Amarynthe fought with her dress as it clung to her legs in awkward clumps. Her knees pulled at the durable material and it threatened to bunch and tangle at any given moment, only fueling her irritation. But it did not stop her. Not at all.
Her path took her away from the tower, away from the village, and over the plains that led towards the Andovian Hills. Trees dotted the landscape in small clumps. Green grass gave way to hardier yellow growth and little rocks appeared underfoot. The odd bird or creature flitted by, fleeing her arrival, though nothing rose up to challenge her.
There was neither a road nor a path, but that didn’t keep her from making her way as she had many times before, only this time, she had no ingredients to find or real purpose in going. She was just running because it hurt too much to stay there, to see their faces and to know they had been keeping such a thing from her. Especially her father. It was too much to wonder if he really was crazy, trying such a dangerous spell again in the impossible hope that he could find his wife. Amarynthe’s mother. And it was far too much for Amarynthe to think she might be wrong about her mother’s death. To even allow the hope that she might be alive.
Amarynthe ran until the stitch in her side forced her to slow down. Her throat burned from the slightest of chills in the air and she tugged and smacked at her entangling dress until it was as untangled as it was going to get. “Ugh!” she gasped, finally stopping with a hand over her mouth and her eyes closed as she attempted to calm down. “So stupid,” she murmured, covering her face with both hands. “So stupid.” Her fingers wiped at her eyes and moved to rub her temples. She wasn’t sure if she was referring to herself or her father.
Opening her eyes allowed Amarynthe to finally take a better look at her surroundings. The sun was still visible, though heading towards the horizon, and she wasn’t entirely sure of where she’d landed herself. The marshy terrain was familiar but she didn’t know if she’d headed towards the heart of the hills or veered off closer to the outskirts. Scraggly bushes dotted the landscape and she could see a couple of small critters darting from one growth to the next. A blackbird perched on a boulder several meters away and cawed at her before flapping off, growing smaller by the moment.
“I can’t believe he was using me like that,” she exhaled, running her palms over her windblown hair and resting them against her neck. Fighting the sick feeling in the pit of her stomach, she took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Her left hand slid down to hang at her side while her right shifted to grab the necklace her father had given her last year. “Huh?” she blinked in confusion, peering down to look at the amethyst. It didn’t look any different but it was definitely warmer as it rested in her palm. What was that supposed to mean?
Wiping at her eyes with her free hand, she sniffed and turned around in a circle, trying to see if anything was different. Nothing obvious presented itself. Gladly distracted, she slowly started walking, looking from side to side as she went. A flicker of movement on the horizon drew her attention until she was mesmerized by a butterfly fluttering directly in front of her. The bright orange and black patterns blurred together as it flapped and Amarynthe smiled. At least until the butterfly’s image changed.
The wings elongated and curled in on the down flap. Then when the wings went up, the tips touched above it. Stranger still, the air itself appeared to be distorted by some sort of hard-to-see disturbance. It warped the world she could see on the other side, blurring the ground with the sky subtly.
“What in the world?” she murmured, tilting her head to the side as she took a hesitant half-step closer to it. Her balance shifted strangely as a weird sense of pressure appeared on either side of her and then she yelped when hands latched on and pulled her back.
“Watch out!” “Don’t touch it!” “Ah!”
In a tangle of limbs and robes and confusion, Amarynthe found herself lying halfway on top of Zachariah and partially under Jerich. Neither realization made her happy. “What in the blazes are you doing?!” she demanded, half-heartedly pushing at Jerich to move while she struggled to get off Zachariah without crawling all over him.
“Saving you!” Jerich answered immediately, pointing an accusatory finger at her with a flustered expression on his face as he stood up.
Amarynthe opened her mouth to speak but Zachariah interrupted, “It’s wild magic, Ryn!”
With a clack of teeth, Amarynthe closed her mouth and turned to look at the distortion with wide eyes. In theory, she knew what it was and what it could do. In theory. “More magic,” she grumbled, her face darkening with the explanation. She turned her back on the boys and the distortion, crossed her arms over her chest, and squatted low to the ground, making herself as small as possible. Her fingers dug into her arms and she pressed her mouth against her sleeves, staring at nothing. “What are you doing here?” she finally asked when they didn’t seem to know what to say either.
“Like I said, saving you,” Jerich reminded her as his feet crunched softly over the sparse ground. More shuffling indicated he was probably helping Zachariah up. “Wild magic is dangerous.”
“Magic is dangerous,” she muttered quietly, feeling the emotions from earlier trying to sneak back up on her.
“This is different!” he snapped, turning to face the distortion himself. “There’s no telling what would happen to you if you walked into it,” he explained hastily. “Maybe nothing!” he gestured wildly, glaring at the patch of energy. “Maybe you get transformed into something! Maybe you disappear completely. No one knows!”
“Your father told us to follow you,” Zachariah added as he brushed himself off, his voice calmer though the underlying fear was there too, just like in Jerich’s. It only made Amarynthe feel worse.
“You shouldn’t be using magic without him around,” she mumbled as if by rote. Of course they’d used it to get to her to so quickly. It was them she’d seen on the horizon – it had to be – and then they teleported next to her.
“He’s worried about you,” Zachariah added without addressing her statement.
“Jerk,” Amarynthe sniffed, grabbing her arms hard enough she would probably bruise later.
“Hey,” he whispered next to her, his voice soft and soothing. She didn’t look up until he rested his hand gently against her back. Amarynthe made a half-hearted attempt to shrug it off but gave up when it didn’t work. “Does he really think your mother is still alive?”
Amarynthe took a shaky breath as she ran the question through her head. It didn’t take her long to realize she wasn’t sure about the answer. “I don’t know,” she admitted in a whisper, shaking as she tried to curl in even more. They never talked about her as if she was. Amarynthe had always assumed that she was dead but… after it had happened, her mother was just gone. There was no body. She just wasn’t there anymore. “I hate magic,” she sniffed, starting to cry despite her best attempt not to.
Zachariah didn’t try to convince her why she shouldn’t. He didn’t even say anything. He just knelt on the ground beside her and wrapped her in his arms as her body shook with quiet sobs.
“There.” She flinched when a soft popping sound echoed at her back but didn’t try to see what it was. “Wild magic taken care of,” Jerich supplied for her. “Strange to see one out here at all,” he murmured, a frown obvious in his voice.
“Not with the tower nearby. You know they’re more likely around where Mages practice,” Zachariah reminded him quietly, his voice low as it carried over Amarynthe’s shoulders.
She didn’t want to hear about magic anymore, wild or otherwise, but before she could say anything, Jerich was there too, kneeling on her other side with his hands supporting her where Zachariah’s couldn’t. “We’re here,” he promised, simply waiting at her side.
Their quiet care and support only served to undo her more. She didn’t deserve their attention when she’d practically broken Jerich’s wrist. And they probably had saved her from something bad with the wild magic. Nor was it their fault her father wasn’t exactly normal. And why did they have to be so nice to her right now?
She felt the warmth of the sun soaking into her back as the sound of her tears filled the area. Eventually, it became bothersome to keep crying and she simply fell silent, watching the shadows slowly grow as the orb moved across the sky. Neither Jerich nor Zachariah spoke, but she could feel the weight of their curiosity pressing against her. She didn’t need to look to see that they were probably holding some sort of communication over her back, even if they weren’t talking out loud. If nothing else, they deserved an explanation. Both had long since assumed that her mother was dead and her father probably hadn’t told them anything. They should know. Especially when they might well end up working around her father if he continued this madness.
“It was a summoning spell,” Amarynthe croaked when the silence became too much. Their support shifted to let her uncurl somewhat but they stayed at her side with their hands resting on her gently. “I don’t even remember why he was trying it anymoreI was ten. Father was in the casting hall where he spent most of his time when he wasn’t studying. We heard him yell from the floor under it. Mother went to check on him and I couldn’t keep up,” she sniffed, gripping her arms again.
Hands on the back of hers made her relax just a touch. She took a breath and went on. “There was so much light. I heard them both screaming down the hallway and then it just stopped. The light went out and she was gone. When I finally found enough courage to go in, my father was just lying on the floor. I thought he was dead.” She swallowed hard and took another shaky breath, forcing herself to uncurl just a little bit more.
“But he wasn’t,” Jerich prompted her, curling his fingertips under her hand.
“For a while, he might as well have been,” she explained in a flat voice, remembering the days before they had come. “The villagers made sure we didn’t starve.” She could remember Arden in particular bringing them bread, and Brendan’s wife made the odd appearance, saying it was just a loan but one they knew he was never going to collect on. “Didn’t mean much to me when I just wanted my parents back,” she half-coughed, choking when she tried to swallow.
“You both got through it though,” Zachariah encouraged, squeezing her shoulder consolingly with his hand.
Amarynthe managed a half-hearted scoff. “Only because of Auntie Parkins. I’m pretty sure she bullied my father into coming back to his senses because, one day, he was okay,” she gestured with her hand. “Different but with me again.” A stray tear leaked free and she wiped it away before glancing at both boys. “It wasn’t until you showed up that I saw the light in his eyes again,” Amarynthe whispered as she looked at Zachariah with a conflicted expression. “He had purpose again.”
“I didn’t know,” Zachariah shook his head, sorrow evident in his gaze.
“I thought he was better but he was just using me to help him try again. What if he dies too?” she sniffed, her voice breaking with that betrayal.
“Your father loves you, Amarynthe,” Zachariah reminded her, daring to touch her cheek with his fingertips as he searched her face. “And he misses your mother.”
“I do too,” she whimpered with fresh tears spilling over as she ducked her head against her bent knees.
“It’s alright, Amarynthe. ,” Jerich soothed this time, petting the back of her head gently. “One day, he’ll get things straightened out in his head. You’ll see,” he encouraged, trying to keep a lighter attitude.
Amarynthe clenched her eyes tight and grabbed her necklace again. When? It had been years already and not much had changed since he’d started training Zachariah. What would it take? How many times would he risk himself to try and find the answer to something that might very well get him killed? She didn’t know but now that she’d found out what he’d been doing behind her back, maybe she could do something, anything, to make him change.
For a moment more, she allowed herself to rest in the reassuring presence of the boys. Thenshe took several shallow breaths to get her breathing under control and nodded. Things weren’t better. They weren’t fixed and nothing had changed for her, but her eyes were puffy, her throat hurt, and her knees were beginning to ache. Sitting here in the middle of the Andovian Hills crying wasn’t helping anything either, even if that was the only thing she wanted to do right now.
“I’m just so scared he’s going to leave me too,” she finally admitted in a raspy voice, biting her lip.
“We won’t let him,” Zachariah spoke first, tracing her hair behind her ear so he could see her profile better.
“Yeah,” Jerich grinned, the expression obvious in his tone. “We’ll watch over him,” he added, drawing Amarynthe’s gaze so that she could see the perfect dimples in his pretty face.
“But who will watch over you?” she forced a pitiful laugh and the weakest smile ever. It was still better than nothing, even if she didn’t feel amused by the effort.
“You will,” Zachariah chuckled. “I think if either of us steps out of line, you’ll just put us in a wristlock and that will be that,” he winked, drawing an embarrassed flush to her face.
“Sorry about that,” she apologized meekly, looking at Jerich out of the corner of her eyes.
“No,” he waved, coughing once to clear his throat. “That was, um, really well done. Yeah. I just… You just caught me off guard. That was all.” His awkward, high-pitched laugh emerged again. It was enough to make Amarynthe’s next laugh genuine, if a touch on the weak side. At least Zachariah’s was honest and hearty.
“Come on then,” Zachariah urged, standing up and drawing Amarynthe with him as Jerich rose on the other side. “We should head back before it gets dark.”
“You really know how to run in a dress,” Jerich commented with a raised brow.
“It kept getting in the way,” she admitted with a cross expression on her face. She could feel tears drying on her cheeks and she hastily wiped at them with the hem of her dress.
“Not that much,” Zachariah snorted, resting his hand on her back in a friendly gesture. Amarythne’s lips quirked into another smile and she nodded once before starting forward.
They hadn’t gone very far before Jerich spoke up, “You know. We can just teleport ba-”
“Don’t even think about it,” Amarynthe warned without looking at him, her finger raised in the air.
“The long way it is!” he amended, pointing in the direction of the tower.
His easy acceptance made Amarynthe grateful and she tentatively grabbed both their hands in hers. “Thank you,” she whispered, giving a light squeeze as they walked.
“No problem,” Jerich waved off with a crooked smile.
“You’re welcome,” Zachariah offered with warm sincerity.
Amarynthe still felt foolish about her reaction. And mad at her father. But she was also glad to have the boys at her side. Even if she didn’t always know how to feel about them anymore.
When they finally got back home, the sun had already set and they were making their way by magelight. A quick peek inside showed Madeus to be sleeping at the kitchen table with his fluffy head pillowed on his arms. Amarynthe threaded her hair behind her ear and sighed. Zachariah moved to go in first but she caught his arm and shook her head. “I’ll wake him. You two go on up.”
“You sure?” Jerich asked, glancing at Zachariah uncertainly.
“Yeah,” she nodded with pursed lips.
“Okay. But call us if you need anything,” he added, stepping close to give her a warm and semi-awkward hug. Amarynthe laughed but agreed and stepped back.
“You know we’re here for you,” Zachariah reminded her, following Jerich’s example and wrapping her in his arms too. Neither quite knew when to let go, which made it a bit odd, but they laughed and separated easily enough after.
“I know,” she agreed, waving them off. “Go on. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Night Amarynthe,” they both said in tandem as they headed towards the tower.
Amarynthe waited until they were gone before she ducked inside and approached her sleeping father. Without the magelight, she couldn’t exactly see much of him and the moon wasn’t helping in particular either. But she could imagine his narrow eyes were shut tighter than normal. His face was probably pinched and drawn with worry or sadness or fear or all of them. Even as she stood there, he mumbled something under his breath and shifted in his sleep.
“What am I going to do with you?” she sighed with a shake of her head. “Father,” she called, gently reaching out to shake his shoulder.
As soon as she touched him, he gasped and sat upright so that the chair screeched from the motion. Amarynthe jumped in surprise and Madeus looked around quickly until he noticed her standing next to him. “Amarynthe!” he whispered desperately. “You came back.”
How he recognized her so quickly in the poor light, she didn’t know, but the relief in his voice nearly broke her resolve to say anything; Amarynthe had to swallow a couple times before she could speak. “Of course I did,” she stated brusquely, shifting from foot to foot.
“We need to talk,” she interrupted just to get her words out. He stopped abruptly, clearly startled, and opened his mouth as if to respond. He was interrupted again though, “But not tonight.” Things were too raw and they were both too tired to manage any sort of conversation that might be even remotely good between them. Amarynthe stepped close to the table and placed her hand on top of his. Immediately, she felt his shift so that he could grab hers and hold gently but firmly. “No more secrets, okay?” she pleaded with a heavy heart.
“I’m sorry, Amarynthe. So sorry,” he whispered with a trembling voice.
“Promise?” she pressed, holding his hand in both of hers.
He was quiet for a long moment. Madeus’s hand shook slightly as she held it and she could feel him thinking. “It was never meant to be a secret.”
“I know,” he replied quickly, one hand rising as if to interrupt. “I can be more open about what I’m doing. But you know I can’t… just give up.”
She hadn’t really expected him to just change like that. It was a nice thought but… at least he was being honest, even if it wasn’t what she wanted to hear. Amarynthe licked her lips, took a step closer, and sighed. “I can’t say I understand. Not really.”
“I know, my dear,” he responded with a soft sigh. “I didn’t for a long time either. But it’s getting late.”
Amarynthe grimaced and exhaled forcefully but didn’t say anything immediately. “You’re right. It is,” she eventually agreed with a small nod. “We will continue this tomorrow.” Disappointment was obvious in her tone but her father didn’t notice or was happy despite that.
“Thank you,” he smiled, finally standing up and tentatively hugging her. She didn’t hug him back but neither did she push him away. That seemed enough for him.
“Good night, father. I’ll see you tomorrow,” Amarynthe whispered, brushing her fingertips against the sleeve of his robe as she pulled back.
“Good night, Amarynthe,” her father’s voice followed her out.
Her feet felt leaden and her heart heavy as she trudged up to her room on the second floor of the tower. Part of her was glad she didn’t have to go past the boys’ rooms, or her father’s for that matter, both of who were on the third and fourth floors respectively. She was ready to simply be by herself and just let go of the rest of the evening.
Amarynthe didn’t even bother changing her clothes when she stepped into her room. The desire for privacy made her lock her door, but after, she simply walked the couple feet to her bed and fell onto it. Once there, she grabbed the picture with her mother and held it to her chest, curling around it while the edges dug into her skin through her clothes. It wasn’t her mother, nor could it be, but that didn’t stop her from wishing for all the world that her mother was there to just hold her as she cried herself to sleep.