Stolen (The Evalanty series, #1)

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1.1 - Maisie

August 21st, 2042

Near Uppsala Cathedral

The pulse is pounding in my ears. Everything sounds underwater. The muscles in my legs are on fire. Almost there! Voices of our enemies echo from all directions. Just a little further …

“Watch out!” Lorena screams.

Something hard strikes against my foot, the broken asphalt rushes closer to my face. I look for support and grab hold of Lorena’s arm not to fall. The whole body is paralyzed. My feet and knees are dragged against the street when Lorena is forced to pull me forward. Dilapidated buildings border the roads. On the other side of a ruin, light shines around the ground. The gravel flies around the feet of our sharp braking. We fling our way across to the nearest brick wall, where our backs hit the worst. The lungs stop working for a few seconds, but I quickly regain my grip.

We slowly follow the wall, step by step. The lungs scream for oxygen, and my rushing heart makes the whole throat hammer. But I dare not take proper breaths. Finally, we throw ourselves behind some bushes, and I allow myself to breathe normally again.

My teeth shatter, and the skin bumps on my arms. The mouth tastes blood, and today’s meals are threatening to come back up. But as the voices draw closer and the lights against the ground grow more prominent, I force away my desire to give in to nausea.

Lorena pats me on the shoulder.

“Maisie?”

She mimics more than talking and gesturing to the remains of a shrubbery farther away. My intestines twist like trying to escape a vise, but it doesn’t matter. Nothing has ever been able to separate me from my powers before, and I refuse to let that happen now.

With my eyes focused on the bushes, I take a few deep breaths. The surroundings slowly fade away, and the hedge is all that exists. It demands all parts of my consciousness. The distance decreases without me taking a single step. Then, when the branches are so close I can touch them, a dazzling inferno swallows them. The flames travel down to the roots, explode to the sky, and spreads all over the ground. I close my eyes, direct all focus to the fire. My mind disappears and unites with the power of the element.

My element.

The first time my body joined the flames, I had no control. Now the fire shapes and stirs to all of my demands.

The fire licks the trees, and I see everything from their crowns. The Guardians, the soldiers of the Authorities, stare at the sea of fire. They see themselves as humanity’s only hope against us with magic, but it’s really all about fear of what you can’t control. So they follow their leaders’ orders without hesitation, just like all those who believe that magicians must be exterminated.

Some of them make awkward attempts to get past the fire but back away when I build more power. The flames grow into a wall, shielding us from the threat.

“Look out!” someone yells when the flames roar against them.

I glance over the Guardians like a terrifying tsunami, and those closest to it are hurling backward. They try to find a way around, but the fire blocks all access. My strength is fading rapidly. I will not be able to go on for long. Something is running along my chin, and my stinging lower lip confirms that I have broken the skin in concentration.

With one last set of energy, I throw myself towards the Guardians. The contact breaks, and I am thrown back into my own body.

Lorena pulls on my arm. This is our only chance to escape. But, as the last of the fire dies out, the Guardians continue their pursuit of us. The cathedral rises on a hill and the shots from the guns echo behind us.

“Ouch, damn it!” Lorena shouts as we rush up the stairs.

A dark red stain spreads over her shirt. The doors crackle as I struggle to get them open. Almost inside ... The threshold of the Church is a magical boundary. Once we’re within the solid walls, we collapse against the stone floor. I’m not even trying to get up. The muscles are shaking so badly that they wouldn’t carry me either way.

Sanctuaries like this Church are protected by spells invented by the magicians who fight against Caleston and his brainwashed slaves.

Not even the Authorities can reach us here.

But even if the Church is now our salvation, Christian extremists fueled the hatred in our direction in the first place. The Church grew stronger after magic turned out to be accurate, and their power increased with the disgust towards non-humans. So when the war began, the influence of Christianity in Sweden was more potent than ever. This is not the first time we are fighting each other, even though the witch-hunt now only exists as stories.

“I told you,” I exhale with breathing as barbed wire in the airways. “I told you it was dangerous to be above ground! This would never have happened if we had just stayed put!”

Lorena, thanks to her being a vampire, has already recovered. The fact that her kind can’t stay in churches is just a myth, even though it’s not one of her favorite places.

“If you had to live on the blood down there,” she moans as she digs the bullet from her left hip, “you would take the risk without a second thought.”

‘Down there’ refers to the hiding-place underground. Most magicians, including us, have taken shelter from the Guardians and the magicians who have given us all a bad reputation. If you are not with us, you are against us.

We who disagree with their philosophy that humans are worthless are seen as traitors. We are considered worse than humans to them, and if they get hold of you, begging for mercy is useless.

There are at least a dozen other people of various ages scattered around the hall. Everyone stays for themselves. It’s safest at the moment. Everything is silent, some whispers at most.

A middle-aged man with grey hair and sideburns approaches us. His reflective vest shows that he is one of the volunteers who help refugees with what might be needed.

I wrap my hand around the amulet of my necklace. The crystal is shaped like a flame, made from red glass, and enfolded with silvery vines. A soothing glow shines between my fingers, and the heat travels straight to the heart. Somewhere I hear Lorena’s muffled voice, probably still talking to the volunteer.

Fatigue spreads throughout my body as if I have sunk into a hot bath. I need just to shut my eyes... rest my head ...

The fog covering my mind vanishes from a slap upon the back of my head.

“Ouch!” I burst out as I cover the area with my hand. “What was that for?”

“For not listening,” Lorena snapped.

“Of course, I did!”

“Mhm. Then what did I say?”

“You said ... eh ...”

The words die out when Lorena raises her eyebrows.

“Nice save,” she says sourly.

She stares at my hand that is still closed around the charm.

“Sorry …” I mumble, hiding it inside the sweater.

“That necklace always makes you brain dead,” she continues. “It might be dangerous. So you should get rid of it.”

It’s not the first time she mentions it, but it still manages to anger me every time.

“I can’t just throw it away. It…”

“Or better yet,” she interrupts. “You can send it to Caleston. Then, if he lost his mind, it would solve all our problems.”

Caleston is the man who triggered the hatred from humanity against us. He urged humans to see us all as enemies, even though many of us want to get rid of the dark magicians, the ones that are anti-human, as much as they do. People call us the “ultimate test of God” with the Guardians as the Holy soldiers. But just as it is with magicians, some humans don’t share their leaders’ opinions.

“I said that ...”

“Imagine how easy it would be if you removed everything from an enemy: memories, personality, emotions. Then you could fool the person just about anything.”

“Lorena!” I hiss to make her stop.

I’ve had enough. Lorena’s words enrage me to no end. She should know better than to say that! But she grins in response to my outburst.

“Don’t get your knickers in a twist. I’m just teasing you.”

I can’t stand to even look at her right now. I grab hold of the charm through the sweater and walk away quickly. Breathing gasps through the nose, and the heat rises in the chest. Lorena hurries after and puts her hand on my shoulder to halter my steps.

“Why are you so angry?” she whispers.

I close my eyes and take a deep breath to calm myself.

“The necklace and my magic are the only things I remember.” I open my eyes and turn to look at Lorena. “It’s the only thing I have left that connects me to who I once was. Everything else is gone, you know that. So I can’t just throw away the only clue I have to my past.”

Lorena looks away with a sigh.

“I’m sorry for being so clumsy.”

I follow her gaze. I notice that we are standing in front of Gustav Vasa’s tomb. It feels good that so much important history remains, despite the senseless violence that rages throughout Europe.

“It doesn’t matter,” I mumble.

Lorena wraps her arm around my shoulders and kisses my head. It always feels like being hugged by a giant; she is at least two heads taller than me.

“Besides, not everyone is like you. Some of us want to remember where we come from,” I add. “I don’t understand how you can be so uninterested in your past.”

I had always wanted to know more about Lorena’s life as a human. But to my frustration, she has always been secretive. Her dark skin is a sharp contrast to my bright one, and beneath her black mohawk, the shaved sides are adorned by tattooed tribals. She always reminds me of a modern version of an Amazon.

“Just as little as I understand why you are so obsessed with yours,” Lorena replies. “The past is just history. Focus on what’s happening now. Have you ever considered that there may be a reason why you have no recollection of your old life? You may not like the answer?”

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