The tingling sensation washes over me again, and when the darkness passes, I find myself somewhere else. It takes a moment to recognize the seating area by the fireplace in Markus’ office. Why did he put me here? Is he trying to prove some point?
“Kat! Oh my God! Are you ok? Where’d you go? Did he do anything to you?” Andrei’s voice surprises me. He appears in front of me, gripping my hands as he looks down at them, turning them over. “Why are you hands bleeding? I swear, I’ll kill him!” he says angrily.
I blink a couple times just to be sure. “I, um… I broke my mug,” I answer. The whole thing seems kind of surreal.
“Mug? Why were you holding a mug? Why’d you break it?” Andrei’s brow creases deeply, eyes bulging.
“I had it in my hands before…” I look at my hands. They’re really starting to sting as the adrenaline wears off. “It was an accident, I didn’t mean to break it,” I mumble as I twist my right hand free to put the phone back in my pocket.
A looming figure steps up beside Andrei and I recognize Ceph. “I will heal them for you,” he offers in a deep voice, holding out his hands.
“Oh, um, thanks,” I feel warmth on my cheeks as I hold my arms out. He leans over, carefully picking out a couple shards still embedded in my skin before healing them.
As Ceph lets go of my hands and a weight rests on my head. “So, where the heck did you disappear to? We thought for sure that Master guy had you in his grimy hands,” Nik’s voice rumbles as he leans on my head.
I glance back and I see Markus, and beyond him, Heath. hovering by the desk. I look into Markus’ eyes. They’re exactly the same. “I… uh… It was really weird. I’m not sure what happened,” I stumble through a lie. If any of what Mortecai said was true, I definitely don’t want to talk about it here.
“Was it him?” Andrei asks, pleading in his eyes.
I glance around, all eyes fixed on me. “Maybe?” I squeak.
“What does that mean?!” Andrei whines.
“Andrei, relax. Maybe she just needs a moment to collect her thoughts. Perhaps you would like a fresh cup of coffee,” Ceph suggests, trying to calm Andrei down.
“Yeah, that would be good,” I rub my forehead. Without the rush of adrenaline, I’m back to feeling like crap again. I’m too tired for this today.
“Oh, right, good plan. I’ll make you something if you’re hungry, and you can relax,” Andrei sighs with relief.
“I’m going to look for Eli now that Kaitlyn’s back. Take care of yourselves,” Ceph nods, making for the door.
“Thanks,” I wring my hands. “Sorry for worrying everyone.”
“You don’t have to apologize when it wasn’t your fault,” Nik ruffles my hair. “Come on, let’s go.” Andrei narrows his eyes as he watches Nik walk away. When his gaze returns to me, he reaches out, gently twining his fingers with mine.
The gravity of what just happened starts to settle on my mind and I squeeze tightly. I’m relieved to be back and terrified that it might happen again, even though he said he’d wait for me to call.
“Um…” Heath’s voice draws my attention. He glances between Markus and I. “Would I be intruding if I wanted to eat too?”
I blink. Why would he think that? “Of course not.”
“Yes, meals are important to keep up your strength,” Markus nods with a smile. “Go on, we can continue our work when you’re done. Remember that trick I told you, about how to find your way.”
“Right, ask the walls,” Heath nods. He sets the papers he’s holding on the desk and moves around it to join us.
Andrei leads the way down the stairs and through the halls. He pulls me up to walk almost shoulder to shoulder with him, glancing down every few seconds. It’s comforting in a way, though I feel bad too. He’s so worried… again. I thought things were finally calming down for a while. Will we ever be left alone?
Andrei pulls me into the kitchen with him, stopping just inside. “So, what do you want to eat? Anything you want, I’ll make it,” he gives me a weak smile, caressing my hand with his.
I shrug, my stomach is still churning. I don’t know if I’ll even keep food down. “Something small… maybe a sandwich?”
“Alright. Consider it done. A coffee too?” Andrei smirks.
“Definitely,” I nod. My head hurts a lot now.
Suddenly, Heath’s in the doorway, leaning in. “Me too. I could make it if you want.”
Nik rests his arm on my head again. “Don’t worry, Andrei. I’ll hold onto this one while you’re cooking. Won’t let her disappear alone again,” he says with a chuckle as if I had a choice. Still, I’d rather be safe, so I don’t complain.
Andrei hesitates to let go, lingering for an extra moment. “Alright. So everyone’s ok with sandwiches?” he confirms.
“Sounds good,” Nik affirms.
Andrei collects various things for making the sandwiches when I feel my phone buzz. I pull it out of my pocket and open the screen.
I reply. “Kaede and Caroline are coming,” I announce halfheartedly, looking up at Andrei.
He pauses, laying the food stuff out on the nearest counter to me. He glances down at the phone before meeting my gaze. “Are you ok, really?” he whispers.
I hesitate. I don’t feel okay. “I don’t know,” I mumble. He’s already freaking out as it is.
“You can tell us what happened now,” Heath pipes up from the coffee machine. “We won’t jump to any conclusions.”
I slide the phone back into my pocket, fixing my eyes on the faded floor tiles. “I was just walking down the hall, and then suddenly I felt like, this cold energy… I blinked and I was in some fancy office in some tall building.”
“Makes sense. Kaede said you were in New York somewhere,” Nik hums.
That figures. “I guess so. At first, there wasn’t anyone there but then the door opened and this guy in a suit walked in. An older guy with white hair and a beard. He knew my name and everything, but I didn’t recognize him at first. When I asked, he seemed kinda surprised that I didn’t know.”
“At first? So you recognized him later?” Andrei asks, adding two slices of bread to the pile. “How many old men do you know?” he asks in a joking manner.
“Just two,” I reply. “He looked different when I saw him before. I’m not really sure which version of him is the truth, or if he looks normal now because he’s whole again.”
“So it was him, the Master. What did he do to you?” Andrei asks darkly, he rests his hands on the counter, butter knife in hand.
“Nothing,” I look up, still surprised myself. “He sat on the desk and didn’t move. He said he wanted to talk in person because he thought something interfered with his projection when we met in the Veil. He said he only did it the once.”
“And you’re going to believe the words of a crazy man who locked you away in the Veil, gives you nightmares and sends people out to try and kill us?” Andrei’s eyes look scared and surprised all at once. “You know how insane that sounds, right?”
“Of course I do,” I roll my eyes. “I didn’t. I yelled at him and broke the mug… but then he said, ‘what would I have to gain by making you hate me?’ and I guess I see a point in that. It would be kind of stupid to make the one person that can kill you, want to kill you. He even told me to look around the office and the other room, because he came alone. I’m sure there was probably someone hiding somehow, but I couldn’t see them.”
“It shouldn’t matter what’s smart. He still trapped your soul in the Veil and left you there to die. He’s just using words to trick you!” Andrei hisses.
“What if he didn’t?” I ask, “Hitomi got stuck just by using too much energy. I was much worse off, infected wounds, nearly drowned, you remember. What if I just ended up there by accident and everything I saw there was my own mind?”
“That’s crazy. Why would you envision someone you’ve never met before?”
“Hear her out, Andrei. Let’s not jump to conclusions. These magicians we’re talking about, they’re centuries old. They likely know way more magic than any of us, except for maybe you’re friends from the fifth century,” Heath interjects. Heath looks at me encouragingly. “Go on, tell us what you saw and what he said.”
I glance between Andrei and Heath, looking at Heath instead when I continue. “He said he just wanted to talk and that there’s more to the story than what Markus is telling us. He told me that if and when I was ready to hear his side, to contact him… When I got the text from Kaede he even told me to send his apology to everyone for his ‘rude interruption.’” I make quotes with my fingers, somewhat sarcastically.
“Why couldn’t he just invite you to talk like a normal person rather than kidnapping you magically, like a normal person who wants to ‘just talk’.” Andrei mimics the air quotes. “I still think it’s fishy and if you do wanna ‘talk’ then I’m coming with you next time. You shouldn’t go alone. That’s dangerous. What if he lays a trap and Victor or Sam is there? He could be trying to gain your trust. Remember what he did to Selene? Left her in a cell to die. Are you going to tell her he’s actually a good guy? I’m pretty sure she wants him dead too.”
“I never said he was a good guy!” I snap, but I pull my temper back. “I don’t know what to think. I don’t think we should trust either one of them to be honest. There are a lot of things we still don’t know.”
“Tell me about it,” Andrei scoffs, finishing the last sandwich. Heath offers a steaming cup to me, cream and sugar already added. I smile gratefully and take a gulp of the soothing liquid.
Suddenly, Kaede jumps through the kitchen door, a gleeful smile on his face. “Hey! Welcome back! Is lunch ready?” he asks energetically. I groan, squeezing my eyes closed. Why is he so loud all the time?
“Yea, it’s ready,” Andrei picks up two plates with sandwiches piled up on them. “Let’s go to a table.”
“I’ll be out in a minute,” Heath calls after us, fiddling with the machine.
Nik’s palm rests in my head, directing me to the door ahead of the others. We come to a table and he nudges me into a chair. I sit and Andrei leans over beside me, placing the food down. He sits, pulling his chair right up close to mine and I lean into him, sipping at my drink.
“So, what’d we miss?” Kaede asks excitedly, sitting across from me. Caroline sits next to him, her wide blue eyes studying us intently. Nik moves around to sit on the other side of Andrei, obviously looking to avoid an argument.
“Can one of you fill them in? My head hurts,” I sigh.
“Aww, you already told them?” Kaede whines.
“Sorry,” I shrug.
“Figures. I always miss the good stuff. Not fair. I should fit you all with bugs so I can hear everything, all the time,” he chuckles.
“That would be so unnecessary. Just ask Selene. She knows exactly how that feels,” Caroline points it out to him.
“Oh, right. Sorry,” Kaede mumbles. Heath returns to the table, coffee in hand as Nik fills Kaede in.
“Hmm, this sounds suspicious, indeed. I’ve been doing some research of my own since these guys told me you were missing. When I pinpointed your possible location in New York, I had a suspicion it was the same place as before. Is this right?” Kaede asks me?
“I don’t know, I only saw the one area,” I pick up half a sandwich, nibbling on a corner.
“Can I see your phone?” he asks, holding out his hand. I shift in my seat to take it out and pass it to him. He taps a few things and frowns after a moment before handing it back. “Dang. Someone must have blocked your signal. I can’t see any clear data on your location at the time. Well, anyway, I’m still researching. When I find out more, I’ll let you know what I think,” he smiles.
“Kaede likes to wait till he’s got all the answers before he lets you in on his work. It can be… annoying,” Caroline fidgets beside him.
“I’m not sure that’s even possible, but good luck,” I mumble, trying to focus on eating. I just need to eat a little bit… It shouldn’t be that hard.
“Do you not like the sandwich?” Andrei asks softly beside me, running a finger over my hand.
“No it’s not that, I just don’t feel well,” I assure him quickly. “I’ve had a headache all day, I guess I just didn’t sleep well or something.” Or at all…
“Maybe you should take a break, have a laydown,” he suggests, taking my hand in his and curling his fingers between mine.
“He’s got a point,” Heath agrees. “I got work with Markus to do and training’s not a priority. You need the rest.”
“Yeah…” I concede. “I think I will.”
By Krystyna Yates