Ashfall: City of Shade

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Worms

ENOCH

Nothing like waking up to an angered mob...mostly of women.

My guards keep them at bay while I make my way to Brommy’s estate. Amidst the chaos of screaming citizens and bustling streets as others go about their day, Greta stands between my father’s best friend and his wife.

The Krexbin looks terrified. Her eyes bloodshot, wide with fear.

“Why are you hiding your siblings in their home?”

Oh no. What has she done now? It pains me to turn around and face the growing crowd. No one off the streets was supposed to find out about the women’s shelter Mirth has.

They need to go back inside.

“Take them back in my advisor’s home,” I demand my guards. Greta lunges at me, making me jump back. “H-hey! Easy.”

“You will let them go free!” she tells me all serious with those pouty lips of hers...little red lips to match her baby-like face. Perhaps her big round eyes and soft face works better on my sick father when she tries to have her way. “Enoch, please,” she adds in a quieter voice as tears well up in her eyes.

The same tears she showed for Adler.

Ugh!

He’s gone. I need to enjoy his absence. I can’t blame Greta for acting in such a way.

Lucas and I were talking last night. He suggested she may not have had the chance to fully develop a matured mind in the environment she was in for her entire childhood. She may view him as a parental figure now since she knows he’s not really a god.

I still don’t know what he was doing down under the docks with her and it pisses me off.

“Greta, there is nowhere else to go for them-”

“You need to give them a chance. They can work...when will you free the slaves?”

As soon as I can. I just have to think about housing. She’s not going to understand if I tell her “no” in any form though.

I have to try to calm her down.

“You have other things to worry about right now. We are to make the morning now. Shall we go?”

Suddenly, her eyes clamp shut. My heart races as she crumples to the street floor with an ashen complexion and a violent cough. Brommy and Mirth help her to her feet, but her eyes remain shut and her body limp.

“Emperor!” Brommy cries out in panic.

Mirth shakes Greta’s shoulders, but she remains unconscious.

“Let’s take her to the hospice,” I announce. “I’ll take care of the task after we get her over there. Chelk, bring me Belle,” I tell the advisor.

Once we make it to the hospice, we put Greta in her bedchamber. Her little body doesn’t even stretch halfway down the bed. The hospice keepers swarm around her. It looks like Greta is sleeping, but she coughs every now and then.

The old women poke her with needles and cover her with rags.

Her eyes have yet to open though. Her grey skin looks almost white.

I sent my advisors away before arriving here, but my guards still remain in the bedchamber with us. I dismiss them after catching sight of a piece of parchment sticking out of one of the creases in her tunic.

When the sisters leave for prayers, I sit down on the bed and pull the piece of parchment out from the fold in her tunic.

“Oh...he has given you this. What else has he given you?” I murmur seeing a newly sharpened execution knife tucked inside the star map. I hide the map and knife in my own tunic when the old women return. “What more can I do, tell me. If you need money it will come. I’ll do anything, please.”

One of the sisters moves closer to the bed. She lifts up Greta’s foot and starts pushing a needle through it. Greta does not flinch, but I do.

“Stop,” I order. “Tell me what you need so you can fix her and I will give it to you!”

“This happens to many children,” Mirth’s monotone voice comes from beside me. I jump, not having heard her or Brommy enter. “She is malnutritioned. I’m not sure what illness has fallen over her.”

“You said she was healthy,” Brommy argues.

Mirth glares at him. “I thought so!” she defends. “What a tiny little body,” she says with worry while watching Greta cough. She and a few of the sisters pull the covers up over the Krexbin’s body. They fuss over Greta and then force me, the emperor, to leave with Brommy so they can say their worthless prayers to my father.

Outside the room now, we wait.

“I am Emperor!” I huff while watching my advisor.

“We may just be in the way. I know nothing of healing people. Do you, emperor?”

“No,” I grumble.

For a long time, we wait until their prayers eventually end. I can hear them walking around and shuffling things across the floor. I tap my foot. Brommy counts the coins in his satchel.

“What do you know of the Krexbin?” I ask him curiously.

“That they aren’t extinct.”

“And my father, do you believe him to be one?”

He closes his satchel.

“Maybe,” he answers. His voice is quiet, “You know, they say such demons spawn with their brothers and sisters. Best not to think much of her upbringing. I will say she has strength despite her stature and Adler as we all know...his strength is ferocious. You should have gone into the ranks, Enoch. You have such mite yourself.”

“I prefer to plan the battle than fight it.”

Greta’s coughing comes from inside the chamber. One of the sisters walks out to address me.

“Emperor, Enoch, we request a herbal remedy. Eldest sister believes she has worms. Stomach worms, of which, have entered her lungs. A strong enough oil treatment on the skin will ward away such parasites lying beneath.”

What a relief. I’ll head to the market first thing.

“Which herbs do you need to make the treatment?”

“Mektir and weitor root. Ten pounds of each so she has a years supply. Our god only knows if it will work in such time. We are hoping quickly.”

Mektir is scarce in the market. I’ve never even heard of weitor root. Does anyone grow the plant here?

The sister hands me a torn piece of parchment with the necessary herbs written down. Mirth exits the room joining her side. She hands me the wooden plack containing Greta’s health check summary.

Her face is stern. “My husband tells me our god sensed such disease in Greta before leaving. Why have you kept it secret, emperor?” she sneers with open scorn.

Brommy looks at the floor.

“I did not know,” I defend.

The prudish woman yanks the plack from my hands and returns to the room leaving us with the sister.

“You will find the herbs only through trade. We recommend leaving now and checking the port by the dockyard.”

Brommy sighs. “They do not sell either item in such quantity as you are requesting.”

“Then go find some place that does,” I tell him incredulously.

The sister looks between us. She folds her hands as if in prayer. “Perchance you go now and find your father, more luck will be to you. His knowledge outweighs all our own.”

“He is too far away by now,” Brommy says.

We’ll have to host a meeting this evening. No one is going to be here to make the night or day though if I go. I do not want Brommy leaving either. Chelk is inexperienced. The others I am not close with, but Shulor might not mind going.

He doesn’t do much anyway around here now that Urdmin is dead. I’ll ask Lucas to go with him. Father couldn’t have traveled over more than a week’s distance by horseback. The problem will be pinpointing his whereabouts.

I really don’t want to leave Greta here, but the more I think about it, the more help they are going to need to find Adler in the middle of the ocean and make good time of it. No one’s going to really notice if I’m gone for so long. The map should be of great help. Its value is beyond the walls of our city. Such a precious item could have only been carefully crafted in the Harlong Kingdom.

It’s made of stardust just like the bed I ordered from them was supposed to be. I’m still salty about that.

The swirls of splattered twinkling lights evolve in real-time with the stars of our sky. I won’t need a telescope or have to go digging in the library for a map of the seas. Adler was an idiot to give Greta something so priceless.

In the wrong hands, it would make a great tool to terrorize other kingdoms. I will be using it for a fairly simple task. There are not many star maps in existence, but they do exist and my father carries his own personal one. I wonder if he intended to give this one to me? Or could this be his very own?

Two little yellow orbs cluster around our star’s sphere making my hope escalate. I pinch the surface of the glowing star map zooming in on Ashta’s surface to get a closer look.

Eventually, I find the little yellow light representing me in our city’s position towards the top of our star. Sure enough, however, there is one other glowing orb south of our city. It drifts around the underground ocean of our star.

“Found you,” I whisper.

Brommy’s been gaping at my map this entire time. “Found what?” he asks while squinting at its surface.

“Adler,” I point out while indicating the other glowing orb below my position on the map.

There are many glowing stars on it. Big and small, some burning brightly and outshining others. To anyone looking at it for the first time, it would appear overwhelming with color and movement. It’s very busy to read. I’m really starting to feel like an emperor with this mind-blowing item. I’m lucky that I was taught how to read one by Urdmin. It may have been one of the only good things he ever did for me.

Then again, mother did ask he steal it from my father so I’d get the chance to. I only got to look his over a few times over my childhood. Of course, Adler discovered one day the map missing and my mother had to hand it over to him.

I’ll have to send out a party tonight and jot down his approximate coordinates. There’s no way I’m leaving the city right now and I don’t trust anyone with a map like this.

I stuff it into my own satchel. Brommy frowns while eyeing the knife as I place it in my belt loop.

“It was his gift to her, Enoch. It is not wise to keep it for yourself even if you think you are doing Greta good by it,” Brommy suggests with a concerned look. He rubs his face. “Adler thinks of her like a daughter. He told me himself, Enoch, and I have known him longer than you. He is not lying or playing games when he says he wants you to marry her. I think he wants a daughter.”

No more can I find room for argument against what he says. My father pretty much left me the entire empire in my hands without complaint. He didn’t have to follow my mother’s ship out to sea, but he did anyway.

He has given me a lot. Is it because of Greta? I think...so.

Brommy pats my back hard. “Lighten up, Emperor. There is nothing to worry about. She will be well off soon.”

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