Illustrated by NADIA VERKOUTEREN
We walked down the steps, out of the living quarters. Theo’s office was on the ground floor. We lived together in a large mansion overlooking a cliff. It was beautiful. The top floor was the “social floor," where we would “entertain." The third floor was the living quarters. The second floor was the kitchen, cafeteria and washing stations. On the ground floor was the library, training rooms, classrooms and everything else that was important to our survival, like Theo’s office.
I, like everyone else, was aware of what would happen if we didn’t have a leader. Theo only came into the picture when I was three. Before that, it was chaos. People were at each other’s throats. The fear of falling apart drove us into frenzy. But he knew what we were capable of. We had grown up using magic, but he taught us how to manipulate it to our advantage. Before it was just a toy. Now, in times of need, it was a weapon.
Carrie and I stood in front of Theo’s office. She grinned again and knocked on the door.
“Come in,” he called. I opened the door and we both walked in.
“Oh” he smiled. “Hello, Lynn. That will be all Carrie." She nodded and walked out. I would hate to have her job, walking around and bringing people to Theo.
“Please, have a seat,” he said, gesturing to the chair in front of his desk.
“Hello Theo, how are you?” I have always been polite.
“I’m fine, yourself?”
“Well,” he sighed, “The war is beginning. It's inevitable.”
“Station 123? What do you think of it?”
“Move Cooper over to 268 and Karl over to 516.”
“Straight to the point, that’s what I like about you,” he said, grinning.
“Mathew should be here, not me.” He was right, I was straight to the point.
“Mathew lives by the book, you know that. You take action. I need you here Lynn, not your brother, especially after the betrayal.”
He was referring to Mary Lou. She had been amazing, performing spells without uttering a word and able to kill a man in the blink of an eye. I still can’t think of a reason why she'd been working with Yenzer. We were shocked when we found out. We were a family here in Uldad. Yet, she was working for the enemy. When Theo had told us, tears had formed in his eyes. I hadn't been able to sleep that night.
“I wish I could talk to her,” I revealed.
“Why?” Theo asked sternly. I looked up at him and he looked upset.
“I just want to know why she did it,” I said. His calmed down and sighed.
“It’s over now. Just know that the rest of us are your brethren. We're here for each other.”
“That’s what you told us right before Mary Lou left,” I said as I got up. I saw his jaw tighten. He thought I was blaming him. Maybe I was. All I know is that at that moment I wasn't the simple, polite girl I was raised to be. Without a word, I walked right out.
I practically stomped all the way back to my room. My brother hated me, my best friend was a traitor and my leader was using me as a military weapon. I didn’t care what anyone said, a war was starting and I was terrified.
When I got back to my room Mathew was gone, no note in sight. The grounds were too big for me to simply walk around until I found him. I put the books he left out back on the shelf, sat down on my bed and looked out of the window to the water. For a split second, I imagined blood instead of water hitting the side of the cliff. I felt sick.
Days passed and people became agitated. The war was approaching like a plague. The idea of fighting and death prickled our fingertips. We knew it would happen, but for some odd reason it wasn’t yet. Theo kept telling us that Yenzer was about to attack. We knew they would. We found two dead bodies out in the forest. They belonged to us, they were of our people. Yenzer had started its attacks. More death was coming, and soon.
I walked to the fourth floor. I was looking for Mathew, but he was avoiding me. I wished he would just talk to me. But right then he needed to hate me, so I let him. “Lynn!” someone called out. I turned hesitantly. I didn’t want to talk. I wanted to find Mathew. It was Theo.
“Hello Lynn, I wanted to speak with you.”
“I see that.” I had been colder with Theo ever since the day in his office. He noticed, but I wasn’t expendable, so he dealt with it. I don’t know why, but I had begun to hate him. I didn’t really hate him--I hated the idea of war. I turned my hate towards the man who had taught us of war. I blamed him. Nevertheless, I never really believed it was his fault.
“Meet me on the balcony, I’ll be there in a moment. I just need to tell Carrie something.”
The balcony was on the fourth floor. We all feel like it had been built on the wrong side of the building, overlooking the forest instead of the water. Who wanted to stare at trees?
I nodded and began walking there. As I got up to the fourth floor I saw Mathew from the corner of my eye. I turned to go talk to him and remembered that I was supposed to go to the balcony. I hesitated. I knew that the conversation with my brother would lead to an argument, and it would not just last a few moments. I turned back, and walked to the balcony.
It was windy out. The cold fluttered against my cheek and numbed my hands. My hair was tied up and but it still swayed in the wind.
“The war is beginning. We can see it in the sky,” Theo said as he approached me. He copied my stature, leaning his forearms on the railing.
He was right. It was only the afternoon and the sky looked dark and scary. A storm must be coming, I thought. I nodded.
“This is where we’ll be tomorrow when the attack happens,” he said calmly.
“What?” I turned and stared at him in utter confusion.
“We will all be placed here. Our magic will be stronger together,” he said turning to face me.
“All of us?”
“No.” I shocked him again.
“Excuse me?” he said with the hint of a smile.
“That’s a suicide mission.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Look in front of you. What do you see? Trees. The people of Yenzer just have to hide in the trees and they will kill us all. One infinite arrow spell and no one will survive.”
“Together we will be protected.”
“No, we can’t. Don’t you understand? They will be hidden from us! We will be out in the open. It’ll be child’s play for them to wipe us out!”
“Lynn, don’t you trust me?”
There was a look in his eyes. There was no caring there. He usually looked at everyone in a caring way. I couldn’t quite read it, but I felt no love from this father figure.
“I don’t trust this plan,” I replied.
“Why? Do you know something that we don’t? Do you know what the people of Yenzer plan on doing?” Theo said. I almost felt like he would laugh.
“No, of course not.” He knew that I had never met anyone from Yenzer in my life. I have always lived in Uldad, in the Center House.
“Are you sure?” he said.
Then I saw it in his eyes. Evil. He smiled. I knew what he would do if I gave him the wrong answer. I had two options. Option one: tell everyone what a grand idea Theo had and watch them die. Option two: disagree with him and have Theo tell everyone that I betrayed them, that I was working for Yenzer. I thought of Mary Lou.
“She wasn’t working for Yenzer was she?” I whispered.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.
I swung at him, hitting him square in the face. “Tell them what you want you useless fucker!” I screamed. Then I ran. I knew there wasn’t much time. He would get the word out before I could stop it.
I ran down to my room, grabbed my wand and my broom. I needed to get out of there. There would soon be people out to kill me. Everyone would hate me, the way minutes ago I had hated Mary Lou. I wouldn’t make her mistake. I ran to the kitchen instead of the exit.
“Sonia!” I yelled. She was in front of a stove, reading a magazine as a spell turned the spoon in the pot of soup.
“Hey Lynn,” she said with a smile. She didn’t know yet. I grabbed her by the shoulders.
“Listen to me. They’re going to tell you that I betrayed you. It isn’t true. Theo wants us all to die. I don’t know why, but he isn’t trying to help us. Please believe me.”
Sonia couldn’t seem to say anything. I heard footsteps approaching. I shook my head and left. Sitting on the broom I flew straight into the forest. I may have never been to Yenzer but I knew how to get there.
Their town was straight across the forest from us. A difficult flight to undertake, but I had to do it. For some reason Theo wanted them to win the war and I needed to know why. I wasn’t sure if I helped Sonia by telling her the truth or if I endangered her life. But Mary Lou just left and that didn’t help her at all. I hoped that doing something else might have helped my case. So I left. I left my home, my family, my brother, my friends, my life. I left the people who would soon want me dead.
I got off my broom when I heard voices. Hunters from Yenzer were in the forest. I tiptoed, hiding in between the trees, until I saw a town. There it was, Yenzer, the land of my enemies. The outskirts were similar to Uldad. I walked slowly, trying not to draw attention. The town square was similar to ours as well. Except for one major difference: right in the middle was a large statue of Theo. I gasped.
People were gathering around it. I joined. I looked just like them, a young magician eager to hear what they were saying.
“Theo has brought our land peace! Tomorrow we will take back what is rightfully ours!” said a man on a stage. I had heard this speech before, it had been given by Theo in Uldad. “Tomorrow at noon, we begin a war and end a horrible era of Uldad!” Everyone cheered. I stood, shocked.
I looked around me. Everyone was leaving presents in front of the statue. Large pictures of Theo hung over windows. I finally understood what happened. Theo hadn’t lived in Uldad. He probably hadn’t lived in Yenzer either, but he controlled both. He came, seventeen years ago, and established his leadership in two fragmented towns. He had pinned them against each other in a sick war, making them compete and seeing which was more faithful. Yenzer won, so Theo decided to destroy Uldad.
I walked around the town. My entire life was collapsing before my very eyes. What was I going to do? I couldn’t go back to Uldad. They would all think that I was working for Yenzer. I couldn’t settle in Yenzer--they would soon figure out that I was from Uldad and try to kill me. It was a lose-lose situation.
I turned my head in disgust. There was some sort of horrible smell. I turned to look. There was a large piercing cry, like a wounded animal slowly dying, it came from me. And there was Mary Lou, dead and decomposing. There was a sign that read “Death To Uldad!” Her skin and eyes were grey, a common sign of a death spell. Something in me snapped. Theo had taken my life and my family, but I wouldn’t let him take all of Uldad.
It was ten in the morning the next day. The people of Uldad were gathering onto the balcony. I could only imagine what they were feeling, perhaps anticipation at the oncoming war, or maybe they were distraught because another one of their people had betrayed them. Part of me thought that I should be there, standing on the balcony. But I wasn’t. I was sitting in a tree in the forest, staring at them.
Theo was in front on a little stage. He was rallying them to war. I wondered how he planned on escaping to join the people of Yenzer. I shook my head. It doesn’t matter, I thought. He won’t make it there.
I knew I didn’t have much time. The people of Yenzer would soon be approaching. I lifted my wand. Just as I predicted, I was completely hidden. I aimed at Theo’s head and whispered the spell. A small hole formed in the middle of his forehead as if I had shot him. People around him started to scream. It was too easy to attack him on the balcony, just as I had told him it would be. “I told you so” I whispered.
I may not have ended the war. I may not have ended the hate. I sure as hell didn’t give them reason to let me come back home. But at least I killed the tyrant that had created all of the hate and the war in the first place. I couldn’t make Uldad trust me again, but hopefully after this, they could grow to trust themselves again.