Though the sun was high overhead, the sea breeze kept the temperature tolerable. People were hustling and bustling about, fans and parasols were being used but all in all it was not a terrible day. Not like it would be inland, the stagnant air nearly suffocating. The general consensus of those who lived in Yeln was that the in-landers were a bit off in their way of thinking. Only a fool would live in such conditions. Their glorious city was nestled at the base of the mountains, held aloft on the small plateau of cliffs that sloped down into the cove. With the newest claim of being able to build a vessel that was capable of traversing the waters, builders were busy constructing the mysterious creation. The only thing not tolerable here was the way the light gleamed off the administrative building.
“Whoever thought it would be a fantastic idea to build it out of white marble needs to be run through.” Verden thought to himself crossly, adjusting the sack upon his shoulder. It was a beautiful building, there was no disputing that, but it was rather obnoxious on days such as this, blinding any who looked in that direction. The young man continued on his way, squinting from time to time at the addresses until he found the correct one. With a grunt he set down the sack and rifled through it, picking out the letters and carefully placing them into the box. The woman who resided there, Jesabelle Turner, rushed out as he was tying up the sack and snatched them out of the box, ripping the seals open and greedily reading the contents
“Good news I hope?” Verden asked, curiosity getting the better of him at her enthusiasm.
“Oh, yes! I’ve been waiting to hear back for weeks about that herb I fo—” Jesabelle cut off, a frown marring her features. It was rather surprising how quickly she went from enthusiastic to suspicious. “It’s none of your business. Don’t you have work to be doing?”
Knowing a dismissal when he heard one, rude as it was, he bobbed his head and hoisted his cargo back over his shoulders. “Sorry Ma’am. Didn’t mean to offend.” Not waiting for a reply, and feeling rather embarrassed at the way his voice had cracked, he hurried on his way.
As he left the residence, Verden spotted a man on the opposite side of the street. He seemed fixated on the home, watching the woman scurry back inside. An uneasy feeling settled over him, it was no one he recognized and, by the state of his dust ridden and worn clothing, it appeared he was no high and mighty lord or merchant coming to seek an audience with Ms Turner. After a moment of self deliberation, he approached. “Ho there! Was there something you needed help with?”
Dark eyes turned to him, lighting a bit as a small smile crossed his lips. “There was indeed. Would you be able to tell me who that was?”
“That would be Ms Turner. She is one of the council members here in Yeln. Was there something you needed to see her about?” Verden smiled pleasantly in return, suspicions not quelled in the slightest by the man’s questions.
“Ah, nothing in particular. My name is Dorian. It seems you are well acquainted with the folk here in town.” Dorian swept his gaze over the young man standing before him, sizing him up.
Verden nodded, unsure of what exactly the man was trying to glean from him. He puffed himself up, trying desperately to appear larger and more intimidating. “Verden Meadows. My sister and I run the courier service here. We know our fair share I suppose.”
Dorian brightened, bringing a hand up to rub the end of his nose as he nodded. “That is good. Quite appropriate I think, as well. You sound like what I need.”
“If you are looking to find thieves and desperate men for some raiding then you had best find your way out of town. We don’t tolerate that here and if you treasure your head being on your shoulders than I would do so as quickly as possible before I find a guard.”
A surprised laugh was elicited from Dorian, quickly turning into a full on guffaw. “No, no. I am not seeking accomplices to some heinous crimes. I have a business proposition for you. Your feelings on this matter do make me think I made the right choice. Excellent. I do hate wasting time.” He reached out, patting Verden on the shoulder. “Talk it over with your sister. I will wait near the gates at ten in the morning for an hour. Come see me when you have decided.”
The courier blinked as Dorian began walking away. “Wait!” he called, “You haven’t told me what the job is!”
“Discussed after you accept only, Mr Meadows. No sooner.” And then he turned a corner and was gone. Verden took a few steps after him only to pause as he felt the sack of undelivered letters bounce against his back. Cursing, he turned back to his work, picking up the pace so he could find his sister.
An unamused stare bored into Verden from across the desk, “So you want to go see a potentially homeless man about an unspecified job near the gates where, I might add, he will likely insist that we go outside to discuss this mystery job. No, Verden, that doesn’t sound like the stupidest thing I’ve heard from you. It sounds more like you wish to commit suicide. What could have compelled you to think to trust someone after something like that? We don’t have time for it anyway.”
“No time? You always have time for more money. Maybe he’s in disguise! He could be filthy rich! Come on, Anna, what will it hurt to hear him out? We deal in information. Aren’t you even the slightest bit curious what he’s about?” Bulls-eye. He smirked lightly, watching her fingers twitch at the thought of something going on that she didn’t know about. “At the very least we can pretend to go along with it until he tells us and then decline. That way we can keep tabs on him.”
Anna sat in silence, her eyes narrowed as she mulled over the risks and rewards of it. “It still smells like an ambush.”
“We beat out the other competition by being the fastest at what we do. I’m sure we can out run any goons he has.” Verden watched her intently, his excitable nature making him nearly vibrate with anticipation. She chewed her lower lip for what seemed like hours before she turned back to him and sighed.
“I need more time to think about it.”
“More time? He’s going to be at the gates in the morning. You don’t have that much time!”
“Let,” Anna ground out forcefully, “Me sleep on it.” A rather petulant ‘Fine.’ was all she was given in return. Rubbing at her brow, she exited the room and made her way to bed.
Verden slumped down in the chair, mind going a mile a minute about the mysterious job they had been offered. It seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity, like one of those adventures you read about in books. He stared through the doorway his sister had gone and crossed his fingers, muttering wishes and charms to make her say yes.
As the hour of ten in the morning drew nearer, Verden couldn’t sit still. They had twenty minutes to get to the gate and Anna had not answered him yet. She had yet to come out from her room, in fact. Not being able to stand it any longer, he ran to her room and pounded on the door. “Anna! We have to get going now!”
The result was the door swinging open, nearly smacking him in the face. He thanked himself for his quick reflexes, getting ready to run from the beating he was sure to receive for such a rude awakening. Much to his surprise, he saw his sister fully dressed and ready to go.
“Come. Let’s get this over with.” Anna pushed him aside and strode out the door, a small smile lighting her features as she heard her brother’s ‘whoop!’ of excitement. The pair made their way up to the main gate, pausing momentarily as a small tremor rippled through the ground. There were shouts of surprise from the people on the streets and some crashes were heard from the nearby shops. It was not long before it stopped, the silence was unnatural as it seemed everyone held their breath in wait for the next one. When it did not come, the air was buzzing with chatter, everyone throwing out speculations on what had happened, where it came from and why.
Verden grabbed Anna’s hand and tugged her along, it was nearly ten in the morning and he was anxious to see Dorian and find out what quest he had in store for them. He was standing outside of the city, tapping his foot impatiently.
“Ah, there you are. I was beginning to think I would have to continue my search. This must be your sister.”
“No need! We’ve come. What is our quest? Can you tell us now?”
Anna stood back, eyeing the man with no small measure of distrust. Dorian met her gaze and bowed politely, a smile adorning his lips. “I am Dorian Dunarth, a pleasure to meet you.”
A curt nod was given in response, “Anna Meadows. Say what you have to say, if you will. I have a lot of work to do with this sudden quake.”
“Of course. Not here, though. If you would both follow me? I have a place that is more private up the hill. The information I have is rather sensitive in nature.” The woman’s eyes narrowed in suspicion but she nodded, grabbing hold of her younger brother’s shoulder before he could dash on ahead.
“Lead the way, then.” The trio made good time, climbing the rather steep slopes that surrounded the city of Yeln. They had been walking for nearly half an hour when they were nearly thrown from their feet as the earth rolled and shuddered. A thunderous series of cracks followed, causing some temporary deafness to anything but the ringing in their ears. Dorian regained his senses first, grabbing the other two and pulling them along hurriedly to a secluded overlook farther up the path.
“What is going on?” Anna demanded angrily, trying to suppress the rising panic within her. Verden was clinging to her right arm, eyes wide with terror. Dorian ignored them for the most part, looking over the edge and down to Yeln, far below. Cursing mildly, Anna led Verden to their mysterious guide and yelped as another violent quake shook the ground. With another series of deafening cracks, the three looked on in horror as the cliff side near the city broke off. It was with disbelief that they all sat and watched as the city of Yeln broke apart, sliding into the ocean. They thought perhaps some of it could hold survivors, until the giant wave caused by the sudden slide crashed into the remnants of it, tearing through the buildings like they were nothing more than parchment.
Everyone sat in silence, watching the destruction of such a great city in a morbid fascination, unable to look away until it was finished. They fancied they heard the screams of terror and grief from the people below, though the noise from the rock grinding against each other as they slid down the mountain and the crash of the waves made that impossible.
Dorian looked back at the two, now homeless and looking terribly lost. He closed his eyes and stood, deciding to cut to the chase and divert them from the grief he saw rising within. “Well. This changes things. Come, we will get you to a new home. There is nothing here for you any longer. Come on. Up we go.”
The two allowed him to pull them up, Anna snapping to her senses as what he was saying sunk in. “Where will we go then? If you hadn’t noticed we just lost our home! We don’t even know you and you expect us to just waltz off with you?”
The rage in her tone was unmistakable. Dorian heaved a silent sigh, “Because, as you said, you no longer have a home. You need to move on and find a new place to settle.”
The woman snarled at him, she actually snarled. It took Dorian a few moments to register what Anna had said, a bit taken aback from her behavior. Much like a mother protecting its young. “And why should we trust you?”
His irritation at being questioned was evident in his voice as he snapped back, “Because, Ms Meadows, unless you know your way through the wilderness and have learned how to hunt and know what plants are not poisonous to you in your life inside that sunken city, I am your best shot at survival!”
The two stared each other down, waiting for one or the other to give in. “Bah, by all means, go back to town then. I’m sure it will be quite booming with activity and work for you to do.”
Verden tugged at his sister’s hand, his eyes were red from crying and he looked up at her pleadingly. Anna softened after five minutes, weighing her options and the needs of her younger sibling. Dorian watched with curiosity, noting the relationship and who to go to when he wanted something done. Clearly it would be the younger.
“Fine. Since we don’t have much choice in the matter. Lead on. We will go with you until the next reasonable looking city.”
Dorian nodded, “Good to see you have some sense.” With that clipped remark, he turned on his heel and started off once more, the Meadows siblings trailing behind after him.