© Emma Websdale
That moment, when every emotion has been strung out, every thought stretched to snapping, when your head is screaming and your chest is numb from the sick palpitations your heart has sputtered out. When you feel like you are made from the thinnest glass, likely to shatter into a million fragments of pent-up anxiety at any given moment. But do you show it? Of course you don't show it. Because doing so means revealing weakness and vulnerability. Being vulnerable in this game is a risk. A deadly one at that. Smile.
You pretend everything is okay on the outside, you even laugh. But, you can feel the darkness eating away at your flesh from the inside, crawling into your lungs, crushing your breath and tugging at your too-fast heart.
Laugh again, yes, that's right, you have everyone fooled, laughing with you. You have them right at your fingertips.
Turn your head to the anxious pairs of eyes that are relying on you, waiting for that single movement you make to finish the room, taking all the fake laughs, artificial faces and false promises with it.
Impatiently wait for that single nod, that order which confirms everything – power, talent. My power, my talent. No one will see it coming, nevertheless, I'm petrified; a job this big still feels impossible.
I have trained my body and soul for this, I have left my family, sacrificed my life and bound my name to my duty, so here I am ready to male it all worth it. I blink.
The image of brown eyes locked on to me burns through my retinas, setting my world on fire. But it's no longer real, just a harrowing memory that will always steal my breath as sharp as a knife to the lungs. Just one blink was all it took to send me spiraling, that darkness creeping up into my throat and out through my eyes. Dreaming and remembering her makes it impossible. Just like any addict, I'm screwed by unfaithful consequences from having my drug taken away from me.
Sonte digs his nail into my back, bringing my mind back on the room; all the eyes of the protectors look worried. Shit, I am showing my weakness. I broaden my shoulders and flex a dazzling smile; again, you have them fooled. And how simple was that? To pretend? These people were making it far too easy.
"Time is almost up," Sonte whispers and instantly turns his back on me. He seems to do that a lot recently. Denying contact with me because he can't bear to witness the person I have become. Not many can. I take a couple of steps closer to the target, and check on Depli, still no nod. What was the hold up?
That throbbing in my fingertips hints that something isn't right, something uninvited is here. The hairs on my neck and arms stand like stubborn wires, another physiological confirmation of messed up plans.
I freeze over and hold my breath, I need to hear everything. Heartbeats, a cough, lips brushing a naked neck, the humming of a hearing aid, the brushing of hair behind an ear, begging, money hitting pockets, the biting of nails, lies being made, wait… there was something else.
I crank my head to the right, ever so slightly. There it was. How the hell did none of us notice?
First it spat, and then it cackled. It shuffled its way around the room, completely undetectable from the human eye. I closed my eyes and concentrated on its erratic movements. It's disgusting hot body enclosed the youngest in the room, a small girl.
I shot a glance at Depli, begging and pleading with imploring eyes for him to permit me to make a move. He glared back at me with the most formidable eyes I had ever seen him wear as a leader. I helplessly watched the monster steal the small girls soul, lapping up its innocence. It made me quiver and tears flocked to my eyes. Why wasn't Depli allowing me to act? Why was he standing so cold and unaffected? I wanted to punch him. He had already taken away the rarest thing from me. I felt the room turn cold and my heart tear right down the middle. The smile was wiped from my face and my fingers fell free from a clenched fist.
I dropped to my knees, hearing them crack as they let me crumble in failure on the floor. The tears ran, and the cry for help escaped my stricken mouth. I had finally lost it; I had finally exposed my weakness; I was broken. It wasn't supposed to happen this way. This battle was too hard without her, life was too meaningless. I threw my body to the ground and allowed all the pain to leak out, convinced that nothing could get me back up again.
It wasn't always like this. I wasn't like this. It wasn't until the final part of our plan that things began to disintegrate, that we started to lose. We could no longer hold it together. When we started out we ran on passion, commitment and an unquenchable thirst to fight for our race. Then she was taken from me. The streets became dark, no hint or blossom of colour seeped into the world. Even the raindrops had turned black. Everybody had become contaminated by fear, and here I stood empty in the future wondering tirelessly who would be taken next.
Before you go thinking that life is one straight path, or that you are even in control of it, don't be so foolish. Nothing is ever that straightforward. Right from the basics of energy acquisition in life, comes a dance with death. Every single inhalation to acquire oxygen consists of numerous gases fuelling each cell in the human body with an insurmountable energy supply. But what if the atmosphere started to change, leaving us unable to synthesise that one important molecule? And who's in control? Not you. You rely on that oxygen, respiration is not a choice.
As close as death can come, life is always on the horizon. Just the sound of your voice singing to a song can vibrate waters miles away from you, bringing hibernating water nymphs into their adult life cycle. You have awoken a life. Today I could have saved one, a little girl. But the choice wasn't mine to make. None of this was.
Chapter One -The Beginning
My pace deepened, making one foot almost unable to defeat the other, every exhausted step overcome by frustration and fear. The wind gushed in through my open mouth, forcing my lungs to oust sharp breaths that burned at my throat. My heart swelled with every beat, each pulse persuading my overwrought mind that it was ripping open just a little bit more. Beneath me, the loose gravel slid, whirling and smashing in frantic circles like mini tornadoes.
Impossible as it seemed, I pick up my pace, forcing screaming muscles and aching limbs to move, to accelerate stronger, harder. I couldn't stop now, even if I wanted to.
The wind clung to me, bruising every part of me it touched. The gravel beneath my feet spun faster, becoming lost in a maze of panic. The sun scorched its personal autograph along my shoulder blades, making another part of my body beg for surrender. But I wouldn't.
I continued to race past the world, barely in contact with the floor now. I used what remained of my strength to force my eyes up to face my destination, the cliffs. The tip toe towards a 3,560 foot drop – the third highest in my country.
I prepared my body for the terrifying break off; flinging my whole weight down towards my feet, and with my last ounce of untouched fear I sprang up, leaving the gravel on the ground behind me. The wind instantly struck me, but it wasn't sharp enough to skew my balance.
Finally able to relish in the moment I had waited so long for, I spread my arms and flew into the cover of blue as instinctively as a bird.
I savoured the freedom of the air, soaring further away from the earth, further away from every excruciating connection to reality. Taking power over the wind I obliterated the fear that had dominated me only moments before, letting the supremacy of my body rip through the sky. The sun was dazzlingly bright and invitingly warm, the clouds stirred weightless and free and the view from this height was spectacular – one that made my lips whisper 'wow'. Fresh air streamed through every orifice, my breathing eased and my lungs relaxed with the treat of well oxygenated air.
No one could catch me; no one could pull me down. I was unstoppable. I gazed back down at the scene below me, a mighty rockless sea of blue. The water was crystal clear, exposing dark shadows cast from schools of fish, sparkling with temptation, restlessly waiting for me to explode through its surface. My entire body tingled with life and I felt so in touch with the world.
I closed my arms to my sides and absorbed the final seconds of sky-high panorama and adrenaline rushed heartbeats. The sea didn't become larger as I fell closer like I'd expected it to.
Water flooded my nostrils, burning me with its curiosity as it surged inside to explore the intruder disturbing its calm. My brain felt hot, and the unusual presence of water in my airways burnt. I watched the world dissolve as my lungs drowned, my body choked and the weight of the water pushed me further from the sunlight and into an unknown black. Had I gone too far this time?
"Finally, he is exploring his talents." I heard mumbling, "After eighteen years he has done it. We can finally invade. The muffled words continued.
"Ah, you see, I told you he had more power within him, you misjudged the will of the boy's talents."
What was going on? I tried to move but it was useless. I tried to see, but that was useless too.
"You must take it easy with him, he is the most important piece. You must remember if we damage or overwork him we could jeopardise everything!" I struggled in vain to make out my surroundings, but the unknown black prevailed. I focused on carrying the stranger's words to my ears and what I had heard scared me.
"Master, look! He is moving".
"I don't know but he looks to be struggling."
"He certainly is, perhaps even stronger than I second guessed. Remember, this is going to be a frightening time for him." The voice matched to an older man and was filled with concern. Unexpectedly, I was grabbed from beneath my armpits and forced up to my feet. Why was everything so dark? Complete blackness. I tried to feel my eyelids with my fingers to see if they were open but they wouldn't function. My lips felt glued together, I couldn't speak or move. I knew that something was holding me in place but it couldn't be detected on a personal level – there was no physical binds. This was nothing I was familiar with. The voices continued.
"He can hear us too." another voice joined in.
"Hear us? Don't talk nonsense! The whole point of my talent is to leave him oblivious to everything; I am in control of his mind now."
"But you should know the tricks of this trade – anything can happen, and besides, we still don't know how strong or clever he actually is." The concerned voice replied,
"Let's finally settle this and greet him properly shall we?"
Shafts of light gently began to merge. I watched each beam sneak into my eyes, running quickly, as though in fear of being snatched back up by the darkness. Within seconds, enough light had escaped and was sparkling brightly all around me. It took over everything and became more blinding than the black. I tried to close my eyes but again nothing happened.
"Who are you?" I screamed out, terrified of sightlessness, "Why won't you help me?" Tears streamed down my cheeks; not from fear, but from the irritation on my pupils. "Make it stop. Whatever this is, I don't understand? What is happening to me?"
"Don't panic, the light will soon calm down, everything will be explained in good time. Firstly, I need you to promise me something."
"Yes! Anything!" I begged.
"What we are about to disclose to you is so valuable and precious, it cannot be repeated. The volume of the voice increased, "If you fail this, then you will be breaking a promise and don't think you won't see consequences."
"I promise!" I cried.
I needed to see the faces that were talking to me. I needed the heat that burned my eyes to stop. I needed to be able to move.
"Please!" I begged again. A blue burst of fire exploded in front of me, its flames twisting and turning within themselves, slowly fading and turning into dust. No, it wasn't dust. It was like glitter. Blue glitter was fluttering and floating around me, landing elegantly and lightly on to my cheeks, my lips, my hair, my shoulders and my arms. As each tiny fragment touched my flesh I could feel a small part of energy flow through me, caressing stinging muscles, soothing burning skin. As more fell, I flared open my nostrils and sucked in the air. The air was the most soothing of them all, so I stole more. Each greedy breath bringing my heart back into action, waking up each vein and capillary that made up my body. I felt moderately alive again.
"Are you ready?" The voice asked. As I continued absorbing more fragments, taking n more oxygen, I nodded stiffly.
The beam was gradually easing, and the blue fragments disappeared under my skin. My surroundings slowly came into focus. I was lying on a slab, one of many that lined the ground around me. A pair of feet stood still staring back at me, aligned with partners either side.
Each pair looked identical to next - thick, leathery shoes, dull from no effort of polishing. The shoes cornered off to a sharp point at the toes and were wrapped with bundles of black laces, more laces than necessary. They were very peculiar. I tried to move again but failed.
I counted up the pairs of the shoes that surrounded me ... one... two... three… four... There was at least four. Could I even call them people if they had the power to seize my mind and control light? I felt a sudden urge to stare into their faces, but, what would stare back at me?
"How long do you plan to keep me like this?" My voice shattered the empty silence, "I mean, do you wish to introduce yourselves to me, because it's rather rude to greet someone without showing your face." I was furious. "Or are you all so cowardly you wish to remain anonymous?" "Are you done?" A voice interrupted my tirade.
I decided to shut up. Despite trembling with anger I had no idea who, or what I was up against.
"You may not understand this but we only want a civilised conversation with you. No anger, no fighting. As difficult as it is to believe we really are trying to help you." He continued sympathetically, "But I already know that inside you, you can sense we are no danger. In fact, you have been waiting for us haven't you? You just haven't known what to expect."
"You don't know a single thing about me!" I spat my words. "What makes you think that you have the right to trap me here, mess with my head and pretend you know me? You don't and whatever this is, you have the wrong person."
Without hesitation a voice riffled back at me. "Your name is Auro, born on the seventeenth of December 1989 in St. Lutras hospital, Krillgo. At the age of two you moved to Noke, at seven you moved to Denna Brok, but by that time it was just you and your mother. A further move to Mexico for five years was wasted, resulting in your latest move to Umbria where you have remained since. This wasn't how you both planned it – you and your mother - but was required to prevent the questions and suspicions aroused by your extreme behaviour. And, just two years ago you attempted to ruin yourself."
"Chico! Enough!" The older voice cut in, I watched has his feet twitched. I burst into laughter, the type that only fear could generate.
"Well you are wrong." I lied.
"No we're not. As I mentioned, we have been watching you. We know."
"So who are you? The government? Spies? Is this because of my Father?" I still hated saying that word. "What do you want?" I yelled as my knees buckled and I collapsed to the ground, my eyes flooding with tears.
"I think you should get up and face us, I have removed the trance."
I was out of breath. I wiped my eyes quickly, hoping they hadn't noticed. A hand rose out, "Here, let me help you."
A flock of long grey hair poured down over the arm held out to me, I grasped the hand tightly and stood up onto my feet. His hand felt warm and friendly. This man was right about my instincts, I knew these people were no threat to me, I could feel it.
My eyes curiously followed the grey hair along a white cloak up to a deeply creased chin belonging to someone old. His jaw moved and I sensed a smile tugging warmly at lightly wrinkled cheeks. I searched every inch of it him and it was only then, when looking into his electric blue eyes that smudged into green, just like my own, that I realised his chin hadn't been attacked by age, but by scars. They looked painful. To think I was almost ignorant to it.
"My name is Depli." His smile grew wider, the perfect match to the steady shaking of my hand, full of respect.
"Well it looks like you already know my name," I uttered heavy with sarcasm.
"That's not the only thing we know." The man's voice was rather friendly, "since we located you, we have never stopped watching you; most of our time has been spent wanting to help you, wanting to bring you closer to us."
"Help?" My voice came out just above the sound of a whisper, "with what?"
"With your life Auro! We have seen you struggle, cry, fight, beg and harm so many around you. It hasn't been easy for us either." The voice remained calm and was the only substance preventing me from lashing out.
"So how do you think you can help me? What is so special about you that you can do such things?" I challenged.
"Because we have the answers that you have been searching for." His teeth reminded me of old gravestones.
"Then why only decide to help me now?" My knuckles clenched, I could feel anger burning up in my cheeks. "I needed you years ago, not now!"
"Because it is only now you have asked us. Begging, battling and crying will never get you answers. But now you have begun to accept who you are, and you are not trying to fight it. You are beginning to feel proud that you are not the same as all the others around you, and for the first time in your life Auro, we can tell that you are willing to explore what makes you different." "What makes me different?" I laughed in mock confusion.
"You already know the answer to that question. You understand that you possess a talent, one of such mighty strength and speed that provides the perfect balance to allow yourself to fly." Fly. That's when everything sprung back to me - the stinging of the water gushing through my nostrils, the inability to breathe. But what happened before that? I searched the only stable part of my mind left for the answer. White. Yes white cliffs, the ones I jumped from.
"You didn't jump of the Cliff! You leapt into the air, you were flying! It was marvellous Auro!" A young voice intruded my thoughts.
I turned to follow the voice that was positively bursting with enthusiasm. Stood in front of me in the exact same clothing was a boy about my age. A mischievous smile framed gleaming white teeth and scruffy blonde hair fell over his young face. He raised his hand up high to his forehead in a playful salute.
"Chico" he winked, his confidence and ease deepening my intrigue. I still had no idea who these people were.
"You will have to ignore Chico's smugness; he is really fascinated by you. He has watched you more than any of us. He tells us how he loves the way you live your life, the way you are always keen to explore it. You are an inspiration to him." He gently added a smile.
Chico walked over and playfully punched my arm. "Relax Auro; I've never seen you so uptight." I didn't like the way he was acting as if he knew me.
"Okay, look, despite your eagerness to 'help' me, I have no idea who you are. You need to stop leaving me in suspense and start filling in the gaps." Chico took a step back looking almost wounded. I felt a reluctant pang of guilt.
"I'm afraid we need to give you a little more time Auro, before we can explain things. We are very important. But you are even more important. This has to be taken seriously, because when we tell you the truth you've been looking for" he paused unsteadily and lifted his eyes away from me, "You will be beyond terrified." His words punched by spine.
"Auro, you need to return home. Choose what you do with your time wisely as you don't have much of it left." The man turned his head nodding at Chico. . I anticipated their departure and I opened my mouth to beg them to stay, to demand answers, but my arrogance sewed it back shut.
Chico nodded back to Depli and then faced me.
No. I pleaded with my eyes, you can't.
In a fraction of a heartbeat – they were gone.