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          The sun was devilishly hot. Even the Magi with Air powers could not keep cool enough breezes blowing to prevent the sun from trying to bake them all. Any storm that was summoned to block the sun only managed to make the air humid and increase the discomfort of all. Even the SunKin, the Faeries and Elves who existed on the light of the sun, were feeling the effects.
          Tariah Chronis lifted her visor for a moment long enough to squint at the distance, then lowered it again. It was the only thing keeping her silver eyes from straining in the bright light glaring off every reflective object. Thanks to the full desert clothes that were considered casual summer wear of the citizens of Symphony, she wasn't completely melting either.
          She glanced down at the thought. 'Full clothes' was really a misnomer. By the standards of other cities, she might be considered barely dressed at all. On top, she wore a piece of cloth crossed over her breasts and tied both behind her neck and around her chest. On the bottom she wore a pair of cloth shorts that vividly displayed the length of her long legs. Her feet were encased in sturdy boots to protect them from the harsh desert sand.
          Her long auburn brown hair was coiled on top of her head and her visor helped keep the weight in place. The visor was designed to shield her eyes from the sun and to also provide a soft cooling breeze down the length of her body. Unfortunately, the breeze was currently not working.
          She let out a hard breath and pulled gloves on her hands. She was standing in front of a large cliff face outside the edges of her city. At the top of the cliff were several scraggly bushes with Knockback berries on them. So named because they were so sour that they knocked back any who ate them, she thought in wry amusement.
          With lithe strength, she began to climb the cliff face. She had made the climb so many times that it was child's play. Her body was lean and strong, well honed from survival in the hottest desert on Lucksphere. Only the hardiest of people made Symphony their home, but she couldn't imagine living anywhere else.
          Halfway up the wall, a cloth bag filled with water struck the wall beside her head and exploded, sending warm water spraying into her face. Muttering curses, she shoved up her splattered visor and twisted slightly to look back at the ground. Her hackles rose as she saw the three teenage males standing there with nasty grins.
          She had to order herself not to get angry. She stepped on the anger, choked it, and nearly choked physically as she forced herself to ignore them. For seven years, it had been her way of life. All her emotions had to be choked and stifled. If she ever let them free, her fate would be sealed and the world would sentence her to death.
          "What do you want?" she called down to the boys. "I'm busy here."
          "See?" one said. "I told you she didn't get angry. You can do whatever you want and she won't get mad at you. It's not normal. Hey, poka!"
          "Poka, my ass," she muttered. Poka was an insult that implied the person being referred to was as slow and stupid as a Pokagale bird. The birds were so stupid that they often died falling out of their own nests because they forgot they could fly.
          "Tariah's a poka!" The chant came from all three boys as they started lobbing more water balls.
          She jerked her visor down again and started her climb once more. She ignored their taunts as fiercely as she ignored the water balls that kept narrowly missing her head. Finally, more disgusted than angry, she turned and made an elegant gesture with one hand. It was an exceptionally rude gesture, and it also harnessed her power. "You want Water," she muttered, "you get it."
          A large tidal wave lifted out of the sands and began to chase the boys as they ran screaming back toward the city. They didn't make it in time, and the wave swept them up and sent them tumbling through the center of town. Even from the cliff, Tariah could hear the city laughing.
          With a little satisfied smile, she worked her way up the rest of the wall. At the top, she unsheathed the dagger on her hip and began to harvest the berries. They were really sour and really disgusting, but their medicinal properties couldn't be beaten. The doctors made poultices and remedies out of the berries and leaves both.
          When the satchel around her waist was full, she climbed back. As she jumped the last two feet, the ground under her feet shook and rumbled. It nearly knocked her over before she was able to catch her balance. It ended fairly swiftly and she let out the breath she was holding. Quakes on the continent of Choral were always more annoying than detrimental.
          The rest of Symphony was of like mind. In size, the city covered a ten-mile diameter and boasted a population of nearly ten thousand. The buildings were made of red brick and hard-caked mud, but colorful tapestries and awnings brought the place to life. The streets were mostly sand but wooden tracks had been laid down for carts to roll on. Street sweepers made sure the tracks were kept clean every day.
          Tariah loved Symphony. The heat, the color, the land, and the people. With a spring in her step, she hurried toward the doctor's office at the end of the main street. Inside was cool and comfortable, a welcome change from the midday heat. "Doc!" she called. "I'm back!"
          "Ah there's my favorite Magi." The doctor was a MoonKin Elf of Dark power, and his skin was smooth chocolate. His eyes were silvery-gray like the moon and marked his MoonKin heritage as visibly as the little silvery tattoos on his arms.
          He was not very big, only around five-six, so Tariah never felt exceptionally small beside him even though she was only five-two. She was a little fascinated by him too. Most Kin did not leave their homelands, but Maxim had done just that. He claimed it was to sew back together impulsive Magi, which amused her immensely.
          She took off her satchel and set it down on the table. "Here you go." She gratefully took the glass of water he handed her and nearly finished it in a single gulp. "Whew! I needed that." She smiled. "A Water Magi, and I still get thirsty so fast."
          "It's part of your power, and you know it." He began to sort the leaves and berries. Casually he said, "I noticed the three terrors come tumbling through town. Were they harassing you?"
          She lowered her lashes slightly. She knew Maxim knew what she was though neither had spoken of it. The Kin always automatically sensed and recognized power in all other beings. It was one of their gifts. "Yes," she finally said. "But it didn't mean anything."
          "I wish there was another way for you," he said softly. "You are one of the most giving young women I've ever known. To be condemned . . ."
          "It can't be changed." She shrugged one shoulder then smiled. "If anything, it gives me an edge. They think I'm a Master Magi, and that's enough to make them wary."
          Master Magi were as rare as Chronicles but not nearly as loathed. Masters were simply Magi of exceptional skill. Tariah was willing to endure the slightly awed looks of people when they witnessed her strength with her powers; strength well beyond her years. It was better than to see them looking at her with hatred and murder in their eyes.
          "What makes a Magi different from a Chronicle?" she whispered. "I don't feel any different. I'm just stronger, and I have lines over my skin."
          Maxim sighed. "Like all creatures, a Magi uses lightning from birth. At puberty, they develop powers related to a primary element. Either Air, Water, Fire, or Soil. Then, during second puberty, they specialize with a secondary element related to the first."
          "Yes, I know." She pulled a face. "Believe me, I went to school, and I was Magi the first part of my life. What makes a Chronicle different?"
          "Well, I couldn't say precisely," he said. "They were wiped out over a thousand years ago, and all since have been put to death. But if the tales of my fellow Kin are true, then Chronicles were basically Magi that developed secondary elements at the same time as primary, and during second puberty they gained wholly new powers that were unique only to Chronicles and Furies."
          Her heart gave a soft thud. She had never heard of a Fury before and yet something inside seemed to suddenly awaken. It strained and reached as if looking for something. "A Fury?" she asked softly.
          "A Fury is a Dragon Lord." He watched her intently. "A Dragon Lord is not always a Fury, just as a Dragon is not always a Dragon Lord, but Furies are always Dragon Lords. They are the other half of a Chronicle. They are perfectly balanced and matched. When the correct Chronicle and Fury meet, they form a powerful bond and become Dragoons. The Fury will feed on the power of the Chronicle, and in turn the Chronicle can use Dragon majiks."
          Tears burned the back of her eyes as she thought of finding the Fury meant for her. Someone that would accept her and love her for everything she was. She would not have to live in fear ever again. Somewhere in the world, she thought, there was probably a Dragon who felt the same as she. "I don't care for the majiks," she whispered. "I just want someone to understand me."
          He had to smile. "I suspect that is how Chronicles always felt, and Furies as well. The Dragons still wait for Chronicles, or so they say. Legend states that they would protect any Chronicle they found, Fury mate or not. Legend also states that the lost continent of Dragons would welcome any Chronicle that was able to find them."
          She frowned. "But how would I find them?" she asked. "I mean . . . Dragons aren't seen as commonly as Kin, and their continent has been lost for centuries, right?"
          "That's what I've heard as well. Supposedly it lies at the place where the edges of the world meet." He smiled. "Perhaps someday you will find it. They say a Chronicle always knows. Maybe those lines on your body make the map leading you to them."
          With a soft sigh, she put the thoughts of Furies and Chronicles out of her mind. Thinking about it just made her want it more, and if she let herself feel too deeply for it, then the aforementioned lines would become visible on her body. "Maybe someday," she agreed softly.
          "Go home, little one," he said gently. "Don't stress yourself out."
          She felt tired in the soul and heart so she had no problems agreeing with such a thing. With a sigh, she left the doctor's office and walked back outside into the oppressing heat of the afternoon. She pulled her visor lower over her eyes and headed down the dusty road toward her home.
          Her parents owned the town library. They collected and stored books for the entire city so that they could be accessed by everyone. They worked in conjunction with other city libraries to provide copies to each other. In this way, the entire continent of Choral had access to all the books they could want. Transport between continents was long, and trade with the other lands was only just starting.
          Sheer curiosity filled Tariah and she went over to the bookshelves to get out the giant book of maps. It was recent as of five years; the newest edition was being worked on since the mapmaker was trying to convince a Dragon to fly her over the countries, and there were rules against Dragons flying over cities.
          Tariah opened the book and flipped to the center where there was a world map. Laid out flat, the world of Lucksphere looked like a mass of blue with spots of brown and some green and only a little white. Most of the world was desert; toward the north there were some forested and plains lands and to the very north there was a land of ice.
          The primary islands of the MoonKin and SunKin were located scattered in an atoll around the edges of the forested country known as Carnelian. Tariah traced a finger lightly over the map. There were huge chunks of ocean. More than enough space to hide an entire continent, but nothing felt right.
          Her right shoulder began to burn. She winced and pressed a hand to her skin and felt the heat underneath. It had happened once or twice before in her life, but never like this. It felt as if something was moving under her skin. Her lines itched horribly.
          Her eyes fixed on the map. "At the place where the edges of the world meet," she whispered. She pulled the map out of the book and began to fold it into a sphere shape. There were cuts in the paper for just such a thing, and in a few moments she was holding a global representation of her world.
          She turned it around until she was looking at the seam where the two sides had come together, and she felt a little shiver go down her back. In this shape, the two halves of ocean met at the seam and the two spots of deepest ocean came together. She measured it with her fingers. Based on the scale of the globe, the spot of deepest ocean was about the size of a medium continent.
          It was a little unnerving. She quickly unfolded the map and put it away. The Deepest Ocean was a sailor's nightmare. It could not be traversed at all. If you came within a mile of the dark waters, your ship was immediately assailed by winds and torrential waves. Many ships had been lost, and hundreds killed, in the centuries since its discovery.
          "And what are you up to?"
          She jolted, then turned with a smile as her father wrapped an arm around her shoulders and hugged her. He was barely taller than she was and had the same sparkling silver eyes. His hair, however, was gold in color. He was an Air Magi of average strength but sensitive to the fluctuations of other powers.
          She rested her head on his shoulder. "Well," she said, "I was looking at the maps."
"Thinking of abandoning your poor parents and traveling the world?" Dublin Chronis pulled a saddened face. "You ungrateful child."
          She just laughed. "You would like to have time alone for you and Mom, and you know it, Dad." She turned her head with a smile as she sensed her mother's approach. "Right, Mom?"
          "Guilty," Persia Chronis said ruefully as she walked over. She was taller than her mate by about four inches, and her hair was the same auburn as her daughter's. Her eyes were smoky blue and she was a Water Magi of stronger power.
          She picked up the book of maps and flipped through the pages. Her heart was aching. She had wondered how long it would be before Tariah's Chronicle blood demanded she seek out the Fury meant for her.
          When she had learned her daughter was a Chronicle, she had scoured every book she owned for more information. All she could say with certainty was that a Chronicle was compelled, by the very power that made them, to seek out the land of the Dragons and to find the Fury that matched them. "Where would you go if you could go somewhere?" she asked softly.
          "I don't know." Tariah rubbed her hands over her arms, still feeling cold even in the warm weather. "Just somewhere. Somewhere I would not have to live in fear. Doc told me that legend speaks of Dragons guarding Chronicles. A part of me wishes to find out if it is true. The rest is more afraid it isn't."
          Dublin and Persia looked at one another and unspoken messages passed between them before both nodded slightly. "We stand behind you," Dublin said quietly. "No matter what. If you want to set sail for the primary continent, we'll help pay for the ticket."
          Tariah looked at him in surprise. "Really?"
          "Really. You know we just want you to be happy."
          She did know. Her parents had always done everything they could to help her adjust to the burdens she lived under. "I'll think about it," she decided.
          There came a commotion from the street, and they all walked over to the doorway. "It's the Militia," Persia whispered, recognizing the soldiers on horseback. "What are they doing here?"
          The Militia was the primary military force of Lucksphere. They originated in Spectrum, the primary continent, and had outreaches on all the other Magi continents. Magi were ruled by one kingdom on Spectrum, the Kin were ruled by one on their main land, and the Dragons . . . well, they were ruled by their own kind but no one knew where. They adhered to the laws of the land they were in at the time they were in it.
          It was very rare to see a fully armed Militia unit in a city unless the continually shifting magic in the land had mutated the wildlife nearby into something that posed a threat. "We aren't under attack," Tariah said softly. "What's going on?"
          Maxim often spoke on behalf of the city, and he walked forward to address the captain riding at the front. "Is there something amiss?" he asked calmly. "We were not expecting you."
          "Rumor reached us that this city might be harboring a Chronicle." The captain was grim in face and tone. "If this is true, the entire city will be fined and the Chronicle must be immediately eliminated."
          "Go back inside, Tariah," Dublin said quietly. "Now."
          "I must know," someone called. "Why are Chronicles always killed?"
          The captain glared at the speaker. "You question the law?"
          "No," the man said hastily, "I just was wondering."
          "Fair enough." The captain's eyes were restless as they moved over the crowd, as if he was trying to determine who might be the Chronicle. "Several thousand years ago, there were two kinds of Magi on this world. The normal kind, like us, and other Magi known as Chronicles. Chronicles were like Magi but developed differently. There was something weird about them. They were able to bond with the Dragon Lords known as Furies. When bonded, the Fury and Chronicle became far superior in power to the rest of their races."
          "What's wrong with that?" Tariah asked defiantly.
          The captain glared at her. "It is unnatural."
          "Sounds like it was very natural," Maxim countered. "If what you say is true, this was something dictated by the nature of their respective species. Particularly if you look at the evidence that even after the race was destroyed, some are still born." His silvery eyes were sharp as glass. "What do you fear in Chronicles, Magi?" he asked softly. "Or is it jealousy that drove the Magi to massacre the entire race and send the Dragons into hiding?"
          "Enough!" the captain roared. He drew his sword and dismounted. "All those between first and second puberty, please come forward!"
          Tariah, at the cusp of second puberty, was part of them. She had faith in her hidden lines, but her stomach still quivered as she slowly walked forward with the rest of her peers. She could not hide away. If she hid away, it would give her away.
          The females in the Militia examined the girls, and the males examined the boys. There were a couple hundred Magi of the right ages in the city's entirety, but only twenty or so present. The rest would be examined at their homes.
          As it came her turn, Tariah just stood and waited. She was wearing clothes that revealed most of her skin so it was obvious she possessed no lines. Yet the soldier examining her seemed to sense something odd because she kept squinting at Tariah's shoulder. "What are those faint traces on your skin?" she asked.
          Tariah squinted at her shoulder and felt her stomach dip as she saw the faintest hint of lines. Thinking quickly, she said, "I had an accident at the cliffs. I got burned when I smacked into the rock."
          "They don't look like burn marks." The soldier shook her head. "But then again, they don't look like what a Chronicle's lines are reputed to look like either." She moved on down the line and Tariah let out the breath she was holding.
          Once they were satisfied, the Militia got back on their horses to begin knocking on doors. Dublin and Persia wasted no time in hustling Tariah back into their home. Maxim went with them as well. "Tariah needs to leave the continent," he said bluntly as the door shut. "She needs to seek out a Dragon who can take her to safety."
          "But it's a legend!" Persia almost cried.
          "What other choice is there?" Dublin demanded. "This was far too close for comfort. If they find her out, they'll kill her."
          Tariah slowly sank down to sit on the edge of a chair. She felt dazed and lost. But what choice did she have? Stay or leave, she was in danger either way. But by seeking out a Dragon, she might just have a chance. "I'll go," she said softly. "I'm not sure how much good it'll do, but I'll go." She straightened up with a smile. "Either way, the worst that could happen is that I die, and I've lived with that for years now."
          "That's our girl." Maxim smiled and opened his mouth to say something more when a shocked expression suddenly crossed his face.
          Tariah blinked. "Doc?" Her gaze slowly lowered and she saw the silver bloodstain spreading across the front of his cloth tunic. As he crumbled to the floor silently, the other three turned and looked at the doorway where the female soldier of before stood.
          She slowly lowered her bloodstained sword. "I knew there was something odd about you," she said in satisfaction. "You are the Chronicle. All of you are hereby sentenced to death."
          Tariah couldn't look away from Maxim's body, and tears welled in her eyes. "Why?" she whispered. "Why kill them? For loving me? For wanting to protect me? Why kill me? For jealousy? I didn't ask to be a Chronicle."
          The ground began to tremble under their feet in the familiar pulses of uncontrolled power. Pain and anger welled inside Tariah. It choked her throat and made her blood burn. Maxim had been her friend. He had always been there. She had been a little in love with him, as if he was a part of her family. And now he was dead because he had loved her in return.
          The soldier stepped back sharply. "Captain!" she barked out the door. "Hurry!" She moved into the room further for space to fight, and she kicked Maxim's body out of her way.
          Tariah saw red. All her years of learning to resist her emotions came to be worthless. Water power erupted in the air around her and began to swirl dangerously. Shards of Ice power from her secondary skills formed at her feet.
          Golden lines suddenly blazed into appearance on her body. They started at her scalp on the right side of her face, traveled down to her shoulder, crossed over her chest and stomach, then down her left leg. They traveled down the outside of her right arm to her hand, and the mark for the character 'chron' appeared on her palm.
          The soldier was so terrified in that moment that she could not speak. She whirled to run and nearly tripped over her own feet in her mad dash for the door. Even Dublin and Persia were afraid. They did not know if their daughter had any control, and they feared she might destroy herself.
          The shards of ice broke into pieces that floated up into the air. They quivered violently and the sharpened ends glinted. They fired through the air with lethal accuracy and impaled the soldier in the back. She was flung out into the street and screams lifted on the air. The sound of pounding hooves became distinct, and Dublin turned to Tariah. "Run!" he ordered her. "Get away from here!"
          Tariah looked at him and her mother and realized both were ready and willing to die if it meant she got away. She couldn't stand it. And yet her lines burned, urging her to the north beyond the city. She felt it. She felt the road ahead of her. In that moment she knew her lines were indeed a map. She had to follow it even if she did not know where it led.
          She turned on her heel and fled out the back of the building, snatching her cloak off the wall as she went. Her odds of surviving in the desert were small, but if she could make it to the next city, she might be able to find a Kin who could help her. They were neutral to Magi and Dragon alike, but they had soft spots for Chronicles if her past experiences were anything to go by.
          The sun was low in the sky as she raced across the glowing desert sands. Her lines burned against her skin, urging her on. North. All she knew was north. Perhaps going north would eventually lead her to the land of the Dragons.
          Perhaps there she could find out why she had been born a Chronicle and been destined to die.


©S. J. Garrett. All rights reserved. Do not reprint/publish without permission.

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