Mara sat on the edge of the cliff, her legs dangling off the edge. She kicked her heels out into the sky a few times and looked at the dense forest hundreds of feet below her. The clouds mixed with the top of the pines, and to the south she could barely make out the guard towers of Dyteria.
Not for the first time, she wondered how she was going to get there, from here.
Normally it wouldn’t be that much of an issue. It would just take a day’s journey through the woods, perhaps two if she didn’t push herself. Unfortunately, there were other factors involved.
Like the fact that technically she was committing treason.
And that she had two previously captured princely brats in tow.
And that the forest was approximately six hundred feet below them, and the only feasible way down was to jump and hope for the best.
Other than that, the trip should be fairly straightforward.
Clambering to her feet, Mara walked back to the cave where she had hidden the two boys. Dylan and Eoin. The famed twin princes of Dyteria, sworn enemy of the land of Terria. Until approximately three hours ago, the prized captives of Terria as well. Well, technically they were prisoners of war, but Mara never really focused on the various semantics like that.
“How is he?” she asked as her body darkened the small entrance to the cave.
“Eoin’s still unconscious, but his body doesn’t feel as warm anymore. I will take that as a good sign,” said the blond-haired boy, his voice proud and defiant. Mara shook her head.
“Lower body temperature isn’t always a good thing,” she cautioned as she walked over to the other boy and picked up his hand. Sure enough, the boy’s temperature was lower. She pulled the boy’s arm and began to sling him over her shoulders.
“Hey!” protested Dylan. “What are you doing? You shouldn’t move him!”
He scrambled over to his brother and started pulling him down.
“I said put him down!”
“Hey! Wait a min–”
Mara shifted her weight, but the damage was done. Woman and unconscious boy tumbled to the hard cave floor. Luckily, Mara was able to land first.
Mara placed Eoin down on the ground, and took a step toward Dylan, her eyes blazing.
“You idiot!” she shouted in frustration. “Do you know how many sharp things are in this cave? You could have really hurt him! Seriously! What the heck were you thinking? Use that head of yours for something besides a glorified crown holder!”
Dylan stood looking up at her, his eyes fiery and his back ramrod straight.
“And slinging him over your back like a sack of potatoes when your own doctors said that he shouldn’t be moved is so much better, I’m sure.”
Mara smirked slightly and quickly covered her mouth with her hand. She had to give the young prince credit. He did have a point, and the moxie to make it known.
Too bad he was still and idiot.
“Look,” she said, bending at the knees to look into his eyes. “I know what the doctors said. And normally, I would agree with them. But here’s the thing. Somehow we have got to get down a six hundred foot cliff and then through a seriously dense forest without the aid of climbing gear or wilderness gear. The only option I have is to carry Prince Eoin on my back. Unless you’re planning on carrying him, of course.”
“We’ll stay here and fight,” he countered, his lower lip trembling ever so slightly. “I’m not afraid of the Terrians.”
“Are you unafraid of the Arachenoids, then?” she asked standing up straighter. “Because you know that’s what has been sent after us.”
Dylan breathed in sharply.
“They wouldn’t dare,” he argued quietly. “Those were outlawed five decades ago. The Treaty of Rindale specifically said–”
“– Do you honestly think that the Treaty of Rindale is even enforceable now? Or that anyone cares what happened half a century ago? Or that the kingdoms even had any intention of following that treaty when they signed it?”
“But, nothing. Trust me, I’ve seen the Arachenoids. They exist, and they’re even deadlier than before. But even if they didn’t exist, we still have the problem of getting down that cliff with the dead weight formally known as Prince Eoin.”
“How dare you…”
Mara sighed. Okay. Maybe she had gone a bit too far.
“OK. Look, I’m sorry. Bad choice of words. He’s not dead. And if we get him into your kingdom, the doctors there can help him. But in order to do that, I need to carry him. There is no other way. Understand?”
“We could stay and fight,” insisted Dylan, glancing out to the outside world.
“Prince Dylan, now you’re just being a stubborn fool.”
“But I’m not afraid.”
“Yes, I know. Trust me, and that worries me more than those damn mechanical monstrosities.”
Mara reached down again and picked up Eoin. This time, she cradled him carefully in her arms.
“Look,” she said, “I know you want to fight. I want to fight as well. But we have to be smart about it. You want to win, don’t you?”
“And put a stop to this war?”
He nodded again.
“Good. To do that, we need to get you guys back to Dyteria. We need to find a way home.”
“Fine,” he said quietly. “But this doesn’t mean I’m running away. I’m simply changing the venue.”
“Of course, Prince Dylan. It is exactly as you say.”
“And the fact that we’re disobeying doctors orders is simply because the doctors are wrong. They are from Terria, after all.”
“Of course. We should go now, Prince Dylan.”
She couldn’t tell him how far behind them their pursuers were. They could be hours behind.
Or climbing over the final ridge.
Dylan finally gave his permission, and Mara moved slowly towards the cave entrance. Mara was grateful that his stubbornness didn’t last long. The idea of carrying two unconscious bodies down the cliff wasn’t something she relished.
She looked around carefully and motioned Dylan to come forward.
“The cliff is over that direction. I believe I found a way down, but it will be a difficult climb. Are you prepared?”
Mara smiled and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Don’t worry,” she said quietly. “There’s a first time for everything. Just take it one step at a time.”
They came to the edge of the cliff, and Mara eased herself down slowly.
“Put your feet and hands where I do to the best of your ability; you’ll probably have to make some adjustments based on your size. Just make sure you keep a good grip, and to breathe.”
“Like I would forget to breathe,” he said nervously.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought the first time I climbed. Now come on. We don’t have the time to waste.”
Grip by grip they moved down the cliff. It was excruciatingly slow, but it was the only option they had. Mara looked up to find the boy a few feet above her and out of her reach, his legs quaking with effort.
“Dylan, what’s wrong?”
“Sorry, just felt a little light-headed, and my legs feel weird.”
“Take a few breaths and try to relax your muscles in your legs. They’re under a bit of strain right now.”
“Yeah, no kidding.”
“Less talking, more breathing,” she ordered.
A few moments later, Dylan began to move again.
“Hey,” he said as he came closer to her.
“Hey, what?” answered Mara, beads of sweat starting to form on her temple as her muscles flexed to reach the next hold.
“Why don’t you use your wielding power to get us down. You are a wielder after all, aren’t you?”
Mara looked at the boy. He certainly was sheltered.
“A few reasons. One, wielding takes time and preparation. Two, once the power is unleashed it will act like a beacon to the people chasing us. Three, I don’t know how it will affect Eoin. Four, wielding now will bring me past the point of exhaustion, and I wouldn’t be able to protect you.”
“Oh. Sorry, I didn’t know.”
“Yeah, that’s OK.”
“But I want to see it.”
“You may get to see it, depending on how fast you move down this cliff. Less talking, more climbing. Now move!”
Mara had barked the orders like her commander did during training. She smiled, noting that the boy moved with a renewed speed, just like she had done during training. Perhaps there was power in a voice after all.
They finally reached the bottom of the cliff face, and both Mara and Dylan sank to their knees, their bodies spent from the climb. Mara gulped in the forest air and looked over at Dylan, now sprawled out on the rocky ground.
“I never knew climbing without ropes could be that exhausting,” he said.
“Yeah, well, now you know.”
“As a soldier, you probably done that before, right?”
“Nope. Usually, ropes are involved. First time I free climbed down a cliff.”
“Come on, it’s best we keep moving.”
“Mara? What’s that?” asked Dylan pointing up into the sky. Mara looked up. Very faintly, just beyond the edge of the cliff, the sky shimmered and bent slightly, like a heat mirage on a summer’s day.
“Oh shit,” she breathed. “Dylan! Take Eoin into the forest and hide. Quickly!”
Sure enough, the mechanical monstrosities, four of them to be exact appeared in the sky above the cliff and above them, just as Dylan dragged the Eoin into the darkness of the forest. Mara watched as each Arachenoid unfurled their eight metal legs, their spherical bodies balanced easily as they climbed down the cliff toward her.
“Shit. Shit. Shit.” she said, as she began to instinctively move into a wielding stance. Those things were fast. Would there be enough time? Mara brought her hands together and began to chant.
“Revertamini ad me et vos nasci denuo. Revertamini ad me et vos nasci denuo. Revertamini ad me et vos nasci denuo.”
Mara heard the whir of machinery, the clash of metal against rock as the machines made their way down the cliff face toward her. They were coming; the din created as rock gave way to piercing, slicing metal was deafening.
“Revertamini ad me et vos nasci denuo. Revertamini ad me et vos nasci denuo. Revertamini ad me et vos nasci denuo.”
Mara felt the heat and vibrations travel through her body from the ground and creep towards her hands. The pace was maddeningly slow.
“Revertamini ad me et vos nasci denuo. Revertamini ad me et vos nasci denuo. Revertamini ad me et vos nasci denuo.”
An Arachenoid had reached the bottom of the cliff and moved toward her, it’s razor sharp legs puncturing the ground beneath it. It gave Mara the time she needed, but just barely. Forcing her hands apart, she shouted the last chant
“REVERTAMINI AD ME ET VOS NASCI DENUO!!!”
An unseen wave rocked from Mara’s hands and sent the Arachenoid stumbling back a few feet, its controls now sparking, setting fire to the controls. It lashed out at her, one of it’s razor-edged legs extending in a frenzied tremor. Mara stumbled back, her instincts for survival taking over when her mind failed her.
Mara scurried back from the three remaining Arachenoids, her breath heavy and labored. She had managed to disable on of them with her wielding power, but she doubted she could do it a second time, let alone three more. She mentally yelled at herself for bringing out the big guns so quickly.
“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” she berated herself. She was smarter than that. Mara hoped that Dylan was smart enough to move Eoin out of the line of fire and to continue into the forest. Arachenoids were insanely deadly, especially if they got a hold of you and used their fangs and claws. They were designed to rip through even the best armor. She witnessed her fellow privates being used as test subjects.
Mara glanced up, her body moving out of the way as one leg after another tried to pin her down to the ground. It reminded her of a worm trying desperately to escape the beak of a hungry bird. She wondered off hand if the leg would be able to taste her with all the sensors that were embedded into it.
Could it work?
The next time the leg came down, Mara slithered her midsection out the way and grabbed a hold of the leg. The sharp edge sliced into her hand, but Mara willed her grip to stay strong. The blood trickled out of the wound, and Mara concentrated, willing the raw energy to travel into the sensors and overwhelm them.
No chanting, no direction, no control. Just raw, overwhelming power.
The Arachenoid flung its leg up into the air in a desperate attempt to remove her grip. She tightened her grip and brought her body against the dull side of the leg, Slowly her blood and the energy seeped into the machine, and the sensors began to short out from over use. Soon, with any luck, the same would happen with the master control system.
Then it would just be a matter of staying out of the way.
Mara felt something shift within the Arachenoid and the machine began to buzz and vibrate within her grip, the sharp edge slicing into her fingers. Not for the first time on this ride, she winced. Just a little bit longer…
The backlash from the master system failure was swift and nerve-jarring. In a flash, Mara was flung back from the Arachenoid and instinctively crumpled herself into a ball, partially shielding herself from the brunt of the impact. Thank god for training.
As expected, the machine’s redundancy was its downfall. With both the sensors and master system overloaded with the energy from the wielding attack, the machine was forced to use it’s secondary protocol and attach anything in its vicinity. Luckily, it had three, very large targets close by.
It spun around, and lurched towards the closest Arachenoid, rearing up and partially mounting the rear portion, its sharp legs easily piercing through the armor. Mara watched as the two machines battled, each relying on their basic self-preservation programing began to attack and defend, and rip each other apart. She slunk away, holding her arm as she heard the shrapnel of their demise wreck havoc on the remaining machines. Hopefully, the chain reaction she started would be enough.
She doubted she could do much more. Not now. She stumbled through the trees, her eyes scanning them for signs of the two boys. They could not have gone very far. Soon enough, she found them, hiding behind a large, old tree.
“Are you all right?” They asked each other at the same time. Mara gave them an exhausted smile.
“I’ll live,” she allowed, showing her injured hand. “What about you?”
“We’re okay, I guess,” answered Dylan. “Eoin started to wake up, but he’s gone back to sleep.”
“Right before everything began crashing about, I suppose. He started to shake. Scared me.”
Mara looked down at the boy. Eoin looked like he was still sleeping peacefully. She reached down and touched his neck. His pulse was steady and even. Mara reached up and pinched his cheek close the jawline.
“Hey!” said Dylan. “What was that for?”
“Just testing his pain response. If he was conscious, he would have reacted to that.”
Dylan looked at his brother.
“Honest, he was shaking before. I swear.”
“I believe you, but he seems to have slipped back into unconsciousness for now. Either way, we got to get moving.”
“What about those things? What about your hand?”
The boy reached out and took one of her fingers in his hand. He held it almost reverently, watching the blood slowly drip down the edge of it, congealing slowly as it went. Mara looked down at the top of the boy’s head.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said quietly.
“No. You protected us. Now I get to take care of you.”
Before Mara could protest, the young boy had ripped part of his shirt off and was wrapping it around her wound. Mara winced a few times as he wound the makeshift bandage tighter. Mara looked at her hand in mild amazement with the boy was finished. The boy certainly didn’t have a surgeon’s skill, but he was better than quite a few of the combat medics that she had worked with.
“Thanks,” she said. “I appreciate you doing that. Now we really should be moving along. Help me get your brother up onto my shoulders.”
It was an awkward few moments, but eventually they got Eoin into the proper position. They began walking, and Dylan slipped his hand easily into her bandaged one, resting his palm lightly against hers.
“You used your wielding power back there, right?”
Mara nodded quickly.
“Yeah, I did. Sorry, you didn’t get to see it.”
She felt the boy shake his head, the movement of his neck transferring through his arm and into hers.
“No, that’s all right,” he allowed.
“What’s it like?”
“What is what like?” she asked as she navigated over a fallen log, half dragging the boy with her. She was surprised that he hadn’t let go of her hand yet.
“Being a wielder.”
Mara paused for a moment and looked around the forest. She drank in the various small sounds that weren’t being scared away by the boy’s incessant prattling.
“In the beginning it was scary,” she said truthfully. “Really, really scary. And lonely. Most people didn’t know what to do with me when I first got the ability. Some got angry, but most just got scared.”
“Did they send you away? I heard that a lot of wielders were sent away to live somewhere else.”
Mara nodded her mind for a moment filled with the stench and decay of the camps.
“Yes, I was. But it wasn’t to a good place.”
“Did you see people die there?”
“… yeah. Yeah, I did,” she answered, her voice a bit thicker. Dylan squeezed her hand and then quickly let go when he saw her wince.
Mara reached down and took his hand again.
“It’s okay,” she reassured him. “Why do you ask?”
“Sometimes I wish I was a wielder,” he said quietly. “That way I could stop all this fighting.”
Mara slowly bent down and turned Dylan’s face to meet her own. Her eyes were dark and stern.
“If you truly want to stop the fighting, being a wielder is the last thing you need. What you need is right here,” she said placing a finger against his temple, “here, and here.” Her finger touched lightly on his chest and his mouth. “Your mind, your heart, and your voice will serve you well enough.”
Dylan looked back at her, his eyes unflinching beneath her gaze.
“What? You’re my teacher now?”
“Yeah. So what if I am?”
The boy actually snorted.
“Some teacher. Can’t even stop her hand from getting sliced open.”
“Yeah, yeah. Watch it, shorty. I can always slice you open, you know.”
“With what? Your fingernails?”
Mara straightened up. The boy did have a point. She didn’t exactly have any weapons nearby.
Boy: 1 Mara: 0
Not that she would ever admit that.
“Just move,” she snarled, and gently shoved him forward. He stumbled forward a few steps and looked back over his shoulder. The impish grin on the boy’s face was all that Mara needed to see.
“So what were you shouting before?” he called out over his shoulder as he guided himself around a sapling.
“Huh?” For a moment, Mara was puzzled.
“Reverta ad mi or something or other,” he clarified. It took Mara a few seconds to realize what he was talking about.
“Oh, that. That’s just my focus. It’s how I get the energy to do what I want.”
“So you just say some gibberish and you can destroy things?”
“No, it’s a bit more involved than that,” she said quietly. “And I don’t try to destroy too many things.”
“You sure destroyed those Arachenoids,” he countered.
“Technically, I didn’t destroy them. I just caused a bit of confusion for their sensors and system.”
“So that huge blast I felt wasn’t from you? Knocked me clear.”
Mara grimaced slightly. The energy should have been directed to her front, not the back where the boys were. She really had to learn to control the bleed off.
“Sorry about that,” she said quietly
“Nah, it was okay. It was fun.”
Mara shook her head.
The boy was something else.
They walked for a good long while, and Mara continued to check the skies and the forest around her for movement. She glanced on to the southwest. The first of the two moons, Cybele was beginning her ascent. She glanced over at Dylan, unabashedly yawning.
“We should stop here for now, and get some rest,” she ordered quietly.
“Almost home,” he countered, his voice taking on a monotone quality.
“Yeah, I know. But both of us need to rest. Home will still be there. Trust me.”
She gently forced the boy down onto the ground and leaned him against the solid tree. She unloaded Eoin and placed him next to his brother.
“Keep an eye on him. I’m going to scrounge up some food.”
She walked a few paces away and began to forage some nuts, pine nuts, berries, and the like. Winter was starting to make an appearance, so her pickings were a bit slim. After about ten minutes, she had probably found all she was going to. She walked back to them.
“Here,” she said handing the boy a handful of nuts and berries. “Eat these.”
“What? No steak?” A hint of a smile played at his lips.
“Yeah, sorry, left the butcher back at the castle wall.”
“Don’t worry, we can get you another.”
“You know,” he said as he munched noisily. “You never answered my question really.”
“Oh? Which question was that?” she asked, knowing full well what he was talking about.
“What being a wielder was really like. How does it feel to use it?”
Mara sighed. How to explain something like that?
“I wish I could find a way to describe it,” she said honestly as she sat down cross-legged in front of him. “When I wield, it almost feels like there is a powerful river trying to flow through me and that if I don’t try to direct or control it, the river will overwhelm me.”
“Have you ever lost control?”
“Sure. Lots of times in the beginning.”
“But you’re still here,” he countered. “You sure you lost control?”
Mara’s mind flashed back to when she sat dazed outside her home. Fire and smoke still snaking from the windows, her parents charred bodies lying in the doorway.
“Yeah, I’m sure,” she answered.
“But you learned to control it over time.”
“For the most part.”
“We’re safe with you, right? I mean, you won’t like, explode or anything, right?”
Mara smiled. It seemed the old stereotypes still existed.
“No, I won’t explode. You guys should be safe. Now get some sleep.”
“What about you?”
“I’ll keep you safe, don’t worry.”
“That’s not what I was talking about, idiot,” he said as he curled up beside her and drifted off. “A wielder needs rest, too. Everyone knows that.”
^ ^ ^
Try as she might, Mara could not stay awake. Once again, the kid was right. She did need sleep. At least a little bit. She drifted off for a while, the two boys nestled in her arms beside her.
She dreamed of the woods, of the towers of Dyteria, that she saw from her window in the camps after she was sent away. It always seemed like a beacon to her, beckoning her closer and closer. Closer to a new day and a better life.
She heard rumors that wielders were allowed to live there. Really live, not just exist. Could it be true? Could she live in a place where she wasn’t seen as a weapon, but as a living, breathing creature?
The people of Terria only saw her as a thing. That was clear. The attack of the Arachenoids had shown her that. If the Terrians had really wanted her back, they would have sent people to talk with her.
No, the target was clearly the boys. She was nothing more than an afterthought to them now. A tool that was malfunctioning, and one that had stolen their prized prisoners.
She didn’t like to admit it, especially after all she had experienced in the land of Terria, but that little bit of information still stung.
She glanced down at her injured hand. Maybe she could call up enough energy to repair some of the damage. Being a wielder wasn’t all about destruction after all.
She unlaced her arm from behind Dylan’s head and began concentrating. She doubted that the boy’s would be sound sleepers, so she thought the words instead of saying them out loud.
Revertamini ad me et vos nasci denuo…
Slowly, painfully, she felt her hand being returned and being born anew. She felt walls of her skin being formed back together, the muscles re-gaining their strength, and even the bones strengthening. In truth, she would be marveling at the magic of it all, if it didn’t hurt so damn much.
And then there was the vibrating boy next to her.
Mara glanced down at Eoin. The boy was shaking, and shaking violently. Mara twisted her body and stretched Eoin out on the ground beside her. Where ever she touched, the boy trembled violently, the muscles recoiling from her instinctively.
“Dylan!” she whispered frantically. “Dylan!” She reached out for his shoulder and felt a jolt of energy pass between them.
Dylan’s eyes flew open, and he crawled over to his brother, pushing Mara out of the way, almost like an afterthought.
“Eoin,” he said quietly. “Can you hear me? I’m here, don’t worry. What’s going on? Why are you shaking so much? Please tell me, Eoin, you’re scaring me.”
Mara heard the tremble in his voice and tried to reach out to him. Dylan brought his hand up and blocked her touch.
“No,” he ordered, his voice taking on a seriousness that Mara had never heard before. More than his normal haughtiness. No, this was almost regal.
“Keep watch,” he said, turning back to his brother. “I need to focus only on him. Find out what is going on.”
Mara stood, and starting scanning the horizons for threats. Yes, she could do that. She concentrated, mentally speaking her focus, and extended her senses out further into the night in all directions.
A howl of pain erupted from the Eoin’s lips, and Mara watched as the boy’s back arched in new waves of spasms. Dylan held him down as best he could, but nothing seemed to work. Dylan looked over at Mara, his eyes defiant and pleading at the same time.
What the heck is going on?
Mara looked at the two boys. She lessened the wielding and watched as Eoin quieted to a small whimper.
The boy was reacting to her wielding. There was no other explanation.
If that was true, then that meant…..
Mara shook her head.
No. That wasn’t possible.
Eoin quieted down after a few moments, and Mara was careful not to call upon her wielding anymore around him.
“Dylan,” she said quietly in the darkness. “How long has your brother been unconscious?”
“For about a year,” he answered. “Our teacher sent us to a medical facility to get treatment, and the Terrians intercepted us.”
“So he went into a coma in his ninth year?”
“Why?” he asked.
“I think I know why your brother went into a coma.”
Dylan looked at her. In the darkness, she could almost feel his eyes widening slightly.
“I think he may be a keeper.”
“A keeper.” Mara sighed. “OK., listen. People who can use energy the way I do are divided into two basic categories. Wielders and Keepers.”
“Wielders like me are able to allow the energy and power to flow through them, and can learn how to direct the energy to do things like create energy blasts, heal wounds, or reform things into something else. Keepers are different.”
A puzzled silence greeted her. Mara sighed and continued.
“Keepers don’t let the energy flow through them. They absorb it and keep it inside. After a while, it builds up, and….”
“Well, they end up like this,” she said quietly. “Either that or they go insane.”
Dylan looked down at his brother.
“Can you fix it?” he asked his voice pleading.
“Me? No. I’m not sure anyone can. But maybe someone in Dyteria might know what to do.”
Mara looked around her and finally rested her gaze on the two boys.
“You should still try and get some sleep if you can,” she said quietly as she sat down next to him. “I won’t wield around him anymore, so don’t worry.”
“But what if we get attacked again?” asked Dylan as he leaned against the tree, his eyes fighting to stay awake.
“If we’re attacked again, I’ll wake you up and we’ll run and hide.”
“That doesn’t sound very brave,” he said as his head rested against her arm.
“Being brave isn’t all its cracked up to be. Being intelligent is. Now go to sleep.”
“OK, I’ll try.”
A few moments later, Mara felt the steady breathing of the boy.
Mara slowly exhaled. A keeper. If her hunch was true, Eoin just became potentially became one of the most chaotic and dangerous forces in reality. The last keeper was destroyed three hundred years ago, and it took the sacrifice of an entire city to do it.
Energy needs to move. That is its nature. If it is contained for too longer in a too small a space, eventually it will break free, and the power would destroy nearly everything in its wake.
And honestly, Eoin was one of the smallest containers that she had seen. And if he had been absorbing energy since he was born… Mara cringed at the thought of the unleashing.
So no more wielding around him. She didn’t know how close he was to the tipping point. Mara frowned.
She really should have taken a weapon or two with her during the escape process. But it was what it was. She glanced through the trees to the south. The towers weren’t that far away. If they started early, they should get there by mid-day. Mara felt her eyes get heavy, and she wrapped her arms protectively around the two boys. She finally allowed her eyes to close, and herself to drift off to a blessed, dreamless sleep.
© 2015, Laura Seeber. All rights reserved.