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I sat, letting my feet dangle off of the sheer rock cliff down the road from my house. The roaring of the waves breaking against them soothed my pounding head as a gentle breeze played with my honey brown hair. A gull cried as it dipped and dove at the water. The salty smell of sea air filled my nostrils and I sighed.
When had life gotten so complicated? I wondered.
I knew, but saying it – even if it was just in my head – made it all the more real. And I didn’t want it to be real. I didn’t want it to even be a thought in the normal scope of the world as a whole. No one deserves this cure. I thought to myself.
“Gabi!” I jumped as my best friend Elena plopped down next to me. Unlike me, however, she crisscrossed her legs, keeping a good sized space between her and cliff.
“Gabs, do not scare me like that!” I clutched my heart, letting a little gasp out, “I was thinking.”
“Oh, well that explains that strange little yelp. We all know how spacey you get when you’re thinking!” She laughed a little, ignoring my side glare. “What were you thinking about?”
I shrugged. Not even Elena knew my secret, and I wasn’t sure I was ready to share that particular insight. “Nothing important. Just … life.”
A sympathetic look crossed her features and I stifled the overwhelming urge to smack it off of her face. I knew my life sucked at the moment. I didn’t need the reminder that was is Elena’s eyes. I wasn’t in the mood to deal with her nor her sympathy. I didn’t want to think about my parents splitting up, my boyfriend of two years dumping me after senior year, or about my other – more urgent – problem. In fact, I wished every last one of my problems would all get swept away, like the tide that pulled the shells and sand out to sea. Or, if the tide wouldn’t take my problems away, I wished to fly above them all like the gulls that flew around us.
“What’s wrong, Gabi?” Elena asked, interrupting my wild thought process. She’d cocked her head to the left, letting her hair pour over her shoulder like a chocolate cascade.
“Please stop.” I grumbled.
Elena’s brows lowered, “Stop what?”
“Never mind. I just … I just want to be alone, Elena.”
She huffed a breath, “Of course. That’s all you’ve wanted since Tyler dumped you.”
“Hey, I’ve been going through a lot.”
“Yeah and that’s usually when people lean into their friends, not push them away. Dylan and Allie are worried about you. So am I.” She placed a hand on my shoulder, “Gabs, let us help you.”
I glanced from her hand, to her face. “I can’t. Not yet. Talking about my problem … problems,” I quickly corrected, hoping she hadn’t notice my mistake, “It makes them too real, El.”
She stared at me for a moment, before sighing and getting quickly to her feet, “Fine.”
I could hear the hurt in her voice, but before I could say anything more, she turned, and walked off.
I left not long after Elena, my haven no longer as safe and problem-free as it had been fifteen minutes earlier.
As I walked home, the sun begin to drift down in the sky. I felt the wind pick up and I shuttered. It felt like a storm was coming.
One has already hit my life, I thought glumly as I stepped up onto the front porch.
Maybe I was being dramatic, even though I wasn’t usually. It was just … I’d discovered something about myself, something crazy insane. And it was changing everything. It was the reason Tyler had dumped me. I told him my secret and he’d completely flipped out. If the one person I was supposed to be able to trust more than anything wasn’t willing to help me through this, then why would anyone else?
I leaned against the railing, staring at the gathering storm clouds, letting the cool sea wind rustle my hair. A great desire welled up inside of me.
No! My head was shouting, The moment you use it, the moment it’s released, there’s no going back to normal.
I snapped my eyes shut. I let the wind play with my hair for a minute more, before I turned and walked into my house.
It was silent, too silent. There was no one pot and pans being moved around in the kitchen, no TV announcer sharing the sports stats, no puppy bounding up to great me. Mom had moved out two weeks ago and had taken Rocco, our terroir mix, with her. Dad was working late … again. He’d lost himself in his work when Mom had left, and there was no talking to him even when he was at home. Home wasn’t a home anymore. No one cared about Gabriella Rose Monroe or what she wanted in life. Now that I had just turned eighteen, no one seemed to think I’d care. In fact, when she had left my mom had told me the only reason her and Dad had stayed together so long was because I was still in high school. Now that I was going to college in the fall, it didn’t seem to matter.
I flopped onto the couch, dejectedly. My life was a mess. And I wasn’t sure it would ever get better
~ ~ ~
I crouched behind a bush, watching Gabriella. She leaned her head against the post holding up the porch’s roof. She was watching the storm clouds gather, and I shuddered a little as I heard the thunder begin to rumble.
Get inside Gabriella! I begged in my mind. Her eyes closed for a minute. Her brows lowered before her eyes snapped back open and she turned quickly and walked inside her house.
I breathed a sigh of relief as I ran my hand through my shaggy blond hair. My whole demeanor seemed to relax now that Gabriella was inside. For the moment she was safe.
I was still trying to figure out how to tell her. How to tell her who she was, what her destiny was to be.
My body tensed up again, fully aware of the person behind me, but not willing to let her see my fear.
“Serria.” I stated flatly, “What are you doing here?”
“My mother and I might ask you the same. You know the Otherworlds are off limits to commoners such as yourself.” She sniffed as if I was horse dung, or the shepherds that tended the flocks on the moors of the Highlands.
“I am the son of Terrin, the king’s and queen’s most trusted advisor.” I sized her up. She only came to my shoulder, her short black hair a contrast to her pale skin. A circlet rested in the middle of her forehead, a large onyx stone set right in the middle of it. The circlet came to a sharp point which rested right above her equally sharp nose. Her bright green eyes flashed in anger at my response to her.
“You are nothing more than the servant of the kings and queens. You will never be anything great.”
I straightened my broad shoulders, deciding to not respond to the slights. “Maybe not to you, but your opinion doesn’t really matter. You are an outcast of the Highlands and you shouldn’t be here.”
My eyes wanted to flick back to the house where Gabriella sat in her living room, blissfully unaware of how chaotic her life was going to become. But I resisted the urge, instead I continued to face the girl in front of me.
Serria was glancing over my shoulder, “Why are you here?”
“Official business.” I stiffened again.
“The kings and queens sent the son of their steward –”
“Advisor.” I growled.
Serria ignored me, “They sent you on official business? It must not be very important.”
“Go then, and report it to your mother.”
“Queen Torrent has a mission of her own.” Serria snapped, her eyes studied me, “And I’m wondering now … if it was indeed more important than I first thought.”
I drew my dagger, “Leave, Serria. Before I have to do something I will regret.”
She laughed, and every hair on my body stood on end. This wasn’t some normal girl, and I knew that. She was the daughter of my country’s sworn enemy. They both hated the Highlands and everything we stood for. They hated the True One, and served His enemy, the Darkness. I didn’t trust Serria, not when my assignment was so important, not when the balance of our world hung on the line.
“You cannot make me leave, Rowan.” She held her hands up, about twelve inches between them. “You cannot control me.”
I took a step back as lightening arched between her palms. Her bright green eyes seemed to glow, like the scaled on a poisonous snake. I stepped back again, my back bumping against a tree.
She laughed again, deep and loud. “Let me at her, Rowan. I’ll kill her before she ever finds out who she is.”
“Who are you talking about?” I asked, my voice shaking despite my best effort to hold steady and strong, as a knight should. Something about the power that Serria had left a sour taste in my mouth, and a very real fear in the pit of my stomach.
Serria clapped her hands together, slicing off the lightning. “Oh please, we both know the truth of why you’re here. This is where they’re hidden, isn’t it?” She scoffed, “One of the worsts places to hold the royal children. I cannot believe Mother didn’t find them before.”
I shook my head, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Serria.”
She growled, “Stop playing dumb Rowan. Come now, it’s time to fight me.” She drew a sword, swinging it in a fast swoop before standing at the ready.
I didn’t want to fight her. Not because I couldn’t, but because it would draw attention. It wasn’t time yet to be known, to show my hand and move. And Serria’s strange gift … that was a variable I wasn’t ready to confront. But I had to protect Gabriella and the others. That was my mission, my job. If that meant I had to reveal myself on a timetable not my own, then so be it.
“Alright.” I faced Serria, hoping I exuded the confidence I was sorely lacking. I began to draw my sword when a sudden blast of something hot shot past me. It blasted Serria in the shoulder, causing her to cry out in pain. She stumbled back a half step, clutching the spot that was already starting to blister. She sent a venomous look my way, her eyes in pain but also livid.
“We’re not through, Rowan. I’ll be back.” She seemed to melt into the forest, and I let a short breath escape me in my relief. But I little time to relish the thought that there would be no fighting today. Instead I turned to see who – or what – I sent the fiery blast that had saved my life. It had been well timed, well aimed, and had saved my life. For I had the notion that even if I was winning, one blast of Serria’s lightening and I would be dead.
“Thank you.” I started, but no one was there to receive my praise.
~ ~ ~
I jerked awake. My neck was stiff, and my head hurt as I stretched as I stood up from the couch, where I’d apparently fallen asleep. I didn’t know what had woken me up, only that suddenly every sense in my body was on high alert. Something felt like home, but what, or where it was, I hadn’t a clue.
You’re losing it Gabs. I shook my head, as I clicked off the end table lamp. As the room was enveloped into darkness, an eerie light flashed through the front window. It was almost an aqua color, which I didn’t know a light could be. Curiosity won out over the foreboding, as I pulled back the blinds to peek through. I nearly screamed as Dylan’s face was staring back at me. He smiled his goofy smile and motioned at the door.
I hurried to unlock it.
“You nearly gave me a heart attack!”
“Sorry! Boy, you’re in worse shape than El said.”
“Did Elena send you?” I glared at him as he pushed past into the entry way.
Dylan grinned is roguish grin, “Maybe, or maybe she came with.”
“Please don’t hate me!” Elena danced in through the door, laughing as my glare deepened, “Besides, it’s not every day we get to cheer up our perpetual sour puss.”
“I’m not a sour puss!” I protested weakly, “It’s just been a crazy couple of months.”
Dylan rolled his eyes, “Stop it already. Yeah, it’s been long, but you’re seriously milking this.”
My mouth fell open, “Is that really what you think?!”
He shrugged, “Well, you broke up a month ago, and you’re still moping.”
“It’s more than that!” I practically shouted.
“Then tell us!” Elena and Dylan chorused.
My mouth opened and closed a couple of times before I sagged against the wall, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
Elena crossed her arms, “Try us.”
I glanced at my friends. Both had their arms crossed now, and they were staring at me like they didn’t believe a word of what I was saying. I dropped my gaze to my bare feet, tracing a pattern in the carpet.
“You’ll have to promise not to freak out.” I whispered, dread already filling my gut like a balloon made of lead.
“Why would we freak?” Dylan asked, raising one of his black brows in a perfect arch.
A mirthless laugh escaped my lips, “Just wait.”
“We promise.” Elena promised for both of them, and of the two of them she looked the least skeptical.
I took a deep breath as I pushed myself off of the wall. Closing my eyes, I held one hand above the other. I felt the air pulsing through the room, like I had a sixth sense that could feel every atom it was made of. I called it to me, molding it into a ball that swirled and danced into a perfect sphere. It let me manipulate it to create a ship, sailing on invisible waves. I then flicked my wrist and it turned into a dancing princess, dressed in a large ball gown. The tension in my shoulders relaxed, and I began to let the wind tell me what it wanted to do. It told me to spin it into a butterfly, and to let it fly away. I obeyed.
The room settled. A rustle of a curtain made my eyes open. Elena’s hair was blown every which way, as was Dylan’s, his baseball hat on the ground by his feet. Both of their mouths hung open and if I hadn’t been so worried about their reactions, I might have laughed at how comical they looked. However my current situation was anything but humorous.
“That … you … oh, boy.” Dylan shook his head slowly, snapping out of the daze first. “That was unbelievable.”
I shrugged, glancing at Elena. Her eyes were glazed, and she had a distant look on her face. I turned back to Dylan. “I know. It’s crazy. That’s why I didn’t tell you earlier.”
Elena blinked, finally, breaking her daze, “Where’d they come from? When did they start? How hard are they to control?”
“Woah! Slow down, El!” Dylan put a hand on her shoulder, but she shrugged him off.
“Seriously, Gabs. I need to know it all!” She looked desperate.
“They started the night of my eighteenth birthday. I don’t know where they came from, what to use them for, or how to get rid of them. And they’re surprisingly easy to use. I just … listen to the air and the wind. I don’t know a better way of describing it.”
“It tells you what it wants you to do, doesn’t it?” Elena began to shake slightly, “It has a mind of its own, and it allows you to control it for a moment before it takes control of you. You’re scared to us it, because you don’t want to be overwhelmed.”
My eyebrows lowered, “How … how do you know that?”
Before she could answer, a knock sounded on the door, causing all of us to jump. I stared at it, my hands clammy, wondering who was coming to my house so late. I knew it was irrational, but part of me was always worried that Tyler had told someone about my powers. We hadn’t been the couple who was always all over each other. He’d told me early in our relationship that he dislike public displays of affection. So the most we’d ever done was held hands. That had been fine by me. I’d always felt like he was hiding something from me, it was one of the reason he’d ended our relationship. At least that’s what I thought. His reasons for breaking up were flimsy at best.
“Are you going to answer the door?” Dylan asked, after the person on the other side knocked again.
I swallowed, “I suppose.”
“You haven’t told anyone else, have you?” Elena gripped my hand as I moved toward the door.
“No one except Tyler. It’s why he broke things off with me.”
“What a jerk!” I heard Dylan mumble as I turned the door knob.
Trepidation swirled in my gut as I took in the person standing in front of me. “What do you want, Tyler?” I snapped, even though I had to admit he looked good. His blond hair blew gently in the breeze, as did his linen shirt. His toned muscles rippled, and I realized he seemed on edge. “What’s wrong?”
“May I please come in?” His eyes locked with mine, and I saw something there that made me step back and allow him to step into my living room. “Is there any place to hide?”
“Hide?” Dylan asked, causing Tyler to spin around. Something flashed in his hands, and I realized it was a huge knife.
“Where did you get that? Tyler what is going on?”
He studied Dylan for a moment, still clutching the knife. Then he turned and studied Elena – who’d latched on to Dylan’s arm in fear – before turning to answer me, “I’m not who you think I am, Gabriella.”
I bristled. Tyler was the only person I had tolerated using my full name. When he’d said it, it made me feel like a princess, beautiful and loved. But now it was just a painful reminder that I wasn’t worth sticking around for.
Elena whispered the question I was about to ask, “Who are you then?”
Tyler reached inside his shirt and pulled out a long golden chain. It glinted in the light, and I blinked in disbelief. Hanging from the chain were three rings. One was gold, one was silver, and the last was a bronze color. He glanced at me, then Elena. “You’re also not who you think you are.”
I crossed my arms across my chest, “A couple fancy rings, and strange cryptic messages aren’t going to cut it, Tyler.”
“Rowan.” His eyes met mine again, “My real name is Rowan. I am the son of Terrin, the advisor to the Kings and Queens of the Highlands. They’ve sent me to bring back their children.”
“Are they lost?” I scoffed, “They can’t keep track of their own kids?”
“They’ve always known where you were, Gabriella.”
“What?” My eyes locked onto his, “What are you talking about?”
“You heard me.” He looked unapologetically at me, his eyes hard and determined. “It’s time for you to go home.”
~ ~ ~
I watched the crazy emotions play across Gabriella’s face. First disbelief, then anger, then shock. Finally she spoke, “How can I be a princess? And where are the Highlands? And why should I trust you when you gave me a fake name?!”
Her voice rose with each accusation, and I couldn’t blame her. But with Serria in the area, the safest place was anywhere but here.
“I can explain it all, I promise. But right now there’s a very dangerous women bent on destroying you and Princess Elena.”
“What?!” Dylan grabbed my arm, slamming me against the wall. He was strong, but I could easily take him down if it came to it, “What drug are you on?!”
I glared at him as his grip tightened, “I’m not crazy, as you may think. I’m not inebriated, or on any of the drugs you have in this world.”
“This world?” Princess Elena’s voice was little more than a whisper. Her large green eyes looked lost in thought, and her hands were shaking. I wondered again if her powers had manifested, if she had the power of her forefathers like Gabriella did.
“Yes, you aren’t from this world. Your parents hid you here to protect you from the Tempest.”
“The what?” Gabriella’s tone was skeptical.
“The Tempest.” I repeated, glancing at the door as another low rumble of thunder echoed around the house, “And we need to move. Now.” I glanced at Dylan, “You’re now a threat to them. If you don’t come with us, they’ll kill you.”
He grunted, “You’re insane.”
I growled under my breath, “True One, I need some help.”
Elena’s head snapped up, “We can trust him.”
I stared, open mouthed, at Elena. Gabriella turned to her friend, “Did you not just hear the lunacy that is coming out of his mouth? Other worlds? Royalty? The Tempest?”
Elena’s shoulders straightened and she held her head high. Her dark brown hair slipped over the back of her shoulder, showing the elegant curve of her neck. Her brown eyes held a confidence she normally lacked. She looked every inch the princess she was, “He called on the name of the True One.”
“So?” Dylan glanced from me to his friend. Indecision flicked across his face. I knew he cared about Elena, I’d noticed it when I was Gabriella’s boyfriend. That had been a poor move on my part. Part of me hoped that by being her friend, I’d be able to be closer, and keep a better eye on her. I hadn’t taken into considerations that I might grow fond of her. It hadn’t ended well when I’d broken off the relationship. There had been too many things I‘d had to keep secret from her, and when her powers had manifested, I’d had to cut the bond completely.
Now I saw the same struggle in Dylan as he glanced between his two friends. “Who is the True One?”
“He is the great and might Lord of all of the Highlands.” I supplied, “He lives across the Great Sea. When his people call upon Him and His son, trusting and serving Him alone, they get to sail across the Great Sea and spend eternity with Him.”
Elena glanced at her hands before making eye contact with Gabriella. “We can trust Rowan.”
Gabriella’s eyes still held mistrust as she glanced at me, but she nodded, “Then we better hide, like he said.”
Elena smiled at her friend, “Thank you for trusting me, Gabi.”
Gabriella smiled for a moment before flicking the light switch off and motioning us to the basement.
The steps creaked with each step. The basement was dark, but it was also incredibly cramped. Boxes, old household items, and furniture were stacked haphazardly all over the floor. Metal shelves holding even more things in plastic tubs took up the remaining floor space.
“No light.” I whispered as Gabriella reached for a cord dangling from the ceiling, “They can sense it.”
She glared at me, “I still don’t trust you.”
I nodded, “I was a poor guardian. I’m sorry.”
She cocked her head, her green eyes studying me, as if she were just now seeing me for who I was. Maybe she was. “So … I’m a princess?”
I nodded, fidgeting with the hem of my shirt “I know it’s hard to believe. But your powers are part of you royal gift.”
She glanced at her hands, “So couldn’t we fight the Tempest? Escape?”
She was brave. She’d always been. I’d been sent two years before to start watching for the Princesses and the Prince. They were to be granted the royal powers somewhere between their sixteenth and eighteenth birthdays. Once they had obtained them, I was supposed to bring them back to the Highlands. The young prince had manifested early, earning him his trip home at fifteen. He’d been eagerly awaiting the arrival of his royal peers.
“Fighting isn’t always the answer. Besides, it would be you against at least ten well trained warriors.”
Elena shuttered, “She wouldn’t be alone though.”
My head turned in the direction of her voice. A small spark of light illuminated the tiny spot where we sat. It wiggled around, dancing in the darkness. I looked past it at the face that was controlling it. Fear was written all over her face.
“Elena –” Dylan started before Gabriella interrupted, “You can control fire!”
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