Category Archives: Puzzled Isles

The Puzzled Isles: Chapter Two

As I mentioned before, I’m supposed to write a bit, then QuadL, and so on and so forth. However, with school, work, and everything else stacked on her plate, she has not been able to. Finding myself bored one day, I wrote this, the second chapter to the Puzzled Isles.

Chapter Two
As Keane blinked his eyes open, he was startled to see Todd’s face sitting inches from his own. He scrambled backwards, sitting up as he did.
“Sorry. Some ole’ man came in and told me to wake you up. Had a twin with him, I think.”
“The firebox twins? What are they..?” Keane trailed off as he realized what was going on. “Oh, Pa’s going to be so angry!” he shouted, tossing off the blankets. The next hour was a blur of loading passengers, mostly Cleo and her retinue, and preparing to fly.
“Just stay in here,” Keane ordered Todd, pulling on a freshly cleaned black vest over his starched white shirt. Pulling on his ever-present tweed cap, he ran down towards the engine, bumping into Boris as he did so.
“Sorry!” he called as he continued on his way. “I’m in a bit of a rush!”
“You’re always in a rush,” Boris laughed. Keane grinned at the jibe, bursting into the engine with a breathless body.
“You’re late,” Fergus said, glancing at him. “I don’t need you here, though. I need someone making sure everyone’s seated.”
“We’ve got Ferdinand for that,” Keane complained, turning around. He knew it was useless to argue with his father, but the words had just slipped out. Instead of getting angry, however, his father just looked at him sadly. Keane let out a sigh of exasperation and walked sadly towards the passenger compartments.
Ferdinand, the ticket collector, was delighted to see him, his fat face lighting up. “Listen, Keane, I need to deal with this compartment. But the dignitaries need special looking after. Could you go back and help them?”
“Forcing your work on me?” Keane asked, clapping the big man on the shoulder. “Of course I’ll go.”
Keane unbuttoned the cuffs of his shirt, rolling up the sleeves. The train had started to move, but the compartment between him and the dignitaries was full. People were even standing in the aisle. Instead of trying to force his way through, Keane grabbed a harness from the wall. He pushed the door open and stepped onto the swaying porch.
With practiced ease, he stepped into the harness, cinching it tight. Then he grabbed the ladder, pulling himself up so he could grab the roof. Fumbling for the hook, he looked out past the ladder. The desert stretched underneath him, then suddenly cut off were the Acid Sea swept against it’s shores. He noticed the house on the edge, half eaten by the rolling waves.
Keane attached himself to the runners on top of the car, then pulled himself onto the roof. He crept along slower than a turtle, as the cable was made to tighten up if he went faster than a certain speed. He inched along until he reached the other side, disengaging himself and dropping onto the platform. He pushed the door to the car open, listen to the buzz of activity.
Before him, two men were arguing, their voices competing to rise above the other. Sighing, Keane cleared his throat. “Can I help you gentlemen?”
“You could tell this idiot that he’s wrong,” one man said, the same instant the second man said something along the same lines.
“And what’s the issue?”
“The Puzzler,” another dignitary said in a tired voice. “McCall thinks that he’s coming back to help us, and Oates doesn’t. There’s nothing you can say that’ll change their minds.”
Keane walked to the men, his face showing his anger. “Fighting is dangerous up here, do you realize that? Over an Isle, you might have a chance of survival, but dropping into the Acid Sea? You’d be dead before you even touched the bottom. If you would like to have a discussion, please do so quietly, without shouting.” He stared both of them down in turn, then turned to the rest of the car. “Now, if there’s anything you need, I’ll be sitting up here.”
Keane sat down in the front of the car, listening to the hum start again. The seat trembled as another person sat down. Keane looked over and was surprised to see Todd. “What in the Puzzler’s name?” he shouted, jumped up from the seat.
“I got bored, so I came to find you,” Todd said, shrugging.
“I would have seen you come through the front entrance,” Keane said, pointing to the door.
“I got in through the back,” Todd explained, tipping his had back. “Can I sit somewhere else? This seat is a bit uncomfy.”
“Yeah, sure, whatever,” Keane said, watching the boy stand up and walk a few rows back. He looked back to the front, catching sight of himself in a polished bronze plaque proclaiming the car’s maker. His shirt had been darkened by the smoke he had crawled through, and a couple of embers had landed on him, causing slight fraying, but not completely ruining it.
“Pa’s going to kill me,” he said, shaking his head. His father was convinced that they had to portray themselves as presentable, but Keane was of the opinion that he needed to get work done, and he could work done better without the fancy duds.
The seat rumbled again as Cleo sat down. “I didn’t see much of you in Curridin,” she said softly.
“My pa kept you occupied, I’m sure,” Keane said, smiling vaguely.
“Listen, Keane, do you want to talk about that? Your father and me, I mean.”
Keane half turned, looked her up and down. “No.” With his brief answer, he turned back to staring in his mirror and began playing with his hair, pulling off his hat and trying to make his hair stay down.
“That’s fine. But I need to talk about it anyway. I know you’re angry at him because he’s seeing me, but right now, we’re just friends.”
“Oh, that’s not what’s bothering me,” Keane said. “I’m perfectly fine with him finding another wife. So long as he doesn’t try and find another mother. Also, I couldn’t care less if he married you, I just wish he would hurry up and do it.”
Cleo nodded, sympathizing with how he felt. She put a hand on his shoulder. “I don’t want to take your mother’s place,” was all she said, then stood up and walked back to the place her retinue rested.
Keane dropped his hat on the seat next to him and ran a hand through his hair, making it stick up even more than it usually did. A hand touched his shoulder, and he jumped.
“Sorry ‘bout that, sir,” Todd said. “I was just wonderin’. Who’s that pretty girl back there?”
Keane half turned, and saw hundreds of what an eleven year old boy might consider pretty faces. “Which one?” he asked.
“That ‘un, there,” Todd said, pointing the girl out. In Keane’s eyes, she was rather plain.
“I have no idea,” Keane said. “Why don’t you go up and introduce yourself?”
“Is that a good idea?” Todd asked. “I don’t think it is.”
“I was joking, Todd,” Keane said, ruffling the boy’s hair. “You’ve gotta be careful with girls.”
“Speakin’ from personal experience, sir?” Todd asked, but Keane shook his head.
“No. My best friend though, he knows about that kind of stuff.”
“‘oo’s your best friend, sir?”
“Alex. He lives in Cordwich. I don’t see him much, though. He’s a bit of a loner, and I’m on here all the time.” He motioned to the train.
Todd was silent, then said, “Maybe that girl’ll be my best friend.”
Keane laughed. “Don’t count on it, Todd.” He turned around to his mirror once again, but not before he noticed the girl staring at them.
Stephan Perls, grand chef of the Ad Hoc, was in a spot of trouble. He had completely blanked on picking up pepper for the trip to So-Terri. “We’re in trouble now, boys,” he told his kitchen crew as they hurried around, making their courses.
“Why don’t you just make something without pepper?” Arnold, the newest recruit, asked.
“That’s not the problem. The problem is that we only have ten pepper shakers, and those not even full, when there’s twenty-five tables!” That quieted Arnold. For a while, anyway.
“Why don’t we put the tables together?”
“Because,” Stephan said, then paused. “Actually-”
He was cut rudely off by another member of the kitchen. “No, the tables are bolted to the floor, remember? That way we don’t have them flying to the ceiling every time something bumps.”
Stephan nodded, finally deciding what had to happen. “Here’s how it goes. You will wander around, asking anyone whether or not they want pepper. If they do, you give them a shaker.”
“And if we run out of shakers before we pass through the tables?”
“You wait until that person is finished.” Stephan continued his explanation until he noticed Keane standing in the doorway. “What is it?”
“Am I taking my food in here, or-”
“Get out!” Stephan ordered. “You can eat with the rest of them today for all I care!”
Raising his hands in defense, Keane backed out of the room. “Guess we’re eating with the passengers, Todd,” he told the boy. The freckled face grinned back at him.
“That’s okay by me. I’ll find a seat next to that girl.”
Keane rolled his eyes, pushing into the dining car. It was already halfway full, most of the guests wanting a good view of the Acid Sea. Why, Keane had no idea. A view of the thing that was about to destroy their lives? But people were odd like that, Keane supposed.
“Let’s sit there,” Todd said, pointing out a table, at which sat the object of his infatuation. Keane looked to the roof, as if support were to be found there, then followed the boy to the table.
“Mind if we join you?” Keane asked, Todd to dumbfounded to say anything. Keane gave him a slight kick with his foot.
“Please?” Todd asked, smiling his broadest.
Keane rolled his eyes, waiting for the girl to say no. He would. After all, creepy little guy with a dirty face? Definitely trouble. To his surprise, however, the girl smiled and nodded.
A stupefied expression his face, Keane pulled out a chair and sat down, Todd doing the same next to him.
“I’m Keane, by the way,” he introduced himself, putting his hand forward.
“Alexandra,” the girl replied, accepting the handshake.
“I’m Todd.” The statement was met with a smile in his direction. “You’re pretty,” Todd continued. “I think I-”
Keane gagged Todd with his hand. “Shut it, Todd. If you’re going to be like that, I’ll throw you in with your uncle.”
Todd tried to bite his hand, but Keane pushed it in farther, causing his jaws to break apart. “And don’t try that again, Todd. It’s extremely annoying.”
“Thank you for the compliment anyway, Todd,” Alexandra said. Todd grinned at her and stuck his tongue out at Keane, who smirked in response.
Alexandra turned her attention to Keane. “Your father runs the train?”
“Aye. He’s the engineer, so to speak,” Keane said.
“And this is your brother?” Alexandra asked, glancing at Todd.
Todd laughed. “I’m not ‘is brother. If I was, ‘e’d be in trouble.” He looked at the doorway. “My uncle’s ‘is brakeman.”
“My pa’s brakeman. The Hoc isn’t mine yet.”
There was an awkward silence, then Alexandra spoke up again. “What are your thoughts on the Puzzler?”
“He’s a crazy old coot who created the thing that’ll bring about our destruction,” Keane said, shrugging.
“‘E’s crazy all right,” Todd muttered. “Anyone who changes land into puzzle pieces must be.”
“Do you think he’s going to come back and help us?” Alexandra continued. “That’s what the fight was about earlier.”
“The Puzzler was really angry, and was starting to go loopy. I think we’re on our own here.”
“There’s a legend, in Clete, that if you beat a Hydra, you can get a clue to where the Puzzler disappeared to.”
“They say that about any place. Except most people say it’s just treasure that the monsters are guarding.”
“They’re not monsters,” Alexandra said. “They’re guardians!”
“She’s going crazy, too, sir,” Todd said. “She’s even better for it!”
“Todd, shut it,” Keane ordered. “Alexandra, the problem with your idea is that they don’t care about us humans. It’s not a guarding thing, it’s a simple, explainable monster.”
“If you were a guardian, you’d kill anyone who got close to it, right?”
“Personally, I think you’re both wrong,” Todd said. “We’re not on our own. The Puzzler’s sent help. Don’t know who, but ‘e’s here, somewhere.”
Keane shrugged. “I think all we can do right now is what we’re already trying to do. Work out a solution to stop the acid.”
“It’s magic. We’re not. There’s no way to stop it,” Alexandra said.
A server came over, putting a platter of food in front of them. “Would anyone like pepper?” he asked.
“No, that’s fine, Arnold,” Keane said, nodding his thanks.
“All right, Master O’Fergus.” Arnold walked away, asking others the pepper question as he went.
“The Puzzler is still out there,” Alexandra said. “His private house disappeared. So he must still be alive.”
“Unless ‘e’s with us now,” Todd said. “‘e’s a Wizard, right? So ‘e could be anyone of these people ‘ere.”
“He’s got a point. A Wizard can do almost anything,” Keane said. “Anyone could be the Puzzler.”
Alexandra thought about it for a second. “Maybe. I guess. I don’t know.”
“No one does,” Keane consoled her, opening the platter. The smell of roast beef filled the air, Keane grinning with anticipation. Before he could take any, however, Todd snatched a slice and started chewing it. “Um, Todd,” Keane said, glancing at Alexandra, “You’re supposed to use a knife and fork.”
“Takes too long, sir,” Todd said, his mouth emptying to make room for the words. Keane closed his eyes and counted to ten.
“You’re hopeless,” he finally said, taking his own piece of meat.
“I hope Todd’s right,” Alexandra said thoughtfully as she took the meat. “That the Puzzler’s sent someone back to help us.” Todd grinned at Keane through a full mouth.
“Hopefully, it’s not Todd. Otherwise, we’re in trouble.” The comment earned a kick from Todd and a disapproving glare from Alexandra. “Seriously, though,” Keane continued, rubbing his shin, “There could be someone out there, but even if there is, what does it matter? Are we going to save the Puzzled Isles? No. We’re going to live out our lives hoping that the Acid Sea doesn’t destroy our homes. And when it does, we’ll fly around on the Hoc until it can’t go any longer.”
“I’d like to think that there is a way,” Alexandra said.
Keane looked at his plate, considering. Then he looked up, making eye contact and speaking softly. “Listen. When I was five, my pa got a crazy idea. He figured that the Puzzler was still out there, on an island somewhere. So he loaded up the train with as much wood as he could, and flew out, towards the place the sky and sea meet. But he couldn’t. He flew as far as he could with still having enough fuel for a return trip. He covered miles of acid, and turned up with nothing. He even made to the Everysky, he went so far.”
“That’s ridiculous. No one can touch the Eversky. It’s too far off. It’d be like touching the bottom of the Acid Sea.”
“What’s the Eversky?” Todd asked, looking hungrily at the meat on Keane’s plate.
“Where do you come from?” Keane asked. “The Eversky is the bubble that surrounds us. You know, the thing that lights up in the morning, then dies down at night.”
Todd nodded, looking out the window at the mentioned object, which was emitting a pale yellow light. “I thought that was the Lumin-sphere,” he murmured.
“What was that?” Alexandra asked.
“The Lumin-sphere,” Todd said. “It just made sense in my brain, that’s all.”
Keane took another bite of his food. “Either way, my pa touched it. But the point is this. The Puzzler, if he’s still alive, and didn’t just sink his palace, is probably out past the Eversky. It’s the only place no one could get past. My pa said that it was one of the hottest things he’s ever been that close to. He barely touched it, and had gloves on, too. We have the gloves. They’re petrified, as hard as rock. It’s hot, but magic, too.”
“That’s strange,” Todd said. “You going to finish your food, or what?”
Keane looked at him, then sighed. “No. You can have it.”
Before the words were out of his mouth, his food was in Todd’s. “That’s a bit disgusting,” Keane said, looking away and shrugging in Alexandra’s direction. “But he is a stowaway after all. We can’t expect perfection.”
“That’s true, all right!” Todd said.
Two long blasts echoed through the hall. “We’re going into descent,” Keane murmured. “I’d better help my pa. Nice to meet you Alexandra.”
“I’m staying ‘ere,” Todd said. “I ‘aven’t got desert yet.”
Keane laughed and pushed away from the table. “That be as it may, I’ve got to get back to my pa. I’ll find you later.”


The Puzzled Isles: Chapter One

As I mentioned in the Prologue, this is a cooperative novel with QuadL. Note that the engine room scenes aren’t final at all. The way the train flies probably will change before we finish writing.  I give to you now the first chapter of The Puzzled Isles.

Chapter One
Keane O’Fergus spun the last wheel, then hollered to his father, “We’re ready for descent!” As his voice slowly drifted away, he ran down the hall to the engine. The dials that lined the walls were familiar to him. There was the one that told him what the temperature of the water for the passengers was, then one that told how high the train was, and to many others to focus on right now.
His father, Fergus, son of the Fergus Verbon-Sun had given the train to, was at the front, holding onto the altitude wheel, affectionatly named ‘AW’, pronounced either as a sigh (awwww) or four syllables (Ay-Double-You). “How’s she holding up, Pa?” Keane asked. Fergus flashed him a grin.
“Beautifully, as always, Keane. Now, this is going to be tricky. I need you to give me signals. Got it?” Keane gulped: giving signals was never fun. It involved going on the outside of the  Ad Hoc and watching the ground for various disruptions. But he nodded, and grabbing one of the parachutes from the rack, slipped out the door.
“Is your harness on?” Fergus called over the sound of the rushing wind.
“I work better without it, Pa. You know that!” Keane made his way down to the front, and grabbed onto the chimney pipe that extended from the roof. The ground was quickly approaching, and he had to use all his will power so as not to run back into the cab.
Out of his coat pocket he pulled the red flag, holding it up. His father responded by twisting AW slightly. Keane lowered his hand until it was directly away from his body, showing that they were supposed to hold it steady.
This was the tricky bit. The track stretched underneath them, but it was a matter of stopping at the right time, and the right spot. ‘A little over,’ thought Keane. He motioned his hand to the left, and he felt Ad Hoc move that way as his father twisted DW (Direction Wheel). He took a deep breath, not wanting to time it wrong. He counted to three, then dropped his hand.
Ad Hoc dipped, and Keane raised his hand just as quickly. It leveled out, and Keane smiled. Then Ad Hoc hit the bump. It was common, but Keane hadn’t been expecting it. He was thrown from his perch, and knew that at the height they were at, he would be laid up for weeks if he hit the ground. His hands fumbled for the cord, and he pulled it in desperation. The parachute exploded behind him, and he was suddenly jerked into the billowing smoke of the Hoc.
Keane held his breath as long as he could, then put a arm up to cover his mouth. He took a slow breath, but the sleeve filter did little, if anything, to block out the smoke. He coughed, and swung himself to try and maneuver out of the smoke. A few minutes later, he was standing on the ground again.
He slipped the parachute pack off, then ran to catch up with the train, which was slowing by the dock in Nubian, the capitol of the Curridin Desert. Some of the local boys ran past him, calling his name. He recognized some of them, and hailed them back.
Keane climbed up the back of the Hoc, then opened the door. Boris, the brakeman/bouncer, greeted him from the inside. The caboose was the smallest car on the Hoc, and Boris filled about half of it. The other half was filled with the controls to slow the Hoc if it was needed, as well as a small cell fro the troublemakers. “I knew you would be okay,” Boris said, standing from a chair that was two sizes to small. He had to duck so he wouldn’t hit his head on the ceiling. “But it was foolish of you to not wear a harness.”
“I tell you, I don’t need it,” Keane complained, and Boris chuckled, his large frame shaking.
“Then why did you fall off?”
“I had a parachute!” Keane returned, and Boris laughed.
“You had better be getting up to the engine. And no using the top, understand?” Keane nodded, then opened the door to the outside. A wave of blistering hot air hit him. It was always hot in Curridin.
Keane made his way through the next car, which was filled with different dignitaries from different islands and their families. The car was abuzz with noise, everyone talking about the strangest things. Keane only caught snippets, such as “But you look good in pink!” and “…very foolish of you.”
He moved to the next car, for those who had reserved a personal box. The next car was the dining car, then the next three were for the regular people. Then it was the fuel car, and the engine.
Fergus had finally moored the floating train to the platform, and now was having the crew go through and open the doors. He met Keane as he came back into the engine. “We’re ready to get off o’ this wreck,” Fergus said, grinning at Keane. They went down to the platform together, Keane picking up his tweed cap from where it lay on the ground.
The people of the town gathered to greet them, and Fergus grinned in delight as he saw the ruler of Curridin, Cleo, coming towards them. Cleo had long dark hair, and a pair of the brownest eyes in the world. The two friends clasped hands. “How are ya?” Fergus asked, and Cleo smiled, her eyes crinkling.
“I am doing much better now that the Hoc is here. What about you?”
“I’m doin’ well, thank ye. But I be needing some drink, if you don’t be mindin’.”
Keane smiled as the adults walked off together. He wouldn’t have been surprised if his father got down and proposed on the spot. Cleo was single, which was strange for the ruler of any country. And his father admired her a lot. He wasn’t sure what it was that kept Fergus from marrying her, but he suspected that it was because of him. Keane wasn’t old enough to fly Ad Hoc by himself, but the wizard Verbon-Sun had commissioned the train directly to Fergus and his family. Other could fly on it, and other could help fly it, but only Fergus and his son could actually fly it.
Turning from the train, Keane set off in search of something to eat. His father, he knew, would soon be filled with wine, the main source of alcohol in these parts. And that meant that he wouldn’t be capable of taking care of Keane, or the Hoc for that matter. Keane put his hat on backwards, then started sprinting down the street.
It was dark by the time Keane dragged himself back to the Hoc. His father had taken a room in the hotel, but Keane felt like the Hoc was his home, and he didn’t want to sleep anywhere except it. He dropped into the bed and instantly fell asleep.
The next morning, he felt refreshed. It might have helped some that he slept in ’till noon. He made his way to the Crystal Hotel, where his father was staying, and joined the crew for lunch.
“Afternoon,” Boris rumbled, grinning at the younger man.
“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up,” Keane laughed back. He sat down beside the Firebox twins,, who were both digging into a pile of eggs. No one could remember which one was which, and anytime either one of them tried to tell anyone, they were cut off rudely.  Reaching out, he grabbed a piece of bread, then some butter. Both were hard to find in the Curridin Desert, so he ate sparingly.
They had almost finished when a boy ran in. “Sphinx spotting!” he crowed, then dashed back out. Immediately, everyone around the table leapt up, almost knocking the table over in their haste. Sphinxes were rare enough for locals, but for people who were from off island, it was a sight to behold.
It was also a sight to behold the entire crew and passengers of Ad Hoc run through the streets to the edge of the city. Keane had to hold onto his hat to keep it from flying off as he was rushed along by the crazed people.
The sphinx, in all it’s majesty, stood on the edge of the town. It was like a lion, but had a human head, and was larger than a horse. “I will ask you a riddle,” the beast said. “If you answer correctly, I will take you to the most precious thing in the world. If you answer incorrectly, you will die. Understand?”
There was a murmur around the crowd, and most started backing away. “There are two doors,” the sphinx continued, “One leads to Life, the other; Death. There are two guards. One of them always tells the truth, and the other always lies. You can ask one yes or no question to one of the guards. What is the question you must ask?”
The murmuring grew louder, and this time, everyone turned and fled back into Nubian. As he ran, Keane glanced back. The sphinx had disappeared.
The rest of the day was fairly uneventful. They stocked up on fuel, helped Fergus get over his overhang, then loaded the passenger’s luggage. Keane knew the drill: at the first light of dawn, they would start loading everyone on, then head out for the Capitol, So-Terri, for the big convention of the Islands’ top officials.
It was nearly dark again when Fergus found him sitting atop the caboose. “What be ya doing up here?” he asked, and Keane shrugged.
“Not really sure, actually. I was bored, so I climbed up here and just watched everyone doing what they do. It’s fascinating what you can see.”
“Truly it is, son. Truly, it is.” Fergus sat next his son, one hand cocked over his knee. “You know, I could learn to love this place,” he said, taking in the view.
“I could learn to love Miss Cleo, but not as a mother,” Keane said without thinking.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Fergus asked, turning to look at him.
“You love her, don’t you?”
“I admire her. I’m not sure you’d be calling that love.”
“Pa, just give it up. I can run the Hoc by myself. You know that. Please, let me.”
“You’re but sixteen. I can’t let you take that on yourself.”
“I’ll have Boris, and the Firebox twins, and all the rest!”
“But you’re the one who has to fly it. You know that. And if anything happens to you, I’d never forgive myself.”
“Pa, I can do it! Let me show you!”
“You can’t, and you know it!” Fergus’ voice snapped across the quiet city, and many people looked up to see what the disruption was. Fergus shook his head, then stood and left the roof. For a few more minutes, Keane sat in silence, then a dirty head poked up over the edge.
“Is it safe now?” the head asked. Keane’s eyebrows shot up in surprise, and he clambered over to the edge.
“Who are you?” Keane asked as he reached his hand down. The boy accepted the help, standing unsteadily once he had reached the roof and shaking Keane’s hand.
“Todd’s the name, stowin’ away’s the game!”
“You stowed away in Ad Hoc?” Keane asked, and Todd nodded.
“Yessir. Me uncle’s your brakeman, I think.”
Keane’s eyebrows shot up again. “Boris?” He sized the boy up. He was small, but looked wiry. His face was freckled, or at least it would be if it wasn’t covered in dirt. His hair was a light brown, and two green eyes twinkled mischievously. In other words, he looked nothing like the dark haired, brown eyed, massive Boris. “I find that hard to believe.”
“I can go get ‘im if you’d like,” Todd said, making as if to go over the side again. Keane shook his head quickly.
“That’s fine. Even if you aren’t his nephew, you still need to get some food on that body.”
“That’s the best idea anyone’s had all day, sir,” Todd answered, grinning widely.
“How old are you?”
“Not exactly sure. My Aunt Peregrine says I’m her little boy, but Uncle Boris says I’m on my way to becoming a man. My parents died when I was young, you see, sir.”
“I’m sorry,” Keane said. “My mother died giving birth to me.” He glanced at the metal roof, then looked up brightly. “Now, Todd, let’s see if we can find some food for you.”
He led the boy down the ladder and to the hotel, where he sat down at one of the tables. A waiter came over, and studied the young boy covered in dirt. “Are you sure that this is where you’re supposed to be dining?” he asked.
“I’m paying good money to have him eat here,” Keane answered, standing. “If you think that he shouldn’t be here, then perhaps you should get yourself a new job.”
“That won’t be necessary, Master O’Fergus. I’ll take your order now.”
“Water for both of us. And some bread. Then we’ll take a baked fish of some sort, it doesn’t matter what.”
After the waiter left, Keane winked at Todd. “That’s how you deal with them persnickety types. Act like you’re better than them, and they’ll bow right away.” Todd grinned back like he had just learned the secret of eternal life.
An hour later, the two boys were stuffed. Keane let Todd take the bed, then let unconsciousness wash over him. Within moments, he was fast asleep, dreaming of another day aboard the Hoc.

Want to read the second chapter? Just follow the link:

The Puzzled Isles: Prologue

This begins another novel of mine. The idea started with a flying train, and went crazy from there. I’ve written the Prologue and Chapter One, while QuadL (Literary Loving Little Lady, or Beca as you might know her) wrote Chapter Two. Then I’ll post Chapter Three, and back forth until it’s completed. Also of note are the markers to signify another section: they’re supposed to be trains, but they look…odd… Anyway, hope you enjoy!

Verbon-Sun turned from the balcony. The sunset was beautiful, as always, but the Wizard Apprentice had other things on his mind. Such as, why was his master in such a foul mood today?
The mansion stood in the center of So-Terri, the sprawling metropolis that served as capital to Xerin, the country his master ruled. But this wasn’t his real home. He had his own place far away from here, on the edge of Xerin.
Verbon-Sun entered the room where his graying master resided. His name was Lycandor, but no one spoke to him by that name; he was referred to behind his back as ‘the Puzzler’ for his odd habit of making jigsaw puzzle pieces appear out of thin air, then fitting them together.
The Master was slumped in a chair, his mouth in a tight frown. “Get me something to drink, Verbon-Sun,” he ordered, without looking up.
As he did what he was told, Verbon-Sun frowned as well. “What is troubling you, Master? I thought that something as easy as getting a drink would not hinder you.”
“It would not hinder me, but I need to think, and thinking is from a clear mind, not one bogged down with minor spells.” The Master accepted the drink, a berry mix that was popular those days. “I do not understand it, Verbon-Sun. I do my best for the ones in this country, and what do they do? They turn on me as soon as my back is turned. They call me the Puzzler, they think that I am old and senile.”
“Forgive me for saying so, but you are older than most, Master.”
“This is true. But with age comes wisdom. Do they not see that? For although I am old, I am also wise beyond their years. I was here when the original Wizard created this country. I was the one he placed in charge.” Verbon-Sun groaned inwardly. He had heard this story thousands of time. Outwardly, however, he remained as interested as he could be. “I ruled for five hundred years, and then I saw something. A boy in the marketplace, who was doing things that he shouldn’t have been able to do. And when I looked closer, I found that it wasn’t just a normal boy, it was someone who had a gift with magic. I took that boy in, and trained in as my apprentice for the past one hundred years. And you are the result.”
“I know, Master. I was there, remember?” Verbon-Sun’s voice was tired, but he disguised it enough that the aging Lycandor did not realize.
“Perhaps in another fifty years they will remember their wrong and forgive this tired old man for ruling them so long and taking forever to die.”
“Master, do not speak that way.”
Lycandor stood, his dark eyes flashing. “Remember your place in this world, Verbon-Sun. I raised you, and if I want it to happen, you could be thrown out into the street once more.”
“Yes, Master,” Verbon-Sun apologized, bowing. When he looked up, however, Lycandor was gone. It was one of the talents that Verbon-Sun had yet to learn, how to teleport. So, instead of waiting for the Wizard to return, he went back to the balcony and watched the sunset once more.
It was the next morning that Verbon-Sun realized that the world had been torn apart.
He had awoken early, as was his custom, and had done his forms, running through basic spells and various martial arts maneuvers. After that, he had taken a stroll to the lakeside. And it was there that he noticed something different. The water, usually a sparkling blue, had turned darker, and no ships where docked. The next thing he had noticed was the lack of docks themselves.
Verbon-Sun ran the rest of the way along the shore. Something was glittering in the water, and he leaned down to take a better look. It was a piece of metal, a hook from one of the ships. And as he watched, it dissolved slowly into the liquid. He reached down and touched the water, then withdrew his hand quickly. It was burned red.
The water had become acid.
Reeling from the news, he stumbled back from the shore, and back to the mansion. Then he climbed to the highest part of the tower. And it was there that the next part of the horrid day was shown. Usually, from the top of the tower, Verbon-Sun could see the Mountains. But this day, they were no where in sight, and in their place, a gigantic fissure stood.
Verbon-Sun did not know how to teleport, but he knew enough to speed his body up. Within minutes, he was at the edge. He stared down in horror. Far across the acid, the mountains loomed.
Then he got an idea. He bounded into the air, far enough that he could see all the parts of Xerin. It was then that the complete, awful truth was brought forth: The lands had become a gigantic puzzle.
Each was within it’s own puzzle piece, and was complete within itself. But there were no crossovers like before. The desert sat there, a clod of sand in Verbon-Sun’s eyes. He could see everything now, each piece consisting of a major part of Xerin. He could see desert, ice, mountains, Brenneckston, and many others. The only one he did not see was the Wizard’s own personal retreat.
Once he returned to the ground, he found mass chaos. He had arrived in the middle of a small village called Brewerston. All the people flocked around him, and caught onto his sleeves. “Help us!” they cried, and Verbon-Sun nodded.
“I will do what I can. But please, I need you to calm down.” Everyone parted as he strode to the top of the village, where a man named Fergus lived. He pounded on the door, and Fergus opened it. His broad accent was filled with surprise as he saw who was standing there.
“Verbon-Son? Gud ta see ya, ma friend. Cum on in, please.” Verbon-Sun thanked him, entering the small hut. “What can I be getting for ya? A pint? Anythin’ at all?”
“I just need to talk to you, actually.”
“That’ll be fine, then. What is it you be wantin’ to talk to me about, eh?”
“The mess out there,” Verbon-Sun replied, sitting on one of the stools. “No one’s going to be able to get to any of the other islands, you realize.”
“I’m sure that ole Puzzler will fix it up soon enough,” Fergus said, sitting across from Verbon-Sun.
“I don’t think so. I think he was driven insane by all your talk about him being the Puzzler and all that rot.  And I think he’s left for good.”
“But, if ‘e does that, what’s gonna be ‘appening to me and my family? We’ll starve, and you know it! Most of our trade comes from the mountains, and we cannae get over there, do you understand?”
“I have a solution,” Verbon-Sun said. “I’m going to create something for you. But only you and your family, do you understand?” When Fergus nodded, Verbon-Sun rose and walked over to the young child playing on the floor. “May I have this?” he asked, picking up a toy train. The young boy nodded, not understanding. “Come, Fergus,” Verbon-Sun said, “We have work to do.”
He left the building, and set the train down. He put his hand on the wooden toy, then muttered something. It was long and complicated, the hardest spell he had ever done. An hour later, the magic had worked: the train now was full sized, made of metal and had one more significant change: It floated a foot above the ground.
Fergus wandered the engine. It was like the inside of all the engines he had seen, except that this one had something more. A panel with two dials, one for height another for direction, had been added to one of the walls. He ran back outside when he heard a sigh. Verbon-Sun, exhausted by what he had to deal with, had fainted.
The next morning, Verbon-Sun found Lycandor over him. “I should kill you for what you did!” Lycandor hissed. “But you almost killed yourself, so I’m not going to.” He pulled his apprentice from the bed and hauled him over to the window. The train was a speck on the horizon. “Your plan worked. I hope you’re happy. Now they’ll still have to lean on the Wizard’s help. They should have been left to die!”
“Why did you do this?” Verbon-Sun asked, trying to get out of his master’s grip.
“If they think they can do without us, then let us see how well they do. In a thousand years, we can return. But now, we must be off to our hideaway. We must not be seen here any longer. From now on, Wizards are a story to help children get to sleep. Do you understand me?”
“Master, I don’t understand,” Verbon-Sun said again.
“That’s to bad,” Lycandor snarled. Then they disappeared. They appeared in the Wizard’s personal hideaway. Lycandor pushed Verbon-Sun to the ground, then walked away, sitting in a dusty chair.
“We need to help them, Master,” Verbon-Sun said, but Lycandor just laughed.
“If they think they’re to good for us, then let us leave them to their own devices, shall we? Then we will see how much they need us.”
“Master, please,” he tried again, but this time he was ignored. Instead, he lay his head down on the cold hard rock floor, and wept for all the grief his master had caused.
And so it was that the Puzzled Isles came into existence.

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