The early rays of morning trickle in through my window. I lean back against the headboard, run my fingers over the cold, empty sheets beside me. I wonder where he went this time, or rather, when. I wonder why he took Kaede with him. I know Kaede wanted to experience the magic, but he has no magic to defend himself. What was Andrei thinking?
He was probably drained from the jump. I doubt he’ll be back for a few days… Assuming they landed somewhere safe. Scenarios play out in my head, and I find it hard to even close my eyes. Every sound I hear, I hope the door will open. Keeping myself busy during the day helps, but at night, there’s nothing to take my mind off it.
I pick up the cell phone, scrolling through one of the programs Kaede set up. Something called a ‘facebook’. I’m not really sure when he took pictures of me, but there are a few. He assured me that it’s all the rage with our generation. At least it’s a distraction.
A little red dot at the top of the screen draws my attention. A friend request. There are several, from mostly men from around the world. I ignore them one by one until a name comes up that stops me in my tracks. My thumb hovers over the reject button, but my eyes linger on the picture. I tap on his name, and the profile loads up.
It’s definitely him. There are hundreds of photos, professionally posed and taken. A string of posts, promoting his company. The latest, posted eight hours ago, shows a link to an event on Long Island, hosted by the company. He invites followers to join him there. Today.
It’s still hours before the event is set to begin. I slip out of bed and pull on some tights, a tank top, and running shoes. Might as well head to the gym to kill some time. Rhoan hops off the bed and trots along at my feet as I head down toward the caf. I make myself a large cup of coffee in a travel mug, and bring it down to the weight room. The Guild is quiet for another couple hours when most of the other mages start to wake up. Not many people wake up at the crack of dawn, I guess.
Ryan comes to find me around ten, followed by about two dozen young, wide-eyed mages hoping to learn to spark a flame. I wonder why they never approached Ambrosse for lessons if they’re all so interested in fire magic. After all, that’s her job. I’m a terrible teacher. Maybe I’ll mention it to her.
The clock on the wall of the training room seems to be moving at half speed. Every time I look up, the hands have barely moved. I pace along the wall as the students go through the motions I told them to. I’m not really sure if it’s what they should be doing, but it’s part of how I learned.
“Hey, Kaitlyn?” Ryan whispers. I nearly jump out of my skin as I spin around. “You okay? You seem distracted.”
I clear my throat and compose my face with a strained smile. “Yea. Fine. Just, y’know, worried and stuff,” I lie, poorly.
“Yea, I can tell,” she nods. “You can tell me if you want. Maybe talking about it will help?” she smiles warmly, eyes sparkling with hope.
I glance back up at the clock; it’s nearly noon. “What’s there to tell? Nothing you don’t already know,” I reply with a shrug, hoping she’ll buy it. “Okay, why don’t you guys go for lunch? Food is important or something…” I shout to the others. I’m done waiting around.
Ryan snickers, following along beside me out of the training room. “You miss Andrei, don’t you?”
“Of course I do,” I scoff. “He left without warning, and he took Kaede with him. Lord knows where he ended up, and he’ll be weak,” I grit my teeth. “He should’ve known better,” I head up the stairs, away from the caf toward the dorms.
“I was talking to Cliff,” she states, randomly. I raise an eyebrow. “Apparently, Andrei asked him for a door to Romania, but when Cliff told him he had to take a Guardian with him, he didn’t seem too pleased. Why would he need to go there?” she tilts her head, still trailing beside me.
I can only think of one reason for that. “Probably for an artifact. That doesn’t explain why he would be so reckless…” I sigh.
“Well, he’s a boy. Aren’t all boys reckless?” she says, shrugging. “I once had this boyfriend in high school. He was super handsome and had this really cool thing with the guitar, and he always wanted to just try everything, no matter how dumb it was. Kept yelling ‘Yolo’ and stuff. I got sick of him fast. I mean, I like spontaneity, but sometimes asking the other person first what they think is nice, you know?”
I’m not exactly sure what she just said, but I nod anyway as I turn down the hall to my room. “You should probably get some lunch or something,” I suggest, pausing at my door.
“Already got that covered,” she says, pulling a wrapped sandwich from one of the pockets in her coat. “Aren’t you going to eat anything?” she asks, stopping at the door next to Caroline’s, hand on the doorknob.
“What are you doing?” I ask, deflecting her question.
“Hmm? I’m just gonna, you know, eat and maybe… read a book.”
I narrow my eyes. “… In an empty room?”
“What? No, I’m not crazy. This is my room! I moved in like two days ago,” she grins.
“Oh…” how did I not notice that? “Okay then… Well… Enjoy then,” I pop my door open and slip inside.
It doesn’t take long to change into my tattered jeans, lace-up boots, and a black t-shirt. I grab my thick leather jacket from the floor, where it’s lain untouched for weeks now.
“Where are we going?” Rhoan pipes up from the bed.
I glance down at him from the corner of my eye, reluctant to answer. “We have unfinished business,” I reply vaguely. His glowing orange eyes study my figure, as though reading my mind. His little kitty head nods and he shifts into the form of a mouse.
“I suppose we shouldn’t leave it like that, then.”
I let out a breath of relief. I expected a lecture. Once he’s settled, I leave my door open and walk quickly down the marble halls. Ryan’s door is left ajar, but she doesn’t seem to hear me pass. Most of the Guild is at the caf at this hour, so I manage to make it out to the transportation doors unseen. As I grip the handle, my arm tingles with the magic of the tattoo. I focus on the location of the internet posting and pull the door open.
I emerge in a dank back alley that reeks of stale pizza. I grimace at the overflowing dumpster and shuffle along to the sidewalk. As I blend into the traffic of pedestrians, I slide my hands into my jacket pockets. In the right pocket I feel a box, and when I pull it out I recognize the half-empty pack of cigarettes. When was the last time I had one of these? It must have been when I brought Andrei and the others to the Guild. Things have been so crazy since then.
I pop one out, place the butt between my lips, and stuff the box back in my pocket. With a bit of thought, the end sparks and I inhale the noxious fumes. God that’s good. Why did I stop smoking? I don’t remember. It was a dumb idea.
According to the map on the cellphone, the event is starting soon just a few blocks away. I follow the green line on the map through the streets until I find a section of the road blocked off. The area is swarming with people. Vendors line the pavement with music blaring all around. I wonder how I’m going to find him in all this chaos.
That is until I notice the stage set up in the center, with massive twenty-foot tall portraits of his face on either side. On the bottom, it shows the show time as between one and two this afternoon. I wander around the fence that holds the crowd back several feet from the edge of the stage. People are already standing along it waiting for the show, which is more than half an hour away. I note that it’s mostly women. Go figure.
Around the corner, behind the stage, I find a small coffee shop. It’s relatively empty, so I order a cup and sit by the window with a sliver of a view of the stage area. The idea of watching him strut around for an hour makes my stomach churn. Instead, I watch the flicker of a light show, the smoke of special effects, and feel the base of the loud music through the ground. It’s close to two thirty by the time the music dies down and the crowds start to disperse. I get up and head for the trash bin on my way out.
“Excuse me,” a voice pipes up. I frown and glance over my shoulder. “Would you happen to be Miss Kaitlyn?” the small, elderly shop owner asks, standing in the center of the store.
I narrow my gaze. “That depends on who’s asking.”
The old man nods knowingly. “I was told to keep an eye out for a striking redhead, with strange orange eyes,” I clench my teeth. “You’ll have to stay here until Mr. Tryst arrives.”
“And if I don’t?” I ask, hesitantly.
He sighs as he pulls a small pistol out of his pocket. “I’m afraid I have to insist,” I stare down the barrel of the gun. I could easily disarm the old man. I could disintegrate him in a second, but when I look into the weathered green eyes, I see an innocent man with something to lose.
“Fine,” I sit down at the nearest table. “In that case, I’ll have another cup.”
“Mr. Wilson!” the silence is shattered by the sickeningly sweet voice of my former friend. “Well done my friend! Thank you for your service. We’ll make sure you’re well paid,” Logan appears from the kitchen area and claps the old man on the shoulder. His grin reminds me of a shark; a mouthful of razor-sharp teeth. “Why don’t you wait outside while I have a chat with our guest?”
I wait until the old man is out of harm’s way. “How did you know I would come here?” I ask, a little perturbed.
Logan tilts his head with a coy smile. “You always come back to me, Kat,” he glances curiously around the empty shop. “Where’s your boy toy and all your little friends?”
I push off the table as I stand up. “They have more important things to do. I can deal with you on my own.”
“But you don’t have to,” another voice cuts in, and my stomach drops. Logan and I both turn to look at the front entrance, where Caroline stands, hands on her hips in In a striking white blouse and blue jeans, Cliff and Ryan at her back.
“Ah, the cavalry has arrived,” Logan smirks.
I roll my eyes. “Seriously, guys?”
“You’re just as reckless as Andrei, Kat, if you think you can sneak off and take on Logan without us,” Ryan scolds.
I pout, glaring at the wall. “I am not. I’m the most powerful mage on the whole island. Logan is just… Logan.”
“Hey!” Logan gasps. “That’s not very nice!”
“I wasn’t trying to be nice,” I shrug, “Really, you’re wasting your time.”
“But why fight alone when you have friends that will back you up. Together, we can help you eliminate this scum,” Caroline’s lip twitches in disgust as she looks at Logan. Cliff nods.
I glance at the group of them. “Collateral damage, mostly. Easier to blow up a building if you don’t have friends inside.”
Ryan smirks and shakes her head. “Reckless…”
Cliff frowns. “Many people could get hurt if you handle it like that.”
I glare at the blond monstrosity, who simply smiles smugly. “As long as he dies… It’s worth it,” Logan’s face falls, and he gasps dramatically. My hands twitch, embers flicker at my fingertips. I’m sick of talking.
“Come now, darling, you wouldn’t want to destroy this fine establishment, would you?” Logan pouts. “After all, it’s the only livelihood for that nice man and his grandchildren.”
“Don’t try to guilt me, Logan. It’s not going to save you.”
“No?” Logan purses his lips, “I really thought it would. Let’s try something else then…”
“Kat! Look out!” Ryan screams. I turn to look as I’m hit by a force like a freight train and knocked flat on my stomach.
“What the hell?” I groan as I push myself up. I taste the blood that drips from my nose. I feel my nose as I turn. It feels broken. Though as I roll over, I forget all about it. Ryan lays on the tiles next to me, clutching her shoulder where a black dart sticks out. Purple goo drips down the edges, and into the wound of her shoulder. “Ryan! What were you thinking?!” I yell, kneeling over her.
“I… I,” she stammers, gritting through the pain. “Couldn’t let you… get hurt. The air, I… felt it… move.”
“The air? What?” I repeat, confused. Her arm trembles as the poison spreads down her veins.
“Oh dear… I believe that is the toxin I made special for you, to weaken those pesky Guardian powers…” Logan muses. “I’m afraid it’s quite lethal to humans.”
“Lethal?!” I snap in his direction. “I’ve never known you to be a murder, Logan! What the hell?” I demand as I stand up, hands lit in flames.
His mouth opens to speak, but he’s cut off by three loud bangs. He frowns, looking down at his chest. Three red dots form around his left breast before he collapses on the floor. My whole body goes numb. I don’t remember how to breathe.
“Oh, I’m sorry, were you going to say something?” a feminine voice draws my eyes to the shadows behind where Logan had just been standing. “Too late. Those bullets were lethal too, at least, on you,” a dark-haired woman steps out, wearing a fancy red shirt, black pants, and bright red lipstick. Red nail polish stands out against the black of the gun in her hands.
Caroline dashes over to Ryan’s side, Cliff close behind her. “Ryan, hey! Talk to me! You’re going to be fine, you hear me?”
The strange woman steps over Logan without a second glance and kneels beside Ryan, examining the growing blackness on her shoulder. “This doesn’t look good. You don’t have much time… if any,” she states simply, carelessly. “An hour tops.”
Cliff steps up. “Then we must hurry.”
“I’m coming with you,” she says.
My gaze falls on the motionless, wide-eyed body of my former friend, and then to the writhing form of Ryan, who looked up to me for guidance. What have I done?
By Krystyna Yates