Not her. Anyone, but her. We don’t have time for this!
Gently, I sat the handmaid down on the bed and started toward Xera, but Xori stopped me. “No, Zakyrik. You’ve done enough fighting for a lifetime. This is one is mine.”
Aggravated and mildly impressed, I watched Xori turn around to face her older sister. “I cannot blame you for your behavior. Mother’s letter explained why you are so malicious and greedy. Our father made sure the mages helped to make you like him. The reason you haven’t been awakened like everyone else is because of the Tamminalin blood inside you. It’s cursed to live with what our great grandfather done. Do you know father imprisoned our mother and watched her die slowly?”
Xera scoffed, “If he did, then she deserved it. Probably because she was weak, like you.” My anger rose at her words.
Xori just smiled sadly, “I thought you’d say that. It’s like I said, I cannot fault you for being like you are, but I can blame you for standing in my way. Move, let me pass. Better yet, come with me. Get out of here and start over. I’ll be by your side the whole time.”
Xera snarled, “You honestly think I’d leave the place of my birth to go live in some hovel just because you’re my sister? This is why grandfather never liked you. I have what it takes to run this land and further Evanyl. You are a thorn in father’s side and I’m sure he’ll be happy I’m ridding him of it.”
Xera lunged at Xori about the time another quake hit. This one was the strongest yet and it cracked the floor in half. I caught Xori, pulling her over to me as Xera tumbled off the side. She caught hold of a wooden beam and struggled to pull herself up.
Xori broke free from me and reached for her. “Xera! Grab my hand!” Xera glared at her, even though her hold was slipping, “I don’t need help from you or anyone else! I’m a Tamminalin! I can do it all by my...”
Her hand slipped off the beam as she fell into the gap. She screamed as she descended at a rapid pace two stories below. Xori cried her name and reached for her in vain just as a sickening thump resounded up to us. Xera Tamminalin was dead.
Xori was still crying as I pulled her to her feet, “My beautiful angel, I know you’re devastated, but we have to get moving. Remember? The innocent have to cross the border?”
That seemed to rouse her. “Okay,” she sniffed, “Let’s get out of here.” She jumped over the crack and I followed suit with the handmaid on my back.
The stairs were jagged and leaning, threatening to fall beneath our weight. Xori tripped a dozen times because of her dastardly dress and I had half a mind to tell her to just take it off, but I didn’t want to seem crass or perverted.
Honestly I don’t even know if she had anything under there, which the thought made my cheeks heat up. A picture popped up in my head of Xori’s porcelain skin. I shook my head and focused pointedly on picking the hem of her dress up as we zig-zagged down.
At the bottom, every guard we had seen earlier had vanished. It was quiet of human noise, only the destruction of the house was heard. Wooden beams were splitting, walls had cracked, pipes were gushing water out of what I assumed were bathrooms, doors were off the hinges and either in the floor or leaning precariously in the doorways.
“Do you think Jyrixi got everyone out?” Her voice was still quivering from her sobbing over her sister. I placed my hand on her back, “She seems tough so I’m sure she’s already in the fields getting everyone boarded by now.”
We were headed to the front entrance, since the back exit was blocked by a cave in. Senna was now leaning on me for support and Xori was silently treading in front. Suddenly something sprung from the darkened walkway and grabbed Xori, pulling her into the shadows. Senna leaned against the wall for support as I ran into the darkness with only Xori’s screaming to guide me.
When I got to a room lit with torches I came to a screeching halt. Vyron had a sword pressed to his daughters throat, “Evening mongrel.” He glared at me with a stunning hatred.
Xori whimpered, “Father! Don’t do this! Please!”
He pushed the sword closer to her throat, drawing tiny beads of blood, “Quiet, Xori! You have no idea what you’ve done! Everything my grandfather did to make our family powerful, feared by all in the universe, revered of our greatness through story, you have undid in half a day. We are a family and we will die as a family! You are no different. Since you decided to toy with things you know nothing about, you will stay with me as Evanyl is desecrated! Ruequal, as much as I’d love to watch your body turn to dust, you can go. I have no further qualms with you as of now. But my daughter stays here and lies in the bed she made!”
Over my dead body. I stepped forward, “You are more demented than I thought if you could honestly envision me leaving here without my future bride. She’s no longer yours, Vyron. So let her go, now!”
Xori piped in, “He’s right. I’m no longer a Tamminalin. The strain was sacrificed from my body when I broke the bond with the mages. Everything that linked me to you has been destroyed.”
Vyron’s grip loosened in shock. Xori took that opportunity to elbow him in the stomach and stumble away. She made it to me before he recovered.
“You’ll pay for that, Xori! And it doesn’t matter what was pulled from your body, your still my daughter! I helped create you and nothing can change that! You life is not your own! I’m not dying here by myself. Family stays together.”
She yelled at him, half mad and half grieved, “You won’t be alone! One of your daughters will be staying. Xera is here with you and she’s already dead.”
Vyron dropped his sword, “What? No... No not my Xera. Not my heiress! No!”
He started running towards us with a crazed expression on his face. Before I could react, Vyron stopped in his tracks, looking confused. He looked down and I followed his eyes.
The business end of a sword was poking out of his chest. He took a gurgling last breath. Slowly his eyes rolled up and he was lowered to the ground by someone with bright pink hair.
Jyrixi pulled the sword out of Vyron by stepping on his back for leverage. She eyed the sword and shook her head, “Just like I thought. His thieving grandfather stole this, too.”
Xori whispered her name seemingly involuntarily, causing Jyrixi’s head to snap up. “Oh for the love of gold, I’m sorry dear. Your father was going to kill you and I couldn’t let that happen. I’m just glad I came back when I did. I got worried when the other handmaids came and you three didn’t. I know that’s your father, Xori, but he had this coming for a while.”
Xori raised herself to get full height, “No, you know what? I’m okay. I’m fine with him dead. At least I’m finally free.”
Jyrixi’s coach raced ahead of ours, leading the way around fallen trees and ruined structures. I could finally see the fields and I started hoping that maybe this was almost over. Xori was anchored to my side and was looking around, bewildered at all the damage. The mages could still be seen in the air, which meant thankfully our time hadn’t ran out yet even with all those delays.
Abruptly, Jyrixi’s coach lurched to a stop, so I pulled on the reigns and stopped beside her. I helped Xori down as we ran to figure out why Jyrixi would stop at a time like this.
At the front of her coach we could see the three story platform where I caught Detro’s son from falling to his death. On the top, a crowd was gathered in a circular formation all shouting at something in their midst. Why hadn’t they fled for the borders?
Jyrixi shrugged, “I don’t know what’s going on, but we have to go break it up. I’m sure our hour is almost gone. The western border is right beyond these fields.”
Xori started forward, but Jyrixi stopped her. “Wait a minute, love. We are going to do some tailoring real quick.” She took the sword and cut over half of the bottom of that wretched dress off so Xori could move through the brush freely.
Her flawless skin and shapely legs were a sight to behold. “You have no idea how much better this feels, Jyrixi! We should have did this a while back.”
She shrugged, “We didn’t have a sword then, did we? Let’s get moving.” We could run easily now without Xori falling behind from being caught by a plethora of debris.
Another quake hit and masked the sound of us running to the platform. No one turned around as we drew near either. We pushed our way through the crowd and when I seen what all the fuss was about, I couldn’t help, but laugh.
The good, working class of Evanyl had pushed Trevalo into a cage. The same type I was imprisoned in, but was taking turns punishing him with random slaps, kicks and punches. I rallied everyone together to explain what was going on. There were only a small group of forty here so it was decided that the women and children, plus the elderly would be inside the coaches and the able-bodied men would run behind them. As luck once again smiled on us, Trevalo’s coach was parked beside the platform so we had yet another transportation vehicle.
The crowd dispersed and as I was about to exit the platform, a voice called out, “Wait, Ruequal! You’re not just going to leave me here, are you? I mean, these women over there, they are meaning to kill us all!”
Turning back, I looked at this sad sack of a man who had peed himself and had blood running out of his nose. I thought of what he did to Zytriana and my blood ran cold. “No, not kill us all. The innocent may cross the borders unharmed. Unfortunately for you though, that is not what you are. How does it feel to be locked in a cage, Trevalo? How does it feel to be reduced to tears and shame? I am going to remember you like this. That your last moments were spent in fear and covered in the same substance you loved to see pour out of others. Blood.”
It felt good to walk away as Trevalo yelled fake apologies mixed with threats. I know I said I would kill him when I found him again, but like Xori said I’ve done enough fighting to last me a lifetime. He’s not getting out of that cage anyways unless someone lets him out, which isn’t going to happen.
We were halfway to the ramp when he called out to Xori. To my utter shock, he pleaded with her, “Wait Xori! Please open this door! You know in your heart you want to release me. Let me out now and we can still run away together. You don’t have to be with him. I’ll treat you better than I treated your whore sister, I promise. Just let me out, dear.”
Xori whirled around, strolled up to the cage and slapped him as hard as she could. Trevalo’s head whipped to the side and my mouth dropped open. My sweet girl then floored me further by balling her fist up and punching his nose. Blood poured from his nostrils as he stared, dumbfounded, at her.
“You are just one of the many men in Xera’s life that hurt her and helped shape her into the heartless woman she became. My sister is somewhere none of you can hurt her now though and I pray she finally gets to know what peace feels like. As far as you and I go, your threats were as far as you ever got with me and this cage is the perfect place for a monster like you.”
Xori spun around and flew into my arms. My blood was boiling at the thought of him threatening her. But then my angel placed her hands on my chest, “Let’s go, Zakyrik. I want to get as far away from this nightmare as possible.” I couldn’t agree more.
When I reached the coach we were driving, I could see a line of men behind each coach and Jyrixi assisting an elderly woman into hers. Deciding to help, I left Xori in the driver’s seat and headed to Jyrixi. However, a woman with skin like ebony approached me before I made it there, “Are you Zakyrik?” I nodded, wondering who she was.
“Miss Jyrixi told me you were the one to ask about what happened to my husband, Pyrcie. He didn’t make it, did he?” My heart sank. How was I going to tell her what happened?
Steeling my nerves, I resorted myself to deliver the message I promised I’d send, “Pyrcie fought bravely and wanted you to know that you were the only thing on his mind the whole time. He loved you more than words could ever explain.”
Tears rolled down her face as she pursed her lips, “When they took him away, I knew I’d never see him again. I braced myself for this news before I asked the question. Thank you, Zakyrik. You are a good man.”
She walked away with her head hung low and left me remembering that I have a lot to atone for. There were men who died at my hand. I am sure I’ll never be able to fully cope with that no matter how I try to justify it.
Out of nowhere, a brown headed, familiar looking boy ran forward and hugged me around the waist. Recognizing him, I dipped to his level and embraced him as well. When I released him, the boy turned and called out, “Mother, look! I found him!”
A woman with tired looking blue eyes and a kind smile came forward, “I owe you so much for saving my boy. Miss Xori told me about my husband’s death and we were already expecting it, in a way. I’m honored to have had a wonderful man like him and so thankful I can raise his son in safety away from this cruel place.”
Tears rolled down their faces and my own eyes started watering, “Fighting alongside Detro and even getting to call him my friend is the highest possible honor I could receive. He was a strong, courageous man and I’m all the better for having met him. I’m absolutely beyond grateful to have met the wife of such a fierce warrior. When we get to a land suitable for us to settle, I’ll see to it statues are made for all the loved ones we’ve lost, so no one will forget the sacrifices made so we could live in peace.”
A rumble and the sound of more trees falling alerted me back to the current situation. Xori had took over the reigns and had driven up to me, “Need a ride, stranger?”
Smiling, I jumped in the seat next to her, “As a matter of fact, I do, ma’am.” She grinned, taking my breath with her radiance, “Well, where are you wanting to go?” I leaned forward and kissed her, “My lady, wherever you are heading, that’s exactly where I want to be.”