by A. G. Laroy
We don't need violence to harm others; we don't need evil intentions to act like villains.
II - Brothers.
A bitter breeze hit them instantly, blowing away any lingering warmth of the room they had just stood in. Lyra regretted not putting on her coat sooner as goosebumps crept up her arms. They had landed on a snowy hill, a small village laying at its foot about a mile away. Behind them, a solemn row of pine trees loomed over them. Snowy splotches speckled surrounding meadows.
Beside her, Gabriel lost balance and plummeted face first into the snow.
"Will you ever get used to this?" teased Lyra as she put on her coat. Granted, Neiro wasn't particularly good at picking good landing sites for his fast-travel. He looked at Gabe with genuine surprise, but his trademark grin still lit up his face.
"Falco should be around somewhere..." said Neiro, glancing around quizzically.
"Don't worry about it, I'm sure we'll find him."
The sky had shifted from a pastel magenta to light blue, the sun peaking forth between a cover of clouds. Bird song filled the crisp air, a single black spot circled above them a couple times before flying off in search of prey. The wind blew around her hair and Lyra tilted her head back to let it play with her curls. It felt good to be outside again.
Gabe got up, powdery snow coating his frizzy hair. With a flex of his hand, droplets of melting snow flung themselves out of his coat collar. He glared at Neiro, who shot him an innocent smile in return. "Don't you have somewhere else to be?"
"Yes, my bed," Neiro retorted. "Good luck, you guys. I wanna hear all about this later." He waved them good-bye, then he vanished.
Gabriel ran his fingers through his curls, trying to get the snow out. "He did that on purpose."
Lyra gave a noncommittal hum. The ground below her had seemed to shake for a second, but she was sure she'd felt it. She knelt, three fingertips on the ground. Frost melted against her skin. "I think Falco is doing something with the earth."
"Didn't hear anything." Gabe whirled around, scanning their surroundings.
Lyra closed her eyes and reached outwards, looking for her friend. When she had joined the Order, everyone had agreed that her telepathy should be used as means of short-distance communication, should the situation arise. For a second, she brushed the mind of the hawk circling above, which was odd, before finding Falco down the hill opposite the village. She couldn't see what he was doing unless he invited her in, but she grazed his mind, sending him her message. Thanks to their similar kanoths, Falco was a lot more sensitive to her telepathy than the average kanothi. We're here.
A few minutes' walking brought them within sight of him, or rather what he'd been up to. Stretching up before them stood a triangular monument, at least six feet high. As they got closer, Lyra could discern finer details about the construction. It looked like it had been built using slim slabs of compressed soil and mud, leaning two slabs against each other to form a triangle before repeating the pattern in rows. It looked like...
"Are you actually building a house of cards? Out of dirt?" Gabe sounded flabbergasted, but Lyra marvelled at the artistry. Every slab was at least three by two feet, with a different card motif etched into each of them.
Falco stood to one side, his face partially turned their way. His gold-rimmed spectacles glimmered in the sunlight, his sandy locks were windswept and dishevelled. There was a rosy blush to his cheeks, and Lyra felt guilty at how long he might've waited for them in the cold. His dark green eyes flickered towards them and he nodded in greeting before turning back to the hovering soil slab to his right. Gabe and Lyra watched as Falco moved his right hand, palm up, slowly forward, and the slab responded in time, drifting along. Falco closed his eyes, focusing hard on the mental image he conjured. Lyra watched with interest as markings appeared in the corner and centre of the slab. The ace of spades then tilted backwards in time with Falco's right hand, his left hand holding onto another slab, the three of hearts. He fitted them together, tips resting against each other, and relaxed his hands, as if he'd just placed two regular playing cards together.
"Show off," Gabe muttered under his breath. Lyra was astonished. She could only dream of having as much control over her crystal shard as Falco. He must have picked up on her feelings, for he shot her a proud grin. She'd need to be careful or his ego would inflate even more.
"Was just passing time," he told them as he marched over. "You took a while."
"We were delayed," Lyra apologized, dancing around the reason why they were late. He'd find out soon enough anyway. Falco furrowed his eyebrows but graciously said nothing. His kanoth had probably allowed him to sense her discomfort already.
Gabe laughed, his arms crossed. "I can't believe you built something so mundane with your crystal. Phenomenal cosmic powers... itty bitty imagination."
"Oh yeah? Let's see you build something better. Besides," he added before Gabe took him up on that challenge, "I wanted to practice moving damp earth around. It's not so easy when it's wet."
"I can help with that!"
"No, don't - "
Too late. Gabriel drew all liquid from Falco's monument, which promptly collapsed. All that was left was a mound of broken slabs with a few etchings, and a basketball sized ball of murky water floating over their heads.
"Nice job, Gabriel," Lyra laughed, taking a step away from the water over their heads. She didn't want to stand under it when that thing froze over, considering it was only liquid water Gabe had control over.
Falco shrugged, trying and failing to look unbothered. "I would have had to take it down anyway. Can't have residents finding stuff like this."
"Speaking of which," Lyra said pointedly, "shouldn't we get going?"
"I've been thinking about a pretence for us being here," Gabe started as they headed towards Hollowston. Lyra, walking between her two friends, sighed internally. He'd been thinking about it for the past fifteen minutes, and though she generally tried to stay out of her friends' thoughts, Gabe practically shouted his out into the aether. "We can pretend like we're writing for our school paper."
"Like we're investigating the fires?" Lyra asked. She'd been thinking about Gabe's idea for as long as he had, though she would never admit as much. "I don't know Gabe, I feel like that's too elaborate. They'll already know we're not from around here. This looks like the type of village where everyone knows everyone. I don't think it would fly."
She searched her friend's face, curious how he would react to having his idea shot down. Gabe walked in silence, eyes fixed on the ground, furiously thinking of a response to defend his idea.
"I agree with Lyra," Falco chimed in, and the other two whipped around to look at him. "I find the best lies have few details. We can just say we're curious."
Gabe visibly deflated. He shot a bitter glance in their direction before admitting defeat. "Fine."
Lyra bounced ahead, her spirits rising as she felt the morning sun on her face. "Come on, Gabe, it was a good idea. Cheer up, it's such a nice day." She turned around and smiled her biggest grin at her friends. Excitement bubbled in her stomach, making her giddy with anticipation. She was now officially on her first real mission. She could barely contain herself, she had to let out her excitement or she would burst.
A quick look over her shoulder told her the village was still about a mile away. It was about eight in the morning, no one would be awake this early. The air was already warming up around her, nocturnal frost melting as sunbeams fell on the ground. She opened her coat to feel it flap behind her. This should be fine.
"Lyra, what are you - "
Lyra slightly bent her knees before shooting up. Air brushed past her slim physique as she launched fifteen, twenty feet into the sky. She spread her arms, and wind caught beneath her, easing her downwards as she closed her eyes, drinking in the morning wind around her. Her coat billowed around her like a dark red cloud.
After a few seconds, her feet touched the ground. She opened her eyes and was met by a mortified Falco.
"What on earth do you think you're doing?!"
And just like that, her enthusiasm melted. His eyes were narrowed, his thin lips disappearing. She faltered but forced herself to meet his eyes nonetheless.
"Having a bit of fun?"
"Lyra, you can't keep doing that! Someone could have seen you!" He whipped around as if fearing someone was standing right behind them. A sinking sensation settled into her stomach, but she pushed that feeling aside, squaring her shoulders, lifting her head. She had done nothing wrong. The nearest building was some farm house standing on the outskirts of town, and even that was at least a fifteen-minute walking distance away.
"There's no one here. And no one cares. And you just - "
"We'll discuss this later," Falco interrupted and pushed past her. "Come on."
The mood between them grew more hostile as the wind picked up again, but either Falco pretended not to notice or decided to let it slide. He stalked on ahead, leaving the other two to catch up. Gabe, who had been watching their exchange, walked a couple steps at her side before he dared to speak up.
"Maybe not the smartest move."
Not you too. Bad enough to be reprimanded by her quasi-mentor, who seemed to think she was still a child unable to control herself, even though he was only half a year older than her. Who pretended to be so high and mighty, Falco, the perfect golden boy, straight A student, that friend who deeply cared about her but seemed to have a constant disapproving scowl etched into his face. But now Gabriel as well?
"Didn't think you'd be on his side," she muttered under her breath, and hated how much she sounded like a sulking child.
Gabe considered her statement for a few seconds. "I think I'm on my side. But I can see where he's coming from. Growing up, I always had to be super careful not to use my powers in public if I wanted to stay under the radar. And that's what we're trying to do, right?"
"I guess," she conceded, and the winds died down. She was still angry, but only at herself. Would she ever manage not to be a complete screw-up?
As they passed the farmhouse, Falco perked up, and Lyra also sensed a presence from the house. Or rather, two farm boys, who were now walking towards them.
"Morning!" one of them called out as they approached. His droopy brown hair was bound back into a ponytail, lose strands framing his square face. For a second, his dark eyes flickered to her chest, and it took all her self-control not to roll her eyes. Instead she smiled at him, and it was probably a coincidence that cold gust of wind hit him in the face when it did.
The boy standing next to him must have been his brother. They shared the dark eyes and chiselled features, only that he wore his tasselled hair loose, greasy streaks a testament to either too much hair product or too few baths. Both were about their age.
The boy who had called out gave them all a half-hearted smile. "My name's John, and this here is my brother Jeff."
Gabe and Lyra both looked to Falco. Neither of them had thought to ask whether they would use fake names, and now was clearly too late. Falco took initiative, even though every fibre of his being screamed against it.
"My name is Falco, and these are Lyra and Gabriel."
"Those are some unusual names," John said, his eyes flickering towards Lyra once again. She was tempted to ask him if she had suddenly grown a second head. "I don't think I've met a Falco before."
"Few have," he admitted, desperately thinking of a way to end this conversation.
John's mind was racing, but when Lyra tried to pry deeper, she couldn't grab onto a single thought to examine. Such a reaction was common when someone was fighting to keep a conversation going, and indeed, all John managed was a curt "Ah."
An uncomfortable silence fell between them. Jeff, who had been watching their brief exchange through squinted eyes, was the first to speak.
"What are you doin' here?"
He said it like an accusation, not a question, like they had no right to be here. She narrowed her eyes.
"That's none of your business." As she said that, Falco groaned internally. Jeff's face twisted into a snarl.
"This is our land, so yes, I think it is."
"Oh, we were just passing through, nothing - "
"No one just 'passes through'," Jeff interrupted Falco before he could explain. John had shied away from the conversation the moment his brother began to speak. Lyra's dislike for him grew by the minute. "You people are hiding somethin'."
"If you'd just let Falco finish, you would know - "
"Don't interrupt me, little girl."
Jeff regarded Lyra with such disdain that her next words were knocked out of her. She had rarely felt such sudden aversion to a human being before. It took all her control to not blow their house off the hill.
"Just enjoying a morning stroll," Gabe said, with no lack of disdain himself. He had taken a step towards Lyra. "But you're right, we're trespassing. You'll excuse us." With that, he hooked his arm with hers, gave them both a cool look, and led her away, Falco right behind them.
"The audacity!" Lyra exclaimed when they were out of earshot. "Little girl, I'll show him little, I'll - "
"What a jerk," Gabe agreed. "'What are you doing here?' That's none of his business!"
"So that's two people who instantly knew we weren't from here."
"He was barely older than us!" Lyra stomped through the melting snow, kicking up dirt as she went. Despite her best efforts, her curls whipped across her forehead, freezing air biting at her earlobes.
"His brother seemed nice enough," Falco said, trying to get her mind off what drove her mad. Her anger must be radiating from her like heat from a space heater. "That John. He seemed rather fond of you, Lyra. Was fairly excited to see you."
"Yeah, maybe he has a crush on you," Gabe added when he caught on to what Falco was trying to do. Lyra noticed as well. Part of being friends with a telepath was that your intentions rarely went unnoticed. Fondness for her friends cooled her temper.
"He looked better than his brother, I'll give him that," she conceded. "He certainly seemed to find me interesting."
"I think it's him," said Falco suddenly, with complete honesty in his voice. "Not John, the other guy. There was a lot of anger within him. I sensed it, it was almost deafening."
"He certainly seemed the guy to kick puppies and set buildings on fire," Lyra happily agreed.
"No, Falco, if you think it's every person who ever feels anger, you'll make for a terrible detective," Gabe chimed in. "You just want it to be him. Trust me, so do I, but I don't think it's him."