*Drip* Sister Cerulean clenched her side with her hand as she panted. Blood was seeping from the wound into her hand and then began to drip upon the floor. She gritted her teeth with anger as she bored into Brother Draco’s eyes.
Still sitting upon his exquisite throne, Brother Draco smirked at Sister Cerulean. He was leaning his head upon his right fist and tapping his left hand’s index finger upon the throne arms. “Well, isn’t this a sight?” he scrutinized her condition.
“Where is Kurma!?” Sister Cerulean demanded.
“Kurma? Who?” Brother Draco shook his head back and forth in confusion.
“My turtle!” she shouted.
“Your turtle? Oh you mean that little reptile thing that bit me the last time you visited?” his eyebrows pinched together as he recalled a bitter memory.
“Yes!” Sister Cerulean groused and continued to pant. She then looked at her wound, the bleeding hadn’t stopped.
“Shouldn’t you do something about that?” Brother Draco smirked at her once again.
Sister Cerulean returned to her glare then broke it as she took her water whips and merged them back into an sphere of water. She put her hand into the sphere and condensed it to fit her palm like a glove. Afterward, she placed her covered palm over her wound. “Ack!" she grunted in pain. The water surrounding her palm started to slowly move around as it formed a small whirlpool — her wound began to disappear.
“The healing ability of Water Benders … such a wasteful technique.” The tall bald man standing next to Brother Draco jeered at her power.
Brother Draco glanced at him from the corner of his eyes, “Blaine, shut your mouth. You are talking to Sister Cerulean, you know.”
Blaine turned his head and glanced back at Brother Draco.
“Ahahahahaha!” Brother Draco fleered.
“Heheheheheh!” Blaine joined in with a small judder.
Sister Cerulean’s wound had completely vanished, she took her hand off of her side and reformed the water into a whip. She glared up at both of them laughing at her. She gritted her teeth even more than before and clenched her free hand into a fist.
“Easy now, you did say you wanted … oh what was it? Oh yes, this, maybe?” Brother Draco pulled out a tiny wooden cage from behind his throne and placed it upon his lap. Inside was a small turtle.
“Kurma!” Sister Cerulean’s eyes grew larger at the sight of her Familiar. “Give him to me! Now!” she demanded once more.
The three remaining pirates that had followed Sister Cerulean to the Throne Room were peaking from behind the double-doors. Three sets of blinking eyes could be seen on the edges of the doors, they were listening in on the conversation.
“Here, have your creature.” Brother Draco flipped the cage up into the air in front of her.
“GROW!” Sister Cerulean blurted as she watched the cage fly towards her. In mid-air, the cage cracked and shattered into many pieces of wood. Kurma grew larger and landed on the ground with all four feet.
Kurma looked upward at Sister Cerulean and a smile grew on his face. “Sister!” he trotted towards her.
Sister Cerulean smiled in return and knelt on one knee to hug him around his neck. “I’m glad you are okay!” she let out a small sigh.
“I’m glad you’re okay, Sister! You scared me, I thought you might die.” Kurma had tears falling down his face.
“I’m tougher than that, you know.” she boasted, still smiling and hugging him.
“Very true." he smiled as he caressed Sister Cerulean with his neck.
“Alright, enough fun and games. Let us talk!” Brother Draco interjected as he grew weary of the sight before him.
Sister Cerulean tensed up again as she glared back at Brother Draco. She stopped hugging Kurma and stood tall once more. Kurma turned and faced Brother Draco as well. Sister Cerulean’s glare turned sharper, “You had me imprisoned!? Why!?” Sister Cerulean shouted.
“It was fun.” Brother Draco smiled and shrugged at her.
“Because it was FUN!?” her voice grew louder.
“Oh, most definitely. I thought it would be a good opportunity to test your stature as well.”
“Test my stature!?”
“Yes … you see I’ve never really seen what you are capable of and if we are supposed to be allied parties, then I think it’s fair to estimate your ability. And after my guards found you unconscious on the beach … I got worried.”
“Ugh! So all of this was a test!?”
“Indeed. But fare better, you impressed me." he rose his chin in the air and examined her with judicious eyes.
Sister Cerulean’s eyes burned with ferocity, she didn’t know how to respond.
“You have a fire that makes you boil, Sister. And I admire that. I can use that. You see, I’m not fond of allying with anyone who isn’t a Fire Bender. Purity is my principle! But you … you showed me something different today. That perhaps there is some fire within you that drives you to action.” Brother Draco said to her as he stopped tapping his index finger.
“Purity!? Tch! You and your principles! Your test just killed a dozen of your men! And they were Fire Benders!” she roared.
“Yet they lost to you … a Water Bender. That is what has me intrigued. I never thought they would be defeated so easily …” Brother Draco stroked his white beard as he pondered.
“Not all of them were Benders, Brother.” Blaine chimed in.
“True. I didn’t think I would need them.”
“What … did you plan for them to kill me!?” Sister Cerulean continued her interrogation.
“And if they had!?” she pushed.
“I would have seized the Realms of Water from your control and the Water Stone at that." he stopped stroking his beard and returned to a hard gander.
“You … you disgust me!” Sister Cerulean glowered.
“Either way, it’s water under the bridge now, haha … let us move forward. You’ve proved yourself worthy of my ally and thus, worthy to discuss War Party Tactics.”
“I should just leave, your ideologies are poisonous!” she continued to fight him.
Kurma looked up at Sister Cerulean, “Sister, we need his help.”
Sister Cerulean glanced at Kurma, her eyes still burning with anger.
“Without him, we could be obliterated.” Kurma added.
Sister Cerulean bit her lip, a trickle of blood began to drip down her mouth.
“What is your reptile saying? Perhaps that you need me?” Brother Draco mocked her as his smirk returned upon his face. He began to tap on the arm of his throne with his index finger again as well.
“He can’t even hear me and he knows, Sister.” Kurma said.
Sister Cerulean was still biting her lip, her body shaking in frustration. She then looked up at Brother Draco and blurted, “Fine! Let us discuss War Tactics.”
“Heheh, good! But first, let us have some privacy.” Brother Draco raised his hand in the air at Blaine and snapped his fingers.
Blaine nodded and glided across the floor towards Sister Cerulean with his hands behind his back. She and Kurma backed away creating an opening for Blaine to walk in-between them, he headed towards the double-doors. The eyes that were blinking through the crevasse of the doors began to disappear; the Pirates were backing away in fear.
“Hell-O!” Blaine greeted the Pirates as he reached the opening of the doors. His shark-like eyes leered upon them as his grin revealed vicious teeth.
The pirates all started to hunch together in fear of Blaine. They were moving backwards as they shook from his presence, they were too scared to speak.
Blaine pulled the double-doors from behind him closed. *CREEAAAAUMMMMKKKKK*
Sister Cerulean watched the doors close, “Wait … what is he planning on—”
*SWROOOOOOSSHHHHH* a roaring fire echoed behind the doors.
“AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!” multiple shrieks bellowed behind the chime of the flame.
*SWROOOOOOOSSHHHH* the fire continued.
“Ahahaha! He’s giving us privacy.” Brother Draco laughed while listening to the wails of anguish. “Now, with no more interruptions, we can discuss our terms.”
“You …” Sister Cerulean’s body shuddered even more as she listened to the screams of the pirates. Her elongated eyes began to tremble with her body. She could be cruel but not this cruel.
Kurma looked back at the double-doors hearing the screams. He then looked at Sister Cerulean who had glanced at him for comfort as well. Kurma shook his head at her in disapproval of Brother Draco’s actions.
*SWROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSSSHHHH* the scorching-hot fire blasted from behind the doors, it's heat began to radiate into the throne room.
“AAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!” agonizing yelps could still be witnessed.
“AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! DIE!!!” Blaine’s tenacity pierced through the double-doors as he bellowed at the helplessness of the pirates. A radiant red light burned through the seams of the door as the room was set ablaze.
Sister Cerulean glanced back at the door, her eyes and pupils trembling as she stood frozen in shock.
“Bank Robbery? Ciro is wanted for robbing a bank? What!?” Zero exclaimed as he stood in front of a wooden message board on the side of a building, he was inspecting a wanted poster held in his hands.
“Why would he need to rob a bank?” Seren put her right index finger in front of her lips as her eyes looked up towards the right.
“What!? Wait … what could you rob from a river bank? Fish?” Syferr scratched his titled head, his confusion was unrelenting in innocence.
All three of them looked at Syferr with a bit of shock on their faces. You could even see Ijneg’s mouth open through his bandages.
“I guess that makes sense, you probably wouldn’t know.” Zero assessed in appreciation of Syferr’s upbringing.
“Huh?” Syferr’s surprised eyes bounced between them all.
“This isn’t a river bank, kid. This is a different kind of bank. It’s a place to store Star Pieces to keep them safe from thieves.” Ijneg addressed Syferr. He lifted the pouch of Star Pieces he was carrying and explained further, “Kind of like this pouch, but in a much more secured vault.”
Syferr looked at the pouch in Ijneg’s hand, “Oh, okay. But it doesn’t sound like it worked.” Syferr chuckled.
“Well your Star Pieces are still safe, even if they get stolen.” Zero butted in.
“Uh … what?” Syferr gave Zero a dumbfounded look, his eyes were pinched together and his lips curled over his open mouth. He then began to laugh, “Haha, I think that riddle is even harder than figuring out Ether, Z.”
“Haha, I guess that does sound confusing. The bank will take a loss for having Star Pieces stolen but they always pay you what you deposit. They put their customers first.” Zero said.
“Oh okay, well that’s good. But how do they make money for holding on to your stuff?” he asked.
“There’s a monthly fee you pay depending on how much they hold for you.”
“Ah, I see.”
“Anyways.” Ijneg interjected. “Now everyone knows what Ciro looks like. Grab a wanted poster and hold onto it. If you see him, tread carefully. Don’t take any unnecessary risks, he might be dangerous.” Ijneg said.
“What? Dangerous?” Zero questioned Ijneg.
“Yes. With these posters, we don’t know what’s going on. Ask around town for more information about the robbery. Maybe we can find hints to his whereabouts—”
“But that doesn’t mean he’s dangerous.” Zero interrupted as he looked at Ijneg’s eyes.
“But it doesn’t mean he’s safe either. He could have gone rogue, for all we know.”
“No, I can’t believe that.” Zero shook his head back and forth.
“I don’t want to either, Zero, but we have to stay objective here, for our safety and the success of the mission.”
“Mother Gaia’s safety, too.” Ijneg emphasized by sharpening his gaze at Zero.
Zero caught his gaze and nodded, “Right, thank you for that reminder.”
Ijneg nodded back at him. “One last thing, be careful not to give away our mission. We don’t want anybody knowing we are looking for Ciro and especially not that we are trying to save him. For all we know, the whole town could turn against us.” Ijneg’s eyes were stern as they gazed at everyone.
Everyone nodded at Ijneg.
“Then we’ll just have to fight’em!” Syferr punched his right fist into his left palm.
“And what good would that do? We don’t want to hurt anyone.” Zero shook his head at Syferr.
“But it’s Ciro …” Syferr looked down and then up at Zero’s eyes.
“I know … but no violence if we can avoid it.” Zero met him.
Seren observed Syferr and Zero. They must really like Ciro, she assessed.
“Alright, everyone. You know the plan.” Ijneg said as he looked at them all once more. He then turned and started walking west.
Seren walked up to the message board and picked up one of the wanted posters. “So this is Ciro.” she said aloud.
“Yes, his hair color is blond and his speech is very formal.” Zero added.
“Thanks.” she said to him, still examining the poster.
“Right, then I guess we should head our separate ways. Stay safe and stay sharp you two.” Zero said as he started walking north.
“See you, Z!” Syferr shouted to him. He then turned to look at Seren, however, she had already started walking into the market. Her eyes were still focused on the poster in her hand. “Huh!? Oh, wait up, Seren!” Syferr shouted for her but she had disappeared within the crowd.
“Awh.” Syferr frowned and slouched his shoulders forward. “Where do I start to look?” he asked himself as he walked towards the market. He began to look around, there was a large crowd of people in the middle of the street. Many of them were talking to each other and discussing which items to buy and what was a good deal. Syferr continued to scan the area, he noticed a few stands selling fresh fruits alongside bread and cheese. There was also fresh fish on a stand beside those. “This reminds me of the markets back home." he said aloud and smiled. He walked up to a stand that had a variety of fruit. “*Gasp* Mangoes! How much for ‘em, pops?” Syferr placed his arms on his hips as he grinned at the old man running the stand.
“One Star Piece each.” the old man smiled back at him.
“Hahaha, alright! I’ll take three!” Syferr reached into his pouch and pulled out the Star Jewel Ijneg had given him the day before. “Here ya go!” he said as he extended the Star Jewel to the old man.
“Ehh a Star Jewel!? What do you think I am, a bank? You don’t have any smaller pieces?” The old man chuckled.
Syferr blinked at him for a second then said, “Uhmm, nope! This is all I have, heheh.” Syferr rubbed his head.
“You know what? You seem new to town so I’ll give you a deal! Choose your favorites, they’re my gift to you!” the old man smiled as he pointed at the mangoes.
“Oooh, really!? Awesome, I will!!!” Syferr looked at the selection of mangoes and picked up the three most colorful. “Thanks, pops!!!” he said as he grinned at the old man.
“Enjoy them! The old man nodded at him.
“Mhmm!” Syferr nodded then turned and began to walk away.
The old man waved goodbye to him and shouted, “Come back again, but next time bring Star Pieces, haha!”
Syferr raised his arm into the air and showed the man the back of his palm, he began to wave it. He then looked at the mangoes in his hands, “Mmm! Mangoes! That old man is so cool!” he started to peel and eat one of them. The juices from the fruit were dripping down his hands. “Heheh, these things are always so messy." he licked his fingers and looked for a spot he could throw the remaining core of the fruit. He found a bed of flowers planted near some merchant buildings and tossed it onto the soil. “And back to Eden you go!” Syferr grinned as he looked up at a building in front of him.
“OH NO WAY!” he seemed to had spotted something. “Oh ho ho! A specialty shop!? AWHAWHAW YEAH!” Syferr shouted loudly as he looked at the big building in front of him. It had a sign hanging above it reading: ELZZUP’S PuZzLeS
“Even the sign looks like a puzzle! AWESOME!” Syferr shouted aloud as he ran up the steps to the entryway of the puzzle shop.
No Food! No Weapons! No Adults! Kids and kids at heart, welcome! read a sign placed on the door.
“Ahahaha! No adults! I love it! Oh wait … the mangoes.” Syferr looked around for a place he could sit them. He noticed a young boy wearing tattered clothes looking through the window to the left of him into the the Puzzle Shop. He looked around the age of six. Is he okay? Syferr thought to himself. “Hey buddy! You hungry?” Syferr called out to him.
The kid looked at then faced Syferr. He was wearing a holey, yellow shirt and patched-up, brown pants, and he had short black hair. “Who me?” the kid asked as he pointed to his own face with his index finger, his opalescent eyes glistened in the sunlight.
“Yeah! I got some mangoes here, if you want them? Here!” Syferr knelt down to the kid’s level and extended his arms in front of him towards the kid. He had a mango in each hand. “They’re delicious! I just had one! Trust me!” Syferr shined his goofy grin at him.
The kid’s face lit up brightly. “*Gasp* Thank you, mister!” he eagerly took both mangoes from Syferr’s hands and hugged onto them tightly.
“Sure thing, bud!” Syferr gave him a thumbs up then rose to his feet. He turned towards the door to the shop. “Hehehe! Alright! Time for some fun!” he rubbed his hands together in excitement as he reached for the door-knob.
*Click-clack* *Click-clack* *Click-clack* Syferr turned his head behind him to the stairs and saw the young boy running off with the mangoes. A small smile formed on Syferr’s face as he turned back towards the entrance to the shop. “Cute kid.” he said aloud as he turned the knob of the door — pushing inward to walk through. He stepped into the building and shut the door behind him.
“WELCOME! WELCOME! WELCOME TO ELZZUP’S PUZZLES! MY NAME IS ELZZUP ELDDIR AND EVERYTHING HERE IS A PUZZLE! EVEN MY NAME IS A PUZZLE! OR MAYBE IT’S A RIDDLE! OR MAYBE IT’S BOTH! WHO KNOWS!? AHAHA!” a squeaky-loud voice came from out of nowhere.
“Huh!? Who said that!?” Syferr jumped back and asked while he looked all around the room for the source of the voice.
“Down here! Down here!” the squeaky voice shouted.
Syferr looked down at his feet in front of him, his eyes elongated and his lips formed a circle as he saw someone was right there the entire time, “Oh! Hi! I didn’t see ya down there!”
Elzzup was a very short man, half the height of Syferr, and had long, white hair and a long, gray beard about eight inches off his face. The top portion of his head was bald, revealing shiny peachy skin, whereas the sides were full of hair. He wore a long coat that was yellowish-white and brown pants.
“Ah yes, most people miss me the first time, that’s why I scream, mhmm.” Elzzup said looking up to Syferr with a blank expression. He had wrinkles on his forehead due to age and a big wide nose.
“Haha! Me too! Even though I’m taller.” Syferr said looking back at Elzzup with an equally blank face.
“Ahahahaha! That’s hilarious!” Elzzup burst into laughter, slapping his tiny hands on his just-as-tiny knees and almost bellying over in front of Syferr’s feet.
“Hahaha!” Syferr held his own belly with his hands as he joined in on the laughter.
“Your … haha … a funny guy! I like you! What’s your name?” Elzzup inquired.
“My name’s Syferr! I’m a Fire Bender! And I LOVE puzzles!” Syferr shouted in excitement of being inside a puzzle shop.
“Ooh a Fire Bender? What are you doing way out here in Bell Town?” Elzzup eyes grew large.
“Oh, I’m on a mission to find Cir— uhh … —CRAZY AWESOME PUZZLES! Heheheh, yeah …” Syferr remembered not to reveal too much about his mission. He scratched his head.
“Oh … I see.” Elzzup examined his stature for a few seconds. “Well … you’re in the GREATEST PLACE EVER for that! Let me show you my best!” Elzzup started running around the shop looking for something. His legs were like small pegs that could bend and his feet resembled small pocket-books in width and size.
“Haha, awesome …!” HOLY CRAP THAT WAS CLOSE! PHEW! Syferr put his hands on the sides of his head as he freaked out in his mind.
“Here we go!” Elzzup called out as he came back from behind the counter carrying what looked like a cube.
Syferr had just finished taking a few breaths to calm down.
“This! — is one of my newest pieces, but incredibly difficult nonetheless! It’s made by one of the Air Kingdom’s finest Inventors." he held a multi-colored cube out upon his hands for Syferr to see.
“Oh! The E Cube! That one is great!” Syferr grinned and gave Elzzup a thumbs up.
“What!? You know of this puzzle!?” Elzzup’s eyes bulged and bore into Syferr, he was shocked.
“Yeah! The Elemental Cube! My buddy, Zero, made it! It took forever to solve!”
“You mean you know the Father’s son, Zero Om?” Elzzup’s mouth now hung wide open.
“Yeah, we’re best buds! Heheheh.” Syferr pounded his fist on his chest.
“Well … well! You are well traveled, my new friend.”
“But how did you get this?” Syferr asked Elzzup.
“One of my acquaintances in the Kingdom of Air knows Zero Om personally as well. He helps me store my inventory. I am an Air Bender you see, so I have contacts all throughout Vayu.” Elzzup nodded and smiled.
“Oh cool! I see, I see!”
“Well since you already know this one. Let me try …” Elzzup went running around the store again making lots of rustling and clanking noises trying to find something.
Syferr looked around the shop as he waited. There were many mechanical gadgets all around the store placed upon numerous amounts of wooden book shelves. He even saw completed, wood-framed puzzle pictures mounted upon the walls of the store. There were scrolls of riddles hanging off the walls as well. This place is incredible … Syferr thought as his eyes glistened at the sights.
“Aha! Found it! Found it!” Elzzup came running back from behind some book shelves. “Oomf!” he had tripped over something on the ground and fell. “I’m okay! I’m okay!” his squeaky voice said as he got back up on his feet. He had ran up to Syferr once more with a scroll in his hands.
“Do you like Riddles, my friend?” Elzzup asked Syferr.
“Oh yeah, definitely!”
“Okay. Well these are some of my best riddles! Don’t disappoint me now, okay?” Elzzup was challenging Syferr.
“Bring ‘em on!” Syferr clenched his fists together and held them towards his chest.
“Alright, that’s the spirit! Okay, well let’s take a seat here at the table.” Elzzup beckoned for Syferr to follow him to a nearby wooden table. The table itself was a large completed puzzle of a giant tree.
“Mm.” Syferr nodded and followed Elzzup. He noticed the tree painting on the puzzle table. “Oh! That is an amazing tree!” he awed over the picture.
“It is! And it’s real! It’s called the Ghobe Tree and it’s actually located very far north from here in the Dark Forests! It’s giant!” Elzzup extended his arms and open hands out into the air.
“No way! That is so cool! I want to see it!” Syferr got really excited hearing this news.
“Most definitely, you should, you should!” Elzzup encouraged him. “Now! The Riddles!” he continued.
“Right!” Syferr stared at the back of the scroll in Elzzup’s hands.
“Are you ready?” Elzzup asked him.
“Mhmm!” Syferr had a big goofy grin on his face and started rubbing his hands together, they started to steam a little. “Oops, haha!”
“Oh ho ho! I’ve got an actual fire stirring inside you, huh?” Elzzup smiled and chuckled a little.
“Hehehe, yeah I’m excited!”
“Alrighty, alrighty! Then let us begin! We will start with a basic one to test your measure!” Elzzup’s smile shined towards Syferr.
“Okay!” Syferr cheered.
"Riddle Number One:
I come in different shapes and sizes. Part of me are curves, others are straight. You can put me anywhere you like, but there is only one right place for me. What am I?"
Elzzup read from the scroll then looked at Syferr, his eyes peeked above the parchment.
“A puzzle piece, duh!” Syferr exclaimed.
“Haha! Correct! Good, good! That was quick!” Elzzup was encouraged by Syferr’s ability to figure out the riddle so quickly.
“Heheheh! I told you, I LOVE puzzles!” Syferr grinned at Elzzup’s reaction.
“Alright, alright, let’s see if you can de-Syferr this …” Elzzup paused and gave Syferr a plain stare.
Syferr looked back at Elzzup with a plain stare as well, “PFFFTTT!!!! DE-SYFERR!!?? AHAHAHA! I’ve never heard that one before! Ahahaha!” Syferr burst into so much laughter that he held on to his belly with his arms and wobbled his chair left and right, his eyes were closed and tearing up.
“Ahahahahaha!” Elzzup joined in on the laughter with Syferr and slapped his hands on the puzzle-table in front of him. “I’m impressed! You got that one pretty quick too! You sir, are sharp-minded!” Elzzup seemed to really be glowing with appreciation for Syferr. It was as if he hadn’t met someone so much like himself before.
“Heheheh, thanks! Keep ‘em coming, this is great!” Syferr had a big smile on his face, he was starting to calm down and re-focus.
“Okay!” Elzzup nodded at Syferr.
“Riddle Number Two:
Imagine you are in a dark room. How do you get out?”
Elzzup read once more from the scroll.
“Stop imagining, Elzzup!” Syferr winked at him.
“My boy … you indeed have a talent! Correct once more!” Elzzup raised his right fist in the air and cheered him on.
“Heheheh!” Syferr snickered.
“Riddle Number Three:
Eden’s father has four children: Fire, Water, Earth and _____ ?”
“Air!” Syferr shouted.
“Mmm, wrong I’m afraid.” Elzzup frowned in disappointment.
“What? The four children are the elements. So it would be Air, what else could it be?” Syferr scratched his head.
“It’s a tricky question! Hehe, why not hear it once more?” Elzzup suggested.
“Yeah, say it again!”
“Eden’s father has four children: Fire, Water, Earth and _____ ?” Elzzup repeated the riddle.
“Hmm … Eden’s father has four children …” Syferr pinched his eyebrows as his eyes stared at the scroll in Elzzup’s hands. His lips tightened too and he had crossed his arms. Soon after, he began tapping his foot under the table.
Elzzup blinked as he watched Syferr intensify his focus. “Do you give up?” Elzzup questioned.
“No … Fire, Water, Earth and one more … those are three of the children. Aha!” Syferr eyebrows rose and his is mouth opened up in excitement.
“Oh? Did you figure it out?” Elzzup grew curious.
“Yep! The four children are:
Fire, Water, Earth and … Eden!” Syferr cheered.
“Aha! Well done! Well done!” Elzzup clapped his hands for Syferr’s accomplishment.
“That one got me! The answer was in the riddle the whole time! Eden’s father … haha! Brilliant, Elzzup!” Syferr praised Elzzup for his cleverness.
“Thank you! Thank you!” Elzzup lay the scroll on the table, stood up in his seat and bowed.
“Heheheh! Woo!” Syferr cheered some more.
Elzzup sat back down and rested his arms upon the puzzle-table in front of him. He interlaced his fingers together and narrowed his glance at Syferr, “Now then, how does a Bonus Special Riddle sound?”
“Oh? Bring it on!” Syferr beckoned Elzzup to continue with his hand.
“Alright then!” Elzzup began to read again from the scroll.
“BONUS SPECIAL RIDDLE! - Riddle Number Four:
Why did the robber go to the Northern river?
Syferr regained the focused look had earlier on his face. He waited for a couple of minutes and looked back up at Elzzup with a smile.
“Because it has two banks!” Syferr grinned.
“Precisely.” Elzzup whispered as he returned to his narrow stare at Syferr.
“Haha. yes! I just learned what a Bank was, actually! That is so cool!” Syferr celebrated.
“Oh?” Elzzup raised his forehead at Syferr.
Elzzup relaxed his forehead and once again, returned to giving Syferr a narrow stare. He pulled in his interlaced fingers to his mouth, nestling them in his beard.
Syferr watched Elzzup in return, he was confused by his manner.
“He wanted to rob two banks.” Elzzup murmured as he emphasized the answer to the riddle.
Syferr just looked at Elzzup, he shook his head a little re-emphasizing his confusion. He then paused halfway. Syferr’s eyes started to bulge out a little bit. “Bank robbery... the Northern river … Ciro!” he muttered.
Elzzup nodded at him.
Syferr’s eyes and mouth both opened wide as he scrambled about and started wiggling out of his seat. “I’ve got to tell the others!”
“Wait, Syffer!” Elzzup called out to him.
Syferr paused and stared at Elzzup.
“I’m sorry … I really like you but I can’t let you leave. Not if you’re working with Ciro …?” Elzzup frowned and shook his head back and forth in disapproval.
“What? What are you talking about, Elzzup? Ciro is my friennnnNNNDDDDDDDDDDDDDUUHHAAAaaahhhhhh!!!!! …” Syferr’s shriek grew then shrunk as he fell through a trap door hidden in the floor beneath his seat.
Elzzup was holding on to a lever on the wall beside the table, he had pulled it down. “Ciro is a thief! He lied to this town! Why Syferr? Why would you be friends with someone like him!?”
Zero walked down a cobblestone street, his hands in his coat pockets. His shoulders were shrugged forward and his eyes were staring at the ground in front of him, he was brooding. “Ugh! I feel like such a child! I’m terrified of leading this squad … and I’m letting Ijneg do everything! What is my problem!? Tch!” Zero gritted his teeth. He then paused and grabbed at his bushy bronze hair with his hands. He began to squeeze and pull it as he squinted his eyes and growled, “Ugghh!! *Sigh*" He paused then let go of his hair and relaxed his arms. “Focus, Zero! Don’t forget the mission!” he smacked his face on both cheeks with his hands. He looked up to see more market stalls organized within another open space; this was the Northern Market. Rather than food, this market sold crafting reagents; Cotton, Wool, Wood Logs and Precious Metals were displayed upon the stands for buyers to see. Next to them were tool stands displaying Axes, Pickaxes, Fishing Rods and Lures, and Empty Glass Vials. Surrounding this market were shops that specialized in other professions. There was a Smithy and Pottery Shop that was merged into one, a Tailory and an Herbalists shop.
Zero watched as many smiling people were trading items and Star Pieces. It seems so wonderful here … like a big family, he thought. A warm smile grew upon his face as he observed the people. His eyes then moved towards the right and caught glimpse of a much bigger building that was unlike the rest. This building had exquisite stone-crafted pillar columns with an arching roof and open entryway. On the top of the roof lay a giant replica of a Star Jewel. Only it’s size revealed it’s imitation; it was as large as a barrel of water.
Star Treasury was engraved in a stone slab underneath the Star Jewel. The engraving was filled and decorated with gold amber and it sparkled in the sunlight.
The bank … Zero assessed. “Well I guess that’s the perfect place to start.” his face sprouted a confident smile. He started walking up the steps toward the bank entrance. There were two hulking buff men wearing only Earth Elemental Coats and dark brown leggings standing atop the staircase. They were outside of the entryway to the bank and standing opposite of each other. Neither of them had weapons nor armor but both emanated an intimidating presence. They frowned and glared at Zero as he stood across from them.
“Hello.” Zero greeted them with a half-smile and a wave as he started to walk towards the entryway.
“Stop.” the man to Zero’s left spoke.
“State your business.” the man to his right inserted.
“Uhh … I’m here to … store my Star Pieces?” Zero nodded at them both.
“Name?” the man to the left asked.
“My name is Zero Om.”
“Om …? You mean the Om?”
“Yes, I am adopted child of Father Oznah Om.” Zero turned around and showed him the Air Symbol on the back of his Elemental Coat. A gust of wind blew threw the coat on his command to emphasize his authenticity.
Both of the men looked at each other with bulging eyes and then back at Zero. Zero had turned and refaced them.
“It is a honor to meet you, Zero Om. We welcome the Father’s son.” the man to the right said as both him and his counterpart half-bowed to Zero. “However, you do not currently have a membership with Star Treasury and we must decline your entrance.”
“Well that’s fine, I’d like to become a member.” Zero retorted with a smile.
“We still can’t let you through. We are presently declining all applications for membership right now I’m afraid.” the man added.
“What? Why?” Zero’s shoulders slouched in disappointment, his smile morphed into a frown.
“Haven’t you heard? We just suffered a massive security breach thanks to that no-good Ciro. Bastard fooled us all!” the man to the left grouched.
“Oh that … yes, I’ve heard. That makes sense I suppose.” Zero looked down to his right and continued to frown.
“Yes, as of now we’re tightening security protocol and reestablishing funds. So again, I’m afraid we cannot let you through.” the man to the right reemphasized.
“Right … okay, well then.” Zero turned halfway around then paused, he looked back at the men. “Actually, what did happen, if I may ask? How did Ciro fool you? I only just arrived here today and saw the Wanted posters.” Zero asked the men.
“Well he was a town hero to say the least, or so we thought. He was always helping everyone and even was a councilman of the Mayor’s Court. He was a good leader and a smart man … too smart.”
“I see …” Zero muttered. That definitely sounds like Ciro, then what happened? he pondered as he listened.
*Tap* *Tap* *Tap* A man walked up the steps behind Zero. “Eventually he was given the honor of being the Bell Man. That’s a privilege only few obtain here in our town. The Mayor being one of them.” the man entered the conversation. He had a bright red hat with a fluffy feather pinned to it. He also wore a red cloak which covered his black long-sleeve shirt and leggings. His shoulder-length curly hair was dark gray and his golden eyes gleamed in the sunlight. His peachy-white face was clean-shaved and he seemed as if he was in his late fifties. He had a pin on his black shirt that was a replica of a Star Jewel and he had a black and gold cane he walked with, however, it didn’t seem like he used it for support.
Zero turned and faced the man behind him, “What’s the Bell Man?”
“Sir!” both men guarding the entrance to the bank stood tall and saluted him.
“It’s a position that gives you the privilege of ringing the Bell during Holiday’s and Festivals to signal the beginning and the end of them. People gather to watch the Bell be rung and heard throughout the town. It’s a delightful experience and a high honor to be the one to ring it.”
“Hmm I see …” Zero nodded.
The man leaned upon his cane with both hands and peered at Zero, “However, if the Bell is rung on any other day it is an Emergency Signal. It is used to call an immediate meeting of all the townsfolk to the Mayor’s Hall. Simply put, Ciro rang the bell on a regular day. Everyone panicked and scurried to the Mayor’s Hall, including us here at Star Treasury. As everyone waited at the Mayor’s Hall for guidance and instruction, Ciro broke in and stole everything he could. By the time we realized something was off, Ciro was spotted running off hauling a big brown sack — presumably full of Star Jewels and Pieces.” the man finished his story.
Zeros eyes locked upon the man’s as he absorbed what he was just told.
“I am Semaj, owner of Star Treasury. You are, Zero Om, you said?” Semaj looked at the guards then back at Zero for confirmation.
“Yes, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for sharing about Ciro, I am sorry about what happened.” Zero half-bowed to the man.
“Your condolences are appreciated, albeit wasted; it will not return my missing Star Jewels and Pieces.” Semaj frowned at him.
Zero looked up and caught his scowl, his eyes jumped at the sudden change in manner Semaj demonstrated. “True.” Zero validated him.
“What is Father Om’s adopted son doing all the way out here, in Prithivi of all places?” Semaj tilted his head and raised his forehead at Zero.
Zero blinked as he was shocked once more. He turned and looked at the guards, they were now staring at Zero with their arms crossed. What is going on here? Zero questioned in his mind. “I’m here on official business of Father Om." he said as he turned back to Semaj.
“Oh? And what business would that be?” Semaj interrogated him further still eying him down.
“I am to investigate the tensions between the Pale Folk and the Wolves. It is research requested for the Akashic Library of Vayu. I figured the best place to do that would be here in Bell Town as it is considered a Neutral Zone between the two. I plan to be here for a while so I figured I would store my Star Jewel for safe keeping.” Zero pulled his Star Jewel from his pouch in his pocket.
“Oh!” Semaj’s eyes gleamed at the Star Jewel in Zero’s hands. “Well then … we shall see what we can do to help you, Zero Om. Please forgive my manner, I heard … other things about your business here in Prithivi but it seems like I was wrong.”
“Other things?” Zero questioned him.
“Yes … I heard you were aiding Mother Gaia in her mission to unify the Elemental Lands. And if that were the case, that means you would be aligned with Ciro … I think you can see what I am getting at.” Semaj said observing Zero’s reactions.
“Ah I see … well I could see why you would want to be cautious then.” Zero smiled and nodded.
“Of course … sadly I would have had to arrest you if that were the case.” Semaj continued to survey him.
“Rightfully so.” Zero validated him once more.
“Yes …” Semaj paused his examination. “Well then! Let us open you a vault! If you will please, follow me!” Semaj snapped his fingers at the two men guarding the entrance. They nodded and walked through the entrance way. Semaj began to follow them and speak, “I know my men said we weren’t accepting any applications for membership at this time but I think we can make an exception for the great Zero Om!” Semaj spoke aloud. *Tap* *Tap* his cane echoed throughout the entryway hall.
Zero was following behind them, “It is greatly appreciated, Semaj. Thank you.”
“Yes … I’m glad you feel that way. Hopefully with our services we can help you in your investigations. Perhaps you might even feel compelled to help us find and apprehend Ciro?” Semaj looked back at Zero as he continued to follow the guards. *Tap* *Tap*
“Perhaps, if it comes across my path.” Zero said.
“Surely, it is upon it? We are also friends with the Wolves and this is tempting us to isolate from the Pale Folk, wouldn’t you say? Solving this problem would only aid in discovering the core tension lying within the Pale Folk which is at least, one part of the equation.” Semaj returned to looking face forward. *Tap* *Tap*
“You make a good point, I will investigate the issue.” Zero put his hands in his pockets.
“You will?” Semaj stopped and turned to look at Zero. *Tap*
Zero stopped and faced Semaj, “Yes. I think you are right. Resolving this tension will only aid in resolving the tension with the Wolves as well.” Zero smiled at Semaj.
“Fantastic. Thank you for your help, Zero Om. Now … you will return the missing Star Jewels and Pieces if you find them, yes?” Semaj tilted his head up and to the side at Zero and peered at him.
Zero paused and evaluated Semaj standing in front of him. He blinked a couple of times then formed a half-smile. “Of course.” Zero affirmed him.
“Good!” Semaj smirked and turned to continue following the guards. *Tap* *Tap*
Zero continued to follow them, this time a little slower. His pocketed hands began to tighten into fists. He narrowed his eyes and stared at Semaj from behind. This man … he only thinks about himself … and his Star Pieces — he doesn’t care about this town. Zero judged him in his mind.
*Tap* *Tap* *Tap*
UGH! AND THAT CANE IS SO ANNOYING! Zero vented in his head as his eyes bore into the gold and black cane Semaj decorated himself with.
Seren gasped as she looked up with her eyes and mouth widening at the sight before her.
Bell’s Library was painted in gold on a wooden sign hanging on the side of a tall and wide, circular, stone tower in front of her. It looked like a tower that would be found as part of a castle, only this one was isolated by itself although opposite to two basic wooden buildings in front of it; one was a bakery and the other was a brewery. This tower stood tall and had many windows letting the sunlight in. *Bring* The sound of a tiny bell went off as a visitor opened the door and exited the building, passing by Seren.
“Wow … such amazing design! The creativity!” Seren brought her fisted palms up to cover her mouth upon her excited face, she began to squirm in anticipation. I’m sure I can investigate here! she giggled as she convinced herself to go in.
*Bring* The tiny bell went off as she opened the wooden door into the Library Tower. She stepped forward and closed the door behind her.
“Welcome!” a young woman greeted her at the entrance with her hands clasped together in front of her legs and a small bow. She had long brown hair pulled back into a braided pony tail tied at the end by a white bow. She had peachy-white skin and wore a light-blue long-sleeve dress underneath a white apron. She held a sweet smile on her face and beckoned Seren, “Look around! The books are organized from A to Z, categorized by subject from A to Z and also by Elemental Origination— from A to Z. There are also sliding ladders to search and reach the books at the top of the tower, please, do be careful. If you need any help, let me know, I’ll be around.”
“Thank you.” Seren smiled and half-bowed in return.
The woman nodded at Seren then walked over to the counter and sat down. She opened a book and smiled some more as she began to read it.
Seren observed the area around her, there were many bookshelves throughout the entire tower, some reaching all the way to the top. “*Gasp* Amazing …” Seren awed over the vast selection in front of her.
The woman looked up from the counter and placed her book down, “Is this your first time at a Library?” she asked Seren.
Seren looked over to the woman and nodded, “Yes, well one this large at least.”
“Oh? How wonderful! I remember my first time in a big Library, I almost fainted, hehe." she giggled in reminiscence.
“Hehehe.” Seren joined her.
“Is there anything particular you are looking for or interested in?”
“I love History and Mythology, actually.” Seren smiled.
“Oh? I’ve got an entire section!” the woman stood up from her seat at the counter and walked over to the northern side of the Library, opposite of Seren’s position. “Over here!” she called out to Seren.
Seren’s eyes grew alert and she headed towards the woman near the northern section.
The woman pointed toward a block of wood sitting on a bookcase that had ‘Eden History, Mythology & Theory’ painted upon it in gold. “If you take a look around here you’ll find all of the best written works in the field! We even have books written by the famous Air Bender Merlin!” she cheered and jumped up and down.
Seren grinned as she appreciated the woman’s enthusiasm, “Merlin? I’m afraid I don’t know who that is.”
“You don’t know Merlin!?” the woman threw her palms in front of her mouth as she gasped in disbelief.
“I’m afraid not, heheh.” Seren seemed embarrassed.
“But he’s famous all throughout Eden! His works and theories are incredible— especially his evaluations of Mythology!”
“Oh really?” Seren’s eyes grew curious. “Actually, I grew up limited to only authors of the Realms of Water. I’m a Water Bender you see. Our laws are a bit isolationist …” Seren looked down to her right as she explained.
“Oh, is that so? What brings you all the way out here in Prithivi?”
Seren looked back up at the woman, “Oh … uhm, research actually— I’m here to learn more. I was given permission to study and learn from other lands to write my own summaries from them and expand the collection of Apas.”
“Oh? That’s great! Are you a writer then?” the woman smiled.
“Aspiring, heheh.” Seren smiled back.
“Well I wish you the best of luck! I suggest Merlin’s works, look down here for his section.” the woman pointed to the bottom of the shelf. It had a small wooden block with the Air Symbol painted in gold upon it.
“Thank you.” Seren nodded at the woman.
“You’re very welcome, have fun!” the woman clapped her hands in excitement and returned to her seat and book at the counter.
Seren knelt down and explored the suggested section of Merlin’s works. She placed her index finger on the book spines and began to scan through and whisper the titles aloud, “‘Time & Reality Theory’, that’s interesting. ‘E-Motion, Energy in Motion — Empower Your Bending!’, wow, that sounds promising! Hmm … ‘Earth, Air, Fire, Water: The Creation of the Philosopher’s Stone’, no way! This is incredible!” Seren shouted in excitement.
“Did you find something interesting?” the woman at the counter called out to her with bright eyes.
“These works … we don’t have anything like these on Lemorias! I want to read them all!” Seren looked back at her with a grin.
“Heheh, I’m glad to hear that! Keep looking, take your time here!” she encouraged Seren.
“Thanks! I will!” Seren cheered and went back to scanning and whispering the titles. “‘The Twelve Signs of the Zodiac: Father Om’s Greatest Work’, that would be a good read. She finally got to the end of the books and found a beaten-up black book titled: ‘Blackbending: The Shadow Side of the Elements’. “The shadow side?” Seren looked for the author’s name on the book, there was none. Is this one of Merlin’s too? she wondered. She picked up all of the books and formed them into a stack on the floor. She then picked them up and headed towards the counter the woman was sitting at.
“I’d like to purchase these, please.” Seren spoke to the woman.
“Oh wow, that was quick! You want all of these?” the woman asked.
“Yes, please. However, what about this book here?” Seren grabbed the book: ‘Blackbending: The Shadow Side of the Elements’ and placed it in front of the lady. “Is this Merlin’s work too? There seems to be no author name and it’s a bit tattered compared to the others.”
“Oh that one? How did that get down there? No, I don’t know who wrote that book. An elderly woman came into the shop a few months ago and dropped it off. She said she wanted to get rid of it but she wouldn’t tell me why. I never got to reading it and it appears that I misplaced it on the shelf as well, how odd … here, you probably don’t want to read it now.” the woman said as she reached for the book.
Seren grabbed the book before the woman could touch it, “Oh … no, actually I would— I don’t mind who wrote it.” Seren assured her.
“Oh okay. Well are you ready to buy then?”
“Alright since four of these are Merlin’s work I will have to charge you the premium. The total will be One-Thousand Star Pieces. But since you are a first time customer and you have such an enthusiasm for books, I’ll give you a special discount! I’ll only charge you Five-Hundred Star Pieces and I’ll even let you have the tattered book for free! How does that sound?” the woman tilted her head and smiled at Seren.
“Oh fantastic! Thank you!” Seren clapped her hands. “Here, let me see …” she reached into her satchel and pulled out a pouch. From that she pulled out the Star Jewel Ijneg gave her the other day and placed it upon the table. “Uhm, I only have this …”
The woman behind the counter’s eyes widened as she grabbed the Star Jewel from the table. “Oh wow! That’s a LOT of treasure you’re carrying. Uh, let’s see.” she knelt below the counter and rustled with some things Seren couldn’t see and placed a pouch upon the table. She stood up and untied the pouch then pulled out nine Amethyst Star Pieces and one Ruby Star Piece. “Here you go!” she said as she pushed the Star Pieces towards Seren.
Seren grabbed the Star Pieces and placed them into her pouch, “Thank you.” she told the woman.
“You’re welcome!” the woman said as she took the Star Jewel and put it in the pouch then retied it. She put the pouch back beneath the counter and returned with a slip of paper. On the paper she took an inked quill and began to write the names of the books Seren purchased, “If you’ll just sign here.” she pointed at the slip of paper.
“Oh of course.” Seren grabbed the quill and signed her name.
“And now, I will sign.” the woman signed a big calligraphic letter B.
“Okay, now you are all set! Enjoy your books!” the woman clasped her hands together and half-bowed to Seren.
“Thank you! I will!” Seren went to grab the stack of books then paused. She looked around and glanced at a chair and small table next to the entrance window. “Uhm, do you mind if I stay here for while to read some of them?” she asked the woman at the counter.
“Of course! Make yourself at home, dear!” the woman extended her hand encouraging Seren to sit down at the table she was eying.
“Thank you!” Seren picked up her stack of books and brought them over to a short-legged table that was only elevated about a foot off of the floor. She placed them down upon it next to a teapot and cup. Beside the table was a tall, cushioned, red chair and foot stool that were sitting across an unlit fire place. Beside the fire place, on each side, were two large windows letting sunlight through into the tower.
Seren sat down in the tall red chair and looked around, “How cozy." She looked above the fire place and noticed a golden candelabrum, which held three unlit candles in it’s holders, sitting on the mantle. Her eyes traveled beside the candelabrum and saw a brown miniature grandfather clock. One o’clock in the afternoon. We’ve only been in town for an hour … I should have enough time, she thought to herself. She picked up the black tattered book and placed it in her lap. Blackbending, huh? she wondered as she opened the cover to the book.
*Snoorrrphhibibbibib* The horse sounded. Ijneg was just finishing tying up the last horse to a wooden post. He patted the horse on it’s side and turned around to observe the East side of the town. He was standing in the middle of the stables where he saw more horses stabled and a few men walking around. One of the men he had paid two Sapphire Star Pieces which totaled to Four-Hundred Pieces to board the horses. He glanced at them as they were bringing out hay for Ijneg’s horses. One of the men glanced at Ijneg and quickly looked away, he looked nervous. Ijneg ignored the man as if he was used to it then looked away towards which he came. He saw many different buildings that were built from wood and clay stone, they looked like the homes they saw earlier for townsfolk. He assessed the area looking for anything that stood out. He then looked up and saw from afar the Bell Tower they heard gong at first arrival. His eyes squinted as he seemed to notice something. It looked like a giant humanoid silhouette that was hunching over. Ijneg stood in place and stared at the silhouette for a minute. “Hmm.” he muttered. He then broke his gaze and began to walk into town.