After returning from Logoff’s marketplace, Lottie peacefully stared for a few moments at the Black Rip Sea. Days prior, she had dyed her hair with berry juice and shortened her strands to change her appearance. She still felt like herself even though Hettie’s blood invaded her body. A young girl from across the way was thrilled to receive her golden bracelets in exchange for her tied together twigs. She no longer wanted to be or look like a ruler’s sister. Nor did she want to appear to be spoon fed like she had been in Kobo. She was enjoying her new start as a free woman. The book of law as predicted had floated away from her weeks ago. It would go and stalk its rightful owner her younger brother Zedock. No more fears of becoming the next Punishere for her. Logoff was the best place for her to hideout until the confirmation. Nobody here cared about her whereabouts but Zee.
Zee surprised her by quietly approaching. He stood behind her. “You wake up early.”
“Wow, I didn’t even hear you coming.”
“If someone is near I like to sneak up on them.” Zee ran his fingers through her hair. “I like this hair color of yours. It’s crimson.”
Zee spun her around to face him. “Your hair is red now. Didn’t you have lessons back in Bristol?”
“Of course. I’ve just never heard that word before.” She frowned and turned back to view the sea.
He could sense her irritation. “I don’t always know what to say. I’ve been alone before you.”
“Agnes would make them wake up early for sea collection. She would say you girls will not live off of the backs of strong men or something like that. Ha! Hettie and I were the strong ones. The men were all pretty fools mostly. She never wanted me to come out to the Black Rip Sea but I would show up anyway to help. She knew that I didn’t belong in Kobo. She’s dead now. She was taken from us by a troll, sold to Mattau and then killed by a witch. Quite the way to go. She will always be remembered for those berry tarts of hers. Anyways, I hope that Sam made it back to Kobo safely. ”
Zee stood beside her. “I’m sure he did.”
Lottie broke her twig bracelet. It was too uncomfortable. The feeling of it rubbing against her wrist irked her. “How can you be so sure that he made it back?” She wondered if he had used magic to send Sam back or if he had a vision or…
Zee grinned at her. “I really don’t care about him. I’m just glad that you are out of the cage and where you should be.”
Lottie handed him the twigs. “I didn’t say that Kobo was a cage if that’s what you mean.”
“All of the cages. You were pretending to be helpful there. Walking the straight line. We both know that’s not really you. I overheard that you were banned from the village of Flaco? I didn’t think it was possible to be banned from such a place.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about!” Lottie tried to get away from him but he just kept on talking and following her.
“Lottie, I’m not trying to upset you. I think it would be wise for us to tell the truth. I wouldn’t want you any less no matter the reason. I’m keeping all of your secrets already. One more wouldn’t be too heavy for me.”
She stopped trying to get away from him.
He sat down in the grass. “To be fair, I’ll tell you a secret.”
Lottie sat down beside him and unfolded her arms. “Okay, what is it?”
“Before you came here, I pretended to be Callahan. I looked like him but I couldn’t get the voice right. You know Callahan is this village’s leader?”
“Yes, I know. Why did you do that?”
“I am funded by Mattau the leader of Ondello. He wanted to take a girl from here to be dipped in gold. He needed a new Glodean. So I let him walk through the gate with his golden armed goons. They took a girl and killed a guy. I left the guy’s sister a bag of gold, figured it would help. He pays for my food and my experiments. The man-eating fish was his idea. He seems bent on seeking revenge on the vamps and Mercy for killing Glodean on the Octo Trail. He also hates Nestor for lying to him about the beasts in the berry fields. There’s my truth. Now why were you banned from Flaco?”
“I don’t think I can stay here with you.” Lottie blurted out.
Zee grabbed her hands. “I didn’t ask you if you thought you could stay here with me. I asked you about Flaco.”
“I want to be free. You work for Mattau. You are one of his plain armed goons. All of this land, you got from him. Everything I’ve eaten, you got from him. You are making beasts for him. If he strikes against Bristol, Kobo or the Crescent, you will help him. If he wanted to dip a Punishere in gold…”
“You’re not a Punishere anymore. I changed that for you. You think I’d pick Mattau over you?” Zee asked. “I do what he asks and he supplies me with gold. It’s that simple. I would never tell him about you though, Lottie!”
“Mattau bought Agnes from a troll. He threatened to beat her before she escaped from Ondello. He wanted information from her. I know he would pay you a lot of gold for me.”
“Your right he probably would. Have I handed you over to him? I don’t think that I have.”
“Well, you said you pretended to be Callahan. Those were your own words. Are you pretending now? Are you pretending to be with me?” Lottie questioned him. Her heart began to beat rapidly. He didn’t answer. “I asked you a question!”
“I know I’m thinking.”
“Thinking about what?” She didn’t wish to play any games. “Out with it. I will be leaving soon.”
“Where do you think we should live?” He held back a smile. “Sandor is too hot. The Crescent is full of freaks worse than us. Not Bristol. Your guardians and too many laws. You were banned from Flaco. Not Ash. Not Ondello. Not Kobo. We could try beyond the Octo Trail altogether. Go exploring. Find new lands.”
“I don’t know. I know that I really want to get out of here before Mattau pays you a visit.”
“Alright. I will just follow you then.” He picked up the twigs.
“Seriously?” Lottie asked. “You are going to leave all of this? Right now?”
“Umm…you are holding us up with your disbelief. I’ve got everything I need right here. I’m ready to go.”
“You are only taking those twigs?”
“Yes, I am taking them. You gave them too me. All I need is what you give me. Anyways, I can use them as magic sticks.” He stood up and stretched his bones.
“I’m really beginning to like you, mixed bag.”
“I thought so.” He helped her get up from the grass. “Luckily, we both know the Octo Trail very well. Would you like to fly around Lottie instead of walking? I can do that.”
“Yes, I’m a warlock. I can do plenty of things.”
“Right, except for making your own gold . What you can do is meet my friend Nestor. Cause that’s where we are headed. I would like to walk some of the way. If we fly we’ll get there too quickly.”
“Us freaks are not supposed to be in Kobo only the humans. You know this.”
“I really prefer your can do attitude.”
Eight bells rang repeatedly during the night in the village of Bristol. Hamish, the watcher, notified the knights of the Punishere of Lafet’s death. Immediately, after his death the next Punishere would take over. It was a two century old tradition. The human Bristolians stayed indoors but attempted to catch a glimpse of the astonishing parade. The dead ancestors of the Punishere were headed to the ceremony. Their feet hitting the ground sounded like a chorus of thunder. “They look like bones in capes,” a small boy whispered to his female guardian.
Esme Punishere’s thin skeleton carried the book of law into the ceremony. She tried to give the book to Zedock but the book began to float around the room. Esme spoke to the ancestors, “As I thought, the book rejects Zedock. He was not the one chosen as the next Punishere of Bristol. It was the other child, the girl. To cure her of those rebellious ways. Knights, guardians we ask where is Lottie Punishere?”
The book of law continued to float around the room recklessly crashing into the walls. It wondered where Lottie Punishere had disappeared to. The girl with the crimson dyed hair didn’t seem to be her.