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The Order of The Raven
Author's note: I was inspired to write this piece after watching a spy movie with my dad, actually. I am so used to writing stories on my computer about supernatural beings, so I thought this would be a change. Hope you like it!
Of course. Of course they would choose me. Of course they would choose me, the one with the “uncanny” ability to sense when they were nearby. Of course they would choose me, the only one capable of taking on someone twice my size because of strategy and fierceness. Of course they would choose me to hunt and kill down them. I should have seen it coming. I had learned only recently who the Order of The Raven were, and already, they were scaring the s**t out of me. So never had I even begun to imagine coming face to face with them and trying to kill them. But that’s exactly what I realized the Head Spies were telling me to do when I had been summoned into their meeting quarters. And when they said, “You are who we have chosen,” I just about fainted. Yeah, it was a great honor for me to be chosen out of all the training and trained spies in our realm, but I still didn’t like the idea. Even though I’d be able to sense them being near me before they could even pounce, I still wasn’t sure if I could to it. “Uh…” I stammered. I didn’t want to show my superiors that I was scared, but there was no denying it. “Are you sure—I mean, isn’t there someone better that can do it? Like…like Damian! He’s WAY better than I am.” Ursula, the ruler of the Head Spies and probably the most bitter of them all, sneered sinisterly. “No way are we going to risk Damian. He’s too fragile to go to waste. Besides, he’s already far too busy coaching Kayla in her studies.” I gulped. That was true. Damian was only a few years older than me, but he was already strong and badass enough to be one of the Head Spies. In fact, he was already up for election. And Kayla Fredericksburg, a new teen that was sent to our spy campus for training, needed his training far too badly. The Head Spies couldn’t take her closest trainer away when she hadn’t even gotten the basics down yet. We were already short on spies, and someone needed to stop the evil of the world. I nodded, and forced a smile. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Well, I should be going now. Thank you for taking time for me.” I bowed politely to them, and then scurried out the ornate double doors to the main hallway of the underground realm. It was a huge place that housed hundreds of spies and guards, and I would need to go to the total other side to get to my room. But before I could even make ten steps toward my room, I smacked right into Damian. He had been coming from the opposite side of the hallway, and I hadn’t noticed him, being too preoccupied with thoughts about my soon-to-come journey. We both tumbled to the ground. I jumped up instantly, my face red as a tomato. “I’m so sorry!” Damian chuckled, and replied, “It’s Ok. You didn’t see me. No need to worry about it.” Then he got up from his position on the floor, much more gracefully than I had. His constant calmness always amazed me, and even more so it did now. To my surprise, Damian didn’t continue walking the way he had been going, but walked into step beside me. “So,” he said, “I see you were coming from the Head Spies’ quarters. What did you do this time?” I blushed again. Ever since grammar school, I had had the reputation of a jailbird. I was constantly getting in trouble, and it was no surprise to most people if I’d been talking to the most elite and important people of our realm any day. “Well, actually, this time it wasn’t because of trouble. They called me in to tell me about how they were sending me to go after the Order of The Raven. They want me to kill them all.” This rendered him speechless, and my lips turned up in a wry smile seeing as I’d surprised someone that rarely had anything else to say but some sarcastic comment. “Wow,” Damian finally said when he’d found the words, “That’s a great honor. I’d be very grateful if I were you.” My smile faded. Again, I thought about how dangerous this journey was going to be. What if I got killed? It wouldn’t seem like such an awesome honor then. There was a pause, and I looked up into his piercing green eyes. They didn’t show any sign of concern, but simply pride. I wondered if he ever thought about all the danger us spies found ourselves in every day. He probably only lived for the glory of it. “I hope so,” I replied to him, “I hope so.”
I was in a dark, scary forest—like the kind you see in the sets of MGM Studios when they’re shooting a movie. My hands were shaking, and my legs were shivering enough to make me topple over. But I held my ground.
Not knowing what else to do, I began jogging, looking for some sign of light or life in this unknown darkness. But before I had gone far, I felt it.
A ringing sound erupted in my head, and I felt my blood turn cold. They were here.
Whipping my head around, I scanned the trees for any sign of movement. My hand was already in my boot, clutching the small, gold box that would be my key to victory.
“Naomi….Naomi….” A creepy voice whispered my name. A cool breeze swept through the trees, causing a shiver to go up my spine. This was it.
I was forced out of my nightmare when I heard a familiar voice call my name. How long had I been sleeping? All I remembered was coming home from the Head Spies meeting, and crashing on my silky, inviting bed instantly.
“Naomi! Open the door! I know you’re in there,” the voice repeated.
I groaned, and slumped out of bed. So much for sleep.
I dragged my lazy body across the small two-bedroom apartment to the wood door that held it closed. Sighing, I opened it, and stared into the annoyed but relieved face of my boyfriend, Xavier.
“What do you want?” I muttered.
Xavier rolled his eyes. “I wait here, pounding on your door for practically ten minutes, and the best you can give me is ‘What do you want?’ You’re a hell of a girlfriend, you know that?”
I shrugged. “You’re the one who signed up for it.”
“True,” he grinned, “But now, for the reason I came to seek Your Majesty. How would you like to go to the best party you’ve ever been to?”
I put my hands on my hips and narrowed my eyes at him, “This isn’t one of your Hollywood parties where everyone gets drunk and passes out, right? Cause if it is, I’m definitely not going.”
“No, but I wish it was,” he laughed. He paused for a moment, then said seriously, “It’s a memorial service for Drake. I thought you might want to come pay your respects. It’s being held in the Banquet Hall at eight tonight.”
My wry smile faded when he mentioned Drake. Drake Forward had been a good friend of mine since junior high, and last summer, he had died on an assignment in Great Britain. He had been assigned, along with four other good spies, to kill off the Order of Lightning. Sadly, he hadn’t had the strength in the end, and had died. A lump formed in my throat when I thought of how brave he had been.
I immediately swallowed that lump, knowing that if I showed my soft spot to Xavier, he would sneer or make fun of me. He could have a romantic side sometimes, but it was very rare.
So I put on a flippant and calm façade, saying, “Ok. But I’m dying to know—why did you call it an awesome party when really we’re only paying respects to a lost comrade?”
“Because,” he said slyly, “I know how sexy you look in that red dress I got you last Christmas, and there’s dancing afterward. I couldn’t pass it up.”
This time it was my turn to roll my eyes, “Fine, I’ll go, but if you call me sexy again, I’ll punch you across the planet.”
And with that, I shut the door.
About half an hour later, it was seven thirty-five, so I decided to start getting ready for the party. Before I did, though, I texted my best friend, Victoria, to check in with her.
Hey. U there?
A few minutes later, my response came.
Yeah. Whats up??
I wuz wondering if u’r going to the party
2day for Drake.
A while passed, but I finally got an answer.
Sure. C u there.
With my question answered, I got back to preparing myself for the fun night that lay ahead. I didn’t want to admit it, but thinking about the party was beginning to relieve my stress of the journey the Head Spies were making me go on to kill the Order of the Raven.
I got up off my fuzzy armchair, and pulled the string of the light in my huge walk-in closet. The amount of space to store only clothes was a little out of my league, but all the apartments for females had one. Most girls that could afford life in an underground world for spies could afford mounds of clothes.
I searched through the little amount of clothing I had, finally deciding to wear the red, tight-fitting dress Xavier had suggested. I hated having to agree with him, but I had to admit, it did look pretty great on me. Besides, it was probably the best thing I had.
Having made a choice for an outfit, it was time to move to makeup and hair. I grabbed the cosmetic bag I kept on my dresser, and set it on the countertop in my little bathroom.
I applied some mascara and eye shadow, and even a bit of blush. Then, I chose a sparkly clip to clip my long, curly brown hair in a tight bun. I was ready.
When I made some final adjustments, I strode over to the door to leave.
After I turned the knob and stepped into the air-conditioned hallway of the second floor, I was surprised to find Xavier leaning against the wall. His eyes widened as he studied me, and I couldn’t help but find some smug satisfaction in seeing him like what he saw.
“Wow,” he breathed, “That dress looks even better on you than I imagined.”
I laughed, and slung my arm in his. “What did you expect? Come on, lover boy.”
Then we walked off, arm in arm, to the Banquet Hall.
Abruptly, I halted mid-stride. “Damn it,” I muttered. “I totally forgot to ask Mom and Dad if I could go.”
In our spy hideout, teens, children, and adults were all split into separate parts of the complex. The far left side of the place was the living quarters of parents or single adults. If they had kids under five years old, those kids lived with them, too, but five was the age limit. After that, they were considered mature enough to live on their own with simply guards giving protection in the hallways. The section for those children that were not yet thirteen was the very middle of the complex. Teenagers from ages thirteen to eighteen, (like me), lived in the final section, the young adult quarters, which was located at the far right. Each section consisted of four underground floors.
Xavier immediately scoffed at my worry, “I can’t believe it! You, of all people, are worried about going off to a party without letting your mom and dad know? That’s pretty low. You’re usually the one breaking rules all the time.”
I nodded, considering this. “Yeah, I didn’t exactly realize how weird that sounded until afterward,” I chuckled. “Let’s go, shall we?”
His quicken in pace was my answer. We finished up the stretch of boring, white-painted hallway until we came to the beautiful, chandelier-filled banquet hall.
I hadn’t realized how long it’d been since the last time I’d been in this place. My eyes sucked in my surroundings like I’d never seen them before.
The walls were painted a deep, mysterious red, while the bright white oak flooring stood stark in comparison. Maroon curtains blocked most of the light out of the windows, but some eerie-looking rays were able to escape through. Chandeliers with real candles and diamonds glittered above a crowd of densely packed people, and a table filled with food and wine stood in a corner. It was like the kind of thing you would see in a slightly modernized version of a Dracula movie.
All I could manage to say was “Whoa,” but it didn’t exactly matter much when I was interrupted by a glowing Victoria that came rushing over to Xavier and me.
“Hey, Vic,” I greeted her.
I swear, Victoria looked so happy and angelic in a long, sweeping blue dress that if she had wings and a halo, she’d look just like an angel. “Hi! I’ve been looking everywhere for you! Where’ve you been?”
My forehead creased. “I’m not exactly late,” I pointed out, “and why are you so unbelievably joyous all of a sudden?”
I couldn’t help but feel myself being pulled into her happiness, and smiled. Victoria was the perfect kind of person to relieve all your worries any day.
I didn’t think it could be possible, but her smile actually widened, “Because! I’ve been chosen as a nominee for the Head Spies! I have a shot at power!”
My jaw nearly touched the ground. The Head Spies? My best friend could actually become one of the Head Spies? This was unreal.
I finally found words, “Really? That’s great, Vic! I’m so proud of you. But I shouldn’t be surprised. Having a boyfriend that’s one of them kind of gives you an advantage.”
Victoria blushed, but I knew she knew I was right. Her boyfriend, Daniel, was the youngest but also one of the most convincing members of the Head Spies. He most definitely could have persuaded the others into putting Victoria on the list.
In any way, I was happy for her. But the thought of her doing something big and important immediately switched my thoughts back to the journey I would be heading on quite soon.
I frowned. Even though I knew she would think right away that what I would be doing would be an honor, like Damian did, I also knew that I couldn’t keep a big thing like this secret from my best friend.
So, sighing, I finally told her. “Coincidentally,” I started, “I have something pretty important to tell you myself. It’s actually been kind of a top priority on my mind the whole day today.”
Victoria didn’t even have to say anything to tell me to go on. I could see the anticipation in her eyes.
“Umm…you know how I left breakfast early this morning because the Head Spies called me in? Well, they called me in to tell me…”
I almost couldn’t finish, but Victoria’s fierce gaze told me she would believe almost anything right now. I gulped. “They told me that they have chosen me to…to hunt and kill The Order of the Raven.”
To my great surprise, Victoria’s face didn’t portray the pride I thought it would. Instead, it looked…sad. Worried. Maybe even a bit angry.
“How could they do this?” she exclaimed. Okay, a lot angry. “How could they risk your life like that? You’re not fully trained yet! You didn’t even go through the ceremony and don’t have your band of trust!”
When a spy-in-training graduated from their studies, they had a sort of ceremony take place where each new graduate received their band of trust (a bracelet a trained spy had to wear constantly), and their title. Since my last name was Iftov, my new title would be Agent Iftov. It sent shivers of joy up my spine to even think about being called that.
My thoughts were interrupted when Victoria coughed. I realized I had just been staring off into space while my best friend had waited impatiently for an answer. Crap.
“Uh, I don’t know, maybe they realized that since I only have a month until graduation, anyway, that it didn’t really matter,” I said quickly, trying to reassure her. I didn’t need her worry to add to mine. I had enough already.
Fortunately, before Victoria could even think about an objection, the introducer of all ceremonies, Mark Yovenheim, stepped up to the podium. All attention went immediately to him. Thank God.
“May I have your attention, please?” Mark’s authoritative voice boomed on the loudspeakers I had yet to discover. I almost laughed out loud. Everyone was already staring at him—did he really need to say that? Mark cleared his throat, “I would like to introduce you all to the Dance of the Departed.” Oh, so that’s what they were calling it? This party was beginning to sound like a death march. “But before we get into the ceremonial process of rememberance, I would like to call up to the podium Alexandria Bomegarta, Joseph Vakrenkoz, and Naomi Iftov. These three almost graduates are about to head off on three separate journeys to go after three very secretive organizations and eliminate them.” I guess that was a nice way of saying ‘kill.’ “Please come up so we can acknowledge them now.” I gulped, and my hands began to sweat. Just what had Xavier set me up for? I looked back at my boyfriend then, and he nodded. I didn’t need words to know that he knew I could do this and was proud of me. Wow, that was probably the most supportive thing he had said, (or hinted), to me ever. So I whirled back to face the podium, lifted my chin to show I was confident, and stepped up the marble steps to the podium. I made sure my face was blank as not to show my true fear. It wasn’t very hard, because it was what we were trained to do at all times: Be confident, be secretive, be brave. Be confident, be secretive, be brave. Of course, the secretive and brave parts applied to when hunting down evil forces, but I guess they worked for now, too. Once my fellow classmates, Alexandria and Joseph, and I were aligned at the base of the podium, we gave slight bows to the audience, and the clapped ferociously. Most of the spies in the audience were trained and very important people, so they probably knew how it felt to go on our first killing spree. I looked over at my peers that would also be embarking on terrifying journeys, and saw that their expressions revealed exactly what I was feeling. Yes, some pride and bravery, but mostly fear. Fear and major worry. Fortunately, only a few minutes of acknowledgement passed before Mark called the crowd to order and we were able to go back to whatever we had been doing before. When I had gotten back to Xavier and Victoria, I felt so relieved that I was done with the spotlight I almost collapsed in their hugs. I was barely able to mumble, “That was the most freaking scary moment of my life.” Soon afterward, Mark was back in front of the microphone to start the ceremonial part of the evening. He said a few words talking about how brave these spies had been on their trips, and how they had died doing something very honorable. Then he listed off about ten names—including Drake’s. My throat clenched when he said his name. I hadn’t noticed until now that the Head Spies were sitting on ornate wooden thrones at the left of the podium. They stood up to throw flower petals in a sort of purple box in the middle of the room, and I saw Victoria brighten out of the corner of my eye when she saw Daniel mixed in the group. This was all some sort of ceremonial process that I didn’t have the knowledge to comprehend. After that, Mark said, “Ok, I know you’re probably getting antsy now, so go ahead and have fun! Food is served, and music will be playing shortly.” A split second after he said that, the lights dimmed, and a slow, sweet piano song began to play. I sighed. Of course, they would start with a slow dance. Xavier kneeled in front of me, and in a sort of mocking way, stuck his hand out, saying, “May I have this dance, my lovely Naomi?” “Oh, cut the s**t and just dance with me,” I laughed, pulling him up off the floor. He smiled, and we linked arms, swaying back and forth in sync with the music. Xavier shot me a sly smile, “In the movies, they tend to make small talk when slow dancing. So how have your days been?” I rolled my eyes. “Name one day in the past week you haven’t seen me. I think you know ‘how I’ve been.’” Xavier shrugged, and we continued to dance in silence, the only sound to be heard in the whole room being quiet murmurs, chewing, and feet brushing against the wood flooring. It gave me the perfect chance to think. I thought about what I would be facing when on my trip. There would definitely be blood, no matter if it was the Order’s or mine. And there would be shame. Somebody’s life would end. Could I do it? All I had to do was open the little gold box hidden in my boots, and chant a few words. Then, they would all be sucked into the box by magic, and perish. Pretty simple, right? Wrong. There was still the matter of opening the box on time, and making absolutely no mistakes when chanting the spell. Also, I had to make sure I didn’t die before it was time to kill them. I had to watch my back, and look out for whomever else was fighting with me. Every spy that got assigned to a mission also got assigned a partner along with it. This person had to be tough, but didn’t have the skill to use the magic box. They would fight off the enemy as much as they could, but the final outcome was all up to me. No pressure.
Xavier and I danced for a while longer, but then, the music was interrupted by a commotion at the podium. Everyone immediately whipped their heads to face it, and were surprised to see a confused Mark standing in front of the microphone, talking to Ursula. She looked demanding, and Mark was holding his hands up in a defensive manner and nodding. I wondered what this was all about.
When Mark spoke, I had my answer. “Uh, I have just been informed by a member of the Head Spies that someone wants to see Naomi Iftov down in the front office,” he said, still confused. “She should go immediately. It is important.”
My forehead creased in a confusion that mirrored Mark’s, and I looked at my friends to see if they were hiding anything from me. But neither Victoria nor Xavier looked like they knew anything about what was going on, so I took that as a no.
Not knowing what else to do, I decided to leave for the main office of the headquarters. I walked out the French double doors without a word to anyone, and made a sharp left turn. I was soon at the door to the front office.
I took a deep breath before pushing open the door, and was surprised to see Damian standing in front of what looked like a million computers and file folders. He was staring at a flashing red dot on one of the computer screens and rubbing his forehead. When he heard me come in, he turned around to face me, and a smile spread across his face.
“Ah, Naomi. I must say, you look great tonight.”
I blushed. Had Damian Nea just complimented me?
Suddenly, Damian’s face switched from friendly to serious and he changed the subject, “But you looking pretty is besides the point,” he paused, “The real reason I called you down here is regarding your coming mission. As we do with all the groups we track down, we have been watching The Order of the Raven very closely for the past year, calculating their every move. But just recently, an error came up while we were watching, and our computer screens turned off abruptly. At first, we simply shrugged it off, but now, when our tracking device came back on, it showed something quite puzzling. It claims that The Order is located somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The dot hasn’t moved for the last couple of days, so they can’t be on a ship or submarine. There are also no islands in the area, so that can’t be it, either. Come take a look.”
I responded immediately to his suggestion, and stood next to him, leaning over the screen. Sure enough, the tiny red dot I had seen when walking in was blinking in a random spot in the middle of the vast ocean. The nearest island to it was a small one called Deamania, but it was too far away to have not been picked up by radar. They seemed to be in the middle of nowhere.
“Hmm…that is quite strange,” I agreed. How could they be there? Were they flying an airplane? But no, that couldn’t be. Damian had said that they hadn’t moved in a few days. Then how?
We were quiet for a while, but then I said, “Well, I guess all I can really do is fly in a helicopter or something to that exact spot and find out what’s there. There really is no other option.”
I could tell Damian had been thinking the same thing, for he nodded and looked into my eyes with those green eyes I loved. A warm feeling began buzzing in my stomach, but I shook it away right away. How could I be falling in love? I had a boyfriend. Though, it seemed to me Xavier would probably just find some other girl to replace me if I broke up with him.
I averted my gaze away from him. Staring at him any longer would probably make me seriously consider breaking up with Xavier, and I couldn’t do that—especially not now, when it seemed like he was really starting to be serious about liking me.
So I mumbled something that sounded like a, “I kind of have to go, so see you,” kind of thing, and hurried out the door and into the hallway I had just come down.
Even though I knew I had more important things to think about when walking back to the banquet hall, like, for instance, my life being threatened, I couldn’t seem to keep my mind off of Damian. I kept thinking about how his eyes gleamed like emeralds when he smiled, how his cologne smelled like heaven, how his dark hair wisped into waves at his chin…
When I got back to the Banquet Hall after my little visit with Damian, Victoria and Xavier immediately rushed over to me and bombarded me with questions. “What happened? Tell me everything,” Victoria demanded, eyes lit up and eager. I swallowed. I didn’t want to scare her any further, but I also didn’t want to keep a secret from my best friend or lie to her. I was the world’s worst liar, and she knew that. So I decided to tell her only part of what happened, and leave out the fact that I would have to find out exactly where the Order was. “Well, there’s not much to tell. I mean, yeah, it’s kind of bad that everyone lost track of where the Order of the Raven was for a while, but they found them again. No worries.” Ok, it wasn’t totally the truth, but what else was I supposed to say? That I would have to fly a helicopter or something over the exact area they were located and risk my life if I was spotted? Unfortunately, Victoria could sense something was up, and apparently, Xavier could too. “That’s not it. I know you, and I can tell you’re not telling us everything. What’s up?” Damn it. I sighed. Why did I have to get stuck with such smart friends? “Fine,” I confessed, “the truth is that the Head Spies and other important members of government have been silently watching the Order of the Raven’s every move for a while now. The computer system crashed after a while, and when it recovered, they were left with a glowing dot indicating that the Order is located somewhere in the middle of the ocean. I have to somehow find them and kill them off there.” My boyfriend and best friend’s eyes had been widening throughout my speech, and by now, they were at a size I never thought was possible. Victoria was the one to break the silence between us with outrage. “Holy s**t! That’s horrible! No way am I letting you go on that death chase! You’ll be a goner for sure!” “Shh,” I held my hands out to calm her. “It’s Ok. I think I can do it. Besides, there’s nothing you can do to prevent it now. The Head Spies have already declared me as the one to go.” I just realized Xavier hadn’t said anything throughout the whole time I’d been here, and that wasn’t normal for him. I glanced at him, and saw that his brows were creased in thought. Oh no, I thought, He’s trying to find some stupid way to get me out of going on the trip. Some pointless plan that’ll get us nowhere but detention. “I’ve got it!” he exclaimed. Victoria shot him a glare, “Shut up, I’m trying to think.” “No, you can stop thinking,” his lips formed a wry smile, “because I have a plan. We sneak out! Everyone knows that the security at this place sucks ass, and with all of our strengths combined, especially Naomi’s, we can totally take the guards down. Who’s with me?” I saw Victoria frown as she most likely weighed her options. She was probably scared of getting caught, but she also didn’t want me risking my life. Finally, the latter choice won. “I am,” she grinned. Both pairs of eyes stared at me as they waited for me to make my decision. Sweat began forming on my neck as I looked into their devoted eyes. They were seriously risking their future, not to mention reputations, for me. I couldn’t let them do that. I formed my expression into one I hoped was intimidating and fierce. “No. This is my choice. I’m the one going on this trip, not you. And I’m not going to give up my honor to it just because I’m risking my life. I’m a spy. It’s what we do. And nothing you say is going to convince me otherwise.” Then I whirled around to face the door and stomped away before they could say anything.
The next morning, I woke up to the sound of heavy pounding on my door. Crap. It was probably Xavier or Victoria, coming to convince me to change my mind.
I groaned and reluctantly dragged myself out of bed and to my French wooden door. I turned the knob, and was surprised to see not Xavier or Victoria there, but Ursula.
“Uh, hi, Madam Ursula,” I mumbled. I suddenly felt stupid wearing my fluffy blue pajamas in front of the most important Head Spy.
Ursula didn’t seem to notice, “Good morning, Naomi. I came to tell you that your private jet is ready for liftoff whenever you are. The earlier the better, as they always say.” She chuckled.
I barely heard what she said after “private jet is waiting.” My jaw already felt like it would fall and roll away at that. I was going already? And in a private jet? I wasn’t even ready!
I forced a small smile, “Um, thanks. But I’m not exactly ready right now, as you can probably see. Can you ask the pilot to wait a few minutes? It won’t take too long, I promise.”
Ursula sighed. She wasn’t one for waiting. “I guess,” she said reluctantly. “But be there by ten. I know you have a record for wrongdoings, but please be responsible and come on time now!” Then she turned on her heel and strode off with her chin held high.
I let out the breath I had been holding, relieved. Then without waiting another second, I went back in my room to ready myself.
After maybe fifteen minutes of hasty dressing, I was ready to go. I wore the knee-length black capris, dark grey tank top and black leather jacket I had been assigned as my spy uniform. My emergency earpiece was in my ear, hidden by wispy curls. Every spy had a different uniform style, but we all had pretty much the same color scheme. Black, black, and more black.
Taking a deep breath, I slipped the shimmering golden box that would be my key to life and victory into my leather boots, while words I hoped would calm me down rang in my ears.
You can do it, Naomi. You’re fast, tough, cunning, and brave. You never back down. This will be a piece of cake. Just stay as hidden as possible, stay alert, and only fight when you need to. You can do it.
I nodded, confirming those words even though they were my own, and bravely stepped out of my dorm room. I would miss this place. I just hoped I would come back eventually.
I strode down the narrow corridor, took the winding staircase that led up to the underground landing/takeoff strip two at a time, and swiveled through the gathering crowd toward my jet.
My eyes bugged out when I saw the plane I’d be traveling in. Yeah, our spy headquarters had quite a bit of money, but I never, in any of my wildest dreams, would expect they could afford what I was staring at right now.
It was a sleek, shiny black plane with gigantic propellers and motor. It wasn’t very big, but the cockpit was definitely not the size you would expect only two people, (the pilot and myself), to be riding in. In dull grey lettering, the sides of the plane read, “O.S.S.A.” That stood for Oregon Spy Society of America.
A tap on my shoulder woke me up from my dreamy gazing. I whirled around to find Victoria standing there, her eyes as depressing as you could imagine. It made a ball rise in my throat, and my heart felt like it had been ripped out and crushed into a million irreplaceable pieces to see her so sad.
“What are you doing here?” was all I found I could ask.
A tear escaped down her pale cheek, and she brushed it away quickly, “I came—I came to say goodbye.”
It was all I could manage to not cry myself. It made me feel horrible looking into her deep, sad brown eyes and perfect red lips turned into a small, pitiful frown. Not to mention the fact that tears kept rising in her lids, ready to brink over any time.
Instead of answering her, I decided to hug her. I pulled her into a hearty embrace, and felt her body go limp to the magnetism of my arms. She finally let her emotions go, and I felt her body shake as she sobbed silently. I almost started to cry, too.
Because before I could, another warm body joined the embrace. I looked up, startled to see that it was Xavier. His eyes looked as sad as Victoria’s, if not sadder, and I didn’t need words to know that he was thinking about how dangerous this mission would be. His expression revealed it all. Plus, I was thinking the same thing.
After our short reunion ended, Victoria and Xavier were pushed behind the brass fence that held all the other onlookers behind it. My best friends gave me one last sad farewell glance before disappearing into the crowd.
“Greetings, everyone. My name is Gregory Hamver, and I will be your host for this morning,” a man in a long brown overcoat said in an authoritative voice. He stood on the second step of the ladder leading up into the cockpit, his jet black hair greased perfectly to one side, his burly hands hidden inside two long pockets at his side. His expression was completely neutral—yet fierce enough to shut up a badass criminal.
Once it was sure Gregory had everyone’s attention, he continued, “This morning we gather to give warm wishes to Naomi Iftov as she embarks on a brave mission to execute The Order of The Raven once and for all. May everyone please give her a round of applause.”
The crowd immediately erupted into a chorus of claps, cheers, and whistles. My face flushed and I looked down. I never really like much attention.
Gregory held his hands up in a motion to silence, and the cheering ceased. “And may we also recognize and appreciate Damian Nea for giving up his time to be the pilot and mission partner for Miss Iftov. He is playing a big part in this journey,” Gregory gestured toward his left side where, sure enough, Damian stood, wearing an outfit similar to mine, yet slightly different to show that this was Damian, not some random other spy.
I gasped when I saw him, and by the looks of the crowd’s faces, they were quite surprised he was leaving, too. I mean, hadn’t Ursula just told me that he was too precious to waste? That’s the reason they chose me for the journey, wasn’t it?
Suddenly, I noticed that Damian was looking at me, and waving for me to come up beside him. I blushed slightly when I realized I’d been too far away in my thoughts to notice before.
Then I squared my shoulders, put a radiant expression on that I hoped would look like I was full of pride for myself, and stepped up the ladder until I was in between Damian and Gregory. Gregory bowed slightly to us, gesturing that the crowd should start clapping. And they did.
All of a sudden, I felt my hand tingle when Damian put his warm hand on it. I looked up into his piercing green eyes, and saw a look of pure happiness that practically said, “You can do it, Naomi.”
Without noticing that the crowd had stopped cheering, and that Gregory had stepped down from our ladder, I went inside the cockpit with Damian, smiling as I saw how much he believed in me. It was wonderful to see how such a successful spy could have so much faith in me. My heart practically leaped with joy.
Just then, I realized that we were in the plane, and some guy had closed the door to the cockpit and moved away the ladder. I sat down in the dark brown leather passenger seat, and when I looked out my window, it all finally hit me. I was going. Now. I was heading on a journey I had no idea if I would live or die through. My stomach twisted in nervousness, and I felt my breathing come in small, short gasps.
When I looked at Damian, I saw that his golden brown hand already rested on the lever that would send our plane to the sky. He looked at me too, and when our eyes met, a warm, bubbly sensation filled me. He nodded, and I swallowed my fear. This was a great honor! Why couldn’t I see it that way?
Then, without another word, Damian pulled the lever, and the motor groaned. Out of the corner of my eye, through the front window, I saw the propeller begin to turn. It got faster and faster, until finally, we were moving down the strip. Peoples’ cheers faded into the distance, and all there was was Damian and I. And the plane.
The plane that lifted off into the sunrise.
We had been flying for over an hour now, and it was almost time for lunch. I reached behind my seat for the brown paper bag containing two PBJ sandwiches, and when my fingers closed over it, I pulled it into my lap.
“Ah, lunchtime?” Damian smiled.
I nodded, and unfolded the top of the bag. Then I lifted out a slightly smashed sandwich in a Ziploc bag, followed by another one. One I placed in my lap, and the other I handed to Damian. He pressed a shiny blue button and let go of the steering wheel.
“Convenient,” I smiled. “Auto-pilot. It’s amazing that the headquarters could afford such an expensive bird.”
Damian nodded in agreement as he took a bite of creamy goodness, “Yeah. Though I suppose it came from our paychecks.” He chuckled.
The rest of lunch went by in silence. We took bites occasionally, but mostly stared out the windows. It was a beautiful sight, I’d have to admit. It was still shocking to me that we were above the clouds, in pure blue sky, while the fluffy white things floated below us. Occasionally another plane would whiz by and I would wave at it, even though I knew they couldn’t see me.
In an attempt to end this silence, I said, “So…how long do you think it will take until we get there?” I scowled as soon as I had said that, realizing I sounded like an idiotic child asking Are we there yet? over and over.
Damian simply chuckled. “Well, I’m not completely sure, but I’m guessing at around an hour or so left,” he replied.
I sighed. Why did this trip have to take so damn long? It was only making my anxiety worse. I mean, sitting in a tight space with a man that won’t talk to you or comfort you doesn’t really make it easier to deal with the fact that a whole realm of spies is counting on you to defeat one of their enemies.
As if reading my thoughts, Damian’s warm hand settled on top of my fidgety one, and immediately, my worries were pushed to the back of my mind. Just the feel of the electricity in his touch was medicine enough for my pain of anxiety.
I closed my eyes and let the calmness of his touch envelope me. I decided that sleep was a good idea to pass the time.
Despite all the thoughts I had just had running through my mind, I soon fell captive to a nice, dreamless sleep.
I woke up to the feeling of someone shaking me. When I opened my reluctant eyes, I saw that it was Damian. And he had a frantic look on his face.
I immediately whipped back to reality, and sat up quickly in my seat. I realized my head had been sitting against Damian’s shoulder, and I blushed.
Damian didn’t seem to notice. “Look down,” he whispered, his face pale.
Just then, I realized that the plane wasn’t moving anymore, and we were simply standing in one place. I didn’t even know that was possible! Wouldn’t we just fall down to our deaths if the engine stopped?
But when I looked down out my window, all thoughts of impossible floating evaporated. The only thing left now was shock.
Shock at seeing that we were here.
Shock at realizing that it wasn’t a submarine, island, or ship that the Order of the Raven was hiding out on.
Shock at seeing that it was a world.
An underwater world.
And I mean, literally, it was like a whole world existed just below the surface. Everyone had thought that The Order of the Raven was a small group of villains set out to destroy any innocent person they could find, but really, it was a whole nation. Hundreds of people roamed the “streets” (cleared away blotches of sand) of the world, and tall buildings made of brick stood stories high. The tallest one even somewhat brushed against the water’s top. “Whoa,” was all I managed to breathe. This was all too amazing and unexpected to grasp right away. “I know,” Damian agreed, and when I looked at him, I saw the slightest hint of fear on his face. I frowned. That wasn’t like him. He was always the fierce one, the one you could count on to push away your fears. He was never the one to have fears. Immediately after I thought this, I saw that hint of fear vanish. He smiled at me, one I could tell was forced no matter how hard he tried to show it wasn’t. “But it’s Ok, I know we’ll kick ass anyway.” I smiled back, but like his, it wasn’t really a smile. I had my doubts, and by the looks of him, he did too. Suddenly, the silence was broken when a weird chiming rang in my ears, and I felt my veins freeze up until they were cold as ice. This had happened before. It could only mean… Damian whipped his head around before I could even form my thoughts into words. It was like he knew I felt them here. Or he felt them too. I followed his gaze until I was staring right into the malevolent, twisted grin of a burly man in a black cape. Looked like we were too late. “Gotcha,” the man whispered before my comrade and I were whisked into a big brown bag. Then my world was pitch black. **** My eyes fluttered open, and it was a while before they adjusted to the neon green light that blinded me. I had been in total darkness for more time than I could count, and this was definitely a change of scenery. I jerked myself upright, but before I could make it into a total sitting position, electricity coursed through my body, sending me flying back onto my back. I screamed. Just then a harsh, evil laugh sounded somewhere to my left, and I squinted toward where stood a man similar to the one that had captured Damian and me. “You’re finally awake, little one. I was getting a little worried you had died,” he sneered. “No, scratch that. I was hoping you had died.” I scowled, and when my eyes had finally adjusted, I saw that this was indeed the exact man that had been my captor. And that there was no sign of Damian. “Where’s Da—I mean, the man I was traveling with?” I inquired frantically, not wanting to give away any unnecessary information. The man’s lips curled into a venomous smile, “Why, you are quite stupid. Do you really believe I would keep you two in the same room! I’m not that clueless! No, it’s just you and me. And it’s going to be that way for a while.” I sighed. Well, if I was going to be stuck with this b***h for ‘a while,’ I figured I might as well weasel a little info out of him. “So…” I grinned sweetly, hoping I looked like a girl that was simply curious, “Are you all part of The Order of the Raven down here? Or are all the townspeople just your minions?” The man hesitated, most likely deciding on whether or not he should tell me anything. “Fine,” he gave in, “I suppose it doesn’t really make a hell of a difference if I tell you or not. You’re going to die with the information either way. “So I guess I’ll tell you. No, everyone in our underwater realm isn’t part of The Order. And quite frankly, I don’t think they’re worthy enough. It’s only the special ones. “And those special ones include me. We are a group of five people that have a secret meeting place in the very middle of the whole realm. We meet at the Round Table, and discuss our next hunting trips. “Now, anything else you want to know?” his piercing hazel eyes gleamed. I smiled to myself. I had all I needed to know. Now all I had to do was get out of here, and the rest was a piece of cake. “No, thanks,” I smiled again, while my hand searched the back pocket of my capris for the secret burner that was held there. The Head Spies thought of something that could get you out of practically every situation, and a burner for tied up limbs was a common one. My hand finally closed over the cold metal shell of the burner, and I flipped open the cap, all the while my composure and gaze on his eyes never diminishing. If we were taught anything at the headquarters’ school, one was to never look away from your enemy for fear of them seeing whatever you were trying to do. Slowly and carefully, I moved the burner over to the ropes that tied the hand I held the burner in. I silently prayed that this little thing wouldn’t make any noise when I turned it on. But the Head Spies were clever, and luckily, the burner was absolutely silent as it sent the ropes tying my hand into flames. It was obvious that my captor was feeling a bit awkward in my stare, so I knew I had to act fast before he found out what I was doing. I slid my hand under my back as soon as the first rope was in ashes, and began burning the one that held my other hand against the bed. When that one was fully gone and burned, I found myself with another problem. How would I turn off the electricity that went off as soon as I sat up? I decided that there must be some kind of switch that deactivated the power, so after putting my burner back in my pocket, I reached under the bed and patted around, looking for a switch. Extremely luckily for me, my hand soon found what it was looking for. Without a second thought, I flipped the switch. “Damn it,” I whispered. For as soon as I had done it, I realized that the switch not only deactivated the electric current, but also the neon green light that shone down upon me. Now the only light in the whole room was a small lamp in the corner, and the man had officially learned that I was trying to escape. He roared, “What are you trying to do, you stupid little vermin? Escape? Well, that’ll never happen. Not on my watch.” And then, his face as red as fire itself, the man approached me with curled fists. My heart began pounding like a jackhammer when I realized what exactly I would have to do to get rid of this ripped bodybuilder guy. I would have to evaporate him. In the gold box. The one sitting in my boot right now. The one I’d never used before in my life. Without a second thought, I reached into my black leather boot, retrieved the box, and held it out before me, repeating the chant I had practiced over and over again my whole life. “With the power of the ancestor wizards and spies, activate this box and diminish all lies, execute the evil thing here before me, this is all I ask so I call out to thee!” Just then, right before my hopeful eyes, the box began to shake violently. A brilliant ray of golden light poured out from inside of it and basked the man in its shine. The man began writhing in pain and screaming for mercy, but it was already too late. The deed had been done. He was to die. In the blink of an eye, the big burly villain was shrunken to the size of a pin and pulled into the little golden box. Then the top of the box snapped shut and locked itself. All the light and sound drained away, and I was left alone. I sat down slowly onto the metal bed, my eyes wide with shock and hands still shaking. I couldn’t believe this! I mean, I knew the process of a killing was incredible—people had told me—but I never expected it to be this glorious! But I knew I couldn’t waste any more time. I had a very important task to complete. I stood up immediately. I had to find Damian.
It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I had totally expected Damian’s room to be surrounded by guards, but what I saw when I made it out of my prison was practically the opposite. I found myself in a long, shadowed corridor with millions of doors on either side of the deep blue carpet. Most of the doors were unguarded, but one in the far back of the hall was not. One guard that looked so tired he might pass out lingered back there. Thankful that the only lighting in here were from dim candles, I crept along in the dark, out of sight of the lone guard. Of course, it did help that he was exhausted, for it would help surprise him that way. Once I was only about four feet away from him, I decided to take my chances. This guy was not nearly as muscular as my captor had been, so it looked like it would be easier to take him down. Plus, my magic box was made to be used only for evil people like The Order of The Raven, not measly guards. So I leapt out of the shadows at the guard who gasped with shock when he saw me. And before he could process what was happening, I landed a blow to his face that not only broke his nose, but also sent him flying to the ground—unconscious. Wow, I thought to myself, smiling, Impressive. Looks like all those years of training finally came in handy. Then I stood up, brushed the dust off my pants, and returned my thoughts to the task at hand. Damian was inside this room. And though I didn’t know if he had another person guarding him on the inside of his room, there was only one way to find out. I turned the brass doorknob, only to find that it was locked. S**t. I would have to bust it down. So I readied myself in a position of defense, and punched my fist toward the door, cringing when it made contact with the wood, sending it crashing to the ground. Damian, who had been minding his own business in a tied-up chair, now whipped his head toward the source of all the racket. And when he saw me, a radiant smile spread from ear to ear that almost caused my heart to cease beating. A quick glance around the room told me that there was nobody else here but Damian. Clever. They put me in an unlocked room with a fierce guard, and him in a locked room with a not-as-fierce guard. “Naomi,” he breathed, “how in the hell did you do this?” I grinned, and tried to act casual, though I was glowing inside. I had actually done something amazing, something Damian hadn’t even tried doing. “Oh, it was pretty simple. Just used an emergency burner to burn the ropes off my hands, sent my guard that happened to be a member of the Order of The Raven into my magical gold box, beat up your guard, and busted the door down. No big deal,” I said sarcastically. By this time I had already untied the knotted ropes that had held him to his chair, and he stood up, giving me an intense bear hug. I was so overwhelmed by the smell of his cologne and heat of his body I almost passed out. But I didn’t. And when he pulled away, revealing so much longing and love in his green eyes, I even had the courage to resist kissing him. For even though his lips were so carved and perfect in his beautiful, flawless face, I couldn’t do this to Xavier. Not while he was already so pained to see me leave. So I broke the silence and his gaze by averting my eyes and saying, “Well, um, I found out where The Order of The Raven hide out from my captor. I figure you might want to know.” This did a good job of making Damian think of something other than kissing me. Because while he was pretty intense in the way he wanted me, I knew that he was too good of a spy to let that interfere with his love of the job. “Really?” he exclaimed excitedly, his eyes sparkling. “That’s great! How many are there? And where?” I swallowed, “They have a meeting place in the very center of this whole underwater world. Of course, we don’t really know exactly when they meet, but we’ll find out. There are four of them. There were five, but as you know, I…” I didn’t really know the right way to put this, “…well, he’s gone now.” Damian had been listening intently the whole time, but now, he was staring off into space, his thoughts on some other time. I couldn’t help but notice how absolutely perfect his chin curved, and how the tips of his lips met— “When are we leaving?” his question jerked me back into reality. When were we leaving? I mean, it seemed proper to go now, but it was already dusk, and I didn’t think I was ready to eliminate four more husky men after what I’d done today. I pursed my lips. “Uh…I guess we should probably leave in the morning. You know, when we’re fully rested and ready to go.” Damian nodded in agreement, “Yeah. The only problem is, where do we sleep?” Crap. That was a problem.
After a while of thinking and weighing options, we finally decided to get a place to sleep the hard way—by sneaking. “So…let me get this straight,” I gulped, the only one of us unsure about the plan, “we sneak around the buildings, grab some poor, innocent people, take their clothes, and pretend to be guards in order to get a room? I don’t mean to sound like a party pooper, but doesn’t that sound a little risky to you?” Damian shrugged. It almost made me mad to see how perfectly calm he felt about this. There was absolutely nothing normal about it! I looked down at my feet. After a while of thick silence, I finally gave in, “Fine. We’ll try. But please, can you be the one that does most of the talking when we try to find some place to stay? I totally suck at lying.” Damian chuckled and grabbed my hand, leading me out of the rubbish of the demolished door and into the dark hallway. Then he pulled me after him in the direction of a small orange door at the end of the corridor. “Where are we going?” I couldn’t help but ask. I mean, anyone would be at least a little curious if they were following someone they hardly knew into a strange orange door they had no idea where lead to, wouldn’t they? Damian simply chuckled again and turned the doorknob. He was really starting to get on my nerves. The small door opened up into a dark alleyway. I couldn’t help but wonder how the hell we could be standing in an alleyway when we were in the middle of the ocean. But then again, practically anything was possible—this whole world was probably held under some glass dome that held the water out and air in. “This is where we hide,” Damian whispered. I nodded, and we both ducked behind a large trash can. My face was only mere inches from his, and his warm breath was practically intoxicating. But I forced myself not to think about those things now. Our situation was far more important. Both of our heads whipped up when we heard the slightest sound of garbage crunching under shoes. I let my eyes peek out ever so slightly to see what was there. A thin, gangly man in an outfit identical to the one of the guard I had beaten up stood only about two feet away. His gaze was focused on nothing in particular, and he swayed back and forth ever so slightly. It was obvious he was drunk. Good. He would be easier to beat up. When I turned back toward where Damian had just been kneeling, my heart began to race. He wasn’t there. I glanced around frantically, but when my eyes finally fell on his, my heart rate settled. He was sneaking up on the guard. And advancing quickly. Damian held a finger up to his lips as to hint for me not to make a sound, though it was pretty unnecessary. I mean, why would I make a sound anyway? I watched from my hiding place as Damian lifted his hands up ever so slightly so that they were practically an inch from his throat. He was going to suffocate the guy. Probably not long enough to kill him, but enough to render him unconscious. In the split second it took for the man to realize there was someone behind him, Damian’s fingers were piercing his flesh. The guard had barely enough time to squeak a small cry before his body went limp in my partner’s grip. As soon as Damian was sure he was out of it, he dropped him in a heap to the ground. I let go of the breath I realized I had been holding the whole time. Then I whispered, “Holy s**t, Damian,” as he pulled the unconscious man behind a separate garbage can than our hiding place. I suddenly realized I had been staring at Damian so intently that I didn’t notice when he began taking the guard’s clothes off. I quickly looked away, my cheeks flushed a brilliant red. Damian was going to transfer his clothes from his body to the man’s, and put the man’s clothes on himself. I decided it would be a good time to look around for a person I could steal clothing from. About ten minutes later, I finally spotted a slightly chunky, yet tall and muscular man standing about fifteen yards away. My heart fell. How in the world would I beat up this monster of a man? It would be a hell of a lot harder than beating up the scrawny little guy that had been guarding Damian’s prison room. Well, I decided, I guess there’s only one way to find out if I can take this guy down. I’ll just have to try. I stood up.
It had taken me a while to get behind the man by tiptoeing in the shadows, but when I finally did, my hands were dripping with sweat and I was slightly swaying. What if I couldn’t do this? What if I got beaten up instead of him, and maybe taken to another prison?
I averted my gaze toward where my hiding space was. I saw Damian crouched down there again, and he had a very serious gaze fixated on me. He gave a slight nod of encouragement, but it was enough to send me into battle mode.
I gulped down my fears, took a few more steps forward until I was directly behind the man, and changed my stance so that I resembled a ninja ready for attack.
As soon as the man began to yawn, I took the advantage of him being weak. He wouldn’t know what hit him.
I leapt up into the air, and brought my full weight down upon him. We both went crashing down to the ground. Unfortunately, this guy was not only macho and strong, but he also had quick reflexes. As soon as we were on the ground, he whipped his body around and began fighting with me.
We wrestled for a while, me getting a few good punches on him, and him getting a few on me. But finally, after a long time, he was finally pinned down under me.
This was it. I had to knock him out. I had to use Damian’s strategy and strangle him. I could do this.
My hands shaking more violently than before, I raised them up so that they curved around his huge, abnormally muscular neck. When he realized what was happening, he began striving harder to get out of my grip, but it was too late.
At least for him.
I put all my force into my fingers that curled around the neck, and pushed down hard, making sure at least one of my fingers was pushing against the artery that controlled his breathing. I had never even attempted strangling anyone in my eighteen years of life, but even I was smart enough to know that if you didn’t get a good grip on that artery, all your attempts in rendering someone unconscious would fail.
All of a sudden, a brilliant light show filled his bloated face. His skin went from tan to pink to red to purple to blue—and then pale as his head dropped.
I had done it. He was unconscious.
Slowly I released my tight grip from his neck, and stuck a hand in front of his nose to make sure he wasn’t breathing. I came up with nothing. I had seriously strangled him.
Still full of surprise at my accomplishment, I stood up, my whole body numb. My gaze never leaving the eyes of the man I had almost killed. The innocent man I had done this horrible deed to.
Out of nowhere, a memory popped into my head as soon as I had thought about how horrible what I just did was. I was sitting in spy class, surrounded by all my friends: Drake, Xavier, Victoria, and Jessica. Mr. Munoz, my trainer, was trying to get everyone’s attention.
When he had finally gotten everyone’s eyes on him, Mr. Munoz began speaking, “I would like to inform you all today of the emotional feelings one has when completing a mission and maybe harming somebody else.”
A chorus of groans had erupted throughout the class. Everyone hated the boring lectures Munoz sometimes gave us. We all had simply wanted to start fighting.
“Shh,” Munoz had sighed, “This is very important.” He waited until everyone was quiet. “Now. When you have done something bad to someone, like, let’s say…killed them, you might feel a feeling of sorrow and guilt overwhelm you. But don’t let that make you give up everything you had accomplished. Yes, that person might have been innocent and done nothing to you, but it was a deed that had to be done. Think of it that way.”
Now as I stood there over the guard I had strangled, I thought about how stupid that speech had seemed to me back then. But when I thought about it now, I realized it wasn’t really stupid at all. It helped me to realize that strangling this man was just something that was necessary. It had to happen if I wanted Damian and me to finish our mission.
Thinking of Damian made me turn toward where I had just seen him. But to my surprise, he wasn’t there! A pile of rubbish was all that remained of his presence.
My heart beginning to race, I sprinted behind the garbage can that had been our hiding place, and saw that my partner wasn’t there either. Where could he have gone?
“Damian?” I whispered.
No sound came back to me.
So I tried again, “Damian?”
“Damian!” I cried.
This time, an almost unintelligible “psst!” came in reply to my pleas.
I whipped my head around, but saw nothing but darkness.
“Psst!” the sound came again, from somewhere on my right.
I looked behind a different garbage can, and saw Damian crouched down there, wearing the uniform of the guard he had strangled.
“Why the hell did you come here? You scared me—I thought you were gone!” I scolded him.
Damian shook his head, “I’ll tell you later, but right now, you have to go get the body of the guard you rendered unconscious and put on his clothes! It’s getting dark—we need to find some place to stay before it’s too late!”
My brows creased. “Too late? Too late for what?” I whispered.
Now Damian’s voice was fierce as he barked, “Just go!”
Without another word, I obeyed and ran over to the place I had strangled the man, grabbing his burly arm and dragging him behind a trash can. Man, there were a lot of trash cans in this alleyway.
I quickly unbuttoned the navy blue guard jacket he was wearing and put it around my shoulders, replacing it with my black spy top. It was pretty sad to see my spy uniform go to waste, but I supposed the Head Spies would understand and get me a new one.
When I had successfully put on all of the man’s uniform and replaced it with mine, I laughed. It was funny to see a huge man wearing a tight teenage girl’s outfit while his uniform was so baggy on me.
I heard Damian clear his throat impatiently behind me, and I quickly scurried back over to him. His face looked strangely strained and worried.
Before I could ask him why he looked this way, he interrupted me, “Don’t ask. Let’s—let’s just go.”
I frowned. It was weird how he kept knowing exactly what I was going to say before I said it. It was as if he could read my mind.
But I dismissed those thoughts as soon as they had come to mind, and took my partner/pilot’s hand as he led me through underwater buildings, alleys, and streets. Very few people roamed around us, but when I sensed that some were near, we always stopped running until they were out of sight. Then we would dart away again.
Finally, after what seemed like ages of nonstop sprinting, we came to an ancient, rundown building that had a sign reading: Housing Headquarters.
I gulped, “Are you sure this is a hotel?”
Damian chuckled. “Are you crazy?” he exclaimed, “Of course it isn’t! Hotels are for tourists, and any tourists lurking here would be executed immediately! It’s a housing building for guards.”
“How do you know?”
“Just trust me. I know many things you might not expect me to know.”
And then Damian took my hand and pulled me into the building.
“Thanks, Miriam,” Damian gave the welcome desk lady a heart-stopping grin with shiny white teeth, “Might I add, you look quite stunning today with your new uniform and all.” Miriam’s face flushed pink, “Wh-why, thank you,” she said, her voice shaking because of nerves. I gaped. And no, I wasn’t surprised because of the fact that a 40-year-old woman was hitting on Damian, because his flawless features and body were almost inevitable to anybody. No, the reason I stood there in shock was because of the fact that Damian knew exactly who this lady was, when she hadn’t even given him so much as her name! Plus, what was with the fact that he knew the uniform she was wearing was new? But I dismissed those thoughts, and didn’t bring any of it up. I would confront him some other time, when I had peace and quiet. Right now, it was too risky. And however he was doing it, Damian was getting the lady into giving us a room to stay in, and that was all that mattered. “Once again, thanks,” Damian took the shiny gold key Miriam dangled in front of him. “You were a great help.” Then my partner gave her a wink that made her look like she would just about faint before he joined me again. And I couldn’t help but notice how his expression displayed a bit of defeat, as if he knew every single thing that had just gone through my mind. Without a word to me, Damian turned sharply to the right, entering a confusing set of hallways that twisted and turned for what seemed like forever. But I refused to get sidetracked by the bright blue wallpaper and twisty carpeting that threatened to make all my thoughts vanish into thin air. I needed to find answers, and if I forgot everything I needed to ask to get those answers, I would fail miserably. After what seemed like hours of incessant power-walking, we finally stopped before a tall wooden door painted a deep, dark blue. We had passed several doors similar to this one on our way to our room, but they had all been spaced far from each other, and the only way indicating which door was yours was tiny gold lettering carved at the top of them reading the numbers. Ours was 247. Still as silent as he had been the whole way here, Damian turned the gold key in the ornate brass doorknob and pushed the door open when the lock clicked. Then he waited for me to enter before closing and locking the door behind himself. I took a good look around myself. The whole room was pretty bland and undecorated, so it wasn’t really much to look at, though. The walls were painted a dull grey color that looked almost white, which matched the two Queen-sized beds pushed up against the far wall by an oversized window. The window was tinted slightly, and darker grey curtains hung to the sides of it. There was really no other furniture in the room besides a small bedside table that stood in between the two beds, a wall clock, and one of those little fridges. There was also a small door leading to a bathroom to the right of where we were standing. I decided then that if I was going to confront Damian and try to get some answers, I should probably waste no more time. So I whirled around to face him, looked him straight in the eye, and said, “What the hell is up with you?” Damian put on a poor façade of confusion, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” But I wasn’t going to fall for his bait. “Oh, cut the s**t, Damian,” I persisted, “You know exactly what I’m talking about. All the random times you know exactly what I’m thinking, or what other people are thinking. And how did you ever guess what the desk lady’s name is, or that her uniform was new? Spill it.” I gave him the fiercest, most pressing look I could. Damian sighed and closed his eyes. After a while, he said, “I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this. I knew I shouldn’t have agreed to be with someone for so long. You were just so hard to resist!” I tried to ignore the fluttery feeling that comment just gave me, and stuck to the topic at hand. “So what is it?” I demanded. Damian opened his eyes and looked at me seriously. Those bright green eyes narrowing until they were tiny slits, “Will you believe me?” I gulped. What could possibly be something I couldn’t believe? I mean, we were spies, for God’s sake! “I-I guess so…” my voice trailed off. “No!” he barked. “You have to know so.” I paused. What would I say? I really wanted to know his secret, but I also didn’t want to risk what happened if I said I didn’t believe him. I decided to go with the former choice, “Okay. I’ll believe you. No matter what.” Damian took a deep breath, and after a few moments, said, “Naomi, I’m psychic.”
“Okay…what exactly do you mean by ‘psychic?’” I asked, my stomach twisting in knots. Psychic could mean anything from him being able to see the future, to being able to hear thoughts, to being able to know one’s whole life story by a single touch. I was kind of worried about what his answer would be.
Damian sighed again, “It’s kind of a mix of all of those things, yet in a simpler state. Yes, I can read peoples’ minds. No, I cannot see their whole life story by a touch, though I can see every thought they have ever had. It’s kind of overwhelming until you learn to tame it.”
“And how exactly do you tame it?” I asked, my head spinning as it tried to calculate and understand all this information he was throwing at me.
“You form a psychic wall,” he said, continuing when he saw how confused I was, “You know, a block. I formed it using all the magic from a certain stone I wear around my neck.” He gestured toward a bright crimson gem on a black thread I had never noticed on him before. “It gathers together all the magic from each element; fire, water, earth, and air, and forms a sort of invisible veil I can push against people so that it silences their thoughts. I can pull away the veil whenever I want to hear what people are thinking. Though with you, it’s a little weird.”
“How weird?” I asked, my eyes narrowing.
Damian shrugged, “It’s kind of hard to explain. It’s like I don’t have any control over the veil with you. Usually, I have open access to all your thoughts, but sometimes, I can’t hear a word from your brain. And unfortunately, that happens when I need to hear them the most. Like when we were trapped in that building. I couldn’t hear your thoughts, and I hoped I could so that I would know where you were.” He pursed his lips as he recalled the memory.
We were silent for a moment as my mind processed his words and he stared off into space. But then I asked another question, “Is there anything else you can do? You know, besides reading minds?”
“Well, there is one thing…” he looked back at me, “though it’s a little subjective. Sometimes I can see glimpses into the future. Little hints as to what’s going to happen. Though the future is always changing—it sometimes isn’t very valid.
“You know earlier today when you were wondering why I looked so worried after you had changed into that man’s clothing?” he asked.
I nodded, “Mm-hm.”
“Well, I had just been hit by a vision of us right now, talking about me. I was worried I really was going to tell you everything. But now, it actually kind of feels good to be letting it all out,” he smiled.
I smiled back, but then frowned, “So you’re sure that’s really all you can do.”
He paused for a moment, but then his eyes lit up, “Oh! I almost forgot the coolest thing! Manifestation.”
My brows furrowed in confusion. Mani-what?
He chuckled, “Manifestation. You know, when you can make anything appear. Like this,” then he held his hands out, closed his eyes, and a few moments later, a beautiful, ruby red rose appeared in his cupped palms.
“Whoa,” I breathed, “it’s perfect.” I took the rose into my hands, and smoothed out the flawless petals. Manifesting a rose for me was very romantic and all, but I knew I couldn’t fall for it. Couldn’t fall for him. It would rip Xavier’s heart out.
So I put the rose back in his hands and looked down, my face flushing, “Thanks.”
Desperate to break the awkwardness of this situation, I mustered up a fake yawn, “Man, am I tired. We should probably get our rest for tomorrow.”
Damian had been staring at me, but now his gaze flickered, “Ditto.”
Without another word to him, I slowly walked over to one of the beds, got under the warm covers, and closed my eyes.
The last thing I heard before I fell to the pull of dreams was Damian getting into the bed next to mine and turning off the lights.
Then I was pulled into a dream of magic boxes containing the remains of five certain people, a daring escape from captivity, and tons of delicate red roses.
When I woke up, I smelled trouble. Well, I didn’t exactly smell it, but I sensed it. And it didn’t help at all that Damian wasn’t even here.
“Damian?” I whispered.
There came no reply.
“Damian?” I called a bit louder.
Still: nothing. This was kind of making me get the feeling of Déjà vu.
“DAMIAN!” I shouted.
Except this time, instead of my partner’s voice replying to my pleas, a soft feminine one did.
“Damian’s not here,” it chimed.
I whipped my head around to face a short, petite brunette wearing a deep maroon jacket that reached her knees and black dress pants. Her hands were hidden in her pockets, her hair pulled up into a tight, thin ponytail, and she wore a serious expression on her face. There wasn’t even a hint of anxiety in her eyes, even though it was plain as day that I could snap her like a twig any second; she was so tiny.
I stifled a laugh, “So they sent you to be my bodyguard? ‘Course I should get the worst one.”
Then something very surprising happened. I had barely finished my sentence when she was right next to me, pinning my hands behind my back with a grip so tight it was a wonder my wrists didn’t break.
“Who’s the worst one now, brat?” she smirked.
I could barely breath from the pain, but I managed to say, “Well, it’s definitely not you.”
The brunette gave a harsh laugh in reply and loosened her grip. “I’ll let go if you promise not to call me ‘the worst one’ anymore. Because if you do, you obviously don’t recognize the most badass person of the Order of The Raven when you see them,” she warned.
I pretended to still be scared and nodded sheepishly, while in reality the gears in my mind were spinning rapidly, devising a plan to grab my golden box from my boot without being caught.
Convinced by my façade, the brunette let go of my wrists and smoothed her velvet jacket with her free hands. Then she looked back at me, her eyes so black they were almost the exact color of her pupils.
Desperate to start some small talk to get her mind off of intently watching my every move, I said, “So since it’s obvious I’m going to be spending quite a bit of time with you, it’s kind of necessary that I know the basics about you. Who exactly are you?” I wore the most casual expression I could manage, but really, I was burning with anticipation.
“My name is Veronika Carnegie, and I was born and raised in Italy. I came to this underwater headquarters by accident when traveling the world on a quest. I had fallen through my sinking ship, and by some miracle, had found this beautiful place. I won’t tell you my whole story, for you don’t have any right to know, but all you need to know is that now I am a member of the group you are trying to kill off, and happen to be the wisest and best fighting one of the group,” she chuckled, ruffling her silky hair. Man, this woman was full of herself.
I was quiet for a moment, but then, to be sure she wouldn’t realize I was using this silence to think, said something else. “Interesting. So you’re one of the five that are left, huh?” And immediately after I said it, I regretted it. What if she hadn’t already known about me capturing the first guy and, when realizing it, confiscated my golden box?
But obviously she did, because she let out another high-pitched, cringe-worthy laugh. And believe me, I did cringe.
“Yup, I am,” she smiled, exposing a mouthful of sparkly white teeth.
I gulped, trying not to show my fear. “So…I suppose the guy I was with is with another one of you people, right?” I tried to make it sound like I was simply curious, not trying to uncover a fact that could help me break him free again.
Veronika shook her head and rolled her eyes, “Please. You really think I’m going to tell you that? Like I said, I’m the wisest of all of us, not the stupidest.” She chuckled.
I nodded, but when she turned away to look out the window, I immediately sprang into action. Slowly sliding my hand into my right boot, and feeling around for my little box.
When I couldn’t find it, I began to worry. Frantically, I stuck my hand into my left boot. But I came up empty there, too.
Just then, I realized Veronika was letting go of another of her hearty, sinister laughs and leaning toward me. “So I guess you’re not really as clever as I thought. Obviously you didn’t realize by now that I would have gotten rid of your stupid little gold device as soon as I got my hands on you. Too bad the man you trapped in there was already long dead—we could use his help again.”
And then, before I could stop it, she landed a hard blow right in the middle of my nose, sending me toppling to the ground. My head began spinning, and I saw red liquid oozing out from my nostrils. The last thing I heard before I was completely out was, “You’re never getting out of our clutches, Naomi Iftov. Never.”
I was awoken by a sharp smell of sweat and the repetitive feeling of warm breath on my face. Once my vision was cleared and I could see what it was, I jumped up in surprise. “Who are you?” I gasped. The dirty man in rags that had been leaning over me stood up also, “I think the correct question is: Who are you? Because I’m just a regular at this place. You, on the other hand, don’t look like the type that is found frequently in a jail cell.” I gasped again, just then realizing he was right. I was in a jail cell. And a pretty small and sh***y one at that. It was a cube-shaped, dusty old room that smelled rotten and disgusting. A rusty toilet stood connected to the wall in one corner, and two crappy, worn-down bunk beds stood at the other side. The only sturdy looking things in this place were the iron bars in front of the single window and entrance. It was exactly like the stereotype jail cells you saw in movies. Not at all inviting. “What am I doing in here?” I wondered aloud. Though this hobo of a man that was my jail cell partner didn’t really look like the type to give me an answer to that. He shrugged, then grinned, displaying a row of yellowed, rotting teeth. “I don’t know, but I am pretty happy you’re here. I haven’t gotten the chance to have someone to talk to in a long time. Especially not someone as sexy as you.” He raised and lowered two graying, bushy eyebrows. “Ugh!” I shook my head and looked down, tempted to slap him across his ugly face. But I knew I shouldn’t start by doing that when I’d have to deal with this guy for a while probably. **** After many dragging hours of endless awkwardness, with the hobo man staring at me sitting on the floor, and me playing with a string on my shirt, a bit of commotion began to arise at the end of our long hallway. Me, along with many other prisoners, (including my jail cell partner), stood up, wondering what was going on. When I saw what was causing all the commotion, I gaped. It was Damian! And he was grappling with a guard—coming to set me free! I almost shouted his name, but decided not to—at least not until he had knocked this guy out. The hobo guy and I watched the action with awe. Though I thought it was interesting because I knew Damian and was helplessly starting to have feelings for him—this guy probably just didn’t have a chance to see much action every day. The guard had Damian pinned to the ground, and was fumbling in his jacket pocket for handcuffs. When he couldn’t find any, he made the fatal mistake of looking down. It was the perfect opportunity for Damian to make a move. With lightning speed, my pilot/co-spy flipped the guard onto his back and sat halfway on top of him so he couldn’t move. Then he took a clobbering hatchet (don’t worry, it wouldn’t kill the guy—it was specifically made for spies when we needed to knock someone out), and brought it down hard upon the guard’s balding head. Then the guard immediately stopped trying to break free and his body went limp. Damian put the hatchet away and stood up slowly. His hands were bleeding a bit from the man’s nails clawing at him, but otherwise he was unhurt. As if sensing exactly where I was, he turned toward me and his eyes lit up with joy. “Damian…” I breathed. It was all I could think of to say right then. But it didn’t matter. Just as soon as Damian had acknowledged that it was really me, he sprinted over to my jail cell and took a key out of his pocket. Then he stuck it in the lock on one of the iron bars of the cell, and opened the barred door wide open. Without thinking, I immediately ran into his arms and buried my face in his muscular shoulder. “Damian,” I sniffed, tears pouring down my cheeks and melting in the fabric of his stolen uniform, “How did you ever do it?” I pulled away to look at him, and saw a hint of surprise and maybe even love in his intense gaze. Though I knew it was wrong, and I knew it wasn’t good to be feeling this when I was with Xavier, his gaze was mesmerizing, and I couldn’t help but feel fluttery inside. Before Damian could answer my question, though, a chorus of applause resounded through the hallway. I broke away from his gaze, and saw that every single man and woman in every single jail cell was clapping, with goofy smiles on their faces. One woman even had tears in her eyes. “That was about the most romantic thing I have ever seen,” the hobo guy I had been in the jail cell with said, his grin stretching from ear to ear. My face flushed a deep red and I stared down at my shoes. I was tempted to tell them that it wasn’t true, that we weren’t together, but I knew it was no use. There was no swaying these guys. And it wasn’t fair that I should bring their so-called “romantic moment” to an end. Plus, though I would never, in a thousand years admit it, I kind of liked the attention. And I honestly wouldn’t mind if Damian and I really were together. Especially after that beautiful red rose he had given me last night. I looked back up at Damian, and saw a hint of similar embarrassment in those amazing green eyes. But that was just a hint. For the most part, his gaze was filled with such an intense love and reverence it almost made me stop breathing. Suddenly, he averted his gaze and cleared his throat, “Um…we should probably get going, shouldn’t we? I mean, I highly doubt it, but there is a smidge of a chance that guards could be coming after us any second now.” He looked back at me, waiting for a response. I nodded and put on what I hoped was a completely cool and collected expression, though the image of Damian’s intense love was forever etched into my mind. “Yeah, sure,” I smiled. So I began to follow Damian out of the prison hallway, leaving the prisoners’ “boos” behind me.
After I had told Damian my whole story of meeting Veronika and the hobo, I asked him to tell me his.
“Are you sure?” Damian frowned, a bit of an edge to his voice. “The story’s pretty long, and it might get boring.”
I rolled my eyes, “Please. No way would I ever get bored during a story about a rescue mission, especially if it was a mission for my rescuing.” I doubted the problem really was about my getting bored, anyway.
“Ok…” Damian sighed, playing with the cover on the steering wheel of the shiny black Mustang he had manifested. There was a silence, and after he had made a left turn onto a different street, he said, “Fine. I’ll tell you. But don’t come crying to me when you want me to stop.
“So it all starts when it was midnight at the room we rented. We were both in a deep sleep when I heard a creaking of the wood tiles. I whipped my eyes open, and they had barely adjusted before I was knocked out. Then it was black for quite a while after that.
“When I woke up, I was in a jail cell similar to yours, though in a totally different part of the prison. Plus, I had nobody to keep me company except for a guard in my hall.”
“At least you didn’t have to share a room with a pervert,” I muttered under my breath, but shut up when he gave me a stern look.
He continued, “As I was saying, the only other human being in the place was a young man guarding my hall. I called him over, and he must have been inexperienced, for instead of staying there like any other guard would, he came right over.
“Though it was obviously not true, I told him that I heard a sound coming from an adjacent hallway to mine, and said that he should probably go check it out. Being inexperienced, as I mentioned before, he nodded and listened to me. As soon as he was out of sight, I reached in my pocket and pulled out a portable laser, cutting the iron bars with it.”
I scowled when he mentioned that. I had been stupid enough when changing into that guard’s uniform that I hadn’t thought about transferring my spy gadgets from my spy uniform to the guy’s uniform. The only thing I had kept was my golden box.
“…and so then, after successfully beating up all the other guards, and looking in every hallway, I found you,” Damian smiled, and I couldn’t help but look away from his piercing green eyes that seemed to urge me to kiss him.
“Well, then I guess we’re even. I saved you, so you saved me,” I laughed, but anyone could tell it was forced.
Damian either didn’t notice or didn’t want me to know that he noticed, for he joined in with his wonderful laugh—one that wasn’t fake.
We drove for a while in silence, but then I finally had enough courage to ask him something I had been dying to know, “So…where exactly are you taking me?”
He shrugged, the edges of his lips slightly turned up in a smirk.
I gaped. “You don’t know?”
He laughed, “Nope. I’m just trying to get as far away from that prison as possible. Who knows where we’ll head after that.”
“I hate to break it to you, but we’ve already been driving for half an hour! Soon we’ll be floating in the ocean and drowning!” I shook my head.
But he just laughed again, “I doubt that.”
Just then, we pulled into a parking spot that seemed to be in a very crowded and busy square. “Where are we?” I asked.
“We’re in Raven Square. It’s located directly in the middle of the realm. If I remember correctly, you said the Order’s hiding place was in the middle of the realm also. So this should be the place to find them.”
I scowled, “So you did have an idea of where we were going after all.”
He chuckled. “Come on, let’s go.” Then he got out of the car, quickly went around to my side, and opened my door for me. Sticking his hand out, he said, “Mademoiselle?”
I rolled my eyes, but took his hand anyways. As soon as I was out of the car, Damian looked around to make sure nobody was watching, and then made the car disappear. I gaped, but my surprise was short lived.
“What time is it?” Damian asked.
“Um…” I frowned, “Crap, I forgot to bring a watch. I knew I forgot something!”
Damian looked around, “Oh! There’s a clock right there. It’s 12:45. That must explain why I’m so dreadfully hungry.”
I scoffed, “Dreadfully? I mean, I know you’re from England and all, but you should seriously learn to speak American. We don’t use those kinds of words here.” I gave him a wry smile.
Damian didn’t reply, but simply stared off into space, his eyes squinted in thought. Finally, after a while of silence, he said, “I suppose we’ll have to skip lunch for today. Because if we do take the time to eat, we might miss out on the Order’s meeting if it’s during this time. We should ask somebody.”
“I’m on it.” I immediately began looking around for some guard that wasn’t as muscular and mean looking as most of the ones in this crowd. My eyes finally resting on a tall, thin man standing off to the side with his hands in his pockets. “Be right back.”
Without waiting for a response from Damian, I strolled over to the man, hoping I looked casual while really I was sweating buckets. What if what I was about to ask was something all the guards should know? What if suspicion would rise?
But I put off my worries—for now. “Hello. My friend and I,” I motioned toward Damian, “Are kind of new at all this, and we were wondering if you could show us where the Order of The Raven’s meeting place is. We were asked to give them a message.”
Before he answered, he took the time to inspect my outfit, making sure I wasn’t someone pretending to be a guard, (which really, I was), making my stomach feel a little queasy. Then finally he asked, “What’s the password?”
“Password?” I peeped. My palms sweating, I gulped. What password?
Suddenly, I heard Damian’s voice beside me. “Edom,” he said coolly.
The man nodded sharply, then stuck his pointer finger out, pointing toward a small, slightly hidden old building that looked like it could crumble any second.
I nodded, “Thanks.”
Then, without another word, Damian and I began walking toward the building the man had showed us. Once we were out of earshot, I asked, “How the hell did you know that?”
“You forget,” laughed Damian, “I know a lot of things.”
Peering through the small, octagon-shaped window, I saw four people sitting around a large, circular table. They each had identical tan manila folders in front of them, and looked like they were deep in conversation. One of the four I recognized as Veronika, but the other three were large men I didn’t know.
I swallowed, “Are you sure we can do this?”
Damian gazed at me with disbelief. “Are you seriously questioning this right now? This is what you were born for, Naomi! All your life you’ve been training for this very moment. Are you really going to risk everything, when you’ve come so very far? I know you can do it. You must do it.”
I nodded, though I wasn’t totally convinced. Damian would help distract them all he could, but the final outcome was up to me. And these guys were fierce. Yeah, Veronika didn’t look as huge as the guys, but I had witnessed what she could do before, and she was good.
“Hey,” Damian lifted my chin so that I was facing him, “Listen to me. You. Can. Do. This. Come on, is this the same Naomi that beat up everyone in her class during exams before the beginning of senior year? Is this the same Naomi that told me last year that she was invincible—that she could take on anything? Because this doesn’t seem like her. This seems like a coward, a chicken. Someone not worthy to hold the title of a Secret Agent. So come on, prove me wrong and defeat them. I know you have the skills to do it.” He nodded in emphasis.
I took a deep breath and looked him square in the eye, “No, this is not a coward Naomi. This is the one you’ve always known. And yeah, I’m gonna do this. So let’s go in.”
Then I took his hand, and we both walked in unison over to the door to the building, where two huge guards stood.
“Edom,” Damian whispered, and soon the menacing black door opened up into a dark hallway lit only by a few dim torches. And once we were inside, the door slammed and locked behind us, making it even darker.
My hands and feet shook harder than they ever had before, and they began sweating so much it felt like my hand would just slip right out of Damian’s. But he held a firm grasp, and showed no signs of his own fear. He looked over at me with a gaze so intense it almost knocked my breath out, and then began to walk. And so did I.
After maybe fifteen labored steps on my part, Damian suddenly froze in his tracks, and his breathing went slack. When I looked up at his piercing green eyes, I saw that they were widened to the size of baseballs as he stared straight ahead.
“What?” I cried worriedly, “What’s wrong?”
“I…” Damian’s voice cracked, “I just had…a vision.”
I gasped, “What was it?”
He turned to face me, and I saw deep despair in his usually upbeat eyes. “Do you really want to know?”
I pondered this. From the look of his expression, the news was most likely very bad. And I mean very bad. I had never seen an expression so sad, so utterly terrorized since the day I learned that Drake had died. What if it was that we would lose the battle, or…or maybe that someone back home was in trouble? I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to know that right now. Maybe it would be better to just let life take its own course and let it happen on its own without me knowing beforehand.
But I couldn’t resist the possibility of being able to right whatever wrong might happen. I gulped, “Yes. Tell me.”
Damian looked down and forced to compose himself before looking back at me.
“In my vision, you…” He stopped for a moment and took a deep breath.
“I what? Tell me!” I persisted.
He sighed, “Naomi, you died.”
The feeling I had when I found out that I might die in the near future was indescribable. It took all my force to keep myself from fainting. It felt like the world had suddenly vanished, taking the hallway, Damian—everything—with it, leaving me by myself in silence and utter and complete darkness. All my life was gone. Everything I’d ever known. And I was just left with my thoughts. My thoughts and my hopes and my dreams.
Then I began to run. I ran faster and faster, without knowing what or where my destination was. I just knew I had to get there. And I had to get there now.
I was suddenly jerked out of my thoughts by the feeling of Damian shaking me and calling my name. I was pulled back into reality, where I found myself leaning against one wall of the hallway where my mind had gone blank.
“Damian?” my voice cracked.
Damian sighed in relief and pulled me to him, “Oh, Naomi. I was so worried. I thought you had failed me. I thought you were gone!”
Just then, we were interrupted by a shrill voice exclaiming, “What’s going on here?”
We both whipped our heads around to the source of the sound, where we saw Veronika standing there, all polyester purple jacket and black pants—just as I had remembered.
When realization hit and Veronika recognized who I was, her eyes widened, “You again? I thought I got rid of you! Oh, you’re going down now!”
But as soon as she began stalking towards me, Damian stepped in front of me as a shield, “You’re not touching her.”
After that, I was only faintly aware of their conversation, for I took this chance as soon as I got it to take my golden box out of my shoes and open it, repeating the sacred chant just as I had done with the other man before,
“With the power of the ancestor wizards and spies, activate this box and diminish all lies, execute the evil thing here before me, this is all I ask so I call out to thee!”
And then, just like it had done when I had first used this box, it began shaking violently, before a beautiful ray of golden white light poured out from inside it and enveloped Veronika in it. She was barely able to scream before it shrunk her and pulled her into the box, locking itself afterward.
It was silent for a moment before I heard a chorus of claps erupt in front of me. I looked up to see four people clapping violently—Damian and…the three other men of The Order of The Raven?
“Bravo!” One of the men shouted, “we’ve been waiting for this moment for centuries!”
Confused, I asked, “What? I thought you guys were evil.”
Another man laughed. “We were! But that’s only because of Ramon and Veronika. Ramon was originally the only evil one, but then, when Veronika came, she joined him. Us three only became part of this stupid group because we had to. There was really no other choice—we had no money, jobs, or anything. But now that you have defeated both Ramon and Veronika, we’re free!” All three of the men smiled.
It took me a while to process this, but when I finally did, I was amazed. My next comment was directed to Damian, “So everything we thought we knew about them is wrong. Not all of them are evil. Wow, this has been a hell of a day.”
We all broke into fits of laughter.
Two days after our return to the headquarters, when most of the commotion had died down, there was a party thrown in the Banquet Hall in honor of our arrival. Since Alexandria and Joseph, the two others that had been sent on separate journeys than mine, hadn’t returned yet, this party was in honor of specifically Damian and me. So you can imagine how many people were coming up to me and asking me questions.
But despite how boring it was to keep hearing my classmates ask me questions like, What was it like? and Were they scary? and How’d you do it?, I tried my hardest to stay calm and just keep smiling. Because I knew that if I was in their position, and someone I knew had just gone on a frightening journey, I would do the same thing.
So I wasn’t surprised when, while I was at the punch bowl, I felt a tap on my shoulder. But I was surprised when I saw who it was that had tapped me.
It was Ursula.
I was about to offer some kind of lame yet polite greeting when she cut me short by clearing her throat and saying, “As much as it pains me to say this to someone so immature and bad as you,” she pulled her glasses up higher on her birdlike nose, “I have to admit, you did great. I’m very proud of you, Naomi Iftov.”
Then Ursula did something I never would expect would happen and I won’t forget for the rest of my life.
She pulled me closer into a hug.
Still startled, I said stupidly, “Uh…thank you. That’s—that’s nice of you to…to say that, Ma’am.” I didn’t know what else to say.
But to my relief, I didn’t have to stall any longer, for just then, Victoria and Xavier came rushing over, their faces lit up with glee, and Ursula winked and faded into the crowd behind her.
As soon as she was gone, I was almost thrown to the floor by hugs so fierce from my two best friends. I felt their tears wet the blue satin of my dress as they said in unison, “Thank the Lord you’re back, Naomi.”
Then when they pulled away, Victoria looked me straight in the eye, and said seriously, “Don’t you ever leave us again. Do you realize how much we worried about you while you were gone? I couldn’t sleep every night I was so worried! And he told me not to tell you, but I will anyway—Xavier even cried!”
I stifled back a laugh as I saw my boyfriend’s face go red hot with a mix of embarrassment and anger. He elbowed Victoria in the stomach, causing her to rub it and narrow her eyes at him.
I laughed. “Oh, you guys are so fun to watch. I swear, you two fight so much you should be siblings.” Then I pulled them into another bear hug, “And I love you for that.”
I was about to kiss Xavier when a clearing of a throat interrupted our reunion. I looked past Victoria’s jet black hair to see Damian standing there, in a freshly-ironed silk suit, holding a letter in his hands.
“Excuse me, I have to take care of whatever he wants me for for a second,” I said to them, not even bothering to pay attention to the jealous expression I knew was on Xavier’s face as I walked over to Damian.
He took my arm and began pulling me out a side door into a beautiful enclosed courtyard I had never seen before. It was filled with tons of stone statues and roses, and a small bench that could fit only up to two people stood in the very middle. That’s where Damian led me to.
“I’ve never seen this place before—is it new?” I asked.
Damian laughed, but didn’t answer. But I didn’t really need one—that chuckle was hint enough. He had made this stuff, and I don’t literally mean made as in built, but made as in manifested.
I breathed, “It’s—it’s beautiful.”
He shook his head and looked at me with those intense green eyes that took my breath away, “Not as beautiful as you.” Then he handed me the letter I had noticed he had been holding.
Confused, I took it, opening the flap and pulling out a folded piece of pink paper which I then opened. Inside I read:
I don’t exactly know how to put my feelings in normal words right now, so I will write a poem expressing them. But bear with me, I am not exactly all that amazing at writing poems…
Your eyes are like two sparkling stars
They always seem fixed so very far
Your hair is silky, smooth and brown
Your bright red lips never turned to a frown
Your hands so warm, they pull me in
Loving you feels like a sin
For you are so great, and I am nothing
But I still have the nerve now
To tell you that I love you
And I have the strength now
To ask if you love me too?
I had to reread that poem three times before coming up with an answer, and when I did, there were tears in my eyes. Because there was no way I could deny that I definitely had feelings for Damian, but there was also no way I could choose him when Xavier and I were just starting to get deeper into our relationship. Because despite all the times I told Xavier that our love was just a game, and really meant nothing, it was starting to be more. And he looked like he felt the same way. I knew I couldn’t give up on us when we were actually starting to go somewhere.
So I looked up at Damian, prepared to say what I felt in the nicest way possible, but when I looked into his eyes, it was obvious by the devastation in them that he had read my mind and already knew.
I swallowed the lump that was forming in my throat and wiped my tears. “I’m sorry,” I whispered.
Damian took a deep breath and nodded. Then he forced a smile and said, “It’s Ok, I understand. You love Xavier. Believe me, I know how that feels.” I didn’t need words to know that he meant that he knew that feeling because of his love for me.
Then Damian stood up, and without any sign of goodbye except for a final, lingering gaze, he left.
And when I looked down toward where he had just been sitting, I saw that he had replaced his presence with a single red rose.