“Ime!” Meah calls after his disappearing figure. When he doesn’t slow or turn to her, she quickens her pace. “Ime! Wait!”
Ime leaves the village, venturing into the surrounding forest. Meah tries to keep up, but the trees slow her down. She loses sight of him but pushes forward entering a small clearing containing a large pool with a waterfall. The clearing is surrounded by lush vegetation. The moon, high in the night sky, reflects from the pool.
“You should have stayed at the celebration. I want to be alone.”
Meah sees Ime’s hunched figure on a large rock by the edge of the pool. He throws pebbles into the water with his earth magic and back out with his water magic. His silver eyes reflect moonlight.
“Why did you leave so quickly? Was it because of what Jaxon said about fire? I’m sure he didn’t mean it as an insult.”
“Why do you listen to that man? He’s a slave trader. He brought you to the Arena. I’m more than willing to bet he killed someone you loved.”
Meah falls silent and remembers Elder Mircien. She swallows a large lump in her throat and turns away from Ime.
Ime, realizing how his words affect Meah, runs his hands through his brown hair. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…I just don’t trust him. I don’t think following his plan is the right choice.”
Meah shrugs. “It’s the only plan we have. He’s right about trying to go home. If we do, the Blood King will come after us and destroy our homes and those we love. We have to stop him and we can’t succeed without help.”
“Do you trust him?”
“I’ve already answered that question.”
“You said we could trust him. I’m asking if you trust him.”
Meah climbs up next to the rock where Ime is sitting and places one hand on each side of his face. “I trust him completely.”
Ime grasps her hands and gently moves them away, staring deeply into her eyes. He sighs. “Fine. We’ll search for the city in the cliffs. We’ll gather an army and we’ll stop Klaeon.”
Meah smiles and sits on the ground next to the rock. “You’re the only one who doesn’t call him Blood King.”
Ime spits. “He is no king. There haven’t been kings in these lands for centuries. He’s just a man who wants power. All men who know the forbidden magic want power.”
“In my home we’d never heard of a king. I can’t imagine what living under his rule must be like.”
“He’s been self-proclaimed king since before I was born. He terrorized my home for years.” Ime stops and turns away from Meah.
Meah leans her head forward to see his face, but can only see his profile. “What was your home like? Was it like the city around the Arena?”
“No,” Ime’s eyes move around, looking at the trees in the clearing. “It was a beautiful village. It had trees like these that bore the sweetest fruit. We lived at the bottom of a sleeping volcano next to the sea. Plants grew quickly because of the rich soil. Before our ancestors settled there the volcano created the rich earth with its fire. When it fell asleep our ancestors tended to the earth and new plants grew. The ocean provided us with fish and plentiful rains provided us with drinking water until wells were dug.”
Ime’s expression grows dark and he clenches his fists. “Then Klaeon came into power. He sent his men out to villages in his proclaimed domain to terrorize people into submission. First his troops stole our food, water, and money. Then they began kidnapping our women and strong young men. For sport they tried to see how many villagers they could force to eat rotten fish.”
His expression relaxes, but his fists remain clenched. “I was the first in my family to be born with magic. There were others in the village, but my magic was unique. Many can use one element, but to control them all is extremely rare. I used to help around the village and keep an eye on my younger sister. My parents were proud, but they warned me never to use my magic when the soldiers were in the village.
“One day, five of Klaeon’s men attacked my sister while she was out picking berries. They beat her until she couldn’t fight back or scream for help. Then each in turn…forced himself on her. When I found out I became furious. I went after the men, against my family’s wishes. I promised myself I wouldn’t use my magic to keep the village safe. But when I found them I couldn’t beat them with physical strength alone, something snapped inside me.”
Meah climbs onto the rock next to Ime and takes one of his hands in hers. She holds it in her lap, comforting. He relaxes it as she squeezes it between her own.
“They taunted me with details of how they violated my sister. I killed all but one of them with my magic. I burned one alive, crushed another in the earth, tore one apart with wind, and drowned another by forcing water down his throat. I told the lone survivor to return to Klaeon and tell him to leave our village alone. If he didn’t, I would kill every soldier that came even within the farthest border. The survivor hurried back to Klaeon and several days later more men appeared in our village. I kept my promise and killed each one. Klaeon arrived soon after. He said. “I’ve heard all about this magic user who has made it his personal duty to protect this village. But even he would not be foolish enough to challenge me outright. Therefore, I must satisfy myself with killing those he loves.”
“I was still a stupid, young boy then and without thinking attacked Klaeon. He easily defeated me and, to make an example of me, he took away my fire magic, then ordered me to be taken to the Arena to die in the games. He thought taking my magic would destroy my spirit, but it made me stronger. I vowed to survive every fight. I vowed to someday kill Klaeon and return to my family.”
“That’s when you met Daniil and Kylii.”
“They had already been fighting in the Arena for many years before I got there, but they took a liking to me and decided to help me in the first few fights. After that I didn’t need their help. I could kill any man placed before me.”
“Do you…enjoy killing?” Meah asks softly.
Ime’s breath catches in his throat and he shakes his head. “I do what I must to survive.”
Meah wraps her arms around Ime’s arm and moves closer to him. “I understand.”
Ime tenses as she moves closer. “The only ones who know about my past are Daniil and Kylii. It’s nice to tell someone else who can understand.”
“What was your sister’s name?”
“Niya. It means night in the ancient language. Her hair and eyes are the deepest black, like the night sky.”
“What does Ime mean?” Ime’s face goes blank and then an embarrassed smile forms on his lips. Meah can see his cheeks are flushed and she laughs. “What?”
“Ime means sweet fruit.”
Meah stares at him and starts to giggle. “Sweet fruit?”
Ime nods and laughs with her. “Most don’t know the meaning behind our names anymore. The only reason I know is because my mother and father loved the old stories. Did you ever ask your parents if your name meant anything?”
Meah’s laughter stops and she gently pushes away from Ime. She shakes her head. “My parents became ill when I was ten ages old. When I turned thirteen they died. They didn’t talk much about old stories except about their travelsbefore I was born. Though my mother told me my name meant something precious to them.”
“I’m sorry about your parents.”
“They were wonderful people. The people in my village were wonderful people. Elder Mircien treated me like family after my parents died. He was the only one who saw me for more than my magic.”
“You still have him to go back to.”
“He was killed when Jaxon’s men attacked my village. He was killed to lure me out of hiding.”
Ime’s eyes widen and he turns away. “I should stop talking. I’m making things worse.”
“You asked me if I trusted Jaxon.” Meah looks at him. “I do. When his men attacked my village he didn’t hurt anyone. He drew his sword, but he never used it. Bandits in the desert attacked us and he killed them all alone. He may have been a slave trader, but he’s a good person.”
“I don’t want him to hurt you.” Ime’s face immediately turns red and he turns his back to Meah.
Meah’s face feels warm and she smiles. “Thank you.”
They sit in silence, each trying to calm a racing heartbeat. Fish splash in the pool and the waterfall’s calming sound fills the clearing.