Authors: Devri Walls
Tags: #Fantasy, #Young Adult, #Adventure, #magic, #YA, #dragons, #shapeshifters, #angels
“Human,” Alcander repeated. “That is not possible. The legends say humans are non-magical Witows.”
“Most humans are,” Kiora said calmly, enjoying the feeling of the wind whipping through her hair. “But there are a few exceptions.”
Alcander was very quiet.
“You took it better than I thought,” Drustan yelled back.
Alcander still did not say anything.
Just as Kiora was ready to tell Alcander that she needed him to take over the bubble, he announced, “Take us down here.”
Kiora looked where he was pointing as Drustan dropped into one of the larger canyons. Landing at the bottom, Drustan’s hoofs kicked up a cloud of dust on the dry and dusty ground—lacking the moisture that had created it. Alcander dropped off Drustan’s back with barely a sound, motioning for the others to follow.
“Keep the bubble up until we pass through the barrier,” Alcander instructed Kiora.
Drustan morphed back into human form as the group followed Alcander under the shade of the overhanging ledge. Kiora could feel the hum of magic generated by the barrier as she stepped underneath it and dropped her bubble. Alcander pressed his hand against the canyon wall and the magical enchantment faded, revealing a large cave opening.
“A cave, again,” Kiora said, peering into the darkness. “Why does it
have to be a cave?”
“It’s not so bad,” Alcander said.
Emane took a step backwards, craning his neck to look up at the canyon wall that towered above them. Realizing what he had done, Kiora turned to warn him but Alcander was faster.
“No!” Alcander shouted, running at Emane.
Emane jolted. “What—?”
Alcander grabbed a fistful of Emane’s shirt, jerking him back within the protection of the barrier. “You fool!”
“Get off me,” Emane yelled, shoving him backwards with both hands.
Alcander’s hands rose, his palms out, magic flickering across his fingers.
“Stop,” Kiora yelled, placing herself between the two glaring men. “Just stop it.”
Alcander’s muscles were tense and his eyes narrowed to icy slits, locked on Emane. “You stepped out of the enchantment.”
“Alcander,” Kiora pleaded. “He didn’t know.”
“You might as well have drawn the world a map for how to get here,” he spat. “Let’s just hope the appearance of a thread with so little magical significance is of no consequence to them.”
Kiora cringed under the assault and glanced back at Emane, whose face was flaming red. His chest was heaving, his hand clenched so firmly around the hilt of his sword his knuckles had turned white.
Alcander turned neatly on a heel and led the way into the cave. He plucked a torch from the wall. Wordlessly, he held the torch out to Kiora.
Kiora breathed deeply through her nose, reaching out to kindle a fire on the end of the torch. She knew it wasn’t Emane’s fault—he couldn’t feel the hum of magic as you passed through a barrier, and he couldn’t see it. He had only taken one step back, but . . . it didn’t matter. The damage had already been done.
Alcander turned without another word, walking proudly into the darkness. She didn’t feel right being mad at Emane, but. as much as she hated to admit it, Alcander was completely justified in his anger.
The air inside the cave was moist, but lacked the stale dampness she was used to. They had not gone far when Kiora noticed the sound of water growing louder and louder the further they walked, sounding like the roar of a rushing river. “Where is that coming from?” she finally asked Alcander.
“Did you notice the river that vanished on our way here?” Alcander asked her over his shoulder. Kiora nodded. “It runs underground; we are getting close to it now.”
It wasn’t but five minutes later that the group came upon the black river rushing out from the rock. There was a section of the river, maybe twenty feet long and six feet across, that roared towards the surface before disappearing under the rock. With the little light that Alcander was carrying, Kiora could see the outline of a small arched wooden bridge that spanned the exposed river. It was small and low to the ground, and reminded her of a decorative one that sat in the castle gardens in Meros. They crossed over it and continued through. Within another five minutes the cave began to lighten and Alcander put out his torch.
“Where is the light coming from?” Emane asked.
“We are almost there,” Alcander said tightly.
A few more minutes and they stepped out of the cave, looking over an immense canyon. Kiora placed her hand over her eyes to shield the light. They had emerged very high up on the canyon wall, looking out over a village below. Some of the homes were on the ground while others poked oddly out of the canyon walls. But what caught Kiora’s immediate attention was the very long rope bridge that stretched out in front of them. Kiora bit her cheek in an attempt not to yelp. It looked remarkably similar to the one she had encountered back with the Shifters. Only this was longer and higher. It didn’t help that the wooden slats had wider gaps in between. Or the fact that it was broad daylight and she could clearly see how far it was to the ground. Kiora’s heart raced and her palms began to sweat as Alcander took the first step onto the bridge. It swayed back and forth with his weight. Kiora backed up involuntarily and bumped into Emane. He grabbed her.
“Hey, it’s all right,” Emane whispered in her ear. “Nothing is going to happen to you.”
Alcander and Drustan were already halfway across the bridge before they realized no one was following them. Alcander looked back to Kiora and Emane who had their heads close together, whispering. “What is the matter?” he yelled.
Kiora’s head popped up. “Nothing!” she said, her voice squeaking. She tried to clear her throat but Emane stepped in.
“She’s just a little afraid of bridges, that’s all,” Emane yelled back.
Kiora slugged him in the arm. “Emane!”
“She is afraid of bridges,” Alcander repeated dryly, raising an eyebrow.
“Quite,” Drustan said, smirking.
“You’re afraid of bridges?” Alcander yelled back to Kiora.
“Not all bridges. Just ones made of rope, swinging over a 300-foot deep canyon! Who makes a bridge out of rope?”
“Everybody,” Alcander said, as if it were the most logical thing in the world.
“Obviously,” Kiora murmured under her breath. She didn’t have time to yell before Emane picked her up and started out on to the bridge.
“You really should learn to deal with this,” Emane said keeping his eyes on the bridge on front of him. “There may come a time when I will not be there to carry you across.”
Kiora squeezed her eyes closed and shoved her head into Emane’s chest, gripping his shirt with everything she had.
“I could call Arturo,” Kiora retorted through clenched teeth.
“Who is Arturo?” Alcander asked.
Kiora bit her lip. She wasn’t sure if she should have mentioned him or not. “A Pegasus.”
She was met with silence again. She was too terrified to open her eyes and look at his face, but she was beginning to really dislike the silence she got anytime she told him anything.
Finally feeling solid ground beneath Emane’s feet, Kiora opened her eyes. The first thing she saw was Alcander’s sharp face looking at her with bewilderment.
“What?” Kiora demanded, smoothing her clothes out with some indignation as Emane set her back on the ground. It was bad enough she was terrified of these stupid bridges. Worse than that, she had an audience every time she ran into one.
Alcander just shook his head. “Nothing.” He turned and led them down the narrow ledge that wound its way to the bottom of the canyon.
“What is this place?” Kiora asked, gazing around. The two canyon walls went straight up, almost meeting at the top. Sunlight streamed in through the crack between them, lighting the entire canyon. This must have been what was underneath the small fissures she has seen from the air. A waterfall poured out of the opposite canyon wall they had just crossed from, dropping down into a river that ran through the middle of the canyon before disappearing again into the earth where the two walls closed together at the end. The canyon was elliptical, wide in the middle and narrowing at both ends. Lush greenery fed on the river that flowed through. Homes dotted the canyon floor. She was curious about the homes that protruded high on the canyon walls. They did not follow the path, and she could see no means of getting to them.
“This is my current home,” Alcander answered. “It is also where Lomay has been hiding for some time.”
Kiora was impressed and overwhelmed by the beauty of the area. It was by far the best cave she had ever been in, because it really wasn’t a cave at all. But even more than the beauty that surrounded her, Kiora was impressed by the strength of the threads she felt. They thrummed through her, powerful in their magic. The only thread in the canyon that did not feel distinctly good marched in front of them—Alcander. But with each step that was changing as well. Kiora monitored it as she went. Alcander had asked her if she could disguise her thread. He obviously could, and now in his home, he was letting that disguise fall away, revealing a thread of good.
The closer Kiora got to the bottom, the more people stopped what they were doing to watch the new trio entering their hideout. Even the children stopped playing to watch. It was an effort to keep herself from staring at all the different sizes and shapes. She could feel Shifters among them in a variety forms. But there were others—beautiful women with wings on their backs, others with skin so black it was as dark as night. Some were barely two feet tall and skinny as sticks, with large ears. Although a few eyes were on her and Emane, most were on Drustan. They scanned him from top to bottom, whispering to each other before their eyes flickered to Alcander, who made a quick motion with his hand. All the occupants immediately ducked back into their homes.
“You must not get many visitors,” Emane said.
“Not like you two,” Alcander replied. “Both of your threads are unique. And then there is the way you look.”
Kiora had a sudden urge to pull her hood back over her head.
Alcander led them through the middle of the village. A few small faces peeked out their windows before their mothers pulled them away.
“They listen well to you, don’t they?” Emane remarked, scanning the empty windows.
Alcander ignored him.
Kiora had a few questions she wanted to ask, but just as she opened her mouth she saw a little old man hobble out of one of the larger houses, bent over at the waist and leaning on a walking stick. He was thin with gray, stringy hair and wrinkles that covered his face. The wrinkles tried their best to hang down, but were forced upwards by the enormous smile that was plastered there. The little old man hobbled onward with an excitement that was evident by the hop in his step.
“Alcander!” the man said joyfully. “So good to have you home.” He smiled at the group. “And you have found what I sent someone else after. We will have to get word to him.”
“Thank you, Lomay,” Alcander said.
Lomay, this was Lomay! The entire group perked up.
The old man hobbled closer. Epona had said he was one of the Ancient Ones. The only Ancient One Kiora had ever met was Epona, who was quiet and distinguished. She stood tall, with an elegance about her—a graceful poise. This man, Lomay, was none of those things. In fact, he looked like a child trapped in a very old body. Kiora couldn’t help but smile. She saw in his eyes that Lomay wanted to run and skip, but his body simply wouldn’t allow it. Those eyes danced with joy and laughter, as if he knew a joke nobody else did. Lomay was so different from the person Kiora had imagined him to be.
“Hello! Hello, all of you. Welcome to our home,” Lomay exclaimed, grabbing Kiora’s hand and kissing it. “My lady, so nice to meet you.” He hobbled faster than he should have over to Emane and stumbled on the hem of his robe. Emane caught him as he went down. “Thank you,” Lomay chuckled. “I get too excited at times.” Lomay grabbed onto Emane’s upper arm as he pulled himself up. “Oh, how exciting. I cannot wait to see this, my boy.” He tapped the snake through the Emane’s shirt
Emane looked over Lomay’s head to Kiora with a bemused look on his face.
“Epona sent word of your coming,” Lomay continued as he made his way up the steps, motioning to the rest that they should follow. “It was a little jumbled, still blocked by magic I would assume, but I got most of it.”
Kiora followed behind Lomay up the stairs into a very humble, rustic home.
“My old eyes have waited a long time for you.” Lomay groaned as he lowered himself into a wooden armchair. “Please, sit down.”
Kiora and Emane sat down on a couch made of weathered wood, whose stain had long since come off. Drustan took a seat on a chair that looked remarkably like a stump of wood. Alcander apparently preferred to stand and he leaned against the doorframe. “Where are my manners?” Lomay corrected himself. “Are you hungry?”
Alcander answered for them. “We have not eaten since breakfast. I am sure they are hungry.”
“You did not feed them, Alcander?” Lomay asked, leaning back in his chair. “I am surprised at you. Such important guests and you starve them. Get them some fruit and bread, that should hold them until dinner.”
Alcander pursed his lips. Pushing himself off the doorframe, he walked to the kitchen.
While Lomay talked, Alcander passed out food. Kiora tried not to devour it for manner’s sake, but she was starving.
“Did you travel well?” Lomay asked, eyeing the group. “I hope you did not run into much trouble.”
Alcander snorted, returning to the doorframe.
Lomay’s large eyebrows pulled tightly together. “There was trouble? What kind of trouble?”
“For one, they don’t know how to mask their threads,” Alcander said in disgust. “I felt things stirring that have not moved for some time.”
Lomay’s eyes darkened. “Oh dear. Epona did not teach you how to mask your thread?”
There was a long pause before Kiora finally looked up from her apple. Lomay apparently wanted an answer this time. “There is no need for it where we are from.”
“Really?” His eyes lightened again. Curiosity seemed to be a good remedy for his concern. “You will have to tell me all about what happened. I have wondered for so long what happened.” His eyes grew distant for a moment before sharpening back on Kiora. “What trouble did you have?”