The Mirror of the Nine Halls (Part 9)

I’ve decided to make each of these installments a bit longer, as I can foresee this series continuing for quite some time. I will also do my best to make posts more often, as I need to get back into a writing frame of mind for another project I’m working on. Enjoy!

 

 

It took Sameth a bit longer to vacate the room than Kalgan expected. The trunk was indeed the heaviest item in the room that needed to be moved, and was the only thing that he was in the mood to help Sameth with. He just wanted to be alone.

“I really appreciate the help with my chest, Kal,” Sameth said once he had gathered all his clothes in a laundry basket and was headed out the door. “I look forward to working with you on a mission, sometime!”

Kalgan rolled his eyes. “I suppose,” he said, not in the mood for conversation.

“Where’s your stuff, by the way?” Sameth said.

“At home. I was kinda rushed here…”

“Ah. Maybe you can ask Neltharia to give you a ride over there so you can get it.”

“I don’t really think she’d want to do that. It’s all the way in Arizona.”

“Oh. Ouch. Still… She seems to like road trips. And until her boyfriend comes back from his mission, I’m sure she’d like some company on the road.”

Kalgan nodded, not really caring to engage in conversation at the moment.

“Well, I’ll get out of your hair,” Sameth said, smiling. “When you get hungry, there will be dinner in the mess hall at six. It’s at the bar of the “H” of the building.”

“Okay.”

“Yep. See ya!”

Kalgan closed his door and slid down it, allowing all that had happened to him yesterday to really sink in. He was an orphan now. His sister was dead, too. He didn’t ever want to go home. It would just be a hollow, empty place without them. He hugged his knees as tears fell down his cheeks.

What was he even doing here? He didn’t know anyone. He didn’t care to. He should be finding a high cliff somewhere and jumping off it, not lollygagging with a bunch of weirdoes.

He didn’t know how long he sat there, just lamenting his existence. His sorrow was interrupted by a knock at the door, and he snapped out of it to see that the light coming through the window was almost gone. The clock on the wall said it was seven pm.

“Great. I missed dinner,” he said to himself. He got up and reluctantly opened the door.

It was Neltharia. She looked shocked at first to see him. “Oh. Hey, Kalgan. Is Sameth in there? I need to talk to him.”

Kalgan shook his head. “He moved down to where my room was going to be. I switched with him. Said he couldn’t take your loud music anymore.”

Neltharia rolled her eyes. “Fine. I’ll go look for him there, then.”

Kalgan nodded and started to close his door.

“Wait,” Neltharia said.

Kalgan sighed and opened the door once more. “Yes?”

“Are you okay? We didn’t see you at dinner tonight.”

“I’m fine. I just need some time to be alone right now, that’s all.”

“Okay. Breakfast is at seven am. You can’t be skipping any more meals.”

Kalgan nodded and closed his door as Neltharia turned to go.

This time, he just collapsed onto the bed and closed his eyes.

Fire. Ice. No escape from the burning. No escape from the cold. It kept him firmly held in place. He struggled, but the torture continued unabated.

“You will never leave this place!” the man who murdered his mother and sister said, just out of sight in the darkness.

Kalgan gasped awake to find his limbs were tangled up in the blankets. He threw them off, then sat up and looked at the clock on the wall opposite the bed. It was six-thirty. He spent a moment catching his breath. He felt like vomiting. His dreams felt so real lately. Did that whole thing with the Mirror even happen, or was that a dream, too?”

He felt something flat and hard in his pocket. Maybe it had happened, after all.

He couldn’t really bring himself to care that he had slept in his clothes, and they were all sweaty now. It was the only set he had at the moment, and he didn’t really care if he showed up looking like he had had a terrible night’s sleep, anyway. Nothing really mattered anymore.

He stood up and walked to the door. It slid open easily, causing the sounds of people talking to reach him, along with a burst of fresh air that caused his nausea to abate, replacing it with hunger.

There was a trio of teenagers down the hall a little ways talking amongst themselves. They were all wearing backpacks, as if between classes at school. One of the three girls was twirling what looked like a throwing dagger, of all things, between her fingers. The other two looked to be wearing swords!

“What the hell is this place?” Kalgan said to himself as he made his way down the hall in search of the mess hall.

He passed a couple other groups of teenagers talking. They all looked at him in silent speculation as he passed. They all carried weapons of some kind on their person.

“Is that the new kid?” One said as he passed. It was a strong-looking kid around his own age who carried a heavy-looking sledgehammer on his back.

“Yeah. Showed up yesterday. He’s been cooped up in his room all night. I hear he skipped dinner,” his companion replied.

Kalgan sighed as he passed several more groups before making it to the large cafeteria. He had to admit that the smell of cooking bacon, eggs, toast, and syrup was heavenly. He felt his stomach growl at him insistently.

“Hey Kal!” Sameth said, ambushing him from behind and grasping his shoulders. He felt a small electric shock pass through his body. Partly from being startled, but also from something else… “Ha! Felt that one, didn’t you? You have a very high tolerance, indeed, my friend! Come. Let’s eat.”

Kalgan sighed, willing his pounding heart to slow down. He followed Sameth’s lead and grabbed a tray. The food was set up exactly like a buffet. The seating was set up like the high school cafeteria he was used to. Except there was a larger, nicer table set up on what might be called a stage. The General was sitting up there, along with Neltharia, a young girl he didn’t recognize in pigtails, and a man who looked like a slightly less muscular version of the General. Unlike the general, he was smiling, and looking down at the students eating and chatting at the tables below.

“That would be my father next to the General,” Sameth said when he noticed Kalgan looking. The General is my uncle.”

“Oh?” Kalgan said, somewhat surprised.

“Yes. The aptitude for sorcery runs in families. Neltharia is a sorceress, but she’s not technically part of the family. The other girl is my no-good sister. She likes playing pranks, so watch your back.”

“Okay,” Kalgan said, spooning a good heap of scrambled eggs onto his tray, followed by a couple pancakes. Next, he took a few strips of bacon, a piece of what looked to be french toast, then poured a ton of syrup over the whole thing.

“I see you have quite the appetite. Good! You’re going to need it today. Trust me,” Sameth said, getting an equally-large helping of just about everything on his own plate.

Kalgan nodded, then looked around for a relatively-empty spot to take a seat and eat.

Sameth laughed. “You’re eating up at the high table with the rest of us sorcerers, Kal. Come on.”

Kalgan sighed. He didn’t want to be the object of everyone’s gaze. He just wanted to eat his meal, but he followed Sameth up the few stairs to the stage anyway.

Neltharia watched him speculatively as Sameth took a seat next to his father and sister, while Kalgan was left with the open seat next to the general.

“Good morning, Kalgan,” she said. Good to see you join us.”

The general motioned for Kalgan to take his seat, and he reluctantly obeyed.

Neltharia’s eyes moved from the General to Kalgan and back again a few times. She was wearing a frown like she was trying to put something together in her mind.

“What?” Kalgan said before taking a bite of food. It was so much better than normal cafeteria food that it surprised him a bit at first. He found himself shoveling bite after tasty bite into his mouth.

Neltharia gave the general a strange look, then reluctantly turned back to her own meal.

Kalgan felt the gazes of most of the room on him, and knew they were talking about him. He did his best to ignore them. He had never been one of the popular group at school, and had been perfectly fine with skating through in relative anonymity. It looked like he wouldn’t be able to do that here. Great.

“Feeling better?” Neltharia asked him after he had cleared most of his plate.

“Yeah. I keep forgetting that my appetite has increased since… well…”

“I understand,” she said. “Now that you can think a little bit past your plate, I suppose introductions are in order, right General?”

The general remained completely silent, staring at his own plate, but he nodded.

“Right. You already met the general of course. Next to him is his brother, Marcus. After that is Marcus’ daughter, Alexis. Then there’s his son, Sameth, who you have also already met.

“Nice to meet you all,” Kalgan said.

“Likewise!” Alexis said. She looked to be no older than ten or eleven years old.

Marcus nodded and smiled in respect. “I’ve been told of your situation from my brother. You’re welcome to take another day off if you need it.”

Kalgan sighed. “No. I’d rather have something to do, if that’s okay.”

“Oh of course!” Marcus replied. Then he took a folded piece of paper out of an inner coat pocket and passed it to the general, who passed it to him. “That would be your class schedule. We operate like a school, for most intents and purposes. With a few… Big differences, of course. We’ll also be training you for combat, and how to control your abilities. As such, weapons are allowed to be carried on your person, but are not to be used in the halls, only designated classrooms, and during missions, of course.

Kalgan shook his head in wonder. His best friend, Karl would have loved this place. He opened the folded note, but other than the usual classes that he expected from any high school like Algebra, Literature, and Biology, there were a bunch of empty spaces.

“What’s with all the empty spaces?”

“First, we have to find out what your abilities are. We don’t want to place you in Energy Manipulation if you have no aptitude for it, for example.”

Kalgan nodded. “I can already tell you what I can do,” he said.

Marcus raised an eyebrow. Alexis and Neltharia stopped eating. Sameth leaned forward and looked at Kalgan expectantly. The General seemed disinterested.

“Oh? Please tell,” Marcus said. “We can place you right away if you’ve already manifested any abilities.”

Kalgan nodded. “I can create both fire and ice, and I appear to be immune to its effects. I also seem to be able to slow down time.”

The entire table was silent for a moment. Then Marcus laughed, followed shortly thereafter by Sameth, then everyone else at the table, except for the general.

“What? What’s so funny?”

Marcus’s laughter petered off. “That’s just not possible,” he said. “Energy manipulation always manifests down a straight line. It never branches. Sameth here can manipulate electrical energy, but nothing else. And time manipulation? Seriously? Such a thing isn’t possible. I’ll give you props for being imaginative, though. Why don’t we wait until you’ve been tested. Then we’ll find out where you belong.”

Kalgan should have known. Even Neltharia was laughing. The people down in the mess hall proper were also giggling amongst themselves. The embarrassment he felt was overshadowed, however, by the towering rage that was building up inside of him.

He stood up. “Fuck you people!” He said loudly, causing the laughter to die off almost instantly. “I knew it was a mistake to come here.”

“Whoa there, Kal,” Sameth said. “There’s no need to be that way.”

“Eat fire, asshole!” Kalgan said.

Hot. Cold. Time to let it out.

Suddenly, Sameth’s food was on fire, and Neltharia’s plate was frozen and frosted to the table. In fact, everyone in the mess hall had their food either in flames, or frozen to their tables.

“Fuck,” Kalgan said. His heart was beating too fast. The flames that licked at Sameth’s food were moving too slowly. He needed to get out of here. He wasn’t going to be welcome here anymore. Not after this.

He ran out of the mess hall and towards the exit. He had no idea where he was going to go, but anywhere but here was fine.

“Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck!”

He threw open the doors to the outside and jogged out of the military base. He passed a bunch of soldiers marching much too slowly.

Nobody seemed to be able to notice him, so he made his way out into the desert surrounding the place and just started walking.

He walked until the rage died down and he started to feel tired. Then a wave of exhaustion hit him like nothing he had ever experienced before. It dropped him down to his knees, then he fell face-first into the flat, burning, salty ground. His eyes closed.

“Please. Just let me die…” he thought to himself just before he was dragged unconscious.

 

Kalgan didn’t know how much time had passed. At first, he heard a steady beeping sound. Then he felt that he was lying upon something uncomfortable. He sighed and opened his eyes. He felt confused for a moment. The walls were white, and he appeared to be hooked up to a number of tubes and monitoring devices. He remembered what happened before he fell unconscious. Where was he?
“Finally awake, are we?” a familiar voice said from the door to his small hospital room, or at least what he assumed to be a hospital.
Kalgan turned to see Neltharia approaching him. He turned away quickly. He really didn’t want to talk to anyone right now. They all probably hated him, anyway. He had set their food on fire, or frozen it solid, after all.
“You caused quite a scene yesterday,” Neltharia said with a hint of amusement. “Half the school is scared of having you in the same building as them. The other half… well… we’ll get to that when you’ve rested up.”

Kalgan didn’t reply. He just sulked with his arms crossed over his chest. The tube feeding him salt-water, or whatever it was, tugged a little painfully, but he did his best to ignore it. He looked down at his arms and was surprised to see that they were little more than skin wrapped tightly over his bones.
“The hell happened to me?” he said, even more surprised at how raspy his voice sounded.
“Whatever it was that you did to make yourself travel nearly half a mile in just under two seconds did a number on you. We’re all actually a bit surprised you’re still alive.”
Kalgan closed his eyes and sighed. “I’d rather not be right now.”
“Don’t say stuff like that,” Neltharia replied, rolling her eyes in annoyance. “This isn’t the worst or even the strangest thing to ever happen here. Trust me. When you’ve been here as long as I have, you’ll learn to just let stuff like this be water under the bridge, so to speak.”

“Oh yeah? Did you set everyone’s breakfast on fire? Or freeze it solid? I could have burned the building down, with everyone in it!”

Neltharia shrugged. “I once pulled everyone in the school into one of my nightmares. They couldn’t escape, and most of the students had to undergo therapy for weeks afterwards. I’d say that’s slightly worse.”
Kalgan turned to look her in the face. She didn’t seem to be joking. He sighed. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay. The general wanted me to be the one to tell you what we discovered when the doctors looked you over. Best to get this over with now, I guess you could say.”

“What about it,” Kalgan said, resigning himself to whatever it was. Maybe he had cancer? Was he going to die? Part of him wanted to…

“You’re not quite… Human… Anymore.”

“Huh?”

“When the doctors were checking your vitals, they noticed that your body temperature would swing drastically, from close to freezing to well over three-hundred degrees with each heartbeat. So they did a few tests, and it turns out you have a couple extra chromosomes that humans don’t have. They really don’t know what to make of it.”

Kalgan didn’t know what to think. “So I’m not dying?”

“What? No. Of course not,”

“You said “Anymore.” Does that mean this has happened to me recently, then?”

“The doctors don’t know. They’re worried you came into contact with some kind of virus, but it seems to be in every single cell in your body. It’s quite possible that you had these extra chromosomes in you before you were born.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“No. I’m sure this doesn’t make a lot of sense to you right now, but…”
“No… I was a normal human being up until just a few days ago. I wasn’t born with these… these… abilities.”

“The doctors say that these chromosomes could very well have been lying dormant your entire life if you hadn’t been infected with them recently. It’s possible some traumatic event, or something, could have triggered them to become active.”

Kalgan remembered the mirror, and the mysterious man he met from the other side. Could this all be due to the mirror and that time it cut him? Could it have infected him with some kind of virus? He remembered the fever and subsequent nightmare he had had that night. Everything had gotten… strange… since that night. No… Ever since he had seen the stupid thing in the antique shop.

He rubbed his eyes in exhaustion. He felt so bone-tired all of a sudden. “I think I need to rest,”

“I’ll let you sleep. When you wake up, there will be some food for you.”

Kalgan nodded and closed his eyes.

 

“So, Doc, how is he doing, really?” Neltharia said to doctor Subaki.

Doctor Subaki wore glasses, and like Neltharia, had long black hair, but unlike Neltharia, she was much shorter.

“Some good. Some bad,” Doctor Subaki said with a sigh. “Whatever it was that he did to travel nearly half a mile in just two seconds drained him of nearly all the energy in his body, but as long as he eats and gets rest, that won’t cause any lasting damage. It’s what we found in his bones and blood vessels that has me worried.”

“What do you mean?”

Doctor Subaki set down her clipboard in the receptacle by the door to Kalgan’s room. “I’ve detected some strange crystallization in his bones. And his blood temperature fluctuates from just over freezing to well over two-hundred-fifty degrees. With each heartbeat, it goes from freezing to boiling, then back again. His nerves are firing pain messages to his brain constantly. I’m surprised he hasn’t gone insane from the constant stimulation.”

“Damn. That’s not good.”

“No. It isn’t. But I’ve come to the conclusion that whatever has made him what he is, currently, wasn’t some kind of pathogen. It seems to be an integral part of his genetic code. He had these extra chromosomes since conception, I believe. I did research on the boy’s mother… Turns out she was one of the world’s leading geneticists.”

“Are you implying that she performed genetic experiments on her own son?!” Neltharia said, shocked that anyone would consider doing such a thing.

“It’s likely. He seems to be adjusting fairly quickly to the changes occurring inside himself, but the steady crystallization in his bones worries me. It’s only a matter of time till it completely replaces his marrow and he will be unable to replace his red blood cells. He’s likely fated to die a slow death due to a kind of Leukemia that no doctor has ever seen before.”

“You can’t be serious.”

The doctor shrugged. “His condition could change. The nature of these crystals is unknown. When he is feeling well enough to make an informed decision regarding himself, I will ask him permission to biopsy one of the crystals to see what we’re dealing with. Until then, there’s not much we can do but fatten him back up.”

Neltharia shook her head. She had been the one to sense his powers awaken, and find him naked out on that dirt road. She felt responsible for him. If only Karl were here to help her find some way to help him…

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