Flora tiptoed out of her room and down the stone hallway of the Willoughby Orphanage. Iron sconces flickered, lighting her path to the next room over. Her hair, piled on top of her head in a golden blond mess, curls bouncing cheerfully around her rosy cheeks. She peaked her head around the corner and whispered, “Ruby, you awake?”
“Of course, Flo. Come on in.” Ruby waved her into her room without raising her eyes from the book that was in her lap.
Her room was plain in comparison to many of the kids at the orphanage. Ruby had never been into material things other than her books. Every corner of her room had stacks of ancient texts. Ruby claimed there was a system to her books; however, to Flora, it looked just looked like piles by size. Maybe? She didn't know.
“Are you ready to go?” Flora asked excitedly as she flopped onto Ruby's bed messing up her stack of books.
“Go?” Ruby finally raised her eyes from her books. “Go where?” Ruby's nose wrinkled as she blew her straight black bangs out of her ice blue eyes that seemed to glow even in the darkened room.
“Oh Ruby, don't do this to me, you promised you would sneak into town with me to go to the pub! I heard they are having some amazing live music. You said we could dance! You promised!”
Ruby gingerly set her place mark in her book and placed it down next to her. She sat pensive for a moment and thought. “Are you sure this is what you want to do?”
“Oh yes, very much! We never have any fun around here.”
“Have you thought about the consequences if we get caught?” Flora shook her head no. “We will probably be confined to our rooms for a month. Can you stand not being outside for that long?”
Ruby asked hoping to evoke the sensible person that she knew Flora was... deep down.
“I don't think we will get caught,” Flora stated, “and if we do, we better make it well worth it!” Flora grinned. “Come on Ruby, I swear your books will still be here when we get back. Just for a few hours!”
“One hour,” Ruby tried to bargain, swinging her legs out from under her, and searching for her shoes.
“A couple,” Flora begged.
“We'll see.” Ruby rolled her eyes.
The girls have been best friends since the day they met nearly ten years ago. Even back then, they were the polar opposites. Nothing in that department has changed. Flora is still wildly spontaneous and Ruby has to think through everything before she does anything.
Ruby grabbed her darkest colored cloak and fluttered it around her shoulders tying it tightly in place. She pulled her hair up high and allowed the ponytail to fall against her right shoulder. “Do you have an escape plan at least?”
“I, uhm,” Flora smiled sheepishly. “I figured you would be better suited to get us out. I will make sure we have fun once we get there!”
Ruby let out a small snort of a laugh, snuffed out her lantern that sat on her bed stand and walked out of the room. “We'll go through the back gardens, around the Eastern stone wall and walk the edge of the forest into town. I'm sure Watcher Brockus is in the kitchens stealing something or another.”
“What about Madam Willoughby?” Flora gulped, allowing the slightest bit of fear to creep into her body.
“It's dusk. She's already made her rounds for the night. We have nothing to worry about.” Ruby paused, pressed her finger to her lips and moved against the door that leads to the gardens.
At first, Flora heard nothing at all, then, out of nowhere, Watcher Brockus starts whistling and walking towards the food pantry. Flora covers her mouth in hopes to silent her breathing. Her large, round, golden brown eyes stared up in fear at Ruby.
Ruby softened her look and grabbing her friend's hand. “We're free to go now,” she whispered. Flora looked hesitant. “Have I ever steered you wrong?”
Flora flashed her a smile and they took off running into the garden. The stone walls that separated the garden into sections left lengthy shadows along the pebble path allowing the girls to move in complete darkness. This had never been an issue for Ruby, as she seemed most comfortable at night; however, Flora felt the brightest during the day. Even in the darkness, her golden blond curls stood out like a sore thumb.
They jogged past the vegetable gardens where tomatoes as large as their heads grew rapidly, into what felt like a giant field of wild flowers. At the edge of the garden, they were greeted by large pear trees and in the center of them all, a mysterious fruit tree. Depending on the season, it yielded a variety of treats for those that resided within the wall of the orphanage.
Ruby stopped abruptly, fiddling with the latch to the old wooden gate that was covered in moss and ivy. “The latch is jammed. I...can't...UGH!” Ruby threw her arms up in frustration. “I swear it to you now my plan was flawless.”
“I've got this,” Flora smiled at her frustrated friend. “Your plan is still perfect.” Flora got to work immediately. Her small fingers twisted and pulled at the greenery attached to the door. “See, the latch was fine, the vines were in the way! They just needed a little coaxing, that's all.”
Flora grinned, proud of her accomplishment as they went through the gate and walked the path down to the forest's edge. “Don't get so close,” Ruby warned. “You don't know what lurks in there at night. I've read the worst of stories!”
“Maybe you read too much,” Flora laughed again. “We have explored every inch of the forestland in this territory. We know more about this place than any stuffy book.”
“I know you're right, but that does not make this place any less creepy at night.” Ruby stopped and peered into the woods. “I feel like the landscape is changing somehow, growing darker, colder. It is almost as if things are dying.” Ruby slowly began walking along the dirt path. “That's crazy, maybe I have been reading too much.”
“I cannot believe you just said that. May I quote you on that in the future? Ruby, the biggest reader in all of the land has admitted to reading to much? This is monumental!” Flora teased.
“No!” Ruby laughed, “You may do no such thing.” Ruby hooked her arm through Flora's and they giggled the rest of the way into town.
* * *
Music seeped through the walls of the local pub out into the cobblestone streets. The windows glowed softly by lantern light, and happy patrons. Ruby and Flora slowly approached. “Are you completely sure this is what you want to do?” Ruby panicked.
Flora looked over at Ruby and gave her a soft genuine smile, “I know crowds are hard for you. I promise that it will be okay. We will get a table by a wall and you can read that book I know you have hidden in your cloak.”
“I,” Ruby paused. “I am too predictable. I don't know why crowds make me so anxious.”
“From what I can hear the music is nice. I promise to keep checking up on you as well. You are not going in alone. I will be your back up!”
“Do you think I'll need backup?” Ruby asked quietly pulling her cloak closer to her body.
Flora could feel Ruby's anxiety rising and did her best to quell her friends worry, “Of course not, I just wanted to make sure you knew that I was there for you completely. I always will be.”
Ruby let out a sigh of relief, smiled and headed for the pub's front door.
As the pub door opened, a wave of warmth ran through the girls' bodies, and music washed over them. Flora giggled, jumped up in excitement and then entered the building ahead of Ruby.
Immediately upon entry Flora began dancing and headed straight for the makeshift dance floor at the other end of the pub leaving Ruby standing awkwardly alone. There was an incredible amount of people in such a small space; however, at the same time it still felt roomy. There were tables open around the edges of the room. Ruby saw one in a slightly darkened corner and headed straight there without looking around.
Sighing yet again, Ruby sat down and pulled out her book on the ancient languages of their region. She flipped the book open and nearly began reading when someone cleared their throat near her. Ruby nearly jumped out of her chair when she noticed someone sitting right next to her in the dark. “Oh my goodness, I am so sorry!” Ruby said embarrassed. “I swear I thought this table was empty!”
The guy smiled at her, his dark eyes laughed at the situation. He leaned forward, “You're more than welcome to stay.”
“I, uhm, no, no, it's just I.”
“You are quite eloquent with words for a reader.” He laughed out loud this time.
“I'm sorry,” Ruby took a deep breath. “I'm here with a friend. I just wanted to read, I will find a new place to sit. I am sorry for the intrusion. Truly.”
“It really is no problem at all,” he leaned closer to her allowing his dark hair to fall across his penetrating eyes. “What's your name?” Ruby ignored his question and stood up tripping on her wooden chair. “My name is,” he began. Without a second thought, Ruby turned on her heels and walked across to the other side of the pub, cheeks red with embarrassment.
It wasn't until she sat down did she realize that she left her book at the other table. Oh well, he can keep it, Ruby thought. She looked out onto the dance floor and found Flora instantly. She was dancing with some red headed guy that looked just as cheerful as she did. At least someone can enjoy the evening.
An hour later, Flora finally made it back to Ruby's table, flushed from dancing and completely parched. She waved at the waitress, signally her that she was ready. “We don't have money,” Ruby reminded her.
“We're not buying!” Flora grinned. “I met the most wonderful guy!” Flora beamed excitedly.
“I have heard that absolutely every time we have been around the opposite sex. They cannot logically all be the most wonderful guy.” Ruby said reasonably.
Flora tried to hide her frustration with her friend. “You know what I mean. His name is Duncan.”
“The red head?”
“Yes! Isn't he adorable? Anyway, he's here with a friend, and they offered to buy us dinner and drinks!”
“But we've already had dinner back home.”
“Ruby! Call it dessert, whatever. They want to hang out with us. I want to hang out, please be normal!” Flora begged.
“I am normal!”
“You know what I meant. Please try not to be mean to them.”
“I am not mean.”
Flora twitched in her seat, “Just don't ignore them completely, okay?”
“Fine,” Ruby crossed her arms, preparing to be an absolute bear to her guests.
Duncan, the red head approached cautiously. “We safe to sit?”
Flora laughed cautiously as she watched Ruby's mouth drop open. “Please sit. Duncan, this is my best friend Ruby. Ruby, this is Duncan.”
“Pleasure,” he grinned and extended his hand toward Ruby.
“Hi,” Ruby said nodding in his direction keeping her hands in her lap.
Duncan nodded back, confused as to what to do next. He retracted his hand and slowly sat down dangerously close to Flora. Ruby could see Flora growing upset with her. She didn't deserve that. “I'm sorry Duncan, it is great to meet you.” Ruby extended her thin arm across the table. Duncan stumbled to stand and lean across the table to shake her hand. His hand was warm and clammy. She felt a twinge of pity for him. “You can calm down, Duncan, Flora likes you already!”
Ruby's attempt to help the situation backfired. Flora's face was a deep red that Ruby had never seen before. Flora tried to let out a reassuring laugh but that didn't work well. Ruby had succeeded in making the entire table uncomfortable.
“My friend Callum is coming over in a minute. He had to check on something with the owner for his father.” Duncan shared.
“Hi friends,” the waitress said warmly coming up to the table. “My name is Lilly. What can I get for you?”
“A round for everyone of hot cider, please. There will be four of us.” Ruby requested trying to make up for her blunder earlier. Flora mouthed a word of thanks her way. Ruby nodded at her with a slight smile.
Lilly took her leave as Callum approached from across the room. His dark hair fell across his face as he strides across the pub. “I'm sorry for holding everyone up,” his deep voice penetrated Ruby's ears. She turned and her stomach dropped. “I believe this is yours,” Callum said just above a whisper into Ruby's ear and placed her book on the table in front of her. It was her turn to go flush.
Flora's hand covered her mouth instantly. “I see you've been busy too!”
“It's not what you think,” Ruby said coldly as Callum sat far too close to her.
“I had no idea you two had already met, this is great.” Duncan shared cheerfully, scooting a little closer to Flora.
“I wouldn't say we really met. This lady happened to try to steal my table.” Callum laughed, lighting Ruby's fire even more.
“At least I'm not a book thief. Is that how you try to get dates? Steal things?” Ruby sassed, shocking herself at the words that are escaping her mouth.
“A date?” Callum grinned. Ruby turned her body away from his direction.
“What happened?” Flora asked genuinely.
“She left her book at my table.” Callum cut in before Ruby could interject. “Simple as that. Granted,” he paused, “I figured you would be back for it. Am I that repulsive that you wouldn't even come back for your precious book?” He teased.
“I, uh, I just,” Ruby began.
“She doesn't really like most people,” Flora stated. Ruby looked over at her friend horrified. “I mean that in the best possible way of course!”
Callum laughed, “I get it. I'll forgive you this time.” He winked at her. Ruby knew he was teasing her but it was driving her crazy. She was here for Flora, but even that was beginning to wear thin.
“I think we need to leave.” Ruby said leaning toward Flora.
“Are you kidding me? We just got here.”
“Flora, we have been here for three hours. We are being careless. If we get caught, we may never see outside of the orphanage's walls again.” Ruby warned.
Flora glanced out the window, it had begun to rain. “It's storming, no one will be looking for us.”
“I'm not comfortable taking that risk.” Ruby shared.
“Please, Ruby,” tears began to fill Flora's eyes. “Just give them a chance. I really like him.”
“You don't know him.”
“But I want to.” Flora's voice trembled.
“You say that about every cute boy you meet.” Ruby reminded her. They scooted closer to each other to talk without being overheard. Both guys sat back and were enjoying the spectacle.
“I cannot explain it, but he is different,” Flora explained, “I can feel it in my bones. When would I ever say that about a boy?”
Ruby thought for a moment contemplating the oddities of the day and trusting her intuitions. “We will have cider with them and you can make plans for next week. I have no interest in Duncan's friend, so make the plans for the two of you.” Ruby tried not to laugh as Flora's face brightened into a smile. “That is, if we don't get caught first. Watcher Brockus will be patrolling the dorms in less than an hour. We must be back before then.”
“Thank you, Ruby. I owe you.” Ruby nodded at her friend, sat back up and began flipping through her book after taking a quick glance over at Flora and Duncan chatting away. She smiled.
“Are you really going to just sit there and ignore me?” Callum asked while leaning back in his wood carved chair. His arms were up and his hands were behind his head. His smile was magnetic, but Ruby wasn't interested.
“That is my intention.” Ruby smirked at him and went back to her reading. Callum shook his head, still trying to process her rejection of him. It had never happened before, and Callum was absolutely floored. He sat at the table for a while, sipping his cider and watching the girl read her book with an intensity he had never seen before. This made him want to know her all the more, but knew that he must wait for the right moment.
Lightning struck outside the small pub and thunder shook the building hard enough to make the band stop playing. The pitter patter of rain had turned into a torrential downpour. It was Flora that tapped Ruby on the shoulder. “Hey, I think we might have a problem.”
Ruby raised her eyes from the book and looked directly at her friend. “Hmm?”
“The storm, it's getting worse. I don't know if we can get home in this. What do we do?” Flora's look of worry bothered Ruby. Flora is the happiest person Ruby has ever met and in the ten years they have known each other, Flora has been worried two other times.
Ruby closed her book gently. Her wooden chair scraped loudly against the planked flooring. She steadied herself on the back of her chair and then peered out the window. She gasped and jumped back slightly as lightning struck the street outside the window again. Half a second later the thunder crashed in the low hanging clouds above, shaking Ruby's insides to the core. “We have to go,” Ruby whispered. “Now.”
Flora stood immediately, mumbled something to Duncan and then stepped closer to Ruby. “I'm sorry, we have to go.” Ruby could hear her telling him. “I'm sorry, so sorry... sorry.”
Ruby grabbed her cloak and Flora's from the wall pegs and tossed one to her friend. Both girls frantically wrapped themselves and buttoned them up as quickly as possible. As Ruby was turning away and pulling her hood up, Callum grabbed both of her arms frantically.
A heat wave flashed throughout her body from point of contact throughout every extremity. Ruby's eyes grew big and looked up to meet Callum staring at here with equal intensity. As she backed away from him static shocks of electricity emanated from their point of contact. “I...” Ruby began.
“What was that?” Callum asked stepping toward her. Ruby stumbled backward, grabbing for the pub door handle.
“I have to go.” Ruby stated, their eyes still locked on each other.
“Please stay.” Callum whispered.
Ruby shook her head no and opened the door. Another strike of lightning broke their concentration with each other and the wind swept through the pub creating a moment of frenzy from its patrons. “Flora,” Ruby called glancing around here.
“I'm here,” she stated.
“It's time to fly.” Ruby instructed.
“Will I see you again?” Duncan called after her.
“I surely do hope so,” Flora grinned, kissed him on the cheek and turned to walk out the door.
Ruby let Flora go first, gave a one last piercing glance to Callum before slamming the door behind her. “Run!” Ruby yelled in the rain. Both girls took off as fast as they could slopping through the mud heading out of town.
As soon as they were out of sight of the pub, Ruby slowed down a bit allowing Flora to catch her breath. “Are you okay?”
“Yes,” Flora huffed. “My legs are much shorter than yours.” Her cheeks were on fire and her hood had come off soaking her perfect head of curly hair turning it into a sloppy mess.
“We don't have a lot of time, we need to get back. Something has changed. The air, it cries.” Ruby said trying not to scare her friend. “Something is coming.”
Ruby reached out, pulled Flora's hood back over here head and grabbed her hand. “Let us walk,” Ruby began, “It is time we become invisible.” Ruby walked them to the darkest part of the forests' edge and headed straight back to the Willoughby Orphanage, hoping that they make it back unscathed and unseen.
They reached the old wooden gate wrapped in moss and ivy in record time. It felt as though the storm had followed them every step of the way back home and fear grew within them the closer they moved toward home. Ruby wondered if even coming back to the orphanage was a mistake. Ever since her and Callum had touched, the world around her stopped making sense.
Ruby flung open the gate and ran smack into Watcher Brockus' chest, crumbling to the ground.
Fire crackled against the stone hearth in the abandoned building. Two sides of the walls lay in rubble as the night air whips against the red faces trying to get warm. The older man pulled his furs tighter. “Son, It's about time you two showed up. I expected you more than an hour ago. Did that flash storm hold you up?”
“Yes father, among other things.” Callum said stifling a smile, flipping a book in his hands.
“What book is that?” his father inquired. “I do not recall ever seeing it before.” Callum looked down and quickly placed the book into his cloak pocket.
“I am surprised the storm did not hit here,” Duncan stated looking around at the dry ground and hopefully distracting Callum's father from the real reason the boys were late to meet him.
“It was centered over town. The storm seems to have a purpose that I have not yet discovered.” Callum's father scratched at his growing beard. “We will need to investigate this further. But for now, there are more pressing matters. Son, we need to talk.”
Callum looked at his father, his face seemed more tired today than usual. “That's why I am here.” he grinned.
“No my boy, this is serious. Dangerous times are upon us and I need you to really and truly hear me.” His worried tone shook like the fire's dancing flames.
Callum understood how important this was for his father; however, he was still unsure of what his father was truly getting at. He took it as a joke, yet wanted to appease his father as well. “I'm listening.” Callum nudged Duncan and responded with rolling his eyes at his best friend. “Please continue, father.” Hurry, so we can finally get out of here, Callum muttered under his breath.
“It was many centuries ago, far before my time here, when the Ancient Powers were open for anyone in the land to use them.”
“What do you mean anyone?” Duncan asked. He ignored the death stare Callum was no doubt giving him.
“I am glad you asked, Duncan.” Callum's father was pleased someone was interested in what he had to share. “All you have ever known is a land where the ancient powers once were. Magic does not freely roam the lands anymore.”
Callum's father shifted in his seat and poked the fire several times giving it room to breath and allowing the flames to dance higher. The light brightened his dark eyes as an ominous shadow settles upon half of his scruff face, the other half glowed like the fire itself. “There was a time, my boys, that magic roamed free among the people of this land. It was in the trees, the grass, the animals of the wild. Magic was good, pure, and free for the taking to all that wished to use it. It existed and was just as real as you and I are today.”
“What changed?” Duncan inquired. His red hair lit up the night sky. His green eyes were open wide with intrigue and wonder. He had heard stories before, but none like this from his uncle. He leaned forward and hung on every word.
“As with most things, there were people that sought out to hurt others and to take the ancient powers for themselves. No one really knows how this group of people did it, but they extracted every ounce of magic. Not just from the people, but from the plants and animals, leaving the land cold and dying.”
“Ugh, Dad, I've heard this all before. Can we go yet? Duncan and I have things to do tonight, not just sit around a campfire telling folklore.” Callum stood, towering over everything. He dropped his fur onto his seat and stretched. “You ready Dunc?”
“Uhm,” Duncan fidgeted with his shirt and gazed at the flames. “It's just that, uhm, this stuff kind of interests me. I really like our histories.”
“Yeah,” Duncan said meekly. Usually, he is game for just about anything and did what Callum wanted, but something about this time was different. There was more spark in the air and his intrigue was through the roof. “I'm sorry Callum, but could we at least finish this story before we head out? We can do whatever you want after.”
Callum's father lifted his eyes in inquiry. Of all the possibilities, he never imagined that it would be Duncan to get his son to listen to him.
“Fine.” Callum snatched up his furs once again and wrapped himself. He sat down with a huff and stared blankly out into the woods beyond what was left of the building they were in.
“Please continue, Uncle.” Duncan grinned.
“Where was I?” he paused briefly, placed another log on the fire and then smiled. “Ah, yes. Controlling people was never the ancient power's intention. It was there for the good of all. What this group was doing ended up causing our land to decay rapidly. As each day passed, they grew more powerful and our world was fading.” He looked at Duncan whose eyes were completely glued on him. He glanced at his son next and was sadden to see this information was not reaching him the way it needed to.
“A few things happened after that,” he began. “First, the ancients extracted their power from this world completely. They did not want their goodness in the hands of those that wanted to do evil. The next thing they did was create this line of guardians. I do not remember their original names; however, to this day we call them Ancient Protectors.”
“These protectors are here to guard the land, and when the ancient powers finally return, it is their soul purpose in life to guard the ancient powers with their lives. I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me go back a little while.”
“When the ancient powers left the land, its people were devastated. Even when the evil was gathering it, they were still happy that there was some power left. In order to stop those doing wrong, however, they had to leave completely. They saw how sad the people were and made a promise to them.”
“What was the promise?!” Duncan asked nearly jumping out of his chair. His furs were on the ground now, the blistering cold air did not affect him any longer.
Callum smiled at his friend's enthusiasm. Even if he didn't believe in this folklore, he was happy to see his cousin happy and believing in something other than girls. “Yes, father, what was the promise?”
Tears threatened to escape his father's eyes. He coughed them away. “The ancients promised to return again, in the future. They did not say how they would return, but they offered this world hope again. They restored warmth and life to the land, erasing the destruction that was created by the dark ones. They promised to return before the land looked like it once had.”
“But our lands are dying? Even I can feel that,” Callum stated, surprising himself that he spoke. “I mean, anyone can see that.”
“Yes, anyone can see it, my son, but it takes a special individual to be able to feel the land dying. I truly wouldn't wish that on anyone. Is that why you have been so solemn lately? Do you feel the light leaving the lands?”
Callum was silent. He fought to keep his hands from trembling. “I figured I was just falling ill or depressed or something.”
“It is as I hoped...and feared. My boy, there is something else I need to tell you.” Duncan leaned in closer, and Callum shut his eyes. He already knew what was coming, but was not ready to hear it. “I have been waiting for the right time to tell you both about this, but I didn't know until this moment if I should.”
“Just say it,” Callum spoke just above a whisper.
“I, and all of the men in our bloodline before me have been gifted with being Ancient Protectors. Most of us have lived quite an ordinary life. We have had our fun, gotten married, had children, businesses, and have lead our lives in peace. It has only been recently that I started to feel different.”
“Different how?” Duncan inquired.
“I truly believe that the ancient powers are here in the land already; however, they have not been woken up yet. I felt myself being called, and then it stopped suddenly.”
“Stopped? Why?” Duncan looked frightened.
“Not why,” Callum stated, “When?”
“I think you know, son.”
“I figured it was just because I was growing older that I had this new dread inside of me of what was to come.”
“I am no longer a candidate for Ancient Protector. I am too old and you have come of age. You are the chosen one, my son. There is no way around this fact, even though I know you will try to find one.”
The flames fell low as the wind picked up around them. “What if I don't want this? What then?”
“It is not something you simply ignore my boy. It is a gift.”
“I will give it back to you, freely.”
“I am sorry my son. It does not work that way. All I can do is help guide your way. I can share with you what my father has passed down. I am here whenever you need advice, but this is no longer my future. It is yours.”
Callum slumps further into his seat, “I don't believe in your fairy tales and folklore, Dad.” Even as the words exited his mouth, he knew he was not being completely honest with himself. Something was happening to him that he could not explain. But it couldn't be this, could it? He was already having a strange day. He ran his hand through his hair and looked at his father with tears in his eyes. “I don't want this.”
“If I could change your destiny, Callum, I would. I swear to you. But this is how the ancients planned it. You are the new Ancient Protector, and you are being called. The power is already here. You need to go out and find it, and protect it. The future of this land depends on you. I believe in you.”
“I believe in you too,” Duncan pats Callum on the shoulder. “I will help you find what you're looking for.”
Callum smiled at his younger cousin. He could see the angst in his eyes wishing that he had been called. That only made Callum feel more guilty. Why couldn't Duncan have gotten this “gift” since he actually wanted it? Callum just wanted to live his life in peace. “I will gladly take your help, Duncan. You know far more about our histories that I have ever desired to do so. I don't think I could do this without you, to be honest.”
Duncan jumped to his feet in excitement and hugged Callum knocking him over. Callum couldn't help but laugh himself. From the ground he looked over and saw tear stains down his father's worn and dirty face.
In that moment, Callum decided he would go along with this Ancient Protector thing to appease his father. It was clearly more important to him than it was to himself. Pleasing his father made him feel good as well. Callum pushed Duncan off of him with a shove and sat up. “Father, do you know what I should be looking for?”
“Of all the information I have, my son, it does not tell me how the Ancient Powers will return to the land. All I know is that when you find them, you will know without a shadow of a doubt.”
“Are you sure it is happening?”
“I am certain it will be soon. You have seen the lands yourself. Darkness lingers into the day time and the cold is consuming all of the warmth of the land.”
“I have read about this,” Duncan chimed in. “Back when the land was originally being sucked of its magic, everything got cold and dark all of the time. There was sickness and hunger everywhere because the crops could not survive in those conditions.” Duncan paused, “Callum, thousands of people died. They died of starvation, and the cold. It was devastating.”
“I understand.” Callum said seriously.
“I don't think you really do,” Duncan said bluntly. “Our land is dying. The death toll will be even higher. Realistically, this is the beginning of the end if you don't find the ancient powers. The powers are not enough on their own. The powers will be tested, people will try to attain it for themselves. The power cannot protect itself all of the time. You, Callum... YOU are the key!”
“Okay, okay, I see your point now.” Callum sighed. He looked over at his father. He looked tired and weary. “We need to get you home.” He stood and helped his father to his feet.
“I can manage on my own. We are on a few kilometers from the manor. I will get myself there.” Callum looked at him hesitantly. “I promise I can make it back. I have lived in these woods my entire life. I could find my way home blindfolded! Kill the fire before you boys leave. There needs to be no evidence of us here.” With that, Callum's father stood tall, stepped out of the stone building and disappeared into the night without a sound.
“Well that was intense,” Callum laughed.
“Where should we start looking?” Duncan inquired.
“I have no idea,” Callum said mostly to himself. “Why don't we head back over to the pub for some food and we can make a plan there? We might even catch the tail end of that band that was playing earlier.”
Duncan's ears perked up, “Are you sure you're not putting things off, or do you just want to see that girl again?”
“Neither of us know what we're doing or where to look. It's dark, it's cold, I'm starving. Let's eat and decide later. We can begin our search in the morning.”
“That actually sounds pretty good.” Duncan laughed. “But what about the girl?”
“What about her? I didn't even get her name.”
“Really? What is it?”
“I thought you weren't interested!”
“I said I didn't get her name. I didn't say I wasn't interested.” Callum's eyes darkened as he stood a clear head taller than his younger cousin, which was clearly no intimidation. “Besides, they seemed to leave in a hurry once old lady Willoughby showed up with one of her goons.”
Duncan nodded as they began walking toward town.
“For some reason, I don't think she'll be back.”
“Why's that?” Duncan inquired.
“It's just a feeling I have.”
“Fair enough. To the pub we go. Lead the way, captain.” Duncan did an over exaggerated bow toward Callum.
“I'm not a captain.” Callum scowled trying not to laugh at Duncan's goofiness. “So, are you going to tell me her name?”
Duncan stopped, crinkled his eyebrows together and grunted before looking up at Callum, “Sorry, I'm not. Lead the way mister ancient protector man!”
Both guys laughed. “You are kind of tortuous.” Callum stated.
“When I want to be,” Duncan grinned.
The pub was closed by the time the guys returned. Callum appeared more disappointed than Duncan. “Since when do you pine over a girl?”
“I'm not!” Callum barked. “Besides,” he slumped against the wall and slid to a sitting position under the pub's awning, “there's something different about her.”
“Like you like her!” Duncan teased.
“Grow up,” Callum laughed and playfully shoved his friend.
“But really,” Duncan began, “Tell me what's different about her.”
“She, whatever her name is, might be our first lead to the ancient powers,” Callum stated casually.
“What?!” Duncan exclaimed. “Are you serious?”
“The moment we touched,” Callum paused ignoring his friends enthusiasm, “I could feel it in my soul.”
“RUBY!” Duncan shouted. “Her name is Ruby! Her and Flora, the live at the old Willoughby Orphanage. I don't know much more than that.” he admitted.
“Ruby,” Callum said to himself with a satisfactory smile.