Yithmora didn’t have the energy to be afraid, only to keep running through the waist high grass. All around her, friends rescued from slavery 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 her friend 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.
The girl lay half submerged in broken ice. She was soaked, lost, and unconscious. She had been running toward her past, held over water, and then thrown into the depths. She sunk, and somehow found her way to surface in the shallows.
Her breath, ragged and raspy, was faint, and her eyes fluttered, as though she were attempting to force herself awake to cease dreaming.
She was burdened with blue robes, the opposite color of the riled water around her. Her feet bore animal hide boots, and a cloak kept her body mainly hidden from above. A black crossbow, which was now resting at the bottom of the lake with the fish, was her second choice weapon.
She gasped, then broke into a fit of uncontrollable coughing, sending echoes spinning around the silence. Her pale blue eyes only showed her blurred vision. Blinking a few times helped as she struggled to her feet.
The guard’s face was all jagged lines and hard edges, and his voice a roar. “What were you looking for?”
Tatch winced from the sheer loudness of his order, but managed to keep her own expression neutral. “I need a stone tablet that has messages written in my native language.”
“Nothing here is written in your language! That treasure you want is not real! That boy who chased it is dead!”
Tatch sat up, months of scorn and disbelief pumping in place of her exhaustion. “The Myriad Trove exists! Zundos is alive! I am so close to finding it! I know that I am right!”
The guard shook his head. “I know that you are crazy!”
“I am innocent! I took nothing!”
He grabbed her wrists and wrenched her to her feet. “You are a danger to this village.”
She staggered from the abrupt rise, dizzy. She tried to twist her arms and escape his hold, but his fists were like iron.
The guard dragged her outside into the screaming wind. “Don’t resist your punishment. I expect you’ve been waiting to see your father again?”
Have you ever dangled upside down from a cliff face in the Screaming Mountains, held by an aged metal chain above the deadliest animal in the world? It’s my usual morning routine. Not that I’m boasting. Impressed?
A mothe fathom dozes fitfully on a ridge just below, her skin rippling with agitated vibrations in rhythm with my own trembling hands. Her greasy hooked talons are squatted under her, claws hiding in the fur of her toes, but I don’t doubt her speed to unsheath them. Yellow hair covers the dozen pairs of wing-like limbs that march in formation along her spine and tail. Her wings are fleshy blankets folded protectively over her.
I’ve learned a few tricks to have her lift them to reveal her back, where her eggs are firmly growing out of her strong plates. Too far to tickle her wings, poor position to coax her into an anger stance. I tilt my head, considering. Pressure points will work. I’ve done this a hundred times. Why do my hands still sweat inside my gloves? I pause and let myself feel, compressing all my fear into a single moment. Closing my eyes, I reel my mantra to the front of my mind.
If you’re strong, they can’t hurt you.
Fear gradually fades, its voice muffled behind my confidence.
Now, I continue, trying to forget the distraction that still bunches my stomach into knots.
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