“Elle, wake up!” He whispered insistently, nudging at my arm, “Annella!”
I stirred and attempted to sit up, but found myself rendered to paralysis. Finn’s green eyes stared down expectantly and I looked up at him. His face was coated with a thin sheen of sweat and his dark blonde hair fell into his eyes. I tried to sit up again, but only moved a little. I couldn’t move very well, just small stirring motions.
“F-Finn,” I started to speak in a soft, hoarse voice, “Help me.”
“I thought you said you didn’t need my help,” He whispered, sounding bitter and joking all at once, “In fact, I specifically remember you saying, ‘I don’t need your help.’”
“I said, ‘I don’t need your help, Wonderboy.’ And I didn’t then, but I can’t move right now. I need to find Kal, and you’re going to help me.”
“That’s the problem,” He said, carefully. He looked at me and my sharp, crystal blue eyes bored into him.
“What problem?” I demanded, my voice a low growl. I wasn’t angry with him, and in fact, I didn’t sound angry. Just demanding.
“Kallisto’s gone. Missing. Zip, Zilch, Zero.”
“What do you mean gone?” I exclaimed. He helped me push myself up and I scowled at the slight look of smugness on his face.
“I went looking for her when I woke up,” he paused, “That was at two o’clock this morning. She wasn’t anywhere to be found.” I glanced at his watch. It was four thirty now. By this time, Kallisto could be anywhere. My stiff body fought against me as I forced myself up.
“Do you want me to carry you?” Finn asked, most of the smugness gone. Most of it.
“I’m fine,” I mumbled, putting all my energy into walking.
“We’ll be faster if I help you,” he protested.
“I don’t need help, Wonderboy, you helped me up and you don’t have to help me anymore. I need to find Kal.”
“You mean, ‘we’ need to find Kallisto - not just you. You aren’t str-” I cut him off.
“I mean I need to find her. She doesn’t want your help, Wonderboy, okay? I’m perfectly strong enough to find her on my own. If I’m correct, Tara had something to do with this.”
“People rarely want my help when I offer it,” he sighed. “You might think I’d just get in your way, but I know Tara. And like it or not, I’m just as worried about Kallisto as you are. And if Tara is behind this, you’re going to need help. Especially in your current condition.”
“Current condition? What’s that supposed to mean?” I demanded furiously, “And stop calling her Kallisto!”
He didn’t seem worried at all. “You’re not strong enough. You needed my help to even move. And stop calling me Wonderboy.”
“I’m perfectly strong enough!” I insisted, “I was under paralysis!”
But, I knew he was right. He began to speak again, but I cut him off.
“Fine, but if you’re going to help me, actually help.”
He smirked. “Do you actually have a plan, or are you going to just go charging in a random direction without thinking?”
“I was going to make my own plan. I didn’t want to collaborate. But, unfortunately, you’re right and I need help.”
“And it must kill you to admit that,” he shook his head. “It might be out of our way, but I know a powerful scryer. If anyone can find Kallisto, she could. It’s dangerous though- not a place you’d want to go.”
“I’ll go anywhere to help her- and I don’t fear anything, Wonderboy.”
“Whatever you say,” he replied. “Have you ever flown a plane?”
“Um, no. It looks easy enough, though,” I smirked at him, “I’ll stop arguing with you, I’ll admit I need help, but just… Make it worth my while, okay?”
“Trust me, I’m as dedicated to this as you are. There are small jets out back, for training wind mages. They’re not too hard to fly, though it would be easier if one of us was a metal mage. They’re government-standard, very fast. If anything can get us where we want to go quickly enough, those can.”
“Okay,” I said quietly, forcing myself to continue walking. My legs and feet ached, “See,” I forcefully smiled at him, “Strong as a-” I broke off and collapsed. I had barely taken ten steps away from the bed. My walking was slow and fragile.
“Do you need me to help you?” He asked.
“I-” I began to say that I did need help, but I stopped myself. “No, no, I’m fine.”
He rolled his eyes. “No, no you’re not. I could cast an illusion that would make you think you’re fine- and it would work until it wore off. There are a lot of powerful things you can do with illusions, if you know how to use them correctly.”
“Really, I’m okay.” I insisted. Finn held out his hand and I took it, reluctantly. He pulled me to my feet, but I realized as I stood he was casting an illusion on me. I cried out in protest, “Finn! No!”
“You need it,” he sighed. “I don’t want to have a partner who can’t stand on her own.”
“Fine,” I exhaled carefully and began to walk in long strides, Finn beside me.
We made it to the jets without anybody seeing us. Finn glanced at me, smiling slightly. “You’re going to be tired once I drop the illusion- I’ll fly first.”
“Thanks,” I smiled back. He hopped into the jet and helped me up. I sat down in the seat next to Finn and he put his hands on the jet control. Before he even started the jet, he took my hand and released his illusion. I saw black before the jet was off the ground.
I opened my eyes and the stars were gone. Bright sun shone through the windows and Finn was flying the jet next to me.
“How did you learn how to fly a jet, anyways?” I questioned. Finn wasn’t even startled, it was as if he knew I was awake.
“I used one to run away before,” he said quietly. “My parents owned a jet, and they taught me how to fly it, and I tried to escape with it later.”
“Tried to?” I knew I was being nosey, but I had a window of opportunity. If I was lucky, he wouldn’t get all guarded, like he had before.
“I got caught,” he admitted. “Though… I didn’t try very hard. I lost my nerve, and they caught up to me. I haven’t been near the jet since.”
“We’ll be okay,” I promised. I reached for his hand, squeezed, and let go. He didn’t look at me, but I smiled anyways.
“You don’t know…” he sighed. “You don’t know what I’ve been through.”
“You’re right,” I replied, “I don’t. But, we can get through this. Together. We’ll find her, Finn, we have to.”
“I know we’ll find her,” he replied. “And after that? Do you think we’ll just become friends? Just like that?”
“Maybe,” I said, “Or maybe not. But, we’ll be friends. Something has to come from that, right?”
He didn’t say anything. I felt my eyes well and focused on the light of the sun.
After a minute, Finn spoke again. “I’ve never let anybody get close enough to find anything about me that they can use to hurt me. What makes you think you’ll be the first?”
I pondered what he said for a moment.
“I-I don’t,” I mumbled, quietly, “I just hoped.” My voice got smaller and I trailed off. The tears I had been fighting faded, except for one. It dripped slowly down my face, cool and wet. Finn, being his usual overly perceptive self, never looked at me once. He simply reached over, wiped the tear from my face, and took my hand in his. He didn’t say anything else.
After a short while, I glanced at our entwined fingers.
“Finn?” I asked.
“Yes, Annella?” I smiled at the way my name rolled off his tongue.
“You can call me Elle, you know.”
He shook his head at me, smirking with contentment.
“I’m sorry.” I murmured.
“For what?” He laughed, glancing at me briefly. The masquerade fell from his face, only for a moment, as he laughed.
“For prying,” I told him, earnestly, “And for calling you a mysterious bastard. Oh, and for consistently arguing and resisting your help.”
“You had a good reason to,” he shrugged.
“What reason would that be?” I guffawed.
His face became completely serious. “Because I’m a mutant freak, that’s why.”
“Finn, what are you talking about? You kept to yourself a bit, that’s all. I do that, too. It’s not a crime, it doesn’t make you a freak!” I rushed to comfort him. He pulled his hand away from me and ran it through his blonde hair. As if he didn’t know what to do with his hand, he set it awkwardly next to mine. I laced my fingers with his again.
“Finn, really, I mean it.” I said, softly. “You’re not a freak, or a mutant.”
“You don’t understand,” he replied. “You don’t know what I really am.” He sighed, glancing out the jet’s window. “We’re landing. If you don’t believe me, you’ll find out soon.”
“I don’t care, Finn,” I whispered, “I don’t care about the past.”
He silenced me, “We’re landing, Annella.”
The jet set down a moment later in a massive wasteland. Finn opened the door, and stepped out. “Welcome to Koran.”
I’d learned about Koran in my classes before the academy. In a giant world war, it had been entirely destroyed, and was now a radioactive wasteland, populated by mutated humans who survived the radioactive fumes, but ended up being so mutated that they could never be welcomed back to society.
“Listen to me,” Finn said softly. “You have to stick with me. If you don’t, you’re dead. They don’t like strangers, but they know me.”
“I’m okay, really. I can fend for myself.” My hands were down by my side, but they felt useless. I usually used hand motions to express myself, but now didn’t seem like a good time.
“This isn’t a joke!” Finn snapped. “You said you wouldn’t argue with me. Prove that to me now. Stay with me, Elle!”
“I- I’m sorry, Finn,” I felt terrible, “I promise.”
He sighed and raked a hand through his hair.
“I didn’t mean to snap at you, Annella, I’m sorry. It’s just- you don’t understand how dangerous it is.”
“It’s fine,” I lied. It didn’t feel fine, but I knew I’d manage.
Finn started forwards again, with me following. Eventually, a harsh voice called out, “Who’s there?”
Finn sighed. “It’s me,” he called. “Finn.”
“Finn?!” The voice said in total disbelief.
“Can you get Myra for me?”
“Of course… she’ll want to see you.” There were footsteps. Finn refused to meet my eyes and explain.
A moment later a young woman appeared from the piles of rubble. Her eyes lit up with delight. “Finn!” She ran to him, throwing her arms around him.
He smiled, disentangling himself. “Mom.”
“I missed you,” she said softly. “Are you alright?” She noticed me, and raised her eyebrows. “Who’s this? Finn! Did you get yourself a girlfriend?”
“No,” he said quickly. “She’s just a friend. Annella, this is my mother. Or… my adopted mother, at least.”
“Pleased to meet you, dear,” she said, smiling. “Come inside, we need to talk.” She started towards the rubble again.
“Just a friend,” She murmured quietly. She didn’t think we could hear her, I realized, “Friend.” She laughed lightly.
Finn glanced at me, shrugging.
“She’s a little… overenthusiastic. Come on.” He followed her. I followed behind, but I couldn’t fall too far behind. Finn grabbed my hand and pulled me along, probably worried I would trail off.
Eventually, we reached a house that looked half-finished. Finn let go of my hand, before slipping inside, with me still following.
The inside of the house was surprisingly cozy- for everything being made out of junk from the rubble. A small stove was running, and the woman Finn had said was his mother stood there, tending to a pot, while Finn stood beside her. They appeared to be in a quiet conversation.
The woman nodded distractedly, before turning to look at me. “Sit down, dear. I’ll make you two tea, and Finn can explain what you need.”
A few minutes later, we were both holding steaming cups of tea while Finn explained the situation. “I need you to scry for Kallisto for us,” he explained. “We think she might be in danger, and we need to find her.”
“Is this Kallisto another ‘friend’ of yours?”
He blushed slightly. “Yes, mother.”
“Alright. Go get my scrying things. You know where I keep them.”
He nodded, and wandered off into another part of the building.
His mother sighed, looking over at me. “You must be so confused. I’m sorry. Finn was abandoned here by his biological mother when he was a baby. I raised him until he was seven or eight, then she came back for him and took him away. I haven’t seen him since.”
“Why did she abandon him?” I asked, trying the tea. It was actually quite good, and I took another sip of it.
“That’s for Finn to tell you, dear,” she sighed. “It’s a touchy subject for him.”
Finn returned then, holding a large metal ball. He set it down on the floor, shaking his head. “I forgot how heavy that was.”
“Forgot?” His mother laughed. “All the times you spent dropping that thing, or trying to roll it around the room, and you forgot it was heavy?”
“Mother, the scrying,” he sighed.
“Right. I’ll need your help, Finn. Remember, don’t let your emotions distract the scrying.”
They each put their hand on the ball. It began to glow, and a second later Kallisto appeared in it. She was lying on a wooden floor, either asleep or unconscious.
Finn’s mother nodded with appreciation. “She’s beautiful.”
“Further,” Finn replied.
The image broadened, to reveal a small hut-like room. Tara sat a few feet away, boredly sharpening what looked like a knife. Then the vision went black.
“That’s all I could do, sorry dear,” she sighed.
“Kalla,” I whispered weakly, “Isn’t there something else you can do?” I asked his mother, desperately.
“No, I’m sorry. Scrying only provides visuals. If I tried maybe I could get audio too, but it wouldn’t help much.”
“It’s fine,” Finn said quickly. “Do you know where the vision was?”
She considered that. “It wasn’t far from Koran. Maybe outside the borders?”
“Thank you, miss, thank you.”
Finn smiled. “Thank you, Mom.”
“Any time, Finn,” she promised. “Just… you will come back to visit, right?”
“As soon as I can,” he promised. He turned to look at me. “At least she’s close.”
“At least,” I sighed.
Once outside, Finn turned to me.
“So, how much did she tell you?” Finn asked, a certain stiff tone to his voice.
“She told me- are you sure you want to talk about, Finn?” Although he had been the one to ask, I didn’t want to bring up a touchy subject.
“I just wanted to know whether or not you know the truth,” he said quietly.
“She told me that your birth mother left you here, and that Myra brought you up until you were seven or eight. Then your birth mother came back and she hasn’t seen you since. I asked a bit more, but she said that you would have to tell me. I wasn’t going to ask you.”
“I see,” he sighed. “So, you don’t.”
“I don’t what? I don’t know the truth?” I asked. “Finn, I don’t have to. You aren’t required to tell me anything, you know that. If you’re not comfortable, I’m not comfortable.” I took his hand in my own and waited for his response.
He pulled his hand away. “Stop pretending,” he said unexpectedly. “You think you can change things just by being nice to me? Don’t forget- I’m only here because you need me.”
“Change things?” My temper flared, “Fine. You’ve changed things. I don’t need you, and I don’t depend on your help. Go back home or to the academy, I don’t care. I’m finding Kal. And I’m finding her alone. I like you, Finn. If you can’t handle that, then just go.” I searched his face hopefully, but he didn’t give. I turned on my heels and walked away. After a moment, I stopped and turned around. Finn was still there, his face flushed with anger and embarrassment. He didn’t say anything to me, just turned and stormed away.