Chapter Twenty One: Roxy

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Roxy:

The visit had turned the palace into a hub of activity with various Helians running all over the place to ensure that everything ran smoothly - it turned out even sham diplomatic visits took a lot of organising. Everything was overseen by an elite force of Helian guards, whom you couldn't so much as breathe around without them taking note. The only place where I could find any peace was the garden, so it was to there that I often retreated when not on babysitting duty.

On the afternoon following the tour, I escaped into the garden for some fire practice. I closed my eyes and let a wave of heat pass over me, tingling right down into my fingertips. As my eyes flickered open I let my hands shoot out in front of me, sending a spiral of flames into a nearby tree. The entire structure caught alight and glowed grotesquely.

"Remind me never to make you angry!" A now all-too familiar voice said behind me.

Caught by surprise, I lost my concentration and as I wheeled to face him, the stream of fire followed, striking Brae across the arm.

Most people would have screamed out from the heat, but he didn't make a sound as the flames singed his skin. Brae just took a step back, rubbing his arm.

"Don't creep up on me!" I said crossly, extinguishing the flames completely. This guy really seemed to have a death wish.

"Sorry I just - hang on, shouldn't it be you apologising to me? I'm the one who nearly got flambéed!"

I considered this for a moment. "You still could be, unless you tell me why you were spying."

"I wasn't spying! Why are you all so paranoid here? I was going for a walk - trying to escape the madness of inside if you must know - and I saw the smoke and wanted to make sure everything was alright. Someone might have been hurt."

God, what a hero. "I think you knew it was a Protector and wanted to see us using our powers!"

He sighed. "Ok, so maybe that was partly it..."

"So you were spying!"

"I was satisfying my curiosity. And why are you so afraid of apologising? Or of admitting you were wrong? Worried it will ruin your fearsome Helian reputation?"

"No, I just don't see why I should be apologising to you. And I'm not afraid of apologising. I'm not afraid of anything."

"I doubt that."

"How would you know - you know nothing about me - you're making assumptions like any other high and mighty Arcan."

"Please. You're no less high and mighty, Helian. And I understand you much better than you think - we're not so different really. By the end of this trip I'll prove to you that you can be afraid and that it's not a sign of weakness. I'll also make you apologise."

I laughed. "Good luck with that." I was about to turn and leave when I saw a way of turning the situation to my advantage. "You remember the deal you insisted on making yesterday? Well I think this makes us uneven: you've now seen one of my powers and what it can do, so now it's your turn." He hesitated so I continued: "Unless you're not as honourable as you make out, that is."

"What? You were the one saying that we never had an agreement!" He fell silent for a moment and then sighed, "Ok, I guess it was my idea."

He closed his eyes and put his hands to his sides, palms open in front of him. Then, very slowly, he began to raise them and as he did I noticed the wind pick up around me. It was no more than a gentle breeze at first but by the time his hands had reached his hips it felt as though a storm was swelling up around me, as frenzied winds whipped through my hair and lifted the burnt, dead leaves from the branches of the tree.

The air around me was a bitter, icy cold, biting into my skin and making my limbs shudder. I wrapped my arms around my chest, hugging myself tightly and wishing again that I had a proper jacket. He was far more powerful than I would have guessed. It wasn't as deadly as fire, but it was definitely making me uncomfortable.

Brae opened his eyes and the wind subsided immediately. I let the heat of the Realm fill the air around me and turned up my own internal temperature until I could feel my toes again. Brae waited for me to get comfortable. I let a small flame flicker at my fingertips and popped it into my mouth, inhaling the heat and blowing out a cloud of smoke.

"What do you think?"

I repress a cold shudder before answering. "Impressive. So if I hurt you, you'll mess up my hair? Or make me cold?"

His eyes narrowed at the insult. "Trap you in hurricane force winds, destroy the entire city in a matter of hours, make you so cold your limbs will fall off from frostbite."

"Ok, so you can be a little menacing, I'll give you that. But I don't think it's as awesome as being able to burn someone to cinders."

"Arcans don't assess their powers based on their ability to kill. Our powers have a lot of everyday uses and, most importantly, we can use them to protect our people and our Realm."

"You seem too passive to me. It's like you're not willing to take control. Sometimes power is important - for protection as well - and power can only be gained by dominating others. Hurting them."

He was silent for a moment. "Have you actually ever been hurt, Roxy?"

I smiled. "Of course not."

"Well perhaps if you had, you would see the flaw in your doctrine."

"Have you ever been disappointed, or unable to get what you wanted?" I asked him, running my fingers through my hair.

"Of course." He shrugged his shoulders, as if unable to understand my point.

"Well then, you should already be able to see the flaw in yours."

He shook his head. "We're never going to agree on this."

"No. You were wrong in what you said before - we're completely different. I'm a Helian, and you're an Arcan. We're just made that way. I don't think we would ever be able to really understand each other."

He looked crushed. "That is exactly the sort of mentality that is going to make this trip fail."

"Well maybe if you could stop viewing us all as monsters-"

"Perhaps I could if you actually showed some shred of humanity. For someone with an affinity for fire you're incredibly cold."

His words stung with much more force than the earlier wind, but I wasn't going to let him see that. "Well perhaps if you were less judgemental-"

"I'm judgemental? Before I came here - before you even knew my name, I would guess - you had already made up your mind that I was some 'Air-Head' Arcan - yes, I know that's what you call us - without a single brain cell. I could see it when you first looked at me, like I was something too inadequate to be worth a second of your precious time."

"And you weren't thinking exactly the same thing? That I confirmed all your worst suspicions about Helians? Thinking I was far too immoral and debauched for the holy Arcan prince."

"Well you're sure not easy to respect, I'll give you that." He turned and began to walk away.

"Ok - I admit it!" I shouted after him. "I was expecting you to be an idiot. But after yesterday I was actually beginning to think that I should give you a bit more credit. But now I can see that I had it right to begin with. You're just an ignorant, Arcan snob!" He paused but didn't turn around and after a few seconds hesitation started walking again and quickly vanished into the undergrowth.

"Air-Head," I muttered darkly and torched another nearby tree, letting calmness return to me as I watched it blaze.

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