Chapter One

The Kidnap of Dasina Harter

A s the sun rose in the air, the feverish bustling of Metoria's streets began once again. Many traders and merchants had already begun to set up their stalls, unveil their items of sale, and eat their small easy breakfasts of breads and fruits. The lowly Key Keepers unlocked the majestic wooden doors, allowing the Royal Guards, most of them Grundle Trolls from Harris Peak, to begin their day of standing guard before the tall stone walls, checking carts and other baggage before allowing travelers in. The women and children were also awake, beginning their own day of cleaning and working in the cool shadows of their joined homes. The narrow streets were full of life.

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The glistening grasses of the Pink Pastures shined their light rose colors in the new early morning rays. A tattered old cart slowly pulled out of the White Water Woods; a wheezing mare pulling it through the thick branches. It rattled along the dirt road, heading towards the grand golden-hinged doors of Metoria. Sitting atop the cart, holding tightly to the leather reins, sat a cloaked figure. With the hood pulled high upon his head, it was hard to tell who the person was. They were tall, thin, and from the glint shinning from just under the hood, the person was clearly wearing thick metal-rimmed glasses. The cloak that blew slightly back in the wind looked warn and tattered as though it had been traveled in through many storms and on many days.

The man straightened his slightly slumped back as he and the old mare approached the Grundle Guards. He turned his head slightly as the shortest of the guards came closer. The guard looked him up and down suspiciously and then asked him to lower his hood.

'I have been traveling for many days and my arms are tired. I have nothing to hide from you, search me if you must but I must request that you don't lower my hood.' The man's voice was slick and slightly nasally. He sounded definitely like a person who would be able to lie easily with no one suspecting.

''nd why can't ya do a simple task like tha'?' The Grundle asked, stroking his rough skinned chin in question.

'I am from the darkest caves of Galamoore.' The man replied, strengthening his grip on the reins with his black gloved hands. 'I fear the light and only come here for the purpose of trade. My colony is in desperate need of money; the only way we could think to get some was to send some one to trade the valuable Gibson Salve, which you must know requires the special leaves of a Russle bush which only grows in the Galamoore caves. As you should know it is very valuable seeing as not many like to venture down there. I keep my hood raised to block the bright rays of the sun that I fear so.'

The Grundles looked unconvinced and quickly walked around to the back of the cart and pulled back the goat skin cover. Underneath were just as they could have suspected. Jars upon jars of the slimy amber salve, a few metal bars and wooden planks along with ropes and other fastening tools to create a table to sell his items. They pushed the jars and other supplies around and looked for any other things that could not be explained, but apart from looking queer there was nothing wrong with the man. They could not stop him for entering because of his looks seeing as many other creatures with strange appearances had entered the grand city.

The pointed eared short Humflups were just one of the regular visitors that came to trade. They had short horns in between their long ears that gave them a certain uneasy look about them, even though it was well known that Humflups were some of the kindest and gentlest creatures around.

The Grundle slowly nodded his head to two of the other guards who gradually pulled open the heavy doors. The man nodded his head in thanks as he jerked his reins to make the mare move forward. The mare slowly pulled the cart into the city and past the gates, clattering across the cobble stone road.

'Why'd ya do that, Grunth?' asked one of the other Grundles looking at the shortest of the guards.

'We 'ad no reason nota let 'im in. We couldn't refuse 'im entry.' Grunth's voice faded off silently as the doors were closed once again causing a low rumble.

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'Dasina, come here honeybee.' The kind motherly voice of Klianna Terff came wafting in from the kitchen; causing a young black haired girl to come dashing towards her. A female Grundle smiled down at the little girl and handed her a batter covered spoon.

'Thank you Kli!' Dasina smiled as Klianna quickly lifted the young girl up onto the counter and handed her the spoon.

'I was baking some treats fer ya tea and I thought ya might fancy a little somethin' before.' Kli smiled a crooked tooth grin as Dasina slowly licked the wooden spoon.

'Now, remember what I said?' Kli said to Dasina looking into her eyes. 'If ya wanted a tastin' of somethin' sweet before tea, ya had ter go outside the castle walls fer a mo'. Run around the square fer a while, why don't ya?'

'Course Kli.' Dasina slipped off the counter and continued to lick the batter slowly.

'In fact, why don't we go and head for the market place, gather some ingredients so I can make those Spiced Scones ya like so much.' Kli smiled as Dasina's face lit up.

'For real Kli?' she asked excitedly.

'O' course m'dear, o' course. I needa visit the square anyway.' Kli took her tiny hand in her large one and walked her out of the kitchens and down the hall to the coat room. Grabbing a black thin jacket with emerald green cuffs from one of the many hooks and slipped it onto the girl.

'Keep this on. It mi' look warm out there, but winters comin' if we want it or not. The sun is even cold these days. Also, it matches ya green eyes and dress.' Kli smiled as she talked and buttoned up the long coat at the same time. After quickly throwing on her own shall and grasping a woven basket with a kitchen cloth lining the bottom in one hand, she picked up the little girl with the other and carried her down the hall and out the main entrance. 'The marble steps have recently been polished' thought Kli absently as she lumbered down them slowly.

When they reached the bottom, Kli sat Dasina down and hand in hand the two walked to the market. Dasina skipped happily along, her hair flowing back in the high wind. Kli gripped her shall closer and moved as quickly as she could after the excited young child. The grand white stone that paved the ground in front of the castle faded into grey and red bricks. The open space slowly got smaller as the streets narrowed and filled with bustling people.

'Come a bit closer, child.' Kli said loudly as she grabbed a hold of Dasina's hand tightly. 'Don't wanna lose ya.' Kli would never get used to the busy streets of Metoria. Up at Harris Peak there were few others apart from fellow Grundles that lived there, and everything was silent and organized. Everyone had a given job and purpose there and nothing changed in the village she used to live in. Metoria's streets were much different. Many varieties of people and beings came and went, speaking foreign tongues that she was sure she would never understand. True everyone here had a job too, but it was chosen by themselves and the streets were far from organized.

They moved down the streets, and the tents and stalls lining the streets became more and more, the streets thicker and thicker with many different people. Kli pulled Dasina even closer, handing her the basket so she could place both hands on her shoulders to guide her down the tight stretch. They walked past many different merchants, each selling a different thing. Some were selling silk clothes, others salves or ointments. A few of the tables even had the owner's own home made foreign foods and different types of jewelry and lucky charms.

Kli and Dasina quickly reached the spices and herbs stalls that they normally visited. A couple of Humflups were running the stall, labeling the many jars with new clean parchment, bundling roots and stems then hanging them from the metal bars they'd hooked up above them to form a make-shift ceiling, and speaking in hushed tones to each other as if exchanging important secrets that no one else could know.

'How'd ya doin' on this fine mornin'?' Kli greeted the couple with a smile. The Humflups smiled back, not replying. Dasina knew that Humflups didn't speak English, or Metorian. Those were the only two languages she knew so she couldn't speak to them at all.

'Tisuni latri crusin?' Kli said uneasily. She had asked for some ginger roots and hoped she hadn't accidentally requested a jar of pickled frog livers again. The faces on the Humflups faces lit up at hearing their native language and quickly began babbling away, greeting them and handing Kli jars of ginger roots and pepper leaves. Kli just smiled and began naming the other ingredients she needed to make the scones.

Dasina watched as the short horned creatures scampered around up and down the counter collecting the ingredients. Her eyes wandered away from the two Humflups and towards another stall. There were many jars, all standing one on top of each other. They had an amber substance in them, which made Dasina so curious she couldn't find it in herself to resist looking at them more closely. Carefully removing Kli's protective arm from her shoulder, she wandered off towards the other stand. Kli was too busy arguing with one of the Humflups over an over priced bottle of sweetened honey syrup to notice her slowly walking towards the many jars.

Dasina approached the booth, pushing her way through the packed crowd. When she reached her destination, she found a man with a black clock sitting on the back of a cart behind the counter. An old grey mare was in the front of the cart, looking quite tired and bored. She shivered as she felt his gaze land on her and stay there. Dasina had never been the one to be afraid of visitors and traders who entered the city. This one was no scarier then the ferocious huge Grundle guards that stood in front of the castle doors. She shook the feeling away and walked up to the man.

'Good morning sir,' Dasina said nervously, keeping her eyes fixed on the mysterious jars. 'You speak English?'

'Yes young mistress, I do.' She shivered once again at the sound if his voice. 'And how are you doing today?'

'Just fine. May I inquire what is in these many jars that you are selling?' Even though Dasina was only seven, she had grown up being encouraged to speak like this. Be polite, sound important, sound proud...

'They are jars of the rare Gibson Salve. Soothes burns, fixes cuts, heals bruises, mends bones, and it can even calm nerves, bring happiness when your sad; it is a very powerful remedy.' Dasina nodded as she watched the liquids swirl slightly in the jars, moving slowly and gracefully.

'So young'un, where do you live?' the man asked as he pulled out of his leather pouch a small chunk of bread and some cheese.

'I live there.' Dasina smiled feeling more comfortable as she pointed to on of the turrets of the castle.

'A servant girl out to fetch some silks for the Queen are we?' the man asked as he took a bite of his early lunch.

'I am not a servant girl!' Dasina huffed crossing her arms. 'I'm the Queen's daughter!'

'Terribly sorry to upset you, m'lady. You must be Dasina Harter then, daughter of Queen Santria Harter.' The man reached out and grasped her hand firmly. He shook her hand politely before letting it go again. 'A pleasure to meet such royalty Miss Dasina.'

'The pleasure is mine, Sir, uh...' Dasina looked at him, unsure what to say.

'Call me Villix.' Villix smiled shaking his head slightly causing the suns bright lights to reflect off his thick metal rimmed glasses. He suddenly leaned across the counter so his face was right near Dasina's. 'It has been a pleasure to meet you, I shall have to come and visit you some time in the castle.'

'DASINA!' a shout rang out above the crowd's noise causing Dasina to turn around and see Kli dashing over to her as fast as her stubby legs could carry her. 'DASINA HARTER, WHAT ARE YA DOIN'?'

'My, my, my, Miss, there is no need to shout. Young Dasina was just asking about my jars of Gibson Salve.' Villix flashed a smile under his hood. 'Care to buy one?'

'No thank ya, sir, we must be goin' now.' Kli shoved the now full basket into Dasina's arms then pulled her away from Villix and his many Gibson Salves. They walked quickly away from that part of the town and headed farther away from the castle for the square. The square was in the far back western corner of Metoria and was a beautiful mosaic made of different colored stones. They formed amazing patterns and shapes which all together became the insignia of Metoria. A yellow stretched star in the center, followed by a lavender star behind it, a dark navy blue circle surrounding it, a golden spiked ring around that, an emerald green square of the final background, and finally a beautiful border of reds, blues, and purples. It was a magnificent sight at the least and many travels visited Metoria just to see the mosaic.

'Dasina, I would 'ave thought better of ya. Ya know not ter speak ter strangers.' Kli mumbled as the narrow streets opened up to the huge square.

'But Kli, he was a salesmen, I was just asking about his jars.' Dasina said quietly.

'I understand, but stay away from 'im. Most of the time I wouldn't worry about ya approachin' venders, but there is jus' somethin' wrong with that man...' Kli sighed unhappily as the two walked across the huge mosaic. Dasina wondered why she was going to the square in the first place, but then noticed that they were heading for the old post office.

'Why are we heading there?' Dasina asked as they came closer to the small building. It was squished between to taller buildings causing it to look even smaller then it really was. The door was painted a dark green that when it had been first painted looked beautiful, but now it was peeling and the hinges were rusting. The front windows were coated with dust and in gold chipped writing above them the words 'Viji Lutuvi Ugodi' were spelled out. It was Metorian and meant 'The Old Post Office'. Most people referred to it as the 'Lutuvi' just to make it simpler. Dasina could just make out through all the grime on the window pictures of all sorts of birds and other flying creatures that you could choose from to send your mail.

'I needa senda letter ter meh friend, Glashna.' Kli said as she pushed open the door. A small tinkling noise from the brass bell chimed as she did so, alerting the only person, Mr. Rumple, that they had arrived. The front room was very small and dark. There were shelves upon shelves of different types of parchments, inks, and quills that you could buy to write your letter with or on. The front counter was very close to the door and behind that was a single door to the back rooms where they kept the birds.

'Glashna? Glashna Greeble?' Dasina asked as Kli moved into the room and approached a fine silvery white quill that she wouldn't mind having.

'Why yes. Glashna hasn't sent meh a message since las' fall an' I'ma bit worried ter tells ya the truth. She normally sends somethin' right after winter.' Kli looked away from the quills and walked past Dasina to the front counter.

'Jimmu? Jimmu, et epami jisi?' Kli called out in Metorian. The only problem with visiting the Lutuvi was that Mr. Rumple could only speak Metorian. Kli continued to ask if any one was there, calling out again.

'Jimmu!' greeted a loud voice as the back door banged open. An old man stood in the doorway, smiling a toothy grin at Dasina and Kli. Mr. Rumple was a tall man with watery clear blue eyes. His face was creased and worn but his smile made him appear younger then he really was. His graying hair was pulled back into a very short pony tail and he sported a leather cap on his head. He wore a brown goat skin vest with a white shirt and black pants and had a quill tucked behind his ear.

'Jo.' Dasina smiled politely at the old man, greeting him with a simple hello. He nodded his head with another happy grin before turning to Kli.

'Jux nea O jimque aua?' Dasina quickly translated his words in her head. 'How may I help you?'.

'E Jaxle Cosif, quieti!' Kli asked kindly as the old man left to collect some forms for her to fill out.

'Why do you want to have a Jaxles bird deliver your mail, Kli? You know they're very slow.' Dasina asked curiously.

'They migh' be slow, but they get the job done. They 'ave a good mem'ry and even better, they're cheap. I'ma tryin' ter save money righ' now.' Kli explained as the man came back holding some scrolls of parchment, a quill, and a bottle of ink.

'Jisi aua hue!' 'Here you go!' The man then sat down and watched as Kli filled in the papers. Dasina sat on the ground and leaned against the counter waiting for Kli to finish. She looked into the basket she was carrying and saw that Kli hadn't only bought some spices and ingredients for the scones. Dasina quickly began tugging on Kli's long skirt, trying to get her attention.

'Yes, Dasina, dear?' Kli asked looking down.

'May I have one of these?' Dasina showed Kli the round red fruit she was holding.

'Yes you may.' Kli said smiling then turned back to her work. Dasina smiled as she looked down at the ruby colored Yarna fruit. It was slightly bigger then her two fists and it took both of her hands to hold it. She took a huge bite; the yellow gold fruit inside was fresh and sweet. She watched as Kli continued to write, the scratching sound of the quill on the paper continued for many minutes. After finishing her yarna, Dasina began to get tired. She was just about to doze off when Kli suddenly said:

'Come now Dasina! Mr. Rumple's gonna let us choose our Jaxle bird!' Dasina jumped up and quickly followed the two adults around back. Dasina grinned in amazement as she looked at the back room. It was huge; its high ceiling didn't seem to end along with the countless wooden beams that supported the ceiling and were also home to the birds and winged creatures there. Large windows on the far right wall were wide open, allowing birds to fly in and out. Most of the birds flying in were carrying mail, which they dropped into a huge basket at the far end of the room, then they flew to their nest. Each nest was balanced on a different beam and had a bronze plate with the name of the bird under it.

'Dasina, come this way!' Kli said loudly from the other side of the room. Dasina skipped between the poles that were on the ground, ducking under some of the lower branches for the birds. When she found Kli, she was looking at four Jaxle birds. They all had the same grey feathers and were of medium sized. All of them had black rounded beaks and grey blue eyes. Their wings looked powerful, quite long as well. Dasina had always been surprised how slow they flew because of the huge wings, but their accuracy and intelligence was great.

'Which one do ya think I should choose? This one looks pretty strong.' Kli pointed at one of the birds which was huddled in between two other birds. 'The one in the center there.'

'I agree, Kli.' Dasina smiled at Kli and then looked at Mr. Rumple. 'Vijit umi, quieti.' 'This one, please.' Mr. Rumple smiled and held out his arm for the bird. It hopped on to it and the opened its beak. Kli pulled a long rolled up scroll from her shall and place it in the bird's beak. Mr. Rumple then held his arm up high, allowing the bird enough space to spread its long wings and take off and out one of the windows.

'Vijemli aua gis danoph!' Mr. Rumple smiled, thanking them for coming.

'Hifi Coi!' Kli and Dasina said their good byes then left the store.

'See this is the reason ya 'ave to learn Metorian, there are more then one person in Metoria who refuse to adopt English 'nd will only speak Metorian.' Kli shook her head, her red hair coming loose from the leather string that been holding the tangled wavy strands back. Dasina smiled and took a hold of Kli's hand and began to walk home.

The trip back was uneventful, only stopping to buy a silk hat from a weedy young man that Dasina had liked. They were just passing the Humflup couple who smiled and waved when Dasina realized something. Villix was no longer at his stand with his many jars of Gibson Salves. In fact, you wouldn't have been able to tell he'd been there at all. His stand was gone, the cart was gone, the jars were gone, and the old mare was gone. The only thing that could have given any one a hint that he had been there was a rope on the ground that had been holding the booth together and a broken jar with the amber substance splattered on the ground.

Kli gave Dasina's hand a firm tug and pulled her away from the empty space. The streets got bigger and the brick turned to white stone and marble as the reached the palace. Together they both began walking up the high steps.

'Be careful Dasina,' Kli said as they began to make there way higher and higher up. 'They must 'ave washed the steps while we were out. Don't slip and fall now!' They continued to climb up the steps, both being extra cautious not slip on the shining clean steps. Two lines of guards stood on either side of the entrance doors, one in front of the other. Each one was on the step in front of the other, facing forward and standing perfectly still. Kli nodded to Huffle, one of her friends. He nodded as she continued to walk up the steps with Dasina close behind.

Suddenly, one of the guards stuck out his stubby foot. Dasina tripped over it and then slipped on the steps. She let out a loud high pitch scream as she fell back and tumbled down all 127 steps. Kli screamed and began to chase after her quickly while trying not to slip herself, followed by the other guards. She tried to stop falling by grabbing onto the steps, but they were too slippery for her to grasp. She banged her head on the hard marble. When she reached the bottom, she didn't move at all. Kli became even more panicked, but she couldn't run any faster then she all ready was. People were running towards Dasina as well, but some one else reached her first. Villix came charging towards her, no longer with his Gibson Salves and his ratty old cart, but on a speeding black Trin. Though they looked like horses, Trins were twice as fast twice as vicious and twice as scary. Their skin was pulled tightly against their bones and their red eyes never blink just glow hauntingly.

It reared back on its hind legs then charged through the gather crowd. Villix quickly bent forward and grabbed Dasina by the collar of her coat. He pulled her onto the Trin in front of him and then began to dash towards the gates. The Grundle Guards who stood in the front of the main entrance doors saw the hooded rider galloping towards them with his arms wrapped tightly around Dasina. They quickly closed the doors and drew out their swords with the Key Keepers right behind them. Villix turned suddenly and began dashing back the way he came. The guards dashed after him, along with half of the crowds that had gathered when Dasina had fallen.

Villix looked behind him and saw the people and quickly urged the Trin forwards. 'I can't be caught now.' Villix thought, quickly rushing down a narrow alley. The guards followed him, but they slowed down quite a bit. Grundles were known for their size, and they could barely just fit in a straight line down the alley. Villix turned out of the alley and began tearing down the West Wall. 'Trudgle better be doing his part'...

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Trudgle Gripple slowly lumbered after the other running guards. He couldn't care less if they caught Villix and got the girl back or not. Villix had given him a large bag of gold to make the girl fall, but nothing for this. He had of course told him about an escape plan, but he better get extra for this. He was risking his entire career as a guard for a 10 pound sack of gold, which was really not such a bad deal when he thought about it. Growling slightly he leaned against a brick house wall and waited until all of the guards had made it into the alley.

When the last guard had rounded the corner, he groaned in annoyance as he ran back to the front gates. Trudgle, like most Grundle trolls, was quite large and overweight. But he was fatter then all the others, and weaker too. This was probably why he was never promoted from his lowly Under-Guard position. He had never liked being a guard, but it was the only job he seemed capable of doing. He'd tried being a cart-wheeler; and on his first day he'd dumped an entire cart of rotten Bubble fruits on the small Humflup he'd been working for. The bubble fruits had immediately burst, leaking sour brown and green goo all over the creature. Next a knife-sharpener, then a clothes-patcher, and then a window-cleaner. Nothing had worked, one mistake or fumble followed the next and soon Trudgle found himself on the streets, no where to go at all. He knew not even the Goblin Slave Trades would accept him. No one would want a lame Grundle Troll. So he'd come to Metoria and taken up a job as a guard.

Since he was an Under-guard, he just stood by the front doors and opened and closed them. 5 gold pieces an hour which wasn't that bad amount of payment, but Trudgle had always wanted more then just enough to keep a small home and buy food. He wanted much more. When Villix had approached him a few days earlier, he had immediately taken the money and agreed to the job.

Finally Trudgle made it back to where he started. The front gates were only guarded by a few Key Keepers since all the guards had dashed off after Villix. Smirking inwardly, Trudgle lumbered up to the Key Keeper who immediately looked over at him.

'Gripple!' one of them barked. 'What do you want? You should be chasing after that rogue rider!' Master Frisher, the head Key Keeper, had always been tough, strict, and moody. He was tall and slim and wore the same black cloak as the other Key Keepers with the Metorian Insignia on the front.

'Mast Frisher,' Trudgle muttered through gritted teeth. He'd never liked the Key Keepers. They were considered very unimportant and one of the jobs with the least amount of power. But still, Key Keepers had more power then Under-guards, and it annoyed him to no end. 'I am no longer chasing that 'rogue rider' because he has been caught. Miss Harter has come to and is fine. The higher guards instructed me to come to you to tell you to open the entrance gates.'

'And why should I do such a thing like that?' growled Frisher, the other Key Keepers nodding in question.

'They want to keep things under control and the travelers and visitors calm. If we re-open the gates they will understand that the rider was caught and the princess safe.' Trudgle explained just as Villix had told him. 'Now, by order of the royal high Metorian guards, open the entrance gates! And to prove this…' Trudgle quickly pulled out a shining gold badge. 'In his hesitance, Rentris handed me this to show to you. He said it should be enough to prove my claim.'

'Fine…' Frisher muttered in annoyance. He might have power over an under-guard, but his power was no where close to a high guard. He turned around and unlocked the gate. With the help of the other Key Keepers, they pulled open the elegant ebony doors and locked them back in place. Suddenly, a loud pounding of foot steps sounded. Trudgle and the Key Keepers turned just in time to watch Villix and Dasina ride past them and through the wide open gate. Trudgle smirked happily. The plan had worked. Surely now he would get more gold for the plan going successfully. A wave of guards that had been chasing Villix were now running towards them.

'Aua ofouf! Xjia vji jim aua fu vjev?!' A string of Metorian curses came from all of the guards mouths.

'Why in the world did ya do tha'?' High Guard Rentris yelled angrily as he charged towards the keepers. 'Ya let 'im go!'

'He tricked us!' Frisher yelled furiously pointing a bony shaking finger at Trudgle. 'He showed us your badge and said that you had captured the rider and told him to tell us to open the gates!' Rentris whipped around and faced Trudgle who had begun to take a few steps back away from him.

'So it was ya who stole my badge this mornin'!' Rentris roared. 'I'll have ya head! Ya jus' broke at least ten laws all at once!' Trudgle was shaking with fear as Rentris grabbed him by the collar of his leather vest. 'Ya will not live this one down! You are gonna be put to death for this one, Gripple!'