Collected in Gone Hunting and other stories of Vardin. Available in paperback and ebook editions.
Single Title Ebook Available at:
Crossing the Barrier
It's her mother's last hunt and Casal's last chance to become a hunter herself.
Born in a land hidden and separated from the rest of Europe by the Barrier, Casal is caught between two sides of her heritage. Will she bind herself to the land as a Guardian—or do the dangerous work of the Hunters who cross the Barrier?
Vardin Science Fiction Fantasy
Vardin Science Fiction Fantasy
Her parents were arguing. Rohth’s voice had dropped so she could only hear a low rumble when he spoke. Her mother’s voice did not rise, but it held a bite to it that it did not otherwise have.
Casal knew they were arguing about her.
She rolled off her berth on her father’s ship and slipped away from the wall; her fingers trailed lightly so she could feel the hum of power beneath it. She remembered her uncle’s lessons and reached her mind into the ship’s processor, briefly became it, and told it not to let her hear them. Her mind uncoiled gently from the ship and she waited until she no longer heard their murmur on the other side.
Like a junior member of the crew, she had worked her father’s ship for three months. It was not hunting proper, and Rohth had shaken his head at the lack of action, but they were the guardians. Somebody’s ship had to sail the Vardin waters and ensure that all was well and safe. Somebody had to guard the Barrier.
A commission finally came in, a real hunt—Aysha, her father’s helmsman, claimed she could taste adventure on the air, ‘less salt, more money’—and then Shiloh met up with them. Casal knew the drill. Swapping parents and lives was easy when both of them were hunters. So she would miss her father’s crossing; there was her mother’s. But after the first comfortable reunion, tension blossomed and soured between them with nary an explanation to Casal.
Casal decided not to wait. Her hands itched with the need to hook in to something, and both Aysha and Kidar were pushovers when it came to their equipment. She threw her mind at the padd beside her door, and the door slid aside. She grinned and stepped into the hall.
“Getting better at that,” Kidar commented wryly.
Casal nearly jumped out of her skin but gritted her teeth against yelling. ‘Silent hunters live longer,’ her father had told her time and time again. She crossed her arms and scowled at him.
He chuckled soundlessly, dark hair falling into his eyes with the slight motion. It was wet. He had been on deck. “That’s supposed to be a thanks.”
“Mm.” She practiced Shiloh’s unimpressed look.
Kidar cocked his head thoughtfully. “It looks better on your mother.”
“Oh you!” Casal scowled and slipped around him through the narrow hallway.
Belowdecks looked like wood, like all Vardin ships, but the walls burned with a soft radiance that came from a radically different power source than pure electricity. Clomen was the substance that set Vardin apart from Europe and the rest of the world outside. It hummed and called to her, a natural fit with her own mind, the substance that set Vardin apart from Europe and the rest of the world outside.
“You’ll be an excellent cyberpath, one day,” Kidar said behind her when she had her foot on the first step aboveboard. He was following her, and that irritated her. “Keep you from getting killed,” he offered. Like it was a good thing. Everyone knew Haila lived on the borderlands and were far more likely to die in battle.
Casal stopped cold. Her face burned. She turned to her mother’s helmsman and fixed him with a look borrowed from neither father nor mother. “I am Haila.”
Shadows framed Kidar’s face, but she could see that his expression had frozen into silence. “You do know,” he said slowly, “that your father is out of Alyón.”
She looked at him. “Yes.” Then she turned around and stepped out on the deck.
She saw Aysha with her fiery red hair working away at her processor, probably boosting the signal out through the Barrier to the rest of the world’s computer network, a similar and controllable but different system than theirs. Theirs was based on clomen. Theirs could not be hacked. Aysha’s gift allowed her to deal with the outside world’s network even more comfortably than Vardin’s, and a new hunt meant scouting and research and legwork before crossing over to the other shore to utilize their skills on behalf of an employer.
Normally, Casal enjoyed the work beforehand—her uncle had trained her well in general cyberpathy, but her hands were itching and her soul was restless. She was no longer just a child. Kidar was right; she was getting better at her gift, and there were never enough cyberpaths.
That did not mean she wanted their life.
She moved out to stand at the prow, eyes on the sea stretching away into mist. From the Vardin side, she could not see the other shore, the domain of hunters and outsiders. The air on her tongue was still salty, but she thought she understood what Aysha meant about tasting a hunt.
She stood watch, legs spread, feet planted, as night deepened over Vardin. At her back, she knew the valley ran down between the mountains to the cliffs on either side, and on those cliffs, other guardians stood watch, guardians old enough or powerful enough to be bound to serve. Casal was twelve and her gift was valuable enough that she might soon join them.
To be bound… she thought. She would have to choose a Household then.
If you liked this story, you may also like Portrait of a Butterfly. Please consider sharing this story or tipping the author at left.