4.16 The Dark Horizon

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*** Thank you for sticking with my novel this far! This is the final chapter, except for an epilogue in the point of view of the Upward Governess. I'll post that epilogue on Monday night ... and then mark this novel #complete. 

If you were wondering about the comic characters in the header image, I drew those myself. Thomas, Alex, and Kessa are front and center. All the main characters are there, including those from later books in this series. ***


The three alien moons had a soothing glow. They were far less menacing than sheets of lightning, and the desert silence had a comforting loneliness, like winter.

"Sweetie," his mother said, "you don't owe anyone anything."

She looked pained, as if she wanted him to lie down and sleep off a flu while she took care of grocery shopping and house cleaning. But this wasn't the stout, powerful mother he remembered. She was emaciated and her hair had gone white. The luxurious robe she wore couldn't hide how sick she looked.

Alex sat up further. Shackles, spikes, metal plates, and broken chains clanked when he moved.

"You need rest," his mother pleaded.

"You risked your lives to save me." Alex winced into a better position, amazed that all of his friends were still alive. Margo had the sweetest face, and he had the impression that she wouldn't leave his side until she was sure he was healthy. He never would have expected any of the huge, thorny prison guards to risk their lives to help him, yet here was a guard. And two of the little beaked alien slaves? He couldn't guess how they had ended up in the rescue party.

"I was sure that I would breathe my last breath," Alex told them, hoping that he might defuse some of the tension that seemed to weigh on everyone. "So I owe you all." He met their gazes one by one, including the beaked slaves and the thorny guard. "If I die fighting to defend us, then I will die well."

The thorny guard blinked as if shocked. Then he spoke in a gravelly voice, with a heavy accent. "If I die fighting, I die well."

Alex couldn't help but stare in shock. English? None of the guards had spoken out loud in the prison, and he'd never gotten the impression that they understood his pleas for help.

"It's a nussian proverb," Margo told him.

"Nussian?" Alex asked.

Margo nodded towards the guard, who seemed to be admiring Alex with a look of grave respect. "That's what species he is." She grinned at Alex. "I think you just made a friend."

Alex had never guessed that the guard species were capable of conversation. He wanted to ask questions, but before he could begin, Thomas spoke up.

"You don't need to make that promise," he stated. "Take it back."

"He's right." His white-haired mother closed her eyes, as if she would rather be struck by lightning than agree with Thomas. "I don't want you risking your life to protect anyone. Especially not him."

Alex was alarmed by her hatred towards the disabled boy. Anyone could glance at Thomas and see how weak and young he was. Any pain he'd caused must have been accidental, or under duress.

"Whatever Thomas did as a mind reader," Alex said evenly, "it's over. He's here now. He risked his life to be here, like the rest of us."

"Honey." His mother sounded exasperated. "He wants to take us back to the Torth." She glared at Thomas. "He wants to get us all killed."

Alex doubted that. But Thomas looked uncertain, and his yellow eyes reflected the glow over the hills.

"I think he's afraid," Alex said. "And confused."

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