Authors: Devri Walls
Tags: #Fantasy, #Young Adult, #Adventure, #magic, #YA, #dragons, #shapeshifters, #angels
“I don’t know, but I don’t like it,” Drustan answered, jerking the cinch on the saddle.
The figure rolled his hands inward as if collecting something and then flicked it out. A brilliantly colored cloud of blue rolled out, covering the forest. The three watched as it came towards them, neatly outlining where their magical barrier began. Kiora’s heart stuttered as her mouth went dry. Their hiding spot lit up like a beacon. The figure leapt into the air, his cloak billowing behind him, vanishing into the trees. Emane, Kiora, and Drustan all froze, each with their hands on their saddles.
“Where did he go?” Kiora whispered.
There was no time for an answer before the man dropped his bubble.
Kiora and Emane barely had time to yank their hoods over their heads before the similarly robed and hooded figure stepped through the barrier.
The voice inside the hood said, “If you try to bubble, I will kill you all.” His clipped accent was one she had never heard before.
Kiora believed him.
Emane drew his sword with a hiss of metal and pointed it at the man.
“Foolish!” the faceless man snapped. “Especially for one with limited magic.” He came straight at Emane, putting himself within centimeters of the blade. “Drop it,” he pronounced slowly, “or I will make you drop it.”
“Listen to him, Emane,” she pleaded.
“Kiora!” he objected, keeping his sword level with the stranger.
The evilness of the stranger’s thread still didn’t feel right. The differences were subtle, something she probably wouldn’t have picked up on a few weeks ago. But as her magic continued to grow, so did her sensitivity to threads. This one felt wrapped in evil—she couldn’t sense what was underneath. “Trust me,” Kiora said softly, pulling nervously at the side of her cloak.
Emane lowered his sword. Kiora saw his nostrils flare beneath the shadow of his hood.
The man walked around the group, inspecting them all. Each of them stood deathly still in the thick tension. Kiora wanted to trust what her instincts were telling her, that his thread was not as evil as it seemed.
, she called with her thoughts,
I need to see your amulet. Can you pull it out without him noticing?
Emane waited until the stranger’s attention was focused on Drustan before swiftly pulling the amulet from underneath his shirt. It glowed amber.
Kiora relaxed. Amber meant friend. The way the stranger’s thread felt on the surface, the amulet should have been glowing red. But it wasn’t. Having the confirmation she needed, Kiora thought to Emane:
He is a friend.
A friend they were desperately in need of.
, Emane thought back.
The hooded figure said, “No need to disguise yourself as a Tavean, Shifter. Your thread gives you away.” Drustan did not respond but looked forward with tight lips.
The stranger moved back to Emane. “And what are you?” he asked, circling Emane. “I thought you had a small amount of magic, but upon closer inspection,” his hand whipped out, gripping Emane’s arm over the top of his armband, “it appears you have no magic at all.” Crossing his arms the man said, “I must admit I am intrigued. I have never met a Witow before.” Turning to Kiora he asked, “Can it speak? Besides your name, I mean?”
“Can it speak?” Emane exploded. “Who do you think you are?”
speak,” the man said, sounding amused. Kiora could almost see the smirk through the hood’s shadow. “I have only heard rumors of Witows, but they are said to be lacking intelligence.”
“How dare you,” Emane seethed, his hands balled into fists at his side.
The amusement quickly fled from the man’s voice. “How dare
. All of you!” he added, gesturing to the group. “Marching through this territory with no regard for the rest of us.”
Kiora stepped in to diffuse the situation. “What have we done?”
The faceless man turned his attention to her. “And who are you?”
“My name is Kiora.”
“I do not need to know your name,” he said shortly. “What
She wasn’t sure what answer he wanted, but she couldn’t give him any. Not that she was human, and not that she was the Solus.
He stood as if contemplating his next move. He finally reached back and pulled his hood off. He was stunning. His face was proud with harsh lines that suited him well. His brow, nose, and cheekbones were all chiseled. His eyes, of the clearest blue, were much lighter than Emane’s. His almost white hair hung down below his shoulders. His skin was so pale it looked closer to ivory. He looked ethereal, Kiora thought, like he did not belong to this world. Two pointy ears barely protruded from his fine hair. That explained Drustan’s long ears.
The man’s jaw clenched, his eyes moving to each of them in turn. “I have removed my hood. Would you please do the same?” he asked with forced politeness.
Drustan grunted his disapproval and Kiora hesitated.
“You listen to your slave?” the man asked Kiora.
“Slave?” Drustan asked.
“Shifters with threads like yours are slaves.”
Drustan stiffened and Kiora quickly intervened again. “He is not our slave.”
The man looked around at the three, clearly irritated. “We—” he paused before amending, “
are running out of time. I need to know who you are. If you will not cooperate, I will leave you to what is hunting you.”
The three looked nervously at each other. Kiora finally asked, “What is hunting us?”
The man with the ice blue eyes stepped closer to her, putting his face only inches from her own. “Your magic is strong. You should be able to feel them by now.”
Kiora held her ground against the urge to retreat. Closing her eyes, she reached out for threads.
. Far enough away that they were still faint, but too many to count and all evil.
Kiora’s eyes flicked open under the harsh gaze of the stranger. “Who are they?” she asked.
“The army sent after the foolish trio who walk though the Shadow’s territory without so much as a bubble,” he said, his voice low and cold.
Kiora could feel the threads stronger now. They were aligned in a horseshoe shape, moving forward. He was right—evil was spreading to flush them out.
Hoping the man wouldn’t see her fingers shaking, Kiora reached for her hood.
“Kiora.” Drustan’s voice held a warning note.
She paused, her hand on her hood, keeping her eyes on the man in front of her. “Drustan, he’s right. They are hunting us, too many to count. Right now we need a friend.”
“You don’t understand,” Drustan hissed, taking a step in Kiora’s direction before the stranger stretched out his hand again. It was a threat, no doubt. Drustan froze. “He has never seen a—” He stopped, not wanting to speak the word.
“I know. Please, trust me.” Taking a deep breath, Kiora pulled off her hood with a trembling hand.
The man’s eyes widened slightly. “What are you?” he breathed.
Kiora held his gaze. “A friend, I hope.”
The man narrowed his eyes before flinging his finger towards Emane. “Remove your hood, Witow,” he commanded harshly. Kiora nodded her approval and Emane obeyed. His ears were flushed red with anger. The man’s eyebrows furrowed as he looked back and forth between their faces. “Your features are similar, you are of the same species. But you are a Witow, and you—” his eyes locked with Kiora’s, “are one of the most powerful creatures I have felt in some time.”
Kiora swallowed. She didn’t know how powerful her thread was right now. But even as they spoke, magic was flowing to her. She had so much power she ached for a release. “What is your name, sir?” Kiora asked, raising her chin.
“Alcander.” He locked eyes with her, his brow still furrowed as if trying to put together a puzzle in his mind.
“Nice to meet you, Alcander. I am Kiora. This is Emane and Drustan.”
Alcander sighed in obvious annoyance. “I do not like working with those I do not know, but we are running out of options. We must leave immediately. Do you know how to disguise your threads?”
He was met with confused looks from Drustan and Emane. Kiora dipped her head to hide a smile. That explained the difference between what she had felt and what Emane’s amulet had showed. Alcander had disguised his thread. Brilliant.
“Obviously not,” Alcander said. “That partly explains your stupidity. I see you are packed, at least.” He nodded to the three waiting horses. “How long can you bubble, Kiora?”
“With four? I’m not sure.”
“An hour?” Alcander pushed.
“Good, we will take turns until we get somewhere safer.”
“Wait a minute,” Emane sputtered. “You think we’ll ride out of here with you?”
Kiora placed her hand on Emane’s arm as Drustan stepped back, his eyes wide with horror.
Alcander nodded. “The Shifter finally feels the threads.”
“So many,” Drustan said, his eyes scanning the forest in front of them.
“I will not beg to help you. Are you coming or not?” Alcander asked tightly.
“Yes,” Kiora said. “We’re coming.”
“Kiora!” Emane hissed as Alcander stepped out of the barrier to whistle for his horse.
We need someone to help us find Lomay,
And whatever is chasing us is very serious. We have to trust him . . . he’s all we have.
Emane pursed his lips as Alcander reentered with his horse. He mounted his horse fluidly, his feet barely touching the stirrups.
Under the protection of Kiora’s bubble, the four rode into the meadow that flanked the forest. Finally Alcander interrupted the long silence.
“Kiora, could you join me please?”
She spurred her horse forward.
Alcander looked at her as he had before, trying to unravel her secrets. “You never did answer my question,” he said .
“Which one?” she said pleasantly, looking over the meadow as a distraction from his from his stunning profile.
“What are you?”
A faint smile played across her lips. “I find it an odd question,” she said, looking back at him. “What are you?”
Alcander’s mouth twisted in obvious annoyance. “I am the one who just saved your life.”
Nodding slowly, her eyes locked on the reins in her hand, Kiora sighed. If she told him she was a human, he wouldn’t believe her. And friend or not, she still wasn’t sure who he was or if it was safe to tell him she was the Solus. “Then I suppose I am the one you just saved.” She felt badly being so evasive, but she couldn’t tell him what she was, not yet.
“You are ungrateful.” Alcander scowled.
“I am extremely grateful,” Kiora said with a respectful bow of the head. “I am grateful we did not encounter whatever was hunting us. ”
“Then why will you not answer my question?” Alcander demanded. “You still ask me to travel with creatures I do not know.”
Kiora thought over her words carefully. “Knowing
I am will not help you to know
Alcander’s shoulders relaxed slightly as he glanced at her. He looked almost impressed. “Well said,” he conceded.
“You would not believe me if I told you the truth. I do not wish to begin our journey with you thinking I’m untrustworthy.”
“You think me that narrow-minded?”
Kiora considered her response as the horse plodded through the tall grass. “I do not know you, Alcander,” she finally ventured. “But I know what
am, and I have it on good authority that you will not believe me.”
“You will not tell me?” Alcander’s chin rose high, imperialistic.
Alcander’s hands clenching the reins. “I don’t like it.”
They rode in silence for a moment. His back was rigid, elbows held tightly at his sides. Kiora cleared her throat. “Do you mind if I ask you a question?” she ventured.
“It is a rather brazen request considering you won’t answer mine, but continue.”
“Were you hunting us as well?”
“Tracking,” Alcander corrected. “I was tracking you.”
Alcander turned to her again, confusion etched between his eyebrows. “How can you not know?”
“There are a lot of things I don’t know,” Kiora said, drooping under the enormity of the unknown. Only a few days ago she’d felt she was finally understanding what was expected of her. Now she was back at the beginning.
“That is painfully obvious.” Alcander’s white hair flowed out behind him with the breeze. “I was tracking your magic. All good threads in this area have been eliminated one way or the other.” His eyes narrowed. “Yours was strong enough that things were stirring that ought not to be.”
Kiora was bursting with questions about the lack of good threads, him disguising his own, the world she had just walked into, and the Shadow. “I’m not from here,” Kiora started. “Can you tell me what happened? Why there are no threads like ours?”
One side of his mouth turned up before returning to his normal stern expression. “Not yet. Perhaps when you are ready to speak, I will be as well,” Alcander said with a hint of sarcasm.
Kiora stifled a laugh. “All right. I will make you a deal. When you are ready to believe
it is I tell you, ask me. And then you can explain everything I do not know.”
It took him a moment but Alcander finally agreed.
Kiora gave him a respectful nod and a shy smile before reining her horse to fall back between Emane and Drustan.
“I don’t like him,” Emane muttered out the side of his mouth.
Alcander’s head turned slightly, as if straining to hear the conversation over the hoof beats. Kiora called to Emane instead.
I know, but he is on our side, and the only good thread we know of right now. You will have to be nice.
He asked if I could speak, Kiora.
He is testing us,
she tried to reassure Emane.
Trying to figure us out, that’s all.
Emane shook his head.
He looks at me as if I am a disease. One he cannot decide whether he should feel pity for or be disgusted by.
After Emane had stopped vocalizing his displeasure and Alcander took over the bubble from Kiora, her eyes roamed over the countryside. The meadow had turned to beautiful rolling hills. Tiny homes dotted the hillside in random patterns. She couldn’t see any sign of a village, just homes within eyeshot of each other.