Ashlyn paced about the meadow, growing determined. “There has to be something I can do to help,” she said. “I am not the telepath Lothira is, but I can read you.”
Damien scoffed at the idea. “After how much it hurt for Lothira to read me, I’ll pass. Can we get out of this place? I’m hungry.”
“This is more important than your stomach.” Like Lothira, she placed her hands at Damien’s temples.
Damien pushed her hands away. “It’s no use, Ash. We’re done here. Let’s go.”
As he moved, Ashlyn scowled at him. “That’s not my name.”
He smirked. “That’s what you go by, right? Ash. I like it better than Ashlyn.”
“Only my close friends call me that. And you are not my close friend.”
“Now, that hurts,” he said. “I know things about you now. Ash.”
“That all of your ‘close friends’ are teachers. At the Mages Academy, you are surrounded by adults.”
“Alright,” she folded her arms. “I don’t need to read you to know that you have no friends either.”
“That’s not true. I have Lila and Naelen.”
The two of them kept arguing as they walked out of the heart. When they passed through the leafy barrier, the day was moving into twilight. Ashlyn stepped beside him, giggling at nothing.
Her giggling caused him to look at her. “What’s so amusing?” he asked.
“You amuse me, Damien. It’s been a year, and you have made many attachments.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
“No,” she laughed. “When I met you, you were so adamant about being alone. Unattached.”
“I don’t see what your point is.”
“Then you are so blind.”
When they made it back to the village, it was dark. The place was lit with outdoor lanterns that hung from posts. Small, fluttering bugs gave off their own light as they drifted. Damien rarely got to be out at night. There were a few children who were not yet in bed, playing outside under the stars. How Damien wished he could be one of them.
Ashlyn escorted him back to Kallus’ manor. When the door opened for them, Tenila was there.
“Did you have a nice day trip?” she asked.
Damien fell quiet and nodded.
“Your family is still eating supper,” she said, letting him pass. “We reserved a plate for you.”
“Thank you.” Damien moved into the entryway. Before he let Ashlyn turn and walk off, he caught her attention. “Would you like to eat with us, Ash? You must be starving like I am.”
Ashlyn did feel her own stomach rumbling. It was still a fair walk back home. “I would be happy to,” she said.
Using perfect manner, Damien took her hand as she stepped inside. Ashlyn noticed the gesture and beamed.
“Glad to see you’ve mastered your chivalry, Damien. It does come in handy.”
Damien felt his own cheeks going red. “Eh, it’s just what we do around here.”
When he brought Ashlyn to the table, everyone stopped talking to acknowledge them.
“Damien,” Lila perked up to see him. “You’re back from your trip. How was it?”
“It was fine,” he said while sitting down. He gestured for Ashlyn to sit across from him. As she sat, Kallus refused to take his eyes off her.
“Where did you take him, Ashlyn?” Kallus asked.
“To the heart of Gumber,” she answered.
“And here I thought it was forbidden for mortals to enter the heart. You are a lucky one, Damien.”
“Lucky?” Damien puzzled. “If you say so.”
He dug into his meal, keeping quiet. As expected, other people filled in the silence. Lila and Naelen were caught up in their own conversation. Tenila went back to eating her meal, gibbering with Lanara. All the while, Kallus refused to let his guard down. He studied Ashlyn as she ate.
Damien noticed then how Kallus prefered to act around her.
“What’s wrong, Kallus?” Damien turned. “Something you want to say?”
“You are feeling bold today, aren’t you?” Kallus stared at him with harsh eyes. “Don’t poke at me, boy. It’s your worst habit.”
“I wouldn’t say the worst.” Damien took a bite and digressed.
After supper, Kallus showed Ashlyn to the door personally. They were far out of ear shot from the others in the house, yet he spoke quietly. “What is your interest in him, Ashlyn?”
“My interest is to help him,” she answered, growing confused. “Is it wrong to want to help?”
Kallus let out a worried breath. “When you first brought him here, I suspected nothing unusual. You behave strangely around him. What are you after?”
“I just don’t understand how he is alive. He remembers nothing of the incident in Githal. I am curious to know.”
Kallus leaned against the door frame. “Perhaps you should stop looking for answers. I am Damien’s caretaker now, and I do not wish to see him suffer for your curiosity. Let his past stay in the past. It might protect you both.”
Ashlyn sighed. “If you insist, then I will stay away from it.” Then she pivoted her body to face him. “Kallus, there will come a time when Damien seeks answers on his own. Will you forbid him to find them even then?”
Kallus rubbed his aching forehead when Ashlyn took her leave. “So young…” he mumbled to himself. When he turned, he caught sight of Damien going up to his room for the evening. “Boy,” Kallus stopped him. “Do you care to keep Ashlyn in your company? One word from me will turn her away for good.”
“You don’t have to do that,” Damien said. “Ash is…nice. She means well.”
“That girl has the power to see things that are unseen. It is her gift to know what us mortals do not. I advise you to be careful.”
“Thanks for the warning, Kallus.” Damien gave a respectful nod. “See you tomorrow.”
L.K. Youmans is a music teacher by day and a novelist by night. Also, she likes sloths.