“Yes.” I said instantly, waiting for her response.
“I don’t… I don’t have powers. At least, not yet.” She murmured, so quiet that I almost couldn’t hear her.
Now that I wasn’t expecting. I already liked her- she wouldn’t know it, but I kind of respected her, especially after she’d brushed away the fact that I was a darkmage without even caring.
“You think you’re a halfborn?” I asked, lowering my voice as well.
“I don’t know, my mother told me that she was a late bloomer. My father told me… He told me I was a useless Cursed one.”
“You have an interesting family,” I remarked, raising my eyebrows. “I mean… you’re here. So… you must have powers, right?”
“I- I don’t know. I can do simple, simple spells, but even most commons can do that.”
I considered that. I could feel my eyes shifting back to normal gold- they changed color to reflect how I was feeling, which was annoyed. I’d feel sorry for her, but every time I began to I could hear her words in my head. I don’t need your pity.
“We’ll figure it out tomorrow,” I shrugged. “One way or another.”
“Okay,” She said, agreeably. She didn’t say another word, just finished unpacking, showered, and slipped into her bed. I couldn’t even tell if she was asleep. I didn’t try talking to her in order to find out.
I lay back again, going over what I’d been told. When you get there they’ll do a test of some sort. Nobody knows what it is- but if you have powers that test will determine them. If you don’t…
You don’t you might end up dead.
For a moment I felt worried for Annella. Then I dismissed it. She didn’t need me worrying about her- if I was guessing correctly about what kind of person she was.
I let my eyes sink shut, and quickly dropped into dreams.
I woke up in the morning to find Annella already awake and dressed. Ignoring her, I hurried into the small bathroom we shared to change as well, then hurried out into the hallway, where other students were already gathering. I looked around for Finn- but he was nowhere to be found.
I spun, almost letting out a very girly shriek. The little demon was standing right behind me.
“How did you get there?!” I demanded.
“Didn’t I say I was an illusion mage?” He asked, amusement showing in those deep green eyes of his. “Ready for the test?”
“Didn’t I tell you to leave me alone?” I snarled.
He shrugged, but before he could say anything Annella spoke.
“Kal, what’s going on? Why are we all gathered here?” She said, softly, like a meadows breeze. She looked Finn up and down, “And who are you?”
Before Finn could say anything, I spoke. “We’re going to be tested somehow. To find out what our powers are, I guess.” I took a deep breath. “Meet my person stalker. Annella, this is Finn. And he can’t take a hint,” I shot Finn a glare, which he only returned with an amused smile.
“Hello,” she mumbled, she stiffened, “Kalla, what about,” She cleared her throat, “My situation?”
Finn’s eyes were flicking between the two of us now. The last thing I wanted was for this little creep to find out my new friend’s secret.
I glared at him. “Go find someone else to intimidate, why don’t you?”
“Intimidate? I’m hardly that frightening,” he commented.
“Get out of here.”
He shrugged, then complied, melting away into the crowd again.
I turned to look at Annella. “If you have powers, this test will be sure to awaken them,” I whispered.
“Oh, yeah? And what if I don’t?” She demanded, still speaking quietly, yet managing to sound menacing. For her, anyways.
“Then nothing happens,” I lied. “The test comes up inconclusive, and you get sent home.”
“That’s a lie,” She said, “I know when people lie, and you are. What happens? I told you, I don’t want pity, and I also don’t want protection. Tell. Me.”
Ok, so she scared me a little. Her expression was fierce, demanding an answer. I forced myself to hold her gaze. Nobody’s going to see me backing down to her.
“I don’t know,” I admitted. Before she could get mad, I held my hands up quickly and kept going. “But I’ve heard rumors that the tests are really dangerous. And if you don’t have magical powers… you could die.”
“Okay,” She said the word simply, showing no fear. Not even the slightest bit of worry crossed her face. I was even more impressed.
Eventually, the students began to file down the hallway. I assumed those at the front were following somebody, but I couldn’t see that far ahead. We started shuffling forwards as well, following the tide of students wherever we were going.
As if my morning wasn’t going badly enough already, I lost Annella in the crowd rather quickly. Before I could try to find her again, I felt a hand grip my arm- unnecessarily tightly. I turned, and saw the blond girl smiling at me.
“Morning,” she said pleasantly. “Ready for the tests?”
I jerked my arm out of her grip. “Are you? I’ve heard if you don’t have magic powers you could be killed.” I gave her a significant look.
She bared her teeth in a weird hateful smile. “Threatening me, are you? You’ve got a lot of confidence in yourself, darkmage. So sure the tests will go well? Maybe confirm you have some different power, and aren’t such a corrupted freak after all?”
“Little early to be harassing people, isn’t it, Tara?”
I turned, and of course, my rescuer had to be Finn. How he knew when I was in trouble, I couldn’t tell. He just did.
“Oh, for…” the blond girl- Tara- took a step away from me, before regaining her composure and sneering at us. “Look at this. The little mutant is defending the darkmage. Maybe you should get together. You’d be a cute couple, don’t you think, halfborn?”
For a second, it was like a veil had been lifted from Finn’s eyes. Behind his mask of calm composure was utter and total hatred.
“Halfborn?” He said quietly, his voice lowering nearly an octave. “Did you really just call me that, Tara?”
She hesitated, as if considering whether or not she wanted to anger him. “You’re not worth my time, either of you,” she decided eventually. She locked eyes with Finn for a second. “And you might think it’s fun keeping your little secrets locked up in your head, but just you wait. I’ll break you open like an egg, and we’ll see what’s really going on.” She swept away like an evil queen.
I glanced at Finn. “Care to tell me what that was all about?”
“No, I don’t,” he snapped. “And you’re welcome.” All of a sudden, the mask was back, and his casual expression returned. “Tara’s a troublemaker to begin with. You just have to know how to face her down.”
“And how do you know this?”
“We’re from the same place,” he shrugged. “I went to school with her. We were about as far opposite as you could get. It was stand up to her or get beaten down, and I’m sort of a free spirit.”
I can tell, I thought, rolling my eyes.
“I didn’t need your help,” I said after a minute.
“Yes you did.” He replied. “I kept you from snapping. You should know better than to let your cross-resistance control you.”
“What do you mean?”
“She’s a light mage,” he rolled his eyes. “I thought you’d be able to tell.” He sighed. “You probably won’t want to speak of this. Being saved by the ‘freak’ after all. Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me,” he stormed off.
Confused, I managed to find my way back to Annella. I’ll never understand how he thinks…
After a few minutes of walking, we all filed into a metal room. We must have missed the start of the testing, because names were already being called off. I heard them call Tara’s, and she flounced towards the door, smiling at everybody like a prom queen. She vanished into the room, and there was silence. A minute later, another name was called. This test wasn’t so quiet. There were several high-pitched screams from behind the door, and I saw several people looking towards the door with wide panic-filled eyes. I ignored that.
They won’t kill us. They won’t. Right…?
“Finn- that’s strange, there’s no last name here…” the teacher glanced down at her clipboard.
Again, there was that strange humming noise, and the teacher nodded.
“Ah, I see. Well, Finn, off you go. Good luck.”
Finn’s face was expressionless as he walked through the door. I had no idea what he was feeling, and that irritated me.
“Kallisto Fidelus!” The teacher called.
I jumped slightly, hearing my own name, then started forwards towards the doors. Before I could go through, the teacher stopped me.
“The test is simple. You walk through the room, to the other side.”
Her eyes glinted slightly. “There’s a little more to it than you might think. Go on.”
I opened the door, and walked inside. The door closed automatically behind me, and I heard it lock. Trying to pretend I wasn’t confused and a little freaked out, I studied the area. Maybe fifty feet away was the other side of the room, and another door. There was nothing between me and the door- just plain metal hallways.
I started forwards, expecting something to attack me at any minute. But nothing did. Nothing changed.
The hallway didn’t get shorter. The door didn’t get closer. It was almost like walking on a giant treadmill- the door would not get closer. That made me angry. Why wasn’t it working?
Now, as if responding to my anger, the room grew darker. The walls seemed to be closing in, looming menacingly over me and casting long, deep shadows. And then the hallway… wasn’t a hallway anymore.
I felt a breeze on my face, and opened my eyes, confused. I hadn’t realized they were closed, but they must have been at some point. All around me were old ruined stone buildings. It was dead silent.
I was beyond confused. Either this was a really strong illusion, or something had gone wrong with the testing.
I touched one of the stones. It was rough and cold against my hand. Real then.
Suddenly, the air was split by a child’s scream. I froze, then bolted towards the sound. Whoever it was screamed again.
“Help! Somebody, please, help me!”
I crested a hill, and found the source of the sound.
A little girl, maybe six or seven, was standing with her back against a wall, under attack by four things. I wasn’t sure what they were, because they kept changing shape, shifting back and forth between something that looked like a gryphon and a dragon. The little girl was huddling against the wall, protected by a weak shield which was rapidly fading.
“HEY!” I yelled.
The four monsters turned to look at me. As soon as their glowing eyes set on me, I could feel fear threatening to take over. But I couldn’t let it.
I’m a darkmage. These things are made of darkness. I control the darkness. It is mine! Two of the monsters charged me, and anger flared inside of me like a coal. The sun went dark, and a wind picked up. The monsters hesitated. One of them made a quiet whimpering noise.
I didn’t give them a chance to regroup and attack me. I thrust out my hand, and the darkness obeyed my will, tearing into the first creature. It collapsed, but I stopped the darkness before I could kill it.
“You’re under my control,” I snapped.
Slowly, it rose to its feet. I could feel its thoughts inside me like a raging storm, and I turned it on its fellows. As they fought, tearing each other to pieces, I ran towards the child. She looked at me with wide terrified eyes, her shield gone.
“Come with me,” I told her. “I’ve only bought us so much time.”
She backed away, eyes wide with terror. “You’re one of them,” she whispered.
“I’m the one that just saved your life,” I corrected. “Now, come on.”
I took off, pulling her by the hand. Eventually, she stopped fighting and ran with me, leaping over stones with surprising agility.
All of a sudden, she let out a sharp cry. I spun, in time to see her fall, blood staining her simple white dress. One of the dark creatures had leapt out from behind a building, its claws piercing her heart.
“NO!” I yelled. The air around me turned black, and a howling noise filled my ears. The creature let out a roar, and then suddenly the darkness was gone. And so was the monster.
I knelt next to the girl, whose breath was already becoming shaky. “Hold on. I think… I think I can help you,” I managed. I put a hand on her forehead, and willed any power I had, anything at all that could help, to work.
There was silence. Slowly, the girl’s breath faded away to nothing.
I panicked, withdrawing my hand. Only to find that the wound was closed.
Confused, I pressed my head against her chest, listening for a pulse. There wasn’t one. And yet… there was. Instead of a solid thumping, the sound I heard was more like, tick, tick, tick, tick…
I froze, taking a good look at the wound. It was shiny and silvery and looked like… metal.
The girl gasped, sitting up. “What… what happened?”
“I don’t know…” I managed. What did I do?! What kind of thing had I turned her into?
She didn’t seem to notice the metal. She just smiled at me. “Thank you.”
Then her face rippled, as did the scenery around me, and she was gone.
Now, everything was dark. I shouldn’t have been afraid- I ruled the dark, after all- but this dark didn’t feel the same. It was dangerous. Malevolent, even.
I went to take a step forwards, and suddenly collapsed, all of me exploding with unbearable pain. I locked my hands against the sides of my head. There was more screaming- and I realize it was me this time. What went wrong?! What had I done?!
The pain faded, leaving me exhausted. I tried to get up, but I felt sluggish. I couldn’t move. I was barely breathing. I couldn’t do… anything. And the worst part was I didn’t care. I wanted to just curl up and go to sleep.
Kallisto, something in the darkness hissed. Get up, get moving. If they find you here they’ll kill you.
“Where’s… where’s here?” I mumbled, my words slurring together.
That doesn’t matter you ignorant girl! Get up or you’ll die here!
What do you expect?! Magic has a cost. A cost you chose to pay the minute you turned that girl into an automaton. You’re simply paying the price for it. Now get up!
Things were lurking in the darkness now. Creatures bigger and stronger than the ones I had defeated in the ruins. They’d kill me if I didn’t run- I knew that much. But I couldn’t run. There was nowhere to go. It was dark all around me, and as far as I could tell, I was surrounded, and hopelessly outnumbered.
There’s always a way out! The voice snapped. Are you the kind of mage that sits there waiting for her death, or the kind that takes action?
“No way out…” my voice was speaking without my permission now, rambling to myself. “Surrounded… too many of them.”
That got my mind to snap back into focus. I was not going to just lie here while things in the dark waited for me to die!
Despite my exhaustion, I forced myself to my feet. I nearly fell again, but managed to stay upright.
To my satisfaction, the creatures drew back. Now, I wasn’t afraid anymore. Only angry. How dare they try and prey off me like that? How dare they hide in the darkness- my natural element- thinking I’d just lie down and die?!
As if picking up on my thoughts, they retreated slightly.
“Yeah, you’d better be afraid!” I yelled. My confidence gave me energy, and I started forwards. There was something ahead of me. Something I needed to reach. “I control the darkness, and I’m not afraid to turn it against you!”
“You cannot unmake us with the element that we are made from.”
The hissing voice came from my right. No… left. No… behind me. Except… it didn’t really come from any of those places. It came from all around, like the creatures all spoke with one voice.
“Who said we were here to destroy you?” The voices continued. “You are the master of the dark- our creator.”
That caused me to hesitate. “I’m no creator of yours.”
“Your hate and your anger make us stronger,” the hissing continued. “We feed off it, growing larger and more powerful each time. That which makes you stronger also makes us stronger. You cannot kill us. You cannot unmake us. We will feed off your hate and your hopelessness, and we will grow stronger by the second, until we overpower you completely.”
The thought of being lost here in the dark, overpowered by unknown monsters that all spoke in the same voice, the confidence inside of me curled up into a small ball of terror. I liked to think there wasn’t a single situation I couldn’t fight my way out of- but if they were right, then this was impossible. I’d just make them stronger. I had to think of another way.
My mind protested against that. It would be better to give up now. To curl away from this and let the darkness take me. I wouldn’t have to face these unnamed horrors that called me their creator.
But I refused to do so. I was master of the dark- that’s what they’d said. I had to use that.
I fought back the fear, forcing myself to straighten up. “You think you can destroy me?” I called a challenge to them. “You said it yourself. I created you. I can destroy you just as easily! The dark is my realm, and nobody can control me while I am inside of it. You don’t scare me- any of you. You’re just faceless things hiding off in the dark, too afraid to show your faces. Come out if you dare- if any of you have the courage to look me in the face!”
They laughed, all around me, and slowly began to inch forwards.
Fresh fear washed over me. They were like monsters straight out of a nightmare. They were nothing I- or anybody else- could face.
I spun, trying to find a clear space, but there was none. I was trapped here. And I would die if I didn’t find a way out.
There was a door. That memory jumped to the front of my mind, reminding me it was there. A door at the end of the hallway. Maybe you haven’t moved at all. Go forwards. This time the voice in my head was my own, not somebody else’s.
I turned to look into the darkness. A door. There had to be a door.
I forged ahead, plunging into the dark.
Whispers surrounded me. I felt things reaching out, trying to catch me and stop me, but I evaded their grasp. I ran forwards, my breath coming in short ragged gasps as my heart pounded wildly. There had to be a door here. There had to be.
My hand struck metal, and I blindly groped for the knob. I found it, and turned, wrenching the door open. I scrambled through it, and suddenly the darkness was gone. I was in a small room, alone. Behind me, the metal door was closed tightly. It was over.
My adrenaline faded, and I had about enough time to register my exhaustion before I crumpled to the floor, completely and utterly unconscious.