{Where we last left our heroes: Ebony spoke with the priest, Yota, and learned that Ohbi Whan was dead and no one knew where Coriarkin (her father’s old friend and an expert on Gates)was… except perhaps the wizards}

Chapter 6: Grelka

Ebony paced the small room, knowing what she was going to do but reasoning with herself, trying to talk herself into it and out of it at the same time.

It’s the only way. I have to find Coriarkin, and if Yota is right, they’re the ones most likely to know his whereabouts.

But Melchior gave you the creeps! Why is it so important to find Coriarkin, anyway?

Because father said he knew all about Gates. He can help me get home.

Yeah, but still, going to the wizards? You’re crazy!

I know. But I have to.

Maybe Karliah knows of someone else who might know. Melchior isn’t the only solution, he can’t be.

I want to trust Karliah, I really do, but I just can’t. I mean, hello, she wants to take over Earth! You really want me to put my trust in someone like that?

Hey, the wizards want to take over Earth too. I just think there has to be a better way.

Well, there isn’t. And remember, it was Karliah that told you that about the wizards. You don’t know for sure.

I just don’t think you should do this. It’s a bad idea.

Oh, just shut up, will you? I can’t think straight with you blathering at me. I need some peace, so just leave me alone, even for just a second!

She pressed her fingers to her temples, trying to concentrate. There just was no help for it. She would have to seek out Melchior in Kyho Twon.

Wandering around the building, she discovered a back porch and training area where two older warriors sat at a table, pouring over a battle map marked all over in red. Peering over their shoulder, she examined the map. They didn’t seem to notice her, absorbed in their discussion. She asked which city on the map they were in right now, and one of the warriors pointed to a spot on the map without even breaking his thought. She scanned quickly for Kyho Twon, and then again more slowly. She found it on the third pass, just when her hovering was becoming awkward. It was due south of the city she was in, marked “Jordval”, with a large river running between them, which seemed to be the border of what was left of the Middle Kingdom. On the map, it looked like the two cities were glaring at each other across a mediating river. If you don’t trust them, keep them close. Karliah’s headquarters positioning was smart. The wizards would get away with little under her eye.

Ebony wandered away carelessly, and then headed back into the common room, deserted at this hour. It took some hunting, but she did find some travel rations in the form of apples, cheese, and bread, and some empty burlap sacks leftover from storing apples which she fashioned into a sort of bag.

She had a destination. She had supplies. She had a cloak that kept her warm and a Pocahontas costume that made her ache for home. She had a possible ability to read and even to shape minds. She had fear behind her, fear ahead of her, and no way out.

Her hand closed around the pendant, stonily comforting, and her mind calmed. She could do this. It was going to be hard, she couldn’t imagine how hard, but she could do this.

She walked out the door she had first come in and headed for the gate, hood up and cloak drawn close. The guards nodded to her and opened the gate. Well that was easy, Ebony thought. They must not really worry about anyone leaving, only coming in. I thought I’d have to explain myself.

The clouds made it difficult to judge direction based on the sun, but south wasn’t hard to figure out. She had memorized the map as best she could, and knew that once she struck the river, she would have to go west along its bank for a good ways before she found a bridge. Somehow, she doubted she could wade it.

It was boring, walking briskly southward, staying on course, with nothing to look at but dying grass and nothing to think but all the things she should be doing. School with mother… she’s sharp as a tack despite how everyone misjudges her, just because she’s crippled by some stupid old accident. Oh, I’d give anything to be doing it now, even algebra! And father is high up in the sky with a grand view of Gotham, washing windows. Maybe he’d be taking a break to run home and take me for errands or going to the Broadway Acolytes. I won’t be there. I’ll probably miss the competition. They’ll have to get a different Pocahontas. I just want to be home. Oh, stop it, Ebony! It won’t change anything! To take her mind from it all, she began a mental diary.

Dear Diary,

Can you be all-knowing for a minute? And all-powerful? Then will you tell Melchior to grow up and get a life, and tell Karliah she needs to brush up on her people skills, and tell Yota I’m sorry but I had to? What are my parents doing? Are they alright? Are they worried sick? Tell them I’m alright, and, hey, explain the whole thing to them while you’re at it. And since you’re all-knowing, diary, maybe you can tell me what’s going on, and what’s going to happen. Tell me what I should do, and if I’ve made the right choices.

Heck, I have a better idea. You’re all-powerful, so you just open up the Gate for me, right? Save a lot of work. Let’s go for that plan.

Oh, and while you’re at it, before our one-minute-of-being-a-God is up, why don’t you tell me where to find my brother? Oh wait, I’m thinking too small again. You just zap him over here, okay? Deal.

Okay, I’m pretty sure our minute is up now, so let me have your ear for minute, diary. I need to talk over some things with you, about Karliah and the wizards and my decision…

Ebony spun herself in the same circles she had in her room before leaving, filling up page after page of her mental diary with the same arguments around and around, chasing its tail. Her mind eventually wandered again, and she was exhausted. It was late, and she had been hearing sounds of distant water for almost an hour and still hadn’t struck the river. Her feet ached, and the pain was climbing up her legs with every hour that passed. At every step, she felt sure her legs were going to buckle and she would crash to the ground, unable to get back up or go any farther tonight. Probably pass out, too.

There it was. Practically at her feet, hidden by the depth of the bed it had dug for itself over the years. The river. Ebony squinted at the sunset. Uh, west, that’s right. She turned and stumbled along the river, determined to get as far as possible before either the sun set or her legs and feet gave out, whichever came first. At this rate, judging by the way they were feeling and how slowly the sun insisted on sinking, it would be her that quit first, not the sun.

The sun sank. Ebony walked on. Only dim memory of the day’s light remained in the sky. Ebony walked on. Ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred. One, two, three… The light was gone. Ebony stumbled against a stone rail. The bridge?

She gripped it, steadied her swimming footing, and felt her way around the end of the stone rail and onto the bridge. She could see a little, but the moon hadn’t risen and there was only starlight to see by, and whatever the costume, Ebony was no Indian tracker. Just over the bridge. Then you can lay down and rest. Maybe sleep.

Halfway across the bridge, something caught her attention. A sound, barely audible, more noticeable for its inconsistency with the rest of the night noises than any actual sound of itself. She tried crouch behind the protection of the stone wall and sneak forward, but her body simply refused to cooperate. Pushing herself back up to a standing position, she edged forward.

Nothing happened. Nothing jumped at her or tried to catch or eat her. Her feet found soil on the other side, and a strange creature or person stepped directly in front of her.

Ebony screamed. Her nerves, stretched as they were already, unraveled. The little creature leaned back, as if attempting to escape the sound like it was a wind.

“Easy now, human,” it said, crossing arms in front of its tiny chest, “I was only curious, that’s all.”

“What – what are you?” she stuttered. The creature, or person, was less than half her height, and that was pretty short. As she struggled to make her out in the darkness, she was pretty certain that, though its face was mostly humanlike, its ears swept up high in little points like bat ears, and it had leathery bat wings on its back too. Its skin was brown and leathery like the wings, and the rest of its body was relatively like a human’s, if much too small.

“I’m a Remling, can’t you see?” it demanded irritably.

“I don’t know what a Remling is. Other than you, obviously.”

“What kind of person doesn’t know what a Remling is? Other than you, obviously,” it retorted.

“Who are you, and what are you curious about?” Ebony asked, leaning back against the bridge wall for support.

“I’m Grelka, and don’t you dare call me little squirt or chickie. I bite.”

Ebony held up her hands. “Okay, okay, I won’t. I don’t like people calling me things like that either.”

“Most don’t,” Grelka said tartly, “but then they call others those things anyway. I’m curious to know why anyone is crossing this bridge alone. I mean, you’re either brave or stupid. Or maybe just ignorant.”

“I’m looking for a man called Melchior.”

Grelka squinted up at her in the darkness. “Jumping jaguars! You’re looking for him? Are you nuts?”

“Yes, but I need to find him. Even if he’s as nasty as everyone makes him out to be, he’s the only person who can help me.”

Grelka shook her head. “I think I’ll go with stupid and ignorant. Melchior is nothing special. I’m sure there’s someone else who can help you.”

At any other time, Ebony would have been hurt by her words, but she was too tired now. “Well, oh well, I’m sorry, he is. I need to get home, and I need to talk to him to find a guy I need to talk to so I can go home.”

Grelka pursed her lips, considering this. Then she shrugged and nodded. “Okay, we’ll just leave it at nuts. And maybe desperate too.”

Ebony slid to the ground, unable to fight off exhaustion anymore. “Whatever,” she mumbled, and fell asleep.

Author’s Commentary: I loved writing Grelka! She was one of the first characters to push me away from the wheel and take over driving herself.

{Read Chapter 7: Kyho Twon}