I waited until Liandros’ back was out of sight before I shoved the others out after him.
They left me there, without a word, leaving me behind to grieve.
I swear, when Ari left, his eyes were smug.
Proud of himself for destroying the greatest friendship I had ever known, and would ever know.
Slamming the door behind him, I lock it and fall against the door, weeping and not caring who heard.
I remembered the terror I felt when I met him, the worry and the sincere fear. I remembered the trust that slowly built that first night, the friendship that swiftly overpowered all fear as time wore on. I remembered leaning against him, laughing loud and long, neither of us knowing why. I remembered his golden head, leaning upon my shoulder as he daintily and carefully peeked at the bruises circling my neck such a short time ago. I remembered the agony in his eyes when he confessed to me his secret, the final part of his puzzle, the last mystery to be solved. I remembered him, Liandros Graceling, my friend and companion along the seas, the man who had changed me as much as I had changed him.
I remembered standing watch one night on board the Soaring Keel, shivering despite the blankets I wore draped about me, the water gently lapping the sides of the boat. I remembered the resentment I felt for Liandros then, as he had begged me to take his shift and I had taken it.
And I remembered the soft touch on my shoulder, the reflexive flinch dulled by the familiar warm laugh, warming me inside and out. I remembered turning to spy the shine of a single cigar, its glow hidden by a sheltering hand.
I remembered the shine of his smile as he stepped beside me, holding the spark in his hand with nary a wince so I could take a drag upon it.
I remembered our soft breaths, tainted with the smoke of a single cigar that we shared, as we stood on the deck and watched the water in silence and in friendship.
And it hurt me, remembering the times we’d had together, the fights, the songs, the laughter, the calm and quiet nights spent murmuring stories and smothering our laughter.
But it was worth remembering.
When I felt that I could stand, I pulled myself to my feet and walked to his hammock, still gently warmed by the heat of his body. I smell his scent one last time, my fingers cut by the slivers of wood he left behind, uncaring that my blood dripped upon the cabin floor.
Slowly, tenderly, I lifted the carving and turned it to face me.
And I looked into my own eyes.
It was my face, a perfect image of my face. My lips were parted slightly in a smile, my eyes hooded, but laughing. My ears were perked, my hair was wild, and I was smiling. Just smiling.
And I wondered something then. Had he meant to leave me and take this with him so he never forgot my face, or had he meant to destroy it in anger?
Had he meant to leave me, calmly and sadly, as he felt that he was no longer meant to remain?
Or had he always meant to remain, and just stay here when I went away, the Sourcerors, former or not, taking me away so that when I returned I returned to him?
What did I do to him?
How much had he loved me?
Enough to abandon his life here when Ari made it so very clear he was never going to be welcome?
Enough to, when he left, let his parting words be an order to ruin his life even further?
I threw it across the room, unlocked the door, and sprinted to the cliffs.
From there, I watched a single boat paddle towards the mainland, making its lonely journey away from me.
And I am not certain that, even though a part of me is horrifyingly certain that my elven eyes are not fooling me, I see the sunshine glinting off two heads of shining hair, one more brilliant and darker than the other.
For one of them shines as golden as the sun, and another shines black as night.
And I know that, even before Ari confirms it with a shrieking howl of denial and fear, the island has lost two inhabitants.
Akalioa is no longer on the island.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ We follow them the very next morning. Captain Arrisandos urges every last bit of speed he can get from the Soaring Keel—following urgings from Larind, Ari, and I—and she lives up to her name, flying across the water.
But will we make it in time?
The Source, from the moment Akalioa put on the bracelet, has been trying to get to the mainland. Using Ari’s drunkenness and mental weakness, it has gotten Liandros to leave me without truly knowing who had caused it. And Liandros would have been only too easy to control—one touch would have been all it would take to want that power for himself, and use it for revenge.
And now it was getting what it wanted.
Would we make it in time?
Would we stop it before it caused too much damage?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
We hit the mainland around noon. My brother and I leap off the boat and catch Larind when he leaps after us, wasting no time. The Captain orders most of his crew to follow us in our search for her, the last few remaining behind to secure the Soaring Keel to the deck.
We don’t find them anywhere. Nowhere, in the port city of Stavaks, do we find them. Within two days, messages are sent out to the cities and villages with orders to look for them within their borders, and send out scouts. Ari sends a single message to each and every Sourceror whose location he knows—and he knows most of them—warning them of what has happened. Within two weeks of our arrival on the mainland, he receives messages from all of them via the animals and birds that all tell him the same thing: She is not within their borders. She, along with Liandros, are nowhere to be found.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
We search for weeks, until finally we come to someone who can tell us: It’s an old friend of Ari’s, a former archer bent with age and no longer able to shoot an arrow, or even hold it in his gnarled fingers.
He had heard of Ari’s predicament and desire, and had sent his runner to Stavaks, bearing a message in a sealed tube.
When Ari read it out loud to us, I felt my heart sink.
He knew where Liandros was: In the elven forest.
With my people.
He was in prison for killing an elf.
He was to be executed.
In two weeks.
But he also knew something else: Akalioa was in Andrespa, far to the north. If we went to her, we could not make it to Liandros in time. If we left now, we might have time if we go by boat to Liandros, but if we go to Andrespa, where my sister slowly gained control over the populace of an entire city, he would die.
If we went to Liandros, who knows how many would die?
Could I sacrifice my best friend to try to stop something a part of me knew I couldn’t stop?
Could I abandon Liandros to his death, even after what he had done to me?
Could I let my sister remain free?
Could I let my sister remain free?
I look at Larind, and he wipes away a single tear as he looks at me. I look at Ari, and he looks away.
They know the choice I have to make, and they know the choice I make.
My shoulders droop.
My eyes close.
A tear rolls down my cheek.
And then, looking at them, I whisper, “Pack your things. We’re going to Andrespa.”