The First Project Child


In the kingdom of Asmaria, things are a little different when it comes to magic. The nation’s people are divided into two classes – Casters and Auras. Casters are magically inclined people with a special power which is divined randomly at their birth. Casters can cast spell cards, but this greatly depletes their mana. However, were they to master the use of their primeval power – ranging from controlling lightning itself to minor telekinesis and everything in between – their mana would stay relatively stable. Auras are an ancient race of people that are the humanoid spigots of mana themselves, though they have a “human” form as opposed to their shimmering and glowing “real” bodies. Auras are most commonly known for making spell cards out of their energy for Casters to use, though they do have power of their own. However, these powers are highly volatile and have not been well documented. While the two classes usually live in harmony, it is very well 

known that Auras are treated with disdain for their volatile nature and inability to control their mana. Conversely, Casters are treated with the utmost respect in society, and are known to have established many facilities dedicated to magical research and academia. There are known to be Casters who consider themselves to be ethnically superior to the Auras, and Auras that absorb the very life force of Casters themselves to assert dominance. A struggle has been bubbling right below the surface for many, many years now. Now that we have that settled, let’s get on with the story, shall we? It was a rainy day, and frankly, I hated the rain. It reminded me too much of my mother; she’d always make fresh and hot Asmarian borscht, and my brother and I would sit by the window sill as she sang us songs and told us folk stories. She continued this tradition well into our adulthood, and up until her death. “What’s wrong, Yelena?” my brother asked, awakening me from my train of thought, “Are you okay?” “Huh?” I said, a bit dazed. “Oh, it’s nothing, Nikolai,” I shook my head. Nikolai’s blue eyes – a contrast to my dark brown – stared me down with a knowing glare. Nikolai’s my fraternal twin. People almost always assumed that he’s older and that pissed me off to no end when we were children. He looked more like our father, with beautiful, blonde, curly hair, as opposed to my straight and long, mahogany hair. He looked like a child of the heavens and I look like I had crawled my way out of the nine hells. “Sister, is it the rain?” He looked at me, and then affectionately wiped some stray rainwater off my face. Though we were sheltered under a small travelling airship’s forecastle deck’s awning meant for passengers to rest under while avoiding the rain, there were still beads of rain in Nikolai’s hair. It reminded me of morning dew amongst blades of wild, unkempt grass. I sighed and shook my head, “I miss home, Nik,” I said, pulling my knees up against my chest and hugging them tightly. Nikolai scooted closer to me, put an arm around my shoulder and then rested his head against mine. “Mother’s gone now, sister. There was nothing left for us in that small town.”

“I understand, but I still miss her,” I said, my voice quivering ever so slightly. “Ah you always were the more emotional one,” Nikolai smiled, “Tell you what, when we get to the Draekerra Academy, I’ll sneak into the kitchens and try to make mother’s borsht recipe. I know you think my cooking is simply rancid, but I have her recipe in my rucksack somewhere.” We laughed together in unison at the thought of Nikolai in the kitchen. For a moment, everything seemed okay. Unfortunately, our respite was short lived. There was a loud bang and the ship beneath us violently shook. We both got to our feet and ran towards the source of the explosion, which was at the main deck. As we arrived, we saw that one of the main sails was on fire, and there was another fire at the side of the deck, a good chunk of being missing as well. Nikolai and I approached with our hands on our card casters at the ready. “You fucking NUMPTIES,” screamed a voice I did not recognize, followed by a long evil laugh, “Did you really think the great SPECTR Corps wouldn’t attack small airships? You Draekerra scum are always LOADED with cash, and we’re going to make sure we take every last white gold piece you have!” It was utter chaos on the main deck, with battles going on every three feet or so. Nikolai ran off into the smoke and chaos of the explosion, leaving me to fend for myself. Someone from the crow’s nest dropped down, pinning a fellow passenger to the ground with a mana sword protruding from their chest. The assailant then looked at me – a manic frenzy apparent in their eyes. They summoned another mana sword with a spell card and charged at me. Not wanting to deplete my mana, I summoned my primeval power – thunder waves. I clapped my hands together and pointed them at my attacker and blasted them away. Unfortunately for me, they were prepared for this and cast a spell card while being attacked. A disembodied hand grabbed me by the waist and pulled me towards where my attacker lay. We both crashed onto the deck of the ship amongst some barrels, but were mostly fine. I realized then that these were higher level spell card casters and needed to be 

dealt with accordingly. As I noticed the bandit was slumped against a wall, I clapped my hands again with another thunder wave. This time the full extent of force broke the wall and pushed them deep inside the airship. I was about to jump through the hole and find my enemy to make sure they were knocked out properly this time, when a hand grabbed me by my head, and I felt a jolt of electricity run through my body, especially concentrated in my head. I collapsed to the ground, and the last thing I saw was the translucent body of an orange Aura, though I did not see their face. When I woke up, I found myself inside the ship’s hold. One of the ship’s staff was holding a cold compress against my forehead. I immediately jolted up and said, “Where’s Nikolai?” “Ma’am, please, you’re running a fever,” they said, trying to get me to lie down again. “Please, I need to see my brother, Nikolai Saurfire, do you have any idea where he is?” “I’m afraid, no, but you could check the rest of the hold. All of the people injured in the battle are down here.” “Thank you, thank you so much,” And with that I frantically began searching for my only family. It took me about twenty minutes, but I eventually found him, and when I did, my heart sank. Wounded would be an understatement. His left eye and torso were untidily bandaged up, and were soaked with blood. His breathing was labored and tense. “Nikolai…?” I said in an almost whisper. His right eye opened up and trailed towards me. “Yelena…” he gasped, coughing, drops of blood landing on his lips, “I’m sorry… It appears… I was attacked by an orange Aura… I wasn’t there for you,” “No no no no no, Nikolai, no,” I leaned down and brushed the hair out of his eye, “I should be the one saying that!” “Yelena…” To say that I was crying would be another understatement

“Yelena… I’m not going to make it-” “No, you will! Please, say you will!” “I’m not… I want… you to go to the Academy… and live…” “I don’t know how to do this without you, brother,” I wept, and I wept. There were tears in his hair; despite the blood and the dirt, it looked like morning dew all over again. “Live for yourself,” he said with one raspy breath. And then, he was gone. Nikolai’s funeral was somber; with the help of other Draekerra students we managed to cremate him and crystalize the ashes. It was unfortunate that his arrival at Draekerra was posthumous. I now had a small pendant to hold on to the last of my family. Invasion of Draekerra students’ transportation was not an unheard-of event, yet when I walked through the halls there were whispers trailing behind me. Perhaps it was because SPECTR was behind it, perhaps it was because it involved an Aura attacking. I didn’t care to dispel the rumors – I dove straight, headfirst into research and study to complete my degree as fast as possible. Ironically, my research was mostly towards healing spell cards and potions, I was seeking more efficient ways to heal people. It’s downright diabolical that the lack of healing is what took my brother from me. Nevertheless, I spent most of my free time in the library, reading up on things like the rumored healing properties of miracle belladonna and how nasyme was a more widely available substitute to weeping moss. I rose quite high in the ranks of my peers, and that somehow drove people farther and farther away from approaching me for their social circles as the months passed by. Of course, my faculty admired my drive, even if they always were a tad worried about how I spoke only when spoken to. They gave me special perks, such as access to the restricted section in the library. It was late one night where I was reading about the absorption abilities of poisonous skunkweed, which was a common ingredient used in phial of souls – a potion designed to torture whoever ingested it with their worst nightmares. I got up to find another reference book, a rather obscure manual

about torture methods. As I pulled the book off a shelf, I heard a click. Then subtle rumbling. Soon enough, the entire bookshelf moved away to reveal a small passage. I was puzzled, because frankly, it’s no surprise that the academy would have hidden passages – this place was over 200 years old after all – I did not know if I was overstepping my bounds as a student. Nevertheless, I summoned a small orb of light and went down the passage. Curiosity might kill the cat, I thought, but I brushed it aside and pushed forward. The passage was narrow, just big enough for one person to go in or out of at a time. It was long winding, with twists and turns aplenty. At the end of it was a door. Of course, it was locked. I brought the orb of light closer to the door and noticed that there were faded runes etched into the surface of the metal. Taking a few minutes to copy the runes on to a spare sheet of paper, I exited the hallway and sealed it up once again. For the next few months, I had a new purpose in life. Something in me told me something wonderful was beyond that door, and I was determined to seek it out. I poured over rune textbook after rune textbook to no avail. I was very close to asking a professor about it but decided against it at the last minute because I didn’t want to jeopardize whatever was on the other side. Finally, I found my answers in the restricted section, in the very book needed to open the door to the passageway via a book cipher. With the appropriate runic message to open the door, I returned to the passageway. It opened up into a beautiful garden with an artificial sun shining at the top of the greenhouse. There were all sorts of rare and exotic magical plants and herbs growing all over the place. There was even a little pond with a mother duck and her ducklings there. I decided to lie down and enjoy the warmth of the artificial sun for a bit. I rested my hand on my crystal pendant, and ran in through my fingers. Nikolai would be amazed at my progress here, and he would’ve been so happy to see all these rare specimens. If only he were here to see this himself…

I closed my eyes and rested for what seemed like a minute. When I opened them again, someone was staring down at me. They had long waist length red hair, and were wearing a plain blouse and a miniskirt. My head was on their lap, and they were caressing my hair. They tilted their head sideways to inquisitively stare at me. I jolted upright and yelled, “Who are you?!” in a rather accusatory tone. “I reckon I should be the one asking you that,” they replied to me. I noticed now that they had a soft look on their face, as if they weren’t quite sure what to do with me. They had soft, brown doe eyes, a button nose, and full lips. “Right, um,” I shook my head to gather my bearings, “My name is Yelena Saurfire,” “Hello, Yelena. My name is Danae.” The being smiled. It was a bit of a forced smile, like they hadn’t ever smiled before. “er,” I asked scratching my head, “what are your pronouns if you don’t mind me asking?” “Oh! I’m a woman,” she said, clapping her hands together, excited. She settled in the silence for a moment, sharing the space to look at each other. We met eyes, but as soon as there was contact, I looked away. “Is there something wrong?” she asked innocently. “Ah. It’s nothing, I’m intruding upon your space. I should leave,” “NO!” she yelled, and it took me aback. She regained her composure at lightning speed, I was alarmed, internally. Externally, I kept my cool. I was in unknown territory and I did not want to anger this woman. “Alright, Danae. I won’t leave. Why don’t you… tell me about this place?” I said, looking around at the plants and fauna, smiling. “Oh, I maintain the garden here. Mostly.” She said rather sheepishly. Bingo – I found a gateway. We spent the next ten, maybe twenty minutes talking about and bonding over plants. Danae seemed simply fascinated by my knowledge of rare plants. She listened intently, while I stared at her nose – you know, to give the

illusion that I’m looking into her eyes? – because she intimidated me. A lot. After a while, the dust settled and I looked at her, and smiled. She smiled back, slightly more relaxed than the last time she attempted to do so. “I suppose… it’s time for you to go,” she whispered; there was a pang of pain in her voice. “I’ll be back, tomorrow,” I replied, shoving my hands into my pockets as I walked off. “Do you… promise?” “I promise.” And that’s how my nightly visits to Danae began. Every night, after I finished my studies for the day, I would sneak back into that forbidden garden just to talk to her. She seemed like she didn’t know much of the outside world, and I was worried that she was being held captive. But in order to try and help her escape, I had to gain her trust first. So, I did; we’d talk about anything under the (artificial) sun. She’d ask about my day, I’d tell her about my research problems and she would ask questions about it, and I’d tell her about tales from my life. “What’s a flower crown?” she once asked. “you’ve never seen a flower crown?” “No, what is it?” “Here I’ll make you one.” “Okay, please don’t use the poisonous flowers though,” I laughed. She smiled curtly at me. After a few weeks I felt like I finally gained her trust; so I garnered up the courage to ask her the big question: “What are you doing here, Danae?” “Oh, I tend the garden… you know this,” “Yeah but, you’re always here when I come visit you. Do you go anywhere during the day?” “No, not really.” “So, you just… tend to the garden? All day?” “Yelena… it’s complicated.”

“Okay, I won’t force you to tell me if it makes you uncomfortable. But please do tell me, one day.” “It’s not that I don’t want to tell you, but I… can’t.” Yeah, no shit, I thought. As time went on, I found myself drawn to spend more and more time with Danae. I’d finish my work earlier and earlier and spend more time with her. I’d notice that I was… drawn to her, of sorts. I’d notice the little things, like how her lips curled into a smile when I’d tell her something she didn’t know before, or how she’d lightly throw her head back when she laughed, and how soft her skin was whenever I lay in her arms. Now, I’m not a clueless bitch, okay? I knew what was happening. I was slowly falling in love with a woman who I knew practically knew nothing about. And you know what? I was loving every second of it. It was during a holiday that I thought I could surprise Danae by spending the entire day with her for once. I made my way through the rather empty library that day, not a care in the world. In hindsight, I was a bit too carefree to know the signs – I had let my guard down, completely. When I got to the garden that day, Danae was by the pond feeding the ducklings, and the scene made me feel funny in the chest; It made my heart thump a little harder. With my hands in my pockets, I walked towards her. She didn’t notice me at first, but when she did, she looked me up and down and looked positively alarmed that I was here during the day. “He-” “No. No, no. Yelena, you need to get out of here right now.” “Wha-” “Oh, gods there’s not enough time,” she seemed visibly panicked. “Did I do something wrong?” “I’m afraid you have.” A voice I had the vaguest memory of said, and I matched it to a face I hadn’t seen since Nikolai’s death. I turned around and there was the person that had attacked me on the airship. “You…” I said, and moved to clap my hands to thunder wave them away, but I wasn’t fast enough. He moved their arm in front of 

me and balled a fist, and then Danae judo flipped me down to the ground. “I’m so sorry, I have no choice but to listen to him,” she said in a whisper as I groaned on the ground. “Indeed, she does not. We’ve been watching you for a while, Ms. Saurfire. We initially pegged you as harmless, but after a while we decided that you weren’t worth leaving alive. We’ve collected an ample amount of your research through the academy and your conversations with our… project… and the information you possess is quite powerful,” the man said, “It was nice while it lasted, wasn’t it?” “Please,” Danae said, in a whimper. The man balled his fist tighter and Danae screamed – I had never heard someone cry out in so much pain. My heart instantly broke, and I had never felt so helpless. Her body twisted and contorted until she was lying on the floor, and her body shimmered into a familiar, orange Aura. “No…” I said, looking at her with pins attacking my heart. I looked at the man and he smiled at me with the most grotesquely vile smile I had ever seen. This was a man that knew how to inflict pain, but more importantly, he inflicted this pain for fun. “It appears you two are… acquaintances,” he said assertively. And in that moment, a flurry of emotions afflicted me all at once. Anger, at this man who was controlling poor, poor Danae as some sort of bio-weapon. Disgust, that someone could use human life in such a way. Fear, for Danae’s life. I thought of ways that I could get through this without hurting anyone that mattered… But there were none. So, I did the most idiotic thing that popped into my head and decided to run with it. I jumped up and tackled Danae to the ground. “Foolish woman,” the man scoffed. He clenched his fist again. Danae then flipped me over and pinned me to the ground. She then held my head in her hands – ah, just like old times – and jolted me with highly potent magical electricity. Not enough to kill me, just enough for it to really, really hurt. “D-Danae!” I screamed. She had tears rolling down her cheeks as 

she looked down at me. “F…f…FIGHT IT,” I screamed again. The pain was intolerable – it felt like all my bones were breaking and simultaneously repairing themselves all at once. My mana levels felt beyond drained into dangerous levels. I was slipping in and out of consciousness, but I was conscious just enough to look Danae in the eye and smile. That was it. She had had enough. She screamed and her Aura form changed from orange to white. She then stood up, walked over to a very confused SPECTR agent, and I passed out. According to Danae, she only had to pass a fraction of magical electricity that was given to me to make the agent pass out. She then dragged both of our bodies out of the garden and through the passageway, and – with the help of some students that recognized me – brought us to the infirmary. The SPECTR agent and I were put into Isolation Bubbles and questioned with truth serum. A high-profile investigation was run throughout the academy and it was found out that SPECTR was hiding their “projects” in secret, abandoned passageways and rooms of Draekerra. One of those projects was to kidnap powerful Aura children and raise them to become bioweapons. Danae was the first successful project. She was codenamed the first project child as a result, and the attack on the small airship was guised as a robbery to test her capabilities out. Danae was questioned thoroughly about her time being a prisoner to SPECTR and helped locate several of her fellow Project Children, as they were called and rescued them. For her own safety, she was put in witness protection. It’s been several months since then, and SPECTR has been almost entirely eliminated as a crime syndicate. The world is now a slightly better place, all because I thought something great lied beyond a locked door. “Hey,” Danae said, upon our first meeting since I saw her last in the hospital. “Hello there,” I smiled. She hugged me and I didn’t really know how to react – I pulled my hands out of my pockets and patted her back. Her hair was platinum blonde now, as a result of being free 

from SPECTR’s curses I assume. Her eyes were the same, soft brown though. “You know,” she smiled as she caressed my cheek, my heart beat faster than it ever did before, “they asked me if I wanted to give myself a last name after I was done with witness protection,” “Oh? What’s your full name now?” “Danae Saurfire,” she beamed. “Oh,” I said, “wait-my name?” “Yes!” she nodded her head excitedly. My heart sank a whole lot. Had she thought we were like siblings? “Oh,” I said, tone apparent that I was disappointed. “Yelena,” she said deadpan, “I intend to marry you,” “Wh-” “Not any time soon, no. We have to have a proper courtship! But I thought this would be easier than changing my last name again later on.” “Oh-” I did not have words in any of the languages existing to Asmaria to describe how frazzled I felt. But, I felt happy. 

First Published
First Queer Short Story Collection of Bangladesh

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