Friends, I plotted out the chapters, I did the math, I counted twice. After this chapter, there are only SIX MORE IN THE BOOK!!! I’ll definitely be finished writing by Christmas (if it is God’s will), and you should have regular, weekly posts until the end!
We jangle and clank into camp, startling the axex. They ruffle their feathers and scold us with a thweee-thwee-twheet. Forziel runs up to them, cooing.
Thunder rolls louder than our racket.
Treasure is dumped on blankets, blankets bundled into bunches, bundles hefted onto the axex, all while Forziel sorts us into pairs for riding the beasts. Nihae and Nhardah, Liwin and Hoenna will share. Forziel and Drigo will carry the bulk of the treasure. Savi and I will be largely unburdened—“Just in case,” Forziel says, eying the clouds.
Liwin and Hoenna are first off the ground. Drigo stands beside his, shaking his wrists and muttering to himself, then carefully rests his hands on the axex’s back.
“It’s going to eat me,” Nihae protests when Nhardah guides her toward their beast.
“Ah, dear Nihae, this axex? Why, it already considers itself your friend,” Nhardah chuckles. “It will protect you, but won’t do anything to hurt you.”
She lets him help her up then, but says, “I don’t like this. Where’s Elesekk?”
A shout slows us as we scramble onto the axex. The royal Bathatyz, rich robes flapping, runs toward us.
“Up, up,” I order our group, hefting my crutches up onto my lap. If the Izyphorns changed their minds, we’re not going back into slavery. Though why they’d send a middle-aged woman instead of a runner or a younger royal, I do not know.
“Wait!” Bathatyz throws her hands in the air and waves them.
“You freed us,” I shout back. “You cannot take back your word.”
She drops her hands. “Don’t be silly. I’m not here to take you back. I’m here to join you.”
I almost drop my crutches.
“Don’t look so skeptical and shocked,” she frowns. “We all witnessed your Aia’s signs. I would be a fool–and indeed, many of my family are–to ignore what I’ve seen with my own eyes. I will follow your Aia as you do.”
Despite what happened with the bandits, this takes me aback. It’s one thing for other slaves to become Maraians–but an Izyphorn, and a royal on top of that? It’s absurd! It’s too extravagant an idea even for Aia!
None of us respond, except Nhardah. He slides off his and Nihae’s axex, smooth as fine crochet slides off a shelf, and strides toward her. A smile washes over his face. “How gracious Aia is, that such a marvelous thing should be my legacy,” he says, whether to us or to himself. “Even a chief of the daughters of Izyphor returns to faithfulness to Him!”
The Firstborn is before her now. Bathatyz eyes him with confusion.
Nhardah just smiles wider. “You do not know me. I am Nhardah-Lev, Firstborn, alone immortal of all humans. My children are all who turn from rebellion to follow and serve Aia alone.” In a flash, he wraps his arms around her. “My daughter, welcome to our number.”
Bathatyz stiffens, but eventually returns his embrace. When she does, Nhardah releases her and gestures her toward the axex.
“She’ll have to ride with you, Rai,” Forziel decides. “You’re the lightest.”
I nod, and Nhardah helps Bathatyz up behind me. Then he remounts his axex behind Nihae. Forziel whoops, and the creatures still on the ground lurch into the air. “Head west, away from the storm,” Forziel calls.
“No, fly south,” Savi disagrees before I can.
“That’s crazy! You see those clouds? They’re aivenkaites, right? We oughta be going away from them.”
“South. That’s where our people are, at the work projects along the coast.”
“Why am I agreeing to this?” Forziel groans, but his axex turns south and the rest of ours follow.
Flying with a passenger, angry black clouds towering higher and higher to the right, is a far cry from the freedom and joy of flying with the kaites. Gone is the nostalgic delight from our flight to the capital. My body aches from the fight in the dungeon. My crutches rattle on my lap. Bathatyz bumps heads with me whenever the axex unexpectedly shifts. The midday sun sears my exposed skin.
And the cloud of aivenkaites stays close to us.
“They can go faster than this,” Bathatyz yells, too close to my ear.
“They can? But how?”
She shrills, and I temporarily lose hearing. The axex bolts forward, outstripping even Forziel.
I twist and call to the others, “Do what she just did!”
The air fills with shrills, and our flock of axex streak across the bright blue sky.
The aivenkaites, a black heap of writhing clouds, roar in thunder and lightning. Translucent, the kaites twist the wind like mammoth birds and white zindrumih. They flash before the aivenkaites, reigning them back.
A funnel of dark cloud slips between the kaites, pales when separate from the other aivenkaites. It hurtles toward us. Wind, hotter than the desert air, hits a moment before the evil cloud wisps do.
I yank Luemikaroeth free. One of my crutches tumbles off my lap. It’s too small to see before it hits the ground.
“What are you doing?” Bathatyz shrieks. “You’ll kill us both!”
“It’s the only way to stop the aivenkaites,” I answer.
When we flew to the capital, the axex somehow knew where to go without much direction. Maybe they were just following their leader, ridden by Forziel. Whatever the reason, I have no idea how to steer this axex so that I can protect us from the aivenkaites. The evil spirits, three of them, dance out of my reach, tossing the axex about like dry autumn leaves.
Nihae screams. She dangles in the air, kicking, tethered only by Nhardah’s grip on her wrist. Savi’s scream for his mother splits the air.
I cry her name, but my axex won’t go near hers or the aivenkaites grasping at her heels.
Bathatyz leans to the right, so far I fear she’ll fall off. But she doesn’t. The axex turns toward Nihae, and Bathatyz rights herself.
We’re at Nihae’s side. The aivenkaite pulling at her twists its cloud shape to look like a scorpion.
I shout and plunge Luemikaroeth into its center.
The aivenkaite howls as it’s sucked back into the Void.
Nhardah pulls. Nihae rises.
My axex is yanked back. If not for Bathatyz holding me and the beast, I’d be falling to the ground like my last remaining crutch.
Nhardah shouts again.
By the time my axex rights itself, the group is yards away. Nihae still swings through the air, encircled by two aivenkaites, the only others who got past the kaites.
She is too far for me to reach. Still, I have to try.
Bathatyz shrills. The axex strains to catch the group. I stretch out Luemikaroeth.
Savi drives toward his mother, face white from effort.
Light grows in Luemikaroeth’s blade. Then something new happens. The sword warms and vibrates, like it gains extra life. Pale blue light streaks to meet Elgarnoseth in Savi’s hand. When it touches his blade, it spreads up and down, thinner, and pushes a blue line from our swords toward Nihae.
Drigo swears. “What on Orrock is that?”
The light reaches the aivenkaites. They shrivel with wails, not as sudden as when we stab them, but still inexorably forced away from Nihae and slowly dragged back to the Void.
The light brightens as we near Nihae. By the time the aivenkaites’ cries fade, we’re upon her.
Nhardah grips her only by her fingers.
“Mama!” Savi reaches for her.
“Lean the way you want your axex to go,” Bathatyz instructs.
He does, and nears Nihae enough to grab her other hand and help her back up to the axex’s back.
The struggle’s over, at least for now. The other aivenkaites strain toward us, but no more break past the kaites. I gulp air. The light from our swords dissolves.
“What was that,” Drigo says, not really a question. “Did you know your swords could do that?”
Savi slumps, then straightens when his axex takes that as instruction to descend. “I get the feeling we’re just beginning to have an idea of what these swords can do.”
“They never did that for the kaites,” Nhardah says. His arms wrap around Nihae, holding her secure. “This is something new.”
For a moment, I want to grumble about having to act without understanding the swords. But Liwin’s cry of delight distracts us all.
What looks like a line of smoke smooths the line of desert meeting sky. The wide blue ribbon of the river Havilim weaves toward it, through deep canyons and bared red rock striped with shining white. The smokey line thickens. Rock softens into the orange sand of Izyphor’s coast.
“The sea!” Liwin laughs. “I never thought I’d see it!”
We’re here, miles of desert crossed before the sun is half-way down to the horizon.
We’re about to meet our people, really meet them, for the first time as the Champions. Will they follow us? Will they desert us like Laen? The sultan’s signet ring dangles over my heart, next to my chanavea. This is the only proof I have of our freedom.
We loop around the royal Yrin’s city. My heart squeezes. Elesekk’s body lies down there, abandoned to decay slowly in the hot, dry depths of the tunnel under the city. May he walk again at the end of the ages, when Aia redeems creation.
The city is past. The beach draws near, with the busy harbor. Aia, I have no idea what to expect. You have brought us this far. Please let the people receive us well. Please let them believe in our freedom.
The harbor is dark with people, packed in as close as the capital during Api’s Feast. They notice us and point to each other.
We direct the axex toward a stretch of open ground between the crowd and the water. As we lower, the crowd sharpens into clarity, so I can distinguish one person from the next. I gasp. They are all Maraian, or mostly.
One figure stands near the front of the crowd, arguing with an Izyphorn standing between the crowd and the docked boats. Her flaxen hair hangs in one thin braid down to her waist.
One of the people next to her taps her shoulder and points at us. She turns.
As I recognized Savi on Ira, so now I recognize her after these years apart: My little sister.
Happy Thanksgiving, all! Let me know your thoughts by liking and commenting 🙂