Great King Felarikam slammed his fist on the table. “This is an outrage!” he shouted. “I don’t care who says otherwise, the soldiers of darkness are evil and I refuse to pardon a lifestyle of murder.” He glared at his advisors. “Who was it that allowed them safe passage through our land?”
Prince Belmet stood up. “I started it,” he said. “We came upon them and were outnumbered six to one so we were unable to attack. However, I only gave passage to Zog Zog as long as he was escorted.”
The King frowned. “The soldiers of darkness are ruthless killers. One of them could easily overpower an escort and escape. We cannot allow them that opportunity.”
“Sir, it was my fault,” one of the advisors admitted. “The Supreme Mistress claimed she would be taking charge of them. I believed she would only have done so if she had permission from you so I let her take them. I did not know she would send away the soldiers we had guarding them.”
King Felarikam glanced over at the elderly woman leaning against one of the pillars in the palace throne room. “Is this true?” he asked her.
Ikarla’Yol took a few steps forward. “I did take charge of the soldiers of darkness and I did send away your guards. I also moved them further from Atalan so your people will not be afraid of their presence. They are currently camped and patiently awaiting the orders of their new master, the little Awa girl that warned of the Dark Wizard’s attack just yesterday.”
“Your arrogance astounds me,” the King replied. “The sun is only now beginning to set on today’s battlefield and my soldiers are still burying the dead, but you have time to make deals with these creatures that have been an enemy and ravaged our lands since the days of Mathol three-thousand years ago. Unless I am mistaken, your Order has always sworn to hunt and destroy the soldiers of darkness.”
“We take no such oath,” the Supreme Mistress defended. “We do hunt and kill all the servants of evil that serve the dark forces but we do not hunt and kill those that no longer follow their former evil masters.”
One of the advisors stood up. “So you believe that these mindless soldiers of darkness have managed to put their old lifestyles, their murders, and all their other evils behind them if given a second chance? What makes you believe they can change?”
Ikarla’Yol pulled out a black bundle and set it on the table. “This was recovered from a soldier of darkness that was killed by High Mistress Shime’Kar early yesterday morning,” she explained, unfolding the fabric. “This cloak has been embroidered by a soldier of darkness and shows that they are more than just mindless slaves.”
The King looked over the cloak. “Embroidery with this much detail is difficult indeed,” he acknowledged, “however, this specific individual may have just had plenty of spare time. Even if the rest of them are similarly skilled, what do you expect them to do, make clothing for their master, the Awa girl, for the rest of her life?”
“You cannot undo or remove the evils they have been taught,” one of the advisors added.
“They will not be dangerous under the command of the Awa girl,” Ikarla’Yol argued.
“They are dangerous by nature,” the King disagreed. “Besides, you cannot force a the girl into a lifelong commitment of taking charge of them without her acceptance. You have to ask her if she wants to be personally responsible for their actions.”
Ikarla’Yol shook her head. “I cannot do that. She will remain asleep for the next month while her injuries are healing.”
“Surely you can wake her,” Prince Belmet suggested.
“I do not think she would want to be awakened while under the effects of our healing,” the Supreme Mistress said.
“Do it,” the Great King ordered. “I will not allow you to force responsibility of this maginitude upon the girl without her permission.” He watched Ikarla’Yol frown as she left the throne room.
The commander of the Awa soldiers that had arrived earlier that day, Colonel Nemar’Nu, stood up. “I was not aware that the ambassador we sent to warn you had any daughters. Who is this Awa girl you speak of?”
“She arrived just yesterday and we actually know very little about her,” the Great King admitted. “It would seem prophecy brought her from the battlefield at Itragoni and across our land to bring us the warning of the coming attack.”
“Do you know her name?” Colonel Nemar’Nu asked.
King Felarikam glanced around at his advisors. “I believe it was... Mara’Uto? She said that unfortunate incidents carried her away from home and that her father was killed at Itragoni.”
“That is grave news indeed,” Colonel Nemar’Nu replied. “Her father was Colonel Remen’Fu and a good friend of mine.” He looked around. “I noticed that our ambassador is not present and request that in his absence I be permitted to give guidance in issues that pertain to my people, especially those dealing with Mara’Uto.”
“The Awa ambassador has left to find and bring her mother,” the Great King responded. “You are welcome to take his place in my hall as long as he is absent.”
The Colonel bowed. “Thank you. I will speak with her tomorrow when she is awake.”
Back at the White Pillar, or what was left of it, the Supreme Mistress gathered the others. “The Great King demands that we awaken the Awa girl so she can decide what to do with the soldiers of darkness. I see no other choice but to do as he says.”
“That may be dangerous,” Burita’Nel advised. “She no longer has Shime’Kar to protect her and under the effects of the potion, her newly discovered magic may become unstable.”
“I admit, much must be risked,” Ikarla’Yol replied. “Bundle the girl with enough wet rags that she cannot move. Cover her eyes too, but leave her mouth and nose uncovered. I do not want to smother her when I awaken her.” As the others went up the stairs to prepare the girl, the Supreme Mistress sat on a rock to wait. A soft rain began to fall. I hate rain, she thought.
When the others were ready, she joined them beside Mara’Uto. The flickering torches sizzled in the light rain but continued to burn away the moisture. Ikarla’Yol placed her fingers on Mara’Uto’s head and closed her eyes as she let her magic begin to awaken the girl as slowly as possible.
The others watched closely for any sign of trouble. A finger twitched, barely perceptible, then another. Without warning, a brief shower of sparks shot from Mara’Uto’s left hand as she let out a shrill scream.
“Put her back to sleep!” Takora’Het urged. Mara’Uto’s hands began to flail although she could not move her arms. Sparks began to fly in all directions, catching Andara’Cas’s cloak on fire before the others could put a confining anti-magic bubble around the girl.
“Put her to sleep,” Andara’Cas also shouted, as she pulled off her burning cloak.
Ikarla’Yol’s eyes shot open and she pulled her arm back from Mara’Uto with a frightened look on her face. “She is repulsing me! I cannot put her back to sleep and we cannot contain her power for much longer.”
“We need to dump her into the water where she belongs,” Purishi’Kan advised. “At least she’d be in her native environment and we’d have time to figure a way to get her back.” Another sudden shower of sparks caught her hair on fire and she dove off the side into the water.
The rest of them began to remove the bindings from Mara’Uto as fast as they could while Ikarla’Yol held her down. As soon as they finished, they picked her up and tossed her from the side of the structure.
Mara’Uto was frightened and disoriented with no idea what was happening to her, and the dark rainy night did not help. Her body felt larger and more cumbersome than she was accustomed to. Her fins were still ragged and had not healed. She grabbed a passing fish and ripped it apart to eat as she surfaced for air. She was hungry and viciously bit into the cold meat, ignoring the bones and entrails. She choked on a bone and spat out the rest in disgust.
She descended back under the surface, using her magic to direct her anger at the sea life around her. Coral was blackened by fire, fish were fried by lightning, seaweed turned to ice, nothing was left unscathed as she swam further and further from where she had been dumped into the water. As she began to tire, she slowed her destruction and began to swim toward the shore. When she reached the shore, she found it to be a steep embankment. She grabbed hold of some small branches and began to pull herself up.
A rock in the water stirred. It seemed to sprout legs as it pushed out from its hiding place and swam toward her at a rapid pace, it’s gaping mouth open to show the several hundred razor-sharp teeth danbobs used to shred their prey. Mara’Uto struggled up the embankment with renewed vigor, and despite sliding back down several times, made it to the top before the danbob could get to her.
Panting, she rolled over and looked back down the embankment only to find herself looking into the danbob’s mouth as it too climbed up the embankment after her. She picked up a stick and thrust it at the creature. It bit down on the brittle branch and smashed it to pieces in its mouth. Mara’Uto turned and began to frantically crawl away as fast as she could.
As the danbob reached the top of the embankment, Mara’Uto turned back to face it, knowing she would be unable to get away fast enough. She pointed her hand at it. “Shime’Kar,” she softly cried as she sent a blast of lightning down its gullet. The creature dropped to the ground, lifeless, and Mara’Uto lay back, relieved and exhausted.
Around dawn, Colonel Nemar’Nu stood in a boat looking for any sign of Mara’Uto. The Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar had admitted their failure to control the girl and the Great King was on the verge of making a decision concerning the soldiers of darkness without her input. It was imperative that he find her and had several boats out searching the bay. They had followed the trail of destruction from the ruined White Pillar until it ended. From there, they had been unable to find much trace of her.
“There’s another dead fish up ahead,” one of the Awa at the front of the boat announced.
One of the Awa dove into the water to see if anything else could be seen from below. When he surfaced again, he shook his head. “There is no sign of her. The dead fish must have floated this way from somewhere else.”
“She’s young and couldn’t have gone much further than this without a significant rest,” the Colonel said. He glanced toward the shores on either side of the Bay. “The west shore is closer. It’s the only shore she would have seen on a dark rainy night. Head that way. We’ve searched the bay long enough. I want to search the shore.”
“I don’t like the looks of this place,” one of the Awa said as they neared the shore. “It’s the perfect place for danbobs.”
“Keep your spears ready,” the Colonel advised. “Where there is one, there is usually more, and I think we will discover the fate of Mara’Uto at the top of that embankment.” He pointed toward the shore and they could see just the tail of a danbob hanging off the top edge of the embankment.
“I’ve never seen one out of the water before,” one of the Awa said.
“They would only do that if they were following their prey,” Colonel Nemar’Nu replied. He prodded it with his spear. “It’s dead,” he announced when it didn’t move. He jumped from the boat and struggled up the embankment. “She’s here,” he called back to them. “One of you get up here with some water.”
Mara’Uto awoke and opened her eyes to see the Awa colonel looking down at her. “I want to go home!” she cried.
The colonel picked her up. “That is why we have come looking for you,” he replied. He held a bottle of water to her mouth. “We all want to go home and will leave as soon as you are well enough to travel.”
They helped her down into the boat and began to sail toward the opposite side of the bay. “Prior to last night, what is the last thing you remember,” Colonel Nemar’Nu asked her.
“I remember sitting on the shore talking to the Great King and the Supreme Mistress shortly after I reached Atalan yesterday,” Mara’Uto answered. “I cannot remember anything between then and last night.”
“Then much has happened and there are things I must tell you,” the Colonel said. “It has actually been two days since you arrived at the gates of Atalan, not one. The battle against the Dark Wizard was fought yesterday morning and the Dark Wizard’s army was defeated.”
“Who killed the Dark Wizard?” Mara’Uto asked.
There was a brief moment of silence in the boat before the Colonel spoke. “By all accounts, you did!” he answered.
“I do not know how I could defeat the Dark Wizard and not be able to remember it,” she said.
“You were asleep during the whole thing and that is what complicates matters,” Colonel Nemar’Nu said. “Everyone on shore saw the White Pillar destroyed. The soldiers of darkness saw it not as defeat, but as a change in masters. They have now sworn their allegiance to you and are waiting for your commands whatever they may be.”
“But the soldiers of darkness tried to kill me!” Mara’Uto protested. “Why would they want to kill me and then decide to do what I tell them to do?”
“I wish I had more answers for you,” the Colonel replied, “but the soldiers of darkness are secretive and no one knows what they are truly like.”
“So now what will happen to them?”
“The last I heard, no one had yet made up their mind. Last night, the Great King demanded the Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar wake you so he could ask what you thought about the matter. This morning, after learning that you were gone, he was all but decided that they should be executed. Now we are on our way to the place where the soldiers of darkness are camped to give you the chance to influence their fate.” He handed her a piece of fish. “You should eat. We won’t be there until noon.”