You can read Part 2 here.
They rode out of town early the next morning. The sun had only just started to show its face, and Rain was so tired that she couldn’t be bothered to keep her distance from Ereptus, but shamelessly used his back as a pillow, and almost fell asleep leaning against it. For once they rode in companionable silence, and Rain felt more at ease than she had during her whole life. She wasn’t sure when it had happened, but for some reason she trusted Ereptus.
“Tell me about your life,” she suddenly blurted out.
“What?” Ereptus seemed surprised.
“Tell me about your life,” she repeated. “Why did you become a thief?”
Ereptus seemed uncomfortable with the subject. “It wasn’t a choice really, it was the only way to survive.”
That surprised her. “Why?” she asked.
“Like you I once lived on the streets,” he told her. “Well, I still do in a way. Only now I steal enough to rent a room for the night most of the time.”
“And to buy fancy clothes,” Rain pointed out, tugging lightly on his fine tunic. “I never would have guessed from the way you dress that you don’t have a home.”
“That’s the point,” Ereptus confessed. “Dressed like I am, I can easily get into the nicer inns and talk to the wealthy people. That’s the way to make easy money. I don’t steal enough to save up, just to live a comfortable life.”
“That sounds nice,” Rain sighed.
“You’re not going to end up like me!” Ereptus snapped, which made her almost jump right off the horse. Peeves peeked out of her tunic, hissing and growling at Ereptus.
“Why not?” Rain asked, calming the little dragon by patting him tenderly. “It seems like an easy way of living.”
“You can make a life for yourself when you learn to control your magic,” Ereptus said. “Gaylen is making sure that you get the help that you need. I don’t want you to waste his effort by living on the streets and stealing what you need.”
“I don’t have any money,” Rain pointed out. “How else am I supposed to pay for food a place to live?”
“Get an honest job.”
“Who would hire a lonely girl?”
Ereptus thought of this for a moment. “Some would. Just don’t give up.”
Rain nodded, but inside she knew that she would have to steal to get food. Like she always had, except for the few years she’d lived with Gaylen. She had still stolen a little now and then to help Gaylen out, but it hadn’t been a matter of stealing or dying of hunger.
They spent the next couple of days getting to know each other better, and in Rain’s opinion, they were becoming good friends. Ereptus told her more about his life as a young boy on the streets, and she told him what she remembered of her first years when she’d been living with an abusive, unloving father. Rain quickly started to admire Ereptus, he was a charming rogue who stole only what he needed to live a decent life, and the way he stole it was almost like an art form.
One evening she watched, with fascination, as Ereptus started a companionable conversation with an innkeeper and in the meanwhile stealing the man’s pouch, to later pay their room with the same money. It was hard for Rain to keep a straight face when Ereptus even gave the innkeeper a tip.
When they were only a couple of days away from the city of Messina, Rain finally gained the courage to tell Ereptus something that she’d been thinking about.
“Ereptus?” she said hesitantly.
“I’ve been thinking, and I don’t care about finding a Sorcerer or learning more about my magic. I want to stay with you.”
Ereptus stopped the horse and turned around to face her. “Are you out of your mind?” he said brusquely. “You can’t stay with me. My life isn’t a life for a young girl like you.”
“I think it’s just fine,” Rain said stubbornly. “It beats being alone.” She pouted. “I thought you liked spending time with me just as much as I like to be with you.”
Ereptus ran a hand through his dark hair, mussing it up. “Granted, I do enjoy being with you.” He sounded rather reluctant to admit it, then shook his head. “But you still can’t stay with me. It would be a crime. You’re like a gentle, white rose that somehow could grow despite the darkness around. If you stayed with me, all that would be for nothing. My life isn’t the life for you. I want you to learn to control your magic, and make something of your life.”
“But…” Rain started to object, but Ereptus cut her off.
“No arguing.” He turned back and nudged the horse to continue. Rain kept silent, wiping away an errant tear.
Neither of them spoke for a long time, and she could feel the tension in Ereptus, he hadn’t been happy about her request. The sun was at its highest when they heard hoof beats behind them. Ereptus took a quick look, and started cursing under his breath.
“I was hoping they hadn’t seen me.”
“Who?” Rain asked, turning her head to see who was following them. It was three men on horses. They were all dressed in black, and they didn’t look like they were very nice people.
Ereptus set a higher pace, hoping to reach a small forest before the men caught up with them, but there was no such luck. The men passed them and stopped them from going further.
“So, we meet again, Ereptus,” one of the men grinned.
“Unfortunately,” Ereptus said grimly.
“Get off your horse!”
They did as they were told, and the three men did the same.
“I want my money back,” the man who’d first spoken said. “Where is it?”
“I told you, I didn’t take it,” Ereptus sighed. “I don’t know who did, but it sure wasn’t me.”
“Why should I believe you?” the man snarled.
“Because it’s the truth?” Ereptus remarked dryly. “I freely admit to being a thief, but this time it wasn’t me.”
“Hold him!” the man growled at the other two, who quickly took hold of Ereptus’ arms, while the man rolled up his sleeves. “Maybe I can beat it out of you,” he said.
Rain stared at the men, frantically trying to decide what to do. When the man raised his arm for the first punch, she closed her eyes, but still flinched at the sound of bone hitting bone and Ereptus’ grunt. Afraid that the men might beat Ereptus to death, and then start on her, she started to concentrate on one of the few things she knew how to do relatively well.
The fireball she conjured flew right at the men, missed Ereptus’ head with less than an inch, and hit a rock behind him. Rain stared with horror at the rock that was black of soot from the flame.
“Is that your magic?” Ereptus yelled. “It’s no wonder Gaylen wants you to learn to control it, he probably fears for his life!”
Rain flinched at the angry glare he gave her. But even if the fireball had completely missed its target, and almost hit Ereptus in the process, it had stunned the men enough so that they had let go of him. Quickly taking advantage of their surprise, he knocked one of them out. While he was fighting the second man who had held him, the leader grabbed hold of Rain and pressed a dagger to her side.
Ereptus didn’t see what was happening until the second man was down. His face paled when he caught sight of Rain in man’s grip. The dagger was pressed so hard against her ribs that it had already gone through her tunic and drawn blood. She was trying not to cry, but the pain made tears spring to her eyes.
“Let her go, Tylen,” Ereptus pleaded, while slowly inching closer. “It’s me you want.”
“I think I’ve changed my mind,” the man grinned and hardened his grip around Rain’s waist, making her gasp. “I think I will keep this pretty little thing as payment for the money you stole from me.”
Rain closed her eyes, trying to collect her thoughts. She could feel the dagger cutting further into her side as Ereptus took a step closer.
“Stay away!” Tylen hissed. “Or the girl dies!”
While he was concentrating on Ereptus, Rain concentrated hard, and let out a large burst of energy, knocking Tylen away from her. Out of strength she fell to the ground the same moment Ereptus jumped the other man. Too tired to turn her head, she could hear the two men fighting behind her. Then it was silent. Rain wanted to see who had won, fearing the worst, but her body wouldn’t obey her.
Then she was suddenly lifted, and she was looking at Ereptus’ face. He had some bruises, and he was likely to have a black eye in the morning, but he was alive. Relieved, she rested her head on his shoulder, too tired to speak. He lifted her on the horse, and mounted behind her, keeping her across his legs, which allowed her to cuddle up and rest against him like a small child.
“We need to get your wound cleaned and bound,” Ereptus muttered in her ear. Peeves finally dared to come out of Rain’s tunic where he’d been hiding, climbing up to sit on Ereptus’ shoulder.
They rode into the nearby forest, and Ereptus soon found a little stream where he stopped. He quickly cleaned the blood from her tunic and skin, then tore a strip from his own tunic and bound it around her to stop the bleeding.
“The wound isn’t too deep,” he remarked. “Did you lose a lot of blood? Is that why you’re so weak?”
Rain shook her head. “It’s because of my magic that I’m weak. It drains me when I use it.”
Ereptus nodded grimly. He lifted her once again, and let her sit in front of him on the horse, enabling her to lie against him. Rain closed her eyes and rested, she could feel Peeves moving in under her tunic again, nestling himself against her ribs. Soon they were both asleep. Rain didn’t wake up again until the sun was almost setting. Most of her energy was regained by then, but the wound in her side was still aching slightly. They were riding inside a small town.
“Where are we?” she asked Ereptus.
“In a small town, close to Messina. We should reach the city tomorrow.”
They took a room at a small inn. Rain was brushing her hair when Ereptus sat down and looked at her.
“Rain. Seeing you use that magic, I really think you should learn to control it.”
“I’m usually better,” she argued, feeling guilty about nearly burning him with a fireball. “I was very upset, so my aim was a bit off.”
Ereptus shook his head. “That’s not what I mean. Your magic is powerful, with the right help you can learn to channel it. It would be a waste for you to go with me. Imagine the things you could learn!”
“But I want to be with you!” Rain protested.
Ereptus sighed. “Look kid…”
“I’m not a child!” Rain snapped at him.
“You are to me!” he snapped back at her. “And I will continue to see you as a child, or…” he went silent and shook his head as if to clear it.
“Look, Rain..” he started again. “You can’t stay with me. Just look at what happened today. If you stay with me, you could get hurt again, or even killed.”
“I’m not that vulnerable. I can take care of myself.”
“You’re still only a ki…” Ereptus stopped himself before he said the word. “You’re still young. If you learn to use your magic, you might be able to protect yourself better. Right now, you’re too unreliable, and dare I say, even dangerous.”
Rain couldn’t argue with that. Had she known how to channel her powers better she might not have nearly beheaded Ereptus with a fireball.
“I would be too worried that someone would hurt you to get back at me,” Ereptus said to conclude his argument.
“Let’s not talk about it,” Rain mumbled and crawled down in bed next to Peeves who was already asleep on her pillow. Ereptus looked like he was going to say something more, then seemingly changed his mind and went to bed.
They reached Messina early the next day. Ereptus showed Rain around, pointing her to where she might find the Sorcerers, where to find food and possibly a job. It was a beautiful city of white stone, seated on an island in the middle of a large lake. Larger than any city Rain had ever been to, and she felt a combination of awe and trepidation of being there. At least she had Ereptus with her. In the evening, they took a room at an inn and by the time they were inside Rain was yawning, exhausted after all the impressions from the big city.
“I think I might like it here.” She smiled at Ereptus.
“Good. I think you will do well here, and there’s a lot to learn from the Sorcerers.”
Rain nodded, hardly able to keep her eyes open. She was lying in bed, already thinking about all the wonderful things she would get to see tomorrow with Ereptus.
“Can we go to see the royal castle tomorrow?” she asked.
“Mmm…” Ereptus answered absentmindedly. He sat down on the bed next to her and stroked her cheek. She smiled sleepily up at him. It looked as if he wanted to say something, but he didn’t and she soon fell asleep.
Rain awoke the next morning to find the room empty, except for her and Peeves. All of Ereptus’ belongings were gone. Next to her on the pillow lay a single, white rose and a leather pouch filled with money. Rain carefully picked up the rose, and she knew that Ereptus had left her. He thought she was as fragile as the rose, and that she couldn’t live a life like his.
Pressing the rose to her chest, she started crying. Except for Gaylen, Ereptus had been the first person she ever trusted, and a very good friend. The thought of being abandoned in a new city scared her. She flinched and looked down at her hands. She was bleeding from where a thorn from the rose had stung her.
Wiping her tears away she stood up, resolute now. She was going to learn to control her magic, and she was going to be all right. She was no fragile little girl, but knew how to take care of herself. A rose may be beautiful, but a rose has thorns.