[For 14 weeks, beginning on March 19th, on Sundays and Wednesdays, I’ll be posting chapters of book one of my Jaben’s Rift trilogy: From a Far Land. I hope you enjoy it. The first part is here. I’d love to hear any feedback.]
Turning the Tables
Jason stepped out of the portal, looking around to make sure Bothan wasn’t waiting to spring another trap.
“This way, Jason.”
He saw his ancestor in the distance, riding at an easy trot toward the most inhospitable area he had ever seen. The clouds seemed almost malevolent as they roiled and churned overhead. Massive distortions twisted the atmosphere, creating disturbing voids in the landscape, and the chill wind blowing out from the storm had a bite to it that went beyond mere physical discomfort. It was as if his nightmare that first night had come to life. Nothing like walking into your own bad dream. But he had no choice. If he was ever to confront his ancestor, now was the time.
He started running toward Bothan’s retreating figure, using his power to enhance his speed. Soon he could tell that he was closing the distance between them. He studied the big man as he ran. Bothan held the reins with one hand, while a globe of dimsai enveloped his other. He prepared to throw up a shield in case Bothan suddenly turned and attacked.
He had closed the gap between them to a hundred yards when the glowing globe vanished. He slowed. Be ready, Jason, he told himself. Bothan turned and looked over his shoulder. When he saw Jason chasing him, he grinned as if he’d been hoping to see his young visitor. He kicked his horse up to a gallop, opening up some distance between them. Not far from one of the rifts, he pulled his mount to a halt and jumped off, the grin still on his face.
Jason slowed to a jog. What’s he up to? He scanned the area constantly as he approached, waiting for his ancestor to spring the surprise.
“Jason, you must be careful,” Crin sent. “The Riftla—” The inner voice cut off.
Crin? He looked up. Crin sailed overhead, adjusting his wings constantly to compensate for the blustery winds.
Crin? Still no answer. He didn’t know why his friend wasn’t answering, but as long as he could see that Crin was okay, there were other things to deal with.
He watched Bothan as he drew closer. Considering the events at the battlefield, the man seemed unconcerned. He can’t be waiting for Regor, can he? He hoped Regor really was out of the picture. He stopped when he was within fifty feet. He could feel his anger building again, but something was different this time.
“Well, lad,” Bothan said, “welcome to the Riftlands. Lovely place, isn’t it?”
“Definitely,” he said. “It’s where this will finally end.”
“Aye,” Bothan said, glancing at the sky. “That it will, lad. That it will.” He squared his shoulders and looked Jason in the eyes. “Well, do what you must.” He made no further move, simply stood there.
Jason hesitated. Something wasn’t right. Bothan suddenly pointed his hand toward him. Acting on reflex, Jason threw a blast of dimsai. Or at least he intended to. Nothing happened. He tried again. Still nothing. What? He stared at his hands and then thrust them at Bothan yet again, watching as they stretched out impotently. Then he heard Bothan chuckling.
“What did you do?”
Bothan just grinned at him.
“What did you do??”
Bothan laughed and started walking in a wide circle around him. “Didn’t Nyala teach you anything? You’re in the Riftlands, laddie. Where dimsai may or may not work.” He stopped when he was between Jason and the Scorched Plains. “As it happens, where we’re at, it doesn’t.”
Jason backed a couple of steps away. He wanted to kick himself. Nyala had told him about dimsai and the Riftlands. He’d been too intent on catching Bothan to think about it.
He jumped as Bothan’s horse snorted behind him. He glanced back to make sure nothing was coming out of the rift, and then looked again. A sword hung from the side of the saddle. He lunged for it. He didn’t expect to beat Bothan with the few lessons he’d been given at the keep, but maybe he could maneuver around him and make his way back to where his power would work again.
He turned around to see that Bothan had drawn his sword and was watching him with a little smile.
“Aye, lad,” Bothan said, “it always comes down to this. A man lives and dies by the sword. Always has, always will. Whether it’s made of treachery, magic, steel, or wits makes no mind. It’s still a sword in the end.”
He stepped toward Jason. “Let’s be about it then.”
Jason got his sword up to block Bothan’s overhand swing. The shock ran up his arm all the way to his teeth, almost making him drop the weapon. He jumped back to avoid the next sweeping attack. He managed to get a firm grip again just in time to parry Bothan’s backswing. He backed off another couple of steps and moved to the side, hoping to get into a position to move around Bothan, but the big man moved sideways with him, blocking his route.
A streak of yellow sliced through the air, but, unlike the Trellin ambush, this time Crin’s attack failed to hit his target. With a flick of his sword, Bothan slapped Crin to the ground. Jason’s anger surged as he looked at the unmoving body of his avian friend. He lunged at Bothan, but the man knocked his sword sideways, laughing as he did.
Movement behind Bothan caught his attention. He saw five figures approaching. Reyga. A flood of relief went through him. Now if he could just hold out until they got there.
His emotion must have shown in his face because Bothan gave him a strange look, then came at him with a slicing attack. He stumbled backwards, feeling the sword pass just inches from his throat. Bothan glanced over his shoulder toward the Plains.
“Well,” he said. “I was wondering if they might show up. Good. I would have hated for them to miss this.”
He turned and attacked again. Jason managed to parry one blow, but Bothan’s attack was much faster and harder than before. His next blow numbed Jason’s hands, and the one after that sent Jason’s sword flying. He’s been playing with me. He felt the cold blade exit his back before his brain registered that it had entered his front. He looked down at the length of metal sticking out from just below his ribs, his eyes following the blade back to Bothan’s hand. It didn’t hurt as much as he would have expected, but it was suddenly very hard to breathe again.
Bothan leaned toward him. “Sorry, lad. We could have ruled together. You just chose the wrong side.”
Bothan yanked the blade out, and the searing pain came. He clutched at the wound and sank to the ground, fighting for each breath. Odd. It sounded like someone was calling his name. He looked down at his hands. So much blood…
The portal vanished behind him as Reyga stepped out.
“This way, Loremaster Reyga,” Gatlor said pointing toward the Riftlands.
Reyga looked where Gatlor was pointing. In the distance he could see two figures facing each other. Jason and Bodann. He started moving toward the two as quickly as his bruises would allow.
“We must hurry.” He pushed through the pain and managed to break into a halting jog. It still was not enough. “You go ahead,” he told them. “I will be there as quickly as I can.”
“I will help you,” Lenai said, slipping her hand under his arm as Gatlor, Seerka, and Calador began running toward the two in the distance.
As they got closer, Reyga saw Jason squaring off with a sword. He shook his head and forced his legs to move faster. Bodann, while not being a master, was still an accomplished swordsman. Jason would not win this fight.
“Faster, faster,” he told himself, putting his head down and willing more speed from his aching legs.
He jerked his head up at Lenai’s scream, just in time to see Bodann pull his sword from Jason’s body. No. Reyga looked at Lenai’s tortured face as she watched Jason sink to the ground.
“Go,” he said, pushing her forward. “Go.”
She squeezed his arm and then sprinted toward Jason’s still body.
Bodann had mounted his horse and was riding hard toward the Plains, one hand held out in front of him. He rode at an angle from them, keeping as much distance as possible between him and the approaching warriors. Reyga saw Gatlor and Seerka stop. Gatlor grabbed his bow and pulled an arrow from the quiver. Bodann’s hand flared with dimsai. He turned and threw a bolt of power toward the two warriors. Then it seemed to Reyga like time slowed down.
Gatlor sent an arrow streaking toward Bodann. Seerka leaped in front of Gatlor into the path of the dimsai blast. The power threw him backwards, knocking Gatlor down in the process. Bodann opened a portal out in front of his racing horse. Just as he reached it, he jerked in his saddle. The arrow had found its mark. Then Bodann was gone, and the portal disappeared.
Reyga turned back and saw Calador and Lenai kneeling beside Jason. He stopped when he reached them, gasping for air.
“Jason! Jason, can you hear me?” Lenai said. Blood covered her hands as she pressed them over the wound.
A weak groan answered her. The knot in Reyga’s stomach eased slightly. At least he was still alive. For now. The blood spreading over the ground cried out that they needed to get him to a healer quickly. Not far away, a bundle of yellow feathers lay on the ground. Crin. He saw one of the wings move.
“Calador, bring Jason,” he said. “We must get out of the Riftlands so I can open a portal back to the battlefield. Loremaster Seryn will be there.”
Calador gently picked Jason up as Reyga walked over and scooped up the injured fortunewing. They half walked, half jogged toward the border of the Plains. They met Gatlor, who was carrying Seerka. Wisps of smoke still drifted up from the cat-man’s scorched leathers.
“Gatlor?” Reyga said.
“He took an attack meant for me.”
“Will he live?” Calador asked.
Gatlor shook his head. “Not much longer.” He said nothing more, but his eyes betrayed his feelings.
“What happened?” Jason’s voice was a whisper.
“Jason, you should save your strength,” Lenai said.
“Seerka has been injured,” Reyga said. “We must get you both to Loremaster Seryn.”
“Let me see him.”
“Jason, you are in no condition—”
“Let me see him.”
Reyga nodded to Gatlor, who carried Seerka over to where Jason could turn his head and see the Ferrin.
Jason reached out a shaking hand and laid it on Seerka’s chest. He closed his eyes as his hand began to glow. Then his hand slid off, hanging limply from Calador’s grasp. Reyga hurried to check him. He was still breathing, but faintly. They had to hurry.
A sudden gasp startled him. He looked over to see Seerka staring up at Gatlor.
“What happened?” Seerka said. “Why are you carrying me?”
Reyga could see that Gatlor was struggling to hold his emotions in check. “Because you decided to fall asleep in the middle of a battle,” Gatlor said. “I thought about leaving you out here, but knew I would never hear the end of it.”
“Well,” Seerka said, looking around at the rest of them. “Do you think you might put me down? This is rather undignified.” As Gatlor put him on his feet, Seerka saw Jason in Calador’s arms. “Does he live?” he asked.
“For the moment,” Reyga said, opening a portal. “We must find Loremaster Seryn immediately.”
Then the small group stepped through the portal back to the battlefield.
Jason opened his eyes to see a circle of faces looming over him. Seryn, Reyga, Lenai, and behind them, the three warriors.
“What?” Then he remembered, and clutched at his wound. The pain was gone.
Reyga smiled. “Bodann nearly killed you, but Seryn was able to heal your wounds.”
He looked at Seryn. “You keep saving my life,” he said. “Thanks. I guess this is another one I owe you.”
Seryn shook her head. “No, Jason, it is we who are in your debt. Your actions today saved thousands of lives. Any feelings of gratitude are ours.”
“What about Bothan?”
“He managed to escape,” Reyga said. “But not before Gatlor put an arrow into him.”
“Is he dead?”
“We do not know. For now, what is important is that his army is destroyed. Lore’s Haven and the people of Teleria are safe.”
“And you live,” Lenai added.
He closed his eyes. Yeah, everything was fine for now. But if Bothan was still alive, he would try again. He remembered the hate in his ancestor’s eyes. Hate that wasn’t just directed at him, but at the Circle as well. And there was still Regor. He might have had to sit out the final showdown, but that didn’t mean he was out of the picture for good.
He grinned as he heard Crin’s voice in his head. Crin, are you okay? He looked up and saw the bird soaring overhead.
“Yes. The Loremaster healed my injuries as well. I am pleased that you are well once more.”
Do you know where Bothan went?
So, he really had gotten away. If Gatlor’s arrow didn’t finish him, it would just be a matter of time before they heard from him again. He started to get up.
“Jason, you should rest,” Seryn said. “You lost a great deal of blood.” But she didn’t make any other effort to stop him.
“I’m okay,” he said. Lenai held his arm to steady him. When the world stopped spinning, he looked out over the battlefield. Bodies littered the earth, turning what had been dust into a blood soaked quagmire. Men and women from Lore’s Haven made their way through the fallen, looking for any others that were still alive. Here and there he could see people kneeling on the ground, mourning over a fallen friend. Many might have been saved, like Seryn said, but many had died as well.
Looking at the mourners, his thoughts flashed back to the scene in the training yards. He knew how the ones out on the field felt. He wished there was something he could do to help them, but it was too late.
But the body Chon left behind hadn’t been human. They still didn’t know what had happened to his dad. Didn’t know if he was alive or dead.
He went over his time in this world. So much had happened in such a short time. The training with Nyala in Teleria’s past. His experience in the meeting of the Altered. Bothan’s attack on his father. His wild swings of emotion and confusion until Lenai helped him see clearly in the Shanthi ritual. Wait. Bothan’s attack. Something…there was something about that. His eyes went wide.
“Jason?” Lenai asked. “What is it?”
He looked at her, a small glimmer of hope coming to life inside of him. “I think I know where my dad is,” he said.
“Jason?” Reyga said.
He grinned at Reyga and began running toward the battlefield.