The warmth of the sun was gentle on my skin as I lay on the soft grass. Crickets chirped and voices carried in from the distance the two blending into a cheerful melody to my ear.
I sat up, eyes swiping the distance before lowering down to the people at the bottom of the hill. It was one of those rare days when we could forget all duties and just enjoy the weather outside the stone confines of our city. Some were lost in games, bouncing around firebolts or chasing each other through the fields, others simply bathed in the sun, talking, laughing, or just relaxing. And I observed it all with a rare smile to my face.
Enlil shifted besides me, trying to brush an ant off his hand in his sleep. He had dozed off some time ago, some watchman he was, and I had not the heart to wake him. As if anyone would dare attack us. Or slip by me if one foolish enough did exist.
I fell back on the grass, my eyes closing, and far below in the endless fields of wild grain someone squealed in delight.
It was a day much like this, when I first met Ila.
Her presence overwhelmed my senses before she had even come into view. Eyes snapping open, I jerked up, searching for her form across the distance.
Soon enough, she emerged, in all of her impressive height, on top of the hill across. She halted there, facing the gray dome of the temple that lied in the foot of the mountains behind.
I knew she was no threat, of course, for she was alone, and donned in the ceremonial robes of a diplomat of her clan. But her presence still made my hair stand on its end, for there was power in it, and power unlike that of most people I knew. Not sharp, nor bright, not even heavy, but simply… vast.
“Who is she?” I whispered to Enlil as he stirred out of his sleep. He had felt it too, no doubt.
He blinked his hazel-green eyes open and slowly sat up, gaze drifting her way. A soft frown creased his face. “Ila, the leader of the Guardians.” he said and proceeded to brush every rogue blade of grass of off his shirt. But his hand stilled when my unblinking stare landed on him. “She must be here to see the Head.” he answered with a sigh. I continued to stare as he patted his garments smooth. “All right, all right,” he said, “I’ll do something about it.”
I gave him a smile and he answered with another sigh as he rose. His eyes scanned the distance, this time with intent. “Mind helping me across?” he said, hand extended to help me up.
“Of course.” I took it, climbing to my feet and measuring the distance with a glance myself. It was small, easy to traverse with one carefully judged jump and the natural wind was soft enough not to interfere.
I took a deep breath as I waited for the wind to rise. In the exact right moment, with Enlil’s hand in mine, I rushed for the edge to gain momentum, and pushed off and through the air.
We landed softly on the ground not far from her, and Enlil stumbled, but I extended an arm to still him. He thanked me with a weak smile and I let go once I was certain he had regained his balance.
He straightened his clothes, again, fixed up his posture and swiped a hand through his light brown locks to smooth them from the wind. Get on with it. I urged him with a stare and rolling his eyes at me, he turned to her.
And her eyes were incredibly green. A colour so pure, I had never seen in anyone before. And her hair was long and brown, strong, for the wind did nothing to oppose its perfection. But most of all, the intensity of her aura burned through my senses. I could feel my eyes water even though the sun was hidden by a cloud. Her gaze shifted to me and she smiled, softly, toning down the energy around her before she made me seize.
In a slow casual pace, Enlil crossed the few remaining steps between them. He was tall, coming a good head above me, but when he halted before her, she dwarfed him. She smiled as he greeted her, and how wouldn’t she, for his was the most elaborate greeting of all. He finished with a graceful bow, worthy of a clan representative and I had to admit he had come far for the past few years.
They exchanged a few words, to which I wasn’t really listening. My full attention returned to them, however, when I saw his smile waver into a frown. He concealed it well, of course, and I doubted she even noticed, as he invited her to follow with another half bow.
And it was only then that I noticed the small figure besides her. Grasping at the green of Ila's robe was a little girl. She was looking around sheepishly, afraid to meet anyone’s eyes, though the safe refuge of Ila’s figure seemed to give her enough confidence to stand up straight and pull at her guardian's sleeve in opposition when she tried to follow Enlil. Ila ruffled her short curls, murmuring something to the girl to make her releas. They were looking at me now, and noting Enlil’s hidden smile, I froze.
Great, I was stuck with babysitting duties.
Enlil flashed me another amused look and I rolled my eyes. I can handle it, I told him with a glance but he seemed unconvinced. It's just one kid, I added and he smiled apologetically. Ila's gaze shifted between us. She was probably wondering what secrets were being passed. Though in all honestly, I doubted she knew what was actually going on. After the Empire fell, no one used psychic links anymore. They required too much trust between the parties.
What does she want? I demanded and he gave me a subtle shrug. Council business, I concluded and after one last shared secret glance looked away.
The Council had recently annexed the Guardians, which seemed to give them newfound confidence. I had heard the rumours, they were pushing for a Union between the ex-Imperial clans again. I had to wonder why, it wasn't like it worked the last few times. I had to give it to them, they were persistent. But I wasn't too sure how we fit in that little scheme of theirs. We were big, yes, but also firmly neutral and independent since before the Empire had collapsed.
The two of them proceeded down the hill, Ila in the front and Enlil half a step behind, common courtesy, soon becoming no more than dots in the distance. The girl they’d left behind rocked on her feet a few times before deciding it wiser to sit. Sighing, I walked over, carefully lowering myself besides her.
"What do they call you?" I asked when the silence had become too heavy.
"Therra." she said briefly in an unfamiliar accent. Her eyes were following the tiny figures below, and I could see the wrinkles dance about her face as she tried to keep it stoic. "Your people are odd." she said in the end.
I traced her gaze to the group of children playing with a firebolt, an amused smile creeping over my face. "Never seen a fire user?"
She shook her head. "I've met a water priestess. She smelled odd."
It was cute, I thought, how she referred to auras by smell. The young ones always linked physical and mental senses. It made it easier to learn to control. Or so I was told. Even Enlil, until very recently, kept claiming that he could hear them. But as much as I tried, I couldn't remember what I used to see aura as.
"You get used to it," I said, "eventually."
She looked back down, carefully examining every figure with her vivid hazel eyes. "That one," she said pointing at a woman, "is water?"
"Fire. And there's earth." she pointed them out with a growing smile. "And..." she grew silent, her eyes narrowing at the tiny shape of a child.
"Air and fire," I said, "but he mostly uses lightning."
Her nose wrinkled. "He’s confusing..."
"Yes, mixed ones are." I told her and the small smile crept back over her face.
"What are you?" she said big round eyes boring into me. "You don't smell. Not much anyway."
Her brows knitted. "Are all air like that?"
"No," I shook my head, "just me." Well not exactly, but I didn't feel like explaining the complexities of aura suppression. Not to someone as young as she was.
Her eyes lingered upon me for a while longer before returning to trace everything happening below.
Now and then she would turn to ask me a trivial question or another and I would answer, trying not to let my annoyance show. She was young after all, and I imagined it was exiting, having left her mono-elemental clan for the very first time. Who would have known, back then, that this little girl, would shortly become a Guardian herself. And successfully rise to the ranks of a general in no time. Still, much for the dismay of her clan, she never did take Ila's position. I’d imagine they were even more displeased when second seat slipped her too. But at that point in time, it was yet to come, and we were just there, as the sun continued to shine from high up above us, sitting on the soft grass, a top of the hill, observing the children play and the adults relax down below. A beautiful memory.
That I had forgotten. How could I had forgotten? And how come I was remembering?
I was dreaming, I realized. How could I be dreaming? I didn’t remember going to bed.
Slowly it all started to come back. The car, me running, the party, and... And I was dreaming. Which mean I hadn’t died.
My mind wandered on the edge of reality for what felt like an eternity before it finally began to clear. And with the clarity came the ache, and oh god, I ached all over, especially my head, my shoulder, and if I wasn’t mistaken my hip. But it was a soft ache, telling me I was all right.
It was bright, where I lay, even through my eyelids. But the glow felt artificial. A lamp, definitely. My eyes ached from and so I kept them closed. At least for a little while more.
I wasn’t alone, I realized after a moment. I could clearly feel the presence.
But then… where was I? The hospital?
Oh god, no.
My eyes snapped open to face a white ceiling. I took a breath to gather my strength and then pushed myself up into sitting. She shot from the armchair across, eyes wide on me and I answered her with a weary glance.
No. Just no.
I swung my feet over the edge, ready to bolt. But it took a breath, for my head was spinning. Nevertheless, I propelled myself standing, and would have toppled over if she hadn’t emerged to catch me. Slowly, she lowered me back onto the bed. On the soft, cool bed with the gentlest sheets I had ever felt on my skin. Damn, it was comfortable. So comfortable I was lured back into the haze of sleep.
My eyes snapped open once more and in a single effort I sat up again.
“Easy there.” she said as her hand came to my shoulder, keeping me in place. “It’s all right.” she purred as I waited for the blood to return to my head. “Stay.”
What? I was a pet now?
When the blackness left me, I shifted my eyes to her, hoping I could communicate the entirety of my displeasure in a single pinched expression.
“How are you feeling?”
She had the audacity to ask!
I held my breath for a brief moment and then released it in a sigh. “Fine.” she didn’t deserve my rage. Not her. Some of the others most definitely, but not her.
“Does it hurt anywhere?” she asked, an earnest look in her bright blue eyes.
“No.” I shook my head. “I’m fine.”
Her hand was still on my shoulder, I realized, leaving when I made no further attempts to stand. No one moved for a moment, not that I could with the vertigo intensifying.
“It’s been a while, hasn’t it.” she said, breaking the silence.
I looked up. “It has.” Indeed how long it had been… “Why am I here?”
She blinked her pale eyelashes at me. “You spoke to Terra,” she said, a waver in her voice, “didn’t she tell you?”
“She told me,” I confirmed, “but I still don't understand why I’m here.” I swiped the golden motifs of the room with a glance. “Wherever this is.”
“You’re at a Roaring Thunder safe house.” she said and I felt the blood freeze in my veins.
Don’t panic, I told myself, it’s all right, I would be all right.
I was still alive after all.
“Are you really all right?” she moved closer, hand landing on my shoulder again.
I jerked back, not so much by intention, gazing at her across the new distance.
“I assure you there is no need for alarm.” she said, a pained look to her eyes. Her accent was soft, cute even as she tried to pronounce the words. East European if I had to guess. “Atlanta just wants to talk.”
I ran the meaning of that name through my mind, now sure I was turning all shades of pale. “Look,”
“Clare.” she said with a pained smile. “My name’s Clare now.”
“Clare… Nice new name," I said, "and face." I added for the jagged scar, by which I once knew her, no longer creased her face. “We didn’t exactly part on the best of terms, so you can imagine I’d be nervous.”
She smiled. “I swear no harm will come to you.” she said. “I will make sure of it.”
And why couldn’t I believe that? But she clearly did, her blue eyes boring into me with confidence. They used to be brown, I remembered. Only the copper hue of her jaw long hair was the same, not that I would ever mistaken that soft aura of hers. Merely being in the presence of a healer soothed all ache.
“And you?” I gazed at her. “What do I call you?”
“Skye.” I uttered. “You can call me Skye.”
How long had it been since I last used that name? And how long was it since I had been called by it? An eternity? Skye. A name that meant heavens. I liked the feel of it as she spoke it. I really liked feeling… like myself again.
"Are you hurting anywhere?” she repeated, her voice bringing me back to reality. “You were hurt,” she said, “I treated you, but I don't have full control yet. I can’t tell if it’s fully healed.” I didn’t answer, safe for the blank stare of my eyes. “Do you want something?” she spoke again. “Water? Food?”
“Going home would be nice.” I uttered.
I felt her still and rose my eyes to meet hers.
“But I feel I don’t have much of a choice on that matter, do I?” I said.
“No, I’m afraid not.” she said quietly, averting my stare. “Why don’t you just talk to her.” She said once she dared look at me.
“Well since I’m still alive and all, I might just as well do that.” I said.
She didn’t answer, gazing down at me with that same pained, unreadable expression.
“My shoulder.” I said. “My shoulder still hurts.”
The spark returned to her eyes as she reached out, stopping midway, eyes meeting mine with a question. “Do you mind?”