Seattle, Washington is nothing like home.
I’m used to trees and rolling hills as far as the eye can see. I’m used to fresh air, the scent of hay and livestock carrying on the wind. Barn animals, chickens, cows, horses, pigs, making their clucks and moos, neighs and squealing. Sights, smells, and the sounds of the country. Even the air has a taste, something between dirt and the bite of warm grass.
Here, there’s none of that. Here, there are buildings as far as the eye can see—gray on gray on gray. Buildings that touch the sky, buildings that reflect the muted sun, buildings that are impossible shapes—round or otherwise. They have signs and billboards. They have lights and more windows than one can possibly count.
There are cars at every intersection, the red signal light more of a suggestion than an insistence that a driver stop. And those white lines on the ground telling the driver not to pass? Well, those are apparently just as optional. There are actually so many tail lights blaring red, one would think the interstate that runs through the city is a parking lot.
With so much smog in the air, it’s a wonder these people aren’t dead, a wonder that they can breathe at all.
Then there’s the noise. Sirens blaring, people yelling, machinery running, cars honking, and those damn pedestrian crosswalks are always chirping. There’s no such thing as silence in the city. That’s the thing that I’ve come to miss the most.
I walk down the gray river sidewalk, following the blacktop road of yet another busy street. The rain is falling hard today, whispering sweetly as I let enough of it fall onto my blond hair that I look as drenched as anyone else walking the street. I repel it from my clothes, however, not fond of the idea of my clothing chafing me. As discreetly as I can, I channel air from the heavens to clear away the taste of oily exhaust, thick in the air. My fingers twitch to touch greenery, but the most there is around here are the trees planted into the sidewalk—the sidewalk! Whatever heathen thought that was a “good idea” deserves to be left in the wilderness to learn to appreciate the life of trees, of nature, of the elements.
Every tree I pass, I brush my fingers over the bark, a piece of my power channeling into and revitalizing the strong roots. Those, at least, are fighting back, tearing up the prison of their concrete encasings. I give them a push toward reclaiming the earth as theirs.
Everyone here is in a sweatshirt or something like a t-shirt and jeans, and if I wasn’t warming myself with fire, I would be shivering and bundled up in more than just my college sweatshirt and blue jeans. It has to be less than fifty degrees for Gaia’s sake! How these people aren’t shivering from the cold and the wet is beyond me.
Seattlites are insane.
After waiting a moment, I cross the street with a hoard of pedestrians…and am nearly hit by an impatient car making a left turn. I’m tempted to kick his car, but I realize no one else is fazed by him creeping and inching toward us. They look resolutely ahead, ever on their journey to their destinations. Except for one sane man; he flips the driver the bird as he strides past me, shoulder brushing against mine.
For a moment, I recognize the call of fire in him—he’s a Caster, blessed by the gods—but he’s gone before I’m able to catch a glimpse of anything more than his dark hair.
It’s probably for the best; I don’t want to draw attention to myself anyway.
When I cross the street, I stare up and up and up at the enormous glass building before me. It’s one of those buildings that is an impossible shape. It’s also entirely made up of steel beams and glass windows as far as I can tell. I’m certain there’s more to its craftsmanship than just those, but I’m not curious enough to look into it.
Seattle Public Library looms before me, and I take one more moment to appreciate the sheer size of it before I go in.
I instantly close to fire, using water to pull the rain from me. It was one thing to appear wet to other pedestrians—not that anyone pays attention to anything here—but it’s another to look damp when I can be dry inside. Not that anything in Washington is ever dry. Even the air is thick with humidity, making water more than happy to bash against my senses because it’s so dense.
But I don’t mind; the elements are the only thing familiar in this concrete forest.
I pull them close to me, feeling the push and pull of magic inside the glass library. Casters are here, but that’s nothing new. There are Casters all over this damn city—so many, I’m surprised no one has noticed my presence yet. But I don’t want to be found, so I suppress my energy further.
I’m here for a reason, and that reason is school.
I skim the layout and lightly jog toward the information desk, waiting for my turn to speak with a clerk. She smiles up at me, asking, “How can I help you today?”
“Um, yeah,” I look around and up before meeting her gaze again, “I’m looking for your Shakespeare section. I’ve gotta do a report for class, and wouldn’t you know, I left my copy back home.”
“Not a problem, which play are you looking for?”
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
She nods, typing into her computer. “You’re in luck, it looks like we have a copy in the 800’s. It’s between the seventh and ninth floors as you spiral up the landings. Would you like me to have someone show you?”
“Nah,” I say, grabbing one of the pamphlets from her desk. “I’ll use the map.”
After she writes down the call number for me, I head off to find the stairs that lead up into the large building, and it doesn’t take long to discover the spiral she was referring to. The floor is literally on a slant, the shelving units and aisles held level by a sort of stepping pattern. It’s interesting, so I take my time, following the slanting floor around and around, through doorways as I round a corner on each end of the building, until I come to the level where the concrete floor is marked in giant black letters reading “800.”
I walk into that aisle, idly muttering, “Eight-twenty-two, eight-twenty-two,” to myself as I run my finger over the spines of each book.
When I reach that call number, I look back down to the paper, reminding myself of the numbers after the decimal. I find the section I’m looking for and am blown away to realize there are a shit-ton of books with the call number 822.33. I’m forced to glance from the paper to the spines again and again as I weave yet another shelving unit before finding the book I’m looking for.
“Fucking finally,” I whisper under my breath, and someone on the other side of the shelving unit snorts. I startle, grimacing at being heard. “Pardon my language, I didn’t realize anyone else was here.”
“Don’t get a stick up your ass now that you’ve been caught,” a man’s voice replies. It’s young but masculine, full of mirth and mischief. “Own that shit. It’s one of the few freedoms any of us have left in this hell hole world we live in.”
My brows rise. “That’s…grim.”
Another snort comes my way. “That’s reality.”
I open and close my mouth, not sure how to reply. Instead, I stare at the shelf where the play I need still sits. I place my index finger on top of the spine and ease it off the shelf.
“That’s not how you pull books off the shelf, dumbass,” the voice says, and my head whips up in shock. I didn’t even realize he could see me. “If you pull it off the shelf like that, you’ll damage the binding at the top of the book.”
“I-I didn’t know,” I protest, still looking over top and below the shelves, trying to get a glimpse of my verbal assailant. I had no idea how he could see me; I can’t find him. Well, not his face anyway. I can only see the dark black of his clothing through the gaps in the shelves.
“Well, now you do. The library weeds out perfectly good books when people do that shit. What a waste.” And before I can say anything, he completely derails me with, “That’s a good one, but I still think Romeo and Juliet takes the cake. There’s just something about tragic star crossed lovers that deserves its place in the light.”
“And what about Hamlet?” I counter, wondering if he’s going to come to my side of the shelving unit like a normal person. Then again, I’ve made no move to go find him. “That’s supposed to be the most tragic of all his plays.”
“Ahhh,” he says, approval in his tone. “Hamlet is a fine, fine prince of ignorant madness, and there is enough tragic death to appreciate, sure, but Romeo and Juliet? What’s more tragic than dying for your true love…who isn’t dead? Seconds—they miss each other by mere moments, and then they both end up taking their lives. It’s beautiful in the poetry of their deaths. It’s tragic in the truth that they were mere minutes away from their happily ever after. Some say love is worth dying for.”
The more the stranger talks, the more I find myself frowning. “You do know it was written as a warning against the folly of falling into blind love, right? A tragedy to show man’s stupidity in how blindly we let ourselves be led by our hearts instead of with logic?”
“Is it? Or is it a tale of two young people falling in love despite their family’s feuding? Despite that love didn’t factor into marriage in the Middle Ages? Maybe it was one poet’s plea to see love realized.”
“Or to show it leads to complete stupidity. Look how many people were hurt or died as a result of their misguided insta-love! They didn’t even know each other!”
“He’s a cynic,” the man says, approval in his tone. “You’re right, though. They were stark-raving mad, but for a moment, they achieved what so many of us crave like a drug.”
“And what’s that?”
I’m stunned silent at the longing in his voice, the bitterness in the one word.
Before I can reply, a different man shouts, “Jeph, you disgusting asshole! You said five minutes—that was half an hour ago! You and your perverse habits, I swear!”
“Drama queen,” the dude—Jeph—mutters. To me, he says, “I better go before the missus has a conniption fit. Nice not meeting you. Let’s not do this again.”
Fast as a wraith, he’s gone, leaving me standing there, baffled and confused.
Owen first appears in “Hunter’s Mark,” book 2 in the Light of Chaos series. Click “Buy on Amazon” below to read “King’s Chaos,” book 1 in the Light of Chaos series, free on KindleUnlimited. Follow this link to preorder “Hunter’s Mark,” available March 20, 2020.