Chetera Moswid is still as a stone across from me, his forehead deeply furrowed and his chin resting against his chest. Even in sleep, he looks stern and disapproving.
Incurring punishment isn’t a novelty for me, but this, this being watched and followed every waking moment, is true oppression. At least Chetera Moswid is old enough to doze off during his afternoon shift.
I shake my head and stop scrubbing the stones of the courtyard, keeping an eye on him to see if he wakes from the sudden silence. A light snore echoes off the stone walls, and I breathe a heavy sigh of relief. Finally.
With a glance around to make sure no one else is watching, I dart out of the courtyard and head for the kitchens. There are old passageways through the walls that the Chetera haven’t used since they stopped letting outsiders inside the monastery, which makes them the perfect hideaway.
I drag my fingers along the cool surface until I feel the loose stone I’m looking for. Rocking it back and forth, it wiggles inward enough that I can just get my fingers beside it to reach the mechanism inside. With an audible groan that makes me wince, the lever releases – an adult-sized space of the wall pushes backward and slides to the side, a blast of air rustling over my face and over my hair as I turn to make sure that I’m not being followed.
Suddenly, a hand grips my shoulder and pulls me back through the passageway. I stifle a yelp before the doorway clicks back into place, and the darkness envelops me.
I shrug off his hand and spin around, my eyes adjusting to the gloom to make out the grin on Wodahs face.
“Took you long enough.” He says, his eyes sparkling with mischief. “Those Chetera getting to be too much for you, Eran?”
I roll my eyes. “Please. I can handle the Chetera just fine.”
“What did you bring me today? And if you say ‘ystan root,’” he steps back, scrunching his face and holding his hand up between us, “I’ll throw you right back out that door. Getting caught by the Chetera is better than that assault on my tastebuds.” He grips his throat, his eyes rolling back theatrically as he mock gags.
“Let’s see,” I pull a small pack out from under my shirt and pretend to peruse the contents, keeping it out of his reach, “yes, yes, we have a dinner roll, a slab of merca cheese -”
“Ooh,” Wodahs grabs my arm as he tries to see, “is that the light green stuff that melts? That stuff tastes better than eonhy sweet drops.”
“Yes, it’s your favorite, right?”
Wodahs nods eagerly, licking his lips.
“Good. Save that for last then because here we have some lovely ystan root.”
Wodahs pulls back from, his eyes narrowed as I pull out the bright yellow bulb. I can’t say I blame him if he throws it out. It’s a stringy vegetable that smells warm, sweet, and spicy but tastes so bitter that it will leave your tongue numb for hours. Unfortunately, it’s also the best food source of energy that the Faye have found on this planet, making it a regular presence at mealtimes.
“Fine,” he grumbles, “but I’m only not throwing you, and your ystan root, out that door because you brought me merca cheese.”
“Works for me.”
That night I lie awake in my bed, waiting to make sure that all the other children are asleep before I dare to stir. After my last late-night adventure, the Chetera have taken turns guarding both our bedroom door and the courtyard below my window.
Thad used to occupy the bunk next to mine, but I haven’t seen him outside of class for weeks. I’ve been labeled a bad influence, and since my best friend has shown promise in his academic studies, they’re keeping him far from me. We’re not even allowed to sit together for meals anymore.
My new bunk-neighbor is the biggest loudmouth of the monastery, Fowlyrc. Thank the Light that he’s a deep sleeper. Otherwise, my ears would be ringing all night long.
I sit up and swing my legs over the edge of my bed. Fowlyrc continues to snore, so I take a deep breath and creep over to the door. I press my ear to it and listen for the Chetera on the other side. They switch off at midnight, which is my only opportunity to sneak out while they chat at the end of the hallway.
Soon enough, I have my chance. I take a deep breath and close my eyes. Concentrating on the energy focused in my light orb, I picture it flowing to my right shoulder and down my arm, to my fingertips. The warm feel of it travels through my veins and causes my skin to tingle. Another deep breath and I press my fingers against the lock, pushing my light energy inside the mechanism.
My hand begins to shake, and I feel beads of sweat collecting at my temples. I squeeze my closed lids tighter and imagine the lock full of my energy, turning the lever to unlock the door…
There’s a soft click, and I sag against the door, allowing my energy to recede to my orb with a sigh of relief. Then I swing the door open and step into the hallway, glancing to my left to make sure the Chetera are still occupied before closing the door and hurrying down the hallway in the opposite direction.
“You’re going to be in so much trouble when they find out.” Wodahs shakes his head at me while he shoves his hands into his pockets, warming them against the chill of the old passageway.
I huff beside him as we near the potion master’s study, the puff of breath visible in the cold air. “They’re not going to find out.”
Wodahs eyes seem to glint in the dark as he turns to me with a chuckle. “Is that so? And how do you expect to hide the fact that you’ve been using your light energy?”
He draws himself up and puffs his chest out, stroking an imaginary beard of impressive length. “Darkness take you, boy, if you meddle with your orb before you’ve been taught. Dim-brained oaf of a child – most troublesome…”
I jab his shoulder to interject, but an icy finger of dread trails up my spine, and I shiver. I turn around to look behind us. My eyes narrowed as I scan the passageway.
“What are you-” Wodahs’ voice cuts off, his eyes widening in shock while we both watch a figure materialize in the dark. His eyes swirl to a dangerous black, and his hands begin to glow a faint purple as he pulls his energy to the forefront.
The figure stops, his face blurred by the shadows.
I clear my throat and stand straighter, taking a step ahead of Wodahs. “Who are you? What do you want?”
“Er?” The voice is uncertain, but I would recognize that tone anywhere.
“Thad? Thank the light!” I breathe a heavy sigh of relief, and Thad shuffles closer, his steps cautious. I turn to Wodahs and pat his shoulder reassuringly. “It’s alright. He can keep a secret.”
Thad’s arms are crossed over his chest, and his narrowed eyes scan over Wodahs with critical assessment. “And what secret might you be?”
Wodahs cocks his head and raises an eyebrow. “Aren’t you supposed to be the smart one? What do you think I am?”
“Er,” Thad grabs my shoulder, ignoring Wodahs, “you need to stop this. Come with me now, and I won’t tell anyone.”
I grip his shoulder, shaking him slightly as I stare into his eyes, willing him to understand. “I can’t leave him, Thad. Wodahs is my friend, and I’m going to help him.”
Wodahs steps closer. “Think about it; I’m the only one that can really get hurt here.”
I nod. “Trust me, Thad. Please.”
Thad makes a strangled sound before nodding. “You know I do.”
I sigh in relief and pull Thad into a hug, relieved to have my best friend back by my side. When I pull away, he pats my shoulder with a grin, but his eyes flick toward Wodahs, and his face shifts to a blank expression. They give each other a short nod, and I know they’re still far from being friends.
“So,” I gesture my thumb toward the study, “I’ve been sneaking Wodahs in there to teach him what I remember from school.”
Thad raises an eyebrow but stays silent, waiting for me to continue.
Wodahs chuckles, a grin spreading over his face. “Yeah, but that’s not the interesting part.”
Please don’t antagonize him, Wodahs… I fight back a grimace when Wodahs eyes sparkle with a mischievous glint.
Thad glances at me before turning back to Wodahs. “And what would that be?”
Wodahs prods Thad’s ribs with his elbow and gives him a conspiratory wink. “The potions, of course.”
Thad’s pupils widen, and his face blanches. “P-potions?” His hoarse whisper sounds choked, and I shift my feet uncomfortably.
“Wodahs was interested, so I, uh, showed him a few things. Nothing like you could show him, but he is gifted. Like you.” I know I’m rambling, but I need to explain before Wodahs pushes Thad over the edge.
Wodahs opens a mouth, but I shoot him a glare and shake my head. By some miracle, he closes his mouth with a shrug, letting me take the lead.
“It, uh, might be easier if we just show you, Thad. I think you’ll be impressed with the potion he made.”
Thad lets out a long breath and nods his head slowly. “Alright. I’ll go with you, but I do want to know what it is.”
“It stops time.” Wodahs grins, and I nearly facepalm. So close…
“Time?” Thad stands straighter, his eyes lighting up with interest despite his hesitation. He rubs his palms together. “Show me.”
“That’s more like it, brainy.” Wodahs swings his arm over Thad’s shoulder and herds him to the next doorway.
“Incredible,” Thad sounds breathless, making Wodahs grin as he shows off his potion.
“I know. Imagine what this could be used for!”
Thad’s eyes are bright, and he rocks on his heels in excitement. “I have so many ideas – so many ways we could tweak it.”
I nod along with a grin when they explain their plans to me. Most of it sounds like another language, but it’s great to see them getting along.
Suddenly, Wodahs head jerks up, his eyes wide and swirling with his black energy. He gestures to us and blows out the candle. “Shhh,” grabbing us, he pulls us underneath the potion master’s desk.
The wooden door creaks as it swings open in the darkness. I hold my breath and wait for someone to light the lamp or a candle, but they don’t. A pair of footsteps pad over to our hiding place. I see his worn boots and the tips of his wings brush the floor just inches away from my feet.
I turn to look at the others. Thad’s face is blank, his eyes wide, but Wodahs seems sick. His body is shaking, his eyes screwed closed, and his knuckles are white from gripping the vial of potion in his hand.
I squeeze Wodahs’ hand, and he opens his eyes to look at me. He mouths two words that make my heart jump to my throat: Dark Faye.
The sound of rustling paper makes me look back out. I can’t see much from this angle, but it seems like the Dark Faye is looking for something, and he isn’t careful about it. I hold back a gasp when he knocks over an ancient tome, and it lands in front of our hiding place. My heart is pounding so loudly in my ears that I’m sure the Faye must hear it.
Where are the Chetera? Why isn’t anyone coming?
The footsteps start to walk by us and then pause. The Faye drums his fingers on the desk above us, a deep chuckle reverberating in the silence, causing shivers to run down my spine.
A hand grips my shirt and tugs me out from under the desk, pulling me up to his eye level. I’ve never seen eyes that black before – like two black stones – cold and hard. I kick at his chest, and he shakes me.
“What a fascinating orb you have,” there’s a flash of light as he pulls a dagger from his waist, “let’s get a closer look, shall we?” My pulse hiccups when the blade nears my throat. I have to do something.
The Faye suddenly staggers back, nearly dropping me. I glance over to see Thad springing back to his feet with the fallen tome in his hands, ready to charge again. The Faye just chuckles.
His hand gripping my shirt turns burning hot, and I can feel the energy coming off of him in waves, rippling the air around me and filling my nose with a cloyingly sweet smell. His other hand whips out – the black energy trickling through his fingertips –
“NO!” I grip his neck with both my hands and push my energy up and out. It answers me faster than ever before, and my hands light up with a purple glow.
A horrible screech echoes in my ears before I’m thrown to the side, smashing into a wooden shelf before falling to the ground with a painful thud. I look up to see the Dark Faye lunge at me, but he stops – frozen in mid-air.
I suck in a burning gulp of air when Wodahs walks around the frozen man, his empty hands still shaking as he hurries over to me. Thad ducks around as well, and they reach me together, pulling me up on my shaky legs and engulfing me in a hug.
The door bursts open, and the Chetera come streaming through with their swords drawn, their eyes and hands glowing with light energy. Thad and I pull Wodahs behind us as their eyes scan over the Dark Faye and then us. Chetera Moswid steps ahead of them with narrowed eyes as he thrusts his sword back into its sheath with a huff.
“Eran Faye. Why am I not surprised?” He sighs before walking up to the frozen Faye, his brows furrow deeper than I’ve ever seen, and he motions to the other Chetera. “What is this? How-” He grips his sword’s hilt again when he glances back at us. “Step away from that boy. Both of you.”
“No.” Thad steps forward, his hands clenched at his sides and his chin up. “Wodahs saved us. If it wasn’t for him, that Dark Faye would have escaped with manuscripts.”
Chetera Moswid’s eyebrows meet up with his hairline in surprise. “And how did you manage that, Wodahs?”
Wodahs steps out from behind us. “I stopped time.”
“I owe him my life.” I clasp Wodahs’ shoulder and stand beside him. “If you throw him out, then I’m going to.”
Chetera Moswid sighs before grabbing my hands and turning them over, examining my palms. I’m surprised to see the concern etched all over his face when he reaches for my chest, and I flinch away, hissing at the burning pain. My legs tremble, but I push out my chin and grit my teeth. I will not fall over until I know Wodahs is safe.
“Always so stubborn, Eran,” he ruffles my hair with a grin. “Wodahs can stay if he can keep up with school and training like the rest of you.”
I nearly fall over from shock, but then he’s standing back up, and his face is back to its usual expression. I turn to see Wodahs’s mouth hanging open, and Thad is pumping the air before slapping him on the back.
I stumble over to throw my arms around both of them. “Welcome home, Wodahs.”