“I don’t like your plan, Lux,” Marten grumbled.
“Which part specifically? The part where you stay safe in the wagon, or the part where we all escape to Lybesa?” While it seemed suicidal from an outside perspective, the plan I had laid out for our approach on the Mountain Gate was simple in my mind; Lia and I were to ride out ahead of the wagon and take down the Kaldanic forces entrenched at the gate, while Marin would take advantage of the chaos and drive straight through, unseen and unharassed.
“The part where you take my daughter into the middle of a fortified army!” he exclaimed in frustration. “I know you’re a skilled fighter, and you’ve trained Marlia well, but what you’re suggesting isn’t possible. We can find another way into Lybesa.”
“Oh, stop it!” Lia complained loudly. “You know better than anyone that the only way into Lybesa is through the Gate. Unless you want to throw away your wagon, your horse, and all of our belongings just so you can die trying to cross the Maw on foot, we’re going through the Mountain Gate!”
“I would gladly give up everything I own if it means keeping you safe,” he shot back. “Besides, there are other ways through the Maw. I know a group of traders in Bale that make the trip twice a season; they would help us, I know it.”
I shook my head. “The longer we stay in Kaldan, the more dangerous things get for us. It gives the military more time to block any other exits to the country that might exist, and more time to find us.” I tapped the edge of the wanted posters that sat on the floor with my foot. “Besides, with the amount of money our heads are worth, we can’t take the chance to trust anybody.”
His face contracted with annoyance, and he uncrossed his arms to point at me. “You need to admit you’re not infallible. I don’t care how much confidence you have, you can’t take out a prepared military encampment by yourselves.”
Lia leaned forward, pointing a finger of her own back at him. “No, YOU need to admit you’re too cowardly to take the risks we need to—”
“That’s ENOUGH!” Hana yelled as she stood up and moved between the two. I shrunk back at her intensity; having never heard her voice go louder than a laugh, the power she suddenly exuded was intimidating. “Marlia, take a walk and cool off.” The two locked eyes for a tense moment before Lia threw up her hands and hopped out of the still-moving wagon, muttering under her breath as she went.
After another few seconds of heavy silence, Hana crossed the wagon and sat down on the box beside mine where Lia had been. “Marten, you know Lux is right.”
His mouth fell agape at the declaration. “I do NOT know Lux is right!”
“Yes, you do. We need to leave the country as soon as possible, and this is the only way to do it.” She turned to me with a serious expression. “Based on what you told us, you’re keeping Lia away from the bulk of the fighting on purpose, aren’t you?”
Her shrewd analysis surprised me. “Yes, that’s right. If I’m being honest, I would rather carry out this plan alone, but Lia would never allow it. If I factor her into the plans, at least I can try to keep her where the fighting will be at its least dangerous.” I paused for a moment, considering whether I had said too much. “Please don’t tell her I said that.”
She nodded. “You’re confident you can do this?”
“Yes. I’ll need to do some scouting to make a specific plan, but I have no doubt in my mind that I can keep us all safe.” I looked each of them in the eyes. “I swear that I’ll do what it takes to keep our family safe, whatever the cost. You’ll all get through that gate alive and unharmed. You have my word.”
Hana looked at Marten expectantly, and he recrossed his arms and looked away. “Fine. I still don’t like it, though.”
I moved to make my case again, but Hana put a hand on my arm and shook her head. “You should go check on Lia. He’ll be fine.”
“Good idea,” I agreed as I stood to leave. “Thank you. Both of you. I know this isn’t easy, but I promise it’ll be over soon.” Hana smiled, then moved back to sit beside Marten as I climbed out of the wagon into the snow. The twilight sky was filled with low, heavy clouds, and the surrounding fields were dark. Despite that, Lia was easy to locate via a clear set of footsteps leading away to a thicket of trees and a consistent mix of thuds and scrapes from somewhere inside.
As I wove through the trees, I was greeted suddenly by a snowball to the face. The cold snow stung against my cheeks, and I wiped away the lingering crystals to find Lia standing at the center of a clearing with a sly grin. “Sorry,” she called out unapologetically, “I thought you might have been my father.”
The Detection magic I felt from her confirmed the lie and brought a grin to my face. “Apology accepted,” I answered with a roll of my eyes as I approached. “You seem...less angry than I thought you’d be.”
She shrugged and kicked at the snow, looking away. “I shouldn’t have yelled at him. I guess I just forgot that all of this,” she paused to gesture in a vague circle with her hand, “isn’t normal. Plus, he isn’t scared for himself; he’s worried about the rest of us.” She crouched down and formed another snowball, then lobbed it at a tree with multiple snowy impacts already covering the trunk. “I’ll apologize when we go back.”
I made a snowball of my own and hit the tree next to hers. “That’s a very—”
“Don’t even think about saying mature,” she interrupted loudly with raised eyebrows.
I laughed, raising my hands in admission. “You’re right, you’re right.” Holding the edge of my cloak in each hand, I stepped forward and hugged her, wrapping her in the warming fabric. “You’re not the same girl that was brought down into the dungeons anymore.”
Her arms wrapped around my waist. “And you’re not the same prisoner that broke me out.”
“I suppose you’re right,” I said, nuzzling my face into the top of her head. “Thanks for that.”
“You’re welcome,” she answered with a giggle. We stood together in the field for a time, quietly enjoying each other’s warmth until Lia broke the silence. “Are you sure we can do this?”
“Yes, I am,” I replied confidently. “They have no idea what we’re capable of, and I’m going to show them.” After a final squeeze, I took a step back and looked at her with determination. “After tomorrow, they’ll never try to harm our family again.” She gave me a small nod, but her downcast eyes told me there was more on her mind. “Are you scared?”
“No. Well, yes, but that’s not…” she trailed off as her brow furrowed in deep thought. “There’s always a chance that something could go wrong tomorrow, but I know we’re strong enough to get through it together.” She reached out and took my right hand in both of hers, holding it out gently between us. “I’m worried about you. Are you going to be okay? Are you going to stay...you?”
My heart sank as I saw a spark of fear in her eyes. “Lia...I can’t make you that promise, because I don’t understand all of this myself. If I had a choice, I would never use that power again.” I looked away, full of shame as the memories of my rampage in the plaza filled my mind. “I can promise you this, though: No matter what happens, I’ll always come back. As long as you’re around, I’ll never be lost for long. I know it’s not enough, but it’s what I can—”
She lunged forward and hugged me tightly, knocking me back a step. “I’ll always be here to bring you back. Always.”
I fought back against the lump that formed in my throat as I embraced her back. “Thank you,” I whispered. I waited until I felt confident my voice wouldn’t break before speaking again. “Just one more day until we’re rid of this place. One more hurdle between us and the rest of our lives.”
Lia looked up at me with a smile. “Nothing is going to stop us now. You still owe me my adventures; the Primes themselves couldn’t stop me from getting those now.” I saw Marten and Hana emerge from the wagon through my Detection as they began to prepare for dinner, and judging by the apprehensive expression on Lia’s face, she saw it too. “I guess I should go apologize now.”
“The sooner the better, I think,” I replied. I could still feel the anxiety through her extended mana, and I formulated a quick plan to cheer her up. “I’ll stay here to give you a few minutes of privacy. Good luck,” I said, giving her a reassuring pat on the shoulder. She took a deep breath, then nodded and turned to head back towards camp. When she was a few steps away, I crouched down and silently packed a snowball, then stood and threw it at the back of her head. It exploded with a satisfying spray of snow and left her black hair shimmering with icy crystals.
Her head whipped back to look at me and sent another flurry of snow from her hair to the ground. Her mouth was open in surprise, and her eyes burned with a playful fire. “What?” I asked, hiding my hands behind my back. “To be fair, you started it.” In response, she charged across the field and dove towards me, tackling me to the ground. With remarkable speed and efficiency she mounted my chest, using her knees to pin my arms to the ground, then scooped up a large handful of snow which she unceremoniously dumped on my face.
“Alright, okay, I yield!” I sputtered through the onslaught of snow. When I finally managed to sneak an arm out from beneath her knee and brush off my face, the back of my neck and the hood of my cloak were soaked with melted snow. She leaned back and let out a triumphant laugh; the movement shifted her center of gravity enough to allow me to rock her forward into my arms and flip her onto her back, reversing our positions in mere moments. I paused with my face and chest suspended just a few inches above hers. “You know, I could dump snow in your face too, but I’m choosing not to because I’m such—”
My sarcastic remarks were interrupted as she stretched up and kissed me. For a brief moment I forgot how we had ended up entangled on the ground, or what waited for us in the future; the only thing that mattered was her lips pressed against mine, her hands running through my hair, and the radiating warmth of her body beneath me. My mind threatened to shut down entirely as I felt her aura intermingling with mine, and her consciousness filtered into my head and sent another wave of overwhelming emotion through me.
I managed to break away from her long enough to catch my breath and laugh. “I think you should, uhm…” I trailed off, distracted by her suddenly sultry eyes and wicked grin. Shaking my head, I wedged my arms under her shoulders and flipped us over once again, landing on my back with her resting comfortably on my chest. “What were you going to do, again?”
“I can’t remember, I got distracted,” she said with a breathless voice before leaning in for another kiss. I laughed again, and felt her lips smile against mine. My worries about our inevitable encounter at the Mountain Gate seemed so small and insignificant against the mountainous love I felt for her. Whatever soldiers waited for us, or whatever preparations they had made, or whatever darkness sat dormant within me waiting for its next chance to take over, didn’t matter: our bond would shatter them all.
I pushed us up into a sitting position, then sprang to my feet, carrying her up with me. I spun her around in a final, tight embrace, then set her down to stand in front of me. “You should go apologize to your father now.”
She looked at me with an overexaggerated pout, her cheeks flushed. “You’re the worst, you know that?”
“That wasn’t the impression I just got,” I said, motioning down to our imprints in the snow.
It looked as though she were going to respond with another wry comment, but she instead just laughed and shook her head. “I love you.”
“I love you,” I echoed. “Now go on, back to camp with you. I promise I’ll come back at the opportune moment if you look like you’re in trouble.”
“You’d better!” she called out as she moved to the edge of the clearing. She hesitated at the treeline, glancing back at me one last time before she disappeared from view.
I’m going to marry that girl. The thought brought a wide smile to my face as I strolled to a nearby tree to lean and wait for Lia’s apology to be over.
You shouldn’t lie to the poor girl like that, Elden. The cold, brutal voice of Amaya echoed through my head and sent a chill down my spine. Now you’ve gone and got her hopes up. I stood frozen in place, clenching my jaw in a furious silence. The world was quiet for a long moment before her voice cut through my mind again. Ignoring me doesn’t mean I’m wrong.
What the fuck do you think you know? I didn’t lie to her. It was infuriating that, of all possible times, the presence would show up when I had a rare moment of joy. You don’t know a thing about me, so you can fuck off with your advice. Preferably forever.
A cacophonous laugh made up of hundreds of voices thundered through my head, all bitter and cruel. I know you better than anybody, Elden. You’re not the kind of person who gets to be satisfied with a happy ending, and you know it.
No. You’re wrong. It’s going to be different this time, and I’ll kill anybody who tries to get in my way. Even you.
The voice changed again, and I heard the familiar sound of Kel sighing at me. Three lives lived, and still so naive. You’ll figure it out soon enough, though, and when you’re begging me to come back and help you...well, maybe I’ll consider it. You’ve been rather rude today.
As quickly as it had arrived, the presence vanished. I let out the breath I had been unconsciously holding over the course of the conversation and gasped for fresh air. It’s not true. I can do it. I can live a normal life. I can be happy. The next few minutes passed slowly as I took deep, measured breaths in an effort to settle my shaken mind and tense body. I can do it. I can do it. I can be happy.
Off at camp, I saw Lia stand from her seat by the fire and hug Marten, and I took it as my cue to return. The smiles were wide around the camp as I approached, and Hana waved me over. “Thank you,” she said quietly, as to not be heard on the opposite side of the fire. “Whatever you said to Marlia certainly had an effect.”
“Oh, no thanks necessary,” I answered. “She was already determined to apologize before I found her.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “Was she, now?” Her head tilted to one side as she watched her daughter with loving eyes. “She’s certainly grown into a lovely young woman lately, hasn’t she? So confident and mature.”
“Yeah, about that,” I chuckled. “You may not want to bring that up to her. I can tell you from experience that a comment about her maturity has a funny way of bringing out her immaturity.”
“Duly noted,” Hana laughed. “I suppose I should thank you for that as well. She’s never been as full of life as she has been after meeting you. You changed her life in a way nobody else could have.”
“I’m not so sure,” I admitted. “Don’t get me wrong, I love her, but…” Hana’s ears perked up at the mention of love, but she remained quiet and allowed me to continue, “...I have to wonder if she would have been better off without me. If I hadn’t made so many promises, or left after she was home safe, you all could have lived your lives without all of this. No matter what I do, death and hardships seem to follow me wherever I go.”
“Whatever we face tomorrow, or the next day, or the next hundred days, will have been worth it to see that smile,” she said with a nod to Lia, who was laughing loudly with her father. “There was nothing in Tolamar for Lia. Her potential was wasted on us; as much as we loved to have her home, we knew it wasn’t enough for her. After all of the rejected proposals, it was clear she was waiting for something, so we let her wait.” She turned to me and gave me a thorough look up and down. “I’m glad we did.”
My cheeks burned as I looked away. “Thank you, Hana. I needed to hear that.” A sudden thought took hold of me, and I turned to her excitedly and lowered my voice even further. “I just remembered that I wanted to ask you about Kaldanic marriage customs! I’m not sure what I should—”
“Lux!” Marin chirped loudly from her seat beside Lia. “I just finished dinner, come get it while it’s hot!”
I staved off a grimace and gave her a thankful smile. “We can discuss that later,” Hana whispered in my ear, “once our lives have settled down.” I gave her a small nod, then walked across camp to accept my dinner.
In spite of the danger waiting for us at the Mountain Gate, the meal we shared together was full of carefree conversation and laughter. Marten and Hana shared stories from Lia’s childhood, which were interrupted often and loudly with corrections from Lia. Marin joined in with more stories about her time in Attetsia with Daeron, further illustrating his ineptitude in all areas of life in an overly comical fashion. To my own surprise, I shared a few choice moments from my adventures with Lia from our day trip through Atsal.
The night stretched on as we continued to talk, lit by a full moon in the cloudless sky above and our slowly dying fire. Lia had dozed off with her arm intertwined with mine and her head against my shoulder, and Marin looked ready to follow her lead at any moment. Marten was finishing a particularly circuitous story about a merchant he met in Bale that had tried to swindle him out of a delivery fee. “...and so I packed up my wagon, waved goodbye, and took it all back with me without another word! Found another buyer in Yoria that was willing to pay in full,” he finished with a hearty laugh.
Hana nodded and patted him gently on the knee, her eyes glistening with a faraway quality that told me she had heard the story plenty of times before. She let out a loud yawn and stretched her arms over her head, bumping Marten intently with her shoulder. The signal was clearly received as he stood and held out a hand to help her up. “I suppose it’s time for us to leave you for the night,” he sighed. “We won’t want to be yawning tomorrow.”
“Thank you for the company,” Hana added. “It was nice to forget what’s waiting for us in the morning.”
“Well, I suppose we’ll have to do it again tomorrow night, then,” I responded with a grin. “We’ll all have quite the story to tell after that, I imagine.”
My voice woke Marin, whose forehead had dipped down to rest against the side of my arm. She looked up at me with sleep filled eyes, blinking slowly as she attempted to remember where she was. “This way, dear,” Hana called to her, waving towards the wagon. Marin nodded and stood to follow along behind them, but paused to give me a soft pat on the head before leaving without further comment. I grinned as I watched the group disappear into the back of the wagon before turning back to Lia, who had managed to fully fall asleep against my shoulder.
I brushed a stray strand of hair from her face as I spoke into her ear. “I think you’ll be more comfortable sleeping in the wagon than on my arm.”
Her eyes flitted open, and she smiled as she met my eyes. “Oh, Lux. I was just having such a nice dream. We were at the inn we stayed at in Attetsia, and everybody was there. You and me, my parents, Marin, and...Val. Everybody was drinking and having fun.” She paused as her eyebrows furrowed. “Do you think we’ll ever see her again?”
“If I ever see you again, I’ll kill you. Make sure that doesn’t happen.” The memory of my last words to Val echoed in my head, and I held back a grimace. “I don’t know.” Her eyes fell, and I rubbed her back in comforting circles. “I’ll say this, though; fate seems to have an odd sense of humor when it comes to me. It seems unlikely, but it’s not impossible, either.” I stood up and offered her a hand. “Now, let’s get you to bed.”
I walked her to the wagon and said my goodnights, then returned to the lonely campfire. One small kick of dirt and snow was enough to extinguish the sputtering coals, and I sat down in a clear spot beside the smoking pit. The sky was relatively free of clouds, and the light of the moon reflected off of the fresh snow cover to perfectly illuminate the world around me. My nearby surroundings were similar to what we had driven through for the past week, but the road ahead was barren and uninviting.
The mountains that separated Lybesa from Kaldan dominated the view before me, with peaks stretching up to the clouds and spreading unbroken to the north and south for as far as my eyes could see. To the northwest I could just make out the tips of the ivory towers of Atsal; we had taken an intentionally wide path around the city at my request, following smaller and less used dirt paths in an effort to avoid as many patrols as possible. From our current position, we would reach the main road between the city and the Mountain Gate with a half day of travel, and pass through the gate itself by sundown.
As I began my meditative watch for the evening, I was surprised by my lack of anxiety. Although I had lifetimes to practice, it was still commonplace for my stomach to churn in the night before a large battle, even with the rationalization that the feeling was only pre-fight nerves. The absence of any queasiness in my gut or trembling in my fingers was a welcome relief, but I began to order my thoughts in an effort to find the cause. It didn’t take long to find the source of the inner peace: for the first time in decades, I was fighting for my future, and the future of my family.
Our mission to Attetsia had been on the orders of a man I didn’t trust, for the benefit of a country that wasn’t mine, and leading towards what I thought was the end of my life with Lia. Every step forward had been difficult, and my mental state suffered more and more as the mission came closer to ending. In contrast, the fight at the Mountain Gate was the only thing standing between me and the normal life I so desperately wanted. The paradigm shift after my encounter with Savitz had been life changing; I was beyond ready to show Kaldan the true extent of my power and the consequences of crossing me or the ones I loved.
My night watch was blissfully uneventful, and the time soon came for us to begin our final day of travel. My adrenaline was already up, and I felt a tingle of electric energy throughout my body as our wagon departed. My Detection covered a wide swath in all directions, but ran out further ahead down our path to where the dirt road eventually connected with the main road to Atsal and the gate. As planned, I took my horse out on a scouting mission when the wagon was an hour from the road, leaving Lia behind out of an abundance of caution. Leaving the path , I spurred the courser out across the snow covered fields in a direct line towards the gate.
The barren fields gave me a full view of the Mountain Gate as I approached, and I was awestruck by its sheer size and construction as I saw it in the daylight for the first time. What had looked like a continuation of the mountain range the night before was actually a massive stone wall that stood hundreds of feet high, spanning a gap between two mountain bases. From a distance I could tell that its face was dotted with crenellated platforms that overlooked the main passage from all angles, although the scope and scale of the built-in defenses were still too far out to accurately gauge.
Satisfied with my positioning, I dismounted my horse and settled into a meditative stance in the snow. After a few deep breaths I sent my mana out in a straight line back towards the wagon; Lia was relieved to feel my energy and confirm that I was safe, and it gave me peace of mind knowing that their trip was as yet uninterrupted. With my check in out of the way, I sent another beam of energy in the direction of the wall and watched the path race away in my mind like a bolt of lightning. Although my target was still miles away, my mana was focused in a narrow channel which required significantly less mental effort to maintain and extend than the full radius of Detection I generally used.
After a long pause, the energy finally reached something of interest, and the scene at the Mountain Gate slowly came into focus. My initial aim had been slightly off, and my mana had landed on a wagon waiting in line for their turn to exit the country. As the energy expanded, I found that there was a sprawling line of traffic leading back towards Atsal, all stalled in place as a patrol of five guards searched a trader’s wagon at the head of the line with excruciating slowness. When they had finished tearing open every closed container in the back of the wagon the trader was waved ahead to a secondary checkpoint constructed of raw lumber that blocked the road with a heavy draw gate, where he was accosted yet again by a separate group of guards.
Beyond the checkpoint, the road ran across a few hundred yards of open field before it reached the Mountain Gate proper. A massive portcullis was suspended above the ground just high enough for caravans to pass through, its massive iron spikes resembling the teeth in the gaping maw of a monstrous beast. As the mana spread further along the wall I found that it was full of winding passageways that led to the various defensive platforms or guard rooms inside. I could tell by the weathering of the stone that it was an ancient structure, similar in construction to the flawless stone buildings of Atsal.
In stark contrast to the wall, the defenses that had been erected in front of it were a scattered, slipshod mess. Spiked wooden barricades randomly dotted the field around the wall, partially protecting waist deep trenches hastily dug into the ground. An enormous scaffold had been erected against the face of the wall, constructed from the same fresh lumber as the gatehouse. It towered at least three stories above the ground at its peak, and had multiple levels with barricades that could be used for cover by archers. On the north side of the road, rows of tents stretched off out of view, numbering in the hundreds.
Every new structure and encampment I found with my scan further proved true the intel I had gained from Joss’s interrogation. The soldiers were clearly heavily fortified and waiting for our arrival, but the main object of interest sat at the top of the scaffolding where the two structures connected above the main gate: a ballista, mounted on rolling tracks and manned by a group of four guards. All of this, just for us. I can’t help but feel a bit flattered. I took in the final details of the encampment, then set to work on my preparations.
The hastily constructed defenses played perfectly into my plans. It was easy to identify the weakest fittings and joints within the scaffolding that, if broken, would bring the entire structure to the ground. By suffusing a small cross-section of each support with energy and shattering it to splinters, the scaffold would collapse under its own weight, and I would hardly notice the expenditure of mana. As I scanned, I doubled and tripled my suffusions on any particularly hearty supports in an overabundance of caution.
Even though I was miles away, I could feel the gentle ebb and flow of my energy as if it were within my own body. The sensation reminded me of my first experiments with projecting mana in the dungeons of Yoria, and I smiled as I considered how far I had come in such a short period of time. Whereas it had once been a hit-or-miss process that took minutes of intense mental focus, I was now able to suffuse multiple objects miles away without a second thought. The memory was an exciting indication of skills yet to be developed, but it was also an excellent reminder of a skill I hadn’t needed since that day.
When I had determined every weakness I intended to destroy in my attack, I withdrew all of the extended energy into a small pool in the ground just past the secondary checkpoint, and then extended it out to the same points again. The first few repetitions were an exercise in tedium, but I quickly felt the benefits manifest as the cycles continued to grow faster and faster. Soon, the mana seemed to know where to go without my conscious direction, branching out like a spider’s web along the ground to snake its way directly through the scaffold to the dozens of suffusion points I had mapped.
I pulled back all of the mana from the Mountain Gate with a contented sigh and turned my attention to the Corell’s wagon. Marin had successfully reached the main road and was a few hours from reaching the traffic jam caused by the aggressive defensive measures at the gate. Lia sat with her eyes closed, nodding now and again as Marten gesticulated excitedly in the midst of another story. I pressed my mana gently against the edges of her consciousness and saw her smile in acknowledgement of my attention. With my message received, I climbed back into the saddle and started my trip back.
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!