Where foundlings hide, p.27
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       Where Foundlings Hide, p.27

           KL Mitchelson
 
Chapter Twenty-Seven

  The flames feel both hot and cold, but the pain is not completely unbearable. I hold my breath as the flicker of orange and yellow coils itself around my arm, searing against my skin. I bite down on my lip to stop myself from screaming again.

  “See?” Meghan smiles. “You’re impervious to fire, just like the Dryad’s.”

  “Is it supposed to hurt this much?”

  Meghan’s brows knit together. “You’re in pain?”

  “Yes.” I say, through gritted teeth. “Please, put it out.”

  She releases me suddenly, and with a wave of her hand, the flames extinguish.

  Galen steps around Meghan and gently takes my arm, examining every inch of the skin. It looks red and blotchy, and it tingles from his touch, but he smiles satisfied. “She’s fine. It’s already healing.”

  Meghan lets out a long breath. “I’m sorry, Acacia. I thought fire-resistance was a natural Foundling trait, just like self-healing. I guess I was mistaken.” She looks enquiringly at Roma who gives a nervous shake of her head. “The Foundling children had their abilities suppressed using mind-control,” she says, “Acacia is resistant to fire, but it may take some time before she can tolerate it the way you can.”

  Meghan purses her lips. “Then I guess that was a good start.” She perches on an upturned crate and leans forward in anticipation.

  Roma and I exchange a quick look of relief.

  “I would like to see where you are with your healing abilities.” Galen says, rolling up his sleeves. “I understand that you are quite the accomplished self-healer, but I would like to see if you are able to heal others.”

  “Starting with me,” Nicholas says, pulling gently on the fingers of his leather gloves. “Galen saved my hands, but I have to warn you, Acacia, they still look…unpleasant.”

  I brace myself as Nicholas removes his gloves, extending his fingers so I can see the extent of the damage. The skin is dappled pink, shiny and thin in places. The fingers of one hand are just skin and bone and the tip of the thumb is missing.

  Healing Nicholas seems an impossible task, but I obey when Galen instructs me to take his hand between my own. Nicholas smiles apologetically, but the touch of his charred skin doesn’t bother me, it’s the feeling of intrigue radiating from him that makes me want to pull away.

  Galen stands at my shoulder. “Just close your eyes and breathe”, he says. “Imagine a light in your chest, warm and bright. With every breath, the light grows.”

  I try to follow Galen’s instruction, picturing a light pulsating in the centre of my ribcage.

  “Feel it travelling through your bloodstream,” Galen continues, “Warming your limbs, making the tips of your fingers glow. Imagine it radiating tiny beams that warm the damaged tissue of Nicholas’s hands.”

  I feel like I am doing just that, imagining, instead of doing anything useful to help Nicholas.

  “You have to believe in yourself, Acacia,” Galen says. “Believe that you can do this.”

  But I can’t believe in myself, because I’m not a Foundling, not a real one.

  “Remember, you can self-heal”, Roma says suddenly. “If you can do that, then you can heal Nicholas. It’s the same ability; you just have to focus your energy on him.”

  I try to concentrate, but it’s no good. I can’t do it. Self- healing comes naturally to me; I don’t have to think about it. Disappointment starts to writhe around in my stomach.

  “Let me try something.” Galen says. He places a hand on my shoulder, sending a sudden flush of warmth radiating into my chest and down into my hands. I feel it gather in my palms and I give a little gasp.

  Galen releases me. “That’ what you’re aiming for, you need to recreate that feeling.”

  Nicholas holds up his hands. “I think I can see a difference; the skin looks a little smoother.” He smiles kindly, his eyes crinkling at the sides.

  “I didn’t do anything; it was all Galen.”

  “You’ll get there”, Galen says. “Right now you need to eat something, regain your strength.”

  Nicholas pulls his gloves back on. “I’ll call Haydn back tomorrow; I would like you to spend the morning training with him.” He glances over at Roma and she nods in agreement.

  My stomach flutters with nerves at the thought of being alone with Haydn, and when the morning comes, my nails are bitten down to the wicks.

  When he finally strides into the room, he barely looks at me. He retrieves the two training swords from the chest and hands one to me without as much as a ‘hello’.

  He steps back a few paces, his sword raised. “We need to work on your movements,” he says. “You’re too rigid. Smith’s movements are fluid.”

  “I can’t move like you can.”

  “Not yet,” he says, his eyes burning into mine. “But you’re a Foundling. Besides some Smith skills can be learnt.”

  I flush under his stare. “OK. Let’s go.” I strike at him and he dodges me easily, exhaling loudly. “You strike first, always in the same place. It’s too predictable.”

  “Fine,” I huff. “Let’s go again.” I may not have the traits of all the Households, but this is the skills in which I’ve had the most training, so with a steely determination, I rest the tip of the sword at my shoulder.

  This time I wait for Haydn to attack, and when he eventually moves, I dodge to the side and block his advance with a clatter of steel.

  “Better.” He says.

  We continue to strike at each other, moving around the room so quickly that I feel like my lungs are about to burst.

  When I can take no more, I hold up my hands. “I need a break.” The hair around my face is damp with sweat and my arms are aching.

  “The Shadows won’t give you a break,” Haydn says, irritably. “Put your sword up.”

  “No.”

  “Put your sword up.”

  The anger swells inside of me and I throw the sword at Haydn’s feet. “I said no.”

  I slump down on to the stone floor, resting my back against the glass wall so that the coolness seeps through my clothes.

  Haydn strides over to the chest. I wait for him to throw his sword in and announce that we’re done for the day, but instead he returns with a bottle of water. He hands it to me without a word.

  “Thank you.”

  He sinks down beside me and leans back against the glass wall with his eyes closed. I watch the rise and fall of his chest, resisting the urge to shuffle closer to him. I think it’s fair to say he hasn’t exactly warmed to me.

  “You don’t like me.” I say, a statement, not a question.

  His eyes open. “What makes you think that?” His voice is even, quiet.

  “You always look like you want to be as far away from me as possible.”

  He laughs then.

  “What’s so funny?”

  “You’re just a typical Vedmak.” He says, shaking his head.

  I feel my face flush. “What is that supposed to mean? You don’t know anything about me.”

  “I know enough. Like I said, typical Vedmak.”

  “So it’s not just me? You hate all Vedmak’s.”

  Haydn considers me for a moment, his eyes burning like coal. “I don’t hate the Vedmak’s. I wouldn’t be here if I did.”

  “But you don’t like them.”

  He climbs swiftly to his feet. “Breaks over, pick up your sword.”

  “No, I-”

  He swipes at my head with his blade, I roll over to avoid it, grabbing my own sword in the process. “Hey, you nearly took my head off.” I say, scrambling quickly to my feet.

  “You’re fine, come on.” He strikes at my knees, but I jump over the blade.

  I slash my sword towards him, but Haydn feints to the side. “You’re not quick enough.” His shoulder collides with my chest and I am knocked to the ground again, my head slamming against the floor. He looks at me indifferently as I rub the back of my skull.

  “That
s it? You knock me over and then you just stand there?” I can feel angry tears pricking the backs of my eyes.

  “What did you expect?” Haydn says. “That I would help you up, dust you off like your Vedmak boyfriend?”

  “My boyfriend, what are you-?”

  “You need to learn to stand on your own two feet.” He takes a step towards me, his expression unreadable, and for a second, I’m worried about what he might do. But then he stops abruptly, stumbling back a little as though an invisible wall has sprung up between us.

  “If you’re going to use these training sessions to torture her, you can get the hell out,” Caleb strides across the room, his face red and contorted with rage. I’ve never seen him like this before. “What happened before has nothing to do with Casey.”

  What happened before?

  “I’m trying to teach her to defend herself,” Haydn spits. “So she doesn’t need to rely on anyone to keep her safe.”

  “The Vedmak’s will always keep her safe,” Caleb retorts.

  “Oh, so that’s what you’re doing when you climb into her bed at night, you’re keeping her safe?”

  Caleb’s face flushes. He starts towards Haydn with his hands balled into fists at his sides, and the invisible wall must have fallen away, because now Haydn is storming past me towards Caleb.

  “Stop, both of you.” Casting my sword aside, I shift in between them as they charge towards each other. “No.” As I raise my hands, I feel a rush of energy burst from my fingertips, and Caleb and Haydn are thrown through the air away from each other.

  I watch in horror as Haydn slams into the stone wall with a sickening thud, while Caleb lands on top of one of the crates, shattering it to splinters. He looks dazed, but OK, as he pushes himself up from the wreckage.

  I turn my attention to Haydn, approaching him cautiously. My face is burning with guilt, my fingers still tingling. I crouch down by his side and brush the dark hair off his forehead. His eyelids flutter open and he looks up at me, bleary eyed. “I wasn’t going to hurt you; I would never hurt you.”

  His words take me by surprise, but before I have time to respond, Caleb is at my shoulder.

  “What just happened?”

  “You tell me.” I say, staring down at my hands.

  He shakes his head. “I guess some kind of extreme telekinesis. Maybe you should stop for today, get some rest. I’ll speak to Nicholas about getting you another trainer.”

  Haydn climbs unsteadily to his feet. “You don’t get to decide who trains her.”

  “You didn’t want the job in the first place.” Caleb says, taking a step towards him.

  “That’s enough, both of you,” I stand between them, interlocking my fingers so I don’t hurt them again. “Caleb, I don’t need you to fight my battles for me. I am not your girlfriend.” It feels important to say this, but my cheeks still blaze as the words leave my mouth.

  “I know that,” Caleb says, looking like he swallowed something sour. “But the things he said to you-”

  “Were in the heat of the moment.” I finish.

  He gives Haydn a look of loathing before turning back to me. “You demonstrated another power, a Vedmak power. We need to tell Roma.”

  “Then go tell her,” I say, gently. “I’m interested to hear what she has to say about it.”

  No matter how I try to spin it, Caleb knows this is a dismissal and I see the hurt flash across his eyes before he turns on his heel and strides out of the room. I feel wretched, guilt-ridden, like I’ve been leading Caleb on, but how could I have anticipated that my feelings towards him would change so unexpectedly, that someone else would-

  “Casey.” Haydn’s voice sends a shiver down my spine as he says my name, my real name.

  “That’s what Caleb called you.” He says.

  I whirl around. “It’s just a nickname, it’s short for Acacia.” The lie makes my lips tremble, and I take my time retrieving my sword so that my face doesn’t give me away.

  “Casey,” he says again. “I like that better, it suits you.” He smiles a little and it softens his features, makes him look so heartbreakingly handsome that I feel my heart flutter.

  He takes the sword from me, his thumb faintly brushing the side of my hand making my skull tingle. “I’m sorry for what I said about-”

  “You don’t have to apologise,” I say, shaking my head. “But you should know, Caleb only stayed with me the night of the Khuulsu attack because I was afraid. He’s my friend.”

  “It’s none of my business,” Haydn says, turning away from me and dropping the sword into the chest along with his own. “You feel up to training a little more?”

  “Do you?” I ask, watching Haydn sway a little on the spot.

  “I’ll be fine,” he smiles. “You’re not reacting quickly enough with the sword because you’re not strong enough to wield it.”

  I open my mouth to argue, but he holds up his hands. “We just need to work on your strength, that’s all I’m saying.”

  “What do you suggest?”

  Haydn nods towards the tall, jagged wall. “I want you to climb it.”

  “What?”

  He folds his arms over his chest. “I want you to climb the wall. There are plenty of footholds so it shouldn’t be too difficult, but you’ll need to use your whole body.” The stony expression is back, but his tone is different now, kinder.

  I stare up at the wall, it must be thirty feet high and the rocks stick out unevenly in places. “Shouldn’t I have a guide rope or something?”

  “You’re a Foundling, what’s the worst that could happen? If you fall and hit the ground, your body will repair itself.”

  I swallow reflexively, hoping that he’s right. So far, my self-healing ability has proven effective on single injuries, but I’m not sure what will happen if I fall and break all my bones. I approach the wall, wiping my sweating palms on my legs. I find a toehold at the bottom and I push myself up until my other foot finds traction, clinging on to the rocks above. It’s slow work, but I keep climbing, sweat pouring down my back and the muscles in my arms and legs protesting.

  “You’re doing great.” Haydn calls up at me.

  When I’m close to the top, I find that the rocks are smoother, the spaces between them smaller. I pause, looking frantically for a hole or a lump that I can grab on to. I try to shuffle to the side a little and my foot slips.

  My hands grope at the wall as I try to find a hold, but it’s too late. I leave my stomach up in the air as gravity pulls me towards the ground.

  Haydn catches me effortlessly, his arms curling around me, his knees bending to take the impact. Our noses are an inch apart and his breath tickles my cheek, but the pain inside of him burns through my clothing like fire.

  “Good catch,” Roma calls from across the room. Haydn releases me and my feet find the floor. “Caleb tells me you’ve demonstrated another power,” I am surprised to find that Caleb is not with Roma. Instead, Nicholas is by her side, two Smith soldiers at their heels. “We’ve come to find out what all of the fuss is about.”

  “I don’t know how I did it.” I look to Haydn for help, but he just shrugs. “It could’ve been a fluke.” I say.

  “You won’t know unless you try again.” Roma folds her arms and regards me expectantly.

  I look around for something small, something light, and my eyes fall on the water bottle that Haydn gave me earlier. I try to remember how I felt before, when I blasted Haydn and Caleb away from each other. I raise a hand, imagining a burning weight in my chest, a ball of energy that threatens to burst, like the adrenaline I felt earlier. I push it away from my heart, feel it race through my veins until it gathers in the palm of my hand. The energy bursts from my fingertips, the force pulling my bones taut. The bottle topples and rolls across the floor.

  “Well done,” Nicholas laughs. “Although I heard that you moved something much bigger.” He smirks at Haydn.

  Feeling empowered, I turn my attention to one
of the crates. I feel the energy gather in my chest and I raise both hands this time, willing the crate to move, but the energy doesn’t travel through my arms like it did earlier. Instead, the warm feeling spreads throughout my chest and into my neck, it snakes up into my skull where it wraps around my brain and squeezes. My head starts to spin and I feel something hot and wet trickle from my nose.

  “You’re bleeding.” Nicholas rushes forward and takes my face in his gloved hands. He pinches the bridge of my nose between his thumb and forefinger as Roma appears at his shoulder. “Is she OK? Should I call for the Halers?”

  “I’m fine.” But as I say it, the training room starts to spin around me.

  “You need to rest.” Roma says, guiding me towards the door.

  Haydn starts forward.

  “She’ll be OK,” Roma says. “I’ll take her upstairs.”

  Back in my quarters, Roma helps me climb into bed. She dabs at my face with a damp cloth, gently wiping away the dried blood. “It seems you were overwhelmed by your abilities,” her voice is almost a whisper. “It’s not uncommon for young Displacian’s to have difficulties with their powers, but we need to remember that you’re half-human.” She looks around as though someone might be eavesdropping.

  “Parker said training would be a good thing.” I say.

  “Parker knows what she’s talking about. We just need to take it one day at a time,” Roma says. “Maybe continue practicing on water bottles, rather than crates…. or Smith’s for that matter,” she smiles. “You seem to be getting along well with Haydn.”

  “He barely tolerates me.”

  Roma gives a small laugh. “It didn’t look that way to me.”

  “Did you read his mind?”

  “I read everyone’s mind.” She says, raising her eyebrows suggestively.

  “And?”

  She laughs again. “Now that would be telling. C’mon, you need to get some rest.”

  Roma strokes back the hair from my face and gets up from the bed. As she leaves, my eyes flutter shut, my head filled with Haydn.

 
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