Adelaide awoke to a mental flood of pain and images, her head throbbing so sharply that she felt sure it was going to fall off. Soft voices nearby speaking in a foreign language came to her, mixed with the sound of Ravel’s Bolero being played in the background over some sort of archaic speaker system, denoted by the occasional crackle and pop of the silence between the notes.
Carefully, she opened her eyes, aware of a strong light against her eyelids. Flourescent bulbs poured artificial light down on her from above as a small skylight complimented it with sunlight, making the room around her seem bright and airy. The unmistakeable smells of a hospital started to rise around her, the clean scent of various detergents and anti-bacterial agents, along with the sterile smell of the instruments she now discovered she was hooked up to.
She winced slightly as she tried to sit up and let out an involuntary groan. The voices nearby stopped and a pair of small, pale and perfectly manicured hands pushed her back down.
“Don’t try to sit up just yet,” a woman’s voice advised in a strange, lilting accent.“You need to rest.” She shouted something back in that other language to her companions and Adelaide heard two pairs of retreating footsteps before a face came into view above her. “My name is Melia,” she said, smiling gently. She was pretty, with long black hair that was put up in bun, held together by two small sticks of a pale wood and high cheekbones beneath bright green eyes. “What can I call you?”
“I’m Adelaide,” came the response, weak and gravelly. Melia reached over to what Addy assumed was a bedside table and picked up a small glass of water with a straw in. Carefully, she guided the straw to Addy’s mouth and motioned with her head for her to drink.
“Slowly now,” she cautioned as Adelaide started to gulp the liquid down like air. “You’ve not long come out of surgery, your throat is going to be quite sore but if you drink too fast you’ll make yourself sick.”
“Surgery?” Adelaide asked around the straw, her brain fuzzy.
“Yes dear, you had a terrible accident and there was quite a bit of damage I’m afraid. We’ve had to set your leg and put it in a cast, it was quite badly broken. We thought you had a collapsed lung at first but you didn’t. All in all, you were very lucky, you both were.”
“Both?” Adelaide repeated, uncertainly. Suddenly she remembered everything and she sat up sharply, knocking the glass out of Melia’s hand where it hit the ground and smashed loudly. She noted that she was in a ward of some kind, not very large but big enough to house seven other beds in addition to the one that she was occupying. A double door at one end seemed to lead out into a narrow corridor, judging by the small glass panes at the top. Another skylight looked down almost disapprovingly on the broken glass from a few metres away.
“Steady now!”Melia said, trying to push her back down but to no avail.
“My dad? Where is my dad?” Adelaide asked, quickly becoming hysterical.
“He’s fine,” Melia assured, “I promise you. He fared a lot better than you did. He was unconscious already at the time of impact so he didn’t tense, which spared him a lot of injury. He is resting in another room. When you are better, I will take you to him.”
“I need to see him now,” Adelaide said, making as if to climb out of the bed. Just then, the double doors opened and two more women came through, looking strikingly similar to Melia, accompanied by a young man whose face was very familiar.
“Help me,” Melia shouted out. The young man pushed past the two women and, taking Adelaide’s legs with surprising gentleness, laid her back out on the bed and held her down.
“Sedate her,” he said, his voice soothing with a rich accent that she couldn’t quite place but that was very different to Melia’s. Though his tone was calm, there was no mistaking the command in it and, although Adelaide struggled, he held her fast to the bed as a clear liquid was injected into her IV drip.
“No!” Adelaide protested, already feeling her eyelids begin to droop. “I have to get to... I need to... my dad...” The words became harder to articulate as the lights above started to blur into one big ball of artificial white.
“He’ll be fine,”the man said softly, as though whispering to her, his voice seeming distant, “you’ll see him soon.” Slowly, the lights went out again.
When Adelaide came round once more, she was still lying in the hospital bed but most of the tubes and monitors had gone. She was simply hooked up to a heart monitor now that bleeped continuously. The light outside had waned and a soft violin solo was being piped out of the speakers, filling the darkening room with it’s heavenly sound. Her limbs were heavy, but at least the headache was now gone.
Slowly, she tried to sit up and was relieved to find that she met with no resistance this time. Moving the sheet to one side, she saw that her leg had been bound up in a thick plaster casing, yet a strange yellowish gel seemed to be layered on her skin around the knee, just before the plaster started.
“It’s iodine, or a mixture of.” Adelaide’s head spun round, making her dizzy as she looked for the source of the voice. There, sitting on a grey plastic folding chair at the foot of the bed was the strange man again. “It’s an antiseptic, apparently. The sisters did say some other stuff but I kinda zoned out and thought about squirrels...” he shrugged.
“You’re Irish,”she said, the accent finally clicking into place. A half-smile played on his lips and he winked at her.
“Guilty. The name’s Tristan, Tristan O’Donnelly and you’re Adelaide West, right?”
“How do you...?”she began but he put his finger to his lips and, reaching down to the floor beside his seat, lifted up her wallet and tossed it to her. She caught it clumsily and, opening it up, checked that everything was still in there.
“Typical,” Tristan scoffed, “you tell a girl you’re Irish and the first thing she does is check you haven’t nicked anything. That’s hurtful you know.” Adelaide blanched and she began to mumble an apology before she realised that he was joking. Frowning, she threw the wallet back at him, hitting him square in the stomach. “Woah!” he laughed.“Careful with that throwing arm.”
“Where am I?” she asked, taking another look around at the ward. It was clearly a hospital but it wasn’t one she recalled having been in before.
“I’m afraid that’s going to take a bit more explaining. All you need to know for now is that you’re safe. You and your father are being well cared for and I’m under strict orders to bring you anything you need.”
“How’s my dad?”she asked, moving the pillows around so that she could sit up properly and face him. Tristan’s face became serious and Adelaide felt her stomach drop.
“He’s alive and he’s in a stable condition,” he said, his voice level. He paused and Adelaide braced herself. “However, he’s unresponsive.” Tristan could see her blank look and he sighed deeply. “I’m sorry Adelaide, he’s in a coma. The sisters have tried to wake him gently but nothing’s worked yet. They’re keeping him stable until he wakes naturally. They are confident that he will,” he added quickly, seeing how pale her face had become. He moved forward and perched on the edge of bed, taking her hand gently. “I promise you, he’s in the best hands. The sisters have a wealth of experience between them. If they can’t bring him through this, nobody can.” Adelaide didn’t know more about this man than his name, but she was inclined to trust him, so she nodded slowly.
“You’re the one that pulled me out of the car, aren’t you?” she asked. Her memory had been coming back in bits and pieces, like the steady drip of a tap and she was grateful for that. Adelaide didn’t think she could handle a massive movie-style flashback right now.
“I am, yes,”Tristan said, seeming to blush.
“Thank you, you saved my life.”
“It was nothing, though I’m afraid your car is a write off. The fuel line burst as it flipped and I just managed to get you both away before it went up in flames. It was quite a sight to be sure.” Adelaide groaned as she thought about having to replace the car. She would have to use her dad’s truck to get back to school. Suddenly, she remembered about her brother, who had gone on ahead and would probably be at home, panicking now.
“My brother, Josh, somebody needs to tell him, he needs to know we’re here! He’s going to be so worried.” She looked around her for something, searching on the floor and the bedside table before bizarrely feeling the urge to pat herself down. “Where’s my phone?” Tristan shook his head.
“I’m sorry, it was really badly damaged in the crash, there was nothing we could do to make it work again,” he said, his voice genuinely apologetic.
“Have you got a phone here? I need to talk to my brother.” Tristan reached into his pocket and pulled out a smart phone. He quickly tapped in an unlock code before handing it to her. The background was a photo of Tristan smiling and holding a flagon of beer, wearing a t-shirt that proudly proclaimed him to be at the Oktoberfest. His arm was around a young woman, likewise smiling, with shoulder-length brown hair and the most piercing blue eyes Adelaide had ever seen. She was beautiful, so was he, which probably meant they were together. Adelaide couldn’t quite figure out why this bothered her as she’d only just met this guy, but it did. She forced herself to smile as she loaded up the dialling screen. “That’s a nice picture,” she said casually.
“Thanks, it’s me and my best friend. She took me to Germany last year for Oktoberfest. We got really drunk, so that’s probably the best photo.” He smiled and she noticed how his skin creased delicately around his eyes, making it seem as though his whole face was smiling. She tapped in her home number off by heart and waited.
“Do you mind if he calls back on this number?” she asked as the phone connected and started to ring. Tristan shook his head and gave her a thumbs-up.“Thank you.” The phone continued to ring before her dad’s voice came through from the machine.
“Hey, this is George West, sorry I can’t take your call right now but leave a message and I’ll get back to you when I can. Bye.” She felt her chest tighten as she heard his voice, but that was replaced by confusion as to why Josh hadn’t answered.
“Josh, it’s me, Addy, hope you’re alright. Listen, there was an accident last night, we got hit and my car got wrecked. We’re both in hospital. I’m okay, I’ve got a broken leg and some bruising but I’m fine. Dad’s in a coma though. They say they’ve got him stable and they’re going to try to wake him up gradually. My phone was wrecked so, like, call me back on this number and I’ll tell you where we are. Don’t worry if a guy called Tristan answers, it’s his phone.” Another bleep sounded showing that she had run out of time and she cut off, handing the phone back to Tristan. As much as she understood what had happened, somehow saying it loud made it seem more real.
She had so many questions to ask and she was about to voice one when the double doors opened and in strode a tall, arrogant looking man dressed impeccably in a black suit with a red tie, Melia confidently in tow.
“I heard voices,”she stated, “so I knew you were awake.” Melia went straight over to Adelaide and gave her a quick visual once-over. “How do you feel?”
“I’m a bit fuzzy but I’ll be fine. Tristan’s filled me in on my dad and that.”
“On first name terms already?” the man asked, clearly disapproving. “I am not sure that is quite wise.” He glared at Tristan, who stood up from the bed and backed away a few paces. Adelaide watched this exchange with wary confusion. He sat down, almost gracefully, on the seat that Tristan had brought over, smoothing down his jacket so that not a crease was visible. “I am Chancellor McGordon and you may call me Chancellor McGordon or sir.” Adelaide was taken aback by his abruptness and had to shake herself to recall her manners.
“Erm, nice to meet you. I’m...”
“Adelaide, I know.” Her concern about manners unsurprisingly dissipated in the wake of his rudeness.
“Excuse me, Chancellor, but what are you chancellor of, exactly?”
“I will ask the questions, thank you.” His voice was crisp, clear and direct and, unlike his two companions, he was American. She guessed Michigan from his accent, though what he was doing down in Louisiana was anyone’s guess. Provided, of course, that she was still in Louisiana. She was beginning to think nothing would surprise her right now. Naturally, she was wrong.
“Pardon?” she asked as she realised that McGordon had been speaking to her.
“I said, I know who you are, but I would like to know what you are.”
“What I am?”
“Don’t insult my intelligence by playing dumb please. You blood work showed unusual results. It’s clear to us that you’re a witch, I want to know with which clan you are aligned?”
“Witch? Clan? What are you talking about?” Adelaide seriously thought that she had misheard him until he repeated himself.
“What clan are you aligned to, witch?” The Chancellor’s tone was becoming slowly more hostile, as though he were trying to show that he had no time for her silly games.
“I don’t think she knows, sir...” Tristan said softly. The Chancellor shot him a sharp look and then fixed his gaze back on Adelaide.
“What is your family name, girl?” He asked, his tone a little softer, but the change was minute.
“West, sir. I’m Adelaide West.” She didn’t really understand what was going on but she figured it best to answer his questions. Melia stood back and watched this exchange with vague interest.
“West, that name is familiar. What are your parent’s names?”
“My dad is George West, he’s the one in a coma...” McGordon waved that bit of information off as though he already knew but didn’t really care. “My mum is dead, sir. She’s been dead for twelve years now.”
“Yes, but what is her name?”
“Katelyn, sir. Katelyn West.” Tristan seemed to flinch next to her, something that she and Melia picked up on but the Chancellor seemed not to notice.
“What was her maiden name?”
“Blackwood,” Addy said, starting to get annoyed with his bluntness. “But I don’t see what that has to do with you.”
“That has everything to do with me, girl,” McGordon snapped, “because I have a young witch of the Blackwood family, a descendent of Florian Blackwood, in my Chancelship and I had no knowledge of it beforehand. I now have to decide whether your apparent amnesia about yourself is genuine or feigned.”
“What amnesia? What are you talking about?” Adelaide could feel herself getting angrier and her voice was raising as she spoke. Melia made to move forward but Tristan rapidly shook his head at her and she stayed still.
“You are a witch, a member of the aware and part of one of the most powerful witch clans around, yet your name is not on my books. Your mother’s name I recall for some reason, but you have not been declared. This is illegal in our world.” Adelaide stared at him in disbelief. He was talking about witches and witch clans with perfect seriousness, almost as though he believed what he was saying to her.
“I really don’t think she knows Chancellor...” Tristan broached again, looking warily at the other man.
“I’m inclined to agree sir,” Melia chimed in. “She is showing no other signs of amnesia and if her memory had been wiped for safety purposes then she would not remember her mother’s maiden name. That would be too risky a bit of information to leave in.” The Chancellor seemed to consider this for a moment.
“When will she be able to walk?” he asked Melia.
“With aid? In a few days. She can be moved around in a wheelchair at the moment though. I am confident she will stay conscious.”
“Very well.” He stood up sharply. “Sister, fetch a wheelchair. Tristan, stay with the girl until the sister returns then bring her directly to my office. I will find out once and for all how much she knows.”Before Adelaide could protest, he had turned around and was sweeping out of the room, Melia trotting along behind.
“What the hell is going on?” she said, rounding on Tristan as soon as the door was closed. “Who the hell was that and what is his problem? Is he crazy or something?”
“I’m sorry Adelaide,” he said, sounding genuinely so. “I don’t think I’m allowed to say anything right now. But trust me, he’s rude but he’s not crazy. Just go along with what he says and everything will be fine.” Melia came back through the door carrying a folded up wheelchair. She brought it over to the bed and opened it out before gently helping Tristan guide Adelaide into the chair. He nodded to Melia and she gave Addy a reassuring smile before going over to hold the door open.
“I need to you trust me,” Tristan said, crouching down next to her so that he was roughly level with her eyeline. “I know this is new and scary and you’re in pain right now, but when this next bit is over I will answer any questions you have. Right now though, I really need to you trust me, can you do that?” He reached out and took her hand and gave it a squeeze. Addy nodded slowly and squeezed back. “That’s my girl,” he said with a smile and wink.
Straightening up, Tristan took the handles of the wheelchair and pushed her out of the ward.