The night sky greeted me with bright shiny stars as I made my way out of a secluded back door. The air was cool against my bare skin, a welcome gentle touch to my sore muscles. I took a deep breath, basking in the beauty of this summer night and the glory of my win. The whole day seemed to pass by in a blur and by the end of it, the cheers and claps of the audience engulfed me, sending waves of pleasure and pride through my ragged nerves. I had been dreaming about this day since I was a little girl, and now that it was finally here, there was only one person with whom I wanted to share this victory. Almost everyone in the kingdom flocked to the castle, cheering and singing, celebrating the new dawn of change. Drinks were served all around and the sound of drums echoed throughout, sending the people into a frenzy of wild dancing. I closed the door behind me and stepped into the cool summer night, my full length royal blue gown was now replaced by black shorts and a simple white tank top. I had made sure to stay and greet everyone, to perform my duties and please my parents, but as soon as everyone had started drinking and dancing I had taken that as my queue to leave.
He must be waiting for me.
My heart skipped a beat as my mind wandered. His face flashed in front of my eyes and a wide smile made its way to my lips.
His warm brown eyes.
His sculpted face.
His full lips.
Every atom in my body longed for him, his warm touch, his beautiful smile, his tender kiss. There was no one else I would rather be with, there was no one else I would rather celebrate with and as I stepped further away from the castle all I could think about was him.
“Where do you think you’re going?”The wind carried her voice to me and I froze in my place. I cursed myself for being too careless and her for being too attentive. I turned around slowly; an awkward nervous smile was plastered on my face.
“Jess…” I chocked, the words refusing to leave my mouth.
“I see you have changed.” She smirked as she took in my new attire. “I’m not sure those shorts are fitting for the royal banquet.”
“I…” Damn it why was I stuttering?
“You’re going to see him aren’t you?” The smirk on her face disappeared; a warm smile took its place.
“I am.” I nodded with a sheepish grin.
“Ah, young love.” She sighed and I giggled. “They won’t be pleased you know.”
“Oh please, they hardly even noticed I was gone. They were too busy feeling great about themselves and getting praised by the public.” I huffed a stray strand of raven black hair out of my face and scowled.
“Yeah you’re right”. She chuckled. “They do love the spot light.” A moment of silence passed by before she continued: “I’ll cover for you if they noticed.” A high pitched squeal left my mouth and I skipped towards her, engulfing her in a tight hug.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you.” I beamed.
“Alright, alright.” She giggled in response. “Hurry up.” She watched as I headed back down the dark road. “And be careful.”
The sounds of the drum fainted as I got further away from the castle. Silence swallowed the dark roads and I welcomed it with a content sigh. It won’t be long now. Just a few more minutes.
The trees swayed with the breeze, the rustling of the leaves was the only sound that whispered through the night. The roads were deserted as the people abandoned their homes to celebrate within the castle. I wrapped my arms around my waist and shuddered. A shiver ran down my spine and I knew that it had nothing to do with the cool breeze. The pride, joy and happiness I was feeling a second ago faded away, fear taking their place.
I was being followed.
The next morning, the academy was enveloped in chaos. Most of our classes were cancelled due to the fact that some of our professors were called in by the covenant. According to Kyle, the professors of Lixierra academy were very powerful and would serve as great assets in the attack. Mr. Blackthorn –my mentor and friend- was also called in and I found myself worried sick for his well being. I knew that he was very powerful, one of the most advanced mystics in the four lands who chose to teach instead of fight or serve the covenant, but I couldn’t help the feeling of utter helplessness that took over me. I couldn’t understand the covenant’s decision of launching a counter attack on the Grim ones. By what we had witnessed here, the Grim ones weren’t to be taken lightly. They were dark and powerful and they had managed to almost wipe us out without many losses in their ranks. What could the covenant possibly have to battle their black magic?
Despite the decision to cancel classes however, Mr. Salvatore was adamant on having us continue our endurance training. The senior class was called in at the crack of dawn to run the mandatory 3.5 miserable miles. We gathered in front of the main building, shivering as the chill morning air stroked our bare arms and legs.
“Listen up,” Mr. Salvatore yelled, grabbing our attention with his booming raspy voice and his sour expression, “as you all have probably heard by now, some professors of our pristine academy were called in by the covenant to fight alongside our warriors. This means that some of your classes like Charms and Potions, Spell Craft and Elemental magic will be cancelled for today. However, that does not mean that you should take your training lightly.”
A collective groan was heard throughout the grumpy students. One thing all seniors could agree on was that our most exciting classes were the ones where we could actually practice magic. Granted I have found The History of Mystics to be incredibly fascinating, but making my own spells and potions was far more interesting. So to have those classes cancelled meant that we would be stuck running and throwing punches at each other all day.
“So, after you run your miles, meet me at the gymnasium for martial arts practice.” Mr. Salvatore was clearly more bummed about the idea of spending the whole day yelling at us to straighten up and pack more strength in our kicks more than we were. For an old man, our PE instructor was deceivingly strong. He was tall and well built, with muscles poking out all of the right places. His silver hair was receding, the only indication of his aging nature. He could have been handsome in his young years, but the constant frown on his face had spread some wrinkles and fine lines all around his sharp features. At this point I didn’t know if I felt sorry for him for being stuck here babysitting us or hate him for making our lives so difficult. But as he shouted for us to move our asses I decided I leaned more for the latter emotion.
“Here” Kyle handed me a bottle of water. I was standing at the edge of the football field, panting with my hands on my knees. I had just finished running and was trying to catch my breath before martial arts kicked in.
“Thanks.” I said between raspy breaths, downing the cold water down in seconds. My whole body was sore and my muscles screamed at me to lie down but I knew I didn’t have time for rest. I snuck a glance at Kyle who was looking at me with an amused look on his face, and I grunted loudly as I took him in. His grey shirt clung to his torso, hugging the muscles of his upper body tightly. His black hair swayed with the cold morning air, as wild and untamed as ever. His smile was bright and mischievous and when we were all sweating our lives away, Kyle looked gorgeous.
“That is so not fair!” I exclaimed, throwing the empty water bottle at his head.
“What is?” He chuckled and ducked, the bottle missing his head by an inch.
“That!” I said as I motioned at his body. “You look like a freaking super model. It’s so annoying! Were you even running with us miserable peasants?” a low grunt escaped my lips and he laughed even louder.
“Of course I was.” He took a step closer and held my hands in his. “I can’t help it if I look good even when I shouldn’t.” He smirked.
I pulled my hand free and smacked the back of his head.
“Arrogance doesn’t become you, your highness.” I rolled my eyes.
“And jealousy doesn’t become you.” He whispered against my lips as he wrapped his free hand around my waist. His breath was warm with hints of coffee and mint and I smiled as the familiar scent embraced me. My hand traveled up his back and rested on his neck just as his lips met mine, and suddenly all the anger and fatigue vanished as I melted into the kiss. My heart banged against my rib cage, just as it always did whenever Kyle was around, and a tiny moan escaped my lips. I could feel him smile into the kiss and he took the opportunity to deepen it. Our tongues danced together in a battle of dominance and for that brief amount of time all I could feel was bliss, that is, until my best friend showed up.
“Ahem!” Kyle and I pulled away from each other; my head was still swirling around in a meadow of daisies. As soon as I sobered up I turned around, glaring daggers at Kira.
“I would say get a room, but we have to get to class.”
The first couple of hours of class went by painstakingly slow. Mr. Salvatore - or Lucifer as the seniors nicknamed him- made it his life’s mission to torture us. His class consisted of mixing up karate with boxing, aikido, jujitsu, wrestling and other forms of armed and unarmed combat that I simply could not keep track of. He spent the first part of the lesson barking orders at us. It was clear by his scowl that he was less than impressed by our skills but that didn’t stop him from working us ragged. When he finally blew his whistle announcing our 5 minute break, we all sighed in relief and plopped on the mats but what we didn’t know was that the lesson was far from over.
“You will now commence training in pairs.” He announced, his voice bouncing off of the walls of the gym. “I will be picking two of you to spar together, so I can assess your progress and determine your strengths and weaknesses. Each lesson you will be paired with a different partner which will help keep you on your toes.” A collective groan was heard across the room. All of us were tired and sore and this new sparring exercise was sure to drain whatever energy we had left.
“First up,” Professor Salvatore cleared his throat, “Catherine and Lilith.”
I drew in a sharp breath and froze in my spot. The room went completely silent as everyone waited for Catherine and I to take our places on the mat. It was common knowledge at the academy by now that Catherine didn’t like me –to put it lightly- and so to have us spar together was the cat fight everyone was waiting for. Catherine gave me a smug smile and pranced to the front, pulling her blond curls up into a ponytail. I could hear my heart beating in my ears and I silently prayed that no one else could hear it against the silence of the gym. I made my way to the front and took a deep breath.
“This should be fun.” Catherine’s sweet voice was full of malice. She had made it clear since the day she laid eyes on me that she loathed me, and I hadn’t exactly flew under her radar. I gulped as I looked back at all the times we had argued, all the times I have sassed her and all the times she had left fuming after I had made it clear that I wasn’t afraid of her. I hadn’t been at the time, but as I looked at her now, I was no longer confident in my skills.
I sent a silent prayer to whoever was listening.
‘Please don’t let me embarrass myself.’
“Begin!” Professor Salvatore shouted and Catherine immediately sprung into action.
She lunged at me, knocking the breath out of my lungs. I winced as my back collided with the floor and looked up at Cat’s smug face. Anger started bubbling in my chest and I hopped up. Without looking away from her, I could feel the gaze of my fellow students on my back. Kira, Gabriella, Rose, Kyle. Chase… They were all here and I will be damned if I let Catherine beat me in front of my friends.
I crouched into a fighting stance and braced myself for her next attack. I wasn’t entirely confident in my own offensive skills and I knew that Catherine would probably see me coming so I opted for a defensive tactic. For now. She came at me again, this time attempting to kick me in the face, but I was ready. I swiftly moved out of her way and ducked behind her, kicking her knee from under her. She lost her balance and fell on the floor with a thud. I smiled slightly to myself, glad to see Catherine where she belonged. But I wasn’t about to get smug. This fight wasn’t over. Catherine stood up, her face contorted into a glower. She let out a low growl, her eyes throwing daggers at me, and balled her hands into fists. She threw a few punches that I was barely able to dodge, and when she turned around me attempting to grab me from behind my arm reflectively pushed back and my elbow collided with her nose. She shrieked as hot blood spewed from her nose, covering her pretty face in a red river. She wiped the blood away with her sleeves and lunged for me again but I decided I was done being on the defensive. As she came at me with rage in her eyes and hatred all over her face, I punched her in the stomach. She doubled over in pain and I took the opportunity of her lowered position to place a perfectly measured roundhouse kick on the side of her head. She collapsed on the mat, groaning in pain as Professor Salvatore whistled again announcing the end of the first spar session.
“Good Job, Ignis.” He tapped my back, a little too strongly for my sore muscles, and went to help Catherine up. He examined her nose and instructed her to go to the infirmary to which she complied. She nodded and left but not before giving me a deadly glare.
I sat back down and tuned out Professor Salvatore as he called for the next pair. I was done for today.
“That was incredible.” Rose chimed as we finally left the gym. She rubbed my back as if she was a trainer proud of their wrestler’s victory.
“The ice queen was fuming.” Gabriella laughed.
“You should have done that a lot sooner.” Kira added.
“I didn’t know I could.” I answered truthfully. The extent of my power never failed to take me by surprise and every time I accomplished something new I found myself dumbfounded.
I looked up to see the sun beginning to vanish behind the tall mountains. The sky was adorned with a rainbow of different colors, pink clouds merging with orange ones as they made way for the darkness of the night.
“I wonder how the troops are doing in the underworld.” Gabriella whispered and a heavy silence engulfed our small group. In the midst of all the training and sparring we have momentarily forgotten that in some dark isolated part of the world the mystics were bracing themselves to fight the dark shadow like creatures we called the Grim ones.
“I hate not knowing what’s going on.” I massaged my temples. My head was throbbing and my limbs were sore.
“Well”, Kira started, “there might be a way for us to find out.” Her eyes gleamed and a smile made its way to her lips.
“How do you mean?” I asked.
“You know the council twins? Jessica and Nickolas?” She asked and I nodded in response. “They possess a unique power that might come in handy in a situation like this.” She beamed and Rose and Gabi nodded in recognition.
“Which is?” It seemed as though I was the only one out of the loop, a feeling I was beginning to get used to by now.
“The twins have the power to tap into people’s minds and see through their eyes.” Rose said nonchalantly and I gawked at her.
“They can what?”
“It’s a power they developed when they turned 18 years old. Being twins, their elemental powers were linked to each other since birth which explains why they have the same main and secondary elements. But the night of their 18th birthday they discovered they could invade anyone’s mind and see whatever that person was seeing.” Kira explained.
“That is amazing.” I said in between gasps. “But wait, you and Skyler are also twins! What is your unique power?” My eyes widened at the possibility of my best friend and her twin sharing some awesome psychic powers.
“We haven’t turned 18 yet.” Kira huffed in annoyance.
“Do you think Jessica would help us?” Rose asked.
“I don’t know. But we have to try.” Kira admitted.
We silently made our way to the main building, hoping that we would find answers in Jessica’s office. From what I have noticed, Jessica was a sweet reserved girl. She kept to herself a lot and I rarely saw her with anyone other than her twin. So as we knocked on her door and headed in, I sent a silent prayer to whoever was listening that Jessica wouldn’t send us away.
“Hello girls!” The blonde girl greeted us with a constricted smile as she rose from her desk. She wore a navy blue pants suit and her glossy blonde curls were pulled back in a tight bun. The dark circles under her soft hazel eyes alerted us to her tired state. She looked like she hadn’t slept in days, and as she made her way around her desk to where we stood, it was clear in her steps that she was barely able to stand. “How can I help you today?” She asked in a soft voice.
“Miss Infernus,” Kira started, “We were wondering if you could do something for us?”
Jessica furrowed her brows but stayed silent and waited for Kira to continue.
“We have all heard about the special power you share with your twin, Nickolas, and we were wondering if maybe you would be able to look through and describe the battle for us.” Kira said in one breath.
“We are very worried about the troops and we just want to know that they are doing well.” Rose added in a soft voice.
“I don’t know if it’s wise to share those details with students.” Jessica shook her head, clearly conflicted.
“Please, Miss Infernus.” I took a step towards her. “We just want to know that they are safe.”
A look of worry and anguish fogged her delicate features and she looked like she was barely holding back her tears as her almond shaped eyes glinted. She slowly straightened up and looked at all of us like she was truly seeing us for the first time. She cleared her throat and walked back to her chair.
“It can be quiet difficult for me to access someone else’s mind. Especially if it’s the first time I do so.” She sat back and ushered for us to do the same. We plopped on the red velvet sofa facing her desk, my muscles whining with every move I made, and waited for her to continue.
“Fortunately, or rather unfortunately, my brother Nickolas was called in by the covenant to join the fight as well.” Suddenly I understood her anguish. Her twin brother was drafted to fight alongside the troops and Jessica looked like she could die of worry. “So this should be fairly easy.”
She laid back on her leather chair and folded her hands on her lap. Taking a few deep breaths she closed her eyes for a brief second as if willing her powers to cooperate. Once she opened her eyes again, they were glazed over, the hazel color disappearing into white fog.
“I’m in.” She said through raspy breaths.
It seemed as if the four of us held our breaths all at once as the tension started to build up in the spacious office. I was beginning to wonder if I truly wanted a step by step demonstration of the attack but my thoughts and worry were pushed to the back of my mind as Jessica’s voice rang through her office.
“They are opening the portals.” She began. “We have the numbers. Let’s hope they can pull through.”
“Nickolas just stepped through the portal.” She announced with a deep sigh.
“Are they armed?” Kira enquired.
“Yes.” Was all Jessica could say.
“What kind of weapons would they use against those things?” I furrowed my brows in confusion. The last and only time I saw the Grim ones attack, the mystics of Coleste seemed to rely on their magic only. Elemental magic mixed with spells were the main way of defense against those horrible creatures and I wondered if weapons would do any good against them.
“Our alchemists have found a way to fuse weapons with our magic. Just like the wards we have around the island, the mystics have been fusing swords, daggers and blades with the main elements as well as carefully crafted spells. We don’t keep any of those weapons on school ground of course for safety reasons as they are all divided between the four kingdoms.” Gabriella explained and I nodded my head. I was still confused as to why they won’t keep such weapons on the island, they could have been useful when the Grim ones attacked, but I decided to keep my mouth shut and focus on the battle at hand.
“God, it’s so dark in here!” Jessica exclaimed, a look of pure disgust on her face. “Oh my God, Nick look out!” She shrieked and we all jumped up at once. She braced herself against her chair as if straining to stay still.
“What happened?” Rose demanded the alarm clear in her high pitched voice.
“The Grim ones sensed their presence; they’re attacking them from every direction.” Jessica’s high voice cracked at the end as fear for her brother and friends took over her. “The swords and daggers are proving useful, but some are fighting solely with magic.”
“I don’t understand what the covenant was thinking!” Gabriella threw her arms in the air and laid back on the sofa. “They had to know that something like this was bound to happen. They launched an attack in the underworld! Don’t they know that we will most likely be outnumbered?” Her eyes were wide open and her beautiful tanned face was grey with worry and fear. Kira grabbed her girlfriend’s hand in hers and squeezed it tight, trying to calm her down. We were all in the same state: worried, confused and mostly afraid.
“They are not planning on winning.” Jessica whispered, the fear on her face replaced with recognition and understanding. “The covenant didn’t sanction this attack so we can get back at the Grim ones. Of course not. They plan on capturing them.”
“What?” the four of us asked in unison.
“Is that even possible?” Rose moved to the edge of the sofa. Was that hope I saw on her face?
“The Grim ones are essentially shadows and smoke, our usual holding cells don’t work on them” Jessica paused, deep in thought as if she was searching around her brother’s mind for answerers. For all I knew, that could be exactly what she was doing. “The covenant came up with another way to capture them. Oh yes I see it now. They have glass boxed infused with elemental magic and charmed to lock the Grim ones away. The elemental magic should counteract their black magic and the charms would act as locks to keep them from slipping away.”
“It’s working! Isaiah managed to capture one!”
My heart pounded violently against my chest at the mention of my mentor and I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding. He was alright. Of course he was, he was one of the strongest mystics around.
“Yes, they captured two more. I see what they want to do. They plan on bringing the Grim ones back to the covenant for questioning. This attack was a means to find out who the traitor is.” Jessica’s voice went from restrained and worried to hopeful. The look of disgust and fear on her face was now replaced with a small smile as she finally understood the purpose of the attack. “This might actually work.”
“Are you saying we could actually win this Miss Infernus?” Rose asked.
Jessica’s face darkened. “We can’t win, Rose. We are greatly outnumbered. But if the covenant found a way to question these monsters successfully then this war could end before it even started.”
Silence once again took over the office as the tension that began to dissipate a few minutes ago found its way back to our little group. It was clear from Jessica’s words that this attack was not meant to avenge the lives we lost or diminish the numbers of the Grim ones. It was simply a strategic move to get answers.
A move that I didn’t understand or accept.
It was beginning to become clear as day that the covenant didn’t value the lives of their subjects; they found it completely ordinary to sacrifice the lives of mystics just to get answers. Didn’t they see the toll the last attack had on us? Didn’t they feel the loss and anger and fear we were all sucked into? Would they really try to endanger several lives again in the underworld while they sat on their thrones safe from all harm? Jessica didn’t say anything, but I could feel her pain, and every time she winced and blinked back tears I knew that another life was lost. How could the covenant allow such travesty?
“Oh my God!” Jessica winced.
“Nickolas watch out!”
We all stared in shock as tears ran down Jessica’s face. She blinked a few times and the white in her eyes was pushed back, making way for the hazel to return. She gasped as she looked around, checking her surroundings. She took in our faces, horror plastered on each of our features and finally said in between shallow breaths:
“I can’t see anything anymore.”