Chapter One: Charlotte
A wail of torture pierces through the plaza, splattered blood stark against the cold, grey stones on the ground.
Charlotte Mayor glances down at the palm of her gloved hand. In Esmaria, possessing magic abilities was cause enough for an execution. The vibrant red-head tugs at her glove, as though it was slipping off her hand.
The girl looks up from the spiraling tattoo she can almost see through the fabric, at what lay in front of her. She stands in the back of the crowd, glancing at the warlock in the center of the square. Large chains bind him to the wooden pole he fights to get away from, even as the crowd throws rocks bigger than fists his way. The gag in his mouth doesn’t mask his screams of pain, his begs for mercy. The crowd in front of her roars in anger, displaying hatred for a species they have no knowledge on. Stones catapult through the air and bounce off the mage, his yelps sounding above the fervor of everyone else.
The plaza reeks of decay and rotting corpses, though the bodies of deceased mages are deposited outside the city limits. Charlotte had lost count of how many mages had been murdered here. She glances up at the castle, the balcony where the King overlooks his grand design. Something bubbles up inside Charlotte’s core when she lays eyes on him, the man responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent lives. A frown appears on the red-hair Sorceress’s face, and doesn’t vanish, even after she turns her attention away from the regent.
Charlotte had seen the man on the stake many a time before, but never realized he was like her. Her folk rarely knew each other. She didn’t go around telling everyone she was a mage to make friends. Charlotte’s shoulders droop as she looks at the man with pity, reminding herself that one day that could be her, if she isn’t careful.
The man grows quieter as the stoning proceeds. Charlotte looks back up at the regent, watches him give the signal to his royal guard. The five men at the other end of the plaza, dressed in silver armor, pick up the stones laying at their feet. They join the angered mob of humans, pelting the warlock with stones until the man’s screams cease. He stops moving, his head lolling forward as his legs give out on him. The body collapses on its side to the ground.
Charlotte cheers along with everyone else as they continue to jeer at the now-dead mage on the stone floor, if only to blend in. The crown is less suspecting of people who attend the executions. Though she can’t tell for sure, she suspects she isn’t the only mage here today. A tingling sensation rises up in Charlotte for a brief moment before disappearing. Not good. She searches the crowd for a girl with brown hair, pulling her away by the arm when she finds her.
The crowd begins to lose interest, dispersing from the execution. Charlotte whispers to the other girl, every word out of her mouth laced with a sense of urgency, “Delia, we have to go.”
Delia eyes light up and they leave the square, taking the least travelled exit. Guards mill every street, looking for any signs of sorcery. The tingling feeling Charlotte felt before pops up again, lasting longer this time. She has to get out of the city, or make it somewhere she won’t be caught. Does she have enough time to make it that far? There is no telling how long she can last without casting a spell once the symptoms surface.
A black haired, teenage boy with pointed ears appears beside Delia. Voronwë. A surge of relief pours through the young sorceress. Her friends will help her get to safety before she explodes.
Charlotte stumbles forward several steps as her body shudders with magic. This time, the sensation doesn’t vanish. Her friends drag her into an alleyway. Charlotte takes note of the exits. Her magic buzzes inside her, begging to be let out. She feels it in her lungs, her heart, even her veins. It overwhelms her. She will not make it to the woods outside the city.
“I can’t stay here. I have to get out of this place,” Charlotte says aloud, mostly to herself.
Delia grabs onto her arm, demanding her attention, “You’ll never make it if you don’t use magic. They’ll discover you if you try.”
Charlotte’s attention darts to the main street to their left. Delia has a point. If she doesn’t cast magic now, she will Detonate, a deadly consequence for any mage in Esmaria’s capitol. She looks at both her friends in turn, desperate for a solution to her problem. The constant buzz in her bones drowns the noise from the busy streets of the city.
Delia takes both Charlotte’s hands in her own, “Do something small. If anyone notices, we’ll protect you. Come up with a distraction. Anything.”
Charlotte’s eyes pop out in realization, “I can’t ask you to do that, Delia. Not for me.”
“I would accept an execution by stoning for you, Char. You’re my best friend, and have been for years.”
Delia’s complete faith and utter loyalty amazes Charlotte, even to this day. She steps back, and takes off a single glove. She feels the tingling magic between her fingers, begging for freedom. Charlotte points a single finger up in the air, a picture of a spout of water materializing in her mind. She whispers the single, blocky word, quiet enough so no one except her friends can hear her speak the incantation, “Vasser.”
Droplets of water spurt from her finger, arcing a foot in the air before they fall to the stone rectangles on the ground. As quickly as the water appeared, it vanishes, before anyone sees the fountain spewing from Charlotte’s finger. She takes a deep breath, sliding the glove back over her tattooed palm, concealing the spiraling midnight ink from view. A wave of relief surges through her—she did it, used magic in he city without getting caught.
A bellow echoes into the alley from the main street, “Magic!”
Charlotte meets Delia’s gaze in a panic. One of them could very well die today.
Delia grabs her arm, “Run. I’ll be right behind you.”
Voronwë is off before Charlotte can move into action. If they catch Charlotte in the company of an elf it will serve as more proof to execute her. It is not a crime to be an elf, however, they are persecuted by society, looked down upon by the Crown. As long as elves abide the laws restricting their freedoms, they cannot be executed for what—who—they are.
Charlotte hesitates at Delia’s side a moment later before she takes off farther down the alley. She took note of the exit lying at the end before she conjured the water. Elemental magic was enough to help her last a couple hours, until she found the time to go to the forest to let her magic loose.
Charlotte hooks a left as she leaves the alley, Delia two strides behind her. They enter a street clad with vendors selling goods from carts they wheeled onto the side of the road. Shoppers and merchants alike flee into the shops lining the street, shopkeepers wealthy enough to afford the expensive rental fees n the buildings ushering them inside. News of her presence spreads faster than she can get away. This will not prove easy for Charlotte.
Charlotte and Delia slow to a wall as they enter the street, turning off it as soon as they can. Charlotte looks over at her friend, but she is no longer there. Instead, a splitting image of herself takes Delia’s place. Her friend is a doppel, a type of shapeshifter who can change their appearance to look like other people. Changing her dark skin and brown air to match Charlotte’s pale complexion and fiery hair takes a lot of energy, but she keeps it up, for her closest friend.
The matching girls dart through the city, as fast as they can without running. They turn a corner and are met with panicked citizens running in every direction, desperate for a place to hide. Charlotte glances at her doppel friend, who nods. They join the crowd in their mad dash through the normally calm street. Here the two girls can run without fearing the guards noticing them, singling them out.
Charlotte wonders how much the guards saw. Did they get a good look at her, or did they just see the magic?
They come to an intersection and stop short. Charlotte looks behind her, staring at the guards fighting their way through the mob. Her heart races from more than the effort it took to sneak through. Her eyes widen when one of the palace soldiers meets her gaze. She turns towards Delia, grabbing her hand. Before she can open her mouth, the guard yells to his camaraderie.
“There she is. Grab her!”
The sea of humans parts for them, leaving a clear path straight to Charlotte and her friend. Delia whispers, “Let’s split up. I’ll throw them off your trail. We’ll meet at the usual place?”
Charlotte nods, “Be careful.”
As she turns away, Delia squeezes her hand and lets go. Charlotte doesn’t turn to see if her friend is alright. She can’t. Their plan relies on her. She must get to the forest before it is too late.
After another moment’s hesitation, Charlotte hooks a left. She keeps her head forward, fighting every pull she feels to check on Delia. A burning sensation trails down her hamstrings and calves, a fire she cannot ignore as she dodges around the crowd. Those around her flee for their homes, afraid of the runaway witch they have no idea is racing beside them. Charlotte pauses at another intersection, far away from where she left Delia.
Charlotte racks her brain to determine which way she needs to go. They had her escape plan figured out for years, hoping it would never come to this. She doesn’t even know if she will be able to return to her home after the events that occurred today. She sprints to the right, leaving the majority of her cover behind as they stumble in the opposite direction. Charlotte questions if she went the right way. The usually familiar city around her morphs into an unsurpassable maze. She bolts to the left, hoping it will send her in the right direction.
Something—no, someone—latches onto her hand and spins her around, opposite of the direction she was heading a moment earlier.
Charlotte’s heart freezes in her throat as the man forces her to turn around. She whispers a single word, so quiet she can’t even here herself. Her lips barely move as she swings around to look at the guard pulling her glove off to reveal a bare hand. He stares at it for a second longer before he check the other one, met with another blank slate.
The guard scrutinizes her from head to toe, looking for any sign of her tattoo.
Charlotte furrows her brow and crosses her arms, “What do you think you’re doing?”
The guard’s mouth hangs open, his eyes bewildered. He doesn’t know what to say. He just ripped the gloves off a lady. He stammers, attempting to collect himself, “My deepest apologies, my lady. I was mistaken.”
She rips the gloves from his grasp and slides them on. The guard backs up a step before Charlottes spin around and stomps away, taking the glamor spell off herself. She waits until she rounds the corner, ensuring she isn’t followed, and bursts into a run, headed for the woods. Her heard remains in her throat, even long after she left the royal guard looking confused. He had been sure Charlotte was a witch, but he couldn’t find any evidence to prove it. Charlotte trembles. Even though she used the glamor spell, the tingling through out her body thrums louder with every second. Past the point of return, Charlotte notes to herself. She has to get out of the city.
Charlotte jumps down over the balcony surrounding the city, into the foliage underneath her. It isn’t a high fall, but she twists her ankle when she lands, letting out a yelp. She glances up, breath still, waiting for someone to follow her over the edge. No one appears, so she stumbles into the woods. Charlotte won’t let her new limp get in the way of where she needs to be right now.
Five minutes later, Charlotte steps into a clearing. She takes in the view, searching for something. After a minute she spots the chimney smoke from a fireplace. The abandoned cabin. Charlotte smiles. She made it She takes a step towards her sanctuary.
And the Charlotte implodes.