Jin led the way with a quick and nervous stride, explaining as he went, “Normally you’d get a councilor to help with your magic and figure out what you can do as a trio, as you know. They’re provided for free by [acronym]. But if Andromeda is right and they or someone else is going to be ‘after us’, I’d rather we didn’t draw more attention than we need to.”

We were in an area of town that had been under construction for as long as I could remember. Plenty of trios came to practice here, and occasionally brave Batteries to play with small magic. There were a couple of abandoned buildings haunted by those who didn’t want to conform to society’s expectations, or those who couldn’t for one reason or another.

I thought about the news a few years ago when a trio had snapped and started killing. Plenty of people were mad, but I had always felt so sorry for them, trying to imagine the kind of stress they’d been under for that to happen. One was killed by the [acronym]’s Safety Force, and another was taken into custody and was eventually transferred to the mental ward a few states over. The last disappeared, but I figured she’d gone to a place outside the expectations that had led her to snap in the first place.

Old and empty schools were one of the creepiest places on the planet and Jin had us tromping through the halls of this one. I saw the occasional sign of life: sleeping bag, empty propane tank, abandoned food wrappers.

“How do you know about this?” I asked.

“My trio came here a few times to practice,” he answered dismissively.

The gym magnified the silence until I was trying not to hunch over protectively. Big, empty spaces made me nervous.

Jin stopped and turned on his heel to face me. “No one’s going to find us here. The walls are reinforced since so many kids are tested in school gyms and you never know what’ll happen. Check if you don’t believe me.”

Andromeda narrowed her eyes and looked around. I could feel the magic, like anyone could, but Channels can only identify whoever it was that made the magic, so I wouldn’t be able to help much. Unless I was a Focus… Curiosity piqued, stepped in front of the wall and stared at it. Nothing came to mind.

“Jin, how does a Focus identify what magic is?”

I heard him shifting uncomfortably behind me. “Um, I usually just imagine drawing it into myself for, like, a taste-test?”

I considered the answer and shrugged, willing to try anything. Today had been beyond weird already; what was one more insane event?

A deep breath in… nothing. Determined, I planted my palms on the textured and painted concrete found in every gym I’d ever seen and- wait. Something faint was nudging the back of my mind. I turned my attention inward and felt some kind of metallic scraping around the area of my elbows. Not scraping itself but something like the memory of a person biting a fork that you get every time you see them after that meal.

Weird.

I stepped away from the wall and gave it a grim stare, daring it to try anything un-wall-like. It remained docile in its wallishness.

Satisfied, I returned to where Jin was standing. The others were staring at me and I shrugged off the history of my childhood self-consciousness. I was just as confused and scared as they were, and it wasn’t like any of this was intentional.

“If the four of us are bonded,” Jin said, “I want to try to do magic to see if it’s a true bond, or some other, undiscovered kind.”

“Through my Channeling,” Andromeda confirmed. Their voices were soft, but echoed far above anyway.

“Exactly.” Jin put out a hand and Andromeda stared at it.

“What if we bond?”

“Would you, though?” Mathis asked. “It only takes one instrument in a duo to bond with their third – you didn’t light up when Lizette touched me.”

“None of this is normal,” Andromeda sighed. She winced and took Jin’s hand. Nothing happened and both of them looked relieved.

“Mathis,” Jin instructed.

The Battery nodded and let out a controlled breath, bringing his magic into being. It was different than the magic I’d seen before. Normally I’d only see whatever action they were taking come into being but this time that damned blue light was zipping around them like Sonic the Hedgehog had just done a thick line of cocaine.

They weren’t at it for long. Mathis let go of the magic and Andromeda reclaimed her hands. Jin rubbed his chest and said, “Everything felt normal for me; almost like I was working in my own trio. So we’re all bonded, I guess.”

“Would that mean I can work with Andrea?” Mathis asked with scholarly curiosity.

Jin shrugged. “I don’t see why not – they’re bonded through me and we’re bonded through her so she would, theoretically, be able to Channel just as well as Andromeda. Right?”

They all looked at me and I shrugged. “Sounds right to me?”

“Did you notice anything odd?” Mathis asked.

I told them about the blue light again.

“You don’t see this anywhere else?” he asked.

“Just on people. And only since this morning.”

“Maybe Dr. Bjork did something,” Andromeda mused. “Maybe she has a method of marking you? And that’s how that guy was following us?”

“Maybe,” I agreed. I didn’t think so, but she looked like she needed a win.

“You all right?” Jin asked. I looked over, but he was talking to Mathis, who was rubbing his eyes.

“Um, yeah. I think so. I’m… um. Dizzy?” He looked confused and then his eyes widened. “Oh man! I need to sleep! This is the first day I’ve used magic and I’m going to sleep tonight! Or, right now maybe? How does this work? Am I going to have dreams? Or nightmares? How do you know which is which?”

It was impossible not to laugh at his excited babbling.

“You can come bunk on my couch,” Jin offered.

“Uh,” Andromeda held out a hand. “That might not be a great idea? I mean, if they’re tracking us, they could be tracking him, and then they’d be tracking you, right?”

Jin’s face fell and he looked lost.

“Here looks nice,” I suggested. I thought about the sleeping bag we’d passed on the way in. Andromeda glared at me.

“Maybe a hotel?” she suggested.

“Do you guys taste that?” Jin asked. His tongue was moving in his mouth and his nose was wrinkled. As soon as he said it, I could feel an odd sensation around the area of my back, like someone was plucking the string of an instrument behind me and a room away.

Mathis said, “That feels like a port—”

A sucking sound of wind drowned out his sentence as a portal appeared. A woman stepped through and a part of me admired her height, almost equal to mine. It wasn’t often I met a towering fellow and I felt kinship to her immediately. She met my eyes and beckoned me forward. I made an incredulous face and she pointed over my shoulder.

I looked behind me and saw three more portals had surrounded us. They were somehow moving forward, boxing us in. Jin looked like he was about to run, but he looked at Mathis and held back, taking his friend’s hand instead.

“They all go the same place,” the woman called over the noise. “Might as well step through because we all know you’re going to eventually. Where’s your sense of adventure?”

“I left it in my other legs!” Mathis yelled back. Still, he was the first to step through the portal closest to him. Jin followed on his heels. Andromeda was staring at me, wide-eyed and angry.

I took her hand and leaned close. “I’ll fix this!”

She finally tightened her grip and we stepped through together.

April 21, 2021

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