Chapters 3 & 4

You may have been wondering, where is chapter three from last week?! Well, to make up for it, I’m including chapter four as well. Enjoy 🙂

Chapter Three

Wonder Child

The completion of the laps brought with it the sweet afternoon ration of water. Kay gulped hers down in a hurry. It was better not to taste the warm coppery stuff anyway. Her fingers itched to brush against the tiny scrap of paper in her pocket, but she knew better than to reach for it again. She couldn’t call any attention to it, especially not before she saw what it said for herself.

Kindle returned, sweaty and bruised. She gave Kay a quick grin before she and Ash spoke in quiet tones. Kay finished her water and strained to hear anything that was said, but the adults spoke in Jangba and Kay could barely hear as it was. After a few moments, when Kay was good and bored, Kindle turned her attention to her.

“I hear you had a good showing at fire motion class.”

That had been a class? Kay frowned. She certainly hadn’t learned anything, not if she didn’t count the note in her pocket.

“I like juggling with fire,” Kay mumbled.

“Why didn’t you tell me before? When you first arrived? Were you frightened?”

Even though they were said in her native tongue, the barrage of questions was overwhelming. She nodded in response and Kindle sighed.

“I’m sorry. Of course you were frightened. Especially after . . . well whatever it is you went through.” Kindle’s voice was now soft and soothing, the voice Mama reserved for bedtime stories.

It was a voice Kay would never hear again. She suddenly hated Kindle and her voice that was so like Mama’s but would never be Mama.

“I want to go to my room.”

Kindle shook her head. “Not just yet little one. First you have a tutoring session. We need to get you speaking Jangba.”

“I can’t,” Kay said in perfect Jangba, because this was one phrase she had learned.

Kindle sighed but she remained patient, her arms folded over her chest, and she simply stood waiting for Kay to follow her to her studies. Apparently she would have to do work before she was free to read Wallace’s note.

“Okay, I’ll study.”

Kindle didn’t even scold her for her Drakori. She beckoned for Kay to follow her off the fields and, instead of heading back to her own barracks or Ash’s room, Kindle directed her into the massive stone hallways that led to the great unknown.

“These are the arena halls.” Kindle almost whispered the Drakori. She repeated herself in Jangba, a bit louder. “You must never attend these halls without proper escort, never without me or Ash.”

Kay nodded, making the promise and pinching herself three times. If she had no intention of keeping a promise, three pinches were the standard punishment. Kindle didn’t notice. She was too busy describing the difference between the stone hallways here and the sand walls of the barracks. Boring stuff.

The stone floors were swept and polished even though everyone crossing them had to be tracking sand. The walls were lined with torches and nothing else—no pictures or windows. It gave the hallway an ominous feel. To stop her shudder, Kay Breathed in the nearest torch.

She instantly felt more alive. As if she had Breathed in ten torches at once. Her skin burned, itched, glowed as the heat spread over her. It was both frightening and intoxicating.

She released the flame back to its place in the torch on the wall. It returned, sputtering wildly.

“The fire,” she gasped loudly, drawing Kindle’s attention.

“What is it? What’s happening?” Kindle dropped into a fighter’s stance Kay recognized from the practice fields.

Kay took another deep breath, feeling silly for her overreaction. “The fire.” She pointed to the torch in question. “It felt different.”

Kindle’s shoulders relaxed. “That’s something else I wanted to talk to you about. How you . . . eat the fire.”

“I Breathe it,” Kay answered automatically.

“Yes, you Breathe it in. Then what happens?” Kindle had stopped walking and had given Kay her full attention. It was scary. Adults very rarely gave her their full attention, well except for maybe Mama or Daddy. Kay shook her head.

“I Breathe it in and I feel strong and warm and then . . .” She shrugged. And then flames left her fingertips at her command, but she had been doing it for so long she didn’t know how to explain it. How did one explain how their brain knew to raise the arm? It simply did. She pulled a flame from the wall, rolling it along the fingertips of her right hand. The flame still felt so different, almost like it was alive. But who had Breathed it and left it there?

The figures in red robes turned down their hall and Kindle quickly held a finger up to her lips, indicating that Kay should keep quiet. Kay replaced the flame on the torch and ducked closer to the Fire Dancer. They watched the group’s approach with interest.

There were three of them, all in matching red cloaks that rippled behind them as they walked. Kay liked the color yet the air seemed to sizzle around them, and none of the three smiled.

Kindle bowed her head at their approach so Kay mimicked the action.

“Kindle Fire Dancer, well met.”

“Well met,” Kindle mumbled a quick reply without the smile she normally reserved for greetings.

Kay felt the man’s eyes on her, but she only understood a few words, something about halls and cadets. She dared a quick glance at the speaker and was surprised to see he was an elderly man. The voice was deep and authoritative, its baritone echoing down the hall.

“This is the cadet of Ash Fire Dancer. I’m currently employed as a translator.” Kindle repeated herself in Drakori.

The man scowled at Kindle’s Drakori, and Kay found herself reaching for Kindle’s hand. Whoever this man was, she’d decided she didn’t like him.

“Ah, his wonder child.” The old man turned and whispered to his companion in the matching robes. Kay stared at the tip of her ugly boots and tried to ignore the exchange of hushed tones. When he spoke again he said good-bye to them. Kay could understand the dismissive tone if not the actual words.

Kindle didn’t have to tug her hand at all to get her to turn around and head back down the hall.

Chapter Four

The Map

Kay wanted to ask Kindle what all that had been about, but more than that, she wanted to read Wallace’s letter. So she lied to Kindle and said she had a headache and wanted to go to sleep, and it seemed to work. The Fire Dancer escorted her back to her room and left her there, studies forgotten.

Kay had made a good show of it, whining over the heat then complaining about the coolness of her sheets once she was on her bed. Kindle had laid a warm hand over Kay’s forehead, frowning as she’d done so but eventually she’d left. Kay lay in the bed another ten minutes or so before she was sure she wouldn’t be disturbed and it was safe to open the note.

She pulled the rumpled parchment from where it was shoved deep in her pocket and smoothed it out on her lap. It wasn’t a note but a map. The bottom of the page was an exact replica of the barracks with the surrounding halls and practice fields marked in precise clean strokes. Pathways were drawn from her room to another building across the fields, down the halls, and into the arena itself. Wallace must be there.She traced the path with her fingertip and landed on the building across from the fields. It was a wonderful map, beautifully drawn and seemingly accurate. But why had he given it to her? What was she supposed to do with this knowledge? There weren’t any instructions.

Kay frowned, flipping the paper over to study the other side. Meet me outside my barracks at midnight. Learn the map. Burn it. Tell no one.

She flipped the map back over and studied it intently, memorizing the various pathways, especially those to the arena. Then she burned it all and waited for midnight.

She awoke with a wild gasp, clutching at the air. She wasn’t supposed to fall asleep. That meant she’d lost track of all time. There were no clocks anywhere in her barracks. The only indication of the time came from a large gong that rang on the hour every hour. But if one fell asleep and missed count of the hours, there was no way to tell which one she was on. There was a chance she was early. There was also a chance she was very very late. Either way, she left her quiet building and slipped into the night. She was surprised to see the torches in the training fields had all been extinguished. She would have thought they would want the firelight now, but apparently no one was out venturing in the night. If they were, they stayed near the halls and their firepits. She followed the path Wallace had laid out in his map, circling wide around the training fields and creeping back up from behind his barracks. The building mirrored her own, except several voices were heard from inside. Wallace wasn’t alone.

That was a good sign. She was probably early if everyone was still awake. Her belly growled and she considered walking over to the dining halls to see if dinner was still an option. But no, she couldn’t risk running into Kindle or Ash. If they thought she was feeling better, she might have to study, never mind the questions she would have to answer. She recalled the flatbread left over from this morning’s breakfast still sitting on her bedside table and was about to head back to her barracks when the door opened and a group of boys came out. There were four of them, all tall and much older than herself except for one. She recognized him as the boy who’d juggled fire before her in the ring today. She pressed herself closer to the door and hoped she was hidden in the shadows.

The boys didn’t notice her though. They turned away from her and left toward the halls, laughing and shoving one another as they walked. Kay held her breath until they were well out of sight. It was quiet in the barracks, and once again Kay considered leaving for her room. The gong sounded in the distance, the sound vibrating the sand, and the door opened once again. It was Wallace.

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