Tenish stared at the angry, churning clouds above, crackling with strips of fuchsia light. Torrents of rain pounded the ground. Crouched under the cover of the trees, Tenish and Allieta waited. Fields sprawled before them, washed out by the unnatural green hue of the sky.
“Just a thunderstorm,” Alleita asked, “or more?”
“Not sure,” Tenish said, buzzing with anticipation. More Wranglers and Protectors rushed to join them, a crowd growing as the storm built.
Then, the hail came.
Tenish let out a whoop, bursting from the safety of the trees. Alleita grabbed him by the tunic, pulling him back.
“Wait a moment,” she said. She unclipped her shield and held it over her head, motioning for Tenish to do the same.
He sighed, but unclipped his as well. “Always a Protector,” he teased.
Alleita rolled her eyes, but she was smiling.
“How are you going to Wrangle with a concussion?” she said, nodding at the thick pieces of hail that struck the ground.
She was right, of course. They sprinted into the storm, chunks of ice bouncing off the shields they held aloft. Tenish whooped again when he saw a spout forming in the clouds.
“I knew it!” he shouted over the wind and hail.
Alleita stuck close to his side. “Did you forget something?” she shouted back. Tenish frowned, looking down. His gloves!
Alleita reached into her pouch and handed them to him. “What would you do without me?” she said.
“Catch magic with my bare hands,” Tenish grinned.
“Powerful, but not practical.”
“Dunno,” Tenish shrugged, “I’ve always wondered what it would feel like.”
Alleita frowned, and Tenish sighed. She was always so serious. “It was a joke,” he said.
He had wondered though.
Tenish pulled on his gloves while Alleita directed the Wranglers and Protectors. In minutes they had fallen into formation. Years of training and drills made Twisters routine, even if there was nothing routine about them. The group split into a wide circle around the field, everyone twenty feet apart, aiming to have the touchdown point in the middle.
The hail thinned. Tenish lowered his shield and squinted at the clouds. The storm seemed to be abating. He knew better though. Everyone learned to spot Twisters at a young age. Tenish flexed his gloved hands.
The wind fell and his ears rang in the quiet.
“It’s time,” Alleita said, sword drawn.
Tenish nodded. He glanced across the field, fifteen Wranglers spread in a circle, their Protectors behind them. The arrival of a Twister could spawn a battle, villages fighting for the resources hidden inside, but it had been years since they needed the Protectors. Still, he liked knowing Alleita was at his back.
Everyone stared to where the Twister churned in the sky. Tenish looked up too. Even after years of this, he was amazed by the thick grey clouds, how they twisted in an unnatural and awesome way.
“There!” Tenish pointed. The rotating clouds reached toward the earth and the Wranglers adjusted their line, preparing for touchdown. Tenish’s heart thudded, adrenaline surging. The spout landed with a thundering roar in the middle of their wide circle, blinding him with dirt and grass. Even still, Tenish caught glimpses of magenta swirls hidden within the raging wind.
Bracing themselves, the Wranglers walked steadily but quickly toward the storm cloud. Tenish wriggled his fingers, itching to get started. He knew Alleita stood behind him, close enough to protect him from attacks but far enough to avoid getting sucked into the Twister. Nothing could protect him from that. Wranglers danced a thin line between life and death, between glory and defeat. For the village to survive, for him to survive, he needed to disable the Twister as fast as possible.
Tenish reached up, only feet from the wall of air. Wisps of it slipped through his hands as he reached for the twinkling fuchsia light disguised in the dark cloud of wind. He grabbed a strand, the buzzing of it steadied by his gloves although he sensed the raw power contained in his hands.
Gritting his teeth Tenish pulled, stepping backward one foot at a time. Other than not getting caught inside the Twister, this was the hard part. He slowly unraveled the magic. It shone bright, almost blinding against the dim sky.
Head down, he exited the debris cloud, and then it was easier to run, back to the Collectors. He handed the magic to one, who took it in her thick gloves, much sturdier than his thin, flexible ones. Tenish could snatch magic from the wind, but Collectors crushed it into cauldrons, infusing the water inside with magic. One Twister filled dozens of cauldrons.
Tenish turned back. Two more strands were being pulled from either side of the Twister, his fellow Wranglers on their way to hand them off. Alleita scanned the horizon, ever the watchdog. He passed close to her on his way back, and she broke from her scanning long enough to perform their trademark triumphant handshake.
“Betcha can’t get two more before it’s gone,” she teased. Tenish put on a face of mock outrage as he ran back.
Could he get two more strands before the Twister extinguished? It dodged and weaved, creeping across the field, never quite predictable, never in an exact path. Tenish sprinted closer with his arms stretched into the sky, instinct and training kicking in as he grabbed one of the magenta strands that whipped through the air.
As if it was proving its power, the Twister sucked a Wrangler off his feet. The man flew into the air, his mouth open in a scream Tenish couldn’t hear. Tenish cursed, stumbling back, but kept hold of the strand in his hand, heaving with all his might. The magic pulled back, threatening to knock him off his feet, but eventually Tenish dragged himself far enough to get to the Collector.
Tenish wiped his forehead. Though the Twister still raged, it had shrunk. They were getting close. Pushing through his fatigue he ran to it, grabbing another strand of magic, pulling it out with much less effort than the first two. Digging in his heels, the Twister moved away, extending the strand in his hand.
Tenish almost released it when he saw men rushing from the forest.
Twisters came once every few years, if you were lucky. Tenish had seen magic cure a merchant’s lame leg after a spill off his horse. Last year, the village had used a bit of their precious supply to replenish their crops when beetles ate three quarters of the plants. And they used magic to strengthen their stores, especially around the magic itself.
He clung to his strand, staring. There were rules about this, about who the magic belonged to, but desperate men ignored them. Usually the Protectors could hold them off, but as more fighters poured from the forest, Tenish’s heart sank. This was no village squabble. This was an army of men pounding toward the Protectors and the Wranglers, weapons above their heads, yelling screams of battle he couldn’t hear over the rushing of the winds, violence in their faces as they bore down.
There’s too many of them!
The Wranglers and Protectors had been split across the field. A group stood with Tenish, far from the men, behind the Twister as it cut forward through the field toward the forest. The others were diagonally across from them, close to the treeline. Directly in the path of the army.
The attackers fell upon the Protectors and Wranglers across the field in a blur of steel and blade. Alleita rushed ahead of Tenish bellowing a war cry and falling into battle stance, her and the Protectors forming a line in front of him and two other Wranglers.
No! Tenish glanced around wildly. I have to do something!
He took a deep breath. Focus.
He wanted to pick up a sword and stand with Alleita, to fight instead of retreat. He forced himself to rip his eyes from her. He had to do his job, she had to do hers. His training dictated if there was enough time, he needed to finish with the strand. He could do that. But he hated retreating while his people, his friends, fought to protect him.
Get to the Collector.
He ran toward her, pulling the strand. Looking up, he watched in horror as a spear pierced the Collector’s side. She screamed and fell, blood staining the ground below. The attacking men had split, coming toward the wagons of infused cauldrons.
The Wrangler next to Tenish took a knife to the arm and lost grip on the strand he was carrying. The magic snapped back into the Twister. Tenish cursed, pulling against the added weight. Wranglers and Protectors and the army alike flew into the air, as the direction of their fighting led them too close to the Twisters path.
Tenish’s blood pounded in his ears. Alleita and the Protector’s line still held, but they were faltering.
His mind raced. He needed to do something. Alleita matched two men blow for blow as they fought, proving why she was a Protector. A scream split the air and the Protector beside her fell, the line breaking. Tenish stood only twenty feet behind, still holding his strand of magic. Alleita took a blow to the side, her armor cracking. She stumbled, but stayed standing. Another blow knocked off her helm, exposing her head.
We’re going to lose.
Tenish had trained his whole life as a Wrangler. There were rules. There was protocol. There were gloves. But if he didn’t do something, right now, Alleita would die. And most likely, so would he.
The Twister screamed, turning toward them in a crazy zig-zag, scattering men and Protectors alike. Alleita stumbled back, her brow dripping blood.
Through it all, he held onto the magic.
Gripping the strand with all his might, Tenish transferred it to one hand. He stripped off the glove on his other hand with his teeth and took a deep breath.
“Tenish!” Alleita screamed, cutting down a soldier that rushed toward him. She watched him with crazed eyes as she saw what he was doing.
“You don’t know how to wield it! What are you doing?” she shouted.
Always a Protector.
“Catching magic!” he shouted back, then reached out with his bare hand.
He gripped the strand of fuchsia light and let out an involuntary scream as it exploded inside him. For a moment it burned, as if he had stepped into a fire.
I’m going to die. Pain ripped through his body. What was I thinking?
But still, he held on, channeling the magic through his bare hand, not letting go, not letting it overtake him.
Just as suddenly as it had come, the pain subsided. Somehow, he felt the magic concede. His eyes shot open.
His vision was tinted pink. Power crackled in his fingers. Alleita gaped at him.
Tenish laughed, and turned toward the soldiers.