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A/N: This is a spinoff from The Dragon Wars Saga and will be serialising on Mondays and Fridays for the foreseeable future. It should stand alone but will read slightly differently if you’ve read Dragon Wars.
The morning Ophelia Keswick woke sweating from a nightmare wasn’t unusual. For longer than she could remember, her dreams had revealed the future â€“ and since the Pulse they had only worsened. Terrible visions assailed her in waves of sight and sound which shortened her breath and made her heart pound.
Sometimes she jolted to wakefulness in the dead of night, her eyes opening to a blackness that filled her with trepidation. Other times – like today – she awoke to find her eyes filled with a daylight that seemed incongruous after the dark images she had witnessed.
Once, the dreams would leave her a wreck for days before Aunt Sophie suggested that she purge them by writing them down. It helped, but it also left her with perfect recall of her dreams long after they should have faded. Some people would envy her perfect recall but Ophelia felt that some things were better forgotten.
All the same, when she woke that morning, rubbed her forehead, and reached for the pen she was horrified as the dream melted away. The images of cold and darkness blurred and paled even as she pushed her memory into the past to seize them. She growled and scribbled down a few nonsensical words before she lost it. It was important. She had to remember! She bit her lip and tried to reclaim them but they were gone.
“Phelia! Breakfast!” her mother’s voice drifted up the stairs and broke her out of her reverie.
“Uh? Time to get up?” She rolled over and checked her clock before leaping out of bed. “Oh shit! Ten minutes, Mum. I overslept.”
As she ran downstairs ten minutes, later the phone started ringing. “I’ve got it, mum!” she called and grabbed the receiver. “Hello, Keswick Residence.”
“Aunt Sophie? Are you okay?” What was she asking? She could tell from the way her aunt’s voice was shaking that she wasn’t.
“I-I… Can you call Cass please, dear. Michael’s just collapsed.”
“What! Okay… Mum! It’s Aunt Sophie.” She turned back to the phone. “Is he okay? He’s not-” she lowered her voice reflexively “-he’s not going harbinger is he?”
“No, No, it’s not that.” Aunt Sophie sounded certain. “He’s far too young, and that follows a completely different pattern anyway.”
Ophelia breathed a sigh of relief. If anyone would know how to recognise that, it would be Aunt Sophie. She’d recently been made head of the local task force.
“But I don’t know if he’s okay. He was eating breakfast and just collapsed. We’re waiting for an ambulance now.”
“Hell! I hope he’s okay. Is Sera going to the hospital with you?”
“Hospital?” Cassandra Keswick ripped the phone from her daughter’s hands. “Soph? What’s going on?” Her expression grew grim as she listened. “I see… are you sure? … No, you would be, wouldn’t you? Do you want me to come over after Ophelia’s gone? … Oh, okay… yes, I’ll tell her. I hope he’s okay… Bye, Soph.” She put the phone down and turned to Ophelia. She looked pale and was swallowing absently. “Sera’s catching the bus.”
Ophelia glanced at the hall clock. “Drat! I’ll have to inhale breakfast if Iâ€™m to make the bus.”
“Er… breakfast, yes.” Cass frowned and wandered into the kitchen after Ophelia.
“Mum?” Ophelia put a hand on her mother’s arm. “You okay?”
Her mother nodded. “Sorry, Phelia. I’m just worried about Mike.”
“Of course.” Ophelia nodded. “You sit down. I’ll make my own breakfast.”
The nearest bus stop was a fair hike from their house so Ophelia decided to take the shortcut across the park. Her mother wouldn’t approve, of course, but she didn’t need to know. From the way her mother talked, you’d think Caredale Park was a desolate wasteland inhabited by murderers and perverts. In reality, it was a perfectly pleasant public space and at this time in the morning it was crowded with other kids heading for the bus stop. Heck, it was safer than taking the street route â€“ but there was no telling her mother that. It was aggravating – she was nearly sixteen for goodness sake! She didn’t need constant supervision.
Still, she did prefer to go by car. It was more comfortable than the bus and she didn’t have to contend with her fellow students for space – let alone a seat. Nor indeed did she have to worry about bypassing a bully lying in wait for the unsuspecting – which was what she’d just spotted ahead. She paused on the wooden bridge and pretended to watch the minnows darting about in the water below. She really didn’t want to deal with Kate Brooks today. The girl wasn’t the worst bully at the school, but she had a tendency to pick just the right insult to gain a reaction, and got violent when insults didn’t work. Ophelia had hit back in self-defence once, but it had been her not Kate who had got in trouble for the ‘fight’. Ophelia had tried to avoid the other girl ever since.
“Ooooooophelia!” The sing-songing of her name suggested that avoidance wouldn’t work today but it wasn’t going to stop her trying. Ophelia looked resolutely straight ahead and strode towards the bus stop again without acknowledging Kate’s presence. All that led to was Kate grabbing a handful of Ophelia’s dark brown ponytail, yanking her back by it and spinning her around by her shoulder. “Don’t ignore me!”
“Good morning, Kate,” Ophelia said as neutrally as she could manage but there must have been an edge to her tone because her response earned her a vicious kick in the shins. She managed not to wince but she did have to grit her teeth. “Shouldn’t you be studying for your GCSEs instead of pestering me? They’re important and you missed a good chunk of last year.”
“Ooh! look who thinks she’s so tough!” Kate aimed a punch at Ophelia’s ribs. She scrambled sideways to avoid it and crashed into a tree. Kate scowled at her. “Where have you been? You know I don’t like people avoiding me.”
“Well maybe you should try being nicer them.” Ophelia massaged her arm. “I liked you much better when you were – no one likes a bully.” She sidestepped another blow and stamped on Kate’s toes. The girl shrieked and Ophelia suppressed a smirk. “Oops, sorry.” She didn’t even bother trying to sound sincere as she turned her back on Kate and headed for the bus stop.
“Bitch!” She heard Kate rushing towards her.
“Oh shit!” Ophelia braced for an impact which never came. She glanced back to see what had stopped the other girl and saw her lying in a heap over a hundred yards away with her ‘friends’ rushing towards her. What the crap? She stared at Kate, who glared at her as if she was responsible for throwing her over there. Ophelia took an hesitant step towards her. “Are you okay, Kate?”
Kate just swore at her. Ophelia frowned – torn between checking Kate was unhurt and wanting to laugh at how silly she looked sprawled there. The sight of the bus coming along the road decided her and she took off at a run and managed to reach the stop just in time.
In her hurry, Ophelia never heard Kate swearing revenge on her over her toadies protests that she hadn’t touched her. And neither of them noticed the fiery silver eyes which watched them from among the bushes before diving back into a hole under the roots of the ancient oak tree she’d banged into earlier.
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