Rean walked around the throng of the back-alley market as she walked through her hometown Holbron, an iron bucket in hand. Her mother had given her some money to pay for a good birthday dinner. She’d turned nine earlier today and just wanted to play it off like any other day, finding fish in the ocean for their supper. However, her mother had insisted upon getting something more exotic for this special day. She’d given her two hundred credits; learning she’d saved it up for the last three years for such an occasion.
Rean’s lips were pursed as she kept an eye out for pickpockets. Why is this such an important day? It’s just the day I was born in relevance to celestial movement. I’m also cursed; The Deity Oltim found my previous life unworthy of exaltation in heaven; so he sent me back down to live a life of penance as an esper. What’s so glorious about that kind of birth?
Her heart sank at the thought, her head lowering to examine the dirt. Born with the sins of contracting with the Reapers; why did I sacrifice my eternity for temporary power? How could I have been so blind?
She went to every Sixth Day Deity Sermon with her mother, but everything spoken labeled her as a branded soul, something to be trodden upon. Her mother wanted her to keep it a secret so she wouldn’t be killed, which she didn’t understand. Mom says even espers can be saved, but I haven’t perceived anything about it from the sermons. Am I not looking hard enough or is she lying to me? No … I can’t doubt her, she’s much more experienced than me.
Her fingers closed around the small teardrop-shaped topaz necklace under her shirt front before looking around at the multitude of stands. The gem had belonged to her father, the only thing he left her before leaving. She’d never met her father, but her mother said that he had to abandon them. Of course he’d leave … why wouldn’t he go after finding out his daughter was an apostolate in her previous life? Sins chained into my very soul, persisting even after death. He didn’t want to be drawn into my iniquities—I can’t blame him.
Her nose stung and she sniffed back her emotions, swallowing. Right, I need to concentrate on the task at hand. Mom says I have an overactive mind; a product of the Reaper’s so-called gift.
Fish, jewelry, odds and ends from the east and south, the market was busy with even more merchants than usual. Matching the strange objects from distant lands were just as many different styles of clothes; her eyes slid between the merchants as they lifted their wares. Her vision lingering on a few middle-class Augnecian styles. It would be nice to have something more than rags, but you take what you can get … what you can make.
Rean always wanted to see the Holy City Augnecia with its Sacred Guard, the Celestrian Unit, and the high-quality products that were imported there from all regions across the world. Holbron was located on the southwest side of Elestveeve, by the coast. Their primary fish in the area were Largemouth Bass, Blue Catfish, Giant Yellowfin Tuna, and in general blue water fish. Mom said she wants something called a Weakfish. She also wants some olive oil, vidalia onions, and some more salt. Finding the oil, onions, and salt in less than thirty minutes, she paid twenty credits for all the items and headed to the exotic fish section of the market, asking around for merchants selling Weakfish.
It wasn’t long before she discovered only a single merchant sold it. He was a young man, which was odd since most merchants were old veterans that stopped at the same time every year. The man had fair skin, dark hair, thick eyebrows, blue eyes, and a crooked nose. His thin lips curled into a smile as she neared. “What can I do for you, little girl?” His accent sounds more southern, near the border to Holoq.
She rarely met people with his accent, which caught her interest; people south of the border were required to go through many stages of processing to get into Elestveeve. Not only was there a long administering dispensation, but those living close to the border rarely went north because of the desert like climate between the far west and south.
Clearing her throat, Rean said, “I hear you have Weakfish for sale.”
The stranger lifted one of his thick eyebrows. “Expensive tastes you have there.” He glanced over her rough shirt and pants; his eyes halted at the slightly rusted bucket and her brown shopping bag. “Are you sure you can afford something so rare?”
“How much are you charging for one?” Rean asked, knowing she’d likely be swindled for this fish.
“Well … you can’t get Weakfish around these parts, and where you can get them, they’re a dangerous catch. In the areas of Tech and New Genesis you know!”
Rean let a heavy sigh escape her lips and repeated her question. “How much are you asking?”
Perking up, the man said, “Since you’re so young and I have a soft spot for the youngins, how about I shave twenty credits off, a hundred and eighty credits.”
Rean kept a straight face. What! That’s as much as a twenty-five pound cut from a Giant Yellowfin Tuna! How big are these Weakfish? “How big is the fish?” Rean asked, keeping her voice in check. She didn’t want to insult him, or he might raise the price.
The corner of the young man’s mouth twitched. “Two-pounds, a fantastic deal I’m giving you!” Fantastic deal? Right … two-pounds; I can get thirty times that amount from a Bass with the same amount of credits! Mom wants it though … what’s so good about this fish? I need to find some way to lower the price; it can’t be a coincidence he’s asking for the exact amount of credits I have left.
“I have a hundred and fifty credits; can you lower it down a little? My mom really wanted to cook a Weakfish!” She tried sounding as cute and hopeful as possible.
The man laughed heartily. “I know for a fact that you have exactly a hundred and eighty credits, little girl.”
Rean’s mouth curved into a grimace and she glared at the man. He must have a scouter around the market. He could have put a tail on me, but why go after me? I didn’t announce that I was looking for a Weakfish until I came into this specific market; perhaps the merchants take a little cut if they help pin a customer into a deal. I haven’t taken out my money since I bought the onions … so, there must be a merchant guild that’s entered the town.
“Normally I wouldn’t budge a credit, but I’m amused that such a little girl would try haggling with me. Tell you what, I’ll drop the price five more credits.” His eyes appraised her bucket; however, it’ll be an extra credit for the ice. Scoundrel, all the other merchants take away the ice fee if the fish is over twenty credits, but he’s the only eastern fish merchant in the area … I’m lucky enough he dropped it four credits.
Begrudgingly, she handed him the credits. His hands darted out and grabbed her hand, shaking it earnestly. “Pleasure doing business, little lady!” I might as well be a Lady! Only a Lady would fork over this amount of credits for a two-pound fish … ridiculous.
“Yeah,” Rean grunted, hoisting the bucket, now carrying the fish, over her shoulders.
The merchant lifted an eyebrow as she stumbled a little with her burdens. “You sure you can carry that all the way back home?”
Rean nodded with a sullen tone. “Yeah, I help my mom with her fish all the time. I’m fine.” The man snorted, but turned back to the passing crowd and shouted out inflated prices for exotic fish.
Walking back through town, she kept to the main streets and away from the alleys. Thieves would be drawn like bees to honey. She exited the town, making her way into the woods; their cabin was a few hundred meters into the town’s surrounding forest. Entering the foliage, she shoved her way into a dense bunch of brush. Sighing, she set down her items and stretched out, feeling her muscles burn. What’s with that merchant! Charging me so much for this small fish; we could have saved the money and been set for the next few months living off Bass. Maybe it has a unique flavor that mom likes ... she does work hard. She deserves it, I shouldn’t complain; she’s taking care of me, even when I’m an esper.
Rean’s focus shot back to the road as she heard low voices approaching. It sounded like the merchant and a young boy. “You sure she went this way?” The boy asked.
The merchant eagerly responded. “Yeah, she’s only like nine or ten; she can’t have gone far into the woods without stopping.” What a vulture! He’s coming after me to steal back the fish, even after charging me such a ridiculous price. He might as well have already stolen it from me! I just need to wait ‘till they go further in and…
Rean’s breath caught in her throat as a black coated Worg soundlessly exited the brush four meters in front of her. It stood four feet tall at the shoulders and had dagger sharp ten-centimeter canines protruded from its drooling mouth. Ten-centimeter claws flexed against the ground, and its sleek black fur bristled as its black nose creased, tasting the air. Mom’s only told me stories about them, but this has to be a Worg! What’s a Worg doing in the Itol Forest? They’re usually found in the Northern Tundra and rarely travel south, never this far. How did it get past the Celestrian patrols? I have thieves to my back and a vicious Worg to my front! What do I do? Either the men scare it off and take the fish, most likely killing me to not hamper business, or I get eaten by the Worg. Her breath came out in hindered pants as her body trembled. What should I do?
The Worg bared its yellowed teeth as its beady black eyes centered on her. It prowled forward circling to her right, closing the distance. Mom said they hunt in packs of three, spreading around an area to corner their prey. Why hasn’t it howled for its party? Why does it even matter! I’ll be eaten if I don’t do anything. Do I not have a choice? I don’t want to leave mom alone...
As it reached three meters from her right, Rean panicked. Closing her eyes and holding her hands in front of her, she sent the calculations through her mind that she told herself she would never produce. Orange light danced across her eyelids with a rush of air that pressed against her skin. She heard a yelp of surprise escape the beast and Rean stumbling backward. She tripped, falling to her butt. She opened her eyes in a panic. The Worg had danced back several feet and sat down, its eyes fixated on her. The ground in front of her was scorched, and small flames started spreading across a nearby bush.
The boy’s voice sounded beside her in the underbrush. “What did I say, Geri? Her body temperature is at the point of a heavy fever, but she looks perfectly fine. She’s a Pyrokinetic.” Rean swallowed a heavy lump as the merchant, and a teenager emerged from the bushes. The teenager looked to be around the age of seventeen; he had fair skin, black hair, blue eyes, and wore a white shirt with blue pants. He walked over to the Worg and started petting its sleek fur.
Geri laughed nervously. “I’m shocked she waited that long to act. Normally, wouldn’t an esper kill the beast on sight?” The Worg’s low tone of pleasure escaped its throat, and it began scratching its side as the boy rubbed its upper chest, Geri still apprising Rean with nervous eyes.
The boy huffed. “She’s grown up in the Deity society, what else would you expect? She probably thinks her ability is a curse of some all-powerful being … really, it’s sad.”
Shakily getting to her feet, Rean tried to make sense of what was transpiring. The Worg isn’t attacking the boy, it’s enjoying his attention. It’s a trained Worg? Did I just fall into some kind of esper trap and what’s a Pyrokinetic? I’ve never heard of that word before. “Who are you?” She slowly edged back toward the main road.
Geri chuckled, and the Worg leaped to her right as quick as a viper, darting around to block her escape. She swallowed as her heart pounded and her breath coming out in twisted pants. What do they want? Are they Celestrians here to cast judgment on me? Is the Worg a Spirit Linker beast? Tentatively, Rean asked. “Are you two Celestrians?”
“What!” Geri gasped through heavy spurts of laughter, losing his nervousness. “Celestrians—no. Stephen here is an esper—just like you.”
Rean closed her fists as her hands started to tremble. Another past sinner, like me?
Geri gestured to Stephen. “This young man has the esper ability of Zoopathy. Think of it as Telepathy for animals. He can control and direct them to do as he wishes. While I’m a normal human, who’s under the payroll—simple really. I know you must be fairly intelligent if you’re an esper; you should be able to grasp that.”
“What do you want with me?” Rean asked, her throat going dry. There’s no way I can escape if I have this Worg tracking me.
Stephen shook his head with a puff of air escaping his mouth. “We don’t need to explain anything. Stick her so we can get back to work.”
Rean’s eyes widened as she felt a prick in her back. Turning in shock, she found the Worg had snuck up behind her and held a needle carefully between its teeth. The Worg drugged me? Her vision faded and her body seemed to gain weight as the ground met her blurred eyes.
* * *
She felt something slide across her left hand as she awoke. Her hand twitched at the contact. Where am I? Those … men, they drugged me. She stayed silent as she listened. Are they gone? Odd tingling sensations started in her left hand, climbing up her body. She could hear shallow breathing and drops of water that echoed around the area. It reminded her of her house; she had a leak in her room that fell into a bucket. The noise calmed her racing heart and eased her nerves. That Zoopathy esper, Stephen, his Worg drugged me and now I’m waking up. She laid still for a minute before she heard someone’s clothes rustling. Opening her eyes, she followed his action, lifting to a sitting position.
A boy’s frightened voice asked, “Where am I?” It’s a good question, the room’s pitch black.
Starting to feel the darkness closing in on her, she shivered even though she couldn’t feel cold weather. “No idea.” Should I use my flames? Mom said I shouldn’t, but I already did against the Worg—and look where it got me, but how am I supposed to find my way out … what if that Worg is still here?
The boy’s scared voice had stabilized as he asked, “Still there?” Who is he and why am I with him? Was that his hand that rubbed against mine? I might as well try and see what this area’s like, I’ve already sinned. It’s not like it’s my first time anyways, I’m condemned either way.
“Yeah, give me a second.” Lifting her hands into a cup, she sent the appropriate calculations that she’d only done a few times. Concentrating on her hands to birth the fire, she felt a warm sensation spread throughout her body as the flames lit the area.
Blinking rapidly, she stared around. Seven people were in the room. A young blonde haired girl that looked even younger than her was sitting up against the back wall and the boy next to her seemed to be a few years older.
When her eyes settled on the blonde haired older boy, her heart fluttered and a strange pressure pressed against her chest. What’s going on? I can’t get his face out of my head? Clamping her jaw shut, she switched her eyes to the flames, which were starting to flicker and sputter with her lack of concentration. No matter how hard she stared at the fire, her mind kept replaying the boy’s image. Her jaw slackened as she started breathing through her mouth, her lips felt so dry. I can’t focus, and I’m getting tired, but why? This has never happened before?
The boy moved to face her, his hand grasping her shoulder and panic broke across his face, his terror returning. “Hey, what’s going on with the light? Why is it dimming? Don’t let it go out!”
Snapping her jaw again, she felt a strange urge to pour everything into the flame. Her face contorted as she muttered. “I don’t know.” Her heart was beating so fast. She began panting as she tried her absolute best to keep the flames lit, but her mind kept flashing back to the boy, disrupting her efforts.
She felt a slight tingling sensation at her neck as the boy’s hand squeezed her shoulder, beside her neck. “That’s enough. It won’t do us any good if you faint.” Rean felt her vision gloss over, and her mind blanked.
* * *
The next moment, she found herself in a dark box with the dimensions of two meters, and she was tossed around every few minutes. There were small gleams of light spotted across the small holes in the ceiling. What happened? I can’t remember anything. The boy touching me and … I blacked out? Was he an esper too? What’s happening to me?
She felt tears coming to her eyes. The confusion sank into her stomach as it growled hungrily; her throat hurt, her muscles were sore, and she needed to go to the bathroom. Why did it turn out like this? What will mom do when I don’t come back? She’ll be lonely; she may even think that I abandoned her like father. Tears dripped down her cheeks at the thought, and she sniffed back snot that began running down her nose. Her hand closed around the necklace at her throat. Why did dad leave? Mom really could have used his help—she should have abandoned me.
She didn’t know how much time passed, but it couldn’t have been that long. The side of the box shuddered as it landed against solid ground and blinding lights shone around the edges as it opened. Strong hands darted in to yank her out. She struggled for a second before she was tossed to the stone floor. She felt the blow jar through her body; more tears dripped down her cheeks as she looked up at two men standing over her. One had a clipboard and some kind of writing utensil as he checked things across a piece of paper.
“What do you want?” Rean asked.
The men didn’t answer, but a moment later they stood at attention, holding their left fist over their heart. Turning, Rean watched a very tall, skinny black haired woman approach her. The woman stopped before her and the coldest eyes Rean had ever seen studied her. Rean was speechless, her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. “Ability?” The woman demanded, voice devoid of emotion.
The man with the clipboard said, “Pyrokinetic, not OP’s level, and she’s from Holbron.”
Appraising her, the woman said, “Kitchen … Boltis.”
The man without the clipboard flinched, but said, “Yes, Sevilla.”
Rean felt cold shivers run down her spine as her body quaked. The woman appraised her one more time, before moving on. Where am I and who are these people? I want to go home!