SWEAT COVERED HIS BODY like a second skin, gluing the cotton sheet to his bare torso as he tossed and turned in bed. His distress went unknown in the depths of night while the dream plagued him. Heart hammering at a hundred miles an hour, Blake clenched the bedsheets in his fists, breaths coming out in short, quiet pants.
Dark hair plastered to his forehead; his head thrashed from side to side. Skin itched like it didn’t belong, and he began to scratch at his narrow chest, almost drawing blood.
Blake’s breathing accelerated, becoming strained gulps.
He sat upright on a painful gasp for air, panting desperately for oxygen and trying to calm his racing heart as it attempted to leap out of his chest.
Wondering what had woken him so suddenly, Blake slowly opened his sleep-filled eyes to find the room engulfed in light. He snapped them shut, wondering if he’d left his light on.
Placing a shaking arm over his face, he began to cautiously open his eyes, ready for the onslaught of light, but found none. As he lowered his arm, he was surprised it completely dark in his room – just as he’d left it. He could only just make out the darkened outline of his small desk and wardrobe on the opposite side of his room.
He grabbed his phone to check the time – it was midnight. A sudden shiver raced through him. Something didn’t feel quite right inside: his heart slowed from its race and his breathing calmed, but his mind was racing. Ticking. Scratching. He felt caged, and the urge to run was high.
Blake flopped back on his bed and pulled the sheet up. Whatever had woken him was nothing. Maybe he was coming down with the flu or something.
It wasn’t long before he was back to sleep, unusually exhausted.
170 miles away, near the Welsh border
Dark hair fell from her bun and spread around her head like a halo. While it was dark outside, her curtains remained open and cast bright moonlight across her light green walls and wooden flooring. Her dreams were pleasant and sweet as she slept with a smile on her face.
A soft, gentle breeze lightly ruffled her hair and calmly touched her sun-kissed skin in a comforting embrace. Even in her sleep, she registered the tingling sensation buzzing excitedly at her fingertips.
The gentle breeze picked up and sent sharp tingles of warning down her spine. The smile fell from her sleeping face, replaced by a frown. Her head sharply turned from left to right, tangling her luscious locks.
She sat upright on a painful gasp, greedily gulping oxygen. What was that? A sensation lingered that she couldn’t quite place as she lifted her trembling hands and studied them closely.
She ran a hand through her hair, pushing it off her face and looked at the window, surprised the window was shut. She was sure it had been open a moment before.
The clock on her bedside table displayed midnight and it dawned on her that it was now her birthday. Great. She was seventeen, and she still had no magical powers. Could she be the only offspring of two magic users not to gain any magic? How fair was that?!
Frustrated at her lack of abilities, Kayla slumped back against her plump pillows. Her mum had once told her the fantastical story of their origins; it was a tale Kayla had treasured for as long as she remembered, but with her magic being non-existent, she began to wonder if there was something seriously wrong with her.
Closing her eyes, she couldn’t help but bring forth the fond memories of story time with her mum, and as she fell back into sleep, she brought the memory with her.
“Please, Mummy! Oh please!” Kayla begged her mum for the story she had already heard a thousand times before.
Her mother’s lilting laugh chimed in the air as she sat next to Kayla in the small bed.
A small chuckle escaped. “Okay, okay.” Her arm curved around Kayla’s body, pulling her daughter in close. Kayla snuggled in against her mum’s side, finding comfort in her flowery scent. “There was once a sorcerer our Creator made to look after the world and the inhabitants who lived there. The sorcerer had so much magic at his fingertips that it just flowed from his body wherever he went. He could forge connections with objects and give words power, his mind could assist others in need, and he could talk with Mother Nature. He was happy. He was whole. But he soon became sad.”
“Why did he become sad, Mummy?” Kayla asked, knowing the answer.
“He became sad because there was no one else like him, no one to share in his joy. But one night he met a beautiful woman: her hair shone like sunlight, despite it being night, and her eyes were as bright as the fresh green grass. They fell in love.”
Kayla gasped with wonder at the prospect of a love story. “They fell in love!”
“Yes, my sweet girl. They did. It wasn’t long before they came to realise they were going to have a baby. They were overjoyed. They couldn’t wait to have a family. However, the Creator found out and said that the sorcerer wasn’t meant to fall in love. Wasn’t meant to have a family. He had been created – designed – to stay with the land, the animals, the people, and protect them. Forever. The Creator said the child wasn’t meant to be and was unnatural. The sorcerer begged and pleaded with the Creator to keep the child.”
“But Mummy, the Creator made us all!”
“Yes, but this was unforeseen. The Creator isn’t mean and agreed that the child could be allowed to live – but for a small price. The compromise was that the baby wouldn’t be just one baby, but three. The sorcerer and his love would have triplets, and his magic would pass to them as three different gifts.”
Excitement emitted from Kayla’s bright eyes. “Is this where the gifts are made into our magic!?”
“Absolutely. His children had the power of a mage, a witch, and an elemental. The mage used magic of the mind, the witch put power behind words, and the elemental connected with nature. Mind, heart, and soul. The children would use these gifts to continue protecting the people of this world – just as the sorcerer was originally intended to do. They would pass it on to their children and so on.”
“Do we not miss having it all, Mummy?”
“Oh, honey. We were gifted with something so precious; we are matched with the magic that speaks to us most.”
Kayla pursed her lips in thought, trying to see if she felt her mind, her heart, or her soul as magical. “Whose magic do I have?”
“We don’t know yet. You’re a special mix of me and your daddy so your magic will take after one of us. That’s how the magic works when two magic users of different strains have a child.”
“So I could be a witch like you or a mage like daddy!”
“That’s right. Do you know which one you would prefer?”
Kayla thought carefully, for a small child, before answering, “I don’t mind. It will be the right one.”
“Why is my daughter so wise?” her mum whispered to herself and Kayla smiled, proud of her clever nature.
“Whether you are a witch or a mage doesn’t matter, because you will be precisely who the Creator envisioned.”
Kayla sucked on her bottom lip.
“What if the Creator gets it wrong again?”
“Do you want to know a secret?” her mum whispered, and Kayla nodded her head with excitement. “I think the Creator knew exactly what they were doing all along.”
Kayla’s eyes went wide. “Why?” she breathed.
“Free will,” her mum whispered, but when Kayla pulled her brows down in a frown, she continued. “I’ll explain it to you one day, but free will is so important to humans.”
“But Mummy, we’re magical, not human!”
Her mum chuckled again. “You have so much to learn, sweet girl. But for now, it’s bedtime.”
She tucked Kayla tightly under the covers before heading towards the door, switching off the light.
Her mum stopped in the doorway. “Yes, baby?”
“I can’t wait to meet my magic,” she said, yawning.
“Your magic is already a part of you, Kayla. You’ll see.”
Her mum closed the door and young Kayla fell into dreams of magic sparks, fire, and golden eyes.
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear sweet Kayla, happy birthday to you.”
Her parents sang the birthday tune as they pushed open her bedroom door. Groaning, she sank lower into bed, pulling the white covers up high. It wasn’t that she was embarrassed – okay, she was a little – it was more that it was just too damn early in the morning. How were they always this cheery? She needed sugar. And lots of it. Some might have been dependent on their morning coffee, but not this gal. No. This new seventeen-year-old could have done with a doughnut or another similar confectionary delight.
“I think our baby girl is embarrassed, Caroline!” Her dad’s brown eyes sparkled with mirth.
“Not of us! We rock!” They high fived each other as they whooped and jumped on her bed, snuggling in close. They pulled down the covers and kissed her cheeks at the same time even though her dark chestnut hair was spread all over her face. Slithers of her light green walls greeted her, reminding her of the matcha tea bun she’d devoured last night.
“Ugh, thanks, but it’s not a special birthday, you know. I’m only seventeen.”
“Only seventeen!?” her mum cried, dramatically placing a hand on her chest.
“Every year is a special year with our daughter!” her dad added.
“You are the dancing queen, young and sweet, only seventeen!” her parents sang in unison, crooning one of ABBA’s well-known numbers.
“Oh my word, you guys!” Kayla tried not to smile but did so anyway. They all burst out laughing when the small, brown cocker spaniel they’d taken in last year sprang onto the now over-crowded bed. “Smithy! Great, now even the smelly dog is on my bed.”
“Oh Smithy, you wonderful creature!” Her dad scratched the dog’s head; her mum rolled her grass-green eyes. Smithy finished his rounds of greeting the family and padded across the hardwood floor, sniffing around the white desk for crumbs left from the previous night’s snacking.
Her mum had been adamant for so many years that they were never going to welcome stray animals into the house. It wasn’t that her mum was cold-hearted, but with the work they did, they had enough responsibility without worrying about another creature.
Her parents were magic users and worked in secret, protecting those within the magical community who found themselves in trouble. More so, her parents didn’t distinguish between the two paranormal races of the world: magic users and shifters. This was something Kayla was immensely proud of – admired even – especially as their paranormal society was fraught with tension, secrets, and death ever since the dissolution of the shifter royal family about twelve years ago. She’d only been little when it happened, but whatever alliance the shifter royals had been working on was lost the night the royal shifter family were assassinated. She shivered. The only real thing she remembered was sadness. As a result, hordes more people came to her parents for help as both sides fought to become the superior race.
It angered her that extremists on both sides were more than happy to hunt their own kind too. If they found out someone supported an alliance between the races or worked with the opposing race, then they were killed. She swore she would try to create more peace between the races where she could, when she could – if she could. She chewed on her bottom lip.
Smithy’s sloppy kiss on her arm drew her out of her spiralling thoughts. She tutted. Her dad praised the dog but she couldn’t stop the smile with how much happiness the stupid mutt brought him. The dog went everywhere with him; even the shifters they worked with got along with Smithy.
She began picking at one spot on her bedcovers as if it would help her build the courage to ask the question that haunted her every day. She would never be able to help continue her parents’ work if she didn’t get her magic and last night’s dream only reminded her of that.
“Guys, I wanted to ask you something. My magic still hasn’t materialised, and I wondered if it was possible that I just might not have any? I’ve always thought that I had it. I believed I could feel it, but lately . . . I dunno, I just feel like maybe I’m a dud.” It pained her to voice this. Magic users, much like shifters, got access to their true nature when puberty hit. She’d long gone through that – thank God – but no magic. Nothing. Nada. What good would she be to her parents and their line of work without magic?
“Nothing of the sort, sweetheart,” her dad said with conviction, waving off the idea that she was a ‘dud,’ as she’d so delicately put it.
“I, too, believe you have magic somewhere inside of you, honey. You just have to be patient. All good things come to–”
“Those who wait. I know, Mum.”
“Right! Pancakes?” her dad announced, bringing a small smile to her face. Sugar.
“With cream, sprinkles, and maple syrup? Of course! Only the best for you! Coming right up!”
Her parents jumped up with gusto and waltzed. She wasn’t joking. They quite literally waltzed out of the bedroom, humming some ballroom tune. Kayla shook her head but grinned at their goofiness.
“You are the dancing queen, young and sweet, only seventeen, oooo yeah, mmmhhmmm, you can dance, you can jive oh!” Kayla hummed and sang as she walked down the street after school. The song had been circling her head all day since her delightful parents had put it in there, but they’d made up for it with the sickly-sweet birthday pancakes.
She looked up from her own dancing feet and saw a distressed elderly man standing over his car engine.
“Are you okay, sir?” she asked when she got near.
He wrung his weathered hands and turned to her, his words tumbling out, silver eyebrows knitted in angst. “My car. It won’t start and my wife, she’s in hospital, you see, not feeling so well, and the visiting hours will be over soon, and I’d promised I’d be there.”
“I can help. My dad taught me a thing or two about engines.” This was true. Mostly how to hotwire one to make an escape should she ever have a need for the skill, but he’d given her a basic rundown of the working components of an engine too. “Why don’t you sit in the driver’s seat and try turning it on so I can listen?” The old man did as she asked and disappeared behind the car’s blue bonnet when he climbed into his small car.
She rested her hands on the sides and studied, trying to identify what the problem might be. The man tried starting the car, but the engine wasn’t turning over. She shouted to keep trying, but all she heard was a clicking sound. Her focus was solely on the engine and, having never used magic before, failed to detect the slow and steady rising of her magic’s excitement as it drew near the surface. Moving her hand towards the noise, tall, angry flames erupted before her, engulfing her hand. Despite the heat, a cold, icy feeling settled in the pit of her stomach. She gasped, stepping back and stared wide-eyed in horror at her smooth, unblemished skin.
The fire was magical.
“Do I smell smoke?” the old man questioned, but she was too stunned to answer. Had she just done that? Had she just set fire to the car? “Is everything all right?” the man asked again, getting out of his vehicle but yelping when he saw the flames. “What do we do?!” He panicked, looking to her for help.
Kayla took a deep breath and stepped forward: if she’d done this, she could un-do it. She tried resting her hand on a part that didn’t have roaring flames dancing all over and thought about what she wanted. Her mum always said magic had to have intention.
Before she could do anything however, the water from the cooling tank exploded, dousing the flames and herself. She sputtered in shock, expecting scalding water, but remained unharmed – again. The man stared at her.
Turning to flee, Kayla ran as fast as she could towards home.
Her heart pounded like a racehorse. Whatever magic she’d just done – and there was no room to doubt that it was magic – it shouldn’t have been possible. It wasn’t mage or witch magic. She should have mage or witch magic. Her thoughts tumbled haphazardly through her disoriented mind until she remembered the story her mum had always shared, the one that once held her in awe but now trapped her in fear.
Kayla blinked away the tears threatening to spill from her anxious brown eyes as she picked up her pace, needing her parents’ help and counsel more than ever.
What had she done?
“MUM! DAD!” KAYLA SHOUTED, running into the house and slamming the front door behind her. Fast footsteps from within the heart of the home hurried towards her while she tried to take deep breaths. Her magic wasn’t right. She didn’t get her magic when she’d hit puberty, and now she had it but it was all wrong. What if she was a mistake? What if she too, was unnatural and unplanned and the Creator came for her?
“Kayla?” Her mum appeared from the kitchen, reading glasses on top of her head. Seeing the familiar comfort of her mum, Kayla ran into her arms and buried her face in her mum’s hair to muffle the sounds of her shocked sobs. Her mum stroked her back, shushing her, as she encouraged her to explain what had happened.
Her dad emerged from the kitchen, a frown deep on his forehead. “Kayla? What’s going on?”
Kayla forced the sobs back as she told the story of the old man and his car, her parents sharing worried glances while she spoke.
“That doesn’t sound like witch or mage power,” her mum said, voice just above a whisper.
“What does that mean? Is that possible? Am I some sort of freak?” Kayla shouted in a high-pitched squeal.
“Oh no, honey. You could never be a freak. We’ll figure this out, okay?” Her mum reassured her, absently rubbing her daughter’s arm as she turned to her husband. “Perhaps we have an elemental in the family tree somewhere and it’s skipped a few generations?”
Her dad didn’t look so convinced. Kayla felt the same: magic didn’t work like that.
“I’ll set up the news and social media alerts,” he said after a few moments of thought. “Get ahead of any potential mentions of magic within the human community.” His eyes held a world of worry when he turned away from her, hurrying to his desk which sat in the corner of their small living room.
“What have I done, Mum? We’re not supposed to use magic like that. We’re not supposed to expose ourselves to humans.” Kayla gripped onto her mother like she had done as a small child during storms.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” her mother cooed. “Your father and I will keep our ears to the ground for any whisperings about magic in the human society, and it’ll be okay.”
“But what am I? I shouldn’t be an elemental. I should be like you or dad. Am I a mistake?!”
“I don’t know what to say. You should be like one of us, yes, but you are our daughter and we will figure out your magic – whatever it is. Perhaps it has something to do with why it’s so late. But listen to me, Kayla. Nothing about you is a mistake, you hear me? You are exactly who you are meant to be.” Kayla looked away and nodded, trying to feed off her mother’s conviction even if she didn’t feel it herself.
Kayla finished up her extra-curricular responsibilities – helping younger children with maths at the after-school club – and began her usually enjoyable walk home. Today however, Kayla’s thoughts had been overrun with worry about her magic. Discovering what magic she had should have been an enjoyable experience, exciting even. Given what had happened yesterday, her stomach thumped heavily. She meandered through the clean streets, admiring the perfect lawns of the nearly identical homes of her neighbourhood. Humans had such simple lives; they never had to worry about their magic.
She was unnatural.
She shouldn’t exist.
With dread filling her stomach, mixing with nervous butterflies, she opened her front door and followed the sounds of rushed movements.
Her dad pushed away from the computer to help her mum burn paperwork in the fireplace on the opposite side of the living room. His voice matched his frantic movements. “It’s going. We have five minutes while the files transfer.”
“Mum? Dad? What’s going on?” Kayla asked, walking further into the house.
Both her parents spun quickly, startled at Kayla’s sudden appearance, their faces lined deep with fear.
“Kayla, go pack. Essentials only. Now,” her mum ordered as more paper was thrown onto the crackling fire.
“I don’t understand . . .”
“Yesterday with the old man, there must have been a journalist nearby because you’re in the paper.” She grabbed the day’s paper from the sofa and showed Kayla the front page. A blurry, black and white image of Kayla with her hands in front of the flames from the engine stared back at her. It looked like she was controlling them, which was far from the truth. The headline read: ‘Are witches among us?’
“But you can’t make me out? Right?”
“There have been rumours that a group of hunters – shifters, we think – have been mobilised. If they find us, we don’t have a chance,” her dad said, coming up beside them. “Pack now, Kayla. We’re not leaving anything to chance.”
But they were too late.
The back door burst open as two shifters in their animal forms crashed through, their snouts curled up in snarls to reveal gleaming sharp teeth. Three men followed, all equally tall, muscular, and lethal. In the kitchen, the first two werewolves circled, their heads low to the ground. Their short brown fur stood on end in ridges down their backs, and low growls emitted from their throats.
“The mage first. No survivors,” one of the men commanded in an authoritative tone. He stood to the side with two men flanking him, all in dark clothing. The leader stared at Kayla, his bright yellow wolf eyes flashing at her in his human form; his blonde hair was cropped short, highlighting the squareness of his face. A shiver sprinted down her spine when he sneered at her, but her focus was torn away from him when the two wolves moved forward . . .