My Exploding Cat

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Chapter Eleven–Let’s Load Up the Van… I Mean, the Flying Kid

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January 8th, 2011 Posted 9:11 pm

We found Mom waiting patiently right outside the cottage. Turns out she had been tracking me from my cell phone, which I’d carried for the Internet features, and which had a GPS thing in it. I found this weirdly funny. She has the most rare magic known to Anoki, but she tracks me with a cell phone.

“Oh, you found Akana,” Mom said. “She’s your sister as well, but she wandered away when she was a toddler and landed in the Zepha tribe. I don’t know what it is about our family, but there’s this inexplicable non-fear of exploration and independence that seems to have a genetic base. Anyway, you took care of her like you took care of all the children, and she eventually ended up with you, although you didn’t seem to recognize her then. I let her stay. She learned things from you.”

Akana smiled brightly. I guess she never really knew Mom either.

“Where do you live, exactly?” I asked Mom. She took us there.

Her house was nothing super fancy or weird like Katyen’s, and though I could tell it had been redecorated to look various ways (including, I sensed, the entire place looking like orange jelly on April Fool’s day), it looked relatively normal right now. Relatively.

I met my father. He had an odd personality, and would listen to a conversation for a while, then pipe up with a witty comment. He sounded a lot like me, but less chatty and less bold. And a heck of a lot calmer. I figured out where Kaye and Akana got their blonde hair.

I wasn’t sure what to do with my parents’ house in the Zepha tribe, which I’d been occupying, but I needed someone to take care of the greenhouse. I decided to mention it to Tony later, since Mel would be too busy.

An hour later, I saw someone in the sky. Someone with hunter-green wings.

“Tony!”

“My parents said that if I wanted to do Earth magic, then I was going to have to go to you for schooling, if you said yeah. It only took me a few minutes to fly.” He landed, looking windblown and cute (though I’d never say that to his face).

I let him know that I was going to stay here with my parents, probably end up a magic and weapons use teacher, and let him take the greenhouse.

“You’re acting normal,” he said, astonished.

“Which still counts as acting weird because I never do it,” I pointed out.

“Okay, that makes sense. I think,” he said. “Sort of. Maybe weird, perverted sense. I learned that word from you.” He grinned at me. I got this weird impulse to back away slowly, turn, and run the other direction at mach speed.

I was becoming normal, yes, but I felt after my life, I deserved it. Most people work the other way around, but I was so weird that, even when weird is normal for an adventure, I was on a whole different level of weird so that I was weirdly weird while on my mission, and now I’m weirdly normal. Weird.

I still had some questions, though.

“What did I do?” I asked Mom later. We were in the kitchen, tending to biscotti. Kaye and Akana were hanging around in the living room, Kaye chatting excitedly with my dad, talking faster than a Chicagoan, and Akana petting the humongous lump of fur that was vaguely feline (my mom called it a cat). His name was Cat-Flat, and it had nothing to do with lack of roundness, a trait Cat-Flat seemed to have in abundance, and more to do with his… anomalies. “You said you saw me make up spells, but I don’t know what I was doing.”

“Star magic enables you to do the elements Air, Water, Fire, Earth, Light, Darkness, Time, Storm, Dreams, and Star,” Mom said. “You didn’t know that Star magic has an element of its own that no one else can do. You probably never heard of it because Star magic is so rare that it’s always dismissed as a myth until it shows up. It has very little to actually relate to the stars, and more to relate to whatever you use it for. Wardrobe catastrophes. House décor. Problems with child discipline. I once made up a spell that glued children to whatever they touched until they listened. The floor. Their toys. Each other. I did it once when the high school boys were slapping the doorframe to go into school. You should have seen their faces when their hands stuck there. Then I dropped them just before they dislocated their shoulders and watched them land in a heap. But I’m mean that way.” She grinned.

“Kaye can do nine of the ten elements,” she continued. “She can’t do Star magic. She’s a Storm Anoki, like her father; Air and Storm magic are her best elements. And Light. Anything in the sky. She can’t do Earth that well, though. That brings me to my other point. Do you know why that man got possessed by Star magic even though he did not undergo the Commitment Spell?”

“No clue.” I liked how she always asked whether I knew something before explaining it. I hate it when people start telling me stuff I know already because they assume I don’t and I can’t tell them to shut up already like I want.

“This is the nature of Star magic. You have to be a certain kind of person to wield it properly. You have to be good, yes, morally and in magic, but there’s a little more than that. You were grounded in Earth magic. You’re an Earth Anoki before you are a Star Anoki, and you didn’t let it go to your head. You’re strong enough in yourself, and you don’t pretend to be someone you’re not or wish you were something else. You wanted to fly, yes, but you got that already from Akana. Since you were occupying every part of your personality and dreams evenly, it didn’t have a place to take over that didn’t have you and your Earth magic leashing it. Magic is weird. Halfhearted decisions aren’t good in this game. You have to either walk on the coals with confidence, or not walk on them at all, or you’ll get burned.

“Your Earth magic was dominant, and it was also the reason you couldn’t take the village through mutiny or brute force.  People notice hurricanes, people notice tornadoes, and people notice forest fires and volcano eruptions and floods and winds that blow things over. But people can sleep through earthquakes that may cover a certain poisonous plant that would normally kill someone, or a certain rock falls on a certain head. Someone up there makes sure that the right people get killed and the right people stay alive.”

I was thinking, analyzing this conclusion carefully. “If there is someone ‘up there’ who supervises, then why do bad people tend to live so long?”

“Just because we’re watched doesn’t mean that the world is perfect. It’s a cursed place. All we can do is make it as good as possible, but people themselves will always be slightly evil. No matter what. But it does mean that 99% of human worries are needless. They think the earth is going to dissolve into nothingness if cows are around.”

“What?!”

“Cows. I heard. Something about farting.”

“You’re nuts.”

“The humans came up with it!” she insisted, giggling uncontrollably.

“Do you know how Anoki get magical talents, anyway?” I asked, changing the subject off the weird humans. “It seems like they just show up sometimes.”

“Usually it’s because they run into a loose patch of magic, or someone puts too much power into a spell, and the extra power just becomes loose magic. Then when someone finds it, it’s like walking into a cloud of gnats—anyone can feel it, even humans—and if the magic acknowledges the person because they’re the right personality, the right type to carry that magic, then it’s theirs. You ran into the Star magic that I used from the sky to disguise the bodies. I did it there so that it would be unlikely for people to run into it and use it badly. But you could fly, and you were the first to find it. I’m surprised Kaye didn’t, but I’m glad. She would have been possessed. Magic is dangerous. And the Kliid leader you dealt with had run into either your Star magic, or had found Akana’s spell from Raystar and run into mine while flying.”

“Did Akana make that spell up?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I think she did. Her talents are strangely limited, though, to the natural elements and Light. She can’t do other Star magic or make up other spells. I call it Moon magic, because I think she’s discovered a new element. When you did it, it felt to me like Star magic, but Light Anoki can do it—I asked one to try on a rabbit. And it feels like Light magic when Akana does it.”

“I don’t know what to make of that kid,” I said.

“If you don’t accept the magic when you run into it, it doesn’t take. Has Akana refused six different elements? I know you couldn’t do Darkness magic well, even though it came with the Star magic, because you’d only accepted it to get the Star magic. I have to agree with you—I like night, because night is natural, but darkness is created. Night isn’t really dark. There are stars, each the same as the sun, across the sky with you. The moon reminds you that the sun is only on the other side of the world and still exists. Night is natural. Darkness is when you are shut inside a building and someone doesn’t want light there. You can’t see a thing, and sometimes there’s a reason for that.”

“Uh, bad.” I crossed my eyes.

Mom grinned impishly. I don’t know how many moms are as naughty as mine, or if they’re just mainly mischievous. “I remember hearing that one time, on an airline that had older people running it, the pilot said to the passengers, ‘The lights are dimmed to improve your experience if you get tired and to enhance the appearance of the wait staff.’”

“Are you sure?”

“Something like that.”

If she’d approached us with lemon cookies and a huge white smile, I’d have run away fast in the other direction and nicknamed her CreepyGirl. But she hadn’t. She approached us with biscotti and a snigger at our expressions when we’d learned the too-obvious way why her cat was named Cat-Flat. I wasn’t fazed. Well, I was fazed, but that was because of the cat fumes.

I went outside, took flight and  scanned the forest below until I found a clearing. I landed, went home, and mapped it out on paper. Then I used the photocopier, stolen from humans by a Water Anoki with an invisibility spell (and a camera—he took a picture of their faces), to copy it about a million times. I folded them up and stuck them in a bag. I wrote out:

Magic School—All Elements, 9:00-6:00

Schedule: Stay as long as you like throughout the long school day and come as you like. Hiring and registering! Taught by Star Anoki Amanda Unger.

All ages, all elements. 5$ per student per day. Outside, rain or shine, in mapped clearing. Contact me at amandarocks@anokmail.com for more info.

I decided that I might have to make a new email for the school. I erased Amandarocks@anokmail.com and went to the email site. Yes, Anoki have their own email domain. We could have used the humans’, but that would have prevented us from building a website housing a reputation as superstition geeks by making email themes with blurry pictures of Anoki. I know why they’re blurry, too; it’s because the person holding the camera is laughing so hard when they take the picture.

I replaced amandarocks@anokmail.com with starmagicschool@anokmail.com. Scrabbling around for something to shove the maps in, I found an empty Ziploc bag and stapled it to the poster I’d written out. I shoved the maps in the bag and flew (literally) to the grocery store bulletin board. The Skiea tribe was much smaller than the Zepha tribe and lacked the huge money-making megamall, but it did have a pretty big population anyway, and a lot of kids. In case you haven’t caught on, I have a thing for kids. Yeah, I was definitely here.

I went home. I read my book for about an hour, then, on a whim, went to check my email. There were three new messages:

Do you teach Water magic? –mycrazypuffycat@anokmail.com

count me in 🙂 –leafyjaniegirl@anokmail.com

hey Mrs. Unger im gonna join ur school  –imnotschizo@anokmail.com

I responded to each of them. I gave the last one special attention.

Imnotschizo, when I email teachers, I don’t usually use chat speak. And, um… I’m not married. (This is not a proposal.)

I left for the clearing. I didn’t know if anybody would be there already or not—I hadn’t specified a time—but if people were over there, I didn’t want to miss them.

Good thing I did, because five kids had already showed up. Word had traveled of what I’d done in the Zepha and Kliid tribes. People watched. Kind of creepy, really.

But it was twenty-five bucks. I spent the day dodging fireballs and saying shield spells so fast that the words became a blur. This was probably the reason humans thought that all spells had to be some gibberish in a secret language. It makes me crack up.

I was exhausted when I went home. Completely and utterly exhausted. I was also sick of seeing wet sneakers from failed Water spells, sick of seeing people stomping out embers and patting scorched clothes from Fire spells, sick of those little green-and-purple spots blinding me periodically from Light spells, sick of watching someone crack the same stupid joke again and again from Time spells that went wrong (or just because the kid keeps doing it, which is worse, because I can reverse Time spells), and sick of having kids get caught up in their own Air tornadoes, getting dizzy, sick, and throwing up, and then having to pull leaves over it and making ginger extract. And I wanted to do it for weeks on end.

The next day I had fifteen kids. Apparently the Skiea tribe was more magically diverse, or maybe just a hideout for the more weirdly talented Anoki. Or they’d all got caught up in my mom’s magic and were doing the magical equivalent of sitting in radioactive waste. Yeah, that sounded more like my life.

“Kiera! You cannot set your brother on fire! Now sit down, or I’ll really teach you how to fly.”

Kiera sat down quickly, grinning broadly. I turned to another kid, who was intentionally making someone throw up. Sheesh. I grabbed his shirt and pretended to Super-Glue him to the forest floor. I wasn’t mean enough yet to try my mom’s spell, but I was getting close.

“Hey guys, how about a talent show?” I called. “Everybody sit down.”

Everybody… ignored me.

“EVERYBODY SIT DOWN,” I said, and everybody sat down. Immediately.

“Show me what you can do. Up here. Let’s see, who to pick on first?” I scanned the squirming kids, most of them around Tony’s age. “Lina, how about you?”

Lina got up. “I can make a level four hurricane,” she offered.

“Maybe something a little less dangerous that won’t cause us to drown?” I suggested. Lina was an adorable blonde girl, yes, but she was also the Water version of a pyromaniac.

“I’ll make tea from poison, then. Safe tea.” She pulled out a jug from her backpack. “This is the most dangerous stuff a kid can find anywhere. Assassins use it all the time. It’s tasteless, fast, and deadly.”

I was really questioning this kid’s parental supervision.

She poured some poison into a Dixie cup. We’d used them for juice. The poison was a nondescript brown color. Lena flexed her fingers, muttered some spells I couldn’t hear (uh oh), and the poison turned clear. Not that that meant squat. Lena set some branches on the ground, lit them by magic (YIKES), and set the Dixie cup in the flames without burning herself or the glass. Its contents bubbled. Lena grew some plants, picked some leaves, and dropped them in the (water?).  She was really starting to scare me. A minute later, she had some tea, which she fed to a rabbit that did not fall over, dead. We’d waited five minutes in horror.

“It would have died by now, guys!”

None of us questioned how she knew this. Then she fed the actual poison to the rabbit, and it slumped to the ground, dead, after thirty seconds.

“Okay, guys! Let’s give her a hand and everyone remind me to make my own tea!” I made a mental note never to do Star magic around Lena. She’s creepy without making up spells—as is.

“Make your own tea!” several voices chorused.

I laughed at them. This was definitely not normal school. It was much more controlled… and better air conditioned. Not that I was using cooling spells. I smiled. I could definitely do this for a while. Maybe a long while. And if not… I can find my own entertainment. Insert evil grin here.

I don’t know what else to tell you, but if you want to know more about magic…

…meet me in the clearing.

The End

Posted in Star

Chapter Ten–Where’s The Nearest Asylum?–Edit #3

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January 8th, 2011 Posted 9:07 pm

My jaw dropped. I blinked. I should have known! Her voice was familiar, she was protective, she spied on me just to know who I was. It made sense.

“Why?” I asked faintly, losing energy again. My… mom handed me a Snickers bar out of her bag.

“Like you, your father and I didn’t want to be used as weapons. But we were required to be warriors because of our powers. Your father can do rare and powerful magic as well—his specialties are Air and Storm, but he is not a Star Anoki. We left fake bodies the second we got the chance, but they didn’t look real. I had to use Star magic to make them look right, like we’d been shot. I couldn’t go get you or Kaye, or we’d all be hunted, and I didn’t want to actually die in the war and leave you parentless forever. But I watched you and made sure that you weren’t hurt. I was the one who healed you in the forest when you first ran away. You would have collapsed otherwise. I was the one who prevented Jaken from wiping your memory when he found out that you knew about the Commitment Spell. I was the one who protected you from Rendarr’s spell and the one who shot Butan. You don’t know how hard it was not to just go up to you and snatch you away, and I had that oppurtunity a billion times, but you probably would have tried to kill me if I did that, not to mention what they would do.

“I was never worried about you. You had strong magic, and Mel took care of you. You’re strong, and brave, and beautiful. You taught yourself Star magic. I saw you make up spells, though you didn’t know what you were doing at the time. You used Star magic to decorate the house for your plans. You were clever.” The lady who I’d thought of as aloof and mysterious was suddenly emotional and laid out before me, and it freaked me out. She was crying.

So that was why she looked like me. Under the dark hair dye, I could see traces of auburn hair, like mine. Her eyes, so near my deep blue-green, could look threatening but didn’t now. I was nervous. I felt vulnerable.

I didn’t know what to do. I sat down on the oak-leaf floor of the forest and broke down into tears, all the way this time. I rarely cry. But I was doing it then.

“It’s all right.” She sat down right by me and hugged me like I was some little girl. I was. “It’s all right.”

*          *          *

I don’t know how long I sat in the stupid leaves sobbing like some idiot. But when I cry, I cry. The trees’ sympathy was all right, but actually having my mom there was better. I definitely took after her. I wondered what my father was like—maybe like Kaye? There’s a weird thought.

“What am I going to do?” I sobbed. “I have two villages that need me, I’m an emotional wreck, and—big surprise—thirteen years old. And I’m not sure whether to break down crying or do a dorky King Tut dance.”

My mom pressed her lips together to keep from laughing. But she did grin at me, and I grinned back.

“I don’t want this power. I don’t know what to do with it.”

“You’ve done your part,” my mom said.

“That’s just it. I’m stuck with an extra job.”

“Do what you want. But you have to do it fast, or someone else will take over. Get yourself together and go to them. It’s okay if you choose to stay and govern the villages. I live in a village nearby. Go now.”

I did. I ran and took off, and raggedly flew to the Kliid. My metabolism was doing what it could with a Snickers bar, but I could improvise to look confident.

“I am your new leader,” I shouted, hiding my emotion like some Vulcan. “I have more power than the previous ruler, whom I have dealt with separately. First thing: stop all warring with the Zephans!”

I went to the area of the battlefield right where the two armies mixed in combat. “Stop and retreat! Both armies!” I screamed at them, using a volume spell to amplify my voice.

There was a pause, and a bunch of faces looked up at me. Then both went straight back to the camps, muttering stuff like, “Whatever.” I was expecting trouble, but it didn’t come. I guess killing a ton of people and fighting vigorously for hours on end kind of shows that you’re really serious. Even if you’re a teenage girl with weird taste in hair color by Anoki standards, which says a lot. Just look at Katyen.

I landed and found the Fire Anoki who had stuck up for me against Jaken by using Dream magic (it was impossible to find one specific person in the Zepha tribe any other way, except for Tony, who just drops out of the nearest tree). “What’s your name?” I asked.

“Aaron?” He looked undecided: freak… or not?

“I will transfer my power to someone else soon, and you will be recommended. As for now, I want you to take sector seven of the army and see that they, specifically, are well fed and every wound is tended to. Then…” and here I handed him a wad of cash… “go golfing or something.” I grinned slyly and left him standing there, confused. “Just know that not much escapes my sight,” I said in response to his unspoken question, shouting over the beating of my not-so-silent wings, even though I knew it wasn’t true. But if I could become an urban legend, I was going to take advantage of that. After all, if I needed Zephans for something later, I also needed their trust and respect just as much as I did here.

I flew to Mel’s friend’s place. He answered the door, and I went in. “I have both villages,” I said sadly.

“Good for you!” Mel said. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t want to sit around barking orders all my life. Mel, you can take the Zepha tribe. You’re smart. I’ll find someone to take the Kliid.”

“Why?” Mel said, startled. “Where will you go?”

“I found Mom… well, she found me.”

Everyone but Mel looked surprised.

“You found Mom?!” Kaye shrieked, bouncing up and down. And there’s the difference between Kaye and me. I break down in tears from stress and emotion, she dances around. Wahoo for her.

“Mel, you knew she was alive, didn’t you?”

“Yes. But if I told you, you’d go after her. And if you went after her, the dictators would have sent troops to go kill you both for lying to them, too many for you to handle at once while protecting whoever else was around. You’d rather die than let that whoever else die for you. I was protecting you, like she was.”

“Well, what’s done can’t be changed anyway. I don’t want to sit around settling disputes and giving commands when I can have a normal life for a while after having, well, this. I’d give Kaye the Kliid village, but I think she’d want to be with Mom, too.”

Kaye’s mouth twitched.

“Mom said she lives nearby,” I added.

Kaye nodded. “I’d like to stay near the Kliid, since all my friends are there. But I want to see Mom.”

“No duh,” I said.

“I’m definitely staying with the Kliid,” Li said. “Seeing as my mom’s there. Maybe Kaye can help convince her to stop calling me by my full name, Lisanti. She saw that name on a sugar packet from a human Chinese restaurant and thought it sounded pretty.”

“But what do I do?” Akana said.

“You can come with me,” I said. “I’ve taken care of you this far. I’m not going to stop.”

“Dang,” Mel’s friend said. I wish I knew his name. “One minute she’s my girlfriend, the next minute she’s Zephan leader. Dang.”

We all cracked up. I didn’t know what to say.

“I want to see Mom,” Kaye said.

Posted in Star

Chapter Nine–I Charge One Village An Hour for Babysitting–Edit #3

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January 8th, 2011 Posted 8:56 pm

I decided to do what I’d planned: stop the wars. To do this, I decided I had to negotiate. I dragged Kaye and Li along.

I picked out a leader, a “permanent president,” standing at the very edge of the battlefield on the Kliid side and supervising.

“Call off the war,” I shouted over the thwap of arrows and clang of swords.

I was rewarded by chortling laughter. “Go home, girl.”

“I happen to be the new leader of this tribe,” I shouted. “I govern the entire village. Face it, buddy, I’m at your status. Call off the war or I destroy your people. I am a Star Anoki!

The warriors stopped. We were rushed by arrows, swords, even just thrown rocks. I shielded my tiny group.

“Nice to hear that. So am I.”

My turn to giggle. “As if! Star magic is too rare.”

“I learned your little flight trick and found the magic months ago.”

“I bet you don’t know how to use it. Call off the war or I’ll destroy you now!” I was starting to feel queasy from panic and looking down in flight. I wasn’t scared of heights, but I was getting really disoriented.

“No.”

I threw a fireball at him. He shielded. “Overused!” he taunted. I flooded his immediate area, but he used Air magic to keep breathing. I had the trees nearby uproot themselves and choke him, passing him from branch to branch until he was at eye level. I kicked his nose, hard, and blood squirted out. He started cutting through the branches, but I just told the tree to drop him anyway, maybe 100 feet to the floor. I sent another fireball just as he was snapping his wings out, and he couldn’t shield well.

“Your toupee’s on fire.”

I saw that his eyes were dark; I couldn’t tell where the pupils ended and the irises began. Which told me something: he’d been taken over. I shot him; he healed himself and yanked the arrow out. Wrong order! He kept bleeding.

I realized something more, and grinned. When he’d reached the bottom, I twisted his arm, shin-kicked you know where, and applied a fist to his temples hard enough to make him black out on the ground. What had I realized? Magic didn’t mean he was physically strong.

“Are you going to kill him?” Li asked.

“No. I’m taking him prisoner.” I picked up the scrawny person, who looked like he was in his early twenties, and flew him off to the Zepha dungeon. I waited until he’d woken up, but I kept my shields. I let Kaye and Li leave.

“You have three options,” I said casually. “You can sit here the rest of your life. You can ally with the Zephans, call off the war, and I’ll let you go. Or I can destroy your guts. Pick.”

He fired spell after spell at me, but I made up a spell to prevent him doing magic for the next hundred years. I was hoping that the spell would outlive him, but Anoki life span might prevent that. Oh well. I’d deal with him.

“Release me. I’ll fight you, if you aren’t too chicken.”

“I’m supposed to be the immature one, remember? I’m… um, thirteen, I think. Now I gave you options. You can sit here the rest of your life. I won’t hesitate.”

His eyes narrowed.

“And if you think that’s too good for you, I can cut off all food supply. Put you in a cell made entirely of metal. Maybe a sealed cell, so you can suffocate instead of starving. And I’ll put Fire magic on it so you can’t melt the bars. I’m sure you’d love that. You can go crazy in there. I’ll even supply Sharpies for you to doodle Kill-Amanda pictures on the walls. Unless you want to go for the cliché and use your own blood. I’ll give you some oatmeal paper if you want to do that.” I smiled.

“You do realize that the more you threaten me, the less I want to negotiate.”

“Hey, me too. I’m getting some good ideas, and they’d be a heck of a lot easier than dealing with you. Destroying your guts has its appeal, too.”

I don’t think he minded the threats, but my being young and female was definitely taking its toll.

“Do you want an Etch-A-Sketch?” I said, smiling more.

“Shut up!”

I grinned. “You are the immature one. Maybe I should just keep you by my side. You make me look older.” Okay, yes, I’m mean.

“I killed the elders of this village to free it. Why don’t I free yours now?” I said, pacing back and forth in front of his cell. I was feeding the flames, waiting to see what he was really prepared to do.

“Yes, why don’t you? You haven’t killed me yet. You’re too soft.”

“Do you really want my response to that?”

“I won’t negotiate. You’ve killed all my generals, and I’ve had to replace my best fighters.”

“Uh, that’s because you killed my generals and my best fighters?” I said in a “duh” tone.

“This anti-magic curse is taking your energy. I feel it. You can’t kill me.”

“I have a fifty-pound bow right here. Do you want to test that?”

“I have my own weapons.”

“Are they as fast as a bow?” I queried.

“You don’t want to kill me. You don’t want the village. That’s why you’re not hurting me.”

“Amazing, genius! He can read minds.” I clapped slowly in that “bored” way.

The kid fumed. I wasn’t sure why he wasn’t acting like the Darkness Anoki did when they got possessed by bad magic. Maybe the Light area was affecting him. When someone takes too much magic all in one go, a part of them that normally takes backstage comes forth and houses the extra magic. That part of them becomes full of magic, and since it wasn’t full of the person, it has the most magic in it. The person is locked into their normal personality, which now takes backstage to the other part, and the magic becomes sort of the dominant force. It kind of depends what the person was like and what kind of magic took over to know how they’ll start acting over being possessed. It’s complicated. I wondered if there was a way to un-possess someone, if you’re a Star Anoki.

I made up a spell to do so, hoping not to remove all the magic. The kid ruler dropped to the floor. I picked him up, skinny thing, and carted him out to somewhere else in the forest, a long way away. Using some Dream magic, I convinced him that he was an elf who thought he was too good to hang around Anoki.

I set him on the forest floor, and did some basic healing magic. I removed the anti-magic curse. He smiled, and I immediately protected myself against the same spell.

“Now it’s time for me to destroy your guts,” he said. I guess my magic didn’t work.

“Yeah. Whatever. Too bad I can’t just fast-forward through this stupid fight with Time magic to the point where I’m standing over your cold, dead body.”

“That’s because it won’t happen.”

“Ooh!” I said. “I love witty banter! Can I put the poison in both cups and heal myself?”

He growled and lunged at me with a fireball.

“Overused!” I chirped. The trees sniggered. I socked his nose again (which just stopped bleeding), and it broke this time. I went in with ice shards to the neck, but it only cut away flesh.

I tried invisibility, and when he copied me, I simply did a spell to undo his. He didn’t know the spell’s motions, though, because I was invisible when I did them. I pulled out the bottle the spy, Alicia, had given me, hoping it was still water because I was really thirsty, remembering that it would be anyway because I needed it, and having it snatched away by the leader, who gulped all of its contents. Bad thing? The bottle hadn’t been invisible as I was, because I hadn’t been directly touching it when I cast the spell. Uh oh—the contents of my backpack were probably floating in space.

“No water for you, girl!” he proclaimed triumphantly.

I decided, right then and there, that what I needed was poison. I smiled. Then I wished I’d specified a fast-acting poison. Oops.

With another spell, the Kliid leader got caught up in a nasty localized tornado. It seemed to last just long enough to dislocate his shoulder. But he knew where I was now, if not by my levitating nail clippers, then by tracing the magic. I ducked to avoid a spell and fired a bunch of my own. His face had gone blank–very blank. The magic was taking over. I knew, because he’d gotten a lot better. But that meant that his melee defenses were down. I took the rabbit knife out. Grimly, I neared him fast. Better to die than be possessed.

Then he actually hit me! The dweeb! The jerk! How dare he have good aim all of a sudden! He’d hit me in the leg with a Fire spell, and it was a little too much to stop and heal, since the healing spell would take too long and give him too much opportunity. I snapped out an Air spell and bent slightly to rub my leg, but that gave him enough time that he could hit me with a Darkness spell. I dropped fast, crashing against the ground.

Whimpering pathetically, I set a healing spell before I collapsed out of physical exhaustion, which would be too degrading for me. Collapsing from magic? Sure. Collapsing because I couldn’t take a hit? Never.

But I was on the ground now, and dignity was the least of my worries. My enemy had his sword drawn and was holding it like a wand, conjuring up a certain Darkness spell. And I recognized it: it was the strongest Darkness spell of all. Though it had taken me ten times to do the spell, I could tell that he, as a possessed Anoki, was about to succeed on the first try. I could feel my own energy draining as well; the spell that was about to kill me was sapping my own energy to do so.

Then someone moved in the forest—I assumed at first that it was one of his comrades, a Kliid soldier, but it was a woman. With dark hair. And a lot of wooden beads.

She ran, fast, and leaped into the air with extra lift from these huge wings that I vaguely recognized in my state of not-quite-consciousness. She was really glittery all of a sudden, contrasting with the darkness that was falling over the forest slowly as the spell built.

Then I heard the loudest, longest stream of cuss words, a musical cacophony that put the phrase “blue streak” to shame. I learned some new ones.

With my last burst of adrenaline and wonder, I sat up to see Alicia the spy football-tackling the eighteen-year-old Kliid ruler, both swearing nonstop. A duet.

I summoned all—all—of my remaining magical strength, healed myself, and stood tall and strong. Even taller and stronger than usual. And I got out the rabbit knife.

But Alicia shook her head: it wasn’t right. She pinned the Kliid ruler down with a spell and walked toward me to hand me my sword, which I don’t want to know how she found since it was in a deserted outhouse (the sword still smelled horrible).

And I took it, approaching the Kliid ruler slowly, as if I didn’t want to disturb the leaves coating the ground, or make a disturbance in the smooth path of the wind, or anything. It was bright in the forest now that he’d been interrupted and the Darkness spell had been canceled. Leaves drifted from the tops of the tallest trees, oak leaves, orange ones. It was serene. But someone was dying.

Someone was dying; that was the fact. I started to cry, just a little. It was too nice right here for anyone to die, but I couldn’t do anything about that. Because in the moment that I was taking all this in, I also knew that I had to kill him while he was still on the ground and moaning, because he’d nearly done the same to me.

He’d done the same thing. I was doing what he had been doing. But I was the good guy… right?

People had died because of me. Kliid had died. Zephans had died. Friends had died, either defending kids that were normally my responsibility, or fighting the war in general in my absence.

But people had died for him, too.

More people.

Then I thought how many more people would have died, because of him, if I didn’t exist. And I thought how many people would die if I left him alive.

I was performing necessary actions, not enjoying a hobby, I told myself. I wasn’t happy about it. I don’t enjoy killing people. I just can. I’m just good at it. I don’t enjoy it. Really.

Thoughts raced through my mind.

Am I the villain?

NO! Um… no.

Just get it over with. You’re doubting yourself.

As respectfully as possible, I touched his shoulder with the blade of the sword, mouthed, “I’m sorry,” and prepared myself, taking aim.

I can’t!

Do it!

Now!

Go…

And I cut, with the sword, from his shoulder to his hip, in one smooth movement.

From there, I cried harder. My vision blurred. I raised the sword and shoved it up to the hilt into the soil, staining the leaves with blood. There was no keeping my composure now.

I turned to the spy lady, and demanded, “Who are you?”

“Amanda, I’m your mother.”

Posted in Star

Chapter Eight–I’m Gonna Kill You For That… No, I Actually Mean It–Edit #3

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January 8th, 2011 Posted 8:54 pm

I woke up staring at a pink ceiling. That was how the whole day went.

It was one of those I-wanna-scream-now days. Those why-did-I-invite-a-smart-kid-over days. Those seriously-need-to-go-back-to-bed days.

One of those days where you habitually get up and wander into the kitchen, pouring some water into a mug and stuffing it in the microwave with a bamboo skewer thingy, staring so mindlessly at the microwave door as it heats that you don’t notice when it bubbles over and makes a mess, nor do you notice the nine-year-old kid sitting at the kitchen table pointing to the hot water tap that got fixed a month ago. You clean up the mess, still only 2% awake, and burn yourself.

You proceed to scrabble around for your tea bags, only to find the charcoal aquarium filter and dump it in while the nine-year-old quietly makes you tea and tries to gently drag you back to bed as you stare at the filter, waiting for it to steep.

All of a sudden, you realize that you’re in your room again and can’t quite figure out why. You reason that it must be to get dressed. So you grab for your jeans and T-shirt, only to find that the nine-year-old did your laundry when he woke up at 7:00 and you’re actually wearing chartreuse Flower Power shorts and a muddy orange plaid shirt, neither of which you actually know the origins of.

You wander into the bathroom, still in costume, only to realize too late that the toothpaste is not the hairspray. So you walk/fall/leap into the shower, turn on the water, learn the difference between blue and red and wonder, all of a sudden, why you’re wearing rather damp clothing.

You smell French toast, and realize that it seems out of place because it happens to be sometime around noon. Although you’re more awake from the freezing shower, you still have no clue what’s happening, and try the whole shower thing again with your clothes off, finding out quickly that the soap isn’t the shampoo, mostly because your shampoo isn’t blue. You sort yourself out and get the shower done, stepping out onto the slippery floor into a full split on the second step. You’re automatically grateful that a) your bathroom’s big, b) you’re flexible, and c) you’re not a guy.

Wrapping yourself in a towel, you watch the mirror de-fog and realize that maybe it wasn’t blue soap, vaguely remembering the leftover hair dye from your Halloween costume. Oops.

Slapping yourself until you regain consciousness, doubting that you’d ever really not been asleep, and then trying to unravel your own sentence can really confuse a girl in the morning. Even more so when she sees blue hair and remembers that she’s got to play host to an intellectual politician who hates teenagers, then sees pajamas on the floor that don’t match, and wondering how long she’s been sleepwalking and what she’s been doing all that time.

I got dressed, and not in the weird shorts and stuff I found on the floor. I had to admit that my new electric blue hair went quite well with the turquoise shirt. I did stop to properly dye the rest of my hair blue, because it didn’t go that well with my Irish origins (auburn hair, blue dye… no go). I just hoped that Henrei would buy my creative excuses. I did my makeup, to preserve what little non-craziness I had left, and tried to brush my hair. I undid the magic on my room and felt a lot better. Its dryad-habitat appearance was much more welcoming to me. The maple sapling outside my window chirped, “Don’t worry, guys! She’s still sane!”

Somehow I was kind of doubting that.

“Are you all right?” Tony asked as I walked into the kitchen with electric-blue hair.

“Just dandy,” I muttered.

“You didn’t die overnight and come back as some kind of zombie?”

“It’s daytime.” I started making some tea the normal way.

“Uh, yeah,” Tony said. “Very much so. That’s kind of why I asked.”

“Oh, shut up.”

“Seriously, though, blue?”

“It’s so the soldiers can see the healer running around. It’s blue so that it blends enough with the sky that the Kliid can’t.”

Pause. “You’re a really good liar, you know that?”

“I think that’s a compliment,” I said, adding coffee grounds to my tea in an effort to try and wake myself up. As if.

“I have to deal with Butan today. Do you want to help?”

“Sure,” Tony said. “What do you need?”

“Food… and lots of it.”

Was it my dining room table or a buffet bar? I couldn’t tell.

“Do you think we got enough doughnuts?” I asked Tony.

“Can he really go through five dozen?”

“I don’t know. He’s going to want to take some home.”

“But he’s not going to get home,” Tony pointed out.

“He’s going to live long enough to walk out the door.”

“Do you even know where he lives?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Mel wrote his address down for me. I’m bringing doughnuts.”

I left Tony doing archery practice on a piece of cardboard nailed to a telephone pole and set off for Butan’s with two dozen doughnuts, which would hopefully be enough.

I found the house, which was surprisingly small and low. The yard was overtaken with weeds, and the shed and house both needed painting. I knocked on the door, which looked like termites and rabbits had used it more than Butan. I nudged the door open a little and called hesitantly, “Doughnuts!”

Instantly, something crashed into the other side of the door and knocked the doughnuts out of my hands and into the house, and me out onto the dirt road. I brushed off my jeans and stood up, looking in the open window. A dog was tearing the doughnut box apart, and a particularly stout person slept in a chair nearby. He heard the dog growling, stood up, and hobbled over to examine what the dog was getting so passionate about. He saw the doughnuts and snatched them away, then kicked the dog. He nearly lost his balance.

“You and chocolate,” he muttered. I felt sorry for the pizza delivery people.

“I’ve got more of those at home,” I said through the window. Butan jumped, which was a sight.

“How dare you break into my house!” he bellowed, and charged at the window, conjuring a spell I’d never seen before. Someone behind me shot him with an arrow, missing me entirely (which may or may not have been intentional), and I saw a flash of dark hair and heard the clatter of wooden beads. The secret attacker was gone after this glimpse, though, and I disappeared with a Water spell before anyone could associate me with the scene. The dog snatched the doughnut box back off the counter and resumed chewing it. Any of my fingerprints left on that box would be long gone under potent dog saliva, which, now that I think of it, is really gross.

It’s quite possible that that was one of the weirdest days of my life, and that comes from me. I was wondering if my weird-hair lie would work on Henrei when I realized how much food was still on my table. Oops.

I didn’t need to worry too much—Tony said he was hungry when I found him still at the telephone pole. The cardboard he’d been shooting was split in half and then mended with duct tape. It looked like he tried to yank out an arrow, and the thing had fallen apart. It happens a lot when you’re up close; the arrows pretty much perforate the stuff. Mental note: find something better to shoot than cardboard.

I spent the rest of the day stuffing my face with Thanksgiving-style turkey and trying to relieve myself of my stress. It didn’t work.
I put the three deaths out of my mind as best I could and tried to get some decent sleep while the warriors fought. My people.

When I’d fallen asleep, it had been four in the afternoon. I hadn’t woken up until 7:30 AM. I felt guilty about abandoning the soldiers for so long, reminded myself that I was going to need rest anyway, then felt guilty again. I started preparing the house for Henrei. I did have a plan for his death, unlike Butan’s.

I outfitted the living room to look like a library—in fact, I put four bookshelves along one wall. Tall ones. I returned the rest of the magic I’d done for Katyen to normal. I didn’t do much to the rest of the house, but I dusted off a few existing bookshelves and dragged the encyclopedias out of the basement.

I went out with Tony and bought about a million different books. I shoved them on the shelves, and we went out to fight the Kliid some more. The regenerating healing spell that I’d left was wearing off, but Tony was getting better. All of a sudden, he’d seemed to have a burst of progress that had started after I’d bumped off Katyen. I kind of doubted that the two facts had anything to do with each other. I just noticed.

I’ll spare you the graphic details, but I must have disposed of about fifty more warriors, at least. It wasn’t a crucial battle, so I wasn’t getting very serious. But I was starting to get paid a lot. I was missed when I was with the Kliid.

Although Tony could shoot his bow well, he wasn’t much of a fighter. He was a healer. He didn’t kill very many people and only did a few revenge attacks, but he was starting to get good with magic. He had an invisibility spell on at all times, but I knew where he was, anyway, because a neon-green shoelace dangling from a Water invisibility/force field spell is kind of misplaced in the sky unless it belongs to a flying kid trying not to be seen. It’s kind of a tipoff.

I fought for a while, but my heart wasn’t in it. I was getting tired, and less angry at everything and everyone. Fight for what’s right. I had forgotten what was wrong. I had been here too long. I… was sensing mind control magic from below. Swooping, I got ready to attack. Of all the attempts at taming the Zephans and me, this was the worst. I was angry as anything now. Whoever had gotten a peek in my twisted brain had probably gotten a few mindfuls. My overwhelming logic and protective emotion for innocent Zephans must have been horribly obvious. The bad part was that it also contained both my anger and my plans.

As it turned out, I traced the magic to the city prison, a place which was called a prison but was actually a dungeon, a sadistic house of horrors designed by–you guessed it. It was so well-built that it didn’t need to be guarded, which was lucky for whoever would have gotten the job otherwise.

Most of the prisoners were sulking in their cells, plotting escape plans, or singing as if they were drunk because there was nothing else to do. Those people counted as one of the horrors.

But in the most distant cell, in the area of the people who had obviously been there for eons since they’d stopped doing anything but sleep from magical exhaustion (they probably used magic just to keep themselves alive), someone writhed and screamed as if he had just arrived. Now that I was near the source, I could tell that the magic branched across the whole village. Here was the reason that there hadn’t already been a mutiny. Everyone here had been blinded with one big Dream spell. I was the only one who had ever been immune to it. That was why I was truly different.

“That’s why!” I said in surprise, aloud. “I just don’t believe in Santa! It’s all a lie!”

Then I realized how crazy that sounded. My metaphors came at the weirdest times. Several of the prisoners that were awake stared at me as if I were crazier than they were.

If this poor person was being used to control the minds of the village… why was he sobbing on the floor? I looked deeper into the spell.

The person’s name was Rendarr, and he was a Dream Anoki who had been “employed” by the dictators right after the founding of the city to create a permanent spell that would blind people to any truths that the dictators wanted to conceal. As expected. But he also got the combined thoughts of every person he controlled.

I am here, I thought hard. He would hear me best because I was the closest.

“Why?”

I will kill the dictators. You will be free. It was a statement.

“No. I am never free.”

Can’t you end the spell?

“No…”

Yes, you can, you whimpering fool. I killed Jaken. Whatever mind control he had over you is gone. You  can end this.

“No. I can only end the spell by ending.”

This poor, poor soul. “Do you want me to kill you?” I asked, seriously.

No response. He couldn’t hear me. I dug into my backpack and handed him some granola bars.

Do you want me to kill you? I repeated. The man sat up.

“Why would you do this?”

You are in pain. Do you want me to kill you?

“The magic will stay for at least a week, if that’s why.”

I need the magic for a little while. But you are in pain. I will ask again: Do you want me to kill you?

“Yes…”

I didn’t kill him with the bow, but by magic. It wouldn’t hurt. Wherever he was going, it had to be better than here. Sometimes protection has nothing to do with sustaining life.

Of all the deaths I’d seen, this had to be the saddest, and the happiest. Sometimes deaths were sad because someone had gotten the most out of life and were enjoying it, only to die. But this death was sad because the person did want to die… and had a reason to.

I went home. I cooked dinner. There wasn’t much to do. I wasn’t happy, but I was incredibly and utterly furious with the elders. I wanted to kill them all… well, kill them both. There weren’t enough left to have an “all.”

Raystar the werewolf, and Henrei the bookworm. Henrei would have to be first. I felt magic from Raystar; she was forcing people into believing her innocence with strong Light magic. These freakazoids relied too heavily on brainwashing. That was going to change. This place would be run right or destroyed. And that would be the final word.

I went out and asked around (from different people, of course) where Henrei lived. I was going to ask him to come over and “talk about battle strategies,” and I’d dressed the part: I looked like a newscaster. Khaki jacket, green shirt, black jeans. Fancy jewelry. I felt like I was acting in a play, being anyone but who I was comfortable with.

I wondered how long it would be before the more strong-minded Anoki broke free of the brainwash spell. But I wasn’t wondering long, because I saw Tony’s shoelace stop in midair and the invisibility spell faltered. He blinked and frowned, then really frowned. His expression went from confusion… to disdain… to outrage. He started firing shot after shot at the Kliid. My, how short weeks are. Rendarr’s spell had already snapped.

I couldn’t see anyone else stopping and realizing stuff, but that didn’t mean that there wasn’t anyone. I knew Tony was pretty strong-willed, but hoped he was stronger than I thought. I wanted to do this secretly, for reasons I couldn’t explain except that I wanted to make sure the city fell in my hands, or Mel’s, and not the hands of some wacko who plans to do the same thing.

I was directed to a normal house. I was expecting, I don’t know, some evil, looming stone castle. Whatever.

I’m sorry, but when Henrei answered the door, I had one thought: Dang, he looks like a chipmunk! His head shape, with no neck, combined with his too-conservative hair, just made him look like he should be annoying Donald Duck on a golf course or something. I tried hard not to giggle.

“From what I hear, you seem like the type of person who would be intelligent enough to plot battle strategies. You could show me how to improve my approach.” Please, please let this guy’s ego call off his guard, I silently prayed.

“Indeed,” he said, and I was suppressing giggles as the stocky man tried to “draw himself up to full height” and looked like some kind of pompous, chubby dwarf preparing to give a speech on how great he was. I smiled, letting Henrei think it was because he had agreed to “teach” me. I had seen generations of generals’ approaches and had seen the life and death of each. I knew what worked, and I knew why. (I also knew that Henrei hadn’t heard about ninety percent of these approaches, because the generals who tried them didn’t live long enough to tell him.) I knew how soldiers survive.

The only thing Henrei had to teach me was how to gain weight faster than the speed of light. And Mel had said that Butan was the fat one, but he’d just been really chubby. Henrei must have been spherical.

Henrei ushered me in and dragged me awkwardly down the stairs, to a basement that would have freaked a mole out. I bet that moles couldn’t navigate it. Henrei couldn’t.

It was all a library, a maze of bookshelves. Actually, it served as a public library and had a back entrance for normal people. It wasn’t all Henrei’s; he just happened to live in the house above.  I had to fly to the ceiling a few times, work out the maze, and direct Henrei to the door at the back, which he unlocked once we were finally there.

I was exhausted from craning my neck in that weird way that some people (and apparently Henrei) think looks intelligent. I was going the whole ten yards because I wanted to maintain an innocent appearance until the last mission, in which I would “slay the evil werewolf that was in Raystar’s kitchen.” I needed to get rid of Henrei fast so that I could make the full moon on Thursday. Since it was still Sunday-ish, I had plenty of time.

I listened to Henrei babble for a while.

“Why don’t we discuss this formally at my house? Say, tomorrow? I have a rather impressive collection of books, and we won’t be interrupted by the local bookworms. Plus, my plans are all there.” And nonexistent, I thought. I knew what I was doing tomorrow.

“Of course,” Henrei said, propping himself up against a bookshelf and trying to look taller. I was still on the verge of a giggle fit.

“I can see my own way out,” I said. Henrei left, sauntering between shelves and inevitably getting lost. I didn’t care. The librarian would find him eventually.

I left through the back door that was right there and grinned at the world at large. Then I started laughing my head off.

I went home. Tony, predictably, dropped down from a tree (but without crash-landing this time, since he could fly).

“Where you going tonight?” he asked, grinning.

“Home now. You keep missing the excitement.”

“Hmm.” Tony still looked a little miffed about the Dream spell I’d broken.

I was in the mood to fly again, and going home didn’t have much appeal. I was in the mood to be by water. But I did need to sleep.

“I think I’m going home too,” Tony said. “My parents have a heck of a lot of questions.”

I noticed that he still had his bow on his back. He saw me looking and said, “I want to know how to make these. This one’s getting too easy to shoot.”

I was kind of surprised; that bow had a decent draw to it. Though Anoki are slightly stronger than humans, it’s kind of odd for a nine-year-old kid to pick shooting up that fast. Or maybe Tony was just strong. Like a guy.

“I can teach you more after tomorrow. But you need to get home now. You’ve become valuable in the war, so I advise that you use an invisibility spell and make sure you cover your shoelaces.”

Tony gave me an impish expression. “It’s so the warriors can see help and small enough that the Kliid can’t!”

“Oh, shut up!”

I realized that Henrei hadn’t asked me about my hair at all. Must be colorblind.

I waited until Tony had gone home, then ducked into the forest and flew above it. I didn’t go high. I stayed near the top leaves and watched the battle from their cover. I was angry again. The Kliid seemed so superior compared to the Zephans now. Zephan rulers relying on magic at someone else’s expense… I wondered how many cockroaches were in the Kliid’s basement. Their government was free—sort of—and even the most strong-minded people didn’t seem to be blatantly ticked with anyone. But that didn’t mean something wasn’t going on.

I fell asleep to the sound of battle coming from the field, and woke up several times that night. I wanted someone desperately. Someone to talk to. Not Mel. Mel was practically my substitute mom, and though I trust her, it’s kind of hard to talk to her sometimes because she can seem like a teacher or even a babysitter sometimes. Kaye might have been my sister, but I didn’t know or trust her very much. My trust was too hard to earn. Akana was too young, and I barely knew Li.

I felt more Dream magic, and traced it to a person right below the foliage of the trees. I ducked back into the forest canopy. It was Alicia again. Yug.

“Look. If you’re here because you’re spying on me and letting me know it because you think I’m going to blurt out my feelings to you, then you obviously missed the part about how my trust is hard to earn. Ring a bell?”

“Yes. I don’t expect you to say anything.”

I realized that she wasn’t talking like Yoda anymore, and for some reason, her voice sounded oddly familiar. She still wore a ton of perfume and enough clothing and jewelry that, if she wore the same every day, her own friends wouldn’t recognize her with it off. Her face looked very familiar, though. Really familiar. Like I’d seen it close to me for years.

“Then why are you here? Don’t give me any guardian angel garbage.”

“You seem to dislike me. Is there a reason?”

I gave Amanda-style sardonic laughter and went for the logical explanation. “One, you’re spying me in the middle of an ongoing covert mission,” I said, frowning, “and two, I rarely trust anyone without knowing them for a long time. In my life, everyone is under suspicion. That’s why I survive. People have lied to me for as long as I remember. My paranoia is justified.”

“I never said it wasn’t. But I am not Kliid or Zephan, and I haven’t hurt you. Distrust and dislike are different, aren’t they?”

“And I don’t know who you’re reporting to. You might not be Zephan, but that doesn’t mean that someone else is sitting and listening to my everyday life with an army behind them. I have a reason not to trust people, and I’ve only known you since I caught you spying on me.”

“No, Amanda. You have known me all your life. I’m actually quite surprised that you do not know who I am.”

“Then perhaps you should tell me if you want my trust. Why do you want my trust so badly, anyway? I wanted the elders’ trust right before I killed them. What’s your reason? I don’t know.”

“I want to know you, Amanda. That’s it. I haven’t known you, not really.”

“You said I knew you all my life!” I said angrily. “Why are you contradicting yourself?”

“As for simply telling you who I am, Amanda,” Alicia said coolly, “I will tell you after your mission. Both of them. Don’t let your guard down after killing Raystar. I won’t attack you, but someone else will.”

“Who?” I asked. “Their families?”

The spy scoffed. “As if! You could take a few angry villagers. No. You’ll see eventually. If I tell you who you’ll be fighting, you’ll underestimate him. Go to bed. You’ll need it.”

She left. I went to bed—in the house, this time.

I woke up, looked in the mirror across the room from my bed, and screamed. Then I remembered yesterday. I don’t think you know what bed head looks like with blue hair. Especially if you sleep in the sky half the night.

I brushed it out and got dressed. Who did Alicia think she was and why did she think I bought that junk she told me? I was used to being lied to, but from someone who wants my trust…

I wasn’t sure what to make of it. But I decided to put that off for a while. I wasn’t in the mood to think. I’m not what you’d call an early bird (but I think you got that from how yesterday started out) and I’m not a Monday person, either. But I decided that I could still plot out battle sketches to annoy Henrei with. Hopefully he would get bored fast, because my plan involved that.

I spent the day forging meticulous plans that I came up with on the spur of the moment, then giving orders to the troops to do them. I previously hadn’t planned much for defeating the Kliid beyond telling the troops to just blow them the heck up. It had worked. But I was sitting here and giggling, writing “defensive maneuvers” and “weak points” for each type of Anoki. All I cared about as far as weak points was simple: As long as they keel over when I shin kick them in the crotch, I’m good.

I couldn’t wait for today to be over. Then I’d only have Raystar to deal with. I was ready.

Before I knew it, the plans were as done as plans would get. I made dinner and brought out a bottle of wine for Henrei. The more drunk he was, the better for my plot.

It was 5:00. The troops were doing a defensive plan I’d seen once (which hadn’t worked, but Henrei would like it and I wouldn’t have to do it long). The plan involved lacing the edges of the battlefield, including the edge going back to the Kliid, with humans’ gasoline, then having the Fire Anoki light it, sealing the Kliid off from help by a wall of fire. It only lit for a day, though, and the Kliid had just gone back for help when it had burned out. But I didn’t need it for long, and it was perfect for this mission.

Henrei came over soon. I hoped he didn’t notice when I widened the narrow doorway so that there wouldn’t be a scene. I blabbered on for a while about the plans, then took him out “to see it in action.”

“Of course, I bet you’ve seen this plan before, seeing as you’re the village elder!” I let my voice go a little louder. That did it—he was too much of a target for the Kliid to resist, and though I walked on, he didn’t, being surrounded immediately.

I started pulling the rabbit knife on the attackers, but acted like they were pushing me away and went slow enough that I allowed them to kill him before dispatching them. I slapped Henrei’s cheeks for signs of life, but he’d been stabbed. I ducked my head so no one would see my smile, and dragged him off of the battlefield

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday training Tony with the bow and in healing magic. He was strong, stronger than he’d been at Water magic. Making potions wasn’t a problem, either. I taught him some of the more advanced Water magic, too. He picked it all up fast.

I met his schoolteacher once. She’d seriously underestimated him, and had only kept to the basics. He could probably beat her in magical combat now. I could tell that the real reason she hadn’t taught him anything was because she didn’t know anything other than the basic Water magic. She should have been a babysitter, not a teacher. I offered to put her with Jane and Ivory to help with the little kids. She accepted and left to find them, and I wandered off to find a better teacher.

When I wasn’t helping Tony with his extracurricular activities, I fought the Kliid and healed people. I dropped by the hospital and saved people from the price monster. I restored the potion stock. I grew food, made bows and arrows, tutored people with less archery experience and taught them the fast way to make arrows, and listened to people.

What the people talked about was magic. Normally there would be gossip about Katyen’s stupid pink hair (which there still was—she would be a legend for generations), but this time it was mostly about Auntie Em’s new ________ magic.

I ignored this. I had better things to do than question this new burst of power.

Finally, Thursday came. It was a full moon as predicted. I knew where Raystar’s house was. Everyone knew where Raystar’s house was. We’d all been invited to some tea party or something at some point.

I had a bag of goodies with me.

“Raystar!” I knocked on the door. “I heard you weren’t feeling well! I brought you dinner!”

No response. I expected.

“Raystar?” I injected innocence into my voice. My bow was on my back, of course. I wasn’t going to let on that I had a sword, let alone one I could lift.

I opened the door into Raystar’s kitchen and screamed. Following the script, of course. I shot the wolf and went “looking for Raystar.” Not finding her (duh), I dragged the wolf into the back yard. I left the basket on the counter, feeling like a perverted Red Riding Hood, and left. I couldn’t believe it. My mission was done. I couldn’t even sleep that night.

Instead, I passed the night by looking for Alicia. I couldn’t find her. I was disappointed, though I didn’t know why. I didn’t trust her, right? So why did I feel so much like I depended on her?

But for some reason, I was liking her a little more. I would like her a lot more if I knew who she really was and where she lived, or even who she was reporting to. I had a few theories, including the crazy one: she wasn’t reporting to anyone, but actually did want to know me. Unlikely as that was, it had felt like she was telling the truth. And my instincts are usually pretty accurate.

I left for Mel’s friend’s place. It was dawn by then, and he was the only one up. I returned the sword.

“Keep it,” he said. “You may need it again.”

“That’s a realistic possibility in my life.”

“I am glad that I am not you.”

“Then you got me right.” I sighed. He made tea in a French press.

It was a long time before anyone else woke up, or at least it seemed like it to me.

“You killed Raystar in werewolf form last night?” Kaye asked.

“Yep. I dragged her into the back yard.”

“I’ve never seen a werewolf,” Akana said, intrigued.

“She’s probably changed back, but I don’t know. We could see.”

We went to Raystar’s back yard. She had changed back, and she looked oddly familiar.

“That’s my Light teacher!” Akana shrieked.

My mouth dropped open. Moonray? Raystar? I can’t believe I didn’t catch that!

“So that was how the people who attacked us could fly!” I said. “She’s been giving out secrets!”

We bought a newspaper. “Without a leader, the Zepha tribe is falling into chaos. Many candidates have offered to take the elders’ place, but were all quickly vetoed by the general populace.”

“Take it, Amanda.” Mel was firm. “You left the tribe without a leader. You freed the people, but they have to be led. Anarchy is bad.”

“Yeah, think of all the bad stuff that could happen if you don’t. Communism. Another dictatorship.” Kaye was looking straight at me, not sure what I’d do with the power.

“I’ll take it,” I said, “but I don’t want it. I’ll take it because I still haven’t resolved issues with the Kliid. I need power. But I need you, too, Kaye, because you’re what will bend the Kliid to our will. And Li, too.”

Li had been silent, as if she wasn’t sure what to make of this. “You guys are on happy pills, aren’t you?”

“Huh?” I said.

“You think the Kliid will stop a war that’s been going on for generations because of a few girls.”

“I think the Kliid will stop a war that’s been going on for generations because I’ll kick their naïve butts if they don’t.”

“Amanda, you’re thirteen.” Li said.

“Thank you, Ms. State The Obvious! Are the warriors thirteen? No. I’ll have a big honking army at my disposal. You’ve convinced me to take the power; now don’t go running the other way.” I left. I wondered where I should apply for such a position.

I went around and got people’s signatures, et cetera. When I’d gotten about 500, I went and shoved it at the newspaper editors and stuff. Anoki are kind of informal, so if the newspaper declares something like this, it’s true. And I was now leader.

There was one more question. “Well, what the heck do I do now?”

It went unanswered.

Posted in Star

Chapter Seven–Maybe I’m Just Not Cut Out to be a Supermodel–Edit #3

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January 8th, 2011 Posted 8:51 pm

The next day, I got out of the house and asked Jane where Elder Katyen lived. She pointed me to a brown two-story house with hot-pink accents in about a million places. I thanked her and left her with twenty bucks. My income had gotten surprisingly higher lately. Wonder why.

I went out and bought a slim black dress before buying the makeup store out of eye shadow and getting some leopard-print heels, really glad that it was Thursday and not, say, a Saturday. Most of the people outside the army had no clue who I was, so I didn’t have to answer questions. I explored the extents of the Zepha tribe, which happened to be one of the biggest and oldest Anoki tribes still in existence. Let’s just say that nobody really knows what goes on in the very middle of a forest like this. No matter how many bombs go off around here, humans won’t notice us, since the invisibility and silence spell that was kept strong by the mere existence of Star Anoki prevented humans from ever hearing or seeing us. Gee, another responsibility I had now. Great.

As for Katyen, I wanted to wait until evening to ask her. I couldn’t see doing it in daylight. I would do the house by magic, I decided, but I wasn’t sure what kind would be suitable. I drew a picture of what I thought the inside of Katyen’s house would be like, but decided to leave the magic for until after I’d gotten a glimpse of her place.

When the sky darkened, I put on the black dress and the heels. Can we say torture? This thing felt like a corset. I felt vulnerable without my bow, and this skirt prevented me from kicking noses. I did find comfort in the fact that I could rip my heels off and smack someone across the jaw with the back end. I didn’t find comfort in the fact that this wouldn’t happen, since I could barely walk.

I went up to Katyen’s house, looking as prissy as possible. I rang her doorbell, regretting that I didn’t paint my nails. I was dying to yank at various parts of the dress and straighten them out, but Katyen could answer the door at any moment.

When Katyen opened the door, I could see that her bright pink hair was twisted up into a curly bun with hair cascading down in random places, as if it were intentionally messy. Her rainbow of eye shadow put mine to shame and she was wearing more jewelry than Alicia the spy. It was likely, too, that she’d worn that dress all day. I, on the other hand, could only stand this getup for about ten more minutes.

“Oh, please, come in,” Katyen said in that slight British accent that you get after years of trying to fake a British accent and then giving up. It was hard to listen to, since her voice was kind of creaky.

Her entry room actually looked fairly normal, and the living room and kitchen, from what I could see, looked like a Starbucks with gold and tan accents and stylishly uncomfortable chairs. But her room door down the hall was painted hot pink and chocolate brown, and I dreaded to think of what might be inside.

I kept up the smile, and invited her over for dinner “because I’d redecorated.” Really, I was thinking, Why am I doing this? It’s so stupid…

“Of course! Come on in for tea.”

I sat through a session of tea in cups I was afraid I’d break, combined with paranoia that she might be watching my every word, with a little terror that I’d drop the fake accent any minute, or fall in these stupid shoes while she gave me a tour of the house, or bust a seam on this all-too-tight dress.

For the record, her room was painted entirely hot pink. No brown. Not even chocolate whatever. It was pink. And not ballerina pink, either. It was that overwhelming hot pink. Ballerina pink suggests that you’re girly, but hot pink jumps up and down, squealing it in tones only dolphins can hear.

“I always thought you were just sort of a grungy, boyish warrior,” Katyen started in with approval at the fact that I apparently wasn’t and major disapproval at the very idea of it being so.

“By day, yes,” I said, feeling like Princess Mia trying to keep her balance with her ankles crossed. I hated this and I was sure that I’d slip any moment. I couldn’t breathe! This dress… Air magic, now. Air. Breathe… maybe… I remembered that Katyen was staring at me, and I smiled brightly. “By night…” I flipped my hair for effect. Katyen smiled at me.

“Of course,” she said agreeably. I still couldn’t get over the fact that I would have to kill her later. But then I remembered that she hadn’t protected the kids, either, and that made me angry.

Great. One more thing to worry about. I had to keep from jumping on her table and impulsively throwing fireballs and starting tornadoes and hitting her house with lightning from the biggest storm ever seen…

I put all those thoughts out of my head. It was too tempting, almost as tempting as the prospect of socking her nose. Nah, the nose would be better. No matter how satisfying magic is, socking noses has always been more fun and tends to get me in less trouble.

Finally, Katyen ended the visit and said she’d come on Saturday. Smiling (well, clenching my teeth, but Katyen saw a smile), I let her close the door before ripping off the stupid heels, dumping them in the nearest trash can, and running barefoot back home. Fast.

It was 7:02 when I got home. I tried to get the stupid dress off. It didn’t work. My stress had made me sweaty, and it wouldn’t slide. I tried again, and realized that if I didn’t get this thing off, I would suffocate. I couldn’t keep up this Air magic much longer. I tried to cut the dress free with scissors and found out that it actually did have a corset in it. Great.

I reached for my rosebush pruners. They weren’t by the door. By now I was wandering the house, halfway undressed. I bent down to look for them more and gagged. I couldn’t get them, and I didn’t know any magic that gets rid of ugly corset dresses. This was ridiculous. I wondered how many times Katyen had done it, or if maybe it was this personality thing, like trying to fake her style was usually about as unsuccessful as trying to fake a British accent.

So I decided to make up a spell. I didn’t care what it was; I just needed something to save me, now. I muttered something with the remaining breath I had.

How could that possibly work? I wondered as the dress fell to threads, leaving me in my underwear, standing in the middle of my living room. I’d never heard of magic outside the Anoki elements. That was weird—and not just normal weird. I mean weird for me, which meant something. I was scaring myself, and we both know that takes a lot.

I realized that my foot really hurt from the thin board wedged into the dress falling on it, so I had nothing to do but go and get some pajamas on, attempt to sweep up the remains of the ugly “fashionable” dress, and go to bed. I would deal with Saturday’s attire and the house tomorrow.

I woke up at 10:00 A.M.. At least I felt better. Whatever unknown magic I had used to dispose of the dress, I decided to use it to redecorate the house. Because I had no clue what it was, I had to be cautious of using this magic too much. It could be dangerous—really dangerous.

I did the house up quickly, hoping that Katyen would believe it long enough to be fooled. Now I had all day to find something to cook and to find a dress that wouldn’t choke me. I got dressed and went out to the mall. From a different dressmaker than before, I bought a cutesy wrap dress that, when I tried it on, did not kill me or require rosebush pruners to take off. On a whim, I bought some plant food. My plants probably needed it by now, and I needed to find some kind of clippers quickly. The squashes were probably big enough to use as baseball bats by now.

I went to the grocery store and bought a solid pound of lamb and the smallest bit of saffron. I figured that would be sophisticated enough for Katyen, with a salad, and it fulfilled the “posh” requirement of buying ten times as much food as your anorexic guest will eat. (Makes good leftovers.)

I went home and cooked the lamb, grew a salad and put everything in the oven, where it would keep warm.

I went out to tend to the tomatoes in my teensy greenhouse. They were suffering from my absence and the lack of rain (the greenhouse was designed to water them continually with the rain through sprinklers on the ceiling, so that all I had to do was go out and water the container that provided water for the sprinkler). The container was dry, though. I took the hose and set it in the container on full blast. I wished I’d set it to drip in the bucket before I left. Oh well.

“Hi, guys, I’m back,” I said conversationally, entering the greenhouse. The chirpy voices of the plants all chorused at once.

“I brought you some fertilizer,” I said, beginning to dump the blue powder in each of the pots. As predicted, the tomatoes were suffering, but not too badly. My Earth magic combined with the moisture-trapping greenhouse and the sprinkler container that had been full when I left had meant that none of them were too wilted. The plants knew why I’d left, anyway.

“Can you fly now?” the cucumbers asked.

“Yeah, let’s see it!” the cherry tomatoes twittered. I smiled at the plants. They reminded me of little kids.

“Yeah, I can fly. And a heck of a lot more.” I saw that the clay corner of the greenhouse had a humongous thistle in it. I set the flower seeds on fire so that they wouldn’t grow. I like setting thistle seeds on fire, with matches or magic, because of how the fluff just lights up.

It’s especially fun if you put dandelion or cottonwood seeds on top, with maybe a little coffee creamer or eye shadow (especially 80’s eye shadow) on top if you’re in a place where nothing will burn down. Poof!

Okay, yeah, my means of entertainment are a little unconventional. So what? Lighting stuff on fire is fun.

I cut the thistle down with a hack saw and picked it up with my gloves on. The plants watched as a Fire spell reduced it to cinders. I swept them into a corner.

“But you can’t do Fire magic!” a pea plant twittered.

“Oh, yes I can.” I grinned.

“You’re going to do something you’re not sure about,” the mint said. The mint had an uncanny way of reading me. I didn’t know if it was my face, my mood, or just the way I moved, but the mint always knew what I was thinking. I kept fertilizing the plants and ignored it.

“It has something to do with the village. You’re trying to be strong, but you’re panicky internally. You’re worried about the kids, and you hide behind sarcasm.”

It wasn’t my expression, and I’d been acting pretty upbeat.

“Your posture,” the plant continued. “Your footsteps. The way you breathe. You are who you are, and you know it. You knew who you were before your powers came to you.”

My eyes narrowed. Sometimes I didn’t want the mint shouting my thoughts to the world. Fortunately, I’ve been the only person who’s been able to talk to plants, as far as I know.

Unfortunately, Tony was standing in the doorway. “The mint is right, you know. You’re tense. You don’t want to kill anything, but you know you have to. To protect the village. To protect… us.”

“How did you do that?” As far as I knew, the mint was the only thing capable of decoding my thoughts.

“You’re incredibly easy to read. To avoid being read, you need to convince yourself that you’re feeling something different. You’re worried about the kids. No… you’re worried about the other kids. You’re not worried about me.”

“That’s because you have Earth magic,” I said. “Don’t underestimate its strength. I did. It’s not a sissy healing talent… well, it is kind of a sissy healing talent, but it’s not just a sissy healing talent.” I frowned. “I wonder if you can shoot my old bow?”

I led him into the house. “No, I’m not this girly,” I said in response to his odd looks at my pink entry room. “I’m having Katyen over for dinner to… gain a little power. It’s a long story.”

I spent the rest of the day teaching him to use the bow, to fight efficiently up close, and to make arrows.

“That’s yours,” I said, handing him his mini-bow at the end of the lesson. “Don’t shoot it around other people unless those other people are attacking you. But a bow isn’t very useful when someone attacks you up close. You’re going to learn Amanda-Kwon-Do now. Mel taught me some stuff, and I taught myself other stuff by watching the warriors and adapting their techniques. Anoki have weak points, and basically, if it’s unguarded, you hit it. Your defense is mainly dodging stuff and waiting. Because once you attack, you compromise your defense. But that works the other way too, so once someone tries throwing a punch, you go for their unguarded jaw, or their temples or nose. You can kick their feet out from under them, once you get older and heavier, and if they aren’t standing sideways like an archer…” I lowered my voice. “Go for the crotch. That’s the one place that you hit to guarantee that someone’s not going to try striking again for the next minute at least, depending on how hard you kick and whether your opponent is male or female.”

“You’re weird.” Tony rolled his eyes.

“That’s my job!” I giggled. “But wouldn’t it stop you throwing punches? Anyway, your goal is to get the other dude on the ground. A really hard hit to the temple will black someone out, and you can make them wake up with any number of bruises, or if they really threaten you, make them not wake up at all. But only if they threaten your life. Otherwise, dragging their K.O.’d body to the police does fine.”

“That’s what you’re not sure about,” Tony said. “You’re going to kill someone. Did they threaten you?”

“No. They threaten you. They threaten everyone.”

“The Kliid?”

“No.”

“A Zephan?”

“Several. The wars will stop, though, once I’m done. You’ll see.”

“Then they do threaten you,” Tony said, “because the wars would stop without them, and the wars threaten you.”

I was about to say that the wars didn’t threaten me, but then I thought. The wars killed my parents, and my mom was a Star Anoki. They’d managed to kill her. I didn’t know how, but they had. And they’d gotten my dad, too. Somehow this made me slightly more cautious. Who knew how long it would be before more kids’ parents got killed? I never knew mine, not really, and that sort of made it better, I guess. But if you know what you’re missing, that’s got to be worse.

I probably shouldn’t have been around Tony right then, because he read me like a book and I wasn’t sure what conclusions he’d draw from that.

Usually, logic whips poetry, so it’s unwelcome, but right now I kind of liked that idea. Logical. Mechanical. Sturdy. Intelligent.

“Don’t let anyone know I taught you this,” I said grimly as a warning horn sounded: the Kliid had attacked again, even though their Air Anoki was missing. Idiots.

My warriors were, all of a sudden, boring through the Kliid like moles. There were fireballs. There were splashes. There was a ton of street fighting, swords and bows, like all the army had suddenly been replaced by Romans.

About fifty fireballs, twenty mass healing spells, and a flood that left Zephan warriors in air bubbles, looking like Moses (if Moses had been a faerie creature with elemental magic) I was feeling a lot better. The Kliid warriors that couldn’t swim drowned. It was too good for them.

I still felt… I don’t know. I went back to healing and realized that I wasn’t the only one. Mel was still babysitting my friends…

I looked over to try and see where Tony was, and if he needed help himself. Probably not. But I wanted to know, anyway. I scanned the crowd, only to turn and see him perched in a tall tree, grinning at me.

“Did you really think I’d leave you alone?” he said.

“You remind me of me,” I said. “Protect your parents.” Tony, instead of climbing down, had the tree lower him from branch to branch. It was slow, so I just picked him up. His new bow was strapped to his back. He’d figured it out with the typical cleverness of an Earth Anoki, and I noticed that his ring was hunter green. Like a guy.

“Where are your parents?” I asked. Tony pointed to an area of the battlefield. Dang.

“Both of them?”

He nodded.

Mega dang. I flew him over but decided that it was much too dangerous for us to land. I couldn’t take him to Akana to gain flight abilities, or he’d be left to a fate fighting. But if his parents got killed, like mine… then again, I couldn’t leave the Zephans without a healer. I decided to do the spell myself, and I set Tony in a tree.

“Hold still for a minute, would you?” I did the spell, remembering what Akana had done. I hoped I’d done it right.

“You can fly now, I think,” I said.

“You think?”

“Look, I’ll put you on the ground first. You can try and take off from there.”

Turns out, I did the spell right.

“Can Earth Anoki fly?” someone asked from the mob, confused. There were murmurs of “No…” everywhere as Tony flew to his parents and shot their attackers in the stomach. Moving targets didn’t seem to bother him. I was seriously impressed. I wasn’t sure how many kids picked this stuff up that fast, but I was guessing not that many. I wondered if I would end up with my own army of kids, and giggled at how cute that picture was. Little kids making really angry faces.

Tony fought as I did, despite being an adorable nine-year-old boy with fluffy brown hair. I had to remember that in times of crisis, kids were violent when threatened, or at least tried to be. Especially if chef’s cleavers were around.

I had no clue whether the shield I’d tried to put around my friends earlier had worked, since they hadn’t been attacked, but they hadn’t been hurt, either. I did the same spell for the village kids. All of them. Nobody could hurt them now, not if the spell worked.

I sent another mass healing spell and landed in a tree. I didn’t know what to do. Something was telling me to worry about safety and about Katyen and the other elders, but my violent half wanted revenge. I was rattling with adrenaline, but I was also tired in that way you only get in battle. I sent another mass healing spell, but I was physically and magically exhausted. At least the meal was cooked and still warm in my Fire Anoki-made oven. I sent a new spell, a regenerating healing spell, but it took all my energy and I had to climb down the tree the conventional way. I walked home.

I wasn’t feeling well. I didn’t have the angry bloodlust that I’d had earlier. I took a nap, knowing that I couldn’t possibly manage Katyen and an assassination without magic. I was debating the merits of completing my full job before anyone could object or notice. Seriously.

This playing dress-up just so I could…

I collapsed out of magical exhaustion before I could finish the thought.

When I woke up, I had only an hour before Katyen was to arrive and I felt queasy again from lack of magic. The Anoki that got killed almost immediately (like by swords) had died, but flesh wounds and more minor wounds got healed through the spell I’d left, and it probably worked a lot better once I was awake and able to do magic again, since it had a source. If my going to sleep meant that people died, then I had to be conservative with any other magic I used. Hopefully, I’d be able to kill most of my enemies (Kliid and Zephan) with a sword, not a strength-sapping spell. That left the question: Would it save more lives in general to kill the Zephan threats quickly and end the war fast, or to keep as many soldiers alive as possible and let the threats keep killing Zephans? It wasn’t like I could command the army to retreat, especially not my group, or that would immediately put me under suspicion. How much magic did a killing spell actually take? I only had to do it a couple of times.

I considered stopping time again and killing Katyen now for that very reason. I don’t know why Mel said to invite her to dinner, or any of them. It would be obvious that they had been killed at my house… unless…

All of a sudden, I knew why Mel had told me to do that. I hurried and put on the dress I’d bought. It was actually halfway comfortable, almost like my normal green dresses (which I sewed myself so that I could make the skirts loose enough to kick in, and which I wore shorts underneath). Magic, like the poison I’d vetoed earlier, could come from anyone, especially the girl with new skills in every element. (Is it more a curse or a blessing to have power? Certainly makes life interesting.) And since there was a way, now that I saw it, to kill with the sword, the only logical thing to do was make use of it. Of course, not everything I’ve ever done has been logical.

I found the dinner still good and warm. I set the various types of wine on the table, wondering when Katyen would arrive. I didn’t know what to do next when the doorbell rang, and I didn’t have any more time for preparations. Things would have to be as is.

I did the whole welcome thing, then led her to the table and set out plates and dinner. I set out a glass for her only and offered any of the wines.

“Aren’t you going to have some?” she asked with surprise.

I wanted to say, “I’m thirteen, you idiot,” but what I did say was, “It’s not healthy. I have to stay in shape to fight.” It was a response that didn’t remind her how young I was.

“Of course you do,” Katyen said with that smile adults give kids when they think they’re being cute. She’s really going to think I’m cute later.

I served her the meal, but I think she approached it with the same attitude one approaches a child’s tea party. It didn’t matter, anyway, because all I needed was to get her here.

I did the silly things and waited patiently for Katyen to get bored. She eventually did, and got ready to leave.

“Hold on,” I said. “Don’t go outside yet. There are Kliid warriors snooping around everywhere. I should go with you for protection. I’d hate for you to get ambushed without someone around. I’ll walk you home.” I slipped on some sandals and started walking with Katyen to her house, which she’d never reach. I hid the sword in my quiver when she wasn’t looking, and in the dark, Katyen couldn’t see it. When we were halfway to Katyen’s house, I whispered, “Wait, I heard something!”

I snuck over to the nearest house, peered around it, and jumped back. “Close your eyes. I’m going to do magic now that will blind you if you don’t.”

She complied, ducking her head. I tiptoed back to behind Katyen, her eyes still shut and totally believing me, and I stuck her in the back with the sword, throwing my voice and yelling, “Katyen!” as if I’d just realized that she was being attacked by “another warrior.” (Turns out, curved swords aren’t very good for stabbing, so it was kind of messy.) I hid the sword in a raspberry bush and, forcing myself to sob, ran straight to the police.

I faked a story about how the Kliid killed her from behind while I was distracted, and the police bought it, too, with a little bit of secret Dream magic. Hopefully, none of them had picked up Star magic and the ability to detect when magic is being done like I had.

Two down, three to go, I thought, and headed home.

“I can’t believe it,” Tony said, dropping out of a tree. “She was who you had to kill?”

I made the cut-throat motion. I looked around, and as far as I could see, no one watched back. That didn’t mean I wasn’t still uptight.

“Good story. Why’d you go to all that setup? Practically everyone knows who you are now.”

“Where are your parents?” I asked Tony. It wasn’t spoken in an accusatory tone, not to Tony. He might be only about nine years old, but I considered him a member of my fighting party, and that meant that I a) gave him my permission to fight and b) had practically adopted the kid.

“Asleep. They know I go out, but they also know I can do enough Water magic to make myself invisible and sneak out of anywhere.”

“Whatever,” I said. I wasn’t looking forward to the other elders, but Mel had said that Katyen was one of the worst, so I should deal with her first thing. I’d visit Mel the next day, but first, I was going to get some sleep.

“Come on,” I said to Tony. “Stay at my house. It’s going to be a long night.”

Posted in Star

Chapter Six–A Bit Different From Debate Class–Edit #3

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January 8th, 2011 Posted 8:47 pm

After the Kliid warriors finally retreated, the warriors went straight back to the shelter. Who knew what kind of long-range weapons the Kliid had retreated to use? We weren’t about to follow them.

“What about the kids?” I asked a random Zephan.

“They have houses,” the Zephan said.

“Houses aren’t bombproof. Get them over here.” We herded the kids over. At first, they wouldn’t respond to the warriors because they thought they were scary. But they responded to me, because I’d kept them safe. Which raised a question: “Haven’t any of you tried to protect these kids?”

“They’re just kids,” someone said.

“So were you, once,” I hissed. “What are you fighting for if you aren’t fighting to defend them?”

I watched as she unraveled my sentence, then she shrugged. “We’ve just never been given orders to do it.”

“Ditch orders,” I said. “They should be in the shelters day and night in the middle of a battle like this.”

“Who are you to tell us what to do?”

“I’m Amanda. And everyone should be able to voice what’s right.”

She left it at that. I wasn’t sure if it was because I had a little more political power now, because I was getting a little more known around here as a fighter, or because I would berate her morals, but she went away and I herded more kids into the shelter. I wasn’t relying on infuriated instinct and adrenaline now, which was good. That sort of stuff tends to make me jumpy.

The shelter was scrawny, but it was made with metal reinforced by the strongest Fire magic, and could have handled a nuclear bomb. It would do for now.

I let the kids sit in the corner. “Is there any food?” I asked.

“No,” Jane, a Light Anoki, said. “There’s a shortage.”

“I can deal with that.”

I took some seeds out of my backpack and buried them in the clay (yuck) floor of the shelter. It’s hard to grow seeds in such bad soil, but I did it anyway.

“That looks easy,” one of the kids said. “You’re just telling something to do something. That’s not real magic!”

The kid stopped and realized that all his friends were staring at him.

“What’s your name, kiddo?”

“Tony,” he said, scowling.

I took his hand and pressed a squash seed into his palm. He smiled slowly.

I turned back to the warriors.

“Jane?” I said.

“Yes?”

“You and Ivory are to take care of the children and kill anyone who threatens them.”

“Yes’m.”

“As for the rest of you, travel in groups. Don’t let yourselves be singled out, ever. And no rushing them in a thin line. It’s weak. Gang up on them. And if you need healing, I need you to scream as loud as you can. I’ll be fast. Don’t separate yourselves into Fire parties, Water parties, whatever. Make sure that each group gets as even a number of each talent as possible. If you do get separated, yell and I’ll take you back to a group. Otherwise…” and I paused dramatically… “You will die. Don’t underestimate the Kliid, because you really don’t want to be unpleasantly surprised. Too much force on the enemy is better than not enough. Take no prisoners, but take revenge and use anger. And don’t be afraid to kill, because they aren’t!” Okay, I admit it: That was a stupid command to warriors who’d probably killed about 75 warriors apiece in the span of a day. “Now stay here and I’ll come back with some more food. Do you have a basket?”

I returned with a much-too-full basket and a pitcher of lemonade. Everyone, especially the adults, fell on the food like rabid wolverines. Uh.

I made two more trips with the basket before my group slowed down.

A Fire Anoki poked his head in the door. “Elder Jaken wants to see you, Amanda.”

“Take a picture,” I said, “if he wants to see me. I thought he knew what I looked like.”

“I think he meant that he wants to talk to you.”

“Talk with me or at me? If it’s about battle strategies, he’s done a lousy job.”

“He didn’t say,” the messenger said, looking like his patience was wearing thin. “Can you just go?”

“All right,” I said, knowing that someone behind me was giggling slightly.

I followed the messenger out to—points to you for not guessing a Quonset hut—a three-story mansion with no bomb protection whatsoever. There’s a surprise.

Someone opened the door from behind it. I went in, and the messenger fled.

“You are Amanda.” It seemed more a statement than a question.

I resisted the urge to blurt out, “That’s my name! Don’t wear it out!” and nodded.

“You have taken control of one of the army groups.”

“Technically, I was asked and I accepted.” Jaken had his back to me. I read this as, “I don’t want you to see my expression.”

“How old are you, exactly?” The ancient question.

“Thirteen. And a half,” I added.

He turned, so I had to wipe the grin off my face. “And what makes you think you are capable of leading our troops into battle, let alone qualified?”

“Because I just saved your butts several times today, your soldiers seem to think I can, and your previous general got killed before I got back here.”

“That brings me to my other point,” Jaken said, frowning in that way adults do when they think you’re too stupid to know what you’re really asking and thinking that they’re not being paid enough to explain how audacious you’re being. Too bad. “You left, leaving our village in peril. Your lack of responsibility, as well as your audacity…”

Here we go, I thought. He said the word audacity, and it’s only been about thirty seconds. Jaken babbled on a little more, but I’d stopped listening.

“Excuse me,” I said, interrupting him, “but you never employed me. I wasn’t in the army. Ever. I defended people, but I was never paid, never employed, and I never heard a thank-you from you or any other of the village ‘elders.’”

“You knew full well that you were the only Zephan healer. You left us.”

“And you didn’t pay me for that, either! My parents were killed. I healed little kids’ cat

scratches for their lunch money so I wouldn’t starve! Not to mention that I did teach Zephans conventional medicine and left you with numerous stores of potions. I bet you aren’t even out of them yet. I can see it in your face.”

“There are rumors that you ran to the Kliid tribe,” Jaken said. I could tell that he was running out of cards to play.

“So you drag me here based on rumors to accuse me of something you don’t have proof of. And even if I was there, how do you know I wasn’t spying on them? I’m sure you don’t pin down your spies like this.”

“We didn’t employ you for that, either!” he said, trying to use my own argument against me, but realizing how ridiculous he sounded.

“You took the words right out of my mouth,” I said.

“Minors are not fully mature. Teens especially are impulsive and hard to control.”

“And in battle, this matters how? I’ll tell you what matters. What matters is that there are Zephans alive now. What matters is that the tribe is safe. And you can’t even bother to defend children! In ten years, what army will you have? The only people still alive will be old, retired farts who fought in the war that one time!”

Jaken was constantly giving me that well-that’s-quite-an-interesting-bug look, especially when I used phrases like “saved your butts” and “old, retired farts.” Then I noticed that the retired fart thing had struck a note with Jaken, who must have been sixty-something.

“What’s your argument?” I kept going. “That I’m rude? Oh, no! The Kliid will be so angry at me! Oh, wait! Half the Kliid army is pushing up daisies. Well, they’ll be very offended in hell.” I wanted to add, “Tell me if I’m right when you see them there,” but decided against it.

Jaken… lost the argument. I didn’t know until the Fire Anoki told me that he was skilled in Dream magic and had been reading my mind the entire time. Oops.

After that demoralizing situation, none of the other elders came near me about it. I was irreplaceable; they might have Mel, but she wasn’t trained in Earth magic, and as far as the elders knew, she couldn’t fly. Besides, if they killed me off, they’d have an army of really teed off soldiers, all whose lives I’d saved at one point or another, as well as a mob of ticked kids. They couldn’t do anything to stop me. Which was ridiculous. I mean, think about it: you’re a dictator, you think you have ultimate power, but if people just stop obeying you, all at once, you know you don’t have that power any more. Because if the general populace takes your word and throws it in the river, you know that your guards are going to make a break for it, too—and you can only pay them so much.

The Kliid still hadn’t attacked us. I wasn’t sure if the war was pausing or not. But I wasn’t going to let my guard down; I would make use of the time.

“Why is there a food shortage?” I asked Jane.

“There’s a drought. Nobody here knows how to farm without water.”

“And yet, you have Water Anoki all over the place? Don’t you know that any of them could have summoned rain a long time ago?”

“But that’s Storm magic! How do you know this, anyway?”

“It’s a long story. But if I’m not mistaken, the stronger Water Anoki should be able to summon rain as well. I’ll teach them. I’ve… gotten better,” I finished lamely.

“Do you want me to get them?”

“No. You’re busy.” I frowned. “Where is that one kid from last night?”

“Tony?” Jane asked. “Probably up a tree somewhere around here, knowing him.”

“Of course,” I murmured, and climbed up the easiest tree myself. I figured he’d be there. I was right. He was sitting right there, sulking.

“Can’t get the seed to grow,” he grumbled.

“The tree sympathizes,” I said.

“How do you know that?” he asked.

“It says. Don’t you ever talk to trees?”

“No. They never said anything to me.”

“Have you ever listened?” I asked.

“Not really,” he hazarded.

“Well, let’s climb down and we’ll get the seed to grow. Come on. You’ve got to stop pouting sooner or later.”

He followed me reluctantly.

“Where did you plant the seed?” I asked. He pointed to an area about three inches from the tree trunk. “No, that won’t do,” I said. “It needs room. Give it some space.” I dug the seed up and re-buried it several feet away.

“I bet you didn’t talk to the seed, either,” I said.

“I told it to grow, but it didn’t respond.”

“Seeds are finicky. But squash is one of the easier seeds to grow. At least, they were for me. Maybe you’re not a vine person.”

He looked at me blankly.

“You’ll understand later,” I said. “The thing is, you can’t command it to grow. That freaks a seed out. You have to suggest it, casually, like it wouldn’t matter anyway, because really, the seed’s going to grow anyway. You’re just suggesting that it could get it over with if it grew faster, so it might as well do so. But with squash, you have to pick it fast, while it’s still growing, or it’ll get huge enough to use as a baseball bat. Ask me how I know. Try it again.”

“What?”

“Try it again. I’ll leave you alone now—you can tell me about it later. Right now I have to teach some Water Anoki some stuff they should already know.”

As I got up and turned to leave, there was the leafy rustle of a plant growing very, very fast. I smiled and walked on. There was that constant popping noise about every five seconds of a kid trying to pick vegetables very, very fast. I guess people everywhere are gaining Earth talent. Hmm.

I found Andrew, a Water Anoki who happened to be one of the better warriors. “Round all the Water Anoki up in front of the shelter,” I commanded, and both of us went off to find Water Anoki.

Soon the Water Anoki were standing, confused, in front of the shelter.

“Clouds are just water that’s far away. This is simple. All you have to do is make the water cluster together so it drops, like running your finger on a fogged-up mirror. Look.”

I located a cirrostratus cloud that was probably a remnant of the storm that had hit us in the other area of the forest and gathered the water into one huge clump. It fell like bricks.

“This might be hard. Anyone can make a cumulonimbus or a nimbostratus cloud rain, but it’ll take talent to do it with altocumulus, cirrus or cirrostratus, just because they’re so far away and so often, you have to melt them because they’re frozen. Otherwise, you’ll get snow, or worse, hail.”

I was looking out at blank expressions. “Seriously? You can’t predict weather from clouds? You guys must have more to learn than I thought.”

Later, it had started to rain so hard from the collected efforts of all the Water Anoki that nobody could see their hands in front of their face. I don’t call that a drought.

“See?!” I heard someone say. It was that Fire Anoki messenger, talking to Elder Jaken. “She shows up, our problems are all solved. She’s our key to the Kliid. You can’t forbid her from fighting. We’ll lose!”

“I cannot tolerate this,” I heard Jaken say. “She is disrespectful. She leads too well. If I don’t do something, I’ll be looking at a rebellion. Who knows what the villagers will take into their minds to do? This, and she is the Star Anoki that the Kliid spoke of. That Anoki left the Kliid just before Amanda came back. She’s a traitor.”

“Why would she leave the Kliid? Have you thought of that? They could pay her a lot better than we could. You never paid her, but she came back anyway. She didn’t fight for the Kliid—in fact, she left them in a bad spot, where they were relying on her to win the battle. Now you have her. If you forbid her from fighting, she might leave again and fight with the Kliid! And you can’t stop her. She can fly; you know that. Nobody will be able to kill her at all. If she is the Star Anoki that you speak of, then nobody will be able to kill her. If she is not, then you have no reason to forbid her doing anything because she doesn’t pose a threat, nor did she go to the Kliid. Why would she try to overthrow you, anyway?”

“She’s already expressed a dislike towards our system. That’s the reason she left—she’ll tell you herself. She is not indestructible; she simply acts this way out of carelessness. The war killed her mother, who was also a Star Anoki, and Amanda may be in for the same fate. No, she wouldn’t fight with the Kliid—she cares about the Zephans too much. Don’t you know that this is why she came back? It’s not for me, it’s for her precious little kids!” Jaken stopped in thought. “Wait a minute… it’s for the children…” He smiled maliciously.

“I really don’t advise that,” said the Fire Anoki nervously.

“Leave me to think it over.”

I gasped, knowing what he meant immediately. Using my new Time powers, I stopped time for everyone else and went and got the sword and killed Jaken immediately—a stab through the heart, then the brain. I left as fast as possible, sick to my stomach, and released the time back to normal. And he called me a traitor! Plotting to destroy your own people to regain your power! I’d almost say that he’d gotten possessed by Darkness magic, if I knew better. It crossed my mind to kill all of the elders like that, but I wasn’t sure how long it would be before the Time Anoki broke free of the spell and changed everything back to normal, and I didn’t want them doing that while I had my sword stuck in someone’s head. Plus, it’s completely obvious when Time magic is being done.

I felt like barfing. That was the first time I’d actually killed a Zephan, by my own force. I was trying hard to keep dinner down, but it didn’t work, and I ended up throwing up off to the side.

I decided that I was going to give up hiding my Star magic. With that Fire Anoki around to defend me, I wouldn’t need to worry about being called a traitor. I don’t see how they’d ban me from fighting, either. I’d stop, and they’d lose the war. If they put me in prison, I would melt the bars, kill the threats, and break out. I knew that while it would be pretty easy to kill me, they couldn’t contain me. I was relying on the fact that the elders knew that if I was killed and word leaked that they were the culprits, they would lose power. People would leave and join the Kliid, and work forces would slash in half.

I didn’t want to be considered harmless. I wanted to be dangerous to them like an axe to butter. I wanted to be sucked up to, to be talked to with care as not to upset me. Respect is power, and power can be used a number of ways—not just good/bad. And I was going to use it in a different way from just about everyone else in the world. A new way.

I was feeling sick with guilt and anger, but my reasons were obvious to those who looked, and they’d nailed them. I was defending the kids… and not just from the Kliid.

I decided to go check on Mel and the girls. I took to the air and saw nobody, so I went to Mel’s friend’s cottage. I was relieved to see that everyone was there, drinking tea—as opposed to, say, in prison, trying to bribe the jailer.

“How’s it going?” Mel asked. “Did you kill anyone?” she added casually.

“You have no idea.”

“We watched you fight for the first two hours. I’ve never seen someone so aggressive, and then you didn’t get tired.”

“I killed more than Kliid.”

“This early?” Mel said, shocked. “I thought you wanted to build trust.”

“Wasn’t working. I ripped Jaken’s face off the other day, and in the middle of a discussion with his advisor, he figured out a way to bend me to his will. I froze time and killed him before the word could get out.”

“So that’s what that was. Aren’t you worried about the advisor?”

“No. He was defending me. I spied on them for maybe half an hour.

“What exactly did you do to Jaken that made him so upset?”

“I disarmed his arguments against my becoming general to a war group, and then I disarmed the argument he hadn’t said, which was that I was too rude. I told him that most of the Kliid army was dead anyway, so they’d be teed off in hell. I didn’t know he was reading my mind when I was thinking about telling him to confirm my suspicion when he got there.”

Mel’s jaw dropped. “Uh, that might make him kind of angry.”

“Jaken was easy,” I went on, “but I’m not sure now how I’m going to get the others.”

“Somebody hand me a pen and paper,” Mel said. Mel, being political, knew who everyone was around here. “You have Elder Katyen, who will do anything you want if you appeal to her ego. She’s very prideful, and she’s… you know how some cats are more feline than others? She’s more fiery than most Fire Anoki, and not in a good way. You might want to invite her to dinner at your parents’ house and cook the most elegant dish you can prepare. Act like a fashionista, and dress like one, too. Get her to trust you as one of her advisors. Don’t let your guard down, though—she’s nasty, and she’s a true tyrant at heart, no matter how pretty she is. And I’m definitely not saying that because I’m jealous of her pink hair, like most women do.

“Elder Butan—remember to pronounce it right—is a fat old dude who’s only stayed alive through his Time magic. The way to his nonexistent heart is through his stomach, preferably all the way through… with an arrow. Just stuff him right, and he’s your friend. You might need a harpoon to get all the way in to kill him. Invite him to dinner, stuff his face and get him drunk.

“Elder Henrei is a thinker and a Water Anoki. Watch your words, and make intelligent and interesting conversation for a while. He’ll start to trust you if he thinks you’re smart enough not to try and kill him. That guy will be a challenge, but at least he’s cocky enough that he’ll think he’s too clever to fall into any traps. It’s a good thing he can’t read your mind. Just make sure you don’t, you know, start making friends with the guy you’re gonna kill, at least not on your end.

“Elder Raystar is a Light Anoki. She thinks she’s this kind little fairytale spirit who grants everybody’s wishes. She’s what I call a pyrite person—looks like gold, and might even convince you that she is. But keep in mind that her sweet persona doesn’t always hide that she’s a truckload of fool’s gold—sometime around midnight on a full moon. If you ever see a werewolf fighting the Kliid, that’s her. Raystar isn’t what she says she is. Well, I take that back,” Mel said, sounding conflicted. “She’s never eaten anyone on our side, and she does her best to be nice out of guilt. She can’t really help it. But that doesn’t make her any less dangerous to you or to the Zephans. Werewolves always lose control of their wild side after a few years.”

“Thanks, Mel,” I said. Sheesh, if even Mel was kind of on Raystar’s side, I was going to feel pretty bad about killing her.

“Anytime. By the way, you might want to tackle these people in that order. Especially Katyen. Do her fast, or she might get nervous and start throwing fireballs out of habit. You don’t want her to burn the house down. And everyone but Raystar enjoys wine, especially the expensive stuff. They’re going to be pretty neurotic by then, so buy sealed wine, and if the vendors give you trouble, explain that it’s for the elders and they’ll give you a discount. No wine dealer will ever deny the elders their drinks.” Mel had been writing all this down. What a relief.

“It’s a good thing that you keep up with politics,” I said. “Otherwise, I’d be in deep doody.”

“Hey, it pays to help out the future Zephan leader.” Mel grinned. I wasn’t too sure about that, but it had been what I’d been planning. For someone who routinely avoided being “leader” or getting into the army and under someone else’s control, did I really want to do that for the rest of my life?

Posted in Star

Chapter Five–Oops, I Broke My Curfew–Edit #3

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January 8th, 2011 Posted 8:43 pm

Going higher, I could see both villages clearly. I could see the battlefield between them. In a burst of annoyance, I sent each warrior back to their own army camp. Bugger them.

I zipped toward the Zepha tribe. I was getting angrier. Not because they were trying to capture and use me, but because my previous work defending Zephan kids is useless if they got killed anyway. It meant they just had to live through more dictatorship because I’d saved them that time.

“It’s not far, guys,” I called. My mini-party was getting hungry, tired, and in some cases, in need of a bathroom that didn’t involve a tree. We were all grimy and in need of showers and new clothes, Kaye, Li, and I in need of face-washing stuff before the ol’ acne acted up again, and Kaye especially in need of the anti-frizz shampoo. Nothing collects sweat like long, fluffy hair, and acne is one of the few adversaries I’ve faced that I can’t cut through with a sword without serious repercussions.

I was ready to just storm the city hall with a dozen fireballs and just pluck everyone off the list of characters in this cuh-razy story, but I wasn’t sure that this would be the most… professional thing to do. I was guessing the dictators were magically protected. I didn’t think the bow would be much good, either. It would be all too obvious who assassinated everybody. I hadn’t kept my archery practice a secret, and my arrows are the only ones made with Earth magic, which made them look different.

I wasn’t going to be able to arrive in secret, either. Not only would my face be spotted easily, but I carried my bow no matter what, and I was the only person who really liked green clothes. My wings had been green when I left, too, so I would have to tell my magic to keep them that way as not to cause a major ruckus. Which, in turn, would make me even more recognizable. Dang it.

I would have to see the weapons the army used. People would think that someone in the army wasn’t satisfied with the power they had. Maybe one of the generals would “get cocky and try to usurp power,” or “one of the Darkness Anoki would run rampant.”

But if I went to too many unusual places, got caught talking to trees (or someone in them),  or tossed my new magic around too loosely, I was done.

I stuck my wings out wide, braking over the village. It wouldn’t work very well to fly in—too conspicuous, and it made it obvious that I had new talents. I was sure that the village elders had heard about me from spies that were in the Kliid tribe, but maybe they didn’t know it was me. I flattened my new hairstyle, making it look sort of like I hadn’t cut it.

I circled around to meet the others. “I guess we can’t put it off any longer.”

They nodded gravely, and we dropped into the forest.

“You guys stay here,” I said. “The soldiers are going to think you’re Kliid warriors when they don’t recognize you. I’ll go first, because they know me.” I put on my old green clothes, as if I hadn’t gotten any new ones, and I slathered my hair and current dress with mud. Then, one freaky step at a time, I went back to my old village.

“Amanda!” someone hissed. I jumped. “It’s just me,” someone said, coming out from behind a tree. It was Mel, the Anoki who had taught me to make and shoot bows.

“Where did you go?” she asked.

“I ran away before the Commitment Spell,” I said. “They kind of want to kill me now. I have this really dangerous plan I need to follow through on, and you can choose to help me or not. You could get in serious trouble, but it’ll stop the wars and free everyone.” Mel had a 99.9% chance of knowing the reason for my little takeoff anyway, but the line sounded so defiantly cool.

“I’ll help,” she said. That was the cool thing about Mel: She doesn’t give a flying nut what other people think or whether she’ll get in trouble. We both disappeared back into the forest. Several Zephan warriors were in the place my friends had occupied just moments before. Mel and I drew arrows and shot them, but not fatally. I punched mine in his temple, watched as he went down, and kicked his jaw hard enough that he wouldn’t be telling anyone about this anytime soon.

“Nice bow,” Mel said. I couldn’t respond quite yet. The others might have been in danger, and I got this odd idea: to make up a spell to shield them. I told Mel to hold on, and used the wand to try the spell I’d come up with. Apart from that, I could only hope that Kaye and Li could fend off any attacks. I knew that Kaye could, but whether she would was another question.

“What was that?” Mel asked me. “That didn’t seem like Earth magic. Where’d you get the wand?”

“Don’t you dare tell anyone, but I have new power now. Sky power. Not Air, but Star magic.”

“I thought that was mythical!” Mel said, lowering her voice. Her eyes had something odd in them, and it didn’t seem like the awe her voice portrayed. “I always knew you were different from everyone else. Just happens, I have new power too. Earth power. Odd, isn’t it? That’s why you weren’t followed any more. I don’t think they’ll try to threaten you now.”

“Always nice,” I said. “What’s the army using on the weapons front?”

“Bows,” she said, “and swords, a lot of the time. The generals found out that you were killing a lot of the enemies, either directly or through healing other soldiers who killed Kliid, and they’re suffering without you. So they tried to fight like you… but it’s not working. Like I said, they won’t threaten you now. Why?”

“Remember that dangerous plan?” I said. She nodded. “Well,” I said, “we’re going to kill the dictators and take over the village. I have some allies from the Kliid tribe now who are going to help govern the village afterwards. The Kliid won’t attack them.”

“You have allies?” Mel said, astonished. “How’d you manage that?”

“Where do you think I’ve been for the past several months? They wouldn’t kill me either, but then, I never told anyone I was from around here until it looked like I was going to stay there. But when they figured out I could do more than they thought—when I figured out I could do more than they thought—I had to leave or I’d be used in the war.” I noticed that Mel was looking at the ground.

“What?” I said. I almost regretted it when I saw Mel’s expression.

“You sound exactly like your mother,” she said.

“Is that bad?” I asked.

“No,” she said cautiously.

“Then let’s go defend my friends. And my sister.”

“Sister?” Mel said, confused. Her eyes actually did show confusion, this time, now that I was watching her.

“Oh, yeah,” I said. “Kaye is my… um… sister from another village,” I said, not wanting to say the K-word. “Then there’s Akana, a little girl I found in the forest with a shoulder wound from an animal. I healed her and cleaned her up, and she’s with us now. She can do Light magic.” I paused. “Can you fly?”

She gave me a bewildered/shocked expression. “No!” she said. Her expression melted. “I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised. After all… but then, why are you asking me? You know I’m not an Air Anoki.” Mel’s talents extended to advanced Water magic, several simple spells from assorted elements, and apparently Earth magic now, but not Air magic.

“I can fix that,” I said. “Or, more correctly, Akana can.” I frowned, thinking. “I bet I could do the spell, too. I don’t remember how she did it, though. Let’s go find the others now. Stay here a minute.” I zipped into the sky. I heard Akana’s innocent-sounding voice echoing through the tree’s leaves. I dropped back into the forest, just barely, and asked the trees if they’d seen her. I love trees. Some of my best friends as a kid were trees. Climbing trees—or, more precisely, falling out of them—had been one of the closest things I’d had to flying. All the trees pointed me to an area of the forest. I went there quickly, finding everyone safe and silently hiding. Badly.

“Seriously, guys?” I called out. “Hiding behind trees is for preschoolers.”

Cautiously they came out, one by one. I explained that I had someone waiting, so we took off quickly.

“I wasn’t expecting kids,” Mel said when we got back. “Are you sure they have enough influence on the Kliid?”

Actually, I wasn’t sure. I knew Kaye had some weight, being the best magician of the Kliid, but Akana had barely been there at all and wouldn’t matter, and Li’s Fire magic wasn’t exactly rare; there were other Anoki in the Kliid tribe that had her talents. Maybe if they knew that Kaye was a Star Anoki and could blast their head off… but she’d spend the rest of her life casting spells. Hmm.

“No,” I said finally. “I’m not sure. But unless the Kliid are really dense, they’ll realize that we could easily kill them all.”

“That’s true,” Mel said, and I mentally patted myself on the back. Now I had another person on board. I thought periodically about causing uproar among the people, and just let the mass force overthrow the government, but that would be loud, and people would get killed, and a free village would be useless if nobody lived there to enjoy it. No, it wouldn’t work.

Night was falling. I liked that. My night vision had gotten suspiciously better recently. And it was one of my favorite parts of night, too: just after twilight, when the air is still hot and crisp from the warmth of the day, but cooling, and you can just about feel it—or, at least I can, in the sky, where it matters because the temperatures are diverse.

I got this sinking feeling that though I felt safe now, my instincts were not only off the mark, but blindfolded and pointing the bow in the other direction while Anoki ran away from the space in front of it. Which didn’t make sense, because the sinking feeling was also part of my instincts. It was like saying that magic always works the way you don’t expect it to (just to be contrary. It does have a sense of humor), although you expect both of two opposites. What does it do? Do I have two sets of instincts? Would the Amanda action figure come with what-the-heck-am-I-doing features, paranoid twitches in five directions, and 10 “okay-that’s-weird-now” sayings?

Akana had finished her spell, so I put this whole deal aside for later and asked Mel, “Where would the elders be right now?”

“Not in the war, that’s for sure,” she said. “They’d be eating dinner now. You could substitute the chefs and poison them, say, with foxglove or something. It would be easy enough. Or do you have another way in mind?”

“I do,” I said. “Poison could come from anyone, but we want to make sure we’re excluded from the suspects. Which means we need to use a sword. The same one, all the time, because the Fire Anoki will test the metal left on the bodies. They’ll suspect the crazy Darkness Anoki. But it would be all too obvious what we’re doing if we buy a sword from just any old Zephan blacksmith. Everyone knows I don’t use a sword, and word carries far, even from a smith. Are there any other villages nearby?”

“Just the Kliid,” Mel said. “But I know of a blacksmith who can get you what you need. He’s in the forest. Alone. Used to be my sweetie, and he owes me a favor at any rate.”

We helped Mel into the air, and she led us to a clearing maybe twenty miles away. I kept looking around suspiciously. Mel dove (on purpose, fortunately) and we flew to the doorstep of a large cottagey-type building. I was wondering why she wasn’t having trouble flying at all. I mean, it definitely took me long enough to figure it out, and I wasn’t sure how much Li practiced. Maybe the fact that Mel was over twice my age—in her late twenties—and tended to pick skills up fast contributed to her learning curve.

Mel rapped twice, and we heard a male voice mutter something at us. Mel opened the door.

“Hello, Melody,” someone said, rather wistfully, as if something had just happened to personally discourage him. “Do you need something?”

I could barely believe that this downcast-spirited man had interested Mel for any length of time at all.

“Actually, yes,” she said primly, her head high. Oh, I thought. That’s why.

I explained our dilemma.

“An interesting tale. So you need a sword from me?”

“Yes,” I said. “That’s sort of why we’re here.”

“A noble cause requires the most noble of swords. Take this.” It was the traditional long, brown cloth package. With a shaggy red cloth tied around the hilt. Tsk.

“Wait a minute…” I said, taking it by the hilt from the cloth bundle. It was an odd, curved shape that seemed familiar from TV somewhere. “Is this a katana blade?”

“Yes.”

“The Japanese sword that can slice through a torso in one chop?” I was gaping in geekish awe. This thing was probably the sharpest edge I’d ever held.

“That suede is thick for a reason. Be careful.” I noticed that the bundle was actually an intricately woven sheath for the sword, leather inside, suede and good cloth on the outside, sewn together.

“Um, duh!” I grinned. This was great. I couldn’t believe that the blacksmith wasn’t kicking serious butt on the battlefield with these things. A katana blade! These showed up in like every ninja movie ever! I was all for practicality, sure, but looking totally awesome was a bonus.

We left with the blacksmith staring wistfully at Mel’s back. Sheesh, didn’t he know what video games were? The guy needed a hobby.

“He wasn’t always like that,” Mel said, her voice suggesting that she knew her take on what everyone needed, and it mainly involved having your face slapped until you could only mumble incoherently and then start hopping around like a Dlitchian dancer, whose routines involve steps that shouldn’t exactly be possible, nor should they be performed in the presence of small children.

We reappeared at the edge of the village. I watched my Zephan friends fight. They had no clue how to do it, and I realized that even the Anoki who weren’t in the army were fighting. They were trying to protect the kids I’d normally defended.

“Go kick butt,” Mel said, reading either my mind or my expression.

“What do we do?” Akana said.

“You can watch,” Mel said. “It’s fun to watch Amanda fight.”

I think that was a compliment, but it hadn’t mattered at the time because I was running as fast as my skirts would allow, wishing I’d worn looser ones, stopping to slit them with my knife, giving up, and hiking them higher than any sane body would ever do except in crisis. Might this be why Mom tells you to wear clean underwear?

I snatched up the kids, hauled them to a rooftop, and fired arrows so fast that I ran out within minutes and had to make more, which didn’t take too long.

I watched each body fall individually. I didn’t care who they’d been, as long as they were Kliid. These kids weren’t soldiers, yet they were firing at them. Innocent kids!

“Jackie!” I yelled at the Water Anoki, just as she’d gotten fired at and hit. “Stay here and hunker down,” I growled at the kids, and then jumped off the building as they gasped. There was no hiding my flight abilities now. I had to defend my friends. I picked Jackie up by her waist and flew her to the rooftop. I took the arrowhead off—it had gone all the way through her shoulder–yanked the arrow out smoothly, and healed her. She stood up and yelled something incomprehensible at me, trying to be heard over the din. I shook my head and grabbed her again. She struggled as I jumped off the building again, but gasped as I picked her up. She didn’t weigh more than ninety pounds, so I lifted her pretty easily.

I set her down at the edge of the battle and went to help Derek, a Fire Anoki who had failed to fully melt the sword coming at him. I sent a mass healing spell that hadn’t been meant to be very powerful, but ended up that way. Leaping upwards, I flew fast over the mass of Zephans.

“Amanda’s back!” I heard someone yell. I couldn’t deal with that now, though. I swooped over the crowd and handed Chloe more arrows, healed her and socked a Kliid warrior in the nose. It broke.

I fired arrow after arrow, aiming at the main Kliid general, until I got lucky and shot him. I swept down and fixed Andrew’s weakening invisibility spell (which was Water magic) and then threw a major fireball at some Kliid warriors.

“That’s her!” I heard a voice shriek. Fienne. I pulled an arrow, tipped it with fast-acting  poison (which was Darkness magic, but I was desperate) and shot her personally, this time using an Earth spell to direct the arrow so I wouldn’t have to repeat the Darkness magic. But she’d already been heard; sound travels faster than arrows. Perhaps, if someone was killed fast enough, they could be heard after they were dead by someone far away.  Maybe in Alaska.

Somehow I felt better knowing that she was dead, despite the fact that at least thirty more people knew who I really was. Soon it wouldn’t matter. Soon we’d be free, and I’d find a way to un-Commit people, after I killed the elders.

I wondered how much that would endanger me, especially since I had no clue who the elders even were. If I killed everyone with a sword, maybe in their sleep, then it wouldn’t obviously be me…

“Traitor!” someone shrieked from below. I didn’t know which side it was from, and didn’t really care in any case.

Wait! I’d never told anybody that I went to the Kliid tribe. Maybe I wouldn’t be targeted, at least not for a while. In this noise, Fienne could have only been heard by a few people… and she was far on the Kliid side, which would mean that the “traitor” call came from the Kliid. I still had some time.

The motion of a person falling caught my eye, and I sent another mass healing spell before going after him. I shot the person punching the air in triumph on the way down. (Showing off isn’t always good.) After dealing with Jacob’s arrow wound, I personally went over and kicked the shooter’s nose. It also broke, and bled enough to… never mind, I’ll skip this analogy. Ew.

I watched the catapult hurl thousands of stones, then saw so many warriors go down. I sent another mass healing spell and flew all the way to the machine specifically to shoot the person manning the huge weapon.

I really ought to be tired by now. I remember thinking that just as the seventeenth shot in a row left my string and hit someone—I didn’t know who, because I hadn’t really been aiming. Usually after the fifth mass healing spell, twentieth revenge shot and fifteenth personal run-over-to-heal-someone job, I would be either falling over or dead, and by the time I was thinking this, I had at least topped each of those amounts and had been working for hours. I knew Mel would take care of the others, even if Kaye was still super-afraid of defending herself.

I considered stopping to rest, but then a surging thought shouted, NO! I need to defend, protect, defend… it kept muttering to itself, but I ignored it and kept moving with my momentum. Fly down, heal, shoot the attacker, fly up, spot someone else, do a quick revenge attack, shoot the threat, go down, knee-kick-shin-kick-he’s-staggering-roundhouse-to-head-ouch-that-hurt-me-punch-anyway… and he’s down, move to the next… the hours sapped by, and I ignored my own needs for the needs of my people.

This was different from my impulsive oh-I’m-teed-off-now-because-you’re-such-an-inconvenience anger. I was ready to kill without thought, which is the best way to fight in a battle like this. I hate thinking about how much life I’m exterminating, and how unavoidable it is to kill. Right now, I didn’t care. I landed and cut through the lines, stabbing backs with the rabbit knife, striking with magic no matter how it affected my  energy, healing anyone I saw.

They dared to do it! They dared to hurt my people! They dared to touch my people!

They must leave!

I sent a (tenth?) mass healing spell, and then sent a mass weakening spell to the Kliid. Our troops suddenly realized they were getting the better of their enemies and raged on.

“Amanda?” someone asked as I returned to the ground to heal someone. I turned; yes, he was Zephan. A welcome person. I sent a flicker of healing magic and him as I spoke.

“Yes?”

“The general of Sector 7 was killed an hour ago. The troops want to know if you’ll take the job.”

“Yes,” I answered, and took flight again, sending yet another mass healing spell. My healing spells were getting progressively stronger now that I was constantly using them. My village needed me. I had to protect these Anoki… sweep-off-her-feet-quick-move-with-rabbit-knife… I wouldn’t let my people down… back-kick-head-snap-move-punch-fast-he’s-down-kill… I would fight until my people were safe, and I would die before giving it up!

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Chapter Four–The Good, The Bad and the Weirdoes–Edit #3

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December 18th, 2010 Posted 9:28 pm

CHAPTER FOUR–SPY

That night, something said to me that what I was doing was a bad idea. It wasn’t some supernatural magic this time, either; it was my own fighting instinct and maybe a flicker of calm reason that was still left somehow. I promised myself I’d never let my guard down.

Unfortunately, my efforts proved futile when I realized that a spy was watching us from the horizon. In the light of dawn, I could barely see the strange Anoki, who seemed to be easily aloft on incredibly large wings. I detected a listening spell and traced it to a dark haired Anoki in her late thirties. I signaled to Kaye, below: “Babysit them,” and went to investigate. Silently I flew towards her, circling occasionally as if I were flying for fun, but when she realized I was approaching, she flew away fast. I poured on the speed. I was going to catch her and question her, no matter what. My stubborn determination would demand no less. She wasn’t Zephan, I think, but she was very pretty and looked like she could be younger, or older, than my estimate.  She stretched her arms out for balance and rolled completely over, like I liked to do, and went even faster. I copied her movement, finding I could go faster if I accelerated while rolling.

I wondered if she’d caught on that she was teaching me how to catch her. Maybe she already knew. The sunlight glittered on her wings. She must have been doing magic again. I recognized it as Air magic, and realized that she was speeding us both with wind—also pretty useless for trying to get away. Then she dove into the trees and dodged every one of them, as if she were used to being there. We must have been going over a hundred miles an hour now. With a new rush of extra adrenaline, I rolled again and accelerated, adding my physical strength to my magical, and sped up so fast that I collided with the strange lady and we both crashed to the ground. She looked oddly familiar. Her eyes looked like mine, deep blue-green and with the capability to look rather threatening. Hers softened when she saw my face, which confused me. I frowned and helped her up, catching her firmly when she tried to escape my grip.

“I’m armed, silly,” I said. “Why were you watching us?”

Her eyes flared. “Us?” Her expression changed from shocked to coyly pleased.

“Yes, us!” I said. Idiot.

“You,” she said. “No one else.”

“Who are you?” I asked.

“I am more than you know and more than you will.”

“Why?” I asked, scowling. Had she spent too much time around elves?

She smiled. “Good, child. Some may think you inarticulate, but I see you as clever. You know I will not explain my words’ meaning. I like you; you look right. Perhaps you are who I am looking for.”

“I’m armed,” I repeated.

“Yes, you are. Show me.”

“First…” I said, and summoned a tree’s root to wind around her ankles. Yes, it’s cheesy, but a lot of cheesy stuff works in magic, especially if you want to drive the point that you’re doing magic, like in front of a human that you want to scare away. Or, in this case, a spy who needs to think that I’m an Earth magician.

I took my bow off my back and, with a glance at my pitiful quiver, drew an arrow and shot a tree forty feet away, square on the trunk.

“Now,” the strange lady said, “protect yourself. From behind.”

I drew another arrow and whirled. The lady wasn’t talking about herself, but a Darkness Anoki trying rather unsuccessfully to hide in the foliage. But you can’t hide black well. So he charged, ready with a sword. I shot him, but not crucially, in case he had some information that would be useful, and pulled my rabbit-cleaning knife out as a hand-to-hand weapon.

I approached, folding my wings back to keep them safe, but not far enough that I couldn’t easily escape. As I got closer, he jumped up, sword ready, and flourished it long enough that he nearly cut off his hand. Then he tried to stab me, and performed a series of moves that reminded me exactly of a human kid with a lightsaber on a TV show.

“I can kill you,” I offered.

“I’d like to see you try,” he hissed. I realized that this was one of those cases where the Darkness magic had possessed its user, and power had taken its toll. He was no longer an Anoki, and was without love. Then his eyes flashed, and he muttered, “Stay back, Anise…” and I wasn’t sure I was right.

“I’ll grant your wish in a minute, unless you surrender. I can’t have you killing me or anyone else. This is war!”

“To which do you belong?” he demanded. “Zephan or Kliid?”

“Yes,” I said, and punched his temple hard, with the full effect of a spiky topaz ring. He went down like potatoes, and I shoved the knife into his neck. There wasn’t any use trying to interrogate a possessed Anoki. I stuck the knife in the ground momentarily, cleaning it, then stood up.

“Where is this Anise?” I said grimly. Actually, I knew, because I’d heard her moving. I made no sound as I approached her, though I’m sure she’d been watching me, then I suddenly reached through a bramble and grabbed her shirt collar. About half of the shirt was in my hand.

“What element?” I growled.

“Time,” she said, big-eyed. If she freaks over an Earth Anoki, I was thinking, then she has problems.

I let go of some more of the shirt collar, so she wouldn’t choke, but I kept my grip. “You must never tell of what happened here. If you do, I will track you down and kill you. No one can know where I am. If anyone asks, he got caught in a sinkhole and was buried.”

“It’s okay,” she said.

I frowned. “What?”

“He was Zephan. An employed mercenary. I was his prisoner.”

“You are Kliid?” I asked. The war’s started again, I thought. A most-likely-innocent girl captured and probably tortured, from the look of her.

“Yes!” she whispered. “Are you going to kill me?”

“No,” I said. “I told you.”

“Are you Kliid?” she whispered.

“I grew up Zephan, but I lived with the Kliid recently. I’m going to stop the war anyway, so it doesn’t matter.”

“Will you take me with you?” she pleaded.

“Too dangerous,” I muttered. “I would take you back to the Kliid, but I have a prisoner of my own to deal with.” I heard the spy laugh behind me. “The village is that way.”

I put Anise down, and she turned. “Wait,” I said. She came back. I put a spell over her. “You won’t be seen until you are safe within the village. Go, and don’t let me see you turn back.” I wouldn’t be able to see her anyway, but it sounded good.

I turned back to the lady.

“What element are you?” she asked.

“Earth,” I lied.

“You are not,” she said. “You, Amanda, are a Star Anoki.”

“How long have you been spying on me?” I asked.

“You chose the cleaver,” she said. “That’s a decent knife, there.”

“I can’t believe I never noticed you!” I yelled.

“Quiet,” she said. “The forest must be thick with spies worse than me.”

“Why would any of them attack?” I said. “I am Zephan and Kliid.”

“Or neither. Perhaps all of them would attack. As far as they are concerned, you are an outsider.”

I have no home, I thought. What I said was, “I’ll fight every one of them singlehandedly if I have to. Try me. Bring it on.”

“No,” the strange lady said. “You don’t want to. You just want an outlet for your anger. You won’t hurt innocent people.”

“These aren’t innocent people!” I shouted. What I was thinking, though, was, Are my issues really that obvious?

“They’ve been taken over!” I continued my rant. “It’s that stupid Commitment Spell! It’s evil personified! These people don’t even know what they’re doing!”

I grabbed her collar and ignored the clattering of the seven pounds of wooden beads she wore. “You will tell me who you are,” I said through clenched teeth.

“This is fair,” she said, “because I know who you are. My name is Alicia; you may know that much.”

Too many people in my life have been named Alicia, I thought.

“You are thinking of your mother?” she said.

“My mother is dead!” I yelled. “And these wars will stop. I have power now, and I’m going to use it!” I stopped and glared at her, staring Alicia down. “You can help… or not.”

“I will be there,” Alicia said, “when you need me. But not in my current state.”

Alicia was referring to the roots. I was kind of wondering why she wasn’t undoing them herself. I looked for her ring to tell me her element (Water?), but she had her hand in her jeans pocket, and I couldn’t tell from her wings. As I let her go, she handed me a small bottle.

“It’s morphing potion,” Alicia said. “It turns into whatever you need at the moment.”

“It’s water,” I said flatly.

“That’s because you don’t need it right now. If you get caught, your capturers will only see a bottle of water.”

“Where are you from?” I asked.

“Where I am from and where I stay now are different things. It is a long story. Something says that your friends need you now.”

I stared at her, unsure. Something about this lady was familiar, and at the same time foreign, like food that I haven’t eaten for a long time and tastes different than I remembered.

“Go ahead,” she said. “I will take care of myself.”

Before I turned, I healed her, and she gave me a thin smile as I silently took flight.

I found everyone in the air, scrambling, splitting up and coming together, flying as high as possible and looking really, really odd. Not funny odd. Creepy odd. Like something was happening. So, big surprise: something was.

I found some Time, Water and Fire Anoki chasing Li, Kaye and Akana. There might have been twelve of them. As far as I was concerned, it was a fight with the advantages tipped towards my side: me against a dozen attackers. I was so fast, so powerful, and so, so mad. I must have hacked through nine of them with the bow and the cleaning knife (which, granted, was a bit degrading for these guys, but not like I cared) when I found that all of a sudden, I couldn’t see anything. One of those jerks had spelled me. With a healing spell that was so strong it sent out a shock wave that nearly knocked our enemies out of the sky, I warded off the blindness. As I watched my enemies fall, it struck me: they were flying.

They didn’t fall for long. I watched as a Time Anoki swooped up to face me.

“We were told to bring you back. Your powers are a threat to us.”

“What powers?”  I said evenly. “I’m an Earth Anoki. And you can already fly.”

“Don’t play dumb. We know what you can do,” she hissed. “Many would kill to have your magic.”

“I wouldn’t try if I were you.”

“You have to come back alive.”

“So they can use me to win the war? I don’t think so.”  I drew the cleaning knife and said, “Do you know where this has been?”

“No,” she said. Other soldiers watched from behind me, and I saw Li, in my peripheral vision, taking one out with a knife of her own.

“In a rabbit! Oh, wait… it still is!”

I inspected the work before turning to the other soldiers, who were frozen in place. I think it was their leader that I just decapitated. Note to those reading: Unless you have a terrorist pointing a gun at you, follow the rule we all know: “Don’t try this at home, kids!” Please. If you do have a terrorist pointing a gun at you, well, this probably wouldn’t be very effective anyway. (I’m really glad that Anoki haven’t stolen any other human technology, like guns, but with magic, we really don’t need to.)

I called Li over, and together, she and I disposed of the rest of the attack squad. It really did help my anger issues, especially since Li was as freaked and angry as I was. Was my Fire side affecting me, or was it a personality similarity with Li? I’m pretty sure it was the latter.

“What was that?” Li asked. “We’re not worth the stronger Darkness Anoki, so they just send a bunch of redshirts?” Yeah, definitely a personality thing.

“No, that’s not it,” I said, running my fingers through my hair. “You’re worth the war itself, because I would have come after you and they’d have all of us, and Kaye would be an especially good pawn to have against the Kliid. They just don’t think you’re enough of a threat to bother with more powerful mercenaries when I’m off somewhere interrogating someone. I wonder if they baited me out there with that spy.”

“I won’t ask,” Kaye said. “ But it’s not that we’re weak. Not physically, not mentally, and definitely not magically. I just didn’t want to kill them.”

“And that’s what you need to get over. This is war, Kaye! It’s you or them. You can’t dodge it. Once we kill some major warriors, they’ll stop sending them because they need warriors on the battlefield so they’re not taken over by Zephans.”

“The village is bigger than you think, Amanda,” Kaye said. “Most families have at least five kids.”

“Then we’ll deal with what they give us. Anyone else the Kliid send is obviously as dumb as the government behind them. From now on, we kill anyone who threatens us! And no getting soft. I won’t kill innocent people, but these aren’t innocent. That’s why we fight, and that’s why we need to kill. We kill to protect—not just ourselves, but everyone in the Zepha tribe, and everyone in the Kliid tribe. All right?”

“No,” Kaye said. “It’s all wrong. I’ve never killed someone in my life. I don’t plan to.”

“Kaye,” I said, “it’s them or us. Think about it. If we let too many people go free, we’ll be tracked easily, which will force us to kill more people. If there’s hope of finding us, then the Kliid and the Zephans will try to get us. At once. Them or us.”

It’s amazing how people seem to really hate logic at times. Logic whips poetry. But really, I didn’t need a squad of peacies. Or PCs. And I’m not talking about computers. What I really needed were warriors, and I had three girls who didn’t want to kill anything. It didn’t work, and I knew this was driving Kaye nuts.

Well, not three girls. I didn’t know Akana’s position, or even if she had one. And Li was definitely a fighter. I knew she’d been the one to step up and fight, to get everyone into the sky, and probably the one who taught them the evasive maneuvers. She’d saved them. And Kaye had objected. Whatever. This was one fight I decided to avoid.

I turned to Akana, though, to see what her view was. She held up her hands in an “I let them argue” gesture.

I didn’t see any more people around. There were no more Anoki emerging from the forest to take a crack at killing us. The strange spy lady who, now that I came to think of it, had such a stilted way of talking, as if she’d planned this speech for a long time, had disappeared and probably wouldn’t show her face again for a while. Maybe she was trying to disguise her voice.  I hadn’t noticed in the action of a) catching her spying, b) killing someone, and c) not killing a girl hiding in the bushes. Wait a minute–I was talking like that, too. Maybe I was subconsciously role-playing. I am so weird.

The sun was already getting high in the morning air, so I convinced the others to leave:

“We’ve been seen here. We need to leave now.”

“Whatever.”

Okay, so they didn’t put up much of a fight. But still. We all took off, up in the air again. I still loved it, despite the fact that we were running again. But now we were at least running with a purpose. We were leaving.

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Chapter Three–Our Camping Trip is a TOTAL Train Wreck–Edit #3

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December 18th, 2010 Posted 9:22 pm

CHAPTER THREE—ESCAPE… AGAIN

We took to the skies, and my wings changed back to their blue/green thing. It was well past sunset before I was satisfied with our distance from the village. We set up camp as fast as possible. My troops were exhausted, to say the least. Akana was the best flier out of all of us, being the most experienced, and knew the most tricks for conserving energy. The rest of us were exhausted, but Kaye and Li were in worse shape than I was. Kaye rarely needed to fly, or wanted to (which I didn’t understand), and Li had hardly gotten a chance to. The fire flickered as we all gathered around it for warmth, a contrast from the windy chill that loomed above us.

I didn’t like what was happening. I had a feeling that my group shared similarities other than being able to fly. I didn’t know Li well enough to judge her on this, but Kaye, Akana and I definitely had something in common that I couldn’t quite place.

In the morning, we took to the skies again, never sure where we planned to go. I wasn’t sure what I was thinking. The day passed slowly. I wasn’t worried, exactly, except that I knew that wherever we went, we would have to run. I wanted to land, to be closer to the forest. Even in the sky, I dropped a little to be a few feet closer. I felt better, sort of more concealed, even though the lower I went, the more visible I was to people below.

I didn’t want to be here. I was tired, and I wanted to lie down on the ground and sleep there. I didn’t want to be in the sky any more. And I really didn’t want to hear another stupid verse of Old McDonald Had a Farm.

“…and on his farm he had a llama, E-I-E-I-O! With a spit-spit here, and a spit-spit there…”

“We should land,” Kaye interrupted. “There’s a storm coming.”

“How do you know that?” Li said.

“I just know,” Kaye said. “We really ought to land.”

“Yeah, guys,” I said. “We should go.”

We landed. Li needed some help to avoid ending up on her face, since it had started to rain already, and she was the last one down. The rain didn’t work well with her magic, and she was getting kind of cranky. Through sopping wet black hair, she muttered a few words.

Kaye found, under a tree that gave good shelter, dry wood. She set it up with a bunch of rocks around it, and Li lit it. She looked like she felt a little better. I mean, wouldn’t setting stuff on fire make anyone feel better?

Everyone huddled up around the fire. It really was warm, though that wasn’t saying I absolutely loved it. I wouldn’t be happy until I had the tent up and was out of the rain. I sent a spell to make the temperature warmer, at least.

Kaye sat on her legs, making herself look taller but sinking deeper into the mud. Her normally wispy blonde hair sat limp over her face. She wasn’t too happy.

It looked like a recipe for poetry, but I was too tired to care. Fire-flicker, weeping sky, snoring Anoki… well, maybe not.

I wanted to set up the tent and sleep there. But I didn’t want to do it in the rain. I thought I might have to, but I got a better idea.

“Let’s go above the storm,” I said. “It’ll be clear skies there.”

“Good idea,” Kaye said. “I would never have thought of that.”

I hoped that the storm was low. I wasn’t sure how high we could go, considering  both the oxygen levels and our energy (or lack thereof). But we all went, even though we were buffeted constantly by the wind.

“Fly as fast as you can,” I yelled over the downpour, dripping madly. The rain felt like hail. Far below us, the fire went out.

I followed my own instructions as if they were the key to stopping the apocalypse. I was flying maybe eighty miles an hour, straight up. There was mist around, and my wings automatically blended with it. Before I knew it, I was in the cloud. It was wet, and freezing, and I wanted to get out of it as soon as possible. It took a while, even for me, but the sky was clear as glass above the clouds. I waited for Kaye, but she took a while. I went higher still, not knowing how much further I could go before I got short of breath. I rose for a long time before hearing this serene music played by an instrument I couldn’t quite recognize. Maybe several instruments.

I know this sounds corny now, but I was whisked into the music without knowing it. I danced as if I weren’t even in the air, as if the sky was as familiar to me as the ground always had been. There was a lot of magic here, but it wasn’t mine. And then – it was. The magic here was mine, all of a sudden, and it made me feel different; happier. A voice joined the music, and I knew the words. I caught myself singing it as well, the way you catch yourself singing the sour cream commercial jingle. Even when the other voice grew fainter, mine didn’t. I’d never realized I was that good at singing, simply because I’d never actually tried, since I usually considered it a frivolous talent I didn’t need. I wondered who the other voice was. I knew that I could stop singing anytime, but I didn’t want to. For that hour or so, I wasn’t the practical, down to earth (pardon the pun) Amanda, or a sweet healer, or a mysterious Star Anoki. For that hour, I was an Air Anoki. For that hour, I belonged.

I was thousands of feet in the air, singing a song I didn’t know I knew, feeling like I belonged there. I wasn’t short of breath. I must have been fifteen thousand feet in the air. And even such a simple reality check seemed sort of fictional, as if those rules applied only to other people.

There were no nagging doubts about the others. I knew they wouldn’t be here for a while. Kaye couldn’t fly quite as fast as I could, and I had left her miles behind. I still can’t quite see her as a Star Anoki. She seemed a lot more like an Air Anoki. I wasn’t even sure I was more Star than Earth. But I couldn’t see myself being limited to Earth magic. Ever. I needed to be able to fly, needed to be in the air. That was part of the Star magic. It was the only thing that worked for me, that clicked, other than my herbs and healing magic.

I wasn’t flying; I was suspended. I didn’t need to work at it. I was just there. I never got tired while flying. It was like… it was as if it were a magical exercise and I could do it so well that it didn’t wear me out, like walking was a physical exercise. For Kaye, Akana and Li, flying was physical. But not for me. And I was so good at magic in general that this seemed small in comparison to the other magic I was able to do. Yes, that made sense.

I realized that Li’s orange wings weren’t far below now, but she wasn’t coming any higher. She was shouting at me, so I flew down and met her. It didn’t take me too long, because she was about a mile below me. The air was so thin that I could see her and hear her.

“Why didn’t you just come up to meet me?” I asked.

“Uh,” Kaye said, joining her, “because we don’t want to suffocate?”

“You’ve tried?”

“Yes,” Kaye said. “Silly. Don’t you think we’d try if we didn’t know?”

“We’re above everything now,” Akana said, and it took me a while to realize she was talking about the storm.

“It seems so much prettier from above,” Li said. She still looked, literally, out of her element up here. And let’s just say sky blue was not her color, especially for an Oriental-bred Fire Anoki with dark hair and olive skin.

It was pretty. The clouds were so much fuller, it seemed, from up here. It was gray, but you could see it clearly because you didn’t have the raindrops in the way, hopping and bouncing off the ground like crickets.

Kaye didn’t know what I’d been doing, and neither did Li or Akana. I’d been too high, and too transparent. How did I know? Kaye’s expression. But I’d known what I’d been doing, and it had been real. Realer than most things I did. I mean, walking was real. I was on the ground. But stuff like knitting, or typing (we hacked into the fairies’ Internet, too)… that wasn’t quite as real to me, not quite as close to my nature. Getting dressed in the morning wasn’t as real, though that wasn’t to say I was going to forgo it.

“What are we going to do?” Akana asked, brushing hair out of her face. The wind was amazing up here. It was fast, and strong. Kaye was enjoying it thoroughly.

“Yeah,” Kaye said. “We can’t wander around forever.” Which, actually, was my entire plan so far, but I needed to come up with something, fast. Everyone was looking at me for directions.

“Aren’t you the leader of this little escapade?” I asked Kaye, stalling. “You decided to leave.”

“It’s your magic,” she pointed out. “You need to be leader.”

“You’re the oldest,” I said. I didn’t like the idea of being leader. Going solo on a quest? Sure. On a team or protecting others? Most of the time, sure. Leading? Ick.

“Does it matter?” Kaye said. “You’re a lot stronger than I am, physically and magically.”

“You’ve never had to be strong. I had to chase off invaders in the war. They found my house. I attacked them with Mom’s chef’s cleaver. But it got wedged in someone, so I had to use the bread knife.” For the record, I washed those knives multiple times very carefully.

Kaye stared at me for a little bit. “I flew away. But that’s kind of why you should do this.”

Okay, so my past has been a little odd, but it wasn’t that out-of-the-question. I mean, I had a reason. The tribes were warring constantly. And even a six-year-old kid, when backed into a corner by a bunch of killing “meanies,” as I later called them, will attack with a chef’s cleaver or, possibly, a bread knife if the cleaver gets stuck in someone’s skull. The person who’d come to take the dead bodies away found me in the living room, playing video games and looking much too innocent. I hadn’t really cared what had just happened after I got over being scared, but I was hoping I’d get candy for it.

“Which is the chef’s cleaver?” Kaye said, bringing me back to reality.

“That’s the big, heavy, square one with a hole in the top since it can’t be stored any other way than hung up.” I wasn’t the kind of kid who had trouble with kidnappers, or got beaten up, or got squashed trying to lift something too heavy.

“I vote for Amanda,” Akana said. “She did save me.”

“You’re a nine-year-old,” I said. “I couldn’t just leave you, and that wound might have bled you to death if I hadn’t healed you. Who would leave a person to die?” Other than the village “elders,” I thought, but kept it to myself. “Besides, you never get in trouble.”

“Cough,” Li said, and I realized what I’d just said. That was a rather counterproductive argument on my part. I wasn’t sure what I was doing, though Kaye seemed to, most of the time.

“I wouldn’t know what to do, anyway,” Kaye said.

“Do any of us?” Akana said. There went my excuse.

“All right,” I gave in. I was losing the argument. “But don’t expect brilliance.”

“What do we do now?” Kaye repeated. “We can’t stay here.”

“Right,” I muttered under my breath. I sure felt like I could stay here for a while. Louder, I said, “Well, I have a crazy idea. It’s dangerous, stupid, and will save a bunch of people from barbaric death.”

“Sounds like my kind of idea,” Li said.

“What is it?” Kaye asked, nearly concealing her disapproval at the thought of going through with an idea when even the conceiver thought it was stupid. “Will it stop the wars?”

“Yes,” I said. “Basically, we kill all the elders of the Zepha tribe and take it over. Us. And since we’re Kliid allies, the Kliid tribe won’t attack us like they do to the Zephans. And we won’t kill anyone but the dictator and his advisors. The villagers won’t attack us. We’ll set up a democracy like the Kliid have, minus the plotting leaders. With our power, that’ll be easy. I hope.”

“Bring the cleaver,” Kaye muttered.

Now it was my responsibility to keep everyone safe and happy. Great.

Safe, I could manage, but apart from Akana and the Zephan kids, I’d never taken care of anyone, and “happy” sounded foreign. I’d never had a little brother or sister; Kaye was the only living relative I knew of. I was generally a loner in school, and I never had very many friends, exactly, just a lot of people who depended on me to protect and heal them. The village depended on me. I’d protected village kids in wars several times, hiding them on roofs of buildings and shooting anyone who came near with my homemade bow. I figured out quickly that arrows were exceedingly hard to make, and if they didn’t corkscrew right, exceedingly ineffective. So I made them with Earth magic, finding that they became easy to mass produce, and my quiver was never really empty.

That reminded me: I had to get a better quiver. Mine was in pitiful shape and fell apart routinely, being made from three buckets, two of which had the bottoms hack-sawed off and were Super-Glued to the other buckets, making a tube-like canister that held the arrows just enough that I was able to pull them out without dislocating my shoulder.

I had power I didn’t want. Nevertheless, I had to take some of it. But that didn’t mean all.

“Kaye, I appoint you official mom.”

“What?”

“I can protect us, but while I’m fighting, you three have to stay safe, and you need a bodyguard with good magic to lead you while I’m not there, especially if you have to fight. Kaye is a Star Anoki too.”

“Do we have to do anything?” Li asked.

“If two ride on a horse, one must ride behind,” I quoted primly, though I wasn’t sure where the saying came from. “Let’s keep moving. I want to hit something.”

Posted in Star

Chapter Two–How I Get Free Stuff–Edit #3

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December 18th, 2010 Posted 9:20 pm

CHAPTER TWO—MAGICIAN GIRL

Eventually, I was able to find an inn that took us in. We had no money, but I think that the guy at the counter felt really guilty about letting two grimy, scarred-up, underfed travelers who happen to be female walk out the door with no amenities. Especially after my Damsel In Distress act.

After we got cleaned up and the guy I hit on found us some coats from the Lost and Found, I managed to get away from the creep, who was probably five years older than me and flirting without question anyway.

We ran out into the rain, stopping at a local restaurant.

“What village is this?” I asked a guy sitting at a table, an older one this time.

“Uh, the Kliid? Don’t you know what tribe you’re in?”

“Oh, we got lost in the woods for a few days,” I said airily, ignoring his expression. The Kliid? I thought hopelessly. But if they have an Air Anoki…

“Why don’t you let me buy you a meal? It’s ridiculous that nobody here has enough mercy to spend a couple bucks.”

I wasn’t about to turn down free food, because we hadn’t eaten for about ten hours and had been awake even longer, sacrificing food for safety, but I was wondering if he thought I didn’t know how to hunt with the bow I carried. Before I had to really start running, since people were after both Akana and me and we would have gotten double the attacks while hunting, I was eating at leisure.

The same person was able to give us directions to the Air Anoki’s house. Her name was Kaye, and from his description, she acted like an Air Anoki. So she was probably pretty strong.

By the time we left, it was 7:30 and the rain was letting up. We made our way to Kaye’s house, where we asked her to teach us some magic, and she said she’d meet us in the field by the school the next morning.

Ugh, I remember thinking. They have a school.

The Zephan school had nothing to teach me, seeing as there wasn’t another Earth Anoki there, yet I still had to go when I could have been doing something productive out on the battlefield.

But Kaye sounded promising.

I stayed with her, learning Air magic, for several months. Akana dropped out after she found that she couldn’t do Air magic at all, and went to a Light magic class. I healed a few sick people here and there to keep myself funded, and I did have to hunt since I had no desire to work in the military, for obvious reasons.

I was sitting in enemy territory. I was worried about being recognized, for obvious reasons, so I changed my hairstyle entirely and kept my wings folded most of the time. It seemed to work pretty well, especially since I rarely went on the Kliid side of the battlefield anyway when I fought, preferring to pick off the soldiers that had made it far into Zephan territory (and were the best). The Kliid village was very neat and clean compared to the Zepha tribe. It was… sweet-looking. Like New York City versus… some mythical clean place. I noticed that nobody was worried about attacks from the Zephans, which meant that  we were losing the war more hopelessly than I’d thought.

Kaye taught me some Water magic, too, which I picked up a little better than before. But my Earth magic kept intruding on the spells. Instead of just purifying water, I’d end up making a bronchitis potion with a simple spell. I was getting kind of irritated with this, since it was a pretty good confirmation that I could never do anything the normal way.

I learned that I could fly faster than anyone else, and did so whenever I wanted. I got faster and faster, going a million miles an hour and enjoying every minute of it. I didn’t do it too often, though, being more wrapped up in reading books from the library.

Akana liked her Light magic teacher. Moonray was about twenty-one years old and very pretty. Her appearances were like Akana’s, although much sweeter and much more naïve-looking. She always had that expression that makes you think she’d be inclined to eat vanilla cupcakes, but you know that would interfere with her diet. She was definitely Committed, but the Kliid didn’t enforce the spell. She looked really familiar, but I brushed that off; I saw tons of people every day and looks were bound to be repeated.

Akana started showing me some really crazy spells that Moonray had taught her. Impractical crazy. Like imitating the Northern Lights and creating harmless fireworks. Spells with no purpose. Borderline idiotic.

One day, Akana told me that she’d shown Moonray the spell she’d done on me in the forest, and Moonray said that Akana must have heard it somewhere and done it wrong, because she’d never heard of the spell and there’s a very similar one and Moonray knows everything.

Akana wanted to try the new version of the spell on me, and I let her. I told her I didn’t feel any different, and she looked kind of disappointed. I suggested that the effects might be postponed since she’d already done the spell on me, but then she looked alarmed at the thought of not knowing what the effect will be or when it would come. I told her to chill, because it’s a Light spell and the worst thing that could happen is sunburn. Which wasn’t true, but I think she bought it anyway.

Then, in the middle of the night, I woke up. I felt kind of odd. I was groggily half-awake and not really controlling myself consciously, not thinking about where I was going. I stepped out of my bed as if I were sleepwalking, though I knew that I was doing it.

Something prompted me out into the fields. I didn’t resist. I wasn’t tired now, but the most energetic being in the universe. I took off into the night, pouring on my magical speed. It felt so natural, blending with every tree, my bow safely in the tent, and I out in the night. Alone. Without any other Anoki, no fairies or dragons or humans or upset nine-year-old girls. I spun as I shot through the sky, shot through the clouds, rolled completely over. And kept going.

I knew that, from then on, walking would never feel the same, and neither would flying. I would never feel satisfied while walking. In the air, I would want to cut across the heavens like some super-aerodynamic comet or meteor or something. I didn’t want to go back to bed now. Maybe I never would.

I whizzed across the sky with no idea how much ground I was covering. I felt a major pang of magic, but not the dangerous, pyrotechnical Fire magic, or the cold twist of Storm magic. It was something not really warm, but incredibly comforting. I blended with the trees and the ground and the air and… and the sky…

The pang came again. It was dangerous, but not an adversary. This was good, because at that moment I was as helpless as a child about to get the Co… I mean a little girl’s ragdoll.

The only thing I could do was trust. So I did.

And as I trusted, everything faded but the sky.

I woke up still in the sky, my only proof that this whole thing hadn’t been a dream. I went home. I was energetic in that way where you want to rip off into the night in bare feet at mach speed, which you feel like you could do if other people weren’t around or if it were actually night. But with the wet, dewy grasses and the sky’s yellow tint, I knew dawn was leaking slowly above the horizon. Giving into temptation, I flew higher into the sky until the air warmed up with the sun’s presence, then dive-bombed the village. It didn’t totally satisfy me, but I got the feeling that nothing would now.

I sat around in a cozy armchair in my new apartment. After five minutes of trying to calm down, I felt like I was gonna barf. I called in sick and stayed home reading. I wasn’t able to concentrate on the story, because all I could think about was last night, feeling the amazing rush of adrenaline, shooting into the night sky, never stopping, never feeling tired. I loved it, and I wanted to do it again. Now I felt like a fish out of water on the ground. Almost literally.

I don’t know what kind of magic that was. It definitely wasn’t Air magic, and Earth seemed more fitting but not quite right, because I was too far in the air. It wasn’t Water magic, of course, and definitely not Fire. It wasn’t Time or Storm. It might have been Dream magic, but I’d felt too awake then. And since I could already do Air magic, which was one rare talent, I wasn’t likely to get another rare magic ability like Dream magic. This was different magic. And it felt… right. Almost too right. I don’t know how that works.

I couldn’t get to sleep that night. I rolled, tossed, turned, thrashed. You’d have thought I was having a seizure. It crossed my mind that I might get some sleep if I slept outside again, but I didn’t want to do it two days in a row and since I was sick (airsick, maybe?), I really shouldn’t be out running around.

I ended up without a minute of sleep. By the time I was ready to give in to the urge to fly away, the “youthful Dawn with fingertips rosy” or whatever was, like, smacking me in the face and blinding me when I tried to go outside. If you ask me, the reason Dawn’s fingertips are red is because while she was ditching her job, it got cold. Her frostbite, her problem.

As a night owl, it really felt strange to out that early. I felt like I should be milking goats, strangely enough.

Why didn’t I just heal myself if I was having problems? You ask. I wasn’t hurt. I’m a healer, not a psychiatrist. I knew one trick in acupressure that helps me fall asleep–rubbing the back of my neck above my hairline–but it wasn’t working tonight. Today. Whatever.

I was too exhausted to go anywhere, so I just called in sick again and stayed home. I claimed I had a cold, and nobody seemed to notice that I could have just healed myself. Except Akana.

“You don’t have a cold,” she said, pushing my door wide open and letting it shut hard behind her. “What’s up? Why are you home?”

“Just tired. I didn’t get any sleep last night.” It was the truth, but not all of it.

Akana didn’t look like she believed me, and she sent a few spells toward me as she left.

I stayed in my room again the next night as well, but forced myself to magic practice even with the minimal sleep I got. The Time magic teacher was busy with something else, so Kaye was teaching me more Water magic. Halfway through the lesson, Kaye noticed that a) I was falling asleep and b) I was doing the most advanced Water magic anyway. She pulled over a Fire Anoki called Li and asked her to try and teach me a Fire spell. I picked it up on the first try. Li taught me another, and I did that one with easily as well. Then she tried a really advanced spell, and I did that one too.

Kaye shut her gaping mouth and ended the lesson. Unaware of what I just did in my groggy state, I nodded lethargically and went home to go be comatose.

I only stayed in bed for five minutes that night. Then I declared surrender to the universe at large and went outside. With a running start, I beat my wings until I got into the air. It didn’t take much.

I had what I’d always wanted, and it confused me. How did I cope with nothing to strive for, nothing to really want? I realized I was bored.

But at least I was being bored at night. I like night.

My wings seemed more supportive. Flying wasn’t hard now. I was stretching the muscles that hadn’t been used for so long. I was missing the fight, feeling the need to defend the Zephans again. The pangs of magic came again, and I let them, not fighting the new… thing. There was no way to describe this, except that I loved it.

I was wondering whether the magic was with me or if it stayed right here all the time. Or maybe it was waiting. That sounded right. It crossed my mind that I was making up a story that I would believe, but the place seemed to agree with me. Yes, waiting… for who? What kind of person? Did I fit or something, since I’d found it?

Yes.

That one word.

I felt amazing the next morning. I was back to my, well, not exactly bouncy, but at least not lethargic, self. I felt like I’d had fourteen hours’ sleep. Kaye had set me up with Fire and Time teachers (she couldn’t come because she had a dentist appointment), and I entertained their requests and copied their spells, giving them only half my attention. I was thinking about the Zephans and about last night.

I’d always thought that magic in general was a force that had a mind of its own. I’d always known that it had motives for doing stuff—it wasn’t like a person or an animal, just a force with sort of an instinct and kind of… raw emotions. I knew I would be going back again tonight. This magic was mine.

Akana looked surprised when she saw me again, out by a hot dog stand.

“What?” I asked.

“Have you looked in a mirror recently?”

I thought. “Not really.”

“Well, you should.”

I thought Akana was making fun of my unbrushed hair, but when I looked in the mirror, I saw what she was talking about.

My wings were a misty green, like my ring, with dark blue flecks around the edges. I realized that my clothes didn’t go with them at all anymore and went out to buy new ones. I found some turquoise shirts and blue jeans that worked, and I went home to put them on.

I ran into Kaye, who gave me a questioning look and then walked a little faster. I went home and changed.

Akana was waiting at my house. She said she liked the new clothes, and gave me an update on her classes: She could do Light magic, some of the simplest Earth spells, some simple Fire magic, and a good deal of Water magic. She couldn’t do anything outside the natural elements except for the Light magic. And she couldn’t do Air magic at all, something that I was still puzzled over. She could fly, but didn’t have Air talent. Maybe other Anoki can fly without it, I thought. I asked Li over to have Akana do her spell.

Akana did the newer version of the spell first. Li tried to fly, but it didn’t work.  I asked Akana to try the spell she’d used in the forest. She did so halfheartedly, but Li was airborne before long.

“It’s not the same spell,” I said. “It’s a flying spell.”

Akana was happily surprised. She’d discovered her own spell, which was extremely rare. I don’t think she realized the full extent of its power, though; she could make anyone fly. Including our enemies. I made both of them agree not to tell anyone about the spell before I left.

I decided to replace my finished book at the library. I ran into Kaye, who was sitting in the nonfiction section, surrounded by open encyclopedias.

“What are you looking up?” I asked.

“You.”

I frowned. “I wouldn’t be in an encyclopedia. I didn’t do anything spectacular in the past or anything.” Nothing I was going to let her know, at any rate.

“No,” Kaye said. “You’re still doing it.”

“What?” I asked innocently. “Beating the record for Most Tacos Eaten in a Week?”

“I didn’t think you knew. Some Anoki have blends of magic talent, but all of them have one thing that they’re the best at, and everything else is kind of minor. But you–you’re good at everything. And, um… the other Anoki don’t change appearance. I mean, your wings are bigger and a different color. And it looks like you sandblasted them with glitter when you do magic. Frankly, that’s just weird.

“So now,” Kaye said, “I’m trying to figure out who you are. You might be just an Earth Anoki, but I really don’t think so, not after what I’ve seen.”

I’d known Kaye for months now, months of magic lessons. I knew what magic she could do, of course, and that her favorite color was blue and she liked to read romance novels, especially Jane Austen ones. And more importantly, I knew that she was trustworthy, if a little naïve. Sure, I thought. Why not. And I explained a few minor things—no Zephan stuff, of course, because trustworthiness didn’t affect the fact that she was Kliid.

Kaye looked sort of like a deer in the headlights. I wondered if I had been right to mention anything, or if my reluctant side should have won out.

“That’ll help,” she said, and I left, wondering why the heck I’d just done that.

I returned to the library later, realizing that I had yet to find another book. On a whim, I went back to the encyclopedias to see if Kaye was still there. Her page was still open, and she’d left a bookmark, but Kaye had gone home. I saw one word and something made me check out the book I’d selected and run for my life.

I went home and tried to read. I could only think of the one word I’d seen, though I had forgotten what word it was. I both wanted to go back and read more of the encyclopedia and to stay home, huddle up, and forget I had even walked into that area of the library. I decided to go visit Kaye, which was kind of a compromise with myself.

I was hesitant to visit Kaye, almost as much as I would be to go back to the library. But curiosity won out, and I went ahead and dropped by to ask her what she’d found.

Apprehensively, Kaye said, “I don’t want to disappoint you with your result unless I’m sure that my theory is true. I want you to take several different types of magic lessons tomorrow. If you can do them, I’ll tell you.”

Typical. Why can’t anyone give me this stuff straight?

The next day, I came down from the sky and read my book for a while. Kaye’s teachers hadn’t come to the practice grounds yet. I finished a couple chapters of the novel, which wasn’t very well written and which I got easily bored with, and went out again to check if anyone was there. The place was bare, but that was to be expected at 4:30 in the morning. So I flew up again, trying to see how high I could go. I bolted much farther past where I had slept and up into ten thousand feet. The air was thinner, but I didn’t mind and I didn’t have breathing problems. It was a little easier to fly in, even. I went faster.

The village looked tiny from this height. I wondered what it would be like to sleep here. I dove straight down, and gave my wings a huge beat. I was blind and watery-eyed from wind, but I was flying and I didn’t care. All of a sudden, I was in the village, braking fast, wings catching me like a parachute. Several weirded out faces watched as I almost bent double upon attempting to stand and, gasp, walk. I realized that the first teacher was just arriving. I hurried to the grounds and tried to smooth down my super-windblown hair.

The first teacher was one who had mastered the four natural elements. I was to learn the most complicated spell for each. I did every one of them the first time, except the Fire spell, which I had to do twice. I felt like I should have been happy, but I was just irritated, like, How dare my magic master everything for me? The challenge was gone.

The next teacher was a Dream Anoki. I did every spell that she showed me. I could put her to sleep, wake her up, make her hallucinate, and read her mind. I wondered how I could do all that to her but couldn’t cure my own insomnia last week.

The Time teacher was easy. I even sent her off looking ten years younger.

I did all the Storm magic. I could create hurricanes, tornadoes, thunderstorms, lightning storms, winds, and probably a bunch more. But the teacher gave up trying to find something I couldn’t do as well. I considered helping her appearance as well to make up for it, but decided against it.

The Darkness spells were saved for last. I had major trouble with these. I had to do the simplest ones three to four times to get them right, and the strongest one took me ten times to finish. It was still half the time of the more advanced students, but doing the Darkness spells made me not only uncomfortable like anyone else who could do Light magic, but also kind of queasy. I didn’t like this much, and I was glad when the lesson ended. Kaye, who was sitting around watching all this, shook her head in the dust that my last spell had created.

“I advise,” she said, “that we go somewhere less public before I tell you more.”

“I think so too,” I said.

Half an hour later, I was bewildered, shocked, weirded out, annoyed, and inanely happy.

“You are a Star Anoki. You have the rarest talent known to any of us, sometimes even known only in myth. You can do all the kinds of magic, except a weakness in Darkness magic. But I expected that.” Kaye gathered the notes she’d taken. “The only other small weakness is in Fire magic. But then, that kid trying to roast marshmallows might have been a small distraction.”

“There was a kid trying to roast marshmallows?”

Kaye sighed. “The point is that you’re not really an Earth Anoki. You’re a Star Anoki whose strongest power is in Earth magic. I think your wings changed color that night you went out and claimed the magic as yours. Or it claimed you. Magic works that way. I’ve never been able to explain it. It’s just, Amanda…”

I gave Kaye a “go on” look.

“…that Star magic tends to take over anyone who accepts it and can’t handle it. I don’t know. I think you’re good enough to handle it. Star magic is usually pretty good at Darkness magic, but I could see your reluctance to do it. And you controlled yourself enough to not do it except to get on with the test. You didn’t want to. It had nothing to do with your inability. But there’s one thing that confuses me.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“I’m one too.”

“I thought,” I huffed as I tried to keep up with Kaye, “that you couldn’t do Time or Dream magic. You told me once.”

“I can do any element!” Kaye hissed. “I just keep it secret. I’ll explain why later.”

We were shopping for magic stuff, hurrying from stall to stall and browsing the stuff that was being sold on the street. I was looking for a decent cloak when Kaye popped her head around the corner and dragged me over.

“Wands,” she said. I was puzzled.

“But we’re Anoki. Why would we need wands?”

“Because we’ll be doing a lot of traveling, and if we’re seen, then all we have to do is shove our wings under a jacket and wave the wand around, and people will think we’re human wielders. Besides, they sometimes help amplify a spell, especially healing spells. The wood just seems to make Earth magic a lot more effective.” She leaned over and whispered, “And they look totally awesome!”

“Can’t argue with that,” I said. I bought one for myself, but Kaye skipped it after all that. I went back and picked up the thick green cloak I’d been eyeing. I might not be an Earth Anoki, but I was still an Amanda.

I was wondering what Kaye thought she was doing. I mean, pulling me to the shops to get all this stuff. Was she planning something? The fact that I didn’t know Kaye as well as I thought I did screamed “YES” even louder.

I bought a backpack that held much more than it implied from the outside. Useful. We stocked up on seeds and lots and lots of candy and other junk food. Most of it was Kaye’s idea. She bought a huge tent that she stuck in the backpack and said that we’d be gone a while, so we might as well make it comfortable. We bought tons of blankets, a teensy heater (which could be powered with Storm magic or batteries) and other stuff that somehow all fit in the pack without being heavy.

We went Kaye’s house. As she packed, she questioned my past, and I relinquished it to the first non-Zephan—only because we were leaving. Then it was my turn to ask the questions.

“Why did you hide your talent from the rest of the village?” This was spoken in a tone more curious than accusatory. Really, I didn’t care about the Kliid’s problems, so  if Kaye wanted to be secretive, I’d tell her to go for it.

Kaye was silent for a minute. Then she said, “The village elders have been planning another attack in the war with the Zepha tribe for almost a year. And if they realize that they have a Star Anoki, they will attack as soon as possible because that Anoki will win the war for them. I mean, Star Anoki can fly, and Darkness cloaks make it incredibly easy to spy. Flying makes stealing plans and stuff easier–a lot easier. And of course, the ability to do any kind of magic allows certain advantages. Plus, if they had a Star Anoki, they’d have a healer as well. The Zepha tribe’s healer disappeared a few months ago.” Kaye shot a pointed glance at me.

“Elder Fienne was watching at the edge of the training grounds while you were taking your test, and you can bet your life that she saw that you could do every single kind of magic. Now she knows that she has a Star Anoki and that it’s a sure shot that the Zepha tribe doesn’t. They searched your apartment last night. I heard there was a whole crowd of them snooping around.”

I frowned and said, “Wouldn’t it benefit the Zephans to merge with the Kliid and end the war anyway? This whole thing is kind of counterproductive. The Kliid have a more stable government and everything.”

“There’s no good outcome if they kill everyone there,” Kaye said, upset. “The people in the war get killed too. My mother was an amazing healer, and my father was a talented Storm Anoki. Both were killed in the war with the Zephans.” She described that part of war in detail, in a leaden voice, as if she were talking about a prophecy of ill to come. Maybe it was.

“Weird,” I said. “My parents were killed in the same war. But they were traitors to the Zepha tribe. I used to be angry about it, but now…”

“Maybe I knew them. What were their names?”

“Alicia Errea was my mother’s maiden name…”

“…and Jared Unger was your father… right?”

I frowned. “Yeah. How’d you know?”

“Because they’re my parents.” Kaye looked adamant in her conclusion.

I stared. I frowned. “But you’re older than me.”

Kaye shrugged. “So? Our parents weren’t traitors to the Zepha tribe; they were spies for the Kliid tribe that came back with secrets about the Zephans. They weren’t traitors, not really. They were on a secret mission to get inside information about the Zephans. They pretended to be traitors while they were in the Zepha area, and tried to look like they were here to stay. They set up a house and fed the war leaders chicken feed–that’s useless information that made them look good–and ended up with a second daughter. When they had to escape with the secrets, they got out in the nick of time and had to leave you here. I guess you saw Mom doing Earth magic a lot while she was there and picked it up yourself.” I noticed the words she hadn’t said: At least, this is what I’m hoping.

“She taught me,” I said. “She tried to teach me a lot of kinds of magic, but back then, Earth was the one that stuck. That was the only one I was able to do then, and that was all the school trained me in, even though I later gained the ability to do Light and Water magic when my friends taught me. I can remember my mother doing every kind of magic except Darkness. She told me that she could, but said that she didn’t want to. I never did see her do it. From the time she disappeared, I decided that I didn’t want to do that kind of magic either.”

“She was a Star Anoki too? Maybe magical talent is hereditary.”

“It’s a mystery. But it deserves to be our mystery. It’s nobody else’s business. And we need to leave before the elders discover us further. If they so much as see either of us again, it’ll be easier for them to track us down. Unfortunately, anyone in the village who can fly will be the ones tracking us.”

“Then we need to bring Akana too,” Kaye said. “Nobody else in the village can fly.”

“Wait,” I said. “Li.”

“Oh, yeah,” Kaye said, sighing. “I really don’t want to take another person along with us, but we can’t afford to let anyone who can fly stay in the village.” Kaye finished packing up. “I’ll get Li. You find Akana. She’ll believe you better than she’ll believe me. We need to get out of here. Make sure you’re not seen.” She examined me critically. “Bring your old green clothes too. You stick out like an sparkly green thumb.”

I left to find Akana. Kaye disappeared down an alley. One of the elders almost spotted me, but I darted behind a building. Kaye was right; my turquoise clothes would blend better with the sky than the trees.

Wait a sec.

I slipped into the forest and shot up far enough that nobody could see me. Nobody who could fly was looking for me, so I figured I was pretty safe up here. I got lucky; Akana was in the sky too, riding currents and flying around in circles.

“Akana,” I said. She jumped in midair (it’s possible), then realized it was me and flew over.

“Yeah?”

“We’re running away for the second time before the elders can use us in the war. I’m a Star Anoki and they’re going to use Kaye and me to attack the Zepha tribe, so we’re getting our butts out of here before they can attack.” My explanation was admittedly shorter than Kaye’s.

“Sounds good,” Akana said. “Why do you need me?”

“Because they’ll use you to track us. Kaye’s bringing Li. Kaye and I figured out we’re sisters, by the way.”

“Really?”Akana asked. “She doesn’t look anything like you. Oh well. Let’s get going.”

She was right. Kaye looked more like Akana than she did me. “Your parents didn’t die in a war, did they?”

“No,” Akana said. “Why?”

“Never mind. Let’s get going.” Akana only kept a backpack anyway, and she conveniently had it with her. Minus Kaye’s contagious wordiness, we were out of the sky and out of the village in no time flat. But Kaye and Li weren’t.

“What do you say we go back and get them?” Akana asked. “I say if we don’t, then they’re never going to show up.”

I was about to agree when Kaye and Li crashed through the trees above us. “Li was spotted!” Kaye said.

“Somehow I’m not surprised,” I said, eyeing Li’s orange countenance. As quickly as possible, I dropped back into the village and got her normal, non-fiery clothes in dark green and sky blue, to blend in. I fireproofed them and Li put them on, but her wings still blazed bright red. She looked sort of like a trigger-happy Christmas ornament.

“If we fly high enough, none of us will be seen. Including Li’s pyrotechnic persona,” I said.

“Oooh… I hate alliteration!” Kaye giggled. “It reminds me of the guy on the candy show!”

All of us started giggling. Sure, the fairies tapped into the humans’ satellite TV signals, but we tapped into the fairies’. All the Anoki were obsessed with TV, especially since humans apparently like to do really, really stupid stuff and record it on camera.

When the giggling subsided, we had could only hope that we hadn’t been heard. I glanced from Li’s bright orange wings to Akana’s vibrant yellow to my own. There was no way any of us would blend with the forest.

As soon as I thought this, my wings turned the very same green as the forest around us. With my green clothes and auburn hair, I blended pretty well. I got some strange looks, but everyone was pretty much expecting stuff like that from me by  now. Kaye saw me and tried the same thing, but it didn’t work for her. I wondered why. Maybe she was just weaker at Star magic than I was, for some reason. I found this really weird—for some reason, I’d expected her to be a ton better at any magic than I was.

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