Everin, Cora, and Ford hiked through the forest all morning. Ford would stop on occasion to find a new stick, which he would light with the dying flame from the one he held. In this fashion, the trio was able to light their immediate vicinity as they walked until the sun rose high enough that its light began to illuminate the path. The road was so wide that the forest canopy couldn’t reach across it, leaving a wide gap for the sun’s rays to fall upon the trail. By late morning, the sun shone directly down on them, providing plenty of light and warming the air. It was shaping up to be a pleasant spring day.
Everin hardly noticed the weather. He was walking through an alien world. He would pass travelers headed in the opposite direction several times every hour. Whenever someone passed, Everin would carefully study their aura. Every person who passed had an aura of some kind. For some, their suffering manifested itself in ugly hues of intense red and blue. Everin gathered that they felt profound hatred and sorrow, but he made sure to keep far away from those people, fearful of what their emotions would do to him if he accidentally accepted them into his body. For other travelers, traces of green energy drifted around them – anxiety about where they were going or who they were leaving behind.
The trio walked in silence for a long time until Cora ventured a question.
“Do you think you’re an angel, Everin?”
“You know, one of King Valen’s angels. You’ve heard the stories about them shooting blasts of energy from their hands or summoning swords made of light from thin air. They’re the only thing that comes close to what you’re capable of doing.”
Everin frowned. While it was true that nobody knew how the angels were created, he didn’t think he could be one. The angels were proud soldiers and supernatural fighters. He was a kid who couldn’t keep himself from crying half the time. He was probably even more broken than Margoline, and that was before he’d been cursed with this constant awareness of others’ pain on top of his own.
“No, I don’t think I’m an angel,” he decided.
“Are you sure?” Ford asked. “That thing you did with the lightning was pretty cool. Looked a lot like angels’ powers to me.”
Everin flinched, hard. He didn’t answer for a moment, trying to figure out exactly what about Ford’s statement had made him so upset. When he finally spoke, his voice was low and dead serious. “This vision I have, this power, it’s not cool.” He emphasized the words. “My life is awful. I’m not going to lie. Even before we got drafted into King Valen’s army, every day was miserable. The only way I could get through it was by trying to go numb – by trying to forget myself. Since I swam in that pool, I’ve lost that ability to hide. It’s like I understand everything there is to know about pain and suffering. Before, my sadness was a just a general feeling, and I protected myself from it by not exploring it deeper than I had to. Now, every single aspect of my pain is in razor sharp focus.”
They’d stopped walking. Cora’s eyes were watering, Everin saw blue energy beginning to radiate from her body. Ford’s mouth had dropped open in surprise, but Everin didn’t stop. This was something that he needed to say.
“When I used this ability to fight off those soldiers, I used your fear. You and Cora were generating tons of this green energy, so I instinctively absorbed it and used it to fight. It was one of the worst experiences of my life. I felt all of that terror that both of you were experiencing, magnified through this new sensitivity to suffering that I have. I felt every bit of shock, betrayal, and panic, and I understood exactly how painful those emotions were to both of you. When I processed all that fear, I thought I was going to die. I thought my heart was going to explode. The same thing happened with Gamah. I had to experience days of grieving compressed down into seconds before I could release the energy. I’m willing to use these powers in order to protect us, but I want you to understand this right here and right now. They are not ‘cool,’ and they are nothing like what we’ve heard in the stories about the angels.”
Ford stared at Everin for an eternity before his jaw finally started working again.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize…I mean, I know that you felt it, but…not like that.”
Everin looked down at the dirt path beneath them.
“It’s okay,” he said. “You had no way of knowing how it feels. Nobody does, I guess.”
Ford nodded. “I do now, though. I’ll try to watch myself.”
Everin managed to give him a weak smile. “Thanks,” he said. Although his voice cracked, and the word came out as a whisper.
The trio continued down the trail in awkward silence. Everin didn’t take his eyes off the ground ahead of him except when he studied passing travelers. He was slightly embarrassed at the outburst. He’d wanted to convey how he felt, and he feared he’d done it a little too effectively. Cora and Ford’s auras were tinged blue now. Ford’s was a mix of blue and green – misery and anxiety that combined into an aquamarine color. Everin realized that the boy was ashamed. He made a mental note to apologize to Ford later, he couldn’t find the strength within himself to speak up at that moment.
Nearly another hour passed as they moved through the trail. The sun was approaching its noontime position directly overhead. Everin realized that they hadn’t passed anyone heading in the opposite direction in ages. Cora and Ford didn’t comment on the emptiness of the trail, although they weren’t studying the palette of negative emotions on every stranger who walked past, so he didn’t necessarily expect them to pick up on it.
Everin was about to comment when he saw lights up ahead. He counted four sources of bright, emerald light. This surprised him. Green was the color of fear, he knew, and he hadn’t seen a green that bright all morning. Usually people with green auras had possessed a faint outline of energy, attributable to low levels of anxiety. This green was bright and urgent, the kind that indicated immediate danger.
As he kept walking, Everin kept waiting to see the figures producing the green light come into focus, but they never did. As he continued to walk towards the sources of the light, he realized that they were coming from off the trail. Specifically, they were being emitted from behind four trees along the sides of the path.
Everin froze. Cora and Ford stopped and turned to look back at him, concerned.
“There are people up ahead,” Everin whispered.
“We’re on a road in the middle of the day. Of course there’ll be people up ahead,” Cora said. She frowned at Everin.
“Not like that. There are people right ahead,” Everin pointed at the trees, which must have been thirty yards away. “There’s four people hiding behind those trees. I can see their energy. They’re nervous.”
“They could be bandits,” Cora said.
“It’s best we don’t find out,” Ford added.
“Is there a way to go around them?” she asked.
Everin looked at the trees around them. “The forest looks pretty dense here, I don’t think we could move around them without being really obvious about it.”
A voice cut Cora off before she could respond. “No need to go around us. We’ll let you pass.”
Everin’s stomach dropped. He looked back to the trees and saw four figures dressed in mottled gray tunics stepping out from behind their tree trunks and onto the road. There were two men and two women. Each of them had a white bandana tied around their forehead. Everin’s eyes were drawn to the short swords that hung in sheaths at their hips. Two of them also carried small shields made of hardglass strapped to their forearms.
“You’ll let us pass?” Ford asked, somewhat skeptically.
The same man spoke again, Everin guessed that he was their leader. While the others had nervous green energy around them, his aura also contained streaks of a fiery red.
“Welcome to our neck of the woods. I’m Galimus, and I help watch over this area. That’s right. We’ll let you pass.” He grinned. “For a price.”
“We don’t have any money,” Cora insisted.
Galimus turned to his three followers. “You hear that? They don’t have any money. Why don’t we shake ‘em down a little bit and see if they can’t find some?”
The other three figures grinned and reached for their swords. There was a sickening screech of metal blades being drawn that made the hairs on Everin’s neck stand on end. Slowly, the man and two women approached. Everin wasn’t sure if they were prepared to kill, but he also really didn’t want to find out.
“Hey, Everin,” Ford whispered. “I know it’s really hard for you to use your power, but now might be a good time to try just a little.”
Everin nodded. He surveyed the scene around him. There was green energy around the bandits, but much of their nerves had faded away now that their swords were drawn, and they saw that they had a clear advantage. Cora and Ford, on the other hand, were shining green. Everin realized that he was actively fighting to keep himself from absorbing their energy. He took a breath and lowered his mental walls, wincing as he anticipated the impact of the emotions.
Cora and Ford’s fear leapt from their bodies into Everin. Like a wild animal fleeing a hunter, the neon light raced into his body. A small cry involuntarily escaped Everin’s lips as the energy shocked his system. Then, the fear kicked in. Everin’s pupils dilated, and his breaths became short and urgent. He swayed with dizziness as the physical symptoms of terror overcame his body. He could hear blood roaring in his ears. The primal urge to turn and run was so strong that Everin took a step backwards before forcing himself to turn back and face his adversaries.
“I think the kid’s going to faint,” one of the women called out when she noticed that the blood had drained from Everin’s face, and that he was swaying, threatening to fall over.
Then, Everin took a step forward. He raised his right hand and began to push the fear from himself. The energy was just as eager to leave his body as it had been to enter. Tendrils of green lightning materialized from Everin’s palm. They stabbed out into the space before him, connecting violently with tree branches overhead and scorching the ground where they struck.
By the time the energy exhausted itself, Everin had sent nearly a dozen bolts racing towards the bandits. However, only a single line of energy had connected with one of the armed criminals. He dropped to the ground, stunned. The lightshow faded, and Everin struggled to stay on his feet, exhausted from the intensity of the emotions. The other three bandits had backed away in shock while Everin produced the lightning. Now that the danger was gone, they nervously looked between themselves.
“What was that?”
“No, he’s not Ichoron.”
“What is he?”
“Should we still take their money?”
Galimus interrupted the conversation. “Yes, we’re still taking the money. Leave no job unfinished. That’s our way.”
More cautiously this time, the three remaining bandits approached Everin, Cora, and Ford.
Everin looked around in a panic. His lightning hadn’t worked. Cora and Ford were quickly generating more fear, but it wasn’t nearly enough energy for him to produce a strong bolt of energy yet. The two advancing women had green auras as well, but their fear was fading to a faint shimmer as Everin didn’t make a move to stop them again. That left Galimus, the leader of the bandits. Everin studied his aura, which glimmered a deep red. This was a man who carried an intense hatred deep within him. There wasn’t time to study the energy and try to determine where the anger came from. Quickly, Everin reached out and began to siphon the rage from the man into himself.
The last time he’d absorbed anger, it had been Ford’s. Everin had been surprised by how much power he had produced, and Ford had only been slightly annoyed. Everin’s whole body filled with heat. He was mad now. His panicked gasps for air turned into angry breathing through flared nostrils. Everin ran towards the bandits. They stopped, unsure of what to do.
When he had halved the distance between them, Everin yelled. It was a primal sound. A scream at everything that was wrong in the world. He felt the heat burning within him rise to the surface. In a moment of cathartic release, he expelled the fury from his body.
Flames erupted from him. A wave of fire raced forth in an ever-increasing semicircle. The wall of flame passed over one of the women, who shouted and dropped her blade, raising her hands to her face to protect it from the fire. Her tunic and bandana were singed by the blaze. Her hardglass shield warped and began to melt under the intense heat. The other two bandits jumped back and scurried away from the encroaching fire until it dissipated about thirty yards from Everin. The surrounding vegetation of the forest was scorched, but none of the green plant matter ignited.
The woman who’d been caught in the fire ran away to join her companions. Galimus, temporarily drained of his hatred, was apparently also drained of his resolve. He waved his two standing followers forward, and the three of them raced off into the forest. They must have left their horses off the path, just out of sight, for moments later, the animals burst through the trees. In a panic, their riders spurred the horses into a dead sprint down the trail. The three bandits were eager to put as much distance between themselves and Everin as possible.
Everin watched their green auras fade into the depths of the trees. He looked down at his hands – hands that hand just conjured lightning and summoned fire. What was he?
Next chapter: https://sorrowandlove.home.blog/chapter-11-cora/