I still can’t believe what I saw this morning. Andrei made the whole cave just… disappear. I knew Guardians had incredible power, but I never imagined he could do that. I sit in the cafeteria, staring into a mug of tea in a haze of disbelief. I wonder what Lava will do when he finds out…
“Sis!” a voice blares in my ear, making me jump. I look into the bright brown eyes of Eli with a huge grin on his face. “Earth to Sis! Hey, welcome back.”
“Eli? Sorry, I didn’t see you there,” I blush.
He laughs, taking a seat next to me. “Yeah, I figured that much. Andrei off cooking for you?”
I nod. “What about Ceph?”
“Good morning to you too,” his deep voice comes from behind me as he slides into the chair next on the other side of me.
I flinch. Man, I’m off my game today. “Sorry… Good morning.”
“You feeling alright?” Eli frowns, holding the back of his hand to my forehead.
“Fine, tired,” I shrug. “Long night.”
“Did you know, the best way to get a perfect sleep is to have Andrei cast a time bubble around you while you sleep? Technically you could have a full nights sleep in say a minute,” Ceph smirks.
I grimace. “I have enough trouble staying asleep the whole night as it is, between nightmares and having too much excess energy.” Ceph scratches his chin thoughtfully.
“I know how you can get rid of some energy,” Eli grins.
I roll my eyes. “Andrei won’t let me spar or fight or even pick up things…”
Ceph raises an eyebrow as he coughs. “What? That is unheard of! You are a Guardian just as much as he is. We are made of sterner stuff. I once knew an Earth Guardian, briefly. She was with child and could lift boulders till the day she gave birth. Frightening woman,” Ceph muses.
“Yeah, well, you can try to convince him of that. Gwen said I should rest more and he’s been taking it very strictly,” I chuckle and shake my head.
“Perhaps I will have a word with him,” Ceph nods, placing his hands on the table to get up.
“Good luck,” I mutter, sipping the bitter tea. Even with a ton of honey, it’s still not great.
Eli gives me a sympathetic smile. “Ceph can be quite persuasive, I’m sure he’ll come around.”
I shrug. “I’ve heard, but I doubt it. Andrei’s pretty stubborn.”
“You’ve heard? From who?” Eli raises his brows.
I glance at him sideways. “An old friend of yours. The Lava element.”
Eli’s expression darkens as he hazards a glance toward the kitchen. “I see. So you’ve spoken to it?”
“Unfortunately,” I roll my eyes.
He works his jaw and forces the smile to return. “Sorry about that. I’m sure you’ll handle it better than I did.”
I glare at him. “That’s not very helpful.”
He laughs, scratching his cheek. “If I knew how to deal with it, I would have done so in my own time.”
“I guess,” I grumble. So he’s not going to be any help. Damn. The conversation drops into an awkward silence.
Ceph returns from the kitchen first, carrying a plate of fluffy pancakes. Andrei is just behind, with the second plate of cut fruit and another of bacon. They set the food on the table and take their seats, Andrei across from me.
I glance between them, settling my gaze on Ceph. “Well?”
Andrei gives me a pouty look. “If you really have that much pent up energy then fine. But Gwen said you have to be careful and that was just yesterday. I don’t really understand how you can have so much energy so fast, but if that’s really the case, only an hour,” he grumbles.
I raise my brows, snickering. “You really are good.”
Ceph shrugs with a smug look on his face. “I have my talents.”
“Right. I guess we should eat, then. I’m going to be late already as it is,” I hum, taking another gulp of the tea.
“Eating before training is a good thing,” Andrei reminds me, waving a finger. “It gives you energy and strength. Having more than two meals a day is also important.” He’s starting to sound like Gwen. Or worse, Caroline.
I pout. “Tell me that again when you’ve got cramps in an hour.”
“Well, then maybe you should rethink when you hold your training sessions. The break of dawn might be a bad choice,” Andrei smiles.
“I disagree. It helps work up an appetite,” I sniff stubbornly.
“She’s got a point,” Eli nods cheerfully.
“You’re not the one carrying a baby inside you. I’ve got to make sure she’s caring for both,” Andrei huffs.
I roll my eyes as Eli shrugs, taking a few pancakes onto a plate for himself. I follow his example and start cutting them up. I wonder if I’ll ever get used to Andrei’s idea of a meal schedule.
“Has Andrei told you about our jump to the future yet?” Ceph asks, drizzling his pancakes in syrup.
“No?” I look between them, curious and a little worried.
Ceph looks mildly surprised as he looks at Andrei. “I thought you would be ranting and raving about it,” he says.
“I got a bit distracted,” Andrei shrinks. “Yea, I got him to show me how a few days ago, maybe.” His face lights up as he starts to tell me about the jump. I listen as he describes the technology and the strange clothes the people wore. It’s nice to know at least there is a future, whether we’re in it or not.
As I eat, I feed Scoria bits of bacon from my plate. She stays hidden on my shoulder, wary of the strangers. She’s oddly shy for a dragon. Should I be encouraging her or let her develop her own personality?
“Full?” Eli asks, pointing to the mostly empty plate in front of me. I nod. “Great! I’ll clean up super quick so we can get going!” Andrei and Ceph watch after him as they continue to eat.
“He seems really eager to get training,” Andrei mutters.
“Yes, well… He has gotten bored of training with me. He claims I cheat, or something along those lines. He has been wanting to spar with Kat for a while now, and since I have already stored up enough magic for a return jump, we are thinking of going home soon,” Ceph explains as he finishes his plate.
“Oh, right,” I bite my lip.
Ceph eyes me from behind his glasses. “Did you forget?” he asks with a hint of amusement.
“Maybe,” I blush.
“It would be fun to stay longer, but it is already been a month since we arrived. It is getting to be about time we jumped home,” he sighs. He seems disappointed, though I don’t see Eli being the one to suggest leaving.
“You can always come back sometime,” I smile at him.
“This is true. Your friend, Kaede, him and I have been working together. I have a… he called it a prototype model, or that box you hold. He has asked me to take it with me and see it works. If it does, well, I might be able to send you words with it. That is how he explained it, anyway,” he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a sleek black cell phone.
I snort a laugh. “That would be interesting, though I doubt it would work across time.” Ceph shrugs, putting it away.
“I haven’t been able to keep a phone because the time jumps fry the electronics,” Andrei admits.
“Yes, but I brought this with me to the future with you and it still works. Perhaps your friend is making progress,” Ceph says in an academic tone.
“Okay, sis!” Eli shouts. “Let’s go!”
Andrei shoots him an annoyed look before engulfing his last pancake and taking the remaining plates to the kitchen. In less than a minute he’s back and we’re ready to go.
As we walk, I look up at Eli. “I was wondering, if you don’t mind, having this double as a teaching experience? Half an hour with them in a room and the other half in form.”
Eli raises an eyebrow. “Yeah? Alright.”
We find Heath and Nik in a room already, practicing with swords. They stop when the door opens.
“You’re late,” Nik calls, resting the wood blade on his shoulder.
“Pretty sure I make the rules,” I retort. “Put the swords away for now.”
“What? Why?” Nik frowns, eyeing the other guys.
I grin. “‘Cause, I get to show off today.” Nik raises an eyebrow and Andrei rolls his eyes. “Come on then.”
Nik shrugs, heading back across the mats. Heath hesitates, his dark eyes fixed on me. I wave for him to follow Nik and move down to the other end of the room. There’s a steel box next to the last rack, locked with a pinpad.
“Eli,” I call him over. “The fun ones are here. Which one do you fancy?” I ask as I type in the code to unlock the box.
He follows, leaning over my shoulder. The light shines off the steel of the weapons resting inside, secure from inexperienced hands. “Oh! You sure? This does look fun…”
I take out a pair of daggers, twirling them in my hands. “Should I play fair?”
“Not at all,” Eli snickers. I glance sidelong to the others, surprised there’s no yelling yet. Andrei watches with a flat stare.
“Wait, real weapons?” Heath asks.
“Yes,” I smirk. “This is a learning experience for you and just fun for us.”
“So hard to choose just one,” Eli muses. He picks up a short sword, stepping back to swing it out, feeling the balance. “Man, they don’t make them like this back in Camelot.”
“Of course they don’t,” I shut the doors, peeling off my sweater. I peel Scoria out from under my hair and place her on my sweater, tying my hair up before I follow Eli to the center of the room.
Eli glances over at the others. “Alright Ceph, be a dear and give us the signal. Let us know when the half hour is up,” Ceph nods.
“You’re going to spar for a solid half hour?” Nik frowns. Andrei’s expression darkens further.
“No,” I laugh. “A whole hour.”
“Oh, because that’s better,” Nik scoffs. Heath’s jaw drops open. I smirk at Heath; Lava will have to think of some other excuse. I’ll tire myself out on my own today.
“So, you want that to be an hour then?” Ceph eyes Eli. Andrei shoots him a glare.
“No, half hour here,” Eli shakes his head. “The other half in the other room.”
“Alright, time starts… Now!” Ceph calls.
Neither of us hesitates to move. The sound of metal clashing against metal rings through the room just seconds after Ceph’s announcement. I move on the offense from the start, forcing Eli to defend. He manages to block both my weapons fairly well with the one sword. I go easy on him for a couple minutes, keeping a frontal assault. It gets boring, so I use my flexibility to my advantage.
It’s not hard to slip under his arms, dancing around his back. He hisses as I slice his side, barely a paper cut. I’m not aiming to kill, after all. I duck under his retaliation swing, twirling as I do, expertly leaving tiny cuts on his shins. I come up on his right as he adjusts his grip, flipping the blade to swing back toward me. I catch it between my daggers.
The exchange of blows continues for several minutes. Finally, Eli begins to get the upper hand, catching the hilt of my left dagger and flicking it out of my grasp, in the same motion, nicking my left cheek with his own. I grin as he pauses for the briefest moment. Spinning my remaining blade around his, I generate enough momentum that when I smack his arm with the pommel, the sword skids across the floor. He blanches, scrambling to retreat back as I advance again.
He catches my arm when I lunge, knocking the last dagger from my fist. He reaches for it as it falls, but I hook my arm around his, swinging him around like a doll and flinging him five feet away across the mats onto his face. I scoop up the dagger and flip backward, landing next to him as he pushes himself up. I kneel on his back, dagger in hand with the point at his throat.
“Yield?” I taunt. He looks up at me from the corner of his eye, reluctant. I poke the tip into his skin, drawing a single drop of blood.
“Time!” Ceph shouts.
“Saved by the bell,” I muse with a laugh.
Eli scoffs. “Man, it’s no wonder you beat Arthur so easily. You’re one deadly girl, Sis.”
“I’ll take that as I compliment,” I stand up as Ceph approaches. He kneels next to Eli, hands already glowing. I didn’t do that much damage, but I suppose he’s secretly just as much of a fuss as Andrei.
Speaking of, Andrei appears at my side, tilting my face up with one hand on my chin. “You weren’t supposed to get hurt,” he mumbles. “Does it hurt?”
“It’s a scratch, Andrei,” I reply with a sigh. “I’m fine.”
“I’ll heal it,” he pouts, touching my cheek with his fingers. I close my eye as the glow is blinding that close. I don’t bother arguing with him, it’s not really worth the effort. He’ll win anyway.
“Okay, I’ll go ahead and put these away while you guys finish up,” I say, I move out of Andrei’s grasp to collect the other dagger and sword. His hands linger in the air for a moment before falling to his sides.
As I walk back to the racks, I pass Heath. I pause as he speaks. “Still in shape I see, little flame. What’s it like, fighting against yourself?”
I smirk as I meet his gaze. “At least he’s a decent challenge,” I glance over him deliberately, “Unlike some people,” I keep walking, back to the box to return the weapons. Heath shakes his head, stumbling back a step with a startled look on his face.
“Learn anything?” Nik asks, walking up to Heath. “Or were they too fast?”
He turns to Nik, flinching at his voice. “Uhh, yeah, they were fast… but… being flexible helps with two-handed combat. Also, speed is important against a larger opponent.”
“Speed is always important,” Nik nods in agreement. “Excited for part two?”
“Totally,” Heath says in a flat tone. Nik narrows his eyes, confused.
“Eli? Are you ready?” I yell before he can ask more questions, gathering up my sweater and the baby dragon.
“Always!” the redhead chimes, bouncing to his feet.
I lead them out of the training room to the end of the hall, stopping at the steel door. With a few adjustments to the settings, including disabling anyone from tampering by using my fingerprint, I set the timer to half an hour.
“Andrei,” I turn. “Would you hold onto these?” I ask, nodding to the sweater and dragon.
“Sure, Kat… Be careful,” he gives me that puppy dog look.
I hop up on my toes, planting a kiss on his lips as he struggles to hold Scoria comfortably. “You worry too much,” I giggle as she claws her way up his chest and onto his shoulder. He flinches with every movement.
I slip away into the danger room behind Eli. Before the doors are fully closed I’m in fire-form. It feels like forever since I last took this form, even though it’s only been about a week. Eli takes a moment to shift just as the landscape materializes.
The air grows cold around us. I scan the room, intrigued. This is new. The floor shimmers, turning into a snowy field. The peaceful beauty only lasts a few seconds as mounds of snow rise, the power falling away to reveal eight-foot tall elemental creatures made of solid ice; Golems. I’m going to guess Kaede made some tweaks to the system, again.
I don’t have much time to think about it as the first pair charge at us. The snow on the ground melts almost as fast as it reappears, keeping up the wintery illusion. The golems reach out with bare hands, each icy finger as sharp as broken glass. Simply touching them isn’t enough to melt them, as we find out quickly. Instead, we’re forced to get more creative as we duck and dodge.
I create blade-like flames while Eli seems to favor a sort of fire whip. He wraps it around limbs, the heads, or the body, carving through them as he pulls it taut. I slice through them, sometimes requiring more than one swing. The easiest way to take one down seems to be to take off a leg first, immobilizing it. As more and more of them appear we instinctively work together as a unit; one going for the legs, the other taking off the head.
To my surprise, when the time runs out, I’m out of breath. I haven’t struggled to keep up in the danger scenarios for a long time. Maybe they’ve become predictable. I make a mental note to ask Kaede later as the snow fades. Almost in sync, Eli and I drop to our knees, elemental forms gone and breathing heavy. His grin is a mirror of my own.
The door opens and Andrei rushes in as fast as he can fit through the doorway. I blink and he’s kneeling in front of me, his face twisted with panic. “Kat! How’s your energy? Are you hurt anywhere?”
I laugh, a little euphoric. “I’m great. I could do that all over again in five minutes if you’d let me.” Well, maybe. It’s hard to tell with the excitement still buzzing through me.
“Yes, you remember this feeling, this glee. You like it, don’t you? You want it,” Heath says softly behind me. I lean back to see his eyes gleaming, fixated on me again.
A surge of conflicting feelings washes over me as Andrei glares at him and even Ceph turns, a look of concern on his face. Guilt, anger, fear, rage, sadness, excitement, all at once. The one that wins, however, is the need for self-preservation. A calm follows the rush and I rise in an instant. I dig my nails into his arm as I fling him into the far wall, clear over Andrei’s head. When his body slumps to the floor, he glasses skitting across the tiles, I watch and wait for him to get back up. He doesn’t move.
Scoria shrieks, almost laughing as she jumps off of Andrei and flaps her way up to my shoulder. I lean my cheek against her, comforted by her presence.
Andrei stands up slowly, on edge, staring into my eyes. “What just happened to you?”
I watch Ceph move past us to check on Heath. “Nothing. The Lava element was getting mouthy. He said I could hit him to stop it if it got annoying.”
“No, I mean… You’re eyes, they changed,” he says, brows furrowed.
“What are you talking about?” I blink. “You’re seeing things.”
“Then we’re all seeing things,” Nik interjects, hovering by the door. Eli nods slowly, eyes wide. Ceph glances up and seems to agree.
I grit my teeth. “Well, how should I know? I can’t see it.” Scoria gurgles, looking up at me. I feel annoyed by their questions. It’s none of their business.
“Hitting is one thing, Kat. You flung him. Don’t you think that was a bit over dramatic?” Andrei asks.
I consider it. He’s just a human, after all… “No, not really.”
“Really?” Andrei gawks.
“Has this happened before? Your eyes, or the sudden reaction to something?” Ceph asks, coming back to stand beside Andrei.
I shrug. “I don’t know. I’m always impulsive.”
“Not like that,” Nik points out. “I haven’t seen the eyes thing before. How ’bout you?” he asks, looking to Andrei.
“I wasn’t sure before, but yes, once. The other day, when she got angry with me. It was the same. Her eyes, they looked different,” Andrei says worriedly.
“I’m right here,” I growl. “You don’t have to talk about me like I’m not.”
Nik heaves a sigh. “Maybe we should go somewhere else…” he points to the observation window crowded with faces. “I’ll take the idiot back to his room and catch up with you guys after, ‘Kay?”
“Will he be ok?” Andrei asks Ceph.
“Yeah, he’ll have a nasty bump, but he should be fine,” he shares a glance with Eli.
“We’ll see you later, then,” Andrei turns to Nik with a nod. He then grabs me by the arm, pulling me out into the hallway. Ceph and Eli follow a few paces behind, oddly silent.
By Krystyna Yates