Marcus reached the top of that small hill of sand. Close to the sea there was a lit fireplace, everybody was already there, either drinking into groups or by the fireplace telling stories with the fire and the smoke or the sand. He chose the latest, but first reached out a hand to his wand tucked with his T-shirt inside his pants sending three golden sparkles flying up in the air to announce his arrival.
He reached the circle of people by a blue fire, all of them around the same age he was: twenty.
“Marcus, here! I’ve saved you a place.” Ronan told him, reaching out a can of beer.
“Am I the last one to arrive?” he asked the group.
“Nah, we’re still waiting for one person…” This was Colter, low bass voice and long blond hair brushed back.
“Glad to know I wasn’t the last one.” He looked around trying to match the faces with the names he’d already memorize. There was Alisha with ashen-hair, Ton still wearing his shorts, and Alexandria wearing the Witch-Style, in her very own way. And Colter, but he was a quiet one, even more than Marcus himself. Besides them there were other four people with them but Marcus didn’t know who they were.
The moment seemed to stop a little; Marcus watched while Alexandria poured purple potion inside an empty can.
The silence dragged on from there.
“So, hum… what were you guys doing before I got here.” He felt awkward, even now, he felt awkward.
“We were sharing…” Alisha started off slow, “about what we would like our lives to be or how much we wished we weren’t so stuck in life right now.”
Marcus hummed. “Gottacha.”
“What about you Marcus?” Alexandria's question caught him off guard, the pentagram drawn on her chest showing. “What do you want your life to be like?”
“Well…” he sighted, accepting a serving of purple potion that one the girls passed him, “I don’t know. I’m a Columnist, so I work from home all day, but…” he stared into the potion, unknowingly, “I wanna do something different, somethings that’s totally out of my league, and at the same time, I also wanna change everything about my lifestyle.”
“And what is it?”
He thought before answering, his gaze still locked on the can. “Nah, forget it guys, it doesn’t matter!” He snapped all of a sudden.
The group refute, it wasn’t going to make him talk however. And he didn’t, for immediately after Alice shot her green sparks into the night skies and everybody gathered by the fire for the Challenge Box to appear, but it took a while.
They heard a shuffling in the sand, as if someone was crawling on the ground, only that it wasn’t. It was the Challenge Box, digging itself up, until it launched in the air and landed in front of them.
Two built german boys slip their wands out and the top of the box opened.
“Sleeping bags?” Marcus heard one of them say in german.
Everybody started to yammer and curse when the weather went crazy and a lightning hit the fire causing everything to go dark and cold.
“Great, now we don’t even have food let alone a place to warm us up.” Alice vented.
“Well, we got these.” Answered one of the boys with a heavy german accent, sending a small orb of light in the air that lit up the whole place.
“Great...” Rolling her eyes.
The wind squall, though it didn’t stop. There was thunder and lightning at the distance. Some trembled with the unexpected loud noise, others simply out of fear. And then it started to pour down on them, heavy droplets.
Everybody rushed for a sleeping bag of their own. Marcus was the last to make it through; which meant, he was the only one with no place to spend the night. He turned around trying to find a strategy to survive the challenge.
Nothing. Just wet sand and beach grass.
He turned around as he felt the touch of someone gripping his shoulder. He turned, hopping to see someone with a spare sleeping bag. But it was just one of the german guys who had open the box.
“Come. You can spend the night with me. I will help you.”
This seemed odd. “Why would you do such a thing? You don’t know me.”
“Because I can’t let you die of hypothermia. What kind of person would do that?”
Marcus lowered his line of view at the sand,telling himself to stop being paranoid.
“Come on, we don’t have all night!” His accent pushing through.
The german grabbed him by the arm and pushed him into place in the circle where the fireplace used to be. Everybody slid their wands out and started to chant, struggling to move one leg after the other against the cutting wind and the sand. One member stood at the centre to coordinate the defences and the amount of steps each member could walk.
This was Collective Magic, powerful stuff. Not everybody had the brains for it.
On the mark everybody moved their wands and hands in shapes, all at the same speed and the barrier was set. They were inside, and rain and the wind outside, for now at least.
Marcus made a few steps towards the middle, where someone had start a new fire. A hand stopped him… the german’s.
“We should make camp here. Should the barrier start to disappear we will already be in position.”
Marcus looked between the sleeping bag and the german. Marcus was muscular alright, but this guy was twice his size, he would never fit inside the bag.
“And how are you going to sleep inside that?” he point at the bag.
“I’ll make it bigger!” His voice pointed out the obvious. “Where are you going to sleep?”
He felt that sinking feeling he always did when things turned for the worse. He looked at the fire wishing he could be close to it for the rest of the night. “I’ll just cast a warmth spell around me.”
“That old weak spell?” Pointing the wand at the bag.
“Got anything better?”
“I actually don’t!” Marcus watched him get tucked inside the sleeping bag.
Casting the warmth spell he lay-down on the wet sand.
Soon after he sensed a presence nearby that woke him from his dormant state. “You think I am stupid?”
Marcus opened his eyes to the german kneeling next to his head. “I am not gonna let you sleep out here. Get in there.” His head tilting at the bag, which was now spacious enough for both of them.
He looked the guy in the eyes, which were bright yellow, like the moon. “I am not sleeping with you.”
“Oh, but you are.” He replied back.
“No, I am-” before he could finish the sentence the german had plucked him from the ground and over his shoulder.
“You’re heavier than I thought!” He said, heaving him into the bag, but Marcus struggled to stay out. “Why won’t you get in?”
“Because I don’t want to!” He insisted..
“You will freeze!” The guy spart, heaving himself on top of Marcus and tossed the flap over their bodies, somehow managing to close the zip. “There. Now you have no escape.” He grinned.
Apart from the enlargement on the sleeping bag, it was very snug with both of them in there: comfortable. “Aren’t you going to say anything?”
“What do you want me to say? I am cocooning with a guy inside a sleeping bag at the beach… I think the situation speaks for itself.”
The german began to laugh. “You’re a funny guy. What’s your name?”
“Marcus.” He muttered.
“Well Marcus, I am Cro!” There was a beat, felling Cro looking into his soul, scavenging for something, he looked to the side defensively. “Nice to meet you.”
He waited for some sort of conversation, but it never came… for a while.
Marcus sighted, “so, how did you get to the island?”
Cro’s eyes lit up with some sort of fire Marcus couldn’t understand and looked pass his shoulder to avoid them. “I ran across the water.”
Marcus laughed at the impossible. “You’re saying you ran twelve miles across the sea, just to get to here.”
“That seems unlikely; even for someone as massive as you.”
“Say what now?” Cro, rolled to his side, creating a comfortable distance between them. The two boys, now looking at the universe in low-motion overhead. “ I am two-hundred and forty-two pounds.”
He shrugged. “So?”
“So, mass equals magick strength!”
“No, mass, PLUS” he emphasized, “zero point zero two percent strength, equals, magick strength!”
“You don’t need to be a genius to know that.” He answered back.
There was another silence, while they both looked at the sky. “How about you? How did you get here?”
“Duh, think I just snapped my fingers?” Actually snapping his.
“So, instead of using magic, you cheated!”
“There are no rules, so, there is no cheating. Besides, potion making is still magic. And I still had to go through a lot of trouble to find the perfect candidate to get here.”
Cro hummed. “I can imagine.”
Marcus looked at Cro, though not directly at his eyes, suspicious he might be trying to read his mind for some reason. Some Witches bear special gifs, like a spell that didn’t need to be casted; Marcus was no exception. His eyes darted from place to place, but not only on his face, while he tried to come up with an excuse or any other topic: lips, jaw, arms, eyes, nose, sternum, lips, arms, eyes again, lips, eyes again…
Marcus pulled back from the trance he was getting himself locked into, when the image of a burning Willow flashed inside his eyes.
“What is it?” Cro asked.
“Nothing,” turning his back on him. “I am just tired.”
Marcus, shut his eyes, trying not to think about his cold feet and the burning Willow.
A strange weight lay over his forearm and across his chest. He peeked inside the sleeping back, spotting Cro’s hand. He shrugged, already used to this sort of interaction with other men, without thinking too much of it, and letting him come closer for warmth.
“NOOO!” said a shrieking voice that spooked him up.
Marcus turned back, looking at the glow, the scene utterly familiar. The willow, his eyes widened with the thought he’d hope to avoid. A thousand faded forms surrounded the screen.
Cro was there, though a much smaller and wimpiest version of him. He ran towards the willow, fading though Marcus’s grip when he reached out for him on impulse. Powerlessly, Marcus watched him, unbound someone from the tree. He walked closely, curious to this figure’s identity, never able to make out a face or a name.
The roaring of the fire and the willow’s cry, the only sound in his ears.