Six cycles later
En route to the ruins of Teersau
I smashed my closed fists down onto Eno’s high guard like a hammer. His incorrect blocking technique started to give way. Every time I hit, he shifted back in the sand closer to the river.
I was too strong for him. My 16 cycles compared to his ten made a big difference to our sparring. And while he had hardly any muscle-tone, I was the strongest I had ever been.
“Keep that guard up, Eno!” Aberym shouted with a cracked voice. “Fight back, come on!”
Eno’s grandfather was standing farther up the riverbank, getting angrier at my success and his grandson’s lack of progress. He never tried to inspire confidence in me, only his real grandchild.
Eno lowered his arms and groaned in pain, so I backed away.
I mirrored his stance and raised my arms as if sparring an invisible opponent. “Try to angle them. Like this, see?”
His face twisted up. “I’m doing it like that. You’re hitting me too hard!”
“Both of you stop!” Aberym called out as he trudged down the bank. His long, airy robes dragged a path through the sand.
He glanced at both ends of the river-canyon, as well as the cliffs above, probably to make sure no one was watching us. Then he gently patted Eno’s shoulder. “Take a break. Go refill your bottle and take a swim.”
Eno looked relieved. He spun on the spot, leant down to pick up his leather-covered canteen out of the sand, before traipsing down the embankment.
Now that Eno was out of earshot, Aberym shot a loathsome look at me. “This is your fault. You lack control … restraint.”
I folded my arms and furrowed my brow. “I’m sparring with him like you sparred against me when I was his age. He won’t learn anything if I don’t attack with intent. You taught me that.”
He gritted his teeth. “If I say you’re going too hard on him, then that’s exactly what you’re doing!”
I shook my head, rolled my eyes, and smirked, before following in Eno’s tracks.
“And where do you think you’re going?” he asked, and I stopped mid-stride. “I didn’t say you were finished.”
I glanced over my shoulder and gestured to the water where Eno had now jubilantly submerged himself. “Can’t I get a drink first?”
“No,” he replied, approaching me from behind. “You’re training isn’t over. Close your eyes.”
I sighed loudly. “Not this again, I told you I can’t open portals anymore.”
I complied, standing in place. Aberym drew closer. The wind howled on the canyon walls, and Eno splashed in the water behind me.
“I want you to remember what happened to Eno’s parents,” Aberym began.
I peeked my eyes open and sneered. “They were my parents, too.”
“Enough!” He looked back at Eno and made sure he wasn’t paying attention before continuing. “I want you to picture them in your mind. Where they died. How … they died.”
My lips trembled. “This is a waste of time.”
“Hold out your hands,” he said, and I shook my head. After a brief pause, he latched onto my wrist and yanked it up higher. “You could have saved them if you had of opened a portal.”
I shook my head. “No, they ran off before I …”
Aberym began to slowly encircle me. “You knew how to make portals by then, you must have made at least four that day alone. But you froze, in the moment it mattered most.”
“You can’t put this on me,” I replied.
“Strain your wrists. Open a portal, now!”
I stood motionless and strained, but felt nothing. I couldn’t even remember what it felt like to open a portal. “I can’t do it.” A kick to the back of my knee forced me to kneel in the sand.
“The Necrolisks are coming,” he said in my ear. “Get up and do it! Open one and save them!”
I had enough. I shot up, opened my eyes, turned to him and gave a scathing gaze. A single tear rolled down my cheek. I quickly wiped it away.
I brushed past him, knocking his shoulder, before stomping back up the embankment and into the cave where we were keeping our gear.
“You can’t walk away every time you fail,” Aberym called out, his words echoing through the canyon. “If you do, your failures will follow you to the ends of this world.”
Later that night
“Are you okay, sis’?” I heard a faint whisper say.
I turned on the fur rug. The cave was dark, with only a little light from the night sky outside. Eno was beside me, staring into my adjusting eyes. I often forgot how grown up he was now, but I still saw the same small toddler looking back at me.
I looked over to Aberym to make sure he was still asleep. “I’m okay,” I whispered back to Eno.
“I don’t think Grandpa wanted to make you feel bad,” Eno suggested. “Whatever he said, I’m sure he didn’t mean it.”
“No, he meant it. But don’t worry about it, alright? It’s going to be over soon anyway. When we get to Metus, he’ll see how great everything is there, and … maybe we can just … live there. Live normal lives.”
I leant over and hugged him. “Goodnight.”
The next afternoon, outside the Teersau ruins
“We’ve made it, look,” Aberym said, pointing to the hazy vision on the horizon. “The ruins of Teersau. We have completed the great pilgrimage.”
I plodded up the next dune, pulling Eno up it by the hand. “So that’s the promised land? Another endless stretch of desert? Where’s the lush trees, the wide rivers and lakes, and the ‘bountiful wildlife to feast on’ you told us about?”
He shook his head. “Behind the ancient city are mountains, and behind those is a great forest, with a network of many rivers and lakes. The next river is two days away.”
Eno moaned as he sat on the sand. “I don’t have enough in my canteen for that!”
Aberym chuckled. “If your sister could open portals, we could make the trip by nightfall.”
I ignored him, striding down the next dune. “And let me guess,” I called back, “when we get to this paradise, we’re going to spend all our time searching for more settlements, right?” I stopped and looked between them.
Aberym stopped, too. “Sacet, your power, when you finally get it working again, will save this world.”
I shrugged. “I thought you’d say that.”
Eno walked past him, avoiding eye-contact. When he reached me, we both continued down the dune, focusing on where we stepped.
“Kids,” Aberym called out, and we stopped once more. “How about when we find a good place to rest, a settlement with food, water and shade, we’ll stay longer than usual? You both deserve a rest.”
Eno gave a sarcastic smirk. “Longer than usual, so what … three days instead of two?”
Aberym attempted a smile. “Longer.”
I nodded slowly. “Okay, you promise?”
“I promise,” he replied as he reached us.
Eno looked positively ecstatic. “Maybe there’ll be other kids?” He smiled at me. “Other kids!”
I smiled back. “Maybe some my age for once, too.”
Eno gave a mischievous smirk. “Yeah, I bet you’re hoping for all of them to be boys, huh?”
“Shut it!” I tried snatching at him but he ran down the dune ahead of me.
“Well,” Aberym began, pointing to the ruins in the distance, “let’s get there first.”
Eno led our trio, almost with a spring in his step, reinvigorated by the potential of other kids to meet. Aberym and I trailed behind together. And when our eyes met, I didn’t feel my usual hate for him. Was he capable of inspiring me after all?ns22.214.171.124da2