“Brielle! No running through the garden!”
I pause mid-step, one foot in the air just about to trample a thin weedy-looking vegetable. “No, Mama!” I call out loudly behind me. “I won’t!” I sidestep the vegetable patch and prepare to take off again.
Mama’s voice calls out from the house a second time, just as loudly. “And where are you going, Brielle?”
I sigh. “To Aundrea’s farm, Mama. As always.”
I take one more small step before Mama calls out again. “Be good, Brielle! And remember the rules!”
I groan quietly, and recite to myself in an almost silent singsong the rules that Mama has beaten into my head every day since I was born, sixteen long years ago. “Be polite, Brielle.”
“Be polite, Brielle!”
“Listen to your elders, Brielle.” I quietly sigh and toss my head from side to side.
“Listen to your elders!” my mama calls out. “And don’t get your dress dirty!”
I give the skirt of my dress a playful little swish. “No, Mama. Never, Mama,” I whisper, knowing full well that the other girls and I will be sprinting through fields and climbing into haylofts as soon as we’re beyond the oppressive stares of our parents.
“And remember, Brielle, be good!” my mother calls out. But I know what she actually means. What she says without saying.
“And remember, Brielle,” I murmur to myself, “no using magic!” Something I would never say out loud in public, even here. Even in this village. Even in this village there is danger in that word.
In some villages, just the hint of being able to use magic is enough to get a girl arrested. Snatched up by the Emperor’s Guard, or perhaps even turned in by her own friends and family members. Such things have happened. Because magic is not allowed by the authorities in Paranda. Magic is forbidden beyond all things.
Magic is wayward.
And so I keep my words and thoughts to myself and simply call out, “Goodbye, Mama! I’ll be back soon!” I walk away, slow and polite and ladylike, until I’m far enough from the house that Mama can’t see.
And then I smile and take off running, dust upon my dress be damned.
The old barn on my friend Aundrea’s farm is dark and dusty, but it’s the one place in the entire area where we can gather without fear of being discovered. There are five of us in our little group, myself included, all girls. Veela and I are sitting on wooden stools. Leesa and Aundrea are jumping down from the loft into the giant piles of soft hay below. And Hanna, of course, is floating in the air, nearly touching the roof of the barn as she flies in slow, looping circles.
Veela sighs and looks up. “Hanna, must you? You’re bound to get hurt. Or found out.”
Hanna stops circling and simply floats in one spot looking down. “That is silly.” She nods over toward the younger girls, Leesa and Aundrea. “They are more likely to get hurt than I am. And as far as getting caught, should Aundrea’s parents, or anyone else for that matter, come walking over here unexpectedly, then Leesa would hear them coming long before they even crossed the farmyard.”
Leesa, currently sitting down in the piles of hay, looks up and smiles at the mention of her name. She smiles but says nothing. Because Leesa never says anything. Leesa is ten, and we don’t know if her ability to touch magic and her inability to speak are connected, but they are both there. In Leesa, the ability to touch magic has manifested itself in an ability to hear sounds and feel vibrations that the rest of us cannot. The actual strength of her ability is hard to judge since communicating with Leesa is difficult. But we do know that she’s able to hear whispered conversations from further away than most people can throw a rock, and she can feel the vibrations of someone walking across the dirt from even further away.
Magic is odd in that it can affect girls in many different ways. Being able to touch magic is rare enough as it is, since it only shows up in girls and usually between the ages of twelve and twenty. (Young Leesa is what my mother calls an anomaly.) And many of the girls blessed to touch magic don’t end up reaching child-bearing age because they’ve been found out and captured by the Guard. Our village is unique, Da says. Here they protect girls like me and Hanna. Veela and Aundrea. Little Leesa. Five girls in one village, all born around the same time, all able to touch magic. No one can ever remember hearing of such a thing.
“Well, still,” Veela replies, “as the oldest here, it is my responsibility to remind you that you shouldn’t use your magic for frivolous or simple pleasures. Whether you believe our gifts are wayward or not, they should be respected and not abused.”
Hanna scoffs loudly, but she folds her arms and lowers herself slowly to the dirt floor. “You only say this because you cannot do anything as fun and interesting as flying. If you could, you would use your gift at every opportunity.”
Veela scowls. “I don’t use my gift because it is dangerous, as you well know. All our gifts are dangerous if the wrong person sees! Yes, we are mostly safe. We know that our parents are not going to hand us over to the Guard. But there are strangers passing through town all the time. There are three at the inn right now as we speak. One of them, an odd young woman as short as little Leesa! When I saw her come in, she was wearing black pants and a tunic with a pitch-black cloak! Can you imagine? A woman wearing pants and a cloak? And Darva Parrish said she even saw the woman carrying a sword!”
Hanna rolls her eyes. “Darva Parrish is a liar. Women do not wield swords. That is a foolishness.”
“Well, regardless,” Veela says, “they are not to be trusted. And even some of the townspeople I don’t fully trust. And nor should you.”
Hanna sighs. “I do not fully trust them, as you well know. It is why I am stuck flying around in a smelly barn instead of out in the fresh, open air.” She uses one hand to brush down her thick curls, then waves a hand absently in the air. “But very well. To appease Veela the Wise, I shall promise to ground myself forever to the dirt and grass. And Veela shall keep her hands to herself.”
Veela frowns hard at this.
“Leesa,” Hanna continues, “cover your ears. Veela has decided that your gift is too dangerous.”
Leesa gives Hanna a confused look as Veela groans softly. “That is not what -”
“And Aundrea?” Hanna says, but then she simply looks at Aundrea and stays silent. Hanna doesn’t need to say the next part out loud. We all know that Aundrea can pick thoughts out of your brain when she wishes. It’s how non-verbal Leesa does most of her communicating. She thinks something, directing the thought at Aundrea. Aundrea receives it and tells us.
Hanna turns toward me, then her expression changes into a smirk. “Well. I was going to tell Brielle not to run, but from the look at the dust on her sandals and dress, I’d say I’m too late.”
Veela gasps audibly. “Brielle, no! Tell me you didn’t!”
Now I’m sighing, loud and hard. “Relax, Veela! It’s not as if anyone saw me! It was just for a bit, outside of town on my way here to the farm. The roads were empty of travelers. And even if someone was there, what would they say they’ve seen?” I grab my skirt and give it a shake. “A light blue blur that vaguely resembles a girl in a dress sprinting faster than an arrow in flight? But there was no one there, I made sure! So who should I fear will tell on me? The birds? Should I fear that crows and pigeons are going to -”
“Hold,” Aundrea says softly. “Brielle, hold!” Her expression shifts to fear and worry as she turns to Leesa, a silent conversation happening between the two. Aundrea turns to us, takes a breath, and says, “Someone is coming. Many people. A dozen or more. Leesa feels the vibrations of them marching.”
Veela wrinkles her forehead. “Coming here to the barn?”
Aundrea shakes her head. “No. On the road. Headed into town. Soldiers. Soldiers and horses. Leesa says there’s a lot of them.”
Thankfully, we know the area better than the soldiers. We were raised here, after all. Born here, raised here, lived here all our lives. We know a dozen ways to sneak the half mile or so from Aundrea’s family farm back to town without using the main road. I have to physically resist the urge to sprint ahead. It does feel so good to run – the wind on my skin, blowing back my hair. The slight burn in my muscles as my legs push faster and harder than anything living. It is exhilarating each and every time. But now is not the time for that. The girls and I must stay together, and we must stay safe.
We move swiftly through the narrow paths in the woods, a shortcut back to town, and we come out into a clearing behind the stables and the general store. But as we peek out from behind the buildings, we can see that the soldiers are already there.
The men are standing a good distance away, all clumped together. There are soldiers on foot and a few on horseback. It is difficult to see exactly how many there are, but Leesa’s earlier estimation of somewhere between a dozen and twenty feels accurate. What we can see from this distance is that all the soldiers are wearing dark blue cloth and leather over shining chainmail. All uniformly dressed. The Emperor’s Guard. I don’t need Aundrea’s gifts to know that the fear that I’m feeling is coursing through my friends as well. We can hear them shout out, but the words are hard to make out from this distance.
“What are they saying?” Veela asks.
Aundrea looks to Leesa, then back to Veela. “She says that they’re announcing themselves as the Emperor’s Guard. As if there’s any mistaking that uniform. They say they’ve gotten word of criminals in the area, and they’re asking every member of the town to come out for inspection. To see if they match the description.”
“Asking.” Hanna spits out the word like a curse. “They are not asking anything. They will rip people bodily from their houses if they choose to.”
Already we could see people coming out of their homes and heading into the town common to meet with the Guardsmen.
“We should stay hidden,” Veela decides. “We’ll stay tucked away. Or we’ll slip back into the woods. Or -”
“No,” I interrupt. “We don’t want to be discovered scurrying away. Hiding would be the absolute wrong thing to do. They are obviously here looking for teenage girls, no matter what they say about hunting criminals. If we are not out there, then it will be all the more obvious that the town is trying to hide something. We could end up endangering the others. No, we stay calm. We walk out, we answer their questions. We give nothing away, and then they leave and move on to the next town. It is the only way to quell their suspicions.”
“Besides,” Aundrea says, “if I get close enough, I can read their minds and see what their real intentions are.”
Veela’s eyes look ready to pop from her head. “You plan to use magic right in front of the Guard? Are you insane?”
Aundrea simply shrugs. “They’ll never know. It’s not like I glow or anything when I touch magic. I read yourmind all the time, and you never notice.”
Veela blinks. “You what?”
But it is young Leesa who moves first. She comes out from around the building and walks out, calmly and confidently toward the crowd in the town square. We have no choice now but to follow.
The crowd is growing larger as we approach. The other girls and I scan the townsfolk for familiar faces. I see many, including Hanna’s parents, and Veela’s. Aundrea’s parents are still back at their farm, of course, and there is no sight of Leesa’s mother anywhere. I spot my own mother and father far in the back of the crowd. My father spots me and gives me a tiny nod. My mother gives me a look that tells me that she expects me to stand there quietly and do nothing that draws attention to myself.
The mayor of our little town makes his way to the front of the crowd and gives his best smile. “Good sirs! Perhaps if you let us know your purpose here -”
A tall Guardsman sitting on a horse gives Mayor Tamash a dismissive frown. “We have told you our purpose. We search for those who have violated the Emperor’s law.”
“Well,” Mayor Tamash says, “we are all righteous, upstanding folk here, I can guarantee that. Perhaps if -”
The Guardsman scans the crowd and pauses, looking down at little Leesa, who is right up front, staring defiantly up at him. The Guardsman makes a face like he has tasted something sour. “You. Child. What is your name?”
Veela is there in a heartbeat, putting one hand on Leesa’s shoulder and pulling the strong-willed child back an inch or two. “Her name is Leesa Messager, sir,” Veela says softly. “She is a bright child, but cannot speak.”
The Guardsman scowls. “Cannot or will not?”
Veela shakes her head. “She cannot speak, not since birth, sir.”
The Guardsman sniffs. “Such strangeness…” He pauses long enough to draw his sword and point it down at Leesa. “… is often indicative of being magic-cursed.”
And that’s when I see – really see – the weapons the soldiers are carrying. And, yes, just this one sword has been drawn, but every Guard member here has a sword on his hip, or a spear at his back, or a bow in his hand.
Aundrea is by my side, her voice soft and low. “He means to take us all. All the girls. And the women, perhaps. He will find a reason. Take us, or kill us. He will be happy either way.”
Hanna somehow has made her way to the front, and she is right there next to Veela and Leesa. “I find that an inability to speak,” Hanna says, “is often indicative of an inability to speak. And nothing more.”
And suddenly the Guard with the sword stiffens, and his expression shifts from derisive anger to actual hatred. He looks out at the crowd, not at Hanna, as he says, “I do not know which of you people this darkskin bitch belongs to, but you had best come teach it some manners.” He shifts the sword, pointing it at Hanna now, but she manages not to flinch at all. “And you need to learn to guard your tongue before I cut it straight from your bastardly little mouth.”
That’s when a new voice calls out from behind us. “How about I pull you straight off that horse and shove your sword straight up your -”
We all turn to see the three strange women from the inn walking up toward us. Every step is confident and guided directly toward the Guardsmen. There is absolutely no fear in their eyes. They have the look of someone here to handle business. Although all three are female, they are all very different in appearance. Two seem to be no older than myself, perhaps even younger, and they are both wearing simple village dresses. But one has pale skin and yellow hair cut so short that, if you ignore the dress and curves, you might think her a boy. The other is brown-skinned like Hanna, with a mass of beautiful, dark curly hair. The third is no taller than the other two – she may, in fact, be an inch or two shorter – but she looks to be older by ten years or so. She is also the only one of the three not wearing a dress. Instead, she is dressed in a black tunic and pants, with a somehow even darker cloak draped over her shoulders. Her skin is pale like the blonde girl’s, but her hair is as dark as her clothing and pulled into a long braid that rests across her shoulder.
The blonde with short hair turns to the other girl and says, “Yes, Tam, I know. A lady does not swear. But you heard the bullshit – sorry, Tam, my love – but you heard the filth spewing forth from this idiot’s lips. Are you telling me that doesn’t warrant at least a little swearing?”
The girl with the darker skin and hair simply rolls her eyes and shakes her head. “Cressa, you continue to vex me beyond all understanding.”
They’ve got the attention of the Guard now. He’s moved the sword away from Hanna, Leesa, and Veela, and his eyes are focused on the newcomers. Perhaps that was their intent all along. Also, if the Guard was angry before, now he’s frothing like a rabid dog. “Filth? You blasphemous whore! When I am done with you, they will -”
“You are done,” the woman in black says. “You are all done. The Guard is done. Your Emperor is done. Either dead or gone, either way, and honestly I don’t give a rat’s ass which.” She glances toward the girl with brown skin. “Sorry, Tam.”
The one called Tam simply sighs. “Honestly, I do not know how to deal with you two.”
The Guard with the sword narrows his eyes. “A woman in black. Rumors have swirled about a woman in black. They say she has killed numerous members of the Emperor’s Guard.”
“Okay, yeah, but all in self-defense,” the woman clarifies.
“And they say she travels with a pair of witches!” At that word, the rest of the Guards begin drawing swords and spears and loading arrows onto their bows, or however it is said. Either way, things instantly become much more tense. “The bitch in black is under arrest!” the first Guard declares. “And her witch companions as well!”
“First off,” the woman in black counters, “Only my friends get to call me the bitch in black. You, dickface, can call me Raven, Knight of Krells.” She throws back the sides of her cloak, revealing that she is, indeed, carrying a short sword at her hip.
Tam, the brown-skinned girl next to her, simply tisks quietly. “Language please, Raven. Honestly.”
The woman in black turns back to the guard. “Sorry. I meant Mister dickface. Or is it Captain?”
“You…” The Guardsman seems to be at a loss for words. Finally, he snarls, “A woman carrying a sword is forbidden! It is wayward!”
The short-haired blonde smirks. “Your face is wayward.”
Tam turns to her and sighs again.
Cressa shrugs. “What? At least I didn’t swear!”
The two seem so distracted by their own bickering that they don’t seem to notice what I do. One Guardsman further back, on horseback, slowly drawing back a riding bow.
“You have no authority to arrest anyone,” Raven calls out. “You hold no sway here. So you and your bitch ass crew pack it up before things have to get ugly.”
Things happen suddenly. The guard with the riding bow fires his arrow at the woman in black. And I move without thinking.
Funny thing about when I touch magic. When I channel it into me, when I feel it igniting, use it to fuel my movements, it’s not just that I move faster. I react faster, think faster, see faster. It’s how I can blur across the broken ground without tripping and stumbling on every rock or tree stump. And so, in less than a second, I travel across the distance between where I was standing and the area in front of Raven, the woman in black. I track the arrow in flight. I see it moving, a slight quaver to it as it flies. And I know the exact moment to reach up and pull it down out of the air.
In a heartbeat’s time, everyone sees as I flash halfway across the town common and catch the arrow out of the air.
There are a few muted gasps from the crowd. The two girls, Tam and Cressa, simply turn and look at each other. The blonde one, Cressa, simply raises an eyebrow and nods approvingly.
Raven simply shrugs. “Well, kid, I did see that coming. I was going to dodge it, but thanks anyway.” She points a finger accusingly at the Guard with the bow. “And you! You shot at me! I swear to everlasting Christ that if you do that again -”
The first guard, the one who pointed a sword at Hanna and Leesa, is screaming now. “Witches! They harbor witches! You have seen for yourself! Arrest them all!”
Cressa puts her hands out to the side, palms up, and suddenly she is holding fire. “Really wish you’d stop using that word,” she snarls. “We prefer magic-using badas-” She glances over at Tam. “Magic-using heroes! And like my friend Raven said, you ain’t arresting nobody!”
“Enough of this.” Tam puts her own arms out, and suddenly we’re all pushed back by strong winds. I had thought that Raven, the lady in black, would prove to be the most powerful one. But here was this child Tam, easily a year or two younger than myself, using the wind to lift herself up off the ground. And all around us, a cloudless sky crackles with thunder and lightning. She is not flying with ease and grace the way Hanna does. She does not use magic to make herself run faster, or hear better, or read minds. She is bending the very elements around her. It is magic beyond my very comprehension. And it is amazing.
Once again things happen in a blur, and I see it all. The Guardsman with the riding bow reaches down for another arrow, and Raven’s hand moves faster than it has any right to. Down toward her waist, then up in a flash, extended out. A throwing knife flies out and embeds it in the guard’s throat before his fingers even brush the new arrow. He gasps breathlessly and begins to tumble from his horse. A second knife flies out, this one directed toward the guard with the sword. It catches him in the wrist and sticks there in the tiny gap between his chainmail sleeves and the leather gloves he has on. His eyes go wide with shock as the sword falls out of his now-useless hand.
Cressa throws out a ball of fire roughly the size of a fist, and the sleeve of one guard’s tunic is suddenly covered in flames. He screams, drops his sword, and runs.
All of that happens in the span of a second or two. And a moment later, all of the hells break loose.
The townsfolk run, screaming in fear. Most knew of the existence of girls who could touch magic, but almost none had ever seen us use our gifts. And none of them were prepared for anything like Tam and Cressa. But it’s good that they’re running. They’re moving away from the Guardsmen and away from the fight. Much safer for them that way. I spin around, looking for my friends, in time to see two soldiers crowding in toward Leesa and Aundrea with swords raised. But Veela moves fast, pulling Leesa back with her left hand and slamming an open palm against one of the soldiers with her right hand. There’s a low hum as what looks like lightning surges from Veela’s hand and courses over the guard, dropping him instantly to the ground. The second guard stands there and stares, so he doesn’t notice as Hanna launches herself high in the air, then spins in midair and dives down fast. She drops her shoulder and slams into the second guard from behind, knocking him to the ground. Two more members of the Guard are approaching, but they suddenly stop suddenly as their swords are all pulled up and out of their grasp as if taken by unseen hands. The swords somehow fly themselves up over the crowd, across the square… and into the waiting grasp of the blonde girl, Cressa.
Cressa, the same girl who moments before had thrown fire that she had created by her own hands. I catch myself staring because this girl Cressa is somehow able to use multiple kinds of magic! In all my life, in all the stories I’ve heard about girls in villages and towns far and wide, I have never heard of such a thing! And the other girl, Tam. She is currently floating high in the air as winds whip around her. She launches lightning out from her hand toward one guard on horseback, and with her other hand, she stops an arrow in mid-flight and sends it falling back to the ground. How many different types of magic is this girl using?
“Brielle! Brielle, we’re coming!” I snap out of my stupor and spin around. My parents are coming my way. They are running, but they are not running away. They are running toward me. Toward the fighting. Toward danger. I open my mouth to tell them to stop, to scream no.
And that’s when I see him. A Guard, his bow pulled back, and I see the moment he lets go and the arrow flies. And I take off running.
And for once, for maybe the first time in my life, I am too late. I am not fast enough.
I get to my mother just in time to catch her body as the arrow drives into her shoulder from behind. She gasps hard, eyes wide, as I carefully lower her to her knees.
“Brielle,” is all she can manage to whisper. And she sees the tears in my eyes. Yes, the arrow has missed her heart, her stomach, and all the vital things in between. But it has struck. It has pierced through muscles and flesh. If I leave the arrow in, she will die of infection. But if I remove it, then she will bleed out before any meaningful help can come. And all I can do is sit and hold her, and watch as she dies.
“TAM!” The voice is loud and I turn involuntarily to see Raven fighting off two guards at once with her sword. Raven moves fast and sure, blade spinning in her hands. In seconds one guard is disarmed and taken down with a slash across the chest. She spins, and her sword strikes the other guard in his face and arm before driving her sword into his stomach. She knocks the sword from the stunned guard’s hand and pulls her own sword free. “Tam!” she calls again. “We’ve got wounded! Time to wrap things up!”
I watch as Tam turns herself in mid-air and spots the archer who shot my mother. With a flick of her hand, Tam pulls the archer up off his feet and hurls him physically through the air, slamming him into a building on the other side of the square. Then Tam raises both hands high and five of the remaining Guards are all lifted into the air. Ten feet. Twenty feet. Thirty. Then she drops her hands, and the men all fall screaming. They hit the dirt and stay there.
Tam lowers herself to the ground and immediately starts walking my way. From the side, one of the townspeople – Tarvis Jaffson, the fool who runs the local tavern – calls out, “If you could just pick them up and throw them, why didn’t you do that to begin with?”
Raven comes up behind Tam and pushes Tarvis roughly out of the way. “Because, dipshit, it takes nearly all of her energy. And because we were trying to be careful. We didn’t want to hurt any of you bystanders, either with the picking up or the dropping.”
Cressa comes running up beside Tam. “How are you feeling, Tam?”
Tam gives a tiny nod. “Tired. But I can still do what is needed.” Then she closes her eyes for a moment, and the damnedest thing happens. Tam’s voice is suddenly inside my head.
People of Tarrentown. All who hear my voice. Come out. The fight is over.
I look to my mother and father, to my friends who have gathered around us, and I realize from their expressions that we are all hearing Tam’s voice in our heads.
Restrain the men who attacked your town. Take their weapons. Find rope and bind them. But do not kill them. They will receive their justice in due time.
Tam opens her eyes and places a hand on my shoulder. “And now, I must attend to this.” To my mother, she says, “Lorran, your name is? Yes?”
My mother’s eyes flutter open, and she manages a nod.
Tam gives me a reassuring smile. “Your mother will be alright. I can see that the wound is straight and clean. Cressa? Assistance, please?”
The blonde girl is by her side in an instant. She takes a knee in the dirt and she places a hand on my mother’s head. Cressa turns to my father and me and says, “Tam needs to work quickly, and for your mother, the pain will be great. I’m going to help Lorran stay calm, okay?” Without waiting for a reply, Cressa closes her eyes and says, “Find peace, Lorran. All will be well.” My mother’s eyes close as if in a light slumber. Cressa whispers, “Now, Tam. Do it.”
Tam’s hands move in a series of quick, smooth motions, but she never actually touches the arrow. The arrow snaps just short of the barbed tip, and then it’s pulled out through Mother’s back. But again, Tam never actually touches the arrow. Then there is blood, a lot of blood, but only for an instant. Tam covers my mother’s wounds with both hands and almost instantly, tiny wafts of smoke appear between Tam’s fingers. Then more smoke, and a second later, the shoulder of my mother’s dress bursts into flame. My mother’s eyes shoot open, she gasps sharp and hard. Then her eyes flutter closed. I see my father reach out to stop Tam, but the Lady Raven places a hand on his shoulder, restraining him. I can only stare in shock. The flames burn off, taking tiny fragments of the dress away like crisp black snowflakes.
When Tam moves her hands away, there is no blood. No open wound. Instead, there is red and blotchy skin. Part of my mother’s dress has been burned away, but she somehow appears uninjured from the flames. Her eyes are closed, and she doesn’t move at all as I carefully set her down on her back. But she is breathing, and she is alive.
I stare at Tam, and all I can think to say is, “You set my mother on fire.”
“I had to stop the bleeding quickly, so I mixed healing magic with fire to close the wound. Cauterize, Raven calls it. Powerful, but dangerous. Because of this, your mother will be very weak. Even with Cressa’s help, she passed out from the pain. She will need clean bandages and lots of rest. But she will live.”
I swallow back tears. She will live. “Thank you.”
Someone calls out, “What kind of people are you?”
We turn and see Tarvis Jaffson standing there, staring, pointing at Tam and Cressa.
“You two are witches! You’re… you’re wayward!”
The girl Cressa stands up with a sigh. “Listen, you mother-” She glances over at Tam, then clears her throat. “Listen, you. Maybe you didn’t notice, but we just saved your little village here -”
“Town,” Raven amends.
“Whatever. We just saved you clowns from a group of really bad guys who were ready to kill any and everyone here. You’re welcome, by the way.”
Tarvis looks ready to object again, but Hanna’s father steps in front of him. Quietly, he says, “These two girls, and that nice lady there, protected my Hanna. My Hanna can touch magic, too, as you well know, and we all know what those men would have done to her if given the chance.”
Tarvis sniffs. “Those men came here because of girls like your Hanna.”
I move without thinking. I run full speed, grab Tarvis by the front of his shirt, and slam him against the nearest building. The momentum created by my speed also makes me quite strong, apparently. “Hanna is my friend,” I snarl. “And the only reason those men even exist is because assholes like you still feel the need to look down your noses at girls like me. Girls like Tam and Cressa here, who just saved my mother’s life! So if you utter one more word, I am going to have one of those girls pick you up and fling you up into the sky!”
“And we’ll do it, too, “ Cressa adds. “Happily.”
Tarvis puts his hands up in surrender and I let him go.
“Still,” Mayor Tamash says quietly, “You must admit that what these two girls can do is…dangerous.”
It’s Raven who answers now. She shrugs and says, “It’s no more or less dangerous than what I can do with this sword.” She casually twirls her blade around as she speaks. “I’m very skilled, you know. I could kill you with it. Could kill this entire town with it, if I chose.” She stopped spinning the sword and slammed it point-first into the dirt. “A skill is neither good nor evil. It simply is. These girls are not dangerous. A sword in the wrong hands, in untrained hands, is dangerous. An untrained swordsman will do nothing but get themselves killed, and probably the person they’re trying to protect as well. Likewise, magic in the wrong hands can be dangerous. In untrained hands. But Tam and Cressa aretrained. Notice that we only killed the men who gave us no choice.” Raven pauses and shrugs. “Well, I did kill that one douchebag who shot an arrow at me. But I did warn him, right? Anyway, tell me which makes more sense – asking these girls to hide away their magic and go on untrained? Or to allow girls like Tam and Cressa to show these girls how to better control their magic?”
“You can do that?” my father asks. “You can train them?”
“We can,” Tam answers.
“You…” I take a breath and say, “You also know how to use multiple kinds of magic. I could tell. I have never heard of or seen such a thing. Were you born that way, or was that something you learned to do? Can you teach us?”
“We were shown,” Tam says. “Some can be shown. Others cannot. There is a friend of ours. Her name is Daal Fray. She would very much like to meet with you. With all of you.”
“And what are we supposed to do with them?” Mayor Tamash nods to the Emperor’s Guards, bleeding and unconscious, who are being tied up by other members of the town.
“They will be stripped of their armor and weapons,” Raven says. “Their steel is your do with as you wish. The men themselves will be sent out into exile. We try not to kill unless we have to. Their tale will serve as a warning to others that the girls of Wayward are no longer under their thumb.”
“And if they return?” the mayor asks. “Or if other men like them come back?”
“Any town that protects girls who can touch magic is likewise protected by the Knights of Krell. If they come back, we’ll know, and we’ll come back. And we won’t be so friendly next time.”
“So that’s it?” I ask. “They leave, and so you leave. That’s it?”
The girl Tam smiles at me. “No, Brielle,” she says, although I’m very certain I didn’t tell her my name. “That is not quite it.” From her pouch, Raven pulls out a rectangle, shiny and black, small enough to fit in one hand. She gives it to Tam. “We have something to show you first,” Tam says.
Nodding to the rectangle, I ask, “What is that?”
“This,” Tam says softly, “is hope. This is the future.”