LIFT prepared to be awesome.
She sprinted across an open field in northern Tashikk, a little more than a week’s travel from Azimir. The place was overgrown with brown grass a foot or two high. The occasional trees were tall and twisty, with trunks that looked like they were made of interwoven vines, and branches that pointed upward more than out.
They had some official name, but everyone she knew called them drop-deads because of their springy roots. In a storm, they’d fall over flat and just lie there. Afterward they’d pop back up, like a rude gesture made at the passing winds.
Lift’s run startled a group of axehinds who had been grazing nearby; the lean creatures leaped away on four legs with the two front claws pulled in close to the body. Good eating, those beasties. Barely any shell on them. 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 a vine, growing along the ground beside her at superfast speed, matching her 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 that made her glow. She Slicked the soles of her feet with it, and leaped into a skid.
Suddenly, the ground didn’t rub against her at all. She slid as if on ice, whipping through the field. Grass startled all around her, curling as it yanked down into stone burrows. That made it bow before her in a wave.
She zipped along, wind pushing back her long black hair, tugging at the loose overshirt she wore atop her tighter brown undershirt, which was tucked into her loose-cuffed trousers.
She slid, and felt free. Just her and the wind. A small windspren, like a 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 moss that grew on the ground and stuck to things like stones, holding them down as shelter against the wind. Lift’s foot flashed with pain and she tumbled 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 a shivering sound of leaves and branches.
Lift sat up, rubbing her face. She’d cut her foot, but her awesomeness plugged up the hole, healing it plenty quick. Her face didn’t even hurt much. 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 the type fancy people would grow on their buildings to hide up parts that didn’t look rich enough. Except he had bits of crystal growing out of him along the vine’s length. They jutted out unexpectedly, like toenails on a face.
When he moved, he didn’t wiggle like an eel. He actually grew, leaving a long trail of vines behind him that would soon crystallize and decay into dust. Voidbringers were strange.
He wound around himself in a circle, like rope coiling, and formed a small tower of vines. And then something grew from the top: a face that formed out of vines, leaves, and gemstones. The mouth worked as he spoke.
“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’ the truth. They was going to
Wyndle stammered. He wasn’t so frightening, for a Voidbringer. He must have been like … the Voidbringer all the other ones made fun of for wearing silly hats. The one that would correct all the others, and explain which fork they had to use when they sat down to consume human souls.
“Mistress,” Wyndle said. “Humans do
“You saved the emperor’s life!”
“That should’ve been good for a few days of freeloading,” she said. “I once pulled a guy out of prison, and he gave me five whole days in his den 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 the palace, they’d started offering her heaps of shoes. And nice clothing—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 to read? They were grateful for what she’d done for Gawx, who was now Prime Aqasix, a fancy title for their ruler. Because of her service, she could have tutors, they said. She could learn how to wear those clothes properly, learn how to write.
It had started to consume her. If she’d stayed, how long would it have been before she wasn’t Lift anymore? How long until she’d have been gobbled up, another girl left in her place? Similar face, but at the same time all new?
She tried using her awesomeness again. In the palace, they had talked about the recovery of ancient powers. Knights Radiant. The binding of Surges, natural forces.
Lift Slicked herself with power, then skidded across the ground a few feet 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 slipperier than if they’d been coated in oil? She should just go back to paddling around 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 way and that.
Darkness, the shadow of a man who had chased her, had said those things in the palace, speaking of those who had—long ago—used powers like Lift’s. Maybe he’d been lying. After all, he’d been preparing to murder her at the time.
Then again, why lie? He’d treated her derisively, as if she were nothing. Worthless.
She set her jaw and stood up. Wyndle was still talking, but she ignored him, instead taking off across the deserted field, running as fast as she could, startling grass. She reached the top of a small hill, then jumped and coated her feet with power.
She started slipping immediately. The air. The air she pushed against when moving was holding her back. Lift hissed, then coated her
She sliced through the wind, turning sideways as she skidded down the side of the hill. Air slid off her, as if it couldn’t find her. Even the sunlight seemed to melt off her skin. She was between places, here but not. No air, no ground. Just pure motion, so fast that she reached grass before it had time to pull away. It flowed around her, its touch brushed aside by her power.
Her skin started to glow, tendrils of smoky light rising from her. She laughed, reaching the bottom of the small hill. There she leaped some boulders.
And ran face-first into another tree.
The bubble of power around her popped. The tree toppled over—and, for good measure, the two next to it decided to fall as well. Perhaps they thought they were missing out on something.
Wyndle found her grinning like a fool, staring up at the sun, spread out on the tree trunk with her arms interwoven with the branches, a single golden 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 even tell 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 while they 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 hair out of her eyes. Maybe she
Unfortunately, her stomach had a few things to say about how much awesomeness she’d used. She ran on food, even more than most folks. She could draw some awesomeness from everything she ate, but once it was gone, she couldn’t do anything incredible again until she’d had more to eat.
Her stomach rumbled in complaint. She liked to imagine that it was cussing at her something awful, and she searched through her poc ...