Chapter Five

Athelia felt like she had been slapped across the face. Her cheeks were on fire and her jaw was clench so tightly that it stung. She was furious. But no matter how angry she was, no matter how hard she wanted to punch someone, no matter how much she wanted to burn the small letter in her hand; she could not disobey a direct order from her king, no matter what.

Athelia Basanti, Second Captain of the Lightrunners

As your rightful king and ruler, I hereby issue this order: You are

to abandon your post at Arat camp of the Azael River and travel

to the village of Akhom, near the Sarusian coast. You will then take

part in the final trial and return to this kingdom as a true Ithrian Scion.

Signed, Khaled Basanti

Ninth King of Sahnkara and Ambassador to all Ithria

Damn you father. Athelia thought to herself frustratingly, she wanted to scream. She read the letter again as she took a deep breath, scanning the words to find some sort of loophole or way out. She found none, even after the fifth time reading it. Furious, she tore the letter into tiny pieces and hurled it at her small writing desk while slumping down into a wooden chair. The chair sank slightly into the soil, only barely hidden by a rug lining the floor of her tent. She sighed and hung her head in her hands.

Maybe there was a way to hide the letter, she thought unrealistically, just for a while longer. She was not ready to go home yet, not now. She stood up, disheartened, and sauntered over to a polished sheet of steel with another chair in front of it. It was a makeshift mirror, but a mirror nonetheless. As she slumped down even harder into this chair, it creaked underneath her; it was a makeshift chair as well. After seating herself more stably she looked up and gazed at her own reflection.

Her shoulder length dark brown hair was wavy, and two thin sections from the front were tied around her temples and in a knot at the back. It was exactly how she had worn her hair for a long time, not even slightly ruffled. Of course, that is why she liked it that way, it stayed out of her face and it wasn't so long that it was unmanageable, it was precise and organized; it was Athelia.

Her dark olive colored skin only barely lighter than her hair was of fair complexion. Smooth and evenly spotted with a smattering of barely noticeable freckles. Her nose was petite and sharp and her mouth small. When she smiled she had the slight hint of dimples, though she rarely felt the need. Her ears were perfectly hidden by her hair and her jaw line was sharp though it fit her face wonderfully. Sometimes, she hated that she was beautiful but it had its benefits even she had to admit.

She took another deep breath and straightened out her hair though it did not need it. Before long, however, she was interrupted as usual. Sarut entered her small canvas tent as he entered most rooms, calmly and royally; as if he belonged every where that he went. It was a very admirable trait, as he always seemed so confidant, but right now it made Athelia want to get up and strangle the young man. His short cropped brown hair was flattened against his head and his olive colored skin was only slightly lighter that Athelia's. There were remnants of a beard growing on his chin and the way his face looked like a statue made him an attractive man.

After a moment of silence and Athelia taking another deep breath, she realized that the man was waiting for her to speak. She could only barely hear him breathing in the silence, he was so steady. He was an admirable man indeed, and he was attractive.

"I received a direct order from him this time, doesn't look like I'll be able to find a way out of it." Athelia's words were a little more self-pitying than she would have liked.

"You are not surprised are you?" Sarut asked rhetorically with that gruff voice that made him seem older than her really was. "You should have known it would come to this, the man can only take so many insults from his own daughter Athelia."

She let out a sigh that had a hint of annoyance in it. She might have thought the man attractive but she did not appreciate his answer, no matter how right he might have been. She stood from the seat in front of her mirror and walked back behind her desk. A more formal position for a man of his status and a girl of hers. Sarut stepped in the tent further to stand opposite the desk of her.

"Perhaps, but that does not mean I have to like it." She ended this with a curt nod that was meant to end the conversation, though Sarut of course didn't take the hint.

"I don't think anyone expects that of you," he added a grin that she supposed was a joke. "Besides, the messenger did tell me that you are allowed two full days before you must leave."

Athelia did not find the joke amusing, let alone the fact that Sarut had spoken with the messenger. "Anything else he told you that you think I might want to know?" She added a little sting to the end of her question. She was not quite sure why she was being so cold to the man, though she felt she had to vent at something. He just happened to be in the right place at the wrong time.

"Just that, and Hakrin wants to see you, nothing important by the sound of it. You do have two days left Athelia; you should use them wisely and not mope so much." He said unflinchingly, which just made Athelia more respectful of his bravery. He is lucky he is cute, she thought to herself smugly.

"Fine," she said with a slight grin to show she had calmed a little, "But you'll have to leave so that I can get changed, tell Hakrin I'll be along shortly."

With that Sarut turned on his heel and made his way back to the door flap of the tent. He came to a halt however and spun again to face her. "As you command, my princess!" He pulled a small dagger out from behind his belt and holding it blade down rapped it twice against his chest, with a big smile on his face. He turned and left just a split second before the book Athelia had thrown collided with the canvas where he was just standing. She chuckled to herself even if she did not find the joke even the slightest bit funny.

She took her seat in front of her makeshift mirror again and began to brush her perfectly straightened hair. At least Hakrin had the foresight not to send her a letter! She scoffed at herself in the mirror as she realized what a pain she could be sometimes.

*****

Logan slowly opened his eyes and realized exactly where he was. Lost. It didn't take a genius to notice that.

For a minute or so, he just lay there squinting at the sky. The sun was bright and its rays were cutting fiercely through the branches. The trees were swaying gently in the warm breeze and everything was dead quiet. It was like a painting, or a dream.

As Logan sat up all his thoughts of day dreaming disappeared as an intense pain shot through his gut. He felt like he was going to be sick. Whatever had happened, he had had the wind knocked out of him hard. What was that light? Logan thought hard but couldn't remember.

He lay there for a while laboring over breath, looking at his surroundings. It didn't take him long to figure out that wherever he was, it wasn't home. The trees are different, he thought curiously, and the air is a lot warmer. In fact, the whole forested area he was sitting in didn't look like anywhere he had been before. The gusts of wind slipping through the trees brought a smell with them and an odd but familiar taste to his mouth. Salt, Logan thought, I'm near the ocean?

As the ache in his stomach started to fade and his breathing became steadier; confusion and fear began to set in. Quickly looking around in all directions, he made sure that what he was seeing was real. The bright green plants near him made a slight rustle in the wind, other than that it was alarmingly quiet. Far too quiet to be near a city. The nauseas feeling bubbling on his insides grew stronger. Something felt wrong.

Braving the possibility of throwing up; Logan stood. His legs were wobbly and felt like he hadn't moved in hours. His back throbbed in pain, his head hurt and his throat was dry and swollen. Maybe I have been there for hours. Massaging his neck, he made his way slowly through the trees barely believing what he saw.

Palm trees, Logan thought, now that is impossible.

But as he moved further and further more palm trees began to fill the landscape. Along with giant leaved plants and flowers of blue and pink hue. The strong feeling of somewhere tropical kept creeping up the back of Logan's mind. He pushed it away every time refusing to accept that as truth. But the more he walked the more he realized that deep down he knew he was not in a familiar place.

It wasn't long before he found himself approaching the edge of a sharp cliff. As he pushed his way through the last bit of foliage, spreading those giant green leaves apart; he almost fainted right then. The ocean, vast and calm, lay out before him bluer than he had ever seen. It was beautiful; and it made the knot in his stomach tighten. Logan knew the ocean near his home; the Pacific was a dark blue wild ocean during the fall and winter. This ocean was bright blue and green, Logan could see a sandy beach far below the cliff that looked like a postcard picture. Wherever he was, it was definitely not his home, and it was very very real. He could feel it.

Logan didn't know how long he had been standing there staring at the ocean, but a rustling on his left caught his attention. He hadn't realized that there was a dirt path not fifteen feet below him following the edge of the same cliff. Listening closely again, he could definitely hear someone walking his direction, feet dragging in the dirt.

Looking around quickly he looked for a safe way down to the path, but it was too steep. There was a tree—which he couldn't put a name to—barely ten feet in front of him that stretched down to the path. If I can reach it, Logan thought as he stepped closer to the edge and reached out, maybe this person can tell me what the heck is going on. Before he had a chance to react, however, the unfortunate happened.

The ground crumbled beneath his weight, he tried to grab the trunk of the tree but only one arm caught and it whipped his body around so he was facing up. As he realized what was about to happen, his heart tingled and his jaw clenched up. The ground was not soft.

Then his vision went dark.

***

Athelia massaged her shoulder muscles as she made her way down the road. They had been sore from all the weight she'd been carrying on her back. That with the added weight of her small short sword and the fact that she had spent the afternoon attempting to shoot a rabbit with her bow (and missing several times) made her shoulder burn.

As she rounded another bend in the path, she stopped and stared at the massive ocean stretched out in front of her far below the edge of the cliff. It had been a while since she had seen the giant body of water and it still held her awe.

The sea breeze blew gently against her face and brought the familiar scent of salty water. The waves crashing softly against the reef below made a rolling sound. She could hear the gulls calling as they circled the shoreline beneath her, scouring for food as usual. She could never stand gulls. They reminded her of home. Closing her eyes, she tried to calm her sour mood by thinking about anything else.

It didn't work.

Sighing angrily she kicked a small rock off the edge of the cliff and watched it soar down past the gulls and into the sea below. She felt better for some reason and went to do it again.

Crack.

Somewhere close further down the path, she heard rocks crumbling to the ground and a solid thud accompanied by a loud grunt. It sounded like a person. She refused to take any chances.

Instinct and training put her mind into a whirl. Throwing the bag off of her back she set it by the edge of the path. Her short sword was out in a flash, shimmering in the setting sun; the polished bronze felt cool in her hand. She gave it the same useless twirl she always did before a fight, a backwards circular motion rolling her wrist, it made her feel better. Remembering what Hakrin had told her about entering into battle calmly, she tossed her training aside and sprinted full speed around the next corner. The breeze rushed against her face as she skidded to a halt in front of a lump on the ground. As Athelia had been expecting the worst, she was sorely disappointed.

In front of her lay a boy, completely obstructing the path and surrounded by dust and rocks. He looked unconscious and it didn't take her long to figure that he had fallen off the ledge above. He looked alive as far as she could tell, and in for quite a bit of a wake up call. Keeping her sword unsheathed she moved closer and knelt down next to the boy, still waiting and hoping for an ambush.

Something about the boy seemed strange to her but she couldn't quite pin the thought. His clothes were very dirty, as if they had been so before his fall. They were also very strange to her; she had never seen anyone wear blue pants before. His skin was a pale color and his matted hair was a short brown. He looked about her age and very well groomed for someone wandering the coastline off the path.

She stabbed her sword into the ground near her and leaned over the boy.

"Are you all right?" She asked as her cheeks grew warm. She felt silly. "You fell off of the ledge."

Wow, Athelia thought to herself, obviously. As she sat for a moment berating herself for acting like a fool in front of an unconscious boy, he stirred and coughed out a big cloud of dust. She reached her hand over to her sword and grasped it firmly, just in case.

His eyes opened and she was startled by how green they were.

***

Logan's head throbbed as it broke the barrier of being blacked out. Not again, he thought bitterly as he realized the wind had been knocked out of him for a second time. He coughed hoarsely and noticed how badly his throat burned, he needed water, or an ice-cold orange soda; either would do. I must've fallen; he thought dumbly as he began to open his eyes, I wonder if that ocean is still-

As his eyes adjusted, all thoughts of stomach pain and strange seas went away as he focused on the extremely pretty girl kneeling over him.

Her almost black hair was slightly wavy to her shoulders and the bangs were pulled back in a half ponytail. Her dark olive colored skin and brown eyes seemed to glisten perfectly in the setting sun and even the scowl on her face seemed to radiate beauty. Logan was instantly infatuated and it took him a moment to realize that there were words coming out of her mouth. Wow...

"Hey!" the girl yelled, "you all right?"

Logan blinked a few times and averted his eyes; he had enough manners to know not to stare. He went to speak but the dust in his throat made him cough again. Great first impression, he thought.

"Ye—yeah," he said hoarsely as he sat up; the pain crept back in to his body, "I think I fell though."

The girl's frown receded and she gave him a sarcastic nod, "I gathered as much."

Her voice was even strangely beautiful. As he looked at her again with more wits about him, he realized she must have been Middle Eastern in some descent. Though he felt guilty because he couldn't decide from where exactly. Egyptian maybe, he thought as he went to get to his feet, she reminded him of those beautiful women you would see painted on their ancient urns.

His legs wobbled and buckled as he tried to fall back to the ground, the hand that caught his shoulder was a lot stronger than he would have expected at first. Steadying his balance again he thanked the strange girl.

"Are you sure you are all right?"

As he took his eyes off of staring at her again he turned and saw the ocean still filling the horizon. The feeling of worry filled his gut again and he sighed nervously.

"Yeah... yeah, I'll be fine."

"What were you doing?"

"Trying to get down, the ground must've broken or something because the last thing I remember is falling."

The girl never took her eyes off Logan, he felt as though she were studying him. He found it hard to avoid eye contact and tried to keep his face from blushing.

"Well it seems as though you landed as well."

The girl's accent had a slight tinge to it that made Logan pay even closer attention when she spoke. He hated to sound too cliché but she really was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. So beautiful in fact that it had taken him this long to notice the oddly colored sword in her hand.

His heart rate jumped a little as he stepped back and got a better look at her. She was wearing all sandy colors, loosely fit pants that swayed in the breeze as though made of a light material. Her top was made of a similar light material and was cut off at the sleeves revealing two brass colored rings above each bicep. Her left forearm brandished a brilliant steel bracelet with wings etched into it. On her chest was a symbol that Logan was unfamiliar with: it was a vertical spear with a bladed base, it had a cross bar and a circle where the spear and bar met. Flowing down the length of the spear was a deep red ribbon encircling the shaft. It reminded Logan of a fancy compass from a map. And though her outfit was strange (and still very fitting to her beauty) Logan's eyes couldn't look away from the two feet of polished bronze blade in her right hand.

The girl seemed to notice his worry though because she slid the weapon into a sheath on her back with a little more finesse than Logan would have liked. Great, thought Logan, I find the prettiest girl ever and she can kill me, with a sword.