Chapter 1 – Enter James
Eyes open. Staff in hand. Wings out. Teleportation = successful.
I sighed. That was the first time I’d managed to teleport myself.
My wings, red and feathered, were open to the full extent of their ten-foot span. I crouched and took off, flapping gently.
I clutched my golden staff tightly, concentrating, concentrating…
Yes! The pearl orb on the top glowed with an unnatural, eerie light that shot forward in a straight, perfect angle.
I was so on top of my practice that day; I turned circles in the air uber-confidently. The unavoidable, depressing task I had in hand nearly slipped my mind.
But it didn’t, so I positioned my wings in a parachute and sorrowfully drifted down to the wet forest floor. I kicked the pinecones miserably and drew glum little circles of red with my staff. My ruby silk dress fell to my ankles and I tugged at the smooth gold lace on the sleeves.
Out of nowhere, I heard a shout. I flapped to hover a few inches above ground level, and heard the shouting alongside a clatter of metal. I turned around and saw a flash of grey armour. Intrigued, I flew closer. I could make out an armoured knight, who seemed to be engaged in a battle with something.
Drawing closer still, I saw the knight point its sword cautiously towards a pond. I raised a dark eyebrow. Like lightening, a huge shark broke the water surface, lurching itself towards the knight. I winced as its strong jaws crunched through the metal on its arm before falling back into the water, probably about to launch another attack. The knight let out a cry of agony and fell backwards.
There was no point in trying to stop myself. I floated effortlessly, but swiftly over to the battle. I held my staff in front of the knight and produced a thick red barrier. The shark burst out of the pond again, but crashed into my barrier before it could lay a fin on the knight. I thrusted my staff, and the barrier forward and the shark flew yards through the air before landing back in the pond with a satisfying ‘SPLSH’.
“Need any help?” I asked snidely.
“Just d-do something.” the knight stammered through a metal caged helmet. The shark jumped again, but crashed into my barrier.
“Hmm… if you like, I can make a life form to fight for us?”
I grinned, holding up my staff. The barrier disappeared, but a red flash over the orb and above the pond filled in for it. The flash over the pond became a shark – a shark even bigger than the one already there.
“Go.” I instructed it. It dove down into the water and the knight watched in wonder and horror as it ripped open the…
Okay, I’ll skip that part, but long story short, the shark I created defeated the one the knight was fighting easily, and popped up to the surface. “Thank you.” I said, before returning it with a wave of my staff.
I spread my wings to take off, but, “Miss…” gasped the knight.
“What?” I snapped, turning around.
“Miss, my arm…”
I sighed exasperatedly, walking back. “Fine. I can heal you if you take off your armour.”
The knight undid a few buckles here and there and stepped out of its steel uniform, revealing a cloth tunic, bloodied and ripped at one arm. I could see its face now – it was male, no older than sixteen. His eyes were watery blue and he had short brown hair, not cut expertly.
Carelessly and ruthlessly I took his hand and tugged it up to my face. I dragged my staff over his arm and let go, letting it drop limply. He paused and pulled back the sleeve of his tunic. Nothing but scraps of dried blood remained there.
I walked away, leaving him to wallow in his own amazement.
“Hey, wait…” he said.
I turned to face him. “Yes?” I asked with sarcastic brightness.
“Who are you? Are you a sorcerer?”
“Better,” I replied, placing a hand on my hip arrogantly, “A sorceress.”
“But you have wings…”
“Right.” he quickly skidded over to me and kneeled.
“What are you doing?”
“Miss, I am thoroughly in debt to you. You have saved my life. Now, I promise to serve you and accompany you on your endeavours for the rest of my days.” he held his sword in front of his knees and turned it so that it caught the light.
“Thanks. But I travel alone.” I pulled him up by his shoulders. “And it’s Mage. not Miss.”
“Miss, uh, Mage, I assure you that my lack of performance against this shark was due to a lack of food and rest. I have spent days tirelessly wandering these woods. You don’t have anything to eat, do you?”
I rolled my eyes and produced an apple with my staff. “That changes nothing.”
He ran forward and grabbed the apple with both hands. He took several massive bites and said, with his mouth full, “Okay, fine. But I’m going to starve if you leave me here.”
“What is the point of saving my life if you’re just going to leave me to starve?” he was chuckling.
I sighed, “Fine, you can travel with me. Leave the armour, you won’t need it.” He looked overjoyed. “But I have conditions.” His face looked just the slightest bit worried and disappointed. “Firstly, we go where ever I want to go.”
“Secondly, when we find a place where you can find your way home from, you’re out of here, buster.”
“Thirdly, please, drop the formal speech. We both know that that’s put on.”
“How old are you?” he asked after an awkward, silent few minutes of him trailing behind me.
“Me too. I’m James.”
I stayed silent.
“And you are…?”
I turned around and smiled. A cool breeze blew my dress and feathers. Wisps of jet black hair fell in front of my face. “Call me Marcia.”
Chapter 2 – Don’t ask, step back and just what I needed…
“Gather wood. I’ll make a fire.”
James nodded and looked around. “Hey, Marcia?”
“Where do you come from? How come you have wings? W-who are you?”
It felt like day since I had saved James at the pond, but really, it was just a couple of hours. “James… I come from a place you wouldn’t have heard of. You wouldn’t understand why I have wings. I don’t really know who I am…” I shook my head.
“Sorry.” He scratched the back of his head. “I just… don’t know how long it’s gonna be before I get home. I may as well know you better if we’re going to be friends-”
That did it. “Now you listen here. You and I… we will NEVER, I repeat NEVER, be friends. Got that?”
“Uh… did I hit a sore spot there?” he mused.
“No.” I said bluntly. James dumped a bunch of sticks in front of me, and, looking away from him, I set them alight with magic.
James walked away from me and tossed his sword gently. Similarly, I held up my staff and examined it. I noticed a white glow begin to come off it, while I did nothing.
‘Oh, not now…’ I thought, ‘Please, please not now…’
“Marcia! What’re you doing?” James cried as the glow stretched out above our heads.
I frowned. “Um, don’t ask and step back.”
“Okay then…” James’ tone was bewildered.
Like that, the glow extended so that it absorbed me. I shut my eyes tight, heard a gasp from James, and then as I just heard a slow, liberating silence opened them and blinked.
“Yeah? What’re you going to say to me now?” I demanded at the blackness that surrounded me. My hand felt cold and numb without my staff, and the rest of me felt venerable
“Oh, Marcia. You can’t always depend on that staff of yours, you know.”
I snarled, “I can still do so much without it, you know!”
“He he he. Oh really? As much as you can with it?”
“You know, my only way here is through that staff.”
“So true. So right, as always. Now Marcia, again, I plead that you… how should I say…”
“Socialise?” I grunted.
“Ha. Marcia, what you have to do you’re perfectly capable of, just not alone. That mortal boy… you need to open up to him. What’s in the past is in the past.”
“I’ll show you what’s in the past…” I muttered.
“I’m sure you will.”
“So that’s it? No preaching to me about saving Julia?”
“Yes, yes, I’m getting to that. I want you to travel to the Castle of Sapphire. It’s due west, about two miles from where you and the mortal boy sleep.”
And then, I fell into that cold, hard slumber.
Wake up, Marcie, come on, wake up…
My eyes opened with a start. The first thing that caught my eye was a cloaked figure leaning down towards a sack of supplies. It was rummaging through there, looking for something. Stealing.
James had fallen asleep on the floor. I poked him with my staff (hello again!) until he came round and frowned at me, but upon noticing the cloak, narrowed his eyes.
“Who goes there?” I snapped, with poised, regal authority.
The cloak flinched and looked at me, and through the hood I saw the frightened face of a young girl, no older than thirteen. She trembled at me, her purple eyes wide with terror. You couldn’t see a centimetre above them
“Who are you?” I shouted.
“I…” escaped her mouth, but that was all before she covered her face and began to cry.
“Who are you?” I repeated harshly, but again got no answer.
“Wait, Marcia, stop it.” James reasoned, holding up his hand at me and edging towards the girl. He lightly felt her cloaked shoulders and bent down to look at her, pulling her hands away from her face. She began to calm down a little. “Hello.” he said softly, “What is your name?”
“L…” she began after a while, but then quickly gave up on talking and burst into tears again.
“Sh, it’s okay… What’s your name? I’m James.”
“Lera…” she whispered. “I’m Lera.”
“Well, Lera – where are your parents?” She looked up at him, her beautiful amethyst eyes shocked and sorrowful. Then cried, and cried, and cried.
“Think you hit a sore spot.” I raised an eyebrow.
“Shut up. Uh, Lera? Do you want something to eat?” She finally stopped crying and nodded. James pulled our biggest loaf of bread out of the sack and presented it to her. She looked astonished, but took a few tentative bites anyway.
“Were you hungry? Is that why you were stealing?” I asked.
The girl didn’t look up at me, but nodded.
“You shouldn’t have been stealing.” James said firmly. “You need to ask next time.”
“I’m sorry.” she whispered, crying some more.
“I know. Do you have anywhere to go?” A question that made both our jaws drop.
“You mean… stay with yo-”
“James, I’m going to have to draw the line there.”
“What? Marcia, we can’t leave her!”
“I’d love to, sir, but I don’t think your girlfriend would want me.”
“Oh, we’re just fr- companions.” he corrected himself just in time.
“I- uh, sorry.”
“S’okay.” I shrugged.
“Please Marcia, we can’t just leave her here, she’ll die! She’s starving…” James brushed away a patch of cloak to reveal a pale, stringy arm dynamically stretched by her elbow and wrist bone. As soon as he did, the girl looked away, as if she knew what was coming.
I swallowed. “Fine, fine… You can come with us, kid.” I grunted reluctantly.
“Lera.” James reminded me.
“Lera, then.” I added.
Oh, gee. My challenge of saving Julia intensified, plus a ten-year-old on my hands. Just what I needed.
Chapter 3 – Laughter and Tears
“Hey, Lera, why don’t you take the cloak off?” James asked as we strode across the shiny, dew-kissed grass. We weren’t too far from the temple of what’s-it; we had set off just as morning broke. The ground still sank when you stepped on it, as last night had poured a little, but it was pretty warm now.
Lera shook her head quickly and gathered it up closer to her chest, her hood drooping over her face.
“Okay then… Hey!” he shouted, as his foot made contact with cool muddy water. We looked down and saw that in front of us lay a marsh, which progressed into a river, which progressed into a lake, too long to swim through. It stretched right into the distance, and James raised an eyebrow at me and said, “Please tell me we don’t need to cross that.”
I smiled half way, “We don’t need to cross that.” James looked relieved, then I said, “We need to cross that.”
“Why did you just say we didn’t?”
“Because you wanted me to.” I grinned, with my casual smugness.
Lera, get this: looked at the conversation and smiled. SMILED. Like, her face was happy. Her purple eyes blinked and I saw the tiniest sparkle in them.
“I can’t swim that far.” James commented.
“I know.” I nodded, super-excited to do what I was about to. “Stand straighter.” I said, and held up my staff to my face and shut my eyes.
Then, like it always had when I tried new spells, concentration absorbed my brain and I thought of nothing else. I felt my staff get warmer with every second, and eventually burn my hands, but I held on. But then came the point where you could just let go of all that energy, release it, when I opened my eyes and directed it to James.
At first, I couldn’t see him for red light, but then, two white objects sprouted out of his back. The light faded and he looked up. First at me, then at the grey feathered wings he had just acquired.
“Like ‘em?” I asked as he turned around to examine them.
“They’re pretty nice…” he said airily, shocked, then, “Is this how you… have wings?”
“Nope, mine are natural.” I said proudly. “Lera?”
She shook her cloaked head firmly, then gathered her cloak in front of herself to reveal tawny feathered wings, speckled with white.
“Oh, James, is she a…”
“Lera? You’re a falcon?”
Lera nodded, looking a little concerned. “I would’ve told you sooner, but…”
“Oh, it’s okay, we really don’t mind.” I smiled sweetly, surprising myself with my own sudden warmness. I couldn’t honestly place my finger on what provoked my outburst, but I was guessing it was something to do with how worried she looked – wondering what our reaction would be. Probably because, I’d been there before. Where you don’t want people to know what you really are, because you can never predict them. Sometimes they’ll surprise you pleasantly. Sometimes they won’t. I don’t want to say any more than that.
“Marcia?” asked James, looking kind of surprised at me himself, “Just to be sure… I’m FLYING over this?”
I rolled my eyes, “No James, I gave you wings so you could scoop out a tunnel under it with them.”
James cringed. Lera – get this – laughed at my sarcasm. LAUGHED.
“Wow! Did I just get a smile out of you?”
Lera giggled, her eyes brought to life. It was weird. It felt brilliant – sickly sweet, warm, fuzzy.
“Okay,” I said quickly, not wanting to get sidetracked. “You’ll pick flying up soon enough… Just open them, and flap. Pretty simple.”
James looked slightly bewildered, but nodded and cautiously opened his wings and beat them together.
“Yeah, uh, harder than that.”
He flapped quickly and rose a little, then yelped and hit the ground with a hard thump.
“And keep doing it.”
James smiled slightly, then stretched his wings fully and banged them at his sides and hovered. He shut his eyes tightly, his legs dangling awkwardly.
“Yeah, let’s give this a go.”
“Right… And how do I go forward?” James asked as he hovered mid-air.
“You have to point forward with your body. Keep flapping!” I winced as he nearly fell on his stomach.
“That’s good. Keep doing that. And make yourself more aerodynamic.”
After half an hour of flying, we saw the ground below us, and Lera and I gracefully swooped down.
James, however, in an attempt to copy us, held out his wings and stopped flapping. Let’s just say, if Lera and I hadn’t sprung to the rescue, he would’ve been pulp by now.
I caught him at his side just in time, and Lera grabbed the other.
I sighed and looked up in relief, and-
Wait… relief? Since when would I be relieved for James? Did I care about him all of a sudden?
Our feet hit the ground suddenly as we wandered down, quickly snapping me back into the real world.
No, Marcia, you don’t care about James. You know what happens when you follow that path. Same goes for Lera.
“We, uh, need to get to the Castle of Sapphire.” I had explained to them where we needed to go earlier, but not why.
“Okay,” James panted in shock. “I’m walking.” he said, purposefully.
I nodded understandingly, but didn’t take off his wings;
A) Because we didn’t know when we might need to take off, and
B) Because I wasn’t entirely sure how.
“Lera? Are you hungry yet? We can eat now if you like.” James asked as Lera marched forward.
This was… This was strange, because for some reason, I didn’t object to him being willing to slow us down for Lera’s sake. In fact, I supported it.
“No, I’m fine.” she said as we caught up to her with two steps.
“Really? I mean, we haven’t eaten since we got up.” I reasoned. She looked at me, confused, as I smiled. James looked sort of baffled too. Was me being nice really that shocking?
Lera shook her head finally, and sighed. “I would really like to get there.”
“Um… Fine.” I said, but sounding unsure, like I was asking a question.
We trudged onward for what seemed like hours, when Lera stopped dead in her tracks.
“Lera?” I asked, bending down to look at her face, though her hood was still in the way. I saw her face, streaked with tears, and she let out a distraught gag.
“That’s it.” she said solemnly, “We’re here.”
I followed her gaze. Sure enough, we were.
Chapter 4 – The Castle of Sapphire
It was… breathtaking? Awesome? Enchanting? I could go on for hours, but I won’t because there is slightly more to say here.
Like, how it was just like any other castle, save the heart-shaped sapphire hanging from the arched double doors as tall as me. And how the blue light it shed across everywhere was just about blinding. And how, after she had taken this in, Lera spread out her wings and took off towards it.
“Wait!” James and I cried in unison, but she ignored us completely. Sighing, I turned to face James.
“You stay here. I’ll go after her.” And, with a beautiful FWOOSH as my amazing wings broke the sound barrier, I took off.
“Lera?” I panted. Wow, this kid was fast. I was half a decade older than her, and I was struggling to keep up. “Could you…” (gasp) “possibly…” (gasp) “slow down?”
Lera’s eyes remained ahead, but, not at all to my expectation, she fanned out her wings as to slow down a little.
“Thanks.” I sighed, flapping. “How do you go that fast?”
“I don’t know.” she sighed, “Motivation, I guess.”
She gave a distraught croak, and then quickly shot off into the horizon like her life depended on it. Which, in the long run, it kind of did.
I knew there was no point in trying to keep up with her, so, adrenaline pumping through my body like blood does, I whipped out my staff and-
Yes! It worked! Ha ha! I didn’t know how easily I’d be able to teleport from the air, but judging from where I was standing (right in front of the castle) it wasn’t much different from teleporting INTO the air, which was a breeze.
“Wow.” I said bluntly, gazing at the sapphire, holding my arm over my eyes. It was even more striking up close. Dizzying, almost.
A choked gasp came from behind me. I swung around to see Lera’s confused expression as she tried to connect the dots. “Teleportation.” I explained, holding out my staff to introduce further clarity.
“Oh.” she murmured, looking up at the sapphire, like anyone would do, but it didn’t seem to faze her.
“Okay, let’s bust this thing ope-”
“Wait!” Lera cried.
“What?” I turned my head with one eyebrow raised.
“H-hey! I think I’m getting the hang of this!” James waved from overhead, flapping clumsily.
He wasn’t, but, as not to rain on his parade, we kept our mouths shut. “So, um, we need to find some way of breaking into this…?” I held up my staff in my typical position, and I felt the metal burn as a red light appeared over the orb at the top.
“I know how to get in.” Lera gulped.
“Um…” I was sceptical, but James nodded encouragingly at me behind Lera, so I rolled my eyes and said, “Do your worst.”
Sighing, I watched as she fluttered right up to the sapphire and placed her hand over it. “Where’s this going?” I whispered. Lera probably heard, but acted like she hadn’t. She kept her eyes focused on the jewel, and gradually, I noticed a slight glow begin to emit from it. I watched as it got bigger and bigger, and then finally, prickled with blue until my eyes hurt. A rumbling started inside the castle, and the double doors at the front slowly opened forwards.
“I-” I exhaled.
Lera nodded, folding her arms sternly. I fixed my eyes on the floor, and ventured towards the entrance. “Whoa,” I panted. “It’s just a ruin.” It was merely stone wall after stone wall, embroidered with the odd gargoyle sitting atop a stone pillar.
“I, um,” Lera started, then, flying, set off through an archway at the end of the room.
“Lera!” I yelled, spreading my wings, taking no notice of James who was skulking gingerly on the ground, and tried to follow her. “Lera?” I whispered, hovering, when I came to clearing and couldn’t see her anywhere. It was a massive building. Chances were, I never saw her again.
That was when a red flicker of light appeared over a staircase. I glanced at my staff. As ever, it sat innocently in my hands. I gave a sigh that was more of a growl, clasping it tightly, heading after the light.