Nine years after the battle of Red Mountain. Annika Blue is summoned by her husband Julan Kaushibael to return to the Ahemmusa Camp after a brief absence. She recalls to the camp only to be greeted by a wall of flames.
Immediately after materializing I felt the intense sting of flame encase my legs and hands. I screeched as billows of chocking smoke and fire greeted my arrival back to Ahemmusa Camp. All around me I smelled the putrid stink of burning flesh and black smoke. The sound of crashing yurts and the panicked cries of mothers desperately calling out to their children surrounded me. There was no question of why or how this came to be, the only thought racing through my mind was that of my children and husband Julan. “Han!” I choked out, grabbing a cloth to cover my mouth. Somehow I knew that if I could find my eldest, I would find the others. I heard no answer outside a muffled cry of an infant off in the distance. Quickly I traipsed through the wreckage toward the sound, and in a yurt I found an unconscious tribeswoman cradling her two small children. I looked at their faces—all black as smoke—wondering how I would get them out before the yurt fell in on us, sealing our fates. Quickly, and with all strength I could muster, my heart beating with fear for my own children, I grabbed to two small ones and attempted to move the woman though as I pulled back the yurt crumbled. I lifted the two children still screaming for their mother and levitated above the wreckage. Below the smoke and ash was an unsalable disaster. From a distance, through the haze I saw a huddled mass of children and a few tribesmen.
“Mother!” a voice called out; it was Han. I swooped him up in my arms. “Mother,” he repeated through tear stained eyes and muffled voice, “the camp.”
I pulled back and looked at my soot covered boy. “Where’s your father, where’s Amaya and Juib?’
“Amaya is with me,” he choked as tears rolled down his face. “Father is back in the camp…we… mom we can’t find Juib.” I saw tears rolling down his face. Juib, my youngest, had scarcely seen four years. My heart pounded as my mind imagined the hundreds of places where he could be.
“Han, listen to me carefully,” I said with a clarity I barely possessed,”you must stay here with your sister. Do not go back in the camp. I will find your father and Juib. I will be back.” I kissed gently on his forehead then turned and ran toward the flames. Through the ash and smoke I moved crying out for my son and husband. My eyes and mouth burned from the fumes, and the light from my shield only reflected the black smoke. Trapped in the inferno I could see very little but heard the agonized screams and crash of yurts falling all around. Exhausted and out of breath, I slowly moved beyond the camp’s outer perimeter and sank to ground hacking and vomiting the black sludge and despair lodged in my throat. So this is hell, Annika Blue. You brought this on yourself. I turned and stood, wiping the black tears from face. I was going back in there to find them, come what may. Turning towards the camp I saw a figure emerging from the haze….
“Annika! Anne!” Through the wreckage walking towards me was my husband Julan, cradling the badly burnt body of my youngest son.
“Juib…oh gods, no! No!” I screamed. Julan handed our son to me; his limp, burned little body barely moved.
“He was crouched in Mashti’s yurt. We were playing a game of hide and seek,” Julan choked.
“He will be fine…I promise you that—I will save our son.”
“Anne, I’m going back into the camp—.“
“Han and Amaya are safe,” I whispered.
“I know. I am going to try to save others.” I looked up at him, his hand moved across my face, communicating love and anguish. Quickly he yanked his hand back. “Do what you can for our son,” he said coldly, then stalked off into the distance, back into the flames. I looked down at the small, precious boy in my arms, knowing what I had to do. I lifted him and strode towards the sea, counting on it to give me strength and clarity. As I felt his little body growing colder, my movements became more determined, pushing panic and guilt away. Finally we reached the shore. With all my remaining strength I called out to Azura, the god of the night sky and protector of my people. “Please, please help me.” I then inhaled deeply and with all my concentration I blew a healing breath into Juib…and then another…and then another. Finally, his chest was rising and falling on his own. Juib began to cough and cry.
“I know baby, I know.” He needed balm and tonic. Mashti, the tribe’s healer, yurt was likely burnt, but she still had her encampment from her days as an outcast. “Juib,” I said softly, “you and I are going to fly.” He loved flying. Standing slowly, with Juib in my arms I turned, suddenly aware of a presence around me. As I turned I saw my daughter running towards me.
“Mother, you did it, you made the fire stop!” Quickly I turned, and looked towards the camp. The flames had been reduced to billowing embers that engulfed the whole of the Ahemmusa.
Turning back towards my daughter, I whispered, “Amaya, listen to me…Juib is in a great deal of pain.”
“He’s alive?” she gulped.
“Yes, he is alive.”
“I saw you leaning over him and crying out words I did not understand. Then suddenly the fire stopped.” She then looked up at and whispered, “Mother, you were glowing. “
Crouching down, with Juib against my shoulder, I took my free hand and caressed my daughter’s frightened face. “Amaya, I don’t know what happened and it does not matter now. Your brother is alive, but is badly burned and in a great deal of pain. I need to take him to your grandmother’s old camp and look for healing potions and tonics. When your father returns, tell him where I went.”
I quickly arrived at Mashti’s former outcast encampment with Juib’s tiny arms wrapped around me. Strangely, I had always considered this place home. Even the ridiculous skulls hanging outside her yurt were a comfort; somehow I knew he’d be ok. Fortunately, the yurt was full of remedies, and gods be praised, they were all marked for I knew very little of the art of potion making. Religiously, I applied the balm to Juib’s skin and slowly he began to heal. Days and days had passed, how may I was unsure. Finally, in the wee hours of the morning I heard the sound of someone entering the yurt. It was Mashti, the tribes’ healer and Julan’s mother. In a sense she had been my mother too. She brushed coolly past me and stood over her sleeping grandson. “En Azure anew—Azura be praised,” she whispered over him and then softly kissed his head. She then turned to me. “You’ve done well, Nerevar Blue. He’s healing nicely.” She knew—I don’t know how, but the look in her eyes and the coldness of her voice told me everything. Mashti never called me anything but Anni—and never addressed me by title.
I cleared my throat then spoke. “His healing is a testament to your organizational skills Mashti; I was able to find everything he needed.”
“I am here to make more,” she said plainly. “I will stay here with Juib, unit you return. “
“Where is Julan?”
“Back at the camp, or what’s left of it,” she said bitterly. “He knows his son is well,” she said motioning to my hand. My wedding band…the telekinetic link between Julan and I. With that ring he could hear my thoughts, and when I took it off he still could hear the surrounding….oh gods! My legs failed me as I fell to floor…how could I have been so stupid? I must have uttered this out loud as Mashti’s eyes flared at me.
“I don’t know Annika, but you were. And what’s worse is I saw it coming—I should never have healed that bastard Ebel and you should have never taken him to safety! He should have died with his siblings,” she spat. “You betrayed your husband and all that you love.”
“I never meant to hurt you—any of you,” I whispered. Tears of shame rolled down my face as Mashti’s shoulders hunched. She took deep breath and turned to me.
“So many people dead—gods, had you been here,” she grimaced. “You have to go back to the camp and speak with him. And,” she said cuttingly, “the tribe needs to see their savior.” I walked out of the yurt and into the light. The sky was gray and overcast with a cold wind blowing. The storm was coming—I saw him striding over the ridge. He strode past me. Reaching out I grabbed his arm. Julan spun around and flung me into a sand dune, his eyes burning.
“Stop,” he said his rage palatable. “Do not come near me, Nerevar. I wish to see our son; when I come out we will speak.” He strode off towards the encampment. My eyes followed his image until it disappeared over the horizon of the next dune. Hours passed as I watch the clouds move, replaying my actions in a constant loop. I thought of the moment I had met Ebel in the Imperial City, so many years ago. I am my mother’s embarrassment and Uriel’s bane. A product of an angry Empress and her favorite minster. He laughed at that. Ebel’s instructions upon our meeting, leveled by his mother the Empress Caula, was to kill me, but he could not bring himself to do so. Because we live in a twisted world of snakes, Annika. It is a world you and I understand, but spurn. I remembered the pain and fear in his eyes as he approached me after his brothers had been slain. It is only a matter of time before they kill Uriel and find me. Please Annika, please help me. My body seized as I remembered the night we first touched. This is so very wrong, Ebel. I could not stop...if I had only stopped....
Small raindrops gently fell across my face; I turned my head slightly towards the encampment. In the distance I saw the light from the campfire, the same light that Julan proposed by, the same light in which our children played. My heart was loaded down with the crushing guilt and tragedy of days past; my eyes closed as I fought a fruitless battle against sleep.
“Annika,” I looked up and saw Julan standing above me against the night sky.
“Julan—I,” I said beginning to rise.
“Don’t bother," he spat as I sat back down and faced dunes. “And do not speak to me. I am simply here to tell you how it will be,” his cold voice belied the rage behind it.
Taking a deep breath, I turned to face him. I murmured a small, chastened, “Alright.”
“My people cannot take another blow. They need their Ashkhan and their bloody Nerevarine. So…for appearance’s sake, we will pretend nothing has happened. We will go about our lives as it was before. But know this, Annika Blue,” he said pausing for a moment, his eyes boring into mine, “the only reason I do not cast you out or cut you down is that my children need you and my tribe needs you. All else is gone.”
I stared up at him then turned back to the sand, moving my fingers in concentric circles through the silky pebbles. Julan walked towards the waves lighting a hacklo leaf, the moonlight catching the gray in his charcoal hair.
“Have you nothing to say?” he asked turning over his shoulder.
“You told me not to speak.”
“When has that ever stopped you before?”
“Julan, I am so sorry—you must believe me…I never meant for any of this—”
“Oh gods!” he raged, his fist clenched against his head. “Do you know Annika, what it was like to hear you—my wife, the woman that I love—writhing and moaning beneath another man? To hear you call out his name as you used to call out mine?” He stopped for moment and turned towards me, his face twisted in anguish. “Tell me wife—when did your love die?”
I could not answer him or speak for some time. Every answer sounded like a lie.
“I was a bloody fool for marrying you,” he said shaking his head in disgust. “I knew this couldn’t work, in my heart I always knew…and yet I loved you.”
“Do you still?” I asked hopefully.
“Yes…gods help me yes,” his voice choked in deep sobs. “And now all of this…My tribe is gone, my people are dead and while flames engulfed the Ahemmusa, my wife loved another. This is the cost of loving you!” I moved towards him, reaching out to touch his face, he recoiled violently. “Don’t—do not touch me—your touch burns worse than the flames.”
“Julan…I will make this right. Please believe me…please believe that I still love you.”
He turned towards me, wiping the tears from eyes. “Go. Just leave me now; go to our children, go to the camp or to Oblivion for all I care. I do not wish to see you.” He turned back towards the camp and walked on; his dark silhouette disappearing into the dawn’s thick fog.
Nerevar Blue Book 1[link]