“Are you sure? You’re ready for this?”
The cold autumn breeze slipped through my hands. Half of it was natural, the other an effect of my own manipulation. I twirled it between my fingers before redirecting the gust towards Lyla. She wrapped her body tighter in her thin yellow hoodie before she realized what I had done. She gave me a light shove.
“You Environmentals. Can’t keep your magic contained.” She paused. “And yes, I’m sure. This duel was my idea, anyway. I’ve got to see it through eventually.”
“Bold talk coming for the glorified-barista.” That one earned me another shove. I finally quit toying with her and shoved my hands in my pockets. It was unseasonably cold for mid-September.
“Glorified barista? Is that what the dirt fairies are calling Brewers now?”
“Nope. Just me. I would consider being a little nicer to your ‘dirt fairy’ of a friend if you ever want to learn some real magic, though.” I willed the wind around us to pick up again, causing the trees to stir.
Lyla rolled her eyes, but I saw her suppressing a smile. We walked with only the crunch of dead branches and leaves beneath our feet to remind each other of our presence.
In all honesty, I still wasn’t sure where we were going.
Lyla had approached me a few weeks back about teaching her to awaken her magic, right before school started. I only vaguely knew her. We had exchanged a few words at her family’s store in the past, but nothing more. She belonged to a notable Brewer (or, potion maker, in layman’s terms) family who lived on the outskirts of town. Despite our shared abilities, we knew nothing about each other. Generally, the three branches of witches present in Millstone keep to themselves. Here's a quick run-down of each:
The Sorcerers think they’re better than everyone, usually in their huge, old-money mansions, living their stereotypical lavish lifestyle and doing it unapologetically. Their entire lives revolve around magic. They go to special private schools, strictly marry with other Sorcerers, and just generally distance themselves from everyone else. TL;DR: They’re stuck up, snobby, and cliquey.
Brewers are sort of like the merchants of the witches. They make all sorts of natural remedies, but their specialty is potions. Brewers are the only ones who can make a career out of their gift, like Lyla and her family. They run a “natural medicine shop” in the middle of town that is beloved by all residents of Millstone, magical and not. You don’t necessarily need the magic gene to be a Brewer. In fact, it remains dormant in most of them. The quality of their product relies much more on the ingredients used than the one stirring them. That being said, the magic touch doesn’t hurt.
Finally, we have my branch: Environmentals. A weird, love-child hybrid of Sorcerers and Brewers. The origin of Environmental witches is unknown, but it’s inferred that we were the result of a rogue Sorcerer falling for a Brewer a few centuries back. As I mentioned before, most Brewers have magic, they just don’t use it the traditional way or don’t use it at all. When it is utilized, though, it has strong ties to the Earth and weather. Now, throw in some traditional energy-based magic and the ability to manipulate the other elements, and you’ve got an Environmental. Though we are by far the smallest sub-category of witches, I would argue we’re the most useful. It’s a lot easier to get away with using magic in your everyday life when it doesn’t manifest itself in the form of sparkly light rays coming from your fingers. The stuff we do manipulate does still have a trace of energy, though. That’s one issue that is unique to Environmentals: we have to worry about magic overcharge.
Brewers don’t use casting magic often. Sorcerers work with it exclusively, so their energy regulation is a lot more reliable than Environmentals. That leaves my people in a weird middle ground. Our energy moves differently through different materials, it fluctuates with our mood, and regulation is a lot more experience-based.
When Lyla sought me out for training, I was surprised. As I said, I barely knew her at the time. Her name often slipped my mind. I just knew her as “the cute girl from the potions shop.” I was flattered she had chosen me. My dumb crush blinded me from the truth for three days before I remembered: I was the only practicing teen Environmental in town. I was her only choice. My ego was bruised for a few days after that one.
Once I recovered, I lent her all the “Elements 101” and “Magic for Dummies” books I could find around my house. We met twice a week to try and test her powers on small things. It took only three weeks for her to succeed: She made an old kidney bean sprout right before our eyes. After that, it wasn’t long before she approached me about a duel.
I lifted my gaze away from my tattered sneakers and spotted a clearing ahead. Convenient spot, I thought.
“Hey, we’re gonna stop up here, and I’m gonna lay out a few rules before we start.”
She turned her head to look at the deserted path behind us. “Are you sure? We aren’t that far out. What if someone finds us? We’ll be stripped of our powers if someone normal sees us casting.”
“I’m, like, 75% percent sure.” I kidded.
“Maeve, stop. I’m serious.”
“I am too. Plus, what do you have to lose? I’m the one who actually needs the magic. You can keep making earth cocktails without powers.” I felt her stare boring holes into the side of my head. I cocked my head in her direction and added, “Come on, Lyla. Trust me.”
That seemed to put her at ease. We reached the clearing and she tossed her bag up on a tree branch before walking to the opposite side of the field.
“Ok,” I shouted, “a few rules. One: This isn’t really going to be a duel. That wouldn’t be fair.” I saw her start to interject, so I quickly continued. “My magic is so much stronger than yours, I would win within minutes. Trust me, it’s for your own good. Two: I know you aren’t familiar with overcharge, but honestly, only you know your own tolerance. If you feel something really, really wrong, tell me, ok? Did you bring the energy discharge potion?”
“Ok. Then we’re ready.” I surveyed the ground around me. “Give me a minute to connect with the elements. I suggest you do the same.”
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. The wind once again started to swirl me, and I raised and dampened its intensity a few times as a test. Next, I crouched down and put my palm firmly on the ground. I felt the soil warm and the grass grow before my eyes, slowly snaking around my fingers. Once I lifted my hand, the grass fell limp and lost its grip.
Alright, I thought. I’m connected.
I opened my eyes to see Lyla staring.
She glanced around. “I guess.”
I nodded my head and pulled the energy I could from the air around me. The pocket of air surrounding my body went totally still, fully at my mercy. I started easy, flicking a few sharp gusts in her direction. Lyla lost her balance for a second before sending a slight rumble through the ground. It was barely a tremble by the time it reached me, but I pretended to stumble regardless. A content smile spread on her face. God, she really was pretty.
Next, I mustered a small flame and let it lick across my fingertips. Paired with another strong gust, the fire swirled into a hungry spiral as it shot towards her. She tried to stop it with a gust of her own, but it was barely enough to dissipate the fire before it made contact.
This back and forth continued for over ten minutes. I checked in between every few exchanges to make sure she was ok. Each time, she brushed me off and used it as a chance to try and surprise me with a move. It never worked.
After fifteen, I finally put it to a stop. I could feel the tips of my fingers tingling with magic, so I estimated that she was near her limit. Lyla tried to cast a few more tricks, but I easily blocked them all as I walked to her side of the clearing.
“Calm down, Harry Potter. We’re done. You did well.” I reached out to pat her on the shoulder, but the contact zapped me. I recoiled.
“God, Lyla, that shouldn’t happen.” I shook my hand to cool it down. “You’re really at your limit. Why didn’t you-”
“I’m fine,” she cut in. Her words were sharp.
“I don’t think you are.” I pestered. “I can get the potion. I know it’ll knock you out cold, but I can carry you back.”
“No, you definitely can’t. Don’t overestimate your strength.”
Lyla was clearly in pain. She had never lashed out like this before.
“I’m getting it. Stay here.”
Before I could even turn around, a blast of cold air knocked me onto the ground. I hit the earth with a dull thud.
“Ow,” I groaned. “What the hell, Lyla?”
“I said, I don’t. Need. The potion.” She heaved between each word.
“Why is it such a big deal?”
“I know my limit.”
“Are you sure?” My eyes pleaded for her to listen.
“Why don’t you trust me?” she practically roared.
The wind started to pick up again, but not by my will. I could see the energy sparkling on her skin and between her fingers.
Before I could finish, the ground below us started to rumble. It stopped the moment I noticed Lyla's knees buckle. She hit the ground, one of her arms landing across my stomach. The contact shocked me again, but this time, much more intensely. I yelped and scrambled away from her.
She wasn’t moving.
I couldn’t get close enough to touch her without the hairs on my arm standing straight up. I laid on my stomach and focused intently on hers, looking for any rising or falling. It was stagnant.
I clambered up and ran as fast as I could to her bag. The straps had tangled around the branch from the constant whipping wind. Searching frantically, I finally found the potion, but in my rush, I dropped the bottle. It shattered at my feet.
I dug around again and found her phone. I started to dial 9-1-1 but hesitated.
I can’t call the police, right? They’ll know something is up.
But who do I call?
The decision was made for me as I saw blue and red sirens light up the trees around me. I froze for a moment as I considered running back over to the bod-
Lyla. Running back over to Lyla.
But my instincts kicked in too fast and I made a beeline for a thicker part of the trees.
I watched behind a dirt mound of my own making as the officers approached Lyla. Their voices were muffled from the distance.
“We’ve got a teen…..Unconcious… Millstone Park..”
I watched one of them reach down to take her pulse, but quickly recoil their hand the same as I had before.
“The hell?.....Lightning?.....no clouds...”
Lyla hadn’t moved since I ran to get her bag. Her eyes remained fixated on the night sky. Even from a distance, I could tell the girl I knew was no longer there.
Tears began to streak down my face as I pushed off of the mound and ran. I ran and ran until my lungs ached too much to continue.
I had no idea where I was. I collapsed onto the ground and stared up at the sky. I found myself mirroring the position Lyla had fallen in and quickly sat up.
What did I just do?