Heath hauls himself out, one bright orange arm at a time. His body feels sluggish and heavy. With much time and effort, he reaches the edge of the crater and the expansive black field of hard molten rock, except now… it’s not black. A deep red and orange lava slides across the old black layer on either side of him, coating it in new ripples of cooling molten rock. Looks like scientists were wrong, the volcano is erupting now.
Heath stops, taking and break and trying to stand. His arms are so tired. He pushes himself up and stands, wobbly as the lava slowly crawling past him. It’s not as hot as he expected it to be. In fact, he feels cold now that he’s crawled out of the mouth.
He wraps his arms about him, arms turning a dark red colour as his fingers begin to turn black. He starts walking away from the volcano, slowly following the flow of the lava. He looks around, looking for something… no, someone. He’s looking for more than one person – people like him. He remembers their faces but for some strange reason, he can’t recall their names. He knows his. His name is Heath. Heath Gaiman, and he’s from… from… he can’t remember that either. But he knows his name. Maybe if he finds the faces of the people he remembers, they will know where he’s from. That sounds like a plan to him, so he keeps walking, walking ever so slowly down the cliff of the volcano and alongside the molten lava as it creeps ever so slowly towards the base of the mountain, and the village in the distance.
The door leads not to the hair salon as I thought it might, but into a large stone room with arched windows. I try not to show my surprise, it doesn’t usually bode well for a new employee to look starstruck, in my experience.
Steve leads me through the large stone building we’ve arrived at. As I look around, I can’t help but feel reminded of a castle from England or something. Those places are pretty impressive. Did some work there once… too much rain.
I listen as Steve rambles on about the structure and its history and various facilities the Guild offers. I only pay half an ear to what he says. I really don’t expect to stay.
After a while of walking, we arrive at a very large wooden carved door with a younger man standing out front, arms crossed and a tired expression on his face. His hair is shoulder length and he’s maybe an inch or two shorter than I am. He looks up as Steve and I walk up to the door and eyes me with a mixture of curiosity and jealousy. I ignore him as I follow Steve through the doors and into a large grand looking hall.
A desk stands by the window across the hall, and a small sitting area populates the space next to a large embossed fireplace. Two women stand by the window and I feel a tension so thick in the room I want to turn around and leave without even trying. I ask myself again… what have I gotten myself into?
The taller of the two women is wearing a floor length white dress and her long golden curls fall down her back like a sunlit waterfall. The shorter, flaming red hair tied back in a braid that still looks damp from a recent shower is turned slightly away from me. Her stance though suggests she‘s well trained for physical combat. Her outfit though, says otherwise. She wears a pair of jeans, an oversized sweater, and a pair of combat boots.
As Steve steps up to the desk, both women spin around round and lock eyes with me. I freeze on the spot. The redhead’s eyes glow a ferrous amber colour and it’s strange but… it’s almost like I should recognize her. I feel my cheek twitch as she looks at me.
“Ah, you must be Heath. Welcome,” the blonde woman smiles. I shift my gaze to the blonde. “This is Kaitlyn. She’s a professor here,” she waves to the redhead, who in turn shoots her a look.
The redhead, Kaitlyn, looks much too young to be a professor. I question the legitimacy of this… Guild.
“That’s nice,” I say. “But I’m not here for an education. I came for work, and to meet someone… or so Steve says I should,” I point out bluntly.
“I understand,” the blonde smiles. “Kaitlyn here is… somewhat of a specialist. From what I have heard, you two have quite a bit in common.”
“I doubt that,” I roll my eyes. I already hate it here. All this…. expectation. The blonde stares down at the redhead, nodding in my direction. She bites her lip and sighs as she skips down the couple steps to stand in front of me.
“Hi… I’m sorry, this is probably really confusing. Um… it’s nice to meet you,” she says, though it sounds like a question, as she holds out her hand to shake.
I look at her and then her hand. She seems unsure of herself. “Nice to meet you too,” I say taking her hand in my gloved one. Might as well be polite. As I grip her tiny hand I am surprised to find her touch lukewarm, as if we were the same temperature. I shake it and suddenly feel a sense of familiarity with her, like an old childhood friend… but I’m certain I’ve never met her before… I’m sure of it. But then… why do I feel like I know her?
Kaitlyn rocks back on her heels, looking anywhere but my face. “So, you’re thinking about joining us? I can show you around. I don’t know how much you saw on your way in.”
“Woah, don’t get the wrong idea. I don’t even know if I’ll stay here that long. I was told there was someone here to meet and I would have to work to earn money. I’m giving this place a week before I book it,” I say. It might be rude but it’s the truth. I could care less.
She glances at Steve from the corner of her eye and gives a bittersweet chuckle. “I’m pretty sure I’m someone. Come on, let’s go somewhere else.”
“Wait… what?” I say, turning to follow her. She’s the one I’m supposed to meet? Why?
She leads me out of the hall and passed the pissed off looking man. He takes a step towards us as we walk out.
“Kat,” he calls. She stops, looking curiously at him.
“Want me too… uhh… come?” he asks. His gaze shifts to me and I sense that jealousy again. He must be Kaitlyn‘s beau, as Steve put it. She just nods, her gaze downcast as she turns to keep walking.
He pulls up beside me as Kaitlyn leads us through the halls. I have no idea where we’re going so I look around, not thinking much.
“Hey. I’m Andrei. What’s your name?” he asks.
I turn to look at him through my hair, which is slightly blocking my peripheral view. “It’s Heath Gaiman,” I say.
“Oh, nice. Where about’s did you come from?”
For such a jealous guy he sure is friendly. “Around. I don’t stay in one place too long and I don’t intend to break that habit here,” I say.
He nods. “I’m from Canada, Toronto.”
“And Kaitlyn? What about her?” I ask turning to face her back. Wherever we’re going it’s far.
“England, I think,” she glances over her shoulder. “I don’t remember where exactly. I came here when I was four.”
“Oh, that’s unfortunate. Do you get out much?” I realise that sounds a lot worse than I intended it.
“Not really,” she shrugs. “Every time I leave here, someone tries to kill me.”
I feel my mouth hang open before I can stop it. “And why is that?” I ask incredulously.
She looks back at the other guy, then to me briefly. “I guess they think I’m a threat.”
“A threat to what? No offense but you don’t look like you could hurt a fly.”
“Why do people keep saying that…” she mutters under her breath.
“Don’t listen to them, Kat. They haven’t seen you fight. They don’t know anything,” Andrei says, clearly inferring that I don’t know anything. I turn away and watch as we climb deeper into the Guild.
We eventually come into a hallway filled with doors that look much more modern than the rest of the place. There seems to be tons of other people around, passing in and out of the doors and, it looks like some sort of fitness center. Some rooms have windows, and as I pass by I glance in at the people as they spar with various weapon types or no weapons at all. Some appear to be hurling various other elements at each other in these rooms.
It occurs to me what this place really is. “This is a place for magic… isn’t it?” I ask out loud.
“Yes,” she answers as she pushes a door open to an empty room.
“Steve said ‘people like me.’ How did he really know?” I usually make a note not to bring up my… ability.
“All mages have auras. Not everyone can see them, but you have one. That’s how he knew, though, you can’t always tell the exact element, which is why he brought you to meet me,” she explains as she walks into the middle of the room, stops and turns to face me.
“If I’d known this, I wouldn’t have come,” I stop, facing her. Andrei stands by the wall, watching intently.
“Do you have control of it?” Kaitlyn asks, her eyes boring into me. Her demeanor seems to have completely shifted from the office. It surprises me… again.
“Control? I use it in my work but I don’t let anyone know. Why does that matter?”
“How many times have you left ashes in your wake?” she asks harshly.
I look up at her with a flat stare. I don’t know how she knows… maybe she doesn’t. “More than I can count,” I say reluctantly.
“How many bodies?” she doesn’t even blink.
I look away. I don’t like this interrogation. She’s nosey. “Why do you wanna know?” I ask instead. I don’t like remembering.
“I told you I came here when I was four. Do you know why?” she tilts her head, her tone softens.
“No. I don’t anything about you. Why would I?” I retort. I had a feeling today would be uncomfortable.
She looks down. “I had a nightmare. Pretty normal, I guess, for a kid. Except, I was the only one who survived that night,” she holds out her hand, and a flame appears in her palm. She stares into it, a familiar sadness in her eyes. I know that feeling.
Before I realise, I hear myself speaking. “When I was seven, my brother pushed me into the crater of a volcano. I thought I’d be the one who died, but three days later I walked away while the volcano erupted, killing my family instead of me,” I say with an edge to my tone.
“I’m sorry,” she clenches her fist, extinguishing the flame. “I know you came here on the offer of a job, but I’m not sure that’s a fair description. This isn’t a job, it’s a war. Sooner or later, you’ll be caught in the crossfire because you’re not just a mage. You’re like us; a Guardian. Which sounds silly, but, it’s kinda like… a supercharged mage. You’re even stronger than most,” she says looking to Andrei. He just nods.
I raise my eyebrow curiously. A war I’ve never heard of, mages with powers I’ve never seen before. How come this kind of thing isn’t common knowledge? It might have been more helpful than a handful of foster homes. Maybe I would have turned out differently.
“And how do you know I’m like you guys in anyway?” I ask skeptically.
“I can see it,” she answers simply. “I know you must feel it, a connection to me. Your element… I’m guessing it’s to do with fire?”
I stare at her. All of this is just… unbelievable. I pull off the black gloves on my hand revealing my blackened fingers. Holding out my hand, I activate, letting the heat intensify and wait as my fingers turn a deep orange colour – lava.
She pushes up her right sleeve, her forearm turns to bright orange flames. “I’m the Guardian of Fire. Lava is a sub-element of fire and earth.”
“That makes sense,” I reason. “So what will this be? A show of power?” I ask.
Her eyes widen and she looks to the guy by the door. “Oh… I, um… I can’t. I could call someone else if you’d like to spar. I can teach you some control techniques.”
Suddenly, her demeanor shifts again, from confident to timid. It’s… confusing. “Oh? Whatever fine. It’s not like I want to fight or anything,” I say, eyeing Andrei. So he’s the over–protective type, is he?
I shrug out of my jacket and remove my other glove. I usually like to keep my hands hidden because the blackened fingers make people uncomfortable… and usually, they think it’s an invitation to ask questions about things they shouldn’t. I leave my glasses on though, cause I’d prefer to see what she has to show me.
By Kayla West