“Welcome to Fortitude. Your name?”
“My name is Clary Smith,” I answer, but I also add, “…but there must be some mistake, I applied for art school, I don’t want to be here,” I tell Demy quietly, the guide for the new group of girls that arrived at the shifter sanctuary.
Fortitude Place; it was a place to become a nurse, a doctor or a second-hand. Usually to Fangs, the greatest warriors on leave, or those retired, or those new. The shifter sanctuary was a learning place and a resting place for our protectors.
To work here was like winning the lottery.
No one complained, and I think that’s why Demy is stunned by my words.
“What did you just say, Clary?” she asks me to repeat myself.
The other girls are looking at me funny, intrigued.
I move close to Demy to whisper up into her ear, “I didn’t apply to Fortitude.”
I move back and Demy is still confused, “I’ll… look into it,” she speaks politely and then moves back down the line of girls who did apply, “Everyone follow me for the tour.”
She hurries off and we follow single file.
I’m last in the line and I follow through the garden. Long reeds and plants that grew in the checkered waterway, provided a lush garden out front and all-around Fortitude Place. The little water crossings had mini ‘bridges’, just planks of wood really.
Fortitude itself was like a university or a huge private hospital. Or both, I guess.
When we enter, it’s a massive open floor with gold trimmed tiles. The ceiling lets in the light with a checkered sunroof. There’s luxury at every turn.
Some shifters walk around but not too many.
“The Meet,” Demy introduces the area, “I want nurses going left, doctors right, second-hands, straight ahead…”
I didn’t know what I was, so instead of asking a question I already knew Demy didn’t know the answer too, I just peel off when no one is looking and walk back outside.
I wasn’t too concerned about ending up at the wrong job. It would soon be remedied. Another girl would take my place in a heartbeat. I round a few pillars outside, bored as I look for a place I can explore. I wouldn’t be here long so I may as well enjoy the pompous surrounds.
Outside in the garden I see some warriors training by the tree line and a huge stone building. Like a loft, a gigantic door is rolled open and I see fighters training inside as well as outside. Some wolves rough around in the dirt by the forest line and disappear. They’re teacher isn’t too impressed, yelling at them to return.
I huff out a breath of complaint as I move a bit closer and stand next to a large tree trunk, watching the fighters move. That’s why some girls loved to work here, they might mate with a sexy beast – the top of the food-chain kind of guy.
I don’t feel a need to run off and elope with one of those giants just because they were athletically gifted and good at killing the enemy. However, I do admire their skill and the way they move... for maybe a little too long… I stare from the sanctuaries garden. I’m far enough away they won’t notice or won’t care too.
Besides, I’ll be… gone soon.
I’ve just jinxed myself. One of the trainers, who was looking rather angry at the young warriors for failing to tame their strength into tactical offense or defence… has had enough and he simply turns around in my direction.
He leans over to grab a bottle of water. Facing me, he just swings his head back to drink and when he’s finished, his eyes are right on me.
I feel weirdly arrogant, leaning on the tree, my arms crossed in front of me as I just stare at him.
With the trainers narrowed eyes now on me, he begins to look even more annoyed than before.
But I can’t look away when I notice his face.
He wasn’t just a tall athletic shifter – he had a huge scar right down his right cheek, over one eye. It was bad.
He lowers the water bottle and then barks out at me.
“Hey! Come here!”
His aggressive words reach me instantly and I jump into action, jogging toward him. I wouldn’t disobey a Fang.
I skip across the garden path, into the fields and then I jump over the benches lining the training field.
I stop a few feet from the trainer with buzzed hair and grey eyes. He looks younger up close, the scar made him look older from afar.
“Sir?” I ask, curious.
“Why aren’t you with the group?” he asks quietly, rather serious, he doesn’t bother with a smile.
“I’m not meant to be here –”
“Every girl picked is meant to be here,” he cuts me off, and tells me straight, “Who let you run off, Demy?”
“Y-yeah but, I kind of ran off my –”
“Demy didn’t keep you in the group, that’s her only job,” he explains for me.
“Okay?” he mimics me and he looks utterly offended by my choice words, “Call me Raphael.” He’s got a short temper as fuck, but at least he introduces himself.
“I’m Clary,” I smile, hoping Raphael smiles back – but nope, of course he doesn’t. His grey eyes don’t falter and don’t waver. He just glares right through my soul. I’m low-key glad, because he’s fucking built-up. Like I’ve never seen so many muscles on a guy’s back before, and when he turned around earlier, I’ll admit it, I stared so hard at his face because I was sure if I looked down I’d probably melt. Cause he was… I forgot to mention… shirtless. Fuck me.
He was fucking beautiful – and I was just… weird book-nerd Clary with my old ripped-up shoulder bag, baggy pants covered in paint stains, with a red shirt full of holes. I looked kind of homeless.
And the women Fangs mated with? Goddesses. Like literally goddesses with their appearance. I was not in his league. So I wasn’t even going to bother thinking about… anything… sexy related… eek. Like, everything I just thought about.
“Nurse?” Raphael barks off again, clearly impatient to get to the bottom of my wandering around where I shouldn’t be.
“No,” I answer quickly, “I was not assigned anything. I literally shouldn’t be here.”
Now Raphael doesn’t know what to say. He even turns back to the young men he’s training and keeps an eye on them for a minute.
Don’t look at his back, Clary, fuck.
I stare at his back and neck.
I awkwardly stand there since I haven’t been dismissed.
I know he is just considering his words, so I wait, and Raphael eventually turns back to me.
“Can I… go now?” I ask, since all he does is look at me like I’m a nuisance.
“Who marked you?” Raphael narrows his eyes, asking like it’s an interrogation.
“No one marked me,” I bark back right away, “What the hell kind of question is that?”
“No one comes here by accident – there’s a fourth category, one we haven’t used in centuries because it’s… fucking weird,” Raphael explains, “You’re Fang-Kissed. So who marked you?”
I want to complain, but Raphael doesn’t look like he’s joking.
Not in the slightest.
So I seriously consider his words.
And suddenly… I have an answer.
I can’t believe it.
I had a memory from when I was a child. Just playing around with my brother by the fireplace as my mother stirred the soup and my father was napping on the couch. The door was nearly knocked down with the force of the banging on the other side. My mother opened the door and a wounded Fang warrior stumbles in, half dead. He was placed on the couch to rest, my parents fussed and we were told to stay back. I did. But hours later I overheard my mother scream that he was dead. They all ran from the house, looking for the nearest transport. I approached the dead man and I remember touching his face, because he had been crying. The memory was really short, but prominent. My fingers came away with his tears. His eyes snapped open. And then he was gone.
I don’t remember when or how.
He was just there, and then he moved so quick, he was gone – gone home, all healed, fully recovered.
He didn’t even look at me longer than a second, but he moved quicker than anything.
Because he was called Raze.
A great Fang. Like, the greatest. And he fell asleep at our house after a fight.
Only to die a few years ago from a different battle.
I feel strange saying the name of a dead warrior.
The moment his name leaves my mouth, Raphael looks furious, like I just made a sick joke.
I see his fist curl and I panic, stumbling back.
In that moment, Raphael relaxes and he uncurls his fingers.
“You’re telling the truth,” Raphael says, slowly, “But… how?”
“Um. His tears,” I explain, awkwardly, “I touched his tears when everyone thought he was dead. He was in our house one night.”
“Raze was my brother,” Raphael explains, “I’m sorry for…” Oh, shit, no wonder he reacted so hostile.
“I’m sorry,” I quickly interject.
“No, I’m sorry, because you were destined and he’s gone,” Raphael says that with some kind of sympathy and then his expression goes cold, “You can go inside.”
Raphael turns from me, and I don’t question him this time.
I back up and I turn around, shocked.
What the hell just happened?
Overwhelmed, I return to The Meet.
To be Fang-Kissed was to be betrothed, so one day, when you were ready, you met up, got married, had babies, and the rest was history. Kind of like pre-fated mates.
It was a weird tradition. Fangs just knew when they saw you, and one touch sealed the deal. That must have happened when I touched his face.
Raze knew that night. He must have signed my name up to some log so when I was 18, I was sent to Fortitude.
So… I guess… when he was dying or dead at that point, on that couch, my touch somehow brought him back to life too?
Or maybe it was the tears, not the touch, or maybe even the blood that marked me. In the end, it was just a miracle Raze got up and survived that day.
I guess I’ll never have a true idea of how I was Fang-Kissed in that moment.
But I wasn’t expecting to hear my mate was dead.
I don’t know what to feel by this new information.
I can only stumble back inside and try not to feel like I’m going to die alone now, guaranteed.
That morbid thought is almost instantly abolished though, when I think of Raphael.