Welcome to another post to the Guild! Here’s to enjoyment!
We’ve got a stack of a dozen books on the coffee table, mostly about time magic, and a few about barriers. I force myself not to look at the gate. I feel sick, but I can’t let it keep me from helping Andrei. That voice in the back of my mind keeps telling me that Logan could show up at any second. He did it once, didn’t he?
Even if he did, Andrei is here, and so is that other guy. I vaguely remember seeing him around – I mean, he’s like a walking mountain. I had no idea that he knew me though, let alone seems to be a fan. He’s so loud and boisterous, it makes my head hurt. Though, I’m grateful to have another friendly face. I wonder why he’s never spoken to me before.
“Oh, hey, while you guys are researching, mind if I borrow Kaitlyn for a few minutes?” Cliff asks. I glance over my shoulder at him. What does he want me for? Andrei and Kaede look up from the table, sharing a look.
“Want me to come?” Andrei offers.
“Where are we going?” I feel like I know the answer, and I’m not going to like it.
“I just want to get your account of what happened down in the crypt.” Cliff smiles, “It’ll only take a minute.”
I take a ragged breath. Don’t cry…. You’re fine.
“Okay… I guess we should both go since Andrei was there too.” I try to keep my tone casual.
“Oh, yeah, good point.” Cliff chuckles, “Shall we go now then?” He lumbers over to the gate and starts to descend.
“Sure,” Andrei stands up, “We won’t be long, Kae. Knock yourself out with these.”
Kae sighs heavily, “I only wish these were digital. It would be so much easier to find what you want.”
“Do you ever go to a library? It works just fine.” Andrei retorts.
“Just saying. Have fun.”
I brace myself against the cold stone wall with my right hand, worried my knees might buckle. I can do this. It will help them find out how he got in, right? I jump when I feel something in my left hand. Andrei smiles at me and squeezes my fingers a little. I’m grateful that he’s here too.
At the bottom of the stairs, Cliff stands to the side, arms crossed like some sort of bouncer. His grey eyes scan the room, like a hawk looking for prey.
“So, did you see him coming down here, or was he already here?” Cliff asks.
I try to focus on what happened before he appeared, “I didn’t see him, but the torches were lit.” I remember. That should have been a red flag, now that I think about it. “I came down, and I walked down the aisle, checking the pews…” I say as I wander ahead, sort of reenacting. I stop at the overturned pulpit. “I stood there, looking at the book when he…” I gulp, rubbing my neck at the memory, “He came from behind me.”
Cliff brushes past me into the dark area beyond the fence. I hadn’t even looked in that part of the room last night. I guess that was mistake number two. Man, I’m an idiot. It’s dark back there, but I can make out the shape of some kind of stone box. I move closer, out of curiosity. It’s huge, at least seven feet long, four feet high, and three feet wide. It looks like there’s something carved into the stone, but it’s too dark to make out.
“There’s no access into this room except from the library, but the wards seem to be intact.” Cliff muses, “These wards were designed by the Guild’s founder and put up by one of my predecessors, a few generations ago. No one’s been able to replicate them since.”
Andrei approaches the crypt and stands beside me, “Who’s in there?”
Cliff raises an eyebrow, “The Guild’s founder. The last known true Guardian.”
I place one hand on the cold stone lid, tracing the carvings. About three feet from the head, I feel an indent, that’s smoother than the rest of the stone. I create a small flame so I can see what the anomaly is, curiosity getting the better of me. It looks like there was something there, that’s now missing. The stone around it has a slight scratch, as though something was pried out.
“What was here?” I ask Cliff. He leans over and shrugs. I frown and extinguish my flame. “Well, after Andrei came in, and… you know… He grabbed the book, and disappeared over here.” I lead the giant man over to the spot.
“What did the spell look like?” He asks as he crouches down and touches the carpet. I assume he’s looking for some kind of residue.
“Dark magic, definitely. It seemed to appear on a trigger as soon as he touched the book. It enveloped just him and then disappeared. I’ve never seen anything like it before.” I hug myself, gripping the loose fabric of my sweater until my fingers hurt.
“It was like a purple wave,” Andrei adds, watching me from the corner of his eye. I can’t stop looking at the blood stains at my feet, and I want to throw up.
“Is there anything else you wanted to know?” I ask, hoping to get out of here. Cliff frowns. His hand’s wave, and suddenly the blood stains transform into a small iron sculpture of a bobcat. I blush. Was it that obvious?
“Yes.” He stands up, “I know you’re a gifted fire Guardian. Why didn’t you attack him, like you’ve been trained?”
“I…” How do I admit that I was powerless? He looks so disappointed in me.
Andrei rests his hand on my back, “Somehow, he’s able to prevent her from making a flame. The second time we encountered him, he was able to block her. It happened again last night. I think he’s found a way to hinder her magic, and that’s why he’s becoming bolder with his confrontations.” I nod, staring at the floor in shame. I don’t deserve to be a Guardian…
“That’s not possible. A mage at Logan’s level couldn’t block another mage’s ability unless they were exact opposites. The only way to negate a mage’s ability is to be stronger in their opposite… or, perhaps a true Guardian… But that’s the last known Guardian there.” Cliff rubs his chin thoughtfully.
I was worried he might say that…
“So, what’s his ability exactly? The teleport thing? Or the monsters he manipulates?” Andrei wonders.
“The monsters.” I answer quickly, “I told you before, the teleportation couldn’t be him. It’s too powerful.”
“She’s right,” Cliff hums, “Not every mage can attain a true teleportation spell either. It requires skill in both elements of Time and Space, and we both know that’s rare. Whoever is helping him teleport is a very powerful mage, perhaps they’ve even attained Guardian seals.”
“Guardian whatnows?” Andrei raises an eyebrow. I pull up my sleeve and show the living flame tattoo on my wrist. I’m sure he’s noticed it by now. I’m actually kind of surprised that wasn’t his first question last night.
“You earn them when you’ve mastered an element here. The more you have, the more seniority and status you gain.” I summarize vaguely. “Most people can only get two or three. It depends on your magical ability.”
“She’s right.” Cliff agrees. “Logan only has a seal in Necromancy, right?”
“Right,” I mumble, shifting awkwardly under the look Andrei gives me. I have a feeling that’s going to come up later.
“This type of magic has no connection to the element of fire. Technically, fire could undo any spell by a Necromancer, with enough power.” Cliff muses.
“I know that.” I pout, “That’s why it’s a problem. I don’t know what it is… I just… Can’t. Maybe it’s not Logan. Maybe it’s that Master person he mentioned.”
“Master? If you know more, please tell me.” Cliff’s eyes light up.
I tap my fingers on my side, “I don’t. Back at the warehouse, he mentioned someone he called the Master. Said he wants to meet me… Then I punched him in the face. Didn’t say much after that.”
“This could be more serious than we first imagined.” Cliff scratches his beard, “I’ll have to let the Headmistress know. If you remember anything else, something mentioned in passing, or a spell used that isn’t regulated by the Guild, please let us know immediately.”
“I will,” I reply though I can’t recall anything else that might be relevant. Andrei nods as well. Cliff, apparently satisfied, heads for the stairs to leave. Andrei takes my hand and leads me toward the exit.
As I take the first step, I hesitate. I glance back into the now empty room. My mind goes back to that dream, the whole reason I came down here in the first place. Was it a warning, about Logan? What about that voice I heard? Something doesn’t add up, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Andrei tugs on my arm, and I follow. I won’t find any answers down here anyway.
I sit sideways on the small couch by the window, a book balanced on my knees as I chew on my thumbnail. Andrei sits on the other cushion at my feet, and Kaede is laying on the floor with books open all around him. We’ve been at this for hours, but it feels like we’re not getting anywhere. Cliff never came back after going to meet with Professor Ambrosse. I wonder if he had other things to do.
I’m reading a book about opposite elements, but I can’t find any way to prevent someone from using their magic before it’s canceled. It doesn’t make any sense. I turn away from the book to look out the window instead. The sun is high, and I’d guess it’s about noon. My stomach gurgles loudly and I cover my mouth to hide my embarrassment.
Andrei looks up, “You hungry, Kae?” He teases.
“Always, but that wasn’t me.” The boy on the floor snickers.
Andrei turns to me, one eyebrow arched high. “You mean you’re finally hungry?”
I shake my head quickly, “N-no, I don’t know where that came from…” I can’t believe that just happened!
“I’ll order us something from the hall so we can keep reading.” Kaede yawns as he pulls out his phone.
“You can’t eat here. These books are priceless!” I gasp at the idea of someone spilling juice or something on a book.
“Dang it, what kind of service is this?” Kaede grumbles. “You think they’d have a spill-proof spell or something for this place.”
I glare at him, “It’s called respect. You can eat literally anywhere else.”
Andrei stands, “Let’s go then. We can come back to this later.”
“You guys go ahead. I’ll clean up here.” I offer.
“You’re the one who’s stomach growled.” Andrei scolds.
Stupid stomach. “It’s okay, I’ll catch up in a couple minutes.” Andrei shakes his head. He takes the book I was reading and places it on top of the others on the table. Then he stands in front of me. “What are you doing?”
“Uh oh, you’re in for it now!” Kaede laughs.
Andrei reaches down. He leans forward, his arms snake around my waist, and then he stands back up, pulling me with him. I scream in panic as he lifts me off the couch and throws me over his shoulder. Rhoan falls off my shoulder and bounces on the couch. I grab onto the back of his shirt and he holds my legs down so I can’t kick or slide off.
“Andrei, what are you doing?! Put me down!” I demand. I don’t think I’ve ever been redder in my life.
“Taking you to lunch.” He chirps, heading down toward the exit. Kaede rolls on the floor, tears streaming down his face.
Rhoan, in cat form, runs after us. “I suppose I should lead the way, lest you get hopelessly lost.”
“Rhoan! Don’t help!” I whine. He chuckles.
“Hey, wait for me!” Kaede scrambles to his feet, still giggling.
He carries me all the way to the cafeteria, and into the self-serve kitchen. He sets me down and smiles. I can’t believe he just did that! Everyone was staring at us the whole way. I’m gonna have to wear a paper bag over my face for the rest of my life!
“Why would you do that?” I pout angrily.
He shakes his head, moving to look in the fridge, “You can’t survive on coffee, Kat. You need to eat.”
“What will you make for us?” Kaede hops up onto the counter next to me.
“Whatever Kat wants to eat. It was her stomach that grumbled, after all.” Andrei winks at me.
“I can take care of myself,” I grumble, crossing my arms. Who actually eats three whole meals a day? I’m going to get fat at this rate. “I managed fine on my own before. Rhoan, tell them!”
Rhoan perches on the counter across from us, tail swaying. “I’d rather not lie for you this time, my dear.” I glare at him. Traitor…
“I think your anxiety is affecting your hunger, and if that continues your health will deteriorate. So, I’m going to take you to eat at every scheduled meal time – that’s when your tummy grumbles. No ifs, ands, or buts about it!” Andrei explains simply.
I look at the door, on the other side of Kaede. “Don’t even think about it,” Rhoan warns. I blush. Sometimes I wonder if he’s a mind reader too. Maybe I’m just predictable.
“So, what’ll it be? You say this kitchen is fully stocked.” Andrei asks, looking around at the cabinets.
“Oh boy! Now we’ll see the true Andrei in his natural environment.” Kaede jokes.
I shrug, and move past him to the coffee maker, “I don’t know. What do you want, Kaede? I’m not really picky.”
Andrei pulls the plug out of the coffee machine, pulling it out of my reach. “You can only have coffee after you eat, as a reward. Understand?”
I flinch back. “Reward? What the heck? Am I a dog?” I snap, though my hands start to shake.
“No, but sometimes these methods also work for stubborn humans who won’t eat when they’re hungry.” He chides.
“He’s right, they work on me too. One time he took my computer games away because I didn’t help with the chores. I never left my chores undone since.” Kaede nods thoughtfully.
“That’s a lie, you still do. You just got better at doing some of them.” Andrei sighs.
I resent being treated like a child. I do eat, sometimes. It’s not like I’m starving to death. I cross my arms and move to the other side of the kitchen. Clearly, it doesn’t matter what I do.
“Okay, I’ll tell you the truth…” Andrei follows, pouting, “I really enjoyed cooking for you at Kaede’s place, and I really want to make you something…” His voice falls to a whisper, “Something that makes you smile.”
I make the mistake of looking into his puppy eyes again. My heart skips a beat. How am I supposed to stay mad at that face? It’s not fair. I bite my lip, and look away, “Fine… You win.”
He grins, leaning on the counter, resting his chin on his palm. “So, what do you want?”
I glance at his lips and blush. Bad Kaitlyn. That’s not appropriate. “Um… I don’t know. Surprise me.” I cough into my hand, hoping he doesn’t notice the redness on my face.
“I have a suggestion!” Kaede throws up his hand like he’s in school, “A katsu don! The best lunch for a hungry girl!”
Andrei rolls his eyes, but he then raises an eyebrow at me, as though looking for approval. I shrug. I have no idea what that is, “I guess that counts as a surprise.”
He smiles and starts to search the kitchen for the right equipment. “Alright, first order for Andrei’s restaurant; katsu don!” He pops back up and leans in close to whisper, “That’s breaded pork cutlet on rice, by the way.” He winks again. I hate how my breath hitches every time he does that.
I try to find a spot where I won’t be in the way and watch. I briefly consider offering to help, but I have a track record for burning everything I cook. Besides, it gives me time to admire him, as he toils away. It looks like he’s having fun, as Kaede chats about things he read in the books. Once he’s done, he places three bowls on the counter. Kaede takes the biggest one and runs out the door. I laugh.
“And here is your very own katsu don. Bon appetite!” Andrei chuckles, pushing a bowl toward me, a pair of those sticks balanced on top.
“Should we go find where Kaede went?” I ask. There aren’t any tables in here.
“We could, but… first.” Andrei leans over and steals a kiss. I catch his collar as he moves away too quickly. His eyes flutter open in surprise. I feel his eyelashes on my cheek.
I reluctantly let him go, biting my lip, “Sorry… For making you worry and all…”
He turns bright red, “Uh… yea. I was… really worried. Just, promise me to take care of yourself.”
I smirk, “Would you even be able to let me try?”
He gasps, offended. “Of course! Within reason…”
“Don’t. It’s a terrible idea.” Rhoan warns. I imagine he would roll his eyes if he could.
“You hush.” I hiss. The cat jumps off the counter, meandering out the half-open door. “Maybe I’ll just have to show you.” I glance over the boy, taking the bowl and following after Rhoan.
He chuckles, “I have yet to see it.”
I narrow my gaze, “Alright. After lunch then. We’ll see what you can really do, Mr. Hero.”
I asked Rhoan to show Kaede the way back to the library. They both protested, but I promised we wouldn’t take too long. Andrei follows beside me. I feel his curious gaze every few seconds, and it makes me smile. I go down to the main floor, toward the back of the castle. There, I find the training rooms; magically warded to prevent any damage to the structure, allowing a safe place to practice magic. There are also some rooms to hone your physical fighting skills. That’s where we’re going.
I find one of the unoccupied rooms, and push open the door. There are some racks along the wall with wooden weapons, and mats lining the floor, the walls, and the ceiling. I go over to one of the racks, where there is a cabinet of various things like hand wraps, and I pull out a hair tie.
“So, in this fight, are we allowed to use our magic, or is it strictly skill?” Andrei asks, looking around the room.
“For your sake, strictly skill.” I laugh. I hold the hair tie between my teeth as I brush my hair into a ponytail with my fingers.
“What? No fair!” He whines. “You don’t think I could avoid your fire?”
I glare at him, “I’m not using my magic against you.”
“Did you use it against him?” He asks, suddenly serious.
My whole body goes cold, and I can’t breathe. Why would he ask something like that? “Wh… What does that have to do with anything?”
“I just don’t want you to think you can baby me. This is serious. Training leads to real-life situations. If I’m to face someone in real combat with certain… abilities, I would want to practice with them in training.” He reasons.
I shake my head, slowly. “No. I can’t. I won’t.”
“So you’ve never used it against him? Not even in training?”
“That’s different! He fights with surrogates.” I feel myself starting to hyperventilate, “You could get seriously hurt! I couldn’t live with myself if I hurt you like that.”
He doesn’t back down, “But he used his against you?”
I step back. What’s he getting at? “That’s… different…”
“No, it’s not. It’s not different at all. Your peers, even your friends could turn on you at any moment. That’s the real world…” He pauses, “There’s really messed up people out there, Kat. Even in the past. People who earn your trust, and then leave you to the dogs. You might think they still care about you, but they don’t. So I’ll ask again; did he use his magic on you? In training, or outside of training?” His expression grows dark and he glares at me.
I gulp. I don’t want to answer that. It’ll only make him more upset. “He’s already turned on me, so I don’t see the point you’re trying to make. It’s been a long time since we trained together.” I turn away, hiding my face as my lip trembles. I move down the racks of weapons, looking for something similar to a fencing blade.
“Come on, Kat. Be honest with me. I want to help, and I want to know the truth…” His tone shifts, “You said I could ask you anything.”
Damn it. That was cheap. I glance over my shoulder, “There are some things you don’t want to know. Believe me.”
“Well I didn’t get that option while I was in the eighteen hundreds, did I?” He sniffs. Now he’s just guilt tripping me.
I tap on the wooden rack, chewing my bottom lip raw. “Andrei, please. Don’t ask me this.”
“Tell me or fight me.” He grins, picking up a thin wooden sword, “But, if you choose to fight me, and I score ten hits, then you have to tell me anyway.” He winks.
I glance between his face and the sword. “Fine.”
I pull out a sword and we move to the center of the room. He takes a fencing stance, sword in his left hand, with his right behind his back. I bear my weight on my toes and don’t wait for him to say he’s ready. I dive forward, swinging for his legs. He jumps to the side and chuckles. I roll away as he swings for my back. I feign left and dash right, but he’s not fooled. The wood smacks into my arm, but I also land a hit on his side.
The smug look on his face makes my blood boil. It’s like he thinks he’s already won. I run at him full speed, dive to slide between his legs and smack him across the back. He grunts, and spins on me. I parry. He swings again, and again. I retreat, blocking his advances. When I get close to the wall I jump back and launch off the wall to jump over his head. His eyes go wide, but he manages to land a hit on my ankle. I stumble when I land. That one hurt.
We exchange several blows over the next half hour. Halfway through, when I was ahead three points, he switched to his right hand with a wicked grin. Tricky bastard. The score is at eight to nine, with me in the lead. That is until his sword grazes my elbow. I gasp and curse.
“Time out.” I hold up a hand. Andrei raises an eyebrow. I walk over to the sideline, leaning the sword against the rack. I grab the bottom of my sweater and pull it over my head slowly. Below, I’m wearing a low cut black tank top. “Okay, resume.” I walk back to the mat.
Andrei’s eyes wander over my body, and he visibly gulps. I hold back a smile. It’s a dirty trick, I know, but even though I’m self-conscious about the scars on my arms and shoulders, I don’t want to lose. I lean forward slightly and wait for him to attack. His eyes narrow slightly. Then, in a blur, he moves. My feet are swept out from under me, and my back hits the mat hard. I gasp, but before I can get up, he’s hovering over me.
“I win.” He grins, out of breath.
I glance down at him, his knees on either side of my hips, hands by my shoulders. “You cheated.” I pout.
He glances down at my chest, face turning almost purple. “So did you.” I narrow my eyes. “A deal’s a deal. Tell me.” His smile fades and he watches me closely.
He’s obviously not going to let this go. “Yes. He did.” I sigh, “Why do you want to know so badly?”
His face contorts as though he’s in pain. He lifts one hand and traces a scar on my clavicle. “Is that where these came from?”
I hesitate. I guess it was only a matter of time. “Yes.”
“Why would you let him do this?” He whispers, “I don’t understand.”
His big brown eyes trace the pink lines on my pale skin, and I feel incredibly exposed all of a sudden. My eyes sting, and I turn my face to the side. My voice shakes, “How was I supposed to know any better?”
From the side of my eye, I see his head shake as he wipes his cheek on his sleeve. He dips down, and I feel his hot breath on my neck. Then he kisses the scar. I gasp, goosebumps rising as his breath trails over to the next one, and lips press against my skin.
“This…” He says, then pauses to gently place a kiss on another scar, “These aren’t love.”
I exhale raggedly, “Enlighten me.”
He gets a sly grin on his face and sits up. “Well for one, a lady is as delicate as a flower. So I must be…” He traces his finger along the exposed skin of my chest,. “As gentle with her as I would be a flower.” He holds up two fingers. “Second, a lady must be impressed. She is like a queen and only the best in all the lands must be presented to her.” He says, as he grips the edge of his shirt and lifts it off over his head. He tosses it somewhere out of sight, but I’m too distracted by his toned chest and the faint lines of old battle scars of his own to care. “And third, “ He holds three fingers up and swoops down next to my ear, whispering heavily, “She must be surprised, and not expect what you will do, so as to keep her entertained.” He nibbles on my earlobe and exhales. “At least, that’s what I was taught once by a French aristocrat in the seventeen-fifties.”
I bite the inside of my lip, hard enough to draw blood. I thought he said he was a virgin? I struggle to remember how to breathe before I shakily reply, “And… what are you going to do?”
“Love,” He twirls my ponytail around his fingers, “Is patient, and considerate. I will not only wait to do what you want to do when you want to do it, but I will also not leave a single mark on your body that would cause you regret in the future. Even if you rejected me.” He hovers dangerously close. As I breathe in, my chest brushes against his.
Who in their right mind would reject such a perfect creature? I reach up to stroke his stubbly cheek. He leans into my palm, almost as a reflex. I rest my hand on the back of his head and pull his face those couple inches closer. I push my lips against his, hard. I don’t know any other way to convey how much I adore him.
He grunts in surprise, cradling the back of my head from touching the floor. His hair hangs like a curtain, keeping the rest of the empty room at bay. He bites my lower lip, so gentle I almost don’t feel it. I wrap both arms around his neck, pressing myself against his chest.
The silence shatters with a pounding knock on the door. I jump with a gasp, clutching a little tighter. Andrei pulls away to look back over his shoulder. He looks annoyed, and it’s adorable.
“Is the door locked?” He asks. I nod. He smiles, “Good.” His lips return, even more eagerly.
The banging stops, replaced by a faint jingle. The doorknob jiggles for a moment, then it starts to slide open. He freezes, and then he rips out of my grasp. He rolls over a couple feet away, facing the door. I lay my head back on the mat, arms falling to the sides. Damn whoever that is…
“Hey guys, I heard you were down here and I thought I’d join you for a few rounds… Oh, wow! I can’t believe you got the upper hand on Kaitlyn!” The voice of the giant Cliff grates on my nerves. I glare at the ceiling.
“Oh, hey Cliff. Good to see ya.” Andrei coughs, scratching his head.
“I too like to spar with my shirt off.” Cliff laughs. I cover my face with my hands, bursting out laughing. Is this guy that dense? “Kaitlyn, mind if I steal your friend for a round?”
I roll over and stand up. “Be my guest.” I snicker, picking up the discarded sword and heading over to where I left my sweater. This should be interesting.