An Agemonia story by Mike Pohjola
Jonai lit a blubber candle for her mother. The small room was not much of a temple, but it was the only one she had ever known. There was an image of the goddess Lanimora, carved out of driftwood, and one could hear the sound of waves outside.
Her father Cosmo lit another candle, and they walked teary-eyed back to the others.
There was a small pool of water at the back of the room, near the goddess. Mother’s body was in a very small boat wrapped in seaweed.
Jonai was glad she did not have to see her face, which was distorted and red from smoking so much blood powder. That is what had killed her.
Jonai was crying and she could feel her own face start to glow, which was embarrassing, and made her glow even more. Father held her hand, and her friend Celestia took the other one.
“She’s in Heaven now with the goddesses,” Celestia whispered.
It was not a large funeral, but the small room was still packed. There was a sense of community among the destitute. Many of the poor fisherfolk in the illegal pagan temple had eyes as red as mother’s had been, including Celestia’s parents.
The ceremony was presided over by a fisherwoman who acted as a priestess. She said a prayer to Lanimora and then opened the small gate which led from the pool to the canal. Mother’s body was slowly drawn by the current into the canal and later on, into the open sea, where she would find her final resting place.
The priestess was saying her final words when the door was kicked in. A bunch of Dengault soldiers stormed in with a cosmographer. They shoved the funeral guests and called them names: “Junkies and pagans!” Two of them took the image of Lanimora and pushed the goddess into the canal through the opening.
“We ought to burn this place to the ground!”
The cosmographer calmly walked up to where the makeshift priestess had stood before, and turned to talk to the people: “In the name of the Republic of Benem and House Dengault, under Heaven all-seeing, for the crimes of spreading superstition and holding illegal gatherings, I sentence this heretic to a life of servitude.”
“Sounds like an improvement!” someone shouted. There were short spurts of laughter, which quickly died out. It was Celestia’s mom.
“Who was that?” asked the cosmographer. He walked to Celestia’s mom, intent to make an example of her. Then he saw Jonai.
“By the stars!” he cried. “What is that?”
“This is my daughter,” her father said defiantly.
“Nay it is not,” the cosmographer replied. “Why is she purple and glowing? Where is her tail? Why does she only have three fingers? What on Agemonia is she?”
“She may not be nihteegri,” father said, “but she is my daughter. And, honored cosmographer, this is a funeral. Even if you have no respect for the old religion, please have some for our sorrow.”
“Sorrow is no excuse for illegality,” the cosmographer said, and then turned to the soldiers. “Take the priestess and the insolent wench.”
The soldiers grabbed Celestia’s mother, who was too weak from the blood powder to fight them. They dragged her and the priestess to their gondolas which were waiting outside in the canal.
Celestia cried and ran after her mother and Jonai followed her to the pier.
As the soldiers were about to leave, small rowboats arrived from both directions. Jonai realized this was the Good Crew, the criminals who ruled the Wreckers’ Dock! Their leader, a short nihteegri woman known only as Goodwife, was in a fancy sailing skiff at the back. Dressed in an emerald gown, she had piercing green eyes and long nails also painted green. Otherwise her hands and face, like most nihteegri’s, were covered in silky dark grey hair.
“You come into my neighborhood and you do not pay your respects?” she said. “What is the meaning of this?”
“We are simply here to arrest these pagans,” the cosmographer said. “We’ll be out of your way.”
“I’m afraid I cannot allow that,” Goodwife replied and wiggled her fingers. “This one owes me money.”
“Too bad. They will be taken to toil in the fish oil factory.”
Even as the cosmographer was speaking, a gust of wind grabbed the long tail of the soldier next to him, pulling at it until the soldier had to struggle against falling into the canal.
Then a small tornado lifted another soldier in the air. He cried in fear and dropped his spear. Soon all the soldiers were battling the aggressive wind.
“Release this one and I will let you go,” said Goodwife, pointing at Celestia’s mother.
The cosmographer looked around nervously at the disoriented soldiers. He nodded, and they let Good Crew thugs take her into their boat. After that, Goodwife snapped her fingers, and the wind released its hold, the soldiers falling back to their boats.
“Mum!” cried Celestia as the Good Crew boats disappeared behind bends in the canal. The soldiers then rowed their gondolas out, too, and the canal was empty, except for the sobbing girls and their fathers at the small pier.
Jonai was eight years old when her mother had died. Since then she had grown into a young woman, but not a beautiful noble maiden or even a pretty fishergirl. She was ugly, and she knew it. She had been told that often enough by other fisherfolk, by the rich and the poor, by criminals and soldiers, even by korallians and pattangans who sometimes visited their neighborhood.
Her parents were nihteegri but she was not. Her father had told her many times how he had found her drifting in a basket at sea, somewhere near the Carved Arch which the high and mighty call the Amber Gate, like the city itself.
There she had lain, a crying purple baby with only three fingers on each hand and three toes on each foot, her face glowing like it always did when she was overcome by emotion. Cosmo Javian had not hesitated or been turned off by her appearance. He had carefully grabbed the basket and lifted it into the fishing boat he shared with his wife Marion.
The Javians were poor and childless, and they took the strange baby home with them to bring her up as their own. At first, they tried to find the child’s birth parents, but no one had ever seen anyone like her. She was unique, a one of a kind, a fluke.
The only other thing in the basket had been a fancy helmet of a strange make, but it had been stolen after only a few weeks by the Good Crew thugs. Father had suspected it was magical, and it had certainly been expensive. Not moonsilver or gold, but valuable nevertheless. It was long gone now.
Jonai had asked many questions about herself, and tried to find out where she came from. Who put her in that basket? Were there others like her? Who was she?
Whoever had abandoned her, had clearly been repulsed by her. Most people seemed to be.
Ambergate was a wealthy town with rich merchant families, nobility, markets and shipyards, all connected by canals and bridges. But that prosperity was never seen in Wreckers’ Dock where she grew up among the poor fisherfolk, bullied and belittled even by the junkies and the pattangans.
The slum was controlled by the Good Crew who made their money through the illicit drug trade and extortion. The Javians were dead set against blood powder and taught her the value of honest labor and of worshipping the old goddesses. Not that any of this did them any good, they were still just as poor as everyone else.
But even when there was not enough food for all of them, they still made sure Jonai got her belly full of fish stew, even if her parents went hungry.
A group of rebels, who worshipped the pagan gods and protected the poor from the nobility, sometimes brought them food. In exchange, the Javians gave the Sable Crown shelter and sometimes transportation.
In Ambergate, the rich nihteegri looked down on poor nihteegri who looked down on korallians. Korallians looked down on pattangans, and everyone looked down on Jonai. The only friend she had was her neighbor Celestia.
She tried to hide the loneliness and the bruises, but her mother knew what was going on. This made mother so sad she turned to smoking blood powder, at first hiding it from her family, but eventually in plain sight. Jonai could never forgive herself for driving her to that.
They left the neighborhood most days to go fishing in the sea and sometimes to visit the markets at Bazaar Dock. There were parts of the city she never saw, but sometimes they rowed past a derelict old building surrounded by an overgrown garden. Her father told her it was a library of the Council of Eight, who had been an order of wizards once. According to rumor they had built their library on top of something else, and the whole building was haunted. Nobody went there anymore, but Jonai felt inexplicably drawn to it.
Once, when she was sixteen, she spent an entire pagan holiday spying on the old library, mesmerized. She had tried entering it, but a Good Crew thug had told her to beat it.
Now she was standing on a bridge, looking down on the place. Nobody seemed to use the main entrance, but the gangsters went in and out through smaller gates and secret canals. She never saw any wizards, though, which probably meant they were long extinct.
“Quite a sight, isn’t it?” asked an old nihteegri man who was leaning on the bridge railing nearby.
Jonai mumbled something in response before realizing the man was blind. How could he know what she was looking at? Or what it looked like?
“That is the Library of Ata,” he said. “The Council of Eight often erected their buildings on top of something the ancients had built.”
“Who were the ancients?”
“They were here before our peoples. They were Agemonia’s original inhabitants.”
Jonai’s heart skipped a beat. “Were they purple with three fingers?”
The blind man paused for dramatic effect, and then said, “Nay.” Then he continued, “but they did create your kind to fight aox.”
“Who are ay-ocks?”
“Aox is an evil energy, it’s what demons are made of. And blood smoke, too.”
“Wait! Who are you?”
“‘I’m called Pebble. And you are Jonai Javian. Listen, I know you’d like to enter the library, but you can’t. Goodwife has taken over the whole place.”
Jonai could feel herself starting to glow again. These days the mere mention of Goodwife was enough for that.
“How do you know so much?” Jonai asked. “Are you a cosmographer?”
Cosmographers were scientists, physicians, and teachers, who were active all over the Republic of Benem. Jonai had mostly had bad experiences of them since they also persecuted the pagan faith and the Sable Crown.
“Cosmographers know much, but there are things they understand not. Like aox and aiun, the ancients, and our role here in Agemonia. If you’d like, I can teach you.”
This seemed strange, and Jonai refused. She ran home to be with her father for the evening ceremonies.
The next few weeks she had to fish with father, but she kept thinking about what Pebble had said. She did not want to tell her father, but she did tell Celestia one evening when they were mending nets.
They had grown from best friends to lovers, but unfortunately Celestia had started smoking blood powder like her parents. She had tried to hide it from Jonai, but she recognized the red eyes.
“What if this Pebble is working for the Good Crew?” asked Celestia, who happened to be sober for once.
“I don’t think so,” Jonai replied, “he didn’t speak like a gangster.”
“By the stars, maybe he’s your real father and he’s come to take you away from this place!”
“Come on, that is a fantasy for children. Besides, he’s nihteegri.”
“Well, what’s the worst that can happen?”
“He can be a demented murderer who’s going to kill me.”
“Good point. Don’t go.”
“I think I want to.”
“Then stars shine upon you, my love,” said Celestia and kissed her.
On the next holy day, she went to that same bridge, and found Pebble there waiting for her. His hair and beard were white and cropped short. That and the milky eyes made a stark contrast with his dark face.
“What can you teach me?” Jonai asked.
“Follow me,” he said.
He walked sure-footed, only occasionally padding the pavement with his cane. He had an apartment in a big house near the Guild of Herbalists.
Jonai had expected to find rooms full of books, but to her surprise the place lacked almost all furniture. Instead, he had weapons: bows, daggers, spears, swords, javelins, knives, scimitars, korallian tridents, and some she did not even recognize. In the middle of the room was a fencing dummy and there was a shooting target painted on the wall.
“Take that one,” he said and pointed at an angular polearm.
Jonai lifted it from the wall.
“It’s an ignisaur bardiche from the Megeian Empire. Now, attack me with it.”
Jonai took the weapon and swung it at Pebble, slowly.
He knocked the bardiche to the side with his cane, and then banged Jonai’s head with it.
“Ow!” she complained.
“Attack me again.”
She did not want to hurt the old man, but she was not about to take another hit, either.
She tried to hit him with the blunt side of the weapon at full speed.
He ducked and grabbed Jonai’s ankle with his cane so that she fell on the floor.
“Again,” was all that he said.
They spent all morning practicing with the bardiche. Jonai slowly started to get the hang of it, but she never managed to hit Pebble however much she tried to. After a simple lunch of fish and bread they switched to a pattangan bow and studied target practice.
“Now you must go,” said Pebble when the sun was starting to set.
“But you haven’t told me anything!”
“I’ve taught you patience.”
“But what about where I come from?”
“That one you will have to figure out for yourself. But I will help you find the answer.”
Jonai was disappointed.
But she kept coming back. First on holy days, then also in the evenings, and sometimes she even skipped work to be there. Pebble taught her how to use all of the weapons, how to use all her senses in combat, and how to anticipate the opponent’s moves. She was fast. Faster than anyone he had ever taught.
Sometimes he also told her of the demons who live in the Breach, a dimension ruled by aox. Pebble had sworn to fight against the demons, and he was teaching Jonai to do the same. Too bad Jonai had never seen a demon, but she had seen plenty of criminals that she would like to fight.
Jonai would have wanted to train more, but she had to eat, too. Celestia sometimes joined her and father on their fishing trips, since her own father was too consumed by blood powder to work.
Celestia practically lived with them, too, although she still took care of her dad.
Training with Pebble had occupied Jonai’s mind, but sooner or later her thoughts always turned back to her own origins. Who was she and why was she so different? Would the stolen helmet have provided some answers?
One evening, when Celestia and Jonai were home alone, Jonai was particularly distraught over these thoughts. She had slept poorly due to nightmares, and the same images haunted her even now. People pointing and laughing, some disgusted, others afraid. And she was small and all alone.
She talked to her girlfriend, as she had many times before, and Celestia listened patiently. Then they cuddled in bed, Celestia’s tail wrapped around Jonai.
“You know what you should do?” asked Celestia. “You should smoke some blood powder.”
This made Jonai angry. “Nay! You know I don’t do that! Just think about what happened to our mums!”
“I don’t mean a lot, just a little to make you feel better. Come on, try it. I won’t let anything happen to you. Trust your stars.”
“How does it feel?”
“Like a pleasant dream or a happy memory. It’s hard to describe. Try it, just this once, you’ll like it.”
“You’ll stay sober?”
“As you wish.”
Celestia fished under the bed for a small pouch and a pipe. She carefully took a pinch of the fine burgundy powder, and put it in the pipe. It smelled dank and tempting.
“Isn’t this expensive?” Jonai asked. Something she had wondered at many times, but they mostly avoided talking about the drug.
“Oh, I have credit with my guy,” said Celestia nonchalantly.
“You’re in debt?”
“Yeah, but I can work it off.”
Jonai did not like that one bit, but it was too late to back out now. Celestia gently placed the seashell pipe in her mouth and lit it with the small flame of a whale oil lamp.
Jonai looked at Celestia hesitantly, and then inhaled.
Whatever she was expecting, this was not it.
She was suddenly in two places at the same time, looking at Celestia and herself from the side of the bed. The pipe fell on the floor and cracked. She could see flashes of the Amber Gate, its runes glowing blood red. She heard screams and thunder, and felt every hair on her body stand on end.
She exhaled and realized she was back on the bed. The pipe lay broken on the ground. Celestia screamed, and Jonai realized it was her screams she had heard all along.
“It’s not what I expected,” she said.
Celestia was still yelling in terror. Jonai took her properly into her arms and comforted her until the screams turned into quiet sobs.
“What happened to you?” Celestia asked. “It looked like you were standing there while you were sitting here.”
Jonai had no explanation so she just kept holding her girlfriend. She started humming and then sang an old song about how Lanimora protects sailors.
She never tried blood powder after that.
Later in the year, during arrowfish season, Jonai and her father were returning from a fishing trip to the sea. As they were approaching one of the smelly sewer canals that lead to Wreckers’ Dock, they were suddenly surrounded by small rowboats. It was the Good Crew!
Behind them, in an unmanned sailing boat moved by magical wind, was Goodwife. Her skiff was directed next to theirs, and the gang leader looked straight at Jonai’s father with her menacing green eyes.
“Heaven protect. It’s Cosmo, right? How was the fishing?”
“On this day the stars shone upon us,” father said reluctantly. The bottom of the boat was covered with arrowfish.
“I’m glad to hear it,” Goodwife said, feigning politeness. “Listen, Cosmo, I need you to do something for me.”
“What is it?”
“I have a shipment waiting for me in Fort Clyster. I need you to pick it up for me.”
“Why don’t you use your regular smugglers?”
“Aye, I would, but I need more than usual. And some of them are toiling in the fish oil factories, while others are feeding the fish, if you know what I mean.”
Father took a staunch posture. “I refuse.”
Goodwife wiggled her fingers, the long green nails clicking at each other. “I suggest you reconsider.”
Jonai noticed the fur on father’s body ruffling in a strong wind that was blowing straight at him.
“Well?” asked Goodwife.
“Nay,” father said.
A hail storm appeared out of nowhere and pummeled father. He covered himself with his arms.
“And now?” asked Goodwife again.
“Nay, nay, and nay!”
“Please, make it stop!” asked Jonai. She could not bear to watch.
“Jonai,” said father, “even if it kills me, I will be honest and sober and trust in the goddesses.”
“As you wish,” said Goodwife, and raised her short arm high.
A lightning struck from the sky and hit father. There was a smell of burned hair, and then he fell on the bottom. Cosmo Javian was dead.
The Goodwife looked at the horrified Jonai. “One day I may ask a favor of you, freak. Take to heart what happens to those who say nay.” And with that, the magical wind caught the jade sail and blew her skiff away and the flotilla followed her.
Jonai sat there for a long time in impotent grief and horror. Her father’s bloodied corpse lay lifeless on top of the day’s catch.
She averted her eyes, grabbed the oars, and rowed back to their home pier.
There would be a funeral some days later, in the same makeshift temple where Jonai had lit a candle to her mother all those years ago. But she left Celestia to take care of that. She had more pressing matters to take care of.
It was already gloomy and chilly out when Jonai skulked her favorite spot on the bridge overlooking the Library of Ata, named after the larger of the two moons orbiting Agemonia. Dark figures went in and out of the half-abandoned building through routes she knew well by now.
She could feel the strange pull of the building, but she was not there for that. What she wanted was revenge!
Jumping from rooftop to spire to statue, she followed one of the criminals as he rowed in the canals. When a bridge crossed the canal, she softly lowered herself into the boat with him. The thug turned and saw Jonai’s fist as it was already hitting him in the face. She tied weights around him and threw him into the water.
The boat was in good condition and she delivered it to Reilton the Red, the local leader of Sable Crown. Reilton promised her it would be used to help the poor.
Killing a Good Crew gangster made her feel a little better. This was not exactly what she had trained to do, but it was what she needed to do.
The next evening, she wrapped herself in an old fishing cloak that covered her almost completely. She took the pattangan bow and some arrows, and lurked on a rooftop where she had perfect aim at the thugs leaving the library. She picked them off one by one.
As each one died, more were alerted, and eventually they arrived armed with shields or through different entrances.
“Up there on the roof!” one of them yelled.
“I see it! What is it? A knight?”
“Nay, it must be from the Sable Crown.”
“But it has no tail! It’s a ghost, a revenant.”
Jonai took a step aside to hide behind a chimney, and with that she had disappeared, a legend of the night.
Every night she kept attacking Good Crew soldiers, but they were getting more careful. They started wearing armor, and always moving in groups of three or more. They even posted lookouts on rooftops. It was getting harder and harder to catch them unawares.
She did not bother fishing anymore, but she trained furiously with Pebble. Every day she borrowed different weapons, lying that she wished to practice at home. But Pebble was no fool.
“I understand your grief,” he said, “but your mission is to fight demons, not common criminals. Who controls the slums of Ambergate is irrelevant when the demons of the Breach attack. You need to learn to let go.”
“I cannot in good conscience let Goodwife terrorize the people of this city any longer. Without them, I have nothing to defend. The demons may just as well take everything.”
That sentence made Pebble distraught with emotion. “My previous student felt the same way, that maybe demons aren’t that bad. Maybe he could even reason with them. It drove him down a dark path that I’m not sure he’s still fully recovered from.”
But Pebble would not tell her more. He just told her to end her obsession with Goodwife.
And end it she would. By ending Goodwife.
That evening, armed to the teeth and wearing her fishing cloak made of dark sealskin, she snuck into the Library of Ata itself. She first tried the main entrance, which the thugs never used, but found it locked, perhaps through some long-forgotten magic.
She walked through the overgrown garden onto a ledge that was on top of a side-entrance. A guard was posted there, but she quickly tied her up with a buryat lasso, and left her dangling from a lamp post.
She jumped down to the doorway and crept inside, lurking in the shadows. Whenever she encountered thugs, she incapacitated them as soundlessly as possible.
Jonai arrived at an intersection where the corridor to the left was well lit and clearly close to Goodwive’s hideout. The corridor to the right was dark and unused, but she experienced a strange pull, as she had felt many times when near the library. Like something was calling for her there.
That need would have to wait, she told herself. She was here for one reason only.
Then, out of nowhere, a crossbow bolt pierced her cloak. Another almost hit her in the stomach, but miraculously, she managed to dodge it. More arrows were coming.
“Get the freak!” She recognized Goodwife’s voice.
Thugs appeared from the well-lit corridor and from the one she had just come from. They were all armored and firing crossbows. She had walked right into a trap!
Bolts hit the walls as she turned and ran into the dark corridor as fast as she could. Except it was no longer dark: she herself was glowing enough to illuminate the walls and the floor. Even with the cloak on, it must have made her a much easier target.
The corridor was twisting and turning, making it harder for the chasers to shoot at her. It also seemed to descend lower and lower, and was probably already below water level. How was it not wet?
A sudden pain shot through her leg. A bolt had pierced her thigh. She could no longer run, but she kept limping ahead anyway. She was close, she could feel it. Close to what? She could not say, but there was a power here, like in the air before a thunderstorm. A power that called to her.
Jonai threw down the heavy cloak which was slowing her down. She found a doorway and went through it, and suddenly saw a huge head. It startled her at first, but then she realized it was carved of stone. The stone head was in the middle of a circular chamber with a circle of runes carved in the floor. It had called to her.
“We found her!” Two gangsters had caught up to her.
The grey eyes of the stone head lit up and the light blinded the gangsters. Jonai threw an agurian chain whip at the thugs’ legs, tripping them, and they fell over backwards.
She slowly walked up to them, and was preparing to knock them out, when she saw the look of fear on their faces. They were looking at her, not just afraid for their lives, but with such cosmic horror as if they had seen an angry goddess.
“What?” she asked.
“Please…” one of the thugs said with tears in his eyes. “I have a family. I never meant to… Please forgive me.”
What was going on? No matter, she had more pressing matters to attend to.
“What is Goodwife planning?”
“Just some big show at the Shipyard tomorrow night, that’s all we know!”
“Very well. Leave this life of crime and help the people in Wreckers’ Dock, instead,” she told the thugs.
“Yes, yes, we promise.”
She gagged and tied them so they could not alert the others, and then turned back to the stone head. She realized her thigh did not hurt anymore. In fact, the wound had been completely healed.
Looking down, she realized she was wearing a golden robe. Only, she was not. She had had a cloak on earlier, but she had taken it off. Where did this thing come from? Was it even real or some kind of hallucination?
“Jonai,” came a booming voice. It was the stone head. “For years, you have been called. Only now have you come. “Do you know who I am?”
“You are… You are aiun,” Jonai realized. This was the force of good that stood against aox and the demons. It was what Pebble had been teaching her.
“And you are not of this world. You are from the other side, you are from the Breach.”
“So I am a demon.”
“No! The Breach was not always controlled by demons or the aox. Your kind have always stood fast against the demons. You are of aiun. When the demons slaughtered your people, you were sent here through the Amber Gate to be safe.”
She had not felt particularly safe, but still, she was alive.
“I must enter the Breach and find out everything.”
“It will not be easy,” the stone head said, “for they are already alerted to your presence. They will be coming for you.”
Indeed, she heard footsteps in the corridor outside.
“I have to fight my way out.”
“There is another way,” said the stone head.
Before Jonai could ask for an explanation, the runes in the floor started shining and a magical gateway appeared in the room.
“It will take you out of here,” the head said.
The gangsters’ footsteps were getting closer.
Jonai stepped through the portal.
She was underwater. There were korallians everywhere. She could not breathe.
Jonai started swimming towards the surface as fast as she could. She had never before been in Little Sinkerton, the korallian neighborhood. The water was illuminated by strange lamps and luminous fish, but there was no time to admire the sights. She was running out of air.
It was night, but she could see the two moons far above. Directing her swim toward them she spent the last of her strength and broke the surface.
Gasping for air she swam to the shore of Wreckers’ Dock, which was directly above Little Sinkerton.
The next day she continued planning her attack on Goodwife who would be at the Shipyard that evening.
Pebble reluctantly agreed to join Jonai if she would then focus her energies on fighting the demons. She had told him everything that the stone head had said.
She had also alerted Reilton the Red, asking him what the Sable Crown knew of Goodwife’s plans, and asking them to join her in the fight.
Celestia was nowhere to be found, which was not unusual. Jonai would have wanted to warn her to hide, but she was probably already hiding somewhere with a new pipe.
Both the Shipyard and Wreckers’ Dock were by Dengault Bay, separated by one of the larger canals and thoroughfares of the city. Many carpenters, sail weavers, blacksmiths, rope braiders, and engineers had their shops and warehouses at the Shipyard. The shoreline was dominated by half-finished boats and ships being built, or older ships in repair. Tall cranes stood over the ships.
Hundreds of serfs, prisoners, and poor workers were toiling on them, many of the workers pattangan or korallian. The smell of tar competed with that of the sea, and sounds of work came from all directions.
But where was Goodwife and what was she planning? Reilton had told her Good Crew thugs had been seen going into and out of a particular warehouse, which seemed completely unremarkable to Jonai.
Jonai found a satisfactory place on one of the cranes, and spent a good while there observing the warehouse, wrapped in a dark cloak. She did not see any thugs enter, but some Dengault guards went in. Were they there to arrest Goodwife? No, they left empty-handed. But they had not broken in, they had a key! What was going on?
As the sun was setting and the sky turned a menacing orange, she saw Goodwife’s green skiff sail in along a small canal which led to the warehouse. She was too well guarded for Jonai to shoot her from afar. Goodwife managed to slip through the door, posting a few guards outside.
Soon she was joined by a cosmographer who walked in with Dengault guards. Was it the same one who had once attacked Jonai’s mother’s funeral? It was difficult to say. Why had the Good Crew just let them in without resistance?
Jonai looked at Pebble who shrugged.
The atmosphere was tense. She knew something was going on, but had no idea what. And they could not attack the warehouse alone, there were too many soldiers and thugs, all prepared. Nothing happened for a while.
Then she sensed a magical flash like she sometimes felt, like with the stonehead, but different. There was the sound of crashing wood, and metallic bangs repeated rhythmically.
Suddenly, a ball of steel and iron walked through the warehouse wall. It was followed by Goodwife holding a brass cube with blue markings and the cosmographer. They were surrounded by soldiers and thugs, and walking towards the large canal that separated the Shipyard from Wreckers’ Dock.
“Reilton the Red!” cried Goodwife, her voice magically amplified. “I call you out to parley!”
There was no answer. What business could Goodwife possibly have with the Sable Crown who were at best, her competitors, and at worst, her enemies?
Then it was the cosmographer’s turn. “Reilton the Red! In the name of the Republic of Benem and House Dengault, under Heaven all-seeing, I command you to show yourself!”
A single arrow flew in over the canal and hit the ground between Goodwife and the cosmographer. There was a note attached. One of the guards took it and gave it to the cosmographer. He read it, frowned, and gave it to Goodwife.
“Insults will not help you. We demand the immediate surrender of the Sable Crown. If you do not comply, the Good Crew has authority to dig you out of your holes.”
More arrows flew, this time aimed at the thugs and the soldiers. They managed to block most of them with their shields. Only one thug was wounded. Some arrows hit the giant metal creature, made a sound like a bell ringing, and dropped to the ground having done no harm.
“Very well,” said the cosmographer, and turned to Goodwife. “Madam.”
Goodwife held the cube and spoke to it. The giant metal creature walked surprisingly quickly, hitting the ground hard with each step. It crossed a small bridge over the canal, and then simply walked through the first house it saw. The nihteegri family that lived there ran away in terror of the metal assailant.
“We will find you,” spoke Goodwife, “even if we have to destroy every house in Wreckers’ Dock.”
So this was their plan! But Jonai was damned if she would let Goodwife destroy her home. As the Sable Crown kept firing at their enemies from afar, she decided to face them in combat. She and Pebble creeped from shadow to shadow trying to get closer.
They hid behind the warehouse wall, and Jonai peered at Goodwife. The two guards posted on the warehouse door were standing between her and her prey. This wall of the warehouse was still unbroken, but she sneaked closer, hoping they would not look her way.
She threw a pattangan throwing star at one of them, and he fell down with a whimper. The other one was alerted, but held her spear inexpertly. Clearly she was no fighter, and taking her down would be easy. Jonai took two short korallian tridents, and easily grabbed her spear with them.
She was about to knock the woman unconscious when she recognized Celestia, her eyes red.
“What are you doing here?” she whispered angrily.
“I told you I have to work for them,” she replied apologetically.
“But you’re no fighter.”
“Most of us aren’t! But we have no choice.”
Jonai felt bad for a moment. Perhaps the guard lying next to Celestia was no hardened criminal, either, but one of Goodwife’s victims.
“You have to leave this place,” Jonai told her. “It’s not safe for you here.”
“Nay. Goodwife will have my head and tail if I leave.”
“What is she planning?”
“Some say she is a noblewoman, down on her luck, seeking to overthrow the Dengaults. That’s why she’s selling drugs.”
“She seems cozy with the Dengaults now.”
“Aye, they don’t know her plan. But they have a common enemy now. I don’t know much.”
“Please, my love,” Jonai said, “leave this place before things get too bad. Do it for me. I will protect you.”
Celestia hesitated. Jonai kissed her and gently took her spear. “Please, go.”
Jonai removed her cloak and wrapped it around Celestia. She looked at her in amazement.
“What has happened to you?”
“The golden cape? It’s a part of me now.”
“And you have a crown of some sorts. Or maybe it’s a helmet.”
“I do? I can’t help it.”
Celestia kissed her and ran off, disappearing into the shadows.
There was no disappearing for Jonai anymore, with her glowing skin and brightly shining cape and helmet. She threw the spear at one of the Dengault soldiers and ran at them with Pebble.
The soldiers were no match for Pebble or his pupil, but there were many of them. Jonai and Pebble might have been in trouble had not the Sable Crown rushed over the bridge to help her.
Soon the soldiers and thugs and many of the Sable Crown outlaws were either on the ground or fleeing. The cosmographer was retreating in panic. It was just Goodwife now, and the giant golem that was fast returning to her.
“You again, freak,” Goodwife said wiggling the fingers of her free hand. The other held the magical cube. “Oh, and you bought an old blind man. How charming.”
A strong wind carried sparks and hail towards them. Many outlaws retreated, trying to escape the deadly weather, but somehow Jonai was unaffected, as if her glow burned away the effects of Goodwife’s magic.
She walked towards Goodwife.
“This ends here,” she said to the criminal leader.
“You’re right about that,” Goodwife replied, and then looked at her puzzled. “That helmet… How did you get it?”
“You recognize it?”
“Of course, it’s the one my boys found in your home when you were just baby. Or is it? Nay, yours is just an illusion.”
“Where’s the real one?” asked Jonai, approaching Goodwife with deadly intent.
“Sold, long ago to a xi-noq in Runedale. It paid handsomely for it. Well, enough chit-chat, freak. Roglu, attack!”
The spherical automaton ran at Jonai and Pebble, flailing its metal hands at them. Pebble tried to block one of them, but the punch was much more powerful than he had anticipated. Jonai could hear the sound of bones breaking as the huge golem beat her master to a pulp.
She fought the roglu, but none of her weapons did any damage. She tried to avert her eyes from Pebble’s bloodied corpse, which the construct dropped on the ground.
Meanwhile, the roglu pounded her with fast and heavy strikes, any one of them strong enough to kill her. She had to dodge and jump as fast as she could to stay out of the way.
The roglu was tireless, she realized, but she was not. Eventually she would make a mistake and then the roglu would kill her.
She ran towards Goodwife and swung at her with the sword of a Benemite knight. Goodwife pulled together a dense fog that engulfed her and her emerald dress, hiding her from view. Jonai could no longer see Goodwife, and the roglu caught up to her, hitting her so hard she flew sideways, and almost fell into the canal.
Jonai ran to the other side of the small fog cloud, hiding from the roglu. She walked into the fog, her brightness burning it away enough for her to find the vulnerable Goodwife. The nihteegri gangster tried clawing at her, but Jonai brushed her claws aside and grabbed the cube.
She took a few more steps, and then told the cube, “Roglu, stop.”
The colossal automaton immediately stopped. It just stood there now, fists in mid-swing. Its one red eye stared at nothing.
Goodwife realized what was going on, and tried to grab the cube first with her claws and then with gusts of magical wind. But Jonai held on to it with all her might.
“Roglu, grab her,” she commanded.
The metal golem turned and took rapid steps toward Goodwife who started walking backwards while uttering futile commands to the creature. She even tried attacking it with wind, but for naught.
Goodwife turned and started running, but tripped. The roglu picked Goodwife up, and held her in its metal hands.
“Roglu, take her to the shore,” she commanded. The automaton carried her to the basins where the ships were being built. All the nightshift workers stopped their work and just stared at her and the golem.
Jonai kneeled by Pebble’s body. He was still alive, barely, but his bones were shattered.
“Jonai,” he breathed heavily, “you must finish your training.”
“You will teach me when you’re better,” she said.
“Nay,” he said, “but another is coming this way, she can teach you. Trust your stars.”
“Thank you for everything, Pebble,” Jonai said, tears clouding her eyes, “I will light a candle for you.”
He offered no reply. Jonai held his corpse for a while and cried.
Then she heard movement from behind. She grabbed his cane and prepared herself to fight whoever it was.
“Heaven protect,” said Reilton the Red calmly. “We will carry off the dead, you deal with Goodwife.”
Jonai blinked and remembered she still had the cube. She nodded at Reilton and told him to prepare Pebble for a funeral.
The cube in her hands, and still glowing, Jonai walked to the basins. There stood the round metal construct, still holding Goodwife.
“Release me,” asked Goodwife, “I will pay you handsomely! You can be my partner. Name your price!”
“Nay,” said Jonai. “Roglu, keep walking.”
“No! You’ll regret this!”
But Goodwife’s cries were useless. Step by step the automaton walked towards the shore, and then into the sea, holding the criminal witch in its clutches. Weather of every sort hit the roglu, but none of them seemed to have any effect.
Soon the cube in Jonai’s hand started to grow hot, and she had to put it down. With a pungent smell, the artefact disintegrated into dust.
Celestia joined Jonai at the shore, looking at the dark horizon.
“You are quite the fighter,” she said, and took her hand.
“Growing up in Wreckers’ Dock made me this way.”
“I grew up there, too,” Celestia said, “but you’re different.”
“I’ve always been different.”
“I don’t mean on the outside,” Celestia said and kissed her. “You’re braver and stronger, more honest and more determined. You’re a hero. We need someone like you to protect us.”
Jonai smiled wearily. “I can’t protect you from yourself.”
This made Celestia cry. “I’ll stop smoking blood powder. I promise.”
“I’ll help you as much as I can,” Jonai said. They kissed and hugged. “But I must first go on a trip.”
“I will wait for you here,” Celestia promised. “Where will you go?”
“To Runedale. I must seek the helmet that came to this world with me.”
“Came from where?”
“From another world. Through that,” said Jonai, pointing at where she knew the Amber Gate would be. They turned to look at the blackness of the sea and to listen to the sound of the waves. Then a light appeared. And another.
“Are they stars?” asked Celestia.
“Nay, that is the Carved Arch,” said Jonai, amazed.
The runes on the Amber Gate were starting to glow with an azure light.