Shauna sighed, elbow propped on the arm of the couch, chin resting on her fist. She was lounging around on her temporary bed, as she had been for the past several hours, feet tucked under her as she studied Ori.
She rearranged her dress around her legs unnecessarily for the hundredth time, wishing she could put her shorts back on. She had noticed shima tended to cover their skin for the most part, however, so other than a few longing glances at her neatly folded human clothes she had resigned herself to long dresses and pants.
She had been there for three days, and was beginning to have serious media withdrawal also. When he wasn’t showing her different things in town, she had no idea what to do with herself.
He was sitting in the chair across from her at the moment, working on something for the Jiru. A ‘thank you,’ he said.
Three crystals were spread on the table between them, shimmering with different colors depending on how the light hit them. He would murmur in his language, holding a hand over each crystal, and they would begin to glow faintly each time.
“What are you doing?” she asked, hating the silence in the room.
“Making wishes,” he said, distracted.
She raised an eyebrow, waiting for him to look over at her. “Wishes?”
“Yes.” He didn’t look over. Then there was silence again.
“Fascinating,” she said, because it was. “Tell me more,” she continued to prod, because she was dying for conversation at this point.
Well, that answer wasn’t going to fly.
A slow smile curved her lips. She would just have to entertain herself. “I have a wish for you.”
“Yeah, I was thinking your house would look stunning in hot pink.”
“And I was thinking, while I’m at it, I’d like to get you a bodysuit made of double-sided duct tape,” she continued in a conversational tone.
“Mmm… A suit?” This got a flicker of a reaction. He was back to responding with words, rather than sounds. But it wasn’t enough to satisfy her boredom.
“Yeah. A pink one. They have pink duct tape, you know. And then I’ll need some kind of a launching mechanism… Maybe a catapult?” She paused, pursing her lips and tilting her head in a considering way. “Your yard is big enough.”
“Yes… My yard is big.” He hovered his hands over the crystals again.
“Then I was thinking we could make a game out of launching you at a small target over a giant pool of pistachio pudding.”
“Sure…” There was a pause, and then he did look up. “Wait… What did I just agree to?”
She smiled at him, trying for a look of innocence.
He narrowed his eyes. “I think I could manage it… But what is duct tape?” A grin pulled at the corners of his mouth. “And what is pistachio pudding?”
She dropped her head into the crook of her elbow and laughed.
“I’m sorry, yema,” he said. “I did not mean to ignore you.”
When she raised her head again and looked over at him he was still smiling, elbows resting on his knees, hands clasped in front of him. She had his undivided attention then… But she wasn’t sure what exactly she wanted to do with it.
Scratch that. She had several ideas on what she’d like to do with it. And that was the problem. She had spent too many hours with her own thoughts, and most of those had something to do with him. So many options, so little time. Another dilemma.
Which meant she had spent just as many hours mentally listing all the things she loved, from purple crayons to movies. She was slowly losing it.
“What kind of wishes are you giving him?” she asked, going with the sanest option. Focusing on trying to wrap her head around the concept, she considered what little she knew about beings from her legends that granted wishes.
“There’s one for the Jiru, and one each for his protectors,” he said, and shrugged. “They can wish for whatever they like.”
He nodded, laughing softly. “And even though it’s only temporary, people will pay a high price for such a gift. The opportunity to have a taste of what you want more than anything is very tempting,” he said with a mysterious smile. “But there are rules, as with any other form of magic. And there is always a price. The bigger the wish or dream, the greater the cost. And there are some wishes that can’t be granted at all.”
“Well that’s no fun,” she said.
“Maybe not.” The curve of his smile was too distracting when he spoke in that soft tone. “But the rules make it safe.” Preoccupied with some of the options she had been considering earlier, it took a moment for what he said next to sink in. “Do you have a wish you want me to fulfill?”
She met his gaze again, feeling that familiar flutter in her stomach. Was she imagining the invitation in his hooded expression?
She cleared her suddenly dry throat. “Besides the pistachio pudding?”
“Besides that, yes.” He tilted his head and continued to watch her steadily. “Perhaps a dream that I could make reality for you?” He rose to his feet, holding her gaze as he moved around the table to stand over her. “A desire I could satisfy for you?” He extended his hand and waited. “If you are prepared to pay the price for it.”
Why did he have to say it like that? Why, why, why, when she had been going insane trying to keep her thoughts appropriate? ‘I could satisfy you’ kept echoing in her brain, and she was starting to fool herself into thinking that’s really what he meant.
Her left wrist hummed with warmth, and she clenched her hand. Noticed the way his gaze narrowed there, before meeting hers again. Her heart raced at the heat in that look.
She lifted her hand towards his.
There was a sharp knock on the door, and they both froze. His expression was unreadable as he dropped his hand, but there was a questioning tone to his voice when he spoke. “The offer stands…” he said, a slow smile curving his lips. “When you are ready.”
Her breath caught, sure she wasn’t imagining that. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
The knock came a second time, a little louder, and he moved away towards the door.
With him safely across the room, it was much easier for her to breathe. She tried to get her bearings, thinking about the implications of what she thought he may have been trying to say.
She couldn’t seem to tear her eyes away from him as he opened the door, speaking to a warrior outside who wore the Jiru’s symbol on his armor. She heard the low cadence of Ori’s voice, but whatever they were talking about was lost on her.
She kept replaying his words in her head. His careful attention to her since she had ended up in his garden. The way he protected her by speaking for her, and how he had convinced the Jiru to do the same.
She remembered the way the Jiru had looked at her wrist. That he had specifically wanted to look at her left. She examined it, a little frustrated that she didn’t even know what she was looking for. She knew it had to be a shima thing. She frowned down at it, confused, brushing her fingertips along her skin. Nothing unusual. Pale skin. The outline of tendons. The faint coloring of veins beneath the surface.
What am I supposed to see here?
“The Jiru has summoned me,” she heard Ori say, and her head snapped up.
“Oh.” She flushed, hoping he hadn’t seen her staring at her wrist like it should be doing something impressive. “Is everything okay?” she asked, suddenly nervous. It seemed too soon to have an answer from the Junak already. They had told her it could take a whole week.
He nodded. “Everything is fine,” he said, but she heard the tension in his voice. Was sure she could almost feel it. “He only wishes to know more about the arute readings. Will you be alright here alone?”
“I’m good,” she said, laughing softly. “I promise not to wander off.”
He smiled at that. “Good,” he said, some of that earlier warmth sliding across his expression again. “I’ll be back soon.”
She watched him leave, the door shutting quietly behind him. Finding herself trapped with her own thoughts again, she had way too much to think about.
Ori smiled to himself as he walked, glad the warrior beside him didn’t seem to want to talk much. He felt too distracted to be good conversation.
He knew he should probably wait until after the Junak had made their decision, but he couldn’t help himself where Shauna was concerned.
He could feel their connection growing, just a little more each day. She was becoming easier to read. His mind tried to reach for hers more often. He wanted to ask her…
Feeling that tingling warmth in his wrist, he let himself hope.
But it was too soon to approach her about it. Even if she didn’t know their rules, he did. He would not disrespect her by rushing things.
“There are rumors,” he heard the warrior say, and he reluctantly focused on him instead of Shauna. “People are saying there was a strange reading at that arag?”
“Yes,” Ori said absently, still a little preoccupied. Even so, he was paying enough attention to be discreet with his comments. The last thing he wanted was to create a panic. “It was unusual, but nothing to be concerned about.”
“Could you tell what it was?” the warrior pressed. His mind was very carefully shielded, but that was nothing unusual. What did catch Ori’s attention, however, was that his hand rested on his sword as they walked.
“I’m still examining it.”
“The arag.” Not so much a question this time, more of a statement.
He stole a glance at the warrior, the moonlight reflecting off his polished armor. “Yes, on both sides of the arute,” he answered as they walked through the quiet market district. The shops were closed for the evening, and the streets were deserted.
“Did you take a reading before it reacted?” The warrior led him down a side alley and slowed his pace a little, the hide straps of his armor creaking as he moved, stiff from disuse.
Ori stopped, and so did the warrior. He made sure the surface of his energy was even as he brought his hand to his dagger under the cover of his cloak. “I’ve heard Gajano is a ruthless teacher,” he said, carefully shielding himself against magic.
The warrior nodded. “He is.”
“The warriors here always carry the marks of his training on their armor. Seems to be a point of pride among you.” He glanced over the warrior’s own unblemished armor. He tilted his head with a smirk. “Was your armor destroyed beyond repair?” he goaded. “Or did Gajano not think you worthy of a real fight?”
Ori felt the shift in power between them and leapt back, drawing his dagger and strengthening his shield as flames sparked to life in his enemy’s hands.
“The readings,” he warrior demanded, drawing his sword. Flames slithered from the warrior’s hands, moving along the length of the blade like serpents. “Now.”
“You do not scare me,” Ori said calmly, latching onto the surface of his opponent’s mind and bending those tendrils of flame with his own energy. He fueled them until the flames burned so hot that they turned blue, and coiled around the blade like the snakes they resembled, curving slowly towards his enemy.
“I will not be fooled by your illusions,” the warrior said, strengthening his mental shields to dispel the images, but Ori saw the faint tremor in his grip just before he raised his sword and lunged. The blade cut through the air and Ori deflected, reinforcing his own weapon with energy.
Sidestepping, he pivoted to take advantage of a gap in the warrior’s ill-fitting armor. He sliced his dagger into the warrior’s ribs and retreated again as the warrior turned and slashed up to counter. Flames seared Ori’s flesh as the tip of the blade connected with his leg.
“We’ve been watching you,” the warrior said, bringing his sword to a ready position again. Blood trickled from the gash in his side. “I know you don’t have the kind of power to manifest anything.”
“I allowed you to break free of my hold. A warning I won’t give a second time.” Ori narrowed his eyes, ignoring the pain in his leg. The shadows around them wavered, began to move. “How confident are you?”
“More than you should be,” the warrior said, an edge to his voice. He circled Ori slowly, looking for an opening. “You think we haven’t noticed your human?”
Everything inside Ori went cold. “The human has nothing to do with this.” The shadows stopped moving. Everything around them stilled.
“I think you’re lying,” the warrior said with an oily smirk. “But don’t worry. She won’t be lonely by herself for long…”
“Call your men off,” Ori said evenly, a sinking feeling in his gut taking hold of him. A dark rage he had never known before welled up inside him. His wrist burned, and he felt himself shaking. His mind reached for Shauna, but their bond wasn’t strong enough yet to span the distance between them.
Without that reassurance, his control started to unravel. The energy coursing inside him surged just beneath the surface of his restraint.
“Come with me quietly,” the warrior said, obviously emboldened when Ori didn’t immediately attack. “Give me what I want, and I may tell them to leave her alone.” The warrior smirked in a way that made him want to vomit. “Maybe.”
Energy erupted around Ori, the maelstrom of his power flowing unchecked. Either too inexperienced, or over-confident, the warrior moved in to attack again. He raised his sword.
Narrowing his eyes, Ori leapt forward into the warrior’s path. Meeting him, he tore into the warrior’s forearm with his blade and forced his arms to the side. Stepping around while his enemy struggled to regain his balance, he grabbed his shoulders from behind, sinking his blade into the warrior’s flesh below his collarbone. Sharp metal caught on bone. Twisting around, he threw the man off his feet.
The warrior hit the ground hard, and almost lost his grip on his sword, his wounded shoulder too weak to hold its weight. Blood splattered the ground around him.
Ori was on him immediately, ruthlessly kicking the sword out of his grasp entirely. He dropped beside the warrior, and brought his palm to the warrior’s forehead. The warrior struggled, hands going to Ori’s throat. Ori tore through the warrior’s mental shields. Zeroing in on the spark that was his enemy’s mind, he wrapped his own energy around it like a fist, immobilizing him. The warrior’s hands dropped, and he couldn’t struggle anymore.
“Please…” the warrior begged, his breathing labored. “Don’t…”
“Call. Them. Off.” Ori dug mercilessly through the warrior’s subconscious, deaf to his screams of pain. “Now.”
“I…” The warrior gasped, breaking out in a sweat, his whole body shaking. “I can’t…”
“I will come back for you,” Ori said, ripping the man’s nightmares from deep inside his psyche. “This is nothing compared to what I will do to you if she has been harmed.”
He engulfed the man in his worst fears and left him writhing helplessly in the dirt.
Beyond the Gate (Chapter Four) <– You are here.