* Weaver’s Road *
As the cart came over the bank of a large hill, Wayne and Ashley were able to get their first look at the town of Weaver’s Road. It sprawled out below them as far as they could see, and though it was clearly a large town, it was not a bustling metropolis. Wayne was reminded of Greengale, which was both large enough to accommodate all the needs of its citizens and yet small enough to still feel somewhat cozy and quaint.
Of course, this was not Greengale. This wasn’t even Earth. Wayne had been forced to give up the last glimmer of hope that they might just be in a foreign country when he saw two different colored moons in the night sky, and after several hours without finding any of their friends, he was focused more than ever on tracking them down. They couldn’t be the only ones stranded on this strange world. He just hoped they were nearby.
During their trip with Salov, Wayne learned that Weaver’s Road was the closest town near the Midlothiac Forest. This meant that it was the most logical place to start their hunt. Still, it was only getting later, and there was still the matter of finding someplace they could sleep.
As if reading his mind, the friendly tailor said, “So do you two have any centars to get yourself a room?”
Wayne assumed from context that centars meant money. “No, not really.” It seemed surreal that he had nothing, not even his phone. He’d left that at Ace’s house in his bag with everything else.
“You’re welcome to stay with me for the night,” Salov offered as if already expecting the answer. “I have more than enough room at my family’s home and it’s just me right now.”
“That would be great,” Ashley said smiling. “You’re really too kind.”
Wayne was a bit more hesitant, but Salov had proven to be a truly good Samaritan, and they had no other options. “Hopefully, we can repay you.”
“There is no need. As I said, it’s a family home. I needed a place while I grow my business in Weaver’s Road, and they were happy to oblige. How selfish would I be if I did not bestow that same generosity to others whom I find in need?”
Wayne seemed in awe of the man’s kindness. “We were very lucky to find you.”
“I highly doubt luck had anything to do with it.” Salov chuckled. “All things happen for a reason.”
The road brought them to the city’s western gate. They approached a security checkpoint at the impressively large outer wall, but the guard waved Salov through without question. It was clear he recognized the tailor and seemed to think nothing of him having passengers. As they rode into town, Wayne looked around at the buildings. Most were not more than two stories tall, and they looked to all be made of the same type of stone cut into large smooth bricks that had a slight purple tint when the light of the moons hit the buildings just right.
Unlike Greengale, the town of Weaver’s Road was very active at night. There were dozens of people milling about the streets, which caused Salov to slow his cart significantly to navigate the wide but busy road. It seemed in this town the streets belonged primarily to pedestrians, but no one was bothered by the cart.
Their slow speed allowed Ashley and Wayne to get a clear look at their new surroundings. Wayne was still analyzing their situation and trying to learn as much as he could from observation. He knew there was only so much they could get away with asking before their ignorance would cause Salov to become suspicious about their origins, which would lead to awkward questions.
He noted that over half of the people he saw on the street were wearing robes similar to the ones he saw Fantasma and Sharanel wear back in the cave. They seemed to come in a variety of colors, but he saw that the majority were blue or white, and their purpose seemed more utilitarian than fashion, like they were some form of uniform.
Wayne also searched for signs of familiar technology but found none. The streets were well lit but not due to the kind of streetlights that he was used to. Instead, he saw tall torches lining the street with the same type of blue flame he’d seen in the cave on earth. No one in the crowd had a cell phone, but he saw someone holding a staff similar to the one Henry had and another with a scepter like he’d seen Davron holding. Many others were carrying bags laden with goods, though he did see, to his surprise, a few with bags or other large items floating idly beside them with no visible support.
He remembered his brief encounter with Fantasma. There were abilities that used a part of the brain called the adimus, and it allowed for things like telekinesis, telepathy, and much more. He remembered some of the odd words Fantasma used to make incredible things happen. He could control the elements using just his words; it was amazing. Could anyone do that here? Could he do it?
Ashley, however, had noticed something completely different. “There sure are a lot of stores here,” she said to Salov, completely oblivious to her friend’s musings. “I’ve counted nine clothing stores already. You have a lot of competition.”
Salov chuckled. “That’s to be expected here in Weaver’s Road. It’s basically the merchant capital of Candovia and has the largest market. That’s why I wanted to setup shop here: the challenge. I can’t hope to establish myself as the best if I don’t have competition.”
Ashley thought he was making things too hard on himself but said nothing. It was clear the tailor was out to make a name for himself.
Salov turned the cart down a small alley next to a shop with a sign that read “Shire Tailors”
“I need to drop off my supplies at my shop first,” he explained as he brought the horse to a halt. “Why don’t you two take a look around the market? I’m going to start preparing the fabric so it will be ready for processing tomorrow. It’ll take about forty-five minutes. I can call you when I’m ready to head home.”
“That sounds great.” Ashley seemed keen to check out the market.
She and Wayne helped Salov carry the bundles of fabric into the back of his shop and laid them on one of the wooden worktables. Then they left him to tend to his work.
Though it was nighttime, there were still plenty of open stores and stands filled with goods in the Weaver’s Road marketplace. Ashley was enamored by all the merchants had to offer from exotic-looking fruits to ornate jewelry.
“Wow, I wish I had some money or—what did Salov call it, centars?” Ashley lamented as she examined a gold necklace with a polished yellow stone pendent.
Wayne was only half paying attention as he looked around the market, trying to observe and take in as much as he could. “I’d settle for finding our friends.”
Ashley frowned but Wayne didn’t see it. “Well, hopefully tomorrow we’ll have some luck.”
Wayne peered in a shop window curiously. “For now, I’m just trying to learn as much as I can about this place. We’re on a whole new world, Ash. We should pick up as much as we can so we’re prepared.”
“Yeah, there’s lots that’s different, like the two moons and the weird blue fires.” She leaned against one of the tall polls that held blue flames to illuminate the marketplace. “It’s hard to take it all in though.”
“We just need to be really observant. For instance, I think all of these buildings are made of quartz rock.” Wayne ran a hand over the stone wall of the store.
“What? How do you know that?” Ashley asked.
“Remember when we were in the basement and the rock wall had that purple tint? Ben said it was quartz. These buildings have that same purplish tint when the moonlight hits it.”
“Okay, but how does that help us?”
“I’m not sure yet,” Wayne admitted, “but every little bit helps. Also, we need to learn about the adimus as quickly as possible. Fantasma said they could use it for things like telepathy and other stuff, like what he did in the cave. If we don’t learn quickly, we’ll stand out.”
“Do you really think so?” Ashley asked.
Wayne nodded. “Remember what Salov said before we left. He said he’d ‘call’ us when he was ready. He didn’t ask for a phone number or any kind of contact information. He just said he’d ‘call.’ I think he meant that he would call us telepathically. That must be normal here.”
Ashley shuddered. “Oh, that’s creepy. Someone inside your head like that. Can they read our thoughts?” She clutched at her own head as if convinced this would keep out intruders.
“I don’t think so,” Wayne said. “If they could, then Salov would know already that we’re from another planet.”
He started down the street and Ashley followed, looking around nervously as if she suspected at any moment someone would invade her private thoughts. “What else can these people do?” she asked quietly.
“Well, I’ve seen people using some kind of telekinetic powers. We also saw Fantasma do stuff where he spoke, and things happened,” Wayne recalled, “but I haven’t seen anyone do it around here. Maybe that power isn’t used as much. Could be because it’s not as quick as just thinking it. Also, I’ve seen grates on the side of the street that look a lot like sewer grates. That’s a good sign.”
“I don’t know what that means,” Ashley said as they continued to a less crowded part of the market, where many of the stands were already closed.
“I’m hoping it means that their sewer and plumbing works similar to ours,” Wayne surmised.
“That’s good; I could use a shower,” Ashley said. “You’re pretty good at this.”
“Thanks.” Wayne was looking around trying to glean more information but quickly realized they had left the crowd and open market behind. There were far fewer lights illuminating this area and everything was closed.
“I’m really happy you were the one who found me,” Ashley said. “If I’m going to be stuck on a strange planet, I’m glad it’s with you.”
Wayne wasn’t paying attention though. He was looking around the dark streets. Something felt off. His skin was tingling, and he didn’t know why. “Something’s not right.”
“Did you hear that,” he started off toward one of the dark side streets. He’d heard a noise. It sounded like a muffled scream.
“Hear what?” Ashley started after him. “Wayne, I didn’t hear anything.”
Wayne broke into a sprint, convinced he could hear something. He had no idea how he knew it, but he was certain there was someone in trouble. He turned down a dark alley
“Wayne, slow down; I can’t see anything,” Ashley called.
Without any torchlight, the darkness was indeed oppressive, but Wayne’s vision was unhindered. He reached back and grabbed Ashley’s hand, pulling her along with him.
“Let me go, you’ll be sorry,” came a small, squeaky voice from up ahead, and this time Ashley could hear it too.
“She’s scrawny but’ll still fetch a fair price. Let’s take her with the others to MJ’s.” said a gruff voice.
“Candovon will come for me, you’ll see!” came the squeaky voice again.
Wayne rounded the corner and quickly took stock of the situation. A little girl was sprawled out on the ground, long chestnut hair askew as she struggled to raise herself. Two men were standing over her, one tall and lanky, holding a small dagger, the other older with wild grey hair, holding a rope.
“Don’t know what you thought you were doing, sneakin’ onto our caravan,” the man with the rope said, “but if ya want in so bad, we got a spot just for ya.” He snapped the rope menacingly.
“Hey!” Wayne shouted before he even knew what he was going to do. “What’s going on?”
The younger of the two men looked up and leered. “None yer business. Just teachin’ this little sneak-thief a lesson.”
“You’re the thieves,” the girl shouted, scrambling to her feet now and pointing at the two men. “You stole my friend!”
Wayne made to move forward, but Ashley gripped his arm tightly. “What’re you doing?” she hissed. “He has a knife.”
Wayne shook her off. “I’m not letting them hurt some little girl.”
In reality, he didn’t know what he was going to do. This sort of matchup seemed more in Jandor’s wheelhouse. Wayne was far from a fighter, but he felt compelled to intervene.
The girl turned and gave Wayne a contemptuous look that was offset by her soft features. “I don’t need any help,” she said before running toward the two men and punching the older one in his side.
He winced, but the girl’s small fists didn’t do any damage. “Another little spitfire we’ve got here.” He grabbed her arm, wrapping the rope around it before grabbing the other one.
“Bet we can break her, and she’ll make a fine concubine when she’s older,” the other man chuckled as the girl squirmed and kicked, trying to break free.
“I’ll beat both of you; you’ll see. You don’t know who you’re dealing with!” she screeched.
Wayne had seen enough. He stormed forward, intent on stopping what he knew had to be a kidnapping.
“Hold it right there,” the younger man stepped in his path, dagger at the ready. “I told yer this was none of ya business.”
Wayne faltered, trying to gauge how best to disarm the man as they squared off.
The girl was still screaming and kicking and then sunk her teeth into her captor’s hand. He yelped and slammed her bodily into a nearby wall with brutal force. The girl went limp and slumped to the ground, looking broken.
“Oh my god!” Now Ashley was rushing forward, all fear forgotten.
“Ash!” Wayne shouted. Distracted by this new turn of events, he only just managed to dodge the dagger as the man in front of him lunged forward.
Ashley felt her body momentarily freeze and then she was cast sideways into the wall by an invisible force. She yelped in pain.
‘Looks like we found ourselves another one,” the older man said as he pulled out more rope from inside his vest. “Not a lick of defense in yer, eh desert girl. You’ll make someone a good slave too, I’m sure.” He moved to tie up Ashley.
“Ash, no!” Wayne finally landed a punch on the man with the dagger, intent on getting him out of the way so he could help his friend.
Ashley was only dazed for a moment and started to fight back against the man trying to tie her up. “Get off me!”
Wayne grabbed the man from behind, and with strength he didn’t know he had, threw him away from his friend. “Are you okay?”
“Look out!” Ashley shouted.
The younger man had recovered quickly and had chucked his dagger at Wayne. It flew fast, but Wayne saw it as if in slow motion, headed straight for his chest, a blue aura around the blade. He didn’t know how he did it—it felt like a scene from a movie—but he snatched the blade out of midair, grabbing it by the hilt as if it weren’t moving at all.
“Oh, this one’s got some skill on him,” the older, grey-haired man said picking himself up now. “I’ll handle it.”
Wayne was stunned by his own actions, but he had no time to contemplate what he’d done. He held the dagger at the ready, anticipating attack even as Ashley moved behind him.
Wayne felt an invisible force try to push him back, but his body resisted it. He then felt something wrap around his neck as if to choke him, but again his body resisted. Wayne wondered if the man was trying to attack him using some sort of telekinetic power, and if so, how he was able to stop it. Still, this was boding well for them.
“Any time you want to attack, I’m waiting,” he taunted, trying to appear more skilled than he really was.
“Been in that blasted desert too long,” the grey-haired man grunted. “Still, your little girlfriend isn’t fairing too well.”
Wayne turned around to see Ashley dropping to her knees, clutching her throat as if trying to remove invisible hands.
“Stop it!” Wayne shouted, his mind racing to find a way to help his friend.
“Fine then, let’s call it a draw.” The grey-haired man walked tentatively toward the bound girl. “We’ll take our girl, you take your girl, and we’ll all go our separate ways.”
“No,” Wayne called, though he didn’t move from his friend’s side. Her face was going pale.
“You don’t have a choice,” the younger man said as he reached down to pick up the unconscious girl by the rope that still bound her.
Something in the situation was strikingly familiar to Wayne. He was reminded of the cave when Davron went after Ashley even as he was being choked by a pog, and how Fantasma took charge of the situation with one phenomenal display of power.
“Mittius Mandamus Wind!” Wayne shouted, recalling the words that Fantasma used, not even knowing if it would work.
He felt the air thin momentarily, and then a rush of powerful wind blasted the would-be captors down the dark alley until they slammed into a far wall, dazed.
Ashley was immediately released from the choking force and gulped fresh air. “How did you do that?” she asked hoarsely.
Wayne helped her up. “Fantasma did it, so I just guessed that it would work”
He stared down the dark alley and could tell the two men were out and would not rise anytime soon. Still, he didn’t want to take any chances.
He went to where the girl was lying on the ground and examined her. “She’s out cold, but still has a pulse.”
“We shouldn’t move her; we should go get someone,” Ashley said.
“No, we can’t just leave her here. We don’t even know who to look for, and what if those two goons wake up.” Wayne glanced down the dark alley again. “I wish I knew that telepathy trick.”
“What do we do then?” Ashley asked anxiously.
“We’ll have to risk it.” Wayne gingerly picked up the small girl. “We’ll take her back to Salov. Maybe he can help us find a doctor.”
The unconscious girl was taken to a large guest room, one of many in Salov’s large manor in the heart of Weaver’s Road. He’d summoned a healer to look at her, apparently able to contact her telepathically. After about thirty minutes with the girl, the blonde woman, who was wearing a green robe, walked out of the guest room.
“She’ll be fine; she has strong adimus immunity for someone so young. I think her body is focused on repairing the internal injuries she sustained. She was drifting in and out of consciousness, so I gave her a sleep draft to help her sleep through the night. By the time she wakes up, she’ll be good as new.”
“Thank you for coming, Madison.” Salov said, shaking the woman’s hand. “What do I owe you?”
The two walked down the hall as they discussed payment, leaving Ashley and Wayne standing outside the oak door of the bedroom.
“I’m glad she’s okay,” Ashley said as she turned to her friend.
Wayne, however, was staring down at the dagger in his hand and didn’t seem to hear her.
“I’ve never seen you move like that,” Ashley said, referring to the fight, “How did you do that thing with the wind?”
“I don’t know,” Wayne said. “It just all sort of happened, but that’s not what’s bothering me.”
“Really? What’s ranking higher than suddenly getting superpowers?” Ashley chuckled. “Should I check you for bites; maybe a radioactive bug got you?”
“It’s this.” Wayne held up the dagger. “I think I’ve seen it before.” He rubbed his head, trying to think despite the slight headache that he had.
Before Ashley could comment, Salov came back around the corner. “Well, I checked in with the constable while I was letting Maddison out. They can’t find the two men you described. They must have woken up and fled, but he says it sounds like they were slave traders.”
“Slave traders?” Ashley gave an involuntary shudder.
“Yes, they work primarily in the Crystal Sands Desert snatching up children, and then they pass through Weaver’s Road or other border towns to sell them off. Apparently, Constable Mitchell has been trying to stop an underground slave market that happens every few months; he just can’t catch them in the act.”
“That’s awful,” Ashley said as they started down the hall.
“Indeed.” Salov nodded. “Mitchell said he’d come by in the morning to talk to the girl; she might know something. At the very least he can help her get back to her family. For now, let’s have a light meal and then I’ll show you to your rooms.”
“Thank you, Salov, you’ve been so kind to us and we’re complete strangers,” Ashley said looking around and admiring the ornate fixtures that adorned the walls. “This is such a lovely place. You said it’s a family home?”
“Oh yes, it was built fifteen hundred years ago during the last major expansion of the town,” Salov said proudly.
As he walked ahead of them, detailing some of the features of the home, Wayne pulled Ashley closer. “I know where I’ve seen this dagger,” he hissed in sudden revelation.
“What? Where?” Ashley asked quietly.