“Are you going to tell my father?”
Kieran Novell remained silent as he wiped the remaining blood from the boy’s leg. He suppressed a grin when the boy crossed his fingers. “No, not this time. Now if you do it again, maybe.”
“I won’t. I promise!” With that, the boy jumped down from the examination table and dashed out of the healer’s tent. Kieran watched through the tent flap to make sure he wasn’t returning to the forest, especially after hurting himself on the vines earlier. As he lowered the tent flap, a half-sized prisoner transport wagon caught his eye. The palomino that pulled it bore black barding matching the black leather armor worn by the driver. Seated beside the driver was a dark robed figure with a staff propped up against its shoulder. In the small cage sat a woman with chestnut hair. She was chained and there was bruising across her face.
When the wagon came to a full stop, the robed figure stepped down and ordered the driver to remain there. The moment Kieran’s eyes met with the driver’s, he dropped the flap. He returned to the table, wiped it off and discarded the crimson stained towel into the wicker basket at his feet. Kieran couldn’t seem to rid his mind of the image of the woman. He returned to the flap and peeked through.
The driver had climbed down and was shoving a spear into the cage. “Quiet down!” The spear pierced the woman in the arm, and she screamed through her gag. The sleeve of her lavender dress blossomed red from where she was stabbed. “I said quiet down!”
Kieran closed the flap and looked down. Her clothing didn’t scream out commoner, much less prisoner. He peeked through the flap once more and then turned away. “No, I can’t get involved.” Saying that didn’t stop him from peeking out again. “No.” He clenched his fist and turned away. A familiar apparition materialized in front of him with its arms crossed.
“Kieran, you’re going to walk away from that?” Kieran didn’t recoil at the sight of his deceased best friend.
“I can’t get involved, Ferris.”
“And just why is that?”
Kieran motioned to the tent flap. “Look out there. He’s transporting a prisoner. What am I supposed to do? Go up to him, tell him he shouldn’t be hurting her and then offer to heal her?”
Ferris pursed his lips. “Look at her and tell me she doesn’t need help.”
The image of her being stabbed tugged at him. “I know she’s hurt.”
“And you feel that’s okay?”
Kieran ran his hand through his coarse brown hair. “No! Of course, that’s not okay.”
“Then why are you saying you can’t get involved?” Kieran took another look. A closer review revealed she had more than one wound on her arm. “Does she look like a normal prisoner to you?”
Her dress material did seem nicer than most and her long hair held a fancy crown braid with a mini ponytail in the back. “No. But that doesn’t mean she’s not a criminal.”
Ferris let out an exhausted huff. “And what if I told you she’s not a criminal, Kieran?”
“You’d be lying.” Kieran felt the weight of Ferris’s glare. “She’s in a cage. Locked up. Why else would she be in there if she weren’t a criminal?”
“Now that’s the question to be asking.”
Kieran crossed his arms. “How do you know she’s not a criminal?”
Ferris gave him an incredulous look. “First you insult my honor accusing me of lying. Now you insult my intelligence. You won’t forgive yourself for what happened so you go on this healer kick for all to see but now when someone really needs help, you can’t? Seriously? Way to go Kieran. You make total sense.” Ferris clapped his hands as Kieran’s face fell. “She needs help Kieran. You can’t hide from the outside world anymore, not this time. Do your damn job, healer!”
With that, Ferris dissolved into thin air leaving Kieran to his thoughts. No matter how much he hated to admit it, his friend was right. If she were being held unjustly and was being treated that way, he couldn’t stand idly by. Kieran grabbed his staff and looked toward the flap. “Damn you Ferris.” In the back of his mind he could see Ferris smiling smugly at him. He shook his head and went outside to approach the wagon. “Excuse me sir! I noticed your lovely prisoner here needs some medical attention. If you’d allow me, I’d like to help.”
“Go away.” The driver didn’t make a move toward Kieran.
At that closer distance, Kieran could see the pain in her hazel eyes. “But sir, I’m only asking for a few minutes of your time.” Kieran stepped closer toward her until the driver grabbed him by the arm.
“Maybe you didn’t hear me. I said go away.”
Kieran didn’t try to break free from the man’s grip. “Point made.” He looked over to her and watched her struggle against her chains. He wanted to ask her if she was okay but between the driver and her gag, he wouldn’t be given the chance. “But if you change your mind-”
The driver cut him off. “What part of go away don’t you understand?” The man angled his spear toward Kieran to make sure he got the point.
Kieran wrenched his arm away and went back inside his tent. Ferris waited inside. “That was it?”
“No, that’s not it.” Kieran replied sarcastically. He went over to his messenger bag and pulled out a bottle of white powder. “I came for this.” Kieran looked down at his bag, already thinking of how the encounter would most likely end up. “Actually, I might need the whole bag.” Kieran slipped the leather bag over his shoulder and looked to Ferris. “I hope you’re happy.” Kieran uncorked the bottle and poured some powder in his hand before returning the bottle to the bag. With powder in one hand and the staff in the other, he was as prepared as he could be.
“Sir!” Kieran had managed to get close to him before speaking. “Last chance to take me up on my offer to help.” Kieran threw the powder and the driver turned headfirst into the fine cloud of white. He coughed and covered his mouth and nose, trying not to breathe it in. The driver attempted to fan it away but within seconds he fell to the ground unconscious. Kieran let out a sigh of relief. “I’ll take that as a yes.” Kieran reached down, took the key off the driver’s belt, and went around to the back of the wagon to unlock the cage. “Well, that was easier than I thought.”
The lady mumbled something and tried to signal him. Kieran inserted the key and felt something sharp stick him in the back. “I wouldn’t do that.” Kieran froze. “Remove the key, very carefully.”
He felt another sharp poke in the back. “I guess I spoke too soon.”
“Shut up!” The voice behind him commanded. Kieran glanced out the corner of his eye and saw that it wasn’t the driver. He remained sprawled out on the ground. Kieran removed the key from the cage as he was ordered. “Throw it on the ground beside you, now.” Kieran complied all the while keeping his eyes on the woman in the cage. “Turn around.”
Kieran obeyed but grabbed his staff that had been propped up against the wagon’s cage and with a quick down thrust, knocked the man’s sword away. Unlike the driver he was taller and wore clothing made of a mishmash of skins and furs. The bronze medallion around his neck indicated he was a bounty hunter. The man growled at Kieran’s staff work and thrust his blade back toward Kieran. He again deflected the bounty hunter’s attack and took a swipe at the man’s face.
The bounty hunter tried to step back but didn’t clear Kieran’s reach in time. Stunned by the blow, he stumbled backwards as Kieran brought it around again and knocked the bounty hunter’s sword to the ground. Kieran’s demand was firm. “Walk away.” But the bounty hunter wasn’t intimidated. He pulled out a long dagger that had been held in his belt.
“Let’s see you try that again.”
Kieran shook his head. “I definitely spoke too soon.”
The bounty hunter lunged at Kieran with the dagger. Kieran blocked his attack and took another swing at the man but missed. The driver was quick. The bounty hunter repeated his lung, but this time stopped short and grabbed Kieran’s staff mid swing. He gave an arrogant chuckle and slashed Kieran’s arm. Kieran let out a painful grunt and pulled his staff free from the bounty hunter. In retaliation, he used the staff to knock the man’s legs out from beneath him. The dagger went flying on impact. Wincing from the pain in his arm, Kieran brought the end of the staff up to the driver’s neck. The man gave a throaty growl in Kieran’s direction. “It doesn’t matter if you free her or not. We’ll find you both and if we can’t, Lord Mage Castan will. You’ll pay for this I promise.”
The name wasn’t familiar to Kieran, but the word mage left him feeling uneasy. “I guess we’ll see about that.”
The bounty hunter let out an amused chuckle. “Most certainly.”
“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”
“Sorry? You’re going to be sorry when-” Kieran swiped the staff across his temple knocking him clean out.
“That’s going to hurt something fierce when you wake up. I don’t envy you that.”
The pain in his arm flared again. His blood was seeping through his sleeve but to him there were more pressing matters. Kieran turned his attention toward the woman. “Aren’t we just a matching pair?” He motioned to her arm wound. “Now then, let’s get you out of there shall we?” Kieran picked up the key, unlocked the cage and removed the gag from her mouth.
The woman exercised her jaw a moment before speaking. “Thank you, stranger.”
He nodded to her as he removed the chains and shackles that bound her in the cage. Kieran offered his hand to her. “My lady?” After a moment of hesitation, she took his hand and was helped off the wagon. “They’ll probably wake up soon. Can you walk?”
The woman nodded her head. “Yes, I think so.”
Kieran grabbed his staff. “I’m Kieran, by the way.”
“La-” She paused. “Amira.”
“Pleasure to meet you Amira. Come on, let’s get you somewhere safe.”
“Thank you.” She looked into his brown eyes and smiled.
The two of them headed deeper into town in hopes to elude her captors. The town of Greenbriar wasn’t a large one but it was busy thanks to the local iron mines just on the outskirts of town. Working in the mines was a dangerous profession and that same danger is what brought Kieran to Greenbriar, that and its remote geography. It was there he could practice his healing without the past catching up to him. Miners and townspeople moved about the markets while the smells of fresh baked bread and meat pies wafted overhead. At first whiff, Amira placed her hand over her stomach to suppress its growling.
Kieran navigated his way through the crowd periodically looking back to make sure Amira was right behind him. On one of his checks, she was gone. “Amira?” He called out. His eyes darted around to each of the vendors hoping she’d stopped at one of them, but she hadn’t. His thoughts went to the worst. Kieran called her name once more and proceeded to back track until he found her. She was laying on the ground with people hovering over her. Kieran rushed over to her and pushed people out of the way. “Amira. Amira.” He tapped her lightly on the cheek until she came round.
“Hmm? What happened?”
“I was about to ask you the same thing. Are you okay?”
“Yes. I think so. Just a little hungry.”
Kieran helped her up and dispersed the remaining onlookers. “When was the last time you ate something?”
“Two days, maybe?” Her expression was like a child telling their parents bad news.
“Two days?” Kieran let out an aggravated huff. He looked around the crowd to made sure the men weren’t anywhere nearby. “Okay. We probably need to get some food in you before we go too much further.”
Amira half smiled. “That might be a good thing.”
Kieran looked around for something they could take with them and spotted one of the market vendors selling fresh cava bread. He then guided her to the table where an older woman was arranging loaves of different varieties. “Do you like cava bread?”
“I don’t know what that is but I’m willing to try anything about now.”
He had never heard of anyone who didn’t know what cava bread was. Kieran stumbled a bit. “Well. It’s. Okay.” He looked toward the woman behind the table. “Could I get a loaf of the cava?” Kieran reached into his belt pouch for a coin and handed it to the woman. She exchanged the money for a cranberry colored loaf and bid them both good days.
Amira closed her eyes and inhaled deeply taking in the sweet and savory smells around her. Kieran ripped off a piece of the sweet bread and handed it to Amira. “Give this a try. I’ve got some water in my waterskin if you need some.”
“Thank you, Kieran.” She sank her teeth into the soft bread and closed her eyes again. “Mmm.” She took another large bite of the bread. “This is so good.” She raised her hand to cover her mouth as she chewed and spoke at the same time.
Kieran smiled at her reaction. “Glad you like it. It’s one of my favorites.” He slipped the remaining loaf into his bag. “Let’s get going. You can finish that on the way.”
She took another bite and followed his lead heading away from the markets. On one of his checks, Kieran saw the two men making their way through the crowds and they were heading straight for them. A second later they locked eyes and the driver shouted. “Stop!”
Kieran took Amira by the hand. “Come on. We have to hurry!”
“What do you think you’re do-” She looked back and saw the men catching up to them. “Oh.” The two of them took to running as Amira tried to finish her bread. It was easier said than done.
Kieran was pulling Amira through a maze of wooden buildings and tents to evade them. But the two men weren’t thrown off track. They shoved everyone and everything out of their way to stay on their heels. After Kieran had double backed a couple of times, she made him stop. “Where are we going? Besides in circles!”
“To the forest. There’s a hidden spot that I know of where we’ll be safe.”
“Then why aren’t we going to the forest?” He didn’t like going in circles himself, but the men weren’t giving him any other options. “How far is it from here?” Amira asked, holding her side.
“Not far. You okay?”
“Mhmm.” She was still breathing hard from the running. “No more circles. We go to the forest or we don’t.”
Kieran shook his head. “Come on.”
The two of them took off again, this time straight for the forest. From behind a corner, the driver jumped out in front of them. His spear was aimed to strike. “No, you don’t!”
“Yes, we do.” After hearing Kieran’s reply, the driver thrust his spear forward and missed. “I liked you better asleep!”
“That’s tough. You have something that doesn’t belong to you.”
Kieran brought one end of his staff down on the spear and shoved the other end right into the man’s face. The force of the blow made the man drop his spear. Kieran swung his staff around and bashed him on the back of the head, causing the man to collapse with a thud. Amira watched as Kieran dove to his knees to check that the man was still alive.
“Come on Kieran!”
Satisfied that he hadn’t done serious damage or worse, he and Amira ran straight for the forest. The first one hundred feet of forest were sparse with trees. It was mostly dotted with stumps due to the ongoing cutting for firewood and building materials. Once past that point, the forest grew dense with trees, bushes, and the large thorn vines that Greenbriar had gotten its name from. Between those and his secret spot, he hoped that would be enough to keep the two men at bay.
Kieran guided Amira through the maze of vines and trees until they reached a large waterfall that fed into a roaring river below. “We’re here.”
“It’s beautiful but won’t they find us here?” It’s true that the river wasn’t a secret, especially to locals, but Kieran knew something most didn’t. There was a cave behind the waterfall.
Kieran smiled. “Follow me. I hope you don’t mind getting wet.”
Kieran led her to the river’s rocky edge. An outcropping of rock prevented easy access to the waterfall from either side. To get to it, they’d have to cross the river. Kieran pointed toward the opposite bank, which was more a lip of rock than an actual bank. “We’ve got to get over there.”
Amira looked at the fast-moving river and then back at Kieran. He winked, took a few a good steps backwards and with a running jump, he leapt over to the rock protruding from the middle of the river. “You want me to do that?” She scoffed.
“You could always swim across. I wouldn’t recommend it though.” He said, pointing at the rushing water.
Amira put her hands on her hips. “Right.”
Kieran shook his head and took another running jump to reach the other side. He turned in her direction and tried to encourage her. “Come on. It’s easy.”
The bounty hunter’s voice boomed from the woods behind them, even over the roar of the river. “I know you’re out here! I will find you!”
Amira looked back at the woods and let out a huff. “Seems I have little choice.” She took a few steps back and ran for it. She leapt and just barely made it. Relief appeared on her face while her heart raced.
“That’s it. Just one more like that one.”
She closed her eyes trying to get her nerve up to jump again. Amira readied herself and took another leap. “I’m not going to make it!” She yelled, waving her arms about. Kieran rushed over mid-jump and caught her as she came down. Only her shoes and the bottom edges of her dress went into the water. He pulled her up onto the bank. Amira looked into his eyes and thanked him.
He smiled back. “You did good. You just about had it.” His smile disappeared when Kieran saw she was limping.
“It’s not far now but you’re definitely going to get wet this time.” He reached his hand out toward her. “Do you trust me?”
“No.” There was a playful tease about her voice.
Kieran grinned, took her hand and pulled her into the waterfall behind him. “No!” She yelled. A second later she was inside the cave alongside Kieran. Goosebumps covered her skin as she shook off the excess water and wrung out her hair. Kieran stood there a moment watching her, trying to gauge her reaction. “You okay?”
Amira’s look said it all. Kieran’s arm twinged again reminding him of the cut from earlier. Kieran took a seat on the cave floor and put his damp bag beside him. He took out the bread and ripped another chunk from the loaf for Amira. “Bread?”
“What about that bounty hunter? Surely we can’t stay here.”
To be on the safe side, Kieran motioned for her to take a seat away from the cave’s entrance. “We’re safe here. You can’t see inside from the outside and the waterfall’s sound prevents our voices from being heard. Relax. Sit. Eat.” He offered her the bread again.
She rubbed her arms, still covered in goosebumps from the water. Kieran saw the wince as she did so. “Here, let me look at your wounds.” Her wounds came first in his mind. She sat down and folded her legs around her. It was very lady like for a prisoner, he noted. He handed her the bread, and she began to eat it slowly. Amira had multiple lacerations and bruises from what Kieran could see. “I can tend to your wounds, if you’ll permit me.”
Kieran pulled the water skin from his bag and placed it next to her. Amira agreed to let him try and Kieran scooted closer to her. He reached for the thin silver chain around his neck and pulled out a small quartz colored crystal from beneath his shirt. He clutched it in one hand and held out his other over her leg. Amira’s eyes widened at the sight of the crystal. “You’re a mage? That explains the staff.”
He retracted his hand. “Not a mage. And what’s wrong with carrying a staff?”
“You have a crystal but you’re not a mage?”
“I’m a healer. Nothing more.”
He felt her studying him. “Healers don’t have crystals. They use herbs and medicines.”
Kieran pointed to his bag. “Those are in there.”
Amira crossed her arms and leaned back against the cave wall. “You’re hiding something.”
“It’s your imagination. May I?”
She looked him over. “I don’t think so.”
Kieran threw his hands in exasperation. “What? You just gave me permission a moment ago. You’re hurt.”
“And you’re lying.” Her eyes narrowed and her lips pursed. “If I can’t trust you to be honest, then there’s no way I’m going to let you get near me.”
“What!” Kieran shook his head in disbelief. “Fine. Have it your way.” Kieran rolled up his wet sleeve and examined the laceration on his arm. Normally, that kind of cut would have required stitches for it to heal properly. He grabbed his crystal again and placed his hand over the wound. Amira watched as he closed his eyes and mouthed something to himself. The crystal began to glow.
“I knew it! You’re a mage!”
His eyes opened and he spoke in an aggravated tone. “Healer.” Kieran closed his eyes once more and finished up. When he removed his hand, the wound was gone.
“Mage! And don’t argue with a member of the roy-” She stopped cold.
A smirk crept across his face. “Now who’s hiding something?” Amira scoffed and tightened her crossed arms. “While we’re at it, why are those men chasing you? Why were you being held prisoner?” Amira just glared at him.
“Just what are you accusing me of? And wipe that smirk off your face. It’s rude.”
“Oh. Well pardon me, my lady.” The thickness of his sarcasm was palatable. At seeing the pain, she was in and watching her cradle her hurt arm, Kieran exhaled and collected himself. “Please. Let me help you.”
“No.” It was as if her verdict was final.
Kieran put his face into his hands and slid them down across it in frustration. “Would you please stop being so stubborn. Let me heal you and then you can be your charming self again once I’m done. But you do need help, whether you want to admit it or not. Let me. Please.”
Amira relaxed her arms. “Why do you deny being a mage?” Kieran huffed at her question. “If you tell me and I’ll let you heal me.”
Kieran clenched his hands. He waved his finger at her like he wanted to lecture her but didn’t. Kieran retracted his hand and sat there staring at her. This wasn’t what he wanted to do, not in the least. “Okay. Fine. On one condition.”
“That after I heal you, you tell me the truth too.” Her face lost all expression. “It’s only fair.”
Worry washed over her face as she sighed. “Very well.” Kieran moved closer to her to heal her. “Wait. You have to tell me first, remember?”
Kieran nodded and sat back wishing he didn’t have to do this. Part of him wished Ferris would show himself and explain it all but that’s not how Ferris worked. No, he probably was listening in and getting a kick out of seeing Kieran squirm. Kieran held his crystal up.
“This.” He rubbed it with his fingers. “I went to the Academy in Celadon. I studied magic there. And yes, I was supposed to be a mage.”
“But?” Amira stopped leaning on the cave wall and angled herself forward.
Kieran looked down. “Nearing graduation, during the Kempii magic festival, my class was supposed to be putting on demonstrations. My best friend Ferris and I had decided to put on a combat defense demonstration. It didn’t go according to plan.”
“Well, what happened?”
Kieran couldn’t bring himself to look up. “When I cast my attack spell his crystal didn’t activate. The blast hit him straight on and killed him instantly.”
Amira moved over to Kieran and tried to comfort him by taking his hand. He looked up at her with watery eyes. “I miss him.” Kieran gave a halfhearted smile. “Well, until he won’t hush up.” She tilted her head in confusion. “You probably won’t believe this, but he haunts me occasionally. He’s the one that told me to help you.”
“Haunts you?” She recoiled back for a moment. “Are you sure?”
“Pretty sure. It’s that or I’ve gone mad.”
Her face distorted for a moment and then returned to normal. “I’m sorry.”
“Me too.” Kieran breathed out slowly trying to suppress the tears wanting to bubble up. “Technically, I graduated even though I chose not to walk the stage. My professors tried to place me into a job afterwards, but I refused that too. After Ferris’s death, I didn’t want anything to do with magic.”
“I see.” Amira looked down.
“As it turned out I couldn’t wash my hands completely of magic. I, umm, ran across this family when I was heading south. They had been attacked by some highwaymen. Both the mother and father had been stabbed. Their 8-year-old somehow managed to escape without being harmed. When I came across them the boy was crying, and his parents were close to death. He kept begging me to help them.”
“So, you used your magic?”
Kieran nodded. “What else could I do? My herbs and potions couldn’t save them. I. I couldn’t let them die, especially not in front of their son. Since then I’ve incorporated magic into my healing. But only to heal. Nothing else. I’m no mage.”
Amira gave a partial smile. “Healer it is.”
Kieran cleared his throat and tried to regain his composure. “May I?”
“Yes, of course.” She held out her arm for him.
Amira watched him as he used a combination of his magic, potions, and herbs to heal and treat her wounds. “So, what about you?” Kieran wasn’t good at small talk when it came to taking care of his patients.
Amira’s discomfort was apparent by her fidgeting. “You probably won’t believe me.”
He continued his work. “Try me.”
“How old do you think I am?”
Kieran stopped what he was doing and looked her in the eyes. “How is that not a trick question?”
Amira smiled. “Just answer it.”
“Early twenties, maybe?”
“Try two hundred and fifty.”
Kieran leaned backwards. “Come again?” He tilted his head to the side and looked at her like she was crazy. “How is that possible? You’re pulling my leg.”
“Told you. I knew you wouldn’t believe me.”
“I guess we both have stories hard to believe, don’t we?”
He checked her over and all that was left was the bruising around her face. Amira started to speak but Kieran stopped her. “This is going to tingle okay?” When she acknowledged him, he asked for her to continue and began to apply an herbal mixture to her cheeks. “So, they’re chasing you because you’re,” he paused. “Old?”
Amira chuckled at his disbelief. “No, not exactly. I guess I should tell you who I am first. I’m-”
The dark robed man parted the waters of the waterfall like it was a curtain and glided inside. “Lady Amira Elizabeth Raines.” The man said finishing her sentence for her. The robed figure carried his own staff with an intricate wolf carving down its length. Kieran moved to get to his own staff but with a quick motion of the man’s hand Kieran was thrown against the wall. “Tisk. Tisk. Don’t do anything you’ll regret.”
The driver and bounty hunter emerged from behind him. “That’s him. That’s the one.” The driver pointed out. Kieran could see there was a nice bruise forming where he had hit him before.
“Watch him.” The robed man ordered. The bounty hunter went over to Kieran and backhanded him across the face. The man bent down and whispered into his ear. “I told you Lord Mage Castan would find you.” He then proceeded to kick Kieran in the stomach with everything he had. Kieran coughed and crumbled to the floor in a ball.
“No!” Amira cried. “Leave him be!”
The robed man smirked at Amira. “Such compassion for your would-be rescuer. You should be more concerned about yourself!” He motioned for the driver to take her. He grappled her by the arm and led her toward the Lord Mage. “You actually thought you would escape me? Come along Lady Raines, my master will be most eager to see you again.”
She struggled against her captors but the more she struggled the tighter their grip became. Kieran sat up, still clutching his stomach. “You won’t get away with this.”
“Like you could stop me.” The Lord Mage shook his head and ordered the bounty hunter to do with Kieran as he pleased.
“My pleasure, my lord.”
The Lord Mage and his driver removed Amira from the cave and closed the curtain of water behind them. The bounty hunter laughed and cracked his knuckles. “Time to pay like I promised.” Kieran got to his feet. “Oh good. There’s some fight still left in you. It’ll be that much more satisfying to knock it out of you.”
“Good luck with that.” Kieran tackled him against the cave wall as hard has he could go. He tried to punch him in the stomach, but the bounty hunter’s layers of fur and skin took the brunt of it.
“You’ll have to do better than that!” The man head butted Kieran making him stumble backwards. He then grabbed Kieran by the shoulders and kneed him in the stomach several times. Kieran fell to the floor coughing. “Aww. Does that hurt?” Kieran didn’t answer him. “What about now?” The man followed his question up with a full-on kick to the stomach. It was enough to lift him up and then flatten him to the floor. Kieran groaned as he tried to get back up. The man circled around him. “I bet that does hurt.” He then stomped Kieran square in the back, knocking him face first into the rocky cave floor. The bounty hunter chuckled. “Isn’t payback fun?”
Kieran felt the warmth of blood coming from the corners of his mouth. “I really wish you’d just shut up.”
“What was that?” The man boomed. He stepped toward Kieran to kick him again but as he brought his leg up Kieran grabbed it and rolled it underneath him. The man became unbalanced and fell to the floor. The bounty hunter scrambled to get back up, but Kieran wasn’t going to let him. He rolled on top of the man and brought his elbow straight into the man’s jaw. Once. Twice. Three times. The man slumped back against the cave wall seeing stars. Kieran took the opportunity to get to his staff. Every muscle in his body was on fire. The bounty hunter regained his senses and grabbed Kieran’s leg, but it was too late. Kieran had managed to get a hold of his staff. He whipped it around knocking the man back. The bounty hunter got to his feet before Kieran could get too close and blocked Kieran’s way out.
“Move.” Kieran commanded as he put his bag over his shoulder.
“Never.” The bounty hunter bared both knuckles ready to fight.
“You really are an idiot, you know that?”
The bounty hunter dashed for Kieran with his arms swinging. Kieran stopped him in his tracks. With two blows to the stomach the man stumbled. Kieran brought the staff back with everything he could muster and slammed it into the man’s chest. The bounty hunter was sent backwards through the waterfall and hit the river with a splash. Kieran emerged from the waterfall to see him floating on his back unconscious. The sight coaxed a sigh of relief from him. “One down. Two more to go.”
They had a head start but they had to get her back to the prisoner transport before they could get too far with her. Clutching his midsection that still burned, Kieran took to running toward town. “Hold on Amira.” The vines and brush he had done so well to avoid getting to the waterfall were now picking and tearing at his clothes and skin. He didn’t care. His priority was only Amira. “Ferris! I need a little help!” Kieran didn’t wait for this friend to appear. “Help me find her!” Kieran was out of breath by the time he reached town.
“They’re leaving town.”
“Damn it!” Kieran pushed his way through the crowded streets and made his way to the entrance of town. They were indeed gone. “Which way Ferris?”
“When did I become your blood hound?” Ferris wasn’t anywhere to be seen. He knew better.
“When you told me to help her! Now which way?”
Kieran took a second to catch his breath and then went to running down the road after them. One moment Kieran could see them in the distance and then the next, he was on the ground with dirt falling on him like rain. Beside him was a crater the size of a wagon wheel. Kieran tried to shake off the cobwebs when two balls of light came streaking his way. “Plasma bolts!” Kieran rolled to the side just in time to see the area where he was laying explode into a cloud of dirt. Kieran cursed as the wagon went out of sight again.
“Now what are you going to do?” Ferris’s tone was more sarcastic than concerned. Kieran didn’t care for his tone, but his friend did have a point. He took to the woods that surrounded the road hoping that would provide some cover. If he could get close enough, maybe he could take the mage down and get to Amira.
Kieran’s plan was short lived. He had managed to get closer than he had before, close enough to dash into the road and jump into the wagon but the Lord Mage saw him first. Another plasma bolt came flying toward Kieran. It missed him but not the tree beside him. He was showered with splinters and could feel a stinging sensation coming from his arm and shoulder. More bolts came shooting his way. “You’re doing really well there, Kieran.”
He growled at his friend. “If you weren’t dead already, I swear-”
Another bolt smashed into the tree in front of him sending him flying backwards. Kieran struck the ground with his fists in frustration. “That mage is really getting on my nerves.”
“Well don’t just sit there!”
He groaned and got back on his feet. Kieran looked around for his staff only to see it broken into several pieces. “Oh, come on. That was my favorite staff.” Kieran’s face went red as he turned around toward the direction that the wagon was heading. “You bastard!” He took off running after them.
“You refuse to use magic and now you have no staff. What are you going to do Kieran? You’re a little outmatched.”
He didn’t answer his friend because there wasn’t an answer he could give. Kieran’s thoughts raced as he tried to catch up to the wagon. “I need that wagon to stop Ferris.” His friend didn’t say anything. “I need your help again, please.”
“I’m dead. How can I stop the wagon?”
Kieran could hear the wagon up ahead. “Spook the horses. Animals are sensitive to spirits.” He was breathing hard again.
“I don’t know! Just do it, okay?”
“Fine! You know it would be so much easier if you’d just get over yourself and use your magic again!” Ferris sounded angry but now wasn’t the time to soothe his friend’s feelings. Kieran kept running. In the distance he heard the horses neigh and nicker. When he got there the driver was trying to calm the horse down. With the Lord Mage standing next to the wagon and the driver occupied trying to calm the horse down, it was the perfect opportunity for an ambush.
Kieran removed his bag and tossed it to the ground. He took a deep breath and went straight for the Lord Mage. As Kieran leapt, the Lord Mage turned and launched a plasma bolt toward him. It missed and smashed into the tree behind him. The tree cracked and popped as Kieran came down upon the Lord Mage, forcing him to the ground. Kieran reared back and punched him twice in the face before he could react.
Around the Lord Mage’s neck was two crystals. One looked much like his own and the other had an ornate silver wrapping that he had never seen before. “Two crystals?” Behind them, the tree snapped and came crashing down onto the wagon. The cage where Amira was being held, burst open from the impact. Both men scrambled to their feet. “Amira!”
“Kieran, I’m alright!” Amira yelled jumping down from the pinned wagon. Everything was covered in a menagerie of leaves and limbs. “Where are you? I can’t see you.” The Lord Mage and Kieran both dove for the staff. “Kieran?”
“Run, Amira! Run!”
The Lord Mage yelled to his driver. “Don’t let her get away!” Both Kieran and the Lord Mage managed to get a solid grip, each on the opposite ends of the staff. The Lord Mage flashed a wicked smile. “You’re mine.” He reached for one of the crystals and the staff they held flashed white. The wolf carvings on the staff began to move and then to Kieran’s surprise, leapt from the staff and formed two large dire wolves next to them. “Get him!”
The wolves snarled and lunged toward Kieran as he let go of the staff and scrambled to his feet to get away from them. He dashed into the woods and snatched up his bag. “Where’s that sleeping powder?” Kieran was trying to rummage through his bag and run as fast as his legs could carry him. It wasn’t the easiest feat to accomplish. “Screw it!” He gave up his search and let the bag fall to his side. His mind was too filled with fear and adrenaline to think straight. Amira was coming into sight. “Amira! You need to run faster! We’ve got problems!” The wolves howled behind them. “Big problems with sharp teeth!”
Amira went to look back. Kieran waved his arms back and forth. “No, no! Don’t look back! Just keep running!” It was already too late. Kieran saw the look in her eyes as she whipped her head back around toward where she was running. The driver jumped out of an outcropping of rock just ahead of them. His spear was drawn, and he was ready for them. Amira was almost on him when she saw him.
“I’ve got you now!” The driver yelled. She tried to change course, but he grabbed her before she could get away.
“Amira!” Kieran felt the force of a dire wolf pushing him to the ground, face first. The dire wolves had locked their jaws on to his clothing and started thrashing back and forth. He felt their teeth as they shredded his skin along with it. Kieran tried to move but couldn’t. The dire wolves had him pinned.
“Enough!” The Lord Mage came up to them and the dire wolves let go, whimpering at his approach. Kieran turned over to see the Lord Mage’s smug but annoyed face. “It would seem I’ve underestimated your ability to cause trouble. A problem I can quickly rectify.” His attention moved to Amira. “I’m quickly becoming tired of you running my dear. When will you learn you can’t escape me?” He looked to his driver. “Bring her.”
Amira stomped on one of the man’s boot and pushed him to the side, forcing him off balance. She used that opportunity to grab the spear and backed away from the man, pointing the spear at him. The Lord Mage rolled his eyes. “Idiot.” He reached for a crystal and held his hand out. Kieran could see a plasma bolt forming.
“No!” Kieran sat up but before he could prevent it from happening, the Lord Mage threw the plasma bolt and hit Amira straight in the stomach. Amira rocketed into the air and landed against the rock outcropping. “You bastard!” Kieran stood and charged the Lord Mage with all his weight, knocking him backwards. He then dashed to her side, with the wolves growling as he passed. Several bolts came whizzing past his head hitting the granite rock ahead of him. He dropped to his knees beside her.
“You’re concerned about her.” The Lord Mage walked over to them. “Don’t you worry your head. It wasn’t meant to kill her. She’ll be fine. You on the other hand, I won’t make the same promise.” Another plasma bolt formed in his hands. The Lord Mage blasted the spear beside Kieran and began to form another bolt. “Just in case you were tempted to try something, again.” The driver and wolves came to stand near the Lord Mage, blocking any way of escape. “I hope this was all worth dying for.”
Kieran looked down at Amira. “I’m sorry.”
Ferris appeared beside them. “Sorry? That sounds like you’re giving up! I know you’re not giving up. Not after all this.”
Kieran looked up at his friend. “What else can I do?”
The Lord Mage raised his eyebrow at him talking to thin air. “The poor fool is losing it.”
“Magic, Kieran. It’s part of who you are. Your death won’t fix anything. Use it. Protect her.”
“I. I can’t.”
The Lord Mage held up his hand with a plasma bolt swirling at its center.
“Please. Do it for me. Do it for her.”
At the flick of the Lord Mage’s wrist, Kieran threw himself over Amira to shield her from the coming plasma bolt. The impact sent debris flying everywhere but Kieran and Amira remained. The Lord Mage cranked his head back in surprise, “What? How?”
“Yes!” Ferris yelled waving his arms in the air. Kieran sat up revealing his hand clutching his own crystal, a crystal the Lord Mage had not seen before.
“No! This can’t be.” The Lord Mage created another bolt and fired it directly at him. The bolt burst a few feet from Kieran’s position. The outside edge of a shield was visible as the plasma bolt dissipated.
“I won’t let you hurt her.” The Lord Mage bared his teeth and his face flushed. He walked closer to Kieran throwing one plasma bolt after another. Kieran winced every time it hit but he held his ground. “Try if you must but I’m going to protect her.”
The Lord Mage growled. “You don’t think you’re going to actually be able to leave here alive with her, do you?”
Kieran looked down at Amira and up at Ferris. “Yes. In fact, I do.” A smile came across Ferris’s face. Kieran stood up, making sure to stand in front of Amira, and wiped the blood from the corners of his mouth. The driver took a few steps backwards, seeing a side of Kieran he hadn’t before. Kieran closed his eyes. “I do this to protect, not to harm.”
Kieran held out his empty hand and began to form a plasma bolt of his own. He opened his eyes and looked toward the driver. “Run.” Without hesitation, he took off running toward the road. The Lord Mage motioned for the wolves, who in moments surrounded Kieran and Amira. “Don’t make me do this.”
The Lord Mage’s reply came in the form of a plasma bolt.
Kieran’s shield held. “Why can’t you leave her be?”
“Time to die.” The Lord Mage formed another plasma bolt but this time much larger than any he had before. Kieran was a whitewash of emotions and nerves, but he didn’t let that stop him. The large plasma bolt rocketed toward Kieran as he manipulated his shield to deflect it. The bolt ricocheted off the shield toward the wolf on his left and Kieran fired a bolt of his own at the other wolf. On impact, both wolves dissolved into a pile of dark gray sand. Kieran formed another bolt. “Leave now. Please.”
“Do not give me orders, boy.” The Lord Mage hurled a stream of plasma at Kieran. His eyes widened as he countered with one of his own. The two streams collided into a mass of sparks and crackling plasma. Each one of them pushed their streams toward the other forcing them both to slide backwards across the leaf covered surface of the ground.
“You can do it Kieran!” Ferris cheered him on. Amira began to come to and turned over to see the battle that was unfolding before her.
“I told you. You can’t have her!”
Kieran gave it his all and the Lord Mage’s stream broke. His stream slammed into the Lord Mage and sent him flying, throwing him into a tree. Kieran stopped his stream and his eyes welled up with tears.
“Good job, Kieran.” Ferris patted him on the back. “I knew you had it in you.”
Kieran looked down knowing what he had just done. The Lord Mage was slumped over, his chest was charcoaled and smoldering. Amira rushed up to him and hugged him. “Oh, Kieran. Thank you! You did it.” Kieran wrapped his arms around her comforting her as she buried her head into his chest. After a moment, they broke apart and approached the Lord Mage. Kieran knelt to see if the Lord Mage was still alive. No pulse. No breath. Kieran hung his head in shame. He had killed another person with magic.
Amira rubbed Kieran’s shoulder. “It’s okay.” He watched as she reached out and snatched the ornate crystal from around the Lord Mage’s neck. “This is mine.”
Kieran looked up at her. “Yours? You’re a mage?”
Amira smiled. “I knew what your crystal meant, didn’t I?”
Kieran stood up and gave a bemused huff. “I should have known.”
Amira took him by the hand and returned to the road. The driver was nowhere in sight. Amira freed the horse and mounted up, taking the reins into her hands. “Thank you, Kieran.”
“So now what? Where will you go Amira?”
“Back to my lands. Away from this place. I still have a lot of questions to get answers for.”
Kieran looked down and smiled back up at her. “I know that feeling. That reminds me, you never explained who you are or why they were after you.”
She winked at him. “I know.”
Amira tapped the horse’s sides with her shoes and the horse started down the road. Kieran watched her for a moment before looking back at the smashed-up wagon and sighing.
“Come with me!” She shouted out toward him. He turned back around to see her riding up to him. “Come with me Kieran.”
Her request sent his mind spinning and a smile formed across his lips but went away as fast as it came. “What about the town? I couldn’t. They need a healer.” She reined in the horse, as it kept wanting to move.
“Do you really think that you could simply go back to being a healer in this town after what just happened? There’s going to be lots of questions buzzing around and you know that bounty hunter will be back, most likely gunning for you too. It’s not safe for you here. Not anymore.”
Kieran looked back toward the direction of town and lowered his head. He knew she was right. After a moment of going back and forth on it, Kieran nodded. “So where are we headed?” Ferris stood there, at the road’s edge, and smiled at his friend.
“You’ll see soon enough. Come on.” She held out her hand and helped him up on the horse. Kieran shook his head at his companion and the two of them rode off into the distance, both in search of their future and answers to their past.