Authors: Lorie O'Claire
ALL FOR ONE
“We’re going to be missed if we don’t return soon.” Cali came up alongside her
“Go back if you want. I’ve never been this way before.” Ana veered her glider to the
right and accelerated. The vehicle, similar to a motorcycle, hovered ten feet above
ground before launching across the plateau.
groaned. She had a thin black wire wrapped around her ear that came down to
her mouth. Ana heard the groan through the similar device she wore, and couldn’t help
but giggle. The devices, known as comms, were linked so they could talk as they flew
across the countryside outside the town of Bryton.
“Cali, you’re too young to have lost the desire to explore. Come on.” Ana threw a
glance at the woman nine winters her senior. For as long as Ana could remember, Cali
had helped care for her. She and her twin brother, Andru, had spent more time with
over the winters than they had with their parents. There were no resentments,
however. Her parents ruled the largest nation in Nuworld. As winters passed, they’d
created a powerful nation, and Ana would rule one day. That was a thought she kept to
herself though—at least for the time being. Andru, her twin brother, was more than
excited to one day rule Gothman. But ruling the Runner clans took more work, and she
wouldn’t admit to anyone that she was a little apprehensive about it.
“We’re almost to the border.” Cali focused on the incredible range of snow-capped
mountains that crept closer as they flew across the countryside. “Ana, I must insist. We
can’t have you breaking your papa’s laws.”
“You’re such a spoilsport.” Ana felt confined, a sensation she hated. She wanted no
barriers, nothing to close her in. “Next time, I’m leaving you home.”
“You do and your papa will have your hide.”
“He is a royal pain in my ass,” Ana muttered. “Like you could protect me. More
than likely, if something were to happen out here, it would be me protecting you.”
Ana pulled her viewer out of her side pack and held it to her right eye. She adjusted
her vision as the round tube gave her a closer view of the forbidden mountain range.
Her glider slowed as she took in the huge rocks and packed snow.
“I know what you’re doing,” Cali said into Ana’s comm.
Ana turned to look at the older woman who rode alongside her. Her nanny wore
the traditional Runner garb—black leather pants, a long-sleeved, shiny black shirt, and
the traditional black face cloak. All Ana could see were Cali’s eyes. She stared
innocently at them.
All For One
grunted. “I should have known you’d use the excuse of an idle drive across the
countryside to look for him again.”
“I’m not looking for anyone.” Ana tossed her head, allowing long, silky blonde hair
to fly over her shoulder. She refused to wear the face cloak once out of range of the
Bryon house. Her parents insisted she maintain the Runner tradition and wear the
headgear even though she was only half Runner. Actually, she was a quarter Runner,
since Tara, her mama, was half Runner and half Gothman, although raised as a Runner.
Ana’s comm beeped in her ear. She hit the switch, grateful for the excuse to
continue toward the mountains while talking to whoever was calling.
“Ana, where are you?”
Her brother’s voice brought a smile to her face. Until a few winters ago, the
servants had teased her by saying that if she cut her hair, there would be no way to tell
her and her brother apart.
“I’m east of Bryton—out on the plateau.” Ana increased her speed, not daring to
look at Cali.
“Well, you better get home. Uncle Torgo just told me Papa is on his way home.
He’ll expect us to be there.” He paused. “And dear sis?”
“Your headscarf is on your bed.”
“Damn, I’m on my way.”
Ana slowed her glider and turned. Cali followed suit, not questioning her sudden
change of heart. Ana knew she’d been listening.
* * * * *
“Excuse the interruption, m’lady.”
“That’s fine, Fulga. Come in.” Tara leaned back in her chair, staring across the
conference table at the housekeeper, who stood in the doorway.
The view outside distracted her. Large windows overlooked the rugged hills to the
south. She and Darius had built the addition onto their home several winters ago,
allowing her more room to work, and the twins to have their own rooms upstairs.
“M’lady, a traveler from the north wishes to see you.” The hefty housekeeper
swished as she walked, stopping when she reached the middle of the room.
“Do I have an appointment?” Tara glanced at her landlink, which sat in front of her
on the table.
“Tell the traveler that Lady Tara schedules her appointments in the morning. He
may see her tomorrow.” Jolee, Tara’s first assistant, had learned the sometimes
valuable, sometimes annoying trait of speaking for Tara. Jolee looked at Tara, bright
green eyes alert as usual. “And no, you don’t have an appointment this afternoon.”
“I know when her lady has her appointments, I do. My entire day is scheduled
around the lord and lady’s morning appointments, it is.” Fulga’s Gothman accent
thickened with irritation.
Jolee opened her mouth to protest, but Fulga beat her to the punch and continued
“I told the traveler all that, I did. I told him he could transmit a message to Lady
Tara and she would respond quickly enough, she would.” Fulga crossed her arms,
pushing her ample bosom out in front of her. “He told me he’s traveled a great distance
and hasn’t the means to stay over, but instead has instruction to deliver a message.”
“Did he say where he’s from?” Tara raised her hand when Jolee would have
Fartha and Trev, Tara’s two other assistants, both looked up from their landlinks.
“No, m’lady, he didn’t. I mean, he said he’d traveled from the north, and that is it. I
daresay I didn’t go about questioning him. Should I have?” Fulga looked uncertain and
glanced around the table.
“No. You did fine.” Tara grinned when the older housekeeper smiled triumphantly
at Jolee. “Jolee, go talk to the stranger. Find out what his business is. If he can’t afford
lodging, and needs to get back to wherever he came from, then maybe I should see
Jolee nodded, scooting her chair back. Tara’s comm beeped at the same time. She
grabbed the communication device and wrapped the curled end around her ear.
“Yes.” She adjusted the tiny wire to her mouth while dismissing Fulga with a wave
of her hand.
“Tara.” The masculine baritone purred into her ear. Warmth spread through Tara,
making her smile, while she looked across the table at Fartha and Trev. “What are you
“Just going over a few things with my assistants.” She had no desire to offer details.
Seventeen winters of being claimed hadn’t made it easier to discuss politics. Darius
sounded amiable, and she didn’t want lectures and advice on how to rule the Runners.
It was best to keep her answer vague.
“Our landlinks show a small camp to the northeast of us, just outside of Bryton. I
thought we’d return within the hour, but we’ll check this out first, we will.” He would
never ask her permission, but she had to admit, he’d come a long way in letting her
know what he was doing.
looked at Fartha. “Do you see a small camp just northeast of Bryton?”
Immediately Fartha began typing on the landlink in front of her. Trev did the same.
“Yes, I do,” Fartha said after seconds.
Trev punched keys on his keyboard. “They don’t appear to be moving.”
All For One
“They’re not too far from the Blood Circle Clan site,” Fartha added.
“Keep me posted, Darius. And come home soon.”
“My lady, I’ll do both.”
“Tara, I think you should see this man.” Jolee entered the conference room as Tara
took the comm off her ear.
“Who is he?”
“He says he’s a messenger sent from over the mountains. He’s from a race called
the Tree People.” Jolee moved to her chair, grabbing the back of it with her long thick
* * * * *
Minutes later, Tara reclined in her ornate wooden chair in the appointment room.
She and Darius spent most of their mornings listening to proposals and grievances from
their people in this room.
The messenger entered slowly, glancing at Tara, and then at the empty chair next to
her. He pulled his hat from his head, and began twisting it in his hands.
kept her face expressionless, studying him while he studied her.
He was tall, with a wiry frame, light red hair curling around his gaunt face. Thin
straps of leather had been braided through several strands of his hair, giving it
somewhat of an unruly look. A full beard, several shades darker than the hair on his
head, covered half his face. His clothes hung loosely, a relaxed, comfortable look.
Although not an attractive man, he had the most intense green eyes she’d ever seen.
“Lady Tara, I’m honored that you would meet with me.” He bowed his head, and