Chapter 16 (Cora)

Wisps of blue drifted from Everin’s hands and disappeared in the breeze – the last trickles of energy leaving his body. He was on his hands and knees, staring at the ground. Cora slowly approached, her stomach in knots. She knelt down beside Everin and gently placed a hand on his back. She felt him flinch at the contact.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I shouldn’t have said anything. It’s my fault she got away.”

For a long time, Everin didn’t speak. He just kept staring at the ground, eyes boring deep holes into the dirt. Finally, he said, “No, it’s my fault. I shouldn’t have taken my eyes off her.”

Cora sighed. She was relieved that Everin wasn’t mad at her for distracting him from Kyzella, but she also knew how he was capable of tearing himself apart over his own failures. She tried to control her feelings. She didn’t want Everin reading her aura.

“It’s okay. We’ll get the information another way,” she said.

Ford had slowly approached them. “Yeah, look at the bright side, Everin. You fought an angel and lived. Not only that, but you sent her running. Not many people can claim that.”

Cora gave him a smile. “Ford’s right. We might not have gotten what we wanted, but we’re alive, and Kyzella doesn’t have you.”

Slowly, Everin nodded. “I guess,” he conceded. Cora could still hear the disappointment in his voice. He tried to push himself up but winced as he moved his arm.

She gasped. “Your arm! Are you okay?”

“I think so,” he said. “She wasn’t trying to kill me, so it wasn’t meant to be a lethal hit.”

Slowly, he lifted his right arm. He peeled back the singed cloth of his shirt to reveal an angry red line just below his shoulder. Kyzella had barely touched him with the edge of her blade, clearly only intending to inflict pain. She’d succeeded. The two-inch-long cut was shallow, but the skin around the wound was an inflamed red – burned by the intense heat of her sword.

Cora breathed. The injury wasn’t terrible, but they didn’t have any medical supplies, and were at least a day’s travel from the nearest healer. Ford picked up Everin’s bedroll and carried it over to Everin. He knelt down beside Cora and withdrew a small knife from the bottom of the pack. He cut a narrow strip of cloth free from one of the relatively clean corners of the sheet.

“Can I see your arm?” he asked Everin.

Everin complied, lifting his injured limb. Ford poured water out from his canteen to rinse the wound as best he could. Cora noticed that his canteen was already half-empty. Ford didn’t have much of his drinking water to spare. Nevertheless, the boy maintained a trickle of the cool water on the burn. Eventually, he capped his canteen and dried the wound with the end of the cloth. Cora saw Everin wince at the contact from the fabric, but he didn’t cry out. With careful hands, Ford wrapped his makeshift bandage around the burn. Cora was surprised to see how gently Ford’s calloused hands wrapped the cloth. She felt a kind of closeness towards Ford that she hadn’t before. He might hide it behind his standoffish personality, but he was a caretaker, like her. It was an instinct deep within him to help those in need. Cora caught herself staring at his face as he worked, and she turned away. Ford finished wrapping the wound and leaned back to examine his work.

“Hopefully that will keep it somewhat clean until we find a healer,” he said.

Everin flexed his arm experimentally. “Thank you.”

Ford shook his head. “I should be thanking you. If you hadn’t decided to use your power, I wouldn’t be alive.”

“What exactly did you do?” Cora asked Everin. “I’ve never seen you manipulate the energy like you did just now.”

Everin scanned his surroundings before speaking. “I can explain it all, but can we get moving? I feel good enough to walk, and we shouldn’t cause a bigger scene than we have already.” He pointed further down the trail.

Cora followed Everin’s finger. Sure enough, the two families that had seen the fight start were still there, watching them in stunned awe. Upon seeing Everin point at them, they started backing away. Parents grabbed their children and began guiding them down the trail, eager to avoid an interaction with the criminals who had just fought one of the king’s angels.

Ford was watching them too. “Looks like we won’t be able to stop word from spreading about this,” he commented.

Cora shook her head. “Probably not. You’re right, Everin. We should get going.” She rose to her feet and offered Everin her hand. He reached up with his left arm, his uninjured one, and grabbed her hand. She pulled him too his feet. Meanwhile, Ford hurried to the trees off the side of the path to search for the sword that Kyzella had knocked out of his grip. He reemerged moments later with it in hand. The sword still appeared functional, although the steel at the base of the weapon was warped from where it had come into contact with Kyzella’s energy blade.

“I guess this will have to do for now,” he sighed as he strapped it back onto his pack.

The trio continued moving down the path. As they walked, Ford dug out sheet of paper with the map and McCarthy’s instructions. It had some wrinkles and small tears from their travel but was mostly intact. Ford showed them the map, and they decided that they would walk for a few more hours that afternoon. If they got an early start the next morning, they would reach Thistleton, first town outside the Elderwood Forest, before evening the next day.

Ford folded the map and slipped it back into his pack. An awkward silence settled over the group. Cora looked at Everin expectantly. Finally, he spoke up.

“I guess you want to know what happened back there?” he said.

“If you’re comfortable telling us,” Cora said.

Everin exhaled. “I am. There’s just a lot to process.”

Cora nodded in encouragement. “That’s fine. Why don’t you start with that blue energy you created; the barriers of light, the beams of energy, and those tentacle things from your arms? What were those?”

“They were all from Kyzella’s sadness,” he said. “I absorbed her blue energy – the first time I’d absorbed anyone’s blue energy in any large quantity.” He paused, looking for the right words.

“It was unbelievable,” he said. “It was so much easier to control than other forms of suffering. Energy from fear races out of me as sparks before I can manipulate it. Anger isn’t much easier to command. The sadness manifested itself into any form that I willed it into. I didn’t even think, it was like some instinct inside me just told me that I could do these things with the energy, and I did them. It was like the sadness was an extension of myself – like it was a part of me.”

Cora started to open her mouth, but Everin wasn’t finished.

“And there was so much of it,” he said. He was talking quickly. It wasn’t eagerness that sped up his speech. It sounded more like grim urgency. “I took a lot from Kyzella, but I’d taken what looked like the same amount of anger from her too. The sadness was so steady, so ceaseless. I kept channeling it out of me and waiting for it to burn up, but it lasted for ages.”

“Do you think you could absorb sadness again if we get into another fight?” Ford asked.

Everin swallowed hard and shook his head. “If it’s possible at all, I’d rather avoid it. The sadness was a lot more powerful, but it was also so much more painful. Fear and anger are manageable, because those emotions are rooted in action. I can tell myself that if I run or fight, then my suffering will go away. Sadness is different. It’s this blanket of misery that wraps itself around you and lets you know that there’s nothing you can do to make it stop. Holding Kyzella’s sorrow inside me was by far the worst experience I’ve had absorbing emotions. I don’t know what she’s been through, but Kyzella is a really miserable person.”

“Do you know why Kyzella was so sad?” he asked.

Again, Everin shook his head. “I can see emotions, but I can’t tell what causes them. Kyzella also had a lot of hatred for something or someone, but I couldn’t figure out what.”

Cora took her opportunity to jump in. “Everin, it looked like Kyzella was talking while you two fought. Did she say anything about McCarthy or how she was connected to him?”2

She thought she could see Everin shiver. After a long pause, he cleared his throat and said, “When I had her on the ground, I asked her what she knew about McCarthy. She said…” he paused. It looked like he didn’t really believe what he was planning to say. “She said that I was an angel, that McCarthy had turned me into an angel.”

Cora gasped. Across from her, she saw Ford’s eyes widen in surprise. She struggled to think of something to say. Finally, she just asked, “What does that mean?”

“It means I have one of my answers. I think I know why my parents were killed.” A grim expression appeared on his face.

“You think he killed them so that he could make you an angel?”

Everin gave a weak shrug. “I still don’t know how killing my parents plays into making me an angel, but that must be why he did it. I can’t imagine any other reason.”

“We don’t hear about the lives of the other angels before they began serving King Valen,” Ford said. “Maybe McCarthy was trying to erase evidence of your past life before turning you into one.”

“Your guess is as good as mine at this point,” Everin said.

“I think the more important issue,” said Cora, “is the fact that McCarthy just sent an angel to bring you into his custody. As much as we all want answers, it seems like McCarthy is trying to find Everin, and we’re walking straight into his hands.”

“What else can we do? We can’t just run and hide. McCarthy is going to send angels after us until he gets what he wants. Confronting him is the only way to make this stop,” Everin said.

“Are you sure you can face this guy?” Cora asked. “If the three angels are under his command, McCarthy might be much more dangerous than we thought.”

“McCarthy needs to be stopped. I don’t care if it’s dangerous,” Everin said. There wasn’t a drop of hesitation in his voice. “If what he did to me is how he makes angels, he needs to be stopped right now. I can’t live with myself if he puts even one other person through the suffering that he put me through. Cora, you don’t have to come if you think it’s too risky, but this is something that I need to do.” He stressed the words. “It’s the only thing in my life that matters anymore, and with these powers that he gave me, I can bring him to justice. I know I can.”

Cora nodded. She felt an unexpected rush of emotion. “I’m still coming,” she said. “There’s nothing for me back home, not until King Valen’s war ends or I can clear my name as a deserter.”

“Same goes for me,” Ford chimed in.

Everin gave them a forced smile. “Thanks.”

A silence fell upon the group. Cora used the time to mull over everything that Everin had told her. As much as she understood his reasoning, she felt that it was exceedingly risky to barge into Doronhine and try to find McCarthy. If he was associated with the Allomorian military, then he would have resources and protection. He could hide himself behind a wall of soldiers if Everin tried to challenge him.

Soon, the light on the forest path began to fade. They took that as their cue to begin looking for shelter for the night. Cora soon spotted a clearing a short way off the road. This one was smaller than where they’d slept the previous night, but there was still more than enough space for three sleeping bodies on the ground.

They were far from the main road, so they decided it was safe to start a small fire. Ford used the flint and steel that he’d liberated from the fallen member of the Elderwood Ghosts to attempt to ignite some tinder he’d gathered. He had sharp eyebrows that stood out from his dark complexion. As he worked, they furrowed into a focused expression that Cora decided was perhaps more amusing than he intended.

With a quiet exclamation of triumph, Ford managed to create a small blaze in the middle of the clearing. Everin, Cora, and Ford huddled around the warmth of the fire as they ate.

By the time they’d finished eating, the clearing was nearly enveloped by darkness. They let the fire burn down to embers – any more light would make them visible from the road in the approaching darkness, and they agreed to take the same shifts that they had the night before, with Ford taking the first watch. Cora watched Everin spread out his bedroll and fold it over himself. It was a little smaller than it had been the night before, as a strip of the material was now wrapped around the burn on his arm.

Everin turned on his side, so as to not put pressure on his wound, and closed his eyes. The lines on his face smoothed out, but not completely. He’d been through a lot that day, and Cora was sure that some of it would come back to plague his dreams that night. She waited a while, until she was sure that Everin was asleep. Then, she turned to Ford, who was sitting next to her.

“What did you two talk about?”

He looked up from the burning embers. “Huh?”

“What did you and Everin talk about earlier today? You two disappeared after he said you were angry at him, and whatever you said was enough to convince him to use his power against Kyzella.”

“Oh, that?” Ford scratched the side of his head uncomfortably. “I don’t know. I just wanted to explain that I really wasn’t mad at him.”

“What were you upset about, then?” she gently probed further, turning her own gaze from the glowing remnants of the fire to look him in the eyes. He sat less than an arm’s length away from her, and she could see every feature of his face illuminated by the fading light.

“Myself mostly,” he said. “For how I acted after he hit you with the lightning. I just overreacted because I was afraid that he’d seriously hurt you. I lashed out without thinking, and then I felt angry at myself for being such a hothead in front of you. I don’t know, I just was frustrated because you were probably upset with how I acted.” Cora could practically sense the tension in Ford’s body as he spoke.

She felt her own heart race. Nervous energy prickled like sparks in her chest and every little detail, her posture, the placement of her foot on the ground, the strands of hair that hung over her forehead, all came into razor-sharp focus. She fought the urge to reach up and brush the hair away.

“I’m not upset. It was a stressful moment. People make mistakes,” she finally said.

Ford smiled. “Thank all the old gods,” he said.

“Is that really all that was bothering you?” Cora pressed. “You were worried you’d upset me?”

Ford shrugged. “Well, yeah. I guess I worry a lot about what you think of me.”

Cora paused. She could feel the sweat beading on her palms and the hammering of her heart behind her ribs. Her forehead felt hot, but ice-cold nerves ran up and down her body. She struggled to sound nonchalant as she forced a gentle laugh.

“You don’t have to worry about that. I think very highly of you, Ford.”

“I think highly of you, too,” he said.

She looked into his eyes. They stared right back into hers. By the light of the dying fire, she could see that his pupils were wide, as if he were ready to run or fight. She was sure hers looked the same. Acting more on instinct, because she would’ve frozen if she’d stopped to think about what she was doing, she leaned in and kissed Ford on the cheek.

She pulled away and they made eye contact again. This time, he leaned forward and pressed his lips against hers. As the crush was finally cracked open, it felt like she’d been hit with another one of Everin’s lightning bolts, but this time the energy didn’t hurt. It sent ecstatic sparks tingling across her body. She reached forward and ran her fingers down his arm. She could feel his muscles initially tense and slowly relax. He cradled her head in his hand as they held the kiss for what felt like an eternity.

Finally, they pulled apart. Cora’s mind was racing. The thrill of what she’d just done left her heart pounding. She smiled at Ford.

“So…are you still worried about what I think of you?” She asked.

Ford grinned. “Well, I don’t want to make any assumptions, but I’d say my odds are looking pretty good.”

She laughed, giggling with equal parts relief and euphoria. She leaned in and kissed him again.

“I’d say they are, too.”

Cora didn’t go to sleep. She spent the rest of Ford’s watch talking with him. It was as though the kiss they’d shared had broken down some kind of barrier between them. Before, they’d only talked about business – the things that were pertinent to their journey through the forest. Now, they talked purely for the sake of talking. They talked because Cora wanted to hear Ford’s voice and because she wanted to feel the warm glow in her chest when he laughed at something she said. When she judged that about a third of the night had passed, she offered to let Ford sleep, but he declined.

“There’s no way I’ll be able to sleep right now,” he said.

So, Cora and Ford stayed up most of the night. They held hands in the dark as they talked about home. They talked about their families. They talked about Everin. They talked about the full moon overhead and the insects chirping in the forest around them. They talked and talked and talked, eager to learn everything they could about the person sitting next to them.

Finally, Cora decided that she could stay awake no longer. While her mind was still greedy for more of Ford, her body couldn’t keep up any longer. Ford agreed and tucked himself into his bed of cloth on the floor of the clearing. Cora woke up Everin, who groggily climbed out from under the fold of his bedroll and took up watch for the last third of the night. Cora laid herself down on her own bedroll, and her heavy eyelids quickly pulled themselves down over her pupils. Thoughts raced through her mind. She’d been afraid of letting her feelings for Ford distract her from helping Everin, but how could she ignore them after this? After she knew that he felt the same way? She worried about what tonight might mean for the rest of their journey, but even that wasn’t enough to keep her from falling into a deep slumber.

Next chapter:

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