A scream cut through the afternoon sky, and I bolted upright.
My eyes scanned the area, searching for the source. The waterfront was crowded, girls and boys frolicking about as they played. Some stuck to the sand to make castles, others dove around in the water like fish. The lifeguard on duty had tensed in alert as well and found the victim before I had. I followed his gaze to a small blonde child. She wore a simple blue one-piece swimsuit as she stood at the shallow end of the lake. She pointed an accusatory finger at a boy her age, her lip protruded in a pout. Upon further inspection, I recognized her as Sophia, a junior camper in the cabin I was assigned. The boy, with his messy brown hair and big green eyes, simply grinned before dipping his hands into the frigid water again to splash the girl.
“Stop it!” Sophia whined. “It’s cold!”
“Oh, just dive in already,” the boy urged. “You’ll get used to it in no time.”
As the two bickered before soon resuming their joyous activities, I sighed with relief, but also embarrassment and even a small tinge of guilt. Calm down. You double, then triple checked the borders, I thought. Everything is fine. Still, it took nearly a full minute for my body to relax. I closed my eyes and laid back on my towel.
A well-timed breeze cooled my warming skin. After laying on my stomach for so long, I switched to my back. While I missed the sun desperately, it didn’t mean I wanted to get sunburnt.
“Shouldn’t you be on duty?”
Dimitri’s silhouette loomed over me, blocking the sunlight I craved. I opened one eye and glanced up at him. His brown hair was damp from being in the water, pieces of it clung to his forehead. Red swim trunks covered his hips but the rest of him was bare. That included his mark—that green flame on his bicep symbolizing his sorcery—and his chest. My heart fluttered at the sight of his sculpted muscles and six-pack. Stop it, heart, my brain scolded. Focus. To prevent further temptation, I opened my other eye, resting my hands behind my head.
“I just swapped with the other lifeguard,” I responded. “So, now I’ve got a break.”
“And you’ve decided to spend that period lazing around in the sun the whole time?”
“Not the whole time. I finished enhancing the barriers around the border first. They were looking a little weak this morning. After that, I did a quick patrol through the camp; all the kids are present and accounted for. Only after that was done was when, yes, I decided to reward myself with a brief period of relaxing. I am a counselor spending my summer break here, after all. It’s nothing unusual.”
At my Level, I wasn’t strong enough to form barriers myself, but I could at least add strength to current ones when they began to debilitate. Dimitri must not have expected that from me as he didn’t answer immediately. He cleared his throat.
“Well, good job,” he praised, though his tone sounded strained. “Don’t forget, though—”
“Hartia will be joining me for patrol tonight, while you and Elliot will be monitoring the other campus,” I added. “He and I will meet at our rendezvous point at one-thirty.” I studied his expression. “Anything else?”
Dimitri was quiet again, and I caught him in the act of his eyes sweeping over my curves. The black, strapless bikini I wore hugged my slender body. My breasts were more than capable to hold it up, and I would have been lying if I said I didn’t enjoy what it did to my cleavage. I chose that swimwear mostly for myself, but also for the few other male lifeguards at the camp. You never knew when some harmless flirting could be essential for the mission. That had been my goal, but after seeing Dimitri’s look, it prompted my mood up to ecstatic. He, of course, kept his expression neutral.
“Yeah,” he said finally. “You have sunscreen left on your nose.”
His footsteps retreated, but I waited until his presence was fully gone before checking the credibility of his claim. Sure enough, my fingers came back white and I hastily rubbed the remnants in until they disappeared into my skin. My cheeks burned, and it wasn’t from being in the sun. With that, my cool, mature persona dissolved in an instant. All by one comment. Had it been anyone else I would have brushed it off no problem. Since it was Dimitri, however, it wounded my pride further.
Camp Agawan was a summer camp located all the way out in New Hampshire. While this wasn’t my first time in this state, it was my first time on the infamous Lake Winnipesaukee. Over twenty miles long and surrounded by dozens of camps and cottages, it was the ideal summer vacation. In the case of camp Agawan, girls and boys up to the age of thirteen spent the day immersed in activities. The boys’ main campus was across the lake, but there were frequent activities in which the two sites came together in unity. Today was one of them: the summer social.
A battle-between-camps, the boys and girls had been competing in various activities to see who would win. Archery, Ropes Course, Soccer, just to name a few. By the time the afternoon break rolled around, the girls were ahead by one match. The last event of the day was a round of capture the flag between the two genders. I could participate a little in the actual game, but it was mostly for the campers.
Besides, as much as I loved playing with kids, it wasn’t my true objective. As a counselor, it was my job to watch over the kids, be a role model and help make the summer experience as fun as possible. As a sorceress, however, my role was to make sure no one got kidnapped…again.
Emily Ross, the director of Camp Agawan, was my client for the mission. Once a talented sorceress, the ravages of time had consumed her. Now an elderly woman, she had retired from her magical duties and focused on running the camp during the summer. After over thirty years of no paranormal issues, she was caught off guard when a camper was suddenly reported missing. Just one, which is already precarious, but when the numbers began to increase, Emily’s instincts alerted her that something was supernatural was amiss.
That was where we came in.
Dimitri led the mission, with my good friend Hartia and Elliot Grant, a reserved but talented sorcerer. Our ages put us too old to be campers, so the three of us were counselors, while Dimitri posed as a lifeguard and cook. There was no chaos at the camp, partly from Emily using Illusions to keep the peace with the fellow campers as well as the families of the affected children. Illusions were a type of Physical magic that manipulated a person’s brain and senses. If powerful enough, a sorcerer could make someone believe they were in a kitchen in Greece instead of their own bedroom. It was impressive seeing someone so old still using magic competently.
With all the barriers we set and the constant patrols, there were no incidents to report even after being here for nearly a week. Perhaps our being here threw a wrench into the culprit’s plan. While that helped anyone else from being taken, it didn’t provide any leads to those who were still missing. The timings each child was taken varied—some during broad daylight, others were at night. The only thing we had deduced was that they were taken in alternating order. The last one taken was a boy, which meant the next one would likely be a girl. And given that today was a day where both camps were mingled together, I was on high alert despite being on my ‘break’. Hence the whole, ready-to-rush-into-battle-after-hearing-a-girl-scream.
Once the capture the flag game took place, however, it was easier to slip into my multitasking role of a counselor but vigilant sorceress. I preferred studying rambunctious scenes at once than quiet ones. It kept me light on my toes that way. Blurs of maroon and orange—the two camps’ colors—whipped around back and forth. A few kids had some tumbles here and there, but no serious injuries that I could detect. While monitoring the area, I picked up Hartia doing the same from his side. The bandana he wore blended in with his fiery hair, and his freckles seemed to double with all his time in the sun. Elliot was positioned closer to the border of the two teams, engaging in a tug-of-war with some of the younger girls. Three-on-one wasn’t enough to pull his massive body over the line, but he happily fell over in mock defeat.
In the end, nothing suspicious occurred and the girls’ team won. As the boys departed for their main campus, Hartia’s hand touched the small of my back.
“I’ll find you later,” he murmured.
I nodded and watched my teammates climb onto the boat, disappearing across the lake, before returning to my own dwelling. Cabin 13 was close to the perimeter of the camp, surrounded by wilderness. While getting ready for bed with my campers, I spotted a dark smudge on the hardwood floor. Further inspection revealed it to be blood and I tensed until my eyes fell upon Sophia’s foot.
“Sophia, you’re bleeding.”
The middle-school child examined her foot, unbothered by the blood trickling from her large toe. It wasn’t a substantial amount but enough to likely warrant a band-aid.
“How did that happen?” I asked.
Sophia shrugged. “Maybe from the game?”
“Go to the nurse’s office and get that looked at,” I instructed.
“Okay.” She pulled a sweatshirt on over her pajamas and promptly hopped out of the cabin.
Chuckling, I followed her. “I didn’t mean hop. Come on.” I crouched, positioning my back in front of her. While she climbed on, the other counselor of our cabin remained behind to keep an eye on the rest of the girls.
The infirmary was in the heart of the camp and despite the path being well-lit, I had to be careful with the terrain as I walked. We were in the middle of the woods after all. Tree roots could snag my feet or sometimes the rocks were slippery. I had counted at least ten campers that had tripped during the capture the flag game. While some came back unscathed, others had accumulated some minor scrapes and abrasions.
The nurse examined Sophia’s foot and, after cleaning and covering it with a band-aid, she was good to go. On the way back, she chatted nonstop, switching between telling me about her day and asking me about my life. I stuck with the simple backstory I had developed prior to coming here which was enough to pacify her. By the time we arrived back at our cabin, Sophia and the rest of the girls were ready for bed.
It took a long time for everyone to fall asleep. A little after midnight I changed into a black combat suit and slipped out of my cabin to begin patrol. I cast an Illusion over the sleeping girls, one to ensure they would stay asleep, but also would have me staying in bed. While it took a good bit of aura to conjure it, the benefit was that it remained until I made it disappear or someone broke it. Aura was the energy that allowed us to produce magic. Since there was no other sorceress at this camp aside from myself and Emily, I wasn’t worried about anyone noticing my absence.
I arrived at the rendezvous point before Hartia, not surprising considering it was on my campus rather than his. We had picked a small clearing a mile outside the perimeter and would work out way outward, making sure nothing was amiss as well as looking for clues regarding the mission. With how quiet it had been, our investigation had been fruitless…at least, until my eyes landed on something off to the side.
As I approached it, I discerned it to be a sneaker. Scooping it up, it was a black Sketchers brand, dusty and worn but otherwise in decent condition. The fact that it was all the way out here was sketchy enough, even after looking all over for its companion. What was more concerning, however, was the blood smeared on it. Decorated in two shades, the human blood was easier to spot. The black blood, though larger in amount, was nearly inconspicuous. Fresh droplets fell to the ground, indicating not much time had passed since this was applied—or splattered—to the shoe. In the thirty seconds it took to assess this, I learned two things. The first was that somehow, despite my substantial defenses, a child had been taken recently. The second was that the culprit was likely some type of creature. Unlike humans, monsters had black blood in their veins.
I tapped my earpiece. “Hartia,” I murmured. “Hey.”
“I’m here.” His voice crackled through the system. He must have still been on the other campus. “I’m on my way.”
“Make it quick. I’ve got something.”
“You found a missing kid?”
“No, but—” A rustle in nearby bushes made me stop, tense. Hartia called my name several times, but I focused only on my surroundings. It was pitch black, save that of the moonlight illuminating certain sections of the woods. A sniffling sound fell on my ears as a small figure stepped into the clearing.
I gaped, “Sophia? What on earth are you doing out here?”
With shredded pajamas and her face streaked with tears, she sniffed. “I-I went to the bathroom, and on my way back someone was following me. I got scared so I ran away.”
Ran a mile and change away from campus? I didn’t buy it, but she did look traumatized. Something was off. I put my weapon away and strode towards her.
“Look, you can’t be here right now. It’s not safe. Go back to the cabin.”
Sophia rubbed her eyes. “Okay." Her eyes moved to something behind me. "But what about the monster?”
Monster? What mon—
I felt the chill at the same time I turned. Two metallic cannons were the first things I spotted, mostly because they fired blue beams. I tackled Sophia out of the way, clutching her to my chest. She shrieked, and I hauled the two of us up, keeping her behind me.
Towering over me, black hairy legs held up a grotesque amalgamation of flesh and metal. I counted eight of them in total, two of them taking shapes of cannons. The moonlight reflected off its black body. At least a dozen beady eyes studied me, and a muzzle covered its mouth. It did little to muffle the robotic roar that pierced my ears.
It was a Chimera.
A product of magic gone wrong, Chimeras were animals fused with some type of machinery to produce a whole new creature. Judging by its appearance, this one must have started off as a spider of sorts. Each Chimera’s abilities were different based on what they were made up of. Hopefully, I could kill this thing before I found out what it could do. Though those cannons for arms seemed to be a good guess.
“Get out of here, Sophia!” I shouted, shoving her away. “Go!”
I rushed forward, chanting, “Come to me!”
Glittering magic surrounded my palm, taking the form of a sword—my sword. Before it could solidify, something slashed at my hand. I had angled away at the last second, but my forearm got cut. I gasped as the blood trickled on my skin. Stumbling, I glanced around. Had I missed another enemy?
No, it was Sophia, her lips twisted into a wicked grin as she leveled a sword at me. Her appearance began to change. She grew taller, not yet reaching my height, but certainly taller than the previous ten-year-old she had been. Her silky bunny pajamas altered to a pale blue, form-fitting attire. A mask covered her face. Her sunny blonde curls grew lighter and lighter until they were as white as snow. A potent aura shook my body and I cursed.
Sophia was a sorceress.
She swung at the same time the Chimera fired. I blasted air outwards. The force deflected Sophia’s attack, but the beam narrowly missed my head. I kicked her in the stomach then focused on moving constantly as beams came quicker. This Chimera had a rapid-fire and terrifying accuracy. I dove away, taking cover behind a large boulder. I came up on one knee. The tip of a blade closed in on my eye.
I leaned back but my forehead was slashed. Strands of my hair were severed also, though I was glad I had tied the rest into a braid. Above my right eyebrow, blood leaked like a faucet. Half-blind, I planted one hand on the ground. I swung my legs up and hit her wrist. Her sword flew from her hands. A gust of wind sent her onto her back. There was a flash in my periphery and a blue beam struck my left shoulder. I cried out, clutching my arm. The electrifying ache sunk deep to my muscles and tendons, rendering it useless.
Retreating to a tree, adrenaline fueling my system, heat stirred in my neck. My mark hadn’t activated on any of my previous missions. I didn’t want this one to be the first. While I resisted, Sophia had recovered and blocked one side. The Chimera had the other, its cannons pointed at me.
“Hartia,” I panted. “Hurry up!”
“I’m coming!” he urged, short of breath.
“Phrasing,” I snickered.
An exasperated groan. “Now, really?”
“Oh, come on, you walked into that one.”
“I’m ten minutes out! Hang on!”
Ten minutes. Yeah, I could handle that. Totally. No problem.