I flinched as the door opened but I couldn’t pull my eyes from the charred body in front of me. Hot tears streaked down my face and hit the ground with an audible pop. I couldn’t get my mind off of what had just happened. How close I had come to being raped. I didn’t even have the mental capacity to wonder why I wasn’t burning like the rest of the room. I just stared at the man that had but a moment ago been on top of me.
My ears were ringing. I was shaking violently. I could see nothing but the blackened, burning body in front of me. The acrid smoke filled my mouth, nose, and entire being. A hand grabbed my arm and yanked me up. I stared blankly at Dirg, not really seeing him. He pulled me somewhere. I didn’t really care.
He wiped at my tears and held me. He held me close, but I just collapsed. I killed someone. I killed a man as he tried to rape me. I killed him. The ringing took over my mind as I melted into oblivion.
My sense slowly resurfaced, no matter how hard I fought to stay in the uncaring blackness. First came taste. My mouth had the usual waking up disgusting taste. Then came touch. Strong arms were holding me. I did what any other rational person on the verge of insanity would do. I screamed and yanked out of his grip. I opened my eyes, saw the floor and ran. I didn’t even know where I was; yet, I ran. Half asleep and mostly dead, the only reasonable thing to do was run.
“Sunshine!” I recognized the voice, but I kept running. I dodged past someone who cussed at me and tried to grab me. I found a door and was trying madly to turn the pull handle when a strong hand grabbed my shoulder and spun me around.
Dirg’s green eyes held mine as he put his hands on either side of my face.
He spoke soothingly. “Sunshine, it’s okay. You’re fine. You’re safe. Calm down. Just calm down.” I looked down and tried to control my panic. “No, look at me. C’mon Sunshine. Look at me. There you go. You are safe and with me. Don’t think about it. Think about me. You’re safe.”
I nodded and he moved his thumbs gently on my cheeks. A tear escaped and he yanked his hand away before it could touch him.
“What- what’s wrong?” I silently cursed myself for stuttering.
He smiled wanly, making eye contact again. “Nothing. Nothing is wrong. You need to relax. Chill.”
I looked around, but he squeezed me slightly, so I kept his gaze. He let go of my face but then wrapped his arms around me and held me close. I breathed in his scent of olive oil and metal and let it relax me. He held me until I stopped shaking, gently stroking my hair and humming my song.
I gripped his shirt and let him calm me down. When I was sure I was better, I pushed him away and mumbled thanks. He held my hand and pulled me to the person who I had dodged a few minutes ago. It was the king. I looked at the floor and started shaking again. Dirg would not have calmed me down just to kill me, right?
“I’m sorry,” I whimpered.
“For what exactly?” The king said. “What did you do?”
“I- I killed a- a darky.”
Dirg let go of my hand and put his on my shoulder. “Tell us what happened, Sunshine.”
I thought about it and started shaking harder. “I don’t know. I- I think I panicked. I wanted him to die and there was light and Dirg wasn’t there and he was burning and I was afraid and I killed him.”
I was feeling lightheaded and my chest heaved with every sob-heavy breath. I closed my eyes and tried to calm down. Dirg pet my head.
“Why did you want him to die?” Dirg asked quietly.
I couldn’t say it. I opened my mouth but choked on the words. I felt my knees go weak, and I fell to the ground. Dirg picked me up and smiled at me. He so rarely smiled. He smiled a ton the night before, around Mira and when we danced. He usually scowled or smirked.
“It’s okay, Sunshine. You are safe. Did he try to rape you?”
I nodded, glad that I didn’t have to say it. He pulled me close and held me up. I just wanted it all to go away.
The king mused, “So, he tried to rape her and she freaked and her gift showed itself explosively. Remind me not to get on a dark light’s bad side.”
I jerked away and stared at the king.
“I told him,” Dirg reassured me, “and we agreed that you won’t die.”
“By agree, he means that he twisted my arm around my back and made me sign an agreement that you are not to be harmed.”
“It wasn’t all that bad,” Dirg mumbled.
I stepped back and hugged myself, freeing myself from my master’s grasp.
“Thank you,” I mumbled.
The king snorted. “No problem, Sugarlips.”
I flinched and whimpered, and Dirg glared at his father.
“We need to go, your majesty,” Dirg said. “I don’t think it’s safe for everyone else while she has yet to learn control of her power.”
The king nodded. “Yes, go. I expect a report sometime soon.”
Dirg nodded. “Come, Sunshine.”
I followed him with my head down, still hugging myself. Once we were out of the king’s sight, he opened his wing invitingly. I walked quicker and slipped into his wing; he closed me into my little sanctuary. Keeping pace with him was difficult, so I just focused on that for a while before he stopped. I leaned my forehead on his back, not caring what was happening outside of my black shrine.
His voice rumbled and felt soothing. I couldn’t help but hear what he said.
“What makes you think there is any way I want to see you before I leave?”
“I didn’t put him up to it, Dirg. He just told me about it and asked me to stall you,” came Mira’s voice.
“So you were a willing accomplice.”
“Well, yeah. You needed to be taught a lesson.”
Dirg growled, and I jumped away, accidentally running into his wing.
“A lesson? You do realize that my pet is on the verge of breaking because she killed your brother?”
I froze and the shaking increased.
“That was her brother?” I asked.
His wing closed tighter around me, holding me close.
“Yes, Sunshine. It wasn’t your fault. It was his.”
“Where is Sunshine?” Mira asked.
“Under my wing. Apologize to her right now.”
“Or what?” she snapped.
Dirg just growled. I knew he wasn’t mad at me, but it scared me nonetheless. I shook even harder, gripping the back of his shirt.
“No,” Mira’s voice went low and she spoke vehemently, “she should be quaking at my feet, begging for forgiveness. My mother hasn’t stopped crying since the explosion.”
Her mother. I cringed. Her mother was Diana. Her mother was my mother. I killed my half brother. I whimpered and felt my knees go weak. Dirg moved around me so he could put his arm around my shoulders and hold me up.
“She doesn’t have to apologize. It was an accident, and his fault to boot.”
“Oh, I see. You are siding with your toy over your betrothed.”
Dirg’s face darkened, and he let me go. I fell to the ground on my butt and watched him stalk over to her. She looked scared; I could empathize. I looked down at my hands in my lap and ignored the ensuing conversation. Dirg sounded annoyed and angry, and it scared me. I had seen him angry with other people before, but I was not in the right mindset. I thought all the anger in the world was pointed at me because I killed a darky.
Dirg came back to me and pulled me up. “Stay on your feet Sunshine.”
I nodded and he enveloped me in his wing again. The first time he had put me in there, I had been claustrophobic. Now, it was where I felt most comfortable. For one, I was close to Dirg. Dirg surrounded me. For another, I was alone. I felt safe, and the soft brushing of his feathers was relaxing. I could hear everything going on around and murmur things to my master without being noticed.
A little light wrapped around my hand. I was confused. He was giving me light? Me, the dark light that killed his betrothed’s brother? Maybe he had forgotten that it didn’t hurt me and that I liked it. Whatever the case, it helped me. I held it close and thanked Dirg. He nodded, but I couldn’t see the expression on his face.
Soon, we were outside the castle. He told me to get on, and I did without complaining.
“Crossing the barrier shouldn’t affect you on the way out.” He stretched a little.
“Where are we going?” I asked, thinking it would be my last resting place.
“Somewhere far, far away from anyone else where we can work on that gift of yours.”
He looked over his shoulder and sighed. “I’m not mad at you, Sunshine.”
I blinked in surprise. “Why not?”
“Because you did as I would have wished. If I was there and he tried that, I would have killed him much more slowly with excruciating amounts of pain. You protected my pet.”
“That guy was a loser anyway.”
“You don’t understand. He was my- my...”
He shrugged me off and turned to look me in the eye. “Your what?”
I looked down and whispered, “My half-brother.”
His gaze cut into me like steel, but I wasn’t even looking at him.
His question wasn’t what I expected. “Did Diana tell you who your father is?”
I shook my head.
He grunted. “Well, I have a pretty good guess, and if I am right, we need to get as far away from here as possible as quickly as possible. Get on.”
As soon as I was on again he took off. We shed the land of eternal darkness like an undesired garment, and I felt Dirg flinch as we came out into the bright light of noon. I squinted and then smiled for a minute before I remembered that I was supposed to be scared. I still let it relax me.
I went over how Dirg had treated me, just to be sure that I wasn’t imagining things. He held me close like something precious. He got me out of the fire. He smiled at me. He defended me against his father and his betrothed. He was almost treating me like he cared about me.
Usually, when he flew, he kept his hands either at his side or behind his neck or out and next to his wings. This time he had them behind his neck. He had explained to me once that arms are essentially useless when flying unless he had some type of weapon in his hands.
I studied his hands for a minute and noticed the little red lines of burned skin around his fingers and down the back of his knuckles.
“Did I do that to your hands?” I asked.
He moved them to under his wings. “No, you didn’t. I did. Enjoy the Sun, Sunshine.”
I nodded and soaked it in while it was there. After a few hours he started to slow, and a debate raged within me. Tell him that he needed to stop or wait until he wore himself out?
I sighed and leaned in near his head. “Dirg, you are getting tired.”
He grunted. “Thank you, Sunshine.”
He still flew for a bit before he started to spiral down. I jumped off as he came in for a landing and stood quickly, getting to my job of taking care of my master. We were on a little island in a lake that looked man-made. I gathered some firewood, assuming he was hungry, and built up the little flames. Dirg watched me from a dark shadow under a rock, his eyes only leaving me when I was not around him.
I looked back at him when I had the fire going and bit my lip. Obviously, he wasn’t initiating conversation. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to have to talk about last night. It was still all too fresh. Yet, I had to talk.
“I don’t think you ever taught me how to hunt or gather food.”
His head fell onto his arm. “I’ll work on that with you later. Stay near the fire, get warm. Wake me up in an hour.”
I frowned but nodded. Fire never seemed to make me warmer. Light did, but fire basically did nothing. I stared at it and sat near it, as Dirg said. Soon, I could hear his nose whistle as it did when he fell into an exhausted slumber. There was nothing to do. I had nothing to do all day, and I was running out of things to distract my brain with. Of all the things to do, I decided to play with fire.
I started out just sliding my hand closer. It didn’t really get hotter as I got closer. Then I poked it and looked at my finger. Nothing was different, so I outright put my hand in the fire. It licked around me, so I took it out. It did not look any different. It still felt the same as the other. From there I was starting to figure out what my gift was. I was pretty sure it had to do with fire.
I cupped my hands and glared at them, imagining fire dancing on my palms. Nothing. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t fire. Dirg said that was how he made light; he just imagined it and it existed.
I flinched as I remembered the panic from the night before. From there, my mind began to warp around it, and a tear escaped before I calmed myself again. The tear fell and hit the ground with a small pop. I looked down at where it had fallen and saw a little ice. Where did the ice come from?
I blinked rapidly, trying to figure it out. Then, I had an epiphany. The king said my power exploded! I cupped my hands and imagined a tiny explosion in them. Instead, a tiny little marble appeared. It looked like a clear little drop of water, but when I picked it up, it felt like a warm rock.
I squeezed it and the thing exploded with a pop louder than my tear had made, exactly the same size that I had imagined in my hands. It was an explosion of darkness, and everything it touched that wasn’t me froze over. I imagined a bigger explosion and had a similar marble that was the actual size of a marble. It was clear and warm. I was about to explode it, but then I remembered my sleeping master.
I didn’t want to wake him up. I glared at it and imagined it gone. It melted and soaked into my hands. I felt around my hand, but there was no trace of it anywhere. Nothing felt weird at all. I smiled, finally having found my gift. Dirg had been saying I had one, but I hadn’t fully believed him until I was staring at the charred body of-
I stopped that train of thought and got up to replenish the fire. I played with my tiny explosive marbles, making sure none were big enough to wake Dirg. Turned out, if I didn’t want them to explode, they didn’t explode. If I did, then they did. I didn’t have to touch them or even look at them. Also, if I threw them, I could feel where they were. Finally, Dirg’s nap hour was up, so I threw a tiny marble and had it explode above his head. I made sure it didn’t hurt him, but he jerked up into it.
I gasped and scrambled to him. “I’m so sorry! Are you okay?”
He shooed me away and crawled out from under the rock.
“What did you do?”
“I exploded a- is your head not cold?”
He ran a hand through his hair. “No. It isn’t. Why?”
“I figured out my gift. Kind of. I’m still confused.”
He narrowed his eyes at me but the glare that was supposed to be intimidating broke when he yawned.
“I’m glad you’re more together,” he said. “I thought you were going to break for a while there.”
I made a marble and played with it in my hand as I shrugged. Dirg noticed and held out his hand. “Let me see.”
I handed it to him, and he looked at it and made a light around it to see it better. He grunted and squeezed it. I didn’t want to hurt him, so I didn’t let it explode. He looked at me, confused.
“How do you make it explode?”
“I think about it.”
“Then make it explode.”
I knew not to argue. “It might hurt you.”
He just looked at me. I knew that look. It was the “do as I say or else” look. I sighed and let it explode on his hand. He groaned but I did not see the explosion.
“What happened?” I asked.
He grinned fully, making those dimples I never really saw sink into his cheeks.
“That feels good.”
“It feels good? Everything I’ve hit with those things gets covered in ice.” I gestured around and his green gaze swept over all the ice.
He shrugged and rolled his shoulders whilst flexing his wings. “Don’t wake me with one of those again.”
I nodded and looked at the ground. “Yes sir.”
“Do you want a burger?”
I looked around in confusion. “How are we going to get a burger?”
He crossed his arms. “Just answer the question.”
He nodded. “Then get on. I know a pretty good burger joint just a few minutes away.”
I got on his back, and soon he landed behind a hill. He frowned and took his shirt off. I felt heat come to my cheeks and looked away. He snorted in response to my sheepishness. He always did that. Did he not understand how awkward him being shirtless was? Dirg was h-o-t, and I was n-o-t and him being shirtless was awkward. Males are complicated. The next time I looked, his wings were gone and he was putting a normal shirt on.
My jaw dropped. “Wh-where did your wings go?”
He smirked, his usual expression around me. “We Skyrunners have to have a way to blend in with the humans every now and then.”
I went behind him and touched his back where the wing joint had been. “But where did they go?”
He laughed. “Back into my back. C’mon, I’m hungry.”
I followed him over the hill in confusion and suddenly we were in a town. It was tiny, small town America. He walked to a drive-in burger joint and stood in a surprisingly long line. I stood behind him, really confused. Dirg didn’t have wings. We were among humans. It occurred to me that I could scream and say I was kidnapped and get help. Instead, I grabbed his hand and leaned on his arm.
“How are you feeling?” he asked.
“Better. Less insane, anyway.”
He snorted. “Tell me about it. Even before you fainted it seemed like you weren’t there. You don’t have to talk about it until you are ready.”
I nodded. “Thank you. You know I could get you arrested right now?”
He looked at me with an eyebrow raised. “You won’t.”
I tilted my head. “And why not? You did kidnap me.”
He smirked and put his hand on my face. “Because you need me.”
I swallowed audibly, and he placed a small kiss on my forehead. The line moved forward, so he stepped us forward. He gestured to the menu. “Take your pick, Sunshine.”
I looked it over in wonder. I immediately found the cheapest thing and suggested that. He frowned at me.
“No, what do you want? Need I remind you that I have access to near unlimited funds?”
I looked back over it. “How about the loaded fries with bacon?”
He nodded. “Okay. I’ll order. Go get us a picnic table.”
I did as told and found an unoccupied picnic table. He came a few minutes later with nothing in his hands. He gestured to the marble sized explosive in my hand.
“How big is that?”
“About the size of your head.”
“Don’t explode any more unless I say otherwise. I have a place in mind where you can blow things up to your heart’s content where we are going to train you.”
I let it melt into my hand. “Yes sir. Does it hurt to hide your wings?”
He nodded. “It hurts to summon them and hide them, which is why it is rare for us to switch on a regular basis.”
“You can summon your own wings?”
I stretched to look at my back. “Does that mean I can?”
He chuckled. “No. Only once someone else has summoned them for you can you choose to have them or not.”
“Okay, so next time we run across a lightsy, can you have them help you summon my wings?”
His humor disappeared in an instant. “No.”
I looked down. “Okay.”
The intercom that had been calling names said, “Mr. Amazing, your order is ready.”
He smirked at me and stood. I raised an eyebrow at him when he came back.
“Mr. Amazing?” I asked.
He shrugged. “No one can spell my name right. They put a u in it or other such stupidity. Besides, what American human do you know with a name like Dirg?”
I remembered the king’s pet’s name and my smile widened. “I’m sorry your dad is a jerk.”
He rolled his eyes and put my fries and a Styrofoam cup in front of me. He started eating his burger, and I leaned on my hands, glaring at him. He looked up and seemed confused. Then his face cleared. He swallowed his food.
“Right. I forgot. Points for me it because it took two months to do so.”
He ate one of my fries and slurped the drink. He gestured, so I ate. Those fries were heavenly, and when I finally managed to let myself take a drink, my eyes widened in disbelief. I stopped and stared at it.
“Is this a strawberry shake?!” I asked in amazement.
He swallowed his bite. Even eating at a drive in burger joint, Crown Prince Dirg exuded manners. Not so much chivalry, but most definitely manners. He did not have elbows on the table and he wiped at his mouth before he spoke.
“Yes. They are freaking delicious.”
I nodded exuberantly and took a long pull at it, closing my eyes in bliss. It was fall, nearing winter, and I was drinking an ice cream smoothie from heaven. I wasn’t even cold. I smiled as I ate.
“Better than my cooking?” Dirg asked with a mischievous grin.
“You’ve never done fries or smoothies, so I have no idea.”
He shook his head and tut-tutted. “You’re avoiding an actual answer.”
“No I’m not. You’re asking me to compare the apple of your cooking to the doughnut of theirs.”
He laughed. “So mine is healthier, theirs is tastier.”
“Both are tasty and so opposite. Apples are crunchy, doughnuts are soft. Apples are juicy, doughnuts make me thirsty. Apples are crisp, doughnuts are savory. Apples-”
“Alright, I get it.”
We continued eating, and silence enveloped us. I ate in bliss. I loved it. I finished first, per normal and stared at him as I sipped my milkshake. This was not unusual for us. I liked watching his jaw move up and down. His crooked nose did nothing to dispel the physical attraction I had for him. If only he weren’t such an arrogant jerk, and my master to boot…
He finished and looked at me. “What?”
“What did you say to Mira?”
His face darkened. “You should have been listening.”
I looked down at the table. “Yes sir.”
He tilted my chin up so I would look at him, his gaze still hard. “Are you sure you are better?”
“Yes sir. The sunlight helped tremendously. It doesn’t hurt you, but you always flinch when we run into it.”
He nodded. “I’m still a darky. Even though I am a lightheart, I thrive in darkness.” He tilted my face around, using my chin. “You used to not like the darkness. How did you change that?”
I shrugged. “I just accepted it, and then it didn’t feel as oppressive. I still prefer light, but I can learn to like dark. Who do you think my father is?”
He looked into my eyes and seemed to be deciding something. Those green eyes made me think of that weird green color that takes over the earth right before a violent storm occurs. It’s beautiful, but oh-so-dangerous.
“I think your father is a pureline. That would make you a pureline both ways, which means that your power is formidable. How big of an explosive can you make?”
“I haven’t made any bigger than a marble and I haven’t even exploded one of those yet.”
He nodded and stood, taking the trash from the both of us. “Go to our stuff. I will meet you there in a minute.”
He walked away, and I began walking to the little bush where we had left his bag, sword, and my stuff. Panic gripped me when I realized that he wasn’t near me. Last time we were separated- Adrenaline coursed through me as I sprinted to the bush where he left our things, hoping he wouldn’t take too long.