Yue didn’t torture Yang per say, but she enjoyed keeping the girl on her toes from time to time. Times like tonight, with the full moon round like a dinner plate, feeding the crevices and alleyways of the city below with a soft white glow. Was there really anything better to do than to run barefoot across construction beams?
Yang’s ponytail bounced behind her head. “I need to be down there!” she said, gasping. Chestnut bangs swung messily, covering her forehead. “They need me for the opening ceremony.”
In response, Yue’s long chalky fingers only gripped her elbow tighter. “Relax. It’s not like your friends can ditch their only functioning artist.”
“It was a collaboration – ”
“ – with people you hate,” Yue said, inclining her head. “Besides, they don’t pay you anyway. So I don’t see why you’re obliged.”
The building skeleton they were running on was tall. Even other skyscrapers reached greedily towards it, stranded as they were in the busy neon city.
At the edge of the beam, Yue let go of Yang’s hand, bunched the muscles in her legs, and took a superpowered leap over to the other side. She turned around, smiling.
“No!” Yang’s usually soft voice spiked in volume and aggravation. “Don’t you smile like it’s a piece of cake! You trained years for that, I’ll bet.”
She pointed an accusing finger at Yue, but it only caused the other girl to burst out into belly laughs.
“Just try it,” Yue said, when she had calmed down.
The look on Yang’s face was priceless. At first, she gazed downwards with trepidation. Yang was quite athletic. Even as a non-magical human, she might have made the jump. At the same time, watching the cars whizz past like turbo-powered ants so far below would be dizzying for anyone. But then, something seemed to come over her, the flash of green in her hazel eyes brightened, and then she leapt the whole way across. Once she landed, safe, on the other side of the gap, she looked around with wonder.
Yue was surprised. Not because the girl had made it, but that soon after, when Yue outstretched her hand, Yang took it without hesitating. They both began running again, picking up the pace. The stars flew above them like a migration of fireflies.
Yue could feel the tingles of flight at her feet. Her instincts screamed at her to take off, to claim the certainty of the air rather than hang on to uncertain grounds. No doubt it was the same for Yang.
Before she could turn to the girl and invite her to ascend, there was a whistle of wind.
“Look out!” Yang shouted. Just in time. Because when Yue ducked, a claw swiped at the spot where her head had been a moment before.
Yue’s eyes ignited, wide and blood red, scanning the source of the disturbance.
It was a living gargoyle. Bulky, grey and with powerful wings made of canvas. The Paper Mache dressing that disguised the whole thing as stone during the day was crumbling, making small clouds each time the wings beat down.
Gears creaked, echoing within the otherwise hollow body, as a ghostly presence manipulated the gargoyle into swooping down again. Yue felt a chill and a chatter of teeth pressed against her cheek as she dodged, leapt off the construction beam, and entered a flight of her own.
Yue was ready. Of course she was. For human magic users like them, trouble was easy to run into, especially at night. Yang would have to learn that eventually, she thought, as she reached into her skirt pocket for a shard of glinting blue crystal. The girl couldn’t spend each night hiding away amid the light and clamour of the non-magical, expecting that to protect her.
Quickly, Yue drew her crystal and prepared to cast a spell. The heat was already rushing to her fingertips, glowing amber. She was aiming at the gargoyle’s neck.
But Yang was simply faster. She had hopped onto one of the wider beams, and had her hands outstretched, glowing with white light. A crackling sound, and then a plasma green bolt hurtled at the stern grey head.
Yue watched, mouth agape, as the heavy creature dropped, and then disintegrated into a foul-smelling dust midair. The breeze scattered it. Gradually, her heartbeat evened out.
Before she could praise Yang for a job well done, clammy arms were wrapping themselves around her neck, nearly strangling her in fright. The two of them floated in the night sky, caught in that awkward embrace.
“That . . . was horrible.” Yang’s voice shivered, close to a sob.
“Hey . . . “Yue tried to release one of her arms from the tangle of limbs. Her eyes were stinging too, but from dryness, not wetness. It sure was a crisp night, she thought.
Yue sighed, and patted Yang’s back. She never saw a need for tears, never saw a need to deal with them in her life. But if Yang could protect herself, she figured, maybe crying afterwards was fine. She smoothed down the sleeves of the artist’s dress shirt and returned to her the coat she had stolen from her at the exhibition site.
A moment passed with just the breeze buffeting their hair. Yang didn’t seem about to let go anytime soon, though she’d stopped crying.
“Hey,” Yue said softly. “Wanna go get ice cream?”
Hazel eyes snapped upwards and glared ice picks at her.
“Is that all you have to say?”
“It’s all I got, yeah,” Yue said apologetically.
Yang looked at her for a moment, but then her gaze softened. “Ugh. Fine. But I pick the place.”
One quick flight later, and they were landing at the start of the shopping street. The exhibition was nearing its end – Yang’s least favourite part, when all the sponsors arrived onstage to wax lyrical about art pieces they knew nothing about. She didn’t ask to be taken back.
Instead, she dragged Yue to her favourite stall in the night market that sold large heaping scoops of strawberry-flavoured ice cream in blue ceramic bowls. They sat down at low chairs, bathed in pink light.
“Why does that get to have a seat of its own?” Yang said, pointing accusingly at the blue crystal, which Yue had left on a third chair. “You should put it back in your pocket, so someone else can sit there.”
“There’s not much of a crowd,” Yue mumbled through a mouthful of ice cream. “They’ve all gone to see the exhibits.”
“Ugh, speaking of which . . . “ Yang turned around, in the vague direction of the blazing orange light that came from the hotel. “I wonder if they’re almost done there?”
She didn’t seem eager to rejoin her colleagues anymore.
Yue swallowed the ice-cream, wincing a little as it caught in her throat. She never liked eating sweets. Most of them couldn’t be gobbled in two bites, unlike the rest of her meals. Hard-boiled eggs, cream cracker sandwiches . . . those were the kinds of things that sustained a person who fought rogue magic creatures at night.
“Are you still mad at me?” she said, reaching out to take hold of the crystal.
Yang turned back and frowned scornfully. “Don’t act like a kicked puppy, I told you not to take me out of work.”
“But you said you were bored. And the old man was yelling at you,” Yue persisted, pouting. If she looked like a kicked puppy, well, that was just fine for her. She balanced the crystal in her palm. “Anyway, this can keep the smaller magic creatures away, but only if I balance it flat like this.”
A frown crossed Yang’s face, as if she didn’t think it was very useful. Ultimately, though, she just sighed and recrossed her legs in the opposite direction. “Sometimes boring is good. And I don’t need you bodyguarding me. It’s enough that you’re picking me up for magic training and all that, honest.”
“Okay,” Yue drawled, resting her chin in her hands. “But flying is fun, isn’t it?”
Yang groaned. “I’m never going out with you again.”