Labels

Saturday, February 17, 2018

On the road to Hamor

I grind my teeth and keep my head down. It’s just one more full day of travels. Just one more day. Just one more… behind me a throat clears. I close my eyes briefly and take a deep breath.
“Mistress Eryeth, haven’t we travelled far enough today?” I pray to the Gods to guide my tongue and not have me speak my mind. Slowing Meri enough for my charge to ride next to me I turn to the man on the white horse.
“Sir Alrith, there’s still several hours of daylight left and the further we travel today, the shorter the journey tomorrow.” His war horse, Erfin, throws its head and chomps down on the bite. Yes, I think, exactly like so.
“But if we ride past the village down in the valley there’s no guarantee that we’ll find another one before sundown.” I keep my eyes straight ahead. If I so much as catch a glimpse of his pouty face, I’ll throw a punch. And that won’t put me in favour with The Holy, or the Gods. The Chosen one can’t arrive at the Shrine of the Ancients with a black eye.

“Surely one night on the road won’t be too much, seeing that you’re so close to your goal, Sir Alrith?” If I’m lucky a bear will eat me, and I’ll be free from all this.
“I never sleep well on the ground.” In the corner of my eye I see him slumping in his saddle. “You don’t want me to show up at the Temple looking all tired and ragged, do you? What will The Holy say?” He sighs heavily, and I know we’ll be staying in the village.
“Oh no, Sir Alrith, that would be awful. We must keep those baby blues of yours clear and bright, don’t we?” I usher Meri forward again and call over my shoulder. “Let’s hope they have an inn, otherwise it’ll be someone’s barn again.” Just imagining the grumpy look on his face has me grinning from ear to ear.

“Mistress Eryeth. This is an honour indeed. To think The Chosen one chose our village, chose Radbuhr, on his travels to the Temple!” The Elder is rubbing his hands together. I can see the coins he’s imagining flowing into the village as they spread the rumour that Sir Alrith, The Chosen, stayed here. They’ll put up a plaque and save whatever he touches, to show travellers. For a fee, naturally.
“We’re so glad your inn had rooms for us, The Chosen is weary from his long travels.” 
Four hours are, in his mind, too long apparently. I show my teeth in what can be interpreted as a smile, if you don’t look too closely at my eyes. The Elder bows deeply and hurries away, probably to have people spread the word as soon as possible. Sir Alrith has disappeared into the inn, leaving the taking care of things to me, as per usual.

I take the way past the stables to check on our horses and to give him a chance to get some ale into him. Maybe that will have him flirting with the maids instead of me. Meri shakes his mane and neighs when he hears my footsteps. The stable hand brushing him takes a step back, clearly afraid of the enormous black war horse.
“He’s a kitten, really.” I rub Meri’s nose and smile at the big softies contented snorts. Then I turn my smile to the young men taking care of Meri and Erfin, both are staring slack jawed at me. Wonderful… They won’t speak to me or take care of the horses as long as I’m here. With a deep sigh I give Meri one last scratch and rub Erfin’s nose before heading to the common room.

“Ah! Here she is!” Sir Alrith’s voice rises over the buzz of the other patrons. I had hoped to enter unannounced and go past my room and wash, before having to deal with Sir Alrith and all that it implies. “Mistress Eryeth! Come! Join me!”
He gestures to an empty chair at his table. A couple young women have sour expressions, all wanting to be the one sitting next to The Chosen. He forced us to stay in this village, prolonging our journey by half a day. He is not going to win this too!
“Sir Alrith, you honour me, but I need to retire to my chambers a little while. Please excuse me.” I smile and bow, wishing I could just go up and punch his lights out instead. He has that demented smile on his face, the one he gets after too many ales or whenever my eyes aren’t throwing daggers at him. The young women purse their mouths. Yes, it is possible to refuse him. It’s quite easy actually. I turn on the spot and march up the stairs.

The sound of his laugh and everyone else’s reverence fades and is almost muted as I close the door to my room. Unfortunately, it’s connected to Sir Alrith’s by a door, but the latch is on my side and I hurry to shut it tight, along with the one leading into the hallway. I even place the rickety wooden chair in front of the door leading to Sir Alrith’s room.
The Chosen has chosen more than once during our journey, to pay me a visit after a night of ale and hero worship. It must pain him that I refuse to fall for his moronic declarations of attraction and lust. It sure pains me to be exposed to them.

Removing my mail and changing out of my dusty clothes has me wanting to stay in my room. I’d have a maid bring me food and avoid the common room, but experience tells me Sir Alrith will send for me. Worst case scenario would be him coming for me himself.
I pour water from the pitcher into the wash bowl and splash the day’s grime off my face. High summer in Karnione means dusty roads, and wearing armour is a sweaty business. My under-shirt needs a wash, or I’ll be out of decently clean clothes. I dunk it into the bowl, wring it out and hang it to dry. Fingers crossed it’s dried enough to wear tomorrow.

I chuckle. Kathil would die if she knew just how primitive the accommodations were on this trip. I picture her in her room in the Tower. Colourful silks draped over her large bed and the large copper tub filled with rose scented water, ready for her bath. 
My younger sister drew the winning ticket with her strong magics and people skills earning her a place in the Royal Palace. Gods I miss her. I even miss the courtly intrigues she navigates so well, but leave me wanting to throw punches. I’ll gladly growl myself out of a marriage proposal if it would mean I wouldn’t have to deal with Sir Alrith.

Having taken time in washing myself, I know I’ve now spent enough time in my chambers. Sighing I pull clean clothes out of my saddlebags. Maybe this stay wasn’t all bad. A night on the road would have meant we would have arrived at the Temple travel weary and dirty. At least now I’ll look more the fearsome warrior in her shiny mail and The Chosen can be as bushy tailed and obnoxious as humanly possible.
My hair would look better if I redid my braid, but something inside me doesn’t want to give Sir Alrith any ideas. It’s enough that I’m wearing a clean tunic and breeches, and the fancy surcoat, which is the same green as my eyes. Kathil forced it upon me.

“Ery, you need to bring something that’s not armour or rust coloured!” Her face twisted in mock horror at what I’m packing.
“Oh please, we’ll be on the road for the most part. And if we are to stay somewhere, I’m certain my company won’t be asked for.” Kathil looked like she wanted to punch me. Then her fist connected with my ribs, I bit down to not make a sound.
“You are going to take a good surcoat. And you are going to take the long golden silk tunic. Don’t look at me like that. You’re taking it!” 

My fingers caress the golden silk. So far, I have had no use for it, but it’s nice to carry a small piece of home with me. A knock on the door has me spinning around.
“Yes?”
“Mistress Eryeth?” It’s not The Chosen. I unlatch the door and open it on a young girl, no more than ten or twelve. “Mistress Eryeth, The Chosen asks for your presence.” Of course he does. I refuse to take my annoyance out on her, so I dig a coin out of my purse and offer it with a smile.
“Thank you, I shall be down shortly.” Her look changes from boredom to joy.
“Thank you, Mistress!” She curtsies clumsily and scurries away, no doubt to hide her treasure before getting back to work. With a shake of my head I follow her down, my steps more measured and less eager.

There are even more people in the common room, most of them pretending to have a meal and a drink, but there are a few brave souls openly ogling The Chosen and listening to his fabricated tales of valour.
“...and the Leviathan rose from the depths, its maw wide open and its eye blood red with rage!” Sir Alrith is waving his tankard around, showing everyone just how huge the Leviathan was. “I aimed the mounted crossbow, pointing the copper bolt right down its throat.” The listeners oh and ah, gripping the edges of their seats. 

“The Leviathan roared! The sea rose with its fury!” Ale splashes out of the tankard. “And I sent the copper bolt straight into its mouth and into its brain. It flailed about, trashing and howling. Then it fell upon the rocky island it had claimed as its own. Victory was mine. And so was the eye, and the massive bounty that eye gave.” He takes a bow, the room erupting in cheers and whistles.
“He’s so handsome.” A maid is standing next to me. “And brave.” I roll my eyes. The closest thing Sir Alrith has come to the sea is standing on the docks of Daminster, watching ships come and go. I give the maid a tight smile and leave her swooning by the stairs.

Lyne Ringe, the proprietor of the inn, is standing behind the bar, listening to Sir Alrith. She’s a lean woman with grey hair and a narrow scar down her face and I doubt anyone wants to end up in her bad books.
“He’s a smooth talker, our Chosen, and easy on the eye. And he brings patrons, even though it’s only late afternoon.” She grins and winks at me. I give her a flat stare, having her drop her grin and cross her arms over her chest. “What can I help you with, Mistress Eryeth?”
“Bread and cheese. And a pitcher of milk.” She raises her eyebrow.
“Mistress, we do have the finest ales and wines in all of Daleah valley…” I nod and smile.
“I’m sure you do Mistress Lyne, but I never drink when I’m on a job. I’ll make sure to stop by on my way back to Daminster.” I try my best to add that twinkle to my eye that Kathil is always on about. It seems to be working, because Mistress Lyne half bows and goes into the kitchen to bring me the food herself.

I eat at the bar; all the tables and chairs are thankfully taken. Sir Alrith seems to have forgotten about me, there are several villagers eager to listen to him and admire him, and Gods willing, that will be enough for him. If he passes out drunk, I might even get to enjoy this place.
A man leans up against the bar next to me. His clothes and the shine in the buckle of his belt tell me he’s maybe a merchant, or one of the richer landowners. Our eyes meet, and I answer his friendly smile with one of my own.

“His stories are amusing, but tall and wide.” I refrain from answering, I’m not paid enough to have opinions about The Chosen. “But he did tell the truth about one thing. Your beauty surpasses any other woman’s. Although, I don’t think he managed to convey just how beautiful you are.” And here we go again… I swallow a piece of cheese.
“Well, good sir. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it?” I turn away from him slightly, to show him I’m done talking.
“Ah yes, but your beauty! Your beauty is the stuff of legends, your beauty is what makes men take on dragons, it has bards write epic ballads and it makes us lesser men believe in the Gods.”

That’s it. I’m spending the rest of this day up in my room and we’re leaving here at first light. Even if I must tie good Sir Alrith to his horse. Appetite gone I gesture to Mistress Lyne.
“Yes?” She sees my expression and eyes the man standing next to me. “Do you require anything else?”
“Do you have a Wise Woman, or an apothecary, in the village? I need something for this headache I just acquired.” Her eyes cut a glare at the man next to me, he shrinks under her stare and with a bow he’s gone.
“I’ll have Suse go get Wenna. And I’ll tell them all to leave you be.” She nods towards the other guests. “You’re doing the world a great service, escorting The Chosen, and even someone as capable as you need some peace and quiet from time to time.”
“I’ll be in my room.” I place a couple of coins on the bar, but Mistress Lyna’s eyes are already searching the crowd for Suse and dismisses me with a grunt.

“Eryeth Astelyn! Maiden of Elham Keep, Champion of Daminster, wielder of Drakecleaver and companion to The Chosen! Come! Join me as we drink to me, and to your beauty and legendary prowess!” Gods, grant me the power to smite him. Or just have him pass out. I arrange my face into what I hope is an amiable smile. He’s standing on the table, his hand extended to me, beckoning me to take it and join him.
I can see how anyone would think him handsome. His black hair is thick and shiny, his clear blue eyes are a stark contrast to his tanned skin and he has that classic hero profile and physique. His smile is drunken though, making it more lopsided than usual and the sleeve of his undershirt is stained with ale and wine.

“Sir Alrith, you honour me.” I take a few steps towards him, but stop before I’m close enough for him to try to reach down and pull me up. “But my head pains me. You must remember how I took a blow to the head a few days ago, when we battled those highwaymen and I saved you from certain death? And how grateful I was when you slew the last of them, the one who nearly ran his sword through me?”
He wobbles. His mind probably spinning. Our travels have been nothing but calm, boring to quote The Chosen, but that hasn’t stopped him from embellishing them at every village, town or inn we stayed at. The smile on his face has frozen and his eyes have this faraway look. He comes to and his smile becomes a grin.
“Ah yes! Of course. The highwaymen.” He gestures for someone to help him down; three men and four women reach for him and settle him into his chair again.
“It was four nights ago. Beautiful Mistress Eryeth and I were still on the road. Even though the sun was low on the horizon and we knew the woods were dangerous at night. Her hair was golden in the setting sun and that must have been why they decided to ambush us. For who, would let such beauty ride past? She could be the daughter of kings; the ransom would be magnificent…” 

A real headache is beginning to form behind my left eye. I turn to Mistress Lyne, her eyebrow raised. I shake my head and she refrains from commenting on the scene.
“Would you please make sure he gets to bed at a reasonable hour? And without company. We’re leaving at sunrise.” She nods.

Wenna, the Wise Woman, gives me a potion to ease the headache I first faked, but now am suffering. She’s a woman of few words, but as she leaves she hands me a small vial of clear liquid.
“He’ll need this tomorrow. It’ll wash away any fatigue, and… other issues, that might arise after a night of ale and wine.” I hold it up to my eye. “Force every drop down his throat. Every drop.” Her finger pokes my chest, having me nearly drop the vial.
“But how? Here, drink this vial of something the Wise Woman gave me. He’ll never agree to it.” Wenna’s laugh is wheezy and long.
“You should have no problems making him do anything you want.” Chuckling she leaves me to figure it all out.

I’m sleeping when the sound of Sir Alrith being deposited in his bed wakes me.
“Take his boots off, leave the rest.” Mistress Lyne’s voice is curt. “We’ll see how successful Mistress Eryeth will be in the morning.” Pulling the blanket up to my chin I lie on my back. A couple of hours more, then I’ll wake him up. And by one way or another, I’ll have him drink the potion.

My bags are packed, and I’ve been down to the stables, making sure the bleary eyed stable hands have our horses ready for when The Chosen and I leave. I stop by the well, gathering courage to barge into Sir Alrith’s room and force the potion into him.
“No time to linger. The sooner I wake him, the sooner my job is done and the sooner I get to return home.” The thought of home has me smiling and I know I’ll do anything to get there, home.

“Good morning Sir Alrith!” I open the shutters to let the early morning air in. “Rise and shine, for today we reach our goal!” I use my most cheerful voice and my face already hurts from smiling from ear to ear.
“Ngnhh…” He looks pathetic, arm over his face and in the same rumpled clothes as yesterday. “Go away!”
“Now, now. I have just the cure for you…” Using my most sultry voice I saunter towards him. I’ve unlaced my undershirt and my hair is free and flowing down my back. I’m using all the skills Kathil taught me and I’m feeling absolutely rotten doing it. Something seems to pique his interest, because he drops the arm from his face and squints in my direction. His gulp is comically loud.
“Mis… Mistre… Mistress Eryeth?” He tries sitting up, but winces in pain and lies back with eyes closed. “I can’t leave now. I need more sleep.” Oh no! No, no! No way am I spending more time with this… this Chosen one!

Oh Gods, I have to touch him… I can do it. I have cleared caverns of spiders, fought wyverns in the marsh and vanquished the Leech Peniel. I can seduce a hungover Chosen and have us back on the road before too long. His eyes are still closed, and a low moan escapes his lips. I kneel next to his bed and pull a little at my undershirt, having it expose more of my bosom.

“Sir Alrith? Open your eyes.” This close I can smell the alcohol on him. “I do have something that will make you feel so much better. Don’t you trust me?” His head turns towards me and I have to hold my breath to not gag at his breath. The blue of his irises are starkly contrasted by the red around them.
“Of course I trust you, you have been most trustworthy and honourable.” I smile, adding that twinkle to my eyes. His go blank and his mouth drops open. I move closer. A breath away from his lips.
“Good.” I uncork the vial and before he knows what’s going on I pour it all into his mouth. Dropping the vial, I jump back as he jerks around, tangling himself in his blanket. His eyes close and he falls still. Damnation! I’ve killed him! I’ve killed The Chosen! It’s over! It’s all over. Not knowing what to do I just stand there and stare at the body.

Suddenly he takes a deep breath and opens his eyes. They’re unfocused. I move towards him. Gods, please let him be alright. He turns to me. Then he blinks and a satisfied smile creeps onto his face.
“Well, well… sweet lady Eryeth. I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist me for too long.” I close my mouth with a snap. What in? Then I remember how I look, my undershirt showing my bosom and my hair out of its customary braid. I straighten my back and collect myself.
“Sir Alrith. It’s time to get out of bed and onto the road. The Temple of the Ancients is but half a day’s travel from here.” The pout on his face has me clenching my fists. “I’ll leave you to clean up. Mistress Lyne should have breakfast ready for us.” Marching into my room I slam the door behind me and hurry to make myself presentable. This is the worst job I’ve ever had! 

The sun is well above the horizon when we finally leave the village of Radbuhr. Sir Alrith waves graciously at the villagers who have come to see us off.
“Farewell! Farewell dear villagers of Radbuhr, I shan’t forget your hospitality. If only I could stay longer. I would gladly have made this my home!” I nudge Mire to start walking, the need to eyeroll is getting too strong to ignore. With a tight smile I bow to the people gathered. Enough of this. 
“Come along Sir Alrith, your destiny awaits!”

This has him perking up and setting off in a trot. Mire snorts and matches the pace. At a gallop we ought to reach Hamor before noon, but I’m know he’ll never agree to that. A brisk trot is the best I can hope for, but by tonight I’ll never have to deal with The Chosen again. My job will be done and Sir Alrith will be where he needs to be. Our destinies will cease to be intertwined. Mire senses my joy and lengthens his steps. Erfin’s white coat shimmers in the sunshine and he tosses his head and quickens his pace too. Sir Alrith laughs.

“See! Even the horses know how important I am!” Oh Gods, prevent me from knocking him out and delivering an unconscious Chosen. “Make way for The Chosen! Make way!” He sets off in a gallop. A surprised laugh escapes me, then I let Meri follow. Catching up to Sir Alrith I thank the Gods; maybe they listen to the prayers of us mere mortals after all. 



Monday, February 12, 2018

Love on the Ilieriath Plain


You get used to not being the pretty sister. Like you get used to having blonde hair or dimples, or that people’s eyes glance past you and land on her. I’ve practiced my smile in the mirror. It’s a perfect mix of open, polite and acquiescent.

“Belia!” Cecie’s whispered voice is urgent in my ear. Father has ushered our guests into the Grand Hall and we’re supposed to join them. “Belia, did you see the Egiorwin Crown Princess?”
“How could I not. The jewels in her robes near blinded me.” My dry comment is ruined by the big grin splitting my face. There haven’t been Elves at Caleah Castle since before we were born.

Cecie’s beautiful eyes glimmer and her smile is stunning. No matter how many times she has directed it at me, it’s always like looking straight into the sun.
“Now I have to get a good look at her face. I couldn’t take my eyes off that huge sapphire around her neck.” Laughing she twirls, her dress billowing out around her. Then she collects herself and extends her hand to me. “Come on Belia, let’s show them Caleah’s most precious jewels.” I don’t tell her to go in there by herself. I take her hand, arrange our skirts and give her my most loving smile.
“Let’s go blind them.”


Cecie looks good in the arms of the Egiorwin Crown Princess. The adorned robes can’t compete with Cecie’s radiant beauty and every time she smiles or laughs, the Princess’ posture straightens. That’s Cecie. If I didn’t know any better I’d claim magic, but I know it’s the absolute goodness of her heart shining through that perfect face of hers.

“It’s as I always suspected.” The low voice in my ear weakens my knees and I must close my eyes to collect myself. “Princess Cecie is an elf born in the wrong body.” Knowing it’s the worst thing I can do, I take a deep breath through my nose and the colours of his scent swirl inside me. Fighting through my emotions I open my eyes, lock them on Cecie and the Crown Princess and answer him.
“I never heard Gylas announce you.” If I had, this might not have affected me so. Although it would. Sir Ichard of Hastow chuckles and moves to stand beside me. He’s carrying a goblet and anyone glancing over at us would have thought him being here all evening. He has that ruggedly handsome partied-out look about him.
“We have an understanding, Gylas and I. He omits announcing me at these things, if at all possible, and I keep his nephew on a short leash and out of trouble.”  

Cecie glances in our direction and I give her a big smile and a small wave. She smiles back, but the Elven Princess bends down to say something and her eyes return to her again. I drop my smile with a sigh. The only dignitaries asking me to dance are the old ones, or the ones who have been told to charm both daughters. Don’t forget about the plain one!

“She does look beautiful tonight.” My sigh has him offering me the goblet of wine and I take a small sip. I gesture with it. “The Elves have taken turns on the dance floor all evening. I knew this day was coming, but I didn’t think it would arrive so soon and I never thought it might be the Elves.”

Ichard reclaims his goblet and drains it. A servant is there in the blink of an eye, offering more refreshments, but Ichard places his empty goblet on the tray and turns to me. He bows and offers me his hand.
“Your thoughts and concerns I can’t do much about Princess, but perhaps a turn on the dance floor would have you momentarily forget them?” My hand takes his and I hope he can’t tell that I’m trembling like an Asan leaf.
“Gallant Knight, you honour me.” I curtsy and with a crooked smile Ichard yanks me towards the couples spinning past us.

Being in his arms and having him holding me close has my heart beating fast, colouring my cheeks and tingling my fingers. His steps are faster than the music, but I know it’s deliberate. He wants me laughing, forgetting about Cecie and whatever the future holds for her, for me.
Keeping up with him forces me to concentrate and I wish my skirts didn’t hide my feet. The staring off over his shoulder and counting one - two - three - four in my head doesn’t help when I’m not sure what my feet are doing! I stumble. The only thing stopping me from toppling over is Ichard holding me tight.

He moves to watch my face, a triumphant grin on his, and laughter bubbles inside of me. His refusal to look away makes it impossible to stop it and I throw my head back to set it free. Other dancers move out of the way as he madly twirls us during the last strokes of the music. This is the closest thing to carelessness I have ever experienced. From the corner of my eye I see Cecie laughing and clapping her hands, the Elven Princess next to her, smiling. The music shifts and slows down. It was glorious for as long as it lasted. I make to leave, but his arm snakes around my waist.

“You’re not leaving, are you Princess Belia? We still have one dance.” His eyes are amber, glowing in the setting sun, and I don’t know what to say. We have never danced one of the slow dances together, he always saved them for Cecie. My head turns in her direction. Is she expecting him to invite her to dance? She’s nowhere to be seen. I crane my neck to search for her among the Elves.

He uses my distraction to pull me against him again. We’re chest to chest. His arm once again pinning me to him, his left hand in my right, steering us in slow circles across the floor. After a few turns I see my elder sister. She’s dancing and making conversation with Wena, our diplomat in the Elven city of Egiorwin. The elderly woman is nodding at something Cecie is saying. Ichard spins us again and bows his head to catch my gaze.

“She’s fine. Princess Cecie knows what she’s doing and we both know that she has grand plans for herself.” My heart is both heavy and light at the same time and it must show in my smile, because he leans closer still. “And Princess, you knew you’d be separated one of these days. Prince Enryn’s duty is to inherit the Himlerian throne and the two of you need to marry well… or at least help with keeping the peace in any way you can.” Rolling my eyes is a natural reaction to this lecture. I more feel Ichard chuckle than hear it. “Fine, I’ll not speak of it anymore.” I scrunch my nose and give him a small smile.

“You’re right though. If Cecie marries or relocates to another country, everyone’s eyes will be upon me and what I do. Or don’t do. It’s just that the thought of leaving Sunstead and Caleah Castle makes me… it makes me so sad. Sometimes I wish I was born first, Enryn will never have to worry that he might have to leave here forever.”
Ichard’s smile is understanding as he twirls us around and around, the music rising in a crescendo before the dance is over and I must let him go. He offers me his arm and leads me back to the side of the dance floor. After a bow and a feather light kiss on my hand, he disappears among the guests and I’m again left to observe the feast.


I spot the King making conversation with the Elven Crown Princess and I know I must join them sometime this evening, might as well get it over with.
“...slight unrest along the border, but that is to be expected in early spring. With their food stores gaping empty and game not yet back in the forest.” The Crown Princess’ Elven accent is barely there. Her willingness to speak our language is seen as a great honour, even though everyone in the Royal Family is fluent in Nionyamithil, and any other language our allies might speak.

I wait for her to finish before taking the last step up to them. The Princess turns her sapphire blue eyes to me and smiles. The low light shining from them adds to her beauty, but at the same time marks her as something utterly strange and otherworldly. Taking my hand and giving it a squeeze, my father brings me back to the Grand Hall. I glance at him and he smiles knowingly.

“Crown Princess Finerdhi, this is my youngest child, Princess Belia. Heiress of the Ilieriath Plain and of the city of Elest. Belia, meet Crown Princess Finerdhi.” I slip my hand out of my father’s and give a deep curtsy.
“Indessead al’ha imas.” Princess Finerdhi laughs.
“Princess Belia, your pronunciation is even better than Princess Cecie’s!” She curtsies too. “And, imos aba’c amallon.” We straighten at the same time and I cross my arms at my waist, giving her my practiced smile. 

“I hope you are enjoying your stay here in Sunstead and Caleah Castle, Princess Finerdhi.”
“Oh yes, Princess Belia, it has been nothing but pleasant and I will miss it when I return home. The Plains are so different from our deep forests.” She sweeps her arms, as if to show me how vast the Plains are.
“I imagine they are, Princess Finerdhi, the tales of the forests of Evralas are legend. I hope I’ll have the opportunity to visit Ithlormel one day. The canopy city seems a wonder.” The Crown Princess’ smile is more a grin and she nods vigorously, making her seem younger than her 120 years.
“It is a true marvel, but so is your city and castle. To think one can build such things out of stone!” I smile. It was the gnomes who built it all one thousand years ago, and the Royal Family are to this day paying them a large sum at Winter Solstice for their work.

Cecie joins us, her arm draped over Ichard’s and it pains me to see how beautiful they look together. Two honey blonde and beautiful humans, like the paintings of the ancient heroes, Queen Aenhith and King Vyncent. The only thing lacking are unicorns frolicking behind them.
The Elven Princess’ eyes light up at the sight of Cecie and I can tell that she is as taken with her as the other way around. Cecie turns to father, her smile triumphant as she lets Ichard go and near shoves him towards us. Ichard winces at her familiarity and breach of decorum.

“Look who I found, skulking the edges of the Grand Hall!” Ichard arranges his features and bows deeply, first to father and then to the Crown Princess.
“Your Majesty, you know how I prefer to not be at the centre of attention. Crown Princess Finerdhi, it’s an honour.” Father chuckles and motions for Ichard to stand up straight.
“Crown Princess Finerdhi, this is Sir Ichard of Hastow, Knight Protector of the realm and Crown Prince Enryn’s brother in arms.” The Elven Princess nods courteously.
“The honour is all mine. I have heard only good things of you, from Crown Prince Enryn and Princess Cecie both.” Cecie looks like she’s found out that there are fairies playing in the palace gardens.
The phrase ‘love at first sight’ plants itself in my mind and I watch them watch each other. Their smiles only there for the other and if manners weren’t such an ingrained part of our lives, they would be touching each other in some way.

Lively music starts playing, making Crown Princess Finerdhi listen attentively. Cecie takes her hand as soon as she offers. Then she stills and looks at me. Princess Finerdhi knows she ought to ask me to dance next, it would be the proper thing to do. Quickly I turn to Ichard.
“I do believe you promised me this dance, Sir. It would be very rude to go back on your word.” Ichard blinks but finds himself soon enough to bow and offer me his hand. Out of the corner of my eye I see Cecie mouthing a ‘thank you’.


“This dance should have been yours Princess, by right.” Ichard takes me down the dance with a slight frown marring his perfect features. “Princess Cecie knew it too.” I didn’t think Ichard could be annoyed with my big sister. We stop to stand the end of the line, waiting for couples to twirl down past us. I sigh and shake my head.
“They had no eyes for anyone but each other. It’s not my place to get between them.” His golden-brown eyes snap to me and I can’t meet them. Instead I watch Cecie and Crown Princess Finerdhi laugh and smile their way towards us.
“Bel!” I blink at him, the frown on his face deepens. He’s not called me that in years. It’s always Princess this and Princess that. I always retaliate by calling him Sir, although in my heart he’ll always be Ichard.

It’s our turn to move and he yanks me to him. His anger feels misplaced. Court rules and decorum are important, but diplomatic solutions, marriages, are so much more crucial to our continued existence. Ichard knows this. When we get down to the end of the line again he twirls me all the way down to and through the concealed opening behind the purple velvet drapes.

“Sir Ichard! We need to get back to the Grand Hall, it won’t do for me to disappear!” The small antechamber is dim in comparison to the well-lit Grand Hall. He lets me go and goes to stand with his back to me. His fists are tightly closed by his sides and I can tell by the stiffness of his back that he’s still angry. I open my mouth to tell him that I’m going back.
“Bel.” He says it softly and I know I won’t be able to leave this room without someone dragging me away. Ichard turns around, his body still tight, but his face softer and he blows out a breath.
“Princess Belia. I know you put everyone else’s needs before your own. Himleria, Sunstead, Ilieriath, Elest, the castle, your family and the dogs and cats and the Plains know who and what else…”

He moves closer as he speaks. Soon he’s right in front of me, the antechamber not being very large to begin with. His eyes search my face. Is he waiting for me to say something? Even with all the languages I speak, I can’t think of one word, of one sound. Ichard lifts his hands to my face. He stops just as he is to touch me. I wish I had control of my body, I would lean into him. There’s a sad smile on his face.
“Belia, would you please start putting yourself and your needs first. Maybe just once in a while? Maybe just once? Maybe now?” His hands cup my face and my eyes flutter shut. “Please, look at me Bel.”

Opening my eyes, I find myself staring into his. He has a faint scar running from beneath his left eye to his nose and I want to trace it with my fingers. Ask him where he got it. Trace kisses down his face.
“Tell me something you want for yourself. I’ll do everything in my power to make it happen Bel. I’ll do almost anything. For you I really would do anything.” He drops his hands from my face and takes a step back.

Did he just tell me he loves me? Where there were no words just mere moments ago, there are now too many to make sense of. Ichard rakes his fingers through his hair and stalks over to the door leading away from this room and the Grand Hall.
“Princess, I’m sorry. I have overstepped my bounds. I forgot my place. I’ll take you back to the dancing”

“No Ichard. Don’t. There’s nothing in the Grand Hall for me.” My skirts rustle when I move towards him. “You’re right. I always put others before myself. I’m the youngest. The one who never needs to amount to much. Except becoming a diplomat far away or marrying well. And with father’s siblings giving us all the diplomats we need, and it’s looking like Cecie will be marrying extremely well… Well, there’s not much left for me to do. I’m not that important.” Ichard is shaking his head. He turns to face me.
“But you are, to your family. To me. I don’t know what I would… what we would do, if you weren’t... here.” I lift my hand to his cheek and he leans into it. Our eyes meet and Ichard turns his head and kisses the palm of my hand.

Something inside me is set free. I feel it shaking its plumage, stretching its wings and soaring up into the sky. Ichard takes my hands and presses them to his chest, his heart is thumping violently against my palms.
“I’m yours Belia, I have always been yours. And if you’ll have me, I’ll never leave your side. Knight, lover or… or husband. I’ll be what you need, what you want.”
I’m used to giving way to my elder siblings and to the need of the kingdom. To take what’s left and make the best of it. This time, this time I’ll take what I want, and it’ll be the best thing. I’ll make it the best thing. We will. It’ll be what I always dreamed of.

“How about all three? The Summer Palace has been neglected for far too long. Will you leave Hastow and live with me in Elest?” The warmth in Ichard’s eyes flood through me. Enryn can have the Himlerian throne and Cecie the Elven Princess and the deep forests of Evralas. I will have my beloved Ilieriath Plain and the Knight of my heart. I lean my cheek against Ichard’s chest and listen to the sound of forever, a heart that is all mine.



https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Marianne_Stokes05.jpg

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Feelings and memories


Aurora

“Why are you crying?” The question comes as a surprise, I haven’t heard anyone approach. I didn’t think anyone would come to this part of school, especially this late in the afternoon.
“None of your business, is it?” I lift my head out of my hands, not caring that he’ll see my tear streaked face.
My rudeness doesn’t seem to faze him at all. Instead he calmly crosses his arms over his chest and just stands there looking at me. His hair is black and shoulder length and his eyes a dark brown, from where I’m sitting they might as well be black too. I know I’ve seen him before, a name sits on the tip of my tongue.

“Like really. It’s not like you care. Leave me alone.” His smirk conveys how much he doesn't care. 
“Oh, believe me, I would. But you’re in my spot.”
“Your spot?” It’s one of the lesser used computer labs, hardly anyone comes here.
“Yes.” He rolls his eyes. “I’m using that computer for my senior project, and you’re in my spot.” Swiveling the chair, I see that the computer looks newer than the other ones in here. I stand.
“Oh. Sorry. I didn’t know. I didn’t think anyone would…” He moves past me and dumps his backpack on the table next to the computer. I should move. I remain rooted to the spot. A scent wafts towards me and I think of the ocean at night. This close I see that he has a thin scar across his right cheek. It’s faint, like it’s been there for some time. It adds a certain something to him and I wonder where he got it.

“A fight with my nemesis.” My eyes snap from the scar to his eyes. He’s smiling, but it’s not reaching his eyes.
“You have a nemesis?” Like really, that’s nothing you joke around with. He crosses his arms over his chest again and shrugs his shoulders.
“And you don’t?” I know he’s talking about the crying.
“I wasn’t crying because of a nemesis. I was crying… I was crying because…” I stop myself before it’s too late. His smirk is back.
“...because? What? Your outfit doesn’t match, and your friends were mean about it?” I feel my hackles rising.
“No! God!” Anger dries my tears and heats my face. “You don’t know anything about me! Don’t you fucking dare judge me!” If I raise my voice any further, I’ll be screaming in his face. Embarrassment and shock steal the words from me and I close my eyes, willing him to go away and me to sink through the floor.

Wiping at my eyes will smear makeup all over, but my mascara is already in black streaks down my face and I know I’m all ugly red and blotchy already. Drawing a deep breath, I collect myself. This boy has nothing to do with why I’m hiding. Crying. I need to find a bathroom and wash my face, brush my hair and calm down. I open my eyes.

His face has changed from slight contempt and annoyance to surprise and... reverence? My words elude me yet again, but this time because I’ve never had anyone look at me this way before. His name rolls off my tongue.
“I’m sorry I inconvenienced you, Ben... Benjamin. Good luck with the project.” I try my best to give him a genuine smile, showing that I don’t have any hard feelings towards him. I grab the pink and glittery messenger bag I use for school and hurry out of the room.


Ben

The surge of violent attraction slowly dissipates as her steps disappear down the hallway.
“Holy fuck. What was that?!”
Ben shakes his head to clear it. It’s not like Aurora Hunter isn’t pretty. She’s the kind of pretty most people can agree on; a clear complexion, bright eyes and soft looking hair flowing down her back. Even in her most disheveled state there had been something almost adorable about her.

He rakes an unsteady hand through his hair. This has certainly not help put him in the right mood for his project. Switching the screen on illuminates the semi-dark room in a pale light. An error message is displayed there, but Ben types a few quick commands and it changes to the normal login screen. No need for anyone but him to have access to this particular computer. His hands are still shaking as he opens his files. Drawing a deep breath, he wills himself to calm down.
There’s too much to be done, too many tests to run. His senior project on cataloguing student preferences when it comes to AP classes has been done for ages, it’s a stupid project, but it lets him work on his secret project: a memory bank of sorts. He just needs to find a good way to cross reference searches without having too many hits. Aurora is an enigma to figure out another time.

Time flies when deeply emerged into an important project. The beep of a text forces Ben to resurface from troubleshooting and coding. The lit-up screen of his phone tells him it’s his father. A look of annoyance clouds his face as he reads it in his father’s voice.  

“Are you planning on coming home? Any time this week would be appreciated.”

“Soon I won’t have to. Soon I’ll be free.” Muttering Ben saves the files to the cloud, shuts everything down and sets the fake error message program to run if anyone tries to use this computer.

Leaving the computer lab and walking through a nearly empty school would be weird to most people, but Ben relishes this time of day. No one to cast glares in his general direction, no whispering behind his back. No one to stumble and hurry out of the way. He enjoys his reputation of being the weird kid, the one you wouldn’t approach because he’ll only stare at you until you go away. Although he’d prefer if they’d use the word sinister instead of weird. It has a much better ring to it.

Outside the girl’s bathroom, right next to the main doors, he sees something glittering on the floor. Curiosity has him stopping. It’s a pink hair clip and something about it has him bending down and picking it up. As soon as he touches the glittery surface he knows he’s come across this person before.
Standing up straight he squeezes his fingers around it, feeling the shape of it marking the palm of his hand. It makes him think of lemons, of citrusy fruits and tears. He forces himself to keep walking. Practice makes perfect after all. Someone else’s memories begin to edge in around his own thoughts.

Sunlight on a boardwalk. The wind twirling long strands of hair into someone’s face. Happiness. Blissful youth and summer.

He almost stops himself. These are so far from himself that they confuse him. Shaking his head, he keeps walking, focusing on the item in his hand.

Confusion and tears. Aurora’s pale face in a mirror. Zephyr looking concerned. The Countess’ mouth in an angry line.

Ben stops dead. Why would Aurora have memories of the two biggest superheroes in the country? He turns the hair clip over in his hand. If he strains himself a little more he should be able to get more answers. The parking lot is almost empty. Ben gets into his car and puts the key in the ignition. The hair clip is still in his hand. Tightening his hold, he closes his eyes and dives deeper into the memories.


Aurora

Mom and dad are in their office when I get home from school. I’m only three hours late, not late enough for them to notice, they’re too busy working. I wandered the mall, willing my red eyes to return to normal. Most days after school I keep to my room, doing my homework and my best to meditate, to reach my core. The memory of mom’s disappointed face usually breaks my focus and I end up lying on my bed staring at the ceiling.

“Hey ‘rora.” My big brother is sitting in the kitchen, eating a huge plate of cheesy nachos. He’s in his suit, a dark grey and cobalt blue spandex bodysuit. His insignia on his chest; a blazing sun with two angel-like wings. The half face mask lies on the counter next to his elbow. Icarus got his first mission only a year ago and I suspect he sleeps with his suit on. True love.
“Hi Lucas.” I nab a chip from his plate. He’s gone overboard with the cheese, so I refrain from taking another one. It’s dinner soon anyway. Our housekeeper prepares our dinners and it’s just for mom or dad to heat nuke it when they’re done for the day. “Fought any bad guys today?”
“Nah, it’s been chill.” He’s talking with his mouth full. It grosses me out, but at the same time I’m glad his superpowers haven’t changed him too much. “How about you?” I turn to look for something in the fridge. He knows I’ve not displayed any powers. Yet.
“It’s just school. Same old, same old.” I grab a water bottle and let the door fall shut. “And speaking of which: I have homework.” Lucas shakes his head at me and I know what he’s thinking.

Once my powers manifest I won’t have to worry about school, I’ll be set for life. I’ll be working for the SHC, The Superhero Coalition, it’s a given and a lifetime employment. And it’s mom’s plan for me. That’s why she has me meditating, working out, doing psychological tests and anything else she can think of that would trigger me.

I leave my brother to his nachos and walk to my room. It’s at the back of the house, with a view of the bay and our private beach. When I was little I’d pray for water powers. My diary is full of stories where I’m talking to the creatures of the sea and saving the world. Once I hit puberty and not a trace of superpower showed itself, I stopped writing in it. Dreams are for kids.
Sighing I shut the door behind me and drop my bag to the floor. I can’t stop thinking about being found in my most disheveled state by someone, even it happened to be the school loner. And then he had made me angry enough to nearly say it out loud, and that worries me. Will I have a mental breakdown at school and make an absolute fool out of myself? Mom would be so pissed.

The Countess has her mind under control, her body, her house, the villains and her family. Her only setback seems to be me, and that’s a subject under tight control. We do not speak of it. Not even amongst ourselves.  
An image of Benjamin Drake’s face flashes before my eyes. Eyes, dark as the night, glowing with adoration and that smirk of his wiped off his face. Why the hell would he look at me like that? Not that I mind, really. I know some people at school think I’m cute, but I would never have thought Mr. Dark and Brooding would even reflect upon my existence. But who cares? I’m powerless and useless. Closing my eyes, I allow myself a short pity party before tackling my load of homework.

Instead of me replaying my breakdown, I see Ben. He’s sitting in a car. His car? One hand on the wheel, eyes shut, and his other hand tightly closed. He looks almost pained, a sheen of sweat covering his forehead. I reach out to touch his cheek, to alert him to my presence, but my hand slips right through him. I give a gasp of surprise. Ben’s eyes snap open and he turns in my direction.


Ben

The headache is getting too hard to ignore, but he just needs a little more information from this thing.

Aurora crying, sobbing her heart out in the computer lab. The new hotshot superhero Icarus flying off into the sunset. A door closing. Darkness and more tears.

Does she have this superhero fixation? It would make perfect sense. Girls like her would most definitely crush on a guy like Icarus. Ben grimaces. The scar on his face feels hot at the memory of the night when he wasn’t fast enough. Icarus fire whip had slashed his cheek just as he had thrown himself back in time. His powers hadn’t been under full control yet. He left the scar as a reminder to always improve himself. Ben grits his teeth and focuses his thoughts on the hair clip.

The ocean. A garden overlooking a beach. Aurora removing the hair clip and shaking her long hair, making it sway and shimmer. Her face, tear streaked and breathtakingly beautiful.

Someone is sitting next to him in the car. He feels them breathing. Snapping his eyes open he looks over at the passenger side, but there’s no one there. His heart beats violently in his chest. A lemony scent lingers, just as when Aurora Hunter just left.
Ben opens his hand. The hair clip has made an imprint and glitter has stuck to his sweaty palm. Has his power changed? Evolved? Why did it feel like she was here, next to him? He’s certain he heard something. A quick glance around the parking lot shows no sign of anyone. He needs to head home. His father is waiting, and he can do a background check on Aurora from his computer.

The house lies at the edge of town, the forest enveloping it in permanent shadow. As he parks his car he sees his mother peeking out from behind the curtain in the living room. They’re waiting for him. Sighing he slings his backpack over one shoulder and heads up the stairs to the front door.
“Benjamin? Is that you?” Rolling his eyes, he steps up to the door leading to the living room.
“Yes mother.”
“Dinner will be served in one hour.” He nods and moves towards the stairs. “And go speak with your father. He has something he wants to talk to you about.” Usually it’s just to tell him to keep his grades up and make the right kind of friends.

As if he ever has trouble with getting good grades. And friends, be it the right or wrong kind, are mostly an annoyance in their demands of him giving them of his time. Deciding to deal with his father before anything else, Ben turns left at the foot of the stairs and heads for his father’s study.
The door is ajar, and the table lamp is illuminating the desk, showing his father reading through documents from a thick file. Knocking on the door and taking one step into the room he waits for his father to finish reading. The older man, a grayer version of the son, puts the document down and looks up.

“Benjamin. How good of you to come see me. I wanted to know how that project of yours is going. You said something about being able to show me sometime this week.”
“Yes, I just need to run it once more. Make sure the major issues have been dealt with.” His father nods.
“Good.” He returns to reading without further comment. Ben holds his sigh and hurries up the stairs and into the sanctuary of his own room. The quiet hum of his computer calms him. It never lets him down, and it will always give him the answers he seeks. Without demanding anything in return.


Aurora

Dizziness has me stumbling to my bed.
“What the hell?” My mouth has a metallic taste and I’m seeing spots dancing in front of my eyes. I had been there. I was right there in the car with him! How? Taking a deep breath, I calm my nerves and fight to ignore the headache wanting to build. Astral projection.

I should be ecstatic. A power has manifested in me, just like I always wanted. Astral projection though. Could I have gotten a more uncool and more or less useless power? Unless something else manifests I’ll be stuck in an office, spying on villains or scouting locations, never being sent into action. Never being talked about in news and celebrated by the people.
“All powers are equal.” Mom’s voice echoes in my mind. “Even non-fighting powers are very useful for the SHC. Covert operations solve more crimes than battles.” But her powers are all battle powers, dad’s too. And Lucas’ is seen as the new rising star. They don’t know anything about not being in battles. They think they understand, they believe that they see every power as equal, but they’re blind to their privilege.

I’m shaking. Somewhere deep down I know it’s shock combined with relief, but right now I just want everything to go back to normal. Doing my homework is out of the question. I check my phone, it’s only 6PM. A warm bath to calm myself and help me put up a front to my parents. I shake my head.
I should be running down the stairs, screaming with joy, telling them all about it. They’ll be so relieved something has happened. And then they’ll be disappointed it’s just a mental ability. It figures really, all this time wanting, praying for an ability and this is all I get.

I undress and wrap myself in my robe. My phone has been lighting up ever since I got home, some kind of high school drama among my friends and them needing to group chat about it.
Turning the notifications off I drop it on my bed and go pour a healthy amount of my favorite bath salt into the tub. The lemongrass scent and the hot water help me relax, the headache dissolves along with the tightness in my muscles. 

I can’t help it. I try it again. This time I try focusing on my parents. The feeling of being in the office comes instantly, knowing a location in the physical world must help with the projection. Mom and dad are sitting at the enormous desk taking up most of the back wall. Large screens show me computer documents and files. A 24-hour news channel is rolling on one of them, the sound turned low. Dad’s super hearing will make out what they’re saying anyway. I’m careful in moving around, Ben obviously heard something and that tells me there’s more to my power than just simple projection. Mom looks up from the papers she’s reading, her eyes searching close to where I stopped moving. Then she checks the time.

“Maybe we should call it a night? It’s past 6 and I think both kids are home, for once.” Dad chuckles, his eyes reading three screens at the same time.
“Better let Aurora finish her bath first.” Mom stands.
“I’ll go heat our dinner up.” She kisses his hair and leaves the room.

I open my eyes. I need to know more, but I need to figure this out by myself. Mom will only push and work me harder. I don’t want to work harder, not the way she wants me to anyway. I know I have about 20 minutes before dinner, so I force myself to not think about this anymore.
Instead I think about Benjamin Drake and whatever made him sit in his car, looking all pained. Is his senior project going badly? Are they mean to him at school? And why on earth did he look at me like that? Like I was the sun after a long dark night.


Ben

He has one hour. Not that finding someone’s information is that hard, he has backdoor access to all major databases and then some. Even before his powers manifested he had decided to not live by the law. The general contempt he feels for most people and their trivial lives has made him teach himself everything he can get his hands on when it comes to hacking. Siphoning money from accounts and into one he created for himself was a major step, the first step.

His father will readily support his hobby, as he thinks Ben is a computer whiz who’d love to work at the family company.
“I like that you are taking your education seriously, High school might not be able to offer you much, but once you get to college you’ll find more people like you. My most important contacts were all made in college…” Ben will nod and stop listening.

He opens several tabs and starts running searches for Aurora Hunter. As he suspected, none of her information is classified. He finds her address, her GPA, her browser history, who she texts the most, the name of her parents, her brother and her medical history.
All her social media accounts lie open to him, even the Instagram account she has set to private. Although why anyone like Aurora would feel the need to have an account without followers or following anyone seems a mystery to him. His curiosity gets the better of him and he clicks it.

It’s just selfie after selfie; Aurora’s face staring into the camera. No smiling or pouting of lips. The captions are all the same: Day 4, day 17, Day 44, Day 576, Day 900. The first picture was posted four years ago. He’s about to close the tab when a new picture gets posted: Day 1395 or day 1 idk. He stares at it. Her hair is wet and her expression similar to when they met at school, so tired and sad. Yet, there seems something behind her eyes.
“Or maybe you just stared at her for too long.” Shaking his head he starts closing tabs. He has an address, he can drop the hair clip in her mailbox and that will be it. She won’t even know that he’s the one who returned it.

A newspaper article about the new superhero in town has him pausing. It’s from a year ago and features Icarus, standing outside City Hall, flanked by Zephyr and The Countess. But it’s not the heroes that have him holding his breath. Down in the right corner of the picture stands Aurora. She’s not clapping, nor is she looking at the superheroes. Her face is turned in the other direction, her long hair flying in the wind. He reads the caption:

“The newly certified superhero Icarus, with his parents Zephyr and The Countess.”

Parents? Why didn’t he know this? Ben looks at his backpack where he put the hair clip. If Zephyr and The Countess have a son, maybe they have a daughter too?

“Ben? Dinner.” His mother’s voice has never been more annoying or unwanted. His eyes linger on the picture of the superhero family. He zooms in on Aurora’s face. It’s the same expression as in her thousands of selfies. He knows what he must do. Sitting back into his chair he runs his hands through his hair. This might be the real start to his career. A true test of his skills and his determination. Is tonight the night Flashback makes a name of himself?
“Benjamin! Dinner! Now!” His father’s voice booms up the stairs. Taking a deep breath Ben turns the monitor off and trudges down the stairs. Flashback will have to wait until later.


Aurora

“How are you feeling today, honey?” Mom isn’t known for her subtlety.
“Like always.” I stuff my mouth with more vegetable lasagna. She wrinkles her eyebrows at me, but drops the subject and turns to my brother.
“Did Starlight take you out to the training course today?” Lucas is eating like he didn’t eat his own weight in nachos and cheese earlier.
“She didn’t have time, but Zip and I sparred and did a couple of the simulation runs.” The three of them launch into a lengthy discussion on the pros and cons of simulations. I’ve heard it all before. It’s like they don’t know how to talk about anything else. There’s a whole world out there that's not involved in fighting villains!
“I need to call Anya. Then I still have homework to do. And I have to work on my senior project.” They all stop talking to look at me. Three famous and successful superheroes. I feel the burn of tears and hurry out of there.

Anya is the coach mom set me up with, to help me find the power inside of me and just trigger the damn thing. I usually call her once a week and we talk about different exercises and if they’ve worked or not. They never have. I’d like to talk to someone about today though, about what triggered me, but I can’t talk to Anya. She’d call mom and that would set off a whole chain of events I don’t even want to think about. I just want to be left alone and figure this out on my own.

I almost trip over my school bag. Biting down on a curse word I pick it up and head to my desk, I might as well do my homework then. One of the side pockets is open, a pack of tissues nearly falling out. I shove them back inside and remember that I put my favorite hair clip in there too. I stick my hand in, but it’s not there. Wrinkling my brow I search my bag, pull out books and papers and pens. I find an old headband I never wear anymore, Chapstick so old I can’t remember buying it and my unicorn band aids. My math book and the folder with my student project slides down onto the floor.

“Oh no.” I sit in my chair. “That would be the perfect end to today, wouldn’t it?” Then I sit up straight. If I can find people and places, maybe I can find where I dropped it? I close my eyes. I open my eyes. I can’t risk mom or dad come knocking. Starting a playlist on my phone and letting the music blast will make them think I’m studying. I hope.
I close my eyes and think of the pink and glittery hair clip. I think of myself wearing it. Of me putting it in my bag. Of all the places I’ve been today. I see a house I don’t know. I’m moving up the stairs and into a room. I pause and look around. Movie posters on the walls and a huge desk with an enormous computer screen. Next to it a backpack I recognize. It’s in there. I can feel it.

I turn and look at the room. There’s not much to look at, green and black color schemes tell me it’s a classic boy’s room. There are a few photographs on one of the shelves over the bed. I glide over there. Benjamin Drake is standing in all of them. A few have what must be his parents standing on each side and some have, to me, unknown people. In none of the pictures is he smiling.
There’s one from the ninth-grade science fair, Benjamin is standing there by himself, holding the first prize ribbon. I can tell he’s proud, but it’s more the way he’s holding himself than the expression of his face. I remember his smirk. He must have a pretty smile, I wonder if he ever uses it.

I drift to the backpack again. Look at it. Is there any way I can get my hair clip out of there? I try reaching for it, my hand moving through the bag, but something feels more solid. A cold sensation as my hand moves through it. I try solidifying myself, I don’t know how, but I know it’s what I need to do.


Ben

Dinner is uninspiring and dull, like always. His father talks about business, his mother about her meaningless life and Ben offers lies about school. It’s all pointless and time consuming anyway. Thankfully a call summons his father to the study and after dessert his mother lets him leave the table.
“Don’t stay up to late, darling.” He kisses her cheek. “I really think we should try to go on a holiday again Ben, it was too long ago.“ Ben rolls his eyes and leaves the dining room behind.

His mind has been working on how to find proof of his theory that Aurora Hunter is the child of Zephyr and The Countess. It’s the only logical explanation considering her memories, and if she hasn’t manifested any powers yet it could explain that meltdown of hers. And if she is their daughter, it would mean Icarus is her brother and Flashback would get a chance to stick it to him. Hurt him. Emotionally compromised people fight without thought, they’re easy to break.  

Lemons. Ben stops right outside the door to his room. Has the housecleaner been here today? Shaking his head, he shoves the door open. Aurora. At first, he thinks he might be thinking of her so much that he conjured her. She’s almost not here, translucent and glowing slightly.
She also seems very preoccupied with his backpack. Something's not right. He watches her reach into it, her hand coming out again as a fist and her face becoming more and more annoyed. Ben’s heart slams in his chest as he realizes what this means.
Using his powers, he flashes back to a point in time when Aurora wasn’t in his room and he removes the hair clip from his backpack. When he returns he watches her reach into the bag and then a look of surprise crosses her face and she turns to face him. Her form flickers as she seems to be fighting to hold on to it. He sees her talking, but not a sound crosses her lips.

“Looks like you haven’t mastered your powers yet.” Her pleading image ripples and shifts to one where she’s crossing her arms over her chest and looking annoyed. Ben feels the corners of his mouth twitching. “I’m guessing you’re looking for this.”
He holds the hair clip between two fingers. Aurora moves towards him, her eyes on it and immediately the scent of lemons envelop him. Her hand reaches out to touch the clip, but her fingers slide right through. When her hand glides through Ben’s there’s a kind of tingling sensation in his fingers, neither pleasant or unpleasant, just different.

Aurora gets this look in her eye and gets right up to his face. Ben swallows the fear tickling his throat. She’s up to something. He steels himself. Aurora smiles. She smiles a wide smile, and it’s like back at the computer lab. Every good feeling he’s ever had about her becomes the main focus of his mind. She glows. An aura of blue and light surrounds her. He sees her mouth moving. He needs to hear the words she’s speaking. Sounds vibrates through the air. It’s like she’s a long way down a tunnel, whispering.
“I need it back, Ben. Please give it back to me.” She starts to fade, her glow growing dull. Then she’s gone but the overpowering feeling lingers. Admiration, or something else? When she smiled at him he was ready to proclaim his love for her. Which is such an odd thought that it snaps him back to now.

He opens his hand and looks at the hair clip. He already intended to return it. Her asking, has him feeling a compulsion to do so, but he’ll do it his own way. And he’ll do it while taking Icarus down. Maybe even tonight? Yes, tonight it is.
He moves to his closet and opens a back panel. There’s a small room, filled with things that would send his parents into panic. And several spandex suits, all of them charcoal grey with his insignia on the chest; a clock cracked by a lightning bolt.


Aurora

I’m shaking. I can’t tell if it’s the adrenaline rushing through my veins or if it’s fear of what’s happening to me. Maybe it’s a bit of both. Taking deep breaths, I try using one of the meditation techniques Anya taught me.
“Calm down Aurora. Calm down.” I push the air out of my lungs one last time.

Wait a minute. What the hell happened with my hair clip? It was in the backpack, I know it was in there. I felt it. And then it wasn’t. Instead Ben had it in his hand. Ben. He knows about my powers. I’m not sure how to feel about that. On the other hand, I know something about him. There’s something odd about Ben. I’m pretty sure he did something superhero powery. Biting my lip, I go through the list of young superheroes I know. It’s an extensive list, being the child of Zephyr and The Countess has its privileges.

Whip is platinum blond and such a dude bro that I rule him out straight away. Spell Knight isn’t even using a secret identity and he’s so obnoxious about everything that he’d never be pretend to be anyone but himself.
Razor? I’m not sure if Razor is male. They’re all metal now, at least in superhero form, so they might be either. Besides, Razor cuts matter with blades that come out of nowhere and Ben didn’t do that. He made the hair clip move from his bag to his hand. Yeah, just a simple matter of transferring an object. I snort and go back to my list.

Dogfight is in a wheelchair when he’s not flying about beating the shit out of bad guys, so definitely not him. Emerald became herself. Gaining superpowers gave her the strength to be honest about who she is. And even though Ben has nice cheekbones, I doubt very much that he’s Emerald in disguise. So, if he’s not a new hero and not someone they talk about when they mention new recruits. Who is he?
I start listing the heroes who only use mental powers or magic, or whatever you want to call it. He’s not Witch Hunter, Enigma, Warlock, Duke Orion or Shadow.
“Damn it!” Rubbing my temples, I try to think of more heroes. No one I can think of matches Benjamin Drake. Sighing I stand up and go to my full-length mirror.

I look the same, but I’m changed. And I don’t know how I did it, but I did something other than project myself. Drawing on something deep within I did my best to try to convince him to give me my hair clip back. The look on his face was… adoration. I see a smile forming on my face. This I can use to my advantage. I need to test it out again, but how and on who? I grin: Lucas.
“Hey big bro, what’s up?” He’s shirtless, wearing slacks and head deep in his wardrobe.
“Hey ‘rora. Nothing much. I have a hot date tonight.” Picturing him wiggling his eyebrows has me rolling my eyes. “What’s up with you?” I think I need him to look at me, so I saunter in and sit on his bed.
“Oh. The usual. Girls being bitches and guys being dicks.” I bite my cheek to not burst out laughing as he whirls around, an angry frown in his face.
“Is someone being an asshole to you at school?” He’s puffing his chest out, and I can see why so many girls would want to date him. It’s trendy to like bulging muscles. Reaching into myself I pull at that warmth I felt when pleading to Ben. Lucas blinks a few times and then he relaxes, a silly and loving smile on his face.

“Would you do something for me?” He smiles and nods. “I feel so left out of everything and maybe if I had access to the database I could push myself harder and trigger.” I push more of the warmth on him. He gets all loose and his smile goofier. “Like now.” He nods. I retract a little, nothing. I pull back even more, and he shakes his head, as if to clear it. I keep my smile on and he smiles back.
“Let me…” Slowly he walks to his desk and writes something down on a post-it. “Be careful with this Aurora.”
“Of course, Lucas. I love you.” He nods.

Back in my room I log onto the SHC database, my heart beating fast in my chest. Ignoring the list of superheroes, I click myself to the villains instead. They’re listed alphabetically, some have their aliases and pictures, others only the name. A few are only listed by what powers have been perceived.
And there are a couple marked as deceased, but with supervillains you never know, so they’re kept in the database. I search for new names. If he’s in here he’ll be new, and hopefully he’s revealed his name.


Ben

The large gardens surrounding Aurora’s house are dark. A few lights illuminate a clump of trees here and a statue there. The sensory alarms are set, but Flashback jumps back and delays the timer six hours. You’d think superheroes of this caliber wouldn’t have the controls of their outdoor alarms in a shed in the garden. Flashback smiles. He hasn’t felt this good about anything in a long time.

Going by her memories he guesses that her room is facing the back. Skulking in the darkness he peers into the windows. The first bedroom is empty, the window he moves to next is dark, but from a patio door, open to the night, music streams out. Mind numbing pop music is blasted from the room. Sneaking closer he sees that the whole room is decorated in pastels. Bingo. He edges right up to the wall and peeks inside.  
There’s a large bed, an overflowing desk pushed up to beneath the window overlooking the garden and the bay and a huge wardrobe; the doors are open, and clothes are strewn all over the floor. Aurora is standing in the middle of it all, looking at herself in the mirror, wearing neon pink gym tights and a purple and pink sports bra.

“I really hate pink.” She’s talking to her reflection. Bending down she picks up a silky looking cape, pale pink and full of glitter and lace. She throws it over her shoulders but makes a face at herself and drops it to the floor.
Flashback looks down to his hand and the pink glittery hair clip. He throws it through the open door, aiming for her back. It bounces off her shoulder and down onto the discarded cape. Aurora spins about, a look of surprise on her face. Her eyes scan the room and then they find the hair clip. She bends down as if to pick it up but straightens again and looks out through the open door.

“Ben?” Her whispered words are almost drowned out by the music. “I know you’re there. Ben? Flashback?” His heart stutters in his chest at the sound of his name, his true name. Slowly he steps away from the wall and into the light spilling out of her room. She’s not prepared to see him but hides her shock well. He looks her over, appreciating what he sees. Then the feeling intensifies, and he knows she’s doing something to him.
“Stop.” Is all he has time to say before her beauty steals all his words. Aurora is smiling contentedly and the glow around her vanishes. Flashback releases his breath and shakes his head to clear it.

“That’s not very superhero of you.” The grin nearly splits her face.
“I know! I can’t help it, well you know. I don’t want to.”
“How can the daughter of the two biggest superheroes of the country NOT help being less than heroic?” His voice rises towards the end and Aurora shushes him.
“Be quiet! Dad has super hearing you know, and even though he’s promised to not eavesdrop on my life, the sound of a guy talking will definitely draw his attention!” Flashback feels the color in his face drain away. He does not want to face Zephyr or The Countess, in no way is he ready for those two.

“And for your information. I have no intention of being stuck in some office over at the SHC for the rest of my life. I want to travel, see the world, test my powers and not have mom nag me about responsibilities.” She looks determined. Determined and sad. Flashback nods. He knows what she’s saying. It’s not quite the same thing but being expected to lead the life of your parents is something he can relate to.
“I can give you an out.” Her eyes bore into his. “Join me. Work with me. We can go anywhere. We can go right now.” He offers her his hand. 


Epilogue

It was never spoken of, but the rumors said that Zephyr and The Countess were heartbroken when their daughter vanished. The rumors also stated that the reason for her vanishing was that she never manifested any powers and that she had been excluded from the family, resulting in her running away.

Aurora Hunter disappeared from school the same week Benjamin Drake failed to show up, the two instances were never connected and soon written off as teenagers running away from home. Why two of the brightest students would do this remained a mystery, but the school did investigate how stressed students felt and what they could do to relieve that.

Later that month a bank robbery took place in London. The feed from the security cameras show the same loop over and over and can’t help the police in their investigation. Witnesses say that a charming young woman in a blue spandex suit, mask and a silver cape strolled into the bank and that everyone in there were more than willing to help her get all the money.

A few mention a young man in all dark grey, his face half covered, flitting in and out of existence. Doors that had been locked suddenly stood open and coded vaults were entered, as if they knew all the codes by heart. The young woman had been smiling, lovely and so beautiful.

Flashback looks over to the girl sitting next to him. In her civilian clothes she looks like any young woman, but he knows that she’s something else. He asked her to not use her powers on him, unless she couldn’t avoid it. And ever since, the feeling of reverence and worship has dwindled into almost nothing. He prefers to respect her skills and admire the way she manipulates others, than be mindlessly in love with her.

The heist in London had been their first big job, it had gone off without a hitch and now they are on their way to Hong Kong. She expressed a wish to see the place and he readily agreed, being on the move seems the best course of action anyway. And the new identities he's created help them to keep a few steps ahead of those who want to find them. Flashback has sent a blow Icarus way, stealing his little sister and leaving the family in tears. A smile tugs at the corners of his mouth. First Icarus, then the world!

I never think of myself as Aurora anymore. I left the name and person behind the night I went with Flashback. Every morning I smile into the mirror and greet myself with:
“Good morning Misdirection, you’re looking great.” I let the warmth inside of me shine out of my eyes and then I spin around and giggle. Being free is the best feeling in the world!

Flashback is reading a newspaper, his eyes scanning the pages for more articles about our job. I could easily project myself to London and find out more straight from Scotland Yard, but it’s all in the past anyway.
He never talks about why he asked me to join him. I’ve asked, and he just shrugs his shoulders and says it seemed a good idea at the time. Although, if I push, I’ll get the truth out of him. Misdirection can get anyone to do anything, and they enjoy doing it. I’ll get my answers, but right now I just want to see where this takes me.

Misdirection and Flashback, I’ll make sure we make a good team. Even if it’ll be the death of me. I look out through the window and smile, letting the heat inside me build and when Flashback looks at me I smile. He smiles back, I always knew he had a pretty smile. 





This one is for you Z, thanks for all the help with names and powers. <3 

visits      View My Stats