Chapter 22 (Everin)

Everin was sad. He always was sad, of course, but especially so right now. Immediately after the fight with the ghosts, it had been unbearable. He didn’t know exactly how to describe it. He felt like channeling all of the energy had weakened his control over his own emotions. His own pain, the sorrow that had burned bright within him since the death of his parents, was able to spread. It ventured out of the darkest corners of his consciousness where he tried to hide it and began to explore the parts of his being that had previously been off-limits. It drained the energy from his arms and legs. It tightened its grip around his chest until it felt like Everin’s heart was caught in a vice. It blanketed itself over his entire being, seeping outward with a fresh agony that he hadn’t felt in months.

For hours, Everin was in misery. The loss and heartbreak that he tried to hide from had shown its awful face again. Gradually, he was able to mount a resistance. As he’d clung to Cora on the back of their horse, he was able to find distractions. He’d lied to himself, saying that he would be okay and that his focus now should be on getting Tress to Thistleton. Eventually, he’d found that he was able to push his memories back into where he’d hidden them. He was still terribly sad, but this was a familiar sadness – one that he could manage for now.

By the time they’d stopped to eat, he could function again. His arms and legs obeyed his commands to climb off the horse and to raise the stale bread to his mouth. It wasn’t that they hadn’t obeyed him earlier, it was that he’d had no willpower to use them. He and his three companions climbed back on the two animals and traveled in silence until Tress surprised Everin by speaking.

“The ghosts, are they dead? I couldn’t see them.”

Everin saw a flicker of bright green stain the aura around Cora, but she didn’t say anything.

Ford twisted in his saddle a bit at the words from the boy riding behind him. “They were still alive when we left them, but Everin left them in pretty rough shape.” He patted Tress’s knee. “I guess you got some revenge.”

Everin had to speak up at that. “Revenge doesn’t work,” he said.

He sensed Cora jump slightly at the sound of his voice behind her.

Ford frowned. “What are you saying? The ghosts did something really wrong to Tress, and they paid for it.”

“Don’t count on revenge to make you feel better. It won’t.” Everin paused. He struggled to find the right words to say without revealing too much to Tress, who at this point was still unaware of his supernatural abilities. “I…I guess you could say that I have a really good understanding of painful emotions, and I can tell you that revenge doesn’t work. It’s an empty promise.”

 “What does that mean?” Ford persisted, still struggling to wrap his mind around what Everin was proposing.

Everin worded his next statement as carefully as he could. “Revenge doesn’t make you feel better. You’ll toil and toil away, wasting hours, months, or even years of your life trying to exact vengeance on whoever wronged you. Then, once you finally get it, you’re left feeling empty. You realize that after all that pain and misery you put yourself through, it didn’t fix whatever wrong was done to you in the first place.” Everin looked over at Ford’s passenger. “The ghosts got their punishment, but it didn’t give Tress his sight back.”

The blind boy had most of his face buried in Ford’s back. His aura flared blue, and Everin realized that what he’d said was correct. “He’s right,” Tress said. “My life is still over, with or without the ghosts still around.” When he lifted his head, Everin saw that there were tears in his sightless eyes.

“Everin!” Ford snapped. “Back off. He’s been through a lot today.”

Everin realized that the boy’s aura had continued to swell into an awful deep blue. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “I just didn’t want you to think he’d be happy now that the ghosts are gone.”

“Everin, isn’t that what you’re doing?” Cora spoke up.

He turned his head to look at the girl sitting in front of him in the saddle. “What do you mean?”

“Isn’t that why you’re tracking down McCarthy? To get your revenge for what he did to you and your parents?”

“No,” Everin said. “I chose to track him down because I need to know why he chose to kill my parents, why he chose to turn me into this. And I need to make sure he doesn’t do it to anyone else. These abilities that I have are terrible, but they’ve shown me that killing McCarthy won’t bring my parents back. I can’t say how I’ll feel with someone’s emotions channeling through me, but while I’m relatively clearheaded right now, I know that revenge won’t work.”

Everin looked over at Tress, but the boy kept his mouth shut. Either he was too wrapped up in his own revelations about revenge, or he was afraid to ask questions about what Everin was talking about.

“And who knows,” he added. “Maybe McCarthy will have a way to undo what he turned me into. I really don’t want to become an…” Everin stopped himself before he said, “angel.” Cora and Ford nodded, understanding his intention.

“So, you’re saying that you have no hatred for McCarthy?” Ford asked.

Everin shook his head. “Oh, believe me, I do. But when I kill him, it’ll be for the people in the future that he could’ve hurt. It won’t be for myself.”

Everin was shocked at his own words. For the past year, not a day had gone by when he hadn’t thought about what he would do to McCarthy. How he would kill the man if he ever got his hands on him. He couldn’t even think about his parents’ murderer without his blood boiling and his fingers twitching into fists. However, those made-up rematches with McCarthy had always just been a fantasy – a revenge that he could only dream about.

Now, he realized that he could actually carry out those intentions. McCarthy had given him the powers of the angels. If Everin’s abilities were anything like Kyzella’s, Saphine’s, or Ichoron’s, then he was capable of killing McCarthy a hundred times over with ease. And while killing McCarthy was something he’d always wanted, it was now an obligation, not just a vengeful desire.

Cora and Ford didn’t push him for more information, so the group of four rode in relative silence for much of the afternoon. The horses were large, but it was still a struggle for them to carry two riders each for such a long distance. They had to stop to dismount and let the animals rest a few times.

Despite the delays, there were still a few hours of sunlight left when Cora exclaimed, “I think we’re almost out of the forest.”

Everin snapped his head up and examined their surroundings. Sure enough, the tree trunks on either side of the path weren’t quite as thick or densely packed as he was used to seeing. As they walked for several more minutes, the foliage quickly gave way to a spread of lush green hills that much resembled the landscape around Greenshadow Village that Everin had grown up in.

“This is good. We should arrive at Thistleton before sundown,” Ford said.

They rode the horses over small knolls and green expanses. A well-trodden trail guided them all the way from the edge of the Elderwood Forest to the small town that finally appeared over the crest of a hill.

Everin saw Ford tap Tress’s leg. “We’re here. You’re back home.”

Tress groaned. “I don’t know if that’s a good thing.”

“Let’s get him to a healer and then we can worry about whether it’s good or bad that he’s here,” Cora jumped in. “Tress, are there any healers in Thistleton who would treat you even if you’re a deserter. Ideally, we should find you someone who would do it discreetly.”

Tress responded immediately. “There’s Edoll. She’s friends with my mother. She’d give us treatment.”

“Let’s go to her, then.” Cora said brightly.

Tress vigorously shook his head. “That’s why we can’t see her. She’s friends with my mother. I can’t let my mother see me like this.” He removed a hand from Ford’s waist to gesture at his eyes and at the cuts and bruises that covered the rest of his body. “Especially not after I disgraced our family by running away from the draft,” he added.

“Is there anyone else who can treat your injuries?” Cora asked.

Tress didn’t speak for a long time. Finally, he conceded, “She’s the only one who probably wouldn’t turn us in.”

“Looks like we’re seeing Edoll, then,” Cora decided.

“Please don’t take me to her,” Tress begged. “I’d rather die from my injuries getting infected than let my mother find out what happened to me. It would crush her.”

Ford patted Tress on the leg again. “Hey, you’re not to blame for what the ghosts did to you. Some things are more important than what your mom might think of you, and your life is one of them. We’re taking you to Edoll. There’s nowhere else to go. Where can we find her?”

Tress didn’t have an argument for Ford. Glumly, he responded, “She works in a small building in the southern part of town, just off the main road.” He let his face drop forwards as he pressed his forehead into Ford’s back.

The two horses rode into the town. There was a stone wall around the inner part of the city. The town was north of the Elderwood Forest, far from the dangers of Meronne; however, they had the affluence and workers available to build a wall for protection. Everin frowned. Greenshadow Village or any of the southern towns could have used that wall much more than Thistleton if they only could have afforded it.

The town of Thistleton was a lot for him to take in. First, because he’d hardly ever ventured from the small huts and family farms that made up Greenshadow Village, and second, because there were so many other people. It was the first time he’d been around more than just a handful of individuals since receiving his power.

Everin turned his head back and forth as he scanned the city streets. Several people shared the road with them, either traveling on foot or guiding an animal somewhere. Their auras cast a rainbow of emotions all around Everin. He could see the auras of people inside buildings, too. The light shone through the windows of their shops and homes, adding to the mosaic. It was difficult to process. Never before had he been surrounded by unhappiness like this. He was in a city of suffering. Every persons’ aura was a different hue. Every pain was unique. The energy from all the auras was eager to be absorbed by Everin’s body. He could feel it yearning to free itself from the people who suffered and flow through him. Everin raised his mental walls even higher in an attempt to stave off the misery that surrounded him.

There were a few strong red auras and a few steady blue ones; however, the emotional landscape of the citizens of Thistleton was far and away dominated by glowing emerald fear. Nearly everyone walked about as if they had some weight hanging over their heads. Everin realized belatedly that it was probably due to the royal procession passing through and enlisting soldiers from the population. The people he saw were mostly children and older folks who couldn’t be drafted. Green lights shimmered around them as they feared for the safety of their loved ones. As different as this place was from his home, Everin realized that these people, too, were just as affected by the approaching war.

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