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A Storm Set Free
I have nowhere to run. Behind me is nothing but ruins and ghosts, ghosts I set free. The storm I created destroyed everything, and anyone left will be hunting me. I never thought that it would come to this, that I would become the monster I despised. I guess the longer you hold back the storm, the more devastating it becomes. Eventually every storm cloud bursts.
I was marked at a young age, when my curse first showed itself. The X on all my clothing marks me as different, dangerous, a beast to be hunted. I was taken from my family to live with the other cursed to be cured. But this curse has no cure.
I had managed to keep the storm locked inside, hide the ugly parts of me, but that doesn’t matter now. I’d let it free for one moment, and it became a hurricane. And now I’ve destroyed everything.
They told me that I was a monster, something to be locked away in a cage like an unpredictable beast. They couldn’t have been more correct.
I was let out after thirteen years of captivity, and by then my family was already gone, disgraced by the daughter who was born wrong. I controlled my curse well, but a storm was starting to brew on the horizon.
I had felt it, tasted it on my skin. It was powerful, begging to be released, begging me. The pleading became so sorrowful and desperate that my weak heart decided to bring it mercy or what I thought was mercy. I’d let one drop fall; one small raindrop that fell harmlessly to the earth. But that one drop became a monstrous storm, wiping out everything in its path. Lightning had struck at anything, and the thunder was a constant rumble. The rain had slashed down like knives of the sky. It was beautiful, and I had created it.
The storm had been a destructive song, one that I had sung with all my being. For a few amazing moments, I had been a part of something greater. Then it had died like all songs do, leaving behind ruins and ghosts. Now I am running, but I will always be haunted by my ghosts. And now that my storm has been set free, I’m not sure I can cage it again. I’m not sure I want to.
I never should have run. This isn’t a life, always checking over my shoulder. I don’t even know why I hide; I know what I did was wrong. Why am I trying to escape justice? I stop, convinced to just wait for them to find me and take what I deserve.
My chest heaves, and my breath comes raggedly, so I move to sit at the foot of a tree. It’s a great thing, with rough bark and twisting roots, branches reaching for the sky, competing for sunlight. Few clouds litter the otherwise clear sky, and I can feel the storms brewing inside, the electricity crackling, the thunder preparing to roar. I reach inside it, taking comfort in its arms. I leap away from the trunk as a lightning bolt arches out of the sky, striking the tree and turning it into a torch. The once living thing is black and dead, fire curling the leaves into ash. Part of me aches for this thing that is dead because of me, just another ghost added to my list. I wrap my arms around myself, caging myself from the world, as if my arms can protect it from me.
I watch the fire die, smoke rising like a beacon to the sky. Ashes fall to the ground like dead raindrops, settling on my hair and clothes. I close my eyes, reaching back to the clouds, begging them to release their bounty and end the tree’s misery. Rain falls gently, killing the remaining flames with sharp sizzles.
I jump when something falls from the tree’s branches, but it seems different from a branch, more...floppy. I walk cautiously towards it, and have to shove my fist into my mouth and bite hard to keep from screaming. It’s a body, half charred, nearly unrecognizable. It’s limbs flop awkwardly, and the air stings with the smell of urine.
“Stay away from him!” A voice shouts, forcing me to take a step back. I stare, frozen, as a young man runs forward, tripping over his own feet in his rush. He kneels beside it, desperately feeling for any sign of life, though I know for certain it’s dead, robbed of life by my lightning. I can’t think of the body as anything but an it, as if admitting it had a gender will make the death real.
The man looks up at me, eyes brimming with the need for vengeance. He can’t be much older than me, with messy nut-brown hair, golden eyes, and scruff around his jaw. His clothes are ripped and dirty, and the handle of a pistol pokes out from its holster. The way he holds himself says that his mind is older than his body. “You killed him.” He growls, rising to his feet.
I take another step back, raising my hands. “Don’t touch me.” I warn, my voice quivering. He takes a step towards me anyway, hand ready on his gun. “Please.” I beg.
“Give me one reason why I shouldn’t kill you.”
I swallow. “I...I don’t want to live. I deserve to die, but if you...if you kill me, I might kill you.” I lower my hands. “I can’t control it.” As if to prove my point, a lightning bolt hits the ground about ten feet away. He stares at where it had been, eyes wide. Then they harden again.
He raises the gun, the barrel aimed at my chest. “It would be worth it.” I can see his finger flex on the trigger. I brace myself for the bullet to hit my heart, such a small thing to kill such a monster.
The sound of pounding hooves echoes across the field. He spins, cursing. He turns back to me, shoving the pistol back into its holster. He pulls another one from the body, scrambling to fit it into his belt. “You’re lucky I like my freedom, witch.” He says as he pulls a blackened satchel off the body, throwing it over his shoulder after checking inside. “Do you think you can control your...magic enough to disable a few men on horseback?” I nod, stunned to still be alive. They crest the hill, galloping on strong horses. “Now would be a good time!” He shouts as he moves behind me, turning to run the other direction. I close my eyes, raising my arms to the sky, the shouts of alarm and screams my only assurance that the sky is answering me. I flinch at a touch on my arm, and his eyes tell me he feels the same. “I think that’s enough distraction.” Then he runs across the field, leaving me scrambling to follow.
“Do you think you could slow down?” I pant after we’ve reached to safety of the woods. He doesn’t spare me a glance, but slows the pace. I realize I know nothing of this man I’m following like a lost puppy, even after he threatened to shoot me. “What’s your name?” He stops, stiffening, throwing a glare my way. I look down at a particularly interesting plant. “I just think it might be strange to call you ‘you.’” He grunts before walking again.
I run to catch up. “Are you going to tell me?”
He scowls. “Ryven. I’m called Ryven.” He furrows his brow. “What’s your name?”
I stop, surprised. “I...I don’t remember.”
He snorts. “You don’t have a name?”
“I think I did, once, but I’ve forgotten it. At the...asylum...they gave us numbers. Mine was 67.” I play with my hands, not wanting to see his reaction.
“Well, I’m not going to call you a number, even if you are a witch. How about...Ziri?” I don’t miss the veiled meaning of the name, but nod because I have no better ideas. In our language Ziri means a deadly storm. I don’t think he wants me to forget who I am.
“Who were those men?” I ask.
Ryven pushes a branch aside as he answers. “Let’s just say they don’t like me very much.”
“What did you do?”
He eyes me dangerously. “What makes you think I did something?”
“You look like someone on the run, which means you did something.” I answer.
He shakes his head. “I stole something.”
“Let’s just walk in silence, alright?” He doesn’t wait for my reply, pushing through the woods with renewed vigor. I bite my tongue. Silence is not something I excel at, but I manage it until nightfall. I think my tongue has permanent scars now.
Ryven leaves to make camp, disappearing into the trees. I hear a gunshot, and then he reappears, a prepared rabbit in hand. He cooks it over the fire I managed to start without burning down the entire forest. After the meal, he leans with his back to me against a tree, polishing his pistols. I curl up into my cloak, shivering in the cold. The air promises rain, or even snow. I just hope I don’t bring it upon us sooner.
A toe nudges me awake. “Wake up. It’s time to move.” Ryven leans over me. I sit up, wiping drool from my mouth. “You are probably the worst sleeper I’ve ever seen.” He says as he slings his satchel over his shoulder.
I glare at him, but I haven’t exactly mastered it. He breaks a smile at my face. “What is in that bag anyway?” I ask, hoping to change to subject from my ugly sleeping habits.
His face returns hard. “That is for me to know, and you to never find out.” I have to jog to keep up with him.
“Who was he?” I barely manage to question, the words sticking in my throat like over-cooked porridge.
“He was my partner. He was like you, marked.” He nods at my X’s. “He could see for miles. He was up in that tree as a look-out.”
“He could control it?” I can’t hold back the hope coming to life.
“His power was less...destructive. But maybe you can learn.”
“Where was he from? Here we’re just locked up and...experimented on.” I suppress a shudder at the memories.
“Dehle.” He names the nation to the south.
“Is that where you’re going?”
“Do you ever shut up?”
“No.” He barks a laugh, rough and underused. “Well?”
“Yes, I’m bringing my goods to Dehle.” He stops for a second. He grabs my wrist, pulling me to the ground. I try to shake him off, but his grip is like steel. He clamps his hand over my mouth, eyes begging me to stay quiet. He stiffens when hooves shakes the ground next to us. He waits for a minute after they’re gone, then pulls me to my feet. I pull away from him.
“Over there!” A dog barks along with Ryven’s curse. He doesn’t have to say another word before we’re racing through the trees. A root trips me, and I fall to the ground with a grunt. Thick hands grab me before I can find my footing, clamping something cold onto my wrists. I try, but I can’t call a storm. A gun fires, but Ryven is already gone. Did I really think he wouldn’t run at his first chance? I had fried his partner, why shouldn’t he? A hood is pulled over my face, and I’m lifted onto the back of a horse, the rider pushed against me as we gallop away.
“Where did he go?” The hood is ripped off.
“I don’t know.” I answer, looking at my feet. My arms are above my head, tied to the pole against my back.
The slap stings my cheek. “Tell me the truth, witch!”
“I did. He didn’t tell me anything.”
“Do you know what he stole?”
I shake my head. I can feel the sky close by, the rain begging to be called upon. I reach for it. Mist swirls around my legs, dampening my clothes but not much else. My head is jerked up, eyes forced to meet my captor’s. “I saw your marks, but I didn’t know what you could do. You might just be useful.” The words turn my heart cold.
The bonds are undone. His hand latches onto my arm, dragging me out of the tent and into the blinding sun. He stops in a field, the ground littered with wild flowers, but I can’t appreciate their beauty. Betrayal lays heavy as another captor chains my ankle to the ground. The first releases my arm, and then there’s a sting on my neck, barely more than a bite. Then everything explodes.
Clouds gather and turn dark, lightning crackling inside. Thunder rumbles with no boundaries. A bolt slices the sky, followed by a multitude more. Wind whips around, creating a cage of rain and air. Soon the entire world dissolves into storm. I can feel my power draining, but I can’t control where it goes.
“Ziri!” A figure fights through the storm. Only one person called me that, and I’m certain he’d left me for dead. Ryven appears in front of me. A bandage turns red on his leg; the bullet must have found a mark. “You need to stop!”
“I can’t!” I shout over the storm, my voice breaking.
His hands find mine, warm against cold. “Please.” I shake my head, tears falling like rain. “Please.” He begs.
“Why did you come back?”
“I saw the clouds and knew it had to be you.”
“What did you take?”
“That’s not important.”
“Yes, it is. If they are willing to do this to get it back, I’d say it’s pretty d--- important!”
A smile pulls at his mouth. “I’m a spy. I found evidence that Onia is building an army of marked.” He looks around the chaos. “This must be how they plan on doing it.”
“How do I stop it?”
“Bren mentioned something about sucking the power back inside, but the power of this storm might kill both of us.”
“Are you willing to risk it?”
His jaw sets. “Yes.”
“Then tell me how.” He explains over the wind. I close my eyes, letting his hands become my anchor. Then I order the storm into me, pulling all of its force inside. I let out a scream at the pain; the thunder pounding in my ears, the lightning crackling under my skin, the wind screaming, the rain slashing through me like knives. I fall to the ground, Ryven’s hand still in mine. He smiles at me before his eyes dim forever. I look up at the clear sky as my life leaves this mangled husk. I won.