Where am I? I wonder. Everything is white. I can’t make out where the floor ends and the ceiling begins. Ceiling, or sky? I’m not sure. How did I get here?
“Hello, child,” a raspy voice sends a chill down my spine. “I’ve found you,” he sings in a horrible croaking sound.
I spin around, holding my breath. A figure looms a few feet away, clad in a long blue cloak that covers his face in shadow. It doesn’t matter; I remember the face. That twisted, rotting scowl is burned into my memory.
“Who are you,” I demand. “and don’t say ‘The Master.’”
The man chuckles, followed by a wet cough. “There was a time when I was known by the name Mortecai. Mortecai Halsey.”
I flinch. “Halsey… as in…”
“Indeed,” he nods. “You are familiar with my pathetic brother, I am sure. It seems he managed to conceal you from me before he succumbed to my power.”
I clench my jaw. “How could you kill your own brother?”
“Easily; he was in my way,” Mortecai hacks a laugh. “As you too now stand in my way.”
I gulp. “I haven’t even done anything!”
“Was it not you who destroyed the corpse of my apprentice? Was it not you that awoke a new generation of Guardians? Markus created you to be a thorn in my side. He will not succeed,” his cloak shifts as he waves a shaky hand. “Now that I have your spirit here, I can take my time hunting down your physical form.”
“What? Wait… where is this?” I feel a lump in my throat.
“This?” a guttural throaty laugh emanates from the figure. “This is death, my dear niece. You will die here.”
The figure begins to fade. “Wait!” I call after him desperately.
“Do not fear. Your friends will join you soon enough…” his voice echoes around me as he disappears.
“Don’t you dare touch them!” I scream into the void. I’m not really sure if he hears me. Even if he did, what am I going to do about it?
Running away was pointless… I’m such an idiot. If I could only get out of… whatever this place is. Maybe I could save them.
I spin around. My heart sinks into my stomach. “No. You’re dead.”
“Yes, I am,” Logan smiles. “You made sure of that.”
“I didn’t kill you,” I narrow my eyes.
“No…. You didn’t,” he nods, putting his hands in his suit pants pockets. “I know who shot me. She’d been itching to kill me for a while.”
I blink. “What? You knew that girl?”
He grins, uneven and sinister. “Knew her? We worked together from time to time. Never got along very well. She’s not a very nice girl.”
I roll my eyes. “You mean she didn’t fall for your fake smile.”
Logan tilts his head, bangs swaying with the movement. “Kat… do you really hate me so much?”
I hesitate. I want to scream at him, list all the reasons I should. My tongue refuses to spit the words. “You killed Ryan… she was innocent.”
He inhales sharply, leaning back with brows raised. “Yeah… about that. That wasn’t me.”
I flinch. “What do you mean? You said that you created the poison specifically for Guardians!”
“I did,” he agrees. “but I never intended to use it. Especially not on you, Kat.”
“Then why make it?”
“He requested it. I couldn’t just ignore a direct order,” Logan shrugs like it’s no big deal. “Although, considering how things turned out…”
“You deserved what you got,” I puff out my chest slightly, hoping I sound confident.
Logan clicks his tongue. “That’s your new boy toy talking, not you.”
I falter. “H-he happens to be right!”
“Where is he now, I wonder?” Logan smirks. “Where is your protector?”
“I don’t need protection,” I hold up my hand, intending to blast him out of sight, but nothing happens.
He sucks in air through his teeth; an annoyingly condescending expression on his face. “Sorry Kat. No body, no super special powers. It’s what you always wanted… in a way.”
“Don’t listen to him, Kat,” another voice cuts in. I turn, not sure what to expect. She looks the same as ever; short bobbed brown hair, long leather trench coat. In my peripheral, Logan dissipates into thin air. “Hey!” the girl grins, as she runs toward me with a huge smile.
I hold my arms open, but as I brace for impact. I feel a cold chill pass through my whole body, taking my breath with it. My knees give out and I drop onto my butt.
“Aww, dang it… I didn’t realize it, but as a ghost, I can’t touch you! No fair!” she whines behind me.
“Ryan…” I croak. “I’m so sorry…”
“Whoa whoa whoa whoa… What are you talking about?! It’s water under the bridge, Kat,” she laughs a little. She steps around me, crouching down. “You were my best friend. Ever since I arrived at the Guild, I didn’t have any friends. Not really. People always complained I talked too much. You were so cool, Kat! They teased me you know, about being a measly smoke mage. I thought, if I could only talk to you, maybe I could become cool, like you! But… You did way more than that. You never once said my smoke was lame and you gave me way more friends than I could have ever dreamed of!”
“And I got you killed,” I remind her. “In a horrible, nasty way that you never deserved.”
“Nah, it wasn’t you! I told you before I succumbed to the poison, the wind changed. I had laid a smoke screen in the room, so thin that no one could see it. There was another person in the room. It was her that shot the dart, not you, Kat. I would have gladly stopped any bullet for you,” she pokes my cheek with a smile. “I don’t blame you one bit, you got that clear?”
“That girl…” I frown. “She killed Logan too… and we were stupid enough to bring her to the Guild,” I slam my fists on the ground, then my forehead. “Stupid!”
“You what? Why?” Ryan asks, confused.
“She was a mage, I think. I sort of zoned out, after that…” I sigh as I sit back up.
“Oh no no… That can’t have ended well,” Ryan muses. “How’s Andrei? Did he ever make it back? Did you yell at him for being reckless?”
I turn my face away, ashamed. “No… I… Don’t know if he came back,” I cover my face in my hands. “God I’m such an idiot! What if that girl is still there? Damn it!”
“Well, I don’t know what she could be up to, or who she is, but…” she pauses. “Wait, why are you here in the first place? I didn’t know you could cross the veil of realms. I’ve heard that some elementals are more apt to that ability than others.”
I take a deep breath, my hands falling into my lap. “I didn’t come here by choice. I left the Guild. I got… hurt… and the Master took advantage of it.”
“Oh, Kat… I’m so sorry. Is there anything I can do? You name it, I’ll try it,” Ryan smiles, hoping to cheer me up.
My eyes sting. “No, Ryan… You’ve done enough…”
When I look up, she’s gone. I sniffle, and frown. I smell… smoke? I stand up, searching for the source. It’s coming from somewhere to my right. I follow it, as it grows thicker around me. I keep moving. I have to find them…
Them? I pause. Who…
“Kaitlyn!” a woman shrieks. “Kaitlyn, baby, where are you!?”
My heart stops. I blink and I’m sitting in a tiny bed. The room around me, decorated in bright pastels, with flowers on the walls, and Barbies on the shelves. It’s familiar and foreign all at the same time. The floor erupts in red flames that lick at the wallpaper. Dolls begin to melt, their faces distorted.
“Kaitlyn!” the woman cries again.
“Mama!” I hear my own voice reply, but it’s not my voice. I look down at myself as I climb out of the bed. My limbs are short and stubby. I find it hard to walk, and I can barely reach the door handle. “Mama!” I call again.
Fire creeps into the hallway following at my heels. I like the warmth. It makes me feel safe. I head for my parents’ room at the end of the hall. The door creaks when I push it open. I walk past a crib in the corner and peek in. My baby brother breathes softly in his sleep, blissfully unaware. I move to my parents’ bed, climbing up the side as I often did.
“Mama?” I whisper. She’s asleep next to Papa. Wasn’t she calling for me? I shake her shoulder. “Mama!”
Her eyes snap open, black as coal, and her face turns toward me. “Why did you do this to us?” She demands, her voice a hollow growl. I shriek and tumble off the edge of the bed. “Monster!” she bellows as she sits up.
“Mama I’m sorry!” I cry, scrambling to my feet. I don’t look back as I run through the flames, back down the hall. I tumble down the stairs, out the front door, and into the night. I finally stop behind the big tree in our yard. When I turn back, the house is engulfed in flames. The structure cracks and it collapses.
I watch it burn for what feels like an eternity. In the smoke, I see three figures; Black outlines of my parents and baby brother. A memory I had repressed for so long. I can’t seem to catch my breath. When did I start crying? What’s happening to me…?
By Krystyna Yates