Painting Pictures

Malrick has an overactive imagination. His mind involuntarily turns ordinary walks into treks through a mystical forest and boring classrooms into ancient chambers and caverns. He spends his time hiding from others. But then Malrick meets a girl named Rule who teaches him that what he sees isn't delusions, but a gift that he can learn to harness. But Rule isn't all she claims to be, and with his parents convinced Malrick is nuts, Malrick will need to unravel the truth of wether he has a wild imagination, a rare mental disorder or a magic gift. And doing so just might mean he will need to stop hiding and trust a girl he barely knows.


18. Rule

Chapter 18




Rule’d father insists she practices into the long hours of the night, until the moon hangs high in the sky and the stars twinkle brightly despite the city’s light pollution. He watches her with a cold precision, her mom thankfully being sound asleep upstairs. 

“Keep going.” He instructs gruffly. “Delve deeper, I know you can be better.” 

Rule doesn’t answer, sweat beading across her forehead as she continues to build the scene. It’s complex, with many layers and components which require her concentration. She retreats inside of herself, away from her father’s stern commands and into the heart of her Illusionist power. 

Sick of never being good enough, she throws herself completely to constructing and maintaining her Illusion. The pressure inside of her mounts until she finally cracks, her Illusionist power reaching its limits. She’s trapped inside of herself when she finally explodes, and blackness consumes her the second the Illusion slips away. 

She can sense rough hands grabbing her, shaking while a voice urgently begs her to wake up. She tries to speak, tries to tell her father she’s completely fine, but her brain is disconnected from her body. 

I’m fine! I’m fine! I’m fine! I’m fine! She mentally shouts, but her mouth doesn’t move and no sounds come out. 

With nowhere to go but deeper, she descends farther into the sanctity of her mind. It doesn’t occur to her she’s falling unconscious, all she thinks is that she’s simply falling asleep. 

For an indefinite and immeasurable amount of time, her mind is shrouded in blackness. Then she starts to dream. 

She dreams of Malrick, about him being hit by another of his potentially deadly Visions. Then she’s dressing herself in drab black, walking out of the house on an infuriatingly sunny day and getting in the car. There’s no one in the drivers seat, but the car starts moving. It rolls down the road for hours and hours, passing through Riverville and arriving at a dead end. She gets out of the car, following a footpath through the woods. 

She reaches a clearing, where a handful of unfamiliar people have gathered. They stare into a whole in the ground. Some have tear-streaked faces, while others simply look stern. 

Rule creeps to the edge of the hole, looking down into the earth. Malrick lies crumpled in the ditch. His skin is the colour of ash, his eyes open, red-rimmed and glassy. He looks almost as if he’d fallen into the hole, his limbs twisted at odd angles and face permanently caught in a startled expression. But he hadn’t, Rule knows it was a Vision that killed him. 

Her hands fly to her mouth and she gasps, before turning around and running. The footpath is gone, the trees suddenly menacing as their roots snake to trio her up and branches reach to grab her. 

She runs and she runs through the forest, thrusting her way through the tangled branches and slapping away the ones winding their way around her. A root curls around her ankle and she’s jerked to a halt, sent sprawling on the pine-needle littered forest floor, the rusty coloured fallen needles reminding her of tiny nails as they jab into the palms of her hands. 

The root that’s grabbed her starts to drag her backwards, and no matter how hard she kicks and flails, hands scrabbling to find purchase on the ground, she can’t escape its hold. 

Rule jerks awake in a cold sweat, panting and trembling from head to toe. She fretfully gazes around her darkened bedroom, rubbing her head. How had she gotten here? The last thing she can remember, before her dream, is practicing with her father. 

Her head is splitting and her bones ache, yet she is physically unharmed. Some instinct inside of her tells her otherwise, and she frantically calls upon her Illusionist power. It responds but only weakly, she can barely maintain the Illusion of a cone of ice cream clutched in her hand. She doesn’t know why she picked that particular image, but it gives her a sudden craving for something sweet. 

Panic starts to set in once she pushes herself out of her bed, her knees go wobbly and block spots parade across her vision. Once again she attempts to use her Illusionist talent, but can barely manage to materialize the same ice cream cone as before. 

Something is wrong. She thinks, horrified. Something is very, very wrong. 

Why could she barely manage to maintain such a basic Illusion. Mind-numbing dread and panic sink their claws into Rule, making her headache grow worse and nausea claw up her throat. She sways, barely able to stay on her feet. At an ambling pace she walks out of her room, taking a deep breath and trying to clear her head. 

Claustrophobia thrusts its way into the melee of her warring emotions, the walls of the hallway growing tighter around her. 

It’s the middle of the night, yet Rule pays no heed to the groping shadows and scuttling of nocturnal creatures as she throws open the door and steps outside. The cool night air hits her in the face like a puff of icy breath. 

The chill is refreshing, and Rule steps outside and eases the door shut behind her. She wears only thin linen pyjamas, and is soon shivering. With a huff she plops down on the first step of the small front patio, running her shaking fingers through her hair she attempts to comb out some of the many tangles. The wind only makes the knots worse. 

Rule buries her face in her hands. Her nightmare replays itself in her mind on an endless loop, the gory scenes repeating over and over again. Tormenting her. Torturing her. She wishes desperately to escape from the emotional agony, but knows with absolute certainty falling back asleep will only bring more nightmares. 

She realizes she’s come to care about Malrick. She’s not sure when, why or how, just that she’s befriended him. He’s no longer simply a mission to her, he has a place in her heart. She doesn’t have many friends, and the thought fills her with many mixed emotions. Some good, some bad. The more she thinks about it, the stronger the emotions become. With them grow a daunting sense of responsibility. She’s all he has and she’s all he has. So they need to take care of each other. 

Rule stays outside until the sun starts to rise, dozing fitfully but never reaching a deep enough sleep to dream. The sun is bleeding across the inky black sky, bringing with it the waking of her parents. 

Silent as she can be, Rule gently opens the door and slips inside. She tiptoes down the hall and back to her room, making it to the door just as her alarm starts to blare. In a quick leap she crosses her bedroom and slaps the off button. Her eyes are heavy with sleep, and she stretches in a yawn before plunking down on the edge of her bed. 

She groans inwardly at the premise of another exhausting day, wanting nothing more than to crawl into her bed and fall back asleep. The only thing stopping her is the thought of facing another nightmare. 

Someone bangs on her door, startling her. She jumps, waiting for whoever is on the other side of the wooden barricade to speak. 

“Rule? Are you awake?” Her father asks. His usually gruff and cold tone has shifted, underlined with concern and a nearly undetectable shard of guilt. Confused, Rule responds tentatively. 

“Um, yeah... uh Father, what happened to me last night?” She asks. 

“You pushed yourself too hard during practice.” He answers, and she can piece the clues together. 

“I didn’t push myself, you pushed me!” She shouts, a restraint inside of her finally breaking. The words don’t stop once she opens her mouth, pouring out in a destructive gush. “Whatever I do, it’s never good enough for you! I’m the best there is, Father! The very best! Yet that’s still not good enough for you, is it!?”

“Rule, listen—”

“No, you listen! Listen to me when I say you push me too hard!” Anger boils over inside of her, and her voice cracks in a sob. “Listen to me when I say I try my best!” 

“You have no right to talk to me that way!” 

“Shut up!” Rule snaps. She hears her father stomp away and waits until his angry grumbling fades. 

For the first time in a while, she feels absolutely empty.

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