LIFT prepared to be awesome.
She sprinted across an open field in northern Tashikk, a little morethan a week’s travel from Azimir. The place was overgrown with browngrass a foot or two high. The occasional trees were tall and twisty,with trunks that looked like they were made of interwoven vines, andbranches that pointed upward more than out.
They had some official name, but everyone she knew called themdrop-deads because of their springy roots. In a storm, they’d fall overflat and just lie there. Afterward they’d pop back up, like a rudegesture made at the passing winds.
Lift’s run startled a group of axehinds who had been grazing nearby; thelean creatures leaped away on four legs with the two front claws pulledin close to the body. Good eating, those beasties. Barely any shell onthem. But for once, Lift wasn’t in the mood to eat.
She was on the
“Mistress!” Wyndle, her pet Voidbringer, called. He took the shape of avine, growing along the ground beside her at superfast speed, matchingher pace. He didn’t have a face at the moment, but could speak anyway.Unfortunately.
“Mistress,” he pled, “can’t we please just
Lift became awesome. She drew on the stuff inside of her, the stuff thatmade her glow. She Slicked the soles of her feet with it, and leapedinto a skid.
Suddenly, the ground didn’t rub against her at all. She slid as if onice, whipping through the field. Grass startled all around her, curlingas it yanked down into stone burrows. That made it bow before her in awave.
She zipped along, wind pushing back her long black hair, tugging at theloose overshirt she wore atop her tighter brown undershirt, which wastucked into her loose-cuffed trousers.
She slid, and felt free. Just her and the wind. A small windspren, likea white ribbon in the air, started to follow her.
Then she hit a rock.
The stupid rock held firm—it was held in place by little tufts of mossthat grew on the ground and stuck to things like stones, holding themdown as shelter against the wind. Lift’s foot flashed with pain and shetumbled in the air, then hit the stone ground face-first.
Reflexively, she made her face awesome—so she kept right on going,skidding on her cheek until she hit a tree. She stopped there, finally.
The tree slowly fell over, playing dead. It hit the ground with ashivering sound of leaves and branches.
Lift sat up, rubbing her face. She’d cut her foot, but her awesomenessplugged up the hole, healing it plenty quick. Her face didn’t even hurtmuch. When a part of her was awesome, it didn’t rub on what it touched,it just kind of … glided.
She still felt stupid.
“Mistress,” Wyndle said, curling up to her. His vine looked like thetype fancy people would grow on their buildings to hide up parts thatdidn’t look rich enough. Except he had bits of crystal growing out ofhim along the vine’s length. They jutted out unexpectedly, like toenailson a face.
When he moved, he didn’t wiggle like an eel. He actually grew, leaving along trail of vines behind him that would soon crystallize and decayinto dust. Voidbringers were strange.
He wound around himself in a circle, like rope coiling, and formed asmall tower of vines. And then something grew from the top: a face thatformed out of vines, leaves, and gemstones. The mouth worked as hespoke.
“Oh, mistress,” he said. “Can’t we stop playing out here,
“Go back?” Lift stood up. “We just escaped that place!”
“All lies,” she declared, hands on hips. “To keep me from noticin’ thetruth. They was going to
Wyndle stammered. He wasn’t so frightening, for a Voidbringer. He musthave been like … the Voidbringer all the other ones made fun of forwearing silly hats. The one that would correct all the others, andexplain which fork they had to use when they sat down to consume humansouls.
“Mistress,” Wyndle said. “Humans do
“You saved the emperor’s life!”
“That should’ve been good for a few days of freeloading,” she said. “Ionce pulled a guy out of prison, and he gave me five whole days in hisden for free, and a nice handkerchief too.
Lift started running again. The cold stone, perforated by grass burrows,felt good on her toes and feet. No shoes. What good were shoes? In thepalace, they’d started offering her heaps of shoes. And niceclothing—big, comfy coats and robes. Clothing you could get lost in.She’d liked wearing something soft for once.
Then they’d started asking. Why not take some lessons, and learn toread? They were grateful for what she’d done for Gawx, who was now PrimeAqasix, a fancy title for their ruler. Because of her service, she couldhave tutors, they said. She could learn how to wear those clothesproperly, learn how to write.
It had started to consume her. If she’d stayed, how long would it havebeen before she wasn’t Lift anymore? How long until she’d have beengobbled up, another girl left in her place? Similar face, but at thesame time all new?
She tried using her awesomeness again. In the palace, they had talkedabout the recovery of ancient powers. Knights Radiant. The binding ofSurges, natural forces.
Lift Slicked herself with power, then skidded across the ground a fewfeet before tumbling and rolling through the grass.
She pounded her fist on the stones. Stupid ground. Stupid awesomeness.How was she supposed to stay standing, when her feet were slipperierthan if they’d been coated in oil? She should just go back to paddlingaround on her knees. It was so much easier. She could balance that way,and use her hands to steer. Like a little crab, scooting around this wayand that.
Darkness, the shadow of a man who had chased her, had said those thingsin the palace, speaking of those who had—long ago—used powers likeLift’s. Maybe he’d been lying. After all, he’d been preparing to murderher at the time.
Then again, why lie? He’d treated her derisively, as if she werenothing. Worthless.
She set her jaw and stood up. Wyndle was still talking, but she ignoredhim, instead taking off across the deserted field, running as fast asshe could, startling grass. She reached the top of a small hill, thenjumped and coated her feet with power.
She started slipping immediately. The air. The air she pushed againstwhen moving was holding her back. Lift hissed, then coated her
She sliced through the wind, turning sideways as she skidded down theside of the hill. Air slid off her, as if it couldn’t find her. Even thesunlight seemed to melt off her skin. She was between places, here butnot. No air, no ground. Just pure motion, so fast that she reached grassbefore it had time to pull away. It flowed around her, its touch brushedaside by her power.
Her skin started to glow, tendrils of smoky light rising from her. Shelaughed, reaching the bottom of the small hill. There she leaped someboulders.
And ran face-first into another tree.
The bubble of power around her popped. The tree toppled over—and, forgood measure, the two next to it decided to fall as well. Perhaps theythought they were missing out on something.
Wyndle found her grinning like a fool, staring up at the sun, spread outon the tree trunk with her arms interwoven with the branches, a singlegolden gloryspren—shaped like an orb—circling above her.
“Mistress?” he said. “Oh, mistress. You were
She didn’t reply.
“And the emperor,” Wyndle continued. “He’ll miss you! You didn’t eventell him you were going!”
“I left him a note.”
“A note? You learned to write?”
“Storms, no. I ate his dinner. Right out from under the tray cover whilethey was preparing to bring it to him. Gawx’ll know what that means.”
“I find that doubtful, mistress.”
She climbed up from the fallen tree and stretched, then blew her hairout of her eyes. Maybe she
Unfortunately, her stomach had a few things to say about how muchawesomeness she’d used. She ran on food, even more than most folks. Shecould draw some awesomeness from everything she ate, but once it wasgone, she couldn’t do anything incredible again until she’d had more toeat.
Her stomach rumbled in complaint. She liked to imagine that it wascussing at her something awful, and she searched through her poc ...