The last Sunday I sampled for my babies, Haley had trotted off into the desert with her Earth-kin crush, Ian, and Tanner, a desert girl who is completely in to Ian. Haley thinks it's all rainbows and sunshine until she realizes Ian is taking her to his home, Ralos. Ralos is, after all, the heart-beat of Lak 'Toom, the Fire Eyid's territory.
Duh duh duh duh.....
Ralos looked so…so…ugly, and dark, and dirty. Dread slicked through my veins like oil, and a shudder vibrated along my spine.
I said, “We're not going there, are we?”
Ian's eyes glittered, and his smile seemed a little forced. "You don't want to see my home?"
I back pedaled. “No, I do, it's just that, it looks kind of...dark.”
"Trust me, you’ll feel different when we get there. Remember what I said. Things aren’t always as they seem.”
“Tuggin said I shouldn’t.”
Ian’s lips stretched over his teeth, a semblance of a smile. A mocking smile. A painful smile. A deadly smile. “Who cares? He’s a Menta. A liar.”
I wrinkled my nose while I studied Ralos. Maybe the place wouldn’t be as bad as it looked, up close and with Ian.
“Do you know what the Mentas do?” he asked.
“They protect Council members. And they enforce the laws.” I hesitated. “And they have this mind control thing called Lunta.”
“True,” Ian said. “Most people don’t like them though, or trust them. It was only out of desperation that the Council asked for their help, because they can do more with little minds than most people know.”
Tanner shuddered. “The Veiling!”
“What’s that?” I asked.
Ian grinned, and this time it looked real. “It’s an ancient art that the Mentas practiced. See, Lunta only persuades someone to do what you ask, but with the Veiling, you can control people’s minds.”
"I don't see the difference.”
Ian tried to explain. “See, with Lunta, I could ask you to get me a drink of water, and you would do it. The effect wears off in minutes even if the task hasn’t been done. Veiling is stronger. It changes a person’s way of thinking. If you were put under the veil, and I asked you for a drink of water, you would die to get me that drink if you had to.”
A chill ran down my arms. “Like brain-washing?”
“Exactly,” Ian answered. “All Mentas can perform Lunta, but very few can veil.”
“How long before it wears off?”
“Days, weeks, months. A lifetime.” Ian shrugged. “It all depends on the strength of the person performing the veil, and the strength of the person being veiled.”
“Thcary,” Tanner said.
Ian seemed to have warmed up to the subject and continued. “And they’re warriors, too, specially trained in killing. They have these camps where they train children practically from birth.”
Killing machines with mind control powers. Gre-eat. And the Council put these guys in a position to act like the police? I couldn’t believe their stupidity.
“See, generations ago Mentas were the dominant authority on Eyidora. They controlled the minds of important people, giving the Mentas unlimited power. They controlled the Council, the laws, the money…everything. They made Eyidorans slaves. They took away free-will.”
I bit my cheek. “So what happened?”
“The only ones who were stronger-minded than the Mentas were the Eyid-emos.” Ian gave me a sly kind of smile. “The Eyid-emos tried to control the Mentas.”
Made sense. Half-gods were sure to be stronger than the Mentas. I nodded.
“But there were a lot more Mentas than Eyid-emos, and then an Eyid-emos died. It’s especially hard to kill one, and I'm not sure how they did it. Naturally, the Mentas were blamed, and the Council outlawed veiling and ordered a decree that removed the Mentas from power.”
Tanner squeaked, but didn’t say anything.
“What decree?” I felt another chill; this one took a trip down the back of my neck.
Ian shrugged. “They put a bounty on their heads, and people were quick to collect their rewards. Dead or alive, though most preferred dead, and Mentas became almost extinct. Apparently, there were still enough of those witches hanging around when the Council schemed up their grand plan when the war broke out. Sort of an uneasy truce.”
I studied Flax's ears, counting myself lucky that I'd gotten rid of Tuggin and found Ian.
We stopped in the afternoon to pass the worst heat of the day in the shade of rocky overhangs.
“These hills are my favorite place on the globe,” Ian commented while he unsaddled his camel. "Can you feel the power?”
I paused with my saddle in my arms. “Nope.”
“Trust me, it was sheer power that formed the Du Kesan.”
“Ooh!” Tanner exclaimed. “Tell uth thtory.”
“See, this is the Fire Eyid’s territory, and he didn't like it when the Water Eyid kept making it rain.” Ian dropped his saddle. “The Fire Eyid summoned these volcanoes, and they erupted for a whole generation, layering up until these hills were formed.”
“Why?” Tanner asked.
“Volcanoes?” I asked. Who cared why?
“The volcanoes are dormant now,” Ian said to me, and then to answer Tanner said, “The Fire Eyid made a barrier. The Du Kesan surrounds the Fire Eyid's territory on two sides, where it borders the Air and Water regions. The Water Eyid can’t send clouds over the hills if they’re too heavy with rain. In order to get over the hills, the clouds have to get rid of their water first, and Lak ‘Toom stays dry.”
I studied the landscape. “So what part of that story makes this your favorite place?”
Ian dropped into the shade of an overhang. “Anyone who holds the power to summon volcanoes earns my respect.”
I picked an overhang and sat. I felt as dried up as the land around me, and my head ached. I took off my hat and flapped it, trying to whirl up a breeze. “This heat sucks.”
A tingle ran up my arm, and the hairs stood straight. Before I could warn anyone, a flash of lightning smacked the ground behind Tanner, and she squealed.
Ian watched another bolt of lightning with the air of someone studying a piece of art. The sky burst with angry sparks, and lightning chewed the ground. I swore when a rock shard sliced my cheek. The camels shuffled, shaking their heads like they were looking for the best escape route, so we each grabbed a halter to keep them from bolting.
I ducked as bullet-size rocks whizzed by my head. “We have to hide!”
“It’s just a little lightning storm, Ian said. "It’ll pass.”
“Little, my ass. I’m not waiting to be fried.” I dragged Flax toward the overhand where I’d been sitting.
“I wouldn't,” Ian said.
An explosion made me stumble back. A network of electricity slammed into the overhang, tearing through the rock. With a loud creak, the overhang wrenched free, hitting the ground so hard that I felt the vibration under my feet. Dust and pebbles stung my face; Flax jerked his head, wrenching my shoulder.
Ian shrugged and said, “See?”
When the lightning stopped, we dusted off our backpacks. I saddled and mounted Flax, then set off behind Ian and Tanner. I kept checking out the blackened rock behind us. Soon the broken landscape was a distant memory, and I had only the unforgiving black rock of Ralos to look forward to.