Change is a natural part of life, but that doesn’t make it any easier. There are many types of new beginnings, some more literal than others. Sometimes new beginnings are expected, anticipated even, and occasionally frightening and unwelcome.
Katherine Holder was prepared and ready for such change, or so she thought. She was packing up her apartment to move into a modest home. It was a calm April day; the Fairview Apartment Complex was quiet. People were meandering around, going about their day as the sky was clear and the sun shined upon them. The temperature was tepid, the perfect day to start a new chapter in one’s life as birds sang under the cloudless sky.
Katherine had lived in the apartment with the love of her life up until two years ago. While the apartment was small and humble, it had been her home. She had so many memories, both good and bad. Waking up to the smell of coffee and pancakes made by her boyfriend, candid pictures, laughter, drinking, singing, and watching movies. A healthy relationship had made the apartment blossom into a home. She had walked barefoot and naked, free. It was the first place she felt she genuinely lived and didn’t just survive...
After Lucas died, all of that changed. Every square inch of their apartment was tinged with bittersweet memories. Sadness had crept through their abode and turned it cold. Katherine had shut herself within these walls and cried. She had been consumed by an overwhelming grief that seemed to suffocate her.
For two years, Katherine saved and pinched. For two years, she took it one day at a time. She could breathe easier once she had the opportunity to heal from the shackles of the past properly. She suffered so much for this opportunity, this chance to put the pain behind her and move on.
She had bought a small, cozy house; it needed some work but had promise. It was in an excellent location and was close to her work. It was the perfect place for a single young woman to flourish. Usually, a change like this would have triggered her anxiety, but she was excited to have this chance to heal.
Moving was stressful, but it had gone smoother than Katherine had anticipated. She was glad her old friend, Matthias Rosenberg, was helping her move. Not only could he do all the heavy lifting, but he made it fun. She laughed so hard that her stomach protested; it had been too long since she had guffawed like that.
Matthias and Katherine had grown up together in the suburbs of Austin, Texas. While they were not related by blood, they were brother and sister. They looked after each other. They had each other when it seemed the whole world was against them. Despite all their faults, all their mistakes, and all their secrets, they still had each other’s backs. They had been there for each other at their worst and seen the messy dark things that people hide, the complex feelings that people struggled to say, and that are too complicated to be good or bad.
It was strange for Katherine to see her apartment empty. Familiar walls devoid of decoration and scrubbed clean. It was recognizable and foreign… Looking at the apartment now, it was hard to believe she had lived there for five years.
It was even stranger that a person’s whole life could be crammed into a series of cardboard boxes. Each receptacle labeled; kitchen, living room, bathroom, bedroom, clothes, etcetera. One might mistakenly believe that a person’s life only consists of the objects they own and not the memories attached to them.
Katherine retrieved the last box from her barren bedroom. This parcel was smaller than the others and wasn’t labeled since it was full of things that didn’t quite belong anywhere else. It contained an old photo album, a high school yearbook, a pink cat plushy, and fidget toys.
Matthias finished loading a large box into the moving truck and turned to look at Katherine. “Is that the last one?”
“Yep.” Katherine replied.
“Here.” Matthias began to reach for the small box of miscellaneous items.
“Oh, a- actually, I was going to put this upfront with us.” Katherine explained.
“Cool.” Matthias reached up and slid the metal door down, sealing off the back of the moving truck.
“Matty…” Katherine’s voice suddenly sounded vulnerable.
“Yeah?” Mathias glanced back at her.
“Thanks...” She hesitated for a moment before she continued. “I can always count on you to be there for me. Really, I appreciate it.”
His grey eyes softened. “What are friends for, Kat?”
Tears threatened to fall, but Katherine blinked them back. “Right.”
Matthias began to head toward the front of the truck, and Katherine started to follow when suddenly, there was this bright white light. It was coming up from the ground beneath Katherine. It was a strange magical circle that formed around her. Intricate designs and symbols orbiting her. Her waist-length hair billowed around her, trapped in a tornado contained within this circle.
“Matt!” Katherine shouted. She wanted to scream and cry, but the only thing that she could manage to say was his short nickname.
Matthias turned to look at her again, and his eyes widened. Katherine’s auburn hair whipped around her chaotically, the pale light of the circle made her porcelain skin look ghostly, and her blue-grey eyes seemed to glow as they reflected the light. He reached to pull her out and rescue her, but the moment his hand entered the circle, he was pulled in like he was sucked into a vacuum.
They held each other as the light of the magic circle grew brighter until it blocked out everything. Wind roared in their ears, blocking out the sound of their cries. They couldn’t even see each other despite being so close. Suddenly, they were separated and pulled apart by the light. It happened so suddenly that neither noticed until it was too late. All Katherine knew was that she was alone with her box tucked under her arm; she gripped that box with nervous aching fingers, terrified of what was happening.
When the light faded, Katherine was alone and wasn’t in Austin anymore. Everything about the room seemed neoclassical or Regency-era; it was a phase of European fashion and design in the late 1700s and early 1800s. It was an updated take on Grecian architecture and clothing. The room was large and extravagant, with white marble pillars and gold trimming. The people wore Regency-era clothing, simple high-waisted dresses, and elegant tight-fitting suits.
The man who wore the most elegant and ornate clothing had a golden crown on his head. He had shoulder-length greying golden blonde hair and a beard that matched. Knights stood around him in silvery armor. Perhaps he was royalty; maybe he was a king. A magic circle resembling the one that brought Katherine there was painted on the floor, except this circle was much more extensive and had been painted hastily in white. Around the circle stood people wearing monotone and plain clothes spaced at even intervals.
“I-is that the hero?” The King questioned.
“Yes.” The one who responded was a woman with long unruly black curls wearing a plain dress.
“But it’s a woman?” Said a knight with a large scar on the left side of his face that extended from his ear to his jaw.
“Test her.” The King commanded.
“Is that really necessary?” The woman asked, her dark eyes full of concern.
The knight with the scar approached Katherine, startling her and causing her to drop her box. The knight snatched Katherine’s hand and cut it with a dagger. “Ow!” Katherine gasped. Then the knight began to squeeze her blood into a chalice. “Don’t touch me.” Katherine jerked free from his relentless grip the moment she could.
The knight brought the chalice to the dark-haired woman. She chanted something over it, but Katherine’s mind was racing too much for her to pay any attention. The chalice began to glow in response, and the young woman turned to the King. “She is the hero, your majesty.”
“Very well.” The King seemed almost frustrated. “I am King Warrick Fallon Scogrys, the ruler of the country of Scogrys. You were summoned here by the most powerful Thaumaturges the Human nations could provide. The Old Gods have awakened from their slumber, and we need your help to subdue them.”
“What?” Katherine’s eyes were wide and frantic, her heart racing. “I- I don’t understand. Where’s Matthias? He was just here with me?”
“You mean another came through the portal with you?” The woman inquired, her olive-toned face draining of blood.
“Did we summon two heroes?” The scarred knight asked.
“That’s not possible.” The woman said, sounding confident.
Another that was dressed in similar clothes to the woman stated. “That would explain why the Appus broke.”
“How is this possible?” The King asked.
“Your majesty, I’m not sure.” The woman explained, clearly surprised and nervous. “We were rushed in our preparation for the ritual; that could be how this happened.”
“Where is Matthias?” Katherine pleaded, the desperation evident in her voice as panic began to set in.
The woman gave Katherine a guilty look. “We don’t know.” She admitted. “He made it through but could be anywhere in Zazzora.”
“Is he a hero too?” The King asked.
The woman shook her head. “Summoning two heroes would have consumed too much mana; if we had, the Thaumaturges would be dead. We could use magic to try to find him.”
“The hero is all that matters.” The King replied.
“What?” Katherine was shocked, but her shock slowly turned to anger. “Do the lives of the innocent mean so little to you? He’s out there somewhere, alone. He could be hurt, or dead, or...”
The whole room was stunned into silence. They didn’t seem to know how to respond or even expect her to speak out as she did.
“The lives of the few are not greater than those of the many. I must do what’s best for Scogrys, nay Zazzora.” The King explained.
“What about us?” Katherine demanded, her anger bubbling into rage. “We didn’t want to be here! It wasn’t like you asked for help; you drug us here! You kidnapped us!”
“Kidnapped? Being the Hero of Zazzora is an honor.” The King remarked indignantly.
“For who?” Katherine yelled. “I don’t care about honor, Scogrys, Zazzora, or the Old Gods! And I most certainly don’t care about you!” Her eyes narrowed on the King. “I am here solely because of your selfishness; I doubt you care about anyone but yourself. I had a life and a home that you stole me from. Matthias had a family!”
“How dare you!” The King was about to argue until a blast of mana emanated from Katherine.
It was similar to the swirling vortex of energy that had brought Katherine here, but this time it was different. This time the power responded to her, filling and flowing through her. It was hot with her rage and swirled around her tumultuously. Everyone struggled to stand against the might of her magical power. Every nerve of her body alight with the heat of her fury. Katherine didn’t understand how she was doing it; she just knew that she was angry.
“No, how dare you! What gives you the right to interfere with our lives?” Her voice echoed off the walls with vibrations of power. “You know nothing about us!”
Katherine had been so focused on the King that she hadn’t realized that one knight had managed to sneak up behind her. The knight struck her on the back of the head with the hilt of his sword. He struggled against the force of her power but made it to her. Katherine collapsed on the ground next to her box of miscellaneous items that had been tipped over but remained undamaged by her outburst.
They all stood in silence. They knew that the Hero was supposed to be strong, but they had not expected them to have the abilities of a Thaumaturge too, or to be a woman, for that matter. They had also expected the Hero to be honored and willing to serve.