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9.2 Anemone

# 2954 15 - 20 mins. 11

"We are the Grandsome Glories," said Geralt.

I smiled at the child-like naming of his group. He didn't pay any attention though and stood with his head pulled back and his hand out to make them look more glorious, I guess. Seth kind of ruined it with his wheezing though.

"You should lay low for a little bit," I said. "We've run into storm mages like that before. They might be pretty dangerous. You might want to wear different armor so you're less noticeable."

"I would never," scoffed Geralt. "It is who we are."

"They might hunt you down," said Zef. "If they got a good look at you, you might be in trouble."

"Well, I don't believe any of them survived anyway," said Geralt. "The dragon won that fight, thanks to us." Wallace, the bigger guy, rolled his eyes.

"Did you see them die?" asked Lolan with a hint of concern in his voice.

"One of them," said Geralt. "I assume the others met the same fate. We did see the dragon fly away."

I looked at Lolan. He looked nervous. "I wouldn't underestimate those storm mages," he said. "They're a lot more powerful than you might think."

"Do you mind showing us on the map where you saw them? Is it okay if we take a look?" I asked.

"I'll escort you there myself, on the morrow," he said, bowing his head slightly.

"No. Thank you but you really should stay out of their way for the moment," I said. It was interesting that he was so willing to work with us. Maybe the colony was beginning to change. Or maybe Geralt was just crazy enough to not care about working with other races. Either way, more help was good. "Can I take you up on that another time?"

"Not a problem," Geralt said with a nod. Then he turned and led the way to the tavern map.

🌱

We walked over to my tree, the place where I had hung my hammock in the days before I was thrown in a jail cell. The sun had set and the moon shined through hazy clouds overhead. It looked like we'd be spending the night here. I looked up at the tree. It was sad to not see Chipry hopping in the branches.

"I don't like this. Why are there so many storm mages here?" asked Lolan. "What do they want?"

"And if there is a dragon out there, how are they taming it?" I asked.

"Yeah. I was scared enough of them before they were trying to get a pet dragon. Should we do something, or would that just make sure that they know I'm only a half-breed?" Lolan asked.

"I don't know," I said.

"We could go find them. See if it's real. Maybe capture one of them," said Tigala.

"Are you kidding me?" said Lolan. "They might have a dragon by now, or something resembling one at least. And those guys are unstoppable. I've never heard of a storm mage losing a fight unless he was outnumbered ten to one."

"We'd figure something out," said Tigala. Of course she wasn't scared in the slightest.

"Why don't we get more information?" asked Zef.

"How would we do that without letting them know about me?" asked Lolan.

"There has to be someone out there that would be upset if they heard that storm mages were stomping around the island, collecting written magic, and trying to tame dragons," said Zef.

I thought for a moment and then let out a sigh. "Rodrigo," I said. "His biggest focus has always been keeping the peace in this colony. Heck, he even saved me from you." I looked at Tigala with a smirk.

She smiled back.

"Yeah, but it's Rodrigo," said Lolan.

"Yeah..." I said. "It is. Can you think of anyone else? Have we met anyone else that is well-informed and also would be as angry about someone upsetting the balance of Daegal?"

"And someone who might actually talk to us," said Tigala.

"That's a lot of stipulations," said Zef. "Maybe he'll be happy to see us back so soon."

"Hah," I laughed. That wasn't likely.

🌱

The next morning, we walked into the Human camp as a group. With our hands raised in a show of peace. Several Humans stood from log benches and rocks, ready to fight.

"We're looking for Rodrigo," I said. "We just want to talk. We come in peace."

The Humans stared at us with lowered eyebrows. Some of them looked at each other. Then, a woman spoke up. "He's the last tent on the far end," she said, pointing in the direction.

"Thanks," I said. And we walked the large path surrounding the Human encampment to reach him. His tent looked clean, unlike all of the muddy and weathered ones around it. We approached the front door.

I looked at Zef and nudged my head, expectantly.

"Oh, right," said Zef. He raised his voice. "Rodrigo? Are you in there?"

There was no answer. After a moment, I heard the sound of boots hitting dirt approaching the tent flap where we stood. Rodrigo opened the door and looked at the group. There was no shock at who he saw. He just looked at us. First at Zef, then Lolan, then Tigala, and finally at me. He stared with fire in his eyes, but he didn't attack. He didn't even say a word. He just stared.

Zef continued, "We were hoping you might have some information for us. Can we ask a few—"

Rodrigo cut him off. "I have nothing for you," he said and he turned back toward the comfort of his tent, letting the flap close behind him.

"Look, we just found something that we're worried about. We think it might be a problem for the whole colony, and we thought you might be able to help," said Zef through the canvas.

"It doesn't matter. I'm not in charge of keeping this colony safe anymore," said Rodrigo from inside the tent. His words were soaked in bitterness.

"Rodrigo," I said. "We're trying to help. We always have been."

"And you just came here to rub that my face, didn't you?" said Rodrigo. He stomped back to the front of his tent and stuck his head and shoulders out. "You're different. Whatever this is, it's working, yes. It's finding results. But it cost me. I might not ever find what I'm looking for before the whole colony goes to hell. They removed me from my position and now I'll never get the information I need to find it. And it's all because I had a conscience. It's all because I had to save you instead of letting Sungura and her creatures kill you and start the war all over again. I did the right thing, and I still have to pay for it. And none of this would have happened if you all just played by the rules."

Rodrigo ended his rant staring at us. He may have gone off the deep end a little with this whole demotion thing, but then again, I didn't expect a guy like him to take it too well. It had to be hard, to have your own people turn against you. Then again, it's what had happened to everyone that stood beside me. It what had just happened to me in a sense, with Riak in that cave. We had all been there.

"I'm sorry," I said. Rodrigo's head snapped to look at me. His eyebrows raised, then lowered in confusion. It was like he was trying to process what my hidden intentions were with that simple statement. I was being honest though. I was truly sorry for him. I was sorry that he was in this position because of me. Whatever his motives were, at least he had always sought to prevent the fighting. He did so enough to even keep me from getting eaten by the tiger girl that now stood beside me.

"Why?" said Rodrigo. "Why do you care?"

I shrugged. "What else do I have to care about?"

He stared back at me, studying my face. The anger still showed through the scowl he wore. and the spit that had landed on his chin while he screamed at us. But now he was still, silent.

I got it, I think. I was confused too. Heck, I hadn't even realized what this group had become until it had already become what it is. It's a family. A family of misfits. And though we had never said it out loud to each other, I think we all knew it at this point. We still had our differences and our separate goals on this island, but I was willing to help them with theirs. And they were willing to do the same for me.

"Storm mages," said Zef. "Do you know anything about them?"

Rodrigo flinched at the words. He looked down at Zef and said, "What?"

"Storm mages," said Zef. "Elves that wear yellow robes and metal plates. Their especially skilled in their magic."

"You saw Elves like that?" asked Rodrigo. "Here on Daegal?"

"We saw one. But there's a Human who claims he just saw a few of them," said Zef.

Rodrigo looked up and down the path. He drew in a deep breath and then opened the flap of his tent. "Come in," he said.

I wasn't sure I wanted to after that rant. After he had told me he was going to kill me and made indirect threats toward me several times, but he was our only hope.

We walked in and let the tent flap swing closed behind us. Rodrigo talked in a hushed tone. "What did you see? Who else saw them and what did they say?"

"We saw one in the cave underneath that ruined tower," said Lolan.

"When?" asked Rodrigo, almost before Lolan had finished his sentence.

"The same day we explored it," said Lolan. "It was right before we told you about it."

Rodrigo looked between us. "Why didn't you tell us then?"

"We didn't know who we could trust with the information," I said.

"And now we do?" said Tigala. She was standing taller than normal.

"Let's hope so," I said.

"What happened? In the tower?" Rodrigo asked, ignoring our comments.

"The storm mage fried all of those giant spiders," I said. "We barely escaped the teleporting one. We heard the storm mage coming so we hid under one of Zef's illusions."

"He came in and took a book of written magic," said Zef. "It was about teleportation."

Rodrigo listened intently. "Written magic?" he asked. "That must have been from before the fall."

"My thoughts exactly," said Zef. He hadn't told us that.

"After that, the storm mage turned and left," I said. "He had a necklace on. It's some kind of group of Elven purists."

"The Arcus," said Rodrigo. "They're half the reason I'm here on Daegal."

"Can you tell us what you know about them?" I asked.

Rodrigo looked us over again. "I don't know," he said as he pondered the thought.

"I've only ever tried to help," I said. "I know you may not trust me entirely, but you know that information helped with the Hydra. And there were no hidden motives in bringing the Dwarves back. I want to find our people... all of our people."

Rodrigo drew in a deep breath and let it out. "Before I came here, I was charged with guarding the Cordonian Straight. It's a passage that guards Cordonia, where the king resides. My crew was one of a dozen ships in charge of guarding the straight. It was little trouble. But a few weeks before Daegal showed up, we had a massive storm hit. The winds blew hard enough to turn a ship sideways, and the waters roared. My crew and I—we had a hard enough time just staying on the ship and keeping it afloat. From what I saw, so did the other ships.

"Then, the Arcus approached. They had a small ship compared to ours, a schooner. It couldn't have had more the 10 or 15 people on it, but they ripped through us like tearing a sheet of paper. Hail rained down, lightning struck several boats, and rain came down in sheets. And all the while, their ship rode through our waters like there wasn't even a storm.

"We tried to recover and go after them, but their small schooner was too quick for our damaged military ships. We tried to give warning to Cordonia, but we were too late. The city was already covered in a fog so thick you couldn't see 10 feet in front of you. The Elves entered the city and made their way into the castle and only stole one thing—a crystal." Rodrigo looked at us again as if checking to see if we knew what it was. I didn't at least.

"It was an heirloom of the royal family. An ornament handed down from king to king as a gift during coronation. It's called the Celestial Rock, for its starry appearance. The storm mages stole that, and left behind a single necklace in its place."

"That seems like a bold move for a group that has worked in secret so far," said Zef.

"I agree," said Rodrigo. "I don't know. Maybe they slipped up, or maybe they were that confident that their plans would come to fruition. All I know is that they took it and ruined our small fleet of ships in the process."

"So you think they had something to do with Daegal appearing out of nowhere?" I asked.

"I don't know," he said. "It was oddly coincidental that it happened right before all of this."

"Do you know what it did? The orb?" asked Lolan.

"As far as I know, it was just a pretty rock. There was nothing powerful about it. Although, only the king has access to it," said Rodrigo.

"So why did you come here then?" I asked. "Just on a hunch?"

"No, not exactly," said Rodrigo. "I had a..." he hesitated, "...friend on one of those boats that were ruined. She survived, but she and her crew were sent to the new land while she was waiting for a new boat. They suspected it might be the Elves that brought this whole thing about and they sent her to see what she could find out. Then, everyone disappeared."

"So you came to look for her," I said.

Rodrigo gave a slow nod. "Yes."

"I'm sorry you lost her," I said.

Rodrigo squinted his eyes at me and then cleared his throat. "I thought she was dead until I saw the Dwarves return."

"Yeah, I think we all have been thinking that for a while now. I still can't believe we found anyone alive." I said.

"You said you didn't know who was enslaving them?" asked Rodrigo.

I looked at the others, and then I looked at Zef. Zef looked down, thinking, and then gave a deliberate nod.

"Yeah, that's not entirely true," I said. "It's not true."

Rodrigo's eyes darted between us, impatient for the information. "Who was it then? Was it the Elves?"

"Well, they were Gnomes," I said. "But we're still processing what all happened there. They were mind-controlling the Dwarves somehow and that's not something that Gnomes have typically had in their abilities. Some things didn't add up too."

Rodrigo looked confused. "That's not something anyone can do," he said. "What didn't add up?" asked Rodrigo.

"We got in a fight with one, hand to hand. His name was Havik," I said. "He was teleporting, and pretty good at illusion magic, but he had some strange quirks about himself. I stabbed him at one point, and when he held the wound he held his waist instead of his shoulder, where I stabbed him."

"I tackled him too. Way too heavy for a Gnome," said Tigala.

"So what are you saying?" said Rodrigo.

"I don't know. We're still figuring it out, but maybe it wasn't actually a Gnome," I said.

"But he was using illusion magic, correct?" asked Rodrigo.

"Yes," I said. "And some kind of mind control."

Rodrigo looked at Zef. "You didn't know anything about the Dwarves or the mind control?"

Zef raised his hands and shook his head. "No. I didn't know anything. I haven't exactly been in with the Gnomish military for some time, but I've never heard of mind control as something the Gnomes can do. And I especially wouldn't have told you about it if I knew that it was a plot my people had concocted."

Rodrigo ruminated on that for a moment. Then he looked at me. "Why are you telling me all of this now? What I have done to earn your trust?"

"You fought for the colony," I said. "That's more than a lot of people have done here."

He nodded. "Fair enough."

I looked around at the rest of the group. We were all huddled in the small tent that Rodrigo now called his home. They seemed to be on the same page as me, but even if they weren't I thought I had a good idea. "You should join us. We're going to investigate a spot where some Humans ran into the storm mages."

"I don't think I could. I'm already hated by the Humans. I need to gain their trust again so that I can find out more information," said Rodrigo. He gave the sense that he was making excuses. He probably didn't want to work with a Treek, despite my civility.

"I think you'll want to see it," I said. "They found a dragon."

A note from houston

Thanks for reading! If you haven't heard yet, Sprig (Issue 2 - Bind) is now available in Paperback and eBook! You can pick up a copy at any of the links below.

Until next Wednesday (Feb. 26th), Issue 2 is on sale for up to $2 off. Make sure you grab a copy before the sale ends. If you have a moment, please consider leaving a review to help others find it as well.

Thanks! Chapter 9.3 will be out on Tuesday, the 25th.

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