The Unlucky Thief
By Danielle Kozinski
Cover by Danielle Kozinski
Other novels and short stories:
Coming Fall 2017:
The Two-hearts Trilogy:
The Alistar’s Hearts
Black and white, a blue crystal it cradles within.
From the Sunken Moon it came, in the green earth it must
Kept safe in the hands of a king, kept safe in a living
Lost it cannot be, but lost it was.
Male and tall, with horns to hide and teeth to bare, a chief
carries a treacherous hand. Taken, he has.
Taken what he should not.
Found, it cannot be. Not by a force, nor by simply a trusted
A worthy youth, an Yrithar eager to prove. River born,
marked with floral, difficult to forget.
A nymph belonging to the Sunken Moon, to the dark night, to the
electricity in the sky. You will not find, ‘til Uir’s Haven is
The story begins on a night overcast by dark clouds threatening rain, rain that had no intention of falling. The night had begun peacefully, with everyone in Uir valley closing their doors and turning in for the night. Around the little village, torches were alight for the patrolling guards and small pyres were blazing for the beggars. Some twenty miles south of the village, Uir’s Haven resided in much the same state.
Every city in the kingdom had a holy building, a Haven, apart from the main village, a place of protection or healing to those in need. Beggars and a few choice wanderers were permitted to spend the night at any Haven so long as they did not take the Haven for granted. Besides protecting the unfortunate, Havens’ were also entrusted with an ancient artifact by the planets divine Spirit, Mer’ral.
Uir’s Haven protected a crystal wreathed in ever-burning flames that would burn through everything except living flesh. Compared to the other artifacts housed in Havens, this crystal held no importance; however, it would fetch a nice price, whether ransomed back to the Haven or sold to some foreign trader. Any thief worthy of his or her name would be interested in it, so long as they had the courage―or perhaps stupidity―to breach a Haven. There were few who met the description. But, on that very night, with its dark clouds and peacefully sleeping village, a young man did meet the description―as well as another that he did not yet know about. Fate would take hold of him that night through the hands of an elite guard, River Knights he had no idea visited Uir’s Haven.
The thief rode through the night with the stolen crystal in his now bare hand. The theft went easily enough: he had knocked out any guard he felt would cause a problem, grabbed the crystal, and pocketed it in a linen bag. However, the bag soon incinerated, along with his gloves. He knew about the crystal’s capabilities, but had been unable to find anything that would last against the burning. He decided to continue despite that, feeling subconsciously that he would be all right. So when he lost his bag and gloves, he simply held the crystal unaffected as he fled. He had thought his task simple, his run quick, even without something to hide the crystal in, but the guards and druids were not the only ones patrolling the Haven that night, and the thief didn’t think to look for any River Knights in the barn. Now his mistake pursued him through the night; but, he knew fleeing would be another mistake because River Knights did not ride horses. River Knights rode tarisans, creatures often mistaken for an unusual breed of horse. Tarisans, though, were creatures much larger and faster than horses and subconsciously connected to their rider through Mer’ral. The thief had no chance of outrunning the River Knights and no chance of hiding because of the crystal. But, still, he tried, hoping.
No further than a mile back, where torches brightened the artifact’s home, words were barked in a language the thief couldn’t understand but his horse knew all too well. The horse stopped abruptly, throwing the thief from its bare back, into the greenery where the thief rolled a moment before stopping on his back. He laid on his back, arms outstretched, and waited for a River Knight to pick him up. He knew there was no point in running: if a Wyld horse couldn’t outrun a tarisan, how could he? He held up the flaming crystal, staring at it as the tarisans and their Knights circled him. The thief tossed the artifact as far as he could from his position on the ground, not aiming at anything in particular, and one of the Knights caught it. The flame quickly burned through his glove.
The thief heard a Knight dismount, so he prepared for his shackles, extending his arms towards the sky; the River Knight bound him with rope, then dragged the thief to his feet. The Knight inspected him, his gaze lingering on the cowl and cloth strip that hid the thief’s identity. The River Knight spoke in the unfamiliar language and then dragged him back to his horse. With the help of another Knight, the thief was flung onto the Wyld Horse, after which the Knight remounted his tarisan. The burning crystal was placed into the very box the thief had stolen it from, the only box able to withstand the crystal’s eternal flame. The night was once again dark, but no one in this group needed light, not even the thief.
At Uir’s Haven, a River Knight captain leaned against the wall, next to a door that led to an interrogation room, reading the file of the thief he and his lyer had just captured. The stolen artifact itself wasn’t important. It was just a relic of the past and a useful tool for lighting a fire. In any other circumstance, the River Knights would have continued their assignments, and let the Haven’s guards retrieve the artifact. However, circumstances were different. The message from Mer’ral, three years past, told them the thief of Uir’s Haven would help them; so while the artifact itself was unimportant, the man who stole it was all too important for his own good. The interrogation room the Knight stood near held the thief, sitting tied to a table opposite an empty chair.
The Knight closed the file, rather extensive for this nymph, and entered the room. His prisoner didn’t look up; he just continued rubbing at his fingertips. The Knight walked around behind him and removed the thief’s cowl and mask before standing on the opposite side of the table.
“Carthiss of Wood-Thrush Gale.” The Knight re-opened the file.
The thief finally looked up, eyes the color of burning lightning conveyed only one expression: disinterest.
The Knight continued, “A moon-nymph born on a full moon―extraordinarily rare; most uncomfortable on stormy nights―this is an odd bit of information to include in a file of this sort: would you care to explain?” The Knight paused. The thief did not speak, so the Knight continued: “Here’s what I find difficult to believe: moon-nymphs are intelligent and, despite their pale skin of which you possibly hold the palest, excel at stealth. However, this says you have partaken, either alone or as an accomplice, in twenty-nine thefts.” The Knight tapped the file then dropped it onto the table. “You have been captured thirty-seven times.” The Knight sat in the chair and waited to see if the thief would say anything. He didn’t. “After the fifteenth arrest, a sheriff escorted you back to your town to speak with those who knew you. Everyone agreed that you were incredibly smart, occasionally psychic, and exceptional at traversing the night. They found it surprising that you would fail at thieving. Every time you commit a heist, you excel at almost every part of your plan…except escape. The only explanation is that luck has forsaken you, or that you’re rigging the crimes to fail.”
The thief reached for the file; the Knight pushed it forward. “Bit more elaborate than I’d have thought these things to be,” Carthiss said, flipping through his file. He pulled out one picture, a sketch of the first artifact he’d ever stolen. He closed the file. “What’s the point of this? You caught me in the act, and usually it takes you guys a day or two to decide where you’re locking me up. Also thought you’d let the little guys take care of this. Why’s a big elite interrogating me?”
“The artifact which you stole is merely a historical artifact―pricey and slightly useful, but of no importance at this point in time. It is neither important to the continuing reign of our king or the life of our planet. In contrast, the Da’re’l is too vital to be lost.”
“What? I thought the king had it. And if he doesn’t, I certainly don’t. Where’s it gone?”
“A neighboring force stole it, almost three years ago.”
“…you…” Carthiss sat forward again, this time lacing his fingers together. “You let some sarquip take the Da’re’l and keep it for three years, but you won’t even let me hold a piece of history for five minutes? What’s got your priorities all jumbled up?”
“The Mer’ral told the king, after it had been stolen and we had attempted to retrieve it a few times, that attempting to reclaim the Da’re’l on our own would be futile.” The captain, wondering how he would react, watched Carthiss.
Carthiss sat back. “And you’re telling a common criminal.”
“Common? Not only are you a rare moon-nymph, you have yet to succeed in one theft. Common is not how anyone would describe you. However, despite your unusual streak of misfortune in thievery, it is you who attempted to steal from Uir’s Haven first.”
“Oh, I’m certain there have been others attempting to steal from Uir. I know someone you caught five years ago and released recently, too. But why does that matter?”
“The Mer’ral informed us that only two people could retrieve the Da’re’l. One of them, we found among the River Knights.”
“And the other?”
“Would commit a crime at Uir’s Haven.”
“Oh. But you said I was the…oh sy’krien.”
“I did say ‘crime,’ where I described you as the first to ‘steal,’ so it is an assumption, but yes: The Mer’ral chose you to reclaim the Da’re’l.”
“Deigh.” Carthiss rubbed at his hands, muttering profanities under his breath. “Why would it think I will be good at doing that? As the essence of everything, Mer’ral ought to know I’ll fail. Deigh.” Carthiss sat back, muttering more curses. Moments passed as he grumbled and stared at nothing in particular. Finally, he looked back at the River Knight. “What do I get if I accept?”
The captain raised a single eyebrow. “What gives you the impression you have a choice?”
“You haven’t stated outright that I have to help you.”
“You do not have a choice. We need the Da’re’l back, and the Mer’ral chose you and a River Knight to rescue it. However, the king has chosen to reward you on your completion—your successful completion.”
“Fifteen criys and a court position, if you want it.”
“I’m not interested in the inner life of a man I respect. Good opinions of humans are hard enough to come by; I don’t need to ruin this one. I’ll take the money, but that’s it.”
“Very well.” The River Knight grabbed Carthiss’ file and walked to the only exit.
The Knight turned back.
“Is that why the Deta mountains crumbled?”
“We believe so. But, those mountains were bound to cave in at some point…”
“Not for another five centuries at the least. The miners registered the weakening walls and reinforced them.”
“To the people who registered that, we had to bribe quiet. Most, thankfully, don’t know that and are oblivious to our…problem,” the River Knight said.
“Did everyone die?”
“No. The king was warned, so he warned the miners. However, all the commotion that followed from the exodus caused the mountains to crumble faster.”
“How many died?”
“The five or so score that were at the very bottom.”
Carthiss became very quiet. The River Knight waited in the ensuing silence, wondering if Carthiss would inquire further into the matter. His file mentioned relatives, and one of them was a half-breed cousin who worked at the bottom of the mine. Finally, Carthiss looked up and gestured for him to leave, insinuating he had nothing left to say.
“A Knight will escort you to your accommodations. Tomorrow, early, we will leave for our destination, where you will meet the River Knight who will aid you. A steed will be given to you…”
“I will not forsake my horse. Devil has been with me for quite some time now, and I don’t care if he cannot keep up with your fine tarisans.”
The River Knight took a moment to respond. “I understand. Time is of utmost importance, but you are loyal to your horse which is respectable.” With that, the River Knight bowed his head and left.
A young River Knight apprentice stood at attention by a large tent. She waited for a lyer, a group of thirteen River Knights ―to rrive from Uir Haven with the Mer’ral’s chosen.
She had been standing there since dawn, guarding the king as he inspected the information a scout had collected of the Qryer’s village and surrounding encampment. They had arrived the day before, expecting the River Knights to be there and waiting, but the valley was empty of the elite fighting force. Hence, they waited, planning the mission on how to reclaim the Da’re’l; the life force of not only the kingdom, but the planet as well. Every century, the Mer’ral chose a kingdom to safeguard the living artifact. The king of Gyklis had been chosen for the past five centuries consecutively. The jealous chieftain of Qryer, a country that had never been given guard duty, had stolen the Da’re’l in hopes to prove the Gyklis kingdom and its current monarch no longer worthy of the task. While the fact that they succeeded in the theft proved that Gyklis did fail in protecting the Da’re’l, a new Protector would not be chosen for another thirty years at the earliest. Until then, the king of Gyklis was the best man for the job. The king attempted to reclaim it for an entire year before the Mer’ral finally spoke to him through his dreams. Therefore, the king ceased his frantic planning and attempts, and set his mind to his other tasks, impatiently waiting for the Mer’ral’s thief to appear.
The curtains shifted behind the young River Knight and the king emerged from his tent. She stiffened into a formal, attentive position, but the king gestured for her to relax. She obeyed.
“Any sign of Captain Philanth’s lyer and the thief?” the king asked.
“No, your Majesty.”
“Hm. It is not like him to tarry. Even with a horse in their midst, I expected him by yesterday if not before.”
“A horse?” The River Knight apprentice had blurted the question, but she didn’t know if she could speak in front the King without permission, so she stiffened. A handful of her teachers taught her she didn’t need to be stiff and formal all the time around the king, especially when it was just him and the Knights, but most of her teachers contradicted that. Therefore, she was uncertain how to behave around the king.
“Relax, dear. I thought the Knights taught you that this type of formality was unnecessary. Of course, I imagine they are quite fluent in pranks, leaving you .uncertain And yes. A horse. The message said the thief was adamant on keeping his horse. A Wyld, is the fine captain’s opinion, though how a thief came by it is quite odd.”
“And who is this thief?” It took her a moment to ask the question.
“The message didn’t say specifically, though Philanth believes he will amuse me. Carry on, Kyrey. Inform me when they arrive.”
“Yes, your Majesty.”
Carthiss overheard some of the River Knights complain when the trip started taking longer than predicted. Only three days was needed to travel from Uir’s Haven to the king’s camp on tarisans, but that would leave Carthiss exhausted each night and possibly without a horse at the end of it. On the second night, he held a heated discussion with the River Knight elite he first spoke with. Devil was a Wyld horse, the strongest of his kind and full of endurance, but even he couldn’t keep pace with tarisans. After inspecting the horse, the elite River Knight—a captain, apparently—agreed with Carthiss and slowed their pace thereafter. It took them four and a half days, almost two days longer than the River Knights predicted; Carthiss expected longer, but they found ample food and water so the animals could refresh after a long ride.
Midway through an overcast day, they reached their destination: a mountain valley with a glacial river flowing westward to the ocean and a port city. A small camp occupied the valley with a much larger tent situated at its center. Carthiss paused at the top of the hill, watching the river.
“What are you doing? Our destination is that camp and we are already one and a half days late,” the captain said curtly.
“The river’s lower than it usually is for this time of year; and there aren’t as many chunks of ice floating in it,” Carthiss said.
“The Deta were not the only mountains to crumble. News has reached our king that some mountains in the middle of the M’ynossion crumbled and the glaciers fell in.”
“Those mountains weren’t even mined.”
“We are well aware. Come, the king waits.” They began their descent.
A half-hour later, they dismounted outside the camp, and Carthiss reluctantly allowed a River Knight to take Devil away. They then proceeded to the king’s tent, guarded by two River Knights. The younger of the two did not hide her inspection of Carthiss as he passed her.
“Philanth, you have arrived.” A man who looked somewhere in his thirties, forties at most, stood in the center of the tent. He adjusted his rich clothes with hands that looked too rugged for such an outfit, then donned a chain link diadem with pale crystals before walking to Carthiss and the River Knight captain.
“Hello. Am I correct in presuming you are the thief Mer’ral chose to help me?” The king extended a hand. After some hesitation, Carthiss took the extended hand with a nod of his head. “Very good. I am King Syamil.”
“This is Carthiss, of Wood-Thrush Gale,” the elite said.
“Oh? I thought moon-nymphs from the Gale preferred to stay in the Gale; actually, that most moon-nymphs were solitary folk,” the king said. “What prompted you to leave your folk and to partake in thievery?”
“That information is irrelevant at this point in time and none of your business,” Carthiss said.
The elite River Knight squawked and grabbed Carthiss’ arm. “You dare…”
The king held up a hand and looked at the elite with a smile. “Philanth, you know how I feel about those in my employment.” His gaze returned to Carthiss. “You are here because of Mer’ral; since it chose you, you will complete the job. I know nothing about you except your occupation, though. I worry for my country, its people, and the world, and would like to know that I am putting their fate into hands I can trust. So while why you chose this particular path is none of my business, I would prefer to know a little more about you than just your occupation. Philanth believed you would amuse me, but I haven’t the faintest idea why. Why would you amuse me?”
“Amuse you. Depends on your humor; it might make you dread what will become of the quest. I believe everyone who is acquainted with me gives me the title, ‘the unlucky thief.”
“Because I always get caught. I’ve been caught before, after, and during the heist. I’ve even been caught during the planning stage, and I’ve been caught for crimes I did not commit. As to whether or not you can trust me? I’ve been given this task by Mer’ral; someone not only I believe in but you do as well. Your trust in me is irrelevant when Mer’ral trusts me.”
“I see why you believed I would be amused by this information, Philanth. However, despite this title given to you, Carthiss, you are right. I trust in Mer’ral and believe you can and will reclaim the Da’re’l. Has Philanth informed you of your reward?”
“Criys and a court position. I’ll accept the money, but that’s it.”
“Very well. You’ve had a long journey and I do not know what you did before you made the journey, so go, get some refreshments and rest; you have a difficult task ahead of you. In the morning, I will tell you everything. Philanth, after he is refreshed, why don’t you introduce him to Kyrey?”
Relieved of her duty shortly after Captain Philanth arrived, Kyrey found something to snack on. She then guided Nar, her tarisan, to the river so they would be out of the way of the busy camp. She sat on her cloak, her weapons in easy reach; Nar lay nearby, an odd behavior for a horse but typical of a tarisan.
Three-quarters of an hour later, she heard the soft footsteps of a River Knight and another softer step she knew belonged to the thief.
“Kyrey, I see you took off your cuirass,” Captain Philanth said. Kyrey stood and faced him. He continued, “I understand that you are uncomfortable in it, so I hope you don’t let down your guard. We are quite close to an enemy.”
“Yes, sir,” Kyrey said.
“Good. Now, this is Carthiss. He will be your companion for the mission.”
Kyrey inspected the thief, searching for personality characteristics in his stance. Someone hailed Captain Philanth back to the camp, so he exchanged a bow of the head with Kyrey then left. She spoke in the Wyld language, a language all beasts understood but very few humanoid species could; Nar stood, impressively tall, and inspected the thief. A couple of moments later, Kyrey saw Nar lay back down: the tarisan liked the thief or was at least comfortable around him. Kyrey reinspected the thief.
His eyes stood out, odd for any humanoid species on this planet, odder still for a moon-nymph. But, then, so was his profession. He appeared relaxed with his arms crossed and more weight on one foot than the other; he wore a patchwork cloak that had an odd shine to it and many dark burn marks. His clothes were loose for comfort, but tight where they needed to be for flexibility. Kyrey could not see any weapons on him. As she studied him, he studied her.
“Deigh. You ain’t just a fresh recruit; you’re an apprentice. Makes one wonder what Mer’ral was thinking.”
“The Mer’ral doesn’t need to think. It knows. It knows my capabilities and my loyalty. And I am close to becoming a full-Knight. Who are you to judge?”
“Just a thief. But I’m not judging—at least, not you.”
“Even a nymph is not so arrogant to judge the Mer’ral.”
“No. Of course not. Why do you think it chose you? I’ve already rubbed you wrong, so it certainly isn’t because we will be compatible with each other.”
“I am an exceptional warrior by all accounts.” Kyrey shifted her weight.
“Your actions speak louder than your contradictions. You are uncomfortable with something. Is it simply me or the reason Mer’ral chose you?”
Kyrey glared at him.
“Very well. I respect others, secrets, for I myself have one. All that matters is regaining the Da’re’l, so the reason Mer’ral chose us does not matter. We will not be together any longer than necessary.” The thief walked past Kyrey and entered the river.
“What are you doing?”
He stood in the middle of the river, the glacial water just reaching his chest. “The rain will be here in an hour with lightning and thunder.”
“Then it is dangerous for you to be in the water.”
“On the contrary, Kyrey. My energy is drained if I’m not. I do not like these storms, and I like them less if I have company. You might want to return to the safety of your little group—I attract the lightning, and your blood is water.”
Kyrey inhaled sharply while grabbing her weapons and stalking to the river; she stopped just at its edge, though. “How do you know that?”
“I’ve cut a few River Knights; I know their blood is blue and often thin. This confused me, so I asked around. You are called River Knights because that is where you were born: in the river, by the river. River Knights were stillborn. Because the Da’re’l needs protection from more than just a simple warrior, Mer’ral told the first female who birthed a stillborn that if she burned the baby on the river, Mer’ral would bring the child back to life. But the child would be different and destined to protect the planet. You are similar to every other species, except your blood is water and you are stronger, faster, nimbler and occasionally smarter―traits similar to the water itself,” the thief said.
“I have never heard that story before.”
“Probably not; origin stories do not interest the River Knights, for some reason.” The thief looked at her. “This knowledge does not make you any more vulnerable than the rest of us. What does it matter? If it were such a secret, I would not have received the answers from a River Knight himself. Now, I am quite serious about the lightning. Do me a favor, please, and make certain my horse is untied. He should have the option of coming and going as he pleases.”
Kyrey returned her weapons to her belt but paused briefly before returning to the camp. She looked at the thief and met his lightning colored eyes. She thought she saw them flash, like a strike of lightning across the sky, but disregarded it. She turned and wrapped up her blanket and snack before she made her way back to camp.
Captain Philanth, brushing his tarisan steed near where the rest of the herd grazed on the eastern side of the camp, thought of all he knew about Carthiss.
“Captain?” Kyrey approached him with Nar.
“Kyrey, how did it go? I expected you to take a little longer.”
“I don’t understand him.”
“I’m quite certain his parents uttered the very same words when they learned of his thieving ways.”
“He knows things about us that I thought we were supposed to keep secret.”
“What do you mean?”
“He knows our blood is water.”
“Ah, Kyrey. This is what comes from having Tarn as your mentor. This is not a bit of knowledge that must be kept secret; rather we keep it private because it confuses the population. There is no harm in people knowing of it.”
“He says he has cut River Knights.”
“You are aware that moon-nymphs are immortal.”
“And that it is their childhood that lasts the longest? More than triple a human’s?”
“I believe, also, that Tarn is in the middle of teaching you about the poisoned River Knights?”
“The Dark River. How old is this thief?”
“I do not know. But his file said the poisoned River Knights abducted him as a child. Do not jump to conclusions, Kyrey. Those were dark times, even we have cut down the Dark River. Just because he has cut River Knights does not mean he is an enemy. Now, help me move the steeds to cover before the storm.”
“He wants his horse to be untied and allowed to roam.”
“This does not surprise me; a Wyld horse should not be restrained.”
“How did a thief find a Wyld?”
“That is one of the questions, it seems, surrounding our thief.”
Hours later, with wind tearing at the tents, King Syamil knelt in his tent. He ignored the harsh storm all around them and whispered in a language only Protectors of the Da’re’l knew. He spoke to Mer’ral, letting it know he waited for guidance. When he finished, he lay on his back and closed his eyes, waiting for sleep or the waking-dream that occurred whenever Mer’ral spoke to him.
Dark is the storm, strong is the thief. Stronger, he will get.
Blue the blood must run to open a box which should not
have been closed.
Sharp must the electricity strike—not from the sky but
from the untrained hand.
Fail they will, but succeed as well.
The guard must rise before the guard can fall.
Trust the Unlucky Thief loyal not to man, nor to Yrithar—but
to the beast he rides, to the beast she rides;
to the land that lives.
The token he must carry; the dream he must know.
Carthiss dragged himself from the water and shook the icy droplets from his scorched coat, though the burnt look was only in color.
Devil meandered to the river when Carthiss collapsed on the marsh bell flowers, vibrant in the sun after the storm. The Wyld horse knelt next to him, and Carthiss shifted the few remaining inches so he laid against him. He was exhausted, aching, and his blood felt like it boiled.
He wished Mer’ral had not dragged him into working for the king, even if it was only a one-time thing. Because of the magic in his blood, Carthiss needed to absorb the lightning every time it struck or his energy would not be restored. For some reason, sleep did little to nothing for him. It did not rejuvenate him the way it did others, not fully. He needed to be struck by lightning to regain his full energy, but the sensation left him feeling odd and he did not enjoy it. Because of Mer’ral’s mission for him and the previous storms spent inside, Carthiss thought it a good idea to recharge fully.
Devil neighed to let him know they had visitors. By the sound, it was the River Knight elite, Kyrey, and a tarisan that sounded different from Kyrey’s and the River Knight elite’s. It also sounded heavier, as if someone rode it.
“I see you couldn’t wait for a reasonable hour.” Carthiss spoke without looking at the visitors. “Kyrey at least knows I have been battling the storm in the water.”
“The reasonable hour would have been three years ago; the second it was stolen,” the tarisan rider said: King Syamil.
Carthiss sighed, then climbed to his feet. “That is something we can agree on.” Devil rose beside him.
“Kyrey and Philanth will inform you of the plan. I am taking Hani for a run and will be back in an hour. By then, I expect you two to be ready for departure.”
“I was awake for the entire storm. Surely you understand that I will need rest.”
“Surely you will understand that we need the Da’re’l back. You are taking the mountain path, by midday, you will reach the top. There you will tarry for the rest of the day and the entire night. If you need rest beforehand, you will be fine sleeping on your horse.” With that, the king nudged his tarisan upriver.
The River Knight elite started to speak, but Carthiss held up his hand. “I didn’t eat yesterday. Find me some food first.” He shifted his coat and bag into a more comfortable position then hiked back to the king’s camp. Devil followed immediately, but the elite and Kyrey lingered.
“Here,” Captain Philanth said, giving Carthiss a breakfast portion of travel food. Carthiss sat on a stack of boxes and watched the herd of tarisans graze; the Wyld horse watched the tarisans briefly before joining them.
“You can tell us the plan while I eat.” Carthiss took the plate of food and began eating. He gestured at both Philanth and Kyrey.
Philanth gestured for Kyrey to sit before unrolling a map on the ground; a wax coating protected it from the wet grass. The map showed four mountain ranges connected to a particularly large mother mountain that was half-glacier. The four mountains and three glacial rivers led down to an ocean and the large port city that crossed over all three rivers. Philanth pointed to the areas on the map as he spoke, “Here we are; here’s the Qryers’ camp and village―” he pointed to a different valley―“From our scout’s information, they have recently settled and are still building. Are you familiar with how Qryers function?”
“They’re nocturnal. Usually only a small army, expecting their people to protect their own wares and themselves. Their villages are constructed mostly of wood except for one stone house where they keep their valuables. A wooden wall surrounds the village. If you’re certain the Da’re’l is here, and not in one of their other villages, it’ll be in the stone house built in the direct center of the village,” Carthiss said.
“The Qryer leader who took the Da’re’l is there. While we do not have visible proof, we have strong suspicions and the Mer’ral has not led us away.” Philanth pointed to the mountain south of them, clearly visible from their location. “There’s an easy path up that mountain: that’s how you get up, but don’t go down until .tomorrow King Syamil wants you to wait until tomorrow to travel down.”
“Why?” Kyrey asked.
“He hasn’t specified. But it is generally safe to presume that this is also what the Mer’ral wants. Your descent will be longer: a glacier of the past wore down that valley more than this se, so the gradient is steeper and more dangerous. At the base of the mountain is the beginning of a forest that has gradually edged closer to the river. By the time you reach it, it should be dusk. Allow for some variance because this information came from a scout on foot, DE
“No disrespect intended, but: just tell me what you want me to do. I don’t need second by second,” Carthiss said.
“In that case: get passed the camp during the day, get the Da’re’l and make certain that Kyrey comes back alive and mentally fit,” Philanth said.
Carthiss stood and wiped his hands on his trousers. “Consider it done. Although, to get the job done and casualties to a minimal, I’ll leave your squire behind.”
Kyrey was on her feet in moments. “I am near Knight-hood, not a second-year student!” Philanth put a hand on her shoulder.
Carthiss raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
Philanth stepped between Kyrey and Carthiss. “Enough.”
Carthiss sighed. “Of course. I apologize. Exhaustion makes me rude.”
Kyrey growled and stalked away from Philanth a few paces before storming back. “Why do we need him?” she continued on a tirade of insults directed towards Carthiss, but Philanth watched the thief leave before he turned to calm Kyrey down.
After King Syamil finished his morning ride, he led Hani to where the rest of the tarisans grazed near the river; the Wyld horse stood to the side of the herd, watching them. Syamil dismounted, removed Hani’s saddle, and carried it to the rack under a tent that held the other saddles. His steed joined with the rest of the herd.
It had been a little more than an hour since he set out on his ride. He used the time to calm his nerves, but he could not; he was still wary of Carthiss, the unlucky thief. He trusted Mer’ral fervently, but give Carthiss the Ckysia: the stone Mer’ral needed to enter his dreams? He found it difficult to entrust a priceless artifact to a thief; let alone one who has never successfully committed a crime. It did not help that Mer’ral had revealed to him that it had sabotaged the thief’s previous thefts, nor that Mer’ral had nudged Carthiss down his current path to observe him, to test him. For what reason, Syamil did not know. Mer’ral had not divulged that information.
As he stood, simply pondering about nothing in particular to take his mind off the more pressing matter, the Wyld horse approached him. He stopped about an arms distance away and looked at him, so Syamil held out a hand, palm up. The horse stepped closer and inspected his hand.
“You might want to be careful around him: the Wyld has a temper,” Carthiss said as he came into view. He ran his hand along the horse’s side as he walked up next to Syamil. It was obvious he had been in the water all night, now that Syamil inspected him: he hadn’t bothered to change his clothes and they were still damp; the only things dry were his bag and his hair.
“How did you earn his loyalty?” Syamil dropped his hand, and the horse stepped back.
“The Wyld beasts like us nymphs, so we often grow up mingling with them. The Dark River captured Devil as a foal; he and a rather large herd of Wyld beasts. The mothers were used for dinner. I and a group of nymphs got him and the other little ones out after we escaped. Even after we released them in a safe place, a few stayed with us. Devil chose me…sort of like tarisans and River Knights.”
“And why do you call him that?”
“It comes from the word ‘Deliv’retha,’ meaning black king.” Carthiss used nearby boxes to swing onto Devil’s back. “You might want to go talk to the elite and Kyrey. Kyrey questioned my role here, and I questioned hers. I left them there, as the captain tried to calm her down, but that was about half-an-hour ago so I don’t know what’s going on now. Especially since this was where they were arguing.”
“I will in a moment. I must speak with you alone first,” Syamil said.
“Don’t worry. The captain already warned me off stealing the Da’re’l.”
“Good, but that is not what I meant. I am not worried about you stealing it―you know how important it is. I need to speak with you about Mer’ral. Come with me, please.” Syamil turned and walked to his tent—not the big one in the middle, rather a small one in the single circle of tents surrounding the big one. Carthiss took his time to comply, but did the thief eventually followed. Syamil waited just outside his tent as Carthiss dismounted, then held up one end of the cloth for Carthiss to enter first.
“I won’t be held to any promises about Kyrey either,” Carthiss said, inspecting the tent.
“That is not what I brought you here to talk about. And while I do worry about her life, she is the first person, man or otherwise, I have heard you speak the name of. Just now, you referred to Captain Philanth as the ‘captain,’ and he told me you addressed him as ‘elite’ the entire trip.”
Carthiss considered Syamil a moment before saying, “What is it you wish to speak with me about? You said Mer’ral.”
“Yes.” Syamil stepped to a box by his bedroll and removed a necklace from it. “This is a Ckysia, a gift from Mer’ral. It instructed me to give it to you.”
Carthiss took the necklace, inspecting the cold, red fire pendant. “What is it?”
“It is part of Mer’ral’s mind. This artifact allows Mer’ral to speak with me through dreams.”
“…so I can’t sell it?”
“This isn’t a gift for you. It is a loan. The only reason you have it because Mer’ral told me to give it to you―temporarily. Rest assured that you will return it when you return the Da’re’l.” Syamil forced his frustration and fear down with his hands, which he had in fists. Carthiss was a thief, however unsuccessful, and if he saw something expensive his first inclination would be to sell it. But the Ckysia was a fairly well-known artifact and something that had been almost stolen before. It went with the Da’re’l, passing between kings, empresses, and pharaohs. He assumed Carthiss would know about it and how important it was.
King Syamil took deep breaths to regain control of his temper, letting the moments pass in silence.
“What am I supposed to do with it?” Carthiss slipped the Ckysia into a velvety pouch from his bag.
“Keep it hidden on your person at all times, and speak a certain phrase each night.”
“Ah. Here is where you will hold me to a promise. I presume that I should keep these words a secret?”
“Well. I guess if Mer’ral wishes to guide me, I should let it. What are the words?”
Kyrey reigned Nar to a halt. She rode some twenty yards ahead of the thief and his meandering horse who seemed in no hurry to reach the top; he had even stopped when they reached halfway up the mountain to take in the view.
“Do you realize the importance of our task? Or are Wyld horses inexperienced on mountain paths?”
“Tarisans do not belong on mountains, whereas Wyld horses are comfortable on every terrain. If we wished it, we would be at the top waiting for you. Relax, Kyrey. We will not be descending ‘til tomorrow at dawn. What does it matter if we take a full day to reach the top?” The Wyld horse stepped around Nar, something neither rider had a choice in.
“I did not plan on stopping at the top.”
The thief looked back at her. “Oh? Your King did.”
“He gave me the right to change the plan.”
“Oh? I would have thought he would add the four words: ‘if it is necessary.”
“I will judge the situation. If we can descend, we will.”
Kyrey could not understand the thief. She thought he wanted to be done with this mission as much as she did, but he did everything in an indifferent and lazy manner.
They reached the summit early in the evening, and Carthiss still had to talk Kyrey out of descending the mountain on the same day. She knew Qryers preferred to travel at night, but she felt certain they would find a hiding place at the bottom, near the forest, before the Qryers’ began their nightly activities. Even the longer, steeper descent on that side of the mountain did nothing to faze her. The approaching storm finally convinced her to relinquish the idea of continuing on.
Carthiss stood and watched the oncoming storm, feeling a difference in it, while Kyrey guided Nar to a nook between two large rocks. Nar laid down and Kyrey stretched a canvas cloth between the two rocks, the edges hooked to the ground on the outside of the rocks, to protect them from the elements in every direction. Devil watched her but remained outside.
“You do not have a tent,” Kyrey stated.
“It will be difficult to fit your horse, Nar, and both of us under this one.”
“It is Devil’s choice if he joins you, but I will not.”
“Is your reason the same you gave for when you walked into the stream?”
“But there is no stream this time.”
“I know. My energy replenishes if I am struck by lightning, and the chances of being struck are stronger if I’m in water. Even though there is no water, if I stay outside in the storm my energy level remains normal. I only lose energy if I take shelter from the storm.” Carthiss walked away, looking for an ideal location to wait out the storm. Devil followed and when they found a set of rocks that would block the wind sweeping in from the snow-capped mountains, he and Devil lay against one of the rocks. The Wyld horse would offer some protection against the cold that accompanied the early spring storm.
After making certain Kyrey was in her makeshift tent, Carthiss took the Ckysia from his bag and donned it. Despite the small size, no larger than half of Carthiss’ thumb, it weighed quite a lot. Pulling his cowl up, Carthiss rested against Devil and whispered the appropriate words; as he fell asleep, the storm arrived.
They must fail to succeed.
A plan they will follow, a plan doomed to falter.
A nymph belonging to the Sunken Moon, a nymph with
power he does not know.
In a storm he will become strong, for a storm he must
The treacherous makes use of electricity, but too much and
his machine will fail. Those with blood of water cannot pass,
but only those with blood of water can reclaim the *Da’re’l*.
Kyrey woke alone, surprised that she hadn’t awakened when Nar had. The rain no longer hammered her small tent, and thunder did not shake the earth. She rolled out and looked around. The thief stood far away between his horse and Nar, gazing at the bright sun as it pushed its way above the mountains’ peaks. Dawn came surprisingly quick for an undoubtedly loud night.
“Are you ready to continue?”
“What were you doing with Nar?”
“Warming her. The descent will be difficult. Pack up; we can eat as we go.”
Who was this thief? Ever changing in personality, only consistency was his preference to being mysterious. He insisted on being out in the storm, and Nar befriended him instantly. She had never heard of a moon-nymph being this comfortable with tarisans; the books said moon-nymphs hated riding along with anything larger than themselves. Yet she had noticed that whenever the thief passed his horse or one of the tarisans, he usually offered a pat to say hello.
Carthiss decided not to say anything more than what he said after Kyrey woke. He didn’t know what he would say, how he would explain what Mer’ral had told him. How he would explain that Mer’ral had spoken to him. He hadn’t expected its voice as he slept. The words had barely felt like words, spoken in a thousand voices that could be male or female. Maybe this was why the River Knights and the king…no, not the king. Carthiss remembered thinking it odd when the king first mentioned Mer’ral to him: he didn’t say “the.” As with some of the nymph species, the king seemed to believe that the Mer’ral was more of a “he” or “she,” but neither Carthiss nor the king could tell what after hearing it speak. Mer’ral was an ancient entity, a part of the planet’s core. Other than that, no one knew anything.
They began the descent just after sunrise, traveling slowly so the animals did not slip. Occasionally, Carthiss and Kyrey dismounted and guided their steeds over a particular rough part of the path.
They reached the bottom of the mountain a couple of hours before dusk; Devil led Nar and their riders to the glacial river that ran through the valley to drink and refresh after the strenuous trek. Carthiss did not stop him, and Kyrey did not complain. But, being in a hurry to complete their task, nor did she give them long. After just a minute, she nudged Nar across the stream. The other side of the river had a much larger bed of dry pebbles, but only about ten miles of meadow before the acres of young trees that covered the rest of the valley and part of the next mountain. Kyrey, her impatience visible, had to pause again as Carthiss allowed Devil to eat.
“The scout said the camp is in there,” Kyrey said, pointing to the trees. “You will help me get in and out, but you won’t go anywhere near the Da’re’l.”
“I have no plan to go anywhere near the Da’re’l. Let us hope it goes that smoothly.”
Kyrey looked at the woods, and Carthiss wondered what she thought. “Hurry, more rain will come,” he said and nudged Devil onward, passed Kyrey who looked east, in the direction the past two storms had rolled in from and a third now came.
The storm arrived before they reached the outer Qryer’s camp, making their journey more treacherous and veiling the passing of time. But the Wyld horse knew where to go and somehow picked his way through the forest in the dark night, and Nar followed dutifully, despite Kyrey’s attempts to push ahead.
The storm hid Kyrey and the thief as they watched the camp. A group of Qryer soldiers lit lanterns out on the streets for the villagers, allowing the night’s activities to begin. A distance away from where the thief crouched by a large patch of ferns, Kyrey prepared herself for stealth by removing her cuirass; she folded it up and put it into Nar’s saddle. Her tarisan and the Wyld horse would wait nearby for them while they retrieved the Da’re’l, knowing enough to stay out of sight in case any Qryer exited the village but ready for a quick get-away. Thunder roared all around them, and the crack of lightning sounded in the distance.
The storm slowed as they made their final preparations, the thunder quieting and the lightning ceasing. The thief stood and walked to Kyrey, stepping around the hostas and ferns.
“We’ll want to go now, or we’ll attract attention. They are still busy with preparing for the night, and they are bound to be repairing after the past stormy nights. We will have to wait ‘til morning to commit the theft though, otherwise it will be too crowded, even with the rain. It is early enough that we can pass through the camp before the village now, but then we will have to wait at the wall a couple of hours before we can head to the stone building.” He rested a hand on his horse’s forehead then let it drop. “Follow me exactly, and tell Nar to follow Devil. She probably will either way, but I also know she is loyal to you.”
Kyrey looked at him, considering. His reasoning was not wrong, and they were stealing the Da’re’l, so he knew what to do—even if he had never successfully stolen something. In the end, she decided to trust him for the mission. The Mer’ral had chosen the thief, after all. Kyrey spoke to Nar in Wyld, then they bowed their heads to each other. Kyrey followed the thief into the camp. his reason
The Qryers’ camp was much larger than King Syamil’s on the other side of the mountain. This did not surprise Kyrey since their camp surrounded a growing village. The scattered tents required them to weave around a lot, but this helped them keep hidden. Kyrey wondered how anyone could find the way around, and she became thoroughly confused when they came to a wooden wall. She said nothing, fearing they might be heard. She kept close to the thief, watching for guards as they went.
Carthiss led Kyrey through the tents surrounding the Qryer village. Once they reached the wall separating the camp from the wooden village, he hand-gestured for her to climb up it; he knelt down, lacing his fingers together to offer a lift. To her credit she did as she was told and used his help to lift herself onto the wall. Carthiss grabbed her leg to signal that she needed to stay on the wall. She moved so that she lay across the wall and reached down for him. He jumped up and grabbed her wrist then scrambled the rest of the way up then they both readjusted so that they crouched on the wall. Carthiss gestured and led her to a bushy, but small tree that would hide them.
“Stay low to avoid attention. This tree should hide us for the time being so we’ll wait here for a couple of until most of the villagers are out and about.” Carthiss whispered. Kyrey nodded and they settled on the wall, preparing to wait.
After a few hours passed and Carthiss could hear the villagers speaking over the rain, he led Kyrey along the wall to a house that protruded from it. He dropped onto its roof, then crouched by the chimney stack, watching and listening for any nearby activity. Lanterns were still being lit, doors opened and closed, and the sound of conversation filled the air. Qryers were nocturnal, living the exact opposite of other species. This made it safer to travel across the roofs because almost no one would be home to hear them. However, the rain did negate this advantage slightly; but, it had slowed to a drizzle, so more Qryers’ were willing to go about their usual business.
As an immortal, Carthiss had the chance to learn more about the world than other people, nymphs or otherwise; with his curiosity, he traveled and visited different countries to learn their culture. He had even visited the Qryer country, where he traveled to different villages and learned about the stone buildings and their fascination with electricity. With had already liveCarthiss Wwas Ffairly Certinknw certainhey were keeping the Da’re’l: in a stone building directly in the center of the camp. The building would have a tall metal rod, a part of the contraption the Qryers’ used to collect energy. Though Carthiss didn’t know the entire dimensions of the village, nor where they were, he knew that the village’s paths would be circular and the houses followed the circle, so he only needed to pay attention to the direction he jumped in and he would be fine. First, he had to choose the safest rooftop path to take in the rain. After deciding on the best route to the center of the village, Carthiss jumped to the next house. He looked back for Kyrey after each bound to make certain she followed him. Though the rain and fog aided their sneaking, keeping them hidden because the lanterns wouldn’t show as much, it also made the roofs slippery and their road more dangerous.
Kyrey followed the thief across the rooftops; he led her to a house right next to the stone building. He leaned in close to shout over the sudden upheaval of energy from the storm, pointing at the same time. “There’s an entrance down there somewhere, you go and find it. The pole in the middle of the building powers it and everything else, so the door will be locked; I doubt you can open it. I’m going to climb to the top of the building and try to disrupt the power, which will hopefully unlock the door so you can open it. I’ll find my way to the door when I finish and keep watch while you retrieve the stone. Agreed?”
“Then when early morning comes and the villagers are mostly at home, we will begin.” They settled close to the chimney and hoped that nothing would cause them to be noticed and waited for the dawn.
The hours passed slowly, and they took turns taking an hour of sleep before Carthiss decided it was as good a time as any to traverse the village safelyRNSSLEEPiNthe Qryers had returned to their homes for the day, and the storm was still heavy and loud, with lightning striking every couple of minutes. Kyrey leapt into the alley between the house and stone building rolled up against its wall. ITSIts intricly carved stone slabs would conceal her nicely as she made her way around the building in search of the door.
Kyrey snuck almost all the way around the window-less building before encountering two guards standing under an awning in front of the only entrance. She looked toward the roof, wondering if the thief was close to doing whatever it was he intended to do, then unhooked her weapons from her belt. Though only the two guards were in sight, Kyrey assumed that there were others nearby. Even though the villagers had turned in, there were probably still patrols. She needed to create a plan to kill them simultaneously, or in quick succession, so that they didn’t even squeak. She couldn’t sneak behind them because they stood too close to the door; one even leaned against the wall, and they stood near two pale lanterns which only lit under the awning. Kyrey stepped back a couple of feet, giving herself distance to gain speed, then charged forward. She leapt onto the first guard, her feet slamming into his shoulders while one of her blades landed in his neck. The other guard stumbled away from her, preparing for a scream. The second spent registering they were being attacked was all she needed to bury her blades in his chest. Kyrey wiped her blades clean on one of the guard’s tunic then replaced them in her belt. She dragged both guards out of sight then knelt in a corner and waited for the thief to open the doors.
After Kyrey jumped down, Carthiss leapt to the circular building. There was a steeper gradient to this roof, and its smooth tiles combined with the rain became far more perilous to traverse.
Carthiss climbed to the peak of the steeply pitched roof, nearly falling off on multiple occasions; to keep from falling he had to attempt to grip the corners of the tiles with his fingers as he climbed up. Just as he reached the top, a massive shout of thunder shook the house and lightning struck the metal nearby. He grabbed the metal to keep from falling and felt the electricity flowing through it.
Carthiss pulled himself closer to the pole. He felt the energy coursing through it, traveling up to the wires above him and spreading out to the houses. Carthiss did not know how he would break the rod. Based on the vague instructions Mer’ral had given him, he needed to use a magic he had never considered possessing before.
Three different types of magic existed in his world: there were shamans, who harnessed the magic of the spirit world, allowing them to see things a normal person would not; there were fortune tellers and street-magicians, those who harness the power of objects but did not have any magic of their own; and, lastly, there were Kar’Dyy’Ien, the few Mer’ral had chosen to have a raw form of magic. Carthiss was one of these Kar’Dyy’Iens. His ability allowed him to access the power of lightning, channeling it through his body with destructive force. He was not the most powerful to exist because he did need lightning to channel, there were also a few who did not need the original element to channel magic. Carthiss wondered if Kyrey was also a Kar’Dyy’*Ien*.
Without a better idea, Carthiss whispered the words the king taught him as he felt another bolt of lightning warming up to strike; , something he h been able to feel since his birth. Everything was connected to Mer’ral, so he hoped if he opened himself up to its voice he would also open his body to the lightning, allowing it to course through him and somehow break the rod in the stone building. He focused on his hands, feeling extra warmth flow to them, and then the lightning struck loudly, stepping beyond simple discomfort to actual pain. Carthiss fell onto his back as the metal rod shattered and tumbled off the roof, hitting a line of something that slowed hi descent. He landed but didn’t feel the jarring impact against his body due to the pain screaming in his hands. He rocked back and forth, clutching his charred and blistered hands. This was the first time he had ever been hurt by lightning.
The time after Carthiss completed his task passed oddly for him. It felt like the next few minutes simultaneously took forever and lasted only a few seconds before the voices of screaming villagers urged him to his feet. Though it was dawn, there were still a few villagers up and about, finishing the last of their to-do list, and even the ones who would have turned in would have heard the lightning strike and they would soon be there. Guards and villagers were beginning to run around, horns blaring for reinforcements to go to the stone building. Having been caught on numerous occasions, Carthiss knew when it was time to flee. So, he got up and fled, somehow; he bounded through the streets with his legs feeling like jelly and lightning striking him often. It did not hurt again though, and it seemed to give him small bursts of energy that, accompanied with the adrenaline that came with his fear, helped him escape. He feared the lightning would reveal his location to the guards and villagers, but he couldn’t do anything about that. When he spotted a stack of crates near a house, Carthiss leapt up them and then onto the roofs so he could traverse through the village in a fairly straight line, hopefully unseen. He leapt over the village’s wall the first safe chance he got. Whistling softly, he ran through the tents then through the forest, vaguely running towards where they had left Devil and Nar.
It took them a while, but in time both Devil and Nar found Carthiss. Nar refused to approach, though. She disliked how often lightning struck Carthiss now; but Devil was used to it, so he lay down and allowed Carthiss to sit in close for warmth.
All Carthiss could do, with his legs turning numb and the pain in his hands reactivating whenever a simple drop of rain touched them, was wonder if Kyrey had retrieved the Da’re’l. He had planned to meet her at the door, keep watch from the outside, but it did not go as planned.
It never did.
A lull in the storm woke Carthiss; the fresh earth smell surrounded him and he was soaked through. Devil’s warm body did little to rid the chill from his bones. His hands still ached, but when he looked there were only ragged, white scars on his palms. He looked to the sky and found the sun inching westward, telling him he only had a few hours left until dusk.He had SLEPT ALLMost
He stood, stretched, and looked around. Nar loitered nearby, looking towards what Carthiss presumed was the Qryers’ village. He walked to her and fumbled through her saddlebag for anything medical. He found some bandages and an unpleasant salve, but since he didn’t know what it was he simply bound his hands in the bandages.
“Come on, dena,” Carthiss said, pulling on Nar’s bridle. “Let’s go, Nar. Let’s take you home.” Nar was stubborn, however, and she held fast, even pulling forward some. “Ky. Nar, come.” Carthiss tugged harder, but the tarisan did not budge. He looked to Devil for help. River Knights spoke the Wyld language, so it was possible Nar only understood that language. However, Devil understood Carthiss all the time—at least, he thought—Devil could translate for Nar.
Devil silently nudged Nar’s neck. Nar took a step forward, towards the Qryers’ village. For some minutes, nothing else happened, then Devil took the lead, taking Nar where she wanted to go.
“Deigh.” Carthiss rushed forward and pulled himself onto Devil’s back, but he didn’t change their direction.
Kyrey tried to shake away her drowsiness; she succeeded in lifting her head, but she couldn’t hold it up; it just fell backwards. She inspected her surroundings through a blurry vision; these surroundings mostly involved the dirt ceiling.
She had just found the Dare’*l.] The only door to the building opened five or so minutes after she killed the guards, just as lightning struck the top of the building and shrapnel flew overhead. She didn’t know what the thief had done, but it opened the door so she snuck in, hoping to retrieve the [[*Da’re’l] and escape unnoticed―hoped. She snuckearound a long winding hallway until she reached the only room. The Da’re’l was in the center of that room, displayed on a velvet cloth in a pale box. Kyrey had scanned the room for traps or triggers and had found none, not even more guards. So she crept to the center of the room, watching her feet in case one of the tiles was a trap. Nothing happened until she reached the pedestal in the middle of the room. She took a breath, muttered a prayer, wrapped the Da’re’l in the cloth and removed it from the box.
She heard the snap of a bowstring before the arrow sliced through her leg. Though just a scratch, it had surprised Kyrey. Hidden doors slid open all around her and the Qryers surrounded her. She had seen neither the doors, nor any suggestion of a trigger in the box. Before she could make a move, someone came from behind and hit her on the head. She hit the ground, the Da’re’l rolling out of her grasp as her vision went dark.
Now, with no idea of how long it had been since she entered the stone building, she was regaining consciousness, underground, delirious, and tied to a chair. A door creaked open then someone grabbed her head. “Ain’t lookin’ pretty, miss.” Kyrey couldn’t tell if she was having trouble understanding the words because of her headache or the terrible accent. Whoever it was soon released her head, and she was once again looking at her lap.
“Ai. Look up, Pretty.”
Kyrey couldn’t even shake her head. It was lifted for her again and someone pulled at her eyelids. Foreign words were spoken, then, gradually gaining volume and harshness. She inhaled deeply as a needle was stabbed into her neck, and feeling rushed back into her body. The pain restored her senses rather quickly, but she still couldn’t hold her head up when the Qryer dropped it.
“There. That fixed ye right up, pretty.”
Now she knew. This male Qryer had a horrible accent.
“Ai. Look at me.”
She did. She looked up at horribly configured mask; a metal sculpture meant to stir nightmares.
“Hello there, pretty. Care to tell me how ye got into our little home?”
Kyrey finally managed to shake her head.
“Of course not. How ‘bout where ye were supposed to go after?”
She turned away, refusing to speak. She doubted the thief would rescue her, or even stay quiet if their situation was switched, but they were on a quest for King Syamil so she would say nothing.
“Yer a River Knight, that’s for sure, so I don’t need to be askin’ ya why you were here. Ye’re after the fancy stone, the one we took nigh three years ‘go. The Huikidra.”
“Da’re’l.” Kyrey spoke sharply.
The Qryer walked to a table almost behind her. Kyrey followed with her head as best she could. “Maybe to ye. Maybe to yer king. But is that what the Essence calls it? Noi, I think not. But, what can we say? Still can’t speak with it. No, still ain’t got the Dreamer.” He picked up something and turned back to Kyrey. She inhaled, surprised to see him holding the Da’re’l in his bare hands.
Usually it was a gorgeous raw stone of black and white with a slight blue color in the middle, hinting at a hidden gem; Kyrey now saw one devastating problem. The perfect blue that belonged to the Da’re’l was changing, changing to a burning red that―according to legend—would explode if it consumed the stone.
All the information about this stone had been shared with all species, leaders and common-folk, but a few chose to ignore it Qryers for some reason refused to accept this; they couldn’t even see what was wrong with it because they were color blind.
“Special, special, special. Needs to be taken care of, and we do. Nothing has gone wrong and nothing will go wrong. But the Essence never gave it to us, didn’t think we could take care of it properly. We’re proving it wrong.” He returned it to the table and walked back to Kyrey. “We kept it out of the hands of a River Knight. But someone helped you. That’s the only explanation for how you got in, how our pole shattered. And that someone might be stupid enough to try again. Where’s yer friend?” The Qryer put a hand to Kyrey’s leg, sinking sharp claws into her flesh.
Carthiss had been surprised at how easy it was to pass through the Qryers’ village unseen at night; the rain definitely made it easier, but day just put more Qryers inside where they might’ve heard Carthiss and Kyrey jumping on the roofs. He thought it would be difficult to pass through the camp then, near the end of the day when the early Qryers were rising to partake in the earlier. But very few were out, and definitely only patrols walked throughout the camp. Because Nar seemed to know where to go, Carthiss allowed her to lead. He kept nearby her, though, prepared to pull her back behind crates or a tent to avoid patrolling guards.in ronine were less guards ro gorth between a River Knight and tarisan worked, whether it was a spiritual connection or simply a deep friendship.
The tarisan led their little group of three to a small wooden building sitting on a stone slab, just outside of the village perimeter. He saw no one, surprisingly, but Carthiss gestured for Nar and Devil to stay put then unsheathed a dagger from his belt to be prepared to attack if necessary. He opened the door slowly but found no one on the other side. Instead, he exposed a steep tunnel leading far down. He pushed the door open the rest of the way and left it like that, letting Devil and Nar choose if they wanted to follow, then proceeded down the tunnel. He exchanged his dagger for an alchemy-soaked rag from his pack instead: the potion would put to sleep whoever breathed it in.
Lanterns hung from the ceiling, creating circles of light in the middle of the pathway and splotches of shadows close to the walls. Carthiss didn’t bother keeping to the shadows, but he did listen for approaching guards. He glanced back once and found Nar following him and Devil standing guard back at the entrance.
The tunnel continued to descend at a gentler decline for quite some time before it leveled off at a sharp corner. Voices halted Carthiss before he stepped around the corner. When he peeked around it, he saw a sleepy guard standing by a door.
He hadn’t been waiting long thinking of what to do next when there was a howl of pain followed by a foreign curse. Carthiss ducked behind the corner again, searching quickly for a plan with his limited options. He didn’t know how many guards were in the room, or what their level of defense was or what shape Kyrey was in, if she was even there. A door opened, a strange language was spoken, then heavy footsteps quickly neared the only corner in the tunnel. Carthiss prepared the cloth to silence the approaching guard when he came around the corner; he stepped back down the path and into a cast shadow so that the guard at the door wouldn’t notice him immediately.
The Qryer turned the corner and stopped just slightly past it, opening his mouth to shout, but Carthiss grabbed him and covered his nose and mouth with the cloth, quickly subduing him. Nar shuffled out of the way as Carthiss stuffed the Qryer into a shadow farther down the tunnel. When he looked around the corner again, the other guard still leaned against the door, yawning.
Carthiss pulled a blowgun and a dart tipped with the sleeping potion from his bag then gestured for Nar to stay put and snuck around the corner. Staying in the shadows, he calculated the distance between him and the remaining guard. He snuck closer until he was within leaping distance of the guard. Once in range, Carthiss shot the guard in the neck, and the Qryer looked startled before toppling over, an action that Carthiss leapt forward to prevent. He lowered the Qryer into a shadow gently, then whistled softly: Nar trotted around the corner, her steps echoing loudly. Carthiss picked the lock to the door and nudged it open, hoping there was no one else.
Kyrey spat the blood from her mouth, twisting her wrists to either loosen the rope or find the knot. The Qryer had started with force, but when she didn’t budge, he tried a different technique that hinted at other horrors. When he brought his hand close enough to her face, she bit him. She might not have sharp incisors like nymphs, but she still broke his skin. He screamed, then cursed, then slapped her before storming out. This was her first chance to try and escape, but the rope felt never ending. She found no knot, and it seemed to tighten the harder she wiggled.
She flinched to a stop at an odd sound, a heavy but quiet thud, and considered what it could have been. There was another noise, a faint sound she recognized as a lock being picked, then the door opened slowly. Nar burst through, shoving the thief out of the way, and rushed to Kyrey. A warm blade brushed behind Kyrey’s hands and cut through the rope. When free, she brought her arms about to hug her tarisan.
“Come on, Kyrey. Time to get up.”
“Wait. The Da’re’l,” Kyrey said as Carthiss tried to help her onto Nar. Kyrey pointed to the table and to where the stone rested on a leather cloth.
“Your legs look as if you fell into a pit of spikes. Get on Nar then she’ll walk you over,” Carthiss ordered. Kyrey obeyed, then Nar did as well.
“Why didn’t you just grab it?” Kyrey asked as she grabbed the stone. She was surprised to see the inner red fade slightly. Carthiss held out a velvety pouch, a perfect fit for the special stone, but she didn’t put it into the pouch right away. She needed to heal the Da’re’l first; this was why the Mer’ral had chosen her: her ability to heal diseased plants or cleanse poisoned water. King Syamil had told Kyrey that she was chosen because her healing ability could also be used to heal the Da’re’l.
“I just have a feeling. Deigh. What did the sarquip do to it?”
“It’s what they didn’t do. Qryers didn’t believe everything we were told about it, so they didn’t protect it correctly. It’s why the Mer’ral never gave them protection rights. How do you not know this?” Kyrey said as she rubbed at the Da’re’l, breathing meditatively and pulling any ill humor from the precious stone she could.
“I knew what would happen, just not how it would look. It has never been stolen or even improperly cared for.” He watched her actions momentarily, curious.
Kyrey lay against Nar and Carthiss led them out, her magic still coursing through the stone.
They found Devil still guarding the entrance. Carthiss led the Wyld horse and the tarisan a different way than they had come, being more careful now because they had Kyrey and she was wounded. He led them all a good distance from the Qryers camp before pausing to see if he needed to tend to Kyrey’s wounds. Some of the cuts needed to be bound tightly, while others just needed some salve and light bandaging. He also checked for fractured or broken bones and was relieved to find none. As he was checking her wounds, he noticed how doting she was to the Da’re’l and how the red color on the inside seemed to be fading. He decided not to ask about it, figuring he would not get an answer. She barely registered the administrations to her wounds, so he assumed she was in some kind of trance. His curiosity dug at him, and though he could be rude when exhausted he respected the privacy of others so long as it did not affect him. They continued their escape after Carthiss finished and shortly thereafter they heard horns blaring behind them.
They retraced their steps, back to the river then the mountain, at a faster pace. Carthiss looked back often, and one time he found Kyrey asleep―she had tucked the Da’re’l in Nar’s saddle bag at an earlier point—with her arms wrapped around Nar’s neck. Carthiss pulled back, leveling up with Nar, and brought Kyrey onto Devil. She protested through the shield of sleep, but nothing more than that. He increased the horses pace, then turned to his thoughts, thinking of what the king had told him. Mer’ral had told Carthiss that their failure would come before success, and the king told him the same thing, although in different words. But, Carthiss only had to deal with two guards, which he did in stealth. He wondered if half of what Mer’ral had said was more for Kyrey. She was captured, and she might have needed to kill someone to get to the point where she was captured. But Carthiss didn’t know, and he figured it no longer mattered. They had the Da’re’l safely packed in a box Kyrey was given specially for this task, a box filled with dirt. After all, the words “kept safe in a living embrace” meant the embrace of the earth.
Kyrey woke where she least expected to: on the Wyld horse, in front of Carthiss. While this did surprise her, she understood why. Her legs hurt, so she couldn’t hold onto a horse or a tarisan. She adjusted her position so that she no longer leaned against Carthiss, then looked around and realized they were already on the other side of the mountain and the moon was in the sky.
“Did we ride straight over?” Kyrey asked.
“Yes, so you’ve been asleep for around ten hours.” They crossed the second glacial river and Kyrey had to stop herself from pulling too hard on Devil’s mane. The cold rush of water caused pain to course through her veins and Devil did not wear saddle or bridle.
Shouts came from the camp as Nar and Devil climbed from the river; soon, River Knights and King Syamil were rushing towards them. King Syamil walked in front of Devil, and Captain Philanth walked to Devil’s side to catch Kyrey as she slid off. He then carried her back to the camp, Nar following close behind.
Carthiss, the king, and some other River Knights watched as the River Knight elite carried Kyrey to a tent and, most likely, to a bed where she would be treated. When they walked out of sight, the king turned to Carthiss.
“Did you succeed?”
“The Da’re’l is in Nar’s saddlebag. And here is the other stone,” Carthiss answered, taking off the necklace with the Ckysia. The king took it and placed it into his pocket, then he took a leather bag from one of the other River Knights. He handed it to Carthiss.
“Here is your reward. There is a position available at court if you want it, no matter how my advisors advise me otherwise.”
Carthiss accepted the bag. It was a substantial amount, not that he knew what to do with it. “I respect you, King. Though, I guess, I haven’t shown it. But, as I told the elite, I worry how long that respect will last if I come to know you more. Respectable men are difficult to come by, especially when they wear a crown.”
“Good. Thank you for the criys, and I hope not to see any of you again. Maybe this escapade has changed my luck and now I’ll stop getting caught.”
“I hope you only stop getting caught when you stop thieving.”
Carthiss grinned. He then nudged Devil west, following the river down the valley.
Syamil sat in a chair by Kyrey’s bed. Her wounds had been properly cleaned, stitched and re-bandaged, and she was given a sleep aid that also helped her body heal. It had been five hours since they arrived and Carthiss’ immediate departure. Syamil had sent the fastest River Knight in his convoy back to the castle with the Da’re’l; even though Kyrey had healed it surprisingly well, it still needed to be returned to its rightful location, deep underground and tucked away in the Dethak; a tree whose roots reached all the way to the heart of the planet and protected the Da’re’l from anything foul. This tree was what told people who would protect the Da’re’l next and it had been thriving beneath Syamil’s castle for a while now, and still did. However, Syamil thought he might have seen one of the leaves fall off which meant his time as the Da’re’l‘s protector was coming to an end.
Kyrey shifted awake. “Your Majesty,” she said. She tried to push herself into a sitting position, but drowsiness and her injuries kept her down. “Why are you here?”
“I just wanted to make sure you were alright,” he answered.
“Oh. I’m fine. Better. Is the Da’re’l safe?”
“Yes. It’s on its way to Da’roun now. Relax, Kyrey. Everything is back in order. When we return home; the council will help me decide what to do about the Qryers.”
Kyrey nodded. “And Carthiss?”
“He took the criys, but he went west almost as soon as he arrived. He had a good reason for not staying, I guess. An odd one, but it does make sense.”
“Nothing. Rest, heal. I will be leaving tomorrow with the Knights. Philanth will take you back to your village where you will finish your training. Soon, maybe, you will join me in Da’roun. It was a pleasure meeting you, Kyrey.” Syamil smiled at her, then stood and left. He returned to his tent, where he whispered the words to speak with Mer’ral in case anything remained to be said.
The sun was beginning to color the sky behind him, still Carthiss did not stop. Devil was going where he pleased, and Carthiss had nodded off a while ago, his hand in his pocket where a bit of broken stone remained. Devil had heard him mutter odd words after Carthiss had fallen asleep.
Dark rolls the clouds, bright does the electricity strike.
Blue does the blood run, strong is the spirit.
Unlikely, yet lucky.
Far across King in Stone, following the Sunken Moon.
Blue do the trees bloom, white the rivers run.
Dark, their hearts beat. Dark, their intentions seek.
Hidden away safe—no more. The secret has been found.
The riddle has been answered.
The Creature of the Rolling Hills, hidden beneath, must not
be found by them.
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By Danielle Kozinski
The Two-Hearts Trilogy
The Alistar’s Hearts
Kaamil is a Two-Hearts, the fabrication of a scientist that transfers the heart of a dead mage into the body of a child to create an entirely new person. He was made to fight for the scientist, a man simply known as the Creator, in his war against the ruling powers. But he is also an Alistar, an individual selected by the gods to fix a problem mankind cannot fix on its own.
After only a few years spent fighting in the Creator’s service, Kaamil is left for dead in the middle of a huge battle. A stranger finds him and hides him in the wreckage of a fallen plane to await the battle’s conclusion. The stranger does not stay, but a man who is more attached to Kaamil than believably possible helps him to a sanctuary.
He spends years there learning of two very different worlds, his magic, and everything that he is; a Two-Hearts and an Alistar. Until, one day, his past catches up with him and a group of soldiers from the Creator’s army find their way into the sanctuary. They are just the beginning, however. The time has come for him to begin his duties as Alistar of the Aoine Eingnei.
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By Keegan and Tristen Kozinski
The City of Locked Doors
Black and white, a blue crystal it cradles within. From the Sunken Moon it came, in the green earth it must remain. Kept safe in the hands of a king, kept safe in a living embrace. Lost it cannot be, but lost it was. Male and tall, with horns to hide and teeth to bare, a chief carries a treacherous hand. Taken, he has. Taken what he should not. Found, it cannot be. Not by a force, nor by simply a trusted friend. A worthy youth, an Yrithar eager to prove. River born, marked with floral, difficult to forget. A nymph belonging to the Sunken Moon, to the dark night, to the electricity in the sky. You will not find, 'til Uirâ€™s Haven is breached.