The small city of Alnoc lay on the southern tip of the land of Sendorra, bordered by a long stretch of mountain ranges that extended from the north and northwest to the almost impenetrable jungles of Alanca in the east. The treacherous waters of the Corian Sea made up the southern borders, making Alnoc one of the most isolated cities in Sendorra. Nevertheless, Alnoc's location in the warm south, far from the administrative clutches of the imperial government made it a center for merchants trading in the black market. Occasionally, trader ships would sail through the rough waters of the south seas or venture through the dense Alancan jungles to reach Alnoc where they would negotiate and sell to the highest bidder. When the emperor decreed for magic to be prohibited to all citizens and that magical artifacts to be confiscated and brought to the capital, many of the black market merchants flocked to Alnoc, far from the probing eyes of imperial soldiers.
Governance of Alnoc, as with most far flung cities of Sendorra, rested solely with the Jad, the appointed head of the most prominent family. In the case of Alnoc, it was Jad Enzir who inherited his position of power from his father, a black market merchant who was killed during an altercation with another trader. Having been raised by his father at a time when magical artifacts were still freely bought and sold, he grew an almost insatiable interest in magic and was keen on keeping the status quo of Alnoc as one of the remaining places in the empire that still practiced magic and where trading in magical artifacts still happened.
Jad Enzir stood by the window and watched his servants as they approached the mankora with caution. They pushed a cartload of grain forward and tipped the contents to the ground as the giant bird looked with interest. Suddenly, the mankora flapped its wings and flew several feet above the ground towards the pile of grain. It would have landed nearer the pile but was stopped by a thick rope that tied its foot to a massive stone block on the courtyard. It squawked loudly and pulled its foot, but the stone did not yield. The mankora then stretched its neck forward and was able to reach the pile of grain. The servants pushed the grains towards the mankora with shovels and were obviously scared to move closer. Enzir laughed at his servants and wondered how they can be scared of the mankora when it only ate grain and worms when it was still a regular sized Alnoc chicken. Surely, it would not eat humans, or would it? Enzir scratched his beard and thought about his question.
The mankora was one of Lankko's most successful experiments, thought Enzir. After countless trials, his keeper of secrets was able to extract the power of magical artifacts into a blue elixir that Lankko himself regularly gave the mankora to drink.
It was not just his chicken that Lankko experimented on. His experiments on the garden slugs yielded his psylugs. Enzir was not too happy with how Lankko named them, unlike the name 'mankora' which Enzir himself thought of. Still, the psylugs were quite useful in getting information from suspected spies while giving a good light show.
Enzir frowned as he remembered the stranger they brought in that morning for questioning. His arrival in Alnoc was quite suspicious. Enzir had asked the soldiers who discovered the stranger how he arrived and the soldiers told Enzir about the ball of light that suddenly appeared in the marketplace near the ancient Fountain of the Seven Spheres. Most of Alnoc's citizens were still asleep, but Enzir's soldiers posted in the area noticed the bright light and approached it. When the ball of light dissipated, there was the stranger standing in its place.
No one knew who he was nor where he could have come from, but the manner of the stranger's appearance made the soldiers decide to bring him to Lankko. This was in accordance with Enzir's instructions to bring any suspicious individuals to Lankko for questioning. Enzir rubbed his chin, thinking of the possible origins of the stranger, but he suspected that it could be the emperor planting a spy on Alnoc. Or, could it be the Guild of Healers who wanted the pearl returned to them? Or, could it be the Sorrelian mercenaries sent to recover their beloved pearl? Or, black market merchants from somewhere else in Sendorra who wanted the pearl for themselves? There were just too many people who could be looking for the pearl, he realized. And then, there was the mark on the stranger's back...
"Jad Enzir…" It was his servant, telling him that his breakfast was ready. Enzir left the window as he remembered the events almost a week ago that led him to possess the most coveted object in the whole of Sendorra.
"Would you like to have your breakfast at the dining hall or would you prefer to have it in your room?" the servant asked Enzir with a bow. It was a sunny morning and Enzir wanted to make the most of it, so he followed his servant to the dining hall where the large windows let in the sunlight and the cool morning breeze.There was no one else at the dining hall except for the servants who waited on him, the rest of the household still very much asleep at that time of the morning. Enzir preferred these quiet times over the chaos of lunch and dinner when most of his household would be dining with him. He wanted the silence of the morning to help him think about his affairs and what he would do the rest of the day. He enjoyed the rice porridge that was served him and left the boiled egg in his bowl for last. He observed that it was smaller than what he was expecting and would like to talk to the cook for not boiling a larger egg. He was to be told later by the feisty cook that i
The giant pig snorted and squealed as it ran past surprised servants and guards. The amulet hung from its mouth and sparkled as it dangled in the wind. Enzir ran after it and a breathless Lankko followed. A frightened servant let go of a cart loaded with vegetables and it turned to its side, spilling carrots and cabbages to the ground. The giant pig stopped and sniffed the spilled vegetables, but snorted and jumped over it when it heard Enzir running from behind. Enzir's feisty cook appeared out of her kitchen with hands on her waist, wondering what the commotion was all about when she saw the giant pig jumping over the pile of carrots and running past her towards the open gate."Close the gates!" shouted Enzir to the soldiers guarding the gate, but they were slow to react, shocked to see a giant pig running towards them. When the guards saw Enzir running after the pig, they started to close the gate, but were too late. The pig did not show any sign of slowing down and hurtle
A bright glow suddenly illuminated the green foliage surrounding a clearing in the forest near Alnoc. It started as a small ball of light, but grew into outlines of two people. In a moment, the two outlines grew sharper as the light faded, revealing a man and a woman.Wen gasped as they dropped a few inches from the ground. She expected it, having used the purple pulko stones a few times before, but the feeling of momentary weightlessness still surprised her. The man she held groaned and fluttered his eyelids. Wen gently lay his head on the ground and watched him. He seemed to be breathing normally, she observed.Standing up, Wen looked around her and realized that they were in a forest clearing. Just above the trees, she observed Alnoc Fortress on top of the hill. She sighed in relief as she saw how distant they were from the place where they came from. She wondered if they had really made a clean escape.A butterfly passed in front of Wen and perched on a tree
Wen led Eldion to a house not too far from the clearing where they appeared. It was a small house made of wood and bamboo with a thatch roof that effectively repelled rainwater while insulating the inside of the house from the heat of the sun. There was plenty of firewood stacked neatly at the side of the house, partly hidden by a small dugout canoe that had not been used for a long time. A wheelbarrow with a broken axle stood neglected along with some garden implements that had long rusted and decayed. There were flower pots that lined the small path to the house, but the flowering plants had been overgrown with weeds and failed to bloom with the season. Wen saw that the door was locked, but she only needed to lift the nearest flowerpot to obtain a rusty key from underneath.When they opened the door, they saw that the house was composed of just two rooms, typical of the houses in Alnoc. The main room that served as the living room was larger and could also serve as a dining
Mira slid the door open and came out to the living room. There, he saw a tall, stocky man wearing clothes made of dyed cotton and wool with a hat and belt made of leather. In his hand was a bamboo pole and he was using it to threaten Eldion. Mira recognized the pole as the one she used to prop the window open. On the floor were a few leather bags that Casser had dropped when he saw the stranger sleeping in his living room."Get out of my house!" Casser shouted as he threatened Eldion with the bamboo pole. Eldion stood speechless with his back against the wall."Casser!" Mira shouted. "Stop it! He's with me. We just needed a place to rest. You were not here so I just let ourselves in."Casser lowered the bamboo pole and stared at Mira. "Oh, it's you," he said, his face and posture relaxing as he looked at the flower in Mira's hair. "Sorry, Wen. I didn't know that you were visiting either."Mira realized that she still had the pink flower in her hair.
Mira's mind was abuzz with thoughts of how she and Eldion could escape. She knew they could not make a run for it without the Troupe catching up with them. She knew that she could defeat any of Thunka's three dancers in a fight, but to defeat all three would require all her strength plus a lot of luck. Besides, she did not know if Eldion had sufficiently recovered from his ordeal with Enzir."What do we do now?" Wen's voice was full of worry. "What if Thunka finds out that you have the pearl? What if she discovers who Eldion is?""Hush, Wen!" was all that Mira was able to say. She wanted to think clearly.Eldion looked at Mira, but realized that she was probably talking to Wen. Rentha heard Mira and glanced at her from behind. She smiled wickedly and walked on.Thunka's entertainment palace was a short distance from Alnoc's main square. There were few people on the streets and the palace itself looked deserted from the outside. It was a huge octagonal str
Thunka's eyes glistened in anticipation. "Give it to me. Quickly!" she commanded.Then, Mira took out a psylug and placed it on Thunka's palm. Thunka was confused and surprised."What is this? What are you…" The psylug immediately latched onto Thunka's palm and started to glow. Thunka stared at the glowing creature and dropped her knife. Then, she collapsed among the cushions with her eyes still wide open.Inside Mira's head, she heard Wen erupt with joy. Mira went about coolly, knowing that there are things she still needed to do. Looking at Thunka, she asked, "Where are the keys to the cabinet?" she asked.Thunka groaned and said, "Inside a box under my pillow." She remained motionless and only her mouth moved.Mira rummaged through the cushions until she found a metal box. She tried opening it and found it to be locked."Thunka, ever protective of her treasures." Mira mumbled to herself. She turned to Thunka and asked again. "Where
Mira hid her bag of diamonds among Casser's clothes. She did not have time to gather her things from Thunka's entertainment palace and she knew that getting them would only attract attention. Since she only kept a few items at Casser's house, the diamonds would come in handy to buy the things that she and Eldion would need for their long journey. Mira just hoped that they could still make it to the caravan. She was hoping that with the confusion of looking at so many travelling merchants and their goods, she and Eldion would have better chances of slipping through the gates unnoticed by the guards. There was just something that had been worrying her as she escaped with Eldion from Thunka. The three members of the troupe were not with the other dancers who were rehearsing. Mira remembered how strict Thunka was with the rehearsals, meting out punishments for dancers who were late or missing. Only dancers who were given permission to go with customers were allowed to miss rehearsals an