Genre: Fantasy-adventure, New Adult, Speculative, Fiction
Type of Short Story: Novella
Summary: When two nomads (interworlders) open the green portal, they don't expect the acceleration of their 'talents' or the portal breach that let's a few unauthorized friends into the world. The adventure that lies ahead calls for some unusual maneuvering. Fortunately, Zya lives for this sort of thing, and the new nomad in her life provides just enough skill and mystery to keep her on her toes.
She saw him when she opened them and scanned the space. Another nomad. She hadn't noticed him enter the coffeeshop, but Zya could feel the vibrations of his portkey. He was probably headed for the port at the back of the cafe. Not that he'd get far with the current guard on duty. Taking a slow sip of her latte, Zya eyed him. He was new. Definitely not an easy read, either. She wondered what he was there for. Averting her eyes when he glanced up from the paper he was reading, she lifted the wide-mouthed mug in her hands to her lips and swallowed a substantial amount of gingerbread java.
It was always so cold in the coffee shop despite the heat Eliza paid a third of her profits for. A regular flow of discs was probably the reason the Watch placed a cafe in that quarter. Fuel and water fees keeping their governing devices afloat and all. Steady income keeps the machine running.
The other nomad was watching her now. Zya frowned at her foolishness, feeling his lingering gaze. She'd been too bold. Hopefully, she hadn't raised too much suspicion. But, she was sure she had. Sipping the last of her coffee, she folded closed the book of old reports and returned them to her pack, making to leave. The nomad caught up with her when she reached the door.
“See all you needed to see?” he asked, a searching curiosity glinting the chocolate brown lenses of his eyes.
“I just came for the coffee.”
“I felt you scanning me.”
“It's not like that.”
“What's it like? You're obviously nomadic. Carrying an illegal key, too? Does the owner know there's a dimensional door here?”
Zya's eyes narrowed.
The nomad looked her over, relaxing a little.
“We should have a talk. Elsewhere.”
“Sounds great, except for the fact that I don't know you.”
His gaze was insistent. “It might benefit your port access.”
Zya looked him over, her mouth flattening into a grim line, then gestured to him with her free hand to “lead the way.”
The nomad stole a glance at Zya several paces from the coffee shop. She didn't try to run. He'd spotted her fair and square, and if he'd wanted to turn her in for key fraud, he could have directed gate patrols to the coffee shop's video discs.
“How many gates do you know about?” He asked her, maintaining a brisk pace, eyes focused straight ahead of him.
“Where are we going?”
“I asked you a question,” he noted with a more conversational tone, completely ignoring her own inquiry.
“I know of a few. That one's the real hot bed though. It opens to a lot of scenic vacation spots. People pay a pretty penny for dimensional escorts these days.”
“That's not what you do.”
“No. I see the oath tattoos on your neck and peeking out from your sleeve. You're probably covered in them. I wouldn't doubt you have a load of protective metal rings as well.”
“You're quite the observer.”
“I have to be.”
The nomad reached an arm out to gesture her left to a building tucked into the heart of the fashion district. Zya raised a brow when he reached into his pocket and pulled out the key that unlocked the door. In seconds, he waved her through. Hesitating a moment, Zya stepped over the threshold and glanced back at the other porter. A chill went through her watching him bolt several locks and secure one with another key, effectively locking them in.
“Follow me,” he said, crossing the room and pulling open a door that led to the basement level of the building.
Zya did as he asked with the hint of a scowl.
They descended a very long set of stairs that wound down to a room with several antique typewriters at the bases of small, ornate screens. Zya suppressed the urge to ask what all of it was, but her curiosity burned. She was horrible at waiting. It would be nice if the traveler would get on with whatever he was working up to.
“Have a seat,” he told her when they'd reached the platform at the bottom of the stairwell. He motioned a hand toward a spindly stick-legged chair with a flat top by one of the typewriters and monitors.
Frown deepening, Zya did as he asked.
“Don't look so angry,” he told her, failing to lighten the mood.
“Who are you exactly?” Zya asked.
“Someone who needs to find something.”
“Thank you for the clarifier,” Zya uttered, shaking her head.
“I'm a kind of guard.”
“Not the kind you have in mind.”
“Then why am I here?”
“I happened upon something that I need another expert's perspective on before I leave Loreport. A box with inscriptions on it. It's not run of the mill code. It's more like an imprint. It looks like... It's better I show you. But, I need assurance you won't speak of it to anyone until I'm sure of what it is. And, even then...”
“I won't.” Zya agreed, meeting his eyes and leaning forward.
“I apologize for my lack of manners. My name is Akir.”
“A pleasure,” he said.
Looking her over, the nomad lowered his eyes to a drawer built into the wall nearest him. Rising from the stick chair, he made his way to it and rolled the lock's knob in the direction of an apparently secret letter combination (too quickly for Zya to memorize). The box he pulled from it was smaller than she expected and looked more like a stone than a manufactured container. He placed the stone box on a stand toward the end of the room and gestured her over. Zya rose and walked toward it at a cat-like, leisurely pace, tucking the thin twists falling from her upsweep behind her ear.
“That's the imprint.”
Zya squinted her eyes and leaned forward to inspect the code. Her eyes quickly narrowed. She turned to him with disbelief.
“Seriously? You could have just asked for my number.”
“You can't think I manufactured that inscription. I didn't engrave this relic and 'age' it to pursue you.”
Zya raised a brow.
“You see the imprint just as clearly as I do. It's ancient.”
“And, if it opens up a portal? Should we skip through it together?”
“I asked you here because of your fire. I was watching you just as much as you were watching me at that coffee shop. I know what I saw.”
Rolling her eyes, Zya extended her hand, trying to ignore the charge that shot through it when Akir's hand closed around it. Glancing at the imprint on the box, Akir stepped closer to her until their arms formed a sharp V, making a disjointed version of the letter H with their bodies. His eyes met hers then, but whatever attempted to linger between them was interrupted by the beam of green light that shot abruptly from the box. The pair watched it in amazement as it nearly widened enough to permit one person through it. It was definitely a portal. Zya's eyes glinted. She could make out the outline of buildings in the distance.