* Hidden Valley *
Bernie descended the stairs of the large communal home. He’d changed out of his clothes into a pair of thin green and black pajama pants and a black shirt and then decided to see if he could find some food before he went to bed. There was a cold storage container in the kitchen, and he hoped that he could get a quick snack.
When Bernie entered the kitchen, he saw that Melvin was still there. He was in a cross-legged position, eyes closed, hands together, and hovering over the table they’d been seated at earlier.
Bernie watched curiously as Melvin meditated. He knew that mentus could be used for telekinesis, but it was usually used to lift or move smaller objects. As a rule, most people could typically only lift up to half of their own weight for any length of time, so Melvin’s skill was impressive.
Bernie was about to say as much when, right before his eyes, Melvin disappeared. Bernie looked around frantically, even scanning the mentant realm, but he couldn’t sense Melvin anywhere.
“Need something?” came a soft voice from behind him.
Bernie almost jumped out of his skin. “Whoa, what the hell!” he shouted as he turned to see Melvin standing behind him as if he’d always been there.
“Sorry,” Melvin said with a slight smile. “I was practicing when you came in, so I thought I’d see how good I’ve gotten.”
“How good you’ve gotten at what? How’d you do that?” Bernie sat at the table, thoughts of getting food completely forgotten.
“It’s shadon mentus,” Melvin explained. “It’s the branch of mentus taught by the monks here. It’s really difficult. I was using imperception.”
“Is that like perception manipulation? I heard guardians can do that kind of stuff.”
Melvin nodded. “It’s similar, but with mandamus they use external energy to create a type of cloak, which isn’t always perfect. This has to do with manipulating your own adimus energy to make it flow through you, similar to how blood flows through the body. Once you can manipulate your adimus energy like that, then it’s just a matter of adjusting its frequency so that it’s outside the spectrum of what can be perceived both visually and in the mentant realm. Then you can’t be detected at all. It can be maintained almost indefinitely, as long as you don’t lose focus.”
“I don’t really follow, but that sounds complicated,” Bernie admitted.
“It is, and honestly that’s the easy part.” Melvin chuckled. “I’ve been working on another skill, spatial motion, which is much harder.”
“It basically allows me to move quickly from one place to another; that’s how I ended up behind you,” Melvin explained. “Amos is a master of it. He can move from one end of the village to the other in less than a second. You can never let your guard down around him.”
“So wait, it’s like quickening without the staff?” Bernie said in awe.
“Well, you could say that, but the principles are completely different,” Melvin said. “Quickening is essentially teleportation; it’s instant. Spatial motion is just more adimus energy manipulation. I’m using the adimus energy flowing through my body to briefly remove the limitations of my physical form, so that I can move as fast as pure energy itself. You can’t go very far though. I think one second is the longest even the mind mages can maintain it.”
“Wow Melvin, I can’t even begin to figure out how to do that,” Bernie said.
“Well, I’ve been studying it for three years. I’ve gotten pretty good at imperception, but my spatial motion is only at the rudimentary level, and there are more skills I’ve barely even touched. I only started practicing shadon mentus because Seraphina said it might come in handy once I was reunited with my friends.”
Bernie shrugged at this. “Maybe, you never know.”
Melvin sat at the table. “Honestly, a part of me wishes I could just stay here. Living with the monks has been nice. I kind of like the peaceful life. I even thought maybe one day I might try to become a mind mage and then I could join the order, but…”
“But what?” Bernie prompted.
“I don’t know. Something about it just feels wrong; like I’d just be hiding here, trying to pretend everything’s okay when it’s not. That Davron guy, the Book of War…it’s all real. That’s not something that will go away if I just wait long enough…at least that’s what I think.”
“So what are you saying, you want to do something about those creatures? Is that why you’ve been practicing mentus, so you can fight?”
“No, no way, absolutely not. I really don’t want to fight,” Melvin said.
“You don’t want to hide away, but you also don’t want to fight,” Bernie smirked. “So, what do you want to do?”
“I wish I knew,” Melvin shrugged. “I guess…I just want to find my purpose.”
“Yeah.” Melvin sighed. “I honestly didn’t feel like I belonged with you guys. I joined A&A because Jandor invited me, and my father pushed me to do it, but it never felt like a good fit.”
“Well Daniel said you were a great help in the tutoring program,” Bernie offered, not wanting Melvin to feel like an outcast, “and besides it was only your first year.”
“Don’t get me wrong: it never felt like you guys were singling me out or anything. Everyone’s always been nice, especially Jandor. Still, I wanted to offer more than just being Daniel’s tutoring assistant, you know?”
“Yeah, I get it,” Bernie said. “You wanted something that was your own.”
“I’m not a fighter,” Melvin said resolutely, “but I want to be able to offer something when the time comes.”
“Do you really think we’re going to have to face those monsters again?” Bernie asked. “I haven’t really thought about them in years, and all I’ve been focused on since Becky arrived is finding the others and getting back home somehow.”
Melvin shrugged again. “I don’t know. I definitely don’t want to, but I think it really may be our fate. As much as Becky doesn’t want to believe in destiny, I think there may be something to it. Our lives changed when we went down in Henry’s basement. I don’t think there’s any escaping that now.”
“You could be right.” Bernie’s stomached growled audibly.
Melvin laughed. “You sound like you’re hungry. Let me grab you something to eat.”
He stood and headed for the large cold storage unit in the corner of the kitchen.
* Weaver’s Road *
Amber woke with a start. She was drenched in sweat as if she’d been running, and her heart was racing. For several seconds she didn’t know where she was, and it was only when she remembered the events of her rescue, and that she was safe in Salov’s manor, that she was able to calm down slightly.
She didn’t like how dark and quiet it was. She didn’t like the unfamiliarity of it. Amber climbed out of the four-poster bed, her bare feet hitting the floor silently. The magenta pajamas that Salov had given her fit well, but the thick material felt like she was being weighed down. The sensation made her feel anxious. Even though she knew she was safe, she still wanted the freedom to be able to run if needed.
Amber padded noiselessly to the door. The hallway was equally dark and quiet. Even though she didn’t know the manor well, she knew how to get to where she wanted to go. It was only two doors down. She paused, wondering if she should knock or not, but finally decided against it and just pushed her way into the room.
Wayne was fast asleep in a bed near identical to her own. As she moved forward into the room, he jerked awake before she even made it all the way to his bed.
“What? Huh?” He instinctively knew someone had entered and looked around, ready for anything. “Amber?”
“Sorry,” she said softly. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“What are you doing?” he said as he moved to the edge of the bed. He was also in a pair of pajamas provided by the tailor, though his were dark blue.
Amber plopped down on the bed next to him. “I had a nightmare; I couldn’t go back to sleep. I just…I didn’t want to be alone.”
Wayne wrapped an arm around her. “Is everything okay? You fell asleep before I ever got to ask you how you ended up with those slavers. How long were you with them?”
“Forty days,” she said in a tone that suggested she counted every day. “I don’t know what happened or how we got to this planet, but I ended up in a cave deep in the desert, some sort of mine. When I finally found my way out of it, I was wandering through the desert, lost. That’s when these two guys found me. They seemed nice at first and said they would take me to a town. Instead, they sold me to those slavers. They said they were going to sell me off once they ‘beat the spark’ out of me.”
Wayne’s grip on her tightened. “I’m so sorry, Amber.”
“At first I thought you and the others would find me somehow, but after days of being with them, I thought I was going to be alone forever.” She started to cry.
Wayne didn’t know what to say so he just let Amber cry. He felt a surge of anger: anger at the slavers and anger at himself for not being there for his friend. He hated feeling powerless. Amber had already been through so much pain in her life. This just seemed overly cruel.
“I can’t imagine what you went through,” he said finally, “but you’re here now. We’re going to find the others, and we’re going to get home.”
She shrugged. “Not that that’s much better. I don’t have a family or home to go back to.”
“Hey, we’re your family,” Wayne corrected. “I’m always going to be here for you.”
She extracted herself from his hold and glared at him. “Don’t say that. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. You can’t always be there; I found that out the hard way.”
“Amber, that wasn’t my fault. We ended up here at different times. Derrick was here a year, Ash and I just got here, and we don’t know where the others are.”
“Derrick ended up with some guru who taught him how to fight. You and Ashley had each other and Salov. What do I get: slavers. It’s not fair.”
“I know it’s not.” Wayne agreed.
“The things they did to me…” she shuddered again.
“What? Tell me.”
She shook her head. “I can’t…I just can’t talk about it right now. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry.” Wayne put his arm around her again and she didn’t shrug it off. “It’s late, but maybe we can go down to the kitchen and get you something to eat or drink. That might help you sleep.”
“I’m not hungry,” Amber looked up at him with imploring eyes. “Could I…could I sleep in here with you?”
Wayne thought about this for a moment but finally nodded. “Sure, I tell you what, you take the bed; I’ll sleep on the couch.” There was a small two-seater couch in the corner near the table.
He stood and let Amber climb into the bed, tucking her in after she got comfortable. “Thanks,” she said in a small voice.
Wayne sat next to her until she drifted off to sleep and then lay on the couch. It was a bit small for him, but he made it work, curling up so that he could fit, and eventually he too fell asleep.
Amber wasn’t the only one who woke up unexpectedly in the middle of the night. Though Salov had gone to bed hours earlier, he found himself awake again and decided to go down to the kitchen to make some warm chocolate tea. As he prepared it, the smell of cocoa wafted throughout the downstairs, and just as he was about to sit down to drink, he heard the patter of small feet.
Lizzy appeared in the kitchen, rubbing her blue eyes blearily, her curly brunette hair a tangled mess atop her head. “Hello?”
“Hi Lizzy; are you ok?” Salov asked with a soft smile.
“Yeah…where am I?”
Salov remembered that Lizzy had fallen asleep before they reached his manor. “You’re at my home in Weaver’s Road. I don’t know if you remember me, but my name is Salov.”
Lizzy walked up to the table and plopped down in a chair across from him. “Oh yeah, you were one of the guys who came to help Wayne and Tarak, right?”
“That’s right, both of them are sleeping upstairs right now,” Salov said. “When we got here, you were already fast asleep, so we didn’t want to wake you, but Wayne said you were really brave helping him free the slaves.”
“Oh, so what’s going to happen now?” Lizzy asked.
“Well, hopefully we can get you and the other kids back to your parents or someplace safe.”
Lizzy frowned at this. “My parents are gone. Those slavers killed them.”
“I’m so sorry,” Salov said as he reached across the table to take her hand.
Lizzy started to cry. “My parents are gone, my brother’s gone, I’m all alone.”
Salov stood, walked around the table, and sat next to Lizzy. She immediately wrapped her arms around him and wept openly. They stayed like that for several seconds until Lizzy finally let go, wiping the tears from her eyes.
“It must be very hard to lose your family. I lost my father not too long ago, so I can only imagine how much harder it is for you to lose both parents so young. I know nothing I say can make it better, but I promise that we’re here for you now.”
Lizzy just sniffed quietly, still numb from everything that happened. After a few more seconds of silence she said, “That drink smells really good.”
“It’s chocolate tea, would you like some?” Salov offered.
Lizzy nodded, so Salov went to the teapot and poured another mug for her. The two sat in amicable silence for a while, just drinking their tea.
It was a few minutes before Lizzy spoke again. “Am I going to end up in an orphanage?”
“It depends; do you have any other family?” Salov asked.
Lizzy shook her head. “I don’t know. My family moved to the desert a few years back, and before that, we lived in a small mountain town called Burlack, but the mine shut down and everyone started leaving.”
Salov nodded. The situation was quite common, most small towns only survived a few centuries at most. There were very few places in the world like Weaver’s Road, which had been around for over five thousand years and stood the test of time.
“Well, it may take some time, but I’m sure they’ll find you a new home,” Salov said with a reassuring smile.
“I guess,” she said, still looking dejected.
Salov waited until she finished her tea before speaking again. “Well, it’s rather late. Do you want to try sleeping again? That tea should help you relax.”
Lizzy gave a noncommittal shrug but allowed Salov to guide her out of the kitchen and up the stairs.
“Wow, this place is huge. Are you rich?” she said in awe.
“It’s a family home,” Salov explained. “I’m still just getting my business off the ground. I’m a tailor.”
“Really?” This caused Lizzy to perk up. “So was my dad. That’s why we moved to the desert, so he could open a shop. Wait, are you a mentant tailor?”
“Yes, I am,” Salov said. “I’m guessing your father wasn’t if he was working in the desert.
She shook her head. “No, he could never go to school to learn. I really hope I can one day though; I think that would be really cool.”
“Well, if you have the channeler trait, then I’m sure you’ll be able to learn one day,” Salov said as they reached the room set aside for her.
“Could I come see your shop some time?” Lizzy asked.
Salov beamed at this. “Absolutely. In fact, I’ll take you tomorrow.”
“Really?” Lizzy almost bounced with excitement.
“It’s a promise,” Salov said. “So, make sure you get some sleep; that way, you’ll be wide awake in the morning.”
“Okay, thanks Salov.” She gave him a brief hug and went into the room.
Salov shut the door, a sad smile on his face. He had no idea what life held in store for the young girl, but he hoped she’d be able to realize her dreams.