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Chapter 27: Kelpnetter

Acacia fluttered her eyes open. She lay, watching the endless pools of glimmer interspersed with endless tower ruins. She almost lost her breath, but Andelko pulled her away from the drop. Scree fell but she firmly lied in stone.

Andelko looked blurry for a second before Acacia asked, “Where am I, again?”

“Never mind where you are. Isn’t that gorgeous?”

Acacia rubbed the last blurriness from her vision. “Never mind where I am? Then how long before we need to be anywhere?”

Andelko shoved a rock under her to prop her into position. Circinus and Chiron closed in on her from the sides, keeping her warm.

“I forgot to tell you a thing about unicorns,” Chiron spoke. “Our hair is silky and smooth but strong like cardinal spider webs and armor. What I want you to do, once you get your head aground, is to knit me a sweater.”

“Chiron, I have seen wild things in wonderland, but this just seems far more absurd coming from you.”

“But it isn’t. I told you our silken hairs are also strong like armor so I want you to knit me double armor: one sweater for me, one for Circinus, and one for Andelko if he can’t help, and one for you.”

“The only thing I know about knitting is from my grandmother. Andelko, do you know how to knit?”

His eyes widened in wonder. “I never had the opportunity since I never stayed in one place for long. I’d trade on the black market in the unicorn city if I could spare a rag. I used to dry and weave kelp more, actually.”

“When my grandmother tried to knit a sweater for me, it always ended up so scratchy. That’s how I taught myself to knit, but thankfully I had some help from Grandma. I’m however afraid the Land of Jewels is too hot for me. If this prepares us for battle, I’ll prepare to sweat, especially in this condition.”

“There is a lot more you aren’t prepared for then,” Chiron darkened.

Jason whittled a small stone found in the corner of the locked tower and spoke of Ondrea.

“Yes, Mrs. Alexander; I haven’t seen him in ages. He was supposed to join my army but he was deployed elsewhere...didn’t say where.”

Mrs. Alexander added a few leaves to the spark Jason set in a dark corner of one of the abandoned rooms.

Jason wanted to involve stories in his escape plan but promised Kazimir to keep it short. He liked Kazimir’s idea of setting the place ablaze. The fire wasn’t just for warmth; it was for quick evacuation.

Kazimir speculated more about Ondrea than the current task Jason and the Alexander’s seemed decent at handling on their own. Yes, he must’ve been deployed to aid the judges and elders of the acropolises, but I can greater hope that he joined Acacia’s skirmish.

“So, Jason,” Kazimir pondered, “you seem to know a lot. What happened to Daphne?”

“I have already told you. They must have taken her to the outer towers. She is way more powerful than us. The imprisonment must be twice as high and I trust her sense of escape so we must return the weaponry to its rightful owners first after we raid mother. Surely, there are also weapons in there we can use to help her escape.”

“Then if you don’t know what happened to Daphne, tell me more about Daphne. You were pretty close.”

“As in?”

“Tell me more about her involvement with the unicorns. I know she didn’t want to be queen because she didn’t want an arranged marriage, and she was kind of exiled, and kind of cursed, but what is her involvement in the unicorn war? Did she see it coming? Why couldn’t she stop it?”

“Kazimir,” Jason spoke ruefully, “since the beginning of time when the Old Rulers were happiest, a secret feud has been growing between the wild and domesticated unicorns. It was always in legends but nobody would believe it. Can you believe me? The Old Rulers broke up over a disagreement over whether or not the unicorns should be like humans. Some unicorns chose wilderness, some chose domestication. The domesticated unicorns wanted Daphne’s succession. The wild unicorns wanted Daphne’s would-be prince but naturally, the prince wanted domestication, and so Daphne disagreed with domestication and abandoned her supporters. So, the domesticated ones lost her side but she chose her people--or unicorns...sorry. It was just like what happened to the Old Rulers. Daphne did not want to handle the suggestion of her people and so she had to let them go.”

Kazimir spoke few words since Jason said so much and was open to fresh views despite his cynicism. Another spark rose from the flint and debris and thus awakened Kazimir.

“We must get out of here!” Mrs. Alexander shivered despite the smoke and musk.

“No, we must stay,” Kazimir suddenly readied himself.

“Yes, we must lure them in.” Jason agreed.

The smoke rose to the ceiling, exiting through the windows to alert the guards. The three ran down the stairs, chainless. The guards would have let them die inside but Jason had to put the guards in their place.

Kazimir rapped on the front port and immediately a guard strode in. The guard grabbed his wrist while others filed in trying to restrain the squirming prisoners.”

“Let us out!” Kazimir shouted.

“Yes, there is danger!” Mr. Alexander followed.

“I’ve never fallen for that before.” The first guard smirked shutting the door behind him. “Show me the source of the danger and I won’t show you any harm.”

The other guards looked warily at their companion. The second guard sniffed. “Do you smell that? Why the festivities are over! There isn’t supposed to be a fire unless...another war.”

“Don’t be a fool,” spoke the third. “They have only threatened war for centuries and nothing would be burning unless there was a firebird...and in such case those are very rare...perhaps not even real.”

Jason straightened proudly and answered with a grin, “Of course, they’re real! And yes, the festivities are over, but wouldn’t you like more to hear of this firebird? Why, what a better story for festivities than mythos, real urban legends? You know, I was overseer of the festivities, almost crowned mayor of Domain, a distant land you perhaps never heard of and then I set my sights on Medora...”

The Alexander’s and Kazimir left Jason to ramblings and disappeared to the mysteriously growing smoke.

“And just where are you going?” spoke the third.

“Yes,” spoke the first, “it’s rude to interrupt a story.”

The second sprinted in their direction following the winding staircase. Kazimir knew it would be a narrow escape trapped between the guards and the smoke. Either they would have to escape through the smoke or through guards. Perhaps they could buy time by trapping guards in the fog, but Jason would have to have hooked them faster.

Jason advanced backward toward the staircase, slowly, unchained and holding the dropped keys from the guards, as the first and third guard became increasingly intrigued by the story and increasingly impatient with the smoke. The smoke became so powerful that it brought tears to Jason’s eyes.

Jason had to proceed in his story quickly before the two guards followed suit with the second guard so he could slip them his wine.

“...Daphne helped me become mayor but she didn’t want me to end up like her so she took it all away! Did I tell you about the gypsy and pirate who were locked in the tower, surrounded by riches, but couldn’t escape...oh, you probably have...” He began losing patience and felt real tears and worried about his friends trapped in a fog, locked in a tower, and a long-lost empathy.

Jason vehemently sprayed his potion into the guards’ eyes, causing the first to scream and the second to agonize. The second guard came down from the fog to assist his mates but subsequently was sprayed. Jason jaunted up the staircase in search of the Alexander’s and Kazimir. The party would have to run past the guards again, but Jason was prepared for the potion to distort their vision and cloud their judgment.

He grabbed the Alexander’s and Kazimir led the company down a trapdoor, using the stolen keys, that led to an alternate tunnel closer to the entrance. As far as Kazimir reckoned, the tunnels were closed off all except for the front door which had more guards, but it was better to chance an attack from the guards than to be swallowed whole by the fog, and better to be ready for an unsuspecting attack.

Loads of lakes and lochs spotted the endless wilderness. Sea monsters whisked and whipped their black, rubbery tales almost as to greet the travelers. Acacia had less than two weeks to gather the flaxen fur of the unicorns and knit battle sweaters. She brushed Circinus and Chiron furiously. She had bought a spindle in a remote village to waulk the yarn. Although the healing properties of unicorn fur weren’t guaranteed to prevent death or near death, they had an element of surprise.

As Acacia was well concentrated on knitting, Marko interrupted, “You still haven’t told me anything about Jason. Interesting fella with a rotten musk no doubt.”

“Ah, I guess he is still my friend.”

“Ah, then, why not for certain?”

“You can’t be for certain.”

“Certain I can’t be! People can change, yet too much has changed for us. Do what you feel is right.”

“I can’t be for sure I’m ever right,” she answered pulling at the silvery yarn. “He has already changed. I may have changed as well. He pulls me every direction.”

“Can you blame him?”

“I do, partially, blame him...and if it weren’t for him I wouldn’t have met the majority of my friends.”

“Aye...oh, he has done much for you. How very much a predicament!”

“Yes, too much.”

Andelko helped spin the fur, other times whittling knitting needles from evergreen branches. Acacia took a break to gather or hunt. They both awaited a dispatch from Marko since their band had long left the pirates.

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