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Fudge Marble
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Location: In the Village


Hm. Well, this story and most things to do with this storyline/world collapsed. Something just wasn't working.
But I can't stop writing so--
I leaned forward, Tokani's mane flicking against my face. Sand swirled, wind shrieking like demons. I let out a scream of joy. I was free, out on my own in the sand and sun and wind and burning sky.

Revall had warned me not to get lost. Here in the desert, I could never be lost.

Tokani bucked; I gripped her mane and the saddle horn, just barely able to hang on, the muscles in my thighs jolting.

"Easy, little one," I said.

Tokani slowed, dancing sideways, tossing her head. She loved the desert as I did; she'd been born here. I was a mere transplant, though I felt more home here than anywhere.

Beyond the western hills loomed a dark mass—a sandblast. My heart flipped. Sandblasts could scour flesh from bones.

"Let's go, girl." The mare turned of her own volition. We both knew firsthand about sandblasts; she and I had been caught in one when I was five and she was a foal, and gotten half-buried in sand. We'd been lucky; the Kasi tribe had found us the next day and taken us in. I'd lived there ever since, with a brief, foolish foray into the Magic Academy.

As we turned, though, I caught something out of the corner of my eye and tugged on the reins, turning back to see what it was. Three black dots flew ahead of the storm, like flies trying to escape a rakla. Birds? As they neared, they looked larger than any bird could possibly be.

Dragons? Thrills flooded across my skin, although I knew that the last dragons had died centuries ago.

The things floated nearer. Huge, wingless, oblong things—black bullets against the scarlet sky—

A blast of wind hit me and nearly knocked me from the saddle. I couldn't stay to watch, couldn't help these things, whatever they were. I could only hope they'd fly to safety—or, if they were dangerous, that they'd be buried in sand come morning.

I tapped my heels against Tokani's sides and she leaped into a gallop, tearing as swift as an eagle over sand and rock toward the oasis.

By the time we reached the River Dribble, the sky had darkened, erasing all trace of the flying creatures. Maybe they'd just been a mirage, or a figment of my imagination. Tokani trotted along the river, the palm trees not much of a shield from the raging wind. My hair swirled, tangling in front of my face; sand gritted in my mouth. Tiny grains pricked my cheeks. The house loomed up ahead, a silhouette in the reddish darkness, a small, flickering light like a beacon bringing me home. Near the shed, Tokani slid to a stop and I jumped off. I slipped off the bridle and pulled off the saddle, tossing them both inside the shed. I could properly care for them later. I patted Tokani's sleek golden neck and she trotted into the shed. After I bolted the door, I dashed to the house, my kafal over my mouth, trying to keep the sand from smothering me. The light flickered from beyond waves of red sand. I ran into the doorway of the adobe house and slammed the door. Revall stood there in his long cream robe, silver-streaked red hair falling to his shoulders, a bloom of fire hovering in his palm. He whispered to the fire and it vanished in a puff of smoke. I flipped the kafal off of my head, little showers of sand pouring onto my shoulders.

Revall grasped my arm. "Fralenn, what were you thinking? The desert isn't something to be trifled with."

"I know. It just came up so quickly."

I followed Revall through the entryway into the library. A wave of book-smell hit me, the musty, dusty scent of old kai paper and parchment. It filled me with such a home-feeling that for a moment I forgot everything and just stood there, immersing in it.

Revall smelled of books too, even when not with them. Books and desert and something foreign, like the sea I'd never seen….and a forest long-forgotten….

"I don't want to lose you." His voice broke a little. Ten years ago, he'd lost his wife and children in a flamesoothing accident. I'd become his surrogate daughter of sorts; at sixteen, I was about the age his own daughter would have been had she not died.

His brow furrowed as he looked at me and I realized that testing my limits like this hurt him. I was his family now and he didn't want anything to happen to me.

"I'm sorry. I'll try to be more careful. It's just that—" I didn't want to make excuses, but I had to explain. "I saw something. Riding ahead of the storm."


I shook my head, though fear pricked my heart at the name. If the Sedd I knew were fierce, they were nothing compared to the hardened warriors of the west, the tribe that survived as close to the Heart of Fire as anything could. They rarely raided the "cool" regions, though when they did, the eastern tribes banded together against the common enemy, the half-mad people with skin like leather and teeth like steel and eyes like fire…

"I'd never seen something like that before. Strange, oblong, black. Flying without wings."

"Flying without wings….My father told me of such things before he died."

My heart leaped. "Really?" Revall was half-Rajel, his father a soldier of the great Empire across the desert, Ardaynenn's ancient enemy.

Revall nodded, memory and pain in his cobalt eyes. "He saw them at the Great Faire in Misk. A new kind of flying machine that could carry people into the sky."

My heart flooded with wonder. I hoped the things had not been destroyed in the sandblast, which was raging against the house, roaring like a monster that wanted to swallow us whole, impotent against the reinforced adobe and the window-shields.

"What are they called?" I waited for the word, the bit of magic that would describe what I'd seen.


"Skyships…." I whispered, testing the new word, tasting it. It was a blue word, laden with tales of the sky; a calm, friendly word that also hinted the black prow of a sea-ship, a buoyant thing tossed by the wind as if by waves….and the three black shapes, heroically scudding in front of a sandblast.

A piercing longing to save them hit me, but I knew I couldn't go out in the storm. Who knew how long it would rage. Perhaps an hour, perhaps a day…we might be digging our own house out of sand.

"I hope they're all right," I said.

"Me too," said Revall, concern on his careworn face. He led me to the dining room where he'd laid out some supper. Lifting our heads and hands, we said a prayer to Father Blen and Mother Hiyel, the gods who sacrificed themselves to save us from the Great Burning and were reborn as the moon and the sun. We ate tora meat, kai bread, watercress and pineapple while the storm rattled the house. I felt a bit of apprehension for Tokani, wishing we could've taken her inside, like the Sedd took their horses into their tents. And I wondered how the Kasi tribe, the protectors of this oasis, were faring in the storm. They were usually well-prepared but sometimes a child or a foal wandered out unknown and was never found again…..

After supper we went in the library to read. The lamps flickered on the walls as if trembling from the storm; Revall whispered a few words, and they flared bolder. Tension showed on his face, as it always did when he made fire stronger; he never started a fire using magic, but would use matches just like any non-mage. Sometimes I'd start the fire, wishing I could speak to it like Revall could; even though flamesoothing was the most dangerous kind of magic, it was also the most powerful.

I walked along the shelves laden with books of all shapes and sizes and colors. Books of history, science, magic. Stories, tales, myths. Books from Oremo, Ganife, and even Nef T'Har, the island in the far south. A few that Revall had brought from Silverwood, where he'd been born, and a few ragged copies from Rajel, which would be burned if anyone in Ardaynenn found them. A yellow book caught my eye; I'd brought it with me from the Academy, at permission from my great-aunt Nola, the librarian. Full of myths of the Lost Isle, it thrilled me whenever I read it, even though I'd long ago given up the notion that any sort of land existed beyond Deathgate.

The books whispered to me, just below my ability to hear them, like magic always beyond my reach. But the Book of Magic thrummed with a chord that drew me, music in harmony with my soul. I couldn't resist it, even though it pierced me with pain to know that I'd never be able to use these words the way they were meant to. Their power was denied to me.

I snatched the book from the shelf, nearly dropping its hefty weight. Cradling it in my arms, I sat down next to Revall on the couch. He was reading a book of the Golden Age before Ardaynenn tore itself apart.

When I opened the book on my lap, its musty scent filled the air. I touched the golden script with my fingers, magic humming through them. The words blurred before my eyes; hunger ate at my heart. I wanted to feel the full weight of their power instead of letting them languish on the page. It was torture to have this sensitivity, yet not be able to wield these delicate tools. I often wondered what kind of wordweaver I'd have been—flamesoother, wavetamer, windsinger, stonewaker. Probably a flamesoother like Revall, I thought wistfully.

I turned to the flamesoothing chapters in the back, skimmed over the warnings of having this kind of magic. Then I read the words used for taming flames. The precious few words that had been handed down over the centuries. I whispered them, their flavor like the sweetness of sugar-rushes, the tang of blood-oranges, or the char of smoldering fire.

Never satiated, always longing for more, I slammed the book shut, bits of dust swirling into the air. Revall shot a glance at me. "Careful—that's an old book."

"Sorry. Could you teach me another Word of Power?"


"Those are the only kind of words that have their own magic. I mean, for people like me."

"You're not any less for not having magic."

"I know," I said, though I wasn't entirely sure that was true. "I just—can't help but want it. It's like the gods made me for magic without giving it to me."

"The gods know what they're doing."

"Maybe they want me to use the Words of Power."

"Perhaps. But they are dangerous."

"It's not like I'm a mage. They're not as powerful when I say them." Even with the Words of Power, as a normal, a non-mage, a dull, I could never accomplish anything close to what mages could.

"But still, you must be careful. I have kept them to myself for a reason, ever since my father entrusted them to me."

"I'll be careful."

He laid a hand on my shoulder. "I trust you more than anyone. You know the magic of words, their nuances and strength, that their meaning has power."

Pride glowed through me at his words. He was like a father to me, even though I'd known him less than a year. As much fun as I'd had living with the Kasi tribe, I'd never felt totally at home, never totally part of them. And as much as I'd tried to fit in at the magic academy….that hadn't worked out, either. Me and Revall, despite our disagreements sometimes, understood each other. We were both outcasts, for one, and we didn't really fit anywhere, so we felt at home together. And we both had an affinity for words. We needed books like we needed food or air.

"All right," said Revall, laying his book down and walking over to his desk to draw out some paper. He took out a sheet of kai paper and I followed him to the table. I sat down beside him and he dipped his quill in ink. He held it poised above the paper; a drop of purple-black splashed onto golden cream. His eyes closed, he took a deep breath. Then in a flourish a curved word swirled over the paper as if it had appeared by magic. It seemed to shiver, hum, blur as if not quite real.

I could already taste it: a word with the potency of salt, the mystery of the sea, the danger of fire.

Despite my desire to say it, a shiver of fear ran through me. Dare I try to tame such a word? How was I, a mere normal, worthy for its powerful, ancient sound to cross my lips?

I knew, in any case, I couldn't treat it lightly and could only say it if I pondered its full depth of meaning and harbored no evil purpose in my heart. As a non-mage, I could never fathom it fully; part of it would always be beyond my reach, tantalizing me with its measureless wonder.

Revall slid the piece of paper slowly over to me. I traced the form of the word, considering what it would sound like in the foreign tongue. I said the word in my mind, trying to lose my awkwardly northern Ardayn accent. I mouthed the word, getting used to its form on my lips, the weight of it, its possible taste. It had a depth beyond any normal word in any language I'd learned. Almost as if no one should dare to use such a word. My flippant desires shamed me—who was I to wield such ancient power? It was a word meant solely for wizards and queens.

"Revall," I said, "what does it mean?"



He nodded.

"But that's so—"

"Mundane? Perhaps, but in the ancient language it had so many more connotations. It's very versatile, one reason my father used it in the war."

I closed my eyes and allowed myself to immerse in the nuances of the word in my own tongue, to let various pictures of "opening" flow through my mind. Then I flitted through the verb tenses and said the word "open" in Rajel, in Sedd, in Old High Ardayn.

I wasn't ready. I never would be. But I had to try. I let the word flow from my mind to my tongue, allowing it to take hold of me, its meaning flooding me. It tasted like thunderstorms and rain and a single vibrant sunray.


"Good," said Revall. "But remember, in the ancient tongue the "J" is soft, the "I" is strong, and the final "L" is almost like a click."

"Jemanasolil." This time, its power felt like a lightning strike, the scent of danger in the air. I shivered, more with delight than fear.

"Better. You've got to put the accent on the last syllable, though."

"It'd be easier if you'd just tell me the word."

Pain flashed across his face. "I must never use a Word of Power again. It was enough to write it. It could've ripped a hole in the house and let in the storm."

"You wouldn't allow that. You're too powerful."

"No, Fralenn. It's because I have great power that I must not use it. My strength and its strength would combine—and the word would take control and do its own will. Its ancient magic has so much meaning it's almost as if saying the thing is the thing. The word would take control, dragging my magic with it. Without magic, the power of the word is muted."

"Like with me."

"Yes." He laid a hand on my arm. "Magic can be a curse as much as a blessing. The more power you have, the harder it is to control it. But you must control it, or…hurt the ones you love." Pain shot through his eyes; I knew he meant his family. He'd killed them by accident when using a Word of Power with fire. He'd lived alone for years, afraid of hurting anyone else. Only now was he allowing people back into his life—me and the Kasi tribe. But he was still cautious. I didn't believe that he was as dangerous as he thought, but I wasn't about to pressure him beyond what he was comfortable with.

I did long to see him do real magic. He was one of the most powerful wizards alive, and yet he kept his power locked inside him. I saw what it did to him at times—the inferno burning in his eyes, the pain wracking a body that wasn't young anymore. And I saw his scars, the horrible burn across his cheek and down his left arm, which he usually kept covered.

Magic was nothing to be taken lightly, even though my longing sometimes made me ignore rationality. But once I had the word on my lips, I couldn't help but treat it with reverence, as something to be safeguarded, rather than used for my own selfish desires. With the purity of the language handed down by the gods, I couldn't help but treat it any other way.

Perhaps that's why Revall entrusted the Words of Power to me. I had the sensitivity for them; I could feel every nuance even without magic, so I would never use them just like any other word.

In any case, since my experience with the first Word of Power I'd learned, I knew that, even with the power inherent in the word, I'd have an uphill battle just to get the word to do anything, much less cause damage with it. Even if Revall didn't trust me with it, there wasn't much risk in letting a normal have the word. The risk would be if a wizard actually discovered a Word of Power. And it wouldn't be all that hard for a thoughtspeaker to wrest the words from my mind, even if Revall managed to train me all his tricks for resisting mental intrusion. There wasn't much chance of that though; I wasn't planning on going back to Ardaynenn anytime soon. I was content to live out here, even with the threat of sandblasts and punishing heat and hostile tribes. Better than living in a country where I could be murdered just for who my parents were….

"I'll be careful," I said, although I knew it'd be hard to make the word do much at all at first. But I would be careful; I wanted to do as much as I could to safeguard the word I wasn't worthy of, but longed to let possess every fiber of my being.

I closed my eyes and cleared my mind of everything but a picture of "open". A door was the easiest. When I had the meaning in my mind—though not as fully as a mage could've fathomed it—I said the word, letting its force storm through me, knowing that even letting it have its full power wouldn't be enough to do much of anything at the first attempt.

The door creaked. I was so immersed in the word I hardly registered the sound. But then a gust of wind hit me and I opened my eyes. The door banged against the wall as sand swirled into the house. It was only the inner door but still the sand poured into the house as if we were inside an hourglass. Revall rushed to the door, pushing against the rapidly piling sand. Dazed, I didn't react right away but then I jumped to my feet and ran toward Revall. It already felt like I was slogging through sand, the wind whipping against me from the open outer window, it shutter ripped open, banging against the outer wall like a manic hammer.

Kneeling, I scooped sand inside; it was piled too high to toss it out the door. Revall pushed against the wind and remaining sand and the door slammed shut. He locked it and leaned back against it, breathing hard. Then he looked down at me, a faint smile quirking his mouth.

"I think I'll have to teach you the word for "close" next."

Shaken, only now realizing the fact that the open door had anything to do with me, I couldn't help but laugh.
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*squeals* OH MY GOODNESS! YOU'RE BACK! *hugs Ameraka super-duper hard* And with more wonderfulness! Ahhhhh!!

"...You know the magic of words, their nuances and strength, that their meaning has power."

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Fudge Marble
Posts: 852
Joined: March 2013
Location: In the Village


Wow thanks Helios!! *hugs you back*

Here's Chapter 2:
I sat down in the living room, still unable to believe that what I'd done had opened the door. I was thankful that the word hadn't opened one of the windows, which wouldn't have had the safeguard of the outer door.

Revall sat down beside me, his head tipped, a contemplative yet almost awed look on his face. He folded his hands over his knees.

"Fralenn," he said, "that was amazing. If I didn't know better, I'd think you had magic."

"Well, I don't."

"That's true. But you improved leaps and bounds from the last word I taught you."

"I have been learning about magic all my life."

"That helps. But that's not all of it. You have a remarkable affinity for words—the best I've ever seen in someone who's not a mage. And you don't just know of them, you love them. That makes a difference. You care about their meaning, their form. It all blends into a unique combination. I've never heard of such a pure conduit of magic."

"Conduit?" In all my studies, I'd never come across such a term. I leaned forward, eager to learn a fact about magic I didn't yet know.

"It's a term I learned from my father when he taught me about the Words of Power. In the Order of the Shadowblades, all of the soldiers had to learn to be conduits, and it was easier for some than others. Since none of the Rajel have magic, their power came from being able to feel every nuance of a word. It took years of training." Revall smiled. "It seems you've had something equivalent to Order training without knowing it."

I wanted to know more. If I wasn't magic, I had something akin to it perhaps. As close as I could get without actually having it!

"So I have a kind of power?"

Revall nodded. "There is more power in the world than just magic, you know. Sometimes we, especially in Ardaynenn, act like it's the only kind that counts. But even throughout Ardayn history, many rulers and great men and women have been non-mages; they just had power of a different sort. As you do."

"So I'm a conduit of magic."

"As long as you keep that purity of mind you seem to have tapped into. This time you did it in just the right way—perhaps too much so."

"Sorry about that."

"That's how training goes."

"Good thing it wasn't a window!"

"That would've been harder to deal with without magic. As much as I'm tempted to teach you the word for 'close', you need to learn how to control the word you have first, just as you did with 'stop'. You have to have one word completely in hand, or the different words will get muddled, the paths will get crossed in your mind."

I nodded, enamored with the word "conduit"—as if I were a lightning rod, a path for power even though I didn't have power of my own. If I could learn to control it, perhaps I could learn to be magic after all—like the secret Order, the shadowy, feared experts that Revall's father had been a part of.

I should've known it wasn't that easy, however. Revall reminded me that, although I had to let the word flow through me, I couldn't let it have free reign. It could wreak havoc in the body of a non-mage who wasn't used to being connected to magic, especially powerful magic that wasn't in any way a part of me. Though venerable, it was still wild magic, and always would be. I couldn't tame it, but I'd have to learn to control it.

So I focused on control, and when I did, all the magic seemed to dissipate, flicker out like a sputtering lamp. After a few tries, the force of magic pressing in on me without any outer effect, I slammed back on the couch with frustration.

"Focus," said Revall, unperturbed. "Focus is the key to both control and freedom." He slid back a strand of his dark red hair, silver glinting in it like tinsel, reminding me of his Forester half, of his childhood in the mysterious Silverwood. Another thing he didn't talk about much…another part of magic I longed to learn, though I knew that not even people from Silverwood understood their magic, though they could withstand its effects more than outsiders.

And here I was, letting my mind wander. Well, it wasn't easy focusing so hard on something so powerful and intricate. Not that I was complaining. I was just exhausted.

"When I try to focus, it's like the picture in my mind just disappears and I can feel the power of the word bearing down on me but it loses all its nuances then it disappears completely."

"That's probably the hardest part. You have to try not to try. Don't think too hard about it. That takes your focus off the task at hand. Think about what you did the first time. Just let it happen to you—but as it does, zero in on the specifics. Picture yourself doing the action, even as you let the word do it for you."

"Oh." In an odd way, it made sense. I wanted to take advantage of this realization and do it before my mind fogged up again.

I took the black Book of History in my lap. Closed my eyes, pictured it. Said the word, letting its power flow through me. Then I opened my eyes, eager to see it happen.

A tiny motion of the cover—perhaps my imagination—then nothing.

"I can't do this!" I felt like throwing the book across the room. Even as I thought that, I wondered what the magic words would be for throwing something, and was glad I didn't know them yet.

"You can. Just don't open your eyes so soon. I know it's counterintuitive to picture something that's right in front of you, but closing your eyes keeps out all distractions. Imagination is the key to reality. It must happen in your mind first. Wait until you feel the book open."

"Okay." I nodded, trying to hide my frustration. Revall didn't have to help me. His father had passed down the words to him, and now he was doing the same with me, as if he thought of me as a daughter. Pride and love for him and shame I couldn't live up to him swelled in my heart. But I muted those emotions, focusing on the task at hand.

I tried again. No—trying was wrong. I took a deep breath, my eyes closed. Envisioned the book in my hands. Imagined opening it, even as I said "Jemanasolil."

A small, slight creak, along with a gentle tap on my thigh. I felt the soft leather of the cover on my hands. I hardly dared look, but guarded exultation built in my heart so I couldn't stand it anymore.

I opened my eyes. There in my lap lay the book, open where it had been closed before. With the feeling of elation came the disbelief I'd actually done it. Perhaps Revall had opened it, trying to encourage me—but no. I'd have heard him, and he wouldn't be so deceptive.

A grin spread across my face as I looked at him. His smile was full of pride and joy and a bit of pain thrown in. I couldn't understand the pain. But he laid his hand on my shoulder, then pulled me to him in a tentative embrace. I threw my arms around him. "Thank you, Revall!"

"For what?"

"I wouldn't know any of this without you! You helped give me magic—as much as my kind can have."

He laid his hands on my shoulders, at arm's length, looking into my eyes with his deep gray ones, as strong and calm as the sea at rest. "You are the magic, Fralenn. I told you before, words are magic, whether they're words of power or not. But you're more wonderful than any word could be. What's inside you—it's special. You are special, even without magic, even if you never learned a magic word. Remember that." He lifted a hand to my cheek, touching it gently before pulling away. Tears wavered in his eyes; he looked away. Then he looked back at me. "I'm glad I let someone back into my life, and that someone happened to be you." He looked about to say something, but he seemed to think better of it and stood. He cleaned the house as best he could with the sand inside while I read a book, only half-reading the words; even though I wanted to read them, my mind was elsewhere.

I wondered what Revall had been about to say to me. I didn't think I was anything special. I didn't have magic, for one; I might be a conduit, but that was more from training than anything, not inherent in who I was. True, I was special enough to warrant threat of death from both of the feuding noble families, but that was more because of my parents than anything—my brave parents who'd disregarded convention and fallen in love with people from opposite sides in the civil war.

I could never live up to them. Their magic, their courage….Mom's lyrical voice, Dad's proficiency with gun and sword.

Their faces floated in front of me like ghosts, blurred from long-ago memory, and an ache pierced my heart. I longed to see them again for real, touch them—Mom kiss my forehead like she used to and sing me to sleep. Dad swing me up in the air and twirl me around as I laughed—

A tear slipped from my cheek to drop onto the page.

When Revall finished cleaning, he came back and sat down. He reviewed some things: I could only say magic words in the direst of need, and even then I should whisper them. And he taught me a bit more mental discipline to block out thoughtspeakers. Then it was time for bed. He went around the room, whispering to all the lamps, effortlessly snuffing out the flames, until only one flickered in the darkness. He lifted the piece of paper with the magic word on it, letting it catch fire, the smell of smoke filling the room as the paper fell to the floor as ashes. Then he whispered to the lamp and the fire went out, pitch blackness pouring over us like a blanket.

The wind raged against the house as we headed off to our rooms, and I huddled under the covers, trying not to imagine the sand swirling in and covering me, smothering me, like it nearly had when I was five.

I touched the Book of Taytha on my bedstand, its smooth, worn cover soothing me. I could see Taytha the Liberator smiling down on me, along with the faces of my parents. Whenever I touched the book, I felt their presence, their love, even though I'd never see them again.

I flipped onto my side and nestled into the warm blankets, knowing that the roaring wind couldn't hurt me, that my parents were watching over me like they had the day I'd been found by the Kasi. The darkness didn't seem so dark anymore, and it enveloped me in a comforting embrace.

BOOM! I bolted awake. My heart pounded against my chest, echoing the gunshot. Chills racing over my skin, I jumped out of bed into the cool morning and scrambled over to the window, wrapping my robe around me. I pulled the crank on the window frame and the shutter opened with agonizing slowness. Sand poured into my room from the dune outside the house, piled just to the edge of the window. It could've been worse; once it had almost covered the house and we'd had to dig our way out. The trees were usually enough of a protection.

I couldn't see anything except golden sand and serrated palm leaves cutting the brilliant blue sky. I grabbed the chair from my desk and dragged it over to the open window. Then I stepped onto it and crawled out the window, the sand warm on the soles of my feet as I took in the mid-morning of the oasis.

Wind blew my robe as I turned toward the east, the sun eyeing me from her position, already halfway to the top of the sky. Silence reigned, except for the whispering of the palms and the slight gurgling of the river and the soft swish of the sand, blown by a gentle wind.

Had I imagined the sound? Had it been part of a vanished nightmare?

BOOM! Closer now. More gunshots in quick succession. Screams that would be alarming if I didn't know what they were. Still, thrills raced across my skin as they never failed to whenever the Kasi went on a raid.

Or was it all-out war? I hoped not. But it was a strange time to be going on a raid—soon the sun would be at its height and most Kasi stayed in their tents during the day rather than risk the punishing heat. At least in the oasis the trees afforded some shade, but out in the desert—Perhaps they were relying on the element of surprise….or perhaps the oasis had been attacked.

I walked to the edge of the house and could just make out some movement beyond the trees by the river. The golden coats of Velta horses flashed in the sun, along with silver flashes from saddles and silver-plated rifles.

I was tempted to run over and see what was going on, but the sand was already hot and I was still in my nightrobe. Tokani would take me there more swiftly anyway.

I slid back in the house with a rush of sand—I'd clear it away later. I quickly dressed in pants, boots, robe, and kafal, and dashed into the living room. Sounds of movement came from the kitchen.

"I'm going out!" I said.

"Wait a second, little whirlwind," said Revall. "Don't you want some breakfast?"

"No time!" I yanked open the door, letting in more sand.

Revall went back into the kitchen. By the time I'd climbed my way to the outer door, he was back. As I pushed the door against the sand, he handed me a folded cake.

"Thanks, Revall," I said, taking the warm cake, then climbing out onto another window-high dune.

I raced to Tokani's shed, my robe flying out behind me. Slogged was more like it—the sand sucked at my legs, threatening to pull me under. I slid down a dune to normal packed sand, devoured my cake—full of cheese and kai root and spices—and opened the stable door. Tokani nickered and trotted outside, her skin quivering, her golden coat shimmering in the sun, her curved ears nearly touching in the middle as they flicked back and forth. She was always nervous after a sandblast and never liked being away from the freedom of the desert.

I scratched her forehead to calm her and she nuzzled my cheek, her whiskers tickling my skin. I laughed and slid the saddle onto her back then slipped the bridle onto her head. She pranced sideways, ready to go on an adventure.

I jumped onto her back and tapped her sides with my heels and she sprang into a canter. "Easy, girl," I said.

Despite her eagerness, she slowed and danced sideways when we came to the stream. She never did like water much, but I coaxed her through it and she trotted across the smooth stones.

By this time, though, the shouts and shots had dimmed into the distance. Had they left already? Since the dunes were low near the center of the oasis I whispered Tokani into a gallop and she flew over the sand to the Kasi camp.

At the outskirts, a small girl greeted me, a wooden toy rifle in her hand, a copper Velta foal grazing beside her. Her long honey-colored hair swirled in the wind; she looked up at me, her head tipped, her black eyes fathomless and proud and curious.

"Hi," I said in the Sedd language.

"You're Fralenn, aren't you?"

I felt a twinge of guilt that I'd been here so little lately that the children didn't know me. "Yes."

"The Friend of the Kasi. You may enter."

A smile tugged at my mouth but I knew better than to not take even a child this young seriously. "What happened this morning?" I asked.

The girl swept her hand down the foal's neck, flattening the curly mane before it sprang back up. She looked askance at me, as if still not sure I was allowed to intrude on Kasi affairs. Then she turned toward me, her face brightening with excitement. "We found something amazing! A scout went out this morning and she saw huge creatures like giant beetles buried in the sand. Three of them! And the beetle opened up and some people jumped out! We're going to raid the strange beetle-people." Her mouth pouted. "But they wouldn't let me go. Mama says me and Tesi are too young." She patted the foal's shoulder consolingly, though the foal only seemed interested in tearing up tufts of grass, as foals do when they first discover solid food.

My heart flipped, drumming almost painfully against my chest. The skyships! How could I have forgotten? I'd been so wrapped up in magic and trapped by the storm and slept so long into a bright new day—the ships almost seemed like a dream, but here this little girl was, confirming it as reality. Unless some giant beetles really were buried in the desert!

I had to stop the raid. I couldn't let these people be killed, even though they were, technically, enemies of Ardaynenn. Revall was half-Rajel, and I wasn't exactly a friend of Ardaynenn myself.

But trying to stop a Kasi raid once it had started was like trying to stop a sandblast. Perhaps the Rajel could defend themselves, but they were vulnerable since their ships had crashed. Some had apparently survived, but they might not survive the slaughter that followed.

Kasi believed that blood had to be shed, and if it wasn't the victim's, it'd be their own. The gods demanded sacrifice. And if winning meant taking the spoils, all the better.

"What's your name?" I said.


"Juli," I repeated, attacking the "J" (still strange to my Ardayn tongue). "Which way did they go?"

She pointed northwest. I touched my forehead in salute and she returned it as I tapped Tokani's sides and she burst into a canter.

Sensing my eagerness, Tokani raced across the sands, slowing only to climb over some newly piled dunes.

We reached the edge of the oasis. The shade of the fringe of palms gave way to boiling heat. Velta horses were born for the desert, but Tokani would need to conserve energy to survive a day in the blazing sun. I slowed her to an easy trot, though that might make me too late to the site. Despite their hurried departure, the Kasi had probably slowed to a trot too, unless they were so filled with bloodlust they didn't take care of their horses, which I doubted. The Kasi saw anyone outside their tribe as the enemy, and there was no way to stop them from thinking how they always thought.

Unless there was some way I could make them see—perhaps I could use magic….the two magic words I knew, anyway. A twinge of envy hit me; I wished I were like Revall—though if I had magic, I'd actually use it, and I'd use it to protect people. But here I was, armed with only two magic words, and even then, I'd never used them in any other than a training situation. Who knew what would happen in the midst of something as distracting as a Kasi raid. And the new arrivals might think of me as an enemy and shoot me down—

I swept away those thoughts and draped the soft, translucent cloth of the kafal over my face, shutting out the wind and the boiling sun. I offered a prayer to Mother Hiyel, begging her to be merciful today, though sometimes I still couldn't help but think of her as the vengeful Enemy the Kasi had taught me to believe in as a child. I prayed to Taytha to advocate for me. In a way, he was more real than Hiyel, the capricious, indifferent sun that I contended with daily. I knew him from his words in his Book, and my parents had told me tales of him when I was little, so it seemed as if he were their personal friend, although he'd lived a millennium before. He and my parents were inextricably linked and I felt a warm connection with him, though I wasn't sure if the great Taytha really would answer the prayer of someone as insignificant as me.

Mirages glimmered like reflections of Last Breath, though I knew there were no other oases further west. All rivers dribbled off into dust or hid underground; the only things that lived out here were the vicious raspekh beetles and herds of tora that burrowed during the day. The sun glared in the distance like a mirror on the distant flats, beyond which the Heart of Fire swallowed up whole tribes. In the center, if you were somehow dropped inside, you'd burst into flames immediately. And the savage Garzai tribe lived near the rim of the Heart of Fire….though how they survived there I had no idea….

I slowed Tokani to a walk. The sun was nearly at its zenith. It was madness to be out here at this time of day. Perhaps I was already half-mad and I'd be wandering around out here till death….

Tokani walked at a brisk pace, but her coat was already slick with sweat, the golden sheen filmed with a faint iridescence. Where had the ships come from? Assuming they were even close to the place I'd seen them yesterday, the glare of the sun erased most landmarks, melting some, bringing others into phantom existence. This was why I never went out in the day, only the morning or evening. Even beneath my kafal, I felt like I was baking in an oven. At least Tokani's coat reflected the sun rather than absorbed it, or I wouldn't risk her life on a mission that might just end in my death anyway.

A purple dot appeared on the horizon: the last of the Valhel hills. Or was it? In any case, I'd seen it yesterday when the sandblast had appeared, and I'd seen the skyships.

Ahead loomed a huge dune, a golden wave frozen in time. A black shape draped the crest of it; at first I thought it was just a shadow. Then I saw the little figures darting about it like ants.

A mirage, perhaps. Or else I was going mad. But as I sat looking at it, it gained clarity and fear built up in my heart. Was I too late to help them? I urged Tokani into a gallop and she responded at the faintest touch, as if she wanted to know what was going on too. She definitely wasn't at death's door yet, although I felt a little faint beneath my kafal.

Don't faint, I thought, knowing that I needed water soon. I had a flask on the saddle but hadn't bothered to drink any….

Tokani climbed the dune. At the top the wind blasted my face with sand so I could hardly see. But then I could make out three large shapes nestled in the sand, one of them crushed beyond repair.
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ARG! Guys I'm being driven insane because Parker for President isn't showing up on the OAC and it's making me mad. It's supposed to come out today... I probably shouldn't be complaining though since most people won't get to hear it until November.
"Let me get this straight. I bet all those non-friends of yours try to embarrass you about your love for that stuff, right? So, you almost feel like you have to hide your treasures away and can only take them out in secret on rainy days when your mom goes to the store to get more liver and nobody is around to berate your sensitive spirit. Is that what you’re saying?" -Jay Smouse
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Chapter 3 Collision (hm I like that word for some reason)
What should this story be called? Though we're not very far in yet....
A volley of gunshots rang out from the crushed ship. By the more intact ship, separated from it by a swath of sand, people returned fire. I could make out movement, a few flashes of red—the red hair of the Rajel, probably—and swift black shapes I couldn't make heads or tails of.

"Fralenn, join us!" said a voice to my right. "There is shelter and food and glory for all!"

The shredded skin of the ship whipped back to reveal a metal skeleton that gleamed in the sun. Cautiously, I guided Tokani toward the ship. A bullet sang past me, but I made it into the protection of the giant ship's huge shadow before any more shots could threaten us. Daru met me behind it along with Samari, their rifles at their sides.

"I'm glad you made it," said Daru, tucking a strand of golden hair behind his ear. He held out a hand, palm up, in greeting; I laid mine on his. Samari offered hers as well, but she regarded me with barely concealed disdain, her wheat-blond hair swirling about her shoulders.

"Have you ever seen such a thing?" said Daru. "A giant beetle with people inside!"

"I saw them yesterday riding before the storm. They're not beetles—they're technology from Rajel."

"Rajel?" His brow furrowed.

"Ardaynenn's enemy."

"Ah! Then it's doubly fortunate we attacked them. We will award you the killing blow of their chief."

I laid my hand on his arm. He froze, looking at me quizzically, something else in his eyes I wasn't quite sure of. "No, Daru. This isn't right."

Samari turned to him, swishing one hand into the air. "I told you! She's Ardayn—her heart is soft, like the belly of a tora." She nearly spat the words. I never knew Samari thought this way of me—we'd always been friends, almost sisters, though it was true there was a wildness to her I'd never understood. And I'd been gone so often lately that I hadn't realized how much of a warrior she'd become; I saw something fierce in her eyes that was entirely Kasi—and alien to me.

"Compassion isn't a weakness," I said, knowing full well that compassion for enemies was a foreign concept to the Kasi.

"Why this love for your enemies?" Samari's disdain turned to perplexity.

"They're not my enemies. Revall's my friend and he's half-Rajel. Besides, I'm not Ardayn."

Samari's eyes narrowed. "You can't deny your blood."

"They denied me. They killed my parents. If the Rajel are the enemies of the Ardayn, perhaps they're my friends."

Samari raised an eyebrow. "I'll never understand you, tribe-less one. Why come all the way out here if you didn't want to fight?"

"I want to stop you."

Samari laughed. "You'd sooner stop a sandblast."

"They're not a Sedd-hepai tribe. They didn't attack you; they're vulnerable out here. Can't you just leave them alone—or help them?"

"I will fight them to my last breath—or until my chief orders me otherwise."

I nodded, knowing I was wasting my breath arguing with her. I'd have to convince the war chief—Samari's father— if I was to convince anyone. But, as Daru and I followed Samari toward the ship, I wondered whether it was a good idea to stop the Kasi. Perhaps the Rajel had been flying to Ardaynenn to attack it. Perhaps these Rajel weren't so innocent after all, though I hated the idea of these magnificent ships and their brave crew being senselessly destroyed in the desert.

Samari led us through a huge crack in the side of the ship, and I walked on sand, huge, pillow-like structures flapping above me, some of them ripped, some of them hissing as if air was slowly escaping. Metal, crumpled like crushed insect legs, clanged against the sides. A whale….The word, along with a picture of a giant beast I'd only seen in pictures, floated into my mind. This is like being inside a whale, beached on the sand.

Tokani snorted, sidestepped, her whole body tense. "Easy girl," I said, my voice echoing louder than normal in the giant chamber. Half-buried in the sand was a large black shape—the hint of a tail, a neck twisted back, broken—

"A demon," said Samari matter-of-factly. "The storm killed it. Another killed several warriors before we brought it down."

"I helped bring it down," said Daru, pulling down his robe to indicate a bloody slash across his collarbone. It looked deep, but he hadn't bothered to bind it.

"That looks awful!" I said, my stomach turning. "Are you okay?"

He nodded. "I paid it back in blood."

"You certainly did," said Samari. "Since yours is a mere scratch. The other warriors killed it."

Daru's eyes flashed. "I will prove myself this day!"

"And no doubt preen before the Ardayn girl for doing no more than your honor demands."

Daru clenched his fist, looking about to attack Samari. I laid my hand on his arm; he startled, then pulled gently away.

A groan above me. I looked up; a man was bound to a bent metal frame, blood soaking his shirt. Tangled dark red hair hung over his face, half-concealing bruises and dirt and blood. Below him lay other bound Rajel prisoners, though they hadn't warranted the treatment of being on torturous display.

Samari pointed to him. "That's their chief. He had these protecting him." She dug into her robe and showed me a round golden disc on her palm. It looked like a medal, carved with the head of a king. Samari tucked it back into her robe.

We walked up to the wall of the ship, light showing through tears and bullet holes in the dark fabric. The Kasi were lined up along it, aiming their rifles through the holes or reloading.

"Father," said Samari.

One of the men turned around—tall, imposing, his white-blond hair tied back. Chief Maji. A smile burst across his face.

"My child!" he said, sweeping one arm out in welcome. I let Tokani's reins drop and ran toward him and he wrapped me in an embrace. Then he pulled back to look at me, his hands on my shoulders. "My lira, your presence gives me joy. But why did you brave the Enemy to join us? Have you decided to become a warrior after all?" A smile tugged at the side of his mouth; he knew as well as I did I would never go on raids with the Kasi, though I'd defend them to my last breath.

I shook my head. "I saw these…beetles flying yesterday. They're not your enemy. Can't you stop the raid?"

"Ah, so that's why you came. You braved the sun so you could defend people you never met?"

"They were caught in the storm. Otherwise they wouldn't even be here."

"Perhaps the storm sent them into our hands. Perhaps they were coming here to attack us."

"I don't think so."

"Why not?"

"Because if they'd attack anyone, they'd attack the Ardayn."

"Why is that?"

"Because they're Rajel."

"Rajel…you mean the enemies of Ardaynenn from across Sedd'hepai?" I nodded. Maji looked incredulous. "So they traveled across the great desert in these—these—"


"Skyships," he repeated, stumbling over the foreign word, though he had some of the same reverence in his voice that I had for the ships.

"I don't know if they came across the desert. They might've come down from the north."

Maji nodded thoughtfully. "So, you want me to spare these Rajel? Aren't they the enemies of your people?"

"They're not my people."

Maji squeezed my shoulder, his eyes as fathomless and black as obsidian. "If you have no other tribe, you have us."

"But she will not fight with us, even though she's of age," said Samari.

Maji's face hardened. "She does not have to fight to be under our protection. Unless she betrays us, she'll always be one of us."

"Can you bring the Rajel under your protection too?" I asked. "They were lost in a sandblast, like I was when you found me."

"I cannot stop a raid. The Sun must be appeased."

"But these are not Sedd. They're helpless."

"Not so helpless, my lira. You did not see their demons."

"They're not demons. They're—" I searched my mind for the word. Revall had taught me about fearsome black reptiles that the Rajel used in war, and I'd read about them in the histories, though I'd never thought I'd encounter one. "Restet." A chill ran through me as I said it, feeling the age-old horror it contained for my people. "They're reptiles. Like tora."

"Not like tora!" said Samari with a harsh laugh.

"Have the Rajel killed any of your people?"

"Just wounded," said Maji. "We've been merely testing their defenses so far."

"Then it's not too late. You don't need to take vengeance. You can stop this, tell them it was a misunderstanding. Or just leave and forget they're here."

Maji frowned. "The Kasi do not retreat."

"Then we'll make an agreement. We can give them their lives in exchange for their provisions."

"We can take it anyway."

"But you don't need to kill anyone."

"You have a soft heart, Fralenn. You hate to see death. Even when it's necessary."

"Today it isn't."

He tenderly touched my cheek. "Have you spoken to the gods, to know this?"

"Have you?"

He smiled indulgently. "I will consult with the other chiefs about your proposal." He walked along the line of warriors and tapped the shoulders of two other men, who followed him to a place in the sand and sat cross-legged beside him in conference. As Samari took her place along the wall, aiming her rifle through a hole, Daru showed me a broken tank full of water. I let Tokani drink and took my flask from her saddle. Warm water flooded over my tongue, making me feel a little better, though I still felt a little shaky, and unsteady on my feet after the tension of contending with Maji. After I refilled my flask, Daru led me not far from the prisoners where the spoils were piled. He reached into one of the semi-ripped boxes and took out a strip of dried meat. "It's very good," he said, handing it to me. I tore into it ravenously. It had a smoky, salty flavor and was very tough.

"More?" asked Daru. I shook my head. "They've also got this." He tore open another box and sifted what looked like yellow sand through his fingers. He tossed some into his mouth, then offered some to me. I tried it; despite its dustiness, it tasted rather sweet and I devoured a few handfuls before I got tired of its dry grainy texture.

We rummaged through the boxes and found one full of jars, some of them broken. Carefully, I reached into one and took out a vegetable stalk. It was salty but crunchy and full of flavor from spices I'd never tasted before. I ate some more and handed the jar to Daru. He gave me a handful of dried berries of all kinds and I dumped them into my mouth, enjoying the many different tastes blending together. "More?" Daru said and offered me some. Instead, I dove into the box full of fruit and buried my hands in it, reveling in the abundance of food. I tossed some up into the air and let them shower over me, catching some in my mouth. Daru laughed and followed suit and he took my arm and we danced in the rain of sweet dried berries, catching some in our mouths, letting others scatter onto the sand.

"Vertetsk savages," said a voice. I stopped, looked up. The man bound to the pole had spoken in Rajel. I hadn't understood the first word, but I got the gist of it. I didn't blame him for cursing us. Guilt flooded me that I'd been reveling in the spoils. I might not have attacked them, but I'd been stealing as surely as if I'd been part of the Kasi. I was benefiting from their raid, when I was trying to get it to stop! I had been forgetting myself. At the same time, I resented the Kasi being called savages, but part of me wished to distance myself from their behavior.

I stepped up to the man, Daru's hand clasping mine. "I'm sorry," I said, carefully pronouncing the clipped, sing-song Rajel words, savoring their exotic taste. "I shouldn't have done it." I hadn't even been that hungry—I'd just been astonished at so much food! But on their journey of course they'd need a huge store of it.

The man looked down at me, his eyebrows lifting in surprise. "You speak Rajel."

"I'm sorry for how they've treated you. Maybe I can get them to take you down and treat your wounds."

"I doubt they would be so generous."

"You're not a threat now that you're injured."

He smiled rather unpleasantly. "You'd be surprised." He laughed but it came out more like a cough and blood splattered the front of his gray shirt.

Daru took a step in front of me. "You will speak to Fralenn with respect!" His words were in Sheshan; he didn't understand a word of what the man had just said.

I laid a hand on his arm. "It's all right. I think we should take him down, treat his wounds."

"He's the enemy chief!"

"He might not be the enemy for long, and it'd make it easier if he looked favorably on us."

"Only Chief Maji could approve such a thing."

"I'll ask him." I looked back up at the man, switching to Rajel—which was limited and badly accented, I knew. "I will see what I can do. I want peace between us."

The man smirked. "Peace. I doubt these people know what peace means." His expression turned to puzzlement. "But you—you are not even one of them, you're Aden. You negotiate for them, yet you show compassion for us. Why? Who are you?"

"I'm Fralenn. I've lived with the Kasi most of my life, and I have a good friend who's half-Rajel."

"I see." He still looked perplexed. He shifted in his bonds and winced with pain. "If you could resolve this, you'd be able to work miracles."

"I know the war chief. Maybe I can convince him to stop. Maybe he has already…." I looked to where Maji was in conference, the three chiefs gesticulating with argument. Doubt hit me. I had to know. At least help this man who was in pain.

"What's your name?" I asked.

"Commander Doma Kalle."

"It's good to meet you."

He smiled but it came out more as a grimace.

I strode past the circle of prisoners. One of them, a girl about my age, looked up as I passed, an imploring look in her eyes. She had long hair as red as the fur of a fox and large eyes the color of dawn. She looked terrified, as if she'd run away in panic if she could.

"Why do you talk to the enemy?" said Daru. "I don't understand why you want to help them."

I stopped, anger and frustration building up inside me. Though they were my friends, sometimes the Kasi could be so unreasonable. I looked into Daru's startled dark eyes. "The Rajel didn't attack you, you attacked them. They only defended themselves. Can't you see it from their eyes?"

"I do what my chief tells me."

I shook my head. "Then can't you at least admire them for their valiant effort to cross the desert, brave the storm?"

He nodded. "They are foolish, but courageous."

"And they've built this magnificent ship! Can't you appreciate how wonderful it is?"

"It didn't grow from the ground?"

"No! And they did it all without magic."

He gasped. "How could such things be?"

"I don't know. They're just—much more advanced than us."

"And yet we prevailed over them!"

"Because they were crashed, vulnerable. If they were at their full might, no one could stand against them."

"Then it is good that we've attacked them when they're vulnerable. We have the advantage now."

I could see his military thinking. But weren't there more important things than war? Why not try to be friends unless it was impossible?

"You can prevail when they're weak. But perhaps this is just the vanguard. Perhaps there will be more ships. You would never be able to stand against the Rajel Empire."

"The Ardayn did. The Kasi will too."

"The point is, it's better to have powerful friends than powerful enemies. If they come and realize you've attacked them, they'll come down on you mercilessly."

Daru clenched his fist. "Then we will fight them. We will fight them to the last Kasi child, the last tora."

"But you don't need to!" I made a frustrated noise and walked away—almost running into Maji.

"I hadn't thought of that," said Maji, "what you said about powerful allies. Even so, it is done. We will make a treaty, if possible."

"Really! Oh, thank you!" I flung my arms around him and he laughed heartily, swung me around like when I was little, then set me down.

"It was a hard bargain, little one. Vona dissented, but he'll have to follow my lead with a majority. Kanai agreed on condition that you'd help me."

"Of course! I speak Rajel, you know."

"Good. Then let's—"

A cry from the front wall. I ran over to it with Maji and Daru.

"They're coming!" said Samari.


"Look!" She indicated a torn space in the fabric.

Across the sand, five black shapes were running at full speed toward us, their powerful hind legs covering ground effortlessly. Restet.
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*hasn't read chapter 3 but will get to it soon, promise!*

Would you be offended if I said I was getting John Carter vibes from this? BECAUSE IT'S AWESOME! I love the feel of this whole set-up, in the desert, with the skyships. I love that word. I must agree with Fralenn, it is a blue word, a beautiful blue word.

Will comment again after I read this third glorious installment. *squeals and dives in* :D
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Ohh thanks!
hm I guess I did post chapter 3, I forgot which chapters I posted. I have written to Chapter 7 now. But I want to go back and fix it and it's stopped at a crucial point and I want to take stock and figure out if it's working so far before I go forward.

John Carter hm? Well the skyships....yes
I actually thought of this world before I read/saw John Carter (it's been in my head in various forms for a while). And thought of the skyships before that. It's a little steam-punky (now that I think about it) but I was mainly thinking about how I wanted this world to be different, not the typical sailing ships. And not the typical fantasy world set in medieval Europe-like places, etc. I take inspiration from many places, countries--nothing is supposed to be really analogous to any country in our world. All mixed up/upside-down. :) For instance, the main country is in the southern hemisphere. And this world is generally hotter than our world.
I'm not offended--in fact I love those books. I actually wrote another story sort of inspired by them. Any sci-fi that I write from now on will probably be influenced by it....
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Well, I must say this story certainly doesn't fit the tropes I normally find. It's got a little of everything, but no one definite thing to describe it. Which is neato. :D It's in its own category! *cheers* I do hope you post more soon. Though I have question: how do you pronounce Revall and Rajel? Like, where do the accents fall, and are the A sounds long or short?
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Thanks! I never want to be typical anything. But I don't try not to really- I just write what I like. :) I'll post more soon.
Yeah I was wondering about that. I set out not wanting to write names that are hard to pronounce but when you have foreign names some of that is unavoidable.
Rajel and Revall both have accents on the last syllable. The 'a' is long.
Fralenn also has a long 'a' and accent on last syllable.
I wonder if I'll need to make a pronunciation key... Some names get more tongue twisting than others because different syllable counts, frequency of different vowels/consonants are needed to differentiate different languages.
Let me know if you have any other questions!
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Chapter 4
"Restet," I whispered, the word sending chills of fear through me. Then another word flashed across my mind.

Vehahetayn, the magic word for stop. I closed my eyes and picturing the restet coming to a stop, as if an invisible wall had appeared in front of them. Fear made the image waver like a mirage, but I whispered the word before it could completely collapse—

I opened my eyes. The restet were still charging.

I drew my pistol and dagger. I might not have magic, but I had to do something. I aimed my pistol toward the nearest restet, not remembering whether it was loaded or not.

The restet slid to a stop a few feet away. My word had worked after all! Perhaps I was a mage. At least, a powerful conduit like Revall said, which wasn't as good, but I'd take it. I'd learn all the magic words and then become as powerful as a wizard—

"People of the desert," said the man riding the tall center restet in Rajel. "You will release the prisoners, or we will attack. These restet will tear through your force. If any of you still live after the first attack, we have five more in reserve. You will not survive. Hand the prisoners over and we will forget this happened."

A hand on my shoulder. It was Maji.

"What did he say?"

I told him.

He smiled. "That makes it simple, then. Tell them I will come out and speak with him, and then we will release the prisoners."

I nodded. Disappointment in the pit of my stomach that I hadn't stopped the restet after all, I relayed Maji's message. Their leader was silent for a moment, then he agreed to speak with us.

Maji ripped a hole in the ship's tough fabric with his jewel-hilted sword. He stepped through; I stepped through behind him. He hadn't told me specifically to follow, but I was his translator, even though I was apprehensive at being face-to-face with the restet, who looked ready to attack at the slightest signal.

Maji stepped in front of the row of restet, so close one could have bitten his head off if it wanted. But he stood with his head high, his bearing as majestic as a king's.

"I am Head Chief Maji of the Kasi tribe, the keepers of the Last Breath oasis. Who are you, sky-riders, demon-tamers?"

I translated as well as I could, willing myself to look up past the golden reptilian eyes of the restet to the man astride it. He had dark red hair that fell just past his shoulders, a close-cropped beard, pale, sunburned skin, piercing gray eyes. He wore a dusty black uniform with a red crescent on the shoulder; a carved sword-hilt gleamed at his waist. As I spoke, he looked at me with some of the same puzzlement as Commander Doma. I didn't blame him. What was an Ardayn girl like me doing out here in the desert with a Sedd tribe—and why did I speak Rajel? The answer was complicated; he'd just have to remain mystified for the moment.

"I am Captain Stav Halki of the Rajel Empire," he replied. "We are on a peaceful mission of exploration at the commission of His Holiness, Emperor Bel Marl. If you would give us our people, we will repair our ships and leave your lands."

Maji shifted, his hands behind his back. "I discussed releasing them with the other chiefs before you began your attack. We do not need to create a bloodsworn oath against you like with the Dawi and Garzai; you are not of the desert and have no design on our spoils. If you will agree to restrain your demons, we will become bloodsworn friends with you. My star-daughter Fralenn has tipped the scale in your favor." He laid a hand on my shoulder.

After I translated as well as I could, Captain Stav looked at me. "You are Fralenn?"

I nodded. "I'm Fralenn Masayn." I gave my great-aunt Nola's last name; she'd given it to me to hide the fact that my real last name was Thamadh, the nobility on the losing side of the civil war.

"You're Aden, but you defend us?" The Rajel called us Aden, though they were perfectly capable of pronouncing it the right way.

"I know a man who's half-Rajel and he's been more…hospitable toward me than my own people. So have the Kasi. I have been exiled from my country and so I stand apart from them. You are not my enemy unless you hurt me or the ones I care about."

"I see," he said, though I could tell he still had more questions. He looked at Maji. "You will give us our prisoners and our ship?"

I translated. "We will," said Maji.

"And we will mind our own business. We will tell our restet that you are not the enemy."

"Thank you." Maji took his sword and swiped its sharp edge along his palm, drawing blood. He held his hand out to Captain Stav, who looked taken aback.

I almost laughed; I was used to Kasi customs, but I knew how they could look to an outsider. I stepped up beside the captain's restet, careful not to get too close. "Blood is everything to the Kasi. You must seal your oath, literally mingling your own blood with his."

"Oh." Stav hesitated, then drew out his own sword and slashed it along his palm. He laid his hand on Maji's. Maji beamed; I doubted Stav knew the full implications for what he'd done. Still, I admired him for complying with Kasi customs without protest or complaint.

"Now your tribe is bloodsworn to mine," said Maji, forgetting, perhaps, that Stav wasn't really a chief and that his "tribe" included millions of Rajel.

"I am honored," said Stav, giving a small bow, as much as he could from the top of the restet. He wiped his sword on his red saddle blanket and slid it back into its sheath.

Maji returned the bow in a swift, elegant movement. "You may come inside and take your people. We will leave you in peace, unless you wish our help."

"Thank you. I'm not sure what you can help with, although we need materials to repair our ship." He dismounted; the other soldiers did the same. Stav's hand lingered on the nose of his restet and it made a purring rattle in its throat. Then he gave a whistle and a wave of his hand, and the five restet raced back to the other ship, some of them biting the others' necks in play.

The Rajel followed Maji and I into the cool dimness of the ship. Maji ordered some of his warriors, including Samari, to untie the prisoners. "They are no longer prisoners," he said. "Treat them with respect."

The warriors nodded, though Samari didn't look too happy about it. Knowing her, she'd been looking forward to a fight and now she'd have to make peace with people she'd begun to think of as enemies.

While Samari untied the girl who was my age, Captain Stav knelt in the sand beside her, kissed her cheek. "Pren!"

As soon as her arms were released, the girl threw her arms around the captain. "Papa!" She sobbed, clinging to him.

"It's all right now. Sh, it's okay." He stroked her long red hair.

"I thought they would kill us," she whispered.

"Well, they are our friends now, so we don't have to fear them anymore."

"How can they be our friends?"

He showed her his palm.

"Papa, you're hurt!"

"It's nothing. Small price to pay, really."

"I'll bind it." She crawled to a pile of items and picked up a bag. She pulled out a rag, stumbled over to the water tank and dipped it in, then she wrapped it around her father's hand.

Meanwhile, a warrior unceremoniously cut the ropes from Commander Doma with a sword and he crashed to the ground on his knees. He tried to struggle to his feet but he fell, cursing in a long string of incomprehensible Rajel. I went over to him and held out my hand. He looked at me with disdain but then he took my hand and I helped him to his feet. If he hadn't been bearing most of the load despite his injuries I would have collapsed under his weight. He gave me a curt nod as if in thanks and grasped the post that he'd been bound to for who knew how long, his breaths coming in quick rasps.

"You need a healer," I said.

He looked down at his torn, bloodied uniform. "Oh, you think so, Aden?"

I nodded.

"This is nothing compared to other campaigns I've experienced. Most of my pain comes from the accident, not—what they did." His eyes flicked resentfully to the Kasi, his hand on his stomach.

"You could have internal injuries."

"You don't happen to know where a healer is, do you?"

"Ours is back at the oasis." Kasi didn't bring their healers to battle for reasons that didn't make sense to me other than some sort of sense of "honor". Like healing was cheating death that the gods demanded, unless they returned to the camp alive.

"Pity. Ours died in the crash."

"You had a healer?"

Doma nodded absently as Stav strode up to him, Pren tagging behind. Now that she was standing, I could tell that she was almost as tall as her father, and that was saying something—the captain was almost a foot taller than me. Doma was even taller and despite his weakened state had the impressive bulk of formidable muscle packing his frame.

Stav clasped Doma's arm. "You took some of the worst of it, Commander. I'm sorry."

"You captained excellently considering the circumstances. The pilot of this ship didn't listen when you signaled to anchor—and he paid for his mistake. Then these savages started attacking before I was able to recover. Beat me without any purpose or questions." Scorn poured from his words.

"Well, the tide has turned, thanks to Fralenn here."

I looked at him questioningly. What had I done?

"Without you, we would not have been able to negotiate."

I shrugged. "I just happened to know Rajel."

"A stroke of luck, that was." He smiled. His face turned grim again as he looked at Doma. "Let's get you fixed up. You and the others. It'll take longer without a healer."

"Some help the Anapasans turned out to be. One died before he could be of any use and the other—" He waved a hand to indicate the damaged ship. I wasn't sure what he meant, though I knew that Anapaso was one of the kingdoms beyond the northern mountains.

"Don't judge Choya too harshly. Magic isn't a science."

Doma nodded, looking a little dazed. Stav guided him to a large piece of cloth torn from the ship where other injured were lying and helped Doma lay down onto it.

I walked over to them. "Is there anything I can do?"

"My daughter Pren has some medical supplies. You may clean and bind wounds; I will send for the medic. And—" he glanced at the far wall I'd tried to avoid, where bodies were piled—"I will form a burial detail. Excuse me." He strode away.

"Hi," said Pren, stooping as if trying to be shorter than she was. "I'm Stav Prentelle." She bowed.

I returned the bow, though the movement was unfamiliar to me, and gave my name.

"That's such a pretty name!"

"Thank you," I said. I hated keeping my father's name a secret, as if I was ashamed of it. I was ashamed of the other Thamadhs for exiling us, withdrawing their protection, leading to my parents' deaths. "I like your name too."

She smiled. "Thank you, Masayn."

I laughed. "No, I'm Fralenn. Masayn is my family name."

Her face reddened beneath her freckles. "Oh. I'm sorry. It's the opposite in Rajel."

"That's okay—you can't know everything about a new world!"

She smiled hesitantly. Then she reached into her bag and drew out some clean white cloths. "We must help them."

I nodded and took the cloths. I dipped some of them in the water tank and knelt beside a wounded man. His leg looked bent at an unnatural angle; my stomach turned over. Trying not to look directly at it, I wiped away the blood and bound it gently. He looked up at me gratefully, pain in his eyes. I wished I were a healer like my mother had been, then I could have taken away some of his pain.

As Pren and I continued treating the wounded, Rajel soldiers took the dead outside. I tried not to look at them but I couldn't help but count how many inert shapes they carried. Three—five—ten—so many had died in the merciless storm. I worked to make sure no one else died, though I felt pretty helpless simply washing and binding wounds. I was relieved when the medic arrived from the other ship and began organizing things, incisively dictating what to do and getting involved with his skilled hands. After a few moments I stepped back, not really needed anymore.

As I did, I almost ran into someone.

"Oh, hi!" said a girl, sweeping back long silver hair. "Have you seen Captain Stav?"

I shook my head. She had black skin and silver eyes, like most Northerners. I'd met a few Northern traders in Ardayn towns.

"I think I just had a premonition."

"Really? You're a dreamer?"

She nodded. "A Pathfinder. I got the vision wrong last time but I've got to make up for it now—I can't let something else bad happen. Oh! There's Stav." She dashed off toward him, grabbed his arm. "Captain! I think someone is about to attack."

He laid a hand on her shoulder. "Someone did attack. It's over now."

"No, someone else!"

"Oh, so now your power is working?" said a soldier beside Stav.

"I'm sorry—I didn't see the storm or the first attack but this is real! Someone else is coming from the southeast. A cloud of dust—it's not real clear…."

"It's never very clear with you, is it. I'm beginning to think we got a bad bargain. We're paying you when we should've bought a better one for less. Your mother just wanted to get rid of you, didn't she?"

"Enough, Trev!" said Stav. "I'm going to hear her out and take every precaution seriously. Now, you saw someone from the southeast? How far away are they?"

Choya closed her eyes. "I—I'm not sure, I think they're—a mile away."

"Only a mile! This vertetsk heat. No one wants to be a sentry." He turned to the soldier. "Lieutenant, form a line facing the southeast."

"You're listening to her?"

"If she's wrong, there's no harm done. Now go!" He strode over to me; Choya followed, looking a little lost. "Do you know who might be coming for us?"

"The Dawi," I answered.

"What do you know about them?"

"They won't listen to reason like the Kasi. They're savage and cruel. We'd be better off dead than their slaves."

Stav looked at his daughter, who was still helping with the wounded, and fear shrouded his eyes. "How would they know we are here?"

"One of their dreamers."

"Of course! I forget Aden aren't the only ones on this hemisphere that have magic. Is there anything you can tell me about their fighting style?"

"Pretty much the same as the Kasi, except they have no honor, so they resort to tricks and lies. We are the stronger tribe. All our warriors are here, so we will prevail. And you are bloodsworn to us now." I smiled.

"What does that mean?"

"It means our enemies are your enemies, and the other way around."

"Good to know." He gave a grim smile and strode toward Chief Maji, spoke with him a moment, then they both walked through the slit in the ship's fabric.

I glanced at Tokani, who was nibbling spilled berries. She'd be safe enough inside the ship, I hoped. I strode toward the doorway. As I did, Daru met me. "I'm sorry for how I spoke to you earlier," he said.

"That's okay."

"You were right. Now we will fight with our friends against those without honor."

I clasped his hand, the gesture of bloodsworn friends about to go into battle. Fierce joy lit his eyes but then a shadow flickered across them. "You do not have to fight."

"I always fight when the Dawi attack."

"But—you have not trained as we have. You might get hurt."

"So might you."

Samari strode up to us, her sword already drawn. "I have to agree with Daru. You'd only be a liability. Leave the fighting to the real warriors."

Anger shot through me. "I will defend my tribe to the death."

Samari smirked. "You'll never really be one of us."

I stepped closer to her till my right hand was nearly touching her sword blade. "I am bloodsworn to the Kasi. It's my life and I'll do what I want with it."

"Your thoughtless blunders could cost our lives."

"Not if you're a good enough warrior."

Her eyes narrowed, anger smoldering in their coal-black depths. Then she spun on her heel and marched out the door. When I followed her, Daru grabbed my arm. A desperate look gripped his face. "Please, don't go."

I tried to shake him loose. He held tight. "What's gotten into you? You know I have to fight to keep my honor."

"You don't go on raids."

"That's different." Not to the Kasi, but to me. Defense was different than attack, but I couldn't count on Daru to see that. His behavior right now mystified and annoyed me.

"I will fight for you." He let go of me and drew his sword. "I will keep you from shedding blood. You're one of us but at the same time, you're not. You're special—you're Fralenn."

I shook my head. He was being ridiculous. "Yes, and I'll do what I want." I strode toward the door.

He grabbed my arm again, his fingers pressing tight against my skin. I yanked my pistol from its holster and aimed it at his forehead. "Let. Me. Go."

Pain sparked through his eyes and he stood back, his body sagging with defeat.

I stepped through the doorway and into the sunlight.

The sun blinded me, burned me. I draped the gauzy kafal across my face, a cool shadow falling over my eyes.

A line of Kasi and Rajel faced southeast between the two ships, lying flat, their rifles aimed over a barricade of bags of flour. Beyond them, nothing but a white wasteland of burning sand.


I heard them before I saw them. Screams like the screech of sand demons.

A line of dark shapes racing across the plain, sunlight glinting on rifles and raised swords.

Boom! At the gunshot, I threw myself to the ground.
Language key:
(the sounds at least have consistent spellings for each language--which is more than you can say for English. Of course they're written in completely different script and in their language they may have weirdness and inconsistent spellings English does. :) )

restet- accent on last syllable

Vehahetayn- accent on last syllable, 'a' is long (as in 'ah') and 'ay' is pronounced like "ai" in air

Maji- Mah'-Jee (accent 1st)
Kasi- Kah'-see
Daru- Dah'-roo

Halki- Hall'-kee
Aden- Ah'-den

Rajel- Rah-Jel'
Revall - accent last syllable, 'all' sounds like English 'all'

If there's any more you want to know about just let me know. :)
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I'm leaving on vacation so I thought I'd post another even though it's short. Just finished another chapter today! But I have to go back and fix it of course. I've got lots of ideas for the future....

Tell me if you have any ideas too!

Chapter 5
I spit gritty sand from my mouth. An ignominious beginning to the fight! Especially since it had only been a shot from our side. But I wasn't going to end it this way. I was going to prove Samari and Daru wrong, though that didn't matter as much as defending my people.

And I had a secret weapon. Magic.

I'd failed the first time, but I had to cut myself some slack. Of course using magic in the real world would be different than in practice. This time, though, I didn't have the luxury of failing. The Dawi wouldn't stop until the sand soaked up our blood.

I was more than just a warrior. I was a mage.

Or at least, I could be the equivalent of one, if I could just make the magic words work right. Focus. Picture the words, calmly despite the battle, and let myself be the pure conduit Revall said I was.

I pushed myself to my hands and knees and crawled toward the line of warriors. They alternated Rajel and Kasi, sand-colored robes and black uniforms, Stav and Maji side by side in the middle.

Shots rang out in quick succession. I couldn't see the results but I heard warriors yell out in surprise and exultation. I made my way to the end of the line closest to me, which just happened to be by Daru. The blue-clad Dawi warriors had scattered. Splotches of blue spilled across the sand, the bodies unmoving.

The remaining Dawi charged us, spaced wide apart this time. As soon as they reached the base of the dune, a quick volley of fire hit them. Five fell from their saddles. Perhaps I wouldn't need to use my magic after all. These weapons of the Rajel seemed to have a magic of their own.

But if they stayed where the Rajel could pick them off, all the better.

I forced myself to close my eyes. Focus. But what to focus on? I had to stop them en masse.

I imagined a huge invisible wall between us and the Dawi. I could feel its force, its solid strength like a tower of sheer glass that reached toward the heavens.

I filled my mind with the image of the word, let its ghost linger on my lips, then let its power flash through me.

"Vehahetayn," I whispered, the word flowing across my tongue like liquid sunlight, sweet as sugarcane.

I opened my eyes, the real world materializing around me. Gunshots boomed loud in my ears; I tasted the tang of gunpowder. Smoke hovered above the dune, floating across the sun like a miasma.

For a moment, I couldn't see the Dawi. Then the smoke cleared a little and I saw them. They were halfway up the dune—what was left of them. Some were forcing their horses to climb higher; others had stopped and were looking around as if in confusion. Had it worked?

A sick feeling settled in my stomach when I realized the perfect invisible shield hadn't materialized. Gunshots picked off some of the confused Dawi, but the rest of them urged their horses forward. Shredded my shield as if it were nothing. Perhaps the open door back home had been a coincidence…perhaps Revall had lied about me being special, having any kind of power….

The remaining Dawi reeled off to the side as they got near the top, some of them darting behind the skyships. Their shots hit the dirt in front of us; one hit the bag I leaned on, spilling flour the color of white sand.

I jumped to my feet; the barricade would do no good now. I drew my pistol just as a Dawi, his face contorted with bloodlust, aimed his rifle at me.

His shot went off before I could press the trigger and I expected to feel pain burst through me. Instead, the warrior slid from his saddle and hit the ground, unmoving.

Daru stepped beside me, holding his pistol, his face grim. Even if my magic didn't work—sickness twisted my stomach at the thought—I had to do my part. I drew my sword.

Daru stayed at my side as the battle raged around me, but the other Kasi and the Rajel kept the remaining Dawi occupied. One of the Dawi charged, his horse kicking out in a battle strike, knocking warriors to the ground. He jumped from his horse, slashing a bloody path with his sword. Maji stabbed through the base of his neck, pinning him to the ground, blood flowing from his body like a red river.

Another Dawi shot from the edge of the damaged skyship, just the tip of his rifle visible. Stav fired and the rifle dropped to the sand. I followed them behind the ship. The man had a bullet hole through his forehead.

About five Dawi remained, huddled in the center, their faces full of defiance and hatred as the warriors held them prisoner. Kasi tied the saddles of their horses together, keeping them as prizes.

Maji stood next to Stav, looking at his rifle. "Your weapons must be magic."

I translated.

"No, not magic," said Stav. "A new type of ammunition that's very accurate. Let me show you." He took a packet from his pocket and spilled bullets onto his palm. Unlike the bullets we used, they weren't round but conical with little grooves in the sides. Maji took one and held it up to the light, inspecting it. "Amazing! So this will make you hit the target every time?"

Stav shook his head. "It takes lots of practice, like any weapon."

"Even so, I don't suppose you would trade with me for them?"

Stav rubbed his beard. "We have a limited supply…But we won't need it if we're going to die in the desert. We need to get on our journey, and for that we'll need to repair our ships. The ones that can be repaired. For that we need materials. How close are we to Ardaynenn?"

"About thirty miles," I said.

"We could travel to their villages, but I doubt they'd welcome us. Perhaps you could trade for what we need."

"Of course!" said Maji. "Then we will have the magic weapons and crush the rest of the Dawi. I don't suppose you'd let us have one of your demons as well?"

"Restet," I said. "They're called restet."

"Restet," repeated Maji, carefully pronouncing the foreign word.

"I'm afraid not," said Stav. "They're specifically trained to attack all who aren't Rajel as soon as we give the word. That's why I didn't unleash them during this battle. I didn't want them to turn on you by mistake."

"I see," said Maji, glancing apprehensively at the ship opposite us where the restet had gone earlier.

I followed the chief and the captain to the half-crushed ship. The slick blue fabric rasped as I stepped into shadow.

A swift blur of golden hair, copper skin, blue cloth. A flash of silver and dark polished wood. Two hard thuds, like metal against bone. I jumped back but a hand grabbed my wrist and wrenched me inside, yanking my pistol and dagger from my belt.

Stav and Maji lay on the ground, unmoving. As rough hands pulled me back, two others lifted Stav and Maji and thrust them through the door, pistols to their heads.

"If any of you enters, the hostages will die," said a tall, lithe Dawi, wearing a raspekh beetle talisman on his wrist. "If you do not surrender by the time the burning disk of the Enemy touches the horizon, they will die."

Rough hands threw me to the ground and I caught myself, my palms hitting the sand. More hands grasped my arms—I struggled, hit them—

"It's all right!" said a voice. "I mean, it's not all right—but it's just me."

I turned to see Pren beside me, and I sat down between her and Choya. Near the other wounded, Doma lay face-down, unmoving, his blood staining the sand. Scattered around the ship lay Kasi warriors in their cream-colored robes, dark slashes of blood where their hearts would have been.

Dawi warriors patrolled the ship, their blue robes blending with the shadows. Five of them guarded us, their rifles aimed in the general direction of our heads.
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Sorry I took so long to get back to this! :oops: I am reading, even if I haven't anything to say yet. I like to let it marinate for a bit before commenting. And thanks for the pronunciation key, it's uber-helpful! ;)
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Helios wrote:Sorry I took so long to get back to this! :oops:
That's ok! Sometimes it takes me a while....
Helios wrote: I am reading, even if I haven't anything to say yet. I like to let it marinate for a bit before commenting.
I do that too. For some reason I have a hard time reviewing others' stories. I was wondering about being an editor since I'm good at spelling and grammar (sort of) but I don't think I'd be a good development editor. I don't want to intrude on someone else's creativity. And I have a hard time telling WHY I like something, or why it doesn't work....
Helios wrote:And thanks for the pronunciation key, it's uber-helpful! ;)
Good! I thought I might be going a bit overboard...as one tends to do with one's own stories.
I am trying to at least have each letter/combination be consistent in its sound (like Spanish, unlike English). Like "ay" always is a long "a".

This is a huge epic in my mind and in notes and I'm a bit daunted by it. Now that the first major scene is over, I'm struggling with the transition to the next one. Transitions are always hard. And it's bad if you linger too long in transitions...things must be happening....

I need to write this, can't waste all my thoughts and notes. Or can I? It would be better not to waste more time if it wasn't going to turn into anything. But how is one supposed to know? (previous story failure has given me doubts but I keep on writing...desperately... I want to write for a living but I can't really count on that...I need to get some sort of job but it'll take me away from my writing and I'll be so exhausted I won't have any energy to write. :( It would at least be nice to have a job that was interesting enough to get writing material from....is that too much to ask??? *sigh* life. sometimes it's no fun. I'd rather be writing, in someone else's conflict...ANYway. )
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Chapter 6

A bit of violence in this chapter. The Dawi are not nice people.
I looked around for Tokani. She was tied to one of the metal bars of the ship, tossing her head, pawing the ground. If she pulled back, it might bring the whole ship down on us.
Choya whispered to herself in her language, words sibilant, many-syllabic. Despite myself, a hunger laced through me to know that language, to take possession of its words, to let them bring me new worlds of meaning and life.
Choya hugged her knees, rocking back and forth. A tear slid down her cheek.
I laid a hand on her arm. She jerked away, startled.
“It’s okay,” I said, my heart protesting the lie of those words.
She looked at me, her dark silver eyes haunted. “It was me,” she said in a desperate whisper. “It’s my fault.”
“It can’t be your fault.”
“I didn’t foresee it! They were counting on me and—I let them down. Again. I’m not a good Pathfinder like Mom said. I thought I could do it but—I had no idea they came in till they—“ She choked. “Killed them.” She buried her face in her hands.
“It’s the Dawi that did this,” I said, glaring at the warriors who were walking toward us, dragging Stav and Maji. They threw them to the ground beside Doma and bound their hands behind their backs, then they walked back over to the wall.
Pren knelt and crawled toward her father.
Five swift clicks as the Dawi aimed their rifles at her. “Don’t move,” said one of them.
“I h-have to help my f-father!” she said, her voice shaking.
He shoved his gun to her temple; she froze, her eyes wide with terror.
I couldn’t let her get hurt just because of a misunderstanding. I doubted the Dawi would listen, but I had to try.
I swallowed, gathering the courage to look into his eyes. “Please—she just wants to help her father.”
“So the chief of the Red-hairs is her father! And you—you must be the Kasi’s pet raspekh—the one that cost us the oasis.” He stepped toward me, his long dreadlocks shifting like albino snakes. He grabbed my hair, pulled my head back. “What a prize! Whatever happens, we’ll keep you alive and make you work your magic for us.”
“I don’t have magic.”
He twisted his hand in my hair; I bit my lip to keep from crying out. For some reason, the Dawi blamed losing the Last Breath Oasis to the Kasi on me, though I hadn’t done much more than help negotiate the truce after the battle was over.
“Only someone with magic could do what you did, you lying Ardayn witch!” He wrenched me backwards, slamming me to the ground. I lay in the sand, shaking. “I’ll find a way to persuade you, don’t worry.” He stepped back into position with the other guards.
“Are you okay?” said Pren, looking down at me.
I nodded. My head hurt but it was nothing, really. I grasped Pren’s hand and she pulled me up.
“Thank you for trying to help me,” said Pren. “I can’t let my father just lie there—but they won’t let me go to him.”
“There has to be a way to help him and Maji.” I looked at Doma, trying to see if he was still breathing. He’d lost a lot of blood even before the Dawi took him. I could make out a faint rise and fall of his chest. Maji and Stav were just knocked out. Probably a good thing too or the Dawi might torture them. “I think Doma needs the most attention. He might bleed out unless someone binds his wound.”
“He saved me,” said Choya, her voice low, choked. “I was by the back wall. They came out of nowhere and Doma ran over even though he was wounded. One almost stabbed me but Doma killed him. The others attacked him, stabbed him through the stomach. If I’d’ve seen what was going to happen—“ She shook her head. “I can’t let him die like this.”
“Maybe we can negotiate.”
“We don’t have anything to negotiate with.”
“Well, he’s a pretty important hostage. Maybe they don’t know that.”
I looked behind me at my attacker. He looked down, one eyebrow raised, and shifted his rifle toward me.
“Who’s in charge?” I asked.
“All Dawi are in charge.”
“I want to speak to the leader.”
“You can tell me anything you can tell him, little tora.”
“The man—the one you stabbed. He’s important. He’s—a commander.” I wasn’t totally clear on what the rank meant, but it must be one step lower than captain.
“What’s a com-an-dor?”
“It’s like….the spirit chief.” Second-in-command, but close enough.
“He could tell me the secrets of their gods and demons?”
“You’d have to ask him.”
“Our ancestors are more powerful.” He stepped over Maji and kicked Doma in the side, turning him over. A dark stain drenched his gray shirt. “Still, if we took him, I could torture him and learn of his power.” He walked over to the side of the ship and spoke with the tall man who’d made the demands. They both walked back over to us. The man in dreadlocks took his position again and the tall man crouched down in front of me. He swept long wisps of golden hair back from his face and tipped his head, his black eyes staring into mine. I forced myself to meet his gaze—I was never going to cower in servitude to the Dawi, no matter what they did to me.
He slid his fingers along my cheek. I jerked away but he kept his hand there and tucked a loose strand of hair behind my ear. “Lost little tora. You don’t belong out here in the desert.”
“I am of the Kasi.”
“But you are not of them. You walk with the flamesoother, but you’re not of him either. You are not a wizard, you are just a lost, tribe-less waif that the Ardayn tossed out like dust.” He closed his eyes. “You will be our slave—that is your true destiny. All that you were made for.” A smile tweaked the edge of his mouth.
I refused to let his words rattle me. “You are a dreamer?”
He opened his eyes. “I am Jura, the spirit chief. I see your future, little tora.” He slid his hand down over my cheek. I jerked away again, this time freeing myself of his hand.
“You weren’t a chief last time I knew.”
“I saw the old dreamer’s fate. His time had come.”
“So you killed him.”
He nodded, smiled vaguely. “He didn’t even see me as I slid my sword between his ribs….he died with a tora leg bone on his lips. Such a gluttonous creature—it dulled his dreaming.”
“This man—Doma—“ I gestured toward him—“is the second-in-command of the Rajel forces. He’s a valuable hostage. You shouldn’t just let him bleed out.”
“It is the will of the ancestors whether he lives or dies.”
“But we can be a part of their will.” I never saw why belief in gods had to make you fatalistic.
Jura’s eyes pierced mine. “He killed one of our own. Blood for blood.”
“You can kill him later. What if their leader dies? You think anyone else is near as important as Doma is to the Rajel? It’s better to have two to bargain with than one.”
He tipped his head, his eyes as dark as midnight. “You are a shrewd negotiator. Perhaps there is some magic to you after all.”
I flinched at his words; I couldn’t even make magic words work for me, not when it counted. I’d just have to deal with the fact I was nothing special, certainly no one my parents could have been proud of.
“You,” said Jura, looking at Pren. “What’s your name?”
I translated.
“St-tav. Prentelle.”
“Well, Sastav Prin Tel, please bind up this man’s wounds.”
“May she tend to the others?” I asked.
“Yes, yes.” Jura stood and spoke to the man with dreadlocks, calling him Bani. Bani looked at us, nodded. Pren scrambled over to Doma; the medic, injured himself, crawled to help her, blood soaking a makeshift bandage on his arm.
Bani crouched next to me. “You are quite the fiery one. You do not even fear Jura, and everyone fears Jura, even our head chief.”
“All Dawi are the same to me.”
He laughed heartily. Grabbed my hair, pulling my head back again. I pulled away; he held me fast, twisting my hair. Maybe I shouldn’t have such long hair, I thought wryly, even as my heart thudded like a war drum in my chest, throbbing against my ears.
“I like my slaves with a bit of resistance. No fun if they just give in.” He kissed me. I froze, chills racing through me—I could hardly breathe—I’d never felt so helpless—such a strange, violated feeling—I had to get him off me but I couldn’t move—
“Leave her alone!” said Choya.
“Oh! And we have another little firebrand.” He leaned away from me—I felt boneless and nearly collapsed to the sand, except he still had my hair wrapped tight around his fist. He grabbed Choya’s hair—she cried out.
“Such lovely silver! Like threads of starlight. I think I will take you both.”
“Not so fast,” said a man across from Bani with a scar on his cheek. He knelt beside Choya, cupped her chin. “I’ve had my eye on this one since we got here. The charcoal skin, the eyes like twin moons—I’d be the envy of the Kefahd Nesayr. Few have Northern slaves, not one so fine as this.”
“I’m a bit partial to this one myself,” said another, large, muscular, gesturing to Pren, who was binding Doma’s wound. “A bit gangly but she’ll fill out. I’ll bend her to my will and she’ll work for me.”
“Are you kidding?” said the man across from me with one blind eye, its milk-white contrasting with the other eye’s fathomless black. “Her pale skin will burn in the sun and she’ll shrivel up like a dead leaf. Look at her father—his skin’s already red and the Enemy barely touched him.”
“The sun will burn her copper as we are in time.”
“I don’t know….”
“Me, I’m partial to this one,” said the fifth, with dark blond, almost brown hair—perhaps the son of an Ardayn slave. He nudged Stav with his boot.
“You always were a strange one, Zalu.”
He leaned down and brushed Stav’s face with his fingers. Stav stirred. Zalu grabbed his chin, forcing him to face him. Stav thrashed, kicking. Zalu kicked Stav in the stomach savagely, once, twice.
Pren turned from tending to Doma. “Don’t hurt my father!” She scrambled over to him, pulled him away from Zalu.
“I say we have a bit of fun while we’re waiting,” said Bani, tracing my ear. I jerked away, nearly falling on my shoulder.
“Just as long as you don’t lose your vigilance,” said Jura, walking back over. “Maji should be awake by now to take my questions.” He nudged Maji with his foot; my chief stirred, groaning. When he saw Jura above him he snarled, struggled to his knees.
“The Heart of Fire burn you,” said Maji, his voice the embodiment of hatred.
Jura drew his knife. “You will scream for me. I have foreseen it.”
The large muscular man grabbed Pren; she cried out. “Papa!”
Though he was bound, Stav leaped to his feet. “Don’t touch my daughter!” He lunged toward the larger man but Zalu wrenched him back and slammed him to the ground.
“You’re mine, pale foreigner,” said Zalu. He laughed.
We had to stop the Dawi, get the upper hand—it was ridiculous that we’d prevailed over them and they’d crawled inside the ship like raspekh beetles and taken over with just a few men. But what could we do? We hadn’t brought any healers or dreamers, and the Kasi didn’t have any thoughtspeakers or wordweavers. I had no magic of my own, no weapon.
Bani grabbed me by the arm and dragged me toward the back wall. I saw Tokani in a blur; she nickered as I passed and pulled on her rope. I willed her not to pull too hard and bring down the ship on us—though perhaps dying would be a better fate than the one Bani had in store for me. But what if there was a way to open the wall—if the Rajel and Kasi outside could see where the hostages were they could shoot the Dawi down—
“Bani,” said Jura, struggling with Maji, “make sure you don’t damage her too much. When I get to the red-haired chief, I’ll need her to translate.”
“Oh, all right,” said Bani. He continued to drag me. I lashed out, kicking; he twisted his hand in my hair.
Maji wrested away from Jura. “If you hurt her, I will make you wish a likra falcon had torn you apart.”
As Maji started toward us, Jura slammed a fist into his face. He collapsed to the sand. His prey inert for a moment, Jura dragged Maji over to Tokani, untied her, and bound Maji to the post. He brought out a knife; it glinted in the sun from one of the tears in the ship’s fabric.
I couldn’t bear to see him tortured by his enemy. Though I knew Maji would never give in, just to be in the power of that Dawi raspekh was an ignominy I couldn’t allow.
Bani shoved me to the ground; my back hit the sand hard, knocking the breath out of me. He locked his hand around my throat; I gasped for breath but his fingers pressed harder—Pain shot through my throat, my vision blurred—
I kicked as hard as I could. He shrieked—I must’ve hit the most vulnerable of places. I crawled along the edge of the ship’s quivering wall, moving like a sidewinder toward Tokani.
Bani kicked me in the side. A sharp hard pain burst through me. Cold metal licked my cheek. “Don’t move, tora.” The bare edge of his razor-sharp knife sliced into my skin. I froze, breathing hard. Tokani looked at me with her large liquid-dark eyes, as if wondering what I was doing down here. I wished I’d trained her to do more battle moves. I didn’t want her to get hurt—that’s why I never took her on raids with the Kasi.
A yell, sounds of a scuffle distracted Bani. Stav yelling Rajel obscenities at Pren’s attacker, and sharp thuds and cries.
“Strike!” I yelled, hoping Tokani remembered the command, hoping that it was enough time for her to have the element of surprise.
Tokani pranced forward and reared, striking with her front hooves, hitting Bani on the back. He fell, landing on me like a log. I kicked him off and Tokani came down on his back again, stomping as if he were a snake.
A shot rang out. Tokani dropped to the sand, convulsing once, then she was still, like a golden statue of a horse, beautiful, perfect—
A dull sword twisted through my heart. I lurched toward her, my limbs achingly slow, and knelt beside her head. I laid my hand on her neck—so smooth, silken—a trickle of blood dribbled down it.
Horror roared through me—I saw her as a foal beside me in the storm and I was keeping her head up out of the sand and we breathed, just breathed, till we were rescued—
She’d saved me. My beautiful little one. I kissed her neck, grasping her mane, trying to keep as close to her as I could—forever—nothing else mattered. Droplets fell into the sand beneath my face, making little wet dots—my tears, falling warm down my cheeks.
A shadow fell over me. An arm nudged me out of the way. A hand touched her.
The Dawi! Killers! I grabbed the hand, biting it—
A kick hit my face—a blur of ship-shadow and sand-gold and Dawi blue—
Then, blackness.
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Peach Cobbler
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Can I just say that THIS IS MY FAVORITE BOOK OF ALL TIME!? I LOVE this. I'm so obsessed already. :P
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Fudge Marble
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Wow Emma thank you! I wasn't sure if people were still reading this.

:anxious: a bit more violence in this chapter.

Chapter 7
A scream cut through my head like a knife. A cry rasped through my throat. Pain gripped my head, as if a huge hand was squeezing it.

I opened my eyes despite the sand that seemed to weigh them down. A sliver of orange-gold light pierced them and I shut them again.

The scream again—it twisted in my heart like a sword-thrust.


I forced my eyes open again only to see a large golden form lying beside me. Sorrow poured through me and for a moment I couldn't move, couldn't think—

My Tokani. It felt like a sun had replaced my heart, turning me into an inferno of sorrow and pain. I couldn't bear to look at her but I couldn't tear myself away.

Her eyes were open, light dancing across them. Just as if she were alive.

And then she blinked.

Had I imagined it? I reached over and warm breath blew onto my hand and joy burst through me and I knelt over her, kissed her flat smooth cheek.

She lifted her head, snorting hard breaths. I slid my hand around her neck and helped her to her feet and she stood shakily, her head down, blood caked across her neck.

I wrapped my arms around her, holding her, petting her, soothing her with soft, meaningless words of love.

I pressed my cheek to her warm neck. She was alive. She'd saved me and the gods had been merciful and saved her—she just had a cut across the top of her neck, the path of the bullet. I tore a piece of my robe and pressed it to the wound to stop the blood.

Another scream. I wrenched myself from Tokani to see Jura kneeling before Maji.

I marched toward them, their forms blurred together but before I could get there strong hands grabbed me from behind.

I looked back and glimpsed a blind blue eye before being thrust to the ground, my palms grinding into sand.

"Bring her to me," said Jura in his deceptively gentle voice and the hands dragged me forward in front of a plain metal box.

I looked up at Maji and pain and sorrow were written across his face along with shame and withered defiance.

"I'm so sorry, Fralenn."

My chief defeated—I couldn't bear it. He should be proud, leading his people into a charge—he was great, he didn't deserve to be tortured like this, dying at the hands of the honor-less Dawi.

There had to be a way to make this right—perhaps I should signal for the others to come. Dying in battle, even from one of our own, would be better than this.

Metal tongs lifted in front of my face and six legs wiggled beneath a black carapace. Pincers snapped and clicked. It lowered toward my arm, the legs brushing against me in a feather-touch, the pincers snapping, clacking.

"Tell me," said Jura, "or I will let it eat her flesh."

"I'll tell you."

He held the raspekh beetle away from me as its legs wriggled, the sun glancing off its copper wings.


"You will have to tear it from me."

Jura nodded. "I have seen your surrender." He lowered the beetle to Maji's arm—I struggled against the hands that held me—the beetle sat on his skin for a moment and then with a snap of its pincers it burrowed beneath.

For a moment he struggled against the pain—I couldn't bear to see but couldn't shame him by looking away—then it cut toward his chest and he screamed—

I wrenched toward him but the man with the blind eye shoved me to the ground face-first, my cheek pressed against the sand.

A wild shriek from the doorway. A whirlwind of gold, fierce eyes like tornadoes. Lash of sword and flash of rifle-shot, smell of smoke and screams of the enemy. Gratification poured through me. Samari. She slashed a path through them toward her father and a blue cloak leaped toward her and she thrust hard, an arc of blood, then a silver sword-tip, emerging from the enemy's back.

She yanked the sword free—more came at her—she slashed with her bayonet but one shot her through the thigh and she collapsed to one knee. She fought but they brought her down and kicked her savagely.

Brave warrior! She'd done what no one else did—she'd tried to save her father. But now they dragged her toward me, barely conscious and bloodied.

"Samari," whispered Maji, his voice ragged with pain—more from her capture than his agony.

"You will pay for this, little fool," said Jura and he marched over the bodies of his two dead warriors. The half-blind man held me down, his knee on my back.

The man with the scar dragged someone forward and threw her to the sand between me and Samari. Choya, her face bruised, terror in her non-swollen eye.

"You broke our agreement," said Jura. "You did not surrender and so I will kill one hostage. You will watch her die, and then I will kill you." He lifted Choya to her feet and half-dragged her to the doorway. He shoved a pistol to her head.

"Watch this one die, worthless Kasi and red-haired invaders!"

I could not watch her die. But what could I do? My magic words hadn't worked.

But what did I have to lose?

No time to properly envision the word, I let the image flash across my mind. It happened to be the image of the door that I'd opened when I first said the magic word yesterday.

The new word poured through me in all of its power and before it could take control of me I narrowed it down to a finite form as it crossed my lips. "Jemanasolil."

As if torn by an invisible sword, the doorway ripped open, widening a path to the sky. Jura jumped back but he couldn't dash into shadow— sunlight poured through like a waterfall of gold, showering us with warmth and light.

Swift shots popped. Enemies dropped to join the dead.

Jura raised his pistol and aimed it toward the figures silhouetted against the light but a blast of fire surrounded him, consuming him. He screamed as he collapsed to ash.

A tall man, his eyes blazing, swept toward me as if floating on mirages and he blasted the last of the enemy with flames.

He held a sphere of fire in his palm and whispered it to slumber. He reached toward me, his hand blackened with soot, and I grasped it—strong, warm—and he lifted me and wrapped me in his arms.

"Fralenn—I'm so sorry."

"I'm okay, Revall." I pressed my cheek to his shoulder, against the rough fabric of his robe.

"I should've been with you instead of—" his voice choked—"sitting at home doing nothing. My beautiful Fralenn." He stroked my hair. "If my magic could help you but I do nothing—how could I forgive myself?" His hands on my shoulders, he pressed me gently away from him, his blue-gray eyes sharp with pain.

"But you did come," I said, my eyes straying to the crumpled form of the very dead Jura. "Your fire—that was amazing. I've never seen it in battle."

"I could've held back more than I did, but I nearly lost control when I saw you lying there." His eyes searched mine. His voice lowered to a soft whisper, so I could hardly hear it among the commotion. "Did you…do it?"

"Do what?"

He lifted his hand to indicate the ripped ceiling, the shreds of ship-skin hanging off of the metal skeleton, the sky spread above it, painted with sunset gold.

I nodded, still not quite believing I could've done such a thing. My words. My magic.

His lips curved into a lopsided smile. Full of pride. For me. He wrapped me in another embrace and warmth and happiness spread through me, along with a thrill that I couldn't quite define. A feeling of euphoria and pride in who I was that I'd never felt before. I wanted to grasp this feeling, hold onto it forever. So much so that I clenched my hands into fists as if the feeling were a tangible thing.

"You made a doorway," he said, his voice both amused and amazed. "You're an even stronger conduit than I thought. If my father met you—" He hesitated. "Perhaps…we can go and visit my father. He'd be able to tell you more of the Order than I."

"He's alive?"

"I…don't know. It has been many years….It would be a dangerous journey for many reasons. But right now, we have to do some damage control."

"What do you mean?"

"If I'd arrived earlier, perhaps I could've burned the ships' fabric. But you did what you had to do. It's just that…we have to explain this somehow." He indicated the huge tear again. "It can't be explained by natural forces. Perhaps I can say that I did it, although my skill is fire. But whatever I do, I can't reveal the Words of Power."

"Then others could do what I did."

"More than that. In unscrupulous hands, especially an evil wordweaver's like Mordeth…. The Order did evil things and they did not even have their own magic. I know what horrors someone with good intentions can do…."

"I understand." I felt the great responsibility of keeping these words secret. Revall trusted me alone with them. I felt both privileged and humbled, and a warm gratitude toward Revall. I stood straight and tall like a soldier despite the aches in my head and back. "I vow by Tanverath I will never reveal the Words of Power."

"Thank you, Fralenn. Perhaps their questions can simply be avoided, though I doubt it."

Maji screamed. He was unbound, lying on the sand, and two were holding him down while another cut out the raspekh beetles. I couldn't bear to watch but I wanted to help him in some way. I needed more magic…perhaps there were words to simulate the actions of healers….

They tore three beetles from him, their slick carapaces dripping with blood. One had burrowed near his heart. They stomped on the beetles, stabbed them, then Revall burned them. Even then, it took minutes for them to die.

Maji writhed, moaning as the medic cleansed his wounds. Revall knelt beside him and spread a delicate lace of fire over the cuts, cauterizing them. By this time, Maji had thankfully lapsed into unconsciousness. I didn't know how anyone could bear such pain, but he was stronger than most, even of the Kasi. Sorrow and pride flowed through me as I knelt before him, kissed his cheek, pouring all my hopes and prayers into him.

"He needs a healer," I said. "So do many more." I looked around at the devastation. Most of the injured were Rajel; the Dawi had killed the Kasi without mercy, except the few they'd saved for torture.

And the others who'd been dragged away when I had— I hoped they were okay. I'd been a little occupied, so I had no idea how they'd fared, or whether those Dawi raspekh had been able to…hurt them.

"I'll patch them up as best I can till a healer can come," said the medic.

"Thank you," I said, grateful to him for what he could do.

Finished with Maji, he turned to Samari, who sat near her father. She winced as he unwrapped the blood-soaked cloth from her thigh, but her eyes were fixed on me.

"You did something, didn't you." Her voice was almost accusatory.

"I don't know what you mean."

"You said something. Just before the beetle's skin ripped open." She gestured to the sky. "You did this."

I looked down at the sand. How could I answer her? I couldn't tell her the truth.

She scooted forward, under protests from the medic. "You have magic, don't you," she said in a low voice.

Before I could reply—with what, I didn't know—the medic commanded her to lie back, pressing her down by her forehead when she resisted. He slipped some medicine into her mouth and her body relaxed. "Should've done this for the other one before those barbarians got to him," he muttered and proceeded to dig the bullet out of the wound.

I looked away, only to see several Kasi looking at me. More joined them, along with Rajel. Heat suffused my skin; I shrunk back from their gaze.

Daru came up to me and knelt beside me, his hand held out hesitantly. "Are you okay?"

I nodded. "Just got hit on the head."

"And here." He reached toward my face; I realized there was a stinging cut there from Bani's knife. I glanced to where he had fallen in the spare bit of shadow near the back wall of the ship; to my relief he was still there. I couldn't tell if he was dead or alive.

"It's nothing," I said. "Especially compared to…others." I looked at Maji, Doma—who was stirring, helped by his comrades—and Pren and Choya kneeling near an inert form which, I realized with a shock, was Captain Stav. I hoped he was all right but I couldn't see much, except dark stains across his body. Revall knelt beside him, speaking in a low voice.

"Let me help you." Daru went over to the water tank and dipped a cloth in it, torn from his own robe. He knelt beside me again and dabbed at my cheek; I gasped at the sting.

He pulled his hand away. "I'm sorry!"

"No, it's okay. It should be cleaned." I nodded for him to proceed and he rinsed out the wound. It seemed pretty shallow all things considered and he was done quickly.

He sat back and looked at me, his brow furrowed, some of the same awe in his eyes as the others. It made me uncomfortable. "What is it?" I asked sharply.

"Is it true?"


His voice fell to a near-whisper. "That you…have magic." He glanced to the west where the sun was setting. It had touched the horizon, and we were all safe, and Jura was a heap of cinders. He had not foreseen that future. I had wrested reality away from him with a word.

I could say that Revall had done it, which would be a lie. I hated lies and tried to avoid them whenever I could. Something was very wrong when someone lied; it was like trying to cheat reality, violate truth.

I could say the gods had done it, which would not only be a lie but blasphemy. I chopped that thought from my mind and tried to erase its vestiges.

I could say nothing at all. But that would not satisfy them. They would at least suspect something. Especially Samari; knowing her, she'd never rest until she got what she wanted.

I could never reveal the Words of Power, betraying Revall and endangering the world.

But a half-truth, something I could believe too?

I did have magic. At least, partly. I was a pure, powerful conduit. I had done this, beyond the shadow of a doubt. I could use magic words and make them do things for me. I could back up my claim with action if I had to. As long as I whispered the words so no one could hear them….

It was almost like being a wordweaver. Perhaps I could actually become one in practice, and then there would be no lie.

Truth. Yes. I could tell them that. It was my duty, my right.

I stood and looked at the crowd of Kasi and Rajel. The white robes and the black uniforms. The golden hair and the red, all lit by sunset glow. The people I'd fought for.

Daru knelt before me as if I were an incarnate god. I took his hand, helped him to his feet. "You're right, Daru." I looked around at the others, and said the words I'd longed to say my whole life. I believed them in the moment that I said them. "I have magic. I am a wordweaver."
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My book, Justice Lost, is on Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JM1XFCI
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Peach Cobbler
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Gah! I love it! I like the part about the horse; it made the scene seem more realistic. :D
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Fudge Marble
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Thanks Emma! Tokani's kind of based on my own horse. :)

Chapter 8

"But how can you be a wordweaver?" said one of the Kasi warriors, Daymi, her long, tangled hair slung over her shoulder, a slash of blood across her cheek. "You never showed any indication before."

Shock shot through me that I'd actually said what I had. But then I realized I'd have to spin some lies in order to make this true.

"I had magic before. I just kept it hidden."

"All this time? Why?"

"Because I didn't know how to use it."

"Its power would've burned you."

"That's why I had to find Revall. He's been teaching me." That part was true. Sort of. It surprised me how easy it was to lie; I hadn't had much practice in it.

"When did you get magic?" said another.

"When I was fourteen."

He gasped. The others murmured—at least, the Kasi; the Rajel couldn't understand a word of this conversation, though they must've realized something out of the ordinary was happening.

"You must have great magic," said another. "It's almost unheard-of to get magic at that age."

"I don't see how she could keep it hidden," said Daymi. "We would've seen evidence of it."

"When she was fourteen, she was at the Magic Academy."

"She told us she didn't have magic when she came back."

"She just saved us! How can you doubt her? Besides, the evidence is before you."

"I see why she would lie to the Ardayn. I don't see why she'd lie to us."

That I didn't have an answer to. An uncomfortable feeling squirmed in my stomach. I was lying to them now. How would I get out of this? But how else could I have explained what happened?

"Fralenn!" said Revall, striding through the crowd toward me. He laid a hand on my shoulder. "What did you tell them?" he said in a soft voice.

"That I have magic."


"I couldn't tell them the truth! Besides, it is true."

"Words of Power are wild. They're not a part of you like other magic is. You can't always make them do what you want—you have to be very careful with them."

"I will! I had to do something."

"I should've been here for you so you wouldn't have to. I'm not sure what you can do other than keep pretending to be a wordweaver. To do that, you'll have to show you can control three of the elements."

"Why not four?"

"Because that'd mean you're the Prophesied, Taytha Reborn. I don't think we want to draw that much attention to you."

"Oh. Right." As awkward as this situation was, it'd be nothing compared to what would happen if Regent Mordeth believed I was the Prophesied.

I felt better now that Revall was with me. He'd know what to do. Perhaps I should've waited for him to come up with an explanation—or I should've said something, anything, besides that I had magic. Now Revall was complicit in the lie.

No, it wasn't a lie. I would just have to make it true—as much as I could, anyway. I'd have what I'd always dreamed of. Magic of my own.

I glanced back at the Kasi, who were scattering into the desert. "I told them I didn't have magic before."

He frowned. "You could tell them you didn't want to endanger them. If word got to Mordeth that a powerful wordweaver was also an heir to the throne—"

"He'd kill people to get to me. I know."

"But now, you've learned enough from me that you can protect yourself and others." He shook his head. "Lying doesn't sit well with me."

"It doesn't have to be a lie."

"It is, Fralenn. At least keep the truth and lies separate in your heart. Otherwise, words will lose their potency altogether."

"I do have magic."

"You are a conduit. The words are magic. If you knew what could happen if a true wordweaver said them…." Pain flashed across his eyes. He meant the death of his family at his own hands.

Okay, so I was lying unequivocally. That made me feel worse. A counterfeit mage, who didn't have any right to call herself a wizard. A liar, someone who twisted words for her own gain. But if I didn't do this, I'd have to break my vow to Revall—and unleash terrible power on the world.

I'd traded one wrong thing for another. These words were my responsibility. I'd have to live with that.

The sun became a liquid smear at the edge of the horizon, then dipped beneath it, leaving the sky painted orange. I walked out into the cool of dusk, Tokani following me. The first star pricked the sky—according to the Kasi, it was one of their ancestors. They seemed to sing with a silent music of their own, piercing and cold and sorrowful. Tokani stepped up beside me and rubbed her head on my arm. I swung up into the saddle and rode home across the cool blue sand.

I flopped into bed and descended into dreams. Far from the screech of metal, the smell of gunpowder, the screams of enemies and friends.

Someone was holding me down—I struggled, fighting the hands that smothered me—

I gasped awake, unable to quench my thirst for air. I grasped the sheets as I fought to breathe.

Light poured into my room from the open window. It melted the web of dreams and I stepped into the sunlight, letting it drench me.

What a strange, horrible dream—though I barely remembered any of it. I shivered despite the warmth, my body aching.

Hazily I walked into the kitchen where Revall was preparing breakfast. He set two eggs and a thick piece of bread with jam in front of me. I tore off a big chunk of bread. Its rich grainy texture filled my mouth, along with the sweetness of the vosa-berry jam.

"How do you feel?" he said, a little hesitantly.

"Good." I swallowed. "I ache all over though."

"That's to be expected. I can give you some aloe salve."

"I must've had some dream. I don't know what I could've done to feel like this…."

He tipped his head, looked at me strangely. A tickle nagged at the back of my mind; I ignored it. He sat down and stabbed an egg with his fork.

We ate in silence. Despite the sunlight dancing through the room, I felt increasingly dark inside. Cold, as if a shadow had fallen over me. I choked on my egg and put it down.

"Revall, I—"

He looked startled, concerned. "What is it?"

"I—don't really feel very well."

"You don't have to eat any more. Why don't you lie down."

I nodded and walked slowly to the couch. I picked up a book from the table and flipped to a random page.

And Queen Tayranayr stepped onto Nef T'Har, and Sovereign Gho'luivh met her on the shore beneath the shadow of the Palace of Bones. Seafoam sprayed like lace, the sea like dark green glass, shattering. The lightning ripped the sky as the thunder drowned out their words.

And Tayranayr strode into the palace, her crown glittering like the sword of Mazayr. And she stood before Gho'luivh and demanded the peace and safety of her people as the giants surrounded her, menacing teeth like sharp pearls, tattoos whispering curses against the intruder.

A barbed dagger gleamed behind her and it thrust through her robe, but she twisted aside and slashed her sword into the shoulder of the traitor.

The Queen seized peace once and for all and received a ring of black pearl as a seal and rode back across the waves in triumph as Hiyel's rays pierced the clouds, scattering the darkness to the four corners of the earth.

The cascade of words soothed me already, sweeping me into a dream of long ago when Ardaynenn was whole and peaceful. Queen Tayranayr had sparked a golden age where freedom and nobility had flourished. If I'd lived back then, I wouldn't have had to worry about Mordeth trying to kill me. My parents would be alive and we would live in a unified country which still believed in honor. Ah to live in those days! I loved the desert but something tugged at my soul whenever I thought of Ardaynenn, of what could have been. But that past was long lost and I doubted whether anything could bring it back. I could only read of it in books now.

I flipped to the next page. It told of a court intrigue, when the Thamadhs had tried to undermine Tayranayr's rule. I was used to thinking of the Thamadhs as good guys but of course it hadn't been that way throughout history. Mom had been a Ritha, after all, and so was the true Queen, Trisaykwith, a sweet, gentle girl by all accounts whose reign was usurped by her uncle. But under Mordeth Ritha the country lived under repression; he had cornered the Thamadhs in the far west, and killed all, including my parents, who were a threat to the regime.

At the end of the story, Taranayr discovered the plot because she was a thoughtspeaker. Thoughtspeakers were often devious, if not outright villains, all throughout history. But there were exceptions—Tayranayr the best of all.

I dove into all her stories till I got to her daughter's reign—which was a good story too, if not quite as exciting. Then I set the book down and lay back on the couch. I'd love to be like Tayranayr. Not a queen, not a thoughtspeaker, but someone noble and full of truth and light, committed to honor and freedom. She embodied all that Ardaynenn was supposed to be. And I—well, the sinking feeling in my stomach told me I'd never live up to her standards or those of my parents.

Thoughts and feelings from yesterday crept up on me. Just thinking about the lie made my stomach turn over. Why had I done it? I never lied if I could help it. The reason was a bit blurry at the moment. Fear pressed at the edge of the memory; I didn't know if I wanted to look at it directly.

But the moment persisted, a pinpoint in time, and I faced it: me standing in the ripped skyship, revealing that I had magic. I almost laughed. How ridiculous! I didn't have magic. But I did have the weight of the magic words pressing on my heart….

The rest of the images tumbled into my mind and I couldn't hold them back anymore, though they didn't fall into any sort of order. Tokani stomping on my attacker… Daru cleansing my cheek…the shower of berries…the gleam of restet's teeth…the slash of Captain Stav's sword…Maji's screams….Samari's swift doomed fight—and then my mind rushed back to the beginning—the sandblast and the three black shapes against the red sky.

It wasn't as bad as I thought, not once I faced it in daylight. Not even lying—I had a reason for that. And Revall agreed with me. He'd teach me new magic words; I wouldn't have to beg for them anymore. And perhaps I'd just needed some rest, some sleep to even things out. We'd won, after all. No one I cared about had died, though some had been seriously wounded. A pang pierced my heart when I thought of Maji. I needed to go see him.

I said a prayer to Tanverath, goddess of magic, begging her forgiveness for lying. Then I prayed to Taytha for his intercession. I hoped he listened—I knew he was kind but I wasn't always sure if he had time for everyone, especially someone as insignificant and incorrigible as me.

I swung my legs over the couch and set the book back on the table, careful to leave Revalls' marker in place. I felt a little dizzy to my dismay but I sat still for a moment and it subsided. I looked out the window; Revall was tending his garden. I grabbed the rest of my bread from breakfast and dashed out the door.

Revall heaved a bucket of sand over the stone wall. "Are you feeling better?" he asked as I walked up to him.

"Yeah. I think it was just…the craziness of yesterday." I walked through the gate. "And this whole deal with the magic words I have to get used to." The garden was mostly unscathed, except a dune had formed over the northern wall, crushing a prickly pear.

"I'll see if I can salvage any of these—but it could've been a lot worse." He looked around the garden, shaded by palms and fruit trees, lush kai reeds along the river. He looked at me. "I can teach you some more Words of Power this afternoon, if you like."

"Sure." My heart flipped at the prospect—I both dreaded and longed for more words; more to be responsible for, but also essential pieces of who I was—like a part of me was missing and the words fulfilled me. I must be meant for them if I feel that way…. "Right now I want to go see Maji. Do you need any help, though?"

"No, I'll stop before the sun gets much higher anyway. I may come to the village when I'm finished."


He nodded slowly, as if not quite sure of the prospect. I hoped he came. He had no reason to avoid them; he might even have a good time.

"I'll see you later!" I stepped carefully through the rows of melon, peppers and squash, the shade cool on my skin, the palms rustling above me. I picked a sugar-orange and peeled it as I walked. When I reached the river, I saw Tokani tearing up kai reeds on the opposite bank. I whistled and her head shot up, long reeds sticking out of both sides of her mouth. She jumped into the river and splashed over to me. I scratched her forehead and led her to a large rock then I sprang onto her smooth back.

Guiding her with my calves and my hands, I urged her back across the river and I drank in the wind as we galloped across the plain to the Kasi camp.

At the outskirts of the camp, a flock of tora scattered, screeching in alarm. In a few moments, the dog-sized reptiles disappeared, their gray-brown bodies blending with the sand. Closer to the river, horses grazed, the silver and gold of their coats flashing with the shifting shadows and sunlight. A tall sentry at Maji's tent strode up to me.

He saluted, touching his hand to his forehead. I returned the gesture. "Hi, Fralenn."

"Hi, Jora. How is he?"

Jora's face tightened. "Those Dawi raspekh! If I'd been there I'd have torn them to pieces! But Maji ordered me to stay here with his family."

"You will get your revenge."

His black eyes sparked. "The one who did it is dead, I hear."

I nodded.

"Revall killed him." Respect filled his voice. "And…it was you who made it possible."


"You gave us a view of the enemy so we could kill them. It is good that you finally have magic."

"May I go inside?"

"Of course. Maji is resting but he is much better. Also, the ones who fell from the sky are here. It will be better now that you can give us their words."

I swung to the ground, puffs of dust rising where my boots landed. As Tokani wandered off to join the Kasi's herd, Jora lifted the door of the tent with his sword and tiny silver bells on the fabric jingled, frightening away evil spirits. The narrow hallway spread out into the large main room where people lounged, speaking in soft voices. Tula, Maji's youngest, played with a doll in the corner near her father.

Maji was propped up on red and gold pillows; he looked drowsy but awake. Three other men lay near him. To the right was the healer, asleep, his face drawn with exhaustion. To the left were Commander Doma and Captain Stav. Pren knelt beside her father, seemingly oblivious to everything else. Other Rajel, some that I didn't recognize, sat along the edge of the tent, talking among themselves.

Samari sat near the door, polishing her sword. She stood as I entered, and her leg nearly buckled. Shame crossed her eyes but she stood tall, as if trying to pretend her injury didn't exist.

"Why are you here?" she asked.

"I came to see your father. How is he?"

"He's resting."

"Fralenn!" said Maji heartily, as if to belie her words. "Come here!"

I walked across the intricately pattered red rug, glinting with silver and gold horsehair.

He tried to get up, his face wracked with pain. I caught him by the arm and knelt beside him, lowering him back to the cushions.

"Don't get up!"

"I'm fine. I just need to get moving."

"You need to rest."

"The healer took away the worst of it. A warrior shouldn't be kept in bed."

"If you rest just a little longer, you'll be able to do whatever you want. But if you move around, you might make it worse."

"You sound like Talu." He looked at the healer, and a shadow crossed his eyes. "I should not have given him such pain…"

"You would've died."


"The raspekh almost reached your heart. They tore it out of you—I heard you scream."

"I don't remember any of that. A chief should not show weakness."

"You couldn't help it. No one could have. You withstood against the Dawi—you didn't let him wrench anything from you."

"I'm not sure what I would have done if he'd hurt you."

"He didn't get a chance. Samari attacked."

He looked at Samari with a gaze of unfiltered affection. "She is her mother's daughter." He looked at me quizzically. "I hear that your actions allowed us to defeat them. Is this true?"

I nodded.

"You have magic!" He clasped my hand, his grip still strong despite his ordeal. "When did this happen?"

"When I was fourteen."

"Ah, you must be a great mage! But you kept it secret from us."

"I wanted to be able to control my magic. If an accident happened and I was close to you, word might get out to Mordeth there was a powerful mage here."

"Good foresight. It had to be hard to keep your magic hidden."

"That's why I went to Revall."

He smiled. "It all makes sense now. Why you did not come back to the tribe after you stopped going to the Magic Academy."

"I needed Revall to train me."

"There's no greater wizard." Going to the Magic Academy made more sense if I'd had magic. So did coming to stay with Revall after I left. I couldn't really explain it otherwise, more a feeling than a thought. I'd gone to Revall as if drawn by a magnet. He was an Ardayn outcast like me. And he had magic basically thrumming off of him. I had to be close to that power, the words he could turn to fire.

"When we were captured, I had to use it. I was finally getting it under control." My story, my pretense, was falling into place. I was becoming more comfortable with it.

"I wish I remembered more….all I can recall is seeing the blue of the sky and hoping I was with the ancestors…." He gave an apologetic look, as if ashamed for wishing the end of such horrific pain.

"It wasn't all that spectacular. I mean, I wasn't fighting."

"You fought in your own way. You were crucial to our victory." He lifted his hand—it shook a little—and slid his fingers gently down my cheek. "It makes sense you'd have magic. You've always had a magic of your own, my little lira."

I looked away, hoping he wouldn't see the guilt in my eyes. I had been crucial to their victory. But I still felt a fraud, a counterfeit. I suppose it wouldn't be good if I ever felt completely at ease with deception.

"Your magic must be windsong, right?"


Before I could answer, large dark eyes in a copper-tan face popped up beside me. Little Tula, clutching her doll. "Hi Lenni! Did you come to play with me?"


"She doesn't want to play with you, silly," said Luma, her older sister, tall and thin as a kai reed, freckles dotted over her face. Her long dark blond hair was slung over her shoulder and she held a book in her hand.

"But she always used to play with me!"

"That's when she used to live with us."

"I'll play with you—in just a minute." I looked up at Luma. "What book are you reading?"

She smiled. "It's The Song of the Stars." She handed it to me, its cloth binding soft as a gentle touch from a friend.

"That's a good one." I'd given it to her a long time ago.

"She always asks Sanai to bring back a book when she goes to trade," said Maji. "You two are true sisters."

"Can I go tomorrow, Papa?" said Luma.


"You're sending another trading expedition?" I said. "So soon?"

"We need to get supplies for the Rajel so we can trade them for the new ammunition," said Maji. "Would you like to go with Luma?"

"I'm not sure that I should."

"Mordeth hasn't reached Chokehold yet."

"I'm still not sure if…my magic is under enough control."

"Only go if you feel up to it. One thing that we'd appreciate is if you'd teach the Rajel a civilized language." He smiled broadly in lieu of a laugh.

"I can translate for you. And I will try to teach them, if they let me."

"We need to make sure we have all the details for the trade deal. I believe that man—" He flung his arm out toward the Rajel, wincing—"is the one in charge of trade."

"That one?" I indicated the large man lounging on pillows at the far left of the tent.

"Yes. His name is Bayda or something like that. I tried to talk to him but neither of us can understand one another. I'd appreciate it if you'd tell him that I'd like to speak with him."

"Of course. How are the others?"

Maji frowned. "Well, I was the priority. One of the healers helped them, but she did it a bit half-heartedly, if you ask me. Would you mind telling Jora to send for another healer?"

"Sure." I got to my feet.

Little Tula grasped my hand. "When will you play with me?"

"After I go see the Rajel."

"They have fire hair!"

"No, they don't."

"Don't touch it!"

"Don't worry, I'm not about to do that."

I walked past Samari cleaning her pistol into the hallway and relayed the message to Jora, who called for a runner to the healer's tent. Then I came back in and walked toward the eastern wall where the Rajel sat.

I felt a little apprehensive myself. The Rajel who were conscious were not the ones I knew. But I gathered my courage and stepped up to them.

"Hi," I said.

"Who're you?" said the big man, hefting himself to his feet. A Rajel soldier stepped in front of me, his hand on his pistol.
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<3 Man you are really GOOD! I LOVE THESE <3
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Wow thanks Kathy! I'm glad you like it.

I've written ahead and I'm not sure if all of it works so any comments/questions would be welcome, if you have them. I've had this idea for a while and I like writing it but it's a work in progress and I'm about in the middle of it now. But I also have ideas for sequels--so hopefully this story will work out till the end!

Chapter 9

My heart leapt to my throat. Before I could react, a Kasi guard appeared behind me, gripping the hilt of his sword.

"Blood should not be drawn in the tent of bloodsworn friends," he said.

I translated, tripping over Rajel words that now seemed more foreign than ever.

The big man's face melted into a smile. "Oh, so you're the translator. I'm sorry for the misunderstanding. We're a bit jumpy after what happened yesterday."

"That's okay."

"I am Vedda Risson, emissary of the Emperor."

"I'm Fralenn Th—Masayn." I'd almost given away my real name! I thought I was over that long ago. "We would like to know your intentions for tomorrow. The details about your trade."

"Ah, for your chief. I couldn't make myself understood! These savages have such an uncivilized language."

I flinched inwardly at the word "savages". Certain words were sharper than swords—they stabbed into your soul.

"I can translate for you."

"Good! It's fortunate we have someone who speaks Rajel—and an Ardayn nonetheless. Where did you learn the language?"

"From my—friend. He's half-Rajel."

"I take it he's the son of one of our deserters."

The Rajel army had deserted Revall's father, leaving him wounded on the battlefield before the Foresters took him in. "No, I don't think so."

Vedda's eyes narrowed as if he wasn't sure he believed me. But he said, "So, what do these savages propose?"

"The Kasi are civilized."

"I don't see many amenities around here." He swept his arm around the room.

"It has nothing to do with what they have. It's what they are."

"I see." He looked at me searchingly, then he said, "Well, will you tell me what they propose, little Aden firebrand?"

"I will translate as you speak to our chief."

He flung out one arm grandly, revealing intricate embroidery on the cuff of his sleeve. "Lead the way."

I walked over to Maji, who asked what kind of materials the Rajel needed and how many. Vedda told them that they needed cloth and metal to repair the ship, as well as food and water. Maji replied that the Kasi could provide them with food, but Vedda dismissed it as "not the right type". When Maji wanted to know how many bullets and weapons they could trade, Vedda gave a ridiculously low amount and seemed to think Maji wouldn't notice.

As I continued to translate, my heart burned. This man was treating Maji as inferior, when he and his tribe had sacrificed so much during the battle. Just because he was part of a small desert tribe and not part of the Empire.

I had to just ignore it though and translate. It would intrude on Maji's honor to interfere.

Finally we got a general deal hashed out. It took longer than it should have because of Vedda's ridiculous demands. He should've negotiated as an equal from the start—or more like a supplicant, since he was in Maji's tent and in the Kasi's territory. I wished Captain Stav would've been the one to negotiate, but he was still unconscious.

After the negotiations were over, Vedda went back to his corner and sat down, and the guard handed him something to eat.

A healer entered the tent and went over to the Rajel; I took that as my cue to leave. I took Tula's hand and she skipped past Samari, who glanced up at us as we passed, the silver carvings on her rifle polished to a high shine.

Tula's friends joined us and we played by the river beneath the shade of the trees. I gave them rides on Tokani. She was always gentle and good with children, unlike many of the Velta horses, though Kasi children were expected to ride by the time they were five.

Later, I joined Maji and his daughters for lunch. The Rajel were welcomed too, although the wounded did not join us, and Vedda kept to himself, as did the guards. Pren, however, tore herself away from her father and sat beside me, quietly taking everything in.

We all sat on the floor on elegant rugs, trays beside us filled with food. Maji's seven daughters dominated most of the conversation, especially ten-year-old Dorami, who boasted of her marksmanship practice that morning, and Matila and Ravala, who chattered on about anything and everything. They were dreamers-in-training, especially strong because they were twins, but since they were only seven they lacked the discipline necessary to harness their gift.

"Can I join you the next time you go to battle, Papa?" said Dorami.

Maji lifted an orange slice to his mouth. I couldn't help but notice his hand was shaking, but he was in much better shape than yesterday. "I don't know," he said. "You're still young yet."

"But I'm almost as good as Samari!"

Samari, beside her father, smiled wryly. "I don't know about that."

"You will have to demonstrate your skill to the war council first."

"I will!"

"I am not certain when we will go on a raid again."

"But we must take revenge against the Dawi," said Samari.

"I personally will not go into battle until I am fully healed."

"I will lead the charge for you." Samari pressed her fist to her chest.

"Patience, little one. Revenge will come. We must wait."

"They could attack tonight!"

"Unlikely, since we decimated their best forces." He grinned, as if the victory hadn't been at such a high cost to him. "And we killed their dreamer. It will take time for them to regroup from such a blow." He picked up a fig from the tray in front of him.

Pren tentatively picked up a drumstick, inspecting it with a grimace.

"That's tora meat," I said, as the twins renewed their chatter.

"Oh. What's a tora?"

"Did you see those small reptiles running about?"

She nodded.

"Those are tora. The Kasi use every part of them, down to their skin and bone."

She looked at the meat dubiously. "That's like what we do with the restet. But we ride them too."

"Tora are like a miniature version of restet."

"Except not as vicious."

"Your restet didn't seem too vicious."

"We brought along the most well-trained. But they're still dangerous. In Anapaso, we gave a demonstration against a cafani—do you know what that is?"

"It's a feathered serpent—almost like a dragon."

She nodded. "They're beautiful, with feathers that shift and shine like rainbows. They're very strong too, with sharp, retractable claws. But my father's restet killed their cafani, and after that we had to get out of there, because cafani are the sacred animal of Anapaso. It's a wonder Choya agreed to come with us."

I didn't know much about Anapaso, because there were so many northern kingdoms it was easy to get them mixed up. And they were always uniting, dividing, and fighting; it didn't seem worth it to keep track of who was who at the moment. But Anapaso had been around for a while—maybe it would become one of the more stable northern kingdoms. I'd always wanted to see a cafani….

I glanced back at Stav, who was lying beside his healer. Both were asleep. Doma, however, was awake, polishing a jewel-handled dagger. He nodded solemnly at me; I returned the gesture then turned back to Pren, who had a worried look on her face.

"How is your father?" I asked. Even with the healing, he didn't look good. Some people were past the capacity to heal—unless of course the healer was willing to sacrifice their life.

"He's…been unconscious ever since…" She swallowed, tears filling her eyes.

"The healers will do everything in their power to help him."

"Some of his injuries have faded. But he won't wake up. The healer said that he has to want to wake up. He's deep inside, hiding from the pain—" Her voice caught. A tear slipped down her cheek. I laid a hand on her shoulder, not quite sure what to do.

"He—he saved me." She choked back a sob. "They were going to hurt me and—he attacked them. They—beat him, kicked him—my papa!" I slid my arm around her shoulder and she leaned against me, sobbing, her tears leaking through my robe. All the girls had stopped speaking by now and were staring at us. I patted Pren's shoulder and glared back at them, shifting her away from their gaze. They looked away and picked at their food.

I helped her over to her father. Up close, he looked even worse, his pale skin almost translucent, showing every bruise and cut in sharp relief. Anger boiled inside me. "Savages," I said, hardly realizing I'd said it. But if the word fit anyone, it fit the Dawi.

Pren looked back at me. "You saved him, you know."

"Not soon enough."

"They were going to do something worse to him. What…they were going to do to me." Her cheeks reddened and she dropped her eyes, a curtain of hair falling in front of her profile.

I could see why Stav had retreated into his mind. It was safe there. He probably didn't want to deal with it any more than I did. The danger was gone now, though. He could come out. Somehow, we had to coax him awake. Tell him he was safe.

Perhaps…said a tiny pinprick in my mind—magic words could do it.

The good thing about magic words was that they weren't bound to an element. But you had to use them with precision or they wouldn't respond. And I could never reveal them to anyone else. I could whisper beyond the range of human hearing though….try to get alone with Stav…. There was no way a normal wordweaver would be able to revive someone; that was a healers' domain, and healers' tools were their hands, not words.

First, I'd have to learn the right word. For that, I'd have to ask Revall.

"Are you finished?" said Doma.

"Finished what?" I said, my heart pounding as if he'd read my thoughts—which of course he hadn't.

He gave a short laugh. "With lunch, Aden."

I nodded absently, my mind already on my plan. He stood, sheathing his dagger, and straightened his uniform, moving carefully as if to test his strength. With a gratified smile, he stepped over to the center carpet, barely betraying any shakiness from his recovery.

"May I join you?" he said.

"By all means," said Maji, spreading out an arm in welcome.

I dashed across the tent.

"Where are you going?" said Luma.


"Will you come with me tomorrow to Chokehold?"

"Yes! I might be back sooner though!" I ran out the door.

At home, I found Revall reading on the couch. Before he could say anything, I said, "I want to learn another magic word."

"I'll teach you 'close'" today."

"I need to learn how to wake someone up."

"Who do you want to wake up?"

"Stav Halki, the skyship captain."

Revall set down his book, a furrow in his brow. "I take it a healer has seen him."

"She said that he has to choose to wake up. He's hiding inside and she can't get him out."

"It might just take time for him to awaken. His injuries were serious." A shadow crossed his eyes and I wondered how much he knew about what had happened. He'd stayed at the skyships after I'd gone…

"But the longer he stays asleep, the less likely he will wake up."

"It depends on the person, but usually it's safe up to two or three days."

"Oh." I flopped down on the couch beside him. "I didn't know you were a healer too."

A smile lifted the corner of his mouth. "I learned a lot about healing in Silverwood." He had the wistful expression he usually had when talking about his former home.

"So…are there any magic words to help him in case he doesn't wake up?"

"I'm not sure if you should use them."

"But—we need to help him."

"The words are wild, remember. They might make it worse."

"Oh. Could they hurt him?"

"If not used properly. They could backfire on you, too. Anything focused on a living being is tricky."

"Is there a word for 'wake up'?" I ventured.

Revall shook his head. "We have the word for 'restore'. I'm not sure whether it would work on a human or not."

"I could try."

"You have to be careful, though. You can't let anyone hear it."

"I'll whisper it when no one else is paying attention."

"You shouldn't try to wake him unless you're alone, because you can't let anyone get suspicious you're using anything besides wordweaver magic. If someone sees you use magic, you have to make it seem like you're using an element."

"Can you teach me how to do that?"

He nodded. "You should learn as soon as possible—even though it's not the ideal way to learn the words. Unfortunately, the only element we have a word for is fire, and that's not one you're pretending to have."

My stomach flipped over. Fire. I'd always loved the word—it tasted like charcoal and burning leaves and the heat of the desert. How beautiful would the magic word for fire be!

"Can you teach me it anyway?"


"I may not be a wordweaver, but I have the heart of one. I want to know fire. As close as I can get to fire without touching it myself, or becoming it."

A pained look crossed his face. He looked away.

With a stab to my heart I realized why he reacted this way. He'd used the word for fire—once. And it had cost him everything.

"I'm sorry. Maybe I shouldn't….."

He looked back at me, sorrow in his eyes. "I felt that longing once. But you don't need to know it, since you'll be using every other element but fire."

"Why couldn't that be one of my elements instead of like, earth?"

"Because fire is unpredictable. It's harder to show that you have mastery over it. And if you learn the word, you won't be able to make fire from nothing, but you'll be able to conjure it easily. And it will grow almost of its own accord. A noun can be more dangerous than a verb, because the word can become the thing. It flares stronger, hotter than it ever could on its own. That's fine if you can control it. But fire is never easy to control, and if you add a wild magic word on top of it—it's a recipe for disaster. Even if you're not a mage."

"I understand." I did understand the power and danger of fire. Still, I longed for the word. I longed for all the Words of Power. I wanted to know words so strong that they almost became what they described. The most beautiful and powerful words in existence. I couldn't use them in front of people, but just to taste them on my tongue, to know that I had something few people possessed except the shadowblades….

"Could you teach me all the Words of Power?"


"I won't use them. I just want to know them, like you do."

"I suppose, if something happened to me, I wouldn't want to leave you defenseless."

"That's not what I meant!"

"Just in case. I trust you with them. We can't risk letting them fall into the wrong hands. You will have this incredible secret defense. When I'm gone—"


He laughed softly. "Fralenn, I'm not going to live forever."

"But you'll live a long time yet. You're not old!"

"Thank you for saying that." He fingered the silver strands in his hair. "But this is the desert. And yesterday showed me how anything can happen. I can't just stay in the shadows anymore, not with threats out there. I will defend you with fire, but if it comes down to it, I'll sacrifice my life before I let anything happen to you."


"Little lira-song." He touched my chin, looking at me with affection. What had I done to deserve his regard? I was just this silly normal who'd moved in with him after being kicked out of the magic academy. I certainly didn't want him to risk his life for me. I wasn't worth it.

He stood and took out a piece of paper from the desk. Then I followed him over to the table, a patch of sunlight quivering on the dark wood. He laid the paper down and I sat down beside him.

He hesitated for a moment and then, as if to get it out of his mind, quickly wrote out the word. It was shorter than the words I'd learned before and in the Ardayn script it rose and fell in a few lyrical slashes; its sinuous curves seemed to move of their own accord, dancing enticingly across the page.

I touched the drying ink. The word did not move and curve over my finger; perhaps it had all been an illusion. Or perhaps my finger had stopped the magic…. I lifted my hand away and the word shivered to life again.

Its form was so beautiful I hardly dared sound it out. Shavazayr—deceptively sibilant; it seemed like it would just trip off my tongue. I didn't want to use it flippantly.

"What does it mean?"

"It means fire."

A thrill flooded through me. For a moment I could hardly think. He'd given me this word after all?

"I said I would give you all the words. This one is especially beautiful—I don't want to keep it from you. But it's also one of the most dangerous Words of Power there are. Please, promise me you won't use it in the presence of fire."

"I promise."

He smiled, though a shadow still darkened his gray eyes.

I let the word cascade through my mind, reveling in its lyrical syllables, letting them trip over each other like waterfalls. It almost seemed a liquid word, but it was too dynamic for that. I let it flow over my lips, not even a whisper; a breath of heat touched my tongue, so gentle I could've imagined it.

I said it aloud, letting it flow naturally from my mind to my tongue. Bright heat seized me, a crackle of delight building up inside me, rising like a plume of smoke. Coals burned my tongue, tasting like hot peppers and desert wind. Sparks danced across my arms and laughter spilled out of my mouth, along with bright drops of flame.

So beautiful! I wanted to feel more of this, to build higher, become more than I ever had been, a living flame bursting toward the sky—

"Fralenn!" A hand on my arm—cold as ice. I yanked my hand away. But Revall's eyes stabbed mine. "Control."

Why should I control anything? I wanted to be free—

I was about to say the word again—the glorious "Sh" that began it—but Revall grasped my shoulders and shook me. "Don't."

I sighed, coming back to the world—it looked so cold and dark….

But awareness caught me and I sank back into my body, my limbs numb and stiff, like dying coals. I ached a little, but my heart felt like it was being squeezed into a small hard ember, a desolate emptiness filling me as if I'd lost something irreplaceably precious.
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