The next day left Kaede and I alone. My future great-grandparents had to leave, thanks to their wartime duties, but left us with a generous amount of rations and access to the hidden hut.
We made sure to stay quiet and despite a lingering headache, I manage to scout the area to make sure there are no enemy soldiers. Kaede is starting to get antsy without his technology. I know he is not used to being so disconnected from his for so long. A product of the technology generation, the new survival necessity; a cell phone and wifi service.
I stumble back to the hut, the day after Sorin and Elena left, the fourth day after arriving in Romania, 1916. I let my rapier shrink to its keychain size and glance over my shoulder as I duck inside the rickety hut.
“I’m back,” I call softly, looking around the hut. Kaede leans out from behind a leaning wall that divided the room into two portions.
“Welcome home. Andi, I’m starting to itch from the smell. We really need to think about heading back. Is your head any better?” he asks, scratching at his chest beneath his long sleeve shirt.
I know his pain, not being clean for days on end. Many of the places I visit don’t have any sort of cleaning facilities like we have in our time. It’s a blessing, really, to live in our time. Time jumping has helped me to appreciate it.
I check myself, magically. It’s a little difficult to describe, but I basically asses the volume of the ticking, which is a constant presence I feel. Unlike in Camelot, when I didn’t feel it at all for nearly two weeks, I sense a faint ticking. It’s grown from yesterday, but still, it seems somewhat… covered or… shrouded. I attempt to explain this to Kaede, but he looks at me like I’ve grown six heads.
“What? Did you like… find some bad mushrooms out there while scouting?” he asks me, raising an eyebrow.
“No, I swear. You don’t get it cuz you don’t have magic, but it’s like… ok fine. Try this. You know when you get a cold, and your ears get plugged?” He nods his head. “It’s sort of like that. I can still ‘hear’,” I air quote, “but it’s not clear. I can probably jump soon, but I’ve never really tried it when it was this… faint,” I say with uncertainty.
“Well, I get that. I just know that this trip was supposed to be like, an in and out thing. You know, a day max. Everyone’s going to be worried again. Not that I was.” He waves his hand. I seriously doubt that. “What if the Logan shows up again, or worse, the Master?” he asks.
“I seriously doubt either of those things will happen. Kaitlyn assured me before I left that the Master wouldn’t come waltzing in here unless he knew he could win, and with so many Guardian class magicians, I doubt he’d try,” though I know I was the skeptical one when Kat told me that.
“But, what about Logan? He’s done it before. He could do it again. And you promised Kat you’d be there,” he points out to my utter dismay.
“Yea… I know,” I glance to the side, hanging my head a little in shame. I keep breaking my promises to her. I gotta stop being such a hot head… “But she’s strong and capable. Merlin once told me I have to treat her like an equal, not a lady. I’m certain she can handle herself, no matter what comes up,” I try to convince myself more than anything.
Kaede looks at me and his face practically shouts ‘excuses!’ I cringe at the look and shrink in on myself, shoulders sagging and neck shrinking down like I was a turtle. “Don’t man. I feel bad enough as it is.”
“You know how she gets around him. She needs you, Andrei. You should realize that by now,” he says, suddenly sounding smart.
“She doesn’t ‘need’ me,” I say. “She’s way more capable than me with magic. I seem to just mess things up, lately.”
“Stop kidding yourself, man! Logan,” I cringe as he says his name, “Stop that, you need to get over that. Logan is a whole different ball game for her. He messed her up in the head. If you can’t see that, then you’ve got issues, but from what I’ve heard from you and Caroline, he really gets to her and she can’t act herself around him. With you there, she can stay, you know… sane! In control.”
He sees me frown, knowing I am doubting every word and shakes his head with disappointment. “I just, I don’t do anything! At least, I haven’t been able to. Every time he shows up he incapacitates me in some way so I can’t even help her!! We didn’t bring it up at the meeting Kae, but I had to sit there and watch it. Watch him hurt her and tease her with his words and hurtful toys. It was… it was more than I could handle! And then… Then when I was finally free, sure, I got shot in the shoulder, but that was practically nothing compared to her, once I was free, all I could do was cry. I’m weak, Kae. She pushed me to jump, and even with her hurting, I didn’t want to, cuz I didn’t know if I could!” I finally look up and see his look of shock.
When he finally processes everything I’ve revealed, his lips form a flat like and he crosses his arms. “You’re not weak Andrei. It’s not true! You, shouting at him, you standing up to him, all this, this bravado you have, every time you’ve met him before that time, it showed her how to be strong. It shows her not to stand for his bull! Come on man, you have to see that helps her, even when you couldn’t stop him then, it helped her to get out,” he tries to convince me, but it’s hard to see it when the emotions are raw again, and my headaches.
“It’s… it’s just a lot Kae. I keep messing up,” I complain softly, suddenly not wanting to be in this tiny hut.
“Don’t do this, Andrei, don’t. It’s… it’s not you. You’re not this weak person you think you are. You’re usually the pompous one. You’re the one who can turn everyone else’s frowns into a smile. You make all the worries seem small, bro.” I look at him and my frown twitches. He’s pulling the big guns out. He’s poking the wound hard and I feel it. It hurts, cuz I know he’s right. But… I can’t let these thoughts go. It’s like they’re stuck in tar and I can’t let them go.
I take a seat on the shaky bench and hold my head with one hand. “Regardless, I don’t think I can jump today. I’ll try tomorrow. You’re right, they’ll be getting worried. I should’ve left a note or something.”
The day went by slowly and silently, and as the night dragged on as long as the day did, I manage to get a couple hours of sleep before the sun rises and marks our fifth day away from our time.
The guns can be heard from outside the forest, a constant reminder that we’re hiding in the middle of a war and that every day we spend in this time is another day we risk being caught or shot.
The morning slips by, Kaede waiting for me to feel good enough about my magic and my head to try a jump. The sleep doesn’t seem to have helped my head injury, and I worry that my great-grandmother broke me in her fright. I definitely need one of the others to help me heal this like Ceph did in Camelot.
I finally exhale loud enough to draw Kaede’s attention and lean forward, picking up the bowl with the fire plant in it.
“You’re ready?” he asks, scratching his hair, which somehow doesn’t look any different than day one.
“Well, if it feels the same, but this is all boring, we’re wasting time here.”
“Your health is important, man, I can wait, even if I don’t want to,” he offers.
“Sure, but we need to get back.” He looks at me, brow creased with worry, but I ignore it. “I’ll give it a try. I’m tired of sitting here.”
“Ok, so, how do we jump back?” he asks, standing up.
“It’s like the first time. We have to be touching, and then I do the rest. Just, don’t touch anything when we’re in that place with the ribbons. I don’t want to go on a wild goose chase through time with a broken head.” Somehow, my lame joke makes him chuckle; I wasn’t even trying.
He grabs his bag and approaches. I grip the bowl, grabbing his wrist with my hand.
“You’re sure you’re ok?”
I scrunch my nose. “Whatever. We have to try.”
He takes my other shoulder and waits.
I close my eyes, pushing the dull ache to the back of my mind and focus on the dull ticking of time. I inhale deeply, then exhale. The ticking hammers louder, like a rubber mallet in my head.
“Shhh…” I silence him.
“Shh!” The ticking hurts, but I manage to force the jump. The sparks dance up our arms and I feel the ground shift as my head cracks with pain. I grind my teeth and force my eyes open to see the ribbons of time fluttering around us. I can’t enjoy it this time, not with this splitting pain.
“Andrei, are you-”
“Not now, Kae,” I look up, looking for our time. As I move, my right eye twitches, and I have to squint to focus on the ribbons. I try to discern which time is ours. The one that’s glowing, but it’s hard to see through the sharp pain in my eye.
“Kae, can you see – can you – see the one that glows red?” I ask, hoping a non-magical person sees it the same way.
He looks up, thinking. “It looks darker than the others? Yes, I think I see one like that.”
“Ok, I trust you. Point it out for me,” I say. He removes one arm from me and points. Above us, to the right, is a slightly darker, redder ribbon than the rest. I feel it calling to us, faintly, through the head-splitting pain. I wait till he replaces his hand on my arm and let go of his wrist, reaching for the ribbon.
As soon as I grab it, the ground shifts and the movement makes the pain worse. Well, now I know traveling with a head wound sucks. I can’t swallow the scream that breaks past my lips as the ground stops and we tumble back into the library, or what I think is the library. I can’t make it out as I lose my footing and crash backward onto a coffee table. I don’t know what happens to the plant, but I think Kae grabs it before I fling my arm out to break my fall. I land with a loud thump and groan, hand on my head, covering my eye.
“Andrei! Andrei, are you ok? Oh man, that was awful,” Kaede shouts. I hear shuffling as he puts his bags down and rushes over to help me up. The headache seems to have returned full force, and my eye stings with tears of pain.
“Note to self, don’t jump with a headache. It’s the worst,” I mumble incoherently.
“No kidding. I thought you were going to break. Your face looked awful,” he chuckles sympathetically.
“Thanks?” I say with uncertainty.
He helps me up and holds me steady, as I can’t seem to manage well on my own, but before I take a seat I notice a figure with pale blond hair standing in the doorway to the crypt. Is that Selene? What is she doing there?
I point it out to Kaede and he goes to ask. She steps away from the door, approaching me. Before I realize what’s happening, she places her hands on either side of my head. I hardly have the strength to swat her away.
A strange feeling, like warm water, spreads from temple to temple and the pain from the concussion finally dissipates. I blink a few times to make sure I didn’t just imagine all that and really pass out.
Selene straightens, looking at me with a sarcastic smirk painted across her face. “Ah, the prodigal son returns…”
Is it just me or does she sound condescending?
“Hello to you too,” I say. I move to stand as she steps back a couple paces. She turns to Kaede.
“You,” she barks, “go to Caroline. Now. You will find her in her room.”
Kaede’s jaw works soundlessly like he can’t come up with something witty to say. He shoots her a questioning look and grabs his laptop and bag, still carrying the fire plant. “I’ll catch up with you later Andi,” he says before belting out of the library.
“What’s all this about? Why did you send him away? Why were you standing in the doorway like some frozen wax figure?” I ask, confused as all hell and ready for answers.
She just folds her hands in front of her, elegantly, with a solemn expression. “Follow me, please.” She turns towards the doorway to the crypt and heads down.
“Can’t you just answer me?” I ask, following behind her with hesitation. “What’s got you all tense. Where’s everyone else?”
As we descend the staircase, the room comes into view and it’s hardly recognizable. My senses are hot with the strong scent of burnt wood and soldered metal. I nearly gag with the smoke lingering in the room. I cough, covering my face with my hand.
“What the hell happened here?!” I whisper, my eyes wandering over the pews still smoldering, and piles of ash where once stood towering shelves laden with books. The back of the room which was divided by the metal fence-like wall has been completely melted to a pile of molten metal, the gate torn from its hinges and tossed across the room.
Selene walks through the ash, reaching out to touch the still standing pieces of a pew, charred black from being set ablaze. As soon as she touches it, it crumbles.
“Do I really have to tell you what happened here?” she asks coyly.
“Well, there’s no use assuming I know. Where’s Kat?” I ask, suspecting the worst. “Is she ok?”
“North America, I think,” she frowns. “Define ‘okay’,” she adds.
I can’t make sense of what she’s trying to get at. “Alive, obviously. What the hell happened!” I repeat. “Was Logan here? The Master? Stop with the mysterious answers and just give it to me straight!” I shout. I can’t bear to be left to ‘guess’ what happened while I was away, getting shot at by soldiers and nursing a concussion.
“He wasn’t here. I don’t know the whole story, but Kaitlyn, Cliff, Caroline and Ryan left the Guild for some reason. When they returned, Ryan was dying,” she wanders over the debris on the floor, closer to me.
“She didn’t survive for long. I was able to ease her pain, but… there was nothing we could do,” she finishes.
I stand there, processing what she’s telling me but it’s like the words jump out at me one by one, like a computer stalling as it types; ‘Left the Guild’, ‘dying’, ‘not long,’ ‘ease pain’, ‘nothing we could do…’.
I feel like my stomach drops and it’s like the healing Selene did on my head has reversed. “Ryans… dead?” I ask weakly.
“Yes,” Selene replies bluntly. “Kaitlyn, naturally, blames herself. You know how fragile her mind can be.”
No, I didn’t. I mean, I thought… I thought everyone would be fine, you know. Just… nothing’s been happening. We were all just laying around, studying. Waiting really. “How’d she… die? Why’d they leave? This… this doesn’t make any sense!” I feel the panic spreading through my body like spider venom. I start to feel dizzy, but there’s nowhere to sit; everything’s burnt to a crisp, even the stone coffins face seems to have melted, leaving the image of the founder blurred and disfigured.
“I believe it was an attempt on Kaitlyn’s life, that Ryan intercepted, and later succumbed to,” Selene sighs. “Now she’s taken off, and I don’t believe she plans to return.”
What? She’s, left? But… what about the Guild? The master? Finding the Founder? What about… me? My mind starts to feel muddled. My heart threatens to burst and I can’t seem to feel my feet. Would she really just… leave like that? Leave me? Like…
It’s like a replayed movie in my head that I can’t get to stop. I stare at Selene, but I don’t see her. Instead, it’s that face, that girl with the rose red lips, the raven black hair. Pink blush on her cheeks. A sweet smile turning to a twisted, conniving grin.
A voice interrupts my thoughts. “She left for you. To keep you safe. She wouldn’t listen to reason.”
It doesn’t matter what she says. I hardly hear the words. Why is it always like this? Why do they always leave?
My face erupts like it’s been hit with fire. I see Selene standing there, handheld perfectly stiff. Her slap blossoms into a stinging pain on my cheek.
She demands, “Why did you leave her?”
That’s when something inside me cracks like shattering a mirror with your bare hands. My heart goes numb and the world goes black around me.
By Kayla West