They say life isn’t fair. It’s a statement that has haunted my entire life. To be honest, I hate that saying. I find myself thinking about it quite a lot, with nothing better to do. The silence is only broken by the occasional drip from the pipe overhead. The drip has formed a small puddle to my right, an arm’s length away. Sometimes, I move my legs, just to hear the chains scrape across the stone floor. I barely feel the cold anymore.
It’s a good thing I’m not afraid of the dark. The only source of light is somewhere down the hall. Beside me lay bottles of water, boxes of Chinese food, and plates of pepperoni pizza. The cell door is unlocked, but the chains remain. What sort of prisoner am I?
A light bobs up the hall, spilling through the rusty iron bars. The man opens the door and stands on the threshold. He’s still wary of me. He stands over six feet tall and looks like a classic Viking, but with jeans and a hoodie. Had we met in different circumstances, I might have found it funny. I can’t remember the last time I laughed.
“Good morning,” he smiles. I stare back. He shifts uncomfortably. “How are you doing? Did you… like any of the food I bought?” he studies the pile of barely touched takeout containers beside me. I don’t react. I’m still waiting for the trick. He sighs and scratches at his beard.
The atmosphere in the building shifts drastically. The Viking man doesn’t seem to notice. I feel the fabric of reality ripple. A pair of energy signatures appear nearby. One is similar to the man in front of me, but the other is unlike anything I’ve felt before. I recognize it from the day that blond fool of a boy disappeared. From what the Viking has told me, they must be the ones he’s waiting for.
“They’re here,” my voice is hoarse and cracks as I speak for the first time in weeks. The man stops, in the middle of whatever he’d been saying. He blinks at me in disbelief. “You should hurry,” I warn.
The man glances down the hall, and back at me. He then bolts past the edge of the cell, toward the others. I pick up a bottle of water, cracking the plastic seal before taking a few gulps. I hoped they would return. I can’t wait to meet this person with such a radiant spirit. I count the minutes that pass before I feel them approaching.
“… The headmistress said to find out if the girl is friend or foe, but so far, she hasn’t said a word… Well, until just now. I don’t know how she knew you’d returned,” the voice of the large man echoes down the stone hallway. I watch through the bars as the trio emerge from beyond the wall at my back.
Light fills the cell once again, from some device in the Vikings’ hand. I flinch away from it, raising my skeletal left hand to shield my sensitive eyes. It’s hard to make out the other two, with the light in my face, though it’s clear that the incredible spirit belongs to the female. She’s glowing even brighter in person.
“Why is she still in chains?” the girl asks, concern colours her tone. She walks through the ajar door and approaches fearlessly.
“She refused to move.” The Viking replies simply. “I offered.”
“That’s hardly an excuse,” the girl mutters as she kneels at my feet.
“Kat…” the other male warns. His voice is slightly higher, and smoother than the Vikings. “Be careful. We don’t know anything about this girl.”
The figure of her blocks enough of the vile light, that I get a good look at her angelic face. Porcelain features, perfect symmetry framed with vibrant blood-red hair. Her eyes glow, like a candle in the night. A curiously medieval navy dress caresses her lithe figure. Her delicate hands grip the manacles around my feet. The iron heats up and turns red briefly before she rips it apart like puddy. As if her appearance didn’t speak loud enough, she appears to use fire magic.
Those amber eyes meet mine as she studies my face, not a hint of hostility in them. “Are you hurt? Can you walk?”
“Not exactly,” I reply vaguely. I squint against the light at the smaller male, hovering just outside the bars. I feel a sense of trepidation, and it peaks my interest. “Do I frighten you?”
“No…” he replies, though his voice waivers.
My cheek twitches with the smallest hint of a smirk. “I’m no threat to you. My body is withered and weak.”
His eyes narrow with suspicion. “Your accent… You’re not American. How’d you get to be here?”
“In this country?” I ask, coyly. “A boat, across the sea. Perfectly legitimate, last I checked.”
The man rolls his eyes. “Actually, planes are more prominent than boats nowadays. I meant these cells?” he clarifies.
“Oh, that.” I hum, glancing around my home of the last several months. “I gave a man a fortune he didn’t like,” I lock eyes with the girl crouched in front of me. “You know how fragile a man’s ego can be.”
The girl glances over her shoulder, concern in her expression. “Who was the man? Was he tall, with blond hair?”
I scoff, “If you mean that weasel, Logan, no. An older man, much more powerful than that waste of space.”
“What did you tell him?” the young man asks with concern.
I tilt my head. “That he would fail,” I manage a chuckle. “I don’t know what he would fail at, but he certainly took it hard.”
The man sighs. “Well, that doesn’t help us. We need to find that… blond haired guy first. Unless you by chance happen to know where he is.”
The Viking grunts. “I think we should help her first. She isn’t well, and she hasn’t eaten a thing I gave her. I think she will not harm us. Now that she has spoken, I know this.”
“You’re very kind. I don’t know that I can help you. The kid fled this place the day you two were here last. He left me here to die, I assume, or he simply forgot. Hardly matters to me,” I shrug weakly. “I can’t see what you’d want with him.”
“Let’s just say it’s a personal vendetta now…” The young man replies, crossing his arms over his chest.
I nod. Sounds reasonable enough. I hold my hand out toward the captivating woman before me. “If you would be so kind as to lend me some of your strength, I would be able to carry myself out of here.”
She looks down at my bony palm, eyes wide. “How would I… I don’t know how to do that.”
I try to muster a reassuring smile. “You don’t have to do anything, darling. It won’t hurt, I promise. You won’t even notice.”
“Wait!” The young man raises his voice. We look up at him in unison, waiting. “How do we know that? That’s what happened before we left this foul place the last time, and we couldn’t restore your power without Merlin’s help. I don’t think you should risk that happening again,” he warns the girl.
I grit my frail teeth. “What you experienced then is not the same thing. If you notice, I am asking, not taking,” I turn back to meet the conflicted gaze of the girl. “I have no desire to inflict what I have suffered.”
She looks to the man; he nods hesitantly. She places her hand in mine. It’s warm, almost hot on my icy skin. I concentrate on the contact of our flesh, drawing out a fraction of the energy that swirls inside this woman’s tiny body. A warmth like laying under the sun on the beach in July radiates up my arm, slowly spreading through my body. The atrophy built up over so many weeks melts like butter and what once was simply skin over bone, starts to resemble a living body once again.
I am careful not to take too much; only what I need, to reach the point where my body can begin to regenerate on its own. I will simply have to take it on faith that these people will lead me to a place where I can rest safely. I’m not sure about the men, but I feel a strange connection with the red-haired fire woman.
“Thank you,” I say as I let my arm drop into my lap. “Forgive me, I haven’t introduced myself. I’m Selene.”
She smiles, flexing her fingers absently, “I’m Kaitlyn, and that’s Andrei. Oh, and I’m sure you know Cliff.”
Ah, so that’s his name. “I appreciate the jailbreak. Shall we get out of this miserable place?”
Outside the decrepit building, the mid-morning sun burns a hole through my retinas. Stretched out ahead is a dirt road, a large clearing surrounds the building, bordered by a dense pine forest. While the trees teem with critters and spirits alike, there are no humans anywhere nearby. I wonder how they plan to leave this place, with no car in sight.
“I should call the Headmistress, and let her know we will be returning,” Cliff announces, as he pulls a cell phone out of his pocket.
The redhead looks up at the warehouse. “The building is empty, right? No one else is here but us?”
Cliff glances back at her. “Yes. Why?”
She nods. “Good.”
Confused, the Viking of a man turns away, holding the phone up to his ear. He wanders off as he speaks. The other male, Andrei, hovers several feet away from me, watching me with suspicion. I feign ignorance as I watch the girl take a few steps closer to the building. She holds her thin arms out to either side, tilts her head back slightly, and takes a deep breath. The temperature around her rises well above typical November weather.
Little balls of orange light appear in front of her, growing to the size of a melon before they fling through the air. One after another, dozens of these little fireballs rain down on the building, crashing through walls and windows. In mere moments, the whole warehouse is irreparably consumed by the flames. She continues, unsatisfied.
My attention is ripped from the scene of destruction as I sense a ripple of energy behind us. Before my eyes, the fabric of reality is spliced open with a blue-green shimmer. A portal opens up, the size of a doorway. Out steps an unbelievably beautiful blonde woman, clad in a flowing blue gown. As her brilliant sapphire eyes take in the scene, her pale pink lips fall open in shock.
“Ah, Headmistress Ambrosse. I did not expect you to come personally,” Cliff bobs his head, in some sort of a bowing gesture.
The woman turns her gaze to him, eyes fluttering as she tries to collect herself. “With what you told me of this place, how could I not?”
Kaitlyn drops her arms as the roof collapses in on itself. She turns with a soft smile. “I hope you didn’t worry too much.”
The blonde woman shakes her head with a sigh, “Perhaps I shouldn’t have…” she muses, waving to the burning building. “Was that necessary?”
Kaitlyn half shrugs. “It wasn’t unnecessary.”
The blonde kisses her teeth and rolls her eyes. “We will discuss it back at the guild. Come, quickly now. We shouldn’t leave the portal open for too long.”
Kaitlyn walks toward the strange portal, followed closely by Andrei, as he takes one last satisfied glance at the destroyed warehouse. I hesitate when the woman’s gaze falls on me for the first time. She waves for me to follow the others, so I oblige. Where else am I going to go?
My whole body tingles as I step through the shimmering doorway. On the other side, I find myself in a lavish room, with one wall entirely made up of windows. Outside, a beautiful island landscape spreads for miles until it meets the sea in the distance. The walls are paneled with wood and the floor is marble. A large desk sits by the window facing inwards. A grand fireplace takes center stage on the left wall, and the area in the middle is decorated like a high-end lounge for the rich and famous of the forties.
Kaitlyn lets out a giggle, and I turn to find her sitting on one of the couches. In her lap is a strange lizard creature. It takes a minute to recognize, as it’s squirming trying to lick her face. I’m pretty sure my eyes are playing tricks on me, after so long in the dark. It must be a puppy, not the tiny dragon that it appears to be…
“Cliff,” the blonde woman’s voice makes me jump. She stands right behind me, her eyes tracing over my body.
“Please show our new guest to the infirmary. I fear it will take more than a simple spell to heal you, my dear.” She smiles sympathetically. “See that she’s taken good care of.”
“Of course,” he bows slightly, before turning to me. “Selene, was it? Please follow me,” he says sweetly. I nod. As I pass the couch, my eyes meet the amber gaze of the redhead. She grins, and I feel a little more at ease. The dog still looks like a dragon. I wonder if I’m hallucinating now.
The hallways have ancient stone floors, high vaulted ceilings, and elaborate stained glass windows. Some windows depict grand scenes, while others show various strange symbols and mythical creatures. I lag behind the mammoth man as I take in my surroundings with the wonder of a child.
The voice of the man breaks my daze. His tone reminds me of a pouting child. “Why wouldn’t you eat when I gave you food? I could have helped you more.”
I shrug, “For all I knew, you were just the weasel’s latest attempt to torment me. Starvation seemed like the better option. There are worse ways to die.”
Cliff broods for a while. “I could not torment a fly.” He states, glancing back over his shoulder. “At the Guild, I am often in charge of the new arrivals. When Andrei and his friends came, we quickly became friends and I showed them around. I hope you and I can become friends too.” He smiles, showing off his pearly teeth.
I look around the hall, “I suppose I could stick around here for a while. I normally don’t stay in one place long enough to make friends… But then, most places aren’t like this.”
“What sorts of places have you been staying in? I find it hard to imagine not having a place to call home. Me, I have lived at the Guild most of my life. My parents are also mages. It has sort of become a family tradition,” he muses wistfully.
“Here and there. I moved to the colonies a few years ago.” I answer vaguely. “Before that, I traveled around the countries of the old empire.”
Cliff nods thoughtfully, “I see. My own family originates from up that way. What brought you to America?”
“The same thing that brought the first settlers, I suppose.” I scoff, “The promise of greener pastures. The so-called American dream.” I take my time descending the narrow stairs to the first floor. He hovers patiently.
He hums, “I do not get out enough from this place. I was only there because of my friends who were lost for a long time.” He pauses in front of a large double door, “Here we are.”
Cliff pushes the doors open and I follow him into the bright, sterile area that resembles a hospital emergency department. The main difference is a lack of patients. Cliff finds a nurse at the counter and explains the situation in hushed tones.
In a flurry of activity, I’m dragged off to a cot, stripped down, poked, prodded, and hooked up to an IV. The doctors huddle around the nurse’s station counter, grim expressions on their faces as they look over what I can only assume are my test results. As they debate my care plan, I notice that I’m left alone.
The tube hangs off a steel pole, connected to a bag of clear liquid. Below the bag is a little knob, where they inject other medication when necessary. I sit up in my bed and pull the tube closer. I bite onto the knob and blow into it, creating bubbles in the tube. I lay back before one of the doctors glances over. I watch the bubbles creep along the tube, into the vein in my arm.
Pain shoots up my arm, and into my chest as the bubbles invade my bloodstream. As they reach my heart, the machine next to the bed begins to screech. Footsteps race across the linoleum, but they’re too late. The sound of the machine fades in my ears as I fall into the cold darkness.
I open my eyes. The doctors crowd around the bed, frantically yelling as the body in front of them disintegrates into light particles, before disappearing altogether. I stand by the nurse’s station, in the simple gown, as my body solidifies. I am back to peak health, as I had been before my encounter with the old man.
“My apologies, I didn’t mean to frighten you,” I call out to the stunned team of doctors. They spin around, each one white as the sheets. “It seemed rather silly to waste your resources when this was so much easier. Don’t you agree?”
One of the doctors, with jet black hair and dark-rimmed glasses, steps forward, “What sort of trick are you playing?”
I hold up my hands in surrender, “No tricks.” The doctor looks behind me, annoyed. I follow his gaze to find the Viking, slack-jawed in the middle of the waiting area. “You look a little pale, Cliff. Are you feeling alright?” I frown.
He stumbles forward, “Now, I know my magic, but… I cannot explain what I just saw! I don’t know of any spell that brings you back from the dead. How did you do that?” His eyes bulge with wonder.
“Spell?” I purse my lips. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I die, and then I come back. That’s how it’s always been,” I chuckle. “You should have seen my parents’ faces the first time.”
“That’s magic, little lady, but there’s no spell to teach that. It shouldn’t be possible. I’ve never heard of one,” Cliff insists.
I cross my arms, “Look, I don’t know any spells. All I can tell you is that one minute I’m dead, and the next I’m back, and whole again.”
The Viking crosses his arms, scratching at his beard as he stares at me. “Hm… The only thing… maybe it’s… Do you happen to have a mark, a birthmark, that isn’t a natural shape?”
The question takes me off guard. The hospital gown is far from modest, but there’s no way he could have seen it. “Define ‘natural’,” I narrow my eyes.
“Well, natural in nature is not an orderly design. Something that is, well, sort of like an image. like a tattoo.” Cliff explains.
I shift my weight to my back foot, “And what would the significance be if I did?”
“Well, there’s something you might need to know about the Guild, this place,” he says, gesturing to the building around us. “If you have a mark, something like I am describing, then…” he pauses, thinking carefully before his speaks, “Then perhaps there is something bigger than we expected to happen.”
I raise an eyebrow, “And this something involves me?”
“This place, it was founded by a man who had a mark like the one I’m describing. He established this island as a sanctuary for those with magic to be safe and train. The outside world isn’t much a fan for powers like ours, the unexplainable. Well, his mark meant he had powers that could do unexplainable things, even more than other magicians. If you have one of these marks, well it could mean something is calling the true Guardians back, it could explain your strange ability. If that’s the case, well… We have bigger fish to fry than we’ve had in over three hundred years,” he explains.
Honestly, most of what he says goes right over my head. The doctors have dispersed and left us alone. “Well… I suppose if what you’re saying isn’t insane, that would explain why that old guy locked me up.” I muse aloud, “And here I thought it was a weird kinky thing…”
Cliff nods. “He has become a great concern to us in recent weeks. We have been trying to identify him and his strange ability to teleport despite the barriers we have in place.”
“Say, can I get some clothes or something? I’m feeling a tad underdressed for all of this doomsday talk.” I change the topic. I really don’t care to be pulled into this soap opera drama. Under the scruffy beard, I think the Vikings face turns pink as he averts his gaze and waves to the door.
I’m given access to raid the storage for clothes that fit me, and I leave with a decent selection. Cliff shows me to the dorms area, and I pick a room in the hall where he tells me Kaitlyn and Andrei have rooms, but I choose one several doors down. He then explains that there are shops in the town on the island if I want to go and buy more clothes that are more to my liking. I sort of tune out as he chatters all the way down to the cafeteria, where many of the residents are having lunch.
The large room is about halfway filled to its capacity. Incredibly, each and every person has a unique energy, one that symbolizes a power beyond normal human capability. This must be the magic that Cliff mentioned. Some vary by colour, or type. It’s hard to describe, almost like the flavour of the energy. As I scan the room, I notice one that is just a little brighter, a little stronger.
She sits on the far end of the room, by the kitchen. Long golden hair falls around her shoulders, and she waves her arms around in wild gestures. If I had to guess, she’s ranting about something to the Asian boy and brunette girl sitting at the table with her.
“Ah, my friends. They are here. Would you like me to introduce them to you?” Cliff asks gleefully.
“Why not?” I smile back. He doesn’t seem to notice that it’s forced. In a strange place, with strange people… I’ll play their games, for now. He leads the way through the maze of tables and people, right to the table with the angry blonde.
“It’s not my fault! Professor Naum made me do it! You know I wouldn’t hurt you on purpose right?!” the blonde shouts as we approach.
The Asian boy pouts, leaning away from her, “That’s not how I see it. I blacked out, it was scary as shit! This kind of stuff only happens in the computer games when your virtual life needs a health pack,” I immediately cringe. As I take a second look at the boy, I realize his aura is much dimmer than the others. He’s human. The only regular human in the room.
“Hi, friends!” Cliff’s voice booms, drawing the attention of the three seated in front of him, and several nearby tables. “We’ve returned from our mission! I’d like you to meet a new friend, Selene,” he steps aside, leaving me front and center. Their eyes fall on me, startled and confused.
I wave awkwardly. “That’s me…”
The brunette jumps out of her seat, right hand outstretched. “Hi! I’m Ryan! It’s a pleasure to meet you!” she grins happily. I feel like I’m nearly blown over by all the bubbles in her personality.
“The pleasure is mine,” I reply as I take her hand. It’s warm, and she shakes my hand vigorously.
The boy grins. “Hi, I’m Kaede. I’m the computer tech manager in this place,” he claims with his hands boldly on his hips.
The blonde glares at him from beside him as she speaks. “And I’m Caroline. Nice to meet you.”
I raise an eyebrow at the boy. “Is that why they have a regular human onto this supposed magical island sanctuary? For technical support?”
He frowns. “Hey! that kind of thing is important you know. Just as important as magic. Why is everyone so uptight about being human? We’re not all bad. Technically you’re all human too. You just inherited some freaky abilities that makes you… for lack of a better term, different!”
“Actually, we’re dating. Since before we came to the Guild,” Caroline mutters bitterly.
Cliff interjects happily, “He is currently digitizing our library. I am excited to see this new library you are making. I have never seen one before.”
I roll my eyes. “Of course they need a human. Magic must make you technologically illiterate. Or, at least, being isolated in this place.” I take a seat across from the couple. “As far as being human… I never said it was a bad thing. It’s just not something one expects, in a place for the magically inclined.”
“Well, maybe technology is the magic of us regular humans then,” Kaede smirks, sitting up straighter. Cliff pulls up an extra chair to join the table.
I study his smug face for a moment, thinking about that idea. I take a deep breath, frown, and shake my head. “No.”
“Why not?” he whines jokingly. Caroline rolls her eyes.
“I’m pretty sure magic is the magic of humans.” I retort bluntly. “Whether it’s real or not; whether they can prove it or not. All it takes are some crystals or a deck of tarot cards, and you can make a believer out of anyone.”
“Anyone?” Caroline asks skeptically.
“Yeah, she didn’t believe it even when she was flooding my house!” Kaede laughs.
I scoff. “Yes, anyone. I do it for a living.”
Ryan hums. “Well, I think magic and technology make the perfect marriage. They both do wonderful things, and sometimes one doesn’t work, while the other does. Isn’t that a good complementary pair?” The other three stare at the youthful sorceress, stunned.
I study her wide, innocent eyes. So full of hope. “Indeed. The world would be a far better place if society could learn to accept that.”
“Doesn’t mean we can’t try,” Kaede reasons.
I smile bitterly at the surface of the table. “You can try. Humanity, with all its advances, has created a monster in its wake.”
“A monster?” Ryan echoes. “What do you mean?”
I heave a sigh. “I mean, while you might hope to wed magic and science, there is another who hopes to eradicate science and technology, and all those who cling to it. Technology alone doesn’t stand a chance.”
Cliff turns to me with brow heavily creased. The youths share confused glances. “Who would you be referring to?” Cliff asks.
“You know who,” I answer without meeting his gaze. “The one you seek.”
By Krystyna Yates