by Julia Zygiel ’19
I look into the mirror, my nose centimeters from touching the glass frosted with my breath. I try to spot what he sees in my eyes. A storm? Perhaps. I study the edge of a scar that eternally creeps towards my tear duct, a finger of lightning that is always a zillionth of a second from grounding itself in my cornea.
In my nightmares the scar advances, forking through my iris and leaving it glassy and white, clouded by an impenetrable fog. I blink, convinced for a moment that the fog really has replaced my left eye. Accustomed to the momentary panic it brings, I rub at my left eye, pleased to see my own blue irises in the rusted mirror when I open them again. I sigh, lean away from the mirror and pick up my toothbrush. Just a nightmare.
It starts raining as I walk to our meeting—quietly, softly. It would feel comforting if not for the cold, calming if not for the threatening rumble of thunder in the distance.
From inside the coffee shop the rain rages in full force, throwing itself against the window with clear intentions of breaking it. I draw my cardigan around my body and tie my scarf a little closer. Despite the rain, I’m the only one seeking shelter here. My hands curl around the watery cup of coffee that justifies my presence to the teenage barista. The bell on the door announces the entry of another rain-refugee and I jump even though I was expecting it. I turn to meet the familiar grimace of my mentor who loves storms, but hates getting wet. Who, despite expecting me to accept his quirks, still derides me for being jumpy.
He sits without buying a cup of watery coffee. The barista doesn’t acknowledge him. Argus nods to me and we dampen our auras just a tad, just enough to be avoided and unnoticed by those not looking for us. We don’t think of what happens if someone steps in who is looking for us. What happens if they see through the shroud.
“The book store wasn’t good enough for you? You had to follow me into the dinky coffee shop with the seats that make my ass sore?” I shiver at the draft that entered the coffee shop with him.
“You know how these meetings work. Destined and clandestine. They don’t follow our plans.”
“They don’t, or you don’t?”
“We are victims of chance, all of us.”
“Okay…” I’m not sure how much longer I can withstand Argus’ mysticism for the sake of my cause. “So why are we here?”
He slides a sealed manila envelope across the table, overly dramatic as always.
“Are these new lessons?” I let too much enthusiasm color my voice. Argus chides me with only a look. I’m too emotive, too reactive for his tastes. Too unpredictable. He would prefer another apprentice and I another mentor, but there is not a wide range to choose from.
“We are a dying breed,” he says, as if reading my thoughts. I’m not sure if that’s a skill of his, if he could teach it to me. I don’t ask.
“There’s rumors that it’s not a natural extinction. We’re being hunted down. Our kin are disappearing from circles across the country. Every week it’s someone new, perhaps a family. In the envelope is who you need to contact in case I miss a meeting some day. Only if I miss a meeting.”
“Oh, stop playing with my heart strings, old man.” Despite my sarcasm, a pit settles in my stomach as I slide the envelope into my backpack. “When are you going to teach me something beyond the incantations and the shroud? I want to help keep this thing alive.”
“If you truly wanted to keep us alive you would value our tradition of caution. It’s been our survival all these years.” I know him well enough to tell that what he’s about to say is difficult for him to admit. “Nevertheless, we seem to be running out of time. Our circle is in desperate need of full-fledged members. With our current numbers we would be no hope against whatever this menace may be.”
I can’t hide a grin and his grimace returns in equal measure. I know he pretends to hate me—I know he thinks I believe him. But, in theory, he should hate storms too. In reality, that ‘storm’ he thinks he sees in me has won him over; my scars have incited his pity. To him, I am the perfect candidate for the circle. I seem down-trodden, powerless, and willing to take extreme measures to even the playing field of the world he’s finally letting me into. He tells me what I already know.
“I think you’re still too brash, too emotional, but the others have forced my hand. Tonight you shall be inducted into our circle. You can finally join our efforts towards the Endgame.”