By smatusky All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Adventure

Chapter 8 - Fate of the Free Roamers

The next morning I had to say goodbye to a person I had grown to love as a brother. In fact there had been many times I called for Devin and accidentally used my deceased brother’s name, Christian. I knew I would see Devin again because my visions of the future included him, but I could not tell how long before we would be together again.

Rhaida would stay with Devin, but I also suspected that someone else might stay behind to help with the cleanup and organization of the of the West. As it turned out, came forward to offer assistance and Devin welcomed the Farmoore knight. Theo decided to continue the journey with us and represent Farmoore in our little alliance.

“Are you packed and ready to go?” Devin’s voice echoed behind me in the marble hall below my grandmother’s room. He walked up to me and knelt as he did every time he addressed me.

“Yes, I guess,” I replied, unable to mask my sadness, “minus a few good friends, that is. Are you sure you want to stay? I know you’ll be fine, but...”

He kissed my hand and stood, placing his finger over my lips.

“Please, don’t speak. If you command me to follow your alliance I will. I will do anything you ask of me, but I would really like to stay here and start a new life.” His face lit up when Rhaida walked by. He loved her as much as I loved Riley.

“I wish you both the very best. I’ll really miss you.” Tears rolled down my cheeks when Devin hugged me and we held each other for a long time.

The anguish I felt years ago when I had to release Christian from his paper came rushing back. Just as I had to release my beloved brother no matter how painful, so too, I had to let Devin follow his own path. He had been my one true friend for years. But I could not look back as we rode out of Central City for fear my tears would not stop.

That evening Riley came to me. I sat upon a steep hill that overlooked a silver river meandering through the valley below. The sun was setting and everything seemed to glow.

“Are you feeling all right? You’re terribly quiet.”

He held on to his journal and sat close to me.

“Maybe, I’m just a bit sad. I feel that I have left a part of myself in the City by leaving Devin and Grandma Rose.” I glanced over to him. “Have you drawn anymore?”

“I have. I’m almost out of supplies, so I might have you burn a few sticks for me. It will be a crude substitute, but at least I’ll have more charcoal to work with.”

“Can I see?” I asked, showing the first sign of enthusiasm since leaving the city. Riley smiled and opened up the pages of his journal. I saw scribbled notes among numerous drawings: pictures of the blind man from the marsh, the city before we lifted the curse, and many scenes of Central City after my great-grandfather’s curse had been lifted. What I found most interesting were the images of the people. I particularly liked one he had drawn of a loyatee. He had captured her bright, ageless eyes. Then I saw an image of Grandmother Rose. I did not realize how much I would miss my grandmother.

“Do you like it?” Riley asked as I stared at the image. His words took me by surprise and I snapped back to reality.

“I just had a vision,” I told him. I had not even known I was having one until Riley spoke. My visions were becoming more frequent and it always took a moment for me to realize that I had briefly lost my awareness of the conscious world.

“Really? What did you see?”

“It was dark. Like the swirling darkness I remember from the time we escaped the protectors’ island in the tornado, but it was a future image.” I closed my eyes and lay down on the soft grass, then rested my head on Riley’s lap. “It’s not a good vision, Riley. I wish I could see more details, but it’s unclear, like many of my visions of the future.”

Dawn welcomed our party, so the next day we made our way to Guesaviles, the last large city on Noore Continent which spanned much of the northwest along the . The capital of the city was on the north side of the and it would be almost two days before we could get to the river. How we would get to the other side of the wide river was a mystery, although Theo had a plan. He led the way, taking Riley’s position as guide.

After two days of traveling the climate warmed, which reminded me of home, and I rode close to Riley.

“Just think. This is our last trek. After speaking with Guesaviles council we can go home to the girls, the castle, and our lives as King and Queen.”

“I’m ready to go home right now,” Riley exclaimed. “I’d love a rest from all this riding. My bottom really hurts.”

I laughed and Sesha galloped up to Theo.

“So, Sir Knight, what have you planned for our crossing?”

“Why are you in such high spirits, my lady?”

“Because I’m ready to go home and we’re getting closer every day.”

“Well, I’ll do my best to get you home as soon as I can. In fact, we’re closer than you think. Tell everyone to find a torch. We’ll need your magical powers to conjure up some flames.”

I did not understand Theo until I read his thoughts. He was leading us to a tunnel hidden from travelers. Only men of high rank knew about the secret route and that was why most Guesaviles noblemen could escape to the north without ever being found. The river’s deep rushing water had successfully shielded their city from Sabastian’s deviltry. The tunnel would explain the rumors about men who had crossed the river and simply disappeared, never to be seen again by their enemies. Those in pursuit did not try to cross the treacherous waters, fearing they would be swept away.

Theo led us to a tiny trail that meandered to the bottom of a gorge. We walked our horses behind a waterfall while being careful not to slip on the wet rocks and Theo signaled for to me to light the torches. We each took a torch and Theo stepped to the right side of the falls. He motioned for Gullane and both men walked to a large boulder in the shape of a crude wheel. They pushed it across the floor and as they did, a huge stone door slid between cracks in the rocks. The door revealed a dark passage. The boulder rested on a man-made track and when we stepped through the opening another boulder inside the passage matched the one outside. Once we were in the tunnel Gullane and Theo rolled the inside boulder and the stone door shut. It was ingenious and perfectly hidden. Even if someone stumbled across the boulder it would take two grown men to make it budge.

With torches lit we headed down the tunnel. It was wide enough for a man and his horse to travel single file. Water seeped down the sides of the black stone around us. The narrow tunnel was cold and smelled of wet earth. But for those who had traveled this path, it must have been salvation.

“How long before we reach the other side?” Riley asked.

“Most small parties can travel at a rapid pace and exit in an hour although considering the size of our group, it will probably take two hours. Our problem is Gullane. The tunnel was not built with him or his horse in mind. It will be a tight fit.”

After an hour of traveling I noticed that Gullane was indeed having a problem. He struggled to lead his horse through the passage – I sensed the animal’s claustrophobia. Most humans do not think that animals have emotional problems like us, yet they often do. Thanks to Riley’s encouragement in the East Woods years ago, my communication with animals has proved many human beliefs about them to be false.

I stopped Sesha and told her to follow behind Riley. I would catch up with her later.

“Gullane,” I called. I let the others pass me and walked close to him. His horse tried to rear back and kept hitting its head on the stone ceiling. “Let me talk to him. Maybe I can help.”

“Thank you, my lady,” Gullane was tired of struggling and handed the reins to me. His horse panicked, especially when I took hold of the reins.

“Calm down,” I shouted. He clearly looked as though he had been spooked. “Tell me your name. What is your name?” I sensed Gullane, who was in front of me, turning around when he heard me speak to his horse.

“Relax,” I said again and I caressed his forehead. “Tell me your name. My horse is Sesha, and you are?”

I sensed confusion from the animal, though it gradually calmed down enough to speak telepathically. “I am ,” he said. “Can you get me out of this place?”

“Yes, but you must follow us. We are almost halfway through the tunnel. Soon we’ll be on the other side of the river. Do you understand why we went this way?”

“It’s too small. Too dark! I don’t like this place.” I could feel beginning to panic again.

“Stop, stand a moment,” I held ’s reins and asked Gullane to bring a torch. “Shine it here on his head.” Blood trickled down from the top of ’s head. He had cut himself from hitting the rock numerous times.

“Relax, . Rest your head here,” I lowered my hands and motioned for to place his head between them.

Gullane was amused when I called his horse by name, especially since he had always been called a different name.

“Now close your eyes and concentrate on breathing in and out. Just breathe.” As ’s nostrils blew air on my waist, I concentrated on his injury. My hands warmed and his wounds began to heal. After about a minute, Gullane’s horse was much more relaxed and completely healed.

“Now I don’t want you to think about anything except breathing,” I told . “If you begin to think about where we are then stop, close your eyes, and only think about breathing, nothing else. Can you do that?”

“Yes, but how can you talk to me?” asked the horse.

“Never mind that right now, just breathe. We’ll talk later. Follow Gullane and he will lead you out of here. Trust him.”

nodded and I stepped around Gullane, who thanked me in his mind since he was speechless.

“ will be fine now,” I told Gullane and then squeezed my way up to Sesha.

“I see you have baffled another one of us,” Wolfe said, walking behind me.

“You’d think everyone would be used to me by now,” I replied.

“My lady, being with you is more interesting than anything else on this continent. Most of us don’t know what to make of you, but all that matters is that you are our Queen, and a mighty good one I might add.”

“Thank you, Wolfe. I appreciate that. Maybe soon I can get back to actually being Queen. It won’t be long now.” I stepped up the pace with anticipation of home.

It seemed that most of the day had passed before we reached the end of the tunnel. The sky was a deep, clear blue when we exited. We slept by the water that night and spent time staring at the stars in the cool night air. was very happy to be out of the tunnel and he came to thank me for healing him.

Riley and I slept together under the twinkling stars. I could not remember a nicer night during our journey. I thought our travels would end shortly, but I was wrong. If only I could have interpreted my visions sooner I might have been prepared for a longer trip. As it turned out, I would be ill-prepared for our meeting with the high chamber members at Guesaviles the next morning.

We woke to a beautiful morning and set off for city hall, south of town. A young man greeted us at the guarded gate.

“Welcome! I’m Flinn, Albert Flinn. The high chamber heard about your travels from Sir Lawrence Williamson of Farmoore, and they have been eager to meet you. They’d like to see you, no delays.”

“Of course,” Theo said, and our party followed him through the gate.

The city looked as splendid as , very old and filled with centuries of beautifully designed buildings. Statues of the city’s founders lined our way just like Albert guided us to a building that did not appear grand in size although it was ornate and quite formal.

“We’re happy to be here,” Theo spoke with Albert while we listened. “Tell me, how many chamber members are there?”

“Well, there are usually six, but three have been either busy or traveling. We have not seen them since yesterday. Odd really since I’m sure they’re extremely interested in what you have to say. Why have you come here…if I may ask?” Albert looked at us with bewilderment and curiosity.

“Perhaps the high chamber will allow you to join us,” Theo replied. “Then you can hear for yourself.” Albert nodded, a big grin stretched across his face.

“All right, here we go. Just leave your horses outside and follow me in.”

We followed Albert up steps to a long hall. At the end of the hall were large doors and Albert walked briskly ahead of our party. It was strangely quiet and I asked him if the hall was normally this abandoned, but he said no. He told us that the high chamber wanted privacy lately, possibly due to our arrival.

“Right this way,” Albert pushed open the doors and we entered. The room was dark although two windows built into the dome ceiling provided partial light.

I heard a familiar click sound coming from Riley.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Three men are sitting in front of us. This is an unusual welcoming.”

“Riley, I don’t sense anyone in the room, only those that entered.”

“Oh, let me light these.” Albert began walking to a lantern on the wall. “I can’t see in here.”

“It’s a trap!”

I heard Riley’s sword slide from its sheath. As soon as the first lantern lit we noticed the three men sitting in the middle of the room and Riley was bounding toward them with Gullane close behind. It took me longer than it should to realize that the three men sitting in the darkness were protectors. One of the protectors stood up and pointed at me.

“That one!” he shouted, his long brown hair swirled around him as though we were submerged underwater and the moment Riley thrust his sword at the man, he vanished.

Instantly the walls came alive. Hundreds of bats swirled and fluttered around us, just as in my vision. I took out my dagger and attempted to fend off the little beasts, but they were too quick. The others in our party swung wildly, but the bats merely vanished once hit by an arrow or sword. It was an excellent distraction and no one noticed the man who had rushed behind me. I felt a sharp pain in my upper arm and Sae’ka’s arrow passed right through the protector’s head landing across the room. The bats and mists of green fled through the open windows of the ceiling, leaving us alone in the room.

The protectors were not interested in Riley anymore. I was their target now, especially after my performance at They had finally figured out that I posed more of a threat to their existence than my King. I could not believe I had been so slow to notice the danger.

“You killed them! You killed the council members. ” Albert yelled unaware the high chamber had been taken over by immortal beings.

“Gullane, take him and keep him close. He’s our only witness. We’ll need him.”

“What did you do? What happened?” Albert cried as we sped out of the room.

“We need to find the real chamber members,” Theo said. “I hope they’re still alive.”

“They’re not,” I said and stopped. Everyone stared at me. Gloom descended over us, our situation was grave, strangers in a strange country. “I sensed something when the protectors left. Check behind the building.” I had barely finished the last word when I collapsed on the floor of the hall, my head swimming, and my body weak.

This felt dangerously familiar. Riley ran over to me and lifted me up.

“I’m sorry. I wasn’t quick enough.” Sae’ka kneeled by my side. “I saw the protector inject you with the potion.”

“What?” Riley almost screamed at her.

“I’m sorry!”

“No, no Sae’ka. It wouldn’t have made a difference. Nothing could have stopped them. After my show at I guess they decided I was a greater threat than the King. I went through this before. I can do it again.” I tried to look confident, but the protectors’ potion was already working to change my blood. It was exactly what I had fought off when Riley had been sick. This time I was not sure I could survive because I barely survived battling Riley’s sickness.

Riley was beside himself with worry since he knew the affects of the potion. Everyone imagined I would die if we did not try something soon. Riley picked me up and carried me outside while Albert walked beside Gullane, silently watching.

“Gabrial, get the syringe.” Riley motioned for him to help us. At the same time Wolfe, Sae’ka, and Theo went to look for the bodies. My temperature was rising and I struggled with the poison in my body. Gabrial came back with the syringe and Riley told him to quickly take some of his own blood and inject it into me. This was something we discussed but had not yet tried. It worked with the protector whom I had made mortal, my father’s double, so we hoped it would work on one of us.

As Gabrial pushed Riley’s blood into my vein, it began burning. Then when I concentrated on the molecules in my bloodstream the new blood was being overcome even quicker than my own.

“Ouch! Stop!” I said. “It’s not working. Riley’s blood is not helping. It’s making it worse.”

Gabrial prepared to offer his own blood.

“Wait! You have to clean the needle,” I replied to him in a strained voice. “We can’t have anyone being contaminated with my poisoned blood. It might kill someone.”

“We found the bodies,” Sae’ka forced through quickened breath as they returned to us. “I saw only three men, so maybe the other chamber members are still alive.”

“I hope so,” said Theo in a worried voice. “Without the high chamber we’ll have a difficult time explaining to the people of the city what happened here. What’s happening with the Queen?” Theo asked, watching us.

“It’s not working,” Riley yelled. “My blood isn’t helping. We each need to try. Is there any place we can go to do this, a place we can clean this needle and keep trying?” Tears welled in Riley’s eyes while he spoke to Albert. Our host nodded and led us to a small infirmary.

They tried person after person in our group and even some of the medical workers who volunteered. The process took hours because they had to sterilize the needle between each attempt. Still, nothing worked. I was becoming weaker and tired of concentrating. Both my arms had turned blue from being pricked so many times.

Gabrial had an idea. “There are different types of blood, perhaps only certain people with the same blood as your Queen can cure her. With enough of the right type of blood, might be able to fight off the potion.”

“But how do we find the right person to match her blood?” Theo asked in desperation. “We have already tried everyone here. Anymore and the whole town will be talking.” Theo shook his head in despair. He was lost without his fellow knight Cal.

“Well, those closest in blood type would be parents or siblings,” said Gabrial.

Riley looked at me. I knew what he was going to say before he even spoke. “Rose! What about Rose? She’s your only relative. You look so much like her.”

“Yeah!” said Wolfe. “You’re right. You both look very much alike. Bet you have the same blood, too.”

I looked around at all the heads nodding. Riley spoke. “Yes, I’ll take you right away. Don’t worry, I’ll save you.”

“No,” I said in a weary voice. “You must stay with the alliance. You have to convince these people to join us. You’re the only one that can do this, Riley. You must stay here.”

“What? I won’t leave you here. You’ll die.”

“I’ll take her, Sir,” said Edward from the corner of the room. “I’d like to take her.”

“Me too! I can help with the journey back,” said Wolfe, enthusiastically.

“But? I…” Riley stopped and turned to the others. He sighed. “Please, leave us for a moment.”

Everyone spread out around the room and he spoke softly to me. I could feel his pain. “I can’t do this, . I can’t be without you or send you away. What if you die? We were almost home and now this! What will I do?” He squeezed my hand and tears began to stream down his face. “I will not let you go.”

“Riley, listen. You know what this means. The alliance is greater than you or me. We must bring mortals together. The protectors have become bolder and now they’re taking our people from the heart of the cities. They’re moving against us and if we don’t stop them there will be no more humans. I’ve sensed that almost five thousand people have been murdered since this plague started. Many more will follow if we don’t bring our cities together,” I closed my eyes while dealing with the pain, then gathered my strength and continued. “Besides, my visions of the future show us together. I will live. We will see each other again. That I have foreseen.” He offered a sad smile then kissed me.

Riley felt better knowing that we would be together again, but I did not tell him all of my visions. I knew that I would make it to the castle although I had not foreseen Riley’s arrival. In fact I did not really know if I would survive after making it back to the castle since, in my vision, I was still very ill.

Soon after our conversation, Sir Edward and Wolfe prepared hastily for the journey back to my grandmother’s home in the West. I heard arguing about taking Gullane’s horse , but I convinced them that Sesha was strong enough to carry two of us and she was very fast. Besides, would not survive the trip back through the tunnel. Riley clutched my hand while I rested and concentrated on the battle in my body. At times, I was winning, like my blood had magical powers over the invading potion struggling to change me from the inside. Then I would lapse into unconsciousness.

“!” I heard Riley say while tapping the side of my face. “Stay with us, stay alert.” I struggled to gain consciousness and my arm wrapped around my loving husband. He was ready to help me up with Sir Edward who already sat upon Sesha.

“Yes, my love, yes,” was all I could mutter before Edward grabbed my arm and pulled me onto Sesha.

“Fight, . You must stay alive for all our sakes,” Riley said as he held firmly onto my hand. “And especially for mine,” he whispered.

“I’ll make certain your Queen survives,” Edward said with a seriousness I had never heard before. I saw Riley nod to him, but before I could say a word Sesha raced off through the streets. I saw Wolfe’s horse creating a cloud of dust in front of us. I tried not to slip off of Sesha. Edward had a firm grasp around my waist as we rode into the night. The ride was very difficult because I had little control over my limbs.

Some time later, we stopped briefly and Wolfe tried to help me eat an apple though it was a struggle even to keep my head up. He took a bite of the fruit, placing it into my mouth, and even helped me chew and swallow. At least drinking water came easy. I thought about the days I had healed Riley for a short time, just until he could nourish himself, but then the plague would come back and he would be unconscious again. I now suffered as he had but still continued to hold on. Maybe my magical blood had something to do with my ability to fight the potion.

“We must move. We can make the tunnel by morning,” I heard Sir Edward say to Wolfe while the sun set behind us. As sick as I was, I could sense that saving my life was somehow very important to the free-roamer who had once lived as a brigand – a man who had probably murdered many people in his past. Keeping me alive was personal for him. I did not understand why until we had to slow our pace through the hidden tunnel leading back to the West.

“What is this drive I sense in you?” I asked Sir Edward as he walked Sesha and me through the dark, cool passage. Tied to Sesha’s back, I clutched her mane with whatever strength I could muster in my fingers.

“You must rest. Try not to speak,” he replied.

“Tell me,” I insisted, “for if you do not answer my question honestly, I will keep asking you every moment I’m awake.” My response was labored, and it almost hurt to speak, but I could tell his motive was important.

“If I answer, will you promise to not speak and rest?”

I said I would, so he told me more than I had expected to hear.

“I will not let the same thing happen to you that happened to my own daughter.”

“You had a daughter? But your thoughts…” He quickly told me to be silent or he would not respond. I apologized and asked him to continue.

“You are not the only person with talents,” Sir Edward said. “I too read minds and know how to deal with those like you, those who steal thoughts. How do you think I became head of my clan? I knew who wanted to stab me in the back and headed them off. I also had a knack for finding the rich caravans with goods that we needed. I never revealed this ability, and when I met you, I allowed you to read the thoughts that I wanted you to know. But those green mist creatures are mostly blank. They’re likes ghosts who do not belong here.” He paused and choked back a sob. “And they killed my beautiful daughter with their damnable potion! They had no right to take my daughter from me. When I lost her almost a year ago she was few years younger than you are now.” He seemed to gather his strength.

“So I believe in your cause my lady, and I believe in you. You have used your power for the people you care about, just as a free-roamer would use his leadership to guide his clan. I feel a kinship with you, and under your banner I would lead all free-roamers into battle with the green ghosts.”

“I’m sorry,” I muttered the best I could. “Your daughter must have been very proud to have you as a father.” I sensed his deep sadness and said nothing more during our journey to the west. I remembered my visions of this man who had appeared to be a scoundrel, but after what he told me I had more respect for the free-roamers than ever before. Sir Edward was loyal to me, and I did not have to read his thoughts to realize his true nature.

After we left the tunnel, Wolfe and Edward raced toward the City of the West and my struggle inside was slipping. I passed out more often and my temperature became increasingly high every time Edward asked me to wake. I concentrated harder and harder although I was losing the battle.

“Are we almost there?” I asked, but Edward did not hear my words above the sound of Sesha’s pounding hooves and heavy breathing. We raced like the wind and then suddenly I woke. Someone held my head and shook my arms to wake me. When my eyes cleared I saw Devin over me, wringing out a cloth and placing it on my forehead.

“I thought we lost you,” he said. “Did it work?” I was not sure what he meant. He had the syringe in his hand. “She’s awake. That’s a good sign,” he said to someone. Then Rose walked up holding her arm. They must have injected some of her blood into me. I sensed its energy fighting the potion, yet the plague was relentless. I concentrated again and used my grandmother’s blood to help fight the invasion in my body.

“I don’t know how long it will last, but it has helped,” I said hoarsely while looking around. I heard a collective sigh of relief. We needed to figure out the next step to solve my unfortunate dilemma, however.

“I had no idea we’d be seeing you so soon,” Devin exclaimed. “I guess you really wanted to check on my progress.” He smiled and helped me sit up on my grandmother’s bed.

“What now, my lady?” he asked. “Do you know what we should do to help you?” I did not respond to his answer right away, for I had foreseen my journey and it included my grandmother. I had to travel back to my castle to get help from the protector, who was now the mortal image of my own father. This was my dilemma: my grandmother did not want to leave her city, but I needed her blood to help combat the potion inside me, at least until making it back to my castle. I was unsure how to handle the situation and knew I would not survive without Grandmother Rose by my side during the journey home.

I talked with Devin privately about the situation and explained to him what had to be done.

“I’ll talk to Rose,” he volunteered.

“Wait, let me try first.” I was beginning to weaken and he insisted that I eat and rest before seeing anyone else.

My grandmother’s blood had helped a little, but soon I had to concentrate entirely on the battle within. Time was slipping away and I was losing the battle with the transformation trying to take place.

A surge of energy then rushed through me and I awoke. It was night in the City and Edward stood over me with the syringe in his hand. My grandmother nodded to him and he left the room.

“Your friend spoke to me about your visions.” Rose said, holding her arm where she had been poked again with the needle. Devin could not wait for me to fully revive. He had decided to tell Grandmother about my visions.

She turned to me: “I cannot cure you. You must realize that.”

“Yes, but you can keep me alive long enough to make it back to The Land. If you travel with me I may still have a chance.”

“I am an old woman and cannot leave. I must stay here. Besides, I may not last long as it is.”

“Then we’ll die apart, and millions more will follow once the protectors strike humans down with their venom. Grandmother, the fate of humanity lies in your hands. Only your blood can help me now.” I knew what I disliked most about my grandmother; she was afraid to risk her own life to save another. She lacked the traits that were a part of my Farmoore bloodline, traits dedicated to healing.

After many years of contemplating my family history I discovered that I was unlike my father in a very important way: I was not as selfish as he had been. I had healed Devin and found the power that allowed me to keep a balance, abilities and traits my father and great-grandfather Elderbee lacked. But while I stood my ground, Rose had run away from difficult situations her entire life even though she really wanted to be like Tegan Farmoore, the healer. She also wanted to be like me. She wanted to help, but she had always been afraid. First, she had been too afraid to help the father of her child when he was eternally encased in his sword, then afraid to stand up to her own father when he cursed the City of the West. She hid with the loyatees while too afraid to put her own life at risk, to stand up to her fears, no matter what the cost. Rose had been ruled by fear her entire life.

I knew so not only because of the memory stone, but on various occasions I had sensed her emotions. I knew that she feared much, but mostly she feared her own death. I did not know if she had the strength to risk her own life to help others, and I hoped that her bloodline did not completely rule her thoughts. Maybe by watching the battle for my life so closely she would take the risk that I now desperately needed.

“I must leave soon,” I told Rose and again I sensed her emotions. She was afraid to leave her home and feared she would die on our trip. “I know what you fear, but realize that our emotions are a concept in our minds. Fear, hope, happiness – they are illusions, so who is to say that we are truly here living this life, living in this world?

“All I can tell you is that I believe we should remain true to our own realities, to the world that we have formed a bond with. This is my world, my home as it is yours. Isn’t it worth risking your life to make sure our world will always exist for the people of Noore Continent? If you do not come with me to The Land, humankind may never again know this world we call home.”

I could no longer talk or listen and doubted that, even with my grandmother’s help, I would actually make it to The Land. I did not want to die although I truly did not fear death. I did worry terribly about those I loved and would leave behind. They would endure. But as with the loss of my own family, it would be an arduous journey for them without me.

The next time I woke from the fever I was on a cart with wheels. It looked as though it had been thrown together quickly. Sesha pulled the cart along with another horse. When I saw Rose beside me, I thought that I was dreaming. I touched her arm and she smiled.

Apparently, she had decided to combat her own fears in order to help me along with everyone I cared for. “Thank you,” I whispered. She patted my arm.

“Shhh. Sleep now. Grandma Rose is here.” I now saw my grandmother in a new light, one that washed away any doubts I had about her from the past. Only a loyal family member would risk her own life to save someone she loved, the same way my aunt, the Queen, had been killed saving my life years ago.

Grandmother gave me something to eat that Rhaida had prepared. To my surprise, the thick paste seemed to help. My fever was dropping and I could concentrate longer on my internal battle better than before. I asked about the sticky, grain-like paste, and Rose told me that Rhaida had made enough for our journey back.

The trip was rough for both my grandmother and me, especially as the days passed, but we held firm until a literal unexpected turn. Something spooked the horses and our cart went careening deep into the woods with Wolfe and Sir Edward in pursuit. I woke when my head hit the side of the cart. My entire body rolled onto the floor, at my grandmother’s feet. She was screaming in a way that I had never seen before, except once, when she had watched my grandfather vanish, imprisoned in his own sword.

Barely able to move, I got up and struggled forward on the bouncing cart toward Sesha to calm her. I spoke with her and eventually she heard me, slowing her pace enough so the horse tied next to her slowed also. The men caught up, grasped the harnesses, and stopped the horses completely. Once the cart stopped we realized that we were in real trouble.

We had stopped in a clearing surrounded by free-roamers. Remembering our first meeting with Sir Edward, I feared that I could not protect us from an attack in my weakened state.

The free-roamers walked out of the woods. They carried bows and knives and looked fierce. I read my grandmother’s thoughts. Of course, she feared the free-roamers; on her last trip into the woods many years before, she had been captured. Luckily, Rose had been rescued by my grandfather, but no one was here to rescue us now. Something seemed familiar though and I remembered that I had foreseen this moment. It was the time when the loyalty of Sir Edward would become crucial, and it was the reason I knew that we needed him on our journey.

My first impression obtained by our earlier dealings with the nomads was a poor one although what happened next changed my view of them. Edward let go of Sesha and for a moment I thought he was going to grab a weapon in our defense. So did some of the free-roamers around us, but he quickly lifted up his sleeve revealing a brand somewhere between his shoulder and elbow. The mark was underneath his arm and when he raised it high into the air for everyone to see, a man stepped forward and motioned the others to lower their weapons.

“What’s yer clan and wer’ are de? What’s yer ramblin’in qualle’ territory fer?” The man spoke quickly with a thick accent that I had never heard before.

“Dawuz, Clan of Summons South,” Edward responded. The free roamers silenced quickly and gaped at Sir Edward, doubting his announcement.

“That tis mighty tough ter believe since de disappeared to da south spirits. Word’s been’a spreadin’ dat de vanished along wit’a caravan de been’a tracken.”

This head of the middle-roamers clan looked very different from Edward and, for that matter, different from most of the people on our continent. He was tall and blonde, rough-looking but inquisitive. I sensed kindness, unlike the thoughts I had received from Sir Edward on our first meeting.

“You are correct,” said Edward and he paused while untrusting eyes scanned his features. “But the south spirit is merely an ancient beast camouflaged by its stone surroundings. It’s huge, big enough to devour an entire clan. It hides in the mountains until it can feast on unsuspecting prey and then consumes everyone it finds.”

“Why is it dat’cher here and you did not perish wit’cher clan?” asked the leader.

“I chased a captive who had escaped up a mountainside while my clan fought the soldiers, but it was too late. I saw them from the mountain, wiped out and scooped into the bowels of the beast. They were family, friends, brothers, and clan, and they were gone in an instant. Before I could mourn I had been taken by these ones here.” He gestured behind him to our cart where Wolfe was consoling me and my grandmother.

“They convinced me that they could help all free-roamers. Of course, I did not believe them at first, but instead of killing me or letting me take my own life to be with my fallen clan, I was given another choice. I could join this pack of misfits, which was how I saw them upon our first meeting, or I could leave this world without knowing if I had made the right choice for my people, for our people.” Edward spread his arms and rode his horse toward the crowd. His voice was commanding when he spoke, slowly riding by the spectators, speaking to them and drawing them into his aura of confidence. He was a true leader.

“You know of what I am about to speak: the plague that has been killing us one by one, the sickness with no cure, with no cause, and no care for human life. Tell me, how many of you have lost a loved one to this nightmare curse?” The people looked at one another while others bowed their heads. The protectors had been killing for years and these people had all suffered.

“What if I tell you that the plague is unnatural and that something evil has been spreading it?” Sir Edward rode his horse to the other clan leader and got off his horse. The people began talking loudly after his last statement and their leader asked for silence.

“Unnatural? Wat’cha saying ter me, ter me feller clan?”

“I’m saying that what has happened to us is not an accident. Our suffering is caused by beasts more foul than the creature that consumed my clan. I’m also telling you that we can fight these demons, the green ghosts, before they can kill more of us just because they believe humans are inferior beings. If we act quickly, we may find a cure to the suffering, and my proof is here!” Edward walked up to me and jumped onto the cart. Wolfe hovered protectively by my side, fearing Sir Edward and the entire situation.

“Here is the Queen of The Land,” Edward lifted me to my feet and held me so the crowd could see me. “She has been infected.” Heads bowed in despondency and I read their thoughts. They pitied me, certain that I would die.

“Sick an hour you say? A day at most? How about seven days, maybe more!” The crowd gasped. “Don’t compare her to yourselves though, for she is an indomitable sorceress and I have seen her incredible powers, especially the powers she inherited from Tegan Farmoore.” The crowd was shocked. Edward gently set me back down on the cart and whispered to me.

“This was something these roamers did not expect. Your name might not have been popular in , but read the thoughts around you now.” He winked at me and smiled before hopping off the cart and walking toward the leader of the clan. Indeed, a hush had settled on the group.

“Tegan yer say, der one who?” The leader curled his brow in interest and Edward spoke again.

“The very one!” Edward shouted. “This is the granddaughter of Tegan Farmoore and of your very own De’Rebecca Lassalo. Do not forget the stories, for they are true. His powers of healing are legendary among us. He died trying to save his wife, to save one of your very own. Queen Crystal has those very same powers along with many more and she is…”

“Clan!” The clan leader said in awe before Edward could finish.

“Clan!” the free-roamers chanted loudly.

I read the thoughts of the crowd and they were just as Edward indicated. There was an overwhelming feeling of acceptance. The feeling was utterly breathtaking and much like the moment I had been accepted into the hearts of the people of The Land as their Queen. The strong bond I had long felt for the free-roamers suddenly made sense. I was smiling, crying, and now realizing that I had been so preoccupied with our trials the past hour that my inside battle had been screaming for me to join in the fight. I ate more of the paste before succumbing to my struggles, yet I had more reason to fight now than ever. If I could overcome this illness these people, my clan, would have hope. They would unite and our alliance might actually work. It seemed the fate of the free-roamers was in my hands.

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