The Guild – Chapter 41 – Caroline

    As soon as I close my eyes I am no longer with my physical self, or so I believe. I just closed my eyes, and yet, I stand in this empty white space with my eyes open, feet glued to the floor.

    “Where am I?” I say aloud, looking around at the vast empty space. No one answers me.

    “Hello?” I call again. “Is anyone there? Where am I?” I call out.

    I look at my hands and decide I should pinch myself to see if I’m awake or not. I take hold of the skin of the back of my hand between my fingers and pinch really hard.

    “Owww!!” I shout, almost bringing tears to my eyes. I am not dreaming then. But how did I get here?

    I decide to take a step and the space suddenly transforms into a large chamber built of stone, lined with arching beams of crystal which defies its own physical constraints by curving elegantly across the ceiling. The ceiling is tall, maybe 30 meters, or more! I stare with wide eyes.

    I turn my attention to the ground next. I see that I am standing on a pattern. I step back to get a better few. Curving lines dance across the floor forming an image of a large wave encased within a circle. The wave appears to shift, or move, like that of a gif, yet it’s carved into the stone and the lines, they glow with a blue crystal-like light.

    “What is this place?” I ask no one.

    “So, you’ve come.” I spin around, looking for the source of the voice. Behind me stands a man, blond hair, soft features. He wears some sort of suit, like a medieval tuxedo. His hands are clasped behind his back.

    “I guess. Yes,” I say hesitantly. “Am I dreaming?” I ask.

    “No, this is not a dream.” He states, watching me from beyond the circle on the floor.

    “Then, how did I get here?”

    “You came by the portal. The portal was activated and you transported your spiritual self to this realm, leaving your physical body behind,” he explains.

    I cock an eyebrow, trying to understand what he means.

    “Then, why can I still feel it when I pinch myself? I ask skeptically.

    “Because you are still connected to your physical self. As long as you remain alive, you will feel. Only the dead cannot feel,” he smiles. His smile is creepy and I take a step back.

    “Why am I here?” I ask, swallowing my fear.

    “Well, you wish to become a Guardian, do you not? In order to do this, you must pass the trials I set before you. If you survive, then you will become a Guardian, the Guardian of Water, it seems,” he explains, eyeing the floor beneath me. I look down and see the wave of water tumbling within the circle.

    Before I can ask another question, he continues. “If you do not survive, however, you will perish. Spiritually and physically,” he clarifies.

    My eyes widen in shock at his words. “So, I’ll die?” It seems a stupid question really.

    “No, dying involves only the physical self. To perish spiritually is worse than death. It is eternal death. Those who try and fail the test of the Guardians forfeit their soul to the energy of the cosmos. They serve in a much grander design than your physical mind can possibly conceive,” he hums softly. It’s eerie, listening to his handsome, human-looking face explain, but I catch a glimpse of his eyes and I shudder. They aren’t like mine or anything I’ve ever seen before. They appear to be made of the same crystal I see in the arching ceiling and the lines on the floor.

    “What are you?” I hear myself asking before I realize I am speaking.

    “That does not concern you at this time. If you survive, perhaps I’ll tell you,” he grins. “Now, let’s move to the matter at hands. Your trials.”

    The room’s ambiance darkens, the crystals glow turns from a pale blue to a dark, omniscient black. I can hardly see the ceilings cavernous peak. My muscles tense in anticipation.

    “The nature of your trials will be designed to test your heart. You are attempting to harness the power of your guardianship, so I’d take into consideration the nature of your power. That is all the advice I will give.

    Be warned, Water mage. What happens here may be a spiritual illusion, but trust me. It can be very real too.” With that last note, I hear the blond man’s shoes retreat, unable to see him in the ever growing darkness around me.

    The floor beneath me bursts forth with a blinding blue light. I shield my eyes from its radiance and try to squint through my fingers to see what is happening. I hear the sound of heavy gears grinding into motion and I feel the pressure in the air shift. I’m puzzled as my ears start to ring with a fuzzy sound that gets louder and louder.

    I brace myself for the light and drop my hand to see a wall of water rushing towards me. My breath catches in my throat and I spin around to run, only to be met by another wave swiftly rushing towards me.

    ‘What in the world do I do? If I’m caught between these two waves I’ll be crushed! There’s no way anyone could survive that kind of force colliding! It’d be like falling from the sky and crashing into the ocean! Practically a brick wall!’ This logic resounds in my head as I stare at the onslaught of water coming from all sides.

    There’s no time to think, though, as the water around my ankles rises and I’m suddenly lifted off the floor. I begin to wonder which way the water will drag me when the impossible happens. The water around me begins to spin and I peer through the current around me to see the floor opening up into a gaping hole where now the water begins to drain like a whirlpool. The waves shift into ginormous walls of water, spinning counter to each other.

    I feel my legs being dragged downwards and suddenly I’m below the surface without the chance to take a breath. I forget everything in my panic, as the darkness closes in. I extend my hand upwards, helplessly reaching for the surface that continues to fall out of reach.

    I cough the last of my air, my body tingling from the lack of oxygen. As my sense grow numb and my thoughts drift, a voice speaks inside my head.

    Just breathe, It whispers to me.

    I’d like to think that’s impossible. Has my inner voice not realized I’m hundreds of feet underwater? There’s no air.

    Daughter of water, just breathe.

    My chest aches with the pressure of wanting to breathe but hesitating to inhale the water around me. I’ve convinced myself I’ll drown. The pain becomes unbearable and I open my mouth as if to give up when two things happen. First, I see before me the ghostly image of a boy – no, a man. He wears a white dress shirt and black pants. His body hangs lifelessly in the water before me. Second, I gasp, in shock, because I know this man. It’s Kaede.

    The water rushes into my lungs and I go to cough, but for the sweet relief it brings, I become embarrassed that I could breathe it in all along. I should have remembered this from my first lesson with Naum. As a mage of water, I can breathe beneath the waves.

    My limbs gain strength with every breath I take and with sudden energy, I am swimming towards Kaede. I forget everything and immediately panic when I grab him by the shoulders. He’s ice cold.

    ‘No!’ I cry, ‘This can’t be! Kaede, please! Wake up!’

    The water around us suddenly shifts, I feel myself almost falling through its contents and I see ground beneath us. The waters escape quickens until I am falling alarmingly fast towards the floor. I hold onto Kaede’s lifeless body and squeeze my eyes shut was the water leaves and I’m left spinning across the very wet floor.

    I sit up with a groan, cough as the water leaves my lungs and the air returns.

    I quickly crawl to Kaede’s side and start shaking him.

    ‘Come’on Caroline. Remember what they taught you! You’ve gotta resuscitate him!’ I immediately dive into CPR, giving two breaths for every thirty compressions. I swear this goes on for minutes when I hear that same voice in my head.

    Listen, listen to me. Move.

    ‘What in the world could that mean?’

    My jaw drops as I silently ‘ohhh’. I stop my compressions immediately and hover my hand over his mouth. I command the water to come to me. Before I can blink, a small thread of water comes forth from his mouth and gathers in my hand. As the last bead leaves, he begins to cough.

    “Kaede! You’re alive! Oh, thank the heavens!”

    “Good work,” he says in an unnaturally gritty voice. At first, I think it’s because of nearly drowning, but then he looks at me and I notice his eyes, they glow like crystals with no pupils.

    “You!” I gasp.

    The crystal Kaede leers and stands before me.

    “You’ve passed the first trial. Mastering your element to save those dear to you. Now can you face the next hardship?” he asks rhetorically.

    I sit in the water, dumbfounded at what just happened and suddenly the room blinks out of existence and I find myself standing, dripping wet, in an open field of dry bracken.

    In the distance, I spot a village of people, dressed in pioneer-like clothing. Their homes are clustered together on the open plain and their children and livestock mill around the open area, playing and laughing.

    I let my breath go, relaxing at the scene. I forget what just happened, it feels like ages ago. I step towards the town, wandering through the streets and smiling at the people going about their day.

    A lady carrying a basket, bumps into me, dropping her goods all over the dirt path. I drop to my knees, assisting her to pick up the bread.

    “I’m so sorry, miss! Please forgive me!” she cries, gathering her ruined food.

    “No, not at all! You’re no bother. Please, let me help you,” I offer.

    She thanks me kindly and hurries on her way, scurrying across the road and out of sight between two buildings.

    I find myself out on the other side of town, walking down the path into the wild unknown and lightning suddenly strikes from the open sky above and crashes into the open field before me with a thunderous roar that brings my hands to my ears in less than a heartbeat. I feel the earth shake beneath me and the distant field alights with flame.

    The fire crackles ever closer to the town and the people around me seem to be unaware of what just happened. I dash back into the town and begin shouting. “Fire! Fire! A wildfire is coming towards you! Quickly! You must run!!”

    No one pays me any heed. A few men in front of a store eye me with concern.

    ‘Can they not hear me?’ I question myself. I shout again, but to no avail.

    I dash out of the village. Someone has to do something! I look around, searching, for a town this size needs some source of water. I dash to the town sign which hangs from a post. The post has notches in the side designed to act as footholds so someone can climb it.

    I grab hold of the old wood, ignoring the pain of the splinters cutting into my hands. Once I’m at the top I can see the surrounding plains and beyond. Beyond the fields to the right, from where I came from, I see a cut through the bracken, a divide that marks the path of a stream or some body of water. There’s no way I’d reach it in time before the fire hits the town. I can already feel it’s scorching heat on my exposed arms as it crawls ever closer.

    I jump from the post, landing with a shoot of pain in my feet. I pay it no mind and close my eyes, summoning the water.

    All my life I was running from it. My rooms would flood, and my belongings, ruined. I hated it and didn’t understand it. Now, I was calling for it. I needed it to soak the earth before the village so the fire could not pass. There was no one else around to help these people!

    I called to the water, pulling it, drawing it to me like a magnet. I felt it leave its bed, leaving even the trees beyond the field in the forest and come to my aid. I commanded it to douse the plants, as dousing the fire would cost too much. The heat was too great and it would only turn to steam and vapour before it could do any good.

    The ground soaked it up greedily and before long, a strip of land was brightly glowing with life in the path of the approaching fire. The flames crackled loudly like a bonfire and everything glowed before it. As the fire reached the damp earth, it hesitated, like an infant at the water’s edge, testing to see if it would bite. It couldn’t cross the line I’d drawn with the water in the field. Its heat was not strong enough for the water-sodden vegetation. It’s wasn’t long before the fire ran out of fuel and gave one last pop of sparks before it was snuffed out.

    I sighed with relief and turned towards the townsfolk, smiling. A group had gathered, watching on in wonder as I prevent the fire from burning up their homes. They began to cheer and a man in a smart looking suit, obviously a leader, perhaps the mayor, stepped forwards.

    “We’d like to thank you! You who commands the water, you saved our homes, our families, and livelihoods! Thank you!” he shouted over the cheers of the others behind him. He removed his hat, revealing a mass of blond hair and when he looked up at me, his eyes glinted in the sunlight reflecting off their crystal luster.

    “You, again!” I said.

    “You prove worth yet again, Water Mage, but can you truly understand the qualms of the force you wish to tame? We shall see. We shall see…” his voice fades and the world blinks out again.

    I find myself back in a familiar neighbourhood, my hometown of Toronto. Has it really been only three months since I last saw this place? I look down and see my clothes have not only dried but changed. I’m in my favourite lacy shirt, open back, leather jacket overtop to keep out the cold. I wear a pair of comfortable blue jeans, classy but casual.

    The street is dark, a single street lamp illuminates the sidewalk I stand on. The street leads to Kaede’s apartment before we all moved to the – Where? I… Did we move? No. We’re all still here, I think. I feel my phone buzz in my pocket and pull it out. It’s a message from Kae.

    <Hey, when u comin home?>

    I type a response quickly.

    I slip it back into my pocket and step in the direction of his house. I wonder if Andrei will be there.

    After a few steps I here an echo with each step I take. I stop and listen. Silence. Maybe I’m just hearing things. I move to continue but I hear it again, and I know I’m not alone. I shuffle through my coat pocket and grab my key, just in case. I hate walking alone this close to the University at night, this place has a reputation.

    I continue down the dark street away from the light. It’s not long before the echoing steps quicken out of sync with my own and hasten towards me. I spin around and see a figure dressed in black towering before me.

    “Don’t come any closer!” I shout.

    “Or what? You’ll cut me?” he fains fear.

    “I’m warning you.”

    I feel a pair of arms wrap tightly around me, making my keys useless. “Let go!” I cry out, struggling his this man bear-like grasp.

    “Come now, let’s have some fun first,” the second man breathes in my ear. I feel goosebumps rise on my skin and my heart beats faster!

    At that moment I feel my phone buzz in my pocket. “Keade!” I say aloud.

    “She’s got a phone. Take it!” the one holding me says. The first man approaches me, reaching for my pocket.

    “No! Get away from me!” I try to kick him but he backs up and pulls out a knife.

    “Now, now. Let’s play nice. I wouldn’t want to leave a mark,” he leers.

    He reaches into my pocket and tosses my phone away, then presses the knife to my neck and stares into my eyes. “Come with us.”

    “Never,” I growl.

    I see him nod and I feel the second man press himself against me from behind. “We don’t need to wait then. Privacy is no concern of ours,” he says.

    All I can think about is how upset Kaede would be. Why can’t I fight these guys off? Am I really this weak? The first man starts to unzip my coat and his eyes wander lustfully across my chest. The one behind me loosens his grip slightly and pulls off the coat. I try to pull away, but the knife to my throat stops me from running.

    The first man grins and then presses his dry lips against mine forcefully. I hate every moment of it and wreath in the other man’s grasp. Together, they are enough manpower to prevent me from getting free. If only I had Kaede or Andrei with me! Why am I alone in the first place?

    You are not alone, the voice in my head returns. I don’t recall what it is and why it’s there, but somehow it’s comforting.

    ‘I’m not?’ I ask it.

    You are never alone. We are one.

    Suddenly, my memory rushes back to me and if I wasn’t so frightened, I’m sure I’d be singing that Celine Dion song, it’s all coming back. The water, the Guild, Kaitlyn. My lessons. The last conversation I had with the water, it wanted me to become one, to take up the position of Guardian.

    I figure if I could control the water like I did to save Kaede- the Kaede that wasn’t really Kaede that is, I could manipulate the water to remove these scumbags. I could just pull the water out of them, killing them so they wouldn’t hurt others.

    Their efforts become more forceful and find myself tumbling to the ground. I scream as the first man rips my shirt down the middle, exposing my chest to the night air. The second man has the knife now and is tracing it across my collarbone. I feel it’s blade on my skin and I’m immediately reminded of Kaitlyn and Logan.

    That’s when I see the second mans face, white blond hair peeks out from beneath his black cap, but his eyes are crystal and seem to gleam in the darkness. I’m in the dream! Or rather, the nightmare.

    The voice returns as a whimper escapes my lips at their lustful touch.

    If we are one, you are never alone. You can be clean.

    I crane my neck, wish this would be over. What kind of sick test is this? Their hands grab me, their touch burns like fire. I feel like I’m going to throw up. They’ll ruin me, Kaede will hate me. I can’t!

    Shhhh, I’m here.

    My brain suddenly clicks and I act without thinking. I treasure this voice, the one that’s always listening, always there. It’s me and it isn’t. I could control the water in these men, but then I’d be nothing more than a murderer, just like them, or, I could become the victim of their treachery and wallow in fear. But there’s a third option for me.

    Unlike those without magic, I can save myself, even without force. I remember the fish I created with the water, on the cliff of the Guild’s island oasis. I remember thinking if only I could become the water and just flow with it, not thinking or caring.

    I could become the water, as it keeps saying to me. Let’s be one.

    ‘Let’s be one’ I think

    Let’s be one.

    “Let’s be one!” we say together. I feel my chest blossom with a cool, calming feeling. The burning touch of the men fades and feel nothing and everything. Their pulse echoes in our ears, yes, their pulse, not ours, for we don’t feel like I do. I glance down at my chest, watching calmly as the feeling spreads across my body, to the tips of my fingers, toes and even my hair. My body turns to a humanoid cast of water.

    I’ve become the water, or the Water has become me. The men fall back, their touch unable to affect me now. The crystal eyes with the knife tries to swipe at me but the blade passes through me without harm.

    Stop,” I say, standing before them, handheld before me like a traffic officer. “This is wrong. Do not harm me.”

    The men freeze and the nightmare fades. The street blinks out and I find myself standing in the chamber from when I first arrived. The ceiling is bright, the crystals glow a bright blue and the man with the crystal eyes stands before me.

    “It seems the water has chosen well. Water has many elements. It can be catastrophic, life-giving, and neutral. These are all qualities of the element of water which you have also in yourself displayed in each of my trials.

    As is tradition, I now grant you the title of Guardian of Water. Be wise and listen to the advise of the waves. They will guide you in your destiny.” He steps towards me,  entering the circle I stand on. He holds out his hand, palm up and waits.

    I look at it, questioningly. “What do you want?” I ask.

    “I need to give you the mark.” A clear blue wave appears in his hand and it glimmers in the light around us. The wave, like the floor, shifts, like a real wave. He holds his palm now towards me and the image floats off of his hand and through the space between us. I watch it warily as it speeds up and suddenly shots towards me like a bullet.

    I feel it impact my chest, just below my clavicle. I step backward with the force of its impact and cringe. It hurts like a large bee sting and I look down to see the mark has fused with my skin, like a tattoo – that moves.

    “Congratulations,” the man says. “You are now Guardian. You are free to return to your physical self.”

    I don’t deny I am eager to leave, but I still have a few burning questions, and I intend to get the answers.

    “Wait! You said you’d answer my question,” I call him out.

    He raises a quizzical eyebrow at my tone and I think I see the corner of his mouth twitch upwards into a smile. “I believe I said I might,” he responds.

    “Whatever, I want to know. What are you? You were always a key in each of the trials. You can shift appearances as you like and yet your eyes, they are not human, they give you away. What are you, really?” I ask, crossing my arms over my chest and staring him down for an answer.

    “It’s been a long time since I’ve had to test a mage for Guardianship. Too long, I might say. They used to of me before they came to me. It seems I have fallen from the minds of the mages,” he pauses as if thinking.

    “I have no name. All you need to know is this; These powers aren’t given lightly. They are bestowed upon those who test true. You are selected among many with the potential to become the true Guardian of your time and must earn the title as you just did.

    One does not have to complete the trials I set before them, however. Sometimes life’s trials are enough to earn this great honour.”

    “That doesn’t answer the question,” I frown.

    “You’re right. I am of the source that grants you your power. When times are in need of the Guardians, the powers return to those who can suffer them. The celestials are always watching. If the balance is upset, we attempt to maintain it. That is all I can say.

    You must leave now. Your physical body needs you. Goodbye, Guardian.”

    With that, I blink and the room blinks out. I open my eyes and I inhale deeply, gasping as if I was holding my breath. I find myself back in the cave, surrounded by the coalesced energy pool and glowing crystal cavern walls. My body aches from the trials and I smell blood on my chest from where the knife’s edge was drawn across my skin.

    He wasn’t kidding when he said your body would be harmed as you were in the dream.

By Kayla West

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