Across the land bridge that tied the Islands of Hetale and Lopel together, Meg and Tarek stood on the edge of one of Lopel’s cliffs watching the waves crash against the beach.
Meg’s long dark hair and gray cloak flared behind her in the wind. She shivered, and Tarek pulled her close, wrapping his cloak around her.
Like Ibris, Meg shivered not only from the cold but because she knew what they had to do. They had to stop the destruction of magic. They had to stop Aaron and Stryker from taking over the Islands the same way they had taken over the rest of Thamon.
Sometimes Meg thought that what she and her friends were trying to do was hopeless. What gave her courage was what they had done so far and how much had changed.
Tarek was the biggest surprise. Meg leaned into Tarek, the top of her head reaching only to his shoulder. When Tarek looked down at her, she raised her green eyes to his blue ones and smiled.
Everything about Tarek felt like a miracle to Meg. Only a few months had passed since she had first seen him standing in the meadow. She hadn’t trusted him. Well, she hadn’t trusted anyone then.
Trying to escape what she had thought of as her parents’ overbearing watchfulness, she had talked a portal maker in the dimension of Erda on the planet Gaia into sending her away to someplace beautiful and safe. Somewhere she could do whatever she wanted to do, whenever she wanted to. No more rules. No more laws.
Instead, he had tricked her. Meg knew it was her fault. She had tried to scare him into thinking she held a secret over him and would tell if he didn’t help her.
What she had done proved to her now how stupid she had been. Threatening to tell the portal maker’s secret meant he would make sure she could never return. The fact that she didn’t know anything about him didn’t help. Along with being stupid, she had been cruel and reckless.
Instead of getting what she wanted, the portal maker banished her. Yes, he sent her to a beautiful place, but it wasn’t safe for her or any other Mage, shapeshifter, or wizard. She had arrived entirely unprepared for Thamon.
Unaware, and still stupid and reckless, she would have been captured and killed if it hadn’t been for the unearned kindness of three other shapeshifters.
Ruth, Roar, and Wren found her and warned Meg of the danger to people like them. Then they taught her how to survive.
But they did more than that.
The three shapeshifters had taught Meg how to rebel in the right way and against the right people. They showed her what it meant to have friends, something Meg had never cared about before. Now, she had no idea what she would do without them.
Back at the cabin by the lake, those friends waited for Meg and Tarek to return.
All of them were restless. The decision to not do anything for the past month had been trying, even though they all knew it was a wise one.
They had all agreed to let Dax think he had succeeded in killing all of them in the earthquake and the flood that followed it. They needed him to relax his guard. And they needed to wait for Roar and the Mages they rescued to heal.
But for Wren, the waiting was becoming intolerable. She sat in the corner of the cabin, her cloak wrapped around her, staring at the fire, trying to calm herself down.
After they rescued the Mages from the prison camp, Wren had been as exhausted as everyone else and welcomed the time to rest.
But that exhaustion had passed weeks before. Now Wren wanted to be doing something, anything other than hanging out in the cabin, or the cave with the Mages.
While they waited, the cold season had arrived. That meant that the Preacher’s agreement with Stryker for a peaceful conversion had come to an end. If Stryker discovered that the Mages and shapeshifters were still alive, he would do everything in his power to destroy them.
And now that Stryker had found the top third of the pendant, he was closer to having more power than any of them could overcome.
Wren started to pace the cabin, ignoring the looks from the others to sit down and be still. She knew they were as restless as she was, and understood how she felt. If Leon and his men were in the cabin, Leon would probably have succeeded in getting her to stop. But they weren’t there. They were in the cave with the Mages, making sure they were warm enough.
Wren sighed to herself. She hoped that Meg and Tarek would return soon, and Tarek would tell them that the time had come to continue the rebellion. Otherwise, she thought she might explode. At the very least, shapeshift into a wild bird and fly like a crazy person through the air, even though they had all been forbidden to shift or use magic during this time, afraid Ibris, Dax, or Stryker would notice.
Before Tarek, Wren had been in charge. Although she appeared to be the youngest of the shapeshifters, she had a wisdom that made her new friends wonder if she was hiding her actual age. Only Ruth and Roar knew the whole story, and they wouldn’t tell.
Turning over her authority to Tarek had been easy. From the moment she had seen him walking through the meadow outside the town of Woald, Wren believed that he was the one they had been waiting for, and so far he had proved her to be right.
But if he didn’t do something soon, she might have to start something on her own