The silence that surrounded me was a soothing contrast to the chaotic events of the day. It was so calming and peaceful, urging me to drown all my negative thoughts in a long and heavy slumber. Yet, somehow, a part of it was terrifying as it lingered longer than it should have and the temptation to rupture it was too great to resist.
My eyes slowly fluttered open, squinting in an attempt to sharpen the blurred images before me. I glanced around and took in the deserted, white and blue colored room, where the strong scent of disinfectant roamed in the air. I was lying on a white bed and covered in a soft gray blanket, and around me the sounds of beeping machines where the only thing to break the silence of the room. I concluded that I was laying on one of the infirmary’s beds – calling it an infirmary was an understatement as it was bigger and more advanced than the best hospitals in the world- and my senses started to function more properly. I could pick up the chatter noises coming from behind the door. How long have I been here? I shut my eyes close trying to remember what had exactly happened, and just like that, it all hit me with a bang and suddenly I was being forced to swim once more in the tide waters of my nightmares.
I was once again stuck in a poorly lit alley surrounded and outnumbered by shadowy figures before, slowly but surely, getting stabbed. I had to bite my lip to keep me from crying out. Sharp pain shot through my chest and before I could recover from it another memory flashed through my eyes.
The school in chaos.
The girls fighting.
The fallen students.
The lifeless bodies of teachers.
The sounds of fire and wind.
The horrible stench of the dark figures in the air.
I opened my eyes and sat up straight, feeling a sting in the back of my eyes and trying desperately to hold back my tears. What happened? What were those things and why were they killing everyone left and right? Where were the girls? What happened to me? Endless questions raced through my mind and I scrambled to my feet, trying to unhook my arms from the machines that were attached to me. I had to get out of this room; I had to find out where everyone was and if my friends were alright. Oh God, I hope they were alright.
I had finally managed to free my arms and slid on the slippers that were left besides the bed, when suddenly the door knob turned and someone entered the room.
“Mom?” I blinked at the sight of my mother as she strode towards me, taking me in her arms.
“Oh honey, I’m so glad you’re alright. Your father and I were so worried about you.” She whispered softly in my ear, her familiar soothing voice brought those tears back into my eyes.
“I’m fine, mom. What are you doing here? How did you get here so fast? Is dad with you?” I bit my tongue, realizing that I was once again asking too many questions. My mother pulled back, her arms resting on my shoulders, and I took a closer look at her. Her fiery red hair was wrapped up in a bun, strands of it poking out in every direction. Her jade green eyes looked faded and bloodshot, and the circles under her eyes were a shade too dark for her pale skin. She seemed exhausted, as if she hadn’t slept in days, a shell of the Genevieve Ignis I knew and loved. She led me back to the bed, sitting at its edge and motioning for me to follow.
“Your father is right outside honey.” She smiled at me, but her smile lacked its usual warmth. “We got here yesterday morning. We came as soon as the council called us.”
“Yesterday morning?” I gasped. “How long have I been out?”
“Almost two days honey.” My mother caressed my hair. “We were so worried. The doctor said you sustained a hard blow to the chest and head, but there was no internal bleeding. We just had to wait for you to wake up on your own. You must have been so scared.” Her voice rose in pitch, almost as if she was fighting tears, and she looked away from me.
“Two days?” I blinked, bewildered. I had been unconscious for two days, unaware of what was happening around me. I rose suddenly, not entirely sure of what I was going to do, but I knew I had to get out of here.
“Where are you going?” Mom held my arm and stood up, blocking my way to the door.”
“I have to go see if my friends are okay mom. I have to look for Kira and Rose.”
“Your friends are alright, honey. They stopped by earlier to check on you and promised to come back again later.” She pulled me back to the bed again. “You can’t go anywhere before the doctor clears it. You could have a concussion.”
“Then please get the doctor mom. I don’t want to stay here any longer.” I pleaded, and a few seconds of hesitation later, my mom obliged.
As soon as the door closed behind my mother, I sprang up to my feet again. My clothes were laid on a chair opposite my bed, and I hurriedly took off the white hospital gown and put them on, tripping several times in the process. The logical voice in my mind urged me to stay and wait for the doctor, whispering that my mother was right to worry, but my mother wasn’t there. She didn’t see that awful bloodbath; she didn’t hear the screams of the helpless students as they fell to their death. She didn’t feel the uselessness that I had drowned in as I had stood there, unable to help anyone. I had to get out of here; I had to go see if my friends were okay, I had to get to the bottom of this. I slowly crept up to the door and opened it slightly. The hallway was empty, no sign of doctors or nurses or - thankfully- my parents. I got out of the room and slowly closed the door behind me, careful not to make any sound. I hurried down the corridor, making my way towards the entrance of the infirmary. A few doors were open as I walked by them, and I noted grimly that all of them were occupied. I lowered my head as a nurse exited one of the rooms and passed me by, carrying a tray of bloody cloths.
“…She can’t know that yet. It’s too dangerous.” I stepped back swiftly and hid behind the wall, recognizing Mr. Blackthorn’s voice. I peered from my hiding spot and cursed my luck as I saw that he was standing in front of the entrance, talking with my father. They were blocking my way out and they would no doubt drag me back to that room if they caught me sneaking out, so I had no other choice but to stay where I was –and listen.
“It’s been so long.” My dad said, dejection clear in his voice. He was standing with his back to me, so I couldn’t see his features, but I had the feeling he was just as tired as my mother had looked.
“She’s not safe. Not yet.” Mr. Blackthorn said firmly. He was wearing the same clothes he wore the day of the attack, and they were torn and bloody. His hair was covered in mud and leaves and his right cheek was scraped from his temple to the corner of his mouth. Why hadn’t he been admitted to the hospital? The way he fought that day, the way he looked now, that scrape couldn’t be his only injury. But a more nagging question rose in the back of my mind as I listened in on their hushed conversation: Who were they talking about?
“We thought she would be safe here, didn’t we? Look how wrong we’ve been.” My father’s voice was louder than he had probably intended it to be, and he worked his hand through his hair as he spoke again in a lower tone: “She could have died Isaiah.” Where they talking about me?
“But she didn’t, Nathaniel. I wouldn’t let that happen. I got her out of there just in time.” Was he the one who saved me? The only thing I could remember was someone shouting my name before I had blacked out, and in the back of my mind, behind all the questions that stormed through my brain since I woke up, that was one of them. It seemed now that that was a question I had the answer to.
“I know you did. Thank you Isaiah.” My father sounded grateful as he put his hand on Mr. Blackthorn’s shoulder. “You have always been there for her.” Was he? I was very grateful for the man, but I had no idea he existed until I got to Lixierra, so what could my father possibly mean? “How is her training going?”
“As well as we could hope for. She had already conjured up her second element and she’s making good progress. It’s just a matter of time now.”
“That is good to hear. Shall we go see if she woke up yet?” My father’s words sent shivers down my spine and I looked around frantically. They were coming around the corridor and if they found me here I would have to go back to my room and who knows how long it would take for the doctor to release me. I dashed through one of the open rooms and left the door slightly ajar. The occupant of this room seemed to be asleep and I exhaled as my father and Mr. Blackthorn passed me by. As soon as they were out of my sight I left my hiding spot and ran through the open doors of the hospital’s entrance.
The air outside felt heavy and pungent, the stench of those foul creatures still lingered around the school as if mocking us. The blazing rays of the sun momentarily blinded me and I squinted several times, noting with dismay that a lot of the beautiful trees that once decorated the gardens and shaded us from the sun where cut down. The ground was cracked, most of it split in half, and I vaguely remembered Kyle on his knees, his fists going up and down as if playing a violent instrument. The school was almost deserted, as if no one bore to look at the destruction that was left behind. I made my way to the house, careful to avoid the cracks as I went. I briefly wondered where everyone was, why it seemed like the school was more of a deserted post apocalyptic city rather than a home for powerful magical creatures, but I pushed that thought aside and guessed that everyone was either at the infirmary or with their families. The sight of my mother back at the infirmary had startled me, and in my haste to leave and check on my friends I had ignored to note that probably every family would have or would soon descend on Lixierra to make sure their children were alright. I passed by the fountain, now cracked in half and spilling water everywhere, when I noticed someone coming in my direction. I blinked, raising my hand in front of my face to shield my vision from the sun, and the figure came closer.
“Lilith!” His deep, sweet voice rang through my ears and my insides melted - an effect only he could have on me even though I had no explanation for it.
“Chase!” I whispered, half in shock half in excitement. It was the first time he ever said my name after the masquerade, the first time he actually looked at me without seeming like he would rather die than be near me. What was he doing here? He appeared to be coming from our house, and to my understanding his house –just as big and as glorious as ours- was on the other side of the living areas.
“I was just at your place.” He said, as if reading my mind. “I was checking on Rose and Kira and they told me that you were still in the infirmary. Are you alright?”
“I…” I was at loss for words. After what had happened the other day, after he had looked like my very existence brought him nothing but pain and sad memories, I had thought that Chase would never even look at me for the rest of the year. But here he was, asking about my health, looking at me with concern one would feel only for an old friend.
“I’m fine,” I cleared my throat and shook my head- to clear it too maybe? - “How are you? I saw you fighting alongside the girls that day, were you hurt?” The question left my mouth before I could stop it and I bit my lip, hoping he wouldn’t translate my concern into imposition.
“I’m alright. Nothing I can’t recover from.” He smiled sheepishly and my heart fluttered against my ribs. That smile! “You on the other hand,” he said as he touched his forehead, “that looks like it hurt.”
For a moment I looked at him in confusion, staring at his forehead. He didn’t seem to be hurt. It was only a while after standing there in silence that I realized he was talking about me. I reached up, carefully feeling around my head, and my hands came in contact with what felt like a thick bandage. So that was what my mom meant when she said I had hit my head? In my rush to break out of the infirmary I had forgotten to look at a mirror. I quickly ran my hands through my hair, wondering what I looked like after two days of laying unconscious on a hospital bed.
“I can’t feel a thing.” I said. “How are the girls?” I asked when I remembered him saying he came from my house.
“They’re alright. Don’t worry about Kira and Rose, they are worriers. They were taught to fight before they could talk.” Chase reassured me and I exhaled a breath of relief. Deep down, I knew that my roommates would be alright, I have seen the way they fought that day, like the heroines of my favorite novels, brave and merciless. Nevertheless, I had to make sure.
“I’m sorry.” His words snatched me out of my own thoughts and I looked up at chase, a look of shame plastered on his delicate yet sharp features.
“What?” I asked. Had I imagined that?
“I’m sorry about the way I treated you the day of the assembly. About the way I have been treating you ever since.”
“Chase-” I whispered but he cut me off.
“It’s not your fault, you know? That you look exactly like –none of this is your fault. And yet I had acted as if you were the devil, running away from you, avoiding you… You must think the worst of me.”
“I don’t! Chase, I don’t blame you for any of this. You hadn’t exactly had an easy life, and if I were you I would have probably done the same thing. I understand why you did what you did. In your grief, the last thing you need is a constant reminder of what you had lost. So I understand, you see? I understand if you don’t want to see me again.”
“But I do.” He let out so softly that I could have sworn that I dreamt it. “It seems inevitable as you are roommates with two of my closest friends. They haven’t known you long but it’s obvious, Kira and Rose think the world of you.” He looked up from the ground, his eyes as dark as the midnight sky, and smiled. “I would like to be your friend, Lilith Ignis.”
“You would?” I asked, bewildered. This wasn’t at all where I thought this conversation was going. “Somehow I don’t think your girlfriend would be too thrilled about that.” Catherine’s face flashed in front of my eyes, the stormy look on her face in the cafeteria as she held her hand out to slap me, and I smirked.
“I think I have to apologize about her behavior too. I swear she’s not a terrible person, but I don’t know what has gotten into her these days.” He ran a hand through his black locks and I couldn’t help the sigh that escaped my lips. “So what do you say?” He asked.
“I don’t know, Catherine doesn’t strike me as a very warm person to begin with, but maybe classes got in the way of her shopping plans. That would be a good of a reason as any to set her off.”
“That’s not what I meant,” He chuckled, that soft sound sending a shiver down my spine. “But you do have a point. Cat does love her Paris trips.” He took a step towards me and extended his right hand. “Friends?” He asked.
I took his hand in mine, relaxing as his warmth spread through me. “I would love to, Chase.”
I skipped up the steps and turned the door knob, entering the house quietly. My conversation with Chase had left me in a brighter mood that I had been in a long time, but I curbed my enthusiasm in case my roommates were asleep. I was in no way tired even though I was injured, but I had been resting for two days and I couldn’t be certain kira and Rose had the same ‘luxury’. The house was quiet, if not as tidy and spotless as it usually was. I supposed after an attack of the magnitude we witnesses, the school had more to worry about than sending out cleaning crews to the dorms. I walked to the living room to find Kira spread across the white sofa, her blue hair fanned out on the pillow under her head. She had her hand over her eyes, as if to shield her from the light coming through the long glass windows, and I wondered why she wasn’t sleeping in her room. I pulled a soft pink blanket out of the linen closet in the hall and was about to cover Kira with it when she lifted her hand off of her face, her eyes fluttering open.
“Lilith?” she gave me a confused look. “What are you doing here? You are supposed to be in the infirmary.” She sprang up from the sofa and pulled me in a tight hug.
“I snuck out.” I said, proud of myself. “I had to make sure you guys were okay.”
“Us? What about you? Lilith you were unconscious for over 48 hours! The doctor said you could have a concussion and you were lucky your injuries didn’t cause internal bleeding.” Kira’s voice cracked as she pulled away, seizing me up and down with wary eyes.
“Kira I’m fine.” I assured her with a smile. “Don’t worry about me.”
“Easier said than done.” She said, her tense shoulders relaxing at last. “Rose! Get down here!” She shouted, and I turned around as I heard the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs.
“Lilith!” The black haired girl squealed and ran to encircle me in her thin arms. “I’m so glad you’re alright! When did the doctor release you?”
“He didn’t.” Kira answered before I could. “The lunatic snuck out because she was worried about us.” She emphasized the last word as if it was a notion so hard to believe.
“Oh my Lilith, I knew you were crazy, but you never cease to surprise me.” Rose giggled.
I walked back to the sofa and sat down, the girls following suit. They looked -like everyone else I’ve encountered today- drained and worn-out. But unlike Mr. Blackthorn’s bloody clothes and dirty hair, the girls looked like they took the time to shower and change into some clean clothes.
“You look like you have a lot of questions on your mind.” Rose started, her voice sounded heavy.
“Doesn’t she always?” Kira smirked.
“I do.” I admitted.
“Go ahead.” Kira said with an exasperated sigh.
“What were those things?” I started with the most obvious question.
“We call them the Grim Ones.” Rose said, glancing briefly at Kira who nodded. “They are –well they used to be mystics. But they turned from elemental magic and experimented with the black arts.”
“Such an act,” Kira continued, “is the ultimate taboo for our kind. To use black magic is to abandon all that is good and light, to turn your back on nature and what it provides for us. Those who try it get hooked, and sooner or later they lose the connection they had with their elemental magic. It is, I suppose, nature’s way of getting rid of the bad weeds- cleansing itself. Once you lose that connection, you no longer belong to any kingdom, and so you get banned, never to return to who you once were.”
“It’s more than just getting kicked out,” Rose objected, “when someone uses black magic they are no longer themselves. They lose sight of what is good and pure and they can no longer tell the difference between what is moral and immoral. They become a danger to themselves and to others therefore they are banished to the underworld.”
“The underworld?” I swallowed a lump in my throat.
“That’s where they live. They have established a kingdom of their own –if you could even call it that- and god knows what they’re up to down there.” Kira slumped back in her seat, a look of disgust on her pale face.
“So, why did they attack the school?”
“No one seems to know yet. But whatever it is, it’s not good.” Rose gave me a distressed look.
“I guess everything will be clear in the meeting tonight.” Kira declared.
“The royal families of the four kingdoms are all gracing us with their presence.” The blue haired girl scowled.
“I suppose it makes sense. They need to investigate the scene and assess the damage themselves. And of course plan a course of action.” Rose said as she massaged her temples.
“We better get ready then.” I stood up. “That’s a meeting I wouldn’t want to miss.”
“You,” Kira started, “are not going anywhere until the doctor clears it. We’re going back to the infirmary.”