Crest of Thorns
Thunder bellows across the sky as I walk along the street. I walk with my hands wrapped around my waist. Moving quickly so I can avoid any unwanted attention. A cold breeze makes me shiver. “Need to get home before the storm starts,” I say, moving faster—a few drops of rain land on my face. The streets were starting to become less vacant as the night grew longer. I’ve always liked the rain. Sometimes I would walk during a downpour. It didn’t bother me, but I never did it after dark. I hated the night. Something about it terrified me. I needed to get home.
Stopping at a crosswalk, I make a note to look around. Everyone that was out suddenly vanished. I was alone. Another shiver crept up my spine. However, I wasn’t cold. A sinking feeling appeared in my stomach. I turn to my left and see a figure standing there. “Hello?” I say, clenching my bag closer to my chest. The figure was tall and muscular. I could tell it was a man. He wore a dark hoodie and black pants. I didn’t wait to find out what he wanted. I walked away calmly. I could be blowing things out of proportion. The rain is picking up. What was once a drizzle became a downpour.
I quicken my pace and turn down my street. I look behind me, and the man is still following from a distance. I walk past my house and decide to go into the local supermarket. Inside, customers were going about their night. No one was even looking at me. Breathing heavily, I try to find a manager. “Excuse me; I think I’m being followed. Can I hide here?” I ask, trying to catch my breath. The man doesn’t even flinch. He yawns and goes back to reading a book. “Hello!” I shout—still nothing.
I walk to the back of the store and hide in the bathrooms. Taking out my phone, I dial the first number I see. “Booker? I need you! I think I’m being followed by someone!” I say, keeping my voice low.
Booker yawns, “Huh? Followed? Where are you?”
“Harley’s Supermarket. The one past my place. I need you to come and get me. Please!”
A loud banging noise came from the bathroom door. It was him. I’m sure of it. “Booker! Please hurry.”
“I can’t…you…stay…coming,” Booker said. The line was breaking up. No doubt because of the storm.
I can’t wait for him to get here. I need to act now. I try to calm myself. Whatever this guy wants, he’s not going to get it. Putting distance between myself and the door, I watch as the door flies open and the man stands before me.
“What do you want?” I say, voice trembling.
“What do I want? What a strange question. It’s simple, really. I need your blood—all of it. I’m not taking no for an answer,” He says. He removes a blade from his belt and holds out his arm. My body jerks forward, and I fly across the room into his grasp.
“What? How did you?” I ask. My body starts to feel heavy. No matter how much I try to move, I can’t.
A slow smile creeps across his face like a predator about to enjoy its meal. He brings the dagger to my throat and presses the tip into my skin. A bead of blood slides down the blade. The man quivers as he draws more blood. “Such a beautiful color. I’m afraid this will be painful. I tend to take my time with my work. You understand,” He laughs. No, it can’t end like this. I can’t die here. This man…why does he want my blood? What kind of psycho is he?
It was then, at the brink, that I heard something deep inside my mind. Something I haven’t heard since I was a child. It was a stern and calm voice. It was chanting something in a language I didn’t understand. Before I could make sense of it, my mouth started chanting them as well. I wanted it to stop, but the words kept coming. The expression on the man’s face turned dark as he realized what I was saying. He brought the hand holding the dagger close to my heart. “Seems I don’t have the luxury of taking my time. Sorry, but I’m ending this now. No hard feelings.” He tries pushing the blade into my chest, but something stops him. Suddenly, he flies backward out into the bathroom and crashes into a display of chips. I crumble to the floor and stop chanting.
Standing up, I take this chance to run past him and out into the parking lot. I wipe the blood from my neck and try to run. The rain was pouring down when it suddenly stopped. Everything became quiet. The only sound I heard was coming from my beating heart. “How’s this possible?” I ask, looking for an exit.
“That wasn’t very nice. You could’ve hurt me,” The man says from the entrance. “I don’t know how you did that, but I won’t let it happen again.” He takes out a second blade and walks towards me. “Don’t try to run; no matter how far you go, I will find you. Make this easy and just submit to me.”
“Back off! I called the cops. They’ll be here soon,” I lied. Booker wasn’t a cop, but he always kept me safe. If I was going to die, at least I could think of Booker. Having him as my final thoughts didn’t feel so bad. Another shiver went down my back. This one was different from the others. I felt cold. Like I was in a frozen lake. The tips of my fingers were turning blue. My body was shivering.
The man saw what was happening and broke out into a sprint. The look of worry and determination became more apparent with every step he took. He was seconds away from plunging his blades into my chest when a burst of energy came from my body and sent him flying. He skidded across the parking lot and landed next to some shopping carts. Feeling weak, I crumble to the ground. The bitter cold still clinging to me. The rain resumes, and the sounds of the city come back. I tried to lift my hand, but it was stuck. “What?” I say as I see my hand was frozen. It was stuck on a thin sheet of ice. “Where did this come from?” I try and pull myself free, but it doesn’t work.
From the corner of my eye, I see the man start to recover. Without looking at his face, I knew he was angry. A red aura billowed off of him. The rain that touched him quickly turned to steam. The very air around him was boiling. “You know, I was just after your blood, but now I want your head. I’m going back to my original plan. I’ll kill you slowly, take your blood, and then burn the remains. You brought this on yourself.” A twisted cackle came from his lips. Every step he took left a red hot footprint behind him.
No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t break free. Fear washed over me as I look up and see the man smiling down at me. This was it. I’m going to die.
Behind him, I see movement. It was Booker; he was running towards us. The man didn’t take notice of Booker’s presence until he slammed into him. Both of them roll on the ground before recovering. Booker positioned himself between my attacker and me. A faint purple glow covers Booker’s hand, and a crackle of electricity ran over his hands. He turns his head in my direction and asks, “Are you alright?”
“Besides this guy trying to kill me? Doing great,” I say. I calm down now that Booker is here. I pull at my hand, and it breaks free from the ice. Booker turns his attention back to the man.
“I thought you guys didn’t hunt here. Or at least, you’re not supposed to. You got some nerve, Damien. I could kill you, you know? You and I both know if I went all out, you wouldn’t survive.”
Damien’s eyes go from Booker to me. Putting his blades back into his belt, he walks calmly towards us—stopping inches from Booker. “You can’t protect her forever. I’ve seen what she can do. I’ve drawn her blood. You’ve failed, Guardian.” He turns his attention to me and smiles. “I’ll get you next time, okay? Try not to die before I can kill you.” Damien turns around and walks away. Disappearing behind the store.
Booker takes a deep breath and turns to me. “Where did he cut you? How much blood did you lose?” His worried expression made my heart sink. He lifts my chin carefully and examines my face. I wish he would let me go. My heart is beating too fast. I back out of his touch and brush myself off.
“I’m good. It was just a flesh wound. Do you want to tell me what the hell just happened? How was he able to make me fly towards him? Why does he want my blood? How did the rain stop? Why did my hand freeze to the ground?” I ask—questions rolling off my tongue before I could think.
“I promise I’ll explain all of it. Come on; I got to take you somewhere safe.” Booker disappeared behind the store and drove his car into the parking lot. “Get in.”
I slide into the passenger seat, and Booker speeds down the road. He turns down a path into the forest. We ride in silence for a while before Booker breaks the silence. “Before I tell you anything, I need to know how this began. How long had he been following you for?”
“A couple of blocks. I was on my way home from the swim club. We had a late practice session. It was fine until I got close to my street. I noticed him following me and ran to the supermarket,” I say as I look out the window. The situation is just now hitting me. “He could’ve killed me.”
“I wouldn’t have let that happen. You said he made you fly across the room?”
“I felt a force pull me towards him. It felt like someone was controlling me.” The shiver down my back returns. A small crack forms on Booker’s window. His eyes flick towards the crack, then back to the road. Was he pretending not to notice? I slump down into the seat. “I just want to go home.”
“That’s not happening. Not right now anyway,” Booker says, turning down another dirt road.
I arch my eyebrow at him. “Excuse me?”
“Too dangerous. He knows you were in that area for a reason. He’ll most likely come back to look for you. I can’t risk that. I’m taking you somewhere safe. Somewhere he can’t go.”
“Hold on. I never agreed to go-“
“I can’t lose you! If I were even a second late, he would’ve killed you or worse!” Booker tried to calm down. “It’s my job to make sure you’re safe. Now that he knows where you are, I need to take stronger measures to ensure your safety.”
Looking at him, I see the pain and embarrassment all over his face. Booker and I have been close ever since we were kids. He was always there when I needed him. He’s my rock. I think back to when my mother died, and we were holding hands at her funeral. He kept looking around like he was expecting someone. I just thought he was trying not to show any sadness by looking for something to focus on. Was I in danger back then? “Who was that guy?”
“His name is Damien Haynes. He’s part of a group that practices blood magic. That’s why he wanted yours. They look for strong…individuals who carry power and take their blood. I know it sounds crazy, but I’m not lying. Tell me, did anything weird happen when you two were alone?”
“Blood magic? Seriously? I thought you said you didn’t drink? You sound drunk right now.”
Rolling his eyes, he stops the car and turns to me. Opening his hand, a small spark appears over it. “This is magic. It’s real. I can do it, Haynes can do it, and…you can do it. I saw the ice under you back in the parking lot. I saw the crack that you made on my window.” The spark grew, and his hand was covered with electricity. I couldn’t help but stare at his hand as the electricity danced across his hand.
“Does it hurt?” I ask. It was beautiful the way it made his eyes glow.
“No, it kind of feels…tingly? I used to get this bad twitch in my hands. Once I started to use my magic, it went away. You remember,” He says as the electricity fades.
I remember he used to have to be extremely careful when holding anything. His twitches would get bad to the point that his whole body used to jerk when he moved. It killed me that I couldn’t help him. All I could do was be there with him during his fits. He laughs about it now, but it still makes me sad thinking about it. “I’ve felt this shivering sensation down my back. It started when I was walking home. I thought it was because of the storm, but I don’t think that’s the case. How did I make that ice? My whole body felt like I was freezing.” The image of my hands turning blue floods my mind.
“Hmm, I think you might have an affinity to water. You felt cold, so your magic reacted to it.” Booker shrugged. “We’ll find out for sure when we get to the academy.”
I give him a puzzled look. “Academy?”
“A place you’ll learn to control it. It was founded over a century ago by the first The Archmage. We’re almost to the entrance. Once we get to it, let me do the talking. Also, no matter what, don’t look anyone in the eyes until I tell you, okay?”
“Alright, I trust you,” I say, keeping my head down. I couldn’t ignore the sharp pain going down my spine. It almost made me dizzy. My breathing was becoming unsteady, and my vision was becoming blurry. I felt Booker’s hand on my shoulder. I try to face him, but he looks like a blob. My head slumps forward, and everything goes black.
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