I couldn't believe the mind-talking giant fox was suggesting that I'd been here before.
"Seriously, did someone drug me?" I just had to ask again.
No, little one. Your mind has not been muddled. All of this is real. You were born to this world.
Behind me, Oliver scoffed, "Are you trying to tell me that Motel Mallory is special? Unlikely."
Oh, he made my blood boil.
I turned, ready to give him a verbal lashing, or maybe kick his ass, but the Akatae beat me to it.
A surge of crackling power shot toward Oliver. He let out a high-pitched squeal as it zapped him on the rear.
"Ow, make it stop!" he yelped, hopping around in a circle.
A small smirk lifted the corner of my mouth. I felt only the tiniest bit bad for enjoying his pain.
You will not disparage Amanie again or disrespect her in any way. I've had enough. Am I clear? the Akatae growled.
Chagrined, Oliver rubbed his sore cheek and fell silent.
"Did you just call me Amanie?" I asked.
Yes. That is the name you were given at birth.
"Who gave it to me? What does it mean?" I rushed out. I wanted to know everything. I couldn't remember much about my life before the age of four, but I had always known that my parents weren't my biological ones.
"Who cares who you are?" Oliver cut in. "We need to know how to get back to our own world. Or my world, since you're an alien apparently," looking me up and down as if I'd suddenly turned green and sprouted antennae.
My eyes narrowed, and I glared at him. I guess he did have a valid point even if he was a dick about it. Why did he have to be so awful sometimes but kiss like a god? My mind just wouldn't let it go, replaying the memory of our kiss over and over again. My face grew warm as a flush crept up my neck.
Amanie, did you hear anything I said? Are you alright?
Embarrassment stained my cheeks. Clearly I'd been daydreaming about kissing Oliver while the Akatae had been giving me answers. I needed to let it go.
Oh my word, I just did it again.
"Yes!" I squeaked out.
I feel I've been remiss. This has all been a lot to sort through. Let me escort you and your...uh, Oliver to my lodgings where we can find a little comfort while I attempt to answer all your questions.
Even the Akatae struggled to call Oliver anything friendly. At least he was being helpful and not taking us prisoner, or worse.
I looked to Oliver before responding. He may not be my favorite person, but we were in this together. He gave a stiff nod and moved up beside me.
"Ok, thank you for the offer. We'll gladly take you up on it."
The trek to the Akatae's dwelling was impossible to describe. The wonders of this land were countless, and I think I had whiplash from trying see everything all at once. I was brimming with even more questions as the gorgeous forest and brush landscape gave way to a clearing where a grand cabin sat nestled in the tall grasses.
The basic elements of this world appeared similar to what I knew from Earth, though the colors and sizes of things seemed bigger and brighter. Huge stalks with a rainbow of different flowers perched on top dotted the grassy field we were crossing. Some looked like roses, others carnations, and several, marigolds. It was like Earth but on steroids. And with mind-talking animals with super powers.
Please come in, and welcome to my home.
The Akatae's voice startled me. We'd walked in relative silence the entire trip, and I'd appreciated the chance to be left alone with my thoughts for a few minutes.
Once we were both inside and seated comfortably, the Akatae excused himself and loped away. As soon as he rounded the corner, I grabbed Oliver by the shirt.
"Listen, don't start any crap," I whisper-shouted. "I know I'm less than nothing to you, but we need to stick together. And try pulling out those rich-boy manners and show some respect to our host. He's all we've got right now."
"Alright, alright," he conceded. "I know I've not been at my best, but this is really a lot to take in. Cut me a little slack."
The problem was that I'd never seen him at his best, and I told him so.
Oliver opened his mouth to respond but hesitated, his eyes growing steadily larger as he looked over my shoulder. Alarmed, I spun around, readying myself for danger.
Well, hot damn. The only trouble I found was the walking sex on a stick coming our way.
"What the...?" I mumbled.
"Who the hell are you?" Oliver barked. Clearly he still hadn't remembered his trust-fund etiquette.
"I didn't mean to cause you any distress. I am the Akatae. This is my other form," he said out loud.
This form was all muscles, inked skin and dark hair. I think I was drooling. Oliver noticed and scoffed, making a show of pushing my jaw back up. I slapped his hand away.
"So, you can't mind-speak when you're not in your fox form?" I asked, hoping to take the attention off of my blatant ogling.
"Unfortunately, no," he replied. "However, it's much less messy to eat and drink. Come, I've prepared some refreshments for you while we talk."
Much to my dismay, his rear view was equally as distracting. Which was kind of gross because he was probably an elder or something. He'd called me 'young one' and 'little one,' making it sound like I was a child. Sigh.
Noticing where my attention had refocused, Oliver stiffened slightly, then slung a casual arm over my shoulders. Was he trying to stake some macho claim now that we'd kissed? Ew, no.
I picked up my pace just enough that his arm slid off, and then we were entering the eat-in kitchen, saving me from any further advances. I grabbed a chair in the corner, forcing him to choose one across from me.
Refusing to look Oliver in the eye, I glanced down at the table and took in the spread before us. I had no idea what any of the dishes were, but they all smelled amazing. My stomach clenched in hunger and let out a mortifying growl.
My eyes snapped over to Oliver's, expecting a smart remark, only to find him looking tired and sad. Shame washed over me as I realized I'd temporarily forgotten about his loss. Maybe he wasn't trying to be a jerk, just lashing out with grief. That didn't really excuse his actions in the past, but it kind of did now.
I was terrible when I lost both of my adoptive parents. Shouting and screaming at anyone who tried offering comfort. It didn't help. Nothing did. So, I pulled my emotions inward and refused to talk at all for three years.
Until I turned eighteen and was kicked to the curb by the group home. I was forced to speak up then. I had to get a job, defend myself, stay off the streets. Act like everything was fine. But honestly, nothing ever filled that deep well of sadness inside me.
Now that I thought about it, the only person that ever really willingly talked to me was Oliver, but most of the time it was teasing and rude remarks. He was like my frenemy, I guess. Huh.
Blinking, I emerged out of my reverie to find both the Akatae and Oliver staring at me strangely.
"What?" I bit out defensively.
"Amanie, you look so much like your–" the Akatae began, but Oliver spoke over him, his voice sounding choked.
"Mallory, your eyes are glowing."
My body reacted automatically to the shocking news, slamming my eyelids shut. But hiding wasn't my thing. I'd handled worse. I just needed some answers. A few deep breaths helped calm my nerves.
Feeling a bit steadier, I raised my eyes and caught the Akatae's gaze.
"Do you have a mirror?"
Acknowledging my shaky resolve, he quickly grabbed a hand-held one from another room and placed it gently in my grasp.
"There's no need to be alarmed, Amanie. Your body is starting to re-acclimate to this world. Other changes will probably show themselves soon. I was hoping to talk with you about all of this before your abilities began to surface, but you were always special. Even now."
I slowly blinked. Did he say abilities?
"The Akatae...wait, uh, is there something else I can call you? Your name's kind of a mouthful." Ugh. What was that? Clearly Oliver's aversion to using manners was rubbing off on me.
The Akatae chuckled. "Yes, of course, you may call me Tae. At least that was your nickname for me when you were young."
I swear every time he opened his mouth, I had more questions. But first things first, I pulled my gaze from his handsome face (did I say handsome?) and looked at my eyes. They were indeed glowing. My usually vivid blue irises now looked neon, electric. I looked kind of hot.
"Is the glowing just to look cool or does it do something else?" I murmured, looking intently into my own eyes.
"It indicates that you're turned on," Tae replied.
"The hell?" I sputtered.
"She's what?" Oliver shouted.
I wished one of my super powers would be creating holes in the ground to swallow me up.
Tae looked shocked at our outburst, and then flustered as he realized the direction our thoughts had clearly taken.
"Ah, I think you misunderstood what I meant by that. It's your powers that are turned on. Not you. Unless you are, then that would just be a coincidence," Tae's voice trailed off.
Seriously, was the hole-in-the-ground thing too much to ask for at this point?
The three of us sat there awkwardly until Tae cleared his throat and broke the silence.
"Let's address the glowing eyes first. They glow because your powers are charged up and ready to be used again. In fact, your mother's used to do the same thing. It's not a common trait among our kind, and I'd forgotten just how mesmerizing it can be."
"Ok, so like a battery indicator?" I hedged out. Tae nodded in confirmation.
"So, what am I all charged up to do?"
"Well, that's a little more complicated. Beings of this world usually manifest their powers by the age of fifteen, gaining a few at a time. Since yours have been repressed, they may all emerge at once. It's hard to say what you'll be capable of as not all traits mirror those of your parents," Tae finished, seeming hesitant to continue.
Oliver shifted in his seat, dragging my attention over to him. He'd been quiet for awhile.
"What aren't you saying?" he directed at Tae.
"Ah, I didn't want to lead with this, but Mallory, you should know that your biological parents went missing the day they sent you to Earth, and I haven't heard from them since."
With that bomb dropped, Tae moved over to an old cabinet, pulling out something from inside.
"But they did leave this for you in the event you found your way back home."
He handed me a package that looked all too familiar. Inside the brown paper was the same intricate wooden box as before but with a triangle design on top, the image turning 3D as I held my gaze on it. I took a deep breath and opened the lid. A skeleton key with a triangle on the handle lay nestled in green velvet.
Oliver looked at me and nodded. We both reached for the key at the same time as Tae shouted, "Amanie, no!" grabbing for my arm.
Continue the adventure with Part 3!
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Original narrative & well developed characters
Expert insights and opinions
Arguments were carefully researched and presented
Niche topic & fresh perspectives
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions
Zero grammar & spelling mistakes
On-point and relevant
Writing reflected the title & theme