Chapter One : Part Seven

The Runaways

“Whoa!” cried Fitch, his eyes wide. “Wh-… when… where… how did you do that?”

When she was little, Aiyana would lie in bed at night and call forth the light, playing with it through her fingers to comfort her until the darkness was merely her eyes closing and she fell asleep. But as she got older, the shadows grew less menacing and she forgot about the light. It had been years since she’d even thought of it. But now, with its warmth spilling over her fingers and illuminating the darkness, she smiled, like she was greeting an old friend.

But her enjoyment lasted only for a moment as the reality of their situation sunk in and she looked up to meet the gaze of the bear that was still staring at them. It hadn’t moved. Why hadn’t it moved?

Fitch was still sputtering questions and seemed to have forgotten their predicament in his amazement. The hand holding the sword had dropped to his side, and he stared at the light in awe.

With another look at the bear, Aiyana whispered, “Fitch! Shhhhh!”

“My best friend just pulled a ball of light from her chest and you want me to be quiet?” He protested.

Pulling her gaze from the hulking creature in front of them but otherwise remaining still, Aiyana hissed, “Fitch! The bear…”

Fitch froze, his mouth still open slightly, like he had been about to speak but now found himself unable to do so. So very slowly, he turned his head toward the bear, while at the same time taking tiny, almost imperceptible steps backward until he was practically hiding behind Aiyana.

“Why isn’t it moving?” He whispered in her ear.

Aiyana’s eyes sought out the bear’s, and in the moment she had a sense of knowing, in the same way she often knew what Beswarick or Fitch or her siblings were thinking, and she whispered back, “I don’t think he wants to hurt us.”

Fitch snorted, quietly, and replied, “He’s a bear, Aiya. He wants to eat us.”

The bear chose that moment to make another huffing sound and Aiyana found Fitch ducking fully behind her, despite the blade in his hand. “We should run, shouldn’t we? Running sounds like a very good idea right now.”

Aiyana’s gaze was still locked with that of the bear and she stood up straighter, to shield Fitch from his view. “No,” she whispered back. “Bears are very, very fast. We shouldn’t run.”

“Then we should just let it eat us?”

Aiyana shook her head. Fitch was never one for great ideas in a crisis, and she would have laughed at him had she not been staring down a bear ten times her size. After several tense moments, she noticed the bear’s gaze shift to the ball of light in her hand, and she held it out toward him.

It had been a very long time since she’d been frightened enough to call on the light, but she still remembered playing with it as a child, watching the intensity ebb and flow according to her emotions. Would it still react that way?

Taking a deep breath, Aiyana willed the light to grow brighter, and it did. Fueled by hope, she held it out as close to the bear as she could, and the light flared, increasing in intensity until the forest around them was as bright as daylight. She could feel Fitch behind her, pressing his face into her back to shield his eyes, but she didn’t dare look away. She willed the light to grow brighter and brighter and it obeyed, her hands warming and seemingly consumed by its brilliance until, with a final snort, the bear turned its head away and bounded back into the forest.

Aiyana breathed a sign of relief as the light receded, fading back to a softly glowing ball in her hands as Fitch let out a whoop of victory.

“That’s right! Run away, Mr. Bear!” He jumped out from behind Aiyana and brandished his sword at the empty path. “We’re not afraid of you! We’re not afraid of anything!”

His celebration was cut short by the sound of dozens of horses’ hooves galloping toward them. Aiyana spun to look behind them and was met with the sight of her brother and several palace guards bearing down on them. She cowered at the look of anger on Kellen’s face as he drew his horse to an abrupt halt and jumped from the saddle to stalk toward her.

Behind her once again, Fitch whispered, “We’re not afraid of anything… except that.”

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