I freeze in the middle of the path. There, in a clearing not far from our horses, is a miraculous sight. It’s a relic from the time before dragons. I think they called it a car.
“Whoa!” Benjamin exclaims from beside me.
My fingers tighten on my reigns. “Have you ever seen one as intact as that one?”
Benjamin shakes his head, his messy head of dark hair falling in front of his eyes. “But then, I’ve never been this far from home before either.”
I pull on my reigns and steer my horse off the path, too curious to simply pass the relic by.
“What are you doing?” Benjamin has an authoritative note to his voice that irks me.
I sigh. I know he’s trying to seem older, since he was left in “charge” of getting me to his aunt’s house safely, but he’s really little more than a boy. Fifteen years old and far too cocky for his own good. And after days of traveling together, my patience is wearing thin.
“I just want to see it,” I say, raising my chin.
“You can see it from here. Besides, your sister said no extra stops. Just straight there.”
My sister. Right. My best friend and the woman who told me I had to leave to keep Benjamin safe. We both knew he probably would’ve been fine on his own, but it was my sister’s way of protecting me.
Which I hate.
“We’ve stopped to rest plenty the last three days.”
“But this isn’t to rest!”
I roll my eyes. “Then, we’ll stretch and have a snack here.”
“Riya,” he chastised. “We’ll hit the town before nightfall if we don’t stop.”
“If reaching town before dark is so important to you, why don’t just go ahead without me?” I snap.
His dark brown eyes narrow in annoyance, but at last he nods. “I’m staying, of course. I should have known arguing with you was pointless.” He glances at me. “But could you try not to look so damn smug about it?”
Licking my lips, I try hard to hide my smile, but I’m pretty sure I fail horribly.
When we’re about halfway through the tall grass, I yank my reigns and climb down from my horse. I’ll let Old Henry rest and eat a little while I explore. Benjamin climbs down from his horse, places his hand on his sword, and stands a little taller.
I laugh, but try to turn it into a cough. The look he sends me said I failed to hide my amusement again. But I can’t help it. Does he really think if there was trouble he’d be the one to help us?
Sending my ice magic out, I bend the grass in front of us. Parting it in a path that leads directly to the relic. I won’t have us getting bit by a snake. Benjamin would never let me hear the end of it.
We start forward, him right behind me. The woods around us seem to grow quieter with each step we take. My ears prick up. I can feel something in the air, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.
My sister once said the relics contained magic. Abilities no longer seen in our time. But I’ve never believed any of the ancient magic still remains. When technology failed and magic blossomed beneath the dragons’ shadows, there was nothing left of the old ways. That’s why they were abandoned.
But still… I can’t shake this feeling. Something is off.
It’s just your silly nerves. Don’t chicken out now.
When we reach the relic. I reach out and touch it. It’s cool. Like ice.
I close my eyes and run my hand along the smooth surface, amazed by the texture. I sense Benjamin move to stand beside me.
Everything is quiet. I open my eyes and goose bumps move across my arms. A cool wind teases the grass that hasn’t been frozen by my powers. But it isn’t the breeze that caused the goose bumps. I look up at the sky. The midday sun barely penetrates the clouds, casting everything in a gray light that was oddly soothing while we were riding, but now adds to the unsettling feeling that I can’t seem to shake.
I turn to Benjamin. He’s pointing to the back of the car.
Hurrying over to him. I reach out to touch the space he’s pointing to, and my hand passes right through it. The glass that once covered this area is gone. I peek inside and see a strange wheel and pedals.
I grin, pull up my skirts, and start to climb in.
“What are you doing?” he asks, sounding worried.
“I just want to get a closer look.” My nerves aren’t important enough to focus on, not when a once and a lifetime opportunity has presented itself.
It takes a little bit of maneuvering to squeeze myself in and climb across the squishy seat, littered with leaves and grass. At the wheel, I sit. I have a distant memory of a picture I once saw. Of a young woman seated in front of this same type of wheel. I put my feet on the pedals, alternating them from one to the other. Nothing happens, but I didn’t expect it to.
Suddenly, a wolf’s howl splits the silence. So close the wolf must be in the field with us. I turn to look at Benjamin; his eyes are wide in panic.
“Head to your horse. Slowly.” I tell him.
“What about you?”
“Don’t worry; I’ll be right behind you.”
He does as I tell him.
Without hesitation, I start to climb out of the relic. But before I can get across the seat, I get yanked back. Damn it! My skirt’s caught on something.
Another howl comes followed by another and another. Shit. How many are out there?
Of all the luck…
I crawl back across the seat, reaching under it to find where my skirt has caught. I’m not afraid of some damn wolves. I can take them. But I am worried about Benjamin and Old Henry. I can’t be stuck here while they’re out in the open and vulnerable.
But my damn skirt won’t budge. Gritting my teeth, I yank as hard as I can until the fabric tears. I leave behind far too much of my dress, one whole side of my skirt.
I guess I’ll be making an even bigger impression on my temporary home than my first one.
Climbing back out takes some more maneuvering, but at last I’m free. My nerves feel stretched tense as I look across the field to where Benjamin waits anxiously on his horse, and Old Henry moves as if too-aware of the wolves.
I catch movement in the grass to my right. I swallow hard, but keep going. The grass bends on my left. And suddenly, the grass is moving as if in a great storm.
Old Henry bolts.
Benjamin looks terrified. His horse is struggling against his control.
I start to run. I can’t let the horse throw him. He could break his neck. He could—
A massive gray wolf steps out in front of me. I hold up my hand to blast it with my ice powers if it moves even an inch closer to me. Howls come from all around me.
And then, across the little road, I see half a dozen wolves step out of the clearing. There’s too many!
“Go, Benjamin! Go!”
“I can take care of myself! Go!”
His eyes fill with terror as he snaps his reigns and takes off. But I can’t watch him go, because the wolf in front of me is tensing as if to jump.
Here goes nothing.