Raegan ran through the woods, twigs ripping through her hair. She was panting heavily, her white dress muddied to her waist. Her head whipped around, searching the trees. She heard branches snap behind her as she stumbled.
Panic grabbed her, sending her into a frenzied run. Raegan’s hands tugged uselessly at the metal strip encircling her neck. Her skin around the collar was rubbed raw, red and peeling. Raegan winced, giving the shackle one last tug as it tightened again. Her fingers were bleeding from her futile attempts at prying the ring away from her throat.
Still unable to break the charm on the collar, Raegan hurried on. She was well aware of the tightening of the metal strip the further she got. But try as she might she couldn’t get the collar off.
“Just a little further!” She thought, pushing on. She could see the barrier now. However she could also hear the horses’ hooves and hounds baying on her heels.
Raegan sped on, pushing her broken body to its limits. She reached the gate, banging with all her worth. She heard the continued braying of the dogs as she increased her pounding. Raegan’s head whipped around as the sounds came closer. The door finally gave way under her fists, leaving her to fall forward on her knees. Raegan jumped up, shoving at the door to close it behind her. The barrier shimmered when the gate finally clicked shut. Raegan exhaled in relief, leaning back against the now transparent wall.
“Ahhgh!” Her scream of pain became strangled as the collar tightened once again, cutting off her air.
From the trees beyond the barrier emerged two striking young boys. They stopped in shock as they took in Raegan lying on the forest floor, clawing at the metal strip surrounding her neck.
The more muscled of the two boys jumped into action immediately, drawing a long silver sword. It glinted in the dying sun, and Raegan, even from her pained position on the ground, could see the ancient magic woven into the metal.
As Raegan continued to rip at the collar, the boy pressed the tip of the sword under the metal, yanking up suddenly. The metal ring broke in two, falling to the ground. Raegan stood shakily, gulping in fresh air as she massaged her red neck. She could still feel the imprint of the cold metal against her skin. She shuddered.
Trumpet fare erupted from the other side of the barrier. The three teens turned towards the noise, Raegan Stumbling back. The two boys instinctively stepped in front of her, shielding the slight girl from the growing crowd in the clearing.
Several horsemen entered, the animals pawing at the ground. Other men followed behind on foot, coming to a halt ahead of the horses. One horse stepped forward, the rider’s heels digging into its flanks. The man atop the horse stared down his long nose, his lips twitching into a sneer. His long, greasy, black hair hung to his shoulders, strands falling into his cold, dark eyes. He dismounted with ease, the horse nudging his chiseled chest. He grinned, the smile sending frightened shivers down Raegan’s spine. He was wearing the white satin formal attire common to those high in the White Rose.
“Servants. Unhand my property and return her to me!” The man’s voice was deep, ringing with authority.
The teen boys shared a look, glancing back at Raegan. The man across the barrier moved his gaze to Raegan. She let out a frightened yelp, falling backwards over a tree root. Her dress, already ripped to just above the knee, fell higher, exposing the dark bruises on her inner thighs. The tall lanky boy hissed in surprise while his friends’ eyes widened as he let out an angered growl. It was then that he noticed the fading marks on Raegan’s arms and face. The swordsman turned towards the barrier, his white knuckles gripping the sword, cutting off circulation.
“No. She stays here,” The boy’s voice rang out, loud in the silence.
“Do you know who I am?”
The boys shrugged, the lanky one pointing to himself and his friend, “Do you know who we are?”
The horseman let out an angry yell, “I am Geoffrey Longbranch!”
“Will!” The tall boy hissed, his dark hair covering his annoyingly bright eyes. The more muscular boy named Will turned towards him, “That’s Jessamine’s son!” Will shrugged one shoulder, as if to say ‘So?’
Geoffrey took a step forward sending Raegan scooting back across the forest floor. Will turned towards her slightly, his eyes kind. Then he turned back to his friend, “Jason, we’re not giving her back to him. Look at her!” Jason grudgingly nodded.
Geoffrey had been watching the pair in frustration, clenching his fists at his sides. His servants, sensing their master’s anger, backed away uneasily. In a fit of anger Geoffrey threw raw power at the barrier. The boundary held, absorbing the energy like a sponge.
Will turned to glare at the wizard, motioning to Jason with his sword. Raegan watched in awe as Jason walked towards the barrier hands glowing. Geoffrey eyed the boy warily as Raegan backed away from the young wizard and warrior.
The two boys stood side by side across from Geoffrey. When Jason spoke his voice was deadly, “You really shouldn’t have done that,” He stepped forward, taking Will with him, through the barrier. Jason came nose to nose with Geoffrey, the older man flinching away from the young warlock. Raegan’s head was still reeling, trying to understand how the boys had just walked through the wall as if it wasn’t even there. She was beginning to panic when she realized she was missing what was being said.
“… Will Leander Swift,” Will turned to gesture towards Jason who was still glaring menacingly at Geoffrey, “Jason Fitch McCauley,” The older man paled considerably at the mention of the two boys names. Even Raegan in her prison had heard of the boys’ famous parents: Jackson Swift and Ellen Stephenson; Joseph McCauley and Madison Moss; and of course the boys namesakes: Will Childers, Fitch Harmon, Jason Haley and Leander Hastings.
They were famous, along with Linda Dowry, for rewriting the covenant between the guilds. Their children were almost as well known.
However Geoffrey had power in his own right. The son of Jessamine Longbranch and Geoffrey Wylie, procurers of the White and Red Roses. Geoffrey was a commanding wizard, able to call raw power to his fingertips at will.
He did so now, throwing another blast at the shimmering boundary. The wall held, once again absorbing the raw spell, barely shaking at the impact, “Give her back! She is mine! I own her!”
Will frowned, “You can’t own a person,” He glanced at Jason, “That would go against the code. So that can’t possibly be true.”
Jason mimicked his cousin, “No, couldn’t possibly. Because that would have abolished the Trade, now wouldn’t it? And the Game as well.”
“Enough of THIS!” Raegan jumped at Geoffrey’s voice as the other two teens turned towards him, “Yes, yes. The Guilds are equal, the Game and the Trade have been abolished. But that girl,” He pointed a long finger at Raegan, “It’s mine! And you will return her to me!”
Turning towards Jason, Will grinned, “Hey cuz?”
“I’m tiring of this. Would you do the honors?”
It was Jason’s turn to grin, “Why yes, yes I would. I thought you’d never ask,” That said Jason turned towards Geoffrey and his servants. They all took a nervous step back, even Geoffrey. The thought that Jason’s mother was the Dragon was probably running through their minds.
Jason opened the wall for Will and Will then walked over to Raegan, slowly helping her up. Raegan stood shakily, only then noticing that she was still on the forest floor. Will led her away, off towards the town. He took her by the elbow, his other arm wrapped securely around her waist, as he steered her through the trees.
Reagan’s head whipped around at the sound of anguished cries, “Whaa…?”
Will shushed her, “It’s best not to ask. Just keep walking. Jason will catch up with us. Eventually.”
Nodding mutely, Raegan turned forward, concentrating instead on not tripping over the forest floor. Trinity came into view by the time Jason caught up. Will let go so suddenly to fist bump his cousin, that Raegan fell to the floor with a ‘thud’.
Will and Jason looked at Raegan sprawled on the ground, each quirking an eyebrow, before simultaneously erupting into laughter. Raegan scowled.
“Thanks for the help and all,” Raegan stood up, dusting off her muddy dress as best as she could, “But it really wasn’t needed. I had it all under control.”
Jason scoffed, “What is it with woman and refusing the help of men?
Will shook his head, “No idea. But it’s everyone. Leesha, mom, your mom, Grandma Becka, Grandma Linda, even Trisha.”
“Trisha especially!” Jason nodded vigorously, hands going to his hips.
Raegan watched as the boys went back and forth between themselves, their faces animated. She backed away slowly, nearly tripping over a tree root as she tried to leave the two behind her. Another root came in her path and she went falling backwards.
The boys glanced to where she had been, their gaze sliding down until they found her splayed out on the wet ground, more twigs added to her tangled hair. Jason frowned.
Sighing, Will went to help her up, pulling her by the hand until she nearly crashed into his chest. Stepping back, Will regarded her carefully, as if sizing her up, “Come on.”
He took her by the hand, moving her forward through the woods, Jason on their heels. Will pushed back a branch, opening a window in the foliage. Jason stopped forward, falling even with his cousin, pulling another branch out of the way.
“Welcome to Trinity.”