Twenty-Nine Years Later
Anroma ran through the woods, ducking below branches and hopping over occasional boulders. The scouting parties should be around here somewhere. Her eyes darted back and forth as she weaved through the forest. To the untrained eye, she would be a mere blur among the underbrush; a rustling of leaves. Anroma had been searching for the scouting parties for the better part of the morning but hadn’t picked up on any hint of them. Not even a stray thought.
She reached a small canyon and came to a skidding stop. She shot a brief “halt” message behind her and waited.
Shortly after, a short female emerged from the forest. The female smirked. “Looks like I win again.”
“This is not a competition, Francesca. We’re out here for a reason,” Anroma said, giving the girl a stern look. Francesca huffed and walked to the edge of the canyon.
A boy, slightly taller than his female counterpart emerged, almost tripping over a branch on his way out of the forest. The boy’s face bore an extreme resemblance to Francesca, only his was slightly more elongated. He wiped the sweat from his brow and met with his two companions. The boy leaned down and grabbed a thick patch of grass. It withered as a cut on his shoulder healed and became unpunctured skin. He glared at Francesca.
“Where to now?” he asked Anroma.
“I haven’t heard any chatter,” she said. “But we should remain together. We’re getting far from Ikalga and it seems I need to babysit you two anyway.”
“Mom,” the boy began, “I didn’t do anything. You know I have enough trouble keeping up.”
Anroma ignored him. She pulled a small sphere from a pouch fastened on her hip, grasping it in her hand. She jumped into the air, squeezing and then releasing the ball onto the ground. A misty force materialized beneath her, propelling herself forward and over the canyon. Anroma landed on the other side, waiting for her son and daughter. Every year transferring energy got harder. 30 years ago she would have only needed a fourth of that water sphere to achieve the same result.
Francesca took two steps back and her arms and legs began to take on the shape of gray canine legs. By the time she landed on all fours, she was entirely wolf. The girl dashed toward the canyon and leaped over. She too turned and looked at the boy expectantly.
The boy pursed his lips and backed up several steps. He ran toward the canyon and took a running leap, landing on the other side with an ungraceful roll.
“Oh, Cydel,” his mother chuckled. Cydel stood up and brushed himself off. He glanced at his shoulder where a new cut had opened up.
“Aw, damn it!” He closed his eyes and took two deep breaths. Cydel opened his eyes and smiled. “Okay, what now?”
Anroma’s face snapped into focus as she turned around. She was frozen in place for a brief minute before returning her attention to the two children. “I heard something. Let’s go.”
Anroma took off in the direction of the thoughts, only going at 75 percent of her maximum effort to allow Cydel and Francesca to keep up. Cydel’s lanky legs were good for open areas but he struggled to fit through the tight space of the forest, keeping up with only sheer determination. On the other hand, Francesca fit right in with the small spaces.
The three individuals ran through the woods for nearly a mile before the children too were able to audibly hear their targets. Anroma sent a message of caution to her two children. The group crept forward, peaking through the dense foliage. They spotted a small clearing that was filled with men and women dressed in all black with red accenting. Anroma cursed silently. That was covelt fabric; this would be tough. Cydel and Francesca hadn’t fought against fully trained police scouts yet, let alone covelt wearers.
Anroma sat crossed legged and continued to watch the clearing. The twins sat behind her, waiting for direction. The three of them took note of their opponents, observing the way they moved, their chemistry with one another, and anything else they could discern. Anroma had taught them to note as much as possible, for even the most minute of details could become useful in a fight – especially against covelt wearers. She had given them the rundown on covelt previously but she was still nervous. She thought back to when she first encountered a wearer and was shocked to see her energy was not nearly as effective and her ability to draw power was nearly impossible through the fabric.
The elder Whisperer stood and gave the command to begin preparations. Francesca remained seated while Cydel stood. The seated girl reached into the pouch around her waist, pulling out a package about the size of her hand and playing it in her lap. She placed one hand on top of it and held the other out, palm up. Slowly, a blue sparkle originated in her upturned palm, solidifying into the shape of a slightly curved cylinder. Francesca waved the summoned object around as if to test its weight. She brought her hand back into the upturned position and began adding to the cylinder. Soon a deep blue hand guard and blade began to materialize around the object. Moments later, her sword was complete. She replaced the wrapped package into her pouch and once again tested the weight and shape of her newly crafted sword.
Cydel held out his arm and Francesca also gently tested the sharpness, a bead of blood appearing where Francesca had poked. She nodded in approval while Cydel knelt, one finger on the cut and another drawing energy from a bush to heal himself.
“Uh.” Cydel raised his hand.
“Yes, yes, besides that,” Anroma said. She reached both of her hands out in front of her and drew energy from the water vapor, conjuring a bow in one hand and a quiver of arrows in the other. She tossed them to Cydel and repeated the process, this time manipulating the water vapor in the air into two extraordinarily long, matching knives – they were essentially short swords. “Ready?” Anroma repeated, sliding the blades against each other.
The twins nodded.
“I’ll let you two decide the method to take care of our targets since you know our primary goal is elimination only secondary to obtaining information.” Anroma waited for her children’s response.
Cydel and Francesca exchanged a glance. “I’ll take point,” Francesca said, twirling her blade.
Her mother raised an eyebrow.
“I can handle it. You never let me go alone.”
“They’re covelt wearers,” Anroma replied.
“I’ll cover her. Headshots, right?” Cydel said.
“Yes,” Anroma sighed. “Be careful.”
Cydel took off to flank the scouting party and the two females waited for word he was in position. Shortly, Anroma nodded to Francesca and the daughter rushed into the clearing the same time a dark blue arrow split the head of a scout – the first casualty.
Anroma watched from beyond the clearing, ready to intervene if necessary. She relayed mental communications between the twins when they reached out to her mind.
Below, Francesca had already beheaded two victims. They hadn’t had a chance to unsheathe their weapons. She looked up and spied two scouts approaching her. The two scouts sprinted toward her and she laughed at their carelessness. She ducked under the first sword swipe, moving just enough to dodge the blade before recovering herself to slice through his legs at the knees, just under where his covelt protection ended. The second cursed under his breath at the sight of his lost comrade and raised his blade high before bringing it down in a rain of blows upon her. Francesca blocked each with ease, sweeping his legs from under him with a kick. On his way to the ground, she took off his head. Not forgetting his legless counterpart, she casually walked over to behead him as well. 12 left, she felt her mother send. 10, her mother corrected as two scouts went down to her brother’s arrows. The 10 remaining scouts spun around wildly, searching for the source of the arrows while keeping Francesca in their line of sight.
Francesca stalked forward, once again twirling her blade. She chose to approach a female scout who’s eyes overflowed fear as she realized that she was the small girl’s next target. Francesca wound up for an extravagant strike when the scout dropped to the ground, an arrow sticking from the back of her head. “Cydel…” Francesca said, almost growling.
The scouting party had finally begun to organize themselves, coming at Francesca in a group. She counted eight remaining as they crept forward in an arc. Three scouts went down in succession to arrows that prompted the others to charge toward Francesca in a flight of fear and rage. Only three of the original eight scouts reached her as Cydel took two more down with deadly accuracy. The three scouts jerked and swung their blades wildly at her, figuring Cydel would have a tougher time shooting them down with such awkward movements. Another arrow whizzed into the group, killing another scout. It seemed they were wrong.
The two remaining scouts forced Francesca to back to the edge of the clearing with their wild strikes before she began to push back. She parried one of the scout’s strikes, slashing his throat as he readied himself for another strike. The final scout dropped her weapon and held up her hands in defeat. Francesca saw a flash of blue streaking toward the scout, which she easily batted to the ground. Cydel was almost too quick on the trigger, likely launching that one before the scout surrendered. The scout’s eyes went wide and she stammered incoherently as she noticed the blue arrow that was intended for her.
Anroma jumped down at that moment, an impassive look on her face. She stood where she landed and watched her daughter, as if expecting something. Francesca rolled her eyes and prodded the now prisoner forward.
Anroma sighed and with a flick of her wrist, one of her knives flew out of her hand with the speed of Cydel’s arrow. It embedded itself into the throat of a scout sneaking out of the foliage, heading for Francesca.
Cydel trotted out from the other end of the forest and exclaimed, “Wow! Mom those arrows fly really well!” He continued until he reached Francesca. “What’s wrong sis, did I take too many of your kills?” he beamed.
Francesca continued looking between her almost killer and her mother, mouth agape.
“Francesca?” Cydel called before he finally saw the dead scout. He looked at the body, his sister, and then to his mother. “Oh.”