Chapter Seven: Still

I woke with a groan and found cuffs on my wrists, chaining me to the floor. I pulled on the chains as I became fully alert and aware. One of the three magi stood in front of me, his hands together in a shape to focus his mind.

The glyph around me, I realized, pulsed. They had placed me inside. I blinked and rubbed my eyes as the man lowered his hands and turned to the elf guarding the door. “We have finalized the glyph,” he explained as the other two joined him. I noticed one of them had the same mark on her forehead as the one Nina had. She had a dim look in her eyes as she examined me over her shoulder. She turned away when the leading Magi turned to leave.

Mr. Z sighed as he locked the door behind them and turned to me, the glyph still pulsing. He knelt across from me, seeming a world away, and explained, “This is a magic-canceling glyph, Williamson. You won’t be able to perform magic. And your dragon will have a harder time finding you. They’ll capture it and then take you two to be studied.” He paused his burning red eyes glistening. He was waiting for a reaction.

I remained as calm as possible, at least for now. It was the first time I heard him speak, so I was surprised at first. I always assumed he never could or never spoke English. His voice was as deep as the void and had a growling, feral sound to it.

Bored or unsatisfied, I wasn’t sure which, Mr. Z stood and returned to his chair next to the door. As he sat, I tried to retain as much of my panic as possible, find a way to put it inside the closet. I busied myself with checking out my restraints.

They were simple, small chains, connected to a concrete ring in the floor. The cuffs on my wrists were lose, but not too much and had a short link between them. I couldn’t stand, but could sit upright.

At least I could face away from the elf and think. I closed my eyes and tried to recall what I knew of magic.

Magic … glyphs … talismans … Did I know how to make any glyphs? I tried to think of any, but I only remembered that horrible Serene glyph. I shuddered. What about … And … ?

I wrestled with the blank places in my brain, fighting to see through them, but it was like dreams where I fell through an abyss – there was nothing there to wrestle with, nothing there to find, and nothing there to reassure me I had a way out.

Tears of frustration misted my eyes, as well as tears of pain as a headache formed across my scalp and down to my eyebrows. I leaned over my legs and gritted against the ache.

The door opened and I squinted my eyes open to turn around. A black elf in a green cloak strode in with, to my surprise, a small cage in his hand. Inside the cage trembled a small, white rabbit. I blinked heavily and rubbed my eyes.

It was a rabbit, whimpering and moaning as it raced in circles, “Ohhh, ohhhh, no. Don’t eat me! No, no, no!”

I glanced at the elves. The one in green explained in a voice equal to Mr. Z’s, “Williamson, your file reports that you are capable of speaking to animals, is that correct?”

I nodded automatically, dumbfounded.

He knelt to open the cage. “This creature will serve as your companion. We are required by the institute to keep you comfortable. However, if you misbehave or attempt to escape, we will kill the rabbit. Do you understand these terms?”

I nodded, unable to speak.

The rabbit stayed in the cage at first before making his way out in tiny hobbles. The elf in dark green, impatient, pulled the rabbit out by the nape of the neck and placed him on the pulsing glyph. The rabbit’s body arched and he let out a shudder before racing over to me, making whimpering sounds as he did.

He leapt into my lap and looked up at me with huge eyes. I petted his gossamer fur and glanced up to see Mr. Z sitting in his chair, one leg crossed over the other and reading the History of Tea.

I looked again at the rabbit and whispered, “Hi, there. I’m Lyric. Are you alright?”

“A little tussled,” he admitted. “That’s all.” His body vibrated with fear and I felt his heart thrumming. “I … I don’t understand what’s going on. Are we going to be eaten?”

“No,” I whispered with a small smile. I lifted the rabbit up to my chest and he nestled there. My smile wavered and I began to tremble too. “We’re prisoners,” I whispered.

“That’s not good,” he added and scrambled to get down. I placed him on the floor and he took off to run back and forth. At least one of us could run off the fear. I mopped up my tears with my sleeves.

Despite myself, I began to sob. I had no way out. No way to leave. No way to defend myself. I was helpless.

Much of the following days were a blur of sleeping, eating, watching Rabbit exercise, and waiting for something to happen. I believe it was three days, since they turned out the lights for me to sleep twice. On the third day, however, I had a dream.

I was still chained in my dream, locked away in a dark room, but I heard a voice like the hush of summer rain on concrete whisper, “Lyric! Lyric!”

“Hello?” I called out.

“Oh, Master!” The relief in the male voice was contagious, as I sighed, too, and laughed, “What is it? Who are you?”

“I’m your dragon, though I don’t have a name. I’m looking for you.” He paused. A flicker of red and white appeared in the air in front of me, sparks of fire I realized. “I am … lost. I cannot find you. My connection was severed not long after I hatched. I … It hurts.”

“What does? How can I help?”

“The magic – its ripping me apart. The magic hates me like this – wants me to become like it. Become part of it.”

“Don’t worry!” I called out to the sparks still shimmering in the air before me, like a little magical sparkler on days for fireworks. “Please,” I reached out and found my hands limited by the chains. The shower of sparks came closer and I cradled it in my cupped hands. It was sweet and small, fluttering like a heartbeat or a small bird. “Please, don’t be afraid. We’ll be together.”

I kissed the iris of the sparks, the red and white gyro of flame. It didn’t burn, but felt warm, like kissing the cheek of a loved one. The sparks hissed and the voice sighed, “Thank you, master. Your love is my strength. Your kindness sustains me. If only I could return the favor.”

“Just stay safe,” was all I could manage. I wasn’t used to such praise.

“I’ll do my best. I must ask: Do you have a name for me?” The sparks floated in the air in front of me. I frowned and answered, “Well, no. Not yet.”

The sparks hesitated, the downpour of little lights pausing for a second, like a cough. “Well, if I may, I wish I could have your name.”

I chuckled, “My name is ridiculous,” I laughed.

“Its beautiful to me,” he replied. His breath caught in a groan, the sparks weakened, and the dragon hissed, “It hurts. I … I can’t stay much longer!”

I opened my mouth to protest, but I woke with a shock in the center of the glyph. I closed my eyes again, exhausted.

If our connection was severed after he hatched, how had the dragon contacted me? Was it a trick? Maybe the connection was beyond magic?

Already my mind raced, but my body was exhausted. I lay on the floor, slowly opening my eyes. The warlock was asleep on the mat provided for him, covered with blankets. I, too, had a mat and blankets and a pillow from my room.

The rabbit was curled up next to me on top of my blanket. At least, he had been. He was sniffing around on the glyph. He noticed me in the dim, red glow of the glyph. “Awake?” he asked.

“A little,” I whispered, which came out as a tired whimper. I curled tighter under the heavy blankets and tried to go to sleep. Mr. Z had extended my chains a little and I trained myself to sleep on one side to keep from twisting them around me. Visions of choking to death in my sleep was enough to scare me from it.

“Isn’t your dragon supposed to be here by now?” Rabbit asked as he hobbled closer to me. I wiggled under the covers to dig into them deeper and answered, “I suppose. He’s having a hard time. The magic in the air is hurting him and he’s in a lot of pain.”

The white rabbit’s eyes widened. “You spoke to him?”

I nodded. “In my dream. He’s lost.” I fiddled with the seam of the blanket. I was surprised they let me keep such a nice one.

Rabbit rubbed both front paws across his scalp and sighed, “That’s going to make things hard.”

“What do you mean?” I raised up a bit and propped up by my elbows.

He came closer and he whispered, “Look, I heard the doctors saying they want to transfer you soon. Some facility in Alaska. I can help you get out, but its going to be difficult. This glyph’s tough to work around.”

“You can use magic?” I asked. “I mean, of course, animals can, but what kind?”

“Rabbits can dig holes through space-time.”

“Like a time-space slip?”

“No, we force our way through the fabric of space – it makes it harder for predators to track us. But its not the most stable thing in the world.” He glanced at the glyph. “And the glyph makes it hard for me to tap into it. You’ll have to disable it.”

“Okay,” I whispered and tried to wrap my head around this. I blinked and asked, “Why help me?”

He hesitated. “I … I wouldn’t survive long without you. I have to get back home.” He hobbled to the corner of the room, disappearing into the dark.

I wrinkled my brow. So I had a way out, but I had to disable the glyph. How do you do that? I stared at the ceiling and closed my eyes.

I was back on the dock from my childhood, dangling my feet into the water. I stared down through the sheet of fog over the water and squinted. “How do you disable a glyph?” I whispered to the water’s surface.

The fog parted and the water rippled gently. A book appeared in the water, like a large reflection of a book. The water still rippled as the book’s pages flipped frantically. I saw notes and artwork on the pages. This book – it was important to me.

The book stopped and opened to a page. I squinted more to see, but the water began to ripple – no it began to boil. I jerked my feet out of the water and huddled there on the dock. The image of the book evaporated. The water became calm again.

I squeezed my eyes shut and trembled with rage. I laid down on my stomach and splashed the water, shouting, “Come on! Remember! Why don’t you remember!?” I punched the water’s surface, anger exploding through me. “Remember!”

I opened my eyes in the real world and rolled over to scream into my pillow, which startled the warlock now sitting in his chair. I blinked at him and realized the lights were on. Had I fallen asleep?

“The doctor will be here shortly,” he informed me with a disapproving glance before returning to his latest read, The Wheel Turns, one of the novels from the Final Break Series. I could tell from the painted cover of the buff warrior in thick armor, a hood over his head, and what looked like metal feathers over his cloak that billowed in the wind. He had a huge broadsword at his side. It looked like someone joined the man this time – was that a snake on her shoulder? I frowned and wished I had finished the first book. They wouldn’t bring me anything to keep occupied.

I shook my head and asked to go to the restroom. The elf dog-eared the page he was on and slapped the book shut with a sigh. He left the room to fetch the bucket I was supposed to use. I shuddered.

Rabbit approached me from behind and asked, “What’s the plan?”

“I don’t know how to undo the glyph,” I stated. “The doctors erased all my memory of magic.”

“Hmm … I might know a way, but it could just blow up in your face.”

“Anything is preferable than, well, you know.” I held up the chains for emphasis. “Whatever they want to do to me.”

He hopped onto the blankets as I crossed my legs. “I’ve been examining the glyph and rattling my brain these past three days. I remember I saw a mage practicing one time. He could make glyphs and cancel them. The only problem is that animals can’t make or use glyphs.”

“Well, walk me through it.”

“What about marking? You have to have something to use. Are you going to use your poo?”

“What? No, that’s gross. You have sharp teeth, right?”

“Yeah.”

I held my forefinger down to him. “Bite really hard on my finger and I’ll use my blood. But hurry befo ~” I covered my mouth with my free hand and bit down the scream that threatened to erupt when Rabbit snapped his little incisors on the pad of my finger. It was similar to getting your ears pierced, but it hurt ten thousand times worse.

Dark red blood came instantly to the surface. I was certain he bit all the way through the muscle. I tried to keep my finger straight as I moved the blankets aside and exposed the clean floor below.

Rabbit instructed: “Alright. There are key components to the glyph – the circles that anchor it, and the symbols that pull on the energy.” As he spoke, he walked to each item. “You have to draw the circles and then put the symbols on the outside of the circles, but it has to be parallel.”

I blinked and asked, “Do I have to make it as big as the glyph?” That would be a lot of blood.

“No, any size works.” He sure knew a lot. I wondered if he stalked that mage he mentioned.

I heard talking outside the door and asked, “Okay, how many circles?”

“Three.”

The talking grew nearer. I drew three circles like a bull’s eye, but with two closer together on the inside. The sounds from outside grew distant. We both let out a breath as Rabbit continued to show me how to draw the counter-glyph.

Then I drew a set of symbols on the outside. These were planetary and Greek symbols. The planetary ones tethered the magic to the glyph. The Greek were the conditional symbols, ones that told the glyph to remain permanent, to time out, or to rely on another symbol to activate. It was the same for talismans.

Impressed by his knowledge of glyphs, I finished drawing. “Now,” said Rabbit, “you have to give it a little charge to activate it.”

I pressed my left hand over the drying glyph. I felt something inside ignite and quickly snuff out, leaving me tired. The glowing glyph around me went dark and dissipated, like paper burned by fire. Instantly, the piece of me that had darkened was filling up with energy once more and I felt renewed, better, as the ghost-wind returned around me like a new friend.

“Now for the chains,” Rabbit said. “Can you use the magic now?”

I nodded.

“Good. Grab the chains and think of them heating up. Focus on that.” I did so, imagining them turning red hot. I felt the ghost-wind wrap around my hands and little threads stung my fingers as they channeled into the chains. “Now,” the rabbit added, “imagine ice covering them.”

The threads turned my fingers numb as I imagined ice coating the chains, little crystals forming on them and crackling. My breath even felt cold when I inhaled.

I opened my eyes and saw the chains were, indeed, covered in ice.

“Now jerk on them,” he ordered.

I did so and the chains crumbled like hard candy onto the floor. I was left with cuffs on my wrists.

Rabbit raced to the door before me and pressed an ear to the door. He motioned me to him and I raced up, heart pounding. I was actually going to try to escape. I would finally leave the institute. I had to get down the stairs and past the doctors, first.

Rabbit nodded to me the all clear and motioned me to step aside. I did and he put his paws to the air. The hole looked similar to a space-time slip, but it didn’t have any darkness inside. The edges were bright colors, a rainbow corona. The rabbit looked exhausted as he motioned me through.

I inhaled deeply and stepped through. It was like passing through water. The hole made a whispering sound when it shut and the rabbit joined me, his ears wilting. But they perked up before he darted to the corner leading to the elevators. I trotted to him on the balls of my feet. He motioned me to wait and I pressed my hands to my chest to quiet my heart.

“Dr. Graham, I cannot let you in there,” Dr. Wulf said, his voice forceful and strained. “The patient is under my care.” Their voices came from around the corner.

“What you’re doing is inhumane!” Dr. Graham snapped, his voice dark and angry. I never thought I’d hear it in those tones. “Chaining her up? Keeping her isolated? She’s done nothing to deserve this!”

“She’s a Dragon Master! She made her choice.”

“She’s still human.”

“No, Dr. Graham. She isn’t human anymore.”

Something hurt inside my heart. How could someone who worked with people and saved lives say that?

Dr. Graham exhaled and whispered, “You don’t believe that.”

“I do. Dragon Masters are monsters. The moment they take on that Bond Mark, they forfeit any right to be treated as human. You haven’t seen them as I have.”

My anger flared up and I argued in my head that I could say the same for mages. They’re as inhuman as a Dragon Master, tying themselves to magic as they do. But I forced myself to remain calm, putting a lid on the boiling water and focusing on the conversation around the corner.

“She’s just a girl. She’s scared and lost. And … And I butchered her memories. She’ll never remember her parents faces. All because I was told I had to erase them from her mind. I was told I was helping her.” He sounded lost, remorseful, his voice getting hard to hear. “At least let me apologize to her.”

“No. And you did help her. You did, Graham. She doesn’t remember the lies. She can’t even remember her parents.”

There was silence for a moment before I heard them walking away. A door clicked shut and I heard the elevator ding.

The Rabbit peeked around the corner and nodded to me. I bowed my back and raced down the hall to the elevator before hesitating at Dr. Graham’s door. The rabbit turned to me and whispered, “What are you doing?”

“Maybe he can help,” I whispered in return and snuck to the door. I pressed my ear to it and heard furniture moving around. I clicked the door open and the Rabbit ran over to join me.

Dr. Graham was rearranging furniture, his face hard as stone as he struggled with the couch. The chairs were already closer to the desk with the coffee table. The couch proved too heavy and the man gave up, plopping on the worn cushions and tossing a pillow to the chairs. He missed and it landed on his desk instead.

I opened the door, standing now, and whispered, “Dr. Graham?” It came out as a whimper.

He leapt to his feet – he was more agile than I thought – and he stared at me with mouth agape. Rabbit hobbled in, sniffing the carpet as he went along. Dr. Graham seemed too focused on me to notice.

“So,” I started, wringing my hands, “I, uh, I’m escaping. I thought you might, um, help?”

Without a word, Dr. Graham pulled me in and slammed the door. He held me by the shoulders and asked, “How? How did you get out?”

I pointed at the rabbit and answered, “He helped me draw a counter-glyph and break the chains.” Dr. Graham raised both eyebrows at the rabbit peeking out from under the coffee table.

“I can’t believe it.” He pushed me to the door near his desk. I hadn’t noticed it before. It was actually a small bathroom, no larger than a walk-in closet. He closed the door once the rabbit hopped in. “Why come to me?”

“I thought you might want to. I kinda heard your conversation with Dr. Wulf.”

His eyes darkened and I thought he might start crying the way he looked so downcast. “How much did you hear?”

“All of it, I think. I got out when he tried to stop you from visiting me.”

Dr. Graham hugged me to him. I was suddenly self-conscious of my body odor and the fact I hadn’t had a shower in three days. But he didn’t seem to care as he said, “I’m so sorry you had to hear that.” He held me at arm’s length again and began, “Stay here. I’ll do what I can to get you out.”

“Thank you.”

“And … I’m sorry. I’m sorry I erased your memories and made you forget your parents.”

I blinked. A flurry of emotions tumbled around in my chest. I felt relieved that he didn’t hate me. Relieved that he wanted forgiveness. But I wanted to resent him. How could he not see that he was doing damage? How could he not see that he had lied to me for so long?

Tears filled my eyes as I tried to reconcile the different parts of me. “I … Don’t know … I’ll try to forgive you, but I’m still angry.”

“And you have every right to be,” he answered. Something beeped next to my ear and Dr. Graham looked at his watch. “I have an appointment. Stay here. Wash up, but don’t be too loud.”

I nodded and watched him slip out the door. His muffled voice made some excuse about the toilet not acting right today.

I assessed the restroom. It was similar to a home restroom, but without the shower. It had a hand-towel, the toilet, a mirror, and the sink. There was even a cabinet under the sink, which I found to have a few dirty dishes hidden under and, to my relief, a bottle of dish soap. Not ideal, but I needed to clean up.

As I washed with a damp dish cloth (the extra one, not the used hanging on the sink’s pipe), I wondered why the elf hadn’t come for me yet. Shouldn’t he be able to find me? Then again, what did I know about them? All I knew was that they hated music, were quiet, didn’t snore when they slept, and didn’t seem to need to eat.

I glanced down at the rabbit as I flipped my bob of hair under the sink’s faucet. He was asleep in the corner. How exhausted had he been?

I considered my options. Dr. Graham seemed the best option – he could help me get out safely, maybe at night. Maybe even drive me to where ever it was my parents were.

My gut clenched. I didn’t know where they were. How was I supposed to find out? Could Dr. Graham know? Were there records here? Anywhere?

I dried my hair with one of the hand towels in the linen closet in the corner and sat next to Rabbit. There was no use in naming him, as he had told me on the first day. I supposed it made since, as we would likely depart once we got out.

I closed my eyes and tried to relax – there was no use in getting high-strung. Besides, I could practice some magic.

Levitation: A basic, but raw magic trick. It requires no alteration of magical energy by the caster. Simply instruct the “ghost-wind” like you would a hand to grab and lift something. It is an extension of self. It was an extra muscle connected to the ethereal.

At least, that’s how Rabbit described it. I practiced lifting the hand-towel off the floor. I had gained the ability to push the hand-towel in different directions, but picking it up from the top or scooping it proved harder. I also had to use my hands to direct the magic, as if I were a puppeteer.

I felt exhausted after a few hours of practice. I hadn’t even noticed, namely because there were no clocks or windows. But I had focused exclusively on my magic. It was fun, I had to admit.

Tiny nerves on my arms and hands felt exhausted and numb – like I had wires plugged into my pores and I had exhausted the little ports with all the exercise.

My arms felt a little raw as I washed my hands to help me relax. I wanted to peek out the door and find Dr. Graham. But everything had died down outside. There were no more voices and no more moving of furniture.

There had been at least ten patients to visit the doctor over the course of the day. But I hadn’t heard a thing they had to talk about. One person had broken down into sobs at one point. I found myself trying to recall the voices of patients I knew.

And Nina. What became of her? Was she alright? How was everyone adjusting?

Rabbit sneezed, breaking my train of thought and I turned to him. He shuddered and wiped his face with his little paw. “You did good today,” he said as he proceeded to clean the rest of his face. “You’ll be shooting fireballs in no time.”

I grimaced and wondered if fire magic was hot.

I tried testing my connection with the Dragon. I sat down next to Rabbit and closed my eyes. I breathed deep and exhaled slow. I did this several times, with each exhale I expanded external awareness.

There was the ghost-wind. It swirled around me and fluxed, like a river. It made it hard to think at first, until I tried mentally reaching out to the wind. [Please, help me find my dragon,] I thought to the magic.

At first, the magic became icy and sharp, as if trying to ward me away. I held fast and demanded, [Find him!]

The wind grew taut, more like fabric, before whipping me away from my body and far into the air. The world was not the world as I knew it – it was a torrent of colors and darkness. The sky was a blank expanse, but black as void.

I gripped tighter, wrapping my hands in the fabric as it pulled me along. We zipped through the air, going this way and that before making headway. I saw the dragon – nothing more than a silhouette of light – white and red with a rainbow sheen to him.

I knew for certain he was male, now. He had the lion-like mane that cascaded around him in beautiful curls of fire. On his chin was a flowing beard that matched his mane and tail, similar to a unicorn’s beard in old paintings. The tail was serpentine, but with hair down the spine. He flew with strong pumps of his wings, but I could see he was growing tired.

[Dragon,] I called out with my mind. The dragon turned to me and his face was contorted, his eyes glowing like stars. He relaxed when he realized it was me.

[Master. Oh, master.] Then he tore his head away from me and sliding away in the air. [No,] he added, his voice more angry. [You’re another trick. You creatures think you’re clever? Pulling you stunts day in and out?] His twisted his face into a snarl. [How dare you impersonate my master!] He snapped at the air next to me, a warning. I gripped the ghost-wind for dear life as it zipped to the side.

Now that I was closer, I saw his silhouette was not as solid as I thought. It looked like something frayed the edges of him, like old fabric along its edges or an old hoodie might unravel at the sleeves. I realized his wings were pumping furiously, as if he were fighting gravity and real wind itself. The dragon yelped, his wings faltered, and he fell several feet before regaining his altitude. He shook his head, where most of the fraying occurred.

I steered the wind closer to the dragon and tucked my feet against it. I lunged to the dragon and fell flat against his mane. I gripped tight, my feet struggling to find purchase. I only managed to tangle them in his hair.

The dragon picked me off his neck like a human would a small bird and cupped his claws together to look at me. [It truly is you?]

I nodded. I started to feel lightheaded. [I think I figured out what to name you.]

[Oh?] His eyes brightened, alleviating his pain and anger. I had to help – he wasn’t in good shape. I hoped this would keep him going.

[I thought about it. You wanted a name like mine. I have a few names in line. Do you want to hear them?]

He nodded, his beard bouncing. [Please.]

[At first, I thought maybe Poem, since Lyric is a term for both music and poetry.]

[Hmm. It’s alright.] He looked like he relaxed, as his wings soared and took a more leisurely pace. He even let his body sway in the cradle of an updraft.

[Meter, Prose? Octavio?]

He laughed, [Well, I could always become a serious musician or poet.]

[How about Song?] The lightheaded feeling increased a bit.

He paused and slowed his flight a little more as he thought. He nodded. [Perfect. I like Song. It’s simple, but … true. There’s no double meaning or hidden meaning to it. I like it.]

I grinned and he lifted me to his nose, which was wider than me. I wrapped my arms around him in a feeble embrace. Something pulled on my core and I looked up at him. [I think I have to go back.]

[I’ll find you. Thank you for naming me. Where are you?]

I opened my mouth to answer, but I only knew the name, [Marlaina’s Psychiatric Institute and Rehab Center. I’m sorry I don’t have more.]

He nodded and answered, [No wor~]

I woke on the floor of the bathroom, slumped against the wall and Dr. Graham leaning over me and squeezing my shoulders in his huge hands. I never noticed how square-shouldered Dr. Graham had looked until then. Or pale-faced and sweaty.

I sat upright and rubbed my face as he sat on his knees. “Are you alright?” he asked as he put a lighter hand on my shoulder. “You weren’t responding and I think you stopped breathing.”

“I’m … Alright.” I recalled the odd dream. No, it was an experience. “I think I had an out-of-body experience.”

“Astral projection,” explained Rabbit, as if I had discovered something mundane. “You used the flow of magic to escape from your body.”

Dr. Graham looked more confused and helpless, glancing between us and wiping the sweat from his face. Why was he so sweaty?

“I managed to get this,” he panted as he pulled a black hiking backpack around to hand it to me. “You were brought in with this.”

Tears filled my eyes and I hugged the empty bag to me. It smelled familiar, like nylon and cotton. Like long trips and hard pedals uphill on a summer’s day. Like cold winters in the car, waiting for the air conditioner to heat up. I held back a sob by biting my lip.

I sensed the magic activate at my touch when I unzipped the main pocket. It was like the vibration of a phone or a pulse under my fingertips. I reached in and the bag automatically drew forth a set of clothes – a dull-gray t-shirt, washed out, black jeans, and a sports watch. The watch still worked, to my surprise. I slipped it on.

“We need to get you out of here as soon as possible,” Dr. Graham explained. “A code black went out for you. You’re a wanted fugitive, now.”

The watch told me it was thirteen minutes after nine. I sighed heavily and answered, “Alright. I’ll go. Let me get dressed first and see what I can do about this mark.”

He frowned and nodded. “Its silver now,” he added, touching the side of his own face. I blinked and felt it. It wasn’t raw anymore and felt like there was a thin sheet of plating there, but it gave at the same time.

Once he left, I dressed in my shirt, pants, a pair of running shoes, and found a black hat sporting a patch showing a girl on a horse, in the middle of spinning around a barrel. I pulled it low over my eyes. I dug around in the bag some more and it produced nothing that could cover my mark.

I chewed on my bottom lip. I only needed to cover it up, right? I reached in again and pulled out the first aid kit.

I walked out with the rabbit close behind, backpack on, and a patch of gauze on my cheek. The tape covered what the patch couldn’t.

Dr. Graham made a confused look and I said, “You can say I’m a niece and I got a nasty scrape falling off my horse.”

“Okay,” he whispered as he gathered up his laptop and some other papers into his leather satchel. “What about the rabbit?” he asked. I glanced down at the rabbit milling about. He still looked exhausted. I knelt down and said, “You need to hide, Rabbit. Why not get inside my backpack? When we get out, I’ll let you know.”

He gave my backpack a suspicious look before walking to me on all fours. I picked him up and opened the bag to place him inside. He fit in perfectly and disappeared into the recesses of whatever pocket dimension awaited him.

I closed it, but left a small hole open, in case he needed oxygen.

The moment we stepped out of the office, I wanted to go back into the bathroom. Dr. Graham reassured me there was only the night staff at this hour. Our first encounter was with the night janitor, who simply nodded and waved to us as we made our way down the hall. I focused on following next to the doctor and on my breathing.

I tucked my thumbs under my backpack straps as I thought, I’m a normal student. I had a scrape and I’m visiting my uncle. No problem. None at all. I kept my eyes downcast and found myself walking in time with Dr. Graham. He seemed like this was a normal walk with his niece down the hallway, or at least calmer than I felt. So far so good.

We came to the elevator and it dinged open. Graham hesitated when the door opened and I lifted my cap a little to see. The Director blinked at us both and smiled to Dr. Graham, closing the book he had been reading. “Oh, who is this, doctor?”

Dr. Graham smiled and said, “My niece had an accident on her horse. She was coming by and I patched her up.”

I forced a smile forth and prayed with all my mental capacity it would work. The Director stepped by us and we traded places. It was more like awkward shuffling as I tried my best to keep Graham between me and the Director. “Well, I hope that nasty scrape heals soon,” the Director said as he lifted a book in his hand. I nodded and Dr. Graham hit the button to close the doors.

The elevator creaked as it descended. Dr. Graham relaxed, his square shoulders becoming more round. “Well. Thankfully, the Director is a bit of an airhead. The police visited the institute while you were in the restroom. They searched your room and they’re likely undergoing a search around the town.”

“Oh. Um.” What was I supposed to say?

“Don’t worry. They’ve moved off the premises. Things calmed down. I’ll drive you out of town and to the nearest city. We’ll work out what to do from there.”

I lifted my cap to look at Dr. Graham’s face. It was resolute and full of determination. It was a little contagious. “I sent in my resignation. I’m not going to practice in a facility that uses magic to force people to conform to what they think is normal. Riders are people.”

I glanced at my feet. “What if this is all a mistake?” Where was all this coming from? Was I in over my head? What if I couldn’t make it? Or if I was captured again? What if my dragon was killed? I gripped my backpack straps until my knuckles hurt.

Dr. Graham put a hand on my shoulder and said, “No. Don’t believe that.” He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a photo. The elevator door dinged as I took it. “That’s my family. My grandpa was a Rider.” We stepped out together and stopped next to the threshold. “Magic runs in my family. I became a psychiatrist because of him. I wanted to help people, but mentally.”

He sighed as we continued down the hall. “Maybe now I’ll focus my efforts on helping veterans and victims of abuse or war. Who knows?”

I straightened my back and inhaled deep. This was my choice. I was taking back control of my life. One step at a time. This was no mistake. “That sounds like a good idea,” I encouraged as we entered the recreational room. It was quiet and no one was there. I didn’t even hear the phones ring or the clatter of fingers on a keyboard inside the nurse’s office.

Graham put a hand in front of me and I shuffled behind him. I had a clear shot of the door leading to the hall, but I’d have to get through the visitation room – and there were bars beyond that I’d have to be buzzed through. I glanced up at the doctor. “What’s ~”

He held up his hand a little higher. “There’s no one here. There’s always someone.” The air shifted to tension and made my ears ring. He turned to shove me towards the hall door to freedom and shouted, “Run, girl!”

I did and heard a deafening sound like someone ripping a pillow apart. Dr. Graham’s voice made a whimpering, choking sound. I made it to the hall door and placed a hand on the handle. Everything inside me yelled not to look, but I turned my head anyway.

The world slowed to a crawl.

A blade stuck out of Dr. Graham’s chest, blood soaking his pressed shirt and sweatervest. Behind him, a figure in a forest green cloak and balaclava. A black elf. But he no longer had his face covered. His mouth was covered in needle-point fangs crowded together, his nose looked flat with the nostrils as narrow, vertical slits, and his ruby red eyes were locked on me.

I threw the door open with all my might and raced for down the hall. It felt like forever. I hit the door bar with my shoulder. Tables and chairs were all that was left between me and the barred door leading out.

I thrust my hands forward, guiding the ghost-wind to reach out. Tables and chairs moved at the motion and I threw my arms wide. The plastic and metal furniture thrust against the blank walls with a loud crash.

I heard the thunder of boots behind me and I raced for the exit. Time caught up with me as I grabbed the bars with both hands and rattled them. I whipped around and saw three elves coming for me, Mr. Z at the head. One of them had rope and cuffs on his belt.

No.

I felt the ghost-wind wrap around my arms and shoulders. Not again. I won’t be some helpless child! I reached out, netting the furniture around them, and whipped my arms across my chest. The rubble crashed together, the three elves caught between. I sneered and turned to the security booth next to the door.

Here was plexiglass separating me from the button to open the door. I grabbed the magic around me, wrapped it around my fist with a flick of my wrist, and wound up for a punch. The glass shattered like an eggshell. An alarm sounded, squawking in the speakers above.

I levitated a coat someone left on the back of the chair and laid it over the glass to climb over. I glanced at the elves in the pile of furniture. The pile was moving as they tried to get out.

I opened all the drawers at the desk before buzzing the door open. I needed keys. There was none. I gritted my teeth and slammed a fist on the button next to the window. A buzzer sounded above the door and I leaped out of the window again. The door slammed satisfyingly behind me.

I stole one more glance at the elves who were climbing out of the pile. A pang of guilt hit me when I noticed one of them had a metal bar stuck in his shoulder. And there were only two coming out of the pile.

I turned and stopped dead in my tracks at the sight of Dr. Wulf sitting next to the door in a chair, looking like I was some teenager who sneaked back into the house after a joyride. He had to raise his thin voice over the buzz of the alarms, “Well, you’ve tapped into your power. Well done. This little excitement is over.” He stood from his chair and strode between me and the exit. A glyph glowed as he readied for anything I might do.

I gripped my fists and knew exactly what to do. I bolted for the secretary desk on my right and ducked behind it. I threw my backpack in front of me as fast as possible and prayed it was still inside.

I reached in and begged the bag to still have it. I bit my bottom lip with anticipation as the hilt slipped into my desperate grasp.

I might have lost most of my memory from home, but Dr. Graham didn’t bother erasing my fencing memory. I drew out the fencing foil. It must have been an extra left behind. The needle sword glistened in the dim light. I took off the little rubber guard at the end and felt the tip.

I didn’t have to hurt the doctor. Intimidation would be enough. I slipped the backpack on my back.

I felt again for the ghost-wind and stood. The doctor was waiting with his arms crossed. He noticed my sword and smirked. “Ah, I see. You’re not done. Well, then. Mr. Alpha-12?”

The warlock in green materialized next to the doctor, the space-slip closing behind him with a hiss. I felt a cold sweat bathe me as I faced off with the elf. I tried circling to the exit, but he dashed in an instant between me and the door. I swung my sword for his face.

He dodged, but I backed up before he could make his swipe for me.

How was I supposed to get out? I gripped my sword tight.

I felt the backpack move around and heard a little thump of small feet landing next to me. The warlock and magi stared at the little rabbit with surprised faces – at least I think the warlock looked surprised. The rabbit stood on his hind haunches and slammed his front paws on the floor.

The floor opened up underneath me to a concrete path. A few feet down. I fell in an instant and my knees buckled beneath me. The rabbit jumped down and the space-time hole closed with a crashing sound.

“Argh!” the rabbit yelled as it curled up in a tight ball on its side. “That was too much!”

I lifted myself up and accessed the environment. We were right in front of the institute, with the locked doors behind us and the road onto the highway in front. To my right was a dense wood.

I scooped up the rabbit, snatched up my fencing foil, and ran with all my might to the woods. I could hide there, maybe take shelter inside my backpack. I didn’t know. I had to get away from the institute.

“Put me down!” shouted the rabbit as we came to the edge of the forest. He motioned me to follow and he led me into the underbrush. Birches and oaks fought for light here while the ground was covered in leaves and brambles. Moonlight barely touched us as my eyes slowly adjusted to the dim light. The rabbit made his way through without a problem.

He led me to a huge tree, where the branches overhead were thicker and the underbrush stood as tall as me and briers caught on my pants. He pointed the foot of the tree on the side away from the place where the elves might come. He held up his paw for me to stay before dashing off.

I put my sword into the backpack and held the pack against me with all my might as I held my breath to listen. Every little rustle of the trees made me tense. The silence made my ears ring.

It wasn’t long before I heard boots approaching my spot. They stopped and I swore I heard someone sniffing the air.

Before they made anymore progress, I heard the flap of huge wings. I perked up and scanned the sky. The others, too, stopped in whatever it was they were doing.

A huge, black dragon soared over the woods. I caught a flash of white bone as it circled. The dragon dropped down, branches snapping and crashing around him. The ground shook at his arrival. I saw his serpentine tail, whipping the air. His black scales seemed to absorb what light the moon provided and the way they stood up seemed like they shredded the air. What spikes I saw were bone-white.

A pair of boots approached from the other side of the glade and the dragon’s deep, growling voice began, “The suspect headed to the south.”

I glanced up at the moon. Was I facing south?

“Are you … certain?” asked an elf’s gruff voice. “Her scent heads north. Its still strong.”

“She is a tricky one. Go north. And do not argue with me again, do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.” Their boots marched away, far behind me. There was a pause.

“She has developed her powers quicker than I thought. She must have had prior training to tap into it so quickly,” commented a man’s voice I didn’t recognize. “May I have a potion, master?”

“Yes,” said the dragon and I heard the rattle of glass and stones inside a bag. “Don’t take it all. You have to make it last. We’re already on a short leash as it is. You need to deliver. Both our necks are on the line.”

“Yes, sir. I understand,” the man answered before I heard a loud pop of a bottle uncorking.

There was the clank of the bottle going back in the bag and the dragon lifted off, the ground shaking and huge gusts of wind blowing dirt and leaves up around me. It even whipped up my hair. The sound of the his wings fighting the air to rise made my ears ring and I had to cover them.

I peeled my hair back and waited.

Felicity Swan 2016 ©

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