“What are your orders, sir?”
The sound of Savitz’s grinding teeth echoed in my ears and put a smile on my face.
“Sir, their wagon is escaping. Should we pursue them?”
“Take three squads from Kohl’s platoon back to the fork, and lead them West,” he barked down to the questioning soldier. “Find the girl with the braided black hair and bring her back here, alive. Kill the others.”
“Right away sir,” the soldier replied, flashing a quick salute. “What should we do about—”
Two sharp cracks and a shriek of pain sent the soldier to the ground as his legs buckled at sickening angles. Savitz’s horse whinnied nervously and shied away from the man as his nearby comrades rushed to assess the situation. A ripple ran through the column of men as the agonized cry of the crippled soldier set them on edge. Savitz let out an aggravated growl and pointed down the road to where I stood, a few hundred yards away. “Lieutenant Kohl, send out the wagons. I want that man dead.”
The sea of soldiers parted to reveal a caravan of familiar transport wagons, each filled with a full squad of ten men in heavy armor. Savitz watched them pass by from atop his destrier, then turned his back on me as he began to move back into the column. His warhorse made it three steps before the tortured screams of a dozen men filled the air, and he spun to find the lead wagon engulfed in a crimson wildfire. The horse that pulled it panicked and broke free of its lashings, leaving the wreckage an impassable blockade in the center of the road.
Men broke ranks and fled in all directions as the second wagon in line joined the conflagration, adding another group of screams to the choir. “Stop! Hold ranks!” Savitz commanded, to middling effect. He began a charge forward through the smoke and fleeing men to the front of the column, but only made it halfway before his horse seized up beneath him and toppled over, throwing him hard into the dirt. The horse remained motionless on the ground for a moment, then suddenly regained its senses and ran off in the opposite direction.
The commander rolled to his knees, grasping the shoulder he landed on with a grimace. He took a moment to climb to his feet before stalking forward to stand in front of the men that remained in formation. “Damn you, Lux,” he shouted, enraged, “enough of these tricks! Quit being a coward and face me like a man!”
I closed the distance between us in a few seconds, stopping just far enough away to send a cloud of dust billowing over the commander. “I think you’ll come to regret that, sir.”
He coughed as the dirt settled over him in a fine layer. “Always so cocky,” he spat. “Whatever illusions of power you think you have will shatter, here and now. I defeated you in Atsal with a dozen men and took you prisoner. This time, you won’t be given that mercy.”
No mercy. My mouth curled into a grin at the thought. “You seem to have forgotten, Savitz. You didn’t beat me in Atsal; I gave myself up willingly when you threatened the life of an innocent girl. A habit you insist on upholding, it would seem.” I waved my hand at the burning carts behind him. “Do you honestly think you stand a chance against me now that you lack your trump card?”
“This perversion of the Primal Fire won’t save you against the full might of the Third Company,” he warned me sharply.
“How many of those men do I have to slaughter before you realize the mistake you’ve made?” I took a step forward and drew my sword from its sheath, pointing it at his face. “I’ll give you this warning only once: tell them to retreat, or I will massacre every man under your command.”
Savitz scoffed. “If you think I would retreat from—”
“Do NOT misunderstand me, commander,” I interrupted. “These are your last few minutes alive in this world. I am not giving you a chance to leave; only the men who follow you. You lost that right the moment you gave the order to murder Marin Sesaude.”
There was a soft click followed by a mechanical whirring somewhere to my right as a crossbow fired a bolt directly at my head. I slid deftly to one side, dodging the attack and turning to face my assailant in a single move, and was delighted to find one of the crossbowman who had shot Marin was the culprit. A bolt of energy raced out towards him, snaking up his body to the base of his neck where it burrowed through to his spine. With a flash of my sword the energy activated, and the man’s eyes rolled into the back of his head as his vertebrae shattered to dust.
The tenuous link I shared with the soldier through my mana immediately flared with the intense, familiar pain of the void. My scarred hand tingled with sudden energy, and the primal desire that lurked deep within my mind awoke for the first time since my fight in the Attetsian plaza. YES.
No. I withdrew my energy from the lifeless guard and used it to overwhelm the presence, forcing it back to the dark corner it had crept out of. You don’t get to control me anymore. The hunger disappeared as quickly as it had arrived, and my mind returned to a focused calm. The exchange was nearly instantaneous, and I took a moment to give the remaining bowmen a knowing look before I returned my attention to Savitz. “What, nothing to say in your defense?”
“I serve my King, and follow his orders without question.” The line was dull and hollow, an excuse most likely repeated far too often. “My orders are to kill you, and those who associate with you. No exceptions.”
“Listen to yourself, Savitz!” I yelled, letting my contempt for Virram bleed through into my voice. “I thought you were a good man once, but it’s clear I was wrong; you seem happy to serve the man who so easily orders the murder of his own innocent citizens. What the fuck has he done to earn such blind devotion?! Is it his name? The big chair he sits in? His fancy crown?” I reached down to my belt and unhooked the weaved golden circlet, placing it at a crooked angle on my head. “Will you listen to me now?”
He brandished his mace at me with a snarl. “Enough! I’ve endured your slander for far too long already.” Savitz let out a mighty bellow as he charged forward, swinging his mace with both hands. I lazily stepped aside and let him blow past me, stumbling over his momentum.
“Men of the Third Company!” I shouted to the remaining soldiers. “Your commander has failed you. He has put his own sense of honor above your lives.” Without turning to look I ducked beneath another attack, extending a leg backwards to hook Savitz’s foot and send him tumbling again. “There are people who need you back in Yoria. Do not throw your lives away for this man’s blind devotion. Instead, drop your weapons and run. Run back to your King and tell him that I will kill any and every man he sends against me.” The commander’s yells were increasingly frustrated as his attacks flew uselessly around my lithe form. “You have five seconds to decide.”
I spun to slap away another failed attack, then turned my head to stare intently at the front line of soldiers. “One!” I shouted in unison with the explosion of another troop transport. “Two!” Without warning, I whipped around and threw my sword into the crowd of frightened guards, impaling the second bowman who had shot Marin through the chest. “Three!” I recalled the blade and parried the commander’s mace, spinning the weapon out of his hand.
As I had hoped, the closest men threw their swords into the dirt and turned to sprint away. At the sight of the vanguard breaking ranks, others began to follow suit, and by the time I turned to confirm with my own eyes what my Detection had shown me, Savitz and I were alone. Disarmed and disheartened, he pulled a dagger from his belt and lashed out desperately at my throat. I caught the blade in my gauntleted hand and pulled it from his grip, then knocked him to the ground with a heavy blow to his injured shoulder.
After a few labored grunts of pain, he managed to climb to one knee. “Even if you kill me...your life is over. You can’t run from an entire kingdom.”
“That’s your mistake, Savitz,” I said, kneeling down to his level. “I’m not running anymore. I might be leaving the country, but I’m not running.” I placed a steadying hand on his shoulder. “Virram threatened my family: the people I love, and the only reason I have to live. On my life, I’ll burn your whole fucking kingdom to the ground if it’s necessary to keep them safe.”
He tipped his head up to meet my eyes, revealing a face set with disdain. “You don’t have the mettle. Behind all that bravado...you’re just a coward.”
In one swift motion, I flipped the dagger in my palm and stabbed him through the eye, embedding the blade deep within his skull. I let his body fall as I stood and brushed the dirt from my knee, then turned and sprinted away to find my family.
The Corells’ wagon appeared at the edge of my Detection after a few minutes of running, and I breathed a small sigh of relief. Marin was resting peacefully on a bedroll with her injury wrapped in makeshift bandages created from her ruined dress, which were clearly visible under what was clearly one of Marten’s shirts that she wore for modesty. Slightly more concerning was Lia who was also asleep against a stack of boxes, still holding the mana needle and both silver orbs I had given her. Hana sat between both girls with her hands in her lap, looking between them both at regular intervals with concern.
Marten had followed my orders well; the wagon sped across the countryside as fast as the horse could pull it, even as the sun began to disappear behind the horizon. If Lia had been awake, it would have been a simple matter of getting her attention through Detection and relaying the message to stop up to her father, but as things stood, I simply increased the mana to my enhancements and kept running. Hana and Marten deserve a real explanation for why their lives have been uprooted. With Marin and Lia both asleep, I guess tonight is as good a time as any.
When the wagon was finally within visual range, I shouted to get Marten’s attention. His head appeared around the side of the wagon momentarily, and it rattled to a halt a few seconds later. He jumped down from the driver’s bench and stood with his arms crossed at the back flap, waiting for me to arrive. Hana’s face appeared from behind the flap, and she smiled when she spotted me approaching. I skidded to a stop and put my hands on my knees, taking a moment to catch my breath and muse on the limits of my physical endurance. “Thanks for stopping, Marten. I was—”
With my enhancements still in full effect, I saw Marten’s punch coming with ample time to dodge away from the blow. I knew I deserved it after everything I had put him and his family through, so I activated my Pain Reduction and stayed in place, angling my head slightly to the side to lessen the chance of injuring my jaw. From the look of his form and the force with which his fist connected with my face, I could tell that Marten had at least some experience with fistfighting, and I made a mental note to ask him about it at a more appropriate time.
“Marten!” Hana exclaimed as she jumped down from the wagon. She grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him back, although it was clear he had already finished what he intended to do.
“It’s alright, Hana. I deserved that,” I said, rubbing my jaw reflexively.
“You’re damn right you did,” Marten remarked under his breath.
“That doesn’t matter!” Hana said sharply, scolding us both. “We can’t be fighting when we have soldiers following us!”
“There won’t be any soldiers. At least not tonight,” I explained. “I’ll keep watch, just to be sure, but I think we’re safe to pull the wagon off the road and rest for the night.”
Marten and Hana shared a quick series of subtle microexpressions that could only be developed over years of marriage, then looked back to me and nodded in sync. Marten returned to the front of the cart, while Hana motioned for me to follow her. “Lux, I’m worried about Lia. She was helping me tend to Marin’s injuries, but she passed out suddenly after fiddling with the strange device you handed her.”
I winced at the mental image. “That would be my fault. I’m sorry if I’ve caused you worry; Lia is perfectly fine, apart from being overtired. I’ll do what I can to make sure she recovers quickly.” I stepped in through the cloth flaps and lowered a hand to help her up after me. “If Lia passed out, that means that you treated Marin’s wounds yourself, correct?”
“That’s right,” she answered softly. “The cut on her arm should heal without issue, but I’m worried about the wound to her chest. Lia told me she would heal it once the bolt was removed, but she fainted before she had a chance to do so.”
My face paled as I realized the severity of Marin’s condition far later than I should have. Upon closer inspection, I could see that her fresh bandages were already beginning to soak through with blood, and her caramel skin had a sickly pallor. “You did a good job wrapping this,” I murmured to Hana absentmindedly as I traced the makeshift bandages with my finger. “She’d be a lot worse off right now without your help.”
I let out a slow breath and closed my eyes as I channeled mana down my arm to inspect the damage beneath her wrapping. Marin had been extremely lucky, apart from being shot in the first place; the bolt had entered a mere two inches away from both her heart and her lung, avoiding any life threatening injuries. The squared metal head had left a notch in the side of her collarbone where it had initially impacted, and I felt a pang of guilt as I finished my assessment. I should’ve just told you to leave.
The healing rune inside my ring flashed, and a thin trail of sparkling green energy wound out from beneath her bandages and made its way towards her injured arm. Her bolt wound began to stitch itself together from the bottom up, removing any trace of the injury. I felt the gap in her collarbone fill itself in with new bone, and then the drain on my mana halted as the spell completed. Opening my eyes, I reached for the knot at the top of her shoulder and gently tugged it loose.
Hana sucked in a loud breath behind me as I began to unwind the bandage, but she made no move to stop me. With the tight strip of cloth removed, I peeled back the soiled pad of fabric that had pressed against the wound, letting out a sigh of relief when my eyes confirmed what my mana had shown me. Apart from the excessive amount of half-dried blood that stained her bare chest, there was no other indication she had ever been hurt. I quickly buttoned the top button of the overlarge shirt she wore, then sat back against a crate.
“A miracle from the Prime of Life,” Hana intoned with an awed whisper, checking over Marin’s condition herself.
“No, nothing like that,” I said, waving her away, “it was just a…” I trailed off, remembering the first conversation in which I had told Lia that all magic wasn’t a divine blessing. I don’t need that on top of everything else. “Uhm, regardless of what it was, Marin will be fine. She’s still missing a lot of blood, so we’ll have to make sure she drinks plenty of water and eats well over the course of our trip.”
The wagon rumbled forward slowly as Marten pulled ahead, and after a minute of travel found a flat spot sufficient to hold us for the night. Before I left the wagon, I knelt down to check on Lia. Her hands were still clutched tightly around the mana needle and orbs, one of which was half full with a dull orange liquid. I gently extricated the equipment and returned it to my bandolier.
Observing her through Detection was a disquieting sight; her warm, golden aura was entirely absent, leaving her as a greyscale body against the neon backdrop of my mind. The rise and fall of her chest was easily noticeable, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that she looked like a corpse. I put a hand to her cheek to brush away a loose strand of hair and found her skin warm, which comforted me enough to move on with the night’s business. I knew that without my intervention, she would most likely sleep for at least a day, if not longer; for the time being, the fact was a blessing.
I followed Hana out into the roadside clearing. It was a clear, cold night as the sky faded from dark purple to black, and the moon hung low and full, providing us with ample light to work: Marten hitched the horse to a nearby tree, Hana sorted through a small bag of food to prepare us dinner, and I pulled three crates from the wagon to use as seats. We all came together when our jobs were complete, and ate a quiet meal of road provisions. I removed my sword belt and the heavy gauntlets I had taken from the King’s Strength, placing them carefully on the ground before settling into a cross-legged position on my crate to wait for the questions to come.
Marten was the first to break the silence. “So,” he said, drawing out the word as he stared into his tin cup of thin ale. The clearing around us faded back into silence as he failed to finish his thought.
“You can ask me anything,” I prodded, “either of you. Rest assured, Lia already knows everything there is to know about me. She hasn’t been traveling with a stranger this whole time, I promise.” I looked between the two of them. “I’ll answer any question you ask honestly. Whether you choose to believe me is entirely up to you.”
Another moment passed as they both considered the information. “It’s been clear you aren’t actually from Doram since we first met,” Hana said eventually. “We didn’t press the issue before, but...I’d like to know now.”
“That’s right. I’m not actually from anywhere, at least in this world.” Hana and Marten’s eyebrows raised in unison. “About a week before Lia was taken, I appeared outside the walls of Yoria. I can’t explain how or why it happens exactly, apart from the fact that I have almost no control over it happening. Counting where I was born, this is the fourth world I’ve been to.”
Hana didn’t flinch at the unbelievable story. “How long will you be in our world before you leave again?”
“Using my last two experiences as a guide, I would say somewhere between seven and eighty years.”
“Eighty?” she asked, incredulously. “How old are you, Lux?”
“If I’m correct in my assumptions, I’m twenty seven years old again. However, if you count all of the time I’ve been alive in other worlds, I’m well over one hundred by now.” The stunned silence brought on by the fact gave me an opportunity to continue uninterrupted. “My real name isn’t Lux, by the way, although I would prefer if you continue to use it to address me. My birth name is Elden Graham, though I haven’t gone by that name for a long time.”
Hana gave me a small nod. “How did you heal Marin’s injury? Do you have a special connection to the Primes?”
“Err, no, I don’t,” I said, scratching the back of my head as an excuse to look away and plan my next words more carefully. “Every world I’ve been sent to has had magic in some form, but each one has had a different way of interacting with it. In your world, it’s through prayer to the Primes, but that isn’t the only way. My past experiences give me a...unique perspective on magic, which has allowed me to learn some incredible things.”
“Is that why the King put you in jail, and sent his men after you? Because of your abilities?”
“Yes, and no,” I said, tilting my head. “I was originally imprisoned for defending myself against a pair of robbers in the city. Between that, and the means of my escape from the dungeon, the King decided I would be a useful tool he could use to solve problems in an ‘off the record’ capacity.” My eyes fell as I continued. “Unfortunately, his efforts to persuade me to work for him included threatening you. Which is why we’re in the situation we’re in now. Which I’m very sorry about.”
“Everything that we’ve gone through in the past month happened because you chose to save Lia,” Hana said softly. “While it’s true that your actions brought us to this situation, our family would be much worse off without you. Given the opportunity to make your choices again, I hope you would make the same decisions.”
“Thanks, Hana. That means a lot.” I coughed away the beginnings of an emotional lump in my throat, then looked at Marten. “You’ve been uncharacteristically quiet tonight, Marten. You must have something you want to know.”
“She’s the real brains of the operation,” he said, tipping his head towards Hana. “I’ve only got one question for you: what are your intentions with our daughter?”
I couldn’t help but smile; despite being told that I had amazing magical powers and had lived multiple lives, his biggest concern was still his daughter’s happiness. “I made Lia a promise that I would take her to see the world, and I plan to keep it. Wherever she wants to go, whatever will make her happy...that’s what will make me happy. For as long as she’ll have me, anyway.”
“You know, there’s a word for that,” Marten said, arching an eyebrow at me. “Marriage.”
I chuckled. “I was married once, two lifetimes ago. Amaya was a wonderful woman.” A wave of nostalgia washed over me, and I had to fight off the urge to watch my memories with her in my head for the thousandth time. “I hope she’s still out there, somewhere. I never got a chance to say goodbye before I was sent to a different world.”
Even in the silvery moonlight, I saw Marten’s face turn deathly pale. “Lux, I’m...I’m sorry. If I had known, I would never have given you such a hard time before. I’m—”
“No, wait,” I cut him off, waving my hands, “I wasn’t trying to make you feel bad! It’s just...whenever I think of her, back in her world, I just want to know that she’s happy, whatever that means. I want to know that she isn’t bitter and lonely like I was, and that she found someone that loves her.” I laughed suddenly, taken aback by how foolish I had been. “Knowing all that, I never even considered giving myself the same option. I thought it would tarnish her memory if I found my own happiness that didn’t include her. But that’s not what she would want; she would want me to be loved, too. It took me far too long to realize that I should honor her memory by finding that love, and being happy in the present.”
I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand before the tears that had formed could fall. “I guess that was a rather long winded way of saying yes; I don’t know the customs of Kaldan, but I intend to marry your daughter.” A warm, fuzzy feeling spread outwards from my chest, and a wide smile spread across my face. “She doesn’t know that yet, though. That’s a conversation for after things settle down a bit.”
Hana crossed the space between us and pulled me into a tight hug. “We would be honored to have you join our family.”
Marten followed up close behind her. “Not that we don’t consider you family already,” he chuckled, clapping me on the shoulder. “I knew you were a good man the first time we met, Lux. I know you’ll make Lia happy.”
“Thanks, both of you,” I said, returning Hana’s hug. The strength and warmth of her motherly love washed over me, and I realized I had come to desperately miss the feeling of safety and belonging it gave me; I had lost the last of the real memories of my birth family decades ago, and had rationalized away their importance to compensate. I lingered in her arms for a few seconds longer, then pulled away and stood up from my crate.
“I’d appreciate it if you would keep what we talked about between us. Lia knows everything already, but Marin doesn’t. For her sake, I’d like to keep it that way,” I explained.
“Of course,” Hana answered. “Your secrets are safe with us.”
Marten nodded in agreement, then took his wife’s hand. “It might not feel like it now, but you saved us again today, Lux. Thank you for keeping my family safe.” He wiggled his eyebrows at me. “Or, should I say, our family?”
“Our family,” I replied with a smile. “Speaking of keeping us safe, I’m going to go walk a patrol around camp. Not that I think we’re in any danger, just...old habits, I suppose.”
“I’ll clear you a space to sleep in the wagon before you get back,” Hana offered.
“No need; I’m going to keep watch tonight,” I said, reequipping my belt and gauntlets. “I can sleep while we travel during the day. At least, once Lia is awake. I’ll be much more comfortable knowing someone is always watching our perimeter.”
Hana looked concerned, but she didn’t press the issue. We said our final goodnights and parted ways; they returned to their wagon, while I walked out to the road to begin my wide lap around the camp. Although it was true that I was more comfortable keeping watch, my real motivation for going on patrol was to spend some time alone with my thoughts. The events of the past day were almost too innumerable to process, and I had a hard time believing they hadn’t played out over the course of a week instead of twelve hours.
I walked until the wagon was out of sight, obscured by a small thicket of trees, then sat down in the center of the road. The night had turned particularly cold after sunset, and I wrapped the warming cloth of my cloak tighter to fight off the chill. After a few seconds of fidgeting to get comfortable, I took a deep breath and expanded the small radius of Detection I was holding outwards with a burst of energy. The world quickly grew to a vast circle of glowing lights, and I lost myself among the details.
When my mind was settled comfortably after the influx of information from my surroundings, I began to sort through my memories with as much reason and calm as I could muster. Val betrayed us. It was an unfair assessment of the situation rooted in emotion; based on what Virram had said, Val had kept her word and left out the specific details that would have caused us trouble, but the information had reached the King through other sources. She had clearly been conflicted about carrying out Virram’s order, and although I had no evidence to prove it, it seemed as though she had ordered her men to attack me to protect Lia. Had the orders been reversed, the other Trinity Guards would have quickly overwhelmed Lia without my intervention.
Savitz tried to kill Marin. It was difficult to reconcile my idea of Savitz against the actions he had taken. All of the interactions Lia and I had with him during our imprisonment were surprisingly pleasant, and he had shown some modicum of compassion for us despite the clear disgust his men viewed us with. However, his actions began to make sense when I took Virram into consideration; Savitz had no reason to doubt whatever terrible stories the King had told him about us, and the dead Trinity Guards in the throne room combined with the shattered sigil window would back up any atrocities we were purported to have committed. It was possible that Savitz had taken the attack personally, believing that I had betrayed the trust he had initially put in me, and had used the emotion to justify the orders Virram had given him.
Virram threatened Lia’s parents. The thought sat unanswered as I tried to approach it from different angles, searching for some rational reasoning. No. There’s no justification for that. Through his actions, Virram had shown that his actions weren’t taken for the good of his country, but for the good of his own self-interest. Planning an invasion of his own capitol, sending his most dedicated guard away to her potential death, using his subjects as leverage; there was no explanation that would make his actions excusable.
I took a deep breath to recenter myself before moving on. I’m going to ask Lia to marry me. Just as it was a struggle to keep my anger from flaring up when thinking about Virram, it was similarly challenging to hold back my tingling excitement about the prospect of marrying Lia. I knew that I would have to find a time to talk with Hana in private to learn the Kaldanic marriage traditions, and what would be expected of me both in terms of my proposal and as a husband. It was strange to be thinking so specifically of the future after the morning had held so much uncertainty, but the feeling of hope was much more enjoyable than the usual lingering anxiety I held in the back of my mind.
While it was a simple exercise to identify the proper responses to the day’s events, it was a much more difficult task to accept them. Whenever Val’s face appeared in my memories, I couldn’t shake the feeling of betrayal that burned deep within my gut, and despite the clear necessity of my actions, I was still saddened by Savitz’s death. The only constant that remained clear in my mind was my hatred of King Virram, and even still, I felt conflicted; while it would have been the ultimate catharsis to finally kill him for what he had put me through, I knew that the innocent citizens of Kaldan would end up suffering more than I had for his death. I will not be made a kingslayer again.
Movement in the wagon refocused my attention on the real world, and I looked to find Marten and Hana carefully stepping around Marin and Lia as they rose for the day. I cracked one eye open and was surprised to find the sky vibrant and pink on the horizon; while I was sure I had been conscious for the entire night, my perception of time was clearly warped by my intense meditation. There was a persistent ache in my knees as I stood up from my cross legged position in the dirt, and I went through a long series of stretches before returning to the camp.
Before I could join the Corell’s for breakfast, a loud shriek rang out from the back of the wagon. I dashed ahead and lunged inside just in time to see Marin writhing backwards in panic, clawing at the spot where the bolt had pierced her chest. Her eyes scanned around the wagon absent of recognition as her mind struggled to reconcile her last memories with her current situation.
“Marin,” I called out to her, raising my hands in a calming motion, “you’re alright. You’re safe.”
The words seemed to take a few seconds to cut through her daze, and she ripped open the button up shirt to examine her wound. Despite the copious amounts of dried blood on her chest, her probing fingers found the skin unmarred by cuts or scars. She blinked hard, pressing on the spot she no doubt expected to give way to a gaping wound, then looked up to meet my eyes. “Lux? I-I...where…”
“You’re safe,” I repeated, stepping closer. “You’re in the Corells’ wagon, far away from anybody who wants to hurt you. I healed your wounds; you’re going to be okay.”
Her large, olive eyes filled with tears, and she half lunged, half collapsed towards me. I caught her before she toppled to the floor and gently leaned back against a crate, rubbing her back in slow circles. Her hands wrapped around my neck as she cried wordlessly in my chest. After a while the sobbing grew quiet, and she tipped her face up towards mine. “I asked the commander...why he had brought so many men,” she managed to say through her sniffling. “I asked him...to get my sister. She would tell him you weren’t bad. But he just left, and then his men...shot me.”
“Yes,” I said sadly. “It was my fault. They were there for me, and I sent you out to talk to them instead. It was a selfish, stupid mistake. I hope you can forgive me.”
“Forgive you?” she asked, confused. “You saved me. I barely had time to figure out what had happened before you showed up and took me away.” Her eyes scanned my face, full of fear and confusion; it was clear that she was still trying to process the incident as she spoke. “I owe you my life. When you brought me back to the wagon, Lia tried to…” She trailed off and swiveled her head around to look at Lia. “Oh! Is she—”
“She’s fine,” I assured her. “Just out of energy. She tried to heal you, but she passed out before she could finish the job. I took care of your wounds as soon as I got back from...dealing with Savitz and his men.”
“My wounds,” she said absentmindedly, drawing back one of her hands to trace her finger along her collarbone once again. “How did you…” her voice faded out as she looked down to observe the healed flesh. She let out a high-pitched yelp as she hopped to her feet and quickly pulled her shirt closed, turning to hide her face.
“I’ll, uhm, I’ll go get Hana to help you clean up,” I offered. Marin nodded vigorously in reply, still looking away. With an awkward nod, I stood and made my way out of the wagon, where I found Hana waiting anxiously at the back flap. “Oh, good, you’re here. Marin is awake, and I think she’d like to get rinsed off and dressed in some more...fitting clothes.”
“Of course,” Hana replied. “Did you happen to find any water while you were patrolling last night? That would make things much easier.”
“I didn’t, but I can still help you on that front,” I said, pulling a silver orb from the last canister on my bandolier. I pushed the needle through the skin and depressed the button, and the orb immediately began to swell. Once it was the size of my palm, I cut the flow of energy and returned the needle to its proper place. “This is full of clean water. If you place it in a bucket and cut the skin, it should give you more than enough to get her cleaned up, but let me know if you need more.”
Hana stared at the dull silver globe with wonderment, then grinned. “Thank you, Lux.” She took the orb and entered the wagon, returning a moment later with Marin, a bucket full of water, and a handful of clean cloth. The pair made their way through camp and into the nearby thicket of trees, where they disappeared from view.
With Marin taken care of, I climbed into the wagon once again and returned to Lia’s side. I caressed her cheek as mana ran down my fingers, spreading out across her body. As opposed to when I had first checked on her, a faint amber glow glimmered in her core, albeit in a strange form; whereas her mana was usually buzzing radiantly throughout her body, the new energy was tightly wound and concentrated entirely in her gut. It was a fascinating discovery that warranted future investigation, but I had a more pressing theory to test first.
My mana suffused through her body without resistance, rapidly approaching the concentrated energy in her core. When the two fronts met, I felt an electric rush in my spine, and the defined lines that separated our bodies blurred in my mind. Lia’s eyes flicked open, and she stared at me with a warm smile.
“Hey there,” we said in unison. She laughed as she slowly propped herself up on her elbows. “I passed out, didn’t I?”
“Yeah, you did,” I answered. “It’s mostly my fault. I should have warned you that the needle uses a lot more mana than the spells you’re used to.”
“That would have been nice to know, yes,” she said with a pronounced huff. “Is Marin okay?”
“She’s fine. Aside from losing some blood, she’s as healthy as ever.” I sat on the floor and put an arm around her shoulders, pulling her in close. “How are you feeling?”
“Weird,” she admitted. “I’m tired, but also wired at the same time? I know I should be tired, but your energy is...different than mine. My body knows I should be sleeping to get my mana back, but it’s using yours to compensate, maybe? I don’t really know how to explain it.”
“No, I get what you mean,” I said. Although I couldn’t find the right words to describe it, I felt what she was feeling in real time. The two energies were distinct inside her body, both fueling different processes in different ways. Having seen the mana that was stored in Val’s shield, I had theorized that the same principle could potentially work for transferring energy to another person, but I hadn’t found an appropriate time to test the idea.
It took a few seconds of mental experimentation to find a way to sever the connection to the mana I had stored in Lia’s body; although I had cast magic at a distance multiple times, there appeared to be a distinct difference between activating the mana stored in an object and simply leaving it there. I felt my stomach drop as if the floor had been pulled out from beneath me when the connection to my extended energy broke. Lia appeared to feel it too, and she let out a soft groan as our consciousnesses separated. “What just happened?” she asked, leaning her head against my shoulder. “I felt your presence fade out, but your mana is still here. It’s...disorienting.”
“That’s a good sign, I think,” I answered, scratching the side of my head. “I left you some of my mana. Whether or not you’ll be able to control it in a helpful way, I have no clue.” I peered down at her out of the corner of my eye with a grin. “It’s uncharted territory for me, but given your record, I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”
“Well...I’m still awake,” she said, holding a hand out in front of her face and flexing her fingers. “That’s good enough for now.”
“About that: do you think you could keep watch for a while? I’d like to get at least a few hours of sleep while we travel today,” I asked. I stifled a yawn as the exhaustion I had held at bay all night began to creep back over my mind. “No pressure, of course; I can stay up until you’re at full strength if you aren’t feeling up to it.”
“Oh, sure. You don’t sound tired at all,” she teased, poking at my face. “I’ll be fine. I should get up anyway; I’m beginning to understand why you ate so much on the way back from Attetsia.” As if to illustrate her point, her stomach let out a loud yowl.
“If you’re sure,” I said, giving her shoulders a squeeze. I shifted to the bedroll where she had been asleep moments before while she prepared for the day. “Wake me up if there’s any trouble. Or if you need me for anything. Or if you get particularly bored.”
She laughed and kissed me on the top of my head. “Go to sleep. We’ll be fine.”
“Alright,” I replied, slowly lowering myself to the floor. “I love you.”
“I love you,” she echoed sweetly before turning to exit the wagon. I closed my eyes feeling safe and content, and was asleep before Lia made it to camp.
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!