“Free at last,” Tal says, triumphantly. She runs into the grass, opening her arms wide to feel the sun on her skin.
The rest of the group follow suit, happy to be rid of the dark forest. Those assigned to pull the wagon find new strength, moving faster even with their heavy burden.
Only a few of the horses were recovered from the forest and now carry some of the wagon’s load, making it easier for those pulling. But not by much.
Hesitating to leave the forest, Ari glances back. She’s almost hoping to see Ylan, changing his mind to join them. She knows deep down his home is more important.
“You coming?” Crofton asks, standing in the sunlight. The blood is gone from his face and a fresh scar on his forehead is the reminder of what happened in Vacuda’s house. He wears the knife from the village on his waist, adding another weapon to his collection.
Nodding her head, she steps out from under the trees and into the grassy field. The warmth of the sun, she fears will make her brands ache, feels nice on her skin. The air is light and a gentle breeze rustles the grass and the leaves of the trees.
She glances ahead at the group enjoying the sunshine and open landscape stretching out in front of them. The horses they were able to find nibble at the grass, hungrily. Though she still senses uneasiness throughout the group.
“Let’s keep moving. We’ll put some distance between us and this forest before figuring out where we are,” she announces.
The group agrees and they continue forward. They don’t stop until the forest is out of sight, only fields of grass surrounding them.
The horses are tied to the wagon, but given enough slack to feed on the grass. Link and Sten stay with the animals, Sten keeping an eye on his friend. None dare approach the emotional man even Guto keeps his distance.
“How do we know we haven’t lost our way?” Tal asks, sitting next to Ari. Indra, Kemp, Vesna, Vico, and Crofton soon join.
“Ylan says they didn’t move our belongings from where we’d been resting. In theory we should still be on course,” Ari says, but her expression saddens. “If I hadn’t lost my father’s journal I could tell you for sure.”
Leaning forward, Kemp raises his hand. He grabs something and pulls, revealing the journal in question. “Lucky for us, Tal found it and you happen to know someone who can hide things very well.”
Taking the journal, Ari smiles at him. “Luck is a fickle thing.”
“Vacuda was making a copy. Probably so he could find your father himself,” Tal says. “He didn’t get very far, though. Barely got the notes of the forest down.”
Opening the journal, Ari quickly finds what she’s looking for. “If we truly didn’t diverge from our path, we should be able to reach the coast in three days heading north. Nothing but fields until we see the sea.”
“You guys travel to the coast all the time, are we heading the right way?” Crofton asks Vico and Vesna.
The two siblings eye each other, deciding who would answer. “Our usual route to the coast didn’t take us anywhere near that forest. Our caravan did most of our trade with the eastern coast cities. We’re not as familiar with the northern coastal cities,” Vico explains.
“You’ve never been to the north?”
“Not as far north as we’re going, no. But it doesn’t mean we haven’t heard of the northern cities.”
“A northern city,” Vesna mumbles. All eyes look at her and she clears her throat. “Most of the northern coastal cities are just little fishing villages. Except for Marpidium.”
“Marpidium?” Tal struggles over the name. “Strange name.”
“It’s the largest city on the coast, from what we’ve heard. They deal exclusively with trade to Deirak and islands around Myldea. There’s even discussion that many pirates hang around the city.” Vico shrugs his shoulders. “It’s probably the best place to find a ship to Deirak, to be honest.”
“That’s our destination then,” Ari says.
“Your father didn’t mention Maridian?” Kemp asks.
“Marpidium,” Vesna corrects him.
“Right, Marpidium. Your father didn’t mention Marpidium?”
Searching the journal, she shakes her head. “He doesn’t mention any cities by name or anyone who helped them. Just vague directions and names of lands or mountain ranges or whatever.”
“It’s like he wanted you to work at finding him,” Tal says, with a sly smile. “Or make it hard for others.”
“We have a destination at least. Let’s take it one step at a time and we’ll figure out the rest later,” Crofton says.
Everyone agrees and soon the group is on the move again. Using the sun, they head north. The grassy fields stretch on forever. The only break in the grass was the occasional tree. As the sun lowers in the sky, a chill on the air brings the group closer, trying to keep warm.
They stop to rest when the sun disappears behind the horizon. Some clear the grass before building up campfires while others quickly fall asleep, the exhaustion catching up to them.
As everyone drifts off, Ari stares into the dying campfire. Her mind races, flashes of what happened in Vacuda’s house still clear in her mind.
The magic locked inside of you has the potential to destroy the world or save it. Once it is fully unlocked you will choose which, but the choice will be yours alone.
“Now I have to save the world, huh?” she whispers to herself.
The stories of her mother and father were repeated throughout Kellahn. She heard stories from those who fought alongside her parents, those who were rescued by her parents. But she also knew how her mother felt about those stories. How she wished to be normal, wanted the stories to stop glorifying her and Ime. How she wished everyone who gave their lives to fight for freedom were spoken of more than her.
Ari holds her hand up to the fire. The brands are discoloring, her skin trying to heal the damage. No healing magic can ever take the scars away, but it seems the pain has passed for now.
She uses her air magic to make the flames of the fire dance. The rush of air brings newfound energy to the flames. She reaches deep down inside of her, searching for that new magic. She feels it hiding beneath her air, curled up.
Closing her eyes, she concentrates, imagining the magic uncurling and stretching. She imagines it slowly stretching until only a small sliver rises. She feels the rest of the magic try to raise with it, but she forces it to stay back. The small sliver mixes with her air, mixing easily. She feels her air magic grow stronger, filling her. The rest of the unknown magic rises. She tries to push it back, but it’s stronger now with her air mixing with it.
Sweat rolls down her forehead as she struggles, the magic growing more and more uncontrollable. The magic in her brands awaken, bringing slight burning sensations across her skin. Panic fills her and her breathing grows shallow. She fights against her magic, fights against the panic, but both only grow stronger.
A hand grabs her arm and she’s pulled back from the fire. Opening her eyes, she gasps at the sight. The campfire is huge, taller than a person, but the heat is kept back by the wind surrounding it.
“Stop doing your wind magic,” a voice says in her ear.
Turning her head, she stares into Crofton’s eyes. His right eye is now an icier, colder blue than his left. She sees something hiding inside that eye and her panic intensifies.
“Stop your magic,” he says again. “They can’t take any more.”
Confusion mixes with the panic and he gently takes her chin in his hand, turning her head. Bodies are writhing on the ground, struggling against something. Her eyes land on Tal, Indra holding her to him, grasping her chest. Flashes of light appear around her, her magic trying to create shields as she fights against it. Weapons fall to the ground around Kemp, his hands trying to stop them. Others share similar attacks with magic and sounds of struggles filling the night air.
Crofton pulls her into a tight hug, his breath warm on her neck. “Stop your magic.”
Shaking her head, she tries to stop her magic, but the panic won’t go away. “I can’t.”
“Yes, you can. You may not be able to control it fully yet, but you still control it. It doesn’t control you. You can stop it. You have to.”
She closes her eyes, listening to his breathing. How can he stay so calm? How can his breathing be so comforting? The magic fades away, the panic following slowly, and the pain from her brands easing.
Exhaustion overcomes her and she falls limp against Crofton. Her magic goes back inside of her and she feels empty. She still feels her magic deep inside her, but for some reason this time the rest of her feels empty.
“Why are you crying?” Crofton asks, softly.
Tears pour from her eyes and she grabs hold of him. She gasps for air and shakes her head against him, her fear threatening to bring back the panic.
What is this new magic?