A Scorpio was pounding on the door.
She could discern from the puddle of water floating overhead.
“If you do not leave that bed immediately, I might as well free my control over that puddle of water,” said Zika, irritation tinting her tone.
“Someone else might free their control and turn you to ash,” Karah murmured, burying herself under the blankets. The other side of the door fell silent. No sign of the disturbance that lingered there.
“Frightened, Zika?“, Karah said in a mocking tone.
She received no reply.
“That’s what I thoug-“, the puddle devoured her, making her choke on her words. She sat bolt upright, gasping for air; she was utterly drenched, the cold air puncturing her skin like needles stabbing her.
Karah groaned, “And a good morning to you too, Zika.”
She constrained her way out of bed. Nearly tripping over a shoe, she glanced out the window: dark clouds hovered overhead; green slopes protruded from the ground below, scattered across the garden; flowers danced in harmony with the wind, appearing as a spatter of paints across a green canvas; pixies flew about the garth, accompanying the lonely blossoms.
She started for the door as the world slipped from beneath her feet. Darkness spilled into her vision. The air became abruptly cold, burning her skin; she began to quiver, falling to the carpeted floor.
The familiar structure of her dorm-room reassembled before her, light sending tremors of pain through her head. She laid slack on the floor, regularizing her breathing. It was the second time she fell into the darkness this past week, into the cold night. She was unaware of the reason behind its occurrence. Karah refused to take it as something profound, she believes it is a minor after-effect of the power coursing through her very being. But power coursed through every Zodiaki in the academy, she thought. No one fell into the darkness similar to the way she did. Certainly not anyone she was familiar with. Shaking her thoughts away, she made her way to the living room.
The familiar warmth of the snug room soothed her senses.
Dim light penetrated through the windows, casting a dull glow about the room. A low fire was burning in the fireplace grate; a painting hung above the mantle, representing the four elements of their magic: fire, water, air and earth. Two windows stood next to the bulky, white fireplace, armchairs resting beneath them. The walls were lined with a cream dado rail, dividing them- the upper halves painted gray whereas the lower halves lined with striped wallpaper. Before the fireplace sat a gray, worn couch packed with cushions; atop those cushions lay Zika, scowling at her. Zika was habitually scowling. One could effortlessly be led to believe she was born with a scowl on her face.
“You missed the assembly”, she said.
Karah threw herself into a blue armchair next to the fireplace, “I don’t see how my presence could have made a difference”, Karah stated in a surprisingly steady voice.
Zika sighed, stuffing her face in a book- Zika can tend to become violent at times; to avoid that, she forces herself into books.
Unexpectedly, the windows cracked open, letting in a wave of chilly wind. The air encircled Zika, tossing her book to the hardwood floor. “What has gotten your blood boiling, Zizi?” Tazlen smirked, leaning against the door to his room.
Zika was flushed with anger, her freckles appeared faded against her dark skin. She had droplets of water weaved through her snow-white hair- similar to the way Karah had fire sparks dancing in her own raven-black hair. Karah let out a silent laugh, regretting it instantly when Zika snapped her golden-brown eyes to her— then resting on Tazlen.
“Firstly, You call me that one more time and you won’t have a tongue”, she retorted, eliciting a snort from Karah, “Secondly, watch who you use that power on. Not everyone is gentle like me.”
Tazlen grinned at her as he slipped into his room, throwing a wink in Karah’s direction.
Zika glanced at her bare wrist, pretending a watch laid there, “We’ve got training in—seven minutes”
Karah frowned, “Since when do we have training in the morning? That’s twice in one day”.
Zika smiled at her, flashing her teeth, “Like I said, you missed the assembly.”
Karah set her mouth in a thin line as she glared at Zika, through narrowed eyes, walk toward her room.
The training grounds were a two minute walk from the academy. Stone platforms, lined with rubber mats, were symmetrically arranged throughout the rectangular piece of land. Pine trees surrounded the space, grass-mountains peeking in the distance. The limestone towers of the academy loomed above the tress- each representing the 12 zodia; the 12 gods- creators of the ruling planets and Zodiaki’s. Students, in training leathers, were scattered across the platforms, each paired with a partner. Karah was randomly placed with Vyn, a Sagittarius. A fire sign, like her. He had thick, curly brown hair; his eyes were the strangest blue.
“Zodiaki’s”, coach Kyla yelled, “From today onward, we will be training twice. Daily. It is not a matter to be taken lightly, you cannot depend on your magic on all occasions. Therefore, train like your lives depend on it. Draw out your weapons, students— begin.”
The clash of metal on metal reverberated through the air. Instinctively, Karah raised her sword, bringing it down on her opponent’s weapon.
Her body moved with the sword, danced with the rhythm of it. She moved to unarm Vyn but he was faster. He aimed for her legs, making her fall on her back. Her weapon flew from her hands, and his sword rested at her neck, “I expected a longer a fight from you. Can’t say I’m surprised”, he paused, “ Orphan.”
Karah felt rage igniting in her, burning her blood. Fire crackled around her fingers, her eyes flaring red. Her Zodia mark glowed behind her ear. She brought her head to his face hard enough to hear a crack. He rolled away, holding his bloody nose, landing on his back.
“Who said it was over?”, she snarled. The world around her faded as she punched his broken nose.
Again. Again. Again.
The fire left burns on his face. He was clawing at her neck, blood stained her hands, the mat. She was a stranger to herself; her body was moving on its own accord, wanting to draw more blood. The shouts of terror felt distant in her foggy mind, the hands dragging her away felt like thorns on her arms. She wanted to rip them apart, rid herself of them.
“KARAH”, it was Tazlen shouting in her face, shaking her shoulders. Her mind was surrounded by a mist whispering, orphan. Mocking her.
Zika slapped her. “Enough, Karah”, her voice was steady but there was fright in her eyes.
Karah froze, the fog steadily lifting from her mind. The students surrounding her were whispering in horror, their eyes fixed on her bloody hands. Karah did not acknowledge them, she stared into her friend’s eyes, filled with fear. Fear from her. She looked over at Vyn, his body laid motionless, blood pooling under her cheek.
What had she done.
“What in Kriós’ name, Karah”, Zika was pacing back and forth, “You can get expelled!”
Tazlen sighed, “No wonder she’s a Leo.”
They were told to wait in the gardens outside the headmistress’s headquarters. Karah was aware of the consequences that awaited her. She held her head in her hands, tensely waiting for the headmistress to summon them. Vyn’s words echoed in her mind consistently—orphan.
Her mother had died when she was born- one life began, another ended. Her father died, of a sickness, when she was nine. A part of her left with him that day, leaving her hollow. She sometimes wished her father would have died when she was born. He would be a stranger to her then, like her mother was. A distant memory she never had.
Tears stung the back of her eyes but she blinked them away. Why cry over something that wasn’t promised to her forever?
She was taken to a foundling home shortly after the death of her father.
It was a place where she was looked down upon, a place where she did not have a voice. A place where she was poisoned by loneliness. But when she was sent to the academy, Tazlen and Zika slowly burned that poison.
She reached for her necklace, clutching the peridot stone. The stone felt alive under her fingers, breathing in pace to her heartbeat, reassuring her.
She was hauled from her thoughts by a faint rustle behind the bushes. She exchanged bewildered looks with Zika and Tazlen; they hesitantly moved toward the bushes, freeing the control they held over their magic and allowing it to flow.
The rustling came to a stop.
She glanced back at her friends, their eyes gleaming with power. They were looking past her in horror, their faces pale. Karah gradually turned her head toward the bushes, panic swirling in her. She froze when she locked eyes with the thing standing before her- it had a distorted face, save for its mouth with rows of keen canines and blazing, yellow eyes. Six legs protruded from its black, scaled body; narrow, curled horns lined its spine and a lizard’s tale danced at the rear of it. Gore trickled from its canines as it snarled, a rotten stench filled the air.
Fire danced around the length of her arms. She swirled her fire about the creature, Zika encircled a wave of water around it, and Tazlen evoked a wind, cornering it. The creature shrieked, thrashed and clawed at the barriers and it went abruptly still. They alarmingly glanced at one another, not lowering their arms.
There was silence; in a flash, the creature hurdled over the fire, reaching for her. It was mere inches from Karah before it cried in agony and vanished. Her friends rushed to her side, she frowned, looking around, “Where did it go?”
Tazlen jerked his chin toward the office. She turned, finding headmistress Vasha glaring at them with her arms crossed, “Get inside. Now.”
They obeyed, following her.
“Are you alright?”, Zika whispered, worry etched on her face.
Karah simply nodded.
The office was dusky. Candelabras lined every red, victorian wallpapered, wall, radiating a dim glow about the room. A couch and two armchairs were set in the centre of the room, facing a brown fireplace, a sword sitting above the mantle. Behind the seating arrangement stood a deep-brown desk, neatly arranged, with a banker lamp lit atop it. Before the desk sat two narrow, wooden chairs. Above the desk rested a painting of Othua, divided into four territories: Ignis, Aqua, Caeli and Terra. In the heart of Othua stood the academy- although karah belonged to a fire sign, she grew up in Caeli, land of the air signs, and not Ignis, land of the fire signs.
“Take a seat, children”, lady Vasha gestured toward the couch and armchairs. Flowers were blooming in her salmon-colored hair, that was neatly pinned away from her face. Her blue eyes glimmered like sapphires against her pale skin. She settled herself before the fireplace, Tazlen, Zika, and Karah perched themselves on the couch and armchairs.
The headmistress brushed her gaze over the three of them, “I am going to be honest with you lot”, she paused, taking a deep breath, “there is some news we do not wish to share with you students, but given your circumstances and what occurred in the garden, I am compelled to inform you.”
Karah frowned, looking sideways at Zika who shrugged lightly.
“It will answer the question clearly evident on your faces—what that thing was doing here. There have been attacks reported just outside the boundaries of the academy, and that thing you encountered in the garden is the reason behind them.”
Zika’s eyes were wide, mouth parted slightly, “What are they?”
A flash of hesitation flashed over her face, “We do not know what they are, or where they are coming from. We do not want the students to panic, so i expect you three keep this information locked away.”
Silence fell in the room.
Karah realized something: this was the reason behind extra training. Words of coach Kyla echoed in her mind, train like your lives depend on it.
Tazlen had turned paper-white, realization had struck him as well, “It would have killed Karah if it wasn’t for you lady Vasha”
The headmistress frowned, looking at him with scepticism, “Right. No worries now, she’s alright.”
She turned her gaze to Karah, “Karah, the incident that took place this morning was unacceptable. You should keep a leash on your anger, not everyone is worthy of it. Certainly not Vyn”, she winked at her.
Karah smiled, “So i’m not getting expelled?”
“Of course not, but I expect it will not happen again— Don’t let what other’s say get to you, Karah. They’re nothing but meaningless words”
Karah nodded. A wave of relief washed over her.
The headmistress eyed her necklace, “May I ask where you got that necklace from, Karah?”
Karah’s hand spontaneously rested on the stone, “My father gave it to me a few days before his death”
The headmistress narrowed her eyes, “Right. I see. Well, go along students. You’ve got training bright and early tomorrow”
The three of them nodded simultaneously, heading out the door.
They were greeted by a flood of cool wind, drifting the scent of roses about the garden.
“Well, that took an unexpected turn”, Tazlen blurted, beginning their walk to the dorms, “where do you think they’re coming from?”
There was a look of curiosity on his face, Tazlen was a curious sort- he often worried about how little time he has to experience everything he wants to see. His green eyes were tiresome; his ruby-red hair swaying with the wind.
Karah struggled to sort through her thoughts, they were loud and unclear in her head, “Do you think someone, or something, is sending them?”, she questioned, “There have not been attacks in Othua since before we were born.”
“It’s probably some curious ******* summoning them from their world”, Zika said, “Like you, Tazlen”
A laugh escaped from Karah, the sound foreign on her lips.
“Remind me to kill you tomorrow, Zika.”, Tazlen stated, “While me and Karah pay a visit to the library, in order to seek information on where they’re coming from and what they are.”
Zika rolled her eyes, “Do I get bonus points if I act like I care?”, she murmured.
“As much as I am enjoying this and want it to continue, Tazlen is right, not the killing part for that matter. We should go to the library after training, we ought to find something”, Karah interjected.
They both nodded, not risking to speak further.
The remaining walk to their dorm was completed in silence, save for Tazlen’s humming and Zika’s dramatic sighs in response to his humming.
Karah threw herself into bed, exhausted. She was tossing and turning, sleep refusing to find her. Her mind was packed with questions regarding the incident in the garden, what lady Vasha had told them. She could not cease to think of the creature’s eyes, golden-yellow, so similar to her own. She touched her necklace, the cool stone mollifying her. Before her mind could feed her more questions, her room faded into darkness. A familiar, chilling air surrounded her, puncturing her skin. She began to tremble, her body painfully refusing to move. She strived to fight it away but she was surrounded by an endless black void. Voices were whispering around her, calling out to her:
Karah. Karah— i will get you. You will be mine.
She gasped for breath, sitting bolt upright as the darkness faded. Her chest heaved with every deep breath she fought for. She glanced around her room and her breathing steadied, normalizing. It was distressing not to have control over herself, over this place she kept falling into. Fear eddied in her and shivers went up her spine as her mind continuously repeated the whispers.
I will get you. You will be mine.