The day starts as usual; I wake up at quarter to six, rubbing my eyes as I silence the alarm. The room seems to ripple with my consciousness as I stir from my sleep. That would be the water in everything reacting to me again. I’ve grown accustomed to the notion that I am a very important drop in the ocean. The idea though can still be daunting.
I climb out from beneath the covers and head for the bathroom to have a shower and brush my teeth. I pause in the doorway before I head in, glancing back at the bed to see Kaede, face down in the pillow, still dead asleep. He’s such a heavy sleeper. It’s a wonder he doesn’t suffocate himself, sleeping the way he does. I still can’t believe I gave into curiosity and decided to share my bed with him before we were married. I blush at the thought before turning to the bathroom.
I hop in the shower, humming to myself as I wash away my sleep and get ready for the day.
- Eat breakfast
- Train for three hours
- Read for an hour
- Eat lunch
- Visit the Merfolk in the afternoon
- Train again in the shooting range
- Study science online
- Catch up with Kaede for dinner
- Maybe read again, researching and homework
I like to keep to a regular schedule – it keeps me sane. Magic is still a relatively new thing in my life. Still, my schedule seems to be lacking the study time I’m used to committing to, back when I was still in university.
I leave my room before eight, eager to start my day.
I go through the motions like clockwork, achieving each thing on my list and some. I’m a very efficient student. By the time dinner time arrives, I’m standing in the caf, staring at my phone as if it’s grown arms and legs and is about to run off.
Keade hasn’t texted yet and he’s nowhere to be seen.
I feel a tap on my shoulder and I nearly leap out of my skin as I spin around with a yelp.
“Oh, Andrei!” I growl. “Don’t do that!”
“Do what? I barely touched you. I’ve been calling your name for forty-seven and a half seconds,” he says flatly.
“Oh.. sorry. Where’s Kat?” I ask, looking around. Usually, the two of them are glued together at the hip. It’s unusual to see one and not the other.
“She’s with Emrys. They’re on their way. Had to meet with Gwen and Selene,” he shrugs. “Why were you so out of it?” he asks curiously.
My train of thought suddenly returns to the track and I glance down at my phone. Still no message. “I’m looking for Kaede. We usually meet for dinner at six thirty, but… he’s late and he won’t answer my phone calls or texts,” I explain.
“Oh… Last I heard, he was with Cliff. Probably some magical tech-related thing. Why don’t you check with Cliff?” he suggests.
I sigh, feeling my shoulders sag. “I guess I’ll have to. Thanks. Do you know where I might find him?”
“Cliff? He’s usually in the training rooms at this time. I’d check there,” Andrei smiles.
“‘Kay. Thanks Andi.”
I find myself in the training rooms, glancing in at each room to see if Cliff is inside, or both him and Kaede. Finally, I find our hulking friend. I slip inside, eyes on the bulky Viking sitting cross-legged on the floor. I frown to myself, wondering if he’s using the training room for meditation.
Suddenly, a bright light emits from the floor in front of him. It fades as quickly as it appears and I find myself gawking over his shoulder at the army of tiny, lifelike animal figurines in front of him.
“Oh my God, Cliff! This is what you’re using the training room for?” I ask.
Cliff actually jumps, waving his arms as he scatters the animals across the floor, trying to hide them from view.
“Caroline! What are you doing here? I thought I’d locked the door!” he says, flustered.
I raise my brow. “Locked? Why?” I crouch, picking up a figurine of a buffalo. The creature is made out of some sort of metal, which one, I’m not so sure, but the fur and the structure of the beast look so real, I can’t believe the detail he’s able to achieve using his alchemy. I would swear it was a 3D printer if I didn’t know better.
“No one… knows about my hobby,” he says in a hushed tone.
“Why are you whispering? It’s just the two of us and besides, this is so good, I’m surprised you aren’t showing the others. You’re talented Cliff. You should share your gift.”
“I’m afraid I can’t. I’ve been making these for many years… ever since I was a child,” he starts, reaching for the buffalo in my hands. “However, when I was small, my parents discouraged me from using my alchemy for petty whims such as this. It’s something I’d rather keep secret from them…” he says humbly.
I can’t believe his parents did such a thing. I can’t imagine sweet, innocent Cliff being scolded by his parents for anything. I wonder what they’re really like for Cliff to want to keep such an awesome hobby hidden from them. Which reminds me…
“Have you seen Kaede?” I ask, picking up a fallen over gazelle.
“Earlier, yes. We met just after lunch. Why?” he asks.
“We were supposed to meet for dinner, nearly an hour ago, but he won’t answer his phone,” I say.
“Well, he mentioned having to talk to Gwen in the greenhouse when we finished. Maybe she’s kept him longer than expected. She’s quite the talker once you get her started,” he chuckles.
“Oh, brother…” I moan. Kaede and Gwen, chatting? They could be hours still. “Thanks. I’ll go check the greenhouse.
I make my way out, leaving Cliff to have fun making more animals while I leave the castle proper. Gwen spends most of her time in the greenhouse when she’s not in the infirmary or sleeping in the dorms. There’s been a few times though when I’ve gone to her room looking for her in the night and discovered her not there. Turns out she often sleeps outside too, with the plants and other wildlife. Being a life Guardian, I guess makes sense to find comfort in the wilderness rather than in a room up in a stone tower.
It takes a half hour till I reach the greenhouse nestled in the field outside the Guild within the castle grounds. As I approach, a multitude of lights flicker to life along the path, casting the garden surrounding the outside in an ethereal glass dome. The undersides of leaves light up, illuminating their vascular veins.
I reach the door and slip inside, calling out for her. “Gwen? Are you here?” I look around the greenhouse, warm and humid inside the enclosed glass structure. Trees reach for the tall domed ceiling, their large tropical leaves hanging overhead like shields for the sun when the day is bright and hot. The workbench in front of me is covered in pots, soil, and other gardening tools. “Gwen?”
I hear a noise from further inside the greenhouse so I move around the bench, creeping through the plant growth. The trees seem to thicken, despite being inside and as I look up I notice the branches crisscrossing overhead to form a network of paths. Squirrels dart from branch to branch, scattering as I pass. I even catch a glimpse of a bird or two. Maybe I heard a squirrel…
“Caroline?” a strange voice calls.
I spin around, looking for the speaker, but… I see no one.
“Who said that?” I call out, looking around, clutching a hand to my chest. “Who’s there?”
“It’s me, Gwen. Look up.”
I lift my chin and see a brightly coloured blue and green bower bird. It’s head cocks to the side as it’s little beady gold green eyes study me. Those eyes… those are Gwen’s eyes.
“Gwen? You’re a… Bird?!” I gasp in shock.
She flutters down from the branch to eye level and gazes at me as she speaks. Her beak opens and the sound comes out, magically I suppose because there’s no way a bird could move their beak to make the sounds sound… human.
“I can be more than just a panther. I can take many forms, including plants.”
“Plants!? Really? But why? They can’t talk… can they?” I can’t imagine the change of a human anatomy to a plant being at all convenient. You couldn’t even move.
“Hmm, many people presume that, but that is, in fact, a misinformed presumption. As a student of science, I’m sure you’re aware of how plants can communicate with other plants through their pheromones and chemicals in the soil. They are also able to transmit an energy-like pulse to other plants, but the frequency is beyond anything any human device can comprehend. We only pick it up as white noise. Plants are rather intelligent and it is quite interesting to be a plant,” Gwen informs me.
“Wow… I had no idea… That’s… fascinating!” I really couldn’t have imagined that. Magic truly is wonderful.
“Yes, it is. So, was there something you needed?” Gwen asks.
“Oh, right. Cliff said I might find Kaede here with you. Apparently, he came here after his talk with Cliff. He was supposed to meet me for dinner but… he won’t answer his phone,” I tell her. As if in response, my stomach gurgles hungrily.
“Oh, I’m sorry dear, but Kaede left his phone here. It got hidden under a pot while I was talking and I didn’t find it till after he left to meet with Nik. Apparently, Nik was training in the fields near the beach. Perhaps they haven’t finished,” Gwen hums.
“Nik? But… Do you know what they were doing?” I’m starting to feel like this is a scavenger hunt – find Kaede and you’ll find the gold at the end of the rainbow. This is so unlike him!
“No, dear, I’m sorry. He didn’t say. But it wouldn’t hurt to check. Good luck!” she chirps, fluttering away.
I spy his phone on the bench as Gwen hops past it and I take it with me on my way out. What could he possibly be doing to make him this late for dinner? Maybe he’s back at the caf by now and I’m just off on this wild goose chase looking for him. I wonder if I should text Andrei…
I pull out my phone and send a quick message. Maybe he’s still there, or maybe he can jump there for me. That would save time.
I get a response, surprisingly. Andrei only recently started carrying a phone again.
<I’m ok, thanks. Gwen said to check the fields by the beach.>
I sigh, pocketing my phone as I trudge toward the beach. Suddenly the day just seems longer. As I walk, I finger the necklace hanging from my neck. Kae got it for my birthday, a glowing stone that makes its own light, even during the day. My hand glows as I caress the little metal cage encasing the blue-green stone like the tangled stalks of kelp. I love it.
I stop just before the hill that leads down to the beach as a warm wind passes over the grassy field. There’s no sign of Nik or Kaede anywhere. I pout, shifting to turn and head back when a flickering light catches my eye. Down the path, closer to the beach, there’s a glowing red light. I narrow my gaze, taking a step toward it, curious.
As I get closer, I spot another, and another, until I follow a string of glowing red rocks flickering like candles. I bend down to study one to find it is indeed a rock, burning red and flickering, but it is not hot to the touch, strangely. I continue, my curious self intrigued.
The nights are cool on the island while the days are warm, even in the fall. A mist has gathered on the beach, shrouding it in a mysterious veil as I follow the glowing lights. Near the water, I spot a figure, shadowed against the mist. They look masculine, with a thin frame and a mess of hair… is that…
“Kae! Where have you been?! Why are you out here?” I call, dashing toward the figure.
The person spins at the sound of my voice and I freeze in mid-step, realising I’ve made a mistake.
“Hello, Caroline. I’m sorry, I’m not Kae,” his angular face smiles back sweetly. How could I have mistaken Yuu for Kae? I guess… they both share a similar heritage. I sag, taking another step closer.
“I’m sorry. I thought, through the mist, you looked like him.”
He laughs sweetly. “Sorry I tricked you.”
“No, it’s not your fault. What are you doing on the beach?” I ask.
“Oh, well, Hitomi wanted to practice with the mist and asked me to watch. Why are you here?” he asks.
“I’m looking for Kae. I can’t find him anywhere and now I’m famished!” I balk.
“Famished?” he questions.
“Hungry. Really hungry,” I say simply.
“Ahh, ok. I saw him earlier. Over there,” he points out into the mist. I squint, following his finger, but I can’t make out anything.
“Where?” I ask, leaning forward.
Suddenly, a breeze picks up and the mist seems to shift, dissipating enough to show a little floating something out on the water. I step closer toward the water, wondering what it could be. I decide to use a trick of my own and I shift my consciousness to the surrounding fog. There’s enough mist in the air that I should be able to get a good image from the water.
As my conscious mind drifts out across the ocean through the fog, the floating mass comes into focus. It appears to be a large rock, drifting slowly on the ocean. Perched on the rock is a tent of sorts with more of the flickering stone lights.
“How in the world did he get out there?” I ask, reeling in my consciousness and looking to Yuu, but… he’s gone. “What in the world?!” I spin around, searching, but he’s nowhere in sight. The misty seems to be thinning. This is all just bizarre now.
“I swear, when I get my hands on you, Kae…” I growl, stepping out onto the ocean. The water stiffens at my command, holding me above the surface as I approach the floating island.
I finally reach the rock and just as I’m wondering how I’ll climb up onto it I spot a set of stairs carved perfectly into the side. I grab on and feel a slight shiver, not from the cold, but from some sort of magical barrier. I make it to the top and look out at the ocean shrouded in mist. This feels kinda creepy now, drifting out on the waves in the fog at the end of September. I nervously reach for my phone, checking the time again.
Why would Yuu say he was here? How would he have even gotten here unless he swam? And the better question is, why?
I’m about to text Andrei to come get me when something catches my attention, a tune on the wind, drifting out from the tent which is glowing with the light of those rock on the beach. I glance back at the stairs one last time before I slowly approach the opening of the tent.
The music grows louder and suddenly, I recognize the tune, it’s a Vance Joy song… Saturday sun, it’s… the one I liked when…
I gasp, my hands jumping to my mouth as it dawns on me.
Kaede stands just inside the tent flap, the slight breeze making it flutter to reveal his smiling face, half shadowed by the mess of black hair hanging in his eyes.
“Happy anniversary, Caroline!” he sings from inside. I feel my eyes sting with embarrassed joy-filled tears.
“How could I’ve forgotten?” I ask aloud behind my hands.
“You seemed so busy, it was perfect!” he grins. “Made it really easy to disappear to get things ready, actually,” he shrugs. “I’m a bit surprised it took you so long to find me though. Dinner was almost three hours ago.”
“Kaede!” I scold, shaking my head no because I don’t mean it. Not one bit. My stomach growls loudly and this just makes him laugh out loud. I love the sound of his goofy laugh.
He reaches out to me, taking my hand and pulling me in, stumbling over my own feet. “What do you think?” he asks, waving his hand over the picnic blanket set with two fluffy cushions, two glasses of wine and a fancy dinner, all illuminated by the same glowing rocks. There’s no way he made that by himself. The ground, I realise, is covered in petals and potted plants adorn the corners of the tent, creating a little private glade within the tent, secluded from the world.
“You did all this? For me?” I ask in disbelief.
“Well, I don’t have magic, so I had to ask for help. Gwen, she made the flowers bloom, Nik made the rock, Heath – the glowing lava lights, Hitomi made the fog and had Yuu wait on the beach for you because I totally thought you’d mistake him for me in all that fog, which, you got to admit was funny,” he chuckles.
I punch his shoulder lightly and he pretends it hurts, grabbing it and shying away. “Cliff anchored the rock just off the shore and also made a barrier so that only you could enter while no sounds or sights can be seen from the shore. So basically, what happens here, stays here,” he shoots me a snide grin as he stands next to me.
“And the food? You surely ordered it from the caf,” I say.
“Nope, I actually made it. Had Andrei teach me. It took us hours. Thankfully he used a time bubble so all the mistakes I made will never be known to the rest of the world. I insisted on doing it myself and he honestly was losing patience with me.”
My eyes bulge, I can’t believe it! I just… I’m speechless.
He takes my hand and pulls me down to the cushions, sitting across from me. “You’re always so busy and I wanted to take the time to show you I care and I still remember everything, even when all this crazy magic stuff decided to come into our lives. I still can’t get you off my mind. Just like the day by in Uni-”
“You mean the day you bumped my books into that puddle,” I correct.
“Yeah, that’s the one. I’ll never forget it ‘cause I met this beautiful woman with blue-green eyes and sandy blond hair and-”
“And you owed her a new textbook and she wasn’t about to let you forget it,” I correct again.
“There’s that too, but I’m trying to be romantic, Car,” he leans forward, resting his hand on my knee.
I laugh, “I know. I’m sorry. Please, go on.”
“Oh no, that was it,” he smiles. I gawk, making him laugh. “Well, let’s eat so we can get to the good part,” he smirks.
My eyes lift. “The good part?”
We eat the wonderful spaghetti and meatballs he made – seriously, I still can’t believe he actually made it. I wonder how long his day really was with Andrei’s time bubble. Kae must be exhausted.
The rocks flicker warmly as we finish the meal and the wine, feeling the gentle rock of the waves swaying the floating sanctuary like a swing in the breeze. The music, I notice switches between thought love songs and upbeat Celtic jigs. When I ask, Kae mentions that Emrys, Kat, and Selene helped him pick the music. That would explain the Celtic theme. I laugh.
He clears away the picnic and stretches out the blanket, pulling me close to lean against him. I happily snuggle up to him, feeling the chill of the ocean breeze through the open tent flap. He wraps his slender arms around me, lacing our fingers together as he rests his cheek against mine. I tilt my head back and find his lips there, waiting.
My heart skips with the sudden connection, but I lean into it, feeling the romantic atmosphere around me intensify as the night wears on. By the light of the moon and the little lava stones, we kiss deeply, losing ourselves in the moment.
His fingers pull away from mine and start to fiddle with the buttons on my blouse. My eyes flutter open with surprise but… I can’t bring myself to stop him. I find myself tantalized by the privacy of our little floating rock.
When he’s got the buttons undone, he slowly peels the fabric off my shoulders, sliding it off and letting it fall to the ground between us. I pull back, my eyes finding his watching me, a blush on his pale cheeks. I smile faintly, turning and gathering the hem of his classic Warhammer shirt in my hands and pulling it up, over his head to reveal his equally pale chest.
He’s not like other men; he doesn’t work out or have magic, he doesn’t walk around with no shirt, showing off. I love him, just the way he is. I wouldn’t want anything else. He makes me feel normal when everything else is shifting and changing about me, like the waves of the sea.
He flicks his hair out of his eyes, fingers slipping the strap of my bra over my shoulder. I feel so exposed, despite the assurance of the spell. We’re practically outside. I feel a shiver at the thought, or is that from his hot fingertips on my freckled skin, trailing down the length of my arm? I forget my worries at his touch.
I lean back as he leans over me, straightening my legs as I prop myself up on my elbows. The tips of his hair tickle my skin as he looks down at my exposed chest, placing a gentle kiss between my breasts.
I suck in my breath, biting my lip. It feels like electricity jolting through my body. I feel his breath on me, warm and comforting. I steady myself on one arm, reaching up to run my fingers through his hair. He seems to be waiting, but for what, I don’t know.
Suddenly, the music changes and the orchestrated background of one of his epic video games comes on. He lifts his chin, a stupid grin on his face as his eyes nearly vanish from the width of his smile.
“I couldn’t resist. I’ve always wanted to make love to you to one of these soundtracks,” he snickers.
“Kae…” I groan. I feel embarrassed now. The mood is so… different.
“Oh, don’t be like that. It’s only a twenty-seven-minute song,” he rolls his lips, resisting the urge to laugh.
I throw my head back in annoyance. “Oh my God! Only twenty-seven?!” I look back to see his mouth hanging open in shock.
“Well, if that’s not long enough, I could always put it on repeat!” he says excitedly.
I fluff his hair with a smile. “You better then,” it’s my turn to smirk as he reaches for his phone and taps a few times, adjusting the playlist.
“There, we’re set for all night,” he smiles, returning the phone to the side and reaching for the belt of my beige pants. He takes his time, watching me through his hair as he undoes the zipper and slides them off my ankles. My blue lacy underwear is all that remains. I push myself up, reaching for his jeans. He leans back, watching my fingers as they fumble awkwardly. At least he’s biting his tongue. I look up at him and see that his eyes are closed, focusing on his breathing. I suddenly feel hot. He looks unbelievable in the flickering light.
I jump up, forgetting the button and grabbing his shoulders, throwing him back in surprise as he falls onto the floor with my weight. He lets out a startled cry as I lean on his chest, kissing his lips in a feverish passion. I don’t let him speak, even though I feel him trying to get a word in.
His hands reach down, finishing the work with his pants and kicking them off awkwardly beneath me. Once he’s free, I feel his arms wrap around my waist and he swings me over. It’s my to turn gasp as we roll to the side, him on top, pinning me down with eyes looking up at him, wide with surprise.
“Patience, Cari,” I beam at the name; he only uses it in intimate moments, like this.
“But!” he presses a finger to my lips, silencing me with a smile. I kiss his finger, flicking my tongue against it. He growls softly.
“You’re still overdressed,” he hums, fingering the band of my underwear. I wiggle beneath him, waiting as he hooks the hem with his forefingers and slowly pulls them over my hips. I squeeze my legs together, nervous about how I look. He shakes his head as he returns, taking my knees gently in his hands. “Now, now… do I have to beat a boss before I can enter?” he chuckles.
I nod, smiling. “Yup, the toughest boss of all!” I can hardly contain my excitement, so I give into his gaming analogies.
“Hmm, I think I’ve got enough hearts for this,” he prys my knees apart and the cool ocean air wafts between my legs, making me shiver. “Stunning, just as the legends say.”
“What legends!” I gasp, tensing.
“The legends of Hyrule! Only The bravest knight can win the heart of Princess Zelda, and you are surely her. You have the same beautiful blonde hair,” his words distract me as his hand slips between my legs, warm fingers gliding over my sensitive, moist groin. I shiver as he fingers me. I melt for him, becoming wet and hungry.
His finger slips inside and I arch my back in response to the sudden intrusion. His rhythm is precise though, expert from all his gaming. A moan escapes my throat. Eventually, he pulls back, reaching for something I can’t see. When I look between my legs, I see him bending over himself, putting on a condom.
He looks at me and grins. “Ready!” he crawls between my legs and leans his face over mine, taking my lips as he glides in. It doesn’t take long for the tent to warm up with both our heat and our voices. I’m still nervous, despite the distance and spells, but that makes this all the more exciting.
I’m not sure how long the playlist played for, but I distinctly recall falling asleep resting my head on his chest, exhausted, until the sun and the cry of the birds wake us up the next morning.
Best anniversary gift ever. I’ll never forget the surprise he had for me that night.
By Kayla West