“I don’t care what you say. There has to be a way to get the bracelet off Natalia.”
“You will fail,” Siobhan said.
“Perhaps.” He smiled; it was a ghost of a smile but one all the same. “At least I’ll die for someone I love and for a purpose. Without her, I have no life.”
Siobhan rolled her eyes. Love made no sense to her, not anymore. All love accomplished was creating a weakness for those who fell victim to its graces. Wren alone was proof of that. He was ready to give his life for a fiancé he could never have returned to him. Siobhan looked to Elias. His couldn't love, not in the way humans did. Their reproduction required no sexual attraction to one another. In the case of Elias, he couldn't reproduce as he’d chosen a life on land and one in servitude of Siobhan’s family. His life force would end the same way it began—alone. The ways of his people made the most sense to her. Their youth were born from eggs, farmed like cattle, and required limited interaction between the men and woman to make it happen. Love wasn’t a necessity in their life.
That was how Siobhan chose to live.
Elias nodded toward Wren. She knew it was a nod to convince her the fool needed their help. Though it didn’t make sense. If he were going to die anyway, why did she need to help him die? It would be easy enough to leave him there. To steal his ring and sell it to a black-market dealer who wouldn’t care it was stolen. With a single swipe of her hand, she could have all the money she would ever need. Wren without any weapons would make it easy to knock him cold.
Siobhan closed her eyes and groaned. She was such a moron for what she would say next. She looked to Elias. “Are the Vanguard Generals still looking for Wren?”
He nodded. “Aye. They’re calling in Vanguard mages as well. They will be here within a day. Guards are under order to deny exit to any males, no matter the age, who have brown hair and blue eyes. They still think you’re a man and have no description of you other than you were small in stature.”
Siobhan clicked her tongue and grinned. For a man she might be small, but as a woman she was taller than most. “Mages will be no threat if we can get him out of the city before they arrive. Ivan knows how to guard himself and no one else knows it was us in that alley.”
“Does that mean you’ll help me?” Wren asked.
“I will get you as far as Firnlan. After that, I need to go north so you will be on your own.” She sucked in a deep breath and looked to the cart. Barrels lined each outer edge of the cart walls. Siobhan looked from those barrels to the three horses nibbling on hay laid out for them. If they needed a fast get away, the cart would make it impossible. She asked Elias, “How much water do you think the horses could carry?”
“Not enough, M’lady,” Elias said.
For Wren and Siobhan it would be enough, more than enough. Firnlan was less than a month’s ride from Scanla, even with the detour to bypass the massive chasm in between. Elias, on the other hand, needed almost an entire barrel just for himself. Without it, he’d die under the blazing heat of the sun. Even a sun diluted by the coming winter.
She sighed. “We’ll meet you at Rosie’s then.” She reached into the back of a cart and pulled out a large, heavy, wool bag. Wren jumped when she tossed it at her feet. “Fill all the bladders in that bag with as much water from the barrels as you can. Load the horses up with all the food, water, and skins they can carry, but keep the bulk of the weight on your horse and Zelick.”
Wren scowled. “We’re not taking the cart?”
“The wagon will slow you down,” Elias said as he began to undo the hidden buttons of his robe. Wren’s eyes widened when Elias removed the robes and tossed them to Siobhan. She was un-phased by the now naked man before her. Her hands rolled the robe into a ball as she walked toward Nyka and stuffed the smooth cloth into one of her saddlebags.
“Are those . . .gills on your neck? And where the hell is your, um, genitals,” Wren stammered. Siobhan grinned and turned to look at him. He was still wide eyed, his head bobbing up and down as if that would somehow make the sight of a man with no physical markings of a man make sense. In place of where Elias’ genitals should be, was a smooth, thin span of gray-green flesh fading into hairless legs. Elias’ flesh was a mish mash of color. Out of the water it was neither pink nor tan, both light and dark, with touches of gray scales specking his flesh.
Elias smiled and walked by Wren without answering. He stopped to touch a hand to Siobhan’s cheek. “Travel safe.”
“Snow will fall soon, swim safe and fast before the river starts to freeze.”
He nodded and left the cave.
“He has no butt cheeks. Elias has no butt cheeks. It’s just a hole . . . how in the Goddess’ name is it just a hole?”
Siobhan grabbed his arms as he tried to follow Elias out of the tunnel. The Aquantian’s deep chuckle followed his exit. It would be a matter of seconds before Elias would wade into the cold Lind River cutting Scanla in half and vanish into its depths. The river would carry him to the underground waterways leading to Firnlan. Wren looked at her, mouth hanging like it might fall off, his eyes still wide.
“Elias is an Aquantian,” she said. “What you lowlanders call a mermaid. Or in Elias’ case, a merman.”
“Mermaids aren’t real.”
Siobhan snorted. “Oh right. Only mages have magic. No other magic exists in this world. You truly are a moron. Load the horses; I need to make arrangements for Ivan to come get my cart.”
Her hand tapped against the purse still hidden on her belt under her shirt. The few coins she carried on her jiggled against the totems and vials. She reached inside and pulled a single coin out. Sunlight pierced her eyes when she exited the tunnel. Clouds moved slow through the sky. As they converged, they darkened to gray and near black. Siobhan sniffed the air. It wasn’t quite heavy with moisture, but it was clean with a renewed energy. The first rain was coming. Siobhan would guess by nightfall it would drizzle. Snow was coming and she wasn’t sure they’d reach Firnlan before it came.