Introduction:

            Well, it's finally here.  The story that I've been working on for months is finally ready to be presented to the public.  However, to say that only I have been working on it is inaccurate.  The main tribute for the creation of this story goes to my friend Grant.  The whole thing was his idea in the first place.  Before we even had a storyline, he got me interested with his talk of a fantasy book that he was going to write.  We started brainstorming and building off of each other's ideas, until we finally had a decent plot going.  He, always throwing new ideas at me; me, trying to fit them in with the rest of the story.  Although I am the official writer of this story, the main credit goes to him. 

As it went, it was Grant's decision to make the first chapter the way it is.  The story could easily have begun in what is now the second chapter, but he wanted to start out right in the middle of the action.  Therefore, the true exposition does not begin until chapter two, which is why this chapter may seem a bit vague on the actual plot.  Anyway, thank you for reading.  Since we are planning on getting this published someday, we would appreciate any input you might have so we can make future drafts better.  (In other words, please Read & Review!)  Thanks a lot.

Dune Earth

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The mists of time cover history in a thick shroud.

But sometimes, the shroud is unveiled,

And we can see the past,

Therefore determining what the future may hold…

PART ONE: Dawn's Mists CHAPTER 1

            He sat in a cold, dark, damp prison cell.  He was severely beaten and half delirious, yet determined to live.  His brown cloak covered only his left side, as it was torn off on the right.  He wore a gray tunic, but the pants were covered in dirt that was permanently etched on the material.  His messy blonde hair hung over his green eyes, which shone with a light of intense fire. 

A guard walked up to the cell door.  "It's time," he said solemnly.

            The prisoner struggled to his feet as the guard opened the door.  The jail keeper led him down a long, dark corridor.  Suddenly, a blinding light shattered the darkness.  The prisoner walked out into the light, to be greeted by a stadium full of thousands of screaming fans- and foes.  He was a gladiator.

            As his eyes grew accustomed to the light, an announcer began his broadcast of the battle. 

            "From this door," he began, "We have Jason Amidimaru Yami." 

            Jason, thought the prisoner, Yes, that is my name.  They called me Jay.

            As Jay slowly began to regain his memory, the announcer finished his broadcast.

            "And let the fight begin!"

            "Wait," Jay said drowsily, "I don't even know who I'm fighting."

            As the crowd roared, Jason attempted to make sense of his surroundings.  Suddenly, he realized something.  My sword, he thought frantically, Where's my sword?

            Before he could answer his own question, two doors opened across the coliseum-like arena, and two lions came charging out.

            Instinctively, Jay prepared for a counterattack.  When the lions leapt, Jason sprung into action.  He flipped forward into the air and twisted himself so he landed facing forward on the first lion's back.  Before the animal could guess where its pitiful prey had gone, the pitiful prey twisted the lion's head and snapped its neck in one swift motion.

            The other lion, however, was not so slow.  It saw the death of its companion, and retaliated by lunging towards its adversary.  Fortunately, Jason's reflexes were quick.  He swung his fist at the lunging lion's mouth, and upon entry used even more force to shove his hand through the beast's oral cavity and severed the spine, killing it instantly.

The crowd gasped in awe.  Never before had they seen a gladiator who actually lived through a fight.  Everyone knew that gladiating was more of an execution than a sport.  Before they could voice their disbelief, an elegantly clothed man stood up and addressed the warrior.

"Congratulations!  Well done indeed.  I see that you have defeated my lions.  It was an entertaining skirmish, to say the least." 

Jay's neck burned with fury at the arrogance of this man who dared diminish his feat of strength. 

The man sneered, his dark brown eyes bright with mirth "Who am I?" he asked, reading Jason's face,  "Who am I to speak so patronizingly to you?"  He bowed elegantly. "I am the Prince of Geltran," he said, "Your captor, your master, and your executioner." 

Jay's anger melted from his face as he smirked, "Ha!  Some execution.  You have to send wild animals to kill me.  You are undoubtedly incapable of doing it yourself." 

The Prince's face twisted into a frown.  "Perhaps you need to be beaten into submission."  He raised his arms to the spectators and yelled to them, "Do you wish to see this warrior die?" 

The crowd, thirsty for more entertainment, shouted its approval.  With that, the Prince of Geltran snapped his fingers.  From out of the same door that the lions emerged came half a dozen men, clad from head to toe in an enormous amount of armor.  Every one of them carried gigantic battle-axes, with the heads nearly two feet long.

Jay shook his head in amazement.  The things people will go to in order to get some substantial entertainment, he thought.  As the armored mercenaries marched forward, Jay began to concentrate.

The crowd stared at Jason while he stood with his eyes closed, unmoving.

The armored men drew closer and closer.  The pieces of their gear clinked against each other as they marched.  They surrounded Jay and raised their axes as they prepared to strike.

Suddenly, Jay leaped into the air.  The sandy floor beneath him seemed to erupt in a column of dust.  The assassins stepped back in fear as the column swirled around Jason, spinning into a tight cyclone.  Jason could no longer be seen through the dirt, until it blasted outward at hurricane force in all directions. 

            Jason's armored assailants were thrown back several yards.  Jay moved like lightning.  Before the first knight could rise to his feet, Jay had decapitated him with his own axe.  The second knight was slain in a similar fashion.  The third man was quicker.  He rose to his feet and swung his axe as Jay came near.  Blood spattered.  The assassin looked up in time to see his own body fall to the ground, headless.

            Jason now held two axes, and he conjured up another twister.  He spun inside the tornado, the blades of the axes protruding just outside the sand.  One of the remaining knights charged forward, and was flung across the arena. He landed facedown with an axe in his back.  The last two attackers glanced at each other, and then ran headlong for the exit of the stadium, dropping their weapons.  Jay let them go.

            The sandstorm stopped just in front of the Prince of Geltran, who was staring openmouthed at the scene in front of him.  Jay looked up at the Prince after setting the remaining axe on the ground, patiently waiting for him to speak.  The Prince quickly regained his composure and spoke loudly enough for all to hear.  "Well," he said with a smile, " Not only do you kill wild animals brutally, but you kill men as well.  Do you also slay women and children for enjoyment?"

            Jay was enraged.  "I killed those men only in self defense!" 

The Prince laughed.  "It sure looked like cold blood to me."  He yelled to the people, "What do you think?  Should this killer be allowed to live?"

            The people shouted their response, and the Prince raised his fingers up to snap them once more.  "No!"  Jay shouted, and the crowd fell silent.  "No more! I will not allow you to send others to provide entertainment for these savages!"  Practically spitting the words out, Jay demanded a challenge, "Fight me, you coward, or you will be disgraced."

            A hush fell over the crowd.  The observers waited expectantly to see what the Prince of Geltran would do.  The Prince knew he was in trouble.  If he refused the challenge, he would be dishonored in the presence of a multitude of people.  It would scar his reputation for years.  On the other hand, if he agreed to it, he would surely lose.  The Prince decided to stall while he tried to think of an excuse for not being able to accept the challenge.

            "You know, I too was trained in the magic arts," he said, "My father taught me how to lift objects, and I educated myself on various forms of magic."

            Jason was not impressed.  "Do you or do you not accept my challenge?" he asked.  By now, the Prince had come up with an answer.  "Ha!"  He sneered, "A royal heir take up the challenge of a lowly peasant?  I think not!"

            Jay, however, was prepared for this argument.  "But your highness," he mocked, "I am no peasant.  I am a qualified warrior of Kitsune's Knight and Mage School." 

The Prince scowled. "You have no proof of this."

"Oh, but I do!"  Jay said pleasantly.  Having his memory almost fully recovered, he recalled the item that he had carried with him on his horse, before his capture.  "The information is engraved on my sword, which I believe you stole from me."

            The Prince glared at Jay, and Jay stared back, grinning cheerfully.  Finally the Prince turned and whispered to one of his guards.  The guard left, and a moment later, Jay's sword was brought out in its magnificently embroidered blue sheath.  The Prince yanked the sword out of the hands of the guard and tossed it down to Jay, a sign of great disrespect.

            Jason Yami picked up his sword and unsheathed it after placing the scabbard in his belt.  He held it by the blade so the Prince could see the handle.  The sharpness of the double-edged blade didn't seem to bother Jason. 

"See here," he said, pointing to the sword hilt.  "These markings signify that I was a member of the school, and I officially achieved Level Five Warrior status.  That rank has been achieved by only 13 people in the entire world.  And most of them are dead." 

The Prince rolled his eyes in resignation.  With a status like that, there was no option but to accept Jay's challenge.  After taking off his embroidered purple cloak, he leaned over to one of his bodyguards. 

"Put archers in place, just in case." 

"Yes sir," the guard replied roughly.  He walked off to do what his prince had commanded him.

            The Prince bounded over the edge of the stands- it was only a five-foot drop- and faced his opponent.  "Let's get this over with," the Prince said casually, drawing his own sword.  The truth be known, the Prince of Geltran was terrified.  He had seen Jason Yami fight a sandworm in the Western Desert.  It was only because of his fatigue from the battle that the Prince's men were able to capture Jay.  He could only hope that the previous fights had continued to weaken him.

            Jason took up a fighter stance with his left hand in front of him and his sword above his head, pointing down at a slight angle.  The two warriors stood staring at one another for a long time. 

Suddenly, the Prince slashed at Jason's right side.  Jay spun out of the way and artfully whirled his sword down to strike the Prince's left side. 

            The Prince used his telekinetic powers to move his sword at an exceptional speed, but the desperate block was useless.  He screamed in agony as Jay's sword sliced a deep gash in his body.

            The Prince of Geltran thrust his sword at Jason in fury.  Jay calmly sidestepped the blade and laughed with great mirth. 

"Ha, ha, ha!  Couldn't hit the broad side of a sandworm!  You got a name, or do people just go around calling you 'Prince?'" 

            "It's Damian, although you have no right to ask me that," the Prince answered sourly, still wincing from the wound. 

Jay chuckled again, "I thought I already proved my nobility."  He dodged another thrust from Damian of Geltran.  "I have any right I want." 

Damian slashed his sword one last time, but in a quick upward counter from Jason's weapon, the Prince's blade was detached from the hilt, as if being propelled by some unseen force.

            As Prince Damian stood weaponless, Jay kicked the battleaxe up into his hand and hurled it at the Prince.  Reacting quickly, Damian stopped the axe in midair with his magic.  He swiftly launched the weapon back at Jay, who deflected it with his own blade.

            The axe came around for another blow, but this time Jason found it more difficult to fend off.  Instead, he caught it in his hand.  The Prince of Geltran grinned.  His opponent was becoming weary.  Damian was winning! 

"Well, if one axe makes you so tired, let's see how you handle five!" 

From all over the arena the huge weapons came.  Jason hacked at them right and left, but they kept coming.  Finally, the axes backed off and hovered in the air.  Jay sank to his knees.

Damian was also exhausted from blood loss and use of magic, but he knew that it was over.  Summoning the remainder of his energy, he sent the axes flying towards Jason.

Jason, however, was determined not to lose so easily.  He stood up, and swung the battleaxe he wielded with all his might.  The five remaining axes were shattered into thousands of tiny pieces.

Jay lost his balance and fell, and the Prince began charging towards him.

Somewhere in the stadium, a teenage boy and his six-year-old brother glanced at each other.  Wordlessly, they began making their way to the front of the stands.

Damian slashed down at Jay, who rolled to the side and forced himself up.  With every ounce of strength in his body, he stabbed his sword into the ground, and using the hilt as a pivot point, swung around and kicked Damian squarely in the jaw.

Meanwhile, the teenage boy was glancing anxiously at his brother.  He shook his messy brown hair out of his eyes.  "Anytime now, Travis!" he said urgently.  Travis, the younger boy, was sighting down the length of a long pipe.  He found his target, stuck the pipe into his mouth, and blew.

Jay used his momentum to pull his sword out of the ground and hold it high above his head.  He was about to bring it down on top of the unconscious Prince, when he felt something prick his neck.  Jay put his hand to his neck and felt something stuck there.  It was a poison-tipped dart.  Turning his head, the last thing Jay saw before he blacked out was a young, blonde-headed boy, maybe five or six, holding a blowgun to his lips.

*  *  *

Jason Yami awoke in a damp, dark cell.  He recognized it as the one he had been kept in before the fights.  He instinctively jumped into a fighter stance as he heard footsteps clacking against the stone floor, but before he could reach the bars, he was yanked back by strong chains that attached him to the back wall of the prison. 

As Jay stood back up, two figures came into view.  One was about six feet tall, and wore a forest green cloak around a light green tunic.  The other was much shorter.  In fact, he was a child.  His tunic was the same color as the older boy's, but he had no cloak.  Both boys had green eyes.

"You!"  Said Jay to the younger boy, "You're the kid who shot that dart!" 

The boy smiled and nodded.  "Yep!  Pretty good shot, aren't I?  I'm Travis, this is my big brother Ink."

Jason was not concerned with formalities.  "Why did you shoot that dart?"  He asked. 

It was Ink who answered.  "There were archers all around the top of the arena.  You would have been shot.  Travis here saved your life," he said, putting an arm around his brother's shoulder.

Sensing these two newcomers to be friends, Jay asked, "Do you think you could get me out of here?"

"Sure," said Ink, yanking the door off the hinges like it was a piece of paper.  The sound echoed down the hall, and two guards from another room came to see what it was.  Jason's mouth dropped open.  Ink calmly walked to Jay's side and ripped his chains off just as easily. 

Jay stared as he rubbed his wrists, wondering how this lean kid could possibly accomplish such a feat. 

"It runs in the family," said Ink, as if reading Jason's mind. 

Jay stared at Travis with a quizzical look on his face.

"Not me," said the boy, "I'm good at other stuff, though." 

Jay nodded.  He turned his attention to the older brother.  "So how are we getting out of here?" He questioned. 

Ink shrugged.  "Your guess is as good as mine," he answered. 

Jason grinned, and walked out the door (Or what was left of it).  Seeing the two guards at the end of the hallway, Jay charged them with a fierce battle cry.

"Hyyaaaaaaahh!!!"  He screamed.  There was a loud Crash! Against the wall, and then the slumping of two unconscious bodies sliding to the floor. 

Ink jogged up.  "Uh, Jason?" he asked, as he rubbed his temple, "Haven't you forgotten something?"  Jason stared at Ink blankly, until Ink opened his cloak and tossed Jay his sword and the last battleaxe, left over from the fight.  Jay blinked and stared at Ink dumbly, then stuck the sword in his sheath, threw the battleaxe over his shoulder and began jogging toward the end of the hallway.

Ink set Travis on top of his shoulders so that they could keep up with Jay.  Turning a corner, the group saw that there were several more guards playing a card game in the central room of the prison.  The exit door lay just beyond them.

Jay was about to charge them, when Ink pulled him back roughly. 

"No need to kill them, remember," reminded Ink, looking up at Travis. 

Jay nodded.  He would not spill blood unless it was necessary. 

The three charged out, and before the guards could reach their weapons, Jay's axe was flying towards them.  Jason turned the weapon at the last moment, so that the flat of the blade struck all four of the guards on the side of the head.

Jay grinned, "This thing is pretty useful for clearing a room."  With that, he made his way to the exit.

Sticking his head outside, Jay motioned to the others to show that the coast was clear.  They silently filed out into the arena, which was now empty except for a gallows that had been erected in the center. 

"I'm guessing that's for me," said Jay grimly.  They made their way around the edge of the stadium, finally coming to a large iron gate made up of crisscrossed bars that was blocking the way out.

"Can you get it open, Ink?"  Asked Jay.

"I can try," said Ink.  Using his superhuman strength to its full potential, Ink began prying the heavy bars open.  The square pattern made it extremely difficult, but Ink managed to rip a large hole in the gate.  Gritting his teeth, he began working at making the gap wider.  Jay glanced over his shoulder upon hearing shouts from the prison area.

"Hurry, Ink.  There are guards coming.  I don't want to have to hurt them."

With one final groan, Ink pried the bars far enough apart for the trio to squeeze out.  Turning around, he closed it back up as much as he could to prevent the guards from following them.

The stadium was situated on top of a large hill.  Standing atop the rise, one could see the great Western Desert beyond the bustling city.  They ran, with Travis still on Ink's shoulders, down to the bottom of the hill.  Crouching behind a few bushes, they hid from the townspeople and the odd guard walking up and down the street.

"What now?"  Whispered Ink after taking Travis off his shoulders.

"I had a horse with me," replied Jay.  "Do you know where they might be keeping him?"

"The stables are this way," motioned Ink.  Keeping low, the escapees ran to a nearby building that reeked of manure.  Going inside they found a large number of stalls, almost all of them filled with horses.

"Which one is yours?" Ink asked, keeping his voice down.

"You'll know him when you see him," replied Jason. 

They searched the stalls on opposite sides of the stable, Travis staying close to his brother.  Suddenly, Ink yelped out in alarm.  Jason ran over to see what was wrong.  There in the stall was a ferocious looking black horse that seemed to be snarling at Ink.

"He- he tried to b-bite me!"  Ink stammered. 

Jay laughed, "I see you found Diablo," he said, "He's a Aissurian man-eater."  Opening the stall, Jay led his horse out into the middle of the room.  Ink jumped back as Diablo snapped at him with his razor-like teeth.

"It's okay," said Jay, "He just doesn't know you yet.  Grab me that chain on the wall over there." 

Ink did as he was told.  Jay put the chain links into the horse's mouth, and then climbed on top of him.

Jason explained, "If I use regular reigns, he'll bite right through them." 

Jay helped Ink and Travis on top of his horse, which was more than strong enough to carry them all.  They rode up to the door, and Ink bent down to unlatch it.  Jay kicked it open, and the horse trotted out into the street.

As people turned to stare at the spectacle, Ink said, "Good day, folks!  Just goin' out for an afternoon ride!"

"Yah!"  Shouted Jay, giving the chain a jerk.  Diablo broke into a run, gaining speed as he raced down the street.  The horse galloped past many different shops and markets.  Up ahead was the harbor, where hover-boats sat tied to the docks.  Bypassing the wooden planks of the docks, the horse leapt from the two-foot drop-off that led from the white sand of the beach to the reddish sand of the Western Desert.

*  *  *

Sitting on a large rock, Ink, Travis, and Jay caught their breath.  Diablo rested in the center of the stone.  They were several miles out into the desert, and sand stretched as far as the eye could see, fading into the clear blue sky.  The only safe place was on top of a boulder.  The sand creatures that swam beneath the sand could not penetrate the hard stone.  They would not dare to come close.

Travis sat, facing Jay.  He decided to begin a conversation.  "So where are you from, Mr. Jason?"

Jay smiled, "You can call me Jay."

"Okay, Jay.  Where are you from, Jay?"

Jason sighed, "My story is a strange one, although I don't remember it all.  I think I'm still recovering from my injuries."

"It's okay," said Ink, "We've got plenty of time.  I don't think those guards will bother looking for us out here."

Jay nodded.  He closed his eyes, and began talking.  The listeners saw the images in their minds, as was common when stories were told.

*  *  *

"As far back as I can remember, I've lived in the desert," said Jay.  Ink's eyes widened in surprise as he saw a young boy walking around with Rettues, the hooded sand people of the desert.  Normally, the Rettues would harm any person that they felt threatened by.  Obviously, Jay must have come into their care at a very young age, because they would have slain him otherwise. 

Jay continued, "I don't remember my parents, but the sand people were always very good to me."  Suddenly, another man appeared in Ink's mind.

"Every six months, a merchant would come by to trade and sell water.  He was like a father to me, yet I rarely saw him.  He taught me English, so that when I was old enough, I could be a part of society, instead of always having to speak the Rettue gibberish."  Jay stopped, and spoke quietly, as if talking to himself.  "I never knew why he just left me there.  He could have taken me with him anytime, but he never did." 

Jay returned to his story, "One year, the merchant came early, on my twelfth birthday.  He told me of a school that taught gifted children how to use their abilities.  He asked- never demanded- that I go with him.  I suppose that it was his purpose all along for me to go to that school."

The image in Ink's mind shifted to show Kitsune's Knight and Mage School.  He had seen the place many times before in books and advertisements.  It was similar to a castle, but taller and thinner.  It had a tall stone outer wall, and a magnificent keep, which was where the classes were held.  Moss smothered the green-tinted stones, and the pinnacle of the structure grazed the sky. 

Ink now saw Jason's memories as if they were his own.  The eyes of the twelve year old glanced around the courtyard, watching the younger children play, and older boys and girls practicing magic by lifting various objects with their minds.  Young Jay turned his glance to the top of the monolithic building, and fixed his gaze upon a woman with long, white hair who was staring down at him from a high window.

"The headmistress of the school," said Jay, "Was Kitsune Korpothie.  She was a kind woman, and very wise for one so young.  She couldn't have been more than thirty when I met her."

The woman from the window now stood in front of a large desk, behind which rested a large, plush, red chair.  Kitsune bent down to shake Jay's hand, and welcome him to the school.  She was indeed very young, but she gave off the impression that she new more than her current image supposed.  Jay extended a frightened hand to the blue-eyed headmistress, and allowed her to show him around the school.

The next of Jay's memories were brief flashes; short recollections of various training programs.  "I don't remember it all," said Jay, "But the best times were in the magic classes.  The teachers said that I excelled far beyond the other students.  I had more control over the objects that I lifted than anyone else." 

Jay laughed, "Ha ha!  I remember a time when I was thirteen.  I grabbed a handful of sand from the bucket we were using.  I shaped it like a spider and floated it over this girl's head.  One of her friends told her to look up, and she almost had a heart attack!  After that, it was total chaos.  She screamed, her friend screamed- pretty soon the whole class was screaming and throwing sand at each other."

Ink smiled.  "Did you get in trouble?"  He asked.

"Not really," replied Jay, "I got sent to the headmistress' office, and she chewed me out pretty good, but that was it.  I was a good kid, but I got into fights a lot.  I would see younger kids getting picked on, and I just couldn't stand by and let it happen.  Sometimes when I fought I would hurt them badly, which I regret," he admitted.

"The worst time, though, was when I was fifteen.  You see, the school was situated on the Northeast edge of the Central Desert.  My projectile weapons class often went a short distance out into the desert to practice our techniques on desert rats.  They were small enough not to hurt anyone, but big enough to provide an easy target for arrows or throwing knives."

The three-foot long rodents were usually common in the desert near the shore.  Ink wondered why they hadn't seen any today.

            Jay continued his story, "We were shooting arrows that day, and I shot at a rat and missed.  My shot went way out into the desert, and the instructor told me to go get it."  Jay chuckled again, "I never did find that arrow.  When I went to get it, I spotted a group of Rettues.  I overheard them talking about a sandstorm coming in, so I asked them if I could have shelter.  Of course, I could have just gone back with my class, but I wanted so badly to stay with the sandpeople!

"Anyway, they were surprised to hear me speak their language, so instead of killing me straight off, they let me tell them my story.  When they heard that other Rettues raised me, they took me in.  The storm lasted three days.

            "When it was over, I went back to the town where the school was.  The guards wouldn't let me in.  I tried to tell them that I was a member of the school, but they wouldn't believe me, so I sort of… beat them up.  After that, more guards came and overpowered me.  I was thrown in prison for an entire week."

            Travis was amazed at this idea.  "A whole week?"  His voice rose in pitch, "Did you escape?"

            Ink rolled his eyes.  He was about to rebuff Travis' suggestion, when Jay answered.

            "Actually, yes.  I justified it by telling myself that I had no friends at the school, and that the only chance of belonging anywhere rested with the sandpeople.  It was relatively easy to escape." 

            Ink continued to see the images in front of his face like he was looking on from a corner of the room.  Fifteen-year old Jay was in a small cell with nothing but a cot, a torch, and a high, barred window.  There was a desk and chair (in which a guard slept), both made from polished wood, next to the exit door.  The escape was no dramatic undertaking; Jay simply used magic to take the keys from the guard's belt, unlock the door to his cell, and walked out.  Jason silently strolled the streets of the town, which was not much different from the gladiator town that they had escaped from today.

            Finally, young Jay reached the gate that led out into the desert.  He opened it and stepped outside.

*  *  *

Jay opened his eyes, and the images faded from the minds of Ink and Travis.

            "How did you wind up on this side of the continent?" Asked Ink.

            "When I finally made it to the home of my old tribe, it was abandoned.  Some nearby Rettue settlements told me that my tribe had moved southwest, towards the tip of the Southwestern Continent.  I stowed away on some trade ships until I got close enough.  When I didn't find them near the Southwestern Continent, I gave up.  Instead, I went northwest, into the Western Desert."

            "Why did you come to this desert?" asked Travis.

            Jay frowned.  "I…I don't remember… I think I was looking for my family.  I knew where they were… but I can't remember now."  His brow furrowed in frustration.

            Ink decided to ask about an easier topic: Jay's weapon.

            "Where did you get your sword?" he questioned.

            "Oh, that," said Jay, shaking off his mental turmoil, "It was a present from Kitsune on my fourteenth birthday.  She said it would show me the truth."

            "And has it?"  Asked Ink.

            "It's shown me more than I dreamed possible." Jay replied.  Ink appeared to be satisfied by this cryptic answer.

In truth, Ink was very disturbed by Jay's tale.  It wasn't the story itself that bothered him, but the way in which Jay told it.  Jason became more and more comfortable with Ink as he talked.  Ink observed that Jason's speech was less formal; he had a friendlier approach to Ink.  It was almost as if Jay trusted him.  This would not fit very well into Ink's plans.

            As Ink thought of these things, suddenly he heard Jason give a shout.

            "Travis!  Get away from there!"

            Travis, who had been dangling his legs over the edge of the rock, gave Jay a confused look.

            "Why?"

As if in response to Travis' question, there was a loud rumbling and a shaking of the ground.  The earth beneath Travis' feet erupted violently.  Sand flew forcefully in all directions as a gigantic sandworm rose out of the depths of the desert.

It stood about thirty feet high, taller than a two-story building, and its diameter slightly surpassed the length of Jay's horse.  The monster was greenish yellow, but the sun reflected off its metallic-like body, giving it the appearance of having many colors. 

For a worm, it was not very moist: it had dry, yet very smooth skin, more like that of a snake.  Instead of scales, however, the body was all one piece.  The skin wriggled in small waves that ascended to the top of the beast, then back down.

The sandworm's head was a highly unusual sight.  It consisted of a four-sectioned, blue-colored beak, and many large red eyes; arranged in columns of three- two columns for each part of the beak.  The four parts of the beak opened and closed as the creature sucked in air, causing ripples to move up and down the worm as it inhaled and exhaled.

The monster leaned toward Travis, who had scrambled for safety onto the center of the rock, and opened its beak to reveal a circular mouth with row after row of gnashing teeth.  As Travis stared with fear into the sandworm's twenty-four eyes, the thing let out a horrifying screech, knocking the boy backwards onto his rear.

Jay was on the worm like a flash.  As the monster reared back to strike, Jay shoved Travis out of the way and pointed his sword at the beast's gaping mouth.  As its head lurched forward, it found itself impaled on Jay's sword.

This was not the end of the fight, however.  Jason's blade had narrowly missed the worm's tiny brain, and the monster was none too happy about it.  It picked up its head and began flinging Jason around in the air. 

Jay held on for dear life.  As the worm's blood spattered on his face, he felt the sword coming loose.  He clutched the hilt and tried to position his feet underneath him.  Finally, the sandworm succeeded in slinging Jason off of its face, but not before Jay had twisted his sword so that it came into contact with the beast's brain.  As the blade came free, it sliced a deep gash in the brain of the sandworm, killing it almost instantly.

Both Jay and the worm fell to the ground.  Jay tried to move so that he landed in the sand, but to no avail.  He hit the rock hard, nearly breaking his legs, and sending a shockwave through his whole body.  He collapsed to the ground, breathing heavily.

"Ow…" said Jay, as the weariness of the day's battles closed in on him.  No sooner had Jay hit the ground than there was another rumbling.  This time it was lower and dull-sounding.  Through the sand that had been conjured up by the battle came a large ship, composed of both wood and metal, with dark brown sails.  Unfortunately, it was no merchant ship that hovered in front of the rock.  A pair of ropes descended from the port side, and two more from the starboard. 

From out of the sandstorm walked four muscular men dressed in ragged attire.  They were adorned with hooped earrings and tattoos of all kinds: Anchors, ships, monsters, and scantily dressed women.  In their belts were large scabbards with sharp, wicked scimitars.  They were pirates.

One of them, obviously the captain, stepped forward.  "Arr!  Lookit wot we've got 'ere, mates!"  He shouted to his crew. 

Ink was not impressed by this display of boldness.  "May I help you, gentlemen?"  He asked calmly.

The pirates chuckled, and the captain answered, "We 'appened ter be sailin' in these parts, an' we saw that behemoth over there pop out o' the ground," he said, gesturing to the dead sandworm, which was now beginning to melt under the hot sun.

Ink nodded, "I suppose you saw the fight that my friend here put up?"

"Aye, that we did," said the pirate captain, "An' we also see that he's a bit out of it fer a while.   I don't suppose you would let us take 'im off yer hands?"  He asked, reaching for his sword, in case there was any argument.

Ink shrugged, "It's fine with me," he said.  An idea was beginning to form in his mind.  He had already planned to sell Jay to a slave trader while he slept, in exchange for passage to Sandaea City in the north.  Let the trader find out that Jay could not be contained so easily.  But no, this was even better.  These pirates could use Jason's strength to power their ship's generators, and they would give him a ride to Sandaea.

Jay could not believe what was happening.  He had trusted Ink, protected him and his brother from the sandworm. 

"Wh- what?" gasped Jay.

Ink ignored him. "I'll let you have him, if you give me a ride."

The captain snickered, drawing his blade, "I'm makin' the rules 'ere, got that?"

In response to this, Ink stepped back a pace, bent over, and slammed his fist into the rock he was standing on.  A gaping hole was left in the boulder, and the flying shards caused all of the pirates to step back.

Ink answered, "I'm a lot stronger than all of you put together, so I make the rules."

The captain sneered.  "Fool!  I've got more'n three men in me crew.  You couldn't take 'em all!"

"No," replied Ink, "But you can't afford to lose so many, either."

Travis stood behind his brother on the rock, gazing down at the pirates below.  Ink's mind was brilliant, but he had missed the obvious answer, as he often did.  Jay could simply have protected Ink and Travis as they traveled to Sandaea.  It was only a three-day journey on foot, and next time Travis would have remembered to stay on the rocks while they were resting.

Ink and the pirate captain stared each other down for the longest time.  Finally, the captain motioned to his crewmembers.  Ink glanced down at Jay as the pirates bent down to pick him up. 

"Traitor," Jay whispered, as darkness overtook him.