I was perched on the branch beside Gabriel, watching these twin Hunters plan, hunt, and fail to find any Mages. I had seen them go from town to town, always after dark, and always armed. Sometimes, they walked into bars, the fact that they weren’t immediately kicked out was a feat only more impressive since they looked about as old as me. I remembered once in a bar an older man had pushed one of the twins down and the other had attacked as if it were instinctive, automatic. Now, they were scavenging the forest of the mountainside, looking for any Mages they could find. I flipped my white hair, watching it clump together, then fall over my shoulder. I tied my hair back, to keep it out of my eyes that began to burn from the strain of constant use for the last week, straight.
“If I could have planned my escape from the Sanctuary I would have taken the hammock with me before I left,” I yawned and shook my head.
“Hammocks aren’t as easy to play in, but I’m flexible.” Gabriel winked at me, his dark gold eyes glinting in the limited moonlight.
“If you’re quite finished…” I crossed my arms over my chest.
“As you wish, Sia Sepa,” He promised. I rolled my eyes and gave a short, pointed sigh. The twin Hunters had reconvened in a small clearing, where Nayana’s moon was the only light. The redwoods spread as far as the eye could see. The ground was covered in green ferns and forest litter.
“Have we checked everywhere yet? We’ve fine-combed this part of the forest five times over!” The dark-eyed one protested. His Irish accent, while obvious, made eavesdropping from a distance more difficult. I leaped forward off my branch and grabbed the one before me.
“Where do you think you’re going, beautiful?” Gabriel had pinned the bottoms of my jeans to my ankle.
“I’m getting a better view of them. You can grant me that. If I must watch these two bumble as they do, I may as well get a closer look,” I hissed, yanking my leg out of his loose grip to complete the swing. Once stabilized on the new branch, I peered down. Both twins had similar shoulder-length, curly white hair lightly tucked into the uniform of the Hunters: black leather jackets, pure white T-shirts, and black jeans. All designed to hide in the darkness before springing forth to attack any unsuspecting Mage wandering free.
According to Gabriel, these twins came from the most elite of Hunter’s school, Compass Academy for the Hunter Elites. A good school that led to a promising career in Mage Hunting. I was amused by the thought of these twins attended the proud school of Compass Academy when these same boys couldn’t catch a mouse, as far as I had observed. Though, I suppose as the prey spying on her would-be Hunters that wasn’t fair of me to judge as the prey.
“Think she’s even out here?” One asked the other, collapsing onto his back, his dark eyes nearly invisible, simply dark holes in his sockets. He exhaled as if contemplating giving up.
’After two or so years of this, I would expect you to have given up,’ I thought.
“Of course, she is. There’s no place for a Mageress to go outside of an uninformed human city. She risks exposing our world,” the other twin began.
’I only pose as much of a risk as you two do!’ I wanted to shout.
’They act a little more like normal humans than you do,’ Reason pointed out.
‘Spouting on and on about our world so openly as they do could expose us,’ I pointed out.
’Waving around fireballs and freezing someone’s drink because they made you angry is another way to expose you.’
Reason had a good point. Reason was as he was named my little voice of reason. My Jiminy Cricket, my angel on my right shoulder. Everyone has a little voice of reason.
“What we grant her is a kindness,” the other, who had light blue eyes, assured, unmoved. His optimism was flat but unshaken.
“Death is not a kindness,” I huffed, grinding my teeth a bit.
‘Cool your jets, Gale. If you accidentally set this tree on fire, they’ll find you,’ Reason chastised.
‘Yeah, I’m sure your mom also warned you that if you kept your face like that it was going to stick that way,’ I spat back before a mental sigh escaped. ‘Sorry, Reason. I haven’t slept in the past few days. Any more and it’s a week straight.’ If the lack of sleep wasn’t draining enough, my near-constant magic use was going to finish me off. Good thing Gabriel was here. Gabriel was a terrible flirt, but he was a good ally to have on your side, not that I had any other takers.
’You’ll always have me,’ Reason promised, interjecting.
‘I know, Reason. Thank you for being here for as long as I can remember,’ I soothed.
’Better, ′ Reason replied. I rolled my eyes and turned them back on the twin Hunters.
“How’s the dear girl?” the second asked the first.
“Racheal is well. She is sharpening her aim before her field trip with Hunter SunShadow. She hiccups when she’s nervous,” The first spoke with soft amusement.
“Haha! Really? Ten years together and I never knew that.”
The second laughed, light and cheerful.
’Sometimes, Hunters, at least from a safe distance, seem as human as the Mages they capture.’
The thought struck me more than it should have. I blamed my lack of sleep for a minute. Sentiment was dangerous for someone in my position. I owned nothing so I could lose nothing.
’Hunters are human. You’ll never find a Mage-Hunting Incubus or a Mage-Hunting Warlock,’ Reason pointed out.
’The latter would be ironic,’ I supposed. ’Though truthfully, I wonder how long it will be before this gets scary. If all the Hunters do eradicate the Mages what will be their purpose after that. Will they go after the Warlocks, the Wizards, and the Witches? What about other magical creatures? Are Mages simply the start?’
′That is a question you need not worry yourself over,’
Reason gave me a mental pat on my head with a black-gloved hand. I took some comfort in this but I heard some muffled papers shuffling in the background. He was audibly filing my question away. I took some comfort in that even if Reason didn’t say it “out loud” he took my thoughts and questions under careful consideration.
“How’s yours?” Dark Eyes inquired.
“My Bell’s well. She’s got her eye on this fabric she’s putting together into this fantastic dress! She has shown me some sketches that she had drawn and it looks stunning. It’s going to be beautiful, her best work,” The second one beamed, brushing his hair away from his face. I noted how his eyes shined against the moon’s light, reflecting his crystal blue. I tilted my head to catch them at a slightly altered angle. Light Eyes.
’Don’t go falling in love now,’
There was a shudder in Reason’s warning.
’I prefer the eyes that fall to the strange or exotic category. Not that it matters anyway,’ I shrugged.
’Like Gabriel’s eyes?’ Reason teased.
’I have no idea what you’re talking about.’ I replied stubbornly. I pushed aside the flash of memory of what Gabriel’s golden eyes looked like behind the smoke of his joint, like a predator in the night.
’Gabriel’s golden eyes don’t bother you in ways you can’t describe? I should work on my observation skills, immediately,’ Reason teased.
’…If I could smack you, I would.’ I muttered. Reason laughed and I felt the gloved hand stroke my hair as I physically pouted.
’I know.’ He said softly. I felt my branch move slightly and I looked over to my right to see Gabriel seated beside me. His profile in the moonlight showed contemplation, lost in his thoughts. He snapped his fingers and a small flame came to life, burning his thumb, it seemed, and he held it to the unlit joint. He lit a roll of green paper wrapped around ground up, strange smelling, green leaves without using a lighter.
“I forget you can do that sometimes,” I seated myself, gathering one knee into both of my arms and letting the other dangle. I rested my chin on my knee, watching the twins. The more I watched the twins the more ‘human’ they became.
’No! Hunters are Hunters... and I’m just tired.’ I decided, preserving my stubbornness.
“Part of fire magic. We Mages have to stick together.” His light tone sounded forced.
’He must be as stressed as I am. He had slept less than I,’ I thought.
“Magic isn’t a mundane tool. It shouldn’t be used for mundane tasks,” I would have called myself out on that piece of hypocrisy if I were serious. I was surprised Reason kept silent.
“I know, but think of how much I save on lighters,” Gabriel teased without calling me out.
“A Mage in disguise as a servant to His Royal Princeliness, Mr. ‘Next-in-Line’,” I scoffed. “I doubt you’re paid so little that you can’t afford a lighter or two.”
“Mr. Next-in-Line. Maybe I’ll bring that up next time I report to him,” Gabriel chuckled. He leaned back, resting his head on a tree branch, and his short curly black hair brushed a few leaves from a small branch above him. The smoke he exhaled wafted over, shading my view of the twins in light grey; mixed with the night, and the full moon’s light somehow made it harder to track the twins as they went about their clumsy attempt to hunt.
’Who sent these two to find me? How did they plan to pull this off? They couldn’t find a needle in a haystack with a magnet,’ I pursed my lips, my grip around my leg tightening. Reason laughed shortly. I moved my hand slightly and a small gust of wind cleared the smoke away from obscuring my view. I watched the twins test some traps they would leave in the clearing and laugh at each other for a story or two that I may have missed while lost in my thoughts. A heavier cloud of smoke obscured my view. I waved it away again with another gust of wind. This continued for a short while, ebbing at my sleepless and limited patience until I had lost all patience.
“Isn’t smoking going to give away our location?!” I snapped, my anger was obvious. I whipped my head around to face him directly. He gave me a small smile and his eyes narrowed slightly. He adjusted himself so he was right next to me, and placed a warm hand on my back, to impart some comfort. I shouldn’t have leaned into it like I did and I kick myself to this day for it. However, Gabriel was my only friend and I knew he could handle any venom or spite I threw at him because he never took it to heart.
“Yeah…” His voice was flat and sounded forced. He must have been exhausted. I knew he stayed awake so I wouldn’t have to suffer sleeplessness alone as I watched the twins sleep. The hand that had been rubbing my back gently stopped and I was falling before I knew it. I was so surprised that it took longer for me to regain mobility after landing.
I tried to gather my shocked and scattered thoughts. I felt the dry cold grass under my bare hands, curling my fingers around the blades below. My eyes widened as I realized why I was face down in the grass below the tree I fell from.
′Did he push me out of the tree?! Is he crazy?! I will kill him!’ I raked my hair back with my fingers.
“Whoa, hey! Are you alright, miss?” Footsteps approached and stopped right in front of me. I froze when I saw the black shoes and the dark jeans that followed up his legs. I gathered my feet between my closed hands and stood myself up to confront him. He had the slightly curly white hair, and dark brown eyes, perfect for hiding at night under the full moon. The curve of his lips held a natural upturn at the corners, despite the look of outright horror and shock that now defined his face. I slightly ground the bit of earth I collected in my right hand, as I studied his face. I would remember this twin, I would be sure that I knew from whom I was to run.
“Whoa!” his dark eyes/brown eyes widened, a perfect target. I threw the dirt in his widening eyes and waved a wide gesture to blow him back a yard or so.
“Hey!” The light-eyed/blue-eyed twin ran over to rescue his brother. My heart stopped for a second, and my temperature rose. I widened my stance and jerked my arms in wide sweeping motions, and summoned a small tornado of fire to spring between us, distracting them long enough for me to run.
I ran deep into the pitch-black woods. I thought about lighting my hand to see where I was. What if I was in front of a bush? I could easily catch something on fire. My hand caught fire, then a layer of ice quickly covered the flame. A perfect circle with a medium-sized hole over the top of the ice, In the center, was a little flame. The ice wouldn’t last too long, because the fire would soon melt it. The dim light was enough for me to see where I was going. Right in front of me was a rose bush with red roses in full bloom. The smell of my flame must have masked the subtle scent of the roses before me. I backed away from the bush and searched for a different clearing. ’I haven’t inhabited these forests long enough to know it’s mapping yet,’ Frustration clouded my thoughts.
’I could continue living in the trees. I’m surprised I have yet to develop pointy ears and perfect marks-man ability… I lived among the elves for too long,- Not now, HailStorm!.’
Survival Mode shoved my little fantasy aside and pushed me to keep going. I dodged behind trees, stopped only when I was sure they had lost my visual. I pressed myself against a nearby tree trunk that was thick enough to hide me and crushed my icy flame between my hands in a short but audible clap. They passed me with their bright flashlights and jingling chains in hand.
“Damn, she’s fast!” One of them huffed.
“And she exists!” The other countered, pointedly as if continuing an argument. I held my breath and tiptoed back to contain them in as much of my view as the limited moonlight bleeding through the leaves would allow. I cringed when I brushed some leaves and stepped on a particularly loud twig. I heard them shuffle in place and watched them lock their eyes on me. I waved my hands and summoned a gust of wind to throw them back when I turned and ran into the darker parts of the forest unobserved by Nyana’s Moon. Low hanging branches and thorny bushes reached out to catch me as if I were falling. I waved my hand before me and listened for the leaves rustling together. My path was clear despite me not being able to see. Little wisps of light floated around me floating curiously beside me as I ran.
“Hunters!” I panted. That was all I had to say. The little multicolored wisps raced to my wake and buzzed around the twin Hunters like flies around rotting fruit.
“Aye! Damned fairies!” One cursed. The heat of their flashlights was tangible when my steps were illuminated. I waved my arms behind me a sent three fireballs to throw them off. My arm grew cold, I spun to freeze them in place or block them off before I pivoted, and ran in an undetermined direction.
’Not a suggestion, but a point of curiosity. Why are you merely trying to throw them off? Why don’t you go on the offensive and kill them?’ Reason inquired.
‘I’m not a killer, Reason. I was taught to be better than that. I don’t have to kill them, and they are someone’s sons and lovers. If roles were reversed I wouldn’t appreciate someone offing my significant other. So, I run and hope to lose them.’ I pointed out.
’Morality…’ Reason scoffed.
’I figured you would be my voice of Reason not my voice of morality. I make my judgments, you tell me when I’m acting like an idiot.’ I banked a sharp right, the dark silhouettes of the trees against the ever darkened sky that gave my surroundings a dark-forest feel worthy of scary stories told around campfires. I gained enough momentum and accumulated enough adrenaline to jump from tree trunk to tree trunk I began to climb in a way that made me difficult to track. I grabbed a branch to keep myself still. I straddled the branch with my back against the trunk. My heart was beating in my chest but I could hear it in my ears as well. My arms pulsed, and my legs tightened around the tree branch.
“This way, I think!” I heard One say, they wandered under the tree I was hidden in. I reached up for the branch above my head, aiming to climb higher. I gripped it but didn’t realize until too late that it was unstable and wobbled. With a snap, I accidentally broke one of the smaller branches from the branch I was reaching for.
“What was that!?” That accent was faint from a distance but detectable. I heard footsteps take off in a run heading right under my branch and continued their hunt.
I waited, breath held for what seemed like hours. My heartfelt like it was trying to move in with my brain, and my whole body pulsed in time with them. I listened carefully. My stomach growled in protest as if alerting my hunters to my position for the promise of food. My eyes begged me to close them and nearly succeeded a few times.
’Traitor!’ I muttered.
’Hey now! What have I done?!’ Reason teased.
’Nothing, I’m…I’m sick of being hunted and I’m done with running. Magic should be legal and I should be free to do as I like. I don’t hurt people, I haven’t harmed anyone, why am I classified as sub-human. Why am I not a person? This doesn’t make sense!’ I moaned again for the umpteenth time. Reason asked, and Reason shall receive, not that I could hide it from him.
’Because those in higher authority want power. The gifts you have could threaten that. The power any Mages have could threaten that, but even genocide of sub-humans is frowned upon without probable cause.’ Reason pointed out. I sighed and leaned my head back.
’Damn it all.’ I cursed.
’You’ll be fine.’ Reason promised.
’I’m exhausted, Reason. I’m hungry, tired, and drained. I need food, and sleep.’ I placed my hand to my forehead to keep my head upright.
’I know. It’s been a long night. You may be safe here.’ Reason said softly, soothing me.
’You’re right.’ I decided. I re-positioned myself to lean more against the tree trunk and close my eyes.
I must have been more tired than I thought, for when I opened my eyes I had hit the ground at the base of the tree where I was sleeping. My head was leaned against someone’s shoulder. I would have guessed Gabriel, except that this one didn’t smell like Gabriel. This one smelled like apples and cinnamon. A pleasant smell indeed, but strange for me to note. I flailed in his arms surprising him so he dropped me.
They both grabbed an arm and straightened themselves. They began to drag me to their jeep.
“Let-go! I have done nothing to disturb anyone!” I shouted. ‘Gabriel wouldn’t miss an opportunity to gloat. Where was he?’ A closer look gave me a more accurate observation about their appearance, age, and characteristics. Both of them seemed to be around the age of sixteen, with white hair, in matching Hunter’s uniforms. The Mage-Hunter symbol of an arrow knocked in a bow, ready to fire on the backs of their jackets, and was embroidered in a yellow thread to stand out against the black of the jacket. ’That had to be the most frivolous design flaw for would-be-Hunters. Must be an expensive school. Only the most elite could afford fine Italian leather to throw away on Hunter-students.’
’Could this night get any better? I bet I could make it so,’ “Stop, please. I’ll walk, let me stand,” I begged, tired and defeated. They stopped, debated, and loosened their grip so I could stand myself up. ‘Foolish, foolish twin Hunters...’ I stood and kicked Brown Eyes in the back of the knee. He fell back letting go of me.
“Hey! Gale!” I paused for a moment, but only for a moment.
’Of course, they knew my name! They might have checked out my school transcripts or any file the Sanctuary would relinquish for the sake of finding the Mageress that got away.’ I grabbed Blue Eyes in the back of the head, by his hair, and slammed his face into my knee. He dropped like a solid rock. I turned to make a run for it when something grabbed my ankle. I looked over my shoulder to see Brown Eyes had a steel-locked grip on my ankle.
“What did you do to ’im!?” Brown Eyes growled eyes darted to his twin.
“Don’t panic, he’s not dead. He’ll come to in ten minutes. Learn that trick, it may save your life.” I snapped. I kicked him in the nose with my captured shoe, scrambled to stand and took off.
’Gabriel wouldn’t let anything happen to his comrades, I knew this from personal experience.’ I ran until I was sure I couldn’t be seen. I climbed the nearest tree, tearing up my already torn light grey long-sleeved shirt and my favorite pair of jeans and found a branch that was surrounded by leaves and hid me well enough. I waved my hand and watched the branches and leaves separate enough for me to have a small window to watch them through. As I expected, Gabriel was kneeling between the twins checking their pulses and checked his watch.
His golden eyes searched the trees until I was sure he saw me through my tiny window. My heart raced as I held my breath.
′Don’t make a noise. Don’t make a noise. Don’t make a noise!’ I chanted, closing my eyes tightly. ‘Give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. . . Courage to change the things I can…’ I prayed. Gabriel picked up one twin per arm and dashed off to the nearest hospital, I hoped. With the crisis averted, I took a moment to relax before I leaped around from tree to tree in search of any fruit-bearing trees.
Even with my Hunters gone, sleep wouldn’t visit me this night. I would rather die from exhaustion before I would let them take me. The sun rose and I leaned back against the base of a peach tree.
’Hey Reason,’ I called.
’Yes?’ Reason sounded like he was sighing in relief.
’Was I too harsh? I mean I know I was in danger, but was knocking them unconscious too harsh of an escape move?’
’It isn’t your first time knocking out a couple of Hunters. Why are these two different?’ Reason inquired.
’I don’t know. Looking back to last night, I felt different; as if everything I’ve done to the Hunters in the past is wrong to do to these twin Hunters. Think they’re clones or something? If so, which one is the original?’
Reason laughed. I waved my hands and summoned little wisps of the elements to watch them interact while I ate more than my share of the peaches.
I stood and searched the forest for a new clearing by a steady source of water. I found the perfect place around the north side of the forest and planted one of the peach pits in the soft grass. I set myself down on my knees and hovered my hands over the spot. I closed my eyes and breathed. I felt a light breeze blow my loose hair back, and a cooling wave surges within me. The healing magic of earth and the cooling feel of the wind sent chills up and down my spine. I felt the beat of Mother Earth and placed my hands more securely over the seed I planted. I felt the tickle of new leaves against my palms and fingers. I spaced my hands out a bit and peaked my eyes open to see the glowing green little sprout-ling pop out of the ground and reach for the light of the rising sun. I wanted to cheer but settled for a smile.
’It’s OK to celebrate your gifts.’ Reason pointed out.
’Disappointed at my lack of ear-piercing cheering?’ I teased.
’Wouldn’t be MY ears you’re piercing, but I am disappointed at your lack of enthusiasm,’
’ I don’t know if those twins were the only ones around. I know Gabriel took them out of the forest, but I’m not sure he didn’t return once the twins were in a safe place. He’s persistent,’ I wanted to grind my teeth.
’Ever wonder why?’ Reason prodded.
’Our shared past perhaps? We worked together for at least a year. He might be too attached,’ I mentally shrugged.
‘…You’re probably right.’ That sounded reluctant.
The sun traveled a little farther across the sky. I allowed my little peach tree to photosynthesize and sought refuge under a nearby oak. I focused my tired eyes on the measurement of the tree’s height.
‘Far too tall to merely jump it.’ I glanced at the other oak, not nearly as tall as the tree I was closer to, and the low branches made me too easy to grab, but it was a perfect launching point. I climbed onto one of the upper branches of my closer oak and positioned myself to spring. Muscles coiled, I leaped off the oak to my right and landed on a branch of the oak to my left. I summoned an upwards gale of wind to soar to the nearest oak branch, too high off the ground to catch, but low enough that with the wind I would survive the fall. I gripped it and lifted myself. This branch was wide enough to keep me on it and sturdy enough to hold me. I took this moment to be proud of myself before I was fully relaxed and drifted off to sleep.
’A gigantic red brick building stood against the multi-colored sky at dusk. A marble fountain, the only source of running water that adorned a manicured lawn that stretched for miles on end. Trees decorate the fancy, black security gate that I found myself inside of.
“How did I get in?”
“I let you in,” Reason stopped beside me, his black hooded cloak covered his eyes and nose, which left only his mouth exposed. Everything else was covered entirely in black.
“Why am I here, Reason? This is a Hunter’s school,”
“How did you guess?” He mused, curiously. His mouth curved up slightly. He fought his smile.
“No other place promises so much misery,” I replied. Reason wordlessly strolled towards the school. A light fog began to roll in. I hurried my step to catch up. Reason escorted me up to the giant dark oak double doors with the shiny brass handles. He produced a golden key from his sleeve and held one of the big oak doors open. I walked inside, unprepared for the sea of kids no older than me buzzing about, going from class to class, or their lockers, or talking to their classmates and friends. The tiled floor was so white and clean I could practically see my reflection. The walls were a combination of off-white and plain red bricks with posters of school colors and the animal they chose to represent themselves.
“This is more or less what a normal school looks like. To the uninformed humans and the most humanoid of mythical creatures, this is what ′school′ is. I felt you should have more of a reference to what a normal school looks like. It’s a minor detail, truly; however, important if say you had to describe a general classroom or school layout for a detailed and complicated lie,” Reason explained, wrapping an arm around my waist and leading me through the crowd. I cringed, expecting someone to accidentally touch some part of my skin I had neglected to cover.
“Gale, open your eyes,” Reason whispered. I opened my eyes to see I was on the other side of the crowd. “C’ mon.” Reason pulled me along. Reason stopped in front of a solid light blue door that looked unsafe if it were to be locked when a fire broke out. He opened the door and gestured for me to enter. I entered to see two white-haired young men sitting in two desks in the front row of the otherwise empty classroom. The teacher’s cherry wood desk had a laptop, an apple, and a stack of papers beside a red pen atop it. The desk chair was rolled out as if the teacher had walked out of the classroom and would be back soon. The boys wore matching black slacks and white button-up shirts under black sweater vests. They both looked at me simultaneously. I jumped. Crystal blue eyes and chocolate brown eyes watched me, curiously, and disbelieving.
“Reason! What’s going on?!” I demanded holding a fireball in one hand and an ice ball with another.
“Relax, Gale. These boys are here to learn from you. They’ve been looking forward to this for quite some time,” Reason assured. The boys smiled at me, bright happy smiles, in sync. I shuddered.
“What’s going on?!” I hissed at Reason.
“Study these faces. Infiltrating the Hunter’s Society means you’ll have to know their faces. They are the first twin hunters to hunt together in a century. Normally, one twin becomes a Hunter and another leads the life of an informed human. The parents are usually paid handsomely for their silence. As you well know, Hunters are the police of sorts. Mythical creatures police. Hunters’ schools are usually crown-funded, backed by the royal family. Informed humans that are not Hunters or don’t have a Hunter in the immediate family are killed for knowing too much. Hence, why it is important to know family members from strangers,” Reason recapped.
“These two are going to become very important in my waking life? You’ve taken me to quite a few places, Reason, but you’ve never shown me, other people, at least, not so pointedly,” I eyed him suspiciously.
“Then take note. You have their full attention,” Reason promised. The bell rang.
I opened my eyes to Sol’s sun setting behind the mountainous horizon. ′Good, evening. It’s a little rude to bless people without their consent, Sol.’ I shaded my eyes from the bright sun’s rays.
’Good morning, ′ Reason teased, but his greeting was sincere.
′Good morning, Reason. ′ I rolled my eyes and stretched.
‘What’s the plan?’ Reason asked.
‘I’m going to hit the little mountain town’s bakery to see if they put out a plate of their freshly baked bagels or muffins.’ My mouth was watering already.
’No coffee? ′ Reason asked.
′Hmm, it’s been a few weeks since I’ve had a cup of coffee, ′ I decided. I sat up too quickly and hit my head on an overhead branch.
“Careful,” A voice murmured. I straightened and scanned my surroundings. The sun bounced off the dark leaves making them brighter and happier-looking. I took a little bit of happiness from that scene and stored it away for a rainy day.
‘Mother Nature knew how to cheer up her Chosen.’ I dangled my legs over the branch and leaned a little forward. The voice didn’t have an accent, and couldn’t have been one of the Hunters I knew of. ’’Perhaps the twins gave up?′ I pushed that hope aside.
I scanned as far into the tree as my eyes would allow, and saw no one. I looked down to see if any other Hunters discovered me. I gripped the branch I was on and leaned back to see as far up the tree as I could.
It didn’t take long to note a blonde, green-eyed elf. He had long hair, wore forest green cloth armor, and a bow strung across his torso. I was surprised to see him as Elves didn’t often show themselves to humans. I leaned back farther to get a better look at him. I had forgotten how beautiful elves were. I leaned more to get a better look unaware of how far I leaned, and I fell. I grasped at anything I could get my hands on and braced for an impact that never arrived. I felt the sensation of falling, the squeeze in my stomach freeze. now dangling by my arm. I opened my eyes slowly, to see that I danged by my arm five feet off the ground.
’How high up did I climb?′
’How could you forget you can wave your hands and the wind would catch you?’ Reason pointed out.
’Shut up, I panicked! And I just woke up,’ I excused.
’Who’s a morning grump?’ Reason teased.
I looked up to see what had caught me, and beamed at the familiar elf who gripped my arm and held me still.
“CYRID!” he pulled me to his branch and I wrapped my arms around his neck.
“It’s good to see you too, Gale.” He hugged me back. Human greetings were still foreign to Cyrid but he ‘rolled with it’ for lack of a better term. “A couple of boys inquired if I’ve seen you,” he said.
“Were they white-haired, and looked alike?” I dusted what I could of the tree off my ripped shirt that I could have sworn was blue once upon a time.
“Yes. Twins? I believe is your word for it,” Cyrid confirmed.
“That’s them.” I sighed. ’Great.’ Somehow that one word described all of my rushing emotions.
’Ever thought about surrendering for funsies?’ Reason suggested.
’And miss Sol’s sunrises and sunsets? Or go get my shirt, or sleep when and where I wanted. Oh, and freedom would be nice.’ I tried to keep the sarcasm to a minimum. “How fair the wife and kids.” I perched myself as Cyrid’s feet and patted the spot next to me against the trunk of the oak tree.
“Selsha is well. She is helping Alinis train to be a Hunter like she was.” He began, virtually floating to his spot next to me. Elves, as I had observed, seemed to frolic, float, or leap anywhere they went. His long blonde hair was in a ponytail to keep out of his glowing blue eyes. His leather armor made no noise as he moved as if it refused to give him away.
“Your son will be a Hunter? Alinis didn’t get your magical gifts?” I asked.
“No, Sel-Ren gained my abilities. She’s training to be an Arabiettln, one of the camp healers. She wants to be just like you.” Cyrid smiled at me, a little gleam of pride.
“That’s adorable. The few tricks I taught her should smooth that process over a bit.” I hoped. “What brings you out here? I didn’t think I was going to see you again.” I smoothed my hair down, or I tried to.
“You’ve been gone for a year or so, Gale. The clan wanted to know what became of you.” He answered honestly.
“I’m in the mood for some late-night coffee. I think Starbucks is open, would you like one?” I offered.
“No, I’m fine, but I will take a muffin.” he hinted.
“You got it.” I hopped off the branch and fixed little bits of me as I marched through the forest towards one of the small mountain towns. You know, the towns where everybody knows everybody, and strangers blow through often enough to meet the locals but never stay long enough to make friends.
I picked a few leaves out of my hair, decided to ask a nearby diner for their restroom. The grime of nature was rubbing off on me and desperately needed a shower with lathering and scrubbing soaps. I was out of baking soda, not that it was a quality substitute. It had been long enough that I should be able to steal some natural oils from a high-end shop. I fixed my hair so it covered half of my face and tilted my head down so I was looking at the ground as I walked. ‘The empty sun mark between my eyes may seem strange to a normal human, but heaven forbid a Hunter be visiting his informed family in an unenlightened town. Then things could get messy,’ I pursed my lips.
Delightedly, I found a diner straight out of the 1950s. The black and white checkered floors matched the white chairs and black tables. I made my way towards the candy counter, that served as the bar and front desk for the restaurant, I saw a smiling, blonde teenager in a puffy white shirt and a bright pink poodle skirt. Through my hair, I saw her slight cringe.
“Yeah, I had a rough night last night. Mind if I use your restroom?”
She continued her professional smile and pointed in the direction of the women’s room.
I espied all the leaves in my hair once I found the mirror above the white sinks. The stalls behind me looked relatively clean, judging by their reflection. I rid myself of the crust by my eyes, and some of the dried drool by the corner of my mouth. I splashed myself in the face with some cold water. I was a very convincing ′walk of shame’ participant, minus the fun of the night before. I took an empty canteen bottle out of my bag and refilled it with some tap water from the sink. Not that I minded river water or ocean water, but tap water meant I didn’t have to magically purify it.
I splashed some water through my hair to tame some of the flyaway strands that attempt to escape. I dug into my bag to find my travel-sized toothbrush and toothpaste, freshly stolen from the last gas station I’d passed. I found my gloves in my bag as well. They fit perfectly, like usual. My worn, light blue, tight-fitted gloves had seen better days and were due for a funeral. I blotted out a few stains from my shirt and pants, using some fire and air magic to blow heated air onto my clothes, improving my appearance immensely. Now people might assume I’d partied a little too hard the night before and was on my way home to recover instead of, you know, sleeping in the forest every night and pretending I fit into normal society any time I ventured into one.
I ordered a banana nut muffin from the young girl. She reached into the display and gave me the biggest muffin she could find.
“Is this all?” she asked.
“I also would like a tall white chocolate mocha and your “Berri-Licious muffin.” I smiled politely. She whipped up the coffee and rung everything into the system.
“That will be five seventy-five.” she looked at me expectantly. I patted my pants pocket. I patted my back pocket and made a quick gesture.
“I’ll find that wallet yet. Did you know your sink is flooding your lady’s room?” I told her quietly. Her blue eyes widened in panic, and she was gone. I picked up my items and walked out the door before the young girl could return to the desk. I bit my muffin and sipped my coffee as I walked through town. People were getting home from work, their children had been home for at least two hours, watching cartoons and doing homework, or hanging out at a friend’s house. I watched people as they passed. Late-night partiers, or college kids visiting for the last few days of summer before school started up again. Younger kids ran out of their homes to greet their exhausted parents who had endured a late shift at work and were delighted to see their children’s smiling faces. A corner of my mouth turned up at the sight of so many kids hugging their parents, welcoming them home. A pang of envy shot through me.
′I thought you assumed normal life would be boring, ′ Reason spoke.
‘It would. I’m not envious of their same lives,’ I sipped my coffee. Once the show was over, I made my way through town, sneaking into grocery stores and bagging what I could use that no one would miss. As Nyana’s half-moon made her way to the other horizon, storm clouds began to roll in.
“Cyrid is waiting for his muffin. Mother nature is tending to her young,” I murmured as I picked up a raincoat that was a size too big and a pair of thin snow gloves to replace the tight ones I wore. After gathering all that I required, I left for the woods before the half-moon had truly sailed across the starry sky. I used the wind to soar to the branch where Cyrid lay waiting.
“One Berri-Licious muffin for you and a white chocolate mocha for me. Aer shaer.” I passed the bag over.
“Thank you. I’m leaving here soon.” Cyrid announced before he took a bite.
“I hear you’re running for clan elder. You certainly look the part.” I teased.
“Hey! Learn to respect your elders!” he couldn’t keep the half-smile off his face. The smile was decorated by a little red and blue dot from his muffin.
“Wasn’t that supposed to be your job?” I teased.
“I tried. You were an independent and willful teenager! You weren’t supposed to be my responsibility!” Cyrid pointed out. I stuck my tongue at him.
“All the same. You can see I am well. I can keep myself alive, and wish no ill will to the tribe by forcing them to harbor me. Now shoo!” I waved him off.
“I am worried about you all the same, Gale. You are keeping yourself alive, but you’re alone.” Cyrid sounded so sad at the very idea.
“Alone doesn’t bother me.” I smiled. Cyrid didn’t seem satisfied with that but he let it go.
“We are in the mountains, north of here if you need us. Don’t be afraid to come back, Gale. We love you.” He pocketed the muffin skirt and began to make his way down the tree, slowly, as if to count down the seconds I still had to change my mind to go with him.
’Maybe you should consider it,’
’Like you said Reason, I have you,’
’You shouldn’t expect a voice in your head to be enough. One day you’ll break and tell someone about me and they’ll give you little colorful pills that will erase me from you, then what?’ Reason went a lot darker than I believed him to be capable of.
’Gods Reason! Lighten up. I don’t need anyone else. I can survive on my own and I can’t predict what you say. It’s like you’re another person, and we share brain space. I’m surprised you don’t periodically take over my body.’ I pointed out.
’Haha! No, that’s way too much power for anyone to be granted.’ Reason chuckled. I summoned my four elements in small ball forms and held my hand out flat. Cyrid smiled and summoned his earth and fire. We let the elements merge into their like-elemental brethren and evaporate into nothing. The positive vibes that hummed between us were palpable and pleasant.
“Stay safe Cy.” I hugged him goodbye.
“Stay safe, Gale.” He hopped off the tree trunk and disappeared into the morning hours before the sunrise. I sipped the last of my cold coffee and set it aflame in my hand. I used the wind to dissipate the smoke into the air and that was that.
Admittedly, sometimes I impressed myself with my magic. I thought I was behind everyone else in the Sanctuary. Everyone did so well at their one element. So far, I have well enough with all four at once. The rest of the Mage population control one element per Mage. Fire Mages, Earth Mages, Air Mages, and Water Mages. I’m the weird one that can touch all four. No, I can’t explain why I’m special in that regard. Head Mageress Medina used to say that the gods fought over what element to bless me with and none of them could make up their minds. I mused that the gods often get bored when the world is running too smoothly and push one misfortune into a dominating effect to see how well their creations would fair.
I watched animals of the forest go about their daily or nightly routine of; hunting or prowling the night. Owls hooted and field mice scurried to whatever safety they could find.
‘If I was a field mouse, the Hunters were the owls,’
’Wise old birds known for intelligence?’ Reason chimed in.
’Actually, Owls are as smart as a sack of stones. We call them wise because they look old and their association with the Greek goddess Athena, helps. I know you were present when we watched the owl slam into the trucker’s window a month ago.’ I pointed out. Reason was torn between laughing and clearing his throat. ′You can laugh Reason; the owl should have known better. If it were born as smart as legend claims, it would have known; big, noisy, metal monsters travel over strange, hardened, blackened dirt equal death on impact.’ I continued. I lounged in my trunk, on edge, but somewhat rested.
’What are you going to do about the twin Hunters?’ Reason inquired after he was done laughing.
’Same thing I do will all Hunters. I’ll outrun them. They’ll get bored like the others and go find prey that seems more within reach.’ Which as I thought about it, seemed a little counterproductive. Professional Hunters couldn’t be bothered to hunt me themselves, they sent recruits or the newbies. ′Was I just an end goal they started the recruits on so everyone would be on board? “We’ll make you frustrated enough to continue training with us.”’ I poorly mocked a Hunter’s voice. Reason grinned.
’You might not be too far off the mark. Sometimes I swear you’re too smart for your good.’ Reason warned.
’It’s a blessing and a curse.’ I shrugged.
“You search West, I’ll go East.” I knew that accent well.
“Got it.” said the other. I still wish I could pick up voice differences so I could differentiate between Brown Eyes and Blue Eyes.
“Meet back in one hour.” said the first.
“I know the drill, Leo!” Yelled the other. I adjusted myself slowly on the branch so as not to draw attention to myself as I heard footsteps approached. I was a sitting duck in the tree. Even if I was out of reach for the twin hunters Gabriel used to glide through the trees with me, and he wouldn’t be far from either twin if he called them comrades. I used the wind to soften my fall when I jumped off the tree and landed on solid ground. I turned to run when I saw those leaves rustle and a tuft of white hair peeked out from the darkened leaves. I ran around the tree trunk, my heart raced.
’Really? I couldn’t find a better spot to hide? Behind a tree? What am I? Twelve?’
I peeked a little at the footsteps that were coming this way. Out of the bushes stepped Brown Eyes. I hid back around the tree.
“Hm?” I heard a gun cock then it got quiet. My heart raced like light thunder, pounded in my ears, I was surprised that no one else could hear it. I heard the footsteps get closer, closer, closer... “AAAAAAHHHHH!!!! I’m stuck! Leo! Yeah, I’m stuck in…goddammit! I’m caught in the trap!” Brown-Eyes muttered, ashamed.
“Where are ya?” Blue-Eyes answered as familiar musical laughter sounded in the background. A laugh that tightened my stomach and made my heart pound.
“West of our meetin’ point,” Brown-Eyes responded.
“On my way.” He was getting help, there was no need for me to interfere.
“I know you’re there.” I didn’t hear the click of the radio, nor a response in the empty air after he spoke. I dared to step out of my hiding spot and glance up into the tree. Brown Eyes was hanging upside down fiddling with his radio. He was hung up from a high place. The fall at this distance would kill him.
’A parting gift from Cyrid.’ I smiled.‘He must have lain the trap while I was out getting coffee.’
He dropped the radio and the look on his face explained his concern for the electronic toy. Weren’t cell phones invented already? Why were they still using radio walkies-talkies?
“’ Sup Brown Eyes?” I beamed.
“Isn’t it obvious? All my blood is going to my brain.” he snapped. “Hm, I should say so.
“Ireland,” he said.
“I’ll make you a deal, Ireland.” I scooped up the walkies-talkie and waved it for him to see.
“Pass over your pistol and I’ll pass over your dinosaur.” I bargained. His hand flew to his holster strapped to his belt. His dark eyes narrowed at me as he contemplated my offer. He finally unclipped the holster and handed it over.
“Think you can stay put? I lost your marker.” Blue-Eyes buzzed over the radio.
“I’m not going anywhere, and I thought you were the responsible one!” Brown Eyes protested.
“I am. I’m taking the blame for Gabriel.” Blue eyes/Leo said.
“He’s responsible too! I’m the one that loses everything.” Brown Eyes insisted.
“Shut up and sit tight!” Those Irish accents were charming on them.
“No problem...” Brown Eyes replied. I stared into his eyes for an uncomfortable amount of time. Something about him made me feel off. I didn’t feel like myself.
“How long do you think we have until help arrives?” I inquired.
“Fifteen minutes. Five if I told them you were here.” He pointed out.
“I have no doubt.” I gave a forced friendly smile.
“Now I have some questions. Why were you sent after me?” I held my hands behind my back.
“Because you’re our assignment. My turn. Why did you escape the Sanctuary?” He asked pointedly.
“You’re here for my bounty, then. I suppose I could understand.” I eyed his holster and picked up the knife hidden in the fold. The blade was large enough to cut through tough rope but small enough to conceal. I flipped open the blade and toyed with it. “If you fall now, you’re going to break your neck,” I told him.
“Then why not get it over with?” He nearly snapped.
“Because despite what you believe. I am no killer.” I made eye contact with him as I spoke. His dark eye narrowed, disbelief plain on his face. That was fine.
“I have friends coming that will figure out how to free me.” It seemed more like a threat than assurance.
“Charming guy like you? How would they survive?” I tossed the knife over my shoulder, and heard it stab into the soft earth in the space I left Brown Eyes to dangle. He called after me, swearing they would find me. It was nothing I hadn’t heard before. My arm got cold. I swept my arm behind myself leaving a wall of ice, left behind to at least slow them down, but Gabriel was a Fire Mage. It wouldn’t take long for that wall to come down so I opted to create as much distance as possible.
′Quick thinking!’ Reason congratulated.
’Thank you!’ I mentally beamed. I ran to make the distance larger faster. Now that the short-term plan was taken care of I started planning the long-term plan. I had banked the rest of my life on the run with Gabriel, but if alone was what it took to survive, then alone I would be.
′Getting away, maybe even getting out of town would be best. I could hop aboard a plane or a ship and go to another land. Maybe I could appeal to the King Kyloth of England or Queen Ferreth of France? Change citizenship, join one of their Sanctuaries? All Sanctuaries across the US may already have been informed of an Airess Mage fugitive at large, with a bounty on my head or something. ′
‘Letting your imagination run away again?’ Reason teased.
‘Other than you, Reason, imagination is all that has kept me sane. You’re not always available, I need a plan B,’ I replied.
’. . . I’m always here for you, not always on time,’ Reason said sadly.
‘I know how to think on my own, Reason. I can’t depend on you for everything.’ I lightly jogged away from my spot, creating more distance between me and the twin Hunters. Reason didn’t argue as I quickly scanned my surroundings. I summoned a small fire to act as my flashlight. The fire threw light around, and surprised a few nocturnal animals; owls and snakes, mostly. They ran from the fire as if I would burn them. ′Steer clear, critters. Nothing to see here.’ I heard leaves rustle and twigs snap. The sounds of nature at early morning. Branches poked me and bushes brushed my jeans as I moved throughout the forest. The moon’s light illuminated what it could, but my cover of trees was perfectly placed for complete darkness. My small fire, all that was showing me the way, flickered and dimmed depending on if I suspected a Hunter was nearby.
′Gabe was working with the Hunters, gaining my trust and-’
′-I know you’re upset, however, you need to focus on escaping!’ Reason snapped me back.
‘Yeah, yeah. I’m creating dista-!’Crunch...Thwip! A net rose ground the ground under my shoes, gathering me up like a cuddly giant. I gasped in surprise, struggling to fight the net. Any opening I reached for with whatever part of me was available got caught up in the net even more. I fought an enemy I had no chance of winning against, the holes in the net held my calves’ hostage, and my arms were twisted in the trap, unable to scratch my suddenly itchy nose. The rope ground roughly against my cheek. ′If that’s how it’s treating my cheek, I’ll take a moment to appreciate my gloves as an unusual everyday clothing item. Stop freaking out, this net isn’t made of metal,’ I thought, summoning a fire before me. I manipulated the fire to morph into a ring and slowly stretch outwards above me. I smiled as the trap began to smoke. My fire burned through the net and I landed with a lofty thud; a not-so-graceful landing. I untangled my arms from the net I was still attached to and burned its hold on my legs before kicking it off and scuttled to my feet.
‘It’s a net, an inanimate object,’ Reason pointed out.
′That’s not the reason why I panicked! I was trapped inside! You can grant me a Gods-granted moment to breathe before something else comes up!’ I dusted myself off.
‘...You’re right. I’m sorry.’ Reason sounded sincere, and that was enough for me to move on. I pushed through the forest with precision, like I owned the place. Mother Nature smiled on me. Once I was sure I was a fair distance away, I relaxed a little. I climbed into the nearest tree and lounged on the branches.
’If Gabriel finds me here, he’s a dead man, ′ I swore. Now was my time to seethe and sort.
′The twins are doing as they had been told, taught from a young age that Mages and their magic are dangerous. But Mages are supposed to look out for each other. Why would Gabe betray a fellow Mage like that?!′ Reason, to my surprise, didn’t have an answer for me and thus kept his logical mouth shut. ′Smart Reason. ′ I couldn’t help but smirk. ′I never out-reason THE Reason. ′ Because Reason is housed in my head, I didn’t bother to filter my thoughts. I heard voices that sounded disappointed and footsteps that seemed to drag across the forest floor.
The blue mist of early twilight reflected the sun’s rays before the sun fully rose. I heard the water rush before the scent hit me. I could smell the moss on the rocks by the river banks. I saw bears in the water, fishing for salmon, their cubs splashing each other playfully. I smiled at the scene.
I created a rock bridge out of a few dry pebbles I found by the shore with Earth magic and crossed the rock bridge, to continue down my path. After waving my hand again, the bridge collapsed in on itself like a crumbled cliffside, it ended with a heart-stopping ’Crack! ′ before two splashes skipped across the water were the only evidence it had ever been there. I over rocks and skipped stones in the direction the river lead me until I heard the waterfall at the end. A long, river that suddenly ends, as if someone had cut off that part of the mountain and the waterfall is all that remained. I walked further into the forest to pick my sleeping spot for the night. I hung my bag on a tree.
′I’ll be back for it,’ I reasoned before I heard a twig snap to my immediate right. I turned, a fireball in my right hand, tip-toeing over to the bushes. One of the Hunters lunged out at me, tackled me to the ground, and my fire evaporated. He pinned my hands above my head.
“OK . . . relax! I’m not going to hurt you!” Brown Eyes sounded surprised like he hadn’t expected to make it this far. I sneered up at him. He found his gun on my hip and retrieved it, relieved to have it back. I summoned a heavy gust of wind to knock him off. He went rolling, allowing me to get up and take off. I grabbed my bag and ran as Blue Eyes launched himself out of the bushes. Gabriel wasn’t too far behind, their covers now blown. I bolted towards the waterfall.
“Damn it, Theo! You were kicked and booted!” Gabriel laughed. I used air to bound across the river and landed on the other side with ease. Now that a river stood between the Hunters and me, I felt safe enough to look at them. Blue Eyes stood on the other side of the river. He had stopped his run in enough time to not fall face-first into the water. Blue Eye’s face was of determination, refused to let this obstacle get in his way.
’Now what? ′ Reason hissed.
’I’ll keep running. I need more distance than a river. ′ I looked towards the waterfall, and back to my Hunters. Blue Eyes followed my line of sight.
“Oh, hey, hey! No! Hey!” Blue Eyes shouted quickly. “Wait! Wait!” He protested, lunged at me. I jump kicked him in the gut and he plopped into the river like a rock, swept away by the current. I ran to keep up with the Hunter’s body as he raced down the river. I made a waving gesture and the water swept him away.
’Wait! No-NO!′ I dropped the bag and dove into the river. I caught up to the body and pulled his head above water. The currents pulling us like the very winds I rode on. I used the hand that wasn’t holding onto Blue Eyes to run over the surface of the water when I found a rock to step onto. The currents continued through the river but curved around a circular space before us as if we were another boulder in the water. I reached out and summoned a rock I could hang on to that was sticking up from under the water. I clung to it, using some Water magic to lift Blue Eyes and me to shore. I returned that water back to the river adjusted his head, tipped back and his mouth was open. I stripped off my soaking wet gloves, placing my hand on his wet shirt. I closed my eyes and breathed. I felt his heartbeat rapidly under my hand. ‘He’s losing air, fast!’ I breathed evenly and trailed my left hand up to his sternum. I felt my pull on the water that resided his lungs as it slowly followed my hand, and allowed me to draw it out of his mouth.
’Jeez! He swallowed half the river! ′ I thought when I drew the most of the water from his lungs. He coughed up the rest, shot upright. His eyes flew open, and he turned to see me kneeling at his side.
“You gave me quite a scare.” I smiled at him.
“Wh-What?” He blinked at me.
“You’re safe for now-”
“Hey!” Brown Eyes called from across the river with Gabe not far behind him.
“Glad you made it through, may Eva and Kaytarr not conspire against you in the future.” I stood and ran right as Brown Eyes was climbing the rocks as his fastest route across the river. I pivoted, ran, and was knocked down from what seemed like nowhere. I landed on my back while my attacker landed on top of me.
His head landed on my stomach. “Ugh! Ow! Not all that gentle are ya?” I groaned.
“For you, I would be.” He lifted his head and wiggled his eyebrow at me. He slid his hand under me, held my head against his chest as he lay on top of me. Bullets whizzed by, but I barely heard them over the thunderous beating of his heart. “You platinum idiot! You nearly shot Gabriel!”
“Did not! He ducked for cover! But she got away!”
“He tackled her, likely to avoid your fire! He saved her life!” A Mage-Hunter saving a free Mage was next to unheard of. The twins picked me up and stepped back.
“Wait! Before you bolt, I challenge you to a dual.” Gabriel held his hand out palms up to show his fire above his hand. I bowed, accepting his challenge for a dual.
‘If he wished a dual, I owed him that for more than simply saving my life this time.’ I leaped back with air to create some distance between us. I held both hands out and lined my elements for all to see.
“Stay back!” Gabriel snapped at the twins without taking his golden predatory eyes off me. I set my hands aflame and charged forward. I threw a fiery punch which he easily blocked, his flame canceled mine. I sent a knee to his side which he also blocked. He gripped the bottom of my shoe and launched me into the air. I maneuvered myself to land on my feet and slide back with two narrow paths of polished ice in my wake. I charged for a flying kick which he evaded with ease and made a move to pin me to the ground. I gave a solid kick to his abdomen. He didn’t let my attack stop him. I set his clothes on fire which forced him to back off. I pushed myself into a back-hand spring and righted myself.
“Is there a particular reason why you guys refuse to leave me be?!” I snapped.
“This is fun?” Gabriel shrugged. I went for a punch to lead into a roundhouse kick. I leaped off his hand and landed on my ice paths, sliding back. I sent fire bolts and ice bolts at him, hoping to scare him off. Gabriel, unfortunately, wasn’t afraid of anything.
’Am I the only one that noticed the twins watching me fly through the air like cats following a laser pointer?’ I noted.
’I noticed that as well.’ Reason chuckled. I threw my arms out to either side of me and bent my knees. I pulled ice out of the very earth, and straightened my stance, my hands to the sky. I summoned a line of fire as my second defense. He ripped off a chunk of ice and inspected it.
“This is a thick piece of ice. As solid as limestone.” He crushed it in his hand like it was nothing. He stepped through my line of fire and held his hand out for me. “Come quietly, Sepa. We do not intend to harm you.” He spoke softly as if coaxing an animal out of hiding. The way he used my nickname pulled on my heartstrings, but I wouldn’t let it soften this betrayal.
“Plans change all the time, Traitor!” I spat. I went for a punch which he caught around my wrist and continued my momentum which knocked me off balance and forced me to lean on him.
“All the time...I yield.” He agreed with a hint of his typical smirk. I waved my hands to erase the ice wall and fire defense from existence. “You may find what you’re looking for.” Gabriel encouraged. I pushed myself off him, surprised by how easily I managed to leave his usually ironclad grip. I knocked his offered hand away. I sent a gust of wind his way to push him down and found myself flying back as if the wind had bounced off him and ricochet back to me. I slid back and decided to use that. I dashed forward as if I were charging at him once again, and dodged to the side last minute. I leaped off the nearest rock and landed on the space behind Gabriel. I heard before I saw the edge of the waterfall. ’No way they would follow me down!′ I charged and leaped off the edge of the cliff. As the sun rose over the horizon, I sank from view.
Free-falling was one of my favorite activities. The harsh rush of whooshing air, married with whatever sound blared was my definition of tangible freedom. In my case, a waterfall was an absolute thrill.
′Free-falling without the worry of landing. ′ My natural healing would save me from all but death. This was the closest I’d ever get to flying. It wasn’t long before I saw a darker free-falling figure. ′Try saying that five times fast. ′
“How’s it goin’, toots?!” Gabriel called, one hand cupped around his mouth.
′Toots?... Toots?! ′ How dare he?! “You’re an idiot!” I called back. He winked at me. I waved my arms out to either side of me, summoning a gust of wind to push me higher up out of free-fall. Gabriel continued his descent, falling from sight.
’Traitor! ′ I spat.
’Traitor, you call him. This is true. However, could you live with his roguish good looks, or rather the blood of, on your hands? ′ I frowned at Reason’s correct logic.
’Damn it, Reason! I was happy! ′I protested.
’You wouldn’t have been happy to trip over his body later. ′ Reason scolded. ’Make sure he’s alive,’
‘Ugh! Fine! But only for my good conscience,’ I huffed.
’Aw, I love you too, Gale. ′ Reason sounded like he smiled. I ceased the winds and directed them to speed up my fall.
′The twins up top or the traitor below. If I didn’t have to save his life for following me down...′
′Ever thought he was trying to save you?’ Reason commented.
‘Pfft, why? I do this for fun. Why would I need saving?’
‘Not everyone will survive every waterfall.’ Reason pointed out right as my drop was low enough to where Gabriel would be if he were still free falling. I looked around. My hair peeked into my field of vision as it whipped over my head. I loved the feeling of the harsh caress of moving wind. My gloves began to dampen from my proximity to the waterfall and the evaporating water that was cloud-bound before a storm. He was nowhere to be seen.
‘Perhaps he landed and I’m too late.’ Despite his betrayal, that thought didn’t sit well with me. I continued my drop at a slower rate until my shoes touched the grass outside the lagoon where the water ended. The sharp rocks at the end of the fall would discourage the worst of the adrenaline junkies.′Well, the worst normal adrenaline junkie, ′ I amused myself for a moment. I adjusted the bag I had on my back and summoned a small fire as my flashlight. The dark forest wasn’t so foreign to me, and I felt confident I could take on even the worst predators prowled this level of the forest floor. ′Thank you, Cyrid.′ I scanned my surroundings. The tall dense trees were brightened by the moonlight, giving the lighter parts of the forest light, bluish fog. Twigs snapped and loose rocks crunched under my shoes as I searched the immediate area for Gabriel. “I’ve seen the guy be thrown through a wall and get back up. No way this killed him,” I said aloud.
′If anything, he may have broken something vital. ′
′If he yet lives, I would heal the bastard, then tell him to take a hike! Allow me time to recover and go my own way. If he gets himself killed, that’s his business!’ I decided.
′That’s uncharacteristically harsh of you,’ Reason teased.
’I can’t be responsible for everyone in the kingdom, Reason. I’d never sleep at night.’
The sun began to set after a long and fruitless search. Nothing had turned up, not even a body to bury. The twins hadn’t climbed down, looking for their comrade, either. That burst of adrenaline I’d had while being chased and then free-falling down a waterfall was gone. I was ready to either eat or sleep, but I had to pick one. My stomach growled and I yawned. “Sleep it is.” I turned back the way I’d come. I found the base of the waterfall, where the roar was as loud as a stampede of bucks. I held the fire in my right hand and held out my left by the fall. The waterfall bowed in half like curtains opening for a performance. I stepped onto the water’s surface and watched as the entire body of water froze. The ice swam like salmon against the waterfall, and hardened the water in place and left an opening to the cave behind the falls. I crossed the ice pond, holding my fire forward to light my way. Once I stepped off the ice and into the dark cave behind, the ice melted back into the water, and once I was far enough away from the entrance I heard the falls resume. I found the end of the short cave.
′It’s not a cave so much as a dent in the mountain? ′ Reason asked.
′As logical an answer as any, ′ I set the bag down before I fluffed it up a bit.
’Wouldn’t it be nice to have a real pillow again? ′ Reason asked.
′If dreams could be true, Reason. It’s a luxury, not a necessity. Let’s be real. But, shouldn’t you be telling me that? ′ I smirked at the flame that floated a few inches off the stone ground. I hadn’t grabbed any firewood on my search for Gabe. ’No, because that would have been a good idea. ′ I snorted at myself, lay my head down on my bag, and watched my fire. It was big enough to warm the cave.
’What about a room with a real bed and no need for fires? What about a place to call home? ′ Reason asked.
′I have a home. I always have a home, Reason. Tonight, home is a dent in the mountain behind a waterfall. ′ I mentally swatted at Reason. “May your creatures of the night and creatures of the day find harmony and balance, Mother Nature. May your rivers run strong and your oceans never tame, Eva. May your hearths burn bright and your flames caress the sky, Faremis. May magic be as eternal as their creator, Ashtar. May your missing moon show herself soon and may your nightly reign be as peaceful as your daily slumber, Nayana.′ I closed my eyes.
Wet shoes slipping on wet stone pierced my peaceful sleep. I held my breath, listening closely. The shoe steps staggered like rain. I was trapped between the Hunters and the wall. I had to think fast!
′Multiple people. ′ I stood and grabbed my bag. I saw two bodies enter the cave, and their heads turned in my direction simultaneously. I heard a voice whisper and rose my hands before me. I dropped my bag. Fire came forth suddenly. It framed the invisible threshold between the two Hunters and myself and illuminated our battlefield. I saw Gabriel and Blue Eyes with rope and chain. Blue’s eyes widened and Gabe’s gold eyes reflected the flames. I took a step back enough to kick off the wall and charge forward, leaped over my ring of fire and dashed out of the dent. I had blown past Blue Eyes and Gabriel, and out into the blindingly sunny day.
“Oh, no you don’!” I heard the twins yell in unison. I was tackled to the ground. Each twin picked me up by my arms.
“Let me go! I will not go back to that Gods-forsaken Sanctuary! I refuse to die!” I vociferated.
I strained and fought all to no avail. I was soon adjusted so one twin pinned my arms to my sides, and a white cloth was held over my nose and mouth.
‘Relax, Gale. This will all be over soon.’
I opened my eyes in an open field where there was soft green grass as far as the eye can see with some wildflowers swaying in the gentle breeze. My cloaked good conscience sat cross-legged beside me.
“Lovely place you’ve got here.” I sat up, half turning to face him.
“I thought so.” I saw a small smile form like he fought a smile but quickly lost.
“So, why here?” I lay back, arms outstretched on either side of me.
“It’s beautiful scenery, a peaceful place to talk.” He leaned back a little, inhaled air like he hadn’t smelled the fresh air in a long time.
“And what topic are we discussing today?” I closed my eyes, relaxing.
“What if you could have all the comforts of a semi-normalcy? A bed, three meals a day, and people to talk to other than voices inside your head?” He asked.
“It would be abnormal at this point, Reason. What I consider normal and what others consider normal is different. Most people are used to using matches or lighters to start their fires. I wave my hand and I have one instantly. Everyone else wears less clothing and drinks cold beverages in summer to beat the heat. I can line myself with ice to remain cool. I can cover myself in the rock to deflect most projectiles. I can manipulate the elements around me to bend to my will and I can heal all I come across should I choose to touch them. I can persuade the breeze to blow in any direction I desire. I can survive on my own or blend into tribes like my time with the elves. This all is normal for me. If I must be isolated to enjoy my freedom, then I will,” I said flatly.
“What if your freedom could pay for a better prize?” he asked.
“A better prize than freedom? No such thing.” I shook my head.
“What if it paid for mutual love between people you may as well call family? What if you met a someone, or a few someone’s, and find that you can’t live without them? What if your freedom could be better spent being with those who would miss you if you suddenly disappeared,” Reason weaved an impossible dream.
“A lovely painting to show me, Reason.”
“I’m serious. If you surrender this time, you could have so much more as a trade-off. What you call freedom, others would call isolation,” He said sincerely.
“Is this your long, roundabout way of saying I need to get out more?” I mused, nearly snorting.
“Or get in, as the case may be. You may not wake up in a familiar environment when you next open your eyes but don’t panic. Watch how this plays out. Be more of an observer here. I think this will be good for you. Play nice for a while. Please?” Reason suggested. I stared up at the clear blue sky, mulling his words over.
“How do you know where I am or if I’m in danger or not?” I asked.
“I’m your sense of logic. I’m your judgment. You’ve trusted me before, trust me now. You’re in safe hands with those present. Gabriel is among them, and you know he wouldn’t hurt you,” Reason pointed out.
“He pushed me into their line of fire.”
“Of all the Hunters you’ve witnessed together, why would he choose then to ′betray you’?”
“Shut up, Reason. I don’t need your logic right now,” I said rudely.
“You may keep your emotions, but keep yourself in check. Stay alive, that is most important,” Reason urged.
“I got it. I can blend. I’ll keep myself under control,” I assured with a heavy sigh. The air blew, shifting direction. I was waking up.
“I’m here if you need me,” Reason promised.
“I know.” I closed my eyes.
“She’s out cold,” said a voice.
“Of course! Chloroform.” The other one sounded like he was rolling his eyes.
“Effective,” another mused. “She’s. . . familiar. Does she know?”
“No, she doesn’t.”
“I can’t believe she’s real,” the first voice spoke.
I opened my eyes to see three different eyes looking back at me. I was in the back of a car. The Jeep (my guess by the size and shape) was huge and black, easy to hide during a night hunt which was when most Hunters went on the prowl. My captors had buckled me in with all the strapping for a complicated harness. I glanced down at my legs. My ankles were tied together, and my hands were bound in handcuffs over metal decorated bracers on my wrists. I looked back at the three boys present. Both the twins had their hair pulled back into a ponytail, wearing dirty shirts under; worn, slightly torn leather jackets, and mud-caked jeans.
“She’s not what I pictured her to be,” the first voice spoke. Their accents were obvious, but weak enough to be mostly understood if I paid attention.
“Give her a little more time, she’ll amaze you.” I knew that to be Gabriel’s voice before the big door was closed. The car jerked as everyone climbed into their seats. I turned to look over the seats. Blue Eyes climbed into the driver’s seat and adjusted the rear-view mirror. I saw his eyes in the reflection. Brown Eyes took the passenger’s seat while Gabe casually lounged in the back seat, a lit joint between his lips, his window rolled down, his eyes never left me.
“What is it like to have magic?” Brown Eyes asked curiously. I understood the nature of the question, not everyone was born with magic, but also not everyone feared it. Hunters as far as I knew didn’t fear it. “Shut up, Theo!” Blue eyes hissed.
“Now is not a good time. Write your questions down. When she’s...more herself, she may even answer you,” he teased, but Brown Eyes went right to work grabbing any scrap of paper and pen he could scrounge up and began writing.
’Hm, I’m not the only left-handed one in the car, ′ I thought, watching the pen sticking out into view from the left side of the passenger’s seat move, flipping furiously between the graphite point and the rubber eraser. The music changed to something with a more upbeat rhythm and I relaxed a little.
′Good eye. ′ Reason applauded.
’I thought identical twins were the same. ′ I shifted in my seat to try to get more comfortable. I was going to be here for a long while.
’Some twins are identical, but most maybe what is called-’
’Fraternal? We had a whole unit on twins in med class, ′ I reminded him.
‘You know about other types of twins, like conjoined-twins or mirror-twins?’ Reason countered.
’Yeah, I remember those. Twins stuck together, and one twin is a literal reflection of the other. Left-handedness, switched organs, etc... ′ I recited.
‘Think of this as your chance to do some hands-on experience about twin-ism,’ Reason pointed out.
’Oh, yeah. Ask them questions from behind bars. Hm, think I can work an orange jumpsuit? Or black and white striped uniform with a ball and chain attached to my ankle? ′
‘What if these boys aren’t planning to lock you away? What if-’
‘Optimism isn’t logical, Reason. I need logic. I can’t let emotion color my observations.’
’Sardonic humor isn’t going to make things better...′
‘No, no. It keeps me somewhat sane.’ We drove off down the rough mountain trail, jostling me uncomfortably around in my harness.
“Glad we didn’t bring Racheal, she would have booted you for that,” Brown Eyes muttered. Soft music began playing, a singer sang lowly with long notes and perfectly placed vibrato.
“Is that why she wants to be either an assassin Huntress or a teacher? Avoiding the drive up the scary mountain trails?” Gabriel teased.
“It’s for the best. What about Isabelle?” Brown Eyes kept the silence at bay with talk of this girl. Gabriel took a drag and exhaled out the window, his eyes trained on me.
’I’m casually observing. ′ The miles flew away under rubber wheels. The sun had set a short while ago, making the trees look black against a heavy, grey-ish purple color the cloudy sky had adopted.
“That was an impressive ice wall.” Brown eyes mentioned.
“Theo, what did I just say!?” Blue eyes protested. “Just ’cause you’re the oldest, by an hour, doesn’t make you in charge!” Theo protested.
“May your sun sleep as soundly as you, Sol,” I prayed softly. I glanced out the windows surrounding me to see a few of the stars had begun preparing to entertain the moon as she began to form once more. ‘I must have been out longer than I thought.’
“May your creatures of the night and day find harmony and balance, Mother Nature. May your rivers run strong and your oceans never tame, Eva. May your hearths burn bright and your flames caress the sky, Faremis.” I kept my voice low as I recited my nightly prayers.
“What is she doing?” Brown Eyes demanded softly.
“Shh!” Gabriel hissed. “She’s praying.”
“Praying?!” Brown Eyes raised an eyebrow and turned in his seat to watch me as closely as possible from across the car.
“May time always march on, Father Time,” I said lastly, softly.
“I suppose this is something we should have thought of, but what does she believe in?” Blue Eyes asked.
“Look at you; getting all cultural,” Brown Eyes teased.
“She is a member of “The Chosen Ones of the Elements”, usually shortened to “The Chosen”. That’s why there’s a gold sun right between her eyebrows. It’s empty in the middle because she was a young member when she left her Sanctuary. When she became of age, she would have had a crescent added to the markings. I’m not sure how it’s done, but every Sanctuary Mage has one. Every Sanctuary Mage is a member of “The Chosen”, but not every member of “The Chosen” is a Mage,” Gabriel explained.
My stomach made its presence known.
′Too loud! Too loud! Shut up! Shut-up! ′ I nagged my stomach, who protested loudly.
“Hey, guys, I’m starving. What does food sound like?” Gabriel turned away from me for the first time in a while and looked to the twins.
“Gabe’s right. Think we could hit a Burger King up the road?” Brown Eyes agreed. “Yeah, I could go for a number four,” Blue Eyes agreed and the car leaned as if it could flip over on its side any minute. I held my breath and squeezed my eyes shut.
“Jeysus, Leo! Are you trying to kill us?!” Brown Eyes exclaimed.
“Some people don’t know how to drive,” Blue Eyes said defensively. It wasn’t long before bright lights blinded me. Muffled voices over cheap microphones blared out of the bright menu with a silly bobble-head mascot by the pictures of food and short food descriptions. Blue Eyes leaned out the window, giving out the orders. It wasn’t long before we were back on the long dark road. The smell of the food was unfamiliar, but my growling belly didn’t care.
’How are you holding up? ′ Reason inquired, concerned.
‘I’m in the back of a Hunter’s car, tied down like luggage, going Gods know where, and I’m starving!’ I shouted back.
‘Then you should tell them,’ Reason said as if it were perfectly logical.
‘Let THAT torture begin? I don’t think so!’ My stomach growled as if to join the argument.
‘There are good people in every group. Everyone has a conscience.’
‘They all have a little voice in their head that annoys them with good advice and logical sarcasm?’
′None quite with my charm, but you get the picture. ′
Everyone passed strangely shaped foods around the car. Different smells belonged to different shapes, but they all mingled together. Enough was gathered to put a strangely shaped meal before me. After I devoured what I was offered, I watched the car again. Watching the twins whisper-war over which song to play when or whose turn it was to pick the station. Normal sibling stuff, I imagined. The sky only seemed to get darker every passing hour we remained on the twisty road around the mountains. Reason had been trying to keep my attention occupied with mindless prattling about the different shades of black cloaking ever-darkening night sky.
I looked, no, stared at Blue eyes through the rear-view mirror. Something about he and I, I couldn’t place. “How’s she doing, Gabe?” Blue Eyes called from the driver’s seat.
“She’s awake and observing. She’s eaten, so she’s less prone to attack,” Gabe replied absently. “I wouldn’t try human communication at this time. She’s a little more instinctual right now. All guards up.” He winked at me and I narrowed my eyes at him. He twitched involuntarily. A vibration caught my attention and a bright light flashed across the ceiling of the car shortly after.
“Hello, Isabelle. How are-? . . . Yes, we did...We’re on our way back now. We -. . . Yep, around. . . Hang on. . . Leo, how long until we’re home? Isabelle is vibrating in her slippers!” Brown Eyes hissed.
“Another hour or so. Once we get home, I’m sleeping for a week,” Blue Eyes replied.
“Isabelle, we’re flyin’ it for the rest of the night. We’ll be home soon. Bye.” An audible beep followed.
“What has Isabelle’s panties in a twist?” Gabe pulled his eyes away from me to turn to Brown Eyes.
“She’s excited over the new roommate. Since Racheal has taken up more classes on weapons-training and leather-working, Isabelle’s been hanging out with some of the Huntresses in her sewing club.” Brown Eyes shrugged.
“That took forever. How Racheal-like to go to school when school wasn’t in session,” Gabriel snorted.
“In that Isabelle is caught up on her projects for the sewing club and spends her time alone practicing her archery while I’m practicing shooting or studying. She’s looking for another girlfriend to dote on. She hasn’t been olagonin’ as of late, but she should,” Blue Eyes chimed in. “Is... she up for that sort of thing?” Blue Eyes sounded slightly hard when asking the question.
“She’s not the fashionista her roommate was, but she enjoys being pampered, even if she won’t admit it,” Gabe teased me with his answer. I tore my eyes from Gabriel’s eyes that mocked me.
′What’s on your mind? ′
′Reason, stop asking me. I’m not going to be ok for a while. I think it’s fair of me to ask for time to process my imprisonment. Quit trying to make this better. This won’t be ‘better’ for a long time,’ I sent flatly, shutting down. The moon made her way across the sky, polishing the stars with her light. Honking and bright lights soon drowned out the sky in artificial brightness and loud screeches.
“I never thought the traffic for the town of WhittleWood would be this bad on a Thursday night…” Blue Eyes muttered.
“Leo, it’s five am on Friday…” Brown Eyes yawned.
“Yar fucking kidding…” Blue Eyes groaned.
“Leo, need me to drive?” Gabe offered.
“Are you awake?” Blue Eyes asked.
“More awake than you two. You can crash in the back. Don’t worry about Gale.” Blue Eyes pulled over. Gabriel got into the driver’s side next to Theo and drove back onto the road. We passed through the town, silently. I saw homes with lights on and people moving across the windows.
′Lives of families continuing unaware, ′ I thought bitterly. Tall grey buildings lit only by the tall lights around the parking lots.
′Hm, I usually get my shirts from that store, ′ I thought absently.
’Not legally. ′
’And you never let me forget it. ′ Gabriel had turned on the heater. My eyelids began to droop as the heat came on me. It was kind of nice. Other buildings of stores of all kinds blew past my window as we drove on. Soon the town disappeared into the darkness of a long stretch of road. Lights flashed past the only things lighting this pitch-black road before we made a sudden left turn. The sound of Blue Eyes calling out the window was my only alert that we may even be remotely close to my prison.
“Leonardo DarkArrow, Theodorus DarkArrow, and Gabriel HollowStone.” Blue Eyes named. The voice at the other end buzzed something and the gates rolled apart. The mechanics of the machine and slightly squeaky wheels pierced the normally quiet night. We drove through and the gates closed behind us. The streetlights illuminated close by areas of the car as we drove past. We were in a giant courtyard, mostly shrouded in the dark of night. Of what I could see, the lawn was well-manicured, with flower beds in designated spots around the gates and around the brick pathway we drove on. We passed a giant marble fountain in the middle of the courtyard. The path bowed around it, granting us access to the biggest brick building I had ever seen. Most of the windows were alight with life behind virtually invisible glass, a giant brick, multi-leveled mansion teeming with life. Another squeaking, rolling noise alerted me to our drive down into the underground garage. Lights turned on as we drove, illuminated the rows and rows of the same jeep in parking space after parking space.
Gabriel skillfully parked the jeep at the end of the line, all lights on at this point. Everyone hopped out of the car and gathered around the back of the jeep. The twins peered at me like I was a zoo animal. They mouthed things at each other, looking around nervously. Gabriel rolled his eyes and opened the back of the jeep. Blue Eyes was the first to reach for my fastenings and free me from the harness.
“Hands up and take a step back,” Gabriel warned them. They complied immediately. Gabriel picked me up bridal style while one of the twins closed the back of the jeep with a loud thunk and locked it with an even louder “Beep beep!”
“Go on ahead, Gabe. We’ll unpack the car!” Blue Eyes volunteered.
“We didn’t bring much, we may be able to make it in one trip,” Brown Eyes said, optimistic. Gabriel nodded at them and walked away.
′Alone, with you? Pfft, no! ′ I made a move to knee him in the face, to which he responded by taking away the arm that supported my back, left me to hang upside down from the arm that supported my legs. My arms swung over my head, bound together but now low enough to touch the black asphalt under their shoes.
“Saving that for me, were you? I appreciate the time and effort. Keep me tucked tightly in your thoughts; that’s my happy place.” He maneuvered me so I was suddenly right side up then flopped over his shoulder. I beat his back with my bound fists and kicked at his front.
“Drop me! Drop me, you insufferable-”
“The word is ‘insatiable’,’” he corrected.
“I know what I said!” I snapped. He laughed.
“Give up. You’re not going to win,” he promised.
“You traitorous, lying, bastard!” I screamed.
“Scream all you like. No one can hear you,” he muttered. I screamed every curse I knew in both English and Elvish. The twins managed to catch up, carrying the bags of equipment from their trip.
“She’s got a set of lungs on ’er,” Brown Eyes noted in amusement. I looked up at him, glaring. He jumped in place.
“Let her tire herself out. She’s weary and it’s been a long drive. She’ll be starving when she wakes up. Tell Racheal to start a warm shower,” Gabriel instructed. The twins passed us as I continued hit by hit, blow after blow, to no effect. Gabriel patiently waited for me to tire myself out as he had predicted. His arm tightened around my waist so I wouldn’t slip off due to movement, and when I stopped he slowly rubbed my back.
“I know. Scary place. Mean traitor. Strange clones with funny accents…”
“HEY!” They protested.
“Haven’t you always told me that divine intervention had a reason for everything? That luck had nothing to do with it? That there is no such thing as coincidence?” He reminded me. I remained still and silent. My stomach tightened as adrenaline rushed, but I could not move. “I know, it’s a lot to ask you to trust me again. I ask for a trust loan. Trust me, and I’ll prove to you over time why I should have it back,” he said flatly.
“...Traitor.” I bit my cheek to keep from talking any further.
“I know.” He adjusted me as gently as he could before he continued his path out of the parking garage. He made our way into the elevator and clicked a button, closing the silver doors of the elevator which I saw through the reflective metal wall across from them. I saw the forest-dwelling mess that was my appearance. My white hair was in a tangled mess, my clothes were stained with grass and dirt, and my skin had a thin layer of dirt more visible on other spots. Dark purple eyes bore back at me, distracted me from the small sun stamped between my eyes. The girl in my reflection was dirty but otherwise fine. I usually chalked up my unusual good health to the constant earth magic flowing through me always. We reached our floor and soon my reflection and I was separated. The carpet we stepped onto to get off the elevator was a thin green floor to offset the dark oak wood frame and furniture to highlight the custard yellow walls. Pictures of sports teams with gold and silver trophies lined around a glass case that displayed those trophies.
′Smells like school spirit, ′ Reason mused. The lights turned off behind us so I watched the sports teams display go black as if the darkness were a creature that followed us.
“You’re going to be roomed with two other Huntresses named Racheal CinderSwift and Isabelle SnowSeeker. Isabelle is a sweetheart and Racheal is. . . Racheal is Racheal,” Gabriel mentioned casually.
“Helpful,” I muttered.
“Racheal is head over heels for Theo, the brown-eyed twin. Isabelle is all over Leo, the blue-eyed twin. You’ll see what I mean as we go,” he spoke conversationally as if guiding a new Mage student around a foreign Sanctuary. His babble faded into the background as I tried to block him out. I needed to sleep. I needed to reset myself and-...
′I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. ′
“Before you go passing out on us, Racheal set up a shower for you. You have clothes to sleep in after the shower,” he promised.
’A shower. Huh, a shower that isn’t from a waterfall. It’s been a while. ′ We walked through a few doors, making our way to our destination when I heard giggling. Gabriel knocked on the door deliberately.
“She’s here!” A girl gasped. Her voice was soft and warm, welcoming.
“Calm yourself!” Another young woman commanded. Her voice was stern but soft, much like a mother chastising an impatient child. I heard the click of a door opening.
“Hey Gabe, what’ cha got there?” The soft voice asked, joking.
“My future wife whom I am placing in your capable care.” Gabriel maneuvered me so he was holding me again and passed me over to a new set of arms. These arms were slender, feminine, and surprisingly strong.
“Wanna run that by me again, traitor!?” I snapped.
“Where did you find her?” The soft voice asked in a whisper.
“By Hunter’s Fall. We chased her to the top, then she dove off the edge,” Blue Eyes answered. Click-clack! My arms, once resting on my stomach, fell at my sides. I still wore the bracers, but they were no longer connected.
“Racheal, I need you to come with me. Gather your shampoo, my conditioner, and my soaps. That should bring a little life to her hair if nothing else. We’ll be back.” I closed my eyes, leaning my head against the girl’s shoulder. “Oh my god! She’s here! Racheal!” The soft voice whispered in excitement.
“Yeah, I see,” the other girl replied flatly, her voice deep and authoritative. I heard running water, distant and weak. I felt the heat of the water the moment we entered the darkroom of tile. Their heels clicked against the tile floor, gently kicked benches out of their way until they had reached our destination. I was placed on a damp cool wooden surface and my clothes began to disappear.
“Think it’s a tattoo?” asked the deeper voiced woman.
“Which one?” Inquired the softer voice.
“The one on her leg. Where’s the other one?” The deeper voice answered.
“Between her eyes, right here,” the soft voice answered. The water grew louder and the air began to smell like over-scented soaps, mostly lavender.
“Ready? One. . . two . . . three!” I was placed upright on my feet without my consent. I would have slipped forward had they not caught me by my arms.
“Gabe should have mentioned that she hasn’t been on her feet in eight hours,” The deeper voiced one hinted at an accent like the twins.
“We need to be quick about this. Gabe said this wasn’t going to be pretty,” the softer voice warned. I opened my eyes and adjusted to my new surroundings. The tile floor below me was wet, but not uneven. The tiles felt dry enough to grip while I showered.
“Shampoo is on your left, conditioner is to your right, and body wash is on the floor in front of you next to the loofa. If you need anything, we’ll be right outside. I’ll be back to check on you later,” The softer voice promised. I gave a nod as my response before two sets of footsteps disappeared. I was at the farthest end of the shower hall, closed off in my little cubicle. A single light shined overhead to illuminate my late-night activity. I stood under the water, lukewarm and the pressure was much weaker than I was used to. I waved my hand to call forth more water. I waited, and nothing happened. I waved my hand again.
’Strange, this usually works.′ I waved my hand one more time. A silver reflection caught my eye. ′Anti-magic bracers!′ I waved my hand again. I waved my other. I waved them both frantically. ‘Something needs to happen. Water needs to move! Air must move! Fire! I need fire!’ I called forth fire, only for nothing to happen. ′No! Noo!!’ I waved my hands repeatedly, calling forth the elements over and over again. Nothing. Nothing changed. Nothing moved at my command. Nothing…-nothing. I felt like the air had been vacuumed out of my lungs as realization squeezed me.
’It’s gone! My magic is gone! Reason! REASON! My magic is gone! They took it! No! NO! NO! NO! NO! NOOO!!!′
“NOOOOO!!!! AAAAaaaahh!” I screamed. I lost all the air from my lungs, but I continued screaming. My screamed turned into wails as it sank in more and more what they had taken from me.
′Gale! Gale! Breathe! Gale, calm down! Gale, it’s not gone! Your magic isn’t gone! Gale! Gale! It’s temporary! Gale! Listen to me! ′ Reason yelled for my attention, but I was beyond consoling.
“You can’t do this to me! I haven’t harmed anyone! I don’t deserve this! Give it back! Bring it baaack!” I screamed. No matter how long I screamed, no one came to heed my cries. My soul-shattering screams echoed as if others in pain suffered with me. KTKSHHHH! Glass shattered outside my little cubby of madness. I curled up into a ball and alternated between screams and cries. I felt like someone had taken an important part of me and stored it in a jar on a shelf where I couldn’t reach it.
“I can’t live without it. . .. give it back. . .. please,” I sobbed. I curled up into a ball and let the water run over me as I sobbed. A part of me had been taken away.
′Slow torture first? What had I done to deserve being cut off?! How could you?!.... Well, duh, Gale. How else are they going to keep you? Make your powers non-existent,’ I told myself. Reason had left the building, let me wallow in my loss alone. Reason knew better than to bother me now. I had to get over this on my own, as it should be. Eventually, I had cried myself out of tears. I picked myself up off the floor turned the hot water knob manually. I distracted myself with lathering up my hair.
’I never realized how much hair I have, ′ I thought flatly, pulling out small tangled twigs from the hidden parts of my hair and cleaned myself up. I lathered up the washcloth and started on my legs, cleaned the mark the deeper voiced one had spoken of earlier. My Mage’s Mark was a thorny tangle of roses on vines. It stretched from my right knee cap and ended on my left hip. I used the conditioner. I noticed the brand-new razor and shaving cream still in the packaging. I opened and used everything left at my disposal, and I felt a little more civilized.
′At least I feel something. ′
I dried off with the towel and slipped into the tight, long-sleeved, thin blue shirt and fuzzy blue, white, and green polka-dotted pajama pants. I wrapped the towel around my head, to contain my hair. I stepped out of the shower room to find the long dark locker room stood between me and the exit door. I waved my hand to summon a flame for light.
’Oh yeah, ′ I thought dryly.
I felt the wall, surprised by how cold it was, but then I didn’t normally touch walls barehanded. It’s hard to get most walls to stop talking once they start. I cringed, expecting voices to start whispering and exhaled in both relief and a feeling that squeezed my lungs when I heard nothing. A reminder of my most recent melt-down. I found the switch and flipped it on. Tall green lockers around chin height on a normal high school student were lined in perfect rows, awaiting use. Benches stood askew where the women who brought me here had kicked them aside. Towels were carelessly strewn about.
′Gale, you took to Salem’s teachings like you were meant to be a Guardian or a Huntress in your own right. Heh, in a perfect world. ′ I crossed the room and opened the bluish-green steel door leading out into the green hallway with motion-activated lights.
“Don’t freak out, but I’m right behind you,” The softer voiced woman whispered right in my ear. I froze in place. She stepped around me, slowly made her way into my field of view. Her long, wavy honey-blonde hair bounced around her face, her bright, green eyes piercing, her soft lips upturned at the corners, and her teeth shone white.
“Isabelle SnowSeeker. I’ve been assigned to escort you from the showers back to our room.” I gave her a once over.
‘I bet I could make a break for it if I ran now.’ I ran. I dropped my towel in the process but made a run for an exit, any exit. My legs felt like jelly and hurt with every move. I had never been this sore before. I felt a sharp pain and everything in me went limp.
“Sorry, sweetie, but I couldn’t let you getaway. Gabe would be hard-pressed to forgive me...C’mon, upsi-daisy.” Isabelle lifted my dead-weight into her arms.
“What did you do?” I demanded in a whisper, my throat scratching.
“Pressure point. It’s a specialty of mine. It will wear off by the time we get to the Artemis dorms. I can’t imagine how sore you must be… But, I’m pushing. Are you hungry? Gabriel made some food for you before he left to find you. The boys have been talking nonstop about you-”
′Food...real food. That would be amazing.′ Isabelle happily yammered on about whatever she spoke about, a slight hint of Ireland in her voice. Soon we ended up back in the “Artemis dorm” as Isabelle called it. Isabelle knocked rhythmically after she dropped my lower half. I leaned on her for support until I could feel my legs again. I slowly moved my arms as Gabriel opened the door to let us in. He let Isabelle pass without a word and took her place next to me, closing the door behind himself.
“Gale, I-” I held my hand up to stop him.
“I’m tired,” My voice was raspy. “And talking doesn’t interest me. Ms. SnowSeeker has promised food.” I turned to make another break for it. He grabbed my arm instantly, stopped me in my tracks. I was too sore and tired anyway. No way was I going to go far.
’Give in for the night. Tomorrow is another day, ′ Reason assured.
’I know. You’re right, ′ I caved. Gabriel picked me up and carried me inside the dorm before placing me at a table in front of a plate of food. I smelled butter, syrup, and the famous scent of pancakes.
’My gods, food! ′ I picked up a fork and devoured my entire plate wordlessly. Once my plate was done, I stood uneasily.
“Hold on, hold on! I gotcha!” Isabelle supported me and led me to a darkroom in the back. I heard a door open smoothly and I was led into a darker room without the light and noise of life in the brighter room. I was pushed onto the world’s softest bed. I wrapped my arms around the pillow and was out in seconds. Whispers echoed in the back of my mind as I retreated from the physical realm.
“’ I can’t believe she’s here!’” The soft voice was excited again.
“’ I can’t believe she’s real! She exists! Did you see those eyes?!’” the deeper voiced Irish girl spoke.
“’ Dude! Why did you break the glass? That was Leo’s favorite glass!’” Brown Eyes protested.
“Let’s say she found out she’s not an active Mage anymore.”