A Way Out

A Way Out

A Story by Ann Elise Monte
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Darian finds a way out of his life...and a purpose to keep him going. These are the events that led up to the beginning of my partially-completed novel, Coldfire.

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Canberra, Australia near the end of the twenty-first century. Full of crime, pollution and the homeless. Darian was no stranger any of it. It was the worst thing imaginable to be connected as strongly to the Earth as he was while in the middle of one of the dirtiest cities for miles around. When it came to crime and homelessness, that was just a way of life. Dodge the gangs, steal as much as you need to survive, and fade back into the shadows before anyone notices.
The small band of other homeless kids Darian was a part of was using an old warehouse for shelter. The warehouse leaked from the cracks that lined the walls, which Darian seemed to spend half his time repairing. The small amount of Earth Magic he possessed, the proper term being Gaius Magic, was just enough to carry out such tasks. It was during one of these maintenance jobs when Mark, the unquestioned leader of the group, came to speak to him.
“What is it, Mark?” Darian asked as he traced his forefinger down one of the bigger cracks, sealing it as he went.
“You haven’t been to the Gaius Temple for a while,” Mark said, a slight frown aging his disturbingly youthful features. “When was the last time you went?” He was not much older than Darian, yet Mark seemed to be much older than he actually was.
“Exactly three months ago,” Darian replied without looking up from his work.
“You should go back.” Mark rubbed a spot where Darian had fused the metal together. “You had an agreement with Michael all worked out, remember?”
“Michael’s not here anymore,” Darian pointed out, unable to curb the bitterness that crept into his voice. “We both know he’s probably dead by now. He’ll turn up in a dumpster with his head bashed in or something, just like all the others.”
“We don’t know that,” Mark said quietly. “I’m not going to give up on my own brother, kid.”
Darian made a face. “Quit the ‘kid’ thing, will you? It’s old.”
“I will if you go back to the Gaius.” Mark knocked his knuckles against the wall. “You should learn to use this awesome ability you’ve got. That’s what Michael always wanted.” That sentence disarmed Darian every time.
Sighing in defeat, he replied, “Fine, I will. I wouldn’t call it ‘awesome’, though.”
“Still better than the rest of us.” Mark tapped a crack Darian hadn’t fixed yet. “You’re a good kid, Darian. There’s got to be something better out there for you.”
Darian rolled his eyes. “Everyone here is a good kid, Mark. None of them deserve the lot in life they’ve been given.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Mark pulled a face. “You’re not getting what I mean. I guess...people like you need a purpose in life, Darian.”
Darian raised his eyebrows at the sudden change in Mark’s tone. “Are you feeling all right?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Mark took in a deep breath. “Look, go back to the Gaius and get rid of all the kinks in your magic. I think that’s your ticket out of here.”
“But where would that leave the rest of you?” Darian replied. “I can’t just leave you guys on your own.”
Mark crossed his arms and rested against the table Darian was kneeling on. “Everyone who comes here has to make a deal, remember?”
Darian gritted his teeth, pushing his dirty black hair out of his eyes. “Yeah, I remember.”
“Say it.”
 “If you ever have the chance to get out of here, take it,” Darian recited softly.
Mark’s dark eyes locked with Darian’s crystal blue. “Promise me you’ll take any chance you get to get out of here, okay?”
Darian grimaced and refused to speak.
“Promise.” Mark’s stare turned piercing. “That’s an order...kid.”
Darian scowled. “I promise.” He resisted the temptation to cross his fingers behind his back.
Mark slapped Darian on the back. “Good call. Look, you better go now before it gets too late.”
Darian glanced at the damaged wall. “There’s still a lot to do. I could go tomorrow.”
“You can go today. We’ll steal a glue-gun or something.” Mark dragged Darian to the barricaded entrance. Jack, a boy no older than fourteen, sat on a barrel with a hunting rifle nestled in his arms.
“It’s all clear,” he said. “About time you went back to those people.”
Darian rolled his eyes and tousled Jack’s hair. “See you later, buddy.” He silently unlocked the padlock on the gargantuan sliding door and opened it just enough to squeeze through. Mark shut it the instant Darian was out.
The street outside was completely silent, which was strange for a Wednesday morning. Darian quickly set off, loading his ancient revolver. He would have preferred a katana, but someone had taken his last one off him in a scuffle a few months ago. He would just have to make do with what he had.
Darian climbed over the chain-link fence at the end of the alley and passed a once-white car, covered in rust, and a clump of trashcans that emitted the unpleasant cloying scent of rot.
 Just another day in hell, Darian thought as he ducked behind a car to avoid a man in a dirty suit.
With a deep breath to calm his perpetually frayed nerves, Darian started off again and entered a more populated area. He bowed his head and moved quickly through the crowd. No one knew who he was, so in crowds he was safe. Still, he hated having to be near them. They brought a mix of noise and the overpowering stink of perfume, somehow adding to the damp smell of sweat rather than disguising it. No one noticed Darian. Anonymity was like a cloak of protection for the homeless.
Darian emerged on the other side of the square, ducking into another alley. The voices of the crowd were muffled. He turned a corner, not paying enough attention, and came face-to-face with an extremely tall man.
“You’re in my way,” the man muttered, slurring his words.
“Sorry.” Darian moved to the side to get out of the drunk’s way. He looked around for an exit in case the situation turned violent, as it often did.
“You’re still in my way.”
Darian bit his tongue and moved again. His odds of getting away unscathed if the man decided he was in a fighting mood were not looking good, and looked even worse when three others came up behind him. They were all in various states of intoxication. Darian whirled around and rested his back against a corner, ready to run as soon as he had a chance.
A boy about Darian’s age seized his arm. “You’re going to fight him?” he asked the man Darian had first encountered. “I thought you had better taste than that, man. He looks like your little sister. I could take him out in less than ten seconds, I reckoned.” The group laughed.
“Go ahead,” said the first drunk. “Gotta prove yourself somehow.”
The others except for the boy moved back eagerly to watch. Darian tugged his arm out of the boy’s grip and examined the situation. Would he have enough time to draw his gun, shoot the kid and run for it before someone killed him? Probably not. Darian was fast, but not bulletproof. At least one of the men would carry a gun for sure.
The boy put up his fists. “Let’s do this the old-fashioned way, eh?”
Darian cracked his knuckles as he made up his mind. He avoided looking behind him in case someone guessed his intentions.
The boy moved in. “What, you chicken?”
Darian decided to give the brat one good punch to teach him a lesson. “Chickens get slaughtered, kid. I’m a survivor. Any idea what we do?”
Then he punched the boy in the mouth and ran anyway. He rounded the corner, leaving the swearing drunks behind. He could hear heavy, hurried footsteps. Someone was chasing him. He’d have to find the crowd again so he could get away from them.
Darian gritted his teeth and pushed himself to run faster, heading for an escape. A gunshot sounded behind him and he dived around a corner as the hot metal grazed his arm. It burned, but there was no time to think about it. He pulled out his revolver, let off two quick shots and ran off again.
There were more gunshots, but they all missed. Darian ran out into the square again and buried himself in the once insufferable crowd. He slowed down to a walk, weaving between the oblivious people. He sat on a park bench behind a sickly hedge to examine his stinging injury. He pushed up his shirtsleeve to reveal a messy but shallow flesh wound. He heard someone shoot a gun and ran off again before the gang caught up with him.
“Idiot,” he muttered to himself. “There’s a reason you have magic. You could’ve stopped the shot.” Then again, it might not have worked. Darian’s magic was extremely unreliable. That was one reason why the Gaius were not that interested in looking after him.
Darian slowed down once he was certain the men could not find him. He grimaced and pressed his hand against his wound, which was a few inches below the shoulder. It was really beginning to bother him. Not only that, but he had no idea where he was.
“Idiot,” he muttered again as he slumped against the wall and shut his eyes. He tried to get a general feel for his location, using the Gaius Temple as a reference point. His head swum and ached from the effort. Using his magic in such a manner always sharpened the discomfort he felt from being in metropolitan areas.
Darian waited until he felt better before setting off again to find the Gaius Temple. He managed to escape without running into anyone else, and was soon leaving the main city behind. He stepped into a park and the world shimmered and reshaped itself around him.
Replacing the park was a tall, opulent temple made of jade. The cracked and uneven stone steps that led up to it were littered with moss and fledgling plantlife that struggled through the cracks. One side of the temple was completely covered in ivy which, if Darian had been interested in looking, he could have barely spotted from his location.
Darian walked slowly up the steps, gripping his arm even tighter as blood slowly seeped between his fingertips. When he reached the top, he stood in front of the gigantic dark wooden door for a moment before he shuffled to the panel beside it made of an even darker wood. He gingerly lifted his glistening red hand off his arm and knocked once on the panel. The sound echoed through the walls and the door vibrated. The knock had jostled Darian’s entire body, bringing a whole new degree of pain to his arm. He sat down on the stone, landing with a painful bump.
The door opened and Darian’s teacher, Instructor Raoul, rushed out. Raoul was one of the younger instructors, only in his mid-thirties, and tended to take the more difficult students. He had a reputation for results, not generally as spectacular as the Instructors who only taught the best, but he had a solid reputation and was well-respected among the other Instructors.
Raoul helped Darian up. “You need to go to the Hospital.”
“It’s just a flesh wound,” Darian replied. “I don’t want to waste the Healers’ time.”
Raoul guided Darian into the atrium. “Darian, that’s a lot of blood for a flesh wound. You’ve gone white. Are you feeling lightheaded?”
“I’ll be fine once I get some sugar in my system,” Darian responded. “The bleeding’s already stopping, see?”
Raoul sighed. “You’re not going to give in, are you?”
“No, I’m not.”
“Fine,” Raoul muttered. “At least let me stitch you up. You should be okay considering how quickly you heal. Come with me.”
Darian let Raoul drag him into a room off one of the numerous corridors. He sat in a chair next to the bench while Raoul retrieved a box of medical supplies. Raoul jabbed Darian with a needle and his arm went numb. Raoul cleaned the injury and Darian found a spot on the ceiling to stare at to distract himself.
“So what happened this time?” Raoul asked as he started sewing.
“A couple drunks came at me. One of them about my age wanted a fight,” Darian replied, still staring at that spot on the ceiling. “I punched him in the mouth and ran. One of them got a lucky shot at me.”
“And how did you manage to get yourself in that situation in the first place?” Raoul’s mouth was mashed in to a thin line. He looked older than he had three months ago, with new lines around his eyes and mouth.
“One of them surprised me when I went around a corner.” Darian sighed. “He kept saying I was in his way even after I moved. The others came up behind me.”
Raoul scowled. “I thought you were more careful than that.”
“I had no idea anyone was near me,” Darian replied irritably. “You know using that extra sense is physically painful.”
“I know.” Raoul’s eyes grew concerned. “Do you have any idea how many times I’ve had to patch you up in the last six months?”
“I stopped counting after ten.” Darian smiled sheepishly. The last few months had been particularly violent.
“I stopped counting after twenty-five, and that’s including your three-month hiatus,” Raoul said. “I guess it’s a good thing I’ve found you a way out.”
Darian blinked. “What?”
“Blood loss making you dopey?” Raoul frowned. “The Incendaris Council have been looking for someone for one of their best Enchantresses to tutor. The Gaius Council thought you’d make a good candidate.”
“I don’t get it,” Darian admitted. “The Incendaris use Fire Magic, and we’re particularly flammable.”
“And the Incendaris tend to have short tempers, don’t forget,” Raoul added.
“Yeah.” Darian nodded. “Put fire and bad tempers together, along with someone who is easily set alight doesn’t seem like a winning combination to me.”
“The Gaius and Incendaris are capable of getting along, Darian,” Raoul pointed out. “We’re only slightly more flammable than the average human, and the Incendaris are well-practiced at keeping their tempers in check. It’ll work out fine.”
“I haven’t agreed yet.”
“You will.” Raoul finished sewing and ran something sticky along the site. “I know your sense of self-preservation will win out.”
“It still doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Darian pressed. “Let’s say, hypothetically, that I get along with the Enchantress. How is she going to tutor me? Our elements are completely different, and so are the learning techniques.”
“The learning isn’t that different,” replied Raoul. “Sure, she will have to adapt her techniques to suit you, but we’re out of options here. The Gaius Council think you aren’t responding to conventional methods. You know how they are.”
Darian pursed his lips. “I sure do.”
“Just take it for what it is,” Raoul said.
“And what’s that?”
“Your ticket out of here.”
Darian grimaced.
Raoul fixed a bandage around Darian’s arm. “Just think about it, okay? You’re a good kid. I’m sure there’s some higher purpose out there for you.”
“Why is everyone suddenly obsessed with finding me a ‘higher purpose’?” Darian snapped. “This morning it was Mark. Now it’s you. And even before that, Michael and my own parents. Why do I need a purpose? What’s so special about it? Why can’t I just make survival my purpose like it has been for years?”
“Because I know you want more than that,” Raoul replied. “You want to know why everyone’s obsessed with this?”
“Didn’t I just say that?”
Raoul smiled. “The reason is because you’re like a cannon. At the moment, your direction keeps changing as your focus jumps from one thing to another. Just like a cannon, you’re completely useless unless you’re focused on the one thing.”
“I just realized how much I hate being compared to a gigantic glorified peashooter,” Darian grumbled.
“I’m sorry for the analogy, but do you get my point?” Raoul helped Darian up. “It’s about time you put that brilliant mind of yours to work for something aside from figuring out where you’re going to steal life’s necessities from next.”
Darian wasn’t exactly sure how to respond. “Um, well, I’ll think about it. If I end up going, then there’ll be some things I’ll need to put in order, not that that’s an acceptance. You know I’m no good when it comes to the unknown.”
“The only thing about the unknown you’re no good at handling is the part about not knowing.” Raoul chuckled. “If you go, you’ll find out what’s in store. If you don’t, you’ll always be wondering.”
Darian gritted his teeth. His Instructor knew him too well. Now the possibilities would nag at him until he worked up the nerve to accept. Darian was sure Raoul must have noticed his expression change from irritated to uncertain.
Raoul smiled. “I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist. Let’s take a walk. I’ll explain a few things to you.” Darian followed Raoul out the door, through the hallway and out into one of the many courtyards. Darian sat on the grass next to an oak sapling and Raoul sat opposite him.
“So what do I need to know?” asked Darian as he brushed his fingers against one of the sapling’s flexible branches. The leaves vibrated and grew by the smallest degree. Raoul watched Darian use his magic for a moment before replying.
“The Enchantress you’re going to be living with has a reputation for not taking pity on the children who are sent to her,” he said. “So far, all of them have come back in tears.”
Darian remembered a story he’d heard. “I remember hearing about that. You’re sending me to Valora Audice? I heard she’s really tough.”
“She is,” Raoul replied, “but so far only children about the age of ten have been sent to her. I think it’s pretty clear she wants an older student. That was another reason why the Council chose you. You’re particularly mature for your age, and I think that will enable you to cope with whatever Valora throws at you. My impression is that she’s hard to impress, but she means well.”
“Odds are she’ll send me right back,” Darian muttered.
“It’s possible,” Raoul agreed, “but unlikely. I think you two will be particularly suited to each other.”
Darian raised an eyebrow. “What exactly gave you that idea?”
“Just what I’ve learned about this girl.” Raoul touched the oak sapling and made it grow a foot taller. “She’s basically in the middle of nowhere and willing to take on a student. She expects nothing but the best someone can do, but she has little patience for babysitting younger children. From my understanding, she doesn’t dislike children but she feels they aren’t old enough to handle her teaching methods.
“You, on the other hand, are a hard-worker. You’ll do your best even when you’re certain you are going to fail miserably. You listen to what people have to tell you and try to apply things you are taught. You don’t always succeed, but that doesn’t stop you from trying. Do you see how well you two are suited? She expects the best, and you give your best every time.”
Darian crossed his arms. “My best probably isn’t good enough.”
“It’s no use trying to talk yourself out of this, Darian.” Raoul stood up and pulled Darian to his feet. “You’re going to meet her in the next few days. You’re going to try. We’ve been talking for a long time; I think you need to return to the others before it gets dark.”
Darian looked up at the sky. “It’s later than I thought. You’re right, I have to go now.”
Raoul patted his shoulder. “Okay, then. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Darian started off but Raoul called him back. “What?”
Raoul inhaled deeply. “I spoke to the students who were involved in the…fiasco three months ago. It won’t happen again. I’m sorry you had to deal with that.”
“It’s not a big deal.”
“It was enough of a big deal to stop you from returning here for three full months,” Raoul countered. “It seems we’ve had a problem with bullying for a long time. This situation has just brought it to our notice. You really should have said something sooner.”
Darian rolled his eyes. “See you tomorrow, Instructor.”
***
“So, you’re leaving?” asked Mark. “This is great! See? I knew I wasn’t the only one thinking ahead.”
“I haven’t decided if I’m going yet,” Darian replied.
“You’ll go,” Mark said. “I know you well enough to figure that out.”
“Whatever.” Darian yawned. “Is there a raid on tonight?”
“Nah, we’ve got enough supplies to last us another month. We’ll organise another one later. I was thinking of taking on the FoodMart warehouses downtown.”
Darian grimaced. “Be careful with those. They’ve got so much security it’s not even funny. Motion sensors, working cameras, searchlights, armed guards…you name it.”
“I know, I know.” Mark grinned. “We’ll just need a little planning.”
“You know, I could stay around a little longer and help.”
“We’ll be fine, mate,” Mark cut Darian off again. “We got on fine long before you arrived. We’ll get on fine now, too.”
“I don’t think leaving’s a good idea.” Darian crossed his arms. “It’s not fair on you guys.”
“We’ll be fine.” Mark thumped Darian playfully on the back. “Everything’s going to work out fine, just you wait.”
“I don’t understand how you can be so unfailingly optimistic about every aspect of our lives,” Darian muttered.
“And I don’t understand how you can use so many big words without tripping over them.” Mark chuckled. “It’s late. Go to sleep. You’ve got a hell of a trip tomorrow.”
Darian crossed his arms. “I don’t know if I’m leaving tomorrow, Mark. Or if I’m leaving at all.”
“The sooner you leave, the better. We’ll all say goodbye tomorrow before you go.”
Darian, with a smile, replied, “I’ll have to think about it. I’m not even sure if the girl taking me in will want to keep me around. I might be back here within a week, you know.”
“I don’t think so,” Mark replied. “She’ll want you around. Who wouldn’t?”
Darian laughed. “Thanks. Well, g’night.” He went to his customary corner of the warehouse and lied down, throwing the ratty blanket over his head. Everyone was going to bed except for the designated guards for the night. They’d change over at about two in the morning so they could get some sleep.
Darian slept badly that night as uncertainties buzzed around in his mind like annoying mind-flies that wouldn’t shut up and die. He wasn’t sure what he wanted. Raoul had jumped on his moment of confusion to make him agree to something he wasn’t even sure he wanted to do.
Maybe the problem is that I’ve lived a life that’s essentially purposeless for so long, he thought. Everything has been boiled down to the simplest tasks that all work towards survival. I haven’t thought of advancement in any way, since survival was my first priority.
Still, even if I end up going, there’s no guarantee Valora Audice will want me around. Maybe she’ll think I’m just as bad as all the ten-year-olds that have been sent to her. I’m probably at that level of development, magically speaking, anyway. But what would happen if she wanted me to stay? Would time pass, days, weeks, months even, before she figures out I’m a lost cause? What would she do then? She can’t exactly keep me around in that situation, so I guess she’d send me right back here. Where would that leave me? Would I be better or worse off compared to how I am now? Is it even worth trying, or am I just setting myself up for disappointment?
Annoyed with the endless questions, Darian buried himself deeper under his blanket and tried to shut down his mind, but his mind wasn’t having that. More questions popped up.
But what if I improve? What if Valora Audice can help me? Could I live with myself if I didn’t take a chance?
Darian fiddled with a hole in his blanket, deliberating. It only took him a moment to work out the answer.
No, I couldn’t live with myself. Raoul knows me too well. He knew that I wouldn’t be able to pass this up, even if it ultimately ends in failure. At least I’ll know if that happens, rather than always wondering.
Darian exhaled in one long gust. He pulled the covers off his head.
 They’re right. They’re all right. I need a purpose, even if that purpose at this point is just to learn as much as I can. The Gaius Temple isn’t exactly an ideal learning environment, with all the other students running rings around me as I struggle to put into practice even the most basic of concepts. No, I won’t improve if I stay. I need a change of scenery, a change of people. This Valora sounds serious about what she does. I guess I need that. Maybe I’ll do better without worrying about other students. Maybe if I don’t have to keep up with anyone else, that’ll take the pressure off and allow me to really learn rather than just try to meet standards that are much too high for me.
Darian stretched out and yawned.
Okay, fine. I’ll go. This could lead to something. Maybe if I improve enough I can improve my status with the Gaius and be given things to do to help out.
He grimaced in distaste.
Ah, maybe not. I doubt I’ll ever be considered useful to the Gaius in any case. Well, I suppose Valora will have things for me to do. She lives alone in the middle of nowhere. Maybe I can help her, even if the only thing I can do is collect firewood. Still, better than this life. At least even collecting firewood has a purpose. Hm, perhaps my purpose at this point can be to impress Valora and learn as much as I can from her. Yes, that’ll do. It’s definitely something.
Darian smiled, having finalized his decision, and fell asleep. The changing of the guard had already occurred, so it was very late at night. He would be tired when he woke up, but a little sleep was better than no sleep at all.
Daylight came and nudged Darian awake. He rubbed his eyes and yawned before examining his surroundings. Plenty of the others were still asleep, so he could stay horizontal for a while longer. As the children and teenagers around him stirred, Darian got up to help with handing out breakfast to them all.
“You look like you’ve made up your mind,” Mark observed as he used a knife to open a box.
“I have. I spent half the night thinking about it.” Darian handed a cereal bar to a young girl.
“When’re you heading out?” Mark asked.
“I suppose once everyone’s fed,” Darian replied. “Is that okay?”
“Yeah, that’s fine. Just don’t forget to say goodbye to everyone before you go.” Mark grinned. “There’s going to be a scene.”
Darian grimaced. “I’d rather there wasn’t. You know I hate scenes.”
Mark shrugged. “Everyone likes you here. There’s no way you’re leaving without one.”
Darian nodded, resigned. “I suppose I can handle it.”
“You know, this is a really big thing,” Mark said. “You’re like the first kid who’s ever gotten a chance to get out of this…without just mysteriously disappearing, that is.”
“I guess.” Darian handed out some more food. “You’ll take care of them all, won’t you?”
“Of course I will.” Mark slapped Darian on the back. “Don’t you get all mushy on me.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t.” Darian smiled. “I’ll visit when I can, you know.”
Mark made a face. “We’re going to be moving regularly, so you won’t know where we are.”
“I’ll find out. I have my sources.”
“Somehow, I don’t think you’re lying,” said Mark. “I gave up on figuring you out a long time ago. You’re full of surprises.”
Darian laughed. “I think everyone’s fed now.” He sighed. “I suppose you better make the announcement.”
Mark grimaced. “Get ready for the tears.”
Darian put the boxes away. “Let’s just get this over with.” He really wasn’t looking forward to it.
“Hey, guys!” Mark called. “Get over here! I’ve got an important announcement to make.” The other homeless kids, ranging from about eight years of age to nearly eighteen, made their way over to where Mark and Darian stood. Mark stood on the table and dragged Darian up with him so everyone could see them.
“What the hell’s going on, Mark?” asked Luke, who was a year older than Mark and two years older than Darian. It was no secret he resented having to submit to Mark’s authority. In fact, Darian ranked higher than Luke did, which Luke hated even more. Darian tended to avoid Luke whenever possible.
Mark cleared his throat. “Darian returned to the Gaius Temple yesterday and came back with good news. He’s been given the chance to leave Canberra to further his studies.”
The reactions from the others ranged from shocked, to annoyed, to tearful. One of the younger girls pushed her way to the front of the crowd.
“So, you’re leaving us, then?” she asked. Mark nodded to Darian to answer the question.
“Gee, thanks,” muttered Darian. “Yes, that means I’m leaving.”
Luke sneered. “Can’t handle being stuck with the rest of us?”
Darian rolled his eyes. “Yeah, right. I’ve been here longer than you have, Luke, which is why my reputation is more solid than yours. If I couldn’t handle this life, I would’ve done something about it a long time ago.”
Luke’s sneer seemed permanently etched onto his face. “So you’re just going to abandon everyone. Personally, I think we’ll be better off without you, but not everyone feels that way.”
The girl who’d spoken before kicked Luke in the shin. “Shut up! He’s more useful than you are. When was the last time you planned a raid to help feed us?”
“I haven’t had a chance, since this kid has been taking all the glory.”
There was general uproar as some kids shouted their agreement while others shouted at the injustice.
“Shut up, everyone!” Mark yelled. “I expected better from all of you.” He lowered his voice. “Sorry, Darian. I didn’t really expect this to happen.”
“Don’t worry about it. I did.” Darian spoke up. “Where I’m going, there’s no guarantee I’ll be chosen to stay. I might be back here by next week. You all know I can’t just ignore something like this, since I hate not knowing things.”
Luke’s sneer deepened. “So you’re just going to leave because you’ve got a complex?”
Mark glared. “Luke, guard duty. Now.”
Luke scowled and stormed off.
“What a little prick,” Mark muttered so only Darian heard. “I think I’ll send him back to his parents, the bloody runaway. He never gave me a good reason why he left home in the first place.”
Darian turned back to the group of kids still staring at him. “I’m sorry that in order to advance, I have to leave you. I spent at least half the night weighing up the pros and cons of the decision so don’t think I made this choice lightly. I’ll miss you all. Well…” He glanced over where Luke sat. “Well, most of you anyway.” A few of the kids chuckled.
Mark squeezed Darian’s shoulder. “I think it’s about time you headed out. You don’t want to be late.”
Darian quickly hugged Mark in the manliest way he could manage. “I’ll see you ‘round.” He stepped down and was swarmed by a bunch of sobbing young girls. The boys stood back and a few gave him a thumbs-up. Darian hugged all the girls one-by-one and followed Mark to the door. The girl who had kicked Luke was last.
“I’m sorry about my brother,” she whispered, her voice slightly muffled by Darian’s chest. “He’s a bit of a dickhead.”
Darian chuckled. “Just pretend you don’t see him bawling his eyes out later.”
“I think I’ll make fun of him,” the girl replied. “I think he’ll be crying because he’ll try planning the next raid, and fail in the funniest way ever.”
“Go easy on him, Emma,” Darian whispered as they separated. “I’ll see you another time.” Emma turned around and returned to the group of young girls she’d come from.
Mark opened the warehouse door. “Take care of yourself. I don’t want the next time I see you to be at your funeral.”
“Same goes for you.” Darian smiled. “I’ll see you soon. If Valora Audice sends me back, I’ll see you really soon.”
Mark motioned toward the exit. “You better go now. Goodbye, Darian.”
“Bye, Mark.” Darian stepped out and waved to Mark as he shut the door. Darian glanced down the street and began the trek to the Gaius Temple, hoping someone wouldn’t try to kill him this time. No one did. He made it to the Temple without incident.
Raoul was already waiting in the atrium. “You’ve had the night to change your mind,” he said. “What’s your decision?”
Darian took a deep breath. “I’ve decided to go.”
Raoul smiled. “I knew you’d make the right choice in the end. Let me check your arm.”
“It’s not bothering me anymore.” Darian held out his injured arm and let Raoul look at it.
“It’s pretty much healed,” Raoul observed. “I’ll take out the stitches. Come on.”
Raoul took the stitches out of Darian’s arm, gave him some new clothes and sent him to shower. Darian threw away his old clothes, which were ripped and dirty beyond recognition. He returned to Raoul, who had a large backpack.
“You might want took take a book or two for the trip,” said Raoul. “I’ve put some snacks in here in case you get hungry.”
Darian nodded. “I won’t take too much in case I have to lug it all back.”
Raoul chuckled. “The degree of your self-doubt is quite amusing, Darian. You know Valora’s going to find that irritating.”
Darian sighed. “Years of conditioning can’t be broken in a short period of time, Instructor.”
Raoul sobered. “I know.”
Darian changed the subject. “Do you remember where I put my books?”
“I brought them out,” Raoul replied, visibly grateful for the change. “They’re under the desk over there.” Darian took three of his books out from underneath the deep oak desk on the far side of the room and put them in the bag.
“Is there anything I need to know before I go?” asked Darian.
“Yes, actually,” replied Raoul. “You’ll have to have some idea of what Valora looks like so you recognize her. She’s very tall and has red hair. I’ve also heard she’s a very pretty girl.”
Darian rolled his eyes. “I’ll look for the hair, I think.”
Raoul laughed. “I just thought I’d give you some warning.”
“Yeah, thanks.” Darian made a face. “Uh, I better go now. Bye.”
“Bye, Darian.”
Darian left the Gaius Temple and took a series of turns and long straight roads to find the train station on the outskirts of Canberra. He waited for a train with the easily-opened cargo holds to arrive, which took over an hour. It was a good thing he had learned patience from enduring long waits at the Gaius Temple.
Finally, the right train arrived and was going in the right direction. Darian waited on the tracks a few metres away. The train started up again and Darian jumped onto the side, opened the door and leapt deftly in, shutting the door behind him. He settled himself in for the long ride and pulled out one of his books. There was just enough light to read by.
The train ran without stopping for hours. As he left the city behind, Darian felt the usual discomfort he felt ease. Already the countryside was having a positive effect on him.
Maybe things will work out fine with Valora, thought Darian. Miracles happen. Still, there’s no good getting my hopes up. Optimism has never served me well in the past. Though, maybe my magic’ll work better away from the city. I’ll be using less energy to keep away the pain from all the pollution and stuff like that.
It seemed like such little time had passed when the train finally began to slow. Darian repacked his bag, put it on both shoulders and prepared to jump off when the train was moving slowly enough. He leapt off the train, rolled a few times and ended up kneeling on one knee. He wanted until the train passed before he stood and acquainted himself with his new surroundings.
He was surrounded by long grass, which gave way to a forest on one side and merely a line of trees on the other. On the other side of the trees, there was dirt path. That was what Darian was to use. He walked through the wall of trees, astonished at the deep green that had been absent from his life outside the Gaius Temple for so long. The path was made of dirt and gravel, all the colour of yellowish sand. The gravel crunched under his feet as he started off at a relaxed walk. He wasn’t in a hurry.
Darian looked around himself as he walked, drinking in the greenness of it all like water to a person dying in the desert. He slowly removed some of the shackles he maintained around his extra sensory perception, which Raoul called the Gaian sense. The trees acknowledged his presence with something resembling delight, and it made Darian smile. It had been a long time since he was able to let his sense have enough freedom to recognize such things.
Darian unleashed his sense further until he could feel a tree’s chagrin at having moss cover its surface. The thing about nature was that it took a lot to anger it. The tree was tolerant of the moss, even though it was annoying. At least, that was Darian’s perception of the situation. Nature didn’t experience feelings like humans did, so the human Gaius attached feelings they felt were appropriate to the signals they received from the world around them.
The walk became much more interesting than Darian had anticipated. He spent the walk immersing himself in the natural world around him while only paying just enough attention to everything else to keep himself on track. He couldn’t pay as much attention to his Gaian sense as he would have liked, as years of living on the streets of Canberra had taught him to remain vigilant at all times. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever be comfortable enough with his environment to let that last part of his guard down.
Soon, the path ended and Darian came to a paddock. A girl sat on the fence nearby, her glimmering red hair blowing about in the wind. She looked tall and, as Darian came closer, he noticed that she was stunningly beautiful. Her large, dark brown eyes watched Darian’s every move. The girl’s face, not quite cherubic since there was an air of rebellion about her, was like a beacon of light. Darian instantly knew that this was Valora Audice.
Darian waved as he approached and the girl hopped off the fence and closed the gap between them. She stood about a foot taller than Darian and held two katana in her hands. She held one out to Darian with a grin. Darian accepted the weapon hesitantly, his face warm. Valora laughed at his discomfort.
“Hi,” she said. She had a spectacular, rich voice.
“Hi,” Darian replied, hoping his face wasn’t as red as it was hot.
 Valora’s expression grew alarmed. “Looks like we’ve got some company.”
Darian glanced behind himself. “What are you--?”
“Duck!”

© 2010 Ann Elise Monte



Author's Note

Ann Elise Monte
This is a cut-down version. The first draft was over 7000 words long. This is less than that, but as Microsoft Word is inaccurate with word counts and I am too tired to work out an estimate, I don't know the number.

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I enjoyed reading this piece. As much as I hate to admit it, I usually lose patience with long pieces, but this one kept my attention the whole time. Good job.

Posted 4 Years Ago


Ann Elise Monte

4 Years Ago

Thanks. I'm glad it caught your attention.
Good piece! I like the fantasy element.Seems like you are working on a detailed story.There is one small problem though.You're a girl and that too a teenager(I hope i'm not being chauvinistic), so its not easy for you to express the feelings of boys. Boys don't really talk and behave like this.You might work on it by asking your brother or a friend in school about this.
Anyways, i liked it.

Posted 7 Years Ago


Overall it was a nice read, but in the beginning, it seems you give a lot of explanation without a lot of detail, and then you give a lot of detail without much explanation.. it could use some rebuffing in a few areas but nothing at all serious.. keep on writing.

Posted 7 Years Ago


I liked it . You should put up the original version of the work as well. I would love to read it. And I agree with George Love, I think it would make a great book.

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

This flows well. In a book format, this would be great! I like the action

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


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Added on December 3, 2009
Last Updated on May 22, 2010
Tags: homeless, magic, purpose, Earth, elemental magic, elemental, gunshot, revelation, dystopia, city, pollution

Author

Ann Elise Monte
Ann Elise Monte

Fantasyland, beside a mass grave of dead story ideas, Australia



About
I write Young Adult fiction and my longer works tend to contain strong fantasy and romantic elements. My shorter works have more variety because I find it easier to maintain non-magical stories for sh.. more..

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