Bookmark page
View all


Font size:

Line spacing:








Times New Roman

Chapter 9 - Moswen

The refugees of Everspring were a damn resilient people. Perhaps surviving something so terrifying is what instilled them with... who knows what. Survival instinct, stubbornness, whatever it was that allowed them to make it through disaster after disaster and keep moving forward. It hadn’t been more than an hour since the bandit attack and people were already falling back to normalcy. Or whatever semblance of normal was possible given their situation.

Amazing, Moswen thought to himself, the young man leaning over some stacked crates of supplies that survived the crash, perusing their contents. He had quite the day himself. He’d saved the life of a new friend from a monstrous bear attack, had his life saved from the very same predicament, attended a private funeral, saved the survivors of an airship crash, and fought off an attack from a gang of bandits.

After everything they’ve been through, grown adults arguing about sharing their cookies seemed silly, almost quaint in comparison.

“They are mine,” a richly-dressed man demanded, his voice calm but stern. “The contents of these crates belong to me.”

“The airship we just lost was ours and you don’t see us crying about it,” said Dagney.

“Well, a little bit,” said Kagney.

“Maybe a little bit.”

“I’m not crying over anything!” yelled the rich man. “I am a businessman, and these crates are my livelihood.”

Moswen could finally understand why the engineers were referred to as twins. Their almost frenetic back and forth sometimes felt like an assault, a tag team approach to conversation. As soon as one stopped talking, the other immediately jumped in. The fact that this guy was actually capable of getting a word in while being verbally pummeled from either direction was amazing. It seemed like he was accustomed to it.

“But it’s food,” said Kagney.

“Food!” repeated Dagney.

“Priority should be taking care of the survivors.”

Of the crashed airship?” added Dagney, speaking slowly to accentuate their predicament.

“It’s barely even food, really,” the man said. “Practically no nutritional value whatsoever.”

“You’re not really doing a great job at promoting your livelihood,” said Dagney.

“Mr. Businessman,” said Kagney.

“Besides, this isn’t the time to be greedy.”

“Not the time, man.”

“Just maybe try not being an asshole.”

“‘Cause you’re kinda being an asshole.”

“Okay, okay, what’s all the fuss about?” Kyrill interrupted the show with a smile on his face, almost laughing. Compared to the group of bandits that just tried to murder them all, a petty yelling match was nothing.

When Moswen first met Kyrill, he had been lost. In more ways than one. But after everything they've been through, their lives put in danger numerous times in a single day, even through all the disappointment, Kyrill now held himself high. He seemed proud. With Moswen by his side, the two had accomplished something real, something substantial. He’d be so caught up in the pursuit of proving himself to people who didn’t care, but helping people in need, strangers, brought a real sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. To the people around them, they were literally heroes. It fit them.

“This asshole was never taught how to share by his mommy, that’s what’s going on,” Dagney said with a snap.

“Crates are full of cookies,” Moswen said. “The gentleman here is claiming ownership. The ladies are demanding they instead be shared amongst the survivors.”

“Cookies? The ship was carrying refugees during a time of crisis. How the hell was the cargo hold full of cookies?”

“It was part of our deal,” Kagney admitted.

“Starting to regret that,” said Dagney.

“Who do you think financed the construction of the ship?” the rich man asked, an air of condescension in his voice. “That takes money. Smart money.”

“How about everyone cut it with the attitude.” Kyrill said flatly. “We’re all on edge. Getting yelled at and being condescended to isn’t making things better.”

Kyrill knew a thing or two about both. Dagney crossed her arms, irritated, but reluctantly agreeing with the big man. Kyrill turned to face the richly-dressed man.

“You know, you wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for the people around you. And you’re gonna have to keep on relying on them if you wanna stay that way. Like it or not, you’re part of a community now. At least temporarily. So instead of getting bitter, why not try to do the right thing? Be the hero instead.”

The man let out a long, relenting exhale.

“Fine. I guess you’re right. Not like I’m making it to Rotwater to sell any of this shit any time soon anyway.” The man pried off the top of a crate, gesturing towards the goods inside. “Feast away.”

With that, they all reached in and grabbed one. They weren’t like typical cookies. No gooey hunks of chocolate, no cinnamon or sugar sprinkled on top, they weren’t even soft. They looked more like very small, thin pancakes that were folded in half and then bent. And then promptly forgotten and left alone for weeks, gone stale and hardened to a crisp.

“Awfully strange-looking for a cookie.” Moswen said. He shrugged, then popped it into his mouth and bit down with a hard crunch. “Ugh, gah, why ish there paber in thish?” He pulled out a slip of paper, his mouth still full of crunchy cookie shrapnel.

“That seems like an odd choice of ingredient,” said Kyrill as Kagney and Dagney giggled to each other.

“You’re not supposed to just eat the whole thing!” The rich man said, laughing. “You’re not from Everspring, that’s right, of course you wouldn’t know.” He tapped at a logo branded into the side of the crate, a great eye in the middle of a tree. “These are Treeseer Cookies. Each one has a fortune inside!”

Treeseer Cookies?” Kyrill asked, mildly offended by the name.

“The one and only!” the rich man said with the enthusiasm of someone trying to sell something. He hopped forward, nabbed a cookie, then did a little jig as he sang the Treeseer Cookies jingle.

Treeseer Cookies

The sweet sensation

Take a bite

Look inside

For your divination

“Could’ve just called them fortune cookies...” Kyrill muttered to himself.

“You will have many friends when you need them,” Moswen said, reading his still damp fortune.

“In bed!” yells a delighted Kagney.

“Hah, you’re cookie just called you a slut,” said Dagney.

“Don’t mind them. That’s just a little game people play,” the rich man explained. “The fortunes are fun, but they take on a whole different meaning if you add ‘in bed’ to the end.”

Kagney read her fortune. “Advice is like kissing. It costs nothing and is a pleasant thing to do. In bed.”

“Now that’s just accurate,” said Dagney, as she cracked her cookie open. “Hey, what gives? Mine’s empty! What does that mean?”

“You have no future?” said Kagney. “In bed?”

“Moz, did you eat my fortune, too?”

They all shared a hearty laugh.

Kyrill and Moswen returned to the secluded alcove where Roegan laid up against a large tree trunk, a small fire with a pot of boiling water nearby. The man was severely hurt. The fight with the bandits’ leader had left him with a shattered arm and at least a few broken ribs. He was also covered in scrapes, swathes of purple bruising blooming all across his body. The knife wound in his neck had also reopened.

Isha was tending to his wounds as best she could. She had already made a makeshift splint for his arm out of some pieces of discarded wood from the ship and strips of cloth. It wasn’t great by any standards, but it would have to suffice for the time being.

“Anything?” Isha asked as the two approached.

“Sorry,” Moswen said. “No whiskey or alcohol of any kind.”

“I guess we’ll just have to hope it doesn’t get infected.” Isha swirled a threaded needle around in the boiling water. “Want something to bite down on?”

“Just get on with it,” Roegan said, exhausted.

“I did find this, though!” Moswen exclaimed, holding out a Treeseer Cookie.

Roegan laughed, coughed. “Don’t think that’ll do much good for me. She can have it.”

He motioned towards Neera, sitting quietly, politely, looking like she was put on time out. Moswen tossed her the cookie.

“Crack it open first.”

Roegan winced at the pain as Isha slid the needle in. Her hands remained steady as she deftly weaved the first stitch tight around the open wound. Nimble as she may be, it still hurt like hell.

“So,” Roegan said through gritted teeth. “Neera. You were telling us about your relationship with Erathos. He knew about your...” he twiddled his fingers, practically mocking the girl.

“Yes, sir,” she politely responded, her voice quiet.

“Did he have any plans for you? What was he doing smuggling a talented, young mage all over the Empire?”

“He was taking me to Rah’qet. The ship was heading to Rotwater first, but then to Rah’qet. He said the sages there could teach me... train me. He said I would be safe there.”

“The Spires,” Isha mumbled.

“Safe from what?” Roegan asked. “Where did he find you?”

Neera paused, unsure of how to answer.

“He... he saved me.” She looked up to see Roegan’s scowling face. He wasn’t just in pain, but unsatisfied with her answer. “I was...” She let out a heavy exhale. “I was running away.”

“From wh—“ Roegan grimaced as Isha’s needle interrupted him.

“You know, this isn’t an interrogation,” Isha said without missing a beat. She had a cool, collected tone and a smile on her face.

“Let’s just relax, all of us. Nobody’s on trial here. We’re just trying to figure out the pieces of the puzzle.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Neera responded.

“And please, don’t call me ma’am.”

“Yes—uh, okay.”

“So, do you know why Erathos was headed to Rah’qet? Did he tell you what his plans were?”

“No, ma’am. Sorry. Uhh, no, he didn’t tell me what his plans were. All I know is we’d be in Rotwater for a little bit, and then we’d head to Rah’qet.”

“A little bit?” Roegan perked back up.

“Yes, sir. He didn’t say for how long. All the refugees were gonna depart, but I was supposed to stay aboard the ship the entire time.”

“And then straight to Rah’qet.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Did he mention if you’d have any new company for the trip? Or were you meeting anybody in Rah’qet?”

“No, sir. Just that he’d introduce me to the sages and...” she trailed off.

“The Spires,” Isha said again.

“Thank you, Neera,” Roegan said calmly, only now no longer interrogating the poor girl.

“Erathos may be gone, but we’ll keep you safe.” Isha said, trying to look as gentle as possible while holding a needle in another person’s neck. “See if maybe we can’t get you to Rah’qet ourselves.”

They gave each other a little smile, then Isha turned back to Roegan and continued to stitch up his neck wound. Moswen plopped himself down next to Neera as Isha and Roegan convened with one another in hushed tones.

“Hey, sorry if I freaked you out earlier, after you... you know. I’ve just never seen anything like that before. It was majorly badass.”

“It’s okay, I don’t think I even noticed. I doubt I could have been any more freaked out than I already was.”

“If it’s any consolation, you probably saved Roegan’s life. Probably even more.”

“I guess.”

Moswen felt for the girl. He wished he knew what to say to make her feel better. He’d always wondered what it might have been like to have a younger brother or sister. He imagined teaching them how to shoot a bow, wittle toys, climb trees and make forts. He also imagined needing to support one another after their mother vanished, wanting to console them but not having the words to do it. Would he have been a good older brother? Would he have known what to say right now?

“Hey, you haven’t opened your cookie yet. What’s your fortune say?”

Neera cracked open the cookie and pulled out the fortune inside.

“The first man gets the oyster, the second man gets the shell.”

“In bed?” asked Moswen.

“I hate oysters,” said Isha.

“Of course you do. You’ve lived in the desert your whole life,” Roegan chided. “Besides, it’s a metaphor. And a pretty apt one at that. Erathos—the Cleric—brought an elaborate-looking chest onboard with him, with an equally impressive lock on it.”

“Wait, Cleric?” Isha was surprised by the revelation, equally by the fact Roegan had waited until now to tell her.

“It’s true.”

“But how? I thought they were all dead.”

“Are now,” Roegan said bluntly. “I don’t know what was inside this chest of his, but anything the last surviving Cleric wanted to keep locked up and protected has to be important. We need to find that chest. Before anyone else does. The oyster, not the shell.”

“Well I sure hope it wasn’t still in the boat,” said Moswen. “‘Cause that’s all long gone now.”

“No,” said Isha. “Smashed through the wall and flew off the side before the crash. Hell, it kinda caused the crash. But where do we even start looking for it? What direction were we even traveling in?”

“West-southwest. Ish. I mean, the way you were traveling. So you’d wanna head east-northeast. Ish. Those holes in the ship left a trail of debris. Probably your best bet for tracking it down.”

Roegan sucked in through his teeth as the needle slid in again. “You’re going with her.”

“Looks like I got myself a navigator,” Isha said.

“Then I’m going too,” Kyrill said matter-of-factly.

“One big happy family.”

Moswen cleared his throat and stood up.

“A word of advice before we leave?” He cracked open another Treeseer Cookie. “Children will play an important role in your life... in... bed.”


“C’mon, Moz,” chided Kyrill.

The three collected their things and set off into the forest to where the airship first hit the ground, following the ditch it carved through the forest. Debris still littered the area.

“So, Moz,” said Isha, “you’re awfully young to have much tracking experience. You just a natural? Daddy take you out hunting as a kid?”

“My mother, actually. Never knew my dad.”

“Shit, sorry.”

“Forget about it.” He shrugged off the comment, waving it away like a strand of a spider’s web floating in the wind. “Did you know there used to be a barren that abolished marriage entirely? The kids grew up with their mothers, but most of ‘em had no idea who their fathers were at all.”

“Are you from there?”

“No, no, that was a long time ago. Anyways, my mother taught me pretty much everything I know. Tracking, foraging, taught me how to shoot a bow, told me all the best stories. I never really needed a dad, I guess. She was more than enough parent for me. She was a pretty incredible lady.”

The words trailed off as Moswen stared into the distance, lost in thought. Looking for a segue away from the topic of conversation Moswen clearly wasn’t interested in pursuing, Isha broke the silence when she noticed something amongst the scattered debris.

“Oh, hey!” she exclaimed. “Speaking of foraging...”

Beside the ditch, partially hidden within some shrubbery that hadn’t been flattened or churned into mulch, was the telltale glimmer of the sun reflecting on metal. A teakettle. It was rather small, only big enough for maybe two cups of tea at a time, but in perfectly good shape, hardly even a dent.

“I’ll be saving you for later,” she said, admiring her new find. “Let me know if either of you spot any jasmine. Or rosemallow.”

“You got it, boss,” Moswen said. “We’re on the job, right Kyrill?”

He turned to find the big man lost in thought himself, staring off into space.


“Huh, what?”

“You alright?”

“What? Yeah, I’m fine.” He dismissed the thought, turned to Isha. “Jasmine and rosemallow, huh? I would’ve pegged you for more of a fan of earthy stuff, like cinnamon or fig leaf.”

“Those actually go great together. And I like it all, but I’m definitely partial to the sweeter flavors. I like that flowery shit.”

They continued their search, scouring their path for flowers and other possible ingredients for tea, reaching the end of the ditch and continuing past it until the debris became too sparse to follow.

“We’re probably close,” Moswen said. “Isha, how exactly did the ship crash again?”

“Erathos’ fancy chest burst through the cabin wall and demolished one of the engines. The ship had banked hard and sent everyone flying to the side.” Isha leaned to her left as she did some mental geometry. “Must’ve turned hard to the right.”

“Alright then! Let’s spread out a bit and head this way. We’ll cover more ground that way. Look for more debris or signs of where the chest might’ve landed. If we pick up the direction, we’ll be able to find just where the airship changed course.”

They spread out and began walking, slightly turned to the left. It didn’t take long before they found the first body. Then two more just past it. Refugees. Fallen over the side of the ship. Long dead so at least they weren’t suffering, though that didn’t help much. They must have been terrified. Their salvation had become a death trap with nowhere to run, until they were forced over the railings. And for those few seconds, they lived knowing the end was fast approaching, as the ground raced up to meet them. In that moment, they were both alive and dead, with no solace to be found.

Off in the distance, Moswen spotted another body. This one, however, was no refugee.

“I recognize this asshole,” said Isha, marching fast towards the mangled remains.

Even with the blood stains, the torn clothes, his body a twisted mess, the man was still unmistakable. Green hood, brown vest, very punchable face.

“I threw this prick overboard!”

Her pride grew to excitement as she turned back towards the dead refugees, frantically looking around. She darted around trees like her eyes darted across the forest floor until, like her new tea kettle, a glimmer of metal reflecting the sun caught her eye.


She raced over, sliding down onto her knees as she neared the scattering of sticks and pine needles. Lo and behold, somehow, she found her needle in a haystack. She held the spear over her head triumphantly.

“It’s my spear! Look how pretty it is!”

Kyrill and Moswen casually approached. Isha tossed Moswen back the spear she had borrowed from him, discarding it in favor of her shiny new toy.

“Erathos gave it to me before we set off, but I lost it over the edge while dealing with that asshole”—she motioned back towards the dead bandit—“and his friends. That was right before the chest crashed through the wall.”

“That means we’ve gone too far,” Moswen explained, “but we’re on the right track. So the course change should have happened back this way, just past those bodies.” He marched forward with deliberate direction. “And yes, your spear is very pretty.”

“It is, isn’t it?” Isha said, admiring her spear like a newly-reunited friend. “Hope this doesn’t give you spear envy.”

Kyrill burst with hearty laughter and the three continued their search. They spread out once again to cover more ground.

“So, Moz,” Isha said, “is it safe to assume you like climbing? You seem like you were the kind of kid who was up in the branches of trees more often than on the ground."

“Oh, for sure. I love climbing! I still do it just for fun even. Ever slept in a tree canopy? It’s actually really nice.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought. So get to it.”

She pointed up towards the thick, criss-crossing branches of a massive, old tree. It had broken several branches on the way down, but there rested Erathos’ fancy chest, somehow caught in the arms of the ancient pine as it plummeted down from the sky.

“Oh,” Moswen said with regretful realization.

Moswen scampered up the tree with relative ease, his bare feet slapping against the trunk, crunching loose bark. He really did love climbing. Dealing with the chest proved difficult, though. It hung there, cradled amongst the larger branches, unmoving. He tried and tried, but couldn’t get the thing to budge. Angles were difficult while hanging from a tree, but it didn’t matter. It was immovable.

“No wonder it demolished the ship, this thing probably weighs more than I do! What did he pack this with?! Rocks?”

“It was filled with rocks!” an incredulous and bewildered Isha exclaimed to Roegan. “Actual fucking rocks!”

With the backdrop of the setting sun, the forest glow had faded to an amber haze. Small campfires sprung up, one after another, as a mellow breeze crept through the camp and chilled the air. They had been gone for some time.

“We found the thing stuck up a godsdamn tree. Moz used Kyrill’s axe to chop the branches away just to get it loose, but it hit a beehive on the way down. We tried waiting to see if they’d fly away, but eventually we had to just smoke ‘em out so we could get the damn thing away from them. The lock on it was damn solid, too, but luckily the fall banged it up enough that we were able to pry off one of the hinges and wedge it open. And after all that effort, rocks! Nothing but rocks!”

“We did get some honeycomb...” Moswen added.

“It was a red herring,” Roegan said with absolute certainty. “I’m almost surprised he didn’t actually fill it with fish. Or at least carvings of fish. Painted red, of course. Though both of those would’ve probably been too much effort for a joke that people weren’t meant to ever see.”

“You think the whole thing was a distraction?” asked Moswen.

“Erathos was a showman, through and through. And what half-decent showman doesn’t use a little sleight of hand now and again?”

“Okay, but why rocks? I’d understand if it were filled with mundane stuff like his clothes or some books or something, but... rocks?”

“What half-decent showman doesn’t like to indulge in a little humor now and again?”

“Well, we certainly weren’t laughing when we finally got the damn thing open,” Kyrill said with a huff.

“I think that was the point,” said Isha.

“Or maybe,” Roegan suggested, “on the off chance someone did get ahold of what they likely would have assumed was his most important possessions, the point was to razzle them so much they lost sight of the bigger picture, much like you have now. What was he really hiding? What was it he really wanted to protect?”

Neera’s voice came flitting in from behind them, soft and unassuming.

“I think I might know...”


Toss a Coin to Your Author
Enjoying the story? Consider tossing a couple bucks in the tip jar and help keep it going! If you'd like to get some fancy perks while you're at it, become a patron!
Support The Leeches Loom

the empire
The Howl
The Mazewilds
The Shelf
Shaded Seed
Wayfarer's Ridge
A Gentle Scar
Tiller's Hamlet