This world had turned me into a monster. The fact that I would sentence another human being to death to save myself made me just as guilty as Farenan who administered the punishment. No, I wasn’t saving myself. I was saving Arsan. That thought didn’t make me feel any better about my part in this beating.
My body tensed for the last blow. Decker hit the ground barely breathing with his jaw broken and eyes swollen mostly shut. My stomach turned, threatening to erupt. I forced it back down the best I could.
“You don’t look well.” Farenan scowled at me.
“I’m fine.” My head was swimming. I could feel my cheeks burning behind my pale skin. My magic warmed my chest, but it did nothing to calm my churning stomach. It had been a long journey and I feared the stress of everything was finally catching up to me.
“Bring a cart,” Shouted Farenan to a soldier close by. “Tie the prisoner to it. Do it quickly, I want to be on our way as soon as possible.”
The soldier nodded his head and ran off into the darkness to do his masters bidding. I wondered what his plans were. “Where are we going?”
Farenan’s piercing blue eyes gazed into mine with a fire I hadn’t seen in him before. “I’m going to hunt down the Articans and rule over them like my father had wanted me to. Then with the power of the cold ones I will bring down the rest of the free world.”
I was stunned. I hadn’t planned on him telling me the truth, not even half of the truth. I just stood there with my mouth open searching for something to say. He was going after my people, the Artican’s. How could I stop him?
“Don’t worry. You won’t be around to see it.” Just then my cart came and Farenan’s men quickly chained me to its hull. “On the next full moon I will have your magic, girl. Until then, keep your mouth shut and do what you’re told.”
My chains gave me enough slack to curl up on the back of the cart. It rocked and shuddered as it rolled over the uneven ground of the forest floor. I had heard some of the men nearby saying we were in Winter Land and we were making our way north to the Arctic. The same path that the cuff had intended for me to go.
Only those who had nothing to lose ventured even further north into Winter Land. Here, it was always cold, even in the summer months. Although it only snowed in the winter, the ground was always hard with permafrost. Nothing grew here but the old trees and a few smaller plants that had adapted to the cold. It was a vast land of nothingness, one that I planned on leaving as soon as possible.
Even with all the talk going on around me and the shaking of the cart, drowsiness finally took me. I dreamt of Arsan. I saw his blue eyes that sparkled and reflected the night sky through the darkness of the forest. And that smile that I loved so much. It never left his face. If only it was real.
I slowly came to consciousness when the rocking of the cart had stopped. Nothing moved around me. Not even a sound was heard. The sun was up filling my surroundings with a bright light. Morning had come at last. When my eyes adjusted, I realized there was a tent over my head and I was lying on a hard bed of straw on the ground. My cheek rubbed against the straw, scratching it and sticking to my skin.
I sat up to get a better idea of my surroundings. The tent was small, dirty. There was another bed next to mine, but it was empty. Someone had been sleeping there recently, their magic lingered in the air. My fingers reached out to the power, it weaved and moved with the morning light. It was undeveloped and young. Younger than I. Who could it have been?
The tent flapped opened and Farenan stood in the shadow of the door way watching me. “Its about time you woke. The day is half gone already.”
I didn’t answer, but pulled strength from my magic incase I needed it.
“I had my men remove your shackles but there is no point in running. Now that I’ve had a taste of your magic there is no place that I won’t be able to find you. Anyone who tries to help you hide from me will die a very painful death. Do you understand?” Farenan’s silhouette in the door way ominously shadowing me from the sun.
“Yes.” My voice was quiet. My heart sinking in my chest from the realization that I was trapped here, alone.
Farenan leaned closer to me. His face was only inches away from mine. I could feel the darkness that moved inside of him. It was powerful and evil. It made me sick to my stomach. “I will add your power to my own, and when I do, you will regret the day you ran from me.”
His words stung with distain. The hate that flowed from his mouth was unmatched in all my travels.
“I will fight you.” My voice came out quiet and shaky. “Until my dying breath.”
Farenan laughed from the sound of my voice. My threats sounded weak and he knew it. “We will see.”
When he finally left me to myself, I gulped in air trying to breathe as my heart attempted to burst from my chest. Was this how my life would end? Having my magic pulled from my veins like the bark from a tree? I shivered, trying to shake the thoughts from my mind.
Time passed slowly as I sat on my makeshift bed trying to forget about how uncomfortable it was. Farenan didn’t return to bother me. No one did for a while. When the curtain to the tent finally lifted slightly, a small girl entered. My heart raced with fright until I realized it wasn’t him.
I could feel the magic pulsing through her life force. It was the girl who slept in the bed next to mine. I didn’t relax till the curtain had swung closed behind her and we were alone.
She was small, under fed with sunken eyes. Her hair was a light brown with curls that were hacked off at the nape of her neck. Someone had taken the shears to her beautiful locks without care. At least she was dressed in a warm jacket and leather pants. They cared for her that much, but she couldn’t have been more than twelve or thirteen.
The girl sat on my bed next to me and held out a half a loaf of dried bread. It was crusty and mold grew on the end. At this point I didn’t care any more. My stomach had been growling for a while and anything seemed palatable anymore.
“Don’t eat it to fast.” Said the girl with her mouth full of bread. “It will get stuck in your throat.”
As she said the words, a chunk of bread stuck in my throat. I choked and coughed struggling to swallow.
“Told you.” The girl smiled. “My name is Ruan. I’m stuck here, same as you.”
When I was able to catch my breath I thanked her and told her my name. “How did you end up here? You don’t look like you belong with the Dominion.”
Ruan looked down at her hands. A sad expression crossed her pale face. She took a deep breath before she spoke. “They came for me, the Dominion, because of my gift. They took me and my mother, but my brother managed to get away. On the last full moon Farenan tore her gift from her and took it for himself. Then they killed her in front of me.”
A tear fell from Ruan’s eye. It dropped down her cheek and fell to the floor. “They plan on tearing my gift from me on the next full moon. I fear they will hunt down my brother Arsan next.”
“Arsan” The words slipped out on my breath. This was Arsan’s sister. I felt for her when she spoke of her mother. I couldn’t even imagine the horror she faced when they took the life of her mother in front of her. “Farenan will not be allowed to take your gift.”
Ruan looked up into my eyes. “There is no way to fight him. His power is too strong.”
“He is still just a man, and men can be beaten. If not by swords, then by magic.” I took Ruan’s hand and made her a promise. “I know your brother, he has traveled north with me to find a safe place for those with the gift of magic. He will help us. Come, I want to see where we are.”
I pulled the tent flap back and my heart stopped beating. Thousands of men filled the small clearing we were camped in. They were cleaning their weapons and packing their tents. Some talked quietly around camp fires while eating their morning meals. Some lingered near the horses, brushing them or fitting them with ridding saddles. I was starting to think that Arsan wouldn’t be able to save us after all. I could feel his warmth nearby. He was out there in the forest somewhere, watching, waiting for the right time.