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Many believed that the humans were travelers, escaping from another world, destroyed by war.


The bullet never actually hit Finn.  I don’t know where he came from or how he moved so quickly, but one second Blake was firing on Finn in a residential neighborhoodin front of a cop who I was sure was still sitting in his car not ten feet away from us – and the next second Cal had materialized between Finn and the bullet.

The round slammed into Cal’s shoulder and stayed there.  Cal stared up at Blake with plain hatred in his eyes.  He bared his teeth, which had become sharp fangs, and he let out a bestial roar that shook the house’s window panes.

I blinked, and Cal had moved the thirty feet to us, somehow coming to stand in the middle of me and my family, and was hoisting Blake up into the air with nothing but a single hand around my cousin’s throat.  Blake tried to raise his gun, and Cal reached out with his left hand and broke Blake’s wrist without showing any sign of real effort.

Then the world exploded in flames.

I wasn’t burned, but it was hot for barely a second as my vision registered nothing but the sight of flames in front of me.  When they dissipated, we were all standing exactly as we had been, and Cal was still holding Blake in the air, slowly choking the life out of him with no regards for the fact that he had a bullet in his shoulder.

But we weren’t at Richard Hawkins’ house anymore.  We stood in Finn’s backyard, where I’d taken my first step in learning to control my power.

I moved my hand towards my own gun, unsure of who I would even point it at, but certain that I didn’t want to be caught in this fight unable to defend myself.  Uncle Timothy and Aunt Marlene both had guns drawn and aimed at Cal, and Stephanie drew her gun, but had it aimed at the ground.

“If you had successfully killed me just now, you’d be in a far worse position than you are,” said Finn, his voice piercing my mind, drawing almost my full attention to him – and apparently everyone else’s attention, based on the way they all looked at him and slightly lowered their weapons.  “Thankfully, I ensured that only we heard the gunshot and that the officer was so distracted by donuts that he falsely remembers buying that he didn’t see what just happened.”

All of us stared, transfixed, at Finn.  His eyes were consumed by flame and his pupils were dots of white light, as I’d seen only once before.  Spread in the air behind him were two enormous wings made entirely of flames.

The flames vanished, and Finn scowled at us.  “That was stupid of you, Blake.  You had no reason to shoot me, though I suspect that you’ve wanted to for quite a while.  It’s about time you showed your true colors.”

Blake made a choking sound, and just like that, all of us were released from Finn’s spell.  My aunt and uncle raised their guns to Cal’s head again.

Finn sighed.  “Cal, put him down.”

Cal growled, but dropped Blake to the ground.  Once again moving so fast that it looked like he was teleporting, Cal went and stood by Finn, facing us.

“I’ll heal the gunshot wound in a minute,” Finn promised.  Cal shrugged indifferently.

“Your lapdog broke my son’s hand,” said Uncle Timothy with his gun now trained on Finn.  Aunt Marlene bent down to carefully examine her son’s wrist.

“Your son tried to murder me,” said Finn, “But in the interest of not provoking you to try the same thing…”  Finn made a gesture toward Blake, whose injured wrist was suddenly wreathed in golden flames.  After a moment, the flames vanished.  Blake rolled his newly-healed wrist and flexed his hand with evident shock.

Uncle Timothy begrudgingly spat, “Thanks.”

Finn eyed him coolly.  “Think nothing of it.  It doesn’t change the fact that you are hereby exiled from this town.”

Silence fell.

“What?” asked Aunt Marlene.

“I will allow you to stay here long enough that you can help me kill Blood-Shard,” said Finn.  I noticed his eyes had cooled to blue once again.  “After that, every hunter will leave this town within twenty-four hours or I will drag them out myself.”

Blake rose up, apparently having completely failed to learn his lesson, and began, “You can’t just – ”

“Be quiet,” Finn commanded, and Blake’s mouth snapped shut.  Blake stared at Finn, obviously trying to open his mouth, but unable to.  No sounds came from him at all.  “Yes,” said Finn, “I can.  I am older than your country and your entire civilization, Blake Ross.  Every other hunter, after the twenty-four hours, will be dragged out.  If you haven’t left, I will let Cal do whatever he wants with you.”

Cal grinned, showing his pointed teeth.

“Now go,” said Finn.

For the second time, my eyes saw nothing but fire, and then we were back on the late Mister Hawkins’ front steps.  I looked around.  Finn and Cal were absent.

We stood there for a moment, stunned, before we all put away our guns and walked, more than a bit disturbed, towards the car.  My entire body was shaking, and my heart thudded along quickly.

None of us broke the silence the entire drive home.  None of us spoke as we entered the house.  None of us argued when we got inside and Uncle Timothy sent Stephanie and me to our rooms, telling Blake to stay there in the living room with him.

Stephanie, instead of going into her room, came into my room.  We sat down next to each other on my bed.

“So,” I said.

“So,” Stephanie echoed.

We didn’t say anything else.  We couldn’t.  My hands were still shaking.  My blood roared in my ears, and I felt an urge to hide away from the entire world.

After a minute, we heard my uncle shouting at Blake about having been impulsive and stupid.  We heard Blake yelling back that he was doing as his dad had taught him, hunting the elementals that kill people or help to kill people.  We heard Uncle Timothy shouting that what Blake had attempted wasn’t hunting, it was suicide, and that Blake was indebted to Finn for not letting Blake get arrested for firing a gun in a residential neighborhood, a few feet away from a cop, at the scene of a murder.

“I didn’t know,” said Stephanie, slowly, “that Blake was such a – ”  She let out a stream of words that, regardless of her age, would have inspired her parents to wash her mouth out with soap.

I hesitated.  “Me neither.  He really hates elementals, doesn’t he?”

Stephanie nodded.

“I wonder what made him feel that way.”

“He’s a teenager,” said Stephanie with a helpless little shrug.  “He’s hot-headed and angry by nature.  He’s still just…immature.”

“Sometimes I don’t think it’s right to put all of this on teenagers,” I muttered.  “We shouldn’t have to try to make life-and-death decisions, choosing who deserves to live and who deserves to die.  Teens can be violent no matter what.  And then they train us and put guns in our hands and expect us to fight a war against things we don’t understand.”

My cousin and I fell silent and continued listening to the shouting match downstairs.  It went on for quite a while, much longer than I expected.

“I’ve never once hated elementals,” Stephanie whispered.  “My best friend is a witch.”

“Neither have I,” I said, “I want to ask out a witch.”

The half-joke was so sudden and so out of place that Stephanie not only snorted, but imploded into a giggling fit.  So did I.

“You – ” Stephanie started, but then laughed again.  “You should totally ask Maya out.  I think she likes you, too.”

I smiled, trying to stop myself from laughing before the laughs could develop into hiccups.  “Yeah?  Maybe I will, then.”

“Good.  She’d be a cool sister-in-law.”

“She’s not your sister-in-law if she’s married to your cousin,” I pointed out.

“Whatever.  You’re basically my brother.”

I smiled wider.  “Thanks.”

We fell silent again.  The shouting was dying down.  They were probably confused about the sound of laughter.

“I want to go to college,” said Stephanie suddenly.

I gave her a sideways look.  She was frowning deeply at the wall.  “Okay,” I said, “And?”

Stephanie sighed.  “You don’t get it,” she said, “Hunters don’t go to college.  We just hunt and hunt and hunt until we die.  But I don’t want my whole life to be about this.  I want to do other things.  So, I’m going to start with college.”

“Alright.  Are you going to go as soon as you graduate?”

“I think I am,” she said.  “I’m not quite sure what I’m going to study.  Maybe music.  I like singing and playing the piano.”

“I think…I want to go to college, too.”

“Blake doesn’t,” said Stephanie, a touch of sadness in her voice, “He’s a hunter, through and through.  He’s just going to keep on killing, if he can.”

I put a hand on her shoulder.  “Don’t worry, I’ll come with you.  Do you know where you want to go?”

“Faircrest University,” she said instantly, smiling at me.

I frowned.  “Where’s that?”

“It’s out west from here,” she said, “In Idaho, or someplace.”

“Okay.  Why Faircrest?”

“Maya says that there’s a dense elemental population there.  I want to go to college, but I also want to keep helping people while I’m there.”

“Alright.  Sounds like a plan.  As soon as we graduate, we’ll go to Faircrest.  Be stationary hunters for a while.”

Stephanie bumped her shoulder against mine.  “See?  Basically my brother.”

“Mm-hm.  I have no idea what I’ll study, though.  My life plan before this was pretty much fixed on me learning how to hunt.”

“Well, mission accomplished.  Kind of.  Almost.”

I laughed.  “Well, it’ll be a bit closer to accomplished after tomorrow.”

“Ah, yeah.  Tailing the informants.  I nearly forgot.”

I listened for a second.  The yelling had stopped completely, and the rest of the house was quiet.  “Do you think they’ll let Blake help?” I asked.

Stephanie shrugged.  “Don’t know.  We’re kind of at war.”

I grunted.  “And so begins the slaughter,” I said darkly.

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