in the end!" She marched forward into the main laboratory, dragging her unwilling assistants behind her.

Jaran felt Damaris huddled against his back; it was like strapping a man-sized chunk of live coal to his body, but he suppressed the discomfort in light of their present situation. It was awkward, really, walking past all these soldiers so intent on doing their jobs and doing them correctly—and yet they allowed the two high-risk prisoners walk right out of the dungeons, behind a soldier whose only instructions were, "Follow me."
He led them down the halls till they reached the eastern tower, a place Jaran knew well. He shuddered.
"What is it?" Damaris whispered.
Jaran turned his head and cupped his hand over his mouth. The soldier didn't appear to comprehend their conversation, but he didn't want to risk trouble.
"This is where the Crazy Queen lives," he said. "The Council ran experiments on her, and—" he hesitated. "They used me, used my Gift to alter her brain."
Jaran felt Damaris' body heat shift subtly, as it did when he felt agitated, such as with anger or fear. "So... What kind of Gift do you think she had? Would the Crazy Queen be able to enchant someone to—"
"Break two prisoners out of jail?" Jaran finished, glancing at the back of the soldier's neck. "Who knows?"

The soldier stopped in front of a doorway and turned to face them.
"You have nothing to fear," he said.
Behind him, the door opened of its own accord. The two young men—still in their chains—watched and waited for further instructions.
The soldier did not move. 
Slowly, carefully, Jaran and Damaris inched forward, stepping past him. Still, the soldier did not react. They entered the open door, and Jaran gasped in surprise.
Damaris stopped, utterly stunned by the beauty before him.
She sat in a cage of pure gold, robed in rich, resplendent fabrics from her chin to her toes. On her head she wore a crown of the most resplendent jewels set in rare metals. Only her face showed, tastefully painted and completely flawless. Damaris felt like he was looking at an angel in human form.
Jaran seemed to know her. He stepped forward, chained as he was.
"Azelie, what are you doing in a cage? Were you the one who saved us? How? Why?"
"Help me, Jaran!" The eyes stared at him earnestly, as the voice seemed to emanate from all around—everywhere except the one to whom it should have belonged. "The Queen commanded that I should never speak again, and I have not been able to utter a word since. It is by her command that I have been trapped in here, something pretty for her to look at rather than her own face. The lock—I cannot open it. I did enthrall the guard to bring you here. You must help me!"
Damaris stepped forward, and Jaran could tell he heard Azelie's "voice" as well. 
"If we help you," he said slowly, speaking softly in the presence of such resplendence, "will you help us escape?"
Azelie nodded. "No one should be imprisoned as I have been. Set me free, and from now on you can be my guar—"

"Well! What have we here?"
The harsh voice drowned out the rest of her telepathic words.
Jaran and Damaris whirled around. 

Two stately figures dressed in black emerged from behind a pillar. Jaran tilted his head.
"Wait," he stammered. "I know you!" 
"Of course you do!" Said the Lady Regent. "We are the Twin Regents, the Guardians of the Realm."
Jaran shook his head. "No... Something else—"
"You aren't the real rulers!" Damaris shouted. "And you aren't interested in guarding the realm—if anybody should be ruling, it's him!" He raised a hand and pointed at Jaran. "He's the real prince!"
The Lord Regent raised his eyebrow. "But he isn't the Crown Prince, is he?"
Damaris gaped as the two Regents came close. The Lord Regent looked Jaran straight in the eye. "You look almost exactly like your brother did the last time I saw him."
Jaran fought to keep his face impassive, but he couldn't help the tiny spark that raced up his arm. "I never knew my brother," he stated.
His Lordship chuckled. "Oh, well we ought to arrange some kind of reunion for them, shouldn't we, Javira?"
The Lady Regent giggled and clapped her hands. "Oooh! I know just the thing! Why don't we hold this prince for ransom?"
Javira's twin brother tilted his head toward her in mock confusion. "Ransom?" He echoed in exaggerated tones. "What would the ransom price be?"
Javira smiled and stepped close to the prince. Something in her touch, in the way her eyes never left him--it held him captive, compelled him not to move. "The price would be the True Crown, of course. After all, it went missing when the Crown Prince ran away, so everyone knows he must have taken it."
"He didn't run away!" Jaran felt like a scared young boy again, arguing with his old nurse who grumbled against the rest of his family. He had not thought about it for so long, he'd somehow forgotten that he ever had a brother. "He was killed, or--"
"Or what?" The Lord Regent cut in.
Jaran noticed something in the gleam of his eyes. "I know you!" He gasped. The memory of himself as a young boy unlocked other memories--of growing up alongside the nurse's adult children, who never seemed to age as Jaran did, who remained the same year after year... 
"Kaidan?" Jaran gasped. "Kaidan Clissander? The washer-woman's son?"
Kaidan snorted and rolled his eyes. "And yet so much more! Yes, finally, the little prince comes home!"
Jaran glanced between the ageless twins. "You're Gifted like the rest of us! But you were the ones to issue the Outcast Ordinance!"
Javira smiled, but Kaidan answered. "No--we merely got the Council to agree to it. And your brother isn't dead, Jaran. Goodness knows I tried! But my spies tell me that he is, in fact, heading for this castle even now--after I worked so hard to get him captured by pirates, the spoiled brat managed to survive!" Kaidan sighed heavily and wagged his head. "I suppose if one wants something done correctly, one must do it oneself." He smiled at Jaran. "He's coming for you--coming to save his little brother." Kaidan and Javira both drew matching daggers from their belts.
"He'll never see it coming," Javira gushed.

Harlock jumped awake from where he had sat to rest briefly--or so he thought. From the heaviness of his body, he had been deep asleep for several hours more than he intended. He glared at his pocket. "Jay?" he growled.
The light of her wings flashed from within the chest holding the crown. Harlock lunged for it. "Hey!" he said, flinging open the lid and waving her away. "What are you doing? Get out of there!"
"I did what I must!" Jay maintained. "I have completed my mission."
"What are you talking about?" Harlock packed up the belongings and strapped them onto his back. "What mission? We're not even at the castle yet."
"It wasn't the beatings that took your memory, Harlock." 
Beatings... Harlock stiffened at the unexpected memory of being tied to something round and rough, as heavy clubs and stinging whips ate at his back. "Beatings? I was a sailor, wasn't I? Maybe not a very good one--"
"On the pirate ship; they beat you and they would have killed you if they had known who you were; I took your memories so that you and they would never find out."
Harlock clutched his head in his hands. "You did this to me? You made me forget who I was?"
"I did it to save you. But now I'm giving them back. It's time to remember."
Harlock felt the fear and dread seize his throat. "Who was I, Jay?" he asked in a small voice.
"I cannot go with you into the city. I have placed all the memories in the crown you carry. When you place it on your head, your memories will return."
Harlock closed the chest and locked it again. "No way!" he snapped. "It doesn't belong to me, it belongs to the Prince. No way am I putting that thing on my head!"
"Harlock, please!"
"No!" Harlock tightened the grip on his pack and turned his back on the one constant in his life, the one being who had been close to his side. "You've betrayed me by taking all those things from me. I don't want to listen to you any more. If you don't want to come with me to rescue the Prince, that's fine. I don't need you!" He marched down the path into the city, the one that would take him straight to the castle.
Jay appeared in front of him. "Harlock, if you would just--"
"I. SAID. GO. AWAY!" He raised his hand and blasted her with water--and such was his anger that it immediately turned to ice, trapping her and falling to the ground. Harlock picked up the ice ball and hurled it away as hard as he could. He turned back toward the castle and marched on. He would save his friends and make a new life--and no one would be able to stop him.

Part 12: "Exchange">>>>>

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Serial Saturday: "The Clan of Outcasts" Part 10--Stolen

Damaris Kemp, "The Phoenix"
Part 10

The harbor was no place for children. 
Thick smoke clogged the air as the particles of pollution settled and collected in the form of slag coating the ground. The massive storm with its great quantities of rain should have been enough to wash any other port clean, but here in the harbor, it only made the muck worse. Wizened, reeking people of every shape and size, all discolored to a uniform, pallid grey, shoved and shuffled their way up narrow alleys and docks. Not even the wide, bold flounces of the nocturnal women could rescue their lack of appeal—but it didn't stop them from trying.
A creaking ship pulled into the sloop, and its crew disembarked.
"Get what ye can, lads," barked the captain. "We've a mighty haul and a long voyage ahead of us. No tellin' how long it might be till the next chance to enjoy ourselves."
The crew dispersed eagerly. A few joined the crowd pressed around the booth where the Illusionist sat. She said not a word as flashing images poured out of her fingertips, twisting and galloping to vanish among the crowd.
Glinting eyes regarded the scene from a high vantage point. A small body curled in a crevice as the gaze found its mark. Slowly, the nimble feet scurried down the side of the wall. Quick as a spark Damaris moved, hovering here, only to vanish and reappear somewhere quite different. Each movement brought him closer to his goal.
He slipped in the empty spaces between people. They might skid a little on the slick ground, but not he; his feet found the secure spots amid the muck. Damaris glided among them like smoke, his eyes focused on hunting out money belts or pouches. The ones who knew the harbor held their pouches clutched in their hands; the ones hanging too low on the belts were also not good to grab, because the mark would miss the weight. The chink of a coin caught his ear. He glanced forward, and saw a large man just digging coins out of his purse. Damaris scurried forward. As the hand holding the purse came down toward the low-slung pocket, deft hands intercepted it, subtly dropping a rock exactly the same size into the sagging mouth, letting the pouch jingle as he did so.
The mark never suspected a thing. Damaris narrowed his body and prepared to waft backward the way he came.
"Oh my!" A voice squawked, as a soft thing impeded his movement.
The mark turned at the noise, saw the tipsy old woman still tilting precariously—and the shameless runt holding his own coin purse.

Damaris felt the coldness of dread wash over him. Of all the dandies in the audience, he had to pick the pirate as his mark! 
The burly man scowled and snapped the boy up by his collar.
"Oy!" He snarled, tossing Damaris in the open before everyone. "Try to steal from me, you scurvy rat?"
Damaris dropped the purse; riches be damned, the only thing he wanted in this moment was to disappear with his skin and his life still intact. He scrambled backward, but thick boots stepped out of the crowd, more crew members advancing in defense of their mate.
Meanwhile, the mark advanced on him, drawing the curved cutlass and brandishing it with expert menace. "People think we pirates is lawless, but ye might be interested to know there be pirate law, too."
Damaris trembled as the boots behind him and the soft tone of the gravelly voice caused him to lose the will to move. The pirate kicked him in the chest, sending him sprawling, and before Damaris could react, the pirate stepped on his arm, pinning him down.
The cutlass flashed in a direct line over his shoulder. 
"D'ye know what the penalty is for STEALING?"
The blade swept down... Damaris cringed...


A strange but deafening snap split the air—but Damaris felt no pain, only that every hair on his body stood straight up. The pressure left his shoulder and he heard the cutlass clatter to the ground at the same time he smelled the pungent stench of burning flesh. A thud and a puff of dust resounded beside him. Damaris opened his eyes to behold the glassy, empty, terror-stricken visage of the pirate, arm still outstretched to deliver the severing blow. Damaris scrambled back as the pirates surged forward to inspect their fallen comrade.

One of them looked straight at the terrified boy.
"He's dead!" He announced.
"I didn't do it!" Damaris squealed the words before he could stop himself.
Denial only fueled the accusation. 
"Sure ya did! Yer one o' Them, ain't ye!"
"Thief! Thief—and a MURDERER!"
Damaris didn't know what they referred to—only that he needed to leave. He jumped to his feet like a spooked rabbit and scurried off down the road, hearing the shouts of the pirate crew behind him. 
No matter how he tried, he knew he would never get anyone to believe the truth about the pirate's death. In the briefest flutter of his eyelids, Damaris (though he wondered if he imagined it, himself) had actually seen the miracle that had killed the pirate and saved his life:

A bolt of lightning, out of a clear blue sky on a warm summer day.

Damaris shook his head and kept running. After all, the Harbor was no place for children.

Jaran cradled the light-flare in his hand until the energy surge died. His cuffs were just out of reach, and besides, they might be the wrong material. He didn't want to risk doing damage to himself in the attempt to escape.

The young boy in nothing but short trousers and a loose vest—his fellow prisoner—stared at him wide-eyed. Jaran wondered if he'd heard stories from the harbor-thief he'd saved when he first arrived at the harbor, back before he'd really mastered his ability.
Jaran closed his empty hand and leaned back against the cell wall.
He heard the boy's chains clink.
"It was you!" He choked. "You killed the pirate!"
Perhaps he had heard of the incident, then. Jaran opened his eyes. "Killed?" He frowned. "No, you must have heard wrong. The man was still standing when I left; I only meant to make him drop the sword."
The boy shook his head. "No, he was dead, all right. All cooked up inside. You did that?"
Jaran opened his hand, and a tiny spark hopped into the air and disappeared. "Guilty as charged," he quipped, knowing how much his advisers would have groaned at the terrible pun.
The boy stared at him with less awe and more fascination. "You saved my life!" he cried.
Jaran frowned. "No, that can't be," he mused. "I saw the pirates leave the port; they said they burnt the thief alive in his own house." He had felt such remorse at the thought of an innocent boy dying because of something he did, that Jaran nearly considered taking his own life—which was how Erlis found him.
A shudder rippled through the scrawny body. "They did burn my hut," the boy said softly. When he looked up at Jaran, his eyes glowed like they held real tongues of flame in them. "I couldn't get out, I thought I would die—but when I woke, there were ashes all around me, and I had flame inside of me." He opened his hand, and called forth a ball of fire. He grinned to see the older boy flinch backward. "It has been within me ever since."
Jaran tried to be grumpy, but the cuffs restrained his hands at an odd and uncomfortable angle. "Born from the ashes, eh? Rather like a phoenix. What's your name, anyway?" He asked.
"Damaris," the boy answered. "What's yours?"
"Jaran; tell me, Damaris—when they burnt your house, were your parents with you?" The only thing that could make this worse is if the boy had to also witness the demise of his family—not that Jaran knew what that felt like.
Damaris shrugged. "Parents? I doubt if I ever knew them at all. I live alone, picking pockets and stealing from merchants for this half-hearted, mindless shuffle they call 'living.'" He smirked at his cell mate. "How about you?"
Jaran shrugged. "I never knew my parents either. They both died the day after I was born."
Damaris chuckled. "Was your father poisoned and your mother heartbroken?" He shook his head. "Korsan told me that was how King Balwyn and Queen Gracelle died, when the Lost Prince was born. He said the realm lost a great leader that day, and we are left with the power-hungry Royal Council, until the Crown Prince is found."
Jaran snorted. "Maybe it would happen faster if the Lost Prince hadn't managed to get himself thrown in his own dungeon!"
Damaris flinched so hard that a small flame struck the floor and ignited some straw wedged between the flagstones. He quickly stomped it out, but the shock remained on his face. "Are you really the Lost Prince?" When Jaran nodded, Damaris jumped to his feet. "Then what are we waiting for? Wouldn't that make you the Crown Prince as well?"
Jaran shook his head. "I am Prince Jaran Seramis, that is true; but I highly doubt I am this legendary Crown Prince meant to overthrow the Twin Regents. I can only guess that he might still be out there somewhere—It's funny," he mused.
"What is?" Damaris was still trying to wrap his head around the idea that he could be unjustly arrested and imprisoned in a dungeon WITH THE FABLED LOST PRINCE OF THE REALM.
Jaran gave a wry grin. "I've lived my whole life thinking I was alone—and just now I discover that I may yet have a brother I know nothing about—oh, and by the way, he's destined to return and reclaim our father's throne!"

"Jaran?" A voice issued out of the emptiness beyond the cell. 
The night watch had taken up their posts some time ago. The two young men fell silent and listened intently. The evening torches flickered dimly. Jaran almost wished they had glowlamps down here instead of flame.
"Who's there?" He asked the growing shadows.
The door to their cell creaked open slowly. Damaris could barely make out a roughly human-shaped shadow behind the door.

"We don't have much time," the voice continued softly. "You should probably run while you have the chance."

One Mage and three women gathered in the back of the small dispensary. None of them looked very happy.
Velora swore. "They must have grabbed the kid while we were all fighting; I should have suspected something when the fire stopped coming!"
"It is I who should have been paying attention," Erlis replied mournfully. "I swore to protect Jaran, and then I go and allow sanctuary to the very person hunting him down!" She scowled at her foolishness. "He warned me not to trust her, but like a noble idiot I ignored him—if I had listened, we would have escaped long before the ambush!"
"Her?" Aurelle tilted her head. "You mean the Hunter?"
Erlis nodded. "She appeared in my courtyard, badly wounded; Jaran wanted to leave her unconscious or at most merely set and bandage her wounds," she looked down at her palms, glowing faintly in the daylight. "But in my arrogance I convinced myself that I could heal her instead of bandage her, and that maybe she could be turned to our cause."
Korsan dropped his talisman with a clink. "Instead, she became the beacon to bring all these soldiers to your location!"
"And," Velora added, "she got away!"
Aurelle was still lost in thought. "The peacekeepers know our faces now," she murmured. "There won't be any of us able to get into that castle to stage a rescue."
Erlis looked up. "We may not have to," she mused. "I can use my position as apothecary to make contact with the other healer in the castle; she serves as the bodyguard for the Council's Queen." She glanced at Korsan. "She is Gifted, that much I know. I can only imagine that they must not know of her Gift, or surely she would fall under the Ordinance."
Aurelle snorted. "The Golden Goose? I've heard of her; she's crazy."
"But this healer might be our only chance, since she is Gifted as we are," Korsan pointed out. "And perhaps the..." He faltered, "deranged queen might be just insane enough to become our diversion."
Velora's eyes lit up. "Wait," she said slowly, "what about Harlock?"
Korsan frowned. "Whom?"
Erlis gasped. "You've met Harlock? When? Where?"
Aurelle nodded. "He was—Velora and I met him in the woods, after ambushing a detachment of soldiers. He warned us that the Hunter was coming."
Erlis smoothed the scales on her arm. "He must have seen her in the early hours; that's why he left without saying anything."
Korsan waved his arms impatiently. "Who is Harlock?" He demanded.
"Another Gifted," Velora answered. "He had water manipulation—but the last we saw of him, he didn't seem interested in helping anybody but himself."
"Not to mention that we have no idea where he is now or how to find him, even if he were willing to help us rescue the boys!" Aurelle grumbled.
Erlis glanced at her old friend from the palace. "Korsan, what is it?"
The white-haired Mage had gone very pale and rigid, gaping at Velora with wide eyes. His voice trembled as he asked, "Did—did you just say this young man you met could manipulate water?"

"Ho, then!"
Harlock jerked awake with a snort as the wagon rocked to a stop. He poked his head out from under the tarp.
"Trees?" He cried in confusion. "What—" He twisted this way and that, but there were only trees as far as the eye could see. They were not in the town, but down in the deepest, thickest part of the forest. "Where have you taken me?" He demanded.
The wagoner shrugged. "It's where you needed to go, wasn't it?"
Harlock swore. "I told you I needed a ride into the city!"
The wagoner crossed his arms and stuck out his chin. "Did not either! You said you needed to find something in the forest! I remember it clear as day! 'Sides, what would the likes of me do in a high-faultin' Capitol city? Simple folk like me don't belong in a place like that!" He squinted down his nose at the man. "Now if you don't mind, stranger, I have other business to tend to—business called 'getting home to my family'—and I'll thank you to get your ungrateful arse off my wagon!" He dropped the reins into his lap and crossed his arms like a petulant child. He lifted not a finger until Harlock—with many oaths muttered under his breath—slumped off the back and sauntered to the side.
The driver grinned, snapped up the reins and waved. "Be seeing you!"
Harlock managed to keep from losing his temper until the wagon reached the top of the hill. Just before the driver and his ridiculous hat disappeared, a sudden deluge drenched him right through, though there didn't seem to be a cloud in the sky. Then the wagon was gone, and Harlock stood alone.
"All right, Jay!" He growled. "Come on out!"
The fairy slowly crawled her way out of his pocket. By the way she flew in reluctant squiggles, he knew that his suspicions were not mislaid.
"You did this to me!" He jabbed a finger at her. "To us! You messed with the driver's head and convinced him to go south to the forest instead of keeping to the north road toward the city!" He was so angry, he stomped his foot and a wellspring of water erupted from the base of the tree he stood under. "Why?" He roared at her. "Why would you do that? Is there something you're not telling me?"
"I have never lied to you, Harlock," Jay tried to defend herself.
"Not to me!" Harlock exploded. "But why are you keeping me from going to the city? Why did we have to leave those Outcasts? Velora said that one of them was a Mage—he might have been able to help me! Those two Outcasts the driver mentioned? One of them had to be Jaran! I could have been there to save them!"
"I am trying to save you, Harlock!"
"That's what you keep saying, but so far, I can't tell!"
"There is something you need," Jay insisted. "Here in the forest."
Harlock folded his arms over his bare chest and shivered. "What I need is a shirt, maybe even a jacket! But no, I have to chase you all over the realm, and you won't ever tell me anything!"
"Please, Harlock; you must trust me!"
"I don't think I can, Jay. You've done enough."
"Harlock." With the one heartfelt knell, Jay flew up to his face, close enough for him to actually make out some of her features. "You must come with me to find the answers you seek. Just this one last time, and I promise to hide nothing from you."
Harlock tried to scowl and stay mad, but she stared at him with such purity and penitence that he couldn't. In one explosive sigh, his anger dissipated. "All right; just this once, and then we are going to the castle to rescue the kid and you will not stop me again!"
"Of course," Jay responded. "Follow me."
She zipped off into the underbrush. Harlock followed her easily—just like he had for as long as he could remember.

Not far from where they had fought, Jay came to stop in a wide clearing that bore the remains of a small village—now heaps of ash and blackened stone. She wandered among them, and Harlock followed.
"What happened to this place?" He mused as she searched various piles of rubble.
"Fire; what else does it look like?" Jay replied. "One building caught and then the rest of them went up in flames." She paused to survey two skeletons, entwined with one another where they died. "While their residents cowered inside the burning rooms," she finished. Finally, she moved to a heap of ash. "Here it is; you'll have to dig for it."
"Here what is?" Harlock grumbled, brushing away the hash to the hard-packed mud below. "How do I know when I've found it?"
"Believe me, you'll know."
As he dug, a slow realization began unfolding in Harlock's mind. He could clearly picture the village as it must have looked before the fire—but at the same time, he could think of no reason on earth why he would visit such a remote place. Was this his childhood home, perhaps? Would he find something that pertained to his life before the boat?
What in the blue blazes would such a thing be doing buried under a heap of ash in the middle of a forest?
Finally, his fingers connected with something hard and slippery. It felt wooden, so it could not be just another rock. He finally dug deep enough to loosen it and pull it out.
In the light of Jay's wings, Harlock could see that the object was a small oaken chest. Being buried had done it no favors, but at least the outside being intact assured him that the chest had done its job of protecting whatever was inside it.
Carefully, Harlock reached inside the locking mechanism and pressed the prongs to release it. The chest flipped open, and the first thing Harlock saw was a thin piece of parchment. It wasn't even really aged; whatever this was, it hadn't been there for long. He opened it to read the message inside.

Keep this safe for my return.
-Beren S."

Again, his memory clicked and spluttered, but Harlock could not place it; had he known a man named Beren, once upon a time? The name Korsan sounded familiar—but why?
He reached into the chest and felt something hard and thin. Harlock pulled it out to look at it in the moonlight.

It was a tall circlet, set with jewels. A crown fit for a prince.
"Whose is it?" He asked Jay.
She wavered carefully.
"It belongs to the Crown Prince," she answered.
Harlock smirked. He'd seen the reward posters, he'd heard the rumors. "Well then," he said, dropping the crown into his knapsack, "we'd better head up to the city to return it to him!"

Part 11: "Betrayal">>>>>