Chapter 11 (Cora)

Cora blinked hard several times as her eyes tried to adjust after being blinded by Everin’s fire. She looked up just in time to see the remaining three bandits flee into the forest. Everin swayed on his feet, rooted to the spot that he’d released the flames from. Cora ran towards him.

Everin appeared to be physically intact. The flames hadn’t even singed his skin or clothes. Mentally, Cora wasn’t sure how he fared. Everin bent over, placing his hands on his knees. He stared into the ground, struggling to control his breathing.

“Everin, are you able to move? We’ve got to get out of here before those guys come back,” she said.

After a moment, Everin nodded. Cora put and arm around his shoulders and helped to guide him to an upright position.

“Let’s get going,” she said.

“Wait,” Ford called from behind her.

She turned and saw that he was standing over the unconscious bandit.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Stocking up,” was his response. “This guy’s knocked out. I don’t know how long he’ll be like this, but I figured we could grab a few of his things before he wakes up and rejoins his gang. It’s only fair.”

Cora frowned. She wasn’t sure how she felt about stealing, even if it was from a thief.

Finally, she consented.

“Okay, but make it fast.”

 She began slowly guiding Everin down the path. Once he’d built up enough momentum to keep walking forward on his own, she took her hands off him and walked alongside the boy. Soon, Ford joined them.

“He had a small bag of silver coins, a sword, and some flint and steel,” Ford reported. “I also picked this up.” He held up a second sword, the one that the second bandit had dropped when trying to protect herself from the fire.

Ford handed the blade to Cora. “You hang on to this and keep the sheath too. I’ve got the other one. He turned away and she saw the second sword strapped to the top of his pack. “He’s probably got a horse waiting nearby in the trees but taking a horse would be riskier – they’re too valuable. They might track us down to try to get it back. We can probably get away with the rest of this stuff, though.”  Cora noted that Ford appeared to be in high spirits. Not surprising, considering that he’d just had all of the fear drained from his body. She’d felt similar immediately after Everin had siphoned her fear into his lightning. However, she already felt herself coming back down as her concern for Everin gave her fresh cause for anxiety.

Cora nodded and reluctantly accepted the weapon from Ford. It was heavier than she’d expected. The metal blade wasn’t entirely rigid, as she’d expected. It flexed slightly, powerfully, as she experimentally waved it through the air.

Ford was the expert on blacksmithing, so she asked him, “Ford, what’s this sword made from? It doesn’t look like iron.”

Ford looked his own blade over. “No, it’s not iron. These look like they’re made from steel. Whoever those bandits were, they must have money.”

Cora nodded. Steel was a valuable resource, since it could only be salvaged from the ancient ruins of the old gods’ cities. While alumin was strong and lightweight, making it the metal of choice for the armor of King Valen’s soldiers, it wasn’t dense enough to be used for swords. Steel, on the other hand, was incredibly durable. The only downside was the cost.

While steel and alumin were both recovered from ruins, the little hollow cylinders made from alumin could be melted down and molded into armor fairly easily. It required extensive skill to forge the steel beams and pipes recovered from the ruins into weapons. It wouldn’t have been cheap to outfit a group of four with steel weapons. Those bandits might have been more than just a rag-tag bunch of petty thieves, Cora thought to herself as she strapped the sheath to her belt and resumed walking with the blade swinging to her side.

Ford looked ahead. Everin was walking just in front of them but hadn’t said anything.

“How are you feeling after that?” Ford asked.

Everin didn’t answer, he just kept walking ahead. Cora could see Ford wince. She put a hand on his shoulder.

“Don’t worry about it. He just needs a little time to be alone,” she said.

Ford gave her a weary but grateful smile. He was a good companion to have on this trip, Cora decided. Initially, she’d been concerned that Ford’s callousness would put them in danger or hurt Everin in his sensitive state. But Ford had proven that he was both knowledgeable and more even-tempered than she’d given him credit for.

The three continued to walk down the path. Everin led the group, walking ahead of them with only his thoughts for company. Cora and Ford walked side by side behind him. Ford had a pleasant smell that Cora had only detected now that she was walking so close to him. It was sweet and smoky, no doubt the result of years spent working in his parents’ forge and letting the smoke seep into his clothes. Cora found herself drifting closer to him as she walked until she accidentally bumped shoulders with Ford.

He looked over at her, an eyebrow raised.

“Sorry,” she mumbled, stepping to the side to give him more space as they followed Everin. Her cheeks flushed red, and she hoped that Everin wouldn’t turn around and see her aura. Then, she chided herself for worrying about Everin reading her embarrassment when he had so many other things he was wrestling with in his mind. He was going to need her support on this journey. She owed it to him to stay focused and not allow herself be distracted by Ford’s scent, or his broad shoulders, or his intense, chestnut-brown eyes…she shook her head, pushing down the thoughts.

They marched through the rest of the afternoon and into the early evening. Once the light overhead began to fade, Ford pointed out a small clearing off the side of the path as a place they might set up camp. Everin and Cora agreed that the clearing looked relatively safe. A layer of leaves and grass blanketed the ground. The center of the clearing still contained a few charred branches – leftovers from travelers who’d set up camp here on previous nights.

They decided against building a fire. The light would make them visible to anyone on the path, and they weren’t eager to attract any unnecessary attention. Instead, Cora and her companions pulled off the bedrolls that had hung from straps over their shoulders. They rolled them out and sat on the thin fabric. The cheap cloth wasn’t comfortable but sitting on it was better than sitting on the dirt. Each of the three young people sat while Ford passed out some bread and dried meat from the pack. They quietly ate their dinner as the sun set behind the trees. It was Cora who finally brought up what had been on their minds.

“Everin, do you know why the green lightning didn’t hit the bandits today?”

The boy looked down. “It’s hard to control your fear,” he mumbled. “It missed.”

“It’s hard to control my fear, specifically?” she asked.

Everin quickly shook his head. “No…it’s not just your fear, it’s…” he paused, unsure of how to even begin explaining what he was experiencing.

“Why don’t you start at the beginning?” she suggested. “Tell us everything you understand about what you can see and do.”

Everin nodded. “Okay.” He took a breath and began. “As far as I can tell, I can see people’s suffering. It manifests itself in three different types of energies. This energy radiates from people as they experience negative emotions. It floats around them as a kind of aura that I can detect. Green energy is produced by fear, red is anger, and blue is sadness. By looking at someone’s aura, I can see exactly what kind of suffering they’re experiencing.”

“What about pain?” Ford asked. “That’s a form of suffering. Does someone produce an aura if they get hurt?”

“No,” Everin responded simply. “Physical pain is a response of the nerves in your body. Suffering is an emotional experience that happens entirely in your mind.”

“And what about animals?” Ford pressed. “Can you see their suffering?”

Again, Everin responded in the negative. “Only humans,” he said. “I think the way animals experience emotional pain is too different for me to sense.”

Ford nodded, indicating for Everin to continue. He did. “From what I’ve felt when channeling it, each type of energy has different characteristics. Energy from fear is panicked and skittish. It’s the hardest too control, just like the emotion of fear itself. When I release it, it manifests itself as these lightning bolts, and I can’t really influence where they go. That’s why it didn’t hit all the bandits today. It was only luck that I managed to hit all three soldiers the first time I used it.”

Cora and Ford were nodding, so Everin took that as invitation to keep talking. “Anger is different. When I absorb and use someone’s anger, it feels much more powerful. I have more control over it, too. Just like the emotional state of anger is much more focused than fear, the energy is easier to direct. While processing energy from fear feels like trying to contain a million jumping sparks, processing the energy from anger feels like a fire’s being lit inside me, and all that I have to do is aim and release it.”

“So, energy from anger is the most powerful?” Ford asked.

“I don’t think so,” Everin said. “The red energy is powerful, but like anyone’s rage, it burns up quickly. It’s unsustainable.” He looked at Ford and Cora. He had their full attention. “I haven’t tried to use it other than that one time with Gamah, but I think energy from sadness is the most powerful. It has the same strength as anger, but it’s even easier to control. I only felt it for a few moments when I absorbed Gamah’s sadness, but it was cold and calculating and completely miserable. I got the impression that it was much more enduring – not prone to fizzling out in the way that anger is. I’m not exactly sure how it would manifest itself if I tried to use it. Not lightning or fire, but instead I think it would materialize as some form of pure energy, like the kind that shot through Gamah’s roof.”

Cora leaned back as she processed everything that Everin said. It was all surreal.

“What do our auras look like?” she asked.

Everin studied her and Ford. “They’re relatively faint. Neither of you are suffering from excruciating distress. But they’re both filled with blue and green energy. If I had to guess, the green is fear due to our vulnerability in this clearing and the bandits earlier. The blue is sorrow from missing your families, maybe regret from not saying goodbye to them before we left the village.”

Cora nodded. Everin’s analysis had been eerily spot-on. Her stomach turned as another thought crossed her mind.

“Everin?”

“Yeah?”

“What does your aura look like?”

He sighed. “I don’t know. I don’t think I can see my own aura. I’m pretty sure my vision only works on other peoples’ suffering.”

Cora exhaled a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. A part of her wished that she could know what her friend was feeling, but another part of her feared what she would find out.

“Do you think you could control the energy better if you practiced?” she asked hesitantly.

Everin looked at her, and she quickly added. “I know that it’s awful to use your power, but if we’re relying on it to protect us, do you think that it might be a good idea to practice controlling it? You could try absorbing our auras if they’re not too overwhelming.”

Everin was silent for a time. Eventually, he said, “I guess I could try. But can we wait until tomorrow? I don’t want to even think about touching more suffering tonight.”

Cora gave him an appreciative smile. “Yeah, of course.”

Ford took the first watch that night. Cora and Everin tucked into their thin bedrolls and attempted to get some rest. Cora found that she fell asleep quickly – it had been a long and exhausting day, both physically and emotionally. She felt like she’d only just drifted off when she felt Ford shaking her awake.

“You got the next watch?” he asked.

Cora nodded and accepted Ford’s hand as she pulled herself to her feet. The tall boy unrolled his own thin mattress on the forest floor and attempted to sleep. Cora found a large rock that was about the height of her waist at the edge of the clearing. She took a seat on the stone and attempted to survey her surroundings.

The moon was nearly full and hung low in the sky, casting a faint light on them through the gaps in the forest canopy. Everin and Ford lay on either side of their pack of supplies. They rested on top of one side of their thin sheets, using the layer of fabric to protect themselves from the damp ground. They both had curled into a kind of fetal position to stave off the night chill. Cora smiled at how different they looked while asleep – an innocence that Ford would never show when awake and a peacefulness that Everin likely never experienced except in his dreams.

She focused on Ford. He’d visited her father’s bakery often since they were children, always picking up loaves of bread that his parents had ordered. Cora had never spoken more than a handful of words to him before they’d been enlisted. Ford had always been a somewhat mysterious figure. A confident, aloof, and, she had to admit, handsome young man who’d always left her just a little too nervous to talk when he entered the bakery.

In another life, perhaps she would’ve gathered up the courage to get to know Ford on her own. Instead, King Valen’s war and Everin’s supernatural abilities had lumped them together. Cora let out the quietest of sighs. Now wasn’t the time to let a crush on Ford distract her. Everin needed her help, now more than ever. That obligation she felt to care for Everin, who had nobody else to turn to, compelled her to make sacrifices on her part to ensure his well-being. It might’ve been inconvenient, but it was simply who she was. If something happened to Everin that she could’ve prevented, she’d never forgive herself.

The main road was just far enough away that Cora could see it. The path was empty, which was what she expected. The chances of running into bandits on the path at night was too great. Most travelers did as they had done and attempted to find a secluded clearing where they could hunker down for the night.

Cora entertained herself by quietly scraping two stones together. It was a mindless activity, but it kept her from accidentally drifting off to sleep. After several hours had passed and the rough exterior of the stones had been worn to a smooth finish, Cora woke Everin up. He groggily pulled his sheet off himself and took up position on the large rock at the edge of the clearing. Cora returned to the meager shelter of her bedroll and returned to her sleep.

She was woken up by a gentle shaking from Everin.

“Cora, are you awake? I’m ready to give practicing a try.”

“Huh?” Slowly, Cora pushed herself to an upright position and looked around their campsite. There were three trees at the far edge of the clearing with faint X’s carved into their trunks. Cora saw Ford rising from where he’d slept as well.

“What’s this?” he asked.

Everin pointed to the trees. “Like I said last night, energy from fear is hardest to control. But if we’re ever in a dangerous situation, you two are probably going to be afraid, which means it’s going to be the most readily available form of energy. I figured I could try exercising more control over the lightning it produces so that I can be more effective if I need to use it.”

“I guess that makes sense,” Ford agreed.

“Are you sure that you want to try this?” Cora asked.

Everin nodded. “We could have been seriously hurt or killed yesterday because I couldn’t control the energy. I don’t want that to happen again.”

Cora nodded. “Okay. If you’re sure.”

“I am.”

Everin looked between her and Ford and allowed himself a wry smile. “This is good. Both of you are nervous. That means I’ll have some green energy to practice with.”

Everin strode across the clearing and planted himself near the middle of the open space. Cora and Ford moved to either side of him, giving a clear line of sight to the trees. Everin stared down his three targets. Cora heard him inhale sharply and raise his hands. Immediately, she felt her nerves diminish. She couldn’t see it, but she imagined her fear being siphoned into Everin’s outstretched hands.

She didn’t see any physical changes in her friend, but she knew that the energy was hurting him. Briefly, a wince crossed his face before he began to channel the energy back out. An arc of green lightning leapt from his palm and buried itself into the trunk of one of the marked trees, leaving a burnt, black imprint where it connected with the wood.

“Good job!” Cora called, thrilled at Everin’s accuracy. He didn’t appear to hear her. All his attention was focused on controlling the energy that was pooling in his hands.

He thrust his left hand forward and another bolt jumped forth. This one curved to the side and zapped a bush at the edge of the clearing. Everin grunted in frustration and kept channeling the energy. He took a step forward and extended both hands. A spiderweb of emerald lightning lit up before him. Bolts of energy sunk into the ground of the clearing. Some stretched upward and struck tree branches. A single tendril of the energy forked its way into the base of another one of the marked trees.

“You got another one!” Cora called encouragingly.

Everin shook his head, not taking his eyes off the trees. “I didn’t have any control. That was luck!” he shouted in response.

Cora realized that she still wasn’t feeling any fear. Everin must have been pulling it from her and Ford in a constant stream. She wondered how long he could keep that up. Everin hurled another lightning bolt forward. The green sparks raced through the air but altered their course and shot into the dirt. Everin grunted in frustration and threw another line of electricity. This one turned at a nearly ninety-degree angle and crashed into a tree trunk just a few feet from Ford. He jumped aside as the energy cut through the air nearby.

“Careful, Everin!” he called out.

Everin nodded slightly in acknowledgement.

“Why don’t you take a rest?” Cora asked, raising her voice to get his attention from where she stood.

“No!” Everin shouted, his eyes locked on the final tree. “I need to control it.” There was an edge of hysteria in his voice.

He launched another streak of lightning forward, but this one sailed past the tree trunk and disappeared into the depths of the forest. Everin snarled in a desperate frustration.

“Everin, I think you should stop for a minute,” Cora pleaded.

“I can do this!” he cried.

He closed his eyes, channeling more of her fear. Cora realized he was shaking. This only scared her more, providing more energy for Everin to absorb. Finally, with a cry, he thrust his hands forward and summoned another web of lightning into existence. Sparks flew everywhere. They fried tree branches and kicked up dirt when they diverted their course into the ground. One streak of the energy made a sharp turn to Everin’s left. Cora didn’t even have time to realize what was happening until the bolt of energy had driven itself into her shoulder.

 Cora’s body was electrified as the energy raced through her entire being. She was knocked off her feet. Every muscle in her body spasmed madly as she flew through the air. It felt like her whole body was on fire – like a thousand wasps were stinging under her skin. With a hard impact, she landed on her back. Faintly, she heard a shriek and someone calling her name. It sounded like Everin. She didn’t respond. Her vision blurred, and she sucked in weak gasps of air as she struggled to stay conscious.

Next chapter: https://sorrowandlove.home.blog/chapter-12-everin/

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