Life is a play, and the earth is my stage. Air is my voice, fire my passion, water my flow, and spirit my persona, guiding me as I play my role.~Owen Merlin
I’m looking for something.
That’s a lie.
I’m looking for someone, and he’s the reason I’m alive.
I can’t get into the details right now, but just know, he’s more precious to me than the air I breathe. I don’t know what he looks like, but he probably has green eyes like me. Perhaps he’s blond, too. But maybe not. I wonder if his skin is as pale as mine or if he’s my opposite in every way. It’s never happened before, of course, but sometimes, when I close my eyes, I see him.
Green eyes like emeralds, brunet hair with the slightest wave to it, and skin a light shade of brown. He even kind of looks like me, but there are two things missing when I see him in my mind’s eye. He’s missing the birthmark that wraps around my bicep, a thin line that looks oddly reminiscent of a snake with its forked tongue sticking out and a mole dotting the eye. He’s also missing the small discoloration of a brown spot in his eye, as if, for a moment, my eye tried to be something other than green, as if a stronger power tried to take over a magic as ancient as his bloodline.
But it doesn’t matter; I’ll know him the moment my eyes land on him. I’m destined to be at his side—he, my sovereign, and me, his sword and shield, if he chooses to make me his sworn knight.
I’m sure the young man in my mind is who I’m looking for; I just haven’t found him yet. But I think I know someone who can help.
Have you ever heard the myths of the Legendary Sibyl? I have, but I thought she was just that: a myth, a legend, a time witch belonging to stories of old. I should’ve known better. All stories are true, at least partially. Perception is easily clouded when magic is involved.
Fae? Dragons, mermaids, unicorns, and more? Myths perpetuated by Norms who misconstrued the magic they saw performed before their very eyes. A strong glamour can go a long way in making people see something that isn’t there. Stronger ones can even fool the most powerful of Casters into believing what they’re seeing is real.
Vampires, zombies, ghouls, and ghosts? Oh, yeah, necromancers had their fun with Norms on those ones. Assholes.
The list of magical non-truths goes on and on, but one truth remains: a Norm saw it. It just wasn’t real.
It took a few hundred years for the guilds to decide, “Hey, screwing with Norms probably isn’t a very good idea.” They finally banned the use of magic in front of the non-magical humans of society.
But you want to know a secret?
The gods used to walk among us.
It’s true. They did. It’s where the mages and witches of today originate from.
The gods bred demigods, Casters with incredible magic. But that was eons ago. Mortal pairings have long since diluted those bloodlines, resulting in the weaker Spellcasters of today. They have magic, but they are far from gods. They aren’t even demigods, despite their lineage. They are magical mortals; nothing more, nothing less.
Sometimes, that magic dies out, and a child is born a Norm.
But the gods haven’t abandoned us. They still watch over mortals from afar. They gift the strong, favor the tenacious, and whisper to the curious. Those blessed by the gods are called “elementals,” people who can wield one of the elements.
You want to know another secret?
I wasn’t gifted with my affinities, nor my tremendous power. I’m also not a Caster. I’m a Magician, the only one of my line still alive.
I was born with the power to wield all five of the elements, using them together to control more than just air, fire, water, earth, and spirit. I can overlap them and turn earth to stone, stone to steel or gemstones. I can turn air to steaming mist, steaming mist to a cloud, a cloud to a thunderstorm. But one must always be careful when they toy with the elements; they’re as sentient as you or me, and they don’t like to be played with.
Sometimes, they like to toy with you.
Not me, though. Never me. Never my bloodline, and to keep my line alive, I need to find that man.
But I don’t know his name. I don’t even know where he is. But he’s out there.
I can feel him in my blood. It’s like a compass, pointing me in every direction at once. Until I find him, I won’t know which way to look. All I know is he’s not here.
But I know where the Sibyl is, if the rumors in the Magical Community are to be believed. And she may be good at staying hidden from the guilds hunting her, but I’m fairly certain I can find her if she’s real. Why hide from someone who isn’t a threat to her? Why hide from someone who can give her exactly what she needs? I can give her a place to hide that no one will ever find her, and in exchange, all I need is for her to use her prophetic powers to find the man I’m looking for.
She’ll never be safer, and I’ll have fulfilled my destiny.
Now all that’s left to do is pack and head for Seattle.
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 squeals. Sights, smells, and the sounds of the country. Even the air has a taste, something between dirt and fresh cut 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 the requirement 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 glaring 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 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, nature, and 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 bumped 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 my connection to fire, then use water to pull the rain off 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 it, I left my copy back home.”
“Not a problem, which play are you looking for?”
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
She nods as she types 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. “I’ll figure it out.”
After she writes down the call number for me, I head off to find the stairs that lead up into the large building. 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 gradual-step design. It’s interesting, so I take my time. I follow the slanting floor around and around, going through doorways as I round a corner on either end of the building, until I come to the level where the concrete floor is marked in giant white text 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 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 take 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 like that, you’ll damage the binding at the top of the book.”
“I-I didn’t know.” I look over top and below the shelves, trying to get a glimpse of my verbal assailant. I have no idea how he can 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.” Before I can say anything, he completely derails me with, “That play’s good, 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’s 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 mankind’s stupidity in how blindly we let ourselves be led by our hearts instead of logic?”
“Is it? Or is it a tale of two young people falling in love despite their family’s feuding? Despite love not factoring 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 at how many people are hurt or die 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.
Classes are in full swing, and I still haven’t found the Sibyl. It’s not for a lack of trying, that’s for damn sure. It’s little wonder the guilds around here haven’t found her, despite her power radiating all over the state. And that’s the goddamn problem—it’s all over the state! One second, I’m sure she’s right next to me, and the next, I feel her magic flare from hundreds of miles away.
It makes no damn sense!
At this point, I’m on a wild goose chase, no closer to discovering the whereabouts of the man I’m looking for, nor the Sibyl, who may be able to help me find him. But that’s okay, I suppose, because classes at the University of Washington are going well. I’m top of my class in the theater program, and I even got selected to play one of the lead roles in our upcoming performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Last time I did that play, I was Puck, so I’m excited to try my hand at a new character.
As winter slowly, slowly, so goddamn slowly, gives way to spring, the chill in the air is turning to rain. More. Rain. How do these people live like this?
They’re batshit crazy, that’s how. I was reminded about that the other day when someone tried to mug me on campus—in daylight! Well, what counts for it in this gray, gray state. To say he didn’t appreciate the broken nose and wrist I gave him would be an understatement. Reflexes are a bitch and so hard to break. Campus police didn’t even bat an eye while collecting the man, so I get the feeling they’re desensitized to crazy people…maybe?
Seattle is wild—wild people, wild clubs, wild parties, and I find myself quite charmed by all of it.
But not the traffic. Never the traffic.
Don’t get me started on public transportation.
Currently, I’m on the wrong bus, heading north, deeper into Seattle, when I need to head south back to campus. I caught the right number bus…just going the wrong way. Who makes the difference between north- and south-bound buses which side of the street you’re on? I don’t care that the damn thing is crowded, or that some smelly dude is asleep on my arm—he looks like he needs a few Z’s. What’s pissing me off is that I can’t ever seem to tell where the buses are going before boarding them. At least the light rail makes some semblance of sense—ya know, with, like, signs saying where the thing is going before you board it.
I pull the wire to let the driver know I’m getting off, then wake the man with an apologetic smile. “It’s my stop.”
He nods and lets me up, then promptly falls back asleep. Before I go, I grab a fifty dollar bill out of my wallet and slip it into his hand. I hope he can put it to use, whether for food or a new pair of shoes is up to him.
“Thanks, man,” he murmurs, and I startle, not realizing he’s still awake.
“Yeah,” I say softly. “Take care of yourself.”
I get off when the bus stops and look up and down the street. I’m lost, and I don’t know when the next bus heading south will come by. Soon, I’m sure, considering it’s rush hour. This is what I get for trying to chase after phantom surges of magical energy. The Sibyl is nowhere to be found.
Suddenly, a huge spike of power splits the aether not far from me. I turn toward it and run.
I get to an alley right as there’s a clatter of metal trash bins.
“Ra, that girl is going to be the death of me,” a man’s deep, accented voice mutters, followed by a snort. “Already was.”
I see a pair of dark, sandaled feet sticking out on the other side of a dumpster, and my brow furrows as I look at how costume-y and worn they look. Like a homemade job done well, but not like anything you would expect to see in modern day society. But this just proves my point about how crazy these people are—sandals! In winter, no less—and they’re cosplay!
As I get closer, I’m greeted by the sight of bare calves and knees. I stop short, not entirely sure this man isn’t naked behind the dumpster he’s sitting next to. It wouldn’t be the first case of nudity I’ve seen on the streets here.
“Are—are you okay?” I call, certain he was the source of magic just a minute ago…but now, it’s gone. This man is a Norm…or…something. He doesn’t quite feel right to my own probing magic.
What I can see of his body stiffens, and very coolly, he grumbles, “I’m fine. Now, go away.”
My mouth opens and closes in shock. Are all people here rude? “I heard you fall—”
“And I said I’m fine.”
“If…if you’re sure?”
“I swear to Ra,” he mutters, “I hate this crap.”
My brows rise at his preferred curse, not the swear word, but the god. Only Casters typically swear on the gods, and very few at that. “Are you…are you a Caster?” I hedge. He’s either a Caster, crazy, or possibly drunk. If he’s a Norm, it’s not like he’ll know what I’m talking about.
There’s a long pause where he doesn’t move or respond, and the lack of movement of air tells me he’s not breathing, which is impossible. He would have to be breathing. Even if he’s holding his breath, that’s…quite a long time to go without breathing.
Then, he heaves a sigh. “You’re not going away are you?”
“I just want to help.”
“If you won’t go, I will.”
And before I can make it around the dumpster to try to stop him, he’s…gone. As in, poof! He vanished before my very eyes, and it wasn’t magic. At least, I don’t think it was.
No, I’m certain it wasn’t.
“What the actual mother of all fucks?” I hiss, staring at the vacant spot where a man had just been sitting. Or had there been a man at all? “You’re losing your ever-loving mind, Owen. Crazy—you’re going crazy, just like the rest of the people here.”
Perhaps there’s something in the water.
Any day now. Any day, I’m going to find the Sibyl. She’s going to magically appear right next me, and I’m going to say something clever like, “Hey there, I’m Owen, and boy, do I have deal for you!” And she’s going to look at me with large, shining eyes and thank me for being her hero, her savior—because I know a hiding spot where she’ll never be found. She’ll tell me where to find the man I’m looking for, and then I’ll tell her the ultimate hiding place.
I snort at my own stupidity. Yeah, right. She’ll do that—right after pigs fly and dogs learn to dance!
I smile about dancing dogs, redacting that claim. Dogs are pretty clever.
I roll my eyes at myself.
Focus, Owen! Stop being a moron.
In my defense, I had seen a funny dog video this morning that could’ve passed for a dog dancing. It was a tan poodle wearing a tutu, walking on its two hind legs as it spun a few circles, chasing a treat in someone’s hand.
And yeah, I’m getting distracted again.
I heave a sigh, looking out over the Square. I’m seated on the steps of Suzzallo Library, watching the masses of students as they hustle between classes. I could be inside, getting a coffee from the cafe. I could be in the HUB, grabbing a bite to eat. I could be a million other places on campus, but I’m sitting here, soaking in the fresh air. It’s the first day of blue skies we’ve had since I got here, and for once, the threat of rain isn’t hanging in the heavy gray clouds. Today, the clouds are fluffy and white, and the sun is even shining down.
For an elemental like me, it’s hard to be inside, especially with the gentle breeze playing with my hair, air giving me just a bit more attention than the Norms milling around. I’m okay with that. It’s refreshing, especially because the stench of smog from busses, cars, and transit doesn’t reach this far onto campus.
But the thing I’m realizing about a nice day in Seattle is that I’m not the only one who wants to enjoy the blue skies. Nope. I’m sitting on a stair because the metal tables on the entrance floor are already claimed by students. The wall that creates a short balcony is a seat to many swinging legs. The stairs are even crowded with clusters of students, who lean out of the way as library-bound students pass by.
In other words, the entire square is crowded with bodies, more than usual. I can barely see faces, let alone get a head count as the students walk by like fish caught in a stream. I can barely hear my own thoughts it’s so loud. Perhaps that’s why I’m having unproductive ones.
I’m tempted to put in my earbuds and drown out the chatter, the talk about classes and assignments, midterms and professors, papers due and projects still incomplete, but I don’t. This is the human element I crave. It’s part of why I love theater. It’s real, it’s emotional, and it’s alive.
With Helios’ heat shining down on me and Uranus’ breeze lifting my hair, I close my eyes and connect to spirit, letting the energy surrounding me fill me. As soon as I open to the element, it’s at once too much and not enough. I can feel those around me like a living thing—because they are alive. I can sense the cluster of girls to my right, their energy filling me with their excitement and trepidation, their irritation and their joy. I’m not sure what’s upsetting them—probably classes or midterms—but I’m suddenly on edge, too. I also feel the couple a few steps up, drinking coffee and flirting. Their happiness flushes my cheeks, making my heart rate double. I feel the sea of students before me, their worries pelting me with anxious energy as they race to their next classes. I feel the students in the library, in the other buildings to my left and right, in the ones in front of and behind me, spirit sending out my senses to touch every living soul within a mile.
The wind kicks up around me as I lose control. I can’t do anything to calm it, to sooth it, to bring it back to myself. I can feel clouds rapidly approaching right before rain begins to pour from the sky. Even the ground gives a little shake. At this rate, I’m just thankful I haven’t set anything on fire yet.
Sweat slicks my skin, and the students start shrieking or gasping in alarm as the weather continues to spiral out of control. Their panic consumes me, spirit dragging their surging emotions back to me in spades. I’m panting now, barely able to keep fire from unleashing itself on the Square.
Then I feel it. I feel him. He’s why my power’s raging. The sheer number of people around me aren’t helping, but I’ve never lost touch like this before. Never been consumed by the elements. But now that I know what’s causing it, I’m able to sever my connection to his affinity—the one bleeding into me and making me lose control. Another spirit elemental, and his power is incredible, damn incredible.
The air stops whipping, the rain stops pouring, the ground stops shaking, and my eyes snap open.
I’m on my feet and running before I’m conscious of the decision. I’m nearly shoving people out of the way—people still trying to climb back to their feet or move from the shock of the receding earthquake—as I bolt across the Square. I’m not moving fast enough, and now that my connection to spirit is cut—to him—I’m not sure where his overwhelming energy went, where he went.
All I can think is, Find him, find him, find him! as I continue ducking and weaving students—students who are back into the flow of walking between buildings now that the strange weather has passed, now that the ground has stopped shaking, now that they have places to be. Not even freak weather storms rattle these people. I’m starting to think nothing will.
But I felt him. For a moment, I felt him.
It’s him, my blood screams at me. He’s here!
I’ve gotten turned around in the mass of bodies, and I’m not sure which direction the feeling had come from anymore. Had it been in front of me? Behind me?
My blood is pointing, pointing, pointing. Every. Single. Direction. I’ll never be able to find him like this.
“Where are you?” I whisper to myself, standing at the edge of the crowd on the other side of the Square. I can see Suzzallo mocking me, towering over me, the stone structure aware of my failure. “Please, Gaia, tell me where he is.”
I let out my breath and press my back against the building I’ve stopped next to. “Figures.”
The door next to me opens, but I don’t bother moving. If it hits me, maybe it’ll smack some damn sense into me—maybe some luck for good measure, too.
“That was freaky,” a man in his early forties says, holding the door open. He’s too old to be who I’m looking for, and I feel myself deflate further. “It’s been a while since the last earthquake.”
A young woman snorts, her back to me as they walk toward the Square. “Puhlease, Dad. We’ve seen crazier ish than that.”
“You’re right, pumpkin, but don’t think an earthquake is going to distract me from the topic at hand.”
“Daaad,” she drones in defeat. “You know this is a bad idea.”
“Everything’s a bad idea to you!”
“Yes, but school? C’mon. That’s just asking for trouble.”
“Damn it, Samantha, indulge your father for…”
My lips twitch up as I watch them disappear into the crowd. There’s a drama that could be interesting to see unfold.
I look skyward, smiling up at the blue sky.
“Maybe next time,” I whisper to myself. He’s closer than I ever imagined.
Owen first appears in Hunter’s Mark (Light of Chaos #2), free on KindleUnlimited.
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