Ashling blushed at the closeness of Eoins body to hers. She had forgotten about the connection of their hands, the strange tingle she felt at the contact, almost a comfort as they spoke. Eoin stood, pulling her with him, and led her back out the door that they had entered a short while before. They circled the building of her work to the back where a small patch of trees stood, their bright orange and red leaves stark against the blue of the fall sky.

Eoin stopped in the middle of the trees and turned to her. ”Stay here, ” he said quietly before finally dropping her hand. For a moment, she missed the hold, but she quickly stopped the thought before it could go too far.

She watched as he walked a few feet away, turned to face her, and knelt, one knee on the ground. He placed his hand on the Earth and began to speak quietly. It was not English he spoke, not words she understood, but he spoke them with a quiet confidence that told of a lifetime of practice with them. When the words stopped, nothing happened for a split second, briefly reigniting her doubts about whether this was all real or not.

Eoin looked up at her then and his eyes flashed a brilliant gold colour, bright like the sun. Her breath caught in her throat. She had always acknowledged that he was a handsome man, but at that moment, with eyes of fire, she could only describe him as beautiful, with a wild grace that had her yearning to reach out and touch him. The strange feeling she had in her chest since yesterday intensified, almost physically drawing her towards him as she took a step.

Suddenly, it wasn just his eyes that brightened. The ground beneath his hand also began glowing brightly, as if he had trapped a star under his palm.

”Come here, ” Eoin said, reaching his other hand to her, his eyes faded back to their normal dark brown, almost black, colour. She slowly walked forward, taking his hand without thought. She knelt on both legs; body close to Eoins as she peered down at the glowing ground. As he slowly lifted his hand, a green stem sprouted and grew higher and higher. A flower bloomed at the end of the stem; dark purple petals blossomed tight together in a pom pom sort of shape. Finally, the glow slowly faded. Where nothing but fallen leaves had been moments ago, now a fully bloomed dahlia flower stood.

Ashling sat staring at the beautiful flower. Gone were all of her doubts. He couldn have faked that; it was just impossible. But what did that mean for her then? Did she have magic like that? Could she do what he just did?

She felt Eoins shoulder bump hers, his gaze focused solely on her face, gauging her reaction. Slowly, she tore her gaze from the flower to look at him. ”That- ” she stuttered, her words catching in her throat at the intensity of his gaze. ”That was amazing. ”

”So, you believe me then? ” he asked, leaning closer, his shoulder now pressed to hers rather than bumping together occasionally.

”I believe you. ”

His whole body lost the tension it had held since the confrontation with her brothers the day before. ”Thank the Gods for that. ”

”I still have so many questions. ”

”I know you do, ” he said, his warm breath fanning across her cheek. ”Why don we go back inside? I promise to answer all of them. ” His easy grin was contagious, and she felt her own smile forming.

”Do you mind if we stay out here for a while? ” She looked back at the flower next to her. She felt like if she left, it would disappear. Without missing a beat, he agreed, moving from his kneeling position to sit properly on one side of his hips, legs outstretched, and leaning back on his elbow to face her. Ashling, in turn, sat cross-legged, half facing him, half facing the flower, but close enough to feel the front of his legs pressed against her hip.

”Ok, so I believe you. But what does any of this have to do with me or my family? ”

She heard him take in a deep breath as if to prepare himself. ”You remember how I said your parents were from Tearmann an Deiscirt? ” She nodded. ”Well, they were part of the regional leadership. Your father was the chief of the refuge, and your mother was one of the people in charge of our teachings. ”

”Teachings? ” she asked, surprised to hear her father was the leader. He had expressed an intense dislike of politics as she grew up, refusing to discuss anything having to do with the topic at all.

”How our children are taught about magic, our history, what kind of magic is allowable or not. Druidic magic is nature-based at its very core, but there are ways for people to manipulate it for selfish and dark reasons. In really bad cases, it can spread from its original user and corrupt the magic of the whole community. Your mother was instrumental in putting precautions in place to make sure that dark magic books and teachings are very hard to access. ”

”Wow, that is incredible, ” she breathed, pride for her mothers action shooting through her.

”From what Ive been told, both were amazing people and very powerful magic users. Our fathers were very good friends, ” Eoin added, grinning at her.

”But why did they leave Ireland? ” she asked, confusion colouring her words.

”Because one of the best seers in Ireland made a prophecy. ” Eoins easy grin faded into a serious look. ”She saw dark magic taking our capital, Tearmann Lárnach, and began spreading across Ireland. Druidic magic would begin to fade into shadow and all of our ancient teachings would be lost. ”

Ashling sat silently, latching on to every word Eoin said, still a little confused. Just by the look on his face, she could tell that these words were a heavy weight on his heart. Her own ached at the obvious pain she saw in his eyes.

”The seer also saw a woman, with hair of fire and eyes green like the Earth, wielding incredible magic, striking the darkness at its heart and chasing it away before it could consume everything. A woman born into magic from a long, powerful line of druids, but raised away from it, away from the struggles between the two sides. ”

Ashling couldn breathe again, though this time it was not from Eoins beauty, but his words. ”You think that this heroic saviour woman is me? ” She sounded incredulous and rightly so. She was not some powerful magic user of prophecy. Ok, so magic is real, but she still had no proof that she had any. How the hell did he expect her to vanquish all-consuming dark magic that was trying to destroy the entire druidic community? It was not possible.

”I know its you! ” he exclaimed, reaching out to grip her knee gently. ”The seer specifically said McCoubrie. Your family is one of the longest-standing druidic lines in our history, Ash. That is why your parents left: to try to protect you as much as possible until it was time for you to learn the truth. ” She ignored the crackle of electricity that was becoming all too common at his touch.

”Even if that is true, ” she started, uneasily, ”I don know anything about magic or how to do it. How am I supposed to do what this seer said? ”

e not alone in this. I will be with you every step of the way. I am a laochra, a warrior. It is my duty to keep you safe. That includes helping you learn your magic. ” He squeezed her knee a little harder, trying to physically show his support.

”And my brothers? ” she asked. She remembered that Eoin and Eamon had been very surprised that there were so many of them, saying they had just been expecting her.

”There is a very good possibility that they also have magic. Your parents were both very powerful, that chance that only you were born with magic is very low. ” She nodded. That made sense. A realization suddenly sank into her mind.

”So, if this prophecy is true, then I have to go back to Ireland with you to try and stop this darkness. ” She felt Eoin tense beside her. He was anxious about her reaction. His hand on her knee was moving now, making a slow, small circle stretching between her knee to halfway up her leg. She found it oddly soothing.

”Yes, ” he answered. ”It would also be the best place for you to learn about your strength. ” She knew that she must be losing her mind to be considering doing this. Eoin was a stranger and yet she was trusting everything he was telling her. Something inside her, a primal instinctual thing, told her that he was the right person to trust, that it was the right thing to do.

She took a deep breath before looking into Eoins dark eyes. ”We need to convince my brothers somehow. ”

The look of shock on his face almost made her burst out laughing. His eyes were so wide that Ashling worried that they might fall out.

”Really? ” he asked, hesitantly. ”Youll come home with me? ”

”After you showed me this, ” she gestured to the dahlia, ”there is no way that I can believe what you
e telling me. I have serious doubts about my capability, but at the very least, Ive always wanted to see Ireland. ”

He stared at her for a few more seconds before he was suddenly moving. His arms moved around her, and she quickly found herself pressed against Eoins chest, head tucked under his chin, his arms tight around her. Slowly she raised her arms to return the gesture, wrapping around his broad shoulders as she heard his whispered ”thank you ” that was mumbled into her hair where his cheek was pressed. For a moment, everything felt right.

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