He never meant to start a rebellion. The Magic Revolution, as some called it, was an accident; a culmination of terror and throat burning bitterness and loathing. He can’t even remember how it started or what he did to spark the loyalty he’s received. Maybe the war had nothing to do with him. Maybe it was all about what he represented. Maybe people were just tired of being afraid. Tired of hating themselves. Tired of always losing.
He was just in the right place at the right time. Every movement needed a poster child, didn’t it?
He never meant to start a rebellion, to move a group of people to war, to feel the weight of responsibility for a movement that wasn’t his doing. He never forgets these facts, these feelings, no matter how far he goes. No matter how much he loses himself.
Smoldering ruins, billowing clouds of smoke, and wails of pain: the evidence of victory lays all around him. He strolls across the battlefield, the remains of a ghost town. He ignores the dead and dying, glancing at the wounded; some are enemy soldiers, some are his own. The pavement beneath his feet is stained with blood. He should be terrified by his hand in the death around him, but the simultaneous chill and warmth of dark magic lingers in his veins. His body is not his own.
A man he dimly recognizes scrambles his way over the fallen bodies to reach his side. “Gareth, we’ve won. Some of the other soldiers are raising the borders now–” The man stops short when he turns to face him; he doesn’t know why.
“Gareth,” the man says slowly, taking great care to pronounce his words. “Gareth, can you answer me?”
Of course, he thinks. He wonders if the words reached his mouth. He hears a faint sound like the clearing of a throat.
“Gareth,” the man says, gently laying a hand on his arm, “please come with me. You need rest.”
Rest? Victors do not rest. He – Gareth, perhaps? Is that his name? – continues his journey to the smoldering ruins of the makeshift fort he has conquered. What used to be a city hall is now only so much dust and rubble. It’s unfortunate, he thinks, because he is sure that before the military took over it was a beautiful building.
He climbs atop a stone wall that collapsed under the onslaught of magic and gazes at the soldiers. He recognizes their faces but no names come to mind. He can feel the buzz of magic pulsing through his head. It is calming, slowly, and recognition returns to him.
“We’re still here,” he says. He drops his gaze to the stones on which he stands. There is graffiti there. KILL THE REBELS. GOOD WILL WIN, it says, the words scratched into the stone with some sort of blade.
He raises his head. “We are still here, and they are not. We who fight for freedom and equality are still here.”
From the back of the crowd, he hears a howl. One of the werewolves, no doubt.
“They try to vilify us,” Gareth continues, “with their talk of rebels and terrorists. But who is it that slaughters the werewolves who are our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters? Who is it that suppresses and extinguishes the magic users who do not bend to their will? I, like all of you, have lived in secrecy, terrified and afraid of the day my magic would be discovered. There is not a single day where I have lived in peace. And my fear has not been as great those of you who cannot control or hide your gifts or conditions – however it is you choose to think of them.
“We have always prevailed. We have always survived. But soon we will win. Soon we will thrive. Once we have taken the city, we will have carved a place for our own. We will have a home.
“We will belong.”
He scuffs his boot on the stone, kicking soot and dirt over the words carved there, as the soldiers cheer.
“Sir,” the small, portly man says–his right hand man. His name is…is…David. David loosely wraps his hand around Gareth’s arm and tugs him off the rubble, through the crowds and into a large tent that has been set up in the middle of a parking lot. David turns to the guard standing by the tent. “Do not disturb us.”
Once inside, he pushes Gareth down onto a cot and forces him to lie down. “Gareth, you need to be more careful. You’re slipping further away for longer each time you use your magic.”
The words bring Gareth back, the hypnotic hold of his magic breaking. He blinks owlishly, then rubs a hand over his face. “I can’t stop.” He’s more tired than he’s ever been after using his magic, but the military presence in the city was greater than any other before. He feels his body start to tremble.
“I never said you should.” David bops him on the head with a pillow. “I said you should be careful.”
“The soldiers need me. Need my magic.”
“I’m not disputing that.”
Gareth lays an arm over his eyes, feeling the familiar feverish chills overtake him. “Once we bring down Boston, I’ll take a vacation.” He rolls over onto his side, back to David, and curls his thin body into a ball. “I need…” He leans over the side of the cot and wretches. Even with his eyes squeezed shut, he feels his stomach churn again at the sloppy wet sound of his vomit splashing onto the pavement barely a foot below. “Karen.” He gasps her name. His hand grips the side of the cot so tight his knuckles turn white. “I need Karen.” He vomits again, wondering how much food could possibly be left in his stomach. He had a large breakfast, the same as all the other spell casters, but that had to have been over ten hours ago at least.
He feels a hand press lightly against his back. Gasping and feeling dizziness creep up on him, Gareth twists his head to see David leaning over him in evident worry. “Karen,” he gasps, “please.”
“There’s not much she can do, Gareth,” David says. The admission appears to cost him. “You’ll just have to wait it out.”
Gareth grabs a fistful of David’s shirt. His vision blurs, and tears slip down his cheeks. Stomach churning and feverish, he begs, “Please. There’s got to be something–” He throws himself to hang over the edge of cot, and David grips him by the back of his shirt, keeping him from falling off. Gareth wretches, but his stomach seems to have emptied itself. For a minute, he stays where he is, taking deep breathes and spitting on the ground to try to rid himself of the foul taste in his mouth.
The edges of Gareth’s vision dim and blur. David’s voice sounds far away. Gareth can feel the magic in his veins like fire and ice, searing and freezing him from the inside at the same time. David tries to pull a blanket over him, and he kicks it away. “Don’t. Too hot.” As he says this, he wraps his arms around him and curls into a tight ball, shivering. “Karen. Want Karen.”
“There’s nothing she can do. Bringing her here would only take her away from patients who she can help. Soldiers who need her to save their lives.”
“But I–” He stops. He can’t take her away for nothing. It hurts, but he’s made it through his before. Closing his eyes, he takes deep breaths and lets them out slowly. He wills himself not to panic. He’s not actually dying, no matter how much it may feel like it–not yet, anyway. He’s almost managed to calm himself when his vision dims and narrows. Pain rips through him. He claws at his chest.
“Gareth!” David grabs at his hands, wrestling them away from his chest. “What’s happening?”
“My heart,” Gareth gasps. “Feels like…being shredded.”
His vision goes dark, and David’s voice sounds far away. There are hands on his chest, his arms, far away unintelligible shouts. Then there’s nothing, and his body goes limp.