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Tacob always slept facing away from the fire.
He lay still, listening to the snores of the people around him as he stared at the cliff wall in front of him. The flames had not yet gone out and they danced, casting strange shadows on the sandstone cliff face. Tacob lay still, waiting, breathing, listening. Any minute now, he would get the perfect opportunity.
The guard walked by the nearest flame, making his shadow loom above Tacob as if he were some kind of giant. Tacob listened as the guard’s footsteps faded away, and smiled. Now was his chance.
He closed his eyes, focusing on the iron shackles around his wrists. He allowed his magic to flow into them, using a weakening spell. He was already almost done. Every time the guard passed by his fire, he had roughly four minutes before another guard passed close enough to sense his magic.
Tacob counted in his head, keeping his eyes on the shadows on the wall and his mind on the task of weakening his chains.
The cuffs made a faint glow as the spell worked on them, but Tacob was turned away from most of the camp. His body would shield the glow from view.
His countdown reached thirty when the shackles finally broke. Tacob fell still, watching as more guards’ shadows passed by. Now he would have three minutes before the first guard passed by his fire, granting him another few minutes of freedom from watchful eyes.
Tacob glanced at the other slaves around him. They were pitiable creatures. Walking around day after day in the desert heat had a way of tearing apart any motivation to escape.
Tacob watched the shadows. Two minutes left. Two minutes to freedom.
He hadn’t meant to be captured. The king had ordered him to search the Seventh World, even though everyone knew this was the least likely place Sorceress Jenice would be. During his search, Tacob had fallen into the hands of slave traders. He had tried many times to escape, but each previous attempt had been fruitless. Tonight was his opportune moment. The slavers had foolishly decided to camp close to the Desert Window, a magic portal that led to some mountain range in the Fifth World, a more likely place for the sorceress to be.
Another shadow passed by. One minute left.
Compared to the other knights, Tacob was young and inexperienced. He still had seen more battle and magic than most people of the First World, but that was expected of all of the king’s knights. Tacob’s young age had put him in the prime position to be bullied by all the others so naturally, he was assigned the lousiest job on the search for Sorceress Jenice.
The same guard’s shadow passed. Tacob had four minutes to escape. He waited a moment for the guard to walk away before he set the broken cuffs down and moved into the shadow of the nearest slave wagon.
He walked in a crouch, keeping his attention on the solid cliff wall ahead of him occasionally glancing up to make sure there weren’t any guards nearby.
Tacob skirted around the last group of slaves around a campfire. He moved on his hands and knees, sometimes dropping to the ground and feigning sleep whenever a guard walked nearby. It was too dark for them to see that he had no chains.
Tacob tensed, dropping to the soft sand. There weren’t any guards nearby. Who had—?
“Psst! You on the ground. Yeah, you. The fellow without the chains.”
Tacob glanced up. One of the slaves was staring right at him. The girl couldn’t be older than fourteen, but he could read the intensity in her gaze. Would she ask him to take her with him? He couldn’t afford any extra people slowing him down.
The girl grinned when he looked at her. “Hi,” she whispered. “Do you have any food?”
Tacob relaxed. He shook his head. “Sorry, no.”
“That’s a shame,” the girl whispered. “You’re gonna escape tonight, yeah?”
He nodded slowly.
“Don’t worry, I won’t tell no one. You chose the right time to escape. We’re real close to one of them magic portals.”
Tacob’s jaw dropped. “You know about the Desert Window?” he whispered.
She rolled her eyes. “Of course I do. I’ve been through here loads of times.”
“Do you know where it is?” he asked. “I could really use directions.”
She shook her head. “Haven’t you heard the legends? The Desert Window changes location each night. It’s always among these cliffs, but it’s never in one spot more than once in a month.”
“How do you—?”
“Guard,” she hissed, dropping her head.
Tacob dropped as well. He watched the shadows as the guard walked past, whistling a tune to himself. The guard paused to poke one of the sleeping slaves, who let out a small whimper.
Tacob clenched his jaw. What was he thinking, listening to a child? She couldn’t have been through here as often as she said. She was clearly trying to convince him to take her with him, but as soon as they got away, she would probably turn into a whiny child. He couldn’t afford any extra time.
The guard finally walked past. Tacob refused to look up at the girl as he crawled past, keeping his eye on the cliff. He was surprised the girl didn’t try to whisper to him again. She remained still and silent, but he could have sworn he felt her eyes on him as he passed.
Tacob reached the wall and stopped, looking up at it. This would be a tough climb and there was a chance he’d fall, but he had to get out tonight while he was close to the portal. He lay still as another guard walked by on the other side of the fire, but stared up at the wall, trying to figure out what the easiest path would be.
Tacob turned to glare at the girl. “You again?” he whispered.
“You’re not the only one escaping tonight,” the girl hissed. “And I have a way up the cliff that’s a lot safer than climbing it. You want in?”
Tacob sighed. “Kid, I don’t really have the time to look after you once we’re through the portal.”
She nodded. “I get it. You’re a man on a mission. I’m on a mission too, so we can just part ways after we cross through the Desert Window. You’re looking for the Sorceress Jenice, yeah?”
Tacob stared at her. “How did you know that?”
She grinned. “I have my ways. Come on. You in or not?”
Tacob glanced back up at the cliffside. If this girl really did have a safer way up, he should probably take it. He didn’t like the thought of falling, and climbing up this side of the wall would get him caught. He sighed and looked over at her. “Alright. I’m in. Show me your way up.”
The girl smiled. “Come on,” she hissed. “It’s a little ways from the camp. You’ll have to run.”
Tacob lifted his head. The guards were moving around the camp, but none were close enough to stop them if they ran. “No guards nearby,” he whispered.
“Go,” the girl said.
She jumped to her feet and sprinted alongside the cliff wall, away from the camp. Tacob cursed, scrambling after her. It took only a few seconds for the guards to notice and let out a shout. Tacob sprinted after her, struggling to keep up.
The girl stopped suddenly and held up a hand. Tacob skidded to a stop, nearly slamming into her. “What are you doing?” he cried.
The girl ignored him and reached up toward the top of the wall. She flicked her wrist and a rope suddenly appeared in her hand, its tail shooting up toward the top of the cliff.
Tacob’s jaw dropped. “Is that an infinity rope?”
“That’s right,” the girl said.
She grabbed onto the rope and leaned back, bracing her feet up against the wall. She started to walk up the wall, barely even gripping the rope. It was as if gravity had changed for her. Her hair and clothes changed as well, falling toward the cliff face instead of the ground.
“Incredible,” Tacob whispered. “I’ve never seen an infinity rope.”
“Quit staring at it and get on,” she snapped. “In case you haven’t noticed, we’re escaped prisoners on the run now. They’ll be upon us any minute.” She started to run up the wall, keeping one hand on the rope as she did. “Don’t let go of the rope or gravity will return to normal,” she shouted.
Tacob gripped the rope and pressed his foot up against the wall. He felt the effect immediately. Gravity shifted for him, making the side of the cliff down. He was no longer putting all his weight on the infinity rope, but he held onto it to keep the gravity spell from slipping.
He tensed his muscles, preparing to take a step, but his foot wouldn’t move. Tacob looked down. His feet glimmered gold with a binding spell. Cursing, he turned, keeping his left hand on the rope as he prepared his magic. The nearest guard was holding his hand out toward him, beads of sweat gathering on his forehead
Tacob yelled, thrusting his hand toward the guard. The guard stopped running and shut his eyes, his forehead creased in concentration. The spell on Tacob’s foot tightened. Tacob strained, reaching toward the guard. “Stop it,” he shouted.
“No,” the guard roared.
Tacob’s spell started to spread up the guard’s feet and he felt a sudden rush of energy. The guard cried out, struggling, but everything from his knees down was frozen. Tacob focused, gathering all his will and power, and forcing it toward the guard. The spell continued to spread, moving up the guard’s waist, freezing him in place. The guard yelled and Tacob felt the spell on his foot loosen slightly.
“Let go,” Tacob yelled. “I’ve almost reached your heart. I’ll stop if you let me go.”
The guard dropped his hand and the spell holding Tacob in place vanished. Tacob lowered his hand as well, panting. The guard collapsed, dropping to his hands and knees.
“Come on,” the girl shouted, tugging on the rope.
Tacob turned and ran up the cliffside. It felt no different than running across the ground.
“You’re welcome for that help back there,” the girl shouted over her shoulder.
Tacob frowned. “What help?”
She scoffed. “Did you honestly think you could have summoned a powerful spell like that on your own? Come on, kid. You’re malnourished, dehydrated, and you’ve been walking around in the heat all day for crying out loud. I can sense you have a powerful aura, but it’s not that powerful.”
“Are you saying you helped me with that spell?” Tacob said. “You’re just as malnourished as I am.”
The girl reached the top and climbed over the lip, releasing the rope as she did so her gravity returned to normal. She stared at Tacob as he climbed over the cliff as well.
“You really don’t know who I am?” the girl said. She flicked her wrist and the infinity rope returned to her hand, shrinking down to the size of a bracelet.
Tacob frowned. “Should I? I’ve never met you before.”
The girl grinned. “Oh, this is gonna be fun.”
“What?” he said. “Should I know who you are?”
She waved a hand. “I’ll tell you once we reach the Window. Come on. We’re not far. I can sense the aura that way.”
She started to run in the direction she pointed, but Tacob caught her arm. “What do you mean you can sense the aura?” he said. “Most magicians can’t sense auras of nonliving things.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Well, it’s a good thing I’m not like most magicians then. Come on.” She pulled herself free from his grip and started to run.
Tacob sighed and followed her. Either this girl was a really good magician like she seemed to be implying, or she was delusional. He wasn’t sure which one it was at this point, but she did possess an infinity rope, which did give her a bit of credibility as a magician. He had no idea how she’d even hidden it from the slave masters.
The camp below was alive with shouts. Tacob could see glowing spells shooting up the side of the cliff, but none of them got close enough to worry him.
The girl continued to run, and before long, they left the camp far behind. A few stray guards continued pursuit below before they finally gave up. Tacob laughed. “Look at them. They can’t keep up with us.”
“Look at your legs,” the girl said.
Tacob glanced down and was surprised to see two blue spells, one on the side of each leg, stopping at the waist and wrapping around his foot. The girl had an identical pair of spells on her legs.
“Speed spells?” Tacob said. “Those are tricky.”
“I know.” The girl waved a hand. “We’re nearly there. The Desert Window is just ahead. Fortunately for us, it’s on top of the cliffs this time instead of on the side.”
Tacob squinted. The moon was bright, but it would still be near impossible to see the Desert Window ahead if it weren’t for the powerful, glowing spell surrounding it. “I think I see it,” he said. “We’re almost there.”
The girl waved a hand and the speed spells dissolved, turning into wisps of light that dissolved into the air.
She stopped in front of the portal and doubled over, panting. Tacob joined her, bracing his hands on his knees, struggling to catch his breath.
“Well,” the girl finally said. “That was fun. I guess now that we’re out of immediate danger, we should get to introductions. What’s your name and quest? Don’t lie or I’ll know.”
Tacob sighed. “My name is Tacob. It would be safer for you if you didn’t know what my quest was.”
She rolled her eyes. “Alright, fine. I’ll give it a guess. You’re from the First World. You’re one of the king’s spies or knights, sent to search for a powerful sorceress named Jenice because your world is about to fight the Second World and the king wants support from a magician before war starts.”
Tacob just stared at her. “That was amazing. How did you know all of that?”
She smirked. “A magician never reveals her secrets. Now allow me to introduce myself. “My name’s Jenice, and my quest is to find the most perfect sandwich in all the Seven Worlds. Good day to you, sir knight.”
She turned and stepped through the portal before her name could register in Tacob’s mind.