Book 10 - The Shattered Axe - Chapter 20: Regrouping for Answers

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httyyd
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I was on track to get this chapter posted last Sunday or Monday, but had a little bit left in the chapter to go...  Then last week hit me like the hammer after Hiccup walked out of his house in Homecoming.  Hardly any down time to work on the chapter at work and then add on top of that 3 of the 5 days I had overtime and the other 2 I had things to do, so all in all I was late getting home anyway.  Then by the time all was said and done, I barely had any time to work on things the way I want before going to sleep.  I did have my regularly scheduled Tuesday and Thursday things I do, but even some of that was cut short or different.

 

This week is going to be different.  I finished the chapter and will start working on the beginning of... Act 3.  We are 2/3 done with this mystery.

 

Hope you all enjoy this chapter.  Bit of a filler chapter, but sets up the next chapter.

 

Thank you for reading!

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Book 10 - The Shattered Axe

Chapter 17 - Back on Track

 

The Jarl Mollerson Mystery Series

All Chapter Links
 

 

Destiny in the Dark

Chapter 3 - Friends and Enemies

 

Proud Leader and fellow member of:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are links to the chapters of my fan-fic series.  The books go in chronological order.

 

The Clue of the Missing Socks.

Chapters 1 and 2                         Chapter 3                                       Chapter 4

Chapter 5                                      Chapter 6                                        Chapter 7

Chapters 8 and 9                        Chapter 10                                     Chapter 11

Chapters 12 and 13                     Chapters 14, 15, and 16             Chapter 17

Chapter 18                                    Chapter 19                                      Chapter 20

Chapter 21 and 22                      Chapter 23                                     Chapter 24 and 25

Chapter 26 - There is a hidden surprise.  Can you find it?

Chapter 27                                   Chapter 28, Part 1                         Chapter 28, Part 2

Chapter 29                                   Chapter 30                                       Chapter 31

Chapter 32                                   Chapter 33                                       Chapter 34

Chapter 35                                   Chapter 36                                       Chapter 37

Chapter 38                                   Chapter 39                                       Chapter 40

Chapter 41                                   Chapter 42                                       Chapter 43

Chapter 44                                   Chapter 45, Parts 1 and 2

 

The Mysterious Frozen Fire

Chapter 1         Chapter 2         Chapter 3         Chapter 4         Chapter 5         Chapter 6

Chapter 7         Chapter 8         Chapter 9         Chapter 10       Chapter 11       Chapter 12

Chapter 13       Chapter 14       Chapter 15        Chapter 16       Chapter 17       Chapter 18  

Chapter 19       Chapter 20      Chapter 21        Chapter 22, Part 1       Chapter 22, Part 2 

Chapter 22, Part 3

Epilogue/Preview for my Third Story!

 

Thoughts of Guilt

Chapters 1 and 2          Chapters 3 and 4          Chapter 5          Chapter 6          Chapter 7

Chapter 8          Chapter 9          Chapter 10          Chapter 11          Chapter 12, Part 1

Chapter 12, Part 2          Chapter 13         Chapter 14         Chapter 15         Chapter 16

Chapter 17 and 18         Chapter 19         Chapter 20         Chapter 21         Chapter 22

Chapter 23         Chapter 24         Chapter 25         Chapter 26         Chapter 27

Chapter 28         Chapter 29         Chapter 30         Chapter 31         Chapter 32

Chapter 33         Chapter 34         Chapter 35         Chapter 36 and 37

Chapter 38, Part 1         Chapter 39, Part 2         Chapter 40, Part 3         Chapter 41

Chapter 42, Parts 1 and 2         Chapter 43         Chapter 44

Chapter 45, Part 1         Chapter 45, Part 2

 

On the Edge of Mystery

Chapter 1          Chapter 2         Chapter 3        Chapters 4 & 5    Chapter 6, Parts 1 and 2   

Chapter 7          Chapter 8         Chapter 9            Chapter 10       Chapter 11        Chapter 12

Chapter 13        Chapter 14       Chapter 15          Chapter 16        Chapter 17       Chapter 18

Chapter 19        Chapter 20       Chapter 21          Chapter 22       Chapter 23      Chapter 24

Chapter 25        Chapter 26       Chapter 27         Chapter 28        Chapter 29 Parts 1 and 2 

Chapter 30       Chapter 31       Chapter 32 and 33                         Chapter 34 Parts 1 and 2 

Chapter 35 Part 1         Chapter 35 Part 2        Chapter 35 Part 3        Chapter 36

 

The Secret Symbol

Chapter 1    Chapter 2    Chapter 3    Chapter 4    Chapter 5

Chapter 6    Chapter 7     Chapter 8    Chapter 9    Chapter 10

Chapter 11    Chapter 12    Chapter 13    Chapter 14    Chapter 15

Chapter 16    Chapter 17    Chapter 18    Chapter 19    Chapter 20

Chapter 21   Chapter 22   Chapter 23   Chapter 24 and 25

Chapter 26    Chapter 27    Chapter 28    Chapter 29 and 30

Chapter 31    Chapter 32    Chapter 33    Chapter 34    Chapter 35

Chapter 36    Chapter 37    Chapter 38    Chapter 39

Chapter 40 and 41    Chapter 42    Chapter 43, 44, 45, and 46

 

The Legend of Shadow Mountain

Chapter 1    Chapter 2    Chapter 3    Chapter 4    Chapter 5

Chapter 6    Chapter 7    Chapter 8    Chapter 9    Chapter 10

Chapter 11    Chapter 12    Chapter 13    Chapter 14    Chapter 15

Chapter 16   Chapter 17    Chapter 18    Chapter 19    Chapter 20

Chapter 21    Chapter 22    Chapter 23    Chapter 24    Chapter 25

Chapter 26    Chapter 27    Chapter 28    Chapter 29    Chapter 30

Chapter 31    Chapter 32    Chapter 33    Chapter 34    Chapter 35

Chapter 36    Chapter 37    Chapter 38    Chapter 39    Chapter 40

Chapter 41    Chapter 42    Chapter 43    Chapter 44    Chapter 45 & 46

Chapter 47    Chapter 48    Chapter 49    Chapter 50    Chapter 51

 

Teaser "Trailer" for Book 8 - Conquest of the Truth

 

The Crimson Storm

Chapters 1 and 2     Chapter 3    Chapter 4    Chapter 5    Chapter 6

Chapter 7    Chapter 8    Chapter 9    Chapters 10 and 11    Chapter 12

Chapter 13    Chapter 14    Chapter 15    Chapter 16    Chapter 17    Chapter 18

Chapter 19    Chapter 20    Chapter 21    Chapter 22    Chapter 23

Chapter 24    Chapter 25 and 26    Chapter 27    Chapter 28    Chapter 29

Chapter 30    Chapter 31    Chapter 32    Chapter 33    Chapter 34

Chapter 35 and Epilogue

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httyyd
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Drums R Round. Pi R Squared.

Here is the music mix for this chapter:

How To Train Your Dragon | Calm Continuous Mix

 

Edit: Going back to my word doc, I realized I had some part of this chapter I missed.  The first bit in italics is what I missed.

 

The Shattered Axe

 

Chapter 20

Regrouping for Answers

 

Jarl's Point of View

 

         The moment I catch up to the crew, they are all grateful I arrived when I did.

         Heather speaks up, “That was a sudden switch.  Those Khaos vikings won’t get the best of us next time.”

         Dagur grits his teeth, “I’m so mad right now.  Why did I ever think the Iron Conclave could be allies?”

         Heather corrects, “It isn’t the peoples’ fault, the fault lies with Khaos.  Although, the island’s so-called leaders let them come in, and Dotta is in no position to lead.  She is too overwhelmed to act now.  We might try to contact her later and support her to take back her home.”

         Dagur shakes his head, “We cannot start a war.”

         Cazi counters, “But we cannot let Khaos fester where they are.  You give them an inch, they take a whole island.  Besides, Khaos started it.  If it is a fight they want,” Cazi punches her fist in her hand.  “A fight is what they are going to get.”

         Annabeth is visibly shaken but takes a deep breath to calm her nerves, “Like we said, thank you for intervening when you did, Jarl.  I was beginning to worry what we might do.  I don’t worry often.  I didn’t want to think what Dagur might do to them, the odds being forever in our favor.”

         Annabeth’s sarcasm brought a few chuckles to the group, enough to lighten the mood.  Now, that they are composed, I ask what had happened to them.

         Annabeth started to explain.  The crew was about to start knocking off the Khaos riders, but then the crew was taken by surprise by reinforcements in addition to the island’s own artillery – what little they have – turning against the crew.  Then the crew had to ground their dragons upon which they had arrows and swords pointing at them.

         Annabeth concludes, “they made us go to our knees, saying we were the attackers and should be treated as such.  We had to wait until Rebecca got there who proceeded to question us and our purpose for being there.  Though Dagur answered with the truth, Rebecca accused us of lying and backhanded Dagur.  He grabbed her arm which caused other Khaos agents to step in and start beating the rest of us.  Dagur backed off only for the others to stop.  Rebecca straightened herself before sucker punching Dagur in the gut.  They ordered us to put our hands on our heads to receive judgement from the new chief…  Rebecca.  Somehow, she found out Dotta had been appointed.  Rebecca in turn laid claim to the position because she is the ‘older’ one.  With the backing of Khaos, Dotta did not dare stop her out fear for her safety and her island.  So, when you flew in, you came in just the nick of time.”

         Annabeth is visibly shaken and emotion distraught.  After hearing what Khaos did, half of me wants to go back.  But that is my protective side talking, “If we do attack Khaos, we have to make it count.  Whatever we do, it must be something that will give them pause to retaliate.  The retaliation is what Dagur wants to protect against, but Cazi is right.  We cannot let them fester.  And for all intents and purposes, we are already in a war.  It began with the revelation of the Dragon Hunters and hasn’t stopped since with new foes popping up.  Evil is in the world.  We will and we must stand against it wherever it is, because if we don’t it will fester and grow and become more powerful to overthrow if and when it threatens our way of life.  But we must be smart and shrewd in how we do it.”

         Cazi changes the subject, “So, where did you go, Jarl?”

         I take the next ten minutes to relay the answer in good detail, because there was a lot of interesting clues, to say the least.  The biggest twist being Samantha working with Khaos.  To describe everyone’s reaction, shocked and stunned expression are putting it mildly.  Dagur is quick to judge that Samantha may be guilty of the murder.  Had it have not been for Samantha throwing her locket at my feet, nearly everyone else would have sided with Dagur.  Annabeth inspects the locket and confirms it is the one she gave Samantha for the very reason Annabeth once did to me what Samantha has done.  Throwing a prized possession at a crew member’s feet while out in the field and on a mission when one must keep a cover, is our secret signal to tell the crew member they are being watched.  In other words, do not believe what you are seeing.  Having this type of signal, Annabeth takes very seriously for what it means to her when she found out I did not waver in believing her when I had every right to do the opposite.  It was a critical moment very early on in my crew’s history.  Again, this is why she and I made everyone in the crew have a lifeline to still call for help for when we could not reach out for fear of our own safety.

         Dagur sighs, “Well, maybe Samantha really does just want to find her family.  But this gives her no right to avoid a trail.  If she is innocent, it will look much better if she turns herself in.”

         Annabeth thinks out loud, “Maybe the guilty viking responsible for the murder has some connection to Khaos and Samantha got in the middle of it and they forced her to join, which is why she can’t outright say she needs help.”

         “Could also be a trap,” Dagur adds.  “Samantha could be baiting us to help her only to step us up for Khaos to capture us.”

         “Dagur!” Annabeth exclaims.  “Why would you think that of a friend?!”

         “I wouldn’t think a friend would choose the likes of Khaos over us,” Dagur defends.  “How many times has Jarl preached, ‘We don’t stoop to our enemy’s level.  We would be no better than them.  You have a choice.  Find a better way.’”

         I nod but wonder, “What if the choices are limited and there is no other ‘better’ way?  Meaning, you will have to make a stand and fight.  If you keep looking for another way, you are using up precious time that if the evil knows that it, something terrible might happen to you…  Or your family.”

         Dagur relents, “When someone is desperate, they will do nearly anything for their family.”  I see Dagur glance at Heather.  “And sometimes they don’t care what happens.  All they need to know is that their family is safe.”

         We all know what Dagur is referring to, Annabeth comforts him, “So what we need to do is support them when they reach out for help, whatever unique way they choose.”

         I announce, “I think I may have just found what Samantha wants me to look at.”

         A key found inside the locket.

         “Next order of business:  Check Samantha’s home for any clues she left behind.”

         With our escape, I am rather surprised no one followed us, but Rebecca is probably too giddy with power to deal with peasants like us.  And now that we have a clue to who else is interested in Samantha and her family, we just need to find out why.  Also, keeping in mind the letter found at the scene of the murder.

         Again, I miss out on a good amount of sleep because of a mission.  Anora had to steer a few times for I watched the back of my eyelids for a while, but we eventually make it home.  Late into the night – or early in the morning depending on the point of view – Annabeth and I prepare for some needed sleep.

         Right before we get in bed, I could still see fear in Annabeth’s eyes.  I do not press her too much when I ask if she is alright.  Every night I hug and kiss my Heart, but I hold on to her when she tries to pull away.

         I quietly say to her, “I will do my best to protect you and our future.  Everyone in the crew protects each other but each are looking out for you three.”  I pull back slightly.  Tears are streaming down her face.  Softly grabbing her head, using my thumbs I wipe away the tears.  “Annabeth.  You are a beautiful, strong, and courageous viking.  You can still fight and protect yourself as well as you always could.  You may have to adapt to use a different set of skills or tools, but you can protect yourself.  I would put my life in your hands at any moment because I trust you will do what it takes to protect us.  If you feel doubts and think you cannot, I and the crew will be there.  But let me say this, I find you are helping us more than we are helping you.  You are still the same woman who can beat me in a fist or sword fight and most recently got multiple bullseyes with your bow and arrows.  You can and are protecting yourself and our future, Annabeth.”

         She lets out a large sigh before taking a deep breath and sitting on the side of the bed, I sit next to her as she responds, “I know, and I thank you very much from the bottom of my heart for the encouragement.  In hindsight, I put myself in a dangerous situation when I need to be more careful where I go.  And before you say, ‘It wasn’t going to be dangerous if Khaos hadn’t showed.’  I knew I could have done better and helped the crew more.  I got lost in the moment-.”

         I interrupt, “This is exactly why I want you to come with me.  You are out of practice.”

         “It was just a very intense situation I did not want to be in because of our twins.  We should have just tried to escape, but I didn’t want to leave you stranded.  Dagur was knocked of Sleuther, and so I landed to protect him from several Khaos vikings coming at him…  For the first time in a long time…  I was terrified.  Maybe you were right in the beginning to make me stay home-.”

         “Annabeth,” again I interrupt, as I take her hands in mine.  “No, I was wrong.  Sure we can always be careful in putting you in safer situations, but just like what happened at the Iron Conclave:  Evil does not wait to strike when we are ready.  We must be ready in season and out of season to rebuke evil.  We may not be in the best position, but we can prepare more to have a better outcome.”

         Annabeth replies, “How much more could we have prepared for Khaos?  We had no way of knowing-.  Wait, I just said that I should’ve known better than to go where Khaos would be.  Now I say what you just said…  Now, I’m frustrated with my frustration.”

         “It has become abundantly clear,” I lean in, grasp her chin, tilting it up to kiss her on the lips.  “You are getting tired faster, so you need you sleep.”

         After saying so, she yawns.  Then I yawn.

         I yawn as I write this.  And I am looking at you over my shoulder, Annabeth, when I am writing this the next day.

         With Annabeth feeling better, we got to sleep.

 

         In the morning during breakfast as Annabeth is cooking, she tells me, “I would like to apologize to you and the crew.”

         “What do you need to apologize for?”

         “Give me a moment, I am going to explain.  My emotions got the better of me and it put the crew in jeopardy, which could have cost us something more.  Don’t get me wrong, the care and importance we put on each other should be emotional, though maybe the better term is passionate towards each other.  But how I perform at a beneficial level to be on missions was compromised by my own doubts.  Carrying out children and dealing with the changes in my own body makes me think of things and do them differently.  I had been managing it fine at home, but I forgot that when the dragon fight broke out.  So, you are right, I am out of practice.  I need to practice how to manage situations like that so I can be able to protect our family with you.  Lord Willing, I will improve on my practicing yet won’t have to use it in a dire place.  But getting back in the flow of things will help tremendously.  For a few months we did not have anything to do except your races, so I did not have much to do but forget what I knew.  So, that is why I would like to apologize.”

         There came a few knocks on the front door as I said, “I know you know that we all know you are always useful…  Except for that time…  I had to fake my death…  Because you were being stubborn…  And not useful…  And that other time-.”

         As Annabeth attempts to hide a smile, she proceeds to pick up an apple from the center bowl on the kitchen table and throw it at me, “Oh, go answer the door.”

         I catch the apple with one hand without flinching or double clutching.  It just stuck, I gasp, “Did you see-.”

         Annabeth throws another which I fumble with a bit in my left hand against my chest but still catch it, “Hah, I still caught it.”

         She rolls her eyes with the smile fully showing through.

         As I go to the door, I juggle the two apples; with two I do very well, three is hit or miss if I can.

         Unlatching the door, I see Vixxen and Klarp, “Well, hello there.”

         Vixxen nods her head, “General greetings to you.”

         I comment, “You’re in a good mood.  Come in.”

         “Who is it?”  Annabeth calls out.

         “It’s Vixxen and Klarp,” I announce.

         “Well, tell them to come in and stay for breakfast.  There’s plenty.”

         “I think they heard,” I say.  “Here have an apple,” I toss both of them apples.  Klarp catches his cleanly, yet Vixxen fumbles it a few times, nearly dropping the apple.

         Entering the kitchen there are already four chairs at the table, so the three of us sit down.  Although, I get back up to get two more plates, cups, and silverware.

         Vixxen states, “I hope we are not intruding.”

         Annabeth answers, surprised, “Why would you say that?  You two are like family…  The crazy cousins who once tried to kill us.”

         Vixxen laughs but when she glances at me, she immediately looks away.  Come to think of it when I notice that she is acting rather nervous.  Something is up because she is never nervous.  I take that back.  When we are out I the field and she is nervous, something big is about to go down.  Sitting around a kitchen table and she is nervous, it is very strange.  Then again, she is a warrior who is still getting used to being sociably in casual conversation.  Yet the contrast between her and Klarp is glaring.  He is calm, cool and collected.

         What am I doing?  Am I trying to oust my friends?  I will wait and see if they will tell me what is going on.  But I get the feeling it is important.

         Annabeth turns around, “That was supposed to be funny joke.  Funny joke about…  Tough crowd,” she glances at me.  “It’s a wonder how you are so successful at it.  But the morning is young…  Or is it afternoon?  Seeing the sunlight now, it is afternoon.  Hey, we’re having breakfast for lunch.  Hope that is alright?”

         Vixxen replies, “Yeah, that’s fine.”

         Scrambled eggs, toast with yak butter and elderberry jam, boar bacon, boar ham, and salad with the family secret sauce.  Drinks are yak milk or water.

         I tease my wife, “You keep cooking like this we won’t have any extra stock for winter.”

         Annabeth puts the last plate of bacon on the table, “Shut up and say the prayer.”

         Bowing our heads, I ask for the God to bless this day and our food, also asking that the truth will be found in this mystery, and Samantha to see she must return to face her accusers.

         Good food causes less conversation to be had, yet still Vixxen looks like she wants to say something but will not.  The silence towards the end of the meal becomes increasingly awkward.  So much so, Annabeth notices Vixxen’s attitude too.  We glance at each other trying to read the other’s thoughts to figure out what to say.  Vixxen still will not make lasting eye contact.  Then there is Klarp who is sitting back, acting the most normal.  He must know what Vixxen wants to say, however, he needs her to say it, wanting no part of it.

         It gets to the point we all stare at Vixxen who clears her throat, “The main reason we came here is to report on our trip to Wengo.”

         “Oh,” I remember, now with a bit less suspicion towards Vixxen.  “How did that go?”

         Vixxen still nervous lets out a single cough and clears her throat again, still not making eye contact and trying to pick at a knot in the table’s wood, “You know how a lot of us older adults were getting on you for not doing something that would start a war?”

         Slowly, I answer, “Yes.”

         “Well,” she adjusts in her chair.  “I believe I may have started one with the Defenders of Khaos.”

         Annabeth and I simply look at Vixxen.  We do not react nor say anything in response.

         “Now, I know what you might be thinking,” she pleads as she speeds up her speech.  “I had to do what I did.  I had no other choice.”

         Annabeth and I still do not speak a word.

         “I would not fault you if you were mad at me.  Everyone jumped on you for doing things that could start a war, just get mad at me now and I’ll feel better.”  Vixxen states then gets flustered and more on edge, “Come on now, say something.  Get angry.  Let me have it.”

         Annabeth and I had been trying to hold back a smile, but I finally speak up, “Well, I got news for you.  We started a war with the realm of Khaos.”

         Vixxen began to open her mouth though stopped.

         My response is not what Vixxen expected for she was ready to protest my “anger,” but when my words registered, she stopped and merely said, “What?”

         For the next hour we swap reports of our trips.

         Vixxen is surprised at Samantha working with Khaos and actually understands Samantha’s reasoning, “I can see why and can relate.  I would be disappointed like everyone else, but because I can relate, the solution to her problem is valid.  However, it will not end in the way she wants.  There are only so many things you can control.  We must stop her before she sinks any deeper.  No matter how much you plan and think through ow you will get out, once you cross the line of your enemy using you, they will never let you go.  And with the Realm of Khaos, I’m so glad you guys are alright, but thinking about them just letting you go, the Defenders don’t want an all our war either.  Both groups mainly will do hit and runs or better yet get the rest of us fighting each other and then they come in and take over when we are at our weakest.”

         “Sounds like you guys had enough trouble of your own, so glad you guys are alright too,” I remark, then saying under my breath, “How you shot Klarp sounds like something Annabeth would do.  Anyway…”  a kick in the shin from what’s-her-name is my reward.  “Vixxen, do you think Jez will be an issue going forward?  While Khaos may want to do things in the background, they come across as those who will hold what you did to their plan as a personal attack and seek revenge on their own.”

         “You’re not wrong,” she admits.  “Jez will be calculated in her next move, but you can count on it that we will see her again.”

         Vixxen feels better she is not the only one causing trouble, albeit unintentionally.  So, she and Klarp leave use and thank us for the meal.

         Annabeth has some chores to do around the house while I go feed the animals, after which I will go search Samantha’s hut.  Once the dragons have their full of fish, I take Fredrick.

         Samantha’s hut is located on the east side of Berserker Island, off by itself in a secluded location.  One might even overlook it with the slight overgrowth and the trees around some boulders.  The hut is about fifteen feet wide and two stories tall in the shape of a typical viking house, just much smaller making the second story only enough room for one viking to live there.

         While Samantha is part of my crew, she has always been the one to quietly be off by herself, which is the opposite when we have a mission, she is then vocal and active.  Any time the subject of her background and family is brought up, she closes us off.  It is like she wants to find her family yet only on her own, while at the same time will openly talk about her current findings about her family.

         Arriving at the front door and entering in, I whisper to myself, “What do you want me to find, Samantha?”

         The hut is very modest.  No decorative elements are seen yet that is itself a style.  Any viking with a home like this puts their time and energy into more important things in their lives.  In Samantha’s case, she is on a life’s mission to find her family.  Also thinking about this, I am not sure if I ever told anyone about Samantha’s backstory beyond when she told Annabeth and me one time.

         Samantha’s memory of when she was little, well, littler only began with her waking up with a deep purple, female Deadly Nadder and yellow highlights curled up over Samantha.  When Samantha woke up, she was startled which did the same to the Nadder.  It was raining and they were on a very small island.  Samantha has no idea why she was on that island but figured the Nadder is how she got there.  Samantha saw a shine of light in the midst of the rainstorm, so she called her protector Stormstar.  Stormstar was already protective of her for some reason, but Samantha did not know.  She was young enough, Samantha did not know where her home was, how to get back to it, nor what to do and where to go.  Stormstar was all she had and the clothes she had with her.  However, she remembered.  She remembered all that her family had taught her.  Instinct took over and Samantha has been a survivalist ever since.  Going from one place to the next, Samantha just needed to live another day to find her family and figure out why they were separated.

         With Samantha, I am beginning to wonder if she ever thought the crew was ever a home to her?  She is barely at her hut, always out going somewhere when the crew has down time.  Reflecting on these things, it is like she wants to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

         After my eyes become accustomed to the darker shadows, I am able to see the place good enough.  There is plenty of light to see certain things, but there are still strong shadows that are difficult to look at unless you are in the shadow using the ambient light.  Her hut’s main level is all one room.  From a few pieces of furniture to sit at, a table in the center with benches, and a fireplace at the other end, there is not much to see other than four windows, one on the left and right wall and a window on either side of the front door.  There is a backdoor to the left of the fireplace and a set of stairs on the left too.

         Having the key from Samantha’s locket, it would have to go to something she would keep close to her.  So, I walk upstairs.

         Much smaller area due to the pointed roof.  The bedroom is a bit more than ten feet across.  There are two skylights in the roof.  One is closed and one is open on the side pointing at the sun allowing its light into the room.

         When I turn to the right, on the wall opposite her bed is a giant map of the archipelago done by her with string and yarn stretching all over the place.

         Samantha has been very serious about her life’s search for a very long time.  This has got to be her only house knew of because she brought her things to Berserker Island when she joined my crew, officially.  She finally had a place to organize all the clues and leads she has ever collected about her past.

         There are just enough rays of sun coming through the skylight for me to inspect the map.  The places highlighted on the map are scattered, yet I quickly notice most of them have a connection to a place my crew has been on our recent adventures.  Remembering how Annabeth and I met her, she has been on this mission even before joining the crew.  In fact, she was interested in the mercenaries and Masked Vikings we dealt with during The Crimson Storm.  It begs the question:  How much did Samantha just join the crew because it was convenient for her mission, using our connection and resources?

         Based on Samantha’s notes, the Masked Vikings, now better known as Khaos, seem to have three sects.  The Masked Vikings under the thumb of Einar were zealots, learning more towards a religious belief in the order of Khaos wants to bring to the archipelago.  I say “were” because most of these vikings renounced their affiliation with the Khaos Order when it was revealed to them through great peril of my crew and I that The Prophecy was being manipulated by Einar.  Then when news of what happened at the conclusion of The Dragon War, these zealots became less fanatical and more grounded.  They still believe in an order needs to be brought to the world, however, with The Prophecy fulfilled in their eyes, these Masked Vikings could become an ally.  Because of the Defenders and the Realm still believing in The Prophecy has not been fulfilled, the Masked Vikings might help us in trying to stop the Defenders of Khaos and the Realm of Khaos from achieving their seemingly violent order instead of a more peaceful alternative now that the truth of The Prophecy has been revealed.

         The Defenders and The Realm are new, well new to us.  So, we are finding out more about them everyday it seems.  These three sects are connected.  How, remains to be seen.

         I look around for what this key could go to.  Samantha has boxes on a table beneath the map, but all of them are open.

         Repeating out loud, I say, “Something she would keep close to herself.”

         Nothing on her desk near the wall, nothing on her nightstand beside her bed, I then go to the foot of the bed where most would typically stash a trunk.

         Reaching under, “Bingo.”

         I grab a small wooden box, about two feet square by six inches tall.  Brining the box to the table beneath the map, since it had the most light shining on it, I turn the key in the lock.  Opening the lid, the contents inside are an old leather-bound book to the right and a large stack of papers to the left.  In the papers are also some drawings of specific places.  Each place coincides with a Dragon Race, as noted by her, and at each place Samantha traded or sold her axe.  And each time the axe was returned to her within a few days, wherever she might be, but most times it was waiting for her in her hut.

         As I thought through the drawings and diary, I head a creak in the floor that was not me shifting weight.  The feeling of being watched suddenly came over me, but who it is, I had a hunch.

         Without turning around and still combing through the drawings, I address the figure, “You took a big risk coming her after the stunt you pulled at The Iron Conclave.”

         Turning around a figure comes from the shadow of the closet to the left of the bed.

         It is Samantha.

         I add, “You really blend in with the darkness wearing your Khaos gear.”

         All but the helmet did Samantha have on.  Seeing a friend in the black armor and leather straps that the other Khaos agents use is rather frightening based on:  Can I still trust her because of the path she is taking?

         Samantha responds in a soft tone, “I see you found what I wanted you to find.”

         “You’re speaking in crypts still.  You would not have come here if you weren’t finally alone unless that was the plan.”

         She chuckles, “Astute as always.”

         “One question,” I bluntly but simply ask.  “Why?”

         Samantha takes a deep breath, answering as she walks around me to gaze up at her map, “You will find out soon enough.  I am so close to uncovering who my family is.”

         “But at what cost?” I question, trying to keep my patience.

         Samantha requests, nearly pleading, “Give me until the race at Aberdeen.  Then I will give myself up.”

         “What makes you think you can solve your life’s mystery in half a week?”

         She turns away from me, fiddling with her hands.  To act nervous after such a question, she is hiding something.

         I press, “Why work with such a group?  You know what they have done, you know what they are capable of.”

         “Which is why I needed their help, not to mention I can find out what they are planning.  The crew has gone undercover before.”

         “You know those times were different,” but then I think of something.  “Except for Annabeth who acted like a traitor to the crew and worked with Dagur who was against Berk at the time, but…” I sigh.  “I don’t want you to throw your life away just because you are afraid of who will believe you.  I want to believe you didn’t murder Gladstone because the Samantha I met on that ship would have only acted in self-defense at the very least if not came across the body when he was already dead.  But fleeing the scene of the crime and joining a group like Khaos?  You are not making it look like you are innocent.  If you don’t turn yourself in now, others may not be so quick to believe you are innocent just because you say.  I won’t be able to protect you if you don’t face the truth.”

         Samantha turns to face me, replying in snap, “Maybe I don’t need protection!”  Immediately she regrets, “Wait, I’m sorry.”  She puts her hand to her forehead and paces for a few moments.  “Look, everything will be clear on Aberdeen.  Just give me until then and I will come clean.”

         Taking a breath, I stare at Samantha, “Alright.  You have until Aberdeen.”

         Her reaction is almost disappointed.  Did she want me to stop her?  Should I stop her?  No, I want her to go back because I do not want Khaos to suspect anything.  But then again, maybe that is the plan.

         While I go back and forth with myself, Samantha walks towards the stairs, stops, and mentions, “Don’t tell anyone we met.”  She pauses while I stare at her.  She adds, “And when you tell Annabeth, tell her not to tell anyone else, I know how you will not keep any secrets from her.”

         I show a half smile and comment, “Astute as always.”

         She starts off but I call out and she stops, “Be safe.  You may think you are alone, but you have a home.  Us, the crew.  I know how much you want to know what happened to your family, believe me I know.  But there is a better way to do it.  Don’t go down a path and cross a line you never wanted to go over.”

         “I have to do this, and no one is going to stop me.”

         Samantha’s statement was sincere, yet I feel she means the threatening part, in the nicest way possible, if that makes any sense.

         Samantha pauses again, seemingly waiting for me to do or say something to stop her.  I want to, but my instinct is telling me to let her go.  She walks down the stairs and I hear the footsteps move towards the door, exit, and then dragon wings flapping away.  I spot Samantha on a Changewing, which then shields the rider upon morphing to the surrounding blue sky.

         As I look up through the skylight at Samantha, I speak to the room, “Did you get all that, Vixxen?”

         From underneath the bed, a red headed woman crawls out, “How did you know I was here?”

         “Your gear matches the shadows of the room,” I say, offering my hand to help her stand up.  “But when the monster under the bed has a lock of red hair showing out of their hood, I begin to be fearless in the face of a monster.”

         Vixxen rolls her eyes at my comment, but becomes serious almost immediately, “Why’d you let her go?  We could have gotten her out of this mess.”

         “Yes, but it just did not feel like the right moment.  In the moment, every time I thought of a reason to take her in, I thought of a rebuttal to let her go.  In my indecision, she made the decision for me.  But it could have very well been the plan for those in Khaos knowing Samantha was part of my crew to bait me into taking her, allowing them the leverage to attack Berserker Island to free their fellow agent.”

         “Why would you think Khaos would attack?  The lookouts would have said there was a squadron of dragons or ships on the horizon.”

         “But how did Samantha get here without being spotted since she and Stormstar’s description are widely circulated now to stop both of them if they are seen?”

         “Changewing.”

         “Exactly.  How else could Samantha get here without being seen.  By the way, how did she not spot you and why did you come?”

         “After leaving your house after breakfast, lunch…  The meal…  I wanted to help you search Samantha’s hut, so I went ahead and started while I waited for you to arrive.  I head a dragon land outside and someone came to the door.  Being upstairs and with only a moment or two to hide without being heard, I dove underneath the bed.  Knowing the closest would be the obvious choice to hide, I chose the spot that would be the best with the intention of not being seen.  Samantha was for sure waiting for you to come, so she would choose the obvious place to hide with the intention of being found.”

         I wink, “She can learn.  Nice observations.”

         “Thank you.  And do you think there was a squadron of Changewings out there?”

         “While Samantha may think she is on her own, she still would do everything in her power to not betray what little trust she still has, unless maybe Khaos followed her here without her knowing.  I still believe she wants to return and face the truth, she just wants to be absolutely sure she had done all she could to find where her family is.  By the way, why didn’t you step out and take her?”

         Vixxen sighs, “I did not intervene because Samantha could give us more clues as to what is going on by being here on her own than me forcing on her what she should do.  For one thing, it will look better if she comes back on her own.  But I must warn, if people find out that you let her go and she then gets caught up in something else, this will be detrimental to her case, especially if you take the case.”

         “How do you know I will take the case?”

         Vixxen lays a hand on my shoulder, saying, “Because you protect your crew.  You have one case already under your belt and that was your own mother.  You will stand up for the truth if no one else will.  Your belief in your crew is second to none.  It is something I have found such an honor to be a part of.  But above everything else, you are Samantha’s best shot at proving her innocence.”

         “Well,” I take a deep breath.  “Khaos is planning something, and it sounds like the race coming up is a big part of it.  Something has to give in this chaotic mess of a mystery.  I just hope it is not Samantha.  To come so far, so close, and not know where your family is…  I don’t know.  If Samantha really does have a guardian watching over her, she needs them now more than ever.  And one more thing, Vixxen.”

         “Yes?”

         I answer, “If I ever use the word chaos again, slap me.  I don’t think I have ever used a word so much before for I am getting so tired of it.”

         Vixxen asks, “What word?”

         “Ch-,” I stop myself.  “Come on.  We have a lot of preparations to organize to make sure a repeat of how Frozen Warriors ended never happens.”