5 – The Magic Words are Latin
Going to school after being kidnapped and nearly sacrificed over the weekend was a strange experience. Alex felt almost on edge, and the normalcy of being surrounded by other humans grated on his nerves. This was what life should be. Was he already forgetting what it felt like to be safe?
“You’re here,” Kari said.
Alex didn’t jump this time, a month desensitising him to Kari’s unintentional creeping.
“I woke up late.” Alex scratched the back of his head. “I almost didn’t make it in time.”
Students chatted among themselves as Mrs Thurston waited for the computer to load with her jaw locked. Two minutes until class started.
Kari straightened in her chair, her gaze fixed firmly ahead. “I… I thought you might not come in.”
“Because I was kidnapped?” Alex glanced at her.
“Melody wasn’t early,” Kari said.
Now that Kari had pointed it out, Alex realised Melody wasn’t in class yet. His gut sank. After Kari rescued them, Melody had left without a word. Whether from shock or something else, Alex didn’t want to know.
“Are you worried about her?” Alex’s brows creased.
Melody was a Knight. If she knew the truth about Kari, she was bound to kill her. Surely Kari should be glad Melody wasn’t in?
“Of course.” Kari nodded. “Melody is never late.”
Alex sucked in a breath. Melody always seemed so confident, so sure of herself, that it was easy to forget she was human, too. Alex hadn’t considered that what happened on Saturday may have affected her, too.
The speakers pinged as the computer finally logged on and Mrs Thurston breathed a sigh of relief. One minute to class. Nathan caught Alex’s eyes across the classroom and grinned in greeting, but Alex was too anxious for the butterflies in his stomach to take flight. Worms crawled through his inside, spreading with each second that Melody didn’t show up.
Mrs Thurston stood. “Okay, then. Let’s start.”
The door creaked open and Melody slipped in. “Sorry I’m late,” she breathed.
Kari relaxed, leaning back in her chair, but a bead of sweat trickled down Alex’s spine.
“Take a seat.” Mrs Thurston frowned.
Melody ducked her head as she did so. Her eyes briefly met Alex’s and what looked like relief flickered through them, then Melody’s expression hardened when she glanced at Kari.
A flash of blue in Melody’s irises.
“We need to talk,” Melody said.
Alarm bells rang in Alex’s head and he jerked to his feet. “About what?”
“Not here.” Melody shook her head.
The cafeteria was crowded with people, wind blustering outside, and Kari paused with her chopsticks halfway to her mouth.
“Can I finish my lunch first?” Kari asked.
“No.” Melody spun on her heels and left no room for either of them to argue.
Alex tried to catch Kari’s eye as they followed Melody, his gut twisting, but Kari was as infuriatingly calm as always. Didn’t she understand what was going on? Didn’t she know Melody would try to kill her? Oh god.
Melody dragged them to the back of the psychology block, a small patio void of people. It faced the sea, unprotected, and a cold wind stung Alex’ skin.
Alex’ lungs clenched and his heart beat too loudly.
“I…” Melody clutched her head. “I’ve tried to make sense of what happened on Saturday, to piece it all together, but I can’t.” Circles shadowed her eyes and her ponytail was pulled so tightly Alex winced to look at it.
“A cultist kidnapped Alex and we stopped him,” Kari said. “It’s quite simple.”
Alex bit back nervous laughter. Simple. He could have died. Acrid smoke still stung his nostrils and ghost pains sliced his arm where the cultist had cut him, dark shapes writhing in his nightmares.
“Stop doing that!” Melody stalked forwards, a snap of emotion so unlike her Alex flinched. “Stop brushing over everything I say!”
Melody towered over Kari but Kari just blinked, her expression the epitome of calm in face of Melody’s fury.
“You can’t be an abomination,” Melody said. “Everything I’ve been taught, I… You can’t. You just can’t!”
“Of course she’s not an abomination,” Alex stepped in. He had to stop this before it got out of hand.
“You saw what she did,” Melody snapped. “That kind of power, it…” She choked on her own words, clawing her fingers. “No, her family just worship dark gods.”
“What do you want to know?” Kari’s green eyes glittered.
Alex’s stomach dropped. Kari thought on a different level to humans, but even she had to recognise that telling Melody the truth would bring disaster. Alex couldn’t lose a friend. He couldn’t.
“Kari…” Alex hesitated, his arms outstretched. What could he say?
“What are you?”
Melody’s words cut through the atmosphere, a threat more than anything else. Her ponytail flicked in the wind and her fingers curled as if around the hilt of an invisible blade. Alex’s heart pounded in his chest, blood roaring in his ears. If Melody attacked Kari, would Kari fight back? Would Alex be able to stop them if she did?
Seagulls chased each other through the sky, their cries scratching through the air. Clouds blustered past the sun.
Kari spoke so softly Alex almost didn’t hear her.
Melody stormed forwards. “I just said—”
“I’m Kari,” Kari held out her hand, “and I promise I mean you no harm. I bear humanity no ill will; all I wish is to live in peace.”
Kari said the words with such conviction, such absolute sincerity, that Alex wasn’t sure whether to laugh or to cry. Of course Kari bore no ill will; the only strong emotions she ever displayed were towards bubble tea. Someone like that could never bear a grudge.
Melody stepped back in stunned silence, her eyes wide. Alex could see the thoughts racing through her eyes, the storm, but eventually she seemed to reach a conclusion. Melody’s expression fell in relief.
“You’re a sorceress,” Melody said. “There must have been some glitch in the ritual. That’s why it summoned you.”
Kari opened her mouth.
“She is,” Alex said quickly. “It, uh… It’s hereditary.”
“Well of course.” Melody rolled her eyes as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
Alex laughed a little too loudly, trying not to squirm under Melody’s quirked eyebrow. Kari was safe.
Melody turned her head. “Still, I can’t approve of you being friends with Alex. It’s too dangerous for a human like him.”
“Hey!” Alex might not be a Knight, but he’d been doing rugby for a couple of weeks now. He’d caught a hint of a six-pack in the mirror this morning, after a slight adjustment to the lighting.
“I didn’t kidnap Alex.” Kari furrowed her brows.
“Yeah, she saved me from that cultist,” Alex protested. “And she saved you.”
Red flushed Melody’s cheeks. “I could have handled it!”
Alex scratched his head nervously. First Melody had been late, now she was embarrassed. He was learning a lot of new things today.
“Either way,” Melody cleared her throat, “Alex needs to be able to defend himself. He’s already been kidnapped once, and seems to have a penchant for attracting trouble.”
Alex’ heart raced and he straightened, anticipation thrumming through his veins.
“You’re going to give me a sword?” he said.
“Heavens, no,” Melody said. “I’m going to teach you a ward.”
Alex struggled to hide his disappointment. A ward, huh? That still sounded cool.
“What’s a ward?” he asked.
“A protective spell,” Melody replied.
“A spell?” Alex’s eyes widened.
Magic. Melody was going to teach him magic! Giddy excitement welled through him and a grin split his face. No one would be able to call him generic now, not when he could perform miracles.
“It’s not proper magic,” Kari deadpanned. “It’s more like screaming to confuse your attacker long enough for you to run away.”
Alex’s grin came crashing down and his shoulders sagged. “Oh.”
“Don’t listen to her.” Melody hmphed. “Wards are powerful incantations that have taken centuries to perfect.”
“Oh?” Alex perked up again, confusion marring his apprehension. They couldn’t both be correct.
Melody glanced around, but the back of the school was deserted during lunch time. Shouts drifted from across the field, a group of students chasing each other in a mess that might have been a sport, but they were too far away to overhear anything. Melody leaned back in.
“The key with abominations is to understand them,” Melody said. “They thrive off chaos and fear.”
Kari’s expression clouded at this, her jaw locked.
“I’m sure not all abominations are like that,” Alex said quickly.
Melody eyed him. “All the abominations you’ve met have tried to kill you.”
“No.” Alex froze. “Yes. Well.”
“You’re too kind, Alex.” Kari smiled.
Warmth curled in Alex’s stomach and he grinned.
“I agree,” Melody said. “You need to learn that some things just want you dead.”
Formless terrors flashed in Alex’s mind and a shudder ran down his spine. “So this ward…?”
“All you need to do is chant ‘Nunc te intellego. De chaos venisti, ut chaos revertus,” Melody said.
“Nunc te intellego. De chaos…”
“De chaos venisti, ut chaos revertus.” Melody nodded.
A glance at Kari; she seemed completely unaffected. A shiver ran down Alex’s spine. Perhaps the ward would be more effective against weaker abominations.
Nunc te intellego. De chaos venisti, ut chaos revertus.
Alex paused. “Is that Latin?”
“Yes,” Melody said.
“So magic is in Latin?” It all sounded very Harry Potter. Perhaps it was because he was in England?
“It doesn’t matter what language it’s in,” Kari replied. “You just have to have confidence in what you’re saying.”
Her disinterest in the ward was a blow to Alex’s ego. Was it really that boring? Then again, when you could teleport Alex supposed you didn’t need to chant spells in Latin. A darker possibility hovered at the edge of Alex’s mind, that Kari didn’t think the ward would help him. He gulped.
Melody glared daggers at Kari. “We’ve determined that speaking in Latin results in the most confidence, regardless of whether you understand it or not.”
“Like a placebo effect.” Alex nodded in understanding. He had to admit Latin was cooler than English.
“I suppose so.” Melody sighed. “Wards are placebos.”
Alex felt a stab of guilt for reducing centuries of tradition to a psychological parlour trick. “Nunc te intellego. De chaos venisti, ut chaos revertus.”
Melody smiled. “That’s it.”
“Your pronunciation is acceptable.” Kari gave him a thumbs up. “Don’t forget to run at the same time.”
Alex’s house was empty when he returned. The door clicked shut behind him and he flicked on the lights, dusk rapidly falling outside.
Empty rooms greeted him. The entrance hall opened up onto a kitchen and living space, and glass doors led out into an abandoned garden. Shadows loomed like scribbles of charcoal, some of the weeds as tall as Alex’s waist, but he didn’t trust himself with a lawn mower.
At least his parents had rented a nice house. They’d stayed a week when he’d first moved in, and when Alex’s Mum had put up family photos he’d complained non-stop. Now? His eyes caught on a photo on the dining table and he brushed it with his fingers, tracing the contours of his parents’ faces. Their dig wouldn’t finish until March next year.
Alex was alone again.
Alex grabbed a cup of pot noodles and slammed them in the microwave, gritting his teeth. It wasn’t his parents’ fault he was alone; Alex was the one who’d assured them he’d be fine on his own. He was happy, he supposed. England was his chance to reinvent himself, and he’d done that, making new friends. A curl of his lip. Unusual friends.
His smile fell. Even Kari’s house was better than this emptiness, Hana and Shub and all. The microwave beeped and the noodles steamed as Alex took them out, but when he shovelled them into his mouth they seemed so much blander than he remembered. Nothing like bubble tea.
A stab of pain.
Alex hissed and stumbled from the chair, grabbing onto the table for support. For a moment it felt as if his blood was on fire, a delicious pain, then the sensation was gone. He was hollow.
What… What was that? A phantom pain? Alex rubbed his arm to smooth out the goose bumps. He hoped to god he didn’t have trauma.
Next to the microwave Alex spotted the flavour packet he’d forgotten to add to the noodles he’d already finished.
Nunc te intellego. De chaos venisti, ut chaos revertus.
With nothing else do to, Alex went to bed early. Tomorrow would be a better day. Tomorrow was rugby, and last week he’d almost made a try.
As Alex fell asleep he watched the smoke detector flashing, a beacon of red against the darkness. It almost looked like an eye, something unfathomable, and in a strange way Alex felt the tightness in his chest ease.
Alex couldn’t move.
Darkness choked his vision and his lungs clenched in on themselves, his muscles refusing to cooperate no matter how much he struggled.
Panic. Blind terror clawed across Alex’s soul and he tried to scream, but his throat caged his voice.
His eyes darted around. His bedroom. A shadow stood at the foot of his bed, a shape, and as he watched it solidified into flesh.
Blood-red skin stretched taut against iron-hard muscles, the body undeniably male. Alex dragged his eyes across bulging pecs and rippling abs, each lined with fire as if magma writhed beneath the surface, and his gaze fixed on the most beautiful face he had ever seen. Crimson hair fell across what could only have been a dream, a nightmare, the jawbones chiselled to a razor’s edge and the eyes burning with golden infernos. Twin jet-black horns crested the nightmare’s head, and its mouth parted to reveal wickedly sharp teeth.
Electricity danced in Alex’s brain and with a sinking feeling blood rushed to his groin. Damn hormones! He fought with all his might but the nightmare just watched him with gorgeous, deadly eyes. Something flicked behind it—a tail.
He wanted the nightmare. No, he wanted Nathan.
He wanted his parents to come home. He wanted friends he knew would be there for him no matter what. He wanted to be with someone.
He wanted to be good at rugby, for his teammates to praise him. He wanted that thrill of adrenaline as he thundered across the field. He wanted sweet bubbles popping against his tongue. He wanted to get the best grades in his class, to never have to worry about academics ever again.
Most of all, he wanted to be anywhere else but here, with this perfect nightmare stripping away everything he was until all that was left was what he wasn’t, an ocean of dreams he’d never live up to.
With a strangled sob Alex scrambled backwards until the cold wall pressed against his back. He could move!
Then horror crashed through him as he realised the nightmare was still there, its fire shedding red shadows through the darkness. No. He clenched his fist until his nails dug sparks of pain into his palm.
Alex was awake.