"Wishful Thinkings"

The Emotional - Unedited
Just a little "warning" notice on this. Yes, it is 100% unedited and probably is FILLED with typos. Second, all content is (c) to Katie Bohdel Novemeber 2009.

Part One
Chapter I

The day dawned in a misty haze that was quickly chased away by the sunrays’ reaching fingers. The small village, Marrow, was covered in a soft golden glow while the birds opened their beaks to glorify the morning. Small burrowing mammals poked their heads from the earth to scope the land for predators before beginning their own rituals; the trees rustled in a light breeze. Spring would soon fade to summer, but for now the flowers flourished in the sunlight and cool morning air, filling the world with the soft scent of dandelions and daisies.
            Like nature, the village too began slowly rising from its slumber. On the edges of town farmers could be seen working their fields with plows and oxen. Bakers, already awake for hours, began pulling loaves from their stone ovens and placing them on the cooling racks. The sweet smell of freshly baked bread permeated through the streets to entice the village into purchasing their wares. It did not take long for the streets to become bustling with bodies, greetings, the tinkling of entrance bells, and rumble of moving carts joining into nature’s chorus.
            A small cottage, halfway between the farms and the town square rested quietly as its occupants were slowly roused from their evening slumber. The building could not be described as anything but plain, a small smattering of stones creating a walkway to the ivy covered front door. The garden underneath the windows were well tended and contained lavender, as well as a nicely pruned rose bush that glowed in the love its tender showed her flowers. Beyond the solid oak door stood an unimpressive kitchen where a fire had been stoked to heat a black kettle filled with water from a nearby well. A solid wood table rested in the middle of the floor and was surrounded by three chairs that waited expectantly for their occupants to enter. A vase filled with freshly cut flowers was placed in the center of the table and a young woman hummed to herself as she gingerly arranged the stalks.
            Her brown hair was pulled back into a loose plait at the nape of her neck, sapphire eyes gazing intently at their current project. A loose green dress that tapered at the waist before falling to the floor covered her petite frame. It was a modest gown with a scoop neck that brushed the top of her collar bone and was embroidered with small silver flowers at the hem. It was a coarse fabric, but on a cool spring morning it was perfect to keep away a chill.
            Even those unfamiliar with the young woman would be able to tell that she had a kind heart from the way her fingers caressed the flowers she was arranging. Her touch was soft, gentle, and was emphasized by the loveliness of her voice as she hummed.
            The ivy covered door opened, and the young woman glanced up at the man who entered carrying some fresh produce and bread in basket. He grinned at her as he placed the basket on the table next to her flowers, the same deep blue eyes she had were in his head as well.
            “Hope that’s enough for breakfast, Raena.” He commented, beginning to sift out his wares. “Has Uncle Gand come back?”
            “It looks like enough,” she mused, eyes sweeping over the produce, “And he’s still out.” She rifled through the vegetables, one finger pressed to her lips as she pondered what she could concoct from their meager supplies. “Did you have any luck with Jocan today?”
            He sighed, sitting in one of the vacant chairs around the center table. “Not an inch.” He murmured, running a hand through his light brown hair. “’I’m sorry Alik, but I hired that new young man two days ago’” He mimicked Jocan’s voice, and air of impatience apparent through his impersonation. “I just don’t know what to do anymore. It’s like that guy has stolen people’s common sense.”
            “Soren?” Raela asked her brother offhandedly, trying to look uninterested.
            “Don’t act like that.” Scowled Alik, “I know that you’re taken with him. But something has to be wrong with the people of this town if they’ll hire a random traveler over someone who’s lived here for the past seventeen years.”
            “I’m not taken with him.” Said Raena defensively, picking up the produce and taking them to the counter where she began slicing them in preparation for some sort of breakfast. “And perhaps next time you should try to be the one asking for a job first, rather than wait until the last minute. Besides, Soren hasn’t sent out any compromising feelings since he’s been here.”
            Raena jumped in surprise when Alik slammed his fist against the table, glaring dangerously at his sister. She didn’t need to Sense his emotions to tell that she had angered him.
            “It’s not a big deal, Alik.” She insisted, “No one is going to tell that I opened the link—”
            “Are you daft?” He exclaimed, quickly lowering his voice before continuing, eyes glancing towards the door to make sure that it was securely closed. “Raena, you know that the Magister is looking for all Emotionals. You cannot be foolish and let your guard down for a second! You know what will happen to Uncle Gand and I if we’re found housing you without alerting the magistrate. Are you stupid enough to put our heads on the line just because he’s pretty?”
            “Don’t tell me ‘I know’” he growled, “The Magister has been trying to wean out revolutionaries for years now and has been unsuccessful. The more Emotionals he gathers, the closer he’ll come to destroying it completely. I know you know this, but you’re acting like an idiot.”
            “I’m sorry.” Raena replied sullenly, hands frozen momentarily above the breakfast she was preparing. She knew he was right, that she had been foolish, but it didn’t keep her from wanting to catch a glimpse of Soren again.
            “Just promise me you won’t let down your barrier again.”
            “I promise.” She murmured, thoroughly chastised.
            “And promise me, too, that you’ll stay away from that guy.”
            “What?” she exclaimed, head jerking up to look at her brother. “I will not promise such a thing! It is a ridiculous request. I’m old enough to choose who to talk to.” She hated when Alik decided to become overbearing with her. She might be young still, but at seventeen she was certainly old enough to think for herself. Most women her age were already married.
            “You’re still a child!” he argued forcefully, “If not for Uncle Gand any myself you would already be in the Magister’s hands.”
            Vexed, Raena threw down the knife she was using and walked to the door. Her nostrils flared as she turned to face her brother.
            “Make your own breakfast.” Turning on heel she pulled open the door and exited into the sunlight. Perhaps she was overreacting, but she hated when Alik treated her like she was still a child. They had lived in Marrow for a long time. Most Emotionals were either caught or forced to move from place to place in order to out run the Magister and his search dogs. Gand, having been taught by her mother, had been able to teach Raena how to mask her abilities in order to remain off of the radar. Alik had a right to be angry since she had compromised their safety in a moment of foolishness. Perhaps she shouldn’t have, but Soren intrigued her, and she wanted to make sure that he wasn’t going to hurt her. How else could she tell his true intentions without opening her abilities and sensing his emotions?
            Without realizing where her feet were leading her, Raena found herself standing in front of Jocan’s store. She gazed up at the wooden sign that depicted a hammer and some nails – the carpenter’s trade. Alik had said that Jocan had turned him away having given Soren the position the day before he had applied. The only reason she had for coming here was to see him…
            His appearance was hardly ordinary, and she could still picture the way the sun gleamed off of his orange-red hair. Soren’s charismatic manner attracted even the stuffiest person. Everyone seemed to smile while he was around, and his charms had even worked their magic on Raena. Alik had always been in the way of any romantic advances, claiming that being an Emotional made it too dangerous to loiter around with the opposite sex. He seemed to be concerned that she would let down her guard or something.
            Perhaps he was just worried about his younger sister’s innocence.
            “Raena?” She gasped, startled, and spun around to see who was standing behind her. She had been so lost in her own thoughts that she had not even heard anyone approach from behind. Blinking the sunspots from her eyes, her heart beat quickly in her chest as she focused on Soren’s face.
            “Oh!” exclaimed Raena, “Soren! What…what are you doing here?” He raised an eyebrow, intelligent honey-brown eyes appearing to read her true intentions. A grin pulled at the corners of his mouth, but it seemed as if he was going to indulge her.
            “I’m working for Jocan now,” He gestured at the door Raena was standing before, “so it makes sense I would be here. You, however…” he paused raising his finger to his lips while he thought, “I hadn’t heard you had placed an order with him.”
            “Ah…well, I haven’t.” She admitted, a rosy blush appearing on the apples of her cheeks. How could she possibly admit that she had subconsciously walked here? Not to mention part of her really had wanted to see him, and now that he stood next to her she could not think of anything to say. “I mean, Alik and I quarreled and I took a walk. I stopped here completely on accident.”
            “Quarreled?” He asked. His head was tilted slightly to the left as he gazed at her more intently, “That seems out of character from what I’ve heard. The villagers have nothing but nice things to say about your disposition.” This prompted an even darker flush to paint itself across her cheeks. She was completely speechless. His words were the last thing she expected to hear, especially with all of the other obvious admirers that crowded him throughout the day. However, she wasn’t quite sure if he meant it as a compliment or as a jibe. Appearing to sense her confusion, Soren chuckled and took a step forward.
            “I am sorry that you and your brother had a disagreement. If you’re free, I would love to discuss it further later this evening, once I’ve finished in the store.” His confidence made her slightly lightheaded and she blinked a few times up at him before finally finding her voice.
            “Yes…yes, I would like that.” She stuttered, more than a little bit flustered from the sudden run-in. He smiled warmly before sliding around her to reach the door to Jocan’s store. Pausing, he rested a hand on her shoulder.
            “Tonight then. You can meet me here when the shop closes.” With another word, he was through the door and she stood in the street, listening to the latch click softly as the door closed behind him. Out of all the girls in town who swooned over this strange, new man…he had picked her.
            She just hoped she would not blow it.

Chapter II

The day faded into dusk, the warm spring day transforming into a cold dusk. After wandering around the village for a few hours, Raena had meandered back home to help around the house to wait out the rest of the day before meeting Soren. They had spoken once or twice before, but this was the first time Soren had showed any interest in seeing her alone.
            Alik was less than thrilled, and tried to convince his younger sister not to go, but the argument from that morning was still fresh in her mind and Raena was determined to ignore her brother’s warnings. He might be four years older, but he was not her father and certainly could not control her. She had spent most of her life appeasing his concerns, but Soren did not seem dangerous. Not to mention she was not planning on telling him she was an Emotional; she was not completely daft. Even the nicest person could potentially contact the Magister and his cronies. If that happened, it would be a matter of minutes before Marrow would greet hundreds of soldiers.
            Standing in front of Jocan’s store, Raena shifted her feet and pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders as a cold breeze whipped through the buildings. The sunset cast an orange glow across the cobblestone streets and stone houses, the indigo and purple sky slowly consuming the last breathes of the day. Birds were replaced by crickets, cicadas, and the occasional swoop of a bat looking for a nighttime meal. The breeze brought with it the fresh scent of cut grass and decaying leaves from the small grove of trees directly outside of the village. All in all, it was a beautiful evening.
            Raena waited eagerly beside the store’s entrance for Soren to emerge. Hopefully he would not be much longer and they would still have some sunlight left for their rendezvous. She had only been waiting for a few minutes before the door opened and Soren’s voice echoed into the night air.
            “Thanks for the work, Jocan.” He called behind him.
            “Anytime, son. You have a good night, keep that Raena safe.” She could hear the amusement in the gentleman’s voice. Soren shut the door chuckling before turning around and spotting Raena. His grin lengthened as he took a step closer.
            “Teasing you, is he?” She asked, arms wrapped tightly around her chest to keep from shivering. It was much colder tonight than she had expected, but that was not about to keep her from enjoying herself. Soren was new in town and everyone seemed to be enthralled with him, like a shiny new toy. They had treated Raena and Alik the same way until they became acclimated with the new siblings in town. Depending on how long Soren decided to stay, the novelty of his arrival would wear off sure enough.
            “Ah, well…he asked a few questions and seems to think you’re bound for trouble taking a walk with me.” He smiled ironically at her and cocked his head towards the direction he wanted to walk. Taking his lead, Raena followed in step. Everything seemed surreal in the dusk with the most interesting person in Marrow walking beside her.
            “You’re not worried, are you?” He asked, eyebrow raised a grin growing on his lips. He was so charismatic that she could not help but smile back.
            “Should I be?”
            “Mmmm” He mused, gazing up into the horizon. She could not help but notice how his hair matched the sunset while the sun’s fading rays glistened in his intelligent eyes. “That depends.” Soren stopped and faced her, “How scared would a walk through the woods be for you?” She blinked at him for a few seconds, pondering. The Alik in her head warned her not to go, but she pushed him aside.
            “Not scared at all.”
            Soren smiled and began walking towards the alcove of trees just beyond a few of the other houses. Perhaps she should have been worried, taking a walk with a strange man into the woods at dusk, but she did not want to say no. She was completely intrigued and wanted to know this stranger better. It was not really a crush or anything and she could not see herself, at this point in time, getting into any type of relationship, especially with a wanderer. But that did not keep her from wanting to get to know him.
            They walked side-by-side into the woods and then he lead the way without following any type of beaten path. A few minutes of pushing her way through underbrush and sticker bushes she began to worry. There was no way she would easily find her way out of this place should things turn sour. Had this been a foolish idea, simply following him into the woods? Raena could hear Alik’s angry voice in her head, You did WHAT!? Are you absolutely crazy, Raena? What were you thinking going out alone in the woods with him? Haven’t I told you that I don’t trust him? Unfortunately she couldn’t come up with any good retorts to her imagined brother’s questions. It really was silly, walking into the woods alone and with the sun nearly behind the horizon.
            “You’re getting worried.” Soren commented, looking back at Raena as she pushed her way through another bunch of head-height branches to keep up with him. Her concern must have showed on her face for him to see even in the twilight. She flushed, determined not to admit that fear was slowly creeping its way up her spine, numbing her fingers.
            “I’m not—”
            “You are.” He stopped and placed his hands on either side of her shoulders. As if on cue, she pulled away, forcing herself not to use her abilities to sense his intentions. If she did that Alik would have even more to yell at her about, and it was much more dangerous to herself and to her family if the Magister’s Emotionals sensed her abilities and came knocking. “I’m not planning on hurting you.” He said, exasperation clear in his voice, “The clearing is only just past those trees. You’ll see.” Taking her hand, he pulled her along through the last bit of trees and, sure enough, a clearing rested there.
            It was not very large, but in the middle of a field of wildflowers stood a small wooden house, most likely consisting of one room. It looked ancient, but the path of dirt on the stairs up to the main door proved that someone had been there recently. Fireflies danced in the twilight, providing the only light in the clearing while the moon slowly rose over the tree tops to drench the blades of grass and small flowers in silver. Raena could smell the freshness of the woods, like the very heart of nature rested in this small clearing. It took her breath away.
            Turning toward Soren, her words died on her tongue when she saw him gazing at her with a lopsided grin on his face.
            “I told you I wasn’t going to hurt you. This is where I’m staying. I know a lot of people have been curious, but I like to keep to myself sometimes. I stumbled across this little house when I got here last week. It’s a nice, quiet place to come back to.”
            “It’s beautiful,” breathed Raena, still taking in the beauty the moonlight and fireflies could give to a simple plot of land. “I can’t believe this is out here…it’s like a lost piece of history that you’ve dug up!” They had moved closer to the cottage and she began examining the wood, running her fingers against the grain to try and get a better understanding of where it came from and how long it had been lost to the world. “It looks ancient, yet…new…”
            “I think it’s an old hide-away. You know, with the Magister’s men swarming the area, some people would need a safe place to escape and hide out for a while. I’m sure you can understand that.” Raena’s head jerked up to look at him at his last comment. He could not possibly know that she was an Emotional. She had been so careful, never told a soul about her ability and this…He wasn’t a….no, if he was one of the Magister’s men and she had foolishly reached out to sense his motives days before!
            “I have to go.” She murmured, blue eyes wide in fear as she backed away and slowly turned, hoping she remembered the way out. How could she be so stupid?
            “Relax, Raena!” He cried, jumping forward to grab her arm, “Raena, I’m not turning you in!” he had to shout to be heard over her own cries of distress with died down instantly as she looked up at him fearfully, wrenching her arm from his grip just in case she needed to run.
            “Not…not going…but…how did you know?”
            Soren laughed softly, shaking his head. “How could I not know? You and Alik have lived here for nearly ten years and all anyone knows about you is that you’re a ‘nice but quiet girl, never causes a fuss,’ and Alik tries to keep you cooped up in that house every day? No one knows where you came from, why you’re traveling with your Uncle, what happened to your family…you just showed up, no explanation. Of course, they’re all curious, but that died down when they realized how helpful your brother and Uncle have been to the community. But you…you are a mystery.” His honey-brown eyes were fixated on her face. “I’ve wanted to try and figure you out since I ran into you that first morning at the market.”
            “That’s…that’s crazy.” She laughed nervously, taking another step away from him, “I’m not…I’m not an Emotional! If…if I were…I’d be…be with the Magister!”
            “And fight in a war you don’t believe in?” He chuckled shaking his head, a few stray pieces of his fiery hair falling from the ponytail at the nape of his neck and across his face. “I think you’re a lot more strong-willed than you let on. I can’t imagine your overbearing brother let you come out with me willingly.”
            “Well no…but that doesn’t mean—”
            “It means that you’ve played meek for years and finally got sick of it.” Reaching forward he went to rest his hand on her shoulder then closed his hand as if finding it better to refrain from touching her. She was so afraid that any physical touch from him, quite possibly, would cause her to run into the woods. Unfortunately that would only lead to her getting horribly, horribly lost.
            “Come inside,” said Soren instead, gesturing towards the house, “I can get a fire started and we can talk for a bit. Of course, if you’d like to leave I can take you back now. I’m sorry I scared you, but I knew you would never come with me if you thought I was in league with the Magister. I promise I just want to talk.” Uncertain, Raena glanced nervously around her trying to think of some way to get out of it. He had offered to take her back to the village, but did she really want that? Soren knew she was an Emotional but had not said anything to the authorities for the days that he knew. If he had been with the Magistrate she would have been turned over immediately and her family slaughtered for housing her. Of course, that would be after being tested for the same ability. Going into that house would go against everything her Uncle and Alik ever taught her, it would compromise everything. But…he already knew! If she angered him he could easily still turn her in and then where would they be? It was like standing at the edge of a cliff with an army at your back. Did she jump or turn and face another kind of death? At least jumping had the off chance that something might happen to save her.
            With a nervous gulp, she nodded and followed him to the cottage door and into the darkened room beyond. He lit a lamp with a lighter he pulled from his pocket before turning and closed the door behind them. There was no turning back, she was trapped in a cabin in the middle of a wood and no one knew where she was. If he tried anything her only escape would be to use her Emotional abilities and that would certainly bring death.

Chapter III

            Raena stood fretfully near the door as Soren knelt by the hearth to light a fire in the grate. She knew that even going in was, quite possibly, the stupidest decision she had ever made. It was finally dawning on her that she did not know this person at all, yet he seemed to know more about her than anyone in Marrow, minus her brother. It did not help that the small, one-roomed cottage had one wobbly chair in a corner for furnishing. A layer of furs on the far wall represented where Soren had been sleeping, but the lack of furniture gave the room an uncanny feel. The dark, distressed wood walls coupled with recent scorch marks on the fireplace made her want to run into the darkness and suffer getting lost than stay here with him.
            She had not thought that someone else knowing her secret would cause such anxiety. Of course, Alik’s voice in the back of her head continued bellowing about her foolishness. How could she not realize that this was going to happen? It did not matter now, however. Soren had figured it out and, inadvertently she had confirmed his suspicions.
            “You don’t have to stand there worrying.” Soren broke the awkward silence, standing from the hearth where a fire now burned merrily. Brushing soot from his pants, he gazed at her uncertainly. “Sit by the fire. Honestly, I’m not planning anything, I just want to talk. I know that it was probably not the smartest way to break it to you…but…well, you’re intriguing.” He smiled reassuringly. This time it was not contagious and her lips lowered into a frown. Taking hesitant steps forward but refusing to take a seat.
            “Raena.” Sighed Soren, running his hand over his face, “Just sit down, ok?” Keeping a safe distance between them, she complied. “Listen, I’m sorry.” He slid closer to her and pressed his hand against hers, which she did not remove. She could not be sure without using her abilities, but he seemed genuine and perhaps she should talk to him. After all, he already knew her secret so nothing else she could tell him would really matter.
            “It’s ok…I’m just…I never expected anyone to actually realize. We’ve been so careful.” Raena bit her lower lip and she gazed at the floor to keep from meeting his eyes. It was bizarre, discussing her abilities with anyone other than her Uncle and brother.
            “I could tell how careful you’ve been.” He commented, removing his hand now that she was calmer. “I doubt that anyone else will figure it out, honestly. The Magister is not exactly the smartest man, and you don’t cause a fuss in town so they have no reason to suspect you.”
            “But you suspected me.” She pressed, “Obviously I’ve done something wrong…”
            “Ahh…well, I’m a fairly intelligent being,” he joked, a lopsided grin stretching across his lips, “I do a lot of traveling. Sometimes it takes a new perspective to see things clearly.”
            “Mmm…” she mused, her index finger tracing the wood grains but unable to keep a smile from forming. “A new set of eyes? That’s all it took?”
            “And actively looking, of course. Emotionals have….intrigued me for some time.” Raena pondered his words for a few moments. It was ironic how she had found him intriguing simply because he was the shiny new toy, and here he was just as enthralled with her. He probably had a better reason to be interested, considering she was practically a fugitive from the law. Looking up, she caught him staring at her and flushed deeply.
            “Actively looking?”
            “Do you know how rare it is to run into an Emotional? The Magistrate has control over the mass majority of them.”
            “I know that.” It was a bit insulting to spout statistics on Emotionals when one sat right in front of him. “But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t others in hiding, just like me. Getting recruited by the Magister is that last thing that any of us want to do. Do you realize what that would mean?”
            “Tell me.” He pressed, leaning forward, obviously hungry for more knowledge on the subject. Raena was like an endangered species to Soren, and probably to the entire world. Where did she start, though? Now that she had an attentive audience she felt an insane itch to tell him everything. Alik tried to ignore that it existed, thinking that it was best to pretend she was normal no matter the setting. Sometimes it seemed like he viewed her as a hindrance rather than a sister. Could she really blame him? All Alik ever wanted was a normal life, and with Raena’s secret that would never be possible. He would always look over his shoulder, cover his footsteps. Raena couldn’t tell him everything that worried her, he already dealt with enough.
            “The Magister uses Emotionals to wean out the revolutionaries.” She began cautiously, “They’re like his own elite spy group, only none of them really want to do it. The Magister doesn’t spare anyone, I’m sure you know all of this…but being the one who inflicts so much harm and hurt on a family? On friends? And then there’s the physical strains…”
            “Physical strains? I understand the guilt that would follow you, fighting in a war you don’t believe in, being the noose for innocent people…but strains? Surely the Magistrate treats its Emotionals like kings and queens?”
            “Oh, they’re treated wonderfully I’ve been told, but their job is to open all links to those around them, never shut out the emotions. Even a few minutes without my barriers in place I get terrible migraines. There are filters of course, I’ve had to work hard for years to perfect them and the only reason I succeeded was because of my Uncle. He was friends with my mother.” She added quickly, seeing his mouth open with a question. “I don’t remember her, she died when I was a baby, but my Uncle said that she was a powerful Emotional. Apparently the Magister sent search parties out just to find her. She told him some of her own secrets and he, as best as he could of course, passed them on to me.” Raena wished that she remembered her parents. However, even though her Uncle still seemed to hope their father would show up in Marrow, both Raena and Alik knew that both of their parents had fallen into the Magister’s hands. Alik remembered their parents, he was four when they were taken away by Gand. Now, seventeen years later, they both understood that they would never see their parents.
            “So these… ‘filters’…” he deliberated, “They keep other people out of your head? Putting it crudely, of course. I’m sure it’s much more complicated than that.”
            “Basically, yes. There are different ‘levels’ of filter. For instance, I could open a channel to your mind alone and still block out others. This really only works if I’m familiar with the other person, and if they’re nearby. I tried it once when I was younger and knocked myself out for nearly an hour when hundreds of feelings exploded in my head. It’s not a very pleasant feeling.” She had been six, and it was the reason they had been forced to leave their last residence. After that mishap the Magister’s men were all over the city. Thankfully, Alik had found her shortly after and they were able to escape. Raena had never seen Uncle Gand so livid in her life. Even at six, she quickly learned the gravity of the situation and kept her barriers up at all times. Well, almost always.
            Much to Alik’s chagrin, she practiced her abilities some nights, hoping that the cover of nightfall would mean that less people would be on guard, looking for Emotionals. It allowed her to grow and, sometimes, discretely sneak a peek into certain people’s heads without really giving anything away. She had done it to Soren days before.
            “Are you listening to me now?” Soren asked, sounding slightly perturbed. She could not blame him, really. Having someone in your head was not exactly the most appealing concept.
            “No. Not at all. The Magister has spies everywhere, many of which are Emotionals themselves. I try not to open my channels often, if at all…they’d Sense me.”
            He whistled and leaned back against the wall, the information sinking in. “That’s intense. I didn’t realize how dangerous it really is to be you. I just figured you could hide in plain sight and no one would see you as long as you kept quiet.” He sat up and looked intently into her eyes, interest peaked, “You can really Sense each other? Emotionals I mean?”
            Raena nodded.
            Soren whistled again, shaking his head as a soft chuckle escaped his lips. She could not help but think that her explanations had rocked his world. It seemed like he had not heard much about the actual abilities of an Emotional and was finding them much more complex than he expected. Some people claimed to be empaths, but their abilities were very different. Empaths tended to feel emotions rather than Sense them, and Raena had never met anyone who considered Empathy an actual ability. Most were merely normal human beings who were more in-tune to their peers and reflected “sympathy emotions.” Anything greater was an Emotional and, conversely, an Emotional never felt an urge towards any emotion other than her own.
            “Why the interest in Emotionals, Soren?” asked Raena, unable to keep that question in any longer. “It seems like an odd hobby, searching for fugitives.” She had not expected the laughter that burst from Soren’s lips at the question. Apparently it was a humorous question, but she herself could not find why it would be so amusing.
            “Well, isn’t it normal for people to be intrigued by what’s forbidden? I mean, every ‘outed’ Emotional is in the Magister’s hands right? It’s like tasting the forbidden fruit.”
            “Oh, so now I’m some sort of temptress?” She scowled, “I don’t appreciate being turned into your project.”
            “You’re not a project,” he chuckled again, honey-brown eyes dancing with mirth, “Think of it more like…an uncanny obsession?”
            “Like that’s any better!” If she had something nearby to throw at him she would have, but the room was so devoid of decoration there was nothing at hand to use as a projectile. Instead, she punched his arm. Not that it would have hurt, it was more like a tap against someone like Soren and, judging by the guffawing that followed, amused him instead.
            “That…” he gasped between laughs, “was the most pathetic…”
            “Hey!” she cried affronted, “I wasn’t trying to hurt you!”
            “Sure, sure…” Soren brushed a few tears from his lashes, “I doubt you’d kill a worm with that force.” Slighty vexed, she leapt forward and hit him again, trying to put as much force in her punch as she could. At this point she was not worried about harming him, rather simply wanted to prove that she could do damage if she really tried. Instead of proving a point, he infuriated her further as he continued to laugh, jokingly holding his arms over his face.
            “Oh! Don’t hurt me, you terrible beast of a woman!” Breathing heavily, Raena sat back with a huff, crossing her arms over her chest. Her pale skin flushed from exerting herself in a futile attempt. She did not know why it bothered her so much, but Soren’s laughter made her want to scream.
            “Fine. Show me how strong you are then.” She held out her arm, “Go on, hit me!” unfortunately, this invoked the exact opposite reaction she wanted. His mirth grew, laughter echoing loudly through the small wooden cottage.
            “I’m not going to hit you, Raena!” He exclaimed, pushing her arm away, “But…I can teach you, if you’d like.”
            “Teach me?” she asked, nonplussed, “Teach me how to hit? That sounds stupid.”
            “Not stupid. With those moves, you’d never be able to protect yourself in any situation. How about this, tomorrow afternoon meet me by Jocan’s store. Not tonight, I think it’s about time we got your back home. I can certainly see Alik coming with torches and pitch forks for my head if you don’t show up soon.”
            “Ahhh….” She looked out of the window and judged the placement of the moon. Soren was right, of course. Alik was probably pacing in the kitchen imagining the worst. “I suppose you’re right.” Standing, she brushed some dust from her skirt.
            “I’ll have a pair of pants for you to.” He chuckled again at the incredulous look she shot him. “Learning to fight in a skirt isn’t exactly the best option.” Soren explained. “Just trust me, ok?”
            Raena exited the cottage and heard Soren’s footsteps fall in step beside her. They walked in silence until they reached the edge of the forest where she continued homeward alone. She did not even know where to begin to think about the night’s events. After years of hiding she had met someone who knew her secret and would keep it. For she felt certain that he would not give her away. Not because she used her abilities to judge, but his eyes seemed so trustworthy. Perhaps she was being foolish, but for the first time in her life she felt like she had a true friend. For the first time in her life she felt appreciated for who she was and not who she pretended to be.

Chapter IV

            When asked later about the next few weeks, Raena would claim that they contained the happiest memories from her childhood. For the first time in her life she was deliberately disobeying her brother and it felt wonderful. Soren knew her secret and accepted it. Every few days they would hike through the woods and into the little clearing where he would teach her different fighting techniques. She felt more and more confident that, should she ever find herself in a compromising situation, she would be able to get away. Possibly.
            Instead of sitting around the house trying to find a way to survive through the boredom, Raena found herself looking forward to her next meeting with Soren. It made even the most mundane day-to-day chores exciting. Even though she was never a dreary person, her smiles were now wider, less forced, and she exuded a type of confidence that surprised her brother and Uncle. Alik asked her numerous times why the change, but Raena could never tell him the complete truth. If he knew Soren was aware of her abilities, they would pick up and leave instantaneously. Raena, herself, was loath to leave Marrow, especially after meeting Soren. That, however, was not the only reason she refused to tell Alik.
            Despite his attempts to hide it –Raena was not sure if it was out of embarrassment or simply being private – Alik had started spending a lot of time with a young woman in town. Raena had run into her once or twice, but it had been Soren’s observation that clued her into her brother’s intentions. It turned out that she was not the only one sneaking around and keeping secrets.
            After doing her own bit of digging, Raena found herself unable to keep this turn of events to herself. Alik might be infuriatingly over protective, but he was still her brother. So, this one particular morning, she decided to gather her courage.
            Rain bounced off of the windows in a soothing rhythmic pattern. It helped keep her nerves down as she bustled around the kitchen trying to keep her hands busy while she waited for Alik to return from the market. She was not sure what he was getting today, but he had insisted on going despite the rain. Perhaps he was meeting his young woman?
            The door opened, bringing in a mist along with a cool, fresh breeze. Sure enough, Alik entered and had apparently “forgotten” to pick up anything from the market. Raena tried, unsuccessfully, to keep from grinning, and hid it behind a cough.
            “How was….the market?” She asked, eying him and hoping that he would just tell her so she did not have to be the one to bring it up. Her stomach was in knots, but her curiosity waged stronger than her nerves.
            “The mark…oh! Um…it was raining, I was afraid things would get too wet on the way back.” The blush that appeared on his cheeks told her the truth.
            “You know, Soren and I reckon that you’re seeing Alaina.” Mentioned Raena, cautiously. “You know, farmer Allen’s daughter? She watched his face carefully, noting the change in his demeanor from calm to flustered. It looked as if he was about to defend himself, but gave a resigned sigh and sat in one of the wooden chairs around the center table.
            “I guess you’d figure it out sooner or later.” He ran a hand over his face and through his head, letting out a deep breath in one swift woosh of air. Looking up at his sister, Raena was surprised to see a goofy grin stretching at the corners of his mouth.
            “What?” asked she, nonplussed. “Why that face?”
            “Well…” he gave a dramatic pause, obviously taking great joy in his sister’s agitation. Raena could not decide if he was trying to tease her, or was really going to have exciting news. It made her anxious, and she did not have the patience to wait it out.
            “What!” she cried, overcome with impatience, sitting down next to him, “Just tell me already! What’s going on?”
            “I think she’s it, Raena.” He grinned, “I really, really do. We’ve kept things quiet for over a few months, and I’m honestly surprised that you’ve just noticed! You’re usually much more observant.” Raena let out a breath, eyes wide in awe.
            “Do you…really? You’re not teasing?”
            “Yes, really!”
            “That’s…” everything began clicked in her head, “That’s why you’ve been so worried about getting another job, isn’t it?” She questioned, a huge smile on her face. “Goodness…you’re saving for a ring? I’m going to have a sister? That’s wonderful!!” Unable to contain her glee, Raena leapt from the chair and flung her arms around her brother’s neck. “I can’t believe it! I’m so excited for you! Ah, when are you going to ask?” Without a word, he reached into his pocket and produced a small, blue velvet bag. Raena could barely contain her excitement as he slowly untied it. Alik motioned for his sister’s hand and she was quick to comply, watching intently as a thin, silver band fell into her palm. It was cool against her skin, and the small blue stones that covered half of it glittered tauntingly.
            “Oh Alik…” she breathed, “Alik it’s beautiful!” After examining it for a few minutes she handed back to her brother, realizing that she could not wait to tell Soren.

“-and he bought a ring!” she exclaimed, waving her arms around in excitement. “It’s beautiful, and I never thought that my stuff-shirt brother would actually find someone who could deal with him…no, that’s a lie.” She slumped onto the ground and fingered the grass absentmindedly. “I didn’t think he’d find someone because of me…”
            “That’s crazy, Raena.” Soren soothed shaking his head. “Alik is old enough to make his own choices, regardless of your fugitive status.” It was an attempt at a joke, but Raena did not find it very amusing. She had forgotten what it felt like to be the reason for the misfortune of so many. It also was slowly dawning just how dangerous it was for Soren now. He knew her secret, and the Magister’s Emotionals would know he was lying if he denied it.
            “Soren….you realize how dangerous this is for you, don’t you?” She muttered, eyes averted to gaze at the brown linen breeches she had donned for their weekly lessons. Her usual day dress was laid out on the cottage porch. There was no way Alik would have let her out in pants, not while they still had the villagers watching them. Anything “untraditional” would be quickly noted. They could not afford any slip-ups. She had been incredibly lucky with Soren, but doubted to have the same good fortune in the future.
            “Raena…” he put an arm around her shoulders, “Raena, you need to stop worrying about people. That includes Alik and your Uncle Gand. We’re all capable of taking care of ourselves should things…take a turn for the worse.” He squeeze her arm reassuringly, “Trust me, I’ll be ok.”
            She chuckled without mirth, shaking her head. “I can’t believe I just happened to run into you.” Said Raena bitterly, “If it had been anyone else Alik wouldn’t have even had the chance to buy a ring…” If she had been looking at him, she would have seen the dark look that crossed his face, eyes momentarily looking icy blue. The grass, however, still held her full attention, and when she did finally look up at him with a smile, they were back to their normal brown. “Thank you.”
            “You’re welcome” he smiled warmly, gave her shoulder one last squeeze before standing and holding out his hand. “Now, enough moping! You’re here for a lesson so let’s see how much you’ve retained from last time.” He winked. Raena grabbed his outstretched hand and was hoisted to her feet, watching as Soren walked a few paces from her. When he stopped, he reached forward and beckoned. “Hit me.” He commanded.
            Taking a deep breath Raena tried to remember everything she had learned. Weeks of lessons flooded her brain and she quickly assessed his stance. From what she could tell, he would expect a direct hit, and last lesson had been about feinting…perhaps it would be a good idea to try it? She had not exactly been good at pretending to feint, but practice would make her better, right? There were so many angles and objectives that she tried to assess and felt slightly overwhelmed with it all. Not only was there a “technique” but she had to focus on force behind her hits as well. Soren had been very clear that she would never overpower a man larger than her –which was not hard to do considering her thin, petite frame- but, rather, she would need to out think them and hit the parts that hurt: neck, groin, and face.
            “I know you’re thinking, but you can’t just stand there all day! Your attacker will hit you first if you take that long” he teased, beckoning again. “Just try something, see if it works!”
            Biting her lower lip, she dashed forward. Right as she swung and attempted to feint, he deflected her blow and she found herself in a clever head-lock. Instantly, she reached up with one hand to wedge her chin under his arm to keep him from locking his elbow around her neck. The first lesson they had Soren had told her that if an attacker managed to lock their elbow, she would black out mere seconds later. This done, she kept one hand on the arm and swung downward towards the groin with the other.
            Soren grunted and dodged, but it had the desired effect. His elbow left her neck when she tried to hit his jewels and she spun out of his hold, a triumphant grin on her lips.
            “Good!” he applauded, “Close…but definitely good.” He was breathing hard, a little bit shaken. “I honestly didn’t expect you to get that close.” He breathed, running a hand over his face. “I’ll have to watch you closer than I thought. But…let’s…let’s take a break.”
            Raena left the clearing a few hours later feeling fulfilled and excited. She felt nearly invincible! As if she could take on the Magister himself and he would not stand a chance against her crazy fighting skills. Nothing could destroy her feeling of ecstasy. Tonight, she was on the top of the world. Alik was going to propose to Alaina and she had a friend who completely understood her.
            She trusted him with her life.

Chapter V

            A persistent tapping weaseled its way into a pleasant dream until Raena woke, groggily trying to locate the source of the noise. Impulsively, she checked under her bed and even started walking toward the door when her brain registered to look out the window. More than a little perturbed, she pulled back the curtains and blinked when she saw Soren standing on the other side of the glass. His presence made her feel more than a little bit bewildered, but she pulled open the window.
            “Soren?” asked Raena rubbing her eyes with the back of her hand. “What…what are you doing here? It’s the middle of the night…”
            “Come with me.” He insisted. Uncertain if she heard him correctly she stared at him, mouth opened slightly in question. “Raena, come with me, right now.”
            “In the middle of the night? Can’t this wait until morning?” she went to close the window, in no mood to play some silly game. Nothing could possibly be that important to warrant waking her up in the middle of the night. His hand shot forward and caught her wrist before she could touch the window. Startled, she stared openly at him, curiosity beginning to creep in over exhaustion. Perhaps it was due to her slowly waking up and being aware of her surroundings.
            “It can’t.” His eyes blazed. Had Raena been more awake she might have noticed something odd about him but tonight it slip past her senses. He seemed urgent, distracted, and it worried her more than sounded any alarms. With a silent nod she pulled her wrist from his grasp.
            “I need to tell Ali—“
            “No. Don’t mention anything to him.”
            “What? I can’t just lea—“
            “Raena, trust me.” He growled, leaning in through the window. “This can’t wait, and there’s no time. Come with me now.” Uncertain, but sensing his urgency she nodded again and pulled a shawl over her shoulders. Before Raena even took a step towards her door, Soren’s hand shot through the window once more and pulled her closer to him, beckoning that she climb out over the windowsill. She wanted to resist, but Soren’s insistence changed her mind and she slid out into the cool night. Bare feet touched the grass, reminding Raena that she had forgotten to put on her shoes, but Soren grabbed her hand and pulled her away before she could even suggest going back for them. His fingers dug painfully into her wrist as she was carted along towards the forest. The moon was dark putting an eerie spell over the night, coupled by the complete and utter silence from wildlife. A cold deluge of dread doused over her as they continued through the trees towards the cottage. Even the underbrush seemed to grab onto her linen shift, urging her to turn back as they traipsed onward. Limbs whipped her cheeks, her arms, her legs, but she did not stop. Soren would explain when he could, she was sure of it.
            More than a little scratched and bruised, the trees finally thinned revealing the cottage she had come to love. It took her a few minutes to locate the old structure in the darkness until she realized that no fire burned, no candles were lit; it was shrouded in darkness. Fearful, she wrenched her wrist from Soren’s grasp and grabbed his arm to slow him down. Something was not right, something was amiss, but she could not even begin to discern what. In the moonless night Soren’s face was nothing but shadows. What could he be thinking? Without using her ability she could not tell, could not read his face for the lack of light; the night was nothing more than a mystery.
            “Soren, that’s enough, what’s going on?” exclaimed Raena, unable to keep the quiver from her voice. What was wrong? What was this trepidation she felt? His silence seemed to continue forever without any signs of lifting. The sound of silence beat upon her ears until it was deafening and she feared she would never hear again. “Soren…” she tried again, her voice destroying the stillness for a moment before being consumed by it. His eyes were boring into her, she could feel it, but nothing was visible in this darkness.
            It was too much.
            With a breath she loosened the barriers around her mind and reached out to him, using her Emotional abilities to try and better understand. It was as if he were turned to stone; living, breathing stone. Even the most trained in masking their emotions could not hide from her prodding. Like a spark, she felt the connection and felt his emotions building inside of her own head.
            Concern, triumph, guilt.
            It did not make sense. Those emotions did not enjoy each other’s company, yet here he stood with all of them radiating from him like golden rays in her psyche.
            Insecurity, doubt, joy, love, hatred, apathy.
            It was as if he was trying to convince himself he was feeling something that he was not. The more he struggled with his own mental state, the more her readings became jumbled. She was caught in a tempest of conflicting emotions and could not begin to locate their center. What was he thinking? What were his true emotions? Surely the could not be all of these…it was like…as if….
            “I’m sorry, Raena.” He muttered. Like a tidal wave the swirling emotions plummeted to the ground leaving only his guilt flaring in her mind. Dazed, she was not quick enough to stop the flash of metal that snaked forward in his hand and collided with the side of her neck. A small prick and he stepped back again, a long needle in his hand dripping with a clear liquid. Instinctually, she pressed her palm to her neck where he had struck and took a step back.
            “Soren…what—“ she did not have time to finish her question before all of her mental barriers came crashing down. With a shriek Raena fell to her knees, hands pressed against her ears as the emotions of everyone for a two mile radius came flooding into her brain. She could no longer decipher where her own mind ended and the others began. A battle raged in her skull and sent lights to dance before her eyes when she opened to gaze up at Soren who now stood over her. She wanted to ask him why, or what, or who, or anything than sit here lost in her own head. Nothing she tried would bring the barriers back up and already she felt her consciousness fading. Her most trust friend had turned on her, done something to shatter the barriers on her mind. The magister would find her, take her away to one of his facilities and force her to fight in his stupid war. Was that…what this what Soren wanted? All along had he been working for him?
            Tears welling in her eyes from the pain in her head, Raena watched silenty as Soren lowered himself to his knees to gaze into her eyes. He had a torch now which sent sinister shadows across his face. His eyes blazed a brilliant icy blue instead of their normal honey-brown and he looked pensive. It was a look that a farmer gave a hobbled horse; “what to do with this defective one?”
            “It’s a shame.” He murmured, reaching forward and brushing a loose strand of hair behind her ear, “I really did come to like you…it’s the reason I brought you here, away from your family. I knew that it would kill you if the Magister got your family.” His eyes wavered, flickering back to brown for a moment before settling once more on their frosty counter-part. “But…I don’t think you’ll forgive me if the magister takes you…it’s an odd situation, you see.” Sitting back on his heels he considered her again. His entire demeanor was different and, if she had the focus to sense just him, she would have felt the guilt vanish leaving cold, hard calculation. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out a small vial that held a liquid of shocking violet. Soren gazed at it for a few moments, watching it slosh against the sides and slide away, leaving a slight residue where it had touched. “You’ve been a good friend.” He mutter, lost for a few minutes in his own head. Raena wanted to agree, to say something that would change his mind and let her go. Yet, she was not foolish enough to believe that whatever had been on that needle could be controlled by him. It would not be much longer before she slumped over and let the darkness carry her to a safer place where her mind was her own.
            “I suppose I have to make a decision before the Magister arrives…or before you’re unconscious. Truth be told, I have no love for the Magister, he just happens to pay very, very well.” Reaching forward he lifted her head up and held the vial to her mouth. “Just drink all of it and it won’t be painful” he prompted and forced it into her mouth, tipping the contents in. Panicked, she spit it into his face, deep blue eyes wide in fear, a shout escaping her lips. The liquid burned her mouth and she felt a drop slither its way down her throat leaving a trail of fire in its path.
            She coughed and sputtered, fighting against his hold as he snarled and tried to wrestle her to the ground, another vial in his hands This wasn’t the Soren she knew. With the change in his eyes his entire personality had been altered as well. He still knew her, still understood that they had been close, but this…
            With the last bit of strength she could muster, Raena focused all of her attention on Soren, opening a bridge between her mind and his in one final, desperate attempt. Her first effort failed and a sob left her tongue as her physical strength faded more. Pushing, she tried again. She did not know what the vial held, but somehow she knew that drinking it would be a bad idea. Without help there would be no resisting and she had never been a match against him, even on a good day. And he had taught her. Anything she tried he would recognize, so she needed this to work. If she could open a channel to his mind, she could then force him to Sense every emotion that she did. Just one more chance, that was all she had.
            Squeezing shut her eyes, Raena reached out once more with as much force she could muster. Her mind was in such a state of turmoil that she thought that she had missed, but Soren jerked away with a shout. His own hands went up to cover his head, every single emotion Raena herself Sensed flooding through the link she had created. If time had been on her side, she would have reveled in her success, but the Magister could be behind the trees. She needed to get away.
            With a groan, Raena tried to move away. Her head pounded behind her eyes causing her to dry heave , what was left in her stomach exiting in a gush, but she kept moving forward. She needed to get away, needed to escape, to warn Alik to tell him….tell him…
            A pair of boots appeared before her blurred vision. They were made from the finest leather and accented with gold. Behind him, a dozen other metal clad feet fell into place behind their leader. Slowly lifting her head, Raena followed the fine boots to a pair of expertly woven breeches, a white, silk tunic with an arrow shooting across the sun embroidered on the chest followed and continued upward to an intricate gold clasp at his neck, until she met the Magister’s gaze. Cold fear clenched her heart.
            “Ah, you most certainly are her daughter…” his deep, calculating voice penetrated the chaos in her mind. With a final shudder, she slumped forward onto his feet, vaguely aware of the hands that hoisted her limp form off of the ground.
            It was finished.

The ground is moving she thought to herself, slowly returning from nothingness. Why is the ground moving? Wondered she, unable to fully comprehend what she was feeling while her mind remained in a haze. She felt mentally exhausted, as if her brain has been kneaded and molded in and out of shape over, and over, and over again. Her head was a muggy swamp, each step her thoughts took sunk deeper and deeper in the muck and slush. Nothing in the world could make her want to move, to open her eyes, and it was purely habit that kept her breathing. The smell of damp wood surrounded her. It made sense when she realized that the soft hum was really rain drops bouncing off of some material that was somewhere over her head. Everything had a moldy smell, the hard surface beneath her creaking something terrible as the ground continued to jolt forward.
            “Took quite a hit, didn’t she?” A man’s voice drifted through the air. It was muffled and sounded as if his back was toward her.
            “Mmmm…the Magister used a different serum on her I’ve been told. Something about the old stuff not working on her mother.” A woman replied in a deep but soothing voice. “I don’t know the science behind all this Emotional stuff. Did a number on Soren though, didn’t she? Took the bastard down with her before we got there.” She chuckled deeply. Raena heard shuffling and felt the ground shift slightly underneath of her still form but kept her eyes closed. She did not want to wake up. Maybe, just maybe, if she kept her eyes tightly shut these people would disappear and she would discover it was all just a terrible dream. All she needed to do was fall asleep again and it would all vanish.
            “Still not a fan, huh Margo?” The man’s voice asked, humor evident even to Raena’s cloudy thoughts.
            “Something like that.” Margo grunted.
            “Well, you don’t have to deal with him for a little while now that we’ve got her.” There was a pause, the rain picking up speed against the roof for a few moments until receding to a quiet hum again. A rumble of thunder groaned across the sky. “Damn, she’s been out a while.” He added, shuffling followed by footsteps brought him closer to Raena’s still form. She forced herself not to flinch when a warm hand brushed away some hair from her face. Still, she thought desperately, stay still, keep your face smooth. She did not want to be caught eavesdropping. His warm breath touched her cheek. Keeping her breathing even became a chore, relief coursing through her when his footsteps sounded his retreat.
            “How long do you think she’ll be out?” He asked his companion.
            “She is awake.” A soft, musical voice echoed through the space. It sounded mystical and almost otherworldly. Raena’s heart pumped quickly in her chest.
            “What?” the man asked, “I was just over there.”
            “She has been listening for the past few minutes.” The airy voice insisted, never rising above a soft hum. “She is scared, worried….angry….”
            Raena’s eyes snapped open, realizing that she was, indeed, angry but had yet to realize it. This voice belonged to another Emotional, probably the one who had Sensed her when Soren injected that serum or whatever into her neck. In her entire life, Raena had never met another Emotional and was suddenly intrigued. It helped that she was insanely curious to see what kind of person possessed such a soft, whimsical voice. Unable to continue hiding behind her guise of unconsciousness, she pushed herself into a sitting position. Immediately her head spun and she slumped against the side of the caravan.
            “Shit.” Margo muttered, making her way to their captive’s side. Raena felt a steady hand against her back and blinked up at the large woman who was now beside her. Large was a relative term. This woman was not obese by any means, but her entire build dwarfed Raena’s petite frame. Standing she could easily have been over six feet tall and her black hair was cropped at the ear and held in place by some sort of grease. Her eyes were as black as her hair, but Raena did not get the sense that she had a negative disposition. In fact, regardless of her words, she seemed almost motherly.
            “You’re not going to puke, are you?” she asked grimly, obviously ready to bolt the moment chunks began to fly. When Raena shook her head, the viking-sized woman breathed a sigh. “That’s a relief. You let me know if you are, ok? I don’t enjoy being covered in that shit, and I’ll be pissed like hell if you do. You’re Raena?” she asked, in an attempt to start a conversation. When her charge blinked up at her, confused, she added, “Soren told us.” Immediately, Raena’s eyes grew cold. She could not easily forget what had transpired in the forest. Soren had betrayed her, betrayed everything, and she had counted him one of her closest friends. How stupid could a girl be? Yet, even if she had used her abilities, she would not have been able to sense anything was amiss. It dawned on her that all of the emotions he had been “feeling” were forced to confuse her senses. Instead of being alerted to his intentions, she was lead down an intricate maze and right to the trap at the end. He had been well trained, and she had fallen for it.
            “Is he here?” she croaked, her tongue heavy with dehydration.
            “Nah. The little bastard left right after the Magister showed up. Disappeared into the woods or something. ‘Course, he’ll be back. No one who’s been marked by the Magister can really stay away for long. He can try to fight it all he wants.” Raena blinked again, nonplussed but Margo did not notice and continued to prattle, “You’re probably thirsty.” Seeing that she could sit on her own, the soldier returned to her satchel and began digging through it. Raena took the time to take a more detailed look at her surroundings. They appeared to be in some sort of covered wagon, or caravan. The base was made from wooden planks fastened together and some sort of tarp covered them which explained the audible raindrops that came and went with the fluctuations of the weather. Both Margo and her companion were dressed in matching uniforms: black breeches that disappeared into knee high black boots, and a silver tunic – not nearly of the same quality worn by the Magister – which sported the Magister’s crest in black. A pile of chainmail rested in the corner of the wagon, along with some other pieces of armor that they had obviously removed for comforts sake.
            Her eyes swept the length of her current position until they found what she had really been looking for. At the far end of the carriage Raena spotted a young girl who had to be the other emotional. By Raena’s evaluation she could not have been older than fourteen. Her black hair fell in cascading waves over her shoulders and framed two eyes so blue they bordered on white. All in all, she seemed otherworldly; her voice matched her appearance. An instant later their eyes met, icy blue gazing deeply into Raena’s own sapphire. For one so young, her eyes looked dead; far older than they should be.
            How long had she been under the Magister’s control? Raena wondered, not breaking eye-contact with the girl. How many horrible things had she been forced to do, forced to see all because of her abilities? Raena had worked her entire life to stay out of this situation yet, here she stood and for the first time in her life she wanted to trade places with this girl.
            “Yalia.” Her soft voice carried across the space between them. Raena did not have to ask; she had been given a name. “Don’t.” Yalia whispered again, the moment that Raena tried to reach out with her power. Confused, she stopped immediately but not before her head exploded into gut-wrenching pain. A cry of pain escaped her lips before she fell forward onto the ground, limbs convulsing sporadically making it impossible to speak or make any type of noise to express how she was feeling. It was as if her entire body was being controlled by something beyond her command. When the attack finally died down a few seconds later she remained on the ground breathing heavily, trying to catch her breath.
            “Well that was new.” The male soldier whistled, gazing down at Raena making no move to get up. It had been a show for the Magister’s men, nothing to concern themselves with as long as it was no life threatening. Apparently they had determined whatever had happened to be non-lethal.
            “Shit.” The woman muttered again shaking her head. She, too, had not moved from squatting beside her pack.
            “Don’t try to use your abilities.” Yalia murmured, now kneeling beside Raena. She had not even noticed that the girl had moved from her previous position. Like her voice, she moved like smoke. Unlike the soldiers, she wore a loose-fitting silver dress that just brushed the tops of her dark leather shoes. “The injection they gave you keeps your abilities in check. They have the antidote at the citadel.”
            “An….antidote?” Raena gasped, still trying to come back to her senses. She felt disoriented, weak, and her mind felt even more stretched and battered than it had before. Yalia nodded.
            “Once a week they administer it to us.” Raena did not understand but she also was not in the mental state to ask questions. “They’ll tell you more when you’re processed tomorrow morning. For now, you should rest.” Her ability to sense her emotions was flawless. Her eyes seemed to pierce directly into the center of her soul and Raena could not help but feel uncomfortable for it. For the first time it was her mind that was being infiltrated and not the other way around. It was not a feeling she enjoyed and it gave her a completely new perspective. Life was more than black and white. Perhaps Alik had sheltered her so much that this was the first time she was realizing what it felt like to be on the receiving end of her own abilities. Perhaps she had grown accustomed to living a life where she did not tap into her powers and began believing that she was normal.
            The truth was…she was not. Nothing about her life was normal, it had never been normal, and she was learning it the hard way. Alik had been right -he had always been right- but now she did not have him to help her. The only thing she could even begin to hope was that he had managed to stay out of it. Should the Magister find out that both Alik and their Uncle Gand had been housing her, they would both be killed. Soren had mentioned bringing her to the clearing to keep them from being harmed, but could he really be trusted? And then there was the news that Yalia had mentioned; they would be reaching the citadel in the morning where Raena would be “processed.” The only people who knew what that meant were under the Magister’s control. From here on out, everything was a mystery that would soon, much to her dismay, be answered. Her entire world was crumbling beneath her and all she could do was fall, hoping that someone would be waiting to catch her before she shattered on the rocks below.
            “Sleep.” Yalia murmured again, her voice so soft and musical that it was almost like a lullaby. “Sleep, Raena.” As if the young girl’s words held sway over her physically, Raena felt her eyelids become heavy, the weight of recent events pressing against her. In the morning she would have to face her worst nightmares so tonight she should rest and be prepared for what was to come.
            Tonight marked her last free moments. Tomorrow she would become the Magister’s lapdog.

Chapter VI

            A light touch on the shoulder altered Raena that they had arrived at the Citadel. Eyes instantly opening, she noted the sound of armored footsteps clanking around them, sunlight creeping through the seams in the canvas covering their carriage. Muffled voices that sounded like some sort of check-point informed her that they were entering her prison and, shortly after the voices stopped, the caravan lurched forward again. Hooves clopped noisily on stone and the sunlight disappeared in the shadow of what seemed to be a big wall, but she could not be sure while trapped inside of an enclosed space. Light returned once more and the carriage jolted to a halt moments later.
            Sitting up, Raena became consciously aware that she was still in her linen shift, hardly the attire appropriate for being out of her house. Soren had not given her the chance to change, and her feet were still bare covered in a layer of dried dirt and scratches from the night’s skirmish.
            Footsteps sounded around the caravan accompanied by a sharp click as the back door on the carriage opened. Sunlight blazed into the shaded compartment causing Raena to squint uncomfortably until her eyes adjusted to the light change. Shadowed figures quickly sharpened into more soldiers who waited expectantly beside the door. The male soldier from the caravan stood in front of their captive while Margo took the rear. Yalia decided to stand beside her Emotional kin, a small arm gently touching Raena’s shoulder and indicating for her to stand. Looking down, Raena realized that she was only a few inches taller than this young girl and was filled again with pity for her. Pity that it had been she who had been taken at such a young age, unable to grow into the woman she could have been; a free woman. Another press against her shoulder urged Raena to walk towards the door and into the warm sunlight that engulfed her the moment she ducked her head through the entryway. Looking around, she took in her new prison.
            Tall stone walls towered over her on all sides, an arched opening yawning where they had entered into the outskirts of the citadel. The blocks that created the walls appeared to be made of some sort of granite. The Stone was stained by the weather but still stood, daring someone to try and penetrate the great expansive wall. A portcullis protruded from the top of the archway, currently open to allow them passage through. Soldiers occupied the entrance in order to keep unauthorized personnel from entering. Each soldier wore the same black breeches with a silver tunic emblazoned with the Magister’s crest; an arrow shooting across the sun. It seemed that the higher rank the soldier they received black and gold stripes on the arms of their tunics. The majority of the manpower here were low-ranked men and women, but a few who seemed to be leading certain platoons walked around in a glittering cloud from all of the gold around their arms. Aside from where they had entered, Raena noted another doorway directly opposite of the portcullis. This one was made from thick oak, a large brass handle dangling from the center where it split to open outwards. Currently it remained firmly closed and appeared to lead to more important quarters that she would, more than likely, never see during her stay.
            Swiveling her eyes to the left she noted a long hallway, also constructed from white and gray granite, that had two guards standing at the entrance. Currently, a woman in a loose flowing silver dress was conversing with them and flashing some sort of necklace from around her neck. A few moments of dialogue passed before the guards stepped aside and she walked into the sunlight. Her blonde hair was pulled tightly into a knot on the back of her head. The only difference between her attire and Yalia’s was a long silver necklace that dangled in between her breasts; a silver crescent charm visible at the end of the chain. As she got closer Raena began to wonder if the scowl she wore had become a permanent addition to her face. Creases lined her brow and her lips seemed far too familiar with their downward turn. Black leather shoes clicked against the stone ground of the inner wall as she made a beeline for Raena and her entourage. This woman looked intimidating and had some obvious power in the Magister’s regime; even if it was just in control of his force of Emotionals. Her own icy blue eyes swept up and down Raena, her scowl deepening up her assessment. Not that Raena could blame her, really. Here she stood in a loose ivory shift that was thin enough that the sunlight provided a shadowed outline of her naked body underneath.
            “This is her?” she asked curtly, eyes never leaving the new Emotional they had brought in.
            “Yeah, that’s her.” The male soldier who’s name Raena could not remember hearing during their journey here. “Her name’s Raena, and we picked her up in Marrow a good two days east of here.”
            The woman said nothing but pursed her lips, eyes still sweeping over her new subject. Raena felt very self conscious under the woman’s scrutiny. Without a word she reached forward and pulled at a few strands of Raena’s brown hair, tutting under her breath as if finding a serious flaw in a newly purchased farm animal. Her next step was putting both hands on her shoulders and spinning her to the side where she proceeded to pat the shift, fingering her ribcage. It was an awkward process, especially in front of all the bustling soldiers. Oddly enough none of them seemed to find any of this the least bit strange. It seemed that this woman inspected her wards the same way each time a new subject was presented to her.
            “Yalia.” She snapped, jerking her head back towards the hall where she had exited. Without a word, the young girl merely nodded and floated away. A swift glare at the soldiers who were hovering was all it took for them to nod briskly towards the woman before heading off in separate directions.
            “You.” She barked looking pointedly at Raena. “Follow me.” Without a word, Raena followed the woman wondering what kind of horribly things she had planned. Yalia had mentioned “processing” and she could only hope that it was less awkward than this woman’s prodding fingers. “Your home is now the citadel.” She began suddenly, nodding to the two soldiers who guarded another hallway to the left of where Yalia had gone moments before. The hallway had small windows spaced evenly throughout it where sunlight blazed through, lighting their steps. Small orbs hung on the wall, obviously some sort of light fixture that would be lit once dusk fell. Raena could not see any noticeable way to light them, but she was sure she’d figure out how they worked sooner or later. “I do not tolerate people who insist on ignoring me.” She snapped again, realizing that her charge had been paying more attention to her surroundings than the woman before her. “I am the Wing Mother. You may call me Mother Ulee, or simply Mother should you ever need to address me. Do you understand?”
            “Yes.” Replied Raena, a bit caught off guard at the sudden question. This Ulee had not even looked up nor missed a step.
            “Yes what?” demanded she, still walking briskly forward.
            “Yes, Mother.”
            “Good. Now. While the Citadel is your home this does not mean that you can roam where you please. After processing you will be shown to your lodgings which you will share with four other girls, making five per room. Curfew is the moment the sun disappears behind the middle tower. Should you be found outside of your room after such you will be reported and justly disciplined. Now.” She stopped beside a small oak door and knocked swiftly three times before waving her necklace before it. Raena blinked as four blue stones blazed brilliantly along the crescent before dying down. The door, too, had four blue stones embedded in it which blazed in response and the door swung open. “In.” she ordered, stepping into the room with Raena following obediently behind. The moment both women entered, the door closed with a swift snap behind. The room was lit by the same darkened orbs that lined the hallways, as this room had no windows. In fact, it looked like a storage closet. Dozens of the same silver dresses hung against the far right wall, while the left had cabinets made from some sort of light wood. The stone floor was cold under her bare feet and she shuffled uncomfortably as Ulee bustled around the room pulling different items from shelves and cabinets and off of the clothing rack. Mere moments later she put the neat pile onto a desk that sat in the back of the small room and beckoned Raena forward.
            “This,” she said pointing at a silver chain with a smaller crescent shaped medallion than her own dangling from it, “Is your key. As you can see, it has three blue stones in it. The doors in the Citadel react to a wave of your key. The first will open your room, the second the dining hall, and the third the infirmary. Your room key will be deactivated at curfew, no exceptions.” Putting aside the chain she shook out one of the silver dresses and held it up to Raena to check for size. She did the same with leather shoes which she had to replace and locate a smaller pair before satisfied with her choice. “You will have three outfits.” She explained quickly, “Two will be your everyday wear that you will wash once a week. The third  is worn for training and will be washed daily. Should any of these tear, you will be required to mend them unless I determine them unsuitable and provide you with a replacement. Yours superiors can be recognized by their own keys, which will have many more stones. The more stones, the higher ranked they are. You will learn quickly the hierarchy.” It was not a question.
            “Now, before you don your uniform, you need to shower. Beyond that door is a wash room. I will wait, be quick.” Raena had no time to think before a silver dress was placed in her arms and she was steered towards the door in the back corner of the room. She entered and the orbs blazed to life, apparently recognizing her presence. A small tub had been built into a wood structure and lavender scented soap rested in a tin by the side. Luke warm water rested in the tub Raena found out when she pulled her shift over her head and climbed in with a shudder. The soap was rough and crudely made, but it did its job. Soon she found herself rosy from intense scrubbing, trying to get off all of the dirt and sweat from the fight in the forest. As much as she wished she could sit in the water for hours, Ulee’s presence behind the door did not let Raena relax. Smelling lightly of flowers she dried herself with a coarse towel and slipped the silver dress over her head. It hung loosely around her, hiding her figure behind its plain design. A length of black cord had been provided to tie around her waist which helped give it some shape. However, even without seeing herself in a mirror Raena knew she now looked like one of the masses. It was disconcerting, disorienting, and more than a little bit frightening. In a matter of hours her entire identity had been destroyed; replaced by this soldier. Would she lose her mind in this mad house?
            Drying her long brown hair with the towel one last time, she opened the door and joined Ulee once more in the store room. If Raena had thought she would stop scowling once she was clean, it was a mistake. In fact, Ulee’s scowl only deepened and she tutted under her breath.
            “You will keep your hair tightly plaited and coiled.” She informed Raena, stepping behind her and roughly running a brush through her hair before militarily twisting it into a knot at the nape of her neck. There are no exceptions.” Once this was done, the woman took a step back and nodded to herself, finally pleased with her new charge. In one swift movement she threw the silver chain around Raena’s neck. The stones glowed for a moment before fading back into their usual deep blue. Once this was in place, she thrust the black leather shoes into her hands and watched as she put them on her feet. They fit snuggly, but not incorrectly. This woman obviously had a lot of practice eyeballing sizes. Once in place, Raena stood and followed Ulee back into the hallway, the door closing behind them with a snap, stones blazing for a second before fading and blending back into the wood.
            The new dress felt rough against her skin where it brushed against her legs while she walked. The stone walls made everything seem more and more dungeon like as they passed closed doors that waited ominously to be opened by someone with a key. Most of the doors in this hallway had at least four stones glittering tauntingly, some had five or even six. Despite herself, Raena found herself insanely curious to find out what lay behind those doors. If  four stones protected the processing room with all of the other keys, what could possibly be behind the door they walked by that had eight stones lining the top?  Was it a prison for the Emotionals that refused to behave? Or perhaps a passage way to the inner most sections of the citadel where the Magister himself waited to hand-pick his officers?
            With a start she realized that Ulee had been talking this entire time and she had not been paying attention. Considering her curt manner, asking for anything repeated was out of the question. Instead, she tried to piece together what she had missed by listening to what she still had left to say.
            “—room is at the other side of the courtyard. I will leave you there with your room leader Teraisa and she will guide you until you are acclimated.” As she finished her sentence she pushed open a door at the far end of the hallway and sunlight streamed through painting the cold stone with its golden warmth. A pretty garden rested behind the door that provided bees and other insects to buzz happily from flower to flower. Birds swooped through the branches of tall maples and into the flowery fingertips of the smaller cherry trees. Each corner was perfectly shaped and tended, letting no leaf stray from its desired place, no blade of grass creeping onto the loose-stone pathway that wound its way through the center. The courtyard was a large circle and a covered walkway had been built around the outskirts to shelter door after door. Most were made from a plan, unfinished wood with a single blue stone glittering on its face, others ranged in varying degrees of elegance. The largest stood about double Raena’s own height and sported two stones. On the far side of the courtyard was a smaller door with three. She assumed that the larger of the two lead to the dining hall, while the other would take her to the infirmary. Small benches were placed strategically under the trees to provide a pleasant place to rest, but no one sat now. In fact, the moment Ulee had walked into the area every person present stood and bowed their heads in respect.
            Raena was surprised to see that, while the majority of the Emotionals were woman, quite a few men were littered among them. Instead of the loose silver gown, they sported knee-length tunics that slit to their waist of either side and met with a black leather belt. Their breeches were a dark gray and disappeared into knee high boots. They, too, had a silver chain around their necks. The more she gazed at them she realized that the women and men seemed to have segregated themselves from each other. They were not mingled together.
            “You will only converse with members of your own sex.” Ulee commanded abruptly, sensing Raena’s unspoken question.
            “Why?” Raena asked, speaking for the first time since arriving in the citadel. Ulee ceased to walk and turned sharply, icy eyes holding a stern warning in their clear depths.
            “Why?” She repeated, lips pursing more than Raena imagined would be possible in any other person. “I was unaware that I asked for questions, let alone ones that obviously need not be voiced. Why? Because men are pigs and you will remain intact and untouched unless the Magister requires otherwise.” Intact? Raena thought puzzled. Untouched? It seemed like this woman thought that any physical contact would create cataclysmic events to unfold, or perhaps just that everyone in this entire facility would sleep with anyone of the opposite sex. She could only hope that her roommates were not the whores that Ulee seemed to imagine everyone was.
            “Do you have any other questions?” snapped the house mother, “Good.” she had not even waited for Raena to reply, but she had not been planning to anyways. It seemed that any questions she might have would be considered inappropriate and obtuse so she would just have to wait and ask this Teraisa that was apparently her room leader. She assumed that meant she was also one of the five girls that would be in her room. Oddly enough, Raena found that she was excited to meet more people like her. Her entire life consisted of being the only Emotional around and never once had she contemplated what it would mean once she was thrown into a group of people just like her. Of course, there was the downfall of having been caught by the Magister and been betrayed by Soren but in the end, was it really that bad? There had to be at least fifty Emotionals here in the citadel and in a way she felt oddly at home.
            The feeling did not last long, however. As they walked past a group of Emotionals she realized that each of the women had the same, icy blue eyes that Yalia and Ulee sported. It was more than a little odd and struck her as more than coincidence. Each of these women bowed deeply as Ulee walked by and did not raise their heads until she was well past. Raena did not understand it, but something was beginning to nag at the back of her head trying to force her to remember some key information that might help her comprehend. Unfortunately, nothing came to mind and before she could begin to work it out the woman stopped in front of one of the plain wood doors.
            “This is your room.” She motioned for Raena to stand before the door and she silently obeyed. Almost instantaneously, the door swung inward revealing a small chamber within. Five cots lined the walls with a small trunk placed at the baseboard for the few belongings they were allowed. Looking back at Ulee she was slightly surprised when the head mother dropped a pile of clothes into her arms. Raena had not even noticed that she had been carrying anything until this moment. She probably should not have been surprised, everything else seemed more intriguing than this overbearing woman and she had been walking behind her the entire time. However, now was not the time to contemplate human perception as Ulee waited expectantly, clearing her throat.
            “Ah…thank you.” Raena stuttered, unsure of what this woman expected of her. Unfortunately, that did not seem to be it as her icy eyes narrowed until Raena understood what she had forgotted. “….thank you, mother.” She tried again. This seemed to do the trick and Ulee turned on heel and walked away taking no notice of another group of Emotionals bowing their heads to her.
            Unsure, Raena watched her retreating form before facing the open door. Taking a deep breath she entered and heard the door close softly behind her. The room was not big, in fact it barely fit all five beds. Four of them were nicely made and the fifth was bare with a few folded linens at the base of the mattress, obviously waiting for its new occupant. It made Raena wonder who had been in that bed before her and what had happened to her? She just hoped that whatever it was it was not a common occurrence. At the far corner of the room was a closed door. Setting down the extra clothes Ulee had provided onto her bed she made her way to the doorway. Turning the knob it clicked and swung open revealing a small bathing room with two mirrors positioned on the wall closest to her. A pitcher of water stood by a chipped ivory basin and a damp cloth hung over the side. A drain had been drilled into the floor and appeared to be where they would empty their dirty bath water. It seemed like a crude structure, albeit convenient. It did, however, make her wonder where the water was deposited. The scent of lavender drifted through her nostrils and she quickly found that this room, too, had the same roughly hewn lavender scented soap she had used in the processing room.
            Taking another breath, she turned from the wash room and returned to her bed. For a few moments she stared at it, unsure exactly what she wanted to do or what she was suppose to do. The linens had been neatly placed and, seeing the other beds were made, proceeded to do the same. They were made from rough spun linen and seemed inadequate to keep anyone warm during the colder seasons. For now she just hoped that the nights would refrain from being cold. The bed made, she opened the trunk at the end of her bed and breathed a sigh of relief when she pulled out a coarse wool blanket before depositing her extra clothes into the base. With a sigh she sunk onto her bed and buried her head in her hands. She was not sure if it was because she was tired from the journey or just the past hour, but her head ached something terrible.
            Closing her eyes she willed the headache to disappear but that only seemed to intensify the pain behind her eyes. In an instant her fingers began quaking beyond her control. Bewildered she tried to still them but found that it then moved to her arms, then shoulders, until her entire body convulsed sporadically. Unsure what to do she slid onto the floor to try and let the wall support her while holding onto the bedpost. The spasm passed quickly but left her more than a little nonplussed. The last time this had happened had been when she had used her power without realizing that whatever Soren had injected into her system kept her powers locked behind some wall of intense physical pain. This time she had not even accidentally touched her abilities. What had caused it to go off?
            “Oh! You must be Raena!” a light, bubbly sounding girl exclaimed from across the room. Her light brown hair was tied back in a knot on the back of her head and green eyes wide with excitement. “Karrol!” she called out behind her, “Karrol, she’s here!” summoned by the bubbly girl’s cry, another entered. She was tall, far taller than Raena expected from a woman named Karrol, and her dark blonde hair was also tied tightly behind her head. Even from this distance Raena could tell that neither of them had the icy blue eyes that many of the other Emotionals in the courtyard had, and it put her at ease.
            “Why are you on the floor?” Karrol asked skeptically, one eyebrow raised, “You do know that your bed it right next to you and probably a lot more comfortable. Kaity…they didn’t tell us our new roommate would be special.”
            “That’s mean!” Kaity exclaimed, hitting Karrol’s arm and then moving forward to kneel down beside Raena, offering her hand in greeting.
            “I’m Kaity, that’s Karrol. We were part of a small pocket of Emotionals that were brought in a few months ago. Guess it teaches you that you can’t run forever, huh?” Raena took her hand and shook it, thankful that they had not walked in during her weird fit. Now that it was passed all she was left with was the same pounding headache from before.
            “Raena.” She replied, shaking Kaity’s hand and tried to return the smile but it felt more like a grimace. “I was brought here from Marrow.”
            “Oh!” the girl exclaimed, green eyes wide, “So you’re the one that Soren brought in!” Raena’s eyes narrowed at the mention of Soren’s name.
            “You know him?”
            “Oh, no, not directly. He has a twin brother who is a doctor here. Of course, we’re not allowed to see him, he only sees the men.” She pouted, slumping down onto the bed next to Raena’s which was apparently her own. “I would throw myself down the stairs to get examined by him.”
            “That’s a stupid idea.” Karrol replied, “Besides, you’ll probably just fall down the stairs accidentally so why do it on purpose?” Kaity stuck her tongue out at her friend and proceeded to lay down on her cot with a dramatic sigh.
            “Can…I ask a question?” Raena ventured, pulling herself up to her own bed, “Why do half of the Emotionals here have those icy blue eyes?” instantly a gloom swept through the room. Kaity’s animated eyes darkened and she shared a look with Karrol; neither one of them seemed eager to talk. Raena soon realized she touched a subject that was taboo. She wanted to say something but was loath to interrupt the silence. Slowly, the tall blonde stood, glanced darkly outside of the door before closing it with a swift crack.
            “It’s not something we’re suppose to discuss. One of her rules.” Karrol replied, sitting next to Kaity on her cot. Raena did not need to ask who “her” was; Ulee.
            “Actually,” added Kaity, “We’re not even one hundred percent sure, the only people who really know are the ones with them. All we know is that every single one of them caused some sort of fuss and were brought before Ulee to be reprimanded. They come out and their eyes are lighter. Sometimes it takes a few days before the reappear.”
            “But they always come back with those eyes.” Karrol added forbiddingly. “When they come back they’re not themselves, they become some sort of Magister cohorts. Stay out of trouble and they leave you alone.” Raena bit her lip while she processed this new information.
            “Yalia…” she muttered remembering just how light her eyes had been, almost white with a tinge of blue.
            “Yalia is Ulee’s daughter.” Kaity provided, “Causes quite a bit of fuss. I don’t know how many times they’ve taken her away but her eyes kept getting lighter and lighter. She’s the only one so far who seems to fight whatever it is they do, but they keep trying.”
            “She’s her daughter?” asked Raena astounded. “They seem so….different.”
            “Well, she is so I would suggest steering clear of her. When she’s in a certain mood she’ll tell her mother anything.”
            “Can’t be trusted” Kaity added nodding towards her friend. “Oh! And don’t talk to Teraisa about any of this. All of the room leaders have been “fixed” – that’s what we’ve dubbed it. Just…be careful who you ask and don’t tell anything to the ice-eyes.”
            Raena was floored. She had never thought that so much manipulation lay at the heart of the Magister’s rule. Not that she should have been surprised, really. Who in their right mind would willingly support his cause; especially Emotionals who were forced to fight for him? Actually, it made more sense the longer she contemplated. The Magister was not –for what she had been told- an eloquent man. His speeches would not rally people to his cause, and he was not intelligent enough to trick them into believing his own twisted objectives. Using something to force people into following him seemed much more akin to his abilities. And all of those Emotionals in the courtyard with those same blue eyes….icy blue eyes.
            “Soren!” she exclaimed, eyes slightly crazed as realization struck. “He wasn’t planning on turning me in, his eyes were a light brown but the night he called the Magister….” She fell silent as the wheels in her head began to turn. The Soren she had known had not been the one who betrayed her. Maybe he had been working with the Magister the entire time, but that night…that night his eyes had most certainly been the same icy blue.
            “Has anyone ever fought it?” questioned Raena, suddenly intrigued, “I mean…can you get out of it once you’ve been ‘fixed’?”
            “Hmmm….” Karrol pondered, her finger pressed pensively to her bottom lip. “The only one I’ve met who seems to fight it is Yalia, so I assume it’s possible. She’s the only one, though. And like I said…it can take a few days for the effects to really take place. I wouldn’t know though, I’m not planning of finding out either.”
            Both girls fell silent at the same time, Kaity shushing them all swiftly just before the door opened and a woman, possibly in her mid twenties entered. Her icy blue eyes scanned the room, landed on Raena, and a smile spread across her lips. “Welcome, Raena!” she proclaimed, “I am Teraisa, your room leader. Kaity, Karrol, it is practically time for lunch, let’s walk together. Ilia is already on her way, I saw her in the courtyard.” Obediently they stood -Raena following suit- and followed the controlled woman out into the sunlight. All around them Emotionals were being ushered into the large double doors, each group led by a woman, or man, with those icy eyes.

Chapter VII

Raena was woken from a light slumber when her body began to shudder and quake for the tenth time over the past few weeks. Each fit seemed to grow progressively worse as time progressed until they sometimes lasted a couple of minutes before dying down. She had tried to hide them from her peers but they soon became more and more frequent that it had become impossible to do. Even now she was unsure what was causing them. The serum Soren had given her –she was told- should have worn off three days after it had been administered yet these fits still came. Each one left her breathless and, sometimes, she felt as if her entire body had suddenly become engulfed in flames. This particular spasm shook her entire bed enough that it woke Kaity who slept soundly beside her.
            Eyes full of concern, Kaity was out of her bed and beside Raena, hands trying to help still her quaking limbs. Nothing helped during these times and they really just needed to be waited out.
            “I…be ok…soon,” Raena gasped out in between convulsions, chest heaving up and down on the cot for a few more minutes before slowly dying down to a slight shake in her hands. This would last anywhere between ten minutes to an hour after the seizures ceased; a cruel reminder that they would return in the near future and with a greater vengeance than before. Curling onto her side, Raena clasped her hands against her chest while Kaity’s cool hand brushed a few strands of her hair behind her ear. Beads of sweat lingered on her forehead and she focused on steadying her breathing before speaking again.
            “Thank you.” She murmured, exhaustion overcoming all of her senses. Her linens were on the floor along with the wool blanket she used on colder nights, but she was in no hurry to gather them from their pile. For the time being all that Raena wanted was to lie in peace and remember what it was like back in Marrow when everything made sense. She prayed that Alik and her Uncle were safe. She hoped that Alik had married Alaina and forgotten about her even though she knew it was a ridiculous notion. Once her brother realized that she was missing and word spread that the Magister’s men had been sighted in Marrow –as they most certainly had been by some busybody- he would put everything on hold to rescue his sister. It was exactly what she hated to see happen. Alik had a life of potential and she continuously hindered his chances. Before Soren everything had been some semblance of perfect but now everything was torn asunder and she, herself was finding more and more obstacles placed in her path. The way these seizures were going she feared that one day she might be thrown into unconsciousness and never return. Perhaps she would die convulsing on her own bed. Then what would Alik rescue? A corpse?
            With a sigh she closed her eyes against the blinding darkness of her room and let her mind slip into sleep once more, hoping that she would be able to sleep through the rest of the night without anymore interruptions.

“Raena.” The head mother barked the next afternoon while she was walking from her room and into the courtyard beyond. Stopping, Raena turned and inclined her head just enough to be considered polite and waited quietly for the short-tempered woman to speak. “I have been informed that you have been ill, is this correct?”
            Caught off guard, Raena’s mouth opened slightly as met Ulee’s eyes with a blank stare. Obviously one of her roommates had informed this woman that she had been ill. Raena wondered if it was Kaity, or perhaps Teraise the room leader had felt it inappropriate to keep something of this magnitude from the proper authorities. If whatever she had turned out to be contagious she supposed it would be best to report it, but somehow she doubted that any of the other Emotionals found themselves having seizures on a regular basis. Not to mention the feeling of being burned alive after a particularly nasty fit. Her blood seemed to be boiling within her veins on these occasions and it was all she could do to keep from screaming. Unfortunately, they were not something that she could control and going to see a physician seemed pointless if they could not see the problem itself. Sometimes explaining and illness just would not do the sickness itself justice. In fact, they might even consider her irrevocably insane. The last thing she needed was some doctor telling her it was all in her head.
            “Don’t stand there gawking.” Ulee snapped. “I asked a question and I expect an answer.”
            “I’m sorry, mother.” Raena replied keeping her head lowered. “Yes, I’ve been feeling a bit off color lately.”
            “You will go to the infirmary at once.” She demanded, “Report back to me with your diagnosis. That is all.” In one sweeping motion Ulee turned on heel and was halfway across the courtyard before Raena could process what she had said. Since arriving at the Citadel nearly a month ago, Raena had never even considered going to the infirmary. The entire ward seemed to be shrouded in mystery and, despite her roommate’s insistence that Soren’s twin was gorgeous, Raena found no desire to go there. Even though she knew that she would probably not even see him because of the rules that females should not speak to other males, the thought of sighting him and reliving the pain of Soren’s betrayal through his brother was frightening. Would he, too, have those icy blue eyes? Would he be just like all of the other zombies that roamed through the citadel, nay the world, and blindly followed the Magister’s rule because he had been forced to believe in his particular brand of tyranny? Yet, could she honestly say that Soren had been completely changed? His demeanor, yes, but his heart? Even under the influence of some strange brainwashing he brought her away from her family to keep them safe and, at the end he had tried to keep her from being taken. Yes, he had tried to kill her –so she assumed after nights of silent contemplation- with that strange violently violet liquid, but he had done it with the intent to keep her from the Magister.
            Sullenly she looked around from her frozen position between a flowering cherry tree and a garden overflowing with daffodils. Perhaps she should not be too upset about everything because this would be an excuse for her to refrain from their usual training activities. Every Emotional, wearing black breeches and a loose silver tunic which were allotted for such gatherings, were required to expand their minds and stretch out their abilities daily in the hopes that they would grow more powerful. More the one Emotional collapsed during such events and were carted to the infirmary where they were given heavy sedatives until the incapacitating migraine faded away. Raena had been lucky enough to avoid collapsing, but only barely. It left everyone exhausted, irritable, and prone to irrational lashing out at people closest to them. The exercises seemed to work, however, despite their negative effects. The highest ranking Emotionals in the citadel had such strong abilities that Raena was sure they would have been able to feel her specific emotions from miles away just by closing their eyes and concentrating. None of these men and women had been in the Magister’s control for less than three years. In a way, the exercises had indeed expanded her abilities even if that simply meant she got less of a headache after each session.
            Or perhaps she was just that determined to stay away from any place that might remind her of Soren; of Alik. She missed her brother more and more as the days passed and wished that maybe, just maybe, one day he would show up with a reckless plan to get her away. Nothing would ever replace the emptiness in her heart where her brother should be. Yes, she had complained about him when he was around but after losing something so dear she realized just how important he had been. If she could apologize for all of the times she snapped at him, she would do so a thousand times. Unfortunately, standing around wishing for the impossible would not solve her problems. For now she would have to walk across the expansive courtyard and into the small ebony wood with three blue gems glittering forebodingly on its surface.
            With heavy feet she began the trek towards the infirmary, taking a deep breath in an attempt to still her racing heart. If she thought she would be able to lie to Ulee about going, she would have. That, however, would have unwanted complications that would leader her down the long hallway to get “fixed” where she would return with those icy, unfeeling eyes that half of the Emotionals present had gained over the years.
            Before she knew it, the infirmary door stood before her and the three blue stones blazed brightly in response to the crescent key around her neck before swinging inwards. Stepping beyond the threshold took all the will power she possessed and she repressed a shudder when the door closed behind her. It was a sterile looking room with two doors on either side, a wooden desk and a few smattering of chairs littering the rest of the room. A large window had been set into the far wall which allowed her to see the first glimpse of the outside world since being brought into the citadel. A cart path busy with traffic coming and going was the most prominent view from the window and, beyond that rested a large lake that sparkled under the afternoon sun, a small town resting peacefully around its edge. Raena would have given anything to jump through the window and run down to the lake just to feel the cool water against her skin. It would be proof that she was still alive and not caught in some backwards dream world.
            “The view helps patients feel less trapped.” A deep reassuring voice commented from behind her. “Eona and I had to fight for years to get it installed.” With a start, Raena spun around and faced the last man on earth she had wanted to see. He looked identical to Soren except, he had a more refined quality about him. His hair, cropped short around his ears, was the same orange-gold hue as his brother and, if she had not known any better Raena might have actually mistaken one for the other. His smile was kind and that gentleness reflected in his honey-brown eyes.
            “You’re eyes are brown.” She commented before realizing that speaking was breaking one of Ulee’s most strictly enforced rules, and speaking about that was even worse within the citadel. With a gasp she clapped her hands over her mouth, eyes wide in panic. His smile wavered for a moment before fading into a contemplative line, eyes sweeping over this Emotional who had sauntered into his infirmary and started spouting off such blasphemy. She expected him to scowl and send her straight to Ulee where she would be corrected for her terrible misstep. Instead, Soren’s twin chuckled softly under his breath, shaking his head back and forth as if she had spouted off some sort of amusing joke. Surprised her mouth opened slightly but she could not think of anything to say. He looked so like Soren yet, even in these few moments she realized just how different the brothers were. This brother’s heart was purely philanthropic while Soren, even out of the Magister’s influence, had a more of a conceited air about him. It was this comprehension that made her realize that she could not sense anything from him, as if her entire mind had been closed the moment she walked into this room. Everything she observed was just that; and observation.
            “You don’t have to worry.” He reassured her, “No one can Sense in this room, they’re the only safe places within the entire citadel. Even Ulee can’t peek in here so you don’t have to be so afraid. Would you have a seat?” He motioned to one of the cushioned chairs against the wall. A bit flummoxed she sat and stared at him as he pulled up another seat opposite of her, gazing at his patient intently.
            “So.” He stated resting his elbows on his knees and head in his hands, “I am Aeniel. Eola, the other doctor, is currently taking her break so we’ll just have to ignore the rules for a bit to make sure you’re not going to keel over from having to wait.” An excuse and she knew it. Just like she was intrigued with him, her first comment had sparked his interest in her. “I’m assuming that your illness is not simply an uninhibited desire to comment on people’s eye color?” Raena blushed deeply and stared down at her knees covered by her everyday silver dress. “What’s your name?”
            “Raena…” she muttered, unsure if she should mention what was on her mind but something pressed on her to go for it. “Have you heard from Soren?” She let out in a rush, “I’m sorry, I know it’s not something that you’re probably use to hearing it’s just…ever since I figured out that his eyes changed to that icy blue and that it wasn’t really him that night I just—“
            “Hey.” He cut her short, reaching forward and pressing his hand against hers where it rested against her knee. “You’re the one they brought in a month ago aren’t you?” he questioned, gazing even more intently at her face than he had before. “The one that Soren helped turn in?” Raena nodded sullenly, afraid what this man must think of her. Having known Soren Raena had forgotten that both brothers really were twenty-four until talking to Aeniel. He was certainly the more mature of the two and it showed.
            “You said that his eyes changed?” looking up, Raena noticed that Aeniel’s kind eyes had grown hard and intent. It shocked her to realize that this was the first time he had heard about any of this, other than Soren being the one to capture her. His entire deportment faltered for a moment and something that looked like anguish, sorrow, anger all at once flooded into his eyes before he pushed them away, obviously well trained at keeping his dangerous emotions blank. “I didn’t know…” he muttered, lost in his own thoughts. Raena could not even begin to imagine what it felt like to know that your brother’s mental state had been altered without your knowledge. She wanted to press him, to question him further about the process and how the Magister managed to control people, but something in his downcast gaze stilled her tongue. If it had been her in his place, just learning that Alik had been changed into one of the Magister’s androids, she would not find it comforting to get pounded by questions about logistics. Instead she sat there awkwardly, acutely aware of the hand that still rested on top of hers. He seemed to have forgotten he had put it there.
            After a few moments of silence he seemed to come back to his senses and withdrew his hand with an apologetic look. Standing he looked at the main door.
            “I think that Eola should almost be finished her break.” He stated abruptly and it did not take much thinking for Raena to realize he was trying to escape. The shock from hearing about his brother outweighed any previous curiosity he felt towards her.
            “Wait, please” standing she grabbed his arm to keep him from retreating any further. “I…I didn’t mean to upset you, I thought you knew about him, your brother I mean. I—“ as if on cue the hand she had placed on Aeniel’s arm began to tremble. With a groan she pulled it back and clasped her hands together at her chest, willing the tremors to disappear.
            “No…” she moaned as the shudders grew in intensity until her entire torso convulsed back and forth in continuous seizures. She reached out to brace herself on the chair the same time Aeniel grabbed her by the shoulders for support. Raena tried to focus on his face but found it impossible to hold her head still enough to see any reaction in his face. It was perfect that it would happen right here in the infirmary as it meant she did not have to explain it. At the same time it was still incredibly inconvenient, as these things always were.
            “Raena!” Aeniel exclaimed, obviously concerned as she shuddered and allowed him to guide her gently onto the floor continuing to hold her as she shook. “Raena, hey, can you hear me?” he cupped her face in his hands in an attempt to still her long enough to make eye contact. It helped, and she found herself looking up at him as the worst of the fit continued to control her.
            “Y…ye..yes” she stuttered through the seizures, “Th…they st…st…stop after...after…little while” closing her eyes she waited out the rest of the spasms  and sat up the moment they were minute enough for controlled movement. At sporadic moments a single tremor would wrack her already exhausted body. While she caught her breath, Aeniel’s warm, practiced hands felt her forehead for fever and cupped her face in his hands again to examine her pupils. Now that she could focus on his face she saw the deep seated concern in the furrows on his brow and frown on his lips. His next step was to check her pulse which was lowering to a normal speed as she rested. It seemed like a good thirty minutes before the contractions stopped completely and in that time Aeniel waited patiently, refraining from asking any more questions until she was completely back to herself.
            “How long have you had these seizures?” he asked, standing so he could walk over and retrieve a towel which he then pressed against her forehead to sop up the sweat on her brow. His touch was gentle as if he thought that she would break apart into tiny pieces with anything more than a brush of his fingers.
            “Mmm…” she mused, “Ever since I was brought in a month ago…I thought it had something to do with that, that stuff they use to make your head explode with Sensing everyone around you but after that wore off the fits kept happening.” He grunted softly in response, still checking her vitals as if he disbelieved his first diagnosis. It appeared that he could not find anything dramatically wrong with her other than the fact that she had just spent over an hour suffering varying degrees of seizures.
            “How often?” he helped her to her feet and into a waiting chair.
            “It depends.” Murmured Raena, “They started out once every few days and only lasted for a few seconds. Now they’ve…well, they’ve turned into this. This is the second time in a few hours. I woke up last night shaking as well.”
            He hummed to himself, lost in some sort of doctorly thoughts. Raena could see the gears turning in his head as he processed the information. He had seen the fit and did not need to ask what they were like, that was a plus, but it did not seem to solve the problem of what could be causing it.
            “The first time it happened was here? At the citadel?” asked Aeniel inquisitively.
            “Yes…” wait, no the first time she had any sort of seizures had been before they had even arrived at the citadel. “Actually,” she corrected, “The first time was in the caravan on the way to the Citadel. We were still hours away.”
            “You need to tell me everything that happened the night you were captured. Who was present, where you were, everything. I know it might be hard to recollect but I need you to try and recall every detail you can possibly remember. Wrack your brain.” Raena’s brow was furrowed in contemplation as she tried to recall that night. Thankfully, it had not been so long that anything other than minute details were lost.
            “Soren woke me, actually.” She started, trying to be as gentle as possible. This story did not just involve her, it involved him brother. “He was tapping on the window and told me to come with him, I didn’t even have time to grab my shoes or change out of my night things. He was insistent that I woke no one. In Marrow there’s a clearing in the forest nearby that no one really remembered existed and it was where he was staying, so he took me there and…I tried to Sense what he could possibly be feeling and was thoroughly distracted when he used a long needle to prick the side of my neck. I didn’t really know what was going on, but shortly after my entire head felt like it was exploding within my skull.”
            “Mmm…” he interrupted with a contemplative hum, “Yes, they use that serum on Emotionals to incapacitate them. It usually wears off in a day or two, depending on the dosage they use so I doubt that would have any lasting effects.”
            “Well…I overheard that they used a higher dose or something on me because of my mother. She was an Emotional,” she quickly explained as Aeniel shot her an inquisitive glance. “I’ve been told she was on the Magister’s ‘most wanted’ list while she was still alive. They said something about the usual dose not working on her so they didn’t want to take chances. I never knew my mother so I don’t really know for sure…it’s all just from stories and things I’ve overheard” Aeniel was silent for a few moments again before speaking.
            “Is that all that happened? You blacked out after that?”
            “No…” she pondered again trying to recall every possible detail. “Soren then said something along the lines of, ‘I brought you out here to keep Alik and your uncle out of this…but you probably would prefer to not be caught in the first place’ before he took out a vial of something which he tried to force me to drink—“
            “What?” Aeniel’s head snapped up, eyes narrowing as she spoke, “He tried to poison you?”
            “I…well…I don’t know. I wasn’t really asking questions—“
            “Did you drink it?”
            “Um…some? I don’t really remember. I fought him and the vial spilled but it’s possible that I swallowed some—“
            “Was it a bright color? Um…” he looked intently at the floor shaking his hand as he tried to remember an important detail.
            “It was a really bright violet I think—“
            “Yes! Violet…” his words faded as he stared up at her, brown eyes wide.
            “What? It wasn’t that much, really.” Asked Raena nonplussed. The way he stared at her seemed to be with a mix of pity, anger, and sheer unadulterated worry.
            “It was enough. Raena, what was in the vial is a mixture that my brother created himself. I don’t even know what is in it, I told him I didn’t want a part in experimenting with deadly concoctions, my job was saving people, not killing them.”
            “What….what does that mean for me?” she asked, eyes wide as the sudden realization that Aeniel was not joking washed over her. Whatever had been in that vial was deadly, and from the sounds of things, would kill her eventually.
            “I don’t know, Raena.” He replied, defeated shaking his head in disbelief, “Soren had always been reckless…and add that mind control the Magister has created into the mix it sounds as if he thought killing you would be a better option for you than letting the Magister have you.” He cursed under his breath and wrung his hands together in his lap.
            “Well…can’t you…can’t you find him? Ask him what was in it and how it’s cured?” she stammered fearfully. There had to be something they could do, something they could try? Would she really die from something so stupid? She was young, she had so much life left to live, and here she was trapped in the Magister’s citadel with no future other than to die trapped in this prison.
            “I don’t know where he is!” Aeniel moaned and pressed the base of his palm into his eyes. “Ever since they brought you in he’s disappeared. I think he’s fighting the Magister’s hold on him…but that means he could be anywhere. Raena, I’m sorry…I don’t think there’s much that I can do.”
            “But you have to!” she panicked, reaching forward and grabbing his arm, “Aeniel, you have to help, please! I can’t die here, not like this, not without seeing my brother again, without living my life!” He opened his mouth and froze, obviously unable to think of a retort to the young woman who pleaded on his arm.
            “Ok…” he conceded, “I have a few ideas that we can try but I can’t make any guarantees.” He looked tormented, torn by his decision. “It could end up making you sicker, Raena.” He implored eyes gazing at her sorrowfully, “Finding Soren might be the only way we can do anything, and we can’t do that here.”
            “I’ll try anything.” Tears welled in her eyes, “Nothing can be worse than sitting around, trapped here, just waiting to die.”
            “And if nothing works? If whatever I try makes it worse?”
            “We can find a way out of here, look for Soren ourselves.” Declared Raena, eyes determined. Armed with the knowledge that she would die if they just sat around doing nothing, Raena realized that the prospect of being caught no longer held as much fear as it had before. Ulee, the overbearing leader of the Emotionals, seemed like an annoying gnat in the way of something more important.
            “Raena…” he cautioned but she would not hear of it.
            “Aeniel, somehow I have a feeling that you are no more happy here than I.”
            “It won’t be easy…they have keys on all of the doors that lead anywhere out of this place. The hallways are locked and only Ulee has the rank to open them. Even I’m just a prisoner here.”
            “We’ll find a way.” She vowed. If it killed her they would find a way.

Chapter VIII

            Unfortunately, Head Mother Ulee was less than pleased to hear the diagnosis. In fact, she seemed unconcerned about Raena’s illness at all upon laying eyes on Aeniel. After meeting with Aeniel he escorted Raena to Ulee’s rooms where they both waited in uncomfortable silence while they waited for her to appear. Raena had been concerned to be see conversing with the male doctor in the citadel, but Aeniel assured her that he would be able to make a viable excuse that would keep them both from being “fixed.”
            You are not allowed to see the women.” Snapped Ulee, blue eyes a blazing, frozen wasteland. “You have overstepped your boundaries.”
            “Head Mother Ulee,” Aeniel interrupted, his entire demeanor as respectful as he could achieve without seeming fake. “I had no intention of examining her. Eola was not in the office and Raena needed immediate attention. After analyzing her symptoms I’ve come to believe that she has an acute neurological disorder that is slowly eating away at her nervous system. It is lucky that I was there instead of Eola, this type of illness is incredibly troublesome and finding a treatment takes more experience than she has in this area.”
            “Nothing is more important that our rules.” She barked in response, “They are put in place for a reason and there should be no exceptions. I see that Raena is still alive and would have survived a few minutes wait for Eola to return.”
            “Mother, I hate to disagree…” he explained, brown eyes downcast. Raena was silently impressed at his ability to argue so eloquently with a woman who refused to listen, not to mention eternally grateful. This discussion could, quite possibly, ruin both himself and her yet here he stood determined and putting his own life out on the line. “Moments after I entered, this young woman was thrown into a fit of seizures that nearly killed her.” He lied, “If she is not given regular doses of a multitude of medications she could die before the end of the week. I beg you, let her be treated by me, I might just be able to keep her alive.”
            Ulee’s lips were a thin line across her face as she pursed her lips. It was obvious that she did not approve of this one bit. Raena felt the cold grip of fear around her gut as she waited for the killing blow that both of them would be taken to be “fixed” or whatever term they used outside of closed doors. The head mother neither blinked, nor softened her glare which made Raena more and more uncomfortable standing behind Aeniel’s bowed form. If she did not condone this, what would that mean for them? Would the Magister be informed?
            “Unfortunately there is no protocol for such events.” She deliberated out loud, “Normally I would have to decline your request but, the Magister has taken a special interest in you.” Her eyes moved past Aeniel and landed on Raena. “For now you may continue your treatment and I will consult with the Magister regarding this unfortunate turn of events. Until then, I expect neither of you to speak of this or there will be dire consequences. Am I clear?”
            Both Raena and Aeniel nodded, keeping their relief bottled behind a wall of forced emotions to keep Ulee from sensing anything amiss.
            “Good.” With a wave of her hand they knew that they were dismissed and left the office with heads bowed. Both knew better than to celebrate their small victory while still in the shadow of that woman. Raena felt as if she had been holding her breath for the entire walk across the courtyard and back to the infirmary. She did not even dare look over at Aeniel and was glad for her prudence when Ulee’s voice called from behind.
            “Raena.” Immediately she stopped and turned, silently hoping that Aeniel would continue towards the infirmary. Their only interactions could be medicinal and stay together when Ulee obviously only needed her would have been more than a little suspicious. “The Magister has requested a private meeting with you. You will be ready an hour before curfew. Proper attire is being prepared and will be waiting when you return to your room. An hour before curfew, I’ll escort you, do not be late.” Without waiting for a reply the head mother turned on heel and swept back into the shadow of the wall and the hallway beyond.
            Raena was floored. Nothing in the last month could have prepared her for Ulee’s declaration and she wished for nothing more than it to have never happened. There had been mention of her mother and the relationship she had had with the Magister years ago; could this be in relationship to her? Before Raena had fallen unconscious the night Soren turned the Magister had mentioned something about her mother but it was all hazy and she wished she could completely recall what had been said.  Her brain seemed to have stopped and it took her a few minutes before realizing that she still stood in the middle of the courtyard and was beginning to notice the people around her shooting curious glances her direction. It did not help that all of them were somewhat accomplished Emotionals and could Sense her distress. Most were probably wondering what could have happened to make her freeze like that? At least, those who were not close enough to hear what Ulee had told her. Those who had merely looked on sympathetically, eyes full of pity as if they thought she would not return from the meeting.
            In a daze, Raena walked into the infirmary again, hoping that Aeniel would not have disappeared into his own private chambers adjoining the clinic. The moment the door snapped close behind her she pressed her back against the wall and stared ahead, eyes wide.
            “What?” Aeniel’s calm voice came from behind the small desk, looking up with the sound of the door opening and closing. “What?” he asked again, concern showing in his eyes as he stood and walked closer, “Is it another attack?”
            Raena shook her head, stunned.
            “What is it then?” he repeated. One of his hands snaked forward and rested supportively on her shoulder, possibly trying to lend her strength as she stared blankly ahead, still processing the recent turn of events. Could she even begin to imagine what that evening would hold?
            “I’ve been summoned by the Magister.” She stated in a monotone, “Tonight.”

The new attire Ulee had left now gently caressed Raena’s skin as she waited outside her door for the head mother to appear. It was still a silver dress but the intricacy of the style, pattern, and fabric were exponentially greater than her everyday wear. The dress itself felt as if it had been spun from the finest silk and then embroidered with white swirls and spirals across the collar and hemlines. A sheer overlay had been expertly stitched onto the silk and revealed her bare arms from where the silk stopped at her shoulders and overlay continued to her finger tips. A black belt had been provided that cinched at the waist and accented her hour-glass figure in such a way that made her extremely uncomfortable. The Magister had seen her in her linen shift the night she was taken and the everyday dress was a vast enough improvement that it concerned her to wonder why such impressive measures had been taken to place her in a gown that was probably worth more than her life.
            She felt like a bride, almost, and it sent cold chills shooting down her spin that had nothing to do with the setting sun and cool breeze it brought. A few people still milled around the courtyard, conversing softly to each other about mundane things that included the weather and the particular food they had been served for dinner that evening. Birds ceased to sing as they snuggled into their warm nests and allowed the nocturnal insects to take their place until the morning. The silence of the transition made her even more nervous than before as she waited in the awkward silence for her escort to arrive.
            Sure enough, the moment she began to wonder if she had misread the time, the head mother swept around the outer circle of the courtyard and stopped her trek before Raena, one appraising eye sweeping over her.
            “This way.” Remarked she, finding Raena’s appearance acceptable. Silently, Raena followed Ulee around the outskirts of the courtyard and passed what seemed like hundreds of doors before stopping before one with five keystones glittering on its front. This opened instantly in response to the mother’s key around her neck and together they both entered into the dimly lit hallway.
            Immediately Raena noticed the impressive difference between this hall and the one she had used to enter this prison over a month ago. A plush, black carpet lined the floor with tiny silver swirls that were identical to the ones embroidered on her dress sewn into the carpet. Each window was draped in a flowing, silver fabric that billowed in the light breeze that drifted through the hall. On the far end was a single door that stood twice her height and was carved with the most intricate sun motif Raena had ever seen. A solid silver arrow had been artistically embedded into the carving and glinted as the last few rays of sunlight filtered through the open windows and onto the decorative metal. Whatever rested beyond that door was more important than any room Raena had been privy to see during her stay. In fact, she was almost positive that only a handful of Emotionals in the citadel had ever seen this door, let alone been allowed beyond it.
            The head mother stopped abruptly before the door. With one long, spindle-like finger she stroked the arrow which began to hum softly. After a few minutes of confusion, Raena realized that the arrow was serving as some sort of alarm when the door was opened by a servant dressed in all black. He bowed respectfully to Ulee and swept his arm before him into the chamber beyond.
            Ulee did not move, but stared at Raena with obvious expectation. She blinked a few times, nonplussed, before realizing that the servant was waiting for her to step through the door. It could not be helped, Raena would have to finish this journey by herself and hope to return unscathed.
            With tentative steps, Raena walked through the door and watched the boy close the door silently before turning back to her with a bow.
            “This way, please.” He motioned for Raena to follow him, never once making eye contact. It unnerved her, being treated like nobility. Or perhaps he felt uncomfortable around an Emotional, it was not an uncommon feeling to have and she could not exactly blame him. Knowing that someone could be in your head at any moment was an unnerving through. It did disappoint her, however, as she wanted to ask him the thousand questions that were a tempest in her head.
            Raena was so lost in her thoughts that she almost missed the room they were about to exit, via a door on the far left of the one they had entered. If she thought that the hallway had been intricate, it was nothing compared to the sophistication of this room. It was more of a vestibule than a room and was decorated with carvings and complex paintings on the ceilings and walls. While the area of the citadel with which she was familiar had been constructed out of blocks of granite, this room had no seams, only masses of exquisite artwork and silver leafing along the columns that lined the walls in six feet intervals. The ceiling had been designed with such detail that looking up Raena could have sworn she was staring into the actual sky on a lovely spring afternoon. It was breathtaking.
            A soft hem hem from the servant tore her eyes from the ceiling. With a blush of embarrassment she gave him an apologetic look –one that he probably missed because his eyes were still glued to the floor- and entered the room he bowed her through. This time, he did not follow.
            The door snapped shut behind her and her nose was instantly filled with the aroma of a homemade meal. A long ebony table stretched before her and was covered in fresh fruit overflowing from their silver bowls, a large golden brown bird of some sort sat in the middle surrounded by vegetables cooked to perfection. It was tantalizing and she found her mouth watering as she remembered all of the home-cooked meals she, her uncle, and brother had before the night she was taken. For a moment her mind was transported to their small kitchen in Marrow, the smell of freshly cooked vegetables overwhelming her senses.
            “You are welcome to anything you see.” A smooth voice swept over her from the now open door to her right. Her eyes snapped towards the man who had walked into the room. His black hair was streaked with gray and swept back from his face revealing two beady black eyes that gazed at her greedily. A mustache decorated his upper lip and that, too, had a considerable amount of gray. He wore an expertly made doublet with silver and blue embroidery covering every inch of the rich velvet. His knee-high black boots covered the lower part of white breeches that contrasted his black-clad torso.
            “Don’t be so stiff, Raena.” He said with a sly smile, “After all, your mother and I have quite a history. Please, take a seat.” he stood behind a chair and motioned for her to sit in it. Unable to find a good excuse to decline, Raena went to take the seat and was made progressively more uncomfortable as he politely pushed her in when she sat. He took the chair directly across the table from her and began helping himself to a few pieces of fruit from the platter before him. With a smile, he popped a grape between his lips and washed it down with a dainty sip of wine from the silver and jeweled cup before him.
            “Eat, please.” he motioned politely to the large expanse of food, “It would be rude to the cook if you obstinately refrain from at least trying the pheasant.”
            Raena shook her head and said, “I’m sorry, I try not to eat animals.”
            “Is that so?” his black eyes widened in surprise, “I apologize for not inquiring before asking you here. Well, no matter! There are plenty of vegetables and fruit on this table that I am certain you will find something to your liking. Leeks?” he held up a silver platter full of expertly steamed greens. Unable to decline, she accepted the platter and scooped a few of the vegetables onto her plate but did not touch them.
            The Magister raised his eyebrows and forked a few leeks himself, holding them before him like a toast. It was apparent that he would not be content until she took a bite herself. Picking up a silver fork to the left of her plate, Raena stabbed a leek onto the end and nodded toward the Magister before placing it on her tongue at the same time he smiled and did the same.
            “Magnificent, are they not? The kitchen staff could make gravel taste marvelous. Of course, we wouldn’t actually eat rocks, of course.” He chuckled, eyes dancing with the mirth of his own joke. Raena could only manage a half smile in return that did not reach her eyes.
            “I’m sure you’re curious as to why I’ve brought you here,” mused the Magister as he continued to scoop different foods onto his plate, “But business should surely be postponed until after we have eaten. I would hate to ruin a glorious meal, wouldn’t you?”
            Raena could only bring herself to smile slightly at his question and placed another leek into her mouth.
            “Oh, but you must try this!” the Magister exclaimed pushing another plate towards his guest, either blissfully unaware of her discomfort or simply determined to ignore it. She learned very quickly that when he passed her a plate he expected her to try it and would not move on to the next phase of the luscious dinner if she refused. It was as if he were trying to make her feel at home by shoving food down her throat. All the while, he chattered on about unimportant mundane things from the weather, to the architecture of the citadel. Each moment that passed left Raena wishing more and more to disappear into her chair and skip the rest of the evening so she could wake up the next morning in her small cot with the four other slumbering girls around her.
            “— have been ill, I am sorry to hear that.” Raena blinked twice before realizing that she had stopped paying attention to the Magister’s rambling and had missed a direct comment.
            “Eh…I’m sorry?” she inquired, hoping that she did not infuriate him with her lack of attention.
            “I said,” he articulated, “that Ulee has informed me that you have been ill. It seems to be bad enough that she has requested of me to bend the rules so that doctor Aeniel may treat you.” He rested his chin on his hands and gazed intently at his dinner guest, “If you ask me, she’s a giant stick in the mud.”
            Ulee, my dear! It seems that your health may be hindering your hearing!” she could not tell if he was joking or hiding exasperation behind mirth, “Anyways, I of course immediately told her it was fine. He is quite the talented young man and I am just astounded that he and his brother are such different characters. You would agree, I assume? Having met them both, of course.” This, at last, brought them to something that the Magister had wanted to discuss with her.
            “I’m not sure, I have only just met Soren’s brother.” She made sure not to seem too friendly with Aeniel. If the Magister suspected anything it would lead them both into trouble. Although, it had not been a lie; she and Aeniel had just met even though they both had something deeply in common.
            “Yes, of course. I’m sure you will see the stark differences after knowing Aeniel longer. You know, the brothers have both served me faultlessly for some time now. However, after liberating you into my custody Soren seems to have…well, to put it crudely, vanished. We’ve heard neither head nor tail of him which quite surprises me.”
            “You are wondering if I know anything about where he’s gone?” Raena asked blatantly. She had been playing games with this man for over an hour and did not welcome the thought of staying any longer than need be.
            “Clever girl! I see Mari in you, most certainly.” A grin stretched across his features, splitting his face in two. She assessed that he had once been a very dashing young man, but now age showed on his face and in his hair. She also realized that she had misjudged him. Before her did not sit some blundering fool, he knew what he was doing and this act he put on for her was nothing more than that; an act. Whether or not it was to exude the air of frivolity and lull her into a false sense of security, or simply to make her feel at ease she did not know. All that she knew was treading lightly was a must about this man; he was no fool.
            “Yes yes, I was hoping…but…no, surely he would not have told you. Silly me thinking it…”
            “How did you know my mother?” Raena blurted out before she could stop herself.
            “What was that?” he asked innocently, eyes swiveling back to stare at her. “Oh! Your mother. Well, we have quite a history as I’m sure you’ve heard.”
            “I haven’t” her reply was blunt, “I’m sure that you know she died before I was old enough to remember anything about her.”
            “Hmmm, yes…a most unfortunate circumstance. You see, she was quite a powerful little woman. When I learned that she had children, well, I couldn’t very well stop looking for you! To think that perhaps her daughter, you, might possess even an inkling of that power what it would do for my cause. Your mother seemed to think that I was the bad guy, but how could that possibly be so when I can create such beautiful things!” He waved his arms around in a grandiose manner at the carvings and murals that covered the walls and ceilings of his dining room. Raena’s eyes narrowed. Did he think her a complete fool?
            “I was under the impression, sir, that politics and architecture do not go hand-in-hand. I am sure that my mother disagreed with your methods and wished to remain neutral.”
            “Perhaps, perhaps, but really I feel she was misinformed. You’re an intelligent young woman, I’m sure that you will get it right! After all, I did leave your family alone after I got you. Soren seemed certain that your brother had not even the slightest sign of the gift, and I know for a fact that your ‘Uncle’ is not a blood relative and therefore irrelevant.” Raena blanched, unable to respond. This man was beginning to show his true colors and using her family was a terrific way to force her into compliance. If he truly had left Alik and Uncle Gand alone that meant he was expecting a favor in return or else he would go back and finish what he had started. The Magister was backing her into a corner using those dearest to her as bate.
            “What do you want from me?” she whispered, eyes wide and anxious as she tried to keep her voice from shaking.
            “Want?” he laughed heartily, “My dear, all I want is your compliance. Now, that’s not too much to ask is it?” she did not respond but remained silently starting at him from her seat across the table.
            “We have ways, of course, to force people into compliance, but it is an awfully messy business and sometimes has undesired consequences. But I won’t get into the technical issues of our current projects.” His eyes hardened, “I would hate to have to fix you.”
            A long pause followed his last words and Raena felt her heart quicken in her chest. She had been right in changing her opinion of him and slowly began to realize just how deeply encompassed by the Magister she really was. If Aeniel did not find a cure without Soren, they would have more obstacles than she originally calculated. Perhaps the Magister already knew that he would try to escape and was trying to frighten her into convincing him otherwise? After all, he had already lost one brother. The steaks were raised and she was becoming more and more fearful of the consequences should they fail. Death seemed punitive compared to the prospect of having her mind altered so she would become a droid for the Magister.
            The rest of the evening passed in an uneventful whirl, Raena’s mind still lost in the memory of all he had said. It appeared that after his threats he had reached the end of what he deemed ‘important’ information and concluded the evening shortly-there-after. Standing, he took her arm and escorted her back to the hallway where she had entered -the same servant waiting to receive her- commented on how lovely she looked, kissed her hand, and expressed his desire to dine with her again.
            Her head spun as she walked back through the intricate entranceway and back into the tunnel where the servant bowed and left her to walk back to her room in the cover of darkness. Nothing seemed easy anymore. Now, with the full knowledge that the Magister was not the bumbling idiot she had been falsely led to believe, finding a way out of this hell hole seemed impossible. He had his many watchful eyes on her and she shuddered to think he might know the exact moment that she sneezed, or turned over in her sleep. It had taken him years to track down her mother and when he finally had her, she was dead. Now that he had her daughter it seemed he would take no chances.
            Yet, he had mentioned unfortunate consequences regarding the process to ‘fix’ a human. Was it possible that he was afraid of what it might do to her? Would it diminish her ability, or perhaps make her go mad?
            Halfway to her room the convulsions began once more, starting in her fingertips and slowly spreading to her whole body. Her limbs like an earthquake, she stumbled her way to the closest wall and inched towards the infirmary. Unsure how long it actually took her to reach the doorway, she saw the three stones flash momentarily before the door swung inward and she pulled herself through, sinking down onto the floor with her back pressed against the cold, hard, granite. Her mind was so lost in uncertainty due to her meeting with the Magister, coupled with the strain of an attack, she barely noticed Aeniel enter from his adjoining room.
            While she shuddered he pulled her into his arms and gently wiped the sweat from her brow as they both waited for the attack to subside. When it had finished, Raena could not bring herself to move and curled up in his embrace, turning her face into his chest to hide silent tears that seeped from the corners of her eyes. She was lost. How could she possibly find a way out of this place with a body that could barely stand on its own for a few short hours? How could she possibly do anything other than waste away on a sickbed until the attacks became so traumatic that her heart simply burst in her chest?
            With thoughts of doubt, self loathing, and fear, Raena drifted to sleep while Aeniel’s warm hands brushed the hair from her face and whispered encouragement into her ear.
            That night she dreamed of her mother.

Chapter IX

            “Raena, we’ve tried every antidote I can think of.” Aeniel agonized earlier one morning a few weeks later. He sat in a nearby chair with his head buried in his hands in defeat. They had tried, day after day, different concoctions in the hopes they might stumble upon something. He had even tried to recreate the same poison Soren had come up with, but could not seem to locate the correct ingredients to turn anything the same brilliant violet color. The closest he had come had been a deep plum, but none of the antidotes to cure that mixture seemed to do anything other than slow down the time between attacks.
            Raena wanted to comfort him but could not bring herself to move closer without overstepping her boundaries as a patient. Well, even she knew that the past few weeks had taken them beyond simply being professional acquaintances. He was a friendly man, it was difficult not to become friends with his gentle smile and kind disposition. The Magister had certainly been correct in stating how different the brothers truly were. Unlike Soren, Aeniel was the type of person who would be content with a quiet life. He did not go seeking excitement but preferred manageable stress in certain situations. Soren on the other hand, traveled from place to place and never settled for very long. He had seemed fearless and strong minded on a completely different level than his brother. Not that Aeniel was closed-minded, quite the contrary, he was just less likely to take unneeded risks without someone pushing him forward.
            “You found something to make them occur less often,” Raena reminded him gently, shifting in her seat, “That has to count for something.”
            “They’re just preventative measures.” He explained, “Valerian root and Passionflower won’t help forever and aren’t tackling the actual problem. They both just help to calm overstimulation in your brain but soon whatever Soren used is going to be too strong for any of that to matter. You’re still drinking the teas I’ve given you three times daily?”
            Raena nodded before saying, “It makes me ridiculously drowsy though. I guess it’s not bad given the alternative, but it is more than a little frustrating.”
            “Mmm…” he mused, turning his head in his hands to look at her, “At least you’re getting more sleep, too. The bags under your eyes are starting to go away. I’m assuming you haven’t been woken recently from an attack?”
            “Um…maybe once a week a small one sneaks in?” she contemplated, trying to recall the last time she had been rudely jarred awake, “It really hasn’t been that bad.”
            “Except that the big attacks have gotten worse.”      
            “I didn’t notice.” She said in mock seriousness and could not help but laugh when he shot her a scathing look. “What? If you tell me I can’t find some humor in this I think I might just keel over tomorrow.”
            “That’s not funny, Raena.”
            “Oh hush, you’re not the one falling over and getting nose bleeds because your brain’s been addled by some mysterious violet solution. But honestly, if I only got a drop of this stuff, what would have happened if I swallowed the whole thing?”
            “All of the blood vessels in your brain would have burst, more than likely. It probably would have been instantaneous and you wouldn’t have felt any pain.”
            “Hmmm, sounds like the better option. I’m kidding, I’m kidding!” exclaimed Raena, waving her arms before her to ward off the attack he unleashed with his eyes. She fell silent, pondering, while shooting glances at Aeniel who seemed to be having some sort of mental breakdown. It seemed silly to her that he felt such a personal failure with her condition. She realized that she really should not have been surprised because they were twins, and were probably closer than most siblings just because of that bond.
            “You never told me,” she started tentatively, “how you came to be a doctor here, at the Magister’s citadel. I can’t imagine you came willingly.”
            Aeniel sighed before answering, “No, not willingly. Soren got caught up in a bad crowd, and I mean ‘bad’ as in people who worked for the Magister. He started making money on the side running errands, doing favors, finding people…when he realized who he was working for it was too late. The Magister’s men came to our home, took both of us about five years ago. Soren was put on ‘search duty’ and they took my medical training and put it to use here, in the Emotional wing.”
            Raena let out a sympathetic breath, “He didn’t like that one bit did he?”
            “Not at all. For a while he listened but, it seems the Magister felt he had stepped over the line one too many times…maybe he found out that Soren had found you but had no intention of disclosing your location.”
            “So….it’s my fault he was fixed.” Her eyes were downcast as the realization of why everything ended up the way it had washed over her. “He would have been fine if I hadn’t be involved….”
            “Raena, hey, no that’s not it at all.” Aeniel interrupted turning towards her and putting both hands on her shoulder, “Soren had always caused issues for the Magister, it was only a matter of time—“
            “But I instigated it!” she insisted.
            “Raena.” He told her sternly, “I know my brother a lot better than you could have in the few months you were friends. He’s always been a troublemaker so to speak, always spoken up when he should have kept his head down, and it was going to get him into trouble sooner or later. I’m honestly surprised it took the Magister this long to get fed up. So don’t blame yourself. Understand?”
            Raena nodded sullenly, unable to completely do what he asked. The more she looked at it the more she could not ignore that fact that Soren had been fine before meeting her. And she had offered the information about her mother. Without it she would have just been another random Emotional and perhaps all of this would have been avoided.
            “We have to find him.” She blurted out unexpectedly.
            “Who?” Aeniel asked, eyes wide in question.
            “Soren. If you can’t figure out what’s causing this…what poisons he mixed together…then you’re right, I’m just going to end up dying. It’ll take longer with the herbs and treatments, but the result will be the same.”
            “What are you saying? Soren could be anywhere. I don’t even know where to start.”
            “You’re his brother, aren’t you? His twin no less.” She pressed, “Don’t you have some special bond or something you shared in the womb? I’ve heard stories about it.”
            Aeniel did not answer but he pursed his lips. Raena wished she could see what he was thinking, but was unsure how much she should press and her abilities did not work inside of the infirmary walls. It was convenient for him, inconvenient for her. Having spent most of her time with him over the past few weeks she was almost positive that he was keeping something from her. He was keeping his eyes determinedly glued to the floor and seemed more than a little unwilling to say anything.
            “We…do…” he remarked with obvious effort.
            “Do what? Have a bond?”
            He nodded and said, “I’ve been trying not to think about it too much…he’s…well…I think he’s cut me off.”
            “Cut you off?” her eyebrow raised in perplexity. “Hey, I’m not going to go running to the Magister about this.” She added sensing his inner struggle. “So…are you two…Emotionals?”
            “Emotionals?” his head shot up and a mirthless chuckle escaped his lips, “No, no, no, we’re not Emotionals. Just, usually we know when the other’s in trouble, or have a general idea where the other is…I’ve been trying to see if I could sense him or something after running into you but no such luck. I don’t think he’s dead….I’m certain I would have felt that—“
            “Wait, wait…” she interrupted, “You really have this bond? Aeniel do you know what this means!?” in seconds she was on her feet, excitement exuding from her every pore. “If you can Sense him we can find him! We can get out of here and look for him and get this stupid poison out of my system! Why haven’t you told me before?”
            “It’s not that simple!” he exclaimed, raising his arms in a desperate attempt to make her understand. “He’s shut me out, cut me off, I haven’t been able to get anything from him, let alone a location. Not to mention the idea of escaping from this place would be suicide!”
            “Aeniel, please don’t tell me that you’re actually happy here.” She pleaded. Kneeling she took both of his hands and forced him to look into her eyes.
            “That’s not the poin—“
            “Isn’t it? If we don’t find Soren I am going to die. If I stay here I won’t find him, and without you I could search and search and never get anywhere close. I need you, Aeniel.”
            Silence followed her words and she could see his fighting with himself. She could tell that he agreed with what she was saying, but action was always harder than words and he was not naïve enough to ignore the risks.
            “I….I think curfew is about to sound. You should return to your room.” He remarked standing quickly and breaking hand contact. Raena stayed still, distressed by his reaction and fighting back angry tears that burned behind her eyes. Blinking them away she stood and dipped into a sarcastic bow that the rules denoted for someone of higher rank.
            “I apologize for stepping over my boundaries.” Her words dripped with disdain as a reflection to the rejection she now felt. “When I find Soren I’ll tell let him know you’re thinking of him.” Without another word she turned on heel and exited the infirmary into the crisp night air. Even the fireflies irked her as she walked across the stone paths towards her room. If Aeniel would not come with her, she knew two girls who would: Kaity and Karrol. They had become fast friends since her arrival and had mentioned wishing they could leave this place.
            And Raena had an idea on how to do it.

“No way…” Kaity’s eyes were wide after Raena finished explaining her plan, “You really think that’ll work?”
            “I think you’re both crazy.” Karrol frowned from her seated position on her own cot. “Both barking mad. You realize that if this doesn’t work that we’ll all probably get killed?”
            “Not killed, just fixed.” Raena replied practically, “The Magister isn’t stupid enough to execute three of his Emotionals, especially three who have almost passed the exams to be put out in active duty.”
            “Speak for yourself.” Kaity scoffed, “I’m nowhere near ready to be put out on the field.”
            “Yeah, she passed out again last session.” Her friend grinned, “She likes to break a lot.”
            Kaity glowered for a few minutes but could not seem to find any retort. Once an Emotional withstood a month’s worth of sessions, she or he was ready to be put out on patrol. Raena had very nearly passed this exam, having never passed out since arriving, but Kaity, it seemed, had a bit more of a struggle.
            “I do think that it will work.” Raena encouraged in a soft voice, glancing towards the door in case their room leader entered and overheard their plan. “And think of it this way, the worst thing that’s going to happen is the ‘fix’ us a bit sooner than they would normally. They don’t put an Emotional into the field unless they’re sure they’ll follow orders without question. Karrol, you and I are going to get there soon enough so why not try it? And, when Ulee brings us all in we can easily overpower her regardless of how expansive her abilities are.”
            “Can I remind you that this is insane?” Karrol reiterated, but her brown eyes glittered mischievously.
            “But you can’t ignore that it’s clever.” Kaity added, “….how can we get into the hallway though? Let alone get a key that’ll open the doors to the main citadel and then sneak past the guards….” Her voice dropped considerably as she realized just how complicated this plan would have to be.
            “We’re all dead…” she muttered, flopping onto her back. The springs on her cot argued in protest.
            “No, not if you do everything I’ve told you.”
            “I’m in.” Karrol grinned, “It’s a crazy, ridiculous plan…but I think it could work.”
            Kaity sighed but nodded, “Me too. I don’t want to wait out the rest of my life  locked up in a dormitory getting migraines every day because my brain is too small to cope.”
            Raena fell asleep that night with a small smile on her lips. The prospect of having others there to help her plan reach fulfillment was encouraging and helped to eliminate the ache Aeniel’s decision left in her heart. Weeks of spending time with him made her feel as if he betrayed her on the deepest level by his reaction. She wished that she did not blame him, but could not lie to herself. No one other than himself kept him from helping and the blame could go nowhere else. He had turned his back and Raena could not help but take it personally, especially when he was the only one in the entire kingdom who could find Soren and possibly convince him to divulge a suitable antidote. It hurt and she tried to ignore the pain she felt. Had she not learned her lesson after being abandoned by the first brother? Perhaps they were more similar than she imagined. After all, Soren had tried to kill her to keep her from the Magister and now Aeniel was washing his hands of her before she died in the process to escape. In her upset she saw a clear similarity between the two actions, even if it did not make much sense.
            She had been trapped in the Magister’s hands for nearly three months and did not plan on staying any longer than she must. With her illness progressing towards death, she could not remain idle just because Aeniel decided to get cold feet. No, she needed to at least find Alik before her final days. If Soren was impossible to locate, seeing her brother would be acceptable and without Aeniel she had no hope to find him.

“How is your meal?” the Magister asked a few evenings later over another dinner he had prepared for Raena. After a few meetings like this she became more prepared for the night’s events and found it much more relaxed –if she could call the butterflies in her stomach relaxed. He was proving to her that he held her entire life in his hands, this much she understood. As long as he could call on her and be confident of her arrival, she would remain his prisoner. Frequently he called upon her, and she became accustomed to entering her quarters to find the same decorative dress on her bed and understood where she would dine that night.
            “Wonderful, as always.” She replied, raising her glass slightly in solute to his chef’s fine cuisine.
            “I am ever so glad.” Tonight, unlike before, he did not touch any of the food but insisted that she eat regardless. In fact, he continuously passed her plate after plate piled with a mixture of vegetables and fruit. Since their first meeting no animals graced the table except for a small amount allotted for him. He never pressed her to eat meat, but continuously had her try everything from exotic kiwi fruit to a strange bulbous red vegetable she had never seen before in her life.
            Tonight, however, he did not touch any of the food but watched her in quiet contemplation from across the table. His chin rested lightly against his intertwined fingers and his eyes never left her face even when he grabbed another plate and passed it across the table. It was bizarre and unnerving but she tried to hide her discomfort.
            This room, like the infirmary, had something in it that blocked her abilities so she could never tell what the Magister himself was actually feeling. Tonight, Raena felt as if his intentions were slightly different than his usual show of dominance. She could not shake the cold grip of fear that grasped her spine.
            “I am pleased to hear your progress has improved since last we met.” He began with an air of false pleasantries, “Aeniel’s reports state the attacks have lessened since our last meeting through infusions of passionflower and valerian root?”
            “Yes.” She answered with a forced smile, “They’re brewed into tea three times a day. It helps calm the nervous system I’ve been told. It seems to be having a positive effect.” She did not add that it was far from a proper cure. If the Magister wished to believe she was on the road toward recovery she would let him think it. After all, she had no plans on staying much longer in his clutches so it would not matter what he thought.
            “Interesting…” he mused, his beady, black eyes never leaving hers, “I find it…intriguing…that a neurological condition has no effect on your mental state.”
            “Pardon?” she asked nonplussed.
            “Or perhaps it has.” His mouth turned into a slight frown and his cordial façade faded from his middle-aged face.
            “Sir, I don’t understand…”
            “Oh, I think you do, Raena.” The cold clutch of fear grew and she found that her palms began to sweat and her fingers were beginning to tingle and turn numb. This was not a usual meeting. It was all she could do to keep her face pleasantly blank. She wished she could say that she had no idea what he meant, but the soft voice in the back of her head reminded her continuously of the plan she was preparing to implement.
            “I…I do?” she asked, forcing her face into what she hoped was a convincing portrayal of confusion.
            The Magister tilted his head back and laughter exploded from his mouth. When Raena thought that he would stop, his laughter only grew louder until tears formed on his dark lashes that he brushed away from the flick of his finger. Each second that passed caused Raena’s fingers to grow colder and she could only hope that the sweat on her palms had not managed to appear on her brow where the Magister would notice. She wanted to leave, to walk out before he revealed whatever it was he wanted her to admit.
            “If you insist on playing this game then, my dear…” he commented after his laughter died down and he waved his hand. A servant materialized from the shadows and disappeared into the far door. The Magister’s eyes locked once more on Raena’s and his smile grew.
            “Getting nervous, are we? Well, hopefully I can jog your memory and then you can tell me everything…” as he spoke, the door opened again and cries of distress and struggle reached Raena’s ears before she saw what the cause of the commotion. Before she had time to ask him any questions, two male soldiers entered the room. Between them they held a petite young woman with unkempt brown hair that had fallen from a tight knot at the nape of her neck from struggling. She fought but it was nothing against the vice like hold the soldiers had on her.
            “Raena, Raena I’m sorry!” she sobbed.
            “Kaity!” Raena went to stand but felt her legs wobble beneath her and she crashed back into her chair. She could not understand what was happening and stared wildly around the room until her eyes landed on the Magister who watched her with amusement.
            “Potent, isn’t it?” he mused, standing and walking over to where Kaity sobbed silently in the soldier’s hold, “I had you food sprinkled with some Solanum Dulcamara. Bittersweet nightshade.” he added when his first proclamation had no effect, “Not too much, of course, that could kill you and I most certainly wouldn’t want that. Don’t worry, it wears off over time and I didn’t put that much.” He reached forward and grabbed Kaity’s chin with his hand, forcing her head upward.
            “Now, Kaity is it? I would like you to tell your friend everything that you told me.”
            “Raena, Raena I’m so sorry, I didn’t have a choice, they have Karrol…” her words became lost behind a sheet of tears and she could not continue. Sensing her inability to talk, the Magister waved at the soldiers again.
            “Take her to Madam Ulee if you would.” Immediately they left, dragging the hysterical woman with them. She did not fight anymore, seeming to have given up after seeing Raena. The door closed and the Magister leaned against the wall beside it and smiled crookedly at his guest.
            Raena had not wanted to admit that he knew, but now she could not help feeling panicked. She had not thought they would be caught, not now, not before they had even implemented their plan. The Magister had been one step ahead of her and that was more terrifying than anything she could have imagined. She was caught in a nightmare from which she knew there was no waking.
            “It seems that, Miss Kaity was found in the kitchens in an attempt to smuggle knifes out. She was, unfortunately, spotted by one of the chefs who immediately reported it to me, especially when, shortly after, your other roommate…ahh…Karrol was her name I believe, trying to force her way through a room strictly prohibited to everyone but Madam Ulee herself. Now, can you imagine my surprise when they both had the same story? Can you imagine what they said?”
            Raena shook her head, determined to remain defiant until the end.
            “They both said you were behind it. Of course, I really shouldn’t be surprised, you are your mother’s daughter after all. Now, that leaves me with a decision to make. As I’m sure you’ve already figured out, your two friends are off to be fixed. But what should I do with you?” He started paced, his finger tapping his lower lip as he pretended to contemplate. She did not need her abilities to know that he had long since determined what he would do. “I could send you along with them, but I think that falls too close to the plans you originally made. Or am I mistaken that you and your two friends had planned on being brought in together and the three of you could then overpower Ulee? Clever, but I am far clever than you.” He stopped pacing when he stood directly beside her chair where he knelt and grasped her chin roughly in his hands.
            “You thought I was a fool.” He hissed, fingers tightening painfully around her jaw, “You will learn soon enough what happens to those who cross me.” He released her and went to the same door which he opened and ushered in another soldier.
            “Take her to block seven.” He barked, “Leave her until further orders.” With a slam the door closed behind him as he left and the soldier moved forward to collect his charge. Raena wanted to move, wanted to kick and fight but found her limbs were lead weights and any movement took more effort than it was worth. Instead, she opened her mouth and screamed as loud as she could. She shouted until her throat was raw as the man threw her over his shoulder like a sack of flour and carried her out into another hall and down stone steps.
            Her voice echoed painfully through the hallways and, at the same time she shouted, she opened her mind in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, she might be able to reach Aeniel. As they continued down the dark stairways towards her holding cell, Raena realized that this was it. Without outside help she would never leave this dungeon without conceding to the Magister’s wishes. Her only hope rested with Aeniel.
            But she could not even being to hope that he would come, even if her mental cries reached him. He had chosen his side. She was alone.

Chapter X

            Time passed in a blur and soon Raena could say with any confidence whether or not it was morning or night. Block seven was abandoned except for her and there were no windows to help circulate the air. It smelled like stale urine and filth which made her gag when she was first brought in, but now she was so accustomed to the smell that she barely noticed its presence at all. The door was made from solid wood and would not budge against any force she herself could exert upon it. Instead of making progress, she only managed to dislocate her shoulder which she, painfully, had to put back in place herself.
            No guards patrolled, no one came to give her food or water, and soon her tongue swelled between her teeth and her strength left her. Common knowledge told her that humans could not survive long without water and she was sure the Magister understood this as well. It helped keep her spirits from completely failing as she sat in the corner of the dark room, unable to even see her hands before her face. Soon enough someone would have to come and give her something. Unless…
            She tried not to think about what might happen if the Magister had decided that this would be her death sentence. It was hard enough keeping herself from breaking down into tears each time she opened her eyes and was unsure whether she was still dreaming or simply unable to gather herself in the darkness. Every sound was amplified as the days passed and her body adjusted to its loss of sight in her windowless prison. She could detect where mice and rats scurried across the cold stone simply by hearing the scampering of their claws. The soft drip of some liquid echoed rhythmically outside of her door and beyond her reach and sometimes the window would whistles through the halls, reminding her that there was an outside world somewhere beyond her stony cell.
            Time and time again she found herself walking the perimeter of her miniscule room which was just wide enough that she could lay flat on the floor and touch one end with her outstretched arms and the other with the balls of her feet. Twenty stone blocks made up the width of each wall and the door was positioned three blocks from the left edge of the room. She was not tall enough to gauge just how tall the ceilings reached, but even jumping did not provide any contact to the top of the cell.
            With each passing day her strength waned, aided by the attacks that started again with a feverish desire the moment she lost the infusions Aeniel had packaged for her teas. More often than not she would fall into unconsciousness after each attack subsided and woke with a damp, salty substance falling into her mouth which she could only assume was blood that started at her nose. Soon she welcomed the spare moments she had where shivers and seizures did not wrack her severely weakened body, even though her constant unconsciousness did nothing to help her concept of time. She knew, if nothing was done soon the attacks would become so close together that she would not wake up as one progressed to the next. The concoctions Aeniel created had subdued them, but even she knew that it would have progressed to such dire straits that she found herself experiencing alone in her prison. She just never thought it would come so quickly, nor in these conditions.
            Soon her tears dried before they even began to form in her eyes and she stared uncertain if her eyelids were open or closed as she could not tell in the pitch black that surrounded her day by day. Even her dreams slowly faded to darkness accompanied by sounds that she tried to differentiate but found herself thrust awake in distress when she could not figure out their origins. The rhythmic drip of water and constant scurrying of clawed feet soon became her lullaby and she curled into a ball in the corner and waited for something to happen.
            The day her solitude ceased she barely knew whether it were reality or dream. The light of a torch burned her eyes and she closed them to ward off the unwelcome change and willed herself to wake up and escape its painful glare. She then heard voices and still could not believe it was anything other than a dream to remind her of what she would never hear, nor see again.
            “You have twenty minutes. In that time I’ll return to fetch you.” The sound of clanking metal reached her ears and she shuddered. This was by far the worst dream she had had while being locked in this place. Metal scraping against metal irritated the rhythmic patterns to which she had become so accustomed and she pressed her hands to her ears hoping to block it out. She did not want this dream, she did not want to think that someone had come and then wake to find herself shrouded in darkness. This was her tomb, she had accepted it, and no one would come visit the dead.
            Another unwelcome down of wood scraping against stone made her press her hands tighter against her skull and the glare behind her eyelids became brighter with that sound. Everything was altered but she did not believe it and scrunched her eyes closed tighter.
            “Raena…” a sound breathed. Not the wind; no the wind never said her name. It said many other things in the darkness, but never her name.
            “Twenty minutes.” Another scrape, a clash, and the sound of screeching metal followed by rhythmic pounding that faded. The light remained.
            “God…Raena…” the sound appeared to be choking but she did not care. This was her tomb, how dare he try and interrupt the peaceful passing of the ill?
            A touch on her shoulder made her jump, a croak escaping her mouth as her eyes shot open and she tried to back further into the corner. The light was blinding but this pain was not something the dead could feel. Nor was it something she had ever felt in a dream. Slowly her senses began to return and she blinked feverishly as her eyes adjusted to the light that she had not seen in days. Hands reached out again and this time she did not fight them but allowed them to gently pull her into a warm embrace. Something was held to her lips and she felt a cool liquid splash against her tongue. Life-giving water flooded into her mouth and she choked, her throat still trying to remember how to swallow.
            The voice spoke soothingly and struck her back until the coughs subsided before offering the cup once more. Still supported by strong arms, she grasped the cup and drank deeply until there was nothing left. Finally, her eyes were focused enough that she could look up at the concerned face that gazed down at her.
            “A…Aeniel…” she croaked with a voice that had not been used for some time.
            “…Raena I’m so sorry. I didn’t know…I couldn’t….” she saw tears in his eyes and silently wished she had the strength to cry for she wanted nothing more than to let a deluge of relief coupled with fear wash over her. “I tried to come earlier but the Magister wouldn’t allow it. I was finally able to convince him that you would die without me.” His hand shook as he reached forward and brushed off some dried blood from her lip with his thumb, “Did they hurt you badly?” his hand snaked its way to her nose to check for the bone.     
            “N…no…that’s from…attacks.” Speaking was a chore. “They’re…worse.”
            “I brought some of the herbs.” He said quickly, reaching into his pack and pulling out some green leaves folded neatly in a linen cloth, “I don’t have any tea, but they should have the same effect if you eat them. I know they’re bitter.” But Raena did not complain. She took the herbs with shaking fingers and put them on her tongue, relishing the bitterness in her mouth. Nothing tasted so wonderful in her entire life and her stomach groaned in protest when she fed it nothing else.
            While she ate, Aeniel fished through his pack again, arms encompassing her fragile form as he searched, and pulled out something else. It took her a few seconds to realize what it was he dangled in front of her but soon realization dawned on her. Hanging from his fingers was a silver chain that sported a very large silver crescent that had eight different blue stones glittering on its curve. Raena’s mouth opened in shock as the glow of the torch made it sparkle as it turned hypnotically on its axis.
            “Aeniel…” she breathed, reaching up to touch it and make sure it really was there. “Aeniel…how…how did you?” she pushed herself up into a sitting position and gazed at him in wonder.
            “Kaity.” He murmured, “She fought the Magister’s mind control long enough to start a pretty big riot in the Emotional’s courtyard. She ranted and raved like a lunatic until all of those still themselves joined in. Ulee tried to break them up but Kaity ripped the key off of her neck. I just happened to be lucky enough to pick it up before that wench could figure out where it had gone.”
            “T..this means you’re…?”
            “Yes. We’re going to get out of here together. It was Kaity’s last attempt to give you your freedom and I’m done sitting by doing nothing. I’m sorry that I didn’t help you before…that I wasn’t there.” His eyes were filled with shame and remorse and she reached up and rested her cold hand against his cheek.
            “You’re here now.” She muttered in a husky voice. He reached up and grabbed her hand in his own giving it a determined squeeze.
            “We will find Soren together. And then we will find some way to bring an end to the Magister and his tyranny. With the key I can sneak in and out without needing permission. We can’t leave now…not before the Magister meets with you. He plans on doing that soon. After that I’ll come back and we’ll be gone before daybreak.” Shuffling around, he thrust his bag against the corner of the room and pressed a small orb into her hand. “This is a light orb,” he told her, “You just have to squeeze it and it’ll put forth a soft glow so you’re not sitting here in the dark. Sit in front of the pack.” He positioned her so it was hidden behind her thin frame, “I’ve put food and water in it so you can get back your strength.” The sound of the guards footsteps began to echo through the hall leading to her cell door.
            “I’ll be back.” He murmured, reaching forward and pressing his hand against her cheek, “It won’t be long.”
            The guard’s key turned in the lock and it turned with a rusty creak before the door swung open and Aeniel disappeared beyond it, turning back with one more plaintive look at Raena before it closed behind him and they both disappeared along with the light of their torches.
            With a shudder, Raena gave the small orb in her hands a squeeze and watched as a soft golden light filled the cell. A dry sob escaped her lips and she curled around the orb as she cried tearlessly, cradling her only source of light.

Just like Aeniel had said, a soldier came to collect Raena what seemed like a few hours after he had left. Although she had regained some of her strength simply from taking a few period gulps of water she had located in his pack, she was still weakened by both lack of nourishment and the continuing onset of the seizures
            The journey, and she could only describe it as such, from her cell to the Magister’s quarters was perhaps the most difficult thing she had done in years. Practice ten feet from her cell she found herself out of breath which then was tested even further when they began ascending the stairs. Halfway up, an attack decided to rear its lovely head and the soldiers had to hold her up to keep her from falling back down the stairs they had just climbed. Once that passed she tried to quench the blood that began dripping from her nose with her sleeve and was not surprised when the soldiers grew weary of waiting and scooped her up like a bride and carried her the remainder of the way.
            They set her down before the Magister’s room before knocking and pushing her through once it swung inward. The room was very much the same as the many times she dined with him, but the long wooden table stood empty with the Magister himself standing near a very large window behind the table’s head. When the door clicked closed, he turned and offered Raena a large smile without any surprise at her appearance showing on his face.
            “My dear, Raena. What pleasure it is that you could join me.” It was all she could do to keep still by the door. Her entire being wanted to race forward and tear her fingernails across his face, sink her teeth into his neck and watch him shudder as he bled to death on his floor. Instead, she clenched her teeth together, no longer afraid to let her displeasure show on her face.
            “I hardly find it a pleasure.” She scowled, attempting to ignore the ever growing fatigue that began tracing its way up her legs. Aeniel had not been able to smuggle in much and it had only been enough to keep her from collapsing completely. Dehydration was still a serious concern even if she had gotten use to her stomach’s painful protests.
            “Now, now” he chuckled, “Let us leave our animosity aside and grasp at the strands of a new day and new opportunities. Please, I can see how exhausted you are, have a seat.” He did not, however, gesture towards one of the cushioned chairs. Instead he had brought in a plain spindly chair, probably to keep the days worth of filth she had accumulated off of his expensive furniture.
            She wanted to refuse, but even her pride could not outlast her body and she sat heavily into the proffered chair.
            “I’m sure you’re quite thirsty.” He smiled, bead, black eyes glinting in the afternoon sunlight that streamed through the window. “Please, drink.”
            On command a servant stepped forward and placed a large pitcher of clear, sparkling water. After their last meeting Raena learned to be wary of everything this man might put in front of her and merely eyed the pitcher suspiciously. It would not help her cause if she drank some strange paralyzing herb again, or something that made her tongue loose enough that she would betray hers and Aeniel’s plans.
            “Drink.” The Magister urged, “On my honor it is not poisoned.”
            It was Raena’s time to chuckle darkly her hoarse voice a constant reminder of how badly she needed the water before her.
            “What honor?” she asked, still refusing to touch the liquid. Ignoring her body’s desires was possibly one of the hardest things she had to do. The water called to her and she clasped her hands tightly in her lap to keep from leaping forward and guzzling the entire thing.
            “If you’re that worried,” he stepped forward and poured himself a glass from the pitcher and drank deeply and sighed dramatically when her put the glass down. “Splendid.”
            Fears assuaged she could not resist any further and pulled the pitcher to her lips, not even attempting to pour it into a glass. The liquid was soothing balm against her scratchy throat. It was perhaps the most delicious thing she had tasted in years and she drank quickly while trying to keep the majority of it in her mouth instead of slipping out and winding its way down her cheeks. She could feel her strength returning, the headache behind her eyes instantly alleviated as her body began absorbing that life giving liquid. When the crystal pitcher was empty she placed it back on the table and looked up at the Magister who stood smirking from his position by the window.
            “Well, now that that is taken care of. I hoped that we would be able to talk.” He moved to the table and sat down opposite of Raena. Resting his chin on his intertwined fingers he paused and waited while the pitcher was replaced with a small plate of bread and fruit.
            “I am not an unreasonable man, Raena.” He informed her while reaching forward and taking a piece of her fruit and popping it into his mouth without being prompted. The way Raena had treated the water it seemed he assumed she would treat the food the same way. It did not take her long after to grab the food before her and try to keep some decency as she ate. “For instance, you are free to leave your cell anytime you are willing to compromise.”           
            “Compromise?” she asked after swallowing a particularly large chuck of bread, “What could you possibly consider a compromise?”
            “Hmmm” he mused and rested his index finger on his lower lip, “Your freedom from that cell, a warm bath, an extra key on your necklace that will offer you more freedoms within the citadel…” he paused and met her eyes pointedly.
            “And?” she pressed when he did not continue.
            “All I ask in return is your cooperation.”
            “Cooperation…” she repeated slowly, setting down the fruit she was about to put in her mouth, “And how would you gauge this ‘cooperation’?”
            “Naturally you would be monitored.” He conceded, “But you should know that I would much prefer your willingness, but I am not above forcing you should you refuse. This is your last chance to join my cause and escape that dungeon. I can’t imagine it is very comfortable.”
            “Hmmm…” she paused for dramatic effect, “Pass.”
            “Oh? Surely you would not object to considering my offer a little while longer over more food and water?”
            “Tempting.” She drawled, “But no. No I don’t think so.”
            A vein in the Magister’s temple twitched unpleasantly but he somehow managed to keep his face calm. It amused Raena to watch his cool demeanor slip as she pressed him, waiting for the moment that his composure would slip from his face.
            “Perhaps I haven’t made myself clear.” He began again after a few moments pause. A sugary smile was plastered onto his lips. “You, my dear, are in a difficult position to decline anything. You see, I have the power to have you locked away and forgotten until your bones have turned to dust.”
            “But you won’t.” she called his bluff, her sapphire eyes meeting his without hesitation or fear. “You see, you can’t force me to do anything. You yourself mentioned ‘unpleasant consequences’ regarding your controlling methods and you’re worried that it might do something to hinder your plans should you use it on me. You think that my mother’s power has been passed on to me and the prospect of losing that frightens you far more than any cage frightens me. This also means that you may lock me up, but you’ll never forget.”
            His smile turned into a snarl. She could tell that he hated being wrong and was prepared for the outburst that would follow any more of her baiting.
            “You test my patience.” He hissed.
            “And you test my honor.” She shot back, eyes never leaving his.
            “Then we shall see how another week in confinement treats you. Perhaps I also need to raise the stakes as well. After all, a game is never fun if there is never a twist.” Standing he opened the door and murmured something to one of the guards who came through and then gestured at Raena before turning to exit.
            “Until next time, my dear.”

If she had thought that surviving a week in confinement had hardened her to bare anything, the next few weeks proved her wrong. The cell was still shrouded in the same darkness that made her feel blind, but the Magister had indeed raised the stakes. Shackles were locked tightly around her arms forcing her into a standing position and making it impossible to move any further than a few inches from the wall to her back. Struggling caused the iron at her wrists to dig into her soft skin and it did not take long before she felt as if blisters began forming.
            It soon became very clear that a few hours in this position was torture enough and she could only hope that Aeniel stayed true to his word and would come soon. Her wrists felt damp beneath the shackles from where they chaffed at every slight movement she made. Each time her legs buckled from exhaustion her arms took the brunt of the force as she slumped forward. It did not take long before her entire arms had grown numb and, in the darkness, she had nothing to distract herself from the pain. Each second was agony, each minute and eternity.
            The water the Magister had graciously provided gave life back into her tears which streaked her face as she tried desperately not to scream. If only her arms had the ability to detach themselves from her torso she would be able to make it through however long it took the Magister to return this time. If she had been holed up in this cell for a week that had felt like years, she could not even begin to imagine how long this stretch would last and how much of her sanity she would retain. Each movement she made turned into painful stretching of muscles that began cramping until the constant strain on either her arms or her legs. The majority of the time found her slumped against the wall in a futile attempt to provide some relief. This did nothing but send chills through her as the walls were damp with some sort of condensation and, despite it being the tail end of summer, the stones were cold through her thin dress.
            Perhaps it was ironic, the difference her appearance had taken since a week prior. She still wore the same silk dress the Magister always required of her when they were to dine, but not it was covered in dirt that turned the woven threads black with grime. Even though Aeniel had wiped most of the blood from her face, one attack later covered her in another bloody film. The herbs he had brought her had helped, but she could feel their effects beginning to wane and with it came the seizures she had hoped to keep at bay as long as she possibly could.
            Nothing compared to the convulsions while the chains clanked and cackled. Each jerk tore deeper and deeper into her wrists, aided by her legs being unable to support her as they trembled beyond her control. It did not take long before she slumped in her chains and faded in and out of consciousness, breath coming in shallow gasps as if her lungs were being squeezed by some invisible hand. It felt as if her entire body were failing and she no longer at the will to fight it.
            Aeniel she thought desperately Aeniel come soon….come soon…. If the magister expected her to last out the week he had overestimated her physical strength.
            Time passed in clumps of consciousness and she groaned as gentle hands pressed against her cheeks, an inhale of breath when they felt the fever that wracked her already weak body, and the soft voice that seemed worlds away. Raena wanted to answer it, but she could not make out what it was saying other than inaudible mumbles. A quick shake of her shoulders only intensified the pain and she whimpered as her arms reminded her that she was still alive and shackled to the wall. Another bout of mumbling made her force her eyes into slits to try and see through the haze that seemed to cover her eyes. She could barely make out Aeniel’s figure and struggled through the mist in an attempt to hear anything he was trying to say.
            “—it is?” he asked and she gazed at him mystified. “—key—it is?” she caught snatches of it and shook her head as understanding dawned.
            “dunno…” she mumbled, “guard…had…”
            She heard him curse but could not completely understand why. Her entire body ached but she found that, with his support her breaths came in more evenly.
            “—back—don’t—old on—“ he pressed his hand against her cheek and gently lowered her back to her dangling position in the shackles and everything faded to black once more. The next thing she knew she woke lying on something warm and felt something brushing rhythmically against her wrists and tightened with each movement. Blinking she tried to focus her sight and saw Aeniel had returned and managed to free her from the chains and was now wrapping a crude bandage around her wrist where the shackles had cut deep gashes and sores. He was muttering under his breath and looked at her face when he felt her move.
            “Raena…” he breathed a sigh of relief upon seeing some life in her. “I was so scared. You’ve lost a lot of blood.” She did not completely comprehend what he had said but nodded just the same, soothed by the sound of his voice.
            “D…did…n’t think you w…were coming.” She stuttered trying to find her voice but still teetering on the edge of consciousness.
            “Of course I was coming.” He chided still working diligently on her wrists, “It took me an extra day, but I hadn’t thought the Magister was going to do something like this…” his word faded into a disgusted murmur and she realized that his explanation was more for himself than for her. She would have forgiven him the world if he had come three weeks from their last meeting. At last they would get away.
            “It’s not going to be easy…” he informed her, brushing her hair from her face and looking directly into her eyes which could barely focus on his concerned features. “I’m going to have to carry you, I don’t think you’ll be able to walk.”
            “I…I…walk.” She breathed and attempted to sit up which promptly darkened her vision and she slumped into his expectant hold. He cursed again and shifted her slight weight in his arms before standing. The arms that supported her back and knees were warm and welcoming and she rested her head against his chest.
            The soft ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum of his heart was peaceful and soothing after days of solitary confinement with nothing but the scurrying of rats to keep her comfortable. It reminded her of simpler times while, at the same time, reminded her that despite all of the hardships she was still alive. Aeniel’s heart was beating for her at this very moment and she could not even begin to express her gratitude. Without his caring hands she would have died before the Magister had played his next hand. It was hard to believe that such a calculating man had made such a terrible decision that would have lost him the one thing he seemed to covet. Raena could not even begin to understand his obsession. From the stories she had been told, her abilities nowhere touched those of her mother and she doubted that one day she would wake up and be any more talented than she already was.
            Before she realized they had moved she opened her eyes into slits and saw a staircase spiral downwards before her. Aeniel breathed heavily with the extra load she had forced upon him but he did not seem exhausted by it yet. The rhythm of his steps and his heartbeat sent Raena into a pleasant trance-like sleep that she had not been able to have in days. Her mind was so exhausted that she did not even have the strength to feel fear that they might get caught. At this point all she could do was appreciate that Aeniel had returned and was doing everything in his power to keep her from fading from this world just yet.
            “Thank you…” she whispered into his chest, not even sure if he would even hear her but certain that she needed to let him know.
            “Shhh,” he hushed her quietly, “We’re not out yet.” But he seemed to hold her a little tighter and she felt his heart quicken in his chest. Pressing her head against his warm body once more she closed her eyes and let the rhythm of his heart flow through her, giving her strength. His arms held her gently and she faded into unconsciousness while he risked his life to free her from the Magister’s hold. As she slipped into the darkness she had no doubts that when she woke they would be somewhere outside of the citadel walls and that much closer to finding Soren.
            Yet, even with that at the forefront of her thoughts, Raena knew that finding Soren was only the beginning of their worries. They would never be free as long as the Magister still held claim on the kingdom. Finding Soren was important for her life, finding a way to destroy the Magister was important for the world.

Part Two
Chapter XI

            Aeniel held Raena tightly against his chest and kept an attentive ear open to listen for her breathing. She was in rough shape and he would easily risk getting caught if it meant saving her life. The Magister had gambled and lost. Any more time locked up in that cell and her life would have been forfeit to the darkness in which she was kept. Perhaps he had underestimated just how ill Soren’s poison had made her? After all, she had even fooled Aeniel himself about the severity of her condition until he saw her a few days prior with blood caked on her face. With the addition of chains around her wrist and the seizures, it was no wonder she had very nearly bled to death by the slices the iron carved into her skin.
            It was alarming the difference three days had made since he had seen her last. It had been his intent to return the moment he learned the Magister had met with her, but that had been harder to gauge than he initially imagined. In the end he had arrive a day late and found her in the condition she was now in. If he were anything like his brother, Aeniel would have barged right into the Magister’s main quarters and hold a sword to his throat. Of course, it was at times like these that he was glad just how different they were.
            What he did know was that getting her safely out of the citadel was the number one priority with as much speed as he could muster. He had been a doctor long enough to know that without proper treatment she would not last very long.
            The spiral staircase that led upward from block seven came to an abrupt end, blocked by a solid wood door that Aeniel had entered by. Shifting Raena’s weight in his arms, he twisted his torso to reach the latch which, thankfully, was still unlocked. That meant that no one had come by and noticed the guard that slumbered unnaturally on the other side. He slid himself and his cargo through the door and closed it softly behind him. The guard was still blissfully asleep, head tucked in his arms on the desk before him, a mug on his left which now held the dregs of a potent sleep agent that, he realized now, he might have over done slightly. The guard did still appear to be breathing, but he would not be able to tell for sure unless he put Raena down which was not on his immediate agenda.
            Instead, he situated the keys he had taken from the unconscious man on the table near his hand. It would take longer for him to realize anything was amiss if things appeared to be normal.
            With a curse, Aeniel went back and grabbed the keys to go back and lock the door up to the cell block. Holding Raena and maneuvering was becoming increasingly difficult. Putting her down would be the easier option, but he was afraid of jolting her too much in her current state. So instead, he shifted her weight again and thrust the key into its hole and it turned with a sharp click before returning the key ring to the guard’s table.
            The small window in the guard room was darkened by night and shadows flickered eerily by the two torches that hung by the door where they would have to go next. Getting in had been fairly easy, but getting out would be no easy task. Beyond that door rested dangerous obstacles that stood in the way of freedom. He just hoped that enough people knew and trusted his word as a doctor that he would encounter little opposition. In a way, Raena being unconscious made it easier for others to accept his story. After all, it was common knowledge that the Magister did not want her dead and that was if they even recognized her. In her current state even he would not have thought that the injured woman in his arms was Raena, the Magister’s current obsession. Her brown hair had long since fallen from the tight knot on the back of her head and now hung in filthy tangles about her shoulders. In the week and a half that she had been locked up her cheeks had become sallow and deep purple bags seemed to be permanently tattooed under her eyes. Added on top of that was a layer of dirt and grime that made her pale skin two or three shades darker. All in all, it was a perfect disguise.
            Stepping quickly out of the next door Aeniel found himself in a long stone corridor that, by taking the door on the far right, would lead to the heart of the citadel and probably be their best bet to getting out. If they ran into any of the icy-eyed Emotionals their cover would be blown, especially if it happened to be Ulee.
            Each step he took towards their freedom he doubted what he was doing. It was all crazy. How could he give up his life so easily for the woman he held in his arms when he was not uncomfortable in this place. But that was a lie, and not a small one. The Magister’s command had destroyed his brother and soon enough it would eat at him until they would force him into compliance. In fact, he was surprised he had lasted so many years without any obvious missteps. Now, looking down at Raena’s drawn features, he realized that she had been the driving force to make him realize what it was he wanted to be remembered for. He did not want to be labeled a supporter, but nothing could save him from that title if he stayed in the citadel of his own free will.
            He could hear Soren’s voice growling in his head You stupid dolt! I can’t believe you didn’t see this coming, I mean come on! At least I’m fighting, even if it’s a losing battle. At least I can say I tried, unlike you, sitting pretty in the Magister’s palace. And the mental jabbing of his brother was completely true. Soren might be a hot headed imbecile at times, but at least he was out fighting for it, and why? This girl, so fragile in his arms, had touched both brothers with her spirit, her life, and her inability to give up even when fate seemed to stand in her way.
            Aeniel shook his head vigorously to squash the stupid images of Raena’s determined face that decided to flood his memory. That was not important, not when one misstep could destroy them both.
            The door stood before him and he pressed his hear against it and listened, trying to ascertain what he might meet beyond its solid frame. From what he could tell, nothing made a sound, but that did not mean it would be clear.
            Taking a deep breath, he pushed through the door, blue stones on the necklace he stole flashing in response to the lock and they were in the main hall of the citadel. Two guards stood by the main entrance both otherwise, as far as he could see, no one else stood in the way of the sweet night air and the outer wall. Now was the time he needed to act his way through. With Raena incapacitated in his arms, he had no way to fight and would not have tried even had she been walking beside him. He was in no way familiar with fighting. He preferred to take a more civil approach and chose to learn how to heal people rather than injure them. It seemed like the better option at the time, but now he was beginning to think that learning how to fight might not be such a bad idea.
            Of course, this was all decided before he knew he would be trying to escape the Magister’s citadel and had to get by soldiers to do it.
            With a deep breath, he started his rush towards the closed, ominous doors. Immediately the soldiers stood to block his way, hands hovering over their swords.
            “Hey!” a woman’s deep voice carried across the great marble hall. Aeniel did not stop until he stood directly before her and shifted Raena’s still form to draw attention to her condition. The soldier who had hailed him was taller even than him –and he stood nearly six feet tall– and he was immediately aware that her eyes were dark. Her companion, a young man who seemed more afraid than certain, did not sport the ice blue eyes either and Aeniel breathed an inward sigh of relief. There was some hope left.
            “I need to get through. She’s going to die without proper care.” His eyes were stern and he used all of his strength to muster a semblance of authority. If they thought he was in charge, most would forget to ask further questions. And the crescent key around his neck was proof of rank.
            “Who is she?” the woman asked leaning over and then tutted, “Damn…I didn’t think I was bringing people here to get like that.”
            “You know her?” Aeniel asked taken aback. He had not expected that, especially with guards who very rarely entered the Emotional’s quarters.
            “Course I do!” she replied hotly, as if deeply and mortally offended. “I brought her in after that bastard Soren caught her. Oh, my apologies.” She did not sound sorry. However, her observation skills were impressive enough that she knew Aeniel was not Soren.
            “So…what happened to her? She looks worse than after getting that brain-shock stuff they use to catch ‘em.”
            “I don’t have time to give explanations.” He was determined not to be side-tracked or confused by this woman’s apparent motherly interest in Raena. “If I don’t get through these doors soon, she is going to die.”
            The soldier’s eyes narrowed at this and Aeniel could see the clockwork cranking in her head. He was unfortunate enough to get stopped by someone intelligent and he hoped that the nervous sweat on his brow was not terribly noticeable. Then, she surprised him.
            “Hey, Malik.” Her eyes did not leave Aeniel’s, “I’m thirsty, get me a drink will you?”
            Mumbling, the young man sulked off into the shadows, but the woman neither moved nor spoke until the loud bang of a door being slammed shut reached her ears. She crossed her arms over her chest and eyed Aeniel and Raena skeptically before speaking.
            “I don’t want to know anything else.” She explained with hardened eyes, “It would get me killed if I knew. But, I’m guessing it’s not just this door you need to get by. C’mon then, don’t stand around like a blundering idiot, you’re not very good at keeping your composure and that stolen key of yours won’t do much to fool the others.”
            He opened his mouth in surprise, not sure what he wanted to say but certain he should say something. The woman held up her hand.
            “No. I told you I don’t want to hear anything else.” Turning, she lifted the latch of the main door and pushed it open, motioning that he should follow. Aeniel could hardly believe his luck and only hoped that she was really going to do what he was thinking. If she could get the main gate open…he could not even wrap his mind around what good fortune that would be. “Wait here.” She murmured motioning to the shadow of the wall. Moonlight filtered through the open outer gate and provided a nice patch of shadows where he rested against the cool granite and held Raena closer to his chest. If this worked…
            He held his breath and watched the soldier saunter up to the guard at the front gate. He could not make out what she was saying, but her hand motions spoke of some horrible disaster occurring inside the citadel. It took some persuading, but sure enough, they stood from their posts, saluted, and walked back into the doors where Aeniel had just exited. Once they were gone, the woman motioned for him to emerge and he quickly made his way to her.
            “That should buy you some time.” She pulled out a ring of keys and turned the lock in a small door built into the portcullis. “I wish you both the best of luck. And if you ever need a favor, call up Margo ok? You’re the first in a while looking to escape this place, but I’m glad you caught me and not some icy-eyed bimbos the Magister likes to call his cronies. Ok, ok, enough chatter. They won’t be gone long.” She pushed them through the door and locked it swiftly behind them with a clang.
            Aeniel could hardly believe his luck. Without this woman the chances of them actually getting out were slim to none, he was speechless with gratitude.
            “Oh save it!” she waved him on when he stood still for a few minutes gaping at her, “Damnit just go!” she did not have to tell him twice and he smiled deeply and turned, walking down the stone road towards the town just over the crest of the hill before him.

Unfortunately he seemed to have misjudged the distance from the Citadel and the town. By the time he entered until the outskirts, hours had passed and the sun was beginning to peak its head over the treetops. Raena had roused once or twice on the journey, but she was neither lucid in her thoughts, nor her actions. He was still unsure, but Aeniel thought that at one point she was convinced he was her brother Alik and that she was seven again. It was a little bizarre, but instead of chuckle it only made him worry. That she woke up at all was a good sign but her inability to comprehend where, or in what time, she was concerned him.
            What they needed was time, but the moment the Magister realized that they were gone they would have none. Unless, that is, he could find someone willing to hide them until she was well enough to travel. Considering the general widespread dissent against the Magistrate, Aeniel hoped that he would be able to find someone; if not, they were both dead. She was far too weak to travel any further for a while, but staying in a town so close to the citadel might be just as dangerous.
            There was a distinct possibility that the Magister would assume they had moved as far away as possible and only scan through the town. Aeniel would have to hope that this would be the case otherwise they would both face the consequences.
            It was far too early in the morning for there to be much movement and that suited Aeniel just fine. The fewer people he ran into would mean less of a trail for the Magister to follow. It was already later in the morning than he had hoped, but it would have to do. Now he would just have to find a place that would house them quickly and beg the forgiveness of the owner at their untimely arrival. By way of coin, Aeniel only had a few silver pieces in his pocket and hoped that it would be enough to pay for a room somewhere, or perhaps they would stumble upon some charitable people. That, unfortunately, sounded highly unlikely.
            As he walked through his eyes swept up and down the street reading the wooden signs that hung over the shops and sizing up different options. Thankfully there weren’t many and the lightness of his pockets made his decision for him. It might not be the most impressive inn, but it was a place where they could rest and recuperate.
            The cracked sign above the inn had a carved swan with a flask tucked in its wing and underneath was inscribed “The Drunken Flight” which clued Aeniel in to exactly what kind of people they hoped to attract. Standing before the closed front door he paused and wondered if he should enter through the front or try the back. It might draw less attention if they could sneak around back by way of a thin alley directly to the left of the inn. Holding Raena closer to his chest he squeezed his way between the two buildings, dodging a few busted crates that decorated the muddy ground, and soon exited on the other side. This was another thin alley, much roomier than the one he had just exited, but it did not seem to get much foot traffic; perfect.
            The back door had a crudely sketched swan on the back which allowed him to know for sure he was banging on the inn’s door. Unfortunately, banging forced him to shift Raena’s weight completely to his left arm which was immensely uncomfortable for both himself and, probably, for her as well. He still had to hold her up because she was still deeply unconscious and unable to support herself. Hopefully someone would answer his hailing soon.
            As if on cue, the back door swung open and a flustered looking woman with two beady black eyes glaring out at them from under a white nightcap. Her dress was askew which told Aeniel she had been forced awake by his incessant banging.
            “We’re closed!” she barked, a heavy accent making it difficult to decipher her words, “You can come back in a few hours and then we’ll see about helping you!” She went to close the door but Aeniel stepped forward and held it open with his free hand.
            “Please.” He begged, “Please we need a place to stay. My companion is very ill and I—“
            “I know you’re lot!” she shrieked, “Soldiers coming in here with all sorts of wild stories just to get their jollies when I let them in and then take everything I own. So get! Get going!”
            Aeniel blinked a few times in confusion until he realized that her assumption was due to the silver tunic he wore over black breeches. Anyone could easily mistake them for soldiers and, even though most of Raena’s silver dress was stained black, it was still obviously the Magister’s colors.
            “No!” he cried refusing to remove his arm, “You don’t understand. We’re not soldiers. Madam please, we’ve….” He paused, mind a chaotic mess. If he told her what they really were would she believe him? And if she did would she turn them in or pity them? He hated taking chances but could see no way around it. “We’ve just escaped from the Citadel. My friend here is an Emotional the Magister had locked up and I just barely got her out alive. If you don’t help us she is going to die.”
            “An Emotional you say?” she laughed heartily, “That’s certainly one I’ve never heard! You people are getting creative, you is!”
            “I’m not lying.” He was exasperated now. “What can I do to prove to you that I’m being sincere?”
            “You can go away.” She glared.
            Aeniel sighed, biting back a bitter retort that would most certainly not convince her of his innocence. Finally, he could see no other option and gently lowered Raena to the ground and began to untie one of the bandages around her wrist. Once the linen was removed he held it up for the woman to see the sores and gashes that were, undoubtedly made by shackles. He could see the woman’s eyes narrow but she refrained from commenting.
            “Does this look like something I’d make up?” he asked through clenched teeth. The bandages themselves were stained with her blood and the moment he took the bandage off the cuts began to ooze puss and blood again. “Will you help us or not?”
            The woman seemed to be at a loss. Aeniel could tell that she wanted nothing else than to just turn them away and be done with it, but some humane part of her brain fought with her common sense. Sure, housing them would bring nothing but trouble whether they were actual soldiers or refugees, Aeniel knew this. However, he hoped that she would choose the right thing to do and let them in.
            “Get in.” she muttered, eyes darting up and down the alley, “And be quick about it, boy. I don’t want no soldiers on my doorstep ‘cause you’ve been seen here.”
            Aeniel let out a sigh of relief and scooped Raena up in his arms again and slipped in through the inn’s back door. At that time, Raena stirred and shuddered. Her fever had spiked, he could feel it through the shivers that traveled from her legs to her finger-tips.
            “Alik….Alik I did…” she groaned, turning her head into Aeniel’s chest, “Just…just ask Uncle….he ate the…horse…”
            Aeniel had no idea what it was she thought she was saying, but it sounded more like a spattering of jumbled thoughts than any one coherent scene. If he could not find a way to lower her fever, and fast, she could very well slip into a coma and never come out. He had not risked his life for her so she would die the moment they were free. He would not let her give up yet.
            “She’s in a bad spot, eh?” she blustering innkeeper commented as she closed and bolted the door, “And right filthy. I’ll draw some water for a bath, it’ll have to be cold though, I’m not wasting the logs for someone who probably don’t got coin to pay.” Aeniel took a glance around the inn and realized that they had entered through the kitchen. A stone fire oven stood in the corner and a few wooden countertops had been built for both storage and surfaces where they could cook for their customers. Stairs leading downward, probably to a wine cellar, were to the right of the door and one wooden key stood untapped by the door. Chances were it had been brought up for the coming evening. Wooden mugs were drying on a rack by the keg along with some wood bowls and spoons for the porridge or stew that they would serve along with the drink. Surprisingly, everything seemed relatively clean.
            “Taiq!” the woman screamed up another flight of stairs, “Taiq get your lazy butt out of bed!” a few moments later a young girl raced down the stairs taking them two at a time. “Go fill the tub with water and pull out some of your sister’s old clothes, got it?” the girl nodded and fled from the room to do her mother’s bidding.
            “Thank you.” Aeniel told the woman sincerely, “I don’t know what we would have done if you hadn’t let us in.”
            “Don’t thank me, boy. I’m just doing what anyone with a heart would do. I can’t just let the poor girl go and die.” She paused, “And if she is an Emotional like you say…well…” Taiq entered again carrying two buckets of water that sloshed over the rim from the rhythm of her step. “Don’t spill it, girl!” she barked before turning back to Aeniel and the woman in his arms. “My daughter, Taiq.” She motioned toward the girl who had just disappeared into another room to empty the water into a tub, “She’s an Emotional too. If I turned you away I’d be hurting her just the same. We’ve got to stick together in times like this I reckon.”
            Taiq reentered the room and her mother ordered, “Keep some extras waiting, this one’ll need quite a washing.” She eyed her disheveled appearance with pity. “Bring her in here.” She lead the way into the washroom after Taiq had made three or four more trips with buckets of water.
            “Thank you, again.” Aeniel gave the woman a gracious smile and lowered Raena to the ground and began to unlace the back of her dress. A sharp smack to the back of his head made him yelp and turn to face the innkeeper who was glaring down at him.
            “What in heaven’s name do you think you’re doing.” She demanded wielding a long scrub brush which she branded like a weapon.
            “Ah…I thought I was going to get her cleaned up” he replied nonplussed.
            You will do nothing of the kind. You will get out of here until I tell you to come back in. She might be unconscious but I won’t go having you unclothe her like some sort of doll just because she’s sick and you think it’s appropriate ‘cause she won’t know.”
            Aeniel opened and closed his mouth in surprise. He honestly had not thought anything of the sort and, now that it was brought so blatantly to his attention, flushed, deeply embarrassed. For a few moments he had forgotten that Raena was, indeed, a woman and under her clothes she would have all of a woman’s parts.
            “I…I didn’t think.” He stuttered.
            “’Course you didn’t, you’re a man. Now get!” she shoved him towards the door, “Only women allowed in here until she right and ready.”
            “You’ll be careful won’t you?” he pleaded.
            “Do you think I’m daft?” Aeniel could feel the building offense he was staking against her and immediately shut his mouth before leaving the room. He leaned against the closed door for a few seconds and tried to control his breathing and reduce the redness in his cheeks.
            How could he have forgotten that she was a woman? It seemed a silly question, but he had been so engrossed in getting her well that he forgot the modesties that were her god given rights. What would he have told her when she woke in a different dress and cleaned up? The innkeeper was smart enough to consider Raena’s own embarrassment had she woken and realized that a man had undressed, scrubbed, and ran his hands all across her naked body. He felt like an idiot for not seeing it.
            Now, he found a vacant chair and sat down to wait for the woman and her daughter to emerge. It was all he could do. The next step would be to treat her fever which the cold water would hopefully help. Lost in his own doctorly thoughts, Aeniel leaned his head against the wall and dozed himself, dreaming of a vivacious woman with blue eyes like sapphires and brown hair that danced in the evening breeze.

Chapter XII

            “Hey. Boy.” A sharp prod in the shoulder jolted Aeniel out of his pleasant dreams. Before he even opened his eyes he felt something heavy pressing against his chest which turned out to be a blanket put there by someone after he had fallen asleep. Jerking awake he blinked up at the innkeeper’s scowling face.
            “Good, you’re up. She’s taken a turn for the worse.”
            He did not have to ask who and was on his feet seconds later following her back up the creaky steps and into a small room. The curtains had been drawn to block out the sunlight and a roaring fire on the grate alerted Aeniel that the woman had tried to sweat out the fever. It was sweltering in the tiny room, and Raena was being held down to a small mattress by two other girls as she convulsed. Aeniel was instantly by her side and felt her forehead which burned under his touch. The convulsions were obviously from the poisoning, but it did not help her condition at all. It did not take long before his training took over any incapacitating worry. He had to work fast if he was going to bring her out of this.
            “What is your name?” he asked the innkeeper, filtering through all of the remedies he could use.
            “Margery, I need you to get me some supplies. And quickly.” He waited for her to nod and then continued, “I need willow bark, a fair amount of it if you can, and Garlic.” What else did he need? “And my pack, if you can. It should be downstairs in the kitchen. In it there will be passionflower and Valerian root which needs to be brewed into a strong tea, have you worked with those before?”
            Margery nodded once more and when Aeniel said nothing more hurried out of the room without a complaint. If she found it surprising he was barking orders she did not show it. Something about his tone and his demeanor discouraged dissent. Margery might not know him yet, but the air of competence that he exuded in situations such as this demanded respect. Aeniel just wished that the situation did not have to be so dire. Raena’s seizures were worse than he had seen them and caused her to lose even more blood than she already had as they still triggered torrential nose bleeds. The shift the innkeeper and her daughter had changed her into were drenched in sweat and blood and her eyes rolled dangerously in her head until the convulsions subsided.
            Already beads of sweat spattered his brow from the stifling heat the fire provided. If they could not lower her fever and fast she would not survive the night. Her face was even paler now that the layers of dirt had been washed away and each breath she took sounded labored and painful. Stoking the fire might not have been the best option, not when her body was already so weak that it was possible that the heat was harming rather than aiding. Aeniel had to make a quick decision.
            “Taiq,” he called to the girl he recognized from earlier. She looked up at him now that Raena’s seizures had subsided and she no longer needed to be held down. Her dirty blonde hair was drenched in sweat from the heat and Aeniel wondered just how long they had been in here before coming down to wake him. He wished they had called him sooner either way, perhaps some of this could have been averted.
            “Taiq, I need you to fill up the washtub with cool water. We’re going to transfer her there to try and lower her fever. Be as quick as you can.”
            She ran from the room without a word, leaving Aeniel alone in the sweltering room with the dying woman before him. He stared down at her for a few moments at a complete loss for what else he could do. Until everyone returned with his requests there was nothing he could do but sit on the edge of the bed and hold her hand tightly in his. Perhaps he could will some of his strength to her and maybe that would make the difference. Any other time she might have pulled through this easily, but the poison Soren had used was finally rearing its ugly head by attacking any semblance of the immune system she needed to fight this.
            “Pull through this, Raena…” he murmured. He had his hand pressed against her forehead in the hopes that a few minutes were enough for the fever to break. If only the world work in such miraculous ways, he thought as her skin continued to smolder against his touch. The woman lying on the bed before him looked so different from their first fateful meeting. The flakes of blood below her nose looked even brighter against her white skin and her brow was crinkled in the appearance of intense concentration. Her chapped lips moved as if trying to say something but unable to access her vocal chords.
            It did not take long for Margery to return with a small bundle in her hands. She looked flustered, but that did not slow her steps to Aeniel’s side.
            “The tea’s being heated. Here’s the willow bark.” He accepted the bark with a thankful nod before leaning over Raena and scooping her gently into his arms. By this time Taiq should have the tub filled with cold water, but he did not have time to wait any longer if she were still filling it. Upon arriving in the same washroom from before, Aeniel lowered her into the cool water without bothering to remove her clothes.
            Now came the tricky part.
            Raena needed to be awake in order to take the medication that would help her. The cold water stirred her, but her eyes merely fluttered before locking together again.
            “Raena,” Aeniel cupped her face in his hands, “Raena you have to wake up, just for a little while. Raena, open your eyes.” He worked with her for a few minutes and breathed a sigh of relief when her eyes fluttered again.
            “A…Aeniel…” she croaked, head lolling as she tried to lift it up.
            “Raena, you have to chew on this.” He pulled out a piece of the willow bark and held it to her lips. “It won’t taste pleasant but it will bring your fever down.”
            She nodded, eyelids falling again and Aeniel shook her to keep her awake.
            “Stay with me!” he exclaimed. Her eyes snapped open again and he pushed the bark between her lips. With a wince she tried to turn her head away but Aeniel held her still. The willow bark would lower her fever as long as she continued to get steady doses. As she chewed on the bark, he broke open a clove of fresh garlic and pushed it between her lips as well. The antibiotic properties of the garlic would help to fight any infections from her injuries. He just hoped that it was enough.
            Soon after, Margery returned once more with the brewed passionflower and valerian root tea which he gently coaxed down Raena’s throat. Now all they could do was wait and continue giving her doses of herbal medications periodically. The rest was up to her.

Whether a combination of herbal remedies, the cool bath water, or merely Raena’s desire to live, the fever broke after a few hours and she fell into a much needed, restful sleep. The next few days passed uneventfully and found Aeniel dozing in a chair next to Raena’s bed. He had remained by her through the worst of it and was concerned that she might slip away without constant attentive care. Raena had not fully woken and they had to force her into a state well enough to at least drink water to help replenish her severely dehydrated form. All in all, Aeniel soon became certain that she had made it through the worst of it and now all they needed to do was wait until she woke on her own.
            Thankfully, the Magister had either not heard of their escape, or had not come to “The Drunken Flight” in search of them. Aeniel had a sneaking suspicion that the Magister had not yet checked in on her.
            Margery assured him that they had a small room located beneath a trapdoor in the kitchen that the Magister would not find if his soldiers showed up. If the inn happened to be full at the time, it would help to mask their emotions should an Emotional be in the search party as well. Unfortunately, Aeniel did not bank on such a room remaining hidden for long and started working out alternate forms of disguise. When he was not sitting by Raena, he had dyed his brilliant red-gold hair to a muddy brown and made a few purchases for boy’s clothing that would, hopefully, fit Raena. If the Magister was looking for a man and a woman, traveling as a man and a boy would be the best bet to forego suspicion. His altered hair color would also keep him from being easily recognized. Red hair was not exactly a common hair color and it was certainly more memorable when they began actively searching for Soren.
            Of course, Aeniel did not really have any one idea of where to even begin. It helped that, because of their bond from being twins, he generally had a good idea of where his brother had been. He could not really explain it, but it was a feeling of all of the hair standing on end over his body. The greater the feeling the more recently Soren had been present. Aeniel had been so concerned about Raena at first that it had taken him a few days to realize that Soren had been to this inn. The feeling was strong enough that Aeniel was fairly certain his brother had been here within the past few months at least.
            Rustling shook Aeniel out of his doze and he looked up where Raena was gently pushing herself into a sitting position. He smiled broadly pleased to see she was coherent.
            “Good morning.” He greeted her. Raena smiled slightly but confusion was apparent on her face. It did not surprise him, really. Chances that she remembered much of anything were slim and, by the way her eyes swept around the room, she had no idea where she was or how they got there.
            “We’re in an inn.” He began filling her in, “Margery and her late husband Thom opened it and it’s by her charity that we’re here and you’re alive.”
            “How…how long?” asked Raena, running her hand through her hair and stopping to stare at the bandage around her wrist. It seemed to take a few moments but understanding dawned in her eyes. Her head snapped up and she stared at Aeniel. “That wasn’t a dream?” she breathed.
            Aeniel chuckled, “No, not a dream. And it’s been about two days since your fever broke.”
            Raena slumped against the wall and rubbed her eyes. Aeniel understood. After all, it was a lot to take in especially realizing that nearly three days of her life were practically nonexistent. It also did not help that the last thing she probably remembered was the darkness of her cell which was a stark difference from the morning sunlight that filtered through the bedroom window.
            “You gave us quite a scare, though.” He added leaning forward and taking her hand.
            She made a face.
            “Can’t get rid of me that easily.” Her sapphire blue eyes swept up to his head and she reached up with her free hand to tug at some strands of hair, “And what in the world did you do to your hair?”
            “Oh! Well, I figured that the Magister would be looking for us. I think it’s a lot easier to spot someone with red hair than brown.” It made sense but even still he could not help the slight flush that rose in his cheeks.
            “It looks like you went mud wrestling….” She bit her lip and quickly looked away, “I liked your hair.”
            While she blushed deeply and stared at her knees, Aeniel’s head shot up and he gaped at her. Of everything he had expected her to say, that was not it. Not that he wanted to read much into it. After all other people had complimented his hair before. Growing up he and Soren had been the only ones in his home town with red hair. It did feel a little odd knowing that it was now covered by a permanent brown dye. For the first time in his life he realized that he did not look like his brother and people might not realize their relation.
            Self-consciously he reached up and pulled on his hair.
            “Well…I thought it would make us less conspicuous…”
            “What am I going to do to hide then?” she asked with an eyebrow raised.
            “I thought you could be disguised as a boy.”
            She choked and looked up, startled. This idea obviously had not occurred to her and by the look on her face she did not approve.
            “What…cut my hair?” her hands were up on her head and she combed her fingers through it looking torn. Her hair was quite long and fell in waves across her shoulders. Aeniel thought it was highly likely that she had never cut it in her entire life.
            “It will grow back.” He promised, relocating himself to sit on the edge of the bed, “But staying hidden from the Magister is more important.”
            Raena made a face and continued to twirl pieces of hair around her fingers, lost in thought. He understood it was not a comfortable decision, but at times like this vanity could not get in the way of safety.
            “How short?” she asked. She did not look at him but continued to stare off into space chewing over the possibility.
            Aeniel leaned forward and brushed her jaw line with his finger as an indication. Yes, some men wore their hair longer, but even a loose pony-tail on the back of her head would not hide her delicate, obviously feminine features. A short, tousled look would suit their purpose much better. Unfortunately, this did not make it any easier for her and her grimace deepened.
            “I suppose there’s no way around it…” she murmured unable to find any excuses suitable when faced against the ugly reality that faced them. A held breath left her lungs in a rush and she pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes once again.
            “Why does it always have to be so difficult?” complained Raena, “Sometimes I wish I were just normal.”
            The pout on her lips caused Aeniel to laugh suddenly. She looked so overly dramatic that he could not help the chuckle that escaped him. It also struck him as humorous that she had such an amazing gift and wished that it had never been granted to her. Of course, there were the added downfalls of being desired by the Magistrate, but without all of her struggles the woman before him would not exist. He told her so. That, too, was met with a scowl. She obviously did not believe him.
            “It’s true!” he pressed.
            “I know.” She sighed. It seemed that she was struggling with the fact that she had to agree with him on something so silly. “I just…I just don’t like it. All this running. This being hunted…it gets old, you know.”
            “I do. At least I can empathize. I know that it’s not easy, but now is not the time to give up. Both of us have brothers to find and need to work as hard as we can to do it. Agreed?” his hand had moved to hold hers again, giving it a reassuring squeeze.
            “I suppose…” she continued to pout and pulled on her hair, “When are we going to do this?”
            Aeniel did not have to ask what “this” was. Her vice-like grip on her hair made it plain enough.
            “The sooner the better, I think. But first it might do you well to have something to eat, and we should definitely brew up some of that tea to keep you from getting worse because of the poison. We’ve been forcing it down your throat over the past few days and it will be much more pleasant now that you can just drink it.”
            “Hmm…you’re probably right.” Much to Aeniel’s surprise, Raena threw her legs over the side of the bed and went to stand. He was on his feet the moment she moved and almost pushed her back down before reconsidering. She had just come out of a pretty nasty fever and he did not want her to strain herself, but walking around could very well be good for her recovery. If they were to start traveling as soon as she was able, regaining her strength would be vital. He might know that Soren had, at one time, been in this inn but that did not mean he was anywhere nearby any longer. It would not be easy, but at least they had a starting point.
            Standing beside her, Aeniel put a supportive arm around Raena’s waist and guided her across the room while keeping a keenly trained eye on her breathing and strength. They still needed to go down a flight of stairs and that would be the real challenge. Thankfully it was still early in the day and normal people would not start showing up until the sun at least started to set. That gave them plenty of time to test the waters of her strength without people staring or asking questions.
            Fortunately, they made it down the stairs without any terrible foul ups and Raena sat heavily in a chair in the kitchen while she waited for Margery to finish brewing the passionflower and valerian root tea. Everything about the kitchen caught her attention but she seemed mostly interested in the young girl, Taiq, who ran in and out periodically.
            “Who is she?” she asked Aeniel the third time she ran by. By this time a piping hot mug of tea was gripped tightly between her hands.
            “That’s Taiq,” Aeniel explained, “She’s Margery’s daughter.”
            “She’s an Emotional.” She murmured which caused him to raise his eyebrow, impressed. He had not mentioned this to her.
            “How do you know?”
            Raena bit her lip before answering.
            “I can’t really explain it….Emotionals versus other people feel different. Like…I can Sense you but…when I Sense her it’s more…” she chewed on her tongue for a bit, “complicated. Like you’re trying to decipher a puzzle where none of the pieces seem to fit together but at the same time they do.”
            “It’s that easy for you to Sense someone akin to you?” he had never really stopped to think how the Emotionals could always tell, but it seemed like a good question to ask now that it came down to it.
            “Mmm,” she nodded taking a sip of her tea, “At the citadel it wasn’t so apparent, but all the Emotionals felt the same way. It’s a bigger contrast when there’s only one.”
            That troubled him. There would be no way they could hide from the Magister if she stood out like a shining beacon in the night to every Emotional who happened to walk by. His concern must have shown on his face because she continued.
            “It’s harder to tell when they have a shield up….it blocks out a lot of the white noise that makes it obvious. I don’t think she knows how to block it yet…” Aeniel could practically follow Raena’s thought process just by watching her face. She started out concerned, probably for Taiq rather than herself, and then her face lit up as a fantastic idea struck her.
            “You’re going to teach her, aren’t you?” he asked knowingly, “Keep her safe?”
            “Well, it would be cruel not to! Especially living this close to the citadel. You know as well as me that the Magister wouldn’t think twice about her being so young.”
            “True. But we don’t have too much time. When you’re better we’ll have to leave, I can’t fathom putting this family in danger for housing us.”
            “Ugh…so you’re saying I’ll have to cut my hair in a few days.”
            “More than likely” he chuckled, “You’ll look cute though, I’m sure. Nothing could look bad on you.”
            Raena made another face and continued to drink deeply from her mug. Aeniel turned away and hid a smile behind his hand. The more time he spent with her the more she entertained him. Something about her vivaciousness struck a chord. She would fight through hell and back and come out still smiling and worrying about silly things like the length of her hair. He hoped that maybe, one day, he would be able to see the world as she did; a place where despite its horrors still held some good. He just hoped that after the started actively searching for Soren she would still be able to smile. Her condition was only going to grow worse.
            Just keep smiling he thought. I can keep going as long as I have your smile.

Chapter XIII

            Raena grew stronger with each passing hour, much to Aeniel’s delight. The poison, while still tightening its vice-like grip, had been brought back under to some sort of manageable control; her wounds were healing nicely and he could see no worry of infection. She had tried to compromise the date they would cut her hair, but soon enough she was sitting on a stool and gripping the seat as Margery sawed through the thick braid that hung down her back. Aeniel was sure that Raena purposefully left directly afterwards to teach Taiq simply to avoid him.
            He had been right, though; she looked cute with short hair. It fell in messy waves around her face and accentuated her facial features. Of course, her long hair was pretty too, but this was a different kind of beauty. The hurt of her ego showed on her face which only amused him rather than make him feel bad. He knew that she would forgive him after the shock of it wore off, especially when it kept them safe.
            “Margery?” Aeniel asked one afternoon while Raena was off doing something with Taiq. The woman merely grunted in response and continued to bustle through the kitchen preparing for the evening’s clientele.
            “When we first showed up on your doorstep…you were loath to let us in because you thought I was someone else, right?”
            Her knife stopped and hovered over the waiting celery and her eyes became unfocused.
            “Yes well…my eyes must be getting old. You’re obviously not him.” The rhythmic click of the knife resumed and Aeniel could tell that she was purposefully refraining from saying anything else. Perhaps she was embarrassed, or simply confused and waited for confirmation before making assumptions.
            “He tricked you out of food and lodging, didn’t he?” Aeniel pressed again. She had been so certain that they had been pulling a ruse that it seemed unlikely that Soren had not done something of that sort.
            She grunted again, the chopping picking up pace, “Came in claiming to be a refugee, needed lodging. Next morning he was gone along with a month’s worth of food; vegetables, fruits, flour…took nearly three weeks before we’d made enough business to eat normally again.”
            Three weeks. Aeniel could feel is hope dwindling. Soren had been here at least three weeks ago, but the likely hood of it being just beyond that was slim. Things were beginning to feel more than a little hopeless.
            “I’m sorry.” He offered which was greeted with a scoff.
            “Not your fault, boy.” She brandished her knife in front of his face, “Don’t go apologizing for things you have no control over, it’s a waste of breath.”
            “But…Margery, he’s my brother. I feel partly responsible for what happened.”
            “Brother, you say? That explains your uncanny resemblance.” She did not sound surprised and Aeniel wondered why she pretended not to know. It would have saved a lot of trouble if she had just come right out and said it instead of waiting for him to confirm something she already knew.
            “How long ago was he here?” pressed Aeniel again hoping for good news.
            Once again the knife stopped its steady chopping and the innkeeper gazed upward as she tried to work out the exact time span.
            “Well…can’t have been more than two months ago…said his name was Jameson but I saw through that in a second. His brain seemed a little rattled, you see, so maybe I shouldn’t be too surprised he bolted.”
            “His name’s Soren.” Aeniel provided in a hushed voice. It pained him to hear that Soren, the stronger of the two of them, seemed rattled. Whatever it was that Magister did to control them was doing a number on him. Yet, perhaps he should be glad to hear that Soren was still on the run and fighting the controlling force inside of him every step of the way. That also meant that he probably had not gone very far, especially if the mind control wanted him to come back to the citadel and report to the Magister. He was probably boomeranging, going as far as his sanity allotted before being forced to come back.
            “Did he give you any idea where he was going? Before he left?” this was the only lead that he had and he hoped, he prayed that Margery knew something else. If not it would be a lot more difficult to track him.
            “Nope, none. Said something about Nev, but that could have just been in passing. Nev is the Capitol and all.”
            Nev. The city was a three days hike from this town and that was assuming all in the party were healthy enough to walk eight hours straight each day. With Raena it could take them up to a week and by that point the trail would continue to grow colder and colder. There was no helping it, though, as he could afford neither a horse nor a caravan going into the city.
            “Don’t look so glum.” Margery demanded continuing her chopping and scooping handfuls of freshly cut vegetables into a large pot. “This isn’t a very big town, Aeniel. Someone is bound to have seen him run off. Just go ask around, shouldn’t take you too long.” She pondered for a moment. “Go ask Jared. He’s usually patrolling the streets in case the Magister’s men decide to show up. Some of us need warning, you know. He should be at the smithies, Jared tries to have afternoon tea with his sister. He might not enjoy the interruption, but nows as good a time as any.”

Finding the “smithy” Margery had mentioned was not very difficult. It was the only one in Symarri –that was the town’s name he found out– and it seemed everyone knew, and were quite fond, of Jared. The perks of a small town meant that everyone knew everyone. It also upped Aeniel’s chances of finding someone who had spotted Soren. That did not mean, however, that his brother had left such a memorable mark on anyone other than Margery; but he could hope.
            Aeniel had contemplated asking Raena to accompany him, but something kept him from approaching her. This was his brother and he felt personally responsible for his actions. Raena needed him, of course, to find an antidote for the poison, but Aeniel himself felt desperate in the hunt for Soren. If he found him then perhaps he could find a way to negate the effects of the mind control. In some ways, this pushed Aeniel forward more than Raena. People did not understand the bond between twins unless they were twins themselves, and it was that bond that pushed him.
            Having found the blacksmith, Aeniel stood in front of the door chewing on his lower lip for a few moments before rapping sharply against it. The sign above the door creaked eerily in the light afternoon breeze making the painted on hammer and anvil sway back and forth. He watched it, transfixed, until the door swung open revealing a very sooty, muscular man with a large hammer slung over his left shoulder. He was clean shaven and even his head barely had a trace of any hair other than some light stubble.
            “Yes?” asked the man, his gruff voice reminding Aeniel of gravel being crushed under cart wheels.
            “I’m looking for Jared? Margery told me he generally had afternoon tea with his sister here.” He could only hope that he sounded less intimidated than he felt. This man was a very, very large man, and Aeniel was neither athletic nor did he hold a giant hammer that could easily crush a skull.
            “Jared’s in back with my wife.” He acknowledged, “Though I doubt he’ll appreciate the interruption unless it’s important.”
            “It is.” Aeniel added quickly, “And it should only take a few minutes, if you please?”
            The blacksmith grunted and swung the hammer from his left to right shoulder. Aeniel was unsure if this was merely a movement of habit or if he was trying to be intimidating. Either way, Aeniel decided it would be best to tread lightly around this man, he seemed the jealous type and it would not do to get maimed just now.
            “Wait here.” The man turned and Aeniel watched the door swing closed again. Now he just had to twiddle his thumbs until something happened. He did not know how long it would take to tear away this Jared from his tea, but just hoped that it did not take too long. The foot traffic going through the town kept his attention for the majority of the wait. It seemed that this town was the last stop for anyone on their way up to the Citadel, and he saw many interesting characters. Everything from traders grumbling to themselves about the Magister, to soldiers passing through on their breaks caught Aeniel’s eyes. The wide variety of people intrigued him and it seemed that most of the soldiers did not have the icy eyes that marked those controlled by the Magister. In fact, whenever an icy eyed soldier appeared everyone seemed to put up instant guards and the tension level rose drastically. It only happened once in the five minutes he stood watching the traffic patterns, but it was such an obvious change that he was sure it happened often enough.
            It seemed that even the uncontrolled soldiers were only doing what they could to stay alive. Perhaps they did not approve of the Magister at all but could see no other way to live. Even the citizens of Symarri treated un-fixed soldiers drastically different than the fixed.
            “Ahem.” Aeniel turned his head at the interruption from his analyzing and saw a small man standing in the blacksmith’s doorway; he looked less than pleased. His small mustache twitched and to watery gray eyes took in the stranger on the doorstep.
            “You are the one looking for me?” he asked with a sniff. Aeniel had the distinct impression that he did not approve of his appearance, nor of being called so rudely away from time with his sister.
            “Yes. I’m sorry to bother you, but I have a few questions regarding a specific person a few months ago? I was told you were the man to see, that nothing missed your attention by way of suspicious characters.” Flattery, it seemed to work wonders on this man’s demeanor.
            “Hmmm…I make no promises,” he mused in tones of forced modesty, “But I will certainly try to remember. Can you describe him? A name perhaps?”
            “Well, he went by Jameson while in Symarri. He’s my height, red-gold hair and...” what eye color? It could have been either! “Um….either brown or blue eyes.” he decided upon and exchanged a knowing look with Jared. He understood exactly what they meant.
            “Hmmm….” He mused again, tapping his forefinger on his chin. “Anything else?”
            “Yes. He stayed with Margery at ‘The Drunken Flight’ the night before he left and it is crucial I find out where he was going. Even a hunch would be better than nothing. If you can remember anything, I would be grateful.”
            Jared remained in silent thought for a long time and Aeniel began to shift uncomfortably on his feet. He just needed to know if he had seen his brother and it seemed ridiculous that it would take this man so long to recall anything of import. Just when he was about to politely excuse himself and thank the man for his time, Jared spoke.
            “Yes….I believe I remember this man. Caused quite a pickle for dear Margery. What do you need him for?” an eyebrow was raised in question and his eyes practically oozed mistrust.
            “He has something I need. Something very important that, without it, a dear friend will die.”
            “A dear friend? You mean that lovely young lady seen wandering around with Taiq these past few days? Although, I daresay she looked better with her hair long. I can see by your face I’m correct.” Aeniel’s face had certainly turned sour at the mention of Raena, but he had to admit he was impressed. For such an unimpressive looking man he had the eyes of a hawk. It gave him hope about Soren.
            “Yes, her.” He added quickly hoping Jared would give him the information he needed. “I can’t go into details, you understand of course, times as they are. But it is imperative we find him and soon.”
            “I see. In that case, why don’t you come back tomorrow? We can discuss…erm… Jameson over a cup of tea?”
            Aeniel clenched his jaw. This man was purposefully making things difficult and he could not understand why.
            “I see you’re confused.” Jared added with a smile that grew with Aeniel’s mounting annoyance, “Today I simply cannot remember any crucial details about the man but I will surely remember them tomorrow. Until then.” He dipped his head and reentered the house without waiting for a reply, leaving Aeniel fuming on the doorstep.
            He was not sure what he had been expecting, but that certainly was not it. He felt slighted but knew there was nothing he could do about it except knock on the door and insist on a straight answer.
            Which he did.
            Unfortunately the door was opened by the large blacksmith still holding his giant hammer and Aeniel merely gulped before walking away with a lame excuse hanging in the air. It frustrated him to no end having to walk away, but could not come up with the courage to march back and make any demands. He could not shake off the image of his head getting smashed in by that hammer.
            “It’s nothing personal.” A voice sounded behind Aeniel as he walked away from the blacksmiths. Startled, he spun around and faced a young disheveled boy who leaned against the side of a stone house. His mousy brown hair was caked in layers of dirt and his clothing had patches crudely sewn on the knees and elbows. His feet were bare, but that did not do anything to alleviate Aeniel’s suspicions. From stories he knew that sometimes the homeless knew far more than anyone else in any given area. People tended to overlook the lower classes, he would not make that mistake.
            “Not personal?” he asked with an eyebrow raised.
            “Nope. He does that to everyone. Ever since he started walking the streets he seems to think people owe him something.”
            “He charges people for his knowledge? That seems rather egotistical.” And it boggled Aeniel’s mind. From what Margery had said he assumed that this man had taken it upon himself to patrol the streets but now felt as if he needed something in return?
            “Nah, mister!” the boy exclaimed with a grin, “He don’t charge people he knows. Just people like you. New guys.”
            “So…you’re telling me that the only way I’ll learn anything is bribing it out of him?” that did not sound like anything he wanted to deal with. Yet, at the same time, he knew that he needed this information more than anything.
            “Mmm” the boy nodded, “Or, you can pay me.” He grinned again, “I promise I’m cheaper.”
            “And you heard what I’m looking for?” Aeniel asked skeptically. As much as he wanted to believe this kid, he could not bring himself not to doubt his word.
            “You’re looking for your brother.” This caused Aeniel’s head to jerk in surprise. He had not mentioned anything about the man he was looking for being his brother.
            “How did you—“
            “He’s been around before and you have the same eyes…except this time. He’s become a M-Man, but I know where he’s going, left in a hurry.”
            “What’s your price?”
            “Take me with you.” His grin widened, and Aeniel felt his lips form a small frown. He did not want to endanger this boy, and he would be endanger if caught with two fugitives from the citadel. It was frustrating to realize that it probably would not make a difference in his resolve. Now that he had two choices Aeniel could not tell which he preferred; to pay an exorbitant fee to hear from a man on his high horse, or bring along this kid.
            “Deal.” He held out his hand which the boy instantly shook with his eyes sparkling in eager anticipation. “But,” he added, “you should know that it could be a potentially dangerous road; you see, the Magister is less than pleased with me and my companion.”
            “I’m not worried. I can disappear and he won’t even notice me.”
            Aeniel did not doubt it.
            “Where did my brother go?” Aeniel asked after he released the boy’s hand.
            “Nev!” he exclaimed pointing towards the southern road leading out of Symarri, “He practically ran out of here with a bundle over his shoulder like the Magister himself was chasing him.”
            “Alright.” Said Aeniel, “How can I contact you about when we’re le—“
            His words were cut short by the boy jumping up suddenly, eyes wide before he disappeared into the alley directly next to the blacksmith’s. Aeniel’s senses were immediately alert and he quickly looked down the main road where the boy had been gazing. His blood ran cold as silver garments glittered into the sunlight both in long dresses and short tunics. Each member of the incoming party sported the Magister’s crest on their chests and, even from a distance Aeniel could tell, eyes that were so blue they bordered on white. It seemed they had finally realized that Raena had disappeared from her cell in addition to one of the doctors in the Emotional ward. He had hoped they had a few more days. Raena was still weak but had made a lot of progress. They would just have to hope it was enough.
            Keeping his head down, Aeniel quickly made his way back to the inn. Behind him doors were being kicked in and the soldiers were flooding the place like ants to honey. The women and men wearing the garb that distinguished them as Emotionals stood in the doorways and concentrated, obviously looking for something. Aeniel had the unfortunate knowledge of exactly whom they sought.
            Ignoring the screams and cries of the villagers as their homes were wrecked mercilessly, Aeniel slid through alleyways until he came to the backdoor of “The Drunken Flight” which opened with a creak as he pushed his way in. Raena and Taiq were sitting on the floor gabbing merrily about something, but instantly looked up when they Sensed his distress.
            “What?” Raena asked, but the knowledge in her eyes proved to Aeniel that she was just hoping it were something else. Her hands instinctively fiddled with the linen bandages on her wrists; the last memento the Magister had left her before they escaped. It had not been so long that she had forgotten the direness of their situation.
            “We have to go.” He swept through the kitchen and began gathering the small amount of possessions he had brought with him to this inn and throwing them in his small shoulder pack.
            “Now?” she asked, deep blue eyes wide with fear.
            “Yes, now.” He confirmed without skipping a beat as he bustled about the kitchen. “They’re here, busting down doors as we speak. We’ve run out of time. Grab what you can.” As he bounded up the stairs he could hear her speaking quickly to Taiq.
            “Remember everything I’ve taught you.” She rushed, “Keep your shields up, don’t let them Sense you.” The rest of her words were lost as he came to the top of the stairs and looked into the room where he and Raena had stayed for the past few days. There were some clothes Margery had given them, but other than that he was not sure what else he could take. He certainly did not want to put out the people who so kindly cared for them without asking for anything in return.
            The sunlight that streamed through the small window seemed to make the room darker as he thought of all the soldiers who were quickly making their way to this place. The Sunlight aided their enemies and hindered them; he could not wait until the cover of night.
            “Aeniel.” Margery’s voice echoed from the doorway to the room. He turned and saw a bundle held in her hands which she held out to him, a pained expression on her face. “Take it. It’s food and some blankets, it’s going to be cold at night without them.”
            “Margery…” he gazed at her speechless.
            “Don’t question me, boy!” she barked, “Take it and get going! Your girl has helped us more than you know and this is the least I can do.”
            Stepping forward Aeniel took the bundle and remained silent as he stared at her overflowing with gratitude. How could he ever thank her for any of this? From his perspective all this woman had done was give and he could offer nothing in return.
            “Don’t just stand there gawking!” she snapped, swatting his arm, “Get going!”
            “Thank you. For everything.” He leaned forward and kissed her cheek in gratitude before hurrying out of the room and down the stairs where Raena waited, a borrowed pack slung across her shoulders that seemed to be bulging with other things gifted to them.
            “Where are we going?” she asked quietly. Her hand gripped the strap across her shoulder tightly and her knuckles were turning white. Aeniel did not have to be an Emotional to know that she was afraid, and he could find no way to soothe her fears. Even if they managed to get out of Symarri without being caught, they would continuously be on the run. Their grace period had expired.
            “To Nev.”
            She nodded and followed him out of the back door with a glance over her shoulder at the innkeeper’s wife who stared mournfully after them.
            “I’ll come back.” Raena whispered, “When all of this is over, I’ll come back.” It was a promise that Aeniel hoped she would be able to keep.
            After a slight pause, Raena jogged to keep up with her companion and he glanced over to see her eyes shining with tears that she quickly blinked away. There was no way she did not know that this day would come but, like him, it seemed she had hoped for a few more days without worry. The universe, however, held different plans for both of them and required a quick escape through the city without being spotted by the soldiers.
            Raena’s recently cropped hair was pushed behind her ears and the loose-spun breeches and tunic hid her womanly curves well enough that she really did look like a boy from a distance. Aeniel was unsure how well this disguise would hold to someone really looking closely, but for now it served their purpose. No one would be able to tell that the two people leaving the town held any resemblance to the fugitives from the citadel. They were leaving their old lives behind with the hope that Nev would hold the key to continue towards a new future.
            Sliding through alleys and side-streets, the companions reached the edge of the city and with it came the open space of a treeless expanse of land. A few hills rolled ahead of them, but they would not encounter cover until they reached the forest on the horizon about two days hike from Symarri. Once there, they would spend a day passing through the dark expanse of trees until they reached Nev that was nestled inside the forest. The Thalos capitol, surrounded by the largest forest in the kingdom along with a wall that enclosed the entire city and protected it, was so close yet terribly far.
            Standing the shadow of the buildings that stood between them and the main road towards their destination, Aeniel reached over and took Raena’s hand. It was clammy under his touch and did not shake from the poison, but from nerves. He looked down at her and gave it a tight squeeze before pulling her from the shadows and onto the next leg of their journey.

Chapter XIV

            The first day passed quickly enough and they both agreed to rest well after the moon had risen high into the night sky. Stars twinkled mischievously above them as a constant reminder that somewhere, closer than they liked to admit, the Magister’s soldiers rested beneath the same curtain of darkness. At least, they hoped that they rested. If they continued to move through the night there was no telling how far ahead they would be in the morning.
            “They’ll take more than a few hours to search Symarri.” Raena muttered in an attempt to convince herself of something positive. Aeniel nodded as he pulled out the thick woolen blankets Margery had provided them. They were large enough to double over as a sleeping bag and he spread them out on the grass beside the road. It would not be comfortable but they were both exhausted enough that even if they slept on gravel it would be enough.
            “Let’s get a few hours of sleep. We’ll move again when the sun rises.” He informed her while crawling into his make-shift bed and resting his head on his arm. They had no means to start a fire and he hoped that they would not freeze as the wind had begun to blow colder as summer made way for fall. While walking they had been able to keep their body heat up from the physical exertion but now the thin layer of sweat only helped to amplify the cold.
            Closing his eyes he slowly began to drift into a light sleep, his ears always half listening for anything that might be amiss.
            His eyes snapped open and it took him a few minutes to realize that it was Raena’s voice and she was addressing him. Of the months they had been acquainted she had never shortened his name and it caught him off guard. Sitting up, his eyes adjusted to the darkness and he made out her outline next to her, her shoulders obviously shaking.
            Moving quickly he was by her side and held her tightly as the convulsions peaked, her head lolling about on her shoulders like a rag doll. As he held her he could tell that they had become worse and the raspy sound of her breathing reminded him just how limited her time was. She might have fought off the fever a few days ago, but that meant nothing to the poison that still ate away at her from the inside.
            They needed to find Soren quickly. He only hoped that his brother was still in Nev when they arrive. If not, he was not sure Raena would be able to weather another long journey.
            “Ani?” she murmured again when the convulsions had simmered into small continuous shivers, “Ani, I’m scared…” she continued and he could not help tightening his hold around her shoulders.
            “And cold.” She added with a chuckle.
            “We’ll find him, Raena.” He promised, “Just keep doing what you’re doing.”
            “But what if we don’t?” Aeniel could hear the despair in her voice that she failed to hide. “I mean…what if we don’t find him? Will I just, just start shaking until my heart gives out? Will it hurt?”
            “Continuously shaking?” he asked for clarification.
            He felt her shake her head against his shoulder.
            He did not know how to reply. She was terrified of what might happen if they did not find Soren and, in all honesty, despite his reassurances he himself did not even know if they would find Soren. He could only hope that they would, but if they did not? Raena would die. The thought made his heart ache and he wanted nothing less than to promise her everything would be alright and run into Soren on the road the next morning.
            “You’ll be fine.” He told her instead, running his fingers through her short hair, “I won’t rest until we find him, I promise.”
            “I’ll hold you to that promise.” She murmured sleepily as she nestled her head deeper into his chest and slipped off into an exhausted sleep. Carefully, Aeniel reached over and grabbed his blanket which he used to cover them both before laying back and holding her closely as he, too, slipped off into a light slumber.

“Hey! Mister!” a voice interrupted Aeniel’s sleep and he blinked awake waiting for his eyes to adjust to the dusky morning light. The sun was not quite over the horizon, but its rays itched expectantly up into the sky.
            As he moved, Raena stirred beside him and he winced as feeling started coming back into the arm that had cradled her for the past few hours. Slipping his hand from around her head, he flexed his fingers and looked up at the scrawny boy who stood over him, hands on hips. A small bundle was on the ground next to his feet and a familiar grin was plastered on his face.
            “Hi!” he exclaimed, beaming. “You thought you could leave without me, but I found you. I’ve been running as fast I could to catch you.”
            Raena was awake now and gazing at the disheveled boy, nonplussed.
            “Who is this?” she asked Aeniel without moving her eyes from the strange boy. Slowly she began raising herself into a sitting position.
            “Name’s D.” the boy replied proudly.
            “D…? Just the letter D?” Raena raised her eyebrow at the odd choice of name. Aeniel was glad the boy had answered because he had neglected to get a name on their first meeting. It had been so rudely interrupted by the Magister’s militia that formalities had not been exchanged.
            “Yup! And you’re Raena. Taiq told me all about you, said you was nice and stuff. And pretty, definitely pretty.”
            It was Aeniel’s turn to stare incredulously at D before glancing at Raena who was too confused to be embarrassed. Her mouth was hanging open unceremoniously and it was all he could do to keep from laughing at her expression. They had been in such a rush that he had forgotten to mention the boy who had provided them with the information to find Soren; hopefully.
            “I promised we’d take him with us in return for learning about Soren.” Explained Aeniel. He stood and began dusting off the blankets before rolling them up to be stuffed back into the packs.
            “Oh! But…I thought you were going to talk to Jared?”
            “Jared’s a big phony.” D replied matter of factly. “He really only looks out for Magister men and your guy didn’t look like an M-Man…”
            “M-Man…?” Raena’s confusion only seemed to grow as the explanations mounted.
            “A Magister’s man.” Aeniel explained, “You know…eyes.” He tapped near his eyes to further his explanation. Raena let out an “oooh” of understanding and then stood herself to help Aeniel continue rolling up their bedding. With a sideways glance he could tell that her hands had a slight quiver to them that seemed to be residual from the attacks. Sensing his eyes she looked up and immediately turned her back, probably in the hopes that he would not notice. It concerned him, but out in the middle of a three day hike to the capitol there was not much he could do. In fact, even if they were in the city there would be nothing he could do without Soren’s knowledge. It frustrated him knowing that so much rested on things beyond his control.
            And that begged the question, what would happen if they did find Soren? Yes, he seemed to be fighting the Magister’s control but that left his mental state to be determined and completely beyond control. If he refused to divulge the information they needed then what? Could they bully it out of him? Unlikely, even under some sort of mental influence Soren would not forget that Aeniel was not the athletic brother.
            “Well…are we going?” Raena asked after shoving her blanket into the pack. She put on a good show, but Aeniel knew she was deliberately pulling the attention away from her condition.
            “Good idea!” D exclaimed with a little skip step as he scooped up his tiny pack.
            “Ah…” Raena looked at him, perplexed for a moment, “Why do you want to go to Nev anyways?”
            “That’s easy! My friend Jay got there weeks ago and I got to find him. He says, ‘D, I’m going to Nev. If I’m not back in a few weeks then you come join me.’ So I’m going now.”
            “And…you can’t go by yourself?”
            This caused the boy to giggle profusely, clutching his side as if Raena’s question had been the most humorous thing he had ever heard.
            “You can’t get into Nev if you’re like me.” He told her through mirthful tears, “You gots to have a family. Jay was taken by a traveling minstrel guy, and I’m going with you!”
            Raena shot a look at Aeniel, head cocked to the side after hearing this news. Aeniel himself was more than slightly floored. Of course, it made sense, but he had been in the citadel for so long that he had forgotten that normal people rejected beggars and homeless.
            “So, you’re my parents! Hallo mom!” he clung to Raena and she held her hands up in shock. Her expression said exactly what Aeniel himself was thinking; I did not sign up for this. This kid, D, seemed ecstatic enough for them all though, and did not appear to notice the overall uncomfortable atmosphere that surrounded his new mommy and daddy.
            “Um…ok…well….I’m supposed to be a boy firstly….” She took a step back and dislodged D’s grip from around her waist. The boy looked to be about ten, at the most, and he came up to Raena’s shoulders and would definitely grow taller in the next few years. “And if we’re going to get going, we should probably do that sooner rather than later.”
            She adjusted her pack and walked to Aeniel who took her lead and began walking down the main road towards the trees on the horizon. They should be reaching to edge of the trees, and the first check point into Nev, by that evening and then progress underneath their thick canopy. It would be a nice transition from open space, Aeniel had to admit. Here the Magister’s men would see them from miles away and he could only hope that they did not rush forward to question the travelers.
            As much as he felt uncomfortable with D coming along with them, it struck him suddenly that this could be a blessing in disguise. With D they became three and the Magister would still be looking for two.
            “Let’s get our story straight.” Aeniel spoke up after about an hour of silent trudging, “Raena can’t be your mother.” He spoke directly to D in a stern voice, “And I doubt I look old enough to be your father. Instead, we are three brothers and our parents are in Nev, we’re going to meet up with them because out father is ill.”
            He paused, thinking. Both he and Raena would need different names and they would need to be inconspicuous. It would be best if they all brainstormed together and he informed them both of the need for names. Raena did not take long to reply, in fact, the words were barely out of his mouth before she said something so quiet he almost missed it.
            “Your brother?” he asked, raising his eyebrow.
            She nodded before saying, “I’ll be Alik.”
            Aeniel could not argue with her. The hurt showed on her face clearly enough and going by her brother’s name seemed to help ease the pain she felt at not knowing what had happened to her family the night she was taken. She had told him before that Soren had made sure to keep her Uncle and brother from being caught by the Magister and he hoped that it was enough, for her sake. If something had happened to them Aeniel felt that she might lose her resolve to fight the poison. He had been a doctor long enough to see the peculiar effects mental stability and resolve had upon the welfare of his patients.
            “I’m sure he’s fine, Raena.” Murmured Aeniel as he rested a reassuring hand on her shoulder. She sniffed and nodded, blinking away moisture in her eyes before looking up at him with a smile.
            “Let’s sing!” D’s exuberant voice broke through the tension, followed soon after by a sweet melody in a young boy’s soprano voice. His cheerful disposition was contagious and soon even Aeniel, who did not sing, found himself humming along to the jaunty tune. Raena, after getting over some self-consciousness, joined D with her own crystal voice and the two timbres blended together beautifully. It did not take long for the boy to start throwing in different harmonies as Raena carried the tune and Aeniel wished fervently that it would never end.

That day, as well, passed without much to report. The small group continued their musical trio for a good portion of their journey, but after a particularly nasty attack, Raena could no longer find the strength to sing and walk at the same time. Dark circles had appeared under her eyes over the past few days and her breath came in short spurts more often than not. Reaching the forest’s edge could not have come soon enough and just as the sun began to sink below the horizon then stopped at a small outpost where guards stood in order to inspect travelers on their way to the citadel.
            “Hold there!” a burly man shouted from his post before sauntering over to the three of them. Aeniel could feel his heart beat quicker in his chest and prayed that the man would not ask too many questions. His eyes were a deep murky green and that fact alone let Aeniel breathe easier. Judging from the change of Raena’s shoulders she was feeling the same relief as the man came closer. This did not, however, mean they would be able to get by easily.
            Aeniel was all too aware of their disheveled appearance and was becoming uneasy with their cover story.
            “You three on your way to the capitol I’m assuming.” He was a large man, far larger than any of them, and a sharp blade hung at his hip. He was eyeing up their odd group but if he found anything amiss he did not say, instead waved an ‘all clear’ to his partner.
            “Not traders I guess. Personal business? I’ll need to check your bags.” He held out his hands and Aeniel deposited his small pack into them, thankful that he did not have anything potentially incriminating as far as he could tell. “Not much of a journey, huh.” He mumbled to himself, obviously disappointed in their meager belongings.
            “We’re on our way to see our father, he’s fallen ill.” Aeniel provided after taking his pack back from the guard, watching as he moved onto Raena who held out her bag expectantly.
            “Nervous?” the man grinned at her having noticed the shake in her hands. Aeniel’s heart clenched. The moment she spoke any disguise would not be enough to hide that she was female. She seemed to be thinking the same thing and merely gaped up at him for a few moments, unsure what to do. This, however, seemed to amuse the guard and he merely chuckled and clapped her on the shoulder.
            “Don’t worry, boy. You’ll get taller yet and lose your baby face.” Turning to Aeniel, “You should beat the fear out of him, it’s the only way he’ll learn.”
            “Oh, we get into our tiffs certainly enough.” Aeniel nodded in reply, forcing a smile.
            “Sure enough! Well, everything seems to be in order here. You’re more than welcome to stay in the guard house for the night, or continue through the forest. Up to you, though I wouldn’t venture into those woods at night, not with the night beasts roaming around.”
            “Night beasts?” D chimed in, eyes wide in wonder.
            “Wolves, bears, that type. They’ve been heard more than usual these days and I wouldn’t bet my life on them being friendly neither.”
            “I think we’ll wait until the morning.” Aeniel provided quickly. It was not his idea of fun to try and outrun forest creatures that had more experience killing things than he did. Not that he had ever killed anyone, of course, but it was not appealing either way. Soren himself would probably have waited until the morning.
            “Good call!” it was Aeniel’s turn to get slapped on the shoulder by the guard and he smiled, suppressing a wince. The guard hit hard. “The name’s Mavik, my partner’s Lazerin but don’t expect him to say much, he’s a man of few words. Great with faces, but the social skills of a slug, poor guy.”
            “So…are you both soldiers for the Magister?”
            “The Magister?” he looked affronted, “I would give both my arms and legs before doing anything for him. Lazerin and myself are volunteers from Nev, we do this to keep the city from crawling with loonies and thugs. Not that it actually does much, there’ll always been loonies in big cities.” He shrugged, “C’mon over then.”
            Without another word he marched over to the small cottage where he and his partner were housed during their times as guards. Aeniel felt more at ease knowing that they did not work for the Magister, but that did not mean they were revolutionaries. Most people in Thalos were disgruntled with the Magister, but only a few were crazy enough to act on it. That in mind, they still needed to tread lightly, especially with the Soldier’s only a few days behind them and bound to come by asking questions soon.
            “What’s your names?” Mavik asked with a glance over his shoulder to make sure they were following him.
            “I’m Bren,” Aeniel replied and then pointed at Raena and then D, “These are my brothers Alik and D.”
            “D?” Mavik raised his eyebrow in the same incredulousness that Raena had exuded earlier, “That short for anything?”
            Glancing at D, Aeniel thought he looked slightly offended but the look disappeared quick enough with one of his trademark large grins. He had been on the street long enough to know that people took kinder to pleasant beggars and it seemed to be a well instilled habit.
            “Yup, but I don’t like it much, so I just go by D.”
            This response made the hefty guard guffaw for a good minute or two as he opened the guardhouse door and ushered them inside. By the time he was finished, mirthful tears glistened in his eyes that he brushed away with a flick of his fingers. The bushy beard on his chin remained quivering slightly after he appeared to have sobered up which gave away just how amused he still remained.
            “You remind me of my own son back home.” Remarked Mavik, continuing to grin.  “Full of spirit the both of you.”
            Aeniel gently guided Raena into the house, pressing his hand on the small of her back, and then began to take in his surroundings. There were three windows total, in this tiny enclosure; one next to the door, the other two on the far wall. A fireplace took up the wall perpendicular to the windows and the other guard stoked it into a happy roar the heated the room. A small table had been set up in the far corner and had what looked like an unfinished game of cards laid out on its surface. Two sleeping rolls were folded neatly against the wall, obviously for the two guards present, but otherwise the room was bare. Not that there was room to fit much else by way of furniture, and the size made it easier to heat in the colder months without using a ridiculous amount of logs. It would be nice to sleep here for the evening, and Aeniel hoped that the warmth would help Raena and strengthen her for the long trek in the morning.
            The forest, while not exactly dangerous, had a troublesome history. It was said that Nev’s founders purposefully made multiple paths in order to confuse any unwanted visitors. These guards were not only stationed to screen travelers on their way to Nev, but to provide the safe route through the forest by way of a map. Once through the woods, the guards on the other end would take them in order to preserve the forest’s secrets. Aeniel had also heard that there was even a group who went through and periodically changed the paths in order to keep frequent travelers from learning the way. It was a little daunting, and he did not wish to be one of the poor souls who ended up lost in the woods.
            “Lazerin!” Mavik barked, “Be a gentleman and introduce yourself.”
            Even kneeling by the fire, Aeniel could tell that Lazerin was a slighter man than Mavik and when he stood the height difference between the two was stark. Mavik looked to be over six feet tall and Lazerin just barely came up to his shoulder. In fact, Aeniel was almost certain that he only stood a few inches taller than Raena who was a petite woman herself. His sallow cheeks gave a sickly appearance, but he could not tell if it were just the lighting in addition to his scrawny physique. Coupled with black hair he looked deathly pale, and mousy eyes darted back and forth from underneath dark lashes. Aeniel had not even spoken a word to this man and felt ill at ease with him standing a few feet away. Something about him just seemed disturbing.
            “Hello. I am Lazerin.” He muttered. Aeniel felt his hands grow clammy as Lazerin’s eyes stayed on Raena for longer than he deemed appropriate. He worried that this scrawny man could tell that something was amiss with the three ‘brothers’.
            “Not a real people person.” Mavik commented through the side of his mouth. Judging by the way Lazerin rolled his eyes, he had heard the comment and was frustrated by it. “Great shot with a bow, though!” he added in a loud voice as if to make up for his previous words, “Could shoot a dove from a mile off  at noon.
            “I hope you don’t have to utilize that talent very often.” Aeniel provided with a kind smile toward the odd man.
            Lazerin scowled before replying, “You’d be surprised,” A pause, “how many travelers turn out to be liars.”
            “C’mon now, Laz! Let’s not scare our guests!” but the message had sent. Aeniel suddenly wished that they had continued into the forest but knew there was no way to do so without proving their guilt. He did not have those blue eyes, but that did not mean he was immediately assumed a dissenter. Aeniel had been told that some people turn in Emotionals for the hefty reward it entitled them.
            He gazed at Raena when Mavik and Lazerin began conversing with each other in an undertone and would not notice the obvious exchange. Her eyes were wide in fear and confusion and he wished that there was some way for them to converse without speaking. Here would not be the safest place to discuss anything that might possibly incriminate them, especially with the Magister’s spies infiltrating everywhere. Lazerin could very well be working undercover for the very person they were fleeing.
            D sensed the tension and remained silent throughout the entire ordeal, but Aeniel could tell he was busting with questions. Thankfully he was smart enough to know when something had the potential of turning dangerous with one wrong slip, and refrained from providing the kindling for the smoldering embers of disaster.
            Aeniel soon wished that he had been paying attention to the conversation between Mavik and Lazerin. If he had been, the next turn of events would have come as less of a shock, and maybe he would have been able to avert them.
            A tight, painful grip on his arm tore Aeniel’s attention away from Raena and back to the large, husky guard who now towered over him. His eyes were a furnace.
            “You and your brothers will have to leave.” He growled.

Chapter XV

            “Leave?” Raena asked in surprise and then clapped both of her hands over her mouth as she realized what she had just done. Her voice was unmistakably female.
            Whether fortunate or not, this was a welcome distraction as it caused Mavik to loosen his hold on Aeniel’s arm and gape unceremoniously at who he thought had been a boy. It took a few seconds for Aeniel to realize what he found so shocking until it dawned on him that this man had not known that Raena was a woman and the emphasis on “brothers” had merely been coincidence.
            His heart pounded in his chest as Mavik took too strides toward Raena and gripped both of her shoulders to stare more intently at her face. His expression turned from surprise, to anger, and finally settled on amusement.
            “Well, I’ll be…” he muttered.
            “Mavik.” Lazerin’s snake-like voice slithered into the conversation, “This does not change what I told you.”
            “And what was that exactly?” Aeniel challenged. He tried to sound intimidating which was a difficult feat for him. Bullying other did not come easily to him and he only hoped he did not sound stupid in his attempt.
            “I know that, Lazerin.” He growled in reply and both men consciously ignored Aeniel’s question, not finding it prudent to answer. “What’s your name, girl? And I want your real one, not something you make up.”
            Raena’s eyes darted towards Aeniel in panic, mouth formed around unspoken words. He did not know what to tell her, or what signal to give. This was it, he thought ruefully, this was where their journey ended only a measly week out of the citadel.
            “R…Raena.” She stammered, voice shaking with trepidation.
            “What are you sick with?” he snarled again.
            “S…sick? I’m no—“
            “Don’t play dumb, girl. Lazerin can feel illnesses and you’ve got one, so don’t act the fool.”
            “Sense…sense illnesses?” her eyes widened, “How is that possible?”
            “Probably the same way you can Sense what we’re feeling!” D exclaimed, apparently hoping to be helpful. This, of course, only made Aeniel groan and cover his face with his hands. Not only had Raena’s identity been revealed, but thanks to boy their entire cover was blown. The walls were crumbling faster than they had been built and without any usable stones to try and rebuild.
            “What?” D looked genuinely confused, “Taiq told me!”
            “An Emotional, eh?” Mavik looked incredulously at Raena before gazing back at Lazerin. “Hear that?”
            “That doesn’t matter.” Lazerin hissed, and stepped forward himself to gaze into Raena’s eyes. Without asking for permission he reached forward and pressed both of his hands against her cheeks and closed his eyes, concentrating. A few moments later he wrenched his hands from her skin and stumbled back as if punched in his gut. He looked winded and seemed to have aged five years. Realization dawned on Aeniel that this ability he had probably was the reason for his sallow complexion and thin build. Not that he could blame him, being able to feel other’s illnesses did not seem like a fun gift.
            What do you have?” he hissed again, still panting for breath.
            “I…I don’t know!” exclaimed Raena, eyes wild. Aeniel could see her hands shaking and could tell, from months of observing her, that an attack was imminent. “I honestly don’t know!” she gasped again.
            “There’s no need to be so scared!” Mavik told her as he felt the tremors grow in intensity.
            “Move, Mavik!” Aeniel exclaimed and pushed him aside to support Raena as the seizures reached her legs. Her eyes rolled in her head and he gently lowered her to the ground and held her tightly to keep her as still as he could. If she convulsed violently enough she could easily hurt herself.
            “Wha…what the hell?” Mavik breathed as he watched on, exchanging looks with Lazerin in some hope that the man who could sense illnesses might have an answer to what was happening.
            “She can’t be let into the city with an illness like that.” Lazerin decreed, “It would potentially lead to a lethal outbreak.”
            “It’s not contagious you imbecile.” Aeniel snapped, “It’s a poison. I haven’t been able to find out what kind of poison and what can cure it. The only person who can is inside that city.” He jammed his finger towards the forest to further emphasize his point.
            “We still can’t let you through, not with her.” He sniffed, “And what does it matter? Even if you find this person, she’ll be dead within the week.”
            This declaration caused Aeniel to jerk in surprise and look down at the woman who wheezed in his arms, the convulsions dissipating to tiny tremors that remained with her now.
            “A week?” he whispered in disbelief.
            “She has symptoms from a concentrated poison made from the Liazice Flower. It can be absorbed through the skin or drank, but once it’s in the bloodstream, it causes seizures, memory loss, and massive internal bleeding in the brain.”
            “She hasn’t had any memory loss.” Aeniel objected as he gently wiped away blood that started spilling from her nose. This statement only caused Lazerin to grin.
            “Not yet. And judging by the seizures and nose bleeds, it won’t be much longer. Big chuncks on her life are going to start going missing, maybe tomorrow, maybe the next day, but soon enough she is going to have a seizure so large that her brain will explode within her skull. It is a very painful death, so I’ve heard.”
            It was all Aeniel could do to keep from leaping to his feet and landing a punch on the oily man’s jaw. He did not care if this man had, quite possibly, just saved Raena’s life, his attitude towards the whole thing was sickening, infuriating. Even Mavik looked aghast at Lazerin’s blatant disregard to Raena’s failing health.
            But to be poisoned by the Liazice Flower, that was one of the worst things it could have been. The Liazice flower only bloomed once every five years, and only up in the northern mountains during the coldest months in winter. The flower itself was bright violet and stood out dramatically against the snow that generally surrounded it. Although Aeniel had never actually seen it himself, he had read that when the flower petals were taken and boiled down in a sugar and sulfur solution it became one of the more potent potions in the world; and the most deadly. The only cure was a tea made from that same flower’s leaves, and very few people ever ventured out to harvest either.
            Which meant, either they could find an apothecary that happened to have the leaves, or hope that Soren had kept the leaves when he had harvested the flower. At this point, Aeniel hoped that an apothecary had it. There was no guarantee that Soren was even here, even though he felt the same tingling sensation in this checkpoint that assured him his brother had a least passed through.
            “Liazice Flower…” he muttered watching Raena’s unconscious, pallid face. She would wake in a few minutes only to be ready to fall into an exhausted sleep. As much as Aeniel wanted to ignore Lazerin’s diagnosis, he could see that she grew weaker each passing day, and it was getting exponentially worse. The fact that she still lay unconscious in his arms brought the reality home. Normally it was only a few seconds on unconsciousness, but a few minutes had passed and she still did not open her eyes.
            “Damnit…” he cursed, pressing his free hand against his eyes to keep the burning behind them from spilling over.
            “So…not contagious?” Mavik asked, breaking the awkward silence that lingered in the air along with tons of animosity. He was looking at his fellow guard rather sharply and rolled his eyes when he shook his head. Apparently they only had to stop people going through who had some contagion that might break out in the city. An epidemic was not exactly easily contained in a city like Nev; or in any cities for that matter.
            “You twit.” He looked like he wanted to land a punch on Lazerin himself. Instead he turned towards Aeniel and sighed heavily. “I wish there were something I could do, son.” He murmured, and looked truly sorry, “The best I got is I can give you the address of a pretty an herbalist. I don’t know if she’ll have the cure, but now you know the sickness shouldn’t be too hard to find it, eh?”
            Aeniel wished it would be that easy, but something told him that would not be the case. Nothing had been easy up to this point and he was not about to assume the next leg of their journey would be any different. And now they only had a week, at most. Could he find someone with the Liazice leaves in time?
            “Don’t worry too much. It’ll all work out.” Mavik laid a reassuring hand on Aeniel’s shoulder, “Get some sleep tonight and I’ll give you the forest map in the morning.”
            Without another word, he motioned towards Lazerin who followed him out of the house and back to guard duty. After the door closed behind them, Aeniel could vaguely hear Mavik’s gruff voice yell at his companion and a small smug smile appeared on his lips. He was glad someone had enough sense to put that scrawny, pale man in his place.

The sun rose early the next morning and Aeniel found that he had barely slept more than an hour. Every few minutes throughout the night he found himself glancing at Raena and checking her vitals. Lazerin’s comments had unnerved him and he half expected her to die in the middle of the night.
            As the sunlight filtered into the small cabin where they were staying, Aeniel’s eyes snapped open and he quickly turned towards her again, falling into his worried habitual behaviors illustrated earlier that night. If anything he hoped that there might be some change in her physical health. Unfortunately, this was not the case.
            Raena’s eyes were still closed, her chest raised and lowered in a gentle pattern, but she did not stir. Even when he picked up her thin wrist and checked her pulse her eyes remained lightly closed and did not even flutter. She looked peaceful enough, he noted, but that did nothing alleviate his apprehension. Since the night before Raena had not so much as sneezed. With this turn of events Aeniel could not even pretend to ignore Lazerin’s words the night before and knew that they needed to get to Nev, fast.  Without the Liazice leaves, she would never open her eyes again.
            Packing up and beginning their journey into the woods did not take long as Mavik stood waiting outside in the golden morning sunlight with a map of the current paths waiting in his belt. They said their goodbyes and were off, Raena held firmly in Aeniel’s arms. It would slow them down, definitely, and he doubted that they would make it through the woods in a day as the trip usually took for people on foot.
            It was lucky she was so light, otherwise it would be much more cumbersome to carry her for the entire day. Not to mention the boy coming with them, D, would not be much help in the carrying department. He did, however, seem to appreciate the direness of the situation and barely said a word, using all of his concentration to keep moving forward as quickly as their small party could allow.