Chapter 18



he next two days were quiet, relaxing, and—as much as he hated to admit it—unbearably boring. Landon had promised himself that he would have a mental breakdown if he had to do anything other than eat, sleep, and breathe, but after almost forty-eight hours of nothing but sun, sand, and heat, even he started to feel a little restless. Peace wouldn't last forever, and it most definitely would not keep you entertained. He managed to sleep through more than half of that time, trying to catch up to at least what the medic classified as "just enough to get by." The soldiers learned not to wake him up unless they absolutely had to. Surprisingly, they didn't comment much at all on his sleeping habits. In fact, what Landon had thought they would sneer at only heightened their respect for him. The fact that he'd need that extra sleep was proof to them that he was a man that dedicated his life to others. To them, excessive sleep was a sign of previous heroic deeds. That was fine with him.

            Landon swayed tiredly on his camel, staring absently at the mountains that rose up in the distance. He hadn't seen the Singing Mountains since he left Tiltook, and the memories were no longer painful, but comforting. He knew what he needed to do, and there was no use regretting the past. He just hoped Uncle Ben was doing okay without him. Hopefully James had found his way back.

            He'd been staring at the mountains since the moment they appeared into his vision, anticipation growing in every step. If he hadn't been fixed on the snowy peaks he would have fallen asleep hours ago. He'd already gone to bed early that night, slept in late that day, and taken a catnap or two after that, but the nagging drowsiness still pulled at his eyelids. He felt better than yesterday, though. It wouldn't be much longer until he slept it all off.

            He was eager to get out of the blazing sun. Tiltook had very hot summers, and very cold winters, but he wasn't use to constant exposure in such intense heat. He was already sunburned enough. The snow was beckoning to him, tempting him to sprint the next few hours and roll unprotected in the cold. The latter he was willing to do, but sprint in the desert sun? He didn't think so.

            "You look anxious," Chelsea observed with a small smile, reining her camel closer to his. "Excited to get out of this heat?"

            "Goodness gracious, yes!" he exclaimed immediately. "I can see why this place is so desolate. You'd have to be insane to live out here." Most of all, he missed climbing trees. There was nowhere to go in this barren wasteland to think. There was plenty of solitude, though.

            She chuckled, her blue eyes sparkling. He hadn't had a chance to talk to her lately, and he'd missed their lighthearted conversations. "Agreed." She studied him for a moment. "How do you do it?"

            "Do what?"

            "Juggle the weight of the world and manage to stay sane," she expanded, leaning slightly toward him with honest interest. Her blonde curls tumbled over her shoulders, framing her beautiful face. "Not to mention carry the weight of expectation and responsibility on your shoulders. And I thought being a princess is hard."

            "Sleep," he answered. "Lots of sleep." She laughed even though she knew he was totally serious.

            "You do look a little more alert today. Maybe all that sleep is finally paying off."

            He ran his fingers through his hair in attempt to stifle the yawn he felt coming on. "I hope so. It wouldn't do well to fall asleep at the Palace's doorstep. I don't know how strict they are, but I'm pretty sure it wouldn't bode well with anyone, greeting them in the least respectable way possible. I must admit, I've been wondering what it's going to be like at the Palace."

            "I hope by 'wondering' you don't mean 'worrying,'" she said skeptically, raising an eyebrow as if to challenge him to confirm her suspicion. "I won't have you stressing about things you can't change." He skirted the borderline of truth in attempt to appease her. Sure, he'd been thinking about it, but he didn't think he'd quite been worrying about it. Had he?

            "I haven't lost any sleep over it if that's what you mean," he replied defensively.

            "Uh-huh. If that's not what it is, then what have you been stressing about? Don't tell me there's nothing, because you're always worrying about something." He was about to protest—he wasn't always in mental distress!—but she cut him off. "You know it's true."

            He sighed in defeat. "Now I'm worrying that you know me too well."

            She leaned over to kiss him on the cheek. "Well, I'm worried that I love you so much that I will worry too much about what you worry about too much."


            "Never mind." She didn't seem at all offended that he didn't quite understand. In fact, she seemed rather amused. "Women's minds are much too complicated for men to comprehend."

            "Amen to that!" he exclaimed, remembering Lydia and her posse of gibbering girls. Sometimes females just didn't make any sense. "You know, you're very good at this."

            "At what?"

            "Distracting me. I'd probably go insane without you." It was true. She managed to make him see the silver lining on even the darkest of storm clouds.

            "You flatter me," she said, her cheeks turning a little pink.

            "Only because you deserve it. And it's true," he responded matter-of-factly.

            Stefan leaned toward them from his saddle, a small smirk on his face. "Tell me, how did you two love birds come to find each other? I'm curious how the forces of fate work."

            "Well," Chelsea began in a businesslike tone. "I was strolling through the forest one day and I happened to witness Landon falling from heaven...."

            Stefan's eyebrows rose, a good-natured smile showing his amusement. Chelsea, however, cleverly remained placid. Only the playful look in her eyes gave her away.

            "I fell out of a tree," Landon clarified. Mark let out an unnecessary snort of laughter.

            "....and landed in a pool of water," she continued, unfazed. "I then, seeing that he was delayed in returning to the surface, jumped into the water and dragged him onto the bank, where we shared our first kiss...."

            "As I remember it," Landon interjected, "you performed mouth-to-mouth on me to save my life."

            She swatted him teasingly on the arm. "You're ruining the story! Anyways, I, being terribly embarrassed, ran away. We later met at the circus...."

            "And you told me to go away several times." That earned a laugh from the audience.

            "....and I accompanied him home.  We learned that we were headed in the same direction, so he decided to join me...."

            "You make it sound as if I had a choice."

            "Wait," Stefan interrupted. "You just told him who you were right off the bat?"

            "No," Mark answered for them. "In fact, they knew nothing about each other until right before we arrived at Aroth. And after their first kiss!"

            "You're one to talk, Mark," Landon replied affably. "You and Jeaine didn't waste any time before your first kiss."

            He just shrugged. "We're not wasteful people."   

            They spent the next few hours chatting and storytelling and laughing. For the first time in a long while, he forgot about his troubles and everything was perfect as long as he had his friends around him.


Landon stood at the foot of the mountains, staring up at the fog that hid the snowy peaks. He could already feel the chill of the mountain breeze, and for the first time in two days he felt a surge of excitement. Though Tiltook was hundreds of miles away, he felt like he was home. He'd actually never been in the mountains before then due to the fear of Saldians. How silly that seemed now.

            He remembered the time when he'd run away as a boy. His ambition was to live only on what nature provided, become one with the wild, and never have to do chores again. He'd lasted a full week before Uncle Ben found him sleeping in one of his favorite climbing trees. Even then it had taken him hours to be coaxed down with the promise of something sweet and sugary.

            His neck craned up to admire the view, he noted with satisfaction that trees were abundant here. How nice it was to see the evergreens reaching into the sky, just asking to be climbed. He could barely contain his excitement. He was almost there!

            "Well, we'd better get a move on!" Stefan yelled, his voice competing against the soldier's chatter. The buzz of excitement grew. Landon wasn't the only one anxious to leave the desert.

            They let the camels run free, unable to think of anything else to do with them. They lead the procession on foot into the mountain pass. Coats were unpacked and blankets appeared as soon as the mountain whether kicked in. They were traveling on a fading footpath that lead through a valley between two towering mountains. Everywhere he looked were walls of earth rising ominously into the sky, fading into mist as they continued to reach. A few wildflowers grew on the sides of the path, adding to the beauty that surrounded him. The air was crisp and clear, and Landon couldn't get enough of it. The Singing Mountains were even more amazing up close. He sent a warm gust of wind through the small army, deliberately keeping it small to preserve his energy. The necessity to conserve didn't dampen his spirits in the slightest, though.

            It was a long and rather tedious journey through the pass. Occasionally they would have to climb over icy rock piles or cross small but freezing streams. He could see his breath in the air as the temperature gradually dropped. Sometimes they would travel through narrow valleys, keeping their voices down so as not to start an avalanche. Looking up at the peaks, he could see the giant piles of snow sitting precariously atop the peaks. One word spoken too loudly could send the whole thing tumbling.

            After a long day of ice, they finally set up camp in a small valley wedged in-between three mountains. He estimated that they had about a day or less left of travel. He was beginning to feel nervous. What would it be like at the Palace?

            While the others laid out their bedrolls, he wandered off by himself. Nobody said anything—they had gotten used to his strange routines.

            He picked a tall, sturdy looking tree with plenty of branches and started to climb. It felt so good to be up high again. The view, the rush, and—last but most definitely not least—the wind. The breeze had an icy bite, but he forgot about the cold and smiled at the chill ran through him. He felt more at home than had in what seemed like forever. It wasn't long before he fell into a deep sleep, high in the branches of an evergreen tree.



            He woke with a start, rolling over from his uncomfortable sleeping place. He realized just a little too late that there was nothing to roll onto.

            His instincts kicked in and the air quickly pushed him back up before he could even start to fall. Unfortunately, the reaction was so quick he didn't have time to soften his landing. The wind slammed him straight up into a branch and then dropped him onto another limb below. He laid there for a moment, groaning and rubbing his head. He really needed to learn to control his power a little better.

            "Landon!" the voice called again. He looked down to see Lee and Raina wandering about—searching for him, no doubt. Missy stalked grudgingly by their side. He rolled over to get a better look, and a few needles shook loose. The gargantuan feline growled and prowled over to his tree, raking her claws on the bark. He started to have second thoughts about coming down if she was waiting for him.

            Raina and Lee soon got the message and looked up. "Landon?" Lee called, searching with a hand over his eyes to block out the weak sunlight.

            "Here," he shouted back, making himself a little more visible. They saw him and even from all the way up in the tree he could see their eyes widen. Just to play it up, he took a dangerous step out into the air, hoping he remembered what he had done at the base. The air held him up, pushing gently in all the right places to keep him afloat. It was somewhat easier when he wasn't carrying anyone with him, but that didn't mean it wasn't difficult. Nevertheless, he took another step. Raina gasped and her hand quickly found Lee's. Lee was even more surprised by this than Landon's attempt to show off, but he accepted her hand with a small smile. Landon laughed and slowly lowered himself down. It was like he was flying, but with a lot more limitations. He could get used to this.

            As soon as he touched the floor he felt momentarily exhausted, but refreshed all the same. He walked back to camp with them, chatting amiably and kicking rocks as he walked. He hadn't felt this good in ages. With his luck, it wasn't going to last long. Might as well enjoy nature before it tries to kill you.

            It was early in the morning, but everyone was already packing up for travel. Many of the soldiers looked like they'd had a rough night. Landon hadn't realized how cold and sore he was until he entered camp. Another day of travel! How exciting.

            For the next few hours he walked mostly in silence, listening to Mark tease Jeaine. Chelsea was talking to Stefan about things only people of royal decent worried about, which was fine with him. He wasn't the kind of person who always had to be included. He was content just listening and observing. Another hour passed by and he found himself in the midst of absolute silence. They were passing through a particularly dangerous valley, and that was all it took to silence the soldiers. Every time a bird chirped or a rock tumbled a little, everyone would jump and glance at the heap of snow that loomed threatening above. The quiet was eerie. Everything was unnaturally still, as if nature itself was holding its breath. Just ahead of them was safety, where the valley ended and a new one began, out of the way of the avalanche path. Most of them had already made it to the safer grounds, but soldiers were still coming. One man tripped and a few stones fell loose. The entire army shot glares at him. He slumped his shoulders and continued to tread lightly on the steep ground.

            Almost everyone was through when a cry rang out from the back. Landon had been making sure everyone made it across safely, so he was the first to spot the source. Raina had tripped and her foot appeared to be caught in a tree root. The sound echoed through the mountains and Landon watched in horror as the snow fell inward and began to tumble down the hill. Some of the soldiers saw it, too, and started booking it toward safety. Landon's first instinct was to run, but he saw Raina staring helplessly at the oncoming snow and knew he couldn't leave her. Against all the safety advice he had ever received, he ran straight into the path of the avalanche.

            Kneeling down by her side, he hastily inspected the situation. Her foot appeared to be wedged quite stubbornly underneath a tree root. When he attempted to free it, she whimpered in pain.

            "I think it's sprained," she squeaked. Trying not to show his fear, he continued to work at it. He could hear the snow as it tumbled closer, picking up speed and size. In a panic, he finally drew his sword and began to saw. The progress was much faster, but not fast enough. The avalanche was approaching rapidly, tearing down everything it its path. Finally, Tempest sliced all the way through the root. The avalanche was right behind them. He knew no amount of wind could stop it. There was no hope of escaping.

            "Listen, Raina," he whispered urgently. She looked up at him, the terror in her eyes wrenching his heart. "Do you trust me?" She nodded without hesitation. "Then please don't kill me for this if I survive." Before she could respond, he threw her into the air and with all his might, he blew her over to safety, hoping someone would catch her. He never saw her reach her destination; all he could see was white. Then it all crashed on top of him, and everything turned black.

Chelsea pushed her way to the back of the crowd just in time to see the snow engulf him. One moment he was there, staring bravely into his fate, and the next he was gone. Just like that. Gone.

            She wanted to run to him, but the snow was still moving too fast. He was under there somewhere, and she didn't know if he was alive or dead. She couldn't bear the thought. Mark and Stefan shoved their way through the soldiers, their eyes trained on the tumbling snow.

            "What happened?" Stefan shouted. Nobody answered. Everyone was still in shock, watching blankly as the waves of snow shot by. Someone had caught Raina, and she was clutching the stranger's neck with her head buried in his chest, bawling. "What happened?" Stefan hollered again, but he had already received the message that hung silently in the air. His face paled.

            She turned to him, tears streaking down her face. "Landon. He's gone." Unable to form any more words, she tackled Mark with a hug. Mark, of all people! He seemed just as surprised as she was by the sudden action, but he hugged her back. Together they mourned. She knew that they couldn't look for him until the avalanche stopped, so there they waited, hugging and crying.

            It seemed like forever before it finally stopped, but even as that problem ended, a new one arose. She lunged for the now still snow, but Stefan held her back.

            "We can't go out there yet. If we disrupt the snow again, it will start another avalanche. Her heart dropped to her feet. How were they going to find him? They couldn't just leave him there to die! She refused to believe that he might already dead.

            Kodan trotted past and headed straight for the snow. At first she was afraid that the snow would pick up speed again, but his paws hardly sank in.

            She whirled on poor Stefan. "I thought you said going out there would cause it to start up again!"

            "Maybe if you did," he said. "But wolves are made for this kind of thing. They're a lot lighter on their paws."

            She turned to watch as Kodan put his nose to the snow and began sniffing. He smelled around for a bit, then started further down the slope. She followed along the side, watching, hoping. After a little bit of tracking, he stopped and howled so loud she was afraid he would start another avalanche. Then he started digging. Resisting the urge to run out and help him, she watched helplessly as he dug deeper into the snow. Soon, she could see him. His eyes were closed and his face too pale to be natural. His lips were a scary shade of blue and his arm was twisted in an awkward angle. To her relief, she saw the faint rise and fall of his chest. But overall, he didn't look good.

            Kodan grabbed his shirt in his teeth and tried to pull him all the way out, but his shirt ripped. Resorting to skin, he clamped onto his wrist and tugged. No luck, he was still mostly buried in snow. She was on the verge of running out there to help when a man appeared out of nowhere to help.

            No, not a man—an elf.

            This elf looked different than the forest elves, though. His skin was so pale it was almost white, and when he walked his feet didn't even leave a print, as if he were weightless. His hair was white blonde and almost long enough to cover his pointed ears. And craziest of all was his clothing. He wore earthy clothing like the forest elves, but in totally white, and it looked more like spring attire than what one would wear in constant freezing climates. He didn't appear in the least bit cold, though. More elves trickled seemingly out of nowhere and they finished digging him out. Together, they lifted him and brought him to safety. Soon, she was surrounded by mountain elves, the rarest seen and most distant of the elves. She shrank a little under their icy stares.

            "Thanks. We can take it from here," Mark announced. They all looked at him. The elves didn't appear to speak their language, which was reasonable since they must never see humans. One of the elves motioned for them to follow and without waiting, they took off with the still unconscious Landon. She had no choice but to follow.

Blaze felt sick.

            He'd locked himself in his room—a tendency he'd become increasingly fond of lately—and currently sat on the bed with his hand clutching his stomach. He wanted to barf, and it had nothing to do with any physical sickness. He'd just witnessed something that gave him the chills.

            He'd been on his usual round with Winslow, taking care of the increasing number of rebels. This time it had been an entire family of children, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. They'd all lived in a small cabin considering their size. According to Winslow, they'd been refusing to pay taxes and wouldn't give up their sons for the war. When they'd confronted them about it, they had refused to cooperate. Unable to bring them to their senses, Winslow had ordered them to pack up and leave to the city—where Blackmasks now roamed freely—and they wouldn't be punished. Seeing no other option, they'd accepted. In an hour they had packed up what little they had and started off through a dangerous shortcut through a small canyon. He remembered looking down on the procession as they made their way through the narrow walls of stone. Piles of boulders were precariously stacked around him. Suddenly, the rocks began to topple inward, crushing the family beneath. It had seemed like an unfortunate accident, but Blaze knew better. He'd seen Winslow shift slightly as he'd leaned on his sword. He'd watched as the sword lodged into the pile and pushed ever so slightly, dislodging a rock and sending it tumbling. The entire pile had followed, burying the family in their stony grave. There had been children down there. Moms. Dads. Human beings

            And Winslow had killed them all.

            And Blaze hadn't said a thing.

            What sort of monster could do such a thing? What sort of monster did that make him for not doing anything? This had gone too far. Blaze should have killed Winslow long ago. But he couldn't. He needed Winslow. Without him he was nothing. He choked back tears that threatened to flow. His breathing became labored as he fought against the guilt that overcame him. Kings were supposed to protect their people! He was a coward; a power-hungry, stupid, coward. This wasn't right.

            Someone knocked, and Blaze already knew who it was. Rage overcame him. He was so angry the edges of his vision blurred. Never in his life had he felt so angry. Storming over to the door, he opened it so forcefully that he was surprised it didn't fly right off of its hinges. Winslow, sensing the mood, slipped in and shut the door behind him all in one quick motion. He saw the way Blaze's shoulders rose and fell with the rhythm of his heavy breathing and stepped back.

            "You!" he bellowed. Winslow remained stoic. "You killed them! I saw you, don't even try denying it!" Rage blinded his senses. He could hard breathe. "This has crossed the line. I've stood by as you've killed so many people, but these people were innocent! They were willing to go, and you murdered them! You promised them no harm would come to them. I should kill you now!"

            In a flash, Winslow's face was inches from his and there was a knife at his throat. "Tell me why I shouldn't kill you now," he hissed through clenched teeth. The air between them seemed to crackle with the heat of their hate. He slowly slid the dagger from his throat and back into its sheath. "Out of my own mercy, I will spare you. I could still use you." A sickly smile crept onto his wrinkly face. "Remember, without me you'd be nothing." Blaze glared at him, suppressing a shudder at his words. It wasn't the threat that had him feeling even sicker; it was the fact that he knew it was true.

            When Winslow left, he sat back down on the bed and buried his head in his hands. This time there was no stopping the tears.



This free website was made using Yola.

No HTML skills required. Build your website in minutes.

Go to and sign up today!

Make a free website with Yola