By Zoë Amber
I wanted to grab Pilgrim and stop him, but instead did nothing as he left the old man’s side and hurried out of the tent. I glared back at Hati, shocked by his instructions. “I’m sorry, but you’re wrong about her. She isn’t a spy.”
Hati sat up in bed and flung his legs over the edge. “And what makes you so sure?” His whole body trembled as he stood. He took a couple of shaky steps and pointed his gnarled, yellow fingernail at me again. “She’s our enemy, she’d say anything to get back to her people again.”
I couldn’t fault Hati’s logic, but I still felt as though Tau was different. He didn’t know her like we did. Eno and I both stared at the ground.
Hati looked between us a short while, his sternness quickly turning to pity. “I need to pack,” he continued, turning to a trunk of his belongings. “Either help me or get out and assist the others.” He shook his head and gestured to the tent’s entrance. “If you’re looking for forgiveness, we don’t have time. Go.”
We walked out in silence and put the old man behind us. I was furious, they couldn’t do this to her. I led Eno along the stony walkway to the centre of the settlement.
Eno jogged to keep up. “What do we do now?”
“We’re not going with them. We’re leaving.”
“Already? But can’t we stay with them for at least a little while?”
I stopped and turned back. “No, they pointed guns at us, Eno. This is not the kind of village where you and I would be safe. We don’t need them.”
“When will it ever be safe?”
I placed my hand on his shoulder. “Maybe never. But if it’s just you and me, we know we can trust each other, right?”
Eno shrugged. “Yeah, but these are our people.”
I spotted Pilgrim on the far side of a courtyard. He was making his way past various tents, probably to where Tau was being kept.
I pointed in his direction for Eno to see. “So you think they are right? That Tau should die?”
Eno shook his head. “I don’t want her to die, even if she is our enemy. I’m not angry at her anymore.”
I changed course and sped up, heading to where we last saw Pilgrim. We continued down the path and passed more shacks.
Eno was now running to keep pace. “Hey, wait! You want to rescue her, don’t you?”
We stopped at a corner. I peeked around the shelter and saw Pilgrim farther down the next path. I glanced back at Eno. “Keep your voice down! Yes, I want to rescue her. Did you hear what she said before? She says she’s not one of them anymore. Maybe we’ve brought her to our side now?”
“Yeah … hey, yeah! If she fought with us, others might change sides, too. But what about the tracking device thingie?”
“I’m sure that was just in the armour we threw away,” I said hopefully, looking around the corner again, before rounding it.
A couple of the Nomads from earlier ran past us and hurried into one of the nearby tents. Moments later, they left the tent and ran to the next. News of our arrival had spread, and now all of the villagers were exiting their tents with some of their belongings. The pathways were filling with panicking people.
“Only take what you need!” I heard a man yell in the street.
I spotted Sabikah on a shelter roof. She cupped her hands around her mouth. “Make your way to the cavern pass!”
I peered through the crowd and saw Pilgrim head into one of the tents at the far end. “There,” I said, brushing past a couple of villagers.
Eno looked nervously at all of the armed Nomads. “I don’t think they’re going to let us just take her back, Sis.”
I pulled on his wrist and we hurried through the crowd. The tent was close.
There was an explosion somewhere nearby, and the entire cavern shook. The rumbling was soon overtaken by screams, which echoed against the enormous dome ceiling. The crowd of terrified villagers ran in every direction, many dropping their belongings.
A hail of laser fire came from the skylights above. Hundreds of male soldiers were perched on the holes’ rims, firing down on the village. Many more were rappelling down on cords, then dropping onto the shelter rooves with loud bangs. Multiple shelters were ablaze already. Assorted villagers fell dead in the streets.
The Nomads quickly counterattacked, firing up back up at them. Several enemy soldiers were shot and they fell through the holes. They plummeted and smacked into the cave floor with sickening, squishy thuds.
Eno and I were stunned, staring at the chaos. There was a deep roar nearby, and I saw Pilgrim burst out of the tent. “****** Dominion!” He fired his giant rifle at numerous enemies in the village. Pilgrim didn’t even notice us, instead joining the fray in the streets.
I was still holding Eno’s wrist, so I pulled him along towards the tent. “We have to save her and get out of here!” I shouted over the deafening booms and shrieks.
We grazed past several more villagers as they scrambled for cover, and then finally we reached the tent. I pulled the curtain aside, revealing a small winding corridor. We rushed in and let the curtain close behind us.
“Well, well, well,” a deep voice began from around the next corner. “Already restrained? What a gift.”
Who was he talking to? Could he see us? Eno and I snuck closer to a nearby corner and peered around it. I spotted the man immediately, he was dressed in black armour and his back was turned. A hole at the back of the tent must have been his entrance.
Tau was hanging from the roof, with ropes tied around her wrists. She squirmed and moaned, attempting to break free. She noticed me and we locked eyes. I raised a finger to my mouth.
She stopped writhing. “You don’t need to do this. You can free me and … you’ll never see me again.”
He approached and brushed her cheek with his fingers. “Now why would I want that?” A nearby explosion outside lit up the tent interior, revealing his lecherous grin. “Tell me where the acolyte is and I’ll spare your life.”
I looked around the room, hoping to find something I could use. The crude walls were made of shrapnel pieces and were still sharp in places. One large, rusty spike in particular caught my eye.
The man pressed a pistol against Tau’s face. “Three … two …”
With barely a thought, I drew two portals. With one strong pushing motion, I forced the portal that was behind the man towards him. It teleported him to the spike, and then came the sound of ripping flesh.
The impaled man screamed in agony. As he quivered, he looked down at his stomach and saw the shrapnel sticking out of it, the rusted point drenched in blood and gore. He stopped moving and hung there motionless.
Eno and I rushed around the corner and approached Tau.
My brother’s eyes widened when he saw the impaled man. “You killed him …”
“I didn’t know what to do! I panicked,” I said with a trembling voice.
“It’s okay,” Tau interrupted. “He deserved it. Now please, get me down from here.”
I couldn’t believe what I had done. I killed a man. I could have just teleported him out into the desert. Why did I do that? My legs were shaking. The gunfire outside was intensifying.
I walked over to Tau, barely able to keep my balance. Thankfully, I still had my bag, so I rifled through it and found my knife. I raised it to Tau’s restraints and rapidly cut through. The binds loosened and released.
She stared into my eyes, confused, then sprang forward and hugged me. “Thank-you so much. You didn’t have to save me but …”
There was another explosion and the blast knocked us all to the ground. A bright red line cut from one side of the hut’s roof to the other, followed by an ear-piercing screech as it tore through the scrap metal walls with ease. The beam was giving off an insane amount of heat. I shielded my face with my hands. The blazing energy weapon ceased, but it had left an enormous hole in the front of the hut, and much of the roof collapsed around us.
After briefly cowering from the falling wreckage, we sat back up. Outside the hut, back near the village’s centre, a large bright bubble was coming out of the ground. It was like a shell made of hexagons.
Inside it were two men in black armour. One had his hands to the sides, generating the shield. The second was firing a red laser from his outstretched fingertips, which exited the shield and disintegrated the huts around them. Their menacing black helmets obscured their faces. More acolytes.
They were destroying everything in their path, their bright powers lighting up the cavern around them as they moved. The red beam tore through the buildings and emitted a high-pitched squeal.
Tau pulled me back to my feet. “We need a portal, now!”
She was right, but it was difficult to focus. I thought back to the green hills we had seen earlier in the day. I pictured them exactly as I had seen them, then I twirled my fingers and a portal opened beside us. The thick, burning air was sucked through into the cold, dark night on the other side.
“Let’s go!” I said, before noticing that Eno was still crouching on the ground with his hands on his head. “Come on, Eno.”
Tau dove through first. After pulling Eno up by the arm, he and I followed, leaving the burning building behind. We fell through the portal and crashed face-first into the grass. We rose to our feet, and Eno spat out a mouth full of dirt.
We were outside again, surrounded by trees and foliage. The roaring flames, laser fire, and screams could still be heard through the portal, so I closed it. Everything went silent, replaced with nothing but the wind.
Tau was leaning against a tree in the dark. I could hear her sobbing. “I want to go home … I want to go home.”
Eno slumped against a nearby rock.
If Tau had a tracking device inside her, why was it the men who attacked? None of this made any sense.
Tau glanced back. “It was our fault, wasn’t it?” The moon lit up her distraught face. “My fault …”
“No,” I replied, “they were after me, the acolyte. It’s mine.”
“All those people, so many screams,” Eno said as he covered his ears.
We all remained still and silent, listening to the wind rustle through the trees. I always pictured Eno and I would be overjoyed when we completed the pilgrimage and reached the green. It was nothing like what I imagined.
“We should go back,” Eno said suddenly.
“What?” I screeched as I stepped closer.
He pushed away from the rock. “There could be survivors.”
Tau looked as uncertain as I did. After seeing the entire settlement in flames, it was doubtful anyone else escaped.
Tau shook her head. “I can’t go back there. I’m sorry.”
I frowned at Eno. “And I can’t make another portal back …”
“You can’t, or won’t?” he quickly retorted.
“I’m sorry for what happened, Eno,” I continued, and he faced away from me. “I know you felt like they were our people, but they weren’t.”
Eno turned back around and pointed at Tau. “They only treated Tau badly. And I would have done the same thing if I didn’t know her. They didn’t do anything to you or me. You just hate everyone because we’ve been alone our whole lives, always on the move. You don’t trust anyone but us.”
Tau shifted anxiously, unsure of what to say.
I scoffed. “That’s not true.”
“I bet you want to travel forever, so that way it can just be you and me.”
“And why is that a bad thing?”
“Because Grandpa wanted you to help our people with your portals, remember?”
My whole body tightened in anger. “I’m not going back there and dying for people I hardly know!”
Eno’s anger faded. He went completely stone-faced, as if disappointed. “Grandpa never wanted you to die for them … just to try.” He looked up into the sky at the moon to get his bearings, chose a direction, and wandered away from us into the darkness.
I didn’t want to admit it, but everything he said was right. But I have always resented Aberym, as well as his grand plan for me. Could that be why I’ve found it so difficult to create portals until now? It was only when Eno and I were in danger that I was finally able to reawaken my power.
Tau looked at me as if she was about to say something. She hesitated, then looked away, choosing to follow in Eno’s footsteps instead.
I followed them, too, and the three of us walked in silence, deeper into the forest.
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