I open my eyes. The bright light forces me to squeeze them shut again and a dull ache begins to grow at the back of my skull. I have to blink several times before my eyes adjust to the brightness and my surroundings come into focus. Sunlight pours in through a window to my left. I look down to find myself dressed in a blue hospital gown, my knee wrapped in several layers of white bandages. When I sit upright I feel stiff, but not as sore as I anticipate.
I notice a figure sitting to my right and my heart races when I realize that it isn’t Hunter. Memories violently flood my drowsy brain. More frightening than the memories are the gaps between them.
“Hey, are you okay?” Grant asks, leaning over me. I try to speak but my throat is parched. “Wait a second, here.”
I take the glass of water he offers, drinking greedily. Nausea overwhelms me for a moment and I cringe as bile stings my throat. I manage to croak: “Where’s Hunter?”
“He’s okay. It’s okay, Selene. He just took a break to get some coffee. He’s been here all night.”
I drop back onto the bed and remind myself to breathe. “What happened?”
“Marle shot you,” he says, “with a gun.” The clarification seems childish, but I understand its significance as sunlight glints off of the silver watch on the table beside me.
“What happened to everyone else? Caelen and Mirena? Yagher? How long have I been out?” So many questions, I realize. Did we convince Yagher? Or have they begun systematically stripping everyone of their magic? Why would Marle try to kill me when he knew it would mean his son’s life?
“Maybe you should wait for Hunter,” he says, glancing towards the door. I stare at him, unwavering, and he runs his hand through his hair. It’s his prosthetic and it makes me wonder how he is healing from his stomach surgery. Whether I’ve undergone my own surgery.
“It’s Monday morning, so the exchange happened less than two days ago,” he says reluctantly, “Caelen’s doing alright, broken leg but it’s healing nicely.”
“Mirena?” I ask and I glean the answer from his expression. I bite my lip, hard, focusing on the pain and gathering the strength to ask my next question.
“And Yagher? What happened to Harvey?”
“Harvey’s gone, Selene,” his voice breaks and his face tightens.
“He didn’t know.” I hurry to tell him before I lose the composure to speak. “He didn’t know they used you to hide the stone. I don’t think he would have let them.”
Grant nods and looks down at his lap. The silence that follows is pregnant with our regrets and all the questions I can’t bring myself to ask.
“There’s something else you should know,” Grant says without raising his head, “about Sean Harris.”
No — please. No more. The world can’t be so cruel.
“He was admitted to the hospital yesterday. Something to do with his heart. He passed quietly last night. Before he went, he said to leave you everything. He wants you to take care of Caelen.”
I can tell he doesn’t want to tell me. I almost wish he hadn’t.
“No.” I shake my head, unable to accept this savage twist of fate. “What are the chances? There’s no way…”
I follow Grant’s gaze to the watch, sitting uselessly on the table. “It’s because he gave that to me, isn’t it?”
“It’s a strong spell. We’ve never seen anything like it,” there are tears in his eyes when he speaks and seeing them makes me acutely aware of my own.
“We’re not even sure if it will fade. It’s entangled with the gears… we think if you keep winding it…”
I can’t hear him any more; I’m too busy sobbing into my hands. Sean Harris’ life, for a trinket that should have saved mine. I hear the door open and when I look up Hunter is kneeling beside me. He doesn’t say anything, just kisses me and holds me tightly, almost desperately.
“Hunter… show me. Please,” I beg. I expect him to object, to tell me to rest, but instead he glances at Grant, who nods. Hunter turns to me and reaches out his hand. I take it, hesitantly, afraid of what I’m about to witness.
I feel a familiar rush as my consciousness is dragged into Hunter’s memories.
I’m disoriented to find myself inside of a small, dark cell instead of the expansive hall. There are bars within arm’s reach from where I’m sitting on a thin mattress draped over a metal cot. Yagher stands on the other side of those bars.
“I looked into it,” he says, and his sad smile confuses me, “You were right. There is no record of the founders after the ceremony. It must have cost them their lives.”
“Every spell has a price… and an enchantment like that…” I feel myself, Hunter, shrug, “Are you going to tell him?”
“Who?” Yagher asks, leaning casually against the bars, “My father? Of course not. He’ll hide the stone from me and we’ll lose another generation to complete ignorance.”
“So you’re set on using it then?”
The friendly tone between them is strange to me, but I am able to garner bits of information from Hunter’s mind — like knowing something in a dream even though it never happened. I know that Yagher is hiding him, protecting him from Marle. That Yagher has been researching the stone and has decided to hear Hunter out. They’ve been debating the options the stone presents, discussing the philosophical and ethical ramifications of every choice. I feel Hunter’s surprise at how similar Yagher is to him, how in some strange way they both want the same thing.
“I have the ability to stop this stupid conflict. To protect the world from magic.” It’s strange to realize that I’m watching the Yagher of the past. That the real Yagher is gone and I’ll never really see him again.
“But which path will you take?” Hunter asks enigmatically.
Yagher looks away, contemplating something in the distance.
I feel the sudden jolt of shifting memories, like a train changing tracks.
This time I am in the middle of the Ukranian hall across from Yagher. It is disconcerting seeing something so familiar from a slightly different perspective. I can see myself standing beside me, like an actor in a movie.
I watch through Hunter’s eyes as I run towards Yagher, and I hear the gun shot as my body falls forward. I wonder if Hunter can control the speed of the memory or if he originally experienced it as if in slow-motion. I watch as I try to struggle to my feet, blood pooling onto my jeans around my knee. I vaguely register the gun in Marle’s hand before another shot passes into my back and through my stomach. I experience Hunter’s terror as he comprehends what is happening. He runs to my side and drops to his knees, his hands still bound behind his back.
I see Caelen leap forward yowling and spitting, tripping the man in front of Mirena. She takes advantage of the opening to grab the man’s throat. She releases him and his body falls limply to the ground. Caelen trots towards me, but shouts at Mirena when he sees she isn’t following. She barely takes two steps towards Marle before he shoots her. The bullet passes directly into her skull and she collapses.
Hunter’s attention doesn’t linger on her, turning instead to my writhing form bleeding profusely on the ground. I feel his sense of futility burning along with the heat of the tears against his cheek. Yagher grabs my arm and eases me over onto my back. He leans down to look at my face, the last thing I remember seeing. I watch as my own eyelids flutter closed.
“What have you done!?” he shouts to his father.
“Don’t worry,” Marle says, entirely self-possessed, confident that he is in complete control of the situation, “I’m a perfect shot. She’ll live long enough for that man to save her. I’m sure he won’t mind making a small sacrifice for the person he loves. You’ll be fine. Now, quickly, while he’s occupied. Finish the spell as soon as he’s revived her. Strip them all of their powers.”
Yagher walks past me, behind Hunter, and unlocks the cuffs. I hear them clatter to the ground. “Save her,” he says and begins to walk away.
“You still have a choice,” Hunter says as he leans over me.
“I can’t take your path,” he responds and then turns to stare at his father, adding, “Some people don’t deserve to have magic.”
I can hear Yagher mumbling somewhere nearby. Hunter closes his eyes for a few moments and I can feel the effort of his magic. He opens his eyes and when he kisses me, I can feel the power of the spell coursing through our veins. He lifts my shirt to see that the wound on my stomach is healing.
Caelen limps by his side and asks, “Should we try to stop him?”
Hunter shakes his head and gingerly lifts me into his arms. He walks past Victor’s prone form and into the short hallway. I feel his ears pop and a strange rush of air; Yagher has completed his spell. For a heart beat, the world is silent.
As we pass through the door, Marle’s voice echoes behind us.
“Harvey, are you alright? Son? Harvey answer me now! Harvey, what have you done!?” I can hear his sobs and howls long after we walk into the dark night.
I feel dizzier than usual when I reawaken to the hospital room, probably an effect of being injured and tired. I’m also still confused.
“I don’t understand what happened to Harvey? And if he finished the spell, why can you still use your magic?”
Grant is the one who answers: “He only took one person’s magic: his father’s. But he changed more than that. We’ve examined the stone thoroughly and, from what we can tell, our powers will no longer pass to our children. Magic will die out with our generation. The cost of the spell was Yagher’s life.”
“He knew that, didn’t he? He didn’t tell his father because he knew that he would stop him,” I look at Hunter, “You told him. That it would cost his life. You told him your plans but instead of breaking the stone and giving everyone magic, he did the opposite. Taking it.”
Hunter nods and Grant continues, “But he refused to pass judgement on us; he left the mages their magic, to live the lives they’ve always known. Except his father, he couldn’t take that risk.”
Something is wrong, I realize suddenly. I’m missing something important.
“Wait,” I look to Hunter, examining the tired lines of his face, the taught skin of his scar as he bites the side of his lip worriedly, “You made a sacrifice to save my life. But you still have your magic.”
He turns towards Grant. Grant stands and walks to the door. He stops long enough to say: “I have to go, Brie is waiting downstairs. We’ll be around a little while longer.”
He closes the door behind him.
“Hunter?” I ask, but I already know he won’t answer. He turns to look at me, still kneeling on the floor, and there are tears gliding down his cheeks. I pull him close and kiss the top of his head and he buries his face into the crook of my neck.
Of course it had to be his voice. Everything he ever tried to accomplish was done with his voice. That was the way he wanted it — to build a world through discussion, debate, communication. To have to rely on his magic, to need it, that was a sacrifice.
He looks at me suddenly and reaches up to stroke my cheek. I feel a strange mingling of feelings and thoughts and I realize he’s trying to communicate with me the same way that I once did with Mirena. I close my eyes and concentrate on the assortment of images and sensations.
The despair of watching his dream be crushed forever. The pain he feels for the loss of his voice. His regret that he couldn’t succeed, couldn’t convince Yagher or save him. That he had never spoken his feelings for me, and now could never say them aloud. His sorrow at the loss of so many people he wanted to know better. Mirena, who he finally had the chance to forgive. Sean Harris, who he was beginning to see as a mentor. And Yagher, who was ready to forgive him.
Intermingled with this is an immense joy and relief at being able to save me. And hope. The hope that comes from being alive, even if you feel like you’ve lost too much to bear.
He pulls his hand away and I kiss him deeply, leaving my own emotions exposed for him to find.
Like him, I’m grieving my friends and the dreams I was just beginning to build. I push all of this aside and focus entirely on my determination. My refusal to coast while I wait for things to change. My confidence that my life doesn’t end because I’ve lost something, as I long as I decide to keep living it.
I snap back to the present as I hear the door open and Brie’s voice shouting, “I’m telling you that she doesn’t want you barging in on her right now!”
I open my eyes and see Wynn standing at the foot of my bed, grinning at us as we kiss.
“Yes, I can see she’s very busy right now. I guess I’ll come back later.” She turns to leave and I yell at her to stop.
“I almost died you know. The least you could do is give me a hug.”
Hunter moves back into the chair Grant left behind and smiles as Wynn hugs me. Brie leans into the door frame, laughing.
“Okay so you got shot, but a knee injury is hardly fatal.” I know Wynn well enough to understand this means she’s been worried sick and probably hasn’t slept all night.
We continue to fling sarcasm at each other until Brie cuts in and reminds everyone sharply that I do, in fact, need rest to get better. They argue back and forth until a nurse arrives to check on me. Hunter is the only one who stays and he holds my hand as I fall asleep.