Different Alycia Linwood
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Copyright © 2014 by Alycia Linwood First Printing, 2014 Cover Stock Images Copyright: ©Bigstock.com All rights reserved. No part of this novel may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the prior permission in writing from the author.
ISBN-13: 978-1499247831 ISBN-10: 1499247834
I dedicate this book to my awesome readers. Thank you for your support! A big thanks to my beta readers and editors. I donâ€™t know what I would do without you all!
Chapter 1 My textbook clattered to the ground, drawing the attention of my friends who were bent over their own books. “Sorry,” I muttered as I reached for the book, glad that we were the only ones in the university’s library. If there were someone else, they’d have kicked me out already. My textbook was just out of my reach, so I focused on the spark of energy inside of me and called my element. A gust of air sent the book flying up and threw it onto the table with so much force that papers fluttered away. “Moira!” Cassandra threw her hands up, her brown eyes giving me a deathly glare. “If you’re bored, there’s your way out.” She made a show of pointing in the direction of the glass door. “Cass, come on.” Isabel shook her blonde head. “We need a break anyway.”
“She doesn’t have to show off with her element,” Cassandra grumbled. “Some of us aren’t so lucky to have a pure element and get good grades in Magic Studies, so we need to ace the rest of our exams.” Isabel spread her lips into a little O and raised her eyebrows. “Yeah, we definitely need a break.” “Sorry. I’m just… nervous.” Cassandra rubbed her hand over her face, letting her long curly brown hair shield her eyes. “Here.” Isabel handed her a bag of chocolate cookies. “This should help.” “Thanks.” Cassandra’s face immediately brightened up as she grabbed the bag and popped one cookie into her mouth. “You shouldn’t worry,” Isabel laughed and nudged Cassandra on the arm. “You pass every exam!” I weighed the book in my hand, chewing on my lip. “What’s wrong with you today?” Isabel turned to me, her green eyes narrowed. “Nothing,” I said, but Isabel’s eyebrows shot upward. “Okay. I’ve been thinking about something and… I just…” “Thinking about what?” Isabel snatched the cookie bag out of Cassandra’s hand, who huffed in indignation and tried to get it back. “What if people could have more than one
element?” I held my breath as they both stared at me. “I mean, healthy elementals like us.” Isabel was the first to burst out laughing. “What have you been smoking? Umm, I mean, reading? Books are your drug of choice.” The truth was I hadn’t been reading anything. Well, yeah, I might have read a couple of fiction books about that topic some time ago, but something inexplicable had happened to me today and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. “Does it matter? Don’t you think it would be cool to have more than one element?” “Umm, how about no?” Cassandra rolled her eyes. “The only reason I don’t completely despise element preservers is because they have that nasty disease that turns them into murderers and messes up their whole lives.” “But what if you could have another element too?” I wasn’t about to let go so easily, even though I understood Cassandra’s dislike of the idea. Our university no longer accepted only those who had a pure element, but there still weren’t many students who had a weak element or a sub-element like Cassandra’s. “And what would I do with two weak elements?” she bit out. “Are you kidding me? There’s nothing weak about your whirlwind. Trust me.” I slammed the book on the
table, making everyone jump. “So what if it’s classified as a weaker air?” “Easy for you to say. I can do stuff with my whirlwind, but I’ll never be able to do half of what you guys can do,” Cassandra pouted. Isabel leaned forward, twirling a blonde strand of her hair around her finger. “Honestly, I don’t want any elementals to have more than one element. It just complicates things. If mixing of elements created magic disease, just imagine what mixing of more elements would do. Besides, it’s not like we can suddenly develop another element out of nowhere. How would that even work?” She frowned, then shrugged. “Who cares? My family has a pure element, so it’s not like I can develop another one. If I can’t have it, no one can.” “You’re right.” I forced myself to smile, clenching my hands in my lap so no one would see that I was shaking. “But if our world were different and we all had more elements…” “And what if we didn’t have any elements? Like, not a single person on the planet with an element or even a very weak element?” Isabel lowered her voice, giving us all a look under her eyelashes. “Now that’s a horror story.” I gave them a weak smile as they burst out laughing. Pressing my finger to my temple, I tried to fight off a
sudden wave of heat that seemed to envelop me. There was no point in telling my friends what I’d seen. They’d call me crazy or delusional. Only one person could help me with my problem. Stuffing the book in my black leather bag, I sprang to my feet. “I have to go,” I said, meeting the surprised looks of my friends. “I need to help my mom with something. See you around.” “Sure.” Isabel eyed me suspiciously. I waved them goodbye and hurried to the door before anyone could ask me anything. My mind kept replaying the events of this morning. I could see myself sitting up in the bed, but when I looked down, blue fire erupted from my fingertips, spreading around my arm all the way to the elbow. I panicked and jumped up, trying to shake off the fire, even though I couldn’t feel it. The sensation of using my element was there, but fire wasn’t my element and this wasn’t something I could do with my air. The fire disappeared a moment later, leaving me dumbfounded. For all I knew, what I’d seen was only a dream. No matter how much I found the idea of having another element intriguing, I knew blue fire didn’t exist. Regular fire, yes, but blue? No way. Another terrible thought gripped my insides and wouldn’t let go. What if I was developing magic disease? What if this wasn’t about
getting another element, but losing my own instead? I had to talk to my mom as soon as possible. Luckily, my parents and I lived in a house that was only five minutes away from the university. I wouldnâ€™t have to wait for long to get my answers.
Chapter 2 “I can’t help but think there is something seriously wrong with me,” I said, glad to be back to the safety of my own room. My mother sighed, running her hand through her long blonde curls. “There’s nothing wrong with you, honey. It was just a dream. You were half-awake and thought it was real. That’s all.” I shook my head, pacing up and down the room. “I wasn’t dreaming. I was fully awake and my hand was glowing with blue fire.” I met her blue eyes, which had a streak of green in them. “You have to believe me.” She looked away, licking her lips. “I believe you saw something, but I’m not sure what.” Crossing her legs, she leaned back in one of my fluffy blue chairs. “What can you tell me about the fire? There has to be an explanation for what you saw.” My mom is a scientist at
one of the most renowned research facilities that deals with elemental magic and magic disease. If anyone knew what was wrong with me, it would be her. I stopped in the middle of the room and focused on the blue wall in front of me, trying to recall all the details of this morning’s bizarre event. “I told you already. My fingers were glowing and a blue fire spread across my arm. Then it went away,” I frowned. “My arm was tingling, but I didn’t feel warm or cold. It just… I don’t know. It was as if I were using my element.” I looked at my mom, realizing her slender form had gone completely still. If it weren’t for the movement of her chest, I’d have thought she’d stopped breathing. “Mom? Are you okay?” I knelt in front of her, my heart thudding loudly in my chest. “Have you heard of this happening before? Please tell me you know something.” “No, I…” She rubbed her eyes. “I’ve never heard of anything like that.” I chewed on the inside of my cheek. My mom would never lie to me, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t anyone who knew what was happening to me. “What if this is some new symptom of magic disease? I mean, Dad is a carrier. I could have inher…” “No,” my mom said, her eyes narrowing. “I oversaw the process of manipulating your genes before you were born so you wouldn’t inherit the disease.” Her
hand found mine and squeezed. “I assure you nothing went wrong with the process. You are a normal, healthy elemental.” “But…” I trusted my mom, but I also knew how much she hated failures. She’d dedicated her life to finding a cure for magic disease, but despite all the good things she’d helped to discover, the cure was still out of everyone’s reach. If she found out something had gone wrong with my genetic manipulation, she’d freak out. “Mom, that was eighteen years ago. The process was still in testing and…” “Honey.” Her eyes softened. “I know this is a stressful period for you, but you’ll do great.” “This is not about university.” Having my first exams at university was a scary experience and I did worry about it, but why would any of it trigger a dream or a hallucination about blue fire? “It’s okay to be afraid,” she said, a smile breaking out on her face. “When I was your age, we didn’t even know how to use our elements, so learning everything in only four or five years of university was pretty difficult. We had less course options too.” I sat back on my heels, hoping I wasn’t in for another history lesson. When my mom was my age, things had been very different. No one was allowed to use their element in public until they finished university,
although that rule, as my mom liked to point out, was usually ignored. But still, learning how to use elemental magic hadn’t been possible in high school, like it was nowadays. “I know, Mom, but I’m good at controlling my air. I don’t think I’ll be failing Magic Studies.” She raised an eyebrow at me, an amused look in her eyes. “Oh, really?” “Yeah.” I grinned at her, calling to my element and creating a light breeze to ruffle my long brown hair for a dramatic effect. A knock sounded on the door and I glanced over my shoulder in its direction. “Come in.” My father’s blond head poked through the open door. “Am I interrupting something?” I got to my feet and found a silver bracelet on my nightstand. Slipping the bracelet on my wrist, I faced my dad. The tension left his shoulders as soon as the bracelet was in place. My dad was a magic disease carrier which meant that he could feel my, or any other healthy elemental’s, element unless the said elemental wore an element-blocking bracelet. Feeling other people’s elements wasn’t the only symptom of magic disease, though. Magic disease carriers craved elements so much that they could turn into mindless killers who stole elements from people’s dying bodies. Luckily for my mom and me, my dad was in good control of his disease.
“Moira, are you alright? I could swear you looked terrified for a second.” My dad’s blue eyes looked me up and down. “Yeah, I just realized that I can’t have magic disease because you can feel my element, and carriers can’t feel each other’s elements.” Most magic disease carriers didn’t have an element, but some could keep their own or taken elements for a long, long time. Still, a carrier couldn’t sense an element that wasn’t in a body of a healthy elemental. “What’s going on here?” A puzzled look crossed my dad’s face. “Why are you talking about magic disease? You know your mom did everything to…” “Yeah, yeah, but something happened to me when I woke up this morning and I can’t stop thinking about it.” Seriously, having a blue fire on your arm wasn’t something that could easily be forgotten. “Our daughter thinks she saw a blue fire on her arm,” my mom chuckled. “Sounds like a dream to me. What do you think?” My dad tilted his head and scratched his chin. “Hmm, that’s a tough one. Let me see. We have four main elements, but neither air, fire, water nor earth lets you use blue fire. Mist, ice, whirlwind, and dust are subelements so definitely not strong enough. Dreams, on the other hand… Yep, anything possible there.”
I shot an annoyed glare to my parents. “So you think I’m delusional? Great.” “Not at all, sweetie,” my dad said, patting me on the shoulder. “You just had a lucid dream. It happens.” “But what if I have some new element no one ever heard about? Stranger things have happened.” I gave him a hopeful look. So far, the only ones who could have more than one element were element preservers, but they also had magic disease and had to take someone else’s element first. Healthy elementals could never have more than one element. “Prove it,” my dad laughed. “Show us this new element, so we can see for ourselves.” I bit down on my lip. “I…” I’d only tried to bring back the blue fire about a hundred times and it hadn’t worked. Why would it work now? I raised my eyebrows at my dad, worried that my element would bother him too much. “I’ll be fine.” He gave me an encouraging smile. I took off the bracelet and focused on my arm. I had no idea what I was supposed to do. Reaching inside me for elemental energy, all I could find was a familiar sensation of my air. My arm didn’t change at all, let alone get enveloped in blue fire. I swore under my breath.
“Honey, it’s okay,” my mom said, getting up. “You don’t need another element.” “I know I don’t need it, but…” I shook my head, unsure of what to think. Maybe what I’d seen was just a dream after all. “Paula, how about we order some pizza?” My dad snaked his arm around my mom’s waist. “Sure.” She looked at me. “What do you think? Would some pizza cheer you up?” Pizza could cheer me up anytime. “Yeah, why not?” “You should get some rest,” my mom said, following my dad to the door. “I can teach you a couple of new tricks that you can do with your element. Something they don’t teach you at schools and universities.” She winked at me. I grinned from ear to ear as I put my bracelet back onto my wrist. “Thanks!” I wondered if there was a way to have awkward dreams just so my mom would show me more awesome stuff I could do with my element. Warmth spread through my body in a wave, sweat beading my forehead. I swayed on my feet and had to grasp the edge of the bed to steady myself. My vision blurred as the warmth tried to push itself out of my skin. I bit back a scream as something hot grazed my fingers. “Get her bracelet off!” a voice yelled. “Now!”
Hands grabbed me, but I couldn’t fight against the warmth that was threatening to tear me apart. “Moira, look at me! Moira!” Something thudded to the ground and the warmth left my body in a whoosh. I blinked back the tears, staring at a giant black spot on the wall. My hand flew to my mouth. “Oh my God, Mom!” I looked up at her in panic. “It’s okay, sweetie. Just breathe.” She helped me sit down on the bed, her hand caressing mine. Dad was nowhere in sight, but that was not surprising. Whatever had happened to me, it was of elemental nature. He couldn’t have stayed, or he might have attacked me because of his disease. I spotted my silver bracelet on the floor, or at least I thought it was my bracelet because its shape was distorted as if I’d melted it. “Mom?” I searched her eyes. “What happened to me?” Sadness and anger flashed across her face, but she quickly hid any emotion. “The bracelet was blocking your element from surging out, so I had to take it off. After I did that, you sent a fireball at the wall.” “What? But how? A moment ago I couldn’t even… Was the fire blue?” I hadn’t even seen it because my whole body had felt like it was about to explode. “No, it was ordinary fire.”
My eyebrows shot upward. “Ordinary fire? But…” I shook my head. “That can’t be. Mom, how can I have fire?” Blue fire would have made more sense to me because it was something new. Something I hadn’t seen before. Ordinary fire was… well, ordinary. “I must have done something wrong.” She looked at her hands, her voice cracking only a little, but it was enough for me to notice. “The genetic manipulation was… all new to us, and I guess you somehow inherited your father’s element.” “My father’s element? But he doesn’t have an element,” I gaped at her. “Oh. You mean I inherited the element he would have had if he didn’t have the disease?” My brain was unusually slow today, but hey, it wasn’t every day that I discovered I was some sort of a weird elemental. “I believe that’s exactly what happened, even though I’m not sure how.” My mom tilted her head. “I don’t understand. We need to run some tests. You could be developing the disease along with the element.” “Well, I don’t understand it either. All I know is that I have two elements when I should have only one.” My fingers were slightly trembling. Having two elements sounded like a lot of fun, but what if there were other consequences, like magic disease? What if I’d soon start craving other people’s elements? I took a deep breath. If
my father could do it, then I could do it too. Except he’d spent half of his life in laboratories doing God knew what to get in control of himself. “I’m going to make some calls.” My mom jumped to her feet, her face pallid, her eyes distant. “You stay here and…” “Try not to burn the house to the ground?” I offered her a shy smile. “Yeah.” She blinked and crossed the room in quick strides. I watched her close the door. Did she really think I could burn the house down or hadn’t she even heard me? I pulled my feet up on the bed and rocked back and forth, trying hard not to breathe too much. I was clueless about using fire. Any fast or unexpected movements could make me lose control. Hopefully, I wasn’t turning into a dragon. How did people lose control of something they couldn’t even feel, anyway? I couldn’t tell I had fire in me. At least not yet. My air was a tingly presence deep inside of my being and I could picture myself reaching for it, but I couldn’t feel fire, which obviously didn’t mean I didn’t have it. The black spot on the wall across the room taunted me, reminding me of a smiley face that someone had twisted into a fanged creature. What was happening to me? Was this a sign I could be turning into a
monster? I forced myself to look away from the wall and chose not to believe in monsters.
Chapter 3 I woke up with the biggest headache I’d ever had. Dragging my hand across my forehead, I thought I’d burn myself because my skin was scorching. I was developing a strong dislike for my new element, and I had a feeling it didn’t like me either. The room spun around me as I pulled myself to my feet. My thin, light blue cotton T-shirt felt like an armory that weighed a ton. Sweat trickled down my back as I made my way to the door. I could hear my mom’s voice loud and clear from the downstairs. “I think you should tell her,” my dad sounded tired. I padded closer to the stairway, my feet quiet on the plush black carpet. “Ryan, I can’t,” my mom said. “Things might be different now and no one will do experiments against
anyone’s will in the lab, but I don’t want my daughter there.” “Whatever you did with her genes must have somehow produced a faulty gene, but don’t blame yourself,” he said. “Only one tiny gene is enough to trigger the disease.” “Yeah, but magic disease carriers lose their elements. They don’t gain new ones,” she hissed, probably trying to keep her voice down so I wouldn’t hear her. I wasn’t wearing an element-blocking bracelet, so my father must have noticed I’d moved from my room. He could always feel my unprotected element and track me down, just like any other carrier. “Paula, please,” he sighed. “You of all people know that everyone is born with an element even when it doesn’t show. The disease comes later. This thing with Moira could be temporary.” “Yeah, which means she could be a carrier and have the disease!” my mom yelled. “If I hadn’t…” “Mom, it’s okay.” I stepped forward so they could see me. Their heads whipped in my direction. My mother quickly brushed a tear off her cheek and tried to smile at me. My father’s eyes were wide, his jaw slack. “Moira, we didn’t hear you coming,” he said as I descended the stairs.
“I appreciate you trying to make this normal for me, but I know you can sense me.” Unless he was so distracted he’d forgotten all about my element. “No, Moira, I can’t…” He rushed toward me, pulling me into his arms. “I can’t feel you at all. Are you sure you’re not wearing any element-blocking jewelry?” “Yeah, I…” Honestly, I wasn’t sure. My head was fuzzy and I couldn’t remember if I’d taken any jewelry before falling asleep. If I had it on me, that would explain why I felt so hot. Stepping back, I let him place his hand on my cheek. “You’re burning up,” he said, his blue eyes filling with worry. “Are you alright?” “More or less.” I patted my pockets, but I couldn’t find any jewelry. “Mom, Dad, could you step away from me?” “Why?” My mom sucked in a quick breath. “I want to try to use my element and I don’t want to end up hurting you.” “Oh.” My dad backed off, his eyes never leaving mine. “It’s going to be okay, honey. Just stay calm.” I nodded, concentrating on my air. Closing my eyes, I pictured an invisible hand reaching for my element, wrapping its fingers around it. My mom had told me she always pictured a crystal ball when she used her element, but my air could never be contained in one
particular shape. I swallowed hard, refusing to think I could lose the ability to feel and use my element. If I could use my element, then nothing was blocking it. A strong breeze ruffled my hair as I unleashed my element. It whipped around me, cooling my face. The tension seeped out of my shoulders and I felt as light as a feather. The reality slammed back into me like a bricked wall as soon as I pulled my element back inside of me. I cracked one eye open. “Is everyone alive?” “Everything’s fine.” My mom closed the distance between us and pulled me into her arms, squeezing so tight that I thought I’d need to use my air again just so I could breathe. A moment later, she pulled back, her eyes swirling with wariness. “Can you feel my element or any other element nearby? I’ve taken off my bracelet.” I shook my head. “I don’t even know what someone’s element is supposed to feel like.” I doubted I could feel it like my own. My father had tried to explain it to me once, but I believed feeling other people’s elements was just one of those things that could only be experienced and not simply imagined. “You’ll know it if it happens,” my dad said. If. Not when. Maybe there was still hope that what I had wasn’t magic disease. “The symptoms don’t have to show all at once, especially in your case,” my mom said.
“So you think I have magic disease?” Just the thought of it cut me like a knife. I’d considered the possibility before, but now the threat was real. I searched my parents’ faces, willing them to tell me I was wrong. “We don’t know.” My dad’s blue eyes met mine. “But yes. It’s very likely you’re developing the disease and that the symptoms are a bit different because of the genetic manipulation.” I turned around, my throat constricting, my heartbeat ringing in my ears. “But if this is just a step toward the disease and I lose my element… What if I won’t be able to control myself? What if I…” “No, honey…” My mom’s voice cracked. “It will be fine. I promise. We’ll deal with this.” She wrapped her arms around me and I leaned into her touch. “I know,” I whispered, and for the first time in my life, I prayed to the long forgotten God of Magic to help me. If I really had the disease, then I hoped I would at least be an element preserver and keep my element since that would make it easier for me to control myself. The last thing I wanted was to hurt my family and friends. My mom pressed her lips against my hair. “We should take you somewhere safe until we know for sure what’s going on with you.”
“Safe?” I pulled myself out of her embrace and faced her. “Like where? The lab where you work?” “No. Nothing like that,” she sniffled. “I think it’s time for us to go on a vacation.” “A vacation?” My eyes widened. “But I still have one exam…” “Oh, don’t worry about that. You can do it in the fall.” Her lips spread into a smile. “What do you say?” I nodded, swallowing past the lump in my throat. If I had the disease, there was no way of telling if I’d be going back to university. “So where are we going?” “To an island,” she said, her eyes glinting with strange excitement. “Someone’s been dying to meet you.”
Chapter 4 “Did you say goodbye to your friends?” My dad strolled over to me and leaned on the rail, the wind ruffling his blond hair. “No. I couldn’t do it.” My eyes prickled with tears, so I focused on the vast sea and the barely visible contours of the city that we were leaving behind. In less than an hour, the ferry would take us to Roivenna, an island where magic disease carriers could live in peace without fearing they’d accidentally kill someone. “I couldn’t tell them that they might not see me again.” “Honey…” His eyes filled with concern as he placed his hand on my shoulder. “This is not the end of the world. You’ll see them again and you’ll go back to university. I promise.” “So who are these mysterious people Mom insists can help me?” My mom had a lot of friends, both
scientists and carriers, so I couldn’t understand why she was dragging me all the way to some island instead of taking me to a lab. It wasn’t like they’d do anything to me she didn’t want them to. “Old friends.” A small smile spread his lips. “They’re both element preservers.” “Element preservers?” I arched an eyebrow at him. “But if they’re element preservers and can keep an element despite the disease, shouldn’t they be better at controlling themselves? I thought the island is only for those who are a danger to elementals.” And if they were out of control, how could they possibly help me? It didn’t make sense. “One of them lost her elements and she couldn’t control herself. Her own element came back later, but she’s safer on the island.” “I didn’t know that was possible,” I frowned. “How did she even lose her elements?” It took a whole lot of effort to drain elements so badly that they became unusable or disappeared completely. “She drained herself during one of the fights with the government. That was back at the time when the government tried to exterminate magic disease carriers and those with weak elements.” A shadow flashed through my father’s eyes and he licked his lips. “You have to remember one thing, though. We’re going to
Roivenna to have fun and get away from the city. For all we know, this thing with your extra element is only temporary and you’ll get in control soon.” I doubted a simple vacation would fix whatever was wrong with me, but I wasn’t an expert. “Yeah, that would be awesome. I’d hate to burn down our hosts’ house.” I glanced at the silver bracelet on my wrist, glad that my second element, or whatever it was, didn’t try to push its way out of my body again. Elementals without protection weren’t allowed on the ferry and on the island, and if someone took off the element-blocking jewelry, they’d face a life in prison, provided they survived long enough to be arrested. Carries who couldn’t control themselves were pretty good at tracking down and killing unprotected elementals. “Hey, you won’t hurt anyone.” My dad’s determined eyes met mine. “But don’t take off the bracelet in public and don’t mention anything about your new element. Got it?” “Okay,” I drawled. “I don’t know why you’re telling me this now. I could have told my friends everything already. Unless you think a carrier could overhear me and try to get both of my elements.” “I’m glad you didn’t tell them. But yeah, it’s better if you don’t mention anything around the others. You don’t know who might be listening.”
“Umm, right.” I definitely didn’t want to get killed because I was talking too much. “What about Mom’s friends? Can we trust them?” He nodded. “You don’t have to be afraid. I’m sure no one will try to hurt you, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.” “Why can’t I just take off my bracelet and pretend I’m a carrier? You can no longer feel my element, so I bet other carriers won’t be able to sense me either.” I bit the inside of my cheek. Technically, I might not have to pretend that I was a carrier. Maybe I actually was one. Damn. It would take me some time to get used to that idea. “Keep the bracelet. We don’t know if you really have the disease. What if whatever you have passes and you end up a target for thousands of carriers?” He gave me a pointed look. “Right.” I looked at my feet, tapping the floor with my black sneaker. “I’ll go see if your mother needs help.” My dad flashed me a smile. I watched him as he strode to the other end of the ferry, wondering if my mom was still going through a bunch of papers that were supposed to give her the answer to what was wrong with me. A shadow at the edge of my vision caught my attention and I turned toward it.
For a second, I thought something shimmered in the air, but I couldn’t see anything. Taking a deep breath, I sat on the floor and tucked my legs underneath me. Roivenna was a beautiful island with dozens of long sandy beaches and breathtaking cliffs. Maybe I’d enjoy my stay there. “I can’t believe you’re here! It’s been so long.” A dark-haired woman with vivid brown eyes pulled my mom into a tight hug. “Too long,” my mom said through tears. My dad extended his hand to a man who had short black hair and light blue or gray eyes. “Ryan,” the man said to my dad. “Nice to see you again.” My mom pulled back and glanced at me. “Moira, come here. I want you to meet one of my very dear friends, Ria.” “Hi, Moira. Nice to finally meet you.” Ria stepped forward and put her arms around me. “Welcome to Roivenna.” “Thanks. Nice to meet you too.” I awkwardly hugged her back. “This is Adrian,” my mom said, and the blackhaired man waved at me, flashing me a wide grin. I gave him a brief nod.
“The house looks… different,” my mom said, her face radiant. I raised my eyes to look at the house that was half-hidden in the pine trees. Calling it a house was an understatement since it was big enough to look like a small apartment building. Were Adrian and Ria the only ones living in this mansion? I couldn’t imagine why they needed so much space. “Yeah, we renovated it recently. Painted the façade blue and changed the windows,” Ria said, intertwining her fingers with Adrian’s. “Looks like one of those modern homes from magazines. Are you sure you live there?” my dad chuckled. “Or is the whole thing just a prop and the real house is hiding beneath it?” “All real,” Adrian laughed. “I’m not jealous. Not at all.” My dad shrugged, his blue eyes glowing with unidentifiable emotion. “Unless that car from the photo you sent me is real too. Then I’ll be very jealous.” Adrian shot him a teasing look. “What do you think?” My dad gaped at him. “No!” “Oh, yes.” Adrian looked smug. “Let me show you.”
“Lead the way!” My father clapped his hands together and followed Adrian across the grass that led to a separate block of the house. “Adrian! Can you guys not stomp all over the grass?” Ria put her hand on her hip, an annoyed expression on her face. Adrian turned around long enough to blow her a kiss and grin at her. She rolled her eyes at him. “Let the boys play with their toys,” my mom said, looking at Ria. “We have a lot to talk about anyway.” “Yeah. I still can’t believe you’re here.” Ria’s dark brown eyes softened and the corners of her lips quirked up. “Come on. Let’s go inside.” As my mom and Ria started to climb the stairs that led to the house, I stopped to look at the pine trees on my left. I could swear something shimmered between the branches, similar to what I’d seen on the ferry. Squinting my eyes, I tried to find the source of the shimmering. “Moira!” I looked in the direction of the house and saw my mom waving at me from the doorstep. “Coming!” I yelled, glancing once again at the trees. A dark figure peeked from behind one of the trees and I yelped. He tilted his head and moved back behind the thick trunk. “Moira! What’s wrong?” my mom yelled.
“Someone is here!” I said, rooted to the spot, trying to see the mysterious man again. Why would anyone hide in the trees? “Go inside! Now!” Ria opened the door wide and ran toward me. My mom stayed at the door with no intention of moving, a perplexed look on her face. “Someone is hiding behind that tree.” I pointed my finger at it. “No one is supposed to be here. This is a private property.” Ria went down on one knee, rolling up her pant leg and revealing a gun. “You should go inside with your mom.” “Whoa.” I stepped back, eyeing the gun. My mom might trust this woman, but who the hell draws out a gun just because a person might be hiding in the trees? Obviously someone who led a dangerous life. “Are you sure it’s not one of your friends? A neighbor?” What I’d seen might be nothing. I didn’t want Ria to accidentally shoot someone because of me. “Please go inside.” Ria went closer to the trees, her gun trained in front of her. A branch snapped somewhere and she charged forward, weaving through the trees. My pulse sped up, but I refused to move. I could see Ria from where I stood and I had a chance to warn her if someone tried to sneak up on her.
Something brushed against my cheek, raising goose bumps all over my body. The air in front of me seemed to shift, which didn’t make sense whatsoever. But it was as if I were watching the world through a slightly concave glass. “Moira,” a thin voice whispered into my ear, making me jump. I looked around, wide-eyed, but didn’t see anyone except for my mom, who was coming toward me, her face serious. “It’s safe!” Ria yelled as she approached us, lowering the gun. “Whoever it was, he must have gotten away.” “Are you alright?” My mom reached out for me, concern filling her eyes. “Yeah.” I rubbed my face. Were hallucinations one of the symptoms of magic disease? Because I might be losing my mind. “Come on. Let’s get something to drink.” Ria’s face brightened up, the tension leaving her shoulders. If she thought we were safe, then there was nothing to worry about, especially if my mind was playing tricks on me. Still, as we walked to the house, I couldn’t help but glance back. Someone was out there. I just didn’t know who.
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