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The Travellers - Ramlin’s Story BY HELEN KATRINA NUGIS

Tallinna Laagna Gümnaasium

Form 8A

Tallinn 2019

Chapter 1 “This,” Yern gestured to the animal next to him, “Is Starry Sky. You’ll be riding her, at least initially.” Ramlin examined the cream-colored, spider-like creature. The eight-limbed spiderling was chewing on a tuft of spiky grass, all of her eyes staring at the young girl. “So I’ll get another one?” the child squeaked in excitement. “Yes. However, you’ll learn to ride with Starry Sky, as she is old and patient,” her father Yern explained. “Once you’re proficient enough, you will choose a spiderling that you will ride for the rest of your life – or rather, the spiderling will choose you.” The smaller pejan came closer to the herbivore and the animal sniffed her, thoroughly examining the child. “I really wish I could help you, ‘Lin.” the man sounded apologetic “But I haven’t ridden a spiderling since I’ve gone blind. Hril – yes, your friend – he’ll teach you.” The middle-aged pejan turned around and whistled, drawing the attention of a boy sitting on a nearby stone fence. “Hey there!” he greeted the father and daughter “You seek my great wisdom?” “Yes, of course. Your wisdom is truly all-encompassing and I humbly ask you to teach this young soul, great scholar.” Yern played along. Ramlin giggled – Hril sure had a flair for the theatrical. “Well, you are quite the intellectual yourself – not all can recognize their own shortcomings.” the fourteen-year-old teased “I accept your offer with pleasure, as there is no nobler purpose in life than to pass on one’s knowledge onto the next generation.” He winked to the child, the girl smiling back, her purple eyes sparkling with the desire to learn. The teen showed Ramlin the correct way to sit on a spiderling and climbed onto the animal himself, positioning himself right behind the child. “Now, you hold the reigns like this” Hril placed the leathery cord into the girl’s hands “To start moving, squeeze Starry Sky with your legs. Remember to be gentle.” The younger rider complied and the spiderling started a slow walk. “Tug on the reins for her to stop.” the youth instructed. Ramlin did as she was asked to and the animal stopped, nabbing a patch of grass from the shade of a nearby rock. “Well, it seems I have found an able student!” the boy declared, patting the violet-eyed girl on the head “Try again.”

The thin youngster made the spiderling walk in a slow pace, then stopped Starry Sky. She repeated the maneuver a few times, occasionally gazing around. She could spot her mother Ragda working in the fields and her friends Ral, Aril and Yamil going out of the village to hunt for geckos. All seemed quiet and peaceful, as it always was. “To get the spiderling to turn, pull the reins in the opposite direction to the one you want to go.” Hril advised. After a few sessions of practice, the sun was highest in the sky and most of the villagers had left to eat lunch, desiring to get away from the scorching heat. “Perhaps an excursion into the desert would facilitate the learning experience!” the curly-haired boy suggested. A day of adventuring in the desert? With Hril? On a spiderling? That sounded like a great pastime to the child. But there was a slight problem . . . “I need to ask my parents first . . .” Ramlin mumbled. “Ah, no worries, young one! There is no need for that, for I know the desert like my own toes and fingers! You have nothing to fear with me and upon our safe and timely return, I shall personally inform your parents of our activities.” Hril dismissed her concerns with a wave of his hand. “Okay then.” the girl agreed. The two youngsters took off into the vast Danarra desert, passing by occasional shrubbery and cacti. As Ramlin gazed out at the endless sand, she felt free. It seemed as if there were no bothersome chores or the dullness of routine. Nothing ever changed at Min Ar Oasis, the small desert hamlet the kids called home. The girl often wished she could see more of the world and know more about what happened in faraway places. But perhaps . . . perhaps stability was a merit in its own right. After all, the world was a chaotic place and the younger rider couldn’t see the future and what it brought. During the day, the two spider-riders visited quite a few notable sites: a collapsed pillar, marking the site of a long-buried treasure of some ancient civilization (or so Hril said), a huge dune atop which stood a lone purple-and-red flag (another remnant of this civilization, according to Hril) and a tall, slender cactus with a sword sticking out of its midsection. The latter phenomenon puzzled the selfproclaimed scholar to no end and he finally decided that the cactus was impaled with a weapon as a secret message to the members of a dangerous organization enacting a sinister conspiracy. Ramlin didn’t believe him – who in their right mind would enact a secret plan in the middle of the desert – but the boy assured her that anything was possible. “Or, it could be cultists.” he speculated further “Perhaps this is a warning meant for another sect?” “Don’t trifle with us, or there will be grave consequences”, for example. Or “We have declared a holy war upon you, heretics! Tremble before our might!”. Yeah, that sounds like something a cultist would do” The child giggled “Maybe it’s just a prank. Someone decided to impale a plant for a laugh or two . . .” “A prank? In the middle of the desert? A very simple explanation, but one with very little evidence to back it up.” the older kid wagged his finger in disapproval “Why waste a perfectly good sword

when it will likely never be seen by others? Why not stab a cactus right next to someone’s spider pens instead? That would undoubtedly attract more attention.” The girl nodded absentmindedly and the pair rode further into the sandy expanse. As the sun got lower and lower in the cloudless sky, the two travelers strayed further and further from their village. When the sky lit up in red and orange hues, Ramlin felt a strange feeling crawl into her gut. The feeling told her to run, to flee back to the village before it was too late. The girl’s grandmother often told tales of horrid beasts lurking the desert, their claws sharp as swords, their fangs as long as a man’s hand. These werewolves were driven by an unending hunger, an all-consuming desire to devour the flesh of animal and pejan alike. But during the day, the older woman had told, the creatures slumbered – only after sunset did the perpetual hunger wake them. “Did you know that werewolves were once pejans, just like you and me?” Hril broke the tense silence “But they were cultists, worshiping some demon, who “blessed” them by turning the people into animals.” “Demon?” the child looked around warily, noticing the sun drop even further behind the horizon. “Well, Orsonna is the one true goddess and the others are demons, looking to corrupt the pure and lead the righteous down the wrong path.” the boy explained. The girl nodded. All around her, sand stretched for untold distances, exactly the same in every direction. Clouds of reddish dust covered the sky like a blanket, the last rays of light still lingering right above the horizon. It was best to hurry, but the smaller rider had no idea where to go. “We need to go.” Ramlin tugged on Hril’s sleeve “It’s so dark . . .” “Do not fear the darkness, little one. Or the werewolves, for that matter.” the teenager put a hand onto the child’s shoulder “With my superb skill in earth magic, your safety is guaranteed.” “Do you know the way?” she asked, glancing up at him with hope. “I’ll admit, I’m not completely sure myself.” the youth took the reins from the girl’s hands and turned the spiderling into a seemingly random direction “Fear not, we’ll get home soon enough.” The sun was down. Darkness blanketed the desert and the child could hear werewolves howling in the distance. Hunched, almost human-like shapes moved in the distance, but the girl couldn’t tell for sure if they were real or just a figment of her imagination. Werewolves only eat bad kids who stray too far from the village . . . she remembered her grandmother saying. The youth tried praying to Orsonna, or Saint Ha’kella, but no words came to mind. The hairs on Ramlin’s neck stood up as she felt someone watching her from afar. And indeed, the glowing yellow eyes of a large, furry creature stared right at her. The child would’ve yelped, but her voice had mysteriously disappeared and her mouth didn’t open. There were no stars in the sky, just sinister clouds of desert dust. The other members of the pack looked at the two spider-riders, their maws forming twisted, malicious smiles, bloodstained teeth glinting in the darkness. Most had dried blood coating their matted fur. They descended onto four legs and rushed towards the kids and the spiderling. The youngsters would’ve joined their ancestors right away if it weren’t for Starry Sky. The animal sprinted away, the children barely holding onto the creature. The werewolves followed close behind, one lunging at the girl, leaving large scratches on her back. The child wanted to scream, to

call for help, but made no sound as she tried to remember the words of a prayer – any prayer. She pressed into the reins so tightly that her already pale fingernails turned white. It was hard to breathe and the girl was shaking all over. She could barely register Hril throwing sand at the predators and wished she too could have a way of defending herself. She could hear the animals snarling and growling, just a step behind the spiderling, drool dripping from their maws as they chased after their prey. The scratches itched and Ramlin felt blood starting to seep out, ruining her favorite dress even more. As good of a runner Starry Sky was, she couldn’t keep going forever. The sandy beige creature tripped, the youngsters tumbling down onto the sand. Please merciful Orsonna, please saint Ha’kella, please save me . . . the youth looked at the uncaring clouds, wondering if this was the end. She didn’t even try to get up, she felt utterly exhausted. Hril was still fighting the beasts by the sound of it and the girl looked at him with hope. Perhaps . . . perhaps he truly was as good of a wizard as he claimed himself to be? Her hopes were shattered as the wolf-men surrounded the boy, raking their claws across his back, pinning him to the ground as he flailed helplessly like a snake in a mousetrap. The older child futilely reached towards the girl, as if she could somehow help him when a werewolf bit into his shoulder, tearing away chunks of flesh. “Ramlin, do something!” he screamed. A predator sunk his teeth into the boy’s neck, silencing the teenager forever, blood spraying onto the sand. The girl couldn’t look away, eyes locked onto Hril’s motionless face. She was blessed by Ha’kella, the saint of martyrs and sacrifices, after all, although the child never expected her doom to come so fast. As the werewolves turned their gazes onto the fragile, defenseless youth, she thought of her parents, who would never know her fate. And of her friends, who she wouldn’t see anymore and who would be left wondering where she went for the rest of their lives. The tallest werewolf was about to take a bite, when a wave of sand knocked him of his feet. The others glanced around in confusion, when the ground they stood on formed a giant hole. Was it Hril? The girl didn’t dare hope for his survival. The predators were sucked into a moving vortex of sand, suffocating and burying them. Soon, the remaining creatures ran way in fright, their silhouettes disappearing into the darkness. A cloaked figure approached the youngster, but the child’s eyes were locked onto Hril. His mouth was open in a silent scream, his intestines torn out, skin and muscle simply missing from many places. The boy’s neck was twisted and his eyes looked straight at Ramlin, straight through her, but didn’t see her anymore. His lifeless fingers were still reaching for her, for an illusory salvation that would never come. The girl couldn’t avert her gaze from his lilac-hued orbs, pleading for help that would never come. His eyes were dull, lacking the life and vividness that the teenager was once known for. The child had heard that the dead were at peace, but the boy looked like he was still suffering, still in pain and would be so for all eternity. The youngster’s savior knelt next to the child, placing a firm hand over the little girl’s shoulders. Ramlin felt her back ache, the wounds raw and ragged, even the air assaulting the scratches. If help had come a second too late, she would be like Hril . . . nothing made any sense. It wasn’t right for her to be alive and the boy to be . . . The hooded figure turned the girl’s head away from the ravaged corpse and she was met with purple eyes just a shade darker than hers. “What have you gotten yourself into this time?” Ragda shook her head, whispering more to herself than to the child.

Ramlin had no idea what to say to her mother. It was all Hril’s plan, she wasn’t at fault for what had happened. Yet the boy’s eyes still gazed at the girl, she could feel his haunting stare on her back. “Come on, let’s go.” the mother took her daughter by the arm and seated her onto another spiderling. As they rode through the shadowy desert in silence, the girl was reminded of Starry Sky. What had happened to her? The youth didn’t dare ask. Chapter 2 Ramlin bent over a centauria plant, removing the small weeds trying to survive in the plant’s shade. The sun seemed to shine brightest right over her back and the child wiped away beads of sweat from her forehead. She was grounded, forbidden from leaving the village until her 9th birthday. It seemed like an awfully long time, but the girl had no desire to leave anyway. At last, the field was relatively free of weeds and the pejan could leave the monotonous task in the past . . . at least until the next week. After all, the weeds never stop growing – or so Ragda had said. Ramlin picked herself up and wandered back to the village, not having any particular destination in mind. Almost immediately she noticed a gathering of sorts – fifteen pejans, their long hair hanging loosely as a sign of grief. Jessen, the priest, was reciting one of the Holy Writs, speaking about the afterlife, adding some words about fate and destiny. Next to the priest stood his younger brother Aril, eyes downcast, gaze dull. The girl noticed her friend Yamil weeping, clutching his mother’s hand. Hril’s father and sisters were there too, as were many others who wished to pay their respects to the unfortunate boy. Ramlin wanted to join them, to be there when Hril passed on to the next world, but something held her back. Instead, the child soon found herself heading to visit Kessyl. She moved away the colorful tapestry hanging in front of the doorway and there the youthful lady was. “Hello, ‘Lin.” she looked up from the cloth she was coloring “What’s up?” The water mage shifted a bowl of redskit powder closer to herself. She raised her hand and a stream of water from one of the nearby jugs rose up. The youth lowered her arm and the liquid splashed onto the powder. Ramlin watched, transfixed. Kessyl stirred the water until it became dark red and carefully moved her arm sideways, letting small droplets fall onto the rag. The woman moved her hands up and down, balling them into fists at times, relaxed her fingers and, finally, moved her palms in a circular motion. The cloth now had an intricate red-and-cream pattern, some splotches of color dark, almost brown, while others were pale, transitioning to pink. “Wow” the child gawked at the newly painted tapestry “I wish I could do cool magic stuff like you and everyone else.” “Don’t worry.” Kessyl picked up the cloth and hung it on the wall to dry “You can do many awesome things without magic. By the way, you still haven’t told me what’s up.” “A funeral.” the younger girl felt heavy. “Yes, I know.” the wizard bit her lip in thought “Death is a funny thing. Only Orsonna knows when it is your time to go. This isn’t the end, as you know – the faithful are given a new life in heaven, while the sinners are cast down into hell. The Lady of the Wind decides when one’s life ends. But

how does She decide? What rules and criteria does She utilize? For us, mortals this is an enigma . . . I guess we aren’t meant to grasp the workings of the world.” Ramlin eyed her, like the sorceress was a foreign animal needing to be identified “It’s so strange . . . I’m still alive, but Hril isn’t . . . it doesn’t feel right.” “I know. I felt the same way when my parents died . . . I believed I’d join them for sure. But Orsonna, in Her eternal wisdom decided to spare me, that my time hadn’t come yet. And She has spared you for a reason.” the teenager’s dark blue eyes were serious. “What happened to your parents?” the child inquired. “Have your parents told you about the Mind Controller Incident?” the taller girl asked back. “No . . . but I’ve heard some people mention it. Whenever I ask, mom and dad and grandma tell me to go play or clean . . .” Ramlin shook her head. “I understand why they’d choose not to speak of that time. The Incident was caused by very, very evil people. They were mind controllers – used the foul and dangerous magic called mind control. This is an unnatural, horrid magic and should be forgotten to the ages, no person ever allowed to use it.” Kessyl tilted her head to look at the ceiling, her face hidden from the youngster’s eyes “They killed many people, both here and everywhere else . . . it was a massacre. Sometimes, I still see the bodies in the streets, even though they’re long gone . . . my parents and the rest of my family were torn apart, their heads laid out on a shelf for me to find. You know, your mother and father once had another child, a boy by the name of Issvar. But the mind controller monsters killed him, just as they tried to kill you.” “That sounds awful.” the girl didn’t know what to say “And I never knew I had a brother! Why would mom and dad keep it from me?” “Because he’s dead and they didn’t want you thinking of such gruesome events.” the water witch seemed very tired all of a sudden, as if talking about the Incident was incredibly strenuous for her. The tapestry over the entrance swung open quite rudely, revealing Ramlin’s three friends. Ral was carrying a kickball, Yamil holding a toy spear and Aril had one of his many books accompanying him, as usual. “Must be my lucky day. So many guests . . .” the woman sighed. “I know, right?” Ral smiled “Next month, uncle’s gonna be taking me to Kischa’a, so I can refine my fire magic even further!” Ramlin looked at him with envy – not only only was she still lacking magic, but the boy got to visit the big city far more often that she did. It seemed like the boy’s uncle gave him whatever he wanted, treating his nephew even better than his own two daughters, Iljen and Netta. “That’s cool, I guess.” Yamil responded to the nine-year-old “Wish I could come. Haven’t been there at all . . .” “Oh, don’t worry too much about that.” Aril reassured him “All roads lead to Kischa’a, as the saying goes. Did you know that the city first rose to prominence during the rein of Empress Rilma?

Before her, that place was just some backwater fishing village. After Rilma died, she even became a saint!” “So she’s one of the Violets?” Yamil glanced around “How many are there? I . . . I can’t remember.” “Silly you.” the eldest boy shook his head with a smile “There are 8: Saint Amiron, Saint Ha’kella, Saint Rilma, Saint Irmina, Saint Jyrn, Saint Ke-Ser, Saint Bone Crusher and Stardancer.” “Oh yeah.” the frail child rubbed his head “I’m supposed to know them all by now, but I just forget. By the way, who’s Bone Crusher?” “Ah, he was the greatest warrior in the lands of Danerrai. No man or beast could stand before his hammer, no heretic was safe from his wrath! He was said to have crushed his enemies into a fine, red paste, not even their bones remaining. Supposedly, he tore out the teeth of his fallen foes and wore them as a pendant, rotting flesh still stuck to the bone!” Aril’s smile stretched wider “Legends tell that he would bathe in the blood of his foes and smash in their skulls while they begged and pleaded for mercy!” Ramlin and Yamil turned away almost simultaneously. Ral was further away, discussing something with Kessyl, pointing at the drying tapestry. Aril was still smiling as he wandered over to the two and tried poking the cloth with his finger, to which the teenage girl rebuffed him quite harshly. The younger girl looked at the six-year-old next to her and noticed dark circles around his eyes, framed by his loose-hanging bangs. She wanted to ask him why he was grieving, but then the recent events came back to her and she shuddered. “My brother . . .” he began, tearing the girl from her thoughts “It was werewolves, right?” Ramlin nodded numbly. “One day, I’ll kill them all for what they did.” the boy’s gaze grew hard and piercing, his blueishblack eyes staring straight through her soul. “But how will you find the right ones? They all look the same.” Ramlin glanced briefly at where his left arm would be. “It doesn’t matter.” he declared “I’ll kill them all if I have to.” “But you can’t kill every single one.” she was still doubtful “If it was possible, we wouldn’t have any werewolves left by now.” “If they couldn’t.” Yamil was not discouraged by the slightest “Then I will.” “But that’s pointless. Hril’s already dead. He won’t come back.” the girl disagreed. The boy’s face contorted in a rage “I don’t care! I want these savages to pay with their blood and I want them all gone! How dare they live when Hril is dead! But you don’t understand ‘cause you don’t have a brother and never will! You’re stupid and cowardly, so you better keep your mouth shut or bad things will start happening to you!” Ramlin cast her gaze down, feeling her cheeks burn and her eyes water. This was unusual – she had known her friend for many years and never once had she seen him so agitated. It didn’t sit right

with the girl, but she had no idea what to say. Perhaps the brother in mourning was right. The child thought of his words . . . yes, the predators were long overdue for an extermination. And if they had no right to live when Hril was dead . . . did she have that right? After all, the youth was blessed by Ha’kella, the saint of martyrs, while the now-dead young man was blessed by Jyrn, the saint of craftsmen and farmers. It simply wasn’t right. Ramlin decided that it was best to leave. She headed home, realizing it was quite late and she hadn’t eaten for quite a while. The dining room was quiet, the girl’s aunt Kirin sitting in her chair as usual. The woman eyed her niece, seeming rather happy to see the child return. The youth nodded to Kirin, strutting to the kitchen in search of food. The youngster’s grandmother was there, clearing the floor of sand. Ilra nodded to her granddaughter and with one final sweep of her arm, the room was clean, the annoying grains flying out of the window by the power of the elderly woman’s magic. Ramlin stared at the clean floor and wondered if she would ever be a mage like the rest of her family. Chapter 3 “Happy birthday, Kessyl!” Ramlin nearly shoved the box into the girl’s hands. “Oh, thank you!” the youth smiled and her grin only widened when she saw what was inside “These gloves are so . . . did your parents bring them from Kischa’a for me?!” “I don’t know.” the younger child mumbled. “Really, I’m so grateful.” Kessyl put on the gloves and gave the box back to the girl “Here. You need this more than I do.” The two sat down onto a green rag, the water witch moving some tea into the cups. “Water magic is so cool . . .” Ramlin stared at her teacup, as if the liquid could spring up again at any moment “I wish I could have it.” “This wizardry isn’t in your family. Both of your parents, your grandparents brother and aunt have earth magic.” the birthday child sipped her tea. The guest gulped down the lukewarm tea, feeling quite unpleasant. “I’m already eight.” she sighed “but I still don’t know my magic. Everyone found out before me – even Yamil’s little sister and she’s just two! This isn’t fair.” Kessyl bit her lip, eyeing the tapestries “Well, there is a chance you’re just a late bloomer . . . but it’s far more likely you simply lack magic entirely. It is very rare, but my aunt had no magic. She died in the Incident because she had no way at all to protect herself. So, if you really are nonmagical, then you’re practically defenseless against any wizard – especially against a mind controller.” “There are still mind controllers out there?!” the younger child exclaimed “But I thought they were all killed off after the Incident!”

“Unfortunately, not all were found.” the teenager shook her head “I . . . I try not to think about what would happen . . . if one of them came here again . . .” She swallowed and rubbed her forehead, sighing through her nose. Ramlin nodded. She too couldn’t even imagine what terrible deeds a mind controller would do in Min Ar Oasis. “I’m tired of waiting.” the girl complained “I want my magic now and I want to use it.” “Yes, it is very unfair.” the older child agreed “But if you truly have no magic, then it’s nothing to be ashamed of. I loved my aunt and never saw her as different from anyone else – and others won’t see you as different, either. You’ll still be Ramlin Witherbane, blessed by Ha’kella, proud member of the Witherbane clan and a respected member of our village.” The youth wasn’t so sure. Being a sorcerer was normal, not being one was wrong, unnatural even. How could she just live on like before when she was the only one in the entire community without any wizardry? Others wouldn’t keep on seeing her in the same light after learning this. Would they see her as weak? Inferior? Unable of protecting herself? But maybe . . . maybe she truly was a late bloomer? Yes, she had to be! That was the answer, she just had to find her magic, prove everyone wrong, prove that she was completely normal like the others! Later that day, after leaving Kessyl and taking the box with her, Ramlin bumped into Aril. The boy had a sack full of powdered blightfern slung over his shoulder and a wide smile graced his face. “Hi ‘Lin!” he waved to her “Jessen told me that blightfern attracts geckos like nothing else! Um . . . is something bothering you?” “Kessyl thinks I haven’t got magic!” Ramlin complained “And . . . I’m starting to think she may be correct . . . where does magic come from, anyway?” “All magic comes from the soul.” the older child explained “Every soul has a certain color which determines what magic it has. But sometimes, a person is born with abnormalities in the soul and so they aren’t a wizard. Now, if I could see your soul, all doubt would be erased, but I can’t. So . . . so you could try practicing magic! Maybe something will come of it.” The girl smiled. She could prove that she was a sorceress! Then she realized something “Aril, how?” “Um . . . magic is powered by emotion . . . I think.” the boy rubbed his forehead “But I don’t know about mind control. I’ve heard you learn it by ripping someone open. Or tearing off their limbs!” Ramlin flinched, but the youngster didn’t even notice and continued rambling. “A mind controller can vaporize someone without even blinking! Chop off someone’s head while completely still! Pull out your teeth and tear out your nails one by one!!!” he smiled even wider. “Sorry, gotta go.” the girl excused herself and trotted home as she had been planning to for quite some time.

She waved to her grandmother, grabbed a centauria leaf pie off the table, hoped she wouldn’t have to feed her paralyzed aunt today and retreated into her room. After eating the pie, the girl placed the small box onto the floor in the middle of the bedroom and proceeded to practice her still-nonexistent magic. The girl tried her hardest to ignite a flame in the palm of her hand, but nothing happened. She moved her body left and right, expecting the air to follow, but it didn’t. She willed the stone floor to rise up, but it refused. She tried to create a sphere of light around her, to no avail. She tried to gather the darkness around herself so it would cloak and hide her, but it didn’t obey her command. She brought a glass of water into her room and tried to make the liquid move, but ended up tripping over the cup and spilling water all over the floor. Clearly, she was either doing it all wrong or . . . No! She was a sorceress! She could do magic! Why, why couldn’t she find her power like everyone had? It was unfair! She had done nothing to warrant this treatment! Surely Orsonna wouldn’t torment her loyal follower with such a terrible fate? It wasn’t right. She had to have magic, she wasn’t some good-for-nothing cripple like Kessyl’s aunt had been! She just needed to find this stupid sorcery of hers, but how was she supposed to do that when she had already tried everything? And so, Ramlin tried again. She tried every conceivable movement and exerted all of her willpower to no avail. It was as if the universe itself was mocking her, like some higher power just wanted to torment her. Even though she felt angrier and angrier by the second, any sign of her being a witch eluded her. Getting emotional didn’t help her in any way. The girl’s rage was futile – nothing happened. The box which was laying on the floor in the middle of the room stared at her mockingly. Stupid girl! It seemed to jeer Thinking you could be a wizard like everyone else! Thinking you could have what everyone else has! Ha ha ha! Such an idiot! Ramlin fumed, hitting the object with her foot. The box fell over, its lid clattering into the far corner of the room. The child despaired. Was she truly . . ? Perhaps she really was just that special – cursed to never be like the others, to live as a helpless, defenseless outcast in her own home, never having something so simple, so fundamental as magic, something the great Orsonna Herself had given to mortals. But she was a loyal believer, what could the child have possibly done to anger the Mother of the Desert? Maybe . . . maybe she wasn’t meant to live – maybe Hril should’ve survived instead. Was this punishment for disobeying a destiny, even if she didn’t know any better? The girl sat down in her bed, feeling heavy like a sack of rocks and not just from exhaustion. She could see the stars glint outside and rays of moonlight seep into the room through the small window. But as the girl fell asleep, her mind wandered elsewhere – to the treacherous dunes and a howling, slobbering werewolf that opened its enormous maw and consumed her whole . . . The next morning, a groggy Ramlin stumbled out of her bed, pulled on her dress and tied up her hair. She almost tripped over the box that was still laying in the middle of the room. The girl sighed. She had to pick it up and the lid too. The child thought of the simple rectangular lid, staring at where it had landed in the corner. The slate was copper in color and a bit worn on the edges – the metal object had been in use for a long time before the youth was even born. Ramlin reached over her hand for the lid, but her fingers didn’t touch it. Instead, the object floated up into the air, hovering right before the child’s outstretched palm. The girl smiled. She was a mage! She had magic and not just any magic, but a special kind, one she hadn’t even seen before! What wonders could she accomplish using this new sorcery? The youth couldn’t wait to find out. As soon as these invigorating thoughts entered the child’s mind, the lid dropped. That could hardly dissuade her newfound fervor, however. Ramlin grabbed the lid and the box, holding them to her chest like priceless relics and sprinted into the kitchen, where her mother was preparing breakfast.

“Look! Look what I can do!” the girl put the box down onto the table. The child raised her hands into the air and willed the object to rise. She imagined it already levitating in the air and the box did – wobbling and shaking as it slowly floated upwards, detaching itself from the table and soaring through the air. It finally stopped ascending when it was hovering about midway between Ragda and Ramlin, at shoulder level for the mother. “See? Isn’t it awesome?” the child inquired. The woman stared at the metal container, horror evident in her eyes. Her gaze was piercing, her deep purple eyes glassy and clouded with memories and feelings. Ragda pulled away from her daughter almost instinctively, clasping her hands together and biting her lip. This shouldn’t be happening. Ragda was supposed to be praising the girl and telling her that she was amazing and talented and would soon grow to be a powerful witch. Not . . . this. Was there something bad about this strange magic? Was it dangerous or forbidden? If not, then why was Ragda reacting in this way? The box fell down. “Mom?” Ramlin didn’t feel so happy anymore all of a sudden “What’s wrong? Did I do something?” The woman’s eyes were still hazy as she shook her head, seeming to reign in her emotions. She smiled feebly, trying to give the child some kind of false reassurance, some feeling of a safety that wasn’t really there, trying to comfort her in a way that reeked of lies. Ramlin didn’t understand. Surely her mother would be overjoyed by the news that her only child was magical? Surely she would praise the girl for her discovery and teach the youth how to utilize this power? Nothing made any sense to the young sorceress. But Ragda seemed unwilling to answer, as the older woman swallowed and smoothed out her apron, taking extra time to get everything done. “Of course nothing is wrong, my dear.” the mother smiled a fake smile “You didn’t do anything bad, I can assure you.” “Then why aren’t you happy?” Ramlin demanded “Is there something wrong with my magic?” “Oh, I’m very happy for you!” the false smile grew even wider and Ragda averted her gaze “There’s nothing . . . abnormal about your magic, so don’t worry.” “But why do you look so strange?” the youth wasn’t satisfied “What magic do I have anyway?” “You see, Ramlin . . .” the mother tried to find the right words. “This magic is called mind control.” Chapter 4 Mind control. Mind control. I’m a mind controller.

Ramlin’s thoughts were racing with countless horrible ideas, innumerable scenarios, each telling a story more terrifying than the last. They all came back to one concept, one thing Ramlin did not want to know. Why me? She stared at the wall of her room, feeling as if it could somehow judge her. My family – the Witherbanes have always had earth magic! Even the first one, Hirges The Witherbane, was an earth mage, as were his parents before him! So, why me? Pushing her misery aside, Ramlin stood up. I need to know. “Mom!” she tried to sound happy and succeeded . . . at least partially “Why do I have mind control?” Ragda’s eyes wandered the room as she gripped a towel “No idea, Ramlin. You probably just happened to be born with this particular type of soul.” “It can’t just be coincidence!” the young Pejan was not convinced “Are all of my relatives not mind controllers? Am I the only one in the family?” “Well . . .” Ragda’s grip on the towel tightened “See, Ramlin, my b- your uncle, Geren . . . he was . . . like you . . . he could do mind control . . .” Uncle WHO??! Ramlin was sure she had never even heard the name Geren before, but to now know that it was the name of her uncle, an uncle she had neither seen nor heard of, an uncle who she had no idea existed in all six years of her life . . . “Who is my uncle?” she demanded “And why haven’t I heard of him before?” “He, uh, died . . . some time before you were born so I thought that – that it would be pointless to mention him to you.” Ramlin’s mother smiled feebly “After all, he’s dead so, there’s really no need to concern yourself with him!” Aha! Ramlin was triumphant “Was Geren your brother?” she asked. Ragda was silent for quite some time before answering “Yes. He is . . . was younger than me for seven years.” “Do you miss him?” Ramlin fired another question at her mother. Ragda clutched the towel with both hands, not daring to make eye contact. “No- I mean of course I do, after all, he was my brother and siblings share a special, unbreakable bond!” the older Pejan explained. “What happened to him?” Ramlin wasn’t satisfied. “Ah, uh, well, um, eh” Ragda made a series of strangled noises “He um, died of . . . of sickness.” “Of sickness?” Ramlin echoed the statement. “Yes.” the older pejan confirmed “Look, Ramlin, I’m busy. Go play outside.”

The child was not satisfied. She hesitated, before making her way to her grandmother’s room. She peeked in. Ilra was knitting either a sock or a glove. Ramlin paused. Grandma knows . . . what if she doesn’t want to talk to me anymore? A terrifying idea lodged itself in a dark corner of her mind. “Grandma . . .” she addressed the older woman “Did you know Geren? My uncle?” Ilra set her handiwork aside “Yes. He was a terrible man.” “A . . . what?” Ramlin didn’t really know what to make of this information. “He was a murderer.” Ilra deadpanned “He killed twenty – seven people. Those that he didn’t kill . . .” The woman was silent, seeming unwilling to disclose further information. “He was a mind controller . . . and he killed people . . .” the child connected a few dots in her mind “Does that mean . . . did my uncle participate in the Incident?!!” “He did.” the aged woman confirmed Ramlin’s fears. My uncle . . . my own uncle . . . he . . . he killed 27 people. Ramlin sat down next to the doorway. Are all mind controllers like him? Evil and mean? The child flinched. I am a mind controller too. She felt that her grandmother had dealt a heavy blow to not just her uncle, but to herself, Ramlin. But wait . . . “Grandma?” her voice shook “W – what did h – he do to those . . . those that he didn’t kill?” “Kirin could once move and speak. Ever wonder why she can’t now? Geren broke her spine!” Ilra spat “He clicked his fingers and – crack! Kirin’s back snapped in half!” The girl imagined a guy snapping his fingers and a woman’s body snapping in half, like the stem of a redskit plant after a storm. “Your father, Yern, could once see. Ever wonder why he’s blind now? Why his eyes aren’t there?” Ilra continued “Geren pulled them out! He moved his hand in the air and – splat! Yern’s eyes came right out of his eyesockets!” Ramlin imagined a man slowly turning his hand in the air and a pair of eyes dislodging themselves from another person’s skull at a measured pace. “Ilra! How can you tell such things to a child!” Ragda stood in the living room, arms crossed over her chest. Ilra glanced at Ragda without any fear “Ramlin must know what kind of bastard her uncle was! She needs to know what a horrible magic mind control is!” Everything that Ramlin had eaten so far demanded to be let back out. She could not stop herself as she vomited onto the floor right in between her mother and grandmother.

“See?” Ragda gestured at the pile of vomit that had appeared on the floor “Ramlin, let’s go clean you up.” She led her daughter to the kitchen and wiped the child’s face with a towel. “Now, go change.” the woman gently nudged Ramlin. The girl went to her room and changed into a new dress, tossing the now – soiled garment into the far corner of the room. Will I be . . . like my uncle? Does mind control . . . make you do bad things? There were so many questions she still had no answer to. Perhaps she didn’t want to hear the answers. It was hot inside and the air was stale, the child deciding to go outside. A part of her wanted to play with Aril, Ral and Yamil, to talk to Kessyl, to pretend that she didn’t know, but she was so afraid, of being exposed, of herself, that she really wanted to be alone. Besides, with so much on her mind she couldn’t really pretend, not for long. “Lin!” Aril approached her, smiling widely “Jessen said that I can play in the garden shed, so I made a little den in there! Do you wanna come?” “I . . . um . . .” Ramlin longed for company, but was it really safe for her to be around other people? “It’s right behind my house, come!” Aril tugged on her sleeve, the girl reluctantly following him “I put all my collections there and it’s like my own little heaven where I can write and experiment!” And indeed, the shed was large and spacious, containing a large shelf lined with books. An assortment of strange jars and boxes were littering the floor and Ramlin had to make an effort not to trip on anything. “See?” the boy practically shoved a book into the mind controller’s face “This is called “Conquests of Emperor Furo” and its an amazing history book, but also a biography on the fifth emperor. The best part is on pages 51-53, where the Battle of Jawbay is described. Imagine the battlefield, filled with violence, with the dead and the dying, with blood and limbs and severed heads!” Ramlin nodded, barely paying any attention to the child’s words. Her thoughts lingered on Geren and mind control. Did he want to do bad things? Or did mind control make him do it? Her stomach rumbled and she was reminded of her soiled dress and pile of vomit her mother had to clean up. “Lin, you look distracted.” Aril was quick to pick up the pieces “What happened? Did you . . . are you not magical?” The girl looked down, lips pressed tightly together. She didn’t know whether to lie or tell the truth. Both options seemed awful. “But seriously, magic is not that necessary in life. I mean, you can do most things without it and you need to be smart and brave and kind to get somewhere in life.” the dark – haired boy tried to cheer her up “And magic is such a hassle, people start expecting things of you when you’re a mage and then you’ve gotta train and practice and get good . . . it’s rather annoying, really.” “I wish I didn’t have magic.” the girl spat, before covering her mouth. This was not what she had meant to say. Ramlin didn’t know what to do.

“Oh, so you are magical!” Aril smiled “Wait, let me guess . . . you’re an earth mage?” “If only I was . . .” the girl looked down, fiddling with her sash. “Hmm . . . do you have air magic?” the child guessed again. Ramlin shook her head. Aril put the book back onto the shelf “Can you wield fire magic?” The girl sighed. “I know, I know! You can utilize dark magic!” the boy continued prying. “No I can’t” she proved him wrong again. “So . . . are you a mind controller?” he asked. Ramlin was silent. She didn’t know whether it would be worse to lie to her friend or tell the truth. “A . . . wow! I never knew you were a mind controller! That’s so cool!” Aril couldn’t hold back his excitement “Can you pull out teeth? Tear off fingers? Break necks? This is amazing! Lin, imagine, you can tear someone apart by the sheer force of your will!!!” “But . . . but I don’t want to!” she wailed “I don’t want to become evil!” “But you can only do that to evil people who threaten the safety of others. Like bandits or murderers.” the boy reasoned. “My uncle Geren . . . he killed people in the Incident. What if I will become like him?” the girl wasn’t convinced “What if mind control makes me evil?” “Geren . . .” Aril whispered “He killed my mom, dad, uncle, granddad, three cousins and two sisters. But you’re not like him, he was always mean and cruel. My brother told me.” Ramlin nodded. She felt like she still had to find out more. “Do you remember anything . . . of what happened then?” she asked. “I . . . well . . .” the usually talkative boy seemed to have trouble finding the right words “I was in a large, empty room and there were people laying on the floor. I tried to wake them up . . . I thought it was strange that they were sleeping there. Then someone came in through door – I think it was Jessen – and started crying. I didn’t understand why . . .” “Oh . . .” the girl too couldn’t find the right words “Were you scared?” “No, but I thought it was very strange.” the boy explained “I remember constantly asking Jessen when mom and dad would come back, but he never said anything.” “So do you really think mind control isn’t evil? My uncle killed your family!” Ramlin was still unable to believe him.

“Mind control is awesome.” Aril confirmed his previous words “Your uncle was just human garbage. I wish I had it too. Oh, I could have so much fun with that magic! But now I’m stuck as a healer who can’t heal.” “You can’t heal? I thought all light mages could do that!” the girl exclaimed. “Well, I thought so too.” the child sighed, tucking a strand of raven hair behind his ear “But I just couldn’t grasp it . . . and then I read a book . . . “Varieties of human souls” . . . it said that light magic has three disciplines: forcefield, projection and healing. A light mage can only grasp two of the three, some only being able to learn one.” “That means that you can make forcefields and these, um, projection things.” the mind controller deduced. “I don’t know if I can do light projection. Brother can’t and I have nowhere else to learn magic from.” the boy admitted “Jessen and Serifa are getting married, by the way. I really hope their kids will be healers, ‘cause I’m not and there shouldn’t be just one.” “But . . . but maybe you’re just a late bloomer and you’ll learn healing eventually!” Ramlin tried to cheer her friend up “I really started to think that I’m not magical when I suddenly discovered my mind control. What if it’s the same for you?” Aril shook his head “No. I’m older and I’ve tried to heal anyone at all for my entire life. You weren’t trying to tear off limbs with your willpower for years.” “I haven’t torn off anything!” the girl protested “I don’t want to do that!” “Okay . . . but can you show me what you can do? I’ve never actually seen mind control with my own blue eyes.” the boy suggested. “Your eyes aren’t blue.” the girl noted. “It’s a foreign figure of speech. I found it in “Merella’s travels”. Great book, if you didn’t know.” the purple – eyed pejan waved his hand “I really wanna see mind control though.” Ramlin took a deep breath. She focused on a small jar, thinking of its shape, size and texture. Suddenly, a dozen thoughts swarmed her mind, distracting her from the jar. The girl tried to keep herself focused on the object, but nothing worked. She closed her violet eyes, willing the empty vessel to rise, to obey her. It did not. The girl tried again, focusing on the jar, imagining it hovering in the air. “Wow! That’s so cool!” Aril beamed. Ramlin opened her eyes. The jar was floating barely a button’s length from the floor, but that seemed enough to please the curious boy. He was staring at the object as if it was holy, amazement clearly visible on his face. The jar fell, the girl no longer able to concentrate on it. Aril still continued gawking at it, as if it could rise again at any moment. “Um, I think it’s dinnertime.” the younger child looked out a hole in the wall clearly meant as a window “I’ll get going.” “Bye Lin!” the boy waved to her as she left “See ya!”

Maybe being a mind controller isn’t that bad Ramlin thought. Maybe her life would just go on and all would be like it was before. She was wrong. The next morning Ramlin went to get water from the well and soon noticed other people staring at her. They whispered something amongst themselves, keeping a respectable distance from the little girl. Kessyl seemed to pale quite a bit when she saw the child approach and it almost looked like she was afraid of the youngster. “What do you want?” she demanded, sounding hostile. “Mom said to bring water.” Ramlin showed Kessyl the bucket. “Next time, tell Ragda to come herself.” the water mage filled up the bucket. “Why?” the child asked. “You’re dangerous.” the teenager stated bluntly. “How?” the eight – year – old didn’t understand. “You’re a mind controller.” Kessyl was direct. Ramlin didn’t know what to say. She took the filled bucket and headed home, feeling much heavier than before. People still shot wary glances at her, but the girl barely noticed them. The clear sunny day had become gray and dark. Do I remind them of Geren? The child knew now that it had been silly to hope her life would just go on after this. What do I do? It seemed like the villagers barely knew her, like she had committed a grave sin just by existing. Even Ral and Yamil kept their distance, refusing to approach their once – friend. Aril was with Jessen, the boy noticing Ramlin and trying to come closer, but his brother yanked him back, like the girl was a dangerous animal that could be provoked by anything. What can I do? The girl returned home, setting the bucket down at the doorstep. Ragda was talking to someone off in the distance, unaware of the younger pejan’s presence. Ramlin crept closer and recognized the figure. It was Kerel, the mother of Hril and Yamil. The child wanted to go, but overheard the woman’s words and decided to listen. “. . . and Horata has been having nightmares again about what he did to her parents. I shouldn’t have told her. But really, something must be done. I’ve heard that there are masters who teach safe and responsible ways to wield that magic.” Kerel talked fast and the girl had some difficulty telling the words apart “Listen, I think it would be best if you could find someone to train your daughter. Who knows what she can do when she isn’t properly educated in her magic?” “Of course. We’ll head to Kischa’a and find a trainer.” Ragda nodded and the mind controller ducked behind the wall to avoid discovery. She just wants to get rid of me a dark thought entered her mind they all do.

Maybe they’re right to fear me. Chapter 5 The port city was lively, far more than Ramlin’s home would ever be. She remembered coming here as a small child with her mother. They had sold bags of centauria leaves and redskit poultice at the market. The young pejan – then just four years old – had marveled at the masses of people the likes of which she had never seen before and many strange buildings that were so unlike those back home. This time, Ramlin eyed the passing strangers with suspicion, knowing that if they were aware of her magic, she would be judged quite harshly. Ragda held the girl’s hand as they walked along the wide main street, passing well-maintained stone mansions of the rich. The child didn’t really know where they were headed, but assumed that they weren’t just wandering aimlessly. The sky was strangely cloudy and a strong wind blew from the sea. Perhaps it would rain. The two visitors crossed a large, open plaza, filled with beggars, thieves and market stalls, entering a large building with a clock on its wall. Inside, there were many tables, pejans writing on parchment, moving to and fro. The youngster soon realized that it was the town hall. “Excuse me” Ragda addressed one of the scribes “Is it possible to find a master to train my daughter in magic?” “What magic?” the man looked up at the provincials. “Mind control.” the woman almost whispered. “Your daughter is a mind controller?” the scribe exclaimed. The eyes of everyone in the room turned to Ramlin. “Why don’t you train her yourself?” he suggested. “Me and my husband are not mind controllers.” Ragda pulled her child closer to herself, away from the curious gazes of others. “Ah, so she’s adopted?” the man guessed. The earth mage pinched her nose “No. She takes after my brother.” “I see. My condolences to you and your husband. Now, about a trainer . . .” the scribe took a large book and flipped through the pages “The Danarride Empire provides free training to all children with mind control. There are five master mind controllers: two in Danarra, one in Farnis, one in Jawtown and one here.” “That master here . . . who are they?” Ragda showed interest. “Master Aloysa Daneer . . . a foreigner. She has lived here for 17 years and didn’t participate in the Incident.” he read from the tome.

“I will not have a foreigner teach my child!” the local declared “What about those in Danarra?” “There’s master Umla Whiteway, blessed by Ke-Ser and Master Feris Willowstab, blessed by Irmina.” the scribe turned the page “Master Whiteway is far more experienced, but takes only one apprentice at a time. She is currently free. Master Willowstab is younger and has just become a master. He has one student, but is open to the prospect of receiving another one.” “Ramlin will train with master Whiteway.” her mother decided. “Good, good.” the scribe took a paper and wrote something down “The training, housing and food is free, but you will have to pay for a carriage ride to Danarra.” Ragda nodded “And how will my daughter find where to go?” “This isn’t the first time a mind controller has gone to the capital for training. Tell the carriage driver your girl is coming to train under Master Whiteway, pay extra and he’ll take the kid to the right place.” the man wrote more “But first, I need to ask some questions. Your daughter’s name?” “Ramlin Witherbane, blessed by Ha’kella.” “Ramlin with an ‘i’ or a ‘y’?” “With an ‘i’.” “Her age?” “8” “Her parents?” “Ragda and Yern Witherbane.” “Place of residence?” “Min Ar Oasis.” “Date of birth?” “5 of 5th seed, year 822.” “Alright, that’s all.” he stamped the paper “We’ll have it delivered to Master Whiteway by howlingbird.” Ragda thanked him before leaving, Ramlin in tow. “We’re going to go home and pack your bag. Tomorrow, you’ll go to Danarra.” the woman addressed her daughter “I’m sure you’ll like it there.” Ramlin wasn’t so sure. After all, if mind control was so feared back home, why would it be any different in the capital? Chapter 6

The carriage ride was monotonous and uneventful, lasting for about a week. During this time, Ramlin was mostly left to her own devices, as she contemplated and wondered what would happen next. Will they teach me how to tear people apart? She gazed silently into the vast, empty desert. No, of course they won’t. Everyone is too afraid of mind controllers. In the distance, she saw walls and towers rise and guessed that it was Danarra. The few passengers Ramlin shared the cramped space with did their best to ignore her, as they had done for all of the journey. The carriage stopped and one of the guards at the city gate came forth to inspect it. He and the carriage driver shared some words, but the girl didn’t pay attention. Her mind was elsewhere. If only she had stayed quiet about her gift, then she would’ve been home and everyone would’ve loved her just the same. The other passengers started leaving, grabbing their bags and knapsacks. The girl hopped off and stretched to try and reduce the stiffness in her limbs. She looked around, unsure of what to do, when Irn, the carriage driver, grabbed her by the arm. “Come with me.” not waiting for the girl to respond, he started dragging her towards what Ramlin assumed to be her new residence. They walked together through a couple of straight, paved streets, before turning and continuing through dimly-lit narrow alleyways, surrounded by nearly identical five-story houses. The streets smelled of dirt and refuse, no locals in sight. The girl was dragged deeper into the labyrinth of back streets, the alleys becoming even darker and ever narrower. They reached a two-story stone mansion, surrounded by a tall fence Ramlin couldn’t see over, no matter how hard she tried. Irn knocked on the wooden gate, faded white paint chipping from it. For a few moments, everything was silent before the gate opened, seemingly of its own accord. The door was open and a middleaged woman stood in the doorway. She was tall and imposing, her hair tied into a loose bun and an apron draped over her faded scarlet dress. “She is your new student.” Irn informed the local, nudging Ramlin inside the enclosure. The girl took a few hesitant steps inside. The man turned and left, his footsteps quick, as if he was fleeing. The older woman shifted her posture, leaning against the doorway and the gate closed with a click. Ramlin seemed small and feeble in the vast, open courtyard, filled with nothing but a few blades of grass, when compared to her new teacher, no doubt able to kill the hapless child without even blinking if she ever wanted to. “Most students come to me at a far younger age.” Umla Whiteway stared down her pupil “You have great, maybe even unimaginable power. If you are patient and can control your instinctual urges, then you will prevail and the world will be at your command. If not, then woe and misfortune will befall you. Remember that well.” Ramlin stared back at the woman, not knowing what to say or do. In a way, she was truly speechless. “Enter.” the woman moved a few steps back and commanded. The child obeyed her teacher, even though the girl’s legs felt like jelly. The room was large, but rather empty and Ramlin felt very small in the vast chamber. Crates lined the walls and there was an unlit fireplace in the far corner. The child saw no window and when the door closed(seemingly on its own), the room became pitch black. Ramlin could only see Umla’s silhouette, looming over her, watching. The woman grabbed the girl’s hand and led her up the stairs, the younger pejan trying

hard not to stumble. It was late in the evening and the last rays of sunlight still shone through a window in the far corner of the hallway. There were numerous doors lining the walls and Umla opened the closest one without moving a single muscle. “This is your room.” she let go of Ramlin and the girl hesitantly put down her sack. “There is a pot under the bed and the outhouse is in the courtyard, behind the main building.” Umla informed her “Make sure to close the shutters when practicing mind control. Always.” Umla turned around and walked farther along the hallway. From the sound of it, she entered another room, closing the door behind her. Ramlin stood still for some time, watching the sun disappear behind the horizon, the sky darkening. She could see many similar-looking stone and clay houses, most with terraces on their roofs. A woman was hanging laundry onto a wooden railing situated on a nearby room. She hummed a gentle tune, albeit not one that the girl had ever heard before. The lady gazed over the rooftops, locking eyes with the young mind controllers for a moment. The woman stopped humming and descended from the roof. Ramlin sat down onto the bed, feeling empty and tired. She took her bag and piled its contents onto the end table. The room was plain, containing only the aforementioned pieces of furniture. The lone window had a simple brown frame and shutters of the same color. The girl stared at the worn, gray bedsheets and decided to lay down. That night she couldn’t fall asleep, ruminating on dark and troubling thoughts, staring out of the window into the cloudy, moonless sky, afraid of what the future would bring. Chapter 7 It was morning. Rays of sunlight shone through the window, illuminating the tiny, narrow room on the second floor of Umla’s mansion. Ramlin stirred, opening her eyes to see the plain brown walls of her personal chamber. I’m going to learn mind control today she stared into space If I had been quiet, I could’ve lived without magic. It’s not like I really need to make rocks float or light a fire in my hand! But . . . it would’ve been nice to. She rose slowly from her bed, the weathered frame creaking under her weight. “The outhouse is . . . in the yard . . . behind the house.” the girl mumbled. She peeked out of the doorway. All was quiet. The girl made her way downstairs and pushed the front door. Thankfully it was open. The pejan tiptoed into the garden, took a good look around and almost jumped out of her skin. Umla stood amongst the dead grass and withered thorns, a filled glass floating in the air besides her. How is she doing that? She turned around, but did not speak, staring at Ramlin, as if willing her to break the silence. The girl didn’t want to look at her teacher, she gazed instead at the dried plants, but the woman continued to stare straight at her. Eventually, Ramlin left and used the outhouse. When the child returned, she found her teacher standing on the exact same spot, sipping her drink. “Do we have . . . anything to eat?” the girl squeaked, examining her shoes. Umla did not answer. She strode past Ramlin, walking into the house. The child followed her. The woman stopped in front of the fireplace and took off the lid of a fairly large pot.

“The bowls are to the left, on the lowermost shelf.” she informed her student, while stirring whatever the pot contained with a long metal spoon. The child reached up and grabbed the closest one, noticing that Umla’s cup was still hovering in midair next to her. The girl reached out the bowl to the woman, who filled it, one spoonful of porridge at a time. The adult filled her own bowl and they sat down at the table, eating in silence. After they were done, Umla led Ramlin upstairs into a large, seemingly empty room. The windows on the far side of it were securely boarded up, no light able to enter them. Umla lit a candle and suddenly, everything changed. There were many different objects scattered around in the chamber, it wasn’t empty at all. The teacher put the candle on a chair right next to the door and beckoned Ramlin to come in. The door closed and something clicked inside of it – the child guessed the older pejan had locked the door. “Today, your training officially begins.” Umla spoke slowly, the lone candle illuminating her face “First, what have you already accomplished in mind control?” “I made a box float.” the girl answered hesitantly. The teacher studied the child, looking her over. Ramlin didn’t know what the silence meant and felt like she wanted to shrink under her mentor’s scrutinizing gaze. “Could you repeat the maneuver?” a small metal container floated towards the girl and landed on the floor right in front of her. The young pejan gulped, gazing at the box as if it could bite her. She slowly lifted her arms like the time before and tried to concentrate on the object, just it and nothing else. But being able to move it with her mind no longer seemed wondrous and amazing, now that this gift had taken the simple, peaceful life she once had and repressed thoughts and memories crawled back, Ramlin unable to stop them. The box didn’t even budge, staying firmly rooted to the floor. The girl lowered her arms and studied the wooden boards beneath her feet. Umla kept gazing at her student and the child felt that the teacher’s gaze held nothing but disdain and contempt for her. She felt compelled to try again and raised her arms, willing the object to rise. It stayed still, defying the novice mind controller, taunting her with its refusal to move. Ramlin tried again, but all her attempts were futile. Did the teacher even believe that the girl was a mind controller? “I can’t.” the student admitted defeat “This box is stupid.” “The fault does not lie within the object. It lies within you.” Umla pointed out “The essence of mind control is focus. You cannot be distracted or all your efforts will be in vain. Leave your wishes and worries behind. Think of this box, of its texture, size and shape. Think of how it rises up and hovers in the air. How you hold it up. How you hold absolute sway over it.” Ramlin nodded, closing her eyes. She focused her mind on the dark gray metal box and willed the empty vessel to rise. Worries and thoughts crawled into her mind, random thoughts and feelings demanding her attention, screaming for her to acknowledge them. The child chased them away, but they returned, gnawing at her. The state of focus and tranquility she had achieved when first revealing her magic seemed an impossible dream now. The box didn’t move. The girl opened her eyes and imagined the object ascending into the air, higher and higher. It didn’t work. The loathsome metal cube stayed frozen in place despite Ramlin’s best efforts to move it.

“I can’t!” she raged “This is pointless!” The teacher watched, her mouth forming a thin line “You’re having trouble concentrating. Perhaps meditation could help you.” “What’s that?” the child asked, curiosity driving her. “You think of nothing. You do nothing. You just are.” the teacher tried to explain “For me, it’s relaxing and it has helped me when I was just starting to learn magic.” “Oh, okay.” the girl nodded. “The training is over for today.” Umla announced, much to Ramlin’s surprise. “Can I go outside?” the youngster requested. “Yes. Don’t get lost, don’t practice mind control in public, don’t talk about mind control, and come home before sunset.” the woman listed her demands. “Thanks!” the child scampered off, down the stairs, into the yard, past the wooden gate. She closed it behind her and took a breath of fresh afternoon air. It was noticeably less dry than back home. Five-story clay houses stretched as far as Ramlin could see. She didn’t know where to head, the city was just so large. She walked down the alleyway, examining the tall, flat-roofed buildings. Never before had she seen houses so big – not even in Kischa’a. In the south, all structures had round roofs, but everything was so different here. The girl spotted a shop of some sort and came closer. It was the workplace of a potter, jugs and bowls lined in rows and resting on shelves. The man was working on a vase, barely touching it with his hands as the clay took form. If I could do earth magic, I’d still be home Ramlin reminded herself. If only she could be rid of mind control and be a normal wizard instead. Even being a magicless cripple seemed preferable to this. “Hey!” a young boy ran up to her “I’vent seen you ‘round here! You new? What’s your name?” The girl stood still like a stone pillar. “Ramlin Witherbane, blessed by Ha’kella.” she managed to utter. “Awesom! I’m also blessed by Ha’kella. You’re definitely new, ‘cause I live right here on this alley and know everyon’ who passes through by face and name!” the child rambled on “Name’s Ril-Sil, by the way. Y’know, with the festival of the Violets comin’ so soon, I could show you the best place to gather tenweed in the whole of Danerrai!” “There’s a festival of the Violets?!” the girl exclaimed “Also, what is tenweed and why should I gather it?” “Yea! The festival is uh, annuil . . . annuel . . . um, it happens ev’ry year.” the local confirmed his words “And tenweed grows in water and imma offer it to Ha’kella as a . . . a . . . I dunno how it’s called, but how’d you not know ‘bout this? Where are you even from?” “Min Ar Oasis.” Ramlin told him. “Where’s that?” the boy blinked

“It’s . . . south of here. Near Kischa’a, but far from the sea.” the girl explained the best she could. “Really? I’vent met anyone from there before!” Ril-Sil almost squealed in excitement “Why’re you here, then?” “I came to learn mind control.” the pejan blurted out, regretting her words almost instantaneously. “Oh.” the boy fell silent. Ramlin didn’t know what to do or say. She suddenly felt hot, very hot, an uncomfortable felling settling deep in her chest. Ril-Sil took careful steps away from the girl, eyeing her as if she could instantly vaporize him. Then, he turned and ran, like a thief after a failed heist. Ramlin wanted to call out to him, but recognized the futility of the gesture beforehand. Instead, she fled the scene, dashing into Umla’s garden. The child slammed the gate shut behind her and sat down by the fence. The sky was clear and sunny as always, but the mind controller didn’t notice it on purpose. Umla was right. Ramlin’s gift only brought her trouble. She examined the dead plants in the shade of the manor, scrutinizing the faded blades of grass that would never grow and flourish. The child felt like them, withering and wilting in an empty, lifeless cage, while the sun was shining right outside the gate. What can I do? The girl didn’t know, didn’t see any way to make her life better, to stop the shadow of the Incident from looming over her future. And what future did she have as a mind controller, as an outcast in her own home? Her magic was far less awesome and cool than Aril had thought. Of course, Ramlin could’ve gone and searched for someone else to talk to, but she had no desire to. At least, not anymore. Chapter 8 In the months following Ramlin’s arrival, the girl had made little progress. She did manage to acquire more experience with levitating objects, but it wasn’t fast enough for Umla. The girl concentrated on the metal spoon laying on the table, recreating its image in her mind, willing it to rise. It obeyed and started to move through the air, when a stray glimpse of Kessyl’s scornful glare flashed in the child’s mind. The object clattered down onto the table, where other similar utensils were resting. The teacher watched her student, the woman’s expression still unintelligible even after weeks of living under her constant stares. “Your focus has improved.” Umla noted “Quite slowly, but compared to the rascals I usually have to teach, it isn’t bad at all.” “I’ve heard that magic is powered by emotion. Why doesn’t mind control work this way?” the girl felt the courage to ask a question that had long bothered her. “All magic is powered by emotion in some way. Strong feelings make magic stronger and many wizards have found that under the influence of say, hatred or terror, they are able to use sorcery for longer before tiring. Magic comes from the soul, wizards are born, not made. For example, all mind controllers have green souls. The soul is closely interlinked with the consciousness, that is why emotions can impact magic. But mind control is something of an anomaly amongst the various types of wizardry. The main driving force in this magic is focus, not simply the suppression of all feelings and thoughts. That is why to achieve something in your gift, you must not let anything distract you. Pursue a singular task with all of your being, purge all bothersome instincts and desires

from your head. This is the only way to proceed with your training, Ramlin.” the woman finished her winding rant. The child blinked “I don’t get it.” Her teacher shot her an icy stare “Do I need to repeat myself?” Ramlin shook her head. In truth, she had even more questions than before. Umla set a wheel onto the table, displacing a fair amount of silverware. “Levitate it.” she commanded. “But it . . . it’s so big! How do I make it fly?” the child was taken aback. She had only ever levitated forks, spoons, jugs and tiny boxes . . . how could Umla expect such a gargantuan contraption to float at her command? The girl almost stepped back from the table upon which the wheel was now perched, staunch and unmoving. She gulped, forcing her anxiety to stay silent and lifted her arms, focusing on lifting the enormous object. It budged, detaching itself from the table. Ramlin smiled in triumph, but as soon as her lips moved, the wheel dropped down again, rolling off the table and onto the floor. The girl sighed. The teacher stared. “Something is stopping you.” she noted “Is it emotion? Is it your fears? Is it an apprehension?” “There’s nothing wrong . . . focusing is just hard.” the child told Umla. The teacher continued staring and it seemed like she didn’t believe her student. “Try again.” the woman ordered, a hard edge to her voice. Ramlin wasn’t an idiot and so she attempted to raise the wheel again. But a dreadful feeling still lingered and crawled in her mind, twisting the child’s stomach into knots and slithering over her spine like a cold breeze. Nothing came of her attempt and the object stayed on the table, despite the girl’s best efforts. “Still” Umla pondered aloud “You seem to have a lot of trouble with simple levitation. Almost all students your age learn it much faster. Then again, perhaps you just happen to have an unsuitable personality – some people I’ve met seem to never be able to focus.” Ramlin nodded. “The lesson is concluded.” the teacher decided rather suddenly “I have to go to the market. I suggest you come with me to learn the layout of the city better.” The girl nodded again. Some time later, when Umla had found a suitable basket and Ramlin had equipped a bonnet her mentor casually tossed her(mysteriously, it fit the child almost perfectly, being far too small for the master to wear), the mind controllers departed. The alleyways were dirty and narrow, widening ever so slightly as they approached a square flanked on all sides by the same dingy five-story houses like everywhere else. The girl suddenly realized that the mansion she lived in seemed way out of place amongst the dirt, dust and carbon-copy buildings all around it. In fact, everything around the provincial seemed unclean, from the unpaved dirt roads to the rickety wooden market stalls. Danarra was truly even more different than home.

Umla strode confidently towards a merchant selling an assortment of fruits, leaving the child to look around on her own. Ramlin noticed a small sand-cat – likely a kitten – emerge from one side street, holding something in its jaws. The mind controller came closer to the sandy yellow animal, the kitten studying her with wide, round eyes. “There you are, Maris!” a boy ran after his escaped pet “Bad kitty! Don’t run away from me!” Yet more young children, most about Ramlin’s age chased after the creature. They stopped abruptly when they noticed the provincial. An older boy whispered something to a sickly-looking girl, pointing at the mind controller. “You’re the mind controller Ril-Sil talked about!” the younger child squeaked, seeming completely unafraid “I think it’s high time you left our peaceful neighborhood alone.” Ramlin blinked. This turn of events wasn’t what she expected. “Yes, you.” the girl pointed her finger at the mind controller “What did we ever do to you? Sil said you almost tore him in half. So, you better leave.” “I didn’t . . .” the provincial began. “Don’t listen to that scum!” an older boy cut her off. “This place ain’t for you. Get back to the dirt hole you came out of or there will be consequences.” another child declared. The mind controller felt hot. More and more people circled her, staring at her like at a cockroach or other such pest. She wished she could run, but her buttery feet no longer obeyed her. This shouldn’t be happening! She had screwed up, but there was no escape, the locals surrounded her, like a pack of werewolves. The street seemed confined and airless, even the buildings seemed to close in on her. A cacophony of voices assaulted her from all directions, sounding like the indistinguishable roars of desert predators. “Come on, monster. Nobody wants you, nobody needs you.” a deep voice whispered into her ear “So, why don’t you just die?” Ramlin turned sharply and came face-to-face with an older man. He smiled, like a werewolf about to pounce at their prey. Even more voices sounded around the girl, but she couldn’t distinguish between them anymore. In place of the local was a huge, furry wolf-man, teeth bared, desert sand whipping around him. The child’s breathing grew shallow, she could only see the wolf’s claws, about to slice her open. Ramlin’s heart beat loud and fast like a drum, she was cornered, surrounded by vile creatures, slobbering at the sight of fresh meat. The girl’s mouth opened, but she couldn’t make a sound, only wail in silence. This was the end for her, the predators came closer and closer, there was no way to fight them. She could only watch, nailed in place, feet bolted to the ground, seeing her tiny body reflected in the soulless eyes of the beasts. She could feel their sharp claws graze her flesh, could feel their breath on her skin. It smelled of blood. In her mind, the child knew that she was in Danarra, surrounded by people, but her eyes only saw animals and sand dunes. They came closer and closer, predators on two feet, eyes set on their prey. Ramlin could almost see her tiny, frail body mangled by the teeth of the beasts, chunks of flesh torn out, just like Hril’s. The creatures growled and snarled, digging their

claws into her arm, dragging her after them like a doll. Ramlin found her voice and screamed, the air itself tightening around her throat. She couldn’t breathe, trying to rip her arm out of the werewolf’s grasp. The monster pushed her against a wall, grasping her shoulders. Its voice seemed familiar, like she had heard it before . . . “Ramlin!” she could make out Umla’s face hovering above her “Calm down! Whatever you’re seeing isn’t real!” The imaginary werewolves were still there, sharp fangs coated in blood. But now the girl knew that she was safe and tried to breathe in and out deeply, although the air was hot and suffocatingly heavy. The mind controller held on to her teacher’s hand, letting the adult lead her away. The hungry eyes of the wolves were still trailed on her, but they didn’t really exist, their images fading into the afternoon air. And she had ruined everything again. She was the one who blabbed out her secret to Ril-Sil. She was the one who couldn’t handle some petty bullies. She was the one who just had to imagine scary animals hunting her. She was the one who lost sight of reality. By Orsonna, the entire district must’ve heard her scream at something that didn’t exist! And how much trouble had she already caused her mentor! By this point, it was a miracle if she didn’t get sent back. And either way, no one wanted her to be near. Not even her mother and father, who had bought her a one-way trip to this hole. Ramlin didn’t know how to apologize to Umla, or how to explain what had happened. The mansion’s gate opened silently, letting the two mind controllers in, clicking shut behind them. The girl still struggled to get enough air, but the cage around her chest was slowly dissipating. “Um . . . I’m sorry . . . I . . .” the child attempted to smooth things out, to explain herself to her mentor, but no words came to mind. “After the Incident, I’ve had some similar episodes. Although it does beg the question of what could traumatize an eight-year-old so much . . .” the woman confessed “Don’t listen to these people – they’re all bark and no bite. They are also quite stupid and unsuccessful in life, so they try to antagonize better-off folks out of envy and spite.” “Really?” the child raised an eyebrow “But they said . . .” “It doesn’t matter what they said.” the teacher looked the girl over “The locals are far too afraid of mind control to try anything. So far, none of my students have experienced bodily harm at the hands of them.” “What happened to your last student?” Ramlin asked for no real reason. “Well, it’s quite the sad tale. I found him in his room one day, the bedsheets twisted around his neck.” Umla didn’t sound bothered about the recounted event at all “Suicide. Such a shame, he was very proficient and had so many bright ideas.” “But why did he . . ?” the youngster didn’t dare finish her question. “I don’t know. A falling out with his parents, perhaps? They used to send him letters.” the mentor shrugged. The girl nodded, feeling a strange sense of dread crawl into her gut. It seemed she wasn’t the only one who found being Umla’s apprentice challenging. Would the city ever treat Ramlin kinder?

Chapter 9 After her boring and repetitive training session, Ramlin was finally free. She could go wherever she wanted to and do whatever she wanted to. “Ramlin” her teacher addressed the girl “Today, at four after sunhigh, Harlin, a fellow master mind controller will be coming to visit. Your attendance is required.” The child was about to pout, but curiosity overcame her “Who’s Harlin? Why haven’t I heard of them before? Do they live in Danarra too? Were they involved in the Incident? Do you like them?” “Firstly, Harlin is a woman. Secondly, she will answer all these questions herself.” the master levitated a broom into the air and went downstairs – likely wishing to clean. Still, the girl now only had an hour for herself. The time passed as if it were an instant and Ramlin found herself standing besides Umla in the empty garden. Harlin came almost exactly when she was supposed to. The child didn’t really know what to expect and eyed the stranger, waiting to see what she’d do. The woman was wearing a cowl, bangs sticking out from under it. Unlike Umla, the guest had long, loose hair that reached her waist. Ramlin wondered why the arrival was grieving and for who. “It’s been a while, Master Whiteway.” Harlin’s tone was informal “You sure you haven’t been missing me like crazy?” “How could I miss someone who keeps the lid off the soup pot?” the other master sounded far less serious than usual “And have I ever been crazy?” “Oh yes.” the stranger sighed dramatically “The age-old question of whether a pot should be stored with or without the lid. But you should know that I will stand by my choice until the end.” “I am aware.” Ramlin’s teacher nodded. “Really, we should meet more often.” the guest offered. “I’m definitely not visiting you. Last time I came, the kids almost smothered me.” Umla rolled her eyes. “You just can’t handle more than two kids at a time.” the woman noted “Why don’t we head inside?” The eldest pejan seemed to agree and the gate closed, the mind controllers making their way into the house. Ramlin was hesitant to approach the newcomer, although she seemed nice. “Hi” the girl greeted her “Nice to meet you.” The child suddenly forgot what she had wanted to ask the master. “Ah yes. Ramlin, correct?” the woman studied the youngster, but her gaze was warm and nonthreatening. The younger pejan nodded.

“Do you live in Danarra?” she finally remembered the questions. “No. I live in Farnis. It’s not that far from here – about half a day’s ride on a spiderling.” Harlin informed the child “I teach young mind controllers not much older than you how to use their gift.” “Okay” Ramlin processed the information “Do you like Umla?” “Do I like her?” the woman laughed “If I didn’t, we wouldn’t be married!” “Wait, what?!” the child almost jumped “You don’t even live together!” “It’s none of your concerns whether we live together or not.” Umla’s scowl became more pronounced “And I am not required to tell you what I do in my private life.” The provincial wasn’t sure if she should ask more questions. But Harlin was still smiling at her, as if she was silently encouraging the child’s pursuit of knowledge. “Did you participate in the Incident?” she fired another question at the woman. “Of course she did.” Umla answered for her wife “No mind controller was left untouched by this event.” “But why did the Incident happen?” she looked at the two adults. “It’s a very long story.” Harlin sighed “But you should know it. Many years ago the husband of Empress Lyrian was killed by a mind controller assassin. The woman possessed little common sense or logic and decided that mind control was inherently more dangerous than other magic. Heavy regulations were placed on the practice of this magic.” “For centuries, animals were used to practice difficult techniques.” Umla explained “For centuries, mind controllers had specific places where they practiced self-levitation. For centuries, we gathered to exchange knowledge and show off our power. All this was banned by that empress. Furthermore, we were forbidden from using our magic in public. Anyone found doing so would be charged a heavy fine.” “That’s stupid! Why would she do that?” the girl exclaimed. “I don’t mean any disrespect to our empresses and emperors, but not everyone with absolute power is smart enough to do good with it.” the guest poured herself some water and continued “We were outraged. And then this man came along . . . Raeres. He talked to me and others in their dreams. He was so convincing . . . you couldn’t help but listen and believe his words. The only thing standing between us and his vision of paradise were “lesser mages” . . . they had to be pacified, ruled over in fear . . . it was hard to disobey him, but I’m proud I did. Many others, even good and otherwise normal mind controllers listened to him. That’s why they went out and started killing . . . it was his order.” The woman paused, a dark shadow hanging over her eyes. “I hadn’t realized how many people Raeres had managed to convince.” the haunted look didn’t disappear from her face as she spoke “When I saw fellow mind controllers threaten innocents . . . I

put them all down. My daughter Merella believed him . . . I don’t even know why . . . she didn’t listen to me anymore when I told her to stop . . .” Harlin fell silent, gaze downcast. Her bangs obscured her facial expression. “The Mind Controller Incident was a terrible mistake.” Umla summarized “But what happened after is often forgotten about. The friends and relatives of those killed searched for mind controllers. Many of my students were killed by the vengeful mob. They knew no mercy. Children were butchered alongside their parents. I had to hide in a sewer and eat rats just to survive.” “And yet, no one remembers these days. More mind controllers were slaughtered than had participated in the Incident. Far more.” Harlin’s brows were furrowed as she spoke “I had another child. Marlin, my younger daughter was killed. Her body was strung up on a lamp post, naked, for everyone to see. I never had the chance to bury her . . .” Ramlin couldn’t help but stare at the woman. She had learned so much, way more than she had expected. The child didn’t know what to do or say. Finally, after a long while, she sat next to Harlin at the dinner table. “I’m sorry.” the girl mumbled. “Don’t be. I’ve told this story to all my students. It is easy to forget what was, to pretend these horrors never happened, but the truth must be known. If we don’t learn from the past, we will be doomed to repeat these mistakes in the future.” Umla brought a pot of soup, placing it onto the table. “The food is ready.” her voice was dry and her frown was deeper than usual. Perhaps she didn’t like remembering the past. The three mind controllers ate in silence, Ramlin thinking of more questions she might ask. But the girl didn’t dare to. After all the bowl were neatly stacked next to the washbasin, Umla beckoned Ramlin to come upstairs. Harlin followed close behind. “This visit also has a very practical purpose.” the guest turned to the student “You need to learn the knockout move for self-defense. It’s . . . kind of illegal, but we have decided it too important not to teach.” “Why do you need to be here too?” the child looked up. “Because you’re going to practice it on me. Umla will observe and intervene, if necessary.” the woman smiled. “The key is to gently pull and squeeze the back of her neck. Don’t maintain the pressure for long, a few seconds should do the trick.” the other master instructed. Harlin sat down on the floor, with her back against the wall. The girl gulped. What if I hurt her? She forced the nasty feeling down, deeper into herself and raised her arms. The youngster focused, something gnawing at her in the pit of her stomach. And indeed, the guest went limp, her body falling sideways. Ramlin lowered her arms. Harlin looked so lifeless, like a corpse, like Hril . . . “Is she okay?!” the girl yelped “Did I kill her?!!”

Umla inspected the woman “Unconscious. Impressive. You performed surprisingly well. She will wake up in about 10 minutes, so if you are forced to use this move in a combat situation, run away very fast.” “So I didn’t hurt Harlin? She looks so . . .” the child wasn’t convinced. “The knockout move isn’t meant to hurt the target. I don’t teach combat moves anymore, not after my student-turned-mass-murderer killed dozens of people while visiting his family on vacation. He hadn’t even finished his training.” the teacher explained. “Who?” the girl asked. “Geren Wintertide, blessed by Stardancer.” Umla said “In retrospect, I shouldn’t have taught him any combat moves. He seemed like a very capable and pleasant young lad, but you never know . . .” “My uncle was named Geren. He killed 27 people in the Incident.” Ramlin remembered. “Well, he did mention that he was going to some oasis-village northeast of Kischa’a to see his parents and older sister.” the woman nodded. “Min Ar Oasis.” the girl whispered. “Yes, something like that.” the master looked at her pupil “You know, when I learned that another young child from the same town was coming here, I wondered if Geren’s sister had any children.” Harlin stirred, as if awakening from a nap, yawning and stumbling upright. Ramlin gazed wordlessly at her teacher, blinking. “I guess I have my answer now.” Umla stared back. The girl felt as if she had been hit by a bolt of lightning. Her uncle, her evil, murderous uncle had studied with Umla? He seemed like a pleasant young lad . . . she recalled Umla’s words. Was Geren really a monster? Or did Raeres force him to kill and taint his good name? Was this her fate too? To become a monster? “Raeres . . . did he force mind controllers to do his bidding? Take over their minds?” she questioned the still-drowsy Harlin. “What? No, no . . .” the woman mumbled “See, he was ridiculously convincing, like a cult leader, by Orsonna, he probably was one . . . but I didn’t listen to him. Didn’t believe his words. But he was . . . persistent. Hard to ignore. I could still think straight though.” “What about my uncle? Could Raeres have forced him to kill?” the child pondered. “Forced him?” the guest bit her lip “I . . . don’t know. I wonder if it’s my fault that Merella . . . well, tried to fulfill his vision. It’s easy to believe that . . . that he controlled her mind and the minds of others, that it wasn’t their fault, what happened . . . but if I could break free, so could’ve they. And it’s easy to believe your uncle was always a bastard, that all mind controllers are evil, just waiting to become criminals . . . but I refuse to believe that Merella was despicable scum and I refuse to believe the students I taught from their childhood were horrors-in-waiting and I refuse to believe that other masters, my colleagues were irredeemable maniacs.”

“So . . . should I love uncle Geren or should I hate him and forget of his existence?” the student asked. “That’s your decision.” Umla answered “But you should know that you are very different than he was. And truthfully, it doesn’t matter anyway, because Geren is long dead.” The girl felt quite relieved to know that she wasn’t like her uncle. After all, if they were so different, there was no chance of her ever becoming like him, doing the things he did. Right? Chapter 10 The docks were bustling with activity, as new ships were pulled into the harbor and let off their passengers and goods. Ramlin watched the sea and the vessels, silently surveying the new arrivals. Her eyes were drawn to the colorful foreigners milling around. One younger arrival approached her. “Where . . .” she moved her arms around, trying to find the right words. “What are you looking for?” the local stared back. “Place, where . . . eating” the teenager had a thick accent. “Over there.” Ramlin gestured to a run-down tavern. The girl didn’t seem to understand, but charged down to the building anyway. I don’t really have anything to do, might as well see what that gal is up to. Ramlin strode towards the same inn, entering the dark and dingy building. The smell of refuse and alcohol assaulted her nostrils. She cringed, but got a hold of herself and spotted the foreigner sitting at a table with two pejans. “Can I . . . sit with you?” the mind controller inquired quietly. The pejan woman nodded, pointing at an empty seat. “New arrival, eh?” she addressed the stocky, but short girl “What’s your name?” “Sadra.” she fidgeted nervously and lowered her eyes “daughter of Anthel.” “Elnir.” the man introduced himself “The gal is Kessyl.” Kessyl?! No, this isn’t Kessyl Wellwatcher . . . Ramlin shook her head. “I’m Ramlin” she told them “Witherbane, blessed by Ha’kella.” “You new too?” the other Kessyl asked Ramlin. “Yeah. I’ve lived here for some 8 years.” the teenager smiled. Elnir laughed, spit flying onto the table. The girl fished a piece of thorn cracker from her bag and offered it to Sadra. She grabbed it, throwing the whole thing into her mouth, devouring it with with visible enjoyment.

“Where ya from, lass?” Elnir questioned Sadra. The youngster stared at him, her face suddenly displaying a whole bundle of emotions that the mind controller couldn’t untangle. “. . . Feryceen . . .” she whispered after a lengthy pause. Her eyes seemed to turn into shards of dark blue glass and Ramlin realized the foreigner was staring into space. Like a corpse. Like Hril . . . the local shuddered. The younger girl’s gaze was empty and dull, not seeing the present, but reliving the past. “What’s wrong?” the older girl grasped the child’s shoulder, getting the former out of her stupor. “No wrong. I were thinking.” she shook her head. “How ‘bout a story?” Elnir offered. Ramlin nodded, along with the other occupants of the table. “So” the muscular man began “The Incident happened 16 years ago. But not all of the mind controller bastards died then. Oh no. a new generations of monsters is growing up. And they’re planning a new Incident to kill off those they didn’t get the first time.” The mind controller tried to keep her expression calm and stoic, but she could already feel her heart pump faster. “And one day, I met some boy studying this vile magic. He was young, ten or so, but he was probably already thinking of killing someone. The kid said he’d learned some magic trick and his face turned so smug when I asked him to show it. Said it was taught to him by his mentor, Umami Witchway, or something like that. He . . .” Ramlin felt her hands ball into fists and her chest constricted. The air turned heavy and suffocating. The teen wished she could block out the man’s words, like white noise, but she was forced to listen on and on about all the cruelties inflicted upon the boy. Now she knew what had happened to Umla’s previous student. The girl shivered as Elnir continued in painful, unnecessary detail. They would do that to a child. Her blood boiled and they’re happy. They think it’s justice. No wonder the kid hung himself later. Kessyl laughed at the tale and Ramlin wanted to slap her. How could Sadra just sit and listen, showing silent approval? And how dare they speak in such a manner about all mind controllers? How could these people insult Umla, Ramlin’s mentor like that? And how dare they insinuate that Harlin, who had killed her own daughter in the name of justice, was a monster?! “Well, maybe if you keep treating us this way, another Incident will indeed happen!” the teenager couldn’t hold here feelings in any longer “You know nothing of what really caused the Incident! All of your actions only poison the lives of those innocent, children born after the events and survivors who killed their crazed friends and kin to protect people like you! We are pejans, human beings just like you, who were randomly born with a certain soul! There is no shame in being a mind controller, there is nothing wrong in mind control! You are the problem, you are the monsters, you are the danger!”

The tavern had gone silent, a dozen eyes staring at the girl from all directions. They were waiting for her to make another move, observing the pejan in shocked silence. Ramlin huffed and stormed outside, trying to seem confident and dignified. In truth, anxiety ate away at her intestines. She had exploded, blown her peace of mind to shreds. Once again, the girl had said the wrong thing at the wrong time, like she always did. With the anger gone, an emptiness soon replaced it, a sinking feeling worming its way around the teenager’s soul. The gravity of the situation started to catch up to her – speaking up for mind controllers wasn’t something taken lightly. Ramlin wondered if Umla would be angry or proud of her decision. I just had to boil over at the worst possible moment – in front of a crowd, no less! The girl leaned against the wall of a nearby building, her breathing still uneven and constricted. And the crowd . . . the crowd could find her at any moment and do to her what was done to the boy. Ramlin gasped and looked around, listening for any sound, any hint of an angry mob that wished to doom her. The mind controller could already imagine her body laying on the sand, in a puddle of blood, her eyes empty and dull, staring forever into nothingness . . . The terrible sound of footfalls came from a nearby alley, coming closer and closer, heralding doom. The teenager clasped her hands over her mouth, afraid she would scream on the top of her lungs if given the chance. Her body seized up, unable to move, the air tightening into a suffocating cloud around the unlucky youth. A shadowy figure approached, as Ramlin tried to recall the knockout grab, to no avail. It was as if someone had wiped her memory clean of any mind control techniques that could help her. Perhaps Orsonna herself had decided, that the time of one foolish mind controller was up? The menacing shape came into view and it took the girl less than a second to recognize the strikingly round features and wavy hair. It was Sadra. Ramlin simply stared. She was speechless, still paralyzed in terror, not knowing the foreigner’s intentions. “You really . . . really . . . brave.” she struggled to find the right words “They can not hurt people who mind . . . controlled . . . controlling . . . controller because they are so.” The older girl raised an eyebrow “Can you even understand what this is about?” “Yes. No.” Sadra tried to explain. She raised her arms, but dropped them to her side moments later. A tense silence blossomed in the alleyway. Ramlin sighed and heard approaching footsteps once more. This time, the steps were that of a crowd. The mind controller realized immediately what was going on, her eyes widened and the air became unbearably hot, like it came from inside a furnace or above a lit stove. She dashed away from the loud sound that resembled the growling and howling of werewolves. The young lady fell, her feet turning into porridge, unable to support her weight. Clammy hands grasped the corner of a wall, hauling Ramlin upright as she crawled behind the warehouse. Sadra had stayed behind, perhaps out of misplaced courage or simple stupidity. Maybe she didn’t even realize what was going on. The mind controller leaned against the wall, her body shaking all over, as if she was cold. The girl felt anything but chilly, however. She could hear the raging mob in the street next to her, their

enraged voices melting into one howl of rage and hatred, intentions clear as day. The teen felt like the wheezy, rapid breaths she took could give her away at any moment, leave her at the mercy of the frenzied crowd. This is my chance to escape! She told the nightmarish images that had flooded her mind, to no avail. Slowly, the mind controller stood up, detaching her trembling body from the wall, taking measured, quiet steps, intending to slink away. She felt that the werewolves . . . pejans could detect her by the sound of her racing heartbeat alone, not even taking into account the sweaty smell and clumsy, uncoordinated movements. It seemed like a miracle that she had managed to get this far and Ramlin offered a silent thanks to Orsonna and Ha’kella, who had already kept her safe once before. Suddenly, she heard the sound of breaking bone and a scream that seemed to pierce through her flesh. Ramlin, do something! Hril’s last words echoed in her mind. Ramlin froze. The crowd was attacking Sadra, likely demanding to know where the “monster” went. The girl quickened her pace, knowing that at any moment, someone could peek around the corner and expose her . . . it was quite nauseating. But the young, wide-eyed foreigner didn’t deserve this fate – to be left at the mercy of predators, while the person who she tried to protect just walked away. Unease settled inside the mind controller. She had to leave Sadra, she had to get away, quickly, quickly . . . yes, the child would suffer horribly, like that boy had, like Harlin’s daughter Marlin had, but . . . . . . she could stop them. She had the power to incapacitate the mob and if she really wanted to, she could squeeze their necks so hard they broke and all these people would never wake up. The only choice was whether she’d run or fight. Ramlin had nothing to fear. Nothing at all. She just had to . . . The teenager felt detached from herself, as if she was watching someone else. The girl walked to face the angry mass, the animals barely having any time to detect her before she lifted her arm. Some were still, some flailed helplessly, but one by one they fell down, leaving the dust road paved with corpses . . . no, with unconscious pejans. Ramlin looked down upon them and all the feelings she had suspended came rushing back. Sadra was frozen in shock, gripping her right arm. The people would soon wake up and remember Ramlin and she would be in deep trouble. And the younger girl suffered needlessly, because the mind controller just couldn’t keep her mouth shut. The local felt like her yellow skin was several shades paler than usual and the feeling of suffocation didn’t disappear anywhere. “We need to leave.” the pejan whispered “We’ll be dead when they wake up.” Sadra didn’t seem to listen. She stared through Ramlin, as if the former was a ghost or patch of fog. She was hunched over, trying to shield and cover her chest, holding her now-useless arm tightly above the elbow. “We’ll be dead. Dead.” the older girl repeated, moving her finger over her neck, as if it was an ax decapitating the teen. That Sadra seemed to understand as she sprung to life, running from the street. Ramlin followed, finding it hard to keep up with the tenacious youth, feeling like her spindly feet were made of porridge. They made it back to the docks, where life went on as usual, no one yet aware of Ramlin’s transgression. The foreigner scanned the area, seemingly unburdened by her broken arm, before approaching the water. She moved her working limb up and down, feeling the liquid(Ramlin guessed she was a water mage) and looked back at the local.

“Hold me.” she said and the pejan raised an eyebrow. “I has plan.” she explained. The mind controller reluctantly approached her companion by fate. They stood at the edge of the shimmering water, a bustling city behind them, a perceived injustice hanging above their heads like an executioner’s sword waiting to fall. The older girl came even closer, wrapping her arms around the younger after a moment’s hesitation. Sadra felt weirdly cold to the touch. A current of wind approached the kids from behind and before Ramlin could react, the gale swept the two off their feet. Both women lost their balance and water closed in around them. They were completely submerged. Ramlin knew she couldn’t scream, but all she wanted was to get out of the wet casket surrounding her. They were deep below the docks, almost at the bottom of the bay, the mind controller’s sight murky. To her surprise, a large bubble of air formed around her and Sadra – she was an air mage, after all. But how could she swim with a broken arm then? Unless . . . but having two kinds of magic was impossible, right? She had read as much in one of Aril’s books (although she had read that quite a long time ago). Ramlin took a cautious breath and no water wormed into her nose and lungs. It still soaked her dress, though. She was proven completely wrong, however, when Sadra swung her feet forward and both women were propelled forward by an underwater wave. With every moment, they moved further and further away from Danarra. Ramlin didn’t know for sure where they were going, but she could clearly see the air pocket start shrinking. The foreigner too took notice of that and the two travelers surfaced. The pejan turned around and saw the lights of the big city from afar, majestic ships in the harbor seeming as small as matchboxes. The view itself nearly took the girl’s breath away. The current holding the two on the surface changed direction, pushing them away from Danarra. The wave stayed strong for some ten minutes, until it petered out and a small in comparison mass of water gently pushed them to the shore. “Can’t go more.” Sadra broke the silence “Want to sleep a lot.” Ramlin shivered in her soaked clothes, feeling like a wet dishrag. The sun had set and the treacherous night settled over the land of Danerrai. The girls needed to warm up, and fast. Chapter 11 Straight away, Ramlin could tell that the house was abandoned. No sane person would leave their doorway wide open, not even hanging a cloth in front of it. The local and the foreigner came closer, peering into an empty window hole. Most of the clay furniture was broken, overturned chairs and shelves scattered on the floor. A faded, moth-eaten tapestry hung on the far side of the room. It was wrong to let such an heirloom rot away – proof that the residence had stood empty for quite some time. The two girls entered, Sadra knocking down a coat rack. The youth had dried her clothes using water magic, but Ramlin figured that a foreigner wasn’t used to the chilling desert nights. The mind controller maneuvered around cracked vases and splintered pots, noticing another room – the bedroom of the house’s last occupants. A double bed mat laid in the middle of the room, with three more lining the walls. All color had long faded from the dusty sheets and the teenager contemplated whether taking one with her was a good idea. She rolled up the most intact-looking mat and found a coat draped over a low table. That would do. She pulled the worn fabric over her shoulders, the loose cloth hanging from her thin frame like a sack. The floor was covered in sand, numerous cracks in the walls contributing to its buildup. Small toys – a spiderling carved from bone, colorful marbles and dolls were piled in a corner. Ramlin once had

a doll exactly like one of these. The girl’s mother had made it for her and for a time, the little child had carried it around almost everywhere. The teenager took the toy and stuffed it into her satchel. Sadra too entered the room, accidentally tripping over a mat. The ruined tapestry was tied around her arm like a makeshift bandage. The local looked away. Wearing it was utterly disrespectful to the maker of this rug, to the family that had once owned it . . . but it didn’t really matter. What mattered was that the foreigner was warm. The younger girl took note of the toys and squealed in delight, grabbing the marbles and storing them in one of her pant pockets. She held the doll in her hand, examining it thoroughly. “What is?” she pointed at the worn toy. “It’s a doll.” “I like doll.” she put it in her other pant pocket. The water mage turned around and opened a broken chest. It turned out to be empty. “Hey, Sadra.” Ramlin addressed the youngster. The girl looked back, her eyes drawn to the woman’s bright red headband, as if she hadn’t noticed it before. “What’s your word for doll?” the native asked. “Oki.” the girl answered without hesitation. “Oki.” Ramlin repeated, pulling the other doll from her satchel. Sadra giggled. She twirled around, tripping over the same mat for the second time. The mind controller put away her toy and walked out of the room. The two made their way into the kitchen, separated from the main room by a clay wall with a gaping hole in its middle. The chamber was nearly drowning in sand, only a bookshelf still unburied by the substance. The foreigner once again tripped, this time over a crate of some kind. Ramlin opened the crate and took out a relatively intact plate. Still, it wasn’t what they were searching for, so the teenager left the plate there. She glanced at the large window, only to find that Sadra had pulled down a faded, almost colorless purple curtain and wrapped it around her head like a cowl. The native nodded. Since there wasn’t really anything more to see in the derelict building, the travelers left. “It is cold.” the foreigner breathed in wonder “Like home . . .” “Your home is cold?” Ramlin glanced at the chestnut-skinned teenager “How cold?” “A lot. Many times it is worse than here.” the girl explained “But no . . .” She pointed at the sand. “Sand . . . your home isn’t sandy?” the older woman exclaimed. Sadra nodded.

She couldn’t even imagine a place without the ever-moving, ever-changing network of dunes, without the gigantic sandstorms that blocked out the sun for days . . . and what replaced the sand? What covered the earth instead? The mind controller noticed a spiderling nearby, the animal having likely wandered out of one of the many nearby enclosures or pens. A plan formed in her mind. The pejan took slow steps towards the creature. It was indeed tame, as the herbivore calmly stared at Ramlin, not even thinking to escape. She put her hand on its head and the spiderling didn’t recoil. That was a good sign. But was stealing someone’s livestock justifiable? After all, one crime led to another, and the girl could soon become like Geren . . . of course not. The vagabond was just doing her best to survive, she had no desire to be jailed or executed for acting in self-defense. Sadra also approached the creature, but as soon as she could see it for what it was, the outlaw jumped back, shaking – and not from the cold. “It . . . it . . .” she pointed at the animal “It not right . . . make it go away!” Why is she so scared? Ramlin wanted to laugh at such an absurd display of feelings. Oh wait. This must be the first time she’s ever seen a spiderling . . . “It isn’t dangerous.” the teen explained. She grasped the creature’s back and climbed on. It seemed that the last time she had ridden a spiderling was a lifetime ago. “Hop on.” the local gestured to the child. The foreigner took a step back. She eyed Ramlin as if the mind controller had just kissed a cactus. “Hop on.” the pejan insisted. Sadra shook her head. “Hop. On.” the native insisted, briefly considering just levitating the air mage onto the animal’s back “It isn’t dangerous.” The youth and the spiderling made eye contact, but the girl didn’t recoil. Some progress was clearly being made, but the older teenager itched to leave. At any moment they could be discovered by a farmer or spiderherd suffering from insomnia or desiring to use an outhouse. And the cloudless night sky was especially good weather for moonlit strolls. “Come on.” she pressured the foreigner “You will be okay. There’s nothing to fear.” The younger girl came a step closer. “We really need to go.” Ramlin looked around warily, expecting someone to jump out from behind the houses and try to kill her at any moment. Sadra slowly came closer and grabbed the mind controller with her working arm, begrudgingly hauling herself onto the creature. She slumped onto the pejan like a sack of rocks and the two rode into the night. The girls were likely heading to Kischa’a, as per Ramlin’s calculations. At times she thought she could even see the great road connecting the jewel of the south with the capital. The cold poked at

her lanky feet and the mind controller soon wished she was wearing longer leggings. Sadra seemed to have fallen asleep on top of the pejan, a trickle of drool dripping onto the older woman’s shoulder. The girl was overcome with a burning desire to shove the unconscious foreigner off of the animal’s back, but the local reigned in her wish. Soon the pejan found herself dozing off, the slow movement of the spiderling rocking her to sleep like her mother once had. And speaking of Ragda . . . Min Ar Oasis was quite close to Kischa’a. Who’s to say that someone from the village wouldn’t meet Ramlin in the city? The teenager had no desire to see the people of her once-home again. In a way, she was afraid that they may have changed drastically and forgotten all about her. Ral, Yamil and Aril were no longer her friends. Ilra may have died already – she was quite old and frail when her granddaughter last saw her. Everyone had moved on. Perhaps her parents . . . no, they would never forget about their daughter. They would never strike her from their hearts. Even if they had sent her away. Even if they hadn’t written a single letter or sent a single note to her in years. Even if she was a mind controller, a living reminder of what Geren had done. Even if they could have other, normal children. Even if they had moved on with their life. Ramlin realized she had far less than eight years ago, when her parents decided to send her away. And they had never asked whether she wanted to go. Chapter 12 Ramlin and Sadra sat in the shade of a large cactus plant, chewing on its sour fruits. The sun was high in the sky and no clouds could be seen. The Great Road was indeed nearby and the pejan knew that if they could pass for simple travelers, water was guaranteed in on of the roadside town. Free water was given to all who walked the road. Their spiderling – who the local had named Desert Bloom – was nearby, digging up some roots from the sand. “Sadra?” the water mage turned her head to look at the local “Why . . . why do you like mind control?” The air mage stared, dumbfounded. “I not like one . . . uh, ne’es more than other. But the people was mean and I not agree.” she tried to explain “All ne’es is not better than other. I not know why people think . . . mind control is . . . not right.” “You have strange views of the world.” the native expressed her disbelief “And you don’t know why mind control is hated? Oh please. Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of the Incident.” “What In-ci-dent?” Sadra leaned forward. “What Incident?” Ramlin parroted her “The Mind Controller Incident that took place 16 years ago! How can you not know?” “Oh. I not heard of In-ci-dent before.” the water mage lowered her gaze “Sounds like it was bad.” “What rock have you been living under?!” now it was the pejan’s turn to be baffled. “I not understand.” the foreigner tilted her head. “Where are you from?” the local inquired.

“Feryceen, but I lived for much time in Streamstrell.” the girl shared. “Where is Feryceen? Is it a city? A country?” the mind controller pried. “Do you know map of-of all?” Sadra struggled to find the right words “Map with all . . . city, country, mannar?” The native didn’t answer. For some reason, the woman felt like this foreigner with wide eyes and a ludicrous accent was far more educated and knowledgeable than she, knowing a lot more about the world. Where did foreigners come from, anyway? Ramlin had never known of any place outside of Danerrai. Sadra took a stick from her pocket and began drawing careful lines in the sand. The local cringed at the sight of her swollen, unusable arm. “It is Selvmannar.” she pointed at the first amorphous blob she had finished drawing. She drew a second shape, slightly smaller and far less oval in shape than the first “It is Quiftsmannar.” Another shape was drawn in the sand, right below the second one. “Pejun-Ta.” Sadra announced, while Ramlin scratched her head in confusion. The fourth blob appeared to the left of the third one. “Heebmannar.” the water mage stated, then moved on to draw the final figure. The fifth blob was sandwiched between the first and fourth shapes. “It is Daner’ai.” Sadra then drew a dot onto the edge of the shape “It is Dana-ra.” She drew a second dot right in the middle of the first shape “It is Feryceen.” The truth dawned upon the pejan. The teen had drawn a map of the world, most of the areas shown were completely new to Ramlin, the girl having never heard of their existence. The world was far larger than the mind controller had thought. Danerrai was incomprehensibly huge and vast, but it was only one of five continents. Untold numbers of people lived and died, wars were fought, kingdoms rose and fell, all in places the provincial didn’t even know existed until now. She felt small and utterly insignificant. There were many more foreigners than she had thought, so many more . . . “You seem like a competent wizard, but the mob bested you quite easily.” the mind controller noted. “They was many. I was one. I afraid of many people when they be angry.” Sadra sighed. “Also, how is it possible to have two kinds of magic?” Ramlin wondered aloud. “Magic?” she raised an eyebrow. The local took out her doll and levitated it in front of her face “I’m using my magic. I think it’s that ne-something word you used earlier.”

“Ne’es.” the foreigner corrected “And I not know why I have two ne’es . . . two magic. No one know, but I am not the first one with two magic.” “You know a lot.” the pejan admitted “Where did you learn so much?” Sadra smiled “I read books. I study at . . . school.” “What is a school?” the provincial was puzzled “I’ve never heard this word before.” “It is place where many small people go to learn to read and write and count and many more things.” the girl explained “But I has not finished school. I . . . had to go away . . . go here.” “Why didn’t you finish school? What forced you to come here?” the teenager inquired. Sadra averted her gaze, unwilling to talk. “Does it have something to do with prejudice? People thinking less of you because of the way you are?” Ramlin pried. “People think I . . . I am wrong. They think I have . . . curse and am witch.” the foreigner put her head on her knees “They wanting to . . . to . . .” “It’s good you managed to leave, then.” the pejan patted the child’s shoulder, trying to comfort the youth “But we’ll have to leave here too, or those mean people can come after us.” “How many years are you?” Sadra looked up again. “Sixteen.” “I are five-teen.” “It’s fifteen.” “Oh.” The travelers fell silent, neither knowing what to say. The water mage took out her doll and held it on her knees like one would hold a toddler. Isn’t she a little too old to play with toys? Ramlin raised an eyebrow. Her gaze fell onto the doll resting in her lap. One is never too old to play with toys. The pejan decided and levitated the object into the air, bouncing it up and down. The vast desert stretched everywhere the eye could see, but it was empty, as if there was no one else in the world, just her and Sadra. Sometimes, the girl wished she could leave everyone behind and be truly alone. But most of the time, she just wanted to be with people who took her for who she was. Chapter 13 Just a day earlier the wanderers arrived in Kischa’a, but Ramlin already felt trapped and wanted out. Anyone from Min Ar Oasis could recognize her. She didn’t want to see her family. She was a mind controller, a constant reminder of Geren and the Incident. She wasn’t the child her parents had always wanted, she hadn’t even stayed with them. What would they think of her now? Sadra had gone to explore the city, leaving the pejan alone with her thoughts. She knew that they had to buy passage onto a ship heading to some faraway port on some other continent as fast as possible. Money was sorely needed – at least a hundred shells for the two of them. Since they had no need of

Desert Bloom anymore and it would’ve been wrong to just leave the animal, Ramlin had sold her. It did fetch the two a hundred shells, but most of that had gone into buying food, water and paying for Sadra’s arm to be healed. The local didn’t know how to gain any more. Except . . . Kischa’a harbor market was a very lively place, all kinds of people strutting about, from nobles to beggars. The pejan looked around from her hiding place behind a crate. Excitement and fear bubbled in her stomach like butterflies. What she was doing was wrong, yes, but nobody carried their life’s savings on their person, so the girl wouldn’t be dooming someone to poverty. And she was simply doing what was necessary to survive, no ill will involved. A guard passed by and the woman ducked behind the crate, feeling her heart pump rapidly. Next, a sickly-looking beggar limped over, asking the merchants and buyers for alms. An older lady gave him a shell and the cripple thanked her profusely. Then came a good-looking noblewoman, a bloated, fat purse hanging from her belt. She paused, examining the wares of a smiling trader. This was Ramlin’s chance. She forced down the unpleasant feeling in her gut and focused on the purse. The string holding it in place started untangling, the owner oblivious to what was going on. Another guard walked by. The mind controller hid behind the crate, hands clamped over her face to stop herself from screaming. Droplets of sweat formed on her forehead. When she dared to peek out again, the purse was still dangling from the woman’s belt, the noble still none the wiser. The mind controller’s hands shook as she took a deep breath and separated the purse from the belt. It floated over to Ramlin, who quickly stuffed it into her satchel. The pejan walked away, he footsteps light and her breathing uneven. The purse felt like a heavy stone, weighing her down. “Thief! Thief!” the lady shouted “Someone stole my purse!” The vagabond quickened her pace, feeling her cheeks burn and her chest constrict. Every moment she could be discovered and exposed, every moment she could lose her freedom. The girl turned into a wide street, disappearing into the crowd. The amount of people was simply suffocating and the mind controller felt nauseous. The strangers became an amorphous mass, threatening to consume her. In a haze, the pejan barely noticed bumping into someone, until she was flat on the ground. “You don’t look so good.” a woman helped her up. It was Ragda. Ramlin stared at her, expecting her mother to recognize her child. The woman stared back. Yern was also nearby, as were three young boys who looked at the mind controller with curiosity. “Why are you staring?” the older woman looked uncomfortable. “Oh, excuse me.” the teenager apologized feebly “I, um, have we met before? Are you . . .” “Ragda Witherbane, blessed by Amiron. That’s my husband, Yern, and these are my sons: Remyron, Lyseus and Ehekhar.” she pointed to the man and the small boys. “I know a woman . . . Ramlin Witherbane, blessed by Ha’kella.” the girl mumbled “Are you . . . her mother?”

“Oh no!” Ragda laughed, just like she often did when Ramlin was little “I don’t know anyone by that name. You must be mistaken.” The mind controller felt like a part of her died. “What about you . . . Yern?” the woman turned to her father “Do you know anyone by the name of Ramlin Witherbane?” “Nope, never heard of her.” the man shook his head. The family continued on their merry way, leaving Ramlin to stare after them. She stood there, blinking. It seemed like she was dreaming, the scene she had just witnessed was so unreal. She just had to wake up . . . if only she could. Her nightmares had become reality, the truth inescapable. She felt wronged, as if something she deserved to have was suddenly taken away. How could she have believed, no, hoped her parents still loved her? Sending her to Danarra was just an elaborate way of disowning her. How could she have naively expected everything to still be the same when she returned years later, as a legal adult? And of course Ragda and Yern would erase every trace of their failure, Geren Junior, from their minds. Ramlin’s three normal, average, loved replacements didn’t even know of her existence. The mind controller wanted to call them out on their lies, but what would that change? If they didn’t want her as their daughter, what could she do? Every trace of the family she had once had was gone, taken from her. The teenager felt even more sick and dizzy. She was a thief, a criminal, just like her uncle was. Perhaps it was right that her parents had cast her out. Perhaps it was right that she was replaced by some good-for-nothing brats. Perhaps it was right that she would inherit nothing from her parents, except for her jet black hair and bright lilac eyes. Perhaps, if her parents loved her not, she didn’t have to. And, come to think of it, no one is obliged to love their family. No parent is forced to care for their children – there are numerous ways of disowning a child. No child is ordered to love their parents – cutting family ties is remarkably easy. Yes, that was exactly what Ramlin had to do. A bitter smile crossed her face. She could make one defiant spit into the image of her parents. There was one thing which the pejan was given from her parents that she could get rid of: her last name. She would be Witherbane no longer. But she couldn’t live without a family name, it seemed wrong. Her uncle was named Geren Wintertide, and it was also the last name of her mother before she married. But Geren was a murderer and Ragda was a traitor. The mind controller wanted nothing to do with both of them. She thought of the names of people she knew. Aril Wheelspinner. Ral Wildsight. Hril and Yamil Wallmaker. Horata Wonderstep. Kessyl Wellwatcher. Harlin Weaselfall. Umla Whiteway. The pejan dismissed most of these last names immediately. Kessyl, Ral, Yamil and Hril were simply her former friends, although it seemed like the sight of Hril’s body would never fade from her mind. She had barely known Horata. Aril . . . Ramlin had many good memories of her time with the boy and she hoped he hadn’t forsaken her like Ragda and Yern, but, ultimately he was just a friend. A friend she hadn’t seen in 8 years. A friend who had most likely moved on. Harlin was a good role model – brave, just and selfless, but not someone the teenager had many meaningful interactions with. Umla was the girl’s mentor and teacher. Everything the woman had learned about mind control she learned from Umla. She wasn’t the nicest of people, true, but Ramlin felt that taking on a last name in honor of her mentor was right. After all, she had spent half of her life and childhood in that two-story mansion surrounded by a wilting garden. And Umla had no children(at least, not anymore) or other relatives. Any legal issues with changing her last name could be easily avoided, as she was a fugitive escaping to another continent. If the woman wanted, she could spend the rest of her life under a false first name too.

Ramlin Whiteway, blessed by Ha’kella shook dust off of her dress and blended into the crowd, walking with false confidence. There was a large hole inside of her and spiting her parents only reminded her of how helpless she really was. She wasn’t even brave enough to chew them out on their cruelty, they would never know of her decision, they weren’t even aware that she knew of their betrayal. They believed her to still be in Danarra, still training under Umla. The teen wiped her eyes. Most of all she wanted to scream about the injustices of the world, so that everyone would hear. Instead, she stayed silent, her head hanging low. And she was replaced by some little boys whose only virtue was that they weren’t mind controllers. They were pathetic little bastards in comparison to their older sister. They could only dream of ever being as competent and accomplished as she was. Oh, who was she kidding? All she had ever accomplished was get herself into a huge mess and become a thief. The teen didn’t even know what to do when she was in relative safety. She knew how to herd spiderlings and grow centaurias, but for some reason, she doubted these were very useful skills in foreign lands. Put simply, Ramlin was an utter failure with no perspective for the future. The girl entered a tavern where she was staying with Sadra, the room as dark as her mood. The foreigner wasn’t there yet. That was good. The pejan had no desire to talk with anyone at the moment. She sat down in a corner and put her head on her knees. The world seemed bleak and uncaring, even more than before. The woman clenched her fists, but there was nothing she could do. Nothing but force the nasty feelings down, like she always did. Chapter 14 The misty morning was surprisingly cold and windy, a large crowd gathering at the docks. Two young women looked out to the sea. This was it. The last they’d see of Danerrai. Ramlin had bought them both passage onto the Slimmerdeen, a large merchant ship headed off to some faraway harbor. Of course, she had neglected to inform Sadra where the money came from. The vessel would leave soon and the travelers boarded it. There weren’t many passengers on the ship – perhaps it wasn’t headed to a very popular destination. The pejan gazed over the Kischa’a, the first big city she had ever visited. She would never see the jewel of the south again and the local didn’t know how to feel about that. On one hand, she was leaving her homeland, her fellow pejans forever. On the other hand, Danerrai had treated her quite cruelly. The mind controller was reminded of the way Ragda laughed nonchalantly, while lying to her daughter’s face. The earth mage seemed completely at ease, like she had never cared for Ramlin at all. Like the girl was meaningless to her because of the child’s magic. Like the kind words and gestures of affection given to the mind controller never happened. Like the time spent together didn’t matter to Ragda at all. Like it was easy for the woman to everything away, all those moments the teenager had cherished for her entire life. In all the years spent apart, the youth had never forgotten her parents. And they repaid her by replacing her and pretending she had never existed. The unlucky pejan wondered what would’ve happened if they had known. Would they have lied again, claiming to still love her? The desert dweller sighed. Kischa’a seemed so serene when viewed from afar, but the city’s heart was rotten, stained by hatred and mistrust. “We is going to Lariato!” Sadra jumped up to Ramlin, giddy with excitement “It is biggest city of Pejun-Ta, on the-the . . . end of Lariato river. I want to see Lariato for all time . . . thank you, um . . .” “Ramlin.” the pejan almost laughed “What else can you tell me about this city?”

“Lariato was made in year 379, so it is almost 500 years before!” the foreigner sounded like Aril when he discussed books or gruesome deaths “It is important harbor, very big and is like Feryceen or Dana-ra.” “Like Feryceen or Danarra?” the local felt like an uneducated provincial compared to her acquaintance “What do you mean?” “It is . . . most important city of country.” the northerner gestured wildly with her arms. “So Lariato is the capital? The capital of what?” the mind controller inquired. “The, um, Liriekturu . . . Lirie country.” she answered. “Uh, can I . . . can I ask you something personal?” the pejan asked. Sadra nodded, eyes focusing on her companion. “Did your parents . . . did they treat you well?” Ramlin questioned. The teenager raised an eyebrow. “Were your mother and father good to you? Were they nice?” the local elaborated. The youngster looked away “They were good before, but when . . . when people say I have curse . . . mother and father stop being good and say . . . I’m not their daughter.” The pejan patted the younger traveler on the back. “I understand how you feel.” she whispered “When I turned out to be a mind controller . . . my parents disowned me.” “Dis-owned?” the blue-eyed girl studied the desert sand in the distance. “They didn’t want me as their child anymore.” the local wiped her eyes. “Oh.” the foreigner rubbed her broken arm. The ship started to move away from the harbor, like a great beast waking up. The pejan looked out at the city – Kischa’a was called the jewel of the south for a reason. Somewhere, perhaps not in the city, Yern and Ragda and the three little imbeciles continued their daily lives and the outcast wondered if they were thinking of her. Maybe a stray thought, a wayward glimpse of the girl crossed their minds, even if just on the child’s birthday. Ramlin hoped that was the case. She had no desire to be forgotten, cast into oblivion – her parents may have acted like she never existed, but deep down they couldn’t forget her, right? They couldn’t have just given up entirely, after all, they had spent so much time and effort raising her, given her love and affection. The houses and docks became smaller and smaller, seeming almost picture-perfect when viewed from afar. This was the mind controller’s only home and she was leaving it forever. What did she have to fear anyway? Sure, serving time in jail wasn’t a fun prospect, but after that, she could simply disappear and the angry mob would’ve never found her. And what would she do in Lariato? She was a foreigner there, she didn’t know anything of the people that inhabited the place, she knew nothing of the local wildlife and plants, she had no idea where to look for work. They probably

didn’t treat mind controllers nearly as badly as in Danerrai, but who’s to say they didn’t hate pejans, for example? Or immigrants in general, for that matter? Kischa’a was tiny, only the tallest buildings still visible from the ship. Ramlin felt a deep hole form inside. By Orsonna, she had made a terrible mistake! She couldn’t leave, there was only poverty and misery in store for her on foreign soil. She couldn’t stay, there was just as much poverty and misery awaiting her back home. But at least she would be suffering in a familiar place, her homeland, where she was born and raised, where lived her fellow pejans and where she knew how to live off the land. The woman wanted off the ship, she wished she could go back to Kischa’a, but she could barely swim. Once again, she had made a stupid, ridiculous mistake and would pay for it with the rest of her life! The mind controller could only watch as the city, the last link to her homeland disappeared forever behind the horizon. She reached out in a futile gesture, trying in vain to catch a glimpse of Kischa’a, but Danerrai was gone from her grasp. The pejan extended her body out, desperately desiring to travel back in time, to fix her mistake. She felt her hands and back grow sweaty, a bubble of nasty feelings expanding in her chest. She didn’t know what to do, like so many times before, all she wanted was to go back, back to Danarra, back to being Umla’s student . . . no, what she really wanted was to go back even further, to the time when she lived in Min Ar Oasis with her mother and father and friends and everything was fine, the world was a happy, hopeful place and she wasn’t a mind controller. It seemed like all her life was a string of unlucky coincidences and bad decisions. Ramlin didn’t know what to do, everything she did just made things worse, but no one could decide for her. She was an adult, she had to do something, something to soften the circumstances she had gotten herself into, but nothing came to mind, nothing at all, only images of a disease-ridden beggar on the streets, holding a cup in her bony, outstretched limb. The youth could also see uncaring locals spitting onto the frail, skeleton-like woman, whose eyes no longer saw, whose feet no longer walked and whose once-gorgeous sleek black hair was matted and dull, large clumps of it having fallen out. And Sadra was there too, laying helplessly on her side, her face forever still and her flesh eaten by worms and flies, empty eyesockets filled with larvae of all kinds, squirming and crawling around, rot oozing from every pore. The pejan felt like the air was a hot and heavy, blanketing and choking everything around. The mind controller realized far too late that she was hanging from the deck just above the deceptively-calm water. She also realized that her clammy hands couldn’t hold her in this position for very long. She plummeted face-first into the waves, the fall seeming like an eternity. It felt unreal and the pejan didn’t even try to call for help, didn’t even try to hold herself up, didn’t even try to stop the fall using mind control. The girl watched the liquid come closer and closer and it seemed inevitable, like it was always meant to happen. Then she hit the water. Everything was blue. Whether it was the sea or the sky, Ramlin didn’t care. She felt that she was watching someone else, that it wasn’t her body that was floating in the water. The liquid moved, as if it was starting to boil and the pejan suddenly found herself lifted into the air. Her feet were pointing at the clouds and her hair was soaking in the salty water as the wet tendril roughly shoved her onto the ship. Her back collided with the wooden planks and the teenager realized she had nearly drowned. She had almost drowned due to her own stupidity, her own bad decision and if she hadn’t been bailed out by someone else . . . and then she remembered where the vessel was headed. Everything came back, rushing over the unlucky woman like a tidal wave. Danerrai was gone. All she could see was the ocean. And she didn’t want to go, didn’t want to die in misery on a foreign shore, but she couldn’t do anything anymore, just drift towards doom . . . if the Slimmerdeen even made it that far. A storm could hit at any moment and then, she would truly drown, her last resting place lost beneath the cruel waves.

“Sadra!” the traveler stood up on her jelly-like feet with great difficulty “I’m sorry, I’ve made a mistake! We should’ve never left Danerrai, I don’t know what to do!” The foreigner came closer, her brows pressed together. “I don’t know what to do!” the pejan grabbed her companion by the shoulders “I’m sorry! We’re both gonna die in Lariato, I’m sorry! I didn’t want this, I thought it was best, but we’re not gonna find work or shelter or money there, we-we’ll be in poverty and misery and sick and hated . . . oh Orsonna, this isn’t what I wanted! If I could fix this . . . then I would do better, I swear, but there’s no way to fix this, no way at all, what have I done?!! Please, I didn’t . . .” “Stop.” the youth looked very serious, her mouth twisted into a frown “You are not think right. You has to calm down.” “You don’t understand, do you?!!” Ramlin raised her voice, her hands shaking “This is serious! We are . . .” “I understand!” Sadra shrieked “You not understand! You has to calm down and then we talk! You has no thing to be afraid about!” The older teen fell silent, biting her lip. She felt out of breath and wet, so thoroughly soaked. The pejan didn’t know what to say, but the foreigner couldn’t just brush off her concerns so easily! “It is okay.” the shorter girl wrapped her arms around the taller one “We will be at Lariato and we will find work. I is smart and you is nice and people like this are needed in every place.” Ramlin looked out at the endless expanse of water and the midday sky, wishing she could know what the future held. But in that moment, she discovered that she wouldn’t have to face the world alone. And for her, that was enough.

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The Travellers - Ramlin's Story  

A fictional novel by Helen Katrina Nugis.

The Travellers - Ramlin's Story  

A fictional novel by Helen Katrina Nugis.