This story is by J.J.R.Conder and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I woke to the smell of dog breath and sulfur. Short bursts of strong hot air radiated over my left cheek. I opened my eyes to the sight of two rows of menacing teeth belonging to a distorted creature that vaguely resembled a hound. The side of my mouth curled into a half smile as I focused my intent on my left hand, within seconds conjuring a moderate sized blade piercing it up and through the beasts vulnerable underbelly. The hound howled, whimpered then slumped to the ground next to me leaving its warm sticky redness running down over my arm and stomach. I gripped the blade searching for the pups mate. They always hunt in pairs.
I was surrounded by cold damp rock in a cave with a low ceiling and narrow walls that gave off an odd luminescence. It was quiet. The body of a man was nearby, his throat bitten and stomach torn open, the remains of the hounds meal still oozing from the ragged skin. I scanned the recesses of the cave for signs of movement pondering: where was I? Who was even powerful enough to get me here without my knowing? I thought back to my recent kills. Who had I wronged to warrant this kind of retaliation? The list was long.
I heard a child screaming. The second hound had found fresh meat. I sprinted towards the noise running across the stone scattered surface with bare feet. Minutes away a young girl, maybe ten years old, was huddled inside a crevice above the cave floor. She stopped screaming when she saw me and waved. I trained my attention on the beast clawing at her feet. As it faced me I concentrated on my blade extending its length and shape. I crouched, engaged eye contact and moved to the right drawing it away from the child. The beast was eager for an adult sized meal. Clear of the crevice I swung the blade hard and fast with only a second of sound as it cut through the moist air and into the hound. It died on the cave wall, nailed into place. I flexed my cramped bloodstained fingers – that was an efficient kill even for me. I was stronger here.
The girl chirped and clapped her hands, “That was awesome!”
I maintained my demeanor, giving only the briefest smile. “Are you alright?” I asked as I helped her down. She was light, fair-skinned with long dark hair and wearing a fitted white muslin dress. I tried not to get bloody handprints on it.
“I am. Thank You Rachel,” she replied.
I stepped back. We’d never met. “Mind reader?” I asked.
She laughed and shook her head, “No, my name’s Karen, I’m a seer, I have visions. I can’t read minds unfortunately.” She looked me up and down. “Fortunately in your case, I like your slip though, is it silk?”
I looked down at my nightdress, fresh blood splatter was working its way down into the lace accent. I froze and took a deep breath while my skin absorbed the blood from my exterior until I appeared clean. This aspect of my abilities was handy but only worked with blood, nothing else, “Satin,” I replied.
Karen giggled again unfazed by my abilities.
“Are there others?” I asked.
“Yip, my friends are waiting, follow me.”
It took an hour to reach Karen’s friends. The entire walk she bored me with details about some ridiculous reality television show. There were three others waiting, two men and a woman, crouched behind a rocky outcrop facing a short stone walkway. Beyond the walkway a golden circular safe door was embedded in the rock. The exit? What were they hiding from?
“We’re back!” said Karen, “This is Rachel, she has magic powers too.”
My jaw stiffened. I’m not magic. Cursed maybe. Karen introduced the woman as Paula, she was a solid Polynesian woman with the ability to hear radio frequencies. Nice lady. Useless ability. The athletic of the two men was a witch named Joseph, and a scrawny guy with a shock of blond hair and a thick Swedish accent was Owen, their fire guy.
“Problems?” I asked pointing to the exit.
“Just a dragon,” said Paula.
“Are you certain?” I challenged, “Dragons are rare.”
Joseph pointed to the middle of the path, “See that pile of ashes? That was a dude called Matt. I cloaked him with an invisibility spell but the dragon cooked him. Then Karen had a vision that you had weapons,” he looked around me, “Where are your weapons?”
“Allow me to demonstrate,” I said as I held out my right arm and mentally slowed the process down so they could observe as translucent blue wisps of energy emanated from my hand. Using visualization I transformed and extended the energy into a solid metal rod. The rod smoothed and sharpened into a standard hunting knife.
“Cool,” they all said in unison.
Then I narrowed my eyes and focused on the knife being mine and mine alone and the weapon reverted back to the blue glow and my body reclaimed it. Using the same energy to create a new weapon, I took a deep breath and visualized myself slaying the dragon with an appropriate compound bow, feeling the thrill of the hunt as the bow began to materialize and take form in my hands. I betrayed myself with a smile as I drew the bow at the edge of the outcrop over the stone walkway aiming high above the exit door. A dragon would be the crown jewel on my kill list. I was disappointed, “That’s not a dragon,” I said not hiding the bitterness from my voice, “It’s an artificial horse, a mechanical rendering of one of the four beasts.”
“You sure?” said Owen, his accent barely coherent.
“Yes, I identify my targets beyond all doubt.”
A silenced Owen shrunk back behind Paula.
“I thought a dragon was a bit out of Magnus Foster’s league,” Joseph said with his hands on his hips.
“Magnus Foster?” I said, cocking my head and raising an eyebrow. I was surprised to hear my boss’ name and dragons in the same sentence. What did he have to do with this? Magnus owned museums. He imported ancient artifacts and hosted fancy dinner parties.
Joseph correctly read my expression, “This is his personal prison. Karen confused a vision with an episode of a reality show that led us to killing one of his people. So he sent us down here.”
This was new. I gulped and felt a stabbing pang in my gut. As one of his curators I’d always had a good relationship with Magnus, but if he practiced magic he may have discovered the fake weapons I’d created. Another sin to add to the list. But it sparked an idea, “The path is impervious to fire,” I said to Joseph and Owen pointing out the lack of scorch marks around Matt’s ashes.
Owen tried to test it but instead incited a blaze in the rock face several meters above us. He was new to his powers.
I sighed and turned to Joseph, “Can you replicate the magic protecting the path? We could imbue a shield with it.” I created a kite-shaped shield and waited while Joseph made several attempts to attach the spell.
On the path the protected shield radiated a broad orange glow around us as the beasts’ fire rained down. The force of the impact pressed us down to our knees. The guard roared in protest as we made it to the exit. Paula banged on the door, it clicked and swung open to reveal a tiny black Chihuahua waiting on the other side. Before my eyes the small dog grew and morphed into a six foot muscular black man that Paula threw her arms around and called Richard. I stared in confusion and amusement.
As they piled out the exit Karen put a hand on my arm, “Time to go,” she said smiling.
I wasn’t sure. “I should stay, I owe Magnus, I’ll do my time and help others who end up here.”
Karen’s smile dropped, “An innocent person died because of me but I’m not gonna stay here and rot, I’m gonna go back out into the world and help people whether they like it or not. And you should too. You’re with us now and we really need someone who actually knows how to use their powers properly.”
I felt my chest and face flush. I looked at the others who all nodded. I’ve never been part of a team before and I didn’t trust these idiots but they accepted me, the real me, and maybe by going back I would find a way to repay Magnus. I nodded, held Karen’s hand in mine and walked through the door to my new life.