Surviving Fairytales

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic


This story is a continuation of Dana Illwind and Sorcerer Lord Jayden's adventures, first seen in Not Quite a Hero and Idiot's Graveyard. Expect dueling wizards, a fairytale come to life, and as in
most of my stories, silly goblins.

Submitted: August 02, 2018

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Submitted: August 02, 2018

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“You said the Walking Graveyard was dead,” Dana said as she scraped mud and bone shards off her boots.“You promised.”

“I thought it was,” Jayden replied.The Sorcerer Lord dunked his head in a nearby stream to wash his long, blond, messy hair clean.Most of the mud came out, but he had to scrub hard to remove the last few bits of soil. “The first time we fought the blasted thing I hacked it to pieces and dropped a stone tower on it.You’ll forgive me if I thought that was enough.”

Dana pointed at the foul remnants of the Walking Graveyard.The trail they were on ran through an idyllic pasture with blooming wildflowers filling the air with their perfume.An otherwise gorgeous scene was ruined by three tons of mud, bone fragments and shattered tombstones spread across the trail. “It followed us across the kingdom.”

“I normally admire tenacity, but not in this case.”Jayden waved for her to get off the trail.“Perhaps this can put the monster to rest for good. Cover your ears.”

Dana walked away while Jayden chanted.Dana was a girl of fifteen with brown hair and brown eyes.She wore a dress that had been dirty before the recent battle and now was in desperate need of cleaning, along with leather boots that came up to her knees.Dana was armed with a dagger and carried a backpack and sack loaded with coins, jewelry and other minor valuables.

Not long ago, Dana had been a simple farm girl, her father the mayor of a small frontier town.A terrible monster had menaced her town, and in desperation she’d reached out to Jayden, the world’s only Sorcerer Lord.He’d helped, but it was clear Jayden was deeply troubled. There was no telling what he might do if left alone, so she’d joined him to steer him from self destructive behavior, like attacking the king and queen of their kingdom.

The chanting grew louder as Jayden continued his spell.He was handsome and charming, and dressed in outlandish black and silver clothes.He carried no weapons, but his magic made him equal to nearly any foe.Jayden carried his own backpack loaded with treasure, rewards from their missions together. Most men would rest and celebrate after acquiring such riches, but money was of little interest to Jayden.He wanted the king and queen overthrown. Nothing less would do.

A spark formed in Jayden’s hands and flew to the defeated monster.This was the second time they’d fought the Walking Graveyard, a horror of mud, stone and bone, and apparently possessing enough of a mind to take offense at their earlier victory to track them down for a rematch.It might be dead this time, but Jayden wasn’t taking chances.The spark reached the Walking Graveyard and detonated into a white-hot blast of fire that cremated and scattered the monster’s body.

“That better be enough, for its sake as well as ours,” Jayden said.“I’ve better things to do than relive old victories, and as odious as that monster was, I’ve no desire to see it suffer needlessly.”

“And we don’t want it following us into a city,” Dana added.

“That wouldn’t do.We should reach our goal before lunchtime, and I don’t want to place people in danger because of me.”

With that done Dana and Jayden resumed their journey.They were on the western edge of the kingdom and close to the sea.Dana could already smell salt water, and the ground was a mix of dirt and sand.

“Admittedly there’s a certain mayor I’d like to introduce the Walking Graveyard to,” Jayden said casually.

Dana rolled her eyes.“Not this again.We were in the town of Rustile less than half a day.Let it go.”

“Their mayor is a pompous, overbearing halfwit who thinks blind loyalty is a virtue,” Jayden replied.“It’s fools mindlessly obeying orders that make this kingdom a dystopian nightmare.No critical thinking, no mercy, no faith, only slavish obedience to those who put him in power and keep him there.”

Dana shrugged.“At least he was honest about who he is.”

“How is that to his credit?”

“He didn’t hide his beliefs like some people. Being a lying two-faced weasel would be worse.Haven’t you ever heard people say just be yourself?”

That stopped Jayden in his tracks.“That’s terrible advice!What if a man was a drunken, illiterate bigot?Being himself would be the last thing anyone around him would want.”

“Fine, so what should you do?”

“Be better,” Jayden said as he resumed walking. “Be superior to who you were the day before, the week before, the year before.Learn, grow, improve, and never stop, because the day will come when people need you to be better for their sake and your own.”

This was typical of Jayden.He was judgmental and didn’t tolerate flaws in others. When villains committed terrible deeds, Jayden’s fury was terrible, and it lasted.It might take months for his ire to die down.

Jayden also had a thin skin when it came to the royal family, and anyone actively supporting them was a valid target for his temper.The major of Rustile learned that the hard way when he received orders to obtain pastures for the king and queen’s horses to graze on. The mayor tried to follow the order by evicting farmers from their land, which would have worked except Dana and Jayden had been passing through Rustile at the time.Jayden had no trouble scattering the mayor’s bullyboys, and followed that up by first looting and then torching the mayor’s house.

“We’ve reached our destination,” Jayden told her. He pointed to a city at the end of the road, a sprawling mix of wood and stone buildings that hugged the coast. “I came here once and was impressed by the number of ships in the harbor.There may be fewer today, but I trust we can hire one to take us out to sea.”

Dana looked at Jayden’s backpack, which contained a small silvery box called the Valivaxis.It could create a gateway to another world, except the only things on that world were dead elf emperors and living monsters that made wyverns and chimera seem tame in comparison.“What do we do with you-know-what once we get there?”

“Throw it overboard far from shore, where no one can ever find it,” Jayden replied.“It’s a pity given how rare the Valivaxis is, but I don’t feel we could find a safe place for it or person to entrust it to.”

They walked for hours more, but to Dana’s surprise they saw no houses or farms, just small pine trees.There were ruins, burned or rotted away, but few signs of men. “Where is everyone?”

“The soil is poor and supports few crops,” he explained.“There are lumberjacks in the countryside, but most of the wealth comes from fishing.”

As they reached the city’s outskirts, Dana asked, “What’s this place called?”

“Welcome to Fish Bait City, once the richest city in the kingdom,” Jayden said dramatically.

“You can’t be serious,” Dana told him.

“Obviously it’s glory days are behind it,” Jayden admitted.Rats scurried down alleys strewn with garbage. Most shops were closed forever rather than for the day, their doors and windows boarded over.Brick buildings were common and somehow decaying, with crumbling bricks and many holes.The few citizens on the street wore patched clothes that should have been thrown out. Topping off an incredibly bleak picture, the salty sea air stank from rotting fish.

“I mean you’re kidding about the name, right?”

“Shockingly, no.It was once the hamlet of Fish Bait, grew to be the town of Fish Bait, and with the coming of trade routes bloomed into the city of Fish Bait.”Jayden saw her disbelieving expression and added, “It’s considered bad luck to change a settlement’s name, no matter how silly. People believe renaming a town or city risks offending the dead buried there and drawing their wrath.”

“Has that ever happened?”

Jayden shrugged.“Twice that I know of.Both events were overblown.”

Dana stepped over a pothole as deep as a cooking pot.“What happened here?”

“It’s the king and queen’s doing.”Jayden led her through the streets, where they drew little attention from passing men.“Fish Bait City had the good fortune to avoid the worst of the fighting during the civil war. Unfortunately, the conflict that devastated the rest of the kingdom left the treasury empty.Existing taxes were raised, new taxes were made, and old forgotten taxes dug up from the grave and pressed into service.Government officials robbed merchants blind, and in time the merchants stopped coming.”

Dana rolled her eyes.“The civil war was twenty years ago.”

Jayden gave her a lopsided grin.“Taxes often outlive what they were meant to pay for.Three hundred years ago there was a wine tax to fund a war against a league of necromancers.The war lasted two years and the tax is still with us.”

They traveled through the edges of Fish Bait City until they reached a large harbor.Five medium sized fishing boats were docked alongside many rowboats.There were two larger merchant ships missing their sails and masts.Fishermen and laborers were present in small numbers.

“Grim as the city is, it has one thing we need above all else: boats,” Jayden said.More softly, he added, “It shouldn’t be expensive to hire one for a few days and take our most unwelcome guest out to sea.Make arrangements for our stay.I need to have a potter cover the Valivaxis in clay and bake it into a brick to better contain it.”

“Don’t you think I should be doing that?” she asked.He looked at her curiously, and she pointed at his gaudy clothes.“We’re not in the wilderness or a small town anymore.Which one of us is going to draw less attention from the authorities?”

“I’m sure they’ll notice me.”Jayden grinned and added, “I’m equally sure there’s nothing they can do about my presence.”

With that Jayden left her alone in the city.This was the first time Dana had visited a city, even a decrepit one, and the experience was overwhelming.Countless streets ran in every direction, brick buildings loomed over her, and nothing could prepare her for the smell.The ocean lent a pleasant odor to the air, but it couldn’t compete with the stench of manure, unwashed bodies, rotting fish and boiling tar. That last vulgar smell came from fishermen coating the hulls of their boats with tar to prevent rot.

If the city was unpleasant, the people were worse.The few men on the roads refused to make eye contact.Dana’s friendly greetings went unanswered as if she didn’t exist.When she hesitated at a crossroad, an older woman sweeping out her house spoke.

“You stay indoors tonight, young lady,” the woman said. She didn’t look up, just kept sweeping. “A fog is coming.Feel it in my bones.”

“Uh, thanks,” Dana replied.That was weird.She was going to chalk up the encounter to the woman being a touch off in the head, but nearby people nodded in agreement.

“Sorry about that,” a young man said.Dana stopped and looked at him, surprised that someone was talking to her.The youth had black hair and brown eyes, and the muscular build of someone used to hard work.He wore simple leather clothes, and more importantly he carried a spear.“It takes these people a long time to warm up to you. They wouldn’t even look at me for four months.”

“Weapons can have that effect.”Dana had a natural aversion to armed men and tried to slip around him, but the man followed her.He shifted his spear to his left hand and reached out with his right.

“Chuck Lowroad, at your service.I’ve never seen you before.”

Dana adjusted her baggage to shake his hand.“Dana Illwind.I’m new in town, Mr. Lowroad.My friend and I are only staying for a short time.Um, is there a reason why you’re armed?”

Chuck laughed.“I’m not anyone’s mister.Call me Chuck.I’m with the militia.I know, I don’t look like the soldier type.I was two weeks off the farm, looking to find my place in the world, when a pressgang gave me a job, a spear and two weeks training that revolved around where to find the best ale in Fish Bait.”

Puzzled, she asked, “How does that help you protect a city?”

“It doesn’t, especially since I can’t afford a drink.The city is six months behind in paying the militia and only sort of feeds us.I’ll be rich if I ever get my back wages. Say, I can’t get you a drink, for obvious reasons, but maybe I can do you a good turn.You’re new here so let me help.I know places in the city you might like to visit and a few you’ll want to avoid.”

Dana had met her fair share of helpful young men, and she’d learned that most of them were too romantic for their own good (or hers).Chuck looked nice, but she’d rather not trust her luck.“I wouldn’t want you to get in trouble with your boss.”

Chuck nodded to a drunken man slouched down in a chair outside a tavern.“Leo, I’m skipping duty.”

“Bring back booze,” Leo called back.

“See, problem solved,” Chuck told her.

Dana stared at him.“Your baron is okay with this?”

“Weapons won’t solve the problems in Fish Bait City. We don’t even have crime since there’s nothing to steal.To be honest, half this job is knowing when to tell the baron we followed orders when we didn’t.You wouldn’t believe how vindictive he is.Let’s find a better topic of conversation.Do you have family here, or are you getting away from them?”

She edged away from Chuck.“This is getting personal.”

Chuck laughed.“Oh come on!Listen, people say I have a good eye for details.Let me guess your past.With those clothes you’re fresh off the farm.You’d doing okay for yourself with so much baggage.And you look confident, which is rare around here, so you’ve got an ace up your sleeve.Am I right?”

Indigent, she demanded, “What’s wrong with my clothes?”

Still slouched in his chair, Leo called out, “Talking like that’s going to get you kneed where it hurts, Chuck.”

“I’m just trying to be helpful,” Chuck protested.

“You want to be helpful?” Dana asked.“I need an inn room for the night.Point me to a good one and I’ll let that ‘fresh off the farm’ comment go.”

“It wasn’t an insult!”Chuck sighed and said, “I’ll take you to the best in Fish Bait City.It’s not what it used to be, but the food’s good and the doors have locks.”

As Chuck led Dana away, Leo said, “Don’t get mad at him, girly.He’s not evil, just dumb.”

The tour through Fish Bait was far from scenic. Streets swarmed with beggars and orphans.The stench had been bad at the city’s edge, and as they walked it actually got worse. Dana had grown up in a small town and was no stranger to farm life and the smells that entailed, but the city’s rancid odor was appalling.

Dana put a hand over her nose when she saw men leave buckets of fish entrails in an alley.“What are they doing?”

Chuck shrugged.“Fed goblins cause less trouble than hungry ones.”

Dozens of goblins scampered through the shadows, and some stopped to eat from the buckets.They were two to four feet tall and had skin colors ranging from red to gray to green. No two goblins looked alike, some having webbed fingers, pointed ears, stunted wings on their backs, sharp teeth, and one had a third arm.They dressed in rags and were armed with clubs and slings.Filthy goblins babbled and hooted as they made mischief and set traps for anyone foolish enough to follow them into the alleys.

“This is disgusting,” Dana said.

“Don’t you have goblins where you come from?”

She frowned and said, “Not this many.They sneak into town to eat table scraps before we can feed them to our chickens.Sometimes they set traps like making outhouses tip over when you use them.I once threatened to give my little brother to the goblins when he was naughty.He asked if I could help him pack.I know goblins aren’t that bad, but there are so many of them here!”

“Yeah, it’s hard to deal with,” Chuck admitted.“If you get too many goblins together they can work some kind of magic.Some old coot said goblins are so stupid and crazy that too many of them close together can warp space.I thought he was joking, right until I found myself flying into the ocean when I chased a goblin.”

“How can that be?” Dana asked.No sooner had the words left her mouth then the air began to ripple and smell musty.Her skin tingled, and live eels appeared from nowhere to rain down on her.She covered her head as goblins laughed and an old woman gathered up the eels for supper.

Dana stared at the goblins and gave Chuck a disapproving look. Chuck raised his hands in mock surrender and said, “I know it looks bad, but we leave goblins alone here.Leo gave me two pieces of advice when I was forced to take this job.Number one is which bars have good mixed drinks, which I have to take his word on until I get paid.Number two is leave beggars, orphans and goblins alone, no excuses.The Shrouded One hunts anyone who hurts them.”

“You’re afraid of a fairytale?” she asked.Nearby goblins laughed as Chuck’s face turned red.“I heard that story when I was five.The Shrouded One lurks in doorways for thieves and bandits, punishing cheating merchants and greedy mayors, stealing miser’s gold and sinking pirate ships.”

Chuck looked down as the color drained from his face.“I’ve seen that fairytale.I’ve seen men try to kill him and what happened to them for trying. And he sunk two ships.”

“You, you’re serious.”

“You bet I’m serious!”Chuck’s earlier bravado vanished.“I used to think The Shrouded One was a boogieman to scare little kids, but he’s real and lives here.You think I’m joking?Come with me.”

Chuck led Dana to the center of Fish Bait City. The buildings were larger but shockingly run down, the brickwork crumbling and wood walls rotting.Across from the ocean was a cathedral that dwarfed nearby buildings.It was in far better shape, but the windows were dark and the only people near it were beggars.

“You’re old enough to remember when the king and queen ordered the Brotherhood of the Righteous out of the kingdom five years ago, right?” Chuck asked.He pointed his spear at the cathedral and said, “The baron who rules Fish Bait City couldn’t wait to chase out the priests and monks so he could steal their property. He threw a party in the cathedral with his friends to celebrate taking it over as his new house.”

Dana eyed their surroundings nervously.No nobleman would allow beggars so close to his home.“I’m guessing that didn’t work too well.”

“A dense fog rolled in that night, and The Shrouded One came with it.The baron and his friends ran screaming into the night.The baron won’t come into Fish Bait City unless he has to, and he leaves before nightfall.These days only the homeless stay at the cathedral.That was five years ago, and The Shrouded One hasn’t left.He comes some nights and every time there’s a fog, punishing the guilty and protecting the unwanted.Hit a beggar, kick a goblin, ignore an orphan’s pleas, and you’ll pay.”

Still skeptical, Dana asked, “You’ve seen him?”

Chuck pointed at the two large ships in the bay. “Two months ago the baron ordered us to ambush The Shrouded One when he came with the fog.We waited on those two confiscated smuggler ships with every militiaman in the city.The fog rolled in, we heard church bells ring for midnight, and when the last bell tolled The Shrouded One was standing between us.I saw him get hit by arrows, spears, swords, fists, and Leo even head butted him.We just made him angry.If brotherhood priest were still here maybe they could banish him.As for us, we learned our lesson and keep out of his way.”

Dana put a hand over her face.“What is it with me running into weird monsters? Wait a minute.Why did your baron send militiamen instead of soldiers or mercenaries?”

“Oh,them.”Chuck laughed without mirth.“The king and queen are throwing a war, and everybody’s invited.Soldiers and mercenaries who are supposed to protect Fish Bait City got called away months ago.That’s why I got pressganged into the militia.Someone’s got to protect the city.The baron conscripted guys like me to do it, with a death sentence for deserters.”

Jayden had a deep and burning hatred for the royal couple, and he was sure they were going to invade neighboring kingdoms.If a city as large as Fish Bait had been stripped of defenders and left with only militiamen, then the war couldn’t be far off.

“Your baron couldn’t hire more mercenaries?”

Chuck shrugged.“Mercenaries come in by sea from time to time.The king’s agents hire them the moment they step on dry land. Doesn’t matter that we need them when the war needs them more.We even had an elf wizard show up a week ago.He left the next day with a job to hunt an enemy of the king.It wouldn’t have helped if they’d stayed.”

“Wonderful,” she said sarcastically.“It’s one hideous monster after another lately.”

“You need a place to stay tonight,” Chuck continued. He pointed out to sea, where a mist hung on the horizon.“There’s going to be a fog tonight, and that guarantees The Shrouded One will come.I’m sure you have money to pay for an inn room, but if you want protection—”

“Don’t you ever stop?”

Chuck studied her from head to foot and smiled. “I’ve got a good reason not to.”

To her relief, Dana saw Jayden coming down the street toward them.She pointed at him and told Chuck, “And there’s your reason to be a good little boy. Meet my traveling companion.”

Chuck looked worried as Jayden approached. “Wait, I’ve seen wanted posters for that guy.You travel with him?There’s a huge price on his head, and it keeps going up.The latest wanted poster puts the bounty at 1000 silver pieces! That kind of money attracts dangerous men who wouldn’t mind hurting innocent girls.”Chuck paused and gave Dana a questioning look.“You two aren’t…you know?”

“What?No!”

“So I’ve still got a chance with you?” he asked hopefully.

Dana went through her belongings until she found a gold coin.Once upon a time she would have been shocked to have such wealth, but since traveling with Jayden she’d come to see gold as a tool to be used.She pressed the coin into Chuck’s hand and said, “Here, I’m paying you to go away.Try those bars you heard about and have a drink on me.”

“But—”

“Scoot!” she scolded, and pushed him away.Chuck left looking like a puppy that had been kicked.

Jayden smiled at the spectacle.“And you thought I’dattract too much attention.”

Dana blushed.“We’ve got bigger problems than teenage boys.A fairytale lives here, and not one of the nice ones.”

It took minutes to relate Chuck’s story to Jayden. He seemed curious rather than frightened, and said, “The potter I spoke with warned me to stay indoors tonight, but didn’t explain why.That’s one mystery solved.”

“I heard about The Shrouded One while I was growing up.He hunts evildoers, and lots of people think you’re a bad person.If The Shrouded One thinks so he might come after you.”

Dana and Jayden left to find an inn.Chuck had been showing her the way before he’d brought her to the abandoned cathedral, so she sort of knew the way.

“I’ve heard tales of The Shrouded One,” Jayden told her.“There are dozens of versions of the same basic story.A criminal or corrupt authority figure hurts a deserving person and The Shrouded One comes to avenge the injury.Violence ensues, The Shrouded One suffers wounds that should kill a dragon yet remains standing, and the villain suffers a terrible fate. Burned, buried, trapped, enslaved, transformed into a wombat, The Shrouded One’s penalties vary from tale to tale, but are always severe.”

They walked by more sullen residents, and Dana said, “That explains why people here act so weird.They’ve had a monster in their city for years.Why don’t the king and queen send soldiers to kill him?”

“Why risk soldiers to save a city they already ruined?” Jayden asked.

“I don’t want to fight this fairytale,” Dana said.

To her surprise, Jayden agreed.“We can’t risk losing possession of the Valivaxis.Whoever or whatever The Shrouded One is, we need to avoid him for now.”

They eventually found a two-story inn called The Oyster Beds, with a worn sign near the door showing an oyster sleeping in a luxurious bed.They’d nearly reached the inn when a filthy goblin jumped out of an alley in front of Dana and shouted, “Boogey, boogey!”

Dana put her hands on her hips.“Oh come on, was that supposed to scare me?I’m not a child!”

The goblin looked at her for a moment before saying, “You’re living in a kingdom ruled by men who would kill your parents, siblings, neighbors and cat, no questions asked.That better?”

She hesitated before asking, “Can we go back to boogey, boogey?”

The goblin folded his arms across his chest and marched off. “No.You ruined the moment.”

Jayden chuckled as he watched the goblin leave, and then he and Dana entered the inn.It wasn’t as rundown as the rest of Fish Bait City, but still looked worn out and sad. There was a common room with large empty tables, and a bar against one wall with a shocking number of whiskey bottles behind it.The only people present were a man behind the bar and a young girl mopping the floor. If the inn wasn’t impressive, at least it smelled nice from some kind of perfume.

“Ah, it’s so good to see you again, Alfonzo,” the man said.He stepped out to greet them with a smile. “I see you brought your daughter with you.So good to see you again.”

“I’m sorry, what?” Dana asked.“I’m Dana Illwind.”

“Dear girl, of course you’re not,” the man told her.

Jayden raised one eyebrow as he studied the man.“I’m not familiar with this game.You’ll have to explain the rules.”

The man pointed to a paper nailed to the wall behind the bar. “Our illustrious king and queen ordered innkeepers to report the names of our guests, and their comings and goings. Some men would rather not say such things, for reasons I don’t question, but that’s not a problem.The only guest my inn gets is Alfonzo the woodcutter, a poor but honest man who stays here when he comes to sell firewood.Sometimes dear Alfonzo brings his wife or his daughters and sons, charming children, truly.”

Jayden smiled.“I see. How often does Alfonzo stay here?”

“Why, you’ve been here quite often, sir.For tax reasons you stay in our cheapest room, but you might find a more pleasant one to your liking just this once, eh, Alfonzo?”

“Your baron doesn’t notice this?” Dana asked.

The innkeeper shrugged.“Our baron is a troubled man.I see no need to upset him.”

Jayden tossed the innkeeper a gold coin.“A room for me and another for the lady.If you serve meals we’ll pay for dinner as well.”

The innkeeper caught the coin and smiled.“We serve meals, and you’d be wise to buy them rather than go out. The only restaurants worth visiting are across town, too far away to reach before nightfall.”

“And before the fog arrives,” Jayden said.

Their host’s smile dimmed.“Ah, you’ve heard of that.Just as well. But don’t worry.If The Shrouded One didn’t come when the elf stayed with us then he won’t come now.Girl, show Alfonzo and his daughter to their rooms, and chase out any goblins that got inside.”

Their rooms were spacious and clean, but like the rest of the city had seen better days.Dana set her belongings on the floor and tested the room’s large bed before going downstairs.She met Jayden as the girl brought hollowed out loaves of bread filled with soup.

“You had an elf guest?” Jayden asked as he ate.

The innkeeper shrugged.“Elves, dwarfs, why, Alfonzo was once a young troll.But the elf we had last week, ah, he was a piece of work. The elves I’ve met were loud, rude, always complaining, but this one raised it to an art form.I lost track of how many times he told us he was a wizard and about the monsters he’d defeated.He left after one night’s stay, and without paying, I might add. He did give me this.”

Jayden leaned in as the innkeeper reached behind the bar and took out a potted plant.It was gorgeous, with leaves glittering like gems, large purple flowers tipped with gold, and perfume wafting from its blossoms so magnificent that it concealed the stench from outside.

“That’s an Imperial Starflower, a rare and magical plant,” Jayden said.“It’s also expensive.”

“He said it would improve the quality of my inn, which I can’t question, and that I could divide it into two plants once it grew larger.”The innkeeper placed the flower back behind the bar and added, “I seldom deal with wizards, but if I can sell one of the plants after dividing it then his stay may have been worth it.”

“The elf showed some class after all,” Jayden said.

The conversation ended when they looked through the windows to see residents of Fish Bait City seeking cover.Men shuttered their windows while women ushered children inside.Doors slammed shut across the city, and every chimney in view began billowing smoke.The Oyster Bedswas no different, as the young girl closed doors and windows while the innkeeper piled dry wood in the fireplace.

“Worried your city’s less than esteemed guest might come down the chimney?” Jayden asked.

The innkeeper threw more wood on the fire.“It has happened but not here.I plan on keeping it that way.”

Dana’s attention was drawn to more papers tacked to the wall near the bar.These were different from the order demanding innkeepers inform on their clientele. Namely, each paper had a drawing of a man or woman, and the price the throne would pay for their arrest. Jayden’s face was on several of those papers.

“Um,” she began, and pointed a spoon at the papers.

Jayden and the innkeeper both looked at the papers.Jayden ate more of his dinner before saying, “You know who I am.”

The innkeeper seemed unbothered.“I do.I’ve even met men you’ve saved.”He cleaned a cup and put it behind the bar.“They spoke well of you and what you’ve done to save our kingdom, even though it’s bound and determined to destroy itself.It gave me hope that one day I’ll have more customers, and Alfonzo won’t be staying here anymore.”

For a moment Jayden looked bothered.“I fear that is a day long in coming.”

“I can wait, so long as it comes.Have no fear that the militia might try to arrest you.I hand out the occasional free drink to keep them happy, and most are honorable enough not to carry out our baron’s more offensive orders.”

The rest of dinner was a silent affair.Dana finished eating and went to her room on the second floor. The room was still dark when she set her belongings on the floor and searched for a lantern.She found one and lit it before closing the door.

And once that lantern was lit, she saw the words, “Little girl lost, go home,”written on the wall in tar.

Dana shrieked and raced from her room.She cried out, “Jayden!”

“Over here.”His voice sounded muffled, and in her panic it took her a few seconds to realize he was in his room and speaking through the closed door.She ran to it and grabbed the handle before she froze.

“Are you decent?”

“Morally speaking, no.”

Dana blushed again. “I mean are you dressed?”

“Oh, that.Yes.”

With that potential embarrassment out of the way, she opened the door and looked inside.Jayden’s room was no different than hers in its decorations.That included writing on the wall in tar that said, “I know your real name.”

“This is bad,” Dana whispered.

Jayden replied, “The Shrouded One is making an issue of my presence in his city.”

The innkeeper ran upstairs and into Jayden’s room.His face turned white as a sheet, and he grabbed Jayden’s arm.“I’m so sorry!I, I don’t know how he got in.The doors, we locked and barred them all!I’ll get you new rooms and clean these ones.Please, don’t ask for a refund!I can’t afford to lose the business!”

Jayden pulled free from the innkeeper and marched to the nearest window.He pulled the bar off and opened the shutters to show the street below engulfed in a dense fog.Thick as it was, the white mists didn’t hide the tall man wrapped in a ragged cloak that covered him head to foot.The strange man looked up at Jayden before moving silently down the street.

Jayden’s features hardened into a scowl.“You don’t get to walk away after that.”

“Sir, no!” the innkeeper begged in vain.Jayden ran from the room and headed downstairs to the entrance.Dana went after him in the hope she could prevent this from turning into a fight.She was two steps behind him when he unbarred the door and ran onto the foggy streets. She heard the innkeeper call out to them, but Jayden paid no attention to the man’s warning.Instead he ran into fog as dense as a cloud after an enemy who by all accounts was a fairytale given form, and one who faced many militiamen without injury, much less defeat.

“He went this way!” Jayden shouted as he turned a corner.

Their foe may have done just that, but as Dana and Jayden went around the corner they came upon a brick wall twelve feet high, with no doors or windows The Shrouded One could have gone through or places for him to hide.

Looking for me?”

The echoing voice came from their right, but when they turned around they found The Shrouded One standing behind them, his return as silent and mysterious as his disappearance. Up close he was intimidating.The cloak didn’t leave an inch of skin exposed. What little should have been visible was covered with strips of dirty cloth wound around his body.The Shrouded One was unarmed yet showed no fear of Jayden, making him even more frightening.

“You entered my room uninvited,” Jayden replied.He cast a spell and formed a sword of utter darkness in his hands, the blade outlined in light that offered just a hint of illumination.“My coming shouldn’t surprise you.”

Yet a surprise it remains, for all thought you long dead.” The Shrouded One’s voice came from their left, and then from behind them when he spoke again.“I first saw you twenty years ago and marveled at a boy with such promise.I mourned when I heard you’d been put to death, but seeing what you have become is far worse.You assumed the title and magic of the Sorcerer Lords, monsters in all but name.The elves of old killed those fiends, yet you took up their ways.”

Jayden hesitated before answering.“If you know who I was, you know the road I walk is not of my choosing.”

“Excuses,” The Shrouded One replied, his voice coming from above them and to the right. “Many in this land have known untold suffering without resorting to dark ways.Your acts would horrify the boy you once were.I’ve heard too many tales of the damage you leave in your wake.Fish Bait City is my home, my responsibility, and it has known too many hardships without you adding more.Others have faced me and failed.Bring chaos to these people and you will fall as they did.”

If Jayden had been spooked, it passed quickly.“For such a staunch defender your name doesn’t conjure good feelings among the people of Fish Bait City, and your claim to have met me twenty years ago rings hollow when you first appeared here five years ago.”

“Your ignorance is staggering,” The Shrouded One retorted, his echoing voice coming from near his body this time, but farther back than it should have been. “I come from this city, birthed when I am needed, dying when I am not.I was here when you first came and your face showed hope, your actions mercy, your words love.I did nothing then or for years more, staying in the shadows because I wasn’t needed.

“But now I am needed, even if I am not wanted,” The Shrouded One declared from their left.“This city was deafened by the cries of its poor, every stone soaked in their tears until I had no choice but to come.There will be no more suffering here.The baron thought otherwise.Pirates, thieves and men called knights but blackguards by their deeds came to spread evil. They regretted their deeds, as will you.”

 “I take offense at you grouping me with those fiends,” Jayden said.“And if you want to compare which of us faced greater odds and won, you’ll find yourself coming up short.”

Dana rolled her eyes. “Oh for the love of God!”

The Shrouded One turned to face her.“What?”

Hoping reason would win over bravado, Dana got between Jayden and The Shrouded One.“Congratulations, you’re both intimidating, so can we move on to the part where you don’t kill each other?The only one who wins that fight is the king and queen, who hate you both.”

Turning to The Shrouded One, she said, “I’ve traveled with Jayden for months.He’s hurt men who hurt innocent people, and who would have hurt even more if he hadn’t stopped them.He’s killed monsters and saved lives.We didn’t come to hurt anyone.We have to hire a ship and leave for a few days, no damage done.Calm down and don’t start a fight you don’t need and might not win.”

Who is this?” The Shrouded One asked from five different directions.

Jayden walked alongside Dana.“She’s a friend, and a better person than I am.”

The answer seemed to satisfy The Shrouded One.“If one innocent and pure is willing to speak on your behalf then you might not be lost.Return to The Oyster Beds inn. Leave in the morning as you plan without harming others and there shall be no fight between us.But know this, Sorcerer Lord: the darkness inside you could consume you, your one friend in this world and countless others.Turn back while there is still time.”

With that The Shrouded One drifted over to a wall with a hole at the bottom from bricks that had crumbled away.The opening was only six inches high and a foot across, but as The Shrouded One neared it his cloak slipped inside.His body shriveled and twisted as he fit into the hole until he disappeared into it.

Dana felt nauseous. “That was disturbing.”

Jayden allowed his magic sword to vanish before he turned to Dana.“That was very dangerous.”

“Fighting him would have been worse.You might not have survived, and if he’s as strong as you then this city might not have survived you two brawling.”

“True.Let’s go inside before the innkeeper locks us out.”

As they headed back to the inn, Dana cautiously asked, “The Shrouded One said he knew you, and that you had another name.”

“He spoke the truth. I came here many years ago, so long ago it feels like it happened to someone else.”

“So, feel like telling me this other name of yours?”

Jayden stopped and put his hands on her shoulders.“Dana, you’re my friend, the first one in such a long time that I wondered if I would ever have another.I trust you, I respect you and I like you more than I like myself.”

Dana blushed again. “Oh.”

“That’s why I’ll never answer that question.”

“Wait, what?”

His grip on her shoulders tightened ever so slightly.“Officially I’m dead, and safer if all men believe that.You’ve tried to protect me from my enemies and from myself, but if my real name becomes known and that I still live, that knowledge is a death sentence. I worry that The Shrouded One has this information, but I doubt he’d tell my enemies.Make no mention of this to anyone, for your sake as well as mine. Let’s get what rest we can, for tomorrow has trouble enough waiting for us.”

Jayden headed back to the inn as if the conversation was over.Dana frowned and said, “Fine, if you won’t say then I’ll guess.Let’s see, you were nice if a scary nightmare fairytale actually liked you.You would have been younger than me back then, and I bet you were cute.All the girls chased you.”

Jayden rubbed his eyes. “Dana.”

“But you didn’t notice because you were always reading books.”

That got his attention. “What makes you say that?”

“You read spell tablets from the old Sorcerer Lords, and they died out over a thousand years ago. You don’t learn that just anywhere, so somebody got you books about ancient stuff like the Sorcerer Lords and you read them.Books like that must be expensive, so your family had money.”

“Let’s stop this conversation right now,” Jayden said firmly.

Dana smiled.“I’m getting close, aren’t I?”

They’d nearly reached the inn when Dana paused.The dense fog concealed many of Fish Bait City’s poor features, but it didn’t hide the city’s sickening smell.Dana grabbed Jayden’s arm and pulled him to a stop when she said, “Jayden, hold on. That smell, it’s beautiful.”

Jayden inhaled deeply. “Gorgeous, and out of place here.”

“It’s like that pretty flower at the inn the elf used to pay for his stay.”

“I pay no one” a bombastic voice called out.“I helped a stupid, ugly, clumsy man by giving him a flower.But I accept your meager praise of the Imperial Starflower I grew.”

Dana and Jayden fell back as they saw a male elf dressed in white and green robes.He was handsome in an arrogant, sneering kind of way, his black hair styled and trimmed, his youthful face and pointed ears flawless.The elf carried a staff sprouting living vines, and those vines wrapped around his waist and grew to thick vines with arrow shaped leaves and beautiful flowers.

“It’s a variant I bred with a longer lifespan, more fragrant blooms and resistance to common plant diseases. I wouldn’t expect a destructive brigand like you to understand the work it took, but there’s a chance your second rate mind might appreciate beauty, culture or making a lasting improvement in the world.”

Jayden put himself between Dana and the elf.“Fair warning, I’ve already been insulted tonight, and it’s left me in a foul mood.Name yourself and the reason for this meeting.”

The elf came closer, the vines slithering around him as he walked.“Your kind could never hope to pronounce my name, so I use the pseudonym Green Peril when dealing with the weak minded.I trained under the greatest nature wizards of the Elf King, and I have no equal.As for why I degrade myself by visiting this cesspit of a city, the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words applies.”

Green Peril took out a rolled up sheet of paper from inside his robes and tossed it to Jayden. Jayden unrolled it to see a picture of himself with a bounty listed at the bottom.

“More accurately, you’re worth a thousand silver pieces, a paltry reward, but one it seems I must accept,” Green Peril said.

Jayden cast a spell and formed his black magic sword.“I have no quarrel with you.”

“No,” Green Peril admitted. “You have a quarrel with the local human king.He and his shrewish wife are tired of your antics.I came to become their court wizard, and hopefully bring this nation of knuckle dragging halfwits up to an acceptable level of culture.Their representative was so impressed with me that he used a magic mirror to call his king.Your nemesis approved my offer of service and promised adequate pay, but only if I proved myself worthy by bringing back your head.Elves put an end to the Sorcerer Lords in ancient times, so the offer was almost wise and well within my abilities.”

The nest of vines grew and spread as Green Peril neared.“I thought it would take weeks to track you down, when to my surprise I learned from the birds of the sky that you came to the very port where I’d first entered this festering kingdom.I hope killing you is a challenge, because finding you was child’s play.”

Dana gulped nervously. Green Peril might be a legitimate threat.Bad as that was, Jayden still had the Valivaxis.He’d had a potter bake it into a clay brick, but if Green Peril was thorough he might find it.The Valivaxis was a gateway to the graveyard of ancient elf emperors, which might tempt the elf wizard into opening it, releasing the monstrous guardians within.

Then the elf noticed Dana. “And who is this?A servant?An apprentice?A pet? Regardless of the answer, her head is of no value to me.Send her away.”

Dana glanced at Jayden and asked, “Seriously?”

“I try not to stereotype, but all the elves I’ve met were insufferable,” he told her.He looked at Green Peril and said, “You’ve no doubt researched me, but I’ve recently learned new spells and am more of a threat than you know.Your chances of winning this battle aren’t encouraging.”

Green Peril smirked. “We shall see.Sorcerer Lord Jayden, I challenge you to a duel.Let us see which of us is the greater wizard.”

Desperate to keep this fight from starting, Dana said, “How is this fair?I mean, a Sorcerer Lord versus a magic gardener?”

Jayden and Green Peril both stared at her.The elf yelled, “What?”

“Jayden kills powerful monsters like the Living Graveyard and you make pretty flowers, which you pay your bills with.Gamblers wouldn’t bet money on you.You said you studied under great wizards.If they could see you now, groveling for a job from a human king and killing for him.”

“I’m placing myself in a position of power to influence this kingdom and set it on a course that will align it with the Elf Kingdom.”

“You’re trying to get a job, and from the start you’re going to be disloyal by manipulating your boss into doing what you want,” Dana said.“Why would they hire you?Everybody within five hundred miles knows Jayden, but I’d never heard of you before tonight.For all that boasting you’re a nobody.The king and queen can do better for a court wizard.They’re just using you to do their dirty work, then bang, out the door you go without so much as a thank you.”

Before the elf could yell again, Dana asked, “And what’s with that sapling you’re carrying?”

“It’s a magic staff to focus his magic and prevent misfires,” Jayden told her.

“Why don’t you have one?”

Jayden smirked.“For the same reason healthy men don’t use crutches.”

“So take away that twig and he’s in trouble,” Dana said.“I’m not impressed.”

“You!” Green Peril yelled, but he regained his composure.“You’re trying to bait me into acting foolishly and making an error in battle.”

“Or embarrass you into not attacking.You don’t have a good reason to fight him.He’s saved lots of lives in this kingdom.”

Green Peril looked at Jayden.“So that’s why you keep her around.”

Jayden shrugged. “Clever, brave, moral compass, her value knows no limits.If you seek to curry the king and queen’s favor, know that many have tried to steer the royal couple onto a safe course.They failed. The patrons you seek care for no one save themselves.If you want to improve the kingdom then there are other ways.I can help you do it.”

Jayden’s words had as much effect as arrows fired at a brick wall.Green Peril sneered and replied, “I made a pact with the king and queen you seek to topple, and my word is my bond.You shall die tonight, and this kingdom’s future will be better in my hands than yours.Foolish man, you won’t survive this night.”

This is ridiculous.”

Green Peril frowned as The Shrouded One drifted down the street toward them.“Sorcerer Lord, mere minutes have passed since I warned you not to bring chaos to this city, and I find you in a duel.”

Jayden pointed his ebony sword at Green Peril.“For once I didn’t start this.”

“Who or what is this?” Green Peril asked.

“The Shrouded One, fairytale come to life,” Dana said.She pointed at the elf and added, “Green Peril, elf wizard, jerk and hypocrite.”

I won’t tolerate battles within this city,” The Shrouded One said.“Whatever quarrel you two have, settle it elsewhere.”

Green Peril shrugged, and the vines around him stretched across the misty street, wrapped around The Shrouded One’s chest and crushed him like an egg.Dana screamed as the vines tossed The Shrouded One’s tattered remains aside.

“That settles that,” Green Peril said.

It settled nothing.”

Dana, Jayden and Green Peril whirled around to see The Shrouded One rise up behind them.The Shrouded One faced Green Peril before speaking. “You chose this fight, wizard.Now feel the wrath of an entire city.”

Green Peril’s vines grew explosively until they nearly filled the street.Half the vines struck at Jayden while the rest went after The Shrouded One.Jayden hacked away the nearest vines while The Shrouded One was torn apart again. Green Peril began casting a spell, but never finished it.Bricks flew through the air as thick as raindrops in a storm, all of them aimed at the elf.Green Peril’s vines batted most of them aside, but one struck him in the stomach and broke his concentration, ruining the spell.

“Get back!” Jayden ordered Dana.He cast another spell and formed a shield three feet across made of spinning black blades.The shield hovered in front of him, and when one of Green Peril’s vines wrapped around it the shield tore it to shreds.Two more vines struck the shield and were reduced to pulp.Jayden hacked apart another vine with his sword when it came too near, but Green Peril’s vines grew and replaced what it lost.

This battle ends now,”The Shrouded One declared as he rose up from the misty streets.Torrents of boiling tar poured down from the roofs onto the vines, scalding them to death. Green Peril’s plant tried to regrow, but Jayden lunged in and hacked it apart.The elf fell back as Jayden and The Shrouded One advanced on him.“You had your warning.Now suffer as those before you did.”

“Your other enemies weren’t wizards, or elves,” Green Peril retorted.He cast a spell and caused roots to burst up from the street.They wrapped around The Shrouded One’s head and crushed it, destroying him once again, but no sooner had he fallen then he rose up again farther down the street.“By oaks and ancestors, how many times do I have to kill you?”

“Until you get it right!”

Jayden charged Green Peril and had nearly reached him when the elf drew a glass bottle from inside his robes.He threw it at the wall of a nearby building and it shattered to release hornets.Once free, the hornets quickly grew as big as dogs. Green Peril pointed his staff at Jayden, Dana and The Shrouded One, and the hornets flew after them.

Jayden slashed one hornet in half before a second attacked him.The monster went straight for his face and would have stung him except it hit his black shield first.Dana heard a hideous shriek as the shield ground the hornet into mush before the spell failed and the shield vanished.Two more hornets went after The Shrouded One.They’d nearly reached him when the side of a two story tall brick building peeled off and fell on them.Both hornets were crushed, leaving two more flying after Dana.

Dana ran for her life with two flying monsters in hot pursuit.Thankfully, the giant hornets weren’t as fast as their smaller cousins, and she managed to stay ahead of them.She raced down the misty streets, the sound of buzzing wings not far behind. One hornet flew up high and tried to dive onto her.Dana climbed under an empty wagon on the street.The hornet landed and tried to go after her.The moment it did, she got to the other side of the wagon and pushed hard. The wagon was heavy, but Dana was strong from years of farm work, and she rolled the wagon wheels over the hornet. Squish!

She looked around and saw the other hornet still in the air.It came closer until she heard Green Peril shout, “Not the girl, you idiot! Kill the Sorcerer Lord!”

The hornet flew back to the battle and Dana raced after it.The hornet was flying close to the ground, and as it approached Jayden it lowered its stinger, long and sharp as a dagger.

Dana charged the hornet and leapt onto its back.Her weight was enough to force the monster down.She and the hornet rolled across the filthy street until they hit a wall. The hornet struggled to get free of her as she wrapped her legs around its back.It was still trying to break loose when she drew her dagger and drove it between the armored plates on the hornet’s back and neck, taking the monster’s head off.

She returned to find the fight still in progress.Green Peril plucked a green sprig off his staff and cast a spell on it.The sprig grew into an enormous plant, easily as large as nearby buildings, and it opened a gaping maw filled with teeth.Jayden tried to hide behind a wagon on the street, but the plant swallowed him and the wagon.Green Peril followed this up by casting another spell that caused his staff to sprout a sickle blade made of wood.He sneered and marched toward The Shrouded One.

“One down, one to go,” Green Peril announced.

Dana spotted three buckets sitting in an alleyway.They smelled of rotting fish, and as she approached she saw they contained fish entrails, a disgusting bribe to placate the city’s goblins.One bucket was still full, and she grabbed it and ran after Green Peril.The elf had nearly reached The Shrouded One when she caught up and splashed rotting fish guts over the elf.

Green Peril screamed in outrage, “These are new robes!”

Dana clobbered him over the head with the bucket.“Let Jayden go!”

She didn’t know if the elf could do what she demanded, but the matter soon became moot.The plant monster cried out in agony as it coughed up the wagon it had eaten along with Jayden.It kept coughing, then threw its head back and howled as Jayden’s black sword cut it apart from the inside.The monster fell dead to the street and Jayden hacked his way to freedom.

It was dark and foggy, but Dana could still see how furious Jayden was.He dripped with sap, his long messy hair was plastered to his head, and his clothes were torn where the plant monster’s teeth had cut.He barred his teeth as his magic sword vanished and was replaced with a black whip.

“I…have had…enough,” he declared.

“A pity, because I can keep this up all night,” Green Peril replied.He kicked Dana away and gripped his staff/sickle with both hands.“So, who dies first?”

“After you,”The Shrouded One told him.

It was hard to see what happened next.The fog rippled, and Dana’s skin tingled right before a rowboat came flying through the air.It was an old wreck with a large hole below the waterline and seawater pouring out of it. Green Peril saw it hurtling toward him and leapt out of the way before it crashed into the street where he’d been standing.

Green Peril charged The Shrouded One and sliced him in half at the waist.The Shrouded One rose up from the fog a block away, and the elf yelled curses into the night.“I’ll kill you a thousand times if that’s what it takes!”

Jayden was on the elf before he got a chance to carry out the threat.He swung the black whip and it wrapped around Green Peril’s staff. The whip sizzled as it ate through the staff.As Green Peril tried to pull free the staff snapped in two.

“You needed that staff to focus your magic,” Jayden said.“It’s a limitation the magic of the Sorcerer Lords doesn’t share.Losing it won’t prevent you casting more spells, but it should weaken them enough for me to end this.”

“I have no limits!” Green Peril shouted.He cast another spell, but it took him longer and his body shook at the effort.Briars with long thorns grew up around him, spreading so fast that Jayden and Dana had to retreat.The wall of briars was twenty feet thick, five feet tall and had thorns three inches long that dripped what was almost certainly poison.

“How quaint,” Jayden said. He swung his whip at the briars, and was rewarded with a hiss as it burned through them.Briars fell to the street, still sizzling, and Jayden swung again to hack more briars down.

Green Peril began to panic. Jayden came from one side while The Shrouded One came from the other.Sweat poured off the elf as Jayden destroyed the briar wall, and there was terror in his eyes as he ran away.Jayden and The Shrouded One followed him as Green Peril fled to the port. He cast another spell, gasping at the effort it took, but he grew another nest of vines around him.Green Peril got into one of the smaller boats and his vines seized the boat’s oars.He managed to row the boat out to sea.

“You brought suffering to this city, wizard,”The Shrouded One said.“Do you really think I’ll let you escape so easily?”

Small anchors tied to tarred ropes swung from one of the large ships in the harbor and caught the edge of Green Peril’s boat.Green Peril tried to pull the anchors off, but the ropes went tight and held him in place.

On shore, Jayden began to chant.A tiny flickering spark formed in his hands as he prepared one of his more devastating spells.Green Peril saw this and cast a much faster spell that made roots burst up from the street. The roots grabbed a nearby house and collapsed it on The Shrouded One, destroying him once again, but the ropes didn’t slacken when he fell.Green Peril cried out in fear as Jayden finished his spell and sent the tiny spark flying at the elf.He jumped from the boat as the spark hit and detonated into a ball of fire.

For a second that seemed to be the end of it, but a giant hawk burst from the sea and flew away.The huge bird bobbed up and down as it fled into the night.

“Transformation magic,” Jayden said as Dana walked up alongside him.“I didn’t think he’d be strong enough to cast a spell that difficult without his staff to focus the energies.I can’t follow him and none of my spells have enough range to reach him. Still, using so much energy without a staff will exhaust him.Our foe lives, but will need days to recover his strength and months to replace his staff.”

Dana wiped sweat off her brow.“Looks like he’s not going to be the court wizard.”

“Likely not.The Shrouded One hasn’t reappeared. Hopefully he’s satisfied how the battle went and won’t cause us trouble.Let’s return to the inn.I need a bath, and we need to be out of this city before its people ask awkward questions in the morning.”

“Why aren’t people asking questions right now?” Dana asked.

Jayden and Dana looked at the houses around them.The battle had been deafeningly loud and done considerable damage to the city, yet no doors or windows opened.Militia and citizens alike made no move to investigate the disturbance.

“This is what fear does to people,” Jayden told her.“Year after year of threats they can’t stop, and the men and women can only keep their heads down and hope danger passes them by.No one should live like this, helpless and frightened, yet so many in the kingdom do.This is why I fight the king and queen, for their rule has brought suffering to good people.”

Dana paused.“Wait here.”

“Why?”

“Just wait,” she told him, and headed to the house Green Peril had destroyed.It was abandoned, thank God, but she dug through the rubble anyway until she found the tattered remains of The Shrouded One’s cloak.And in those shreds of fabric she found a small bruised goblin only two feet tall.“Are you hurt?”

“I’ll heal,” the goblin told her.He had lavender colored skin and wore leather clothes.There were straps on his waist and back where thin wood posts once connected him to the cloak of a much taller man.The goblin sat up and blinked.“How did you know?”

“My skin tingled when your warp magic threw the rowboat at Green Peril.I’d felt the same thing earlier when goblins warped live eels on me.You made The Shrouded One.”

“Sort of.”The goblin looked down as more goblins crept in. “We knew the story and how it scared people.We used to laugh how things that don’t exist frightened men.But then the civil war came, and the old queen died and the king got a new queen, a bad one.People got scared of real things, their own leaders.One day they took away the brotherhood priests, the only men left in Fish Bait City who tried to help.We had to do something, but we’re so small.”

More goblins came, some carrying bricks, others empty buckets coated with hot tar.The first goblin looked at Dana and said, “But The Shrouded One is feared.Bad men would be too scared to fight back if they thought they were fighting a fairytale. So we played a trick on the whole city. We made cloaks that fit over us like a man, and when it’s dark or foggy we come out to protect people.”

“Were any of you hurt tonight?” she asked.

Another goblin held up a shredded cloak.“Green Peril aimed high, just like all the others.”

Dana studied the growing crowd of goblins gathering around her.“You threw the bricks that flew at Green Peril.I heard your voice coming from different places because there were lots of you talking for The Shrouded One.And you were on the roofs and dumped boiling tar on him.How did you make the wall fall on his bugs?”

“Half the city is abandoned,” a goblin told her.“We’ve rigged walls and whole buildings to come down when we need them to.”

More goblins peeked out from the large ship in the harbor where they’d snared Green Peril during his escape.Others came with shredded cloaks and a few with intact cloaks folded up.It was hard to see them in the fog and impossible to guess their numbers.

“Dana?” Jayden called out.

“Give me another minute!” she called back.

The lavender goblin took Dana’s hand.“Please, you can’t tell anyone about us.We only get away with this because men are afraid.If they figure out we’re just goblins, that we can die like anyone else, they’ll hunt us down.When we’re gone Fish Bait City will get worse.I know these people deserve so much more, but we’re all they have.”

Dana looked at the mob of goblins.It was strange.Fish Bait City’s baron was an evil man who stole land from the brotherhood and no doubt did many things as bad or worse.Fear kept the baron in check.If he wasn’t afraid anymore, people who’d already suffered so much would suffer more. Jayden helped good men across the kingdom, but he could only be in one place at a time.Once he left a town or city its citizens were on their own. These people might fear The Shrouded One, but they needed his protection.

“Tell me one thing,” she said.“You said you knew Jayden as a boy.How?”

“He was part of a royal expedition, one of hundreds who wanted to improve Fish Bait City.He was young, so full of promise, but the king and queen put an end to that.”The lavender goblin looked down, as did the entire mob.“If he’d grown up to be the man we thought he would, nobody would need The Shrouded One.”

“Dana?”It was Jayden, his voice carrying a hint of concern.

“Coming!” she called back. She looked to the goblins for more information, but they said no more.Perhaps they wanted Jayden to have his secrets the same way they had theirs.

The lavender goblin looked into Dana’s eyes.“If you tell them what we’re doing, they’ll kill us.”

Dana bent down and stroked the goblin’s cheek before she left.Their lives were in her hands, and thousands of people depended on them.What choice was there?She smiled and said, “Silly goblin, you can’t kill fairytales.”


© Copyright 2018 ArthurD7000. All rights reserved.

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