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“Lyra, we are here because we follow the old ones. Why doubt now?” Hanna demands.
Sitting on a boulder, I sip at my water. Nearby our horses take the opportunity to graze a while.
“Arc exists, despite the fact it took someone like Mirlin, a man from the west, to tell me about it. An old legend is thus real, and Joseph confirmed it for us via his map. But that only tells us that there was a before, Hanna; it does not mean the people from that before were benevolent. We have been hasty in trusting to an old story to save us.”
“Fine, I follow your reasoning.” Hanna retrieves her water from Pretty and sits on the grass. “Yet we did trust. Why is it different now?”
“Sassen got me to thinking. A being of light? She was the last to succeed, and she threw up this ring of mountains? Fantastic, but let’s place it in perspective. She cannot be from our world, for nature here is not her normality.” After setting my water down, I stare at the river. “She created the fortification, I believe that. Maybe with others, maybe alone, who knows? But she did it to keep her kind in, safe from the influences of the locals.”
“They came from elsewhere and needed a place to hide,” Hanna breathed.
“Yes! I cannot say what they needed to flee from, the event that drove them from their spaces, but here they hid.”
Hanna lifts a finger into the air. “The locals would not have been able harm beings of light, though. More than likely, they wouldn’t even have seen them. There are many isolated places on Massin; why create a sanctuary?”
I now stare into Hanna’s inner self, hoping she will hear me. “They had no free will. The locals then did as they pleased and that kind of freedom would be dangerous, would it not? We used it. Hanna, despite the restrictions of our society. When the situation demanded it of us, we used our free will to walk away that society. We may die, but we still choose to try. I bet folk back in the early times had fewer restrictions. Can you imagine what would happen to a strict society if such freedom is seen and felt?”
“How do you know?”
I wave at the air around us. “I saw them. I heard them. I felt them. They are not ghosts; they are beings of steadily dimming light. The laws of their kind keep them here. All they needed to do was float over the peaks, but they never tried. It is an assailable barrier for them, because they cannot think for themselves. They warn that we will be similarly trapped. To survive at first, we will follow the resident directives, and one day we won’t know any different. All who have sought haven here could not leave again … and they are still here. Every human seeking sanctuary in this place became a being of light in death, for that is the barrier. Death. Death ends residual freedom and it strengthens the barrier.”
Leaf and Pretty amble down to the river. I stand to follow, but Hanna’s next statement roots me.
“The voices we are meant to ignore in the Spire are of our ancestors.”
Blinking, I nod. “Yes. I had not realised that yet. They will warn us and Sassen desires that we ignore them.”
Hanna stands arms akimbo. “Yet we need a place to escape the fireball. And we also need to try and deflect the rock. It seems to me we have quite the conundrum here. Stay out there and we are dead. Stay in here and we are … what? What would we be, Lyra? Seems to me we will be, at the very least, alive.”
“Slaves,” I whisper. “Living slaves.”
Hanna stamps her foot. “Why do they need to keep us in?”
Inhaling sharply over the rush of clarity that shivers through me, I say, “They are dying. They need new souls.” Sinking to my knees, I claw at the grit. “I don’t know how, but the life essence we carry gifts them time. They are waiting for something and need time.” My head jerks up. “The host around us were human once. Light beings now, but dimmer. The originals feed off them. At first they needed to keep others out, now they need to keep others in.”
Shaking her head, Hanna moves to the horses. “Too complicated for me. You contradict yourself with every word.”
I am aware how contradictory I sound, but the tale comes to me in snatches of clarity. I stand shakily. If we stay here, we are doomed. Yet Hanna is right; if we remain out there beyond these mountains, we will die. By the stars, I need a guide. I need someone to tell me what to do.
The answer comes to me then, although only dimly perceived. It is not an answer, really; more a means to a solution. My guide is coming. He will also be my shield. Our shield. He will stand between us and them. I must deflect the asteroid from the Spire and trust he will lead us out again when the time of renewal blossoms beyond these mountains.
“Lyra!” Hanna shouts, falling to her knees beside me, shaking me. “You collapsed. You are burning.”
I stare at her. “My brother is coming.” Sobs overtake me then. Horin, sweet boy, you do not deserve this fate.