Beep. Beep. Beep.
The machine sounds a lot like a clock, and after a while, I stop hearing it. One minute we were in the desert, fighting off another attack from Mortecai, and the next we’re standing in the library at the Guild. For just a second in between, I saw that place. The one with the lights that I saw when we went back in time. I knew then it was him.
Only this time, we didn’t go through time. We appeared here in the early morning hours, around the same time that we had been in before, with the time zones. He teleported us – all eight of us – back here. I replay the image of him collapsing on the carpet over and over in my mind;
Selene is the first to move. She drops to her knees, her hands on his chest. She glows brightly, then it passes down her arms and into him. Then, before our eyes, she vanished. I think she’s been kidnapped, somehow, but then, she materializes a moment later on the couch, unconscious. That’s when it clicks, and my heart shatters.
He died. She gave him her life, and took his death. She didn’t even hesitate. I don’t care what anyone says, that she’s cold or uncaring. They’re wrong. I pull my fire back and return to my normal body, leaving scorched footprints on the carpet. I check his pulse, it’s weak.
“Go get Ambrosse,” I whisper. I don’t care who does it. No one moves. “Now!” I snap, unusually harsh. Footsteps stumble out of the room.
I manage to pry myself away from Andrei and step over him to check on Selene. She’s breathing, so that’s good. Can I give her energy? Does it work that way, or does she have to take it? I try anyway, but nothing happens. She seems to be okay, so I sit on the floor between the couch and Andrei.
Gwendalyn crouches beside Andrei and places a strong hand on his chest, closing her eyes. She seems to glow faintly as I assume she reads him like she did for me the day previously. She sighs, turning to me. “He is very weak, but he hangs on, somehow. I guess he has never done that before?” she asks in her thick accent. I can’t bring myself to answer her.
She does the same to Selene and then rests an arm on my shoulder. “They are still with us. It’s ok,” she says assuredly. I assume she’s trying to help. I already knew they were alive; I’m worried about if they’ll ever wake up.
The sound of a stampede precedes the rush of people that flood into the library. Most of them are dressed in scrubs. They buzz around me like flies. I can’t peel my eyes off his pale face until he’s lifted on a gurney and carried away. I snap out of my daze and jump to follow.
“Kaitlyn,” Ambrosse cuts off my path, her hands on my shoulders. I lean to look past her as Andrei and Selene disappear around the corner. “Look at me. What happened here?”
I reluctantly meet her wide blue eyes, a hint of crows feet at their edges. My lips quiver, hanging open silently. She frowns.
“Are you hurt?”
I shake my head. I wish I was. I wish he hadn’t been so reckless… but who am I kidding? His reckless hero complex is one of the things that led him to me, and I adore it. I hate that I don’t hate it.
“Alright,” Ambrosse sighs. She steps around to stand beside me, her arm wrapped around my shoulders. “Let’s go to them.”
That was hours ago. They brought me a chair when they realized I wasn’t going to leave. Someone brought me a cup of coffee. I didn’t bother to look at their face. Only one face matters.
Caroline comes in holding a plate with fruit and cheese. She pulls up a seat next to me and holds it between us. I sense her gaze settle on Andrei as she speaks. “I know… you probably don’t feel like it… but… you should eat something. It’s been a while since we last ate Kat… Won’t you try?” she waits for a response, but I don’t have anything to say.
I force myself to look at her face, and the plate she holds out. My stomach churns and I really don’t want to, but it’s not for me anymore. I pry one hand away from the mug in my lap and pick up a piece of cheese and nibble on it.
“You know… he may be stupid, but… he did a very brave thing,” she says quietly.
“I know that,” I reply quietly. “I know… but…” I sigh, shifting in my seat a little, nearly whispering. “He almost died doing it, and I can’t do this if he dies.”
“He didn’t die though,” Caroline says, pointing out the obvious.
I roll my eyes. “Only because Selene was there.”
“Still… he’s not dead and that’s what matters, You know he wouldn’t want you sitting here like this. He’d want you to be helping the new people, maybe even be waking up the founder,” she reminds me.
“He’s a hypocrite,” I scoff. I glance over at her briefly, something’s been nagging in the back of my mind. “Caroline… if something does happen to Andrei… would you… take care of the baby?”
She looks at me, blue eyes wide. “What? Why? You’re perfectly capable of doing that yourself!” She gawks.
“I’m really not,” I mutter, turning away.
“Yes, you are! And I’m one hundred percent certain he would not want you to give your baby away. How could you do that to him?”
“I’m not giving it away,” I glare at her. “I’m giving it a better life.”
“How is a life without its mom better?” she asks bluntly.
“It would have a mom,” I shrug. “You’re a much better mother.”
“Kaitlyn… I am not a mom. I may be better at bossing my friends around but that doesn’t make me any better suited at being a mom than you,” she pauses, then opens her mouth to say something else. “You know Andrei supports you through anything, right? No matter what, he is always there to keep you up. He would want you to do the same… for him and for your baby. Of course, all of us would be here to help, but I don’t think I can take your baby from you. I will help, but it’s your baby to raise. That’s what Andrei would want, I think,” she falls silent, taking a piece of fruit to fill the awkwardness.
I don’t answer for several minutes. “I want him to stay alive. It doesn’t seem to matter what we want. Isn’t what’s best for the child what matters? Of course, I want to raise it with him… more than you can imagine.”
“I think planning for such a bleak hypothetical future isn’t what’s best,” she says, pushing the plate towards me.
I pick at the fruit. “You’ll look out for it? If anything happens? You’ll make sure I don’t screw it up?”
“Of course!” she assures me. “I’d be there like a second parent.”
“Okay,” I mumble.
There’s a long silence before she speaks again. “Would you like to take a break maybe, get some sleep? I can stay here and watch him if you’d like,” she offers.
“Can’t,” I state simply. My eyes burn a little. I can only imagine what I’ll see when they close.
“It’s not healthy to stay awake this long, especially after using so much magic. You need rest. They aren’t going anywhere and neither will I. Please… get some rest,” she begs softly.
“I can’t,” I repeat. “I can’t… sleep alone anymore.”
“Why not? Surely you can sleep for one night without him, no?” she asks, but she doesn’t get it.
“You’re not listening,” I clench my fist. “I can’t,” I stress the words.
“Can you tell me why not then? I’d like to understand.”
“The nightmares… He makes me see horrible things. If I sleep now…”
“Wait, you’re having nightmares? Is Andrei the only one who stops them?
“Who’s he? Maybe there is someone here who can help you…” Caroline suggests.
“It’s the Master. I don’t know how he does it… but it’s been every night since we came back with Nik,” I avoid her gaze. “It’s okay when he’s there… when he’s not…” I bite my lip.
“Do you think it has to do with magic? Or is it just your bond with him?”
I study his peaceful expression, the gentle rise and fall of his chest. “I don’t know,” I admit. “He just… makes it go away.”
Caroline hums, she’s probably cooking up a way to help with the nightmares already, though I doubt it will help. She sets the plate down on the bedside table and leans over to inspect my cup. “Would you like me to get you some fresh coffee?”
I try to give her a smile. I’m not sure if it works. “Please. I’ll try to eat some more. Thank you…”
“Just… if you do want rest, let me know and I’ll sit here for you… I want to help… if I can.”
“You are helping,” I blurt quickly. How could she think she isn’t? “If I do fall asleep, it’ll probably be here… I wouldn’t mind the company if you want to stick around.”
“Sure,” she smiles, pulling out her phone. “I’ll get Kaede on that coffee then,” she starts texting.
Sand shifts beneath my feet. The sun hovers high above, scorching everything in its light. I feel the heat on my face and on my arms. The air is still and I feel myself start to sweat. Is this what it’s like for everyone else, in the heat?
It’s eerily quiet. I look around, only to see the river. I recognize it; we were here yesterday. The difference is… I’m alone. Then I notice that the water isn’t moving either. Everything is perfectly still. There’s something in the water, not far away. I step to take a closer look and regret it.
I recognize the green shirt first, and the long brown hair that floats around his head. He’s face down in the river, lifeless. I can’t breathe, I can’t move. This must be a nightmare, right? This can’t be real. I try to summon fire, unsuccessfully. Yes, this is a trick.
I turn my back on the river, clenching my fists. I won’t fall for it. I need to be strong. I will…
My gaze falls on an anomaly in the sand. The landscape is bare except for a small pink object in the distance. I feel like I have to go to it. I need to see it. It… needs me.
I’ve started moving before I realise, and soon I’m running. I trip on the sand, scramble to my feet, and keep going a few times. I’m drenched in sweat, I still can’t breathe, and I feel my skin burning. It doesn’t matter.
As I get closer I hear a faint sound. I don’t recognize it at first, but the closer I get, the louder it becomes. It’s… crying. A baby crying. I can make out the shape of the pink thing – a crib, in the middle of the African desert. Why is there a baby in the desert?
Why is my baby in the desert?
The thought surprises me and I fall again. The baby shrieks. I look up and my heart stops. Thick black smoke rises from the crib. It wails. Around it, the burnt and disfigured figures of my family stand, eyes bloodshot and apparently unburnt, wide menacing grins on their faces.
“No… no, I won’t. I won’t let that…” I gasp desperately. “Stop it!” I half crawl through the sand until I’m running again. I can still save it.
Pain across my butt, side, and lower back makes my eyes snap open. The tiled floor is cold and damp. I search frantically for the crib. Where did it go?
“Kaitlyn,” a weak voice draws my attention. I turn to see a round face, like a porcelain doll. She lays across the linoleum, arm outstretched. I feel her hand on my head.
“Selene,” I breathe. “What happened?”
She rolls onto her back, breathing hard. Her eyes fall closed. “I was nearly too late.”
Caroline dashes to my side, gripping my arm in a panic. “Kaitlyn, are you ok? Was that a nightmare? You melted the chair!” she says in her high pitched voice, gesturing to the remains of the chair. So that’s why my butt hurts.
“Uh…” I blink a few times, pushing myself to sit up. “Yea… I guess I nodded off.”
“Here, let me help,” she pulls me up and guides me to her chair which now lays several feet away from the melted puddle that was mine. When I’m seated, she pulls Selene up and helps her back into the bed.
I rub my eyes, then my whole face, trying to wake up. “I’m sorry about this. It’s bad enough Andrei has to put up with this… I’m really sorry,” I mumble. I hate this, I hate the fear and the worry in their eyes. Why aren’t I strong enough to stop the dreams…
“No, Kat. It’s not your fault. Whatever the Master did to you is not your fault, so you don’t have to apologize,” Caroline says as she pulls the blanket over Selene.
I lean forward in the chair, elbows on my knees, resting my face in my hands. I swear I can still hear the crying, like a ghost in my ears. I’m not sure which is worse, the crying, or the image of Andrei drowned in the river etched on the inside of my eyelids. I curse under my breath. How am I supposed to kill Mortecai? I doubt he’ll just wait nine months.
“I hate to ask what it was about…” Caroline says, handing me a glass of water. “What if we were able to do something to stop the dreams? I mean… he wasn’t always giving you nightmares before, right?”
“No,” I sigh, letting my arms fall away and rest on my lap. “It’s like once he found a way in the first time, he has free access whenever I’m asleep.”
“Then we need to put some sort of lock on your mind. I hate to sound like Kaede now, but there’s a similar scene in Harry Potter, where Professor Snape teaches Harry how to keep Voldemort, the dark lord out with a spell. Maybe we can find something in the library, or…” she thinks a moment. “Cliff! What if we asked Cliff? His specialty is barriers! What about a barrier of the mind!” she looks like she’s about to hop on one foot with excitement.
“A spell like that, even if it did exist, requires concentration. I can’t do that when I’m asleep,” I explain, exasperated. “We were going to ask Markus when he’s awake. Since it’s his brother and all, if anyone would know something it’d probably be him.”
Caroline crosses her arms. “Well, we can’t wait forever. I don’t see how learning a mind spell though wouldn’t help. If you meditated yourself to sleep that would be focus, wouldn’t it?”
I raise an eyebrow. “Aside from the fact that I suck at that, no. Once you fall asleep, you’re asleep. The spell would wear off.”
“And how do you know that? Wouldn’t the purpose of a dream barrier be to work while you’re sleeping?” she challenges.
I stand up, rolling my eyes. “I know that because I’ve been studying magic my entire life, and a dream barrier spell doesn’t exist. You can’t consciously control magic in your sleep,” I point to the puddle of plastic. “Exhibit A.”
“But that is casting magic while you sleep. You said yourself, you used to burn up the bedroom in your sleep. Your elemental magic is still magic and if you did that in your sleep you’d have enough concentration in your dream to affect the waking world.”
“That makes no sense,” I argue. “If I could control it, I would have stopped myself from burning everything down.”
“That’s just proof you don’t have enough control yet. If you were to enter the dream and remain conscious, somehow, while you slept, then you could try casting your magic while you slept, and control it. I imagine it’d take a lot of practice, but I still think it’s worth a try.”
I clench my fist, frustrated. “No! It doesn’t work that way. I’ve tried. I can’t use magic in the dream world. I stood two feet from that bastard and he laughed!” my voice raises and my eyes sting. “I watch people I love burn every night, and I can’t stop it. You don’t think I’ve tried everything?!”
“Kaitlyn, calm,” Selene calls from her bed. “She’s trying to help, however misguided. Even one with powers like mine, what you’re describing is impossible, Caroline. Your mind needs rest. If she were to be constantly on guard like that, she would never rest.”
“She’s already not resting! She can’t sleep! That’s the problem here! You’re basically describing a never-ending loop that she can’t solve, which is why there has to be a way to severe or shield her dreams. Whether she is casting the spell or someone else is,” Caroline growls.
Selene sits up. “There are several solutions, actually. First, and most effective, would be to kill the Master. Short of that, if we were to knock her unconscious, and therefore she would not dream,” She looks at Andrei. “She is able to sleep relatively normally, with that one around. Your assumption is a tad exaggerated. The problem is manageable, for the time being, while we work on the obvious solution.”
“And what’s that?” Caroline asks, clearly missing the point.
Selene narrows her eyes. “To kill the Master… Did you not hear me the first time?”
“Maybe if you spoke something other than old English, I would,” Caroline rolls her eyes.
Selene shakes her head. “Colonists…”
“Well, she needs real rest now, and she’s not going to get that while he’s unconscious. So why don’t we just knock her out too and she can join him!” she tries to jest.
I gawk at her. “I’m right here you know.”
“It was her idea!” she points at Selene.
Selene frowns. “I was merely pointing out a solution you clearly hadn’t considered, in your rambling. You make it sound like I suggested taking a bat to her head.”
“Of course I wouldn’t suggest knocking her out! Why would I want to do that! That doesn’t solve anything!” she shouts, throwing her arms out in frustration.
Selene shrugs. “I had to knock her out with magic not too long ago, because she woke in a panic, alone. You remember that, don’t you Kaitlyn?”
“You what?!” Caroline shrieks. I didn’t think it was possible, but she reaches a new decibel.
Caroline spins on me, wide-eyed. “It was probably for the best,” I hum. “Anyway, that’s not important now. If you want to go talk to Cliff, go ahead. I’ll be fine for another day or so,” I pull the remaining chair closer to the bed and curl up in it. I reach under the covers and find his hand. It’s cold compared to mine.
“Fine, I will. I’d like to consider all the options before I give up and wait,” she storms off.
I squeeze Andrei’s hand between both of mine, anxiety creeping into my chest. “And she wonders why I didn’t tell her earlier…”
His fingers twitch, almost as though squeezing back. My heart flutters, but nothing else happens. I rest my head on the edge of the cot. It was just an involuntary twitch. I can’t let my hopes get up every time that happens, or I’ll go insane…
By Krystyna Yates