The violent shaking of our wagon being pulled up onto the rutted dirt road woke me from my uneasy sleep. An annoyed grunt escaped my lips as I sat up. Our escorts appear to be early risers. That’s my damn luck. Dim, predawn light filtered in from the small barred window that ran around the top edge of our wooden prison cart. With one last hard impact the cart made it up from the side of the road, and the steady jostling of travel resumed.
Lia jolted awake on the bench beside me. She looked around in a panic, clearly unable to recognize her surroundings as her mind spun up to speed. I gave her a pleasant smile when she spun to face me. “Good morning, Lia. How did you sleep?” Her memory finally caught up with her and she turned away, her face red.
“Fine,” Lia whispered meekly. She pulled her legs up onto the wooden bench next to her and curled into a ball. The manacles connecting her hands and feet clinked softly as the wagon bounced her around. I reached out across the aisle and placed a hand on the metal cuff around her wrist.
“Please, let me remove the irons. You’ll be so much more comfortable without them.” The thoroughly shattered remains of my manacles clattered along the wooden floor as if to accentuate my point. “It’ll just take a second.” I had destroyed my own restraints in frustration while struggling to find a comfortable sleeping position. To my delight, the feat had been quite simple; a few seconds of meditation to suffuse the metal with mana and a single utterance of the word “Shatter” was all it took.
Lia recoiled at my touch. “No. I’m fine.” I saw a tear fall from the corner of her eye and land on her cheek. “Please, you don’t have to worry about me. I-I’m fine.” Her jaw clenched as she stifled a sob, and she buried her face in her crossed arms. Leaning up against the wall, she rocked gently along with the wagon in silence.
This is my fault. I withdrew my hand and watched her quietly, my heart breaking at the sight of her pain. Lia had been inconsolable ever since we were thrown into the wagon in Atsal; although she had hardly said a word, I knew it was because she blamed herself for our capture. I tried to explain to her that it was my fault, but my words never seemed to reach her. I had failed to keep her safe in a fight I dragged her into and, more egregiously, I had made her a target for people looking to hurt me.
The guards had no idea who she was. She could have walked away and stayed safe. I closed my eyes and sighed as I leaned back against the wall. And yet, she stood by me. Though Lia constantly thanked me for my selflessness and generosity towards her, nothing could be further from the truth; I was indebted to her so fully that no amount of gifts or kindness could ever repay her.
Lia and her parents are the only people in this world who didn’t try to use me, kill me, or jail me the first time we met. If I hadn’t met her in that dungeon, I would still be the bitter, wrathful old man I was after arriving from Hedaat. I would’ve murdered my way out of that cell and been left wandering the countryside alone with my memories, without a purpose. I grimaced at the thought. How have I repaid her? I rebuffed her feelings for me, led her into a fight she wasn’t ready for, and got her arrested.
A jolt from the wagon pulled me from my introspection. We had stopped moving suddenly, and I heard the familiar footsteps of the guardsmen from outside. A gruff voice called out from behind the door at the back of the cart. “Back away from the door, prisoners. If you try to run, you’ll get no food for the day.” Heavy latches flipped and scraped, and after a pause the door opened. “If you need to relieve yourselves, speak now or—”
The guard’s hand flew to his sword when he noticed my manacle-free wrists. “What did you do? How did you…” He trailed off as his eyes scanned the floor and found the shattered remains of my irons.
I held out my wrists towards him and did my best to look contrite. “Sorry sir, my shackles broke. I think I need new ones.” Kicking at the metal shards, I cocked my head. “I’m not sure what happened.” Though I fought against it, a faint smile spread across my face.
Anger flashed in the guard’s eyes, but it quickly turned to concern. “I need a new pair of shackles back here for the prisoner! A stronger pair!” he hollered around the side of the wagon, never taking his eyes off me. “I’m not sure what you’re playing at, but this sort of behavior isn’t going to be tolerated.” His words were backed with false confidence, made clear by the wavering break of his voice when he finished speaking.
“Sir, I really don’t think the irons are necessary at all. I’m not planning on running away, and I’m certainly not going to try and fight the whole caravan by myself. Plus, it’s not like the restraints could stop me should I change my mind.” I paused for a moment with a serious expression to let the statement sink in, then laughed brightly. “And they’re just so uncomfortable!”
I watched the indecision play across the guard’s face. It almost looked as though he agreed with me, but he shook his head and motioned me forward. “By the captain’s orders, you are to be restrained. No exceptions.” With a sigh, I scooted forward along the bench and allowed him to place the new manacles around my wrists and ankles. When he was finished he pulled a bag from his belt and tossed it up into the cart. “Breakfast. For both of you.”
Lia let out a small squeak of surprise. She had been sitting quietly during my interaction with the guard, still curled into a ball facing the opposite end of the wagon when the bag of rations landed next to her with a dull thud. I turned to face her and saw the fear in her eyes. She’s worse now than she was in the dungeons. The thought filled me with self-loathing. Because of me.
“Lia,” I called out softly, “Do you need to use the bathroom?” She shook her head and looked away again. “I suppose we’re all set then,” I said, turning back to the guard. “Thank you for the food, sir. We’ll be seeing you again soon, I imagine.”
He watched me through squinted eyes for a moment, then closed the door and locked it without a response. The wagon resumed its rumbling advance soon after. I moved back to my seat across from Lia and took a moment to destroy my new shackles. “Shatter,” I murmured under my breath, activating the mana I had saturated throughout the bonds. The surface fractured along microscopic faults within the metal and came apart all at once with a sharp cracking sound.
I rubbed my wrists absentmindedly as I watched Lia. “I hate seeing you like this, Lia.” My voice was thick with remorse. “Can you talk to me about how you’re feeling? If there’s anything I can do to-”
“No!” She interrupted me sharply. The harshness of her tone seemed to catch her off guard, and her face reddened. “I’m sorry. I don’t want you to worry about me. There’s nothing you need to do.”
Carefully, I shifted across the aisle to sit in front of her on the wooden bench. “I’m always going to worry about you, Lia.” I clasped her hand gently in between both of my own. “We’ve always been honest with each other until now. You’re obviously in a lot of pain, and I want to help you in any way I can.”
Lia’s hand trembled as she looked up at me, sending tears cascading down her face. “I know...I-I know…” She leaned forward and rested her forehead against my chest, stifling a sob. “I’m n-not ready...to t-talk about it yet, is all.”
“That’s okay,” I whispered in her ear. My fingers ran down through her long hair in tender, soothing strokes. “I’ll be here for you, whenever you’re ready. Okay?” Lia nodded weakly in response. Wrapping her in my arms, I gave her a quick embrace and planted a light kiss on the top of her head. “Everything is going to be alright.”
The statement was as much for me as it was for her. While I wasn’t worried about our immediate wellbeing, I knew that every second brought us closer to Yoria and the Golden Throne. The promise of judgement awaiting us there still weighed heavily on my mind. Everything is going to be alright.
I moved back to my bench and sprawled out along its length. With my head cushioned against my arms at the far end of the wagon, I closed my eyes and exhaled sharply. Is everything going to be alright? The thought echoed through my mind uncontested as I struggled to think of an answer. If my past lives are any indication, our lives are about to get a lot harder.
My thoughts turned to my time in Hedaat, which immediately hardened the muscles in my shoulders and set my teeth to grinding. I should never have tried to run away with Lia. After everything I went through...after Alda. I knew it wouldn’t work, and I still tried to run. A bump in the road bounced my head forward violently. Fate isn’t going to let me get away, but at least I know it’s coming now.
It was a comforting thought, even if the inevitability of it was terrifying. Back in Alderea when I met with Lord Eadric, I had no idea what fate had in store for me. When fate came knocking again in Hedaat, I told it to fuck off. Even through the bitterness of the memory, I managed to crack a small smile. My memories give me an advantage this time around. I know that they need me, and I can use it against them. Plus, two lifetimes of combat training and mana reserves are great bargaining chips.
I cracked my eyes open enough to steal a glance at Lia. She was halfheartedly nibbling on a piece of hardtack and staring blankly across the cart. I was glad to see her eating, and her posture was markedly more relaxed than the tight ball she had been curled into earlier. Her safety is the only priority. It should be easy enough to negotiate her release, with compensation for her hardship and assurances of her continued wellbeing…
As nice of a fantasy as the idea was, I knew Lia would never accept it. She’s made it abundantly clear that wherever I’m going, she’s going too. I lingered on the idea for a moment, surprised at the pang of sadness I felt at the thought of her leaving. I wouldn’t want it any other way. She’s stuck with me as much as I’m stuck with her.
A particularly warm sunbeam shone down across my chest from the thin barred windows of the wagon, and I suddenly found myself struggling to stay awake. When she’s ready, Lia will tell me how she’s feeling. We’ll talk it out and...A yawn interrupted my train of thought momentarily. Everything will be alright. Having tossed and turned for most of the night prior, I was perfectly content to doze until Lia needed me. With a relaxed sigh I gave up the fight against my sleep-deprived brain and drifted off.
My face stung as wind and heavy sleet whipped against my cheeks. It melted and ran down to collect in the ragged salt-and-pepper beard which was tangled and frozen in the winter weather. As I trudged up the hill through knee deep snow, I traced a finger around the handle of the manasteel sword on my hip with exaggerated movements. Although I couldn’t see them, I knew there were people watching me, and they needed to know I wasn’t looking to be disturbed.
Even in the perpetual darkness of the storm, I knew where I was going; it was a path I had walked too many times to forget. As the slope leveled out, my destination finally came into view: a modest stone structure, thirty feet on each side and unadorned with any decoration or iconography, partially obscured by snow drifts at the top of the hill. The walls were made of a glossy black stone that looked to be carved from one solid piece, with no indication of an entrance on any side.
As I made my final approach, I reached into the breast pocket of my thick woolen coat and retrieved a tiny golden cylinder. It was the size of my pinky finger, with three uneven metal rods on one end and an intricate mesh spike on the other. When I reached the wall, I brushed a layer of snow and ice away to reveal a divot in the stone about the size of an apple. I pulled the glove from my right hand with my teeth and carefully pushed the cylinder into a small slot, and was rewarded with a small click as the three metal prongs found their sockets.
I pressed my thumb down hard onto the top spike of the device, puncturing my scarred flesh. Rivulets of blood flowed through the metal mesh into an unseen chamber, and the cylinder instantly whirred to life. Dull blue light shone up through the spiked top as a mechanism inside spun noisily. After a few moments of waiting the wall before me trembled and began to sink into the floor, revealing a well-lit chamber within.
Kicking the snow from my boots against the outside wall, I retrieved the golden tube and entered the structure. A pale fluorescent blue light shone from the delicate crystals of a chandelier hung in the center of the room, casting wispy shadows out behind the sparse furnishings. Underneath the chandelier, raised slightly on a dais, sat a white marble sarcophagus. The sides were pristine lacquered rock, but the lid was covered in a carving of a large dahlia flower.
A long end table sat to the right of the sarcophagus, covered in tiny wooden figurines. I had lost count over the years, but I knew there were at least eighty figures in total. One wooden chair faced the sarcophagus, clearly showing its age with a cracked leather cushion and splintered feet. Immediately to my left at the entrance was a round stone pillar which stood about waist high. The flat top had the same indentation as the wall outside, and I slotted the glowing golden cylinder inside.
The exit closed up behind me in response, giving me a respite from the raging storm at my back. I crossed the room and sat down in the old chair, letting out a low groan of relief as I allowed my aching joints to decompress. For a while I sat in silence and stared at the sarcophagus wordlessly with my mind blank. It grew more difficult for me to put words to my thoughts as the days passed, and I had already said everything a hundred times over anyway.
“I brought you a new figurine today.” My voice squeaked and cracked with disuse. I reached into my front pocket and pulled out the carving. It was the size of a deck of playing cards, chiseled into the vague shape of a deer. Carefully, I found a spot for it among the other figures and set it gently on the table. “It’s an elk...or it’s supposed to be, anyway. I’m not quite as good as I used to be.” I showed my scarred hands to the sarcophagus with a low chuckle. “The trembling makes it difficult.”
My face darkened as I continued to speak to the empty room. “They came to the lab again today. Only three of them this time, but I think they’re getting smarter. One even managed to find the door. Not that it could ever figure out how to get it open.” I brushed the golden band in the handle of my sword with my thumb and stared vacantly through it, remembering. “If it weren’t for the combat enhancements, they would’ve gotten me by now, but…”
I trailed off, pausing to find the right words. “I don’t know if I want to keep going.” Saying the words aloud finally made real the thoughts that had been clouding my mind. “What’s the point in fighting? I’m not fighting for anything, just...the habit of it. It’s all I’m useful for now, and I’m not even good at it anymore.” I ran my hand over the cold marble lid before me. “We should have left like you wanted. Jaren would have understood.”
Digging down through the layers of winter clothing, I found my bandolier strapped against my chest and pulled the slim silver needle from its clasp at the top. “That reminds me. It isn’t all bad news today. I’ve almost finished the universal needle.” I held it out at arm’s length and admired it. “It works for the first three orbs autonomously, and the fourth one works with concentration. I think with some clever rearrangements I’ll have a fully realized design—”
A spasm shook my arm and sent the needle clattering to the floor. I held it steady with my free hand and waited for the shaking to stop, grunting as waves of pain flooded down to my fingertips. When the episode subsided, I moved unsteadily to where the silver had landed and slotted it back into my bandolier. “Sorry,” I apologized to nobody, embarrassed.
From behind me, a faint beeping sound began to chime from the golden cylinder. I glared at it angrily and let out a defeated sigh. “It’s time for me to go.” I turned to retrieve the beeping device, but stopped myself and moved to the sarcophagus instead. I knelt down and rested my forehead gently against the stone. “I’m so sorry, Alda. I hope you can forgive me,” I whispered, every word threatening to catch in my tight throat. “I’m sorry. Forever.”
With a heavy cough, I stood and returned to the entrance. I pulled the cylinder from its slot and returned it to my pocket, which caused the stone door to slide open once more. The harsh wind immediately chilled my face as I walked outside into the elements and began my trek back down the hill. I looked over my shoulder just in time to see the door close again and plunge the interior of the crypt back into darkness. “I’m so sorry.”
The shaft of light I had been basking in during my nap shifted up to my face and shone down relentlessly on my eyes, waking me from my nap. I sat up lazily and rubbed my eyes, and was surprised to find them wet with tears. Quickly scanning the wagon, I was relieved to find Lia napping across from me, slumped awkwardly in the corner. I wiped the tears from my face, cleared my throat quietly, and attempted to suppress the memories of Hedaat.
Lia woke up an hour later with a large stretch, which brought a pained expression to her face. She rubbed her neck tenderly and attempted a few cautious shoulder rolls. When she finally noticed that I was watching her, she reddened and looked away. “Good morning, Lux—” Lia cut herself off. “Oh, I mean, good afternoon. No...umm…”
I watched as she struggled awkwardly to find the right expression, doing my best to keep a straight face. My face broke out into a grin, and I quickly gave up resisting and laughed heartily. “Good morning to you too, Lia. How did you sleep?”
She put a hand on her shoulder and pressed gently against the muscle. “It’s hard to find a good place to sleep in here.”
“I could remove those for you,” I said, motioning to her cuffed wrists. “It might be easier for you to—”
Lia shook her head. “No, it’s okay. I don’t want to cause any more trouble for you.”
I moved to respond but decided against it. I already know where this conversation goes. “How about some meditation, then? I find that it can do wonders for sore muscles.”
“Actually, I was hoping we could talk about...things.” Lia spoke quietly as she fidgeted with her hands in her lap.
I sat up straight and gave her an encouraging nod. “Of course.”
She took a deep breath, held it for a beat, then sighed. “Okay. I wanted to say I’m sorry for letting you down in Atsal.”
“Lia, you didn’t—” I stopped when she held up a hand in protest.
“I’ve finally figured out what I want to say, and I want to say it all at once. Is that okay?” I nodded in silent agreement and let her continue. “I’m sorry for Atsal. I let my guard down and didn’t pay attention to my surroundings. I panicked when the guard grabbed me and didn’t think about how to get away until it was too late. You taught me those things, and I forgot them when it was most important.”
“After we were taken, I wasn’t thinking straight. The only thought going through my head was that I let you down, and you were going to have to leave me behind because of that. My brain was all fuzzy after the fight and I wanted to curl up into a ball and cry.” She chuckled to herself. “And that’s what I did. But I knew deep down that I was wrong. I knew you didn’t blame me for anything, and that you wouldn’t leave me behind.”
Lia spoke with confidence as she continued. “We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my mistakes, and I’m really sorry for that. I know that this situation is what you were trying to avoid above everything else, and I’m going to try my hardest to make it up to you. I’m going to practice and train every day to make sure this doesn’t happen again. No matter what happens when we get back to Yoria, I’m not going to leave your side.” She paused for a moment, then added, “If you’ll have me, of course.”
My jaw dropped as she finished. “Lia…” I managed to say, struggling to keep my emotions in check. “I’m so proud of you.”
Her eyebrows shot up in surprise as the sentiment caught her by surprise. “P-proud?”
I nodded. “You’ve grown so much since we first met. You analysed what went wrong in your combat and identified how to correct it. You worked through your emotions with introspection and talked about them with me rationally. It’s a level of maturity that few people reach, and it caught me off guard.” I gave her a slight shrug. “It’s just the first feeling that came to me in the moment.”
Lia’s face burned a bright red. “Why wouldn’t you expect that I could be mature?! I’m an adult, and we’re basically the same age!” She fumbled over her words, clearly flustered. “I’m mature!”
“Now THAT’S the Lia I know,” I teased. She looked away and pouted as I laughed. “I’m sorry, Lia,” I said as I wiped a tear from my eye, “you know I’m teasing you, right?” I stood and moved across the wagon to sit beside her, and she glared daggers at me in response. “Oh, c’mere, you,” I chuckled playfully, putting an arm over her shoulders. Lia looked away and held her nose up in feigned indignation, but she eventually leaned her head back in my arm.
“I appreciate that you talked to me about how you were feeling. I hope we can always be open and honest like this in the future, too.” I gave her shoulder a squeeze. “You’re the only person I’d want by my side in this world, Lia. I’ll do everything in my power to keep you safe.”
She snuggled into my shoulder and let out a contented sigh. “Thanks, Lux.” We sat quietly and enjoyed each other’s company, comfortable in the temperate autumn weather. The road had smoothed significantly since our morning departure and made for a much less jarring ride. After a few minutes Lia was dozing against my chest, and I made no effort to resist falling asleep myself. As I rested my head atop hers, I caught the familiar airy scent of mint from her hair, and I joined her in sleep with a smile on my face.
The sky was a pale orange when the wagon stopped again and roused me from my nap. I gently extricated my arm from behind Lia’s head and shifted back to my bench as a single set of heavy footfalls moved along the side of the cart. The locks on the door were removed and, without a shout of warning, the doors creaked open. To my surprise, the commander of the guard company stood at the exit. He examined us with a chiseled, emotionless grimace that looked as though it hadn’t left his face in decades.
I gave him a jovial wave, clearly displaying my bare wrists. “Good afternoon, sir. I didn’t expect to see you bringing us our dinner.”
His cold, steely eyes bore through my false cheerful demeanor as he stared at me wordlessly. After a long pause, he turned to look at Lia. “Girl, come here.” She flashed me a quick look of uncertainty before she stood and moved to the exit. The commander gave her a brief inspection, then reached into his pocket and fished through its contents. His hand emerged with a small steel key, which he inserted into Lia’s manacles and gave a hard turn. The cuffs fell to the floor with a heavy thud.
“This is your last chance to relieve yourselves for the night,” He said, his gruff voice cool and even. Turning to allow us exit, he motioned to a patch of trees. “Any attempts to escape will be met with severe punishment.” He met my gaze as he spoke his warning and gave me a knowing look.
I nodded in return as I stood to exit the wagon. “Thank you, sir.” Lia hopped down to the ground, and I followed suit. We were at the side of a road I recognized, having travelled it by foot in the other direction only a few days prior. Two wagons flanked our prison cart on either side with a large collection of guards milling about between them. Directly to our right, four men with crossbows eyed me anxiously.
Lia and I returned to the cart immediately after finishing our business in the thicket. I waved at the men with crossbows as we passed, which drew looks of disgust from two of them, and a look of panic from the others. My lips tightened as I resisted the urge to laugh. When we reentered the cart, the commander set another bag of food on the bench. “Don’t make me regret this,” he called out as he picked up the unlocked manacles.
“Of course not, sir. I greatly appreciate it,” I responded in earnest.
He turned to close the doors but paused to look over his shoulder. “It’s Savitz. Third Commander Savitz.”
The statement surprised me. “Oh. Thank you, Commander Savitz.” Without a response, Savitz closed the wagon doors and locked the latches before heading back towards the front of the caravan. I moved to the door and retrieved the food, only now realizing I hadn’t eaten anything for almost a full day. After choosing a plump asperfruit from the meager selection, I handed the bag to Lia and took my seat.
“So…” Lia said as she picked through the offering, “What do we do now?”
I smiled as I took a bite from the fruit, pausing a moment to savor the delicious spiced jelly inside. “Well, we’ve spent two days relaxing in luxury here so far. I think it’s time we get to work.”
Hi there. I'm Adam, the author of the "Restart Again" series. I started this writing project in the spring of 2019 as a fun creative outlet, and much to my surprise, I actually stuck with it! Fast forward to a year later, and here I am with the first book completely finished, and the second well under way. It's been a great experience, and I'm glad I have a chance to share it now!
I'd never heard of this site until recently, when one of the Amazon reviews for this book suggested I share it here as well. I'm not entirely familiar with how the site works, and whether or not it's frowned upon to just come here to share fully finished products that exist on other sites. With that in mind, I plan to drop a chapter on here every Sunday and Wednesday until the entire book is posted. If you enjoy it, hop over to my website to find the latest news on the project, and a link to the Amazon page where you can buy the eBook/paperback. I hope you enjoy it!