Warm Sun, No Wind
Will Battles: Chapter 36
Joree briefly considered trying to drop his mother and Eshi off at some remote village, but almost immediately decided that it would be pointless. For one thing, his mom still felt guilty, as if it were somehow her fault that he had been captured and tortured. She was unlikely to let him go anywhere alone. Also, it was unlikely that anywhere was truly safe at this point. Still, it did feel odd to drag a child into a warzone.
Dividing the groups had been far more difficult than it needed to be. Narissa wouldn’t be separated from Eshi or Joree. Everyone wanted to keep Aniah and Lanae apart, except for Aniah who was convinced that she was the only one who would properly watch the Delani. Or, in her own words, “Do what is necessary.” Jistan and Karrin needed to be in separate groups in order to hold any authority when they spoke with other Mind Scythe, but Jistan looked extremely uncomfortable with the idea of being in charge. At one point, Karrin seemed ready to go off on her own and leave the rest of them to deal with their issues.
In the end, Joree was grouped with Jistan, Narissa, and Eshi. He sincerely hoped Karrin would be able to keep Aniah from attacking Lanae. Joree was confident that Lanae wouldn’t make the first move. He was also confident that Aniah would be the one who ended up dead if conflict did arise.
Eshi clung to Joree and Narissa’s hands as they moved through thick trees. Her look of wide-eyed wonder never faltered.
“How long were you down there in that cell?” The question was out before Joree even registered he was speaking. He immediately regretted the question. Eshi didn’t like it when they indicated she had been a prisoner.
Eshi cocked her head frowning. “Cell?”
“Room,” Joree amended lamely.
Eshi swung her arms, causing Joree and Narissa to swing theirs in rhythm. She seemed to be pondering.
“I don’t know. A long time.” She didn’t sound bitter, just thoughtful.
“So you haven’t been in there your whole life at least,” he mused, more to himself than to her.
“No…” Her frown deepened. It seemed as though she were troubled not by his words specifically, but something deeper.
“I was eleven when I went into that room,” she said finally. “But…I still think I’m eleven now. But I know I was in there for a very long time, longer than a year for sure…”
For some reason, Joree felt a shiver at her words. He shouldn’t be so bothered. She was only a child and likely had a poor concept of the passage of time. A few hours had probably felt like days, especially with no sunlight to mark the passage of time.
Joree thought for a few moments. He and Narissa had both tried gently prodding the girl to give them information on herself and her mysterious situation. She never gave very useful answers. For example, when Joree had asked if she knew who her parents were, she had said, “They are themselves. Although, my father is perhaps less himself than he once was.”
“Where did you live, before you were put in that room?” Joree asked. He’d tried variations on that question before with little success.
“I lived out in the sunlight,” she whispered, raising her chin as if to absorb the sun itself into her skin, despite the fact that it was mostly blocked by foliage. “But not here. Not this sunlight. A less…glaring sun. Warm, instead of hot. And the air was still. It didn’t move.”
“Wait,” Joree interrupted, “the air was still? Like, no wind?”
“Wind?” she repeated questioningly.
“Um, yes. The…air moving. What makes the trees shake and your hair blow into your eyes.”
She smiled. “Oh! So that is what it is called. Wind.” She looked almost wistful.
Joree shared a glance with his mother. How could someone not know about wind? Perhaps this girl had been much younger than she thought when she was put in that cell, and her memory of the outside world had suffered for it.
“Do you remember the name of this place?” Narissa asked.
Eshi shrugged. “Some had names for it. Many, like my father, did not believe in naming things. They are themselves. We do not define them by labels.”
“Are you eleven or sixty?” Joree asked, ruffling her hair. “Sometimes it’s hard to tell. You start talking and I expect you to grow a long white beard and wrinkles then start preaching on the mysteries of the universe.”
Eshi blinked at him several times. “What?” she finally said, seeming completely lost. He laughed at her expression.
“What kind of food do you have where you’re from?” the question came, quite suddenly, from Jistan, who was leading them.
“The same as here,” Eshi said. “Only…better.”
“Better?” Joree asked, cocking an eyebrow.
“The fruit is sweeter. The meat is more tender. The bread is never too dry.”
Joree chuckled. It seemed she had a skewed memory of her past home. Likely, she idealized her past since her life had become so horrible. That thought sobered him, and he felt a deep pang of regret for her and all that she had suffered.
“Do you miss it?” Jistan asked, almost too softly to hear.
Silence. Finally, she said, “Um, yes?” It sounded more like a question than an answer.
“Do you know of any way for us to get you back there?” Joree asked, not feeling hopeful. He didn’t think asking around for a place with a warm sun and no wind would produce useful results.
“No,” she said. “I...” Her brow furrowed in a look of frustration. “I don’t remember how I got here.”
She’d said that before. How she had a fuzzy gap in her memory before being found by a group of armed men and women and taken in. Eventually, they’d locked her away, telling her it was to keep her safe. From what, she didn’t know. ‘Bad people’ was all she’d been told.
Her story made no sense. Who was this child, and why had she been captured and imprisoned? Where did she really come from? Even though she seemed perfectly willing to answer their questions, her answers provided no clarity.
“We can stop here to eat.” Jistan’s voice cut into Joree’s thoughts. “We are still about a day’s walk away from the edge of the frontline, so there is no need to push ourselves straight through. We won’t be able to reach the camp by tonight anyway.”
Horick eyed the city doubtfully. This was the grand capital the girl kept telling him about? It looked more like empty ruins than a thriving metropolis. He followed his guide, the girl called ‘Beali’, past the outlying structures of homes and barns and onto the paved city walkways. As he looked closer, his doubt turned to concern. This was not a city that had been abandoned and fallen into disrepair. Buildings bore scorch marks, suspicious streaks of rust red blotted the streets, and signs of looting were abundant.
His worries were confirmed when he saw the first body. It was a young man, his corpse already beginning to decompose. The smell was terrible. In fact, the whole city smelled terrible. A mixture of blood, smoke, and rotting flesh. Beali didn’t seem to notice any of this.
“That’s not one of my companions,” she said lazily as he examined the corpse.
“I know,” he muttered gruffly. “But I’m afraid that we might find them in a similar state, if they were here in this city when the attack came.”
“What attack?” Beali asked, eyes half-lidded as if she weren’t fully awake.
“I don’t know,” he muttered, more to himself than to her. He clenched his fists, eyes narrowing as he examined the city. After all his tracking, all his efforts to find any hint of someone who could help him, he might be too late. By only a few days, by the looks of it.
He allowed himself a small sliver of hope as they moved further into the city and he began to see signs of life. People moved about on the streets, although their movements were furtive and they seemed jumpy. And the number of buildings spoke to a far greater population than he was seeing.
After going to every place Beali could think of, they still hadn’t found the woman Narissa or anyone who knew where she might be. Some claimed to have seen her recently, but none had spoken to her. One woman insisted she went into the palace and never came back out, but that the palace was occupied by the enemy now and so she was probably dead.
Horick made a decision. “Beali, go find a place to hide. I’m going to search the palace.”
Beali left without any indication of relief or protestation.
Horick decided to go to the top and work his way down. This turned out to be the wrong decision. There was absolutely no one on the top levels, unless you counted the bugs, which he didn’t. He found no signs of human activity until he reached a door guarded by two men.
He almost growled. He’d spend hours searching, and only now he was finding this? This place really must be Hell.
He incapacitated the guards easily. They were well-trained but not particularly fast, and their Will was weak. Beyond the door, he found a gaping hole in the wall. This, too, was guarded by half a dozen men and women. They attacked immediately.
Good. Horick hated subtlety.
About the Creator
Hey all! I am a recent graduate from BYU in Provo with a masters in PE. I have a passion for the outdoors, physical activity, sports, and health, but I also love writing! I love my husband, parents, and all eleven of my siblings!
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