Cass buried her face in Chely’s soft mane as the dhakyr sped towards the looming forest and whatever lay beyond. Chely hadn’t been pleased about being forced from her nice warm stable stall, but Cass offered a few sweetcrisp apples and promised more. She was also sure Chely could see the panic in her eyes so hadn’t argued as hard as she could have. After all, Cass had had the foresight to purchase food for both of them so they wouldn’t have to stop for a couple of days.
“You said you could run like the wind,” Cass said, her voice muffled by the mane and the air rushing around them, but Chely still heard her.
With your help, I can.
“How can I help you? I don’t know how to give you more legs.”
Chely laughed. With your magic, my friend. You’re the Star Queen. They say you can do anything.
Cass’s grip on Chely’s mane tightened, fear threatening to strangle her heart. “I don’t know how to use my magic. Everything I’ve done has been by accident.”
I will help you.
Cass squeezed her eyes shut. As the warm night wind rushed around her, she realized her heart was beating so quickly and her breath was coming so rapidly that she was in danger of hyperventilating. Magic wasn’t unfamiliar to her; it had brought her to Sairon and taken her from the palace, but she had never knowingly used it.
But what scares you, my friend? Why do we run? Chely’s voice was warm and full of concern, but didn’t know Cass was more afraid of using magic.
“When we reach the forest, I’ll tell you. What do I do?”
Close your eyes. Focus only on the wind around us. Feel it, smell it, hear it. Air is not your strength , so you must concentrate on only the air. Draw it into your lungs.
The beating of her heart was strong in her ears, but she forced herself to even out her breathing, to let the sound of the wind and her breath drown out the sound of her heart. Slowly, the quick, steady beat began to fade and she only heard her breathing. It was loud in her ears. She no longer felt the earth with every hoof that touched down. Instead, it was as though the earth was falling away from them and the only sound that existed was the sound of her breathing.
Yes, keep going, came Chely’s encouraging voice in her head, a thread of excitement evident.
Cass nervously followed Chely’s instructions, expecting to fail at any moment. As everything but the sensation of air faded away, she breathed in, drawing the rushing wind into her lungs. It threatened to choke her, but Chely began to count and Cass quickly aligned her breath, counting along.
One long blow, my lady.
Cass formed her lips into a small O and gently blew out. Then she flattened herself against Chely as the dhakyr suddenly let out an excited whinny and seemed to jump forward, her hooves seeming to no longer touch the ground. It was almost like riding the wind, but with a warm, living being beneath her, supporting her, carrying her.
Cass tried to open her eyes to slits to see how fast they were going, but the rushing wind was too much. Instead, she pressed her face to Chely’s neck and let the wind race through her hair, wishing she’d kept it up in a braid.
After what felt like only a few minutes, Chely instructed her to breathe in deeply. Cass did so, and then coughed violently at how quickly the air rushed in. But the wind died down around them and Cass felt Chely begin to slow as she tried to hack up a lung.
The sound of crunching leaves drew Cass’s attention. Slowly, she lifted her head to look around. Instead of stars and open plains, a dense forest surrounding the dirt road filled her vision. Twisted branches reached out to their neighbors overhead and leaves dripped down. The sound of a few skittering forest creatures met her ears, but none raced across their path.
Cass inhaled deeply, centering herself in the surrounding nature, feeling the firmness of the earth under the dhakyr’s hooves. Each step was like a boom in her heart, but it lent her strength and calmed her body, urging the tension to leave her. She straightened and her fingers unwound from Chely’s mane. The dhakyr tossed her head and the sensation of feeling free rushed through Cass’s mind. It’s was Cass’s turn to chuckle at her companion as she gently brushed through the soft hairs with her fingers.
Now, why the rush?
Cass swallowed hard. “I’m the Star Queen.”
Yes, I know.
Cass grimaced. Chely had said that before, but her preoccupation with having to willingly use magic had distracted her. Now, she was curious, and a little distraught.
“But how do you know?” Cass asked, frowning deeply as they went further into the forest.
To Cass’s annoyance, the dhakyr only hummed in her head.
Cass sighed, but continued. “I wasn’t raised here. I knew nothing about Sairon, magic, the Star Queen…nothing. I was an ordinary college student studying psychology. But then my friends and I were whisked away and dropped here,” she said, a hint of bitterness in her voice. “I was told the fate of the world rests in my hands. I don’t know, Chely. What would you have done?”
The dhakyr didn’t answer, didn’t even send an emotion or annoyed sound through her head. Cass’s cheek twitched, but she was slowly learning to not expect anything from her companions unless it suited her.
Cass sighed. “I don’t run away. I usually hide. But I got scared. I panicked. And then I found myself standing in Baiater City. I took it as a sign and just left.”
Will you go back?
Cass hesitated. there was no accusation in Chely’s voice; only the soft question and genuine curiosity. “I don’t know.”
Did something in the town spook you?
“I met a minstrel. He’s headed for Baiater City tomorrow and hopes the palace will give him entrance. If he sees my twin sister, he might mention me and the palace will send out guards to retrieve me. I’m not ready to go back.”
When you are, I will take you back myself.
Cass studied the dhakyr’s head as it bobbed with every step. “Will you stay with me?”
My lady, I am your humble servant. It has always been my destiny to serve the Star Queen. That is why I never left Marianora and Svald. I knew you were bound to pass through the village and I needed to be ready.
Cass smiled. Chely promised to be anything but an easy companion to get along with, but she was proving to be loyal and helpful. Cass couldn’t have asked for better. It would be an interesting journey to Raven Cliff and Time, but nothing about it so far hadn’t been interesting.
I sense water on you.
Cass’s eyebrows rose. “Water?”
Yes. A drop perhaps?
Cass frowned. She hadn’t showered since arriving in Sairon and there hadn’t been any rain. She carried a canteen of water in her bag, but it wasn’t on her. Curious, she touched her face, wondering if there was a drop on her from the last time she had drunk.
Her fingers brushed a delicate chain around her neck and she smiled, pulling it out. For three years, she’d worn the necklace Jonathan had given her when they had graduated from high school. It was a small teardrop bottle filled with a single raindrop he’d spent all winter trying to collect.
She palmed the teardrop, a soft smile on her face. “Jonathan gave me a raindrop when we graduated from high school. He spent all winter trying to catch it in this tiny little container.”
This Jonathan sounds special.
Sadness filled her heart and her eyes turned down to study the drop. “He is,” she said softly. “He’s always been there for me.”
And you left him?
“I didn’t mean to,” Cass whispered. “What was I supposed to do? Go back to the palace and ask him to come with me?”
Cass felt Chely sigh in her head before the dhakyr said, I suppose not. I hope you can be reunited with him and this twin of yours one day.
Cass squeezed the teardrop and then tucked it back under her dress without answering.