Kingdom of Arie Series

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Sample Chapters

Kingdom of Arie:

LEGENDS

 

SAMPLE CHAPTERS: Below are chapters 3-6 of LEGENDS. I’ve already copyrighted the story so my hope is that those who read the story will let others know and spread the word! Follow along with Theia Lavania Ellis’ tale.

 

Chapter Three: Mountain of Protection

 

            Theia was both terrified and excited to be leaving San Diego as she and Levi started up the I-15 with the U-haul. Levi had said his dad would already be there and settled in, so they were in no rush. The road trip up the freeway was fairly uneventful. The city of Temecula was modern but with a natural openness that eluded Theia in San Diego. When they hit Barstow, they merged onto the I-40 heading east and took a break for lunch since they were at the halfway point.

            Barstow was what Theia imagined Kingman would be like: barren, with only the necessities like fast food, gas stations, and repair shops. The idea of an Olive Garden with all-you-can-eat pasta and breadsticks wouldn’t survive in an environment like this. She sighed but resigned to her fate.

            Her parents used to say any obstacle situation was what you made of it. She could make this work. She had to. Struggles and trials were just there to make you stronger and Theia never backed down from a challenge.

            The land on either side of I-40 was something Theia hadn’t been expecting: sand dunes. Nothing large, but it seemed out of place, as if a portion of the Sahara was missing and a guy on a flying carpet would just appear in the distance.

            Yes, Theia had a wild imagination, but that’s what made life fun.

            When they came over the last hill that blocked her view of Kingman, Theia was struck with awe. There were several homes, schools, and businesses for many miles around. There were trees and bushes, and though the air was warm, it was a dry heat; much more bearable than the humidity back home.

            The greatest sight of all were the large majestic mountains that seemed to loom over Kingman like mighty, silent protectors. “What are those?” Theia pointed.

            Levi raised an eyebrow. “Theia-babes, those are called mountains,” he replied sarcastically. “They’re not specific to Kingman, since we do have them in San Diego as well—” Theia punched him in the arm and both broke into laughter. “They’re called the Hualapai Mountains, after the local Native Americans that used to live here.”

            “How did you know that?”

            “Because I do my research,” he tapped a finger to her nose. “There’s also the Cerbats, the Blacks, the Musics, and the Peacock Mountains but don’t ask me about those. I only remembered the biggest one,” he laughed.

            They got off the freeway and pulled into the rural area that had street signs named after major American cities: Atlanta, Detroit, and Chicago. Their destination was on Miami. In San Diego, the place Levi’s dad bought would’ve cost a fortune, but here it was affordable. It was a five bedroom in a single story floor plan with a covered two-car garage and huge backyard.

 

            Fully unpacking took a week and Theia spent most of the time redecorating her new room. She had several nature pictures, one of those waterfall portraits that moved, a small Zen fountain, and a white sand rock garden with a mini rake to play with when she got writer’s block. A lot of the house was painted blue and white and most of the furniture was made of dark wood. She put up just one picture of her and her parents—too many reminders and she’d never learn to move on.

            Levi drove her around town, showed her where the main points of interest were—especially the library—which was within walking distance of the house! On Saturday, the sixth day after the move, he said his dad wanted some of his things brought out of his office. Apparently, Levi’s dad worked even on the weekends. Levi said this would be a good time for Theia to explore for herself and see what she thought.

            She was sad when he left but she was also more than excited to go into the Hualapais and see this miracle of nature up close. Kingman was considered a desert climate but it was literally minutes away from a beautiful mountain range, covered in bright evergreen trees, and full of deer and wildlife. The tourist book she picked up said Kingman was about 3,300 feet above sea level. Hualapai peak was just over 8,000 feet.

            One of the first things Levi did when they’d gotten into town was take Theia down to a dealership (and there were plenty) and get her a car. She had the money to pay for it, thanks to her parents, but Levi was great at haggling. He talked the salesperson into taking $4,000 off the sticker price then got a free extend-a-bed for the back.

            It was a white Nissan 4-door truck; something that sat Theia up high and could withstand a hit or two if the weather turned bad. She was driving it through the winding road that led up to the ranger station inside the Hualapais. When she got there the nice lady said it was just five dollars to go hiking as long as she wanted.

            Having been out of school and melancholy the last couple months, some vigorous exercise seemed like a great idea. She parked the truck, found the trail, and started up. The views from even this low on the mountain were amazing and they only got better the further up she went. About an hour in, Theia saw a small storm shelter and thought that’d be a good place for a break. Behind the shelter, Theia saw a large pile of rocks that just seemed to scream “Climb me!” Getting a smile on her face, she took off and found her first foothold.

            The boulders were bigger than she’d originally thought and there were a few times she almost slipped. Once at the top, Theia regarded another spectacular view: tree-covered mountains and mesas far out into the distance.

            It was as if she’d stepped out of one world and into a completely different one. The tarot card reading she’d done came back to her and she couldn’t help but agree. I was meant to be here.

            Feeling the need to head back, she turned around and began making her way down. There was a rather large gap between two of the boulders she hadn’t seen climbing up. Swallowing hard, she dropped down on the rock she was on, turned onto her stomach, and tried to feel below for the other rock.

            Loose dirt made her grip weak and she slipped before she was ready. Her foot landed wrong and twisted, sending pain up her leg. She cried out as she fell, also managing to hit her head on another rock before tumbling off the formation altogether, heading straight for the ground.

            “Whoa, gotcha!” A pair of warm arms caught her and the deep voice made her look up in surprise. Her rescuer was a man with medium length jet-black hair and icy blue eyes.

            His face was fuzzy and broke into two images every couple of seconds. “W-who are you?” Her voice seemed to reverberate inside her head and she didn’t catch his answer because the next moment she’d passed out cold.

 

            When she came to, she realized she was back in the storm shelter and it was almost dark. Great, Levi must be worried by now. She took out her cell phone. Yep, three missed calls. She tried to call him back, but, of course, there was no reception. She sat up and tried to remember what had happened.

            She’d been climbing, then on the way down, she fell. She’d hurt her ankle and hit her head. Looking down, she saw that her ankle looked fine. When she put weight on it, there was no pain. Maybe I didn’t hurt it as bad as I thought I did. Her head had been resting on a first aid kit. Well, that’s not mine.

            Theia stood up to get a look around, and the room spun, making her wobble. She would have fallen over, except someone steadied her.

            “Whoa there, princess. I wouldn’t be up and about just yet. That was some tumble you took.”

            She sat down and looked up at her savior. The blue eyes came back to her and she remembered being caught. “Who are you?” He looked exhausted.

            He laughed, obviously trying to cover up his fatigue. “Yeah, you asked me that before, but I didn’t think you’d heard me. I’m Baske.” He said it ba- like in ball, not ba- like in baby.

            She nodded, holding out her hand to shake. “Theia.”

            Baske brought up a bottle of water. “I went to one of the spigots they have up here. Cold, fresh water; not something I’d expect, but welcomed in this heat.” His eyes flicked to her ankle just for a second. Did he know it had been hurt? Or at least, she thought she’d hurt it.

            She accepted the water and tentatively reached behind her. “I’m guessing this is yours?”

            “Oh, yeah. Sorry. First aid kit and water I have, even a compass, but I was fresh out of pillows.”

            She giggled and tried not to look him directly in the eyes. They were just so gorgeous! She did notice he wore a black, sleeveless workout shirt with matching black hiking shorts. He took the first aid kit and put it into a gray backpack she hadn’t noticed before. “So, I guess I was lucky you came by when you did, huh? You come up here often?”

            He shrugged, obviously embarrassed to be talking about himself. “Nah, I just moved here. I saw the mountains and couldn’t help myself. They um…they’re pretty nostalgic. “

            She completely understood. She felt like she’d been here her whole life, completely at ease and safe in their dense foliage and captivating height. Remembering she still had to get home, she drummed her fingers. “I—uh—don’t want to be rude, but I should probably head back. My b—” she stopped. “My family will be worried about me.” Oh my god, what is wrong with me!? Why didn’t she want Baske to know she had a boyfriend? Was she that faithless? No, you just decided to go with a guy you’ve only been dating a few months and cross the state line for FUN! She needed help.

            Baske looked relieved not to have to come up with conversation and stood up. “Yeah, well, I don’t suppose you’ll want an escort down the mountain?”

            She got to her own feet and found that her head was still pounding. Instinctively she reached out for his shoulder as she winced. “I think I might have to take you up on that offer.”

 

            When they got to the bottom again, Theia’s head still hurt but her vision was resigned to stay where it was. Even better, her cell phone had three bars. It turned out Baske had been in Kingman since the beginning of summer and knew a little more about it than she did. He told her about the deep-fried ice cream at Dambar’s and the existence of an actual Chili’s down Stockton Hill Road! She could go for some honey barbeque baby backs right about now.

            They came up to her truck, which was the only vehicle besides the mountain bike tethered to the road-block poles. “Well, here we are.”

            If possible, Baske looked more embarrassed. “Yep” He patted his handlebars with a smile.

            “You rode that all the way out here?” she asked incredulously.

            He shrugged. “Yeah, its good exercise.”

            She looked at him sympathetically. “Hey, you saved me, the least I can do is get you back into town. Throw her in the back.”

            He smiled in gratitude and unlocked the bike, placing it in the bed of the truck. Slowly he got into the passenger seat while Theia turned the key. Baske kept his hands on his knees and seemed completely out of place—or at least, far outside his sphere of comfort. Well you did just ask a perfect stranger into your car.

            But he did save me and I’m the reason he’s here after nightfall, she argued back.

            And the ten minute drive back alone has nothing to do with it.

            Shut up. “So,” she casually began. “Baske. That’s an unusual name.”

            “Yeah, it means ‘powerful warrior’ in my father’s native tongue,” Baske explained.

            She smiled, keeping her eyes on the road. “That’s pretty cool. My name means…”

            “Goddess.” When she looked at him in disbelief, he rubbed the back of his neck and laughed nervously. “It’s a pretty common name.”

            She paused. She never thought it was a common name. At least, she’d never met anyone else named Theia. Then there was the way he’d said it with such reverence. “Oh, all right.” She relented. At the base of Hualapai road was a convenience store, so she pulled into the parking lot and looked at Baske. “Well, thanks again for, you know, saving me and all.”

            “Anytime.” He gave her a two-finger salute above the eyebrow, got out, and took out his bike. “I’ll see ya around.”

            She headed back towards home, trying to think about what she’d say to Levi when he asked her what happened. In the end, she’d told him about the hiking and about the fall but she didn’t mention Baske. Guilt weighed down on her but she argued she hadn’t actually been unfaithful. They hadn’t kissed or anything.

            And no matter what happened, even if she met him again, she was going to keep it that way.

 

Chapter Four: Familiar Faces

 

            A couple days later, Levi got called out to do something else for his dad, leaving Theia alone to do what she wanted. Apparently, Levi’s dad got him a job at his office, so he was gone a lot now. Theia went down to the high school and enrolled for the next semester then decided to check out the local library. The building was across the street from a large community park and was colored a lovely blue and white, her favorite colors. Huh, must be fate. she thought to herself as she went inside.

            It wasn’t as large as the libraries she was use to, but she’d come to recognize the kind of homely feeling Kingman carried. Maybe it was because places like this weren’t so crowded. Traffic was a breeze and there was almost never a line for anything. Instead of rush hour on the streets, however, there was rush lunch hour in the fast food places. If you knew the schedule, you could get in just before half the city population all decided they wanted a big mac and fries.

            She was on book three of the Percy Jackson series, but since she didn’t know her way around or even have a library card for that matter, she went to the circulation desk on the left hand side and smiled at the clerk. Once again, Theia was happy there wasn’t a line. “Excuse me, I need help finding something.” When the woman looked up, Theia thought she was having déjà vu, but when she looked at the woman’s nametag, she was beside herself with shock. “Ms. Paris?”

            The librarian’s smile widened, but she didn’t look even a bit as surprised as the girl before her was. “Theia! What a wonderful surprise! How did you know where to find me?”

            Ms. Paris had been the librarian at Theia’s old school. “I-I didn’t. I just moved here myself.”

            The librarian nodded solemnly. “Yes, your parents. Bless their souls.” She made some kind of motion with her hand over her chest but Theia didn’t recognize it as Catholic or anything. “I suppose you’ll be going to one of the high schools here, yes?”

            Theia frowned. “Yeah, Kingman High, but—”

            “Oh, a wonderful choice!”

            “Aren’t you surprised that I’m here?” Theia interrupted. “How much of a coincidence is it that we both end up here now?”

            Ms. Paris waved away the concern. “Oh, it’s nothing, my dear. I simply got a job offer out here, making better money, and I took it,” she explained. “Now, I suppose you’ll be wanting book three by Riordan, right? Or are you onto book four yet?”

            “Book three…” Theia watched as Ms. Paris made out a new library card for her, found the book, and checked it out, all in less than five minutes. “There you are. Oh, it’s a good one. I read it myself.”

            “Thanks.” Still unnerved, she slowly made her way back to her truck and drove home. It wasn’t beyond logic that her high school librarian ended up in Kingman, right? She even said it herself; she had a better paying opportunity and took it.

            So then why did Theia think Ms. Paris was lying?

           

            It didn’t end there. She saw several people that seemed really familiar, people from San Diego, but that just wasn’t possible. That gothic gloomy counter girl from 7-11 back by the coast? Theia could’ve sworn she saw her at the AM/PM down the street. Then, there was someone from a Hollywood Video she used to rent movies from that she could’ve sworn she saw at Hastings, the local bookseller/movie rental place, restocking DVDs.

            She was even positive her mailman was the same guy who used to deliver her parents’ mail every day for her entire life; but that just wasn’t possible! This went beyond coincidence.

           One day, she decided to follow the mailman until he was at least three streets away from her house. If she had a massive case of stalkers, she didn’t want them to know exactly which house she lived in. While hiding behind a tree, Theia called out, “Mr. Loreke!” She quickly ducked back and saw him turn around at the sound of his name, but when he didn’t see anybody, he went back to delivering the mail.

             Now she knew it was him but what was she going to do about it?

 

           The first day of school came and Theia reluctantly gave Levi a kiss goodbye, the special lunch he’d packed her not doing much to improve her mood, before she got into her truck and drove to school. The campus wasn’t very big, but since there was only one road leading into the tiny parking lot, traffic was horrible getting in.

           She had the usual classes but she was only looking forward to a few: Art and English, definitely, but also archery. She didn’t know what other clubs they had so she’d have to look into later. There was a football field off to the north side of campus so they had to have other sports, right? Unfortunately, her first class was math: pre-calculus to be exact. It wasn’t that she was bad at it but it wasn’t her best subject. That and Physics, her last period, were basically her Achilles heels.

         She found her room with little problem and took a seat in the far back. This high school didn’t have uniforms, exactly, which was a nice change. She only had to wear a shirt with the bulldog school logo (and there were several to choose from) and she could wear any bottoms she liked, within reason. She guessed the school colors were blue and gold since that’s what the school was filled with. She’d picked a nice short-sleeved blue top with a gold emblem, and tight, dark blue jeans: just the kind of outfit one would wear to blend into the crowd.

         “Well if it isn’t the sleeping beauty princess herself.”

         Looking over, Theia practically fell over in her seat. “Baske!? Don’t tell me…”

         He looked hurt for a second. “Wow, that’s a first time a girl has greeted me like that.”

         Feeling bad, she shook her head and smiled. “No, no, sorry. I-I’ve just had a bad week.”

         “Starting with when you fell off a mountain and hit your head?” He seemed relieved to find her looking well, though his smile looked forced.

         “Yeah, something like that.” Theia bit her bottom lip and tried to salvage the conversation. “So, you go here now too?”

         He shrugged. “Yeah, it was either that or the academy. This place seemed more fun. I heard the other place requires community service hours to graduate.”

       “Ouch, yeah, not my first pick either.” Not that community service was a bad thing, but with her luck lately, she didn’t need a reason to go out and meet more people. Friendly faces were just flowing out of the woodwork.

         “So what’s the rest of your schedule look like? Any boyfriends I gotta avoid?” His eyes met her emerald orbs intensely.

         She swallowed hard and stealthily avoided the second question. “Well, I got English next and history after that.” She handed him her schedule.

         He looked it over and ran it against his own. “Wow, we got a lot of classes together. I heard Mr. Jennings in Physics always starts off his semester with some kind of special assignment.”

         She looked and realized he was right. Every class in their schedules except two were matched up. “Huh, I wonder what it could be.”

 

           Lunch came and Theia was touched when she went into her mini cooler and found a delicious looking egg salad sandwich, chips, Oreos, some mixed fruit, and sweet tea. She saw the long lines at the lunch counter and was instantly grateful to have come prepared.

         Her last class was science with Mr. Jennings who took his class out to the football field. There, they saw a miniaturized version of the medieval catapult. Her interest peaked, Theia moved to the front of the crowd. It was there she saw Baske so she moved next to him with a smile.

         “Physics is a subject many either understand or it will forever elude them,” Mr. Jennings began. “That’s not to say if you don’t understand it now, I want you to quit. You simply must make the effort to get your niche, your method for understanding and converting its language into something you can use.” He motioned to the catapult. “In ancient times, physics was used to create the catapult and its successor. Can anyone tell me what it was called?”

         “The cannon?” someone said.

         “Close, but too many years apart, too recent,” the teacher explained.

         Theia raised her hand. “The trebuchet?”

         “That’s correct.” Mr. Jennings nodded. “The catapult has a weight connected as part of the leverage, whereas the trebuchet had a counter weight that could swing. The calculations for the two depend on the distance to the target, the weight of the projectile, in essence physics in motion. And your calculations had to be correct, because otherwise you were dead. Grace under pressure, some would say.”

           Mr. Jennings went on to explain that his first assignment, in order to get a feel for what physics was and demanded, was to create a catapult or trebuchet. The purpose was to toss water balloons and the winner was the one who could throw it the furthest. By the end of the presentation, Theia was practically bouncing where she stood.

 

Chapter Five: Conflicted Emotions

 

            Theia was so focused on creating the best catapult, she completely forgot all about the déjà vu she was having and all the people she had been recognizing around town. She teamed up with Baske, since he was the only one she knew, and they were assigned a girl named Samantha.

            “So, should we meet at the public library to do some research?” Baske suggested.

            “No,” Theia blurted out rather quickly. She’d rather not have to deal with Ms. Paris just yet. “Um, what about the school library?”

            Samantha winced. “Most of the kids will go there first but Ms. Hoffer can probably help us find something.” Her Texas accent was very subtle but Theia loved it. Southern twangs just made her smile no matter what the speaker said.

            The library was filled with kids after school, but Ms. Hoffer was free so they went over to the front counter.

            “Excuse me Ms. Hoffer, do you have any books on physics left?” Samantha asked.

            “Or catapults,” Basked added.

            Ms. Hoffer smiled at the trio. “Well hello, Sam. These must be new students.” They made introductions and shook hands. “So, you’re here about Mr. Jennings’s project, I’m assuming?”

            “Yeah, are we too late?” Sam wondered.

            “Just about but I’ll see what I have,” replied the librarian. She had beautiful eyes and long, light blond hair. Theia liked her instantly.

            “What about history books?” Theia tried. “History of warfare or Medieval Times books might have enough.”

           Her expression brightened. “Yes, you’re right! I might have just the thing!”

           Gathering what resources they could, the three found recently vacated seats on the comfy couches at the back of the library and hunkered down for some studying.

           “Okay, so it says here catapults used to make ranges of three hundred yards with weights of over three hundred pounds!” Theia made a note on her paper.

           “But we only need it to throw a water balloon and I’m pretty sure the ones that did that are too big to bring to school,” Sam pointed out.

           Basked nodded thoughtfully. “Besides, what we want is a trebuchet, definitely. Using a pivot point with a counterweight adds loads of distance.” He brought up a sketch he was working on.

             Theia looked at the design and felt her mouth drop open in shock. “How did you come up with this? Its level of detail is amazing! It’s just what we need, too!”

           Basked blushed at the praise. “Well, my dad’s sort of a battle strategy and weapons buff.”

Sam hurriedly began writing down what they would need to make it while Theia forced herself to take a step back and scrutinize Baske. The comment had struck her as odd. “What does your dad do that would need him to learn stuff like this?”

           Baske looked nervously away but replied, “He’s a teacher, but not here—at the college—history. He really likes to study warfare and how they used to do it in the um…old days.”

           Theia narrowed her eyes suspiciously. She wanted to believe him but with her recent run of luck, she couldn’t help but think there was more to it than that. Fine, you don’t want to tell me? I have other ways of finding out.

 

             When she got home from school, she dropped her backpack on the couch and turned to see the dining table set with candles and a vase with flowers as a centerpiece. There were several plates of her favorite foods already there when Levi came in with glasses full of sweet tea. “Levi...”

             He looked up and saw her, and the smile he had widened. “Theia-babes!” He came around and gave her a hug and kiss. “I’m sorry I’ve been so busy lately, and now you’ve got school, so I just wanted some good, quality time with you.”

           “This—this is wonderful.” She was touched. Taking a seat, she allowed herself to be pampered and served by her wonderful boyfriend. She told Levi about school and about the trebuchet project.

           “Oh, medieval stuff: you’ll win hands down.” He winked.

           She beamed and listened while Levi told her about how with Levi’s dad working in their Kingman branch, his office would be expanding. When she asked what his company did, Levi just shrugged. “Oh, a little bit of everything.”

           After dinner, they watched a movie Levi had rented. Stardust, one of Theia’s all time favorites. A chick flick for sure, but it had just enough fighting and killing for a guy to watch.

           Levi fell asleep on the couch so Theia covered him with a blanket and retreated to her room. Hopping onto her computer, she found the Mohave Community College website and searched for Baske’s dad. Why she found it so hard to trust him, she didn’t know, but it would be a simple search to back up his story.

           She looked at the staff list and there was no one with Baske’s last name. So why lie about it? She wondered.

 

           The week of school progressed well. Theia still met with Sam and Baske a couple of times to discuss the project, but they had a lot of time so there wasn’t any rush. Deciding to distance herself from Baske a bit, Theia spent more time with Sam.

           Sam ended up in the paper for riding her horse through a Starbucks drive thru. Yeah, it was one of those backwater tales.

           “It’s no big deal, really. My horse Akasha is totally calm in public, so I can ride her wherever I want,” Sam explained when Theia asked her about it. “The school comes with horse stables, you know. There’s where I keep Akasha while I’m in class.”

           Theia nodded thoughtfully. “That might just be borderline cool.”

         Sam laughed. “It’s really fun, you should try it.”

         “I don’t own a horse.”

           “I have two, silly.” Her accent came out on the word ‘silly’ and Theia giggled. “Her name’s Napa. She’s not as easy going as Akasha, she’s got mustang in her along with the Arabian. You can take Akasha, she’s Arabian and Quarter horse so that chills her out. I’ll take Napa. She could use the training anyway.”

           Theia shook her head. “Someday, but not this week; I’m too busy with class.”

           “Just let me know when, okay?” Sam smiled and went to her next class.

           Theia turned into her classroom and found a seat. It was history, and since they were near the anniversary of the town, they had been covering Kingman history. It was also one of the two classes she didn’t share with Baske.

           Through her class, she leaned that Kingman started out as a railroad stop and Fort Mohave nearby provided protection against the local Hualapai Indians Levi had mentioned. There were also many mines set up to dig for gold, silver, turquoise, copper and tons of other minerals. The nearby cities of Chloride, Searchlight, and Oatman had been established for similar reasons. Once the veins ran dry, most of the mines were abandoned and their dangerous empty shafts were apparently located all over Kingman and the surrounding areas. The cities that remained were considered ghost towns now.

           “In the mid 1800s,” her history teacher began. “A group of settlers were traveling in the mountains when they came to a great boulder that they said glowed blue in the moonlight. Tempted to touch it, they went closer when a group of Hualapai Indians showed up. They gestured to the rock and made the hand sign of death. The men hesitated and watched when a nearby ram ran its head into the boulder, only to fall over dead. A snake slithering by touched the rock, flipped belly up writhing in pain, until it too died. This has become known as the Legend of the Rock That Kills.”

         “Where is it?” someone asked.

         The teacher pointed to a map of Mohave County. “Some say it was in the Cerbats, some the Musics, but no one knows for sure.”

           Theia felt a chill go down her spine. She had to remind herself next time she went hiking in the Hualapais not to touch anything that glowed.

 

           After school one day, Baske caught up with Theia as she was going to her truck. He looked worried as he ran to her side. “Have you been avoiding me?”

           Theia searched for her keys and scoffed. “What are you talking about? We have, like, all of our classes together. I can’t help but be around you.”

         He spun around in front of her and blocked her from getting into her truck, which made her growl in frustration. “Then why are you running?” he asked.

         “Why did you lie about your dad?” she snapped. She was angry but she didn’t want to start a fight. She just felt betrayed by someone she thought she could trust.

         He winced and looked away. He did that a lot around her, she noticed. “I didn’t lie; I just didn’t tell you the whole truth.”

         She crossed her arms.

         “Me and my dad don’t have the same last name. My mom gave me her last name instead of his,” he explained. “I knew if you checked for my name, it wouldn’t come up, but it’s kind of a touchy subject.”

         She wanted to believe him, but what if it was just another lie? “You could’ve told me. Now I don’t know if I can trust you.” Her voice was softer as her anger dissipated, replaced by hurt.

           He stepped forward and forced himself to meet her in the eye. “You can trust me. No matter what, I’ll always have your back.”

Theia became suddenly aware how close he was and could even smell the cologne he was wearing. His body seemed to give off a strange powerful heat that made her sway ever so slightly. Her breath caught in her throat and she couldn’t think of anything to say.

         “Theia-babes?”

         Jumping away from Baske, Theia looked over to see Levi getting out of his Corolla. “L-Levi, what are you doing here?”

       “I was gonna surprise you.” Her boyfriend came up and glared at Baske who stubbornly stared right back. “Who’s this?”

         She sighed. “Levi, this is Baske. He’s in my group for that physics project I was telling you about. Baske, this is Levi—my...my boyfriend.”

         Levi sized him up while Baske looked over in surprise at Theia, but he didn’t say anything. His eyes said it all.

       She felt horrible for reasons she didn’t exactly understand. “Come on, Levi. Let’s go.” She got into her truck, and after a moment more of glaring at Baske, Levi got into his car and they both headed home.

       Theia berated herself during the entire drive back. She had been a total hypocrite about Baske lying when she’d been withholding information too.

       I didn’t lie; I just didn’t tell you the whole truth.

       Why did she keep Levi a secret? She and Baske were just friends. She and Levi were happy together. So where was the problem? The problem is you didn’t want Baske to know about Levi because you were afraid he wouldn’t want to hang out with you, Theia’s mind argued.

         She did find Baske cute—okay gorgeous—but she was faithful and hadn’t done anything to the contrary. Physically, in any case.

         When she got home and out of her car, Levi crossed his arms. “What?” she snapped. She’d already beat herself up about it; she didn’t need help.

         “So who was he really?” Levi asked.

         “Excuse me?”

         “You guys seemed to be really close for just classmates.”

         “What are you implying?” Levi was never this suspicious. What was going on with him? “You think I’d cheat on you?”

         “How long have you known him?” Levi persisted.

           “How long?” Theia rolled her eyes. “I’ve been here less than a month and only started school last week. How long could I have known him for?”

         “So, he didn’t come from San Diego?”

         “What?” Now Theia was thoroughly confused. “Why would he be from San Diego?”

           Levi signed and uncrossed his arms. “Never mind, look, I only showed up because I wanted to pick you up to take you to Williams.”

         “Where’s that?”

           “It’s a couple hours away. They have some cool shops and local restaurants.” Levi’s anger was gone now, too. “I thought it’d be a nice trip but it’s too late to leave now.”

           Wanting to salvage the situation, Theia gave Levi a warm hug and a nice, long kiss. “Well, no one said I had a curfew. Who cares if we come back after dark?”

           Levi smiled and they got into his car. Williams was beautiful, with even more trees than Kingman, but it was small in comparison. It also seemed to be locked in the previous century, which was as cool as it was weird. Theia tried to enjoy herself, but her mind was elsewhere. Why would Levi be suspicious of Baske coming from her hometown? She didn’t remember seeing Baske in Oceanside, but there had been a lot of kids going to that school. He could’ve gone there and she just hadn’t known.

           But no, that would just be way too weird. She focused again on the gift shop they were in and found a neat wolf with a moon stained glass sun catcher. They even had jerky from animals she’d never eaten before: Alligator, boar, and bison. She got some of those for Levi and decided she had another method for figuring everything out, minus the headache.

             At the next full moon, she was going to do a reading.

 

             There had been new moon a couple days ago, so she had about a week and a half before she could do a good reading. To help pass the time, Theia spent more afternoons with Sam and got even better at being anywhere Baske wasn’t.

             Okay, she was avoiding him.

             She’d volunteered to work on the base of the trebuchet, which was on wooden wheels, so she only had to give Sam updates from time to time. She parked her truck on the opposite side of campus so Baske couldn’t corner her again. When the weekend came around, she was actually exhausted trying to leave class before him and arrive just before the bell rang and class started so he couldn’t talk to her. For lunch, she’d found a nice hideout in the drama building with Mr. Schueren. She decided she definitely had to take his class next semester. The other kids and him would joke and have a blast, sitting wherever they wanted while they ate lunch.

             On Saturday, Theia wanted to go to the Hualapais so she could think but she didn’t want to run into Baske there in case it was a weekly scheduled hike with him.

             So instead, she went on Sunday. When most people would be at church, she’d be 6,000 feet in the mountains. There were several smaller peaks hikers could get to so she picked the easiest one to start with: Dean’s Peak. The trail was smaller than those lower on the mountain, and Theia had to take several breaks before she reached the top. It was as invigorating as it was just plain exhausting.

             There was a bench next to the drop off and Theia happily fell onto it. The wind was stronger up here, but the sun was shining warmly. The nearby slopes were covered with trees, and birds sang, hidden safely in the branches. Up here, she didn’t have worries like school or boys.

             Up here, she was at peace.

           She took a deep breath and forced herself to clear her mind. Unwillingly, the Devil card resurfaced in her mind and she gasped, her back straightening as she realized something. What if the Devil didn’t point to Levi at all? What if it was a warning about her friendship with Baske; a friendship that could cause more harm than good?

             She heard the sound of footsteps and groaned when she saw who it was: Baske, thick bangs plastered to his face, that was glistening with water he’d doused himself with to cool off. “Really? Of all the places.”

             “Look, I can explain.” He held up his hand and tried to catch his breath.

             “What, are you stalking me now!?” Theia accused as she shot to her feet.

             “Yes and no,” he admitted, approaching slowly with his hands raised to show he was harmless. “I had to speak with you, and since you were avoiding me at school, I’ve been coming here everyday, hoping I’d catch you.”

             Theia wanted to be mad, but in truth, Baske hadn’t done anything wrong this time. She had. “You climbed up this mountain, everyday, just for a chance to talk?” No matter how you looked at it, it was pretty sweet considering how she’d led him on without meaning to.

               Baske came up to her and, with such earnestness that Theia wished she had more mountain peak to back up against, said: “I don’t care that you have a boyfriend. I just wanted you to know that all I care about is being there for you, no matter what, like I said before.”

             What could she say to such intensity? “Why?” She muttered sadly. “Why am I so important? I’m nobody; just some girl from school who lied to you.”

               Baske laughed lightly as if to say ‘if only you knew.’ “You didn’t lie to me, you just withheld the truth. It’s no different than what I did.” His hand came up, like he wanted to touch her arm, but instead dropped back down to his side. “How about we start over?”

             She tried to look away, to come up with an excuse to say she wasn’t worth his time or his friendship. There was the Devil Card to think about and how being around him might be a bad idea altogether. But when she looked into his eyes, she just wasn’t herself. They seemed to captivate her every time.

             “I’d like that.” she finally said. She held out her hand and he shook it with relief. His body still had that tingling heat she couldn’t seem to get enough of. Reluctantly, she let go and looked to the horizon. Whatever was going to happen, her cards would let her know.

 

Chapter Six: The Devil Rears Its Ugly Head

 

            The full moon came on Tuesday so that night Theia retreated to her room early, saying she was tired when Levi asked. She got out her deck, quietly muttered the chant of protection, and shuffled the cards with more energy than she ever had before. Please, let me know what is going on. Am I losing my mind? Is Baske someone I can trust? These people I think I recognize, what part do they play in all this? Is it even connected at all? As jumbled as her mind was, Theia doubted the cards could give her a straight answer but she had to try anyway.

            She tried a different spread this time, one that would give her information about her problems. The Celtic cross was only good for general information. She needed specifics. The High Priestess showed up again, this time reversed. That meant she had caught on that something was happening, or going to happen, and she couldn’t ignore it. Her cards had already warned her of this. The Devil Card had moved from her present to being an immediate influence. That still didn’t tell her if that was Baske or Levi.

               Then she saw her present card was the Knight of Swords upright. This card told her someone was bringing bad news that affected her directly. Did this bad news have to do with the major decision she had to make? The cards seemed to be telling her that the time to act was swiftly approaching. Some of the cards told her she had hidden help that she wasn’t acknowledging and she thought that might be the people she’d recognized: Loreke and Ms. Paris.

             Her outside influences showed the reversed King of Pentacles. That meant danger: someone out there meant her harm. Was it the same person who was bringing her the bad news? This was by far the darkest reading she’d done yet. Her final card, the sum of everything she was asking, was annoyingly the Temperance Card. It told her she had to be patient and let things run their course. How could she be calm and patient when nothing but danger and bad news was coming her way? Ugh, this sucks! she mentally screamed. Maybe she’d run it by Levi tomorrow to see what he thought. He had a way of looking at things differently than she did.

             Reluctantly, she gathered up her cards, wrapped them in silk, and put them away. Tomorrow was going to be a long day.

 

             The fates must have been smiling down on her because school ended up being a half day. She was done by 11:30 and on her way home before noon. She could catch Levi, run the reading by him, and maybe even head out for a nice dinner to relax her mind a bit!

           She pulled up into the driveway, left her backpack in the car, and crept into the house, hoping to surprise him. She frowned when she didn’t find him in the living room, dining room, or kitchen. Making her way down to his room, the last in the hallway, she heard him speaking on his cell phone. Quietly, though she didn’t know why, she went to stand by the door. It was closed, but Levi’s deep voice could easily be heard.

             “No, I haven’t found it yet. Yes, I’ve been searching, almost every day! I don’t know, maybe it needs her nearby to activate. Yes, they are starting to show up. I already ran into one the other day, but I don’t think he recognized me. If I have to I’ll deal with them myself, quietly. I’ll report back again when I find it.”

             Theia rushed back to the front door, opened it and closed it, hard this time so he would hear it. For some reason, she felt nervous and terrified. She didn’t want him to know she’d overheard his conversation.

             “Theia-babes, is that you?” he called out.

             “Y-yeah, I got out early. Where you at?” She tried to sound cheerful but there was still a waver to her voice. She came down the hallway again, just in time to see him come out of his room and quickly close it behind him before she could see inside. Ever since the move, she hadn’t been into his room, not even once. It hadn’t even occurred to her before, but after what she’d heard, curiosity was about to kill the cat.

             “Hey, sweetie.” Levi smiled but it didn’t hold any of the warmth it used to. “How was school?”

             “All right, I guess.” She gave him a hug and her most convincing smile.

             “I wish I could stay but they’re taking down one of the walls to add on more cubicles and my dad wants my help. If I’d known you were coming home early, I would’ve told him ‘no.’“ Levi explained.

             “Oh no, that’s fine. I’ve got homework to catch up on and I might take a nice afternoon nap.” Theia made a fake yawn and stretched out her arms.

             “We could get lunch together real quick, if you want,” he offered.

             “No no, you go on. Men and breaking down walls; can’t get in between that.” An idea came to her. “I was thinking of staying over at Samantha’s house; you know, to work on our project a little more before tomorrow. Is that cool?”

             “Yeah, I totally understand.” He gave her a kiss on the forehead and waved goodbye as he hurried out of the house shouting: “And I’ll make this up to you! I promise!”

               She waited until she heard his car go down the street before she let out the breath she had been holding. What was going on? Who was he talking to and what could he possibly be looking for? None of that conversation had made any sense, but she had a bad vibe that she was inclined listened to. She saw his door and tried to turn the knob. Of course it’s locked, he isn’t stupid. She thought. What are you hiding Levi?

               She brought out her bank card and performed a neat little trick a friend of hers had taught her when they’d gotten locked out of the shower room once after track team. After a little slide and some jimmying the door opened with a click. Softly stepping inside, she was taken aback by how Spartan it was. On the solid wood floor was a bed, a dresser, and a desk, but the rest of the vast room was empty. It had to be the master bedroom, too, and yet Levi had only filled up the corner.

                 The desk was covered with papers strewn about, and when she looked at them, she saw they were maps of Kingman. Not street maps, either, but topographical maps of Kingman and the surrounding area. There were several places that Theia thought were canyons or valleys because they were much lower than the cliffs around them. Each area was circled with an X through it. Could this be what Levi had been searching for? There were also photocopies of old articles, all pertaining to the legend about “the rock that kills.” The articles covered first-person accounts dating back to the 1800s and had specific details about where the settlers had been when they’d come across the glowing blue rock.

               What? Why would he be looking for that of all things?

               After taking a peek into the walk-in closet, Theia almost wished she hadn’t. Hanging on wooden racks were weapons: lots and lots of weapons: daggers, crossbows, and swords that were all sharpened and worn-looking, like they’d seen frequent use. Those aren’t display pieces. The thought frightened her and she slowly backed out of the room.

             She closed and locked the door behind her then looked across the hall at Levi’s dad’s room. She’d been so centered on getting situated into Kingman that she never realized she had never met Levi’s father or even heard anyone else in the house except her and Levi, even at night. The man had to come home sometime, didn’t he?

               Figuring she was already risking as much trouble as she could be, Theia used her card again and entered the second room. The sight made her gasp and back up in disbelief. The room was completely vacant. There weren’t even boxes left unpacked; there were no boxes at all! It must all have been an act. He’d been lying about what he did during the day and instead Levi must have been going into the mountains to find some glowing rock, though to what ends Theia didn’t know. Levi was not the man he’d made himself out to be and she had to get out of that house now.

Running to her room, she grabbed anything of immediate value: extra clothes, the picture of her parents, her cards: and threw them in her backpack. She rushed outside, jumped into her truck, and took off, away from the house that, at that moment, seemed to be hell itself. The Devil Card popped into her mind but this time the image of the demon seemed to be laughing at her, mocking her naivety. I told you so… it cackled.

 

                 Theia parked her truck a block from Samantha’s house and decided to walk the rest of the way. Levi didn’t know where Samantha lived, but he could always search for Theia’s truck and, for right now at least, Theia didn’t want to be found. She was walking down the street, trying to calm down her rapidly beating heart, when she heard a voice she recognized...make that two voices. She ducked behind a small white picket fence in someone’s front yard and looked down the street where, on the other side, stood Baske. He was speaking in a worried tone to Loreke, the mailman. Did Baske live around here? Somehow, Theia didn’t think so.

                 “He’s still searching so I don’t think they’ve found it yet,” Baske was saying. “But now that he’s seen me, it puts Theia in danger. He’ll feel rushed and might act hastily.”

                 “I’ll alert the others and increase the patrols, but we can’t have too many people out there, or it will give away its location,” Loreke replied. “For now, don’t let her out of your sight. If it’s going to happen, it’ll happen fast.”

                 “Understood.” Baske then saluted to the mailman with a fist over his heart and ran off down the street while Loreke got into his mail truck and disappeared in the opposite direction.

                   Any calm Theia had felt disintegrated. Something was horribly wrong if everyone else was talking about her and trying to find a rock that supposedly kills people. Okay Theia, think rationally. Levi brought you here so he could search for this rock. Everyone else came because you followed him here, but that doesn’t mean they are your allies. But the cards had told her there were others willing to help that she wasn’t acknowledging.

                   “If it’s going to happen, it’ll happen fast.” That’s what the mailman had said. Now that she thought of it, what kind of name was Loreke, anyway? What about Larry or George? Those seemed like good mailman names.

                   Who do I really have left that I can trust? Theia wondered fearfully. Paranoid that someone was going to jump out of the bushes and grab her, Theia dashed from tree to tree, hiding as much as she could until she made it to Sam’s house. As soon as her friend opened the door and greeted her, Theia ducked inside.

 

                   Sam was more than happy to accommodate Theia with little-to-no explanation, which was great because she wouldn’t know where to start anyway. She made up some story that she and Levi had had a fight and she’d come there to let things cool down. She also ask if Levi came by, not to let him know she’d been there. She didn’t want to put Sam in unnecessary danger. “Don’t worry, hun, it’ll all work itself out.”

 

                 The following morning, Theia took up Sam’s offer to ride Akasha to school since that way she’d be off the main roads and hopefully away from prying eyes. She still looked over her shoulder at every sound, but for the most part, the trip to school was a safe, though horribly drawn out trip. It took at least twice as long to make the distance on horseback than it did in a car, but, then again, they were riding at a slow gait. Being a novice, Sam said they’d take it easy.

               During school, Theia was intimately aware of Baske’s continuous gaze on her, staring like she’d disappear the second he looked away. The thought wasn’t comforting. In fact, she felt as if she’d spontaneously combust at any moment. She appeared composed but, on the inside, she was a nervous wreck. All the information she’d learned yesterday had been allowed to fester and boil inside her brain but left no room for a clear path of action.

               Temperance.

             Yeah, that flew out the window when I found my boyfriend’s closest full of steel-tipped killing tools. When lunch came and Baske was still shadowing Theia’s every movement, she slipped around a corner and ducked into a nearby empty classroom. She saw Baske follow her path, but when he couldn’t see her, he cursed in some foreign tongue: “Nyshrida!” Then he walked faster down the hallway, hoping to pick up her trail again.

             She came up behind him when he reached the end of the building and said in a song-sweet voice, “Looking for someone?”

Nearly jumping out of his skin, Baske spun around looking like he was going to punch whoever was behind him. When he saw it was Theia, he actually did fall over in surprise. His backpack crunched under his weight and Theia heard a distinctive ting resound from inside its contents.                       “Theia, jeez, you scared the crap out of me.”

             “So what are you doing out here? I thought you had the second lunch?” She often wondered why she didn’t actually see him during lunch. She had figured her trick to hide and eat lunch in the drama building was working wonders, but no, apparently the reason she hadn’t run into him was because he didn’t have lunch at the same time as she did.

               Baske got up and dusted himself off, leaving his backpack lying on the ground, “I, uh—”

Before he could respond, she snatched his backpack and held it up. “You were following me, again. What are you hiding, Baske, if that’s even your real name!”

               Baske tried to play off his panic. “Listen to yourself, Theia. You’re starting to sound paranoid. I was just looking for you so we could talk about our project, since it’s due today and all.”

             “Really…” She unzipped his backpack, despite his protests, and brought up a nice, shiny, steel dagger. “Am I?” She dropped the backpack then unsheathed the dagger and held it up to his throat in one move, backing him up against the wall. If a teacher were to walk in on the scene right now, she’d be expelled—if not arrested—on the spot, but she didn’t care. “What’s going on, Baske? And I want the truth this time.”

Baske’s eyes were glued to the end of the dagger. “Theia, you gotta be careful with that. It’s very sharp.”

               “And I’m losing my temper, so start talking.” Baske swallowed hard but it seemed he hadn’t come up with a good enough lie yet because he didn’t say anything. Her patience gone, Theia backed up with the knife and glared at him. “Fine, don’t tell me. Just stay the hell away from me from now on.” She flipped the dagger into the nearest tree, the steel embedding itself halfway into the bark with the hilt shaking and vibrating erratically.

             “Theia, wait!”

             She heard his voice but she didn’t care. She bolted away from him, away from everyone, and ducked into the horse stalls. She was scared, and she didn’t know where she’d go, but she had to get away. Akasha whinnied and could sense Theia’s chaotic mood, so when she jumped on just as Baske got to the stables, the horse was more than ready to break into a full gallop.

             All Theia could do was hold on and give Akasha loose reins, hoping the frightened horse didn’t start bucking and throw off its novice rider. One of Sam’s lessons that morning had been: if you don’t give a horse its head when it wants to go faster, it’ll get upset and try to knock you off. Thankfully, Akasha ran down the less busy streets, galloping all the way to the Mohave County Fairgrounds where she liked to ride around the corrals there.

             Akasha had just entered the rows of horse stalls when Levi stepped into her path from the shadows, making the horse skid to a stop and rear back. Theia fell out of the saddle and Akasha whinnied, backing away from the tall guy with the sword. Obviously, she didn’t like him either. Theia gathered herself up off the ground and looked up in shock. Levi had leather arm and shin guards and an extra-thick leather chest piece over his normal clothes; on his back was a nasty-looking broadsword. “Theia-babes, how far we have fallen…” he shook his head. “I thought we trusted each other; we had something. Then you go and break that trust.”

             “W-what are you talking about?” She tried to keep the fear from her voice, like before, but this time it wasn’t working.

“You went into my room.” Levi met her in the eye. “I know you did because every time I leave, I spread a bit of dust on the floor, and I could see your footprints all over my room. That’s an invasion of privacy.”

             Theia knew she had to be stupid because instead of turning around and running for help, she goaded him on. “And what about you huh? Your dad’s room was empty. Do you even have a father? Why did we come here, Levi? What do you want with me?”

               “That, my dear, is a long and winded conversation we just can’t have in the middle of public. Why don’t you come back to the house with me and I’ll explain everything.” He held out his hand.

               Theia finally got her legs to move and took a step back. “No. I’m not going anywhere with you so you might as well start talking.”

Again, Levi shook his head, sighing like he was handling a child. “I really didn’t want it to come to this but you leave me no choice. If I lose you, I’m dead.” He brought two fingers up to his lips and whistled loud and long. Jumping down from the stable rooftops, six guys wearing armor similar to Levi’s surrounded Theia. All of them were armed with blades of one kind or another.

                 Theia’s eyes flicked to Akasha, who was thankfully still nearby. The horse was her only chance of getting out of here. The six men closed in on Theia, weapons drawn, and she knew it would be now or never.

                 Just before she grabbed hold of Akasha’s reigns, she heard someone let out a warrior’s cry, sounding like something out of Braveheart. She turned and saw Baske riding on Napa, heading straight towards her. He plowed down one guy and back flipped off Napa just in time for the horse to almost run Levi over. Unfortunately for them, Levi rolled safely out of the way.

               Baske landed in front of Theia, his dagger unsheathed and held out in front of him. “The others are on their way, Levi. Your identity’s a bust. You’re not getting away.”

               Levi laughed and reached behind him, drawing his own sword which looked a lot more dangerous than Baske’s little knife. “And you think you are going to stall for time? Please. If I could take care of two imperial guardians, what makes you think you stand a chance?”

             Theia’s blood ran cold. “W-what are you talking about?”

             “Your parents, Theia. He’s the one who killed them.” Baske glared at Levi and moved forward, while the five remaining thugs backed off, obviously waiting to see how the battle turned out. “Isn’t that right, Levi? You didn’t know where Theia lived because the guardians never took a straight path back home. So you waited until Theia took you to them, then to make sure she didn’t get suspicious, you waited a couple days before you murdered them.”

               “NO!” Theia felt the tears come, crunching her voice box, but she wouldn’t let sorrow freeze her into a crying baby. She also felt anger and that was the emotion she clung to. “Levi, is this true? Everything was a lie?”

               “My master wanted someone to get close to you: someone you felt you could trust. I was to bring you to Kingman in time for your eighteenth birthday. He felt that would be when you would inherit the power. Your guardians were in the way so I disposed of them.” He smirked and looked into her tear-streaked face. “And it was almost too easy. Living with you must’ve weakened their fighting skills.”

               “You monster!” The Devil was him! Her cards had been right all along. Theia would’ve barged in herself to punch Levi right in the face, simply because it would’ve made her feel better, but Baske beat her to it.

               He let out another battle cry and charged in, tapping the hilt of his dagger with his free hand. Suddenly the blade extended and Baske swung a full-length sword that clashed against Levi’s creating sparks. The swordsmanship of both men was unbelievable. They performed thrusts and parries and twisted their wrists for counters almost faster than she could follow. It was like watching an action movie, but much more terrifying, as she actually knew both people: one she wanted dead while the other she worried for his safety.

               During the heat of the exchange, Theia saw the Knight of Swords appear in her mind…it had represented Baske. While watching the two fight, Theia heard one of the other thugs fall to the ground behind her. She turned and saw a throwing knife embedded through his neck. Another went down the same way just before two people dropped down next to her practically out of the sky.

               Theia’s eyes bulged. “Loreke? Ms. Paris!?”

             “Good work, Mimi!” Loreke called out, a polearm in his hands. It was a staff that had a sharp blade at one end.

               A woman materialized out of the shadows of another stall and smiled. “My pleasure.” It was the Am/Pm lady!

               Paris didn’t have any weapons visible, but when she waved her left arm, two more guys were thrown back into empty stalls, crashing through the wooden walls and out the other sides.

               The last thug rushed in towards Theia, but seemed to bounce off an invisible shield, courtesy of Ms. Paris. When he stumbled, Loreke stepped forward and made a thrust with his spear that ran right through the guy’s chest, armor and all. “You will not have her!”

                 Levi cried out and, when Theia turned her attention to the only battle still taking place, she saw that Baske had made a clean slice up Levi’s chest, but that did little more than scrape the armor until he continued the motion upwards, catching Levi’s chin and leaving a long gash from collar bone to ear. Levi was lucky it hadn’t sliced his artery open.

                 Baske himself had several wounds on his arms and legs, but he held his ground. “You’re out of men, Levi. Don’t tell me you plan to go up against two guards and two magic users?” Levi looked around at his fallen men with uncertainty. “Return to Vairu and tell him of your failure! Pray he spares your life!”

               Levi spit blood from his mouth and glared at the newcomers. “This isn’t over! Until she inherits her power and takes the throne, it’s anybody’s game!” Then he turned around and retreated.

               As soon as he was gone, Baske fell to one knee. Worried, Theia rushed to his side. “Baske, are you all right!?” As soon as she said those words,   Theia realized it was a stupid question. Of course he wasn’t all right! Baske was losing blood from several wounds, and his arms shook from the exertion.

               Loreke came down and placed a hand on Baske’s shoulder. “You fought well, Baske. Let’s return to base and have Paris take a look at those nicks, huh?”

               Baske nodded and without looking at Theia, stood up and walked away.

               Theia stayed on the ground, staring at the blood that was both Baske’s and Levi’s. Whatever was going on, she was utterly and completely lost. What was she to do now? Her mind was blank and numb. Who was she? Why were people trying to kill each other over her? None of it made sense.

               To add to the confusion, she’d just found out that for the last few months, she’d been living with the same man that had killed her parents. Her mind flashed back to all the weapons she’d found in what she had supposed to be random places of her house. They weren’t random. She knew that now. They had been planted in the event of an attack; an attack that had come from their enemy whom she’d unknowingly led straight to their door step. She remembered her parents being very stiff around Levi when he’d visited that day. Had they sensed what he truly was? Had they known what was to come?

             Her parents had planned everything to the last details: her trust fund, her emancipation; it had all been in order to protect her. But he had called them her guardians. Did that mean they weren’t her true parents? Was that why Levi had mentioned her taking the throne? But where on Earth would such a conspiracy take place?

             Paris, the librarian (if that’s what she really was) came over and knelt carefully in her gray-pleated skirt next to Theia. “Theia, honey, we should get out of the open. I know it’s a lot now, but we can explain everything.”

             Suddenly angry at everything, Theia jumped to her feet and glared at Paris and Mimi. “Explain everything? You know it’s ‘a lot’!?” she repeated in a shout. “Why the hell would I go anywhere with you when it seems nothing in my life has been real!?” Her ramped-up emotions made her feel like she was running a fever, The feelings were so distracting that she didn’t even notice the sand beneath her literally melting and solidifying from the waves of power flowing off her. From behind her shoulders, her backpack began to smoke.

             Paris and Mimi took a few uneasy steps back.

               “H-honey, you might want to tone it down a bit.” Paris raised a hand to shield her face as though Theia were a blazing campfire that she’d stepped too close to.

             “A bit?” Mimi repeated incredulously. “I thought her powers were non-existent until she touched the you-know-what.”

             Paris looked over at her partner with an exasperated expression. “Mimi, not a good time.”

               Finally Theia couldn’t stand it anymore. “Leave me alone!” Her words seemed to explode with some unknown power and both women were blown off their feet, sailing into the air all the way to the end of the row of stalls.

               Exhausted both physically and mentally, Theia crumbled to the ground like a marionette with its strings cut. Fresh tears evaporated off her very cheeks, disappearing into the sky.

 

TO BE CONTINUED