Just before dawn, a figure emerged from a shop in the southern part of Kiwali’a, bags in hand. She jogged briskly through the streets of her small town as she made her way eastward, doing her best to stay quiet. When she reached the southeastern edge of town, she paused uncertainly, looking around for someone or something. She didn’t have to wait long before another figure, also a woman, melted out of the shadows beside her.
Lillian examined the young woman standing before her. Where there had been an overeager girl with a bright-eyed youth about her, there was now a slightly more subdued young woman with a steady determination urging her onwards. It was as if something deep inside her had shifted, giving light to this new version of Maya.
“Are you ready?” Lillian asked quietly.
Maya didn’t hesitate, instead standing taller and saying firmly, “I am.”
Lillian nodded and extended a hand to the other woman invitingly. “Then come. We must hurry.”
Maya took it immediately and Lillian melted into the shadows, taking Maya with her. Lillian guided them through the shadows of early dawn, across a few miles and to the outskirts of the clearing the three Dragons had chosen as their temporary camp. Already, Lillian knew that Megan, Mj, and all the Commons were all preparing to break camp. By now, even most of the wards and protections had been taken down to remove every trace of their encampment.
Lillian led Maya through the camp, nimbly dodging Commons as her eyes searched for Megan and Mj. She finally found them in one of the last erected tents, leaning over a map along with the appointed representative of the Commons, Nathan. Today, Megan’s blond hair was an ice white, styled in a short pixie hairstyle. Both women wore matching black cloaks that seemed to shimmer in the soft glow of the small light orbs revolving around Mj. Lillian knew that Mj had cast charms on the cloaks to allow them to blend the wearer into the background when the wearer pulled the folds around themselves. Lillian ushered Maya into the tent, calling, “We’re here, is everyone ready?”
“Yeah, we were just waiting for you two,” Mj said, scrutinizing Maya thoughtfully before tossing them each a black cloak. “Here, take these, you may need them.”
Lillian slipped hers on quickly, “We should head out then, who’s going to scout today?”
“I’ll take point.” Megan offered. With the agreement of the others, Megan swept out of the tent, shifting as she walked.
“I want to show Maya how we cover our tracks so we’ll take the rear,” Mj said.
“Great, then let’s get going.”
Fifteen minutes later and the entire camp of Commons was on the move. With so many malnourished Commons, travel was slow even with the constant urgings of Lillian and Nathan.
As she walked, something pricked at the edge of Lillian’s consciousness. Worry wormed through her as she identified the feeling. Someone was attacking her mental shield, attempting to push through. And not only that, they were winning. Lillian began to throw up her strongest mental walls, the ones that required a conscious effort to keep them in place for any amount of time. But there was something about the Mentalist that was distinct, familiar and she hesitated. In that half-second of pause, her attacker forced its way into her mind.
Before she could drive them back out, they spoke. And Lillian’s heart froze in her chest. The voice was garbled and indistinct but she recognized it instantly.
Hurriedly, she began to clear away her thoughts, attempting to allow her brother a silent space to deliver his message. But all she could make out was her name and the panic of his thoughts. When his mental voice fell silent, Lillian frantically called out his name, searching her head for him. She could feel his consciousness buzzing around in her mind but he said nothing. Then, all of a sudden her mind was filled with one giant picture of an abandoned house on the banks of a large river.
Immediately she realized that this was not her memory but she recognized the building regardless. It was the last place she had seen her older brother since they’d parted three years ago.
Lillian didn’t realize she had stopped until someone tapped her on the shoulder. She jumped, automatically drawing one of the many daggers on her person. Mj leaped backward, avoiding the gleaming tip of Lillian’s blade. Worry wrinkled her brow as she said, “You stopped, are you okay?”
“I-I think Luke needs me,” Lillian replied slowly, thinking over the implications of the message she’d received. She related what had happened.
Mj looked concerned, “Are you sure that’s what he wanted?”
“I think so.”
“Lily, he’s a Shadow, it might be a trap.” Mj took one of Lillian’s hands imploringly. “I can’t lose you…too.”
“Mj, he’s the only family I have left,” Lillian whispered.
Mj opened her mouth as if to speak, thought better of it, and closed it wordlessly. After a pause, she tried again, “You’ll be careful?”
“I’ll tell the others later,” Mj sighed. “Now go, and be swift. Don’t get caught.”
“I’ll do my best.” Lillian gave a short bow and melted into her own shadow. She emerged in the capital of Dunaire, in the shadows of the building opposite the one Luke had shown her. Her eyes searched the streets for any trace of an ambush but all seemed well. Of course, that didn’t mean it was.
Lillian unsheathed one of her long swords and shifted to shadow only to reappear a few feet away next to the doors of the other building. She took a deep breath then reached out her abilities to manipulate the air in the building, scouring each room on the first floor for any sign of a living being. Finding nothing, she ventured into the house, swords raised and ears pricked for any sign of danger. She did the same with the second floor, and the third, making sure to check the floor behind her briefly to ensure she wasn’t being followed.
On the fourth floor, she repeated her process. Sitting on a shelf in one of the rooms, was a small piece of parchment. Lillian hurried forward, realizing her mistake only seconds later when the rasp of steel on leather came from behind her. She whirled around with the speed of the winds behind her, but she was still too slow.
Her body registered the small prick of a dagger just above her right hip. “Drop the sword.”
Surprise and betrayal coursed through her, “Luke?”
“Drop the sword, Lillian,” her older brother hissed.
“Or what? You’ll kill me?” Lillian snapped furiously. “Like—”
She didn’t finish her sentence, dropping gracefully to a crouch and kicking her legs out. When she dropped, Luke had yanked the dagger away from her body to prevent impaling her upon it, giving her time to drop her sword and draw two knives of her own. Lillian jumped back to her feet, her eyes locked to his. In a subconscious part of her mind, she compared this Luke to the one she had seen three years ago. In the dim light of the room, his sharp features were hard and unforgiving. His eyes especially glinted dangerously, the flakes of warm gold in them standing out against the cool landscape of his silver irises. His hair was the same as before: short and wavy, the exact same shade as her own.
Even as her mind processed all this information and stored it away for later, she leaped forward, daggers slashing swiftly. Luke backed up a step and a yellow shield of pure energy came into place in front of him and Lillian skidded to a stop, glaring frostily at him. A moment later, flickering orange flames wreathed her arm and she directed them at her brother’s shield, pouring all her wild and unwieldy emotions into the flame. Anger, hate, love, betrayal, hurt, sadness, she used it all to fuel the flames.
The sheer, overwhelming power of the initial giant effort pushed Luke back a step but he locked his jaw and reinforced his shield, turning the translucent yellow into a honey gold. The siblings were both powerful, far more powerful than most others at their age and if it were a test of skill and precision, Luke would have one quickly with his superior training and dedicated practices. But it was a test of endurance, to see who would falter first. With such powerful magic, they both knew that any mistake on Luke’s part, no matter how small, would lead to his immediate demise.
But he made no mistakes and with the torrent of emotions fueling her, Lillian did not think rationally. She didn’t think to conserve her energy, to last him out. She also didn’t count on the fact that Luke would not have come alone. The first warning she got of a hostile being approaching her was a strange prickling on the back of her neck, her sixth sense warning her that something was not right.
Lillian whirled around and was once again too slow to fend off her attacker from behind. He held a dagger to her throat, preventing her from moving anywhere but back which was where Luke now stood with a sword in his hands, face pale from exerting so much energy. When she attempted to draw on the winds to escape, she realized with growing dread that she had no more power to give. It was the perfect trap, and she had fallen right into it. With rage clouding her vision, she had blindly exhausted all her energy to fuel her flame. The man in front of her snarled, “We may need you alive but you do not need to be in one piece.”
She blinked into his hazel eyes, anger simmering in her stomach that was aimed not at either of them but at herself. She had been foolish to exhaust all her energy as she did and now she was paying the price. But she still had one more trick up her sleeve. As she had done with Luke, she dropped into a crouch but this time scrambled away from the two men and towards the window on the far side of the room. “Stop her!”
Someone new tackled her from behind, using their full body weight to keep her still. From the corner of her eye, Lillian watched as Luke approached and then knelt, putting a finger to her forehead. He was going to knock her out. She thrashed wildly but her attacker simply leaned down heavier against her.
The last thing Lillian saw was Luke’s face and she mouthed the word, Traitor.
Luke knocked on the large oaken doors to the Commander’s office, guilt weighing down his every step. “Enter.”
Luke threw open the doors, anger blossoming out of his guilt as he stalked towards the man sitting at the large mahogany desk in the center of the room. “I brought you Lillian, Father. Now let my friend go.”
“Of course,” Commander Damian Brooks said coolly. “Thank you for your cooperation, Captain.”