Guardians Of The Willow Wand: Preface

               By the time anyone realized the First Peoples had betrayed us to the High King, most of the city was already under ten feet of water.  We, the Pehen, with our fertile royal houses and thirst for occult powers, brought endless strife and misery to what was once a serene fishing village.  But we were not the first conquerors.  The Pehen wrest control of the ancient city from the elves.  The elves subdued the First People’s with True Magic and expanded the village far beyond it’s rocky outcropping and into the fortified metropolis of legend.  The ancient  elven defenses along with the city’s position at the natural confluence of two rivers staved off the High King’s repeated attempts to overtake the city. 
            This year’s siege started like any other with the great western armies swarming over the mountains in mid summer and into the lands surrounding Suem. The city’s defenses rebuffed the angry antics all through winter. Which was all well and good for we had far worse things to worry about within our walls.  Scheming elves, missing wizards, and the increasingly bold shadow  stalkers released by Crown Prince Lomarg distracted us from the growing dissatisfaction of the First Peoples. 
           No one knows when it was done or how the information got out of the city, but the vast waterworks was sabotaged.  Instead of the snow runoff and spring rains flooding the army camps  and driving them away, the muddy waters washed back through the aqueducts, into the sewers and up through the culverts into the city streets.

“Hurry up, Klics!” I called out to the big, black dog sniffing around the muddy courtyard for a place to do his business. A wild spring storm passed in the night, bringing a halt to the relentless bombardment and helping  to fling the debris from the shelling all over the place.    Poor Klics waited patiently throughout the storm with a full bladder and an even fuller ass, staring longingly at the door.  Now he was releasing heaps of shit onto every clear cobblestone.  I shook my head and looked up at my neighbors’ homes. 
The staff at House Renpoor, our neighbors to right, were already out and clearing the branches and the odd assortment of debris  that had come to rest on their parapets. Their turrets and windows were fine.   House  Merritt, our neighbors to the left, was not so fortunate.  The upper level of their townhouse  was askew and a high turret lay crumbled against the sturdy stone wall between our properties.  The family peeked out of the hole in their roof and pointed down at the rest of their house.  We exchanged waves and I threw them a sympathetic look.
“That will empty your coffers,” I muttered as I turned away.  My dog was so happy to be outside that he rushed out of the gate and ran in happy circles in the street.
I stepped out of the courtyard in my dogs wake and  looked up at the simple chalet I shared with my mother.  It appeared that the house Drussaab had survived with little more than one blown out window.
“Maman!” I shouted, not caring about the protocols that frowned on boisterous noble women, “your bedroom window’s gone!”  My mother’s  chambers took up the wide third floor of the chalet.  There were two bedrooms on the narrow second floor and the hulking base of the building housed our reception rooms, a library, a vast kitchen and a tiny bedroom off the kitchen.  Growing up, my sister, Domaque, and I shared a room on the middle floor while my brother, Nooran, enjoyed the solitude  of the room off the kitchen.  Last night Domaque, her husband, Kien, their daughter, Lodon, our mother and I huddled in abject terror as the storm passed directly overhead,  praying the roof did not blow off. 
I sighed. If Nooran had been there, things would have been better.  He would have kept us laughing even as the walls shook and the roof threatened to rattle off.  But Nooran was gone forever.  He came down from the walls a week ago to recover from injuries sustained in defense of the city.  Instead he found an undignified death in the middle of the street a few blocks from where I stood. 
Most people believed he was killed by  a shadow stalker.  These ancient menaces were once again free thanks to the foolery of crown prince Lomarg.  And while they initially only attacked those unfortunate enough to be on the streets after sunset, twilight attacks were increasing along with rumors the stalkers could tolerate the light on cloudy days.  What those people did not know was that his coin pouch, his watch, and even his old St. Chiran medal were taken. Shadow stalkers craved only the soul.
“Fat lot of good you did him, St. Chi,” I said, frowning.
“What did you say?”  Domaque was standing in the blown out window while Kien directed the servants as they took  measurements of the hole.  I looked up at her and smiled. She was truly Pehan.  Her skin was a radiant umber tone and her hair hovered around her in a soft dark cloud . She looked like a living portrait standing there framed by the empty window.    On the other hand, Maman and I were tawny with heavy auburn hair that sparkled with silver in the sunshine.   Maman said we looked more like bastard elves than good Pehen royals. 
A deep, ground shaking rumble cut off my response. We looked around for the source of the noise, but there was no plume of smoke or even a sign of a shell in the clear spring sky
“Did they breech the walls?”  My mother called from deep in the house.  “We’d better close the…”
“GET IN THE HOUSE!”  Kien suddenly roared from the window.  “AJA COME INSIDE!”
“Klics!” I called, scared by the tone of Kien’s words, but unwilling to leave my dog to an unknown fate.  Domaque started screaming in terror and I could hear the Merritts shouting hysterically out of the hole in their roof.  Everyone waved and pointed frantically, but I could not make out what they were saying over Klicks wild barking. 
“FORGET THAT DOG!”  Kien’s eyes were wide with fear.  As if to say ‘fuck you,’ Klicks shot past me and galloped through the front door.  I looked back at Kien and shook my head.
“Aja!’  My mother screamed as she joined Kien and Domaque in the blown out window.  Her slender hand shook as she pointed to a corner in the courtyard.
“OH MY GOD”  I exclaimed as I realized what they were all shouting about.  An endless stream of foamy brown water  bubbled  up from the main sewer grate and wild jets of water spewed up front he smaller drains around the courtyard.  I heard people beyond the gates scream as water gushed from the larger drains in the streets.
“Oh my god!”  I said again, but I was stuck on stupid and rooted to the spot.  The shallow puddles around me began to deepen and churn with silt.  I looked down trying to comprehend what was happening.  As I stared at the rapidly rising water, the body of a child bobbed into my knees.  Her hair was woven into an intricate pattern of braids and finished off with a colorful array of barrettes and ribbons.  Half of her brown face was smooth and serene as if she was merely sleep.  The other half was raw and battered from her journey through the floodwaters.
I let out an ear-piercing scream and heaved myself through the strengthening currents onto the chalet stairs.  I grabbed one of the marble  columns  holding up the overhanging third floor just as the filthy water lifted me off my feet. Debris rammed into my body and threatened to break my hold on the slippery stone.  Hot burning tears flowed down my face as I maneuvered myself upwards, trying to keep my head above the water. 
In no time I was even with the second floor with the water still rising around me.  I looked up hoping to see Kien’s hand or at least a rope, but all I could see was the heat blistered paint on the eaves and the beautiful blue sky.  My heart was in my mouth and my only thought was of the drawn out death I faced if I got swept away.  I cried out in pure anguish and made a mad grasp for the front of the house.  
I missed.
The wild surge swept me into the wreckage of the Merritt’s house still impaled on the wall.  A pained wail escaped my lips as the splintered wood and jagged stone  jabbed me in the back.  I tried to get some sort of hold on the twisted weather vane topping the turret, but the water lifted me up and over the fence and right into the arms of  Lord Merritt
“Can you walk?”  Lord Merritt asked, slipping as the water pulled at his feet.  I was too busy trying to figure how I ended up on his roof to answer.  He took my silence as a no and hoisted me into his arms then carried me to the pitiful remains of his home

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