When I awoke, there were several people - about a dozen - standing over me. They were armed and armored like guards, but their armor was different. My wounds were bandaged. "What...?" I said.
"Hey, kid," one of the men said. "You're gonna be okay. We bandaged your wounds, but you're still low on blood. Drink this." He handed me a flask with a dark purple liquid in it. "It'll make your body replenish blood faster."
I drank it. It was incredibly bitter, but I got it down, and then got up. "Thanks. Who are you?"
"We're from another pillar." He pointed off into the distance, to a faint spot of grey I hadn't noticed before.
"What's a pillar?" I said.
"You don't know what a pillar is? It's like a vertical -"
"I know what the word means," I said. "But what's a pillar."
The man seemed to have trouble understanding how I could possibly not know. "Okay, look. Those things out there? They're called pillars. There are people living on each one of 'em. You did know that, right?"
I gaped at him for a moment. "No! That's - so this isn't the edge of the world?"
The man started laughing. "Did they really tell you your puny little pillar was all there was?"
"So what did they tell you those things off in the distance were?"
"Nothing," I said. "We never saw them."
"Never saw 'em? How come? Is everyone here half-blind?"
"We're not allowed to go outside the wall normally."
"The wall? What do you mean 'the wall'?"
I saw an opportunity to turn the tables on him. "You don't know what a wall is? It's like a vertical -"
"Shut up, would ya. Our buildings have walls alright, but... I don't understand. Have you lived inside the same building your whole life?"
"Yeah, it's called my house."
"I know about houses," the man snapped. "But you know what I'm asking."
"No, but there's a big wall that surrounds all the buildings."
The man laughed again. "What? Why would you have a wall around a building? That's ridiculous!"
"It's to keep the townsfolk in because the government's evil and doesn't want us to have any freedom," I said.
"I see. So how did you get out of the wall?"
"Well, there's a gate, which is like a spot in the wall that the guards can open if they want, but I got out by climbing over it."
"Neat. Well, nice to meet you. I'm Alistair."
"Want help overthrowing the government?"
"You want to help us overthrow the government? But you look like guards."
"We all used to be guards on our pillar, but we decided to betray the queen. We conspired and killed the other guards on our home pillar."
"All of them?" I said in astonishment. "How? There are so many in each city..."
"There were only about twenty in each city on ours," Alistair said.
"Twenty guards to a city? That's way less than we have."
Alistair paused. "How many do you think you have?"
"Like, a hundred."
"Oh. That's gonna make things harder."
"Yeah... so... we definitely can't just fight the guards. But you should be able to teach me and the other revolutionaries at least a few things about magic, right?"
"Probably. Which city's yours?"
"Mine's that way," I said, pointing. "Just one more problem to overcome. Getting back over the wall."
"If you can climb it than so can we."
"I had to use a chain. Which I lost."
"Oh. Well still. Surely we can think of a way."
"Not unless you can climb up a solid stone wall that's almost thirty feet high."
We began to hear loud noises of footsteps, and paused to listen. I looked to my right. About fifty guards were coming our way.
"Drat! It's the guards! Run!"
"Huh? Why? We're not fugitives."
"Oh right. Follow us."
Alistair and the others went over to the edge and started... climbing down the edge of the world. I mean the pillar. What were they doing?
I followed them. We were climbing down next to the ditch of flowing water, which just flowed right off the edge of the world. I mean the pillar. Also, I noticed now that there were two large wooden platforms down below in the distance.
"Did you see them?" one of the guards yelled. "Who are they?"
A voice I didn't recognize said, "After them!" It sounded commanding, yet calm and confident rather than angry like a normal guard.
"Quick!" I said to Alistair and the others. We kept climbing, and eventually it looked like there was a large indentation in the rock. Alistair reached it first and climbed into it. "We can rest here!"
The guards came to overlook the cliff and saw us. "Sire? What should we do?"
The commanding voice answered, "Let me see." He came to look over the cliff, and I noticed he was the only one without armor. He was also quite old. I guessed this was the king. "Identify yourselves!" he said. "Which pillar are you from?"
"Hey king," I said, deciding to let my inner Mitilda out, "didn't think I'd be seeing you in person for a long time! I'm the revolutionary boy who escaped one of your cities and now I'm escaping your puny little pillar! Someday I'll overthrow you!"
"Pathetic," he said. "You only got this far because of insane luck, and now you will die. Troops. Climb down after them."
The guards began to climb after us. By now we had all reached the little alcove we could rest in. "This place is awfully convenient," I said to Alistair.
"Indeed. There are a bunch more on the way down. Ready to keep going?"
"Sure." We descended for a while, staying ahead of the guards. I was the slowest climber as I had no experience, but at least I could go as fast as the guards and had a head start on them. We reached the bottom, where the two wooden platforms were. Both had a vertical beam on them that was tied to a conspicuous vertical beam of rock in the bottommost alcove. "So what are these things?" I asked Alistair.
"One is our transport back to our pillar. The other was here when we got here." Alistair climbed onto one of the 'transports', and continued, "Now when you get down here start trying to knock them down." He cupped his hands, conjured a small stone, and threw it telekinetically at one of the guards. It hit but didn't knock her off.
"Ow! What the hell?" She looked at Alistair and saw what he was doing. "Sire, he's using magic on us!"
"Keep going. We will get to the bottom and kill them."
Each of Alistair's companions began to follow his lead upon reaching the ground, and they sent a veritable hail of rocks up at the guards.
"Work together to throw bigger rocks!" I told them. "We need heavier ones to knock them off."
They took my advice. I figured conjuring stuff was probably beyond me, but I tried to at least pitch in with my telekinesis. I didn't think I was making a very big difference.
Nevertheless, we were able to throw some pretty big rocks working in teams, and we managed to knock off some of the guards before they could reach the bottom. One fell into the blue expanse and sunk into it, screaming for help. Another landed on our platform, and I got out my dagger and quickly stabbed him in the unarmored throat.
I had just killed my first guard. I had finally aided the cause in a material way. If I hadn't been officially a rebel before, I was now.
When the guards were almost low enough to drop down after a while, Alistair ran and untied the transport from the pillar. "Time to go! They outnumber us too much!"
The transport had wooden paddles mounted all over the sides, and Alistair and his companions rushed to operate them. We started to move accross the blue expanse and toward the pillar they were from. It was a while before the guards all got onto their transport and started following us, so we had enough of a head start that I didn't think we had to worry about them jumping over to our platform.
"So what is this blue stuff?" I asked. "It kind of looks like water."
"It is water," Alistair said. "No idea why it's blue when normal water is clear. Anyway, you should be our artillery."
"But I've never conjured anything before..."
I tried to conjure a rock. After a few seconds, I had a tiny pebble in my hand, so tiny that if you threw it at an unarmored person they might not even notice. I tried to make it bigger.
After ten more seconds, I had a pebble about the diameter of my fingernail. "This is feeble," I said, showing Alistair the pebble.
"Switch roles then." Alistair stopped operating the paddle and came over to the edge of the platform. I went over to the paddle and tried to follow the lead of the other rebel guards.
I grunted with effort as the paddle barely moved. This job was intended for an adult, not a fourteen year old boy. Alistair, on the other hand, was doing a great job at my job. He telekineted some of the water and splashed it at the guards' faces.
"Drat him!" one of the guards said. "There's gotta be something we can do about him!"
"So king," I said between my grunts of effort. "I've been meaning to ask you. Why did you lie to your guards?"
"Huh?" one of the guards said. "Have we been lied to?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," the king said, of course. "I would not lie to my own soldiers."
"You told them magic is dangerous and volatile and forbid them to practice it. But you know that's not true. You outlawed magic so people couldn't become powerful enough to rebel against you, not for their safety."
"Enough. I have no need to argue with you."
"But Sire," one of the guards said, "they're using magic and it doesn't seem volatile and dangerous."
"There's only a small chance of a disaster. They might genuinely believe it isn't dangerous."
"Been practicing ever since I found out it existed," I said, "which was four years ago. I think I would have had a disaster by now."
"He lies," the king said. "He's just trying to get you to practice dangerous magic so you'll get yourselves killed to make a revolution easier."
"I have another question," I said. "Where are you going? Are you just chasing them because they're harboring me?"
"We're going to invade their pillar, because I heard there was a successful revolution on it."
"Whaaat?" Alistair said. "How did you hear about that?"
"I have my ways. Guards, paddle faster. We need to catch them."
Suddenly the king's transported started going noticeably faster, and they were rapidly approaching jumping-across range. "Paddle faster!" Alistair yelled. "We gotta get away from them!"
Then I saw the way the king's hands were poised. He was doing it. Amazing... "Guards, see that?" I said. "He's telekineting your transport!"
"Don't let him distract you," the king said. "Kill them." The enemy transport bumped into ours and didn't bounce off as the guards drew their swords, then charged onto our transport.
"We surrender!" I said, putting down my dagger. "Right Alistair?"
"They'll just execute us once we're disarmed!" Alistair said. "Might as well take a few of them with us!"
"So be it," the king said. "Kill them."
Alistair and his men and women drew their swords and fought, but I stayed back. We stood no chance! We could only survive by surrendering. Might as well risk getting executed with nothing to show for it if it was the only chance we had to survive, right? Well... I guessed that was the selfish answer...
"Jaydin help us you coward!" Alistair said. But I didn't. I watched in shame as my newfound friends were murdered by the same king that had oppressed my homeland for as long as I had lived. Alistair's group fought valiantly, and they took about as many guards with them, but soon Alistair was the last one standing, and was knocked into the water. He grabbed onto the edge of the transport with one hand and tried to swing at the feet of the guard who had knocked him off, but the guard jumped back.
"Alistair please surrender!" I said. He had to see reason. He couldn't kill any more of them from this position. "Just drop your sword and -"
The guard came back to finish him off, but instead of being stabbed in the head, Alistair let go and sunk into the water.
"Nooo!" I said, extending my hand toward him. He had saved my life, but then threw away his own for no reason... Why? Did he have some stupid idea that it was more honorable to commit suicide than to be killed by an enemy?
The king and his guards returned to their own transport, as Alistair's wasn't large enough to hold them all. I followed them after being prodded by a guard. We continued on our way to Alistair's pillar. But after our transport was separated, I saw Alistair come back out of the water and climb onto his transport again. How...
I said nothing, hoping the king wouldn't notice, but one of the guards did. "Sire, look! He's back out of the water somehow!"
"Leave him," the king said, to my great relief. "He won't survive out here alone." I could only pray that this assumption was mistaken.
We traveled for several more hours, and eventually arrived at the base of Alistair's pillar. The king took most of his soldiers up the rock wall with him to reconquer the pillar, but left one on the transport to guard me as a prisoner. He said he planned to take me back to our pillar when he was done here.
"So guard, what's your story?" I said when the king and the other soldiers were out of earshot. Might as well make some conversation.
"Me?" she said. "Same as most guards. I was an obedient citizen and so I was offered to become a guard. No one would ever refuse that, of course, because it means more rations, more privileges, and just generally a better life. They told the rest of my hometown I was being transferred to another town for confidential reasons. They keep it a secret that you can join the guard force that way so that rebellious citizens don't get any ideas about pretending to be loyal and infiltrating the government."
So that was how it worked... "Why'd you turn evil though?" I asked.
"I don't see myself as evil."
"Do you live off the food the commoners produce while you give them nothing in return? Do you beat people for having the courage to risk punishment to see the beauty of the night sky? Do you arrest people for practicing magic that isn't even supposedly a risk to anyone other than themselves?"
To my surprise, she didn't defend any of those. "I only do all those things cause I have no choice. If I didn't enforce the laws I'd be arrested myself."
"You could have refused to become a guard. It makes your life better, but at the expense of the innocent."
"They'd just pick someone else to be a guard in my place. It might as well be me."
She had a point. If I were offered to become a guard I would see it as my duty to accept so I could be more lenient in that position than other guards would have been. So what if all the guards weren't actually evil? What if they were all just like this?
But when I thought of the guard that had threatened to starve my entire family for 24 hours, and how Nemesis had gravely injured Mitilda just for making a map and leaving an insulting message, I thought that this couldn't be right. There was something more to it. "But don't tell me you aren't crueler than necessary to the townsfolk."
She sighed. "It gets to you. After years of being paid to hurt people, you start to forget that you don't actually hate those people, and it just feels natural to be as cruel as you're expected to be even when no other guards are looking."
"But if there was a revolution you'd still fight on its side," I said.
"Not unless it had a chance of succeeding, which it wouldn't."
"It would if all the guards are like you. Heck, it would be easy."
"A lot of the guards are evil. Some of them realize that the government benefits them personally, even if it hurts the innocent, and start to feel a genuine loyalty to it for that."
"Still," I said, "revolution isn't nearly as far-fetched as I thought. We just need all the guards that are like you to get together and attack the other guards."
"Don't be ridiculous. That would never work."
"Alistair and his friends pulled it off."
"Doesn't mean we can."
"And I have some friends in town whose magic was getting almost to the point of being useful in combat by the time I left."
She thought for a minute. "I don't know... maybe... maybe it is possible. But how can you expect me to risk my life for such a wild hope?"
"Because you're a bad person if you don't," I said.
"I know... but maybe I'm okay with that?"
"No! Don't be okay with that! You can turn around and become a hero right now!"
She didn't answer me, but sighed. I decided I had made enough of a dent in her allegiance that she wouldn't stop me if I went up the pillar now, so I started to do that.
"Wait," she said, grabbing my arm. "Even if we're going to have a revolution, don't you think it would be better to let the king take us back to our home pillar? That's where all of your revolutionary friends are, and it's where I have official status as a guard."
"True. Alright. We'll wait for the king to get back."
She let go of my arm. "Name's Beatrice, by the way."
"Jaydin. I'm glad to meet you."
"You too. Also... I guess I believe you about the king telekineting the transport now. So if he's that powerful, there's no telling what else he can do."
I hadn't thought of that. It would be wise to find some way to gauge his power before launching a revolution.
"Heck..." Beatrice said, "you said you couldn't figure out why the king was lying to us about magic being dangerous and volatile. It wouldn't have made sense before to say he was afraid of the guards revolting because we could easily kill him even without magic, but now that we know he's that powerful... what if he's actually a lot more powerful than that? What if all of us guards still aren't a threat to him?"
I hadn't thought of that either. "That does seem to be the only explanation... heck, it's probably true. But I swear, it's possible to have a revolution someday, somehow..."
"Jaydin, how? How are you going to fight power like that?"
"Well... if he can get that powerful, so can we?" I said.
"Maybe he's some kind of superhuman."
We sat there for a while, swimming in the depression of that thought. There was no denying, it was more than likely that I would die trying. But I didn't have a choice anymore, now that I was officially a fugitive from the law, so the old submissive Jaydin was gone, period. I couldn't go back. But could I go forward either? I could really use one of Mitilda's pep talks right now.
I spotted a distant object flying toward us from around the pillar. As it grew closer, it became clear that it was a person standing on something. "How..." I said to Beatrice, pointing.
The flying woman came to land on our transport, and I saw that she was standing on a small wooden platform with her ankles strapped in. "Who's who here?" she said immediately.
"Depends, obviously," Beatrice said. "Who are you?"
"You look like a guard. Is that true?"
"Do I want to be a guard?"
The woman ignited a fireball out of nothing in her hand. "I don't have time to waste! Tell me something or I'll torture you!"
I figured a flying woman wasn't likely to be an ally of the king, so I told the truth. "I'm a rebel. I escaped one of the cities on my home pillar" - I pointed - "but got captured. She's a guard, but there's good in her."
"How much good?" the flying woman asked. "Enough that I should save her?"
"Yes, definitely," I was quick to say. "So what's going on?"
"We're trying to evacuate the heroes that freed this pillar before the Voren's reinforcements get here and kill them. Do either of you know where they are?"
"They're dead," I said. "All except one who might still be alive. He got stranded near my pillar."
"Stranded? Can he swim?"
"Swim?" I had never heard that word before.
"It means staying afloat in water."
"Yeah, he can do that. But he's on another transport like this."
"Alright, sounds like the most efficient way to do this is to take both of you over to where he is, then take that transport back to the hideout." She lifted a few feet off the ground on her platform. "Both of you grab on."
Hesitantly, we each grabbed on to one of her legs. Then we ascended a little more and started zooming toward Alistair's position.
The acceleration was so fast it was hard to keep our grip from slipping, but after a while we stopped acccelerating and I stopped feeling the wind, even though we were still going some fifty miles an hour by estimation. "What happened to the wind?" I said.
"I'm telekineting the air along with us."
"So who are you?" Beatrice said. "Are you someone who escaped too?"
"I was contacted when one of Yildirim's magically-programmed spy birds caught me practicing magic. I was taken to the hideout and trained. Now I'm one of the surviving remnant of the Sentinels, a group of old heroes that protected freedom and justice throughout the thirteen pillars before the Voren invasion."
"Who are these Voren you mentioned?" I said. "Do they have something to do with the king?"
"They're a group of evil mages who now rule the thirteen pillars as monarchs."
"How powerful are they?"
"Powerful enough that your king could literally kill everyone else on the pillar if he wanted to."
So it was true. And there were thirteen of them. Even Mitilda's mighty cup telekinesis wasn't worth anything against that. But wait. "But Alistair and his friends defeated one, didn't they?"
"They didn't. Their queen left the pillar when she realized the guards couldn't handle the rebellion by themselves and requested reinforcements from the king of your pillar - at least, that's what seems to have happened. For some reason we don't really understand, the Voren are terrified of their citizens finding out the truth about them."
"Why?" I asked. "They have nothing to fear."
"I just said we don't understand it."
"So how powerful are you?" Beatrice asked. "Are you a match for one of these Voren?"
"No, but I'm not that far off. Two of me might be."
"How many of you are there?"
"Are you going to train me to be as powerful as you?" I said.
"Of course. And her too."
"I've never even used magic..." Beatrice said.
"Then you have a lot of catching up to do. If you're going to aid our eventual revolution, you'll need to be at least as powerful as I am now. But don't worry, you've got plenty of time to practice. We won't be ready for another several years, and that's if we're lucky."
"I have a lot of friends on my home pillar who would also like to join you," I said. "If you're inducting me, you should get them too."
"We don't want to abduct too much from a single city. If too many people disappear at once, the Voren might notice something's up."
"Do they not even know you exist?" I asked.
"Nope. Yildirim's the only survivor from the old war, and he's been in hiding ever since. He recruited and trained all of us in secret. And we know that if the Voren find out about us, they'll kill us all with barely any losses, and this world will probably never be free."
"Do I have the option of going back?" Beatrice asked. "This sounds like a losing battle. If I could just go back to being a guard, I promise I wouldn't spill the beans."
"Don't even joke like that," the flying woman said. "We wouldn't risk it in a million years. Now that you know about us, you're staying with us."
"But... I didn't choose this... It's not fair..."
"No, it's not. But that's the way it has to be. If we let you go, you might get us all killed. We simply can't take that chance."
I could see the anger in Beatrice's face. "You'd do the same in their position, Beatrice," I said. She didn't answer me.
We arrived at the other transport where Alistair was stranded. "Alistair!" I called from afar. "We're here to save you!"
"That's great," he said. "But who are your friends?"
"A converted guard and a Sentinel." Beatrice and I dropped onto the transport, and the Sentinel followed.
"We'll telekinet the transport toward our hideout," the Sentinel said, "and fill you in on the way. Name's Katherine."
Me, Katherine, and Alistair worked together to telekinet the transport toward a distant pillar that looked slightly bigger than the others - apparently it was the center one. The journey took a few hours. When we got there, Katherine said the entrance was underwater, so we telekineted an orb of air with us as we stepped off the edge of the raft, sunk a little, and then entered a gaping hole in the rock wall a few feet below the surface. It led into a tunnel that went upward out of the water. Soon we were in a large room carved out of the rock with five beds and magic light provided by Katherine. There was a hole in the ceiling leading into what I assumed was another room.
"This is the room where we all sleep," Katherine said. "There are two more rooms up there. The middle is where we spar, and the top is our farm."
"How do you grow food underground?" I said. "With no sun and no water?"
"We provide both through magic. We also sometimes hunt edge guardians - the various creatures that guard the edge of each pillar."
"So what about the other innocents on my pillar?" Alistair said. "Are you going to go back and save more of them?"
"I don't have enough mana left to make it there and back again. Besides, we can't take everyone back here. Even if we could get enough food to support them, we can't risk letting the Voren find out we exist yet. We only planned to save the heroes that freed the pillar."
"But innocent people are going to be re-enslaved!" Alistair said. "You're just going to do nothing about it?"
"Yes. We can't let our emotions drive us to foolishness. We're all the forces of good have. A single reckless move could get us all killed and doom the thirteen pillars to Voren rule forever."