I gave Ray my final report on the Medici’s before I left – not that the Trustees needed it but I couldn’t afford to let them know I knew their secret. A pit lodged itself in my stomach and twisted there. I hugged Cathy and then Ray accompanied me to the edge of town. We hugged – Ray tried to crush my ribs between his arms – and then I turned and took a few steps into the dim twilight. Sudden misgivings caused me to stagger and I turned back to Reynold, opening my mouth to say something but the words wouldn’t come. I settled for a wave instead and vanished.
I lurched as the world teetered beneath me. Teleports were not comfortable modes of travel. The pit in my stomach expanded and tied other parts of my gut into knots that squirmed like snakes. I felt awful. Despite all my misgivings, I hadn’t actually thought the Trustees meant the Liberation harm. Their betrayal stung, made worse with other disturbing revelations. The Magicians were finally rousing themselves to quash any resistance – which meant they finally had enough Intel on their enemies to act. What was worst though, was the fact that the Trustees had used me. All my work for the last three years was meaningless and the knowledge was tearing me apart.
I pushed my way through a thicket of thorn bushes, not caring whether or not they scratched me. I had already lost everything. Just like when Jake and Samantha had betrayed us. I took a deep shuddering breath. Hatred and shame bubbled up inside of me. Jake had ruined everything when he’d caused the Uprising and I had lost more than most.
Maybe if Jake hadn’t betrayed us I would still hold authority in the Liberation. Jake’s Uprising had given the Trustees the excuse they needed to wrest control from me. Ironically, I knew that the Trustees resented my position within the Liberation even before Aatiqah bequeathed leadership of the Liberation to me before he died. The Trustees were a Council of Elders to help make the transfer of power run smoothly but mostly they wanted the power for themselves. And so the transition period after Aatiqah had… left… was all the more difficult for all their plotting and scheming. The Trustees opposed any decision I made. I had to fight for every scrap of respect I managed to wrest from the rest of the Liberation. My friends helped at first and we got by. About a year later, operations were running about as smoothly as they ever did. Until they weren’t. Until Jake decided the effects of our operations were not as productive as they should be.
He had thought that if the magicians were so corrupted then we should destroy them as quickly as possible. That we should strike them as hard as we could. That we should attack them while they were unaware just how great their opposition was. He also had his misgivings over the motives of the Trustees. The Trustees was the only subject upon which we agreed. We were at odds over everything else – especially his idea for domination over the Magicians. I disagreed, arguing that it would require a vast amount of resources; resources we didn’t have.
Our small squabbles turned into full out arguments in a short period of time. He kept on bringing the subject up at the most random moments, trying to catch me by surprise. The last straw burst into flames when he raised the issue at a monthly council. That was when we started fighting with weapons as well as words.
I remember the whole of the Liberation fighting over it. Everyone who had escaped with me sided with me or tried to remain impartial – until Samantha betrayed us by cornering me one night, and trying to kill me. It was a dark time for the organization and it almost didn’t survive it. I know that if we hadn’t banished Sam, Jake and their followers the Liberation wouldn’t have lasted and we wouldn’t be fighting the Magicians today. I hated myself for not listening to at least part of their argument now, but I couldn't do anything about it now. I couldn’t change history.
After Jake and Sam had been banished the Trustees announced that the events could have been prevented had I been a more competent and seasoned leader. In other words, I would have been a better leader if I was older and not a former slave. I had known better; they just wanted to be in charge but I had stepped down despite this. They had too many people on their side. Everyone who had escaped with me protested my demotion – except Cathy. Although she thought the decision was wrong, she also thought being leader put me in too much danger. I banished thoughts of the Uprising and the Trustees from my mind. I was done with it all.
I turned to face the ravine on my right. This was Bedlam’s Woods, sacred and full of magic. I cried loudly into the forest, “Who am I?” and staggered to my knees in tears as the echoes replied. “I am Aurora Lopez, slave 06392012, and ex-leader of the Liberation!” I shouted, “Who are you?” A breeze swept through the forest making the trees whisper. “You’re right!” I shouted back, “I don’t want to know!”
“Are you sure about that?” a mocking voice asked behind me. I whirled around, drawing my staff and holding it defensively before me.
“Who are you?” I whispered suddenly terrified. The boy behind me was young, only about fifteen… the same age Jake would be now. He was tall and handsome, but with a hardened face that twisted into a scowl. He looked like an older version of Jake, except crueler. I absorbed the familiar features... black hair, brown skin, muscular body. “Jake is that you?”
“Who do you think, Rory? O courageous leader of the Liberation who is soon to be dead,” he mocked in a singsong voice, “Or is it ex-leader now? Who is the leader now? Rowan? You know he has no backbone. Whatever did happen after the Uprising?” He paused for a moment cocking his head as if waiting for an answer. He continued before I could reply. “Oh right you were demoted to head spy if I remember correctly. What did I tell you? Ah well it doesn’t matter now does it. You’ll soon be dead.”
I stared at him, no word obtaining comprehension except dead, “You would dare fight me?” I spat, “Ha! You’ll lose; I was always the better warrior.”
“Really, Rory,” he replied calmly, “As it happens you don’t seem to be in a very fit condition to fight. My bet is that you’ll die in the fight.”
I stepped forward, his words provoking me enough to fight. I was confident he was bluffing – about killing me and about being able to win – but I was cautious all the same. I lashed out at him and he countered. “You’ve improved since the last time we met Ror,” he laughed, “Fortunately, so have I.” I didn’t reply, but concentrated on my attack. I couldn’t lose. I knew he would kill me. “I saw Rowan today,” he whispered, “He looks well.”
I stumbled back, startled at the mention of Rowan and wondering how he could have been there and back within a day. It was too far for a trip that size. He took advantage of my momentary hesitation to swipe at me with his staff clipping my side and winding me. I staggered to the ground unbalanced and uncertain. He kicked my staff out of my grip and stood over me. I stared up with terrified eyes. “You would kill me Jake? Is that what you want? Me dead? Rowan dead? Your family dead? At least I hoped you counted us as family” I laughed bitterly, “Remember, you are the one who betrayed us. Not the other way around.”
His eyes flashed with anger. “Give up Ror,” he hissed, deliberately using my pet name to aggravate me again, “You’re finished. Mine.” His staff arced out at me and connected with my temple. The world flashed and went black.
I woke in a dark chamber. My head throbbed and I moaned. Where was I? I tried to remember how I’d gotten here – with limited success. I could remember the fight with Jake, him lashing out at me, knocking me out. He must have taken me to his hideout. I wondered blearily if he’d not meant to kill me or if my continued life was a mistake.
“You’re awake,” a soft voice said behind me. I tried to turn towards it but ropes binding my hands and ankles stopped me. I kicked out desperately with both my legs testing the knots. “You won’t escape like that!” the voice laughed, “I tied those knots myself.” Footsteps sounded behind me coming closer and closer and then soft hands turned me towards its source. A girl stood there. Golden blonde hair swirled around her face and down her back into loose curls. She had soft brown eyes and a pretty, petite mouth that curled into a smirk. It was the only indication of cruelty in her appearance. A jagged scar tarnished her beauty but made her more beautiful at the same time.
“Sam,” I whispered in anguish at the painful scar, “What did he do to you?” I knew Jake had done it. Her face showed it. I saw surprise and anger flicker across her face when I guessed her secret so easily but she quickly replaced her emotions with calm indifference.
“Who did what?” she asked haughtily.
“The scar,” I said, “Jake did it, didn’t he?”
“What are you talking about Aurora?” she asked angrily, “I got it when I fought you. You gave me this hideous thing.”
“I don’t believe that Sam,” I said.
Her face contorted in pain and outrage. “It’s true!” she screamed, “You’ve always been jealous Jake never paid attention to you! Well, he never will! He’s got me!”
“Not true,” I retorted, “I never wanted him. I never even liked him.”
“That’s right; you had Rowan,” she sneered.
She turned and left abruptly. I tried to shift into a comfortable position. I wouldn’t be able to get myself free with magic right now. I didn’t have enough stamina left - my power was drained and they knew it. They wouldn’t have put me in cell this unfortified if they didn’t. They had, seen me escape rooms made of solid metal. I moaned again and let my head sink to the floor, rejoicing in the welcoming darkness that overwhelmed me.
When I woke again a few hours later, I had no idea how long I’d slept. I was pretty sure it had been night the last time I’d woken because it had been so dark. Light was streaming in now so I figured it must be about midday. But which day was beyond me. I could have been asleep for days for all I knew. Whenever I strained myself to the extent of my power, I tended to go into a hibernation mode. I’d sleep until I’ve rejuvenated my energy. If I had slept for days, I knew Jake or Sam wouldn’t have understood because they hadn’t been there when I’d discovered that interesting quality. Actually, I’d discovered it right after we'd banished them, and I’d been so bone weary that I’d slept for a week – terrifying the others.
I felt fresh and new after my sleep and although I was still severely sore, I didn’t feel it anymore. Checking myself, I knew I had enough power to bust my way out of here now. But did I want to? That I didn't know yet. I could possibly join forces with them and do what Jake had wanted in the first place. However, I wasn’t sure if I was capable of staying on good terms with Jake for any length of time. Besides, I knew it wasn’t ever that simple.ns 184.108.40.206da2