Story by: Becca Lee Gardner
Art by Andrew Bosley
Amalia neared the forest and she felt the trees wince away from her. Roots withdrawing. Leaves shivering a warning.
A message her master would hear.
What would he say? An ancient incantation? A curse upon her?
Then again, there weren’t a lot of those ancient curses that he hadn’t already uttered in her name.
She stepped into the forest. Leaves crunching beneath her bare feet. Warm, soft earth pressing up between her toes. The taste of rain on the air.
Earth, water, and trees. Simple life. Only months ago she’d scoffed at this simplicity. Seen the trees as bars in a cage.
And now the cage rejected her. Feared her.
Now she knew the cage wasn’t a cage at all. It was a sanctuary.
It was home.
Heavy steps shivered through the earth. Heavy steps that should have crunched down on leaves and stone and sticks, but the steps were silent. The trees took the sound away.
The way they used to do for her.
Amalia fell to her knees. Accepting the crackle of dead leaves that followed. And the way the sound traveled.
She’d betrayed more than her master when she’d left.
The ground still trembled with slow, heavy, and silent footsteps. Amalia hung her head. Waiting.
When the footsteps stopped. She didn’t raise her face. She’d beheld all the shame she could bear.
“You made your choice,” a wheezing voice spoke. “You are forbidden here, human.”
It wasn’t the voice of her Master, but one of his Guardians. Probably Ghan. The eldest of the three Guardians.
The one who had carried her to the Master so many years ago. Wet with blood and rain.
He’d carried her into this new life. And she’d walked away from it.
“Please, Ghan. I had to see.”
“You didn’t trust The Master.”
Amalia’s head hung lower. “I didn’t want to believe him.”
“Humans are incapable of true belief.”
“Then why did you take me to The Master at all?”
A wheezing sigh. “Too much blood. Didn’t know you were a human.”
Amalia lifted her gaze to Ghan. A hulking form. Armored and carrying a sword. His yellow not the soft eyes that had looked on her before. Now they were aglow with light.
Ghan was prepared to kill her.
And, only a few paces away Rihl approached. His sword bare. His eyes aglow.
“I need The Master’s help, Ghan.”
“And suddenly the human is not the source of all knowledge. All wisdom.”
Amalia’s expression tightened. Her fingers clenched down on the leaves and earth beneath them. “I need The Master’s help.”
“The Master gave me the honor of killing you.”
Amalia took a steadying breath. Searching Ghan for the friend she’d once known. For the compassion he’d showed her a thousand times over. “They’re dying. The humans. My kin. My clan. All of them. It’s a sickness like no other we’ve ever known.”
Ghan shifted his grip on his sword. His eyes still bright. “Humans are faithless. Death becomes them.”
“I have faith enough.”
Turquoise light burst from Amalia. A pillar of power. Lifting her. Filling the empty spaces inside her.
If a betrayer she had become, then a betrayer she would be.
“I’m sorry Ghan. But I will see The Master.”