Eventually, still crying, I realized I should test my theory. My theory that change fueled magic. I tried to lift the dagger.
Yep. Definitely boosted; I could lift the dagger easily. I tried out my energy magic, and they were also boosted. Light was boosted by an incredible amount - so much that it was almost painfully bright even with my eyes closed. I wondered what fueled it.
So wait a minute. If change fueled magic, maybe this wasn't completely hopeless. What if I went to the Edge? That would at least make me feel different, to finally have what had once been my life's goal completed. What if, perhaps in addition to some other ways I found to create change, I became powerful enough to... propel myself up the wall telekinetically?
What a ridiculous fantasy... I laughed slightly at myself. But maybe something would happen when I got there. Who knew - maybe our magic came from the Edge, or something. I had no choice at this point but to hope for something insane. So I set out for the Edge, having no reason to believe that it would save me but hoping anyway.
Mitilda was asleep when Nayomi and Gabriel got back, so they waited until morning to tell her what had happened.
She woke up, surprised to still see Gabriel and Nayomi standing around her. "Huh? Didn't you two and Jaydin go off on Hobart's mission?"
Their faces turned solemn. "Jaydin went up first, and Nemesis saw him, so we knew there wasn't time for us to go up with him. We dropped down and telekineted the rest of the chain toward him so he could escape. He did, but... Nemesis took the chain. He's stranded out there. We're sorry."
"No..." Mitilda's voice was weak. "He was such a coward just two days ago... he became a rebel so quickly, so suddenly, and on his final night, he was a true revolutionary. He was so brave..." Suddenly she was yelling. "We're going to avenge him!"
"Ssh!" Nayomi said. "A guard could hear you!"
Mitilda turned onto her side, as painful as it was on the injury. She was going to get up.
"Mitilda!" Nayomi said. "Don't get up! You're still injured."
"I spent the whole day in bed yesterday and I'm done with it!" The wound stabbed her with pain every time she moved a muscle, but she insisted. A second later she was standing. "I'm going to kill all the guards in this town!" she said.
"Shush!" said Nayomi. "Don't get yourself caught too!"
"Jaydin figured out for us how to become powerful. We're going to take advantage of that!"
Gabriel nodded. "If Jaydin's theory was right, his departure itself should have made us more powerful. Let's try it!"
Mitilda telekinesed an empty tin cup off the counter. It flew to her hand instantly. Then she threw it back to the counter and made it land perfectly. Her telekinesis was actually substantial...
She tried heat magic. It was so strong she yelped in pain, and had to cool her hands with magic. "Someday, I'll be able to shoot a fireball!" Mitilda said, shaking with emotion.
"So is heat the strongest element for you right now?" said Nayomi, trying all of them herself. "Mine is darkness."
"Yeah," Mitilda said. "Probably because you're not angry."
"Say," said Gabriel, "what if... your fantasy of picking off the guards wasn't actually so ridiculous? I mean, you could definitely blind one with light right now. If we still had Hobart's dagger... I think we might just be able to kill one in our present state."
"Don't be ridiculous," Nayomi said. "We don't have Hobart's dagger and there's more than one guard in the town. It's not like we can just pick them off one at a time anyway. We're still a long way from being able to do it."
"Doomsayer," Mitilda said. In a way she hated Nayomi for always being like this. But maybe with Jaydin gone she and Gabriel needed it.
"Wait a minute... how come my magic hasn't gone down at all since I stopped being angry?" She pulled the tin cup into her hand again. Even heat, which she was now pretty sure was fueled by anger, was no different. "Does it not depend on emotions after all?"
Gabriel was switching between energies rapidly. "I don't know... that would explain a lot, I guess. How there always seems to be a million exceptions to every rule we think we've discovered about how to fuel magic. Maybe it's not really about the state of mind."
"Then what is it about?" Nayomi said. "It's undeniable that there were patterns to our findings, even if they were riddled with counterexamples. It must be about something similar at least."
So what was it then? It just felt so natural for it to be based on one's emotions, so obvious. What else was there for it to be?
The landscape outside of town was a vast, flat expanse for a very long way. Four of five cities were visible from my position, the closest one significantly bigger-looking than the rest. I guessed it was where the king resided. The most interesting feature of the land though was a very distant wall of green encompassing all the cities, the nature of which I could only guess at. Was it a barrier to stop people from going past the edge of the world? A wall of magic energy that you could absorb the power of by touching it? I hoped more toward the latter. There was something else, too: to my right, a linear dedentation in the land that looked to be filled with... water.
I walked toward the water in the ground first, as it was closer. It started to make a sound when I got close to it. A beautiful sound. And one that made me thirsty. I bent down and drank some of its water, even though Hobart had packed some for my journey. It tasted the same alright.
Wow! I guessed this was where the government got the water they used to refill our barrels when they ran out.
I followed the water flowing in the ground toward the green wall for a couple of hours, stopping to eat along the way, until the sun rose again, and the wall gained detail. It looked almost like it was made of... trees. Could that be what this was? A whole bunch of trees, outside of an orchard?
Father, having recovered just in time, distributed the yield and collected food today. There was good news when he got back: the rations were back up to normal. Mitilda had her first full-size meal since two days ago, and she was careful not to feel any gratitude. She gave Nayomi a stern lecture on that point, and then set out to drain her mana again. She also told Mother and Father about what happened to Jaydin, and then left so she wouldn't have to hear them tell her it was proof that rebellion was too dangerous.
"Hey Gabriel," Mitilda was saying later in the day. "I have a plot. I want to try and steal some food."
"But they stopped starving us! Yesterday would have been the time to do that."
"It's not about relieving my hunger anymore. I just want to do something to avenge Hobart and Jaydin, even if it's mostly symbolic."
"That is a good point. But how are we going to do that? It's not like we can just walk into the bureau of governmental oversight and grab the food and walk out. There are guards in there all day."
"What about at night? I doubt there are guards inside the building all night."
"But there are multiple night patrols posted right next to it, aren't there? At least I know there were. Before a ton of them inexplicably left. I bet there's still at least two though."
"Hey, how many of us are there without Jaydin and assuming your parents won't help us?" Mitilda was smiling and had her arm around Gabriel's shoulder. "That leaves one person to draw each guard away and one to climb through the window, grab some food and run. I think it's possible."
"There's no way," Gabriel said, shaking his head. "How far are you expecting two of us to be able to run before the guards catch us? And whoever goes inside has no idea where the food is kept, and if there is a guard awake inside the building, they'll know exactly what we were up to, and we'll probably be flogged, or worse. How much do you want to risk for something that's purely symbolic?"
Mitilda turned serious. "Look, I know this is foolish. I'm not denying that. But the power we saw on my part earlier today was just a huge spike because of the news I had received. It might be another year before we're really powerful enough to kill just one guard, and who knows how long till we can liberate the whole town. I can't wait that long to do something to avenge Hobart and Jaydin."
Gabriel was looking down at his one clenched fist. "You're right. We've got to do something. But... does it have to be that?"
"What else is there? We can't harm the government in any material way yet, and stealing from them would provide a much-needed morale boost."
"And there's not gonna be a guard awake in the building. Would you post a night patrol inside a building if you were the government, considering there are already two right outside of it? The only use that third guard would serve is if someone arranged a diversion to get the other two out of the way and then snuck inside the building. I think the king's smug in his sense of dominance and he thinks there's no way the oppressed people of this town would ever pull off such a feat of organized rebellion."
"You're right. There's no way there's anyone inside that building." With him persuaded, the two took it to Nayomi.
"Mitilda, I don't think you understand just how dangerous this is. Your plan risks all of us being attacked like you were when you left that message for a purely symbolic victory."
"No it doesn't. I'm quite sure there's no one in the bureau to catch the one of us that goes in after the other two lure the guards away."
"But that's not the only way this could end with us getting caught and figured out. You're also assuming that whoever goes in can find where the food's being kept, grab some and get out before the guards return to their post."
"They'll have plenty of time," Mitilda said. "Running from the guards is easy. Take it from the girl four years younger than you who evades them all the time. Besides, the building's not that big. It's not like we'll be searching town to find the food."
Nayomi sighed. "So maybe this is feasible. But when all we're gaining is a symbol, I just don't think it's worth it."
"That symbol is all we have, Nayomi! We can't do anything to hurt the government materially. This is all we can do. Don't you want that symbol?"
Nayomi spoke depressedly. "Symbols are useless."
"Well hey, at least it's adventurous, isn't it? It should make us more powerful."
That was the argument it took. She was considering it. "But... won't they notice when food's missing?"
"I won't take enough for them to notice. They're keeping the entire guard force's luxurious rations for an entire day in there; an armful won't make a dent."
Nayomi closed her eyes and exhaled. "Okay. We'll do it tonight."
Night had fallen, and the three rebel children stood in position behind three different buildings next to the bureau of governmental oversight. They had worked out every detail of the plan in the tree that evening, and were ready to do it.
Mitilda was going to be the one to go inside. There were several reasons for this. One was that she was still injured a little bit and couldn't run as well as Gabriel or Nayomi, another was that this operation was her idea, and the third was that she simply deserved the primary role the most.
Nayomi had made Mitilda promise that if she couldn't find where they kept the food in twenty seconds, she would leave. Mitilda knew she just lacked experience running from guards and was underestimating how long she and Gabriel would be able to keep them distracted, but she had agreed anyway, fully intending to break that promise if she didn't find the food fast enough.
Gabriel snuck along the wall of the building he was on, and then turned a corner so that his guard could see him. He pretended to think he was still unseen. When the guard noticed and called "you there!", he cursed and ran, leading the guard away.
Nayomi said, "Gabriel no!" very loudly, pretending to think that guard was the only one there. "The idiot..." and then the other guard ran after Nayomi.
With both guards gone, and Mitilda sprinted up to the building and climbed in the window. Behind the front room where a guard stood and talked to citizens, there was a hallway on the left with separated rooms on the right. Mitilda sprinted down the hallway, knocking open every door. She found it in a large room at the very back. She opened one of the barrels and stuffed her arms full with food, some of which she dropped and had to bend down to put back inside the barrel - she couldn't leave anything on the floor. After about a minute, she was finally on her way out with a small armful of food, going slow to not drop any of it.
Then she got to the window and had a realization that would have terrified Nayomi: she had to drop the food on the ground outside to climb out and then take the time to pick it back up. Mitilda didn't panic, though; she knew she probably had at least another minute before Gabriel and Nayomi were caught, and at least another two before the guards returned to their posts. She was totally clear on time. The only real danger left was that of her being caught on the way back to the Greywoods' house. But she was a skilled sneaker due to much experience, and was not caught.
Mr. and Mrs. Greywood were awake and waiting for them to return. "We did it!" Mitilda said quietly, dropping the food on the floor. "I'm officially one of the rebels now, even if I'm the last one to join!"
"Thank goodness," Mrs. Greywood said. "You were so lucky... you little idiots." She smiled as she said it, though. "We were worried sick about you, you know."
Mitilda didn't try to tell her it wasn't luck. This was too happy a time for those arguments. "Gabriel and Nayomi will be back soon," she said.
Gabriel, meanwhile, was finally running out of energy and another guard saw him and gave chase with full energy. He ran a little bit longer, but eventually was tackled. "No!" Gabriel said. "You've caught me! Drat!" He had to make it seem as if he thought all was lost when they caught him, and not give any clue that something was happening while he distracted them.
"What kind of stupidhead are you, Gabriel?" the guard said. "Sneaking out at night? Not that you aren't a rebellious one, but this doesn't seem your type of crime."
"Figures," Gabriel said. "The first time I try this, I get caught immediately. Nobody else would have been caught on their first time. Luck hates me."
The guard grabbed him and threw him hard into the wall of the building. He brushed off the pain, as his mind was far from own faring. Mitilda had better be close to done by now.
"I'll escort you home now, you delinquent child," the guard said.
Yes, it was trees. I couldn't believe it. The Edge was made of trees.
Disappointing. Trees weren't magical. They weren't anything I hadn't seen before. Still, I had to get closer. I had to find the precise point where the world ended. I had to touch it.
I walked another twenty minutes or so, and entered the forest.
"I can't believe that worked!" Gabriel was saying as the three revolutionary heroes sat together in the Greywoods' house.
"The government's not invincible!" Mitilda said. "We won our first real victory today..."
"Don't get any crazy ideas," said Nayomi. "This was just a symbol, remember? We're a long way from having proved that the government isn't invincible."
Mitilda ignored this. "This feeling is so wonderful, isn't it? We should do this again!"
"No way! Once was crazy enough! If we do the exact same thing again they'll know something's up!"
"She's right this time, Mitilda," Gabriel said. Mitilda sighed. She knew Nayomi was right. It was probably a good thing she was here to stop her from doing stupid things.
"I still can't believe you three did it the first time," Mr. Greywood said.
They all tried out all four energies. Light was by far the most boosted, so much that even for Nayomi it beat cold, which was normally her strongest. Then Nayomi pointed out that with how much light they were making a guard would be able to see the glow through the wood of the house and realize what they were doing, and even Mitilda stopped. Curiously, darkness was the second most boosted.
"I'm pretty sure now that light has something to do with rebellion," Mitilda said.
"Seems like it," Gabriel said as he switched to telekinesis and scooted his pillow a little completely on his own. "This is incredible. Our magic can actually... do things."
"See?" Mitilda said, looking at Nayomi. "This is proof that the government is not invincible. We just need to be about ten times more powerful than this, recruit another few dozen people to our cause and preferably find a way to have the power of metal on our side. This is possible."
As I was in the mass of trees, suddenly a terrifying sound erupted from somewhere - I couldn't tell where - such as I had never heard. It was like a scream, only... not human. It startled me worse than Mitilda had when trailing me back to the house after the first night I snuck out. I stood frozen for a second, barely resisting the urge to bolt back the way I had came. Was this sound being made by something on the other side of the trees? Did the Edge howl at you when you got near it? Why?
It was coming closer. I could hear some other sounds now. There were sounds of running, and I spotted some kind of animal in the trees darting toward me like I had never seen. It was shaped much like a cow or something, except smaller and much furrier, and it was the source of this terrifying sound. It looked vicious.
I bolted toward the other side of the forest. I had Hobart's dagger with me, but I knew nothing of how to fight with it and this creature looked like it could kill me even I did.
Unfortunately it turned out to be a lot faster than me too - the first time I looked back it had already gained half the distance between us. I was going to have to turn and fight this thing. I ran a little more, until it was only a few feet away from me, and then I turned.
The thing lunged at my leg and... bit me. What? That wasn't the attack I had expected. Biting was supposed to be something people did to food or if they were toddlers, not a serious attack. It sure hurt when this thing did it though. I screamed in pain as I cut its face with the dagger. It didn't scream in pain.
Next it jumped up at me and bit me in the side. This one hurt even more, and I could feel it tearing off a bit of my skin. It continued to claw at my waist with its... feet, I guess, which were also sharp. I screamed louder. I stabbed its neck hard this time, and drew blood, which gave me hope. I knew it wouldn't be long before this thing killed me, but maybe I could kill it first.
I kicked it in the stomach to get it off me after that. It sort of went flying, but landed in a crouched position, looking ready to lunge low. I thought about jumping but decided to just raise a foot in preparation to kick it in the face when it came.
It worked. I kicked its face hard, and it recoiled again, growling in what I hoped was pain.
It's next attack was a lunge for my other leg. I bent down and cut its face again, but the pain of the three bite wounds and torn flesh was getting to me, and I could feel my blood running out of all three places. It didn't look close to death at all.
Alright, I thought. Time for some magic. I had to change tactics or I was never going to beat this thing. I shined a beam of light at it, hoping to blind it.
It worked. The thing backed up, confused, and didn't immediately attack me again, so I took the offensive, stabbing it in the back. Then it did something that terrified me: it bit my dagger hand.
Uh-oh... was all I could think as I dropped the dagger, another terrible wound appearing on my hand. I punched it in the neck with my other hand - which seemed like the most feeble attack in the world now - and then quickly picked the dagger back up. It tried to bite my other hand while I was doing this, but it missed, still blinded by the light.
I attacked its neck again as soon as I had secured my grip on the dagger while I used my spare hand to continue projecting the beam of light. Eventually it fell to the ground with a howl. Was it dead?
I sure hoped so. There were sounds of more howls in the distance, so I kept running toward edge of the trees, hoping with all my hoping power that I would make it out of this place before I met another one of these creatures. There was no way I could survive a second fight. Already the wounds were taking their toll. I could feel a weakness coming over me.
As I entered the last hundred feet of the forest, I noticed that after a few feet of unforested ground, the land abruptly stopped ahead - with a huge blue expanse below. Uh-oh... Maybe this was the end of the world and you couldn't go past it and I had just cornered myself against it and more of these creatures were going to come for me.
I reached the Edge of the world, looking down into the blue expanse. I wasn't on a floating platform - a rock wall descended from the end of the ground and met the blue. A straight down rock wall. Nevertheless it was extremely bumpy, as if meant to be climbable. But it had to go down two hundred feet at least. I couldn't nearly make that climb in my weakened state.
There was another creature coming behind me. I panicked, getting into position to start climbing down. But I didn't have enough time. It was already -
Huh? It stopped at the edge of the forest. It howled a little more, but then seemed to lose interest in me. It trotted away.
Phew... I fell down with relief. I guessed that meant I was safe here. I wasn't going to die. At least not by being eaten. I thought I might still die from my wounds, but I didn't see anything I could do about it. Unless... magic could heal.
I placed a hand over the wound that was giving me the most pain - the second one, and tried. No relief. Come on! This had to work.
I still felt no pain relief, but I thought the bleeding was slowing down. I clung desperately to the hope that this wasn't my imagination as I started to pass out. Please, let me not be dead when I wake up.