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Running

By DJanee All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Adventure

Chapter 1

~*~

1

***

I am running and I am searching. The three of us have split up to look for a way out. As soon as one of us locates one, we will signal the others there. We should be okay separated from one another. We may be young, but we can defend ourselves.

 

The long, bland gray hallways truly make me feel like I am in a prison. I trudge through a homogeneous system of long and endless tunnels. Every turn puts me in a new stretch that is the same as the last. Where am I? Where are we? I have no idea, but I do know this: we are not going to stay here. We are going to succeed. We are going to escape…somehow.

Time passes by me ceaselessly and I am still running through this labyrinth which means that none of us have found a way out yet. We are mice scurrying through infinite, captivating tunnels after the cheese of a Prophecy of freedom and safety for the three of us. I have to wonder if the Envisionment was wrong, but I cast that thought down. Prophecies and their Envisionments are never wrong. There has to be a way out. If only I could burrow through these walls. Then, they would not be able to stop me. Or even if I could simply pass through objects. Then, I could simply walk through the walls. But, I do not have any of these kinds of gifts that could help me find something—anything—that shows even a remote sign of a way out. My only option is my force field which is not much help because I am not well trained in using it yet. Nevertheless, I stop running a few times and extend my force field down different corridors, feeling for a way out—anything other than this depressing, hopeless maze—but I find nothing. I have to keep moving. I do not know what lurks in these narrow hallways, but I do not want to run into undesirable company.

Infinite time continues to pass by, and I am beginning to grow weary. My muscles are becoming exhausted, sweat is building up and making the dark gray suit that I am wearing from this place stick to my body, and my breathing is loud and shallow from the endless running. What is worse, my feet are pounding against the floor, mixing with my shallow breaths in echoes that reverberate throughout the narrow corridors around me. My body is too fatigued to minimize the ruckus that I am producing. I cringe internally with every echo that bounces back to my ears, but I cannot stop. There is no time. Every moment spent recovering my breath could mean that one of my friends runs into trouble. At any moment, it may be discovered that we are missing from our cell.

I do not know which strikes fear and doubt into me more: there is the threat of being caught, though I know that the Prophecy said we would escape safe and sound; and then there is the possibility of wandering through these tormenting gray hallways for eternity. In the case of the latter, what would happen to us? Starvation…? Eventually, we would wound up with the first possibility that plagues me and we would be caught again. Then what would they do to us? Torture us…? They only need one of us. They would stir up enough pain or rage in one of us to unintentionally signal the others to their side, back into captivity. Right now, we can only tug on or inform others as to our location by signaling them, but if there is enough stamina to provoke our energy, I am sure that one of us could fully signal the others right back into captivity. No, I have to keep moving; and yes, we are going to get out of here.

I am approaching the end of a corridor that I have been traversing for an insurmountable amount of time. Its end is intercepted by another corridor that stretches to the left and right. I feel very little hope of finding anything essential down either side of the new corridor, but I keep pushing my legs forward, ignoring the burn I feel in my muscles.

As I approach the intersection, a person in a bundle of orange comes into view beyond the corner, sitting against the wall and hugging their knees. I freeze in my tracks as I see that it is a frightened child…and they are not alone. In baggy orange suits, several children sit in a line against the wall, side by side and visibly terrified. A bigger bundle of orange with disheveled jet black hair cascading over her shoulders sits at the far end of the line. She hugs her knees, as well, and her head is tucked in her arms. She is probably an adult. For some unimaginable reason, I feel a minor, insignificant peculiarity about that woman, but I dismiss it.

I am confused. The Envisionment did not depict anything about helpless people. Then again, it did not mention anything about perturbing alleyways of swarming gray, either. Either way, I cannot leave them here.

I rush to the aid of the frightened children nearest to me. As soon as they see me approaching them, they retract from me in terror, curling into one another and cringing against the wall as though they can push it back to get away from me. I realize that I scare them, and I realize why. For whatever reason, we are wearing different suits. Unlike their orange, baggy suits, I am wearing a fitting dark gray suit with subtle but visible designs of dark crests. They must think that I am a Fireburst!

 

“No, no, no,” I urge, trying to soothe them. “I am not going to hurt you.” I look deep into their eyes, trying to reassure them that they can trust me. I have never seen so much fear in a person’s eyes before. Although, if they are captive here like me, I can certainly understand their terror. These Firebursts are ruthless and cruel. Nonetheless, these children’s fear is dangerous. The emotional hysteria that they are going through can be a terminal threat to both themselves and to me. Such emotional stamina could stimulate an outburst of power from them in the form of whatever gifts they may have. I dare not speculate what kind of gifts they may possess.

I see the fear emanating from their beings. I hear their whimpers. I see their eyes that are too petrified to produce fresh tears. They are on the verge of breaking, and it is amazing that they have not already. I need to calm them down now!

“Sh, sh, sh, sh, sh. Do not cry.”
 

I am about to rest my hand on a child’s knee, when the row of orange bundles begins to change. The children start to…merge. They combine together in a blurry, vibrating sensation. Whatever powerful gift this is, these children are actually a single individual. For a person to be able to not simply clone themselves, but divide themselves into distinctive persons is astonishing to me.

Then, I start to feel that uneasy feeling again with a stronger conviction, and I notice what is bothering me. The children do not simultaneously merge together. They sequentially merge into each other, one after the other, to the larger orange bundle at the far end of the line. As the merging sequence approaches her, she slowly raises her head.

My heart leaps in my chest, and I am frozen in fear as I stare at the woman with jet black hair. Fear is never good, but there are far more pressing matters evident. I should have kept running. I should have seen the red skin of her hands and of her neck peeking out from under the orange suit—her skin that is a far deeper red than the sun-burnt color of Firebursts. I did not notice her skin before because I was too preoccupied with what I thought were innocent children. What alarms me now is her red face that is covered with the dimples and welts of a person who has been burned with fire.

I am facing a Killer, and her obvious target is me! The Firebursts have sent out an assassin to kill us. They know that we have escaped which means that Josh and Julia are in danger too and that I am already dead!

My heart hammers in my chest when she flashes a mischievous, knowing grin at me, and I know that she will enjoy killing me. But…the Prophecy. She cannot kill me—.

Poof!

Poof!—

I am called out and back into existence in a large, peculiar white room filled with rows of empty white shelves. I stand in an aisle. A tall white shelf stands to my left and a short one to my right, but there are no people here. This place is foreign and distant from where I was, but I cannot dwell on that because my body panics at the sight of the Killer standing a few feet in front of me, preparing to execute her assignment. I know what the Prophecy said, but a terrifying pledge of death stands before me, striking fear and terror into my heart. Though I am unfamiliar with Killers, I have heard the rumors of their great power back home—before it was destroyed.

I remember the fire and the Firebursts everywhere, causing utter chaos in my home. Josh, Julia, and I just barely escaped. We were the only fortunate ones.

I bring myself back to the present. The fear and anxiety in my heart stimulates a heightened sense of vigilance in me as my energy courses through my veins, peaking in powerful potential. I may be afraid, but my focus is sharpened so that my thoughts are clear and ideally rational. Every moment slows so that I do not miss a single detail in any instant. Emotional stimuli can be a powerful weapon. You just need to use it to your advantage.

I study my opponent as I ready myself for battle. I see her mutilated face, her dark eyes that blaze with flames in them, her red skin that forewarns you of her dangerously lethal power, the intense focus that shows evidently on her face. I am just another disposable task to her, but I do not let this overwhelm me. I brace myself.

With a subtle smirk on her face, she crouches and then launches herself into the air, hands outstretched with anticipation of ending my life. I ignore the distraction of her intimidating eagerness and swiftly throw my hands up as she approaches me, projecting a force field around her until I can feel her whole body engulfed by it. I hold her there, suspended in midair, only a few inches from my face.

Suddenly constrained, the aerial Killer’s menacing smile has transformed into an expression of shock. Despite the panic that still travels through my veins, I am tempted to return a sly sneer of mockery at her, but I choose not to do so. I stay focused because just a single distraction could mean that I lose control of my field.

 

Immediately, my body fatigues under the weight of the Killer’s body. Already my hands—and even my arms—begin to tremble from the strain, and I know that I cannot suspend her much longer. I still need to fight, though. I swing my hands down to the right, releasing my field to throw her into the short white shelf. The shelf topples into the next aisle as the assassin crashes into it. Before she can even recover, my hands catch her in my field again. I pull her back up into the air only to I yank her down to the floor, but my heart skips into my throat when the Killer merges right through it! I have underestimated Killers. The rumors at home of their perilous danger were all too accurate which means that I am in even more danger than I thought. Now, this Killer is lurking somewhere with practically limitless power, preparing to attack and kill me, and I have no idea where!

 

I am frantic. I wildly swing my head back and forth, desperately seeking her. I look for any sign of red or jet black hair, but I find none. Standing in one place makes me feel too vulnerable and stiff. If she suddenly jumps out from somewhere to attack me, I would probably be too paralyzed with fear to move. I need to move now so that I can defend myself when the time comes.

I slowly advance with quiet, deliberate steps. Everything is silent with the exception of my heartbeat pounding in my ears and the soft, shaky breaths that stagger from my mouth. I close my mouth to silence myself. I do not want to give away my position. For all I know, the Killer may have some gift of sensitive hearing, too. Besides, I need to be able to hear her if she is near me.

I can still hear my harsh, jagged breathing through my nose, but it is quieter. I need to ignore all fear, and focus. My eyes and ears are on high alert as I search for my pursuer.

 

I consider exerting a field to locate her like I did in the maze of endless corridors while I was searching for an escape. I could feel her body—her movements, even the exertion of her body heat—if I concentrate hard enough, but it would squander too much energy unnecessarily. My body is already drained from the first encounter with her. I need to conserve my strength, so I resort to just walking and using my eyes.

 

I reach an intersection. More rows of white shelves extend to my left and right. I proceed down the same aisle. I take every step cautiously, expecting the Killer to suddenly lunge at me from somewhere. One step will bring me to my doom. The question is, which one? I am trapped in yet another maze, endlessly wondering when I will be free and what lurks just outside of my peripheral vision.

I desperately long to escape, wishing that this captivity would finally end, when I think of my friends. Perhaps they have escaped. Maybe they are trying to signal me to join them right now. We may not be strong enough to fully signal someone to our side, but perhaps they are pulling at me and I simply have not felt it yet. Perhaps I am too far from them, or too frightened, to feel their tug without searching for it within myself. Perhaps they are free and safe; and I can be, too! Hope erupts inside of me, and I think that maybe—just maybe—I do not have to face this assassin. Maybe I can leave and wake up from this horrifically cyclical nightmare.

 

I search for a tugging force on my body. If I am too distracted by fear to detect their signal, then I need to quell my emotions and concentrate in order to find it. I need to make myself at least feel safer somehow so that I can redirect my attention to sensing any signal from Josh and Julia. My only option is my force field, though I do not know that I will be strong enough to sustain it if the Killer attacks it suddenly.

 

Feeding on the hope of escape that is welling up inside of me, I begin to surround myself in my field. As I do, black hair appears over the low white shelf on my right, and my hope comes crashing down in a heap of massacred expectations. The head rises on the other side of the shelf, rising from the floor, progressing in my direction. There is no hope. I have to face her after all. Perhaps I can contend with her, delaying the end, but I cannot imagine how that end will include my victory and the demise of this assassin. The Prophecy comes to mind, and I do not know what to believe as I watch the grotesque red face rise above the shelf, searching around for me. I choose to cling to the Prophecy because there is too much to live for. Perhaps, somehow, I can get through this.

The Killer is practically right next to me when she catches sight of me. She looks at me with aggravated eyes. I have provoked her, but I ignore her scowl and the fear that it threatens to prick inside of me. She leaps over the low shelf at me, and I jerk my hands up defensively to catch her in my field again. She is frozen with a look of rage on her face. She must have concluded that she was close enough to catch me off guard before I could defend myself. Observing the absence of the arrogant smirk that was on her face in the prison earlier, I also notice that her body is no longer covered in the same loose, orange fabric. Rather, the Killer now wears a fitting black plastic suit.

 

My thoughts are interrupted by the protest in my arms against her weight again. Swiftly, I slam her into the taller shelf on my left, knocking the wind out of her as the shelf topples under her into the neighboring aisle. As it crashes into the subsequent tall shelf, I throw my field around the Killer again and throw her into the low shelf on my right with fatigued arms. I hear her grunt as the wind is again knocked out of her lungs, and I am encouraged by my success. I do not know exactly what injuries I am inflicting on her, but it is evident that I am accomplishing some level of effective tactics. I cannot keep this up forever, though. I need to leave. My only hope is Josh and Julia, and I think that I feel something inside me from them. Hope ignites in me again. I need to get into a safer scenario, and I need time. I need to get rid of this Killer, somehow.

 

The Killer tries to get up, but I do not let her arms budge before I grab her with my field again and pull her back up into the center of the aisle. I believe that I see her smirk at me again, thinking that she will return for me once she goes through the floor, but what she does not know is that I will hopefully not be here when she returns. I thrust my hands down as forcefully as I can, and she disappears through the floor again.

I waste no time. I do not move forward. I do not look for the Killer. I do not even check my surroundings for any signs of threats. I could not fight her anymore if I tried; I have expended my strength. I simply throw my field around myself and close my eyes to focus, relaxing my body in the moment of relative safety.

I feel the pull stronger inside of me. It quickly intensifies as my body unwinds. It spreads from deep within to my extremities. It extends to my arms, my hands, my legs, my feet—to every unit and molecule of my body simultaneously. I can sense that it is Josh. Behind my closed eyelids, I can see him sitting somewhere in the dark. I can just barely see a hazy vision of his environment: a large window illuminates a long dining table, a few big books that sit in a far corner, a large chandelier hanging from the ceiling that looks exceptionally old and ornate from history, and Josh. He sits on the floor with his legs crossed, and I can feel his tranquility. He is calm; he is safe; and in a moment I will be, too. Relief floods my entire body.

 

The last bit of fear melts away from my heart. Then, I realize that I do not sense Julia. I do not feel her, and I do not see her. Where is she? I surrender to Josh’s pull, entering some element of peace, though I worry about where Julia is. I open my eyes, resolved with my travel arrangements, when I am alarmed by a red face soaring through the air at my own with a terrifying scowl of rage, burns, and scars on it, and framed by black hair and clawed hands.

Poof!

~~~~~~~~~~~

Poof!—

I stand still, recovering from the shock. She could not hurt me with my field up, but one hard collision could have depleted my strength so that I could not support my field against anything else. I am not sure that I would have even had enough strength to follow Josh’s pull to safety. I wipe the thoughts out of my mind. Whatever could have happened, did not. I am safe now—wherever I am.

It takes a while for my eyes to adjust to the dim lighting after coming from the bright, white space. I blink a few times as the mysterious dark objects surrounding me develop details and character. As everything comes into focus, I realize that this appears to be the mansion that the Prophecy revealed to us earlier today in the prison. The Envisionment in the crystal ball showed us this very location. The room that I am standing in is quite empty, but large and spacious. It gives off a sort of extravagant presence that seems ancient but endearing.

Judging by the appearance of the mansion, evidently no one has lived here for a very long time. I have never seen an establishment like this before. The burgundy ceiling towers above me, and the burgundy walls extend far from me. I spot the pile of books in the corner that I vaguely saw while I was being signaled. It lays on the floor in the corner formed by the wall and a protrusion in the wall that features a black door with elaborate carvings in it. I suppose that it opens to an oddly positioned closet. To the left is an open door that leads outside of the room. In the hallway, a brown railing connects two staircases: one leading to a higher level and one leading below.

I turn to my left to investigate my surroundings and find the tall window and long dining table that I also saw while being signaled. The window looks down from its high elevation in the wall and pours in a faint twilight glow of orange and yellow from outside that sprawls across the table. Ten tall, flamboyant chairs stand around the table: four lining the sides and one at each end. That is only on one side of the room, by the wall. The rest of the massive space is vacant with nothing more to show for itself than the creaky wooden floor, the burgundy walls, and the grandiose chandelier that hangs from the ceiling with candle sticks and trailing ornaments of pearls and crystals. I notice something in my peripheral on the floor in front of me.

“Hey,” Josh says. I look down at him and see him looking up at me. The faint glow from the window behind him softly illuminates his brown hair, but does not really reach his face except for a smudge of light that illuminates part of his forehead. It is probably a reflection from the chandelier. As he gets up, the smudge of light crosses his face and is gone. “You made it.”

His silhouette against the light clearly defines his frame. He barely exceeds my height by five inches. I still cannot see his face, but simply knowing that he is next to me—simply hearing his voice and seeing his silhouette—makes me feel at rest. He is familiar to me. We no longer have a home, and we are constantly on the move. This is as close to home as it gets for me right now, and it is strongly welcome after what I have just gone through.

“Yes,” I nod. ”I made it.” I speak these words more to myself than to him. I feel comforted and relieved to say them. It is good to know that I am safe—that my encounter with the Killer is in the past. The battle is over and, as it turns out, I survived it after all. I still do not see Julia. She must be in a different room. I open my mouth to ask about her, but Josh speaks again before I get the words out.

“Where have you been? I have been trying to signal you here for a while, now.” There is a reprimanding tone of urgency and irritation in his voice, and it is no mystery why. It should not take more than a few moments for someone to be signaled to a location after being pulled—even for us. The only problem in my case was that I was too preoccupied to even notice Josh’s attempt at getting my attention. Apparently, I could have run to safety a while ago.

Furthermore, signaling someone allows you to become one with them. To an extent, you connect with their thoughts, their feelings—their being, if they let you. However, with as frightened as I was, there is no way that Josh could have been able to access me, and that must have worried him. I was busy trying to defend myself; not open myself up. It took a concerted effort just to submit to his call. Welcoming another being into my consciousness was not an option for me. My mind flashes to the haunting red face and the outstretched claws that were coming for me. Josh has no idea what I just went through.

“I…ran into some trouble.” A beat of silence passes between us.

His voice has lost the criticism—in fact, he has managed to soften his deep voice—when he asks, “What kind of trouble?”

I may be safe, but I do not want to talk about it so soon. It is one thing to think about it, but it feels far worse to speak about it out loud. I do not want to mention anything about the Killer, but I tell myself that the encounter no longer matters because it is in the past. There is no reason to be afraid of her, anymore. Wherever she brought me, I left her there, and talking about her is not going to signal her here.

I inhale deeply, and then let it out. “A Killer,” I confess.

I cannot see Josh’s expression, but judging by his silence, I know that he is stunned by my response—or maybe he is trying to decipher if I am making an unsuitable joke. This is most certainly not the time for inappropriate jest, but apparently he finds it necessary to think that I am behaving as a little child.

He crosses his arms and puts a fist under his chin. “A Killer?” I cannot tell if he is confused or dubious.

“Yes,” I say curtly. I still deeply do not want to talk about it.

“In the prison?” I hear the evident confusion in his voice.

“No—well, yes, but then she transported us to a large, empty white space and…” I can tell that Josh’s mind is not on what I am saying, anymore. “What is it?”

“Julia,” he says urgently. “We need to get Julia.” Apparently, Julia is not here yet. I thought that she was in another room, but she is not even here! Josh drops to the floor instantaneously, and I know exactly why he is so eager to retrieve Julia. Surely, she is lost beyond all comprehension and desperate to get out of that maze, but there are worse things. If something as dangerous as an assassin attacked me in there, who is to say that Julia is not in danger, as well?

 

I drop to the floor beside Josh, and we pull on our energy to reach out to Julia. I think of her—her long, black hair; her optimistic personality; her seriousness, focus, and efficiency like Josh and I; her intelligence; her friendship—and I call out to her with my heart. I look for her with my heart until I feel the beat of a heart next to mine. The new heartbeat is slightly faster than mine, though not as fast as my heart was when I faced the Killer. Still, it is fast, and I hope that she is not in any danger. I cling to that heartbeat, letting it intensify inside my own chest and letting the rest of her being become a part of me. I begin to feel her intensity, her focus, her mind, signifying that we are connected. If I can feel her, then she can feel me. The connection strengthens instantly. I can feel her urgency as she seems to eagerly grasp for the signal. She is practically pulling us to her. She was looking for us to find her.

I begin to see through her eyes, but she is swinging her head from left to right so quickly that it blurs my vision of her surroundings. I just glimpse at a lot of green all around her and a small waterfall that flows into a little pond surrounded by decorative rocks and pebbles. I manage to deduct a few flowering trees and a lot of green grass in her surroundings, as well. From what I gather, it looks beautiful and peaceful—like maybe Josh and I should go there—but she is too frantic. I can feel her fear and her worry, but I cannot understand why. She pivots left and right, feverishly looking for something, but I have no idea what for.

I call for her in my heart, wishing and inquiring that she be here with Josh and I. As I do so, I feel Josh’s untouchable presence with her, as well. I can feel his pull beside mine. I have never signaled someone simultaneously with someone else before. I can feel all three of our conscious beings to an extent. It feels interesting, but I do not have time to examine it right now.

The greenery disappears as I feel Julia transport. The instant that she leaves her location, we lose our connection, and Josh’s and my eyes fly open in shock. All of the heartbeats, thoughts, emotions, personalities, and sights are suddenly gone. It is a sudden deduction from my consciousness that comes with a gust of lack that practically knocks the wind out of me, and my mind feels strangely empty from the sudden silence.

I look at Josh, wondering what his reaction to the three-way connection is. From looking down, he lifts his eyes to meet my gaze. His eyes stretch wide with surprise. Though, I am not certain if their size is a result of amazement at what we have just done, or if it is from the sudden break in the connection. Josh is older than Jules and I. He has had more training at home than we did, but has only trained with signaling a few times. So, it is still even a shock to him when the connection is broken, apparently.

Something moves in my peripheral vision. Josh and I turn to see Julia standing in front of us, cloaked in the orange, yellow light. Her straight, black hair falls down her back. Her eyes are narrow and alert, but soft. She is examining her surroundings just as I did when I arrived, recognizing the room from the Prophecy. She is seeing its fulfillment: we have escaped, we are alive, and we are safe.

Though we are in a safe environment, Julia is still looking around for something like she was in the greenery, and it is not for us. I suppose we have learned to be vigilant in every situation no matter how “safe” it is. We have to be. She looks like the Julia I know, but with a special orange tint that makes her look like she is glowing with radiance. Even the gray suit accentuates her magnificence. The curving designs gracefully reflect the evening light so that she is dressed in gray and gold splendor. I wonder if I looked the same way when I arrived.

“Julia,” Josh says to catch her attention.

Her eyes snap down to us. “Josh! Sophie!”

“Hi, Jules,” I say. Josh and I get up from the floor.

“Are you two okay?” She is concerned about us when, clearly, she must have been facing something detrimental.

“We are fine, Julia—.”

“What about you?” I ask her, interrupting Josh’s reply. I do not care about her question because obviously we are alright. I want to know what disturbed her so much in the forest. Furthermore, I would like to know how she got there because I doubt that that prison is surrounded by something as peaceful and beautiful as a forest.

Julia turns to me with a look of fear on her face that apprehends me. Her lips part before she has the words to speak. “…They were coming after me.” I am worried that she means a Killer was coming after her.

“Who?” Josh asks.

She looks at him and then back at me with confusion on her face as though it should be obvious. “Firebursts.”

“Firebursts?” I relax a little. I am utterly perplexed, now, but at least it is not as bad as I thought. Being captured again by the Firebursts would not be good, but it is better than any of us being killed at first sight by a sent assassin. Then again, the Prophecy…

“They knew that we escaped?” Josh asks.

“Are you sure?” I cut in.

She looks back and forth between us. “Of course I am sure,” she tells me as though slightly insulted that I questioned her judgment, but then she bashfully casts her eyes down as though she is uncertain of her conclusion. She looks back up at Josh. “…And I am not certain if they know that we have escaped. I only know that they were chasing me. In the maze, I found a door to a stairway. I ran up some stairs and found an exit in the stairwell. I came out to a plain on the side of a hill that merged into a forest.” I am surprised to hear that there actually was a forest just outside of the prison.

“It was not this room from the Prophecy,” she acknowledges with a sweep of her arm through the air to encompass the room that we are standing in, “but I thought that maybe it could be a place where we could gather and then continue our search from there.” As if to justify to herself her own thinking patterns, she softly adds, “Better you were out of the prison in a safe environment than stuck in a seemingly boundless prison, looking for a way out.” She resumes speaking normally to Josh and I. ”I was going to do a small perimeter check to ensure that it was safe before signaling you two, but almost as soon as I surfaced, I noticed a group of red skin in black outfits at the peak of the hill off in the distance. They spotted me and started racing towards me. There was fire. I could see it off in the distance, and I could smell it, too. It could not be more than a quarter mile away from me.”

At the sound of “fire,” my mind flashes to the flaming eyes that I saw earlier. Perhaps I was not simply seeing a manifestation of rage. Maybe it was a sign of a gift to manipulate fire. Sometimes I think that I catch a glimpse of lightning in Josh’s eyes right before he strikes with his gift, but I shove the thought aside. Julia says that she is certain that it was Firebursts that were after her. Still, she did seem uncertain, and she said that she saw red skin—in black outfits! I remember the black suit worn by my pursuer. We have only witnessed red skin twice in our lives, with the exception of my last encounter. We saw it when we were taken captive and then when our home was destroyed, and both encounters only included the Firebursts. If the skin of Julia’s pursuers were different from that sun-burnt color that we have seen in the past, she may not have even noticed the different shade under the pressure of a threat coming her way. The natural thing would be to run, and it would only be a logical conclusion that her pursuers were Firebursts. I am just not entirely sure that it was the Firebursts that were her pursuers.

“I ran down the hill into the forest,” she continues. ”I tried to stay calm and keep a level head—to stay focused and manage my fear. I needed to have full control of myself and develop a plan, though nothing ever came to me. I thought that I heard something nearby when I reached that clearing you two found me in. There was rustling in the trees somewhere, so I abruptly stopped short.”

I recall her fast heartbeat when we connected. She is good at staying calm, though. My heart would have been racing much faster in that situation. Julia’s eyes wander to the floor as she relives the encounter in the forest.

“I could not see what it was, but I knew that if I moved, or did not at least try to protect myself, it would be the end of me. I knew what the Prophecy said, but it could be wrong. There could be a missing detail. For all we knew, the Prophecy could have eluded a detail of something terrible happening before we became free. The Firebursts…They could capture me, and then who knows what they would do to me to bring you two back…” She trails off, still staring at nothingness in silent memory of her own terror. “That was when you found me,” she whispers.

Her own fears are a mirror image of the very concerns that I had. All three of us must have been worried about being captured for the sake of the other two. Though we were aware of the Prophecy, there were numerous possibilities that served as more tangible distractions than the image of an Envisionment in a crystal ball. As terrible as it is, I have to admit that I am glad that I was not the only one that had trouble believing the Prophecy.

“It is hard to believe something when opposing forces are standing right in front of you,” I comment.

Julia looks up at me, comforted by my relation to her position. I do not know if Josh had any problems believing in the Prophecy today; he seems much too calm. But, I know that, having gone through the struggle that we have both experienced, Julia and I have a unique understanding on the matter.

My mind wanders back to something else, though. I wonder if Julia ever saw her pursuers’ faces…and just how red they were. “Did you ever see their faces, though?” I ask.

Jules’ face contorts with confusion at my question, and then she shakes her head.

“No, I did not see them up close, but they were red.” She says it firmly as though to put an end to my questioning. What she does not know is that I am not questioning whether or not the faces were red. She opens her mouth and hesitates before saying, “Maybe a little more red than usual. I do not know. I did not get a very good look at them.”

She never saw their faces, and they might have been redder than the average Fireburst. They wore black outfits, and there was fire. They were not Firebursts, after all. They were worse! They were worse than what I dealt with because I only dealt with one! Julia fled from a multitude of them!

I am in shock. I can only think of how fortunate we are that Julia ran as fast as she did and that we retrieved her when we did. If the integrity of the Prophecy was only slightly compromised, Julia would not be held hostage right now; she would be dead! I must be wearing my thoughts on my face because Julia looks at me curiously and Josh rests a hand on my shoulder.

“Are you okay?” he asks.

“Those were not Firebursts that were after you, Julia.”

Josh removes his hand from my shoulder, noticeably in shock as he begins to understand my conclusion.

“What do you mean, Sophie? Who else could it be? I was right outside of the prison.”

I shake my head, dismissively. “You said that you saw fire and red skin in black suits.” She stares at me questioningly, and Josh is secluded in his own thoughts. “I know that they were not Firebursts because…I just faced someone who fit that same exact description you just gave…and it was not a Fireburst.” Her eyes change from a look of skepticism to one of curiosity. “I faced a Killer, Jules.” Her curiosity vanishes into horror. “Julia, those were Killers coming after you.”

“…Wh-wha—? How would—? Why would—?”

“I do not know why they came after us. I just know that they did.”

“I could have died,” she whispers in acknowledgement to herself.

“No, the Prophecy said that we would make it,” Josh corrects from his seclusion.

Julia looks at him as though he is crazy, and I cannot say that I disagree with her. He did not go through the scenarios that we did, so he does not know just how impractical the Prophecy may seem at times. I wonder if he would still quote what the Prophecy said if a Killer or even a Fireburst stood in his way.

“I suppose it turns out that some of those rumors about Killers are true,” he ponders.

I nod in agreement.

“Could it have been the Firebursts that sent them?” Julia asks, considering the situation intensely with her arms crossed and her chin on her fist.

I am about to say that I am not sure, when Josh shakes his head. “I doubt it. The Firebursts would have come after us themselves if they wanted to retrieve us. They are not advocates of sending others to do their work for them. I could be wrong—maybe they have a dungeon full of disposable Killers that they can dispel at their leisure—but I doubt it. Besides, Killers are only meant to kill. They do not do anything else. If the Firebursts just want to kill us, they would not have taken us as prisoners in the first place.”

“That means that we have more people after us,” Jules says solemnly.

Josh takes in a deep breath before responding. “Yes.”

A wave of weariness and fear whips through my heart, and I catch it too late. I feel a small surge of my field leave me as I draw the rest back in. The books in the corner by the protruding closet abruptly shift. Josh’s and Julia’s heads whip pointedly at the books.

“Sorry,” I confess, bashfully. I notice the tension leave their bodies. This is what happens when we slip in our self-control.

“What do they want with us?” Julia wonders aloud.

“Well,” Josh says, “the Firebursts wanted to eliminate our people because there were rumors of a resistance rising, but I do not know about the Killers. We probably will not be able to find out their motive until we discover who sent them. For now, we focus on being safe; and right now, we are not. We are still near the prison—no more than two miles away. I just came out through a ventilation shaft and ran for a couple of miles before I saw the mansion and recognized it from the Prophecy. I came in, did a quick investigation for any dangers, and signaled you in when I found none.”

My mind flashes back to the crystal ball that came between us in the prison. Josh sat on his bed, and Julia and I stood around the ball. The cloudy haze in the ball cleared to zoom in on the image of a large, grotesque old mansion; a rare but appealing sight to see in our time. The mansion grew in size until the view passed through the walls and showed the three of us talking together, safe and sound, in a room—in this dark room. It barely had any light, but it had the same vacant space, burgundy walls, high ceiling, dining table, books, and big old chandelier that this room has. The Envisionment lasted only for a few moments as the words, “Freedom is yours today!” were recited. The image was absorbed by the cloudy fog that it appeared in, and the ball disappeared with a soft flash. That was it, and we knew that today was our day of escape.

It was not too difficult, either. The guard had it coming. He never should have come with our rations alone—even if he was a Fireburst. We had no fear once we received Prophecy. We were bold and daring, and we were confident. We thought that everything would be so simple and that we would be untouchable. We thought that nothing could stop us and that nothing could go wrong. Oh, how naïve we were. Then again, we never were harmed. Our beliefs were the only things that were bruised—for Jules and I, anyway—and that was by our own doing.

“We are still in danger,” Josh continues. ”And if Killers were after you two during your escape attempts, then we are definitely not safe because they cannot possibly be too far behind us now. We need to keep moving, so we will leave this evening while the very last rays of light are diminishing.” We all simultaneously look at the light sprawling in through the window. The sun is almost down, but not yet.

“We will go in a little while,” he concludes.

Jules and I agree.

I have always admired his logic and efficiency—even if he is a little too serious at times in my opinion. Julia and I can be at a loss given a particular scenario; and Josh will recommend something that makes perfect sense, or propose a logical direction to focus our minds in until we receive further information. He holds us together in the midst of complications, and I do not know how we could have made it this far without him. He even helps us with our training. He may barely be a year older than us, but in that year lapse is a plethora of training tactics, adeptness, and wisdom.

We disperse. Josh sits back down on the floor with his hands resting on his knees, palms up and cradling active balls of electricity. Jules goes off to the darker, empty side of the room, and I turn toward the books. Our leisure time would best be spent preparing for any battles that may come our way. We escaped just as the Prophecy said, but our home is gone and we are all alone with two pursuing parties coming after us. Who knows what we may encounter?

I stare at the books in the corner. I observe the size of the stack and flex my energy, which I can feel coursing through my veins with heat, adrenaline, and possibilities. I shuffle my fingers and fiddle with my field inside of me, feeling its energy like liquid mangled with the blood in my veins before I exert it. The pile of books is not very large. It is only a stack of five books, and a couple are massive.

I relax with my arms idle at my sides, ready to train. I take a deep breath in and let it out, focusing on moving my energy slowly through my body like a muscle to my hands, exercising control. I feel the energy surge throughout my body. The heat and adrenaline seem to spread everywhere in my body in an instant so that I cannot pinpoint its location until I notice it reach my shoulders. Then, it travels down my arms to my hands.

As the energy reaches my palms, I extend my right hand to the books in front of me and push my force field out. I bring the other hand up in support to steady and control my field. I feel it seeping out of my hands as I move it forward, controlling it like a muscle and feeling the environment around it like it is an extension of my skin. It flows like water slowly pouring out of me. I feel it pull at my hands as it stretches across the distance, reaching for the books. I close my eyes and focus on the constant flow of energy to my hands and the smooth flow of my field through them.

I feel the books as my field touches them. I feel them through my field and I feel them through my hands as though my own palms were touching them. I can feel the edges of every cover, the roughness of every cover face, and the ridges of every page in between. I feel everything as my field enwraps the books, and I can visualize the distinct sizes and textures of the books behind my eyelids based on what I feel better than I could see them in the dim lighting of the room. My hands, my mind, and my field are all one system.

 

I withdraw my field from the books and open my eyes to see the books unmoved, still in their original positions in the pile. I seep my field between the top two books, feeling every bump in the covers as I traverse through them. I notice my field reach free space right before it bumps into the wall on the other side of the books. The side of my mouth twitches satisfactorily. I slightly raise my hands to elevate the top book. I weigh it in my field, bouncing it up and down. It weighs no more than the average book; about two lbs. I rotate my right hand as though to turn a doorknob to flip the book upside down in my field.

I turn my hand back and return the book to the pile. I extend the field over the entire pile and lift all the books up into the air. I feel their weight in my hands and my mind registers it through my field. I jerk them apart, separating the books from each other. All five books fly away from each other instantaneously. They hover in the air in an uneven row as five dark silhouettes. I can barely even see their white pages. Only then do I realize just how much darker it has gotten.

“It is time to go,” a soft voice says from behind me. I arrange the books back into a pile, but I do not return them to the floor. I flip my right hand palm up to carry the weight of the books in my field, releasing their hold from my left hand as I drop it and turn around to look at the owner of the voice. There is no light streaming in through the tall window, anymore. There is only a soft blue haze outside. It is too dark for me to see anything more than Josh’s silhouette standing behind me, and I cannot even see Julia, anymore. The sun has gone down, and only a shadow of the day’s light is left in the sky. It is time to go.

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