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A note from David Musk

And now for the Web of Secrets Holloween Special!

Just kidding, this is the first chapter of Book 2. Enjoy!

Book 2: Web of Dreams

Akari opened her eyes and spit out a mouthful of saltwater.

"Kalden?" she called out in a raspy voice. "Relia?"

No answer. No sound but the wind and the ocean waves. She pushed her palms into the wet sand and forced herself to sit up. Her vision was a blur of bright colors as she looked around.

Another wave crashed into the shore, slamming her face-first into the ground.

She coughed up more saltwater as she crawled farther up the beach. Her arms felt like jelly, threatening to collapse with every movement. She wore a life vest over her hoodie, but her muscles still weren't used to swimming so far.

Where were the others? And where the hell were her glasses? She kept searching, but there was nothing but wet sand beneath her fingers. Had she lost them in the water? Talek. How long had it been?

A third wave hit her, and memories flashed in her mind's eye. Elend had been driving the boat toward Cadria when a mana storm blew in from the north. The sky had turned from slate gray to a deep, electric blue. It looked like someone had spilled a bottle of liquid mana over the entire world.

The clouds swirled like funnels toward the sea, with lightning flashing between the gaps. The tides stood over a hundred feet tall, just like Elend promised. He'd held out for the better part of an hour, keeping them adrift with his techniques.

For all that, he was no Water Artist. A Water Artist would have moved with the tides, but Elend could only fight back with a fraction of his power. The boat had eventually toppled over, and one thing led to another. Her remaining memories were a blur, and Talek only knew how Elend had kept them alive.

Akari forced herself to her feet, still trying to take in her surroundings. The sun was high in the sky, which probably meant it was mid-afternoon.

"Hey!" a familiar voice called out from behind her.

Akari looked over her shoulder and saw a blurry figure jogging farther down the beach. She had red hair, pale skin, and a red flannel shirt.

"You okay?" Relia asked as she closed the distance.

"Sure," Akari muttered through her chattering teeth. The sun was warm enough, but she couldn't say the same for the ocean.

Relia stepped closer, and her face became sharper against the blurry sky. She raised a hand toward Akari's forehead, moving aside strands of her wet hair.

Akari took a step back. "What's up?"

"Sorry." Relia pulled her hand back. "You hit your head on the boat."

Akari raised a hand to her right temple. Sure enough, her fingers came back sticky with blood. She hadn't noticed the cut before, but now waves of stinging pain surged through her.

"Is it cool if I heal it now?" Relia asked.

Akari nodded. "Just warn me next time."

Relia stepped forward, and a burst of green and gold flashed in her palm. The mana smelled like fresh spring rain, but it stung worse than salt when it reached her wound. The feeling lingered for several heartbeats as her skin reknit itself. Then it felt suddenly tight, as if she'd slipped on an extra small headband.

"Thanks." Akari rubbed at the freshly healed skin, trying to stretch it out. "Any chance you can fix my eyes?"

"That one's trickier." The other girl knelt down and removed a dark backpack from her shoulders.

Figures. What rank did Akari need to be to fix her own eyes? Apprentice? Artisan? Relia had bullet-proof skin, so 20/20 vision better be on the table.

"Here." Relia unzipped the backpack, then she pressed a pair of familiar black frames into Akari's hand. "You lost these when you hit your head."

Akari slid the glasses back on her face, and the world snapped into focus again. The beach continued inland for a quarter-mile, and a wall of pale blue mana loomed over them. It looked just like the one back home—ten stories tall, stretching from horizon to horizon.

"Shit," Akari said. "If this is an island, then I'm ragequitting."

Relia cocked her head to the side. "I don't know what that means, but I think we're somewhere in Cadria. Probably Vaslana or Tretias."

Akari nodded along at the strange names. She'd probably heard both in history class, but they'd been ancient, hypothetical places back then. What's more, Elegan's population was all Shokenese and Espirian. That meant they barely talked about this continent.

Which country had Elend been aiming for again? Vaslana? Akari struggled to see the map in her head, but that sounded right. Vaslana bordered Espiria to the north, stretching all the way from the Inner Sea to the ocean beyond. They were also friends with Espiria, so it should have been easy to take an airship north.

The storm had obviously pushed them off course, but that didn't matter. They'd made it to Cadria—a real continent from the outside world. Last year, she'd imagined this place as a war-torn wasteland. Now, she was standing on the beach with her own two feet, and the mana wall was a clear sign of civilization.

All this time, the truth had been less than two hundred miles away. She'd always believed Relia, but it never hurt to see things with your own two eyes.

"This stuff is yours too," Relia said as she tossed her the backpack.

Akari accepted the bag and checked the contents. She still had both of her Martial weapons, including the pistol and the mana-enhanced blade. She'd sealed both in a plastic bag, which had been Kalden's idea.

"It seems like overkill now," he'd said as the storm loomed on the horizon, "but you might thank me later."

She found her clothes in a second sealed bag. Those seemed reasonably dry, so she grabbed a fresh pair of jeans and a black, long sleeve shirt.

Relia coughed and looked away. "You're really gonna change right here on the beach?”

Akari shrugged as she yanked off her wet shirt. "Point me to the nearest locker room and I'll change there instead."

Once she was dressed again, Akari grabbed both weapons and fastened the holsters around her waist. The pistol had a dozen rounds left, and the blade seemed as sharp as ever.

No sooner had she finished than Relia glanced out at the ocean, shielding her eyes with her hand. "I think that's them."

Akari blinked several times, struggling to make sense of the sight on the horizon. It looked like a small vehicle, bouncing over the waves like a skipping stone..

"What the hell is that?" she muttered.

The vehicle crested a foaming wave, at least fifty feet in the air. Akari squinted as it drew closer to the beach. No ... that wasn't a vehicle. It was a seat cushion. Elend lay across it on his belly and Kalden hung on behind him, piggyback style. The Grandmaster must have been pushing mana out from his feet. They never could have moved that fast otherwise.

"He does stuff like this all the time," Relia said. "You'll get used to it."

The makeshift hydrocraft reached the shore a second later, skitting all the way into the sand. Kalden uncoiled his hands from Elend and rolled off, looking as exhausted as Akari felt. Even Elend winced as he rose from the cushion. The Grandmaster might have shrugged this off at his full strength, but he still hadn't found a way to remove the cuffs and collar.

"Any injuries?" Relia posed the question to both of them, but she was looking at Kalden when she said it.

Kalden glanced down, examining his hands and forearms. "I think I'm okay."

She gave him a quick thumbs-up, then turned to her master. "So where are we?"

"Good question." Elend used his t-shirt to wipe the water from his face. "Let's hear your best guess."

Relia's eyes darted back and forth like a nervous student. "Is it ... Cadrian?"

"I wish," Elend said. "The storm forced us south." He pointed his finger at the horizon. "That way is north, which means we landed on a peninsula. A large one, by the looks of things."

"Oh." Relia's face went even paler than usual. "We're in Creta."

Kalden's lips made a thin line, "Creta's a poorer nation, right?"

"It is," Elend said with a slow nod. "It's also a dictatorship ruled by an angry dragon."

"Seriously?" Akari asked. Even after two days of traveling with Elend, she still couldn't tell when he was joking. Of course, they'd learned about powerful dragons in school, but this was the first time she'd heard of one running a country.

"Not the sort of dragons you're used to," Elend said. "You'll see what I mean."

Great. This was going to be like those tall waves she saw, wasn't it?

"So what's the plan?" Kalden glanced back at the massive blue wall. "Can we climb over that somehow?"

"Aye, we could." Elend crossed his arms and examined the massive Construct. "But it would waste valuable mana. Besides, that jungle's probably full of predators." He turned his attention toward the west. "I saw a city that way—maybe five or six miles. I say we make our way there and hope they're friendly."

Kalden nodded. "And if they're not?"

Elend stretched his neck from side to side. "Why do you think I'm saving my mana, lad?"

 


 

They set out a few minutes later, following the mana wall along the sandy coast. Akari might have preferred a longer break, but she wasn't about to argue. They'd run out of food and water that same morning, and the sun wasn't making her any less thirsty.

Despite their weariness, they made good time and reached the coastal city before sunset. They owed most of that to Elend's long strides and his overabundance of energy. Relia was even worse, skipping through the sand like a little girl, her red braid bouncing in the wind.

Still, Akari didn't complain. She cycled her mana instead, releasing small bursts with every step. She was finally free from the Archipelago, in a world where no one could stop her from advancing. Best to make the most of it.

"Alright," Elend said as they drew closer to the town. "Everyone get dressed. We don't want to look like a band of barbarians."

Nobody had actually undressed, but everyone except Elend had removed their boots at some point. The dunes were soft enough here that it was easier to walk barefoot.

The three of them sat down at the base of the mana wall, fishing out clean socks from their backpacks. At the same time, Elend formed an invisible Construct around his body, making his cuffs and collar disappear. He also gave himself a short-sleeve button-up shirt with a bright floral pattern. It was a subtle change, but the baggy fabric hid his muscles, making him look far less threatening.

Once again, Akari wondered just how powerful Elend was without his cuffs. Could he change his entire appearance at will? What about other people?"

"Nice!" Relia clapped her hands together. "What do I get? I hope it's a grass skirt and a coconut bra."

That answered her second question. Maybe.

Elend ignored her, turning to face Kalden and Akari. "First thing's first—don't mention my rank to anyone. Not even each other. Creta's a weaker nation. The average person is probably still in the Foundation realm."

"Wait." Akari narrowed her eyes as she stood. "Since when does poor mean weak?" If anything, she'd expected the opposite. Back home, the Golds had hoarded knowledge to stay in power, but everyone here knew the basics. Shouldn't their struggles make them stronger?

"Poor doesn't always mean weak." Elend started walking toward the town again. "We'll find hundreds of exceptional Artists here, and most of them started from scratch. But the average Artist is scraping to make ends meet. Not much time for training after that."

She still couldn't wrap her mind around that. There was always time for training, unless they literally worked from dawn until dusk with no breaks. Even then, she'd found time to cycle in class, or while walking to school. Not to mention the impedium cuffs, and the Martials who'd watched her every move.

"You just hit Silver a few days ago," Elend reminded her. "Training gets harder the higher you climb. Especially the jump from Foundation to Apprentice. Few can advance without help."

That made a little more sense. As much as Akari hated to admit it, she'd still be stuck under house arrest if it hadn't been for the others. But it worked both ways—Relia, Elend, and Kalden would all be Martial prisoners if it wasn't for her.

"You should also avoid using my real name," Elend said. "Espirian Grandmasters aren't rare, but anyone can pull up a list of us online. Darklight is also a wealthy clan. It will make people assume I'm veiling my power."

Kalden nodded along. "What do we call you, then?"

"Elend Dawnfire. We'll say I'm Relia's father." He gave her a stern look over his shoulder. "And no daughter of mine will wear coconut shells as clothing. Your mother would kill us both."

Then he gestured a finger between Akari and Kalden. "You two can be her friends. If anyone asks, you met at Korelden High."

"Mrs. Fisher's Biology class," Relia added helpfully. "Third year, first semester."

"Wait," Akari broke in. "So Dawnfire's not a famous clan?" The name had always given her ancient vibes, sort of like Frostblade. Plus it sounded cool enough to be famous.

"What?" Elend turned back to face her. "Oh no. Dawnfire's not a real clan."

Akari shot the other girl a confused look. "Then what's your last name?"

Relia's smile faded, and she bit her lip. "Dawnfire is my last name. It just wasn't my parents' name."

Well, that story would be a treat to hear.

"What about your ranks?" Kalden asked.

"Relia and I will veil our souls," Elend said. "We'll say I'm an Apprentice, and she's a Gold. Unless we're attacked, then we'll each move up a step. I can't go higher without drawing the Dragonlord's eye. He's a Grandmaster himself, and a foreigner like me could easily ruin his day." Elend held up his wrist, gesturing to the invisible cuffs. "In theory, at least. I won't be overthrowing any dictators with these bloody things.."

Kalden swallowed. "So how dangerous is this place?"

"Very," Elend replied. "Of all the nations in Cadria, this is the last one I'd choose to visit. Things are bad enough for the locals, and they're not used to seeing foreigners this far from the Espirian border."

They kept following the mana wall until the jungle gave way to paved roads and run-down buildings. A few billboards and neon signs loomed over the rooftops, but all the words were written in Cadrian.

"The danger won't last long," Elend said after a short pause. "I'll call my wife as soon as we find a phone. She'll pass on my message to the Espirian Alliance, and they'll get us out of here."

At least they'd have an armed escort. That sounded a hell of a lot better than flying a boat over the border.

"Any more questions?" Elend asked.

They all shook their heads.

"Good. Then it's time to invade this dragon's lair."

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A note from David Musk

Until now, I've been using the name "Cathar" for this continent. It never bothered me in Book 1, but I only referenced it in passing then. Now that the characters are actually here, the name doesn't feel right. So I'm calling the continent "Cadria" from now on! I'll eventually do a find-and-replace for Book 1 so that new readers won't have to deal with the name change.

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About the author

David Musk

Bio: Hey everyone. I'm a web developer and fantasy writer from Grand Rapids, MI.

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