My hands are still shaking. Two cigarette butts lay at my feet, their contents burnt too fast to consume. I make a conscious effort to savor a new one between my fingers. I watch the space between the houses at the end of the driveway, hopeful. The night air bites, so I hug my jacket tighter around my chest. It’s been a long day.
I wonder how they’ll adjust to the revelations I’ve brought them. A hidden world of magic isn’t something one stumbles into every day. Of course, they needed to know, for their own good. Logan isn’t the only threat out there. Let alone the risk of losing control of their own abilities.
The screen door creaks as it opens slowly. My gaze snaps to the figure as he emerges. Even in the dark, his messy hair is distinctive. I turn to stare ahead and pretend I don’t notice him. I know better than to get my hopes up. Eventually, he’ll be afraid of me too.
“How are you holding up?” he asks, stepping up next to me.
I resist the urge to look over at him. “I’m fine. You?”
“I mean, I’ve seen crazy shit before. Monsters is new though,” he muses. “My friends, on the other hand, they’re having a grand time with it.”
I chuckle, “Yea, that’s kind of Logan’s specialty. Most monsters aren’t so… grotesque.” I flick off some ash, “I just hope your friend’s enthusiasm doesn’t get him killed.”
“Kaede? Nah, he’s smart. I’m more worried about Caroline. She’s more down to earth, hard facts. This has shaken her up pretty bad,” he sighs. I nod half-heartedly. There’s a long pause before he clears his throat. “So, this Logan guy… Is he a friend of yours?”
The half cigarette I have left burns up. I guess I won’t be finishing any right now. I clench my fist and cross it over my other arm. “He was.”
“Doesn’t seem like the forgiving type. Do you think it’s still safe, I mean, for Caroline and I to hang around? Or would we be causing more problems for everyone else?” he turns his curious gaze to me. “What if he comes back, like you said, looking for us?”
“He will,” I kick absently at the ground. “He’ll come for you, and others. You especially, if he saw what you did earlier,” I see his mouth open in the corner of my eye, assuming he’ll ask why, again. “Time magic is one of the rarest forms of magic. He’ll want to use you.”
“I can’t let that happen. You could tell so easily, there’s no way he won’t figure it out soon. Especially if he saw me pull you out of the way,” he straightens himself. “I’m coming with you then.”
I turn to him without meaning to and blink a few times. “Coming with me?”
“I’ll help you find your ex-friend instead, and help you take him down. It’s safer than staying here, hiding,” he stares at me, his expression hardened and determined. A little smile cracks the corner of his mouth and he winks.
I snap my head back facing ahead, letting my hair fall between us. What was that look for? Doesn’t he realize he’s putting himself in danger, even just standing there? My face feels hot, but I’m pretty sure it’s not on fire.
“You are okay with my help, right?” he frowns. “His ability with those things could be troublesome. I suppose you have your own reasons for looking for him, but for me, it just isn’t right what he’s doing; stealing students and whatnot. I don’t know what he’s planning, but I’d like to pay him back. What do you say? Partners?” he grins, holding his right hand out to me.
I’ve seen people do that before. It’s some sort of gesture of agreement, briefly holding hands. I find myself somewhat at a loss. He knows I set things on fire, right? Usually with my hands? What if I burn him by accident?
“Well go on. I sincerely doubt he’s going to bite,” a masculine voice speaks from out of nowhere. To my right, perched on the lid of a garbage bin, is a small fox. Its big fuzzy ears stick upright, with its golden eyes fixed on us.
“You’re late,” I sneer at the animal.
It licks its paw and rubs its snout. “Terribly sorry, Kat. I was merely doing what you asked,” its nose twitches. “Shake the poor boy’s hand. Lord knows you could use some friends.”
Oh, how I hate him sometimes. “You know what? I don’t think I missed you.”
“No need to be rude,” the fox puffs its little chest out.
“Who are you talking to?” Andrei asks, eyeing the fox, unsure.
“Just your friendly neighborhood shapeshifter and full-time babysitter, at your service,” the fox jumps off the bin and prances up next to me.
“Whoa! That’s wicked! You can talk?” Andrei gasps, leaning down for a closer look. “Where can I get one of those?”
“He’s one of a kind… Probably…” I glare at the little beast. “I hope Logan squashes you.”
“Yes, yes,” he shifts into a snake and begins to coil his way up my leg. “Until then, I’m afraid you’re stuck with me.”
“That’s … awesome,” Andrei smiles, clearly impressed.
I grab the snake and drape it over my shoulders. It shrinks into a mouse and curls up under my collar. “We’ll see if you still feel that way in a few hours,” I flinch as tiny claws pinch my neck.
“Does it have a name?” Andrei asks innocently.
“It!” the mouse squeaks angrily. “I’ll have you know, I identify as male! Even though I don’t technically have a gender…”
“His name is Rhoan,” I roll my eyes. “So, did you find him?”
“Of course I did,” Rhoan sniffs. “But I’m not going to tell you until morning.”
I grind my teeth. “If we wait, he’ll have time to make more monsters.”
“Hm… What’s this Logan guy like?” Andrei asks. I don’t understand the question.
“He’s kind of… Insane,” Rhoan replies. “Hard to really describe. Seems to think he’s on some sort of mission.”
Andrei scratches his head. “I mean, is he an action seeker, or is he likely to hide and plan?”
“He won’t come after you while I’m here,” I state simply. “He’s not that stupid.”
“Speaking of here… Why are we still standing here? You are absolutely frozen, Kat. Get inside this instant!” Rhoan orders like a mother hen.
I consciously try to stop shivering. “It’s not that cold…”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t notice. We’ve been out here long enough, let’s get back inside,” Andrei opens the door and gestures for me to go ahead.
“It’s fine, I’m fine, we don’t have to – Ow!” I jump as the mouse bites into my shoulder. “Alright, I’m going… Geez…” He locks the door behind him and I reluctantly reenter the little basement apartment.
The living room is empty, one of the doors down the hall now closed. Andrei wanders down to peer into the other room. “Looks like she decided to stay with Kaede instead. You can use my bed if you want. I’ll sleep on the couch.”
I glance between the couch and the dark hall. I can just faintly make out the voices in the back room. “If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather stay out here.”
“I swear the bed is much more comfy, you’ll get a better rest,” he insists.
I sit on the couch, kick off my boots, and pull my knees up. “Don’t worry about it. You should get some sleep.”
“Suit yourself. I know it’s late, but I can make you something to eat. Are you hungry?”
I open my mouth to refuse, but Rhoan beats me to it. “Yes,” Then, as if on cue, my stomach growls. My face turns a shade akin to a tomato, so I turn away from him.
He chuckles. “We have ramen and tomato soup.”
I tip my head, curious. “What’s ra-men?”
He hesitates. “Uh… Instant noodles in a bean paste broth. It’s pretty good,” he reaches into the kitchen and throws a little packet across the room.
I yelp and barely manage to catch it on instinct. I flinch, waiting for it to ignite in my hands. When it doesn’t, I relax. The plastic packaging is covered in characters I can’t read, but there’s a picture on the front of some kind of soup with noodles in it.
I glance up at him, watching me from the kitchen archway. “Um… Okay, I guess,” I shrug, and toss it back. As he disappears into the kitchen, I pick at my nails and twist my fingers. Is this how life is for normal people?
“I don’t understand! Kae, I’m freaking out! What’s going to happen?!” the girl’s voice emanates down the hall before she’s quieted again. I’m so glad that’s not my problem right now.
A few minutes later, he emerges with two steaming bowls and sets them on the coffee table in front of me. “Mind if I eat with you?” he asks. I shake my head. He crouches then settles on the carpet, across from me. I carefully slide off the couch and sit on my legs so the table is the right height.
Beside the bowl is a fork and a pair of sticks. I watch him pick up his own pair of sticks, and use them to pick up the noodles. I’ve never seen anyone eat like that before. He slurps a mouthful of noodles, then looks up. He stops and smiles.
“Have you never used chopsticks before?”
I laugh, embarrassed, and bite my lip. “I, uh… I don’t get out much.”
“Don’t worry,” he snickers, “I learned from Kaede. He’s Japanese.” He crawls around the table. “Here, let me show you.”
He picks up one of the sticks and picks up my right hand. I hold my breath. His hand is warm and calloused. He gently turns my hand and places the stick between my ring and middle finger, the long end resting in the crook between my thumb and first finger. He then takes the second one and puts it next to the other one, between my first and middle finger. Then, holding my hand in both of his, he shows me how to move the two in a pinching motion.
“See, it’s easy. Now you try,” he nods to the bowl.
I try to ignore my racing pulse and the fact that he’s watching. I prod a cluster of noodles with the sticks. Trying to mimic the motion, I carefully lift them out of the water and to my relief, they stay long enough for me to get them into my mouth. It’s not half bad, actually.
“It takes some practice,” he leans back a bit, and slides his bowl closer, instead of moving away. “But I swear, it makes it taste better.”
This strange boy, apparently oblivious, sits less than a foot away from me like it’s perfectly normal. Maybe it’s not strange. I guess I wouldn’t know since I’ve never left the guild before. I resolve to try to act natural, and just keep eating. What do normal people talk about?
“So… You said Logan won’t attack while you’re around,” Andrei casually breaks the awkward silence. “Why is that? Is he afraid of you?”
I half shrug. “Probably more than most, which is saying a lot…”
He hums. “Does he have any other abilities I should know about? Also, if you don’t mind me asking, where’d you get that sword from?”
“Hm?” I blink. “Oh, that was Rhoan. He can change into pretty much anything.”
“What? Even inanimate objects? Honestly, most handy friend ever!” he sighs. “I need to figure out a way to get my hands on a sword.”
“If it comes to a fight, you can use Rhoan,” I lean back against the couch. He’d be safer that way.
His eyes narrow slightly. “How does he take damage?”
“What do you mean? He becomes the sword. How does steel take damage?”
“It’s the same? That’s crazy!” he gawks.
I shake my head and smile. Everything is so exciting to him. “Yea, we don’t know how it works, it just does.”
When I finish eating, I climb back onto the couch. The broth seems to have thawed my body enough, so I pull off my jacket and toss it over my boots. Then I remember there’s a hole in the front of my shirt and glare at it. I liked this shirt. Oh well, I didn’t exactly bring a bag, so it’ll have to do. I slide back onto the middle of the small couch, putting a subtle distance between us as I curl up again.
Andrei stands up, then picks up the two bowls. “It’s late. I’ll let you sleep. We’ll plan in the morning,” I watch him disappear into the kitchen and listen to the tap run for a moment. I want to tell him to stay. If I fall asleep; if I have another nightmare…
“Want the light off?” he asks. I snap out of my daze. “If you need anything, I’m the last door down the hall,” he smiles. I just nod. I can manage on my own. He’s been through enough today.
“Thanks. Good night,” I try to give a convincing smile.
He flips the light switch, plunging the room into darkness. I wait for the door to close. One, two, three candles light up on the TV stand. The gentle flicker of their glow brings me a shred of comfort. At least if anything happens, Rhoan is here to keep them safe.
By Krystyna Yates
My hands are still shaking. Two cigarette butts lay at my feet, their contents burnt too fast to consume. I make a conscious effort to savor the one between my fingers. I watch the space between the houses at the end of the driveway, hopeful. The night air bites, so I hug my jacket tighter around my chest. It’s been a long day.
I wonder how they’ll adjust to the revelations I brought them. A hidden world of magic isn’t something one stumbles on every day. Of course, they needed to know, for their own good. Logan isn’t the only threat out there. Let alone the risk of losing control of their own abilities.
The screen door creaks as it opens slowly. My gaze snaps to the figure as he emerges. Even in the dark, his messy hair is distinctive. I turn to stare…
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