Short Story: Escape Routes
This short story came from an early version of FREEDOM that I eventually abandoned (not soon enough!). After the final events in FLIGHT, I struggled to know Isadora’s struggles. What would the repercussions be of that fated night on top of Carcere? What was the relationship between Defenders and Watchers afterward?
This scene was an exploration of those questions, one in which I eventually realized that I couldn’t use because I made a classic mistake—I forgot what the reader knew. I live with these words all the time. Because of that, I forget where you, as the reader, stand in terms of knowledge.
Still, I was sad to see this scene go, and I’m happy to put it before you today.
Isadora Spence’s heart nearly beat out of her chest.
She hurtled through the forest, branches whipping at her face with sharp, tiny slices. Her hands led in front of her as she dodged through bracken, stumbling over rocks and roots. The sound of a blighter, a ball of magical power, hitting a tree next to her made her growl.
“You’re going to regret that!” she called.
A second blighter whizzed by, a hairs breadth from her left ear. They were small things, no bigger than her thumbnail. Not a very powerful witch, then. Another pinged off the invisible, magical shield she cast at her back.
“Ten more paces,” she panted.
Her pursuer darted through the same thick vegetation, hot on her heels. He appeared thin—a little too thin—with heavy brows and rounded shoulders. Linen pants billowed around his legs as he struggled to close the gap.
Isadora set her gaze on a massive, fallen log with pillows of moss on top. The width of the trunk was three times taller than her. It stretched both ways, cutting off any escape route.
Just as she planned.
She skidded to a stop on the loose carpet of rotting leaves just as the witch behind her lunged. His hand grabbed a fistful of her dress at her back. Isadora jerked back, caught off-guard by the touch. Only two other Defenders out of ten had managed to touch her. With no more than a turn of thought, she stepped into her magic before they could topple to the ground together.
The forest she’d just left populated around her again, only this time she stood in the vaulted embrace of twelve gargantuan trees. Wide enough to fit several houses within their trunks, they spanned her in a circle. Their enormous branches reached overhead so high she couldn’t see the end. In the sprawling space between the behemoths, Isadora whirled around.
The witch screamed. “No! Let me go! What have you done? I shall die.”
A string of lyrical words followed. Something tribal, but fluid and husky. She frowned, having heard it from the last witch that attempted to attack her. He must be from the Western Network.
She already knew the answer, but asked anyway. “Why are you chasing me?”
He covered his eyes with his hand and dropped to his knees. They all did. She suspected it wasn’t the forest they feared, but her power. It hummed inside her, unmatched, flowing like a current.
“Why?” she asked, nudging him with a toe.
The witch trembled, wincing as she touched him. He lay with his forehead pressed into the ground. Both their bodies remained back in Letum Wood.
“I’m not going to hurt you. Please tell me why you’re chasing me.”
He said nothing.
Isadora sighed and faced the middle of the circle. “Show me,” she murmured. The magic sprang to life. A trail of light started at her feet and snaked over the ground. Gossamer wisps, like vapor, appeared along the paths. Nearly all the branching strands showed violent acts toward her—some heinous enough to turn her stomach—but none revealed murder. The sheer number of trails likely meant he didn’t know what to do when he caught her.
Same as the others.
“No one sent me,” he said from between his arms, drawing her gaze.
In the following silence, her breath hitched. Please, she thought, know something about the Head Defender.
“There is no leader.”
Isadora let out a breath. They never knew a leader. She trusted them. Their misery seemed sufficient they’d do anything to get away. The craved her power, but when fully accessing it, suffered.
His hoarse, gravelly voice sounded like two rocks rubbing together. He had a thick beard across a broad jaw. Skin sagged beneath his neck. “I came on my own.”
“To do what?”
His brow creased heavily. Tears filled his bloodshot, lackluster eyes. “I don’t know. I just . . . had to come. Please,” he whispered. “It’s too much. I shall die from your presence. Release me.”
Isadora frowned. They hadn’t said that before.
He whimpered, pressing his face farther into the dirt. “Your power.”
“Your name?” she asked softly with a rush of compassion. Drawn to her by the allure of her magic, he hadn’t been a true danger. The other attacks had been more violent. Angry. Snappish. Ready to kill her the moment they had an opportunity.
But they never could.
“Akbar,” he finally said.
Isadora turned halfway to the right, peering into the empty meadow normally so full of wisps and possibility.
“Show me Akbar,” she commanded.
A pillar bubbled up from the ground, building with light every passing second. Akbar peered through his spread fingers, eyes wide. In the pillar emerged a face. His face. His thin body followed. Twiggy arms. Slightly hunched bearing. In it, he stood tall. His shoulders drawn back, he peered into the distance with a shrewd gaze. A breath of wind whispered by.
Isadora frowned. This witch? Desperate or even frightened would have made sense, but not confident. Then again, the magic showed the entirety of a person, not just how they felt in the moment. Still, the puzzle didn’t make sense. She folded her arms and chewed on her bottom lip.
“Let me go!” he shrieked, staring at his reflection. “Let me go! Please, I beg of you. There is no greater pain than this.”
“Very well, but should you attempt to harm me again, I shall pull you into the magic and leave you here. Understood?”
He nodded. Isadora closed the magic. The moment she felt the chilly air of Letum Wood, she opened her eyes. Akbar lay on the trail, though she remained standing. Seeing her above him, he shrieked and scrambled back. Rich, black dirt coated his hands. Instead of disappearing, he remained where he lay for several seconds.
He frowned, his lips moving wordlessly.
Akbar shot to his feet, yelling. She recognized a spell from the West, an incantation meant to knock a person unconscious. Isadora sighed. They begged for mercy while in the magic, but once out, their desperate need returned. His panicked eyes grew.
“You’ve taken my magic!”
She rolled her eyes. “Calm down. I brought you to a spot in the forest where magic doesn’t work. I did it on purpose so you couldn’t harm me when we returned, like all the other Defenders tried.”
“Your magic worked!”
“It originates here.” She flicked her fingers down the trail. “Run off. Pray a forest lion doesn’t eat you.”
With another terrified cry, the witch stumbled away. The moment he cleared the area, he transported. He must have been muttering the incantation over and over until it worked. Isadora watched him go, puzzled.
Six months ago, she’d battled the Eastern Network Ambassador, Cecelia Bianchi, on top of the strange island prison Carcere. Cecelia had been the first witch and Defender Isadora had pulled into the paths, something she hadn’t known was possible. Afterwards, the power had doubled.
As Head Watcher, she held more of the fickle magic than any other Watcher in Alkarra. The title meant little else. The past six months, she’d found no evidence that Watchers and Defenders ever truly mingled—outside of one instance in a place called Taiza, in the South, where Watchers had lived together for awhile.
Outside of a few meddlesome High Priest’s or political instances, Watchers and Defenders historically had largely lived without fanfare. Normal witches that carried a quirky magic. They certainly didn’t attack each other with bloodlust. Something was wrong.
Something drove the Defenders, as if they craved the Watcher magic.
Like . . . madness.
Somewhere out there, roaming Alkarra, wandered a Defender that equaled her power. She hadn’t a clue who they were, or if it really mattered.
But . . . maybe.
“Well,” she muttered, straightening. “That one wasn’t my match. Clearly.”
Maximillion would have an opinion on it, came the thought. She dismissed it. There was precious little her previous mentor didn’t have an opinion on. Even if she wanted his opinion, which she didn’t, that would necessitate talking to him.
She certainly wasn’t about to do that.
A distant growl in the forest pulled her attention away. No dragon revealed themselves, but they were there. Forest dragons always found her when Isadora used the power.
“Wherever you are,” Isadora murmured as she stepped back onto a trail, no doubt created by mortegas that roamed through here, “I will find you, match. And we shall see exactly what this magic is meant to do.”
I hope you enjoyed this free short story outtake from FREEDOM.
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