Chapter 1God's Speed
"Careful, now. They seriously don't like us."
"Who, the Vandri?"
"Yeah, kid. The Taint
A snort, muffled by the thin sheet of metal between Jaali Cast and the two Humans that walked among the crates above her. "Backwards, aren't they?"
The older woman's reply was just a beat late, just a touch icy. "You'd be surprised."
So ended the conversation between a seasoned shipper and her apprentice, the latter of whom had been effectively shut up--not thickheaded, after all, though probably confused at the strange tone in his teacher's voice.
Beneath both of them, curled in a compartment that left about ten centimeters of room on all sides of her, Jaali smiled grimly to herself. She heard the apprentice and shipper grab a few boxes each with soft grunts and move out of the cargo bay towards the main part of the ship.
More importantly, Jaali felt
the shipper's presence, haloed by the subtle glow Magick, stop just outside the exit of the ship, turn, and head back this way.
Sarah, Jaali believed the woman's name was. Such an ironically oridnary name for a mage. Heavy footsteps made by thick boots rang out on the floor above her, growing louder with each passing moment. Then, they stopped right above her. Latches clicked, metal scraped, and then Jaali was blinking in the bright light that streamed in from the cargo bay's ceiling and looking up into Sarah's face.
"Come on, sister, there's not much time." The other mage extended a hand. Jaali hesitated for a split second, loathe as always to touch anyone, then grabbed Sarah's hand and let the older woman hoist her up.
It was a wonderful relief, being able to stretch. The trip had been short, only twelve hours, but Jaali was thirsty and hungry and needed to relieve herself. The first two she was quite accustomed to.
"Stick to the shadows over there, make yourself invisible if you have to," Sarah said in a low, terse voice, pointing to a slight alcove beside the entrance to the cargo bay that led to the rest of the ship. She handed a small but heavy sack to Jaali as she spoke. The stowaway slung it over her shoulder. "When Robert--the kid--comes in, he'll go for the med supplies in the back. Break for it then, but for the love of God, keep quiet; there are two others on board, I don't know where they'll be--are you listening?"
Jaali had frozen, honey-tinted eyes with an icy glint of gold to them suddenly sharper than usual and staring off through the arched egress that led into the main body of the ship. The young streetgirl's body had gone rigid. "Don't you feel that?" she said in a harsh undertone.
Sarah's eyes narrowed, the supple muscle in her arms tensing as she followed Jaali's gaze--then she made an unpleasant laughing noise under her breath. "The shadow kind of feeling?"
Jaali nodded, still not relaxing. Sarah eyed the younger one with new interest. "You're powerful--picked that up pretty fast."
"Something happened here," Jaali hissed. Had she hackles, they would have been on absolute end. "I hear them."
"The ghosts?" Sarah asked softly. Jaali nodded, eyes flicking about. "Something did," the Earth shipper agreed, "something terrible. But the Vandri never talk about it--especially not to us. We mages, we're the only ones with any clue..." An uncharacteristically grim smile twisted at the corners of Sarah's mouth. For a moment, a bolt of understanding, a common feeling of exile, passed between the two mages. Then footsteps and voices sounded from outside, drawing closer. Jaali could feel them as simple existences that flickered only faintly with Magick. "Sh*t," Sarah hissed, and gave Jaali a gentle push in the direction of the shady alcove. Jaali slipped into the shadows as though stepping into a mother's embrace, barely visible without using any kind of Magick to conceal herself. Sarah walked up beside her and spoke with sincerity, but quickly--her apprentice and another were fast approaching. "Are you sure you want to do this?"
"Yes." Cold, clear, emotionless. Sarah almost shivered--there were times she doubted this girl was Human.
"It's not too late--you can run back in there and I can take you back. Take you home," she offered one last time, to ease her conscience.
"No. Not my home; there's nothing left for me there." There never was.
"Besides," dry humor slipped into the words, "technically speaking, this would
be our home, wouldn't it?"
Sarah hesitated, nodded, then quickly grabbed a box and headed out of the cargo bay: time was up. "Godspeed, Jaali Cast," the older mage murmured, barely audible. The shipper nodded casually, even curtly, to Robert and the tall man as they passed her on their way in.
And then the outcast with the golden eyes and black hair was left without an ally.
It was growing increasingly difficult for Jaali to concentrate on anything but the terrible, looming presence that seemed to engulf the transport ship for miles around. She felt as though she were in the stomach of some great, dark beast. Faint voices cried out in the back of her head, voices that were not her own, voices long dead. Even so, the streetgirl managed to conceal herself from the apprentice's and his companion's eyes despite the chill fingers that dragged their way down her spine, a kind of instinctive fear she'd never felt before slowly rooting itself into her mind. Even after Robert and the other man had left, Jaali had to build up the nerve to take that first step outside, an unprecedented happenstance. Jaali Cast was never afraid.
"No such thing as God's speed," the girl whispered to herself as she slipped out of the cargo bay, clutching the survival kit Sarah had given her tightly. "Only my own."