“Both?” I repeat, confused. “Why did you say both, then ask her again?”
Gwen looks at me, her green-gold eyes almost sparkling with her smile. “That’s two different things you are mixing up, precious.”
My heart flutters, but I shake my head. “I d-don’t understand,” I stutter. I hope I don’t. I hope my instinct is wrong.
“Wait, you don’t know?” she thumbs her chin and then frowns. “Oh, I’ve done it again. I’ve read it too early. I have to stop doing that…” she looks up, sympathetically. “Don’t be too alarmed. Sometimes my sense of life is a bit too keen.”
“What did you read?” I demand, my voice nearly shrill with panic. Just, tell me I’m wrong…
“Why, I read your life energy. You and your baby’s,” she smiles sincerely.
I feel like the air is knocked out of me. I sit up, hands on my stomach, gasping to breathe. I can’t. I can’t be… “That’s not possible.”
“Oh, it must have been possible, because it is there. I’m never wrong. Trust me,” her brow furrows with concern. “Though-”
“No no no,” I shake my head. “Logan made sure… he said I couldn’t!” I wheeze.
“Logan? I don’t know who this Logan is and how he can stop life from being created, but I assure you, your body, internally, is perfectly capable of carrying many new lives and it is presently. Such a sweet young life… Oh, right. I was going to say, I am worried about how you arrived here. You have been with child for no more than a couple of weeks. You really ought to not put yourself in such harmful situations like this. Life is a delicate thing in its early stages,” She rambles.
I feel dizzy. A couple of weeks? Was I… when I nearly drowned? Or after that? I charged at Samantha, I could’ve lost it… Will he be angry?
“Kaitlyn! Breathe!” Caroline reminds me, resting her hand on my leg.
“I… I… can’t!” I feel my eyes sting. “What… what about… ?” I can’t say his name, the dread building in my mind. He’ll be so upset, I put it in danger. I can’t keep it safe. I’m not fit for this.
The firepit flares up, sparks flying around the room. I can’t stop it. The fire doesn’t understand. It feels fear and reacts.
I hear footsteps outside and Andrei’s head suddenly pushes into the tent, brow creased with worry. He’s quickly followed by Kaede and Nik, all barrelling into the tent. “Is everything alright? I saw fire,” he asks quickly.
A tear escapes, trailing down my cheek. My lip trembles and I shake my head slowly. My voice seems to have disappeared.
Caroline looks at me, unsure. Andrei kneels next to me, placing a gentle hand on my shoulder.
“What, is this your partner?” Gwen asks curiously. I nod once. “My, he’s a handsome one,” she nods with an approving smile. “Yes, strong and handsome is yet to be,” she muses. “You want to say it or shall I?”
Andrei looks at me quizzically. I open my mouth, but nothing comes out. I beg her silently to say it for me. I don’t think I can…
“Well my friend,” she clasps his hand in hers with a smile. “Your love partner here is with child!” she says with excitement. Her eyes seem to glow with a radiant light as she looks at Andrei.
Andrei seems to freeze. His face goes blank as he processes the information. He slowly turns to me and unlocks his jaw. “Is this true?” he asks softly, voice wavering slightly.
I gulp and shrug. She would be the one to know, wouldn’t she? I didn’t even know I was capable, but something in the back of my mind tells me it’s true.
“Of course it’s true, silly. I’m never wrong. You and her are with child! You should celebrate! This is a miracle!” she grins. “Anyway. You two are healed and are good to go. You, however,” she looks at Selene. “I need to read you before I can let you go. Everyone else can shoo, I need more space in my tent.”
I reach a shaking hand for my tank top, pulling it over my head. I manage to take in shallow breaths, but my whole body trembles. I attempt to stand up, on her instruction, though I fall back again. The tent is spinning.
“This one doesn’t take happy news well, does she?” Gwen’s voice calls from beside me. I feel her hand push on my shoulder and my back presses against the carpeted floor. “Lay back and rest. No need to push yourself,” she cooes softly in my ear.
I grab onto Andrei’s arm as he moves to get up. I’m scared. I can’t do this. I can barely keep myself alive. What if I lose it? Would he hate me? I search his perfect face with wide eyes, looking for any hint.
He smiles warmly at me and presses a finger to his lips. “Shh, you don’t need to freak out,” he holds my gaze steadily. “I guess we should’ve expected this, really. I’m sorry for being so… irresponsible. This is really kinda my fault… isn’t it?”
I shake my head violently. “No, it’s not,” I pull myself up, using his arm to stabilize myself. I throw my arms around his neck, burying my face in the crook of his neck. He grunts, surprised. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Please don’t be mad,” I whisper.
“Mad? Why would I be mad? And why are you sorry? I mean, this kinda thing happens. We weren’t necessarily using protection. I’m just upset with myself for forgetting. I’ve put this on you. You have nothing to be sorry about.”
I shake my head against him. “No…. I thought… it shouldn’t have been possible.”
“How so?” he asks me tenderly.
I clutch his shirt in my shaking fists, my voice almost inaudible. “It was something he did…” I brace myself as I feel him tense, his arms slide around my back tightly. His body trembles and I’m not sure if it’s from sadness or anger.
“I hate what he did to you. It wasn’t right… But that just makes this even more of a miracle. I would never get mad at you for carrying our child… I mean, sure, it’s not a good time, but… We’ll manage somehow,” he says softly. I can hear the uncertainty in his voice. I don’t know how I’m supposed to fight the Master and his goons and keep a baby safe at the same time.
Even worse, I wonder what that horrid girl will do. I got the impression she’s not quite over him, and I can only imagine what she would go out of her way to do to get rid of our child. It’s surreal to even think the words; our child. Something I’d never even considered possible, and now it’s happening.
“Don’t leave… If she makes you go outside, take me with you,” I beg. I’m barely able to keep somewhat calm with his arms around me. I’m afraid if he lets go now, I’ll just fall apart…
“I won’t leave then,” he assures me.
“I can’t have all of you here. Have Nikolas make your friends another holding. You and you,” she points at Selene and me, sliding her finger between Andrei and me. “Can stay.”
Caroline nods, smiling at me as she quickly puts her shirt back on. The other two have already gone back outside. She slips outside and I vaguely hear her voice calling out to Kaede. Andrei shifts his position, sitting with his legs crossed. He lifts me into his lap as I refuse to let go of him. He strokes my hair, kissing my forehead. Several minutes pass in silence. My heart slows to a normal rhythm and I can breathe again.
I adjust my head, resting on his shoulder so I can kiss his neck. “I love you,” I whisper against his skin, so only he can hear.
“I love you too,” he hums, nuzzling his face in my hair.
A few hours pass. Gwen summons the others back into the tent once she’s made a meager meal for us all. There’s plenty of room for everyone to sit comfortably in the tent. Gwen starts to pass out small mismatched bowls.
“I guess I should move, so you can eat,” I laugh nervously as I peel myself away from Andrei’s chest.
“What? No, I’m fine. You can stay, I don’t mind,” he twists his arms around my waist, pulling my back against his chest. I feel a blush cross my face as the others share glances and snicker. I pull my hair around over my shoulder, tying it in a quick braid so it’s out of his way. He maneuvers his bowl and spoon to eat without letting go.
“So tell me,” Gwen speaks up, addressing Caroline. “What is this thing you are searching for in our desert?”
“Ohh, well,” Caroline looks around then continues. “We’re looking for the tear of the ocean. An ancient artifact of the water element. “
Gwen freezes for just a moment. From my angle I see her eyes widen before she catches herself. “Why would you be looking for that?” she asks slowly, making a conscious effort to keep working.
“To stop a crazy old man from murdering and enslaving a whole bunch of people, basically,” Selene answers between spoonfuls.
“Don’t sugar coat it or anything…” Nik raises an eyebrow at her.
“This sounds serious indeed,” Gwen muses. “The oceans tear has not been seen in over a millennium. No one knows where it truly is.”
Caroline interjects. “I’ve been able to trace it using my water magic to somewhere in this desert. When I’m closer I intend to find it using my water signature spell.”
“Oh, well… That’s impressive. So you’re a water mage. That’s fascinating, but you won’t be able to find it that way. Those kinds of spells only work when the thing you’re looking for is not near to a large body of water,” Gwen blushes and clamps her mouth shut.
“So it’s near the ocean then?” I narrow my eyes at the woman, her shimmering light green aura glowing faintly around her. It’s dimmer than it was when she was brewing remedies earlier, but that signature is there, one I’ve become all too familiar with. “I wonder how one might know that if it’s been missing for so long.”
She fiddles with the strings of beads around her neck. “I wonder too,” her dark lips curl into a smirk. “Water is a form of life.”
“You could say that it’s the most basic building block of life,” I agree. “Two elements I’ve never been any good at…” I mutter, my mind wandering again. I find myself holding the bowl in one hand, and the other resting on Andrei’s arm around my stomach.
“You know where it is,” Selene doesn’t ask. She seems to know.
Gwen looks up, a gleam in her eye. “I might.”
“Could you help us find it?” Andrei leans forward. “We don’t have a lot of time. We need to find it and then look for the wind guardian!”
“You can skip the games,” Selene yawns. “I’ve already seen it, in your memories. It will save us a lot of time and energy if you agree.”
“I don’t like that you can read my thoughts. That’s a personal space. You should respect that,” she glares at Selene. “I will help you. I am curious about your lives and abilities. I could use an adventure of my own and I feel you could use my abilities.”
Selene rolls her eyes. I sympathize; it seems like it’s not something she can control, like her other abilities. Her grey eyes shift to meet my gaze as I think about it, as though I’ve shouted her name. She sighs and looks away, all but confirming my suspicion. It’s really not something she can stop. It must be difficult.
Gwen looks at the wall of the tent with a frown. “Has anyone fed the camels? They are hungry.”
I lean forward to get up, an instinctive reaction, but Andrei’s grip stops me. Nik gets up, dusting off his pants. “I’ll check on them. We’ll need them ready soon.”
“Why?” I ask, confused. It’s almost sunset.
He smiles. “We’ve decided to travel through the night, and rest in the daylight. That way, we won’t be so easy to ambush.”
“Travelling at night is also easier on both the camels and us. It’s not as hot at night either,” Gwen says. “The desert can be a dangerous place, but I have lived here all my life. I often travel from tribe to tribe as a traveling shaman.”
“Not a shaman,” I correct. It sort of just falls off my tongue. She frowns, confused. “A shaman is a glorified herbalist. Your magic is real. You’re not a shaman.”
“I am a shaman. My family has always been shamans. We are revered for our skills. Somehow the plants just seem to talk to me. Their spirits are very talkative,” Gwen smiles. “My mother used to say that my shaman powers were strong, that the spirits favoured me.
I shake my head. “There’s no way a shaman, with regular plants, could do what you couldn’t with magic,” I look pointedly at Caroline, wondering if she’s clued in.
“Oh!” Caroline gasps, turning back to Gwen and staring hard. It takes her a few seconds until her face lights up. “Kats right! I can see you have an aura! You’re not just a shaman! You’re one of us! A guardian! Just, maybe not awakened yet. Right? ” she looks to me, questioning.
I nod, putting down the half-empty bowl. “That’s the only explanation that makes sense. I’m guessing the Life element, judging by…” the words catch in my throat, so I change what I was going to say. “Your gifts.”
“Wait, you’re saying my healing is possible from magic? I am like you? I may be your elder but it seems I have much to learn. Well then, it’s decided. I would like to come with you. Although my duty is to the people of the desert, it seems the circle of life has a greater purpose for me yet,” she smiles, pointing to the bowl beside me. “Will you be wanting more?”
I blank at the sudden question. She changes subjects quickly. I look at the half-eaten food, skeptical. I’ve always had a strained relationship with food, but recently I think I’ve gotten used to Andrei’s cooking. I start to form the words to refuse, but I’m torn. Should I? Have I eaten enough, for more than just myself? I have no idea. How am I supposed to know that?
“Are you hungry?” Andrei asks softly. I shake my head. “Don’t feel like you have to take more now,” he says. Gwen nods in agreement.
“Oh… Okay.” I mumble. I feel like such an idiot. “Sorry…” I’m starting to sound like a broken record.
“Don’t, please, it’s fine. If anyone wants seconds, please feel free. I think we should be ready to leave in an hour. The sun will set soon,” Gwen announces as she begins to put away her herbs and things.
I shuffle slightly to look over my shoulder. “I don’t know how you can put up with me… I was basically useless before, and now…”
“He’s not alone, that’s how,” Selene chuckles, gesturing toward Caroline. “I’m sure this one over here would be more than happy to teach you how to be a mother hen.”
“What? that’s so mean!! I have no experience being a mom!” Caroline shrieks.
“Well…” Andrei snickers. Caroline reaches over and pinches him on the arm.
“I specifically said mother hen, to which you have plenty of experience, dealing with these three,” Selene points between her and us. “You just did it there, just now.”
“What? Oh… well… I guess. they’re just so irresponsible sometimes. I don’t know how they manage,” she huffs.
“I guess we’d better help get everything packed up, huh?” I laugh, “Before Caroline gets mad and brings out a big wooden spoon.”
“Oh my God, you guys!” Caroline throws her hands in the air.
“Ah! Too late!” I giggle as I crawl out of Andrei’s lap and to my feet. I look around the tent, but there’s not all that much aside from blankets and the cookware. I pick up one of the loose ones and start to fold it.
I’m surprised how quickly we dismantle the tent and I wonder how she fits all that stuff in just a big backpack. I guess when you travel all the time, that’s a skill you learn.
The sun starts to dip below the horizon as we stand around the four camels. Apparently, Gwen normally travels by foot, so between Selene, Gwen, and Nik, they’ll have to figure out who will share.
Gwen studies the camels. “It seems this one is the strongest. Nik, you should take this one. She and I will take another,” she points to Selene.
Selene shrugs. “Alright.”
“I know you don’t like me all that much, but let’s try to get along, for the camel’s sake,” Gwen smiles.
“Don’t take it personally,” Selene sighs. “I don’t like most people.”
Gwen leads one of the other camels ahead of the others before she climbs up onto it. “The thing you’re looking for is about ten hours this way,” she says, extending her hand toward Selene. “We should split the trip in half, walk for five and then rest and eat, then walk the rest. We should reach it a little after sunrise.
Selene takes Gwen’s hand and climbs up behind her. Andrei holds the reins of our camel as I carefully mount the beast. Once I’m settled he hops up onto the saddle effortlessly, pulling me flush against his chest. I lean into him, anxiety bubbling in my gut again.
“Do you think she’ll come back?” I ask in a whisper when we start moving. We’re second last in the line of camels, with Nik bringing up the rear.
“To the Guild? Perhaps. She seems loyal to her people here, but also interested in our cause. Our group is certainly growing, isn’t it?”Andrei muses.
I frown. “That’s…. Not who I was talking about.”
“No? Then who?” he asks. I turn to look up at him from the corner of my eye. Is he serious? He looks innocently confused.
I decide to reword my question, instead of saying her name. “Do you think she’ll attack again?”
“Oh… her. I…I don’t know,” he stumbles, his mood shifting from happy relaxed to tense and unsure. His body stiffens around me at the mention of her. He seems guarded.
“I hope not,” I chew my lip, holding onto his arms.
The next few hours are painfully quiet. The desert is apparently cold at night, judging by Caroline and Kaede’s complaining.
“Are you cold?” I ask, risking a glance back up at him. He doesn’t seem to be shivering.
“Not while hugging you. Your heat is nice against this chill,” he hums, giving me a gentle squeeze.
I giggle. “I’m glad I’m finally able to share my ability to your benefit.”
“Hey, walking clock!” Selene calls back loudly. “Has it been five hours?”
Andrei grumbles under his breath at the name. “Just about! In seventeen and a half minutes!” he calls up to Selene.
“Great,” she cheers. “Let’s take that break then!”
“And I was just getting comfortable,” Andrei jokes behind me.
“I’m sure we can get comfortable by the fire too,” I rub my head against his chin.
“I’ve already got my own personal fire. I won’t need to worry,” he nibbles my ear before sliding off the Camel and reaching his arms out to me. I lean down, putting my hands on his shoulder and he picks me up by my waist, swinging me around until my feet touch the ground.
“I don’t know if it’s fair to keep all the warmth to yourself you know,” I tease.
“What, you want me to share? That’s outrageous!” he gasps dramatically.
I roll my eyes. “At least a little bit. Look at them, freezing over there!” I point to the others. Kaede hugs himself tightly, Caroline is putting on a sweater, and Gwen is wearing a shawl as she digs through her pack for cooking supplies. “I should make a fire,” I purse my lips as I look at them. “Did we bring wood? Or something?” I wonder aloud, looking around at the packs on the camels.
“We have a bit left from the last stop, on Nik’s camel,” Andrei points.
“Oh,” I blush, moving past him, “I’ll just… get that then.”
“Maybe I should carry it, you know… just in case,” he smiles.
I raise an eyebrow. “In case?”
“Yea, it’s too heavy. You shouldn’t lift heavy things when… you know,” he blushes. “When you have a baby.”
It’s weird to hear him say it, but the look on his face is adorable. “Really?” I sigh. “I guess I have a lot to learn.”
“I think we both do. But I remember people saying that, you know… Doctors and stuff. I once jumped to a time where the people I stayed with were having a baby. The father wouldn’t let his wife do anything. Maybe I’ll do the same,” he winks.
I think I turn some shade of purple. “That would take a lot of getting used to… I don’t know if I could let you,” I hum as I meander over to Nik’s camel. He looks down and smiles. “Would you bring the wood out so I can set up a fire?”
“Sure,” he flips open a pouch and retrieves a bundle of sticks. “Where would you like it?”
“Over there will be fine,” Andrei points to where Gwen has set her things down.
“Alright,” Nik follows his direction, strangely graceful as he walks over the shifting sands. We trail behind him. When he’s set them down he turns back toward the camels. He works on making something to tie them to again.
I sit with my legs folded under me and lean over to set up a makeshift fire pit. I carefully lay the sticks out in a circle, overlapping just enough. Gwen sets her little travel cooking pot up over the sticks, and I set it alight. I also try to channel my energy to radiate more heat around me, hoping it’ll help. The others settle around the pot, basking in the glow of the flames.
“We will rest and eat for one hour, then we should keep moving. We are almost there,” Gwen says as she puts various things in the pot. Kaede fills the silence, telling Gwen all about the Guild. He tells her about the teachers, the training rooms, the library, and of course, the dragons. I bite my lips as he practically yells about them… I know we’re in the middle of nowhere, but who knows who might be listening.
When it’s time to pack up, I put the fire out with a wave of my hand. It complains when I do. Everyone climbs back onto the camels and we continue to trudge on. The horizon seems to be getting lighter. My eyes droop, and I lean my head back on Andrei, resting my eyes. I can’t wait to get back home.
By Krystyna Yates