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Chapter 9

“Gah!” Mia shouted as she slammed down on the Power flowing out of her, cutting off the searing heat that finally proved too much for her. The tiny flame she’d conjured in the bed of her palm went out at once. Mia’s breath rasped out of her and she swayed, blinking away the pain.

“Better.” Orden stood a few feet away, arms crossed, chin lowered, regarding her from beneath thick brows.

Mia huffed and angled her eyes at him, “Yeah right.” She didn’t know why he bothered lying. It didn’t make her feel any better. It didn’t help her improve. Shaking her head, Mia took a fortifying breath and prepared to try again. She’d already closed her eyes, picturing the particles she needed to stir up, when Orden stopped her. “That is enough for now.”

Mia cracked her eyes open, an imaginary hand stalled just inches from the coiling, burning heat of her Power. She frowned at Orden.

“Unless you are not hungry?” At the mention of food, Mia’s mouth watered. Orden nodded, beard twitching, “I thought so.”

Mia tore a generous chunk from the loaf of bread she and Orden shared and leaned back, a hand braced in the soft grass. She popped the bread into her mouth, savouring the taste of the grain and the texture of milled oats as she stared out over the clearing. Mia sighed. Beautiful. It was so beautiful here.

Branches overflowed with a bounty of leaves, a thousand shades of green under the high summer sun. Tiny buds of yellow and white swayed among the grass, already long despite having been shorn a few days ago. Mia sucked in a mouthful of clean, pure air and tasted the earth, the leaves and the grass. She listened to the sounds of the forest, the chirping of thrushes, the far off calls of cranes and the rustlings of small creatures in the underbrush.

How often had she sat like this with Jake, on the manicured lawns of Central Park? How many times had she admired the beauty of it all, only for it to be ruined by the distant screech of tires or the wailing of sirens? There was nothing like that here, nothing to disturb the blissful quiet of nature. Mia wasn’t sure she missed it.

Guilt crept along her bones, chilling despite the heat of the day. She should miss it. Did miss it. Jake and her parents, her home… Mia missed it all with a desperate aching in her chest. A hole that would never be filled while she remained in Nethea. Isn’t this what you wanted though? A silky voice wove into her thoughts, reminding Mia of a time when she’d been impatient to leave home. Hadn’t she yearned for it? To leave New York—to be somewhere green and open? The irony wasn’t lost on her.

If things had gone the way they were supposed to, Mia would be in Zambia right now. An ocean separating her and her loved ones. Not a world. She would have been returning home soon—in another week or so? Mia couldn’t be sure. And then she would have been preparing for a more permanent move to Canada. So many plans. She’d had so many plans…

Desperate for a distraction, Mia cocked her head in Orden’s direction. He too was looking at the clearing, contentment written in the lines of his face as he chewed on a piece of cheese. Old. He looked old—his skin papery and sallow—older than Mia had ever seen him look. Maybe she just hadn’t noticed before. Orden’s eyes flicked her way, the pale grey nearly translucent in the sunlight. Mia blinked and looked away.

“What is it Mia?”

“Hmm?”

Orden made a sound deep in his chest and said, “I may not be able to read your thoughts, but I can hear you thinking. It is very distracting.”

Mia narrowed her eyes at him, a cover as she tried to think of something to say other than, ‘You look old.’ Thoughts of her life in New York were still fresh in her head as Mia sighed. “It’s nothing like I expected it to be,” She said, giving voice to something that had been bothering her for some time now.

“A little clarity please.”

“Magic.” Mia said, “Power.”

Orden stiffened, a block of cheese freezing midway to his mouth. He lowered his hand, his eyes alive with interest, “You say that as though you have something to compare it to.”

Mia sat up and rested her elbows upon her knees. She laced her fingers together in the empty space and frowned. “I do… Sort of.” She felt Orden’s eyes on her, waiting. How was she going to explain this to him? “Where I’m from, there is Power.” Mia glanced at Orden, “It’s not real—not like this. It’s—make believe. In stories and stuff.”

“Are you sure of that?”

Mia held his gaze.

Orden’s beard twitched. “Tell me about this—‘magic.’ How does it work in your world?”

“Well, it doesn’t,” Mia said, “like I said, it’s all made up stories and fantasy.”

“Then tell me what the stories say.”

Mia sucked on the inside of her cheek and considered Orden, the curious tilt of his head, the forgotten block of cheese in his hand… He was genuinely interested in what she had to say. And maybe talking about it might clear things up for her, help her come to terms with the fantasy and the reality. “Okay, but you have to remember that I’m not the one who came up with this stuff.” Mia looked at Orden from beneath the shelf of her brows.

Orden nodded.

“Okay,” Mia breathed, her heart beating slightly faster for some reason, “first of all, every story has a different take on magic. They all have their own rules and stuff…”

Orden listened without a single interruption as Mia told him about the magic she’d grown up reading about. The stories she and her mom had read together, sharing books and endless conversations. The movies and television shows Mia had made Jake watch with her while they huddled together in nests of pillows and blankets. The fantastical worlds—some hidden in plain sight, others wholly separate—that Mia had dreamed of escaping to so often. She described as best as she could, the use of wands and spoken incantations, flicks of the wrist and burnouts. With growing irritation, Mia explained how simple the magic in these stories seemed to be, how effortless, and easy to learn—and realized what had her so angry.

Betrayed.

Mia felt betrayed by the very stories she’d clung to, escaped into at every opportunity. The realization caught her off guard.

“My cup is full.” Mia murmured under her breath.

“What was that?”

At Orden’s first words to her in minutes, Mia blinked and came awake. “Have you ever heard—wait, no, of course you haven’t.” Excitement had Mia leaning forward, eager to share her discovery. “There’s this saying in my world—‘You can’t fill a cup that is already full’… It means—”

Orden raised a hand, “I think I understand well enough what it means,” he said with a wry look.

“Okay well—yeah—” Mia ducked her head sheepishly, “anyway—my cup is already full.” Full to the brim with the rules and lore of made up magic systems. Overflowing with her ideas of what magic should and shouldn’t be. “I’ve been so busy comparing this—Power—to what I know about magic—” Mia trailed off as Orden smiled. Really smiled.

And all she could do in that moment was smile in return.

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