It’s early April, and yet I still feel cold. I shiver in the hall of water, coughing as I work through a sequence with Naum. My water falters and he calls me to stop.
“Gillian, what seems to be the problem today? You’re not focused,” He asks.
“I know, I’m sorry. I’ve just got this cold and it’s making training difficult,” I say sadly. I want to do my best. I need to get better so that I can help the others. Then there’s the fact that Kaitlyn was supposed to start teaching me how to use some weapons, but she still hasn’t come back yet from her jump with Andrei.
“Perhaps you should take a rest then. Magic, like your body, can be affected when you’re sick, and can make it worse. We should call it a day,” Naum hums.
“No, seriously. I’m fine!” I insist. Selene said to talk to Gwen, but I’ve gotten caught up with training and studying. I’ve started taking afternoon classes in my original subject of study in University. I really want to complete my degree, so I found the courses and signed up. The extra workload is proving to be a bit of a shock to my system, but I know I can handle it. I hate being idle. I want to be learning, training. I want to do something.
“I don’t think it’s wise,” He sings, gliding over the floor toward me.
“Trust me, I’m fine. It’s just a cold. What is with everyone getting so worried about a cold? What, has a mage never caught a cold before?” I ask, seriously.
“Of course it’s possible. We get colds too, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take care of yourself. Magic can heal your wounds, yes, but it can’t heal a cold. Only your body can do that,” He smirks. “Take the rest of the day off and try to feel better. I hear there’s a gifted life mage now. Maybe she can make you something to boost your immune system,” He smiles in a fatherly way.
“Yes, I’m sure. So will a bowl of chicken noodle soup,” I pout. Naum shrugs, dismissing me as he melts into the water.
I grab my things, pulling the water from my hair before I depart.
In the cafe, I take a small table by the windows and place an order for chicken noodle soup. It’s only a moment before it arrives. The chunky chicken and carrots float around in the warm broth, reminding me of home. Mom used to make those Martha Stewart recipes all the time, the really good ones.
Maybe that’s it! Maybe I’m just feeling blah because I’ve been away from home for so long. I mean, it’s been half a year and I’ve only seen them for one afternoon. Perhaps I should go and visit them again.
Andrei was lucky, his family decided to move here with his magical sisters. He can go see them anytime he wants, but what’s really preventing me from seeing my family? The danger that we could be targeted by the Master? Am I really so scared of that?
I frown at my own thoughts – of course I am. I’m always scared of something like that happening to us. Just look what happened the last time we all left the Guild, and to see our parents no less. Kat got hurt bad. Luckily, I was able to remove that infectious Void magic. Kind of a genius, aren’t I?
I laugh to myself as I sip the soup, sneezing. Maybe I should tap a nap today instead of going to my science classes.
I finish up lunch and head back for the dorms, still thinking about whether I could get permission to leave the Guild and see my parents. Before I can slip quietly into my room, I run into Hitomi leaving hers.
She walks over to me, bright round eyes looking into mine, giving me the shivers. “Are you ok? You look tired,” She says in her thick accent.
“Thank you, you know what? Hearing that from everyone today is just making me feel better about that. I’ll have you know, I was about to have a lie-down, so don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll look right as rain this afternoon,” I say a little harshly. That’s when I realise she probably didn’t understand half the slang I used in that rant.
“I’m sorry. I know you mean well. I was about to go lay down,” I correct.
“Please look after yourself. You are a good teacher. I want to train with you again,” She smiles. “Odaiji ni,” [Take care of yourself] She adds in Japanese before turning to leave. She’s such a nice girl. Just as lonely as the rest of us. I really shouldn’t have snapped. We’re friends, aren’t we? Now I feel guilty. I should apologize again. Great.
I slip into my room and lock the door. Kaede seems to be still out, probably talking with Cliff about another Guild development. He seems to be busy a lot these days. Wish we had more time to spend together. I cover my mouth as I cough, slipping into the back room and sliding into the bed. I’ll take a short nap and then see about the rest of my day.
I wake up, groggy, staring at the ceiling. I don’t seem to have moved at all while I slept. I must have been really tired. I wonder what time it is. I twist my head to the right, feeling a slight headache, and more than a little stuffy. There’s a clock on the nightstand beside me. It reads four twenty-two. I groan, I slept for nearly four hours. That’s hardly a nap.
I stiffly prop myself up, still feeling sleepy, but I have things to do. I stumble into my closet and grab a sweater before picking up a textbook and going into the living room to study. I sit down, trying to get comfortable but the sleep seems to have made me feel worse.
Maybe I’m getting a flu.
I can’t seem to get comfortable, so I decide to try the library. I take my books and head out. I don’t pass anyone on the way. I wonder what everyone else could be doing at this time. I finally arrive but it’s not empty. I see Selene and Heath on the cushioned couch on her laptop. I approach and Heath looks up with a small wave. Selene doesn’t look up, but she does speak.
“You haven’t been to see Gwen yet,” It’s not a question.
“No, I haven’t. I’ve been too busy,” I say, covering my mouth as I cough. I move around to a chair across from them, not too close in case they feel uncomfortable being around me while I’m sick.
“You’re not contagious,” Selene assures me, her eyes dart up to look at me without moving her head. “At least, not by proximity.”
“How do you know how the flu works? I don’t want to take chances… but my room’s uncomfortable. I just need to study,” I say, cracking open the book and looking for my page.
“I was a nurse in both world wars, and for some time after that,” She answers simply. “I’m quite sure I know more about disease than you. Regardless, it’s not a flu.”
“And you can tell from just looking at me?” I ask skeptically. Maybe this was a mistake. Maybe I should have stayed in my rooms.
“Yes,” She looks back down, almost bored. “Influenza doesn’t emanate an aura of death.”
I cough a laugh, hiding my shudder of fear at the mention of death. “Right. Thanks,” I eye the two on the couch. They seem awfully close. “So, you and Heath, huh?” I ask. Heath starts to blush, dropping his head so his hair drops in front of his eyes. That just confirms my suspicions.
“I did warn you that you may disapprove of my method,” Selene hums. Heath looks up at her a little confused.
“I’m just surprised is all. How do you suppose it’ll work when they come back?” I ask, forgetting about the text in my lap.
“Ideally,” She looks at him with a soft smile, “He will have enough of a reason to fight back, and the lava won’t be able to control him. Isn’t that right, love?”
He nods, “Yea, I hope so.” He lifts his head, a little more confidence in his face as he looks at her. Oh boy, it’s almost too mushy to look at.
“Well, good luck to you two. It seems to be working fine. Has lava returned yet?” I ask, coughing again. My throat doesn’t seem to clear, and I flinch with embarrassment as I hack from across the room.
“No,” Her eyes shift to me. “I hope you’ll come to your senses soon. I would hate for you to need my assistance, Caroline.”
I exhale through my mouth, feeling stuffy. “Fine. I’ll go see Gwen. I just… I gotta find Kaede first. He’s been out all day and I want to talk to him,” I drop my gaze, feeling dumb under Selene’s watchful eye.
She’s oddly silent for a long moment, staring off to the side. “He will meet you in the greenhouse.”
“Oh? Alright,” I sigh, feeling achy again. I can’t believe sleeping for four hours did nothing. I don’t even want to walk anymore. “So… I should go now?” I cough again, suddenly.
“Yes,” She looks down at Heath. “Would you be a dear and make sure she gets there alright?”
I watch them as Heath smiles and nods. “Sure. I’ll come right back after,” He stands.
I roll my eyes – I don’t need a bodyguard. Whatever. I stand, shifting my book as I maneuver around the chairs. My hand loses grip somehow and the book slides to the floor. I stare down at it, confused.
“I’ll get it,” Heath says, bending to grab the book. I watch him curiously. It almost feels a bit like a slow-motion video. I just want to lay down now.
“Thanks,” I mumble, moving forward, passed the couch. I feel another cough coming on. It becomes rough and I feel like I’m coughing my insides out. When I pull my hand away I stare at it in shock… it’s covered in thick, black spittle. Is this… normal? I wipe it on my jeans before Heath can see and quickly shuffle from the library. I’m certain Selene has already picked up on that from the couch.
I move as quickly as I can Heath following close at my heels as I meander through the halls to the greenhouse. Was it always this far away?
“You don’t need to rush if it’s too difficult, you know,” Heath says from behind. I almost stop to turn, but I know I won’t have the energy to start moving again if I do, so I keep going.
“It’s fine. I just want to lay down. You don’t have to follow me,” I try to dismiss him.
“She would rather someone be there in case you get hurt,” He assures me.
“I’m not going to get hurt. I’m just sick. Despite her experience in the World War, it’s just a bad cold,” I insist. My mind flashes to the blackness on my hand and I shove it aside.
“Actually, you should listen to her. I think she knows what she’s talking about,” He hums, moving to my side as I sway.
I finally do stop, and he passes me by two steps before he realises. “It’s just a cold!” I’m surprised at the sound of my voice, how desperate it pleads to be heard. “I just have a lot going on and I got sick. I’m fine!” I insist, wavering on my feet.
His face turns into a frown of concern and he reaches an arm out to me. I step back, swaying. The world seems to spin. My foot doesn’t land flat on the ground and I feel myself falling slowly downward. I grab the wall as I slide to the floor.
He kneels down, grabbing my shoulders with his hands. “Caroline. Hey, are you okay?”
Do I look okay? I don’t feel okay. I feel another cough coming. What’s happening? I’ve never had a flu-like this before. I cover my mouth with my arm, coughing violently. Heath looks afraid as my arm is splattered with black. I hear footsteps in the distance.
Heath looks up as continue coughing. He says something but I can’t make it out. I feel another hand and I see a familiar comforting face. Kaede?
“Hey Caroline, it’s going to be okay, yeah? Hang in there.” He turns to Heath and I think he nods, passing Kaede the book. Heath’s arms wrap around me, picking me up as I cough.
The world sways as they run down the hall. I lose track of where we’re going. When we finally stop I feel like I might throw up, and I’m not sure if it’s from the running or the coughing. Maybe it’s both.
I finally stop coughing and squirm in his arms. “Put me down,” I wheeze. Heath looks at me like I’ve grown three heads. “I’m fine!”
“No you’re not,” He says firmly. Kaede comes running back with Gwen close behind.
“Let me see her,” I flinch away, wanting to be on the ground as she places her large hands around my head. I feel a shiver run through my body as she reads me, inducing another coughing fit.
Her eyes grow big as she pulls her hands away. “I wanted to talk to you about this ages ago. Why didn’t you come to me sooner?” Gwen asks.
“She thought she had a cold,” Heath answers for me when it appears that I cannot.
“What’s wrong with her?” Kaede asks, hovering over her shoulder.
“Nothings wrong with me,” I complain through my cough.
“Don’t talk,” Gwen shushes me firmly. “I was concerned about the Void scar that Kaitlyn received. I wanted to ask Caroline about how she removed it and if she was able to preserve any, but this… I didn’t expect this.”
“Looks like you got further than I expected,” Another voice joins with another blurry face. “You’re even more stubborn than I thought.” I can’t see who it is but I know that voice. I cringe through a cough.
“Selene. How long has she been ill?” Gwen asks.
“A few days maybe,” She answers. “What do you need to know? I’ll get the truth for you.”
“How did she come to have this infection? It was originally Kaitlyn’s,” Gwen asks.
I roll my eyes. Oh my god. “Guys…”
“Answer her or shut up,” Selene snaps.
“I just pulled it out!” I croak. I pulled out the infection and then… then. I don’t remember what I did. I remember I was in my water form when I did it so I could get in deep. The infection, it was also in her womb, so I had to pull it out from the embryonic fluid. I had to be thorough, so I pulled the water out and cleansed the fluid before replacing it and then… I was just normal again.
“You idiot…” Selene groans. “She’s absorbed it.”
“I- I did?” I cough, feeling woozy again. I squirm in Heath’s arms, feeling an urge to puke. I don’t want to be sick on him. He struggles to hold me, finally putting me down. As soon as I’m on my feet though, I sink to my knees, coughing. Kaede drops to my side as I vomit a thick black goo onto the stone floor. Just looking at it makes me sicker.
“What is that?” I hear him ask.
I can’t hear the answer as I puke up more, feeling shivers run through my body as it starts to convulse. My vision fades in and out until I don’t know anything but blackness.
Caroline is as pale as a ghost, vomiting a grotesque black slime onto the greenhouse floor. I find myself shaking with fear and uncertainty. I give a nervous laugh, not sure how else to express myself. Sure, I’ve seen movies like this and video games, but in real life? Never. I reach my hand out to her in an effort to comfort her, but she leans sideways as she looks up, blue eyes glazing over as she collapses at Heath’s feet.
I feel my gut drop. “Caroline? Car! Hey!” I shake her shoulder, but she doesn’t respond. No one seems to be moving. “Please wake up, somebody! Help her!” My voice isn’t my own, shouting as I see her pale face, lifeless on the ground.
“Heath,” Selene speaks first. “We need to bring her back to her room.” Heath reaches down collecting her in his arms. Gwen runs to the back of the greenhouse.
I stand up. “I don’t get it, what’s happening? Is like Alien, and some parasite is going to come jumping out of her?” I feel my panic rising and seek any form of science fiction to help me understand what’s happening.
Selene waves her hand, palm down. The black goo on the floor and around Caroline’s mouth floats up and gathers into a sphere in mid-air. “This isn’t the work of aliens, Kaede. We’re not in a movie. This is magic, dark magic.” She raises the ball to float above her palm.
I watch the swirling mass with disgust and fear. That was inside of her? I can’t make sense of it. “Can we get it out?” I ask her shakily.
“It would seem the one who easily could is the one afflicted. We will have to find some kind of antidote,” Selene muses, examining the ball. “Go on ahead. We’ll catch up.”
She hangs back waiting for Gwen. I don’t know where to be but… I want to be by Car in case she wakes. What if she doesn’t? I feel pins and needles all over my body as I race to catch up to Heath. Please be okay, Caroline. Please…
By Kayla West