It was the last day of school. Remembering this as she woke up, and checked the time. Only to sit up and bed and decide that she’s still dreaming, because she sees a young cherubic face staring at her from the end of her bed, a little toddler, with eyes of a deep, shifting blue color.
And then he was gone. Certain it was just the consequence of a sleepless night, She rubbed her eyes, got up and trudged into the hallway, making for the stairs. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw something flying at her. Before she had time to react, her little sister was on her shoulders.
“Last day of school!” she chanted.
“How about a “Good morning” before you ambush people?” yawned Echo good-naturedly.
“Forward, sleepy steed!”
Echo couldn’t help grinning. Ever since their mother had given them one of her old fairy tale books, The Wonder Clock, Lilah had been using the lingo of the thirteenth century.
“I propose a duel: the first one to level the other in a tackle wins. If you win, I shall go onwards, if I do, I shall hang you by your wretched feet in the closet. Do you accept my challenge, fair chimp?”
She considered this for a second, then:
“Consider yourself tackled and leveled. Now, ONWARDS!”
Echo ran down the stairs, Lilah gripping painfully to her back, then threw herself onto the living room couch.
A muffled “ouch” came from under her.
“Get off me, stupid steed, you have me squashed.”
She got off, got some bowls, spoons, cereal and milk from the kitchen, and put them on the table.
“Come on chimp, breakfast.”
“I want fish for breakfast.”
“We don’t have fish; we only have snails and cereal. What do you want?”
“I’m having snails and there’s not enough for both of us, so you’re eating cereal or your bowl.”
“Fine, cereal. But only because I want to.”
Echo turned on the stove and started making tea.
Just as they’d started, their mom came down the stairs.
“Good morning, guys. How’d you sleep?”
“Great” they lied. In truth, they had both woken up in the night, and, as she often did, Lailah had gone into Echo’s bedroom. They’d stayed up most of the night, Echo reading Lailah fairy tales.
“I envy you. Your father was snoring all night”
She went too the kitchen. Echo, guessing what she was looking for, said “Already made some Mom.”
“Oh, thanks sweetie;” she replied absently.
She came back, sat next to them at the table, and poured herself some tea.
They sat at the table, talking about what they wanted to do in the summer.
Soon enough, Echo was on her bike, and Mom and Lailah in the car, on their way to school.
She got to her desk just before anyone else arrived, as usual – and found a note on her desk:
That’s all it said. Which in its self was creepy enough. And yet that wasn’t all. The blue ink was glowing and shifting. She took the paper and stuffed it in her pocket, determined to not let her imagination wander.
The very last hour was hell. The classroom had morphed into a furnace, and the only sounds came from Mr Renton droning in unison with the flies (although the flies probably weren’t lecturing anyone about “the young hooligans who think we won’t find out when they don’t do their homework”…) and the yawning students.
Finally, after what seemed a decade, the bell rang, and everyone was wide awake. One minute the room was full of 25 people, the next it was entirely empty (except for the flies).
She ran out to the front of the school, gratefully breathing the fresh air.
And then she saw her again. The angelic kid that she’d seen that morning -although only now she saw that she was a girl. She came walking over to me.
“Hi, sweetie, she thought I’d pick you up from school today instead of you biking home.”
She was thoroughly perplexed. And it showed on her face. When the girl got closer she quickly muttered “Everyone else sees me as your mother, so play along and follow her to the car.”
What was the harm? She was an odd three-year-old. Besides, in the most vivid corner of her imagination, despite her attempts to stop and take in reality, she had already been wondering at what weird event would happen next (many of the theories heavily tainted by any fiction she had ever read). This was one of least odd versions. So she followed.
She was about to get in the driver’s side when the girl said, “No worries, I’m quite capable of driving.”
She didn’t argue. She was still bemused and a bit suspicious, but her curiosity had the upper hand one hundred to one.
As soon as we were both in the car the girl started to glow blue. Then she started to lose her shape, seeming less solid by the second. Sitting beside her was a Labrador puppy. The puppy sighed, did something that seemed uncannily like rolling its eyes, and morphed into a blue-haired girl, probably about 16.
“Hi. I’m Adadil Greenes. But call me Addie.”
“Forgive me for this.”
She fainted. Or maybe it wasn’t fainting, because she could still see, without really understand anything; she was seeing something else, behind her eyes.
She was standing at the center of a burning battlefield. she could feel the hot blood trickling down her shoulder, hear her own ragged breathing mingling with that of someone else. She looked down, and saw a young man lying at her feet, badly wounded. He looked defiantly into her eyes, but she could see the fear deep behind them, the hopelessness, the rage. She took a moment to think, looking at him. This man hadn’t chosen to fight. He saw no advantage in harming others. He was innocent.
She kneeled down and picked him up, then started to run towards the familiar forest by the battlefield. As she ran, she saw the destruction she had wrought. she had done it in defense of the innocent, but to do so, she had killed others. she had almost killed the girl who now sat in her arms, confused. she looked down at the bodies. Each one of these people had led lives. Each person, lying in the red dirt, had a story behind them. They had all loved, felt the clarity of joy, the weight of sorrow. And she had taken all of that away in the swipe of a sword.
And just as suddenly as it had started, the vision stopped, and she was looking up at the man who had been, seconds before, in her vision, lying in her arms.
“You just had to use the confundo on her? Couldn’t you have left her conscious?” she said to someone to his right, a hint of anger in his voice. He was sitting below her. She was lying on something soft, a couch probably. For some reason she couldn’t stop looking at his face. It seemed to move under her eyes, changing, constantly in motion. She felt an ache in her stomach, as if something weren’t right. It was disturbing.
“I told you, it wouldn’t have been easy.”
She got up in a flash, finally snapping out of my stupor, and not even bothering to look around, ran towards the door she vaguely recalled coming through, leaping down the steps into the outside. She seemed to be in a large clearing, with forest all around. She hurried to the nearest tree and sat down at its trunk.
This wasn’t right. Why had she trusted some random mutant stranger? Who had then drugged her and taken her to someplace in the middle of nowhere. She wasn’t one to do stupid things, generally. She at least tried to think before she acted.
Yet despite all this, being in a place she didn’t know with strange people she didn’t know, not even knowing the reason, she wasn’t worried. She tried to get myself worried, because it would be wrong not to worry, but she couldn’t. In fact, she felt the need to trust them. Still, she didn’t like the man. It wasn’t fear. Something she couldn’t quite identify.
“Echo! Come on!” she heard Addie calling me, but didn’t reply. She stopped about 10 meters away from her turned and looked around.
“Echo! You really don’t want to go into the forest!”
She walked towards her, stopping where she was so close she could basically hug her.
Couldn’t she see her? Was she just pretending? A memory of playing hide and seek with her sister when she was little, pretending not to see her, came to mind. She felt a twinge of annoyance.
She let out a loud sigh, just to see, and Addie spun around, a dagger appearing in her hand, looking not at her, but through her.
“You can’t see me?” she said, curiosity getting the best of her.
She let out a startled “oh!” and looked at her.
“What? How the heck did you do that?”
“You used an invisibility spell! Without even realizing it!” her lips curled into a wondering smile.
“You’re stronger than she thought!”
Echo stared at her in disbelief, then she just gave her a skeptical look, sure it was all just a joke.
“You don’t believe me. Of course you wouldn’t. All right then, come with me.”
She followed her into the dim light of the forest, gazing up at the canopy of trees far above. There was something strange about the forest floor. It was all lush green grass and flowers, not a twig or dead leaf in sight. There were bushes here and there, and flowers growing in little patches. They hadn’t gone very far when Addie stopped at one of the oaks, pulled out her dagger and carved off a piece of bark about the size of her fist.
Putting it on the ground, she said, “Look at that piece of bark. Think of it growing spindly twig-like legs. When you’ve got that image clear in your head, say moto.”
She gave her a look, a visual do-I-really-look-like-such-an-idiot?
“Come on, just try,” she pleaded.
Why not? She thought. But wait, she still wanted answers.
“Only if you give me answers: why did I come with you? I know it wasn’t because I wanted to.”
Addie blushed, looking a bit sheepish.
“Promise you won’t be mad?” she asked.
“Ok, I guess…” she replied, more worried by the second.
“I had to enchant you. I knew you wouldn’t trust me. Believe me, though, I didn’t want to. It just made things so much easier. If it’s any consolation, your mind really put up a fight to being restricted.”
She was a bit angry at first. She despised anything that she was forced to let shape the way she thought (such as school), but if she now trusted them without any spells… was it without any spells, or whatever this “magic” was?
“Am I under a spell now?” she asked cautiously.
“I swear that you are not. You trust us thanks to your survival instinct, however buried underneath the modern world it is. Here, look” she said, and her finger started glowing blue. Making an X over her heart, she said “Cross my heart and hope to die. And that has a lot more meaning than it usually does. As in I really will die within the next ten minutes if I was lying.”
“Ok;” I said, “I trust you in that. But why am I here?”
“That is a very long story, which I do not know all of. Basically, you’re here because we need you.”
Echo was far from satisfied, but had the feeling that she wouldn’t get much more out of Addie.
“So will you do the spell?”
Echo shrugged. No need to be shy with complete strangers, she thought. She thought of the legs, stared at the bark, and murmured “moto”.
The bark trembled, cracked and suddenly sprouted two twig-like, wobbly legs. It took two cautious steps, toppled forwards and writhed on the ground like and overturned bug.
For a moment she was shocked. But then she figured that figured that she was imagining it. Whatever it was, it couldn’t be magic.
“Touch it and you’ll know it’s real. Go on” urged Addie.
Slowly, she reached out a hand, and picked up the still-squirming bark. The legs felt like those of an insect, tickling her palm.
“One hundred percent real magic. Best believe it now, it’ll make things easier later.”
Echo had always wanted to believe in magic. She loved the idea of a separate world where the rules of this society, which were thought to be set in stone, are just theories, maybe even lies. So having seen it in front of her own eyes, let alone made by me, was just too good to be true.
Or maybe just good enough.
(hey, you never know).
Dear Audient Void: go ahead and comment.