I Wish... Book Excerpt
By: Tia Harrington
© 2011 by Tia Harrington
Time had slowed to near non-existence. Sounds continued, senses continued, but motion had all but stopped.
A sickly green smoke wound its way from the cottage. It lazily circled its way up, climbing the porch post inch by inch, before crawling into the darkening sky. Peering up into heavens, Kira observed that the streak of smoke looked as if it had twisted back on itself just to point straight back down at her.
Goosebumps tingled their way down her arms. Kira rubbed at them with a feeling of unease building inside her. She gazed into the yawning darkness of twilight around the cabin and discovered herself to not be alone.
The shadow of a man. She could tell by his aggressive stance that he was more foe than friend… And then he moved, and his prowling walk made Kira feel as if he was taunting her… hoping she would try to escape.
Kira felt paralyzed as his silhouette approached. Her mind screamed at her to move, but her muscles refused to respond. She felt like a rabbit caught in a snare; her heart beating wildly but unable to free herself from the invisible restraints that held her captive… waiting… waiting… waiting… for the kill.
This was no ordinary man. This was every night scare she had ever had come to life! A fairy. She knew the power of fairies, their ability to manipulate your mind and body to do things that you would normally never choose on your own. They had enough power in just one of their creepily long fingers to transplant this entire farm 30 miles away.
Kira silenced her ragged breathing for a moment and listened. Above the pounding of her own heart she could barely pick out the sound of whining. She leaned ever so slightly closer and forced her senses to focus on the noise...
No, it wasn’t a whining, it was more of a muffled whimpering.
Kira tried to locate the source and found that it was coming from an area of the yard that was missing... Gone? It looked like a painting with a portion torn from its center, leaving a gaping hole of nothingness. The pitiful cries continued to slip through the empty space causing her heart to stutter in fear. But the next sound made her heart stop all together.
She heard the shifting of the first tread on the porch as the fairy stepped closer to her. He had the look of a mercenary with nothing to lose; fearlessness wrapped with a heavy dose of danger. His whole body exuded a casual disregard for life; from his oily shoulder-length hair, matted with neglect, to his slovenly attire. He wore pants that fit him like a black glove, with a clinging white shirt hanging partially untucked under his long leather jacket… which might have been passable if it hadn’t looked, and smelled, like he had slept in them for weeks on end. As vile as his outward appearance was, it was his sharp slanting eyes, that pierced through Kira with a purposeful ruthlessness, which undid her.
Kira turned her head to avoid looking at his face. She could feel his eyes on her and felt the shiver of both revulsion and fear creep up her spine.
All she could do was wait… it was excruciating, the waiting. The panic inside her was clawing to get out, but she knew that she was not helpless... if she could just wait a little longer. Somewhere deep inside Kira knew that she would survive this encounter… Someone would save her.
Kira’s heart was pounding so hard that she was certain it would betray her and possibly give out all together if the fairy touched her.
The fairy reached out his hand, and roughly grabbed her arm. He leaned in, with his smoke filled breath spilling over Kira’s cheek, and whispered, “Kira?”
“Whispered?” Kira thought, frowning; thinking something about this wasn’t right.
The fairy repeated in a more urgent, and oddly familiar, voice, “Kira! Wake up before he catches you again!”
Blah, blah, blah!
Kira blinked her eyes and bit back the scream that had been building in her throat. Her eyes pulled into focus on the blond haired boy leaning in her direction with his hand clutching her arm.
Brennan. Nice, safe, uncomplicated, NOT-an-evil-fairy Brennan. Kira sighed inwardly and wiped the sleep from her eyes. Brennan had come to her rescue again.
She smiled in his direction and mouthed, “thanks,” before he turned his attention back to the front of the class.
Her history teacher had already warned her twice about falling asleep in class and had implied that there would be repercussions for any additional mid-class slumberings. Between dream filled nights and the painfully boring content of the class, Kira had little hope of keeping her eyes at attention.
History was only interesting to those who made it. The sole perk to sitting through The History of Jinn was the opportunity to stare unabashedly at her teacher, Jinn Meyer. Jinn Meyer was younger than the rest of her teachers… by several decades. He was relatively average in height, but he sported a muscular physique that was well displayed by the white tunic that stretched over his broad shoulders and barely seemed to contain his forearms where his sleeves were rolled up. But even this was still not incentive enough to keep her attention for long.
Somehow, hearing him recite the tales of The Brothers Three and Their Master while leaning casually against the floor to ceiling glass wall almost made her want to listen… almost. His voice was deep and smooth as he recited the words already ingrained in her mind, “In ancient times before the world was; three brothers came to their master, eager to please him. The first sat at his knee craving to learn and follow and do the will of the master. The master rested his right hand upon the first brother’s arm and beckoned the next.”
Kira’s gaze wandered from her teacher to the massive wall behind him. The thick glass surrounded the exterior of the city to form a bubble beneath the ocean’s surface. Kira frowned and thought, “A beautiful prism… No, that is not the right word. Prison? Yes, a beautiful prison to keep us safely tucked away.”
Through the glass, Kira watched as a school of iridescent fish swept sharply to the left before the wall. Moments later the sleek predator body of a blacktip shark lazily meandered directly past Jinn Meyer’s head. The teacher continued, “The second displayed a dance of joy and merriment and mischief to entertain his master. The master smiled and clapped and held out his left hand to the brother.”
Kira shifted and absently scanned the other students in her class. Twenty in all. She knew each of them. Her glance landed on a group of four girls reclining in the opposite corner, The Fab Four. Some students she knew better than she would like. Each classmate had been handpicked six months ago from the fourth year program for an experimental class. Kira was pretty sure that the class was picked more for their pedigrees than their abilities, but it was their abilities that would count in the week to come.
Kira’s heart thudded heavily in her chest as it did every time she thought about the tests to come. A lot was riding on those tests… her parents’ pride in her, her future as a Jinni, and the unshakable feeling of something bigger… an unknown cloud of unease was hanging over the entire City of Fen.
Kira sighed and rested her cheek on her folded arms. Her eyes focused on the girl sitting next to her with her knees tucked under her chin. Amirah. Amirah had been her friend since the first day Kira had moved to the city with her family. To look at her, she was everything that Kira wasn’t… graceful, classically beautiful, and though she was a complete extrovert, she had a quiet vulnerability about her. Amirah was always perfectly composed with her bright red sash arranged just so and her hair perfectly coiled into a delicate golden crown circling her head.
Kira had tried to avoid meeting her perfect new neighbor on that first day. Amirah’s parents had popped in to introduce themselves to Kira’s family and had exclaimed at what great friends their daughters would be.
Kira had spotted the flawless princess on the path outside their home. Kira smiled, and nodded, and made a hasty retreat. She thought her escape had been complete when she was curled up in the corner of their rooftop balcony. Kira had tucked her nose firmly into one of her favorite books detailing the valiant knights of the ancient human world and quickly dismissed all other thoughts.
Not two minutes later that perfectly coifed head of hair peaked over the railing followed by the princess saying, in a tinkling voice, “Don’t you just hate when they do that!” The girl hopped lightly over the rail before continuing, “I mean, what if you were some awful girl with bad breath or had a weird obsession with fairies?” She paused and tipped her head toward Kira, “You don’t do you? Because those would be deal breakers for me.” Amirah loved to use human expressions.
Kira couldn’t hold back the smile that crept up her face as she answered, “Not that I know of.”
Now they were practically inseparable. Amirah glanced sideways at Kira as Jinn Meyer continued. Kira rolled her eyes and mouthed the next words out of his mouth verbatim, “The third was content to serve his master." Amirah failed to stifle a giggle and ducked her head to hide the evidence from the teacher who had paused in his recitation to frown over his thoroughly old-fashioned -but totally hot- spectacles in the girls’ direction.
Jinn Meyer cleared his throat and continued on, “The master praised the first brother and promised him a place in the world to roam freely and carry on with his joy in learning. To the second brother, the master shook his head and smiled and gave him the task to provide distraction and mischief to the world. In return his people would forever be gifted with the power of Vim, an energy that brought life and depth to matter. The third brother was called before the master and praised for his never ending desire to serve. He was then given the charge to forever serve his first brother and keep balance with the second. In return he was given the power of Ara to grant the desires of the heart so long as his service never ended.”
Jinn Meyer finished reading and slowly rolled the scroll in his hands. He glanced up from his task, removed his glasses, and peered at the class like he was about to confer a lost tidbit of information only he knew. “The first brother is represented by the human race... no worries, no tasks, and no powers. The second brother is represented by the fairy race… generally just mischievous, often dangerous, and extremely powerful. The third brother is represented by our race… Genies, Jinn, Guides. Whatever we are called, we have the task of serving our human brothers in order to regenerate our powers. We are also tasked with maintaining order in this world, keeping the evil that wells up in the fairies suppressed, and hiding their dangerous natures from humans.”
Jinn Meyer perceived the students’ blank stares as being utterly mesmerized. He tapped his chin with the tip of his glasses, eager to share more knowledge and asked, “Any questions?” The students, who had heard the same stories year after year, sat just as unresponsive as they had throughout the entire class.
Thankfully class ended quickly enough to prevent any other naps. Amirah wrapped her arm in Kira’s and rushed out of the room. They had already suffered three painful hours of school, a good portion of which Kira seemed to have slept through.
“So, what did I miss?”
Amirah giggled and bumped her hip with Kira’s. “You are a horrible example for me you know. Snoring away in class!” Amirah scrunched up her perky nose and said in a half bored tone, “You missed the same old stuff about the rules of our quests…” Amirah ticked each one off on her fingers as she recited, “Number one, no one is to discover that we are ‘all powerful genies.’ Two, we are to always maintain control of our powers, and…” Amirah’s eyes lit up with a spark of mischief, “three, we are never to fall madly in love with our humans unless they are super hot.”
Kira raised her eyebrow at that. “Um, yeah. For some reason I can’t quite picture Jinn Meyer sharing that tidbit of very sound advice.”
Amirah giggled and said, “Fine! Maybe it was more along the lines of ‘not to ever develop feelings for your assigned humans’… but I do believe that there must be exceptions to that rule. I mean, what if you were assigned a drop dead, gorgeous prince who fell madly in love with you?”
Kira leaned her head against Amirah’s and said, “Sigh! Only in our dreams.” She straightened up and asked, “Did I miss anything else?”
Amirah replied, “Just Jinn Meyer rambling on about how dangerous fairies are. Then he went into why the Jinn split into tribes to keep the world safe from the dangerous fairies. Oh, and then he talked about how the dangerous fairies are still a danger to us today… Blah, blah, blah.” They both rolled their eyes before breaking into a fit of laughter.
Keeper of the Dreams
“I don’t understand why we have to hear the same old stories and rules and… everything all the time. I mean, when are we going to learn the good stuff that will actually help us in the human world?” The girls emerged from the Educational Annex into the brightly lit city of Fen. Kira raised her face, out of habit, to feel the wind breathe through her hair. She frowned. It was a hopeless endeavor. The city was fantastical enough, but locked under the Atlantic Ocean it stole away some of Kira’s favorite things… the warmth of the sun, the rush of the wind, the feel of rain on her face.
Brennan jogged a few steps to catch up with the two girls. He turned to Kira and said in a concerned voice, “He almost caught you again. You know if you drift away again he may kick you out of the program, or fail you before the Day of Testing, or…” Brennan was a good friend. He was always thoughtful and watched out for their motley little group, but sometimes he just worried too much.
Kira tweaked a grin at him. “He won’t fail me for falling asleep in class… Besides, I can’t help it. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep since our dream ceremony last week.” The ceremony had seemed almost comical at the time with a grandmotherly Jinni lining the class up in a perfect circle around her and shaking a feathered rattle at the group while chanting a series of indistinguishable words in their direction. Then she had splattered a foul smelling liquid on each of them in turn. The Fab Four had sputtered and shrieked about ruined tunics and mussed hair, while the rest of the class had wiped the remnants from their faces and waited for the little old lady to expound on the meanings of their dreams.
She had snapped her fingers and the rattle disappeared. With a shift of her skirts she sat gingerly in a non-existent chair, and then tucked her feet up in the crossed fashion before addressing the class again. “I am Jinn Mayalangua, keeper of the dreams. You may refer to me as Jinn Maya.” She nodded her head, and the coil of braids atop it bobbed back and forth.
Once she had decided that all of the students were paying the proper amount of attention, she continued, “And today, students, you have taken part in the Dream Ceremony.” Serina, the leader of the Fab Four, huffed in response to this announcement.
Jinn Maya shifted in her imaginary seat and lifted her chin a notch before continuing, “To each Jinni is given the ability to receive inner dreams. These dreams sometimes pertain to our futures, sometimes to our pasts, but almost all will give you answers to your quests.” The entire class had quieted at this point and shifted forward in their seats. They all wanted to know the answers to the ancient ways of granting wishes to humans. With all of their training on power control, mingling unobtrusively in a human society, and the history of their kind; the actual granting of wishes was still a vague concept in their minds.
Unfortunately, they would all be sadly disappointed.
Jinn Maya continued by telling them of some of the more well known dreams throughout history… The Cave of a Thousand Entrances, The Lost Princess, and of course, The Voyage Across the Great Sea. At this point she hopped down and inclined her head saying, “Your dreams will commence from this moment on. I will return in a week’s time to answer whatever questions I am able.”
That had been six days ago. Five long nights of tossing and turning. Five nights with snatches of dreams here and there. Five nights of unsettling images flashing through her mind… And not a single dream in its entirety in all that time.
Kira rubbed the back of her neck and looked down at the sandy earth at her feet before continuing, “I just can’t wait until Jinn Maya comes back tomorrow. Maybe after she explains some of my dreams I’ll be able to sleep again.”
Brennan nodded in agreement, “I know what you mean. I don’t get what dreaming about airport bathrooms has to do with anything.”
The girls laughed and Amirah replied, “You would get that Brennan. I keep dreaming about a man working in a tall building. He seems so sad and lonely that I really can’t wait to help him.”
Kira smiled and shared the safest segment of her dreams, “I dream of a hazy image of a handsome boy not much older than us.”
Brennan’s step slowed for a moment before he said, in a bad attempt to mimic Amirah, “You would get that Kira.”
Amirah giggled and added, “I wish I was the one dreaming of handsome boys. It all seems so amazing that in less than a week we will be out there… in the world,” She pressed her hands over her heart and closed her eyes, “solving mysteries and granting wishes, making love matches, and meeting,” She swung around in front of Kira and Brennan with a mischievous glint in her eyes, “handsome human boys not much older than us.”
Brennan rolled his eyes and said, “Oh brother! You are both dreamers. Meanwhile all I can think about is passing the skills test.” He looked down at his hands and snapped his fingers. His entire body began to shudder for a moment before settling several feet away. He shook his head as if trying to put everything back in place.
Kira tipped her head to one side and said, “Maybe your snap is too… well, maybe…” Kira looked to Amirah for a little help.
Amirah perked up and said, “I’ll bet it’s just because you had that growth spurt this last year. Your powers just haven’t settled in yet.” Brennan had grown in both height and breadth in just the last few months. He had gone from a gawky teenager to the body of a Jinn warrior almost overnight. Kira and Amirah were the only two girls in their class who hadn’t gone all weak-kneed at the changes in him. To them he would always be the shy boy that had mistakenly conjured up a banana instead of his homework on the second day of their special classes. Quiet, awkward, magically-impaired Brennan, who had a mile long protective streak when it came to those few people who managed to get close to him.
Kira nodded her agreement to Amirah’s deduction, but Brennan looked less than convinced. “Well, whatever it is needs to be fixed in the next two days. I will be seriously low if I am left behind while you two go off to help all of those handsome human boys.”
“Kira!”… “Amirah!” … “You guys in?” … “We’re up next.” Several people shouted out at the same time.
Kira, Amirah, and Brennan had just turned the corner onto the path leading to the Ulama courts when they heard the shouts. The girls sprinted ahead to join their teammates. Amirah and Kira dumped their school sacks unceremoniously on the patch of grass that extended past the edge of the courts. They shucked their sandals next, and then snapped their fingers to produce two pure-red ribbons each. Kira crouched to lace the ribbons up each leg. She began at her ankle and encased the bottom of her loose Capri style pants as she wrapped the ribbon up and over her knees. After quickly tying the top with a knot she asked her team, “So, who are we up against?”
Vin, a gangly boy from their old fourth year classes, responded first, “We’re matched with some of the fifth years that didn’t pass their tests… again.” He laughed and the dread-like braided mop of hair that hung past his ears bounced up and down with his mirth. The fourth member of the team was a quiet, muscular boy named Detrick. He added in a deep, serious voice, “It should be entertaining to say the least.”
Amirah smiled as the other team sent four tall boys out onto the field to take their positions. She muttered toward Kira, “Game on!” Kira gave a smirk and raised her arm to bump Amirah’s forearm with her own before she echoed Amirah with, “Game on!”
This was where Kira felt in her element. Her body hummed with the excitement of battle hanging in the air as she looked over the field.
The Ulama court was an oblong field with one stone tower rising up through the center of it. About twenty feet up, on opposite sides, the tower held two small stone rings. Ulama pitted two teams of four Jinn against each other in a battle to maneuver a hard glass ball, the size of an apple, through the ring belonging to the opposite team.
The original intent of the game had been to perfect skills that could be used to battle fairies. It had started out as a training exercise, but as time passed it became more about the sport than skill building.
Only two of the original rules still remained in existence. The first rule is to always keep the ball in play (off the ground and within the boundaries of the field). This rule had been put in place to teach the young Jinn endurance in battle; due to the mass of energy the fairies produced while fighting. The second rule is that no hands were to touch the ball or your opponents. Although the myth, that when you touched a fairy with your exposed hands you fell under their control, had been disproved; the Jinn found that the rule required the contestants to use more concentration of both energy and power in order to become victors.
Kira, Vin, Amirah and Detrick walked onto the field. On the opposite side of the tower as the 5th years, they formed a diamond with Vin at the tip, the girls in the middle, and Detrick at the back.
The designated referee took two running steps onto the field and sprang gracefully to the top of the tower. He rotated on one foot to face the teams below before saying, “In the ancient ways we reenact the battles of old.” He narrowed his eyes and said ominously, “Keep it clean!” With a slight twist, he leapt into the air again and released a small glowing ball filled with swirling blue smoke. As the ball began to fall toward the ground, the referee somersaulted forward and landed on the edge of the court.
The next moments were a blur of activity. All four of the 5th years lunged into the air toward the ball. Detrick grabbed Kira by her crossed hands, spun her once and then released her toward the mob of boys. She felt invigorated! In this moment she felt most at ease with her world. Her stress over the tests to come, her lack of sleep due to incomplete dreams, the heavy burden to be as amazing as the rest of her family all just slipped away. Kira curled herself into a ball, tucked her hands in, and destroyed the pack of boys as she flew straight through their path. With a quick flip she righted herself and landed in a crouch on the edge of the field. Kira heard moans as the 5th years collided with the ground behind her.
She turned in time to see Vin walk casually over to the descending ball and catch it on his extended foot. He bounced it a couple of times and flipped it up to his chest before popping it back down to his hip and bumping it in Amirah’s direction. The disgruntled boys scrambled to their feet to, once again, rush in the direction of the ball. Amirah commented serenely to Vin, “Amateurs!” before she caught the ball with the inside of her knee, to slow its decent.
She let it roll lazily down to her toes. Then, just before the boys reached her, she did a graceful back flip and rolled the ball up and over the group. Detrick surged forward to take Amirah’s place and sent several of the 5th years flying in opposite directions with a few well placed kicks.
Kira took one… two… three… running steps and leapt high enough into the air to intercept the ball. A burst of laughter escaped her as she caught the ball at just the right angle. With a slight bump of her hip, she sent it flying toward the stone hoop in front of her. Kira grabbed a hold of the top of the pillar and let out a whoop of victory.
Before even a moment had passed, Kira heard a loud noise erupt from below her. She looked down to see what the commotion was and barely caught sight of a blur of motion before one of the 5th year boys rammed the whole of his body into her side. Kira was thrown against the stone pillar and gasped in pain. The boy was gone before her body started to slip down the cold surface.
Brennan bounded onto the field the second he saw the collision, brushed aside Amirah, and caught Kira a few feet from the ground. Kneeling down Brennan settled her in his arms to get a better look at her.
Kira rubbed a hand over her eyes and groaned, “Well that was embarrassing.”
Amirah punched Brennan’s arm and said, “Gee, I guess we know who you care about more!”
He blushed and muttered, “Sorry! She scared the snap out of me… dropping out of the air like that.”
Kira hissed in pain as she tried to sit up, “I’m fine. I just need to walk around for a few minutes.” She started to rise when she spotted Detrick and Vin being pulled off of the 5th year. They had pounced on him right after he had attacked Kira and it was taking two referees, the three other 5th years, and a couple of guys from other teams to hold them off.
“Something tells me that I’m the one that got off easy.”
Kira watched as Yirshina, one of the Fab Four, helped the boy who had attacked her. She brushed some grass off the front of his shirt and clutched tightly to the boy’s arm. Yirshina was chattering away to him, and he seemed to answer her. Before Kira could look away, Yirshina whipped her head around and looked directly at Kira with venom spitting from her eyes. It lasted only a second, before the referee interrupted them, but it was enough to make Kira pause before she turned her back to Yirshina.
Brennan practically growled when the boy whined, loudly enough for them to hear, “What did I do? The ball was still in play.”
Kira leaned on Brennan’s arm to restrain him from adding a few more bruises to the collection already starting to show up on the boy, “He’s not worth your time. Besides…” Kira paused mid step as a wave of dizziness hit her. After a second she continued a little more mildly, “we won didn’t we?”
Brennan frowned at her and said, “If you say so.”
Kira wrapped her right arm across her middle and held tightly to Brennan’s tunic with her other. She limped gingerly over to their bags and let Brennan help lower her to the grass. Amirah sank down next to her, “It was a shame… it wasn’t even much of a challenge.”
Kira perked up, “I know, right? But, I loved your flip! Very- nicely- done!”
Amirah smirked and brushed a pretend piece of dust from her sleeve, “I know.” Both of the girls erupted in laughter.
Kira clutched her side as she tried to stop laughing, “Ooo, that still hurts some.” Brennan’s frown increased.
Amirah asked with a note of seriousness in her voice, “You okay? That was a nasty hit.” Kira reclined back on her arms and replied to them both, “I’m fine.” Neither Amirah nor Brennan looked convinced.
Kira looked them both squarely in the eyes before repeating, “I really am fine. Besides, I’ll just have my Mom fix me up when I go home.” Kira turned her head back to look at the court in front of her. “But first, I want to just sit back and enjoy the view.” The next two teams were taking the field. That they all happened to be a group of Jinn boys… no, men, who had just completed their years of rendering wishes to humans, certainly helped the view. That they had all removed their shirts to reveal highly muscled physiques didn’t hurt either. The girls started to giggle.
Brennan cleared his throat and said, “I don’t know if the two of you were aware, but I am still here… and, whether you notice or not, I am a guy. So if you don’t mind, could you keep your musings to yourselves until I am not around.” Brennan gave the girls a sarcastic smile and started gathering up his bag.
Kira said, “Oh, come on Brennan. Don’t be like that.” Kira eased to her feet and pulled a small rug from her bag. She unrolled it with a snap of her arm and settled her bag on the carpet which was now hovering just in front of her in the air. She swung her arm around Brennan’s back and continued, “You know that you will always be my hero…” Kira smiled a big toothy grin at him and then looked down at Amirah, “Isn’t that right, Amirah.”
Amirah rose and slung an arm around Brennan’s other side declaring, “Oh definitely!” She fluttered her eyelashes in an exaggerated way, “We shall fight off all of the other girls if we must… just to keep you to ourselves.”
A bright blush had risen up Brennan’s cheeks, “If only you both didn’t sound quite so sarcastic.” He gently pushed them away, “I’m going home. I need to finish the essay for Jinn Meyer on our Ara.”
Kira looked at Brennan, “Blast! I knew I forgot something. I will have to ask Dad to help me with it.”
Amirah nudged her and said jokingly, “You know some day you’re going to have to do this stuff all on your own.”
Kira laughed at that, curled up her legs on her carpet and replied, “But not today,” as she rode off into the sky.
Kira landed on the path outside her home. She pushed open the old wooden doors and dumped her bag on the floor directly to her left.
“Oh no, young lady!” Her Mom, Nala, yelled from the direction of the kitchen area, “You can walk your sack all the way into your room and dump it there.”
Kira worked up her most frail voice and said, “Okay, Mom.” It was just pitiful enough to evoke the expected reaction.
Nala poked her head around the corner and took in Kira’s mussed hair and the smudge that had been left on her cheek after her fall. “Oh, my little Shah! What happened?” Nala was pushing her daughter into a chair and running her hands over Kira’s limbs, assumedly to check for broken bones.
Kira answered her, “It’s alright Mom, nothing’s broken. Some guy just glanced off my side during the game.”
Nala moved her daughter’s arm aside and raised the edge of her shirt to reveal an ugly, blotchy red area, about the size of the 5th year’s head, forming on the left side of her rib cage. Nala’s mouth formed an O and large tears welled up in her eyes. “Oh, Kira! You should have had someone bring you home, or at least sent someone to fetch me.”
Kira tugged down on her shirt and said, “It’s not that bad. Liam has come home with far worse from all of his adventures.” Liam was Kira’s only other sibling. He was older than Kira by six years, and taller than her by at least a foot. He was also great and wonderful, and could do no wrong in the eyes of anyone. Kira was the baby of the family… the Shah.
Nala blinked away her tears and said, “Well, let me fix it.” She leaned back and closed her eyes trying to regain her focus. With her hands pressed together, Nala opened her eyes. She extended her palms to cover the area of the bruise and breathed in a deep breath through her nose. As she exhaled, Kira could feel the warm transfer of energy passing through her, followed by a tingling sensation along her rib cage. Nala sat back a moment later and asked, “Are there any more?”
Kira shook her head before replying, “Nope.” She popped out of the chair and peaked under her shirt to see the bruise completely gone, “Thanks Mom!” She gave Nala a peck on the cheek and asked, “When are Dad and Liam going to be home? I need their help on an essay.”
Kira followed Nala back into the kitchen space. The kitchen was used more as a workroom than for cooking purposes. Plants and stems, bits of rocks and dirt samples, and various roots and flowers cluttered the counter. Nala handed Kira a pestle and pushed a thick stone bowl, containing some sort of prickly stem, in front of her. Kira looked down at odd vegetation and the sighed. She begrudgingly began crushing the pieces into a powder as Nala answered her question. “Your Father dragged Liam along to listen in on a special meeting called by the Council. Something about a movement of fairies in the East. I expect them home anytime now.” Nala grabbed a pile of beautiful yellow flowers and began to pull off the tops, discarding them into a wooden pail at her feet.
Seconds later, Nala’s head perked up from her work. She said, “Your Father will be here in a moment.”
Kira didn’t understand how, but her parents had a special bond… a connection that only Nala and Reme felt when they were near each other. It wasn’t that way with all Jinn, only with those who were joined on some kind of level unique to each other. Kira wasn’t sure she really understood it; she just knew that she wanted the same someday.
“Nala!” Reme’s booming voice sounded through the small house as he ducked his head to step through the front doors. Reme was a big man… tall and broad. A shock of near-black hair sprung from his head in a careless style. To some he was intimidating, but Kira could only ever picture him reclined in his favorite chair with a book tucked in the crook of his arm and his reading spectacles inched down onto the tip of his nose.
Nala hadn’t bothered to answer his bellow… He knew where she was, and before a moment passed, he turned the corner and leaned down to peck a kiss on his wife’s rosy cheek. She smiled up at him before continuing her task. Nala asked, “And where is your son?”
Reme reached out and tugged on the tail of Kira’s braid saying, “Hello squirt.” He leaned back against the wall and crossed his arms before answering Nala with a look of unease on his face. “He’ll be in soon. He was talking with one of his friends about the meeting. There seems to be a…” Reme glanced in Kira’s direction before continuing, “an uprising in the North. All of the young men are excited about the possibility of taking action.”
Nala turned worried eyes on her husband, “Is it that bad?”
Reme pulled Nala and Kira into a hug and chuckled, “I’m certain the Council is just overreacting.” … but he didn’t look convinced.
Dinner that night was a loud event as always. Liam had returned home brimming with excitement. He picked on Kira and Kira picked back. Nala plied everyone with food and Reme sat with a book open at his elbow, sharing random facts about the northern country. They talked of Kira’s class assignment and Reme and Liam’s meeting with the Council of the Infriti; of Nala’s work to produce cures that didn’t rely upon her powers, and of the possibility of another dispatch of Jinn being sent to quell the fairy uprisings in the North.
Kira sat back for a moment and smiled. She had been afraid when her family had moved to the City of Fen… afraid that her family would never be the same. But this was the same. The same as it had always been.
Just then a knock sounded on the door. Liam snatched a crisp strip of bamboo shoot from Kira’s plate and dodged to the door before she could retaliate. Liam opened the door and his entire demeanor changed. He stood straighter and hid the filched food behind his back. The person on the other side of the door murmured words and then handed Liam an envelope. Liam gave a slight bow of his head and then closed the door.
Nala set her utensils carefully down and lowered her hands to the napkin on her lap before asking, “Have you been called then?”
Liam looked up from the envelope and replied distractedly, “It looks to be… unofficially official. The Infriti have requested my presence in the Hall of Fire… tomorrow.”
Nala gasped and Kira dropped the fork she was holding onto her plate. Reme held out his hand and said, “Well, it is much sooner than we all expected. Let me see the letter.”
Liam handed over the single sheet of parchment and sat back down in his chair. Reme scanned the note and looked up. “It seems that there is to be a defense team formed from the best of the recently returned Jinn who have completed their human quests. They are to be given the rank of Lumbee and sent on a secret mission to the north.”
Reme and Liam excused themselves to talk over the call and research various maps of the area in question. Nala busied herself with cleaning nervously. Kira sat quietly for a bit, feeling a deep sense of foreboding. Before long she excused herself on the pretext of needing to work on the essay due the next day. The essay turned out to be far from her best work, with her mind replaying the moment she knew would change her family forever.
Kira’s emotions were swirling inside of her. She was being sucked through a dark door into the unknown, with a stranger at her side.
Kira clung to the closest unspinning object before being dropped from the sky into a field of tall waving grasses. She landed with a thud, and couldn’t quite catch her breath. Lying flat on her back, she still had one hand clinging her companion’s tunic tightly to her. Kira hesitated before turning her head in the direction of the boy sprawled on the ground beside her. Her soul felt linked to his.
She could only see a blurred silhouette of him staring up at the twilight sky. He seemed to have a smile in his voice when he spoke softly, “Some genie you are.”
She pushed herself into a sitting position. Her long hair had come loose during their unexpected trip and now had bits and pieces of grass sticking out of it at all different angles.
The boy reached over to pluck out a particularly long piece of grass when Kira turned her head and engulfed his hand in the smooth wavy mass. The chaos in her mind went silent and her heart tugged her toward this boy as she looked down at him with his hand holding a long lock of her hair. Kira leaned in ever so slightly and…
Kira landed on the floor next to her bed. She groggily batted her hair out of her face and groaned. She mumbled grumpily, “Just when my dreams start to get good…” Kira closed her eyes for a moment longer and tried to picture the face of the boy in her dreams. It was like a word on the tip of her tongue… there, but not. A hazy image that refused to come into focus.
It was no use. Kira had tried to fill the holes in her dreams, had tried to patch the faces into some sort of familiar image, had tried to answer the nagging questions that each dream had left; but nothing ever changed.
Kira suddenly smiled at the knowledge of what this day was. Not only was it the last day of classes for her, but it was also the day Jinn Maya would return to help her class interpret their dreams… Sweet blissful sleep seemed within her reach again. Kira threw aside the blankets that were tangled at her feet and popped up from the floor with a renewed energy.
She snapped her fingers and a short sleeved coral tunic and loose tan capris appeared in place of her night shirt. Running her fingers through her long brown hair, Kira paused and thought about the dream… about the boy with his strong fingers holding a lock of her hair.
Kira shook her head to loosen the hold the dream had over her, and tossed her hair behind her shoulders to rest at her hips. Her mother used to tease Kira that her plain, brown hair had been jealous of the colors of fire and thus had stolen a flame and hidden it inside her tresses… and when the light hit it just so, the flame brought her hair alive with reds and golds. But as Kira looked at the image of herself in the reflecting glass next to her door, she couldn’t see anything remarkable about it.
Kira put her hands to her face and pulled down on the corners of her tilted eyes. She scrunched up her nose and grumbled, “Between my funny eyes and wide mouth I really have no chance of attracting any boys.”
Kira turned away from the mirror and quickly grabbed her red sash. She tied it carelessly around her waist on her way to the kitchen.
“Aah, good morning Sweetie!” Nala had apparently been up and working for several hours. She had dozens of labeled canisters with crushed powders and dried roots lining the countertops. A pot of some foul smelling concoction was bubbling away over a fire in the corner of the room.
Kira picked up a spoon and mixed the lumpy mess. One big bubble burst and released an added bit of stench. Kira felt her stomach cringe in fear. She said, “Um, I’m not really that hungry. I think I’ll have an apple for breakfast.” She snapped her fingers and a bright green apple appeared in her palm.
Nala snorted and replied, “Good, since my ointment for burns and bruises isn’t quite done yet. I was going to give you some of the toffee crullers I hid from your father and brother this morning, but,” Nala placed a pan with a cloth covering it on the counter, “since you aren’t really that hungry…” Kira lifted the cloth and felt her mouth water at the sight of the warm twisted rolls, covered with a sticky caramel sauce.
She gave her Mom a quick squeeze and plucked a bun from the pan. “Oh, yumm! Have I told you that you are the best ever?” Kira perched herself on a stool and chatted while Nala continued to work.
Nala asked, “Did you finish your essay on our powers?”
Kira licked her fingertips and grabbed for another roll. “Yeah. I can’t say that is pure genius, but it has the basics.”
Nala asked, “Which are?”
Kira raised a finger for each one of her points, “One, we have Intrinsic powers- like our ability to fly and move things, and also any specialized skills, like your ability to heal and Dad’s tracking skills. Two, our practiced powers… our snap. We can snap up anything we need into a physical form, but the more processes that go into creating the items… the harder it is to control the product of our snap.” Kira took another bite and ticked off her third finger. “The third type is our Ancient powers… Umm, those are the ones that take a portion of our Ara when we grant wishes to humans.”
Nala paused in her work and waited a moment before asking, “And?”
Kira licked off one of her sticky fingers and sighed, “And the power is returned when the quests are completed.” Kira furrowed her brow and asked Nala, “So, is that why our class is being called early? Because of unfinished quests?”
Nala stopped stirring the mush. On an exhale of breath, she walked around the island, and picked up Kira’s hand. “I don’t know the exact reasons, but I do know that the Council would not send you out if they did not need the strength your class will return to our world… I have to trust in that fact… or I wouldn’t be able to let my little Shah go.”
Nala placed a kiss on the top of Kira’s head. When she leaned back, Nala ran a hand over Kira’s loose hair in a motherly gesture and said, “Now, let’s get your hair done up.” She turned Kira around and snapped her fingers. A brush appeared in Nala’s hand. Nala brushed back the mass of hair before she stepped back and waved her hand in a circle behind Kira’s head. Kira’s hair lifted and spun into layers of eight braids overlapping one another and running in a long rope down her back. Nala smiled sadly, “It’s your last day of class.” She tugged on Kira’s sash and straightened it, “I just can’t believe how quickly this day has come.”
Kira’s day started off well, with Jinn Meyer reviewing the essays in class. He seemed pleased with Kira’s paper and only commented on how she omitted that, “Not all Jinn can control their powers… especially the Ancient powers.” Kira was the one to feel a little protective over Brennan, when he seemed to squirm in his seat at the comment. For all of his protective instincts, he still needed someone to be on his side sometimes… and that’s what friends were for.
The rest of the class passed quickly enough without any long recitations by the teacher, or slumbering by his students. However, when the time came for Jinn Maya to return for her discussion on their dreams, the class was positively humming with an excited energy.
The grandmotherly old lady swept in on her carpet, arching over the left side of the room before coming to a rest in front of the center of the wall of glass. She clapped her hands and expressed in her bubbly voice, “Aaah students! Here we are again. I trust that you have all dreamt well.” She smiled at her own little joke. “Now is the time to understand those things that have floated into your minds.”
Jinn Maya talked about signs to watch for in dreams… the color red meant that there would be a love match; snakes meant that an element would make itself known; eating an apple signified being at peace, and the list went on and on. The students each felt a heavy weight added to their tasks as she listed them all.
With an inward sigh Kira waited for the chance to ask her question. She couldn’t be the only one with holes in her dreams.
Jinn Maya answered a question about quests being solved solely with dreams by saying, “Dreams are only a guide. They tell you in which direction you should look for the answers, but you should also rely on the scrollwork given with each quest, and follow your personal feelings on the matter.”
Another question followed about whether all dreams had to do with your present quests or could they spill over. The lady frowned thoughtfully before answering, “There are a few Jinn who dream for the whole of their lives. They dream of the future, or the possibility of the future. Some Jinn dream of the past. Those Jinn will have a harder time discerning which dreams are of their current quest and which dreams may be teaching them something different all together.”
The class sat quietly for a minute, and then two, after this answer. Each one of the students had been hoping for an easy answer to completing their quests, but what they felt now was an even heavier burden.
Kira felt her heart start to beat inside of her throat. Now was the chance to ask her question. She may look like an idiot, but she had to know. She hesitantly lifted her hand and asked, “Jinn Maya?”
The lady nodded in her direction, “Ms. Riley, isn’t it?” Out of the corner of her eye, Kira saw Yirshina lean forward and practically sneer.
Kira nodded slowly, feeling more self-conscious with the attention of the Fab Four on her. Kira hesitantly asked her question, “What if your dreams are… incomplete?”
Jinn Maya looked confused when she replied, “Incomplete?”
Kira nodded again, “Yes. You know,” Kira tried to explain, “snatches of dreams… holes in them, or hazy bits and pieces that never seem to connect.”
Jinn Maya’s eyes became large and round before she gasped out, “Broken dreams?”
Kira heard someone mutter from the opposite corner, “... can’t even dream right…” The girls erupted in muffled giggles.
Jinn Maya seemed not to hear the girls and continued on, “I have heard of them, but no Jinn… That is, I haven’t…It must be a mistake! All Jinn dream a dream that will guide them to the truth of the quest.” She paused and looked intently at Kira, “You aren’t having broken dreams, are you?”
Kira gulped back the truth, and went for the easy way out of her discomfort by shaking her head and saying, “Um no. No! I mean, I was just wondering because I had heard of them before.”
Jinn Maya looked uncertain, but Jinn Meyer returned to class at that moment and clapped his hands once, announcing, “Students! I hope you have learned much from your discussion with Jinn Maya. I hope you have learned much in all of your studies. Two days from today will be the time of your testing. Thereafter, those who have passed their tests will have their Day of Rendering. They will be called to their first human, in less than a week’s time.” He smiled benevolently at the class, “You have all done well. Go forth and succeed, and may your Ara guide you.”
The Waiting Place
Kira felt wrapped in the familiar confines of another dream. She could see grassy rolling hills segmented by snaking lines of short stone walls. Beyond the fields lay a forest of trees appearing violet in the dimming light of day.
The dream began as night was falling. She spotted the little stone house tucked into the edge of the wood, and her heart did a wild thud-thump that sounded in her ears. The cottage looked so quaint and welcoming, with the light spilling out of the windows flanking the front door… but Kira knew better. She recognized this dwelling from previous dreams. Her body, heart, and mind all begged for her to run from this place.
Kira forced herself to approach the house. She was here for a reason.
A faint cry, like a screech from a bird of prey, stole her will to move for an instant. The cry hung in the air; distant but still close enough to cause goose-bumps to cover her skin. The cooling wind pulled a few wisps of hair from the long braid hanging down her back, bringing with it the crisp smell of the winter to come, and pushing her forward.
She took another step, and then another, drawn inexplicably to the window cut out of the stone to the left of the door. Through it, Kira saw an old-fashioned sitting room with a fireplace that looked too big to fit in the tiny space. It had a welcoming fire crackling away in its belly. Long bookshelves ran the length of the far wall on either side of the fireplace. There were no books in them, though. Instead, the shelves were neatly lined with a variety of containers in every shape and color imaginable. There were delicate pink perfume bottles and thick mason jars and even a magnificent antique tea pot that looked like it had been plucked from the queen's own tea service.
Kira’s brow furrowed as she heard a murmuring of voices coming from a room off the kitchen. Her mind was screaming at her to run but she couldn't, and she didn't know why. She inched closer to the window to see better, when a hand closed over her shoulder. She turned with her heart in her throat, but before she could scream in terror, it started beating for an entirely different reason. She felt an intense sense of relief... and more... as an overwhelming flood of deep emotions washed through her body.
Kira jerked instantly awake with a frustrated exhale of breath. She never saw an entire dream. Never! After two weeks of waking to snatches of dreams, she was done fantasizing about a hazy human boy, or waking up panicked from menacing fairies. It was all just plain frustrating now. "The dream will come when it is time." Kira repeated the words Jinn Maya had told her class in an attempt to calm her still pounding heart.
Blinking her eyes, she rubbed them with the heel of her palms to ward off the light streaming in from the window in the ceiling above her bed. With a massive yawn and languid stretch, she felt a niggling worry in the back of her mind. Kira couldn't quite put her finger on it...
“Oh no… oh no… oh no!" she pulled herself up and jumped out of bed. "Not today." She spun on one foot, getting her bearings in the room. "Where is Mom when I need her?" Her eyes went back to the window. The amount of light coming through told her she would be extremely lucky to make it on time. "Of course, today of all days!”
Kira snapped her fingers and a peasant style aqua shirt and fitted white skirt, with splits on both sides up to her knees, appeared on her. Unfortunately the top was on backward. “Aaah! What a day to be off! Come on," she grit out between her clenched teeth. "Get it together.”
Kira was practically hopping with impatience as she snapped again and the shirt righted itself. Running full tilt from her room, she grabbed the gold sash signifying her graduation to Psan, and tied it quickly around her waist. She snatched her sandals in one hand and the carpet lolling off the side of her bed with her other. Tossing the carpet out in front of her, Kira clambered on and went speeding through the air to the center of the city. "Faster Ra, I'm late!"
In only a few minutes she was landing at her destination, a huge building carved from pristine sheets of mother-of-pearl. She'd broken who-knows-how-many flying codes, criss-crossing established by-ways and flying over homes. But she had to be on time.
Kira hopped from her rug, rolling it with a deft snap of her arm, sprinted through the towering doors and down the corridor ahead of her. She was pointed to the left by a disapproving looking woman behind a desk, and veered automatically without slowing for a breath. At last she reached an open area with a sign pointing her to the right, and, combing her fingers through her tangled hair, tried to look ready enough to face her future. How prepared she was for this, she couldn't even begin to guess. But by the time she made her final turn, she was able to slow her feet to a casual walk, calm her heavy breathing and compose her face to a less scared-snapless look. She had reached The Waiting Place.
"You almost missed our call, Kira." Brennan hissed beneath his breath.
"Almost late is exactly on time," Kira whispered back. The churning panic of tardiness in her stomach had started to melt away at the first sight of her classmates and their families milling about the room. She wasn't late. The room was full. But if the nerves about getting here were gone, they quickly stampeded forward again with the worry over... her call.
Kira walked over to peer through the bank of windows to her left. She stared past her reflection to the atrium beyond. There, on the monument at the center of the small garden, were rows upon rows of plaques. Each plaque displayed a portrait and nameplate of every Jinn who had gone before her... including her family. At that moment, Kira felt the full weight of her parents’ absence.
She looked up and let her eyes roam over the images in front of her, pausing at familiar faces and faces that seemed to call out to her. One perky blond Jinni seemed to flash her arrogant black eyes back at Kira from a plaque. Kira could almost feel her asking, "You seriously think you're ready?" Kira glared back at the plaque before she moved her eyes down the line of Jinn and found a boy with a deep dimple and smiling eyes. He wouldn't judge her quite so harshly.
She continued along the rows of faces before focusing in on the ones of her family. If Mom and Dad had been here this morning they never would have let her oversleep. “You can do this, honey!" Mom would have hugged the air out of her, sniffing back the tears and stuffing her with food. Dad would have added vaguely, “You’ve had just as much training as the rest of your friends here," while scratching the back of his head absently and trying not to say anything about the two years of training the entire class was lacking, before they should have been called.
It was true enough that she had passed her tests two days ago. Even though there might have been some bumps along the way, Kira was definitely not the worst in this class. Not all of her classmates had passed their tests. And then there was Brennan. She glanced over at the reflection of Brennan in the window and smiled. He looked good today with his mass of blond hair combed into submission, and his eyes smiling down at his grandma with pride. Poor Brennan, he was by far the worst in the class. She had seen him on the Day of Testing snapping himself upside down and producing a basket of live fish when a bouquet of flowers was requested. But he never gave up, which is why he was able to receive his call along with the rest of the class, despite failing his final exams more than three times that day.
Kira spotted Amirah across the room. Her Dad and Mom were both wiping tears from their eyes and giving their girl hugs and what looked like an abundance of advice. Amirah looked over at Kira and gave an ever so slight roll of her eyes and a grin before turning back to her parents.
Kira grinned sadly and, in her usual fashion, muttered to herself, “Okay Kira. Chin up. Mom and Dad would’ve been here if they could have." It wasn't their fault they had been called to resolve a situation in China on the eve of the most important day of their daughter's life. The summons from the Council of the Infriti had come just after dinner the night before.
Kira wasn't oblivious. She knew that the “situation" had to be beyond bad for them to leave so abruptly. Dad had immediately gone into mission mode; gathering gear and maps, tossing in a couple of books and hollering for Nala to not forget this or that. Nala had stopped everything and just held Kira tight. It had been so tight!
Nala had sniffed back most of her tears, but one or two had left little streaks down her cheeks. She had looked intently into Kira's face, saying, "If there is any possible way…” she bit her trembling lip and closed her eyes for a moment before trying to continue on a brighter note, “… any possible way, we will be back for your call, but... it doesn't look good honey...” Nala’s temporary brightness slipped away and a note of dismay entered her voice, “… an entire village in China, gone." Nala shook her head sadly, battling between saving the lives of strangers and being here for her youngest child… when Kira needed her support.
Kira had replied with a maturity beyond her years. "I’ll be fine Mom. I mean, it's only one calling, there will be seven more. Besides, we all know that Dad is the only one that could track this pack and secure the area… and who would save the injured if you didn’t go? They need you." Kira’s mind had echoed silently, “I need you.”
Nala had sniffed back more tears and pulled Kira into yet another suffocating hug saying, "My little Shah is so grown up now." She leaned back and peered deep into Kira's eyes, "Be careful!"
Kira had replied with a hint of tears in her voice, "You too,” then with a shaky smile she added, “and make sure Dad doesn't start any battles just for the fun of it." Nala had nodded at her daughter with a doubtful look on her face before she had rushed off to finish packing.
Reme had grabbed Kira in a fierce bear hug that Kira returned just as fiercely. He left a single kiss on the top of her head before he rushed out of the door with Nala at his heels.
It had only been a few hours since she had seen her Mom clinging tightly to her Dad's back, racing through the air on their fastest carpet. Secretly, Kira had half expected to see her parents waiting in this room for her. She knew it would have taken a miracle for her parents to resolve the situation this fast, but she couldn't help wishing.
Kira glanced longingly at the reflections of the little clusters of families... Mothers and fathers offering last minute advice and support before their children received the ancient powers and were called to their first humans. Kira missed her family terribly, and would have given anything for just one of them to be with her on this special day. She knew it was beyond impossible to have everything work out just right anymore. Too much had changed.
She was proud of her family. Just before they had moved to the city her parents, Reme and Nala, had been promoted to Jari, the second circle of Jinn, directly below The Council of Infriti. The circle of Jari comprised assignments as diverse as body guarding, ambassadorship, trade negotiations, espionage... Her Mom and Dad were highly sought after for Reme's tracking skills and Nala's healing abilities... not to mention other special talents they both possessed. Together they were the perfect team for any situation that might arise.
And then there was Liam. He had been top of his class when he had been called to his first human and was forever receiving commendations. It had become a bit of a family joke that if he received any more, his room would be too full and he would have to start sleeping on the couch. But now, even he was gone. Liam had been officially called by the Infriti to join a detachment of Jinn. The small unit was to subdue an uprising in the North. "An uprising in the North". That's all he had said, and even Dad's face had been full of uneasiness when Liam left for the mission just the day before her tests. Whatever it was, it was dangerous work and secret too, but just the sort of thing Liam would be good at. It was an honor...
That was why Kira was here... alone, on the most important day of her youth. She was being called, and it was an honor.
Above her head a long unhurried note sounded. "Gong," it seemed to say in a reassuring tone, "No need to fuss. Just a reminder." Still, all the young Jinn jumped at the sound, their nerves strung tight. Mothers and fathers caught their children in final embraces, whispering faster now, fewer words of support and more reminders and warnings before they were gone.
"Gong" went the sound again, this time carrying a note of urgency. The parents were at last persuaded to gather off to the edges of the room, leaving the graduates looking young and lost in a loose group at its center.
Kira closed her eyes and tipped her head back, taking a deep breath. Her long dark hair flowed down her back in waves, shimmering as the light caught flecks of red in her otherwise plain hair. All around her, classmates fidgeted silently, or nervously chatted with their neighbors.
Kira looked back at her reflection in the window. She began to move her hand unobtrusively in a series of rhythmic movements taught to the smallest of Jinn as part of a nonsensical nursery rhyme and, striving for focus, whispering under her breath. "You cannot find it, the rock and the door, unless, in your finding you carry the four. First is the earth, blackened and bright..." The fact that she had not completely mastered her powers, the broken dreams, and of course the quests she would have to face, stampeded back to the front of her mind and shattered her calm. This was not the time to let herself become swamped with... with… everything!
This was not the time to remember that Fen was not her home. This was not the time to remember why her family had left their home near the shores of a bottomless lake to take up a permanent residence in the city; or to remember the freedom of the sky and wind and sun she had enjoyed in that other life. This was not the time to remember what had forced her brother to enter the Jinn defense team. This was not the time to think about the dangerous situation her parents were in. And it was definitely not the time to feel so entirely inadequate for the quest ahead.
No one needed to tell her that those things were not what mattered right now. She had to do this for herself, her family, but mostly for the survival of her people. As she looked around the room at the others in her class, she saw written on their faces the uncertainty and fear that was on her own. Her fingers moved without thought. "You cannot find it, the rock and the door..."
A short, round Jinni emerged from a hidden opening behind a beautiful array of curtains. His eyes scanned the crowd of jittery young Jinn until they landed on Kira. He solemnly walked across the room and stopped in front of her. He bowed slightly and straightened to say, "Miss Riley, I presume."
Kira nodded, a little disconcerted at the added attention.
He snapped two fingers lightly, and an elaborately encrusted gold ornament appeared in his palm. He extended his hand and said, just as solemnly as he seemed to do everything else, "This was sent for you."
Kira reached forward and carefully lifted the sparkling ball. She ever so slowly flipped the catch on its tip and the ball popped open. A small bubble of air lifted from its hiding place, and Kira extended a single finger to burst it.
Her parents voices tinkled in the air; Nala saying, "You can do this honey!" and Reme following with, "You have been trained your whole life for this moment... never forget that." Their voices faded off with I love yous. Kira swallowed back the tears that had sprung to her eyes. She whispered, "I never should have doubted that they would be here."
The little man nodded his head and pivoted in the direction of the billowing curtains. Once he had reached his destination he faced the class, clapped twice, smiled brightly, and said in a surprisingly commanding voice, “"Welcome. I am Secretary Guya, and it is my honor to introduce you to the Hall of Fire.” He paused before he added in a more serious tone, “It is time for the Rendering Ceremony to begin. This way please.”
The Hall of Fire.
Kira took a deep breath and smiled as she caught Brennan doing the same. She hurried ahead to join the line and proceeded to file through the billowy hangings with the others. At age 16 they were the youngest class in Jinn history to be called to their humans. The skirmishes with rogue fairies, starting as one or two unusual events, had increased in intensity and frequency resulting in the deaths of many humans and several Jinn. A large force of older Jinn was being taken away from their quests to take care of situations. There were also so many Jinn sitting in limbo, just waiting to be released for new quests, because their humans had been lost, or worse, killed. No more than "situations" and "lost" were said in the presence of the young graduates, but they all knew to a certain extent. So, ready or not, informed or not, scared-snapless or not, it was their time... her time.
The chamber they entered was at the very center of the city. The Hall of Fire was one smooth iridescent globe. The entire room was swirling shades of white and cream with hints of blues and pinks appearing at the center of each swirl. The walls curved up to create a cavernous dome above their heads, and the floor mimicked the ceiling with deep steps wrapping the entire room descending uniformly to the center. There, across the room, sat The Council of the Infriti, cross-legged on a slightly raised dais about halfway up the deep stairs on the opposite side of the room.
The Infriti—the very name conjured authority and power to Kira. Within their hands they held the fates of every Jinni nervously descending the staircase and, indeed, every Jinni in the city. An eight member Council of only the bravest, most true Jinn, elected in secret every 60 years, would assign the young ones to their humans by some hidden process only they were privy to.
Kira obediently followed her classmates as her head swiveled to take in all of her surroundings. When her class had come on a tour of the building a few years ago the guide had impressed on the irreverent group that only Jinn receiving direct assignments from the Infriti were allowed to enter. At the time they had passed the billowing curtains that protected the entrance to this room, they were shown the monuments in the Garden of Heroes, and then were ushered down a silvery corridor that led to the Energy Core of the city in hushed tones and a good deal of ceremony. It was all truly awe inspiring!
Kira bumped into the girl ahead of her. The line had stopped. She hastily stepped back and raised her eyes, apologizing softly so as not to break the spell that seemed to have fallen over the room. On the dais the senior member of Infriti inclined his head soberly and, when this failed to elicit a response in the group, gestured with his hand impatiently. “Sit... sit!”
Thump! They went down in unison… each as anxious as the next not to stand out. “They step onto their carpets one leg at a time,” thought Kira. “Nothing to be afraid of. I mean, if I met any of them in the city they would look like any of the rest of us.” True enough. Each member wore their hair in the classic circular braided style, adopted almost universally by their tribe of Jinn. Even those with beards had them braided as well.
But there the reassuring similarities ended. The Infriti were notoriously eccentric in their dress. Most Jinn in the city wore simple attire of loose fitting clothes, often a tunic and pant, sometimes a flowing robe or dress, with a sash about their waist depicting their rank. The Infriti were in a way the mediators between the human race and the Jinn tribes, and as such felt that they should show their support of the humans… however oddly. They tended toward the more flamboyant outfits that had been worn throughout the humans' histories.
Their clothing varied from dull blue British riding togs to an elaborate dragon emblazoned Japanese kimono to a vivid red Russian military uniform from the last century bedecked with brass buttons and medals in all sorts of colors and sizes. The only universal piece in their costumes was the long iridescent blue fabric draped over their shoulders emblazoned to mark them of the Yafiah tribe of Jinni, Fire! They were the strongest and oldest of the four Jinn tribes. Kira swallowed the nervous giggle that threatened to slip out. Councilor Mundo leaned forward, his hands resting on his knees. He wore pants of a deer hide with a long line of fringe running from hip to ankle. Leather moccasins encased his feet and a fitted leather vest covered massive shoulders, revealing deep scars and marks in his muscular arms from his long service in the Jari. Mundo’s chest displayed a bold design of war paint that was only enhanced by the dark chocolate color of his skin. His head was bare of hair except for a long braided beard which was split down the middle and tossed over each shoulder. Mundo gazed down on the 14 students who had passed their tests just days before. They were willing to take on their assignments a full two years before they should have completed their training. The eight tasks set before each Jinni would prove near insurmountable to some, but necessary for the survival of the tribe. The Jinn power source was quickly diminishing due to the battles with the fairies and having so few Jinn completing their quests with their humans these days. And here he was sending these… It was too much to ask.
He looked again, but this time with a closer inspection of each student. Each held a resolve… a courage that would carry them through. But more than courage, their eyes reflected a maturity far surpassing their days. A desire to put their people first.
The room hummed with nerves in the utter silence. “Today students," his voice bounced off of the bare walls, "we offer you the chance to become a member of the Psan, an invitation to the fifth circle of Jinn, ordinarily denied to ones so young. You are here this day due to your continued diligence in the circle of Kael.”
You have mastered and tested the skill of your powers and been found worthy to continue forth in the path laid out before you, to do your part to perpetuate the survival of our Jinn society." He paused and then said gravely, "You will be essential to our survival as Jinn.”
Mundo stood in one fluid movement and closed his eyes a moment before looking again upon the young ones. He brought his hands together on the intake of a breath before he began to move his arms in slow deliberate motions. He started to repeat the old words of their ancient story. “When the world began and the powers were split, the Jinn were given by the heavens to serve as guides to humans. To grant one true wish. This we are bound to do in order to regenerate the powers of the Jinn.”
“Each Jinni has eight lives to watch over, to protect, to guide, and to grant a wish that will alter the path of their lives for the better. At the close of each task set before you, the Jinn are given a measure of energy and vitality that strengthens the integrity and bounty of our world." Mundo stilled his movements and stood towering and solid with his hands clasped behind his back. "Young ones,” (Was there one student there that didn’t feel like a toddler at that title?) “you must take special care to complete your quest and render the human assigned to you with a resolution. Each Jinni is given the opportunity to resolve eight quests in his or her life span. You will only have but three wishes to give to each quest. After three, your chance to discover the One true wish for your human will be gone." He waited a moment to let the words sink in a little further.
"Your class will be sent to the shores of the other great sea. As you complete each quest you will return here and wait a moon and a day to be given your next human in your assigned realm. Take care with your tasks," He leaned toward the class, impressing upon them the importance of the moment, "for the better you do, the greater the power passed to our people.” Mundo took a long deep breath. “Let us begin.” Mundo closed his eyes and, drawing another deep breath, clapped his hands together once. The sound bounced and swirled around the great, round room. The utter silence that followed pressed each little Jinni deeper into their seats. Mundo raised his arms and pointed to a spot in the air above his head. With his hands outstretched he opened his eyes slowly and released his breath in a great wind. The room seemed to echo the breath and multiply it until a blue smokeless fire began to form above the Infriti.
Kira stared dumbfounded at the beautiful liquid fire before her eyes. “So this was why it is called The Hall of Fire.” She was anxious, but eager, to be filled with the ancient power… to feel strong and ready to grant wishes and finally feel… prepared for the uncertain future ahead.
Mundo picked up an elongated blue bottle filled with swirling liquid resting on the floor beside him and, taking a short sip, recaptured his breath.
Councilor Gared, sitting to his right with a long African robe in vivid oranges and purples, chuckled lightly. He might be an Infriti, and supposedly beyond such things, but the look of terror and awe on the student’s faces when Mundo performed this portion of the ceremony never failed to amuse him. At a quelling glance from Mundo, Gared tapped three times on a squat urn before him with a flute-like instrument. He put the flute to his mouth and began to play. What emerged was a light melody, pulling and sweet.
As Gared created the notes, small flecks of the swirling blue fire filling the air above the Infriti broke away from the whole to circle the perimeter of the room, darting this way and that, as if looking for a way to escape. In a shocking moment of brilliance the fire burst into brilliant shades of reds and golds, oranges and grays, and every shade in between. The flash resulted in a silvery mist that fell like a warm rain over the students.
Gared quickened the melody with each passing minute and the Infriti, shaking their sleeves back and raising their arms, began to clap as one with the rhythm of the song until, at its pinnacle, each fleck of frenzied fire was sucked into the urn before them, the last drop falling to the urn as the music faded in a soft echo about the room.
Kira had felt the mist sink into her and waited to feel the ancient powers fill her with a new energy. The initial warmth settled into her before sinking to her toes and finally just dissipating. Kira waited… and waited, but nothing more happened.
“That’s it? A little tingling and then nothing!” Kira experienced a sense of dread. She felt nothing. No more prepared for her calling, no more prepared for granting “true wishes” to some helpless human, no more prepared for anything. For all she knew, she would be one of the few Jinn unable to obtain the ancient powers. Before Kira’s thoughts could carry her off to being disowned by her family and banished from the city, Mundo straightened his massive shoulders and rose from his position. He calmly descended the seven steps before him to the center circle. With a slight motion of his right hand the urn flew to his hold. He said in a deep, unaffected tone, “From the fire to the rendering.” Mundo took a deep breath and announced, “Now is the time for you to be called to the first of your eight human quests. Listen closely, as much information pertaining to your call will be given during the ceremony.”
The air in the room shimmered with anticipation as Mundo beckoned the first to rise and come forward. He looked deeply into the first student’s eyes.
Brennan. Brennan looked to Kira as though he might soil himself at any moment. Mundo reached into the urn and pulled out a perfectly round, orange ball about the size of a curled up little finger and popped it into Brennan’s still gaping mouth. Brennan snapped his mouth shut in surprise. With a jolt his eyes became huge and little colorful cloud puffs began to pop from his nose.
Councilor Gared’s belly shook as he chortled, “Well, spit it out!”
Brennan looked aghast but obediently did as he was told. A roll of multicolored hazy clouds burst from his mouth and, swirling like a tornado touching ground, formed into a hazy image. Kira squinted her eyes, looking closer. It looked like it was... a human.
The mist cleared further leaving a ghost-like form standing in the air. It was a boy. Small, maybe 10-ish, Kira judged. He had dark brown hair, cut short for the summer weather to come, and several bruises and scrapes, old and new, on his elbows and knees—the sort all boys like that had from climbing trees and riding bikes. He looked perfectly normal for a human, as far as Kira’s limited experience with them went. "But his eyes," she thought. "Surely they all didn’t look so listless… so... vacant, as though life were a punishment." It was as if a light had been snuffed out and there was no more joy or happiness or... mischief in there anywhere.
“Brennan, this is your first human,” Mundo spoke, gesturing toward the apparition. He continued as though reciting the words from memory. “His name is Joey Landis. Your contact destination is Denver, Colorado. Age 9. He lost his parents during a plane transfer from Seattle to Miami. Your quest... To Right.”
Brennan squared his shoulders in an attempt to look competent. However he spoiled the affect when a belch, that truly seemed to rumble up from his toes, burst from his mouth. The belch expelled a cloud of swirling blue smoke, tumbling end over end before taking the form of a beat-up Spiderman backpack as it landed at Joey’s feet.
A couple of nervous giggles escaped the students as Joey’s shade began to disintegrate into slips of floating paper fluttering down into a neat stack landing in Brennan’s hands. Councilor Mundo continued down the line repeating the process with each of the gathered youth. A gorgeous woman of 25 had appeared and been assigned before Yirshina received a bent old man of indeterminable age. She had shuddered at the sight of him and held her papers at a distance from her.
Then a few more kids between the ages of 6 and 12 were placed. But the best so far was a woman in her 40’s who sported vibrant red hair and looked like she had been poured into a too-tight hot pink outfit. Her mouth wore a huge smile, but by then, Kira was beginning to know what to look out for. The eyes never lied and hers were lonely and sad. Amirah was the one who received this quest “To Love” with her round human.
And then it was her turn. Kira, interested in watching the proceedings had forgotten her nervousness. But now that she faced Mundo her stomach began to churn with awful anticipation, and her heart started skipping around like a school of fish being chased by a predator. Mundo located her with his eyes and beckoned her forth. She discretely wiped her moist hands on the sides of her skirt as she rose. Her mouth felt like a desert as her throat constricted. She started to gnaw on her lower lip, glancing over at the 13 students holding their neatly stacked piles of paper and then stepped forward.
Mundo paused as they watched one another. He asked a question with his eyes, “Are you ready? Can I ask this of you?” This was an important moment in Jinn time, a season that could bring peace or destruction and it would all begin with this first quest. For her part, Kira answered with her eyes, “I am ready to defend my home. I will do this thing.” Without uttering a word, Mundo reached to the bottom of the urn and pulled out a vivid green orb. “Interesting.” Green was rare.
A gasp came from the direction of the Infriti and a buzz of mumbling erupted among the Council. "Never seen..."
"... highly rare..."
"... rumored to be more than just one ..."
Mundo raised his left hand to silence the whisperings.
Kira, oblivious to the great impact of this moment felt a trembling of, if it were possible, more nervousness race through her. She hesitantly opened her mouth feeling her unsurity rise by the second. Her thoughts raced just as fast through her mind as her heart was beating in her chest, "Am I really prepared for this..." thud thump, "... I am going to be the first from my line to fail. I know it!" With a gulp, Kira attempted to swallow down her fear. “I have to do this. There is no other choice.” She stubbornly opened her mouth wider to accept the offering from Mundo. He carefully placed the ball on the tip of her tongue. The instant the green orb came in contact with her mouth a bright light burst forth with an explosion of energy flooding before her in a whirling mix of colors and textures. The force knocked her off her feet.
It took several seconds for the energy to slow enough to view any images within. Kira swiped a mass of hair out of her eyes, mortified that this had to happen to her. None of the other students had been knocked on their butt. She tried to pull herself together enough to scramble up off the ground. She spotted Yirshina shaking her head and mouthing, “Such a dreg!”
Kira felt the insult hit exactly where it was intended… deep. She was not a bottom dweller! She was here because she had worked hard to be here! Kira lifted her chin and turned her eyes away.
She focused on the image forming before her. Kira almost fell on her butt again. The connection with her human was instant and powerful. Her fingers tingled with a need to reach out to the boy, to see if he was real.
“… Jack Morgan of ... Age 17... quest: To Find.” Kira only heard about half of the words as she gazed at the apparition before her. He had neatly cropped dark hair with a lean, athletic build, lightly tanned skin but the kind with a few freckles, however she noticed little of that as she peered into his eyes and felt like he was looking back at her. No... into her. She felt like she knew those eyes attached to that face, but… not. No, that was a silly thing to think. She hadn’t even met a human before; only seen them from a distance during her apprenticeship. Still, something about his eyes tugged at her memory.
"Kira…. Kira?” Mundo leaned forward touching her shoulder to shake her from her thoughts. “Do you understand your task?”
She nodded mutely as the apparition of Jack popped into one sheet of paper that drifted into her open hands. “No!” she thought in a panic. “I don’t understand my task! Liam would have been taking notes or strategizing or…or….” She remembered him telling her about his first human. He’d returned from the quest in record time and when asked about it said something maddening and horribly un-useful like, “Oh, well, I just had to read the papers, didn’t I? Wasn’t really that hard.” Leave it to her to stand there staring off into the eyes of an apparition like a loon. “How was I supposed to know? They didn’t warn me that my human... Mine?” Kira pulled herself up short. He wasn’t her my. But she allowed herself one last observation. “The way his eyes looked into my soul was…,” she groped for a word, “…unsettling.”
Kira turned and lowered herself back down into her seat.
Clap. Clap. Mundo rose up the steps of the dais and settled himself once more with crossed legs. Councilor Gared stood before the freshly appointed Jinn as if nothing mind-altering had just occurred, “Your assignments have been made, and now Secretary Guya,” he pointed to the squat Jinni who had brought them into the Hall of Fire, “will take you to the antechamber to receive your departure schedules and any vital information pertaining to the destinations of your quests.” Every eye in the audience seemed awed that he could appear so nonchalant in the face of the spectacle that had just transpired but they nodded just the same.
Gared continued, “You will have one hour to gather your belongings, say your goodbyes, and report to the disembarkation port where you will be sent to your various humans. Wish well young ones.”
The class filed out looking much more dazed than when they had entered. Kira looked longingly at the stacks of paper clutched to her classmates' chests. Most of the students had around ten or so pages on their humans, some of them had what looked like small books in their hands. Kira had one pitiful page. One. How on earth was she going to finish her task with so little help?
Still, she finally had her call and was determined to succeed. That’s what they all must do. The class that left the Hall of Fire was palpably different than the one that had entered a bare hour before. For each of the young Jinn, the nervous tension that had filled the air before was replaced with a budding sense of purpose as they marched off to do their part to strengthen the withering beauty that remained of their Jinn world.
The moment the last student exited the Hall of Fire the Council erupted in an overwhelming mob of conversation.
“… unacceptable to be sending them so young…”
“But I have never seen a green orb before…”
“… they are our only chance at survival…”
“Just babies… all of them…”
Mundo turned to face the animated group and closed his eyes in frustration. When his eyes opened, a silence fell over the group. Each member of the Infriti waited for their leader’s input on the situation at hand. Mundo was at a loss for explanations and stared blankly back at the Council, before he said with a sense of finality, “What’s done is done. They must succeed or our world will soon be a mere memory. We cannot continue on in such a manner.” Mundo’s voice shook with the intensity of his words, but then a change came over his demeanor. The weariness showed in his face and voice as he said, “It is our only chance to recover from the ongoing injuries to our power supplies.”
He repeated, “What’s done… is done.” And then turned and walked calmly from the room, leaving an unsettled group behind.
Nala clung to Reme’s back as their carpet carried them up the last rise before they would reach their destination, Guilin, China. She had spent the last portion of the trip with tears silently marking trails down her cheeks. The only balm to her troubled heart was that she and Reme had left a message at the disembarkation port to be sent to Kira before her calling. She worried over her daughter. Kira had been showing the signs of stress and fatigue over the last few weeks, and Nala was having second, third and fourth thoughts about leaving her alone on this important day.
A warm breeze brushed over Nala’s cheek, drying the remnants of her tears, as Reme landed the carpet just before the top of the small hill. They knew better than to fly into a disaster zone where traumatized humans might spot their approach.
Reme packed the carpet into his bag and began to heft it onto his back. He lifted his head as a faint scent wafted past him on the breeze. The acrid smell of expended dark magic. He grabbed Nala’s hand, and a silent message passed between them. Neither would leave the other until the damage had been ascertained.
The sun was just peaking over the village when they topped the rise. Nala and Reme stopped in their tracks and just stared at the sight before them. The warm touch of the sun’s golden glow added a surreal effect to the devastation before them.
Nala expelled on a whispered breath, “They said the village was gone, but this is… so much worse!”
Reme pulled her close and wrapped an arm about her shoulders. “I’ve never seen this amount of waste laid out by the fairies.” He shook his head in dismay. “It takes time and determination to do this.”
Reme pulled Nala through the burnt remains of the city. They searched hut after hut with the vain hope of finding even one survivor. But just more tragic scenes hit them as the morning wore on. Bodies petrified in the instant of their demises were littered along the streets, sitting huddled in groups, or still tucked into their beds.
Nala paused just inside a small home on the outskirts of town. It looked less damaged than most of the others. Two walls and a portion of the roof had escaped the intense fire that had ravaged the rest of the city. The toe of her shoe bumped against a small homemade cloth doll. She bent to retrieve it and gently brushed a smudge of ash from the doll. A tear rolled down her face and she looked up at Reme saying, “How can we let our children out into this world?”
Reme held her tightly and tucked her head into his shoulder before saying, “If we don’t… there will be no more world left for them. We just need to have faith that all of their efforts will make the difference.”
Here I am.
“Umpa umpa umpapa umpa umpa umpa, umpa umpa umpapa..." Jack rolled over and smacked the top of his alarm clock. “Cute, Sis. Nothing quite like a polka to wake you up.” Lily was being a comedian again. He yawned hugely and opened an eye to a watery Oregon sunrise. He closed it again…
“Umpa umpa umpapa…” Smack went his hand once more silencing the noise of the accordion backing up the singers. There was surely a time and a place for polka music, but not at seven o’clock in the morning, and not on his clock radio. No, make that 7:09. He was going to have to hustle to make it to school on time now.
Wiping the sleep from his eyes, he stumbled over a stray tennis shoe in the middle of the floor and bent to toss it in the direction of the closet. Jack pulled the last pair of clean jeans out of his dresser and reached into his sock drawer. He found a single lost sock without a match in sight. Jack searched the floor and then grabbed a pair of sports sandals.
Jack glanced toward the window to the overcast sky beyond. “It’s not going to rain anyway,” he muttered only to have the distant sound of thunder challenge his words. Grabbing his last pair of boxer-briefs from the half-open top drawer, Jack groaned. Tie-dyed. Aunt Sheila would have to practice on his underwear.
He turned around and looked at his closet with the pile of dirty clothes heaping out of his hamper and had to make a choice. Either the last, awful shirt hanging on the rod or… He picked up a shirt sitting on the top of the hamper and sniffed. The hamper was ripe. He sniffed again before reluctantly taking the shirt hanging up and heading for the bathroom. “Not my day,” he muttered.
“Jack!” Aunt Sheila tapped her bare foot to the music. “Jack! Breakfast’s ready. Come on…” She took Lily’s proffered hand and twirled under it. “R.E.S.P.E.C.T,” she sang. “Find out what it means to me...” Aunt Sheila broke off to bellow again. “Seriously kid, if you’re not down in one minute…” The threat, so militantly uttered, hung limply in the air. She was a master of the unfinished threat. So help me, I’ll… When I count to ten, you’ll… For the love of Pete, go… But you just couldn’t take a hippie making threats in tie-dyed coveralls seriously.
“Keep your muumuu on, Aunt Sheila. Lily,” Jack rolled his eyes in his little sister’s direction, “changed my alarm yesterday.” He bent down to kiss her cheek, and reached an arm around to steal the plate of bacon cooling on the counter. She swatted at him with the spatula but didn’t connect. He scooted into his usual seat and helped himself to a handful of fortified bran muffins (thank heaven for butter), scrambled soy eggs (ditto for Tabasco sauce) and, of course, bacon. They were all going to get coronaries or heart murmurs or whatever you got when three people ate a whole package of bacon every day, but Jack and Lily had learned long ago not to call Aunt Sheila out on her dietary hypocrisy. Vegetarianism was vegetarianism. But bacon was bacon.
There was a faint scratching sound at the back door. “Jack,” said Aunt Sheila, still dancing with Lily in the center of the small kitchen, “be a dear and get the milk from the fridge before you let that dog of yours in.”
He slid out of his seat again and pulled open the door. “Wha…!" Jack took two steps back from the fridge. "Lily?" He asked in dead calm. "Why is there a frog in the refrigerator?”
“Why do you think I had anything to do with it?” Lily asked innocently, swing dancing to Motown. “Is he still alive?” She ducked under his arm for a peak.
“Is it supposed to be?”
“Give it a poke, and see if it's alive.”
“’Give it a poke’, she says…Give it a poke yourself, Madame Curie.” Aunt Sheila came to peek over the fridge door.
“Curie wasn’t into biology, Jack.”
“Really, Lily,” giggled Aunt Sheila, “we have standards. No dead frogs in the…” But the warm air from the room must have roused the thing. “Croooooaaaak.”
“Sweet,” said Lily, reaching past a visibly grossed-out Jack to clutch the frog. “This variety must like to hibernate in the cold. He lasted pretty long.” Lily scurried out to the back porch to release her amphibian back into the wild. Duke whined and barked and whined again before padding to his usual spot next to Jack's chair. Jack stared at Aunt Sheila. Aunt Sheila stared back.
“I don’t want to know how long that thing was in there, do I?”
She scrunched up her nose, “You’ll thank me when she makes us ridiculously wealthy one day.” “Yeah... sure.”
"By the way," she said, turning over her wrist and checking her watch, "you need to get going if you're planning on changing..." she gestured with her head, "...that shirt." Aunt Sheila frowned at the memory. "Lily was crushed when you told her it would be a cold day in...well, a cold day...before you wore it, and last I checked it wasn't that cold."
"She only got it for me because she knew I would hate it. Anyway, I can't change." He looked down at the offensive thing with a long-suffering expression. "It's the only thing that doesn’t smell like the inside of my soccer cleats. I'll just grab a hoodie and cover it up."
"Seriously, Honey," She leaned over and gave him a kiss on his cheek before mussing his hair lightly, "you need to find your sense of whimsy!" she said, stepping into her lime green crocs. Whimsy was one thing that Aunt Sheila never lacked.
Jack grunted at that statement and ran his fingers through his hair to fix the few strands that had been misplaced.
"Lily! Grab your bag!" Aunt Sheila looked as though she wouldn't know a time table if it hit her in the head, but Jack didn't let the facade fool him. She would be peeling out of the driveway in five minutes, with or without him.
He zipped himself into a plain gray hoodie, grabbed another muffin and a few more strips of bacon off the table, tossing one to Duke, and jogged out to the car.
Not his car, of course. The small, blue Honda hatchback that got him to school and back every day was in the shop. Not because it had ‘broken down’ or anything... Jack was too careful with it for that... but because Aunt Sheila hated to take off for her two week spring bazaar circuit without being certain that everything would run perfectly while she was away. Instead, they were traveling in Posy this morning.
"Posy." Jack grumbled.
Lily linked her arms with Aunt Sheila as they walked together to Sheila's Volkswagen van. They were laughing together when Sheila jangled her keys in the air asking, "You want to drive, Jack?"
"Uh, no." he said shaking his head and ducking into the rear seat. Posy was a bubble gum pink van displaying one continuous mural painted on every side with fairies and wood sprites and a sign that broadcast to everyone, "Prism: Crystals for all Occasions".
That was her business, crystals and other rocks and minerals. Aunt Sheila spent her time fashioning them into settings, and three times a year she would take her creations onto the fair circuit. She actually didn't do too badly- knew her costs and margins down to the last penny. Jack wasn't quite sure if the hippie-thing wasn't just a ruse. She gunned the bus.
Aunt Sheila had her rocks. Lily had her toads. Jack, slouching in his seat and trying to disappear, had the dream of a nice, normal life.
The school they pulled up to looked more like a maximum security prison with its mass of concrete walls and sparse bullet proof glass windows. The large iron gates that were swung wide at the entrance did nothing to give it a more welcoming appearance.
Posy puttered up to the student drop-off. Jack slouched down a little more. If Aunt Sheila wasn't so selectively oblivious, he could have persuaded her to drop them off a block away. Instead they were dropped off right in front of half the student body milling around on the wide steps.
The blustery weather did nothing to improve Jack’s mood. Even though it wasn't really cold out, the wind had picked up and was pushing on anything that wasn't nailed down. Jack hated this weather because it was always a precursor for a storm that would shake up everything and leave upheaval in its wake.
There was no way to avoid it; he'd have to get out of the fairy mobile sometime.
"Bye dears," Aunt Sheila smiled guilelessly into the rear view mirror. "Jack was really going to have to learn to laugh more," she thought.
"Bye Aunt Sheila." Lily… sweet, uncomplicated Lily, leaned over to give her a kiss on the cheek, and jumped out. "Thanks for the ride. Soooo much cooler than showing up in Jack's car. My friends are totally going to want a ride home."
"I'll be catching a ride with someone else or walking or something," he muttered, pulling the handle of the sliding door.
"Jack!" she hollered, as he quickly hopped out and headed for the commons, "The door." He turned back, his ears turning red at the tips.
A few of the football jocks were getting a kick out of the pink van. One said in a voice barely restraining his laughter, "Nice ride, Morgan! Where do you put the training wheels?"
He tugged at the handle. "Stupid door!" He gave another angry tug and the door slammed a little too hard, forcing him to take a step to recover his balance. His left foot, clad in an open sandal, landed in the center of a lingering puddle.
The boys behind him hooted with laughter. "Hey Morgan, it's cute the way you match your ride." Jack looked down to see his hoodie half unzipped, exposing a good portion of his pink shirt. He quickly zipped it and thought, "This is seriously not my day!"
Walking up the front steps, Jack entered through the looming iron gates and into the breezeway dividing the locker bay from the main building. He paused to take a deep breath before turning right towards the lockers. Jostled by the bustle of the crowd, Jack felt a tingle of electricity run the length of his spine. He rubbed an absent hand on the back of his neck to rid himself of the lingering goose bumps. Jack was bumped forward by another student and followed the crowd into the covered bay. Dazedly he opened his own locker.
“Hey Jack!” A gangly blond-haired kid jogged up to his locker and crashed against the door. “Dude." He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "Dude! Fresh meat going into the office. Didn’t you see her? She passed right by you. Weird get-up... But if you look past that...serious potential."
“Sam." Jack was used to Sam. They'd been in the same class since second grade. "What are you talking about?”
“Come on Jack," Sam punched Jack's shoulder. "Look around. How many ladies do you see?"
Jack took him literally. It always drove Sam nuts when people took him literally. "I dunno. Fifteen, maybe twenty."
Sam whacked his arm again. "And how many of them don't know what a tool you are?" he said, jerking Jack's hood down over his face.
Sam did have a point. Jack looked around. Same crowd as always. Most of them had been together since before they could remember. "I'm gonna get her number at lunch." Sam never changed. He'd been hitting on sixteen-year-old girls since the fourth grade.
"Yeah, you do that. I'll be sure to catch you when she shoots you down. Hey," his head emerged from his locker. "Did you take notes in Bio on Friday?"
Sam gave him a look. "Are you new here?"
"Just asking." Jack was stuffing text books into his bag. "I gotta run up to Mr. Heidi's before class and fill in the Latin name for barnacle. Cirri...cirri-something. I didn't get the rest."
"Dude. It doesn't matter. It will never matter. You could probably sleep through the next year of classes and still be admitted to the U. If you took my advice..."
"If I took your advice I'd be chasing that skirt." Jack pointed past Sam's shoulder in the direction of the exit. And just like a bird dog after a scent, Sam was off with a wave and a yell. "Dude, catch you in Bio."
Thankfully the day settled into a groove for Jack, and before long the lunch bell rang. He followed the groups of students flooding out of classrooms and into the locker bays.
"Hi!" Cindy Weber slid up to his locker without making a sound. That girl was like a jungle cat; sweet and cute, and stalking him. "So, are you going to make it to the dance tomorrow?" She'd been stalking him for the past two years, since she moved to Eugene, and he couldn't shake her. He had tried long ago to give up blushing around her, but he just couldn't quite master it.
He shrugged noncommittally and tossed a few books into the bottom of his locker. She reached out and brushed a stray bit of nothing from his sleeve... and lingered. "I'll save you a slow one then?" she offered hopefully. "Maybe we could..."
"I might show. Maybe." Jack inched back and watched her hand fall. "Sam wanted me to go with him."
"Oh. Well." Cindy had a wonderful way of looking like a hurt puppy you've accidentally tripped over. Forgiving, long-suffering, and wounded. But he knew Cindy. If he wasn't specific, she'd find a loop hole.
"I wouldn't bother waiting for me. You know how Sam likes to keep things moving."
Cindy laughed as though he'd said something hilarious. "Yeah. Sounds like Sam. Never enough time to hit on all the girls."
"Right," he agreed, slamming his locker. "So, see you around." He melted back into the crowd heading for lunch.
The commons was where everybody ended up and Jack steered his lunch tray through the crowd to get to his regular table. He occasionally bought hot lunch, which he admitted was a little lame for a Junior, but sometimes he needed a break from his almost vegetarian diet. Aunt Sheila didn't cook meat. Well, any meat that wasn't bacon. So, while he didn't mind lentil stew and meatless chili for dinner, he had to explore his more carnivorous side at lunch. He looked at his plate. Shepherd's pie? Only instead of mashed potatoes he was pretty sure it was tater tots. It was better than the dried out discs of mystery meat they called a hamburger. Come to think of it, lentil stew sounded positively mouthwatering.
He slid into the seat next to Sam. "Dude, why don't you take that thing off? It's roasting in here," Sam said, nodding at the hoodie.
It was getting warm with all of the kids piling into the cafeteria for lunch… but there wasn't a chance he'd take off the hoodie and be seen with a hot pink tee shirt bearing the words, "Here I am. Now what are your other two wishes?" scrawled across his chest. Sam might have the nerve to sport a thing like that but Jack did not. Cindy would probably take him up on it, for one thing.
"So, have you seen her yet? I thought I saw her headed over here." Sam had already moved on.
"Yeah, she cornered me in the locker bay. Cirripedia."
"Barnacle. The girl's like a barnacle." Sam looked blank. "She's a clinger." Sam still looked blank. "Cindy."
"Oh." Sam's brow cleared. "I wasn't talking about Cindy. I meant the new girl. Sheesh, what else? She is beyond hot! Her hair is a-mazing, and she has these eyes… Whoa! They are… exotic.” Sam nodded to emphasize his words. “Someone in Econ said her name was Kenya...Carrie...," he shook his head.
Jack poked the tots with his fork. "Huh." He hated tots.
"She's been traveling all over the world her whole life. Spain, Africa, Tibet... Her parents are explorers or something."
Jack looked up and pushed his tray back a little, "That's not even a real job, Sam. People don't do that anymore... not if they want to get paid anyway. What sort of retirement plan is that?"
Sam's craned neck. His searching eyes plainly told Jack that he wasn't listening. He was on the hunt. Sam’s brow furrowed as a thought popped into his head. "I hope she doesn't have hairy legs." Jack looked up. "You know a lot of those foreign chicks don't believe in shaving their legs," he said, as though conferring a gem of cultural wisdom.
"Huh," Jack replied. He had found something that resembled a piece of hamburger and was thinking about putting the slightly gray stuff in his mouth.
"Yeah, I mean, if she were the one, would it really matter if she didn't shave? It wouldn't be a deal-breaker, right?" Sam’s voice trailed off sitting higher in his seat and looking around. "Oh... Oh... Oh dude," he said, hitting Jack's shoulder. "There she is!" Jack began to turn his head when Sam grabbed his ear. "No. Don't look. She'll see you."
“Why can’t I look?” Jack said, slightly annoyed.
“She might think we’re looking at her. Geez, I don’t want to come off as desperate or anything. First impressions are very important!”
"Yeah, because you look sooo cool now?" Jack chuckled, shrugging away Sam's hand. Sam gave him a look of disgust. "Jack. How long we been friends?"
"Are we counting from when we met or are we counting from when you started riding the bus in the fourth grade because your mom started working at that yarn store?" Jack smiled. Sam seriously hated being taken literally.
"Dude." Sam was using his serious ‘Dude’. "Dude. Friend to friend, let me offer you a piece of advice. You need to disengage your auto-pilot and learn to have a little fun.” And then he darted off to join the line for tater tot shepherd's pie. He was hoping to bump into New Girl and convince her she needed him to survive in the wild, foreign jungle of Lincoln High.
“Hey, Jack!” A clean cut boy with a perfectly parted haircut and a polo shirt, buttoned one too many holes to be cool, waved from two tables away. Jack liked Ernie Haywood. Not for his skills in sports, because he had none. Not for his girl magnet qualities, because he had none. And not even for his excellent social skills, because they weren't there either. No, he liked Ernie because Ernie was one of those people who smiled when he was happy and frowned when he wasn’t, which is rare enough in the world, never mind high school.
“Hey, Ernie,” Jack nodded toward the seat across from him that Sam had just vacated. Ernie turned and tried to wedge between the two long tables, but some guy had his legs stretched over the aisle with his feet propped up on the seat across from him. Ernie turned to backtrack around the table and caught one of his perpetually loose shoelaces on the leg of the table. He faltered and stepped backward to regain his balance, but instead he tripped over the very legs he had been trying to avoid. Ernie’s food went flying, sending the contents of his tray up, over his head, past two screeching cheerleaders, over the very seat Ernie had been heading for… and directly onto Jack.
No less than four tables erupted in laughter.
Jack closed his eyes and concentrated on not letting the string of profanities running through his mind escape out of his mouth. He had to physically tamp down the strong feelings welling up in him. When he opened his eyes again, Jack peeled half a hamburger off of the front of his hoodie and picked a heap of fries out of his lap. “Seriously!?”
“Oh geez Jack, I am so sorry!” Ernie did look sorry. "At least the chocolate milk missed," Ernie said. Jack turned around to show Ernie his back. The milk had flown past Jack and ricocheted off of the girl standing behind him to spill down his back.
“Man, I am so sorry. Can I help you at all? Here you have...” Ernie leaned over and picked a mustard covered pickle out of Jack’s hair, “something in your hair.”
A smile started to creep up one side of Ernie’s face. “Topping on your top,” Ernie laughed. He was always making himself laugh. “You sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Not at you." Jack rolled his shoulders. "I know you didn’t do it on purpose. This is just…" He peeled a wilted piece of lettuce off of his left sleeve. "the cherry on top of my rotten day. I’m gonna go clean up and get some fresh air. Tell Sam, will you?”
Jack grabbed his bag and headed out of the cafeteria before he lost it.
The boy’s restroom on the first floor looked as if 50 years of messages had been scratched into every flat and not so flat surface. He looked up from the sink into the message board which doubled as a mirror. Jack snorted. Apparently Holly Petrowski had been kissing more than just Sam behind the jungle gym.
He shed his hoodie and surveyed the damage. Ketchup and mustard were smeared from his left shoulder across his front to his right elbow like a sash from a fast food pageant.
"Figures!" The back of the sweatshirt was creatively splattered with chocolate milk splotches from his mid-back down. “Great! Just great. Of course this had to happen today. Nothing else is going my way.”
Jack stuffed his sweatshirt into the bottom of his backpack and splashed water on his face and hair to erase the remaining evidence from his face. Glancing into the mirror over the sink he noticed the pink shirt first and then the ticked-off gleam in his eyes. If only there was a white flag to wave he would gladly go back to bed and end this no good, very bad, rotten, awful day.
“Three more classes. That’s all, just three more classes and I can hide in the laundry room and do lots and lots of laundry and avoid lots and lots of ...” His mental list trailed off. With a visible straightening of his shoulders he grabbed his bag and went to hide in the English department until class started.
Kira gazed dumbstruck at the marketplace before her. The noise crept over her like a wave… a dull roar punctuated by the clanging of metal and friendly shouting. It was fine. She was fine. No time to be timid. Even if she had wanted to hang back around the doors, the crowd, surging around and behind her, would have none of it. She was swept along with them, dancing forward on the tips of her toes and looking for an exit. Kira received a sharp shove from behind her, but when she looked over her shoulder in reproach, she encountered a good-natured "sorry" before the stranger melted into the wave again.
"So that's how it's done," she muttered under her breath. Kira shoved and dodged and elbowed her way to the edge of the fray, finally ducking under a full backpack to trip out of the tide of people. Regaining her balance, she paused to take it all in.
It was amazing! All chaos… yet absolute order. She had never seen such distinct class divisions even among the Jinn, where one wore emblems of rank as a matter of course.
Her glance skimmed the tables and she picked out what looked like divided tribes guarding their marked territory. To the far left, in the corner of the room, she took in the first group. Dark clothes and black fingernails. She wrinkled her nose. Jinn loved color and this didn't appeal at all. Bits of pins and metal hung off their ragged trousers, and hair hung in lank shaggy waves or sharp spikes about their heads. But she looked closer and gave a low laugh. They were as flamboyant in their own way as any group of Jinn.
Her eyes lit on another group, farthest away from the bustle of the lunch lines. "Ah, the royals," she thought. Within this group there was an even more elite inner circle. They were all so good looking. Kira wrinkled her nose again. As a group they exuded indifference and a festivity, but individually...there was something else. They weren't looking in each other's eyes, or listening to each other's jokes. They were performing for one another. It looked like scoring points in an endless game where, if they were the winner, everyone else would be the loser.
"Jack wouldn't be there."
Kira didn't pause to examine her certainty, but turned her head again. This was certainly a colorful bunch. The Infriti would have blended in best with these... mismatched and garish. They were arguing. Kira bent her head and channeled a small portion of her power. "They are debating polarity and...sword fighting? That can't be right. My power must be turned up too high. Anyway," she chuckled, "what they knew about polarity was bound to be wrong. Humans hadn't the vaguest notion of the powers lying under the surface..."
The remaining humans filled in the cracks, walking from group to group, posing as messengers, go-betweens, glue... They didn't stand out like the other groups. They also didn't seem to follow as strict of a dress code. This group comprised the bulk of the student body and instinctively Kira knew this would be where she would find him.
Kira felt a tap on her shoulder and turned swiftly on her heel. “Well, hello there!” A boy. Not the boy, but maybe this boy could help her find the one she needed. “You look a little lost. Can I be of any assistance?”
“Perfect!” she thought, and then said to the boy, “Um, I hope so.” Kira consciously turned on her powers of persuasion and let this human feel the pull of needing to do what she wanted him to do.
“Sam.” He smiled at her in a dreamy way. "My name is Sam."
"Uh oh!" She mentally chastened herself, "A little too strong perhaps." Kira toned down her powers and hoped it would be enough.
“Hi. I was trying to find a place to eat my lunch, but I can't quite...”
Still looking a bit dazed, his smile brightened, “You can sit with us. Some of my friends are sitting just over there.” Sam fluttered a hand vaguely in the direction of the tables. Kira smiled up at him. "How...?"
"Just hold on," he answered while offering her his hand. "I'm the master of crowd navigation." And he was. It helped that he was tall and wiry, able to duck and weave around the landscape with an instinct for avoiding walls of people. He stopped abruptly next to a table scattered with a few guys.
“Hey Ernie. Where did Jack go?”
Ernie's cheeks burned red. “I tripped on my shoelace and then over Brad’s feet,” he jabbed his thumb in the direction of a group of jocks behind him, “and my lunch landed,” he clapped his hands together, “smack right down his front." Ernie shook his head guiltily. "He said to tell you he was getting some air.”
“Well, I’m sure it’s fine. He’s not the type to get mad over an accident.”
"Jack? Her Jack? Had he been here?" Deep down she knew it was him.
“I know, but he still looked pretty ticked. I would be too if someone had splattered me with pickles.” Ernie’s eyes were on Kira as he spoke to Sam. “So, who’s your friend Sam?” Ernie stood up and reached out his hand toward Kira. Kira grasped his hand, and he brought it to his lips for a brief kiss. Sam gaped. Evidently this was not the norm for this Ernie. She definitely needed to tone down the powers a little more.
“This is … ah,” Sam turned to Kira with a slightly abashed look on his face, “well...”
Kira smiled engagingly as she tamped down her powers. These humans didn’t seem to need much encouragement to want to help her out. “Kira.”
“Kira? Latin for light or the sun." He blushed to his ears, "I'm Ernie." He seemed to realize that he was still standing and sat abruptly down. "So, you’re new here, obviously. Where did you move from?”
“The South mostly, but my parents move around a lot.”
Ernie was picking absently at a pile of mushed French fries. Sam reached into his bag and pulled out a sack lunch.
Kira snapped her fingers lightly and reached into her own backpack. She took out a brown paper bag. "Nothing strange about that," she smiled happily. From it she pulled an apple… "perfectly normal." A bag of chips… "totally ordinary." A sandwich dripping with slimy green leafy things... she glanced at the lunch trays around her. "Nope. No help there. It doesn't look like anything they'd eat in a million years, but for that matter, it doesn't look like anything I'd eat in a million years." The effort of calibrating the necessary amount of power needed to turn the boys' friendliness into an inexplicable desire to help had given her a headache and, even more unfortunately, a slimy sandwich.
“Whoa!" Sam burst out before he could stop himself. "Uh, that looks... good.”
“Are you crazy, Sam? That looks worse than my grandma's fried oatmeal patties." Sam glared hard at Ernie and rolled his eyes toward Kira. Ernie frowned and asked, "What? What is it? Ouch!” Ernie reached down to rub his leg where Sam had kicked him under the table.
Kira's stomach turned over at the thought of eating the sandwich. “It’s a seaweed sandwich. Good for the complexion.” Kira reached down and pinched off a bite and let it slide down her throat. “Umm… refreshing. It is all the rage in Japan.”
People were beginning to stare.
“I think I’ll save the rest for later.” Kira put her sandwich back in her bag and picked at her chips. The boys were nice enough and just like everyone else she had met that day, very... human. The only problem was that none of them were her human.
She stuffed the remainder of her lunch in the brown bag and made to stand up. Sam beat her to it. "Let me just take care of that," he said, taking the bag and making a hook shot towards the garbage can. It was no surprise that he missed. He hadn’t taken his eyes off of her long enough to aim properly, and she couldn't waste any power steering it into the receptacle just to save his pride.
Kira hitched her bag onto her shoulder and turned toward the exit. Sam hurried to fall into step with her on her right and Ernie on her left.
Sam looked down at her, "Can I help you find your class? Carry your books?"
“That’s okay. I need to go by my locker first.” In reality Kira needed a little breather before she faced her next class. This was all a little much for her first day. She waved goodbye to the boys and walked toward her locker.
The locker bay was emptying out quickly, giving Kira a moment to rub her aching head. She reached into her bag for a paper and unfolding it, glanced once more at her rudimentary map of the school to find her next class. "Up the front stairs, turn left, down the science hall, through the English doors, on the left." Her brain was starting to hurt... again.
Struck by Lightening
Jack sat dazed in Mr. Baine's English Composition class. "Does the world really care," he thought to himself, "how many commas you can stuff into a sentence? And how is knowing that Mr. Baine’s cat has chronic bad gas and hacks up hairballs on a more than regular basis going to help me get into college?"
“…. correct way to place 3 commas in this sentence… Mr. Morgan?” Baine was pointing toward a ridiculous mix of words about his cat’s bowel movements while looking at Jack pointedly. Jack stared back. "I wonder if I just don’t say anything, would he just keep looking at me with those beady little eyes?
Mr. Baine was the oddest mix of several decades of bad decisions. He sported a thick handle bar mustache on his too small face (‘60s cowboy), a left over braid from the ‘70’s (ironically he had little hair left on the top of his head), and to top it all off he enjoyed wearing shorts that on an average man would be worn around the hips and reach to just above his knees, but he chose to wear them in more of an ‘80s short-short style with the waist band hitched up to mid-chest and a t-shirt tucked in. The whole mix would not be so purely awful if he didn’t plot daily to make a minimum of two students cry.
“Mr. Morgan… did you hear me?” Baine had a gleam in his eyes as if he was about ready to rub his hands together and snicker in a menacing way.
“Fluffy had eaten several creatures of unusual size including a canary… comma… a mouse… comma… and what looked like the remains of the neighbor’s small dog… comma… as was shown by the presents left in her litter box.”
“Correct.” Baine snapped before shifting his attention to another student who was obviously even less focused than Jack.
Jack inwardly smiled. Eight more weeks until summer and then he could stop reciting meaningless nothings and focus on his plan for the future, which included no intestinally-challenged cats.
Just then the quiet was broken by a gust of air rushing in from the door that suddenly opened behind Jack. The entire class twisted in unison as if pulled by little strings attached to the top of their heads. The girl that walked through the door looked as if she had stepped straight out of a 1980’s Brat pack movie. Her long, wild hair seemed to be blowing as if a breeze had snuck in just for her. She wore an oversized teal and black shirt belted around her waist. Her legs were encased with a tight mini and pink and white striped leggings. Knee high, hot pink Converse shoes completed the look, with just enough attitude to make it all look intentional.
Even Baine, who usually took great pleasure in tormenting new students, was momentarily stunned.
Jack couldn’t take his eyes off the vision in front of him. From the moment she had stepped inside the room his entire body felt like he had been struck by lightning! He could hardly breathe; much less think enough to remind his body to breathe. His only thought was, “You belong to me.”
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