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Dark Waters: Chapter 1
Over the mountains, with their snow-covered tops and frigid temperatures, and through the valley, with its prairie grass and warm winds, lies a series of rocky ridges that drop off into a vast body of water. Right smack in the middle, between the bitter mountains and the warm breeze of the sea ports, is a small town called Jale. It is dry and hot, and contrasts drastically with its perimeter. The people there are kind but poor, and due to the harsh, fruitless climate in which they resided, relied almost entirely of the profits of the ocean-side's main trade. In this vastly contrasting land, with its inhabitants living lives just as different, it would seem the only wealth it gained was through the market of trade.
It was hard going, as the nearest neighboring land was over the mountains, which were nearly impassible in winter, and the only other option for this secluded nation was to travel over the seas. In the summer months, the citizens fared the best, because the waters were calm and the mountains were manageable, and the money and food the merchants brought back supported them well. This came as a relief after the harsh winter, when the oceans were unruly and to travel over the mountains was suicide.
The unit of towns edging the ocean was largely a community of sailors. Skilled in their job, trained since they were young, these men served their land by providing food from the shallower waters even when the angry ocean forbade passing. Relaying food to the central land was a much less daunting task, but bad waters meant less food, and a shortage of food meant those closest to its source got fed first.
Jale was a less prosperous town. Children in patched clothing played with a tattered leather ball in the streets while their mothers stood in the shade of the sparse trees vigorously scrubbing the laundry clean. The homes themselves were nothing to gawk at, but they were sufficient for their purpose. The population was large enough to provide a sense of protection and unity, while small enough to be a target to raids, though such raids had long ceased to occur with the last war that somehow, by some slim miracle, they won and pushed the enemy away.
The children's mouths gaped at such stories, but it was nearing twenty years since the resolution. These tales were told to inform the youth about their history, but of course, in the eyes of a couple of eight year olds, it was all for fun. For the most part, the bloody past was ignored, cast aside. Once a year, in the second week of the autumn, the village reunited, and like all other communities across the land, enjoyed a night of food, dancing and laughter in remembrance to this victory.
This land was an oddity; such a place should never have stood a chance against the dreaded warriors of Dunil. There was no king, no president, no ruler. It consisted entirely of scattered towns and residences randomly dispersed throughout the land. It was luck that brought them together to trade, to consider themselves one nation, together. There was no name for this place, no raw materials or valuable plants, animals, or minerals to trade, and no great reason to live there.
But they did.
And twenty years earlier, the unlikely occupants of this dusty land united and blew the notorious Dunil away.
Twenty Years Later:
"Stay close, Asher," warned Jarvis.
The young man, jaunting ahead, turned back with a smirk, "Calm down, old man."
Jarvis smiled grimly, "This 'old man' knows more than you do, and this area in particular is prone to ambushes." In reality, Jarvis was far from old. He was tall and well built, and even at the age of 42, he was adept in this lifestyle.
Asher laughed, "When was the last time an ambush actually occurred? Besides, who would be bothered to attack pathetic little us? We don't have anything valuable."
"You'd be surprised…"
"I can take care of myself," Asher insisted, his grey eyes sparkling.
"I'd pay to see that," Jarvis mused. He had to admit, as irksome as Asher was at times, the youthful energy he brought in tow was well worth the hassle of another mouth to feed.
A few months prior, Jarvis had discovered young Asher in the middle of nowhere, leaning against a tree in a deep sleep. His first instinct caused him to think he was dead, a poor traveler maimed by bandits and left to die. The thought made his heart hammer. His face was peaceful as in sleep, and by the look of it he couldn't have been a day over twenty.
Despite his best efforts to remain reasonable, Jarvis reflected on the family he never had and wondered if this boy was missed. Upon closer examination, he discovered that the boy was indeed in sleep and not injured in any way.
When Asher awoke, he was hesitant to give away even his name, and none of his past, only that he was alone. No elaboration, just alone. He was weak from malnourishment, and after Jarvis fed him to resupply his strength and gain his trust, it became clear that Asher was flamboyant and headstrong. At the time there seemed to be no other options, so Jarvis kept him with him. Asher was to join him on his merchant travels and serve as a sort of apprentice. May as well, he'd thought to himself at the time. Can't just leave him alone. But of course there was that option. He'd just dismissed it.
Jarvis' thoughts were jerked back to the present as Asher let out a cry.
"Civilization! At last!" He threw himself to the ground and bowed to a distant sign.
Jarvis rolled his eyes.
The town of Jale was too small to have any use for an inn. Jarvis hunted down a spot near the village and made camp before night set in. Asher sat beside the fire broodingly.
"This is stupid. What if it rains?"
Jarvis glanced up at the empty sky, "It won't rain," he said dryly.
"How would you know? We bend to Mother Nature, not the other way around," Asher scoffed.
Holding back a chuckle, Jarvis turned his head, hiding his smirk in the flickering shadows, "If you say so, Asher."
Asher scowled, "I'm hungry."
"Get used to it."
"Why?" he exclaimed, "We're in a town. They have food."
“Asher, there's something I should have told you a long time ago."
"To receive, you have to give."
Asher blinked again.
"We have no money. Not yet. We hunt. And there's nothing around here."
Asher opened his mouth to speak, but snapped his jaw shut. Instead, he said nothing and rolled over into sleep.
"We could always just take some," Asher mumbled almost inaudibly.
Jarvis' eyes narrowed. He yanked his boot off and chucked it at his companion's head.
Asher swore, jumping into a sitting position, "What was that for?"
Jarvis glared out into the darkness, "We don't steal."