Kori quietly looked both ways before high-tailing it across the street. She knew she shouldn’t be out at this time, but hunger doesn’t care about curfews. Sidling up to the dilapidated building, she took a moment to breathe. The next part of her journey was the most dangerous. Her gaze drifted over the peaceful and heartbreaking ruins of a once-proud city. There was a dark sort of beauty, if you knew how to see it, in the crumbling brick covered in moss and vines. It was as if the earth itself was reaching out to cradle the last vestiges of a once great and opulent metropolis. Mother Earth was embracing her lost and forgotten child.
A loud scratching noise startled Kori from her reverie. She knew better than to lose focus at this time of day. Kori centered herself, squaring her shoulders and inhaling the scents of her surroundings. Her vision sharpened, and she felt the sharp prick of the magic taking root. Kori placed the flat of her foot against the wall of the building to her back, pressed her palms against the same surface and bent her knees. When the telltale feeling of pins and needles subsided, she pushed off the building and felt the familiar rush of adrenaline flow through her entire body.
When Kori reached peak, she felt like she was flying. Ever alert, she scanned the area for potential threats but kept moving. Slow was dead. Fast was a chance at life. Kori had had a few close calls, but she had been pretty lucky. Her friends…well, it was always better to push forward than to think about the lost.
The cool pressure of the wind against her face gave Kori hope for the future, for something more and better than what they had. She stumbled a bit as her eyes glassed over. She did the best that she could for them. And she was all that they had. She knew that. That was why Kori took the stupid and seemingly unnecessary risks that she did. It was about providing for the kids that looked up to her. That number seemed to grow each day, but Kori wouldn’t stop trying to help all of them.
The gate came into focus and Kori began the delicate balance of slowing her speed without becoming bait for the things that hunted out here. This part made her most nervous. Slowly, the gate opened just enough to let her through before slamming shut behind her. Kori didn’t slow to normal speed until she heard the locking mechanism fall into place behind her.
The sounds of the bustling stronghold slowly filtered through Kori’s consciousness. This was the part that she hated. Those moments of absolute silence and concentration were as potent as the strongest drug. The noise and complications and filth of reality felt especially harsh after one of her “incidents.” Ugh. She detested that word. The idea that there were unexplainable talents wasn’t a thing that was discussed among the People. Magic was only for Ruling Class members. Any of the People that displayed Talent disappeared with no explanation. That was another reason that Kori was so selective about who came to great her. Max grabbed her shoulders just as she began to come down.
“Gotcha. Bed’s ready. Water and food are on the table. I’ll check in.” He moved her into the room that she both loved and didn’t. It provided safety after her decidedly unsafe journey, but it became a prison of sorts. She couldn’t leave until the effects of her “incident” had all dissipated. Thankfully, Max was one of her favorite keepers.
“Essh. Ffm. Ggguh.” Kori was cognizant enough to realize that her words weren’t forming, but she felt the need to express her thanks in the only way that she could.
“You’re welcome.” Max was quick to acknowledge her attempt, but turned away to hide the flush that started near the neck of his shirt and spread upwards until his forehead was the brightest shade of red.
Kori awkwardly reached towards Max and placed her palm on his cheek. She smiled, or at least tried to smile, while he let her rub her palm down his face and neck before stopping over his heart. It was a routine that both had become accustomed to, yet never acknowledged. As she felt herself fading, Kori heard his whispered “my girl is safe now” just like the last several times. That comfort helped her fall into the deep, restorative sleep that would almost bring her back. They didn’t need to know how it was taking longer for recovery or that the dreams were getting worse…