The Reluctant Prince

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Chapter 42

“Trust me,” Jet said, coming around to stand in front of Daniel. Reg and Ricky had already gone back to the Northern Quadrant’s base so they wouldn’t be missed, so only Patrick, Daniel and Jet remained in the small apartment in the center of Ballind.

“Easy for you to say,” Daniel replied nervously as Jet placed both his hands on Daniel’s chest. “Are you sure this is safe?”

Jet snorted. “Mattie can do it. You experienced it before; you just don’t remember.”

“When?” Daniel demanded.

Jet had some patience. He didn’t want to scare Daniel by sending his essence through him, but the truth was, he and Aylard had both done it when they transported Daniel and the other Family through the earth to the underground city. Daniel had no recollection of the experience beyond waking up underground. “In Parrion. How do you think you got there?”

“That was you? I thought it was some trick of Aylard’s.”

Jet rolled his eyes. He didn’t have that much patience. He plunged his suddenly insubstantial hands through Daniel’s chest, registering the gasp of surprise before he went completely incorporeal and sent his essence through Daniel’s earthly body. He felt Daniel’s shiver of pleasure at the merging. That’s how it always went, once they experienced it. Satisfied, Jet flowed out of Daniel’s body and assumed his own human form again.

“Wow! Just—wow!” Daniel muttered, staring at Jet.

“That was amazing!” Pat said, leaning forward from where he sat, cross-legged, on the sofa.

Jet and Daniel both blinked at him, having forgotten for a moment that he was there. “What did it look like?” Jet asked, curious.

“You sort of faded out, but I could see wisps of something going into Daniel and then coming out the other side. Did it hurt?” Pat asked Daniel, who shook his head, still dazed by the experience. “Can I try it?” he asked Jet eagerly.

“No, I don’t think so.” Non-family—humans—had no elemental essence inside for Jet to merge with. When he had gone in to heal Reg that time, he had felt the muscles, skin and bones, and could manipulate them so that Reg did not bleed to death, but that was all. Reg hadn’t felt him, and he hadn’t felt the spark that he recognized as Family inside of Reg, either. That meant that Family and humans really were two different species, for all that they looked alike.

Pat looked disappointed, but he got over it quickly. “Oh well. It would have been cool,” he said with a grin. “Now what? Can Daniel do what you do?”

Daniel’s head shot up, and he looked at Jet curiously. “Can I?” he asked.

“Not yet, but hopefully you can learn,” Jet said. “Like I said, Mattie can do it already, and so can Doll. The other kids are practicing. You’ve got to have an open mind about it.” Jet didn’t tell Daniel that both Mattie and Doll were very limited as yet. Doll could only let go of her mortal shape for brief periods of time and then only when Jet was with her. Mattie was somewhat better at it, but then again, he was younger, stronger in his elemental powers, and had much fewer preconceptions about how those powers were supposed to work. Macek wanted to learn, too, but he was older and it would take him some time to let go of what he had believed all his life. Daniel, on the other hand, was still figuring out who he wanted to be. A few weeks ago, it had been Jet’s rival and Merrell’s protégé. Before that, it had been the Queen’s favorite. Jet wasn’t sure Daniel’s initial overtures at friendship had ever been the truth or if it was just Daniel’s way of getting close to him so he could gauge the competition, so to speak. However, Daniel seemed to have had a change of heart after he had met Reg. He’d even defied Merrell and sided with Jet in the battle above Parrion. Now he and a bunch of non-family wanted Jet to lead them? Jet supposed he had no choice, really. If he wanted Daniel to trust him, then he needed to trust Daniel this time, too.

“Okay, so teach me,” Daniel said.

Jet glanced at Patrick on the couch. “Fine. Hold out your hands. Good. Now let them go to flame.”

“Why flame?” Daniel questioned, doing it.

“Why not? Flame is the most visible. It’s easier to see,” Jet said, exasperated. None of the other kids had questioned him about it. It didn’t really matter if it was flame or not. “Or just do whatever’s most comfortable for you.”

Daniel manifested two balls of flame above his palms, making Patrick hiss in admiration.

“No, not like that,” Jet said, turning his own hands into flame up to the elbows. “Don’t hold flame, become flame.” He touched his own flame essence to Daniel’s hand to show him what he meant.

“Oh, I get it,” Daniel said softly. He let the flames he had manifested sink back into his hands and called up the spark of flame that was a part of him, coating both his hands in pure flame.

“More,” Jet demanded. Daniel’s skin showed through, unburning, but still there. “You have to let go of your physical hands and become the fire itself.”

Glancing doubtfully at him, Daniel concentrated on his hands. “I did it!” he said in wonder as his hands turned to flame. He reached out to touch Jet and his hands went right through him. Daniel jerked back and lost it, his hands becoming ordinary human hands again. He grimaced.

“At least you didn’t burn yourself,” Jet laughed. “That was a good start.” Actually, Jet was amazed at how quickly Daniel picked it up. It had taken Mattie weeks to get this far.

“Let me try it again.”

Daniel spent the rest of the afternoon practicing. Jet and Pat left him at it, and went down to the small restaurant to have dinner. Jet made sure he covered his distinctive hair and rubbed actual dirt on his face and hands to disguise the unnatural whiteness of his Family skin. He couldn’t do anything about his height, but then again, there were plenty of non-family who were tall, also.

“How did you get involved with the Sons of Men again?” Jet asked Patrick. The restaurant wasn’t very crowded, but at least this time the patrons didn’t rush off the minute Jet walked in. His disguise must be working. “I thought you wanted to keep your mother and sister out of all that.”

“There’s no keeping anybody out of it,” Pat said, digging into his lunch. He didn’t look at Jet. “The enforcers questioned them about me. It didn’t matter if I stayed away. They kept going back. My mother couldn’t go to work, and when she did, her boss asked her to go home so she wouldn’t bring trouble down on them, either. So I left for good. Sooner or later the enforcers will leave them alone when they see I’m really not around. I figured, if they were after me for being in the Sons of Men, I might as well really be in it. I contacted Ricard, and here I am.”

“That’s not right,” Jet muttered. He needed to have a talk with Merrell when he went back. He shoveled food into his mouth.

“What the Sons of Men are doing isn’t right either,” Pat said, speaking softly so the people at the next table wouldn’t hear. “You don’t go killing everybody because you don’t like what some of them are doing.”

“Not a lot of people think like that,” Jet said. Merrell didn’t. Aylard didn’t.

“You do,” Pat replied confidently. “That’s why we want you.”

That again. Jet sighed. If only it were that easy. “We’d better get back,” he said.

Daniel was a mass of flame when they unlocked the door to the apartment and stepped through. He quickly changed to shadow, and then to water before taking back his human shape. He grinned broadly. “I can do it now!”

Jet was impressed. “Do it again. Take any elemental form you like and hold it.”

Daniel chose shadow, not surprising. Jet took on shadow form also, and merged, element to element, with Daniel. It was much more intense than the merging when one of them still retained human form. Jet knew Daniel down to his essence, and opened himself up for his brother to see him as he truly was, also. Releasing, he took back his form as Daniel took his own back, grinning at the stunned expression on Daniel’s face.

“That’s what it’s all about?” Daniel asked in a hushed whisper, as if speaking aloud would somehow cheapen the experience.

Jet nodded. “Yeah. That’s what we’re meant to be.”

Patrick watched them both wide-eyed.

“Is that what Aylard is trying to do?” Daniel asked, still exhilarated. “That was incredible!”

“No. Remember, very few of the Family can do what you just did—what we did. If Aylard is successful in changing them to their pure elemental state, there would be no coming back. They’d be gone. As elementals, they merge with each other like we do, but there would be no conscious awareness to it. They would just be. Any Family that was released to their elemental state without knowing how to do what you just did—take back your physical body—would be dead, Daniel. Gone to us.”

“But Aylard can do this too, can’t he?” Daniel asked. “Why would he want to give this up?”

“Until he found me, he couldn’t—there was nobody else who could let go of their physical bodies and still retain their awareness of who they were. Aylard was shocked when he found I could do it too. He says it shouldn’t be possible.” Jet gave him a wry smile. “He can’t kill me. I can’t kill him either. I think he figures that once he goes through with his plan, I’ll come around because then there will be no one else except him who can merge like that.”

“But I can, now,” Daniel said. “And you said Mattie and Doll can both do it, too. Is it different with them?” His eyes took on a mischievous gleam. “Is it different with Doll because, you know . . .?”

Laughing, Jet fake-punched Daniel’s arm. “You’ll have to wait and see. I have no intention of letting Aylard kill Family. He’s wrong, and he won’t admit it. We’ll just have to change his mind, and the Sons of Men, too.” Jet looked at Patrick. “Can you get in touch with Reg or Ricky?”

Pat nodded. “I have a device.” He went into the tiny kitchen and delved into a drawer, pulling out a small box and fiddling with something on it. Daniel, ever curious about gadgets, went over to get a closer look at this new one. Pat tapped out something quickly and closed it with a snap.

“What is it?” Daniel asked, holding out his hand. Patrick placed the device in Daniel’s hand so he could study it more closely. “How does it work?”

“It’s a relayer,” Pat replied. “It’s how the Sons of Men keep in touch with each other over long distances.

“But how does it work?”

Pat shrugged, unconcerned. “I don’t know.”

Jet wondered if that’s how they kept in touch with Ben in the East. No wonder they were always a step ahead. “Does it send your message to all the Sons of Men?” he asked sharply.

Again Patrick shrugged. “Not sure. I know I just put in a special phrase when I want to let Ricky know I want to meet him. He’ll send back another phrase telling me when and where.”

In the meantime, Jet had some things he wanted Daniel to practice. He took Daniel outside as wind, and in elemental form, they both roved around Ballind, twining in and out of each other’s essence. Jet wanted to test Daniel’s endurance, which seemed to be unbounded so far. That would come in handy for what Jet had in mind. He also had Daniel release and reassume human shape repeatedly on the outskirts of Ballind where nobody could see them. Daniel was good. Jet wanted to throw some attacks at Daniel’s human shape to see how he took them. Could Daniel still be killed? He didn’t want to freak him out, though.

“Daniel, remember when you hit me with lightning during our test?” Jet asked, during a break when they were both in human form.

Daniel nodded warily. “Yeah.”

“You thought you missed. You didn’t. I let the lightning pass through me. You think you can do it if I throw lightning at you? You have to let go of your physical self or you might get hurt. Are you up to it?”

This could either be a very bad thing, or it could be the difference between life and death for Daniel and ultimately for the Family as a whole. Before Daniel had time to think things through, Jet stabbed him with a sword of shadow, opening up a thin slice on Daniel’s upper arm, which bled through his shirt and jacket. Daniel stared at him in shock.

“Stop the bleeding. You are more than just flesh and blood, Daniel. You are Elemental. You don’t have to bleed if you don’t want to,” Jet said urgently as Daniel continued to stare stupidly at him. Daniel shook himself, transformed to shadow, and retransformed into his physical self. He ripped the jacket off and shrugged out of his shirt. The wound was gone! “That hurt!” he said to Jet reproachfully.

Chuckling, Jet said, “Then don’t let it happen again.” He struck out at Daniel with a bolt of lightning this time, but Daniel let himself go incorporeal for the brief second of impact, reforming his physical body right after. “That’s good,” Jet praised him. “But Daniel, if you do get hit and your physical body is damaged, just remember you can let it go and re-form it again undamaged. Let’s practice some more.”

They spent until it was too dark to see on the outskirts of Ballind, practicing killing each other with no success. Jet pronounced Daniel trained at the end of it. “You’ll do,” he said approvingly.

Patrick had heard back from Ricky. “We’re to meet him at the restaurant in an hour. Ricky drives a truck for the Sons of Men. He picks up deliveries in Ballind, and that’s why he’s able to come and go easily.”

“That works out perfectly,” Jet said, refusing to elaborate. He waited until they met Ricky at the restaurant before revealing his plan. He asked Ricky to drive him and Daniel back to the Northern Quadrant’s headquarters.

“Are you serious?” Pat said. “After all the trouble it took to get Daniel out of there, you want to go back in?”

“Aylard said we’d come back to him on our own, and he’s right. If we want to go forward, I think we have no other choice.”

Jet had his own reasons for wanting Ricky to drive them in rather than going on his own. He didn’t want Aylard to realize Daniel was now virtually indestructible. He hoped to make that point very clear in front of all the Sons of Men so that there would be no mistake. He turned to Daniel and grinned. This should be fun.

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