Stepping onto the marble floor again after so many weeks away is a little surreal. I’d convinced myself I would never come back. It’s not the same, after everything that’s happened. Or… maybe I’m the one that’s changed. It’s hard to say. My head hurts.
A whine catches my attention, followed by a localized gust of hot air on my right. I frown and turn to see what could possibly… That’s a dragon. I recognize the young blue dragon. He gave us a ride back to the guild, a lifetime ago.
“Hey, what are you doing here?” I ask, placing a hand on his head. He nudges his snout under my arm, against my side. Andrei’s hand clamps around mine, almost crushing. Caroline shrieks.
“Wicked. Dragons are so cool!” Kaede grins.
“Of course you’d say that,” Caroline looks at Kaede, concerned.
“Fascinating,” Nakotah muses. The young dragon lifts his head to sniff the new person and blinks curiously.
“He’s still young, but he’s harmless,” I assure them. “But, why are you here? You’re not supposed to be lurking around. You know it scares people,” I scold lightly.
The dragon snorts and whines. It’s not quite as articulate as the elders, but I get a general idea of his message.
“I can’t go to the nest right now. I have to go home first,” I explain. He grunts. I sigh. “Tell them I’m fine. I’ll visit as soon as I can.”
“Are you talking dragon?” Kaede asks, his eyes sparkling with awe.
I glance at him, and then to Nakotah. “Oh… I guess I didn’t tell you… Yeah, I sorta speak dragon…”
“I soo need to make an app for this! Dragon Siri, here I come!” Kaede cheers.
I raise an eyebrow. “It doesn’t exactly work like that… You have to have dragon blood, and magic, to understand them. Sorry, Kaede.”
The building shudders, dust raining from cracks in the ceiling. I nearly fall over, but the dragon props me up with his head. Nakotah barely flinches, Andrei holds his ground, his hand resting on my back. Caroline slides her feet apart to keep her balance, while Kaede falls flat on his ass.
I glance down at the blue dragon as I regain my balance. “Tell me that was just an earthquake.”
“Definitely not,” Nakotah replies, scanning the room, eyes narrowed.
“Oh great,” I groan.
“What is it then?” Kaede groans, rubbing his butt as he stands up.
I scratch my cheek. “I’m going to say… a long-winded lecture?” Kaede eyes me suspiciously. The young dragon nudges my back, forcing me to step forward. “Alright, I’m going!” I wave him away. He snorts, a little smoke coming out.
“What was all that about?” Andrei asks, whispering in my ear. He stays close as I slowly walk to the archway leading to the grassy plains.
I risk a glance up at him from the corner of my eye. “There’s only one thing that can make the earth move like that… Well, technically, three things. I’m sure you remember them.”
“Oh god…” he cringes. “This isn’t going to end well… is it?”
I bump his shoulder. “Don’t be silly. No one will get hurt. Promise.”
“I’m not so sure about that,” he whines uncertainly, rubbing his scruffy beard absentmindedly.
I squint as we step into the sunlight. It’s gotten a bit warmer since I left, but I’m still cold. I hate this feeling. I don’t know how people handle it. Andrei pauses, pulling his hand away. I open my mouth to ask, but I feel a weight on my shoulders. He smiles, standing in just his long sleeve shirt. His fuzzy coat rests on my shoulders. I drop my gaze. My face feels a whole lot warmer all of a sudden, as I slip my arms through the sleeves.
“Thanks…” I mumble. Sometimes I wonder if he’s a mind reader. Maybe I’m just an open book.
As my eyes adjust to the light, they fall on the hulking dragon, perched in the field, taking up a good chunk of the space between us and the castle. Her scales shimmer gold in the sun. I blink a few times, to make sure I’m seeing the right colour.
Kaede gasps, excited. “Oh my god! She’s huge!” I glance back to see Caroline, a statue in the doorway. Nakotah watches from beside her and Kaede, eyebrows raised, but otherwise calm.
“Welcome home, dear,” her head tilts. Andrei’s hand slips back into mine, though it’s clammy and shaking.
“Agatha?” I respond, confused. Definitely not the one I was expecting.
The dragon’s golden eyes scan the group. “My apologies. I did not realize you would not be alone.” She lowers her head and begins to shrink. In seconds, where the dragon once stood is a woman with long silver hair, a form-fitting gold dress, and sharp golden eyes. She crosses the flattened grass, stopping in front of me, standing nearly a foot taller.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in human form before,” I comment. “You’re pretty.”
“Do not change the subject,” Agatha snaps, placing her slender hand on my cheek. “You had the island in an uproar young lady. Rose was quite determined to lead a search party over the whole of the Americas. As you can imagine, that would have been a terrible idea.”
“Aren’t all her ideas terrible?” I try to joke.
Agatha rolls her eyes with a slight nod. “That is not the point, dear,” her thumb strokes my cheek. “Just look at you… Rose would simply be beside herself.”
“If you wanted us to search sooner, why didn’t any of you come up to us and ask? Since you have a human form that is,” Andrei asks, more curious than hostile.
Agatha sighs. “I would not put you in such a position. It is not our place to command the Guardians, young one.”
“If it concerns Kat, we’re more than willing to help any time,” Andrei insists.
Agatha smiles, stepping to the side to stand in front of him. “Thank you. I hope it will not come to that again.” She brushes a strand of his hair aside, touching her fingers to his head. Her hand glows for a moment, and it washes over his body.
“Wh-what just happened?” he asks, eyes growing wide as he looks down at himself.
“I restored your energy. You will need it.” She turns to me, resting her palm on my chest. The same glow spreads over me. I feel a wave of warmth, before the chill returns.
The pain fades quite a lot, but I still feel nauseous. I frown, confused. Agatha studies me for a moment.
“Your physical wounds are healed, but as I am sure you know, it takes time for bones to harden. You should be able to overcome the infection soon when you regain the blood you have lost,” she shifts her gaze to Andrei. “I sense an abnormally high concentration of lead in the bloodstream. Be aware of signs of metal poisoning. I trust you will keep an eye on my wayward niece?”
“Of course. Lead, though? From what?” he asks, eyeing me with genuine concern. I scratch my head and look away, pretending I didn’t hear him. He nudges me, and I shrug, avoiding his gaze. He hums and looks back up. “I didn’t know dragons could heal. That’s amazing.”
“We each develop different abilities as we age. The longer we live, the more we learn,” Agatha explains, as though talking to schoolchildren. Andrei nods, fascinated. “Please, do not hesitate to visit us again, Andrei. I look forward to seeing you again soon,” she gives me a pointed look.
“Alright,” he gulps. I peek at him from the corner of my eye and see a tint of pink under his little beard.
Agatha lifts her head to look over us, waving an elegant hand. “Come, dear. See that these young ones reach the gates,” she instructs sweetly. The blue dragon waddles up beside me with a grunt. “If you’ll excuse me, I have a brood to attend to,” she smiles as she walks away, the opposite direction from the Guild.
I glance over my shoulder, wondering how the others took that. Caroline appears to be in a state of shock, Kaede bounces on his toes with a toothy grin. Nakotah watches Agatha walk away, mild curiosity in his expression.
“She seems… nice. Agatha does,” Andrei muses, smiling sheepishly.
I snicker. “She’s the Matriarch. I’m sure you can see why.”
The young dragon nudges my leg. I pat his head.
“Man! I had like, a trillion questions for her! No fair!” Kaede whines.
“They’re definitely nothing like the dragons in your games,” I retort as I start walking. The blue dragon keeps pace at my side, ever vigilant. I keep my palm against his rough neck, assuring him that I’m okay. Andrei keeps up on my left, watching me as I walk, as though expecting me to fall or something.
“You don’t even have a clue about the things I might have asked,” he grumbles.
“I’m sure I do,” I argue. “Not that I particularly care. Agatha has hundreds of children to oversee. She doesn’t have time for an interrogation. Though, I’m sure Rose would be thrilled to,” I smirk at the thought.
“Oh my god! Car, it’s like all my dreams are coming true!” Kaede exclaims. I glance back to see Caroline roll her eyes. The pair of them fall in line behind Andrei and I.
“Quite an interesting family tree you have,” Nakotah muses. I jump, turning to see him on the other side of the dragon’s head. “I’ve only heard legends of such creatures.”
“Don’t do that,” I hiss, clutching my chest.
He grins playfully, gesturing to the dragon’s head. “May I?”
I lean over a bit to see the dragon’s eye. I decide to give him a nickname, on the spot. “Hey, Blue. Do you mind?” He snorts. I shrug and straighten up. “He doesn’t care.”
Nakotah reaches out one of his massive hands, resting against the dragon’s neck. His deep eyes grow wide with wonder. “Incredible,” he breathes. I catch myself smiling. It’s rare to find someone who isn’t afraid of them. With his long legs, he easily keeps up with the dragon, studying his scales, utterly enthralled.
At the gates, I pause and turn to Blue. “Alright, off you go. Report in that we crossed an empty field safely,” he tilts his head with a whine. “Yes, I’m serious,” I insist, hand on my hip. Andrei snickers under his breath. The dragon huffs and turns around. “Well, she can take it up with me then. Go on.” It takes the youth a bit of a running start before he gets airborne. I look up at the open gates, a pit growing in my stomach. I keep my face neutral.
“What all were you two talking about?” Andrei asks, curiously. He slips his hand into mine.
I blink. “The dragon? Uh, well he basically said Agatha wouldn’t be happy about the sarcasm.”
“When are they ever?” he laughs lightly. “It’s your trademark though, I think they’ll have to get used to it.”
I shrug. “You’d think after twenty-odd years, they would be,” my mind flashes to the dream world, the memory of my childhood home. I shake my head, as though it will dislodge the image. “Shall we?” He nods.
Through the gates, and up the main stairs, the Guild is quiet. However, as we enter the front hall, I freeze. The hall is lined with people, mostly students.
“She’s back! Kaitlyn’s back!” someone yells. I feel an overwhelming sense of insecurity as their collective eyes settle on us. The hall falls eerily silent. Then, in an instant, it seems like the whole hall rushes toward us.
“Where did you go? Did you have a super secret mission? Did you slay monsters? Will you be going to the Danger Room again soon? Can you teach me?” a hundred voices bombard me all at once as people push each other to get closer.
“Calm down! Whoa!” Caroline shouts as she’s nearly swallowed by the crowd. “Stop pushing!”
I stumble back, gasping to breath. Andrei steps in front of me, keeping them at bay. The area around us seems to warp, the various voices get slower, deeper. What’s happening? I think I’m hyperventilating. I need to get away.
I step on something, and my back hits a solid surface. When I look, I see the Native boy, his face serious. His hand clamps on my shoulder, and my body relaxes. The questions keep coming, in slow motion, asking who the new person is, is he a Guardian too, etc.
“Silence,” a familiar voice echoes across the room. The students freeze. “Disperse,” the command reverberates. The crowd scatters in an instant until we are left in the large hall with three people at the other end.
Professor Ambrosse’s eyes lock on mine and her heels click rapidly across the marble floor. I open my mouth to speak, to explain myself, but I’m cut off when my face is crushed into her chest. One arm wraps around my shoulders, the other hand pressed against the back of my head. She presses her lips to the top of my head.
For an awkward moment, I’m not sure what to do. When was the last time she held me like this? Not since I was a child. Not since I would wake up screaming. Before my mind unscrambles, she steps back, her hands on either side of my face, lifting so she can examine it.
“Where have you been? Are you hurt?” she demands. I can’t believe I didn’t realize how much of a mother she is.
I find my voice hiding deep down my throat. “I… um… No. I’m okay.” Caroline jabs her finger in my back. “Now,” I squak. “I’m okay now.”
“Except for the infection and the lead poisoning,” Caroline reminds me. I grit my teeth.
Ambrosse frowns, her sparkling blue eyes tug at my guilt. “Kaitlyn…”
I avoid her gaze. I hate when she gives me that look. “It’s a long story.”
She nods once. “You should rest. We will talk when you’re feeling up to it,” when she steps back, I see Cliff and Selene standing on either side of her. Cliff moves in, arms wide when Selene holds her arm out to stop him.
“I don’t believe that’s a good idea right now,” Selene warns. “You may rebreak her bones.”
Cliff’s shoulders sag and he steps back, much to my relief. “It’s good to have you home, Kaitlyn,” he smiles.
“It’s good to be home,” I reply, though the words feel hollow.
I have mixed emotions when we finally reach my room. The door is open, and it’s just as I left it. I trace my fingers across the top of the dresser as I walk by, leaving a trail in the layer of dust. Was I gone that long? I look around, expecting to find a cat waiting, but the room is empty and cold.
“So…” Andrei coughs. I half turn, seeing him leaning against the closed door. I blink at him, curious. “It’s been a while…” He muses, looking around.
“It’s weird, being here again,” I nod, looking t the bed, the covers all in a heap.
“Yeah…” he hums. “So, lead poisoning? What did you… do while you were gone?” he tries to stay casual, but it doesn’t work. “Crushed bones? Infection?”
I avoid meeting his gaze. “Apparently I pissed off some people. It’s kinda fuzzy.”
He grits his teeth, stepping closer. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I don’t remember a lot of it,” I admit, embarrassed. “There was a lot of alcohol involved, okay?”
Andrei takes a ragged breath, struggling to hold himself back. “I managed to cause you all that with my stupid time jumping. I’m so sorry, Kat…”
“Don’t,” I snap. “This had nothing to do with you. It was my decision and my fault.”
“But… things would have been different if I didn’t jump!” he protests.
“Maybe they would,” I shake my head. “Maybe they wouldn’t. You don’t know that. You went to get one of the items, right? You don’t have to apologize for that. I just… I’m just an idiot,” I cross my arms, hugging my chest.
“No, I’m the idiot. I should’ve told you first…” his lip trembles.
I shake my head. “And I should have waited. We can go in circles all night, but this isn’t your fault. You didn’t do any of this. I did.”
“But…” he stares at me with those big puppy eyes.
“I did this to myself,” I insist, then pause. “Mostly…” I let out a sigh. “The infection, the… whatever poisoning. I let it happen. It wasn’t an accident. You understand that, right?”
“Lead,” he corrects, pursing his lips. “If it wasn’t an accident, then… Why’d it happen?”
I close my eyes. Do I have to say it? “I told you already. I was trying to die.”
I feel his arms around me, not crushing, but strong. “I don’t ever want you to try and die… again,” he whispers in my ear.
I scoff, sliding my hands up his back. “It’s not as easy as it sounds.”
“I don’t care how easy or hard it is… just don’t,” he growls.
“I won’t,” I assure him, smiling bitterly. “I’d never hear the end of it.”
“What?” he shakes his head. “Nevermind,” he runs his finger through my hair, inhaling slowly.
I gasp involuntarily, a sharp pain in my stomach. He leans back, eyes wide. I try to laugh it off. “I guess the magic drug wore off.”
“Here,” he moves to the bed, helping me sit down. “Is that better?” he asks, gently pushing me to lay back.
“Hold on,” I resist, unbuttoning his jacket, then my own underneath. He helps me shrug out of both, dropping them on the floor. I slide back toward the middle of the bed before I carefully lay down. My stomach feels like a pin cushion.
“What’s wrong? Can I help? Should I take you to the infirmary?” Andrei panics.
“They can’t do anything a dragon couldn’t,” I shake my head. “Stupid lead…” a thought passes through my mind, and I reach up to prod my shoulder. I lift the collar of my shirt, trying to see the pink scar left on my upper arm. Did that bullet come out when he healed it? I press the scar, feeling for a lump. I groan when I feel it.
“Stop, lemme look,” he swats my hand away, pulling my collar down over the shoulder.
“Wait-” I breathe, too late.
“No waiting. Hold still!” he ignores my protest. “You have a scar here… is this…” his face blanches, “A bullet wound?”
I pout. He looks up at my face, waiting for an answer. I glare at the wall. “It was an accident. I just scared the guy.”
“My goodness, Kat… We have to get this out!” Andrei states, as though it wasn’t obvious.
“I could try melting it, but that probably wouldn’t help…” I mumble. “What about a knife? I should have one around.”
“Hold on a sec,” he frowns, thinking hard. “I might be able to try reversing the wound. If I localize the time on this bullet wound, I could maybe remove it so it can’t cause further poisoning. Shall I give it a try?”
I glance at my arm. “It happened weeks ago… If you just go back a few days, to before Nakotah closed it, that wouldn’t take as much energy.”
“I can try, and if it doesn’t work, I’ll use the knife,” he suggests though he doesn’t seem to like the idea.
I wave. “Knock yourself out… but not really,” he smiles and rolls his eyes.
He places his hands over the scar. His brow furrows, his lips press into a thin line. It takes a moment, but I feel the flesh tear as the healing is undone. I wince. The room starts to spin. My arm throbs, infection returning in full force.
“Do you have a pair of tweezers I can use to take it out?” he asks.
I lean my head back, eyes closed. I shake my head, reaching my other hand over my shoulder. I push my first finger into the puss-filled hole until I feel the hard object. I try to scoop it out, getting my fingertip under the bottom. I wince as the edges poke the inflamed tissue around it.
“What are you doing? I would’ve…”
“Shh,” I hiss. Talking is too much effort. I think my skull has split open again. The bullet resists, some tissue already grew around it. When it finally pops out, fresh blood drips down my arm. I let out the breath I apparently had been holding as I toss the bullet somewhere across the room.
“Here!” Andrei places his hand over the wound. Warm energy pours into my shoulder. The tissues knit together until all that’s left is a similar scar as when he started. I still have a headache. My arm still throbs a bit. I think that may have just made the infection worse, but hey, mission accomplished.
“That was fun,” I mutter, eyes still closed.
“I guess,” he replies, leaning back, pulling his hand away. “Does it feel any better?”
“Define better,” I retort.
“Uh… Less painful than before?” he frowns.
I open my eyes, thinking, “It didn’t hurt before. I just remembered it was there. I figured the lead might’ve been coming from that one.”
“Oh,” he shifts to sit on the edge of the bed again, wiping his hand on his shirt. “Wait… that one?”
“Mhm…” I moan, “Caroline took the other one out already,” I mumble.
“Wow… Two…” he shakes his head.
“That I know of,” I drape my other forearm over my eyes. “Probably should be fine.”
“Well, I’ll be here for you… till all this passes. I won’t go anywhere,” he says.
I peek at him with one eye. “And after it passes?”
“What? I meant I’ll be your gofer. You know, help you and everything till you get better. And, well… if you still want me around then, I’ll be here,” he smiles with uncertainty.
My heart aches. “Why wouldn’t I want you here? You’re the only one I want here,” I reach my hand out, hoping he’ll come closer. He hesitates. I flash a cheeky smirk, “It’s cold here. Keep me warm?”
He huffs a hint of a laugh as he slinks across the sheets. “How can a time mage keep a fire guardian warm, I wonder.”
“I can think of several options,” I muse. He cocks an eyebrow. “But I’ll settle for snuggling.”
“I suppose I can do that,” he leans back, offering his shoulder. I roll over, wrapping my leg around his, resting my head on his shoulder and my hand over his chest. He snakes his hand over mine, stroking the back softly. His other arm wraps around my back, resting on my waist. “I know it’s still early, but, let’s take a nap,” he suggests.
I nod, nuzzling against him. His scent fills my brain, erasing everything that happened in the last month. Nothing else exists. “Stay with me,” I mumble. Sleep has already begun to pull me under. “Stay…”
By Krystyna Yates