Raina

The day Raina was born was the worst day of Petar’s life. His wife Matana had died during Raina’s birth. Everyone wanted to know if he was okay. He knew he had to be, for Raina’s sake. It is what Matana would have wanted.

His mother Adi took over Raina’s care because he had to resume working to provide for Raina. When Adi fell seriously ill and had to be taken to a healer in Nosmas several leagues away, Petar was forced to employ a nursemaid. Someone to look after Raina while he was away at work in the neighboring village. On the day the nursemaid was to watch him, he returned from work to find an unlikely scene. His den was upside down.

Everything was not where it was supposed to be. He met the maid in some sort of glowing metal cage, while baby Raina was being nursed by a fair angelic creature. A Naturi. He knew it was a Naturi because of the blue of her skin, the tiny transparent horns jutting out of each side of her forehead, and her green eyes. She looked exactly like the drawings and descriptions he had seen when he had been taught about them as a child. His brain told him to panic and scream for his child but the Naturi’s presence calmed him.

“What has happened?” Petar asked nervously.

The Naturi looked up from the baby. “Your nursemaid is a soul trafficker.” Soul traffickers, soul-eaters all the same. He knew what a soul trafficker was. They were known for seeking out young children whose consciousness they can steal. These traffickers are usually hired by desperate parents with dying kids. The healthy soul is exchanged for the dying one. 

The Naturi continued, “She would have sold the baby’s soul. I had to stop her.” She glanced at the small red glowing cage on the stand near her. “Don’t worry, she is trapped.”

Petar felt like his body was turning to jelly. He had made the worst mistake any parent could make in the whole wide Mudlands. He had hired a soul-eater as his daughter’s Nanny. 

“Thank you for saving her.”

“Not me,” the Naturi said curtly. “The baby has the extra life.” He knew exactly what she meant. In the Mudlands, it is believed everyone is born with dormant powers that can only be made active by an unpredictable key event. It is the dream of every person to unlock theirs. 

“Her powers got activated?” he asked.

“Yes. When the baby’s soul was being stolen, her new powers invoked me to save her life. I fought the soul-eater and I trapped her.” The Naturi shook her head sadly. “Some of the baby’s soul force has leaked away, but I kept most of it and sealed it here.” She pointed at an amulet tied around Raina’s neck. “Take heed; the amulet must always be around her neck. That is her soul.”

“But, what happens if it’s not there?”

The Naturi shot him a serious look of caution. “First, terrible convulsions, next, death.”

 When Raina stirred and cooed, the Naturi turned to Raina and rocked her. She stood up with the baby in her arms and walked gently towards Petar. She gave the baby one last look before handing her to Petar.

Petar held his baby and took in the shine of the glowing blue rock attached to the amulet. “I vow that the amulet shall not leave her neck.”

The Naturi nodded firmly.

“Does she have any powers left?” Petar asked.

“I do not know. I am but a tool in the hands of the gods, I know nothing of people’s destiny.”  The Naturi put her blue hands together. “My work here is done mortal,” she said as she took a bow.

Petar was about to thank the Naturi again when she vanished. Grateful to have his daughter alive, he held her close to himself and sobbed.

***

Petar moved into the secluded woods hundreds of leagues away to live alone and care for his baby. He could not risk letting Raina grow up in the open town. At first, they lived in a makeshift barn in the woods. He hunted and farmed to provide for them both. As time went on he built a more sturdy hut for them to live in. As Raina grew into her toddler years, she often tugged at her amulet and sometimes managed to pull it off her neck. Petar always tied it around her neck stronger than before. In time, she came to know the importance of having the amulet around her neck.

When she was five years old, she said to him one day at the small farm in front of their hut, “Papa, can I play with other children next time we sell at the farmer’s market?”

Petar, who was making moulds with a hoe stopped to consider it for a minute and sighed. 

“Raina, you are not like the other children. You are special; because of that you can’t play with them.”

“You always say that papa. I will not let them see my amulet. I know that’s what you are worried about. You always make me wear the kerchief to cover it up anyway.”

“The answer is no,” he said firmly. Then she began to sob. This was a frequent topic between them over the years till she stopped asking.

***

When Raina turned eight, Petar saw the need to go back into the town and look for more sustainable work. He bought a large piece of land to expand his farming. He made his mother come live with them to help care for Raina. They both cared and educated her the best they could.

One day, when he arrived from work and was a few feet away from the entrance of the hut he heard vibrations on the floor which made him think his mother was pounding something in the mortar and pestle for dinner as she usually did. He stopped to listen, but the sounds had an irregular, jarring rhythm to them. He rushed inside the house and met his mother wailing and holding down Raina as she convulsed violently on the floor. It was clear she had been trying to hold Raina in place for a long time to not hurt herself. He immediately knew what was wrong. His eyes darted to Raina’s neck, the amulet was not there. Petar felt his mouth turn to metal, and his body turn to jelly as he rushed to where Raina lay.

“How did this happen?” he asked.

“I was sleeping. I don’t know. I woke up when she– she ran inside the house all wet and dirty beating her chest and looking dizzy. I saw that her amulet was missing. She fell down and started having a seizure.”

Petar held his head between his hands horrified that his daughter might die. He lifted her and pressed her tightly to his body, and carried her to her bed. 

“Mama, get me the ropes in my work bag.” Adi ran to fetch the ropes and returned with them. “Hold down her head.” Adi did as she was told. Petar bound his daughter to the bedpost from her arms to her legs. He looked at his mother. “I need to find the amulet as soon as possible. Without it, she—” Adi nodded in rapid succession “Where did she go?” he asked.

“I have no idea. I was asleep,” Adi replied, her eyes watering initially, then suddenly bursting forth tears like a stream.

“Stay with her ma. Pray to the gods that I find it so she may be saved.”

He hurried to his bedroom and grabbed his special hunting boots and gear. He threw them all into a satchel and ran out the door.

Once he stepped outside the house, he knew he had to be careful. To find where she lost the amulet, he had to track where her little feet had been. His family is the only people out here, if he finds any other footprints, he has to assume it belongs to the thief who stole his daughter’s amulet. He prayed silently that it was merely lost and not stolen.

***

Petar had gone a long distance from home, following Raina’s track through the woods. He wondered how Raina could have covered such a long distance away from the house without his mother noticing. He took a deep breath in and then out. This was no time to get angry, he thought. 

He had to focus on searching for the amulet. He got on his knees and searched the brushes around him with his hands, hoping to grab the amulet any minute now.  His ears caught the sound of hoofbeats racing towards him. He shot up; looked left and right. Dust now gathered in the wake of the approaching horse. When it settled, it revealed a man on a brown horse coming in his direction. As he rode closer, Petar identified the man as his friend Akur, one of his hired hands on his farm. Akur stopped the horse and dismounted looking grave.

“What are you doing here?” Petar asked.

“Adi sent the pigeon to me asking me to hurry over and accompany you in the search.”

“Is she still with us? Did you see her?” Petar asked, dreading the answer.

Akur nodded. “She is shaking but she lives still.”

Petar nodded sternly. “Do you know what the amulet looks like?”

“I think I might recognize it,” Akur said.

“Okay, let’s continue as fast as possible,” Petar said.

Akur tied his horse to a tree in the middle of the brush.

They looked in the bushes near the path. Akur took the left bushes on the path. Petar took the right. They continued to follow Raina’s footprints.

Soon the tracks led them to a wide field of shoulder-length high Arre plants. Akur grabbed Petar’s tunic as he was about to enter the field. 

“We can’t go in through this field,” Akur said.

“Why? Her tracks lead through here.”

“These are Arre leaves. The living leaves. If you disturb them too much, they could bite. Let’s go around it.”

“I know, I just don’t care. If Raina walked through here, I have to do the same. What if the amulet dropped in there? You can go around the field and meet me in front.”

Akur sighed. “I’ll go with you. We just need to be careful, dangerous creatures tend to make Arre fields their home.”

Petar, barely listening, walked into the field. The day was darkened by the shadows of the tall plants. He could make out little footprints. He got on his knees and used his hands to feel around the ground. He could see stones he had never seen before. Little animals he had seen before darted about as if trying to escape the unwelcome intruder in their home. 

Petar felt something crawl up his leg. He looked down and saw a snake. As he swung his feet to fling it off, the snake held on to him with its teeth like its life depended on it and dug into Petar’s flesh. Petar screamed. This drew Akur’s attention. Akur ran to him. When Petar pointed at his legs, Akur knelt and with some force peeled off the snake and flung it to the ground. He pierced its head with a long stick. The snake groaned in an unnatural tone almost as if it were human, as it bled out.

Petar crouched on the ground as if he were afraid to sit on the ground, lest he gets bitten again. His thigh felt like it was on fire as he felt the venom rise up his leg.

Akur loosened the shirt scarf he had tied around his waist. He picked up the dead snake and wrapped it in the scarf.  “We need to leave right now.”

Petar looked up at Akur sternly. A look that said impossible.

“You have gotten bit by the magical Oron snake. That is a death sentence. But not if you leave with me to the Megia right this minute to get a cure. We do not have time.”

“No way I’m leaving. My daughter’s life is at stake.”

“If you do not take the antidote by this time tomorrow you are not going to be around to save your daughter.”

“I’ll take my chances.”

“Petar I beg of you. Let me take you to Megia.”

“Why don’t you go and bring back the antidote for me. I need to save my daughter.” Petar winced in pain as he struggled to breathe. 

“Megia is 50 leagues from here, a full day’s journey. You need to be by my side to receive the antidote once I arrive there. There won’t be enough time for me to return before the venom does the unthinkable.” Akur crouched to face Petar. “Dear friend, please, come with me. You can’t save Raina if you are a dead man.”

Petar dragged in a ragged breath with a huge grunt and got on his feet, barely putting weight on the bitten leg. He shook his head and picked up his bag. “No. I choose to save Raina. My friend, please go and get me the antidote. I can’t leave until I find the amulet.”

Akur was misty-eyed. He placed his strong palms on Petar’s shoulder. “I hope to find you well when I return, brother. Find the amulet and save Raina.”

Petar nodded back. He limped and turned his back on Akur to continue his search. Akur darted in the other direction to find his horse.

With much effort, Petar made his way out of the Arre field, looking as best as he could for the amulet. Praying silently that his daughter was still alive. Tumbling through the woods, he could feel the hands of time passing. Still hoping Raina has not left him. He got on his knees with great pain, and rummaged through the sands. Other times, he used a stick to pick at the bush in hope of getting a glimmer of a soul in the sun’s reflection. With every step, his agony increased. Bending to examine objects that looked like the amulet took every energy within him. The pain from his right leg was blinding. It felt like the venom was a living thing racing between his right leg and his waist. Petar could not conceive of giving up. ‘Raina needs me,’ he mumbled to himself over and over.

His pace was getting slower and he could barely see his way. Dizziness took a hold of him. He could not stand straight. Sweating profusely, he felt chills up and down his back. The only image he had in his head was of Raina convulsing. It was being replaced by him wondering where he was right now and what he was doing there. With his balance swaying, he looked around the bush with half-opened eyes and a hazed vision and remembered Raina. Shaking his head so hard it might fall off, he tried to clear his vision and continue his quest. It worked, but only for the duration of a twinkle of an eye. He tried with his might to take another step, this landed him with his back on the forest floor.

***

Lying on the ground, with a battered body, Petar felt a presence. He thought the forest had changed color. Like the sun got brighter but in a pastel blue. Next, he could vaguely feel his body being moved yet his back was not touching the forest floor, nor could he feel any hands touching him. He was pushing in and out of consciousness, neither here nor there, too weak to do anything about it. But he was not scared. Not worried. Instead, he felt peace. He rested his eyelids and settled into a state of nothingness.

***

Petar awoke to the sun shining on his face. Shielding his face with a hand, he sat up. He was lying in a beautiful, even green field. A tsunami of thoughts about his daughter flooded his mind. “Raina!” He rushed to stand on his feet, he noticed the pain in his right leg was gone. Perplexed, he looked around him and came face to face with a lady who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. She had an easy face to look at. She reminded him of something. Someone.

“Who are you?” Petar asked

“Your Naturi.”

“My—” He could not remember what that meant.  With his half-opened mouth, Petar looked her up and down. He looked at his knees. “Did you heal me?”

The Naturi nodded gently.

Raina! A Naturi once saved her! Petar remembered. With a sudden burst of energy, he positioned himself on his knees. “Please please Naturi help save my daughter, Raina. Do you know her? Have you come to save her? Please help save her.”

The Naturi had a calm about her when she looked down to face Petar. “That’s not why I’m here,” she said.

Furrowing his eyebrow, Petar got on his feet and looked at her, as if to question her.

Continuing to look into his eyes, she said, “You unlocked your power, Petar. You triggered an awakening.”  

Frowning, Petar asked, “How?”

Smiling, she continued. “By laying your life down for Raina’s. You triggered the powers encoded in your destiny. That was the key to your powers.”

Petar placed a palm on his chest. “You mean, not chasing an antidote for my wound in order to save Raina, unlocked my magical powers? “

She gave a slow nod and blinked. “Just as there are a million other actions that may trigger an awakening in other people. No creature can tell which actions may unlock them, except for the gods themselves. 

“You don’t need me to save Raina, Petar. You have your powers for that now.”

Petar’s eyes lit up. He interlocked his fingers on his chest. “But how do I use them to save Raina?”

The Naturi smiled. “When you came into the world, no one had to teach you to breathe or to see or smell. Your powers have been a part of you since you were born; they will reveal themselves when you need them. The Naturi pointed behind Petar. “Now, take this path and hurry home.”

Petar turned around to see the path. By the time he turned back to the Naturi, she was gone. Just like that, the field appeared less bright than it was a second ago.

Petar tried to walk as fast as he possibly could to reach Raina in time. He noticed something odd– the ground beneath changed texture so fast from grass to sand more than once. He stopped to look back and saw that he had covered much more distance than he thought possible in such little time. 

Perplexed, he stopped and walked one footstep, stopped and turned back, his mouth came ajar when he observed that his legs carried him five steps for each stride he made. He did it again. One stride equaled almost five steps. Out of excitement, he took to running and it felt like he was on a horse with the speed of the winds watering his eyes, except he was the horse. He had never moved this fast in his life. 

He stopped several times to find his next turn and took off running at what seemed to be the speed of a big cat. He assumed this must be what it is like to move as fast as a hyena. In no time, he spotted his house a few feet away. He broke his speed and stopped. He hadn’t broken a sweat, nor was he tired. The day was turning to night. The Homer pigeon was perched in his cage, retiring for the day. He took a deep breath and hurried inside.

The living area was empty. Despite his newfound power, Petar felt his body trembling as he approached his daughter’s room. He cracked open the door to find Adi seated on a stool near Raina’s bed. Raina was still lying on the bed where he had left her. Still convulsing non-stop, with sweat all over her face and neck. When Adi looked up at him expectantly, her eyes were swollen, red, and tired. “Did you find it?”

He shook his head slowly. He moved close to Raina’s bed and sat down near her. Adi’s face had confusion written all over it. “So why are you back? What do we do?”

Adi kept talking. Petar, with trembling hands, could not hear a word being said to him as he focused all his attention on Raina. Not sure what to do to help her, he placed his palm on her cheek to caress it. Right then, in his mind’s eye, he got a flash of Raina’s amulet. Petar’s eyes widened. ‘What was that?’ He thought. He quickly placed Raina’s hands in his and closed his eyes. He got another flash. This time, the amulet was in a person’s hand. A person.. caressing it. Except, the hand looked familiar. Petar squeezed on Raina’s hand which brought so many flashes all at once. He could feel hands on him, tapping and shaking him. He dropped Raina’s hand like a hot rod and fell from the bed. Petar looked up at Adi standing over him. “What is it!” she asked.

Petar had his mouth wide open. Breathing in and out as fast as he could. “It was Akur. Ma, it was Akur. He came looking for me today and found Raina playing outside unsupervised. He saw an opportunity and lured her far away from the house. He told her that I sent him to fetch her. He took precautions with his shoes by tying clothes under the soles to avoid leaving tracks. When he took her far enough into the woods, he snatched her amulet, and she collapsed. Then he left her for dead in the forest. She managed to find her way back on her own with great effort.”

Adi placed her hands on her head. “I can’t believe I sent for the devil to join you in the search. The ant eating the soup is behind the soup,” she lamented. “How do we get it back?”

Petar knew what he had to do. His instinct was screaming it at him. Springing to his feet, he closed his eyes and raised his right hand’s index and middle fingers. He could see Akur where he was. Not on the way to Megia to find an antidote, as he promised. Petar could see him, clear as day,  wandering the city market, looking for a soul-eater to sell the amulet to. Petar felt at home with his new power, like he had had it his whole life. Using his mind, he waved the remnants of Raina’s soul from the glass enclaves of the amulet, from where it sat in Akur’s pocket and summoned it back to him. He opened his eyes gently to see a wave of soft green light dancing in front of his eyes. Raising his hand higher, he waved the green light into Raina’s head. Just then, her shivering stopped. She dragged a huge breath and was wide awake.

“Ah, my heart,” he yelled out as he ran to Raina and hugged her tightly. Adi confused with everything happening, ran to hug them both.

Raina yelled, “Uncle Akur, Uncle–Uncle Akur Uncle Akur.” Her voice trailed into sobs.

“I know, daughter. I know. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” Petar said. He kept her in his embrace. Any soul-eater Akur finds is going to deal with him mercilessly for wasting her time when he presents a soulless amulet. Akur’s soul will be taken in its stead. Petar did not know how he knew but he did. The evil one will know no peace.

Adi, still in the dark, started to ask, “How did you—–” when she got interrupted by heavy knocks on the door. Knocks so violent, they threatened to break the door down. Before they could answer, the door sprung open. Four large men wearing military uniforms marched in. It took Petar a second to realize they were from the Royal army. The King’s very own men. Petar got on his feet out of respect.

 The men parted ways for a fifth man to pass between them. An older man with gray hair and a well-toned muscular body walked to where Petar stood.

In a deep voice, he started, “Son, you triggered an awakening today, didn’t you?”

Petar felt intimidated. He nodded.

The man smiled slowly. “We felt it. All the way from the Capital. We’ve never felt anything of that magnitude. The King made us rush down here as fast as we could. I’m Rufus, the magic statesman.” Rufus stretched out his hands and Petar took it in a handshake.

Petar had heard all about Rufus. One of the most renowned men in Mudlands. Overseer of all things magic, on behalf of the King.

“The King summons you, right this minute.” Rufus glanced at Raina and Adi. “You can bring your family with you if you want.”

Petar fell to one knee and bowed. “The King? What have I done wrong, sir? I am just a common man trying to save his daughter.”

Rufus let out a burst of roaring laughter. His men joined in. Petar looked around confused at their laughter. “Get up son.” Petar got on his feet. “Do you know what happens to men who trigger awake powerful magic as you have just done?” Petar shook his head. But immediately he did that, he remembered.

“They become Kingsmen. Statesmen. They become chiefs, rich for the rest of their lives. You are about to become a noble man, my friend,” Rufus said smiling. He seemed pleased with himself for disclosing this. “The last installed nobleman was from twenty years ago. Before that, it was me, fifty years ago.” Rufus folded his arms. “So when I tell you the King summons you, you go running, not walking. Running.”

“I’ll bring my family with me,” Petar said. Petar picked Raina up and carried her across his left shoulder. Adi followed behind him.

Rufus smiled at Petar and tapped him on his shoulder. “You, my friend, are about to become a powerful man.” 

He turned to his men and commanded. “To the chariots!”

The day Raina was born was the worst day of Petar’s life. His wife Matana had died during Raina’s birth. Everyone wanted to know if he was okay. He knew he had to be, for Raina’s sake. It is what Matana would have wanted.

His mother Adi took over Raina’s care because he had to resume working to provide for Raina. When Adi fell seriously ill and had to be taken to a healer in Nosmas several leagues away, Petar was forced to employ a nursemaid. Someone to look after Raina while he was away at work in the neighboring village. On the day the nursemaid was to watch him, he returned from work to find an unlikely scene. His den was upside down.

Everything was not where it was supposed to be. He met the maid in some sort of glowing metal cage, while baby Raina was being nursed by a fair angelic creature. A Naturi. He knew it was a Naturi because of the blue of her skin, the tiny transparent horns jutting out of each side of her forehead, and her green eyes. She looked exactly like the drawings and descriptions he had seen when he had been taught about them as a child. His brain told him to panic and scream for his child but the Naturi’s presence calmed him.

“What has happened?” Petar asked nervously.

The Naturi looked up from the baby. “Your nursemaid is a soul trafficker.” Soul traffickers, soul-eaters all the same. He knew what a soul trafficker was. They were known for seeking out young children whose consciousness they can steal. These traffickers are usually hired by desperate parents with dying kids. The healthy soul is exchanged for the dying one. 

The Naturi continued, “She would have sold the baby’s soul. I had to stop her.” She glanced at the small red glowing cage on the stand near her. “Don’t worry, she is trapped.”

Petar felt like his body was turning to jelly. He had made the worst mistake any parent could make in the whole wide Mudlands. He had hired a soul-eater as his daughter’s Nanny. 

“Thank you for saving her.”

“Not me,” the Naturi said curtly. “The baby has the extra life.” He knew exactly what she meant. In the Mudlands, it is believed everyone is born with dormant powers that can only be made active by an unpredictable key event. It is the dream of every person to unlock theirs. 

“Her powers got activated?” he asked.

“Yes. When the baby’s soul was being stolen, her new powers invoked me to save her life. I fought the soul-eater and I trapped her.” The Naturi shook her head sadly. “Some of the baby’s soul force has leaked away, but I kept most of it and sealed it here.” She pointed at an amulet tied around Raina’s neck. “Take heed; the amulet must always be around her neck. That is her soul.”

“But, what happens if it’s not there?”

The Naturi shot him a serious look of caution. “First, terrible convulsions, next, death.”

 When Raina stirred and cooed, the Naturi turned to Raina and rocked her. She stood up with the baby in her arms and walked gently towards Petar. She gave the baby one last look before handing her to Petar.

Petar held his baby and took in the shine of the glowing blue rock attached to the amulet. “I vow that the amulet shall not leave her neck.”

The Naturi nodded firmly.

“Does she have any powers left?” Petar asked.

“I do not know. I am but a tool in the hands of the gods, I know nothing of people’s destiny.”  The Naturi put her blue hands together. “My work here is done mortal,” she said as she took a bow.

Petar was about to thank the Naturi again when she vanished. Grateful to have his daughter alive, he held her close to himself and sobbed.

***

Petar moved into the secluded woods hundreds of leagues away to live alone and care for his baby. He could not risk letting Raina grow up in the open town. At first, they lived in a makeshift barn in the woods. He hunted and farmed to provide for them both. As time went on he built a more sturdy hut for them to live in. As Raina grew into her toddler years, she often tugged at her amulet and sometimes managed to pull it off her neck. Petar always tied it around her neck stronger than before. In time, she came to know the importance of having the amulet around her neck.

When she was five years old, she said to him one day at the small farm in front of their hut, “Papa, can I play with other children next time we sell at the farmer’s market?”

Petar, who was making moulds with a hoe stopped to consider it for a minute and sighed. 

“Raina, you are not like the other children. You are special; because of that you can’t play with them.”

“You always say that papa. I will not let them see my amulet. I know that’s what you are worried about. You always make me wear the kerchief to cover it up anyway.”

“The answer is no,” he said firmly. Then she began to sob. This was a frequent topic between them over the years till she stopped asking.

***

When Raina turned eight, Petar saw the need to go back into the town and look for more sustainable work. He bought a large piece of land to expand his farming. He made his mother come live with them to help care for Raina. They both cared and educated her the best they could.

One day, when he arrived from work and was a few feet away from the entrance of the hut he heard vibrations on the floor which made him think his mother was pounding something in the mortar and pestle for dinner as she usually did. He stopped to listen, but the sounds had an irregular, jarring rhythm to them. He rushed inside the house and met his mother wailing and holding down Raina as she convulsed violently on the floor. It was clear she had been trying to hold Raina in place for a long time to not hurt herself. He immediately knew what was wrong. His eyes darted to Raina’s neck, the amulet was not there. Petar felt his mouth turn to metal, and his body turn to jelly as he rushed to where Raina lay.

“How did this happen?” he asked.

“I was sleeping. I don’t know. I woke up when she– she ran inside the house all wet and dirty beating her chest and looking dizzy. I saw that her amulet was missing. She fell down and started having a seizure.”

Petar held his head between his hands horrified that his daughter might die. He lifted her and pressed her tightly to his body, and carried her to her bed. 

“Mama, get me the ropes in my work bag.” Adi ran to fetch the ropes and returned with them. “Hold down her head.” Adi did as she was told. Petar bound his daughter to the bedpost from her arms to her legs. He looked at his mother. “I need to find the amulet as soon as possible. Without it, she—” Adi nodded in rapid succession “Where did she go?” he asked.

“I have no idea. I was asleep,” Adi replied, her eyes watering initially, then suddenly bursting forth tears like a stream.

“Stay with her ma. Pray to the gods that I find it so she may be saved.”

He hurried to his bedroom and grabbed his special hunting boots and gear. He threw them all into a satchel and ran out the door.

Once he stepped outside the house, he knew he had to be careful. To find where she lost the amulet, he had to track where her little feet had been. His family is the only people out here, if he finds any other footprints, he has to assume it belongs to the thief who stole his daughter’s amulet. He prayed silently that it was merely lost and not stolen.

***

Petar had gone a long distance from home, following Raina’s track through the woods. He wondered how Raina could have covered such a long distance away from the house without his mother noticing. He took a deep breath in and then out. This was no time to get angry, he thought. 

He had to focus on searching for the amulet. He got on his knees and searched the brushes around him with his hands, hoping to grab the amulet any minute now.  His ears caught the sound of hoofbeats racing towards him. He shot up; looked left and right. Dust now gathered in the wake of the approaching horse. When it settled, it revealed a man on a brown horse coming in his direction. As he rode closer, Petar identified the man as his friend Akur, one of his hired hands on his farm. Akur stopped the horse and dismounted looking grave.

“What are you doing here?” Petar asked.

“Adi sent the pigeon to me asking me to hurry over and accompany you in the search.”

“Is she still with us? Did you see her?” Petar asked, dreading the answer.

Akur nodded. “She is shaking but she lives still.”

Petar nodded sternly. “Do you know what the amulet looks like?”

“I think I might recognize it,” Akur said.

“Okay, let’s continue as fast as possible,” Petar said.

Akur tied his horse to a tree in the middle of the brush.

They looked in the bushes near the path. Akur took the left bushes on the path. Petar took the right. They continued to follow Raina’s footprints.

Soon the tracks led them to a wide field of shoulder-length high Arre plants. Akur grabbed Petar’s tunic as he was about to enter the field. 

“We can’t go in through this field,” Akur said.

“Why? Her tracks lead through here.”

“These are Arre leaves. The living leaves. If you disturb them too much, they could bite. Let’s go around it.”

“I know, I just don’t care. If Raina walked through here, I have to do the same. What if the amulet dropped in there? You can go around the field and meet me in front.”

Akur sighed. “I’ll go with you. We just need to be careful, dangerous creatures tend to make Arre fields their home.”

Petar, barely listening, walked into the field. The day was darkened by the shadows of the tall plants. He could make out little footprints. He got on his knees and used his hands to feel around the ground. He could see stones he had never seen before. Little animals he had seen before darted about as if trying to escape the unwelcome intruder in their home. 

Petar felt something crawl up his leg. He looked down and saw a snake. As he swung his feet to fling it off, the snake held on to him with its teeth like its life depended on it and dug into Petar’s flesh. Petar screamed. This drew Akur’s attention. Akur ran to him. When Petar pointed at his legs, Akur knelt and with some force peeled off the snake and flung it to the ground. He pierced its head with a long stick. The snake groaned in an unnatural tone almost as if it were human, as it bled out.

Petar crouched on the ground as if he were afraid to sit on the ground, lest he gets bitten again. His thigh felt like it was on fire as he felt the venom rise up his leg.

Akur loosened the shirt scarf he had tied around his waist. He picked up the dead snake and wrapped it in the scarf.  “We need to leave right now.”

Petar looked up at Akur sternly. A look that said impossible.

“You have gotten bit by the magical Oron snake. That is a death sentence. But not if you leave with me to the Megia right this minute to get a cure. We do not have time.”

“No way I’m leaving. My daughter’s life is at stake.”

“If you do not take the antidote by this time tomorrow you are not going to be around to save your daughter.”

“I’ll take my chances.”

“Petar I beg of you. Let me take you to Megia.”

“Why don’t you go and bring back the antidote for me. I need to save my daughter.” Petar winced in pain as he struggled to breathe. 

“Megia is 50 leagues from here, a full day’s journey. You need to be by my side to receive the antidote once I arrive there. There won’t be enough time for me to return before the venom does the unthinkable.” Akur crouched to face Petar. “Dear friend, please, come with me. You can’t save Raina if you are a dead man.”

Petar dragged in a ragged breath with a huge grunt and got on his feet, barely putting weight on the bitten leg. He shook his head and picked up his bag. “No. I choose to save Raina. My friend, please go and get me the antidote. I can’t leave until I find the amulet.”

Akur was misty-eyed. He placed his strong palms on Petar’s shoulder. “I hope to find you well when I return, brother. Find the amulet and save Raina.”

Petar nodded back. He limped and turned his back on Akur to continue his search. Akur darted in the other direction to find his horse.

With much effort, Petar made his way out of the Arre field, looking as best as he could for the amulet. Praying silently that his daughter was still alive. Tumbling through the woods, he could feel the hands of time passing. Still hoping Raina has not left him. He got on his knees with great pain, and rummaged through the sands. Other times, he used a stick to pick at the bush in hope of getting a glimmer of a soul in the sun’s reflection. With every step, his agony increased. Bending to examine objects that looked like the amulet took every energy within him. The pain from his right leg was blinding. It felt like the venom was a living thing racing between his right leg and his waist. Petar could not conceive of giving up. ‘Raina needs me,’ he mumbled to himself over and over.

His pace was getting slower and he could barely see his way. Dizziness took a hold of him. He could not stand straight. Sweating profusely, he felt chills up and down his back. The only image he had in his head was of Raina convulsing. It was being replaced by him wondering where he was right now and what he was doing there. With his balance swaying, he looked around the bush with half-opened eyes and a hazed vision and remembered Raina. Shaking his head so hard it might fall off, he tried to clear his vision and continue his quest. It worked, but only for the duration of a twinkle of an eye. He tried with his might to take another step, this landed him with his back on the forest floor.

***

Lying on the ground, with a battered body, Petar felt a presence. He thought the forest had changed color. Like the sun got brighter but in a pastel blue. Next, he could vaguely feel his body being moved yet his back was not touching the forest floor, nor could he feel any hands touching him. He was pushing in and out of consciousness, neither here nor there, too weak to do anything about it. But he was not scared. Not worried. Instead, he felt peace. He rested his eyelids and settled into a state of nothingness.

***

Petar awoke to the sun shining on his face. Shielding his face with a hand, he sat up. He was lying in a beautiful, even green field. A tsunami of thoughts about his daughter flooded his mind. “Raina!” He rushed to stand on his feet, he noticed the pain in his right leg was gone. Perplexed, he looked around him and came face to face with a lady who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. She had an easy face to look at. She reminded him of something. Someone.

“Who are you?” Petar asked

“Your Naturi.”

“My—” He could not remember what that meant.  With his half-opened mouth, Petar looked her up and down. He looked at his knees. “Did you heal me?”

The Naturi nodded gently.

Raina! A Naturi once saved her! Petar remembered. With a sudden burst of energy, he positioned himself on his knees. “Please please Naturi help save my daughter, Raina. Do you know her? Have you come to save her? Please help save her.”

The Naturi had a calm about her when she looked down to face Petar. “That’s not why I’m here,” she said.

Furrowing his eyebrow, Petar got on his feet and looked at her, as if to question her.

Continuing to look into his eyes, she said, “You unlocked your power, Petar. You triggered an awakening.”  

Frowning, Petar asked, “How?”

Smiling, she continued. “By laying your life down for Raina’s. You triggered the powers encoded in your destiny. That was the key to your powers.”

Petar placed a palm on his chest. “You mean, not chasing an antidote for my wound in order to save Raina, unlocked my magical powers? “

She gave a slow nod and blinked. “Just as there are a million other actions that may trigger an awakening in other people. No creature can tell which actions may unlock them, except for the gods themselves. 

“You don’t need me to save Raina, Petar. You have your powers for that now.”

Petar’s eyes lit up. He interlocked his fingers on his chest. “But how do I use them to save Raina?”

The Naturi smiled. “When you came into the world, no one had to teach you to breathe or to see or smell. Your powers have been a part of you since you were born; they will reveal themselves when you need them. The Naturi pointed behind Petar. “Now, take this path and hurry home.”

Petar turned around to see the path. By the time he turned back to the Naturi, she was gone. Just like that, the field appeared less bright than it was a second ago.

Petar tried to walk as fast as he possibly could to reach Raina in time. He noticed something odd– the ground beneath changed texture so fast from grass to sand more than once. He stopped to look back and saw that he had covered much more distance than he thought possible in such little time. 

Perplexed, he stopped and walked one footstep, stopped and turned back, his mouth came ajar when he observed that his legs carried him five steps for each stride he made. He did it again. One stride equaled almost five steps. Out of excitement, he took to running and it felt like he was on a horse with the speed of the winds watering his eyes, except he was the horse. He had never moved this fast in his life. 

He stopped several times to find his next turn and took off running at what seemed to be the speed of a big cat. He assumed this must be what it is like to move as fast as a hyena. In no time, he spotted his house a few feet away. He broke his speed and stopped. He hadn’t broken a sweat, nor was he tired. The day was turning to night. The Homer pigeon was perched in his cage, retiring for the day. He took a deep breath and hurried inside.

The living area was empty. Despite his newfound power, Petar felt his body trembling as he approached his daughter’s room. He cracked open the door to find Adi seated on a stool near Raina’s bed. Raina was still lying on the bed where he had left her. Still convulsing non-stop, with sweat all over her face and neck. When Adi looked up at him expectantly, her eyes were swollen, red, and tired. “Did you find it?”

He shook his head slowly. He moved close to Raina’s bed and sat down near her. Adi’s face had confusion written all over it. “So why are you back? What do we do?”

Adi kept talking. Petar, with trembling hands, could not hear a word being said to him as he focused all his attention on Raina. Not sure what to do to help her, he placed his palm on her cheek to caress it. Right then, in his mind’s eye, he got a flash of Raina’s amulet. Petar’s eyes widened. ‘What was that?’ He thought. He quickly placed Raina’s hands in his and closed his eyes. He got another flash. This time, the amulet was in a person’s hand. A person.. caressing it. Except, the hand looked familiar. Petar squeezed on Raina’s hand which brought so many flashes all at once. He could feel hands on him, tapping and shaking him. He dropped Raina’s hand like a hot rod and fell from the bed. Petar looked up at Adi standing over him. “What is it!” she asked.

Petar had his mouth wide open. Breathing in and out as fast as he could. “It was Akur. Ma, it was Akur. He came looking for me today and found Raina playing outside unsupervised. He saw an opportunity and lured her far away from the house. He told her that I sent him to fetch her. He took precautions with his shoes by tying clothes under the soles to avoid leaving tracks. When he took her far enough into the woods, he snatched her amulet, and she collapsed. Then he left her for dead in the forest. She managed to find her way back on her own with great effort.”

Adi placed her hands on her head. “I can’t believe I sent for the devil to join you in the search. The ant eating the soup is behind the soup,” she lamented. “How do we get it back?”

Petar knew what he had to do. His instinct was screaming it at him. Springing to his feet, he closed his eyes and raised his right hand’s index and middle fingers. He could see Akur where he was. Not on the way to Megia to find an antidote, as he promised. Petar could see him, clear as day,  wandering the city market, looking for a soul-eater to sell the amulet to. Petar felt at home with his new power, like he had had it his whole life. Using his mind, he waved the remnants of Raina’s soul from the glass enclaves of the amulet, from where it sat in Akur’s pocket and summoned it back to him. He opened his eyes gently to see a wave of soft green light dancing in front of his eyes. Raising his hand higher, he waved the green light into Raina’s head. Just then, her shivering stopped. She dragged a huge breath and was wide awake.

“Ah, my heart,” he yelled out as he ran to Raina and hugged her tightly. Adi confused with everything happening, ran to hug them both.

Raina yelled, “Uncle Akur, Uncle–Uncle Akur Uncle Akur.” Her voice trailed into sobs.

“I know, daughter. I know. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” Petar said. He kept her in his embrace. Any soul-eater Akur finds is going to deal with him mercilessly for wasting her time when he presents a soulless amulet. Akur’s soul will be taken in its stead. Petar did not know how he knew but he did. The evil one will know no peace.

Adi, still in the dark, started to ask, “How did you—–” when she got interrupted by heavy knocks on the door. Knocks so violent, they threatened to break the door down. Before they could answer, the door sprung open. Four large men wearing military uniforms marched in. It took Petar a second to realize they were from the Royal army. The King’s very own men. Petar got on his feet out of respect.

 The men parted ways for a fifth man to pass between them. An older man with gray hair and a well-toned muscular body walked to where Petar stood.

In a deep voice, he started, “Son, you triggered an awakening today, didn’t you?”

Petar felt intimidated. He nodded.

The man smiled slowly. “We felt it. All the way from the Capital. We’ve never felt anything of that magnitude. The King made us rush down here as fast as we could. I’m Rufus, the magic statesman.” Rufus stretched out his hands and Petar took it in a handshake.

Petar had heard all about Rufus. One of the most renowned men in Mudlands. Overseer of all things magic, on behalf of the King.

“The King summons you, right this minute.” Rufus glanced at Raina and Adi. “You can bring your family with you if you want.”

Petar fell to one knee and bowed. “The King? What have I done wrong, sir? I am just a common man trying to save his daughter.”

Rufus let out a burst of roaring laughter. His men joined in. Petar looked around confused at their laughter. “Get up son.” Petar got on his feet. “Do you know what happens to men who trigger awake powerful magic as you have just done?” Petar shook his head. But immediately he did that, he remembered.

“They become Kingsmen. Statesmen. They become chiefs, rich for the rest of their lives. You are about to become a noble man, my friend,” Rufus said smiling. He seemed pleased with himself for disclosing this. “The last installed nobleman was from twenty years ago. Before that, it was me, fifty years ago.” Rufus folded his arms. “So when I tell you the King summons you, you go running, not walking. Running.”

“I’ll bring my family with me,” Petar said. Petar picked Raina up and carried her across his left shoulder. Adi followed behind him.

Rufus smiled at Petar and tapped him on his shoulder. “You, my friend, are about to become a powerful man.” 

He turned to his men and commanded. “To the chariots!”

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