CHAPTER FOUR: AURAS

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There were but few creatures which were feared by those spirits.  The firebird, the stone men, and the flesh-eaters.  The sea serpents in all their shifting forms.  And humanity.

School was…well, it was school.  Not only was it boring despite being the first day, I had somehow found myself in some kind of school-dumpster lovechild hybrid.  Springdale High was a run-down brick building.  Most of the walls were discolored, lights flickered in every room and hallway, and the custodial crew had stopped bothering to clean up the graffiti on the backside of the building.  I don’t think I’d ever seen a school in worse shape.  And did I mention all of the classes were boring?

At least I got to actually meet Finn and Cal formally.  When I approached them in the hallway between classes, they were talking to Maya.  Maya had her back to me, and I saw Finn’s eyes widen when he caught sight of me.  He stared, just like Maya had.  I swear, if Cal did it I was going to flip out and kill someone.  But Cal, bless his heart, did not.  He took one look from Finn to me and back again, rolled his eyes, and elbowed Finn hard enough that Finn started rubbing his ribs where he’d been hit.  The phoenix glared at his friend, who grinned back unabashedly.

“Hey Maya,” I said.

The witch turned and smiled at me.  “Jeremy, nice to see you.  Where are your cousins?”

I shrugged.  “On their way to class, I’d assume.  How are you?”

“Can’t complain.  Well, I mean, I could, but it’d be kind of stupid since I don’t really have anything to complain about,” said Maya.

“Doesn’t seem to stop some people,” I said with a smile.

Maya laughed.  “Hey, by the way,” she said, “Have you met Finn and Cal?”

“As of just now, yes,” I said, shaking their hands.

“Finn and Cal, this is Jeremy Ross,” said Maya.

Finn’s eyebrows rose.  “You’re one of the Rosses?”

“Yep.”

“And do you know anything about your, um…family pastimes?”

“You mean hunting supernatural creatures?” I said bluntly.  “Yeah.  Me, Stephanie, and Blake were in the car at the gas station the other night.  And Cal, you really know your gestures dude.”

Cal grinned at me.  “It’s a hobby of mine,” he said, “You never know when you might need them.”

“I think in your particular case, you might,” I said, lowering my voice, “Anytime you see my uncle coming.”

Cal snickered.  “Alright, you’re not bad for a Ross.”

“I really can’t tell if that’s a compliment, bro.”

“Same way I feel about the hand gesture thing.”

I tilted my head to one side.  Cal’s smile broadened.  “Yeah,” I said slowly, “That’s fair.  Well hey, it’s good to meet you guys.  I think I’d better go before I’m late to class, though.”

“Alright,” said Maya, “See you later, Jeremy.”  She put a hand on my shoulder, just a casual touch, and magic buzzed through my shoulder.

I nearly fell over from the shock of it.  My vision swam in front of me, and suddenly everything in my surroundings became sharp and bright.  Where I’d seen Maya, Finn, and Cal one second before, now I saw something different.  They were still in there, underneath all the new colors, but mostly I saw the nearly blinding lights they were emitting.

Maya had shining yellow tendrils of energy swirling in the air around her, forming odd pulsating glyphs that I didn’t recognize before they dissipated.  Finn looked like he had red, gold, and white flames crackling around him, spread out like wings behind his back.  Cal’s was different from the other two because the light seemed denser, somehow.  All of it was gathered around his body, and it was still and steady, some kind of brownish green-gray that made me think of hiking mountain trails and stretching out in the sun.  Somehow, my brain registered all of this new information in less than half a second.

“You okay?” said Cal, his hand on my arm, steadying me.  I was suddenly aware that I’d been in more danger of falling over than I thought.  Even as my eyes adjusted and the lights faded to the background, my knees were still trying to buckle underneath me.

“Uh, yeah,” I said, opting to pretend I hadn’t seen anything until I understood what the freaking flying ferret farts had just happened.  “Just a weird dizzy spell.  Um, not like a spell-spell, though.  Obviously.  Just – never mind.  I’m gonna go to class now.  Later.”

All three of the elementals shot glances at me and at each other as I walked away as quickly as possible in the school hallway.  Mercifully, that was the most eventful part of the school day.  All day, I was staring at the people around, and I was startled to see that while it was a tiny percentage of people in the school, there were other people with auras like the elementals.  I’d heard of an elemental’s aura before – I’d snuck into my dad’s private library once or twice and read his books on the supernatural, but I had been sure that normal people weren’t supposed to be able to see them.  My best guess was that it was a result of so many of them so close together.  Constant exposure to magic must be affecting me somehow.

At the end of school, I was relieved to meet up with my cousins.  There was something soothing about their familial bickering; somehow, they managed to comfort whatever part of me had been upset by the sight of the auras.

Apparently Uncle Timothy had declared that the rest of the day would be best spent at the shooting range, because Blake drove us to a building outside of town with a gravel-covered parking lot, close to the edge of the woods.  There were targets set up outside, but we went in the building to practice because of the cold.  I frowned as the twins withdrew handguns from a few hidden places within the car.  Apparently they’d had them there all day while we’d been in school.

As we went inside, Blake explained the instructions from his dad.  I noticed that the people inside of the building looked like they knew Blake and Stephanie.  Most of them greeted my cousins, a few stopped to chat, and I had met one or two of them already – they were hunters like us.

Stephanie stuck with me to make sure that I was as good a shot as I claimed, and we got to work.  In spite of the noise, I found something relaxing about the repetition and the physical nature of the task.  I didn’t have to think about some faceless, nameless monster lurking in town somewhere.  There were no freaky auras blocking everything else from my vision, and no one was picking a fight with a ludicrously powerful elemental.

This went on until I heard Stephanie, standing behind me, let out a low whistle.

“You weren’t kidding about being a good shot, huh?” said Stephanie.  I glanced at her, then looked over at my target.  It was a plain bullseye target, like a dartboard.  Every one of my shots had hit the center circle.

“Did I mention that I’ve been looking forward to this for years?” I laughed.

“Once,” said my cousin, “Or a dozen times.”

I glanced around, and saw that Blake was almost on the other end of the range, busy with his own target practice.  The only ones who would be able to hear our conversation would be Stephanie and myself.  Though my heart started pounding furiously at the thought, I ran with my impulse.

“Hey Stephanie,” I said, “How much have you actually researched about elementals and how the supernatural works?”

Stephanie tilted her head to one side and her brow creased a tiny bit.  “Pretty thoroughly.  Why, do you have a question you need answered?”

“Kind of,” I said, “Just something I’m curious about.  What do you know about auras?”

“Not a whole lot,” said Stephanie, staring off into space.  “It’s pretty hard to find real information on them.  It all gets jumbled up with stuff that people make up, plus normal people can almost never see them, so it’s pretty rare for us to get any info in the first place.  Elementals like their secrets kept.”

Relief flooded through my body, but I didn’t let it show.  I just gave Stephanie a curious look and said, “What do you mean almost never?”

“Well, it has been known to happen.  Some people have trace amounts of elemental heritage, or they’ve been exposed to magic throughout their lives, that kind of thing.  And sometimes, it just happens.”  She shrugged.  “Magic can be really unpredictable sometimes.”

I nodded.  “So wouldn’t it be useful if we could figure out a way that would let us see them?  I mean, only elementals have them, right?  It’s a projection of their magic.  So if we could see them – ”

“We’d be able to identify elementals on sight,” finished Stephanie.

“Exactly.”

“It’d be useful, but I don’t know how to do it.  You’d probably need a witch like Maya to help you.  And good luck on that one.”

“Maya wouldn’t do it?”

Stephanie sighed and shook her head sadly.  “Maya helps us because I’m her friend and there is something dangerous out there.  She cares about protecting people.  But there’s no way that she’s going to just hand the hunters another weapon they can abuse just to harass innocent people.”

I grimaced.  “Yeah.  Neither would I, honestly.”

Stephanie glanced over my shoulder at the target I’d shot full of holes.  “Well, I’d say we’re safe to let you carry a gun when we’re hunting.  I’m one of the best shooters we’ve got, so if I vouch for you, my mom and dad will go with it.”

“Thanks,” I said, glancing around.  “How long do we need to stay here?”

Stephanie shrugged.  “We can go.  Seeing how good of a shot you are was the main reason we’re here, so if we’re done here.”

We went and retrieved Blake, who seemed disappointed to leave the shooting range, but agreed that we should try and get home soon, or we’d miss dinner.  We took the guns with us, and as we started stashing them in the car, I heard the crunch of footsteps on gravel behind me just before I blacked out.

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