382 Ayla

    Floyd finally changed back into human form; he sat in the lobby of the Adder Inn with several of his guildmates from Inferno.  "I'm not really hungry."

    Thessa, the Leader of the Serpent Clan, pushed a plate in front of him.  "You must keep your strength up, First."

    After being nudged by Sharl under the table, Floyd smiled and thanked the woman.  "You're right, of course.  Thank you, Thessa."

    Thessa nodded and opened up her hud.  "I can't believe so many were involved in this plot."

    Nix studied her while she spoke with the Gemini Trickster. She seemed young for a Clan Leader but also very smart.  With the removal of the bad apples, the Serpent Clan should thrive again.

    Thessa shook her head slowly. "What will the First do now?"

    Floyd glanced at Sharl, who seemed to be deliberately avoiding eye contact.  "I will stay here for a while to help rebuild the Serpent Clan.  Tautius said that the clan would flourish because of my existence.  It's even likely that new abilities will start to manifest in the clan's children. After that, I will rejoin Inferno and my spirit companion."

    /Alpha: Wind: I don't get the First thing.

    /Alpha: Nix: Think of it as the Clan Spirit; without it, the clan withers and dies.  That's what happened to the human totem clans.

    /Alpha: Semmi: You know a lot about the totem clans boss.

    /Alpha: Nix: True.  This was important, though. Bo'raz has already joined Khione, if the Serpent Clan were to join her too...

    /Alpha: Semmi: Do you think Khione is actively recruiting?  Maybe even spying?

    /Alpha: Nix: Yes.

    Sharl smiled at her spirit companion's words. "That's a great plan, Floyd.

    Nix reached for the drink in front of him only to bump hands with Thessa. "Hmm?"

    Thessa pointed to the drink on the other side of him. "That one is yours, Nix."

    Nix grabbed his own mug and slid it closer.  "Of course.  Sorry about that."

    Thessa smiled pleasantly. "So, you do speak."

    Nix nodded in agreement.  He deliberately let Floyd do the interacting with the Serpent Clan Leader. "I do."

    "Your basilisk form is amazing, by the way." Thessa stole a glance at Milat, who was sitting at the bar with Sori. "From what I hear, Inferno also has a Sand Snake that is particularly  effective."

    Nix saw the bodies throughout the under-city, most of them were put there by Milat's snake form.  The miniature sand snake puppet they had taken from Eidengal was terrifying.  Did that mean the other two were equally impressive? "Does the Assassin Guild have a presence, Seryndefi?"

    "I wish I knew."  Thessa frowned at the mention of the Assassin's Guild; over the past few months, there had been many rumors.


    Milat leaned back in his chair, his pale eyes watching the trio of Nix, Semmi, and Wind.  The members of Alpha team were obviously very close.  It was late in the evening, and only the four of them were still awake.

    /Inferno: Semmi: What's our priority?

    /Inferno: Nix: I guess it would be the Wolf Trial?  Since they collapsed most recently.

    /Inferno: Milat: Sori, and I will do that one in the morning.

    /Inferno: Nix: The restoration trials will have to wait.  No idea how to proceed with those.

    /Inferno: Semmi: So do the trials first?  How come there wasn't a reward for Sharl and Floyd?

    /Inferno: Nix: The trial quests are all turned in at the same time.  Guess that means we have to do them all first.

    /Inferno: Semmi: How come there isn't a trial for the Falcon Clan?

    /Inferno: Nix: Because the council hasn't found one they could appoint as Second.

    /Inferno: Semmi: You're doing the Scorpion Trial with Ducky?

    /Inferno: Nix: Yep. Inferno will knock out the remaining three trials and get out of this desert.

    [Whisper: Wind to Nix]  And then you'll go find the old bastard?

    [Whisper: Nix to Wind] Correct.  Then I'll find the old bastard.

    /Inferno: Semmi: Let's get some rest.  Long day tomorrow.


    The old man kicked the smoldering embers; his brown custom-made boots bore a strong resemblance to cowboy boots, courtesy of Inferno's cobbler.  "How far are we behind them?"

    The Su'Dhassi tracker considered the question while he studied the old mage. The fire mage's shock of white hair overlooked a weathered worn face that was creased with age.  "Only a few hours, the tracks indicate they are moving west."

    "West?"  Pon mounted his horse and pulled his hood over his head. "Let's go then."

    Harek considered his words carefully. He had discovered very quickly that the old man wasn't to be trifled with, two thieves who looked to steal his horse discovered that the hard way. "We'll lose the light in another hour.  They're heading to Beco; we should camp for the night."

    "No. Mount up.  If they are in Beco, then I can catch up to them."

    Harek nodded and grabbed a heavier cloak from his saddlebags.  "Might want to grab something warmer, the desert is cold at night.

    Six hours later, the tracker spotted the lights of Beco in the distance.  "I'll bring you to the slave pens in the morning.  Those marauders would have brought the women there, unless..."

    Pon shook his head and tossed him a leather pouch.  "We're settled up. If you're smart, you'll stay out of Beco."

    Harek caught the pouch but didn't bother to check it.  "They have wards in place that prevent using portals or gates within the town."

    Pon nodded his thanks.  "Good to know."

    A few minutes later, the gate guard felt a sudden increase in temperature, an odd thing in the cool desert evening.  A quick scan of the area showed nothing out of the ordinary, and so he resumed his watch.

    The Beco slave pens was a group of barred cages set into several large squares.  The males and females were separated.  Each cell was exactly the same, 6 feet wide and 10 feet long, with eight slaves to each pen.  Although the top of the pens was covered, the desert wind cut through the barred sides, causing the occupants to huddle together.

    The old man walked between the two slavers that stood guard at the entrance; neither one took notice of the camouflaged mage.  Pon walked through the pens where the men were kept and, within a few minutes, discovered a second guarded entrance that led to the female area.

    "I might bid on one or two of them water women myself!"  The high-pitched voice carried in the quiet evening.  He was a thin Su-Dhassi man whose long black hair was tied into a single braid.

    "They'd be wasted on you if you could even afford them, which you can't."  A larger man with a shaved head raked in the credits that lay on the table.  "Pity, the boss, wouldn't let us sample th..." His words trailed off as he spotted a cloaked figure that appeared out of thin air.

    Pon has cast [Fire-Nado].

    All four guards were jerked into the air, their bodies spinning in place while flames licked at them.  Pon ignored the screaming men and waited, a moment later, the two slavers guarding the entrance charged in.

    A staff appeared in the old man's hand. [Balefire: Advanced]

    Fregi, the Slaver has been slain.

    The second Slaver froze in place, the sword in his hand suddenly seemed like a bad joke. If he'd been a faster runner than Fregi...  He dropped the sword and held his hands outward.  "What do you want?"

    "Listen closely, boy.  A handful of Aquarion women were brought here; I heard the other slavers call them water women."  Pon walked toward the guard; his staff pointed at the man's chest.

    "Yes!  Earlier today, they are in the eastern corner.  I can take you th..."


    Shalo, the Slaver has been slain.

    "I can find it." Pon walked around the ash cloud and headed east.

    He found them a few minutes later, four Aquarion women together in a cage.  Because of their impressive strength, the captives were also in shackles.  "Move away from the door."

    An instant later, the latch mechanism melted like water, and the door was flung open.  The old man grabbed the shackles of the nearest.

    "Who are you?"  Baryn gritted her teeth when the shackles on her hands turned hot against her skin but suffered through it until they fell apart and dropped to the sand.

    "Pon?"  The smallest of the women was leaning against the corner of the cage.  Her face was beaten beyond recognition.

    The old mage nodded and started working on her shackles.  "What happened, Panyu?"

    The Aquarion moaned softly while her shackled were melted away. Her lips and throat were swollen to the point that her words were nearly eligible.

    "Careful with her,"  Baryn whispered from the doorway.  "They broke both her arms because she wouldn't stop fighting them."

    Panyu sobbed quietly. "Pon... They took Ayla; they took her from me."

    "That's her name?  Ayla?" Pon picked her up gently and handed her to Baryn. "Keep watch while I free the rest.  The guards will be coming."
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