“Bon appetit!” I grin broadly as I set a steaming omelet on the table in front of Kat. I made sure to load it with all the good stuff; tomatoes, cheese, spinach, and ham. I even made a happy smiley face in ketchup on the top to make her smile.
I take a seat across from her and watch as she picks up her fork. She giggles when she sees the face, hesitant to disturb it. Eventually, she cuts it up and takes a bite.
I don’t know why I find it so fascinating to watch her and the others eat; It’s mostly to see if they like what I made. I’m not sure when this started. I guess I’d have to say it’s a habit from jumping to the past, observing how others do things and imitating them, trying to fit in. But really, I think it’s really cute how she eats, cutting it into small pieces and taking small bites, every time.
I forget to eat as I watch her, lost in my thoughts until she looks up and catches me again, staring at her. I bite the inside of my lip with a smile and sink my fork into the fluffy omelets, amused.
I take a bite and nod with satisfaction as a tall man with reddish hair walks up to our table. He wears a pair of dark blue jeans and a plaid button-up shirt. It takes me a moment to recognize him, and when I do, I nearly choke on my omelet. How could I not?
Markus places a broad hand on Kaitlyn’s back and she jumps with surprise, dropping her fork to the table. I stare at him, waiting for someone to say something.
Kat looks up at him, her eyes growing wide. I watch, intrigued as I catch a glimpse of the pendant appear around her neck, resting over her sweater. He smiles down at her proudly and I lose my appetite watching as he pulls up a chair and takes a seat next to her.
“I’m glad you’re up and about. Your friends take good care of you.” He says in a deep, strong voice. I cringe at the word friends… I feel that’s an exclusive term, which doesn’t include me anymore.
Kat’s eyes dart to me nervously. I try to hide my displeasure at seeing Markus’ familiarity with her. I shrug, unsure how to respond. I don’t trust myself to speak, I’m afraid anything I might say would come out hateful and I’m trying not to be so uptight about the whole thing.
When she continues to stare at me, not saying a word, I sigh. Guess I have to say something after all. I cringe inwardly. C’mon Andrei, try to be nice.
Markus glances between us, reading our indecision. He leans away from her slightly, giving her some space. “I understand you are… upset with me. Perhaps, when you’ve finished eating, we can go elsewhere,” he flashes his remarkably white teeth in a smile, nearly hidden beneath his thick grizzly beard. “If you’ll let me, I would like to restore some of your energy before the yelling starts.”
I frown, I guess he doesn’t know how Kat can get when she’s angry with someone. “I’m not so sure that’s such a great idea. Someone could get hurt if you restore her magic first,” I warn, trying to be funny. Kat glares hard at me and I suspect I’ve hit a sensitive chord.
“I am fully aware of that,” Markus replies, without looking away from her. “Selene tells me I would deserve such a thing.”
Kat looks at Markus with an expression I’ve never seen before, a mix of hatred and reverence. I watch curiously at what she’ll say in response to him.
“Come on, Kat. Don’t be like that. He’s trying,” a familiar voice comes from Markus’ direction. Her gaze flickers to movement on Markus’ shoulder and she turns back to her plate without a word.
I purse my lips as I spy Rhoan as a mouse on his shoulder. I wonder why he ran off to. “So…” I try to break the tension. “You can restore the power you took from her to get yourself out of the space outside of time. Why did you need to take it in the first place?” I try to ask without contempt.
“To open the door,” Markus finally turns his striking blue eyes on me. “It was… some sort of toll my brother placed to lock me there. I needed a great amount of power, specifically from a descendant. An amount that would kill most mages.”
“I guess you could say you’re lucky to have such a descendant, because, without her, it would have been impossible,” I muse, stressing ‘lucky’. I’m not doing such a good job at being friendly.
“That was his intention,” Markus nods, “however, I’m sure you know by now… Luck had nothing to do with it,” his eyes shift back to her. She doesn’t respond, taking another bite of food.
“Yes… we know,” I reply darkly. “So what is it you want to talk about, other than returning her power to her?” I ask, maybe I should try chasing him off so Kat can enjoy my cooking. I hate to see her eat it so robotically.
“Some of her power,” Markus corrects. “I cannot give enough to restore it all. I simply do not have that much energy.”
I open my mouth to respond but I’m distracted as a group of familiar faces show up at the other end of the caf. Kaede, Caroline, Nik, and Cliff approach our table with purpose.
Caroline breaks into a smile when she sees Kat eating. “Hey, guys! How are you?” she asks, but her greeting falls on deaf ears as Cliff notices Markus sitting next to her.
“Oh, I see we have a new friend! Greetings!” he booms, spreading his arms wide as if to embrace Markus right then and there. He is just too friendly! Jeez! Kat’s eyes snap to Cliff with a look that could kill, but Cliff is already in full motion.
Everyone watches with awe as he wraps his Viking-sized arms around Markus in a manly embrace. Our looks turn from awe to stifled giggles as Markus laughs awkwardly, patting him on the back.
“Well, at least one of you seems to be glad to see me,” Markus muses. Kat continues to glare and I roll my lips, barely able to contain a laugh.
“That’s Cliff for you,” Kaede grins, a finger under his lip. Caroline elbows him softly with a quick look and Kaede shrugs like he doesn’t understand.
Nik rounds the table and takes a seat between Kat and I, pulling the chair out and swinging it around so he straddles it backward. His deep brown eyes study her face for a moment before he speaks. “Hey,” he says, getting her attention.
She turns to look at him and they seem to share some unspoken communication before she goes back to eating.
I glare, a little jealous… how’d he do that?
“So, friend, what’s your name? What brings you to the Guild? Would you like a tour?” Cliff asks. I facepalm myself… God, someone needs to tell him.
“That won’t be necessary,” Markus smiles. “I built it,” Cliff’s face freezes in shock, mouth slightly agape.
Caroline bursts out laughing and this time Kaede looks at her with a bewildered look on his face. Oh man, this is great.
“You… built it?” Cliff repeats as it dawns on him just who he’s talking to. “Oh… My mistake! I am so sorry! I can’t.. It can’t be!” he looks around at us, all holding back laughter, except for Kat. “Is he telling the truth? Could this really be the-” Caroline holds up a finger to her lips, silencing him before he says the word Founder and reveals to the whole caf just who sits at the table with us. Cliff clamps his mouth shut with a bemused expression on his face and I nod confirmation to his question. His eyes grow wide and his smile broadens.
Markus grins back at him. “I’m pleased to finally meet you all in the flesh.”
Kaede smiles. “Even me?” he asks, pointing to himself. Caroline rolls her eyes.
“Absolutely,” Markus nods. “Someone should be keeping my legacy up to date with the rest of the world.”
“See!! He appreciates a Techy. Magic and Technology can work together,” Kaede says smugly. “It’s an honor to uhh… update your facilities,” he says, extending a hand to shake Markus’.
Markus takes his hand firmly; Kaede’s hands are dwarfed by Markus’ in comparison.
I notice Kat’s fork scraping absently at the empty plate and smile. “Shall we go somewhere more private then, to talk?” I ask, taking the fork from her hand with an encouraging smile.
Markus is the first to stand. “Follow me,” he says. He seems a little too eager for this encounter if you ask me. We all follow suit, and I quickly leave the plate in the kitchen and dash after them as they leave the caf. He leads us to an area of the Guild I’ve never seen before, up one of the towers. We climb the endless amount of stairs. Cliff informs us that this part of the Guild has been closed for centuries due to poor infrastructure.
Markus explains as we walk that this is where his private apartments are and he had spent the better part of the previous day cleaning it up. When he opens the door, we look around in awe at the large, open space. The walls are lined with tall windows and rugs cover the floor in a rich red colour. There’s an old Oak desk covered in books and strange apparatuses which I could probably never guess their purpose. I spot some bookshelves along the wall filled with old texts with handmade spines. I feel the sudden urge to read them.
Kaede can’t seem to hold his tongue as it clearly reminds him of the Gryffindor common room he’s seen in the Harry Potter films. I chuckle at the reference and the fact that no one else here would know what he’s talking about, except for maybe Nik.
I frown as I notice Nik hovering around Kat. Isn’t that my job? Or am I just being overprotective?
“Welcome to my apartments. You can usually find me here in the evenings,” he waves a wide hand around the living space as the door shuts behind us.
With sudden speed, Kat dashes towards him, as if this was the moment she’d been waiting for. Nik quickly grabs her around the waist with equally surprising speed, catching her before she can reach Markus and holding her back in a bear hug.
“Nope,” Nik says cheerfully. “Let’s not do something you’ll regret,” he hums in a sing-song voice. This irks me very much. I find myself irritated by him touching her like that. I take a step towards them.
Kat wiggles in his grip but can’t work her way out. I bite my lip ‘cause I don’t think I would have stopped her. I kind of warned him that might happen, and I feel like Markus expects it too. He doesn’t look at all surprised. She stops fighting, her burning orange eyes trained on Markus.
Markus sighs. “Do you truly hate me that much, Kaitlyn?” she doesn’t respond, only glares at him, seething with anger. Everyone watches as she continues to simmer, Nik being as sturdy as a tree holding her back. I sigh… knowing I’m the only one who can probably calm her down.
I step up to her, between her and Markus so she has to look at me. “Come on Kat… I know, we both dislike him very much, but… maybe we should hear him out,” I say. I wait for a response, to see how she’ll take my suggestion. She gives me nothing but a twitch of her upper lip.
I lean in close to her face, staring into her smoldering amber eyes; God, she’s beautiful, even when she’s angry. “Kaitlyn, come on now, let’s use our words… ok?” I say, tilting my head a little, not daring to blink.
I see the anger falter in her eyes, revealing something else. “Words hurt more than fists,” she finally speaks. She couldn’t be more right there. I nod, moving out of the way. I gesture to Nik to let her go.
“Not a chance,” Nik states stubbornly. “I can do this all day, Kat. Start talking, you two.”
This time it’s my turn to glower. I don’t want him to hold her like that. “I got this, Nik. Let her go,” I say, placing my hand on her arm lightly.
Nik looks down at me, dead serious. “Not if you’re going to let her get violent. She’s not in any condition to fight.”
“And what do you know about her condition,” I growl. “That’s my business, not yours. Besides, she just said she’d talk. I trust her,” I snarl.
“That is not what she said,” Nik scoffs.
“He is right,” Markus speaks up. “Kaitlyn, violence is not the answer here. At least, not until you’ve regained your strength. Please, calm yourself.”
I throw my arms up, stalking away. No one listens to me… what am I? A brick wall? I watch from the wall, a frown plastered on my face. Everyone’s eyes shift nervously between Kat and Markus, waiting with anticipation.
Markus shakes his head. “Alright then… If you insist,” he approaches, placing his hand on her forehead. I smile at the thought of Nik getting burned, holding her. Markus’ hand glows for several moments. When it fades, he steps back. “Release her now,” he nods to Nik.
Nik sighs. “Don’t go too crazy,” he mutters as he opens his arms. As soon as she’s free, Markus is knocked across the room into the far wall.
I hold my head in my hands… Oh, Kat… Why? Why won’t you listen to me? I can’t help but admit that I’m sad she didn’t burn Nik first, but still…
She moves across the room in a flash, before he has time to get back up. He doesn’t seem to be trying to defend himself at all, taking each of her hits without flinching. She kicks, punches, elbows, and knees him repeatedly, then waits for him to get back up before attacking again. Still, he takes her blows, even when the fire comes with each impact. His clothes are scorched in several places, but I realize after several minutes of this… none of the injuries look all that bad. Is he that strong, or… is she holding back?
Her punches slow down. He’s knocked back again, but this time as he falls, so does she. Kat drops to her knees, arms limp at her sides. Markus sits up, his expression ever patient.
“I know,” he says quietly, with open arms. Kat falls into his arms, and he rests his chin on her head. “Shh… It’s alright,” he whispers. As everyone holds their breath I hear the faint sounds of her crying. I look away then, not wanting to see her break down. I can’t imagine what she could be going through right now… I just hope she finds the healing she needs to move past this.
I feel bad, not going over to console her, but I can’t help but feel this is between her and Markus and has nothing to do with me, so I wait, watching, if but a little sad. When she finally stops crying, wiping her eyes with the back of her arm, Markus takes her red hands in his. They glow faintly as he heals them. I guess she punched him pretty hard after all.
When he’s finished, he pulls her up and leads her over to the seating area he has. The others follow but I hang back. I don’t want to sit… I still feel a little ashamed that Nik was right… and she didn’t listen to me. I hope the others don’t think to call me over. I’d rather not.
Before she sits, Kat walks up to Nik, looking at her feet as she apologizes to him. He chuckles and ruffles her hair like a little kid.
Then she looks to me, still standing on the wall by the door. I try not to meet her eyes because I just know I’ll cave if I do. From the brief glance I caught of her before I looked away, I notice her eyes are puffy, looking all vulnerable and sad, eyes that ask ‘are you mad at me?’ Yes, I’m mad. Why wouldn’t I be mad? But worse, I’m hurt that you broke my trust and made me look like an idiot. Maybe she’ll ignore me if I don’t look at her…
She hovers for a moment and I just know she thinks I’m angry. I push my lower lip out. I know her. She’s not going to approach me first… I guess I have to man up. I look over as she moves to the love seat, taking a seat and curling her legs up, wrapping her arms around them.
I sneer to myself and push off from the wall to join her on the loveseat. I wish she wouldn’t make me feel guilty like this. It’s her fault I’m mad anyway. I sit beside her, awkwardly. I feel all tenses but despite my current displeasure, I reach my arm around her shoulder and pull her close.
“I’m sorry…” she whispers, sliding her arms around my waist and resting her head on my shoulder. “I couldn’t…”
“Yeah, I know…” I grumble, rubbing her shoulder. “Let’s forget about it,” I suggest. I don’t want to have to sort this out too.
“Alright. Now that that’s settled,” Markus leans back in his armchair, cutting the tension roughly. “How much do you all know about my brother?” It takes me a moment to change gears.
“Wait… you have a brother?” Kaede starts, catching on quicker then I can.
Markus raises his eyebrows and takes a deep breath. “Well, that answers that. Yes. My twin brother, Mortecai. Some might call it a cliche in this day. He turned quite… sour,” he explains.
I raise an eyebrow. “No kidding,” I jest softly. All eyes focus on Markus.
“What happened? Would you mind telling us?” Caroline asks after a long moment of silence.
“Not at all,” Markus nods. “There was a very long time that my brother and I were very close. Unfortunately, with the industrial revolution, non-magical humans began to resent those of us with gifts. They used their newfound technologies against anyone who showed magical promise. It was a very difficult time for all… Mortecai took it harder than most of us. This is when I had established this place, as a sanctuary, where the study of magic could continue without impeding the progress of technology. Mortecai disagreed wholeheartedly,” Markus pauses, a faraway look in his eyes. “He resented them, and he resented me. He felt I had abandoned him to fight alone. So, he plotted against me, and managed to trap me in the Veil.”
“The space outside of time,” I point out. “How can someone do that? I mean, only a time mage can get there without exacting such a high price,” I point out, curious how someone else had learned to do this.
Markus nods. “He paid a price, but I’m not entirely certain what that price was. I do know that while my body has remained as it was, he has aged significantly,” his thick orange brows furrow. “I worry, however… I suspect that a large portion of his power was locked away with me. Releasing me may have also restored that power to him.”
“So the Master, or Mortecai, he looks older than you now, all because he put you in the Viel. How do you know that if you were locked in the Veil all this time? And why would he do that? What purpose did he have to lock you away? Why not just kill you?” Caroline asks.
“He did so because he was not strong enough to kill me, nor I him. I could see many things, even while in that place, and I have been learning quickly since.”
“Then why were we urged to unlock you? According to Andrei’s teacher, we had a limited time to awaken you. If that would strengthen your brother… Couldn’t there have been another way?” Kaede asks.
“No,” Markus replies patiently, “So long as that power was trapped with me, Mortecai could not be destroyed. Not completely. In the same sense, neither could I. He may have been restored, but he is not invincible. He will seek to destroy me again, this I’m sure… but he cannot. We are evenly matched, and thus, we are at an impasse.”
“He’s not only after you, though. He’s been going after Kat for a while now,” I speak up. “He tried to trap her in the Veil too.”
“Indeed, he did,” Markus agrees. “He is afraid of her. She is the only one whose potential exceeds his own. This is how she was designed,” he turns his face away. “It was… more successful than I imagined, and for that, I’m sorry.”
“She’s not some experiment of yours,” I growl, temper flaring. “She’s a human being like the rest of us, not some model robot,” I grip her shoulder in my hand as I say it, hoping to give her some comfort. It still bothers me, how he talks about her with such dehumanizing language.
“You are very right, Andrei,” Markus looks me in the eye. “I made a mistake, but I cannot undo the past. I did not consider how the child would be affected when it was born. I had no way to predict the element she would receive, or how powerful it would be. My concern was how to stop my brother, and in that effort, I became reckless.”
“She was affected more than you can possibly imagine,” I press. “Her power was so great, she could hardly control it. As a meer baby, she lost her entire family and had to grow up alone. Did it not ever occur to you that something like this could happen?”
Markus takes a deep breath. “No, it did not,” he rubs his cheek, adjusting his jaw. “Though, I now understand that it was much worse than I thought,” he glances at Kat, curled up around me, and smiles. “I cannot express how relieved I am to see her happy now, with all of you.”
“She brought us all here, in fact. She found us,” Caroline adds warmly.
“Well,” Nik chuckles, “most of us.”
“She found you too, didn’t she? In a way, she brought you here too,” Kaede retorts. He’s right, in each of our cases, she found a Guardian and managed to interest them in coming back to the Guild, all except Hitomi, the Wind Guardian. That was more of an accident.
“It doesn’t really matter, does it?” Kat mumbles. “The past is the past, and you’re all here. What happens next?”
“Now we must find my brother, and find out what he’s planning,” Markus says as if that were easy. “There are other Guardians to be found, of the minor elements. I am sure he will either seek to recruit or destroy them. He does not have the advantage we have; the ability to awaken through ritual.”
“Wait, you don’t know his plans?” I ask, flabbergasted. Great, wasn’t he supposed to know what he was up to?
“He has that old book,” Kat shifts slightly to look over at Markus. “The one Logan stole.”
Markus smiles. “Yes, but you have the key, my dear. It’s there, around your neck. The book is useless without it.” I eye the pendant which suddenly appears around her neck. So… that’s the key?
“That makes it even more crucial that we keep you out of his hands. If he gets you, then he can open the book. We can’t let that happen,” I say.
“He’s already recruited a few Guardians himself. I’m not sure if they are awakened or not, but besides Logan, he has a girl called Samantha whose element is not so clear to us and a new guy who can use Ice. We managed to get the Wind Guardian away from him though, just last week,” Caroline informs Markus.
“Samantha… yes, I recall. She is the Guardian of the Void,” Markus nods. “Combined with Ice, I suppose that is not a surprise.”
“Void?” I whisper as if to myself. I crease my brows as I think about this. Why does it seem to tickle a memory that I can’t quite remember? Something seems off about this information, but I can’t place my finger on it. I shake my head and focus back on the conversation.
“Why isn’t that a surprise?” Caroline asks. “What’s the significance?”
“They are easily corrupted,” Markus answers simply.
“Surely that depends on the person and not the element,” Caroline replies skeptically.”
“Perhaps,” Markus hums. “Though, the elements typically choose a host that suits them. To an extent, a person is shaped by their element, but the building blocks were there, to begin with.”
“What’s your element?” Nik asks suddenly. I turn to Markus, suddenly curious.
“Ah, of course,” Markus chuckles. “How rude of me. My element is Positive, sometimes known as Light. I have learned to harness several other elements, however. In contrast, Mortecai is of the Negative, or Darkness element.”
“So, just how many elements are there?” Caroline asks, leaning forward on her seat.
Cliff thumbs his beard in thought. “The Guild has a record of many of the elements but much has been lost over the years, without the presence of such Guardians to uphold their skills. It could be possible that we don’t know of all the elements, even now.”
“It is difficult to pinpoint the exact number. Officially, as it was in my time, there were just over thirty. Now, having seen things from the Veil, I see that there are several more even I did not know of.”
“How is that possible?” Caroline adds.
“I think the more important question is, is there a faster way we can find them before your brother does?” I add. I admire Caroline’s interest in the mysteries of the Guardians, but our time is short.
Markus seems lost in thought for a while. “I do not believe so… However…” he hesitates and takes a deep breath. “With my book, it would be possible to create them.”
The room erupts into gasps of shock. Our eyes grow wide at the idea and we all seem to lean closer, well, all except Kat.
“Create Guardians?” Caroline asks. “Is this ethical? Or is it more like creating a catalyst?” she asks, not sold on the idea a hundred percent.
“It gives the opportunity to those who were not born with the potential to face the trial and be deemed worthy,” Markus explains. “It is not ideal, but if they are granted the power, it will mean that those with born potential cannot, and will thus remain dormant.”
“That seems a little unfair, doesn’t it?” she presses. “I mean, those born with the potential might be better suited to Guardianship than those who were not. WOuldn’t it be better if we sought out the potentials first?”
“Yes,” Markus agrees. “Which is precisely why the book is locked, and the key was hidden.”
“Why was the key hidden in Kaitlyn?” Kaede asks.
“I’m wondering this too. It seems dangerous to hide the key in your decedent if it at all seemed like your brother would want to access this information and knew you had a blood relative. Why not hide it elsewhere, like, with the dragons?” I ask.
Markus frowns. “I did, in a way. My brother knew of my wife, and my other children. He was unaware of my other child. It was hidden in that bloodline, all the way down to Kaitlyn. If he had found out, and he did, eventually… He still could not access the key. If she dies without a child, it will be lost. Mortecai has hunted down every last one of my descendants, but he was unable to reach her here.”
His words echo in my head, ‘dies without a child.’ If she dies without a child, then the Key is lost with her. But if she has a child… would the key then pass to it? Would his target just shift to the child? I cringe at this thought. I mean, sure… Kat would no longer be the aim of his persistence hunting, but our child would be. I’d have to try to keep them both safe. I can’t just lock them up in the Guild. That’s no way to live a life.
I decide to confirm my suspicion. “So, what if she does have a child? What then?”
Markus blinks, and glances between Kat and I, “Oh, my apologies. Allow me to clarify; The key will stay with her for the remainder of her life. Your baby will not be affected.”
“Then why did you say if she dies without a child?” I ask, still confused.
Markus’ doesn’t flinch. “There is approximately nine months before the child will be born.”
“So you expect us to keep Kat locked up here forever? Just to keep the key out of Mortecai’s grasp? That’s not a strategy I think will work out. Kat is also one of our best fighters,” I might just be rambling, but it seems like even if she were to have the child, Markus just wants her safe for the sake of the key. Why does he sound so selfish to me? “She has a life too. You can’t keep her locked away until your brother is gone.”
Markus leans forward, holding his hand up. “I do not intend to lock away anyone. It’s quite the opposite. Kaitlyn is necessary in this conflict, and in that regard, I worry for the child,” he focuses his gaze on her. “I would sooner be rid of the key and the book than to force you into captivity. However, it does not matter. The key is bound to your soul. Even if he should get his hands on it, it will always return to you.”
I turn to Kat, watching for her response. I guess maybe I’m being a little pretentious in my assumption that Markus only cares for his own gain. I decide to stop talking and keep my opinions to myself.
Kat pulls her arms out from around me to take the necklace off. She holds it out in front of her, almost fascinated. “How does it work?”
Markus smiles. “Like so,” he holds out his hands. The space above shimmers and a shape begins to form. Before our eyes, a book appears. Wait… isn’t that…?
Kat gasps and jumps as the necklace glows in her hands. “What’s it doing?”
“It’s resonating,” Markus beams. “It recognizes it’s old friend.”
I recognize the book, it looks the same. “How did you do that?” I ask, perplexed.
Markus gives me a wry smile and his eye seems to gleam. “The same way the key is bound to Kaitlyn, the book is bound to me. With this, we can work on a plan to stop my brother. Will you help me?” he asks, looking at each of us in turn.
Caroline nods, followed by Kaede. Cliff smiles broadly, also nodding and then Nik joins. I look to Kat, wondering if she will agree. Our eyes meet and I study them a moment, she seems to hesitate, but then she nods as well. I return my gaze to Markus and give my agreement.
“Yes, we’ll help you.”
By Kayla West