Read 1.5 - Destiny Unchosen Online

Authors: Lindsay Buroker

1.5 - Destiny Unchosen

BOOK: 1.5 - Destiny Unchosen
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Chapter 1

One of the lights flickered and went out, dropping shadows on the cracked tennis court. Artemis “Temi” Sideris ignored it, swinging the racket as the machine spat another ball to her forehand. It thudded off her strings like a rifle cracking, the ball a blur as it spun over the net and landed a couple of inches from the baseline.

Temi had grown up playing on courts like this, the cool desert air whispering across her cheeks, the balls leaping in the high altitude. It reminded her of home, of her youth. If not for the constant ache in her knee—an ache that turned into a stab of pain if she rotated into her strokes the way she should—she could have pretended she was a kid again, back before she had ruined her career—her
life
—and before pointy-eared weirdos had wandered out of the mountains, telling her to trade her racket for a sword to slay monsters.

The thought, the reminder that those weirdos were supposed to come for her tonight jangled her nerves. Her belly gave a queasy lurch, and she framed the next ball, sending it over the fence and into the parking lot. Fortunately, it was Sunday night, and the dark lot was empty, devoid of witnesses.

Temi blew out a slow breath and focused on the balls again, reciting an old poem, trying to forget the quiet terror that had been riding behind her breastbone since she agreed to this meeting.

“If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken—”
thwack
, “—twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools—”
thwack
, “—or watch the things you gave your life to broken...”

“Kipling?”

Temi jumped a foot and almost dropped her racket. She spun toward the fence, her knee protesting the sharp movement, but she was too alarmed to grimace.

Fortunately, it was only Delia. And she was alone. No pointy-eared weirdos with her, at least not in sight.

Delia was dressed in her relic-hunting gear, wearing a bullwhip and a hunting knife in addition to jeans, a sweatshirt, and hiking boots. With her straight brown hair pulled back into a ponytail and a backpack over her shoulder, she looked ready to tramp into the woods, even if it was almost ten o’clock at night.

“Yeah, Kipling.” The ball machine thunked, not spitting out any more ammo, so Temi headed for the other side of the court to turn it off.

“Not bad for a... pro athlete.”

Temi had a feeling that comment had been edited mid-sentence. From high school dropout to pro athlete. “Former pro athlete,” she mumbled, turning off the machine. She grabbed a hopper to pick up the balls lining the back fence, aware, as always, of the awkwardness of her gait. “I memorized it back at the academy when one of the coaches told me that a couple of the lines were above the players’ entrance at Wimbledon.”

“Oh, yeah? Which ones?” The gate clanged as Delia walked in and picked up a hopper to help. She glanced around, doubtlessly wondering if their new friends were indeed going to make an appearance tonight.
She
found them fascinating and would have been delighted to go off on an adventure with them. She was probably here with all of her stuff to see if she could come along.

Temi wouldn’t mind the company. She still wasn’t sure how much she believed about this whole situation, especially about her own blood being part... whatever. Elf, Simon said. Alien, Delia thought. Whatever the weirdos were, they weren’t human. The blood sample had proven that, if their odd looks and language hadn’t been clues enough.

Remembering the question, Temi said, “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same.”

“So win or lose, don’t go to pieces?” Delia grinned, dragging over the hopper full of balls.

“I guess. I was fifteen. The coach and I didn’t spend a lot of time doing a literary analysis of the poem.”

Temi rolled the ball machine into the corner and sat on a bench. Maybe the weirdos wouldn’t come. Maybe they would find someone else to wield their glowing sword against the strange evil that had come to Arizona. But the special sword was tucked into her tennis bag along with her rackets, so they would at least come to retrieve it...

“You nervous about going?” Delia asked.

“Yes. Want to take my place?”

“I wish.” Delia sat beside her on the bench, her olive skin contrasting with Temi’s dark hands. They both might have been raised by Greek parents, but Temi still had a few memories of being an orphan in Zaire—the DR Congo now—before being adopted and brought to the United States. “But you’re the one who needs...” Delia waved to Temi’s knee.

The loose track pants hid the brace, but Temi never forgot it was there. “Yeah, if they can really heal it...” She swallowed. It could mean getting her career back, putting aside her mistakes and clawing her way back to the top to prove... She wasn’t sure what she wanted to prove. She couldn’t fix those mistakes, couldn’t bring back the people who had died while she had been driving. It was moot anyway. The weirdos wanted her to wield a sword, not a racket. “I’m just a little afraid of what they’ll want in return.” A lot afraid. “I’m not a warrior.”

“What are you talking about? You’re six feet tall and all muscle and agility and athleticism. Aside from the limp.”

“I’m sure there’s a mental component to thrusting swords into people.”

The roar of motorcycle engines sounded in the distance. Oh God. They were coming.

“Into
monsters
,” Delia said. “Monsters who kill people. Look, I know what you really want—to play tennis again. But me and Simon are going to help with the monster hunting and figure out who or what is behind making them. We’ll get to the bottom of things. You won’t have to do this forever.”

Temi heard the Harleys approach, but didn’t see them at first. The... elves—Temi couldn’t keep calling them weirdos and couldn’t remember the name they had used for themselves, so she had to pick something simpler—wore black leather and black helmets and weren’t using their headlights. One’s head turned in her direction, and she thought she spotted two violet glints. Delia had seen the elves in the dark and claimed their eyes glowed at night.

The queasy nerves returned to Temi’s belly as the motorcycles pulled up in front of the courts.

“What are the odds they’ll let me come along?” Delia murmured.

“I don’t know.”

Delia gripped Temi’s arm. “Look, I’m going to try, but if they don’t, learn whatever you can about the sword, will you? And about
them
. Simon and I were thinking that maybe we could figure out how to make weapons using the same technology, or maybe there are other swords like it on Earth, and then we could help you fight.”

Temi looked down at her friend’s hand. “Do you think it’s at all strange that you’re so eager to hunt man-eating monsters?”

“Yes, but technically, I think they’re just man-
slaying
, not man-eating.”

“Well, that’s comforting then.” They shared wry smiles, or maybe bemused ones, neither of them entirely understanding the other. Temi looked off to the west, to the stars in the clear sky above the dark silhouette of Thumb Butte. She didn’t want to hunt anything, and, more, she didn’t want to
die
hunting anything. All she wanted was her life back, another chance...

A soft clang sounded, the metal latch on the fence being lifted. The two tall, slender figures that walked in had removed their helmets, though black wool caps covered their hair. And their ears. Pointed ears. Temi and the others had seen them during that fight in the cave. Their eyes weren’t glowing, not beneath the lights of the court, but they were distinct even under normal circumstances, with the younger elf, Eleriss, having deep green-blue eyes and the older one, Jakatra, having violet eyes. Temi didn’t truly know if one was older than the other—neither appeared any older than her own twenty-two years, but they
seemed
older, especially Jakatra. He was more muscular than his comrade, with a hardness to his features. When Temi had first seen them, she had thought him handsome, but that had been before she learned about the ears and the eyes.

“Greetings,” Eleriss said.

Jakatra said nothing, his expression flinty. The elves’ facial gestures were always a little off, not quite human, but she had no trouble reading this one: he didn’t want to be there. And he was the one who was supposed to teach her how to use the sword. Lovely.

Temi chose not to worry about sword training while her knee was still a question mark. Would they truly be able to heal it?

“Hey,” Delia said by way of reply when Temi didn’t speak. “Temi’s ready. And I’m here to carry her sword for her.”

Eleriss tilted his head and shared a long look with his comrade before replying. “We can only bring Artemis. Even bringing her, this is a risk. For us, for her.”

“No humans allowed in the tree house, eh?” Delia asked.

“Tree... house?” Eleriss looked to the pinyon pines behind the tennis courts.

“Never mind.” Delia gave Temi a long look. “This is going to be fun for you, I can tell.”

“I just hope it’s worth it,” Temi murmured.

“Worth it, yes,” Eleriss said. “A great value for you and your people. The healing and also the instruction by a talented weapons master.” He pointed his palm toward his comrade.

Jakatra said something in his own language. It didn’t sound flattering.

Delia leaned forward, eyes and ears intent whenever they babbled something to each other, as if she could will herself to understand them. She
did
speak several languages, but when one of her old professors had run the strangers’ language sample through a computer, it hadn’t matched anything in the database. The chances of picking up conversational Elf in passing were probably low.

“Temi?” Delia switched to Greek to ask a quick question that took Temi a moment to piece together. They both had Greek-speaking grandmothers and had been forced to learn some of the language as kids, but Temi had barely spoken it in the last ten years. She got the gist though: “See if you can get a dictionary for me to look at too.”

Apparently Delia thought Temi would be able to go shopping at the elf equivalent of a Barnes & Noble at some point. Temi shrugged noncommittally. She didn’t truly believe the weirdos were taking her to another world. This all seemed so crazy, so far-fetched. If not for the promise that they could heal her leg, she wouldn’t have agreed to any of it. Even then, she doubted they would really be able to help, not when she had seen some of the best doctors in the world already. Still, the tiniest spark of hope glowed in her mind, the hope that she was wrong.

“It would have been better to do this in
their
land,” Jakatra said, switching back to English. Maybe he hadn’t liked it when Delia had used a language they didn’t understand. Nope, no hypocrites here.

“Yes,” Eleriss said, “but they do not have strong predators like we do. Also, Master Moorisai would not come to this world.”

Predators? Uh.

“Because it’s forbidden. And unlike us, he pays attention to the law.” Jakatra glared at his comrade again; it seemed to be his normal expression.

Eleriss only smiled benignly—that was
his
normal expression—and tilted his head toward Temi. “You are ready to depart?”

Temi took a deep breath. “Yes.”

“Do not forget the sword.” Jakatra pointed toward Temi’s tennis bag.

The bag was zipped, the sword in its scabbard and surrounded by rackets, clothes, and boxes of protein bars. How he knew it was in there, Temi could only guess.

She picked up the bag and followed after the elves, pausing to toss Delia the keys to her car. “Don’t let Simon drive it.”

“I’ve seen
you
drive it; I don’t think Simon would be tempted to go any faster or be any more reckless.”

“Yes, but he’d take off on some forgotten mining road and get it stuck in a rut.”

“And you don’t think I would?” Delia smirked. “In pursuit of some dusty, buried antique mining equipment to sell for the business?”

Temi almost changed her mind and took the keys back, but it was a nice car. Some kids would steal it if she left it parked by the tennis courts for... however long this might take. She simply lifted a hand in farewell and walked after the elves.

“We must drive out of town before activating the portal,” Eleriss said when they reached the motorcycles.

Temi adjusted the straps of her bag so she could wear it like a backpack. Jakatra already sat astride his Harley. His unfriendly expression didn’t invite passengers, so Temi clambered on behind Eleriss, not wanting to grab his waist to hold on, but too busy trying to throw her knee over the seat without appearing awkward—or hurting herself—to worry about it.

When the motorcycles roared to life and charged out of the lot, Temi sent a long look back over her shoulder. Still standing on the tennis court, Delia wore a wistful expression. The unease Temi had been feeling all night returned, and she wondered if she would see her friend again.

Chapter 2

The motorcycles slowed to a stop on an old logging road in the treed hills south of town. In other words, the middle of nowhere. The elves rolled the bikes off the packed dirt and parked between two trees. If the moon hadn’t been out, Temi wouldn’t have been able to see a thing.

BOOK: 1.5 - Destiny Unchosen
7.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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