"Enough of this. Where's the shoe?"
Hearing Cobalt's stern tone, Mikado and Azo stopped grinning and turned to watch us step into the clearing. Myrtle looked visibly shaken and Wisteria must have been so spooked that she still hadn't reappeared. These kids needed to be taught a lesson, and although I hated to act like the nanny, there was no other way to bring order to this group.
"Azo, Mikado. I am saying this for the first and the last time. And believe me, I am not the kind of person who repeats what she says. Anymore of this kiddish behaviour from either of you, and powers or no powers, I will strangle you with my bare hands. Do you understand me?"
Satisfied at seeing their brows shoot up and their eyes widen, I turned to Cobalt, who was trying to soothe Myrtle's frayed nerves. Wisteria still hadn't shown herself and I imagined that she had disappeared with the shoe in her hand. I looked around the clearing and announced in as calm a voice as I could muster in the circumstances, "Wisteria, you can come out now. You do realize that it was just these twin jokers who were trying to scare you, right? Come on, it's absolutely safe. We need to see you and Azurite's shoe. Wisteria, can you hear me?"
I walked around the clearing once, making sure that if Wisteria was around, she'd be able to hear me. I was looking over my shoulder when I suddenly bumped into something solid. I twirled quickly and before my reaction could scare her off again, I caught Wisteria by her arms. "Hey Wisteria, there you are. You had us scared for a moment there. See, it's just Azo and Mikado. Once we find Azurite we'll show these little pranksters how a practical joke is played. Okay? You alright?"
"Yeah, yeah. I'm better now. It's just that since Azurite's been taken I have been feeling a lot more jumpy. I'm sorry. Here's the shoe." Taking a deep breath, Wisteria handed me a torn sneaker with the lace missing. I beckoned Cobalt to my side and handed him the shoe. "So, you think it's his?"
Before Cobalt could reply, Wisteria burst into tears and said, "It's Azurite's. I have seen him wear this sneaker before. Believe me. I remember."
I put an arm around her racking shoulders and led her away from the group. Especially away from Azo, from whom I could sense some serious jealous vibes emanating. Not wanting for any sort of scene to be created when we all needed to focus our energies in finding Azurite, I tried to calm down the crying girl. Myrtle also accompanied us to the edge of the clearing.
While we were away from the group, I could hear Cobalt examining the shoe while Mikado and Azo looked on sheepishly. I diverted my attention from the boys and stood aside while Myrtle tried to console and calm Wisteria down. From the corner of my eye, I saw Azo look over worriedly towards Wisteria on more than one occasion and then hurriedly look back towards Cobalt and the shoe.
Suddenly I felt the presence of another being in my mind. It was someone whose emotions I had never felt before and it left me a little confused. Who else was here in these woods? Was he an enemy or a friend? More likely to be an enemy from what we have experienced so far, I thought to myself.
The emotions I now felt were slightly hazy and obscure. Like the person himself or herself did not know what they were thinking or feeling. But there seemed to be a pretty strong aura of innocence behind the emotions. Like a baby's mind, I thought and felt my anxiety inch up a bit.
But just as suddenly as this vibe had entered into my mind, I felt it slide away. I moved a little outside the clearing and deeper into the forest so that I could follow the subject, but he or she kept moving away very quickly. I sprinted into the forest, not wanting to lose track of the aura that had me so confused, but finally had to stop in the middle of nowhere when I couldn't feel it any longer.
I looked around myself and could see only trees all around me. Utterly lost and without any sense of direction, I felt a little out of sorts. "Now look what I have done. I should have kept my wits around and not just launched into the forest like a headless ostrich. Silly. Silly Carmine." While I was muttering to myself, I heard a slight commotion coming from my right side. I glanced around, slightly wary but more than prepared to attack whoever it was.
And just when I crouched into a combative position, or what I thought was a combative position, I saw Cobalt running full steam towards me.