Mended by Ashes Sample Chapters

*Note: “Mended by Ashes” is not done yet. These first 3 Chapters will likely change a little between now and publication. But any alterations will be minor: rewording here, fixed punctuation there, etc… The main story and characterization will NOT change, though. Enjoy!

Chapter 1

 

The ladder buckled beneath Myx. She returned her hands to the runs and clutched tightly until she had re-stabilized. Myx knew it was useless, but she felt like she had to try for it. A shimmering yellow wisp floated gently just inches from her grasp, almost taunting her as it drifted back and forth along the ceiling panels.

Of course, the wisps weren’t actually sentient. At least, that was the determination of the Institute scientists that researched the colored radiation. However, Myx was positive that this one was mocking her as it repeated evaded her touch. The pale gold energy phased through the ceiling for a moment before reappearing in the air vent; it then drifted out of reach to the middle of the store.

The media broadcast caught her attention. There was rarely anything good on that time of the evening; Myx only played it to have background noise as she stocked the shelves with jarred and canned goods. The broadcast was set on a segment selling domesticated, miniature beasts. Kaefh would never let her adopt a spindly, six-legged zowen or a furry little gnarfsul. However, Myx was hopeful her foster mother would let her get one to brighten up her infinitely dull life if she saved up.

Warmth filled Myx’s clenched fingers as the straw-colored wisp passed along the edge of her thumb where it clung to the ladder. Startled, her outstretched hand returned to the rungs, attempting to grasp the bit of radiation that hadn’t been absorbed by her skin. The sudden motion caused the ladder to rotate away from the shelves that supported it. Myx gasped as she landed on her shoulder.

The impact didn’t hurt as much as she had thought it would be. Mild heat from the wisp absorption flew up her arm, resting on the injury. Whatever the radiation was, it numbed the pain of the impact.

“What a waste of a good wisp!” Myx groaned as she stood to her feet. She had been hoping that the energy would make her pink tourmaline eyes brighter or her pitch-colored hair silkier. Instead, it healed the inflamed muscles that had been damaged while acquiring it.

While she righted the stocking ladder, President Naichom’s sigil filled the broadcast’s screen—a grey figure absorbing half a dozen multi-colored wisps of radiation. The Tarasi Anthem began its five-minute overture, giving the citizens a chance to finish their affairs and gather to watch the transmission.

“Kaefh!” Myx called toward the back room. “The President’s office is making an announcement!” She moved to the payment counter. As she swiped the top of the screen with her index finger, the anthem volume increased.

Smearing powdered hands down her apron, Kaefh joined her foster daughter by the broadcast screen. Despite having been cooking in the kitchen, her stark white hair was neatly tied into a perfectly clean, high knot on her head. “Did you finish putting out the kelbrino berries?” She skimmed the store with her discerning, yellow-brown sinhalite eyes.

“Not yet,” Myx admitted, trying unsuccessfully to use a soft tone. She was about to make an excuse, but Kaefh would have replied that catching wisps wasn’t a productive use of Myx’s time. “I’ll be sure to after the President’s broadcast.”

Kaefh pulled a comb from her apron and motioned for Myx to kneel before attacking her gnarly hair. “What does Naichom have to say now?” She tied the thick, pitch-colored strands into a pair of girlish tails over Myx’s shoulder and continued, “Perhaps that there’s a meat shortage and that we’re all to eat artificially processed protein until they can raise more heshes to slaughter. Don’t roll your eyes like that, Myx; I heard rumors at the bazaar last week.” Kaefh secured a bow-clip to Myx’s bangs and returned the comb to her apron. “There. Now you look presentable for the President.”

Myx examined herself in the shop window’s reflection. She looked at least three years younger—not at all like an eighteen year old. “I don’t know why Kaefh bothers,” she mumbled, as her foster mother scanned the store. She tugged at the ties, loosening them slightly. “It’s not like I’m seeing Naichom in person.”

“Where is your sister?” Kaefh demanded, taking a seat on her stool by the register. “She better not be at the Radiation Springs again. If that girl walks into this store with her hair shining and her eyes glistening, I’m going to suspend her allowance until she leaves for the Institute.”

Since the answer probably wouldn’t please Kaefh, Myx stretched the truth a bit. “Sievly is studying with a friend. I’m sure she’ll be home for dinner.”

The foster mother grabbed Myx’s chin and examined her eyes. “You’re looking rather wilted, Myx. I’m proud that you don’t squander our hard-earned money on useless beauty treatments.”

A quick nod was all Myx needed to get out of Kaefh’s hold. Yes, it would have been a horrid idea to tell Kaefh that she had been pursuing a wisp, indeed.

Myx turned back to the broadcast, which was still blaring the Tarasi anthem. As she waited for the song to end, she continued examining her reflected image in the window. Kaefh had been correct. Her pink tourmaline irises were getting duller by the day. The tails of her pitch-colored hair lightly brushed her hunched shoulders as she shook her head. She could use an hour in a Radiation Spring to add a bit of sparkle to her appearance. But sadly, the energy waves would do nothing to make her petite frame more plump and attractive.

As the anthem concluded, the front door chimed and a hooded figure came racing in. “Oh, good! I didn’t miss the announcement.” Sievly stood by Myx, tightening the collar of her jacket around her neck despite the humid air.

“Where did you go after school?” Kaefh inquired, squinting at her youngest foster child.

“Quiet a moment, mama,” Sievly replied, pointing at the broadcast. She pulled her blonde waves out of her buttoned-up white jacket. “I’m sure this is important.”

It was not the President that made the announcement; Naichom always preferred to send a political intern to speak to the press due to her “exceptionally hectic schedule.” This particular intern was a young man in his late-teens, just a bit older than Myx.

My dear fellow Tarasi, on behalf of President Naichom, it’s most regrettable that as of this morning, we are at war with our neighbors, the Hathak.”

He continued prattling on about the details of the war, about how the inhabitants of the southern hemisphere profaned the uses of the sacred wisps. But Myx didn’t care to hear the history lesson; she remembered bits about the complicated relations with their former allies. It was about time for the Tarasi and Hathak to resume their feuding conflict.

All Myx could focus on was her sister’s smiling face. “What are you so happy about, Sievly?”

Unwrapping her jacket, Sievly showed off the charm pinned to her shirt lapel. It matched her green malachite eyes. “I’m going to be interning at the President’s Compound!” Sievly flipped her waist-length blonde waves over her other shoulder and pointed at the man on the broadcast. “I’m going to have that guy’s job starting tomorrow. I’ll be Naichom’s liaison to the press for the next year.” She let out a little huff. “Oh, if only I had been appointed sooner. Then I’d be the one announcing the War Declaration.”

Myx was happy for her foster sister, although she was actually jealous that a fifteen year old girl was going to have so much responsibility. Myx herself didn’t even know if she would get into the Institute, let alone qualify for an internship.

“I knew you’d amount to something when I took you in,” Kaefh beamed, embracing Sievly. “Just be wary of those politician men; you know how I worry about your virtue, dear.”

When Kaefh turned her back to count the money in the drawer, Sievly discreetly passed Myx an envelope. Grabbing the watering can, Myx headed to the store front under the pretense of caring for the plants.

Her fingers paused on the envelope’s seal. It contained the sigil of the Institute—a ten-pointed star within a thick ring. Myx’s future depended on if she had been accepted one of the government trade schools. But she couldn’t bring herself to rip the wax just yet. Living in ignorance a couple moments longer was preferable to learning that she didn’t make it in. Putting the letter in her back pocket, she leaned down and tilted the watering can over the red pauriz flowers.

Above her head, radiation wisps danced in the wind. Well, they didn’t actually dance—according to the scientists. But the way they moved about in the rays of Star Lyrwen reminded many of dancing.

Pressure on her shoulder tore Myx’s attention away from the colorful radiation threads. Bishing stood over her, a somber look on his face.

“You saw the broadcast, huh?” She straightened and wiped wet fingers on her half-apron. “I guess the war will create some much-needed jobs.” When he looked away, Myx knew there was something difficult he wanted to tell her. “What’s going on, Bish?”

He pulled a paper out of his jacket pocket and put it in her hands.

Myx unfolded it. “A recruitment flier? They just announced the war five minutes ago. How do you already have one?” She looked him over. Since Bishing couldn’t speak, Myx had gotten fairly skilled at reading his body language. “You’ve come to say goodbye?”

Bishing nodded slowly, still not looking directly at her.

“You’re just going to leave? Money’s tight, so you’re going to sign up to be a soldier? They might not even want you.” Myx regretted the words the moment they left her mouth.

His yellow garnet eyes become strangely cold. Dark blonde brows furrowed together, indicating that it had been a difficult decision for him to make.

Perhaps it had been something he had struggled with for years. The Tarasi went to war with the Hathak every 15-30 years, depending on the tempers of the President and Emperor. Joining the military was often on the minds of both civilizations, preparing for their next disagreement. But that didn’t mean that Bish had to squander his artistic talent dying in the war.

Myx suppressed a sigh. “Bishing, I know there aren’t many commercial painting jobs these days, but there are plenty other things you can do.” She cursed the wisdom in her own words. There she was, worried about her own career as much as her friend was. “But I suppose I can’t blame you for seizing your future when I’m too frightened about my own.” Myx handed him the still-sealed letter. “It’s from the Institute. Can you read it for me?”

Bishing tore the wax. Since his face didn’t brighten, Myx knew it wasn’t good news.

“Then it looks like I don’t have any prospects either.” She laughed to herself. “I don’t have any other opportunities here. And I don’t want to help Kaefh with the store forever. I wonder if I should come with you.”

He bit his bottom lip—his way of telling her that he didn’t approve of her decision but wouldn’t do anything to deter her. He affectionately tugged at one of her black hair tails.

“Now the problem is: how do we pull this off without being stopped by Kaefh?”

She began brainstorming, but it wasn’t exactly something she was talented at. After a moment of her mind wandering, she gaped as Bishing stepped into the store. Even with the door closed behind him, Kaefh’s displeased voice boomed through the glass. Myx took advantage of the distraction and climbed up the drain pipe to her bedroom.

 

 

Chapter 2

 

“She’s barely an adult, you perverted little pedophile!” Kaefh screeched at Bishing, her voice travelling through the floor of Myx’s bedroom. “I don’t like you hanging around here. She is much better off without—!” Her foster mother’s continued bellowing indistinctly.

Ignoring her Kaefh’s usual rant at Bishing, Myx skimmed the couple belongings she had, deciding which she should bring with her. She didn’t want to risk the military denying her a couple of her treasures. There were too many memories in the room—trinkets and gifts from the various foster sisters she’d received over the years. However, many of those involved painful remembrances; several of the girls had left suddenly, determined to find their own way in life rather than remain under Kaefh’s loving-but-restrictive rules. In the end, Myx merely stuffed her bag with clothes.

As she sat in her window sill, the door opened with a soft creak.

Sievly didn’t look surprised to see her half-hanging onto the small balcony. “Leaving, huh? I suppose I knew you would also abandon me one day.” Her voice had the right blend of disappointment, hope, and understanding. Not only was she gifted with physical beauty, but she was a talented manipulator; she’d be a great addition to the President’s staff. “Can you tell me what happened?”

“I didn’t get into the Institute,” Myx explained, flinging her legs back into the room.

Sievly joined her on the sill. Despite being a couple inches taller, Sievly put her head on Myx’s shoulder. “Oh, Myx! The Institute isn’t your only option. Kaefh was going to leave you the store when she passed away. It could’ve been a nice, comfortable life for you.”

Myx stroked Sievly’s long blonde curls. “It might have been, but I can’t bare the sniggers and stares of my peers.” She closed her eyes, imagining the hypothetical situation. “They’d come by for refreshments after Institute classes, talking passionately about their futures. That’s not the life I want. I must forge my own path—whatever that may be.” She paused as she recalled all the speeches given by foster sisters who had left Kaefh’s protection. No, Myx wasn’t like the others. They had been talented, but she had no skills to depend on. “I won’t know if I can care for myself unless I leave here.”

Sitting up, Sievly lost control of her emotions. Her green malachite eyes burned with indignation. “You can barely lift the pallets of uckaira bread! How do you expect to do well in the army?”

Not wanting to say anymore, Myx simply kissed her on the forehead.

“Wait.” Sievly grabbed a pouch of paper and pens. “Promise you’ll keep in touch?” She placed the writing materials in the pack with Myx’s clothes. “Good-bye, sweet sister. Please return to us someday.”

Nodding, Myx eased herself over the railing. Although she’d never had the rebellious nature of her former sisters, she had seen enough of them leave the house that way that she knew the best foot and hand holds. Kaefh used to threaten about sealing the balcony windows shut every time a girl left, but she was soon distracted by a new foster daughter that she forgot her promise and never got around to it.

Bishing was waiting for Myx in the back alley. His left cheek was red and slightly swollen, likely from Kaefh’s rage rant. Although the woman was only five feet tall and eighty pounds, she knew how to put force into her strikes. However, that didn’t appear to be what was bothering him. The pleading look in his eyes suggested that he wanted her to reconsider before they left.

Myx shook her head and handed him her satchel. Without a word, she took off down the alley.

Sievly’s warning rang through her ears. Myx had very little strength herself, as well as a lack of hand-eye coordination. What made her think that the military could use her? Like Bishing’s gaze had implied, it wasn’t too late for her to change her mind.

Looking at the shops they passed, Myx tried to picture herself in each occupation. Could she be a law clerk, organizing case files and scheduling appointments? Or would she do better working with young children and sharpening the skills of the next generation? Perhaps being a mail-carrier was her true calling? No, she couldn’t see herself in any of those vocations for the rest of her life.

An explosion shook careers from her head. Was the Hathak attacking already? Myx took cover inside a store front. Curiosity took over her mind and she sneaked a peak around the corner.

Across the road, a red-headed man stepped through the shards of a broken window. The man paused briefly to choose his path through the crowds of people. Bishing took off after the crazed, ash-covered ginger. Myx knew that Bish wouldn’t want her to follow, but she did so anyways, enjoying the emotional high she received at yet another act of rebellion.

The fleeing man nodded at every woman he passed, unaware of the scowls their gentlemen partners gave him. Myx didn’t understand why Bish didn’t just stop and call the police at the nearest broadcast, but she continued pursuing the men.

“Hello, beautiful,” the stranger shouted across the street at a young Institute woman. “Ah! Is that an agriculture charm Is see on your lapel?”

Bishing moved to intercept the man, but was stopped by an incoming transport.

The red-headed man moved closer to the pretty Institute worker. “So, do you enjoy planting things? Has a man ever planted anything inside you?”

He was face-down on the walk-way a moment later. The man went limp as Bish tried to raise him to his feet. Myx approached, slightly out of breath and confused as to what was happening.

“I know that pick-up lines have been over-used for centuries,” the stranger said, wriggling in Bishing’s grasp. “But I enjoy them, and so will my lady-love, when I find her.”

“Don’t hurt him, Bish,” Myx gasped as her companion raised a fist.

Bishing’s eyes widen as he saw Myx approach. He dropped the man and moved to keep her back. The stranger took advantage of the distraction and ran off again. After a couple yards, he looked over his shoulder. Something made him stop in his tracks before he returned to Bishing. He pushed past him and held out his hand.

“Hello, miss. I’m Rauno. Can I have the pleasure of knowing your name?”

Bishing knocked Rauno’s hand away and placed himself defensively in front of Myx as she introduced herself.

“Ah, Myx! What a beautiful name for a beautiful young lady.” Rauno brushed the grey ashes from his clothes, seemingly embarrassed at his appearance. “By any chance are you unattached?” Rauno looked Bishing up and down. “Please don’t tell me that this quiet fellow is your husband; he looks old enough to be your father.”

Myx put a calming hand on her friend’s shoulder. “This is Bishing. Sadly, he can’t speak. There was an accident that left him without a tongue. But, no, I’m not married; I just turned eighteen.”

“That’s the perfect age to marry, my dear,” Rauno replied with a respectful nod.

“I’m terribly sorry, but you seem a bit old for me as well,” Myx said as nicely as she could manage, hoping she didn’t offend him. “You’re what, in your mid 30’s?”

“Why yes, I’m getting a bit up there in age.” Rauno smiled down at her, his emerald green eyes sparkling as though he had just emerged from a Radiation Spring. “But that’s all the more reason for me to find a bride. Any chance you have an older sister or young aunt that is in need of a husband?” Rauno turned his attention to Bishing. He didn’t seem at all upset that he had recently been tackled by the quiet man. “Or perhaps you know someone that you can send my way?”

Changing the subject, Myx asked, “So what caused the explosion?”

“I was brewing a love potion and I grabbed the wrong oil.” Pulling open his jacket, Rauno showed her the dozens of vials sewed into the lining. He removed a plastic pack of deep blue liquid and squeezed it onto a burn across his hand. “I keep doing that—making mistakes. Oh, well. I left the landlord money to cover the renovation expenses, if that’s what your friend is concerned about.”

Bishing’s face didn’t change as he continued to stare down the ash-covered man.

Rauno shrugged and smiled. “It’s time to start over. I think I’ll get the potion right next time.”

“Speaking of starting over, that’s what Bishing and I are doing.” Myx removed the recruitment flier from her pocket and held it up to Rauno. “We are joining the army—today actually. Would you like to join us? I’m sure there will be plenty of eligible young ladies in the military that you can ask to marry you.”

Rauno was quiet as he examined the flier. “I bet the police will be after me because of the explosion. They gave me a stern warning after the last incident. I guess I broke my promise and owe them a week in a prison cell. That’s a good enough reason to seek sanctuary with the army.” He chuckled softly to himself before growing serious. “But first I need to get cleaned up. My future bride would never fall in love with me if she saw me in these scorched clothes.” Rauno had begun to walk away, but paused before asking, “May I treat you to the Radiation Spring, Myx?”

It had been years since she had gone to one, so of course she was interested. As she accepted his offer, she hoped the energy waves would give her enough stamina to follow through with her resolution to join the Tarasi military.

 

 

Chapter 3

 

Colored waves of energy flitted out of the walls of Radiation Spring. Some floated to the sky, while others sunk back into the ground from whence they came. Others were absorbed by the poor wretches camped out in front of the door that were unable to afford admittance.

“That is the most attractive group of vagabonds I’ve ever seen,” Myx whispered to Bishing. She smiled nervously at the homeless people when they noticed her staring.

Bishing made a gesture with his hands that suggested that she pay closer attention to their situation. He didn’t seem to care for Rauno. However, he didn’t object when the seared man offered to pay for both of their entrances to the Radiation Spring. Still Bish kept a close watch on their new “friend.”

As they approached the Spring, Rauno chatted excitedly about the various effects of each shade. “Scientists have tried to identify which colors of the spectrum have what effect, but first they need to discern how to separate the bands. Personally, I think most in the field only study radiation so that they can sit in it all day and enjoy the rejuvenation. They—” He trailed off as he eyed a pair of attractive women in sleek robes.

After smack to the back of the head, Rauno continued prattling on about the theories of his former Institute colleagues. He didn’t seem to hold a grudge against Bishing for the repeated physical assaults.

Polite as always, Bishing held the door open for Myx. Rauno pushed past her, his mouth hanging open as he surveyed the lady attendants inside. Bishing’s scowl lessened when the first wave of wisps hit him. Myx put a comforting hand on Bish’s arm and gestured towards their red-headed host.

She tried to pay attention while Rauno explained his research, but she didn’t have enough scientific background knowledge to follow his reasoning. The best she could understand was that many believed that the radiation was triggering an evolutionary response in their DNA. Rauno use to study the differences between people’s genes now and when their ancestors had settled the planet. He was skimpy on the details of why he left the Institute, but Myx suspected that it might have been due to some kind of sexual harassment issue.

“Radiation study,” Rauno continued, directing them to a different line, “was one of the great dividers between the Tarasi and the Hathak, back in the days of early colonization. The First Hathak Empress worked to harness the power of the wisps to make humans stronger, while the Tarasi President wished to find ways to make his people’s life easier and to rejuvenate from the stresses of everyday life. As to their current intentions, I have no idea. It’s been a couple years since I’ve been affiliated with the Institute.”

A group of patrons were led out of the lobby, deeper into the Spring. With the room now more empty, Myx was able to get a back look at building’s interior. Radiation shot out of vents in the floor, the colored energy fanning out as though it was water spewing from a fountain. The wisps and threads then flitted through the crowds of patrons and attendants.

As Myx was admiring the mottled discoloration on the brick walls, a group of attendants approached and began fussing over her appearance.

“See these split ends? Her hair looks like the back end of my rinchys.”

“And those jagged nails! You’d think that she dug ditches for a living.”

“Ah, those poor eyes; they’ve almost reverted back to plain, mud brown.”

They murmured to each other about how they’d never seen such a wretched-looking young woman and that she needed to be put in the epicenter of the Spring. Two of the women linked arms with her and pulled her into a tunnel while the other walked behind them, picking at Myx’s pitch-black hair tails. Myx did her best to remain pleasant as the strangers continued commenting on how horrible her appearance was.

“Thank you for your concern,” she squeaked, not use to so much attention. “I hope the radiation makes me as lovely as all of you.”

The attendants feigned modesty.

“Oh, it’s all due to the radiation!”

“I’m usually such a mess.”

“You can be even lovelier than us if you could come to the Spring every day!”

The two clutching Myx’s arms stopped and let go of her. They turned and faced the third girl. Envy flashed in their eyes.

“What?” the last girl asked, looking confused. “Is that not true?”

Myx didn’t understand what was happening, but a fight broke out among the three attendants. The each accused the others of people ugly, declaring herself to be the most beautiful of them all. With their attention off her, Myx ducked out of sight and entered the nearest alcove.

Warm, moist air surrounded Myx as she walked down a long, twisting corridor. The tunnel ended at the edge of a small stream. Barrels of clean towels sat to the side of the water, as well as long benches covered in lidded boxes. Radiation mingled with the water, causing the currents to look like rainbows. Myx stripped down to her smallclothes and waded in.

A woman’s head emerged through the river’s surface at the other end of the stream. She barely glanced at Myx with purple tanzanite eyes as she moved to a towel barrel. Myx couldn’t help but stare at all six feet of the towering woman. Radiated water dripped from her tanned, muscular form. She hastily arranged her dark brown hair into a long, simple braid over her shoulder.

“Here are your clothes, Alycee,” a perky attendant said to the woman, holding out a lidded box.

Alycee closed the space between her and the girl. She grabbed the attendant by the jaw with her thumb and index finger, causing the girl to drop the box onto the damp ground. “You tell anyone else my name and yours won’t be relevant anymore. Do you understand?”

The attendant nodded, tears welling in her terrified, red ruby eyes. The girl fled the cave the moment Alycee released her.

“That was rude,” Myx commented, not sure why she felt compelled to scold a stranger. She tugged the ties off her hair tails and placed the bands around her wrist. “Don’t bother threatening me. I got the message loud and clear: you don’t want people knowing your name. I promise not to tell anyone.”

Collecting her clothes box, Alycee didn’t take her stark purple irises off Myx. The woman dressed cautiously.

“Not that it matters, but I probably won’t be alive long,” Myx mused as she walked further into the radiation-infused water. She used her fingers to get out the tangles of her pitch-colored hair. “My friends and I are joining the army. We very well might die the first battle we are in.”

Alycee paused with her shirt halfway on and asked, “Then why go?”

Myx shrugged, fixing her gaze on the cracks in the rock floor. Wisps spurt out gently before mingling with the other threads of energy. “I suppose because I’d rather die having an adventure than live a boring, long life.” She dunked her head under the stream’s warm surface. When Myx came back up, Alycee stood at the edge of the water.

“Hmm. That’s an interesting choice. I wouldn’t have pegged you as a soldier.” Alycee looked her up and down. “It’ll take a bit of work for you to become combat-ready.”

“I’m not scared of hard work,” Myx corrected, not sure why she felt the need to defend herself to the woman. She twisted the water out of her black hair, noting that it felt a little silkier than it had before. “My foster mother has made me do my fair share of it.”

Alycee held out a towel for her. “Still, I think I should come with you—to make sure that you don’t tell people who I am.”

Myx didn’t understand what that had to do with anything. Not moving from the stream, she tried to work out why Alycee would feel the need to come with her. Myx didn’t benefit from revealing the woman’s identity. Still, she wondered if Alycee was only agreeing to come with her because she was lonely and in need of some friendship. These days, companionship was difficult to find and people tended to hold close to the few kind fellows they met.

She lethargically waded out of the water. Accepting the towel from Alycee, Myx said, “I’d be happy if you joined me.”

When both women finished dressing, they headed back to the lobby. The trio of attendants was being restrained as their bloodied finger nails furiously extended towards the others. Alycee gave them a stern look and the settled enough to let them pass by peacefully.

Rauno and Bishing lounged on a pair of couched tucked to the side. The scientist seemed to be in the middle of a lecture on the different affects of wisps during intercourse, while Bish scanned the patrons. Bishing darted off his resting place and charged towards Myx and Alycess the moment he laid eyes on them.

Myx held up a hand in greeting. “I made another new friend, Bish. What a great day this is turning out to be. Well, I suppose it’s not all great—you know, the War Declaration and all. But—”

Alycee held forward an arm. “Greetings, gentlemen. My name is Alycee. I wish to join this young woman in her quest to become a soldier. If you don’t like it, that’s unfortunate, but I won’t change my mind.” When they didn’t protest, she added, “I hope you don’t go around spewing my name around; I’d like to remain as unknown as possible.”

Bishing’s face tightened as he looked the woman over. Myx couldn’t understand his lack of civility. If anything, he should be grateful that they had added new friends to their group; there were more people to keep an eye on and protect her. She made a mental note to talk him about it at another time. “Well we should probably get going,” Myx said, hoping to diffuse the tension. But she stopped as she reached the main lobby.

Kaefh walked through the glass doors of the Radiation Spring. “There you are!” her foster mother shouted, moving through the gathered attendants. Her white top knot was barely visible above the crowd’s shoulders. “What are you doing running away from home with this monster? Come here this instant!”

Myx turned to her newest companion. “Any chance you have a transport?”

Alycee nodded, heading to a side exit. “Down the street.”

Kaefh ran to the nearest attendant. “Help! That man is stealing my daughter!”

Bishing grabbed Myx’s hand and hauled her along after Alycee and Rauno. They didn’t make it far before sirens rang in the near distance.