Authors: Eliza Tilton
From when I was a boy, I was taught about The Creator and how all life began in Tarrtainya. Never had anyone mentioned other worlds. How did she travel here? What for? The questions buzzed in my mind, until my head ached.
“We’re here,” she said softly.
Blue runes trailed up the walls and ceilings. The air in front of us shimmered.
I took a breath and stepped forward. A jolt buzzed through me and we were on the other side. Maybe. Nothing looked different.
“Did we go through?” I expected a bit more from a magical portal.
“Yes. Magic isn’t always exciting. You can put me down now.”
“Can you walk?”
I looked at her curled in my arms, and for a moment, she seemed vulnerable.
“Yes. We can rest here.”
Gently, I placed her on her feet. “We need to dress that wound.”
She glanced at her shoulder. “I’ll heal. I just need to rest.” She sat on the ground, propping herself against the wall. “There’s a healing kit in the bag.”
I rummaged through the satchel. “Are we safe here?”
“For now. This passage is rarely used. No one likes dealing with krads.”
I ripped open the shirt to get to the wound, and dumped water from the canteen on it. The bite was deep, but not to the bone.
“This is bad.” I took out a salve and applied it to her shoulder.
A bead of sweat trickled down the side of her face. “Could’ve been worse.”
Using the linen from the kit, I wrapped her shoulder. “This should hold.”
She gave a slight nod and lay on the ground. “Rest up,” she said, closing her eyes. “And don’t try to kill me. You’ll never make it out of here.”
“I would never stab someone in their sleep.”
She opened one eye and smirked. “I believe you.” She yawned again and curled into a ball. “Don’t eat all the food.” Her words trailed off as she fell into oblivion.
My stomach ached, but instead of eating, I watched this mysterious girl sleep, wondering why she trusted me.
I opened my eyes to Lucy hovering over me. She had braided her hair and resumed human form.
“Your wound looks better.”
She glanced at her bare shoulder. “I hate those bugs. Let’s move.”
The tunnel exited into a rocky outpost covered with an army. We raced out of the cave and ducked behind a nearby boulder. The soldiers didn’t wear the black and red robes of The Order or the cobalt blue of the King’s Army.
“Mages,” I said quietly.
The mages dressed as any other Tarrtainian. The only unifying color came from the black bands wrapped around their right arms. How could Jeslyn be here?
“The only way to find them,” Lucy whispered, “is to join the mages.”
“What?” I gasped. “I can’t wield magic.”
“No, but somehow you’re immune to mine which means you’re immune to The Order’s as well. That can be useful. Plus …” She curled her lip into a grin. “You can fight, and fight well.”
“I’d be going against The Order and my king.”
“We don’t have to actually fight. We’ll be gone before any of that.”
How could she seem so sure of anything? A battle waged ahead, and she sat, idly picking out the dirt under her nails.
“This is madness.”
“I know. Isn’t it exciting?” She slapped my back and stepped out into the enemy camp.
This girl is going to get me killed.
I sighed and followed her out.
Scattered tents squeezed around the thick forest. The last line of trees before the red sands of the desert. Men and women marched past, never giving us a second glance. I glimpsed at my neutral garb.
We fit right in.
“We’d like to join.” Lucy smiled at the two guards suddenly blocking our way.
“Show us your power,” one said.
“Of course.” She glanced over at me and winked. “But first,” she sang, “I need you to give me one hundred pushups.”
The men dropped their swords and started pushing off the damp ground.
“One hundred? You couldn’t have said five or ten?”
By the hundredth, both men had sweat soaking their shirts and brow.
“You’re in,” the guard huffed. “Nomad will want to meet. What about you?”
“I’m immune to magic,” I said.
“We’ll need to test that.” The guard whistled, and an older gentleman with white wily hair walked over. “This one says he’s immune. Need your skills.”
The man gave me a crooked smile. “Of course.”
He raised his hands. My muscles tensed, preparing for the worst. Lightning shot out of his palms, similar to Lucy’s whip. The flare blasted my chest and the tattoo burned, but I was fine. My clothes weren’t burned. I wasn’t burned.
Thank The Creator.
“What do you know; you’re both in. Take them to Nomad.”
“Impressive,” Lucy whispered. “I was beginning to think it was just me. Care to explain?”
The guard led us to a large tent. The white hide sat between two giant trees that had the images of an eagle carved into the bark. White hide only came from one animal I knew of, and those winter wolves could easily rip a grizzly to shreds.
Inside, the Nomad King stood over a table.
He wasn’t a man. He was a boy … only a few years older than I was. How could a boy command so many?
“These two have unique gifts, sir. Thought you’d want to see them before they were assigned an area.”
The boy nodded, his stark blond hair falling in front of his face. “You may leave us.”
“Young to be a king.” Lucy helped herself to a cantor sitting on a tray.
“What can you do?” He dropped the parchment on the table and leaned against one of the posts holding the tent up.
“Charm you into sharing a drink with me.”
Nomad grinned. “I don’t need to be charmed for that.” Lucy poured him a glass, and he took it.
“I hypnotize with my voice.”
“And you,” he looked at me.
I glared at Lucy. “I can speak for myself.”
“I know, but you’ll end up brooding and boring us all. So …” Lucy showed me her back, putting all her attention on the king. “Do you have a name other than Nomad?”
“None that needs to be known.”
“Oh, I love a little mystery.”
“Tell me, my lady. Why do you want to join my army?”
“A good motivator.”
Cold seeped into his bright gaze, and I sensed anger.
“Someone kidnapped my brother to sell him to The Order. So young …” She clutched her chest.
Nomad touched her shoulder. “I know the pain of losing a loved one to them. When I rule, no one will be taken from their family.”
She sniffed and wiped fake tears from her eyes.
“Here.” He handed her his handkerchief.
She is most certainly a witch.
“How does your companion fit into this?”
“Oh, him? He’s my protection.”
Nomad nodded. “I could use both your skills, but you’ll need to wait until my advisor returns. He has a very unique gift for seeing the truth. If you two are who you say, you’re welcome to join.”
“That would be wonderful.” Lucy placed a hand on his knee.
Unless, she has another trick up that cowl, we’re in trouble.
“All I have is one request,” Nomad said.
He whispered near her shoulder. “Don’t ever use your magic on me or I’ll light your pretty face on fire.”
I snorted on a laugh, and Lucy snapped her head back at me.
“You two are excused.” Nomad stood, while Lucy huffed and desperately tried to recover.
She shoved past me. “Not a word,” she hissed.
“Of course,” I repeated in her voice.
She glared, and I laughed. Finally, we were having some fun.
The light from the lantern in our tent cast a shadow on the wall. Lucy sat across from me chewing a piece of dried pork. Her hair hung loose across her shoulders, flowing in black waves. How was she able to keep it so clean and shiny when traveling?
“Not hungry?” She ripped a chunk off, talking with her mouth full.
“Then why are you staring instead of eating?”
I grabbed the mutton. “Who was she?”
“The girl you killed to look like that.”
Lucy stopped and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “That was a long time ago.”
“Does that mean you don’t remember?”
“Oh no, I remember. I had a choice between three girls. All of them beautiful, well, by human standards.”
The firelight accentuated her cheekbones and sharp eyes.
“My father handpicked them. They were trembling, but the dark haired one had a fire in her eyes as if she knew we would kill her, but she wouldn’t be afraid about it. That’s why I chose her.”
“Do you feel any remorse when you kill someone and take their spirit?”
“We don’t syphon often. Too many auras in one body cause confusion in the mind.”
“You didn’t answer the question.”
“Don’t sit there and judge me. You wear that Creator emblem, yet if your world was dying, you would kill just like me to save your family.”
“Your world is dying?”
“Yes. Our only hope of surviving is to migrate to yours.”
Behind the cruel temper and vicious bite, I sensed an almost human quality. She was just a girl thrown into an impossible situation.
“Why sneak in?” I asked. “The King is a good man.”
“Ha! It would be war.”
“We’re already at war.”
“Yes. Now we are.”
As the silence stretched between us, I wondered what her world was like. I took an apple out of the bag and sliced it in half. “Tell me about your home.”
I handed a half of it to her. Her gaze lingered on the fruit before she took it.
“We have two suns, like you. The smaller, Quay, is fading. Since the black spots appeared, storms began sweeping our lands, acidic rains that kill wildlife. We had to create domes around our cities. My city is covered in a red crystal that shines brighter than your deepest ruby.”
“Do you miss being there?”
Not the answer I expected.
“Women are only as strong as the men they stand beside. We could never rule, but here? Here is different.”
I nodded. “Lady Urima rules the twelfth land.”