“We’ve arrived.” Acamus said.
The bay was covered in a film of frozen posts that fit together like puzzle pieces only to be brushed aside as the Monoceros slid forward. Zviecoff sat in the shadows of swollen arms of smoke that blotted out the morning sun. All Joe could make out was the four pillars of the harbor, Rivergate, which bridged the hundred-story vertical gap from the bay to the cliff-top city. Each column was footed with a web of naked docks. There were no other ships in the harbor.
Joe’s gaze was drawn back to the peculiar chunking of ice that carpeted the cove. How many ships must’ve passed through to have shattered the bay in such a way. It was as if hundreds of frozen buoys had been tossed off the cliffs of Zviecoff to hide the black surface of the water. Peculiar. He squinted. The bobbing shapes were all unique, yet similar. Not uniform but of the same kind.
Each cell within his body squirmed.
“Oh no…” Bold muttered, “those…those aren’t…”
“Yes.” Zach stated.
Both Joe and the dwarf staggered over to the edge of the ship and hurled half of last-night’s dinner over the railing. They kept their eyes clenched shut, lest their gag reflex be reactivated by the sight below before they’d regained composure and hardened their resolve.
“Not everyone was able to evacuate.” Acamus stated.
“Yall get everybody above deck,” Ekaf commanded, as if nothing had changed, “we’re going to need help getting the ship settled.”
Acamas guided the Monoceros up to a pier. Before the days of magic, a winding capstan would’ve been necessary to pull a vessel the size of the Monoceros up to a dock but the old pirate ship was equipped with magic powered motors that let the minotaur coast the Monoceros smoothly into place. Working together, the crew tied up the vessel and gathered on the dock. Ekaf led the way. Not a word was spoken until they reached the tall stone doors of Rivergate.
“How will we get through?” Machuba asked.
“Thase doors er automatic,” Zalfron said, walking up to it and waving his hand. After nothing happened, he said, “Well, they used to bae.”
“No doubt, the Order looted Zviecoff into the ice. Farak, I wouldn’t put it past some of the Iceloadic to grab a few parting gifts too,” Ekaf said, joining the elf. He pointed to a small crevasse near the door. A frame still sat over the hole but the glass that the frame once held had been shattered. The Knome continued, “Usually, you’d place your enertomb here, but rather than going back to the ship and grabbing an enertomb, we can just use our pyromancer. Pour some fire in there for us, Joe.”
Joe strode forward and pointed at the hole. Fire flowed out his chest, over his shoulder, down his arm, then from his finger tip into the enertomb chamber. With a screeching moan the door shifted, slowly opening.
Miraculously, the faint morning light that managed to shine through the smog above effectively illuminated the inside of Rivergate through an elaborate maze of windows and mirrors. Shops, though empty, filled the bottom of the harbor, carved into the stone walls that surrounded them. The floor was just above water level and split down the middle by a canal wide enough for a tenders to pass each other and tie up along either side. The artificial stream fed into the bay. On one side there were only shops but on the other side, the city side, ever so often a clearing would open between businesses and a circular platform stretched out over the water to cradle elevators. Metal cords, twisted together into one giant silver rope, hung down from the roof and waited patiently to lift.
“Are those the elevat-” the ice cold air sucked the very words from Joe’s lips as he stepped into Rivergate then suddenly the cold was gone. A slow warmth returned to him and at first Joe assumed it was the stone in his chest but then he remembered that the robes he wore had been given to him by Sidon, enchanted to keep his body at a comfortable temperature.
“The one downfall of Rivergate,” Zalfron said, “It’s lahk walkin into a fraezer.”
“So Joe was ruht, then?” Bold asked, shivering so bad he was trembling, “Those are the elevatars?”
“Yup!” Zalfron and Ekaf said in unison, leading them down the stone walkway.
“Whar the wolls?” The dwarf asked.
“Just don’t g-go le-leanin over da edge, mon,” Nogard chuckled, shivering as bad as Bold, “and if you d-do aim for da s-stone. I’d radder die dan-dan swim in dat water.”
“You’d dah just as quick in the water.” Zalfron stated.
“Nogard, where’s your robe?” Joe exclaimed.
Nogard gave the edges of his floral print robe a yank and struck a quick pose before the shivers kicked back in, “Fashion mon, can’t be ca-caught duh-dressin like a fish outa da-da-da water, mon.”
Joe shook his head.
“You coulda lent it to mae, lad.” Bold grumbled.
Ekaf led the seven across one of the stone bridges, taking them from the bay side to the elevator side. As they neared the elevators, Joe was able to fully appreciate the size. The metal cords were as thick around as Boldarian’s biceps and the elevator platform was a disk of stone big enough that all eight could lay down, side by side, and still have room for more.
When Zach, who was standing in the rear, reached the elevator, he said, “I thought this place was going to be crawling with Sea Lords.”
“Just because we do not see them, my friend,” Acamus spoke slowly, his eyes scanning the man-made canyon walls above them, “does not mean they are not there.”
“Where do we meet Theseus?” Machuba asked.
“The Ipativians said he was last seen here, in Rivergate.” Acamus said.
“And what did you father say?” Zach asked.
Acamus didn’t answer.
“Acamus?” Machuba urged.
Acamus grunted, then said through clenched teeth, “My father is in this harbor.”
“The Quaen of Darkness could bae in this harbor and wae’d never find her!” Zalfron laughed.
Acamus whirled on the elf, grabbed him by the throat, and lifted him off his feet. Nogard and Machuba jumped back and drew the weapons of Shelmick. Bow already strung, Zach had an arrow knocked in a snap.
“Acamus!” Joe shouted.
The minotaur snarled, “He’s here.” Then dropped Zalfron.
Zalfron hit the floor and gasped. Joe went to help him up but the elf shook him off. Once Zalfron got back on his feet, Joe’s aid turned to obstruction as the pyromancer did his best to keep the elf from storming over to confront the minotaur.
“Farakin psahcho,” Zalfron spat before surrendering.
The minotaur seemed to already have forgotten the outburst. Once again, his neck was craned to watch the upper floors of the harbor. His back turned on the seven. Ekaf stepped forwards, arms raised in a quiet attempt to defuse the situation.
“Acamus is right, the Ipativians did spot Theseus here-”
“When?” Machuba asked.
“A few days ago-”
“F-few d-days ago?” Nogard scoffed.
“Yes, a few days ago.” Ekaf restated, “If you read the news, you’d know-”
“Da news? Like-like da Mystakle T-times?”
“Yes, the Mystakle Times.” Ekaf nodded.
“Ekaf.” Zach interrupted, “Our plan was based on a letter Theseus wrote Acamus, not an article in the Mystakle Times.”
“Yes, but Acamus was referring to the article-”
“If I remember correctly,” Zach responded, speaking cooly in a remarkable display of self-control, “Acamus claimed to have gotten word from his father, not a paper, asking for us-”
“Really just for him…” Ekaf corrected.
“-to come save him.” Zach looked past Ekaf, “Acamus, did your father not say where to meet him?”
The minotaur didn’t flinch.
“Aca-ca-camus,” Bold stepped forward, “was tha-thar a lettar?”
Once again, no response.
“Wah’re dead.” Bold stated.
“Yup.” Zalfron said.
“You can’t be serious.” Nogard moaned.
“We can’t leave…” Joe paused, “Can we?”
Now it was the boys who didn’t respond.
“Sure!” Ekaf shrugged, “Thanks for saving us from that iceberg Acamus, but we’ve got to go.” Ekaf turned and walked through the six troubled boys then paused, “Oh, and thanks for saving Joe, Zalfron, Nogard, and Machuba by suggesting we hijack the Monoceros – which, by the way, we’ll be taking with us.”
Ekaf took a few more steps then stopped again.
“Good luck saving that old man, you know…the Mystakle Guardian, the man who helped defeat the Queen of Darkness, who brought up Saint like he were his own son, who helped the Samurai storm Icelore. What a guy…I’m sure you’ll find him alright by yourself.”
Joe sighed and asked his friends, “Are we staying?”
Zalfron cursed then said, “Maht as well.”
Nogard nodded while simultaneously shaking his head, “D-damn Knome.”
“Fine.” Machuba said.
Zach turned to Bold. Bold looked from the spirit to the rest of his comrades then leaned back and clapsed his shivering palms over his eyes, “T-too late now.”
Nogard walked over to stand beside the minotaur. Reaching up he clapsed him on the shoulder, “Hey mon, y-you f-found him yet?”
“He’s here.” Acamus responded.
“I kn-know, m-mon, I know.” Nogard turned back to the others, “H-how we guh-gonna d-do dis?”
“Well,” Zalfron said, “if wae run one of them elevators, let mae tell ya, everaebody in Rivergate’ll know.”
“Grea-great uhdea, lad.” Bold growled.
“Now we’re talking!” Ekaf exclaimed, back alongside the boys.
“Oh Lard.” Bold whimpered.
“If we take one of those elevators up to the city, Theseus or no, I bet we can find the Ipativians,” Ekaf continued, “and once we start going up, if there are Sea Lords here, they won’t be able to stop us!”
“Unless they have bows.” Zach stated.
“Or they try and overcome us at the next platform.” Machuba added.
Ekaf was undaunted, “No more dangerous than the stairs – cept if we get pinned down there we’ll already be out of breath. Only problem with the elevators is the energy. It’ll take a lot more energy to power these elevators than it did to open that door, Joe.”
“I’ve got plenty, the Monoceros had a furnace and the Sea Lords left lots to burn. I’d say I’m full,” Joe replied, patting his chest, “But is this really the best plan?”
“Yup! Right now we’ve got the element of surprise!” His response echoed throughout the chamber – as the entire discussion had sense they entered, “There are two engine rooms for…” the Knome glanced over his shoulder as his words trailed off. Everyone followed his gaze. A giant chunk of paved stone fell towards the canal between the decks. The rock smashed into the water and sank.
Zach pointed above them. High over their head, along Rivergate’s second tier were numerous holes and craters in the stone ledges that shot out from the harbor’s cold walls. While the first floor, where the eight stood, appeared unmarred the second floor had been devastated and it was from there that the chunk of stone had fallen.
“We are not alone.” Zach stated.
“We need to hurry,” Ekaf said, “Machuba and Zalfron and Joe, run to the end of the harbor and go in the building posted in the corner, it’ll have a sign saying, ‘Burner.’ Inside you’ll find where they power the elevators. With little chambers like they had by the door, just fill one up with fire. You need to get us to the top and then take the stairs. The stairs are in the same building.”
“Don’t worry, Joe, one of mah ex-brother-in-laws worked at a Burner,” Zalfron said, “If you can’t figure it out, ah can show ya. Let’s go.”
“Be careful,” Ekaf said, “if who ever is up there wants to get down here, without the elevators, the stairs are his only option. I need you,” he pointed to Machuba, “and you,” he pointed to Zalfron, “to watch Joe’s back. No goofing off, alright?”
“Whot happens when whoevar is up thar sees us waiting, out in the open, luhk sittin ducks?” Bold asked.
“It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes for Joe to get the elevators going. There is no way someone could get from up there to down here that quick.” Ekaf answered.
“Hae’s raht.” Zalfron nodded.
Ekaf continued, “The ones we’ve got to worry about are Joe, Zalfron, and Machuba.”
“Then we should all take the stairs. Who made the Knome leader?” Acamus grumbled.
“I was practically born in Zviecoff!” Ekaf said, “Trust me, if we split up, we’ll fluster the fishfolk and have more of a chance of finding Theseus as we escape this blasted freezer! Now come on, we’ve got a limited amount of time, Joe, Zalfron, Machuba, go! Run!”
The three took off, running down the harbor like their lives depended on it, which, for all they knew, their lives could’ve depended on it. Joe’s heart was racing. We’re not alone? Did they see Sea Lords up there? And if so, what are the Sea Lords waiting for? His mind was so preoccupied he nearly tripped when Machuba and Zalfron stopped before the burner.
“This is it!” Zalfron said.
Giant gears began to turn high above their heads which got the gears above the elevators cranking. The metal cords started to orbit and slowly, ever so slowly, the elevators began to rise. Joe turned and saw his allies: Ekaf, Acamas, Nogard, Bold, and Zach all riding above the river-side marketplace staring open mouthed at the three.
“That was aesy,” Zalfron muttered, “Joe you must have so much fahr that the burner started from out hare!”
“No.” Machuba said, “Someone else started it.”
“Huh?” Zalfron exclaimed.
“Someone’s in there.” Joe said.
And as if on cue, a deep thunderous voice roared out from the building before them and all knew immediately who the voice belonged to: Hermes Retskcirt.
“GOOD BYE, EARTHBOY!”
“NO!” Zalfron dove in front of Joe – a sound filled their ears, shaking the harbor, and rattling the chains that lifted the elevator – and the elf disappeared.
– – –
“Get on the elevator!” Ekaf cried.
The Knome was on the rising platform before he finished speaking. Acamas and Nogard scurried on, Zach behind him.
Bold slapped his hands on the platform as his belly slid off the edge. Nogard dove to catch the dwarf but as soon as he grabbed hold he was yanked after him. In two steps, Acamas was at their side, one hand wrapped around Nogard’s leg.
“Thot was fast.” Bold grunted once he and Nogard had made it onto the elevator. Shock had temporarily cured his shivers.
“Look.” Zach said, “They stand outside.”
Nogard, Bold, and Acamas looked to the Burner.
“Oh no.” Nogard said.
The steal cords shivered, the platform trembled, and all five aboard the elevator shuddered. They recognized the sound. So loud it was almost indescribable yet unforgettable. It was the sound heard on the Monoceros when Bold was violently attacked. It was the sound heard on the Sea Cuber before Nogard’s sword was shattered. It was the sound of a Doom Warrior’s most infamous spell, Total Darkness.
“Zalfron’s g-gone!” Bold shouted.
“Hermes g-got him!” Nogard cried.
“He’ll be alright. Right now, we have to worry about other things, such as that, look!”
Ekaf directed their attention back to the entrance of Rivergate, across the ravine. At least two dozen blue skinned men swarmed towards the burner, dressed in red and black.
“Sea Lords!” Bold exclaimed.
“Damn!” Acamas said, “Were they in the shops?”
Zach slung his bow off his shoulders and knocked an arrow. A second later, a Sea Lord toppled over, an arrow through his temple. Zach shot once more, sticking a fishfolk in the shoulder then shot a third to finish the pirate.
“Save your arrows!” Ekaf commanded, “They planned this. We’re trapped on the elevators-”
Acamas cut Ekaf off, “Trapped? We’re not trapped! The human, elf, and Gill-boy are trapped! We must pick off as many as we can!”
“Acamas, look up.” Ekaf replied.
At least twenty diamond shaped blue faces peered over the stone docks that would be the elevators one stop before reaching the top.
“They have no bows.” Zach said.
“D-den we g-g-g-got t-time get re-ready,” Nogard said, sliding Shelmick’s shield off his back.
– – –
“What was that?” Joe cried.
“Total Darkness I think.” Machuba said, “Zalfron must’ve dove in front of it.”
“You can do that?” Joe asked.
Machuba shrugged and Joe realized the fishfolk was just as bewildered as he. They stood silent for a moment, watching the burner.
“We have to go in.” Joe said.
“We can’t-” Machuba cut himself off, then nodded, “Right. Let me go first, be ready.”
Machuba drew his sword and approached the door. Joe let the fire churn in his chest. There was yelling behind them, neither looked back. Machuba tried the door knob and realized the door was ajar. The lights were off. He stepped into the shadows and then stepped out, keeping his eyes on the doorway.
“Joe,” he whispered, “light it up.”
Red flames burst from Joe’s chest, past Machuba and into the burner. Machuba’s lidless eyes burned as the entire bottom floor of the burner was filled with fire for one split second. Desperately coughing and licking his eyes, it took Machuba a minute to speak.
“I just needed a light!”
“Well,” Joe shrugged, “now we have the upper hand.”
Smoke billowed out the shattered windows and now charred door. A few flames cackled on inside along with a choir of coughing.
“Cover me!” Machuba exclaimed.
He ran into the room and Joe followed. With smoke so thick they could barely see, the two stumbled forward. A robed figure charged them. Machuba met him with a swing and the figure slid off the blade and fell to the floor coughing.
“So you are the Earthboy?” A woman asked, pausing to cough. Though her voice was clear, neither boy had a clue where she was, “It’s a pity this is where your journey ends.”
Still, the boys could barely see through the smog but they stumbled onward. Two more black clothed figures attacked, this time wielding swords of shadows. Machuba blocked one swing. Diving away from the other, Joe shot a blast of fire into the chest of the shadowmancer attacking Machuba. Then, as the second shadowmancer proceeded after Joe, Machuba turned and batted him down.
“And you, fishfolk,” she continued, “humor me, you wouldn’t happen to be a Gill, would you?”
“Who?” Joe was interrupted by a burst of coughing.
Machuba had no clue who the speaker was either but he was also caught by a fit of ferocious coughing and could only answer with a shrugged.
The room was beginning to clear but still little was visible – they stood before a desk posted against a wall like a bar. Behind them, as the room opened up, they could see large machinery: the corners of two mighty generators that stretched like towers into the roof. That and four coughing shadowmancers.
“Behind the bar!” Joe yelped.
Machuba was one step ahead of him. As soon as the two ducked for cover, shadows splattered against the wall above them.
“Cover me,” Machuba said, crawling into a crouch.
Joe stood and faced the approaching four. He lit the bar up just in time to block the shadows flung towards him. Sweeping the flames off the desk top he launched them forwards, knocking the offenders back as Machuba leapt over the counter. In one more step he ran the closest opponent through. A shadowmancer stepped toward Machuba, a shadow-made sword in his hand. Joe shot fire at his legs and the shadowmancer stumbled back, Machuba caught him with Shelmick’s Blade through the heart. The third mancer turned to the fishfolk but the forth was focused on Joe.
He charged, black sword in one hand and a black shield in the other.
Farak, Joe’s brow furled and he frowned, hesitating for a second before giving in to the situation, forgive me!
Flames coursed down Joe’s arm, swelling around his hand as he balled it into a fist. He climbed onto the counter and released a beam of auburn fire . The shadowmancer responded with a neutralizing wave of shadows. Only three yards from the desk, he raised his obsidian weapons. Joe leaped off the counter with his arm cocked back.
The smoke cleared.
Machuba finished his enemy.
Joe thrust his arm forward, launching a fiery fist square into the chest of the shadowmancer before him.
As two bodies crumbled to the ground, Joe and Machuba realized their advantage had faded. Four generators filled the room, penetrating the roof. At least a dozen robed men and women stood here and there. One woman, clad in silvery armor, stood in the center in between the four engines. Her dark purple hair was pulled back into a bun and her right eye was a dull black marble, the same shade as her lipstick. Her skin was blue.
“I’m impressed. You’re both quite strong for a couple of boys.”
“Who is she?” Joe asked.
“I’d wager that’s Adora Shadowstorm,” Machuba paused to lick his eyes, “Tsar of Shadowmancers.”
– – –
Zach only managed to shoot two Sea Lords above them before the others realized they should quit looking over the edge. They were rising to the second tier of Rivergate which was a jagged line of shopping centers. Bridges were stationed from the cliff side strip mall to intercept the elevators with a circular platform. The elevator would then rise through the platform and passengers could step out onto one of the two ramps onto the bridge. Zach was sure he was agile enough to make the step, however, his gaze fell upon the quivering dwarf, he hoped the elevator would stop to allow the battle. With nothing else to do but wait for their elevator to arrive, he watched as the pirates below made their way towards the burner. Joe and Machuba were gone now too, all Zach could do was pray.
“Wi-will the eleva-vatar stop?” Bold asked.
“Depends on how much they juiced the Burner.” Ekaf shrugged, “We shouldn’t have to wait much longer than a minute. Just stay on the platform – don’t leave the platform.”
Bold shivered. He was the only one on the elevator still feeling the cold. Nogard had quickly dragged some smoke out of his pipe during their ascension. As for Ekaf, the only environment capable of making a Knome uncomfortable was a courthouse. And Zach, he was a spirit.
“Here we go,” Nogard said.
The platform rose to a stop between two narrow ramps that reached out from the ring shaped platform connected to the bridge. The Sea Lords stood in two groups, filling both exits. Some wore armor, some were barely dressed and shivering worse than Bold, but all held some form of weapon whether it was sharp or dull, rusty or shiny. For a moment, those on the elevator and those who surrounded them froze. No one moved. Even the mighty gears above had come to a creaking stop.
With a guttural roar, Acamas shattered the silence, thrust his spear forward as it grew to its full length, and impaled a Sea Lord through his amphibious skull. Three opponents hopped on as Acamas yanked his spear free. Zach caught one in the temple and ducked under the swing of the second. The third was thrown off the platform by Acamas’s free hand. Zach knocked another arrow and, stepping back, released it into the chest of the second fishfolk.
While Zach and Acamas defended the far side, Bold, Nogard, and Ekaf defended the side between the elevator and Rivergate’s second tier. When Acamas initiated, as did Ekaf. He hopped off the platform and drew his weapon. The tiny golden dagger grew to match the Knome’s height and kept growing. When three Sea Lords approached the elevator on Acamas and Zach’s side, a dozen approached the Knome.
Ekaf strode forward, slipping beneath his opponents’ attacks and sliding his golden hilted sword through the nearest fishfolk’s gut. Spinning, he ducked, shrunk his sword, and ran between the legs of an especially tall pirate. He turned and retired the fishfolk’s calves and then continued on, now completely surrounded by the pirates.
With Ekaf in the midst of the enemy and a good six or seven enemies now between him and the elevator, Bold and Nogard were forced to defend their side of the elevator themselves. Nogard had only his shield and Bold had only his knuckles (Both having refused any of the weapons found aboard the Monoceros). Nevertheless, when Ekaf strode into battle, they joined him. Nogard slammed an enemy with his shield, Bold slugged another in the stomach. Both Sea Lords fell off the bridge but four more took their place.
Bold went for an uppercut. His opponent stepped out of the way and clubbed the dwarf across the jaw. Bold fell to the ground as a second Sea Lord raised a rusted scimitar above him. Nogard dove into the swordsman, nearly knocking him off the platform, but he caught one of the steal cords. The fishfolk with the club and two that pursued Nogard closed in.
“Bold,” Nogard yelped as the dwarf got to his feet, “charge!”
Without a question, he did. The Sea Lord brought the bat back like a baseball player ready to hit.
Nogard’s shield hit the clubber in the head. Bold ran over the falling Sea Lord and tackled the next. Nogard dove for his shield and rolled over to block the swing of an attacker as Bold landed punch after punch into the face of the Sea Lord beneath him. Slamming the golden shield into his opponent’s shin, Nogard rolled to his knees and blocked another swing. Finally Nogard got back on his feet but before he could attack, the Sea Lord was off his. Bold stood in his place, having grabbed the pirate’s legs out from under him.
“Sorry, lad,” the dwarf said as he neared the edge, dragging the fishfolk with him, “I’ll aim for the water.”
With a spin, the dwarf sent the buccaneer back to the first floor.
“Die you scaled bastard!”
Nogard turned and attempted to prepare as he watched a tremendous fishfolk raise a broad sword high above his head.
“Nogard!” Bold cried.
The broad sword fell by the chicken dragon’s feet, the hand that held it still held tight. The fishfolk licked his eyes as he stared at the blood now pouring out his severed wrist. Then a blade slid up through his abdomen, blood spurted from his mouth, and he collapsed as the blade was yanked free. Ekaf stood behind the pirate, blood dripping off his dagger.
With the three virtually unharmed, they looked over at Acamas and Zach. The minotaur was panting, Zach met them with a silent stare. The five sighed in unison and then turned to face the dozen or so Sea Lords who still stood before them further down the bridge. Nogard reached down and picked up the sword that had nearly slain him.
The elevator jerked back to life. Gears began to rotate overhead as the cords that held the platform began moving.
“GUARD THE EDGE!” Ekaf roared.
Nogard dove for the edge. You’re not my father’s sword, but I suppose you’ll have to do. Rolling onto his back he prepared to face the oncoming wave of fishfolk. The Sea Lords hadn’t moved. They stood before the elevator, watching in silence as the five rose above them. They didn’t move until the elevator was over their head.
A group of four giant Sea Lords strolled out of one of the empty shops that faced the elevator. They were giants compared to their brothers, a tall fishfolk was a rare phenomenon. Each’s right arm was stuck inside some sort of machine. On past where their hand would’ve been was a giant curved metal bar, crossed perpendicular to the arm that held it. In unison, the men pulled back the metal cord strung from the ends of the bar. With horrified fascination, Zach realized what he saw. He could only whisper.
As soon as they had their weapons cocked each reached into a pouch in their pocket and withdrew circular disks with jagged saw like edges.
“Whot’s th-thot?” Bold asked.
“Ra-razor bla-lades, mon,” Nogard said.
“Lardy…” Bold muttered.
Zach knocked an arrow but the crossbowmen were a step ahead. As the spirit released his, the Sea Lords released theirs. A crossbowman fell but not before he’d gotten off his shot. Two of the circular blades missed but two hit their targets: the elevator cords. The razor blades sliced through the metal as if it were a spider web. The two cords whipped back from where they’d been severed. One cord flailed helplessly while the other slapped the stone bridge that was now below the elevator, slicing a pirate’s arm clean off and severing a large chunk of stone from the bridge. With two cords cut the elevator fell to dangle from its remaining two lifelines.
Ekaf and Nogard clung to one cord as Zach and Bold held onto the other. Acamas wasn’t so lucky. He hadn’t ran to the edge like the others, he’d stayed put, having confidence that one of his allies would fix the situation. Surely the spirit’ll shoot em all dead before one can-
He fell off his hooves and rolled across the elevator-platform to land on the bridge.
Surrounded by fishfolk, he stood. The three crossbowmen had reloaded. The other Sea Lords had their weapons drawn but they kept their distance. They’re waiting for me to attack. Acamas smiled and stabbed his spear in the ground as the crossbowmen fired. As the saw blades flew towards the last two wires, ice spread from where Acamas had stuck his spear. The handful of Sea Lords closest to the minotaur stumbled backwards only to trip over fallen comrades. Ice rushed over the corpses and swarmed over the slowest of the fleeing Sea Lords, slowly freezing them, inch by inch, as they struggled. Behind Acamas, the last two great metal cords snapped and the platform fell – hitting the bridge on its side behind the minotaur. But when the elevator hit the frozen bridge, it stuck in place and the ice crept up the elevator platform crawling closer and closer to the four still clinging to the opposite edge.
Then the ice stopped. Acamas released his spear. There were only three Sea Lords still able to move: the crossbowmen. They paused for a moment to simultaneously lick their eyes then reached to reload. An arrow nailed the hand of one crossbowman through his thigh. Ekaf bound down the elevator followed by Nogard. Before the other two marksmen could grab another razor bladed projectile, the Knome and chicken dragon had their sword to the gentlemen’s throats.
The two able-handed Sea Lords took their ammunition and rolled it over the ledge, one by one.
“Now, I need you four to go stand along the shops, off the ice,” Acamus said.
“Bold, dat means you gotta come down, mon,” Nogard said.
With a pitiful whimper, Bold released the edge of the elevator and rolled down the iced slab. Unfortunately, the elevator had been frozen at a steep angle and Bold’s roll didn’t stop when he hit the bridge. The corpses acted like a ramp. Nogard had to jump out of the way as the dwarf flew by, finally stopping when he struck the facade of a shop. The others followed his lead bipedally.
Acamas grabbed his spear with both hands. Setting his hooves firmly in the ice, he pulled with all his might. His body trembled as he summoned every ounce of strength in his body. Nothing happened. No one said a word. The minotaur paused. Then, with a furious roar, he regripped his spear and, with a twist and a yank, tore it from the bridge, shattering all he had frozen. The elevator, the bridge, the bodies, and the legs of the crossbowmen exploded into shards of ice – including the ground beneath the minotaur’s feet.
Acamas and the three crossbowmen tumbled into free fall. Before he fell more than ten feet, Acamas aimed the spear at the jagged edge of the second floor and let it rapidly expand, stabbing the stone. Then he shrunk the spear which pulled him close enough to the edge to climb up
“Damn, mon.” Nogard said.
“Wish you’d get to meet his father…” Ekaf muttered.
While shivering like a scared kitten, Bold attempted to dust himself off and ask a question at the same time. Unfortunately, do to the sudden increase in the ferocity of his shivering led his words to come out in a garbled, unintelligible mess.
Nogard stifled a giggle and Acamus took this as an opportunity to voice his concern, finally, for his compatriots, “You don’t have to accompany me further, my friends, we all nearly died just now. I will continue to search for my father no matter the circumstances, however he is my father not yours. If you wish to head home, I will not blame you.”
“Are you kidding?” Ekaf chuckled, “Your father may not be our father but he is one of the greatest men this world has ever seen. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I’m all in.”
“Besides, we can’t leave Joe, Zalfron, and Machuba.” Nogard said as he offered Bold his cure for the shivers – his pipe.
“Uh o-o-owe muh l-l-life to,” Bold cleared his throat and fought the shivers, “Joe, I can’t call myself an hon-honest d-dwarf and leave without him.” Giving up, he accepted Nogard’s offer.
“And you, Zach?” Acamas asked.
“Bold is my brother. Where he goes, I go.” Zach shrugged, “And I believe the Monoceros is likely to be just as dangerous as Rivergate by now.”
“The Sea Lords wouldn’t dare.” Acamus stated.
“Well, it looks like we’re staying.” Ekaf said.
Acamas nodded, “Indeed. Now, my friends, let’s get the hell out of here.”
– – –
They dove behind the towering machinery of a generator.
“We can’t fight her!” Joe exclaimed.
Machuba agreed, “We should run!”
Two silhouettes rolled around the corner wielding obsidian weapons, made of the same substance as their bodies. Machuba slashed through one. His blade tore it apart and its body evaporated like water on hot pavement. The next raised its weapon but was melted away with a blast of fire. As the two shadow warriors faded, two shadowmancers took their place.
“Lets go!” Joe yelped.
They ran for the door then froze as fishfolk strolled began to march in.
“Come on!” Machuba shouted.
Joe turned back to find Machuba scaling the generator they’d cowered behind them. After launching a wave of fire left and right, Joe joined him. The roof opened up to allow the engines to continue their climb. The next floor was set like a picture frame around the industrial collumns. As they climbed, Joe shot flame below them to keep the mancers from climbing after them. Most of their opponents were smart enough to take the stairs. The boys beat them to the second tier and continued their ascent. On the third floor they hopped onto the deck. There the collumns split into a cross, with rows stretching out perpendicularly to cut off oneside of the room from the other. Their walkway had a door on either side. Machuba picked one and Joe followed.
They’d made it to the burner. There, the giant arm of one of the generators opened to form a cubby currently filled with flame. Before the burner, feeding fire into the machine with an elgroon, was the ex-captain of the Monoceros, John Pigeon.
“Well what’dya know? The boat thieves are back.”
Joe and Machuba hardly paid the snarling buccaneer any attention, he wasn’t alone. Adora had appeared ferocious in her battle armor but this new woman worried not for her defenses. She wore a long black robe draped over what could only be described as a bone-strung bikini. Not only was her attire shocking considering the climate, but her height by itself, in any setting, was peculiar. She stood over six feet tall with her head titled back and her nose in the air, portraying an almost comical air of pretension as Joe was sure she couldn’t see much other than the roof.
“You’re…you’re-” Joe fumbled.
“The Tsar of Necromancers, the Sheik of Mancy, the Witch of Icelore-” the woman lowered her nose to look Joe in the face, “-you can call me Shalis.”
Skeletal arms shot up from the wooden floor boards, clutching at Joe and Machuba’s feet as they danced about. The two boys stomped the boney limbs back to death and turned for the door they’d come through only to see it ajar and plugged with mancers. They looked back to Shalis.
“Run if you like but you won’t get far.” She shrugged, “On the other hand,” she strode towards Joe and cupped his chin in her hand., “if you stay with me, I’ll make you a king.”
The door to their right opened and a Sea Lord poked his head through. His blue skinned comrades could be seen fidgeting on the stairs behind him.
“Hold the stairs!” Johnny commanded.
“Hermes has the elf boy.” Shalis continued. She released Joe and moved over to Machuba, “We can let him and this fishfolk walk away unscathed, if you stay with me.”
“She can’t know what Hermes has done to Zalfron.” Machuba stated, “She’s ly-
Shalis slapped Machuba to the ground and pinned his throat to the floor with the high-heeled arch of her sandals. Joe was shocked but, before he could move, Shalis reached out and had him by the throat as well.
“I can guarantee you this,” she snarled, “you and your friends will be dead if you don’t obey me.” An ivory bracelet on her wrist suddenly clenched her forearm. The band split into a strip that coiled around her wrist. Like a snake, it slithered over her hand and around Joe’s neck where it expanded and refastened. It sat cold on his collar bones. She stepped off of Machuba and let go of Joe, smirking, “That necklace will slowly sap you of your fire, faster than the your natural metabolism, and it won’t allow you to replenish. I can remove it for you – once you accompany me back to Icelore. Until then, unless you seek to die cold and empty, I would suggest you stay-”
She stopped, tilted her nose back into the air asking, “What’s that smell?”
“Smell?” Johnny muttered, “I don’t know about smell but I hear something…” He turned to yell at his pirates still waiting in the doorway, “Hey, give it a rest boys!”
Joe heard it too. Some sort of melodious rambling reverbating down the stairwell. The song wasn’t any language Joe recognized and the tempo went hand in hand with heavy clanging, as if the singer also strummed a war drum. The sounds echoed. Louder and louder. Someone was coming down the stairs.
Machuba, back on his feet, exchanged puzzled glances with Joe.
Shalis turned to Johnny but Johnny shrugged.
“Get Adora,” Shalis demanded. As he scurried out the door Joe and Machuba stood before, Shalis turned back to her captives, “who is that coming down those stairs?”
Again, Joe and Machuba looked at each other then looked back to the Sheik to shrug.
“Fine,” she snapped, nose still in the air, “let the Sentry boy die. I’m sure he misses his sister.”
It stopped. For a few seconds, silence fell over the three. The silence was shattered by a thundering sound, so loud that at first Joe thought it was another banshee. The crash was echoed by the shrieks of the fishfolk as they fled down the stairs. When the singing resumed seconds later, the culprit strode into the room.
“IN HOC KRECKY MISA RISA…”
The singer stood nearly nine feet tall, not counting his long upturned horns. His arms and legs were as thick around as Joe’s waist, making the sword and shield in his hands look like a toothpick and a saucer. Grey shaggy fur hung down all over his body, twisted into dreads wherever it grew long enough. His garb was simple, a kilt, a belt, and great oval chest plate depicting the GraiLord Seal. Joe didn’t have to ask who it was. After all, he was the one they were looking for.
Theseus Icespear gave Joe a wink as he finished his song.
“…OH SHEESA ZEN NOCK ECI.”
Shalis blurted, “Can kaepaz-dercaz-”
But she was too late. At first it looked like Theseus’ breath was simply misting because of the refrigerator-like cold of the harbor but the burner room was not cold. A cloud poured out of the minotaur’s mouth, filling the room as thickly as Joe had filled the first floor with smoke and just as fast. No sooner did the fog appear, than did it fade. Yet, it did not fade from Shalis’ side of the room. Instead, it hardened into a thick wall of ice.
“With haste my friends.” Theseus said, though the deep baritone of his voice made it sound almost like a yell, “It won’t take long for her to melt through my wall.”
The minotaur strode over to the stairwell, sheathing his weapons. The Sea Lords, who had scurried back into position to watch the legendary warrior, backed away from the door. They watched him in silence.
Glancing back, Theseus chuckled when he saw Joe and Machuba both hesitating as they eyed the pirates.
“They know better than to cross blades with I, now hurry up.”
The minotaur led the two up the stairs. Theseus trippled the coverage of both boys’ strides. He sang as they climbed, leaving frozen barriers behind them every other flight, which was fortunate because both Joe and Machuba were quickly losing their breath. Joe was just about to beg for a break when Theseus collapsed. Panting like dogs, Joe and Machuba came to his side.
“I’m fine, my friends, I’m fine…” his hands clutched his left leg where a lumpy, snaking scar stretched across his knee cap, looking almost like a gnarled knot on a tree root, “We may have to continue at a slower pace.”
“Fine by-” Joe had to pause as he was still gasping for breath, “-me.”
“What happened to your knee?” Machuba asked.
“Poor healing, that’s what.” Theseus shook his head, “Haven’t had the time to meditate properly. Got myself a gash and I figured I might be able to work a few shortcuts – KOR!” He howled, “I should’ve let it heal naturally.”
Machuba looked to Joe but the human didn’t catch the fishfolk’s wide-eyed expression due to his lack of eyelids. Licking his eyes, Machuba noted, “You were casting a lot of magic just now and you haven’t been meditating?”
“No time! Not with all these eels – excuse my language, my friend.”
“No more spells!” Machuba cried.
“Yea,” Joe agreed, “we’ll be fine. I can’t even hear the Sea Lords.”
“A minute longer, then we’ll continue.” Theseus promised, then he asked, “What are you two doing here?”
“Looking for you.” Machuba said.
Theseus scoffed, “Looking for me? Do you need my help?”
“Now we…” Machuba couldn’t help but chuckle.
“We thought you needed our help.” Joe stated.
The minotaur burst out laughing, stomping his hoof and shattering the unfortunate stair he struck.
“I may look in poor shape now,” Theseus interrupted himself with a few final waves of chuckles, “but I am still more than capable of fending off a bunch of pirates and mancers!”
“We heard you were trapped here in Rivergate.” Joe explained.
“Trapped?” Theseus scoffed again, “I only came back to Rivergate when I saw half the Order heading this way, I figured their must be something here they either wanted to protect or destroy. What gave you the idea I was trapped?”
“The Mystakle Times.” Machuba said.
“And,” Joe added, “your son.”
“Acamus? I gave him my spear and now he thinks I can’t handle…” Theseus stood and his face grew grave, “He’s here?”
Both boys nodded.
“What a fool!” Theseus stood and paced the platform between flights just above Joe and Machuba, “Doesn’t he know the city is doomed!”
“He does. I guess it was the newspaper that made him think you were too.” Joe said.
“The Mystakle Times wrote that you were last seen in Rivergate.” Machuba noted the omnious tone of the rhetoric they’d had reiterated to them.
Theseus groaned, “The blasted elves have no faith in me. I told them I’d be fine.” He shook his head, “And now I’ve got you two and my son to worry about…”
“Plus a few more,” Joe said, “a chicken dragon, a dwarf, a spirit, and a Knome.”
“A diverse lot-” Theseus dropped down to a squat so that his face was within yards of his knew comrades. His eyes narrowed to a squint as he asked, “A Knome?”
The boys nodded.
“Faraking bastard!” He punched through the stone wall of the stairwell.
By now Joe understood how Acamus got to be so impulsive.
“There is good news, my friends.” Theseus said after a deep breath, “Knomes make things difficult but they bring good luck. Before we depart, who is it that I’m dealing with here?”
“I’m Joe and this-”
“Both names sound familiar, though Gill is the only name I can pin down.” Theseus said, “I knew your uncle. I knew him to be a man of honor – despite what others might say.”
“Thank you.” Machuba bowed his head.
“And Joe. Judging by the rock in your chest, you must be the one that brought the witch to the frontline.”
“I think so…” Joe admitted.
“So you’re not of this world?”
Scratching his head, Joe said, “Yea…”
“Well then, my friend,” Theseus smiled, “if you haven’t enjoyed Mystakle Planet so far, you’re in for a treat now that you’ve reached the Blue Ridges!”
For a minute, no one said anything. Theseus picked the conversation back up.
“What is that around your neck?”
Joe reached up and touched the bone choker, it was cold as ice yet he’d almost forgotten it was there, “Shalis put it on me, she said it would slowly steal my fire.”
“Ah, yes,” Theseus nodded, “my friend, that may be a problem.”
“Can you take it off?” Joe asked.
“It would require very precise magic, magic I am not sure I have the means to cast. Shalis is clever, my friend, I wouldn’t want to underestimate the curse she’s placed, set off a trap, and wind up slicing off your head.”
“Agreed.” Joe said.
“We’ll need book magic.” Theseus concluded.
“Bold.” Machuba said to Joe.
“Is that one of your friends?” Theseus asked.
“Yea,” Joe nodded, “he’s a healer.”
“Well then, all the more reason to get going!”
Machuba asked, “Where are we going?”
“One of two places. The checkpoint, the North Mystakle Church, may or may not still be ours. If the checkpoint has fallen, we’ll go to Mountaingate. If the Ipativians lost Mountaingate…” the minotaur paused, “I doubt that’s the case.”
“Do you think our friends will know where to go?” Joe asked.
“I think so.” Theseus nodded, “If your Knome is the Knome I think he is, then they should be just fine. Plus, if they’ve been reading the Mystakle Times, they’ll know that Mountaingate is the one stable position the minotaurs and elves have maintained in Zviecoff since the invasion. Now, no more words. Save your breath for the climb. We need to get you to a healer before your flame goes out.”
The minotaur once more bound up the stairs, though this time submitting to a minor limp. Joe followed, craning his neck to look above them. He nearly tripped. They hadn’t even made it half way. Putting one foot after the other, Joe continued to climb. He didn’t have time to dwell on the idea of never finding the rest of the group or the fact that an entire army of pirates and mancers were after him or the matter of his sins – that he and Machuba’s actions had led to the deaths of more people. His thoughts were drowned beneath the fiery pain in the muscles of his legs. The three took a few more breaks before they reached the top. Each pause they’d listen in complete silence but hear no signs of Shalis or the Sea Lords. The end of their climb came so unexpected that when Theseus opened the door Joe and Machuba ran outside, stumbled when their feet expected more stairs, and hit the ground. Joe’s thighs burned like the flames in his chest.
“Zviecoff!” Joe coughed.
“No,” Theseus shook his head, his long pony-tails swinging, “this is still Rivergate.”
The ground they’d collapsed upon was paved with cobblestone brick. It was a marketplace overlooking the bay. The buildings and roads were glazed in a hard crust of ice and snow. Most of the small port shops were surrounded by clumps of snow as if someone had intentionally shoveled it up and stacked it igloo style around the doors and windows.
“What’s with the frozen houses?” Joe asked.
“Zviecoff evacuated. What you couldn’t take with you, you left. And what you couldn’t lock up you covered in snow. The Iceloadic aren’t strangers to evacuation.” Theseus explained.
One structure stood out above the rest. The stone courtyard before it was covered in a multitude of frozen footsteps. The building was massive, the length of a couple football fields, with thick walls of stone and long rectangle sheets of glass that reflected the noontime sun – which finally had found a window in the smog that billowed east towards the river – with such brilliance that the three could barely bare to look at the façade for more than a few seconds. Four towers rose from the building, each baring flags with the emblem of Iceload upon it: a black rose encased in a crystal of ice.
“Why do they have black circles around the roses?” Machuba asked.
“That is the symbol of the Order. By circling Iceload’s flag, they’re saying Iceload now belongs to them.” Theseus said, “Now come my friends, we must go.”
“I can’t walk.” Joe responded.
“C’mon, bulk up boy, the fishfolk is standing!”
At that second, Machuba collapsed clutching his thigh and saying through gritted teeth, “Leg cramp.”
“You’re lucky I’m not just any old minotaur.”
Theseus grabbed Joe by his robes and Machuba by his belt then slung the two over his shoulder like they weighed no more than a feather. Despite his handicap, he dashed across the harbor, past the empty ice-locked shops, carrying both boys with ease all the way up the stairs to the massive building. The minotaur dropped the boys and opened the large double doors.
“Amazing…” Joe murmured.
“This is the Rivergate Center, I’m not sure how many other cities on this continent you’ve visited,” Theseus chuckled, “but the Iceloadic don’t want any confusion about which city is their capital.”
The first thing Joe saw was the giant arrow shaped window which showed the broken city of Zviecoff sloping up a mountainside. When Joe looked to the ceiling he saw that the shape of the window was no mistake. A true masterpiece was painted across the dome shaped roof. Three characters stood in the center of the dome, arranged in a circle with their heads on the inside and feet on the out. One was an electric elf, another a chicken dragon, and the third a spirit. The elf stood before an anvil, a hammer in one hand, his other empty and extended to the chicken dragon. The chicken dragon held a Fou-style sword which he pointed at a giant dragon and in the other he held a shield which blocked the swing of an earth elf’s sword. The earth elf was aflame and though he held a sword in his right hand, his left was open as if he was reaching out. To complete the circle of three figurines was the spirit, standing beside the chicken dragon. One hand was pointing at the earth elf and the other was pointed at the electric elf’s hammer. Purple light flowed from each of the spirit’s hands.
“Zannon, Cannon, and Bluff…” Joe whispered.
Theseus said, “We must hurry.”
They ran under the painting, between giant stone columns, through wooden stalls, and over the bars meant to keep unchecked visitors out. Finally, they reached the double doors opposite the ones they’d entered through. Though the doors weren’t closed, in fact, the doors were nowhere to be seen. Small splinters of wood covered the ground around the doorway. The ancient stone doorframe was coated in black soot.
“Looks like there was a fight.” Machuba stated.
“Real pity that we missed it.” Joe replied.
“Indeed,” Theseus said as he stepped out of the Rivergate Center and into the city, “My friends, welcome to Zviecoff.”
– – –
“Don’t stop running!” Ekaf roared as he leaped into the air and planted both feet into the back of Boldarian who had stopped to pant. Instead of propelling Bold back into a run, as the Knome had intended, the dwarf face planted at the foot of the giant wood doors that separated the five from the streets of Zviecoff. They’d made it to Rivergate Center much quicker than Joe, Machuba, and Theseus had. As Zach and Nogard helped Bold up, Ekaf bound over the dwarf’s belly and would’ve been out the door in another second if Acamus hadn’t shot the Vanian Spear out to block his path. With a snort of frustration Ekaf complained, “We need to keep moving!”
“We aren’t leaving Rivergate without my father.”
The Knome bowed his head so the minotaur wouldn’t see him roll his eyes as he responded, “We can come back, Acamus, but right now we need to get the Sea Lords off our tail!”
“YA BLASTED MIDGET!”
Ekaf was tackled over the rod of the Vanian Spear and slammed into the door. Bold stood beside Acamus, rubbing his back as his sudden aggressiveness turned to embarrassment.
“Uh’m sarry, Mr. Reppiz, but ya rully got muh-”
“YOU’RE A MIDGET!”
Bold’s apology was interrupted as Ekaf hopped to his feet and threw himself on the dwarf.
“Listen!” Zach commanded.
The two paused. In the silence, they could hear the faint heart-beat like thump of marching. Bold sat up. Ekaf stood.
“Footsteps.” Acamus said.
“Sea Lords?” Nogard asked.
“Could boi the Ipativians.” Bold said.
“Or GraiLords.” Acamus added.
“They are coming this way, hold on,” Zach said.
He took off his helmet and let his long, pale blue hair fall over his shoulders. He quickly pulled back his hair and stuck his head through the door.
“Science, mon.” Nogard stated.
“Black soldiers.” Zach said, his entire body back in the Rivergate Center, as he replaced his helmet.
“Knights of the Order.” Ekaf said, then he asked, “How many are there? What are they up to? What sort of-”
“A good bit. They’re lined up, blocking off the streets. A regiment is marching this way”
“Another reason to turn around.” Acamus stated.
“Yes, and get ourselves surrounded.” Ekaf scoffed.
“We’ve been surrounded since we entered Rivergate!” Acamus snapped back.
“Whot if we hoide?” Bold asked.
“Dey mancers dough, right?” Nogard asked.
Bold realized out loud, “They can already sae us.”
A new sound caught Zach’s attention, a noise that the others could not discern from the marching. Removing his helmet again, he took another peak.
“CANNONS!” Zach cried.
Zach jumped back from the doorway, translucent eyes wide. The boys followed his lead, rushing – for better or worse – back across the chamber towards the bay. They only got a few yards before skidding to a halt. Across the building, Sea Lords were now pouring in through the entrance the five had came through only moments before.
“Lard, wahr sarrounded!” Bold cried.
“Where do we go?” Nogard asked.
“Follow me!” Ekaf said.
Right as the Knome took off, the doors shattered in a plume of flame and smoke, raking the backs of their necks with a toasty breeze as they booked it for the center of the room. They could hear the Knights of the Order marching in the blasted doors behind them as they reached the wall of booths that split the colossal room. Each booth had a gate and a walk-way for civilians to walk through, speak to the security official, then gain admittance. Though, with Rivergate abandoned, most of the gates hung open and many of the booths had been practically un-assembled by looters.
Ekaf slid under the gate, climbed over the counter, and plopped down behind the booth. The Rivergate Center seemed to shake as the sound of a hundred footsteps resonated throughout the chamber. Trusting Ekaf to be up to something, Nogard, Bold, Zach, and Acamus watched their approaching enemies slow their pace until they were just creeping forward, slowly closing in. Zach knocked an arrow but held onto it.
“I hope ya got some kinda secret weapon in dere, mon.” Nogard whispered, “Dis boof doesn’t seem like a great place to make a stand…”
“Found it!” Ekaf pulled a lever that had been hidden, pressed up underneath the desk where the official would’ve been standing. It wouldn’t budge. He cursed and gave it another tug. This time, he unleashed an avalanche of profanity and gave the lever an abrupt and strong yank. The metal bar snapped off from where it was faceted to the desk and fell to the floor. No sooner did Ekaf break it than did he disappear – the floor dropped out from under him and his voice echoed up from the hole, “Down the hatch!”
Nogard hopped the gate, clambered over the desk, then leaned back out of the booth, “We got an escape, my boys! Let’s go!”
Bold climbed into the booth and over the desk with Nogard’s help. Unfortunately, that help meant that no sooner did he see the hole than did Nogard give him a helpful shove off the desktop that sent him tumbling head first into the hole. The corresponding THUD assured Nogard it wasn’t a far fall and he hopped hurriedly after the dwarf – who he fortunately found to have not been seriously injured. Zach and Acamus came last. Acamus was reluctant. He looked towards the bay, the Sea Lords had stopped within a few yards of the line of booths. So too had the Knights on the city-side. What are they waiting for, he wondered, then again, why should they be in a hurry. For a moment, he considered abandoning the others in an attempt to charge his way through the pirates and back into Rivergate.
Nogard’s voice snapped him out of it. I will find you father, I swear on my life. But to do so, he had to be practical. Acamus jumped down after the boys. The tunnel was hardly lit, a few slivers of light cut through the darkness here and there.
“Can we close it back up?” Acamus asked.
Ekaf stepped into the light of the trap door and raised the metal bar that had once been faceted the desk in the booth above.
“Fantastic.” Bold stated.
“I’ve got it.” Acamus said, raising his spear to build a barrier of ice where the trap door had been.
“I’m surprised dey ain’t here yet, mon.” Nogard stated.
“They’d stopped before I came down, my friend,” Acamus said, “I get the feeling they know where we’re headed.”
“Where are we headed?” Zach asked.
“Zviecoff. We’re getting the hell out of Rivergate. You see, every booth is connected to this vein in case of emergency. From this tunnel you can get anywhere in the city, see this grate,” Ekaf stomped his foot on the ground and, though the four couldn’t see it now that Acamus’ ice roof was complete, the CLANG sounded grate-like, “this goes to the drainage system. Ever so often the summers get hot enough to melt the snow and if it weren’t for their drainage system, the city would be washed into the bay. And if it’s not late summer, those drainage tunnels are dry as the desert.” Ekaf explained, turning and beginning a slow jog, “Now follow me.”
“Are you sure I’ll fit, my friend?” Acamus asked, still unsure of the plan but consenting to the jog nevertheless.
“You wouldn’t.” Ekaf admitted, “But we aren’t going into the sewers. We’re going to the tower.”
“Whot?” Bold asked.
“Because the Order will expect us to use the tunnels to get out.” Ekaf explained, “They may not even bother to try and catch us in the tower.”
“How will we get into da city from da tower?” Nogard laughed, “We gonna fly?”
“Yes.” Ekaf nodded.
Acamus stopped abruptly, “There won’t be any dragons left in the tower, there’s no way!”
“I promise you, there will be.” Ekaf assured him, “Now, we need to hurry incase they are sending soldiers to the tower.”
As if to reiterate the need for haste, they could hear their pursuers finally begin to take a crack at the ice block Acamus had left. Before following the Knome – who hadn’t stopped – Acamus turned and held out his spear behind him. Ice began to bead around the arrowhead tip once again, growing into a sphere as it had in the Aquarian Ocean. As the globe of ice expanded, Acamus was forced to hold the spear with both hands. When the ball filled the narrow hall and began to spread back down the hall towards himself, he stopped the spell. Twisting the spear, ever so gently so as not to shatter the ice, he wiggled it free. With another, much larger block of ice guarding the rear, he turned to follow the others.
Their pursuers had yet to get through Acamus’ ball of ice by the time the five reached their destination. The hall ended abruptly in a doorway beyond which was the wide, empty circular chamber that was part of one of the four Rivergate Center towers. Ladders of steel staples, four in all, stuck into the stone facade and stretched all the way up the column, intersected by trap doors for every ringed-floor of the tower.
“The dragon keep is at the top,” Ekaf said, “see ya there!”
And before anyone could comment, the Knome had galloped off to a ladder and disappeared through the first trap door. Hoops and hollers echoed in from the tunnel behind them. Up they went, climbing staple after staple. The first floor they climbed through was filled with boxes stacked one on top of the other. Each floor wasn’t so much a solid floor, bridges of passage ways leading to wider platforms crisscrossed creating a bridge-like network that acted like a floor but still permitted visitors to catch clear glimpses at the bottom floor beneath it. The second floor appeared also to be for storage but it harbored no boxes, only weaponry. Swords, shields, spears, and scepters covered the walls, chain mail vests and full suits of armor lay across tables. While the rest of Rivergate had been looted, the towers appeared not to have been touched. At least, that’s what the gang thought before they reached the third and final floor.
The ladders stopped at the third floor which was only halfway up the mighty stone columns of the Rivergate Center. Empty, steel-barred cells clung to the walls from where the third floor began and continued all the way to the roof. In the center of the room was a spiral staircase where, every ten feet or so, one could step off the stairs onto the ring shaped walkways that offered access to the cells. Ekaf was already halfway up the stairs when the others arrived.
Though those below couldn’t see his hands, the Knome held a long, folded sheet of notebook paper. He ran from cell to cell sighing as each cage turned up empty and constantly checked the crossed out sentence jotted down on line 144 of his sheet of paper as if he may have seen it wrong in previous glances.
“Leave the cripple in the Rivergate tower.”
Ekaf came to a stop. Flies and other buzzing insectoid-vultures hovered above a barrel that sat next to the cage before him. A yellow haze of stench wafted up from the contents of the bucket. Even on his tippy toes, Ekaf could not see over the lip of the barrel.
“By Kor, that smell!” Acamus groaned as he was the first to catch up with the Knome.
“Indeed,” Ekaf nodded, slipping his paper back into his tunic, “now, if you would feed that dragon for us.”
Acamus nearly fell off the stairs when he turned and saw two dull blue eyes watching him. Like his eyes, the dragon’s scales were a light blue aside from the puffy, cloud-like stripes of grey that crossed his body. A large, multi-person saddle with reins attached to his chompers was strapped onto the reptile’s back. The beast stared at Acamus without showing much interest, it was almost as if the beast was looking past the minotaur. With it’s neck drooping low, it’s tongue hanging out its jaws, and its lips curled back to reveal bloodied gums, the dragon looked quite weak.
“Yah’re gonna feed a dragon rotten meat?” Bold asked.
“Dragons have strong stomachs, they can eat anything.” Acamus explained as he grabbed the barrel, “They’re like goats or sharks.”
“If it’s flammable, it’s edible,” Ekaf said, “Dragons harbor all dangers consumed and use them as fuel to regurgitate later.”
Acamus threw some of the meat to the dragon but the monster didn’t budge and the rotten meat landed on its drooling snout. Reaching up to the meat with his tongue, the dragon pulled the piece of cow into his jaws and swallowed without sparing the time to chew.
“I’m not sure dat ding should be flyin, mon.” Nogard stated, “It look as old as Ekaf.”
“And I’m in great shape!” Ekaf cried before turning to Acamus, “Now if you would use that spear of yours to unlock him.”
Throwing the empty barrel over his head, Acamus held his spear up against the bars and let it freeze before yanking it free and shattering the metal. As shards of ice sprinkled down to the ground, their pursuers came in. Knights of the Order and Sea Lords began climbing up through the trap doors, one after the other, piling in and heading straight for the spiral staircase. Meanwhile, the thirty foot-long reptile inched forward. It’s snout rubbed against Acamus, nostrils flaring as it sniffed the minotaur.
“I don’t dink I’ve ever seen a dragon sniff someone before…” Nogard murmured.
“Uh’ve nevar seen a dragon sniff.” Bold added.
“Don’t worry about it and help me lead it up to the roof!” Ekaf demanded.
Acamus, Bold, and Nogard obeyed, following the Knome up the stairs but Zach did not. Something is off, he thought. He waited and watched as the dragon crawled to the stairs, dragging its feet as it stumbled forward.
“Zach, come on!” Ekaf yelled from above.
The Knome stood with his hand on a lever – a lever that he managed to pull without snapping. The roof opened up like a draw bridge, tossing snow onto the roof of the Rivergate Center below. The soon-to-be-noon-time sun shone into the tower, forcing all to avert their gaze, all but the dragon. Zach realized what he’d sensed was so peculiar.
“He’s blind.” Zach whispered to himself.
“Zach, behind you!”
Whirling around, the spirit kicked a Sea Lord square in the stomach. As the pirate fell back onto his comrades, temporarily halting their progress, Zach bolted up the stairs after his friends.
“Whot was thot about?” Bold asked as Zach clambered onto the back of the dragon.
Spreading his wings, the dragon crouched, then jumped from the stairs.
“This dragon is blind.” Zach said.
The beast quit ascending. For a moment, they hovered in the air, above Rivergate with all of Zviecoff before them to see. Bold opened his mouth, just about to ask how Zach was so sure, when the dragon began to plummet towards the ground.