13 – Aftermath
Dawn filtered through the trees, staining the forest in rose-gold. The last dregs of rainwater clung to leaves in glittering beads, and puddles of mud carpeted the ground. Melody moved as silently as she could, wary of making any splashes. The geometric ward around Rilhey had to be perfect—a single imperfection, and the memory suppression would be incomplete.
The ward wasn’t carved into the ground. Rather, it was written into the fabric of spacetime at just above ground-level. The ward could cross the sea that way, which allowed for an even radius. Lines shivered through the air, light humming through them in pearlescent colours, and they zig-zagged around the circumference of the ward, intersecting to form an enormous star polygon. It was the closest Knights came to ever using circles.
Melody was glad she’d been sent to inspect the ward. It was an excuse to get away from her comrades, to escape the congratulations and praise. She’d never liked the limelight, and now that she was the first Knight to ascend to Second Order prematurely, her name would be on everyone’s lips. Cemi’s prodigy. That was what they called her.
A dirt path cut through the forest and Melody took a moment to clear her head. Her muscles ached, her body still sore, but the worst of her wounds had already been treated. Most of the damage to Rilhey had been to the high street and along the sea front, and construction was already underway. Perhaps things really would be alright.
It took a while for Melody to remember why she recognised this part of the forest. The dirt path led up to a house on a bluff, just outside the memory ward’s radius. Kari’s house.
Melody should thank her. Kari had done so much, and yet…
With a gulp Melody turned back to the ward. The lines were all how they should be, except—there. One point of the star was carved shorter than the others, a barely noticeable mistake. She drew a knife from her belt and broke the short point with the flat of the blade, then pooled her magic into the knife and redrew it. The ward shimmered with blue. Melody measured the lengths with the markers on the knife’s blade, then stood.
Good. A mistake like that could have undermined the whole spell.
When Alex woke, Calis wasn’t cooking breakfast. He wasn’t in the kitchen at all. Alex’s breathing hitched with each empty room he searched, until at last he found Calis in the spare bedroom, asleep.
Guilt coiled in Alex’s stomach. Calis slept halfway between his human form and his incubus form, his canines sharp and his ears slightly pointed. Streaks of crimson blended into the mahogany of his hair and tiny flecks of light flickered beneath his skin, like lava running through his veins. Calis had saved Alex’s life, and Nathan’s. Alex hadn’t even said sorry.
“I like you.”
Alex and Calis were soul-bonded. If that wasn’t the case, though, would Alex have acted any differently? Would he have let himself believe someone like Calis could like someone like him?
“How long are you going to watch me sleep?”
Alex jumped and hit his elbow against the doorframe with a yelp. Calis sat up, a wry expression on his face.
“I didn’t…” Alex cleared his throat. “I was just checking where you were.”
“I’m here,” Calis said.
Calis didn’t break eye contact and Alex couldn’t look away, heat and shame bubbling through him.
“Do you reckon Nathan got home safely?” Alex said.
Calis shrugged. “Why don’t you text him?”
Actually, yes, that would make sense. Alex was stalling. Why was this so bloody difficult?
“I’m sorry.” Alex hovered in the doorway and his leg shook with nerves, no matter how hard he tried to still it. “I shouldn’t have kicked you out. I shouldn’t have said the things I said.”
“You shouldn’t have.” Calis stood. “You hurt me, Alex.”
Alex’s bottom lip trembled. He could have taken anger in Calis’ voice, could have taken disgust or even pain. When he glanced up, however, Calis just looked… sad.
Knives twisted in Alex’s heart. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.
“I know,” Calis said. “I forgive you, but…” He trailed off, and the silence was more painful than anything he could have said.
Sunlight flooded in around the curtains, cutting a shaft of gold between them. It took everything Alex had not to curl into a ball on the floor and cry.
“How can I make it up to you?” Alex said.
Calis sighed. “I don’t know.”
“You can use magic,” Alex blurted. “You can do whatever you want. You can even—” He bit his lip.
You can even leave me.
Except, Calis couldn’t. They were soul-bonded; their lives depended on each other.
“What I want right now is food,” Calis said.
Alex’s heart skipped a beat. “I can do that.”
“By food I mean something more than pot noodles.” Calis pushed past Alex with a grin, stretching as he walked into the kitchen.
“I can cook food.” Alex frowned.
Calis just gave him a look Alex couldn’t disagree with. He took a pan out and raided the fridge for four eggs.
“I want to stay in Rilhey,” Calis said, “if that’s okay with you?”
At last, a knot untied itself in Alex’s stomach. “I promise I won’t kick you out again.”
Calis snorted. He turned around and extended his hand. “Friends?”
“Friends.” Alex shook it with a smile.
Calis continued with breakfast and a delicious smell soon wafted through the air. They made comfortable small talk as the bacon cooked and Alex fired off a text to Nathan, just to make sure he and his family had got back safely.
Something rippled through the air.
Alex stiffened, his mind racing back to when Hydro emerged from the ocean, but this feeling was different. It was softer, somehow. Gentle.
“It’s the Knights,” Calis said. “A targeted memory suppression spell.”
Alex’s eyes widened in alarm. “So we’ll forget everything that happened?”
“The humans will,” Calis said. “You’re a sorcerer, and I’m an incubus.”
Alex settled back into his chair and chewed on his lip. Memory suppression, huh? The Knights must have worked throughout the night to prepare the spell. It was a welcome relief, to think that the townspeople wouldn’t have to remember this ordeal.
Nathan, though. Would he remember? His eyes had been haunted.
Alex checked his phone.
Nathan hadn’t replied.
Alex didn’t hear anything from Nathan over Sunday and he didn’t want to turn up at Nathan’s house unannounced, so it was with worming anxiety that he returned to college on Monday. The Knights had completely rebuilt the sea-wall. Only the startling newness of it hinted that anything had changed, and flocks of students swept past him, as if it the town hadn’t been invaded by Shallows two days prior. The memory spell had worked.
“It’s funny how quickly humans forget,” Kari said.
“It’s creepy, that’s what it is,” Alex said.
The college came into view, and it was almost a relief to find that the cafeteria windows were boarded up with plywood, the car-park still empty. Cracks snaked the tarmac, relics left over from where Hydro’s tentacles had landed.
Melody stood by the sea-wall lining the car park, gazing out across the ocean. Waves glittered in the sunlight, a tapestry of white and blue.
“Morning,” Alex said.
Melody’s ponytail flicked as she turned. “Good morning.” She’d collected herself back into the picture of a perfect student, a slight limp the only part to break the image.
“Are you okay?” Alex hesitated. “How did Cemi go?”
“It went well.” Melody sounded surprised.
Kari nodded. “That’s good.”
Alex wasn’t sure what else to say. It felt wrong, everything going back to normal, but perhaps that was because something inside Alex had changed. The world from before, of bubble tea and rugby, seemed so distant.
Alex turned. Nathan waved from across the car park, and jogged to meet them. His dark skin was smooth and unblemished, as if he’d never tackled a Shallow to the ground, and his eyes were bright.
“You’re okay.” Alex grinned.
“I know, mate,” Nathan said. “Who’d have thought burst water pipes could do so much damage?”
Alex’s stomach dropped. “I…”
“Safe plumbing is essential,” Melody said. “This is what happens when building regulations aren’t followed.”
“Crazy, isn’t it.” Nathan grimaced.
Melody stabbed a warning glance at Alex and he bit back the truth on his tongue. Perhaps it was better if Nathan didn’t remember. If Alex had a choice, wouldn’t he have chosen to forget?
“I’ll see you guys in maths, I guess,” Nathan said.
Kari waved. “Farewell.”
Alex could only watch him go. After fighting Shallows back to back, teleporting to the college and facing off against an outer god together… Nathan didn’t remember anything.