Categories > Original > Fantasy > Monster

Day 9

by Togot 0 reviews

Tyler finds himself in a very dangerous situation

Category: Fantasy - Rating: R - Genres: Drama,Fantasy - Warnings: [V] - Published: 2019-08-11 - 17190 words


Week two
Tyler stood in front of the library doors holding the pile of books he had borrowed. Despite going through all of them several times, they hadn’t provided the answer he had been looking for. He could have asked Malenia for other leads, but he hadn’t talked to her for three days now. In that time, Alanna hadn’t left his side, though the two hadn’t shared many words either. Tyler had spent most of that time reading, or thinking of some way to get leverage over Malenia. Despite having a vested interest in the matter, Alanna had contributed little, only answering direct questions and shooting down most of his ideas.

His best bet now was to ask Romat if she had any suggestions, though he doubted that she would be forthcoming. He stared at the large stone doors, and only now did it occur to him that he didn’t know how Malenia had opened them during his first visit. He stood there awkwardly, wondering if he should have given the books to Alanna to take back, but dismissed the idea. He hated being dependent on her for so many things. He could at least return his own damn library books.

Tyler had been thankful that Malenia was away on some kind of diplomatic mission, meeting with someone named Kara, so he had been able to convince Alanna to take a break from her duties for a few hours at least. It figured that the one day he was able to get away from her, he found he needed her help.

Tyler was wondering if he should knock when the massive doors opened slowly on their own with the sound of grinding stone. Tyler stepped forward cautiously and peeked inside, but he saw only darkness beyond. It occurred to him that the only light source the last time had been Malenia’s glow ball. ‘god I’d kill for a flashlight right now,’ he thought as he stepped inside. The doors slowly closed behind him, and he fought the urge to run away. He was, however, ready to drop the books and draw his sword at a moment’s notice.

The doors sealed with a soft thud, and Tyler found himself enveloped in total darkness. Tyler strained to listen for any indication of Romat’s whereabouts, but he heard nothing other than his own heart pounding in his ears.

“Romat,” he whispered. “Need a little light here.”

“As you wish,” she replied, though it was impossible to tell from where as the words sounded as if they were in Tyler’s own head. A dim light revealed Romat’s doll-like face within touching distance of Tyler’s own. His eyes went wide, and he couldn’t help but gasp in surprise. He instinctively reached for his sword, dropping the books, but Romat simply stood there like a statue with that same creepy half smile on her face.
“You should have run,” she said without moving her mouth.

“That a threat?” he asked, and he stepped slightly to his left, taking great care to make little noise. He was pretty sure she was blind and keyed in on people’s voices. If she did mean him harm, no sense in making it easier for her.

One corner of her smile rose slightly as she continued to stare straightforward. “An observation,” she said. The voice seemed to come from everywhere. “I can sense your fear. You wanted to run away, you wanted to be in the light, you wanted to be safe, yet you stayed. Why?”

“Just stupid I guess,” said Tyler, almost to himself. The truth was that there were dozens of reasons. He needed to return the books, he was stubborn, he wanted to test how safe he really was in this place, and he wasn’t going to be scared off by a god damned librarian. He didn’t care how creepy she was. Tyler moved again after speaking though Romat hadn‘t turned her head to face his new position. If she hadn‘t been aware of his movement, she showed no sign of being surprised.

The female kannin was quiet for a moment, tilting her head ever so slightly as though listening to a far off noise. “Your thoughts and feelings are so loud that they overwhelm,” she said softly. “But they are too many and too fast to understand.” Her head turned to look directly at him. “Why are you here?”

Tyler froze as fear took him by the throat. The way Romat stared at him, the way she moved, it was like something from a horror movie, not openly threatening, but so unnatural that it made him sick to his stomach. He took a slow breath to steady his nerves, and swallowed loudly and said, “I Thought I’d return the books I borrowed.”

Romat tilted her head, and her smile broadened, as if amused, and the sight sent a shiver of Tyler’s spine. The books were lifted off of the ground by an invisible force and then floated off into the darkness.

Tyler watched the books as they were carried off, and he couldn’t help but think that he was in a haunted house.

“I must confess, I’m surprised Malenia sent you to me by yourself,” Romat said.

The implication that he could be sent on Malenia’s whim pissed Tyler off, and he responded curtly, “She didn’t send me anywhere,” he said send with particular disdain. “Besides, she’s off meeting with someone named Kara.”

Romat seemed to perk up slightly. “Malenia is away from Haven?” she asked.

“Yeah,” said Tyler, surprised that she hadn’t known.

Romat stared silently at Tyler with her blank, doll-like face, and Tyler became more unnerved by the second.

“You really should have run,” she said, and her lips spread into a hideous grin. Malenia’s sharp teeth were intimidating, but they were uniform, and clean. Romat’s were nightmarish and gnarled, and her lips were spread back impossibly wide, like something kind of monster.

Tyler’s eyes grew as his fear spiked. He felt as if someone were choking him, and he found it hard to move as he stared it the ghoulish creature before him. This couldn’t be real.

“Oh my,” Romat said. “Such intense fear.” There was a quiver in her voice that almost sounded as if she were sexually aroused.

She began to glide slowly towards Tyler, but he couldn’t bring himself to move. “Didn’t Malenia tell you I’m off limits?” he said, saying the first thing that came to mind. As much as he loathed relying on her, Tyler was desperate to talk his way out of this.

“As you said, Malenia is away from Haven,” Romat replied in a calm voice as she continued to close in on him. “And no one knows you’re here.”

“I told Alanna I was coming to see you,” Tyler said quickly.

“You’re lying,” she said.

As Romat came closer, she opened her mouth wider than she should have been able to, and something in Tyler simply clicked as he realized he wasn’t talking his way out of this. His fear was pushed to the back of his mind as he turned to his right side so he was facing the threat, he crouched slightly and took hold of his sword’s scabbard with his left hand, resting his thumb firmly on the guard while his right hand hovered over the handle.

“Romat, I swear to god if you come any closer I’ll cut you in half.”

Romat stopped a moment, and she tilted her head the way kannin did when puzzled. The sight of her hideous face making such a gesture was almost comical. “You’re not lying,” she said. She seemed to regard Tyler for a long, tense moment as if she were uncertain of what to do. She straightened her head up, and her eyes narrowed maliciously just before the lights went out.

Tyler was already moving the moment he saw Romat’s expression. He knew what it had meant. He drew his sword and stepped forward, slashing at an upward angle where Romat had been a moment before. He felt his blade connect, though he couldn’t be sure where he had stuck his opponent. He quickly attempted a second strike, but hit nothing. Given his situation, Tyler decided against attempting a third, and instead adopted a defensive stance. He brought his sword to his left shoulder, aiming the blade straight up with his right hand gripping the top of the handle upside down. The stance allowed him to quickly block almost any area of his body.

Tyler stood frozen in this stance for what felt like an eternity. He closed his eyes as they were no longer of use to him, and could prove a liability of Romat suddenly turned the lights back on to blind him. He slowed his breathing and his heartbeat as he strained to listen around him. Even his thoughts were quieted as he stilled his mind, trying to detect any trace of his foe. The moment he heard anything, felt anything or even sensed anything, he would strike. He expected to hear the taping of kannin claws on stone, or the rustling of cloth. Perhaps Romat’s breathing would give her away. Kannin did breath, didn’t they? What Tyler did eventually hear, was the librarian’s voice inside his head.

“You hurt me,” she said.

“I’ll do a lot worse with my next blow‘” Tyler thought, not daring to speak for fear of it masking some other telltale sound.

“I underestimated you,” said Romat after a moment of silence. “Fighting you is too dangerous. I submit.”

Tyler could see through his closed eyes that there was light again. He opened them slowly to find Romat standing only a few feet in front of him with a gruesome gash thought her left breast. The wound looked deep, but Tyler hadn’t felt his sword hit bone, so he doubted that it was life threatening. Romat didn’t seem bothered by it in the least as she stared at him with her blank face which had returned to normal.

“That’s it?” Tyler asked, feeling a sudden burst of anger. “You try to kill me, and you think that it’s over just like that?”

Romat bowed her head. “It is too dangerous to try fighting you,” she said calmly. “I have surrendered. It is against Malenia’s rules for you to kill me.”

Tyler tightened his grip on his sword as anger swelled inside him. “You said it yourself; Malenia isn’t here.”

Romat seemed to smile. “Yes, however, I doubt you can consume me to remove the proof of my demise, and no one else in Haven possesses a weapon that inflicts wounds such as yours. She will know that you have killed me, though whether or not she will punish you, I do not know. Regardless, my best option is to submit. Do with me what you will. However,” she raised her head to look at Tyler with her pale eyes, “if you spare me, I shall be in your debt.”

Romat’s offer calmed Tyler’s anger as it gave him something to consider. He was in desperate need of an ally, and Romat didn’t seem to be on good terms with Malenia. Besides, he had enough enemies as it was.

“Do you know about my…situation,” he asked.

“Yes,” she said after a moment.

“Are there any spells, any books here that could help me get home?”

Romat seemed hesitant to answer, as if worried what reaction it would provoke. “The books you chose where the correct ones. If you could not find an answer there, there is no answer to be found.”

‘Damn it,’ Tyler thought bitterly. “Is there anyone, here or anywhere else that might be able to help me?”

Romat tilted her head, considering his question. “There is only one kannin elder alive that is more powerful than Malenia herself,” she said slowly, “but I highly doubt he would help you.”


“Tarsus has a history of betraying those he uses. Unfortunately, what you seek requires you to trust the one casting the spell, as you are placing your life entirely in their hands, I cannot fathom why any kannin would not simply kill you.”

Tyler saw Romat’s point. He had been so focused on finding a way to get home that he hadn’t even considered that problem before. Malenia had told him what could go wrong on accident, but if someone wanted to, they could purposefully teleport him a mile above the ground in mid-air, or in the middle of the ocean, or even inside a stone wall. He would be putting his life in someone else’s hands. A kannin’s hands, and as he saw, that was a very unwelcoming prospect.

“Thanks,” Tyler said rather glumly. Another dead end. Worse than that in fact. Rather than finding a solution, he had only found another problem. “Can I leave now?” he asked, unsure as to whether or not she would open the door for him.

“Of course,” said Romat, and the sound of stone scraping against itself filled the room just before the light did, and Tyler’s found that it provided him some small sense of relief. He didn‘t have a way home, but at least he had a way out of this room. Given the bleakness of his situation, it seemed even the smallest victory made a world of difference.

“Thanks again,” Tyler said as he backed away from her, not daring to turn his
back. She followed him, not with her eyes but with her head, turning it in an unnatural manner to track his movement. Tyler was truly disturbed by just how inhuman she was, even more so than the others. He reached the door, and found himself hesitant to just leave. His eyes fell to the wound he had made in Romat’s breast. It was still bleeding, though she made no effort to stop it. The sight of it turned his stomach.

“You might want to have Turrel heal that for you,” he said awkwardly.

Romat gave a queer smile. “You feel concern for me?” she said, making it a question.

Tyler had no answer. She was right, it seemed absurd for him to nearly kill her one minute and then be worried about her the next, especially since she had started it. He was aware of the contradiction, but Tyler couldn’t help it. That’s just how he was.

“I can see why Malenia favors you,” she said. The comment made Tyler remember his anger, though it was not directed at Romat. The librarian tilted her head again, no doubt confused by his reaction. Tyler sheathed his sword and made to leave, but Romat called out to him. “Tyler,” she said, using his name for the first time. “Do come visit if you feel the inclination, or have need of wisdom. You need no longer fear me, for I shall not challenge you again, and your intense emotions are very…stimulating.”

It seemed a ridiculous offer to Tyler. She had tried to kill him, and the last thing he wanted to do was come back here, but it seemed foolish to say so, so instead he simply said, “I’ll keep that in mind.”

Tyler slipped through the crack in the doors, and then watched as they closed shut behind him like a tome. He never took his eyes off of Romat until she was sealed back inside her odd prison. ‘No wonder kannin aren’t curious,’ he thought to himself jokingly as he turned away. ‘Getting a library book is like retrieving the arch of the covenant.’

As Tyler turned his eyes down the hall, he found Alanna standing in his path. Her eyes were wide with distress as she stared at him, then at the large stone doors he had emerged from. Her eyes held a haunted look about them as they lingered on the doors, and Tyler couldn’t help but wonder what kind of history she had with Romat.

“I thought I gave you the day off,” he said.

“I see I was foolish to leave you alone as long as I did,” she replied, sounding cross. “Had I known you would act so recklessly, I would never have allowed you to leave my sight.”

Tyler felt a pain of guilt as he realized that, had Romat succeeded in hurting him, Alanna would have paid the price. The thought hadn’t even occurred to him until now. He wasn’t accustomed to having someone responsible for his actions in this way. He found his thoughts turning to his mother, and all the trouble he caused her, but she was never punished for it. Stressed and bothered to be sure, but she was no one’s victim. Had anyone dared lay a hand on her for his actions, Tyler wouldn’t have rested until they had paid.

Now he realized what a leash Malenia had put on him. Not only did he have to stay, he had to behave. Malenia would kill Alanna if he left, but she would also punish her if he came to harm, or caused trouble. It was something he would have to remember in the future, but for now he tried to shrug it off as he said to Alanna, “I was just returning my library books.” He spoke casually, as if it were nothing to fret over, but Alanna wasn’t fooled.

“Romat would not have allowed you to leave unchallenged,” she said, her voice thick with suspicion.

Tyler frowned and said, “We came to an understanding.”

Alanna’s expression changed to one that could best be described as shock as she stared at Tyler. “She submitted to you,” she whispered in awe. “Impossible,” she added with a shake of her head, refusing to accept her own statement. “Aside from Malenia and Deserae, Romat is the strongest master in Haven.”

Tyler blinked in surprise. He hadn’t known that. All it had taken was a slash of his sword to make Romat back off, though he was certain that she could have killed him had she really tried, but was she really that strong? Perhaps he had made a stronger ally than he’d realized. In his mind, he saw a bishop he could move to block the queen, and the shiny promise of hope sparkled before his eyes. ‘Not checkmate after all.’


Tyler walked aimlessly for a while, unsure of what else to do. He had no leads, no ideas, and no plan. He’d been in this world for over a week now, and he wasn’t any closer to finding a way home than he had been on day one. None of the books had been helpful. If anything, they had simply confirmed what Malenia had said: teleporting something to an unknown location was insanely dangerous. If only there were some way to put this Tarsus character into a position where he would have to teleport Tyler home safely, but Tyler had no idea how to make that happen.

He jumbled his thoughts to prevent Alanna from eavesdropping as she followed him around like a lost puppy. She said little, as usual, seeming to regard him as something unpleasant she had to put up with, and he again wondered why he was going through so much trouble to save her ungrateful life. It wasn’t that he liked her, he just didn’t want another death on his conscience. Knowing he’d actually killed four people, no matter the circumstance, still weighed heavily on his mind, and his dreams. Why was it that assholes always seemed to have an easier time of life? The more he thought about it, the more it annoyed him.

He went outside and Alanna followed him, trailing slightly behind while keeping quiet. Having her follow him everywhere made Tyler feel strange. Was this what famous people felt like having a body guard or servant? If so, he didn’t see the appeal. Tyler went for his daily jog around Haven. Alanna watched, but she didn’t run alongside him, he suspected that she saw it as undignified. She seemed only mildly interested in what he was doing, though confused might have been a better word.

“Why do you exhaust yourself needlessly?” she asked when he’d finished. She sounded more annoyed than curious. He was bent over, supporting himself with his hands on his knees as sweat dripped off of his nose and chin.

“Not needlessly,” he panted while trying to catch his breath. “I need to exercise to stay in shape.”

“How tedious,” she said in a condescending tone as she looked away.

“Yeah well, you learn to like it,” Tyler said. “I guess you guys can just magic your muscles bigger or use supernatural liposuction, but we humans have to work for it.”

“Magic is not an easy thing to learn,” she said, sounding indignant. “It takes years of practice to master even simple spells, and a great deal of concentration for the more complicated ones. Kannin devote a great deal of effort to increasing our power.”

“Huh,” said Tyler as he thought about it. “I guess you guys just make it look easy.” He drew his sword, and Alanna stiffened slightly at the sight of it. He chided himself for not considering how she’d feel about seeing the blade again, but it was already out of the scabbard, and he needed to practice. He took a step away from her and turned so the blade wasn’t pointed in her direction.

He started off doing strikes, raising the sword over his head and swinging straight down until it rested slightly above his waist. He repeated the stroke again and again, trying to be a little faster each time while still stopping sharply.

He did a hundred strikes, and then changed the angle so that it started above his head slightly to the right, swinging down to the left with the tip of the blade ending in front of his left knee. A hundred of these, then another hundred from left to right. Then a hundred baseball bat-like swings at waist level with the embellishment of going out and pulling in in a slashing motion.

Tyler finished up with fifty quick draws from the scabbard. He only did fifty because this was far more dangerous than the others. He’d once seen a man slice his left hand open between the thumb and index finger at a competition. The guy had gone to the hospital, and since Tyler wasn’t too sure about Turell’s qualifications, he’d rather avoid an injury.

To wrap up, Tyler did his sword jumping jacks. Master Kim had always forced him to finish up with them to improve his stamina, knowing Tyler’s condition. He had said that if Tyler didn’t turn his weakness into a strength, a weakness it would remain. Tyler found it hard to argue with that logic, and had taken the words to heart.

He realized it must be a ridiculous sight to Alanna, but as he stole a glance, he noticed that she didn’t seem at all amused, neither smiling nor laughing. She regarded him with the same neutral scrutiny she always did. It occurred to Tyler then that the only kannin he’d ever seen laugh had been Malenia, and even that had hardly been more than a chuckle which had likely been an act. Granted he hadn’t had many jovial conversations since he’d come to this world, but he should have at least overheard someone laughing while walking down the halls.

“You do this every day?” Alanna asked as Tyler sheathed his sword.

“Every other day,” he said. “In between I stretch to make sure my muscles don’t tighten up and do a few light exercises, but my muscles need to heal. If I work out nonstop, I’ll do serious damage to my body.”

“I don’t understand.” And she was tilting her head in that puzzled way.

Tyler took a deep breath and let it out before explaining. “When humans exercise, we are tearing our muscle tissue. When it heals, it becomes bigger and stronger. Same thing with broken bones. If you broke my leg, when it healed, the bone would be thicker, and thus, stronger. It’s our body’s way of correcting weaknesses.”

“So you have to injure yourself to gain power?” she asked, sounding more puzzled than ever.

Tyler flashed her a mile and said, “No pain, no gain.”

“I suppose it is similar to Master Deserae’s classes,” she said thoughtfully.

Tyler stared at her dumbstruck by the comparison. He‘d never thought about it that way, and he didn’t like it at all. Alanna seemed to pick up on his discomfort and added, “Though in that instance the one experiencing pain is not the one gaining power.”

It was true, but the implication still bothered Tyler. He wasn’t getting stronger so he could hurt anyone, he just didn’t want anyone hurting him. And he didn’t need someone to torture him to do it. He pushed himself, sure, but he knew his limits, and Master Kim had only instructed him, he didn’t take any sadistic pleasure in beating him, like Deserae did with her students.

“What now,” Alanna asked, snapping Tyler out of his introspection. Tyler wondered if she‘d done that on purpose, or if she were simply bored.

He pulled out a rag that he kept in his pocket to wipe the sweat off of his face. “Now,” he said, putting the rag back “I need to find a punching bag.” He smiled at her and started walking away. He was beginning to enjoy seeing that puzzled look on her face. She seemed a little too uptight to him, so it was fun to mess with her a little.

Tyler found a nearby tree that looked sturdy enough to take a punch. He cracked his knuckles before wrapping them in clothe so as not to tear his skin, and he began boxing the tree while Alanna watched with a snooty, disapproving look on her face. No doubt she thought the whole thing was ridiculous, but Tyler didn’t care. He just wanted to hit something.

He gave the tree a few love taps to get a feel for it before he began putting any force into his punches. He kept his arms in tight, throwing out quick straight jabs. He practiced ducking and weaving, making sure to move his feet. Tyler knew it was stupid to rely too much on his sword. It could break or be taken away, so he needed to be ready for a fistfight.

He tried to imagine that he was fighting a kannin, but it occurred to him that he’d never really seen any kannin fight before. That first night a few of them had thrown spells at him, and Romat had simply turned the lights out. Aside from Malenia grabbing him, the only other kannin who had really engaged Tyler in a fight had been Alanna, and her fighting skills were pathetic.

Tyler wondered what kannin fights were really like. Did they use those sharp claws and teeth like animals? Or did they have their own form of martial arts? Was there a kannin kungfu master at Haven? Perhaps Tyler could arrange for lessons. The thought of learning an alien form of martial arts appealed to him, and he was just staring to get excited when a sudden sharp pain in his chest brought him back to reality, and to his knees as he clutched his heart and groaned in agony.

As usual, there was little Tyler could do but grit his teeth and bare it until his spasm had passed, but he found it odd that Alanna made no effort to help him. She simply stood there, staring at him with cold indifference. She didn’t seem worried or concerned. She didn’t seem to care at all. In that moment, she looked more catlike than ever, alert but passive, and it made Tyler feel all the more helpless.

“My, I seem to have caught you at a rather…vulnerable moment, haven’t I?”

Tyler turned his head to see Deserae standing over him with a cruel grin on her face as she watched him suffer. No doubt she found it satisfying to stand over him as if he were one of her students. Tyler didn’t like the view at all, or her tone of voice.

She was right; he was vulnerable, and he felt threatened. The danger helped him focus his mind through the pain, and he ran through one course of action after another. He had swiveled his sword around to his back to the left to keep it out of the way for his boxing, so it was in no position for a quick draw, but he also had his knife tucked away at his back with the handle sticking out to the right. He could pull it out while rushing forward, and drive it up under Deserae’s lower jaw. No, a straight on attack would leave him vulnerable, and what if she blasted him with a huge fireball? He knew it wouldn’t hurt him, but Alanna was in the line of fire. Push her away to the left while rolling to the right, then rush Deserae from the side and stab her in the kidney, assuming she even had those. Perhaps he should simply throw the knife at her. Even if he missed it might buy time to draw his sword.

All that and half a dozen other ideas ran through Tyler’s mind in a heartbeat, one after another. He made sure to jumble them all, to hide his intentions, but Deserae did the one thing he had not expected; she turned her eyes away from him as though he were of no interest.

“Alanna dear, I haven’t seen you in my class for quite some time. Why is that?”

Deserae’s voice was pleasant, though it was noticeably forced. Malenia was much better at faking geniality. Alanna bowed her head immediately like a scolded child. “My apologies Master Deserae. My new duties make it impossible for me to take any classes.”

Deserae glanced back at Tyler as though he were something unpleasant. “Yes, hardly an enviable punishment.” she said, letting her dislike show clearly in her voice before turning her attention back to Alanna. “Still, it was rather generous of Malenia to allow you to live at all. I did warn you against associating with Termall, did I not?”

“Yes,” Alanna said with a hint of regret, “you did.”

Deserae smiled as if she had caught Alanna in a trap, though Tyler didn’t understand why. “If you cannot take classes, surely you can find time to simply talk,” she said, resuming her friendly attitude.

“Forgive me, but I am not permitted to leave Tyler’s side, especially when he is in such a weakened state.”

Deserae looked down at Tyler again, and this time she seemed to revel in his situation. She allowed herself a mocking grin as she said, “Oh I’m sure it will survive a moment or two of your absence. We have much to discuss.”

Even while feeling like a metal spike was being pushed through his heart, Tyler could tell something was wrong. Why did Deserae want to get Alanna alone? Was she trying to remove Tyler’s protection so he could be taken out, or was she trying to do the same thing as Malenia, use Alanna as leverage against him? Either way, he knew he didn’t want to leave Alanna alone with her.

Tyler forced himself up to his feet despite the pain. “Alanna already got in trouble for that once before,” he said, trying his best to keep his voice normal. “I won’t let it happen again, so anything you want to talk to her about will have to be said with me around.”

Deserae dropped the act for Tyler, allowing her dislike for him to show plain on her face. “You are becoming far too bold,” she said coldly. “And you are hardly in a position to decide what I can or cannot do.”

Tyler did his best to stare her down despite his heart feeling like it was being torn in two. Once before he had had an episode during a fight. Back then, the other boy had taken advantage and put him in the hospital. Deserae wouldn’t be so lenient.

“You sure about that?” he asked, trying his best to convey confidence and hostility.

Deserae’s eyes narrowed until they were as piercing as daggers. “Were you not under Malenia’s protection, I would crush you in an instant.”

“I don’t see her around, do you?”

It was a bluff, and a stupid one considering Deserae was a mind reader, but it wasn’t in Tyler’s nature to back down, even under these circumstances. Fortunately for him, Deserae chose not to call that bluff. She looked to Alanna and said, “We shall speak again later, when you are not so burdened.”

And with that, she turned and walked away. Once she was a fare distance, Tyler collapsed to his knees under the strain. He felt like he might pass out again, but the pain finally subsided. He was annoyed that Alanna didn’t so much as offer him a hand up as he recovered.

“You do realize that if I kick the bucket, you’re screwed too…right?” he asked while trying to catch his breath.

Alanna didn‘t seemed bothered by his remark as she said simply, “Our fates are intertwined, yes, but there was little I could do for you.”

“Why didn’t you at least call for Turrel?”

“I did.” she said flatly, “he asked if I’d be a dear and bring him your body if you died so that he could dissect you.”

Tyler gave her an incredulous look before shaking his head. “I fucking hate that guy.”


Back inside Haven, Tyler found himself feeling very tired. His workout was one thing, but having an episode right after was especially draining. He sat down on one of the couches in the main hall and leaned back, staring at the ceiling while he tried to recover his strength. Alanna chose to stand nearby like a guard dog while the other students walked by with hardly a glance in his direction.

Tyler still found it odd that his presence warranted so little notice, but on the other hand he was thankful for it. He had never liked being the center of attention, and being surrounded by these creatures made that doubly true. He took a deep breath and began to feel depressed. What was he going to do? He didn’t want to spend the rest of his life in this place. There were so many things he’d never get to do.

The more he thought about it the angrier he got. It was bad enough he’d had a death sentence beating in his chest since he was five, but now he didn’t even get to enjoy his last few years on his own damn planet? His mother had promised to get him a motorcycle once he got his license, and he’d wanted to at least have one girlfriend before he kicked the bucket. Was he going to have to die a virgin now?

Tyler let out a long sigh. ‘No point worrying about it now,’ he thought. He felt weary, and considered going back to his room to listen to music in his head. He hadn’t done so since the reaction he’d gotten the last time, but they wouldn’t hear him in his room, probably. Of course, Tyler’s room was a long walk away. ‘Fuck it.’ he thought.

He decided to play “Drop the bombshell” in his mind. A nice, loud, pissed off song that fit his foul mood perfectly. All his troubles were consumed by the images of fiery explosions that the song brought to his mind. He saw himself standing amidst them screaming in rage as a big fuck you to the universe. He started bobbing his head to the song, and it felt good. With his eyes closed, lost in the music, Tyler could almost feel at home, if only for a few minutes.

Eventually something snapped him out of it. He wasn’t sure what it had been, perhaps a small noise or a sixth sense, but something had triggered the little alarm in the back of his mind that screamed, “Danger.” His eyes shot open, and he saw the kannin gathered around him again. It shouldn’t have surprised him, seeing as it had happened the last time, but he still wasn’t prepared for just how unnerving it was. They all stood around him, those animal-like faces staring silently with those intense eyes. Hey just stared at him in silence. It was too creepy.

Without realizing it, his left hand had moved down to take hold of his scabbard. He wasn’t planning on drawing his sword, but the act of touching it helped reassure him that he could if the need arose. It also served to lessen his panic given that he was surrounded with his back to a wall. His mind raced with the usual scenarios of him fighting his way out, but now that the music had stopped, his spectators seemed to have lost interest in him. They began to disperse, and Tyler’s tensions eased.

He let out a slow breath to try and relax. ‘Maybe I am too uptight,’ he thought.

If he was going to get any kind of leverage on Malenia, he was going to need help. That meant making friends, and that meant lightening up a little. Perhaps it was time for him to mingle.

Tyler looked to Alanna and asked, “Does this place have a cafeteria?”

Deserae strolled the halls, feeling frustrated by the current situation. She wanted to speak with Alanna about Tyler, yet it was Tyler who prevented her from doing so. The irony was annoying. With Malenia away from Haven, it had seemed the perfect time to get the girl alone. The fact that Tyler was willing to challenge her to keep her away from Alana only convinced Deserae all the more that the girl had useful information, but how to get it?

Deserae tilted her head as she heard an odd sound. It took her only a moment to realize she wasn’t hearing it with her ears. It was an odd mistake for her to make, but the sound was so unlike anything she had ever heard before. There was a pattern to it, a rhythm to the noise. It was fast and strong, and it conveyed a feeling of power, but what was its source?

One of the first things any kannin learned was to block their thoughts from others. Was this deliberate? Was it being directed at her? Deserae’s first instinct was to shield herself, but there was something compelling about the noise. She wanted to hear more of it, so rather than put up her guard, she relaxed it, ever so slightly.

The pattern changed a bit, and then she heard a man start shouting. The moment she heard the voice, Deserae’s mind protected itself, raising her mental defenses like a limb pulling away from an unexpected touch, but she soon relaxed again. The man wasn’t shouting at her, in fact he wasn’t speaking to anyone. His words held a similar pattern to the noise she had been listening to, in fact, they seemed to complement each other.

His words came quickly and loudly, as if he were trying to talk to someone far away or speak over the noise. Deserae listened to him for a moment and realized that he appeared to be talking to himself rather than having a conversation. He even repeated himself several times. Whoever he was, he sounded very angry. In fact, the noise itself sounded angry which was an odd concept for Deserae. Sounds should only convey emotion when they came from a creature that had emotion, but then again, the noises were being thought by someone, so perhaps that made sense. Still, why was this person thinking these sounds?

Deserae focused on the thoughts. It was forbidden for students to invade the minds of others, and even masters such as Deserae had to account for themselves if they did so. At least they did if they were caught. It was one of Malenia’s many odd rules that seemed to exist only to frustrate Deserae, but fortunately, this mind seemed to have no defenses against her at all. It was completely open for all to see, but it was too far away for that to matter. Still, it made it easy for Deserae to track down the source.

As she walked, she wondered if it could be a tomen? They had no defenses of any kind, physical or mental, but why would one be here? No, not a tomen; these thoughts were far too aggressive for one of them. A new arrival then, too young to protect itself perhaps? No, these thoughts were too alien for a any kannin, and there were several words that she did not recognize. ‘Alien.’ The thought popped into her mind as she came close enough to see images with the noise, and her suspicion was confirmed.

A figure stood amid leaping flames. He held his arms up in the air, hands balled into fists. He appeared to be screaming, but not in pain. He was screaming in anger. It was as if he were challenging the flames to consume him, daring them to try even as the inferno raged around him. The human screamed in defiance.

Deserae drew back as soon as she understood the situation. Malenia would not look favorably upon her upsetting her new favorite pet. Even if that had not been an issue, Deserae didn’t want to see that image anymore. Her first encounter with the creature called Tyler had been a close call, and an expensive learning experience.

Malenia believed she had prevented the boy from injuring Deserae, possibly even killing her. She scoffed at the thought. Her, killed by this puny little creature that looked even weaker than a tomen. But those eyes. She remembered the look in those eyes, as if he had been telling her he would kill her with a look. She had sensed the boy’s fear, but she hadn’t seen any in those eyes of his that burned with the same fire she now saw in his mind.

Deserae pushed that image out of her mind as well. What mattered was that Malenia would use that little favor as leverage against her in the future. That alone was reason to dislike this newcomer. Deserae had taken great pains to avoid being further indebted to Malenia, and that boy had increased that debt at their very first meeting. He had best not make a habit of it.

Now that she was closer, Deserae saw that several of the younger, weaker kannin were hearing Tyler’s thoughts as well. They were all drifting closer just as she was, though she knew that none of them were seeing what she had. Doing that would require being invasive, and no student would dare to be so bold. They simply wanted to find the source of the noise, much as she had, though she was no longer sure why she was still heading in the same direction considering she had her answer. There was just something about the sounds that was so alluring. She wanted to listen to them more, and the closer she got to the source, the louder it became.

It wasn’t long until she came upon the gathering crowd. She gave a small mental push to those whose backs were turned to her. Just enough to coax them into turning to notice her. Once they did, they quickly stepped aside to make way for her. She moved up, though she did not wish to be in the front of the group. Better to have someone available to take a hit for you should the need arise. Still, she was close enough to see the boy sitting on one of the couches in the main hall.

The human seemed oblivious to his audience. He sat with his eyes closed, bobbing his head slightly. Deserae noticed several of the others imitating this, and realized they were doing it in synch with the pattern of the noise. She felt compelled to do it as well, but resisted the urge. She would not let on that she was being affected by it as they were. Doing so would have been undignified.

She watched Tyler and wondered how she could have felt threatened by this puny thing. He sat there, so relaxed, so unaware, so vulnerable. Anyone could have killed him before he could react if they so chose. None would do so of course. He had been placed under Malenia’s personal protection. Even Deserae knew better than to challenge that, though if he could be goaded into attacking first, she would be within her rights to defend herself. Given the boy’s temper, that shouldn’t prove too difficult.

As Deserae was calculating the risk of provoking the human into a confrontation to end his life, his eyes shot open. Tyler glared at all of them with overwhelming intensity, and Deserae was reminded of the feeling he’d given her during their first meeting. Looking into Tyler’s eyes was like looking into same fire she had seen in his mind. It was as if he were daring all of them to attack him, and the emotions that emanated from him were overwhelmingly hostile. Even with the shield spells placed on him for everyone’s protection, the human’s anger and fear was still overpowering. Everyone felt it, and suddenly Deserae was very happy that there were a few targets standing between Tyler and herself.

The human gripped his weapon, and Deserae was certain that he was going to attack. The idea of it seemed ludicrous to her. One helpless creature attacking a group of more than twenty kannin, including her? That was pure suicide. But looking into the boy’s eyes, she realized that, suicide or not, he meant to do it. Perhaps she wasn’t the only one who realized this, or perhaps Tyler’s intense fear was overwhelming the others, but everyone began to back away slowly.

The noise was gone. It had stopped the moment Tyler had opened his eyes. She was aware of so many emotions all at once; how could anyone feel fear and anger at the same time? Emotion clouded Deserae’s mind as she struggled to put her defenses back up. Once she had, she was able to think rationally again.. Perhaps this was the opportunity she had been waiting for. If the human attacked unprovoked, she would have an excuse to kill him. In fact, doing so would save not only her own life, but the lives of Malenia’s charges. This would pay off her debt on Deserae’s terms while eliminating a threat. Perfect.

But the boy did not attack. Deserae felt his emotions subside like a dying flame. Tyler still seemed upset, but the look in his eyes slowly disappeared as Deserae felt him relax. The crowd dispersed, and Deserae left with them so as not to draw his attention. It was likely that Alanna was aware of her, but not the human, and she saw no reason to change that.

As she walked away, Deserae could still see the image of that human challenging the flames. It was not wise to confront Tyler directly without more information, but perhaps there were indirect ways of obtaining that information.


Tyler watched the kannin female with zebra stripes sitting under a tree in the courtyard. She had been sitting in a meditative posture for nearly an hour, hardly moving a muscle. She seemed completely detached from the world, even her hair seemed unaffected by the light breeze that caressed Tyler’s cheek.

He wondered what she was doing. Was she relaxing? Practicing some spell, or perhaps sending a long distance mental telegram? Tyler wondered what their telepathic range was. It was yet another addition to the long list of things he didn’t know about these aliens. One thing he did know now was that kannin didn’t have cafeterias. That made sense, most kannin didn’t need to eat after all, so now Tyler was hoping to find some social interaction out in the garden. It seemed the next logical choice. Big open space, plenty of nice places to sit in the grass and talk, beautiful weather, but there were only a handful of students, and they were all spaced out around the place.

Tyler wasn‘t good at making friends even when he had to with other humans. He always felt awkward, didn’t know what to say, and had found most of his classmates to be idiots. He had no idea how to even approach a kannin. What could he possibly have to talk about with a magical furry alien? He had tried asking Alanna, but she seemed puzzled by the very concept of friendship. She preferred to think of such people as allies, people she could use or had similar goals with. It hadn’t filled Tyler with confidence. The more he talked with her about the subject, the more she confirmed that kannin were only interested in others so far as they could benefit from them.

He thought back to his conversation with Balla, and how she had studied him for weaknesses to exploit. He looked at Alanna and wondered if she had a mental list of weaknesses she’d observed in him. Did she keep a little black book on everyone she knew? Perhaps Tyler should start doing the same. He was already looking for Malenia’s weaknesses after all.

“Books,” he whispered to himself.

“What about them?” Alanna asked, speaking up for the first time since they had come outside.

“Nothing,” Tyler said absently as he pushed away from the wall he was leaning against and started walking. “Just thinking out loud.”

Alanna followed without a word like the good little bodyguard she was. None of the other kannin bothered to even glance in his direction as he made his way across the courtyard. He headed to the short tunnel marking the only entrance and exit to the castle that he was aware of. As he approached, Tyler noticed that the others seemed to avoid the portal for some reason. He glanced at Alanna, and saw that she was growing restless as they came closer to it.

It wasn’t the first time they had gone through the entrance together; Tyler had to do it every day for his morning jog, but he’d never noticed how much it bothered Alanna before. Her claws clicked on the stone floor and echoed off the curved walls as they passed through without speaking. Once on the other side, Tyler looked around for something, anything to occupy his mind.

There was little aside from the mountains caging him in, but there were a handful of trees sporadically placed around the open field. Tyler wondered if someone had deliberately planted them, or if these were just some random seeds that had happened to make it up to the top. Tyler wondered just how high above sea level Haven really was. If the whole area was a caldera for a dead volcano, then it must be one very large volcano, but if that was the case, shouldn’t it have been colder at such a high elevation?

The fact that it was perfect spring weather only made him ponder what the temperatures must have been like around the rest of this world. The air wasn’t even thin here, so did that mean the planet had a higher oxygen content than earth at lower altitudes, or was all of this a benefit of magic? Was there such a thing as weather magic? Did Malenia cast a spell to make the air breathable in Haven, and if so, how far did that spell extend? Would he suddenly walk through some invisible bubble and suffocate? Then again, if that were the case, wouldn’t his body negate that effects of such a spell and kill him anyway?

Tyler sighed and rubbed his eyes as he gave himself a headache. Yet more questions to which he had no answers. He didn’t even know the name of the planet he was on.

“Hey, Alanna, what’s the name of this planet?”

His companion frowned. “It has no name, to my knowledge. Why would it?”

Tyler stopped, and it was his turn to frown. “Your world doesn’t have a name?”

“It’s never needed one,” Alanna said, taking on a snooty attitude.

Tyler was visibly perplexed. “You’re serious? Your planet doesn’t have a name?”

Alanna narrowed her eyes with what was clearly irritation and said, “We’ve never needed to differentiate it from any other world before. Until you arrived, I had no idea other worlds even existed.”

“So why do you act so bored?” Tyler asked. The indifference the kannin had shown him had been bothering him since day one. “I mean, here I am, talking to a human-sized talking cat woman that uses magic, in the mouth of a giant dead volcano, and on a fucking alien planet that doesn’t even have a name. I’ve killed four people, had some try to kill me, and apparently I’m the new favorite of the most powerful woman around here. The only reason I’m not completely losing my shit is because I’ve been trying to keep my mind focused on getting home.”

Tyler grew more agitated as he spoke, raising his voice.

“Do you have any idea the reaction my people would have if the reverse had happened? If you had magicked yourself to earth? The whole damn planet would be in an uproar.”

“Why?” Alanna asked, sounding unimpressed. “You exist, you have no magic, and I see little I can learn from you that will be of use to me. I exist, I can use magic that your people cannot use, so they would have little to learn from me. I see no reason to get overly flustered by your mere existence.”

Tyler was at a loss for words. He simply stared at Alanna, dumbfounded by her indifference. The revelation that would shake the very foundations of humanity’s belief system, the answer to one of the greatest questions in history: are we alone, and Alanna greeted it with a shrug.

Tyler shook his head and grumbled angrily to himself as he turned to continue walking. “The greatest discovery in human history, and you couldn’t care less.”

“While I am flattered, I still fail to see the significance, and the thought of going to your world is not a pleasant prospect. One of you is trouble enough.”

Her remark made Tyler stop again. “Why do you have to say stuff like that?” he asked. “I know we’ve got a messed up relationship, but I’ve been going out of my way to smooth things over with you, and you even said you didn’t care about what happened before, so why are you always so pissy with me?”

Alanna quickly bowed her head and said, “My apologies.”

“Oh don’t do that,” Tyler said in an exasperated manner. “I’m not trying to threaten you or bully you or dominate you or anything like that. I’m just saying that you and I are stuck together, so could we try to be civil to each other?”

Alanna tilted her head before looking away in irritation. “Why must you make things so complicated?” She asked. “I was being civil.”

Tyler sighed. Perhaps kannin social interactions were simply too different for him to understand. By all rights it was yet another miracle that they were similar enough for him to relate to her at all. He thought about how different human cultures all had their own forms of social etiquette. Everyone considered different things to be rude or polite, or taboo. He had never been good at understanding these trivial rules even in his own culture. It wasn’t surprising that he would have trouble with them now.

“Fine,” he said with a defeated sigh. “Never mind.” The two of them walked to a nearby tree where Tyler slumped himself down, resting his back against it. He found himself feeling quite tired. His talk with Alanna had drained and disheartened him. He’d never exactly been one for making friends back home, but the fact that he was truly alone on this planet was starting to sink in, and the alienation was beginning to take its toll on him.

He leaned his head back and looked up at the branches above his head. The tree had a narrow trunk, green leaves, and brown bark. It looked like a regular tree, no different than anything back home. Granted Tyler was not botanist, and he was sure that someone more knowledgeable than himself could have noted some differences, but for a brief moment, Tyler was able to pretend he was on earth again. The thought made him feel relaxed, calm, as if all his troubles were being carried away by the gentle breeze blowing through the tree’s branches above him. Then he felt something touch his hand.

With an odd feeling of dread, Tyler turned his head slowly and looked down.

He had come out to the tree to be near something familiar, but what he saw inspecting his hand was utterly alien. The creature was slightly smaller than a soccer ball, and almost as round. It had a shell like a turtle, four stumpy legs, and its head had two overly large eyes with two antennae sticking out of its forehead that were currently probing Tyler’s hand. Its mouth was perhaps its most bizarre feature. Rather than the typical upper and lower jaw, the beast had a strange, bony beak that formed an upside down triangle in the center of its face.

“Ahh shit!” Tyler shrieked as he rolled away from the strange animal. He pulled out his knife and poised to defend himself, but the small creature hardly seemed to notice. It blinked its eyes as it looked at him before it lowered its head and went back to tapping its antennae on the ground near the base of the tree as if Tyler weren’t even there.

Alanna rushed to his side, looking ready for a fight, but she couldn’t find the source of Tyler’s distress. “What is it?” she asked after a moment. Her voice was so controlled it was almost devoid of emotion.

“What the hell is that thing?” Tyler asked, nodding to the creature by the tree. When Alanna saw what he was looking at she gave him a long disbelieving stare.

“You killed master Termall, challenge Master Deserae, and faced Romat, yet this tiny creature frightens you so?”

“Well…I don’t know what it is,” Tyler said, feeling embarrassed under Alanna’s scrutiny.

“You don’t know what anything is,” Alanna said, sounding annoyed. “Which is why we shouldn’t venture so far away from Haven.”

Tyler sighed and put away his knife, feeling foolish for having drawn it. He watched as the small animal slowly meandered around the tree. It reminded Tyler of a tortoise. “Is it dangerous?” he asked, more curious than concerned.

Alanna looked at the animal and then back at Tyler. She arched an eyebrow as she said, “You’re serious?”

Tyler shifted uncomfortably. “I just want to know if it’s dangerous or not, ok?”

Alanna maintained a straight face as she said, “If it is, I feel confident you can outrun it.”

“Oh for fucks sake!” Tyler said angrily, and he moved closer to the animal that seemed to be ignoring him.

“What are you doing?” Alanna asked, her voice showing a hint of concern.

“Figuring out if it’s dangerous or not,” Tyler said while keeping his eyes fixed on the small beast which continued to pay him no attention as it went about tapping the ground with its little antennae like an ant or a slug.

“If it threatens you that much, I will simply kill it,” Alanna said, and she raised a hand, aiming it at the creature like a gun.

“No don’t kill it!” Tyler said harshly, holding out a hand to stave off Alanna’s attack. “It didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Then why are you approaching it?” Alanna asked, sounding irritated.

“I want to know what it is,” Tyler said, returning his attention to the creature.

“It’s an animal,” Alanna said, “What more do you need to know?”

“Well, what’s it called for one thing,” Tyler said, crouching down over the creature. It turned its head up to look at him for a moment before going back to its task, whatever that might have been. “What’s it eat? Is it poisonous, aggressive? Is it intelligent? There’s plenty of things to figure out about this little guy.”

“What does any of that matter?” Alanna asked.

Tyler ignored her and held a hand out to the creature, moving slowly so as not to startle it. The animal stretched out its neck and seemed to sniff Tyler’s palm with its little antennae, tentatively touching it before deciding he was of no interest, and it went back to the dirt.

“It doesn’t seem to be afraid,” Tyler said, more to himself than Alanna, but she replied anyway.

“Nervous would be more accurate. You haven’t tried to hurt it, but you are larger and taking an interest in it, though there is little the creature could do if you did decide to kill it.”

“You can sense the emotions of animals?” Tyler asked, though when he thought about it, it made sense. “So what are these things called anyway?”

“There is less reason to name that thing than this planet,” Alanna said with a voice thick with irritation. The very notion seemed to offend her, though Tyler had no idea why.

“Alright then,” Tyler said, standing up straight. “I’ll name him then.” Tyler crossed his arms and thought of what to call the creature. It was obviously a tortoise of some kind, it‘s mouth was its most interesting feature, next to its antennae.

“Got it!” Tyler said, snapping his fingers. “I’ll call you Bone Beak, the kannin tortoise.”

“That’s not a name, it’s a collection of words,” Alanna said.

“Ok, fine then, I’ll call him Beaker,” Tyler said in exasperation.

“Congratulations, you’ve named a lower life form,” Alanna said, sounding flustered. “Can we go back now?”

Something in Alanna’s voice made Tyler look at her. Alanna was scanning the area all around them in a worried fashion. “What’s wrong?” he asked, “You agoraphobic or something?”

Alanna continued looking around as she flatly said, “Yes. Being out in the open leaves one vulnerable to attack. It is safer back at Haven.”

“Vulnerable to attack by whom?” Tyler asked, standing up at the thought of a possible threat.

“Other clans, of course,” she said. “A clan’s greatest protection is keeping its location secret, but when the youngest members go out hunting for food, they may wander into another clan’s territory and be captured. Once that clan learns the location of the other’s, they often attack and destroy it”

“Haven is different. It is too large and to exposed to hide, and the manner in which Malenia recruits new members leaves us vulnerable to infiltration. Many clans know where we are. Instead, we are protected by our numbers, but if someone were to be watching and see the two of us out here, they would think us easy prey.”

Tyler rested his left hand on his scabbard. “They’d be wrong.”

Alanna eyed his sword for a moment. “Perhaps,” she said, “but I think it wiser to avoid such a scenario.”

“You worry too much,” Tyler said, kneeling back down to continue watching his new pet. He slowly reached out his hand to the creature again, only this time he gently stroked it under the neck, and the creature stretched out its head while making on odd purring noise.

“Oh, you like that little guy?” Tyler said with a bright smile. It was nice to find something that was friendly for a change. The creature moved its mouth parts a little, and Tyler slowly retracted his hand, just to be safe, but the animal didn’t attack him. Instead, it went back to the dirt until its little antennae touched one of the exposed roots of the tree. Then it’s Y shaped mouth opened up, the three teeth spreading open. Beaker bit into the root and slowly scraped off the outer layer with a strong bite, and then another. Tyler watched, fascinated, as the little animal patiently chewed through the plant matter. “So that’s what you eat,” he whispered.

Tyler watched the creature for a few more minutes before becoming bored. He looked at Alanna to see that she was still standing vigilant, and he decided that it might be a good idea to head back now before they were missed. Alanna was clearly relieved, but as they we walking back to the castle, Tyler still had a lot of things on his mind. “Hey Alanna, can I ask you a question?”

“You just-”

“Don’t!” Tyler snapped, cutting her off. He let out an irritated sigh. “Different world, different species, same smart ass remarks.”

“What is it, human?” she said, sounding just as annoyed.

“Can I trust you,” Tyler asked.

“No,” she said flatly.

Tyler couldn’t help but laugh at her bluntness. “Seriously?” he asked.

Without turning to look at him, Alanna said, “If Malenia ordered me to, I would kill you. If Deserae forced me to, I would betray you, and if it was in my best interest, I would abandon you.”

Tyler was silent for a moment as he let that sink in. The way she said it had been heartless. There wasn’t even the slightest trace of remorse, sympathy, or apology. Was Alanna devoid of compassion?

“Can’t you ever be nice?” he asked glumly. “I mean, couldn’t you lie to me or something, try to make me feel better?”

At that Alanna stopped and turned to look at him. She had a disapproving look on her face as she asked, “Are you really stupid enough to believe such a lie?”

Tyler looked away, feeling miserable. “Not a friend in the world,” he mumbled. Then he looked up at her. “You said you’d kill me. You really think you could? The last time we tangled, I trounced you.”

“You caught me by surprise,” said Alanna. “Now I know your secret, so defeating you would be a simple matter.”

Tyler stared at her for a moment, bothered by her statement. He looked away and glanced around their surroundings until his eyes came to rest on a small tree a short distance away. “You think so, do you?” Tyler said as he began walking to the tree.

“What are you doing?” Alanna asked, deciding not to follow him.

Tyler looked around the base of the tree, answering Alanna without looking up. “Putting your claim to the test.” He walked slowly around the tree, looking at the ground. As luck had it, he found what he was looking for. “Aha!” he said as he picked up a four foot long stick. It was mostly straight with only a few offshoots which Tyler quickly snapped off before spinning it in his hand to get a feel for the balance. “Alrighty then,” he said happily as he headed back to Alanna.

He stopped a few feet away from her and held out the stick. “Could you do me a favor and magic this so it looks a bit more like my sword. Not metal or anything, just a wooden sword.”

Alanna frowned and tilted her head, but did as he asked. With a wave of her hand, the wood Tyler was holding morphed like melting wax. The weathered bark smoothed itself out into a very narrow boken. “Woah,’ Tyler exclaimed, mesmerized by the spell, but he noticed that the part he was holding hadn’t changed. He was still gripping rough bark, and he remembered that his body canceled out magic in close proximity. Still, this should suit his needs.

“Now then, time for some practical training,” he said, taking a ready stance. Alanna still seemed puzzled by all of this, so Tyler explained. “It’s simple. You throw magic balls of dirt at me, and try to hit me with one before I reach you to land a sword strike.”

Alanna looked down at the ground and then back to Tyler. “To what end?”

“If snuffing me out is as easy as you say it is, then I need to work on fighting against people who can chuck magic shit at me, and this seems like a good first start. Let’s keep it simple for the first try though. Three rules: No rocks that could seriously injure me, they have to be about fist size, and you can only fire off one ball at a time. Sound fair?”

“Hardly,” said Alanna with an arrogant tone as she readied herself. “There’s no way you can avoid my attacks and close the gap between us. By starting so far away, you have lost what little advantage you had.”

Tyler smiled. “Maybe I’ll surprise you,” he said as he tensed up. “Ready when you are.”

Half a second later, Alanna fired off her first shot. As expected, it was aimed for his center of mass, just below the middle of his chest. Tyler easily swatted it away with his wooden sword, and began rushing at his opponent. Alanna, seemingly surprised by this, quickly fired off another shot, but it too was aimed for Tyler’s torso, and he easily deflected it with his stick.

Tyler had halved the distance, and his momentum carried him straight at Alanna, but he knew that the closer he got, the less time he would have to react. Alanna raised up two more balls of dirt that floated just in front of her outstretched hands. She flung one at Tyler, again aimed at his chest. He struck it away, and not a second later was forced to deflect the next. Just a few feet more. Alanna hadn’t moved yet. Tyler wasn’t sure if she was freezing up, or if she was simply confident that he wouldn’t make it to her. She fired off one more shot, and Tyler only just managed to strike it away, swinging down and to his left before twisting the stick and slashing horizontally to his left straight across Alanna’s stomach.

Tyler’s momentum had carried him past his target, and the force of the blow staggered Alanna. He straightened up, and let out a long breath, allowing it to take his tension with it as he turned around. Alanna was only half turned to him, though her eyes were to the ground, lost in thought. Tyler didn’t need to be a mind reader to see her playing back what had just happened in her mind, analyzing everything to try and figure out why she had lost. Tyler already knew the answer to that question, but he wanted to see if she could figure it out on her own.

After a few seconds of silence, Alanna looked at him. He could see from her expression that she was unsettled by her loss. “That’s twice I’ve underestimated you,” She said. It was clear from her voice that she understood that, had this been real, she would have been killed.

“Care to try again?” Tyler asked.

Alanna’s expression hardened. “Yes.”

Tyler took a few steps back before turning to face her again. “Ok,” he said. “Let’em rip.”

Again, Alanna wasted no time in launching her assault. This time, the projectiles came even faster, but still straight at Tyler’s chest. In fact, he could swear that they were all following an identical trajectory. Tyler rushed forward again, but he refused to be lulled into a false sense of security. Thinking that you knew what to expect was a good way to lose, but the fight played out the exact same way. Alanna had simply tried increasing the speed of the projectiles, hoping that Tyler’s reactions couldn’t keep up, but she’d been wrong. He cracked her across the stomach again and took a breath.

Tyler spun his new weapon a few more times, taking the edge off. His muscles were starting to feel the burn now, and his heart was racing. He needed to slow it down again, conserve energy. He didn’t bother asking if Alanna wanted to try again. He knew she did. She was feeling embarrassed now, but he wondered if that would make her focused, or sloppy.

He turned to face her and sure enough, she stood looking ready and determined. He gave her a nod, and began rushing forward again. This time Alanna adjusted by making the dirt balls slightly smaller but still within the rules. It wasn’t a bad idea, but she was still aiming for center mass. Tyler opted to dodge this time, as striking away a smaller target would be too risky. He jumped to his right, allowing the first shot to go by without making him lose too much momentum. The second shot forced him back to his left, though this time he had to tuck in his right arm a bit to be safe.

The next shot was too close to close for Tyler to dodge by moving his entire body; he had to twist to the left, and was nearly hit by the attack that came immediately after, but he managed to reverse the grip on his blade, and block the attack before slashing down at Alanna’s left leg as he moved past her, dropping into a crouch. Then he twisted his wrist so the blade was pointed out to his side, and came back around, striking Alanna hard in the lower back.

The blow forced her to take a step forward as she groaned, but she did not clutch at her injuries. She just stood there, stoically staring at the ground. Tyler had no doubt that she was going over the encounter in her head again, and he was content to let her take all the time she needed. He was panting by this point and needed a rest himself. When he finally caught his breath enough to speak, he said, “Can I ask you something, and don’t say that I already did.”

Alanna turned to face him, and he was annoyed that she wasn’t even breathing hard. She seemed just as bored as she always did walking down the halls of Haven with him. “What is it?” she asked.

“Shooting smaller, faster dirtballs ain’t a bad idea, but why do you keep aiming square at my chest?”

Alanna frowned. “Because it’s the largest target, has most of your vital organs, and is the easiest area to strike,” she said, speaking as if it were obvious. “Why would I aim anywhere else?”

“Well because you’re never going to hit me like this for one thing,” Tyler said, shaking his head. He straightened up and took a deep breath. “Look, if you keep shooting at the exact same spot, it makes your attacks really predictable, and all I have to do is protect the same area, and I can do that all day.”

“Doubtful,” Alanna said in a condescending manner as she looked him up and down. “You seem to have weak stamina.”

Tyler rolled his eyes as he ignored her criticism, though it did occur to him that she was taking note of another exploitable weakness. “My point is, change it up. All you have to do is hit me. It doesn’t have to be my chest. Get me in the arm, or the foot. If you fire at my right shoulder and then left foot, my sword has further to travel, making it harder to block. You might throw me off balance at the very lest, and for the love of god, move! You just fucking stand there like a practice dummy waiting to get hit. Is that how kannin fight, you just stand across from each other and fire shots until someone drops?”

“It is very rare that such contests are necessary,” said Alanna. “Hierarchies are quickly established within a clan, so it’s clear who is more powerful, and the weak submit to the strong. The only time kannin fight is when the gap between their strengths is unclear, either due to someone becoming stronger, or someone new being introduced. In those cases, the contest is over very quickly. Whoever has the more powerful spell simply overwhelms the other.”

Tyler thought for a moment and smiled. “So you do just stand there and throw magic at each other until one of you drops.”

Alanna looked away, seemingly annoyed, and Tyler wondered if he had offended her. “As I already explained to you, using magic takes a great deal of concentration, and running around as you do would be very distracting. In short, dodging would be a hindrance, not a benefit.”

“Huh,” Tyler said, thinking about it. In a way it did make sense. “Fair enough, but when you’re fighting me, when I get within striking range it might be a benefit to switch to defense by dodging out of the way instead of, you know, letting me hit you.”

“If you get that close, then you are clearly stronger,” she said flatly.

Tyler threw his arms up in frustration. “Seriously? Even if you could win by taking a step to the side and hitting me from behind? You do realize I’m most vulnerable when I swing and miss, right?”

Alanna’s eyes narrowed slightly, and she said, “No. I did not.”

“Oh,” Tyler said, feeling very foolish. “Guess I shouldn’t have told you that then,”

“No,” said Alanna, “You shouldn’t have.” There was something threatening in both the tone of her voice, and the predatory stare that she was directing at him that made Tyler very uncomfortable. He couldn’t help but wonder if Alanna wanted to kill him. She claimed that she didn’t hold a grudge against him, but that didn’t mean she didn’t hate him.

Tyler slowly walked away, contemplating his mistake. He turned to face Alanna once again and rolled his shoulders to loosen them up. This time it was going to be hard. Alanna just kept staring at him coldly. “Are you sure you wish to continue,” she asked. “It’s clear that divulging that information was a mistake which now grants me an advantage.”

Tyler smiled bitterly, and said, “Yeah, I told you how to beat me, now let’s see if you can actually do it. Besides, my kendo instructor didn’t just teach me how to use a sword. He had all kinds of sagely advice. One bit I took to heart was to never run from my mistakes. Take ownership for them, accept full responsibility, and suffer the consequences, so that I will never make it again.” He took a ready stance and added, “So go ahead and make me pay for it, if you can.”

Alanna opened her hand, and a ball of dirt floated up to it. She stared at him with an unreadable expression and said, “As you wish.”

Tyler charged forward and Alanna fired away. Her first shot was directed at Tyler’s face. A good choice. It obscured his vision, and even if he blocked it, he might still get dirt in his eyes. He ducked his head to the side, dodging the projectile instead. If Alanna had waited until he was closer, it would have been more affective, but as an opener it hardly slowed him down.

The next shot was aimed at Tyler’s left shoulder, but again he easily dodged it simply by twisting his body. It did throw him slightly off balance, but he recovered in time to jump over the shot aimed at his right foot. Tyler was more than halfway to her now. Alanna fired off another shot, aimed at his side, but it was too far to the right and Tyler hardly had to move at all to avoid it.

Alanna’s last shot was at Tyler’s face, and he barely had time to avoid it by twisting his head hard to the right, the same direction his horizontal slash was going to take him as he swung at the girl’s side. This time Alanna spun out of the way just enough to avoid the blow.

Tyler let his momentum spin him around so he could face her again just in time to avoid another shot aimed his hip. He swatted the dirt ball down and charged forward. Alanna fired a point blank shot at his face that would have connected if Tyler hadn’t already been raising his sword for a downward strike. He managed to catch the dirt ball on his pummel before bringing the dull blade down, stopping just short of striking Alanna’s left shoulder at an angle. Luckily the dirt hadn’t gotten in his eyes as he had feared, but it had been a good try on her part.

The two of them stood frozen for a few seconds, though Tyler was breathing heavily. After Tyler had caught his breath, he withdrew his weapon and smiled at her. “Better,” he said with approval. “Much better. You almost had me with that last one.” He took one more deep breath before walking back to his starting position. “I think I’ve got enough in me for one more.”

Alanna’s eyes narrowed with determination, and she gave a nod in response. She held out a hand and formed another ball and soil from the ground. Rather than go at her head on this time, Tyler began making a wide circling spiral to throw off her aim before she fired her first shot.

As expected, Alanna didn’t understand the concept of leading a target. She fired at where he was, not where he was going to be, and all of her attacks missed him one after another without him having to dodge or block. It wasn’t until Tyler was close enough for the circling to no longer matter that he actually went in for an attack right after Alanna had fired another shot.

At this distance, Alanna only had time for one shot. Tyler wondered where she would aim. His face would be a good choice, blinding him while she dodged out of the way, but she had already tried that last time. She might go for the win by firing point blank at his chest, but he held his sword in front of him for that. Tyler watched the wad of dirt float off of the ground up to Alanna’s open hand. He watched it, knowing he would only have a split second to react, but she did not fire.

Tyler realized the truth too late. A sharp pain shot through his left side as the ball Alanna had fired previously made a return trip like a boomerang. The impact sent him falling forward and to the right, but as he fell past her, Tyler still managed to strike his opponent across the back.

Tyler rolled on the ground until he came to rest staring up at the clear blue sky. His eyes were half closed in pain as he gasped for air. Despite his shortness of breath, Tyler began to laugh. Pain throbbed in his left side just below his ribs where Alanna had hit him. It hurt like hell, but Tyler couldn’t stop laughing.

“What is so funny,” Alanna asked, and Tyler could hear pain in her voice as well as irritation. “I won our contest.”

“Nope,” Tyler said once his laughter had died down. “It’s a draw. If I had been using my sword, we’d both by on the ground dying right now.”

“You forget,” Alanna said as she came to stand over him. “I can heal.”

“Oh,” Tyler said rather sheepishly. “Right.” He began laughing again, despite himself. The pain felt good. It felt real, and in an odd sort of way, it reminded him of home.

It was a long time before Tyler managed to get up, and he did so very slowly and with many groans and curses.

“Are you alright?” Alanna asked, though she did not sound overly concerned.

“Yeah,” Tyler said. “You just hit me in a soft spot is all.” He got to his feet and looked at Alanna. She wasn’t breathing hard, wincing in pain or anything. One would never have guessed that they had been sparing so intensely by looking at her. He couldn‘t help but feel envious of her stamina.

“Ok,” Tyler said, “One last round, only this time, no more dirtballs.
Throw everything you got at me, long as it ain’t lethal.”

“Why?” Alanna asked, tilting her head in confusion.

“Cause I doubt any kannin I fight are just going to shoot dirtballs at me. I’ve seen what Malenia can do. Now I want to see how a kannin uses that kind of power.”

Alanna looked at Tyler. He was still breathing hard, his face was flushed red, and he was dripping with sweat. He probably looked like he was about to collapse, and in all honestly he felt even worse.

“Are you certain?” she asked, sounding unsure.

Tyler popped his neck side to side. “Yeah,” he said. He took a ready stance and let out a steadying breath before focusing his gaze on her.

Alanna’s expression remained stoic as usual. She regarded him with indifferent eyes, and said in a voice devoid of emotion; “As you wish.”

No sooner had she said the words, than Alanna made a wide closing gesture with her arms as if trying to grab someone. The ground on either side of Tyler rose up and came together like a book being closed. He saw the movement in his peripheral vision, and acted more on instinct than anything else as he dove forwarded to avoid being pinned. He rolled on the ground, and came up running for her.

Alanna’s second attack seemed sluggish, and Tyler guessed that she hadn’t been expecting him to evade her first. She shot her hand up with two fingers pointing at the sky, and a column of earth sprang up in Tyler’s path, but he jumped and rolled over it, landing on his feet and continued to close in. Half way to her now, Alanna fired off a dirt ball that Tyler easily deflected. When he saw her raise half a dozen of them, he banked to his right and began circling. As before, Alanna didn’t know how to lead a target, and all of the shots missed even when she fired them at the same time.

Tyler closed in, raised his sword, and let out a war cry. He poured all of his anger and frustration out towards Alanna, and for a split second, he saw her eyes widen in panic. Alanna quickly raised her right hand and closed it as if grabbing something. The ground erupted all around Tyler, but it wasn’t the dirt that was attacking him, it was tree roots. They ensnared him faster than he could react, and before he knew it he was completely entangled.

Tyler struggled, but it was no use; he was caught. He smiled and lowered his head in defeat. “Looks like you win,” he said.

Alanna was still staring at him with eyes wide and nervous, but she slowly lowered her hand, and the roots retracted back into the ground, releasing Tyler. He collapsed to his knees, chest hurting, muscles burning. That last bit of exertion had pushed his body too far, and now it felt like his heart wanted to explode. He gasped for air, but despite the pain, he smiled.

“Wood,” he said breathlessly.

“What?” Alanna asked, sounding truly puzzled.

Tyler raised his head enough to look at her. “You’re affinity is wood and plants,” he said with a satisfied smile. His grin and satisfaction grew when he saw the look of shock on Alanna’s face. She tried very quickly to cover it back up, but it was too late.

“Why do you say that?” she asked in a controlled voice, trying to hide the truth.

Tyler slowly got back to his feet. “You tried using dirt at the beginning, but Malenia said it’s hard to manipulate existing material. That’s why you were so slow, but when I got close, when you were desperate, you used wood to stop me, and it was fast as hell. You’re affinity is wood.”

Alanna stared at him intensely for the longest time, and Tyler began to wonder what she would do. He knew her secret, but they were out in the middle of nowhere. Maybe she would try to kill him, but he doubted that she would risk Malenia’s wrath. Would she threaten him, try to strike a bargain? Any human would beg him to keep it a secret, but Alanna was no human.

Eventually she diverted her eyes to the ground and asked, “Do you intend to tell someone to curry their favor?”

“Why would I do that?” Tyler asked as he offered her a friendlier smile. “The fact is, you’re the closest thing I have to a friend in this insane asylum, so I’ll keep your secret safe.” His smile widened. “You can trust me.”

Alanna’s expression betrayed her for the second time that day. She stared at him in disbelief before whispering to herself, “It would seem I’ve underestimated you yet again, human.”

Tyler only offered her a smile in response, but in his mind, he spied a pawn that might just be able to move to block the queen. ‘Maybe it’s not checkmate after all,’


Tyler and Alanna shared few words on the long walk back. Tyler because he was exhausted, Alanna because she hardly ever spoke. The silence gave Tyler time to think, though really that was all he seemed to do lately. The days certainly seemed to drag on in this place, and there was surprisingly little to do.

Tyler smirked at the absurdity; he was likely the first human to ever set foot on an alien world with life, intelligent life no less, and yet he was bored. There were no chores to do, no routine to follow. So far everyday had mostly been him trying to think of a way back home, when someone wasn’t threatening to eat him anyway.

He still had no idea what Malenia wanted from him, much less how to stop her from getting it from him, and then there was Deserae, and Romat, and Turrel. There were so many people he had problems with it felt like he needed to write them all down just to keep track, but he had no idea how to deal with any of them.

At least he had some leverage on Alanna. That was something, though he wasn’t sure how best to use that small advantage.

They walked through the tunnel in the outer wall of Haven and entered the courtyard. Tyler wasn’t looking around, being too deep in thought, but something caught his attention to his right. He turned his head to see a group of three kannin, two larger ones facing a small one with spots. Normally, Tyler would have ignored them, but something about the situation felt wrong to him.

Perhaps it was the body language, or perhaps it was simply a sight Tyler had seen too many times before, but something about it compelled him to stop and pay attention. The two large ones were between the smaller one and Haven, blocking off his escape, and they were noticeably apart, cornering him. The smaller one had his head slightly bowed in submission and fear. Everything about this reeked of a one-sided confrontation.

One of the larger males raised a hand and aimed his palm at the smaller one, and the smaller spotted kannin cried out in pain and crumpled to the floor.

Tyler’s eyes went wide with a mixture of surprise and anger. “Hey!” he cried out loudly. His challenge visibly startled Alanna, but Tyler paid her no mind as he marched over to the two males. They both turned to look at him with oddly neutral expressions, in fact they looked down right bored by him. That wasn’t something Tyler had been expecting. Normally when bullies were confronted, they acted uncomfortable and defensive. Perhaps these two simply didn’t think him worth worrying about.

“The fuck do you think you’re doing?” Tyler demanded as he came to stand before the one that had cast the spell.

The large black-furred male’s expression did not change as he answered simply, “Practicing.”

Tyler glanced down at the small spotted male who was still recovering from whatever the big one had done. Tyler was guessing it was pain magic, as it seemed similar to what Deserae had done in front of him. He remembered his conversation with her, and then looked back to the big one. “Did he agree to this?”

The big one frowned, “I don’t need him to agree to anything,” he said flatly, “he’s weaker than I am.”

Tyler’s eyes narrowed with rage. He could have asked whether or not this was really allowed, as it went against Malenia’s rules as Tyler understood them, but no. Tyler didn’t want to weasel his way out of this with word games, and he didn‘t want to hide behind Malenia‘s skirt.

“So you like pushing around people smaller than you?” Tyler said in voice thick with malice. He took a step closer until he was almost pressed against the kannin who stood nearly a foot taller than him. “Well I’m smaller. Try pushing me.”

Tyler stared into the kannin’s eyes, daring him the take a shot. Nothing would have made Tyler happier than to beat the hell out of someone who deserved it, but the kannin seemed hesitant.

“Rasik, don’t,” Alanna said, but Tyler quickly snapped at her without diverting his gaze.

“Alanna, stay out of it!”

Rasik looked away from Tyler, seemingly to Alanna, and then back again. “You’re under Malenia’s protection,” he said.

“She isn’t here,” Tyler said quickly, shooting down his excuse. Rasik wasn’t gong to talk his way out of this either. He either accepted Tyler’s challenge, or he would have to back down.

“Am I not?”

Tyler managed to avoid snapping around in surprise at the sound of Malenia’s voice coming from behind him, mostly by forcing himself to stay focused on Rasik. Distraction at a critical moment could get a person sucker punched, a lesson he’d learned the hard way. He wondered if she had been who Rasik had really been looking at before, but his reaction made that seem unlikely. It seemed that she had just teleported in.

Rasik’s eyes widened slightly with surprise, and his posture changed immediately, losing its dominant and assertive frame to one of submission. It was subtle, but Malenia clearly frightened him.
Seeing that Rasik no longer had any intention of fighting, Tyler turned to face Malenia. “I thought you were off meeting with someone,” Tyler said, making no attempt at civility.

“Ah yes,” Malenia said, sounding both whimsical and irritated at the same time. “Politics can be quite annoying. But my business is concluded, and I m pleased to see that you refrained from killing anyone in my absence.” She glanced at Rasik and added, “Yet.”

Tyler redirected his anger towards her and said, “Well maybe if you didn’t let your students torture each other, you wouldn’t need to worry about me picking fights with them.”

Rather than get upset, Malenia offered him a sly smile and said, “Oh, I never said I was worried. If you wish to assert yourself over Rasik, then By all means do so. It is important to train one’s skills. I simply wish for you not to kill any of them.”

Her unexpected answer caught Tyler off guard. He frowned slightly and said, “You don’t care if I fight him…right in front of you?”

“Not at all,” said Malenia with the same sly grin. “Though fight is a generous term. I have no doubt you would easily win such a contest.”

Tyler studied Malenia’s face for a long time, trying to guess her motives, but he got nothing. She wasn’t trying to discourage him from fighting Rasik. If anything she seemed to be daring him to do it. He turned to confront Rasik only to find him standing with his head bowed in submission. There was no fight left in him. Tyler wondered if he would even defend himself if Tyler attacked.

Tyler was still angry with Rasik for being a bully, but he refused to hit someone who wouldn’t fight back. Instead, Tyler simply said in a commanding voice, “Go away, and leave him alone. If I ever catch you picking on him again, I’ll beat the shit out of you.”

Rasik glanced up, offering a look of puzzlement before walking away with his companion and not a word. Tyler watched them go, feeling both confused, and slightly cheated. He resented Malenia for making him feel sympathy for a person whose jaw Tyler would have gladly broken a moment ago.

“Well that was rather generous of you,” she said in a tone that seemed teasing to Tyler’s ears. He slowly turned to glare at her, but she didn’t seem to notice. “It is nice to see you out and about. You have spent so much time locked away in your room, I was beginning to worry.”

“It’s not like I’ve got much reason to leave my room, seeing as there’s nothing for me to do here,” Tyler said in a stern voice, “aside from figure out a way to get home.”

“Any ideas?” she asked, though Tyler wasn’t sure if she was teasing or probing for information.

“Working on it,” was all he said in response. He made it a point to scramble his thoughts in order to protect Alanna.

“Well then, would you like to share a meal with me in my office?” She asked, smiling in an overly friendly way. “You’ve been keeping to yourself so much lately that we haven’t had enough time to chat, and it‘s the least I can do to thank you for helping Geeno.”

“Geeno,” Tyler whispered. He turned his head to look at the scrawny kannin with the spots who had been getting tortured. Was this the one Romat had mutilated? The fact that Malenia hadn’t don’t anything to stop this only hardened his resolve.

“Do I have a choice,” Tyler asked after turning his attention back to her.

Malenia’s exaggerated smile wilted. “Of course,” she said.

“Then I’ll pass.”

Tyler wanted to make it perfectly clear that he no longer considered Malenia a friend. “As you wish,“ Malenia said as she offered him that warm welcoming smile of hers, but it did nothing to comfort him. Whenever he saw that fake smile of hers from now on, he would remember those claws poised to rip out Alanna’s throat, and he reminded himself that she could just as easily turn those claws on him. Tyler had found it hard to feel at ease around Malenia before. Now he never would.

Malenia bowed her head gracefully and stepped aside, letting Tyler pass. He walked by her but then something occurred to him. It had been bothering him for awhile, and he figured that now was as good a time to ask as any. He turned back to Malenia and said, “There is one thing I’d like to know. You have the strongest clan in the world; stronger clans destroy weaker clans, so why were you talking to another clan leader?”

“Smart boy,” Malenia said without turning to look at him. “Yes, typically when a stronger clan discovers a weaker one, the weaker one is destroyed; however,” she turned her head to look at him over her shoulder, and the look on her face sent a shiver up Tyler’s spine. She flashed him a toothy grin that accentuated her sharp teeth. Her eyes seemed to hold a psychotic delight that chilled Tyler’s blood. The image was terrifying. “I do things differently.”

Tyler stared intensely at Malenia for the longest time before willing himself to turn away. His heart was racing, and his mind was drowning in fear. He had never seen her look so scary. Even when she had been threatening to kill Alanna, Tyler had taken an odd sort of comfort in how controlled and calculating she had been. You could reason with a sane person, but if she was truly mad, what hope did he have?

As he headed back to heaven, desperately eager to be anywhere else but near Malenia, he hardly noticed Deserae standing not too far away, watching him.
Sign up to rate and review this story