In the black nothingness of night, the wind blasted sheets of knife-like water over white-topped waves. Then a resounding boom shook their fragile boat, lightning lit the sky. Water began pouring into their boat.
His mother screamed and his baby-sister, Nimri, shrieked.
Again, thunder boomed and lightning streaked down, as if aiming at the boat’s flapping sail and flailing ropes. The tiller he was holding disintegrated in a blinding blue explosion, his father shouted in surprise.
Hot embers seared into Thunder’s tender flesh and Nimri howled in pain. The putrid stench of burning hair assailed his nose a moment before icy sheets of rain mingled its stench with the cloying sweetness of cantaloupe. Temporarily blinded by the lightning, he clung to the course lumpy cloth, biting his tongue for fear he would scream in terror like Nimri.
The coppery taste of blood filled his mouth and he knew nothing on Chatterre could be worse than this storm.
Panic welled, face buried against the rough, wet burlap sack, he fought to overcome his terror, then like the answer to a prayer, a warm damp nose nudged his ear.
Thunder grouped for the cat’s comforting body, then held him close enough to realize that Kazza’s muscles were trembling as badly as his own. “We’ll be fine,” he whispered, hoping the raging storm would cover the terror in his tone, “It is only a storm. The Lost take boats into The River during storms all the time. If they can do it, so can Father and Mother.” A tentative purr rumbled deep within Kazza’s core and he felt a bit better. Thunder stroked Kazza’s head, but then the heavens boomed, again. Simultaneously the boat slammed against something hard then rolled like a wounded beast in the wind-whipped water.
Just when he’d decided nothing could get worse, everything became still. In the ominous silence, he heard his great-grandfather’s enraged voice cursing his enemies. Kazza growled deep in his throat and the fur on his back quivered. The hair on Thunder’s neck stood on end in response to the cat’s emotion, even as he thought, thank goodness! Rolf will calm the heavens and save us! Thunder raised his head above the lumpy sack of melons, but for several frantic heartbeats, the only thing in his ink-black world was the sound of his great-grandfather’s angry voice speaking in the magic language.
Kazza shuddered and huddled so close that Thunder could barely breath. “It’s okay, grandfather will save us.” Kazza’s mournful mew disputed his optimism; at least it sounded that way. Thunder petted the cat’s sleek fur, his fingers tracing the contours of a tufted ear. He leaned to the side and whispered words of encouragement, but Kazza seemed focused on the magic language his great grandfather was shouting and only became more agitated.
Abruptly Rolf stopped speaking. The black began to fade to dark gray and the dark clouds seemed to be holding their breath. When Thunder looked around, he saw dark water shooting through a jagged hole in the bottom of their boat. The savage fountain was where his father had stood, Thunder tore his gaze from the broken deck and looked for his father. All that met his gaze was nearly ripped beyond recognition. His mother had her fist stuffed in her mouth and her eyes were huge with horror as she watched the shooting fountain, which was quickly filling the boat. Already, its level had risen to Thunder’s knees – and Nimri’s waist. His little sister grasped their mother’s thigh in a death grip, her terrified stare mutely fixed on the rising water.
The storm had taken his father and it would soon take the rest of them.
A scream surged up his throat.
Thunder scrambled on top of the rough bench seat as a huge wave crashed against the side of their small boat. He tumbled backward, colliding first with the lumpy sack, then landing face first in the rising deluge. He choked on a mouthful of brackish water before he pulled himself back onto the seat.
As if shaken from a trance, his mother lifted her arm and shook her fist at the riverbank they’d left such a short time ago.
He looked to see where she was pointing. His great grandfather, the most powerful person living on Chatterre, stood high on the bluff, clutching his staff of power. Again, hope warmed Thunder as he gazed in awe at Rolf, who obviously had seen their plight and stilled the storm. Even from this distance, he could see his great-grandfather’s black eyes flashing with fury as he looked at the sinking boat. How angry he must be for the storm defying him! Thunder held his breath as Rolf raised his staff to save them and shouted something unintelligible to the heavens. Thunder’s heart slammed against his ribs in anticipation of seeing a display of his great grandfather’s mighty myst magic first-hand. They were saved!
“Let there be more water,” his great grandfather bellowed. Thunder frowned in confusion wondering how more water would help.
The River seethed and rose.
“Grandfather!” Thunder screamed above the hulls groans. “Help us!”
Rolf tilted his head back and screamed at the churning clouds. “Wipe out the corrupt Lost.” The black skies boomed. Lightning streaked. Thunder’s heart hammered against his ribs as he gripped the sinking boat in helpless shock. He stared transfixed as the flood uprooted century old trees, yanking them into the churning waters as easily as his father pulled weeds from the soft soil in their garden. His great grandfather shook his staff. Lightning slashed across the black sky, the boom cracking so close that his teeth vibrated.
Thunder screamed his great grandfathers name pleading for help.
His mother grasped his arm, yanking him around to face her. “Don’t.” His sister clung to her other side. “He is the power behind the storm.”
“No!” he said, unable to believe such an awful thing.
“When we crossed the middle of The River, we became Lost.” Tears welled in her eyes. He stared at her, unable to believe anyone could use myst power in such an awful way. As the water boiled into their boat, she held him and Nimri tight and told them that their great grandfather must have found out about their plan to end the feud between the tribes and in retaliation he’d brewed this storm for revenge. She stared at the place where his father had been when he shook his fist in defiance. “We should have known we couldn’t hide this from Grandfather. We should have known he would retaliate. We should have found another way to heal the breach.” She hugged them so tight Thunder couldn’t breath. “I’m so sorry. So very, very sorry.” Her voice trailed off to a whisper as she stared at the water boiling into the boat, where his father had been. “If I’d known he was willing to kill us, I would have found another way. I would have. I would have.” she repeated, as if assuring herself. “If I survive, I still will,” she vowed. Her arms tightened around him. “Promise me that if you survive, you will find a way to end the feud.” Her eyes bore into his until he gave a slight nod. As she kissed his forehead, a mammoth wave crushed the boat’s flimsy side.
With an ear splitting groan, the craft slowly began to slide beneath the water. He screamed, “Mama!”
Another wave slammed against the boat. The force catapulted Thunder into the storm-tossed waves. He gasped, barely filling his lungs, before he plunged headfirst into the water. A gaping black chasm rushed toward him like a hungry mouth. Thunder kicked against the grasping tentacles of water, but the darkness kept speeding toward him. His lungs burned for air. He fought to break free of the ravenous force, but something coiled around his chest, joining the relentless current pulling him toward the murky shadows. Thunder put all his effort into one final thrust, and propelled his head above the water. He gasped for air.
“More!” his great grandfather bellowed.
“No!” screamed Thunder. Fury overwhelmed his fear, making him feel strong. “Stop the storm!” The whipping wind stilled. An ominous black cloud rolled aside to reveal a star-studded patch of indigo blue sky. The waves calmed.
Rolf turned. His gaze locked on Thunder’s face. Eyes flaming with anger, he roared with rage, “Any of the Lost who sets foot on Chosen soil must die!” His grandfather’s arrogance seemed to make him grow taller and fiercer. “That means you.” He pointed his long bony finger at him.
Thunder wanted to shout back that he wasn’t one of the Lost, he was Chosen, but he knew his great grandfather recognized him. Knew he intended to murder him because of the peace his parents dreamed of. A lump of dread filled Thunder’s throat.
“Next time, I will not spare a single donkey!” Rolf’s finger didn’t waver. Thunder imagined he could feel the sharp nail pressing against his chest. “You will pay for your interference.” Thunder knew his great grandfather was speaking directly to him, but wasn’t sure what he had done to make him so angry or why he would set all nature against them just for crossing the river, which was something the Lost did every market day.
Rolf straightened and grasped his twisted black staff, murder in his look and said something in the magic tongue.
Before Thunder could gasp, raging water surrounded him. Rolf bellowed with fury, then the water swept him downward, beyond the old man’s sight.
When, the pressure eased, he saw their boat, his mother and Nimri fluttering downward, like autumn leaves falling from a tree.
His mother’s stern gaze bored into him. ‘Remember your vow.’ He wasn’t sure if she had said the words or if he imagined her voice, regardless, he lowered his head in submission. When he looked back a moment later, only the shattered remains of their boat were visible.
He opened his mouth to call for his mother, but chocked on cold water.
‘Live for me.’ A glow appeared beneath the shattered hull. ‘Live for us all.’
“I can’t,” he cried. Icy water poured into his mouth.
‘You must.’ The glow grew. Suddenly, he was thrown clear from the water. Then his stomach hit a white-topped wave and he gasped in water. Rolf bellowed with fury. Eyes stinging and lungs laden, Thunder fought against the unrelenting power of the river and screamed for his parents.
Again, a black void loomed ahead. But before he got sucked in, a hand appeared in the depths of the nothingness and beckoned to him. The slim fingers were a woman’s. His mother? Grandmother? He quit fighting the current and reached downward. ‘You must live for us all.’ His mother’s appeal echoed through his mind.
Thunder fought to move, but something restrained him. His eyes opened. Solid rock faced him.
Disoriented, he thrashed at his bindings, but they held fast. Panic seized him. Thrashing first left, then right, he fought the bindings. Sweat stung his eyes and bathed his body before he lay quietly to weigh his options.
A cool breath of pange scented air bathed his face. Thunder frowned at the familiar scent, then turned his head toward the draft, but stopped when he recognized his own bedchamber.
It had been the nightmare from his childhood.
He’d had the same nightmare each night for the past seven days.
And, as he had for the past seven days, immediately upon waking and realizing he was no longer a child, he remembered Nimri’s worried glances at Sacred Peak and her whispered admission, “Every night, when I sleep, I see hordes of ravenous celestial dragons spewing from the Star Bridge.” A chill coiled around his heart.
Had his sister’s worry over the Star Bridge become the catalyst for him to relive the worst day of his life in his dreams?
Why did his thoughts always switch from the nightmare that spawned his fear of water to the Star Bridge?
Did he dream because Nimri put the thought in his mind or was it a premonition?
Their world had been invaded once before. Gooseflesh rippled over Thunder’s back and arms at the memory of the dragon that Nimri envisioned, when they had barely survived one?
Previously when he’d woken in panic, which made the loss of his family stay fresh as a new-cut wound, he’d been able to get up and exercise away his fears. But, this night his sweat-soaked bed linens held him captive, so he had to think about the implications. Lying there trapped by fear, dread and fabric, he knew he had to get up to escape the worry. Had to move. Had to drown the memories with exercise. All he needed was a helping hand to free him from the linen’s grasp. “Gunda, Carn, come,” he called before remembering they’d fled to the distant inland mountains months before. Where was his mind, if he couldn’t recall such a basic thing?
The nightmare had gotten to him so badly that his heart was still pounding like a herd of stampeding horses. He lay imprisoned in linens, looking for something to focus on. Something safe. Something that wouldn’t give him time to think about any deeper meaning his nightmare might have.
His attention fastened on the vacant eyes of the crystal cat skull he had found as a child. It lay on a table, in front of the window and seemed to glow with life. Though he knew it was just the way the crystal shone in moonlight, as he looked at the skull, his feeling of impending doom increased, until gooseflesh burst over him and he imagined that he was looking at death.
He tore his gaze away. The maroon hues on his bedchamber’s solid rock ceiling were much more calming.
He wondered how many days it would be before someone missed him.
How many days would it be before someone made the effort to make the climb to look for him?
He should have moved closer to the rest of the Tribe after his adoptive parents passed on.
Even if he had, no one would come looking for him because they were afraid of him.
All except Nimri and Larwin.
Hope warmed him for a blessed moment. Then, he realized Nimri was too far along with breeding to climb the treacherous path to his rock-hewn home. And Larwin would not leave her side.
His bones would probably turn to dust before anyone missed him.
If anyone saw how bed linens could subdue him, they would no longer respect him.
Again, a breeze caressed his cheek. Thunder looked at the open window, in front of which, the skull glowed a sinister scarlet. Heart hammering with fear, it took a moment to realize the moon hanging over Sacred Mountain was red. Mouth dry, he realized that while he could ignore his warning dreams, he couldn’t ignore this powerful omen of doom. He should have done something when Nimri first told him – anything instead of sit and wait until it was too late. If he could just get free of the linens, he’d seek Nimri and Larwin’s council and do whatever they said.
No sooner had the conviction filled his mind, than the bedclothes dropped away from his body.
Thunder leaped out of bed, certain that something dreadful was about to happen … or had happened while he wrapped himself in denial. He dashed out the door of his rock-hewn home, into the small adjoining garden that overlooked the sprawling river valley, and leapt onto a stone bench. He stretched his tall, lean body to look over the pange tree’s branches and then studied every detail of Sacred Mountain’s face. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed movement in the shadows beneath a nearby buddleia bush. He whirled to face the darkness, cooling sweat mingling with gooseflesh.
A deep rumpling purr of assurance came from the murky blackness, then Kazza’s lithe six-hundred-pound silhouette emerged from beneath the bush. The cat’s dark tufted ears twitched with interest, and the sonorous soothing vibration intensified.
Relief swept through Thunder.
Kazza’s purring assurance chased away the worst of Thunder’s dread with the sound of comfort. The great cat hopped onto the bench, next to him and Kazza twined his supple gold, black and white striped flanks against his thighs. The sensations of comfort overpowered the dream-induced terror. ‘You are mine,’ the huge cat seemed to say as he wrapped his tail around Thunder’s waist, ‘and I will protect you.’ Warmth crept into Thunder’s core; replacing the numbing cold.
Thunder sighed at the reprieve.
An affectionate, leathery nose prodded the palm of his hand. Thunder stroked Kazza’s muscular spine shoulders to flanks, then fingered the smooth, silky texture of his luxuriant fur until his tail twitched. It had been nearly impossible for all their skills and resources combined to kill the lone dragon. They could not chance another beast coming through, much less an invasion of many.
The insistent need to close the Star Bridge began circling through his mind.
Thunder sat down on the bench, his arm draped around Kazza’s massive shoulders. The cat sat next to him, whiskers whirling, eyes alert as if reading his thoughts and the waking worries he had taken from his vision. Together, Thunder and Kazza turned and looked past the garden’s encircling stonewall to scrutinize Sacred Mountain’s cloud-shrouded summit as they were both worried about another invasion.
Would Nimri and her soon-to-be-born-babe be safe from more marauding dragons?
Would any of them survive another assault by the aura-devouring beasts?
Kazza stopped purring. His ears tilted forward, one tuft moving up and down, as if in expectation. A sweet-scented breeze caressed them, then the craggy contours of the mountain’s sheer rock face appeared in harsh contrast to the black moss of the star-studded night sky. While they watched, clouds scudded away from the moon, bathing the peak in a reddish hue.
Kazza shivered at the sight of the evil omen.
So did Thunder.
Some legends were true and in them, some fates could be worse than the near drowning he kept reliving in his nightmares.
As he gazed at the red rock, Thunder became even more certain that Nimri’s dreams and his nightmares were omens: unless someone closed the Star Bridge’s magic portal, more of the aura-consuming beasts would invade their world. Once here, the dragons would destroy everything, as they had on the old world and Chatterre would become a lifeless cinder, like Larwin described their old world to be.
There were no more magical portals to take the tribes to a new, safer world.
With no other option, they – no, he – had to make this world safe. Thunder swallowed. “Nimri’s dreams are warnings of what could be,” Thunder murmured. “And mine are a sign for action.”
Kazza purred in agreement.
Thunder cleared his throat. Kazza tilted his head to one side, watching him with unblinking amber eyes. “I must find a way to close the way to the dragons.”
Kazza purred harder and licked his hand, in agreement.
What if it was already too late to close the portal? A lump of dread formed in Thunder’s stomach, then he shook his head. It couldn’t be too late. “I need to talk with Larwin and GEA-4 and find out if either of them have any ideas about dealing with this. He frowned. And, I need to find out more about Nimri’s dreams.” Kazza’s whiskers twirled, then his luminous amber gaze moved back to the ill-omened peak and his ears flattened against his head.
Thunder hand settled on Kazza’s powerful shoulder as they stared at the jagged rock. “The ancients needed mystics on both worlds to open the portal. I wonder if it can be closed from one side.” Kazza leaned against his thigh, but his solid support didn’t encourage Thunder as it normally did. Instead, a choking lump formed in Thunder’s throat. “Nimri could handle this side – she wouldn’t have to climb the mountain, and I wouldn’t mind going to the other side if I believed I had a chance of surviving long enough to fulfill the need, but Larwin said there was no air on the old world.” And that it had taken hours to move from the surface to the portal – no one can hold their breath that long. He turned his attention to the great cat; Kazza’s amber gaze appeared to blur. If he found a way to the other side, he doomed himself to death. Yet someone had to go. He had to go, thus he must find a way to survive long enough to protect the rest. Thunder’s heart slammed against his ribs. He took a calming breath, but the air only made him worry how he could possibly close the breach and a certainty grew that this time he would not cheat death, though the thought gave him pause, he told himself that one life compared to the thousands he could save was insignificant.
Still, he didn’t know how he could possibly complete the task destiny seemed to have given him.
But he would find a way – somehow.
Thunder hurried inside and rummaged in his clothes chest for his favorite breeches and leather vest. As he dressed, his hand touched the amulet bag his mother had made before The River swallowed her. When his fingertips brushed its intricate beadwork, he wished stories had been passed down about how his ancestors had opened the portal, but that information had been lost over the past millennium.
How ironic that the Star Bridge, which had once saved his ancestors had become the path that could doom them.
His fingers tightened around the amulet’s worn leather and beads. Though he wished he could elude this fate, it seemed as if his entire life had built toward this desolate destiny. Closing The Portal would mean that he would die as he lived most of his life: alone. He swallowed and vowed, again, that if there were a way to save Chatterre from Solterre’s fate, he would find it.
Despite the darkness of the night and the evil red moon, Thunder jogged down the twisting trail from his home. Near dawn, when he came to the wheel-rutted main track, he ran faster. Sweat bathed his brow and soon his panting breaths blocked out the normal night sounds. By late afternoon, exhaustion rippled over his muscles, but still he plodded toward the last place he wanted to be: The River. Since he’d nearly drowned, as a child, he’d only been this near the area when the dying dragon had fallen and its heat had turned the turbulent water into billowing masses of steam and cracking clods of once-wet muck.
His pace slowed as he neared the dragon’s petrified carcass. His sister had seen the remains as an opportunity to fulfill his parent’s goal of joining the tribes, so once the remains had cooled, each tribe had built an earthen ramp and twisted sturdy vines between the rigid limbs so no one would slip off the craggy belly into the rushing river below. Though Nimri and Larwin had used the new bridge many times to visit him, and many couples had followed Tansy and Otter’s example of giving life-vows, which joined Chosen and Lost, this was the first time Thunder had attempted crossing the beast’s long, rough belly.
Thunder stepped from the hard packed soil onto what had had once been the beast’s tail then stood still, breathing deeply as he studied how the creature arced upside-down across the water. Three of the ten wingtips plunged deep in the water, causing white-capped waves to slam against their lifeless edges. All ten legs stretched toward the clear morning sky, as if trying to grasp thin rays of morning light from the sky.
As he stood staring at the bridge, a donkey towing a cart piled high with lumpy sacks clattered up the Chosen’s earthen ramp. With a jounce, the wooden wheels rumbled onto the dragon’s throat, and bumped onto the rough scales which covered the beast’s chest. A tiny green orb eased out of one sack, fell to the ground, then rolled away. The larger boy gave chase, after what was probably a cabbage, but it fell into the water before he could grasp it. The dot disappeared for a moment, then bobbed to the surface further downstream. The boy cried out, as he slipped and fell on his bottom. Somehow, the kid managed to scramble backward. Cold sweat bathed Thunder as he watched the lad inch back toward the flat center area of the throat. The kids looked the size of fleas compared to the dragon, but that didn’t mean the path was safe. The boys laughed and scrambled after the donkey. Thunder watched them approach his side and wished crossing the river was as easy as they made it look. Then, he looked for the cabbage, but it had disappeared. If he didn’t get past his fear of being so close to water, he could lose everything he cared for.
When the cart and laughing boys passed him, Thunder squared his shoulders and by force of will, hiked up the rest of the beast’s tail. Focusing on a tall pine, on the opposite shore, he crossed the belly without looking at the vile water below, and only lost sight of the tree after he started down the scaly throat. By the time his moccasins touched the soil on the other shore, Thunder knew he could do anything.
Through the rest of the morning, he forced his fears back, and by early afternoon step by step he climbed up a path, which passed through Nimri’s sprawling herbal garden. He felt proud that he’d come this far.
A thin gray tendril of smoke rose from the stone chimney until it mingled with the sequoia boughs a hundred feet above. Thunder paused for a moment and watched the way the sun’s rays caressed the home, which spiraled around the tree’s massive trunk.
When Rolf had exacted his revenge, all the stately trees on his side of the river had been ripped from the ground and torn to bits by the raging water. A leftover chill from his nightmare washed over him and mixed with a sense of homesickness. Thunder shook off the memories and hastened to the kitchen’s thick round door. Scents of fresh-baked bread mixed with the aroma of the dried herbs. His mouth watered as he knocked. “Nimri. Larwin,” he called.
The sound of hurried footfalls preceded Larwin’s arrival. “Thunder! Come in!” He nearly pulled him over the threshold, his every gesture displaying happiness to see him. “What brings you here?”
“His dreams do.” Nimri hugged him. “It’s good to see you.” Her unborn baby kicked him in the stomach.
Thunder chuckled as he kissed her ear. The babe kicked him, again. “Hugging you is getting dangerous.” Then he whispered, “How do you know about my dreams?”
She tried to smile as he stepped back in time to avoid a third kick. Thunder smoothed a stray lock of ebony hair behind her ear. He’d never seen her dark hair free from the braid that hung to her knees or such a look of fear in her eyes.
Larwin clasped his shoulder. “Do me a favor. It’s been a year. If another madrox was going to come, it would have by now. Convince your sister that we’re safe, then maybe we can all get some sleep.”
Nimri looked from her husband to him. “I think dragons go by a different sort of time.”
Thunder sat down at the table. “I can’t tell anyone we’re safe while the star bridge remains open.” Nimri looked relieved as she put a pot of water on to boil. He gestured to her swollen stomach. “Obviously, you can’t climb the mountain to check it and I’m not certain that myst travel could tell us anything.”
Nimri winced. “That’s the last thing we want to do.” Larwin gave her a questioning look. “Remember how the dragon followed our essence?”
Larwin slumped onto the bench. “I thought you were dead.” He swallowed hard.
“I wish we’d finished the job instead of celebrating.” Tears welled in Nimri’s expressive green eyes.
“We can’t change the past,” Thunder said, “but perhaps we can alter the future. I know I must close the star bridge, but don’t know how. Have your dreams offered a clue?”
She shook her head. “I wish they had.”
“I’d hoped to fill the cave with water but…” He shrugged helplessly. “There’s no water on the mountain top and no way to get enough up there.”
Nimri put mugs of steaming tea on the table, then added plates. Larwin grabbed two long loaves of black bread and began slicing them. Thunder glanced around the kitchen. “Where’s Bryta?”
“Helping Pearl nurse Zurgon, if you can believe that.”
Thunder raised a brow. “You taught her how to heal?”
“No one can cure old age,” Nimri explained. “All my life, Bryta considered Pearl her main rival, yet now, with Zurgon dying, they swear that they’ve been best friends since childhood.”
“Perhaps Zurgon came between them.” Thunder crumbled a slice of bread. “I need to close the portal, so let’s figure out a way.”
“The star bridge was opened when mystics from both worlds worked together, one on each end.” Nimri studied the tea in her cup, as if looking for answers.
“There’s no air on the old world, so obviously there isn’t anyone there to work with.” Larwin ran his fingers through his shoulder-length hair in frustration. “If I hadn’t lost my suit-“
“The ugly black muscle one?” Nimri interrupted.
Larwin nodded. “It carried air, but not enough to sustain life indefinitely.”
“When Thunder and I use myst, we don’t need air.” She bit her lip and looked at him. “Do you think I could spirit travel to the other end?”
“No.” Thunder frowned at her. “Especially not now.” No matter how many solutions she proposed, he must climb the mountain and find a way to close the portal.
“GEA-4 doesn’t require air,” Larwin said.
“And she can not use myst,” Nimri said, effectively closing that possible option.
“Did Rolf ever say for certain how it was opened?” Thunder asked.
“Not to me.” Nimri clutched her mug as if she needed its heat. “He was convinced he could keep himself alive forever, so he never made an effort to teach me anything of value.”
“Sure he did.” She looked at him with surprise. “He taught you he was a lying, vindictive monster.” Thunder picked up a breadcrumb and rolled it between his fingers. “Sorry. I’m obviously trying to avoid the real issue by upsetting you.” He cleared his throat. “I wonder if we could load the cavern with potassium nitrate, charcoal, and sulfur.”
“Primitive gunpowder.” Larwin’s eyes gleamed. “I like that idea. You might be able to use my laser projector to ignite it. I’ll get it. And for something like that, GEA-4 would be useful.” He left the room as if every second counted.
Nimri looked glum. “How could we haul enough minerals and chemicals up that treacherous trail? And worse, how could we be certain we don’t blow the top of the mountain off and make it easier for the dragons to enter our world?”
“Explosives should work,” GEA-4 said as she entered from the garden. The android placed a basket filled with aromatic leaves on the counter.
“So you believe that we can haul what we need up the mountain?” Thunder asked, hope warming him.
“That would be unnecessary.” Thunder wondered if he would ever get used to talking to GEA-4, whose mouth didn’t move and whose silvery eyes never blinked. “Onboard the Pterois Volitan, there are enough explosives to disintegrate the entire planetoid but it would be safest to set just enough off in the old world’s tunnel to collapse it.”
“She is correct,” Larwin said, as he reentered the kitchen.
Nimri looked at Larwin in surprise.
“But I still don’t see how that helps me, without the air suit,” Thunder said.
“I do not need air,” GEA-4 said, “and I am familiar with the weaponry aboard the Pterois Volitan.”
“You want to do this?” Thunder eyed the small, silver-eyed woman, uncertain about how he felt about her volunteering to take the burden off his shoulders.
“As per Article 123, it is my duty to protect allies.”
“That’s what got us into this mess,” Larwin muttered. Then he gave Nimri a warm look and took her hand in his. “And I’m glad I found this world.” He cleared his throat and addressed the android, “How would you make certain you and Chatterre were protected from the blast-pattern?”
“Leave the torpedoes on the planetoid with a timer, then fill the cave with rocks and dirt to cushion the blast.”
Larwin squinted at the android and frowned. “It could work.”
“Do we have another choice?” Thunder asked.
Larwin shook his head. “Not if the problem is so bad that both of you are having nightmares.”
“If GEA-4 can do this, you don’t have to climb Sacred Mountain.” Nimri smiled.
Thunder placed his palm over his amulet. “Yet I must go.” She stared at him. He raised his hands in submission. “I don’t know why, I simply know that I must.”
Tears welled in her expressive green eyes. Silence stretched as they stared at each other, then she slowly nodded. “How long before you leave?”
He stood up. “The sooner I leave, the sooner we’re all safe.”
By the following dawn, he and the android had climbed above the tree line. GEA-4 faced the rising sun, to absorb its power. Exhausted, he sat on a cold rock, and looked at fluffy peach puffs hanging innocently between a clear blue dawn and the far off bluff, where he’d grown up. Would he ever see his home, again? Did it matter? By the time the android was ready to continue on, the burning sun had faded the clouds to white.
____________The End of Chapter One_____________
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