Through Will Alone
I crook my finger, and the ocean wave swells beneath me. Pointing my finger upward towards the heaven, I bring my finger down to the sandy dirt of the cliff beneath me. The wave below crashes obediently against the rock. The air around me swirls, picking up leaves and debris and moving them to a new home. A storm is coming. I can feel it all around me. I lift my finger up again, this time making smaller motions, waves that dance before me. I hear a noise behind me. Something unnatural, not of the wind and the approaching storm. My finger flies up farther than I intended as I spin around, and the wave accompanies me, spraying sea foam in its wake.
“Oh. It’s you,” I say, and drop my hand. The wave thunders against the side of the cliff.
The boy in front of me grins. “Were you expecting someone else?”
“Never.” I turned around, my hands hanging loosely at my side. “The real question is why you’re here.”
In one movement, he’s next to me. “Oh, come on, Lila. When your fiancée sneaks out, upset, without telling anyone, the fiancé is obligated to go after her. That’s a simple rule of life.”
I sigh. “You enjoy that word quite a lot, don’t you? Although I’ll point out that I’m not upset. How did you find me?”
Regi gives me a sidelong glance. “Why do you even need to ask? Your anxiety is radiating off you in waves. It’s like a signal flare, no matter where you go. And I am pretty attuned to your emotions. Even easier. Haven’t we been over this before?”
I look out over the ocean, the choppy white waves reflecting the last remnants of daylight, the sun having already slipped over the horizon. “I told you, I’m not upset. It’s the ocean that is. Something happened that she didn’t like.”
“I can only see and control human emotions, or I’d help you calm her down,” Regi says with a shrug.
“I don’t need your help. I’ve literally been in tune with the ocean since the day I was born.”
Regi’s tone still isn’t upset. “Your emotions or not, you’re obviously still pretty tense.”
I cross my arms. “Don’t you dare try anything funny to fix that.” There was no mistaking when Regi took over and manipulated your emotions, making you feel whatever he commanded. Of course, he could only make you feel emotions that you’d felt before, but that didn’t help much if you’d lived any sort of emotional life. He’d used his powers on me only three times, and only once without my consent.
“I wouldn’t dream of it.” He slips an arm around my shoulder. “I probably could have found you even without using my powers. If you’re not at home, at the guild hall, or on a mission, you’re here. Aren’t you ever worried about falling off this cliff?”
My voice softens. “No. I know the ocean would catch me. When there’s water around, I have nothing to fear. What about you? Shouldn’t you be worried?”
Regi smiles. “Not so long as you’re around to catch me.”
I do my best to keep my smile off my face. “That supposed to be romantic or something?”
“And what if it was?”
I raise my eyebrows and say nothing. The anger and worry of the ocean is still pulsing through me, making it difficult to concentrate on anything else.
I turn to look at Regi, and his arm tightens around my shoulder. “Yeah?”
“You said I’m not allowed to use my powers to change your mood, right?”
My fist clenches. “Don’t even think about it.”
“But you didn’t say anything about this.” Regi pulls me into him and presses his lips against mine. For all of two seconds, I’m able to act indifferent. Then one of my arms is around his back, and the other is in his hair, pressing us even closer. Thoughts of the ocean can never fully leave my mind, but now they are pushed to the back dusty corners. A warmth floods through me as Regi runs his fingertips lightly up and down my spine. The truth is that he doesn’t need to use his powers to make me feel incredible, and that is part of the reason why I have forbidden him from using his magic on me. Of course, that’s not the entire reason, because the truth could never be that simple.
We pull apart, and Regi smiles. “You’re flushed. I think my plan worked.”
I want to respond with something snappy, but I can’t. I lean into him and his lips find mine again. He smells like pine trees and faintly of smoke, the tattletale sign he’d been sitting by the fire for too long before he came and looked for me. “It may have,” I admit as our lips break apart.
“So do I have permission to use this method any time I want?” I can feel his warm breath against my neck and it sends a tingle through me.
There is a pause as his lips hover centimeters away from my neck before I whisper, “Yes.”
He kisses my neck once and then pulls away. “Good to know.”
“You are such a tease.”
Regi entwines his fingers around mine. “I can think of somewhere better than sitting here and staring forlornly out at the ocean. What do you say?”
“What? Really?” I say with mock surprise. “I can’t imagine what that would be.”
Regi laughs and pulls me along, his hand warm and soft against mine. I throw one last glance at the ocean below us before I let myself follow him.
A splash of water hits my nose and I look up. Regi follows my gaze. “Oh, it’s starting to rain,” he says with a slight frown.
I raise the hand that’s not holding his. The rain above us diverts, the power coming from my hand acting as a perfect umbrella. “Leave it to me,” I say with a wink.
“Did you just wink at me? That might be the first time in the seventeen years I’ve known you.”
“Don’t complain or I’ll let you get soaked.” I can’t help but giggle.
A smile plays across Regi’s face. “We are literally in a bubble separated from the rest of the world.”
I flash a smile back at him. “We are.” Being here with Regi was almost enough to distract me from my thoughts. Almost. Even as the water around my fingertips that I held above our heads changed direction, I got the feeling that something was off about this storm. I had no evidence to support this statement. As rain went, it wasn’t particularly fierce, and even the wind from before had slowed down.
“You’re still upset.” Regi’s voice is soft. Not accusatory, just stating a fact. Hiding things from him is useless, something I usually don’t mind.
Our footsteps slow, though we’re still walking. “Yeah. Sorry. It’s not because of you, it’s just...I don’t know. Something about this atmosphere is bothering me. Just mildly unsettling.”
“Lila…” Regi’s face is troubled, his lips turned slightly downwards and his eyes distant. He hates situations he can’t fix. He hates them even more when they involve me, and he hates them most of all when they involve emotions, which he firmly believes should never be able to best him.
“Thank you for coming after me,” I say, “It really beats me standing out there by myself.” I know he’ll know I mean it. And I do. Fretting will get me nowhere.
“You’re welcome.” Regi smiles down at me.
“Now can we please get home? I’m getting tired from keeping the rain off us, and, you know, I might have another reason too…”
The grin that follows threatens to break Regi’s face.
We reach the bridge that connects the cliff to the town. It is flooding with water, swaying slightly back and forth.
“Can you use your power to get rid of that water? I swear, your power makes it so hard to be gentlemanly, since I can’t...Lila? Lila, what’s wrong?” I know Regi can sense the anxiety and worry that has overtaken me, amplified tenfold from how I felt when he first found me.
“Damn. So that’s why.” I lift my chin and stare at the figure standing at the other end of the bridge. The water parts around her, even though her hands are dangling by her side.
Regi follows my gaze. “Who’s that?”
My fists clench. “Sapphire. Famed water mage. Supposedly one of the best in the world.”
“Is she a member of—”
I shake my head. “She’s a mercenary. Known for her disregard for anyone who gets in her way and her hatred of other water mages. Rumor is she wants them all dead. It’s not like there’s ever been a lot of water mages to start out with, and there’s talk about the suspicious circumstances of the last few who died. If that gives you any indication of what she’s like.”
“So we should just pretend to be civilians to get by?” I give Regi a look, and he sighs. “I can feel your ‘I love you but you’re an idiot’ emotion, too.”
I shrug. “Can’t help it. She knows who I am. The only questions are what she wants, why she’s here, and why she started this storm.”
“She started this storm?”
I nod. “Sorry. You’re going to get wet.” I drop my hand from above our heads and instead point it towards the bridge. The water parts in an Exodus-style move. “Let’s go.”
We fall into a single file line, with me in the front. The second Regi steps off the bridge I let the water come crashing back down onto it. No elegance or grace to that movement, but I can’t use any more energy to sustain it.
“Lila Maas.” Sapphire finally speaks. She knows my name. I can’t say I’m surprised. She keeps tabs on all water mages in this country.
“Sapphire. What brings you here?” I take a step forward and push Regi to the side. “Leave this to me,” I whisper. He folds his arms and sets his jaw, but he moves.
Sapphire smiles, a tight lipped expression that has no hope of ever making it to her eyes. “I was in the area for business, and I thought I sensed a presence around here. Seems I was correct, doesn’t it?” She tilts her head to the side, a few short strands of red hair falling across her face.
I give her a short nod. “It does.” I don’t want to provoke her, although that may be a lost cause. My existence offends her, forget what words I say.
“You felt it, didn’t you? The trembling of the air. The power behind the rain.” She's still smiling, and she opens one palm upwards to the rain. The rain disappears the moment before it touches her skin.
“Yes, I did.” Now we’ve both acknowledged the unspoken truth: Sapphire stirred up this storm. I clench my fists. I want to stay calm for Regi’s sake, so he doesn't get any bright ideas about interfering.
Her smile is going to drive me insane. “I heard you’ve got Secondary Magic. Sword Magic. That’s an interesting combination, don’t you think? My Wind Magic feels so natural with my Primary Magic. I can’t imagine yours does. Would you like to prove me wrong?” She takes a step towards me. As she does, she flicks her eyes towards Regi, and her smile inches up a little higher.
I hate her questions that aren't true questions, which leave no answers but the one she wants. “It would be my pleasure.” It wouldn’t matter if I said no, so I might as well go along with it. There is no telling what her exact intentions are, whether she just wants to play with me or whether she intends to cause me serious and lasting harm.
Water rushes in all around me, and I know she’s going for some kind of lock. I push my left hand towards the ground and create a mini geyser that pushes me up and out of the way. I’m far from safe up here. Already the rain is pounding down harder than anywhere else, enough to bruise my right arm that I’m using to block it out of my face. The wind picks up, slanting the rain and rendering my arm useless. I close my eyes.
A jet of water strikes me from behind, sending me flying off my geyser and straight into the mud. I grimace as the sticky substance pours into my mouth. Sapphire stands in front of me, untouched and still smiling. I wish she would taunt me, anything to make that smile disappear, even momentarily.
Gritting my teeth, I spit out some mud and push myself onto my knees. I will my sword into my right hand. It materializes.
Sapphire claps her hands. “That’s what I’ve been waiting for! I think it’s time to get serious, what about you?”
This time I don’t deign her with a response. I put my free hand out in front of me and use a jet of water to propel me towards Sapphire. Raising my right hand, I swing at Sapphire. She holds up one finger, and a shield of water appears. As I slice through it, I see she’s already moved several feet back.
Sapphire stands, pristine, untouched by her own rain and by my attacks. I pant, trying to catch my breath. My face twitches as I push my soaked hair out of my eyes with my mud stained hands. Not to be pessimistic, but this will never work. I have to try something different.
I back off, putting some distance between us. The rain is still beating down on me, but I have just enough energy to divert the worst of it before it can hit me. I point my sword towards her and order water to swirl around it, faster and faster. Then I charge towards her, faking once towards the left before I push the water towards her chest, with the sword as a secondary attack. Still smiling, Sapphire twists to the side. The water only grazes her shoulder. Her swift water shield isn’t strong enough to block my sword, though, and I cut her hand. It doesn’t look like a deep wound, but it’s something.
Sapphire hisses and hits me with a blast of water. I barely manage to keep my balance, sliding backwards. Sapphire takes a step forward, then crumples to the ground. I frown, trying to sense what’s around me. Is she trying to fake me out? Or maybe trying to summon something from the ground? She’s on her hands on knees, and looks up at me. The smile is finally completely wiped off her face. A look of pain, agony, and suffering has overtaken it. Her eyebrows are drawn in and she’s biting her lip hard enough to draw blood.
I can’t hesitate any longer, but what should I do? What’s my aim? Sapphire’s head falls, and she lets out a primal scream, one that makes me want to turn tail and run. But I can’t. I can’t, because nothing is more dangerous than a wounded animal. My fingers drum on the hilt of my sword, and then I let it dematerialize. The rain around me has let up, though it’s still markedly harder than anywhere else. I close my eyes and channel the last bits of my energy into one direct blast of water that hits directly in the heads. The latest scream dies on her lips as her entire body meets the ground.
I drop to my knees as the rain begins to subside. There’s no one to sustain it now. My chest feels tight as I race to get enough breath in my body. Regi appears at my side. “Are you okay?” he asks, his voice full of concern.
“She’s…” I close my eyes, then open them again, forcing myself to stay conscious. “She’s going to kill me next time. Isn’t she?” I grab my head. “Oh, hell. What have I done? The minute she wakes up, I’m a walking target.”
Regi leans down and slides an arm around me, helping me stand. “She was already trying to kill you. If she hadn’t been, I almost would have felt bad for her. Apparently, she’s experienced some true agony in her time.” His mouth is set in a hard line again.
“Agony…” Sapphire’s face and screams flash through my mind. “I told you…I told you not to interfere.”
“And I’m not going to let you stand there and get killed. She was excited, Lila. Excited to kill you.” Regi frowns. His face is drained of color. “No one should feel that kind of joy if they’re about to kill. I made her feel the right emotions. It’s not my fault she couldn’t handle them.”
My thoughts are disjointed and I can barely put a sentence together. I don’t have the energy or the mental capacity to be angry or argue. “I guess that’s fair.” I collapse into him, my legs shaking. “Thank you.”
Regi holds me tightly. “Of course. Are you planning on just leaving her there?”
“Yeah.” It takes too much effort to nod. “I can’t kill her, even if she meant to kill me. No matter what revenge she wants to enact. It’s not my place to render that judgment on her. I don’t think I could live with myself after that. Besides, everyone deserves a chance at redemption. Even if she chooses to get up and try harder to kill me next time…” I sigh.
Regi hugs me tighter. “That’s so you, but I’m certainly not going to tell you to do otherwise. We’ll figure this out, okay? Sapphire didn’t just choose you as an enemy. She chose me, too. And you know the rest of our guild will support you. If she wants to go after you, she’ll have a tough time of it. I know you can handle it, but I want to make it as hard on her as possible. So will everyone else. Sound like a plan?”
I nod into his chest. Another wave of exhaustion rushes through me. I cast a final glance at Sapphire’s limp body. My eyelids flutter, and I keep them open just a little bit longer. “Can we go home now so I can sleep for a few days or possibly forever?”
Regi laughs, and when I hear that I can’t keep a small smile off my face. “Let’s go,” he says.
“It’ll all be okay,” I whisper, a promise to myself, to Regi, to anyone who cares to listen. Maybe if I make it my mantra I’ll believe it. Maybe if I believe it, I’ll be able to make it true for one more day, just like I did today.
“It’s going to be okay,” Regi whispers back, squeezing my hand.
I believe it.