The morning dawns, and I am shaken awake by Iya, who shoves a bag in my direction. I blink blearily, looking up at her. She gives the bag another insistent push. “Up and at ‘em, slowpoke. You’ve got a mission.”
I nod, slowly waking up. “Right… a mission. What’s this?”
“I… packed some things for you. You don’t mind?”
I smile. “Of course I don’t. Thank you, Iya.”
“You’re welcome. It’s… the least we could do.”
I open the bag, rummaging through its contents. There are weapons, food supplies, clothes, and, seemingly out of place in the cluttered mess, a small leather bound book. I frown, picking it up and opening it to the middle. It is filled with words in neat, even handwriting.
“What is this?” I ask Iya.
She smiles. “This is Samantha’s journal.”
I go to put it down, but she pushes it back into my hands. “No, this is no time to get sentimental, Natalia. I know it doesn’t seem right, but at the end she has written down everything that she discovered on our mission. Look at it. She has locations, names, important facts. You’ll want this. Here.” She opens it to a page close to the end, and gestures at it. “Start reading here.”
I nod, folding the corner of the page over and pushing it back into the bag, which I latch closed. I stand, stretching and yawning. It is time to leave.
I am almost out the door when Iya’s voice calls me back.
I look back at her. Her smile is gone. In fact, it almost looks as if she is tearing up.
As I walk, I begin to read the first part of the journal.
Kane is strangely elusive and mysterious, it reads, and probably for a good reason, since it’s rumored that he holds the secret to eternal life. However, I may have found a lead that can tell me his location. His name is Brennan, and he frequents The Golden Mushroom tavern in the village of Malachite Hills. It is rumored that he trades with Kane, though I doubt this possibility. Kane doesn’t seem like the type that would take risks dealing with someone like Brennan.
I sigh. Kane. The mysterious and elusive Kane. The target of our hunts for almost a year and a half now.
The Queen is dying. We all know this. She grows older, slowly unable to prolong the magic that extends her life. But she refuses to die. Rumor has it that this Kane is an inventor and magic worker of no small skill. In fact, some rumors state that he even holds the secret to eternal life. The Queen caught on to these rumors, and since then has been sending out her fines Devias between the ages of 15 and 19 to find Kane, and bring him back to her, using whatever means necessary.
Despite our searches, we still know little of him. How old he is. What he looks like. In fact, the only thing we truly know about him is his name. If it weren’t for the rumors, we might never be able to find him.
I keep reading.
Brennan has given me a location. I can almost hear the triumph in Samantha’s voice as she writes this. He told me to go to the Aberthan Caves, just outside of this town. He says there are cave systems that go on for miles there. What better place would there be for a brilliant creator to hide? Perhaps I’ll finally be the one to find Kane.
I sigh, shaking my head. I know I cannot afford to be sentimental now, but the hopeful tone of her writing only reminds me how she ended- beheaded, just like the other girls that had gone out searching for Kane.
The caves were a ruse, she writes, her handwriting spiky and angry looking. Brennan was paid off by someone else to keep his mouth shut. Next time I see him, I’ll shut it for him. That stupid fool wasted nearly two days of my time searching those caves. This mission is doomed to failure. I am doomed to failure, just like the rest of them.
The next page is covered by a sketch of what must have been the caves. Samantha always loved art, and the drawing is good. It is followed by more writing.
I have found another lead. A small girl in the village, who has been seen bringing food out into the hills, then returning with nothing. When confronted, she would not speak. It was only after a large bribe that she told me she was bringing them to the ‘clever boy’ as she put it. When I asked who this was, she said that he helped people in the town. That was all she would say, and I believe that she will not be of further use.
I perk up. She found Kane?
It turns out that she didn’t.
I found no sign of where the girl was going, and no confirmation of rumors. Even with my tracking skills, I could not find the place that she went to. Perhaps Kane is not here after all, and I have wasted my time on the imagination of a simple child.
More pages of rambling notes continue after that. I skim through them, frustrated. Is this it? Us this all the help I am going to get?!
No, there is more.
This hasn’t been a complete waste after all. The Golden Mushroom is a secret trading center- and they somehow have gotten their hands on strange contraptions, too complex for ordinary village crafters. I suspect that Kane is behind this. There must be someone I can find, someone who knows about Kane…
The next page is covered in sharp, almost frantic handwriting. Out of time. Out of luck. The Queen calls me back, and I cannot ignore her. Whoever comes after me, I hope you get this. Go to the Mushroom. Start there. Search for a man carrying a golden ring, inlaid with wires. His name is Andrus Sparrek. Speak to him. Get him to talk to you. He’ll have guards probably. You’ll have to get past them. Good luck. Tell Iya I’m sorry. Tell her I hope these notes will ensure that nobody else has to die.
Samantha’s name is signed at the bottom in a loopy scrawl. I close the book and lower my head, pressing her journal- containing her last words- close to my chest. I have to succeed where she had failed. I have to.