As I stand before the massive Wall of Corush and stare up at its dark, alien skyscrapers and burning, artificial lights that cut the night sky like metal talons, I only feel fear.
Nathan – my husband, my love – is scanning the seamless surface of the Wall before us, looking for the hidden backdoor that he was told was here.
Our child stirs in my arms and I hush him, even though I know he won’t awaken for many hours. It’s frowned upon to use potions on infants, but in this case the Knockout Tonic was a necessary evil.
I look back at the Forest of A’lascara – my home. It is a dark line in the far distance; rising on the horizon above the barren desert we’d spent all night crossing.
For a brief, desperate moment I contemplate going back. Despite the danger, despite knowing that my husband would always be hunted there, I want to return.
Better a known danger than the unknown that looms above me like a dark, soulless, clawed monster that inhales all that is good and spits out the dark, sick clouds that twist and roil above the city like a miasmic shroud.
It is nothing like the warm, welcoming, breathing warmth of the Forest. There is nothing alive, nothing natural, nothing right about this place.
“Home sweet home,” Nathan says as he finds the door. He places his hand upon the hidden panel and a hiss of displaced air is released as the seamless wall cracks, revealing a small door.
I take a deep breath and stare down at my son’s tiny face. He is peaceful and content, despite our situation. He wriggles his nose and smiles, gummy and innocent, and my heart melts all over again. I readjust him against my chest, hugging him tighter. We’re doing this for him, but…
This is not right.
But I have no choice.
Funny how so many of my decisions lately have started with that phrase.
“He will be fine,” Nathan says. His arm is thick and steady around my lower back, and I greedily draw reassurance from his solid strength. “Have you thought of a name for him yet?”
“No,” I answer, allowing him to lead me through the door and into the tunnel that leads through the solid Wall. It’s long and I can barely see the end of it. “I was thinking Th’lar… what do you think?”
Nathan taps his finger against his chin before tilting his head down to give me a warm but mischievous smile. “Mmm… how about ‘Kale’?”
Despite the lingering unease in my stomach I cannot help but laugh. “Are you kidd—like the plant?”
Nathan laughs, loud and booming. He hugs me against his side and taps the tip of my nose. “Yes, I was kidding. But I got you to smile, and that’s a battle well won.”
I duck my head. “What… what do you mean?”
Nathan shakes his tousled mane. “Flower, I know you heart and soul. You are sadly mistaken if you thought you could hide your worry from me. What concerns you, Alaya?”
I smile, feeling warmth bloom in my chest at his words, melting away the last of my trepidation. “I just worry that your King will not help us.” In all my dealings with the city of Corush I had never met the King that my now-husband, Advisor Nathan Loris, used to represent.
We are reaching the end of the tunnel, and Nathan steps forward to open it, his arm slipping from around my shoulders. I immediately feel a chill from the loss.
“Is that all? I promise, Alaya, that he will come through. I trust him with my life. All I ask is that you trust me.”
“Always,” I answer. No matter what happens I will always trust him – heart and soul.
“Thank you, my love,” Nathan says. He smiles once more at me, placing his hand on the biometric scanner. “And as for Th’lar, I think that’s a fine—”
The door leading into the city opens with a hiss of displaced air, and our world explodes.
There had been no place to hide from the barrage of bullets unleashed by the mercenaries who ambushed us.
Somehow, someway, even weak from my recent birth, I’d managed to cast a blind short-distance teleportation spell.
But not before I’d been hit. I can hear the hunters in the distance and I know that I will not be able to cast another spell. And with me bleeding steadily from the gash in my side, I know that I can’t evade them for long.
From the look on his face, Nathan knows this too.
He kisses me, deep and hard and desperate, and he tastes of tears and sweat and smoke. I return it just the same, and it’s only after we separate that I realize that the tears are my own.
“Go, Alaya, my Flower,” he says, voice hoarse but face determined. “Go, I’ll hold them off.”
I want to stay by his side, to fight with him, to defend him, but I have our child to think about, to protect. I cannot stay.
“I love you,” I whisper, even as I turn to run.
“I’ll see you on the other side,” he yells to me as he runs back the way we came, toward the ones who hunt us.
I cannot return our familiar greeting, because I know I shall never see him again. I run and I do not look back.
Not even when I hear the gunfire.
I do not stumble when I hear the bang.
And when his loud scream pierces the night, although I cannot breathe, I do not falter.
I have no choice.