Flap. Flap. Flap.
There was something heavy on my back, but for whatever reason, I didn’t want to throw it off. I kept flying and flying, afraid to go higher, afraid to slow down. Something was after me. Something? Someone.
A thunderous roar, strangely muffled, hit me like a gust of wind, sending me tumbling into the streets below. It died off with a strangled cry as I frantically banked and landed. The weight slid off and came around, revealing a little boy.
“Are they okay?” he asked. I felt myself pull back into human form and nod. I took his hand, and we began to run. What were we running from, again?
Footsteps echoed in my ears. Guns clicked, surrounding us in all directions. The barrels smirked and jeered, calling to us in mocking voices. The boy’s hand slipped from mine, and I looked down to see a puddle of blood rapidly forming around the body of my little brother.
“Don’t go. I’ll carry you.” I heard myself saying, but he didn’t appear to hear me. The jeers and mockery grew louder.
“Let’s eat ice cream sometime… together with Mom and Dad…” The guns were suddenly gone. Instead, the harsh clomping of footsteps drew nearer and nearer, until I could no longer hear anything else. Kirby was saying something, but I couldn’t hear him. His eyes began to glaze over.
“Kirby?” I asked, waiting desperately for a response. Everything was fading to a smothering darkness, leaving only my little brother and me. “Kirby!”
“Kirby!” Someone was roughly shaking me.
“Quiet down!” a voice hissed. “You don’t want them to find this place, do you?”
I sat up with a start, looking around in a panic. Next to me stood an unfamiliar young man, glaring down at me through thickset steely blue eyes. Behind him, gathered around a table with mismatched chairs, sat a hooded figure, a raven-haired girl no older than thirteen, and another young man whose face seemed familiar. I was on a couch, covered by a tattered blanket. The room itself was fairly large, with beige painted walls and a few scraps of furniture here and there. Opposite from the wall the couch was leaning against, on my right, stood the door. In front and behind me in the corners were alcoves, with mattresses lying on the floor. On either side of the door were small tables with scattered items― a kettle, a portable stove. A photo. Utensils, bowls.
I swung my legs over the edge of the couch, vaguely aware of the fact that my leg should be hurting, but it wasn’t. I sized up the four people in the room warily. Who were they? What did they want with me? What had happened?
“Don’t have to be so harsh, Loki.” the young man sitting at the table said. “She probably lost someone that night.” Loki, presumably the man standing next to me, grunted and walked back to the table.
“Do I get a big sister now?” a bright voice piped up. The little girl sitting at the table jumped up and bounced over. “What’s your name?” I stared blankly at her, still not understanding what was going on.
“This is the liveliest I’ve seen you since we met, Lei.” the young man commented once more. Lei smiled and plopped herself down on the couch. “Anyway, I’m Gale.” the young man motioned to the hooded figure. “And this.. he doesn’t speak, so we don’t know his name. We call him Shadow.”
The hooded figure nodded.
I found my voice. “I’m Alexa.” I said, still watching them cautiously. “Where am I?” I tried to stand up, but my legs failed me, and I sat back down.
“You’re in a safe place.” Gale answered. He ran a hand through his wavy russet hair and fixed me with a piercing gaze. I couldn’t have felt more like a sitting duck. “Do you want to tell us why there are special forces patrolling the city right now?”
Suddenly, all eyes were on me. Lei’s round chocolate-colored eyes. Gale’s deep blue eyes. Loki’s steel blue eyes. Even a glimmer of green from Shadow. I met their stares coldly.
“How do I know that I can trust you guys?” I demanded. “Do you really expect me to sit down and tell you guys my life story the minute after I’ve met you?”
Gale sighed. Shadow turned away. Lei began to make shadow puppets from the shadows cast by the lamp. Loki strode over once more, a glint of irritation in his eyes.
“Look here, Alexa.” Swish. The cold tip of a knife pricked my throat. “You were on the run for a reason, right?” I gave a tiny nod, unwilling to deal with more injuries. My thoughts went to the gunshot wound on my leg. Something was wrong. It didn’t hurt. It was completely healed.
“What Loki’s trying to say is that we’re all here, in this room, for a reason.” Gale said. “You were on the run because you have something that we all do.” Gale suddenly disappeared, leaving only his head. “Magic.”
I stared back at Gale as best as I could, given the knife at my throat. If he had magic, and he was coexisting with these people, then they must have magic as well, or at least were not inclined to turn us in.
“…Fair enough.” I managed. Loki withdrew the blade. I sighed.
“So.” Loki prompted.
I tried to remember, tried to recall. What had happened. How did I get here?
I shook my head, trying to rid myself of the abrupt wave of sadness that threatened to overwhelm me. Lei scooted closer and gently took my hand as hot tears spilled down my face. “I don’t remember much…” I said, silently berating myself for being so weak. “I was running away from the special forces. I don’t know what happened to my parents. They’re probably dead.” I looked down. “And so is my brother.”
There was a moment of silence.
A gentle hand touched my shoulder, and I looked up to see Shadow standing next to me. He felt familiar to me ― perhaps it was the compassion I sensed through the small gesture, as if he was saying I feel your pain.
“I really wish I could empathize with all of your stories. I didn’t even know the special forces were on the hunt until I got to the city…” he said. Loki shrugged.
“Better not to go through such an experience.”
“Well, we’re all in this together now, right?” Lei murmured. Gale nodded. He and Loki stood up and gathered around the couch.
“We’re all in this together…”