Lee stared out between the trees. Night had settled. The summer heat was oppressive even after the sun had gone from the sky. Wiping the back of her tacky hand across her face was pointless, but she kept doing it. Then she wiped her hands on her damp shorts. A full futile cycle. The tank top she was wearing was soaked in her sweat. She wished that they could just open the portal and be through it already. Maybe the weather was nicer there. But Nick was right
to check the maps. Hopping realms blindly was dangerous. Using the maps wasn’t a perfect system, there was some kind of flux that no one had been able to account for yet. But they generally kept you from dropping into volcanoes and such.
Nodding, he poked at the map.
“I think that the place you are describing is some where in here,” he said.
“Then we go,” she stated.
“How does this work?” Kevin asked.
“I just bring you over,” she stated.
“OK, but do we have to do anything?” he asked.
“We’re here,” she said.
She smiled. At first Kevin and Chris couldn’t tell the difference. But when they turned around, the trailer park was no longer behind them. Then the haze of rain began to seep in through the tree cover and chill their skin.
“Not the weather change I was hoping for,” Lee said.
Life Drive detected.
Lee’s eyes went wide and her breath caught. That voice had not given her an active report in years. It had long become silent processes in her mind that augmented everything in her life. But it no longer spoke to her.
“Another Life Drive?” she whispered.
“What?” Nick asked, coming close to her.
Chris and Kevin looked over to them, saying nothing.
“There is another Lodi here,” she said.
“Are you sure?” Nick asked.
“Connect to her,” she thought.
Attempting Life Drive link up.
Jumbled chaos hit her. Fear. Over whelming fear was what painted over everything else. A place. A man.
“I have to find her,” she said.
Nick opened his mouth, but snapped it shut when he saw the silver scrolling across her eyes. There was no way to convince her to use more caution. After all these years, she had discovered her sister.
Lee stepped into the Black Corner and was surprised by the silence that quickly flooded over the room. Everyone looked at her. Several people pointed and spoke to each other in hushed undertones. What did this mean? A large man approached her. He stood in front of her a moment as if unsure what to do. As if he feared doing something wrong.
“I came to see Enero,” Lee said.
This clearly surprised the man. He stared at her a moment, considering her statement. He nodded and gestured for her to follow him. She looked back at the others and shook her head. She would meet this man alone. It seemed they had been expecting her.
Nick started to follow, but several men stepped between him and Lee. This was not the time to start trouble. He flicked his finger and sent out a small speck of light which landed on her hand. This allowed him to sense her. Sending back to him was her nervousness and eagerness, but nothing of concern. It matched what he could see as she walked away.
She went after the stranger into a side room. He gestured to a soft couch against the wall and she sat down. He left through a second door. She was not alone long before a young man burst into the room. His eyes flashed at her. He slammed the door behind him. Lee rose, intending to introduce herself. She paused, struggling to find the words to explain her purpose here. How could she explain without telling him about being a Lodi?
“Why did you come here?” he demanded.
Tears clung to his lashes, barely held in check.
“I had to,” she whispered.
She was surprised by his flood of emotions. He grabbed her by the shoulders.
His face was inches from her’s as he shouted, “You shouldn’t be here!”
He glanced about the room quickly. There was no plan in place for this. She was smarter then this.
“I had to,” she started.
He clamped a hand fiercely over her mouth.
“You must leave. Now!” he snapped.
He moved towards the door, dragging her with him. Lee let him take her, uncertain and afraid. What was he afraid of? He paused as he reached for the handle.
“Too many people saw you,” he growled.
He looked at her, panic contorting his face.
“Do something!” he ordered.
“What’s happening?” Lee asked.
“What did you expect? What did you think would happen if you came here? And in the middle of the day!” he said hoarsely, his voice barely maintained at a whisper.
Shouting could be heard from outside. People were coming. Lee looked at the closed door. What was happening?
“Quickly! Shoot me or something!” he commanded.
He clutched at her again. The door crashed onto the floor as men gushed into the room and swarmed around them. Each man pointed a rifle at them.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered to her.
Then her shook her and shouted at her.
“Where is your magic now?” he demanded.
He slapped her, letting her stumble back from him.
“Seize her!” he yelled.
The men obeyed. They fell upon her, grabbing her and pulling at her. She fought them, but was unable to break away from the many hands. She fell to the floor and someone fiercely pressed her face into the rug. They bound her hands behind her back in a tight and awkward angle.
Enero knelt next to her; she could see only the toe of his boot. He leaned forward so his face was close to hers.
“You shouldn’t have come here,” he said.
Gently, he touched her cheek where a bruise was already coloring her skin darkly. In that moment, he was familiar and close. A friend she had lost long ago. She could sense years of history stretching between them; a rope that bound them as tightly as they had bound her hands. But he was a stranger.
“Forgive me,” he whispered.
He rose and Lee was yanked to her feet. She had only a moment to look at him before they were pushing her out the door. Somehow, he had known and loved her.
Enero knelt before the king. He looked up at his father. This sick man was feared across the kingdom and out across the world. Was being feared really such a glorious thing? Fat hung on the man’s middle. Wrinkles deeply cut his face. His skin was pale with highlights of bruising painted beneath his eyes and at his lips.
Lee and her friends were dragged into the room and shoved to the floor behind Enero. Lee gave a muffled cry into her gag when she struck the floor on her already bruised shoulder. The others made no sound as they fell down next to her. Each of them were able to drop to their knees rather then fall.
“Father, I bring you Xania,” Enero said.
Father? Great, he’s a prince… and who is Xania? Lee had a difficult time thinking through the pounding in her head. She blinked back the watering in her eyes. Taking slow deep breaths, she focused on trying to plan an escape. But the gag made getting good breaths hard. Which made everything else secondary.
The king rose from his throne and stepped down the platform. He stood next to his son and laid a hand on Enero’s shoulder.
“Well done,” he declared.
He helped Enero to his feet and beamed at him with pride. The king then turned to the prisoners.
“Stand her up!” he ordered.
He gestured at Lee. The guards roughly pulled her to her feet.
“So young,” he whispered.
He ran a finger along her jaw line.
Once his mouth was close to her ear, he whispered “Stupid Lodi, you needed only to behave.”
He pulled back from her and added, “Now you will die.”
The thought screamed through Lee’s mind.
The only ones who knew of the Lodi were the ones that created them and those that tried to destroy them. It didn’t matter which group this man belonged to. He had killed her sisters and brothers. They had been innocent. She tried to step up to the king, but the guards held her tightly.
“Kill!” she thought.
Initiating command sequence 98365.
The power inside her obeyed the command. It surged up and out. She easily broke the ropes binding her wrists and bit through the gag. She loomed over the king. He was easy prey, huddled before her. She stretched her body out feeling the rippling muscular power. Kill! Hands flashed out, tearing away a chunk of warm flesh. Blood splashed up over her. Hot and pulsing with life. She could feel its warmth soaking into her where it touched her.
The king fell to the floor, dead. His face was contoured into horror, hanging like a mask over the large wound in his neck. Blood painted his robes. Lee hunched down, drawn to the copper smell of life. Looking at his flat eyes, she considered how easy it had been to end him. It had been easy to kill her sisters and the bothers too. Life was so fragile.
Enero grabbed at her, digging his hands into her arm.
“No!” he cried.
She whirled to face him and easily scooped him up from the floor with one hand. She squeezed his throat and he thrashed against her. No! Not this one. Memories came to her. Swimming in a little pond. Eating ice cream. She relaxed her grip. She sniffed at him. No, this one was not like those that killed the sisters. This one smelled like sadness. Lee flung Enero away, disregarding his cry of pain as his body struck the throne.
“Is this why you came? Why you stayed?” Enero yelled at her, but he was too hurt to move.
She regarded him only a moment before chaos broke into the room. It seemed hundreds of men rushed in. The chamber of the king suddenly felt small.
“Did you return to me for this? Xania!” he yelled.
Kevin and Nick were at her side. Their clothing was torn and bloodied. Nick pulled her face to his, looking at her through his cat eyes.
“Cancel command sequence 98365,” he whispered.
Cancel command sequence 98365? Confirm.
She paused, then thought, “Confirm.”
“We have to go now,” Kevin said.
She looked around, understanding at last that they would be attacked soon. A man was shouting at the guards in the room, commanding them to attack but the men stared stupidly at the giant beasts and torn bodies.
“Kill the girl! I will reward you with lands and titles!” Enero bellowed.
The braver, greedier ones rushed in, drawing the small blades at their sides. Seeing the courage of these first few, the others were quick to follow. They surged onto Lee, stabbing and slashing at her. Nick swung his claws and threw his weight into them. They fell back and he used the space to charge them. They scattered, leaving only two in his path. He easily knocked them down and rushed over them.
Kevin shifted, letting Wolf take over, thinking “Please, help her.”
Wolf paused next to the girl and let her climb up onto his back before he ran for the door, falling into a gallop. Out into the hall, he sprinted.
Once Kevin had Lee out, Nick doubled back and grabbed Chris from the floor. He was still tied and gagged. There was no shape or power for him to call upon that had let him break his bindings. Nick carried him in his arms and ran, chasing behind Kevin.
Tearing blindly through the castle in search of a way out led Wolf to a second story window. Good enough. He jumped at it. Lee saw the charge and flattened herself against his back, clinging to his fur as tightly as she could. Wolf went through, breaking the glass and easily catching himself on the ground. The drop down did nothing to slow his pace. A quick glance over his shoulder reassured him that Nick was behind him and had also fared well in the fall. They charged through the court yard and found it easy to overcome the guards at the main gate. Once outside the confines of the castle wall, they rushed towards the near by tree line. It was easy to wind through the trees and escape pursuit.