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A Tale of Two Realities: The Sorceress
It was obvious that the Manders were wondering where my parents were. It was almost painfully obvious. They may be nice, but they aren’t always good liars.
I discovered my magic about 5 weeks after Mother and Father disappeared. To make myself useful, I was planting a few moonflowers for the owner of the inn. I just looked at them and their wilted state and thought, They’re so pretty. Wouldn’t it be sad if they died? And just like that, they perked up. The stalks became stiff and green again, and the flower petals lifted themselves up. I heard a gasp from behind me. Hetch Al’Dim, one of my Mander hosts, had come up behind me.
“Ah, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised,” the orange lizard sighed, “but I have never seen Wild Magic before! What is it called again?” he asked me with the natural shyness that all Manders have.
“Life Magic,” I replied. I couldn’t stop looking at the flowers. I had thought that I would be a Diviner like Mother, but I didn’t really have any school that I particularily wanted to be in. That was a good thing, probably, unless I’d wanted to be a Theurgist.
Soon after, disaster struck Krokotopia. I saw them come out of the Pyramid, one by one, carrying wickedly sharp swords. As it turned out, a slightly stupid archeologist from Marleybone read an inscription that woke the Kroks up. Really? Did that walking, talking dog know anything about magical inscriptions? If he did, then maybe the Manders wouldn’t be slaves because of him.
“We are the Kroks!” one of them shouted, “We are the rulers of Krokotopia, and all who oppose us will meet with death! Come out, anyone who wishes to die here!” At this all of chaos descended on the Oasis. Manders were running in every direction trying to find a hiding place. Someone whisked me back inside and into a closet to hide.
Unfortunately, the Kroks decided to look for more slaves to fight in the arenas as part of a celebration of their waking up, though why they did that was beyond me. Sure, you can celebrate waking up after a couple thousand years, but why search for slaves from other realms when you have an entire race under your control?
As it was, I was found. The innkeeper was killed, and my hiding place discovered. I managed to cause some confusion by hitting a Krok with a blast of green energy and got out the back door, but they caught me anyways.
I was chained in a stone cell for three days before they started my training. Since I had magic, a Krok sorcerer taught me how to use it as a weapon. I learned to fight with a staff and a sword as well. At first I was holding back a lot. I still hoped that Mother and Father would come back and try to rescue me. After a while, though, I realized that that wasn’t going to happen. They had probably been lost on an island, or maybe even killed. I began to fight harder. I learned a few things from the Kroks that I faced. The most important thing was that they weren’t very good at turning quickly. They could not leap from side to side as I could, but had to slow and actually turn to the left or right. Straight ahead they were fine, but if you ducked and weaved, you could avoid them for a little longer. My advice for anyone who tries to follow that strategy: it can backfire, so be careful that you don’t wear yourself down.
I grew more and more experienced over the next few years. At first, some of their taunts got to me, but I grew a harder shell. I learned to focus my power through a staff made specially for a wielder of magic. I got a tan, which set off my eyes, I admit. I turned into a popular attraction. I became known as the Sorceress, though I was in no way that kind of wizard. It rankled me sometimes, but I learned to let it go. I also never really bothered with the witty banter. Still don’t actually. It’s not that I have anything against it, I just think it wastes breath, that’s all. Let them try to get me to speak in a fight. I’m not the chatty kind of person.
I do have a bit of an exception, though. I learned that I got great satisfaction by rubbing defeat in an opponent’s face. Believe me, Kroks are sore losers.
I remained in Krokotopia’s arenas for almost five years. Of course I took the chance to get out. There were other reasons, though, for my leaving.
That day, I was summoned up to the surface. It was time for me to fight. I would go against a Krok who supposedly had magic. Unfortunately for him, I had heard of his exploits and knew some weaknesses I could take advantage of. For one, he had a low opinion of any race other than his own.
The sun was slightly blinding after the lower, reddish light reflected off the sandstone walls of the tunnels. I squinted slightly until my eyes adjusted and then looked around. The crowds were bigger than normal. Two of the most well known fighters in Krokotopia were facing off, and no one wanted to miss it.
My opponent was bigger than most Kroks. He had lots of scars, which showed how good he was. His voice thundered across the gap.
“Ah, the famed Sorceress,” he said, smiling that toothy grin that I just happened to hate. “It would be a pleasure to send one with your status to the Afterlife.” I didn’t bother replying. Like I said, I’m not always a person of words when fighting. I just narrowed my eyes and dropped into a fighter’s crouch, holding my spear in front of me. The deep horn sounded, signaling the start of the fight.
The Krok struck first. He was faster than most, but he had the same fatal flaw as everybody else: he couldn’t turn fast enough. I just waited for him to get close. Wait for it, wait for it, wait for it . . .
Now! I jumped aside at the last moment, twisted around, and stabbed him in the tail. I skipped back a couple paces. The reptile roared and turned around a little slower. There was a reason I always went for the tail first. It would give me not only more leeway in a fight, as they often use their tails as a weapon, but yet another advantage. Kroks have shorter legs, so they use their tail as a bit of a counterbalance to walk upright. Their ignorance of that fact is laughable! Their heads hold more space than their brains, if you know what I mean.
To give the warrior credit, he tried. He aimed for my legs, so I had to dance in order to avoid his sword. I feinted right, as if to stab at his blade hand, but instead ducked and stabbed his foot. A crack issued from the wound. I had funneled my magic through the spear and blown off half his foot.
That was a bit of a flaw. He brought his sword down hard on my spear. There was an explosion of green light, and I was thrown off my feet. I landed hard on the ground. For a minute, stars dominated my vision. I sat up and shook my head. Get on your feet, Emmaline, I told myself. You stay down, you’re dead.
It was when I stood up that I realized what had happened. His sword had split my spear in two. My enemy looked as surprised as I was, and perhaps even more dazed. I then noticed that I felt slightly numb, as if I had pushed myself too hard in practice. I had absorbed part of the backlash of magic that had hit us.
I knew this could be very bad. Should a wizard absorb too much foreign magic, it could eventually consume the wizard. Since the spear wasn’t my own craft, I would have to get rid of this extra magic fast. I took my chance and did so. I raised my hands, and a vine began to grow behind my opponent. He was lifted off the ground as the vine sprouted tendrils that wrapped across it’s waist. I smiled grimly, allowing myself to show emotion. A pair of tendrils wrapped around it’s sword arm until he dropped it. One of the greatest Krokotopian warriors was at the mercy of a Marleybonian girl who had no real magical training at all! Who knew?
I strode up to the Krok as the audience cheered. He actually looked rueful, but I didn’t let him say anything. I used more tendrils to close his mouth and keep him from moving his head.
“I’m not a Sorceress, I’m a Theurgist. There’s a difference,” I informed him. With a yell, I funneled as much energy as I could into a single blast of magic. CRAAACK!!! A sound like thunder echoed through the stadium. I stumbled back a few steps, breathing a little harder. The Krok’s carcass hung in front of me. A gaping hole was in his chest, and his eyes were burned out. I killed the vine as easily as I had created it and turned around towards the Pharaoh. As I raised my hands, the crowd roared their approval. I allowed myself to be lead back to my cell. Why resist? There wasn’t any point.
That night, I was settling onto my cot. The guard had just walked around, jangling his keys to remind us who was boss around there. Just after he had rounded the corner, more footsteps echoed through the passageway. This was different, though. The footsteps weren’t metal, but . . . something else. Like sandals, perhaps. A shadow appeared against the light that eminated into my cell, then stopped. I didn’t bother reacting. You could show insolence here without any retribution from the higher-ups.
The silence stretched a little bit. I finally spoke. “Do I have a visitor? I’m honored,” I said dryly.
“I know of you, Sorceress. Your real name is Emmaline Innsbrook. Some Manders attempted to hide you from us. Had your parents ever managed to escape the Armada, perhaps you would have escaped this cell,” the dry hiss of a Krok echoed through the air. My eyes opened wide. The Armada! I had seen one of their ships from afar once. Father had sent out a flare to the Armada as we passed it.
“Why did you do that, Father?” I had asked. As always, he anticipated what I was asking about. “That light told them that we were friendly to them. All nice ships carry them.”
“What would happen if you didn’t?” I asked, zeroing in on this new bit of information. Mother had interrupted before he said anything.
“You always have to do that when you pass an Armada ship. Look, there are some batacudas!” she had said, pointing out a group of the blue-and-purple fish. Since I was only a kid, I had immediately switched my attention to the ugly creatures and hadn’t given it a second thought. Now I was thinking, But the Armada are the good guys. Did Father forget to send up a flare? I sat up and twisted to look at my visitor. A Krok dressed in military garb stood on the other side of the bars.
“Yes, the Armada are responsible for your parent’s deaths. The news spread all about the Spiral. An Armada captain had killed a pair of honest treasure hunters. A sad occurance,” the Krok shook his head. As if you care, I thought.
“I have an offer for you,” he continued. “We want that captain dead. He has many enemies in Krokotopia. However, Kroks are not allowed in the Armada. Should you help us, we will free you.”
“Why should I?” I asked flatly. I wasn’t fooled. You could never trust a Krok, especially one that gives you what you want the most.
“You may not trust us now, but let me tell you this,” he said, “you will also gain something much more than freedom: revenge. The Armada only demoted him. And here he killed two innocent people. Hardly justice for his crimes, would you think?”
I was silent now. It was a good point. I stared down at my feet, considering the gains/losses of doing this. I might be discovered, but if I was successful I would walk away from Krokotopia and never come back again, if I could trust the Kroks enough to become their toy for a while.
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly through my nose. “What do I have to do?” I asked levelly.
A few days later, I was found stowed away on an armada ship. I pretended that I was an escaped slave and that I was trying to get away. They bought it without a second thought! The captain of the ship agreed to give me asylum if I gave whatever info I had on the Kroks. I slowly fed them information, enough to keep them from digging too deep but not enough for them to send me back. I’m still surprised at how good I was at acting.
After almost a month of this, I was approached by a mysterious man. “Meet me in the cargo hold at midnight if you want to succeed with your mission and break free of your overlords,” he whispered. How in the Spiral did he know why I was there?! I was instantly sure that if this guy had intended to tell someone my real reason for being on the ship, he’d have gone and done it already. I followed up on his invitation.
The hold was dark, except for the pitiful light of a few candles. As it turned out, the man – his name was Almanzo – was a witchdoctor who was here because, he claimed, I would need help. As if he knew what I could do! It can get annoying when I am underestimated by someone of my own race. He claimed that I could get my mission finished with much less risk using a kind of magic called “hoodoo” than if I assassinated the Commander in the dark. I would be caught long before I could get there and be sent back to Krokotopia or something. Even though I didn’t like how he acted, I could see his point. I could get off as soon as I could and get revenge somewhere else. I would not be suspected at all. My prospects of freedom were getting very large indeed.
The next night, in the darkness of the hold, I was initiated into hoodoo. I can’t talk about it ’cause part of it was a promise to keep the details secret. You historians really would like to know about it, wouldn’t you?
The last sentence was said to the historian gathering Emmaline Innsbrook’s story.
Now, as I was saying . . . my ally began to teach me hoodoo. Mostly it was potions and stuff like that, but there were other things. The spells were the ones that looked more useful for my purposes. I was even learning a bit of pirate talk.
I was caught, though. In hindsight it was more than a little dumb to be doing illegal stuff on a ship. I can’t believe I didn’t think about that at the time! Ugh!
Anyways, we were caught creating a poison that would help me finish my mission. We were on an important step: the herb we were using was dangerous. The skin was needed for the mix to work. The bad part is you can’t drop the entire thing in there cause it will react pretty badly. The thing was half peeled when the armada burst in. They knocked the door down, and Almanzo dropped it. He should have peeled it over a plate like I said so, but instead he had to peel it over the cauldron!
A huge flash of purple light filled the room and an explosion blew everybody back. I think I hit my head on a box or something. Next thing I know, I’m in the brig of another ship.
I was instantly angry. Revenge had been so close I could smell it! And now it had been snatched away from me, partly because of my own stupidity at that! I was more than a little frustrated. Soon after, though, I got free, this time for real.
I awoke to the sound of cannon firing. Voices floated down the hall.
“Get down, she’s going to blow!” The first one called. His voice was rough, like an old man’s voice. There was an explosion, and the owner of the voice coughed. “It’s one of these prisoners! Check the cells down there, Monkey!”
“I am on it!” another voice replied. This one was nasally, and heavily accented. Then, the owners of the voices appeared in front of me. One was a white-bearded man with a peg leg, the other a Monquistan half his size. Both were obviously pirates.
“Is zis ze prisoner ve are looking for?” the monkey asked.
“Hard to say,” the old man said. “What’s yer name, pirate?”
“Emmaline Innsbrook,” I replied.
“Captain Boochbeard,” the pirate said, “and Mr. Gandry. Now let’s get ye out of this confounded cell. There’s piratin’ to be done!” He pulled at the lever holding my cell door shut. “The lever! She’s jammed. The bulkhead’s bent!”
“Vell NOW what are we supposed to do?” Mr. Gandry wondered aloud. Right on cue, a cannonball busted the back of my cell in, blowing the entire walll out.
“Look there! That panel’s broke free! Quick, go through that hole there. Make yer way back around to us,” the Captain told me. As if I needed instructions! I had to admit, that shot was lucky.
I started to run around, but then someone called out to me. “Fellow prisoner! Can you help one in need?”
It was an old goat student, from the looks of it. “The lever will free me,” he told me. “Can you move it?”
I turned and noticed the lever against the opposite wall. Although I badly wanted to keep going, I felt some sympathy for the goat. “I’ll do my best,” I promised, and pulled hard. Unlike mine, this one moved.
“Bend one twig and it snaps easily, but a bundle of twigs holds strong,” he said. “I will come with you, Pirate, and we will both be stronger.”
“Come on, Pirate! Hurry up and find us!” Boochbeard called. With the goat at my side, we ran around the corner to the two pirates. “What took ye so long? Let’s get out of here, before we get blown to bits!” With that he took off in a bouncing run, arms swinging up and down.
The light above revealed my worst fear: we were on the Erebus, flagship of the Armada and commanded by none other than Deacon. He stood there wearing the white, faceless mask all Armada people wore.
“What’s that? Boochbeard! Trying to steal my prize, you ruffian?” he inquired angrily.
“Deacon,” was all Boochbeard said. The word was filled with undisguised enmity.
“Spymaster of ze Armada . . .” Mr Gandry murmured nervously. “I think ve’re in trouble.”
“Our jailor,” the goat said softly. “So, Clockwork menace, are you ready to reap what you have sown?” he called out.
“I think not,” Deacon replied. “The prisoner must not be allowed to escape. Take them!”
Three women in armor, wearing strange wooden wings and the same featureless masks, swooped down in front of us. “Battle Angels!” Mr Gandry cried. “Zey are ze Armada’s elite warriors!”
“Indeed,” Deacon said. “It is time you buffoons learned just whom you’re trifling with.”
The fight between myself, my new companion, and the fearsome Battle Angels was swift and fierce. Though we took some hits, it was my magic that finished the battle, not their blades and guns.
“Not so fast,” said Deacon when he saw that I had defeated his minions. “Do you think you can defeat the might of the Armada?” He tapped his staff on the wood below him a few times, and lo and behold, more people rose up from below.
Mr Gandry and Captain Boochbeard hadn’t seen them either, I guess, because of how Mr Gandry reacted. “Vat-vat are zose?!” the monkey stammered.
“Surrender!” Deacon taunted. “Don’t make me destroy you.”
I was scared, but Boochbeard actually laughed! “Oh, don’t bother,” he chuckled. Turning toward his ship, he cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, “LADS – FIRE!” Boochbeard shot a flare up from the deck, which was followed immediately by a pretty big cannon blast that took out all of the new enforcements in the blink of an eye. I was impressed. Deacon had one last trick before we escaped, though.
“Impressive. It seems I’ve underestimated you, young Pirate. You’ll regret making an enemy of the Armada. Enjoy your freedom,” he warned, “while it lasts.” With that, he raised his own guns and fired at a nearby barrel. It exploded, catching Boochbeard full in the face. The portly captain was tossed backwards.
“That blast nearly did me in!” he gasped. “I can barely see. Pirate, use that rope to get to my ship. Take the helm – you’ll have to get us to safe harbor.” I did so, and found myself on a ship as big as the Erebus, perhaps even mightier. The ship set off, and we left the Erebus to it’s fate. On the way to the huge floating rocks that comprised Skull Island, I was taught how to steer a ship. Boochbeard liked the way I was steering the ship. “Now, set course for the docks at Skull Island, before any more Clockworks find us!”
The captain spoke too soon. Within seconds, more ships were on our tail. “Oh no, another Armada ship! Battle stations!” Mr Gandry shouted. The ships did not let up. They were like wolves attacking sheep! Fire came at us from all sides! “Do we engage, Capitan?” Mr Gandry asked.
“In broadside combat?” Captain Boochbeard gasped. “Not now – you’ll have time to learn that later, Pirate. Keep running!” he commanded me. “Use the Windstone to give ‘er a boost.” I pulled out a green crystal and broke it. Almost instantly a wind came up and the ship leaped forwards. It moved so suddenly that I almost fell over.
“Ze’re giving up!” Mr Gandry shouted elatedly. “Ve’ve done it!”
“That’s better!” Boochbeard said, grinning broadly. When we reached the docks, the Captain turned to me. “Find Captain Avery – he’s an old friend o’ mine, always hirin’ good pirates for some scheme or other. Good luck, and good hunting!”
On the docks, the goat monk turned to me. “I am Kan Po,” he introduced himself. “To thank you for saving my life, I shall come with you, wherever you go . . . Captain.” I was flattered, and I also realized something. I was a pirate. Of course I wouldn’t have had much luck with an honest life somewhere. I was a Witchdoctor, a practitioner of Dark Magic, which wouldn’t sit well with the people at Wizard City. Why not?
“Very well then, Commander,” I said. “Let’s go find this Captain Avery.” I squared my shoulders and started off toward the court.