The bronze sun fell behind brick buildings, setting the sky on fire as lilac clouds bundled around the rising moon.
Elaina was sprawled on her bed, her mind poisoned by the letter she had left downstairs on the dining room table. She had already boxed up the living room, tidied up the kitchen and had been about to start packing away her belongings in her room, when she had to take a break from it all. At the bottom of her bed were two suitcases, ready to be filled with clothes. She should have been excited—she tried to convince herself that—going back to Oakley, it wouldn’t be so bad this time. She had friends there, and John would be there too.
It was not like the first time she had gone to Oakley, when she hadn’t known anyone at all. At least now, she had people she could trust and people who accepted her for who she was.
However, as a young witch, Elaina would be required to join the higher education qualifications at Oakley, that wasn’t so bad if you ignored that she couldn’t specialise in anything as such, but the school year had already begun. It was mid-way through October, and students would already be a month ahead of her. Even if she did go back to Oakley, and witches were more accepting of her, she would still have to work her butt off just to catch up.
Begrudgingly, Elaina rolled off her bed and collected the pile of newspapers she had brought up with her. She peeled one sheet off and grabbed hold of the porcelain heart from her bedside table. It had been a gift from Kaida on her eighteenth birthday, and it was coming back to Oakley with her. She rolled it in the newspaper before placing it in a box filled with two other wrapped objects. Elaina continued to do this until the box was full, and then she would move on to the next one and the next, until her bedroom was bare, like she hadn’t lived there for the past five months.
An hour, three boxes and two suitcases later, Elaina headed to the living room to find Seb curled up on the couch snoring softly.
Sensing her come in to the room, Seb looked up, his lemon eyes watching her curiously. “Hey there, Sleepy.” She cooed and scratched behind his ears. Seb dipped his head and went back to whatever cats dreamed about. Made redundant, Elaina grabbed hold of the TV remote from the coffee table and pointed it at the TV. The time on the screen told her it was after six.
She calculated the time it would take her to finish up packing up the house and how long the drive down to Oakley would be. It was the middle of the week meaning traffic would be so bad heading south, she’d missed rush hour also. Nodding, she gave herself an hour before she’d climb into her car with Seb and the various boxes and suitcases and drive to Oakley Hall.
“Seb, you’re going on an adventure.” She clapped her hands and smiled down at him. His response: Meow. She could tell he was going to be hard work, she’d adopted him three months ago and they’d had their small car rides to the vets, but driving to Oakley was another car ride altogether. If the traffic was forgiving, then he’d be stuck in his cat carrier for almost two hours. Elaina made a mental note to pack treats; that would sweeten the deal.
Elaina turned off from the motorway and travelled along a two lane road. Unlike the past hour and a half of her journey, there were no cars but hers on the road. The further she travelled the less light there was, the highway lights disappearing in her mirrors.
She knew she was heading the right way when she started seeing signs which claimed to be Private Land, and No Trespassing. The signs acted as deterrents to those who didn’t know the truth, the non-magic users. It was the same with all Halls across the world, the High Witch Council took their privacy and secrecy serious.
From the foot well on the passenger side, Seb yowled. He’d started doing it halfway down the motorway, and so far he hadn’t stopped. Elaina had music playing in the back ground and she turned the volume up a little more just so her ears didn’t start to bleed from Seb’s complaining.
Seb stopped yowling.
She would have been worried if she didn’t know why, it was the protective shield that domed over Oakley. As a mortal with a witch bloodline, passing through the shield wall had no direct effect on her, she had felt her skin tingle but that was all. Seb, however, wasn’t so lucky. Like Seb, non-magic users would likely have the same response. The protection spell caused a change in thought, if they had intended on carrying on down the road towards Oakley, even if they were unaware it existed, they wouldn’t want to now.
Seb meowed once letting her know he wasn’t best pleased with her.
As they travelled down, the road began to widen indicating Elaina had ten miles left of her journey before she came face to face with the Devil’s home.
The roads twisted and turned, confusing even the best of drivers. Eventually, Elaina arrived. A large iron gate stood before the car as she slowed down. It was black with gold spikes at the top. Across the middle split in two were gold letters spelling out her destination: OAKLEY HALL.
Controlled electronically, the gate began to open slowly. The iron creaking as the hinges were put to work. The cameras in the corner had likely got a picture of her number plate and had cross referenced it with one of the Guardians on duty tonight, it had been them, four miles up from this gate, that had pushed the button allowing her to enter.
The closer Elaina got to the car park, she dreaded getting out of the car. She considered finding somewhere to turn around and head back to her home where her father’s memory still lived, but she couldn’t. If she refused the High Witch Council’s orders, and Gryphon for that matter, she was going to find herself at the bottom of a very heavy pile of bricks.
Elaina knew when she arrived she would have to go to the Security Lodge. It was a giant building, that looked like a doughnut with its centre hollow. The Lodge went around the Council buildings, where the Councillors stayed, the library and all the education facilities. Despite being a protective circle around the small Council at Oakley, the Security Lodge was specifically for Guardians. It was where they slept, ate, socialised, everything.
Many of the Guardian knew Elaina personally, something she owed to John for being her godfather. That wasn’t the only reason however, losing her father at such a young age had caused a stir amongst the Councillors, and it had been decided that she would have a Guardian with her at all time. Apparently, they had feared her magic manifesting too early and without the proper training, she would have no control of her magic. Elaina couldn’t blame them for taking the precaution.
Looking back on it now, Elaina always laughed, but she guessed that was because she knew there had been no magic to begin with. Then, it had been a different story. Then, people had feared her father’s death had shocked her and that her magic would not manifest till much later; and that’s what they believed.
Until five years ago.
Elaina lost her private Guardian at the age of thirteen. As soon as that had happened, she had become a target to those more powerful than her.
One night, five years ago, Elaina had experienced something she had never felt before. It felt like magic, the way it burned through her body like a rash before soothing into cool water. It felt amazing, but the outcome was not. Elaina had been ganged up on, she had been pushed around even hurt by the other’s magic. Then she felt it happen and she had no control over it, she didn’t think, she didn’t move. She just felt magic escape from her body in a large wave and it crashed into her attacker like a brick wall.
His name was William Boone.
Councillor Gryphon’s nephew. William’s death had caused a rift amongst the Councillors and students, especially with Elaina. Gryphon refused to see her, he refused to even listen to her side of the story. As far as he was concerned, she had killed his nephew without cause. That hadn’t been the case, but there was no changing his mind.
Since then, life at Oakley was harder, more challenging. Returning back tonight was like cutting open an old wound. It never healed and it never would as long as she remained here.
Elaina parked the car a distance away from the Security Lodge. She fancied the walk across the car park, needed it to calm herself down before coming face to face with everyone she thought she had left behind.
Leaving the passenger window open for Seb to get fresh air, Elaina left the car and trekked towards the Lodge. She saw the flickering fire of the torches that lined the walls guiding people along the path, she could smell the fuel in the fire spurring it on. There was a faint smell of herb and food, likely from the Guardian’s cafeteria in the air. It reminded her she hadn’t eaten, and her stomach growled into the dark scolding her own actions.
She stopped in front of mechanical doors that registered her movement and opened up to an office with two desks, a large painting on the wall and house plants scattered around.
Then someone peered up from their computer, a smile on their face and their eyes bright despite how late it was.
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