Isla DeSoto, Here I Come
Billowing puffs of clouds whipped into swirls and eddies as the streamlined wing of Dr. Buchanan’s private plane descended toward an emerald- green island floating in the blue of the sea. I gazed through the cold, glass clear window, soaking in every detail. I’d been life-flighted to the burn unit at Shriner’s as a baby, but I didn’t remember it. Flying over the Pacific while still conscious? Yeah, this counted as my first flight. And I loved it.
Temnon unbuckled from the seat next to me and leaned over to push his face up against my window. My nose rubbed against the window as his blond head shoved mine aside.
“Hey,” I grumbled, leaning into my luxurious, leather recliner. Flying on a private plane had its perks, or so my mom told me., “I thought you didn’t want a window seat.”
“I didn’t when there was nothing but ocean, but look at that, would you?.”
“I’m trying to. Your head is in the way.”
From the second row of cream-colored, leather seats facing ours, Dr. Buchanan perked up and pulled a blindfold off his eyes. “Ah. At long last. Isla DeSoto. The finest private island in the Pacific.” He closed his laptop and set it on the fine, wooden coffee table between us.
“"Dr. B? Why do you type blindfolded?”" Temnon asked. “"I’'d think seeing the letters would make typing easier.”
“On the contrary, dear boy, I have a few talents that are actually hindered by my ability to see. Typing is one of them. However, my creative descriptions have improved dramatically, much to my publisher’s delight.”
“Maybe I should try a blindfold,” Mom chimed in., “I can’t keep up with him, and I’m only correcting his typos.”
Dr. Buchanan made his way to the cockpit. The short walk wouldn’t be miraculous in any way, except that six months ago, my mentor was blind. Temnon’s great-grandmother magically restored his vision. Dame Maudine specialized in genetic life magic, so it took, like, two seconds. She offered to have an alchemist heal my scars, but I liked who I ha’d become. My white, lacy scars reminded me of my dad’s sacrifice and example. I did request a magical solution to the damaged nerves in my legs, and they tried a whole myriad of healing spells, but the alchemists claimed my own magic fought against them. No one knew why. Oh, well. At least my neuropathy pain warned me when my life was in jeopardy.
“Hey,” Temnon blurted out, sliding his rear back into his own seat., “Why didn’t Sadie come? She’s practically your best friend.”
“Normally, she’d love to lay on the beach, but she’s working on a big project over the winter break. She’s got some poor, love-sick chemistry genius trying to invent a new acne cream. She must be totally into it if she’s willing to stay where it’s so cold.”
“Fine with me. Easier to train without awkward questions. Or you could tell her you’re a rare Wielder of Truth wizard.”
“The fewer people who know about me, the better. I don’t want the FBI deciding I’m a national threat and dissecting me.”
Temnon laughed, until he saw my face. “You’re serious?” His mirth vanished. “Second Earth is a strange planet.”
Dr. Buchanan returned from the cockpit. “We’re going to land soon, Lillian,” he told my mother. “Your editing can wait until we get settled.”
“Almost to the end of this page,” Mom said. She typed for several more seconds.
The ‘fasten seatbelts’ sign blinked on with an electronic tone.
“Lillian,” cautioned Dr. Burchanan as he sat and cinched his own belt.
“Sorry.,” Mom slid her laptop into her bag and yanked her seatbelt tight, but the belt didn’t steady her quavering voice. “Your new book is mesmerizing. It’s hard to edit for you when I just want to read it again. You’re going to make another fortune off of this. I’ll probably be editing a screenplay version soon.”
I knew Mom well enough to know she chatted to distract herself from her fear of flying. Or rather, her fear of the plane bursting into flames and plummeting into the ocean dooming us all to a horrifying death. She clutched the arm rests, her knuckles turning white, and held her breath as the plane slowed for the landing.
I closed my eyes and telepathically sent my happy calm directly to her mind. My telepathic skills rocked. I practiced for hours every day. I didn’t even complain—--too much—--and my skills were increasing exponentially. But the rest of my magic? I had a lot to figure it out.
“Thanks, Agnes.,” she sighed, relaxing into her seat. “Who knew having a wizard for a daughter would be so handy?.”
Steadily sending calm to my mom, I chuckled to myself. How dumb was I to reject my power last summer? I mean, seriously—--so naive. The summer months spent on First Earth at the palace in the presence of skilled wizards taught me loads about telepathy, but I still couldn’t get the hang of other types of magic that wizards used daily. Temnon was here to help me learn transporting. As an Arch Mage, it was a necessary skill, but no matter how hard I tried, I failed every time.
More and more detail of the sandy, white beaches and shiny, green trees materialized as the plane landed and came to a stop. When the hatch opened, an extravagant vacation home peeked through the leafy palm fronds. What a great setting for wizard training. And I didn’t have to freeze my butt off in Boston.
The pilot helped us unload our luggage onto the manicured, pebble pathway, promised to return in two weeks, and took off again. Once As the roar of the jet engines began to roar on the other side of the landing strip, Temnon sent his golden matter-shaping magic into the pebbles. They rotated, and scooted the heap of luggage like a conveyor belt to the tropical vacation home.
“Welcome, my honored guests,” crowed Dr. Buchanan, “to the DeSoto Estates.”
Mom gasped with delight. I couldn’t blame her. This place was amazing. Smaller than Dr. B’s New York mansion, but bigger than his Boston penthouse, it had all the lushness of a jungle beautifully incorporated with luxury living. Thick, peaked beams supported the thatched roof, but on closer inspection, the plastic thatch was just for show. Three wide steps led to the front porch and a dozen beach lounges facing the ocean. Dr. Buchanan unlocked the double French doors and entered. Most of the first floor was open living and kitchen space. Plush couches, a gas fireplace, and a beautiful pool table made up the living area. Cool totem poles carved with tiki masks held up the second floor. Dr. Buchanan passed the torch-lit living area into the gourmet kitchen.
“And now,” he announced with flourish among the gleaming appliances and black quartz countertops, “for my next trick, I shall create, out of only the barest ingredients, --lunch.” Dr. Buchanan opened the huge, stainless- steel fridge and started pulling out fresh veggies. I guessed someone had been here earlier to stock up on supplies.
“You cook?” Mom sounded incredulous. “Since when?”
“Since I no longer have my aide extraordinaire, the talented Ms. Chippy, fretting about burned fingers when I near the kitchen. She’s even parted with some of her choicest family recipes.”
“She knows you aren’t blind?” Temnon asked.
“I couldn’t hide it from her. She’s as observant as an eagle and tenacious as a wolverine.,” Dr. Buchanan chuckled. “But I did manage to convince her I’m part of a secret clinical trial that has returned some sight. Sadie, however, knows nothing.”
“Fantastic!” praised Mom. “I’ll help.” She gave me a hug. “Why don’t you and Temnon go pick a rooms? We’ll call when the food is ready.”
“Sure,” I answered.
“I’ll handle the bags,” offered Temnon., “But afterward, we really need to get to work.”
I held back a grimace. I’d already been working for months. I felt guilty about making Temnon put off his own duties as a prince on First Earth to spend the week helping me. But the royal Odonata family insisted that transportation was an absolute necessity for Agnes Ann Cavanaugh, the Arch Mage of Second Earth.
I found a nice suite decorated in tropical flowers with a double bed, private bathroom, and a gorgeous view of the jungle. I unpacked my duffle, freshened up, and then ten minutes later, Temnon and I ran down the front steps leading to the beach to start my transportation lesson.
“Wait a second,.” Mom called from the door. She held up a camera. “Quick picture first.”
Temnon scooped me up, my white legs flopping about, and grinned at the lens. What else could I do? I yelled, “Cheese,” and threw out my hands in a goofy pose. The camera flashed.
“Got it,.” called Mom. “Get to work, then, you two.”
She went back into the house and Temnon set me down. In a flash of blue light, he disappeared and then reappeared ten feet away.
“Transportation,” he said. “See? Super easy.” He drew a circle in the sand three feet away from me. “Now, just want to be in the circle.”
I focused on the circle. Over there! I shouted in my head.
I pulled energy into my chest until it warmed, focused on the circle, and tried again. Again, nothing. I frowned.
So did Temnon. “Come on, Agnes! You know this! Focus, hard, on where you want to go, build energy in your chest, send your magic to the destination, and release.”
“I know. You’ve told me that a hundred times. I follow the directions, but it doesn’t work for me. Don’t enchantments have a magic spell incantation associated with them?” I asked. “What if I say the words out loud?”
“That’s like saying ‘open door,’ whenever you grab a doorknob. You don’t need to say it. My dad already cast the transportation spell on you. All you need are the mechanics.”
Mechanics I couldn’t seem to figure out. It was like learning French by listening to someone describe it to you. Temnon’s dad was Arch Mage of First Earth, a top-notch enchanter. He cast a bunch of enchantments on me, but I couldn’t make them work. Wizards had specific talents, often related to their personalities. Temnon was a mattershaper: he could manipulate and change matter. My talent was truth, which is why I could always tell when someone was lying. There were dozens of other talents, like manipulating fire, or using light to create illusions. No matter their magic type, every wizard could cast cast simple spells.
Every wizard except me. I couldn’t get my magic to work on deliberate, easy spells, like transportation, but it exploded with instinctual, complex spells, like separating magic types and reinfusing essences. Maybe Wielders of Truth were different than normal wizards. I defeated Vi Lorina last spring, but that had been sheer stubbornness and luck more than actual skill.
“One more time,” Temnon encouraged. “Start focusing, really hard, on where you want to go. Build your spell, project your magic along the desired path, release your energy, and let it convey you to your goal.”
Again, I followed his instructions to the letter. I squeezed my big, brown eyes shut and felt my pale skin redden from effort. Harder and harder I focused, trying to force myself to defy the laws of physics and magically appear in the sandy circle.
“Come on.” I grunted, but the power fizzled inside of me, and I stayed firmly in my current position. “Argh! I just don’t get it!” I yelled. “What is wrong with me?”
Temnon turned away and muttered to himself. I heard a few snatches, including “stupid patience,” and “what did Nemantia say?” Running a hand through his blond hair, he turned back to me, and sighed his unwilling martyr sigh.
“This must be frustrating for you. How does it make you feel?” he forced himself to say.
I had to wonder if his sweet cousin, Nemantia, a necromancer with power over the connection between life and death, had somehow channeled her spirit into Temnon’s body and spoken through his mouth. Poor Temnon bit his lip and waited for me to start crying. I laughed instead.
“Nemmy’s teaching you how to teach me, isn’t she?”
“She’s trying, but I don’t get her lessons, either.”
I sat on the bottom wooden step. “I wish Dominath would download transportation knowledge into my brain, but he keeps saying I’m not ready.”
“He’s a dragon,” Temnon sat next to me. “They’re pretty egotistic. They have every right to be, but still . . .…”
Dragons. So phenomenal and aggravating at the same time. I knew all about them. Dominath deposited his prolific knowledge of dragon anatomy and history into my brain telepathically. Maybe the secret to transporting hid somewhere in my mind after all. I sat still, barely aware of Temnon trying to coach me by repeating his directions for the hundredth time.
I closed my eyes and let my mind wander through the video library stored somewhere in the folds of my gray matter. I saw dragon eggs incubating in their mother’s fiery breath, and various scales molting to be replaced by new ones. I saw dragons using magic for lift when flying, or to increase the pressure of their bite. I even saw Dominath’s universal knowledge as a vast pool of shifting and swirling silver liquid. Dominath made it to do whatever he wanted it to. All that power, and it obediently performed exactly as directed.
I opened my eyes. Dominath was right. If I couldn’t send my power three feet to the left, I wasn’t ready for total access to my own massive pools of magic. So how could I get my power to respond to my directions? Yelling at it didn’t work; I knew that much. In the past, my magic worked all sorts of ways, instinctually, purposefully, even without me knowing. So what was the key? What was the same about all my spells?
My first spell was unintentional. I separated King Odric and the wolf demon inside his skin. The mixed magic surrounding them bugged me, and I wanted it to be normal. Then I used telepathy to show my mom she was on another planet and not dreaming. I also used the light of my truth to fight Vi Lorina’s illusionary monsters.
Temnon’s voice droned on as I realized the answer. All those spells I cast on First Earth were to make things right. And at this moment, here on the beach, things weren’t right. I wasn’t being the wizard I needed to be.
If I was just over in that circle, then that would be right. My vision blurred for an instant. I shook my head, and it cleared soon enough. Temnon still sat on the wooden step, talking at me, but not really to me. He was trying so hard! Why was I such a thick-headed imbecile? I dug my toe in the ground, and accidently kicked a spray of fine white sand onto my friend.
“Hey! I’m trying to . . .…” He stopped short and stared at me, then the step next to him, and back to me. “You moved,” he accused.
“Sorry, I was thinking about Dominath and . . .…”
“No, Agnes! Look!”
He pointed at my feet, standing inside the circle. Big droplets of blue light pooled around my flip-flops.
“I did it?” I breathed.
“You did it!” He whooped and ran to me. He lifted me up and spun around inside the circle. “Was it my superior instructions?”
Yes, thank you,. I tried to say, but my lips stumbled over the words. I was pretty used to my ineptitude at lying, so I shrugged.
“You lied to me?” Temnon pouted.
“Not intentionally,” I insisted. “I guess it wasn’t your lecture.”
“Then what was it? What was going through your head?”
“All the other spells I’d cast. What they had in common.”
“I was always making things right again. So when it came to the circle, I had to have a good reason to be there. It had to be the right thing to do. I don’t think my magic can lie any more than my mouth can.”
Temnon ran his fingers over my fine, white, pixie-cut hair. I didn’t mind. It was really soft now, and I kind of liked showing it off.
“Do you think trying again is the right thing to do?” he asked.
“Would it make me a better wizard and more able to help people in trouble?”
I exhaled and imagined myself standing in my tropical flower suite. My vision blurred, like before, and when it cleared, I yelled to Temnon out the window.
“I did it again.”
“Great job,” he whispered in my ear.
He startled me so much I jumped. One of my feet landed on the bamboo mat, but the other hovered in the air on some kind of invisible box. It threw off my balance and I fell on the bed. Embarrassed, I scrambled back up, and kicked experimentally at the invisible thing.
Temnon snickered at my clumsiness. “It disappeared as soon as you stepped off,” he said, waving his foot where it had been.
“How did you get here so fast? I didn’t tell you where I was going.”
“Tracer spell. Standard for any transportation instructor. I followed you.”
“Looking out for me?”
“Always.” The word brimmed with unspoken meaning. So did his intense, blue-eyed gaze. But he blinked and brought me back to transportation lessons. “You may have noticed the safety platform,” he instructed, “as you fell from it with the grace of an albatross.”
I slugged him; but my weak fist glanced off the solid muscles of his arm.
“Do you mind?” he said with mock indignance. “I’m teaching here.”
“Fine. Teach away professor.”
“The safety platform engages when you transport to a place you can’t see. Just step down when you know it’s safe.”
“Safety platform. Got it.”
“Now, how about a bigger challenge?”
“Try to lock on to a person this time. How about Dr. Buchanan? He’ll get a kick out of you appearing from nowhere.”
“Okay. Any advice?”
“Remember to picture him in his environment. If you don’t know where he is, focus on him standing against a white background.”
I wasn’t afraid. Next to my mom, I was most familiar with Dr. Buchanan. I convinced my magic that learning to find people was important, and thought of him working at his desk. Just as my vision began to blur, a stiff, cool breeze from the ocean blew through my open window, and I briefly thought about how nice it felti appreciating being in the beauty of nature.
My vision blurred again, but differently than before. This time, I felt chilly. I shook my head to clear it, but white dots danced across my eyes. White spots no matter which way I turned. Confused, I lifted my foot to take a step.
“Agnes! Don’t move!” shouted Temnon.
Too late. I stepped off of the safety platform onto nothing. I tilted forward and began to fall. Strangely, familiar gray bricks and dark square windows rushed past both sides of me as I plummeted down toward a small, flat slab of slush-covered cement.
I screamed, and clenched every muscle in my body.
The white flecks rushed to me. They gathered in a sheet below me, but I plowed through them. Again they gathered, plus trillions of others from every direction, piling into a huge mound below me. I spread my arms and legs and plunged into the soft, white pile with a spectacular lack of composure, but. the pile absorbed my momentum, and I came to a halt.
I knew this feeling. Snow. I fell into a huge pile of snow.
Shaking from the cold, I struggled to climb out of the snowdrift. A warm hand connected with mine and pulled me free. Temnon’s features twisted in panic.
“Are you hurt?” he shouted into my face.
“I don’t think so.”
“Good. I wasn’t sure there was enough snow to cushion your fall.”
“What happened? Where’s Dr. B.?”
“You brought us here,” he reminded me. “You don’t recognize this place?”
I did. Sort of. I turned around to get my bearings.
“I think we’re in the alley next to Dr. B’s Boston penthouse.”
To make sure, I started to walk out of the alley, but a horrible, awful, terrifying sight froze me in a dead stop. At the end of the alley, a scraggly little mutt stared at me, his leg still lifted mid-pee, and holding the mutt’s leash was the last person on Second Earth I wanted to see.
I didn’t want to put “glass” because a plane window isn’t really made out of “glass” persay. I googled it and it said plexiglass—but I figured “clear” or a word like it would describe it better.