As Amelia wiped the tears away she pulled her bag up higher on her shoulder. From what she’d been told it would just be two of them to begin with, because almost all children who might have powers were killed at birth. If anyone had known she was likely to have powers she would have been killed, but the information was based on family trees and no one in her family had bloomed in the past, so she hadn’t been expecting it to happen to her either. She’d been lucky someone had felt her bloom, otherwise she would have died. It was that someone who’d told her that the underground existed.
The someone, a woman, wouldn’t give her name, just in case. It was understandable. Anyone who helped someone with magical abilities would be executed and she wanted to help others. Her only ability, if it could be called that, meant she could feel anyone in the kingdom bloom, but often she wasn’t in time to save their lives, and the only way anyone could find out about her was if someone she’d saved told them of her existence. So she kept her name to herself, while she did her best to save the lives of unexpected bloomers. Amelia did have an address. If she could get to that address, where the woman lived, she would, hopefully, be safe. She just couldn’t stop thinking that something was going to go wrong, because she’d felt that way ever since she bloomed. Blooming had changed her life and she knew if anyone found out what had happened she was going to be executed. It had taken all her options away from her, all her hopes and dreams, and the only safe place for her was somewhere underground, where she was going to live with someone she’d never met before.
Breathing deeply Amelia pushed all her worries to one side and kept walking, because it was the only thing she could do. She didn’t want somewhere safe. She wanted her life back, the way it was before she bloomed, but that wasn’t an option. All she wanted to do was turn back time and somehow stop herself from blooming, even though she didn’t think that was possible. Tears welled up in her eyes again as she thought of everything she’d left behind and she did everything she could to keep them from falling, knowing that it wasn’t going to do her any good.
It was a journey that seemed to take hours, but Amelia knew the area that the woman lived in was only a short walk away. That was why she had walked, why it had taken her such a short time to make her decision, why she was still going even though she couldn’t help thinking that going underground was a mistake. Yet it was her only option if she wanted to keep her family safe and her family came first. Her younger sisters, her older brother, her cousins, everyone who had been affected by what had happened to her, whether young or old, was being protected by her choice, as well as by the woman who had saved her from dying during the blooming process. A woman who had made a promise that no matter what Amelia decided her siblings, her cousins, her future nieces and nephews would all be watched over in the future.
Amelia believed her. The woman had saved her life, which had created a strange connection between the two of them, and it was obvious from the shocked relief that it was something that didn’t happen often. Everyone knew that blooming was difficult, no one really wanted it to happen to them, but it could happen to anyone, whether they had magic users in their family or not. When it had happened Amelia had asked questions, wanting to know more about what had happened to her and why someone had come to her aid. She didn’t know what answers she expected, but she knew she’d never expected someone to tell her about a safe haven for magic users created by a magic user.
That had been long ago, though, and had been abandoned for centuries, according to the woman. She didn’t know why it had been abandoned, only that she had been told by her grandmother, the previous guardian of the door that it existed and the time would come when it was needed again, although they didn’t have any idea when that might be. Amelia would be one of the first people to enter the underground since that had happened, but she would never be able to pass on anything she learnt, if she learnt anything at all, about what had happened, due to the magic of the wards. Nothing could come out once it had entered, which was why there was a guardian.
Finally she stood on the doorstep of the address she was give, hoping that she hadn’t been fed a story by someone who wanted to harm her. Biting hard on her lip Amelia stared at the door. Gathering the courage to knock on it was much harder than she expected it to be, but eventually she did just that, breathing deeply as she waited for whatever was going to happen to her, even though she wasn’t certain she was ready to die or to enter the underground. Moments later, long before she realised how much she wanted to run for the hills, the door opened, revealing the same woman who had saved her life.
“Amelia.” The woman breathed a sigh of relief. “Come in. I’ve been worried about you.”
For a moment Amelia couldn’t bring herself to, but then, telling herself once again that she’d made the right choice, she stepped into the house. “Why were you worried?”
“There was always a chance that you might make a mistake, which would lead to you death. It’s something that’s happened before. You might have chosen to go to the mountains instead of coming here. There’s any number of things that could have meant I’d end up spending another decade searching for someone willing to enter the underground.” Their eyes met for a moment. “I believe you are the right person to do something like this. My hope is that your survival will mean that the blooming process is becoming a little easier, as I’ve lost so many. Losing someone, when you’ve tried so hard to save them, never gets any easier, but you… I was so happy that you survived, Amelia.”
“Is there something special about me?”
“Yes, there is. I didn’t want to tell you before, because out there I always have to be careful, but every magic user in this kingdom is related to me in some way. Although I have no idea where it came from there’s a family tree in the study that is updated every time there’s a birth in the family, so I know when your birthdays will be. Unfortunately being there at the right time hasn’t been enough before.”
Words eluded Amelia as she stared at the woman. “We’re related?”
“Even though it’s a very distant relationship we are. I think you’re the great-granddaughter of my second cousin. We can have a look if you’re interested.”
“Not right now.” Amelia bit her lip. “I’d rather hear more about the underground, because, as interesting as that information is, it won’t do me much good down there.”
“That’s not entirely true, but I do believe that anyone else who might survive should be distant enough not to have an effect on any children you might chose to have in the future.”
Blinking away more unwanted tears Amelia chose to change the subject. “You said that there’s someone else.”
“He hasn’t arrived yet and as I wasn’t expecting him for another couple of days I’m not worried. The journey he’s taking is much longer that yours, because he lives in another town, one closer to the border, but I know for certain that he will be here. As soon as he arrives I’ll send him down to you. By then you should know more about the underground that I do. Grandmother told me there should be journals down there from the time it was first created.”
Nodding, Amelia brushed her hand through her hair. “So you can’t answer many of my questions?”
“Unfortunately, no, but I can answer some of them. We have limited knowledge up here of what happened, although I’m certain there are plenty of things we will never know, and as there’s only been one of us to watch over the door for decades we didn’t dare go down there ourselves, in case there was someone who needed us.”
“Exactly.” The woman looked at Amelia. “Being able to feel people bloom is a gift that not many of us are given. No one is your family was meant to bloom. Had I not been able to feel you for days before it happened I wouldn’t have been there at the right time. You were so very lucky, and I have come to see that I haven’t been careful enough. That’s something I need to change.”
“How long have you been doing this?”
“For about twenty years now, taking over from my grandmother when she felt she was too old for the job. As our family was the one who created the underground it has been our job to watch over it. It’s been such a long time since we had anyone to send down there I have no idea what you might find. I am sorry for that. I wish there was something more I could tell you about what you might find down there, but there is a chance you will be entirely alone, at least until the other person I’m waiting for arrives.”
“Unless he doesn’t.”
“He will. Fortunately for both of us his family knows far more about the underground than I thought possible. I believed it had come to the point where the underground was nothing more than a story.”
“So parts of the family have passed the story down from one generation to the next?”
“It seems that way. You see history has a habit of repeating itself. Magic, for a while, will be illegal throughout all the kingdoms, and then things will change. So far this is the second time it’s happened, and I don’t doubt it will happen again.”
“Why does it happen?”
“People are people. Emotions get in the way of logic, and when that happens it is not unheard of for people to make certain choices.”
“This is all because of emotions?” Amelia shook her head. “I just… none of this makes sense.”
“Often things don’t make sense, Amelia.” Their eyes met again. “Unfortunately that’s simply the way things are. I wish I could say that there was some logical reason for magic to be illegal, but there isn’t one.”
Amelia stared at the wall. Leaving her family was the hardest thing she’d ever done, and she’d been forced to do it because someone else had let their emotions get in the way of making sensible decisions. “Why did it happen this time?”
“I can’t be certain. It didn’t begin here, and we have limited information on what happened in Haerith.”
“Has it begun here before?”
“Yes, it has. Once. A very long time ago. You see we have a very long history, and people forget what has been. Those of us who keep the history don’t forget, because we don’t have a choice, but those who don’t seem to forget so much so very quickly.”
“You keep the history.”
“For our family, and for those who are willing to listen.”
“Down in the underground there is another history.”
“There is. It was created when magic was first made illegal, to be a sanctuary for those who needed it, and people came. They wanted to be safe. Anyone who could find their way here was welcomed into the underground. Not being able to connect with those who are down there means we had no idea what happened after they were sent there. As time passed fewer and fewer people came. Then things changed, and the sanctuary was no longer a necessity. Had it not been for my family it might have been forgotten entirely when it was next needed.”
“Yet you haven’t sent anyone down there.”
“No, I haven’t, because no one I’ve tried to help has survived. It seems that blooming here is much harder than it was before. Maybe it’s one of those things that goes through cycles.”
“So there is a chance more people will come?”
“If I can save them there’s a chance they will come. I don’ force anyone to choose the underground. For some it’s just the best choice.”
“Where do I need to go? I would like to get this over and done with as soon as possible.”
“That’s your choice. You don’t need to go quite yet.”
“I do. I need to find out what’s down there.”
Nodding, the woman gestured for Amelia to follow her. “I have some supplies for you to take down. I believe there were some farms, but I don’t know what might have happened to them, and if they aren’t there you’re going to need to start growing your own.”
“Okay.” Amelia tried to smile, but didn’t manage it. “Thank you for your help.”
“You’re more than welcome, Amelia.” The woman did smile. “I hope you do find someone else down there. If you don’t I promise you won’t be alone for long.” They stepped into a room with a trapdoor. “You go down here.”
A box stood beside the trapdoor. “How do I get that down there?”
“When you’ve opened the door I’ll lower it down to you.”
“I’ve opened the door?”
“Only those with enough magic can open it. Although I haven’t tried I don’t believe I have enough.”
Nodding, Amelia ran her tongue over her dry lips. The sooner she got it over with the better, because then she wouldn’t be able to back out, and she knew it was more than likely backing out would lead to her death. Breathing deeply she put her hand on the handle of the trapdoor. She could feel something, but she had no idea what it was. Slowly, breathing deeply, she pulled the trapdoor open, before looking down into the underground. Whatever she found down there she knew she was making the right choice. Going down there was the best option she had. As she smiled, not quite believing it when she thought it, she put her foot on the first rung of the ladder.
“I guess this is goodbye.”
The woman nodded. “Good luck, Amelia. I’ll lower the supplies down as soon as you’ve reached the bottom.”
Far sooner than she expected she had reached the bottom, and Amelia looked up. She had travelled much further than she thought she had. Would her voice travel far enough? “I’m down.” It did seem to echo around the tunnel she’d found herself in. “Lower away.”
She stood there for a long time, not certain the supplies would reach her, but then she saw them. Breathing a sigh of relief she looked around for a way to take the box with her. As there was nothing she decided she would take what she could carry, and come back for the rest. It wasn’t as though she had any other option. When the box reached the ground she untied the rope from it, and gave it a tug. The rope went back up, leaving her truly alone, unless, and she hoped that was the case, she would find someone down in the underground with her.