“Where are we going?” I asked Gramma as we drove up into the mountains. The Beast groaned as I pushed him up a steep incline and I frowned. I’d have to check the engine later to see what was making that noise.
Gramma smiled. I had to keep my eyes on the road, or else I’d laugh. She was wearing jeans, a pair of hiking boots, a T-shirt and a purple shawl. She had her knees drawn up tight, one hand holding onto the dash while the other held the “oh, shit” handle. I wasn’t a bad driver, she just wasn’t used to this kind of terrain in an old, manual transmission vehicle.
“You’ll see,” she said. “It’s a spot I’ve always enjoyed going to while you were in school and your father was at work.”
I sighed, resigned to the fact that she wasn’t going to tell me anything except directions. So I settled with watching the scenery as I drove.
It was an unusually sunny day, with temperatures in the mid-sixties. The windows were rolled down, allowing the wind to blow through the Beast. Gramma had her shawl wrapped around her head, keeping her hair from flying everywhere. Loose strands of hair escaped my ponytail, whipping me in the face. If I wasn’t behind the wheel, I would be closing my eyes to enjoy it.
After almost a week of breathing exercises and moving a candle flame with my breath, I was finally going to learn how to summon magefire. Excitement swirled around in the pit of my stomach, my nerves tingling with anticipation.
Doubt was there as well. Would I even be able to summon magefire? So far, all I had been doing was breathing exercises. That, and reading that book Sierra gave me. From what I gathered, it was a combination of a historical tome and a spellbook. Some of the spells seemed easy enough, but I had been too afraid to try anything.
After a few more minutes of driving, Gramma had me turn right on a dirt road. We were so high in the mountains by now, the only trees in sight were aspens. Wildflowers grew along the terrain as well, giving the sight an other worldly feel. If I had to put a word to it, it seemed magical.
“Left here,” Gramma said. I turned onto the road she pointed out. It was smaller than the one we were just on, large enough for my Jeep to fit onto it. I worried that we would run into some people four-wheeling up here, but Gramma assured me that we wouldn’t.
The road went on for about two miles before it ended in a wide, circular dirt area. There weren’t any cars, but I could see the track marks in the dirt. There were signs marking the beginning of trailheads, and when I looked past them, all around were trails twisting and weaving through the trees, disappearing into the mountains.
I parked the Beast and looked at Gramma. “Well?” I asked.
She merely smiled. “We have to hike the rest of the way,” she said, stepping out and removing her shawl. She opened the back door, grabbing one of the packs we had put there this morning. Now it makes sense, I thought as I hopped out of the Beast, grabbing my own pack. I slung the straps over my shoulders, turning towards Gramma as she came around to my side.
“Ready?” she asked. When I nodded, she turned to the trail marked 113 and said, “Let’s go!”
I followed her as we headed off. We were both silent for a while, which left me to think about the rogue werewolf yesterday morning. Would we come across more of them on this little adventure? If so, could we defend ourselves against them? I had seen Gramma do more magic since she started teaching me, so I had a feeling she could hold her own just fine. I had my Bowie knife strapped to my belt, as well as a few of the wolfsbane flowers in a Ziploc baggie in my back pocket. But would that be enough for me?
“There’s something I forgot to tell you about our kind,” Gramma said suddenly. The way she spoke made me think she was talking to herself, until she looked over at me.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“All mages can summon magefire, but only some of them can really connect to fire. In fact, mages have one element that they connect to, and can have power over. It’s uncommon for a mage to have a connection to two, and extremely rare for them to connect to three. It’s almost unheard of for a mage to have a connection to four or more elements.”
I frowned. “We’re talking about fire, water, earth, and air, right?” I asked.
She nodded. “And spirit,” she said. “And that is an extremely rare talent, indeed.”
“So,” I started, “mages can do magefire and regular magic, as well as at least one of the elements?” I asked.
She beamed at me. “Exactly!” She exclaimed. “Myself, I have a connection to water.”
“What’s mine?” I asked.
She shrugged. “It’s never been clear to me,” she said. “Even before I locked your magic away, I could never really tell. See, as mages, we can catch glimpses of auras all around us, but unless you have a connection to spirit, you won’t be able to see them clearly.”
We had to step over a log lying across the trail at this point. Once we were over, she continued, saying, “During my visits, I’ve tried to see what element you could be connected to, but I had no luck.”
“Oh.” Even when I finally learned more about who I was and where I had come from, I still had no idea who I really was.
We hiked for nearly two hours, only stopping for brief water breaks, before we came to a huge, steep incline. Gramma sighed, placing her hands on her hips. She tilted her head curiously, then nodded to herself and stepped forward. “Come, little bird,” she said. “Our destination is at the top.”
I stared. She wanted me to climb this? It was impossible!
I didn’t want to get beat by an old lady, even if she was my grandmother, so I moved forward as well. The first few steps were easy. Then, my breathing started to become faster, my lungs burning as I placed one foot in front of the other. My knees were nearly coming up to my chest as I climbed, and soon my legs were shaking like Jell-O.
I was determined to get to the top now. I had never been one to start something I couldn’t finish, so I kept pushing. When I looked up to see where Gramma was at, I was dismayed to see that she had already reached the top. Still, I kept going. I forced myself to keep my breathing even, my lungs now on fire.
I stumbled when I reached the top. I had kept my eyes on the ground, and after raising my left leg high to take another step, there was more distance than I anticipated when I stepped down again. Gramma helped steady me, and when I looked up, my breath caught in my throat.
We were at the top of the mountain. All around me, I could see more mountains, topped off with aspens, each starting at different levels before melting back into pine trees. The sun shone brilliantly on Wolf’s Head Lake, which was way down at the bottom off to my left. The top of the mountain we stood on now had a field of purple, blue, pink, orange, and red wildflowers, while up ahead was a wide rocky floor, large enough for a helicopter to land on.
“We’re here,” Gramma said, moving over to the rock. I followed her, setting my pack down when she did. She stepped out to the center, stopped, and took several deep breaths. She held her arms out to her sides, palms up. As she inhaled again, bright bursts of magefire appeared in her hands, hovering millimeters above the skin. She moved her arms in a windmill motion, and as her limbs circled around and in front of her, the flames followed, leaving behind a trail of blue and green fire.
She brought her hands before her, palms facing together. She released a slow exhale, pressing her palms together and extinguishing the flames as she did so. With a smile on her face, she turned and beckoned me over.
“I was just warming myself up,” she said. “Hold your hands in front of you, like this.” As she spoke, she demonstrated what she wanted me to do, holding her hands out in front of her, elbows bent, palms up. “Good,” she said. “Now, close your eyes, and I want you to think of that candle you’ve been working with the last few days. See the flame, watching as it grows and dims with your breaths.”
I did as she said. The image was clear in my mind, the warm flame mirroring the warmth I felt in my chest. Gramma said, “Now, open your eyes and look at your hands. Imagine your own magefire in your hands. Summon the warmth in your body, directing it to your palms.”
I inhaled deeply, guiding the warmth in my chest to flow down my arms and into my hands. The warmth pooled their, swirling and growing bigger. The heat grew as well, and once it seemed like it would be too much to handle, blue and green flames erupted in my hands.
I gasped, taking one step back in shock. Gramma cheered and clapped her hands together, laughing hysterically. I laughed as well, and all of the doubt I had been feeling before completely vanished. Thinking back to my breathing exercise, I slowly inhaled, giddy with excitement as I watched the magefire grow. I exhaled, and the magefire grew dim, just like the candle.
“Excellent!” Gramma said. “Now, let the heat go, and let the fire diminish.”
I didn’t want to, but I did it anyway. Once I did, Gramma took a step back and said, “Now, do it again.”
I inhaled, summoning the heat once again. This time, I drew not only from the warmth in my chest, but the fire burning in my belly as well. I pulled heat from every direction I could, channeling it all into my palms. When the fire came again, it was no longer blue and green. Instead, it was the orange and red that you see with most fires, the flames at the very bottom blue, with the barest hint of green and violet.
I yelped and jumped back, dropping my hands as well. The fire diminished, and I suddenly felt very dizzy. My head spun, and I fell to my knees, my jeans and skin tearing as they hit the rock.
“What was that?” I demanded, breathless. That fire felt different from the magefire I had produced moments ago. The magefire had been calm and relaxing, providing a strange sense of security. The regular fire I summoned… it had felt uncontrollable and wild. It felt free.
Gramma didn’t seem alarmed. She was laughing as she brought our packs over, digging a piece of jerky out from hers. She held it out to me and I bit into it ravenously, my stomach growling. She grinned at me and said, “That, as you probably figured out by now, was not magefire. It was real fire, produced from the natural heat inside of you. It looks like we’ve found your element.”
Gramma had strictly forbidden me from practicing magefire, and regular fire, when we were indoors. Sitting in the dark in my room now, with Delta as my only company, I couldn’t ignore the pull that drew me in. Delta sat on the bed beside me, his ears pricked forward and his eyes on my hands that rested on my knees, palms up. I was sitting cross-legged, eyes closed.
I inhaled slowly, imagining the blue and green flames of magefire. When I opened my eyes again, they were in my hands. I pulled the heat away, then I imagined fire instead. I drew on the heat I now felt in my belly, summoning it to my hands.
Gramma had told me that magefire came from the heart, while those with a connection to fire generally summoned it from the gut. I could see that now, and I understood why the flames that had come to my hands a second time was real fire.
I put the flames out, giddy with excitement. For the first time ever, I summoned my own magic! Not only the magefire ability that ever mage possessed, but my own actual magic, with an element I connected to. I couldn’t explain the feeling. To say the least, it was euphoric.
I thought back to the night I was bitten, and a sense of hopelessness and despair washed through me. If I had known I could do magic back then, Dominic never would have been able to bite me. In fact, he probably would have never been able to even take me. All of those weeks of running through the woods searching for him, and running away… If I had known I had magic, we probably would have caught him sooner.
Delta whined and I shook my head. No, I thought furiously to myself. What’s done is done, and there’s no going back to change that, no matter how much I wanted to. Even though I was bitten, I never turned. If there had to be any silver lining, that was it.
But why didn’t I turn? I had been agonizing over the question for months. When I was told I’m a mage, I thought that was it. But if mages were just as susceptible to the bite as humans were, then what stopped it from turning me? What was it about me that made me… immune?
My phone chimed. I reached over and picked it up, grinning when I saw a text from Riley. We’re heading up to the cabin now.
Good luck, I texted back. Then I quickly added, Stay safe.
I set my phone on my bedside table. I faced forward again, placing my hands back on my knees, palms up. I told her that I was able to summon magefire, but I hadn’t told Riley that I also summoned fire yet. Until tomorrow, I wanted to keep this to myself. So, I told her that the training session today just drained me, and that I wouldn’t be there to measure her tonight. She assured me that it was fine, and that she’d have Drew or Eddie measure her.
I spent some more time summoning fire. At some point, I summoned it to just one hand, smiling as I allowed the flames to dance over my fingers. When I glanced over at Delta, I saw the flames reflected in his eyes. He was watching them curiously, without any hesitation or fear. I directed the fire back to my palm and closed my hand into a fist, putting the flames out.
Completely drained and exhausted now, I decided it was time for bed. I stretched out across my bed, pulling my blanket over me. Delta yipped softly and crawled over, pressing himself against my chest and using my arm as a pillow. I laughed and stroked his ear with my free hand, closing my eyes.
Within moments, I had fallen asleep. Most nights, I dreamed of Dominic. When I didn’t dream, it was just empty darkness. This time, I was in the forest at night time. The full moon was high above us, and in the darkness, eyes blinked out at me. Riley and her pack, as well as the Guardians, surrounded me, snarling fiercely. A dark figure stepped forward, stopping just outside of the light of the moon.
“Nadia Belmont,” a voice said. “We’ve waited a long time for your powers to surface. You’re the strongest of them all, and now, you must come with me.”
“Not a chance in hell,” I growled.
The figure chuckled. “We’ll see,” he said. He withdrew, and one by one, the eyes disappeared as well, blinking away into the darkness.