Our story begins in the most unlikely of places, at the most unlikely of times in history with probably the most unlikely and surprising characters you could imagine. What’s more, this story is quite unlike any traditional fables. Our hero seems to be the most questionable and least motivated of characters and our maiden is equally unexpected, as she seems to be entirely normal for her age. Our hero is a timid, reclusive boy; our maiden is a strong-willed, often flawed schoolgirl. Our hero hides a terrible secret, both powerful and terrifying. Our maiden thinks supernatural powers belong in fairytales and has never known terrible secrets. He is confused about his true purpose. She is eager to learn hers. Still, they are destined to overcome the odds together and in the most startling way imaginable, and, as in most fables, our heroes have no idea of the danger that lies in their immediate future.
What could possibly be worse?
The city is Doon, New Anderson, and our story starts in the wettest, coldest, and most depressing days of Eddie’s life as it is winter in August for the people living on the many scattered islands of the southern Oceania archipelago that makes up what used to be the protectorate of the enormous Moray Empire. Eddie and his companions have chosen to arrive on what must be the worst day (in Eddie’s opinion) they could have possibly imagined.
Eddie has other reasons to be depressed, that far outweigh his care for the weather. He is of course sad because he had to leave El Anil - the place where Jack, Mom and Eddie had spent the last ten years. He loved LINQ. It was the smells, the tastes, and the warmth but, most of all, it was the escape from the burden of being noticed by anyone. In LINQ, no-one cared or even knew he existed, and Eddie liked it that way. There are that many people in El Anil no-one truly knows how many live there. Eddie was grateful for this because it had been deemed necessary for them to remain utterly unnoticeable, no matter where they went.
That had all changed since Sharma found them hiding in the slums. Sharma was old, very old, and even his youthful bits looked old. He had wrinkles on his wrinkles. His voice was deep and yet sometimes sounded like rustling paper, and his movements could appear slow like a cat who can’t decide whether to go out the door or stay inside. But Sharma had authority. Eddie knew (as did Jack and Mom) that when Sharma spoke, you listened, very carefully. Back in El Anil when Sharma had first found Eddie and his companions, it had taken years for Eddie to fully trust him and accept the old man as a teacher (of sorts) yet, over time, Eddie had grown to like him very much. The Sharma had a strange way of communicating that was sometimes regarded as a bit odd and even though Sharma did not seem to ever direct his conversation to or at Eddie, Eddie knew he was directing him, nonetheless. As much as Eddie disliked Sharma’s instructions to relocate to New Anderson, he understood enough to know that mistrusting the Sharma would be very unwise. Besides that, Jack, his stepfather in his usual manner, had calmly assured Eddie.
“Trust the old man as I do, Eddie, and one day you will gain the knowledge you so desperately desire!’ Jack had implored. If Eddie was unsure about the Sharma’s intentions, he certainly wasn’t in any way unsure of Jack’s. Eddie loved Jack like a father and trusted both ‘Mom’ (what he affectionately called his ‘stepmother’) and Jack with his life. He was indebted to them for finding him after he had been abandoned by his genetic birth parents. They protected him as a youngling and eventually taught him some of the unique skills the Sharma had taught them many years before.
This didn’t change the fact Eddie was slightly more than disappointed that his life had been turned upside down by Sharma, whom, although Eddie greatly respected, was a bit beyond his ‘use by’ date. Eddie would now be noticed by hundreds of people who would remember his face every day and he was exhausted by the very thought of people prying into his deeply personal existence. But more than anything, Eddie was angry at the Sharma for insisting that he spend the next 10 years at school learning what Eddie considered worthless dribble.
If anything, Doon’s weather quite aptly reflected Eddie’s mood that day. The dreary grey sky seemed to close in on him, making him feel even more trapped and claustrophobic, and the cold rain beating hard against the windows of the unnaturally cold tram car was unnerving. “Do these people not care that it’s freezing in here!” he thought to himself. “They must all be raving mad to not feel the cold.” In Eddie’s opinion the locals seemed to have a boring, unfriendly, detached way about them. As he travelled on the tram out from the city to the suburb of Carroll Bay, he noticed them hurrying in the downpour going about their discernibly meaningless lives. They seemed to loathe their existence just as much as Eddie did at that moment.
To Eddie, Doon was not just a cold place full of people who hated their lives, it was deeper than that. The drab seemingly colorless identical rows of weatherboard houses all with single chimneys spitting their mutual approbation of disgust merged with Eddie’s disapproval. Even more so when he saw the many cathedrals and churches with their dark, grey and ominous demeanors mingling in a collective worship of the dreary. Most of all, it reminded Eddie of Moray. It was as if he could imagine the old Morakin Governors and designers of the city 175 years before, infected by the same colorless neglect and lack of imagination, and all they could create was copies of the same dreary towns they had left behind in Moray. The clever reader of this story might wonder how a 10-year-old boy could ever have witnessed Moray and the places Eddie was pondering over.
Be that as it may, Doon was a beautiful place. Its harbor was perfect for shipping and fishing and the city was flanked by lush tree-lined hills that overlooked the center of the town like sentinels guarding a precious stone. It wasn’t a big city at all, not like the bustling, dirty metropolis of El Anil or Torr. As Eddie looked up at the hills lining the harbor, the weather broke for a few minutes and the clouds cleared, revealing the eastern side of the harbor. He noticed a small castle far off atop the tallest hill. Eddie’s eyesight must’ve been extraordinary. A person would have to possess extremely good vision indeed to have a chance of catching a glimpse of the castle and that would be on a clear day too.
The chance sighting of the castle broke him from his sad reverie. If even for a few brief moments, Eddie’s dry humor was not wasted on it as he reflected on his distaste for Moray colonization. Eddie found it oddly amusing.
“Boy, they had to bring everything with them, didn’t they?” he chuckled to himself. “Castles ‘n all!”
“Those Moray’s were crazy!” He mused aloud. Amused at the very Morakin insistence on building grand architecture to further impose their supremacy over everyone wherever they went. Despite Eddie’s bias and brutal judgement of the early Moray settlers, the castle was magnificent. As he viewed it from a distance, he wondered if he would be able to see the entire city from its elevated ramparts. His inquisitive nature dislodged his dejected state momentarily and he broke free to wonder at the mental state of its original owner. “A man who has to look down on his investments every day, is a man who has great need of a break.” Eddie quoted some obscure book’s contents thoughtfully.
A few minutes later and to Eddie’s surprise the tramcar was nearing their stop. That Doon was small by Linq city standards was a welcome reprieve for anyone.
“We’re almost there,” Jack announced to no-one and everyone, who had been silent for their entire journey from the Airship Terminal to the town which, because of Doons spectacular hills, was quite a distance from the city.
“Oh goodie!” Eddie replied sarcastically, “I was going to burst with excitement….” He couldn’t finish. Jack didn’t really seem like he was in a joking mood today and it looked like they were in for a very wet walk from the bus-stop to their new home.
“Excited or not, you can carry some bags!” remarked Mom with schoolteacher-like authority. Both Jack and Eddie regarded Mom with serious looks before she broke the tension with a playful wink at Jack. Gathering her thoughts and taking the chance to assert some authority, she spoke to them quietly like a mother would whisper to her children.
“We are but a few minutes away from safety and refreshment” she said in her strange Isin accent (not unlike an eastern European accent). “Let us be of one mind and focused.”
What Mom said to them had an immediate effect. Eddie tried to focus on finishing their short journey whilst observing the stress that had started to cross Jack’s face. His jaw seemed more clenched than usual as if he held a heightened sense of danger inside.
Perhaps Jack was equally challenged by their new surroundings and needed to break the tension in his own way. He had regrettably suggested that they use ‘normal’ forms of transport, until he could ascertain the risk of discovery. Eddie had reluctantly agreed but, the truth was, he had little choice and Mom was always so amazing at powerfully communicating such intense demands without uttering a word. So, for the time being, he would endure the limitations set on him and try to resign himself to this discouragement he felt and instead focus on what his new mission might entail. If Eddie had any positive change in his mood at all, it was when they finally made it to their new abode. After walking in the sodding wet from the tram stop, down the main road until a winding lane led back up the hill to a dead end, they finally arrived. The houses were not impressive at all. Most of them needed a good paint and the gardens, if you could call them that, were all extremely overgrown. They were either local council or government housing for sure. The whole street in fact. Jack had gotten their dilapidated excuse for a ‘home’ by writing to the New Anderson Ministry of Immigration and had managed to convince the local bureaucrats to sign off on refugee visas. On one side of the street the houses were much higher up than the others and behind those was a large patch of pine trees that seemed to carry on up to the top of the hill. The small, steep forest gave the impression of hidden secrets and of new places to explore, which held an irresistible appeal to Eddie.
Their ‘house’ was almost at the end of the cul-de-sac, up high and almost hidden behind the overgrown hedge that grew on the street side. Eddie was, for the first time in a long while, delighted. Any other kid would probably have cried as it wasn’t much to look at, however Eddie wasn’t like ‘other’ kids. This would be his refuge. His place.
“Heck, even burglars wouldn’t stray down here!” he mused to himself.
Mom moved quickly now as they made their way to the front entrance. She started softly saying a prayer in a language Eddie was well familiar with.
Herra siunaa tätä kotia. siunaa sen matkustajia. siunaa niitä, jotka tulevat, ja niitä, jotka menevät. Tee tämä kotiin ja Bounty turvallisuus. Ehkä se on meidän kartano, kunnes perimme omasi. Antakaa meille voimaa, voimaa ja nöyryyttä, joka tekee sen niin.……. she trailed off, seeming impatient to get on with something of significant urgency to her. Jack understood immediately and closed the door behind them, then the curtains, or what was left of them. Neither Jack, Eddie nor Mom ventured any further into the house to look. They did not check to see if there was any power or a fireplace for heat or cooking. They immediately went and stood together in a circle in the middle of the small room at the front. Perhaps you could call it a lounge, but that would be stretching the meaning of the word.
The house was dark, but even in the darkness one could make out several noticeable and awful observations. The house had a terrible odor of moldy curtains and the carpet smelt like a fair amount of foul liquor had been spilt. Not only the missing windowpanes but the cracked and broken ones let in the moisture making it even more unpleasant.
Silently, they stood there as if momentarily becoming mannequins in a secret counsel. One would be forgiven for thinking this behavior a little strange, to not even unpack your bags or go and check out the beds or the fridge, does seem bizarre. Mom started murmuring something that sounded like ancient Hebrew or Arabic. If you had been there, you would have sworn that it sounded like a church hymn, only in an indecipherable language. You would probably have thoroughly enjoyed the sound too; had you not been utterly distracted by what was happening inside the room.
Everything was changing in the room. The smelly threadbare carpet had become a beautiful deep red color and the drapes dark velvet purple. Even the size of the room seemed to have changed. It had become bigger, and a huge fireplace had appeared, sat in the center of the newly now massive room. Elegant furnishings appeared. Tables, chairs, bookcases full of old literature, desks and ornate moldings were created on the now much higher ceilings with grand lighting and chandeliers. What was before, the tiny front door, was now an entrance. An appealing tiled entrance was now their atrium. The front door was of course unrecognizable, for now the entry was a solid wooden door with a large brass lion on the inside of the door. Peculiar to have what looks akin to a knocker on the inside of the door? Before, the house had had an awful stale smell of liquor, cigarette butts and moldy walls, but now the smell of sweet incense wafted throughout the house. Everywhere a new invigorating scent pervaded.
Had you chosen to look further and venture up the stairs, you would have noticed that this magic had transformed every single room of the house and each floor seemed to have a different style or era associated with it. What is more astonishing, is that there seemed to be more levels than there had been before. The top level, (was it 3 or 4?), It had an almost Mediterranean feel. It even felt like it was warm comparable to the Adriatic in summer.
Eddie, Jack, or Mom didn’t stop improving until the house was complete, and they were satisfied with their new home. Mom disappeared to the kitchen and came back a few minutes later with a tray of exquisite food for Jack and Eddie. They ate in silence, then whispered their mutual approval to each other. They were exhausted but had one more task to finish. They stepped outside into the cold, now dark, evening.
The house was still, as it had been before. No sign of the magnificent home that lay within.
“Eet isss dunn.” She hummed to herself in quiet satisfaction. “Job well done, Mom” Jack said in a hushed tone. Eddie nods his silent blessing and they quietly retreated into their mysteriously disguised haven. Across the street a child was going to bed. A young girl happened to notice three figures step out of their house into the rain for a moment and huddle there. She couldn’t see what for as it was quite dark, and they were hard to make out, but she did think it was a bit peculiar. Exciting though, she thought to herself. Tomorrow she would tell her mum about the new neighbors. “I’ll bet my mum hasn’t got a clue ‘bout them at all!” she wondered excitedly before closing her curtains.
Earlier that day, in a school just up the hill there was a girl named Emily.
Emily was having a terrible day. It was only morning break, and she was currently hiding in the library closet, in what was probably the most neglected school, in her opinion, in the history of educational institutions. She had been outraged that Miss Beadle, her Year 6 teacher, most likely in her 90’s, had sent her to the principal’s office for apparently provoking Brent Smith, whom she disliked immensely, into a fight. Miss Beadle clearly did not want to get Brent into trouble even though he had started the disagreement. This infuriated Emily as she knew Beadle was a massive suck-up to Brent’s dad. Mr. Smith, Brent’s father had inherited a small fortune from his grandmother on his mother’s side when she passed away a few years earlier. Since he did not care for investing his money in stock markets, he had instead bought a fishing boat and hired a couple of deckhands for a few seasons. His choice had been a good one and it suited his rough nature as people like Brent’s dad didn’t mingle well in society as they tended to upset them far too regularly often. This is perhaps where Brent learnt his obnoxious behavior, but rumor had it that his mum possessed an equally fantastic library of choice words to use when properly goaded.
Miss Beadle was such an enormous suck up to Brent’s dad, not just because she feared both him and his wife but mostly because her grandson was working on one of Mr. Smith’s boats and she didn’t want him losing his job because if Brent ‘narked’ on her to his dad. Emily thought the old lady was the most despicable soft touch she had ever met.
So, the outspoken Emily had taken the rap for Brent’s fondness to use his fists to settle disputes. Miss Beadle might have been old and morally questionable, but she was also cunning. Her appearance was a sort of explosion of grey and brown made more unbearable by the odor of tea, cigarettes, and perm (a kind of hair setting potion used in hair salons). Because of her oversized hair curlers, her head kind of bobbed when she got agitated and her head would give the impression that it was bouncing. Miss Beadle undoubtably disliked Emily, mostly because she spoke her mind and girls were not supposed to speak up or even dare to question adults. It wasn’t going to end well. Emily would often have to hold back her laughter when she saw Miss Beadle becoming flustered, which didn’t need much encouragement.
But not today. Today was different. Her world had changed. It had become a hard, callous place that was indifferent to her dilemma. Today there was no amusement in her clever mockery of her teacher. Today she had used her self-righteous offense at Brent as a cover for her own fragility and she had come apart. Emily had been hiding in the cramped closet because of how she truly felt. Usually, she would have enjoyed the conflict with Brent and Miss Beadle, but not today. Emily was crying. In truth, she was sobbing. She was hiding because she didn’t want anyone knowing how sad she really was. The unvarnished truth would have been far too much for Emily to divulge to anyone. The night before, her father, Wayne, had left without saying goodbye. That was not unusual of course, except that this time Emily felt like she would never see him again. Wayne had often been away from home and seemed to be spending more time away because of his work or whatever it was that he did when he left for weeks. Emily had begun to feel that she was a nuisance to him, and his manner seemed to suggest that his mind was always elsewhere.
Despite that, Emily had cherished the time she did spend with him, and she missed their chats about world events on the news. Her Dad meant everything to her, and it was as though he was her own superhuman hero at times. Emily had regarded her parents as unbreakable as granite but her shelter in her innocence was beginning to come apart. Emily really did miss her dad and felt she would not ever stop believing that he loved her even if had left them. Besides, her memories were her treasure! They had sat through the Oceania Games broadcast and had even watched the opening on the TV! and in color! She had been flabbergasted when her dad had brought home the new TV set as a special treat for them. Times were good once.
The night before, Emily had pretended to be asleep while her parents argued loudly in the kitchen. There was a lot of shouting and accusations, ‘You said you were going to be there!’ and ‘I don’t have to tell you anything!’ There was lots of shouting, but after a while Emily had closed her mind off to it and fallen asleep. In the morning her Mum, Pamela, was sitting at the kitchen table with her head in her hands, looking weary and red eyed from what was obviously no sleep and many tears. Emily had said nothing, not a word. She had quietly gotten herself ready and left for school, giving her Mum what she hoped was a soft reassuring squeeze on the hand before leaving. Emily could not say anything that morning. Not because she did not want to, but because she did not want to bawl in front of her Mum, and she thought she had much more self-control.
She was wrong.
Emily was determined not to let Miss Beadle and that awful boy Brent get the better of her however, so she made her way eventually to the principal’s office. She was neither afraid or worried, in fact the office was a safe place for her and the principal, even though a tall middle-aged serious man, was quite kind to Emily and had always been immensely helpful to her. Emily knocked apprehensively at his office door.
A gruff reply was heard, and the shuffling of feet could be heard as the principal Dr David Moot made his way to the door to open it for Emily.
“Oh, Emily. He stared down his nose through his reading glasses blearily. “Trouble with that Smith boy again, yes?” The principal was well ahead of the game and for a grumpy looking old teacher he had an almost magical ability to discern the many social disturbances that lay within his classrooms. Emily blushed but the principal regarded her kindly and offered her his seat. “You shall have the punishment of having to chat with me for a while then, eh? Dr Moot winked at her his best. She returned his jest with a disproving look of mock judgment.
“Come, He said, now seeing she had relaxed a bit. “Let’s chat for a while and then you can go back to your class in a bit, yes?”. They did and the chat was good for Emily and even perhaps a welcome diversion for Dr Moot too. By the time she had left the principal’s office her mood had changed from one of dejected self-pity to one off confidant self-assurance.
So, as she re-entered her classroom in an air of casual defiance that could be perceived as arrogance, Emily masters her emotions and tries to cover a smile.
Some of the kids regarded her with quiet “ooohs” and “hmmmphs.” One even manages a quiet snicker. Had you been there, you could not be capable or ignoring the fact that Emily is equally admired by some of her classmates as she is also disliked.
You see, Emily was not a ‘know-it-all’ kid who gloated to the others. No, not at all. Emily was humble. Her only fault, in Miss Beadle’s judgment, was that she asked questions. She would strike you as being the only one not afraid to speak up and as history has revealed to us, the Emily’s of this world are often loved and hated coequally among the population.
Emily’s satisfaction at this reprieve was short lived and she is soon lost in the sea of her unresolved feelings again. As much as her mixed emotions threatened to knock her off her perch of self-control and no matter how much she dreads seeing her mum after school, Emily resolves to persevere.
She remembered that she has her music lesson after school. What a fortunate distraction from irritating, nosy kids that only drew immense amusement from her discomfort. Emily did love playing the Piano. She was fortunate that her family owned a piano. It was a gift from her grandmother who had died only last year. It had dark wood and humble yet elegant candle holders at the front. She would enjoy lighting the candles and practicing her pieces given to her by her tutor. The sound and feel of the piano were to her, a balm for her senses and an escape from the worries of her distress.
Her Piano lesson was a dream and her teacher, even though an elderly woman living alone, was quite a bit like Emily. Quick to speak her mind, not afraid to issue criticism, but always encouraging and cheerful. Emily and her tutor were like two kindred spirits and together they enjoyed Emily’s lessons very much. Her mood couldn’t possibly have deflated now. She was on a high, riding a wave of personal satisfaction at achieving her musical goal of playing her newest piece to the end without a single mistake.
Pam, her Mum, was waiting to pick her up when she finished. Emily’s mood was instantly deflated. As she walked towards the car, she noticed her Mum swallow her own, clearly troubled, emotions. It was especially obvious to Emily when her Mum didn’t speak. Pam just started the car and began the short drive home. Emily was thankful the journey was a short one as the tension in the car was more than a bit awkward, nonetheless, before they made it into the house, her mum stopped and faced her in the driveway.
“I’m sorry, Bun,” (Mum always called her that) said Pamela, trying to find the words.
“I, I, .... Don’t think he is coming back this time.” Pam was in tears again.
“It’s okay Mum” pressed Emily, thinking that she had to be the strong one.
Pam hugged her. “No, it’s not OK Bun, but we will survive.” Pam managed a brief smile.
Her hug had a dual effect on Emily and Pamela. They both had expressed a mutual consideration for each other’s feelings and Emily’s need to suppress her tears was dissolved by her mother’s attention to her. Her tears were now a mixture of relief, sadness, and the joy of being needed and loved. Pamela needed to be needed right now and Emily’s extraordinary discernment of her feelings was translated in her simple hug.
For now, things were okay.
That night, wearied from the days up and downs, Emily slept remarkably well. It was not her sleep that was particularly odd however, it was the dream she had that was exceptionally bizarre.
Dreams are for most people, bizarre. You probably couldn’t recall a single dream in which you contemplated its content to be normal. There is always one or two surreal objects or events that appear in your dream that let you know you are in fact just dreaming. Many have woken from these terrifying examples of their own imagination and caught themselves before upending into madness and exclaiming to the darkness, “Oh, that was just a dream. Go back to sleep silly!”
Emily’s dream was, from her perspective just that: a confusing collection of great and powerful events. In her young innocent mind, even as discerning as she was for her age, the dream was far too terrible to be true and had she ever chanced to see a half decent sci-fi movie that is what she would have described it to you as.
For in her dream, she stood on a far hilltop overlooking a huge city. A metropolis with the tallest buildings she could imagine, and it sprawled its tendrils as far as her eye could see. These towering structures, we call them skyscrapers now, could have numbered in the thousands, she could not tell. As in all dreams, some events appeared to happen in slow motion.
A multitude of huge flying machines, warships appeared in the sky above the city, and she saw the attack.
She witnessed the explosions and the breathtaking contempt for innocent lives orchestrated by the brutal attackers. She wept. In her dream she was sobbing and crying out for those who were dying. She could hear the screams of the victims and each blast of every bomb. She could not do anything. Paralyzed and unable to move from the spot where she stood rooted, she watched in horror as the attack moved slowly towards her. The frustration of being powerless to defend those people or to even shout to the attackers was unbearable to her. She was Emily, a person wholly unafraid to speak up but now she was locked in her passive witness to its terror. Its stupendous size and breadth of the attacking force was so overwhelming that she feared she might stop breathing.
And suddenly, Emily felt like she was being watched, like eyes far off could see her and were gloating at her terror. Emily had the feeling that such evil was amused by her compassion for the victims. A lone gunship arose directly in front of her. Still unable to move, Emily struggled to call out in her dream for help. She mouthed the words, but nothing came out. Her devastation was almost upon her and there seemed nothing she could do to stop it.
The Gunship burst into flame. A loud explosion rocked the hillside as the gunship scattered its shattered torso across the hill. Had she been saved? Had the others? Who had saved them? Why couldn’t she call for help?
And there, as if by magic, a man stood in front of her. The scene around them had cleared. He was a darker skinned, handsome man in his mid-twenties. He was addressing her directly.
He knew her. Who was he? Was he going to kill me?
Then she heard him. He spoke slowly and softly amid the chaos. “Emily, it’s time to go.” And she woke up.