“It doesn’t count if you’re planning your defeat.”
Those were the last bits of advice Aella heard from her grandmother before they fought their last fight together.
Aella was the youngest of the entire Ayer family, powers passed down from generation to generation. The Ayer’s heroes began with a woman who refused to take her husband’s name. She took her mother’s instead, much to the public’s outrage. Once her village discovered she had unimaginable powers, they let her do as she pleased.
Eight generations of firstborn daughters ended with Aella, born with bright eyes and the fiery passion of her ancestral mothers in her heart. Ceres, her living grandmother, was her and her mother’s mentor until the day she died. Her mother Juno would then take the helm of the teacher. But only when the day came.
“Leave at the hip, follow-through,” Ceres told her girls as they continued their exercises. Juno and Aella practiced together often. This was the closest to tradition Ceres would obey. She believed mothers and daughters should learn from the other. “Adjust your tempo Aella,” She ordered. “Juno, take your time. There’s no reason to rush.’
“Mama,” Juno objected. “I’m keeping up with Aella. Somehow.”
“You both should be maintaining a slower tempo,” Ceres told them. Aella looked annoyed, Juno gave her a tap with her elbow. They both knew how Ceres taught. Aella went faster and hard when she fought, and it did work for her. Juno and Ceres were slower though it didn’t dismiss their strength. Aella wanted to fight, wanted to be taken seriously all her own. Ceres told her not to get arrogant, it wasn’t a good look.
There was a quick knock at the frame of the doors leading to the courtyard. “Good morning,” declared Nero, father to Aella, husband to Juno. “am I interrupting?”
“You always do,” Ceres said, though there was a glimmer of affection in her eyes.
“Come and eat breakfast, if you can break away for a second.” He ordered everyone. Aella took the luck, running directly into the house. Juno sighed stretching her arms, glancing at Ceres. “Good morning Al,” He kissed on top of her hair.
“Da, tell Mom Ives’s father spends all winter with his family.” She ordered once they were all at the table. Aella scanned her phone, seeing Ives had finally woken up.
“Nero tell your daughter Ives’s father is the farthest thing from a hero,” Juno told the table. “Poor thing, got so much much talent to be taught by that loser.”
“Who is Ives?” Ceres now awoke to the words, scanning her granddaughter’s expressions.
“My best friend Mama,” Aella replied, not looking up from her phone.
“Is Ives a boy or a girl?”
“Does it matter?”’
“It doesn’t matter if they’re a girl.”
“What if I like girls?” Aella tested her.
“I would love you all the same,” Ceres told her. “And the same rules would apply.”
“I like boys, he is a boy, we are not dating.” Aella decided, taking her tea and drank all of it. “You can do that. Just be friends with boys.”
“Only some of them.” Ceres murmured.
“I know right?” Nero joined. “Some guys are the worst.”
Ceres smirked, “Only some,”
“Only some.” agreed Juno. She tapped Aella to set her phone down, just while they eat.
Ceres smiled while she listened to Aella speak about a school issue, eyes matching her outrage. It was wonderful to watch her as she spoke, passion lined her every word. Ceres was reminded of Juno’s adolescence, though she had definitely relaxed from her age. Maybe Aella would too. She hoped, though, that Aella didn’t. Once you reached Ceres’s age you begin to get tired of life in general. Being tired numbed you in some ways, and that was the last thing she wanted her only granddaughter to be.
They cleared the table, Aella started the dishes with her father. “Da I will spray you,” She threatened after he began wringing his drying towel. He gave her an innocent look. “Da, I mean it. Don’t make me do it.”
“I can’t make you do anything,” He replied. “Girls can’t be controlled.” She gave him a look while he snorted. Juno slipped both arms around her husband’s middle, giving him a small kiss against his temple. He squeezed her hands, feeling warm inside.
The village’s bells began to toll, stirring their attention. Aella dropped her dish immediately, bolting to the front door. “Aella!” Juno shouted. “It’s probably just a test!”
“It’s too late in the morning,” She shouted back, grabbing her shoes. “It’s got to be an emergency!”
“She’s right, we’d better go with her.” Ceres pointed out, heading to join her. “Come along Juno,” Aella was already at the sidewalk. Ceres sighed.
“Good luck, I love you.” Nero kissed his wife before she left for the village’s square. She waved when they were outside.
Aella ran the rest of the way, reaching the square hearing the sounds of people together. She caught a flash of long black hair that helped her sneak deeper into the crowd. She took his arm, telling Ives she was there. “Do you know what happened?”
“Dad’s inside, I think it’s a hero meeting.” He replied for only her to hear. “We’ll probably get inside, but we’re not going to hear what happens.”
“Probably.” She whispered back.
Juno and Ceres met the outskirts of the crowd, lingering close to the other. The Mayor ushered the villagers to go back to business, heroes come into the bell tower. Hardwin, Ives’s father, watched all of them enter before shutting the doors behind them. As expected Ives and Aella were made to sit outside while the adults went deeper into the building to the secret room. Aella started to bare her teeth to Hardwin but sat with Ives anyway. “More than those suckers get to have.” He murmured nodding to the outside.
“I want to be able to contribute, not just sit around and wait for orders.” She objected, pouting her bottom lip. It only made him smile wider. “Shut up.”
“I’m literally standing here, not saying a word.”
The meeting was, thankfully, short-lived. They knew where they were going by the time they entered the room. “Come on Aella you’re with me.” Juno declared. She looked at Ives, “What happened to your hair?”
“I grew it out.”
She nodded, “It looks good.”
“Don’t encourage him,” Hardwin objected now joining the little party. “Boy needs a haircut.”
Before Aella could say something rude, her mother ushered her out.
They hiked outside the village and up the mountain to the randevu point. Quiet and peaceful as the world should be. Aella looked over her shoulder, catching the sight of Ives and Hardwin behind them. Aella let herself fall behind her mother and grandmother, reaching Ives’s side. She gave him a look, shoved him hard, then bolted for him to give chase. Ives took the bait and followed. “Ives!” Hardwin shouted as he ran.
“Let them be,” Ceres declared. A small smile lingered on her mouth. “Children live with excitement...and they need to be children sometimes.”
“He is not a child anymore,” Hardwin grumbled.
“A fourteen-year-old isn’t a child?” Juno joined, looking at him a little sharply.
Ceres glare told them not to start arguing. In-fighting was not something she could tolerate. They caught the sound of Aella’s screaming with excitement, ushering their hike a little faster.
Aella whizzed through the trees, feet hitting the ground as lightly as she could, feeling the wind blow back her blonde hair. Her eyes caught one flash, skidding herself to a halt, switching around and throwing her arms around Ives. She pushed him to the nearest tree, keeping him there. “What?” He managed after he was able to breathe again. She pressed her fingers to her lips, pausing him, pointing to the distance where she caught the flash. Once he saw it, they looked around to see if the adults were nearby. The silver of Ceres’s long hair met their eye line. They looked at the other nervously, trying to think of the best way to send for them. Aella edged, throwing out her hand, quickly, retreating back into herself. Luckily she saw it.
“Wait,” Ceres whispered, stopping all three of them. “Hardwin, look up the mountain.”
He blinked three times, heightening his senses, looking down the path. “There’s..six. I can’t see Ives or Aella.”
“We can assume they’re hidden. Aella is smart, she would not be captured.”
“I know Mama,” Juno replied, gearing for a fight.
“I am speaking for myself.” She murmured. “Juno get in the air, Hardwin you will remain beside me.”
Aella took a deeper breath, holding Ives’s hand, feeling herself shake from her worry. Ives looked at her directly trying to get her attention. “What? What?” She asked. “There’s six of them, what should we do?”
“Breath first of all!” He ordered, squeezing her hands. “We can see them, maybe we should climb up so we can get a better sight.”
“You go, I’ll stay here-”
“No, you go up. Your strength is in the air, I’ll hide in the brush.”
“I’m not leaving you behind!”
“You’re not leaving me, I’ll be fine.” He promised her. She gave him a look of worry but did climb the tree, reaching the first branch in only a second. She went up farther, reaching a strong perch where she could rest. She looked down and found he had disappeared already. She looked at the other side, seeing Ceres and Hardwin reaching their location. The six heard their arrival. “No, no, no.” She whispered.
Ceres placed both hands at her sides, back straight, and eyes forward. Juno was dangling above and jumping from tree to tree. Hardwin was at her side, she couldn’t find Aella or Ives but they were near. “Ah,” declared a heavy voice breaking the tranquility of the mountain. The leader of the gang appeared, three others behind him, the other two were split off. “Well, is that Ceres? You seem older than we were lead to believe.”
“And what is your age, sir? Ten? Twelve?” She glanced at Hardwin, arms still folded. “Who are you?”
“You can call us the Defenders if you’d like.” He showed his arms, eyes starting to glow.
“Hm,” She answered. “Why are you here?”
“We’re here for the communication tower. Your buddy Helon won’t let us through.”
Juno swore softly, she caught the sight of her daughter, crossed and captured her. “Aella? Where is Ives?”
“I dunno, he disappeared.”
“Alright, he can handle himself,” She replied. “Come on, we’re getting to the communication tower.”
“What about Mama?” Her mother rose an eyebrow. “Okay let’s go.” They lifted off to head to the next trees.
Ives gulped down some courage, moving through the underbrush. He watched his father’s arms adjust, beginning to roll up his sleeves when he geared to fight. ‘He’s gonna kick your-’ Ives felt a hand cover his mouth, yanking him into a goon’s hold. He wriggled and fought, but the hold was strong. His hands touched the arm now tight around his mouth.
Hardwin’s ear picked up the wrestling of Ives’s clothes, struggling from some kind of resistance. “Ceres, my son-”
“He can handle his own, we’re here to fight them.”
Before he could run away to find him the gang advanced. Ceres’s eyes glowed, both hands balled together and created a compression of air. She sent three men into the distance, gaining back some space. Hardwin punched one in the throat, effectively knocking him to the dirt. He tried to listen for Ives, listening for a shout, Ives’s resistance slowing or increasing, anything. Ceres banked from the leader’s punches, twirling and twisting with minimal ease. “You’d do yourself a favor to beg for forgiveness.” She took a turn, both hands relaxed punching a sensitive spot at his spine. He screamed in horror, falling to the Earth. “If you’re so inclined, partake on your knees.”
The other three rejoined the fight, brandishing metal staffs. Hardwin plucked up his villain and tossed him as easily as a bottle cap. One evaded, the other two were crushed. Ceres gripped the metal staff about to hit her skull, staring down her attacker. His other hand went to grab her, but she took it, crushing it. He smashed his head against hers, hoping to shock her. Her eyes never left his. The metal snapped in half in one hand, the bones cracked in the other.
At last, a scream rang from Ives’s position. But it wasn’t from him. Hardwin went, he could wait no longer. “Ives! IVES!” He reached the underbrush, finding Ives scrambled out from underneath it. He looked shaken but completely unharmed. Hardwin bent down, studying him, holding his face to keep him steady. “Ives…” He breathed out, pressing his forehead to his son’s. “What happened?” The goon laid in his spot, not moving. Hardwin scanned him, seeing he was missing his left arm, and passed out from shock.
“I...just wanted him to let me go.” Ives managed, voice trembling.
“Shh,” Hardwin went back, pulling him in. “You did the right thing. He’s alive, and so are you. Breathe.” Ives tried to slow down his heart rate, feeling awful. Hardwin ran some of his hair back behind his ears, slowly helping his son to his feet. “We have to meet Ceres, keep breathing.”
They returned to the woman now with the leader under her foot. “What kind of monster brings a kid to a fight?” He asked, hoping to sting them. Hardwin held onto his son a little tighter.
“Our friend has informed us the tower being taken will provide them the advantage for a whole scale invasion,” Ceres reported. “Juno and Aella are probably there, we should join them.
The randevu was the small building where the communication tower rested at the base of the mountain. Ceres could smell a sickly scent she knew too well. Juno was inside the building, Aella remained outside. Ceres turned and stopped Hardwin who wanted to enter. “Hardwin, do not look.” The scent was so thick and ugly it made her stomach turn. “Stay here, please.”
“I know,” She said gently.
She found the sight she knew was going to find, feeling bile start to enter her throat. Juno covered Helon with his jacket, searching through to ensure the communication hadn’t been blocked. Thankfully, they hadn’t made it that far. The fallen goons Helon had taken were scattered about the floor. They decided they would go back home and report what happened, and the hero that had fallen.
Hardwin held his son around his shoulders, feeling his anticipation. Ives relaxed when he was close and being so physically clingy was uncharacteristic of him. Aella held his hand before they left with their parents. Hardwin placed one hand against his hair, mussing it up, and walked him home to his mother.
Juno squeezed her shoulders, taking her to the safety of their house. Ceres looked at them from behind her shoulder, seeing how they held onto the other. She reached the house first, seeing the lights were not on, making her paranoid. She reached the door, gripping the handle, listening for Nero. She opened the door, glancing around, she listened for him. “Nero,” She called. “Nero?” She crossed to the kitchen, seeing him on the floor, propped against the kitchen cabinets. She touched his head, lifting up and studied him. “Nero!”
His glossy eyes slowly opened a little. One pupil was wider than the other. “You, you-” He whispered. His brain melted from the lights around him. Juno saw her husband and ran to reach him, Aella went to her mother’s side. His eyes opened a little wider, trying to smile at them.
“He has a concussion,” Ceres said, calmly. “Take him to the doctor Juno.”
“I’m not leaving you here.”
“Yes, you most certainly will.” She argued. They continued to argue before Juno let herself go. She adjusted and carted him outside. Ceres looked at Aella, holding her head for a moment. “Listen my girl, and listen to me closely.” Aella nodded. “Your father will live, he has a mild concussion. Your mother will sooner die herself before he does.”
“Mama,” She cried, rubbing her eyes.
“Shh, my girl.” She said softly. “We will find who did this. And we will apprehend them. A fight is just a fight. But it doesn’t count if you’re planning your defeat. Don’t be afraid, and trust me as I trust you.” Aella took a deeper breath, feeling his kiss against her forehead. “Come along my dear, we have a fight to win.”