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May 23, Morning

The First Agent of Drakazdale, Kel-Lorderon, is no longer my Master. At his request I have started my own Mission Journal to document my account of the events to come. His own book will be sent to the King of Drakazdale once we reach port. When I look at the man now, I no longer see the one I came to know and respect, the one who guided, taught, and mentored me since I arrived in the Hills of Hallihad. I understand the decision he had to make, but I cannot deny my sorrow and frustration. He had so much more to teach me. I had so much more to learn from him.

The events upon the barge will take some time to transcribe, but luckily I have plenty of it. I am back on board the Makalist on route to Brae, and they estimate our time of arrival in two days. I have told little to the crew and the Captain. Any information would be of little use to them, and they would struggle to understand it regardless.

It began as the orange-tinged moon was lowering on the horizon, and the swift Makalist silently approached the suspected dark-wheat barge. Once within roughly two hundred yards, the Captain gave command to match speed with the slower vessel. One of the crewmen fired a readied arrow from a crossbow mounted on the ship. Attached to the arrow was a thin rope we could use to pull ourselves to the target vessel. It took three attempts, but finally the line was tethered.

Master Kel-Lorderon lowered into the water first. Due to wearing our full sets of armor, we wore sealed leather bags inflated with air to increase our buoyancy and keep us afloat. I was worried it would not be enough, but the Captain assured us of his expertise in such devices. After seeing my Master float like a cork, I was convinced and lowered myself down. The warm gulf water slowly worked its way into my armor and clothing until it reached saturation. My instinct was to fear sinking, but the flotation aids held true.

The Makalist cut hard to starboard, heading to a safe distance to await a signal, either flare or explosion, to return for our retrieval. I began my internal clock ticking for two hours. If neither signal appeared by then, the Makalist would speed toward Brae to warn of the barge’s contents so it may be destroyed. It was Master Kel-Lorderon’s decision to attempt to board the ship instead of simply speeding ahead of it and alerting harbor security vessels to attack. While I didn’t understand then what information could be so important as to risk our lives, it is clear to me now that my Master’s instinct proved correct, as usual.

Once fully trusting of our levity in the water, and the line’s security to the barge, we began the slow pull toward our destination. While we could have made better time had we allowed ourselves more noise, our silent swim lasted upwards of twenty minutes. As we neared, we discovered the arrow struck the side of the ship at a sharp angle. It seems it was turning slightly when it was hit. As we came to side of the vessel, my Master called to me in a sharp, concerned whisper, “Allianna, one of my bags has ruptured and is leaking air.”

“I’m coming, Master.” I was ahead of him, only yards from the starboard side of the ship. While the line attached us to the ship, the ship did not move with enough speed to keep us above water without the floaters.

“No, stay your course,” he commanded. “Attach yourself to the ship before yours began to deflate. I do not believe they were designed to function this long.”

“But sir,” I protested.

“Don’t worry,” he said in firm assurance. “I’ll be there momentarily.”

He shifted his swimming style to cope with the loss of buoyancy, and reached me at just as the bag fully deflated and he started to go under. I had already affixed my climbing grip to the hull and so could hold up both of us. Master Kel-Lorderon retrieved his climbing grips, and we began to pull ourselves out the dark salty water. We had to proceed slowly to keep down the noise. While the barge was sufficiently noisy itself, the sound of dripping water was distinctly different from splashing and the crashing waves, and a good sailor’s ears could differentiate. So, inch by inch we emerged, letting the water escape from our clothing and equipment at its own pace.

Even after fully above the water surface, it would be a slow ascent. Once one climbing grip was secured by forcing its dozens of teeth into the wood, we would pull up and move the other higher, about a foot at a time. While climbing, Master Kel-Lorderon whispered his last lesson to me.

“Whatever we find aboard, be it beastmen, infested farmers, or something worse, our first priority is to stay hidden and gather information. Use the chameleon potion if you have no other choice, but first exhaust all physical means of self-concealment. Wherever you are, always know the location of entrances and exits. Keep an eye on the former and a clear path to the latter. Preferably, we will engage only in one-on-one combat, but if swarmed, keep to narrow spaces where only one or two can confront you at once. If surrounded, employ the smoke screen and get to safe area. We will stay together unless there is good reason to separate, but the explosive will stay in your care. If chaos breaks, plant it as deep as you can, evacuate ship, and detonate. In the case of something completely unexpected, trust your instincts.”

I understood and was sure, then, of our success. Master Kel-Lorderon reached the peak first, and slowly brought his eyes over the ledge. After glancing back and forth for a few seconds, he pulled the rest of his body over onto the deck and stood guard as I caught up and did the same. The moon had almost reached the horizon, and once it lowered beneath it we would soon lose our only practical light source. In another twenty minutes, we would have to use magical means to see, which were only temporary and had their side-effects. Currently, the starboard side of the deck appeared empty. A one-story superstructure spanned almost the entire length of the ship, so we stayed in its dark shadow as we made our way down toward the stern, feeling for a door or entrance-way to the interior. We found none on the starboard wall, and came to the corner at the rear. Again, we saw no one, but found the back side of the superstructure was completely open, with a wide staircase going down into its depths. Candles along the base of every third step fought the darkness, but lost the battle as they went deeper.

Our swords were already drawn, but now was time to raise our shields as well. “Let your anxiety melt away,” Master Kel-Lorderon said. “Whatever we face, I am here.” He knew I was anxious, and that embarrassed me. Ever since my breakdown following our confrontation with the infested family in the Flats, he had been overly concerned with my emotional stability. I had come to terms with the circumstances of the dark-wheat infestation. The only cure is death, and we must eradicate the illness. The enhanced speed and strength of those infested made surprise a necessary advantage. We did not know if the infestation could spread person-to-person or only by ingesting the impossible plant, but we did not want to risk getting bitten or scratched by one of them.

However, at that moment we were only assuming that we would find the missing infested individuals onboard. It could have been beastmen, mercenaries, or pirates. So, not knowing what enemy we might face, we began our descent into the ship’s interior. One step at a time, on guard with sword and shield in position, our feet creaked the boards of the wide staircase as we left the comfort of the moonlight and embraced the cold darkness. My eyes slowly adjusted to the even lower light level, and I could make out surfaces and objects as we neared the bottom of the stairs.

“It seems we are entering the main cargo hold,” I whispered to him. My eyes were more acute in the darkness. Dim candles lined the walls, but the cumulative glow did little more than starlight. “It seems to be the entire length and breath of the ship; crew quarters must be below.”

“Still no one?” he asked.

“Not a soul, Master. Just bails of dark-wheat.”

“How many?”

“I would estimate hundreds.” We stepped the last step and continued marching in to the hold.

“We have to look for the entrance to the lower decks,” he said.

“Based on this ship design, I would say . . .” I stopped mid-sentence. At the far end of the cargo hold, I could make out the dim silhouette of a monstrosity. It had to be my imagination, I thought at first.

“What is it?” he asked.

“You will need to see it, Master.” He quickly retrieved a potion and splashed it in his eyes and whispered a spell. As his vision increased, he began to see what I saw. It had the general shape of a large toad, but over twenty feet tall. Its wide mouth was topped with protruding eyes. It sat with its two front limbs on the floor. In the dim light I could make out no further details, but Master Kel-Lorderon’s magic-aided vision could. When he described it, I was glad of my disadvantage.

“It’s made of people,” he put simply. We got behind one of the stacks of dark-wheat bails to hide.

I asked him to explain. He said that the monster’s body was a conglomerate of gruesomely infested humans. They were almost unrecognizable as such. Dozens of dark bodies were contorted and adhered together to form the legs, faces, and body of the beast.

“So this was the goal,” Master Kel-Lorderon said. “To build a monster?”

I heard a door open. We glaced at each other, and he nodded permission to look. I carefully peered around the stack and saw a hatch in the floor had swung open. The hatch was near the wall half-way down the hold. Brighter light sprang from it and reflected off of four individuals ambling toward the dark monster. I motioned to my Master to look for himself. He looked around the other side of the stack as the four former humans were melded into the monster. The bodies already present reorganized to account for the additional components, sliding and contorting around each other until the optimal arrangement was achieved.

“How do we fight it?” I asked.

“We do not,” he answered. I look at him confused. He took a deep breath and then explained. “It is likely impervious to magic, as the individuals are. Also, being composed of bodies, injuring it will prove ineffective. When a body that composes it is sufficiently damaged, it will likely shed the impaired part and reorganize just as we witnessed. Also, there are no vital structures, like a heart or brain, to target for a quick kill.” He continued to explain that its size might be virtually unlimited. As more infested humans were added, it would grow. Currently we estimated it at around thirty. If a hundred were added, or a thousand, it would become a juggernaut.

“Then we must sink the ship at once,” I urged him. This is what we boarded the ship to discover, so I thought. But the First Agent knew better. He thought something more had to be behind this. He did not believe the farmers in their current state were capable of piloting the ship. He wanted to get below deck and unravel the mystery. I was still learning to trust his unconcern of the dangers between him and his goals.

But to get past undetected, we needed a distraction or diversion to clench the monster’s attention as we made for the hatch. I recalled our escape following our initial encounter with the infested mob. Perhaps the same method would work here, so I offered the suggestion. Master Kel-Lorderon was worried about the monster’s magic invulnerability, but since this particular trick worked against the infected individuals, it should work against the monster made of them. The spell produced a physical effect: light. The magic did not involve the monster itself, I reasoned.

We returned to the rear of the cargo hold, saying hidden behind the stacks of dark-wheat. I checked that the hatch was still open, then my Master began the spell. We stepped out into the open and began a brisk walk straight toward the monster, swords held in striking position. As the spell took effect, our bodies and clothing turned black as identical glowing apparitions formed in our place. We veered toward the hatch and let the false images march forward. I heard a deep ghastly growl and low thuds on the wood floor as it repositioned itself, readying to strike at the ghostly enemies. I couldn’t help but watch as it attacked. I was already lowering into the hatch, following my Master, as the abominable formation of bodies moved as a single terrifying creature. It lowered its mouth between its two front limbs and raised its single hind leg to attempt to devour the two warriors that charged at it. It seemed not to react as the interlopers continued forward, passing through it imperceptibly. Perhaps it lacked the intelligence to even realize its folly. Without further observation, I ducked into the hatch.

We found ourselves in a hall, more brightly lit by torches rather than the candles equipped above. However, when I looked at my Master, he appeared as if in dark shadow, as did I. The spell turned our bodies, armor, and equipment black as night, even when in well lighted areas. It would last roughly five minutes, and there was no way to nullify the effect sooner.

Before we had time to address the situation, two figures stumbled around the corner at the far end of the narrow hall. Their dark drooping skin hung from their faces like an old dog’s might. The skin had nearly become black, decaying with evil. I strained myself to recall that just days or weeks ago, these agents of Zalmus were simple farmers. They were fathers, sons, wives, and daughters. Now they looked like something out of a nightmare.

There was hardly room in the hall for my Master and I to stand side-by-side, so he went out in front of me and easily decapitated the infesteds, as we began to call them. We continued down the hall, with the intention of getting as deep as possible to plant the explosive clay while gathering what information we could. This ship, however, was not like any construction I had seen. The halls were winding, leading to empty rooms and dead-ends. We encountered no further problems, and seemingly no crew. This bothered Master Kel-Lorderon almost more than the monster, until we came to another hatch. I opened it and we peered in, yet saw only darkness. Master Kel-Lorderon’s dark-vision spell had long worn off, so I initiated it myself.

Looking into the darkness, I slowly began to visualize what was lurking below, and the image still disturbs my being. Thirty feet down into the large room, probably half the ship’s length and width, infesteds were packed shoulder to shoulder, front to back. Men, women, and children, now staring at me with an expressionless gaze. My shocked reaction caused Master Kel-Lorderon to attempt to shut the hatch, fearing immediate danger, but I stopped him and summoned the strength to regain my composure. As details emerged, I noticed they were at different stages of infestation. Some looked like Bella’s father had when he first opened his door to us, hardly noticeable. Others were nearly as gruesome as the two we had just encountered in the hall.

“I believe this is a waiting room,” I spoke softly. “Once they reach the proper level of infestation, they leave to join the monster.” My Master agreed and he shut the hatch. There was no ladder down into the hold, so we reasoned there must be a different entrance from another room on the lower level, and so we continued our tour of horrors.

We went around another corner after searching another empty room, and we came across something most unexpected. I almost missed it, but growing out of the floorboards were two golden flowers. They were incredibly beautiful, almost glowing against the dank brown wood. Master Kel-Lorderon seemed as confused as me. Without giving much thought, somehow unable to, we each picked a flower and brought it to our face. Our eyes were mesmerized, unable to break free from the hypnotic plants, as we began to smell their intoxicating aromas.

As I began to feel dizzy and lightheaded, I heard Master Kel-Lorderon say, “It can’t be . . . Molax . . . No . . . NO!” Then we both fell to the ground. I don’t remember what my thoughts were in those moments before I lost consciousness. Truthfully, my mind was preoccupied by the sight and smell of the enchanted flower. But I did know the name Molax. He was the mystic with domain over flowers and crops. Had I been coherent at the time, I would have been as mortified as my Master. We had thought Zalmus was acting alone. If Molax were aboard the vessel, then he had become Zalmus' ally. But, was it only him or had other mystics also turned to darkness? All would be explained when we finally woke.

I was sitting; my wrists were tied back by vines, cutting into my skin. My weapons and armor were absent, as were my Master’s. We were both awakening as a chubby dark-bearded man paced back and forth in the small room. I had regained my bearings ahead of Master Kel-Lorderon’s, but thought it best no to appear so. He pulled at his restraints, but was unable to free himself.

“Ahhh, a quicker recovery than most,” the person I assumed to be Molax said. “The Golden Nightmare is usually good for five or six hours, but you have recovered in only one.”

“You’ll find I’m capable of much more, Molax,” my Master retorted. “But before my demonstration, please enlighten me about your command of this forsaken vessel, for it is your magic that pilots it, I assume.”

“Yes, I know well of your insightfulness,” the mystic said. “We've had an eye on you since before you crossed into Photavious. Be proud you came close to ruining everything. Our evacuation from the Fertus Flats had to occur well before scheduled due to your investigation, and it would have been many more months before the Photavians spotted the darkwood groves on their own.”

He explained that the evil forests were hidden with a spell that made them visible only to those that were looking for them. To a normal passer-by, they would be invisible. Since Master Kel-Lorderon was looking for the place that the fleeing beastmen were heading, it appeared to him, and to all others that then knew to look. Now that a search for darkwood groves had been ordered, dozens were being found.

The Drakazdalion said nothing, so the mystic continued. “But all is well, and all is forgiven,” he said almost cheerfully. “For I have a proposition I’m sure you’ll be very interested in.”

“I can’t imagine how so,” Master Kel-Lorderon responded.

“Zalmus will win the coming war, surely you can see that. He came to us, the Orders of Valus and Sallus, to give us a choice: aid in his conquest or share in the devastation it unleashes.”

“And instead of dying a good and honorable death fighting against evil, you’ve decided to live in darkness.”

Molax scoffed, but was not insulted. “I have chosen to live, in whatever state that might be. Your years are limited to a single life-span, young Drakazadalion. You cannot comprehend passage of eternity, or the prospect of losing it.”

“Perhaps not, so go ahead. What is your proposition?”

The mystic sat in a chair facing us and leaned forward. “Zalmus will spare the Kingdom of Drakazdale from his torment if it denies the Land of Light aid in fighting against him.”

Master Kel-Lorderon paused to consider. “In order to make such an arrangment, I would have to be one-hundred percent certain of the dark mystic’s success. For if we do not provide aid as the treaty dictates, and Zalmus were defeated by the other nations, we would face sanctions and outright confrontation. What assurances can you give me? What other mystics have defected?” I forced myself to believe this was only a ruse to buy time and gain information. However, Zalmus’ domain over thought could be working to poison the First Agent’s mind. I could not be sure of his true intentions.

“As I told you, Zalmus came to the Order of Valus and the Order of Sallus, and let us see what he saw: the conquering of Swentania.”

“So all ten of you?”

“Yes,” Molax said. “There was no choice. Tralia was the last to concede.”

“I see now. It’s all too clear,” my Master began, partly I believed, to pass the information to me in case I were to escape and him perish. “The Order of Valus, with domain over animals, have aided in the breeding of smarter and more capable beastmen. Ah! And the Bronk I suppose was thanks to Slibius! Yes. I see. Now, with domain over plants, the Order of Sallus, yourself included, is busy breeding dark-plants to infest the free lands. You created the dark-wheat, and Dralma helped foster the darkwood groves.”

“Zalmus commanded me to ruin the Fertus Flats and begin poisoning the minds of the Photavians, and so yes, we together created the infestation. He also wanted a monster from each of us. Once fully formed, the Gargolox will be unstoppable by man or magic.”

Master Kel-Lorderon, seeming to puzzle over the difficult decision, brought forth an argument. “But the other Orders, the Druis and the Trius. They are powerful. The Trius alone, with domain over the elements, could challenge any army Zalmus could send.”

“Bah!” Molax retorted.

“And Vinadil . . .”

“Vinadil?! Vinadil’s time is ending my friend,” Molax said in irritation. “He has abused his power as much as Evesto did, and it will cost him in the end.”

“One last problem, Molax. Jalio of the Druis is stationed in Drakazdale. His current host is Drakazdalion. How would we deal with him?”

“If his Mightiness agrees to inaction on the treaty, you can leave Jalio to us.”

Master Kel-Lorderon thought deeply. I knew that Jalio's domain was over emotion, very similar to Zalmus' powers over thought.

“And, may I mention, if you need any other considerations for your decision, there are several loafs of dark-wheat bread that I could force down your throats.”

At this moment, I had lost my confidence that my Master was attempting to trick the mystic. Surely he would have seen through a simple lie. “Leave me for a moment with my apprentice. She is Photavian, and will not agree with my decision. I must relieve her of her apprenticeship in a private ceremony.”

“Master,” I spoke for the first time since awakening. “Master, no!” I was half-acting, and half fearful. I still had no definite insight as to his true decision.

Molax waved a hand and the vines binding us loosened. “You have two minutes, then you will take an oath binding you to Zalmus. You can choose the fate of the mage. I care not what happens to her.”

“Yes, my Master,” Master Kel-Lorderon said to the mystic. “Now, if you would be so kind.”

The mystic exited, locking the door. We heard his footsteps carry him away. Once I worked my hands free of the loosened restraints, and my Master had as well, he looked at me with a face I had never seen on him. It was fear, anger, and regret all in one. “Master . . .” I pleaded, “tell me this was part of your plan.”

He said nothing, keeping the same solemn gaze.

“Master Kel-Lorderon, how are we escaping?” I said, becoming frantic.

“Kneel before me, my apprentice,” he said, beginning the ceremony to release me of my duties.

“No!” I said sternly, holding back the tears gated behind my eyes. “No! You will have to kill me.”

“Kneel, Allianna daughter of Callianne, for I will no longer be your Master.” For the first time, I saw his eyes mist over and redden.

My feelings at that moment were a mixture of fear, hate, disgust, and oddly, courage. He saw me struggling, but knew we were being listened to, and so could not reveal to me his plan. Instead, he showed me. He reached to his belt and took out a small hard shell. He had told me previously it held the spirit of Evesto, the mystic of probability he encountered in the Hills of Halihad, trapped in a beetle.

I did not understand how he would do it, it shouldn't have been possible, but I reasoned that he planned to become Evesto’s host, right then and there. The mystic’s spirit would meld with his body and his own soul would be overwritten. Now confident that he was not betraying Photavious to Zalmus, I kneeled as he recited the Release of Apprenticeship, and it was done.

Once I rose, Kel-Lorderon popped open the shell and threw-back his head, plummeting the beetle into his mouth. Swallowing it whole, he recited a chant in Drakaz, and within seconds began to convulse and shutter. Evesto’s spirit was taking control. I brought him into my arms to keep him from falling.

Then he looked at me for one last time and simply said, “Good-bye, Allianna.”

“Master!” I screamed as he lost consciousness in my arms, forgetting that he was no longer such. “Master, no!”

Without warning, there was a horrible crash as everything in the room was thrown toward the front of the ship. We had struck something, a nearly impossible event in the middle of the Marinus Gulf, but with Evesto now in power, the nearly impossible could happen. I heard frantic footfalls outside in the hall, then locks noisily unfastening. By the time the door swung open and Molax entered, Evesto was standing with a glare aimed at the fellow mystic.

“Evesto!” Molax muttered, recognizing the spirit of the long-absent mystic. “But how?” Molax was truly terrified. He ran from the room, and Evesto gave chase. We had followed him down a few turns when he jutted into a room and slammed the door. Evesto stood in the doorway and taunted, “you won’t get away that easily,” as he attempted to pick the lock.

I didn’t realize at the time, but Molax was attempting to kill his host body so his spirit would return to his temple-lands, where he could enter another waiting and willing host. Evesto was attempting to prevent his escape. Inside the room, his powers of probability had Molax fumbling with his dagger and missing vital organs when he finally managed to stab himself repeatedly. He caused his blood to clot incredibly quickly as he cut his wrists and throat.

But, by the time Evesto broke in the room, Molax was beyond recovery, though still alive. “What do you hope to achieve, my old friend?” he gurgled through blood. “If you wish to survive, you must convince Vinadil to concede to Zalmus, or retreat from Swentania.”

“We will not concede and we will not retreat,” Evesto declared with a confidence I hadn’t seen in even Kel-Lorderon. “Two dark wars he has fought against the nations of Swentania, and two he has lost. The Light always triumphs over the darkness. Zalmus’ powers of thought have misguided you.” Molax attempted a response, but his host body finally gave into death.

With the excitement over, I began to notice the floor had become unlevel, angling down toward the front of the ship. I addressed Evesto, and almost called him “master” before catching myself. I had to recall proper conventions for speaking with mystics. Mages the third level and below addressed them as “Sir” whereas first and second level mages could just use their name alone.

“Sir Evesto, is the ship sinking?” I asked to confirm the obvious.

“Ah, it is!” Evesto said. “Don’t worry, it will take considerable time. We must make sure the infested are destroyed, but let us retrieve you and Kel-Lorderon’s belongings first.”

We searched the deck and finally found a room holding our armor and weapons. Gathering and applying with haste, Evesto then recommended we return to the hatch that opened to the room stuffed with infesteds. He said they would not drown, but live on as they reached the sea bottom, and possibly join the already dangerous monster.

“But what about Gargolox itself? The explosive won’t be big enough to reach it from the lower hold.”

“You will destroy it,” he said to me, in that heavy confidence I previously mentioned. I looked at him in near shock, and realized that though I was looking at the face of my former Master, he was no longer in my presence. This was the Mystic Evesto, ally of Emperor Halihad of the Hills, betrayed and murdered by the same. It look five hundred of archers ten minutes to kill him. A twenty foot monster was not a worry to him. But to me?

“Sir Evesto, it is immune to spells and potions. My sword will do it little damage,” I attempted to explain.

“The spell will be applied to you. There is a chance you could defeat it; I can sense it. That is all I need. I will make your success a near certainty,” the mystic responded.

“I’m not sure how . . .” I started to say, but Evesto cut me off.

“While the First Agent did much to increase your combat and magical abilities, he did little to foster your confidence.”

I reacted with resentment. “You know nothing of his training.”

Then Evesto explained the relationship between the host and mystic spirit. The mystic and host memories are melded, and every host leaves a faint imprint on the mystic’s spirit. Evesto was unlike most mystics, however, in that he had very few previous hosts. His domain over probability allowed his previous host body to live hundreds of years. His temple-lands were abandoned, and his lineage of hosts broken. When we was finally killed, his spirit had no host to enter. Now, using the unconventional method Kel-Lorderon employed, he finally had a body again.

He knew everything Kel-Lorderon had known, or I should say he remembered. I was still somewhat skeptical until he recalled to me one particular event when I know the beetle he inhabited was not present.

Back in our full armor and with our weapons ready, we set off for the hatch. It did not take long to relocate. Opening it, I took the hunk of clay from its water-proof purse and hurled into the darkness below. I tried to remember that those lives were already lost to evil, but my soul would still feel the burden of their deaths later when I activated the explosive.

The deed being done, I now had to put my trust in the mystic’s powers and face the monster in the cargo hold. When I questioned him as to why he didn’t challenge it himself, he explained that he couldn’t increase the probably of his own actions being successful. He could only increase or decrease the possibility of the actions of others or influence random occurrences. He also said he couldn’t influence events that were absolutely impossible or one hundred percent certain. The sun would always rise and a stab through the heart would always kill.

We finally made way back to the narrow hall which my Master and I stepped down into just hours ago. The world was very different now. I was no longer an apprentice. The spirit of Evesto was no longer confined to a beetle. Zalmus no longer stood alone.

I asked him one last time for advice. “It will shed bodies that become too damaged, and shrink in size as it does. It eventually willl lose integrity when it can no longer maintain its shape.”

“And the bodies it sheds, will they be individually viable?” I was worried about being attacked by an infested with enhanced speed and strength during the confrontation.

“Yes. Decapitate them once they are free from the Gargolox, or as they are still a part of it, if you see the opportunity.”

I nodded and mustered my strength and confidence. Evesto said to me, “Lieutenant Allianna of the Army of Light, you have greatness in you. Kel-Lorderon knew this, and believed you could become the most powerful mage in Photavious, or even in all of Swentania. I can sense the probability of any event, and no other warrior would have a chance of defeating that monster alone, not even Kel-Lorderon, but for some reason I can’t explain, you do have a chance! T With my powers, I have taken that sliver hope and made your victory over the monster as likely as your victory over an unarmed civilian. Trust your training and your instincts, and you will defeat it.”

I wasn’t able to fully process Evesto’s speech in that moment, but I understood his purpose. With my senses primed for the battle, I began a spell to renew my night vision, then shot up the ladder and into the monster’s den.

It had returned to it’s original post; however, it seemed to have grown. Perhaps more ripe infesteds had joined the mass while Kel-Lorderon and I were disabled. It didn’t matter. I had left my shield behind, fearing it would hamper my agility, and charged at the monster with my sword in a two-hand grip. Once it noticed the attacker, the Gargolox shifted to face me as it crouched and growled. It launched itself forward with its two front feet, I hadn’t time to dodge out of its path, but it seemed to be just high enough off the ground for me to slide under. I hit the deck, slicing my sword upward as I drifted under it. Hurrying to my feet, I looked back as it gained its footing and turned. Fluid, which I could only assume was blood, gushed from the flesh damaged by my sword. It traced a path from its bottom lip down to under its belly, traversing the arms, legs, and torsos of about six or seven infested bodies. It ejected one body that was cut through the belly, its guts strung out onto the blood-soaked wood. It still seemed to be alive. I would have to decapitate it after my next assault.

I could already tell this would be a long fight.

Attack after attack, I whittled away at the Gargolox. The monster’s actions always seemed to be just what I expected, and I would always strike in just the right spot. I would consider myself just incredibly lucky, but I knew it was the power of Evesto that assured every decision would be in my favor.

By the time only six bodies were left in the meld, it was no taller than me, and the Gargolox struggled to contort the bodies enough to keep shape. One or two more and it would lose its form. The ship was now tilted at about twenty degrees, sinking as slow as Evesto made possible. But I had to end this soon. The chances of the Makalist seeing our signal, now long after the two hour mandate, was quickly approaching zero, meaning Evesto’s powers would be unable to help.

The reduced dark moister leaped at me again; I dodged and swiped clear through it at the mouth, splitting the monster completely in two. Almost every infested body that remained at been severed. In less than ten seconds, I made sure all were less their heads.

Exhausted beyond belief, I let myself collapse. I’m not sure why, but I began to weep. Perhaps for the innocent lives, about a third of which were children, that I had just put to rest. Perhaps just due to the physical and mental fatigue. Evesto approached me, his footsteps clunking heavily against the increasingly slanted floor. He stepped over bodies and gently moved severed heads out of the way with his boot.

“Congratulations, young warrior,” he said to me. “The Drakazdalion trained you well.”

“Forgive me if I don’t celebrate,” I replied, still gathering the strength to rise and stand.

Without further discussion of the melee, he asked me to rise and follow him to the upper deck. I crawled to my feet and did as he said. When we reached the open, I could finally see just what improbable event had happened to halt the ship. It had struck an iceberg. I challenged Evesto to explain how it would be possible for an iceberg to drift in the warm waters of the Marinus Gulf in May. Ice rarely drifted south of Drakazdale this time of year.

“You’d be surprised of all the unlikely things that have a chance of happening.”

Some large pieces of the ice had conveniently formed a bridge to the iceberg, so we wouldn’t need to shed our armor to swim. Once safe, I chanted the spell to trigger the explosive clay.

The explosion and resulting fire was enough for the Makalist to see, even though it had started its way toward Brae as commanded. While we waited for the ship to return for us, Evesto began to feel weak. The extensive use of his powers had drained him of energy. He had extended his magic well beyond its normal limits, and it would cost him. He told me would lose consciousness soon, and he wasn’t sure for how long. Possibly days.

By the time the Makalist arrived, he was unresponsive. Not wanting to get too close to the ice, they sent out a boat to retrieve us. He rests now beside me, and I need his guidance. I need my old Master’s guidance. Kel-Lorderon always knew what needed to be done, or he at least acted so. I still don’t know how much I can trust Evesto. While the ancient stories do not portray him as evil, he was not known for his good-will toward human-kind as some mystics are. In fact, it was his actions aiding Emperor Hallihad in war against other humans that led Vinadil to forbid mystics from favoring one nation over another in battle.

Now that I’ve finished it, I feel as though Kel-Lorderon would scoff at my Mission Log’s first entry. When I watch him write, though I could not read his scribbly Drakaz, he seemed quick and to the point. I feel his account of the same events would have been a fourth the length. It is already noon and I began writing at first light.

The Captain now says we should reach Brae by morning if the winds keep up as expected. He gives a thirty percent chance of a storm slowing us down by nightfall, however. Perhaps if Evesto awakens before then, he could shift the odds.

Assuming a smooth sail to Brae, I will write again when we are settled on land.