The sun darts in and out behind the clouds above us. Kaitlyn walks in a daze, dark rings growing beneath her eyes. Her mind wanders somewhere far away, worry for her lover. Caroline is in much the same mood. It seems both boys have disappeared overnight. From what Cliff told us, he suspects Andrei took the other one on a time jump, despite Cliff’s advice against the matter.
Children. I sigh.
“Someone’s gotta put a tight leash on those boys. With Andrei running off every other week, it’s a wonder we don’t have ulcers…” Caroline complains, crossing her arms with a huff. “Can’t he leave us a note or something?”
“Young men tend to have a problem controlling their pride,” I respond.
Caroline grumbles, “Well, Andrei’s got enough pride for everyone…”
“Yes, I got that impression,” I nod. Kaitlyn’s shoulders sag. I straighten my back, “Worrying will not help anyone. We should focus on the task at hand. Where is this place you mentioned?”
Kaitlyn glances up at the sky. “I’m not sure. Rose said she would show us the way when we got there.”
“Right,” I frown. “And… who is Rose again?”
Kaitlyn stares straight ahead, her teeth peeling dead skin off her lower lip. “Um… My… Ancestor?”
“Who would want to live all the way out here?” Caroline sneers.
“Dragons,” Kaitlyn replies with a shrug. I follow her gaze up, wherein the distance I can just make out a large hill, or maybe a small mountain. Above the flattened peak, a swarm of large birds circle in the sky. Too large. Wait, did she say dragons?
Caroline stops dead in her tracks, head shaking furiously. “No, no, no… Dragons? Like… REAL dragons? First off, there’s no proof that dragons ever really existed, unless you count the oversized lizards of the Triassic and Jurassic eras. Second…” she stops, as if listening to a voice no one can hear. “I can’t ‘do’ dragons,” she says simply, after a moment of silence.
“Technically,” Kaitlyn purses her lips, still avoiding eye contact, “I’m part dragon, and you seem to be ‘doing’ just fine.”
“How can you be part dragon? How would that even work?” Caroline demands.
“My power exceeds that of a typical Fire Guardian. I met one in Camelot. I can do things he couldn’t.” Kaitlyn explains simply, as though that makes perfect sense.
“Such as?” I press, also skeptical. I’m still fairly sure the thing I saw in the Headmistress’s office was a hallucination.
Kaitlyn sighs. As she turns to face us, her body is consumed by spontaneous flames, until there is nothing left but the shape of a woman made of orange and red fire. “Is this proof enough? Or do I need to blow something up before you’ll start walking again?”
“Don’t dragons breathe fire, not turn into fire?” Caroline challenges.
Kaitlyn’s fiery arms cross, she tilts her head back, mouth opening wide. A cone of flame shoots into the air and fades just as quickly. “Satisfied?” her tone is strained. She is uncomfortable with the topic. It seems to be a sore subject.
“Caroline,” I turn to the blonde. “I’m afraid she is telling the truth. If you wish to pursue what we spoke of yesterday, I’m afraid you’ll have to suck it up.”
“Fine, but I’m still… you know… freaked out,” Caroline pouts. “Maybe we should wait for Kaede to come back…”
“Imagine how I feel…” the fire seems to absorb into the form of Kaitlyn, as she returns to her normal appearance. Strangely, her clothes seem to be unburnt. “Who knows how long that will be. Besides, I wouldn’t bring him here. Dragons don’t like humans, after the whole hunted-to-near-extinction thing.”
“But Kaede couldn’t hurt anything, and I’d feel better if he at least knew,” Caroline whines.
I roll my eyes. “Do you seriously need his permission? Are you a weak minded little girl, or are you the woman I took you to be?” the harsh words slip past my lips before I can catch them. Honestly, I can’t stand the idea of anyone bowing to the will of another. The young blonde’s expression falters.
Kaitlyn raises an eyebrow in my direction. “Uh… I mean… That’s one way to look at it, but really, if you spend any more time mulling it over I think your brain is going to explode. Just get it over with, and deal with him after. Come on Caroline, we’re almost there already. Are you really going to turn back now?”
“I… suppose not. Let’s get it over with,” Caroline agrees, hesitantly. I gesture for Kaitlyn to lead the way.
The rest of the walk is silent. As we reach the base of the mountain, a figure stands up ahead. She stands about five and a half feet tall, with short hair, neatly curled in a style similar to the Queen. Her outfit seems straight out of the closet of a fifties housewife. Kaitlyn approaches the woman, whose face spreads into a bright grin.
“Welcome,” the woman opens her arms wide.
Kaitlyn stops short of her embrace. “Rose. This is Caroline and Selene.”
The middle-aged woman’s eyes trace over the two of us. As her gaze locks on mine, I am bombarded with strange images of lizard creatures, and a guttural language. I flinch away.
“I thought you said there were dragons?” Caroline asks, uncertain.
The woman called Rose giggles. “Oh, there are, dearie,” Caroline jumps as the woman addresses her. “My dear granddaughter tells me I’m not to frighten her guests, so I came to greet you in this form. The others are up above,” she gestures to the top of the mountain.
Caroline gulps as she glances upward. “That was very thoughtful, thank you.”
Rose chuckles. “Yes, it seems Mildred left quite an impression on that young man that came to visit. The poor thing nearly fainted.”
Kaitlyn groans. “Rose… We’re not here to gossip.”
“Yes, yes, darling. Your boring Guardian things,” Rose huffs. “Honestly, you are just like my dearest Mark-”
“Yea, you said that before. Where is the place?” Kaitlyn cuts her off, rather rudely. I’m taken aback by her unusually abrasive attitude.
“Alright. Come along,” Rose waves as she turns to walk along the edge of the mountain.
“Wait!” Caroline gasps. “If she knows about the founder, shouldn’t we ask her more? What if she knows something that can help us? This is an opportunity to be taken advantage of!” she reasons, desperately stalling.
“No, it’s not,” Kaitlyn snaps, as she moves to follow the older woman. “Let’s go,” Caroline frowns and heaves a sigh before falling in line. I trail behind her. Voices play in the back of my mind, strange, chaotic, and incomprehensible. Hundreds of them, like echoes from afar.
The girls fall silent as we follow the supposed dragon. The aura around the woman is definitely something I’ve never seen. She follows the curve of the cliff along a narrow path with a long drop into the sea. The view is nostalgic, and I let out a sigh. I’m so distracted by the dizzying height that I almost miss the crack in the cliff face that the dragon lady disappears into.
The cave is dark for the first several feet. I squint my eyes, hoping they’ll adjust faster when I notice a glow up ahead. Following the silhouette in front of me, we follow a gentle curve, and the blue-purple glow grows stronger. I start to make out details of the walls; what at first looks to be hundreds of random scratch marks, start to form pictures.
I fall behind as I reach out to trace one of the strange symbols scrawled across the wall. I feel the energy pulsing through the rock, almost like a living thing. A breeze rustles my hair, carrying whispers from somewhere further down the tunnel. Nothing about this place is what I would consider natural…
“Selene?” Kaitlyn’s voice echoes around me, panic rises in her tone.
I pull away from the drawings. “I’m here,” I quicken my pace around the bend only to skid to a halt.
The main chamber of the cave, from floor to ceiling, is covered with huge crystals jutting out of the rock at all angles. It seems that they’re the source of the eerie light. Energy emanates from each deposit, visible even to the naked eye. I hear the whispers again, and something warm brushes against my cheek. It feels friendly; welcoming even.
It may be the lighting, but Caroline looks white as a sheet. She’s staring at the space ahead with her jaw slack. Kaitlyn turns back to us, eyes wide and unsure. The dragon lady waits in the center of the chamber, hands folded at her waist.
“Alright, where do we begin?” I ask, hoping to get the other two moving.
“The candidate will need to lay in the pool here,” the dragon lady smiles, as she waves a hand at the floor behind her. “Caroline, was it? Please, don’t be shy now.”
Caroline takes a step back, bumping into me. “I don’t know if I’m ready you guys. What if this is a mistake? Maybe I’m not a Guardian,” she mutters, shaking her head.
“If that’s the case, the ritual will do nothing,” Dragon lady shrugs.
I place my hands on her shoulders and squeeze lightly. She’s not going to back out now. She glances over her shoulder with wide eyes. I nod once to assure her. With a bit of a push, she starts to walk forward. At the edge of the pool, I let go. As Caroline walks to the center of the little pond, Kaitlyn steps up beside me.
“Now, you two will take up positions on either side of the pool. Kneel with your hands in the pool. Once you’re all set, we’ll begin,” the elderly woman instructs, hovering behind us. I share a skeptical look with Kaitlyn before we move in opposite directions.
The pond isn’t very big, maybe a couple meters in diameter. Just enough for a large person to lay in it. As I dip my palms into the surface, I’m surprised at the texture.
“This isn’t water,” I muse aloud. I try to collect a handful of the strange gassy liquid substance, but it seems to fade through my hands, leaving a tingling sensation behind.
“What? What is it then?” Caroline wonders, touching her finger to her chin as she examines the pool she’s standing in. “Ah, I think I get it. Some sort of coalesced energy,” she nods to herself.
“Very good!” Dragon lady claps cheerfully.
“I’ve never seen anything like it before! Only read about it in theory. This is fascinating!” Caroline gasps. It seems her nerves have vanished with the discovery. Strange girl.
“Now, You’ll need to immerse your body within the pool. Go on dear, lay down. It won’t hurt, I promise.” The lady smiles warmly. I try to imagine what that would look like on a giant lizard.
With a deep breath, Caroline closes her eyes and carefully lays down on her back. I lock eyes with Kaitlyn and exchange a nod. We’re ready to begin.
By Krystyna Yates