Previous Chapter: 1.6 – Aftermath
My horse kept pace with An’s. I watched her hold an object and draw its energy through her body, looping it back into the object. After several loops, she broke the chain and released the magnified borrowed energy outward, almost resulting in a destroyed tree. It was at that point we all decided to develop a “tell us when you’re practicing” rule. She continued practice utilizing different sources: her horse, her clothing, the wagon, and even a campfire with varying levels of success. With An’s dedication to discovering and developing her powers, I felt pretty comfortable knowing I could have her by my side in a fight. A few days after she had run out of things to practice on, I thought we were safe from potential friendly fire. I was wrong. We were all trotting along in silence, enjoying our nice food comas when she piped up.
“Sledg, Jochro, I want to try something… Can you move your horses over here? One on either side of me, please. ”
I lead my horse to her side, waiting on Sledg, who was having trouble directing his own. Ace was sitting behind him, attempting to give him lessons but Sledg still took a few minutes to get to us. Eventually, he and Ace made it to her other side.
An took Sledg’s hand in her right hand and my wrist in the other. I felt nothing for half a minute until I began to feel a familiar tingling in my throat.
“Are you making me sick?” I asked. She just smiled.
“I feel great,” Sledg said, leaning forward to see me in front of An. I began sneezing.
“An!” Another sneeze. “Turn this off,” I said in-between feeling my head for a fever.
“Still great,” Sledg added a thumbs up this time. And as quickly as he finished, he threw up, barely missing hitting the back of his horse’s head.
“I might’ve reversed that a bit too quickly…” An frowned.
Sledg now leaning forward onto his horse’s mane spoke up, “Please…”
“I believe the word you’re looking for is awful, you feel awful,” I said, not passing up my turn to lean forward and beam at Sledg.
“Will you be able to get them back to where they were before?” Ace asked. “Poor Sledg can barely stay on the horse when he’s feeling one hundred percent.” Ace patted Sledg on the shoulder, “Someday mate, someday.”
“I hate you all,” Sledg managed to mumble, eyes closed, arms hugging the horse’s neck.
An began to reverse our energy flow. I slowly lost my extra energy; I went from wanting to take on a bear, to being content just riding the horse. Almost readjusted to my normal levels of lethargy, I looked over and noticed the previously sick boy had snatched his arm away from An as fast as his reflexes would allow. “Never. Again.” He crossed his arms and closed his eyes, only a hint of a smile on his face. When he sensed his horse remaining next to An’s, he peeked open his left eye and looked back at Ace, “Come on pops, let’s go!”
I laughed and watched as the two made their dramatic exit, albeit 30 seconds too late.
That night, Ace stopped the caravan early. We were fed and given a couple extra hours to relax. Eventually, I was able to approach An, wanting to talk to her about Patterson. The energy switch shenanigans were good for a brief distraction but now Patterson occupied my thoughts full force. I wasn’t exactly sure why I was nervous going into this conversation. Tonight she was sitting alone by the fire, tapping her foot and twirling a twig between her fingertips.
“Evening,” An said as I approached.
I sat across from her and nodded, unsure how to begin.
“Took you long enough,” she said.
“About my friend?” I asked.
“Would it be possible?”
She paused, “I’ve been wondering that myself – How could I gather enough energy to repair a back. If only I had someone to practice on…” she gave a devious look in my direction.
I felt my back tingle and shiver as I placed one hand on it. “Well, give Sledg enough time and I’m sure he’ll give you a broken back to practice on,” I said.
“For sure,” she laughed, “I’ll figure something out for your friend.” I nodded, relieved and hopeful. We continued chatting about inconsequential topics until it was time for bed.
As we inched closer to Ikalga, Ace proceeded to stop the caravan early, never letting on to why we weren’t riding throughout the entire day. A week had passed, and the following day was to be the end of our journey. It was almost sunset when Ace signaled the caravan to our usual early nighttime pause. Ace and I were looking for a spot to set up camp when I heard a rustling sound come from the woods. I pulled out my knife with my freehand, readying myself for whatever was to come. A few minutes passed and I began to wonder if I really had heard something.
Suddenly a large man and a small, dark-skinned girl appeared from the woods. Scepter in hand, Ace turned toward the two emerging from the woods, “He’s police.”
The man, clearly injured and exhausted, lead the girl by the hand out of the brush. He raised his free hand at us in a gesture of peace. “I am Gohama, a former officer of Ikalga. We need help.” He took a knee and continued, “This is Hisaka, her parents were killed in one of the South Settlement purges.”
Ace stepped forward, “I am King Acetate, you are safe here.” Ace called for Sledg to get the man provisions from the wagon. “Do you need healing?” Not waiting for a response, he motioned for An to examine the man.
Sledg had soon returned with provisions from the wagon, offering water to the man. The man, exhausted and half-collapsed, was barely able to support himself as he drank. “Thank you,” was all he could manage to sputter between gulps. An began to circle around him, taking a look at his external wounds. There was half an arrow sticking from his shoulder.
“Are you a nurse?” Gohama asked.
“Not quite,” An answered before turning to Ace, “I can do this but I’d need at least two, no, three healthy bodies.”
I tied my horse to the wagon, moving with Sledg over toward An. Hyde joined us there, too. “Hyde, grab the arrow and pull when I give the go ahead,” she said.
“Oh, no…” I said, seeing where this was going.
“Sorry,” An said, not actually looking sorry, “I’ll need one of you on either side of me, you know the drill.” I thought I saw Sledg reflexively gag as he realized what was about to happen. We took our places by An’s side. She signaled for Hyde to pull the arrow from Gohama’s shoulder, quickly putting her hand on the wound once it was removed. An closed her eyes and held her hand out for our wrists. I placed it in her hand and immediately felt her drawing from my energy. She then switched to grab Sledg’s wrist, drawing energy from him all the while keeping her other hand held on top the wound. An alternated a few more times between us before bringing her hand back, revealing only a small scar left on Gohama’s back. He reached his hand back, feeling it in surprise. His eyes went wide.
“Can you use your powers to check his overall well-being, An?” Ace asked.
“I’ll try,” she answered, placing both hands on the man’s now-healed back. She began to nod slightly while dragging her hands in small circles across his back. “He has a cold,” An walked to face Gohama, “You need to rest.” He nodded.
“How long have you been traveling? Are you coming from Ikalga?” Ace frowned.
The man relayed that he had been an active officer in the force before clearing out the city prison, fleeing with Hisaka.
Ace turned to Hyde and spoke, “Well, that’s one thing off the to-do list.”
With Gohama’s healing finished, I went off in search of a place to be alone and rest. I found a tree and climbed to the top, staring off into the distance. A face suddenly appeared in my view, startling me. It was Ace – he had floated up to join me in the tree, never passing up a chance to show off his scepter.
“Hey,” he said, his usual smile strangely absent.
“How’s it going?” I asked, a little worried. What could have Ace down?
“Good, good. We’re making decent time. A little less than a day’s journey ahead of us.”
“Yeah, after this I don’t know if I’ll be running off on any more journeys any time soon…”
“I hear you. Hey, we’ve got quite a team now don’t we?” He turned to face me, the branch we were resting on beginning to creak under our weight.
“We do – the two youngsters are a great addition. How’s riding practice?”
He hesitated, staring at the horizon before speaking again. “Did Hyde ever tell you I have a son?”
“No, he didn’t.”
“His name is Christian. We don’t really get along, he’s more loyal to Rayon’s ideals than I’d like,” he looked anxiously back to me, “He’s probably going to take my place leading the police. We’ll have to do something, the police are already bad enough.”
I nodded, remembering my encounter with the gazelle and cheetah.
He laughed, “I will need an heir, assuming good ol’ Aga Dez got the job done back home.” Ace paused briefly before continuing, “But actually what brings me to your fine tree branch is… Do you remember earlier with An and Sledg? When he called me pops?”
“I mean I am over a century old, but it reminded me of raising my son…”
“Wait,” I laughed,” Does that mean you want to adopt us?”
“You’ve been hanging out with me too much lately,” he replied, “You’re starting to catch my sense of humor…”
“Well, you’ve sure got interesting sons now,” I winked.
“That’s for sure,” he smiled, “Anyway, thanks for listening – I’ll give you some privacy for your change now,” he let himself slip backward off of the branch. It happened so fast I didn’t get a chance to turn my head before I felt his presence reappear behind me, his hand resting on my shoulder, “And, I’m sorry about Patterson. I looked through the records before I joined you guys in North Settlement. You’ve got a King and a Whisperer on your side… we’ll do something for him.” And then he was gone as fast as he appeared.
Gohama and Hisaka were ready to continue traveling to North Settlement the next morning. Ace had replenished their supplies and An had made sure both were in good health before they began toward North Settlement and we started the caravan up for the last day of our journey. It was around noon when we first spied Ikalga off in the distance.
“Home. All the smoke is probably just a campfire…” Ace laughed as he rubbed the back of his neck. He met no one’s gaze and a contemplative silence fell over the group for several minutes.
“So what’s the plan in case it isn’t a campfire?” Hyde asked as we drew closer to the city. Nothing beyond a few extra guards at the gate seemed out of place.
“No one would recognize Anroma, but we’d need a good reason to have a random girl and these two in our traveling group,” Ace gestured to me and Sledg.
“They wouldn’t just let the King in?” I asked, surprised.
“After what Gohama told me, I imagine they will be giving everyone a hard time, even me.”
“I can go crow… sneak in, maybe,” Sledg added.
Ace thought, “You should go crow, but hide in the wagon – I’d like to stay together. An would you mind squeezing in the wagon with a dirty crow?”
An rolled her eyes and climbed into the cart.
“You remember how to act like a slave?” Ace asked me.
“I did it for six years, two months on the road won’t change that,” I responded, hunching over and sucking the emotion from my face. Truth be told, experiencing happiness the past few weeks did make it harder to return to numbness, but this would have to do.
The wagon rolled up to the gate, stopping at the entrance.
“Name? The purpose of the visit?” asked one of the guards.
“King Acetate, Hyde Ardlevor and a rental,” Ace responded.
“Ah, yes my Lord, we’ll just have to check the cargo,” replied the guard.
“It’s provisions and medical supplies,” Ace reached into the wagon, pulling out food as an example, “ I’ve returned from my mission to North Settlement. I’ll need immediate passage through due to the…” Ace hesitated, “Third law of the sixth passage.”
“Fair enough. My apologies, King Acetate,” the guard bowed, stepping from the path.
The five travelers continued through the city gate, quickly making way before the guard realized there was no third law of the sixth passage. As the wagon turned down the street toward the castle, Ace winked and whispered into the cart, “Thanks for passing me the foodstuffs.”