Between my research and looking after Heath, I have very few reasons to leave the library of late. Sleep evades me, my mind consumed with the fates of the mages out in the world, vulnerable and hunted. The visions gnaw at the back of my mind. So many young lives snuffed out in their prime.
The door opens and I look up from my screen, not that I need to. He’s on time, as he has been the last couple days. “Good morning,” I smile. “How was your training?”
Heath reaches a hand behind his head, rubbing a growing bump. “I got pummeled. Nik is a tough teacher,” He mumbles.
“Better than some, I can assure you,” I grimace, recalling my one time lesson with Cliff. “I’m sure you did fine.”
“At least I’m showing improvement. I feel like fighting doesn’t much suit me, though,” He falls onto the couch beside me.
I laugh, “Suits you better than it did me. Although, I’m not sure that’s very reassuring.”
He smiles. His thoughts wander, admiring me. He seems to think I would be better at fighting with my mind than with fists.
“You are not wrong,” I roll my eyes. “I’ve always been much better at outwitting my foes. If that fails, they usually kill me and move on. Win-win for me.”
He chuckles, “Benefit of death, distraction. So, when you… die, do you forget things when you come back? Or is everything still there?”
I’m a little taken by surprise by his question. Not many people ask that. “I remember everything.”
“Even the death?” His brows raise.
“This surprises you,” I muse.
“Yes well, everything seems to surprise me these days, but I’m beginning to understand more and more.” His thoughts are still for a moment before he wonders how the memories must feel. He feels sad for me.
“It’s not always pleasant,” I admit. “But it’s no worse than any other painful memory. Some of them weren’t so bad.”
“Were they good deaths, the ones that weren’t bad?” He asks.
I ponder the concept. “What do you consider to be a good death?”
His thoughts stutter, working out the definition of a good death. “I suppose it would be one where you were happy, or not murdered. Perhaps not as painful, or lonely, unless you woke up again while everyone was watching. Then I guess that would be awkward.”
“It can be,” I frown at the memory, heaving a sigh. “Good deaths…” I think back, curious about his wording. Not painful, or lonely. When is death not lonely? “I think the best death is a quick one. To be dead before you feel pain, or know what’s happened.”
“I see,” He hums, pondering my words.
“Come,” I pat my lap, moving the laptop to the table beside the arm of the couch, still within reach. He shifts, resting his head in my lap. His long legs hang over the other arm of the couch and I comb my fingers through his messy dark curls. “Try meditating now.” He closes his eyes, content. His thoughts focus on his breathing, as I’ve taught him.
I turn my gaze back to my laptop, scrolling down the Spanish site. It talks about a group of missing youths, with only a handful of bodies recovered. They apparently can’t identify the murder weapon by the strange wounds left behind. There are a few pictures of the victims near the bottom. When I look at the first image, a girl about thirteen, my vision shifts.
The girl stands in an alley behind a shop she frequents. She’s led there by a mysterious stranger, tall and handsome, to her. His soft green eyes and thin lips draw her in, a fly caught in a spiderweb. Then he offers to take her away, promising her power, promising they could be together. She hesitates. She doesn’t want to leave her home, her family. She loves her town. He grows angry. With a wave of his hand, a spear of crystal clear ice thrusts from the stones behind her, right through her chest. He watches her choke on her own blood until he’s satisfied that she’s dead.
I gasp, involuntarily, closing my eyes and forcing the vision to fade. Yet another life claimed by my brother. I can’t believe I loved him once. I should have killed him before I left home. Maybe if I had been braver then…
“Is everything alright?” Heath’s deep voice cuts through my thoughts. My eyes snap open, finding his head tilted up to stare at me. His hands rest on his chest, fingers woven together.
I stare into his dark blue eyes for a moment, my mind still stuck in the vision. “Uh, yes. It’s fine. Sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb you,” I mumble, my cheeks feeling a little warmer. I’m not used to being caught off guard. I lean back into the couch, turning back to the screen. I struggle to compose my face to be neutral.
His curiosity is peaked, but he decides not to ask. He instead tries to meditate again. I watch his peaceful expression, listening to his internal struggle to stay focused. He tries to focus on his breath, but his thoughts wander, admiring the scent of me. I find myself smiling at that. He blushes, embarrassed by his own thoughts when they stray to the events of the other day. He’s like a lovestruck schoolboy. He scolds himself, forcing his focus back on his breathing.
I roll my eyes, clicking to another tab on the computer. This one from a newspaper in Cairo. The story is painfully similar to the last one. I’m starting to lose count of the bodies Victor has left behind. I clench my jaw; For all my gifts, I’m still powerless to stop him. I can’t even predict his movements, only follow the carnage.
“Can you actually read that?” Heath speaks up again.
I hum curiously, glancing down at him, and back to the laptop. “Yes.”
“How?” He twists his head to get a better look.
“How?” I scoff. “How do you read? I know the language.”
His head tilts, “How many languages do you know?”
I think about it for a minute. I have no idea anymore. “Enough.”
His brow raises, and he sits up, studying the computer, “What does it say?”
I study his expression. His concern is interesting. “It’s an article about some missing persons in Egypt.”
His brows furrow. “What are you reading that for?”
“Looking for similarities,” I answer vaguely.
“Similarities to what?”
“Other cases, across the globe,” I narrow my eyes slightly.
“Why?” He turns to look at me.
I hesitate, considering my answer. How much do I want to tell him? “You’re supposed to be meditating,” I remind him, changing the subject.
“… Sorry,” He pouts. I’m surprised he gave up so easily.
I smirk, “You’ll never satisfy your curiosity if you give up so quickly.”
He turns back to the laptop, studying the images. “Why are you interested in missing people from around the world?”
I sigh, following his gaze. “Because of who’s hunting them.”
“Hunting them?” He waits, his thoughts churning. “Why are they being hunted?”
“For their magic,” I answer simply. “If you had not come here when you did, you may well have been on my list.”
The note he first received comes to his mind, a location and a time. “Kaitlyn mentioned that this place was safer than outside, but I doubted her. She told me about the man they call Mortecai. Is that who’s killing these people?”
“Not directly,” I avoid his gaze. “From what I’ve seen with my gift, it’s one of his… associates.” My mouth strains to form a word that’s not a slur.
“He has associates? Is this the war Kaitlyn was talking about?” He asks, disturbed to hear that others would be involved with the guy, and that people are going missing. He remembers Andrei and Caroline saying how they first met Kat in a similar way, coming to the Guild. I find it interesting that he refers to her by nickname in his thoughts, but not his words.
“It is,” I confirm. “This man working with Mortecai is not the kind of man who worries about morality, or empathy. I’m tempted to think the only reason they’re working together is so he can kill people with impunity.”
“That’s pretty cold. Sounds like the lava,” He mutters bitterly. “Do you know the other person?”
“I do, unfortunately,” I grumble, glaring at the computer. “He is much worse than your lava. Even as a boy, Victor was cruel. The element that chose him is almost poetic in the way that it suits him,” I muse darkly.
Heath looks at me. He’s drawn a conclusion. “You know him well, are you related?”
“He was my brother,” I answer through gritted teeth. “I stopped calling him brother after the third time he murdered me, for fun.”
Heath lays back down in my lap, face turned in the direction of the computer. His thoughts flash with images of his own family, but they are stained with a bitter hatred. “I think family can betray you the most. I don’t trust them, thanks to him.” The image of his own brother, only a young boy at the time, comes to mind.
I run my fingers through his hair. “I’m sorry. This isn’t helping your meditation at all,” I smile sadly. “Let me worry about this. You have enough on your plate.”
“Why did he have to do it?” He whispers, almost to himself.
I feel his pain like a dagger in my chest, inhaling sharply. His memories of that fateful day, being pushed over the edge, feeling his flesh burn. It feels real and fresh to me. I tense, holding my breath. I resume stroking his hair, hoping to soothe him, but the pain makes my hand unsteady. I let my eyes close as I wait for it to pass.
“I’m sorry, you’re feeling this, aren’t you? I should think of something else,” He catches himself.
“It’s alright,” My voice rattles. “That was… interesting. I suppose I can check that off my death list.”
“Sorry…” He repeats, struggling to keep his thoughts off the event.
I gulp, finding it impossible to shut out the sensations of burning. I force my eyes to open and look at him with a strained smile. “Think of what makes you happy,” I suggest.
“Happy…” He repeats, immediately picturing me. His cheeks flush pink. “Are you sure?” He asks with uncertainty.
“Quite,” I grit my teeth. The pain is worse when I know it’s not real. Death will not end it.
His thoughts shift drastically, studying my face, admiring me. It’s odd to see myself through his eyes. Embarrassing almost. He thinks to the other day when we had sex, and he flushes pink again. His emotions calm, and he even feels happy, and slightly aroused. The effect of his memories fade, taking the pain with it. I let my body relax, breathing deep with relief. He seems determined to control his thoughts away from the sexual aspects, aware that I’m listening in. I can’t resist snickering; so modest for a young man.
“What are you laughing about?” He asks, suspecting it’s him.
“Your modesty is adorable,” I meet his gaze, waiting for his next thought.
He’s perplexed. “Adorable? Knowing you can hear me makes meditating all the more difficult. Besides… This is training. I can’t let those thoughts get in the way, right? What if he breaks free tomorrow? I need all the time I can get,” He reasons.
“I might argue that those thoughts are a tool for you to use against him,” I muse. “After all, I’m not the one he wants.”
He thinks on that a moment and agrees. “I see what you’re saying, I think,” He sighs, worrying about the time when he’ll have to confront Lava again. “I’m not very good at this. My thoughts seem to be all over the place today,” He groans in frustration.
He’s not wrong. I didn’t have much faith in the idea to begin with, but I needed a reason to have him stay with me. “Perhaps we should try a different strategy then.”
“A different strategy? Like what?” He asks, doubtful.
“Sit up,” I command. He does, intrigued. I turn to face him on the couch. “If what I can see is true, he feeds off of your anger, your despair. The solution seems to be quite simple.”
“It does?” He is unconvinced.
“Yes,” I spread my lips into a wide smile. “We make you happy.”
“That seems difficult to me. There aren’t many things that can do that, as you pointed out before,” He frowns slightly.
“I seem to have an advantage in that regard,” I remind him.
He glances to the side. “Right… So how do you propose we make me happy?”
“Spend time together,” I suggest. “If you can stand my company.”
He almost smiles. “Alright. That doesn’t seem too hard.”
“I suggest we start with lunch,” I propose, standing up. I hold out my hand for him to take. He looks at it, startled before he takes it. I tug him to stand, so he does. Then I lace my fingers between his.
“I don’t really cook if that’s what you were hoping for,” He says with a hint of glumness. His thoughts jump to the fact he’s never stayed in one place that had a kitchen. Mostly motels and worker residences.
I scoff, “I didn’t plan for you to cook. Aside from the fact that we could order food, I’m quite capable of cooking myself.”
“Do you enjoy cooking?” He asks, his fingers twitch between mine. His thoughts seem to jump between the sensation of our touch and wondering what I might look like cooking.
“I never thought of cooking as something to enjoy,” I answer honestly. “I learned out of necessity.”
“Because of your families,” He assumes.
I nod. “That, and a general need to eat. They didn’t exactly have many restaurants and take out back then.”
He chuckles, “Right. Did you have a favourite meal?”
“Many, over the years,” I tease. “Favorite of which culture?”
His mind blanks as he thinks of various cultures. “Uh, well, how many cultures do you know? All of them? Or, is my choice a little more specific?” He says with an amused grin.
“All of them,” I grin wickedly. “There are few places I haven’t been.”
“Hmm, have you been to Quebec?” He smirks.
“Of course,” I roll my eyes. “I was traveling across North America when I had the misfortune of meeting Mortecai.”
“You’ve met him?” He asks with disbelief. “That sounds dangerous, considering how your research involves all the people he’s been killing.”
“It was dangerous,” I agree. “I suppose that’s a story you haven’t heard. I was his prisoner, for a time.”
“Now that must have been… interesting,” He says with an undertone of sarcasm. “How in the world did that happen?”
“He knew what I was,” I state simply. “I did not.”
“How could he possibly know if you didn’t? That doesn’t really add up.”
“I hadn’t met any other Guardians until they found me.”
“In all those years? Well… I guess I can’t blame you there. I didn’t know anything either, but still, that’s surprising.” His thoughts swirl as he tries to imagine what Mortecai was like, and a sense of concern fills his conscience as he contemplates how I was treated. “It must have been difficult, being a prisoner.”
“Do you want to see the memory?” I ask, genuinely curious of how he might react.
“See it? You can do that? But…” He grows concerned, knowing I can feel what he’s feeling. He becomes aware that he can’t hide his curiosity about it. “Only if you’re okay with that,” He adds after a moment of thought.
I stop walking, just down the hall from the cafeteria. He pauses, and I turn to face him. “Relax,” I whisper, reaching my free hand to his cheek.
With a moment of concentration, I plant a fragment of my memory in his mind, bringing it to the forefront so he sees it as if it were a new experience. Sitting on the stone ground, chains chafing my wrists and ankles, starving. The memory is from just a few days before I first felt the power of Fire.
His thoughts grow quiet and depressed. He takes in a shaky breath and I feel his arms wrap around my shoulders as he pulls me into him. “I’m sorry. It’s… it’s like I was there, like that was me… It felt bleak,” His chest vibrates when he speaks.
“Yes,” I return his embrace. Even though I’ve buried my emotions of despair, his emotions flood through me anew. “If I knew half the things I do now, I would have been able to escape. He will not catch me again, try as he may,” I growl, annoyed by his previous attempts.
“You are a strong woman to go up against such a fiend and to have faced death so often. You are inspiring,” He whispers.
I feel a slight blush with his bold compliment. It’s not often I get those anymore. “Thank you.”
Heath pulls back, hands lingering on my shoulders as he leans closer, tempted to kiss me. A figure turns the corner in my peripheral, a familiar voice humming a weird tune in his mind. I groan quietly, closing my eyes as I wait for the booming voice.
‘What is it?’ Heath’s thoughts interrupt.
“A nuisance,” I mutter under my breath.
His cheerful mood falters, seeing Heath and I so close. Curiosity crosses his mind, tinged with jealousy. He thought Nik and I were an item.
“Good afternoon, friends. Been a while, hasn’t it?” Cliff calls out, forcing a smile. “And who is our new friend here? I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m Cliff,” He booms, holding out a hand to Heath.
Heath glances at me before extending his hand and firmly shaking Cliffs. “I’m Heath. It’s nice to meet you.”
“How long have you been at the Guild? No one told me of a new mage of late. Are you ignoring me?” Cliff’s eyes shift to me, a bit of sadness behind them.
“He’s Kaitlyn’s student. I didn’t realise introducing you was my responsibility,” I retort coldly.
“Usually friends keep each other informed,” He frowns.
“I’ve been busy,” I keep my tone neutral.
“I can see that,” He says just as flat. He wonders what he did to anger me, he’d been trying to be good. Heath wonders what happened between us, why Cliff is upset and why I seem angry. He wonders who Cliff is to me. “How are Kaitlyn and Andrei? I haven’t seen them in a while,” Cliff asks suddenly.
Heath’s emotions shift to guilt at the mention, which irks me further. “Don’t know. They’ve gone off somewhere to the past,” I reply, hoping he’ll get the hint and drop it. Doubtful, considering he never gets any hint. I sigh, waving toward the cafeteria. “Shall we get out of the hallway?”
“That’s unusual for you not to know,” Cliff adds, moving toward the cafeteria. Heath drops his hands, feeling nervous and awkward. He’s apprehensive, sensing I don’t want to discuss the details with Cliff.
“It’s none of his business,” I explain in his mind. His thoughts and attention turn back to me, relaxing a little.
‘He seems to know a lot about them. What if he finds out… about what I did?” He thinks.
“His opinion is of no consequence,” I scoff, waving for us to follow behind the oversized Viking.
“Well, no matter. Heath, I don’t sense an aura around you. Are you a mage?” Cliff asks. Heath jumps at the mention of his magic, his thoughts scrambling for a logical answer.
“He’s a Guardian,” I interrupt. “I’ve temporarily disabled his magic while he learns to control it.”
“Oh, so that’s why you’re together. I see,” CLiff’s jealous feelings abate. I roll my eyes. “Have you been here long? If there’s anything you need, just know you can always ask me. I’ve worked here at the Guild for all my life. I usually help out the new mages, but it seems you’ve slipped past my net this time,” He smiles broadly.
“He was brought directly to Kaitlyn,” I explain vaguely. “Their elements are such that she was the most logical choice, as she has been given the role of professor,” I smirk, knowing that will sting his ego.
“Kaitlyn’s a professor now? Why, she never told me! Why do I get the feeling everyone’s been leaving me out? So Heath,” Cliff turns back to him, intrigued. “Does that mean you’re a fire mage like my dear Kaitlyn?”
“Uhh, sort of. I’m a lava mage,” He mumbles.
“Lava? Wow, that’s a new element around here. I don’t think any of the current students are able to create or control lava. You must be lucky,” Cliff beams.
“Don’t,” I snap, glaring at the giant. Heath shifts, uncomfortable. “Change the subject.”
“What? What did I do wrong this time? Why are you always in a knot when I speak to you, Selene? Have I offended you?” Cliff asks, genuinely confused by my tone.
“I am not known for my cheerful disposition,” I retort. “His magic is not to be discussed. Change the subject.”
“Alright…” He sighs, still a bit confused. “So, where do you hail from?” He asks instead. I walk past him, heading for a table.
“I, uh… travel a lot for my work. I was last in Montreal, Quebec,” Heath says timidly. “Is he going to be joining us?”
“He’s not easy to get rid of, so I assume he will,” Even my thoughts sound exasperated.
“Montreal? Wow, Another Canadian,” He grins. “Andrei, Kaede, and Caroline are also from Canada. That’s interesting. I haven’t been there myself,” He rambles on.
“That’s not true,” I correct him. “You snuck out with Kaitlyn and Ryan.”
“Was that to Canada? I must have forgotten,” He thinks through the times they left together. “Oh, you’re right!”
I stop at a small table, turning to Heath. “Sit,” I order, gesturing to the chair next to me as I sit down. He does without question. I slide the tablet, courtesy of Kaede’s upgrades, to him. “Order.”
“A-alright. Umm, something from Montreal alright with you?” He asks.
I wave my hand. “Yes, that’s fine. Whatever strikes your fancy,” I seem to have lost interest in food, or being here. Next time I’ll order food to the library.
“I wonder if they have a Montreal smoked meat bagel. Those are good,” He says to himself as he scans the tablet.
“You can just write it in and they’ll make it. The kitchen makes everything, even if it’s not on the list,” Cliff informs Heath. He looks up, surprised.
“Really? Well, in that case…” He taps the tablet and hits submit, setting it down in front of Cliff. “Your turn.”
“Poutine, huh?” I raise an eyebrow. He seems to think I may not have tried it, because it’s a modern dish.
“Yea, it’s pretty good, thanks to the cheese,” The corner of his mouth twitches, attempting to form a smile.
A manage a chuckle. “Yes, I suppose it is. If you can call that real cheese,” I tease.
“In Montreal, we use real cheese. Straight from the barrel,” His eyebrows lift in a scholarly fashion.
“The European blood in my veins is offended by that statement,” I mock, being a little dramatic.
“The cheese curd is essentially the cheese before you’ve gone and left it to go bad! How it is not real cheese?” He asks, hooked.
I can’t resist a little smile, almost forgetting the other presence at the table. “One day, perhaps I will take you to one of the cheeseries in France, or Italy.”
“That sounds like it would be enjoyable. I’ve only been abroad for soldering work and, well… before that time, when my parents took us to various volcanic sites,” Heath trails off as images of the various volcanoes he’s been to flash through his mind.
“I’ll have the hearty stew,” Cliff says, setting the tablet down.
“Fitting, for a Viking,” I muse, trying to remain casual, less hostile.
“A Viking? How is that possible? I thought they died out a thousand years ago?” Heath asks.
I laugh, “While it is possible, I was making a joke.”
“Oh…” He blushes and shrinks a little in the chair.
“Before I cared to learn his name, I simply thought of his as the Viking, based on appearance,” I explain, gesturing to Cliff. Heath nods.
“It’s not entirely wrong either. My ancestors were Vikings and I still train in the way that has been passed down my family line. I’m not a Guardian, but my magic is in barriers and alchemy. My family’s been with the Guild for centuries,” Cliff explains with a hint of pride.
“See?” I wave as food begins to appear on the table. “Oh, good.”
Heath eyes the poutine as his stomach growls. “Does anyone have a fork?” He asks, looking for the cutlery. There are a few rolled-up sets, just out of his view. I pass one to him. “Thanks,” He gives me a small smile, taking the fork out and studying the poutine intently, looking for the perfect place to start.
By Krystyna Yates