Felix is back! Not only that, but I finally figured out what was going on with Elements and will probably finish the second draft by the end of the month! Progress is always nice, isn’t it?
Felix has always been fascinated by the world around him and unafraid to try new things. Ever since he read about the rise and fall of the Elementals, however, he hasn’t been able to think about anything else.
After Filion makes a significant announcement, Felix and Zia hatch a plan to get some answers about Felix’s vision and Zia’s family.
My stomach gurgles. I hug my knees to my chest, glancing at Fil. His head rocks to the rhythm of the wagon, eyes closed. I’m glad he chose the night watch. People get robbed on the caravans all the time. We don’t want to take any chances.
Zia nudges my shoulder. She wipes her brow, nodding to the end of the wagon. “Look at him. He’s been hoarding food for a week.” Her stomach growls. “Do you think he’ll share any?”
I look the man over. His hair and beard are matted together, and he’s rocking back and forth, talking to himself. “He looks scary,” I say. No one sits near him. He reaches into his bag and puts something to his lips.
“Let’s wake Fil up. He can watch our bags.” Zia nudges him.
“Let him sleep. I’ll go talk to him.”
“But I thought you were scared of him.”
“He just looks scary.” I take a deep breath. The man sways to the right before jerking back up. “Besides, we’re starving.” I stand up, swaying a bit with a lurch of the wagon. Zia looks at me, eyes wide in trepidation. I flash her a brief smile before turning my attention to the end of the wagon. Frustrated passengers crowd every square inch of the floor. With even a single misstep, I risk upsetting someone to the point of violence. Already a few heads turn my way, eyes curious.
With a deft step, I barely avoid a lady’s hand and someone’s bag. “Sorry,” I mutter, as I steady myself on a man’s head. He twists around and glares at me. I return the glare, but to no effect. Several quick steps later, I crouch next to the ragged man.
He reeks of booze. Mom and Dad rarely drink, but I recognize the smell well enough. Up close, he looks even worse than the paupers in Haven. Every crease on his face is lined with dirt, but beneath it there’s a faint redness.
A hunk of bread hangs from one of the overstuffed pockets of his jacket. My stomach growls at the sight of it. I swallow the saliva forming in my mouth.
“Huh!” The drunk jerks his head up, eyes wide open. “Who’s there?” My eyes go wide. His guttural voice paralyzes me. I glance around. A few people stare at us. If they realize how much food he has…
“What’re you doin’ here, boy?” the drunk asks. I wrinkle my nose. His breath smells worse than the rest of him. Lies race through my mind, but none of them sound right. He hiccups. “You just gon’ sit there?”
“Sorry!” I stammer. I take a deep breath, going with my gut. “I’m going to Baress.”
The drunk bores into me with his eyes. “One of them boys looking to go to the school, eh?” he asks.
“No, sir,” I say. Why am I telling him this? “I’m looking for a village in the mountains.”
The drunk chucked. “Not many o’ those, I’ll tell you that. I seen ‘em all.” He sways back and forth, reaching inside his jacket. The bread’s exposed. I reach for it with one hand as he rummages inside his coat. “There’s the one near the old mine that got blown in, the one by the lake, the other one near the old mine…hmmm, then there’s the one that folks say don’t exist past the Withering Forest.”
I’m a hair’s width away from the roll, when I pause. “Which village doesn’t exist?” My fingers tease the roll from his pocket. It’s in my hand! But it’s not enough. Zia needs some, too.
“Strange things come out of that village.” He looks me in the eyes, more alert than ever. “Kids who can lift a grown man with one arm. They could disappear into thin air before my eyes. All wearin’ the same thing, more or less.” I sit, eyes wide, as he leans in close. “I swear, this one woman knew everything about me with just a glance. Beautiful woman, but she sent shivers down my spine. Too young to have white hair.”
I gasp. That woman again! A few people stare at us, whispering to each other.
A hand clamps down on my shoulder. “Is he bothering you?” a bald man around Dad’s age asks.
I shake my head. “No, no, I’m just-”
“You can be honest with me. People like him shouldn’t be anywhere near children.” He glares at the drunk, then shouts, “Watchman!”
“No, sir, please-” the watchwoman from before climbs into the wagon. “Not her,” I whisper. Leaning towards the drunk, I ask him “Where’s the village with the strange kids?”
The watchwoman shoves people out of the way as she approaches us. The drunk leans in and grabs my arm. “The only road through the white trees. That’s-”
“Hands off!” the watchwoman says. The drunk recoils, releasing me in a hurry.
“I wasn’t doing – hic – anything, ma’am. I’m just tryin’ to get away from the colonies. Honest!”
“He was all over this kid, ma’am,” the bald man says.
I shake my head. “He wasn’t doing anything, he just-”
“You’re confused, kid,” the man says, “that’s how they lure you in. Ma’am, do you want help with him?” He grabs the drunk by the arm.
The watchwoman pushes the bald man away. “Sir, you need to step back. I can handle him.”
He glares at her, then back at the drunk, spitting in his face. “Pervert,” he mutters. He pats me on the shoulder before walking away. Every eye is on us now. The watchwoman pulls the drunk to his feet, wrinkling her nose. The crowd parts as she drags him towards the back of the wagon.
“No, no, I’m just trying to get north,” the drunk pleads, struggling against the watchwoman’s vice grip. “He started talkin’ to me. Please!” The watchwoman shoves him through the back flaps. “Please, I-” With a crack, his voice goes silent.
The watchwoman scans the wagon, all eyes on her. She lingers on me for a moment, and I shy away from her gaze. She returns to her post sitting at the back of the wagon, closing the flap.
I take my time back to Zia, and everyone moves aside now. Zia looks around as I sit down. She’s shaking a bit. “Felix,” she whispers, “what happened there?”
I shake my head and open my fists. When did I clench my hands so hard? The single hunk of bread is squished into a ball now. I hold it up towards her. “Still hungry?”
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