Ransom: The Healing Crystal Trilogy, Book Three

Ransom: The Healing Crystal Trilogy, Book Three

by Michele Poague

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Overview

As The Healing Crystal Trilogy comes to a close, spring has finally come to the high mountains. As winter releases its grip, the small band of Survin refugees is violently divided. When three unique worlds collide, cultures change forever, as traditions and rituals are swept aside. While faith crumbles for one, another's is renewed. The gulf between these worlds may prove insurmountable.


Young Kinter, lost in the shadow of her sister, fights for her own power. As she maneuvers to seize the crystal and displace Kairma as the heir, Kinter's future hangs by a thread. Collin, Kairma's lifelong friend, discovers he may be forever barred from Kairma by the evil carried in her blood unless the power of the Crystal can be realized. Bearing the weight of the most powerful object known to mankind, Kairma has an impossible choice to make: return to Survin in ignorance or dare to trust these powerful strangers.


When freedom fighter Rand Solis allies himself with young Kairma, they discover that in order to heal the world, both must make sacrifices-friends, religious beliefs, and political philosophies. Great knowledge comes at great cost to the pair as they learn that a political philosophy may be perfect in a given moment ... but such moments are fleeting.


The Healing Crystal Trilogy presents a science fiction epic about lost technology, the morality of power, and the creation of religious and political philosophy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781462035106
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 05/08/2013
Pages: 596
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.32(d)

Read an Excerpt

Ransom

The Healing Crystal Book Three


By Michele Poague

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Poague
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4620-3510-6


CHAPTER 1

They had been riding for hours. The October sun was descending behind the snow-capped peaks far to the west. The horses were showing signs of stress even though the pace had been unhurried. Kinter was tired of riding, but her sister, Kairma, had been dogmatic about moving south, so she held her tongue. Her stomach growled. Riding next to her, Naturi looked over with one brow raised slightly over his dark brown eyes. Kinter could feel her face warm. The handsome man had studied for years to become the next Comad of the Survinees and the mate of the next Miral. Kairma was heir to the Crystal and destined to be Miral. Unfortunately, Kinter didn't know how to change that.

"Hungry?" he asked.

"Yes, we've been riding since before light. Honestly, I don't know what's gotten under Kairma's skin that we have to ride so long."

"Here," he said, handing her a strip of jerky.

"Thanks. I should have thought to have some handy."

"The more you travel, the more you learn."

"I'm sick to death of travel. I miss my bed."

Naturi nodded in agreement. "I will ask Kairma if we can stop soon. We have ridden too long." He spurred his horse to a trot.

Kinter watched the handsome man move to the front of the pack of riders. Behind her, Collin and Toric carried her brother on a stretcher made from raw tree branches and hides. Zedic looked tired. His shoulder wasn't fully recovered from the karrack wound, and he needed more than a few days rest. They all needed more time, but something had happened to Kairma at the monument they built in memory of Siede. They had been camped beside a beautiful lake with a generous supply of game and vegetation when, without warning, her sister insisted they move again. That her sister never explained her urgency annoyed Kinter to no end.

Kairma had always been bossy toward Kinter, partly because Kairma was older. However, since the attack outside of Caspin where Siede had been killed, her sister had become an ice queen. Kinter wasn't the only one who felt the sting of Kairma's anger. The entire group kept their distance. Even Collin, who rarely left Kairma's side, spent more time with Trep and Toric these days.

She knew a lot of Kairma's anger was directed at her, but no matter how many times she played the scene over in her head, Kinter could not save Siede. She knew Kairma blamed her for his death, but Kinter regretted her actions more than Kairma could know. As many times as Naturi and Zedic said it wasn't her fault Siede had been killed, Kinter knew the truth. If Siede hadn't loved her, he wouldn't have tried to save her life. Siede would be alive, and she would be dead. She hadn't realized the sunlight hitting the reflector could be seen from such a distance. It was such a silly mistake. Most of the group had dropped the matter, even Jared who had been particularly close to Siede, but not Kairma. The coldness Kinter felt in her sister's presence was only intensified by her own guilt. Kinter tried to talk to her sister by the lake, but Kairma refused her apology. The only saving grace was that Naturi had noticed, and his once-blind admiration for the future Miral began to wane.

The harsh desert gave way to grassland, as they neared a lazy stream meandering through a wide and gentle valley. To the southwest stood the highest mountains Kinter had ever seen. To the southeast another range of snowcapped peaks touched a sapphire sky. At the base of the east range, a herd of elk grazed untroubled by their passing train of horses. Although Kairma would probably like to go on well into the night, Zedic, Trep, Ris, and the horses needed rest.

Urging her horse forward, Kinter caught up to Kairma. "We've been moving since dawn, and I want to check Zedic's wounded shoulder."

Reining her horse to stop, Kairma nodded curtly, and dismounting, she asked Naturi to assign perimeter watches. The travelers were practiced at preparing camp. Within a short time the horses were watered and hobbled, and bedrolls were strewn about in a rough circle.

While Kairma went to see how Ris was holding up, Kinter knelt down beside Zedic's litter. "How are you doing?" she asked as she started to remove the bandage covering the bullet wound. "You don't seem to be sleeping as much as you were the last few days."

"I think I'll be able to ride pretty soon," he said, wincing as she pulled on the bandage. Kinter was dubious.

"Looks like you're healing pretty well," she said, "though I don't believe you'll be on horseback tomorrow." The wound was still seeping, but the angry red around the opening was turning pinker each day. Before she could ask, Kairma was standing next to her with a fresh bandage. The two young women didn't speak. Guilt over her part in the death of Siede and the near-death of their brother had stilled Kinter's tongue.

Taking the cloth from Kairma, Kinter turned back to Zedic. "I think it will still be a couple more days before you should be bouncing on the back of a horse. You might feel pretty good now, but you won't if this wound re-opens."

"You're being overly protective."

"That's funny coming from you. I don't know anyone who's more protective of others than you, unless it's Mother." The mention of her mother reminded her of her father's recent death, and she quickly changed the subject. "Kairma thinks we're too exposed to have a fire tonight. Do you think you'll be warm enough?"

"I'll be fine." He let her help him settle his arm into his sling and then laid back on the travois.

"I'll be back with something to eat in a few moments. Rest now."

"Yes, Mother." Zedic teased.

"I'm not mothering you; I'm just doing my job."

As she stood up, her words rang in her head, and exhaustion threatened to overtake her. She was a good healer—far better than her celebrated sister. Kinter made her way toward the horses where meat and grain were stored in leather saddlebags. She could hear Naturi and Kairma arguing once more about the distance they had traveled since the attack on Survin. Seeing Kinter, Kairma barked out orders. "Find Jared. The two of you can guard the north perimeter. I'll take second watch and we'll move again at sunrise. I don't feel comfortable in this open land." Kairma reached for the saddlebag Kinter was holding. "I'll take care of Zedic now. Go with Jared."

Biting her tongue, Kinter pinched her eyes closed and nodded. She thrust the food-laden saddlebag at Kairma and turned away to find Jared.

Jared had already headed north from the camp and was pacing lazily when she caught up to him. Jared made her nervous. Though not as old, he was a good friend of Naturi's father. Toric and Jared often told jokes she couldn't understand, making her feel young and unsophisticated. Even though she was a member of the Healing Family, both men were well respected in their village and that was a little intimidating. The night would be unbearably long if she couldn't make conversation with Jared. Maybe tonight would be a good time to see how he felt about Kairma's leadership.

Kinter understood how Toric would feel. He never liked the White Ones, and her sister's pale skin and white hair were unsettling at the very least. Learning that the White Ones were the protectors of Survin did little to change notions once taught by the elders. Trep and Toric were walking the southern perimeter this evening. Toric had despised Trep when he first came to Survin last spring with his fancy karrack, but something changed between the two men during their travel to Peireson Landing. It was more than respect; the men were now friends, which didn't bode well for Kinter's plans.

The air was cold, well after nightfall, and she was quite hungry when Kairma finally showed up with dinner. After Kairma walked away, Kinter sat on the hard ground and unwrapped the jerky. Kairma had made a roll with lamb's quarter and sage. The sage was a little too strong for Kinter's taste, but Jared ate as if he hadn't seen food in days. The tall man had been as angry with her as everyone else over Siede's death. The memorial service had done much to assuage the grief, but Kinter knew he didn't relish spending the evening on watch with her. Siede had been Jared's closest friend. Even before coming on this disastrous journey, the two men had spent much of their time together.

Taking a sip from her waterskin, Kinter tried to figure out how to approach the sensitive subject she'd wanted to bring up. As luck would have it, Jared started the conversation by commenting that Kairma seemed unusually stressed the last few days.

"I agree," said Kinter. "Ever since her illness, she's been a little peculiar, but lately she has grown quite unpredictable. When Naturi suggested we try to make our way back to Survin, Kairma became almost hostile."

"What do you think is going on with her?'

"I'm afraid she's becoming unstable."

"Unstable?" he said in mid-bite.

"Yes, I don't know if we can trust her judgment right now. She seems to be intent on moving further from Survin every day. I can't help thinking Siede would still be with us if we had turned back sooner." Pain flashed in Jared's eyes at the reminder of his fallen friend, and Kinter felt guilty using that loss to make her point.

After a moment, Jared said, "She must have a reason for wanting to go south."

"Has she told you something that would explain her actions?"

"No, but it's not my place to ask. She's the Vice Miral."

"But what if she isn't aware that her decisions are causing harm? Shouldn't someone step in and make the hard choices?"

"Are you suggesting she shouldn't be in her position?" Jared asked as he helped Kinter up. "That's a bold statement."

"I'm only saying, Naturi wants to go home; Zedic is hurt and should be under Isontra's supervision; and Toric has never much cared for Kairma. Maybe it's time for us to take a good look at what we're doing."

"We should discuss this as a group. Drawing conclusions without the input of the others doesn't suit me."

"Collin would do anything Kairma asked of him, and Trep isn't really one of us, you know."

Jared's cerulean eyes narrowed. "And you want to know where I stand, correct?"

"Oh. I didn't mean for you to make a decision about this now," Kinter said, brushing dust from her tatty skirt with a graceful hand. "I was only suggesting we try to find out why Kairma is so intent on running further from home each day. If she has good reason, we can follow her in good faith."

"And if she doesn't?"

"I don't know. Maybe Toric has a better plan."

"I'll talk to him, but Kinter, keep in mind the Elders backed Isontra's and Jettena's decision to pass the Crystal to Kairma."

Kinter's lips pursed and she bit back a retort. Jared was rude to remind her that the Crystal had been taken from her and given back to Kairma. She flipped her dark braid back over her shoulder, and with her head slightly raised, she said, "Of course. I didn't mean to imply anything to the contrary."

Nodding curtly, Jared turned to walk the perimeter of the camp, while Kinter glared at his receding back.

Much later, when it was Kairma's turn to walk the perimeter, she handed the Crystal to Kinter for safekeeping. Kinter took the Crystal and sat down next to Zedic, who was sleeping soundly for the first time since he'd been shot. She knew she should try to sleep as well, but she kept thinking about her conversation with Jared. The sun was just beginning to turn the eastern sky pink as she drifted off to sleep.

Something tickling her hand woke her with a start. The ugly black beetle was flung away before she could rise to a sitting position. "Ick, ick, ick! Great Stones! I hate sleeping outside. One of these days I'm going to be bitten by something poisonous." Zedic chuckled, and she turned to glare at him.

"I don't know how you can think this is funny. Here you lay, mortally wounded, in the middle of the gods know where, and you laugh about it."

"I'm not laughing about my wound," he said, sobering slightly. "I just couldn't help but notice how far you threw that little bug."

"I wouldn't be throwing bugs if we were at home!" she shuddered. "And you wouldn't be wounded if Kairma hadn't insisted on moving further from home every day." She helped Zedic to a drink of water. "I don't know why she makes the decisions she does."

"If I remember correctly, Ris and Kairma wanted to move on from Caspin; it was the rest of us who voted to stay."

"We should never have been anywhere near Caspin."

"You know, as well as I do, we can't go home until we know if it's safe."

"We'll never know if it's safe, if we're a thousand kilometers away. Maybe Kairma should abdicate her position. We have already lost too much."

Before Zedic could react to Kinter's harsh words, Ris sat down beside them and said, "Kairma is the Vice Miral. To our people, she is the Master of Masters. Being like us, she will bring harmony to all the people of Survin, not just the Dark Ones." Kinter opened her mouth to reply, but Ris held up his hand.

"The White Ones will always follow her. It is because we have lost so much that you must also follow her. If we don't, then we will lose what it is to be Survinees. Above all else, we are to protect and serve the Crystal and the Miral who holds it, and while we are away from Isontra, Kairma is the Miral."

The sound of breaking branches made everyone turn to see Naturi enter the clearing in time to hear Ris' words.

"And who is the Comad?" demanded Naturi. "Kairma has avoided one of her primary duties in not choosing a successor to Tamron."

"We've been over this before," Kairma said merely steps behind Naturi.

Kinter jumped up and faced Kairma. "You've been listening to our private conversation?"

"It isn't private if I can hear you from the creek." Kairma reached out to retrieve the Crystal left in Kinter's care while she was on guard duty. "I know you want to know why I choose to keep moving south." Kairma tied the leather thong around her neck once more. "I'm asking you to trust me." Turning to Naturi, she said, "I respect your desire to be the Comad. You have been groomed for the position since you were a boy." Kinter started to say something, but Kairma quickly held up a hand, anticipating her reply. "I know; we don't have to mate for Naturi to be the Comad, so there's no fear that my blood will infect you, but right now we have a bigger buck to hunt." Kairma crossed her arms. "Narvin surprised us in Caspin. I can't explain why I believed it was unsafe; I only had my instincts to guide me. I'm afraid to quit moving right now, and my gut is telling me to go south."

Naturi matched Kairma's stance. Lowering his voice an octave, he said, "We have been very fortunate that the autumn has been dry, but that could change in a day. What will you do then?"

"Get wet, I suppose." Kairma turned away to face her sister. "We are a long way from home, and we do need to find shelter before the snows come. We'll find a safe place for the winter, and once we've had time to rest and resupply, we can try to slip around Narvin and find out what has happened to Survin. We're all in this together."

* * *

A few days later, they found the ruins of an ancient city where the broken stone walls of abandoned buildings were all that remained. Thankfully, Naturi suggested a fire could be built behind one of the ruins, affording the first hot meal in days. Finding a tall granite wall, they made camp on the south side. Near the edge of the ruins, Kinter found a nice selection of wild greens including wild carrots. She hadn't tasted carrots since she'd left home.

Kinter had hoped this would be their winter home, but after dinner, Trep warned them the heavy snows would drift in the open valley, making it too difficult to find game. Kinter dreaded moving farther south, but Collin had made a good point that all the good construction materials and firewood were on the mountainside.

Everyone could see that Naturi wasn't happy about the decision. He stood and paced in agitation. "Why do we go farther from Survin?" He pointed to the mountains now visible to the east. "There is a huge snow-covered peak there," he said, as he placed his hands on his hips angrily, "and that will bring us closer to home. We should go to the east."

Kairma stood, brushing the loose animal hair from her shabby clothes. "No. We'll go south in the morning. This ruined city has too many places for hostiles to hide. I don't feel safe here." Naturi shook his head and stomped away from the camp.

Kinter glowered. Kairma was truly being unreasonable this time. Why should they go farther south when the mountains east of them looked just as good? She got up and followed Naturi from the camp. She wanted him to know he had her support.

Kairma called after them. "Naturi, you, Toric, Trep, and Zedic will take the first watch. Jared, Collin, Ris, and Kinter will take the second."

Naturi turned and stared at Kairma as if he was going to refuse, but after a moment he nodded in assent. "I'll take the east," and then turning to face Kinter, he said, "Go rest, Little One. I'll wake you when it's time."
(Continues...)


Excerpted from Ransom by Michele Poague. Copyright © 2013 Michele Poague. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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