Wow, it's been a looong time since you babies have seen this story, but Haley's back, along with Tuggin, and a whole mess of issues.
Where we left off: Haley escaped Tuggin, pretty sure he's planning to put her 6 feet under, and got lost in the desert. She's hungry. She's thirsty. She's dying. She gets a visit from the gods, and realizes she doesn't want to die. She pushes on, finds an oasis, is just about to be discovered by some peeps she sees off in the desert, and bam! She falls into a sinkhole, gets bit by *something* in the dark, and starts dying all over again.
Let's move on. Enjoy!
The air swirling around me felt like a kiss. Not a good kiss, either. Not loving or warm or seductive, but hateful, hot, and blistering. It was the kiss of death. It felt as though my skin had melted away, and I wanted to die just to get away from the pain.
“Can you hear me?”
I whimpered. If the Eyidoran gods cared about me at all, they’d let me die.
“Open your eye-sss.”
“No.” If I looked as bad as I felt I really didn’t want to see.
“Do it,” the voice commanded.
My eyes fluttered open. A sharp-angled man knelt next to me, and I flinched when he reached toward me. He smiled, and then rubbed a fingernail over the spot on my arm where the spider had bitten me. I screamed at the flare of pain.
An image of a little kid flashed in my head. He was maybe ten years old, glaring at his reflection in a mirror. He screamed then flung his hand forward as if he were going to smash the mirror; there was a flash of light, and the sound of shattering glass.
Pointy Guy put his hands on both sides of my head, his palms cooling my skin. It almost seemed as if his fingers sucked the pain away like sponges.
He let me go. From where I lay on the ground, I checked out my surroundings. Uh oh. Blurred edges, shadows, air cool and damp—I’d been there before, whenever one of those Eyids came to talk to me. I was dreaming.
I scooted back against the wall. Ugh. The air reeked like smoke and hot wax. I stared at the guy, and he stared back at me. He had a pointy face and nose, set on a small head that was totally bald and bobbing on a thin neck. His slightly gray skin was a sharp contrast to his green eyes.
“I’m Sss-oltar, the Fire Eyid.”
“Not you,” I blurted.
“You don’t want to talk to me after I helped you in the desert?”
“Nala helped me.”
Soltar’s smile showed two rows of sharp teeth. “It was a...harmonic effort, wouldn't you sss-ay?”
I hesitated. “Don't think I would.”
“I think you have the wrong impression of me.”
“No, I think you’re out of control, fighting with everyone. And you know what else I think? I think you started the hole in Earth’s ozone, which started the whole global warming mess.”
“How clever of you. That was an effect I hadn’t anticipated, but I’m only doing what comes naturally when the Web isn’t harmonized.”
“Really?” I wondered if my sarcasm was going to get me zapped.
“Thirteen generations ago de-ssscendants of the Eyids vied for power and broke the Web. They were the ones out of control. The Web, when harmonized, maintains harmony amongst us. Without it,” Soltar shrugged, “we fight. I can’t help it if I’m sss-tronger than the others.”
“What do you get if you win?”
Soltar cocked his head. “There are no winners in this fight. Not amongst the Eyids, anyway. Others, however, fight for power and greed.”
“I don’t get it. You need the stones to harmonize this web thing, right?” Soltar nodded. “Can the stones be used for anything else?”
“No, and they won't help you get back to Earth.”
I ignored the heat rising in my cheeks like red flags. “What good would it be for anyone to steal them, then?"
Soltar steepled his fingers while he studied me. “You raise a good point. Ordinary mortals have nothing to gain from stealing the stones. Others, however, are special…gifted. Take the Eyid descendants, for example. There are some who desire to control nature by re-arranging the stones in the Web, if that were possible.”
I didn’t remind him that the only person I knew of who wanted to do that was his descendant. “Why?”
Soltar shrugged. “The desire within one’s soul is unique. I could not speak as to what compels one person to such extreme, as it would be very different from, let’s say, your own.”
“Sorry, I'm on Team Harmony,” I retorted. As if.
He continued with a small smile. “Then, there are others who would take advantage of Eyidora’s disss-harmony to rise to their own level of power. Not sss-o much power over nature, but power to control the globe, power to control the people.”
I pursed my lips. Wasn’t that what war was about, even on Earth?
Soltar ran his hand over his bald head. “Power is a harsh ma-ssster, Haley, able to bring even the most noble to her knees.”
If Soltar meant to include me in the whole man-lust-for-power scenario, he was wrong. He rolled his head on his neck. It made little popping noises that made me clench my teeth. And why’d he have to stand so close to me? The heat pouring out from him started me sweating.
Soltar’s long coat tickled the floor when he paced, stirring up little dust clouds. “I sss-ee you wear a sss-stone.”
I followed his gaze to my necklace. “It was a present.”
“It doesn’t belong to you.” He glared at me, as if I’d stolen it.
I lifted one shoulder in a shrug.
Long, knobby fingers slithered from beneath his tunic and grazed my stone, and then Soltar slipped his hand back into his tunic. “Four sss-tones. United, hold the power to control destiny. Control fate. Control the globe.”
“What would you do to get power? How far would you go?” His tongue flicked the air, probing, like a snake.
I stared at him, refusing to answer. He was baiting me, trying to get me to say I'd use the power to trip back home. I'd already promised to help. What a tool.
“Sss-ome have killed for it, betrayed for it. Sss-ome have even broken their promis-ess.”
Nausea crumpled my muscles, forcing me to my knees. I rested my forehead on the cold, stone floor. "I think I'm going to be sick."
“There are those to help you on your path.” Soltar bent close to me, whispering, “If I were you, I’d accept the help offered.”
“Help,” I whispered. Something cold and wet licked my forehead. Did I have a dog? I couldn’t remember.
“It all right. You be fine.”
I cracked open my eyes. A delicate, brown face peered at me through a thick film. I blinked until the face came into focus.
“Greetingth!” lisped the brown face. “I Tanner.” She smiled, her teeth sticking out a little over her bottom lip.
I raised myself off my pillow. A wet cloth fell into my lap; my feet poked out of the bottom of cream-colored pants. My soggy muscles couldn't support me, so I flopped back onto the bed.
Tanner perched at the foot of the bed with her legs folded beneath her. The tiny girl peered at me with eyes the color of pennies. She’d pulled her reddish-brown hair into a tight ponytail, and she kept bobbing her head, making the ponytail swish.
“What you called?”
“Haley.” I wrinkled my nose at the stuffy air. “Where am I?”
“Dunehill. We thand dweller.” Tanner picked at the blanket covering the bed. “You Menta?”
“What power you have?”
“You bit by Molken thpider.” Tanner bobbed her head. Swish went the ponytail.
I gave her a blank stare.
“Their bite fatal, but you not dead.” Tanner nodded excitedly. “You healed.”
“Oh.” I studied the red welt on my arm. Odd how that tiny little mark could cause a whole lot of pain. “Is it always fatal?”
The welt on my arm had a small cut slicing through it. Dang, those spiders must have some sharp teeth. Did spiders even have teeth? “You helped me?”
Tanner said, “Balm on arm, wet cloth on head. You burn tho hot.” Bob and swish.
“What about Sorrel?”
“Who ith Thorrel?”
Tanner nodded. “Oh, yeth. He with camel herder. Tho what about your power?”
I considered my floppy state. “I'd say I'm pretty powerless at this point.”
Tanner’s face slumped, but the corners of her mouth stayed slightly curled in a permanent smile. “You could, if you have thtone?”
I jerked upright then leaned back. “How’d you know about that?”
“You talk in thleep.” Tanner tilted her head to one side. “I never thee before. It thtrange.”
Now I picked at the blanket. “Did I say anything else?”
“You talk about power, and the thtone, and you athk for help.” Tanner looked like a bobble-head doll. Bob and swish. Bob and swish. "I not leave thide whole time. You need me.” Tanner clasped her hands together, her face splitting into a wide grin.
I felt my cracked lips with the tip of my tongue. My mouth tasted like I’d been gnawing cinder blocks. “Could I have some water?”
Tanner sprang from the bed. She didn't walk so much as bounce to a small cabinet. Humming to herself, she poured water from a clay pitcher and handed me a cup.
I drank the whole cup down then set it on the nightstand “Thanks.”
Tanner grazed the milky stone of my necklace with her thumb. “Thith your thtone?”
My mouth went dry again. Would she try to steal it? I hid it under my shirt and changed the subject. “I got sucked under the sand. How’d you find me?”
“You caught in thand whorl.” She pointed her index finger in the air and twirled it. Camel herder thee you over old part of village when you fall. Whoosh, right through thand.”
“Huh, I don’t remember seeing a town anywhere.”
“We under thand.”
“Under?” I looked up at the ceiling. Thinking about how the sand had squished me had me gasping for air, as if I were being smothered again. No way. Time to jet this place. I swung my feet over the edge of the bed, but my head spun and my stomach wrenched and I had to clutch the bedpost.
“Haley, no alarm. You fall in abandoned part of village where tunnel not throng.”
I put a hand to my head and plopped back onto the bed, waiting for the dizziness to go away.
“Where you going?” Tanner toyed with the water pitcher, spinning it in her hands.
“I don’t know.”
Tanner swayed as if she listened to music in her head. “I have friend. He help me with your healing. He help you now.”
The door open behind me.
“Hey there, Haley.”
For a minute I thought I was back at school. Or I was dreaming. Or maybe I was dead after all, and this was heaven. My heart cartwheeled and I nearly fell off the bed.