“Only the strong and wise shall lead us.
One without the other is not acceptable.”
~from Life In A Society.
The cool winter air filled Eren’s lungs as she jogged next to Aiden, doing her best to keep her steps silent. Over a foot of snow covered the forest floor and weighed down the boughs of the spruce trees. Using their channeler’s power to spread out the impact of their steps, they barely sank an inch into the snow. It took a bit of concentration, but after several months of snowy weather, Eren was used to it. Aside from ease of travel, they used their power to soften their steps because a certain amount of stealth was needed for what they were doing; spying.
The trees thinned as they reached the bottom of a steep hill. Eren indicated a tree near the top of the hill with a flick of her head. They slowed to a walk and crept toward it, crouching low. As she settled onto her belly atop the snow, Eren raised her power enough to keep herself warm. Aiden lay down beside her and they both turned their attention to the valley below.
The spruce trees circling the valley looked blue next to the mound of snow in their center. Perched atop that mound was a monolithic pyramid of stone that looked as though it had been plucked from a Mayan city from thousands of years ago. But this pyramid wasn’t an old ruin that time had forgotten. It was new, compared to ancient ruins that was. It had been built in the 1700’s when the first settlers of Spruce Knoll had come here.
Eren remembered the history lesson well.
Shapes of people moved around the pyramid, drawing her attention back to the present. They were over a hundred feet away, but it was still a bit close for her comfort. There was little choice, though. She and Aiden had to get this close if they wanted to hear anything.
Thirty or so people began to gather on the plateau atop the huge pyramid. Eren watched them closely, noting their mannerisms and interactions. It was why she and Aiden were here, to watch how a Society worked together. Problem was, since they weren’t a part of this one, they were forbidden to be here.
Ever since finding out they were both Rectors, she and Aiden had been taking the idea of running a Society very seriously. Aiden wanted to find out everything he could about how a good Society functioned and what the Rector’s roles were. Eren’s Uncle Alin and her grandfather had been quick to take Aiden under their wings and instruct him. Sure, Alin’s motives could be partially from the guilt he felt over all his brother had done to Aiden, but it seemed like more than that to Eren. Alin genuinely liked Aiden and though he never came out and said it, it was obvious he knew how much Aiden meant to Eren.
As hard as she tried, Eren didn’t share Aiden’s enthusiasm to lead. Before her life as a channeler, she had been Captain of the track team and class President, but that was different. Being part of the Rector couple that ran a Society meant she’d be partially responsible for people’s safety and well being. After what happened this fall, she wasn’t sure she was cut out for all that. How could she make a good leader when people kept dying around her and others ended up having to save her?
Actually, it was more like after all that happened last year, not just last fall. First, her parents were murdered, she was attacked twice, and then her family was attacked because of her. When she watched her Aunt Sylvia and Uncle Alin fight for all their lives, it scared her almost more than when she’d been attacked. Aunt Sylvia was fearless and well trained. Since Eren had just started learning how to fight, she didn’t see how she could ever be so brave and talented.
All that considered, it had been a horrible year. However, there definitely had been good parts. She couldn’t help but look at Aiden as she thought that. Somehow she would have to get over her fears and find her own desire to lead. Her grandfather said one didn’t get to choose to be a Rector; they were simply born that way. Eren feared she was going to have to dig very deep to discover the Rector within herself.
A gentle poke in the ribs from Aiden made her follow his gaze back to the valley below.
It wasn’t hard to tell who the Rectors were. They stood at the highest point atop the pyramid’s plateau, next to the altar. The rest of the Society gravitated around them. People bowed their heads in respect, and listened raptly when they talked.
It was only a routine meeting discussing the coming New Year and Eren started to grow bored listening to them, then she noticed something. There was a second couple that people paid almost as much respect to as the first. By the way they talked, moved, and touched made it obvious they were close to the Rector couple. Perhaps leading a Society wasn’t as much of a monarchy as she originally thought. The idea of having friends at her side made the whole leadership thing a lot less scary.
Just when the cold started to seep through her coat and chill her stomach, Aiden stood and turned away from the valley. Rising quickly, she followed him. She sank to her knees in snow, a quick reminder that she had to focus her energy to spread out the weight of her footfalls.
Something tickled the back of Eren’s head, a feeling more than an actual sensation. It grew stronger until soon she realized what it meant. They were being watched. The eyes were unfriendly, carrying a heavy resentment behind them. Every hair along the back of her neck stood on end. Her eyes darted left and right, but she couldn’t see anyone. Whoever they were, they didn’t want to be seen, and they were good at hiding. Her first instinct was to tell Aiden about it, but she couldn’t do that. What if he thought she was being paranoid?
Ever since last October she had been jumping at every shadow. Luke was gone, she knew that. But for some reason she couldn’t shake her fear. Forcing herself to relax, she ignored the weird sensation until it went away.
As they ran back through the forest it started to snow again. The sparkling white flakes soon became so thick it was hard to see through their mesmerizing pattern. By then, they had reached the streets of Spruce Knoll and had the sidewalk to guide them. The snow fell so hard that if anyone was looking out their windows, they probably couldn’t even seen Eren and Aiden. Traveling under such cover eased her anxiety a little.
Regardless of the decreasing visibility, they made it to Eren’s grandfather’s bookstore and residence. Since her Uncle Alin and cousin Fane had decided to move here from Romania, there wasn’t enough room in Aunt Sylvia’s little cabin. It had taken a lot of discussion for Eren to convince Sylvia to allow her to move in with her grandfather. Of course, she would miss Aunt Sylvia desperately—except for her cooking, that is—but she only lived a few miles away and Eren visited often.
At the back door to Zolin’s bookstore, they paused and shook the snow from their hair. Eren drew her energy back into herself, leaving her face and hands feeling cold and exposed. She was able to channel her energy now without damaging her clothes, for the most part, but she still wore loose clothing just in case.