Asher used to have the same dream every night, full of flames and bloodied corpses amidst a burning warehouse. The violence, the screams, the gunfire. None of that mattered to him. The most vivid and important part of his nightmare, etched in his mind forever, was her. The beautiful woman with waves of vibrant red hair and emerald green eyes.
Her tears haunted him as he reached for her with a trembling hand. He hadn't the strength, and he knew one thing with dreadful certainty. They had failed, and he was going to die. Her tear filled face was the last thing he saw before he woke up.
Asher hadn't had that dream in ten years. The recurring nightmare his six year old self imagined had since faded from his memory completely, but one thing never quite left him. One image remained etched in his mind forever. Her face. Her emerald green eyes and red hair. Her haunted tears.
It was buried in the deepest recesses of his memories, only surfacing at random on some rare occasions until it slipped away. So for it to resurface now so vividly, not just as an image but as a dream...Yeah. That was weird. So was that annoying beeping sound.
Better get your shit together, Asher, he thought groggily, blinking his eyes open reluctantly.
He glared at his alarm clock and punched the snooze button. Grumbling out a string of cuss words, he shuffled to his feet, rubbing his messy brown hair. Obnoxious sounds and shrieks of laughter made him cringe. His foster siblings were already making his ears bleed. He sighed and walked into the bathroom, quickly brushing his teeth, combing his hair and shaving off what little stubble was on his chin. He washed the shaving cream off his face and stared at his reflection.
"Happy birthday, Asher," he muttered gloomily.
His ocean blue eyes stared back at him as they seemed to ask him a question. He asked himself it almost every day. What the heck is the point of my life? What's my purpose? He never got an answer. He wasn't sure he really cared that much sometimes anyway. Disinterest in everything and everyone including himself made him wonder why he even tried.
He sighed and walked past the annoying foster kids getting ready for their day too. Asher didn't care as they grabbed his legs. He just stepped out the door and made his way to the bus stop. He hoped it would get there soon. If it was late again, he knew exactly what would happen.
"Man, you are not doing this to us again!"
Asher cringed and turned to look at his supposed friends. It was their idea that they were all friends, not his. Sadly, Asher really didn't know how to avoid them sometimes. They all went to the same school and lived in the same part of town. Maybe he should just stop trying to avoid them. It was a serious pain to put up with their complaints.
He watched as Terry crossed his arms looking irritated. Celie pouted at Asher from her red convertible. Its hood was off, as usual, causing her long blond hair to flicker slightly in the breeze.
"Today of all days, Asher? Really? If you won't carpool for this, then why do we try?"
Asher actually snorted a laugh. Celie sounded a little like him for once.
She gestured to the back seat and shouted playfully, "In now! No excuses!"
Stupidly, he couldn't help smiling just a little. There really was no point in arguing with these guys. He got in the back seat with Terry following right behind, then they were driving off to one of Asher's least favorite places. Kingston High School.
"So, what did you mean by today of all days?" Asher muttered out.
"You forgot?" Terry looked even more irritated now. "The museum field trip. Remember? The place Celie and I got that job. Ringing a bell yet, Ash?"
Not liking the nick name, as usual, Asher scowled slightly. "It's Asher," he mumbled, "and yeah. Now I remember."
Celie snorted. "Doesn't anything get you interested? There's got to be something."
Her question bothered him, mostly because he didn't know the answer. "Dunno. Maybe I just haven't found it yet."
"Come on, man. It's a huge museum. If you don't find something there you like, I'll be surprised."
Asher raised an eyebrow at Terry. "Seriously? What's so great about museums that you could say that about me? This is me we're talking about."
Terry and Celie exchanged a glance, then Terry turned back to him with a knowing look. "You've never even been to a museum, have you?" It was more of a statement than a question.
Asher stiffened a little and even blushed. These guys knew him way too well. It was kind of uncomfortable.
Seriously, why did they even bother trying to get to know to someone like him? Asher was a nobody with no parents, no origin story to tell, and nothing interesting about him. Were they stupid?
Maybe I'm the one who's stupid, came a reluctant thought. Maybe I shouldn't push everyone away.
If he didn't push everyone away, then maybe his life would be a little less boring. It wasn't like he had anything to lose. The thing was, that's what scared him the most. He didn't have anything to lose. The moment he admitted he had anyone or anything he cared about, was the moment he could lose something. It was the moment he could fail.
With those thoughts, he closed himself off again, avoiding and ignoring Terry and Celie entirely. Asher didn't notice Celie's concerned look. He didn't notice Terry shake his head at him. What he did notice, as they stopped at a light, was that someone else was watching them. It was that weird sensation of feeling someone's eyes on you, and it made him turn his head in the direction of a sidewalk.
Asher blinked at what the gray haired man was wearing. Black robes with weird silver symbols etched all over it. It was like some dark wizard costume you'd see at a convention. Was he a cosplayer?
"Uh...hey guys, is there a convention today or something, because that guy looking at us is dressed all freaky."
Celie perked up. "You like conventions? So there is something you like!"
Asher winced. "I went to one once. It doesn't mean I like them."
She sighed in frustration. "Asher, I really don't get you sometimes."
Terry elbowed her and gestured with his head towards the man. If Asher didn't know any better he'd have sworn Terry looked freaked out. That was too weird, though. Nothing ever freaked Terry out, least of all stuff like this.
Asher raised an eyebrow as Celie tensed too. They were staring at the cosplayer with something like terror. It was driving Asher crazy for once.
"Okay, what's wrong? Why are you guys freaking out? Do you know him or something?"
Celie laughed nervously. "Um, I think so. I'm pretty sure he's one of those people Terry and I would rather forget exist."
Terry didn't look happy about the outburst and glared at her warningly. Asher sighed a little irritably. "Guys, you don't have to open up about shit. Sorry it's bugging you, but let's just forget about it."
The two of them didn't relax in the slightest, and Asher looked away. Man, this was a pain. The silence dragged on as they waited for the light to change. Just who was that guy that they didn't like him this much? The instant the light turned green, they drove off without a word. Then something weird happened. Celie took a wrong turn.
"Uh, Celie, what are you doing? School's not this way."
"I know," she said with forced cheeriness, "but since we're going to the museum today anyway, I thought we should go ahead."
Now Asher was really staring. "Without the rest of the class? How is that being part of the field trip? No attendance and shit could land us detention."
"We'll work it out with the school. Trust me," said Terry, going right along with it.
He sounded strangely relieved, and for the first time Asher wondered how much he really knew about these two. Was it actually even safe to carpool with them? He pushed away the worries for now and sighed irritably, then they arrived at the massive museum building. Grumbling out a string of complaints, he followed Celie and Terry inside.
"I'm gonna use the bathroom," Celie said quickly. "You stay with Ash."
Terry nodded his agreement, but Asher was irritated. "It's Asher."
They waited for a few minutes for Celie to get back. She was smiling with a weird hint of relief. "It's all good."
Terry let out a relieved sigh. Asher just stared at the two a bit warily. "Uh, that was just a bathroom break, right?"
They both almost seemed to wince. "Of course it was." Celie sounded a little hurt. "What else? Now let's look around before the rest of the school gets here."
"Huh?" Asher was surprised. "Um, don't we need tickets or something?"
Terry rolled his eyes in irritation. "Don't you listen to anything? We work here. Tickets don't matter, and since you're with us, who's gonna care?"
"Right. You work here," Asher began, trying to find a way out of this, "so do we really have to look around? Isn't that what we'll be doing all afternoon anyway?"
Celie's eyes lit up mischievously. "You're not getting out of this one, Asher. It's time to find something that interests you." Asher groaned and gloomily let them lead the way.
The first exhibit, as expected, bored him to tears. Ancient Egypt wasn't grabbing his attention. Not even the mummies.
That didn't deter Celie and Terry though. They dragged him right to another exhibit in the museum. The room was full of historical paintings and large dioramas.
"Welcome to the eighteenth century." Celie gestured to the room as a whole with her arms out. "This one's one of my favorites."
Asher tried to stifle it, but he couldn't help surprising himself. He really liked what he saw. Life sized wax figurines holding pistols. Paintings of grand battles with war horses and uniforms. Portraits of important historical figures and their families. He couldn't keep his eyes away.
He loved the art, the texture of the paint, the skill of the wax figurines. For some weird reason it just drew him in. He didn't realize he was grinning until he looked back at Celie and Terry who were watching him smugly. Asher's face fell, and he turned red with embarrassment.
"See, Asher. Museums aren't so boring, are they?" asked Celie.
Asher laughed nervously and let them take him to another exhibit, much more willingly this time. It had a middle ages theme, and he was again intrigued. There were tapestries covered with a very different sort of art. Its minimalistic and subdued detail didn't subtract from the appeal though. The calligraphy was really nice to look at too. He admired the items encased in glass, and kept moving along until they arrived at a more secluded part of the exhibit.
"Uh, do you really think we should go there?" Terry asked a little nervously.
Asher looked at him oddly. "You've been trying to get me interested in something since you met me, and now you're trying to stop me?"
Celie laughed. "Good point, Asher. It's just..." She looked suddenly nervous. "This section is dedicated to a recent occult finding. You know, medieval witch stuff."
Asher snorted. "That stuff isn't even real, so where's the harm?"
He noticed that Terry and Celie followed him somewhat reluctantly, but he walked right ahead. Something about these items froze him in place a little. The good excited feeling of the other art and displays was fading as he looked at them. Things like bones, animal claws and creepy looking jewelry were on display.
A massive leather bound book, that looked in surprisingly good shape, caught Asher's attention big time too. No. It wasn't just any book. It was a grimoire.
Asher froze. How did he know it was called a grimoire? What was a grimoire exactly anyway? He shook his head, feeling chilled.
"This place is giving me the creeps," Celie whined. "Can we go?"
"Yeah," he said nervously. "I can see why you didn't want to come in here."
When he turned back around, he froze like ice, feeling the most intense shock of his life at what he saw. Pure terror built up in his chest as he looked at an elegantly crafted silver mirror. In its glass wasn't his reflection, though. It was the image he had thought was lost from his mind. It was her. The woman who haunted his dreams.
She wasn't crying outwardly. She couldn't because she was frozen in ice, but it was her, and he could feel her crying. She was crying for him so desperately.
Asher reached out his hand towards the mirror, staring at it with both terror and awe. A mixture of excitement and confusion coursed through him as he drew nearer.
He couldn't help himself. He couldn't stay away, even as the woman's emerald eyes began to glow an even brighter green. He wasn't aware that his eyes were glowing green too. He couldn't hear Celie screaming his name. He couldn't feel her trying to pull him away from the mirror.
All he could see and hear was the woman. He felt her sadness and desperate longing to be free as she peered at him through the ice. She was calling his name over and over.
"Asher! Please, help me!"
All he could think were four strange words from the deepest recesses of his soul. "I love you forever."
Asher shook his head in confusion. What did he just think? Was he losing his mind?
He was starting to come back to his senses, back to reality, and that reality was suddenly alarming. Celie was screaming and tugging at him, but worse were the screams of everyone else in the exhibit as they ran for their lives. They were running from something, that on sight, Asher couldn't explain. He could only stare at it in shock and terror. It was like some kind of monster.
"What the hell is that?!" Asher shrieked, pulling away from the mirror and from Celie.
Then he looked at Celie and Terry. They were switching tense glances between him and the monster. It almost seemed to be made of water. That was impossible, though, right?
"Dammit," Terry breathed. "We don't have any weapons. We're goners."
Asher was in as much shock as they seemed to be, maybe more so, but that didn't keep him from blurting out questions. "What the hell is that thing, and what was that freaky mirror? What's going on, guys? Don't you know? You work here, right?"
Asher was shocked to see glares of mistrust from Celie and Terry. Why were they looking at him like that? Weren't they friends? It was then that he realized he wanted to be their friend. Through all the denial and avoidance he had been their friend all along.
Had he lost that? If so, why? Was it because of what happened with that mirror? Why had he reacted to it like that anyway? He didn't have much time to think those things, because the freaky water monster soon spotted them. It locked its pupiless eyes on them and stormed over.
"You!" it boomed in a deep voice that sounded anything but human.
Asher backed up in terror as it grew closer to him, and only him. He screamed as it grabbed him by his shirt. "My master wishes to speak with you!"
"What? Why?! What are you?! What's going on?" Asher shrieked. All he got back was a soulless, empty stare from the creature.
"Terry, we have to do something! It's gonna kill him!"
Terry looked torn as Asher's eyes pleaded to him for help. "Celie, he said his master wants to speak with him. What if he's one of them?"
Asher blinked in surprise. "One of what? What aren't you guys telling me?"
The monster lifted Asher up higher, grabbing his attention again. "You are Asher."
Asher was, again, surprised. "How do you know my name? What is this? What's going on? What are you?!"
It paused before answering. "I am a water golem. My master wishes to speak with you, Asher."
Asher wasn't understanding any of this. "What the heck is a water golem? What is this?!"
A hint of understanding crossed over the monster's face. "You have not awakened," it stated simply.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Asher asked weakly.
The monster shocked Asher by dropping him to the ground. "These are your friends?" It gestured to Terry and Celie.
Asher nodded. "Yes. So can you please just leave them alone?"
His question went ignored as the monster grabbed Terry and Celie with large watery fists. "Perhaps, some motivation is in order."
"Dammit!" Terry choked. "Let me go, freak!"
"It's no use, Terry," Celie breathed with a raspy voice. "It's following the warlock's orders. So this is it. We're gonna die."
Warlock? Asher shook the doubt out of his mind. He couldn't focus long on the fact that Celie seemed to know more about what was going on than he did. He didn't know what this thing wanted from him, but somehow Asher had to give it to him or Terry and Celie were going to die.
"Please stop!" he yelled. "I'll do what you want, just don't hurt my friends!"
"Then awaken," it said simply, not lessening its grip in the slightest.
"I don't know what that means!" Asher screamed in frustration.
Terry and and Celie were turning pale, and it scared him. "Please, guys, stay with me," he whispered shakily. "Please don't go. You're the only friends I've ever had."
Tears were streaming down his face as he saw the life being squeezed out of them. He felt so helpless. It was just like in his dream as he reached his hand weakly for the woman, knowing he had failed, knowing he was going to die.
As Celie's eyes began to shut, he felt something in him snap. Asher wasn't the one dying, so it wasn't too late. He hadn't failed. Not yet.
With a force of will he didn't know he had, he reached out his hand and glared at the golem. "Go to hell, you son of a bitch!" he screamed, and a strange blue light formed in his outstretched palm.
It shot out towards the golem, striking it with a potent force. It shrieked in agony as cracks of ice began to form all over it. As a last desperate cry escaped it, it crumbled to pieces, crashing to the ground.
Celie and Terry gasped for air, clutching their throats, and staring at Asher in shock. Asher had to admit he was pretty shocked himself. Still, he managed to ask, "Um...are you guys gonna be okay?"
They didn't answer. Instead, cold laughter floated aimlessly about the room. The three of them looked around in panic. Hadn't he killed the monster?
"Hmm. It wasn't an awakening, but it wasn't bad either. See you around, Asher." Then the voice faded from the room.
"What the heck?" Asher squeaked. "Who was that?"
He looked at his friends for some kind of answer, but to his confusion they were still looking at him with incredible mistrust. Why was that? Hadn't he just saved them? Sure, he didn't really get how he'd saved them, but at least he had.
"Um, guys, why are you looking at me like that?" He took a cautious step towards them and gestured helplessly, only to feel a painful prick in his neck.
"No!" Celie shrieked in horror. Terry held her back as she tried to run to Asher.
"Wha–what did I do wrong?" Asher breathed, his eyelids growing heavy. A haze quickly settled over him, and he collapsed to the floor, helplessly unconscious.
It took Asher a moment to understand what was going on and where he was, then it came to him. He was at a masquerade party. Candlelit chandeliers adorned the ceilings. The bright white, intricately carved walls were decorated with brilliant paintings. Exquisitely crafted furniture was at each corner, and the staircases were gilded with fine gold. It was a beautiful mansion, but the dancing people in their masks and dresses were even lovelier.
A smile touched his lips as he saw her gracefully descend the staircase. She wore a lacy, purple dress with dark gloves that went to her elbows and an angular mask to match. Her disguise couldn't fool him, though. How could it? He would know her emerald green eyes anywhere. Her dark red hair, styled to compliment it's wavy texture, flowed behind her as she approached him.
"You kept me waiting a long time."
"Sorry," Asher said, taking her hand in his, then he kissed it gently saying, "fair lady, may I have this dance?"
She smiled. "Of course."
Dancing gracefully and with a skill that took a part of his mind by surprise, they enjoyed themselves music piece after music piece until the evening came to an end.
"I could dance with you forever," she said blissfully.
Asher took her hands in his once more, smiling as much as she. They walked out onto a terrace and watched the starlit sky peacefully. It was lit even further by the full moon above. Something was bothering him, though.
"I too could dance with you forever, but..." he said uncertainly, "I don't even know your name."
Deep sadness crossed over her face. "Oh my dear, Asher," she said, caressing his cheek, "how I wish you remembered."
"He's coming to. Get ready!"
Asher's eyelids fluttered open in confusion. He squinted painfully at the bright white lights before finally adjusting to them. He looked around in bewilderment. He was surrounded by a circle of guys pointing guns at him. What was worse, was that he was helplessly tied to a chair. How did that end up happening? He thought about that, then it all came back to him. The museum, the freaky water golem, that weird light in his palm, the creepy voice, and being pricked in the neck, probably with a knockout dart.
Asher was reeling from shock, but one thing came to his mind that he had to ask, whether they shot him or not. "Are Celie and Terry okay?"
A man in a dark uniform walked up to him. He struck Asher as the guy in charge, so Asher looked at him hopefully. "They're fine."
Asher sighed with relief. That relief was short lived as he really took in his situation. "Uh, by the way, is there some kind of mistake here? Why am I getting the feeling you all want to kill me?"
"Forgive us, Asher, but we're being cautious. We don't exactly know what to expect from you after that little incident."
It made some amount of sense. Maybe these guys were security for the museum and were freaked out about whatever weirdness had gone down in the exhibit. Asher probably would have done the same thing in their position. He was about to comment on that, then another man stormed into the small room. He was dressed similarly to the other man who'd spoken.
"Forgive him? Not knowing what to expect? Are you out of your mind, General?! After what he did–"
"Silence!" the first man shouted.
Now Asher was really surprised. "General? Are you guys military or something?"
"He's playing dumb, General. He has to be!"
"I said silence!"
That shut the second man up, albeit with tight lips and a glare. The general then turned his attention back to Asher. "We're a government organization that deals with occult threats. So you could imagine how what happened today is cause for caution. So tell me, Asher, what was that you saw in the mirror?"
Asher swallowed hard. He really wasn't losing his mind, and this was getting freakier by the minute. Seriously, though, how was he going to explain this? How could he possibly get out of this situation without explaining it?
They saw Asher as a threat because of what had happened with him around a bunch of occult items. Did that mean he'd somehow used them? That seemed to be the case with the freaky mirror, but what about that light in his hand that destroyed the golem? If that had really happened and there was a government organization to deal with stuff like it, did this mean magic and witches were real? Did these recent events mean Asher was one? As crazy as that sounded, it was the only explanation he could think of that made any sense.
"Am I a witch or something? Is that what you think?" Asher wanted to clear it up.
A mixture of irritation and amusement flashed over the general's face. "I asked you a question, and no I don't think you're a witch. Witches are women, that would make you a warlock. So I'll ask again. What did you see in that mirror?"
They were telling him he was a warlock? Was this really happening? Asher sighed tiredly, trying to come up with some way to describe what he'd seen, as crazy as it was.
"I saw a woman," he started simply, noticing with dread how everyone tensed up. "She was frozen in ice, but she kept looking at me somehow. She asked me to help her."
"She was talking? You could hear her voice?" the general asked sharply.
"Uh...in my head I guess. Then I said–"
Asher stopped talking mid sentence, his eyes going wide with shock and confusion. I love you forever.
"You said what?" the general pressed coldly.
Asher couldn't tell them that. It didn't even make any sense to him, plus it sounded kind of suspicious. What if they didn't let him go if he told them that?
"What did you say, Asher?" the general asked more angrily.
What do I do?! What do I do?! Asher thought in panic.
When Asher continued in silence, the general finally sighed. "Bring it here then."
"Huh?" Asher was confused, that was, until they brought the mirror into the room and slowly approached him.
"No!" he protested in fear. "No way! I don't want to look at that thing again. Please don't make me look at that thing again! Don't–"
It was too late, they held it up to Asher's face and he was lost once more. He could see her. Her beautiful face. Her hair. Her eyes. All frozen in ice.
Her irises glowed green, and Asher's began to match. He didn't notice, though. He didn't care. He couldn't pay attention to the gasps of dread and fear in the room. All he could focus on was her.
"You still never told me your name," he said gently, this time aloud.
"You already know it, Asher."
"Please awaken, Asher, then everything will finally make sense."
"Awaken?" he asked, then he froze.
Awaken. That was what the golem had been talking about. That was what that creepy voice had wanted him to do. Whatever they had meant by it, it couldn't be good. Not if they'd tried to kill his friends.
"Asher, please!" she said in sudden fear. "Don't let these humans turn you against me!"
He shook his head frantically. "They tried to kill Celie and Terry. I can't trust you!"
"Please, Asher, remember me!"
"Remember?" he asked.
"You've lived before, many times. Please remember your past self and awaken!"
Asher slumped in his chair. Well this cleared up everything, his fascination with the historical exhibits, even that weird dream about the masquerade party. Part of him was trying to dig up memories from some weird series of past lives. Past lives, probably as a warlock. That was just freaky. He also wasn't about to let it happen.
"You know," he said, gritting his teeth, "I might be a pretty flawed teen who doesn't know squat, but that doesn't mean I'm about to become someone else."
"But it is you! Those are all parts of you! They're your experiences, Asher, and they will come back to you. I know they will. Aren't they already? The dream we shared. You know how you felt in it, don't you?"
Asher squeezed his eyes shut in pain. He did know how he'd felt in that dream. He loved her so much that it almost hurt. He had been so happy to see her, and he felt so at home for once despite the strange surroundings.
Maybe remembering another life wouldn't be so bad. Maybe he just didn't understand what he was missing out on. Maybe she was what he had always been searching for. His missing purpose in life was there all along, trapped in ice.
"Yes! That's it, Asher!" She was excited now.
He smiled widely. He could almost remember her name. It was at the tip of his tongue.
"Your name is Ev–" They took the mirror from his sight in an instant. He desperately tried to lunge after it, but the ropes bound him tight.
"I almost remembered her name! You have to let me remember her name!" He stared after the mirror with tears in his eyes as they took it from the room once more.
"So you're a reincarnation type," the general muttered. "Those are so rare we've never encountered them before you. Do you remember how you died last, Asher? How much do you remember now? Enough to kill us all?"
Asher looked at him in horror. "What are you talking about? Why would I kill you all? What would make you think I'm a kille–" he broke mid sentence as he finally got it. "Please tell me I didn't kill anyone. Like how bad was it?" he asked fearfully.
"My brother's dead," that second man growled. "My brother is dead because of you, freak!"
Asher paled and thought back on all the things that man had said since he walked in on the general. "Forgive him? Not knowing what to expect? Are you out of your mind, General?! After what he did–"
Asher squeezed his eyes shut with guilt and pain. He didn't have the memories of the deeds, but hearing all this weighed on him. He knew now more than ever that he shouldn't remember. He couldn't let himself remember his past experiences, even if it killed him, because the moment he did remember, more people could die.
It was agonizing, thinking of abandoning the woman his soul loved so much. Never feeling the happiness they could share and had shared before. It was a price he was willing to pay, though.
"We should kill him now, General. We should end this!"
"No," the general said calmly to the infuriated man. "He'll just be born again, and this time the enemy could get to him first. What then?"
The anger melted into disappointment as he understood. Sadly Asher understood too. He couldn't die, could he? He was stuck with this shitty reality for eternity.
He looked at the guns pointed at him and the wary eyes of the men holding them, ready to keep him hostage here forever. He hoped he could get used to it and somehow get them to trust him, otherwise this would become his living hell.