Beck tossed and turned in bed, unable to fall asleep. For the past month, he had been having strange dreams, and he was convinced he was psychic.
It started out small. He’d awaken to a minor headache, with a strange dream still fresh in his mind. He had auditioned for the male lead in the school musical, and he won the part. He auditioned that day, and he won the part by the end of the week. There was a time he’d remember all of the answers to a math test in his dream, and the next day, he had the exact same test.
After that, the dreams became stranger, and he began having visions during the day while he was awake. He had avoided near-misses in his chemistry class, barely avoiding having acid spilled all over his arm. He had saved one of his mother’s expensive china plates, and he had even avoided being hit by a car.
Before long, the simple dreams and visions that gave him minor headaches intensified. He had a dream about Grace yelling at her aunt and uncle, and then he began having nightmares about wolves, a bear, and other creatures battling each other. Dark, whispering shadows filled his dreams, and when he woke up he had raging migraines.
Beck tried everything in his power to wake up, but the shadows in his nightmare had other ideas. They held him down and forced him to watch.
He saw Grace approaching a warehouse, a determined look on her face. She was dressed in black, and her hair was tied back in a braid. There were melting patches of snow dotting the surrounding area, telling Beck it was nearing springtime. Flying high above them was a golden eagle, wings spread wide as it dived through an open window.
After that, it was a blur of events. Grace entering the warehouse, using magic to battle enemies, being overwhelmed, and then taken to a woman with blonde hair and blue eyes. The eagle flew away, and the woman came towards Grace with a long, twisted dagger.
Beck shot upright in his bed, gasping for breath. Sweat made his hair stick to his forehead, and he felt nauseous. After he allowed the feeling of being sick to pass, he swung his legs over the edge of the bed and pushed himself to his feet.
Beck began to dress, pulling on jeans, a T-shirt, and two layers of sweaters. He pulled on his snow boots and slipped his arms into his coat. He silently made his way through the house and slipped out the front door. He debated for a moment whether he wanted to take his car or not, then decided against it. It would make too much noise. He shoved his hands into his pockets and then began to briskly make his way down the street. He needed to see Grace.
Grace slowly breathed in, and then out again. She focused on her breath counts, doing her best to make her muscles relax. As she breathed, she watched as the candle flame before her brightened and dimmed with her breaths. When her heart began to pick up its pace in her excitement, the flame would die down to a low dim, and she’d have to start over again.
After meeting with her sister at the Hideout, Grace and Basil had returned to Malcolm’s home. He had offered to train her, to teach her all he knew about magic, and offered her a place to stay in his home whenever she needed. After thinking about the possibility of her aunt and uncle lying to her about who she was, she readily accepted. Basil and Grace had gone to her house, and after she packs a few days’ worth of clothes into a sports duffel bag, they returned to the mansion, and Malcolm began his teachings.
“In order to use magic,” Malcolm said in her first lesson, “one must remain calm, even in times of duress. Otherwise, you’d never be able to use your magic in a fight.”
Grace had frowned. “How can you stay calm during a fight? Wouldn’t your heart be racing and everything?”
Malcolm smiled. “Yes, under normal circumstances, and without the proper training.”
“Then how was I able to use magefire in the alley?” she asked.
“Because the attack in the alley was a stressor,” Malcolm responded. “Someone put a spell on you when you were young, trapping your magic. A spell, I suspect, one had to refresh every so often. Your parents didn’t renew the spell since their death, and thus the spell began wearing off. The attack in the alley was the final straw on the camel’s back, and it allowed the floodgates to be opened. That was why you used magic,” he said. “It had been awakened when your life was threatened, and it protected you.”
Malcolm had then given her a list of breathing exercises for her to work on, to learn how to control her breathing and heart rate. To do so, she needed something to focus on. Malcolm suggested the candle, and she agreed.
After working on her breathing for nearly two hours, though, she became exhausted. Grace sighed, dragging a hand along her face. She blew out the flame, and after grabbing her sketchpad and a few pencils, she made her way to the library.
Malcolm was there, sitting in one of the chairs facing the crackling fireplace, a thick book in hand. He looked up as Grace entered, settling herself on one of the chairs. They nodded to each other, and after she tucked her socked feet underneath her, Grace selected a pencil and began to sketch.
As what usually happens when she drew, Grace had no idea what she was creating. She let her hand flow, twist, and turn on the paper, trusting her body to do what it needed. She briefly noticed Malcolm close the book, craning his head to watch as she sketched. She ignored him and returned to her craft.
“That’s a nice bear,” Malcolm mentioned once. Grace paused in her sketching, blinking in surprise. It was a bear, a grizzly with soft, kind eyes.
“It’s Basil,” she said with certainty. She had only ever seen him as a bear once, and that one time was frightening. But standing next to him, all she received from him were waves of peace. He may be a warrior, and she knew she barely knew him, but she knew that deep down he wanted nothing more than to live his life in peace.
Malcolm nodded. “I know,” he said. “He’s the only bear I know that has that scar on his muzzle.”
Grace frowned and peered closer at the sketch. Sure enough, there was a scar on his muzzle. Her conscious mind had never noticed it before, but the part of her that she called her artist’s eye certainly must have.
“Malcolm?” she said.
“Hmm?” he grunted in a questioning tone, his eyes still on the portrait of Basil in bear form.
“Mejhan are immortal, right?” she asked.
“Yes, they are,” he said. “And so are Kuren.”
“What about… mages? Are we immortal? Are you?”
He glanced up at her, surprised. She gulped and said, “I only ask because you seem… old.”
He scoffed. “Thank you very much,” he said in a mockingly bitter tone.
Grace laughed. “No, that’s not what I mean. I just, uh… well, you don’t look a day over twenty,” she mumbled. “But… you seem to be older than you really are, and I was just wondering if mages were immortal.”
He smiled. “Yes, we are immortal. Mages don’t ever get sick, and there have only ever been two in history to die from cancer. Otherwise, old age will never be our downfall. Mages only die if they're killed, or if they commit suicide.”
Her eyes widened. He watched her expressions quietly for a moment, and then said, “What are you thinking, little bird?”
She shook her head. “It’s so surreal to think of,” she admitted. “My whole life, I’ve grown up with the notion that immortality is impossible. And now, I know that I’m going to live forever?”
“It can be a lot to take in,” he said. “Are you scared?”
“I’m terrified,” she gasped out. “And yet… I’m also excited. I can do whatever I want, go wherever I want to go. I can see the world, and I don’t have to worry about running out of time.”
Malcolm laughed softly. “Ah, yes. That’s what I thought at first as well. Just remember this one thing, little bird.”
He fixed Grace within his gaze and said, “For the first fifty years or so, you will feel great. You’ll feel unstoppable. But after a while, every mage goes through a time in their life when it feels meaningless, like there’s nothing life has to offer them anymore. Do not ever lose sight of your optimism. No matter how dark, no matter how bleak it may become, do not ever give up. Promise me.”
She nodded. He sounded like Beck just then. After Grace had finally opened up to her new best friend, she had had a particularly bad night. She had been having nightmares of the night of the crash, and she remembered feeling so hopeless. She couldn’t see a future for herself anymore, and she wanted nothing more than to end it all. Instead, she had gone to Beck’s house, and they spent the night together at his place. It was the first time she had truly felt loved in a long time, and Beck had proven himself as a true friend to her over and over again.
“I promise,” she swore.
Malcolm nodded. “Good. Now, I believe we are about to have some company here in a moment.”
She frowned, and then turned to look behind her chair into the hall. Basil was making his way towards them. Her heart raced at the sight of him, and she was glad to see that he had fully recovered from his near death experience.
“Malcolm,” Basil greeted as he came into the library. He sent a dazzling smile to Grace and said, “Grace. How are you?”
She shrugged. “A little tired,” she said. “Who knew breathing could be so exhausting?”
He laughed. She smiled in return and found herself unable to look away from his gaze. His gold-flecked brown eyes were truly captivating, and she knew she’d have to sketch a portrait of him sometime.
Basil frowned suddenly. He gripped the back of her chair and leaned over her, peering at the sketch that still lay in her lap. “Is that me?” he asked.
Grace blushed and looked away. “Um, yeah,” she said. “I didn’t mean to,” she rushed out. “I just get lost sometimes, and I draw whatever my hand tells me to…”
She had looked back up, and found he was inches away from her. She gulped and he said, “I like it. You got my good side.”
She laughed, and he said, “You doing anything?”
“Not really,” she said.
“Good. You’re coming with me, then. I want to show you something.”
He reached down and grabbed her hand. Grace stood and set her sketchpad on the seat behind her. Malcolm glanced at it then said, “May I? I haven’t seen art quite like yours in a very long time.”
She nodded. “Yeah, sure. Help yourself.” Then to Basil, “Where are you taking me? Can I get some shoes on?”
“You don’t need to,” he said, tugging on her hand. She followed him into the hallway and he said, “Where I’m taking you, you don’t even need a coat.”
Grace gasped in amazement at the sight before her. Basil had let her up two flights of stairs, with a door at the very top of the second one. Basil had given her a sly smile and then threw the door open.
Grace stepped into the most beautiful greenhouse garden she had ever seen. She felt like she had stepped into a garden from Japan, and farther in she could see the tropics in the form of palm trees. A small, man-made stream twisted between each of the plants, releasing a pleasant aroma of cherry blossoms and flowers into the air.
“What is this place?” she asked, awestruck.
Basil placed a hand on the small of her back, guiding her deeper into the greenhouse. Her skin tingled where his hand lay, and she felt heat steal over her cheeks.
“This is mine and Malcolm’s escape,” he said. “When Malcolm moved here to have a few decades of peace, he planted every flower, tree, and shrub in here. Each section is dedicated to different ecosystems, with their own set temperatures.”
“You said yours and Malcolm’s?” Grace asked.
“Yes,” he said. “He’s been a friend to me for almost my whole life.”
They reached the cherry blossom tree before them. At the base of the tree was a bench, and they both sat down. Basil rubbed his hands together nervously for a moment before speaking again, and when he did his voice was soft and frightened.
“I was born a mage,” he said. “My mother was Sioux, but my father was one of the white men. She met him in the earlier years of the Trail of Tears, and when her tribe was almost to their destination, she gave birth to me. It was a hard birth, and it was wintertime. She never made it.”
A distant look crossed Basil’s face. Without thinking, Grace reached over and took his hand. He smiled gratefully to her and continued. “My whole life was hard growing up. I was never fully accepted by my people, because of who my father was. The only member of the tribe to truly accept me was my grandfather, and he was the chief for the first twelve years of my life.
“After my grandfather died, another warrior took over leading the people. My grandfather had no heirs, and the Sioux refused to ever let me lead them. After my grandfather died, I was banned from his teepee. I had to learn how to hunt for myself, had to learn how to fight and how to ride a horse.”
Basil leaned back against the tree, never releasing his hold on Grace’s hand. She let him hold on, enjoying the heat of his skin against hers. He pressed her hand to his chest absentmindedly as he said, “When I was thirteen or fourteen, we had a visitor. He was a strange looking man, dressed in what he called a kimono. He had black hair and slanted eyes, and the tribe was fascinated by him.” Basil laughed and looked at Grace, saying, “Even then, Malcolm’s always had a very loud fashion sense.”
Grace laughed. She could somehow see Malcolm riding up to a Sioux tribe, dressed in bright, flashy clothes.
“Anyway,” Basil continued. “He was invited to dinner with the chief and the elders, and he dined with them well into the night. Afterward, he found me out by the horses. I had already discovered my powers by that point, which only gave my people another reason to hate me. They thought I was a demon, and my whole life, I believed them. But Malcolm convinced me otherwise, and he offered to teach me how to control my magic. He promised to take me far away, and I said yes. We set out the next day.”
He smiled as happier memories came to his mind. Grace watched, fascinated, as his face changed from a canvas of pain and hatred to one of happiness. “We traveled to the east coast, to Boston to board a ship. We arrived in Japan a few months later, and I lived with Malcolm at his home until I was nineteen. He taught me how to use my magic, and how to control it.”
The happiness turned to something darker, more sinister. He sighed and said, “Some bandits attacked the nearby village sometime after my nineteenth birthday. Malcolm and I went to investigate, and we were captured. Three days later, I was shot to death when I jumped in front of the guns aimed at Malcolm.”
He looked up at her and said, “I woke up three days later, alone. He didn’t know much about Mejhan at the time and thought that I was dead for good. I struggled for several months, and I died my first death as one of the undead. The Mejhan that found me has since gone their own way, after teaching me how to survive. I returned to Malcolm’s estate, and the rest is history.”
He trailed off, and Grace watched his face for any new emotions. He stared off into space for several moments, and then turned back to Grace with a hopeful expression on his face. Without realizing what she was doing, she lifted a hand to his cheek. He blinked in surprise, but then he leaned into her touch, sighing as he closed his eyes.
“There’s something about you,” he murmured. “Something that calms me. My thoughts are clearer, and I don’t feel so alone, or desolate.” He opened his eyes and said “Mejhan feel emotions more strongly than they ever did as a human. We become depressed very easily, and with the thought of eternity constantly hovering over us, it makes things seem bleak. You make me think that there’s some light to the future.”
Grace smiled. She felt the same around him. After being reunited with her sister, she thought it would fix everything. Instead, it did the opposite. She was more confused, and angry, than she was before. She thought she’d snap out of the darkness she had been trapped in for three years if she had the chance to see her sister even one more time, but she was wrong. It didn’t help at all. In fact, it made things more confusing.
When she was with Basil, she felt a lightness in her chest she didn’t know she could have anymore. Her mind was clear, and she had an itch in her fingers to paint. Since the crash, she hadn’t touched her paints other than to paint her room. But with Basil nearby, she wanted desperately to return to her old passion.
Basil leaned in closer, and instead of pulling away, she allowed him to come closer. He put a hand against her neck, and he didn’t stop moving until his forehead was resting against hers.
They were both breathing heavily now. Grace’s heart hammered in her chest, and she looked up through her lashes into his eyes. They were shining, the gold flecks reflecting off the light of the snow from outside the greenhouse. She felt his breath on her face, and she was intoxicated by his spice and leather scent.
The door leading to the greenhouse burst open, and Malcolm appeared. Basil and Grace leaped apart, the connection between them shattering in an instant. Malcolm frowned when he realized he had interrupted them, and then ignored it as he began speaking.
“Grace, someone’s here to see you. He’s very upset. And very handsome, I might add.”