Jonathan woke suddenly, thrashing his covers off and nearly falling the three feet to the carpeted floor. Heart pounding, he pushed the plush comforter and silken sheets from his body with shaking hands. Taking a deep breath of the ocean air wafting in through the open window, he pushed himself from the bed and silently walked over to it. His T-shirt was drenched in sweat, so the cool night breeze made him shiver.
He didn’t know what had startled him out of sleep, but he had a terrible feeling Cass was in danger. His hands gripped the window frame and he leaned out slightly, his eyes focused on the waves glittering in the silver moonlight.
“Where is she?” he whispered. “Is she okay?”
The waves only crashed on the shore in response.
Jonathan sighed and started to pull himself back in when a bobbing light on the shore drew his attention. He narrowed his eyes and thought he saw a bit of ginger hair in the light the orb was casting.
His heart quickened. Cass?
A part of him screamed it was just Allison going on a midnight stroll, but another part whispered it could be her.
Hurriedly, he threw on a shirt, pants, and shoes before rushing from his rooms. He had no idea how to get to the beach and there were few servants wandering the halls, but the ocean seemed to be calling to him. He followed the sea’s siren call, letting it guide his steps. He dashed down staircases and hallways until he reached a small wooden door, easily missed.
He pushed the door open and almost tumbled out onto the cold sand, surprised at how easily it opened. Strong hands grabbed him and kept him upright. Startled, Jonathan looked up into the face of a middle-aged guard, his face stony, but his eyes concerned.
“Careful, young man,” the guard said, his voice deep and powerful enough to rise above the sound of the waves. “Are you joining the princess on her nighttime stroll?”
Jonathan’s heart sank as he realized he had seen Allison. But why was Allison up in the middle of the night?
He pulled himself from the guard’s grasp. “Yes. I see her. Thank you.”
Quickly, he turned away and headed across the sand towards the bobbing light. It was coming towards him, so he hurried to meet up with it.
Allison had a long crimson cloak wrapped around her, her hair spilling across the hood nestled at the base of her neck. The bobbing light wasn’t an orb, but a merrily flickering flame that hovered about a foot in front of her, lighting her way.
“Jonathan,” she said, surprise in her voice. “What are you doing here?”
“I thought Cass had come back. What are you doing up in the middle of the night?”
Allison looked away from him, towards the ocean and the looming black dome. “I had a feeling my sister was in danger and it woke me up. After a few minutes, it passed, but now I can’t sleep.”
“I woke up for the same reason,” Jonathan said. His hands balled into fists. “We need to find her. She could be in danger.”
“I agree,” Allison said softly, “but Landick already explained why we can’t right now, and I agree.”
“Aren’t you worried?” Jonathan demanded, anger coloring his words.
She snapped her head back to him, her eyes furious in the firelight. “She’s my sister. Of course I’m worried. But I also know Cass better than you do. She can take care of herself. Besides, she simply vanished. She ran away for a reason. She doesn’t want to be followed or found.”
Her words struck a chord. His heart hurting, he sank down to the sand, his eyes following the waves back out to sea. Above him, Allison sighed and then settled herself next to him.
“I didn’t mean to sound harsh, Jonathan, but you know it’s true. Look, I have a feeling she’s in danger, too, but, without knowing where she went, going out to look for her will be fruitless.”
“Can we do anything?” He hated how pitiful he sounded.
“We can tell Landick. And we know she has magic, powerful magic. She lacks control, so it will probably get away from her. Maybe she’ll do something and someone will report it.”
Jonathan nodded. “I’d feel better if I was the one out looking for her.”
“You’re not alone,” Allison assured him.
“By the way, what’s with this light?”
Allison shrugged. “I don’t know. It was there when I woke up and won’t go away.”
Jonathan reached out to touch it, but it bobbed out of reach. The flame crackled and flared up for a moment before moving closer to Allison.
She grinned at him. “If I have fire magic and you have water magic, the flame probably doesn’t like you.”
Jonathan lowered his hand. “You’re probably right. This magic thing is weird.”
“This whole thing feels like a bad dream.” She turned to him. “I know you love my sister, but I need to know you’ll stand with me when I have to masquerade as her.”
“Anything for Cass,” he whispered fervently.
Allison nodded. “Good. Landick said he’s expecting Kassia from Cinalon and Lisette from Kai-Na-Lin in a few days. And tomorrow they’re opening the palace to minstrels to entertain the court.” She turned to pin him with her blue eyes. “I’ll be tested as Cass and will need you, Arnold, and Daniel.”
Jonathan nodded solemnly. “Don’t worry, Allison. When the time comes, you will be Cass to all of us.”
“And don’t you worry, Jonathan. I’ll talk to Landick about monitoring for strange magical activity. I’m sure it won’t be long before she unleashes the power of the Star Queen.”
Silent, Jonathan nodded. He hoped she was right.
Chely was true to her word. By the time Cass opened her eyes, it was mid-morning and the sun was shining down on them. Surprised, she sat up and turned around to see a small town in the distance. Looking around them, she saw hills sloping to their left and open plains dotted with copses of large, shady trees sporting blue or purple blossoms to their right. The dirt road was wide and appeared well-traveled, though the foot and wheeled traffic was light at the moment.
“Chely?” Cass asked, uncertainty evident in her voice.
Yes, my lady?
“I thought we were going to stop in the town.”
We were, but I sensed fear in you, so kept going.
“Aren’t you tired?”
Yes, my lady.
Cass pointed to the nearest copse, the trees exploding with purple flowers. “Stop there. We can rest behind the trees.”
Are you sure, my lady? I can keep going.
Cass could hear the exhaustion in her friend’s voice. Though she wanted to press on, she knew they also had to rest and eat.
Chely bobbed her head and veered off the road towards the trees.
The shade of the trees was cool and the grass soft and welcoming. With a soft sigh, Chely settled herself down and tucked her head against her shoulder while Cass sat beside her, facing the road. Cass was surprised a few minutes later when Chely started snoring. She had to quickly suppress her giggle when the dhakyr shifted.
While the dhakyr slept, Cass ate a chunk of bread and some hard cheese. The gold tinged crimson sweetcrisp apples looked appetizing, but there were only five and she decided Chely really did deserve them.
She wasn’t sure how long Chely would need to sleep for, so took the opportunity to work the knots out of her hair and weave it back into a braid. That would be the last time she left her hair down, at least until they reached Dainadala and she could get someone to do something with it.
As the morning wore on and none of the travelers passing by warranted any attention, Cass found herself with nothing to do but think. Frowning, she realized that was the last thing she wanted to do. Thinking would just leave her feeling guilty. And guilt, she was quickly learning, was a heavy burden.
Over her head, she heard a few birds calling to each other as they bounced from branch to branch. A gentle breeze ruffled the long grass and dark green leaves, shaking a few lilac petals to the ground around her. The sun cast dancing shadows and Chely’s coat gleamed when the light struck it.
Sighing, Cass unscrewed the cap of the canteen and took a sip. Then she frowned at the half full container, a thought wriggling into her head.
She was the Star Queen and was supposedly the bearer of incredible powers. Could she fill the canteen with water? For that matter, could she conjure food and more clean clothes?
The thought made her giddy, and it would give her something to do while Chely snored.
She set the canteen down between her knees and stared at it. She imagined water and then focused on imagining water filling the canteen. She felt a tug deep in the ground and was startled when water began seeping up from the ground, seemingly up through the grass. She stood quickly and backed away from the small pond that was still forming.
The water touched Chely and it startled her awake. The dhakyr woke with a jerk and sprang up as her dry bed was now filled with crystal clear water. She quickly swung her head in Cass’s direction, accusation clear in her eyes.
Cass flung her hands up. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to flood the place.” She pointed to the small pond. “But now we have fresh water.”
Chely was not amused. She flicked her tail at Cass and then walked to another tree to settle under. Cass sighed and looked down at the water. It was no longer seeping out of the ground, so she crouched at the edge and cupped her hands. After filling her palms with the cool water, she tentatively drew her hands to her face and took a sip. It slid down her throat, cool and refreshing. It tasted like ordinary water, which didn’t say much about the taste of water, but it was clean and cool. Happy, she filled the canteen and then went to settle beside Chely.
Noon came and went and Cass nibbled on a few berries and a chunk of cheese. She tried conjuring food, but all she did was get the food she did have to glide out of her bag and line up before her.
It was close to mid-afternoon when a noise on the road drew her attention. An ornate carriage rattled by, the door bearing the symbol of two crossed wands. She watched it quickly roll by with interest, but the window on the door was covered and no one peeked out. Though she was startled to see there was no driver; just two pure white dhakyrs racing down the road.
The noise also woke Chely. This time, the dhakyr stretched out her neck and legs and rose at her leisure. She glanced at the carriage and flicked her tail.
“It seems to be in a hurry,” Cass commented, coming to stand beside the dhakyr. “There were two crossed wands painted on the door and no driver. Do you know where it came from?”
Cass gently stroked Chely’s neck so they could communicate, though, for long moments, the dhakyr only stared after the quickly vanishing carriage.
Two crossed wands is the symbol of Cinalon. I wonder what important business brings the sorceress to Arinaya.
Cinalon is overseen by Sorceress Kassia. She’s a very powerful mage. Well, hop on, my friend. We should push on.
Cass nodded in agreement and pulled herself up.
And if you plan on practicing your magic again, kindly let me know beforehand.
Cass grinned as she turned to look back at the pool. “That sounds fair.”
Chely flicked her tail. Now who sounds like she’s going to be an interesting traveling companion?
Cass laughed as Chely began to race down the road, away from the carriage.