Sea of Twisted Souls – Chapter 1

Sea of Twisted Souls – Chapter 1

It should have been hers. From the rolling green hills to the sandy beaches, the crystalline rivers to the jagged mountain peaks, and everything beneath the emerald jungle canopy. She’d been ready to rule her domain from the time she was five, scraping her knees on the oak trunks that lined the hiking trails to survey it. At age nine, she’d arrived in her father’s office with a clipboard to make a list of things she would have to know when she took over ‘in a year or two.’

Never mind that she practiced with the guests since age fourteen. Her father had chosen her brother as his successor. It wasn’t about the power; she was a master mage without the island to back her. No one loved this island more than she did. Not even Lyntaru, who could navigate every inch of the bathhouse blindfolded, and did just to show off.

They were practicing on the far side of the resort, past the wrought iron gate, in the ash grove that once held a grave. She could sense their efforts without trying, but erected a shield to block them instead. It grated her nerves, the careless way in which her father passed over her. His praise was otherwise generous; Why Morulin, how your power has grown, and Oh Morulin, you executed that with more grace than even I could have managed. But though she was first born, Morulin was not fit to rule her father’s island. It chafed.

She tilted her head as the wind picked up, letting it catch her long, dark hair. In her youth she bound it, but it had been a long time since she braided objects into her hair. It had never been the same after he left.

Lifting the tattered stuffed panda from her lap, Morulin cradled it to her breast. Sometimes, she could still smell that day clinging to the worn bear’s fur. Wood smoke and savory scents accompanied by laughter. She inhaled deeply, hoping today would be one of those days. Instead she smelled moss, damp earth and leaves.

The breeze carried a hint of moisture. Mother wouldn’t allow them to redirect the rain, but father would probably delay it until he finished lessons with the boys. Either way, she didn’t want to be caught in the deluge.

Tucking the bear beneath one arm, she descended from her high perch. Four years ago, at the summer festival, her brother Darien tried to gift her a fresh panda, won from the same ring toss stand. He hadn’t understood why it hurt her. He saw patches and discolored fur and assumed he offered an upgrade. But it wouldn’t be the same. Dejected, he declared her too old for stuffed animals, but she hadn’t the heart to tell him the truth. He had never met his father, let alone received a gift from him.

When she reached the ground, Morulin tilted her head back, peering at the worn wooden structure protruding from the tree’s middle branches. When the twins had grown too big to share the space, her father threatened to take it down, claiming it had served its purpose. She lived inside the tree house for two weeks to prove him wrong. She still wandered out here in the middle of the night whenever she had trouble sleeping or needed somewhere to think.

“I’m not sure why I come here anymore.” She sighed, not certain if she spoke to herself or the bear. But as she turned down the familiar hiking trail, she knew it was a lie. Like the bear, it was the last piece of Damian Cooke that remained in her life. Darien and Lyntaru may have spent the best days of their childhood in those branches, but he built it for her. She made the journey to remember the man who constructed it and all the promises he’d broken.

Ignoring the murky gloom of gathering clouds, she descended the mountain. She knew she’d reached the bathhouse when unruly undergrowth gave way to color-coordinated flower patterns lining the path. Tenolin’s first project to outgrow the confines of his garden.

As she cleared the forest canopy, Morulin glimpsed a pair of greenhouses nestled on a hill not far from the stables. Tenolin’s second project. In a few years, he’ll have a living encyclopedia of all the plant life the island has encountered on its travels. He wanted to produce seed bundles to distribute among the passionate gardeners of the multiverse. Morulin rather liked the idea of sowing patches of the island in their wake. She’d devoted a lot of time to the project’s early stages, but visited the greenhouses less these days. Too many other things to think about.

Aside from sprouting several extra stories, the bathhouse was much the same as always. Almost a decade ago her father added a new wing that jutted into the courtyard, since he’d run out of horizontal space. It housed the bathhouse theatre hall, one of its most popular features. They always had a dance or theatre troupe living at the bathhouse, providing nightly performances. When one passed on, another was always eager to take their place.

Morulin’s path took her past the main entrance. Even at this time of day there was a small crowd milling among the seats, though the performers were only practicing. She didn’t linger. There were many staircases between the ground floor and her room. Someday, Father’s going to take my advice and install a modern lift system. But he seemed dead set against new technology, despite adopting electric lights and kitchen appliances. He preferred magic, since the island never lacked for it, but not all their patrons were able to make use of it. At least no one can call us lazy.

She returned the panda to the head of her bed; the last remnant of childhood in an adult space. She’d abandoned purple walls for a soft cream color, though several pieces of purple furniture acted as accents. Dark-stained oak bookcases lined one wall, filled with old leather-bound books and stacks of aging scrolls. From any location inside her room she could inhale the scent of aging pages and old ink. Aside from the smell of earth and foliage, it was her favorite.

A haphazard stack of maps sat in the far corner of the purple desk. Journals littered the rest of the free space. Instead of paintings or photos, framed maps decorated the walls, some of them marked in her careful scrawl. These were places they’d visited, things she’d experienced, her memories marked in latitudes and longitudes. All places she hoped to see again, though some she knew she never would.

For years she’d been mapping the island’s movements, consulting with her father to map the intersections of ley lines throughout the multiverse. The journals contained her notes on pathways to different destinations, and how to navigate toward worlds outside the regular rotation. Her father had never noted the relative position of dimensions along the interconnecting ley line highways, simply allowing the island to guide him when he wanted to reach a particular destination. The maps had begun as a hobby, the navigational notes as curiosity, but she would never have a chance to put them to use, since she would never control the island’s destination.

Wrinkling her nose, she abandoned the room and set the enchantment that kept others from entering. A ritual she had adopted at sixteen, when her brothers made a game of sneaking into her room. They were wiser now, and more respectful, but she maintained the habit just in case. She wouldn’t be surprised to find similar wards on her brothers’ doors, though she’d never tried to enter unannounced.

“Have a destination in mind?” Her mother’s voice startled her as she moved toward the exit from the family quarters.

Standing in the kitchen archway, her mother wiped her hands on a tea towel. She wore a gauzy white shirt and a pair of coral Capri pants. Her long, dark hair was gathered in a tight bun atop her head. Considering how often she wore it that way, Morulin wondered why she didn’t cut it. A hint of fruit tart hung in the air; her mother had been baking.

“I thought Genji might need some help packing up. Looks like it’s about to storm.”

“I’m sure he’d appreciate an extra set of hands. Mind running an errand for me along the way?”

Morulin arched an eyebrow. “What do you need?”

“Nothing much, just take that envelope down to the mixery.” She nodded toward the dining room table.

Morulin crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Isn’t that supposed to be Lyn’s job now?”

“Lyntaru has a lot on his mind,” her mother replied with a sharp look. “He’s only human, and they’re going to need it for tomorrow. It’ll only take a minute.”

“Fine,” she muttered, uncurling her arms. Snatching the envelope from the table, she stomped to the door. “But he’s going to have to learn to balance all this if he wants to run this place.”

Her mother’s eyebrows twitched. “Have you forgotten how taxing those advanced magic lessons can be? Give your brother a break.”

After a moment’s hesitation, Morulin relented. “I suppose I have.”

She left before her mother could probe her mood too deeply. She loved her brother, but he didn’t realize how much he’d stolen from her. Even her favorite nickname, though Damian was the only one who used it.

What makes Lyntaru more qualified than me? Hadn’t she achieved Adept level two years younger than him? Hadn’t she already moved the island once, however accidental it had been? It can’t be half as hard as they make it out to be, if Mother learned to do it on her own. With the lord of the island absent from her life those eight years, she had to rely on the island’s impressions to guide her. Her parents took turns moving the island now, and sometimes they did it together.

But her father was old fashioned. Lyntaru was the first-born son, Father’s only son. Would Damian have defended my right to inherit if he had stayed?

She barely paused at the mixery, wanting the task behind her. She hurried from the bowels of the bathhouse, where its famous herbal waters were cultivated, back out into the growing gloom. Wind whipped the branches of distant trees and redirected the spray of the waterfall. Guests abandoned their outdoor activities, hurrying for the shelter of the bathhouse eaves before the rain began.

Morulin sprinted through the front gate, meeting Genji and his hunting party only fifteen minutes down the cobblestone path. They’d obviously packed their gear in a hurry and the gale made the load awkward for the small group of hunters. She waved at the lead huntsman and he waved back, indicating a large roll of canvas the wind threatened to sweep back toward the jungle. With little thought, Morulin’s gesture became a conjuration and the air around the small group quieted while she rushed to help contain the canvas.

“You’re a life saver,” the aged huntsman laughed as Morulin fell into step with the rest, carrying the invisible windbreaker with them.

“Sorry I couldn’t get here sooner. I had to run an errand for Lyn.”

Genji waved a hand in dismissal. “We hoped to beat the storm. We saw it blowing in from the mainland early this morning, but ours is not a job that can be rushed.”

“You haven’t been mired by this tempest all day have you?”

“It looked like it was going to miss us for awhile,” Genji replied with a shake of his head. He glanced toward the water-laden clouds. “Weather isn’t the only thing on its way from the mainland. Caught a glimpse of a fair-sized boat. Not one of ours.”

“Coming this way?” Morulin’s heartbeat quickened. The locals were friendly, providing the island with regular supplies and trade. She’d visited the mainland twice, but there wasn’t much to see. All the cargo ships had already returned, and they’d been in this dimension long enough new arrivals seemed unlikely. Has something happened on the mainland?

“Seems like,” Genji confirmed.

Morulin glanced toward the docks, though the considerable bulk of the bathhouse blocked her view. She managed to contain her excitement while she helped the hunters unload. There were plenty of extra hands when it came time to stow supplies and unpack newly acquired provisions. Morulin excused herself as the first rumble of thunder shook the air.

Jagged waves lapped the shore as the boat navigated the shallows surrounding the main dock. It was a sizable vessel, but not large enough to force the occupants to ferry their way to shore. From the markings, it did come from the mainland, but not their usual port of call. No wonder they’re so late to arrive. If they’d come from the capital, they’d have been a long time travelling.

Even as fat, heavy raindrops began to splatter the ground, the boat’s passengers flooded onto the main deck, eager to catch a glimpse of their destination. There was likely to be a great deal of jostling when the crew extended the ramp. Out of habit, Morulin scanned the crowd for familiar faces.

It can’t be.

She blinked to bring the scene into sharper focus. He stood by the back rail of the vessel, not fighting the rest of the crowd, one elbow resting on the safeguard. Despite the whipping wind, an unruly lock of ruddy-blond hair kept obscuring one of his emerald eyes.

<You’d better get down here, quick.> The dock master would have sent a messenger to her mother the moment they caught sight of the approaching vessel, but she wasn’t as meticulous about greeting guests as her father.

In response to her mother’s alarmed query, Morulin projected the image of Damian Cooke lounging while he waited to disembark.

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