Chapter Sixteen: Scrawled Ink
Saf was still talking with Luna by the time I got back, so I decide to see what Ana and Ehren were finding in the books Saf and I brought back. Besides, if an address was something that was going to happen, we should all have a conversation about it later. It’d feel strange to not include everyone in that decision.
I find Ana in the training room a few moments later, waving to her as I made my way down the stairs. She’s sitting on the ground, her face buried in the Art of Compelling book, with the simulation room whirring away; Ehren must be in there at the moment.
Ana’s hair is in a high bun, with thick square framed glasses on her face and a seafoam green crop sweater. I notice a thin black line defining her eyelid and extending past her eye, making her amber eyes appear bigger.
She glances up at me as I come into the area, giving me a quick smile before looking back down at her book. Maybe it’s just my imagination, but something about her seems lighter; or at least, she’s less distant than usual.
“How’s Tessa?” She asks without looking up.
I sit and lean against an adjacent mat, facing her, “she’s great,” I pause, “find anything interesting in there?”
She hums, “some things. For one, compulsion requires a large amount of energy on their part. Which means,” she trails off as she flips through another page, “they’ve been getting stronger if they now have the ability to do such a thing.”
I try to ignore the pit forming in my stomach.
“That’s worrying,” I comment, “anything else?”
“Just that,” she pauses, “they use your insecurities to get to you,” she whispers, “but I think that was obvious.”
She looks down, adjusting the frame of her glasses up the bridge of her nose.
“Yah,” I whisper.
I should say something.
“Are you doing okay?” I ask in the next breath.
She nods with a small smile, “I’m fine. It’s a process, but I’m okay.”
I wonder what they said in their attempt to compel Saf. From what she told me, I think they played into her anxiety and self doubt more than anything else. I wonder what would have happened if they knew used her parents’ memory against her or something. Maybe it’s something she keeps buried so deep they wouldn’t have been able to detect her feelings around it. It’s hard to say.
I try to push the thoughts away.
I still don’t understand why they would have targeted Saf in the first place. Maybe one factor could just be that she’s so new to the role, but that can’t be the only reason.
It can’t be.
Now that I think about it, two out of the three people they’ve compelled – or attempted to – have been fire wielders.
There has to be some significance to that.
I hear the simulation room power down as Ehren walks towards us, running his hands through his long curly hair.
“Oh, you’re back!” He exclaims.
“How was the sim?” I shout back.
He shrugs and sits between Ana and I.
“It was okay. I needed to take a break after reading through that journal you brought back. There’s some dark shit in there.”
“Like what?” I frown.
He dramatically lays down on the ground, “just about things they were planning. Just how menacing it all was, I don’t know,” he shivers, quickly glancing to the side, where the leather-bound journal is laying.
“Here, check it out if you want,” he adds, “I think I saw your name in there a few times.”
I tense, “what did it say?”
Saf and Luna are the only two that know the full extent of what happened with Midnight all those months ago. And even though I trust Ehren and Ana completely, I don’t feel entirely comfortable with the idea of them knowing about what happened. Not even Tessa knows.
Ehren frowns at me for a moment, “nothing crazy, why?”
I quickly look down and open to a random page, “just curious.”
I would imagine Midnight’s journal would have much more content on me; I suppose it’s a good thing we found Nox’s and not hers.
I quickly start scanning through the pages, inhaling sharply as I see a section written about Ryker that’s dated from about a month ago.
The plan to take out Ryker has proved successful. Moreover, it confirmed that possession is possible, in the Shadow Realm, at the very least. In the coming weeks, tests will be done to see if something like this can impact the island.
All the warmth seems to leave my body as I read the scrawled ink on the page, sending chills down my spine.
I flip the page to the next entry – dated from the Jaxson incident.
Tests have proved successful and have confirmed that it is possible to compel one person on the island from here in the Shadow Realm. The boy was filled with so much anger that it wasn’t exactly difficult to compel him, but it still worked, nonetheless. Now, his incident should help in building unrest against fire wielders on the island. We need to target Saffire to keep that momentum going; if she’s seen as a threat, other Fire Wielders will be seen in the same light. But we need more power in order to compel more than one person at a time for our plan to work.
I cover my mouth in shock.
“Oh my God,” I breathe.
Ehren glances over at the page, “oh, I forgot about all that. Yikes.”
I gently close the book and hand it back to him, taking in a deep breath.
They targeted Saf and other fire wielders to build unrest.
It makes perfect sense, in some dark, twisted way. Then they could use that fear that comes from that to compel people, but how could they take control of more than one person at a time?
My mind dwells on the thought for a second, before my stomach lurches as I comprehend the first entry I read.
They compelled Ryker.
Is that how they were able to kill him, to prevent him from fighting back? He could hold his own in a fight no matter what, which is part of what made his death so shocking in the first place. It was the last thing anyone expected.
But him being compelled explains it all.
It explains how the twins were able to kill him in the first place. It explains why he looked so dazed when he got back; getting back to our world must have taken every ounce of strength he had. But it also brings one chilling fact to light.
He probably couldn’t fight back.
The thought makes me feel nauseous.
What if they try to compel me next time we go there for an assignment? Then I probably wouldn’t be able to fight back.
Then Midnight could . . . oh no.
I try cutting off the thought before it can even start, but it lingers in the back of my mind, waiting for a chance to strike me again.
“Are you okay, buddy?” Ehren lightly places a hand on my shoulder, pulling me away from the fear as his calming energy rushes over me.
I glance up and see Ana softly gazing at me, and I realize how tightly I’m clutching the sides of the book.
I shake my head, relaxing my fingers.
“Yah, I’m okay. You’re right though, dark stuff in there.”
“Told you,” he comments, “Luna will know more about the compulsion thing. My biggest worry was how it said they need to figure out how to compel more than one person at a time. I don’t know how I feel about that.”
I think for a moment, “is that even possible?”
“I don’t know,” he says as he looks down.
Ehren lightly smacks my shoulder, “but enough of all that heavy stuff. How’s Tessa?”
I feel a weight lift off me as the previous conversation concludes.
“She’s great, actually. But she gave me some information that I need to let Luna know about later.”
He furrows his brow, “why?”
“Just, stuff that people are saying. It’s not good.”
Ana snaps her head up and analyses me, “what are people saying?”
Can she read my mind? Maybe she knows some of the things going around about her.
I open my mouth to answer when I hear the door open and see Saf walking down the stairs towards us. I give her a wave as she sits down next to me.
“What did I miss? I feel like I broke something up here,” Saf starts.
Ana looks between Saf and I, “oh, Coburn was just going to tell us some of the bad things that people are starting to say, right?” Her amber gaze pierces me.
I bite my lip as Saf gives me a confused glance, “did Tessa say something?”
I sigh, bringing my gaze back to Ana as I relay what Tessa told me about people seeing her on the roof, and how people are starting to know something dark is happening, choosing my words carefully.
Ana blinks several times before responding, bringing her gaze back to her book, “I’d tell Luna as soon as you can,” she says quietly, “I’d like the air to be cleared on that front.”
I nod, “of course.”
She looks up and gives me a weak grin before looking down again, squinting at the page with a light hum.
“Did you find something?” Ehren pipes up.
She bites her lip, “I think so. Do any of you know the role of solar eclipses in compulsion?”
Eclipses? Why would that have anything to do with it?
I shake my head.
“Why?” Saf asks.
Ana shrugs, “it’s handwritten in here, take a look.”
We all gather around her. I notice the sub heading at the top of the page is labelled ‘energy capabilities,’ with the word ‘Solar Eclipse’ scrawled next to it, circled multiple times. I notice the ink looks more faded than other notes on the page, the letters more angular.
“Luna would probably know,” Ehren suggests, “we should probably have a meeting with her anyways, given everything that’s going on.”
We all agree, Saf narrowing her eyes at the book.
“What is it?” Ana asks.
Saf snaps out of her daze, “oh, nothing, just reading the part about how they use your insecurities to take advantage of you. That-er-that explains a lot, I guess.”
Ana gives Saf a kind smile as she hands Saf the book.
Those two must have figured out their differences recently.
Ana gets up and quickly brushes off her black leggings, “was anyone planning to use the sim room again anytime soon? I need to take a break from reading that stuff.”
Ehren shakes his head, “all yours, girl. I was planning to do some target practice anyways. Besides,” he looks at Saf and I, “someone needs to keep an eye on these two.”
“Hey!” Saf’s cheeks turn pink.
Ana chuckles to herself as she walks past us, the sound of a simulation whirring through the room a few moments later.
Ehren gives us a playful smirk.
“I suddenly feel like a third wheel,” he announces, “I’m going to do some target practice. You two behave yourselves,” he says dryly.
A light snicker escapes Saf as Ehren heads in the opposite direction, out of earshot.
“I feel like we should talk to him about the constant commentary,” she laughs.
I shrug with a chuckle, “he’ll get over it. He was the same when . . . you know Ana and Ryker were a couple, right?
She nods, “She told me yesterday after we got back. Her and I had a bit of a heart-to-heart last night,” she smiles.
“I wondered about that,” I contemplate, “but anyways, Ehren was like this when Ana and Ryker first got together. It won’t last too long,” I add, “I can talk to him if you want.”
She shakes her head with a shy smile, “no, it’s fine I’m sure he means well.”
“He does,” I run a hand through my hair.
I gasp as I remember what I wanted to talk to her about.
“How did it go with Luna?”
She presses her lips together as she grins, “it went so great! She was planning to do an address about it in the next few days or so. She actually talked about me sort of leading it and saying a few words, which terrifies me, but it’s not set-in stone yet. I’m still thinking about it.”
I take her hand, “do what you’re comfortable with, but I’d encourage you to go for it,” I start, “you can give that perspective that she can’t. And then she can back you up, which will cause people to follow behind you.”
“Maybe so,” she looks down for a moment, “but from the sounds of everything that’s happening, it looks like that won’t be the only topic covered, hey?”
I frown for a moment, “probably not, just given everything that’s happened.”
She shrugs, “I guess we’ll know more later.”
She jumps and pulls herself onto the thick sparring mat, sitting on the edge as I join her, her feet dangling over the edge.
“I guess it’s a good thing they didn’t try to use my parents when they tried to compel me,” she laughs nervously.
I take her hand, “I’m sure you still would have been okay,” I reassure.
She sighs, “I’m not so sure, honestly.”
She squeezes my hand as I tuck stray curl behind her ear, gently trailing my thumb along her cheekbone.
“Even if they had,” I start, “you had the will to push through it. Besides, it’s like Luna said, if they couldn’t compel you in the Shadow Realm they probably won’t try again because they know they can’t take control of you,” I pause, “but I get it. I’d be scared too. Hell, I am scared.”
The idea of Midnight compelling me creeps back into my mind, causing me to shiver, the nauseous feeling enveloping me again as I feel the colour drain from my face.
She frowns, “did something happen?”
She can still see right through me.
I quickly explain what I found about Ryker in the journal, her face falling.
“Oh my God,” she breathes, “that’s terrible.”
“So, I guess I’m just scared that they’ll compel me so I can’t fight back, and then she could. . .” my voice cracks and I trail off.
“Look at me,” Saf says gently, her emerald gaze on me, “I won’t let that happen. I promise it won’t happen. I’ll make sure of it.”
I get up and bring her up with me, pulling her into a tight embrace.
“You don’t have to promise anything,” I start, “I don’t want you to feel like you’re responsible for me or something.”
“I don’t. I didn’t mean it like that,” she says lightly, looking up at me, “I just meant that I support you, I guess.”
I grin, “I support you too,” I whisper.
We give each other a light peck on the lips before creating space between us.
“Do you want to spar for a little bit? Might help take our mind off things,” I suggest, lightening the mood.
She grins at me playfully, “so you’re saying I won last time and you want a rematch?”
I bite my lip with a smirk as I relax, “I thought we agreed that was a draw,” I tease.
She shrugs and gets to her feet.
“Well, even more reason for a rematch!”
She quickly throws her hair into a low bun as I toss drops of water between my hands. I gaze at her as she brings a few strands of hair loose so they frame her freckled face. Her features seem especially bright today, her cheeks exhibiting a rosy glow.
“Ready?” I smirk.
“Yah, yah, I’m ready,” she snickers, “let’s do it with abilities this time.”
“Sounds good,” I respond in kind, getting into an attack stance.
She raises an eyebrow and throws a large blazing flame in my direction. Right before the attack can hit me, I put up a thick barrier of water that extinguishes the blaze.
She makes a face as I flash her a silly grin, lowering my barrier.
“Still want to use abilities?” I laugh.
She presses her lips together with a smirk, “yah. It’ll make it that much more satisfying when I win,” she quips back.
I bite my lip with a smile at her response.
I focus my energy for a moment and quickly bring my arms down, sending a wave in her direction.
Her eyes widen for a moment as she dives out of the way, quickly rolling and getting back on her feet.
She closes her eyes for a brief moment and claps her hands together, watching as a fire ignites from the ground, rapidly moving in a straight line towards me. Sparks begin to fly everywhere as I quickly move out of the way.
Her attack forces us closer together, with just enough room for me to pull her around and hold her against me. Without thinking, I leave a featherlike kiss behind her ear.
I feel her freeze for a moment before she slips out of my grasp, her cheeks pink as she faces me again.
“Cheater,” she laughs, catching her breath.
“I didn’t do anything,” I chuckle, feigning innocence.
She looks at me dubiously, flicking sparks in my direction with a smirk.
“Okay you got me, I was trying to distract you. Did it work?” I laugh.
She looks away shyly, a small grin on her face as she steps closer to me, “no comment.”
I press my lips together with a smile as she laces her hand in mine.
“Want to keep going?” I ask.
She nods, “without abilities for a bit, I’m more tired than I thought I was,” she runs her other hand through her hair.
Our eyes lock in the next moment as she looks up at me, a flicker of desire burning in her bright eyes.
“What?” I ask after a few seconds.
Without another word, she wraps her arms around me and moves around the corner, so her back is against a large stack of mats.
“Is this okay?” She breathes.
I nod with a grin and our lips connect, like nothing else matters in this moment. One of her hands moves and cups my face, her cool touch making my skin feel warm. A small sigh escapes her as I kiss her harder, my hands on her waist, my thumbs grazing her ribs. Everything about her is intoxicating me; I can’t get enough of her.
I think part of me was worried that I wouldn’t have the ability to be close to anyone again after what happened a year ago. I don’t know if the residual fear will ever go away, if I’m being honest. Maybe the shadow will always follow me in the background, hiding in the back of my mind. Even when I’m with Saf, the fear doesn’t entirely go away.
But I’m not going to let it define me.
I won’t let it have that power over me.
We softly pull away, a shy smile crossing her face as her cheeks turn pink.
“Sorry, that was really impulsive,” she laughs.
I chuckle, “I didn’t mind. It’s fun to be impulsive sometimes.”
We both giggle and I kiss her forehead before we head back around the corner.
Saf freezes as we see Ehren sitting on the edge of the mat with his legs crossed, giving us a cheeky wave.
I bite my lip and look back to Saf. She covers her mouth, like she’s trying to supress a laugh, her cheeks bright red.
“Ehren, what do you want?” I ask in a light tone.
He shrugs with a mischievous grin, “nothing.”
Later in the day, we’re all sitting in the living room with Luna, Ana tightly clutching the book she was reading earlier.
“All right,” Luna starts, “Ana mentioned that there were some things we should add to the address, correct?”
We all nod.
“Who wants to go first?” She says with a light grin.
Ana glances at me, “go for it.”
I take a deep breath.
“People saw Ana on the roof, and they know something is going on. They’re scared.”
I delve a little deeper into what Tessa told me earlier in the day.
Luna’s expression remains unchanged as I finish my story.
“That certainly is news,” she remarks, “I’ll be sure to address what really happened to clear that up. Analia, you’re welcome to talk on the subject if you’d like, but I leave that up to you. No pressure from me either way.”
Ana blinks several times before responding.
“I don’t think I’m in a space to do that at the moment,” she pauses, “are you going to talk about the possession and everything that’s happening around that?” She adds.
Luna sighs, “I think I might have to. Just to be as transparent as possible. I’ll just have to figure out how to deliver the information without aggravating the situation further.”
“How are you going to do that without downplaying it?” Saf asks.
Luna glances at her, “I’m not sure yet. I think what’s most important for now is emphasising that we’re ready to take this on. I think more than anything, that will help quell some of the fear around the situation.”
We all nod.
“Is that all you wanted to add to the address?” Luna continues.
“No,” I don’t realize the words escape me until the others glance at me, “sorry, this has nothing to do with the address – well, it sort of does – but there was information in Nox’s journal. About Ryker and some of their upcoming plans.”
“Oh, right!” Ehren picks up the book off the side table, “Ryker got compelled when he was on his last assignment, and, er,” he sighs, “I think you know the rest.”
I tense a little and Saf quickly laces her hands in mine.
Luna motions to Ehren and he hands her the book. She rapidly scans the pages, her eyes widening as the colour drains from her face.
“My God,” she breathes, “it sounds like they’ve been planning this for a while. I had a feeling something was amiss, but I didn’t know it went this far back. Though,” she pauses, “It’s a good thing we’re addressing the Fire Wielder tension sooner rather than later, since that’s who they’re primarily targeting, it seems. Such a petty way to build unrest,” she says bitterly.
Saf scrunches her face in disgust at the notion before looking down.
I can’t imagine what this must be like for her.
“Are you all right?” I whisper.
She glances at me with a light nod, “I’m okay,” she sighs, “It just sucks. All of it.”
Luna gives Saf a kind look, “we’ll figure it out. That’s a promise.”
Saf’s shoulders drop slightly and gives Luna a weak smile.
“On that note, this also explains Ryker’s condition when he came back,” Luna shivers before bringing her attention back to the book.
I glance over at Ana.
She looks like she’s putting on a strong face, but there’s a sadness to her energy that is hard to ignore.
She catches my eye and I give her a reassuring smile, almost as if to tell her ‘it’s okay’ without having to say the words.
She takes a deep breath.
“There’s one other thing we wanted to ask about,” Ana starts, “what do eclipses have to do with compulsion?”
Luna frowns, “I know eclipses increase the dark energy on Earth, but I’m not sure what that would have to do with compulsion. Why?”
“It’s handwritten in here,” she marks the page and hands the book to Luna.
What looks like dark smoke begins to leave Luna’s hands as she looks at the page, a wave of terror crossing her face.
“Luna?” Saf breaks the silence.
Luna snaps back to attention as the dark smoke evaporates, “sorry,” she shakes her head, “just that this is my fathers writing, I’m sure of it.”
That can’t be good.
“Do you know what it could mean?” I ask.
She shakes her head, “Father never taught me compulsion, so I’m not sure,” she glances between the two books, “my best guess at the moment is that since the eclipse increases the dark energy on Earth, that it will make it much easier for them to compel multiple people on the island.”
“What?” We all say in unison.
“Why would they want to do something like that?” Ehren contemplates.
Luna sighs, “I can only speculate. Knowing my brother and sister, it’s to instill fear and chaos on the island. What they’d want to do with that fear and chaos, I’m not entirely sure. They’ve always wanted Earth for themselves, that much I know. Maybe this is their way of getting it.”
“There has to be some way to stop it though, right?” Saf asks.
“If I’m right, we’ll make a game plan for us to head down to the Shadow Realm on the day of the eclipse before they can wreak havoc.”
“When’s the next eclipse supposed to be?” Ana asks quietly.
“I’ll check the orrery tomorrow. But I think just after the Winter Festival, which is a bit concerning, which means we have just over a month to prepare at the very most.”
“Yikes,” Ehren mumbles.
“On that note, I think – er – I think the best thing we could do is train as much as possible until then. I understand the festival is next week, and I’m sure we’ll have time to celebrate a little, but I want preparations for this to be a priority. I’ll make a plan in the next few days for how we can prepare and handle the situation as best as possible on the day of, but the best thing we can do at this point is be ready.”
“Sounds good,” Ehren agrees.
Luna pauses, “Saffire, have you come to a decision about the address?”
Saf glances at me with a smile before looking back at Luna, “I can take charge on the Fire Wielder thing, yah.”
Luna gives her a warm smile, “I’m glad. I believe it will be more effective than just me talking about it. And I think it will really help the situation, if part of what my brother and sister wanted to do was to create unrest around Fire Wielders.”
“I think so too,” Saf agrees. I notice her hand start to vibrate a little as she plays with a flame between her fingers.
I give her other hand a quick squeeze in an attempt to reassure her.
“Um,” Saf starts again, “any advice on what to say? I’m not well versed in public speaking,” she lets out a nervous laugh, looking down.
Luna looks at her kindly, “my best piece of advice is to say what’s in your heart. You can write out a script if you’d like. I know I used to do that,” she chuckles.
“I’ll work on that over the next few days then.”
“Good,” Luna stretches her arms over her head, “was there anything else you wanted to discuss?”
“Will there be any assignments to the Shadow Realm before the eclipse?” I ask, chills running down my spine at the thought of going back there so soon.
Luna shakes her head, “I can’t see why we’d need to. So, at the moment, my answer is no, which I’m sure is a bit of a relief to all of you.”
I feel my shoulders drop as I feel a weight get lifted off them.
“That’s an understatement,” Saf mutters.
Ehren snickers at her comment as a small smile appears on Luna’s face.
Luna bids us goodnight a few moments later, leaving the room with a small yawn.
Saf leans back on the couch dramatically, her eyes fixed on a spot straight in front of her.
“What the hell am I going to say?” She breathes, blinking several times, “I mean, there’s always been tension with Fire Wielders, but I’ve never really had to formally address it before.”
“Well, how do you feel about it?” Ehren pipes up.
She bites her lip, “I – I know how I feel about it, I just can’t put it into words, I guess.”
I nudge her, “you explained it really well when we talked about it,” I suggest.
She sticks her tongue out at me, “that’s because I wasn’t trying.”
“You have to get out of your own head,” Ana says softly, “go in with a plan, but don’t be afraid to speak from the heart, just like Luna was saying.”
“I always need to get out of my own head,” Saf laughs nervously.
“You’ll be great,” Ehren reassures, “pretend no one is there if that helps.”
Saf takes a deep breath, “I guess I should start on a script then,” she turns to me as she gets up, “want to come?”
“Sure,” I say as I stand, “see you guys in the morning,” I glance at Ana and Ehren.
I’m half expecting Ehren to make a cheeky remark, but instead he just smiles with a small wave.
My mind wanders as we walk up the stairs to the second floor hallway.
I find myself thinking about mine and Ehren’s conversation we had about asking Saf to the Winter Festival. I had intended to ask her, but so much has happened in the last few days that I haven’t really had a chance to bring it up. Maybe I could have last night, but it didn’t feel right then.
“Hey, can I ask you something?”
I don’t remember deciding to say that, but maybe now is a good time to ask.
“Hmm? What is it?” She turns to me.
I take a deep breath, gently lacing my hand in hers.
“So, I know that we’ll all be busy preparing for impending doom in the next month, but the Winter Festival is next week, and I was wondering – er – if you wanted to go together at some point.”
I ignore my pounding heart as much as I can as I finish the sentence.
She lightly squeezes my hand, a grin stretching across her face.
“Are you asking me out?”
“I guess I am, yah,” I bite my lip with a smile.
“Well, in that case, my answer is yes,” she says in a silly voice before giving me a quick kiss on my cheek.
I feel a sense of relief wash over me.
“You will?” I blurt.
She raises an eyebrow, “did you think I was going to say no?” She teases.
I scoff lightly, “no! Well, honestly, I don’t know,” I admit, “maybe I was a little nervous.”
Her smile is unwavering as she looks down.
What is going through her mind?
“What is it?”
She looks back to me, “just thinking about you.”
My heart flutters at her words.
“What about me?” I ask with a wink.
“Just how fun it will be to go to the Festival with you,” she pauses, “day or night, by the way?”
“I guess it depends on when Luna gives us time off at this point,” I chuckle, “but we’ll figure it out.”
“It’ll be fun no matter what,” she reassures, giving my hand a squeeze.
“Maybe we could go on your birthday,” I suggest.
She looks to the side, “Oh right! I keep forgetting it’s coming up, I can’t believe I’m turning twenty,” she admits with a laugh, “too bad yours is right after the Festival, hey?”
I shrug, “it’s more like a month after,” I laugh.
“Then we get to be two years apart again for like a month and a half,” she teases.
I’m technically only two years older than Saf, but with her birthday being in December and mine being at the end of January, we’re closer to three years apart in age.
“So, the twelfth of December then? If we’re going to go out on my birthday,” she winks.
Our eyes lock as I pick her up, overcome by elation as I lightly spin her around, a startled laugh escaping her.
I put her down and give her a kiss on the forehead, “sounds perfect.”