ARRIEL’S BREATH LEFT her cheeks with as much force as her arm shoved a low-hanging branch out of her face. She did try to limit her stomping, figuring it would be smarter to not let the entire old Cal territory know where she was, simply because she was too aggravated to care at the moment. It was just their bloody luck, being chased out of Meedra before getting more than whispers of some fucking hybrid. Now, she had absolutely no leads on her mission, she was separated from her team, and, she grudgingly admitted to herself, she was lost.
“I don’t think this is the right way, sorry,” the voice attempted to come out strong but Arriel could easily pick out the notes of discomfort. Good, he should feel discomfort, in the least.
At least she wasn’t alone. He navigated his path behind her with far more grace than she, however, and now her pride was further dented. Arriel inhaled, willing her mood relax and the crackling grip on the atmosphere around her ease with it.
“Need to find my friends,” she responded, her voice flat.
“You know where they’ve gone?” he countered, and Arriel debated her answer. No, she didn’t. But that was a weakness a stranger shouldn’t know. She slowed her pace and looked over her shoulder at him. He was tall and thin, almost a bit awkward-looking, like a teenager who had had their growth spurt but hadn’t gotten used to it yet. The messy black hair falling into his face only emphasized that. Encountering humans, Arriel didn’t worry, but the few times she and Nicotey had met Others, she’d taken the effort to be wary. Of course, none of them would be able to match her, and this man wouldn’t be able to either, but it was still a threat she couldn’t immediately assess and she made careful note of his movements.
“No,” she answered honestly. They’d made rendezvous points, but they had all been somewhere within or just outside of the campsite as usual. Now, those were all to hell. A twinge in the back of her mind made her frown, almost wanting to let her head fall back against her shoulders. Of course, Nicotey thought of everything, and had mentioned what Gerred had coined Plan Zero. If ever in an absolutely hopeless situation, return to Star Edge. Meet at a specific spot just outside–near Lemora’s hideout, not that anyone else knew it was that–and go from there.
But this wasn’t absolutely hopeless. Arriel insisted. And the first step away from that status, getting rid of her tail. Putting her hand flat against a tree and bending her back as though taking a breath, she heard his echoing footsteps stop and foliage shift under his weight. Strands of her hair dripped over her shoulder as she peeked at him, giving the view a dark tint. As soon as his head bent away from her, she sprang.
She knew the footprints she was leaving on the forest floor, while inevitable, were hardly traceable as she ran through, ducking under branches and gracing over rocks faster than her eyes could realize they were there. She’d lost her sense of direction, twisting to throw him off while trying to stay a relatively straight path. It didn’t particular matter right now, she could regroup later. His loud crashing and a voice continued behind her, and Arriel changed her tactics, slowing slightly in favor of causing less noise. Her breathing was fast and shallow, heart beginning to pound its way into her throat, body growing shaky, and not for the first time in her life she cursed her body. He shouldn’t have been doing any better than she, yet the sounds seeming right on her back signaled that he was keeping up.
Arriel’s body stopped. Her feet planted, legs shaking slightly, her hair matted to her face and neck with sweat, and her limbs refused to pick up again. But the instinct clicked in her mind too, and she exhaled, squaring her shoulders. Pivoting, she faced the rustling branches she’d just come through, and now heard the rapidly growing sounds of the man chasing her. A voice in the back of her mind wondered why he even was bothering, why he didn’t split on his own too, but she didn’t let it sway her. Mouth pressed into a reluctant line, she felt the atmosphere around her, letting her vision fall out of focus as another plane filled it, this one entangled with lines and symbols her conscious mind didn’t know, but her specifically designed brain understood. Her fingers stretched out of fists at her sides as though about to reach into the air and touch the equations, and Arriel was aware when the man broke into her space and stood inches in front of her. But she didn’t move.
Instead, she twisted the lines, scratching over them the same way Nicotey drew and redrew their plans in the dirt. She could see beyond the symbols, see the man’s eyes widen and his body begin to tremor, but the image was out of focus and she couldn’t sharpen it. His hands twitched at his sides, but otherwise his body remained almost perfectly still besides the slight vibrations throughout. A glowing blue triangle was directly on his chest in Arriel’s vision, and she tilted her head slightly as she watched it imitate the movement. The veins spreading under the skin of his chest and throat darkened.
The blue plane snapped out of sight and Arriel gasped, the world spinning and becoming lopsided as she struggled not to fall due to the mental whiplash. She’d never consciously left it before, only either knocked unconscious by a person or by the effort. The man let himself fall onto all fours in front of her, gasping and shuddering. After a moment, Arriel began to focus on him, the coughs slipping into wheezing words.
“Please, just…wait….Just…wait…I know…I know you,” she deciphered, bending closer against her better judgment to try to see his face, his forehead pressed into the dirt as his coughs let a few drops of spit fly into the ground. He turned his head, his temple still in contact, but his eyes glittered up at her, wide and framed by dirt-crusted lashes.
“What do you mean?” she demanded, relieved when her voice came out strong despite her still shaky legs.
“Grabbed you…last night,” he wheezed, managing to push himself up so that he sat on his knees as he spoke. “I had a vision…you…in the future. Something…something happens…and you’re there…”
Arriel shook her head. “What happens?” She doubted he was making it up, at least not completely. He was an Other, either a Seer or Feeler. Seeing the future was on the rarer side, hence her doubt.
He groaned. “Don’t know,” he sighed, reaching up to rub dirt-blackened hands over his dirt-streaked face. “Something that upset you…You were angry. You were hurt. And you were…” fear crossed his face before apprehension replaced it. “You were doing that. The feeling was almost exactly the same, even in the Sight.”
Arriel bit down the urge to grimace and bend her head, the shame at her mutation returning in full force. She hadn’t used it on a person in well over two years, as Ferce had strongly apprehended her for it. He had been right, of course, and as she glanced at the remaining discoloration where his neck met his shoulders, she couldn’t imagine what it felt like on the receiving end. Not that she would ever have to.
“So what then?” she pressed. Whether he was bluffing, perhaps he did think he had a reason for pursuing her. Maybe it would give her a direction as well, instead of Plan Zero.
But he shook his head. “Don’t know. It was too fast, and Meedra as burning. I just knew to not lose you.”
“Where was it?”
“I don’t know,” his head swayed side to side as he hung it again. “It was bright, in the sun. it was harsh. And…sand, I think.”
Arriel frowned, hands landing on her hips as she became interested. “A desert?” The old borders made parts of the state desert, but it would be crazy to go there now. Anyone in there would have no communication or even accidental contact with other camps, not to mention the lack of irrigation large or reliable enough to sustain anything. It was a wasteland, one Arriel had only ever gotten down to 10 miles near. And definitely never stepped foot in.
Yet, the man nodded, and his eyes met hers with a sureness she hadn’t seen yet. But it only increased the unease in her stomach. “Nothing is in the desert,” she said slowly, jaw clenching tighter with each word as the man remained unfazed. Seer or not, he didn’t make sense. Why chase her down–withstand her turning on him, too–just to try to lead her into both of their deaths. A death by starvation and thirst, unless there was an ambush planned along the route.
He shook his head. “I’ve heard…stories, rumors,” he said, sounding less sure now. “One camp in the desert, from a military base lost in the chaos.”
Arriel rolled her eyes, but he quickly spoke over her as she opened her mouth. He sprang to his feet as he began talking. “Where else do you have to go? You lost your group, Meedra is burned. And when you ran, you had no direction. I saw.”
He had a point. She hated Gerred’s stupid little Plan Zero with an urgency the rest of them hadn’t understood. Ferce and his brothers would be disappointed in the team of human camp members, but furious with her. This man had no legitimacy besides being what he was, and that was nowhere near enough for Arriel to have dragged Nicotey. But Nicotey wasn’t here now.
“Fine,” she hissed through gritted teeth. She stood, every muscle tense, as he righted his footing and brushed himself off, nodding for him to lead the way. Like hell she’d let her back be to…
“Name?” she called. When he glanced over his shoulder she thought she caught a bit of a grin.
“Kyr,” he answered easily. Either a very good liar, or the truth, Arriel didn’t particularly care. “I’m just a Seer.” Now, that was interesting. Most had the sense not to go around attaching that detail to their introduction. But then the significance registered in her mind. He’d claimed to See events that hadn’t happened yet…shit. A powerful Seer then, and one that was either a really great liar or barely knew his own potential.
“Uh huh,” she answered noncommittally, resolving to keep her wariness covered. She flipped her hood back up and tugged her sleeves around her wrists, the sun having grown in the time they spent running and she could feel it even through the dense tree cover.
“Yours?” he said after a minute, realizing she wasn’t going to continue. Arriel thought for a moment, seeing he’d adjusted his own clothing, sizing him up again as his long limbs almost-gracefully cleared tangled roots and low bushes.
“Arriel,” she answered, figuring it polite enough to not leave him completely empty-handed. Thankfully, he didn’t try to talk to her again for some time.