“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.