GLIMPSES OF DESTINY
The wards are children no longer...
The Academy wards are now full-grown and powerful, but have yet to complete school. And although they have proven themselves more than worthy of their destinies, friendships are now put to the test. Rohen and Jamu's rivalry reaches a critical peak, and Galen is drawn into their conflict. Academy politics drives a wedge between Ben and Jania. Megan's feelings for Yar begin to waver as her heart strays. A spurned love exacts deadly revenge while a secret crush threatens to grow dangerously out of hand. And as the young humans question their relationships and self-identifies, the Draca continue their deadly schemes to woo the wards they can control, and destroy the ones they can't.
The Draca Wards face difficult and sometimes heartbreaking choices during the next few months. And as Rohen and Jamu approach graduation and their time at Espies comes to an end, the wards begin to realize that their adventurous lives are only just beginning.
Terra gathered her scrollcases and carried them over to the chest underneath her window. The polished mahogany lid opened without assistance as she approached. She stared despondently at the floor as she dropped the scrollcases into the chest. She was going to lose Ben. After his defiant trip to Trader’s Pass with Jamu and Princess Jania, Humo will very likely have his farseeing spells permanently fixed on the boy, and it was only a matter of time before he discovered the bond Terra had created between her and Ben. The chest lid closed with a thump.
She could feel the young human’s presence nearby. He was close, only a few levels above her room in Arcanum Tower, so she did not even have to concentrate to feel him. She could not read his thoughts; she was not psychic. But ever since she convinced Ben to let her mark him, she was able to read his emotions as if it were an open journal before her. He was torn, which was unusual for him. Ben was usually stubborn and cold, a possible result of being trained to control his volatile elemental magic at such a very young age. Ben kept his feelings buried deep all the time, and based his choices on logic and facts. But now his feelings vacillated between the ecstasy of newfound love and the disappointment of not having his new love support him on his first mission as an Arcanum Board member.
She suddenly felt a different presence. She took a step back as Humo’s slim human figure materialized in front of her. Humo’s jet black eyes gleamed with hate. He raised his leg and stomped on the chest, smashing it and the scrollcases into splintery shards.
“It’s time we had a talk about Ben,” Humo snarled, kicking the remains of the chest at her. She turned the flying pieces of wood into dust with a flick of her hand.
“It might be better to wait until you calm down a bit, don’t you think?” Terra held her ground. Humo looked ready to kill, but Terra was a dragon just like him. He was not about to intimidate her, Headmaster or not. And as a fellow Earth Dragon, she knew he would not do anything to break the Pact that all dragons roaming this world were required to take. He was not an oathbreaker, unlike Sanguis.
Humo raised his leg once more, bringing his foot down before him with enough force to make the entire tower shudder slightly. He took another forceful step forward, and Terra stepped back before she could stop herself.
“No more waiting!” Humo barked. “We will talk about the boy, right now!”
Terra was surprised at Humo’s outburst, but not as surprised as she was by the gentle knock on her door.
“Hello! Terra, can I come in?”
Terra did not recognize the voice, although it did sound vaguely familiar. She glanced at her door, then at Humo. The Headmaster’s angry expression turned into a confused one. He frowned at the door.
“She is with me! Come back later,” he snapped at the door.
The door latch shifted, and the door opened. Terra kept her gaze on the door. She knew that the look on Humo’s face would send her into a fit of laughter.
A young female head appeared from behind the door. “Humo, is that you? I couldn’t tell from behind this thick old door.”
Humo growled in anger. Terra smiled in relief at the white haired, white-eyed girl. “You have no idea how good it is to see you, Poli.”
“Oh, I can imagine,” Poli said with a grin, her eyes fixed on Humo. “I felt Humo’s little tantrum out in the hall, and so did everyone else, I am sure.”
“Stranger things have happened in this tower,” Humo grumbled. He gave Terra a scathing look. “You cannot avoid this conversation, Terra. You will tell me everything you know about Ben.”
“Please, do not end your little talk on my account,” Poli said. “I would love to hear about Galen’s handsome brother.”
Terra shook her head. The one thing that could worsen Humo’s dark state than he was already was to say Galen’s name out loud.
“You two bats can go and rot in hell!” Humo gave the remains of Terra’s chest one last kick before phasing away.
“I do not remember Humo being such a grouch,” Poli said.
“He’s had a bad week,” Terra replied with a grin.
Poli laughed. Terra could not help but laugh along with her. Humo would not dare lose his temper around Poli. Much like her human appearance, Poli’s true form was that of a young, attractive dragon. However, despite looking barely older than Terra’s brother Silx, who was by far the youngest of all the Draca here in this world, Poli was the oldest female, and the strongest. Only Caeles, Gravesco, and Obitus were mightier than Poli, and Gravesco was dead. Poli’s visit had saved Terra from Humo’s wrath, at least for tonight.
“I noticed the Surian ship docked at the bay,” Poli said once they both regained their composure. “The Syntreans are celebrating. And Humo is upset. What in the world is going on here?”
“Wonderful things. The Princess pulled off a feat that you only hear in fables. She snuck off to Trader’s Pass with her boyfriend’s help and convinced the Masseans to agree to Syntrea’s demands. She defused a volatile situation that surely would have led to war had nothing been done.” Terra smiled proudly. “Ben was with her. They just returned this morning.”
Poli nodded, looking impressed. “Is your room warded?”
“It always is,” Terra answered.
“Good. So I hear Ben is part of the Arcanum Board now. Is that why he accompanied the Princess?”
“That was one reason, yes. He is becoming quite fond of her.”
“That is a good thing, because if he plans to continue with Baden’s plans, he will need her support.”
Terra nodded in agreement.
“So are you worried about Humo retaliating against the Princess?” Poli asked.
“I am. I am worried about all of them.” Terra waved at Poli to sit. “Rohen and Galen are also targets for Humo’s wrath. They are powerful, and they are growing up, but they are still students. Humo might be too worried about keeping the Academy under his control to keep himself from harming the wards outright, but they are still very much at his mercy. And I can only do so much to protect them.”
Poli watched Terra pace about with a tiny smile on her pretty human face. “I have not seen all that goes on, but if recent events are any type of indicator, I feel you have reached the point where you only need to step back and allow events to run their course. I believe the children have all reached the point where they can take care of themselves. And if they are all friends, then so much the better, for they will also take care of each other.”
“I don’t know, Poli.” Terra leaned against her desk to stop her pacing. “We cannot afford to take a chance and allow them to fend for themselves. We will not be able to stop the Debellos from destroying this world without the wards.”
“I did not mean to suggest we abandon them,” Poli said. “And remember, you are not alone. Animis is nearby, and Semino does check on his ward from time to time. All you need to do is call for help, and they will be there.”
“Things are not that simple, Poli.”
“Nothing in this world is simple. I understand how you feel. Will it make you feel better if I told you that I will help you and keep watch on the wards that are here at the Academy?”
Terra stared at Poli as she pondered the meaning behind the white dragon’s question. Poli’s human figure was not nearly as voluptuous as Terra’s, yet her youthful form seemed just as alluring. Unfortunately, her white eyes, the only feature dragons were unable to manipulate into different forms and colors, were just too obvious to allow her to appear completely human. Celestial Dragons rarely ventured out among humans because of this. They preferred to appear to men and women as spirits or angels. So why would Poli offer to help Terra here at the Academy? It did not take the Earth Dragon long to figure out why.
“You’ve found your ward, haven’t you?”
Poli’s huge smile answered Terra’s question.
“Have you marked him?” Terra asked.
“No, I am in no rush. Aboria does not worry me. I just need to watch him closely.”
“Well, don’t keep me waiting. Tell me who he is!”
Poli shook her head in amusement. “My dear Terra. Why so impatient? Come sit with me, and we can share some tea and talk about my future ward. How about some tea? Winter has just begun, but it feels like it is going to be a cold one this year.”
A Girlfriend and a Partner
Rohen jumped into his chair and grabbed his fork eagerly as Megan slid a plate heaped with scrambled eggs and ham over to him. He was happy that Galen had made breakfast that morning. He loved her eggs. She made the perfect scrambled eggs, light and fluffy, with the little moist white pieces in them.
His plate was almost clean when he realized he was the only one eating. Megan and Galen sat across from him with huge smiles on their faces. Rohen glanced over at the man who had made a home for him and Galen and Megan. Bilin watched the three of them warily. He had that look on his face he always had when he thought a fight was about to erupt. He was usually right.
“All right, what do you two want?” Rohen asked suspiciously.
“We want to meet your girlfriend,” Megan replied, still smiling.
It was the last thing he expected to hear. “Girlfriend?”
“Girlfriend?” Bilin echoed. He sounded surprised. “Why haven’t I heard about this before?”
“Because Rowy was keeping it a secret,” Galen said accusingly. “For a long time, too.”
“We’ve waited all winter for him to tell us,” Megan said. “We’re tired of waiting.”
“All winter?” And he thought he could trust a princess to keep her mouth shut. “When did Jania tell you?”
“Jania didn’t tell us,” Galen said.
Rohen rubbed his forehead. “I should never have let Ben take her to the palace. That means Jamu probably knows, too.”
“Why didn’t you tell us?” Galen sounded hurt. “All winter you have been sneaking around all over the place. No one ever knows where you are going to be.”
“He’s just being the same inconsiderate Northerner he has always been,” Megan said angrily, but she looked hurt as well. “Now that this is his last year at Espies, he doesn’t want to be with his family anymore.”
“You have not been waiting all winter! And I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want the entire Academy to know. Jesi would have surely found out, and she would never leave me alone then.” Rohen reached for the teapot.
“You know I don’t talk to that stupid goat anymore,” Megan replied. “And she doesn’t leave you alone as it is. She follows you all over the place, and she is always giving your friends mean looks. You should tell her to stop bothering you. You are too soft with people. You need to…”
“Don’t tell me what to do!”
“Why not? You are just a wimpy coward who can’t even stand up to a girl!”
“Would you care to tell me that again outside?”
“All right, enough!” Bilin thumped his mug. “Rohen, it was not very nice to keep this from us. Why don’t you bring your girlfriend over here?”
“Don’t call her that!” Rohen rubbed his forehead again. Was Kala his girlfriend?
“Yes! Bring her over, please!” Megan bounced on her chair. “We’ll be good, won’t we, Gayly?”
“We will,” Galen promised. She began bouncing, too. “Rowy has a girlfriend,” she sang.
“Stop that, Galen,” Rohen warned. He turned to Bilin. “This is why I didn’t want them to know.”
“All right, we won’t tease you,” Galen stood up. “Hurry up and finish, so we can practice shooting.”
“Oh, no, not again,” Megan groaned.
“What? We haven’t done that all winter,” Galen complained.
Rohen gulped down some tea and stood up. “She doesn’t have to come if she doesn’t want to, Firefly.”
“But you promised me you would let me shoot too next time!”
“Then come on.” Rohen stood up and grabbed his plate. “Whose turn is it to clean up?”
“It’s Daddy’s turn.”
“Wait! It is definitely not my turn!”
Chuckling, Rohen rushed to the kitchen and dropped his dish and mug in the dish tub. He turned and ran outside before Bilin decided to make them do the dishes anyway. Megan joined him soon afterwards, and they waited for Galen to show up as well.
“What’s taking her so long?” Megan asked impatiently. “Daddy wouldn’t make her do the dishes by herself. She always gets away with everything.”
“She shouldn’t be taking so long,” Rohen agreed. “Her bow is out here, along with the arrows.”
“Galen!” Megan called.
Galen stuck her head out the front window. “I’m looking for my bracer. Have any of you seen it?” she asked.
“The gold bracer that Jamu gave you?” Rohen asked.
“No. Put a wrap on your arm and let’s go. We’ll find it later.”
Galen pouted and pulled her head back inside. She came out after a moment, frowning as she wrapped up her wrist with a cotton strip.
“Why are you upset?” Rohen asked her as she picked up her bow. “You hate wearing bracers.”
“That one is different. It is light and it doesn’t bother me,” Galen said. “Besides, it’s valuable and I really don’t want to lose it.”
“Is it valuable because it is gold or is it valuable because Jamu gave it to you?” Megan teased.
Galen didn’t answer.
Rohen looked down at her. Her eyes were wide, and her face pale. “Firefly?”
Megan stopped walking. “Gayly? Are you…? Do you…”
“Shut up!” Galen threw her bow at Megan. “Why do you have to say things like that? That’s why Rowy didn’t want to tell us about Kala!” She turned around and ran off into the trees.
Rohen could only stare after her agape. “She likes Jamu? I don’t believe it,” he said.
Megan covered her mouth with her fingers. “Ooo,” she giggled. “Springtime has bloomed love in a young girl’s heart yet again! Well, I can’t blame her. Jamu is one sweet looking boy.”
“He is also her troop leader, and my age,” Rohen replied. “That is not good.”
“You’re right.” Megan picked up Galen’s bow. “I’ll go talk to her, if I can find her. I don’t think you should come.”
“I don’t think I want to. I’ll go to Espies to see if she left the bracer in her cabin.”
“All right.” Megan ran off after Galen.
Rohen went to get Trust, wondering how Jamu would react if he found out.
v v v
Jamu walked inside the cabin and looked around. It was empty. He wasn’t surprised. Only a hermit would stay indoors on a day like this, after the winter they had been through.
He opened all the windows to let the fresh spring air in. It was not as warm as he would have liked it to be, but he knew it was as warm as it was going to get for some time. He opened the door to allow the spring breeze to drift through the cabin.
He looked around, not knowing exactly what to do next. Winter had been a very cold and dark one, especially after returning from Trader’s Pass. He spent most of it in his room at the Academy Tower, waiting for news from Shiko and studying. There was just not much to do once Jania and Ben finally got together. All they wanted to do was be with each other. And he was afraid to spend too much time with his troops, because it meant being near Galen. It was becoming harder and harder for him to keep from grinning like a fool when he looked at her, or not to find a reason to take her aside, to have a few private moments.
Galen had left her curtains drawn back. He spotted the gold bracer he had given her, on top of her bed. Another excuse. He claimed to be tired of waiting for her to wrap her delicate wrist every time she had to shoot, which was not a lie. But he really wanted to feel her hug him gratefully.
He had thought, or rather hoped, to be over this by now. It only felt worse. He knew he should be ashamed of himself, but he was not, not after his talk with Shiko. The only thing he worried about was how disgusted Galen would be if she ever found out.
He walked over to the bed and picked up the bracer. It was pure gold, soft enough for her to mold it snugly onto her arm. It covered her entire forearm and had a tiger in mid-leap etched around the top end. He remembered the proud look on the goldsmith’s face when he presented the unusual bracer to Jamu. He also remembered the look on Galen’s face when he gave it to her. Smiling as he remembered, he rubbed the bracer against his cheek.
“Galen was looking for that.”
Jamu looked up to see Rohen standing at the door.
“She was worried that she might have lost it. I’m glad she didn’t. It means a lot to her.” Rohen walked over to Galen’s bed.
Jamu wanted to curse. He had tried so hard to be careful. “That is surprising. She hates wearing bracers,” he said, handing the golden armband to Rohen.
He did not take it. “She values it, just like you seem to value it.”
Jamu almost dropped the bracer. The look on Rohen’s face left no doubt as to what he meant. “No. That cannot be right.”
“It may not be right, but it is so.” Rohen snatched the bracer from him. “What the hell is going on here, Jamu?”
“Nothing. I did not know. She does not know. Why do you think I spent most of the winter in my room?”
“I haven’t noticed. I’ve been busy. Do you know about Kala?”
Any other time, he would have had teased Rohen mercilessly. Any other time. “Yes. Is she the stablegirl with the long blond hair that she keeps stuffed in a cap?”
Rohen gave him his famous smile. “That’s her.”
“So when are you going to bring her around?”
“Well, since everyone seems to know, probably soon.” His grin vanished. “I digress. Watch yourself, Surian.”
“There is no need for threats. She is my troop, first and foremost. You know how I feel about my troops.”
“And we both know how Ben feels about his little sister.”
Jamu swallowed his anger, and the urge to slap his friend. “You know better than that.”
“I did not mean to threaten you. But if I was able to see, what makes you think that Ben won’t?” Rohen sat down next to Jamu. “I speak as a friend. Be careful, because you might end up hurting her, and yourself.”
Jamu stared at the bracer in Rohen’s hand. He did not know what to think.
v v v
“Come on, Gayly. Why do you have to cry about everything?” Megan said, swinging her legs from the branch they sat on. “There is no need for you to feel bad. This is perfectly normal. Everyone gets crushes.”
“But this is my troop leader we are talking about,” Galen replied, wiping her eyes.
“That makes perfect sense. You look up to him, you spend a lot of time with him, and he has taught you many things. Jamu should have expected something like this. He is quite sharp about things like that.”
“Oh, no! I will die if he ever found out!” Galen exclaimed. She looked terrified.
“Then don’t tell him. How long have you felt like this?”
“Since Rowy and I had that big fight.” Galen told Megan about the rest of that day.
Megan listened, growing worried. That was quite a long time to have feelings for someone. And the way Jamu treated her that evening! Could he have done that on purpose? “You know Gayly? If that had been me, I might have started liking him myself.”
“Really? So is it all right for me to like him?”
“I didn’t say that.” Megan wondered how she had been able to stand seeing him with Jai, and then Jania.
“Oh.” Galen covered her face.
“Please don’t start crying again.”
“I’m not. I’m just so embarrassed.”
“Don’t be. Just give it some time and you will get over Jamu. Just wait and see.” How long did it take Jai to get over him? Was she over him?
Galen peeked at her through her fingers. “I hope you’re right.”
v v v
“Ro, why are all those people staring at me?” Kala asked as they walked across the Mall.
“They are staring at me, not you,” Rohen replied, glancing up and down the Mall. He hoped Jesi was not one of those people.
“But I’m walking with you. I’m sure that’s why they are staring,” Kala insisted. She moved closer to him.
“Just ignore them. They are not the reason why I brought you here.” Rohen squeezed her hand. He had decided to bring her to the Academy instead of the cottage. Now he was beginning to wonder if he made the right decision.
They reached Jamu’s cabin at Espies. He did not want his troops to meet her quite yet, and Jamu’s troops were never in their cabin unless they absolutely had to be. He pushed the door open and walked in without bothering to knock.
Everyone was there, Jania, Ben, Megan, Yar, Jamu, Galen, and her troopmates. Even Hedi and Jai were there. “I didn’t know this was going to be a celebration,” he said.
“Jania wanted us all here,” Jamu said. “She even arranged for some wine.”
Jania grinned. “Nelsen and Seth are bringing it soon,” she said. “Hello, Kala.”
“Princess,” Kala replied nervously. “You really shouldn’t have.” She gave Rohen a worried look.
It was exactly what he had wanted to avoid. Now Kala was uncomfortable. “You know, maybe we should go,” he suggested.
“No!” Galen skipped over to them. “We did this so we can all have fun. You have to stay! Please?”
Kala smiled at her. “Are you Galen?” she asked.
“I don’t even know why I asked. You have your brother’s eyes,” Kala remarked.
Megan came over. “Hello, Kala.” She sounded almost shy.
Rohen held his breath. Here was the crucial point. If Megan didn’t like Kala, things could become quite uncomfortable.
“Hello, Megan,” Kala replied with a smile.
“You know me! It’s good to see that my brother talks about us,” Megan said.
“He talks about you all the time. He loves you and Galen very much,” Kala said. “I wish he had been a little more open about me, though.” She gave Rohen a disappointed look.
“Well, that’s his problem,” Megan said, taking Kala’s arm and pulling her away before Rohen could say anything. “So what does Ro say about me?” Galen skipped away after them.
“I should have taken her to the cottage,” Rohen muttered as Hedi walked over to him. “They are going to humiliate me.”
“You’re probably right,” Hedi said with a smile. “But isn’t it much better to have this out in the open?”
Rohen noticed the strange look on her face. “Do you feel we should do the same?” he asked her quietly.
“No. But you do seem to keep plenty of secrets.”
“I do,” he admitted. “The funny thing is, most of them aren’t even mine.”
v v v
Keran peeked through the cabin window. He watched as the princess helped her cousin and the fat little mage tug a small barrel into the cabin. He was a little upset he was not invited. Rohen may be his troop leader, but he was his friend, too. He wondered if he was still Megan’s friend. Doubtful, after that fight. He should have let her win. If only it had been Galen he fought. He watched the way Yar avoided her, feeling terrible. He really botched things up with her.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Keran scowled and turned around slowly to face Galen. He hadn’t heard her creep up. “None of your business.”
Galen put her hands on her hips. “I know you have been following Meggie around. What do you want with her?”
Keran felt his mouth go dry. Where did she get the nerve to spy on him?
“Don’t you think there is something wrong with following someone around all the time? Why are you so obsessed with her?”
Let her think whatever she wanted. “I don’t have to explain myself to a girl,” he sneered.
“That’s fine then. How about explaining yourself to your troop leader?”
That gave Keran pause. He doubted Rohen would react kindly to a troop who stalked his sister.
“I can deal with you picking on me. I won’t let you pick on my family,” Galen stated.
“Who the hell do you think you are? You forget about Kade!”
“What does Kade have to do with anything?”
“I never repaid you for making him take your side. I think that payback is coming due.”
“You are so out of touch with reality, Keran. What did Kade take my side on? What were you two fighting about that morning anyway?”
Keran pushed Galen aside and walked away. Let her tell Rohen if she wanted to, he was beyond caring. He headed to the dining hall.
He was so angry he didn’t notice the Healer girl step in front of him until he was almost upon her. He skidded to a halt.
“Sorry, scout,” the girl said. “I didn’t mean to startle you like that. Are you coming from Espies?”
“Yes.” He tried to step aside, but she blocked his way.
“There seems to be a party or something there,” she remarked.
Keran recognized the older girl. She was Rohen’s old girlfriend. “Ro is introducing his new girl around.” Maybe that would make her get out of his way.
It worked. Keran hurried off, relieved he wouldn’t have to waste any more of his time with silly females.
v v v
Rohen stopped Trust in front of the stables, jumped to the ground and reached up to help Kala down.
“Thank you for taking me to meet your friends,” Kala said. “That was fun.”
“I’m glad you had a good time,” Rohen replied.
“Why don’t you come with me, give Trust a rest?”
“I have to get back. Trust is fine.”
Kala gave him a quick kiss. “I am so happy you took me to the Academy.”
“Really?” That surprised him. “You acted as if you didn’t want to go when I came to get you.”
“I felt intimidated. To be an Academy student is an exceptional thing. Tell me something. Why do you like spending time with plain little me when you have friends who are nobles and princesses, and druids and mages and such?”
Rohen scratched his head. “Well, my friends are no different than you, in my mind. And I love being with you. You are nice to me, and I can talk to you and joke with you and just have fun. I can forget about my problems when I’m with you. And I don’t think you’re plain. I think you’re special.”
Kala looked as if she was about to cry. “Oh, Rohen, that was such a sweet thing to say.”
“It’s the truth.” It was; he realized then just how much he liked her. He couldn’t help touching her long golden hair. Why did she look like she was about to cry? He was surely misreading her expression.
No, she was going to cry. Her eyes watered and her face grew red. “I…I’ll see you next week,” she said. She spun around and ran into the stable, leaving Rohen with his hand in the air. He lowered it and climbed onto Trust. What did he do to get her so upset? Maybe Megan could explain to him what he did wrong.
He thought about Kala as he rode back. He was really going to miss her once he graduated and went off on his first assignment. He was eager to graduate and become a true Espies Scout, but every day that passed made him more apprehensive about leaving.
He knew he didn’t have to leave. He could do what his old troop leader Kal did; stay as an instructor. That way he could remain and protect his friends from Humo and Sanguis. He knew it was only a matter of time before she began threatening the people he cared about. He could not go off and leave them at the mercy of the Draca. He needed to protect them, learn how to develop and use this terrible power within him, and teach Galen how to use it as well. Staying as an instructor sounded like the best thing to do. Everyone said he was a very good teacher.
But if he stayed, that meant everything he had learned and trained for would stay within the Academy. While his friends and classmates took off to fight wars and explore distant lands, he would be here, bound within these walls, teaching new groups of scouts without gaining the experience and the stories his current instructors had from their assignments long ago. And then there were the dragons. Maybe staying here was exactly what the Debellos wanted. He could not interfere with their sinister plans as a harmless instructor under Humo’s authority. Humo would love that. So what should he do?
Rohen tossed those questions around in his head all the way back to the Academy stables. After he settled Trust down and reached his room at the Tower, he still pondered. What did he want? What did he really want?
“I want to go on assignment. But not right now.” Saying it aloud set his dilemma clearly before him. He needed to find a way to delay accepting his first assignment without having to commit to becoming an instructor. The first thing he needed to decide was how long he wanted to postpone his first assignment.
“What is the most important reason for me to stay?” he asked himself out loud once more. The answer to that one was easy. There were many reasons, but one stood out above the rest.
Galen was necare, just like him. He had to stay close to her, at least until they learned how to use and control their powers. He still couldn’t think of that fight they had without shuddering.
He thought of Galen. She was such a great scout; she was even better than he had been when he was her age. How could he make it so that they would not end up separated?
“Of course! Why didn’t I think of it before?” He turned and scanned the stacks of books he had collected. Not all were his, a few were from the library, but he had every intention to return those. He knew now what he needed to do. And he knew exactly what to do to stay close to Galen and remain at the Academy for a few more years without having to become an instructor at the same time. He pulled out a thick, heavy book from one pile and carried it to his desk. He set the book down on his desk, lit a candle, and sat down to read. He just needed to be sure the Academy would allow him to do it.
v v v
Galen waited patiently for her turn to spar. It was the first sparring session in months, and everyone was eager to get their sword arms working again. She was disappointed that she was not scheduled to face off with Keran. She knew Rohen and Jamu had taken care to see that she would not. Rohen knew that she was just itching for a confrontation, despite her attempts to hide her contempt for the Sevilan. The one thing she and Keran worked together on was to keep their deepening discord hidden from everyone else. Only their troopmates knew how serious it had become. She was going to have to find a different way to teach Keran a lesson. He was in much need of one.
Laren slid over to whisper to Galen, “Would you like to switch opponents with me? I know you were hoping to get a chance to put Keran…”
“Shh,” Galen warned him. “They won’t allow it. Trust me, Rowy knows what’s going on.” She leaned over to look at Rohen, sitting on the bench next to hers. He was coaching Sprit on how to grip the wooden practice sword for an underhand swing. “Go get ready. You can be my champion.”
Laren’s face reddened. Galen bit her lip and looked away. That was probably the wrong thing to say to Laren. “I’m going to go speak to Rowy,” she said. She rushed away before Laren could say anything else.
Sprit scowled at her as she approached. “What do you want?” he asked rudely.
“Sprit, always be polite to your adversaries until they give you a reason not to be,” Rohen said cheerfully. He smiled at Galen. “What is it, Firefly?”
“Why is Laren fighting Keran? I’m a much better match for Keran than Laren is.” She glanced at Keran, prancing around in his corner. He had become insufferable since his fight with Megan. No one wanted to spar with him, no one except for her, and they would not let her. She frowned at him. Just looking at him made her angry. “I want to take Laren’s place.”
“Forget it,” Rohen said. “First of all, Jamu is the one you should be asking, and second, he won’t allow it. Go practice, Sprit. You and Galen are next.”
Sprit made a face at Galen and stalked off. She ignored him and sat down next to Rohen.
“Start your warm-ups and come to me when you are done,” Jamu called out from the center of the sparring area.
As Keran and Laren warmed up, Galen glanced at Rohen. He stared at Keran keenly, measuring his every move. His gray eyes glinted in the bright sunlight. “Rowy, can we go camping this weekend?”
“I’m going to go see Kala.”
“You’ve seen her the past two weekends! I really miss being out in the woods and I don’t want to go alone,” Galen whined, kicking up some dirt with her boot in frustration.
“Spring has just started. We will have the rest of the year to go.” He grinned at her. “Kala is too much fun to miss a Freeday with her.”
“So what does that mean? You would rather spend a Freeday with her than with me?” The bitterness in her voice surprised her.
Rohen’s expression changed. He started to say something, but Jamu called out, “Get ready!”
They both turned to watch the match. Keran and Laren circled each other slowly. Keran feinted, but Laren, true to his impulsive nature, thrust his sword forward. Keran took immediate advantage of his overreaction and charged forward, swinging with full force. Laren barely had time to bring his sword up to block. Keran’s strike sent him stumbling back.
Galen gulped as she saw Keran knock him onto his back with another forceful blow. “Get up!” Keran yelled. He stepped back to allow Laren to stand. “Get up!” he yelled again.
Laren stood slowly. He looked angry.
Keran charged forward before Laren could ready himself, but he managed to block Keran’s attack and hold his ground. He countered, and Keran hopped back, favoring his right leg.
“Fight fair! Do you think I am Galen?” Laren shouted.
Galen groaned and covered her face with her hands. Laren really needed to learn how to control himself.
The rapid clack of sparring sticks made her look up again. Keran’s face was twisted in anger as he hacked at Laren. He rushed forward and grabbed Laren by the arm. “Maybe I do, you girl!”
Laren stumbled, nearly dropping his sword. He howled as Keran’s sword smacked hard into his back. “You want to be a girl like Galen?” he cried out, hitting him on the head this time. Laren fell to his knees.
Rohen stood up. “Keran, stop!” he called out.
Keran did not seem to hear him. He swung the wooden sword against Laren’s chest. “So what is it?” Keran screamed. “Are you trying to be a girl, or are you fighting for one? You are stupid either way!” He raised his sword high above his head.
Galen had seen enough. She grabbed one of the sparring swords at Rohen’s feet and jumped over the low fence. As Keran swung his sword down toward Laren’s head once more, she ran up and blocked Keran’s sword before it could hit him. The force of the blow sent painful shocks all the way down to the soles of her feet, but she kept Keran’s sword from striking Laren again. She took advantage of Keran’s surprise and thrust her stick forward to bludgeon him in the chest. She gave him a hard kick in the ribs as he doubled over, and Keran went down.
She heard Rohen call out faintly, “Sprit, go take Keran’s place!” She turned around to see Sprit jump over the fence and rush at her. She looked at Laren. “Laren, are you all right?”
Blood streamed down Laren’s face, and he seemed to have trouble breathing. Galen stepped in front of Laren to confront Sprit.
“Laren, get out of the way!” She blocked Sprit’s first attack. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Keran stir. Keran won’t stay out of my fight with Sprit. If he gets up… I need to down Sprit before he does. I can’t take them both.
She launched fast, hard strikes at Sprit, but his parrying was excellent. She managed to keep patient and not make any desperate moves, but she expected Keran to barrel into her at any moment.
Suddenly, Sprit stumbled to the side. Rus beamed at her as he knocked the sword out of Sprit’s hands. “Get Keran. I will keep Sprit away.”
Galen smiled gratefully and backed away from Sprit. She saw Cyen pull Laren safely out of the way. She turned around. Keran was just getting to his feet. “You bully,” Galen growled at him.
Keran’s face went deep red. Without a word, he raised his saber. Galen did the same. She was going to have to end this quickly, before Rohen and Jamu stopped them.
As usual, Keran feinted. Unlike Laren, Galen stood her ground, not moving, except for a flick of the wrist that bashed her sword against Keran’s nose. Keran roared and stepped back, wiping blood from his face. He charged.
Galen swung her sword upwards, connecting with Keran’s wrist and sending his sword sailing away, but not before he could slam it against the top of her head. She watched as the sword seemed to spin slowly away. She did not realize she was falling until her face hit the ground, then everything went black.
v v v
“Galen, why do you think what you did was right?”
She sat on the bench in her cabin, next to Laren. Rohen and Jamu stood before them, waiting for Galen to answer Rohen’s question.
She blinked slowly. Her head hurt so much it was hard for her to think. “I’m sorry. I do not understand the question.”
“Galen, you interfered in a one-on-one spar that your teammate was losing. That is against the rules. But you insist you had a good reason to do so. Why?” Rohen asked her.
Galen looked over at Laren. He stared at his lap. “I, I don’t know.” She looked back at Rohen. “Was it the right thing to do?”
“That is what I’m asking you. You tell me,” he answered.
Jamu shook his head. “Ro, this is pointless. Either set her punishment or tell her that she did right.”
Rohen did not take his eyes off Galen. His stare began to make her feel uncomfortable. “If she doesn’t know why what she did was right, then what she did was wrong. Galen, explain to me why what you did was right and you won’t be punished.”
Galen rubbed her eyes. She was having a hard time seeing, too. “Keran…was not fighting in proper form. My teammate was in distress, and Keran’s…Keran’s attitude made me believe that Laren was in real danger.” She looked up at her troop leader and her sponsor, bleary-eyed. “What is my punishment?”
“No punishment, Galen,” Rohen answered. He seemed relieved. “Unless Jamu thinks you deserve one.”
Jamu shook his head. “No, but I would like to talk to Laren alone.”
Rohen walked over to the door. “Come on, Galen,” he said.
Keeping her eyes away from Laren, Galen stood up and followed Rohen outside. She expected him to start lecturing her, but he did not say a word. His silence made her uncomfortable. Rohen rarely kept quiet, unless he was scouting or hunting. “Is that it? I can just go as if nothing happened?”
“Not quite. Come with me, I want to talk to you.”
Galen hung her head and followed him. She tried to think of what he would want to talk to her about, but her head hurt too much. It seemed to be getting worse. She followed him across the training grounds to the Academy Tower. She was grateful few people were about. They reached Rohen’s room, and he opened the door and waved her inside.
Galen walked in and looked around, stunned. There were books everywhere, stacked in piles on the floor and against the walls. Some piles were waist high. A big fat tome sat open on his corner desk. The smell of candle wax hung heavy in the air. She knew he liked to read, but not this much. “Where did you get all these books, Rowy?” she asked him.
“Some I bought, some I borrowed, some are Hedi’s.” He pushed her gently down into a chair at the side of his bed. “How is your head?” he asked, taking a seat at the edge of his bed.
“It hurts,” she answered glumly, feeling the top of her head tenderly. “Why did you bring me to your room? Am I in trouble still?”
“No, Firefly. I just wanted to make sure no one overheard us. This is important,” he leaned over and checked her head for bumps. “First of all, why is it that you and Keran don’t get along?”
Galen bit back a wince. She wished he wouldn’t press so hard. “He feels I should be like one of those mousy girls he grew up with. And he is jealous because I am better with the sword than he is. He tries to bully me and make me believe that he is better than me.” She wondered if she should tell him about Taya, and what she did to get out of Sevi. She looked up as he pulled his hands away from her head.
“Galen, I want you to stay away from Keran. Walk away if you see him coming. Try not to be anywhere you know he will be. I know it will be hard, but you have to do it. I don’t want you two fighting, not even for practice. I will do my best to keep him away from you.”
“Why?” Her headache was fading. She could see a bit more clearly, now.
“Because one of you is going to end up getting hurt. I don’t want that to happen, especially not to you.”
“Rowy, I could get hurt sparring with one of the Tyros. Why are you so worried?”
Rohen stared at her for a long time. Finally he said, “Because of the second thing I want to tell you. You know this next meeting the scouts who want to will get the chance to choose their partners.”
Galen nodded. Her headache was strangely gone.
“I’m going to choose to pair that night.”
“What?” Galen looked at him closely to make sure he was serious. “But I thought you wanted to stay here and teach for a few more years.”
“I do. And I will, the Headmaster permitting. The person I’m going to choose is still a cadet, so that will buy me some time. I will be able to stay here until my partner is ready to go on assignment.”
“A cadet? I thought you were going to pair with Jamu. Why would you pick someone who’s less skilled than you just to gain a couple of years? And who could you possi…” she trailed off as realization dawned. “Oh, no, Rowy. Not me!”
“Yes, you,” he grabbed her hands and held them firmly. “You are the only one who I can trust with all my secrets. You know what we are; we have to make sure we stay together. This will give us an excuse to keep close to each other, and I can stay here until you are ready to leave,” he pressed her hands against his chest. “Do you want to be my partner?”
“I’m not sure. I haven’t thought about it; I didn’t think this would be something I had to worry about for another year.” Galen bit her lip and stared at her lap. “Are you allowed to choose someone who is training at a lower level? And can you choose someone that you have sponsored?”
“See that book on my desk? I have looked for three days, and there is no rule that says I cannot choose you as a partner, for any reason. All I need is your consent.” He leaned forward and smiled at her.
Galen pushed his face away. “You know that grin doesn’t work with me! Let me think about it.”
“All right,” he stood up and went to his desk. He took out a new candle from a drawer, scratched a notch on it a thumb’s width down from the top, set it on a candlestick and lit it with a snap of his fingers. “You have this long,” he said as he set the candlestick down.
“Very funny.” Galen shook her head. A thought came to her. “What about Jamu? Everyone believes you two are going to pair. Including him.”
“Jamu cannot keep me here for a few more years if I pair with him. You can. And I don’t think Jamu would make the best partner for me. I think you will.”
Galen smiled. He was right; they had to stay close together. And he truly believed she was good enough to pair with him! “Rowy, I would love to be your partner,” she said.
Rohen smiled back. He picked Galen up off the chair and gave her a big wet kiss on her cheek.
“Yuck!” Galen made a face. “Don’t do that!”
“Why not? Most girls would love it if I gave them a kiss like that.”
“I am not most girls,” Galen wiped her cheek with her sleeve. “I don’t understand why they go so moony over you.”
“I don’t understand why you go so moony over Jamu.”
“Shut up!” She hated the fact that he knew. “Put me down!”
He complied. “How is your head now?”
Galen put a hand on her head. “Fine. What did you do?” she asked suspiciously.
“I asked how your head was. Come on, Jamu is probably looking for you, and I need to get back to my troops.” He opened the door.
Galen took one quick last look at his room before walking out. As she followed Rohen out of the Tower, she wondered how Jamu was going to react to Rohen’s decision.
Review by Rachel Spooner, Triniricanttc
Reviewer: Cody Flatt, Two Full Time Jobs
Reviewer: Jessamine Dungo,
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