Part III: Adjusting
I had a dream that night. I was standing in darkness, alone, naked and vulnerable. When I called out, not even my echo answered me. It was quiet and cold, numbingly so. It was like time didn’t exist seconds and hours become one and the same…
And then I could feel something, a presence just out of my reach, calling to me…
Reaching out to me…
That’s when I woke up.
I shot up in a panic and before I knew it, lightning danced between my fingers. Next to my bed I could see a big pair of lightly glowing blue eyes staring at me, belonging to a very familiar teeny orange person.
“Ahti?” I mumbled recognizing them. I absorbed the energy back and my hands went back to normal. “You scared the life out of me. Why are you here? What time is it?”
“I’m scared…” They said, looking at their feet. “Can I sleep with you?”
It took me a moment to process the situation, my brain still in defensive mode. I looked down and noticed Ahti was naked, their genital opening fully visible, which made me a bit uncomfortable. There was something about them that made me want to take care of them, in a way they were just as I was when Emma had to take care of me.
“Sure, but put some pants on first.”
They left the room and came back a minute later with their pants on, carrying a large plush resembling a gecko with frills and bright colors on it’s back. I was pretty sure it was meant to be an Itharii animal.
I let them onto my bed and they lied down. I instinctively wrapped my arms around them, as if to protect them from the horrors of the night. Contrary to expectation, Itharii skin isn’t slimy or wet; instead being smooth and soft. Safe with me, Ahti fell asleep quickly and I followed suit soon after, but no dreams came to me this time.
When I woke up, they had already left. I found them in the common room sitting down on one of the couches, watching television and looking perplexed at the cartoons someone had put on. I checked up on them and made sure they were okay.
“About last night, were you okay?” I asked in a hushed tone so others wouldn’t hear. “You seemed a little panicky.”
“I’ve never slept alone before.” Ahti answered. I wasn’t an expert on Itharii facial expression but I had a feeling they were a bit ashamed. “I just got a little scared…”
“Really? You’ve never slept alone?”
They shook their head. “I share a bed with my clutchmate Kulaat at home and sometimes with my zuzuk. So when I get scared at night, they’re there for me.”
“Does that happen often?”
“Sometimes. I just wake up and my hearts are beating like crazy and I feel like there’s something out there… Kulaat thinks I’m a big baby because of it…”
“Hey, it’s okay to get scared a little. Beside, I’m sure you’re really brave in reality, you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t.” I answered, trying to comfort them.
“You really think so?”
“Of course I do.”
Ahti spontaneously wrapped their arms around me and I returned the attention.
“Alright, I better eat my breakfast and get ready before class starts.” I told him before letting go.
I stuffed my sandwich down my throat at record time and went back to my room to get dressed.
Our first day of school went by smoothly. Mr. Martin and Professor Apex gave us to introductory courses to their respective subjects; math and english for Mr. Martin and the Professor ran us through the big lines of parahuman history.
Although I couldn’t help but wonder why magic hadn’t been mentioned. Even as the world has become crazy with aliens and superpowers, nobody had noticed that magic was equally real. I’d been attacked by demons and nobody knew they existed.
During lunch, some of the other girls had hit upon the idea of a power reveal party in the backyard. A silly idea but I hadn’t objected, trying to be a normal teen for an evening seemed like the right thing after all the stress of the previous days. Okay, maybe it wasn’t such a normal thing, but it was the closest I had.
Two of the boys had come together as a group and I overheard Tyler speak of videogames to Sanjay who didn’t seem to know what to say. I joined them expecting some condescension, but Tyler seemed amazed to find a girl who could talk about the latest expansion pack of heroes of metropolis. I wasn’t a superhero geek, but the game was fun.
Once the last of us arrived, Allison whom I hadn’t had the chance to meet, had decided to take a nap,
One by one, we revealed our abilities to the others; Charlie the mini-raven with her boomerangs, Caroline who could control water, Ahti who could float and had a force field protecting him, Allison who could become living fire, Mace whose sword gave me a chill when he unleashed its fire powers, Tyler who was the invulnerable Orion, Amber who was super strong, Rowan who was equally strong.
I couldn’t help but notice how ashamed Yougen looked as she transformed and revealed her altered form, standing up from her wheelchair. It was as if she expected to be considered less than human.
“Are you alright?” I whispered to her when she changed back.
“I think so…”
I didn’t think and put a hand on her shoulder. She looked up at me and gave me a slightly timid smile.
With the reveals done with, people scattered back into groups and getting to know each other. Tyler invited me in to go and play some games upstairs, the lounge there had a bunch of consoles, but I politely declined. I wasn’t really in the mood for it.
I went back to my room and hid within it. Just thinking over everything that had happened over the past few days. I shot a few text to my sister and my parents who were naturally worried so I took the time to calm them down.
When I emerged from my self imposed exile, night had fallen.
The evening was cool, but not so much that I was uncomfortable, so I went outside and sat on one of the lounging chairs by the pool. Ahti took the opportunity to go for a swim, having stripped down once again.
They were impressive underwater, gliding through it as if there was no resistance whatsoever and spending several minutes at a time submerged.
“Want to join me?” They asked, emerging in a splash of water.
“I would, but I didn’t pack a swimsuit.”
“Why do humans wear clothes when they swim? I don’t get it.”
“Because we don’t like to be naked.”
“What’s wrong with being naked?”
“We’re just not comfortable with it…”
“That we are.”
Ahti returned to enjoying their workout for a while before they went back inside to get something to eat. Itharii might be small, but they were amazingly voracious.
“So, I see that you’ve made it.” Abraxas said from behind me.
I tensed, my whole body freezing in a state of panic.
“Don’t sneak up on me like that. How long have you been there?” I answered after a moment.
“Where did you even come from?”
“I took one of the ways to here and walked about a mile to get here. And just levitated above the hedge. ”
“Long story, something I’ll have to show you when the time come.”
“You really need to teach me about this whole magic thing and how the hell I’m doing what I’m doing.”
“I would, but I can’t.”
“What do you mean you can’t?”
“Because I’m not like you Annabelle. You, you were chosen, granted the power of a mantle out of the blue. I wasn’t so lucky. Everything I do is based on the artifacts in my possession. Without them, I’m not any different from your average human being.”
“What’s a mantle?”
“It’s complicated, magic always is. You see, everyone can do magic, but only an exceptional few such as you, can do it well. Some people are born with that talent, some of them are given by some greater power and others take it for themselves.
There is truth in stories of magical lineages or cults. The power wants to survive and so it can be passed on; through apprentices or bloodline. That power we call a mantle, because only one person can bear it at a time, but many can be connected to it. One day, you’ll create those bonds; with your students or your children. But as a mantle bearer, you’ll always be more powerful than them. At least until you die or willingly pass on your power.”
“Are you telling me I can give powers to other people?”
“It’s not so simple, creating an apprentice is much more difficult than that. Simply teaching them the words and formulas won’t do until they are ready to accept the power. They have to be made so that reality isn’t so real anymore, that their thoughts and belief can mold it and then they have to be remade so that they aren’t lost in bedlam. I have gone through a failed initiation, I would not wish it on anyone.”
“I can show you some things; occult academia if you will. The who’s who of the magic world, the worlds beyond and their inhabitants, our protocols, our histories. But practical lessons are beyond my abilities.”
“When do we start?”
“Why the wait?”
“There are things I have to take care of. Beside, you should take the time to settle in.”
Settling in was easier said than done; the clock was ticking and the sword of damocles ready to drop.
I was about to say something else when I noticed he’d disappeared.
He really was a superhero.