Thumping on a stump, I tried to warm my fingers in my armpits, but even they seemed ice to the touch.
I heard laughing.
I smelled campfire.
I did not dare to hope that whoever it was that was making camp would wish to help me; I crept close, following the smoke and noises until I was hiding in the bushes. There was a man and his son talking and assembling dinner into a cast iron pot. Simple fare of root vegetables and a few chunks of dried, salted meat and water. They shoveled out some coals and spread it about the pot, stoked the fire, then went around the bend. I did not know what they were up to, but I did not care. Slinking into their camp, I stood as close to the fire as I dared–and that was all too close for common sense–and held my outer shirt over the flames. It did not take long before steam rose from my shirt and pants, and that steam was hot against my skin, but should I step away, the damp clothes chilled me instantly again. My fingers tingled, and I relished the warmth from the fire. My shirt dried, and I was surprised to find my pants were half-dry–they would have been all dry if I was willing to turn my back to it.
I could still hear the boy talking in the distance, and I decided to take my leave before anyone returned. Turning, I bumped into the man. Surprised, I stumbled over my heels and tumbled backwards into the fire, wincing and preparing myself for burns.
But I never hit the ground, nor was the fire more than uncomfortably warm. I was suspended midair, as though I were in an invisible chair. The man in front of me had a stick in his hand, and was watching me with an amused smile.
“Do stay and talk,” he said, his voice like he was laughing. “You thought you could outrun the famous Mentor, did you? I will have you know you are the easiest catch I have had. If you promise to not run, you may share our fire and food.”
I did not know who or what Mentor was, but I mutely said, “I would like that.” And then I proceeded to plan my escape. There was no way I was returning to him, and I was set on that.
The boy–he was about ten–brought a few stumps over to the fire and broke out three ceramic plates half way between a plate and a bowl. I did not complain when they had nothing for me to eat the food with, and I ate more than I intended to. The boy and man talked, but it was in a language I did not know, and so I ignored them.
“Why did you do it?” asked the boy, the question bursting from his lips.
I blinked at him, then decided that he was young enough to not understand the ways of the world yet. “No other choice.”
“There are always other choices,” said Mentor, his eyes flashing in anger. “What you did was unacceptable.”
“I ran away.”
“Precisely.” Mentor looked smug and holier-than-thou, and that flared my temper.
“I am not going to be a brood cow for that slimey war vet, I don’t care how barren his wife is!” I spat, surprising him with my venom, “And I’d rather die a million slow deaths out here in the wild than give you lot the joy of killing another magician, nevermind how poor I am!”
Mentor stared at me, and I noticed his green eyes sparkling with confusion.
I clapped my hand over my mouth, and wished I had left off the second part. When he still sat, staring, I dashed for the woods. He let me go. I stopped after a short distance, sitting on a boulder and cradling my head. The boy wandered close to me.
“You’re from the other side?”
I was silent.
The boy pressed on. “What kinda magician are you?”
I swallowed, and choked, “I shouldn’t say.”
“Oh,” said the boy, “My name’s Kyle, and I’m a osteomancer.”
“Kyle,” came Mentor’s warning voice, “Leave her alone.”
“But she’s from the other side.”
“All the more reason to leave her alone.”
“But the Illuminator can help–”
I snapped my attention to the pair. “The Illuminator? Can you take me to him?”
Mentor’s eyes narrowed at me. “Why?”
I swallowed, picked up a stick, and sketched a butterfly.