The cliffs on this side of the island tower high above us, taller than the towers of the Guild itself. Gulls and other birds seem to leap from the cliffs sides out into the ocean breeze, while other much larger looking shapes, obviously the resident dragons, circle high above like vultures. It’s a bit ominous, I must admit. I still am not a hundred percent comfortable around so many of these ancient reptilian creatures.
I squeeze Kat’s hand for comfort, knowing that they won’t cause a problem if she’s around. I guess I’m slowly warming up to dragons, she is part dragon afterall. I wonder how that will affect our child…
Blue stops up ahead as we arrive at the start of a narrow trail that seems to lead around the edge of the cliff and downwards. He whines as we pass and I see that the trail is much too narrow for him to continue with us.
“Will he wait? Or fly down?” I ask Kat, looking back at the blue dragon.
She looks back at the dragon for a moment. “He’ll wait. I don’t think he’ll fit inside anyway.”
“Ohh, I see,” I look straight ahead as the trail continues to become narrow and turns into a steep climb toward the beach, though there’s not much of a beach, it’s more like a rocky alcove that opens into a dark cave. I hear the echo of the waves as they enter and smash against the walls of the cave.
The air is salty and warm and my skin feels sticky as the sea breeze brushes up against us. When we finally reach the mouth of the cave, we gather, staring in wonder at the shadowy glyphs etched onto the stone walls. We proceed slowly, taking in the sight.
One would expect the cavern to grow darker the further in you move, but instead, it seems to grow brighter as we reach the main chamber. I’m awestruck as large crystals glowing in every fathomable colour come into view, jutting out from a smoke pool that also seems to glow. The chamber is quite large and the walls and ceiling seem to be lined with the same strange glowing crystals.
We spill into the room, surrounding the pool warily, except for Selene and Caroline who seem to be familiar with the place. And Kat, of course. There’s a strange hum in the room and I look around for the source, pausing as I realize it comes from the smokey pool in front of us. It seems to hum with power and my own time ticking resonates with it. I notice my Guardian mark lighting up in sync with the ticking.
As I look around the room I see Caroline’s mark is also glowing. I pull on Kat’s arm and lean close to ask her. “Is yours glowing too? Is this normal?”
Kat pulls her sleeve up and looks surprised. “Oh, it is! I didn’t notice that before,” I look around, seeing a dim light coming from Selene’s ribs and a rich caramel glow coming from Nik’s left bicep. I try to see Ceph’s and Elias’s, but their clothing seems to cover their marks too well.
“Weird…” I breathe. Something in the corner of my eye moves and I look up to see someone step out of the shadow from behind a particularly large crystal. I jump with a little surprise, while I hear Caroline and Hitomi both gasp loudly as they notice her too.
“Welcome, children,” says a middle-aged looking woman with short curly brown hair and bright silver eyes. I feel like I’ve seen those eyes before… could it be…?
“We’re hardly children,” Caroline huffs, hands to her heart, recovering from this woman’s surprise appearance. Ceph and Eli nod in agreement, though I feel like there’s a large age gap there.
The woman laughs, like a wind chime. Her voice is honey-sweet, like a grandmother. “My dear, I am several thousand years old. You will always be children in my eyes. Nevertheless, how is my darling granddaughter? Kaitlyn? Come come, give us a hug! Oh! And you brought the boy again! How exciting!”
Yes, I was right. She’s one of Kaitlyn’s grandmother dragons. I repress a shiver as I recall our first meeting. It feels like ages ago.
Kat steps forward reluctantly, dropping my hand as she embraces the dragon woman. “Try not to be so… scary. They’re already nervous being here,” she says quietly.
“Dare desu ka… Ah…. sorry. Who… is she?” Hitomi asks, switching into English with a nervous stutter.
Kat steps away from the woman, returning quickly to my side. “This is Rose. She’s… um… One of the matriarchs. She’s also my great great great, many times great grandmother. Which I found out only recently.”
“Eee! Really?” Hitomi’s accent is really funny – her ‘l’s’ sound more like rolled ‘r’s’, but I resist the urge to make fun.
“Yeah,” Kat brushes it off, “So… Who wants to go first? Gwen or Hitomi? You’ll need to lay in the center of the water. Everyone else, take positions at the edge and Selene can show you what to do.”
Hitomi seems to hover, hesitating, so Gwendalyn steps up. “If it is really true, what you say about my abilities being magic, then I will go first. I want to help,” she steps lightly into the smokey pool, her foot sinking to just below her knee. She moves into the centre as the rest of us spread out to make a full circle around the pool. I follow Caroline’s example, hoping I don’t make a mistake and screw it up for everyone.
Kat stays back, watching on with Hitomi. I look back nervously as Rose steps up beside Kat and asks. “Oh, you’re not going to join in? I’m sure they could use your help, dear.”
“Oh…” Kat shifts uncomfortably. “I, uh, I think they’ll be fine,” she says, notoriously horrible lying plain as day.
“Come on, Sis! It’ll be so much faster with you!” Eli waves for her to join. I shoot him a look, wishing he wouldn’t press it.
“Yes, go on dear,” Rose nudges her forward. She stumbles, nearly falling on her face. I guess Rose is stronger than she looks.
Kat straightens herself, her expression twists, annoyed. “I can’t, okay? Just, do it without me.”
Eli gives her a hurt puppy look. “Why not?”
Caroline plants her fists on her hips with a frown. “We got enough people in this circle as it is. Besides, someone’s gotta tell Hitomi what to expect. She’s only eighteen!” she says firmly. I sigh with relief.
Rose puckers her lips. “Surely one of the other, less potent Guardians here could do so, and Kaitlyn can perform the ritual. After all, she was one of the two that came the first time.”
“Excuse me?” Caroline’s eyes widen with insult. “Less potent?”
“Let me,” Ceph interrupts her, turning to Rose. “It doesn’t matter who is in the circle. Experienced or not, a Guardian is a Guardian, so it doesn’t matter who does it. Besides, the circle really only needs five of us, and we have…” he looks around the room counting, “six already with the Guardian mark,” he explains logically. I nod, satisfied with the explanation.
“Potency matters, young one,” Rose sticks her nose up in the air.
“Stop,” Kat snaps, glaring at Rose. “Enough. I’m not doing it, and that’s that. Let them continue.” Rose narrows her eyes at Kat but says nothing more. Kat moves back to where Hitomi is and nods to us to continue.
Gwen lays down, closing her eyes as she spreads her arms out. She looks like she’s floating on clouds, peacefully asleep. Suddenly, a bright light emits from around her and the cloud of coloured smoke. Her silhouette shines brightly and casts a shadow around the cavern.
I feel the magical smoke pulling on my energy. As it flows from my hands and into the water I feel a connection to the others as their magic is too, drawn into the pool. It feels like a rushing river of power swirling around Gwen as she lays there peacefully.
As my magic combines with the others I feel my consciousness lull somewhat and the time seems to pass differently like there’s nothing concrete to focus on. It’s not timeless, like the dream, just a meditative blur, until a bright green light flashes before our eyes, drawing me out of my trance.
I look at the source and notice a bright emerald green circle appear on the top of Gwen’s right hand. The lines shift and pulse, drawing the image of a mirrored tree on her skin. With a sudden gasp, she snaps her eyes open, sitting up. She looks around, slightly confused and grins excitedly.
“I did it! That was an interesting experience,” she says as she stands, walking out of the smoky pool with a wide smile on her face.
Kat nods, smiling at Gwen as she stands along the back wall. She warmly nudges Hitomi forward towards the pool. Hitomi slips in with uncertainty and lays down. She looks around, fearfully, reluctant to close her eyes.
“Go on now. There’s no need to explain things to the other one. Join the ritual.” Rose pipes up again.
Kat’s fists curl and she spins on the elderly woman. “No!” she shouts. The whole room changes colour as every crystal turns bright red, mirroring Kat’s anger. The image of a flame bursts to life from within the larger ones, filling them with a brightly burning fire before it slowly fades and the light returns to it original colour, glowing softly.
Everyone looks around nervously, anticipating the dragon’s reaction. Most of us know not to mess with Kat when she’s angry. I bite my lip, watching. Should I say anything or leave it?
Caroline catches my eyes and gives me a tiny curt nod. I should keep my mouth shut. I know that look.
Rose remains silent, though I can tell she’s smoldering for a response. Her gaze is locked with Kat’s with a dark, intense expression. Finally, she says, “how far along are you? It must be early. You’re not yet showing,” everyone gasps except for Ceph and Eli, who share a confused look with one another before spinning back to Kat.
I shift nervously from my crouched position by the pool. Now I’m going to get dragon heat too…
Kat’s eyes grow wide and her mouth goes slack with shock at Rose’s blunt retort. Her composure seems to falter. I wish I could help, but now I’m too frightened myself to face her dragon parentage.
When nothing happens, Gwen steps between them. “I detected the life within her womb only a week ago. It is still young, but she only just found out. Please don’t hold it against her,” she assures Rose kindly.
Rose shakes her head with a sigh. “Come now dear, don’t look so surprised. I’ve been at this much longer than you can imagine,” she pulls Kat in for a hug. “Proceed,” she says to us.
I feel the knot in my stomach unravel and let out a sigh of relief. Maybe she won’t have me eaten to shreds… I hope.
Nik nods to Hitomi, motioning for her to close her eyes. She hesitates, but follows through, closing her eyes and holding her breath. I can only imagine how terrified she must feel.
We crouch by the pool again, hands to the smoke as it begins to glow. This time though, the pool itself seems to swirl like a forming hurricane, spinning faster and faster as it pulls our magic in. I feel the stored up time energy diminishing and I hope I have enough to complete the task. With six of us here, I feel we should be fine.
The room shifts hues, the crystals turning to a pale blue colour. Perhaps the type of Guardian affects the way the crystals refract. Soon I enter the trance and time seems to slide by. Hitomi’s seems to take longer than Gwen’s. I hope she’s alright.
My inner clock tells me it’s been about an hour, much longer than Gwen’s. I feel the exhaustion in my legs as they shake from crouching there for so long. Just as I feel like I might fall over, the pool glows brightly and a bright white light bursts from beneath her, lighting up the entire pool. I guess we won’t see what the mark looks like yet.
After a few moments, her eyes snap open and she sits up with a violent speed, hands up like she’s about to whack someone. The light diminishes from the pool and everyone releases contact. They all look as tired as I feel, except for maybe Ceph and Eli. Somehow they look unaffected by the process.
“O – Owarimashita?” [I – is it over?] Hitomi asks.
I feel Kat at my side as I fall back onto my butt. My legs feel like noodles. Selene leans toward the pool, offering her hand to Hitomi to help her up. She stares at it briefly before relaxing and exiting the pool.
“Wahhhh!!” Caroline squeals excitedly! “You all did it! This is fantastic!! We officially have two more Guardians!! This is soooo exciting!” she smiles broadly.
“How do you feel?” Kat asks quietly, her hand rests on my shoulder. I lean against her and close my eyes. It wasn’t all that hard, but now I’m just drained. I feel like I could sleep for days.
I look up at her, eyes half open. “I’m really tired,” I admit.
Everyone seems really happy with the results. Ceph and Eli grasp each other’s hands while Caroline high fives Nik with a little too much enthusiasm. Gwen gives Hitomi a hug, while Hitomi looks like she wants to run away. We make quite the interesting group now. Selene hovers back, watching on with a serious look on her face. I wonder what she’s thinking.
As a group, we decide on a much-needed rest, so we sit around the pool chatting aimlessly until we feel rested enough for the trek back up to the Guild.
When we leave the cave and crawl back up the steep cliff trail, we find Blue waiting for us. We stop, catching our breath from the climb as Rose pulls Kat off to the side. They speak quietly so I can’t hear, so I walk up to Selene.
“Hey, can you translate dragon? Do you have any idea what they’re whispering about?” I ask.
Selene raises an eyebrow. “Translate, or intentionally eavesdrop on their minds?”
I chuckle. “I guess eavesdrop.”
She hums curiously. “You don’t think she’ll tell you?”
“It’s not that, I know she’ll give me the paraphrased version. Like a summary. And… I might be nervous that they’re talking about me,” I admit.
Selene turns to look at the pair, and she stares for a moment. “Rose approves of you. There is nothing to worry about there. She is…” she pauses, as though listening. “She is telling Kaitlyn the potential of what the child may become. It is too soon to tell if her gifts will be passed down. In a few months, they will know,” she watches Kaitlyn, her eyes narrow slightly, but she remains silent.
I lean in, waiting, I feel like there’s something else. I try to press. “And?” I add.
Her silver-blue eyes shift without moving her head to look at me. I feel a chill down my back and almost regret asking. “There is a good chance the child will surpass you both if it survives to adulthood.”
My stomach drops as she says this and I feel a cold sweat on my skin. If? If I wasn’t already nervous about becoming a parent, I surely am now. I swallow the dry feeling in my throat and give her a weak smile. “Thanks, I guess,” I walk away, running an anxious hand through my hair.
‘Do not be so dramatic, I only say ‘if’ because there are no certainties in life,’ I hear her voice in my head.
I stop in my tracks, thinking ‘Yeah, I get it, but… this case just seems so outrageously unbalanced… I don’t know how I’m going to manage… I can’t help but feel like I’ve made an incredibly huge mistake on both our parts… I just, don’t know what to do.’
‘When the time comes, you will. The child could have no better parents than the two of you. This, I truly believe. Have faith in yourself,’ Selene assures me. I’m taken aback by her sincerity. I wish I had the confidence she has in me. I guess being only twenty is the problem I am facing. Maybe I’m just too young to understand.
By Kayla West