Pink: Episode 1, Part 1

 

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It was the best day to have a birthday, the earliest possible day. Day one of the recruitment. The day I became legally free. Seventeen.

I pulled on my boots and crept toward the front door. Early morning was the perfect time to break away. Mom was passed out on the couch, and the chances of waking her were slim. Still, I was careful. She wasn’t much with dates, and it was entirely possible that she hadn’t remembered my birthday at all. But today was the day that I became a commodity. To her. To the government. Today was the day she needed to convince me to stay for just one more year.

But I wasn’t staying.

I slipped down the staircase of our fourth floor walk-up. At five in the morning, none of the neighbors made a sound. The good folks, immigrants mostly, stayed quietly in their apartments, their doors and windows locked tight. The rest of them were quiet at this hour of the morning, too tired or too drunk to continue on.

The recruitment would last only five days. That meant I would have the entire five days to pass, and I knew I would need every one of them. No amount of training would have given me a leg up on these tests, though. Sure, I could run five miles without stopping. I could lift myself for fifty pull ups. The usual.

But I was little. I’d seen the soldiers walking through Brooklyn, the ones who made it past the first year, and they were huge. Mostly men, too, though I knew that more than half of the new squads were always women. Funny, I never saw the women parading themselves in the streets. I wondered if they were all on the front lines, expendable. The first to enlist, the first to die. It didn’t matter, though, what gender you were; not for recruitment. It wasn’t easy to get in no matter what or who you were. And it was harder still to survive.

Funny how the government wanted only the best recruits as their soldiers, when so many of them were going to die by the end of the first year anyways.

I walked past an advertisement for the enrollment. It was stuck to a brick wall, moss crawling through the mortar. Two men in battle uniform, rifles on their shoulders. They looked hard, dirtied, scraped up with their camera-ready scowls hinting at courage.

“Defend the Nation” read the sign.

From what? I wondered.

It didn’t matter.

The payoff … twice the average annual salary for five years, the unwavering respect of ordinary citizens, a chance to pull myself out of the gutter and make it somewhere above ground. They payoff was what mattered.

And a chance to get away from Mom. Because really, where else could I go? Alex’s wasn’t an option; he had his own problems. And anywhere seemed better than where I was coming from … almost anywhere.

I had seen the street people before. They lived behind the wall, squatting in the upper floors of the long-abandoned high rises that used to line downtown. With not enough room in the boroughs, and none of them willing to take on government jobs, there was no stipend for them. Mom only got her checks because my dad had died in the service, leaving a child behind. Me. Once I was gone, her money would go, too.

No matter where I ended up, there would be no more smelly apartment with her, wasted on the couch, barking out orders. No more standing over the half-broken stove, trying to pry burned noodles from the bottom of the pan, scavenging a dinner for myself. She might notice that I left, but it would take her all the way until stipend day before she cared. Then she would be frenzied in her search, and eventually she would realize I was gone for good. If I had stayed, it would have meant one more year of government money for her. But once I was gone, there would be no going back; after she missed the first month’s stipend without me there to prove eligibility, I knew she’d be just sober enough to beat me bloody the next time I saw her.

Fifty percent. Those were my chances of surviving year one. Thirty percent, year two. After that, it was officer jobs, or maybe something behind a desk, worst case scenario. Either way, there’d be the money.

She might treat me differently then.

The trains weren’t running at this hour, even though the curfew ended at four. I killed some time on my way down Livingston. We didn’t have a wall like they did in Manhattan, so it was just raw ocean in places along Atlantic. No more stores. Just people desperate enough to live right on the edge of the sea where rents were next to nothing. We all paid a price, though, even those who could afford to live higher up. During storms the only place to survive on the ground was Park Avenue. Most people just stayed on the higher floors of their apartment buildings and hoped for the best.

I stopped in front of a ratty looking store front, images of flowing gowns gliding across the viewscreens. I stood in front of the mirror, and the electronic voice read my lens and spoke.

“Welcome Livia Taylor,” the computer said in a floaty woman’s voice.

Immediately it offered ten choices for me, and I moved my hand up to the first box, flicking my finger slightly to make my selection. Instantly a black gown was fitted to my tiny frame, as realistic in the mirror as if I were wearing it now, in the street. I turned, checking out the gown from all sides, wondering what it was going to feel like to have the five thousand dollar asking price. Because I was going to have it. I was going to survive. To tell myself anything else would have been suicide.

 

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Flight: Part 9

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In the night the herd had moved away. His heart sank as he realized how far they had gone—almost to the edge of the last pillars. He packed his things and slowly moved in their direction.

With each pillar he passed he felt along the stone with one open hand. There had been no repetition in the pillars; each of them was completely different from the last. Where the builders had obtained their stone, he couldn’t imagine. Was it possible for one mountain range to carry so many different types? As he took in the great basin they stood beside, he wondered how long it had been since it was full of water. How long ago the people who had constructed the monuments had lived beside them. It must have been thousands of years, he thought. No trace of a village remained, all long since devoured by the earth’s elements.

As he walked, his tongue stuck like glue to the top of his mouth. He wished that the basin was full, or at least had a trickle of water running through it. But he knew that, though he would’ve stayed much longer, he would only have a day or two to remain here without more water. The weather had cooled compared to the dry heat of the desert, but the breeze only brought him a sliver of relief.

He tried to ignore the sensations in his mouth and throat as he neared the herd. When he was just close enough for them to hear him, the leader’s head jolted upright into the air, alert, but not yet alarmed. Kiron froze, staring. The herd was farther apart from each other now, feeling more comfortable to wander after a night without danger threatening. As the leader slowly lowered his head to graze, Kiron sank to the ground. He didn’t dare move any closer. They could move so much faster than he could, and for all he knew, any unexpected sound might send them flying away to the mountains beyond. And then where would he be?

He took out his notepad. He had intended to take notes and make drawings during his travels, but he had left it untouched before now. The adventure of seeing new things and walking through this new land had made the idea of stopping to record his thoughts ridiculous. He had felt content to simply remember these fantastical sights, to view them in his memory instead of on paper.

But now he had time. Much more time than he had expected at the outset. And, not being able to make it much closer to the herd without frightening them away, he took the opportunity to instead draw all he could see.

He had never been much of an artist, and he doubted that two days worth of time with a pencil would turn him into one. But he tried just the same. He drew the pillars, with the great basin beside, simply as a record of having been to this place. He drew a small figure sitting beside the enormous stones to show their scale.

When it came to drawing the pegasus, though, he was at a loss. He had spent time around horses before, of course. His family had two that they used to help around the farm with planting and harvesting. He had never taken a particular liking to them, at least not like Lissa had. She had a language all her own when it came to animals. Still, he had had a few quiet moments of wonder, staring up into their big, alert eyes, stroking their velvety soft noses.

The greatness he had seen yesterday, though, the old farm horses couldn’t touch. He tried, and failed, to draw the leader’s head, his eyes wide, nostrils flared. It was a crude drawing at best, so much so that when he moved on to attempt the body and the wings, it was practically laughable. It didn’t take him long to give up. He would much rather have the mental images in his mind than to waste his time among them trying to draw. Maybe when he got back home.

He packed up again and moved toward the herd. This time he pressed in, walking until he was twenty feet away before sinking down to the ground. He had all eyes on him then, but the leader, seemingly unconcerned about his renewed presence, merely crunched his grass and lowered his head for more. After several long, tense moments, the rest of the pegasus followed his lead, tucking their wings tightly to their bodies, raising their heads to look at him in between bites.

He lay back in the short grass, using his pack as a pillow. He would only rest for a time, he thought. With each ripping bite of the grass, with each grinding crunch of their teeth, with each low snort of their noses, he was lulled off to sleep.

It was his sweat that awakened him. The sun was baking him in his traveling clothes, and he was thirstier than ever when he sat up again. For a moment, he stared around him, terrified that he had missed the pegasus, that they had somehow fled while he had slept.

Then he heard the sound, a snort, coming from behind. He turned to find that the herd had come around, had passed him by and now grazed just feet from where he had been sleeping.

He watched as two thoughtful eyes regarded him, almost lazily, as the animal chewed. She was so close. He might be able to touch her if he just reached out his hand. He moved to his hands and knees and slowly approached, but he was too quick. The mare startled and backed up, unfolding her magnificent wings as she moved away. The others in the herd did not bolt, but stayed wary as Kiron slowly got to his feet.

He felt dizzy. The day was almost over. There was no chance of making it home without reprimand at this point. But he doubted how much longer he could go without water.

He took a few tiny, careful steps toward the herd. All heads came up. All chewing ceased. The mare he had startled moved farther away until she was at the far reaches of the herd.

He kept moving, suddenly unwilling to stop, the sweat still pouring down his neck as he moved, only slightly relieved from the breeze. He just wanted to touch one. To feel their glistening fur beneath his palm. Just so he could say that he had.

He moved among the animals, and though they stayed alert, none of them fled. The leader had been grazing in the center of the herd, and he approached Kiron now, seeming fearless. Whether it was true or just a show, Kiron couldn’t tell.

The leader pranced before him, just as he had the day before. He unfurled his wings, and seeing them so much closer than yesterday was breathtaking. It seemed that every tiny strand attached to every feather was made of diamond, and they shone in the light like sun shining off the sea.

He flapped the wings, and again the great whoosh of air blew Kiron’s hair out of his face.

Yet he still moved closer.

The pegasus snorted, then whinnied a loud, piercing cry. The others in the herd stretched their wings in unison, ready to take to the air at the first call from their leader.

But he didn’t fly.

Kiron took another step. Then another. He reached out one hand, careful to not make any sudden movements. So close now to the soft muzzle. Just another inch.

The animal reared, kept aloft by his enormous wings.

Kiron stepped backward, then fell, just catching himself with his arms. For the first time, fear flooded through him. He was vulnerable now. What had he been thinking? This was a beast; a beautiful one, yes, but a beast nonetheless.

The great stallion crashed his front hooves to the ground, inches from Kiron’s knees. He lay there, completely still but for the panicked heaving of his chest.

And then he reached out.

The leader again raised up onto his two hind legs, thrashing his wings in the late afternoon air. This time when he landed, it was by Kiron’s head.

His nostrils were tight, blowing great gusts of air into his face and hair. His whiskers touched Kiron’s cheek, and he laughed despite the danger he was in.

He reached out again.

But it was too late. This time when the stallion reared, the rest of his herd followed him. As he took to the air, Kiron sat up, then stood, then ran after the leader, still so desperate to have just one gentle touch.

The herd flew above him, swarming like a flock of birds. They played in the air now that they were free of the threat. The stallion circled around, and they all followed him. He turned and sped toward Kiron, lower and lower.

The leader would hit him. This would be Kiron’s price for getting too close. The animal would crash into him, he was sure. And yet he couldn’t bring himself to run away. All he could do was stare, open mouthed, as the end of his life came closer, closer. If there was another world beyond this one, he would remember it all, every move the animals made, every breath that moved in and out of him as he waited for the end. No picture created by his hand would ever suffice. Only his eyes, wide and clear, would tell the story.

He stood, and only when the pegasus was too close did he waver, falling backward to the ground in the instant before the great animal’s hooves would have thrust him there. Above him, enormous body after body swept past, giant wings beating down in the evening air.

He turned over as the last pegasus passed and watched the herd as it made its way past the last pillar and out of the valley.

He never did touch one, never did get that flesh memory to bring home with him. He didn’t know how their hot skin would feel beneath his palm. Didn’t know how large their deep eyes were up close. Would never remember the feeling of their wings. Were they soft and supple? Hard and absolute? He had known them in none of these ways. Only in one glorious moment did he ever get close, really close, to the majestic beasts of Gedalta.

He had known them in flight.

End

 

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Flight: Part 8

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His brain was buzzing as he watched the movements of the animals. They were so close. If he took ten paces toward them, he might even be able to touch one. One soft, velvety nose. He imagined what those wings must feel like. Were they like bird’s wings, with hard, thick stalks running through ever feather? Or were they maybe softer, as luscious as those white muzzles he so longed to touch.

He had heard of pegasus before, but he had always thought they were just players in fairy tales, told to children to help them drift off to sleep, majestic dreams filling their heads.

These were no fairy tales. He moved toward them once more, but as he did, they shied. The animals at the back of the group trotted away, not yet scared of him, just moving away from a potential threat. The leader stayed behind for a moment, his front hooves dancing, his nostrils flaring as he regarded Kiron. Then, he turned on the spot and went after his herd.

Kiron hadn’t realized he’d been holding his breath, and he let it out now in a long, slow sigh. It was his last night in Gedalta. He knew this, and the urgency of his need to get closer to the herd began to overtake him. He wanted a tale all his own, a real tale that he could tell to anyone willing to listen. Maybe if he only ever saw the pegasus with his eyes, and didn’t feel them with his hands … would that make it harder to remember? Would his story eventually be punctured with holes as his memories became old and worn over the years?

He moved closer again, but this time the herd was watching him just as he was watching them. They turned and moved away before he had barely taken five steps in their direction.

But not the leader. He did as before, staying behind to evaluate the threat, himself. He was only thirty feet away, but when he opened his wings, Kiron gasped.

They were much larger than he had imagined them to be. Pure white, they spread out in the air beside the pegasus, at least ten feet long on either side and half as wide. The animal stood there, regarding him. Then he took a couple of purposeful steps in Kiron’s direction, and his wings moved as he did, blowing great gusts of air with power so forceful that it blew Kiron’s hair away from his face.

Was it a threat? Kiron couldn’t tell. Perhaps the animal was showing off his size, like a male turkey puffing up to scare off a potential enemy. He stood watching, awestruck, not caring in that moment whether the great beast intended to attack him or not. All he cared about was watching the animal, memorizing his every move, every dart from his eyes, every movement from his hooves.

Every gust from his wings.

Then, as before, the pegasus turned and followed his herd, this time at a gallop, as they had moved much farther away. He folded his wings in as he went, kicking up his back feet with his powerful hind end as one final warning to Kiron.

Kiron sat down right where he stood, barely able to breathe. His blood was pulsing through every part of his body, and yet he found he couldn’t get enough air to fill his lungs. It was with dizzied eyes that he watched the herd move away, and with a confused mind that he tried to begin the formation of a plan. Minutes passed. His breathing eased. In the distance, the leader of the herd turned to watch him, but he stayed still on the ground. Not a threat.

He would gather his things and try to bridge some of the distance between himself and the herd. Then he would wait. He would wait for days, for as long as he was physically able.

It no longer mattered to him to make it home in time before his parents’ arrival. This was an adventure he no longer wished to keep secret. He would want to tell the world about what he had seen, to share, with anyone willing to believe, the wonder that he now felt. No, following the commands of his family no longer mattered, no longer held importance compared to the heaving bodies of the pegasus. And the punishment he might receive seemed a paltry price to pay in exchange for staying right where he was.

The sun was setting, sending shafts of light to reflect off the enormous pillars, releasing from them a rainbow of beams to complement the colors in the sky.

He settled fifty feet away from the herd. They watched him, but did not seem to be so bothered by his presence. They had plenty of time to flee if he were to start another approach.

As the sun slipped beneath the horizon, he watched them, unwavering, planning, hoping.

He must get closer.

 

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Flight: Part 7

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Two more days passed, and while the mountains loomed larger on the horizon, he still felt as if he were a world away. This would be his last night in Gedalta, and what did he have to show for it? Tanned arms and worn out boots. He could think of nothing else.

But you did it, he thought.

Who cared if this long walk had been the entire adventure after all? For all he knew, this was what it was like for Lissa and Father each time they traveled.

Slowly over the course of the afternoon, the ground began to change beneath his feet. The hard-packed earth gave way at first to tiny patches of grass, dry and brittle, and then to small plants sticking up into the sun, clinging to their survival in this arid place. As the hours passed, he saw something more on the horizon, too. At first glance he thought maybe the foothills to the mountains were beginning at last, but the closer he got the more perplexed he became.

Instead of the land moving upward into hills, it curved down. He began to notice it only when he realized he was descending, and he corrected his course and went back up to the top. Then, with his eyes fully alert and trained on the landscape, he saw it.

A huge depression stretched out before him, like somebody had come along and scooped out a vast section of the ground. He puzzled over it as he skirted the edge. There was no river down below, no canyon carved from water’s chisel. What, then? How had this come to be? The word floated up from his memory: a crater. He had never seen one before, but had read about them in books, a large section of land pierced by a meteor from the stars.

He had been walking for many miles now, barely looking where he was going and only staring out across the strange part of the land. Well, he told himself, at least he’d seen something.

That’s when he noticed it. The foothills he thought he had seen up ahead were not foothills at all. Now that he had come closer, he saw that they were several smaller pieces that, when seen as a group, had resembled a hill. But now with his closeness, they had broken apart into several individual pieces thrusting up into the sky.

The monuments.

He ran toward them, but only for a few moments. The dryness of his tongue reminded him of his nearly depleted store of water, and he slowed back down to a walk.

They were huge. They must be, as he was impressed by their size from this distance already, and he had to be miles away. He paused, staring at the ground, and realized with a sudden flash of inspiration what the crater really was. Or had been.

A lake.

The grass had thickened as he walked along the cliffside, and the air had slowly grown moist, a change from the desert where he had landed. But no grass lay within the crater, and he thought he knew why. The rains didn’t touch the land he had walked across for days, but they must do so here. Or they did. How much drought had been enough to drain this entire hole in the ground until it was dry as bone? He stopped briefly, kneeling down and running his hand across the grass. It was mostly dry, but deep within some of the blades he saw hints of green. It wasn’t entirely dead. Maybe enough rain came to moisten the earth, but not enough to fill the basin once more.

The monuments were getting nearer now, and he could see that they were all built alongside the lip of the lake. Within minutes he would be beside the first of them. As he walked, his head craned up and up the closer he got, and when he finally stuck his hands out to touch the solid rock the pillars were hewn from, he could barely see the top at all.

They were not so high as a mountain, but bigger than any tree. Over what must have been centuries, the edges of the rock had become rough, and divots now bit into the surface. He itched to climb it, to get to the very top so that he could see everything in this strange place. Maybe there was a hint at the top, too, some sort of writing or symbol to describe why the great pillars had been built. But the truth was, even though he might be able to scale the wall, he would never be able to get back down it again. He had climbed plenty of trees in his childhood, but this was no tree. It was a sheer column of granite, and no matter how many divots carved out hand-holds, it was not enough to form a staircase of any manner. He suddenly wished for something he had never thought he would wish for in his entire life.

Lissa.

If Lissa were with him, she could simply fly to the top, maybe even take him along with her, and see whatever was written there. Or maybe instead they would have found nothing at all, and the mystery would remain for all of eternity.

He moved on to the next one. They stood half a mile apart, and when he reached it he realized that it was formed out of an entirely different kind of stone than the first. The first had been granite, and that made sense. Granite was common and easy to find if one knew where to look.

But the rock this one was made of was much whiter than the rough stone that had fashioned the other one. And smooth. He ran his hand up the side of the pillar; no divots here. This stone had remained just as it must have been on the day of the monument’s creation.

He hurried on to the next, and just as before, the stone of this one was nothing like the first two. It had rough, scarred edges and was tinged with green. This seemed to be some sort of precious rock. Why would they have used it to construct something like this? And where had they gotten so much of it?

He ran his hands across the side and turned to look out at the remains of the lake. Had these been built for worship? And of what? The water?

That seemed to make some sense, as this part of the land seemed like an oasis compared to where he had come from. He wondered what it had been like to stand here with water lapping at the edges of the lake. Comforting, maybe, to see before you enough water to last any man a lifetime.

For the rest of the afternoon he walked from pillar to pillar, reaching his hands out to touch the walls of each one, some smooth, some rough, all different from one another. The sun fell toward the horizon and he stopped to settle himself for the night. He took out the last of his water and drank, leaving only a few swallows for the morning. He wished he could stay longer, to see more of the monuments before he jumped back home.

This would have to be enough. He had not seen many sights, but the handful of them he had seen had made his experience in Gedalta. He felt sure that the wonder of this place that he had experienced completely on his own was enough to last him his whole life.

Twilight descended, and he was nearly ready to lie down for his last night under the stars when he saw it. A flash of white.

He bolted up to his feet, heart pounding. He felt a thrill run through him, both of elation and fear.

What was it?

He had set up his little camp at the base of a gray pillar covered with lines of pink, another stone he did not recognize. The flash had come from behind the next pillar in the line.

He looked up into the sky. Did he have time? He quickly gathered his things and walked as quickly and quietly as possible toward the next column. Another flash darted out from behind the stone ahead.

A wing.

He braced himself. He had never heard of dragons to be white. Was that possible? And if not, what then?

He stopped when he was thirty feet from the stone and crouched low. In the distance he heard the soft sound of crunching, and his heart plummeted into his chest. Whatever this beast was, he had interrupted it in the middle of a meal. Every instinct told him to turn back. Once he got out of earshot he could run. And would he find somewhere safe to sleep in the night? Maybe he should just jump home now while he was still intact.

A snorting sound came from the beast and his heart pounded anew. He knew that sound, but couldn’t place where from. The crunching continued. He sat still as one of the stone pillars, waiting, unable to will himself to leave now, to escape.

Everything happened fast, then. One of the beasts stepped out from behind a pillar and gave, unmistakably, a whinny. And when it did, ten or more others stepped out from where they had been hidden. The leader had a long strand of grass sticking out of the side of his mouth, and Kiron realized what the crunching sound had been. He stood up, relieved. These were just horses. But in the darkness he had missed something crucial.

The horses started at him as he began to walk toward them, his hand outstretched. As he neared, something stretched out from the back of the leader, something Kiron didn’t understand. There was one on either side of him, and they were white, impossibly bright. All of the light from the sun had disappeared, leaving a moonless sky, and yet these protrusions nearly glowed in the darkness. They moved up and down, making a great whooshing sound as the horse’s feet lifted from the ground. And then he realized.

They were wings.

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Flight: Part 6

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That night the wind coming from the west picked up, and while the cooling air had at first felt soothing against his sunburned neck, soon it brought a chill with it. The sun set, and no long shadows were cast on the ground but for his own. The mountains loomed up ahead, only slightly larger than they had been that morning. How long was it going to take before he reached them?

No wood or memory of trees was to be found on the barren plain he had been walking across. He dined on dried fruit and finished off the first cask of water he had brought. As the night fell in earnest, he pulled out an old blanket he had swiped from Lissa’s trunk before she had made it home the night before. He knew there was something special about the blanket, for she guarded it, jeering at him as if daring him to even ask what it was. To him, it just looked like an old, ragged piece of cloth, coarse and thin.

But when he put it around his shoulders he realized that it was something else entirely. The blanket immediately radiated heat back to him, and within minutes he found his entire body warmed as though he sat before a great fire.

Magic.

Another magical treasure given to her instead of him.

Well, now it was his. He wouldn’t be returning this particular piece of cloth, that was for sure. He would have to hide it in the forest.

No, that was too obvious.

The old oak tree that stood half a day’s walk from his father’s fields. Had she ever followed him there? Seen him from above as he escaped to the spot he called his own? Maybe. But had she ever climbed that tree? Surely she didn’t know the knobby branches as she did, or the small creatures that called the great tree home. And she definitely didn’t know the small, hollow pocket inside the fold of the trunk.

He sighed. If she did know… well, then, the cloth would become hers once more.
But not without some serious effort on her part.

He lay back and used his backpack as a pillow as the dark creeped over him. The ground was hard, but still warm from the sun bathing it all day long. Small pebbles littered his resting spot, and it took some time for him to wipe it clean of them. At least without the little rocks poking him in the back he could pretend to be comfortable.

He was tired from the day’s walk and, for the moment, was no longer excited about his adventure. He adjusted his head against the lumpy apples in his bag and stared up into the sky, feeling hollow despite the meal he had eaten.

Maybe he shouldn’t have come. The walk, though the terrain wasn’t difficult, had been hard on his body. While he was used to working in the fields nearly every day, there was something about trekking across this barren land as the wind whipped around him that had made him exhausted by comparison.

How much longer?

He asked himself this. Just two more nights now before his parents returned home, and so far it seemed he wasn’t getting anywhere. Certainly nowhere interesting. While the excitement of landing in a strange place had propelled him all morning, as the afternoon fell and the journey dragged on, he had slowly lost his motivation.

The stars twinkled in the sky above as he tried to decide how much longer he would continue. What if tomorrow he still didn’t get much closer to those mountains? They were far enough away that it was hard to tell the distance left for him to travel.

But even if he did get to them within the two days he had left, would he find anything there? He had expected some action by now, dreamt of wild beasts roaming across lush landscapes, a discovery at every turn.

The only thing he had discovered today was a spattering of blisters across the bottom of his feet.

His eyes began to droop, the lights of the cosmos lulling him into the darkness of sleep.
His stubbornness told him that it was too soon to give up, that he was being childish to expect this world to open up to him with only a day’s effort on his part. Adventurers didn’t find treasure beneath every stone they looked under. They pushed on day after day in their search for the new. No, travelers didn’t leave every day behind, full to the top with satisfaction. They had to search for the treasure they so desired.

Surely this must be the case.

A star shot across the sky as he rolled over to one side, nearly asleep now.

Tomorrow, he told himself, he would search anew.

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Flight: Part 5

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“What sort of piece?” he asked.

“A book, actually,” Father said. “A book passed down to me from my father, and my father’s father, and back as far as anyone in my family could remember.”

Kiron stopped removing the kernels and turned all his attention to his father.

“What kind of book is it?” he asked.

“It’s a spell book,” Father said. “And in the wrong hands, it’s dangerous.”

“Dangerous?” Kiron asked. How could a book be dangerous?

“I’ve been watching you both,” Father said. “For your whole lives I’ve been trying to decide which of you would receive the book when I pass on. Lissa’s got a gift, there’s no questioning that. But you’ve got something she doesn’t.”

Kiron frowned.

“What?” he asked.

“Caution,” Father said, picking up another cob from the pile and running his knife across it. “That one,” he motioned with his knife in the direction of the cottage, “she’s wild. She’s magic, through and through, but she doesn’t control it.”

Kiron’s stomach was starting to twist, and suddenly he felt slighted.

Caution. What a stupid description for his father to give him. All it did was prove, as if he needed reminding, that he was less than his sister. That he would never live up to the bar she had always set, too far above his head for him to reach.

“You don’t like what I’m telling you, do you?” Father asked. “Well, I guess I can understand that. My little brother had far more talent than I did when I was your age, and I was passed over countless times. I had to watch him come up and pass me by year after year. But in the end it was me who got the book.” His voice had a satisfaction in it that Kiron usually only heard during harvest time. Pride. “And it’ll be yours now.”

Kiron stared at his father, unbelieving. Getting the man to talk about anything but farm duties was hard enough. Hearing a story from his own childhood was unheard of.

“What’s so special about this book, then?” Kiron asked, unable to hide his interest. “And why not Lissa? She’s the one who learns everything else.”

“Larissa has a lot to learn about magic,” he said. “Just like any of us do. But she’s not the right person for the book. I have knowledge to pass on to you both, but too much knowledge in the wrong hands can cause problems.”

“So you don’t trust her?” Kiron asked.

“No, not exactly,” Father said, smiling slightly. “But she’s going to make her path based on what she’s been given, some of it naturally, some of it from me, purposely. What she’s got is plenty enough for anybody. You’ll get the rest.”

Kiron stared down at his hands, a cob in one hand, a knife in the other. The tools of a farmer. Not a wizard.

He wasn’t sure how to feel about this whole situation. Was he really ‘chosen’ to receive the book, as Father seemed to be implying? Or was he getting it because he was the only other one in the family to give it to? He understood about Lissa, about how his father didn’t trust her. Because no matter how he played with his words, what he meant underneath was just that. Lissa was wild. Out of control. Even crazed.

Kiron was predictable. Boring.

“So what’s in this book?” he asked.

“You’ll see what’s in the book,” Father said. “With time.”

The audience was over. Father stood up, stretching his back with a groan. He sheathed the knife in a long leather pouch on his belt.

“Finish up here,” he said. Then he turned to leave without another word said on the subject.

Kiron looked at the large pile of cobs still waiting for him and sighed. Though the mountain of work still lay before him he had something to look forward to now, something special that Lissa wouldn’t be taught.

But as time had passed, Father hadn’t kept his promise. No book had ever manifested, no special lessons were given. And unlike the hiding place beneath the bed, there seemed to be no other secret spot where Kiron might find the book on his own. Yesterday, when he had finally moved the bed to discover what was hidden in the floor, part of him had hoped he might find it there. But the hole in the floor was small, and he imagined a book of spells to be a large, unwieldy thing. He wasn’t surprised when it wasn’t in there, and was, instead, thrilled by what he did find.

Now, he wondered, would Father ever pass down this mysterious book to him? He had waited, breath baited, for many months after that conversation, certain that the magic in the book would soon be revealed to him. But when the first year had passed, and nothing further was said, he started to give up hope. The knot of frustration that had first appeared in his stomach that day they had talked started to harden.

And this trip proved, if anything, that perhaps he wasn’t quite so cautious as his father had made him out to be.

Would that result in him never seeing whatever was written inside those pages?

He didn’t know, and mostly didn’t care anymore.

As he walked through Gedalta now, his feet kicked the small stones that lay in his path. Maybe this had been a stupid idea. Maybe now his father would never trust him with anything, even if it was just Lissa’s leftovers. He had stolen the links, broken the trust. With that one jump from the homestead to Gedalta, he had proven that he wasn’t as predictable as everyone thought him to be.

But he didn’t care. He was done. One person could only wait so long to start living their life. Lissa flew every day, seeing the world from high up above. Lissa jumped with their father anytime there was someplace he needed them to go. Lissa did more in a week than Kiron had done his whole life.

Lissa. Lissa. Lissa.

He stopped walking. The wind, warm on the back of his neck, blew in the direction of the mountains up ahead.

It was his turn now.

 

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Flight: Part 4

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He made it to the tree stump without incident. After tucking the blanket away in his pack, he tied the heavy bag over his shoulders and moved out into a clearing. His heart was pounding more furiously with every second that ticked by, and his palms grew sweatier as he squeezed the link in his pocket.

Gedalta.

Fear. Panic. Guilt. Excitement. Giddyness. It seemed that every emotion he had ever felt was flooding his body right now all at once, a mad rush of feeling that he had never experienced before. Life on the farm had been hard, but easy at the same time. This act would be easy to take, but terrifying all the same.

He held out the link and wondered what he was supposed to do with it. Should he point it in a certain direction? He didn’t even know which direction Gedalta was in. Finally, not knowing what the outcome would be, he settled on pointing it straight up into the sky. Maybe the rock would somehow know.

“For—“, he started to say, then realized that his throat was nearly shut, his tongue inflamed and sticky in his mouth.

He cleared his throat, spit out some gooey spit, and tried again. This time his voice was clear and loud.

“Forensa!” he called.

What he had been expecting, he wasn’t sure, but what happened next was not it. His body twisted into the jump, spinning around  and around, up and down. He was surrounded by light, undulating and changing in a sickening, mesmerizing dance. Then, nausea. He wanted to close his eyes, but fear gripped him and he struggled to keep them open, to search for a way out of this terrible, in between place.

And then it was over.

He landed hard on densely packed ground, the wind nearly knocked out of him. He struggled to take in air, inhaling a mouthful of dry dirt as he did so. He coughed, trying not to vomit as he rolled to his stomach and put his hands on his head, which was suddenly throbbing. He rested his forehead on the ground, waiting for the pain to abate. He must have hit it when he landed. Tears streaked from his eyes, not from crying, but from the force of the entry and the cloud of dust that had already covered his face. Slowly he pushed up to sitting and took in his surroundings.

Barren. That’s what this place was. A wide expanse of flat, packed dirt stretched out from where he sat in every direction, littered with stones. Far in the distance a mountain range rose up from the land.

Dusk was upon him, and this fact nearly took his breath away again. He really had done it. He had jumped so far away from home, where it was night, that he knew he must be on the other side of Aerit now, where the sun was about to rise. He had thought that he might be facing down monsters upon his landing, because who knew where he was going to end up? It easily could have been right in the middle of some beast’s nesting ground, or maybe upwind of a pack of hungry faylons. But the relief he might have felt from the apparent lack of danger in this desolate place was fleeting, and suddenly he found himself terribly lonely.

He drew out the home link from his pocket and turned it over in his palm. Knowing that he had it available to him was comforting, but was he really ready to use it already? He tried to imagine Lissa’s face, sneering, laughing at his weakness, proof that Father had been right to hold him back all along. A knot of anger twisted in his stomach, pushing away the fear.

He rose to his feet and slung his pack onto his shoulder. Which way to go? He knew the region of Aerit he was in, but that was all he knew. There had been no map, no guide to tell him where to go or what to do. He turned around on the spot, taking in the wide expanse of land he seemed to have landed in the middle of. On one side were the mountains. But on the other, the flat ground seemed to reach out into infinity, like looking so far out across the ocean that the water finally slipped away, over the other side of the planet.

He turned back. Mountains, it was.

He reached back and retrieved one of his three bottles of drinking water and took a small sip. Just enough, he told himself, to get the dirt out of his mouth. There was no sign of water here; he would have to be very careful.

As he began his walk, the first of the sun peeked over the horizon, throwing the land into a wash of warm yellow light. What was left of his fear began to ebb away, and his anger was replaced with wonder about how his travel had been made possible.

Of course, he knew about links. He knew that the portal-opening stones existed, that it had been how Father and Lissa had traveled together all these years. But this was where his knowledge, sadly, ended. He took out the Gedalta link from his pocket and inspected it as he walked. Surely there must be some outer sign of the magic that lay within, but not so much as a sparkle was visible on the stone’s surface. It was simply a rock, probably plucked from the hillside near his family’s farm.

So how was this possible?

He had grown up with questions, always left unanswered by Father, always mocked by Lissa for his desire to learn and Father’s refusal to teach him. But Father hadn’t always kept him in the dark, and had in fact given him something else instead of knowledge of links.

It had happened two years ago as the two sat side by side, cutting corn kernels off the cobs into a great muslin bag. Lissa was with Mother in the small garden on the other side of the cabin; they were completely alone.

“I’m gettin’ on in age,” Father said.

Kiron looked up from his work, then shrugged.

“You’re not that old,” he said.

“So say you,” Father said. “But I know I won’t be around here forever.” He paused, drawing one of the cobs close to his face, examining the empty pockets where the kernels had fallen out. “You know, Larissa and I have been traveling for years now. And every time you’ve asked about it, I’ve kept quiet about what we’ve been doing. But I think you must know. Don’t you?”

Kiron stayed quiet, not sure what sort of reaction his father was looking for. Was this it? Was he about to answer all of those unanswered questions Kiron had been asking for as long as he could remember? Unlike Lissa, Father had never mocked him for his lack of knowledge. Instead, he had simply denied him when Kiron inquired about his and Lissa’s journeys together.

“I know you’re collecting something,” Kiron said, his voice quiet. “I know that sometimes you find it and sometimes you don’t.”

“More often, we don’t,” Father said. “You’ll learn more about that when you’re older. But I want you to know, you’ve got something coming your way, too. It won’t just be Larissa holding all of the family’s knowledge. You’ll have a piece, too, a piece that she won’t have access to, a piece that’s all your own.”

 

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Flight: Part 3

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He paused. He had prepared for this, though now that the moment was here he found the words sticking in his throat. He turned around to face her.

“I left something,” he said. “The chickens. I left the door to the coop open.”

And he had, just to be on the safe side. He had planned to quietly shut it on his way into the woods, though now it seemed he wouldn’t have time even for that. He would have to run once he made it outside.

“I saw,” Lissa said. “I shut it for you.”

“Oh,” he said, stuck. “You—you did?”

“Yes,” she said. “Mighty careless of you. They could’ve been attacked by foxes or wolves, or even faylons. CHECK”

“Well,” he said, trying to recover. “I think I left the door to the feed open, too.”

“Also closed,” she said, one eyebrow raised. She stood then, sauntering her way over to him. “I wonder why so careless today? Angry about this morning, are we?”

“No,” he said, too nervously. “No, I just wanted to check.” A blast of inspiration hit him. “In fact, I don’t believe you. I’m going to go make sure you actually closed them.”

“Oh, I don’t think that’s where you’re going at all,” she said. Her eyes flicked down, taking in his socked feet. “Where are your shoes?”

He stared. And he had no answer.

I think you’re up to something,” she teased. “And I want to know what it is. Where are you really going?”

His heart sank. He stared at her for several long moments, considered making a run for it. But Lissa was right. Without his shoes, which he had stashed in the forest along with the pack, she would catch him before he was able to make it there to put them on. He had planned on walking slowly; the ground was soft enough, but if he were being chased it seemed sure that his soles would find every rock in his path.

He only had one option left. He was a terrible liar, and he knew it. So he told the truth.

“I’m going away,” he said.

“Where?” she asked, her face unsurprised.

“Just… away,” he said.

She looked him over top to bottom, and he noticed her eyes pause on his pants pockets. Her breath caught in her throat.

“You’re not — you didn’t — you wouldn’t dare!”

“What — what do you mean?” he asked, pretending not to know that his secret had been exposed. Instinctively his hands covered his pockets, trying unsuccessfully to hide their contents.

“He’ll kill you,” she said. “Father will kill you for sure if he finds out. And you’ll be lucky to make it —”

She stopped then, paused for a moment. Then she did the worst thing he could have imagined. She laughed.

Her eyes narrowed and her smile widened.

“This is gonna cost you,” she said.

He took a step back, closer to the door.

“Cost me… how exactly?” he asked.

“You’ve taken Father’s links,” she hissed, moving in now. “And all it would take for me to ruin your life would be to let slip one tiny little word.”

He was beat. He knew it now. His shoulders slumped and he sighed.

“Forget it,” he said. “I won’t go.”

Her eyes grew wide.

“Now, now,” she said. “Don’t be like that. I didn’t say I would tell. Only that I could tell.”

“Yeah, right,” he said. “You’re not going to tell. I’m not an idiot, Lissa.”

He brushed by her on his way back into the cabin. The whole thing was ruined now. The only way out of it now was for him to give up the plan. He sat down on the bed, defeated. Lissa was still staring at the door.

“One month,” she said.

Kiron sighed.

“What do you mean?” he asked. He pulled out the two links and lay them in his lap, the vehicle for his escape now useless in his hands.

She turned.

“One month of chores,” she continued. “You’ll do all my work in the field and everything in the garden. I’ll help Mother in the house as usual or else she’ll get too suspicious. But the rest of it — the rest of it is on you.”

She was insane. If she thought he wouldn’t deny everything to his father the minute she started blabbing about what had happened tonight… He hadn’t gone anywhere and he hadn’t done anything. He would return the links to the spot under the bed and that would be the end of it. He was just about to open his mouth to tell her off.

“I won’t tell,” she said, folding her arms across her chest. “You can go on your little adventure, and I won’t tell. If you take on my share of the work for a month. And I’m serious, if you so much as miss a kernel of corn on the ground I’ll rat you out so fast your head will be spinning.”

He frowned.

“You’re going to let me go?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said. “If you agree.”

“I don’t believe you,” he said. “You’ll tell anyways, just to be spiteful.”

“I won’t,” she said. “And if I do, you can tell them I’ve been sailing every day since they left. There’s plenty of people who’ve seen me. People who don’t know I’m not allowed. You’ll be able to prove it.”

This brought him up short. It had never occurred to him that he could use her sailing against her. She was always so forceful, so nasty.  It seemed that she always had the upper hand somehow. But now…

Those stones sat heavy in his lap, waiting for his command. He had never really expected to get away with it. Father would figure it out the next time he looked through his links. Probably. Was there a chance he could go and return, keeping the secret from Father the whole time? Would Lissa actually keep her word? He tried to imagine the worst. He was too old now to get Father’s belt on his backside. So what would the punishment be? More work, maybe. A lecture, certainly. There was even a slim chance that he could prove something to Father, something he had never seen on his own; he could prove that he was old enough, man enough, to travel.

“Alright,” he said. “I’ll do it.”

Suddenly he didn’t care if Lissa spilled his secret. The time had come, and he was being forced to take matters into his own hands.

He got up and moved to the door, but she blocked his path.

“Don’t be an idiot,” she said.

Her eyes had become hard and, surprisingly, concerned.

“Just remember that you don’t know what’s out there,” she went on. “More than once we’ve landed in dangerous places, places nobody would ever want to go to.” She paused, looking him over. “You have food and water?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said, “hidden in a stump in the woods.”

“A weapon?”

A nervous thrill shot through his stomach. He was really going somewhere that he might need a weapon.

“The knife from the garden,” he said.

She nodded, then moved across the floor to her trunk that lay on the floor at the top of her bed. From it she pulled a worn, gray blanket. She came back and handed it to him.

“Lissa, I already brought—”

“Not like this, you didn’t,” she said. “Like I said, you don’t know what’s out there. You could land somewhere freezing cold for all you know. Trust me. Take it.”

She thrust it into his hands. He nearly laughed at her, but she was acting so serious that he thought twice. He tucked the blanket under his arm and opened the door behind him.

“Don’t be a fool, brother,” she said. “Keep your eyes open.”

The impulse to laugh was replaced this time by a hard knot in his stomach. What was he about to do?

“I will,” he said. And he stepped out into the night, his escape now upon him.

 

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Flight: Part 2

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He bolted the door and raced around to the other side of the bed. Taking hold of a wood post at one end, he shoved as hard as he could. It didn’t move easily, and as he pushed he quickly broke out in a sweat. After several minutes of trying, he finally leveraged his legs against the wall and, giving it one final shove, revealed the little wooden door.

Now, with the ring around his index finger, he was about to find out what had been hidden beneath it for all these years.

He opened it, and in the dim light of the cabin he made out the shapes of a variety of stones, maybe fifteen. A thrill moved across his skin. They weren’t anything special to look at, but he knew that, aside from gold, these particular rocks were some of the most valuable items one could find on Aerit.

Because they were links. They were portals to other places, to other planets, maybe.

But, being perpetually left behind, he had no idea how they worked. He picked them up one by one, examining them, trying to decide how these tiny, insignificant rocks could transport him to a different world. There was nothing extraordinary about the rocks, themselves. He recognized them as the same ones that could be found all over the homestead. Gray. Hard. A few had a thin ribbon of gold. He wondered what that meant. Each had a small piece of paper tied around it. The paper on one of them was quite worn, but some looked as if they’d never been touched. He picked one up and read the slip of paper.

“Callaya,” and beneath it, “Shadash.”

He knew Callaya to be in the mountains on Aerit, too far to walk to, unless you wanted to spend half a year doing it. But “Shadash.” What did that mean?

He picked up the next one.

“Dorenso,” he read. “Corash.”

Dorenso was a town far from the farm. It was said to border the only sea that blanketed Aerit.

“Gedalta.” “Forensa.”

At this a thrill of excitement rushed through him.

Gedalta was the land of beasts. All manner of wildlife was said to live among the grasses there. Packs of wolves. Herds of antelope. The giant elephants, as tall as the greatest tree, shaking the ground as they wandered. And the monuments. Nobody had ever known how they had come to be there, dotting the plains; whoever had built the enormous statues had died long ago, and they left no record of their intentions behind.

But it was the beasts that excited Kiron. Larissa was the one who was talented with animals, but that didn’t mean he didn’t ache to see them as well. He set the link aside and picked up the stone with the most worn parchment, unfolding the worn parchment and reading.

“Home.” “Sharato.”

And suddenly he understood. The words on the links were the destination that each would take the jumper. And the other words, the strange ones, were the magic words that would activate the links.

His mind reeled as he tried to formulate a plan. Should he leave right now? His parents would be gone for three more nights. Would there be enough time to leave and then return home before they did? And what about Lissa? She was sure to suspect his thievery if he suddenly vanished.

No, he would have to be careful. It would not be wise to jump away now, right this minute. And besides, he had no provisions prepared, and no real idea how he would take care of himself once he was away.

He would have to take the opportunity now, then, to gather the things he would need. Lissa had behaved as if she’d be gone all day, and maybe into the night. Now that she was out from under their father’s thumb, she could do as she pleased. That was fine with him, as it would keep her away for many hours at least.

Just long enough.

He spent the afternoon gathering food and water and stuffing a large backpack he had found with everything he had collected. For a moment he was about to pass over the tools, but then his eyes fell upon a large knife they used for cutting vegetables from the garden. The truth was, he had no idea what would await him on the other side of the link to Gedalta. He had learned about some of the creatures that roamed those lands from books, but were they the only ones? What if he came up against something unexpected? What if he was attacked?

He slipped the knife into a loaf of bread and packed it carefully away. That would have to do.

I won’t be attacked, he thought. He told himself this more than once as the afternoon sped by. Soon, the sun was setting over the hillside. He had stowed the pack in a hollowed out stump in the woods next to the cabin. Tonight, he would wait for Larissa to fall asleep, and then he would make his move. He had even oiled the door hinges on the cabin door. He didn’t want any surprises waking her up.

She didn’t come home until very late, which didn’t surprise him. He had left the remains of his dinner out on the table, and she huffed when she saw that he hadn’t made a separate meal for her. An hour before, he had nestled into his meager bed and waited. He had returned his parents’ bed to the same location it had been that morning, but not before removing the links reading “Gedalta” and “Home.” He held them now, one clenched in each fist.

She didn’t bother him. On another night she might have awakened him, but she seemed tired, no doubt from flying all day long. She ate the remains of his meal and then slumped into bed. Kiron kept his eyes closed; she would have be able to see him watching her if she had looked across the floor under the bed. So he waited for her breathing to become slow and even. He carefully, quietly, stuffed the links into his pockets before he even dared opening his eyes. Her breathing didn’t falter, and a low snore erupted from her throat.

He rose and, as quietly as he could, moved in socked feet toward the door. His heart was pounding. He was really going to do it! On the other side of this door he would be free. He would grab this opportunity to see this world and everything in it. In the back of his mind, he envisioned himself a traveler, pack on his back and walking stick in his hand. He would roam the world, and not just Gedalta. Callaya and Dorenso, too. There would be other times that his parents would leave him alone on the farm, and he would take those opportunities to explore without them ever being the wiser.

“Where are you off to, little brother?” came Lissa’s voice. His hand froze on the handle, and he could feel her sneering behind him without even turning to look.

 

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Flight: Part 1

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Why should he wait?

Kiron’s hands, made rough beyond their years from his work on the farm, fumbled with the tiny latch on the little wood door.

His whole life, all fifteen years of it, he had spent waiting, and every time his older sister had gone instead of him. Adventuring. Experiencing. Planet hopping.

Not this time.

Beneath his parents’ bed a section of the knobby wood floor of their cabin was cut out. It was unnoticeable to any but the children, who slept on rough mattresses on the floor on either side of the bed, and really he wasn’t even sure if Lissa had ever seen it. For years he had gazed beneath that great oak bed as he fell asleep, trying to imagine what lay under the wood planks. Was it treasure? Gold, even?

Lissa and his Father had gone on many gold-hunting trips, and he knew that sometimes they were successful. Gold was so rare in the Fold, and yet time and again they would return with a tiny stone or two. He had never seen what would become of these once they’d come back, but he knew of their value. Secretly, he wondered if they might be the wealthiest family in the Fold, hiding a rare and dangerous treasure that would surely make them the target of thieves everywhere.

For years he had begged, pleaded to go along with his father on one of the many trips he took to the other planets in the Maylin Fold, never understanding why Lissa always got to go instead of him.

But his Father wasn’t here now, and his mother had gone along with him. He and Lissa were old enough, finally, to be left alone on the homestead while their parents went on a sort of holiday, which was really a trading trip into the village. Usually Father went alone.

Not this time.

And Lissa was nowhere to be found, was probably out sailing alone, which she wasn’t allowed to do. Mother always told her that she needed to stay in sight of the cabin while she flew, but Lissa had grown sick of these rules, especially now that she was of age. She didn’t even need to live in the family home anymore, not if she didn’t want to.

“You’ll do the chickens, eh?” she had asked him that morning before leaving.

“The chickens are your job,” he argued. That stupid troll was always trying to brush off her chores on him.

“Yeah, well, I have other work to do,” she said, “in the field.” She smirked.

“Liar,” he said.

“Fine then,” she said. “If you really want me to hang around all day, I’m sure I could think of something for us to do to pass the time. Mother left a list, and…”

Kiron growled.

“Fine,” he said. “Just go.”

It was the sort of conversation they had had a thousand times before. She was always poking her nose into his business, making thinly veiled threats that he knew very well she would follow up on. And he was always left with the short end of the stick, which he took just to get her off his back.

She smiled in earnest now, mocking him.

“Ah, little brother,” she said, attempting to ruffle his hair with her hand as he ducked out from under her. “Someday you’ll understand that it’s your responsibility to do these things, that it’s your place to take on the more… mundane jobs on the farm. They are just as valuable as any other.”

She snatched an apple off the table and passed it carelessly between her hands.

“Just because you can fly doesn’t mean I don’t have magic of my own,” he said, his voice low and sullen.

“Ha!” she boomed. “I’ll believe that when I see it.”

She took a huge bite of the apple, turned, and slammed the door behind her.

He felt like breaking something, and he looked around the room for something that would give satisfaction as it cracked against the wall. Trouble was, there was nothing around to break that wasn’t absolutely necessary for their life on the farm. He had to settle for punching the pillows on his parents’ bed, which was a pathetic substitution.

In frustration he flung himself down onto his sorry cot on the floor, fuming. Across the floor beneath the bed he saw Lissa’s bed, unmade as usual.

He would have to remember to find a good sized spider to slip into her pillowcase tonight before she got back.

He was just about to go tend to the chickens. The sun wasn’t yet up full, and the days had been hot.

Then he saw it. The tiny brass ring that served as a latch for Father’s hiding place.

His decision was made in a flash. He pushed up from his mattress and ran to the window, peering around the yard for any sign that Lissa had stayed behind.

The yard was empty.

 

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