Saturday, August 21, 2010

Prisoner of Water: Chapter 6

Even at night the merchants streets that ran through the center of the city of Belotha were full of thousands of merchants and traders, the night air crowded by the sound of their constant shouting and trading and the smell of human sweat, burnt corn, livestock, and dead rats from the gutters. The nights in Belotha were humid and hot and even the faint breath of wind that sometimes ran through the streets was hot and dank and unpleasant.

Sometimes Ismes forgot what the streets outside the gleaming palace walls were like. No, he would never forget. For far too long this had been home. No matter how much he tried to deny it, to fight it, this was where he truly fit in. He blended into the bustling crowd of sweating steaming bodies perfectly, even though he had not been back in years. Not since the murder.

He shook his head and frowned, as if trying to dismiss the thoughts and memories, and instead looked down at the scrap of papyrus in his hand. He unfolded it again and reread the directions nearly printed in Kiza’s elegant hand. He was almost at the location where Kiza said he would meet the Tracer. Ismes still did not like the plan, and he had told Kiza so before he left.

“Ismes, don’t you see, this is the only way to get the power.” she had explained again, “The power, the divine right to rule, is given by the gods to the high priestess. She then marries a man and so the power passes on to him and they become King and Queen. If I sneak into the Temple I can become the high priestess and then gain the power.”

“But it wouldn’t do any good.” Ismes insisted, “Even if you do become the high priestess you still won’t have the power because you’ll have to pass it to the man you marry.”

“When I become high priestess I will hold the power, and I will not have to give it up to any man.” Kiza spoke firmly, “Its been done before, by previous high priestesses, and I will do it again. And besides, think of it this way. If I am in the Temple during this time I will be safe from the Sacrifice.”

“You really think your father won’t see the potential of having you as a pawn in his plans to gain power? What about Zuma? Not to mention the hundreds that are ten-thousand times worse than Zuma at the courts of Lagdjar. Do you really think you can outsmart them all?”

“What other choice do I have? The sacrifice will be required soon. I have to do something.”


The defenders fanned out behind the old woman, as the invaders fell back and did likewise behind the newcomer. From high up the mountain a cold wind whipped around one of the jagged peaks, startling the snow swallows who rose up in a white and grey flurry to soar down on the breeze. The soared down the mighty mountain face, flitting between the crags and down the sheer face of the massive glacier on the moutainside, a solid wall of thick ice that barely clung to the surface. Finally they followed the wind and flew circles around the old woman, before dispersing, as if trying to warn her, protect her.

“Well.” spoke Swampe, “I am not impressed. I was expecting more from you... Magus of Ice!”

Confused looks spread across the faces of the villagers. The wisewoman closed her eyes and gritted her teeth, “Why do you want to kill us?”

“Ha!” Swampe gave a high pitched laugh, “Really! I don’t care what happens to your pathetic village and villagers. I am here for you. To make sure you don’t interfere with our plans.”

The Snow Elders moved up behind Anai’s grandmother and spoke as one, “Do not test the tested. We have weathered more than you upon this mountain. We shall weather you as well.”

“Oh, how quaint. You don’t fool me for one second. I know you are bound by that old hag. Though how I’ll never know.” She spoke, rising into the air. “But it doesn’t really matter because your end will set you free from the human’s bond.”

“You’ll never touch our Elders!” a brave defender yelled and ran forward.

He was soon followed by the remaining defenders, who were repelled in their attack by the quick advance of the invaders. As the men fought, Swampe brought her hands out in front of her as if straining hard against something. Suddenly two of the soldiers beneath her stopped, stood rigid, and in a burt of steam exploded into two balls of churning, levitating murky water.

“Now, lets see how strong your really are, oh great Magus!” she yelled as she raked the air with her long claw-like nails, the two balls forming long spears of gushing water, before launching towards Anai’s grandmother.


Ismes found the tiny tavern in the busy city, literally jammed where an alley would have been between two buildings. The interior was dimly lit and smoke hung thick in the air like the incense in the Temple at Lagdjar. And in a sense this was a Temple too. A Temple to all the dark crafts. There was no better place for hiring someone who was active in them.
Of course, it had been a long time since Ismes had done is fair share. He remembered when he had run away to the city, floundering in the streets as an urchin until he finally found his “street legs” as they called them. But he had learned quickly. Where he had escaped from you always had to learn quickly. Or die. And he had risen as the best pickpocket in Belotha. Even now he knew every tunnel, every passageway through, over, and even under the city.

As he sat down in the corner he began scanning the rows of faces, the huddled corners, the shady characters trying to blend into the shadows. He was sure the Tracer would be in here somewhere. Most likely, already watching him. He had positioned himself where he could not be snuck up on, but even then, he was not sure as to the true capabilities of the Tracers. He had only heard stories. And if half were to be believed, he would have to take every precaution.

The Tracer was Kiza’s idea.

“We need the Tracer.” she said resolutely, “No one else would be able to find her.”

“And why do we need your old nurse?” Ismes asked, grabbing the supplies Kiza had prepared for him.

“Because she was a Tracer and a Priestess in the Temple. If anyone can get me in and find a way to make me High Priestess she can.” Kiza spoke, lowering her voice as she heard footsteps echo down the cool alebaster hallway.

“But where will we find a Tracer? They don’t trust anyone anymore. Not after the Purge.” Ismes spoke, the words tasting bitter as he said them.

“I know a place. I’ve been in contact with a Tracer for a while now. He owes me. Here I’ll write down the place where you’ll meet him. Just follow these directions.”


There was a moment of sudden dread as the crushing of the water spears echoed around the mountainside. But instead of impacting into the frail old woman, a thick mountain of hardened ice had risen in front of her. The Snow Elders stood before it, raising their hands, straining as the ice crackled and hardened, as if being pressed and pushed by their outstreched hands.

“Nicely done.” spoke Swampe. “But you’ll have to do much better if you’re even going to be a challenge for me!”

She raised her clawed hands and three more of the invaders burst into the water and raised to her sides as she hovered over the battlefield, where defenders and invaders were still attacking each other. She spread her hands out in front of her and cut the air from either side, before bringing them together and pointing up with them as if in prayer.

Each of the water balls on her left and right shot out in a thick torrent to hammer against the wall of ice the Elders were making. They held up strong under the onslaught. But the last of the water shot out like an arrow, flying high over the heads of the defenders and invaders, past the Magus and the Elders, even past the village. It flew and gained speed and gleamed in the light as it froze at the high altitude, before plummeting down into the glacier above the village, a massive explosion of snow shooting out in plumes from the mountainside. There was a moment of silence, as all eyes turned to the mountain.

A loud crack echoed around the mountains of Djarmond, accompanied by a series more that increased in frequency and urgency, the sound ear-splitting and blood freezing. From high up the mountain, half of the giant glacier cracked off and plummeted towards the village below.

“Nya!” Anai’s grandmother called, turning towards the mountain and planting her feet.

She raised her hands up, straining as she closed her eyes. The wind suddenly picked up and her hundreds of braids all began dancing in the wind behind her, many of them straining against the tight cloth and leather bands that held them in place. As she grunted, the entire piece of falling ice and snow slowed down and finally stopped. Then she began slowly pushing it back towards the mountain side.

“Impressive!” Swampe called towards the old woman straining as if she was holding the weight of the mountain in her hands, “But how will you defend yourself if you are saving your village from destruction?”

Another round of the water missiles were launched towards her. The Snow Elders repelled the attacks and rose up on platforms of ice to take the fight into the skies to Swampe. The invaders and defenders, while momentarily lulled from battle quickly resumed. And while all this happened, the village stood helplessly and watched the old woman fight gravity to save them all. All except one.

“Anai! Come back!” Josten yelled after her as she slid down the snow towards her grandmother.


A figure moved in the shadows next to Ismes and he nearly jumped from his seat when it sat down across from him at the table. As the black hood with the figure of a leaping puma was pulled back he could not believe his eyes.

“You’re our Tracer?!?”


Zuma walked down the dimly lit palace walls. He came to the door to the Princess’ chambers and placed his hands to the silken door. From within he could smell the scent of the lotuses and water lilies that Kiza always kept in her small indoor pool. He could just distinguish the flicker of her candles within. Slowly, like oil across water, he slid into her chamber.

Across from him he could see the hanging silk and gossamer that set her bedchamber apart from the rest of her living quarters. Within, the soft glow of the candles and lamps around her bed lit the cool alebaster and white silk, turning them shades of gold and peach. Warm tones, like Kiza’s skin, he thought.

As he walked closer, he could see her dark sillouette against the drapery, as she was lying in her bed. This was what he had expected. That after the day’s events, she would come and sulk in her room, trying to plot some form or revenge or escape. But he had come to reassure her once and for all that there would be no escape.

“Kiza.” the words flowed like oiled honey from between his forked tongue. “My Princess.”

There was no response.

“Princess Kiza” he raised his voice slightly, hoping to hear her respond in a frightened tone ‘who’s there?’.

But there was still no response. He grunted as he felt the tinges of panic leap into his heart, scrambling forward and yanking the hangings away.

“You had better be here!” he yelled as he looked down at the bed.

But she was not. A bag filled with millet was placed to resemble her sleeping figure, and on it was stabbed a piece of papyrus, right where her heart would have been on the millet figure. Zuma pulled the dagger out, and looked at the papyrus.

“A Beauty in the Morning, a Princess in the Afternoon, a Hostage in the Eve. But whether she will ever be yours again is uncertain, you’d better believe. If you ever want to see Princess Kiza again, you have to be ready to pay the price. Only her weight in gold will do, no tricks otherwise I won’t play nice. - P”, Zuma read the ransom note aloud.

“A problem for ussss to sssolve?” asked the smokey figure materializing from the shadows behind Zuma.

“Yes.” Zuma said, holding up the blade, “What do you make of this blade?”

“Ahhhh. We have not ssssseen itssss kind in many ssssseasssonsss.” Shekmet hissed, “It belongs to one of us, a Tracer, one who calls himself the Puma-that-leaps-in-the-Night, or Setappep.”

Zuma closed his eyes and grit his teeth as he intoned his words with force on each syllable, “I want you to find this Setappep. I want to know who he works for! Whether the High Chief in Lagdjar or one of my brothers. I want you to find him! Do whatever it takes! And then, I want you to returns Kiza to me, and kill him!”

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