THE COMPLETE FIRST CHAPTER OF DREAMWALKER!!
*4 days and counting*
“You can’t hold me back forever.” The gong had just rung, calling for reinforcements from our small town due to a skirmish.
And we had to sit here and prepare vegetables with the rest of the healers.
How could I be the only one who felt this was wrong?
“We have much to practice and learn.” Mother Ofburg raised a dark eyebrow at me as she worked away, snapping the ends off the peas. “Healing is our contribution to our people.”
It was easy for her to say. She’d been a healer for…. well, a long time. It wasn’t natural for me. “What if I don’t want to be like you?” I pointed at Noble, my best friend and fellow healer. “Or you?”
“One day, you will find peace and realize that you are a healer, not a fighter.” Mother Ofburg poured her plate of beans into a sack we’d be giving to the farmers whose crops had died overnight.
I shut my mouth, knowing nothing I’d said would change her mind. Mother Ofburg was a respected healer and leader in our small town. I was one of three apprentices in her care and quite possibly the worst.
No. I was the worst. I had no idea why she kept trying with me. From my botched spells to the time I burned the outhouse down on a full moon by accident. Magic didn’t flow through my veins. Fighting did.
The pounding of war drums thrilled me. I closed my eyes briefly for a moment, remembering my first time. My one and only fight.
The reason my parents sent me here.
I opened my eyes and glared at Mother Ofburg, a look so familiar to her she ignored it.
Her family had been healers for centuries. Her long grey hair was always pulled up in a bun, her face tanned and wrinkled from being outside. She pronounced every syllable slowly and clearly, so any misfit could understand.
I hated that. It made me feel slow.
Guilt washed over me as I slouched my shoulders in my seat. It was not Mother Ofburg’s fault I’d ended up here.
I averted my gaze toward Noble. He kept his head down and worked around my drama. He was handsome enough but had sworn his life to healing. No women for him, not even the questionable girls in town. But they loved the challenge. He kept the sides of his head shaved, and the top long and pulled back in a ponytail. His bright green eyes could pierce anyone. His dimples were his most adoring feature.
“Are you done pouting?” Mother Ofburg poured the last of her beans into a bag.
I stood, grabbing the bag. “Noble?”
He snubbed me and poured his beans into his sack.
I stood there and studied him. Had he ever thought of me as more than a sister-figure? I was pretty enough. Had my fair share of men and women who’d shown interest in me, but I’d never managed to find the one. I wasn’t thin like most girls. I practiced sword fighting in secret, deep in the woods, and it had kept me in good shape. My long auburn hair was the attribute I loved the most about myself. Though, my violet eyes drew the most attention.
“I’m ready.” Noble headed to the door.
I grabbed my sack and moved to catch up with him. “Noble, wait.” I shut the large wooden door behind us.
There was not a lot of money in healing. That wasn’t the purpose of being a healer, so we lived like most of the townspeople. Our homes built into the hills, covered in moss and grass. Some buildings were made from wood, but they leaked. It was much better to use clay and hay to reinforce the walls. Building into the hills also allowed us to remain hidden to creatures flying above.
Like the ur’gel, demons from the northern deserts.
“We have to meet Skyra,” The tone of his voice was irritable. “She’ll lead us to the farmers that need us most.”
When we’d commenced our apprenticeships, we’d both felt like we’d belonged somewhere else. But then he’d given up. He’d sworn his life to healing. That…. sure felt like giving up to me. I don’t know why I thought he’d understand my need.
“I’m sorry. Okay?” I caught up to him and grabbed his hand. I forced my energy into his palm to prove it. As a healer, he would be able to feel my emotions just from touching the heat that rose from my body. Sharing our energy had bonded us, unlike any relationship before. It was impossible to lie to another healer.
He pushed my hand away and shook his head as he walked on.
“I just wanted—” I tried to get him to understand how frustration sometimes overtook my common sense, but perhaps I had gone too far this time.
His shoulders drooped.
In defeat? Was he angry?
“I understand why you’re mad. I don’t understand why you won’t change the way you think.” He stopped and faced me, his eyes watery.
My stomach dropped. How insensitive could I be? He’d sworn his life to healing when he lost three brothers in battle. His parents had sent him to Mother Ofburg to preserve his line by becoming a healer. He’d been a great warrior in his day, or so the rumors were. I would never ask him, though. Being a healer wasn’t a step down by any means. It took many years of studying at the Healer’s Guild in Abrecem Secer before you could even become an apprentice. Noble could have chosen to heal in the battlefield as a battle walker but chose to work in a village.
I held up my hands in surrender. “No more talk of it.” I smiled and punched his arm, then turned and ran.
Noble paused for a moment and then chased after me.
Like old times.
We ran giggling. He never caught me, although he could have without even breaking a sweat. We ran past the Millers, the Gates, the Burns, until we reached the edge of town. We fell onto the soft grass under a tree to catch our breath as we waited for Skyra.
The beauty of our town in the spring always brought a smile to my face. The snow had melted, and all Rilyo’s bounties were in the process of growing again. The town itself was large and shared with humans and elves. We all tried to get along, but raiding occurred. While I liked the town and its people, I wouldn’t be here forever. The ache in my soul said otherwise.
“Can we just ban talking about fighting?” He leaned back on the grass and stretched.
“This isn’t going to be my life.” I lay next to him on my side. I thought of him as a brother but could appreciate his beauty.
“It’s better than dying.” He shifted his body so he faced me. His large hand reached toward my face to lift away the stray hairs that had fallen into my eyes.
“We can all die at any time.” I was grateful for his touch. Not being with family had left me hungry for hugs and physical comfort.
Noble didn’t respond. Instead, his gaze was distant.
Would he ever talk about them with me?
Probably not. “But today we feed the hungry.” I smiled at him, then flopped back on my back. Skyra wouldn’t be long. I wanted to soak in every second of not having to do anything but wait.
“Skyra is late. For once, I’m happy about that.” He smiled and joined me again, lying on his back.
We lay in silence, enjoying the soft breeze, smelling the blossoming flowers and calm in the woods. It was so peaceful we almost fell asleep.
We sensed Skyra’s energy before we caught sight of her. She was not only a bundle of energy but also the tallest person in town. An awkward combo.
“Wakey, wakey!” Skyra pounced on the ground at our feet.
Skyra worked for the Council Three. They ruled the Low Forest, and we often did work for them. They were investigating the crop failure. She had just won a leadership tournament and was now one of the most popular guides. There was something about her which made you want her on your side. I often confided in her and respected her opinion. She understood me.
“You’re late.” Noble rose to his feet in one leap.
“Come on, slackers. We have adventuring to do.” Skyra headed into the woods, and we followed.
“So, what are we walking into?” We’d only heard the rumors and questioned if it was as bad as it had been made out to be. What could destroy entire crops in one night?
“We’re coming up on the first farm.” Skyra crouched down and extended her arms out to stop us. She brought her finger to her lips, instructing us to remain quiet.
She removed the bow from her hip and notched an arrow.
I tried to see what she did. There was nothing there.
Noble’s eyes fixed on a spot ahead of us.
I leaned over and saw the branches move. What was it? A bandit? An animal?
A deer shot out.
Skyra released her arrow, and the deer fell to the ground. She moved to it and placed her hands on the animal, offering up the hunting prayers and ensuring it wasn’t suffering. Moments later, she swung the deer over her shoulder, and we moved on.
“Beatrice will be thankful. Her crops were hit the worst.” She carried the heavy deer with ease as we came across a clearing.
I stopped in my tracks, the view shocking. The field was filled with black soot. “Did it burn?”
“No. We have no idea what this is, and it just keeps growing.” Skyra headed toward the clay home.
I couldn’t even begin to imagine the devastation. “Beatrice Mulligan. We went to school together. Her father was killed in the war.” Her mother had found comfort elsewhere, but I kept that part to myself.
“She’s married now.” Skyra knocked on the door. “Happily, with child, and they have their own farm elsewhere. It’s safe for now.” After several moments, and no answer, she placed the deer next to the door. “Follow me.”
She walked past the small house to a wooden building.
“Anyone here?” Skyra yelled into the barn.
“Up here,” a man called back as he came down the ladder to greet us.
“Came to look things over.” Skyra stepped inside.
“You got those healers with you?”
Another thing I hated. People never used our names.
He set his pitchfork on the platform and leaned on it, looking at us. But he talked to Skyra even though we stood right there. “Mother Ofburg sent a boy looking for ‘em. They’re needed back right away.”
“I’ll get them there. You safe here? I brought your family meat.”
“I’ll never turn down meat. These old bones don’t get to hunt very often. Thank you for the offering.”
Skyra turned toward us and motioned with her head to follow her through the woods again.
We were quick on her tail. Worry gnawed at me. Some of our fighters had gone out. She was calling us back in. That meant there must be wounded members.
“I hope she’s ok.”
“The skirmish destroyed people and land,” Skyra shouted over her shoulder. “Multiple dead.”
“Where did it happen?” Noble’s voice was uneasy.
The muscles in Noble’s neck stiffened.
His pace picked up, and I tried my best to match it.
From my guess, it had been three years since he’d been back, even though it was not far.
“I hear you still want to fight?” Skyra changed the subject
It was not something I wanted the Council Three to know about. But I couldn’t lie to her. “I’m thinking about it.”
She snorted as we reached the edge of the woods outside Choked Valley.
As I looked down the stretch of land, the smoke from the charred trees and the burned houses irritated my nostrils. Few homes still stood, and those that did were badly damaged.
“Stick with your apprenticeship. You don’t want to see what I have to. You’re both on your own now. I’ll take care of the deliveries. Good luck”
We handed off our bags, eager to see the damage and destruction up close. Being a warrior was difficult, fighting every battle no questions asked, wondering who would make it back and who wouldn’t.
Skyra disappeared back into the woods.
Noble and I shared a look, then we both took off running toward the village. This time, he beat me. I was at least ten minutes longer getting back.
As soon as I entered the town square, my eyes were drawn to Noble, who was now on the ground, hugging his mother. Having never seen him cry before, I clutched my stomach with my shaky hands.
My anger stirred inside of me, and I never wanted to fight more. But for now, I had to stay and help heal these people. Right then and there, I vowed to myself I would avenge Noble and his family.