Dipak sat alone with Enaid. She didn’t know where Jacob was, but she found that she didn’t care. He’d become smothering. At some point, their relationship had changed and that hurt. They had once been friends and now he was her nurse maid or maybe her mother. She didn’t really want either.
Reaching out to stroke Enaid’s cheek, a few dark motes shot from the tips of her fingers. She paused. That had never happened. Wait. It had been a long time since it had happened. She closed her hand around one of the motes that still floated in the air as felt it puff against her hand. It felt like soot. Opening her hand and looking, she found that it had left a mark like soot too. It should have snuffed. No, it wasn’t light.
The lines opened in her mind and she followed her lives back, pushed on by the sense that this had all happened before. This darkness. This breaking tree. This aspect. The lines of herself wove in and out with hundreds of other lives. Each life separate, yet interconnected with her own. There was one life that was more. Raven. He was always there. Raven. He was always more. Raven. His line was always more important. Then she slammed against the wall of her birth and the lines of her many lives tangles up onto her limbs and pulled on her to go further back. Screaming, she clutched at her head. Falling onto her side, she now wished that Jacob was here. Raven who always meant everything.
For a moment she floated in a place of peace. But the pulling was unrelenting and she again slammed against a wall, this time is was her death. Her breath caught, then came quick. There was no desire to see this. But her eyes went wide, her fingers spread out across the floor and she rolled over onto her stomach. Never feeling so completely alone, she groped for Enaid’s hand, but she couldn’t find it.
Gytha carried her. It was like being a treasured, beloved child. In all the life times she had known Gytha, she had felt safe and wanted in that embrace. Hands touched her. Fingers traced over her face, against her arms and her legs. So, many hands. They were silent. All the sound had been sucked from the world in a great breath and now was being held. Everything was still. Only her and Gytha were in movement, but they made no movement in their passage; they moved like dead.
No Gytha, only I am dead. Dipak rolled onto her back. Grabbing at the buckles, she tried to loosen them, feeling that the collar was strangling her. Oh, Gytha. They cannot see your grief. Stop comparing your self to those around you. You are special. Tears came to her eyes. They burned when they fell. These were secrets that she felt she had no right to know.
Gytha pressed her head against the Tree of Life.
Gytha, you never failed me. You never failed Enaid. Dipak tore her claws threw the fabric, but it didn’t make breathing easier. She could feel the cold shame trickle down into Gytha’s bones. Then there was rage. It was a heat deep in the bowels. A promise that Gytha renewed every time that Dipak died. Revenge. A promise that Gytha had always kept. In her death, Dipak had never known.
Hands touched her. Fingers traced over her face, against her shoulders and arms. They shook her. Claws comb threw her hair and moved against the side of her face. She was then lifted into that familiar and safe embrace. Purring and rocking, Gytha soothed her.
It pulled her back, calling her to the present. She wanted to be there, in Gytha’s embrace. Gytha.
“Gytha, you never failed me,” she mumbled.
Then she was tumbling forward, falling past the place that Gytha was. No! Wait! That’s where she wanted to be. There were no lines tangling her now. There was just a vast space, a gaping maw open before her. When she came to a stop, she hovered fluffy and light as a cloud.
Two young girls stood at the edge of a shear cliff. But Dipak could not focus on them. They were watching a great black creature. A thing of writhing oil and coiling ropes. Massive, it moved as a wave over the land before them. It was preceded by an ocean of darkness that swallowed all light. Then it followed behind to crush out all hope. In its wake, it left nothing.
Dipak screamed, hauling her self back into the present, hauling her self back into Gytha’s arms. But when she arrived back in the tree, she was alone. Gytha had never been there. Enaid was still at the tree’s center, immobile. Dipak screamed again. She didn’t want to become, but the future had just revealed that she would and that she would devour. The hunger already stirred with in her.
Pulling the black wig back into place, he shouldered the rifle. There were a few places where the brown makeup on his face was a little thin. With a quick look up and down her, he shook his head. He dropped to one knee, put down his rifle, flung his pack to the floor and produced a cloak.
“Put that on,” he said. “Your clothing will attract attention.”
Then the rifle was in the pack which was quickly on his back, looking much smaller then it just had. Xania wrapped the claok about her self, saying nothing about the strange appearance of her new companion or his strange belongings. He didn’t seem like the type of person that Enero would send to help her, but she needed someone and this person was as good as anyone. And he’d had Enero’s token.
She followed him out.
He held Xania’s hand tightly, so not to lose her in the thick crowd. He wove through people, pausing and stopping only when Xania failed to keep up. She scanned the crowd for familiar faces, but saw none. She felt like she stood out in this busy crowd of rushing people. He had been right that the market square would offer a cover of people, but she didn’t feel very hidden. Her long red hair marked her. It wasn’t the first time that she cursed her distinct appearance.
He tugged her arm and she followed him into a dark side street. It was dank and dirty there, echoing with the sounds of the market. He pulled her to a stop and knocked on a small door. They waited. He knocked again. They waited. After a few minutes, the door swung open to reveal a large man. His grey locks hung around his unwashed face and his clothes sagged over his large stomach. Xania wrinkled her nose at the smell of him.
“Followed?” the man asked.
“No.” He dragged Xania in through the door and shut it behind them.
“Glad you made it.”
The large, dirty man stepped aside to let the other two pass. Xania was careful to avoid touching him. She felt soiled just smelling him.
“Boss here?” her escort asked.
“Upstairs,” the dirty man tipped his head in the direction of a door.
Her escort sighed and patted his wig.
The man rubbed his dirty hands over his stomach. He watched Xania closely.
“Is this really her?” the man asked.
Her escort let go of Xania’s hand and moved to the door.
“What do I know?”
Xania looked between them, confused. Feeling annoyed, she wanted to slap both of them. Hello! Standing right here. Seemed rude to be talking about her and around her like she wasn’t even here. Did they think she was some kind of package? Well, she wasn’t.
The man went to the door, “I’ll tell Boss you’re here.” He pushed past her escort, almost in a hurry to leave the room. Then they were alone again. Xania watched her escort, feeling uncertain that she made the right choice. She could have gone it alone, but she wasn’t confident that she could have made it out of the city which seemed important.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“My name is Derrex. Boss will have to explain the rest.”
“Who is Boss?” Xania sneered. The ambiguity was annoying.
“My Boss,” Derrex shrugged off his back pack and coat. But he put the pack back on.
She wasn’t sure what she had expected.
Derrex pulled off the curly black wig to reveal silvery white fluff. Xania wondered if it was as soft and silky as it looked. He pulled a rag from his pocket and wiped the dark streaks off his skin to reveal a pale gray tone, the color of ash. His eyes remained their icy blue but the rest had been utterly transformed. Xania wondered how old he was. Before, she should have guessed him of about twenty five. But now he looked older. He no longer looked human.
And she was staring, and he knew it. She blushed and murmured an apology. He smiled. What did he think of her? Clearly, she could kick his ass and now she was a foolish girl ogling him. Now that she thought about it, how had she kicked his ass? At the time she had just been happy to have survived. Now it was unsettling to think about. More unsettling were the strange voices that she kept hearing in her head. Was she going fucking mad?
“Boss is waiting,” Derrex said.
He touched her shoulder lightly and she flinched. She shrugged his touch away the sighed. Why had all this happened to her? And where was he taking her?
She followed him from the back of the building, through several other storage rooms and out into a large main room. This was a tavern and they were standing behind the bar. A few people looked, but no one seemed to take a real notice. Everyone seemed ore interested in their drinks. They move through the room, dodging tables, customers, and waitresses. They went to the side of the room and up the stairs. Derrex ushered her into a small room and closed the door behind them. There were two small beds and two small dressers. No other furniture, it was an inexpensive room. A man sat on the edge of one of beds. Derrex went over and sat next to him, leaving the other bed open for her to sit on.
The other man looked young, but a little worn around the edges. He carried an air of power that suggested experience. Perhaps he was older than he looked. Xania realized that she didn’t care. She was tired of meeting new people. Getting out of the city was her priority and she thought it would have happened already.
“Please, sit. Forgive the pour accommodations. Wealth attracts attention that we cannot afford.”
The man gestured to the bed across from them. She sat, silent and waited; cautious.
“I’m Joban. I’m the leader of this cell of Lodi,” the man said.
Lodi? There were people screaming and pressing around her. The image flashed in her mind for only a moment. But with the image came of flood of fear and anger. Then it was followed by hate. Deep hate that was rooted down into her bones. She swallowed. It was like nothing she had ever known. What the fuck was that?
“And why are you helping me?” Xania asked.
She wished her voice hadn’t trembled. They would assumed it had something to do with this conversation.
“That’s complicated and I don’t think that we have the time to waste,” Joban said.
Come. The tree is dying. Hurry. There’s no time. She pressed her index finger to her right temple and rubbed in a small circle. A slight throb had start there, a threat of a migraine. It’s how they always started.
“You alright?” Derrek asked. “You’re pale.”
“I’m tired,” she answered.
Getting out of the city seemed important. The voices in her head kept telling her that she needed to leave. Getting out of the city put her away from the high concentration of people that knew her on sight. There would be people looking for her. That was something she was certain of. But she needed information. There were things going on that she didn’t understand.
“Take the time to explain,” she demanded in a low voice.
“Magic isn’t well accepted in this city. Carner tends to kill Mages. One of our main jobs is to get Mages out of the city,” he explained.
“I’m not a mage.”
She shook her head.
“No. Not yet. But your latent powers are strong and have put you in opposition with the law,” Joban stated.
“I don’t have magic!”
Xania started to stand up, but sat back down. She thought back to what happened. Everything was so unclear in her mind.
“But how do you explain you’re now whole limbs?” Joban asked.
“How do you know what happened?” Xania asked.
So, they have been watching her. How long? How much did they know? Hell, she didn’t even know what there was to know. Enero had helped her. Were they really with him? Had they killed the man he had sent? She put her head down in her hands and rubbed her face. There was just no way for her to know the truth of anything.
Joban stared at Xania a long time and with an intent gaze. But he said nothing.
“How do you know what happened?” Xania asked again.
Her voice had a hard edge.
“Did you think that your level of power would go unnoticed by the Mages?” he asked.
Did they want her now too? Great. Just what she needed. She really did need to get out of the city.
“I want out of the city,” she stated.
“You need some sleep and we need to work on changing your appearance,” he said.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
What else was there for her to say? She didn’t trust him but that didn’t keep her from being polite. Xania stood and offered Joban a hand.
“I’m sorry, I don’t shake hands.”
He looked at her hand as if it were poisonous. His fear put strain around his eyes.
Xania’s hand fell to her side.
“No offense, I pray. I shake hands with no one.”
With that, Joban crossed the room to the door.
“And Xania, will you please accept the protection of Derrex?”
“And who will be at your side?” Derrex asked.
“I will find another. Your duty now lies with her.”
Joban left, closing the door firmly behind him.
“And I thought we decided that I didn’t need protection,” Xania said.
“He doesn’t know that.” He paused. “I will protect you. It is what he wants.” Derrex looked down at his hands and frowned. “Are you ready to go?”
“Yes,” she said.
The head ache was getting worse, creeping in behind her eyes.
“We’ve made sleeping arrangements for you. But before I take you over there, we need to change our appearance.”
He went to the door without looking back.
She felt like a stray puppy that needed to be led about to have her basic needs met. It was worse then when she was with Enero. At least when she was with him she had an illusion of some freedoms.
Derrex led her down the hall and into an identical room. A woman sat on the bed closest to the door, watching them enter. She stood and crossed the room to greet them. She offered her hand.
“Xania, I presume,” the woman said.
Xania shook her hand. The woman broke the shake after one firm squeeze. At least someone here shakes hands. Good to know that she didn’t look like she had plague.
“I’m also assuming you’re here for a makeover.”
“Well, let me look at you.” She walked slowly around Xania. “Can you fight?”
Derrex snorted. They both looked over at him. Xania flinched and the woman raised an eye brow but said nothing.
“Do you have a trade?”
The woman touched her hair and then poked her, “modest?”
“Nice fair skin. Hair has got to change. I think we should cut and dye it. Does that bother you?”
“Good. I think I can do something.”
The woman went back to the bed and dragged a large trunk from underneath it.
“Let’s see what I’ve got…”
She shuffled through the trunk’s contents.
“Who did Joban assign to protect you?”
“Him,” Xania answered.
Xania jerked her thumb towards Derrex.
“Him?” the woman asked.
The woman turned, eyebrows raised also to the point of disappearing into her hair line.
“It is,” Derrex said.
“Well, that changes things,” she said.
She returned to her trunk.
“So, you’ll have to match him. That’s a hard one…” she muttered while she continued to shuffle through her things.
Xania looked at Derrex. Who was he? Really?
“Ok. You’re married,” the woman declared.
She looked at them.
“Then no one would think twice about you sharing rooms or always being together. And no one would expect her to kick ass or what ever. Think you could do it?” the woman asked.
“Heimdall women do not learn to fight,” Derrex said, looking at Xania again. “So, it could work. But, she doesn’t look like a Heimian woman,” Derrex said.
“No, she doesn’t. I was thinking that we could make her up to look like a Khali. That’s not uncommon for your people,” the woman suggested said.
“I think it will work,” he agreed.
Derrex smiled. Xania frowned. She didn’t like the idea of being his wife. Would they need to display affection? She could do it, nothing new really. But, how much? She knew nothing of the Khali or the Heimians.