The boy walked quickly through the deserted streets on the outskirts of Reykjavik. Wispy snowflakes danced in front of his face and stung his eyes as his breath clouded his vision. It was cold, far colder than South America had been, but he didn’t mind; he was used to this cold. This was home.
His boots rang hollowly on the cobblestones beneath his feet. He liked the sound; it reminded him of when, as a child, he would hide behind the thick velvet drapes in the great hall of the manor and listen to his father pace the length of the room. The memory of that long-ago time made him smile, despite the trepidation he currently felt. Pushing his shoulder-length brown hair out of his eyes, he began to walk faster.
As he marched down the empty street, his thoughts lost in the distant past, he thought he heard someone else’s boots on the street behind him. He froze briefly, his heart thumping deep in his chest.
Have they found me? he thought as he scanned the area around him frantically.
Peering into the gloom behind him, batting futilely at the snowflakes that threatened to blind him, he thought he saw a shadow move in the distance. It was indistinct and hard to make out, but he was positive that something was there.
“Hello?” called the boy. Silence. He sighed and tightened his coat around him.
“I know it’s you. Come on out and let’s get this over with.”
Out of the shadows appeared four shapes. One, extremely tall and pale in the inky blackness, chuckled quietly.
“You’re slipping in your old age, Carsten,” he said. “We have been following you for the past quarter hour.”
The boy shook his head. “Not slipping. Just tired, Guenther. Tired of all of this.”
Moonlight burst from behind a cloud, illuminating everything as bright as daylight. The boy squinted against the glare, then took in his surroundings.
Guenther towered over his other three companions; at close to six and a half feet, he was an imposing figure. He was impossibly thin and white, with pale, almost translucent skin, whitish blonde hair that barely touched his shoulders, and eyes the color of dirty ice. Next to him, his other companions—Carsten could see it was Victor, Jonah and Helen—were very mundane.
“Well,” Guenther purred, “if you’re tired of all of this, I can help you. I can end it for you. I just ask that you tell me where the others are.”
Carsten’s shoulders slumped. He was so, so tired, a weariness not only of body but of the soul as well. Still, he was no traitor.
“You know I can’t do that. Not just can’t; won’t. I can’t fight you all, we both know that. I don’t stand a chance. So just do what you have to do and let’s get on with it.”
Guenther shrugged, then nodded to Jonah, who stepped forward. Carsten closed his eyes and began reciting a silent prayer, one his mother had taught him when he was a child. He continued reciting it as searing pain dropped him to his knees, bursting blood vessels in his brain. He squeezed his head as blood gushed from his nose and ears and let off one small, final scream.
Natanya, he thought as everything went dark.
Natanya stood silently as she watched the others around her murmur their final words. The snow in Iceland was growing heavier by the hour; soon it would be well above her calves. The wind was bitterly cold, and she was thankful she had worn her utility gloves. Glancing over at Elise in all her silken finery, she wondered how the woman managed to keep from freezing. The funeral pyre which held Carsten’s body had yet to be lit, so the afternoon was a dull gray.
Off in the distance she could barely make out the only splotch of color visible for miles—a bright red lighthouse. Below the cliff on which everyone had gathered, around twenty in total, the waves crashed with a thunderous boom on the rocks, sending up a spray of briny water that mingled with the snowflakes. The air held an unpleasant fishy smell that she always associated with water. She wanted to be long gone.
Mikael walked forward. He, along with Elise and Max, were the last remaining members of Natanya’s cohort after Carsten’s death. The murmurs ceased as he began to speak.
“Carsten was my friend,” he began. “But he was so much more than that, as we all know. My fellow cohort member, my brother in all but blood, as we Magen all are.”
There was silent nodding amongst the crowd as Natanya looked them over.
“The Karam have taken another of our brothers from us. When will we fight back? When will we stop this madness, this destruction, once and for all? Will we continue to stand idly by while we’re picked off cohort by cohort?” Mikael’s voice rose with each question, ending in a shout that echoed throughout the hills. Taking a deep breath, he returned to his normal volume.
“The Karam, with their dog Guenther, have killed so many of us already. We are but a shell of what we were, and the world suffers for it. There are twenty of us here. How many more are out there in hiding? They have murdered entire cohorts, and they now have targeted mine. I refuse to watch any more of us die. Do you?”
Out of the crowd, a plump woman with her hair tucked under a skier’s cap stepped forward. Natanya thought she knew her vaguely, and when she introduced herself as Catherine, she realized from where. Elise did not like the woman and constantly made snide remarks about her, a rather un-Magenlike thing to do, as Natanya delighted in telling her.
“Mikael,” she began. “Mikael, we’re all heartbroken over Carsten’s death, and indeed the deaths of all our brothers and sisters throughout the centuries, but what can we do? We are too few, and the Karam outnumber us close to three to one. How do you propose we defeat them?”
Mikael shook his head. “I don’t know. Open warfare is out of the question, I know. Their numbers and powers are too great and besides, it would draw too much attention. Still, we have to figure something out!”
Natanya had heard enough. Stepping forward, drawing the very attention to herself that she so hated, she faced the crowd.
“I know what I’m going to do. I am going to kill Guenther and his entire cohort,” she said.
The crowd gasped. Catherine stared at Natanya in disbelief.
“You cannot do such a thing! Killing is against everything we hold sacred. We heal, we don’t destroy! To destroy is the Karami way!”
Shrugging, Natanya looked the crowd over: Elise, who was ever so slightly shaking her head, willing Natanya to be quiet; Max, towering over her, his spiky green hair and leather-studded dog collar, looking scared; and finally, at Mikael, who was red faced and shaking in his rage, angrily batting his black hair out of his eyes as he defiantly glared at those gathered. This was her cohort. These three, and Carsten, were her only remaining family, the only ones she loved and trusted fully. Turning her dull gaze back to Catherine, she said:
“I can do such a thing. And I will. Are you going to try to stop me?” She took in the faces staring at her now with a mixture of fear, pity, and disgust, and waited. When no one spoke, she repeated quietly:
“Are any of you going to try to stop me?”
Catherine sighed. “No, Natanya, we are not going to stop you. You must know, however, that this is not the path you want to go. There are other ways to deal with this, there must be.”
“I’m still waiting on a suggestion.” Mikael spat on the ground. “I’m still waiting for someone to say ‘This is what we do,’ and to do it. It hasn’t happened yet. Natanya’s way is the only way.”
“Okay.” Catherine turned back to Natanya. “But know this: if you do this, you are acting in accordance to the Karami way. I doubt you will be very welcome amongst the Magen beyond your own cohort,” she glanced back at Elise and Max, “if even by them. You risk being ostracized. Can you live with that?”
“Can I live with saving the lives of my people? Yes. Even if those same people can’t stand the sight of me.” Nodding to each in turn, Natanya made her way back to Max and Elise.
At the pyre, Mikael lifted a flaming torch that had been thrust into the frozen ground and held it to the sky.
“For you, my brother! Rest with our ancestors and hurt no more!” Touching it to the kindling, the pyre lit the gloom in an orange glow. The wind whipped the flames into a frenzy, and Natanya felt the warmth on her face. It was an interesting contrast to the coldness she felt inside. The distant lighthouse had faded to the color of dried blood in the dimming light of day.
She looked at Elise. One of her oldest friends, they often didn’t see eye to eye on subjects, but Natanya had come to value Elise’s ability at diplomacy, something she lacked. The fact that Elise could manipulate emotions helped, but most of it was her own charisma.
“You don’t agree.” She didn’t bother asking; she knew the answer already.
Elise twirled a strand of her long blonde hair around her finger and gazed past the pyre into the darkening sky over the ocean. Her eyes were crystal blue. Overall, she was an extraordinarily beautiful woman, even if she did know it. Rumor said that Beethoven had been so taken with her in Vienna that he was inspired to write ”Fuer Elise” for her; Natanya always doubted this story, but Elise never dispelled the rumor, so it remained.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, Elise turned. “No, Natanya, I don’t agree. I think it’s foolish of you to go after Guenther and his cohort. And alone! No one will help you. They would all rather cower behind their books and potions and healing than risk death.”
“I won’t be alone. I’ll have Mikael, and Max can help with the logistics of tracking him. We’ll be okay.”
“Are you sure this is for the good of the cohort, and the Magen as a whole, or is this some sort of revenge fantasy you’re acting upon?” She peered at Natanya closely. “It is, isn’t it? You’re doing this for other reasons as well.”
Natanya shrugged. “So? As long as the job is done, what does it matter what my reasons are?”
“It matters because you’re going to get innocent people killed for your own revenge! You aren’t doing this strictly for the good of all of us, and I feel that anyone you trap into helping you should know that. It’s not even about Carsten! It’s what happened in Auschwitz. When are you going to let that go? When are you going to finally start living again?”
In the face of her friend’s fury, Natanya felt nothing. No fear, no anger, just a profound emptiness. Pushing her short brown hair from her eyes, she held Elise’s gaze with her own emerald green eyes before Elise finally blushed and looked down.
Quietly, Elise continued. “I didn’t mean to imply that what happened does not matter. Of course it does. I just don’t want you throwing your life away for something that can’t be changed. If you go after Guenther, he will kill you.” Elise repeated, slowly, “He will kill you, and you will be gone, forever. No coming back.”
“You know, I heard Carsten before he died. He called my name. I heard and felt his final moments, much like I did back in Auschwitz with the others. I can’t let this continue, Elise. I can’t keep sitting by while we’re eliminated. Just look at how things are. They’re shit. And do you know what? When we’re all gone, when the Karam have finally wiped out every last one of us, things will be ten, twenty times worse for humanity. I don’t want to be responsible for that even if I’m not here.”
Elise’s anger had faded into sadness, and Natanya was still surprised that she felt nothing, not even the cold gale that was obscuring her vision with snow. The funeral pyre was dying down; all that remained were cherry red embers and black soot. The distant lighthouse had all but vanished.
Touching Natanya’s arm, Elise smiled. “We’ll talk more and figure something out. You won’t be alone, I promise. We’ll get this done.” She gave her arm one final squeeze and walked off.
As everyone dispersed, Natanya was approached by one of the men in the crowd. Good looking, he was tall, well over six feet, and appeared to be in his mid-thirties. He had short, curly brown hair and dark brown eyes that twinkled in perpetual amusement, despite the somber setting they currently found themselves in.
“Natanya, you may not know me,” he began, but Natanya interrupted.
“Of course I do. You’re Daniel, one of the Elders.”
“Chair of the Elders, actually,” he corrected, then smiled, revealing dimples that, to anyone else, might have made hearts flutter. Natanya was unmoved.
“Yeah, okay. So, Chairperson, what can I do for you? Or are you here to talk me out of my totally un-Magenlike ideas like Catherine over there?” She jerked her head toward the plump woman, who offered her a reproachful glare in reply and then stalked off.
“Not at all. Unlike some of the others, I see your point. While I admit that the thought of undue violence turns my stomach, perhaps it is time for us to take some sort of action. I just caution you to go about your plans carefully. You’re going to find it a difficult road to travel in trying to gain support from your fellow Magen.” The wind caught a lock of his curls and stood it up, giving him a vaguely sinister appearance. He scowled and brushed it aside impatiently.
“I don’t need anyone’s help,” Natanya said.
Daniel gave her a slight bow—unusual from an Elder—and replied, “Very well. Just know that, if you find yourself in need of aid, I am here to offer my assistance.”
Natanya was suspicious. “Why?”
“Because you and I share a similar outlook on things. Unlike my peers, I have been watching the events unfold and realize that action must be taken.”
“Okay. Um, thanks.” Natanya wasn’t used to this sort of understanding from the Magen, and it made her a bit uncomfortable.
Smiling, Daniel sauntered off toward the Magen compound.
The crowd had vanished after the pyre had burned out, back to their warm and toasty rooms. Natanya remained for the moment, relishing the solitude. Walking slowly, she approached the cliff and stared down into the black water below. How easy it would be, she thought. Just go over the side. The fall might kill her, but she really doubted it. It took a lot to kill her kind. Sighing, head down against the howling wind, she made her way back to her room.