The Guild – Chapter 72 – Hitomi 2

    I touch the ink filled fude (brush) to the paper and carefully draw the first stroke of kaze (wind). I sometimes find peace is practicing shuji (calligraphy). The focus it requires to write the kanji (characters) in a balanced fashion is soothing.

    I dip the fude into the sumi (ink) and wipe off the excess, continuing with the next stroke. Soon, my kanji is complete. I set the fude down on the stand and move the paper to the side to dry. This kaze is written in kaisho (simple script). Next, I will write it in gyousho (semi-cursive).

    Kaze sama leans over my shoulder, watching each stroke and stop. Each start and lift. It would bother me to have him watching if I wasn’t already so entranced by the kanji before me. It is his name after all.

    When I finish writing kaze in gyousho, I move to sousho (cursive). This, I know, is his favourite script.

    Your writing is getting better, Hime sama, his voice is gentle and warm, like a new spring breeze. I pause, fude hovering above the paper.

    “Ma ma, Kaze sama.” [No, it’s just ok,] I tell him politely. I am not a master of shuji. I am but a student. I may have written this kanji out more than a thousand times, so it looks like I am better than I really am. I blush at his comment all the same.

    You are modest. It is better than mine, at least, I catch his smile out of the corner of my eye. I keep my retort to myself – he’s the one being humble. He uses the wind as his fude and his script is gorgeous.

    You could at least smile while you write, Hitomi hime, he suggests.

    I stop the fude and look at him. Doesn’t he know it takes concentration to write it perfectly?

    If you like it so much, why are you frowning? he asks.

    I roll my eyes and groan. His comment deserves no reply. He’s just trying to get under my skin. I see it in his smile, that mischievous grin as he leans back and taps his ogi (fan) to his chin, like a sensei (teacher) inspecting his students work.

    I exhale, trying to settle back into focusing on the strokes. My mind begins to wander though, unlike before, thinking about his motives and why he teases me so. He is closest to me, he knows how to annoy me, but he also knows what I need. The mountain journey, a week ago, was something I needed. Even if I did want to continue avoiding the reality of it.

    When it comes to caring for me, he knows best, sometimes, better than myself. It doesn’t help me relax though. His… caretaking is something I have come to expect. I am not independent. I need to try harder.

    My fude slides a little too far to the right and I freeze, hand shaking on the paper. I’ve messed it up. I stare at it for a long time before placing the fude down and folding the paper into squares and placing it on the practice pile. I’ll start again.

    I ink the fude.

    Hiiiiiitoooooo….

    I wipe the excess off.

    Miiiiii……

    I set the fude and begin the first stroke.

    Hiiiitooooomiiiiii…

    I lift the fude from the page.

    Ssssmmmiiiiillleeeeee……

    I fling my arm out to the side, fude pointed at the voice whispering on the wind. The ink covered bristles connect with something hard, I don’t know what I hit as I am still looking hard at the kanji on the paper.

    Hime sama! What have you done?! he shouts.

    I finally look up from the page and turn to Kaze sama, face smeared with sumi (ink). He wears a delectable frown on his otherwise flawless face.

    “Sumimasen, kaku tsumori desu. Kanshō wa hyōka sa remasen.” [If you don’t mind, I am trying to write. Your interference is not appreciated] I seeth through my teeth. The room suddenly bursts with movement as a wild wind picks up, throwing paper about the room like leaves in a windstorm. My hair comes loose from its tie and whips across my face as I glare hard at Kaze sama.

    His face goes blank and he returns a flat stare, unmoving, unfazed by my burst of emotion.

    This reaction is unbefitting of you, Hitomi hime, he states blatantly, his expression growing serious.

    Looking at his expression, I feel a light bubbling in my tummy. Is this… amusement? The sumi smeared on his face is somewhat entertaining, but his serious expression doesn’t match. I am tempted to laugh, but the moment passes and I turn away, the winds dying down around me. I realize I am not as in control as I thought I was. I set the fude down and stand, moving about the small tatami room, collecting the papers as they float to the floor.

    As I pick up the last sheet and set it on the pile in my arms, I detect a presence, something that wasn’t there before. Being bonded to Kaze sama has gifted me with many strange abilities, other than being able to see him and other things others cannot normally see, I can control the winds, ride them and create storms by altering the weather patterns. But I can also hear things and sense when people are near. It has given me a sense of constant awareness that doesn’t allow me to be peaceful, even though I am physically alone.

    It is also a gift because things of the physical realm cannot sneak up on me. It is nearly impossible. I say ‘nearly’ because I suppose it is possible, if one knew of my ability, to cloak themselves. That is why I keep this information to myself.

    I often ask myself why I was given these strange powers. I wonder where they came from, if they were granted or if my parents had them. I don’t think I’ll ever know, because they are dead.

    I set the pile of paper down and walk to the open porch, gazing out at the wild gardens that surround my solitary home in the mountains.

    [Dare ni kimasu ka?] “Who is coming?” I wonder aloud, placing my hand on the frame of the shouji.

    If you ask nicely, I can tell you, Kaze sama teases behind me. I subtly glare over my shoulder at him; he is particularly bothersome today.

    It doesn’t matter to me who is coming. Meer curiosity crossed my thoughts but I don’t wish to act on it. I’d rather be alone. I wipe my fude down and hang it set it on the stand, covering my sumi so it doesn’t dry out and placing a paperweight atop the paper.

    [Ikitai.] “I want to go,” I state, sitting back on my heels and looking out the shoji as minute snowflakes being to float to the ground outside.

    I understand this, but wouldn’t you rather-

    [Ikitai. Ima kara.] “I want to go. Now,” I say again.

    I close my eyes and I feel the wind rough against my skin and clap my hands together in prayer. Futen, I pronounce as my soul ascends with the currents. Kaze and I burst through the shoji and into the snowy sky, rattling the shoji as we depart. Higher and higher we climb, until the mountain house is but a dot on the mountain cloaked in trees.

    We slink together through the skies, farther and farther away. That mountain home is my getaway, my refuge, but it is not the only place I need to be. Unfortunately, I have school.

    In no time at all, we are blowing over the coastal town of Nagasaki where I am attending high school. It’s my final year, and exams begin soon. I often skip out on my studies, preferring to ignore regular life and drift about like the wind. My teachers think differently.

    My homeroom teacher, Hama sensei, encourages me to study English. He is also an English teacher, and admittingly, he is really good at it. My only problem is I don’t really feel confident that my English is any good. I have no great desire to go abroad and I don’t have plans for my future. He sees this as a concern and a challenge, as graduation is only two months away.

    We skim down towards the town and meander through the buildings till we arrive at the dorm that is my other home.  The window to my room is left open, and Kaze and I thunder through, shaking the window in its frame. The space is cramped, but that is normal for most city homes in Japan.

    I let myself settle, coming away from Kaze sama and sitting seiza on the floor, hands together. I release and exhale, physically in my body again. It doesn’t take me long to relax, I’ve done the transition long enough to be used to the sensation of returning to a physical body. I briefly recall a time when I was younger when I would be out of breath and weak for hours. I’m glad for the familiarity now.

    Why did you run? Kaze sama asks, floating above my desk by the open window.

    [Dare mo desu kara, mienai.] “Whoever it is, I don’t want to see them,” I say as I stand and step over to my desk where my favourite headphones rest, waiting for me. I set them over my ears and connect the Bluetooth to my device. I need some music to distract my mood and prepare for homework.

    You can’t ignore people forever, you know. He tries to convince me.

    [watashi wo tamesu koto ga dekiru] “I can try,” I mumble.

    What if they were good people? Friends? he tries to reason.

    [Tomodachi ga inai.] “I don’t need friends,” I reply.

    I turn up the volume and ignore what he says now, which leaves me staring at his frowning perfect face. With a curt sigh, he shakes his head and flutters out the window. Finally, I’m alone. Just… me.

 

By Kayla West

The Guild – Chapter 71 – Andrei

    I wake up rolling over into Kaede with a groan. I don’t even have time to recoil before he’s swearing at me. I get my bearings as Kaede’s reaction seems to wake up everyone else in the small hut. I see Caroline sitting next to Nik, Kat’s propped up on the cot and Nik’s grandmother is cooking something over the fire.

    Kaede glowers at me, still fuming. “Bet you thought I was Kat.”

    “W-what?” I try to answer, but it’s way too early for a joke like that.

    “Well, I guess everyone’s up now,” Caroline says, mouthing sorry silently.

    I look to Kat, behind her and smile. It’s so good to see her looking well again. She still looks tired, but she looks a hundred times better than I remember. Which is another thing. My mind’s still fuzzy from spending like half a day in the dream realm in my physical body. Apparently, Kaede said I was crouched next to the bed for something like 10 hours, clutching my chest.

    But as I see her sitting there, watching me, the only thing I can feel is relieved we both made it back, alive. I was worried about how I’d get out. I tried not to think about it as I trudged across that endless desert to find her. I shake my head, dispelling the thoughts and focusing on the now. I can’t even stand being across the fire from her. I want to sit with her.

    I throw the furs off of me, remembering the night before, as we crawled in quietly so as not to wake the girls up and got under them to stay warm. Nik and the other elders had restored some of my energy so that I wouldn’t be in a coma for like… a week.

    As soon as I throw the furs off, I realize I’m shirtless. I blush as Kaede raises an eyebrow at me.

    “What happened to clothes?” I say a little shakily, pulling the fur back over my chest.

    “Apparently that happens here.” Kat muses, shooting a look at Nik and his grandmother.

    “What, they steal our clothes?!” I don’t think I can walk around with both Kaede and Caroline here, let alone Nik and his grandmother. “Nik, what am I supposed to wear?” I hiss.

    Kaede throws me something laying beside him and turns away. “Wear that, shy boy. We all got nipples here. It’s not a problem.” I shoot him a glare of daggers as I pull the loose shirt over my head.

    When I’m finally clothed, I slip out of the furs and creep over to Kat’s cot, taking a seat beside her, on the floor. I put my hand on hers and smile at her. It feels so good to be next to her again, I can’t really begin to explain how content I feel.

    “How are you feeling?” Kat asks quietly, rubbing her thumb across the back of my hand.

    “Pretty happy, now that you’re here. You look well. How are you?” I relish in her caress; I feel like a cat.

    “I wish I could say I’m good,” she gives me a cheeky smile. “I’m glad that you’re here and alive.” I close my eyes, leaning my head back, resting it against her arm.

    “That’s good,” I whisper. I can’t take the happy smile off my face.

    I hear Caroline harumph from the fire. Whatever. She can deal.

    “Are we ready to go home?” Kat asks, trying to sit up.

    I lift my head and quickly jump to help her, supporting her arm and pushing gently on her back. “Are you sure you’re up to traveling?” I ask her with concern.

    She frowns. “I don’t think it will make much difference if we wait. The longer we’re here, we put these people at risk.”

    “You hush,” the old woman swats her spoon in Kat’s direction. “You haven’t eaten a thing since you got here. You’re not going anywhere.”

    Kat grimaces as I give her a hard look. “Is that true? You haven’t eaten since you’ve arrived? Kat, that’s insane! How are you going to get better if you don’t eat?!” I feel a strange sense of worry course through my body. I’m tempted to go over and grab a bowl and force feed her, right now.

    She pouts, looking away. “I wasn’t even conscious. How was I supposed to eat?” I know she’s right… but that’s mostly an excuse.

    “Well, you can at least eat what she’s made today. And then when we get back, I’m personally making you soup until you’re sick of it,” I say sternly.

    She glances at Caroline for a moment. “I have to see Ambrosse first. Then you can cook whatever you want.”

    “Why?” I ask. “What do you need her for?” I realize I come across a little harshly, and I regret my tone. That’s not how I meant it.

    “Just… y’know… stuff.” Kat mumbles awkwardly. I eye her, looking for another clue as to why, but I guess it should be obvious, she’s her lifelong teacher.

    Grandmother passes me a bowl of fish soup and I take it with the intention of making sure Kat eats every bite. “Careful, it’s still hot,” I warn, passing the bowl to Kat.

    She takes it carefully in both hands. “It’s not so bad. Maybe it’ll warm me up,” she tries to smile, but it doesn’t quite reach her eyes.

    “How is it that you’re cold in this hut?” I ask, feeling hot myself. I place a hand on her forehead, checking for a fever. I frown when I pull it away. “You’re frozen Kat,” I can’t hide my worry. “Once you eat that, we should hurry back to the Guild. Being exposed to the elements right now isn’t such a good idea.”

    “We need a door for that. We’re miles from a door. I can’t open a gateway without a door, according to Cliff,” Caroline cuts in.

    Kat looks over at Nik, curiously. He nods. “I will drive us back into the city. Does it matter what door? Do you need to go back through the one you came?”

    Caroline thinks a moment and shakes her head no. “Cliff mentioned some places are better than others, because of their frequent use or something, but essentially any door will do,” she explains.

    “If you need to know, I have the address of the last one saved on my phone,” Kaede pipes in.

    Nik grins. “Then you can be my GPS, oh great technology wizard.”

    Kaede’s face splits into a wide grin. “It’d be my pleasure.”

    Nik turns back toward Kat and I, deep brown eyes focused on her. His expression turns serious, “Will you be able to walk?”

    She narrows her eyes slightly. “I was walking just fine when you threw a wall in my face, thank you very much.”

    I turn to Nik in shock. “You what?!” my voice nearly crackles with my anger.

    He shrugs. “She tried to sneak out in the middle of the night. Would you have preferred I tackle her?”

    “Perhaps a lasso or something,” I suggest, rounding on Kat next. “You tried to get away?” I swear I’m going to get a whiplash. “Why? These people were here to help you. Why do you always run!”

    “Andrei,” Kat sighs, leaning back against the wall. “Someone tried to kill me. I wasn’t going to put random strangers at risk.”

    I see there is no reasoning with her, so I sit back down, crossing my arms and stare at her while she slowly eats the soup. I hardly turn when Caroline passes me my own bowl to eat. The atmosphere in the room grows cold as I refrain from talking, hoping she’ll see sense on her own with food in her stomach.

    When all the bowls are finally cleaned, I give her a curt smile and a shrug. “See, that wasn’t so bad now, was it?” I ask a little sarcastically.

    Kat half-heartedly nods, looking past me. “Before we get going… is there like, a ladies room around here? Or maybe a special bush?”

    The old lady shakes her head. “If you were not in such shape, I would smack you, child,” Kat smirks.

    Nik chuckles. “I will show you the way.”

    I give him an incredulous look, but before I can say anything, Caroline jumps up and says. “I gotta go too. Can I join you?” Kat grabs her somewhat tattered jacket before shakily getting to her feet.

    I exhale in relief as they leave the hut. I turn around, looking for any things Kat or any of us might have left lying around when I notice Kaede smirking at me.

    “What?” I ask, confused by his look.

    “Oh, nothing. It seems like to me, our new Earth friend has a thing for your girl.”

    “Don’t go teasing me now. He just knows this place better than I, it is his home after all,” I think on it a moment, glancing towards the doorway. I hope he doesn’t really… I’ve had enough drama lately. I just want things to be normal.

    Kaede shrugs it off. “Whatever. It’s just an observation. I could be wrong, but you know, in all the movies, things work out like that. The guy saves the girl and -”

    “And I saved her last if you forget! So in all your movies, maybe they forget who really helped the girl.”

    “Children,” Grandma smacks her wooden spoon on the empty pot. “Enough of your bickering. My grandson is just a little starstruck, that’s all. Now, gather up your things and get ready. I’m sure you’ll want to leave as soon as the girls are ready.”

    “How old is he anyways,” I wonder aloud, looking around for my stuff.

    Grandmother hums, thinking, “I believe… This is his twenty-fifth year.”

    Kaede and I both raise an eyebrow. “They’re always older than us,” I whisper to him.

    “I know… It’s a little disheartening. I know no one now our age or younger, you know… before Ryan…” I nod.

    “Maybe we’re just geniuses then, you know, for being so good so young,” I add with a wink.

    “Ahh,” he nods, tapping his nose. “Geniuses, that we are.” We share a laugh and finish gathering up our belongings, and the girls’ things, before heading outside into the brisk morning chill. Kaede points out the crowd of people next to a bush and I follow him over.

    “What’s all this?” I ask, noticing Caroline with a grumpy expression on her face, arms crossed and tapping her foot as she glares at Kaitlyn.

    “Someone thinks eating isn’t fine, but smoking is just grand,” she huffs.

    “That’s it.” I stomp over to Kat, stepping around to see her holding a cigarette in her hand, a pout on her face. If she wasn’t trying to hide the smoke in her hand I would accuse of her being too damn cute. Instead, I pull the cigarette from her fingers and stomp it out.

    “You’re sick, not well, and THIS is certainly NOT going to help. I forbid it, at least until you are properly healed,” I growl.

    She looks up, stunned, eyes wide with surprise. Her face looks paler than in the tent, and I consider the lighting, but the colour of her lips, a bright red. “Have you… been sick?” I ask, my own voice sounds small after my loud display moments ago.

    Kat wipes her mouth on the back of her sleeve, covering her face and turning away, “It’s nothing. Sorry,” she mumbles, almost inaudible.

    “Kat, this isn’t nothing. Can’t you tell me? I’m… sorry, I got mad,” I regret yelling at her… I messed up again. All I do is mess up around her… God… I’m still pathetic. Maybe she’s better off with someone else.

    “Well, you were so insistent that she eat something. She doesn’t have to reveal every single detail in front of everyone, you know. Let’s just put this behind us and get going. We have at least an hours drive ahead of us,” Caroline mothers me.

    I nod, hesitantly and step back, letting Caroline and Nik support her as they head towards the car.

    Kaede falls in beside me, nudging me with his elbow.

    “Don’t sweat it, bro. She’s not feeling well, you’re not 100 percent either and everyone’s a little tired. Let’s just let it slide. We’re all a bit stressed,” he consoles me.

    “Sure…” I mumble, trying to let it go. It’s not so easy. I don’t know where my confidence has gone.

    When we reach a beat up, old looking brown car Kaede calls shotgun, sliding into the front seat. Kat takes the back and pats the seat next to her, looking at me. I look down, a little sheepishly and take it. I just feel super guilty and now I want to hide. She shifts her weight, resting her head on my shoulder and lacing her fingers between mine on my lap. I give her an uncertain smile as she closes her eyes. God, she’s gorgeous, even when she’s ill.

    The car bounces as Caroline takes the seat behind Nik, who’s driving. It’s a full load. I hear the roar of an engine, but realize it’s not ours. Another old looking car, this one black, pulls up behind us, with two of Niks friends.

    “They’re coming too?” I ask.

    Nik glances in the rearview mirror. “I would rather not leave my car somewhere on the street if that’s alright with you.”

    “Think of it like a Daiko service,” Kaede turns his head over his shoulder to look back. “Like when you go drinking in Japan, they’ll take his car back for him,” he grins.

    “How do you know these things? You’ve never even lived there,” I mutter.

    “I do my research. There are a great many things Japan has that I wish Canada had,” he shrugs, turn back to the front.

    Nik starts the engine and off we go, rolling through the woods and into the city. Kaede directs Nik back to the alley where that coffee shop’s back door is. Although it’s early morning still, the streets seem populated with the local traffic. They decided to cover the alley with their cars until we’re gone, just in case.

    This time, Caroline stands in front, ready to activate the gate.

    “You remember how Cliff explained it?” Kaede asks.

    “Yes, of course, I remember how, Kae. Just, stand back and let me work my magic,” someone’s a little grumpy.

    She grabs the handle and we all watch, waiting. Her mark suddenly glows, lighting up the dark alley in a tint of blue, despite the morning sun leaking in through the cars. She pulls the door open and gestures us to go in.

    Kaede jogs through first, followed by Nik. I hold Kat’s arm for support and step her through first and Caroline shuts the door behind us, waving to Nik’s pals as the door swings closed. We walk a few steps and join Kaede and Nik on the other side of the gate.

By Kayla West

The Guild – Chapter 70 – Caroline

    “I can help you with that you know,” I huff after Nik has finished explaining how he’ll take Andrei to the elders in another hut. “I’ve learned how to heal.”

    “It’s alright. Stay with her. I am unsure if leaving her alone is a wise idea.”

    “I can hear you!” she calls from the cot.

    “Well, I don’t want to freak you out, but he’s a time mage. He might not know where he is when he wakes up,” I look to Kaede, sitting in the corner chatting with Nik’s grandmother. “Why don’t I send him with you. He can’t do magic, but he’ll just get in our way here.”

    “What? I am never in the way! How could you say that about me?” Kaede whines from behind me.

    “I’m sorry, Kae, I meant nothing by it. It’s just… healing is a very personal thing, you know. Andrei could use your attention more than us,” I try to honey coat my excuse. He eyes me before agreeing, standing and walking to the exit of the hut.

    Nik leans over and picks Andrei up effortlessly in his bear-like arms. I’m a little surprised how small Andrei looks in his arms. In my mind, I try to compare Nik to Cliff… but I can’t picture the two next to each other. How do they get so big?!

    “I leave her in your capable hands.” He smiles, slightly teasing.

    I give him a wink, not nearly as flirty as Andrei’s. “Don’t worry. I can handle it, see ya.” Once they leave the hut, his grandmother too, I turn to Kat and smile. “Finally, it’s just us girls,” I say, taking a seat beside her.

    “So… don’t freak out…” she starts, too late. The words  ‘don’t’ and ‘freak’ make me nervous. She sits up slowly, pushing the blanket back. Her face scrunches in pain.

    I stare at the mosaic of wounds that were definitely not there the last time I healed her body at the Guild. I can’t get over how often someone can find a way to get themselves hurt. I know my mouth has fallen open… I have to try to be strong for her sake. It’s not easy seeing this, which is precisely why I never wanted to be a doctor.

    “Kat… How did this happen?” I ask, pulling my eyes away and look her directly in the eye.

    She scratches her head, blushing. “Honestly, I was drunk for most of it. I don’t really remember… please don’t tell Andrei!” her eyes grow wide.

    I stare at her in disbelief. “I promise. I won’t say a word,” the whole thing is ridiculous. Besides, if I did tell him, I think he’d die of a heart attack with all the stress he’s been under.

    “But… Kat… If you had stayed at the Guild, I could’ve helped you. We all could’ve been there, for each other. It hurt me when you left. I was so worried about you, and then…” I try to say it so it doesn’t reveal too much. I’m sure Andrei would feel the same about some details that have passed.

    “Then, when Andrei came back. Well, let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. He could’ve have been there for you too, you know. I think it hurt him a lot when you left. A lot more than any of us expected it to,” I finish.

    The silence stretches between us like a festering open wound. I almost wish I hadn’t said anything at all.

    “I thought… if I stayed, you would die too. All of you… Because of me,” Kat whispers, head hung, hair covering her face.

    “I realize this magic thing is risky. We all realize that. But, honestly, we all decided to join you knowing the risks. I’ve committed to helping you and the Guild, and I think Andrei would risk anything to help you. It would be nice if you trusted us a little more… you know… in staying alive and helping you out,” I reason.

    She looks up, orange eyes filled with sadness. “I don’t want you to die for my sake. It’s not right. I should’ve…”

    “There’s no point in regretting what Ryan did for you. She loved you and didn’t want to see you hurt. It was unfortunate she wasn’t a Guardian like you and me. But if we want to prevent unnecessary deaths in the future, let’s plan our attacks better, train harder and work more as a team instead of an individual. What do you think?” I ask.

    She sighs. “I suppose the only thing we have to lose is our lives and humanity in general.”

    “Yup, that’s about it,” I muse. There’s no sugar coating that one. “So, in order to protect everything we hold dear, we need to be in tip-top shape. What do you say to letting me heal you, hmm?”

    “Be my guest. Just, don’t overdo it. I don’t think you can do it all today,” she grimaces, struggling to remove her shirt.

    “Here, let me help you with that,” I offer. As I hold up the sleeves so she can wiggle out of the shirt without too much effort, I see the extent of the damage from her time away. It’s not a pretty sight and I’m sure as hell thankful that Andrei isn’t here to see this.

    “I think I can manage now without using a pool of water. While Naum has been traveling I was practicing a number of things, including tracking water signatures and remote healing, like that time we used the pool!” I smile. I might be a little proud of my recent accomplishments.

    Kat smiles a little. “That’s good. Try to focus on the surface stuff… Even I’m not totally sure how to fix the internal damage. Ambrose usually takes care of that.”

    “My god, Kat, there’s internal too? I’ll take a look and see what I can manage,” I close my eyes, searching the hut for some water. I sense a few jugs across from the fire and summon it to me. I ask the water to form a protective layer, like a coat or a piece of cloth over her skin. I guess I’ll take care of the easy stuff first, to help ease her discomfort.

    After a few moments, I open my eyes to see the water shimmering over her skin. It seems to glow faintly as it heals the scrapes, scratches, and bruises. These are the easy things to deal with. Below the surface, I can sense some deeper wounds. I touch my hand to her stomach, letting my hand meld with the water. She might not know I can do that yet, but I don’t bother to explain. I focus my concentration on the deeper wounds.

    I feel my energy draining as the bruises lighten and fade and the scratches close. I seem to have built up quite a bit of endurance, so, with most of my remaining energy, I decide to tackle the gunshot wound I feel in her chest.

    “How many times were you shot?” I ask, feeling the sweat drip on my brow.

    “Uh… A couple, I think. Nakotah fixed the other one. Grandma complained it smelled funny,” Kat hums, as though it was somehow amusing.

    “This one has been forgotten. It’s also festering. It’s a wonder you’re alive,” I whisper, plunging my watery hand into the wound to wash it out. I heal the tissue as I pass, entering the wound. I find the bullet, still lodged in her lung. The tissue around it has begun to turn foul. If I could see it, like a doctor, I assume it would be discoloured. I command the water to enter the cells. This takes a little more effort than I am used to and I feel my energy running on the low side, but I can afford to do a bit more before I quit.

    As I work on the cells, I realize I have to remove the bullet somehow. The tissue around the entrance has begun to close, but If I heal that now, I’ll have no way to remove it without causing significant bleeding. The only thing I can attempt is to command the healing cells to stop, creating a pathway for the bullet to exit from.

    I take a deep breath, concentrating on the water and the cells. It’s difficult to work on such a small scale. The time slides by as I manage to create a safe pathway for the bullet, then, using my watery hand as a force, I push the bullet, slowly, from its bed in her lung.

    “Try to hold still, ok?” I whisper as I focus on the projection of the bullet. “Don’t answer that.”

    Kat snorts, trying not to laugh, though her face twists in pain.

    “That’s why I said to hold still!” I snap. I work hard to correct the path and continue to push it out. Eventually, it breaches the opening and tumbles on her lap in a gooey mess. I exhale in relief and then, with what little energy I have left, command the water to close the whole.

    “There,” I breathe. “That’s all I can do for now. Maybe later I can do some more, ok?” I huff, leaning on the cot for support.

    “I think I’ll be okay till we get home. Don’t sweat it. You did pretty well.” she assures me, breathing heavily.

    I smile up at her weakly. “Thanks, I’ve been working on different healing methods… wanted to be of some use in case one of you warrior types get injured on a mission,” I close my eyes just for a second, feeling like a nap would be nice right about now.

    I guess I kept them closed longer than I thought because when I open them again, Kat’s laying down, her hand resting on her chest, dozing herself. I smile and give in to my tiredness. I think our rest is well earned.

~*~

    I feel a crick in my neck and shift my weight as I wake up. My body feels stiff and heavy, but my magical energy seems to be already half restored. I crack an eye open as I start to stretch. It appears I slept the entire afternoon and night laying on Kaitlyn’s cot. No wonder my neck hurts.

    I look around, wiping the sleep from my eyes and feeling a gurgling hunger in my stomach. I turn towards the fire and notice Nakotah and his grandmother, awake. His grandmother sits close to the fire, preparing the morning meal. I look up at Nakotah, his hulking figure sitting close to us, watching Kat as she sleeps.

    “Good morning,” I say groggily. Man, I feel like I need a drink.

    “Ah, you are awake. Good morning. How do you feel?” Nakotah smiles.

    “Nakotah, don’t ask stupid questions. Get the girl some water,” the old woman snaps. He sighs and moves to fill a cup with water from the jars.

    I narrow my eyes at his grandmother. She reminds me of Selene, always knowing what I’ve thought without me saying anything. It’s a little creepy. He offers the cup to me and I take it thankfully. After I down the water I sigh with relief. That tasted surprisingly good.

    “When did you all come back in? I ask, turning from the cot and moving closer to the fire. I notice then, Kaede and Andrei laying across from me on some furs that have been laid out.

    “Late last night. You two were already asleep, so we decided not to disturb you.” Nakotah explains.

    I rub my neck regretfully. “Thanks, I guess. I did what I could, but I ran out of energy to heal the rest. I think going back to the Guild as soon as possible would be best for her,” I say, glancing over my shoulder at Kat’s sleeping figure. I turn back to the fire and catch an earthy brown glow out of the corner of my eye.

    I tilt my head, focusing on Nakotah. As I squint, I realize, the glow is coming off of him. My jaw drops open in shock. “Wait… are you… aware that you’re glowing?” I ask him, not sure how much he knows from being with Kaitlyn.

    The old woman snickers. “I was beginning to wonder if they were all blind.” She nods to him.

    Nakotah rolls his eyes. “I apologize for my grandmother. Yes, I am aware. It is my intention to accompany your group back to this place you mentioned.”

    I wave his apology aside. “It’s no problem. I’m actually fairly new to this myself. I am not that good at seeing the auras as Kaitlyn and Andrei are. Not to mention, I don’t think any of us were expecting to find another Guardian so soon! According to what we know, there have been no others for over a hundred years. It’s become our new mission to find those with powers like Kaitlyn and I,” I explain.

    “So…” I ask, curiously. “What’s your power?”

    “Earth,” he answers simply. “At least, that is my primary ability, controlling the ground, the rocks, the plants. Helping them grow, building our huts, things like that. I have not had much need to use it in a… hostile setting.”

    “Wow,”  gasp. “You built this?” I say, gesturing to the hut in surprise. “That’s amazing!”

    “It’s quite a simple design, really,” he shrugs.

    “Still, amazing,” I say with a smile. “My element is water,” I hold my hand in front of us and coalesce the moisture in the hut to form a little fish like I did that time on the cliff at the Guild.

    “Impressive,” he nods. “I take it her element would be fire,” he gestures behind me. “We had to put up some wards when she resisted our attempts to resuscitate. Interestingly, she was unconscious at the time…”

    “Yea, she has that tendency, unless he’s around,” I point to Andrei. Nakotah hums curiously as he looks at Andrei.

    I consider telling him what Andrei’s is, but it’s always fun to see how Andrei explains it when they ask, so I let it drop. “I hope she didn’t cause you too much trouble. She can be hard to understand. I don’t know how Andrei puts up with her sometimes, but, he’s got his ways,” I muse aloud.

    “It was no trouble at all. We have been waiting a long time for this,” he says, choosing his words slowly.

    “Waiting for what?” I wonder curiously.

    “Her,” his eyes fall on Kaitlyn.

    “Why her?”

    Nakotah laughs. “Honestly, you’re the first one to question a prophecy.”

    “What? She has a prophecy? I’ve never even heard of it before!” I nearly shout. My voice, however, carries in the close interior and Andrei starts to stir.

    I watch as he rolls over and slams Kaede in the face with his arm. I try to stifle a laugh as Kaede wakes up swearing, but it’s no use. It was way too funny.

    “I can see why Caroline doesn’t like to share a bed with you. You’re loud,” Kat mutters.

    I spin around in surprise at Kat’s voice. “What?” Kaede yawns from across the hut. “I don’t normally get hit in my sleep, you know,” he grumbles.

    “Sorry dude. I didn’t realize you were there,” Andrei apologizes.

    “Bet you thought I was Kat!” Kaede accuses.

    “W-what?” Andrei flounders, not sure how to respond. Kat giggles, and groans immediately after.

    “Well, guess everyone’s up now,” I laugh. I mouth the word sorry in case anyone’s looking. I kinda started all that single-handedly.

 

By Kayla West

The Guild – Chapter 69 – Kaitlyn

    “Kat!” a voice cuts through the dark. I know that voice. My head snaps up, my fingers untangle from my hair. Please be wrong…

    He runs toward me, hazel eyes wide, long hair bouncing with the motion. My chest fills with ice. This is another trick. This isn’t real… Is it?

    “Andrei…” the name falls from my lips before I have a chance to catch it. Fresh tears fill my eyes, though I thought I had run out of them by now. My eyes are so swollen from crying, I can barely see clearly. “No. Andrei, please… no… You can’t be here.”

    “What do you mean?” he frowns. “I came here to get you! You can’t be here!”

    I shake my head, turning away. I dig my fingernails into my arms. Blood soaks my fingertips. “It’s not real. It’s not real…” I mutter to remind myself.

    “Oh, Kat… It’s all my fault. I’m so sorry!” he bellows.

    “Stop it!” I cover my ears. “You’re not really here. You can’t be here. You can’t be dead.”

    “Yes, I am here! You can’t do this,” he reaches out, grabbing my wrists. “What you do here hurts you in the real world too. Please! Listen to me!” he begs.

    I gawk at his hands, eyes wide. Spirits don’t have a physical form. How is he doing that? “I don’t… understand…”

    “Kat. It’s really me. I left time to come get you, but I can’t stay here forever,” he says, beads of sweat on his brow. “And neither can you,” he pauses, hanging his head. “I know, I hurt you. I’m so sorry. I made you leave, and I let all those bad things happen, but I’d risk everything to have you by my side… I need you to trust me… ok?”

    “What?” I blink. “You didn’t do anything. I killed Ryan… I can’t let that happen again,” I feel myself trembling again. “I can’t watch you die.”

    “I won’t die that easy Kat. Your flames could never hurt me,” he says, rubbing my cheek with his hand. “And Ryan did what friends do; we protect each other. That’s what it means to be a Guardian. No matter the risk, we’re there for you. We’re there for each other,” he says, looking me straight in the eyes. “Things got bad when you left Kat… I… I wanted to die without you there,” he confesses, his voice unsteady.

    I fall against his chest. It’s warm. I mumble into his shirt. “I can’t do anything right. I can’t even die right…”

    His arms snake around my shoulders. “Why would you want to die? I’d be so lonely without you…” his chest shudders with a sob.

    I’m not really sure how to explain it. “It seemed like a good idea at the time?”

    He pushes me back, hands still on my shoulders, to study my face. “When in all of time, is dying a good idea? Kat… I’d… rather burn with you, than live forever without you.”

    My lip trembles. “I wish you didn’t have to burn at all.”

    “Then stay with me,” he smiles a little. “I’ll stop the flames if they ever get out of control.”

    His eyes glimmer with hope and my will crumbles. I’m exhausted. I can’t fight anymore. I can’t live without him, and I can’t seem to die.

    “Okay,” I try to smile, clutching his shirt in both hands. It’s still hard to believe he’s real.

    “Kaitlyn, if I haven’t told you, I want to say it now… I love you. So much,” he pulls me into him with crushing strength, burying his face in my tangled mess of hair.

    “I love you too. More than anything,” I squeeze him back. His heart pounds against his ribs, beating erratically. That’s not normal, is it? “Andrei? Are you okay?” I ask, suddenly worried.

    “I’m fine,” he whispers, though it’s strained. He grips me a little tighter. “Never better.”

    “But…” I frown. “Why is your heart beating like that?”

    “Like what?” he asks softly.

    I push against him. He lets go enough for me to see his face, sweat rolling down the back of his neck. I feel him leaning on me slightly, and his eyes droop.  I realize he’s grown a bit of a beard, which distracts me for a moment.

    “Wait. Did you say you left time to come here?” I feel my voice rising. “What are you doing? You need to get back! You’ll die if you stay here!”

    “Not without you,” he breathes weakly.

    “Then take me with you!” I feel panic in my throat.

    “I… I don’t know how… I was… guessing on how to get… here in the first place…” he starts to slump on my shoulder.

    “Andrei!” I grab the sides of his face. “Focus. You have to leave, do what you did to get here in reverse.”

    “How do I know… you’ll come with me?” he hesitates.

    “I… I think I can wake up. I didn’t know where this was but I know now. Just… do it.”

    “Do it with me,” he grits his teeth, hands clutching my arms. “Together…”

    “Okay,” I nod quickly, “Okay.” I wait for him to close his eyes and start to focus before I try to do the same.

    Where was I, before I got here? There was the bar, and then the water… The hut, with the old woman, and the man. That place. I try to remember details of the room; the firepit, the pot, the hay walls, the carpet…

    I open my eyes. Smoke rises through the hole in the ceiling. My body aches. I feel pain and know I’m awake for real. A thud, followed by snoring draws my attention.

    “Andrei!” a female voice calls out. I turn my head to see Caroline, crouched over Andrei, who lays on the floor beside me. He seems to be the one snoring, hair splayed on the carpet, dripping with sweat.

    “Car…” I mumble, too weak to even use her full name.

    “Kaitlyn! You too! Oh my god! He did it! You’re back!” she squeals, eyes brimming with tears. She crawls around Andrei and throws herself on my chest, squeezing me tight. “I want to slap you so hard! Don’t you ever run off like that again! You hear? It nearly killed him!” she sobs, brow furrowed.

    I glance at him. “So did that.”

    “To be fair,” Nakotah pipes up. “It quite nearly killed her too.”

    “Yea, I noticed that captain obvious,” she snaps. Someone snickers. I notice Kaede, beside Nakotah. “How are you? Can I help with anything?”

    I take a ragged breath. “If you could get off me, that’d help. It’s hard enough to breathe as it is…” she huffs and sits up. I manage a slight smile. “Thank you… for coming after me… I’m sorry.”

    “Sorry, it took so long.” She looks at Andrei, “We had some problems to deal with first.”

    I blink. Problems? I don’t like the sound of that…

    “I can fill you in later. You need rest, and you need to accept this man’s healing. Andrei would make you if he was awake,” she giggles.

    I look at Andrei, then to the Native man. “Nakotah, right?” he nods once. “Think your elders are up for round two?” I gesture to Andrei, snoring away.

    He crosses his arms with a smirk, “You certainly do bring trouble, Kaitlyn. The ancestors weren’t kidding,” I scoff and groan. Why does everything have to hurt?

 

By Krystyna Yates