Everin wished that he could talk to horses. He wished that there was some way he could convey his urgency to them other than insistently tapping his heels into his horse’s sides and commanding the animal to keep galloping forward.
They’d traveled at this breakneck speed for perhaps an hour. It was Cora who finally said, “Everin, we need to let the horses rest. We pushed them too hard, and there’s no point in keeping up this pace. We can’t see Ford anymore.”
Everin groaned. Stopping the horses was admitting that he’d failed, but he could hear the heavy breathing of his steed and knew that it wasn’t fair to push the animal any harder without a break. Grudgingly, he pulled on the reins, and he and Cora came to a stop. They climbed off the horses, but still held onto the reins.
Apprehension and guilt ate away at his insides. It should have been him who the angels had taken, not Ford. Every fiber of Everin’s being wanted to jump back on the horse and get to Doronhine as fast as he could. Every second that Ford was in McCarthy’s hands was agony for Everin’s fragile conscience. He resisted the urge to take off towards the capital, however. He knew that it would be better come up with a strategy. At the rate the angels could travel, they’d probably already reached McCarthy. That meant that he and Cora would need a plan of attack for when they arrived.
“Let’s walk for a bit? Give the horses time to recover?” she asked.
Everin nodded, and they made their way across the grassy field that spread out before them. He studied composition of the aura emanating from his friend. Everin had never felt the kind of feelings that Cora had for Ford. He’d never been in love. He’d been too young to really be interested in romance before his parents were killed. After their deaths, he hadn’t been in the right headspace to feel anything except hatred and sorrow, much less to connect intimately with another human being. He’d been incredibly close to Cora through the past year, but he’d never felt so much as a spark of romantic feelings towards her. The end result of all these realizations was that he felt woefully unprepared to help his friend. The only hint he had as to how she was feeling was the shimmering aura of light around her frame. It glimmered with deep green light. The energy of her fear was mixed with spots of dark blue. Despair? Was she losing hope?
“Are you doing okay?” he asked tentatively.
“Me?” Cora said. “I should be the one asking you that. You’re the one who just had to fight three angels.”
Everin didn’t fail to notice how she’d avoided the question by redirecting it at him. That was typical of her, he thought. Always eager to help others but reluctant to accept help for herself.
“I’ll be fine,” he reassured her. “I was just wondering how you were holding up. I know you and Ford were…more than just friends.”
Her eyes widened a bit. “Oh, you knew.” She pursed her lips. “How did you find out.”
“I can see both of your auras. I could tell when your emotional states changed around each other. And,” he added sheepishly, “I may have overheard part of a conversation last night.”
Cora frowned. “Did you eavesdrop…never mind, it doesn’t matter.”
Everin gratefully took this as an opportunity to return to the original question. “Yeah, so, I knew that you and Ford were close, and I just wanted to make sure you were doing alright.”
She nodded. “I’m okay. I’d rather get him back quickly, before McCarthy…before he can do anything to him.” The green light around her flared momentarily as she must’ve let her mind imagine the horrors McCarthy could inflict on their friend.
“We’ll get Ford back and bring McCarthy to justice at the same time,” Everin said.
“You might run into the angels again. You’ll probably have to use your power,” Cora warned.
Everin nodded. “I’m ready.”
“Even after using it so much this morning?” she asked.
It was true, Everin was having more trouble than usual controlling the dark storm of misery that he buried deep within himself. The fight with the angels had drained his emotional stamina, but he had no other choice. He didn’t want to think about what that evil man would do to Ford if they waited to try to rescue him. An image of his parents bleeding out on the floor of their house crossed his mind. He couldn’t let today become a repeat of the night his life was torn apart.
“I’ll be okay. I’ll make myself be okay if I have to.”
Cora frowned slightly, obviously not completely satisfied with his answer, but she didn’t push the subject. She was also aware of the time pressure that they were under.
Everin and Cora walked alongside their horses for two miles or so. They hadn’t had breakfast, so they each ate an apple and some bread from Cora’s bag. Everin had forgotten to grab his pack in his hurry to chase after the angels. Once the horses had appeared to recover from their mad dash across the countryside, Everin and Cora climbed back on and resumed riding, slower this time.
They didn’t speak as they rode, too wrapped up in their own thoughts. It wasn’t until landscape around them began to change from wild, grassy hills to well-tilled farmland, that Cora spoke up.
“We’re getting close to Doronhine. Do you have a plan for finding Ford?”
“McCarthy’s instructions to the soldiers who sent me into the ruins said, ‘bring him directly to me at the royal castle in Doronhine.’ So, I’d assume that’s were McCarthy lives, and it’s where I’d guess they’ve taken Ford.”
Cora turned to stare at him. “Did you just quote that part of McCarthy’s instructions word for word?”
Everin looked her in the eyes, not a trace of emotion on his face. “Cora, I’ve memorized that entire letter, word for word.”
“Right, sorry.” She shook her head. “It makes sense we’d find him there. Do you have any idea how we can get into the castle?”
Everin shook his head. “I’m not sure. I don’t know how heavily guarded the place will be, but I could probably use my power to scare off a few guards if I had to. Ford and the angels will probably have strong auras. I might be able to use that to locate them quickly or to find Ford in a crowd. Wherever we find Ford, I’m guessing that McCarthy will be somewhere nearby.”
“That doesn’t sound like much of a plan,” Cora said.
“It’s the best I can come up with given how little I know going in,” Everin replied.
Cora sighed. “I guess we’ll have to read the situation as we go.”
They kept riding and gradually found that the long grass beneath them gave way to a dirt path. They followed the path for a time before the high stone walls of Doronhine appeared in the distance. The city was massive, at least twice as large as Thistleton had been. It was surrounded by a wall of polished white stone. The dirt path led Everin and Cora to a massive gate.
By Everin’s guess, it was late in the morning. The gate was open, and people traveled in and out of the city both on foot and on horseback. Four soldiers patrolled the gateway, but they didn’t recognize Everin and Cora. They both slowed their horses to a walk and entered the city with no issues.
“We need a place to keep our horses,” Everin said. “We don’t know if we’re going to be away for a few minutes or a few hours.”
Cora scanned the tall buildings with brick walls and thatched roofs that lined the main road into the heart of the city.
“I think I see an inn up ahead. Let’s see if they have some empty stables.”
Everin nodded in agreement. They climbed off their horses and guided them down the wade paved street. The animals’ hooves clacked loudly on the cobblestone road. Everin could only imagine how much time and resources went into paving the entire city of Doronhine with streets like this. Greenshadow village had only had paths made of dirt, the paved road felt alien to his feet as his sandals treaded over it.
Everin had plenty of time to take in the pattern of interlocking bricks, as he and Cora tried to keep their heads down as they walked. Everin didn’t think that they would be recognized, but there was always a chance that someone had drawn an image of their faces and put out an arrest warrant.
They reached the inn without incident. A burly innkeeper greeted them at the front entrance.
“We’d like to keep our horses in your stables for the next few hours,” Cora said.
The innkeeper looked their horses over. “That’ll be three silvers to keep ‘em here for the rest of the day,”
Cora pulled out the small bag of coins that Ford had taken from one of the Elderwood Ghosts. Smart, Everin thought. She must’ve had the presence of mind to go through Ford’s bag and grab it before running down to get on her horse and chase after the angels. Everin noticed that she’d also strapped her sword to her hip before they’d left the monastery, not that it would do much good if she had to use it to fight angels.
Cora stuck a hand in the bag and fished out three small silver coins. She handed them to the innkeeper who turned and whistled. A boy appeared at his side.
“Take these horses out back. Give ‘em some hay and some water.”
The boy nodded. He hurried forward and accepted the reins from Everin and Cora, guiding the animals around the building to the back of the inn.
“Thanks,” Cora smiled. “We’ll be back in a bit.”
They left the inn, and as they walked, Everin said to Cora, “We didn’t bring a third horse. How are we going to get out of Doronhine once we’ve got Ford?”
She shrugged. “I’m lighter than you. Ford and I could both ride one of the horses.” She paused. “We could also steal one, I suppose. It would only be until we got back to the monastery and could pick up our third horse.”
Everin nodded. It had been the answer he’d expected, but it still surprised him to hear the words come from Cora’s mouth. She’d been his closest friend since he was ten. She’d been his only friend for the past year. He’d seen her grow and change a lot during that time, but she’d changed more over the past few days than all that time combined. She’d just casually suggested planning to steal a horse after helping Everin beat answers out of a man and ultimately end his life. If Everin had told Cora just a week ago that she would have even considered doing those things, he was sure that she wouldn’t have believed him.
He’d changed too, obviously. It was impossible to have been given insight into something as personal and intense as others’ suffering and not have been changed because of it. However, Everin had noticed himself transforming in other ways, too. He felt like his power had given him more control over his own pain. That is, while he’d tried and failed to ignore it before, now he was able to better keep his loss and his suffering buried deep inside him.
That wasn’t to say it wasn’t there anymore. There was no doubt that Everin was sadder than he’d been before becoming an angel. Along with the ability to see people’s misery, he’d been given an impossibly nuanced and comprehensive understanding of what caused suffering and why exactly it hurt. No, he was in much more pain that he’d been before. The loss of his parents still stung fresh every morning. It was just that he’d become better at pushing that sorrow into a part of his mind where it couldn’t hurt him so much, partly due to his power and partly out of necessity.
Everin had also become more familiar with his abilities. He was getting better at reading the mosaics of suffering that people around him projected onto their auras. He also felt confident enough in his abilities that he could explain another phenomenon he’d been observing. He’d noticed an interesting feature of his power ever since he’d begun to understand how it worked. When he looked at other people’s auras, it was as though he were viewing them through a tinted lens, as through there were another aura of colors he was watching them through first. When the effect was strong, it affected his ability to decipher exactly what energies were in the auras around him. After several days of using his power, Everin was fairly confident he knew what was causing this effect, but he decided not to bring it up to Cora just yet. It could wait until they’d rescued Ford and found McCarthy. If McCarthy ended up having a way to reverse what he’d done to Everin, it was possible that Everin wouldn’t have to bring up his discovery at all.
Everin and Cora continued to walk with their heads down. They stayed off to the side of the main road that they followed into the heart of Doronhine. Everin guessed that it was approximately noon, but he couldn’t be certain. The sun was obscured by dark, ominous clouds that had drifted over the city. Without the warm rays of light, the temperature dropped. A chill breeze drifted through the streets. Everin shivered.
It wasn’t long before he and Cora reached their destination. The wall surrounding King Valen’s castle was even higher than the one around the capital city. Everin tilted his head back and could see a few soldiers walking up and down the top of the wall. A few more soldiers guarded the archway that led inside the wall. Everin looked at Cora, who gazed intently at the massive stone barrier that separated them from Ford and McCarthy. They’d followed McCarthy’s instructions. They were here. One way or another, their journey would end today.
Next chapter: https://sorrowandlove.home.blog/chapter-33-everin/