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Chapter Ten Nobody spoke. The silence seemed to linger uncomfortably over each of us as Madam Kavo tended to one of the soldiers, his arm bruised purple from the impact of hitting the side of the Hideaway. Ivanin and another soldier were examining the two wide, wicker chairs that had battered the tree; one of them was irreparably torn and snapped across its back. The glass table had been destroyed, its thick glass top was smashed into millions of jagged pieces that had fallen all around me after the blast. Kagan and I both thought some of the angry chunks must have hurt me, but I had escaped unscathed. How, I don't know, but I had. I could see Mhena staring silently at the fireplace and the thick log which snapped and popped, the flames licking and teasing out embers that gave off very little heat. Or maybe it was just a different kind of cold that was aching my bones, one that couldn't be warmed by my grandmother's log fire, or the hot tea I was drinking but couldn't taste. Unable to bear the silence any longer, I rose swiftly from the table, careful to conceal the leather pouch and the journal among the folds of the blanket around my shoulders, and exited the kitchen. Madam Kavo startled, and I saw her look quickly at Kagan, who gestured something before rising out of his chair to follow me out into the stairwell. We silently ascended the stairs into the heart of the Hideaway, our footsteps the only sounds bouncing off the walls. Once inside the tavern, which was closed for the first time in as long as I could remember, I took a seat in one of the four booths that lined the long wall, and I waited. Kagan Rey took his seat at the other end of the booth, watching me. “How many of them do you think are real?” I asked, gesturing to the drapes that hung from the ceiling, each embroidered with battles and stories from history. My grandfather told me many of the stories relating to the tapestries, and I would read books on them too, hearing his voice among the pages as I lost myself in the artwork and the tales of great heroes and dastardly foes. Kagan simply watched me, waiting. “I don't know what you want me to say,” I told him, pulling the blanket tighter around me. “He wasn't there, and then he was, and he asked for my help, then –” What was I going to say? Then – Boom? I stared at the tapestry nearest me, trying to form my thoughts while anger and frustration tore through them. What exactly did he want me to tell him? One moment a man magically freezes time, tells me the legends are real, then throws us across the gardens when one of your soldiers tries to kill him!? I sighed. It was a pained, heart-aching sigh because, while Tophen might have been some mystical charmer who could indeed make the birds pause in flight, he also told me that my great-grandfather was part of those same legends and fairytales we had hanging on tapestries throughout the Hideaway. “It's so absurd you wouldn't believe me anyway,” I heard myself say. Dang, I realized too late I'd spoken my thoughts aloud. “Try me.” Kagan Rey leaned back against the booth. His sandy brown hair was almost blond in the pale morning light. I could see him watching me, and I studied him carefully, trying to form the thoughts and the words without sounding as though Topher's mystical blast had knocked out all the sense I had left. He waited. I looked away. “He gave me this,” I told him, pulling out the red leather pouch and the musty journal from its hiding place beneath my blanket. I placed them on the table and slid the journal over to him, not able to bring myself to look up. “He said it was my great-grandfather's and that the Saorla are real and that my great-grandfather was one of them and that he knew about the pendant and he wanted me to find Mareena.” I stared at my hands holding the blanket around my By Annie Bergin Page 46
shoulders; it was easier than looking up and seeing if his face showed the same disbelief that my heart was starting to feel. I could hear Kagan opening the journal to examine for himself the carefully written notes within. Even from the other side of the booth I could pick out the smell of musty, yellowing parchment and soft, beaten leather that held my great-grandfather's secrets. I willed myself to look up, and found him watching me, the journal laid open with the aging parchment curled delicately beneath his fingers. His eyes were incredibly gentle, not mocking nor cynical, just genuinely caring and a little concerned. Embarrassed, I pulled the blanket tighter around my shoulders and stared at the empty fireplace, trying to will it to burn so that I could at least watch flames dance and flicker and thus avoid the awkwardness that stifled the air and lurched in my stomach. “Kali,” Kagan said softly, his voice soothing against the stillness of the empty tavern. I held my breath, waiting to hear how crazy I was and hoping so hard it hurt that he wouldn't actually say it. “Take my hand,” he said, and for a moment I was so surprised that I looked up to see his hand near mine, and his blue eyes gently watching me. “So you don't think I'm crazy?” I asked. He didn't answer, and his hand didn't move. ”Kali,” he said again. I sighed, only momentarily afraid. Then I looked once more into those eyes that I knew in my heart I could trust, and I took his hand. Nothing happened right away, and I felt a pang of foolishness. What on earth did I think was going to happen? But before I could say anything, a warm tingling began to travel up my arm, through my fingers and my palm from his hand all the way up under my elbow and beyond. A tugging, tiring ache began to creep through me, tracing a path where the prickling warmth had trickled through my arm, seeping deep into my being and wrapping itself around my breath, my mind and my eyes. It was trying to pull me away from him. “What's going on?” I asked, the heaviness on my eyelids making it hard to see him. A sliding weight of exhaustion began to nestle down on my shoulders, pushing me deeper into a darkness I couldn't fight. I wanted to pull away but something captivating was drawing me deeper into its stillness, the exhaustion too powerful. My head felt so heavy it actually hurt, so I let it rest upon the table. I tried to look at him but my body would no longer respond. ”What did you do?” I asked, my voice muffled and thick. I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer and as the darkness sucked me down into the depths of its embrace, I remembered too late the words in the letter: Be careful who you choose for friends. Cool water lapped against the shore of the lake that was spread out before me, and the morning sun cast gentle sparkles across the ruffled surface of its water. Kagan Rey stood a few feet away from me, watching some birds fly low across the sky before one swooped down into the water, then thrust its claws beneath the surface and snagged itself a wriggling fish. He said nothing as the bird flapped its long, white wings and soared back into the sky before disappearing somewhere beyond the treetops of the Ruigh-Gants that embraced us, the helpless fish wriggling and struggling the whole way up. I looked first at Kagan, then at the lake, wondering where on earth we were, and how we got there. “Did you do this?” I asked, gesturing to the magnificent landscape and rich wild flowers that filled my view where the Hideaway and its tavern had been. “How did you do this?” I asked him. Kagan remained silent for a moment before he spoke. “It's a little hard to explain,” he said gently. “We soldiers sometimes have the gift of helping people remember something that is out of reach.” He smiled suddenly, seeing something By Annie Bergin Page 47
in my expression that amused him. “It’s all right,” he assured me, squeezing my hand. “This place,” he gestured to the great lake, “this is where you keep dreaming of the lake of fire.” He paused a moment, then with a deep breath, he said, “In the legend the Saorla were connected to the Keepers, the ones who were born with the Magik of Kavehn.” He paused a moment to take in the lake and the trees that framed it. “Even though these places are things from your dreams, you’ve already shown me that you can witness Mareena’s thoughts. You know where she disappeared in the castle and how.” I wanted to speak but when my lips moved, there was only silence. Things were slowly clicking into place, but the surreal foundation of the information that knitted through my thoughts made it a little hard to believe anything of what I was thinking. My great-grandfather was a Guardian. He kept a journal of things so secret and amazing that a magical being had to bring them to me to make sure I understood. Topher had even told me I’d inherited the Quest. “What’s the Quest?” I asked, not entirely sure which of my thoughts I’d spoken aloud. “Topher said I’d inherited the Quest. What did he mean?” “I don’t know,” Kagan answered truthfully, his face thoughtful. “But I do know that this place is a part of something real, a memory whether it’s yours or Mareena’s, but something you’re connected to nonetheless.” Taking a seat in the thick blanket of grass that covered the ground beneath our feet, Kagan beckoned me to join him. I hesitated only a moment, then sank down into the cool, beautiful grass and watched him. He smiled just a moment, but there was something there in his eyes that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Silently I waited for him to continue. He looked at me intently, reading something in my face before trusting himself to say anything more. Finally he seemed to relax a little, and let out the breath he’d been holding. “My thought is,” he explained, “if I help you see the memory that’s been tormenting you, maybe it will help us find Mareena, and perhaps help us understand a little more about what’s going on.” “So what do you need me to do?” I asked, gesturing to my dream that surrounded us. Kagan offered me his hand, and I hesitated a moment. Strange things kept happening when I touched people, from mythical guardians stepping out of folklore and thin air, to trusted friends pulling me into my own dreams and memories without warning me first. “I'm sorry about that,” he said, as though I'd spoken my thoughts aloud. I stared at him for a moment, and he gave me a crooked grin that was charmingly cute. Even as I was sure I blushed, I found myself once more taking his hand. This time the dream changed slowly around us, swirling from daylight to starlight in only a few heartbeats, taking the thick beautiful grass and the fragrant, colorful blossoms with it. The moonlight sparkled on the lake, and I watched as the waves lapped against the shore, and crickets chirped somewhere far in the darkness around us. “Someone's coming,” I hissed, hearing the snapping of twigs and the rustling of leaves from somewhere far in front of us and to the left. A moment later, a young woman burst out of the darkness and stumbled towards the lake, her breathing ragged, and her hair spilling in waves around her shoulders. Kagan remained still, watching the scene intently, but both unmoving and unafraid. It was the pendant I recognized first, the large, round aqua colored stone that had sucked me into her world when we were at the park. I gasped, and clamped my hands over my mouth in case she heard, at which point Kagan leaned quietly towards me to whisper in my ear, “It has already happened. She can't hear you.” I blushed, my cheeks burning so hard I thought he might see it in the moonlight, but he said nothing. We both watched, captivated, as Mareena scanned
By Annie Bergin
the edge of the lake and, trusting she was alone, took off the pendant and dropped it into the water. Before I could wonder what was happening, the air near her seemed to change, much as it had done only a short time ago at the Hideaway. I glanced at Kagan and he had seen it too. Mesmerized I watched the air fold around itself and grow dense, like it was made of thick water, before Mareena reached into its shape and took the hand of a beautiful red haired woman who stepped out from its embrace. She was the most striking woman I had ever seen, taller than me I guessed, with a strong, toned frame, and hair the color of burning sunset that fluttered around her nape and breathed tresses across the top of her shoulders. Her boots were dark, long almost to her knees, with heels that gave her at least an inch or two of added height. She wore slacks that hugged her curves, and a tunic that reached her upper thighs, and over her tunic she wore a long leather duster that tapered wide at her knees. She was mesmerizing. Mareena looked relieved to see her, but anxious too. The newcomer scanned their location, and something in her reaction told me that something was wrong. From out of the darkness there was a powerful flash, like lightning, that threw both Mareena and the redhead head over heels and straight into the lake. Lord Kel burst through the forest, with at least five other people, and again threw what looked like a rock at the redhead before she had a chance to climb to her feet. As the rock touched her, another burst of lightning shook the air and slammed into her chest, throwing her end over end into the shallower side of the lake. I was scrambling to my feet as the commotion unfolded before us, but Kagan took my arm and gently said again, “It has already happened, there's nothing you can do.” Still I ran to the clearing where I could see the redhead as she lay stunned on the ground. Unbelievably, she was still moving, and I watched her climb to her feet and throw out her hands, as Topher had done, sending a wave of explosive energy outwards towards the Knight and his men. The trees bent hard against the force of the magic, and the men with the Knight flew backwards in every direction, the wave of the blast knocking their bodies and their weapons clear out of view. There was something else being thrown, but this time I could hear a humming I hadn't noticed before. An ornate dagger, gold and silver and strikingly familiar hit the redhead in the chest, while a blue light exploded beside us, shattering the silence with such a thunderous roar that it would make your ears bleed. Even though it was a dream, something that had happened and was gone, the force knocked me backwards; Kagan was there to catch me. “What was that?” I asked him, breathless and stunned. The ringing in my ears was back and it hurt to breathe. “I don't know,” he answered me, looking as startled as I felt. We both watched as the dust settled and the crackling in the air subsided; we saw the redhead in the water, the dagger in her heart. This time she didn't get up. I tried to speak, fighting the swell of emotions that pounded through me, but only a choking gasp escaped my lips. Where was Mareena? By the edge of the lake, half submerged within the ripples of the dark, sparkling waters, the girl who had invaded my dreams lay still. I couldn't help myself; I began to cry. There was a stillness that came upon the forest as Lord Kel took Mareena's pendant from the lake, and left with his men. I couldn't breathe as I stared at the devastating scene he left in his wake, furious at him and deathly afraid of him at the same time. “What kind of magic was that?” I asked Kagan, my voice hoarse. I didn't expect him to answer, and he knew it. He just held my hand, waiting. And as a soft mist crept along the forest By Annie Bergin Page 49
floor, he gestured towards it, knowing a moment before I did that something else was about to happen here. The willowy breaths of the mist rolled slowly at first past our feet, puffing gently around us before blowing its way towards the water. Shadows stirred and moved aside as the glowing, gray mist enveloped both Mareena and the redhead, before breathing softly over each of them. Then as it grew heavier around Mareena, it began to gather and grow, blowing upwards and out with gentle plumes that formed shapes and sparkling color before our eyes. I didn't need to ask if Kagan was seeing the same as I was, because I could feel his hand tighten around mine. The mist unfurled gently around a shape that was starting to form, and I could see something almost softly pink grow clearer within the enveloping softness of the breathy mist. And as we watched, my awe turned to shock as a girl stepped out of the mist and approached Mareena. I recognized the long blonde hair and the porcelain skin of the girl in the pink dress, her angelic stillness as captivating here as it had been when she came to me at the hospital. She knelt down beside the fallen woman, and smoothed the raven hair from her face, feeling, I imagined, for any sign of life. Then with an ease that stunned me, the ghostly girl lifted Mareena out of the water as though she weighed nothing, and carried her carefully to the edge of the lake and laid her down on the damp earth. She retrieved the redhead with the same ease, removing the dagger and tucking it into the pocket of her rich ruby cloak as she sadly looked over each fallen woman. The same mist that brought her stirred again; taking Mareena's hand, and taking the redhead's hand, the ghostly girl let the smoky grey mist envelop each of them, like a gently blowing blanket of calm where a turbulent chaos had once been. As the foggy air grew thicker and began to envelop them, the ghostly girl raised her head in the direction we were standing; it caused my heart to stop beating. Her blue eyes looking at me without truly seeing me for, Kagan had said, we weren't really there. Yet with an unmistakable clarity that sent a shudder right through me, I heard her voice in my thoughts. “Find her!” she urged. And then she was gone.
By Annie Bergin
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