The Guild – Chapter 140 – Heath

    Heath’s new foster parents were avid campers. Every summer they went to a new campground out in the wilds of Canada with nothing but their backpacks and tents. Nothing stopped them either; rain or shine, they went camping. Heath even suspected that they would go in extreme weather heedless of any warnings.

    Heath didn’t mind the idea really. It’s not like he didn’t like the great outdoors. The only problem was nature was just as combustible if not more so than the city, and… it reminded him of the family trips his family used to make before he’d blown up a volcano.

    Heath had overheard his foster parents discussing their worry about him and school. They felt he was antisocial, had pent up anger and at risk for suicide. Sure, he’d tried to cut himself…once. But nothing came of it. No matter how much he’d bled, he didn’t die. It was probably the curse of that volcano or something.

    Trudging through the forest of some godforsaken wilderness though, was not how Heath imagined spending his summer. He would rather be hiding away at home, playing video games, before he melted the console in frustration.

    They soon stopped at a ledge overlooking a pristine green lake. The sun reflected off it like a giant mirror, blinding him momentarily. The trees down below looked so tiny, like something out of a miniature set. The view was admittedly awesome.

    “We’ll set up camp here,” his foster father, Roger calls.

    Heath smiles, the view is nice.

    “I call the outside sleeping bag!” Timothy shouts as he unshoulders his backpack. Timothy was a year younger than Heath and liked to talk loudly.

    “You always get the outside bag. I don’t want to be stuck in the middle again,” Brittiney whines.

    Timothy is Roger’s and Karen’s natural born son. Brittiney was adopted when she was seven, about seven years ago. Heath’s been with the family for about three months now. This made him the middle child, at twelve years old.

    “I have a solution.” Karen interrupts the children. “Why don’t you rock paper scissors. The two who win get the outside this night and you can switch next time we stop. If you lose, you get an extra s’more after dinner,” she smiles.

    Brittiney and Timothy beam with excitement. “Sounds great!” They immediately dump their bags and get ready to battle.

    “Heath, aren’t you going to play?” Brittiney calls.

    “I don’t care where I sleep. You guys play,” Heath sighs.

    “Oh come on, that’s no fun. Don’t you want an extra s’more?” Timothy persists.

    “I really don’t care,” Heath shrugs.

    They eventually convince him to at least play. Timothy wins the game, and Brittiney gets the extra s’more. She accepts the lose without further complaint.

    After they set up camp and get the lunch started, Rogers suggests they find a way down to the lake and go for a swim before lunch is ready. Heath reluctantly puts on a swimsuit and trudges after his foster siblings as they clamber down the cliff to the water’s edge.

    Heath hesitates at the water as Timothy and Brittiney run in excitedly. The water looks cold as Brittiney pauses briefly before she enters. Heath touches the edge with his toe and shivers.

    “It’s too cold!” he calls to the others.

    “Oh, don’t be a wuss. Come on,” Brittney calls, dipping her hands in and splashing him. The cold water hits him hard and Heath jumps back. It felt oddly like pain.

    “I don’t want to! It’s cold!” he says again.

    “Timothy! Help me get Heath in!” Brittiney calls.

    “No, don’t! I swear, I’ll call Roger,” Heath warns.

    “You can call him dad, you know,” she huffs, taking a step closer.

    Heath grits his teeth. He’s not ready for that.

    Timothy sloshes up to them, dripping wet. “How should we do this?” he asks.

    Heath takes a second step back. They both circle him, like hyenas on the prowl. Brittiney lunges at him, but Heath dodges, knocking into Timothy, who grabs him by the arm and starts dragging him into the water.

    “No!” Heath cries out as he’s pulled in up to his knees. His feet feel like a thousand tiny daggers are piercing him. Brittiney grabs his other arm and starts dragging him. By now, Heath is screaming as they pull him in.

    He stumbles into a rock and falls face first into the icy cold water, exhaling bubbles. His whole body screams in pain, being much hotter than the water is. He can’t even find the strength to pull himself up, but instead, curls into a ball in the water, on the verge of passing out.

    He feels a strong grip grab him by the arm and drag him through the water, up onto the beach. Heath doesn’t bother to open his eyes as he feels sand rub across the side of his body. Two firm hands grip him by the shoulders, shaking him.

    “Heath! Heath, son, are you ok?” Roger’s voice calls out, drawing Heath’s attention away from the pain his body is racked with. “Heath, answer me. Are you alright?” he repeats, trying to get Heath to answer.

    Eventually, Heath opens his mouth and lets out a strangled moan.

    Roger rubs his head, pulling him in close to his chest. He freezes as he realises just how hot Heath is. “My boy, do you have a fever?” Heath shakes his head no.

    Crying, he manages to speak, “I can’t swim anymore,” Roger frowns sympathetically, rocking Heath in his arms as the other children watch from the water, feeling bad. They didn’t know. They couldn’t know. Heath didn’t even know that the water could hurt so much. He spent the rest of the camping trip wrapped in a blanket outside his tent, watching the others play and have fun. He no longer felt in the mood to camp.

~*~

    I sit on the bench, still hugging the egg to my chest. I don’t really want to put it down. It’s been so long since I last had it. I was beginning to go nuts, wondering if it was ok. I rub its rough surface with my hand as I watch the pool, and Kaitlyn.

    I know and understand why she hates water so much. It doesn’t react well with our magic, and a shock is much worse for our health than for other mages, it seems. I recall how taking those cold baths first felt and I shiver at the thought. She seems to be doing well though.

    Kaede stands next to me, shorts dripping as he waits for his chance to jump in. Andrei hovers at the edge, his posture stiff as he watches her approach, Caroline, waiting in the water. Nik and Hitomi stand together on the perpendicular wall, watching, waiting.

    I see the reverse side of the black spider-like scar now that she’s in her bikini. It’s larger than a hand’s width across and I can see why she was shy with the towel earlier. It’s not like it’s a tattoo, chosen for the effect of drawing attention.

    Void Magic… the matching scar on her hand is so much smaller. I can’t imagine how that must have felt. She says Void magic is dangerous. I wonder if it’s because no one else seems to know that much about it or if it’s truly that different from the rest of the elemental mages.

    Caroline instructs Kaitlyn to lay back as she tells her that her hand will be under her the whole time, holding her up. I watch intently, curious as to how this healing will be done.

    Kaitlyn lays back, looking up at the ceiling. Caroline’s aura glows a bright blue around her as she shifts into water, standing beside Kaitlyn as she floats in the pool. The water ripples with energy and Kaitlyn starts to glow with her.

    I lean forward on the bench, entranced by the display. I see the water crawl up her stomach, over the Void scar. It coats the surface of the pattern, as well as on her hand. I turn my gaze to her face as it scrunches up, painfully. Strange, does it hurt? Is it not just a scar?

    The water seems to pulse overtop of the scar and I see the edges of it start to bleed out into the water above the wound. The scar starts to shrink as the water covering it grows darker and darker, pulling the inky black Void magic out of her.

    I notice her hands shaking, her fire must be terrified. I know I would have been, had I not been used to the cold baths.

    The light surrounding them begins to dim as Caroline draws the blackness out through her own watery hand hovering over her stomach. The water turns black with the Void poison. As their aura winks out, Caroline’s human form returns, bathing suit and all and she pulls Kaitlyn upright from the water.

    “How do you feel?” she asks with concern. She looks a little drained herself.

    “I’ve been better,” Kaitlyn responds, her voice hoarse. “That was almost as bad as getting stabbed in the first place. Who would have thought?”

    “Well, it was a difficult wound. It’s wasn’t really a scar, I discovered. It was more like an infection, like a disease and it was deeply rooted in your body. I had the water draw it out, but it resisted strongly,” Caroline explains.

    Kaitlyn nods slowly, “I guess that makes sense. Now I just have to convince the fire it’s not dying. Even though it barely understands words,” she turns, reaching her hand out to Andrei.

    Andrei slips in at the edge, wading over to her and taking her by the waist. “Still conscious though, that’s a plus,” he tries to shrug off his worry with humour. I’m on to him.

    “For now,” Kaitlyn chuckles darkly.

    “Just make sure you tell it I’m not trying to kill you! Learning to withstand the water is as important a life skill to a regular human as it is for a fire mage. Maybe we can work up a suitable resistance in order to lower the risk of a weakness in battle,” Caroline tries to encourage her.

    Suddenly, Kaede’s off at a run, racing for the edge. His foot leaves the lip of the deck and he’s airborne, shouting, “Cowabunga!” he hits the water with a satisfying clap, creating a two-foot wave of water that approaches Kaitlyn and the others. Sometimes, I get the feeling Kaede can be a bit rash, acting before he thinks. I groan inwardly as the water swells into them.

    I watch, horrified as Kaitlyn slumps in Andrei’s grasp.

    Caroline spins on Kaede as he surfaces, fire in her blue-green eyes if it was at all possible. “Kaede, I swear to God! I will kick you out if you try something stupid like that one more time! You can’t just go around splashing whoever you like!” she screams at him.

    The water levels out and I see her eyes flutter open and I release the breath I didn’t realise I was holding.

    Kaede stands there, a defeated look on his face. “Sorry, Car. I didn’t mean-”

    “It doesn’t matter if you meant to or not. She’s fire and water is her weakness. We have to take baby steps! We don’t know all the limitations she might have because of her magic,” Caroline grates.

    He hangs his head shamefully, looking at Kaitlyn through his droopy wet hair. “Sorry,” he mumbles.

    “It’s fine… You didn’t know,” Kaitlyn rubs her forehead, groaning. “For future reference, I can’t be fully submerged. I just pass out. Always.”

    “Do you still feel up to swimming then?” Andrei asks, holding her close.

    Kaitlyn nods weakly. “Yeah, in a minute.”

    Hitomi slips into the water from the wall and glides over, standing up when she’s next to Kaitlyn. She stands nearly a foot shorter than the rest of them, shoulders just above the water. “Are you ok?” she asks softly.

    Kaitlyn looks over at her and gives a slight smile. “I’ll be okay. Don’t worry.”

    “Odaijini,” [Take care of yourself.] She speaks in Japanese. Kaitlyn blinks at her, confused.

    Kaede wades closer, hesitant to get too close, I notice, but enough to not be shouting across the shallow end. “She said to ‘take care.’”

    “Oh,” Kaitlyn laughs, blushing. “I’m not so good at that, but thanks.”

    Nik and I still remain on the deck. I slowly, reluctantly, set the egg down amongst the towels. The pool air is warm, so I’m sure it’ll be fine. My fingers linger on it as I stand, walking towards the water.

    I shouldn’t stay too long. Markus and I have some work planned for today, so I guess I should enjoy the fun while it’s here.

    When I look back toward the pool I notice Nik trotting down to the deep end. He raises his arms and leaps into the pool, diving in gracefully. He hardly makes a splash as he enters the water, gliding below the surface until he comes up just behind the others.

    Caroline pouts, hand on her hip. “Show off,” she huffs.

    Nik looks surprised. “Whoa, how’d you know my middle name?”

    “It’s not surprising. I spend the better part of a night with your Grandmother. She told me all about it,” she smirks.

    I slowly lower myself to the edge of the pool. For some reason, I don’t feel like swimming much anymore. I don’t know why I said yes. I glance down at my black fingers as they curl around the edge of the pool. The magma inside, the voice in my head rolls its eyes, if it had eyes to roll.

    Oh, come on. You move slower than lava. Don’t take forever about it.

    It’s tone grates on my ears. I wish I couldn’t hear it. It’s icy cold compared to my already steaming feet. The water around me seems to bubble gently, becoming warmer.

    I look back up, watching Kaitlyn in her very revealing string bikini. The skimpy material clings to her, accentuating the curve of her buttocks and breasts. I feel myself blush and have to turn away, looking back at my hands to distract myself.

    Oh, boy. You’ve got yourself a case of the cooties, don’t you? Well, only time will tell if you and I get her. The voice leers in my head.

    “Shut up,” I growl. “She’s not available,” I say the words to myself but somewhere in my heart I know I don’t care. That’s why it wants to torment me. I stretch my feet down to the floor and stand, pushing off the wall. I wade through the water, slowly approaching the group.

    Kaitlyn’s head raises at the sound of the water, looking right at me. She glances around and turns to Caroline. “Looks like everyone’s in. What do we do now?”

    “Well, I suggest learning to keep your head up, if you want to avoid passing out. We can start with treading water. Does anyone else want to learn? I assume Nik and Hitomi already know how, and I know Kaede can swim,” she looks to Andrei and I.

    Andrei smirks. “I’ve been on many ships in the past, a few of which sank. I had to learn to swim in case.”

    Great… that leaves me. I nervously raise my hand, like I’m some school kid. “I’ve only really taken baths. I used to swim when I was younger but… not since…” I wiggle my fingers, not really wanting to say the words. I’m not in the mood.

    Caroline nods. “Great! Just two then! Kaede, would you mind grabbing me a few noodles and life jackets? I assume this pool would have equipment,” she says, looking around for something, maybe an equipment room?

    “For a pool this size, shouldn’t they have lifeguards?” Andrei asks. Now that he mentions it, I see what he means. How come there aren’t any?

    Caroline shrugs. “Valid point, but as long as we have equipment, we should be fine. I can swim and I’m a water mage. So… Kaede?”

    “Yea, I found the room,” he calls from the deck, arms loaded with noodles and life jackets.

    “Isn’t it kind of counterproductive to use those if we’re trying to keep our head up? It seems kind of pointless,” Kaitlyn grumbles.

    Caroline gives her a flat stare. “You don’t know how to swim. You don’t know what muscles to use and how. If I set you in water above your head, you’re going to sink because you don’t know how to move. The floaties keep you up until you learn. Once you know the movements and how hard to kick, we can take them away. Trust me. I know what I’m doing, and I don’t want you blaming me for another near death experience. Lord knows Nik will frame the moment on a plaque and never let me forget it if I do,” she lectures us, taking the noodles from Kaede.

    Kaitlyn looks at the noodle and chews her lips. “Okay… I didn’t want to say it, but if you give me anything to hold onto I’m pretty sure it’s gonna melt,” she sighs. “The fire is really freaking out. It won’t stop screaming.”

    “Wouldn’t the water prevent you from melting it?” Caroline asks innocently. “I mean, the only other option is I hold you up myself, which means I can’t show you the moves. And then, wouldn’t you burn me instead?” she raises a quizzical eyebrow.

    Kaitlyn nods. “Yeah. It likes him though,” she pokes Andrei’s shoulder. “I’d rather just learn trial by error. It’ll be easier that way.”

    Andrei smirks, rubbing her shoulder absently with his hand. “That’s ‘cause I’m a fire tamer.” He winks. Oh my God, I can’t watch this.

    “So, yeah. Can we just start?” Kaitlyn asks impatiently. “The anticipation is killing me.”

    Caroline directs us over to the wall, having us sit on the edge. Andrei is practically glued to her side. I chew my tongue, trying not to look distracted by her smoking hot bikini. I really wish Kaede hadn’t ordered her such a distracting suit.

    Caroline sits on the edge beside us, showing us how to kick our feet up and down like we’re on some sort of invisible bicycle. The water sloshes between us as we kick our knees high while keeping our feet flat.

    She instructs us to lift our arms at our sides and spread them out, like wings. She shows us the movement and we try to mimic her, bringing our arms together in front of us and then swinging them apart at our sides. It feels strange and stupid doing this out of the water. I feel like some flightless bird.

    The lava in me groans, but I’m not sure if it’s from the chill of the water, the silly lesson or the girl sitting next to me. Maybe it’s all of it.

    While we practice the actions, Caroline corrects us. I spy Nik and Kaede bobbing in the deep end. One moment they’re on the wall, next, they’re both face in the water, splashing like madmen, sprinting for the shallow end wall. I’m amazed at the speed they both seem to move, but eventually, Nik pulls ahead, leaving Kaede to eat his… wake? I think that’s the word for the water behind a boat. A second later, Kaede reaches the wall, huffing, shaking his long hair from his eyes like a dog.

    “Good race, man. You got some power in those huge flipper feet of yours,” I hear Kaede chuckle. I notice out of the corner of my eye, Caroline turning her head slightly, eyes darting between us and Kaede.

    “I’m used to pretty strong currents. This pool is nothing,” Nik laughs.

    “Right. You swam in the river right?” Kaede asks.

    I shift my attention to my left, watching as Kat lazily waves her arms. She looks like she’s getting tired. I see her elbow dip, but Caroline’s a bit distracted. Andrei, being on her other side, can’t see, so I take my chance.

    I reach out, tapping her elbow with my black fingers. “Make sure to keep your elbows up,” I say, lifting her elbow with my fingers. She seems lukewarm to me. I imagine she’s burning hot as the water sprays her from the edge. I let my fingers linger there, not wanting to be obvious, but not wanting to pull away either.

    Shit…

    Bold move there, buddy. The lava hums with keen interest.

    Her gaze turns, curious as she looks down at her arm. Those amber eyes lift to meet mine. “Thanks,” she mumbles with a little smile.

    Our eyes lock and I feel my jaw clench and my lip twitch at the corner. I slowly pull my hand way, returning to the spreading motion. I hear a faint hiss as the water splashes my arms, drawing my attention to the blackness. I really hope I have enough control to keep it from spreading. She’s making this damn hard.

    Finally, Caroline calls us to stop. “Alright, slip in and let’s try putting it together,” she smiles sweetly.

    Kaitlyn groans, slowly sliding herself into the water. It’s like a slow-motion film, the way her body curves and the way the water laps at her pale skin. I gulp, unable to shift my gaze as I half slip into the pool. I hop on my toes, trying to stay upright as I gain back my balance, all the while ignoring the shooting pains in my legs and torso.

    Caroline reaches out, out of instinct, grabbing my shoulder to help me steady myself. As soon as she touches though, we both flinch. Her hand recoils and she has a shocked expression on her face.

    I hesitantly step towards her, concerned. “Are… you ok?” I ask, leaning in to look at her hand.

    She holds it in front of her, palm up, studying it. “Yea, you’re just really hot,” she looks at her hand again, but I don’t see any burn. It looks a little pink as she slips it under the water.

    “Sorry. I… didn’t mean to hurt you,” I mutter grimly.

    “No, it’s not your fault. Besides, I can heal it in the water. Let’s just get you guys floating, ok?” she gives me a forced smile. I know it hurts more than she’s letting on. Great. Now I’m hurting people again…

    “Let’s go a little deeper so you don’t touch the bottom with your feet. We’ll stay close to the shallow end though, just in case,” Caroline leads us deeper.

    Kaitlyn jumps like a red-haired bunny in the water, the water reaching for her hair with each bob as we follow Caroline into the deeper water. Andrei slides along the wall, staying close, but no longer holding onto her. I feel the goosebumps rise on my skin as the water covers my chest. The baths I take aren’t this deep. I feel a queasy feeling in my stomach as we inch closer to the deep end. I’m beginning to think this isn’t such a good idea anymore.

    Caroline stops a few feet away, already supporting herself in the water. Kaitlyn bounces on the spot, coming to a stop as I move to stand beside her. She hops one, two, three times and suddenly squeaks, dipping out of the corner of my eye. I hear a pop as steam starts to rise from where she was standing as the water swallows her, hair and all. Before Andrei has time to jump from the edge I leap into action.

    I don’t really know what I’m doing. I haven’t swum in ages. I just know that when I used to swim, I held my breath when I went under. I take a big gulp of air as she starts to sink and reach out, submerging my face as I take hold of her by the shoulders. I’m taller than she is, by quite a bit, so my feet still touch the bottom. I yank her up despite the increasing queasiness I feel.

    I pull her, taking a few steps back as Andrei pushes through the water reaching for her. “I’d be careful,” I warn, seeing the steam hovering over the surface of the water where we stand. “She’s pretty hot still.”

    Andrei’s hands hesitate, unsure.

    Only you can help her, see? It’s a perfect pairing. Lava says smugly.

    I grit my teeth, making sure to keep her head above the water as I prop her up against my shoulder. Her head feels unexpectedly heavy. “Kaitlyn, Kaitlyn!” I hiss, trying to wake her up.

    “Kat! Wake up!” Andrei joins me. With my other hand, I start shaking her shoulders. If she doesn’t wake… I guess it means no more pool time. That wouldn’t be a bad thing, in my opinion.

    She moans, her eyes slowly opening. She blinks a few times, her mind catching up. “Well, this is turning into so much fun,” she mutters sarcastically.

    Andrei heaves a sigh of relief.

    “I’m thinking you’re just prone to accidents,” I chuckle, making sure she can reach the bottom.

    She leans against me, looking up with a smirk. “You’re just figuring that out now?” she asks, somewhat out of breath.

    “Well, I’ve seen a trend in the one week I’ve been here. I guess I’m surprised you’re still alive, with the luck that I’ve seen,” I say.

    “She’s got me, I help out with that, a bit,” Andrei says with an undertone of defensiveness.

    “Says the one waiting on the wall,” I scoff.

    “Don’t go pointing fingers now,” Andrei growls back.

    “That wasn’t my intention. I’m merely pointing out facts,” I state calmly.

    “Ok, Ok! Enough!” Caroline shouts as she approaches us. “You’re all squabbling like a bunch of little children. Andrei, if you’re going to help, be in the water and holding her. Otherwise, her drowning is on you, not me. Heath, leave things alone. You’re learning too. I commend you for pulling her up, but it’s no time to lay blame.”

    I gawk at her, lost for words.

    “And you, Kat,” she stares her down, eyes hard, more like ice than the shining blue of the ocean. “If you don’t want a floaty, be more careful. Or I can be just as clumsy in your weapons class when we meet. I’m trying to take this lesson seriously.”

    Kat frowns. “Sorry, mom. I didn’t know the bottom would be so slippery. Now I know.”

    Andrei chuckles, losing the serious look on his face. “C’mon. Do you wanna try again?”

    “I guess so,” she sighs, reaching her hand out to him as she pulls herself off my chest. Her amber eyes glance up at me. “Thanks. I know it probably wasn’t very pleasant for you either.”

    I wonder if I look sick at all from swallowing my queasiness. I guess, she would be the only one here to understand how it might feel. I’m not used to having someone around who gets it… who gets me…

    Told you so. Tell her how you feel? Might be nice. Lava eggs me on.

    I hold her gaze a moment longer. “Yea… I don’t normally go under…” I mumble, hair dripping on either side of my face. The water feels cold as it slides down my face; cold and uncomfortable. I let her go as Andrei supports her, returning to the deeper water. Now that my confidence is shot, I feel like ditching this scene. What’s the point in swimming anyway? This isn’t… fun.

    “You coming?” Caroline asks, looking at me intently.

    I stare at her, thinking. Kaitlyn’s head turns, looking at me curiously. I feel the pressure to make a decision. “I guess, I’ll stay a bit longer. I don’t want to keep Markus waiting long though.”

    Caroline finally gets us deeper and we start the actions she taught us. I seem to have to kick really hard to stay up and my body seems to move awkwardly as I find a happy medium between sinking and floating. Kaitlyn, on the other hand, seems to manage herself quite well, all things considered. Andrei’s supporting her under the arms, but her movements seem to be carrying most of her weight, effectively keeping her afloat. I suspect she’s a secret natural.

    After a few minutes of maintaining the upright position in the water without incident, Caroline calls an end to the lesson, letting us free to do our own thing.

    I wade to the wall, following Kaitlyn. I freeze momentarily as she pulls herself up, water dripping off her body like some kind of slow-mo commercial. I quickly look down, feeling the heat rise in my hands.

    Think of a calm place. Calm place… I chant in my head. It takes a few heartbeats for me to regain composure and head for the wall, pulling myself out and sitting on the edge beside her. Andrei hangs off the wall at her knees.

    “You going to stay here a bit?” he asks.

    “Yea,” she smiles. “Go on and have fun.”

    “M’kay,” he pulls himself up and places a kiss on her lips before he flips back and takes off toward the others.

    What joy. Why’d I have to fall for the girl who’s practically married, I grumble to myself. Just my luck.

By Kayla West

One thought on “The Guild – Chapter 140 – Heath

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