A cool morning in mid-August, about six weeks later, at Hailey's apartment.
"What's this, Hailey?" Jessica asked, looking at some of Hailey's jewelry on her desk and holding up a ring.
"Diamond ring my dad gave me way back."
"Sapphire ear studs."
"And the one you're wearing?" Jessica asked, landing on Hailey's bed with a thump and pointing at the necklace currently entwined with a bit of Hailey's wavy blonde hair.
"Polished tourmaline," Hailey answered absently, her focus entirely dedicated to writing a note with a pencil on her desk—from ten feet away. It was as though she had an invisible third hand grasping it from afar, one that was composed entirely of thumbs and with severe Parkinson's. Every tiny movement felt like she was weighted as if she were pushing through thick sand, and her arm shook as though she were weak with hunger, but Hailey was stubborn. She kept writing.
"You want me to stop talking?" Jessica asked, finally noticing what she was trying to do.
"You're fine," Hailey answered, still slowly and deliberately moving the pencil with her mind. She could barely make out the scratches from her distance, which made her handwriting something awful, but she'd be satisfied if it was legible at all.
"What are you writing anyway?" Jessica asked, her head propped up on her hands. She strained to see the page from her angle.
"Something I should have told him ages ago," Hailey grumbled.
Jessica sighed. "Are you and Weston fighting again?"
"Me and that arrogant good-for-nothing control freak? No, of course not, what gave you that impression?"
"He's just trying to keep us safe," Jessica said, giving her a pained look.
"Jess, you do know that as my bestie you're supposed to support me against any guy unconditionally, right?"
"Oh. I am?" Jessica answered, sounding genuinely confused. Hailey mentally reminded herself that Jessica hadn't really had any friends before she'd met their group in college and had definitely missed many of the important finer points of being a best friend. Still, over the past few months they'd bonded over so much, Hailey couldn't possibly be annoyed with her. Jessica was simply the best, kindest, and most genuine person she knew.
"Nevermind. It's okay. You're right, he is. He could just be a bit nicer about it."
"I guess so," Jessica answered. She watched the pencil rattle about her desk, quivering as it slowly delivered each stroke. Hailey didn't have nearly as strong control as Ian, but it vastly outstripped Jessica on the bed next to her, who couldn't do much more than the strength of a gentle breeze. The younger girl was staring longingly at the pencil, a mixture of jealousy and sadness plainly stamped on her face.
"I've decided to call it a 'diffinity'," Jessica spoke up suddenly, still watching the pencil twisting around the desk. "Like how we call it an affinity for Elemental magic, like what you've got. I've got a diffinity for Movement magic."
"I like it," Hailey said encouragingly, splitting her focus for just a moment to smile at Jessica and letting the pencil wobble and fall. She managed to catch it before it hit the table, keeping her personal goal alive of maintaining it upright until she finished writing her note.
"Doesn't make me feel much better, but at least it makes it easier to talk about," Jessica went on, turning away to stare at the window. "Anyway, when are the guys getting here? It's bright enough outside, they should be okay getting here."
"Ian said he might be a little late. Weston should be here any minute now."
As if on cue, the door buzzed. The pencil clattered to the desk as Hailey lost her concentration.
"Should we go?" Jessica asked.
"Nah," Hailey said. "Wes, we're in here!" she called, refocusing once again on the pencil.
"But we're in your bedroom," Jessica said, her face turning pink once again.
"It's not like he hasn't seen it before," Hailey said absentmindedly, determined to keep writing her note.
Jessica turned an even brighter pink. "Oh!"
"Oh? Something going on in here?" Weston asked, opening the door and wandering in. Jessica shook her head frantically, her face bright red. Weston looked as casual and unconcerned as he usually did. They all knew now that it was an illusion though, and that behind the mask of detachment was a tightly-wound paranoid clock.
"Just finishing up an important bit of business, Wes," Hailey said, as her pencil scratched out the last stroke of the message. She let the pencil fall and lifted the page up into the air, floating it gently toward them so it would be readable. To her satisfaction, it was messy and angry, but still legible.
STOP BEING A DICK
Weston plucked the page out of midair and examined it carefully. His eyes slowly traced every single letter as if he were contemplating something deep and complex. After a full minute or so of deliberation, he looked over the top of the paper at the two of them, staring Hailey directly in the eyes.
"I deserve this," he said calmly.
"No kidding," Hailey growled. "You practically leapt at Ian's throat the other day just for voicing the possibility of considering going to the police with what we saw. And you've been nagging everyone way too much about keeping stuff indoors and away from anyone."
"I just want us all to stay alive."
Hailey sighed. "We're gonna be fine, Wes. We can still do magic, after all. And it's not like any of us have broken any laws or done anything seriously dangerous."
"What about jumping off the radio tower without any safety equipment?" Jessica chimed in.
"You did what?" Weston asked sharply.
"Jess, remember, besties?" Hailey said, giving her an exaggerated look of disappointment before rounding on Wes. "It's fine. It was the middle of the night, no one was around. No one saw anything besides her."
"Are you all right?" Weston asked, and for a brief moment Hailey remembered why she used to sleep with him.
"I'm sitting here talking to you, aren't I? See any bruises?" In fact Hailey had gotten a pretty hefty bruise on her leg from the awkward way she'd landed, but that was hardly related to magic and mostly due to her own clumsiness.
He frowned. "Fair enough, but that was still stupid and reckless."
"My two middle names," Hailey Aurora Elizabeth Winscombe retorted, quickly reminded of why she'd stopped feeling any affection for Weston.
"She was amazing," Jessica said excitedly. "The way she bounced and swerved all the way down. It was like she had wings."
"You watched from here?" Weston asked. Jessica nodded. He turned to Hailey. "Getting better, then?"
"Yeah," Hailey answered. "I can control how I glide by moving around the air pockets as I go down. It's still not flying, not even good gliding, but it's progress."
"Cool." Weston sat down in her desk chair. "Ian show up yet?"
"No. Said he'd be late. Can't be much longer though, it's plenty light out now." Hailey relaxed back on her bed, still feeling a bit of the exertion of moving the pencil around so much. It was strange to her how movement was so much harder for her to pull off, when her work with elements—her actual affinity, to use Jessica's term—was all about helping her move. Yet they seemed totally unrelated in how they were accomplished magically.
"What about the double-jump?" Jessica asked, looking over from her spot on the end of the bed, curled up like a cat basking in the sunlight streaming through the bedroom window.
"Still no good," Hailey replied, disappointed. "I still can't keep it solid long enough to actually push off." They both looked at her sympathetically, but—neither being Elemental affinity and Weston having particular difficulty with the branch—they couldn't offer much in the way of ideas. Only Ian really understood how her process worked, being the same affinity as her.
"Want to give it another try while we're waiting?" Jessica asked eagerly. Hailey admired her. The girl (and Hailey decided that she really ought to stop thinking of her like that. Jessica was nineteen, only two years younger than herself) could barely perform most magic outside of her own experiments with knowledge divination, but Jessica was determined not to let that slow her down. She had forced herself to achieve basic telekinesis by manipulating the air around an object, since she had felt like she was pressing up against a brick wall moving them directly. It took her more effort and was never as easily controlled as simply picking something up with her mind, but Jessica pulled it off all the same by sheer force of will.
"Sure, why not?" Hailey said, infected by her enthusiasm. She took to her feet, feeling mostly recovered from the effort of writing the note earlier. More importantly, this was her magic. Something about the air felt like she belonged to it, and it to her. The air was her friend and her ally unconditionally. It was happy to do what she wanted, so long as she was willing to give it some help along the way.
She loosened her muscles as best she could, then concentrated and began gathering her pocket of air once more. Hailey started gathering the block together long before she jumped now, operating on the theory that if she could just land on it after putting it in place it might be easier to keep it around long enough to push off of. It hadn't worked yet, but she believed she'd gotten it to last a tiny bit longer. It was progress, however minute. She clasped her hand to the stone around her neck for luck as she tensed to jump, muttering under her breath.
Her closed fist felt a breeze push through where there should have been none.
Hailey looked down at her hand in shock, still clasped around the polished tourmaline gemstone at the center of her necklace. She could feel it thick with energy, like a vast hurricane gust were somehow contained within the stone. If she reached for it, she felt she could shape it and redirect it, even relocate it where she needed it to go. She was so startled she let go of the block of air she'd been gathering, which dissipated into the room as a gentle breeze.
Instantly, the feeling of the wind vanished. Hailey was once again grasping a simple stone in her hand. She stared at it in wonder.
"Hailey?" Jessica asked, confused. Weston had stood up, concerned, but Hailey waved him back to his seat.
"Watch this," she said, grinning.
She called the air back together, forming the brick in mid-air—only this time she used the vast depths of wind somehow contained within the tourmaline. The brick became solid and steady, more stable than she'd ever been able to manage before. Hailey held tight to the tourmaline in her grasp and leapt for the brick.
She was off-target, but a quick mental adjustment moved it underneath her feet once more. For a full second, Hailey was standing on mid-air once again, but this time she didn't fall. She simply hovered, floating on a gust of air of her own creation, and she let out a laugh of pure, unrestrained joy. With her eyes twinkling, she leapt off the brick, letting it vanish in a puff of wind as she jumped off air itself.
Hailey promptly knocked her head against the ceiling and fell back onto her bed, laughing uncontrollably.
Jessica leapt atop her, looking horrified. Once it became clear that Hailey was choking out laughter and wasn't in any real pain, her expression turned to awe.
"How?" Jessica asked breathlessly. "You couldn't even get it to stick around for an instant before, and now you can stand on it freely?"
"Hailey, what happened?" Weston said, his voice equally thick with excitement.
"Found out something new," Hailey said proudly, opening her fist and displaying the tourmaline for them to see. They leaned over her in awe, looking down at the gemstone.
"It made you more powerful?" Weston asked.
"It had the power, I just used it," Hailey said, trying to process what she'd just experienced. Jessica plucked up the stone from her chest and looked at it carefully.
"Hailey, it's kinda dark now."
"Look, see?" She held it up and pointed at a spot.
"Can't see too well with you on top of me, Jess," Hailey said dryly.
"Oh!" Jessica squeaked. She scrambled back to the other end of the bed and held up the gemstone again. Hailey propped herself up, still winded from her trip through the air. "It wasn't black in this spot before, was it?"
"No," Hailey said, and indeed some of the purple edges of the gem had turned a dark, charred ash color. She rubbed at them experimentally, but they didn't go away. She took it back from Jessica and tried to summon the air once again, pulling at a breeze wafting in through the window. She couldn't be sure, but the strength of the gale inside the gem might have been a bit weaker. It was too slight to tell if it was just her imagination.
"So they get used up," Jessica said confidently. "I wonder what other gems do? Rubies probably for fire things, topaz for lightning, obsidian and onyx for earth—"
"Sapphires for water?" Hailey guessed.
"Actually no, sapphires are usually associated with the air," Jessica said. "Water's probably aquamarine, emeralds, maybe pearls."
"And they all can be used to enhance magic," Weston said. "Probably more than just the elements, too."
"Probably," Jessica said excitedly. "Oh, I'd love to get on my hands on some amethyst right now. It's supposed to be the mind stone. It might help me out a lot with some of the things I've wanted to try. You don't have any, do you Hailey?"
She shook her head, amused. "Sorry, Jess."
"It's okay, I can just order some online."
"Hang on now, isn't it going to look weird if you start ordering tons of gemstones out to Rallsburg?" Weston asked, concerned.
"I'm a bored girl in the middle of nowhere who wants to look at pretty things," Jessica said dismissively. "No one would think twice."
Hailey laughed and nodded. "She's got ya there."
He laughed. For a moment they felt excited again, just as they had when they'd first started experimenting with magic. Of course, it was bound to be interrupted—and as if on cue once more, the door buzzed, trying to interrupt their reverie.
"Come in, Ian!"
So it was that Ian arrived to the three of them giggling like idiots, enjoying the moment, and promptly killed the mood. He had a frown permanently affixed to his face ever since the incident in July.
"What's going on?"
"Oh nothing, we just revolutionized magic again," Hailey said, still giggling.
"We?" Jessica said pointedly. "This was all you, Hailey." Hailey grinned and didn't disagree. She was immensely proud of her discovery, having contributed so little to their projects up until then.
"We need to talk," Ian said darkly. "They're still looking for culprits for the library being destroyed. I was asked by the sheriff yesterday if I knew anything."
"Jackie asked you herself?" Jessica said, surprised. They all looked at her, the only real local amongst the group. "Jackie doesn't get that involved, is all I'm saying," Jessica continued. "She's pretty hands off most of the time, likes to take it easy."
"Well, she's getting involved now."
"She didn't suspect you though, did she?" Weston asked.
"'Course not, what's there to suspect?"
"We were witnesses."
"Don't remind me," Ian snapped. "I'm doing my best to forget that night."
"I just want to make sure we're all on the same page here, Ian—" Weston started.
"On the same page about what, Wes? The guy who could run a hundred feet in a millisecond and had an army of goddamn lava monsters at his back? Or the other guy, Wes? The one levitating plates of metal through the air and throwing giant bolts of lightning from his hands? What are we on the same page about?"
Ian was starting to get hysterical. Hailey put a hand on his shoulder, but he shrugged it off.
"No, Hales. I want him to be clear. Why aren't we talking to the police about the two people who obviously need to be stopped before they burn down the entire town and us along with it? You've seen what's happened to the library. The entire third floor is gone. The wall looks like it was kicked in by a giant."
"We weren't involved," Jessica said feebly.
"We could help them catch the guys though," Ian shot back.
"If those are even 'guys'," Weston replied. "As far as we're aware, we're the only ones with our particular type of magic, and those two were clearly way beyond us. Who's to say they're even human?"
"What are you saying they are?"
"Gods," Weston said simply.
Ian snorted. "Like hell."
"We've got no friends in this, Ian. It's just us four, since Hugo's gone back home to California. If we're wrong, and we go to the police and one of these guys finds out and comes after us, what do you suggest we do?" Weston said calmly. "Who says the police can even do anything about them?"
"We can't just do nothing," Ian said firmly.
"We can, and we should," Weston replied. "It's nothing to do with us, and we should keep it that way. No one's seen them since, right?" Hailey and Jessica both shook their heads.
"No, and if I did I'd be sprinting the other way," Ian said, shivering.
"So we're all in agreement then. We don't want anything to do with those two," Weston said, satisfied.
"I just wish…" Ian said, trailing off. No one spoke up. They all wished the same thing, but none of them wanted to voice it aloud.
They were all terrified since that night. Hailey was the only one of them brave enough to go out after dark, hence their current meeting in the bright sunny morning. Jessica had watched her descent from the radio tower from afar, using a bit of magic to amplify her vision and see in the dark more clearly. Hailey believed Jessica hadn't been outside a single time after the sun dipped to the horizon. Many of her nights were now spent in Hailey's room when she stayed too late, not daring to take a step over the threshold of the front door into the dark, unlit town.
"Well, I've got to go. Hugo and I were gonna play some games online and I don't want to leave him hanging," Ian said awkwardly.
"Have a good time," Hailey called as he walked out, and Hailey had the distinct impression it was the last time she was ever going to see him. She shook the thought away, and sat up straight in alarm, realizing how much noise they'd been making that early in the morning. "Oh crap, I hope we didn't wake my roommate."
Weston and Jessica looked at her strangely. "Uhh, Hailey?"
Hailey looked around, confused. "I… don't know. Sorry. Bumped my head harder than I thought, I guess."
Jessica looked at her thoughtfully. "I've been meaning to ask actually, do you want a roommate? I can't imagine it's easy to keep up rent here all alone. Plus I'd really like to move out of my parents' place…" Her cheeks turned bright red and she looked away as Hailey's face lit up.
Hailey laughed and wrapped an arm around her. "You've practically been living here the last few weeks anyway. How many times have you slept in here, Jess?"
"Too many," she said, rolling her eyes and pushing Hailey away gently.
"Well, I'd love to have you around officially. If only to hear you sing more often. But first, let's go eat something while it's still light out. I'm starving."
Weston and Jessica followed her out, letting the door swing quietly closed behind them.