The heat and the wet clothes are not two pleasant things to have in combination. After walking across the expanse of the river’s mouth, I can feel my legs chafing from the wet pants and it is very uncomfortable.
As soon as we’re all ashore, back on the South African side of the river, Nik collapses the bridge made of solidified sand. The water comes rushing back at full power, sweeping the remains away. I’m quickly distracted by the glassy scorch mark in the sand by the river’s edge. It looks like some sort of crater where a celestial body may have crash landed. I imagine the locals are going to have a field day with that.
“Was that you Kat?” I ask, even though I already know it was. Caroline and I saw a large jet of flame while we were on the island with the tree. That would be the only explanation.
“Uh… yeah,” she mumbles, scratching her cheek.
She’s so cute. I drape my arm over her shoulders, pulling her into a side hug. Then a thought occurs to me. “Think you could dry out these clothes for me?” I lift the corner of my lips into a crooked smile just for her.
She blinks and purses her lips in thought. “I’ve never thought of that. I can try.”
I stand, arms spread eagle and waiting. I glance over and see Caroline is already pulling the water from her own clothes. I begin to feel warmer as the air around my body heats up. I imagine this must be what it’s like in those domed hair dryers at the woman’s hair salon my mom used to go to. I close my eyes as the temperature becomes uncomfortable. It’s not long before the water evaporates from my clothes, leaving my hair a bit sticky and fluffy from the remaining salt.
“Thanks!” I say gratefully, as the heat drops. Now I won’t have to worry about the unpleasantness of wet clothes.
The camels have been pegged nearby and look uncaring that they were left behind without a watch. I think we’re all eager to get out of the desert, now that we’ve got what we came for.
We head out across the sand towards the camels. With each step we take, I feel more and more comfortable as the temperature seems to get cooler. For a moment, I look up, wondering if a cloud has decided to come by and block the sun, but there’s no sign of a cloud or rain.
The group slows, wary of the dropping temperature. I hug my arms as our breaths become visible as we make a circle, all facing outwards.
“What’s going on?” Caroline’s voice shakes as she speaks, teeth chattering.
“This reminds me of that Harry Potter film with the dementors,” Kaedes teeth chatter as he hugs Caroline to keep warm, to no avail. “Maybe something like them is nearby!”
“I doubt that,” Caroline grumbles.
Uh, guys…” I point toward the river. “The river is starting to freeze too…” I say with disbelief as all their heads turn at once. The same river Caroline said she couldn’t part because it was too strong is now beginning to ice over, going against every law of nature.
“What?!” Caroline gasps, eyes growing as wide as saucers. “That’s not… possible!”
“Hello,” greets a smooth voice, drawing our attention behind. Our eyes settle on a tall man standing there with short, chocolate brown hair and striking blue eyes. On either side of him stands two others. My blood boils and my stomach flips as we all recognize the figure dressed in black on his left; Samantha. The girl on his right is new. She looks to be of Asian descent, I’d go as far to say Japanese from the shape of her features. She looks fairly young, but then, as Kaede confirms, most Japanese people look much younger than they really are anyway, and if she’s like us, she might hold her youth well.
The man smiles sweetly, not looking at all that dangerous compared to Sam, who is glaring daggers at Kaitlyn. I feel Kat shuffle behind me, arms over her belly just in case. My heart skips a beat and if this wasn’t a real threat I’d be telling her how cute she’s being. The man’s gaze settles on one particular person with a strange familiarity.
“Selene… How long has it been, hm? My darling little sister… Gosh, you look good, considering we buried you nearly a century ago,” he says in a smooth voice. His tone, however, is laced with ice-cold daggers.
Caroline’s eyes bulge with shock. “Sister? Selene, this man is your brother?” she asks. We all share the same expression at this piece of information, even Sam turns her face to him with a raised brow of surprise. Who is this man? I wonder.
Selene narrows her eyes at him. “It would seem so. As he said, we haven’t seen one another in a long time.”
I notice our team taking subtle steps around us, adjusting out stances to surround Kat. It’s a sure sign of spending so much time together. I have to say, Caroline’s team building plan for this trip was a good idea.
It seems I’m not the only one to notice though, as Victor raises a quizzical brow.
“That one in the back, that’s the fire Guardian the Master is worried about, yes?”
Sam nods her head. “Yes, that’s the pesky little flame thing. She’s stronger than she looks, though,” she sneers. The man hums softly in response.
I turn to the Japanese girl, noticing how her eyes shift between everyone. I don’t really know who she is, but she looks somewhat terrified to be here. I suddenly realize that she too has an aura, though it’s almost an invisible white colour. Where Sam’s is purple, the man’s is light blue and her’s is like a pale white mist floating off of her. I tilt my head curiously and whisper to Kat. “I think she’s also a Guardian. She’s got an aura, as does the man.”
Kat nods. “It’s dormant, I think.”
“I didn’t realize you fancied entertaining children, dear brother,” Selene calls out to him, drawing his attention away from Kat.
The strange girl shifts as everyone looks to her. She doesn’t look like she could possibly fight.
“I could say the same. You never were very good at making friends your own age,” the man chuckles. “Or any age, for that matter.”
Selene scoffs. “At least I don’t kill them when I get bored.”
“Enough of this,” Gwendalyn interjects. “Who are you and why are you here?”
If I could I would facepalm myself. They clearly want Selene and possibly Kat. I reach into my pocket and pull out the keychain, using my thumb to unhook the scabbard. It grows full length at my side.
I shift my stance and jump as I hear Kat scream from behind. I spin around only to see pillars of ice growing up from the sand and forming a capsule around her. Her voice becomes distant as she becomes fully encased within it.
Panic overtakes my actions and I start pounding on the ice with my fist, sword still in hand, but it doesn’t break, it doesn’t even dent. I look at my sword, but if it were to go through, it might hit Kat. I don’t want to risk that. Damn it!
I spin back around, glaring at the man. “Leave her out of this!” I shout. Caroline prepares too, summoning water at her feet and forming ice gloves on her hands. Gwen steps back to the ice pillar with Kaede, while Selene and Nik step up.
Looks like we’re going to have to fight. The man watches us with an amused grin.
“Release her, Victor,” Selene growls.
He smirks. “Or what?” he’s clearly confident he can take us all on.
‘Drive him and the bitch away from the other one. She is a prisoner, not one of them.’
“What?” I say aloud, at first surprised at the voice in my head, until I recognize the tone. It’s Selene. So, the Japanese girl is not one of them. If I don’t have to, I won’t hurt her. I make my move, dashing forward with speed like I’ve never used before. I’ve been storing up a lot of time energy, just in case. I kick up sand as I run and in half a second, I’m behind the tall man, sword raised to clip his shoulder. It may be a fencing blade but I can make it work as I learned in Camelot.
My strike makes contact as he pulls away, aware that I am behind him, but he’s not fast enough to evade. My blade slashes through his sleeve and draws blood before he can grow the ice up his arm. He looks mildly annoyed as he turns to face me
Victor, as I heard Selene call him, steps aside as the Japanese girl leaps away. Perfect, that’s what I was hoping for. Now that he’s got ice though, I’m not sure how well my blade will help. I have to rely on my speed to trip him up if anything.
I spare a glance towards Kat and the others. It seems like the ice capsule is glowing orange and I can see Kat has stopped panicking and has begun to melt her own way out. Good. Work as a group.
I spot the black holes in the ground again; Samantha’s trick. I shout out a warning while I still hold Victor’s attention. I hear Samantha growl in frustration as Nik catches her foot in sinking sand.
“You’re brave, I’ll give you that,” Victor glances at the tear in his shirt. “Stupid, but brave,” he extends his arm, a sword forms out of thin air, made of clear ice and I have to step back to avoid being struck.
“You know nothing about me. How can you say I’m stupid,” I sneer back, shuffling lightly in the sand as I plan my next move. I’m shocked to see he already looks bored. He’s only just made the weapon. I extend my blade, fencing style and start to parry. Ice strikes steel with a strange clang, like axes on ice. Any work my blade makes of his ice though regrows. The benefits of an elemental weapon I guess.
I decide to use this as practice, forming a temporary slow bubble of time around him so he can’t see me speed up. This should mess with his senses. As his actions slow within the invisible space of time, I turn mine up a notch and come around from behind.
He may be ice but he’s got the added disadvantage of having to control temperature. I take a chance and shout out to Kat whose just freed herself from the ice. “Kat! Turn up the heat! His magic is ice. We need to make it boiling around us!” I know it might be irritating, but it’ll make it harder for his ice to stay hard.
She gives me a nod and I feel the heat rising, my hair stands on end. I watch his movements within the space. I can’t wait long. I dodge to the right as a spear of ice comes flying out to meet me. I narrowly miss it. Is he anticipating my actions? Or am I just becoming predictable?
I shear the spear off as I release the bubble and zip behind again, this time aiming for his ribs. He tries to make a body armour, but Kat’s heat has an effect and my blade makes a slushy impact, though it doesn’t connect with him directly. I curse under my breath.
I hear Selene’s voice again, in my head. ‘I’m having Caroline get the girl, keep him occupied.’
I think my response, knowing she’ll hear me, somehow. ‘We need a door. Have Kaede find us one.’
‘He already has. In the town nearby. Just do your job now, we’ll worry about the escape.’
Samantha has drawn her gun, trying to get a clear shot of Kat, so she goes full fire, which again, raises the heat. I have to wipe the sweat from my eyes as my hair flops into my face. Nik seems to interject though, hurling sand balls at her, breaking her vision.
Victor pulls away seemingly uninterested. “I’m done with this,” he turns to Kat, who is staying well away from the fighting behind Nik and Selene. “Your boyfriend is a boring fighter. I heard great things about you, but have yet to see any show of your reputation.
My heart thumps loudly in my chest as I see the scene play out in slow motion. Kat turns to him, a snarl on her face. I know she’s doing her best to protect what’s ours, but she hates being told she’s weak; she is fire after all. Selene moves to stand in front of her as Victor raises his hand, small shards of ice, sharp as broken glass, form and zip through the air as he cools the space around them so they can keep form next to Kat’s heat.
I act on instinct, reaching an arm out while shouting no. As my eye sees it, everything around me slows to almost a complete stop, by instinct. Everything moves immaculately slow around me. Only I appear to be moving at relative speed. The shards are about halfway to Kat and Selene as I run up to them. I see the air shimmer with the cool versus heat contact. I can’t let either of them get hurt. With sand and ice flying around and black holes everywhere, there’s only one thing I can think of.
Step through time…
The voice echoes around me. I’ve already slowed it. Why not try changing it? I need them all close. I know it’s going to hurt, this many people at once, but I have to do something.
I have about one forty-seventh of a second to complete this, maybe the fastest I’ve ever moved. I race over to Nik and drag him over to Kat. I then pull Gwendalyn and Kaede, who are hiding behind the camels next. Then I reach for Caroline and the Asian girl, pulling them through the sand until they are all holding hands.
Last is Selene. The ice is about three inches from her face and her eyes are squeezed shut. I pull her away and grip her hand as I grab Kat’s wreathed in flame. Time still hasn’t moved but I can feel the heat growing as I grip hers of fire. It seers my hand like a stove top on high. I can smell the burning skin. I place my back to the ice shards, in case it does reach us before I can complete this. At least I’ll be the one to take it.
Anything to keep the others safe.
Let’s jump! The ticking clock sounds, it pounds in my veins and in my ears like a hundred grandfather clocks. At least a different space, time doesn’t matter. I must act quickly, while they all still hold hands
I release the time bubble and everyone gasps in shock as they perceive the change in position. I feel the ice penetrate my left shoulder just as we’re thrown into the timescape. The ribbons flutter around us like lights. I reach out my right hand and grab the first one I see, not even knowing what it is.
I can’t let myself let go though. As I grab the ribbon the ground lurches beneath me and everyone stumbles with the shift of time. I feel a tightness in my chest and find myself gasping for breath as the world around me spins out of control. I clutch my impaled left arm to my chest gritting my teeth as an intense pain erupts in my heart. My vision turns black and my legs give out, the ground rushes toward me but I never feel its impact.
I hear the distant toll of a clock as everything falls silent, including the pain.
By Kayla West