Standing on the tallest hill we could find across the border, we watched the destruction of Evanyl. Dust and dirt was flying in the air from all the fallen buildings. A gun metal grey cloud was surrounding the sky above it. None of it seeped outside though, as if an invisible barrier was holding it all in.
The mages separated themselves and held their arms at their sides. From out of nowhere, flames the size of mountains spread across Evanyl and molten waves crashed against the barrier. Evanyl’s final moments were spent burning alive. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer place.
Silently, I held Xori tight as she wept against my chest. I know that as much as she hated being a Tamminalin, she still just watched the destruction of the only family she had ever known. It’s a bittersweet moment for her, and I’ve realized the price of freedom sometimes costs more than we are willing to pay.
Zytriana stood in front of me, her blonde hair blowing in the breeze. She was staring out at the border, saying nothing as well. It seems silence was the only response any of us could muster at the moment.
My attention then turned to the crowd gathered on the hillside. They were all scared and unsure, looking around at this new place with awe. Finally a pink haired pixie-like woman ran up to us, shattering the silence.
Jyrixi hugged Xori, spinning her around in the process, “We did it! No, you know what? YOU did it, Xori! Thanks to your bravery and determination, you got out everyone that was innocent. All that had nothing to do with the competition are out! I’m so proud of you! None of these people would be here if it wasn’t for you, dear!”
Xori glanced around at everyone staring at her. They were all cheering and shouting mixes of thank you along with what do we do now’s. Xori looked up at me and I nodded out to the crowd, gesturing for her to address them.
“You are all very welcome. I’m just happy we all got out alright.” Then in a small voice, she asked Jyrixi, “So where are we right now?”
She laughed, “Right, you’ve never been past the border! Well this is technically considered the giant’s territory. Don’t fret though, they are actually quite friendly and enjoy meeting new people. They do hate your family, though. It’s a good thing your not a Tamminalin anymore because they could have smelled the blood and it wouldn’t have been too pleasant for any of us.”
Xori shivered and agreed, “This is true. Jyrixi, I don’t know where I’m going to lead them. I have no clue where to go.”
Jyrixi looked confused, “Well you all are coming with me, of course. We have plenty of room in my land. You honestly think I want to be separated from my best friend? Zakyrik is kind of growing on me, too.” She playfully punched Zakyrik in the arm.
Xori announced that we would be traveling to Jyrixi’s homeland and then silence spread as the mages appeared a few feet from our group. Jyrixi ran and threw her arms around all three of them and cried, “I never thought I’d find you! Most of our people thought you had died, but mother never gave up hope! She sent me here after we finally tracked down where Vyren disappeared to.”
The mages each took turns telling Jyrixi how happy they were to finally meet her and how beautiful she was. Jyrixi turned to Xori after a while, “These are my long lost aunts. This is Cordele, Runadell and Oscilla. My mother is queen of our land and your great grandfather tricked her three sisters one hundred years ago into servitude by performing a spell he had no right to use. My mother had me fifty years later and when I became of age she told me about their plight. I made it my life’s mission to find them and one day we got a lead. You see, Vyren used their magic to make himself disappear inside Evanyl’s borders and only those with express permission could enter. So, we came up with a plan to use me as a referee for those damned competitions. Vyren died the first year I came to this cursed place. My hope was I could get close enough to the family to learn what happened to them, but Vyross never trusted me and Vyron only tried to use me to make his warrior look good or cheat. Xera was a waste of space, but then I met you. Your positive energy drew me in and I loved you instantly. Our friendship was a happy accident, but I’m all the better because I met you. Now, Evanyl and that wretched Tamminalin bloodline is destroyed. Everything can be at peace for a time and we can bring you home!” She hugged her aunts again.
Rumbling and pounding somewhere shook the hillside we were standing on. There were screams and confused cries as we all turned to the mages wondering why they started the earthquakes again, but they and Jyrixi were looking above our heads, smiling.
We followed their line of sight and small gasps of terror erupted around the hilltop. I had to crane my neck almost to the point of pain to see them fully. Giants. They really do exist!
Xori held onto me nervously, while Jyrixi bounced out in front of the group, “Greetings, giants! It’s me, Jyrixi! Guess what? I’ve finally found my aunts!”
One of the giants lowered themselves down to where their enormous head was eye level with Jyrixi. I could finally see that he looked human, just on a much larger scale. I don’t know what I was expecting them to look like, but it wasn’t this.
The giant smiled in recognition, his hazel eyes twinkling, “That’s wonderful news! I see Evanyl has finally been destroyed. We are forever in your debt for that. We’ll cover it with rocks and trees. We’ll make sure that down through the ages, it will long be forgotten to ever exist.” His voice was rough and gravelly, but I could sense his amiable spirit.
Jyrixi grabbed Xori and pulled her forward, “Thanks to this one! Her name is Xori. This courageous girl got everyone you see standing here out and she released the mages from their prison. This is who you have to thank.”
Xori froze as the giant sniffed her. I knew she was waiting on him to accuse her of being a Tamminalin, and I stepped forward protectively, but the giant smiled, “I sense purity and grace in your blood. Those two ingredients are always found in heroes. Thank you, little Xori, for ridding the universe of that dreadful place and saving all these good people. Where are you all heading?”
Jyrixi chimed in, “To my homeland, of course! My aunts haven’t seen Jyrixion in over a hundred years!” The giant nodded, “We would be honored to give you a ride to Jyrixion then. Hop into our hands and you all can ride on our shoulders.”
Xori looked flabbergasted at Jyrixi, “You never told me you were a princess and were named after your land!” Jyrixi giggled in her jovial manner, “You never asked, dear girl. I have so much to catch you up on that I couldn’t tell you before!”
Riding on the giant’s shoulders gave us a perfect view of the surrounding land. There were trees almost as big as the giants that we were wading through and sparkling, clear rivers. Birds of every color flew in harmony together in the sky, chirping their own songs. This was what freedom looked like. I’d never known a place so wondrously breathtaking lied a few miles outside my door. It was just always right out of reach.
Xori scooted closer to me and I wrapped my arms around her. “I’d always heard of paradise, but I never knew what it was until now.” She sighed, “Me neither. This land is absolutely beautiful.” Smirking, I whispered in her ear, “Actually, I was talking about you.” She blushed and leaned her head up to kiss me.
We watched the birds dance in the sky for a while, a vast rainbow of feathers circling through the puffy clouds. Xori looked up at me, “I’ve been wondering about something. When we get to Jyrixion and they ask us our names, I don’t know what to tell them.”
Tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear, I assured her, “You tell them your name is Xori. It’s a pretty name given to you by your mother. You shouldn’t hide it.”
She shook her head, “No not that. I meant my last name. I never knew mother’s maiden name so I can’t use that. I’m not sure what to say.”
Pulling her in close, I laughed, “My beautiful woman, that’s an easy one.” Xori raised her eyebrows signaling me to continue. I kissed her gently on the lips, “You tell them your last name is Ruequal.”