She could smell burning flesh.
She knew it wasn't real. She knew it was just the foggy dregs of memory, which lingered after dream.
That it had actually happened, well that part was real. But the flesh wasn't burning now. The hands weren't clawing at her. The dark piercing eyes were not watching her through the flames and smoke.
And yet she still felt the sharp pangs of fear, dread and anxiety, gripping her heart and making her breath catch.
She hated this part of waking when she had that dream. That moment of fear where she thought she was back in that moment. That moment of dread when she thought that it was all going to end right now.
She loathed this war, and not only that, but she harboured a deep resentment towards those that took part in it.
But she was still just a girl of fifteen and she was, for at least a year longer, subject to the choices of her elders still.
Oh, she could run away. Other mages in her position had done so before. But those who chose that path found insanity or death at the end of their journey.
No, she had to do the allotted time here. She had to learn what they had to teach in order to learn how to control her so called 'Gift' and survive its presence.
Her eyes fluttered open, and she stared up at the ceiling in darkness, confusion flooding over her.
That smoke smell wasn't leaving. In fact, her nostrils were beginning to sting.
With a gasp of fear she sat upright in bed, hearing footsteps and yells down the apprentice's hallway.
'Quick! Out, outside, immediately! Fire!' Someone was yelling from a few doors down. She heard more footsteps, then a furious slamming of a fist on her door.
'Apprentice, awake, now!'
Evelyn felt a strange quiver in the back of her mind, a tingle up her spine and somehow she knew that the wards on the compound were breaking, collapsing under an unseen onslaught. A moment later she felt a sharp arrow of magic slice through her skull and cried out.
'I'm awake! I'm up!' She yelled out to the unseen attacker.
The teacher who had sent the spell to her, to awaken her in case she was in deep slumber, moved on in a run. She heard them hitting the door next to hers and yelling to them also.
Meagre starlight was all that illuminated her room, but she saw a strange red tint to the light that filtered through her curtains.
Her heart thudded erratically in her chest as she realised the real danger and she grabbed her robe and shrugged it on, tying it with shaking hands, fighting the rising terror.
She recognised Rayne's voice calling through her closed door and she flung open the door, struggling through.
'Quick, we have to get outside!' Rayne's voice was firm and strong.
She felt her friends fingers clasp around her own with the words, and they were running down the hall, abandoning all belongings and avoiding the other girls as they hurried half-asleep from their own rooms.
An unexpected explosion shook the walls to the dorms, sending the girls stumbling to their knees, followed by another shard of magic that sliced through all thoughts. Girls let out screams of fright and pain from around them, Evelyn certain her own cry was among them.
'Wh-what was that!'
'Magic. We are being attacked, idiot.' Emil's voice came from beside her, her face twisted with disdain as they all clambered to their feet.
'Shut up Emil,' Rayne spat in response, 'now's not the time.'
Another crash and onslaught of magical pain bought the apprentices to their knees again, clasping their heads and opening their mouths in silent screams. They didn't even have time to recover from the shivery painful magic when a door a few feet in front of them suddenly swung open and two men stumbled through, smudged with soot and dirt.
'Apprentices,' the taller of the two spat, dark eyes disgusted. 'I thought the Taught would be here for certain...'
Evie's eyes widened at their entrance and her breath caught in her throat.
It couldn't be...
'Regulators!' Emil's voice was panicked, terrified.
The blonde haired companion had bought his arms up, a ball of blue light forming instantly in cupped hands.
'Wait!' The other man cried out, stopping his friend from throwing the crackling ball of energy. His dark eyes narrowed, fixed intently now on Evie where she half crouched between Rayne and Emil. She couldn't break the intense gaze, even as he stepped towards her, his lips twisting upwards 'You!'
Rayne's voice broke through the boys next words, and Evie saw him fly back as a bolt of light hit him square in the chest. 'Run, Evie! Run!'
Screams and yells echoed around them and through the smoke as they sprinted through the halls of the now well alight Academy.
Rayne led the way – having a strange sixth sense it seemed on how to dodge enemy mages and make it through the crisscrossing of tunnels.
They made it out, gasping and coughing in the fresh air, and hurried to the south side of the school to where they had been trained to meet in case of emergency.
When they got to the meeting place however, only a few other pupils had made it out – sitting about the clearing bedraggled and sullen in singed bed clothes.
Emil didn't waste any time turning on Evie however – despite the circumstances.
'He knew you!' She pointed at Evie with a scowl, still coughing in between words and trying to catch her breath. 'Who are you? Are you even a real apprentice?'
'Of course I am, you idiot!' Evie snapped back.
'Really? Then how come he knew you?'
'We have met before!'
Emil's eyes narrowed, 'I knew it! How, where?'
'Well, if you let me talk for half a second, I'll tell you!'
Evie glared at the tall brunette and then sat heavily on the ground, head down, coughing a few times and gulping in the much needed air.
Emil waited, arms folded, foot tapping and an eyebrow raised. Evie saw Rayne roll her eyes and sit down, but she too cast a curious look her way.
'When I was 13…' Evie began quietly, hesitantly, 'my father and I were travelling on the road to Mekran city. The regulators found us. I didn't even know I had magic. Neither did my father. My mother later said she had always suspected. She's a catalyst-'
'Can't practice but has the spark?' Rayne interrupted.
'Yes. Anyway,' Evie shrugged, 'the regulators were near and they sensed me. I was on the verge of my magic'
The girls all knew what that meant – before the first bleed your magic was unfurling, becoming ready.
'And apparently I was like a giant flashing beacon to them. They came, found us, and…' she trailed off.
'You were captured…' Rayne's voice was sympathetic.
Evie just nodded.
'How did you get away?'
'I don't really know to be honest. My village priestess said that it was instinctive magic. There was a fire… and my father and I got away.'
How long were you prisoners for? That boy would not have recognised you so easily if it was a brief encounter, surely.'
Again Emil's voice had that suspicious, accusatory tone.
'I was there a month.' Evie answered flatly, frowning at Emil. 'Maybe a bit longer.'
Evie couldn't talk about it just yet. The nightmares alone were too much to deal with still, let alone speaking of it to a girl like Emil.
Rayne put a soft warm hand on Evie's and her eyes were sad.
'It must have been terrifying.'
'They weren't as bad as what I thought they were going to be. Well, not to us anyway. Some of them actually took good care of me. They wanted us to join their cause I think. They knew I hadn't been approached by a Priestess yet.'
Emil rolled her eyes, 'it still sounds 'off' to me. How was it that you just happened to use magic? What are those odds I wonder?'
Before Evie, or Rayne (who had stood up and opened her mouth to argue in Evie's defence) could respond however a teacher's voice cut through their conversation.
'Girls! Quick now!'
Miss Josi rushed towards them, red faced, dressed in her night robes, her hair everywhere. 'More are coming! Hurry, follow me!'
They followed the teacher through the woods, back towards the nearest village. They met other groups and joined up with them as they went, until most of the school was reunited just before the village.
The entire walk was tinged with anxiety and fear. Most of the students looking over their shoulders and into the woods, waiting for another attack.
And Evie couldn't forget those dark eyes meeting hers across the hall.
How was it he looked so healthy? She was certain the burns had been down one side of his face – his arm and hands were definitely scorched by the flames she was sure of it.
'I've heard of it before you know…' Rayne said suddenly from beside her, just before they reached the town.
'Heard of what?'
'Instinctual magic. There have been cases of it. It usually takes a traumatic event to cause it… but it can happen.'
'There were wards…' Evie began slowly, swallowing hard. 'I cut right through them. That's what the regulators were shouting as I escaped…'
Rayne put her arm around Evie's shoulders and sighed. 'That's a good sign. It means you will be a powerful mage.'
Evie laughed, 'yeah, I just have to get my head around the whole using magic thing… I can barely get into a meditative trance let alone cast a spell.'
'The magic is there, Evie. It's just sleeping.'
Evie looked away. 'Yeah, that's what they keep telling me.'
Jaidon strode towards the military tent, dark eyebrows drawn downwards in frustration and eyes flashing with agitation.
His friends and fellow Mages were taking prisoners to the tents and chaining them together, and heading in teams back to the Academy to salvage what knowledge and artefacts that they could.
The primary goal had been achieved – the High Priestess was taken hostage and the Academy taken out of commission. The school had been teaching the wrong methods – it had to be closed down. It was becoming dangerous to their goals.
Now Jaidon went to talk to Captain Adik, and to get help to track down the little Witch.
'My Lord', Captain Adik stood turned from the strategy table upon hearing the tent flap fly open and close heavily after Jaidon. He gave a quick respectful bow to the dark haired youth. 'I thought you to be with the Salvage crew at the Mages academy?'
Jaidon growled low in this throat, and taking off his gloves, threw them on the ground with distaste.
'Half of them got away, Adik. Over half! Tell me; am I to go back to my mother – to the Grand Counsel - with such news?'
The Captain seemed perplexed by such a question and turning to the other two men in the room gave a nod to bid them leave. They bowed low to both men and left hurriedly, both looking anxious to see the young lord so riled.
'I see no reason not to, My Lord.'
'See no reason? Adik-' Jaidon approached, his dark eyes like fire, 'one of those that escaped was the girl who did this!' he raised his right hand and the Captain blinked slowly at the site of the puckered and deformed flesh that covered his fingers and wrist. The burns had healed well, they had mages with such abilities to rid him almost completely of the scars, but still the white and uneven skin was unsettling to see on a young mage of his calibre.
'I see… she was there?'
'Yes, fool. And now she runs! She runs to the villages to the South along with the other mage-rats. We have to track them.'
'Sire-' The Captain stepped forward, shaking his head, 'that we cannot do.'
'Of course we can.' Jaidon turned and poured himself a drink, downing the entire contents of his cup in one gulp and then pouring another. 'We have to.'
'No my Lord, I believe you misunderstand. We will not track the young mages.'
Jaidon turned, shocked. 'Excuse me, Captain?'
'It is not an option.' The captains aged face was flat, and his expression solemn. 'I will not allow it.'
Jaidon's jaw dropped and he gave a sharp laugh. 'What?' He shook his head and threw back the second drink, slamming the cup down heavily on the wooden table.
'You have no choice, Adik. I am-'
The magic that hit Jaidon square in the chest pinned him to the ground three metres away, and pushed all air from his lungs. It was the second time he had been hit with that spell today, and he liked it even less this time.
His arms and legs were paralysed and he blinked in both anger and wonder as the Captain leaned over him.
'Hear me and understand me young Lord…' The captain's grizzled face drew upwards in a humourless smile, 'I am not one of your lackys to do as you say when you say it. I am Captain of the great Army. Your mother may be leader to the Regulators; she may have friends in all the right places, but while you are in my company you will remember just who you are. And that is an arrogant little upstart with no real say or power. Do you comprehend me, boy?' The spell intensified and Jaidon found he couldn't breathe. He tried a counter spell but his magic was locked from him by the Captains own magic.
Jaidon frowned, and gave a simple quick nod, his lungs and their need for oxygen speaking for him.
The spell fell from his limbs and the Captain grinned broadly and put his hand on the sword at his hip.
'Well then, young Lord. I believe it is late. You had best be getting some rest. You have a long trek back to the Regulators Halls tomorrow.'
Jaidon stood slowly, resentfully and tried to loosen his clenched jaw as he glared at the Captain.
'Very well, Captain Adik. We will return, as you desire… and see what awaits us at Home.'
He let the snarl show in his voice and turned and left the tent, boiling inside, but also burning with a new determination.
The Captain had no idea that the Powers that Ruled had already decided his sorry fate before they had even left for this mission.
Jaidon would wait til power was given to him – rightfully – and then he would go find the little Witch again.
And he would find her.