Anyway, sorry for the delay in coming with the rest of this story. Once this is done, hopefully I'll be able to hammer the rest of this story out in a month.
Previous: Chapter 9
Chapter 10 (The Regime)
My body protested as I transitioned from lying across the large saddle to sitting on it, double with Rehleew behind me. I took the horse’s reins, Guudra’s reins, from him and motioned for him to hold onto me.
Pershis’s horse danced back from the five Regime Hunters. This had to be a full set, a group with one of each element. Ewmak’s hands started trembling as he gripped Pershis tighter, but Kanli just grinned. Kanli was clearly enjoying herself way too much, but then again, she was crazy. I mean, who else would go swimming in the lake without a stitch of clothing.
As if to prove me right, each of the five Regime Hunters’ eyes began to glow. From left to right—Red, brown, blue, green and yellow. It really was a full set.
I shook my head, remembering that I had joined her on that little jaunt, and a grin split my face, too. I had to focus on this situation. There had to be a way around them. “Pershis,” I said in a low voice, “can we get around them?”
Pershis shrugged. “Not riding double as we are.”
Every face but Igu’s turned to regard me, Rehleew going as far as to lean forward to make sure I knew he was staring at me from behind.
“What?” I glanced around and clutched the reins. “I’m an adult. I can use swear words when I like.”
“Regardless,” Pershis said, turning back towards the Regime Hunters, “we can’t outrun them like this, and without an earth wielder to steady the grounds, we won’t get far.”
“Can someone use their soul crystal’s powers without forging it into an item?” I asked.
“Yes, but it’s very dangerous. The forging helps protect not only the crystal but also the mind of the wielder.”
“Do we have much of a choice?”
Pershis grunted before unslinging the backpack. “Take your crystal out, slowly. Then give your friends theirs.”
Ewmak nodded before unhooking the latch and reaching into the backpack. “I’m not really sure what to do.” His voice cracked, wavering between a squeal and a rumble. Sweat rolled down his thin neck, and the loose-fitting scholar’s robes he wore looked two sizes too big.
“The crystal should have some instructions for you,” I said as I eased Guudra forward. “Just don’t starve yourself.” Like I had done. Though, I wouldn’t tell any of my friends about that. I had to be the strong one. The one that kept them safe, and it was hard enough to do that when they still made fun of me for jumping into the lake without my clothes, with a girl nonetheless. But if I hadn’t done that, she would have gotten into trouble. My way ended with me taking the blame and her not being hit by her father. “It’s real easy to starve yourself if you overuse your power.”
Ewmak nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind.” He handed me the backpack, and Rehleew took his soul crystal.
I passed the bag to Kanli who retrieved her soul crystal. Since Igu’s soul crystal was still in there, I took the backpack back and slung it over my shoulders. “Probably best to just open the cases and rest your fingers on the soul crystals rather than taking them out of the cases completely.”
“Very wise,” Pershis said. “Now, we should make a break for the left.”
“That wouldn’t be wise,” the Regime Hunter in the center of the group, Blue, said in a booming voice. “Untrained children won’t be able to stand up to our power.”
And shit. They had heard us. What were we going to do now?
Blue stepped forward, ahead of the other members of his set. He clicked his tongue, somehow audible despite the distance. “Dead or alive, it doesn’t matter to Captain Kude, but I’ve been promised bushels and bushels of slaves if I take at least a few of you alive.” Blue snapped his fingers.
Save for Blue in the center, all four other in the full set extended their hands. Now was a wonderful time to be separated from Barges, but if my memory served me right, I wouldn’t be able to use him till well after dark anyway.
What to do? I needed to come up with a plan. My friends had never used their powers in a fight, and if I guessed correctly, Pershis had never been in an open fight before.
“That bastard!” Pershis said, drawing a pair of sacks from her cloak. “Deal,” she said in just above a whisper, “with psychic wielder and stop the others from hurting our horses, and we can get past them.”
I hopped to the ground and took Igu’s soul crystal from the bag, moving it to the saddle bag. “Ewmak, do everything in your power to still the ground beneath my feet.”
Ewmak shook his head. “That. No.” He glanced between me and Pershis. “I have to keep the horses safe.”
“And the best way to do that is to stop Brown from slowing me.” I took a deep breath then strode in front of the three horses. “Rehleew, pelt them with as many bolts of fire as you can.”
Blue bared his teeth. “Is this what the terrorists have resorted to? Using children to shield you?”
“What should I do?” Kanli asked, the giddy expression on her face telling me I was going to regret this.
“When I give you the signal, hit me with a blunt strike of wind to throw me forward.”
Kanli cackled. She really was mad.
“Get ready.” I had to go now. Before the Regime Hunters made the first move. A smile crossed my lips. Without fire, this whole planning thing might be the only way I reach the top. As long as I can focus on the situation at hand, at least.
“Last chance to give up.” Blue held up a hand; the hand I needed to
break to take his soul bracer. “I’ll—”
Now! I bolted forward, my left hand extended so the light of the morning sun caught on the fake ring Uncle Weron had crafted for me. With it to the side, it wouldn’t help much in closing the distance, but seeing the ring might.
Blue flinched. The ground under my feet rumbled, but it didn’t leap up to bite down on my ankles or devour my legs.
I would really have to thank Ewmak later, but for now, I needed to avoid that ball of fire forming in front of Red.
Boom! The ground to my left exploded in a spray of dirt. And again to my right. My ears rang, and a thumping headache set in as soon as another blast of fire hit the ground behind me, causing me to stumble to the side.
Sweat formed and soaked my face.
White hot fire zipped past my head, ripping through the area where my face had just been and filling the air with the stink of singed hair.
The dirt settled down.
Ten feet till Blue is within striking distance.
One step. I made a fist with my ring hand and growled as if I were concentrating.
Spikes shot from the ground and tore through my foot.
I crashed into the ground and tumbled forward, cringing as one of the ointment bottles dug into my back.
A wave of fire shot overhead, and the ground beneath me undulated. Blue had a look of concentration on his face while Brown just grinned. Ewmak cried out from behind, and the three horses whinnied. The fire stopped inches from the Regime Hunters. Water encircled it, shuffling out the fire as the air around me took on a thin and stale taste.
I stumbled up to my feet, well foot since only one was really functional. I gritted my teeth and hopped to the side.
Another spike shot up where I had been standing.
The effort and motion made me gasp. Yet there was no air to fill my lungs. Everything blurred in front of me, and I had no choice but to use my plan of escape. To waste the only chance I had of getting out of this group. I held up both hands, balled into fists save for the pinkies which pointed straight into the air. When my fists touched one another, thumb to thumb, I set my jaw and tensed my muscles. The sign of the pentabull was the sign of our little group. The sign my friends and I used for everything.
Force like unseen driftwood in a rabid river crashed into the small of my back under the small backpack and hurled me forward.
My body hurdled through the air, and a gale of cackles rose up from behind.
Kanli was far from stable. Or sane for that matter.
Blue’s eyes bulged.
I grinned, cocking one fist back and reaching for his wrist with my other hand.
Invisible chains bound my body, and my momentum ground to a halt inches from Blue.
I could scream. Well, I could if my jaw hadn’t been held as tight as the rest of my body. I mumbled wordless complaints that came out like, Mmmmhucmmnkmmmu. Though, I was probably wasting my time. Even I didn’t know what I had wanted to say. Just complaining about the shit lot I had been given.
The ring slipped from my finger and landed in Blue’s outstretched palm. Then, a grin to match Kanli’s cackle spread across Blue’s face. “Does failure hurt so bad?”
The tension in my jaw slacked. I licked my lips and closed my eyes. Even still, this was going to hurt. “I’ve got him!”
Blue blinked then burst into laughter. The grip on me clenched, and black flecks rolled across my vision as my jaw snapped shut laughter rose up behind Blue. But that only lasted for the briefest moment.
That was when the laughs were replaced by screams. High-pitched. Low growls. Gurgling nonsense. But altogether, they mounted to screams of pain.
And I could understand why. Pain shredded the flesh of my back, and if my jaw hadn’t been resealed shut, I’d be howling just the same as the Regime Hunters in front of me.
Hoof beats approached.
I dropped to the ground in a lump, still in the center of the chorus of screams; though, the pained voices died down to the point that at least two had to be faking it. I had to stop my friends from coming after me. If they did, they would die with me. Despite how much my body screamed through the countless lacerations on my back and arms, I jabbed my arm out to the side, pointing towards the forest. To make their decision easy, I shot to my feet and scrambled into a run.
I had risked everything to heal Igu, even I’d gone about it in a stupid way, I wouldn’t let her die now.
Maybe they had gotten the message, or maybe they had given up on me, either way I couldn’t look back, even if the torrent of glass—or whatever sharp dust-like particles Pershis had unleashed—had ceased.
No waiting for things to happen.
I had made the plan, so I would sink with it.
No matter what.
I ran and ran and ran. When silence fell on my ears and the sweet smell trees and crunched leaves punched me in the nose, I exhaled and opened my eyes.
I was alone. A blessing or a curse, I had made it. At this point, I could only hope my friends had made it out safely. But without me, at least they would no longer be in danger.
A twig snapped behind me.
Next: Chapter 11