"Find her!" The guard captain's shouting stabbed at her back. The rocky ground rushed by beneath her feet, bringing her swiftly into the shadows of night. The bellowing grew frantic as they lost her trail, their panic pressing at her mind like a solid thing.
Come. I will save you. Beckoned the voice in her head, the one who had told her this was the moment to run.
Not far now, my child. The soothing sound was a welcome caress. She could not have fooled her trackers alone; but she was not alone, not any more. Through the rapid pounding of her pulse, she could still hear the panicked thoughts of her persuers; how their lives would change for the worse if they lost her; how horrible their punishment would be. The Dragon Order was never forgiving of those who wronged its law, or those who unleashed terror upon the world.
They will not have you. I will not allow it. You are mine, mine alone. The voice continued. Go left, it urged. Then, right.
She obeyed, knowing in her heart the voice would not steer her wrong.
You are so much more than you believe, so much stronger, wiser. You are superior. Let me show you what you can be.
Fron cast a glance back at the asylum's looming wall. The guards were gaining, but they would not catch her. Not this time.
Let me show you the world, Fron. Let me show you everything.
He would miss the mountains, those massive, weather-carved structures reaching up to touch the clouds, the highest peaks covered in snow all year, with the sharp edges often lost in fog. He'd miss the warm inland winds and cool ocean zephyrs that collided to create that fog. He'd miss how the sun shone on it, turning it into a thin veil of gold. He'd spent so many summers in those mountains with his sister, escaping everything, finding peace and solitude-they didn't care for people, mostly because people didn't care much for them.
The sun was now a thin sliver on the horizon, and the moons were descending behind the mountains. A soft, warm breeze ruffled the thick, grey curtains in the open window. The gentle breath of air brought the scent of salt and a pungent smell of spiced fish hanging to dry in the dock houses. Outside, a dog barked and a pushcart could be heard in the next street, its wooden wheels clattering against the cobblestones. The sky slowly brightened and rays of deep orange touched the slate rooftops. Windows were opened, bedclothes were aired out, and buckets of water were carried from the well down the street.
People woke early in the small fishing town of Bridgeheim. Belian had often sat in the wide windowsill looking out at the bustling street, at all the people passing through on their way to the harbour. He had seen just about every kind of person there was, and read their thoughts when they came close enough to his window. They all worried about
unimportant stuff, such as what the neighbours would say if they bought a new boat instead of fixing the fence, or if they had enough crystals to pay the cargo toll. There was also a surprising number concerned that their ridiculous lies might be revealed. They all had something to hide, a fact as sure as day; people were born, lived, lied and died, and always dreamt of wealth. They cared too much about what everyone else thought but never a mind for what really mattered.
Nowadays most were refugees fleeing the war in Zeradones-although the war was over, many had lost their homes or were too afraid to return-and with Bridgeheim being the closest harbour to the conflict, the town's traders and proprietors profited greatly. The two lodging inns were filled to bursting, and Belian's father would rent out his room when he was gone.
Belian turned away from the window and looked at the luggage stacked by the door. A shelf displayed books and a few wooden figurines he had carved as a boy. Folded clothes lay atop an iron-banded chest his father had made him many years ago. All the wood in the room had been crafted with the greatest care, showing off the best of his father's trade. Belian had once believed he would follow in his footsteps, but the odd looking carvings on his shelf showed a distinct lack of skill.
Reaching for the clothes, he dressed himself. He had counted the days to when he would go to Suli's university in Endraden to study, and now that the day had finally arrived, he could hardly believe it. He'd heard potential students were reported to the Castes by a representative from each city, town, village or settlement. Belian suspected the agent was someone from the council of elders, but he was thankful that he and his sister, Fron, had been discovered. He was supposed to have left three years ago along with her, to train as Knights of the Order, but Atel, his father, had held him back, saying he needed help to work the furniture shop. Belian had been furious, but he knew his father would never have made him stay behind if it wasn't really necessary.
Two years ago, a letter had arrived from Suli Waystation saying his sister, Fron had died. There had been no explanation in the letter, nor had there been any when his father had travelled the long way Suli. No one would tell them anything at all. 'Tight lipped as ever, the Order,' his father had said in frustration. Since then, he'd been wary of sending his only son there, but Belian's ability had strengthened to the point where it was now dangerous without proper training. The town's elders insisted it wasn't safe for him to remain and had tried hard the past year to get Atel to send Belian away. The villagers didn't care where, as long as he left. They didn't feel comfortable around Belian, knowing he could discover all their secrets with a glance. Some even believed he could read them simply by being in the same town. As a result, he and his father had hardly left the house in the last two years, except to work or pick apples in the orchard outside the town walls.
He missed Fron. Not a day had passed without a thought for her. Being twins and mind-readers both, they had been close, so close that Belian had always known her mood and he could sense her mind even from afar. When she left, a piece of him had gone with her-at least that's how it felt. Like losing an arm or a leg, perhaps.
"Bel, breakfast!" his father shouted from the kitchen downstairs, probably to wake him, but Belian hadn't slept a wink. Today he was getting out of this blasted place! Not that he'd had such a bad life, but it was no place for a telepath.
He scrambled down the stairs and almost fell into the kitchen. His father looked up at him from the table, his lined face smiling.
"Packed everything?" he asked as he took a bite of an apple. Belian wouldn't eat another apple if he was starving. The nets had brought in an abundance of fish, and the orchard had produced so many apples last year that every unused space in the house and basement had been stuffed with them. They had made every kind of food you could possibly put apples in and some you should not; apple pie, apple sausage, apple and fish stew, apple with fish oil cider. That last one had given him heartburn for days.