2.10 When Worlds Collide

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Kessa shivered in the cold rain, blinking away weariness. Her mind reeled with questions. She had believed—well, Thomas had believed; the whole Torth Empire had believed—that only two Yeresunsa existed in the universe.

So everyone was wrong. There were other Yeresunsa, and they survived in the most hellish place possible: in the black, rotted heart of the Torth Empire.

"Filthy cannibals," one of the black-swaddled Yeresunsa commented as he faced a pile of dead wild zoved. He used powers to pluck spears out of the corpses. The spears levitated in midair, one after the other, and the warrior grabbed them. He added them to others in the quiver on his back.

These four black-swaddled warriors—only four!—had very quickly slain more than ten times their number of wild zoved. Their powers made Kessa think they could have killed many more. And their fluid way of moving made her suspect that they'd stalked her group for a while, undetected.

"Do any of you ummins serve a Torth master?" This warrior had an unsympathetic voice, and she seemed to be their leader.

"We have told you," Kessa said. "None of us serve Torth. We are fleeing them." She gestured towards her human friends. "Please let our people see and hear. They are no threat to you."

One of the warriors made a derisive snort. "That one sounds like a slave."

A slave would not dare speak out loud. Kessa clicked her beak with her own derision. Anyone could see how ragged and injured the humans looked. Even if they were secretly mind readers, they were clearly in exile, unwelcome amongst Torth. It was obvious.

Pung joined in. "Haven't you seen the transports flying overhead?" he said with exasperation. "Those are Torth, hunting for us!"

The warriors paused in their activities. They exchanged glances full of unspoken concerns and worries.

They had no problem showing off their powers, so why were they so cautious? What were they afraid of?

"Who among you needs medical attention?" the lead warrior asked. "Point them out."

Tentative hands raised. Two of the warriors headed towards injured ummins, apparently willing to provide medical aid.

"We cannot tend to all of you," the lead warrior said, her voice cold and unsympathetic. "But we will do what we can. We have some pure water for drinking and cleaning. Let us know if you need it."

Voices began to beg. Kessa's people wanted water, and also blankets, or anything that could ward off the chilly wetness of the dead city. They wanted food. They wanted shelter, if such a thing was possible. They begged for any aid these wonderful strangers might be willing to give.

The lead warrior's luminescent gaze swept over the refugees. "Which one of you is in charge?"

Refugees pointed the way towards Kessa before she could decide on an answer.

"That is Kessa the Wise."

"She is our chief."

Kessa tried not to act surprised by the grandiose titles her friends gave her. There were plenty of elders among slaves. They did not need to honor her. But even Weptolyso joined in, as if he'd forgotten that he used to be her hall guard; the one who made sure her bunk-room stayed orderly. 

The lead warrior approached Kessa, lithe and deadly-looking. Inkiness and dripping wraps hid her face and body, leaving only her luminous eyes visible.

"An ummin," she said, "in charge of Torth?" She sounded skeptical. "This is something I have never heard of. Tell me truthfully." She swept a gesture towards Alex and Margo. "Do those ... whatever they are ... obey you?"

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