“Minimal scarring would be nice,” I mumble, looking back down at my damaged wrists. I’m going to have nightmares about that cell and my injuries.
“Who said anything about leaving any scars?” a deep, benevolent voice asks from a giant shadow looming above.
“Maisha!” Henki calls happily, leaping into the beast’s shadow. “It is good to see you again, my friend.”
Henki clasps forearms with a tall, muscular man with ebony skin. I look up at him, craning my neck back to see the welcoming smile on his face. Maisha is easily eight feet tall, if not taller.
“Welcome to Johanamu, Shadow Princess. Now let me see those hands of yours.” His voice is deep and rumbles through the ground and resonates in my chest. The giant leans down and gently takes my skinned hands in his.
“Your Eidolon healing has already started to take effect, but it will still take too long and scar. You are too pretty for scars,” he jokes, gently turning my hands over.
He whispers a few words that I don’t understand and closes his large hands over mine. A tingling starts in my fingertips and slowly travels down my fingers and across my palms, running all the way up to my shoulders. I gasp as the tingling moves into my chest. Maisha bows his head and slowly releases my hands as he stands back up.
“There will be no markings of your imprisonment, Princess. I believe that Zuri can help you overcome the mental trauma that you sustained,” he says, then turns toward Daemon and Henki.
“Let your horses run free in Jahanamu. They will feed and play and grow strong in our land while you are here,” Maisha commands. “Come, it is almost time for food, and my wife does not like to be kept waiting.”
With barely any effort, the giant lifts me and sits me in a hollow at the base of the neck of his steed. The beast exhales and shakes its head. I run my hand over the rough dusk scales.
“What is this?” I ask, turning toward Maisha as he mounts behind me.
“It is a type of dragon that once existed in your world. They were extremely rare and did not live very long in the human world. Some of your human paleontologists have found them and classified them as dinosaur skeletons. There’s no need for fear,” he added, seeing the look of hesitation on my face. “Doa is extremely docile and will not hurt you.”
Henki dissolves into Doa’s shadow as the dragon spreads out his wings. Daemon laughs as I scream and tightly hold onto the spike in front of me.
“Dragon riding is not that bad, Princess,” he teases, leaping up into the hollow between Maisha and me.
“You’ve done it before?” I ask, yelling over the sound of rushing wind.
“No, but I have always wanted to,” he replies, lifting his arms and letting out a yell of excitement.
Maisha laughs behind me and I slowly get the courage to look around. The grey-green landscape flies beneath us in a blur, like a long silk ribbon.
“Lift up thy arms, Nikki. It is much more enjoyable to feel the wind rushing all over,” Daemon says in my ear, leaning closer. He slowly unwraps my clenched fingers from Doa’s spike and pushes my arms up.
Doa flies faster. The feeling of the wind running through my hair and around my body is exhilarating. I close my eyes to savor the sensation, then think of Ryan. He loved hang gliding and parasailing and anything that left him hanging in the air. Uneasy with bittersweet memories, I wrap my hands around Doa’s yellow spike.
The giant beast slowly tilts to the left and starts to descend. Daemon leaps off and rolls to his feet, then turns to help me off. I start to follow him toward the village ahead, but a strong hand on my shoulder stops me.
“Do not let these memories devastate you, Shadow Princess,” Maisha says, his deep voice rumbling in the air. “Hold fast to them. Ryan is not dead. At least, not the way that the humans say. Your father is wise, he would not have allowed Ryan to make the transition from Shadow to ghost if there were no hope of him making it through.”
I smile gratefully. “But what if I don’t make it back to him? What if he makes the transition and I don’t make it back?”
Maisha shakes his head. “I cannot tell the future. You would have to talk to Zuri and Mbaya about that. But I can look at the past. Look at all that you have accomplished. You have made allies with Henki, the lord of the Shadow District, one of the ones who was against your kind in the civil war. Your love for Ryan and your family melted Iâ’s frozen heart and caused him to turn his back on his sister. You managed to break through Kendra’s barrier on the portals between dimensions, which allowed the Shadows who were ready to transition to Sepulcrum begin to turn into ghosts.”
He pauses and smiles at me with his honey eyes. “You have already moved mountains to turn things right again. Never doubt yourself. You have accomplished much, and you will continue to achieve great things on your journey.”
“But what if I’m not good enough to defeat Kendra? Artemis said to outsmart her, but how do I outsmart a ghost that’s older than time itself?” I demand.
“Just look at all that you have done thus far. You will succeed,” he replies, slowly straightening up again. “Now come, meet my wife. For death she is, and death waits for no one. Not even her husband.”