Become a Book Nerd
When you’re not reading books, read our newsletter.
Count: 6587, Age of Calligraphy.
Yithmora didn’t have the energy to be afraid, only to keep running through the waist high grass. Rescued slaves all around her stumbled on the unfamiliar terrain, and she reached to touch their shoulders to transfer what strength she had to their weary, beaten bodies.
The liberator base came into view over the hill, seeming to glow from the orange evening light. Yithmora’s tense jaw eased slightly.
Nets launched from cannons and trapped slaves cried out. Their voices were faint compared to the rumbling machines in pursuit. Yithmora seized the edge of a net and thrust it upward for the slave underneath to escape. She barely felt the pain from her scraped hands.
Ropes pressed against her back, forcing her into the mud. Thrashing, Yithmora struggled to free herself. She crawled out of the net’s grip just as the slave masters and factory owners leapt to the ground from their bulky metal rides.
“Grab the elras healer!” General Creagh ordered, pointing a meaty finger toward her.
She shoved herself to her feet, ignoring the gritty dirt that soaked through her boots. The liberator base waited a shout away, its gates open as if beckoning to her. Yithmora’s legs cramped as she herded the slaves, her enemies close behind. Boots squelched in the mud, alerting her.
She whirled to find a broad man rushing toward her, a sculpture in one of his hands. Orange, cracking veins wove through his chestplate, and his clothing was scorched in several places. His stout eyes fixed on her.
Suddenly self-conscious, Yithmora felt every fault in her appearance. Her filthy padded armor over her blouse; her trousers, stained with grime that leaked through to chill her skin; her white hair, hanging wildly around her face and over one eye; her face, pale and sweaty from exertion.
Each step became harder to take, the impacts shooting up her legs. A few paces away from the gate, her knees buckled, throbbing at the contact with moist earth. The momentum propelled her onto her stomach. Lifting her head, she stretched out her hand. The distance between her and the slave masters lessened with each rapid heartbeat.
A blistered hand seized her own and dragged her through the mud and through the gate, which closed with a thud.
Thirty-year-old Master Dastin hoisted Yithmora upright, his own clothing in the same shabby condition as hers. Concern filled his gaze. “Are you hurt? You saved so many lives today.”
“I will manage.” She rubbed her knees and tried not to wince.
Her teacher was nothing like the elras elders. His contagious eagerness to learn and stubbornness to follow education requirements often brightened the clouds of self-doubt hovering around her, instead of reinforcing them.
Master Dastin gave a nod and turned toward a wounded nyimsa whose fox-like features were ravaged by scars. Clumps of fur hung from his skeletal frame.
Yithmora’s thermal vision highlighted his neon life colors: Blue energy centralized near his chest, just like all living things, and splotches of green pain pulsed throughout his entire body, while flickers of teal peppered his paws. She opened her mouth, but the nyimsa was clearly not all right, so she paused to rework her question. “Where does he need the most attention?”
“His back,” Master Dastin replied, helping the freed slaves further inside. “He was at a whipping post when we found him. The slave master didn’t finish all the lashes, but there were enough that walking was a challenge.”
Yithmora turned every whisper of attention to the life colors inside the nyimsa and focused on gathering the sickly green glow. Channeling her lifespan, she subconsciously selected the amount of time it would take for the nyimsa’s wounds to heal.
Exhaling, Yithmora grasped the nyimsa’s tense shoulder, then pooled her energy into her hand, mixed it with her time and let it pass through her fingers and flow into him. Neon green mists rose up through him. She narrowed her focus and shook from the strain, bundling her energy and time around the injury to heal it, but the pain slipped from her grip. Only half of the green mists flashed wildly before disappearing into her clenched hand.
Immediately, the effort tugged at her lifespan, which rested near her heart. She rubbed her aching chest. The nyimsa held her gaze, gratitude lining his face, and closed his eyes. “You are safe now,” she murmured.
She released the injuries a shout away from the path, near a gurgling creek that twisted beyond the houses and vanished into a tunnel near the back of the cave. The underground settlement was built on pegs and stone, hidden and secure. With the stream and an abundance of moss and fungi that grew on the rock surrounding them, they had enough provisions to stay inside.
Fists pounded against the vast wooden gate. Yithmora jolted, electrified with fear for a wild moment as echoes rebounded against the stone walls.
Dastin glanced at the gate uneasily. “Our defenses should hold for now.” He turned back to acknowledge her. “You have done so much for our cause.”
Yithmora smiled halfheartedly at him. I should have done better. “Where are the other rescues?” she asked, her feet shifting slightly, ready to run in the direction he pointed to.
Master Dastin checked the nyimsa’s pulse and tilted his head toward the path weaving through townhouses built among jagged stalagmites. “With your sister.”
Yithmora’s mind numbed to everything but searching for a glimpse of white hair. “Caula!”
Her sister turned, bold shadows under her tired eyes.
Dear stars, she looked exhausted. Yithmora joined Caula, grateful for torches staked into the surrounding rock for light. They grasped each other’s shoulders in greeting. Yithmora drew back and tried to peer past her sister. “Rest. I can finish here.”
Caula shook her head, stepping to block the nyimsas laying on cots behind her. “Please, sister. Think about your lifespan.”
Wrapping her arms around herself, Yithmora’s body slumped. “I just want to help them.” The words reminded her of a tragedy at the hidden elras kingdom. A gang of ice bears had broken into an armored nursery. Helplessly watching life drain away wasn’t something Yithmora ever wanted to experience again.
“We are elrai,” Caula said, lowering her voice. “You have only lived six hundred and ten years, Yithmora, and you’re blowing off your future years to remove injuries that could have healed in a week on their own. Remember our people.”
“What do you mean, sister?” Yithmora asked, forcing memories away.
Caula rubbed her face. “Sometimes I wish I could return home.” Her eyes blazed. “As long as the humans search for the location of our kingdom, as long as there rages this plague, as long as the nyimsa people live in chains, that is not an option.”
But it was an option she considered. Yithmora flexed her fingers, sensing her clouds of self-doubt closing in. “Why?”
Caula tossed her wet hair over her shoulders where it plastered to the back of her tunic. “The world is so dangerous. Neither you nor I will ever belong anywhere but with our people. Surely you can feel that?”
Yithmora shifted, trying to imagine the Disappearance, the hidden elras kingdom. Back to training sessions, solitude, and avoiding the world’s problems? All she could picture were the pale, emotionless faces of her parents as they watched her pass under the icy gates, chosen as a messenger for truce negotiations with the humans. Personally, she believed she was sent because even if the humans did try to force her to heal them from the spreading plague, she would not be able to.
“You are safe here,” she argued, gesturing to Caula. Her sister’s unremovable invisible armor would protect her from most threats, but required independence in recoveries.
“But you are not!” Caula ran her fingertips along her hairline.
Yithmora didn’t wear any energy armor, which was riskier, but the more logical choice. “I have you as backup.” She lifted her chin and squared her shoulders. “Let me pass.”
“Sister. Please,” Caula sighed, moving aside even as she spoke. “You don’t have to heal everyone just because you can.”
“Our abilities should be used whenever possible. How can you leave them in pain?” She would not trade what little power she had for all the anscrium in the sea.
Yithmora knelt beside the cots. The first nyimsa trembled with his eyes pressed shut, while the second had spread her limbs as if trying to claim as much space she could. Yithmora gently placed her hand on the shaking nyimsa’s shoulder and phased a wave of energy through him to search for any wound emitting pain. None were enough to cause his terror. It had to be in his memories.
Following a green mist, Yithmora paused near the nyimsa’s head, one of the hardest places to heal. Emotional pain. Her concentration slipped and she lost the bright green threads. Emotional pain could only be lessened, and that alone would take several years from her lifespan. She silently withdrew what physical injuries she could from the shaking nyimsa, who relaxed slightly.
Caula stood at her side tending to the second nyimsa. “Plague,” she murmured. She held up a glistening green orb, identical to other pain. Yithmora doubted she could identify the plague again just by checking life colors. Withdrawing an arrow from her quiver, Caula coated the tip with the nyimsa’s pain. Sliding the arrow back into place, Caula led the way along the path to the gate.
Master Dastin stood with his two human students, Igarde, whose appearance was as dashing as his sword fighting, and Squim, the sandy-haired jokester. Igarde nodded solemnly in greeting as they approached. Squim grinned like an ignorant fool.
“The nyimsas are recovering,” Yithmora reported. Something slammed into the gate and she winced.
“Did any of them carry the plague?” Master Dastin asked, his face tense. “We don’t need a repeat of the year infections spread throughout the base.”
Caula didn’t look away. “Yes. I handled it. What do you need us to do?”
“Rest,” he answered, shaking his head at Yithmora’s rising protests. “Get a few hours of sleep.”
Yithmora raised her eyebrows at him when another force slammed into the gate. “You need our help.”
“The defenders can spare you two.” Master Dastin tucked his thumbs under the straps of his rucksack.
Sighing but relenting the argument, Yithmora followed her sister back along the sodden path and up a stairwell to the upper level of the fortress above the hollowed out hill. Hurrying through a tall hallway lined with windows, Yithmora peered over the wetlands that covered the planet’s surface. The sun’s last rays strained to remain visible to the land of Befôre. She missed the peace she normally felt with the view.
Turning into their shared dormitory, Yithmora flung herself toward the closet, but Caula beat her inside, tossed out a few clean pieces of clothing, and pulled the curtains back over it.
Yithmora smirked, huffing a humorless breath. She changed quickly, her muddy rags dripping on the grass floor. Wearing a fresh blouse, trousers, boots, padded armor made of dragon scales, and the fashionable three belts around her waist, Yithmora tried to relax on her bed. Glancing sideways at a stack of handbooks piled on the table between the two beds, she scanned their titles to pass the time. A Guide to the Life Colors, Legends of the Giants, and The Complete History of the Progressing Timeline Records. Along with the books was Caula’s neatly folded nightgown, Yithmora’s pet plant, glass of shining water that served as the room’s only source of light, and a white gemstone on a necklace.
Caula stepped out of the closet, eyebrows raised. “Dragon brand armor? Why are you wearing something made by the slaves we’re trying to rescue?”
Yithmora began to unbutton the front.
Caula hesitated. “No, keep it. It is the best material for protection. Whether or not slaves made it, it saves like star shine, and that is what matters.”
Yithmora nodded and clipped a crossbow to one of her belts. “Do you really believe it is possible?” she found herself asking Caula, laying on her furry blankets. She rolled onto her stomach and pulled her sketchbook from her satchel, where she flipped to one of her drawings. A fragment of the nyimsa’s injury appeared in her hand, and she used it to finger paint the vibrant life color into a few areas of her artwork.
Caula sat on her bed and tapped her heels. “Possible to cure the plague and free the slaves?”
“No,” Yithmora said, sinking into her soft mattress, adding the last of the green pain to her picture. “To go home.”
Caula picked up the glass of glowing water and crossed her legs. “I believe it.”
Yithmora sighed and set her sketchbook on the side table. “The elders warned us never to try. Our entire kingdom would be at risk if someone followed us back.”
“We delivered their messages and are finishing our education here with the liberators. But even if we cannot return, learn how to accept change, and you will understand how life works,” Caula encouraged. She lifted the glass to her mouth and drank, casting the room into darkness. “There is always a way back.”
Yithmora yawned and closed her eyes, pulling her knees under her chin. Sleep fogged her mind as she ran toward the only place the clouds couldn’t follow. “I hope you are right.”
Time passed until a sharp cry forced her awake. “Everyone wake up! You must get up now!”
Her memory refused to store what happened next.
When you’re not reading books, read our newsletter.