by Alyssa Inlow
They say I am powerful. They say I embody darkness. They say I instill fear into the hearts of those who know better. It is said that even the Devil himself is afraid of my kind.
But right now, I just really want a cup of coffee. [b][c][d][e]
I walk into the cafe and hear the familiar ding of the door opening. I keep my head lowered while I scan the room, making sure there is no underlying threat. This coffee shop is only two blocks away from the small apartment I share with my instructor, Elora, and it has become a safe haven in which I stay anonymous. Elora has never told me to remain unknown, and even encourages me with words like, “Chandani, no one can be alone forever. Try talking to people.” However, as I take in the warm brown paint on the walls and large bright windows from my table in the back, I’m glad that I’m alone so I can enjoy it all in silence.
Soon after I’m seated, a jittery waitress comes and takes my order, and she quickly returns with a steaming cup of coffee. She sets it down and I wrap my fingers around the mug, feeling its warmth as I lift it to my lips, when I hear her clear her throat.
“The gentleman who just left,” she said as I look up at her, “wanted me to give this to you,” all the while avoiding meeting my eyes.[f] I see her gaze scatter across my face and know what she’s looking at instead–the small scars covering it. The one crisscrossing my left eyebrow, the one traversing my nose, another on my right cheekbone. It seems they’re all anyone sees anymore.
As I’m about to ask the waitress exactly who left what for me, she reaches out and sets a folded sheet of paper on the table. “Make sure to stay safe, honey,” she whispers as she turns to walk away.
“What?” I ask, unsure what she means.
“Well, with those deaths in Maine yesterday linked to magic folk, we don’t know who we can trust anymore. They’re dangerous murderers, and should be dealt with before they kill anyone else,” she says, still not meeting my eyes.
Murderers? Dealt with? This woman has no idea what’s she’s talking about, and as I stare at her enraged, I have to actually bite my tongue to keep back a string of insults.
“All I’m saying,” she continues, beginning to leave again, “is to watch your back. They could be anyone.”
“Uh…okay,”[g] I mutter when she quickly scurries away. I remember the paper she gave me, and try to forget my anger as I unfold it to read the message scribbled inside. I read it three times over, and become worried as I realize that this isn’t a mistake.
Chandani, meet me back at your table at ten. I have a request to make you.
I look around the cafe for anyone watching me. No one. Now I’m left with a dubious request and a decision to make.
Against my better judgment, I return to the cafe to learn who “K” is and what he wants from me. If his request is less than favorable, I can easily disable him. Either that, or the scars will scare him away before we even get to that.
When I enter the shop and look at the table where I’m supposed to meet this stranger, I realize with shock that he is no stranger, and his bright green eyes hurl me back to the night I can never forget.[h]
I was in the sitting room with Papa while Ma was making dinner in the kitchen. [i][j][k]We lived in a small house at the edge of town, because the government had decided that our kind–the kind born with magic–are dangerous and not supposed to exist.
As I sat next to Papa while he showed me how to boil water with a shimmering swish of the hand, I was convinced that no magic this innocent could be dangerous. Especially not from a ten-year-old girl with minimal training.
We heard a pounding on the front door, and voices demanding, “I order the Asan residents to open the door!”
Ma rushed into the room, looking terrified at the door as she dried her hands with a kitchen towel.
It was night, so we couldn’t see who was pounding on our door through the small window beside it. But we knew who it was–or at least Ma and Papa did as they told me to hide behind the couch.[l]
The door was violently kicked in, and a squad of men carrying guns came rushing in. They’re here for us!
I could hear my parents pleading, “We haven’t done anything! Leave our house! Let go of me!” as they were shoved to their knees. I peer out from behind the couch and see them, guns to their heads.
Ma was able to fling guns from a few of the soldiers with a flick of her practiced hand, but was quickly struck with a fist.
“Ma!” I cried from behind the couch, disregarding that I was supposed to stay hidden. I tried to cast their guns aside with my own magic, but I had only practiced a few times and merely made the guns twitch.
“Chandani!” my father yelled as one of the soldiers came and yanked me from my hiding spot. He threw me down, striking my face over and over, leaving gashes all across it as I struggled beneath him on the ground. I looked around for anything I could use to fight back, and when my frantic gaze landed on the small window, I was surprised to see a pair of bright green eyes staring back from outside.[m] I could see they belonged to a boy my age, but could tell no more as I was met with yet another blow.
“Help!” I screamed, “Help us! Please!” But my cries seemed unnoticed by the boy as he continued to gaze. The men began shouting at each other, giving orders of some kind, and soon my parents were lying on the floor.
“No! Chandani, run! Go to Elora! Run!” my mother shouted as she frantically searched for me in the chaotic room.
But my parent’s screams for me to flee were quickly silenced by the sound of gunshots. They were swift and hit their targets immediately with the sound of a hundred thunderstorms ringing in my ears.[n]
“No!” I wailed, “Ma! Papa!” I was screaming, twisting on the ground beneath the man pinning me down, wondering what we did to deserve this, wondering when the deafening noise would come after me.
But it never came. I suddenly felt all of the magic buzz in me, felt myself grow warmer as the power rose to the surface, and each of the soldiers in the room were abruptly launched off their feet and thrown to the ground.
I quickly rolled over now that the man was off of me, fear and tears blurring my vision, but not enough to keep from seeing my parents lying a few feet away with dark pools growing around them.
Chandani, run! Go to Elora! Run!
I shot to my feet, stumbling as I dodged the unconscious men scattered on the floor, and staggered to the door. As I ran outside, hoping and praying that I could get away, I looked by the window to see if the green-eyed boy was still there. He was gone, and so were my parents, and I was left scared and alone.
I ran and ran, tears streaming down and stinging the slashes on my face, towards the apartment of my instructor, towards Elora. I could barely breathe through my sobs, but I ran until I got there, knowing she would protect me and train me now not just in magic, but how to get back at the men who took my whole life from me.
I’m snapped back to the present, and I grow angry at this boy and how he could’ve just watched and done nothing as my parents were killed. “You!” I growl under my breath.
“I see you remember me,” he says as he meets my eyes, “My name’s Kabriel. Let me start by saying I’m sorry for wha–”
“I don’t want to hear anything from you! Leave me alone!” I snap back, whirling around to leave this stupid coffee shop and this stupid boy.
“Chandani, wait!” he pleads and reaches for my arm as I storm off.
“Let go!” I shout.
“Just wait. Sit down. There’s a lot to tell you. And if by the end you still want nothing to do with me, I’ll understand, and you can leave. Deal?”
Chandani, no one can be alone forever, Elora’s words ring.
I huff out a breath. “Fine.” I say, and follow him back to the table. “But you’re buying the coffee.”