Sea Breeze

by Terry Spafford

Saroth sat on the balcony of his quarters, staring at a small pile of wood and concentrating hard. He was trying to make sense of the spell Electra had assigned him to learn in her unending attempts to diversify his magical talents. It was a simple fire spell, something most apprentices could cast in their sleep, but the details of the spell always seemed to escape him. Electra had warned him that she wasn't going to teach him anything else until he learned that spell, so he found himself spending every free moment he could spare trying to ignite the wood. He wasn't having any luck. The pile stubbornly ignored his magical attempts, not even giving a wisp of smoke to show he was going in the right direction.

A shadow fell across the parchment he was rereading for the nth time. Annoyed, but secretly glad for the distraction, he looked up and saw a large thunder cloud drifting over the sun from the east. Smaller clouds were already gathering around it.

{They're back!} he thought joyfully to himself, barely keeping himself from broadcasting the thoughts across the Keep. In the weeks since LightBringer had done whatever she had needed to do to release the clouds, the region had not received a drop of rain. The ground was beginning to dry, and crops were on the verge of failing. Saroth was worried that the clouds hadn't been released soon enough and he'd have to go on a roundup to bring some in. This thunder cloud proved his worries wrong.

Tossing the parchment into his quarters, he shifted into his full form and took off from the balcony. Usually thunderclouds were sullen creatures, who liked to rumble through the skies, grumbling to themselves as they pushing clouds and creatures out of their way. This one was different. Unlike most thunderclouds, he could tell even from the ground that this one had a story he was eager to tell.

Saroth dove among the smaller clouds, all gathered around the big one and all eager to hear his story. The big cloud grumbled softly while waiting for the smaller clouds to join in, covering the sky from horizon to horizon in gray. He let loose a crack of lightning and a long roll of thunder to signal the start of his story.

As usual, Saroth had no idea what the specific details were, but the feelings were clear enough that he could get the general story and flashes of images. The Thunderer was over water with no land in sight. He was gathering its strength for a long stretch over land. Below him, a group of humans were on the water, seeming to be fishing. The event was common enough that the Thunderer didn't pay much attention, until without warning the waters on the side of the ship bubbled and tentacles thrashed up from beneath. That caught the Thunderer's attention. The growing cloud tarried near the site as the humans fought bravely, hacking and hooking at suckered tentacles that reached over the edge of the ship. The battle was close, wounds being opened on both sides, but the humans soon gained the upper hand. With a lucky jab of a spear into the central mass of the tentacles, they fell still. Cheering triumphantly, the humans pulled the carcass onto the ship and set sail towards a distant landmass with all speed.

"SAAAAAROOOOOOTH!!!!!" a voice shouted from the surface, breaking Saroth's concentration. He tried to ignore the calling for a moment, then sighed. He waved a wing and sent a thanks towards the Thunderer and circled down through the rain to the ground. He noticed Electra standing on his balcony, just aging herself back up to her 'normal' 14 year old self, and adjusted his flight path.

{Why is it the younger they are, the louder they are?} he thought to himself as he landed near her. {What's up?} he sent as he started to shift to a smaller form.

"Don't bother Saroth, we're going on a trip," she interrupted him. He looked down at her, puzzled. She didn't miss a beat, hauling his flight harness from his room and tossing it on his back. He noticed that it was the larger harness, used when he was expected to be hauling something. With an inward groan, he knelt lower to make putting the harness on simpler.

{Soooo, what are we taking and where is it going?} he asked, wiggling to get the straps settled into a comfortable position. As one of the few people able and willing to quickly carry supplies across relatively great distances he was used to the routine, but he rarely liked it. Thankfully, he wasn't called into the pack animal role often, mainly just to get very perishable supplies back to the Keep from the Midlands. The tasks were regular enough that he had a special harness made for cargo carrying.

"We're going to my home, the Magdalain Island. A group of fisherman there recently pulled in a Kraken," she explained, grunting as she pulled the straps tighter around his frame.

{A Kraken?!?} he asked, surprised, but remembering the images from the Thunderer..

"Yes, a Kraken. They caught it at great risk and are now selling it. Magus wants us to go to the island and pick up some of the tentacles before they go bad, but more importantly, there is some business down there that Thomas and I have been working on. We need to finalize it in person." She tightened the last strap and climbed onto his back. "Our travel supplies are still on the ground. There was no way I was going to haul those up here!" she added, thumping his chest.

Saroth rumbled softly and hopped down to the ground. He walked over to a pile of bags set up under a tarp near the lower door to the tower. She climbed off his back and immediately drafted Wanderer and Christopher, who were just leaving the dining room, to help load the packages. Saroth waited patiently, offering advice on placement to make sure the load wouldn't be uncomfortable. The first time he had done this sort of load up, he had felt a twinge of guilt over not being able to help more with the loading. That guilt died quickly after a few hours flight with the gear on his back. Subsequent trips, he paid more attention to how things were loaded, but did not have any guilt over not helping with the actual loading.

"Thank you guys; I would never have gotten them all on before nightfall," Electra thanked her helpers, giving the courtyard a final look around. She mentally reviewed her lists to make sure she had everything, and swung onto Saroth's back. "Ready, Saroth?" she asked.

{As ready as I'll ever be,} he replied. With both a mental and vocal grunt, he took off, feeling the load shift a bit with his movements.

It was a quick hop over familiar territory to reach the coastline. From there, followed the coast southwards for days, stopping in forests and other deserted areas every few hours and during the nights for a rest. During the trip, Saroth often asked what the other business was, but Electra refused to tell him more details, even in the privacy of clear skies and clear minds. Whenever he tried to bring up the subject, she said she wanted to keep quiet about it until the deal was confirmed.

Finally, in the early afternoon of the fourth day, they reached a sandy beach on the shore of the wide strait between the mainland and the Magdalain Island, just south of Elvquelin. While flying in, Electra had ordered him to go further out to sea to avoid the small village of Cape Tormentine that was now hidden by the headlands.

"We'll stay here tonight, then cross the strait tomorrow," Electra explained, climbing down and stretching. She rummaged in the packs and removed some prepared food for herself, and a small, but deadly bow and arrow set. Because of her small size, they had decided that it would take too long to remove and replace the supplies and harness each day. This forced Saroth to stay at his full sized for the entire trip, and severely limited his hunting. Electra helped him by hunting small game whenever they stopped, and keeping an eye out for bigger stuff in easy to reach area. Nonetheless, Saroth was getting sick of his diet of rabbit and similarly small creatures.

"Get your rest; This beach should be safe enough for the night, and we've got a long stretch to do tomorrow and no place to land in between," she explained, tearing off a bite of jerky and looking around. She pulled down another package and pulled out a cloak and some makeup. "I'm going to go into Tormentine and try to get some news, and maybe some fish for you. I can tell you're getting sick with what I've hunted up for you."

Saroth barely reacted, one eye already closed, the other watching as she force grew herself to her maximum age, and expertly added some makeup to look older. She put a necklace around her neck with an emblem indicating she was a wizard apprentice, added her cloak and set off towards the town. It was a deception they didn't particularly like to perform. But this far from Keep lands and traveling alone, they could not risk running into haters. Electra was more than capable of defending herself, but displaying a master's rank, as she actually had, on a body so apparently young would raise too many suspicions. Going as an apprentice, she could claim her master was nearby doing his own research, and she was simply retrieving supplies for them for their travels.

When she returned a few hours later, a wrapped side of beef and a whole large tuna magically trailing behind her, she found the dragon deep in sleep. She left the meat nearby, adding wards to prevent other animals snacking on it, cleaned off her disguise and prepared her own camp. She drifted off to sleep, pensive about the information she had obtained.

The crunching of bones woke her up. She suppressed a shudder and opened her eyes, seeing a clear sky brightening with the rising sun. She was glad she made sure she was facing away from the food supplies when she went to sleep the night before. She yawned and stretched out in her sleeping bag. Sufficiently woken up, she turned and watched the dragon tearing hungrily into the fish she had left. There was no sign of the beef, beyond a drying wet spot on the sand.

"Make sure you wash your muzzle and claws off before we leave," she ordered, turning away and preparing her own breakfast. She was used enough to his eating habits to not be turned off, but watching him while eating her own meals was a bit much to handle. Saroth grunted back to her and politely moved a bit to put his body between her and his meal.

They finished eating in silence, washed up in the sea, and prepared to break camp. "I hope that wasn't an indicator of our luck," she mentioned in passing. She felt a wordless {?} from Saroth and clarified. "The Mayor of Johnstown just left Tormentine yesterday. Missed him by a few hours. Oh well, while it would have been nice to talk to him in person, we'll be seeing him in Johnstown anyways, once the Ferry gets in."

Saroth nodded, half listening to her. He crouched lower to help her rearrange the gear easier, and extended his senses to the skies. Clear weather, no threats of rain for days.

Electra surveyed the camp one final time and grabbed a handhold on the harness, pulling her small body up. "Not sure what to make of the town though. The people were friendly enough, had no problems at all with wizards. But there was something else, a strong Anti-Keeper sentiment. I couldn't dig into it too much without drawing attention to myself, but it was worrying."

She settled down between his neck ridges and took a firm grip on the harness. "Ready? Lets get going. Last leg of this trip."

Taking a deep breath, Saroth looked across the strait. A light smudge on the far horizon, more imagined than actually seen, was the only sign of the destination. He leaped into the air, powerful wings pulling the duo into the air. He circled over the beach they had camped out, glanced at Cape Tormentine village, and turned out towards the sea.

More hours than he cared to count later, they finally wearily landed on Magdalain Island. The closer they got to the isle, the more nervous Electra became. Saroth lightly tried to ask what was concerning her, but she didn't answer and kept her thoughts too tightly locked down for him to see. When the island grew large enough to make out the shoreline clearly, she leaned forward and scanned the area. She directed him to follow the coastline a bit and kept searching for something. Saroth felt the faint echo of a telepathic conversation happening, but he could not pick it up. Finally, she motioned for them to land on the rocky beach of a small cove.

There was a rustle of bushes and a tall, well tanned man walked out, hair as red as Electra's. He carefully watched the dragon's head until a loud, childish scream of joy pierced the air. "GORDY!".

Saroth felt the load on his back shift a bit as a small figure dropped down and sprinted to the man. The man himself looked stunned a moment before his face opened out in a huge smile. He crouched down and caught the small child running towards him. Their reunion turned into a rushed conversation, that seemed to be missing half the words but was fully understandable by the pair. Finally, Saroth's patience wore out and he let out a low rumble and a strong {Excuse me!}.

That interrupted the conversation and reminded the pair there were others present. Electra blushed red with embarrassment and turned back towards Saroth, aging herself and growing closer to his height. The man's eyes widened a bit and another hurried conversation without words seemed to go between them. She refocused on Saroth before he had to interrupt them again.

"Saroth, this is my younger brother, Master Healer Gordon, healer of Johnstown," Electra started introducing them.

"Younger by only 15 minutes!" Gordon interrupted, smiling. "You know, I still haven't been able to get used to my twin looking young enough to be my daughter," he added, "Especially now that I can see you in person. It's been way too long Elly."

"Well, it wasn't as if I had much say in that matter," Electra shot back. "Gordy," she continued, stressing the nickname with the familiar nastiness that only siblings can get across, "This is my apprentice, the Weather Warden, Saroth."

Gordon moved around to face Saroth and bowed. "Greetings Weather Warden Saroth. Welcome to Magdalain Island."

Saroth bowed his head a moment, {Greetings as well Master Healer. It is a beautiful island from what I could see. Now not to be too impolite, could you two help get this stuff off my back?} Gordon tilted his head at the telepathic speech, but did not seem startled. Saroth at first mentally wrote that off as Electra having warned Gordon about Saroth's little 'speech impediment', but then something clicked in his mind and the events he witnessed finally added up. {You two have twin telepathy! You never told me that Electra!} he sent.

Gordon chuckled softly and lead the Keepers away from the shore, then reached up to start undoing straps. "It's not common in non-identical twins, but it does happen. We don't normally advertise it since telepaths in general tend to make people nervous, even if we assure them we can only read eachother's minds. Still, it does have its advantages, like keeping in touch with my big sister while she was off adventuring."

Electra thumped his side a bit and scrambled up to toss a few packages down. "Saroth knows well about telepathism since he changed. Between that and Anti-Keeper sentiments, he usually finds it easiest to stay in the wilds outside of the Keep. Of course if he hadn't been messing with stuff he shouldn't have been messing with, he would probably still have a voice."

Saroth growled softly at her admonishment and started shrinking as his load got lighter. He finally could step out of the cargo harness and stretched while the other two piled and sorted the supplies. He scratched at a few spots where the harness had rubbed painfully, and sensed someone staring at him. Looking up, he saw Gordon watching him, a concerned expression on his face.

"Is that the most human you can get?" he asked.

{I'm afraid so,} Saroth replied. {I could cloak up, but it isn't all that good of a disguise.}

He sighed and looked between Electra and Saroth. "I was a little afraid of that. It might be best for you to stay in the forest here while Electra and I handle our business in Johnstown. It's bad enough you guys are a day early, but at least I could hide Elly easier than both of you." He looked up and noticed the puzzled, and worried expressions on the Keepers' faces. "Don't be too worried about it. Most people in the town won't have a problem with you one way or another. But a few months ago, a couple of guys moved over from the main land with a few notions different from most of us. They normally keep quiet, but I ,and others, have caught them preaching to small groups, or letting a comment slip on the sly about 'those monsters to the north' and those 'demonic Keepers' and similar phrases. We've countered their efforts as best we can, but so far they haven't done enough to let us take action against them. Mayor Tobin especially has been keeping an eye on them, and generally they stay quiet... but he's been on the Mainland these past few weeks, leaving them free reign to spread their poison." Gordon sighed and shrugged. "Just be careful. I'll bring El- Electra to my place and she can lay low till the Ferry gets in and Tobin's back. Then we can bring both of you out."

Saroth looked around a bit and nodded. {Well it looks like this beach gets good sun, and I could use a bit of rest. I'll be fine around here. You two go get caught up, and come get me when you need me,} he explained.

Gordon looked relieved. "The currents are too strong around this bay; the Fishermen don't usually come this way, nor do most townsfolk. You should have some privacy. Just try not to draw attention to yourself."

{No problem,} Saroth sent, helping them sort the gear and prepare for their trip into town. He bade farewell to the twins and moved out into a sunny spot of the beach to nap.

The sounds of talking and singing woke him up after a few hours. Looking around, he could hear the voices nearby, but the speakers hidden by the forest. He could tell they were young male voices, but he had trouble making out the words.

Curious despite Gordon's warning, he had to check it out. He made his way carefully to the rest of the Keep's gear and pulled his cloak out. His cloak covered his wings and most of his tail, even though it made him look like a hunch back. He raised the hood to shield his face and started moving along the faint path, trying to keep as quiet as he could.

He stopped at the edge of a clearing, staying deep in the shadows and spied the source of the voices. Four young men, clearly old friends and just a smidgen too young to go out on the boats, were gathered in the clearing. Three of them were lazing on a boulder, while the fourth was half heartedly picking blue berries. As Saroth watched, he realized that maybe a quarter of the berries ended up in the basket at the boy's side, while the rest were split between going in the boy's mouth or being tossed at the ones on the boulder.

Two of the boys were singing an old sea chanty while the third was intercepting the berries tossed at them. "What do you do with a Drunken Sailor, What do you do with a Drunken Sailor? What do you do with a Drunken Sailor, Er-ly in the mornin'?"

Finally the picker gave up and stood up, glaring at the singers. "Alan, Darrell, would you two PLEASE stop singing that song? You've been singing that since we left Johnston!"

"Why Sean, don't you like our singing?" one of the singers asked, smirking.

"Oh, we've got no problem with your singing. We're just tired of hearing that song over and over and over again!" the non-singer retorted.

The berry picker, Sean interrupted before the friendly jabs could escalate. "You know, Ma'll tan our hides if we don't have enough berries in for tomorrow. I could use a hand with this picking."

The trio at the rock considered a moment, then climbed down to help with the picking. The other singer started drumming his fingers on the side of the basket in a pattern the others recognized. All four picked up the verse and sung while they worked.

"There's a neat little lass and her name's Mari-Mac, Make no mistake, she's the girl I'm gonna track, Lots of other fellows try to get her on her back, But I'm thinking that they'll have to get up early."

The beat was infectious, even as the young singers sped up the song with each chorus. Saroth found himself tapping his foot to the song. He didn't notice the ground around him as his foot came down on a dry branch. A loud 'CRACK!' echoed through the air, killing the song in mid beat.

The boys froze a moment then scrambled to their feet. They didn't have weapons handy, though one grabbed a thick walking stick and another lifts a basket. They started scanning the edge of the clearing, trying to find the source of the noise. Saroth froze in his position, wishing that Electra had taught him an invisibility spell. He made a mental note to check the library when he got back, IF he got back for just such a spell. After a few moments of silent searching with the boys' gazes going past him a few times, he began to think that they hadn't seen him in the shadows of the forest. That hope was soon dashed.

The first boy he had heard, Sean, seemed to zero in on him. Saroth held motionless as the boy's eyes widened. "Who ARE you?" Sean asked.

Saroth briefly considered running, maybe pulling up some fog to help shield his escape, then reconsidered. The boys seemed friendly enough, and Gordon had said most of the island's inhabitants were good people. Some company would be a nice way to spend the time until Gordon and Electra sent for him. He took a few more steps out from the forest, far enough to be seen but still deep enough in the shadows to help his disguise. The boys stared at him, still wary, but relaxing a bit now that the threat was identified.

{My name is Saroth. I am a wizard from Metamor Keep.} He sent to their minds. That caused them to tense up again; he caught a faint impression that they were about to run. The mention of the Keep did seem to pique their curiosity.

"He's one of those demon-touched Ken was ranting about," one of the boys whispered, not taking his eyes off Saroth. "We should run back to the town and warn everyone."

Saroth held up his hands, hoping to calm them before they did anything rash. The boys stepped back and seemed ready to sprint and Saroth remembered taloned hands were not likely to calm anyone down. He spoke quickly trying to disarm the situation. {I'm not demon touched, though I am cursed. You are perfectly safe around me however. I mean you no harm. I'm afraid I can only speak mentally with you however; a side effect of my own curse.}

They stood there for a longer moments, the boys clearly trying to decide if they could trust him. Finally Sean seemed to reach a decision and stepped forward. "Nice to meet you, err Saroth. My name is Sean. Those are my friends, Alan, Bob and Darrell.... Are you SURE you're from Metamor Keep? We've been told stories of how the Keep is filled with monsters that go hunting, kidnapping people for their dinners and stuff..."

Saroth couldn't help but laugh and barely kept his hood from falling back. {Don't worry. I'm on a strict no human diet. After all, it wouldn't do to eat what I once was! Anyways, though the Keep may have some people there that may be considered monsters, most of us are normal people just trying to survive. And we don't kidnap anyone." That seemed to reassure the boys, letting their curiosity overwhelm their fears.

They started moving closer to get a better look at him. Saroth obliged by slowly raising his hands and lowering his hood, revealing his draconic face. That in turn unleashed more questions from the boys, fears completely forgotten now. They moved from the shadows and settled on the boulder again while Saroth answered questions. He explained about the Keep, the war with Nasoj and the curses applied to the Keep that still existing. He told them what it was like to be a dragon as best as he could, dancing around the Keeper's ability to shift form. Finally he outlined why he and Electra were on the island, letting the boys assumed they had arrived by some magical means. He avoided Electra's relationship with Gordon for now, letting them make their own assumptions.

Finally, he noticed the shadows lengthening and the sun beginning to set. {Don't you boys need to be getting back to your homes?}

Darrell laughed. {Our da's are all out deep sea fishing, trying to catch another Kraken, Been gone fer a few days now. We'd be with them, but they wanted experienced hands only. Anyways, after a few days hanging around the house, our ma's wanted us out of their hair. Told us ta go pick some berries and stay out fer a night or two. Our usual camp is nearby, want to join us?"

{Sure, I've got time to kill waiting for Electra. I wouldn't mind some company.} Saroth said. He returned to the beach, collected his supplies and joined them at their camp in a smaller clearing .

Once the five of them were all gathered around the small campfire, they picked up their questions about the Keep again. This time though, Saroth managed to get in a few questions of his own. He soon learned that Sean's and Darrell's fathers were normally lobster and crab fishermen who were on the ship that had caught the Kraken, Alan's and Bob's fathers were cod fishermen, and Sean's ma, for whom the berries they were picking were for, made the best blueberry pie on the island.

After awhile they started telling stories. Saroth filled them in on stories he had read from the library, along with a slightly fictionalized story about the Weather Wards. The boys in turn shared stories their fathers had told them about sea monsters large enough to swallow ships hole, and seas and storms powerful enough to sink islands. Horse and mentally exhausted, all five drifted off to sleep late in the evening.

They awoke late the next morning to the sound of someone running through the forest, panting and shouting. "Saroth! Saroth! Where are you? Electra's in trouble!" they all recognized Gordon's voice and became instantly alert.

{Over this way, Gordon. Follow my roar,} Saroth sent back, opening his mouth and roaring, startling the boys. A few moments later, Gordon burst into the clearing and stopped dead in his tracks.

"What are YOU doing here?" he asked, chest heaving while he tried to catch his breath.

"Camping out with our new friend, Healer," Sean said quickly.

{I'll explain later. What's happening with Electra?} Saroth asked, worried about his teacher.

Gordon took a cup of water Alan supplied and gulped it down to help recover. "Remember that group I told you about? Well, their leader somehow found out she was a Keeper; I don't know how, we went straight to my place and only spoke to old friends. Someone must have overheard and rumours spread.... Anyway! They've taken her prisoner and are getting ready to kill her!"

Saroth growled angrily, but tried to stay focused. {How'd you get away?} He tuned out the boys murmuring in confusion beside them.

"They let me stay loose, in my house, saying that I was under her evil influence, and that once she was dead, I'd be free. Used some healing magic to anesthetize the guard they left and ran out here as soon as I could." He paused for a moment before continuing under his breath. "If only Tobin was here; He doesn't have a problem with Keepers and would set this straight... but the Ferry won't be in for a few more hours....."

{How is Electra now? How much time do we have?} Saroth interrupted.

Gordon paused and his eyes unfocused a moment. Saroth realized he was consulting telepathically with Electra. "She's fine, for the moment, very groggy from where they knocked her out. She says that they're still trying to figure out just what to do with her, and there are too many of them around for her to get away. She thinks they are about to come to an agreement about how to kill her."

{Right, we'd better get going.} Saroth looked around, finally paying attention to the boys. {Could you guys back up a bit? I need some room to shift.} He triggered his change and heard the boys wow in surprise even as they stumbled back out of his way. {Remember how I told you that after Nasoj's spells turned many of us into animals, our own mages cast a spell to make us human again? Well I neglected to mention we can still shift back to our animal form. It comes in handy,} Saroth explained as he grew, quickly filling the clearing.

"Saroth, please believe me when I say that Johnstown is usually a very pleasant village. The people holding Electra by no means represent the majority of the village. Most of the villagers don't believe in the Keep at all and just use stories of Keepers to scare kids. This group though.... The problem is most of the men who would usually stop this notion, are out fishing while the weather's good. Those of us left weren't able to do a thing!" Gordon pleaded as Saroth grew.

"I understand Gordon. Most of us are familiar with that hatred, and work around it as best as we can. But we have to focus on saving Electra for now. Climb on, we don't have much time.} Saroth sent, reaching his full size. He offered a leg to help Gordon up, and was surprised when the boys started climbing on too..

{Just what do you think you're doing?} he asked them.

"Going with you. Those idiots won't be as likely to shoot you down if you have us on your back," Darryl said, settling down behind Gordon. Gordon seemed to be thinking of something else. {I don't lik-} Saroth started to say, but Gordon interrupted him.

"Saroth! Hurry! They've reached a decision!"

Grumbling, Saroth took off into the air, with all five people on his back. He started flying as fast as he could to the small town, following Gordon's direction. Along the way he grabbed all the clouds he could sense in the region, not sure what he could do with them but wanting to be ready.

"Are those clouds FOLLOWING us?" Bob asked.

{Please stay quiet... This is taking... a lot of my... concentration,} Saroth sent tersely. {Where are they... taking her?} he asked Gordon.

"Over there, at the gallows," Gordon responded, pointing out the location as they glided over the town proper. Below people noticed the shadow and looked up, shouts and gasps following them into town.

Saroth mentally picked up where Gordon was pointing and looked. He saw a mob of about 20 people walking down the street, shoving a small chained figure ahead of them. Other townspeople were quickly getting out of the way of the mob, seeming uncertain about what to do. Barely warning his passengers, Saroth quickly dived out of the sky and started to hover between the gallows and the mob. He corralled the clouds he had gathered over his head, and used the winds generated from his wings' down draft to form a tornado below him. He had practiced this trick before at the Keep, but he rarely used it in real life situations since it took up a lot of his concentration and energy. This time though, for some reason, the effect came a good deal easier. He didn't have time to ponder this difference though, as the mob noticed him.

{STOP! RELEASE HER!} he mentally shouted at the mob, roaring at the same time. The mob froze in the middle of the street and milled about, some members tried to slip away, but the leader, an older man with a cane and a slightly crazed look to his eyes stayed firm.

The leader took a step back and grabbed Electra's chains from the increasingly uncertain 'jailer'. He glared up at Saroth and saw the passengers. "Healer! I thought you were smarter than that. Now I can see you were willingly working with these Demons! You fetched her monster when she couldn't!" the leader shouted.

"Ken, you poor misguided fool. If Electra is, as you say, demon spawn, than so am I! Electra is my twin sister!" Gordon shouted down at the leader. The mob of people gasped, and even Ken seemed surprised. Saroth landed and focused on keeping the winds up and trying to coax some lightning out of the clouds he gathered.

Ken recovered quickly. "He admits it! Shoot them!" Ken shouted to the mob.

A few members of the mob were still on Ken's side. They grabbed bows and arrows from packs on their backs. Saroth noticed that and flapped harder to create more wind for his protection, hoping it would be enough.

"Wait! It's got my boy with it!" a new voice shouted out. All eyes turned to see a woman running out of a building to the nearest archer.

"Mom," Bob explained quietly, trying to shrink down behind the other boys..

Ken reacted quickly, sensing the crowd's mood shifting. If any of the boys got harmed while taking down the dragon, he'd be next to go down. "Hold your fire, men!" he shouted shifting tactics. Ken lifted his stick and pressed it across Electra's neck. She gasped and began to turn blue, manacled hands reaching up and clawing at the staff uselessly. "Demon! Release the children and I will release the girl and let the three of you leave!" Ken shouted up, the rest of his threat obvious.

Saroth heard Gordon gag as Ken pulled the walking stick harder against Electra's throat, blocking her air.

"Saroth!... He's lying!... She can't concentrate!... Says to take out the stick!" Gordon gasped, feeling his sister's lack of air.

{I'm trying! But the clouds don't have any charge for lightening, the wind's not strong enough and if I charge they could shoot her and you guys!} Saroth sent back at a loss for how to help. He prepared to rush Ken anyways, well aware that there were many ways he could kill Electra before Saroth could cover the distance.

"She says the stick's wooden!... Use fire!"

{Oh great,} Saroth thought to himself, not really trusting the spell but willing to give it a shot before his charge. He drug the spell back out of his memory and made the hand motions, diverting the energy and focusing it on the stick where Ken gripped it.

Ken's stick burst into flames, starting where he gripped it and spreading quickly. Shocked, he threw the stick away before it could do more than scorch Electra's neck, losing his grip on her as well. Electra stumbled and tried to crawl away, but Ken recovered enough to get his foot down on the chains, jerking her to a stop. Saroth felt the spell still growing, more power than he intended surging through it. The gallows and a nearby wood pile next to a nearby building burst into flames, threatening to spread through the town.

"Too much!!" Gordon and Electra both shouted over the increasingly panicked and confused crowd. Saroth released the spell and coaxed his gathered clouds to release their loads onto the flames.

"You'll regret that, Demon!" Ken spat up to them. He grabbed a knife from his belt and hauled Electra to her feet by her hair. He pressed the tip of the blade next to her neck. "Had you let the boys go, I would have kept my promise. Instead, you did that. Now you'll pay the price!" A bead of red appeared on the knife tip.

"HALT!" an authoritative voice shouted out. Ken froze in place as the crowd parted, revealing a man striding towards the action.

"Mayor Tobin!" Gordon and the boys shouted together. Saroth, hearing them, released his grip on the winds.

The Mayor didn't give the dragon a second glance as he stopped in front of Ken. "Ken Campbell. I should have known you would be causing problems," he said, shaking his head sadly. "Release her," he added. His voice level did not change, but those two words had an edge on them sharper than any blade in the village. Ken meekly pulled his blade away and let go of Electra.

"Are you all right, Electra?" Mayor Tobin asked Electra, offering a hand to steady her.

"Well enough," Electra replied horsely, before collapsing. The Mayor motioned to a couple of women to collect her and to remove the chains. There was still a mob, but their mood had vastly changed. Feeling it was safe enough, Saroth crouched down enough to let the others off, ignoring the glare Ken sent his way. Gordon and the boys quickly climbed off, each running to a loved one. Saroth continued to watch the Mayor with interest.

"Now, Ken. What is the meaning of all this?" the Mayor asked, his voice barely containing the fury hinted at under his otherwise calm demeanor.

"I was protecting our town, sir."

"Protecting our town from what?"

"From the likes of them!" Ken gestured towards Saroth, the only one not surrounded by villagers. "They are Evil, pure Evil!"

Saroth saw the mayor stiffen, and could sense the anger shooting across the top of his mind. When the mayor spoke again, Saroth could hear the barely contained rage in his voice. "Pure evil eh? All those brave men and women who live at Metamor Keep, who protected the southern lands from invasion from the north and were changed AGAINST their wills by an evil wizard? All those people who, despite those changes, are STILL protecting these southern lands, are evil?"

Ken didn't respond glaring back at the Mayor. Saroth could tell from his expression that the mayor's words had no effect on him, but the mayor did have an affect on the crowd. The general mood had changed from Anti-Keeper to Pro- Keeper in that flash. The mayor sensed it and pushed on while he had the crowd on his side.

"Kenneth Campbell, I am passing my judgment on you right now. Magdalain Island does not need people like you around here. The mainland ferry leaves tomorrow at sunrise. You will be on it, with whatever possessions you can carry. Until then, you are restricted to your house until you are escorted to the Ferry. From the moment you step off the Island, you are forever banned from ever returning here, under penalty of death." The crowd gasped in surprise at the punishment. "If there is anyone else who feels the same as Ken does, and refuses to have anything to do with Metamor Keep, and its Keepers, than I suggest you also plan on packing soon, for you won't like what I am going to say next," the Mayor continued, raising his voice over the murmuring of the crowd.

He left Ken, who now wore a stunned expression, and walked over to Gordon and the de-chained Electra. He spoke to them for a moment, seeming to be clarifying something before he, with the twins in tow, walked over and stood in front of Saroth, his back to the dragon. "I had planned on announcing this differently, but circumstances have forced me to change my plans.

"You all know the town healer, Gordon. Well, this is his twin sister, Electra. She grew up on this island just like most of us, but she left to pursue her magical studies at Metamor Keep Like all of us who have spent time here, this island has never left her blood. Over the past year, I have, through these two, been talking to Lord Thomas of Metamor Keep arranging this deal. The last few details were finally worked out last week, and the result of those discussions is one of the reasons Electra and her companion have come here."

The mayor paused and looked over the crowd. "I would like to announce to all of you now, the Alliance of Metamor Keep and the Magdalain Island. It will primarily be a trade alliance; since our areas aren't really close enough to help defend each other, but I know realize that there are other ways we can help each other"

He turned to Electra and Saroth. "In addition to the treaty which you brought for me to sign, I am also declaring Magdalain Island as a sanctuary for any Keeper in need of help. From the moment any Keeper steps foot onto the ferry at the Mainland port or onto the island itself, to the moment they step back onto the Mainland, they will be under my protection." Saroth and Electra were stunned as the Mayor turned back to the crowd. "If incidents like what happened today EVER occur again, the culprits will be banished for life from Magdalain Island, or worst."

The crowd was stunned into silence. The mayor started walking away. "I want to talk to the three of you just after noon. Until then, feel free to look around the town, get to know the people, see that Ken and his friends are the exception, not the rule around here" he called back to Electra, Gordon and Saroth. He looked back at the old man, standing defiantly with a couple supporters in an otherwise emptied space. "As for you, Kenneth, I believe you have some packing to do."

The crowd slowly dispersed, murmuring amongst themselves, looking at the Keepers and trying to make sense of the new island order.

{Bold words, but will he be able to do it?} Saroth asked quietly, trying to come to terms with the implications of the Mayor's announcement. He started shrinking down, drawing more attention from the islanders remaining.

"He will. Some people... A LOT of people, won't be comfortable with this deal, but Mayor Tobin is well loved, and hasn't lead us wrong yet. They will grumble a lot, but they will follow him," Gordon replied, as stunned as Electra and Saroth.

"Not to jinx this deal or anything, but WHY? Why is he doing this for the Keep?" Saroth asked.

Electra smiled. "He'll want to tell you himself... Mind introducing us?" She added, pointing behind Saroth.

Saroth twisted his head and saw the boys approaching, with three women. The seven of them seemed overwhelmed, though the boys were busy assuring their mothers that they were fine. Saroth sent a mental throat clearing sound and caught their attention. {Electra, this is Sean, Alan, Bob, Darrell and I guess their mothers. I met the boys out in the forest last night.} He accepted a cloak that Sean seemed to take out of nowhere. Two of the mothers seemed uncomfortable when they heard Saroth's voice in their heads and especially when he shifted, but the boys kept them around. The other was staring intently at Electra, and not noticing what the dragon was doing.

"Eliza? It really IS you!" she exclaimed, recognition dawning on her face.

Recognition and embarrassment spread across Electra's face. "Cynthia? I didn't recognize you! Gordon, why didn't you tell me Cynthia was still in town?"

Gordon shrugged. He started to say something, but he saw he was already being ignored. Saroth, Gordon and the boys watched as Electra and Cynthia walked away with the other two mothers. The other two mothers looked back nervously at Saroth and the boys, but Electra grabbed their arms and started assuring them that there was no danger.

Saroth looked at Gordon. {Eliza?}

Gordon chuckled. "She always hated that name. That's why she changed it when she left the island with that caravan all those years ago." He looked at the departing women. "Come on guys, I think we've just been abandoned. Let's go get something to eat, and you can tell me how you met up with these boys."

Gordon led them to a cafe on the main street in the town. Their waitress was extremely nervous around Saroth, even though he kept quiet around her. Just having a dragon morph sitting in her cafe was making her jittery enough to nearly drop the plates; Saroth didn't want to find out what would happen if he spoke in her mind.

The six of them spent the rest of the morning walking around the town, the boys pointing the sites out to Saroth, while Saroth and Gordon talked. Everywhere they went, people would disappear into the buildings, though they could still feel eyes watching them from windows and behind doors cracked open.

{Are you sure this deal will work?} Saroth asked, seeing someone dart across the street as they turned the corner.

"It will. Just give people time to get used to it. Elly showed me some of the new sail fabric you brought down to sweeten the deals. That alone would be enough to bring around any sailor worth his salt. I hope you can make enough of it."

Saroth sighed. {Trade deals, new fabrics, alliances being worked out under my muzzle. Nobody tells me ANYTHING. Oh well, comes with the territory of being the junior council member... I guess.}

Gordon laughed. "Don't feel bad about not knowing about that Alliance plans, it was something the four of us, the Mayor, Electra, Lord Thomas and I, have been discussing for a long time, but felt it would be best to keep quiet about until we had all the details worked out." He glanced up at the sun. "Speaking of which, I believe it is time to go see the mayor."

After a quick stop at Gordon's house to pick up some papers, they went to the Mayor's office. There, they met up with Electra who was still with the boy's mothers, talking up a storm. The four of them were acting as if they were the age Electra looked like. The two Keepers and Gordon quickly said good-bye to their companions and entered the office.

The Mayor stood up as they entered and went to shake their hands. "Welcome! Welcome to Johnstown. My apologies for that incident when you arrived, it isn't normally like that around here."

"Thank you sir, and no need to apologize. We are well aware of the affect one man can have on crowds, and you handled it admirably.. It is good to finally meet you in person. I would like to introduce you to my co-councilor, Saroth, and of course you know my brother," Electra said, introducing the others. "Saroth can't speak, but he is telepathic, and honorable; He won't peek," she added.

"Hmm... A telepathic bronze colored dragon. There is probably an interesting story behind that, but story telling can wait for later. Now let us get down to business and get this treaty over with. There are still one or two details I want to change, plus there's the sanctuary clause I just came up with today.," the Mayor said, sitting down again. Electra and Gordon sat down on chairs across the Mayor's desk, while Saroth was forced to sit on a bench he pulled out from the wall.

Gordon took out the paperwork he had retrieved from his house and spread them out on the desk. The three of them leaned over them and started talking. Saroth was quickly left behind as they got into annual returns and exchange values and other details. He felt his eyes drift close and was surprised by the scrape of chairs. He woke up and saw the three standing, shaking hands and bending down to sign and add seals to various copies of the deals. He added his own mark to the paperwork where indicated and helped clear the desk off.

{Mayor Tobin, if you don't mind me asking, why are you doing all this for the Keep? The trade deal I kind of understand, but, from what I understand of that treaty, you're getting next to nothing out of providing us sanctuary. You barely know us, other than Electra and Thomas, why would you make that offer?} Saroth asked, getting a question that was bugging him off his chest.

The mayor smiled at him. "Please, just call me Brian. Now that the business is done, we don't need to be as formal. And why I'm doing this? It all boils down to history, my family's history in particular."

The mayor stood up and walked over to a wall of portraits. There were five portraits, the newest being of the Mayor. Saroth could see a family resemblance within the five men pictured.

"People have known of Magdalain Island for centuries, but the shoals around it keep ships away at all times except high tide, making it inhospitable enough that no one seriously tried to settle it. That was, no one bothered to colonize it until about 150 years ago when a group of people lead by my great-great grandfather, John Tobin, formed Johnstown. Most of the original colonists were fishermen and other tradespeople John recruited from villages along the mainland, but John himself was different. John was a Keeper.

"My great-great-grandpa was born at Merith, in a fishing family, but he didn't have the fishing bug his father had, at least not at first, which caused a rather public family scandal. To escape his parent's pressures, he ran off to Metamor Keep and joined the people there to help them guard the pass. For years, he patrolled the pass, killing Lutins, Giants and anything else the North tried to send to the south, much like you still do.

"After one particularly bloody invasion, he realized that he was growing weary of the eternal vigilance the Keep required, and the fishing bug finally bit him. As far as he was concerned, the Keep was Home, but he yearned for the open seas. He was very prideful, and could not stand the thought of going back to Merith and facing the issues he left there. Instead, he spent a year examining the Keep's library, searching for a village or town that might fit his desires. He didn't find a town, but he did read about Magdalain Island and the waters around it, and he knew that is where his future was.

"He left the Keep with a few other Keepers who similarly yearned for change, and traveled south, recruiting colonists along the way. They bought a boat and set out to sea along a route that was as much myth as fact. After a long voyage, they reached the island and found a way to shore. They founded Johnstown, with John as their first mayor. It was rough at first, but under John's guidance the colony took hold and prospered. He started a family here, had two children and became the first Mayor. But he made sure he took time to go out fishing every so often, up until he died in a storm out at sea. While he lived though, he made a huge difference and made sure his children shared his same values."

"After he died, his oldest son, John the Second became the second mayor of Johnston and was a similar leader as his father. Ever since then, the leadership has been passed down through John's line, along with the stories and respect of the Keep."

The mayor smiled and sat on the edge of his desk. "My grandfather used to entertain me with stories of how the first John used to live in the Metamor Keep, that was never the same twice, and how he fought the terrible Lutins and kept the south safe. When word of the attack and the curses reached down this way, I was at a loss about what I could do, but we're just too far away. Then more stories started making the rounds, calling Keeper's demons, stories of Keepers being shunned or attacked when they were away from the Keep. It was heartbreaking, but there was nothing I could do beyond stamping those lies out where I could. Then Gordon mentioned in passing about you Electra, and what had happened to you. It helped personalize your plight, and gave me some ideas. Through you two we started making this deal and the rest is now history."

Gordon stood up and clapped his hands together. "Now, enough of the old, let's get on with the new. My wife, Marla, has prepared a virtual feast for the occasion." He paused and looked at Saroth, "I should have asked earlier, is there anything special you need, or would require?"

Saroth shook his head, { No I can eat just about anything anyone else can. Though the rarer the meat the better.}

As promised, Marla and the rest of the town provided a veritable feast for the occasion. Word about Electra's history on the island had spread rapidly, and she found herself catching up with old friends for most of the night. A few were turned off by her young appearance, but memories quickly overcame any lingering doubts.

Saroth found himself a star among the truly young population of the village, mainly thanks to Sean and his friends. The parents watched him nervously, but the children and teenagers had no problem adjusting to him.

After the food was put away, the entertainment started. Instruments were brought out, and musical groups seemed to form and disband at random, one player swapping in as another left, keeping the music up through the night. Sean and his friends were clearly some of the favorites, going through a long set of songs enhanced by the instruments. Saroth found himself on the stage once as well, not really sure how he got there with a simple drum in hand, but having fun thumping out the beat with the side of his talons to a song he barely knew.

Later in the evening, Electra took the stage once and almost brought the crowd to tears with a mournful melody Saroth recognized from the Keep. To bring the mood back around, she followed it up with a quick beat raunchy tune that was familiar to the entire crowd. She sang a duet with Sean, then gave up the stage for the next singers to the applause and hoots of the crowd.

Saroth and Electra spent the remainder of the week at the town. With the deal finalized faster than expected, they spent the time helping the townspeople get used to Keepers. Saroth proved to be a hit when he started offering aerial tours of the island to anyone brave enough. Thus it was he and a recently married couple who were the first to see the fishing fleets on the horizon, sailing back to the docks. They landed soon after and word spread fast, bringing most people down to the docks to welcome the fishermen home.

Saroth waited with Electra beside Gordon and a pile of medical supplies to one side of the crowd at the docks. The crowd started mumbling eagerly as the first sails appeared. When the ships entered shouting distance, a man on the closest ship shouted something. Saroth was too far back to hear it clearly, but the crowd picked up the refrain and spread the word quickly. 'They got another one!'.

Gordon slipped through the crowd with his medical pack and was in position to check over the sailors as they docked. Saroth, by his height, was able to see the covered up mound of the new kraken they had caught, sending the crowd a buzz. He hoisted Electra to his shoulder and she studied it pensively.

Some of the more observant fishermen noticed the draconic figure at the back of the crowd and started asking questions. Their suspicious expressions mostly faded as friends and family explained the presence of the Keep and the new deal that was made while they were out. Word quickly spread from there.

Bright and early a few days later, Saroth was full sized and in his harness again. A group of fishermen were busy tying down a large mass between his wings, making sure the enchanted cloth that would keep it fresh covered it completely. Saroth still wasn't sure he appreciated Electra buying the entire second kraken as it was, but what was done was done. Snorting in resignation, he swung his head around and focused on the group nearby.

Electra and Gordon were in deep conversation, half spoken, half telepathic as was their norm. It seemed like a normal enough farewell talk, but to Saroth's eyes they seemed to be looking over at the other group too often. He grunted softly as a helper tugged a strap too tightly, and warned him, then focused on his friends.

The four boys stood there, a bit uncertain about what they were to do. There was a moment of silence that Saroth decided to break. {The first caravan will be coming up in a few months; you guys can come up then,} he comforted them.

Sean kicked the ground sullenly. "It's not the same. Not like we've got all that much to do around here," he pouted.

Saroth rumbled softly and nodded understandably. {Well we all agreed with your parents that a bit of downtime after this excitement would be best to let things settle down. Besides, do you really want to fly back to the Keep with a rotting squid on your back? I certainly don't but I didn't get a vote on it.}

Sean shrugged again. Saroth lowered his head and nudged the quartet a little in farewell. He didn't really believe they would be in any caravan coming up soon, but he kept those doubts carefully shielded.

They all turned as Electra spoke a bit louder. She had left her brother and was saying her farewells to the rest of the town, tearfully hugging old and new friend alike. Saroth began to worry as the good-bye gift pile began to rival the kraken's size. He directed his helpers in loading the gifts and waited.

Finally, Electra reached the end of the line of well wishers, and faced Mayor Tobin and his wife. They hugged long enough to give Electra time to compose herself, then had a quick whispered conversation. Electra nodded and turned to face the crowd, her eyes red, but her voice strong.

"Thank you everyone, for this incredible visit. As a teenager, like many teens," she smiled at Sean and his friends, "I left the island seeking adventure and knowledge. I ended up at Metamor Keep and formed a new home there. Now, as a child, I return here and discover that my true home has always been, and will always be here."

She had to turn away and wipe her eyes as the crowd cheered. The Mayor waited a moment, then raised his hands for silence. The crowd slowly grew quiet. "Thank you Electra, and you Saroth. Though your visit had an... unpleasant start, I trust our actions since then have shown those types are the minority here. While our exposure to your fellow Keepers is still limited, I hope the future will expand our experiences and help reaffirm this treaty we created here. And know this, for as long as you both shall live, no matter what happens in the future, you both will always have a home here."

Electra smiled and nodded her thanks, forced to wipe her face again as the crowd roared. Gordon moved up beside her and gave her a boost up onto Saroth's back. She settled into the straps and turned to wave to the crowd a final time. "Let's get out of here while I still can," she said quietly, giving the signal to take off.

Saroth gave the barest hint of a nod, and spread his wings wide. He flapped them once to start a breeze that he grabbed and strengthened into a brisk wind. The crowd backed up a bit further and let out another cheer as he flapped his wings again and lifted off the ground. He climbed upwards into the air rapidly, then circled around the crowd from above, waving with his wings and watching the others wave back. He felt Electra wave as well, then lean forward, hugging his neck ridge. With a final wiggle of his wings, he stopped circling and set out over the sea.

"The first mile is always the hardest," Electra mumbled, wiping her face off and pulling her travel cloak around herself tighter.

{Leaving home is never easy,} he sent back to her, trying not to send the underlying feeling of remorse.

They flew on in silence for a long time, each lost in memories and thoughts of the future. The shore of the mainland was just coming into view when Electra spoke again.

"I told Gordon to keep an eye on Sean, there's something about him that we can't quite figure out," Electra said softly.

{What do you mean?} Saroth sent back, surprised.

"Sean has magic talents. It's showing up rather late in him, and we can't tell what his strengths are, but he has a strong magic aura around him. Gordon will be working with him to figure out what talents are and to train him. If you focused more on your studies, you would have known the magic signs to look for in him."

Saroth smiled, pleased to hear that about Sean. Thinking back over the visit, he realized that there had been something special about the boy. There was one other thing that was bothering Saroth though. {Speaking of Gordon, why didn't you ever tell me he was your twin?}

She shrugged her shoulder's. "It just wasn't important. We haven't seen each other since long before the Battle of Three Gates, and we had our own interests. He was the healer, with a town to take care of, I was the destroyer, focusing on my magic studies and the protection of the Keep. Sure we share our link, but beyond that, we don't do much together that others would notice. At least not until we started working on that Trade deal."

{Well then, Could you ask him to keep an eye on the rest of the boys too? For me? I got to like them.}

"Already done," she said after a moment. "If the boys do decide to come to the Keep, you'll be the second to know." She coughed and blew her nose then recomposed herself as they angled northwards over the land. "Now, back to business; You did that Fire spell decently enough, but you need to work on your control. We can't have you burning down half the forest while you're trying to light a campfire! Soon as we're home, we'll practice. In the mean time, it's time for a magic quiz."

Saroth groaned and tried to make the wind help him travel faster. Metamor Keep seemed frightfully far away when he was trapped with a teacher popping a test on him.