I would never forget the image of Writhia when I left that night. Snow was cascading down, leaving a blanket of glittery white over the steep mountains surrounding the castle. If it weren’t for the blazing fires in every direction, glass breaking, and screams filling the air, it would have been a peaceful sight.
I’d used almost every last inch of control I had, harnessing my Gift, to escape my prison. And judging by the picture of chaos behind me, I had succeeded.
As I raced to the transport I planned to steal, I kept repeating the same mantra to myself: Stay calm, you’re almost there. My daughter, Noelani, was crying, clinging to my chest, upset by the sounds of destruction echoing in the distance. I started singing quietly, in the hopes that it would soothe her - and myself.
“I had a toy Ferris wheel;
round and round it went.
I can’t tell you the many a times
one asked could it be lent.
When the king’s daughter came to visit,
all for the sake of my toy Ferris wheel,
she asked if we could strike a deal.”
I finally reached the transport, and it came unlocked with the press of a button. Hurriedly, trying to buckle Noelani in, I continued singing softly.
“She said: May I have your toy Ferris wheel?
Round and round it goes.
If you say yes; which would be best,
I’ll rid you of your foes!”
I sensed the guard just as he entered the garage. As I turned to face him, he drew his dagger.
“I am to bring you back alive, but I will use force if I have to.”
I smiled sweetly at him and, even though I felt my strength ebbing, I hedged on, tugging deep within; forcing him to turn the weapon on himself. “You dare threaten me with my child present?” I asked, my voice barely a whisper. The guard’s eyes met mine and, though he didn’t show it, I knew he was afraid.
“I’m sorry, but no one will get in the way of her safety.”
When a whoosh of breath left his lips, and the body collapsed to the ground, I felt no remorse. I turned back to my crying child and finished the song I started:
“I said: So lovely a princess,
never did I see;
you can have the toy Ferris wheel,
as long as you marry me!”
Adrenaline running high, I climbed into the transport and took off as fast as I dared. We were so close. So close to safety. If I could just make it to Mais - to the willow tree.
I made my way out of the city in good time, the late hour meant the streets were empty. Used as I was to the winding roads, I had to be careful of the black patches of ice that always formed this time of year. The snow had stopped falling, but a light dusting coated the road making it hard to see.
Tearing my eyes from the road, I checked on Noelani to find her sleeping peacefully beside me in her baby seat.
As we got further and further from the city the tension began to ease from my shoulders, bit by bit. But my instincts were still roaring, my eyes constantly scanning the dark forests that edged the narrow road. I didn’t know what I was looking for, but the fog seeping from the trees gave off an ominous vibe.
A flash of movement caught my eye and I turned my head but there was nothing to see. As I continued driving, my eyes wanted to play tricks on me, conjuring images of figures running next to the transport, shrouded in mist. But every time I glanced their way, it was only the shadows of branches moving in the wind.
I turned my head back toward the road, and slammed on the brakes, the transport fishtailing wildly.
There he was.
A figure from my nightmares.
He had appeared as if from nowhere, standing in the center of the road.
The transport came to a screeching stop a good distance away. Around us, snow drifted around slowly, upset by the transport’s swerving. With my heart pounding and barely a moment to catch my breath, I reached for the reverse switch. But I was too late, and my hand froze in mid-air.
Next to me, Noelani awoke, screaming.
My baby! My mind screamed. Run! Shouted my instincts.
My arms ached to reach out for her, but I couldn’t move. My brain screamed and thrashed, trying desperately to take back control of my body from the dark shadow that was now slowly approaching the transport. Against my will, my hands made their way to my seat belt, unbuckling it. With stiff jerks, my arms shot forward to grab my screaming daughter, but my embrace offered her no comfort; it wasn’t her mother holding her, it was him.
My body climbed out the transport, taking lurching steps forward until I reached him.
“Please- “ is the only word that escaped before he stole my ability to speak. Noelani’s cries faded as well.
As I suspected, the face of my nightmares stepped into view. Slender and tall, with an aura of dark power. In passing, one would think he was nothing but a pretentious high Lord, not knowing he could destroy someone’s mind with a single thought.
“If you were planning to make a fool out of me, I think you have succeeded,” he said bitterly, betrayal shining in his pale blue eyes. “Why?” he choked out, “Why would you do this? Why run?”
Though I couldn’t move, I began to feel a deep weariness take root. At this point, I was sure he hadn’t gotten past the wall I kept up in my mind. The place that had locked him out so severely. The safety net in which my secrets and true feelings had been hidden for those past months spent with him.
He appeared more upset than I thought he’d be. Good. Maybe I could use this. I pleaded with my eyes, I’m sorry. Please, let me explain. I sent the thought through my mind. With barely a blink, my voice was returned... for now.
“This kingdom is a threat to Noelani. She cannot stay here.” Somehow I spoke in a strong, clear voice. I could not let him catch on. “I have to get her out of here, to somewhere safe.”
“You do not think me capable of protecting you and her?” he asked quietly, trying to control his temper.
“I know that you’re perfectly capable of it,” I stated calmly. This placated him, so I went on, “There’s someone on the inside. I heard some guards talking the other day, and they plan to have Noelani killed!” I said, a note of hysteria tinging my voice. “Someone wants to harm an innocent child for who her father-” I stopped, having to take a deep breath to fight back the emotions coming forth. “Because of her status. I need to find a safe house for her.”
There was hope in his eyes. Hope is dangerous. Hope can be used.
“Did you think I was leaving you?”
He gave a curt nod, an almost childlike petulance in his gaze.
“I’d never leave you. I’ll come back to you, once my daughter is taken care of. Please, let me come to you.” I gave him what I hoped was a gentle smile.
He looked suspicious but released me from his control. I strode forward, clutching Noelani to my chest, and put my hand on his cheek. He leaned into my touch and covered my hand with his own.
“Why didn’t you speak to me about this? I would’ve helped.”
I thought fast. “I didn’t know who to trust. I was scared.” It wasn’t hard to call tears to my eyes.
“Now that you’ve told me the truth, there’s no need for you to leave. I’ll hire extra security. You’re safest with me.”
He was right, I would have been safest with him… had he not been the one I was running from.
Then, I felt his body go rigid.
A figure appeared at the edge of my vision, and I knew that if I could see him, then the man in front of me could sense his thoughts. This was the moment I’d saved my strength for and, pulling the last ounce of my Gift forward, I froze his body and mind and yanked my hand away from his face. Fumbling, I pulled out a dagger from the inside of my jacket and lunged forward, stabbing him deep in the thigh. His eyes widened with pain, as I twisted the knife. Now he was the one who couldn’t speak.
“How does it feel being completely helpless?” I asked him, burning with rage. His own anger burned back.
Tightening my grip on the knife, I yanked it out of his thigh before stabbing him deep in his gut.
I won’t lie, it felt good to hurt him; to cut him almost as deeply as he had cut me.
As he glared up at me, eyes glazed with pain, his anger mounted, and I saw his hand twitch. His survival instincts were rising up just as I was running out of juice. A moment longer and he would be able to regain control of his body.
I tightened my grip on my daughter, who was still crying, and ran for the figure in the distance. Before I got very far, the figure appeared in front of me, and I was forced to skid to a stop.
Kind, worried blue eyes shone down at me. “You are so brave,” Mais told me, “Silvius would be so proud.” The tears came faster now, and I gave him a weak smile.
“Thank you, Mais, thank you so much for this,” I told him and hoped he could see the gratitude in my eyes. “Come with me,” I urged him. “He knows who you are now, and he won’t forgive this. You’ll be safe with me.” He gave me a sad smile, and I knew the answer before he said it.
“I can’t survive in that world. Not without my Gift. It’s a part of who I am. I’d rather die whole than live half a man. And if I do die, at least I’ll die knowing she is safe.” His gaze shifted to Noelani, his goddaughter, before he leaned in to kiss her on the forehead. Frightened as she was, she still managed to give him a small smile.
I opened my mouth to argue, to convince him to come with us, but before I could utter a word, he laid a hand on my shoulder and then all I saw was stars.