Finally, the woman Toni walked away with the man named Akasha and Mya expelled her breath quietly. Toni didn’t look unhappy to be with Akasha, nor did it appear she was forced to be in the company of all the men. Were they a filoz?
Mya didn’t let go of her rock as she returned her gaze to the man digging into the cave wall. He must have a hard head because she’d hit him as hard as she could, yet he still stayed awake. Next time, she’d have to bring a bigger rock.
Sidling away, she made a wide arc around him. Toni said his name was Haldone. He was harsher than the other men with Toni, but she’d called him a pain in the ass. Mya smirked. Her mom called one of her fathers that, and he always laughed when she said it.
Ever since her parents had been taken by the lawbreakers, she’d kept her home well provisioned. It had been drilled into her at an early age that the cave was safe. So she didn’t like it being invaded, even if they weren’t lawbreakers, though what they were, she wasn’t sure.
“I have it.” Haldone lifted the shiner in triumph. “This is all I need to finish the room.” He looked toward the spot she’d been standing in before. “Thank you for allowing me to take this.”
She rolled her eyes at him and waved. I’m over here. It was easy to relax a little now that she couldn’t be seen. She moved her gaze to Akasha. She didn’t like his blue light at all, so she didn’t like him, or any man for that matter. Only her dads.
Haldone pulled her attention as he turned and strode back up toward the other part of the cave, refusing the assistance of the blond-haired man.
She lowered her rock quietly to the cave floor. If she hit him hard enough, he’d have bad head pains for a week. A part of her felt guilty about that, but another part was too irritated to care. Too many Edenists had discovered her home. First, it was the one who called himself Theron. Since he had made the biggest entrance to the tunnels look like it had disappeared, she’d let him stay.
But then he brought a woman. She reminded Mya of her mother with her straight long black hair loose about her shoulders. Mya’s mom tied it back during the day, but at night she would let it down because her dads liked it better that way.
She’d learned the woman’s name was Jaelene when Theron came back after being gone and brought her and the big man. He was bigger than any lawbreaker she’d seen, and she’d seen many. Jaelene had called him Rekah.
They had kissed, so she left him alone, but then Theron started digging into the cave wall just like Haldone just did. They always wanted the eyllen. Her parents had told her it was important that no one discover it or the cave would no longer be a safe place to live.
They were right. She didn’t want to leave her home, the only home she knew, but she might not have a choice. Too many people knew about it now. Her parents had always planned to take her to the white and gold city of Naralina when she was sixteen, but the lawbreakers had caught them.
Mya fisted her hands. She hated lawbreakers. They had attacked her parents while they were all out. Her Air dad had been gutting a havling pig to bring home and her mom had been helping, while her other dad followed the heard. She’d been picking berries not far from them when the lawbreakers came. Shivering from her memory more than from the cool damp moisture of this part of the cave, she crept forward slowly.
Everything changed that day. She learned to survive on her own, protect herself, feed herself, even teach herself through her mother’s books. She wanted to be someone her parents could have been proud of.
Around the curve in the cave tunnel, she found the new barrier Haldone had built. It was deeper into her home. How much more space would they take? How many more would come? She pressed her ear to the wall. Men conversed behind it, but she couldn’t make out the words.
She stepped back and scowled at the door. They had no right to build this. Haldone hadn’t even asked if he could. At least Toni had asked. Men didn’t ask, they took. This was her home.
* * * * *
Mya washed her plate in the tiny, hot stream that moved through her meal area then dried it and stacked it with the others in the cabinet. She made herself eat her evening meal because her mother always said it was important, but her stomach wasn’t happy with her.
She couldn’t stop thinking about the Edenists in the south tunnel. It was time to make a choice. She either had to get rid of them or leave her home. Picking up her shiner and her bucket of paints, she headed for the west tunnel.
When she reached an empty spot of wall, she set her shiner on the box she’d left there and opened her paint. Painting helped her think.
It wasn’t real paint like the kind her parents brought her from Earth, but over the years, she created some pretty good colors. Once she’d mastered yellow, the red and blue came fairly easy and now she could mix up anything except white.
She dipped her brush into the blue then set it to the wall in a wide swath. If she wanted to get rid of the Edenists, she would have to kill them. That thought made her shudder. She couldn’t do that. She had a hard enough time killing animals for food. She couldn’t imagine taking an Edenist’s life…unless he was a lawbreaker.
She dreamed of killing lawbreakers, the ones that caught her parents and the few she seen in her travels. They weren’t Edenists. They were something else. Like Edenists without hearts. She could kill them, but not the ones that had taken up residence in her home.
She could try to scare them, but they already knew she existed, and even if Akasha wasn’t among them, she had no idea what their abilities were. Though she was invisible to humans and Edenists alike because she was Kindred of Light, she still took up space and made noise. A blast of air could knock her down or a burst of light could blind her. Even an animal controlled by a Kindred of Eden could sniff her out and expose her. The ones she feared the most were the Kindred of Mind with their swirling birthmark. They could control people. She’d seen it.
She picked up another brush and added yellow dots all over the hard wall. Maybe scaring them out wasn’t such a good idea. Absently, she mixed her yellow and blue and made upward strokes near the base of the cave wall. Oh, she could build her own wall to keep them from coming deeper into the tunnel. A thick one like the one around the settlement that was closest to her.
But it had taken those men a long time and they had many working on it. Then again, she only had to block the width and height of the tunnel. She could look for a narrow spot so it wouldn’t take so much time. Even at the thought of chopping down the trees and lugging them in, her shoulders fell. Despite living on her own and building up her strength, she knew her limits. Blocking the tunnel would be hard.
With her luck, some Edenist would have the ability to knock it down with a wave of his hand.
She took another brush and dipped it in her red. Maybe it was time to move on. She could find another place to live, maybe closer to the equator and hopefully away from the lawbreakers. She snorted as her brush went up and down in a pointed pattern. There were lawbreakers everywhere in the jungle. She would have to find another cave, or build a high tree house.
Now that was an idea. She could make it invisible if she could figure out how to use the eyllen with her abilities like Theron had done. She could make anything invisible she touched, but keeping it invisible without touching it was beyond her. Unfortunately, her parents hadn’t taught her all she needed to know before they were taken. She had just started her transition and didn’t know how to control her ability. Besides, she’d have to lug tree limbs high into a tree, and that would be impossible.
She stared blindly at her painting. That left only one solution—Naralina. Even as the thought occurred, her eyes recognized her drawing for what it was. It was the white and gold city without its white walls. Excitement rose inside her. Quickly, she mixed up her colors to create dark brown and drew fine lines throughout the picture. Finally, she stepped back. It was Naralina. That’s where she had to go.
She gazed with longing at her painting. It looked like Naralina at night as viewed from where she liked to perch in her favorite tree. She’d never actually seen the wall surrounding it, but her parents had told her about it as well as other stories about their life inside the city. As a child, she had begged them to take her there, but they refused, insisting she get through her transition first. A place that beautiful had to be wonderful inside, with kind people, the opposite of lawbreakers.
She’d thought about going herself for over eleven years now, since she’d turned sixteen, but the trek through the jungle infested with lawbreakers had always deterred her. Maybe this was her chance. If she could travel with the Edenists who currently occupied her cave, it would be safer…if they decided to go there.
Wrapping her brushes in pander bush leaves, she dropped them in her bag then closed up her paints and added them as well. She needed to discover where the Edenists planned to go next. That they expected to leave was clear. Toni said more would come tomorrow and then they would all be gone.
Striding down the tunnel toward her living area, her heart raced with excitement. They might even use a portal which would eliminate the trek through the jungle all together! Hope barreled through her. This could be her chance!
She had to decide what to bring with her. Her parents had wanted her to meet their parents. They called them her grandparents. She always wondered if that meant they were really large or really nice. Either way she wanted to meet them. They were family, all that she had left.
Her parents had made her wait, but she was fully grown and far past her transition, even if she hadn’t mastered her abilities yet. Scrat, she was older than her mother had been when she bonded at twenty-five.
It was time. She was ready to meet her family members. Her fathers had talked about their brothers, though she couldn’t remember their names anymore, but surely someone would know her parents’ families.
She entered her living area and threw her bag on her bed. What would she need? Definitely her paints and perhaps an extra pair of sandals. She shuffled through her belongings. Pulling out a picture of her mother and two fathers, she felt the usual tug on her heart. It was taken just a year before the lawbreakers attacked. She was thirteen and already as tall as her mom, who she stood next to with her arm about her waist. Her dads flanked them. The picture would be important in finding her grandparents. She could show it to people.
Scrat, how was she supposed to show the picture if she couldn’t even show herself. She flopped down on the bed. She couldn’t even talk to anyone because they wouldn’t see her. Was she supposed to live out her life here until a lawbreaker or Edenist caught her? Was she destined to die alone?
Her eyes welled with unshed tears. Why did her parents have to die? It wasn’t fair!
She swatted at her cheeks as if bothered by a troublesome insect. There had to be a way to communicate even though she couldn’t show herself. She opened her mouth. “Kin yu tll mi wer mi grinparrts lik?” She could barely hear her own voice. She cleared her throat and tried again.
“Kin yu tll mi wer mi grinparrts lik?” Definitely a little louder, but really scratchy. Even to her own ears, the words didn’t sound right. She couldn’t even speak correctly, though in her head everything sounded perfect.
She touched the photo lying on her bed. They had been a family. They helped each other because that was what families did. Surely her family in the city could help her. She just needed to find them.
Tackle things one at a time, Mya. Too many at once and you will feel overwhelmed. Her mother’s words floated through her head. She had lived those words every minute when she’d first found herself alone. She hadn’t needed them in a long time, but they were relevant now. First, she needed to get to the white and gold city. Then she could figure out how to find her family and make contact.
She stood, determination racing through her veins. It was the same determination that had kept her alive for so many years. She could do this. And now was her chance.
Turning back to face her bed, she continued to pack. The cave and tunnels were home, but they would always be here. It was time for her to leave.
* * * * *
Maya stood in the living area off Theron’s cave, her bag clutched closely to her chest. Now that she was actually about to leave, her doubts flew in like vulture-swans after a carcass. She would fail to find her family. She should go back to her home where she belonged.
It was that last thought that kept her pinned to the spot outside the open door to the room with the green table inside.
Seeing all the Edenists together, hugging and smiling, made her feel so alone. She hadn’t felt lonely since the second year her family was taken away, her mother’s advice, and memories of her dads, never far away.
She watched as the Edenists conversed with each other, respectful, sometimes smiling, sometimes scowling. They were like a big family, something bigger than each on to him or herself. A yearning to be part of a bigger collective rose hard in her chest, squeezing off her air. What would that be like? She breathed out. She wanted to know.
They all sat around a beautiful shimmering table made by Haldone and Akasha. The green chairs were works of art as well, and she itched to paint them and the table on a cave wall. Maybe when she came back…if she came back.
She couldn’t follow the conversation well because they talked about so many places and people she didn’t know, but one thing was certain, most of them were going to Naralina. This was her chance. She just had to figure out which were headed that way.
A tapping at the outside wall startled her, and she gave a quiet gasp before covering her mouth. Her gaze swung toward the door as the man they called Konala strode by her. When he opened it and stepped outside, a bird flew onto his arm. He must be able to talk to the animals. She’d bet he wasn’t afraid to walk through the jungle with an ability like that. He could call a feroon or a Tigran or even a grendal whose tusks would scare away anyone.
When he came back inside, he looked grim. Oh, she hoped they were still going to Naralina. She stepped closer to the open door of the green table room.
“I’m afraid we need to leave as soon as possible.” Konala spoke to all those inside.
Another man stood. “He’s right. Someone’s life is threatened.” He looked at each one of them then stopped on Sandale and pointed at him. “It has to do with your family.”
Konala faced Sandale as well. “I sent my friend, the elseire bird, to check on the status of the city. Your three fathers have been taken to the Ruling Circle complex to await the next Open Circle session to be considered for exile.”
Sandale stood, his hands fisting of their own accord. “What are the charges?”
Konala shook his head. “The kidnapping of Akasha and Toni.”
“What?” Toni rose next to him. “That’s crazy. Grandall must have eventually tracked the portal-opening to your house.”
Akasha stood as well and faced those on the opposite side of the table. “We need to change our plan.”
Mya frowned. Why did someone want to hurt Sandale’s parents in Naralina. Would this affect the family she hoped to find, too? Did she need to tell them? If only she understood what they spoke about, but she didn’t know who Grandall was or why he would think someone took Akasha and Toni when they were right here.
She kept her gaze on Toni and Jaelene, the two women she had already met. As soon as they all filed out, she ran outside as well.
Toni hugged a woman named Serena. “Don’t worry. I’ll make sure Khaos and Jahl come home to Loraleaf in one piece.”
Serena rolled her eyes. “I’m not worried about those two…or at least not much. You, on the other hand, worry me. I know how you get when you’re afraid.”
“Good thing I’m not afraid. I want that bastard.”
Serena shook her head before stepping toward a portal. “Be careful.”
Toni waved before turning away.
Mya frowned. She couldn’t figure out who was going where. They were talking about Loraleaf and Haven and Naralina. She didn’t want to take the wrong portal.
Just then a portal was opened and the blonde lady waved goodbye and walked through. Mya watched, clutching her bag even tighter as the portal closed. Should she have gone that way? She turned back to where Toni had been only to see her striding through another shimmering doorway which closed after her.
Mya’s heart beat faster than a daemond bee’s wings. There were only four people left, all men. Despite her fear, she stepped closer to them. Whichever portal opened next, she would walk through.
Khaos and Rekah opened a portal. She moved closer, but Haldone stood in her way. “Ready, brother?”
“Yes.” Sandale walked through first, followed by Haldone.
She did it! Mya glanced around her. It was nothing but more jungle. Disappointment rifled through her. Turning all the way around, she froze.
Before her was the tallest wall she’d ever seen. No, it was the tallest anything she’d ever seen. It was white all the way to the top and looked as smooth as the surface of water. She stepped up to it and touched it. It was warm from the sun where it filtered between the leaves. This was Naralina.
No, this was outside the wall of Naralina. How would they get in?
She turned around just in time to see the portal shimmer behind the men. Wait! She leapt forward, but she was too late.