The first rays of morning bring an end to the dream. As I open my eyes, for a moment the bed in front of me looks empty. I move to sit up, only to feel arms around my waist tighten. I feel his breath hot on my neck as he snuggles closer in his sleep. It brings a smile to my face.
I contemplate laying in bed until he wakes up, but my limbs ache to move. I’m still a little sore from the lightning shock yesterday, not to mention… what came after. I blush at the memory. It’s odd, being the one with more experience. Although, Andrei is always quick to learn.
Reluctantly, I slip out of his grasp, careful not to disturb him. Usually, there’s an hour or two between sunrise, and when he wakes up. I tip-toe over to my ensuite bathroom, grabbing a towel on the way. In the shower, I turn it to maximum heat, relishing in the warmth it brings. I’m sure most people would run screaming from scalding water, but it’s never bothered me. Maybe it’s a fire thing, or maybe it’s a dragon thing. I don’t know anymore.
The air is thick with steam when I finally turn the water off. I dry myself as best I can, rubbing my hair thoroughly before I wrap the towel around my chest. I brush out my hair and tie it in a braid over my shoulder, before stepping into the comparatively freezing bedroom. Andrei is exactly where I left him.
With the steam leaking out of the bathroom, I decide it’s best to open the window. There’s a large pane that opens outward, without a screen. Below is a sheer cliff, leading straight to the ocean. It’s almost funny, given the recent events, that I never even considered jumping from here.
“Good morning, Kat,” a familiar voice draws my attention as a little red bird lands on the windowsill.
“Rhoan? Where’ve you been?” I ask in a hushed tone.
“Given recent circumstances, I felt it best to keep an eye on the tomb, should any other intruders show up,” he answers simply.
I flinch. Why does that make me feel… bad? “Oh…”
The bird ruffles its feathers as though sighing. “Kat. You’ve grown into the woman I always hoped you would. You’ve mastered your gifts, and you’ve made friends. It seems, you don’t need me to guide you, anymore.”
“What?” I gawk, taken off guard. “I don’t… need you?”
“Correct,” he nods. “I will be around, I’m not going anywhere. However, at this time, I believe it would be in our best interest if I were to remain here, in the crypt.”
I blink a few times, processing his words. “Oh… Okay…” I mumble. He wants to be with Markus. I guess that makes sense, since he created him and all… “I understand.”
“Don’t take it personally, Kat,” the bird tilts its head. “I have faith in you, as I always have.”
I nod. What else can I say? I’m a little hurt, but it makes sense. After an awkward moment, he takes off again. I watch the bird soar until he’s out of sight. I glance at the bed, and move to the closet. My favourite jacket, now pockmarked with holes and stained with my blood, hangs in the middle. I dig into the pockets, first pulling out the phone Kaede gave me. It doesn’t turn on, and the screen is cracked. I place it on the dresser and check the other pocket. It has what I’m looking for.
A single white tube rests between my fingers. I close the closet door, leaving the rest of the pack hidden, then move back to the window. The conflicting emotions brought on by Rhoan’s sudden declaration stir up memories of my dreams. I lean on the ledge, which is just below chest height, and bring the cigarette to my lips. The end lights as I inhale, the chemicals flood into my lungs. It provides a sliver of relief, if nothing else. I exhale a puff of smoke, which dissipates on the breeze.
“You look like a goddess, standing before the sun like that. Have I died and gone to heaven?” Andrei whispers in my ear as his arms slip around my waist. I jump with a squeak. I thought he was still asleep! My heart pounds against my ribs. His hand presses against my clavicle, over my heart, and he pulls me back against him.
“Did I wake you?” I stutter, glancing at the stick in my hand warily.
“If the bed growing cold counts, then yes,” he kisses my neck. My head rolls to the side involuntarily, eyes falling closed.
“I’m sorry…” I whisper, breathless.
“Don’t be,” he hums. “I don’t mind,” his free hand trails down my right arm. I barely notice until the cigarette slips out of my fingers. “But this, maybe this I mind. What’s bothering you?” he asks, lips leaving a trail up to my ear.
“Am I that obvious?” I pout, deflecting his question.
“Yes, you’re an open book,” he replies. “You only smoke when you’re thinking about something.”
“I guess I need a new habit,” I scoff, jokingly.
“Can you tell me, or is it a secret?” he insists.
I sigh. “It’s… nothing you don’t already know.”
“Hmm? And what’s that?”
I bite my tongue for a moment. I know he’s doing that on purpose. “You know… Dreams and stuff,” I shrug, trying to brush it off. I hate that it makes him worry so much. I wish I could just get over it.
His arm squeezes me tighter. “I’m sorry I can’t help you. Maybe when we find the last artifact, we can stop these dreams?”
I shuffle in his grip until we’re nose to nose. “Don’t be silly,” I peck his lips. “You’re always there. I couldn’t ask for anything more. Though we should definitely find that.”
“Hmm, we should. Maybe after round three?” he smirks. I blush. He looks up. “Oh, that reminds me. I haven’t seen Rhoan in like, ages. Do you have any ideas where he is?”
My body tenses before I can stop it. He definitely felt that. I know he’ll ask. “Yeah… He was just here, actually.”
“Oh? Is everything okay then? You seem… nervous about something,” he cocks his head.
“Of course,” I try to sound convincing. “He’s protecting the crypt, so we probably won’t see him around much. He just came to let me know.”
“Oh… I see then, why you’re tense. He’s been your partner for a long time. Well, we know where the crypt is, we can go visit him any time,” he smiles, cupping his hand around my cheek. “Do you want a coffee?”
I giggle. “Only if you make something to go with it.”
“Oh,” he perks up. “So you want food to go with your coffee now?” he laughs.
“Only your food,” I scrunch my nose.
“Hmm, well, if you want food you’ll have to kiss me first,” he winks. I’m only too happy to oblige.
As we were just finishing breakfast, Caroline shows up in the cafeteria, apparently having tracked us with her water. She insists we follow her to the courtyard, where she’s gathering the rest of our little gang. I’m surprised to find Eli and Ceph there as well; for a moment I thought them showing up was another weird dream.
“Sis!” Eli hops to his feet, scooping me up in his arms and spinning around. I stumble when he puts me back down. “How are you feeling? You took a pretty good shock yesterday, huh?”
I blink, hoping the sky stops spinning. “Um, yeah. I’m… fine.”
“Eli…” Ceph warns softly.
Eli looks back at him with wide, innocent eyes. “What? She was out for a whole day!”
Andrei coughs behind his hand conspicuously. I feel my face warm up. “Right, so, um… What did you guys want to talk about so urgently?” I scratch my cheek, looking to Caroline.
Caroline grins nervously. “Are you up for a road trip?” Kaede snickers beside her, thumbs tapping wildly on his phone.
“Oh,” I pull my phone out of my back pocket. “I totally forgot about this the other day… Um, I think it’s broken,” I hold it out to Kaede.
Kaede looks up and smiles. “I figured. Look what already came in,” he takes the broken phone and hands me a small rectangular box. Inside is another phone, nearly identical. “You’ll just have to log into your old accounts.”
I raise an eyebrow. “How did you know it was dead?”
“Clearly,” Nik pipes up, leaning in beside Kaede, “the great tech wizard noticed your phone stopped working after you took a swim in the lake, fully clothed.” I glare at him.
Kaede laughs. “Yea, it was pretty obvious. Phones never recover from water damage.”
Ceph adjusts his glasses. “And why on earth would you go swimming in your clothes?” He asks, in a rather fatherly tone. His gaze focuses on the phone as I turn it on, a curious expression.
“It wasn’t on purpose…” I mutter. “Can’t we just… move past that already?” Ceph shrugs.
Nik smirks. “I think I’ll hold it over you for a little longer.”
“I vote for moving on too,” Andrei holds a hand up, like he’s in school.
“Enough,” Selene stands up from the bench she’d been perched on. “Caroline, please continue.”
Caroline clears her throat. “I thought, it might be nice to go out and see the world, you know. Go somewhere we’ve never been before,” she’s cut off as Kaede starts playing a song from his phone.
‘I bless the rains down in Africa. Gonna take some time to do the things we never had…’
Caroline smacks him on the arm, and the music stops.
I glance up at Andrei, confused. “Um, I mean, sure, someday… but don’t we really need to focus on the last artifact?”
“The artifact is in Africa,” Caroline glares at Kaede. “He just won’t let me say it.”
“What? It’s a good song!” Kaede laughs, dodging her second swat.
I look around the group; Caroline, Kaede, Selene, Nik, Eli, Ceph, Andrei, and myself. “All of us? Wouldn’t that be a little… obvious?”
“I will be staying here,” Selene states immediately. Ok, so one less.
Ceph nods. “I spoke with Caroline about this, and we believe it is wise to bring as many of you who are willing to go,” he looks to Selene. “Because real world experience is good for magicians, and the desert can pose certain dangers that having multiple magical practitioners present for could otherwise lessen the potential risks.”
“Regardless, I must stay here,” Selene waves a hand. “As for the rest of you, that is your choice.”
“Haven’t any of you ever wanted to see Africa? It could be fun! Everyone going together, getting to know each other,” Kaede jests.
“Also, it would be a good team building experience, I thought,” Caroline says. “We haven’t had that many opportunities to work together as a full team and we keep growing. It might be good to learn about each others abilities and work together outside of the training rooms and the Guild. Different environments can offer new challenges for each of our abilities, and it might be helpful to learn about them,” she looks around at everyone, a little nervously. “So, what do you say? Will you help me find the water artifact in Africa?”
“Of course,” I step forward. “I understand at least the four of us going, but… No offense, Kaede, but is it wise for you to come too? It may be dangerous…”
“How come you guys get to have all the fun? I’d like to see Africa too. And who will help us get signal while in the desert?” Kaede grins.
I frown. It seems like a bad idea to me, but it’s his life. We’ll just have to keep an eye on him. I look at Selene. “If we’re going to learn to work as a team, then we should all go.”
She crosses her arms. “I’ve got a big target on my head. The Master himself would likely show up if I leave this island.”
I stare into her silvery eyes. Let him come, if he’s brave enough to face me in person. I think, knowing she’ll hear. Her eyes narrow.
Andrei adds. “But there are four other Guardians here to help you. Surely we can handle whatever he sends.”
She heaves a sigh. “Very well, if you insist,” she speaks at me, specifically. The corner of my mouth twitches. Andrei may be hopeful that finding the artifact will stop these nightmares, but I know they won’t stop until he’s dead. Mortecai… the coward.
“Well, that was…. A little easy,” Andrei muses, surprised.
Caroline huffs, crossing her arms and rolling her eyes. “Idiot, she’s staring at Kat. Clearly she thought something.”
I raise my eyebrows with an innocent expression. “What? Me?”
“I know you know how it works. Don’t play pretend,” Caroline smiles a little smugly. I give her a cheeky smile back, but say nothing.
“What about Ceph and Eli? They only just arrived. Will you join us?” Andrei asks, hopeful. Eli looks up at Ceph for the answer. I note the interesting similarity in our relationships. It makes me snicker under my breath.
Ceph looks long and hard at Eli before he speaks. “Although it sounds like fun, I believe it would be best for us to stay behind. We won’t jump back or anything. We can perhaps act as a connection to the Guild, in case you need anything,” he frowns to himself.
Eli pouts, turning back to me. “Aw, I was hoping to fight side by side with my lil’ sis! Promise we’ll go a few rounds when you come back?”
I laugh. “Yea, I’ll even show you the danger room.”
“Hopefully there won’t be any reason to fight,” Andrei injects, scratching his ear nervously.
My nose twitches and I flex my fingers. My gaze snaps back to Selene, and she shakes her head, with disapproval. Is it wrong to want to put an end to this, once and for all? She tilts her head, an exasperated expression crossing her features.
It would not be so simple. Her voice rings in my head. I purse my lips, dissatisfied.
“There’re more than enough of us capable of using a gate. I have a rough idea where the artifact may be, but tracing it can only get us so close. I think it might be best if we pack for the trip and maybe leave first thing in the morning. Does everyone agree?” Caroline asks, turning to look everyone in the eyes. I see several of us nodding.
“Oh, good!” Eli perks up, “Then you have time to show me that room now, don’t you sis?” he doesn’t wait for a response, grabbing my arm as he jogs back toward the doors of the castle.
“Hey! Hold up!” Andrei chases after us. “I’ve never seen this danger room either!”
“Guess it’s worth a shot to see…” I hear Caroline say as we leave the courtyard.
I’m able to slow the pace once Eli realises he doesn’t know where he’s going. It looks like everyone is coming along. I’m used to having an audience, but this is… different. I’m suddenly feeling a bit of stage fright. I lead them through to the gym, past the exercise machines to the metal door and large observation window.
“This looks interesting,” Nik comments as he steps up to the window. “Why is the room empty? It doesn’t look very dangerous.”
“The enemies and obstacles are generated depending on the difficulty level, from novice to expert level,” I explain as I kick off my shoes by the door. Already, other mages slip into the room, hoping to catch a glimpse. Man, word travels fast.
Andrei frowns. “Danger room… I don’t like the sound of it… sounds dangerous.”
I laugh. “That’s the idea, silly.”
“What level do you use?” Caroline asks, peering through the window. I smirk and lay my palm on the scanner.
“Welcome, Kaitlyn. Danger level: Special; Guardian. Enter when ready,” the robotic voice speaks as the door slides open. Cheers erupt from the growing crowd.
“There’s a Guardian level?” Andrei gulps.
Kaede nudges him with a grin. “And she’s boss at it too.”
I glance back. “Until now, it was only known for killing, or seriously maiming anyone who dared try it. For obvious reasons. Coming, Eli?”
“Right behind ya, sis.”
“I hope you’ve mastered the fire form,” I muse as the door shuts. “Otherwise you may end up a little burnt.”
“I’ve been practicing,” Eli huffs, sticking his nose in the air. “Shall we see who gets the most kills?”
“Only if you’re prepared to lose,” I tease as I release the flames, and they overtake my body. It takes Eli a moment of concentration to achieve the same form, just in time as the environment in the room shifts.
Creatures ten feet tall manifest, surrounding us, brandishing very real weapons. Smoke begins to gather on the ceiling, with two of us in here. I can even see beads of sweat on the creatures, as the temperature in the room skyrockets. The closest beast takes a swing, his blade passes right through me, distorting my figure briefly. It’s almost comical, how easy they are for me.
I don’t really need a weapon to destroy them, but sometimes I like to form the flames into the shape of a weapon for nostalgia sake. Blade or flame, it cuts through them all the same. Eli and I dance around one another, cutting down the constant stream of enemies until the timer goes off. It’s set for ten minute intervals. The bodies fade, and we’re left alone in the empty steel room.
“How do you feel?” I ask, as Eli’s fire form recedes.
He leans over, hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath. “That was quite intense, sis. I think I’ll need more practice, to keep up with you,” he laughs. A panel opens in the ceiling, sucking out the air and blowing in cool air. A safety measure, I assume. After a moment, the door slides open.
By Krystyna Yates