In a world of illusions, it’s easy to hide.
Jal Frenos nervously unraveled the thought as he paced the small length of his office in the Illusionist Guild. He checked his Fabrication, twisting knots in the thread of reality until the illusion’s durability met satisfaction: nineteen-years-old, black hair, blue eyes, smooth skin. Almost exactly how he looked normally. With a slow exhale, he lowered his hands to his sides. I am hidden. I am safe.
Repeating Ardal’s words could never assure him as much as the man himself.
He sat at his desk, and as he waited for his last appointment of the day, he glanced up at the guild proverb chiseled over his door. Reality is solid as rock, but even stone can be sculpted. For illusionists connected to pure reality, the beautiful and impossible were regular demands of work.
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.
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.