Stolen (The Evalanty series, #1)

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1.2 - Maisie

My gaze falls on the Church’s pulpit. It is as if an invisible force draws me to it. Lorena tries to stop me as I start to walk up the winding stairs. We should not stay longer than necessary. But sitting hidden up here would provide a moment of a long-desired rest. I sit down with a thump, and as I lean my head against the edge, my eyelids close themselves.

But my mind can’t let go of Lorena’s question.

Although I refuse to admit it, there’s no denying that I have thought the same things many times. I wish I could turn back the time to when my magical powers were still secret.

Life with my foster family was great back then. I believed that they loved me and accepted me for who I was, no matter what problems I was having. But the look they gave me when they saw the fire ... the terror and horror haunts me to this day.

It has been six years since I fled. I was only fourteen, and we all lived in one of the gated communities of the Authorities. Their main goal was to exterminate us, and one of their most loyal soldiers was my own foster father, Stefan.

The gap between us had arisen eight years earlier, but it grew stronger when he started working for the Authorities. As time went on, more of his fatherly love disappeared. The atmosphere at home was always thick with anger. He struggled to exterminate magicians for several years while I kept it secret, being one of them. How often did I not hear his constant hatred of magic and all who practiced it?

He took care of me for six years, ever since I was found alone and lost in the snow at eight years old ... but he forgot all of it, just because of my magic.

“We have to move.”

I am struggling to open my eyes, still half asleep.

“How long have we been sitting here?” I mumble and rub my eyes.

“Almost an hour, we have to go back before the entrance is closed. It won’t surprise me if the Guardians are waiting for us out there.”

Outside of one of the church windows, black clouds are beginning to gather in the sky. A faint thunder is heard as we open the doors. The upcoming storm is like a black cloak over the city, illuminated only by occasional lightning bolts. I glance around the area in search of enemies, but it looks deserted.

“We have to hurry if we can get home before the storm gets worse,” murmurs Lorena.

We set off down the sloping street. Every shadow feels intimidating. The sky flashes when we are almost at one of the hiding places’ entrances.

Just when I’m setting foot on the stone wall around the area, Lorena screams behind me. But the bang comes before I have time to react. I fall backward from the wall, and my head hits the ground. The world disappears for a moment, but I manage to recover just before the unknown comes back.

I quickly roll aside. Everything is still blurry, but I can see dark blonde dreadlocks. A few steps further away, a girl lies on the ground with a woman sitting on her stomach. The woman tries to tear a pair of daggers out of the girl’s hands. It must have been them who barged into me. They seemed to have appeared from thin air, and one of them must be able to make them invisible.

The woman is twice the girl’s size, but she still seems to have difficulty getting the upper hand. Eventually, they roll around, and the girl ends up at the top. The woman grabs her shoulders and throws her away before quickly getting on her feet. A rush passes through me as the woman moves in my direction. She stops when she sees me; she doesn’t seem to have noticed me until now. Her steel-grey look gives a sense of indifference as if she is capable of committing the cruelest acts.

She prepares for an attack but suddenly freezes. She stares uninterruptedly at my chest, and as I look down, the pendant on my necklace shines so clearly that it is visible through the sweater, resembling a real flame.

The woman stays still but comes back to life when the young girl comes back. She flips around to parry the daggers pointed at her neck. The girl moves faster than anyone her age should be and doesn’t hesitate between the blows. Yet, the woman avoids them with impressive agility.

Just as she spins around and gets a real kick in the girl’s stomach, Lorena pulls me off the ground. We throw ourselves over the wall. Although my head is about to explode, I force myself, with my last powers, to run to the hiding place. Somewhere behind me, I hear a man calling out the name Lesley, but I don’t look back behind me.

The sky opens up as we rush towards the entrance. The heavy rain obscures the view, thunder rumbles from all directions, and we barely manage to pass through the gate before it closes. There are dozens of entrances across the city, but only one is open at a time. For security reasons, it takes half an hour between closing one and opening the next.

When we finally get inside, I feel like an ice sculpture even though the body is covered with sweat. My shoes are soaked, and my feet are all numb. The hair, which otherwise usually lives its own life, is plastered against my face. The arched passages are formed of solidified clay, are big enough so you can stand upright, and are at least four people in width.

The hiding place began to build as the hate crimes against the magicians grew. Finally, our own realized what was happening and used their powers to create this refuge. Some corridors are only used to mislead those who are trying to find us. Even though we are below ground, it is always dry and warm.

“Home sweet home,” Lorena mutters as our beds come into view.

The various passages are forming a maze under central Uppsala. If someone manages to find the right path, the corridors will open to square camps sooner or later. All have room for about twenty beds. They are so low that the mattress could just as quickly be directly on the ground, but instead, it is on a couple of drawers where we have our items, such as clothes and hygiene.

“Be grateful that you can sleep safely at all,” I reply with a groan as I struggle to get off my clothes.

“I know. I miss being outdoors and watching the stars without having to worry about being murdered.”

I decide not to comment and focus on trying to get dry. Of course, I can’t wait to get out of here but remember that I can’t do more harm than good. Also, my claustrophobia is awful enough as it is.

During the first year, Lorena and I slept at different times so she could keep an eye on me. I was sleep-walking several times a week, back and forth between the camp walls, and mumbled that I had to get out. When I was awake, I got shortness of breath, and the body’s feeling was crushing my soul. It even happened that I was scratching myself on the chest in my sleep. Thankfully, things have slowly gotten better.

When the worst of the rain has dried up, my eyes sting of fatigue, and the pillow has never looked so inviting.

Lorena falls on her back with a sigh.

“It was so much easier to be human,” she says with her eyes to the roof. “Back then, I could disappear in the crowd, and no one noticed me ... unlike now.” She turns her face in my direction. “What would you do if you had a choice? Do you want to be a regular human instead of a magician?”

I pause with the braid I started. I was only eight years old when I realized how different I was. Walking around with that secret for so long slowly tore me apart. In my teens, I got outbursts of frustration, feeling like a ghost in crowds. The destruction of school property and fights with other students was a cry for attention. The punishments felt like rewards because it meant that someone actually saw me.

“If there was a way to remove the magic ...” I answer absent-mindedly and finish the braid. “I’d rather do that than continue to be a target.”

I lay down under the blanket. What I said was true, I’ve always felt that way, but this was the first time I said it out loud and made it real.

The glowing pendant of my necklace rests between my fingers. But no matter how much support the piece of jewelry ignites in me, Lorena gnaws words in the back of my head. Maybe this should stay in the past, as it belongs in a time best left behind?

Before I can change my mind, I take it off and hide it under my pillow. Life has been complicated enough right now without adding what has been.

To see the world’s hatred as something normal means acceptance, but nothing can make me accept what’s going on. I will never get used to the atrocities that I have already experienced far too many of them.

The memories of my escape when I was fourteen years old are still fresh in my mind. I remember the chilly wind blowing through the clothes, the smell of moss and dirt, sounds of crickets and distant fireflies. Anything could have happened, but I was indifferent to the dangers. I remained paralyzed by the tree, with reality rushing away without me. Finally, I realized that it was now me against the world, and the grief was overwhelming. I can still feel how I repeatedly hit my head against the tree trunk in sheer despair. The only thing that comforted me was the necklace and my fire.

I lie down on my stomach and conjure a flame in my hand. The heat is spreading throughout my body as if it travels with the blood itself. The fire has always been the most private and filled my heart with love. I can’t help but smile as the flames dance around on my skin and transform into a horse. The little figure runs around and prances as if to impress. A remembrance of a more innocent time…

“You know what?”

I shut my fist quickly when hearing Lorena.

“I thought you were sleeping?”

“No ...” She continues to stare at the ceiling. “I was thinking about what you said earlier, about being grateful. Then I realized how impressed I am with how quickly they managed to fix this place.”

... seriously?

“I know,” I say dramatically. “It’s almost like magic!”

Lorena looks in my direction with a frown, but when she sees my wide grin, she growls and hits me with the pillow while I wheeze with laughter.

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