The jet picks up speed, running along the path we set up for the take off of the small machine. Como and I sit side by side inside the cramped area, and I try my best not to scream as we start our ascent into the blue sky now surrounding us.
Como apparently had the jet this whole time, hidden behind large stacks of hay in the barn, and was about to leave on it when he found me. He tells me he had nothing to do with the actual bombing of StormsEye, although he was aware of it. I close my hands around the arms of my seat, holding on tightly as we break above the wispy clouds into clear open air.
"You can look now." Como tells me, laughing at my face, and I can agree that I most certainly look bad. My face green and my cheeks puffed out from motion sickness. I open my eyes slowly, inching closer to the window nearest me and glancing down at the world below. It is beautiful, and I almost laugh out loud at how scared I was before.
Trees crowd the space below us, and I try to count each one of them as we blow by, distracting myself by how far up we are, the metal wings of the jet dragging through the clouds with only it's low motor a sign of our ascent into the air.
"It's beautiful." I admit, pressing my cheek against the cold glass in a calming sort of manner. When I look back at Como, he is not looking at me, instead focused on the path in front of us, his fingers on the confusing controls that allow this scrap of metal to fly into the air as if it is meant to. "How many times have you flown this thing?" I ask cautiosuly, scolding myself for getting into such a dangerous machine without knowing if the pilot can really fly it.
"Ever since I was...I think I was five when my father first started to teach me how to fly jets." He grins down at the old machine and I can see how much value this hunk of metal really is to him.
"Its...well it's definitely something." I force out of my mouth, unwilling to say anything bad about the jet Como seem's to love so much. He just smiles, still not looking at me.
I think that escaping the clutches of the palace that blinded me was the best choice I have ever made in my eighteen years of life. It allowed me to explore the world as nothing more than a commoner. And now I can see how much is wrong with the world. Queens and Kings can only help their subjects so much. And they can't help the weak and poor as they die in the small towns that make up each kingdom of the world if they have made bad decisions to get themselves there.
But they could at least try and do something about it. With all the jewels and money Royals have, it isn't fair that everyone else has to suffer. Even if some people of the world have special abilities, and some do not. But Royals do not care about these people. They only care about themselves, and their power over the world, and their kingdom.
"So, are you ever going to talk to me?" I ask, annoyed. My voice sounding small inside the jet as the motor roars over my voice.
"Sorry, I thought you were thinking about something, and didn't want to interupt." Como explains, his voice strangely soft even after my rudeness towards him, and I shrug down into my seat.
"Who's some of your friends from the Association?" I ask, keeping my eyes on the one tiny birthmark stuck to his left temple. It is the one trait about him that I can't seem to look away from, and I wish I could reach out and touch it, but that would be improper of me.
"Well...I don't know many people. I was just recently recruited myself." Como starts, his hand's guiding the plane to our destination with focus. How he knows how to get to where we are going, I have no idea. But I am not about to ask him that question either. "I mean...once my mother discovered I had an ability, she rushed me over to where they keep all of the others. They call us the "Stranges," and they lock us up in prisons to observe us.
"How did you get out?" I ask him, my brain working fast to try and figure his story out before he can tell me. But I come up with nothing, and wait for him to continue his story.
"There was an attack on the guards that surrounded the prison I stayed at, and we were rescued by people in black masks. They gave us two options. The first being, we stay in StormsEye and die, or the second, we join the association and give our lives a meaning. Obviously, I chose the second." He grins at me, one of his hands closing around mine in a friendly gesture. "I left with the people dawning black masks, and I didn't have time to save my family. They worked at the palace." He explains, closing his eyes in the sadness of the memories.
"That's awful, I can't imagine going through that." I whisper, shocked by his every word.
"My mother and father weren't ever so kind to me. My father forced me to learn flying jets so one day I could become a pilot, as was his dream. Of course I love it as well. But not as much as him. And my mother was a quite lady. The only person I truly miss is my twin sister Laura." He smiles weakly, his hand dropping away from mine in silent defeat.
I can't help myself from gasping aloud. Laura? The maid that helped me in the palace so many times before...dead? The thought makes me sick to my stomach, and I fight the urge to vomit all over the jet. Como looks at me strangely, but decides not to ask me what's the matter.
"I'm so sorry." I whisper to my friend, restraining myself from grabbing his hand again. We sit in silence the rest of the flight, and I resist the urge to sob at Laura dead. Instead, a tear rolls down my cheek, dripping onto my hands folded politely on my lap.
"Where are we?" I ask Como, letting him lead me out of the jet and to the hard earthy ground below. We are no longer in BloomsRidge of course, but we aren't in any other place that I recognize either.
"The outskirts of the kingdoms." Como tells me, as if that is all I need to know about the dirt floor all around us, and mountains that overlook a beautiful sunset like the one I shared with my sister Aella many nights before. I wonder what she's doing right now, and if she can see the exact same sunset from where she stands.
Como begins forward, and I follow. We walk in silence the whole time, hands at our sides, faces forward to wherever it is that we're going. We climb up a severely steep mountain, and I cut my hand on the sharp edges of rock as we ascend, cursing silently as blood falls silently into the ground below.
When we reach the top of the mountain I expect there to be a campsite or at least some sort of sign of human life. But there isn't, and we continue to walk on into the darkness of the oncoming night. Twice I stumble, but Como grabs my arm before I can fall, and I hope that the darkness is enough to cover the rosy blush that covers my face.
"We're almost there." Como reassures me, his hand still steadying me gently. And I hope that he is right. The darkness is full now, and I can't ignore the howls that sound throughout the hidden mountains. Wolves. I latch onto Como's arm, gripping him to me tightly.
"Sorry." I say, embarrassed. And I shake my hand's away from him quickly. He just stares at me, deep in thought.
"It should be here...yes, let's try this one." Como continues on as if nothing happened, and I shake off the nerves that surround my body in little waves, following Como to where he stands, his hands tapping on a tree.
"What? Como, that's not..." I trail off as I understand what Como is doing. The tree is hollow, and there must be enough room underground for a secret association to work quietly. No one would suspect a thing. Especially this enclosed between rocky dangerous mountains.
Como raps harder on the tree, and when he continues his way to the edges, feeling the sides of the fake tree, it swings wide open for us to enter. I gasp, my mouth forming a wide O-shape, and I follow Como inside the hollow shell concealing the association base from sight. Como told me that once he got to BloomsRidge with the black masked people, they only gave him instructions on where the base was, and left him alone, with his fathers jet, to find it himself.
A test, I think to myself. Surely some people wouldn't know which tree concealed the base, and died out here all alone. I force the thought out of my mind, wishing not to think about any gory details that most certainly could happen out here in the wild. As Como and I descend the wooden stairs together, I count the steps we take, noting as we get farther and farther away from the surface, and it's clean fresh air.
Dirt walls surround us, and it feels as though they are closing in on us slowly. The tiny amount of space we have to walk down the stairs is almost unbearable, and my arms brush the wall's with every step I take, coating my arms in thick dirt. It smells earthy down here too, like someone took a bucket of dirt and grass, and smashed it in your face. The scent is agonizing, making me sick, and I clutch my stomach in fear that I will fall face first down the steps.
"Como Attwater, it is a pleasure to finally meet you. And who is this with you?" A dark figure approaches us as we reach the bottom of the steps. The room that greets us is massive, surrounded in white cement walls, and doors that lead to a maze of dormitories. Many people sit at tables, talking, laughing, and discussing the most recent news while eating what looks to be blend of mashed potatoes and...kale?
"Yes, this is Anna. I think she could be of utmost value for the association." Como tells the figure, standing up even straighter as the shadow takes off his mask to reveal a middle aged man.
"Sorry. We usually don't wear these things, but while bringing in new recruits it's good to look as professional as possible." The man explains, shaking Como's hand firmly, his eye's never leaving mine. "And...Anna is it? Have we met before? You look strangely familiar." The man asks, twirling his light brown beard in his fingers, his eyes staring daggers at me.
"No, sir. I don't think we have." I stare right back at the man, and after a moment he looks away, allowing us to pass in front of him.
"That was...weird." Como tells me, as we walk away from the man and to the dormitories. "Why do you think he recognized you? I'm your friend, you can tell me." Como playfully pokes at my ribs. But I'm not in the mood for playing around.
If the man somehow knew who I was, even without all my makeup, he could tell everyone here.
And then I would be screwed for sure.