My Exploding Cat

Just stories and drawings really, no actual fissile felines.

The Scrap Box: Unfinished Starts

These are bits and pieces of unfinished novels: never promising enough to post on the Books page, but that were started anyway to test the waters. There are plenty of these. Some are just ideas that have elaborated into pieces of plot. It’s made me better at beginnings.

Please, no stealing. Just like the rest of my work, this is… well, my work. I may end up using it. Phoenix started out as one of these. If you get ideas from these, make sure they’re very different from what you see here, and not just superficially.


She was just looking for something to eat.

There were trash cans sitting around everywhere, but they reeked. She wasn’t interested in them. Nothing that came from them tasted good, and often made her sick. It was a last resort. Only when she was starving, and maybe not even then. It might kill her.

She could steal something, but then she was usually kicked. There also wasn’t a lot of opportunity at the moment.

She could try and hunt, but she wasn’t very strong right now and she’d twisted her ankle earlier, while running away from something.

The skinny, shaggy, lampblack-black dog kept to the side of the street, in the shadows. It was well after sunset. There weren’t very many people out here right now.

The dog thought. It was not likely to get food that night, but it was also not likely to be attacked if it curled up in the shadows on the side of the road. Nothing else to do, really.


She woke up just inside the door of a house. There were no humans to be seen. An opportunity for theft.

Fruit on the table. Not her favorite.

Glass of clean water. Maybe later.

Something smelled good, but it wasn’t here on the counter. It was coming from a plate on the floor. It was being handed to her.

Somebody was caring for her.

“Take it,” said a voice. The dog noticed a human and ran for the door. The human picked up the plate and chased her. As the dog scratched at the door, the human—a female, the dog noticed– set the plate on the floor again. She didn’t look angry.

The dog didn’t have to be told again. The unidentified meat was gone in seconds.

“You can sleep here,” said the woman.

The dog continued to scratch at her door, trying to nose her way out. The woman opened it.


Later that day, the dog returned, carrying a pale blue cotton dress.


At noon, even later, the same dress was being worn by a small girl. The dog had disappeared.



“Who are you?”

Rhode noticed the woman who had taken her in. She had that same mousy brown hair, that stance that made her look even taller than she actually was—and that was a feat.

“My name is Tenleta. What’s yours? And why are you here?”

“My name is Rhode,” the girl said. Her voice sounded raspy, as if she didn’t use it a lot. “You took me in.”

“I took in a black dog. Not a girl. Have some water.”

Rhode didn’t speak again until the glass was drained. Her voice improved slightly. “Do you see a black dog around here?”

“Not any more.”

“Well, you’re not taking care of the dog, and you’re taking care of me instead,” Rhode said.

“A girl needs much more care than a dog,” Tenleta said.

“Dogs can’t sew,” said Rhode.

Tenleta noticed that Rhode was wearing a blue dress that, despite Rhode’s stick-thin frame (one quality she did share with the dog who had been here earlier), made the girl look almost cute. Maybe she was a beggar. Or something else.

“Well, go ahead and stay for today,” Tenleta said. “I have something that needs a repair, anyway. You can earn some food with that, I think. I’m not rich.”

Tenleta was surprised. The curtains were suddenly neatly hemmed and stitched in with ribbon. Rhode took up one of Tenleta’s dresses an inch and left it so that her stitches could be clipped and let down again when it needed to be longer. Rhode worked Tenleta’s sewing machine all day, and Tenleta had to wonder where Rhode had learned this. It didn’t seem like something a beggar or a buy-me girl would learn. Well, maybe the buy-me girl would, but not this well.

“How old are you, Rhode?” Tenleta asked, tossing some peanuts into the stir-fry.

“Don’t know,” Rhode said, over the sound of the machine tapping out stitches and Tenleta’s cooking sizzling.

“You look ten.”

“Ten what?”


Rhode considered this. “I don’t know what ten years looks like.”

“Looks like you. Ten years old.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means it’s been ten years since you were born,” Tenleta said.

“Why is that useful?” Rhode asked.

This is a strange kid, Tenleta thought. “Just because. Usually age matters to kids.”

“How do you know I’m a kid?” Rhode asked.

“Because you’re human and you’re not an adult,” Tenleta said.

Tenleta heard something that sounded like Rhode muttering, “Right now…”

It was a little weird, though. The dog disappearing and Rhode appearing. Had she seen Rhode before? Tenleta didn’t think so. She’d seen the dog plenty of times, though.

[A more recent start. It predates the Sages plotline.]

When I touch a computer, it comes alive.

I felt the silent, vibrating hum of my ever-so-slightly-warm laptop under my fingertips. So sweet. It was purring, like a cat. I wasn’t really stressing it—just the one tab open in Firefox, flicking through web comics, and iTunes softly playing music. Nothing special. The computer was happy, though. It was clean. I’d used cleaning putty on the keyboard, scrubbed the dirt off its cover, and dusted the screen. It was expressing its gratitude now.

[I was just wondering what Key’s kids would be like, or what Key would be like as a kid. Named this girl Alexis. Still thinking about an alternate name for Key.]

“The English language, with its gamut of words like an array of jewel-bright fabrics, each with its own feel, grain and texture, can become unsatisfactory in its descriptions at the least convenient times. The perfect word eludes me.”


Definitely her. Alice had been tracking… her. This was another work of… hers.


Truth be told, Alice was afraid of her. A writer on the loose was a dangerous thing. So many things, so much damage could be done through words. Alice liked to stay undercover.


She was taunting Alice now. The flowery language was not a first choice of… hers. Not usually. But… she had a capacity to be eloquent, even poetic, even if she overdid it a little. Still. It was a good description, or so said other writers. Alice had wanted to hiss at them. She’s evil! How can you say one word in approval of her?

[Occasionally I come up with that sort of quote; you can’t have a good vocabulary and not come up with stuff like that. Like I said, it’s flowery, but still.]

The wood nymph’s blank face sparked in recognition. “You’re a Kindred! Why can’t I feel you?”

There are ways of masking a presence.

“But… aren’t there…”

More? No. I’m alone. The dragon straightened out his wings. Why didn’t you come here first?


Oh, come on, we both know you can talk normally.

            I was preoccupied, Alena said, shivering as the unpreferred method of communication, along with the dragon’s unfamiliar presence, a lit and power-holding mind, both washed over her at once.


            My family thinks you’re with Them! They still have a grudge against the fire creatures.

            The fire creatures didn’t take your great-aunt, and they didn’t set fire to your tree afterward, either.

            I know that!

            It’s the truth.

            I know! But it’s not about what’s true here. It’s about what my family is too stupid to trust. Secretly, Alena couldn’t exactly blame her family for not buying into the dragons’ story. They hadn’t exactly given a lot of proof, and Alena’s own word did nothing but convince her family that the dragons had managed to get into her mind and seize control of it. Besides, the fire imps had been playing pranks on the dryads for centuries, which annoyed everyone but the imps. Alena’s family was convinced that they’d simply gone a step further.

The dryad wound an oiled vinelike rope—taken from a weeping willow—around the tree branch on which she was perched. Taking the end, the only unoiled part, and winding it around her wrists, she jumped neatly into the twenty-foot expanse of air between herself and the ground. The oiled rope slipped around the branch, braking the speed of the freefall just long enough that Alena had time to orientate herself for a landing.

The dragon, however, was unfazed. You have wings.

“Well spotted,” Alena said sarcastically, catching the rope as it reached its end and dropped.

Is it true?

            What? Alena asked calmly, winding the rope into a tight coil and clipping it back onto her belt. She knew exactly what, and wasn’t going to make it any easier for him to ask the question.

It is true.

            Alena gave in. Her patience was ebbing. Yes, a human has found my tree. My tree, not my family’s. She said to herself that she was going to make it her dreaming tree.

            What does that mean?

            I have no idea, but she seemed to know. She’s been in this forest before. If ever a human had an allegiance…

            You can’t mean that you’re taking her in!

            I am. This place is dangerous, and she lives here. In the area.

            Can’t you drive her away, if you fear for her safety?

            The wood nymph gave the dragon a piercing stare. No. She belongs here.

            She no more belongs here than a Cyclops!

            Tell that to the beast in the hill. It’s dangerous, and she needs to be here. You know exactly the feeling. Alena kept her serenity. Unlike the dragon, she felt no need to panic.

            Not for a human! They have nothing to do with the elements!

            I can’t even be sure that she is a human.

            The dragon’s scales prickled. What is she is a shapeshifter, and will turn against you? What if she was the one who took your great-aunt?

            She is about as likely to be the one who did that as you are. If she has been here all this time, why have I never seen her before, yet am seeing her nearly every day now?

            Everyone else in this forest has an airtight alibi.

            Not so airtight, Alena shot back. I don’t trust the pixies. A few of the bands around here are just plain malicious.

            Believe what you will, Etrane said, and took off. Alena watched in resignation as a gold dragon, the size of a horse, skimmed the trees’ top branches and was out of sight.


Kindred: A mythical creature which has left its element because of an alliance with a different element before the first is “set.” Any other creature of the allied element can notice the creature’s presence and communicate telepathically, sometimes over long distances if conditions are right.

[Not sure where this came from. It’s pretty dorky.]

I dreamed about this once. It was so sudden. One moment, I was standing in a room on the second floor, the next, I was yanking open a window and jumping straight out. I didn’t die. I just fell, but I didn’t fall straight. I glided, moving at an angle instead of a simple drop. Then the angle turned, and I looked at the sky, and I was moving up…

“Aly!” Netta shrieked. “Run!”

But Alyssa wasn’t about to run. She was about to fly. Netta didn’t know this.

“No, Netta! Come over here!” Alyssa had already yanked open the window.

“Come on! There’s a fire escape! Are you nuts—the window?” Netta was in a panic. Alyssa ran over to her, dragged her to the window, and shrugged off her windbreaker.

“It’s déjà vu! I know what’s going to happen now!” Alyssa was sure of it.

“Yeah—we’re going to die!”

This was silenced when Alyssa managed to tug her Florida T-shirt off as well, revealing her giant but neatly folded blue wings. Alyssa climbed out the window and tried hard to hover.

“Netta—you have to jump!” she shouted, trying to hold out her arms to catch her friend.

“This is crazy!” Netta screamed, but she was already climbing out the window.

The door busted open, and two people—a male and a female—came straight out. In their hands were not guns, but wands.

“Obliterate!” Alyssa shouted over the wind and the beating of her own wings, pointing her finger past Netta. The giant mirror behind the two shattered and rained fragments of glass on the intruders—meanwhile, Netta clambered out the window, bumping her head but managing to get outside anyway. Alyssa grabbed her around the waist and glided to the ground.

“Come on,” Alyssa said with a wild look in her eyes, contrasting her ragged breath and sagging wings. She looked full of adrenaline—ready to run, which was better than how Netta was feeling: sick to her stomach.

“Can’t we”—Netta was cut off by the sounds from the second floor: tinkling of glass.

“That’s only going to hold them off for a few seconds. If we’re lucky, they dropped their wands, which means they can’t cast spells as far, but it doesn’t mean they can’t do magic at all. Those are Anoki!”

“What are”—Netta stopped. She knew she wasn’t going to be able to get a full sentence out for a while, so she just started running after Alyssa, who had already secured her slippers and run off into the night.

It has to be in the middle of a sleepover, Netta thought. Magical wizard Anoki burglars. Whatever those are.

It was a good thing that the other girls, the other party guests, had left to buy Mountain Dew and cookies. Netta, foolish Netta, had stayed behind to keep Alyssa company, even though Alyssa had told her she should go with the rest of the girls.

Maybe it was a prank, Netta thought. Maybe Alyssa knew I’d stay behind, and she organized this. Maybe the other guests did. But… she has wings, and they work, and she shattered the mirror… That was real.

Whether it was real or not, though, Alyssa was nearly out of sight. Netta tried to keep up.

“Aly…!” she called.

Alyssa stopped, and flew back to Netta, picking her up again and trying hard to fly as fast as she could while staying low. Occasionally Netta’s feet skimmed the grass. Her purple socks looked much too cheery for the situation at hand.

“Sorry,” Alyssa breathed. “I forget sometimes…”

“…that you’re the fastest runner in the school?”

“Yeah,” she said. “But it was interesting, being at that school…”

“Interesting?” Netta said. “You can’t be thinking about school now!”

“Human school. A completely different culture.”

“I’m just going to stop listening to this,” Netta said.

Alyssa’s wings, though weary-looking, beat on.

“Where are we going?” Netta asked.

“Far away,” Alyssa said. “A place that will take those people some time to reach.”

“What about your parents?”

Here Alyssa started to laugh. “My parents! My parents are sitting at home in a village somewhere in the middle of a forest. I’m sixteen, so they don’t give a rip what I do. Those two humans who lived in the house with me, the ones I dragged along to parent-teacher conferences… they’re off in the Bahamas. I secured them tickets. They’re safe. That’s what happens when you help me. I don’t forget.”

Netta hadn’t exactly helped Alyssa by staying behind—actually, she’d probably been quite a hindrance, especially since Alyssa could likely be riding easy air currents, thousands of feet in the air, but she was fifteen feet off the ground, carrying a fifteen-year-old African-American girl with curly black hair and no special powers. It seemed like a poor deal for both of them. Netta could be out buying Mountain Dew. Instead, it seemed almost like she was being introduced to magic and fairy people.

On top of it all, rain began to drip from the sky. What fun.

And yet… Netta thought, this is amazing. Nobody who went shopping got to see an amazing getaway by a fairy. Or… whatever Alyssa is. And they don’t even know that their classmate has wings!

But Netta still felt guilty about staying, holding Alyssa back. Alyssa’s life could be in danger! Both of their lives could be. It felt like something was digging into her side.

“You had no way of knowing,” Alyssa said. “Quit beating yourself up.”

“How did you know…?”

“You’re muttering to yourself.” Alyssa’s blue eyes stared down at her through wet strands of dark blonde hair.

The only thought that was going through Alyssa’s mind after this was: I wish I’d tied my hair back. I need to cut it soon… it’s only going to be in the way…

Neither of them spoke for a long time. Alyssa flew through the rain with surprising endurance, though it was clear she was fighting the wind hard.

“I can’t go on,” she finally gasped, and landed.

Netta laughed, without humor. “Amazing how a life-threatening situation can spring you into action.”

Life threatening, Alyssa thought. She got the measure of the situation fast. But she has no information!

“Yeah,” Alyssa muttered. She flopped down on the muddy ground, her T-shirt and windbreaker dropping onto the dirt with her.

Alyssa sat up, realizing just how cold she was. “Netta, can you get some wood off the ground? It doesn’t matter if it’s dry or not. I’d do it myself, but I’m too tired to move.”

Assuming that Alyssa needed the wood for some kind of spell and grateful for a chance to help, Netta asked, “What kind?” She wasn’t sure if Alyssa needed something specific, like cherry wood.

“The wooden kind! Just make sure it’s dead. Fresh wood won’t work.”

Netta searched around and started picking up sticks. The storm had already blown some leaves and sticks off the trees, so she made sure that none of the sticks were green inside. When she had a good armful of sticks, she returned.

“Good,” Alyssa said. Netta dumped them on the ground. “Stand back,” Alyssa warned, and she pointed her finger at the pile.

“Amplizephyr,” Alyssa said, and the wind grew so strong—but only where Alyssa pointed—that it whipped the raindrops away and completely dried the wood.

Alyssa rummaged in the pockets of her windbreaker. She produced a small ball of twine, a Swiss Army knife, a wooden wand, and a really, really ugly four-inch-high stone statue of a rooster.

So that’s what was digging into my side, Netta realized. It wasn’t my guilt. Somehow, this made her feel a lot better.

Meanwhile, Alyssa was messing around with the wand, cursing.

“I’m no good at Fire magic,” she explained. “That’s why I need the wand.”

“But you don’t need it to do… what you just did.”

“I’m good with Air magic. I don’t rely on a wand for everything like humans do, but I need it for a few things, especially the spells I’m not good at. Wands amplify any spell.”

Eventually, Alyssa got a fire started. “It’s not smoking too badly,” she said. “In this rain, it shouldn’t be too conspicuous.”

“I thought you were going to do something really impressive,” Netta said. “Like make the sticks weave together into a hut for shelter.”

“Way too obvious. Anyway, we’re in human territory. If non-magical people found out that magic was real, there would be a serious war between magical and non-magical people, and too many people would die. Add in the parallel dimensions and the diverse technology, and you have a recipe for apocalypse.”

Netta wasn’t exactly sure about that last part, but she thought she knew what Alyssa meant.

Alyssa sighed. “Do you believe me?”

“Believe you?” Netta asked, confused. If Alyssa was asking what Netta thought she was asking, then it her comment had been the most ridiculous thing that had happened all night.

“All… this.”

“It’s right in front of me!” Netta protested, feeling like this insulted her intelligence a little, even though some part of her mind was still protesting.

“Well, you deserve an explanation. I shouldn’t have dragged everyone to my house.”

“What?” Netta asked. “You mean you knew those people would come?”

“Sort of,” Alyssa admitted. “I knew they were after me. Or, more specifically, after this.” She held up the statue of the ugly rooster that she’d taken out of her pocket.

“Why didn’t you give it to them?” Netta said, looking at it.

“They want it because it has magical properties.”

“So… an explanation?” Netta asked hopefully.

“An explanation,” Alyssa agreed. “First off, those people—and I—are Anoki,” she said.

“Is that a club?” Netta asked.

“No. It’s a species.”

“So…” Netta said slowly, “…you really aren’t human?” She was still trying to register this.

“No. Did, like, the wings tip you off?”

“But wouldn’t that make you a fairy?”

“No,” Alyssa said. “Being eight inches high and trigger happy and having a major addiction to the color yellow would make me a fairy. Having wings and magic doesn’t. There are plenty of species with wings and magic that aren’t fairies. Pixies, for example.”

“So, Anoki…”Netta said, trying to get back on track. “They’re people with wings and magic?”

“Basically,” Alyssa said. “It gets a little more complicated. The magic is separated into elements, but there are ten elements—not four. These are the Anoki elements: Water, Earth, Fire, Air, Light, Darkness, Time, Storm, Dreams, and…” Alyssa mumbled the last word, not making eye contact.


“And Star,” Alyssa said, blushing. “But we’ve only just discovered that Star magic was real, because it’s so rare.”

“And these people who broke into your house?”

“Are Anoki. I don’t know their element, but they want that ugly rooster like nothing else.”

“What’s your element?” Netta asked.

“Air,” said Alyssa, and her chin lifted a little, proudly. “The only element with flight powers, apart from the Star Anoki, who can do… well, everything. Those people weren’t Air Anoki, so their wings can fly about as well as a dodo bird’s.”

“So they can’t come up a tree if we decide to hide in one.”

“Well, if they’re Earth Anoki—or at least one of them is—then they can ask the tree to lift them up here. Earth Anoki can talk to plants.”

Netta felt a little relieved at this. She was terrified of heights.

“That still doesn’t explain why they want the ugly chicken, magical properties or not.”

“Anoki politics are weird,” Alyssa sighed. “Anoki can be so arrogant sometimes… Wars get started, but if they don’t end within five months, they won’t end for five decades. Most of the time, by the end of the war everyone has forgotten why the thing began. Those burglars belong to a tribe—that’s a group of Anoki, tribe or village, but it’s more like a city—that is on the brink of war. But they won’t attack until they have this rooster, which is supposed to unite the soldiers in a battle.”

“Does it?” Netta asked, curious.

“Nope,” Alyssa said. “The statue’s a worthless piece of junk. But if they knew that, they’d attack the other village immediately, and I have a feeling it would be one of those wars that lasts through several generations—children avenging their parents and so on.”

“Then we should destroy it,” Netta said.

“They’d know,” said Alyssa. “You’re taking this well,” she added.

“It still feels like a dream,” Netta admitted. “But I’d rather get the information, just in case it isn’t an elaborate hoax. I’m still not sure how you could fake flying, though, and it does explain why you’re… different.”

“Different how?” asked Alyssa, stung. She was pretty sure that she’d made a good effort to look normal—her magic hadn’t given her any problems, at least.

“Well,” said Netta, counting on her fingers, “you live off Twinkies, and you’re still skinny…”

“I’m an Anoki!” Alyssa protested. “An Air Anoki! I’m built to fly!”

“…you picked out a gym locker at the end of the locker room and always dress with your back to it…”

Alyssa snorted. “Yeah. I could just see it. ‘Wow, that’s a really neat 3D tattoo you have, Alyssa.’”

“…and you know how to put together a computer, but I have to talk you through using a cell phone.”

“So we don’t have human technology back home,” Alyssa said. “Well, we do, sort of… we steal stuff all the time to see how it works. We just don’t know what it does.”

“You steal stuff?” said Netta, raising an eyebrow.

“Yup. Hey, don’t look at me like that—it’s not illegal! The American government can’t have jurisdiction over a species they don’t know exists!”

“So what do we do? We can’t go back to your house.”

“That’s a question to which I don’t have an answer. I don’t know where they’ll think to look.”

“Then let’s give them the globe to search.” Netta looked defiant.

“Netta… your parents. How could you leave them?”

“This is more important.”

Those four words impressed Alyssa beyond anything else that had happened that night.

“You realize that you probably won’t survive if you follow me,” Alyssa said. “It never ends well when a human gets involved in Anoki politics.”

“I don’t care,” Netta said.

“You know you don’t have any magic…”

“Oh, no kidding,” Netta said, rolling her eyes. “I’m about as magical as a pillowcase and it didn’t stop me from staying with you the once. You need backup, at least to call for help.”

Alyssa had stopped listening, though. “Actually, I’m not sure that you don’t have any dormant magic. Here, take the wand…”

Netta took it. She and Alyssa spent the next thirty minutes attempting to get Netta to do some sort of magic. Alyssa ran through spells in all the Anoki elements before they stopped and gave up.

“Magical as a pillowcase,” Netta said, shaking her head.

“That’s not all there is to magic,” Alyssa argued. “There’s plenty more—in fact, it would be extremely impressive if you’d actually managed to pull off Anoki magic. I can’t do normal human magic—and if you have magic, that’s probably what it’d be. Also, if you’ve ever been around a magical accident, you could end up as a halfin, or able to predict the future, or you might be able to shoot lasers out of your fingertips—I don’t know!”

“You had me, then you lost me.”

Alyssa sighed. “I didn’t expect you to be able to do Anoki magic. If you could use magic, it would be human magic. It’s like a native language—anything else is extremely hard to learn.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter,” Netta said. “I’m coming with you.”

“Do you know how to handle a weapon?”Alyssa asked halfheartedly.

Netta thought about it. “I shot a bow once,” she offered. “At camp.”

“Good. I know exactly where to get a bow.”


Alyssa held up the Swiss Army knife. “That maple tree.”

“You want to make one?”

“Sure—why not? We’ll have to find a decent bowstring, though. This twine isn’t wonderful. You probably couldn’t kill more than a rabbit with it.”

“Kill?” Netta was suddenly having second thoughts about this excursion.

“Yes, Netta,” Alyssa said patiently. “Kill. And we might need to do it to things that aren’t rabbits. Oh, get over it! You realize that they wouldn’t hesitate to kill us, right?”

This was typical Anoki logic. If the enemy wouldn’t hesitate to kill, neither should the defender. Because of this view, Anoki often find themselves losing patience with the slightly-more-morally-conscious humans, most of whom hesitate to shoot even if there’s a gun pointing in their face.

[I dunno… I kinda like this one. But there’s really nowhere for it to go. Still. It’s kind of fun.]

I’m sitting here. Just talking to the moon, talking to the rowan tree, nothing else. It’s hard to talk to the moon because it’s so far away, but I do it anyway.


I talk a lot. Just talking, not much writing, but I’m writing now. Sometimes, when I write, I replace my letters with other letters accidentally. It’s what my mom calls “Maggie Disorder.” I’m not dyslexic, don’t have spelling troubles or anything. I’m just a little different. Everyone is. Otherwise, you couldn’t tell them apart. I’m not special.


I just talk. And people like to listen.


I don’t make anyone listen. Sometimes I don’t want them to, but they do anyway because they like the sound of my voice. My voice is smooth and level, and calm. It’s not sweet or sing-songy like some people’s voices are, but it’s not reedy or weak like others’. It’s just a voice, and everyone likes to hear, but sometimes I don’t have anything to say.


I’m afraid of those times.


When the world is addicted to hearing my voice, I have to say something, to help the people who are hurt by it, who need to hear. If they don’t hear, they’re hurt because they think I don’t care or I don’t want to talk to them.


I wish I could never be speechless again.


I’m going to make it that way, and from then on I’ll always have something to say.


Goodbye, listeners. I’m going away. At least now you know the reason. Hear me at night, when my voice bounces off the moon for the world.


[Good idea. Badly written. Meh.]

At once upon a time two siblings lived.

From their existence our story derived…


The younger was a little girl who kept

A very odd, a quite peculiar pet

A dragon with the sweetest temperament

A dragon–not ten months old as of yet.


The older was a boy of fifteen years

Each day into the woods he disappears

He uses magic and his eyesight keen

To catch their food—and that’s just the routine


Luke was on his way home.

It had been a pretty good catch, even he had to admit. He’d gotten that deer he’d been stalking—and then, out of nowhere, this monster of a turkey came running out of nowhere, and he’d managed to shoot it. As he was getting his arrow out of its side, he noticed the reason the turkey had run out in front of him.

“Anatola, go home,” Luke had said to the dragonet.

“She could be your hunting dragon,” his sister, Rhenna, said as she stepped to scoop up the little gold dragon.

“Rhenna, go home!” Luke said. “You can’t be out here. It’s dangerous! There are mountain lions.”

“You’re out here,” she’d said, stubbornly.

“You’re unarmed, and eleven. Now go home!”

Still, Luke was pleased with how the day had gone. He’d found a new patch of berries that was probably going to fruit in a few months, and a stream where there were fish visible. Maybe if he tied the end of a rope to an arrow and the other end to a tree… how much would it affect the arrow’s flight? Maybe if he used thin, light rope. But it had to hold any fish he caught…

Luke was so tied up in his mental logical discussion that he almost walked into a fruit stand.

Oh. I’m already in the village, he realized. He made a beeline for the butcher’s shop.

“Good grief, Luke. What do you have?” asked Bess, as he entered the shop. She was the butcher’s wife, and ran the counter when he was out back cleaning an animal.

“More than I can handle on my own before it spoils,” Luke said.

“I’ll go find you some help,” Bess said.

Luke left that day with a good piece of deer skin and plenty of meat. The venison would be salted and thrown into a box in the pile of snow that still sat on the dark side of the shed. The turkey would predictably not last long with a hungry Rhenna around.

Bess’s son, who had been Luke’s help, had given Luke an odd look when he said to dump the animal entrails into a bucket—but when Luke said that he used them as decoys to lure meat-eating creatures away from his house, the boy quieted down. It was a lie. Luke and Rhenna were the only ones who knew about Anatola, and the dragonet had to eat something.

He could see Rhenna’s round face as she peered through her bedroom window at him, saw a flash of her brown hair as she pushed Anatola’s nose away from the open window. Luke was just glad the ten-month-old dragon couldn’t flame yet. Their house was wooden.

Maybe she will teach that dragon to hunt, Luke thought. It was kind of a funny idea, the thought of that dragon stalking something, like a cat. Wiggling her butt in the air as she prepared to pounce. And Rhenna, telling the dragon “Good girl! That’s right, you got that birdie, didn’t you!” Rhenna. Teaching a dragon to hunt.

He wouldn’t know until later that day that she had.


“Luke! Look what Anatola got us today!” A basket of the fish Luke had seen in the stream earlier was sitting in a bucket on the floor. The gold dragon looked very satisfied with herself. She had fish scales on her snout. The fish all had deep claw marks on them.

Rhenna had spent her day picking up wild greens while Anatola dove in and out of the water.

There were small plants that grew everywhere whose leaves were best eaten when they were young, and Rhenna knew how to identify them. Luke still sometimes questioned whether they were actually edible like Rhenna claimed—so Rhenna usually fed a few leaves to Anatola. Theoretically, the dragonet wouldn’t eat anything poisonous, but Luke often pointed out that Anatola also ate plenty of things that humans wouldn’t want to eat except in the dead of winter.

“You did what?”

“Spent the day in the forest with Anatola. Oh, don’t give me that look. You have all those decoys, remember?”

He pointed at Anatola. So did she.

“You really think a two-foot-long dragon is going to scare off a cougar?” Luke asked.

“Sure. You saw what she did to those fish. Anatola has very good aim.”

They argued while Luke cooked. At least, Luke argued. Rhenna had a way of sounding like she wasn’t arguing when she was arguing, and by the end of any reasonable stretch of time, the other person felt foolish for pressing his point because she sounded so calm. It was Rhenna’s infuriating way of getting what she wanted. Luke was the hardest target, though, because he’d learned not to back down.

They were still arguing while they ate. Anatola even snuck a piece of turkey from Rhenna’s plate without either human noticing.

[Wanted to give Anatola (of Phoenix) a past. This is one of several potential explanations of how the Agency started. It was vetoed due to looking a lot like Eragon.]

It had been too long since Grant Mentker had had sleep worth anything.

It didn’t matter now, though, because he had problems. People were throwing stones. Mainly bad people, which was a bad thing. If the good people were throwing stones, then they would be aiming at the right people. Sadly, this was not the case.

The leader of the Dogs was a smart man. He usually knew what he was doing. This time, though, he had the sensation of being waist-deep in mud—specifically, mud that had already dried up. And it was also starting to snow.

This last part was not entirely in a metaphorical sense. It had, actually, started to snow, because it was deep winter, and he was in a bloody stone castle with a bloody stone throne and a bloody hard wooden table with a bloody cold mug of tea. That needed to change. He couldn’t think when it was cold.

People. Stupid people. There weren’t very many in Mentker’s current crowd of hated idiots, but it felt like a lot more because they were aristocrats and thought they were special. They were rulers. And rulers’ advocates. The stupid Bears. The stupid Rabbits. The Bears were attacking the Rabbits. The Rabbits couldn’t do anything. They had no army, and no resources to rely on when they needed to raise one—they generally farmed and kept sheep, and hoped for lots of rainwater. There really wasn’t a reason to attack them.

Actually, that wasn’t true. There was plenty of reason to attack the Rabbits. For Bear empire, at least.

The main reason the Bears was that the Rabbits had made treaties with the Dogs. Dogs were smart. Dogs were resourceful. The Dogs, long ago, had settled on the riverbank before they’d spread into the plains. The Rabbits, on the other hand, had settled on the plains first and expanded there as much as possible early on. They always needed water.

So the Dogs had written—well, Mentker had written—the Spread. It let the Rabbits build aqueducts across Dog territory—took them from the highest point on the river in Dog territory and channeled it to more of the Rabbit plains. In return, the Rabbits were required to trade fairly with Dogs, and to allow Dog passage through their territory when needed, with respect to their basic human rights. Should have been standard, Mentker thought. Should have been normal. Shouldn’t have had to negotiate for that. But he had, because it was important.

It was all a ploy, Mentker knew. To make the Dogs attack the Bears. Great, he thought. That’s going to do a lot for our commerce. More Bears, fewer Rabbits.

Heaven knew the Cats were nasty traders, and across the river… well, you’d know when you’d stepped too far into Fox territory because they’d try to shoot you. Magic? Forget it. They’d use something untraceable. Something that was definitely Fox, but not pinned to any one person. A poison dart. An arrow. How was another empire supposed to revenge that? Massacre the nearest Fox village? As if that would do any good. They’d just hold it against you. “We killed one of your guys in self-defense! And then you massacred our village! Time to declare war!”

Why were the other emperors always looking for excuses to war with each other? And with him? Was everyone here really that proud? Grant knew he wasn’t. He avoided war like the plague and just tried to make sure everyone was all right and his people weren’t getting ripped off by Cat traders—who notoriously always made sure they came off best in any deal.

But the Bears—what did they think? That the Dogs would have to ally with the Rabbits? Well, they would. The Bears could survive anywhere. They were like mosquitoes. And Mentker didn’t want them to have the Rabbit territory, which of course was right next to his. The Rabbits might not have a rich piece of land, but they did have a big one that was good at making food, and that meant a lot more Bears. He didn’t want more Bears right now. In fact, the time for more Bears seemed to be somewhere in the range of never. They occupied two mountains on his side of the river, and caused enough trouble with the people they had there. He didn’t need more.

Then there was Evanera. He had a feeling things weren’t going any better with his sister than with his empire. He’d told her she shouldn’t be working. She was pregnant, for crying out loud!

Her assistant was hesitantly edging into the room with a somewhat-hotter cup of tea. He was keeping to the shadows, but when he noticed Mentker looking at him, he stepped forward, still looking sheepish.

“Lady Mentker said your tea’s gone cold,” he said. “She said… she knows it’s gone cold and you didn’t have any of her scones, either. She sent one up with me, and I had the kitcheners brew up some fresh tea, too.”

“Is it strong?”

“Four bags,” he squeaked, looking like he was feeling ready to run.

Mentker sighed. He seemed to have this effect on people. What do they think I’m going to do, he thought, string them up by their ankles?

His sister had a calming quality that somehow, he’d never acquired. For some reason, everybody seemed to think it was a smart move to fidget with the hem of whatever piece of clothing was most easily accessible when he was around.

Mentker left his desk to take the crumbling scone and half-spilled mug of tea from the boy, who let go immediately, bowed as fast as Mentker had ever seen someone do so (and he had seen some good ones), and left the room with that quick, tentative step that meant he didn’t want to bolt, but he also really, really did want to at the same time, and the two impulses existed for different reasons. The reason for one Mentker knew; the other, not so much.

In his own empire, people thought he was intimidating. But to anyone outside Dog territory, he seemed a bit of a joke. You couldn’t call him a pacifist. He had a standing army at the ready. But he didn’t threaten people with it. The army was there for defense, really. It was as if people thought you weren’t really a ruler if you didn’t want to condemn the neighboring empires to bloody death and defeat.

If you did that, he wondered, scowling, then how in the world were you supposed to get decent trade with anyone else? Give me three of your donkeys for this ox, or I’ll get my ruler to come over here and try and kill your ruler? Nobody would believe that. They wouldn’t trade with you at all. Wouldn’t want you to get stronger.

Getting stronger. It was what the Bears were trying to do. They just didn’t seem to think that the other empires had much influence on their ability to win against whoever they were attacking, which was stupid. They thought that the only people involved in a war were the two sides, and that was a gigantic oversight. Grant hadn’t believed it for a long time, but that was what they seemed to think.

No, the Bears knew that the Dogs would have to attack. Mentker knew their strategy. It made sense, in a way. The Bears knew enough not to want to let the enemy separate them—so they fought in a gigantic circle. Some people walked backwards. Really, it worked. Getting behind them was useless. It was attacking from above where they were vulnerable. Fortunately, Mentker had plans for that. He had his best inventors and mages working on rockets that would explode into fiery, sticky tar stuff. There was a place by the river—a ditch—where there was enough petroleum jelly to last through a few different wars. He was pleased with himself about this.

But that didn’t mean there wasn’t paperwork. He needed his inventors to move fast; he needed to arrange food transports for the army and enough horses to carry the cavalry and hopefully his archers as passengers until they arrived at the battlefield. The archers weren’t the type who were good with walking. They were good at shooting. Mentker had no intention of wasting their training time by telling them they had to learn to run as well.

Oh, yes, he was all set for war. Except for the work.

He wanted to be there. In the fight. He wasn’t much of a fighter himself, but he had to be there, or at least nearby. A whole army away from their ruler for a long time was a bad idea.

He’d known other armies who came back to their empire with loyalty to some general, and then that general traditionally tried to assassinate the guy on top and usurp. The rightful heir usually got ignored, because of the rumors in bars about who really killed the top dog—or top Dog. And since most generals ended up in bars outside time of war (or, at least, lying on the roof of them or on the grass outside), there was general agreement that nobody was going to mess with the guy. Those who did plot against usurpers usually ended up on the roof of the bar, too—only in much worse condition. Mentker knew this because of his spies. Some empires were more stable than others.

Grant threw down the paperwork. There was no way he’d get this done tonight.

He started to think about the Rabbits, and the Bears, and the Dogs.

But he really wanted to hear about the Birds.


It turns out you can’t take responsibility for someone else’s happiness.

Evanera lay face-down in a pillow. At least, as close to face-down as she could get, since she was pregnant. She couldn’t stop sobbing.

Other people from other times would call her an advisor, or a mentor, or a psychiatrist. Her patient had just killed himself.

She had no idea why. He just had. There hadn’t been any signs that he’d gotten worse, and she didn’t know of any reasons why he would suddenly decide to commit suicide. He’d been young, and charming, and she’d been happy to help. She knew he was living in the castle alone, cleaning out the dining rooms every night. Just a page. A page. A servant. A serf. And now he was dead.

Even her husband, Treled Mentker, hadn’t been able to comfort her. Lady Evanera Mentker was swathed in grief—and she wouldn’t let anyone else in. Especially not Treled, who was also far younger than Evanera, although not as young as the page had been—he was forty-three. He, too, had been working-class before he married her and took her name, saying his wasn’t worth anything. Evanera knew he served as a reminder to the rest of the castle that breeding didn’t matter, because he was as sweet as she.

Nobody could comfort Lady Evanera.

Later, she would give birth to a healthy child. But when another recipient of her sympathy forced her into sorrow again, she lost the will to live and died of grief.


In the Beetle Empire, a five-year-old girl wandered around the castle looking for food. She had dark hair, and big brown eyes that were useful for making people give her what she wanted. Right now, it was food. Preferably of the very sugary and sweet kind, with extra chocolate.

One of her maids scooped her up, to the girl’s protests. It wasn’t the first time they’d met down that corridor, and always for the same reason.

“If you want food, princess, you just have to ask! I can’t run after you all around the castle. You’ll worry people!”

Stelte the nursemaid marched back down the corridor hauling Corona Caelum, the annoyed five-year-old princess, along. The girl was left in her playroom, where she read books. They weren’t normally in there—the Beetles tended to leave their kids with more conventional toys—but Corona had a friend in the library who brought her books that most people thought she couldn’t read yet. For years afterward, he would continue doing so, until Stelte caught a seven-year-old Corona trying to identify a sprig of a plant she had so that she could press it and glue and catalog it in a notebook—and the plant was identified as poison ivy. Oops.

Stelte was an obvious target. She, like many other women in the castle, had taken to running dark oil through her hair so that it shone different colors in the sun. But her hair didn’t seem to mix well with oil. It was already permanently greasy, and adding more didn’t help. Her hair seemed to hold on to grease of all kinds better than anyone else’s, and it seemed consistently wet under her treatment. Corona learned that, should she want to know if Stelte had been in a room, she just had to look at pieces of wall that would be easy to lean on and look for grease spots. Stelte was also constantly short of breath because she couldn’t seem to find a corset that worked, and she had a weakness for cooking sherry that kept her poundage on.

As Corona grew older, she followed her father around more. The Beetle kingdom was small, but the king kept good tabs on it.

Corona thought that a lot of the laws were unfair, sometimes silly. Like some of the ones laid down for commerce: No selling beer and wine in the same room, or on the same stall. Wheat must be packaged in a sack, not a basket or bucket. Reserve coins with the king’s head on them for more important purchases, not for buying milk or everyday things, because it was noble currency. It was as if he’d made rules just because he knew people had to follow them if he told them to.

When she turned fourteen, Corona started to try to follow politics. She heard that Grant Mentker, head of the Dog empire, had managed to hold off the Bear empire, for the most part, although he’d had to pay them off to a certain degree. She heard about the treaties he was trying to make with the Foxes and the Cats. She heard that there were more Bears on the other side of the river, but the Foxes wouldn’t let them cross through their forest, so there was no threat to the Beetles.

Corona didn’t care whether her information had any effect on the Beetles. Watching rulers fight rulers was entertaining. She knew the Beetles weren’t in any danger from the Bears, at least for now. The last three battles the Beetles had had with the Bears had ended in stalemate, and they didn’t seem so keen to fight with her kingdom just then. Anyway, their army was damaged from getting in Mentker’s path.

As Corona followed her father around, word got out of how beautiful she was—mostly exaggerated. She was pretty, but nothing like the descriptions citizens gave out. People who saw her wanted to say something impressive about her to their guests or neighbors, though—they seemed to think this made them sound impressive, or that it would garner envy. Women tried to tint their hair black or dark brown, to look like her. Nobles and aristocrats began to name their daughters similar names. None of them would dare name their own daughter Corona—that was strictly the princess’s name—but there were suddenly a lot of girls named Conna, Cassie, Cora, Carina, and Caprin. Corona herself ended up with a whole gamut of gifted dresses mailed to her, all by dressmakers’ guilds who wanted her to show up in their town wearing their styles.

Corona’s mother encouraged her to wear the dresses to their respective towns, saying it was good for commerce and showed people that she approved of their crafts. This meant that she ended up going places a lot more often than she normally would have done, and sometimes she was let alone to explore the villages.

Surprisingly few people bothered her when she was exploring. This was because she made a habit, when her major public appearance was done, of washing off all her makeup, changing her clothes into something practical, and taking her hair down and braiding it. It was a practice that really annoyed Stelta, so Corona made sure that she always did it. She and the nursemaid were not good friends.

Corona also managed to get herself into the Dog empire as soon as she could, accompanying her father on a trading trip. Corona admired Emperor Mentker and was eager to see what his cities were like; how they were run, what the laws were, how things happened.

It turned out that the Dogs were fair traders, the cities were peaceful and efficient, and they didn’t have a whole lot of issues. The laws were practical and fair, although people seemed to be a little wary of the emperor. Corona wasn’t sure why. He seemed all right to her, if a little weary. But he’d just gotten out of a war, hadn’t he?

Corona continued to learn as much about politics as possible. When the rest of the Beetles realized that she was so interested by it, they began to study politics as well…



Fenna bolted out of the library, followed by several cats. She had her bag in one hand, her blue coat in the other, and no hands to stop her blonde hair whipping around her face and messing up her coordination. She bumped into several walls before she found the right intersection in the corridors.

Followed closely by several cats who chased the quick tap-tap-tap-tap of her too-tight leather boots on the stone floor, Fenna nearly flew around the corner and down a flight of stairs, stumbling a little. She stopped on the landing briefly to tie her hair back, and continued running.

Anything to get away from the library.

Librarians’ apprentices didn’t do a lot of interesting work. It was the kind of work that was all right if you were doing it on your own, preferably in front of a warm fire with a cup of tea and a scone. Repairing bindings. Re-inking old pages. Scrubbing covers to get rid of the oily dust that settled on them after being handled by oily fingers. If Fenna could do magic, she would just point her finger and all the books would be repaired. Oh, and she’d make sure to turn Rugian, her master, into a mute.

[Another attempt to start an Agency-explanation book. Written after a Terry Pratchett audiobook marathon… you can hear the influence in the beginning.]

Fenna dashed down the stone hall. She felt something tug at her skirt as a black cat attacked its hem, but she didn’t pay attention to the animal. There were two things in the world that mattered, and one of them was her destination.

The other was getting away from the nasally-sounding, portly man who was her taskmaster—she was an apprentice librarian—before he could attempt to force her to mend more books.

He hadn’t earned Fenna’s favor. Fenna liked Mendalt, the forty-two-year-old inventor, who lived a floor below the library where Fenna did her daily drudgery. His rooms were full of soldering irons, and aluminum objects with cranks and gears. They spun yarn faster than spinning wheels, they kept time, they mixed things together or chopped them up or cleaned them. And they could be used by anyone, even if they couldn’t use magic. Fenna thought Mendalt was a genius.

More cats recognized the flash of short, silky blonde hair, the blue coat, the slim leather boots that were tight, but kept the water out. Anyone could see that they didn’t fit by the way she ran—the way her feet touched the ground for only the briefest of seconds. The cats followed her.

Fenna was careful to open the door slowly instead of barging straight in. She never knew what was on the other side, so it paid to be cautious.

“You’re early today,” Mendalt said casually, dumping a box of baking soda into a trash can. It frothed. “Was Finrad making you seal up bindings again? Or was it ink replacement this time?” He smiled at her panting in the doorway.

“Ink,” Fenna said, stepping in. “Why are you doing that?”

“I need a new tub of carbon dioxide,” Mendalt said matter-of-factly. “I might have to put out a fire. I used up the last one fifteen minutes ago.” He pointed to a burn mark on the hem of his pants. Then he took a large bucket and started ladling out the mixture inside and dumping it in the sink. Fenna knew now that it must be baking soda and some sort of acid, probably just vinegar.

Mendalt had an odd fondness for setting things on fire for the heck of it. He’d shown Fenna how brightly magnesium could burn—later, he’d put some into a rocket and fired it into the sky, making showers of white sparks.

Fenna carefully stepped further in. There was a vial of mercury on the table, one of Mendalt’s favorite toys. What was that in the corner?

“Oh, that’s a nuclear thingy,” Mendalt said dismissively.

“Why is it next to your refrigerator?” Fenna asked.

“Cooks stuff really quickly,” Mendalt said. “What book were you re-inking?”

“Something on botany,” Fenna replied. “Lots of Latin words.”

“Oh, so you know what Latin is!” Mendalt said, sounding delighted. “Where did you find that out?”

“Read it somewhere,” Fenna said vaguely. One of the cats, a well-fed gray, had followed her in. Fenna pushed it back outside with her foot and almost lost balance.

“Was it interesting?” asked Mendalt, as he pulled out another trash can. This time, the baking soda container had a note stuck on it that said “Sodium bicarbonate.” Fenna guessed that “baking soda” simply wouldn’t do for a lab-proud inventor.

Fenna knew that he occasionally trekked up to the library simply to pester her master into finding him the book that would tell him science-y names for baking soda. It was the sort of thing he would do, coming up a floor to distract Finrad Lesman and giving Fenna a precious five minutes without his hunching over her and the book, telling her when she missed a line or when her letters were too difficult to read.

This was something that happened a lot, since Finrad had worse eyesight than the piano player downstairs, who had to play new pieces by ear, although Finrad wasn’t nearly as charming as the latter.

Mendalt had made him a pair of glasses to help improve his eyesight, but Finrad had carelessly left them on when he went to bed and was so uncomfortable that he flatly refused to put them on again afterwards.

[An alternative (older?) start to the one above it.]



If anyone asks, I’m normal. Nothing, you know, strange or magical or mysterious. And the rumors are simply rumors made up by people who don’t know me at all. In fact, if I had my way, I wouldn’t even be giving my real name in this book, but when people need help, they need to know my general area to look for me.

My name—and no, it’s not just a pen name—is Andrew. I’m a wizard. The Agency has been looking for me for a while. I don’t mean the CIA or the FBI, though. I mean the magical “spy” Agency of magic wielders, led by a couple of spy mages and an enchantress. You’ll know more about them later.

The Agency has found out that it’s missed a problem in the universe, in some weird parallel dimension (which happens to be their specialty), and I know what it is. But they don’t. They don’t want me—just what I know about the problem.

The problem is that a dimension is missing. There are infinite dimensions on a normal day, when all dimensional mirrors are in place. But now, one is missing, and a dimension has disappeared. This could end up really bad for the people who live there, whether they’re halfins, fairies, or just wielders. It doesn’t matter what you are, but once your whole dimension suddenly doesn’t exist, you’re kind of in trouble. The souls of the people there are left hanging in the excess area of space-time, and they don’t survive very long without food or water. Weirdly, there is air, but I think that’s the doing of one of the spy mages at the Agency.

But dimensions don’t just evaporate. Someone removed it, though I’m not sure what their incentives are for that kind of stuff. I’d love to just have the Agency deal with it and resume my semi-normal life at school. I never told anyone that I could use magic, and if I disappear suddenly, then it would really raise suspicion, because I’m not one of the Agency kids. They’re the only ones who seem to get by with leaving school for long periods of time, which says to me that a) the teachers know the real reason that they’re leaving so much, or b) brainwashing.

I can’t send the Agency after this one, though. Something tells me not to. Still, I’m not very good at wizardry, and I don’t leap dimensions as smoothly as I should. I need to go sometime, though, but I don’t want to be followed.

But where would they be following me if I was at school the whole time?

I can’t split my body and walk around two places or anything goofy, but what if I was at school by day and worked on this bit at night? They couldn’t do anything. Hmm.

*          *          *

            “Amy, what’s wrong?”

But I was out, out, out. With a quick muttered spell, I was disguised to security cameras, unless they had heat sensors. Which I doubted. I flew, crying silently, through the halls of the school. Not just because a simple unit on entomology had freaked me out, or because I’d rushed out of the class like a ninny and gotten laughed at despite the fact that none of them knew why I was leaving in a hurry like that, but because this was another school I had to leave.

This was the problem. Fairies didn’t fit in anywhere, especially among humans. Fairies didn’t even fit in with other fairies, most of the time. Unless the fairy spoken of is actually a faerie: the type that live in this dimension and get their kicks by a) living on clouds, b) dressing all in yellow, and c) killing any human who so much as comes near their home with anything dangerous. And since most things are dangerous to fairies–well, have the possibility of being dangerous to fairies if they were caught by surprise—like, say, a pair of scissors, or a match or cigarette lighter. Dragons tend to poke fun at this whole thing—it is ironic, after all, that the sun that powers the fairies’ light is actually a flaming ball of gas, and they can’t handle a cigarette lighter.

[Mirrorworld-era. Just… stuff.]



With some stories, there isn’t a clear beginning and ending. Or there is one, but it’s so lost in the details that nobody bothers to take the time and notice it. Maybe the story has just gone on forever, or the beginning is unidentifiable or starts with a footnote in some school textbook. Maybe the beginning and ending just aren’t there. But some stories just start, and just end. The beginnings and endings are obvious. It’s the middle part that’s tricky.

I don’t know all the details of this story’s beginning, and it’s possible that I’m over thinking it and there aren’t that many. But it doesn’t matter. I’m not patient enough to give you a bunch of foggy, strange description or some sparkly tale of a child’s birth on a misty mountainside somewhere in Blermagakistan.

I’m pretty sure this starts in a magic shop in some ancient, poor, falling-apart-by-the-seams town off in some state of the US that was only meant to have farms and forests. No cities. No towns. My parents thought it was quaint, and I suppose it was, if you looked at it that way. Just as long as you didn’t mind getting your history in your food as well as everywhere else.

We were there on summer vacation, staying in a hotel that was just as rusted out as the rest of the area. Before my mom and I went into the room, my dad removed his shoe and proclaimed that he was going in to squish spiders so we wouldn’t have to. Mom and I were sitting outside the door for a good thirty minutes, and I had started to settle in and read the book I’d gotten at a gas station in a past town a hundred miles back, which still had some level of technology—cash registers, for instance—and a population over 400 people. (The reason I’d picked it up was because the author’s first name was Linette, the same as mine.) When he came out, his shoe was considerably dirtier, and I got the feeling that he’d squished more than spiders after he let us know that he’d cleaned out the fridge interior as well. If Dad cleaned, there was a reason.

I spent some time trying to clean the leaves out of the hotel swimming pool and get it to work, but once it actually did, the weather was too cold to swim. Figures.

The only thing in that town that was interesting was the magic shop. It was run by some old guy called John who liked my light bulb jokes. I still need to come up with one about him, but I’m not sure that a million of him could change a light bulb. The one sure couldn’t.

I spent a ton of time in that shop. John was one of the three people who was actually friendly enough to want to talk to me for more than four minutes. The other odd thing was that he actually seemed to know how to use the stuff in his shop correctly, and I wasn’t sure how all of it worked. I kept trying until I could use the stuff, and John said he admired my persistence.

One remark from him that did catch me off guard was the “You know, I’ve never really seen a girl like you before.”

It wasn’t that there weren’t girls my age around, or that I looked particularly different from them. Unless he was talking about the streak of purple in my hair, which a lot of teenagers in New York City had, but wasn’t much of a fad around here. Unless the nose ring and gladiator boots set me apart. This was one of my trademark shows of rebellion against anything popular, since the sweetheart thing was the main fad at the time, so I made every effort to look like Samus from Metroid.

I could tell, though, that he didn’t care about my clothes. The guy was half-blind, and he himself had a habit of dressing in burgundy and chartreuse.

No, I think what set me off were the questions. Inquiries about subjects ranging from what was in the basement, and how the ceiling got holes in it, to where John got his stock and what he did on weekends. In turn, John’s questions were similarly arbitrary: what my book was about, what my home city was like (at my description, he had expressed utter disdain; I guess that’s why he lived in Podunk-land), and how I reliably managed to get grape juice on my head every day and how it stuck so well.

Every day I would get up, eat breakfast, brush my teeth and pull on my shoes. If it was a warmish day, I’d probably slip on a swim suit and mess around in the frigid water in the swimming pool. Nobody was ever there, so I got the pool to myself. But most of the time, it was way too cold to go there, so I’d end up at the magic shop or the dusty town library.

Halfway through the summer, John’s questions turned from grape juice to weird dreams. He told me a few he’d had—which were really weird in that mine were nearly the same. I told him so, and he stopped talking about dreams immediately and started discussing the disrepair of the building and how he’d love to fix it.

I don’t know if discussing dreams triggered something or what, but I started to get them again. Except this time, they were a whole lot freakier. I know it sounds childish, but every one of them was about monsters. Some monsters were lions, crocodiles, even humans—but most were mutated, warped creatures: a lizard with a pine-tree tail and fur in patchy spots, a large dog with a fish tail like some really weird mermaid, an elephant that panted and had cat eyes with slivers for pupils. None of them were particularly bloodthirsty, but in dreams, logic bowed to instinct and immediate reactions to anything under the category “Man that’s huge and it could eat me at any moment AAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!”

The summer was maybe three-quarters over when the weather started getting really weird.

“I wonder where this is going to go,” Mom said. “It’s very windy.”

“It’ll probably storm tonight. We’d better keep Feena inside.”

Dad said this reluctantly. Feena was the scrawny cat-shaped mammal that Mom fussed over constantly. She had what Mom described as short fur, but really, Feena’s fur was patchy at best, and better described as nonexistent. Feena hated Mom—especially when she tried to give the cat a bath or put a collar on her—but took an extreme liking to Dad, who hates cats. From the day Feena fell asleep on his feet, yawning rancidly, and Mom told him he wasn’t to move until she did, Dad despised being in the same room as her.

I slipped out quickly before he could mention me as well, but made sure I had a heavy coat on. The place was colder than New York in November, which was odd for summer. That weather is odd for summer in just about anywhere.

Outside, rain was coming down in buckets. I ran, as fast as possible, to my place of refuge, which was, of course, the magic shop. (If I’d said that I ran to the swimming pool in the middle of a storm like that, you’d need to truck me off to the insane asylum.)

“Why the heck did you come here?” John demanded as I found my way in the door. “Why aren’t you at home?”

I had no answer. The storm had gotten a ton worse in the time it took me to walk to the shop. Now the entire store was rocking, and rain pelted the roof like hail. I realized that the rain now was hail, and the winds must have been over thirty miles an hour.

“Into the basement, girl. This is tornado weather.”

The door clacked a little, like it was going to blow open. We hurried down the stairs.

“This place is huge,” I said. It was the first thing I noticed.

“Foolish girl. Walking out in the middle of a storm like this?” John shook his head angrily. “I thought you were smarter than that.”

“Our apartment building doesn’t have a basement,” I said, but I hadn’t even thought of that when I left.

“You’re a good liar,” John said. “But there’s a flaw: If you’d come here because I had a basement and the apartment didn’t, you would have brought your family.”

I scowled.

“Now, I see a few reasons you could have come here. Perhaps, subconsciously, you thought I was hiding something here and wanted to figure it out before you died, because you’re deathly afraid of natural disasters, which is a stretch but still plausible.” He raised an eyebrow. “Or perhaps you’re simply in that teenage ‘rebellious’ stage and came here to defy what you knew your parents would have told you to do.”

I searched his face, nervously tapping my toes in my heavy boots. I didn’t like being cornered, even when I technically couldn’t lose, because there was no argument.

“Perhaps both?” John suggested.

“If you’re looking for an answer from me, it’s not going to work. How would I know whether either of those was true? The first one is subconscious and the second is emotional. From my perspective, any explanation is invisible.”

Now he was the cornered one, and he gave in. “All right,” he said. “The fact is, we’re here. We might as well pass the time. What was your dream last night?”


“…and it always ends in a cold room almost exactly like this one, when I fall asleep on the floor after the chase.”

“That’s not good,” John said. “This is too extreme for me to leave you unprotected. Come on. Get up. We’re leaving.”

“What?” I exclaimed. “If we go outside, we’ll be impaled by a flying tree!”

“Not outside,” John said. “Not upstairs. This basement is bigger than you think. Follow me.”

John walked over to a wall covered in a huge, fuzzy Elvis poster, and removed it at the corners. The poster was attached with Velcro, so it tore away easily. Behind the poster was a normal wooden door.

“Get down here,” he said, and opened the door to a staircase that went down. Or, if you started at the bottom, went up. Staircases are usually like that.

“Wha—” I started, but he nudged me down enough so that he could reset the poster and close the door. It was pitch dark, so John felt along the wall a little and retrieved a battery-powered lantern.

“Wonder if there are bats in here,” I said passively.

“Sure,” John said. “Anything wrong with bats?”

“No,” I said. “Bats are fine. It just seems like a good place for them, especially in a storm.”

“Yeah,” he said. “But they’ll mostly stay away from this.” He held up the lantern, but lowered it again quickly.

[I wrote this at about the same time as the introduction to Phoenix.]

Ilya’s Story


I gritted my teeth and stared at the clock, hating every breath of the stale air. Could I tolerate Algebra for the last fifteen minutes of class? Maybe not. Maybe I’d run, shrieking, out of the room. Maybe I’d have a seizure. Maybe I’d jump on top of my desk, flourishing my huge wings that I’d managed to keep hidden all my life, and which nobody knew about except me.

Or maybe I’d fall asleep. This, eventually, turned out to be the truth. Fortunately, my sanity was prolonged to the point where I wouldn’t get in trouble if I did so. Specifically, a minute before the bell, when the too-sweet teacher was about to dismiss us early.

I hated that teacher. I hated her with all I had to hate, which wasn’t much. I’m what you might call mellow: kind of passive, nothing really bugs me that much. Except that teacher.

Other teachers ignore me when I sit back and kind of melt into the background, as just another kid who’d rather be at home, sleeping. But Miss Lillien always called on me, made me talk, made me “participate.” I did the stupid work she passed out, solved problems to find the answer to a stupid joke, and the like (all of which she thought were cute and entertaining–just another sign to me that she needs a hobby, or better yet, a life).

I don’t care when someone cusses me out, or intentionally knocks my textbook off my table. It doesn’t matter to me.

[One of several versions of this idiotic story. I, uh… don’t like it much.]

Ilya’s Story


Ilya gritted her teeth. Ten seconds…eight…… now five, four, three, two, one. The bell rang. She’d finally managed to make it through a day of school without someone blabbing her head off so much that Ilya wanted to slap the person across the face if only to shut them up. It didn’t take a lot of jabbering to annoy Ilya. Noise tended to irritate her so much sometimes, and school put her in a bad mood.

The math teacher’s too-happy voice wasn’t helping. Ilya didn’t really like Mrs. Lillien on the best of days, since the way Ilya liked to fade into the sea of faces to avoid conversations and being called on to answer questions was cheerily ignored, but today the teacher seemed to have introduced herself to the world of caffeinated coffee.

Ilya did that a lot—fade into the background. It didn’t work with the aggravating Geometry teacher, but it did work in Science, English, Social Studies, Gym, and even outside of school. Ilya liked to be by herself. People could be so… so…

People including her. Ilya didn’t like how awkward she felt around everyone else. She was out of practice with chatter. And she didn’t like how she looked, either, with her brown eyes and darker brown hair, which she thought had to be the one color that would make it look flat and gray. She would have loved to have a silver streak in it, or have slender hands with long fingers, or sparkly green or pale blue eyes, like characters in fairy tales.

If the bell hadn’t rung just then, Ilya would have fallen asleep. The bell wasn’t a bell as you and I think of it; it was a hand bell, which had to be rung by a student who would parade up and down the school halls, shaking it. There was a lot of competition over who got to ring the bell, especially since you got out of class to do it.

The people of the Divis dimension, which is as much a world of its own as ours is, weren’t too concerned with technology. They didn’t have the benefit of communication with other dimensions, like our Earth, Third World, and Mirrorworld. This is because the Divis dimension was completely separated from all the other dimensions, which was unusual. Normal human magic wielders couldn’t get to it, no matter how hard they tried.

Until a certain year…

Ilya left the classroom. She was happy, but you couldn’t say she had a spring in her step. Ilya wasn’t the kind. She would rather be living a fairy-tale than going to school. Wouldn’t anyone?

What made it worse for Ilya than for the “anyone” was that you could live a fairy-tale life in her situation. And this was all too obvious to Ilya.

Fairies—actual Divis fairies, which were about the height of a pencil on end—had started to talk to Ilya. They didn’t say anything important or especially magical, but just gossip. Ilya didn’t mind the fairies themselves, but their mere presence depressed her.

Ilya left the school. She walked calmly through the parking lot and into her neighborhood, and as soon as she was out of sight of the school, ran for it. Fast. She wanted to be rid of the place as fast and for as long as possible. Conveniently, it was Friday.

One girl sat on the porch of an older house, waving hi to Ilya. Finally, someone she wanted to see.

“Hey,” Felicia said. Felicia was Ilya’s best friend—well, her only friend. Felicia was quirky and nice—and truthful. Felicia did the opposite of gossiping: she reported facts and clarified rumors, which, 95% of the time, weren’t as horrible as the gossipers made them out to be.

“Did you break the rut?” Felicia asked.

“The baseball bat is missing,” Ilya shot back.

Felicia shook her head. “Has Jayenna given you any more trouble? If she does, I’ll beat her up personally.”

“Can you beat up Ms. Lillien?” Ilya asked, scowling at the thought of her hated teacher.

“Look,” Felicia said, exasperated. “Ms. Lillien is one of those touchy-feely people. If you plaster a smile on your face, she leaves you alone.”

“That just makes me want to strangle her more.”

Felicia shrugged, but kept silent. She knew not to speak at this point; it wouldn’t do anything but make Ilya angrier at the teacher. Felicia knew Ilya fairly well. Ilya was a dreamer outside a dreamworld, but the dreamworld she belonged in carried sensible people.

What she did say was, “I’m keeping you. I bet you have homework. Call if you need help.” That was Felicia: the brainiac. Stuff just came to her; she picked up topics quickly. When she tried to explain it to her classmates, they ended up feeling kind of stupid, but less stupid than before, since they understood the subject afterwards.

Felicia waved bye to Ilya, who waved back and kept walking. You know you have a friend when you feel better after you leave from seeing her, Ilya thought.

Once she was out of Felicia’s sight, Ilya started running again. She didn’t like being out in the open. It wasn’t that she lived in a big or particularly dangerous city—it was only a little town—but this was Ilya’s personal thing. She didn’t like to be seen running, but she loved running itself.

Ilya entered her house. She dumped her backpack on the stairs and curled up on the sofa. She had homework on how to fix a light circuit, which was easy for someone in another dimension, but it was advanced technology for a Divisian, especially a teenage student with lower-than-average grades. After half an hour of sleeping on the sofa, Ilya scribbled in the work and dumped it back in her backpack. She left it in the house and went outside to sit on the swing.  It wasn’t much of a swing, only consisting of a few pieces of rope tied to a tree branch, but Ilya was skilled at staying on by now anyway, and could climb the rope if she wanted an apple from the tree.

The rest of the day could easily be described as boring to someone from Earth’s dimension, but it was full of work Ilya was used to. Since her parents were usually out fighting Divis monsters (as were a lot of the other kids’ parents; it took a lot of people to kill Divis monsters without magic), Ilya was responsible for keeping their garden in order, and it spanned most of the yard. She spent a few hours pruning tomatoes, several more trying unsuccessfully to water the squash and tomatoes well, and even more time trying to collect all the peppers. (This failed as well.) Then she fed the three chickens and rooster that her family kept before going back to gardening.

She waited all day for the little kids she was supposed to take care of to show up. There were always little kids. When some of the parents were off fighting, their four-year-olds were typically put into Ilya’s care. She was careful to keep them away from the rooster, though, since there were things she didn’t want to explain. That was their parents’ job. Ilya was sure that there were less perverted roosters in someone else’s yard, but this one had a singular goal in life, and it didn’t need to be witnessed.

There were usually four or five kids who got along pretty well. There weren’t today, though, which meant that Ilya’s parents were probably going to come home by ten. All the parents would be, but Ilya’s usually got home the latest to make sure that everything had settled, to put it a nice way. Reliably, they were walking in the door when Ilya was getting into her pajamas.

The two had brought back plenty of meat for the week. Ilya didn’t question the kind of animal it was from, because she was guessing that her parents didn’t know either. She kept feeling like she’d forgotten something, but she didn’t know what it was. She looked outside; the firewood box was definitely full—she’d done that—and then she noticed the sky.

A single visible star hung in a random spot on an unreachable canopy of blue. Not solid blue, but with a lighter horizon, dark streaks, airy patches, tiny, feathery, wispy clouds, and, most oddly, there seemed to be golden flecks thrown about, which definitely weren’t stars but were also definitely there.

Her father followed Ilya’s gaze. “The Creatures are restless. The beasts. There’s magic out tonight.”

The Creatures were the Divisian term for what Earth’s inhabitants call fey, fairies, or Little People. Divisians knew what fairies were: raw power and immense strength, shoved in a winged body that wasn’t tall enough to hold up a piece of paper without standing on tiptoe. They had a mind, but what mind they did have did what it wanted.

But the fairies were usually relatively sort of nice-ish, and no Divisian would use the term to indicate just anything that uses magic. Where the fairies were… okay, not exactly nice, but at least not malicious, “the Creatures” referred to everything that could cast a spell, including the vast stores of Divisian monsters, most of which actually could cast magic, which made fighting them even more dangerous.

Ilya was in bed, staring at the ceiling. She sat up, and looked around her room. It wasn’t a very big room, and it wasn’t painted, unless you count mud as a designer color. There wasn’t much for furniture, of which there was only Ilya’s bed, of which a more fitting term would be “pile of scrap blankets and dirty clothes dumped on the floor,” a single small rocking chair which Ilya just barely fit in, since it was made for a little kid, and a few wooden boxes for clothing, which generally kept out moisture and bugs, but Ilya shook her outfits out in the morning anyway, just in case, because she lived in a place where “Ants in your pants?” was meant literally.

Ilya laid down again, and fell into a deep sleep after the work of the day.


Ilya’s desperate desires to be someone, anyone else always came out most in her dreams. Night reminded her of the fairies, and of the stories they told her of the other worlds that only they could go to. Ilya never completely understood the stories, but they were always very entertaining and showed her what other people could live like. Even though she knew she couldn’t do the same, Ilya was glad that not everyone was forced to live like she did.

In this dream, she stood tall at the top of a marble staircase in a blue gown that looked vaguely medieval, and stared down at the people below. She had a porcelain mask in her hand, oddly shaped but not painted, and donned it before stepping out of the shadows, ever so carefully. She didn’t even look like herself—she had much darker skin than before, and her black hair fell over her eyes instead of Ilya’s mousy brown hair, which was constantly tied back (this might have actually been a genetic trait—her mother did the same). Stepping down the stairs into the crowd below, she could see her reflection in a mirror across the room and thought it looked very impressive.

The crowd swallowed her in a flurry of movement. Ilya was helplessly whisked away. All of them started to try and talk at once, and Ilya was getting a headache. She escaped the crowd and looked for the traditional garden, which is usually available in fairy tales if you exit, stage right.

They’re always rose gardens. There’s no question, and really, there’s no purpose in my telling you. Even more needless to say is that there were no dung heaps, no drunken guys thrown out in the dirt until later, when they sobered up, and there had to be an obligatory Different Prince who Comes to the Rescue, and nobody else in the castle even bothered to keep track of the princess even when every person in the building wants to talk to her. It’s always like this in a fairy tale, no matter what, and this was definitely a fairy tale dream. Everyone has had one of these at one point.

Ilya sat on the wall of the also obligatory stone fountain and crossed her arms to keep warm. The dress wasn’t very thick, and lacked the numerous petticoats, corsets, and other underclothes that are always glazed over in stories. Most people who tell these stories don’t realize that the reason women curtsied is because they couldn’t bow without the corset jabbing them in very uncomfortable places.

With all this fairy tale association around, it surprised Ilya a lot when she got stabbed in the back.


Being stabbed wasn’t painful. In fact, she didn’t feel it at all, though she knew that it had happened. This was probably because it was a dream. Ilya always felt that her dreams were real somewhere, or at least could be.

The really strange thing was that, instead of simply waking up, Ilya ended up in the snow.

[Another incarnation of this vile monstrosity/To the Recycle Bin I bid it now and ever flee!]



Look, I guess it’s kind of selfish. But the fact was, I knew the way out of Divis, and I kept it to myself. Etaren, who is unofficially my dragon, showed me. It’s through magic.

I’m trying to figure it out. Magic, that is. Etaren is experimenting a lot with this. Dragon magic is a whole lot different than human magic. Of course, I have to keep poor little Eta away from my parents, who are monster fighters where I live—Divis—and who would kill her as soon as see her.

My sister, Ilya, is different, though. The first time she saw Etaren, she didn’t freak out like most eleven-year-old girls would, and she didn’t charge at the dragon like my parents would. Ilya just told me to get Eta off the table and to stop waking her up when it’s only four shifts, which is really early. Granted, she was only halfway awake at the time, but she was awake enough to mutter, “If this is a dream, then it didn’t take a lot of imagination…” as she retreated to her room and flopped down onto the pile of clothes and fabric that made up her bed.

I admit it. I woke her up again, as Ilya called it, but Etaren had this great idea for making music and we had to test it out. It worked a whole lot better than the time we tried making fake dragon wings and gluing them to my shirt with pine sap, then jumping off the old snow-sliding hill that was deemed unsafe eons ago because a landslide had turned it into a cliff. It was an educational experience. First, I learned that pine sap doesn’t make very good glue and that teak wood, no matter how thin, is too heavy to make into a pair of wings and is hard to stick on with pine sap. Second, I learned that even a three-foot-long dragon can carry an adolescent boy.

Yeah, I know that it’s kind of obvious that I’m alive, because I’m talking. But you’ve probably guessed that I’m going to learn magic by the end of this book, so I might just be writing from the dead, right? Chances are that you don’t know magic, so you don’t know what it can’t do. So don’t go jumping to any conclusions. At least, not yet.

There’s always been something a little bit weird about Ilya. Not like I’m-a-unique-person-oh-look-at-how-unique-I-am weird. It has nothing to do with school, nothing to do with the way she dresses, and nothing to do with her name, which is common in Divis, but which (I quickly discovered) isn’t common in a gazillion other places. I barely got past suspicion when I went to a different dimension and called myself Rowan, which is my name. My clothes were also apparently questionable, and so was Etaren’s presence.

I had visited another world for about fifteen minutes and become immediately addicted. I couldn’t believe that there was a completely different world outside Divis, a world where everything seems to work better. Somewhere new to explore.

Anyway, Ilya has always been a little strange. I’m three years older than her, so I remember perfectly when she decided to go see the forest. Nobody had ever told her it was there, and I’d thought she hadn’t noticed it, but she went right in. No warning. No “Hey, what’s in there?” She just left. And she wasn’t the risk taker. I was the risk taker. She was supposed to be the rational one.

She came back two hours later with an injured rabbit that Mom cooed over and wrapped up in a blanket. Ilya took it to her room and wrapped its broken leg the right way—as best as any seven-year-old could manage—and put it in a box with some vegetables. The rabbit had every opportunity to escape, and I have no idea how she caught it, even with a broken leg, but I got the feeling that it didn’t leave because it didn’t want to. Etaren said that this was the mark of a healer, and when Etaren says something… you listen. Even if you don’t know what you should do about it.

Etaren woke me up one morning.

“Come on,” she said. “Let’s go.”

I didn’t bother to ask where. I went outside with her, having slept in my clothes, pausing only to grab my backpack from its place by the door and rub the grime from my eyes.

“You have food, right?” Etaren asked. I did. I made sure that my pack was refilled every night with extra sandwiches, a sharp knife, and extra ammunition for my slingshot.

“Get on,” she said. I climbed onto Etaren’s back, and she took off. The little dragon was incredibly strong, and I loved flying with her. She was exactly the same color as the pines and evergreens below us, a rich, dark emerald against the topaz-blue sky.

[Okay, so this one’s not so bad. It’s another Ilya, but told from her brother’s point of view. I like him better. But I have a different story for Etaren now.]


[Warning: This one’s crap. It’s my collective-cliche stuff for when I have writer’s block.]



It wasn’t dark. It wasn’t stormy. It wasn’t even night.

I had pinpointed the lack of poetic atmosphere down to this fault. It never rained here.

If it rained, even just a little, right at about midnight, I would be the happiest girl in the world. I made a pleading face at the sky. Nothing happened. Nothing ever happened here.

It’s hard being a poet in the middle of the desert. There’s sun, yes, but apparently happy poetry isn’t very successful unless it’s about daffodils. They say it takes two poets to change a light bulb: one to curse the darkness and the other to light a candle. There aren’t any light bulbs that are burnt out in our house, and my mother seems to believe in keeping every single light on at once.

If I turned any off, she would come into the room within five minutes and turn it on, then ask why I was sitting in the dark. That’s lack of poetic imagery. Apparently the feng shui of the house suffers if we don’t waste electricity. The problem being, you can’t write in the dark, and Mom thinks I’ll burn the house down with a candle, and “why did I want such little light, anyway?” She still thinks I should write about daffodils.

Daffodils don’t grow in the desert. The scenery is… um… sand. And some cactuses. And some really whiny birds in some rare, paper-dry grass. The only poetry I can come up with about this is:


There is only sand to see.

Hate this stupid place.

I’ve tried writing novels. I usually dump the effort about a month into the project because I’m bored and not patient enough (and will probably dump this soon, too). I can’t seem to shorten a whole story down to a couple of pages, either, which is what you need for creating book summaries and short stories. And trying to write picture books for little kids was a failed effort—I always end up feeling stupid for writing down cutesy, little-kid things, even if I’m writing for the little kids in the first place. Poetry is my only form.

I know I’m being negative, and disrespectful to my mother, whatever, but I’m in a really bad mood. In case you didn’t notice. Writer’s block doesn’t do good things for me. It makes me moody and I end up with the most fiery temper. Mom says I need a new hobby because I’m getting “cabin fever.” Then she made up a game (uggh) and  tried to get me to play. It involved this hoop thing made out of those bendy, fuzzy sticks and twirling it around your arms in weird ways. As if I was three. Mom’s much too happy. She likes the desert. She insisted that this was a good place to move.

My name is Faye. I love that name. It goes with the whole poetry thing. Names like Faye and Jacqueline kind of catch on because they sound poetic themselves.  But the name Jacqueline doesn’t mean “faerie.” Faye does.

I sat right where I was, out in the middle of the “front lawn,” which was also—you guessed it—sand. Whoop-dee-do.  I was too hot to continue sitting here with nothing on my notebook page and too lazy to go inside, so I scrunched myself into the semi-shade of the house and looked at my notebook. There wasn’t much in it. It was a newer one. I’d filled other notebooks quickly, back in Chicago, where there was city life and good food and plenty of rain. It was colder, too, in Chicago. I wasn’t accustomed to constant 100-degree weather and washing sand out of my clothes every five minutes. In Chicago, there had been a grass lawn—a real one—outside our apartment building. I’d sit there with my book, and write about the people, and how the drivers seemed to pretend that they were in racecars and trying to get ahead of each other, and the huge storms that came off the big honkin’ lake that was right there.

People would stop by to see what I was writing this time, and giggle at my description of the “romantic” two-headed drivers, the starchy suits walking past, the way people never notice when someone wears two flip-flops that are different colors. I was a public entertainment and kind of famous. Here, there weren’t even other people around. At all. It was the middle of summer to boot. I was far from any school, and I bet that when it started, I’d never be so happy to go.

The shadow of the house vanished pretty quickly under the overbearing sun. There hadn’t been much to begin with, and now that it was past noon and the sun was on this side of the house, I didn’t have any shade. I could have gone on the other side  of the house, but I really wasn’t in the mood. I went inside and listened to my music. I wondered if I should try writing music, but decided against it. I owned a violin, but I had no clue how to play it.

I searched through the mail on the dining room table.

Great deal on Caresse Diapers!!! Buy now with this coupon and save BIG!!!!!

            For Recipient Only. Do YOU have medical insurance? Buy now for our discount or miss out forever.

      Several envelopes. Some more junk mail. A few bills.

Did you know that Ultra-Med has 16 different essential minerals and 5 vitamins required for full health??!?!!!

      Happy Birthday!

      Pay before your interest gets ahead of you with Banking Amends.

            At the bottom of the stack was an envelope addressed to me. I smiled; my friend Allie had written to me.

Hey, Faye! How is it in No Man’s Land? Hope you’re not too hot. I put in some water balloons in case people at school get too out-of control. By the way, the person in your apartment now says that she accidentally got some mail intended for you. Here it is.

            I looked in the envelope again. Inside was a ticket for a writers’ conference! And it was right here, on the edge of Phoenix, Arizona! The place was only thirty minutes away; I could get my mom to drive me. It would be four or five hours without me whining. She’d do it. Besides, the ticket was free and she’s too much of that “positive learning” personality to turn it down.

I went to her room and did the adorable girl thing, which she still buys because she sees the world through rosy glasses. She smiled and nodded, looking at the ticket. “It says it’s not for a week. You’d better get your poetry stuff on. I still don’t see what your problem is with all this beautiful sand. Oh well. Perhaps you won’t mope around so much now.”

Now how easy was that? I looked at the ticket again, and the brochure with it. Maybe some Chicagoan person had some free tickets and had an extra, and heard that I’d moved…

But then, why would they put it on my old doorstep? Maybe they thought I hadn’t moved yet, or knew my friend would pick it up and send it to me. Clever.

I looked over my older poetry. The recent stuff was what my mother called “mopey,” but there was some older stuff that was happier. The most recent poem read:

It wasn’t a dark or stormy night

      But in my head there was a fight

      A fight without guns, spears or knives

      Fighting myself to stay alive.

      Dumb sounding, I know, but it had fit my mood at the time; it was an emotion-venting poem. I looked through more of  the older books and found one of my favorites:

Bride’s gown parting the crowd

      Blending with every cloud

      Part of the sky, not part of the world

      Some join her dance, above clouds swirl

      Her groom down-to-earth as she in the sky

      Combined the horizon to which the birds fly

      Never parting, always together

      Never see one without the other.

            I loved that poem. It was one of my better ones. It had been written about an actual person. I’d showed it to her, too, and made her cry. That was the first time I’d actually made an emotional effect on someone. I had a copy I made later; I gave her the original. I preferred this to my more recent works about deserted landscapes and barren air. My imagination is good, but not good enough to escape this place. It was a cage. I looked over more poems.

Dog, you! Yes, you! Sitting in the street!

      Get out of cars’ paths before you and steel meet!

      Lazy dog, lying on the walk

      You and I need to have a talk.

      Dog, you! Yes, you! Get up and leave!

      Yes, you’re a dog, but my pet is a peeve.

      Lazy dog, go inside where it’s cool

      Go to your owner—uh oh, he’s at school.

      Dog, you! Yes, you! Take not one more step!

            Not on his shoe!… oh, you naughty pup.

            Some of the poems were weird or fun, and others were serious, and some others were intended to be beautiful poetry. This was one of the stranger ones. My eyes, exhausted from looking at the paper so much, unfocused for a moment. I was exceedingly tired and even more exceedingly hot. Fortunately, it wasn’t very humid right now.

            Air conditioning was practically nonexistent in our house. The best way to keep cool is to climb in the fridge. Unless you have those homely little requirements for air and that stuff. If you do, then your only option is to sit around in the shade in booty shorts and half a tank top. I’m not a flirt, just a really hot poet. And I mean temperature hot. My appetite is pretty dang huge, and I don’t look good in a half-top, or booty shorts, but I wear them around the house anyway. Otherwise, I’d get heatstroke. Did I mention that practically the entire city of Chicago is air conditioned? So many machines, all working together, cool the outside as well as the inside. I’m used to that. I’m not used to this.

A conference! On the edge of a city with a ton of air conditioning units! Conveniently right here in Arizona!

It almost sounded fishy, but I was in too good of a mood to criticize the improbability.

I waited the week. My face was stuck to the calendar like some kids have their face stuck to the window of a store with a toy they want. I was normally alone in my interest, but I would meet other writers at a conference. That’s kind of why they’re held. Duh.

Then, finally, finally, my mom was driving me there. I had to keep from bouncing up and down on the way.

“Call me on your cell when you want to go home. You can stay the whole five hours if you want, but you don’t have to. Remember to keep a positive attitude!” She smiled weirdly and drove off, leaving my fifteen-year-old self on the sidewalk, staggering under a tote bag full of  every poem book worth bringing and with a hundred bucks in my pocket. The ticket I had made it free for me to get in, but I might need some money for lunch or other expenses. I wasn’t going to be caught off guard with that.

“Ah, you have a ticket,” the guard at the door said. Duh, that’s why I’m here, I thought. “You have free run of the place, but make sure that you meet in the office by the bathrooms at 2:30 for a surprise.”

“Why?” I questioned suspiciously. I glanced at the huge building. It was all open, and busy. I wanted to be in there… not out here, talking to some guard dude.

“A surprise, I said. It’s not bad. Take this ribbon. It’s like a master key—anyone will let you by anywhere if you use it.”

“Okay,” I said. “Thanks, I guess.”

Regardless of the fact that this place was near the city, it was still really hot. I pulled my dark hair back into a ponytail and used a teeny rubber band to loop it into a bun (since it was only shoulder length, this worked for me).

I scoped the area. It was busy. I smiled. I’ll always be a city girl.

I pulled aside a random writer. “Hey. Do you know where the poets are grouping?”

He pointed.

“Thanks,” I said, and trotted off. There were a number of magazine editors hanging around. People of all styles and personalities went up with papers. I leaned against the wall and fished the notebook containing the bride poem out of my tote bag. I located the poem and looked for an editor.

“You look a little lost, little girl,” someone said, putting a hand on my shoulder. “Are your parents…” She stopped when I turned to face her dark blue eyes. “Oh! You’re much older than I thought. Are you the writer here?”


“You’re new, aren’t you?”


“And you’re looking for someone to start with. I know a few people. Come on.”

“Okay,” I said, checking my watch, “but I have to be somewhere at 2:30.”

She stopped in her tracks and turned to me. She frowned. “Do you have a poem that you want to show someone?”

I nodded.

“Let me see.”

I handed her the notebook. She read the poem with a blank look on her face.

“Is this recent?” she asked, obviously trying to keep her face flat.

“No,” I said. “It’s from when I lived in Chicago.”

“Can you show me one that you did recently?”

I showed her the book with the fight poem and the weird haiku. She grinned at the haiku but kept a straight face for the other. “Your name is Faye?” she asked, pointing to the book where I’d written my name at the top.

“Yes. Why would I write someone else’s name on my paper?”

“No reason. Let’s find an editor.”

I people-watched as we sped along. I noticed that several of the editors could have easily posed as psychiatrists, and had Goths flocking around them. My escort lady had apparently not thought ahead for the heat, because her brown hair was constantly flying with all the fans everywhere. Oops.

Finally, she stopped in front of a guy who looked like a David.

“This is David,” my escort said.

“Fits,” I said.

“Are you Faye?” he asked me.

“Yes, how’d you know?”

“You look like a Faye. Dark hair… green eyes… you’re a poet, no doubt.”

“And you’re a mind reader, no doubt.”

The escort lady slid him the book with the bride poem in it and the book with the others. They both had dates at the top. I watched his face closely.

Knowing guys, he probably wasn’t thinking entirely of the poetry. But if I got a female editor, she would talk down to me. I decided to stay with this guy for now.

“This stuff is brilliant,” he said. “Do you just take ideas and write them out?”

“Yeah. It doesn’t take long. You have a request?”

“Do one about the seasons. Show me what you can do in five minutes.”

I took the notebook and wrote out (in handwriting that’s pretty bad, but whatever):

Spring is the growth of the new ground

Spots of grass showing around

In random patches of melted snow

Early plants will start to show

Storm of the sky, rain to the floor

Melting the snow, all to no more

Summer, break through, shine with the sky

Tree frogs will chirp and birds will cry

Till summer recoils under fall’s sudden glare

Heat’s now for a minute, then no longer there.

Under fall breezes, the trees shed their coat

Red to brown leaves, creating a moat

Which children cross to climb the tree

“I’m faster,” he says. “No, I am,” says she.

Till first snow falls, then they climb down to dirt

Getting all wet and soaking their shirts

Look out the window, out at the night

It isn’t dark; there are many small lights

Reflecting off of the mirrors many-edged

Piling up white on lawns, streets and hedges

So many lights, so many reflections

Beaming and shining in every direction.

It had been a lot longer than five minutes, but I had really gotten into the poetry and my escort was holding up a hand for David not to stop me. She was reading over my shoulder.

I straightened up, blinking, and slid the book across the table to David. I realized I’d been standing there for a much longer time than I’d thought. I had been writing as fast as I could. But I realized that now, the escort lady was looking out the window.

“This is good,” David said. “How old did you say you were?”

“What’s so interesting?” I asked, ignoring his question for now. I was stuck on the lady.

“Oops!” she said hurriedly. “You have somewhere to be. 2:30.”

“Oh, yeah!” I said. “Do you know where the office by the bathroom is?”

“By the bathroom. Come on. I’ll take you.”

David handed me the book, which I stuffed in my bag, and the lady practically dragged me across the building. I never knew people could run in heels like that. But when the dizziness receded, I realized we were standing in front of the bathrooms. She led me to an office right down the hall, in the most private and ideal place for an office to be. Strangely enough, David was there too. Maybe he could run even better than the lady without heels and without that pesky friction of dragging someone along (literally). For adults, these were really weird people. Well, writers typically are.

There were several people in the room. All of them looked pretty young—like in their twenties. David’s hazel eyes seemed very young, and so did the dark blue eyes of the escort lady.

“Man, do we have a deal for you,” David said.

“If this is all an ad, I’m going to leave ASAP even if it means I have to sock a bunch of noses on the way out. If not, this better be good.” I scowled at them.

“No,” said one of the oldest-looking men. “It’s not an advertisement. Ads sell things. What we have for you is free.”

“And how many ads claim that?” I said flatly. Duh.

“You didn’t have to pay for the ticket, remember?” David said. “This is an actual writer’s conference. Did you think we’d set this up all for you?”

“Nope,” I said. “But I would believe that you’d have an entire group of people who you’d spied on to come for your deal.”

“Let’s get to the point. You are here, Faye, because you have a power. Magic. If you don’t control it, it will be dangerous.” He looked constipated, but maybe it was just because I have this much respect for adults who get up on their high horse and think the world will listen.

“Basically,” David said, “they want to ship you off to magic school. It’s in the middle of a forest and there are tons of people living there all the time. You could be one of them and you wouldn’t have to see Arizona ever again.”

“What about my mom?” I said. I was deciding I trusted David more than the other guy or the adults in the room, who looked decidedly stern and were bad actors.

“She won’t remember. We won’t let her remember. We’ll replace you with an orphan who has your interests and let her think that she is you.”

“Will I remember?”

“If you want. There are things nobody wants to forget, and there are things that people really do want to forget. Normally, we don’t make anyone forget anything about themselves, but every once in a while, someone who’s had a bad life will ask us.”

“Don’t bother,” I said. “Where is this school, anyway?”

“California. It’s warm, but it’s not a desert, and it’s definitely not as hot as it is here. Plus, the entire school is shaded by the forest around it. It’s in a really secluded place, too.”

“I’m surprised you’re taking this so well,” the lady said. I wished I knew her name. “Most people just start laughing like crazy.”

“How is it that you know I have magic and I don’t?” I said, frowning suspiciously.

“You wanted to know what I was looking at,” the lady said. “I was looking out the window, right? When you wrote about the seasons, you made it snow in the middle of the desert.”

I glanced out the window. It was still snowing, but the flakes were just cold rain by the time they passed through the desert atmosphere. It rained, then harder, then harder. The rain pounded the metal roof of the warehouse-like building.

“Your magic is too strong to leave uncontained and untrained. You may leave once you have completed your training.” The stiff older guy was looking at me scornfully in that way adults do sometimes that makes me want to cheerily take a half-brick to their face.

“Don’t mind him,” David said. The he leaned down and whispered, “He’s just one of the pompous old dudes who hang around us.” He straightened up and grinned at me.

“What kind of magic, exactly, do I have?” I asked, to divert the older guy’s attention from David.

“How did you know there are different kinds?” the escort lady said.

“There’re always different kinds of magic in books and video games,” I said. Duh.

“Find out. You look pretty human to me right now. Change.”

I blinked. Change?

She saw my expression, and said, “You don’t know how, do you? Never mind. You’ll learn. But judging from your appearance and talents, I think you’re a bard. Do you play an instrument?”

“No,” I said. “But I own a violin. I never got around to learning how to play it.”

“Now you will. Can you sing well?”

“Yes,” I said. I’m very shy when it comes to singing. I only sing when I’m sure I’m alone or I’m making fun of something. I don’t like doing it in front of other people. But I was pretty sure that I was frustrating these people by now with my non-musical-ness and my cluelessness, so I didn’t mention it.

“It’s okay,” my escort woman said. The rest of the guys didn’t seem to catch my expression or whatever it was that tipped her off, but they didn’t say anything.

“When do I leave?” I said.

“We’re leaving after the conference. And if you choose to go with us, then we’ll let you go home for a minute, pack up everything you want, and we’ll leave. We have a moving truck. You won’t need your bed or anything silly, but you’ll need all your clothes and things like that. And your violin.”

“I’m going with you, aren’t I? No ‘choose.’ I mean, I can’t just go home now.”

“No,” the stiff old man said. “We would have to intervene.”

David rolled his eyes. I just barely smiled.

“Where do I meet you, then?” I said.

“In here at six. We have a secret door.” David grinned at me. “In the meantime, I saw a snack bar on the way in. I’ll treat you. You need it.”

We left the weird office place with the group of adults pretending to discuss something.

“That guy has a problem,” I said.

“Yep,” he said. The escort lady followed us.

“Is your name a secret?” I asked her. I’d had enough of thinking of her as “escort lady.”

“It’s Colleen,” she said.

“That’s pretty,” I said.

“It means ‘girl.’ I wish it meant something like yours. Faye means faerie, doesn’t it?”

“Yes. But you’re also in a song. ‘Star of the County Down.’ It’s about a very pretty girl who’s described as a ‘sweet colleen.’ Basically, it’s about this guy going gaga over the prettiest girl in Ireland. It’s kind of cute, really.”

“Do you like music?” she asked.

“Yes. A lot. But I would, wouldn’t I?”

“I guess so.”

We found the snack bar. It was hidden off in a corner. Since the conference was long and there was money to be made, there had to be food somewhere. I resisted David’s insistent attempt to pay and bought myself the classic three-dollar meal: a hot dog, a soda and one of those dollar boxes of M&Ms. David bought enough food for a truck driver. Colleen bought like seventeen bags of munchies.

“Hungry much?” I asked.

“No breakfast on the road. That guy is obsessed with not being late, even though you didn’t arrive for a few hours. He claimed that we needed time for setup. It took us five minutes to figure out the card table and pop it open.” David crossed his eyes.

I grinned. “Are you really adults?”

Colleen laughed. “Nope! Just kids using a magic spell.”

The passersby smiled. They thought she was being sarcastic. I grinned, but only Colleen, David and I knew the real reason.

We managed to waste three hours wandering around, David posing as an editor, reading people’s stories, and pretending we were actually in the biz. It was funny, and a little mean, but we scoped around the place and redirected the writers to the actual editors. We goofed off, played around, and David and Colleen posed as my parents while I tried to look shorter if anyone asked. Someone actually asked Colleen what her makeup routine was because she looked young.

Then we went back to the office, just barely on time. The older man was frowning, as usual. Colleen held the  back of her fist in her other hand. One minute, she looked like a rather mischievous adult, the next, a really mischievous but very pretty girl maybe a little younger than me. David seemed a little older than me.

I could tell that both of them had seen the frowning old guy tons of times and had started to not take him very seriously.

Colleen nodded. I wondered…

Never mind. I just had a silly thought.

We all piled into the van. David and Colleen got in the back of the van, which would cause trouble if we were worried about seat belt laws, but these people were taking me away from here, so I wasn’t going to complain.

“We heard a ton about you, Faye. Nobody was sure if it was true or not. They said you could make a psychiatrist cry for herself. That you never worry. That when you sang, winds would settle to listen. That grass and plants knew who you were.” Colleen looked undecided.

“I don’t know about any of that stuff. The ‘never worry’ part is ridiculously inaccurate. Who’s ‘they?’”

“The PICs, as I call them,” David said. “People In Charge. Of course, they could also be called PECs for People Enduring…”

“David!”Colleen said. “Enough constipation jokes.” Turning to me, she said, “He was rattling off dozens of those while we were traveling. I’m sick of them.”

“I eavesdropped on them dozens of times,” David said. “If there’s something they’re talking about that they don’t want us to hear, they shouldn’t be saying it. And speaking of jokes, do you know how many poets it takes to change a light bulb?”

“One to curse the darkness, one to light a candle.”

Colleen rolled her eyes.

“Stock brokers?” he prompted, grinning.

“One to drop the light bulb, the other to try and sell it before it crashes.”

“You’re good at this,” he said.  “Zen masters?”

“Are the light bulb.”

“Dang, girl!” David was laughing at me by now.

“It gets boring when you’re in the middle of the desert. But with a computer…”

Both of them were laughing at me now. I grinned.

They dropped me off at my house—quietly. I grabbed generations of backpacks and quietly but quickly shoved all the clothes I liked into them. I left the frilly Easter dresses that my mom insisted could be worn to school and the lacy faerie costumes which were “dress-up clothes.” From when I was six. But they still “fit me as a shirt!”

I did take the vast collection of T-shirts and jeans that I’d snuck in buying. I was old enough to get a job, but Mom insisted that I stay home to work on poetry. I liked the idea of getting published, but disliked my mom’s hope that I would become some sappy romance novelist or one of those children’s writers who puts a bunch of moral values in. Whatever.

I loaded the MP3 player with all the music it could hold, and then found a pen drive and loaded it with more music. I went and got another pen drive out of my backpack. I normally used them for school, but I didn’t think this school would require them. I copied everything. Then I went and shoved my stash of paper into a pack with the rest of my notebooks and everything. After grabbing more stuff (makeup, HoHos, et cetera) I heaved like a billion duffel bags, backpacks, suitcases and Wal-Mart bags into the van. Finally, I only had a few plastic bags in my hand. I jumped in the back with Colleen and David.

“Just that?” Colleen asked.

“I threw in sixteen bags! What do you mean, not much?”

“Most people pack the world.”

“I’m not most people. And I left a bunch of stuff, but most of it was just stuff like Barbies my mom bought or frilly dresses and books about princesses.”

“She’s one of those people. Aww,” Colleen said in sympathy.

“I mean, I love her, I guess, but I don’t like her personality.”

“I know,” Colleen said. “They’re a pain to deal with. I really wonder why you look so human.”

“I do too,” I said.





Faye waded through the crowd, feeling like she was drowning. Four-year-olds typically do when they’re lost. But this was a bigger crowd than she’d ever seen before. Faye wasn’t sure if she liked that or not. Then she found herself in a crowd of kids her own age. But the other kids proved to be just as hostile, calling her weird and funny looking.

I wish I looked like them, she thought, and started weaving words around it instinctively. It was true, all of a sudden. She looked human. But since they were still laughing at her, she left and sat on someone’s porch to think.

“Hello, sweetie,” cooed a woman with hair that was so curly and frizzy that she looked like a cocker spaniel that went through the wash without a dryer sheet. Faye could see the remains of random attempts to brush it, braid it or otherwise style it. She was wearing a blue-jean dress like a Sunday School teacher. Faye wasn’t sure whether to trust her or not, but the woman had scooped her up, carried her inside, and started baking cookies.

Faye had been confused, but she didn’t want to go back outside. So she stayed there for a long time, making up poems for the woman. One day the woman handed her a plastic thing that looked like a person, only not really, because nobody really looked like that. Nobody was that skinny. If this was a real person, she would snap in half when you hugged her. Anyway, it looked like her mouth covered half her face. Who looked like that?

But the lady acted as if she was the greatest thing on earth. Faye preferred to sit around writing poems in crayon. She couldn’t talk very well, but she could sing, for some reason, and she already wrote legibly. And she seemed to get whatever she wanted, though neither Faye nor anyone else knew how this happened. She just knew that the lady wasn’t quite right.

But the lady had things that Faye needed. Faye needed a bed. She needed shelter. She needed food and water. And since the lady was happily willing to provide them for her, well… it wouldn’t hurt to stay a while, now, would it?





“I really wonder why you look so human,” Colleen said.

“I do too,” I said.

“Can you try changing now that that gripy old guy is in the front?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said, crossing my legs. “I’m still not sure how to do it.”

She showed me. I tried her method. It didn’t work.

“Maybe if you write about it,” Colleen suggested.

“Maybe.” I dragged a notebook and a pen out of one of the duffel bags, which had ballet shoes on it because my mom had bought it.

This is my shape

Only for now

But here, I’d like

The truth to show

I was sitting cross-legged, staring at the poem and thinking about how my writer’s block had suddenly ended at the conference. But Colleen and David had been watching me, and as Colleen told me later, I simply became gradually different. The jeans and T-shirt I was wearing became a very long, dark green dress that my mother would have approved of thoroughly except for the fact that it couldn’t be found in Barbie’s wardrobe. It had long, loose sleeves and a high neck. It also—and this is important—fit perfectly. My dark brown hair darkened further to a silky black and lengthened slightly. I slumped to the metal floor uneasily and fell asleep.

I woke up an hour later. I had hair strewn across my face and wondered why the bun wasn’t there anymore. Weird. Then I’d remembered that I was Faye, and that I had just made up a poem that had changed my appearance and put me in a dress. Weirder.

I blinked. I remembered that I was in the back of a truck, and that I was going to a magic school, and some other random thoughts I couldn’t quite process correctly.

“I was four!” I tried to stand up, but I bumped my head on the ceiling.

“Sit down,” came a calm, level voice. I sat down, completely spooked. Then someone was messing with my hair for a minute.

“Can you see now?” said the voice. I nodded vaguely. “Calm down.”

I clung to anything that stuck out. Then I remembered who I was and that I had a really sarcastic personality. “Identity crisis,” I muttered.

The voice laughed—I registered it as Colleen—and I grinned back.

“What the heck?” David said.

“What?” I asked, losing my grip on events but at least getting a grip on half-sanity. “Huh?”

Colleen dug in her huge purse and found me a mirror.

What is the matter?” I started to ask, then saw that I’d managed to change. I looked familiar, although I was completely different. And definitely not human.

My green eyes looked brighter than before, like someone had just turned on Photoshop and quadrupled the saturation. My ears were pointy. I was cute. Darn it.

“I know what you are,” Colleen said. “You’re an elf bard. You can make up poems for the heck of it, but you can also make up poems as spells, and magic happens.”

“So if I visit Santa, I can give him help with the music boxes?” I said weakly.

“Ha ha.” She gave me a bored expression.

Someone opened a small door. It obviously wasn’t original in the truck, as it looked like it had been cut in with a welding torch and someone stuck some hinges on it. The person peeked through and said, “We’re stopping for burgers. Are you hungry? Oh… my.”

The door quickly shut and we heard some muffled but excited chattering. Then the person peeked through again and said, “So, what? Hungry? We’re getting to-go, since none of us are in any shape to go in.”

Literally, I thought. I hadn’t looked closely at Colleen’s or David’s shapes much. David still looked human, but Colleen…

“If I’m an elf, then what are you?” I asked Colleen.

In response, she spread a pair of very dark blue wings and said, “I’m not a faerie. I’m a fairy. From another dimension.”

“You mean you’re a fairy but not a faerie?” I was getting kind of tired and very weirded out.

“There’s a difference. First, they’re spelled differently—the ones here are F-A-E-R-I-E. Second, the faeries around here are trigger-happy and like cats a little too much. They’re hospitable, but really violent when provoked. And they’re about eight inches tall, on average. The fairies—spelled with a Y—actually come from a parallel dimension. The fairytales you hear are actually written by this world’s fairies about the interdimensional immigrants. But they’re not described very well, so humans think that anything with wings is the fairy described. That’s why some fairies you hear about are human sized—that’s the interdimensional kind—and the others are tiny.”

“Um,” I said.

“But the fairies from this dimension have a weird obsession with the color yellow. So we just call them yellows.”

I looked at her as though she were crazy. She shrugged. “Never mind. Oh—here come the burgers.”

There must have been eight bags shoved through the tiny window thing, all at once. We feasted on the deformed burgers. I handed a HoHo to anyone who found a normal one.

“We have lots of normal ones up here,” came a voice from up front. I opened the door, made sure I had his attention, and stuck my tongue out.

I came back to the normal van. I finished off like five burgers, then a seventh HoHo, and still felt lightheaded. Where was my blood sugar? Should I down some more artery-clogging fatburgers?

“Eat all you want. It’s hard for fey to gain weight. And I don’t just mean Faye, as in you. It’s almost impossible to get enough food for our hyper selves.”

“Colleen, you just know what I’m thinking all too much.” I smiled at her.

I was surprised to hear, “Faye, that’s because I’m a mind reader.” She grinned at me. Her grin was much more mischievous than that of anyone else I’d ever met. But she had a reason to be mischievous, if that stiff guy was around all the time. I could just see her not-quite-breaking the rules and annoying him, but not enough to actually get in trouble. And I bet she also pulled the innocent fairy trick on a weekly—or maybe even daily—basis.

The door opened again. “You want some junk food? We have a bunch of candy up here.”

“Shove it through,” David said.

“They call this junk food?” I said. “As opposed to the burgers?”

“Yep,” Colleen said. “Burgers are ‘real food.’ Like I said, it takes a lot to keep us fed. Lunch isn’t skimpy.”

David sat back against the wall. “We got some time to kill.”

I smiled slowly. “I have music.”

There was silence as they waited for me to answer the unspoken question.

“Not written by me.”

David and Colleen relaxed.

“We don’t want some Irish guy barging in on us claiming that Colleen is his true love,” David said. I grinned.

“Nope, but I do have some pretty interesting stuff here. Do you like rock, indie or funny music?”

“Funny music?”

“Like this one.”

A few minutes passed.

“I’ve never heard a song about someone making toast with hand lotion,” Colleen said.

“I’m pretty sure this is the only one,” I said.

We heard some quiet conversation in the front of the truck.

We passed the time by listening to my store of crazy music, and eating HoHos, and talking. We got to know each other. I found out that the reason David looked human was because he was human—but he was a wizard, so he did have magic, and told some interesting stories about the kids in the school, who were all mermaids, harpies, pixies, magic wielders, halfins, or shapeshifters. I also learned that with kids like that around, school pictures got interesting. Dragons kind of took over the yearbooks. Shapeshifters were caught in mid-change.

I wrote poems, David tried out some weird spell that kept fizzling out while he muttered curse words under his breath, and Colleen took a nap, though I don’t know how she managed it with everything being metal and the ride being bumpy.

The truck seemed determined to shake me around. I groaned, rubbed my head, and went back to trying to write. It was starting to get hard again. Not to mention that I was getting seasick from the bumpiness, which was getting worse as well. It was difficult to focus on the paper. I took a nap on my bags, and I was only disturbed once, when the energy ball David kept trying to sustain actually succeeded for about twenty seconds, but burned him.

When he started flicking his hand back and forth, he smacked it hard on the metal side of the truck, and started swearing so loudly… well, it set off a chain reaction that I can’t describe. Since David was still on sort of an adrenaline high from doing magic, he was unintentionally doing spells by flipping his hand around. He started getting tangled in ropes that he’d somehow created,  sparkling like a Bratz makeup factory, and suddenly became surrounded by mushrooms. Oops.

It went on like this for some time, random spells causing his to fall on his face, or slip backwards and almost through the wall of the truck, or make him mutter certain gibberish, which would set off a whole new spell that would do something else to cause another spell, and so on.

But then Colleen did a healing spell and canceled the other spells. David stopped and sat up.

The door opened, and we heard someone up front say, “We’re here.”

“That was short,” Colleen said.

“I thought it was pretty long,” David said.

I looked at the building. Part of it was fancy, like a library or a snooty retirement home, but there were office-style buildings, too, and what looked like a bunch of cabins, like at a camp.

“Lots of buildings,” David said. “Lots of people. Lots of different programs. We shoot fantasy movies here without any need for computer touch-ups.”

My mind was on something else. There was a huge forest here. No, this whole place was just a forest.

“Why a forest?” I asked Colleen.

“You have a better idea? This place is secluded.”

“I thought there would be magical creatures already living in all the secluded places. What about a desert?” I asked.

“Too open,” she said.


“You must really hate dragons.”

“On top of a mountain?”

“Bad air quality. Too many people, not enough oxygen.”

I thought a minute. “The Amazon rainforest?”

“You’re kidding me,” she said with a flat face. “First off, overused. Hot and humid. Numerous poisonous plants and animals, neurotic tree huggers demanding that everyone watch where they step or they’d crush the sacred orchid, and did I mention dragons? They’re not very compatible with places that have a lot of undergrowth that lights up all too well. And then there’re the problems with giant snakes and scientists looking for some flower.”

“That was shot here too, huh?”

Colleen grinned. I bet she played the Cheshire Cat.

“Nope, that one was a shapeshifter.” She grinned wider.

“And anyone standing near you more than thirty minutes qualifies for the part of the Mad Hatter.” I thought it was impossible for her to grin any wider than that, but I was proven wrong.

“Hey!” David said. “We have a whole day and a whole school to get lost in—I mean explore.”

So that was it. We spent the day getting lost in exploring the school grounds. David and Colleen had been around it a bunch of times before, but the place hadn’t really been successfully mapped, and the only person who really knew her way around was a little kid who, oddly, looked a lot like me. She was wandering around the grounds aimlessly. Classes were over, so it didn’t really matter where anyone went as long as they weren’t, you know, seen.

This kid intrigued me. She wore a green dress with jeans underneath. I saw her several times, passing us, and I was sure that I saw her sitting in several trees. She never said anything to anyone, and wasn’t accompanied by an adult or anything. If someone tried, they’d lag behind unless they sprinted to keep up with her.

“She’s being sociable today,” Colleen mused. We’d left David sitting around with some dragons and some more elves talking about science like geeks, in some code I didn’t get.

“Who is she?” I asked.

“She’s the one who doesn’t talk. There’s always one. I’d feel sorry for her, but I don’t know if she’s actually sad or just really introverted. She drives psychiatrists nuts, and she has this catlike sense of direction. She’s kind of weird, if you ask me.”

“Aren’t we all?” I said evenly, trying to defend the girl, who was up another tree and not here anymore.

“I suppose, but she’s not interested in normal school stuff. She has weird powers, but she doesn’t have normal magic. She calms people. I’ve seen it. If she can’t hear a teacher, the class will stop talking because she wants them to. I don’t know if she’s shy or…”

Here Colleen broke off because the girl had dropped out of the tree nearest us and said evenly, in a musical voice, “I’m not shy. I’m just kinda separate.”

She left, running lightly away and scrambling up another tree maybe thirty feet away from us.

Colleen cocked her head. “That was the first thing she’s ever said to me. What did she mean, separate?”

“I know what she meant,” I said. “It’s hard to explain. You have to be alone for a while first. You start seeing people. But I probably don’t understand it like she does.”

She frowned. “I see people everywhere. Big whoop. She’s still weird.”

I shook my head. “Analytical. Logical. Aloof. She’s studying without books. You’re pretty and friendly, and people like to be around you. You’re a fairy, sheesh. You’ve never been left out. And I don’t mean for fifteen minutes—I mean at least a couple months.”

“How do you know this stuff?” she asked, either astonished or really weirded out.

I shook my head. “Story of my life.”

She shrugged. “Want a soda? The line at the snack bar died down.”

“Sure,” I said.

“Wait here. I’ll be right back.”

I surveyed the area in the lag time. Two wizards were arguing, their familiars involved in an increasingly heated battle with each other as the argument progressed. A group of young shapeshifters were playing cat-and-mouse tag—in its most literal sense—but the mice were apparently required to be huge so the cats didn’t get too literal. I wondered if they would audition for a part in The Princess Bride as Rodents of Unusual Size.

Pixies passed by or flew on dragonfly wings, reading scripts to themselves and generally crashing or bumping into stuff. I bit my lip to keep from sniggering at them. I backed up to lean against a tree, feeling the smooth coolness of maple bark. It was still green, although fall was approaching fast.

“I like you, elfin girl,” said the kid. “You caught on. Not many people do.”

She was talking to me? Why…?

“I’m Phoebe. Faye, you’re the only person who’s ever shown interest in me.” Her brown eyes softened, and now she didn’t look so much like a cute android.

“Why hasn’t anyone noticed you?” I asked, wondering if that was the right question.

“Notice? Oh, they notice me. They think I’m super mysterious because I don’t blab my jaw off at every passing stranger. I just keep to myself. Sometimes I even dye my hair a different color, just to see if they’ll start gawking. They double take so fast, it’s hilarious. Especially your fairy friend and the pixies. Crazy. What’s your story?”


“Everyone here has a weird background,” Phoebe said. “If you don’t, then that counts as a weird story too, because nobody else has it. Magic tends to draw events toward its users.”

“I didn’t do any magic! Not consciously, anyway! And how do you know?”

“Yeah, you did. A long time ago. It involved some kids that were making fun of you.”

“How’d you know that?” I asked.

“You know how some people say they can see the future?” Phoebe said. “I can see the past. From that, I can usually tell what’s going to happen anyway.”

Colleen was heading towards me with the sodas. Phoebe frowned, obviously not wanting to talk to her, and disappeared behind some foliage, taking off on red-orange wings. Phoebe, huh?

“It’s diet cola,” Colleen said, and I forced myself to focus on her and not on the red feather on the ground. She picked it up, saying, “Do you think this came from a cardinal?”

“Maybe,” I said. Maybe not, I thought. Of course, I was forgetting that Colleen was telepathic.

“What is it?” she asked, with a raised eyebrow. I shrugged, forcing myself not to give Phoebe away. Obviously, nobody knew that she could fly, or Colleen would.

“Don’t you think that there would be different birds in California?”

“Oh, yeah. I keep forgetting. I’m from Missouri, so…” She kept going for a while, but my mind wasn’t really on the conversation.

I watched two more telepaths in a silent, reserved conversation, saw another pixie run into a tree branch while trying to perfect a bad British accent and a faerie (from Earth) run into a mailbox while reading the manual to some gun. There were dancers of all species doing a routine in the middle of some clearing, including a dwarf girl who kept running in the middle of the dancers. They were shooting a movie, probably one of those Annie types, judging from the costumes and the green screen. Using a dwarf to play a child’s part. That was clever. Her ears were covered and she did look pretty delicate, so although she was probably a tomboy and a tree climber like the other dwarves I’d seen here, she looked believably like a small, innocent, human girl. Probably more so than the other dancers, who were using magical disguises.

Colleen kept talking and getting lost with me, but I was exhausted by then. All in a day, I had attended a trick conference, packed up and left Arizona for California, and went… here.

“…Faye?” Colleen said.

“Hmm?” I said, half asleep and half lost in random thought. I blinked, then saw that I was about to hit a tree if I took another step. I was really going to fit in here.





I was handed a schedule the next day. I decided that there was no way I would be able to find my way around. I wondered how Phoebe did it. Maybe she scanned people’s pasts for what class they’d just had and went in the opposite direction they were walking. But did you really need that power? Maybe you just needed to listen in on people.

Listening. Listening was the key. It might not have been how Phoebe did it, but it worked. It seemed to be a decent way of getting around; if someone was talking about unfinished Science homework, I would follow them, and I would inevitably find myself in a Science room. If it wasn’t the right one, I would pull the new-student card and the teacher would direct me somewhere else. I started using landmarks. By the end of the day, I had no clue why anyone got lost here.

“You’re clever,” Phoebe said, appearing out of nowhere and right behind me, making me jump.

She was seeing my past again. Between her and the telepaths, I bet there weren’t any secrets held anywhere.

“You know,” she said conversationally, “in fairy tales, elves are always graceful, musical and artistic, but here, they tend to geekify when they have the chance. In fact, it’s actually pretty rare for an elf to pick up music and art outside of films. Same thing with everyone else. Faeries aren’t terribly violent, but they’re a lot keener on self-defense than Disney makes them out to be and they are really good marksmen. No stuck-in-bottles junk if they can help it. Pixies tend to be a little more unified and conform more easily, but that’s mostly because the entire species is one huge clique.

“I like dragons a little better. They seem to have this need to be useful, and they learn everything so that if someone needs something specific, like tech help or how to get a stain out of carpet, they can jump in. They have this penchant for learning about the way things work that you don’t get with most other species—except maybe humans. Probably why humans and dragons get along so well.

“Human magic wielders are almost like normal humans, with cluttered minds and too much hurrying everywhere, but they can have some pretty weird pasts, too, and they know cool stuff. Halfins are interesting because they’re always complex and usually suffer from not belonging to one species. For instance, cat halfins can’t use bows because their claws, which are serrated on the inside curve, cut the strings too easily.”

I was listening intently, all the while wondering why she was making such a long speech to me. Maybe she thought I was… reasonable? Practical? Interesting? “I think you’re the most interesting, though,” I said, without planning to. “You have cooler and more unique powers than anyone else here. And you don’t seem to fit into any of the groups, really. Do you know your species?”

“No,” Phoebe said. “I never thought about that. I wonder if I’m a halfin like some of the kids here, but of what animal? Phoenixes exist,  but if I was half phoenix, I would be able to do magic. I can’t. I only have random powers that don’t really belong to me.”

“If you’re not here for magic, why are you here?” I asked.

“It’s because I’m not safe among humans. I’d be a freak show.” She lowered her voice. “They don’t know what I would do.”

“But that’s just it. Think what you could do! If the CIA hired you, you could get anything done. No need for interrogations. You’d know if people were lying, if they actually committed a murder, anything! Smart and observant is what makes a detective, and quiet is obviously beneficial. Plus, you’d make a mean escape from dangerous territory.”

Phoebe considered this. “Nobody would believe me.”

“Unless you could tell them what they had for lunch or their favorite childhood toy,” I pointed out. “And it’s kind of hard to fake wings successfully. This would be too elaborate to be a hoax.”

“They’d say it was too dangerous. Besides, I keep getting called ‘child.’ Colleen especially.”

Her freckled nose turned toward the crowd, which was flowing past us and not-quite-avoiding us.

I glanced around. “You know what? Child is better than “that insert-cuss-word-here teenager.”

Phoebe smiled. It made her look a little menacing, like she was up to something. “I’ve learned several words that way.”

“Be careful,” I warned. I paused. “Like what?”

*          *          *

I started writing more and more poetry. The notebooks I’d brought filled up in days alone. I made sure to assign all the poems to happen in some uninhabited glacier, or another planet, or in some desert somewhere (cough).

My dorm floor was littered with collapsing stacks of notebooks, some of which, I noticed, disappeared for a few days at a time and then returned. I wondered who was doing it.

I started thinking up ways to spy, but realized I didn’t have to. I tore a page out of a spiral notebook (which I intended to bury later), and wrote:

Follow the books

The poetry books

Of the hand

Of the writing

Of this page.

From them look

At people look

Woman or man

Who look on the writing of my pages.

It was a hastily scribbled, half-rhyming, half-free verse poem, and nothing even worth showing to anyone else. But if all went well, I would be able to summon images of the locations any books I’d written in had been. And maybe the people as well. I thought for a minute, then decided not to bury it after all. I wrapped it in toilet paper and shoved it in the bathroom garbage can. Nobody ever looks in a magical dorm’s garbage can, because you don’t know what you’ll find. It’s usually more than spat-out gum.

It was evening. I dragged out my laptop. When my foster mom’s adoration for me failed, I got what I wanted anyway; it was only now that I knew why. I wrote little poems for her about her getting me stuff because I was sure she thought they were so cute, she couldn’t resist. I questioned it a bit when I got older, but didn’t really think much past “Whatever—I’m getting it.”

I checked my email. There were about thirty-two messages waiting, many from Colleen. Most were discarded as useless gossip. One was from David, saying he couldn’t make the football game because he had a Nacho Lovers Anonymous meeting (I didn’t want to know). One was from Phoebe. She said to meet her in the oak tree behind the second science room on Thursday evening. It was Thursday afternoon now. I went to my closet, rummaged around for a bag, and stuffed two HoHos into my mouth at once. It was a preparation ceremony.

I decided to take a nap. When I woke up, it was 5: 30 and I sat on my bed, feeling groggy. I’d made the mistake of sleeping in my jeans and T-shirt, and I had all sorts of impressions stuck in my stomach, which felt weird.

I thought a little more about Phoebe and why she would have any incentive to email me and tell me to meet her at some oak tree. I stood up and stretched, the clothes unsticking themselves from my body all at once. I looked down at the wrinkled outfit and scowled slightly. I’d woken up in a mood. I knew I shouldn’t meet her in this. I trudged lazily over to the closet, still too tired to try and figure out what Phoebe wanted.

I clawed through nearly every outfit I owned. A Phoebe meeting… it had to have something to do with magic. Maybe something dark, I thought. I pulled out a black T-shirt, but as I did so something dark green was revealed underneath. The dress… did I want to bother? I pulled it out. It seemed to be a little hot for this weather, and I didn’t exactly like dressing up. Yet it seemed… required. Expected. I stared at the dress, the floor-length, long-sleeve dress, and the thin, short sleeved T-shirt, and deftly hung the dress back up. I ripped off my shirt, yanked the black one over my head, left the jeans alone and left the dorm. Like I cared what was “required.”

I knew where the oak tree was. It was where I had first seen Phoebe, and was right next to a forest-y patch of trees that hadn’t been mowed in decades.

I walked on until I finally found the oak. Nobody was there. I was looking around when Phoebe’s voice came from above.

“Hey! I did say in the oak!”

Naturally, I started climbing the tree. I was really glad now that I was wearing jeans.

“Good uniform,” Phoebe said when I got up there. “Anyone see you?”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “Does it matter?”

Phoebe more than bridged the five-year gap between us. There was a little too much craftiness in her eyes as she scowled darkly, gripping the tree branch she was sitting on. Her bright wings were out, but it seemed like they’d dulled as she didn’t exactly want to be seen.

She wasn’t the only one. I was looking at the other branches, in which three others sat silently.

“You see them?” Phoebe whispered. “They’re not with the school. They’re rogues. They were in an orphanage when the Blast occurred. It only hit them. The Blast was when magic hit certain areas of the world with a high ambient magic level, and there were too many magic wielders, human and not, for the school or the Agency to track down, even if they worked together. These uncaught fey and wielders never learned to control magic properly and tended to apply it to… other uses. If you know what I mean. The school tried to hide it, and the Agency is still trying to track more down…”

“Wait,” I said. “What’s the Agency?”

“The Agency,” she explained, “is a group of magic wielders and fey—but mostly magic wielders—and is basically a recruiting school. Those wielders and fey are dedicated to keeping magic in balance throughout the dimensions and killing off the worst of the monsters. Yet they can’t seem to catch Sasquatch or other monsters in this dimension. Oh, and they control dimensional immigration. That used to be done by the Gateguards, but a few wielders called Daniel and Sophie kind of squashed that after the Gateguards all tried to kill them while they were doing normal Agency stuff like saving all the dimensions by a hair.”

“Can we avoid the word ‘dimension’ for a few weeks?” I asked. It made no sense at all.

“I want to join the Agency,” Phoebe said firmly. “They want me to stay. You know who.”

“I’d go with you… but if I disappear, Colleen will bring her whole gang and come after me.”

“Well, tell her first!” Phoebe said. “My question was, do you want to go? The second the snow falls, we’re out of here.”

“We?” I asked.

One of the figures above me, who I’d periodically forgotten about, let herself onto a lower branch. I could see her clearly: light brown hair, sharp features, and untrusting brown eyes. I wondered if she was in a mood.

“This is Arkanye. She’s deaf, but reads lips and body language well. And she’s mean at Sudoku. Don’t try to beat her in chess, either. She’s a puzzle solver. Ryid is still up there, isn’t he?”

Arkanye nodded. She seemed wary, kind of paranoid. She lowered herself to another branch or two down, and hung upside down by her knees to check that nobody was there. When she didn’t see anyone, she held the position, letting her hair fall all the way down so that it lost its distinctive shape.

“She’s watching in disguise,” Phoebe said. She folded her wings a little closer. “Nobody can recognize her when she’s upside down like that. She shouldn’t be seen here, because she doesn’t belong to the school. Arkanye’s always kind of worried about that stuff.”

[Crummy. But as a writer’s block cure, it worked–that’s where Phoebe came from, and I started up Phoenix with her. She changed a lot, though. The Phoebe in here is kind of an idiot. Everyone else in this thing, too…]

Today, my school took me to a baseball game. It was really boring. But then it got really interesting.

The teams were switching positions when aliens came, just appeared out of thin air. Nobody was watching when they showed up. They were all watching the players run to new places.

The aliens looked a lot like Like-Likes, the monsters in Ocarina of Time that eat your shield and your clothes, but maybe some were a little different. Everyone ran from them.

The aliens ran after everyone. There were so many of them that there was an alien following almost everyone.

I snuck away, and I confused the alien following me with so many twists and turns in my path that it was harder to smell me. So it came straight for my sweaty body. But it had lots and lots of benches in its way, and it couldn’t jump in the right places like I could. It got really tangled and I ran away.

I slipped away through a little exit that said DO NOT PUSH—ALARM WILL SOUND. I wasn’t sure why they put the door there unless they wanted people to use it. I used it anyway. The fire alarm blared over all the screaming people. Even the adults were screaming now.

Uh oh—all the little room had was a fire extinguisher and some mops. I couldn’t escape there. Oh well. Better not stick around here.

I ran back up the bleacher benches. Lots of aliens were chasing kids who had already escaped, so there wasn’t a lot of crowd. I took two hot dogs from a deserted stand and ate them while I ran.

Now there were two aliens following me. I ran out into the street. The best place to go for a weapon was probably my house. Anyway, my mom carries a gun and my sister will shoot anyone who threatens me with her bow until she runs out of arrows. Then, when she runs out of arrows, she’ll start hitting you on the head with her bow and she’ll kick you really hard. I’m kind of afraid of my sister.

I ran right into my house’s front door.

“What are you doing home early?” My mom asked in surprise.

“Aliens,” I said, panting from all the running.

My sister rolled her eyes. She does that a lot.

“Really!” I insisted.

“Well, why don’t you go down in the basement and find a weapon,” my sister suggested. “There’s plenty of stuff down there that will kill someone unless Dad cleans it up soon.”

“That’s why I’m here,” I said.

“To clean the basement?” But I was already down the basement stairs.

In the basement, I found a big whip. I didn’t think it would do much against aliens. I kept looking.

Wow! There was a sword down here! It was pretty heavy, but I could lift it. I dragged it upstairs.

“I was being sarcastic!” my sister pointed out when I ran out the door with my new sword. “And I don’t think you actually cleaned anything!”

“Come on!” I yelled. “Find your bow and your quiver! There are aliens here!”

One of the aliens heard my yell and came for me really fast. I ran out on the driveway and killed it with my sword. Now there was a big dead alien body on my lawn.

“What the heck?” my sister yelled.

“What are those?” my mom yelled.

“Stop yelling!” I yelled.

“Ben, shut up!” my sister yelled, and ran to find her bow and arrows. My mom grabbed some knives from the kitchen and took a rifle down from its hiding place. She loaded it, carefully. My sister came down with her bow and arrows, and a carton of BBs.

“I don’t think those will do anything,” my mom said, of the BBs.

My sister shrugged and dropped them on a table, then got her bow out and strung it up.

But now more aliens were coming, lots of them. I opened the front door and readied my sword.

“Raaaah!” I yelled, running out to kill more aliens.

“Are you insane?” my sister yelled, running out too. “Took me this long to find out,” she muttered as lots and lots of aliens crowded around us.

“They’re going to eat our shields!” I yelled.

“We don’t have any!”

“Then they’ll eat our clothes!”

“That would be bad! RUN!”

We ran down the street.

“Where are we going!” I yelled.

“Just follow me!” my sister yelled.

We ran through streets and streets. There were hundreds of aliens here! Finally my sister sprinted up one house’s stairs and rapped on the door really hard. I kept watch with my sword.

“Oh, hey,” said the guy who opened the door. “Thought I’d be seeing you two. Looks like we have a monster invasion.”

“An alien invasion,” I said, still panting.

“Nah, not from outer space,” said the really cheerful guy. “These are from a parallel dimension. Come on in.”

We did.

“You’re gonna need this,” he said, lifting a bag from the coat rack. It looked heavy. “S’my call bag. You know I’m from the Agency, right sis?”

Rebekah nodded with an untrusting glance at the door. I was still watching for aliens.

“A lockpick set… Swiss army knife… blankets… other stuff… looks like this is set.” He gave the pack to my sister. “Now for something just as important. Here’s one of those reusable grocery bags, and it’s gonna carry your groceries!” He beamed.

The man went into his kitchen and came back out with a loaf of bread, some cheese, some meat, and a jar of mustard. He put them in the grocery bag and handed it to me.

“Now,” he said. “I’ve got your ride out back. None of those monsters is going to go after an Agency pegasus. They can smell ‘im. I want you two to go to Maine and get the Agency down here so they can deal with the monsters. And a quick little rule,” he added. “It’s not illegal for you to steal your food now. There’s a reason you have a lockpick set. Use it. The govvie doesn’t know you exist, so it’s not helping you, so you don’t have to follow those rules. Mind, you do need to follow the Agency’s rules when you get there. Got it, kiddies?”

We nodded.

“Now come on back,” he said.

There was a pegasus in the man’s back yard. “Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever ridden a horse, but Topaz will do what you want if you tell him. With your voice.”

“Thanks, Shen,” my sister said.

“No prob. You don’t worry about your parents, they don’t go after adults. But you want to be out of here and get to the Agency. Go on, kiddies.”

He helped my sister and me onto the big brown pegasus.

“Hold on tight,” Shen advised.

We held on.

“Um, let’s go?” my sister said to the pegasus, and Topaz took off.

It was crazy. We were flying on a pegasus to escape from aliens from another dimension.

I was having a really good day.

[A piece of tongue-in-cheek writing I whipped up for my brother’s birthday present.]

Hello! I’m NORMAL!

The only other thing I could have done was hang a sign around my neck. I stuck the ill-gotten money I had in my pocket. Lunch for a wizard, care to buy?

“Cece, you scare me sometimes,” I said to the mirror. I had no one to talk to but myself, and lived in an also-ill-gotten apartment with a scruffy roommate girl who only showed her face about twice a day: once in the morning, for food, and then to fall into bed. She didn’t pay the least bit of attention to the books littering my area of the apartment, to the weird, beaten-up trunk sitting in the corner and always in shadow, or to the herbs stuck away in a cupboard (which, for the record, weren’t Bloody Sister’s Coin Purse or whatever—it was stuff like thyme and fenugreek, and you can buy those at any ol’ cooking store).

I had a fake birth certificate and everything. Cecelia Jane Veneak. It would be funny to say I got my last name by butt-dialing a keyboard, but I don’t have a keyboard. I do have a psychic dartboard now, though—basically, a Ouija board someone threw out a window, and then I found some darts when I mugged a guy who technically mugged me first (although I ended up with some extra stuff as well). Since I don’t believe in spirits or whatever, it’s a dartboard now. Even though the darts have to be going at mach speed and elephant-stomp force to wedge in it.

Why do I need to fake a birth certificate? It’s a long story, but I have a whole book to explain.

My parents disapproved of magic. They thought I was going to start getting out of control and using it badly. I was always the mischievous one, after all, and never really followed directions well. Especially since I knew how to do a lot of things in better ways, which people happen to not realize. I’ve heard of so many wizards running away and just trying to fit in with society in random places until they found one that worked. The other option, of course, was to join the Agency. Which meant more authority as an influence on my life, and I wasn’t willing to accept that.

[I think this came right before Star. Not great.]


The moon had disappeared.

“New moon, eh?” Ethan said, peering over the telescope.

“You and that stupid telescope,” his sister, Nissa shot back. She didn’t feel the need to hear him talk about how certain constellations connected to look like Romans, and how certain stars were especially bright tonight. She grudgingly wrote a few more words, trying to get her homework done. English was not her favorite subject. She tried block him out of view by swinging her brown hair in front of him like a curtain, but she’d cut it into a short bob last summer because it had routinely gotten in her way. Now that she wanted it to, it wouldn’t.

“Venus is”—Ethan started, but Nissa said, “The clover in my experiment have grown an eighth of a centimeter since yesterday. I think that new fertilizer is doing well, the one in the green pot. And the root mass”—

“All right, fine. You’ve made your point.” Ethan decided to shut up quickly, before his sister started rattling off plant statistics. Fifteen minutes passed in silence, in which Ethan continued to stare out of the telescope into the night sky.

“I’m going outside. Several planets are supposed to be in a straight line at midnight tonight, and I want to catch a good picture if I can.”

“Why in the world do you want to go outside this late to stay up until midnight in the cold? On a school night?”

“Because I can,” Ethan said, staring her down. “You know that Mom and Dad are nuts about this.”

“Your obsession?” Nissa asked. “Why don’t you figure out what you’re staring at? Research or something? Some real science, instead of just goggling at twinkly lights? Then you can be on the computer as late as you want.”

“I can do that any time,” Ethan said. “I just want to see this.”

“It’s cloudy,” Nissa warned.

“I can deal.” Ethan grabbed the tripod and telescope and left. He stepped down the stairs softly and opened the back door.

“And where are you going?” his mother asked suspiciously, just as Ethan opened the back door.

“Planets,” Ethan said, pretending he hadn’t jumped at the sound of her voice.

“I don’t think so. Go to bed, Ethan. Planets will be there tomorrow night.”

Ethan went back upstairs sulkily. He set his tripod back by the window. Nissa didn’t ask, and Ethan didn’t say anything.

“How’s this?” Nissa asked, handing Ethan the paper.

The project assigned by Nissa’s eighth grade English teacher was to write about a good time she’d had with her grandma. Since Nissa’s grandmother acted like the grumpiest person on Earth, and Nissa couldn’t write about a memory that was simply weird or—heaven forbid—unhappy, she’d resorted to her old alternative for personal narratives: making stuff up.

“I would leave out the baked tomatoes,” Ethan said. “Otherwise, your picnic thing should be fine… oh, what’s this about rabid scorpions?”

“That part was accurate,” Nissa argued. “At least, the tomatoes. The scorpions…”

“You do have a knack for annoying your teacher, don’t you? I don’t want to see what you get on this.”

I want to see my teacher’s face. She’s given us the dumbest assignments possible all year and then dictated that we do them her way. I mean, my writing about my uncle fighting terrorists wasn’t that bad, was it?”

“Your uncle has never been east of Missouri.”

“It was a fiction piece!”

Ethan shook his head. He knew full well the extent of Ms. Rolena’s ridiculousness, and had no idea why he was defending her.

“Just get it done,” he said. “Don’t bother making it weird. It’s too much effort, and she doesn’t appreciate it like good teachers do.”

Nissa sat down on her bed and grabbed her laptop off her nightstand. “Emily’s emailed.”

“What’d she say?” Ethan asked absentmindedly.

“Just something about her new job. She’s working at some nursery. They have her doing the weirdest job, doing magic tricks or something.”

“It’s a job,” Ethan said. “Doesn’t sound too bad.”

“She also has to change diapers.”

“On second thought…”

“Wait, hang on. She’s saying she doesn’t know very many magic tricks. And no, Ethan, kids don’t enjoy the napkin-and-penny-falling-together trick. Or the lecture on air resistance and density you give afterwards.”

“But it’s educational,” Ethan protested.

“Come on. Don’t you know any real magic tricks? Emily’s wanted this job for ages.”

“Okay, okay. Well, you know how to make food disappear in a flash”—

Nissa’s glare stopped this sentence in its tracks. Ethan ran his hands through his hair, making it stick up even more than usual.

“She could bring a stuffed bunny and a top hat,” Ethan offered. “Or do that trick with the poker chip where you make it disappear by putting it between your fingers.”

“I’ll send her some links off of Google. There should be something around here that ought to help. I don’t know why she even tried to take the job if she had no idea what to do.”

“Why didn’t Emily just search Google in the first place?”

“I don’t know, Ethan! This is Emily we’re talking about, not one of your geek squad!”

“There is nothing wrong with my geek squad!”

“I didn’t say there was,” Nissa countered. “Em’s just more likely to think of asking us than asking the Glorious Majesty of”

“And we’re not nearly as helpful.”

“Can you get off it?” Nissa said. Ethan grinned at her.

“No,” he said earnestly.

“Go to bed, runt,” Nissa said, jumping to her feet with her laptop and walking off into the linked room. “And no planets!” she called, as an afterthought.





Emily Rae Johnson leaned against the wall of the closet, sliding down until she reached the floor with a thump.

“Emma!” called someone from the commotion outside. Emily refused to respond. Her every nerve was freaked and hypersensitive.

Outside the closet door were about five people, all trying to get dressed for school or work, down some orange juice, and hightail it out the door. So far, though, Emily considered, hers had not been a bad plan. Except for the catch up ahead, when she’d actually have to leave the closet. She’d gone to sleep an hour early, then woke up at five in the morning, dressed, ate, assembled her backpack, and hid in the closet with her netbook. It was such a characteristic thing for Emily to do that nobody would be surprised, though she might be told off for disappearing.

But not if she timed it right. The front door had opened and closed twice, and if she came out just as she had to leave, nobody else in the house—not one of her three siblings, nor her parents—would have time to say a word to her as she raced out the door and climbed onto her bike.

She checked her clock. In two minutes, she needed to go, go, go. It would be urgent enough to excuse her hurried departure, but not enough to actually make her late for school.

One minute.

Thirty seconds.

The jingle of heavy, clanging jewelry echoed down the hall: Hailey, Emily’s eldest sister, was leaving, and Emily could hear her mother and her youngest sister, Chloe, arguing over who would do Chloe’s buttons. Gathering up her pack and her netbook, Emily got to her feet, quietly opened the door, dropped off her netbook in her room and left through the front door, waving her mom good-bye as Chloe made a mess of her buttons.

[Bleh. Came right after Phoenix’s first draft got done, which was a surprisingly long time ago. Crummy.]

[A previous Mirrorworld attempt. Contains Hitler giraffes.]



The time had come. Daniel had finally found nothing more of interest in the school library.

Normally, he didn’t really care what he read, as long as it was lengthy enough to last a while, but he drew the line at chick books. The last thing he needed was gossiping, bratty girls in his books as well as his normal life. The idea was to escape.

He scavenged in the last of the nonfiction section. Heck, he’d even have read the dictionaries if he could have checked them out. Just as long as he could drown out his surroundings amid words like myriad and zymurgy.

There was nothing. Nothing Daniel wanted, anyway. Who in the school actually wanted a baby book on giraffes, anyway? Still, he picked it up, amused. There was graffiti on the inside—Daniel found himself looking at a picture of a giraffe with a Hitler mustache.

“Desperate?” the librarian, Ms. Kellen, asked, spotting him sitting cross-legged on the floor.


“There are other ways of fixing your problem, you know.” Ms. Kellen took a book from the stack in her hand and found its place, sliding it in.

“Don’t want ‘em.”

The librarian sighed. “I can understand that, I guess. But wouldn’t it just be easier to talk to people? You’ll find they tend to see sense better when they’re around someone sensible.”

Daniel didn’t say anything for a moment. He stalled, walking his fingers over titles to find the spot where he’d gotten the giraffe book, putting it back in.

The librarian gave him a pointed look, and Daniel saw no way out of the question. “I’m… just…”

“Oddly separated from the wackos around you? No kidding. Bright kids in middle school.”

Daniel’s mouth twitched. He started looking over the animal books again, diverting his eyes to a picture of a fennec fox on the cover of a nature magazine. “It’s not just that,” he said, noting Ms. Kellen’s repeated use of her stare.

He decided to change the subject as she waited for an explanation. Daniel had never been good at explaining this kind of thing. “Is there anything new here?”

“You asked me that two days ago. And no, there’s nothing new. But I think there are a few books on psychology that you haven’t checked out,” Ms. Kellen said.


“Daniel, I just don’t have anything else for you…” she stopped.

“Are you sure?” he queried.

“No.” Her blue eyes stared into his hazel. She seemed to be actually looking at him today, instead of only taking in his words like she usually did. Daniel had typically been grateful for this characteristic—he was skinny and not particularly tall, and his mom wasn’t very good at cutting his brown hair. He preferred to be judged by his words.

“I think I do have something for you. Can we make this work?” Ms. Kellen asked the universe. She didn’t wait for an answer, but hurried behind her computer and dug around under her desk. She resurfaced quickly, ponytail flying, and asked, “Do you have a book you typically read at home?”

When Daniel nodded, she said, “Replace it with this one. I don’t want you opening it in school, but it’s… worth the… read.”

Daniel, puzzled by the spacing in her sentences, took the book. It was a blue hardback in surprisingly good condition, considering that it had been stashed somewhere under Ms. Kellen’s desk. He noticed the lack of a sticker. “Is this a library book?”

“Nope. I was going to give it to you at the end of the year as a present, but you could probably make use of it sooner. It’ll take you a while, and I think you need as much reading material as possible during the year.”

“Thanks,” said Daniel, even more confused. He’d assumed that some kid had written swear words or love letters inside the book, and that was why Ms. Kellen didn’t want him to open it in school—some of the teachers confiscated books if they had writing in them, in case it was the current reader who was writing whatever was inside. But if it wasn’t a library book…

“Oh, don’t, Daniel,” Ms. Kellen said. “I can see you’re dissecting my every word in order to decode my warning. Don’t explode your brain. You’ll see later.” She glanced at the doors around the library.

“You’re looking at the ceiling, not at the walls. Are you trying to see if we could be spotted by a video camera, or are you just watching for roof leaks?”

“You’re too sharp for your own good,” Ms. Kellen shot back. “Stay out of trouble. I’m not going to say anything else.”

Scowling, Daniel walked out of the library, slinging his backpack over his shoulder. He passed hordes of sixth-graders, eleven-year-olds bouncing up and down. He was altogether too glad that he wasn’t one of them, even if they did have a social life instead of a book obsession.

Daniel looked at the book again. The cover was greener now. Daniel decided that it was the lighting. He put his backpack on the ground and managed to fit the book inside, with difficulty. It was definitely bigger than the one on baby giraffes.

The day dragged on. Daniel still didn’t have anything to read during school, so in the spare moments when everyone else was texting in their pockets or passing notes, Daniel began to read the textbooks, which were, for the most part, immensely boring–even to him.

Finally, the last bell shrieked the students’ freedom, and Daniel found himself outside the door, papers in his hand. He shoved a few into his backpack, leaving his hands free. Daniel walked silently on the outskirts of the courtyard, not wanting attention from any random acquaintances who might slow him down. Then, once he was out of sight and earshot of anyone who might be paying attention, he bolted.

His pack slapped hard against his back, spurring him on. It seemed so long since he had run like this—not because he was late, but because he wanted to be home as fast as he could.

Daniel ran into a maze of houses. Getting to his own house meant a path with a lot of turns, which he whipped around with gleeful speed.

“Daniel!” came a voice from across the street. Daniel stopped in his tracks, nearly falling over, euphoria turning to panic as he wondered if he’d be questioned.

“What?” he called back, panting. Raking the streets, he finally located and recognized one of his classmates.

“You left your notebook in Ms. Ellan’s class,” Marcella said. “Do you need paper?”

“Thanks, and no,” Daniel said. “I have plenty of notebooks.”

“Well, I need to get home,” said Marcella. “My mom will kill me if I don’t get there fast, and I took a little bit of a detour.”

“Bye,” Daniel said, not knowing what else to say. His mind was on the book in his pack, not on a paper crisis.

He walked normally until she was out of sight as well. He didn’t want to have to explain why he wanted to get home so badly.

Finally, he stopped at the last house on an older street. There weren’t any cars, any bikes, or any people, and the trees blocked much of the sunlight from reaching the pavement. To the far side of the last house was a maple tree. Daniel dropped his bag at its trunk, deciding to ignore his math homework for the moment. Out of the bag, he took the book, which seemed almost gold in the sunlight, but faded into a deep blue when cast into shadow. Daniel ignored it.

Checking to make absolutely sure that nobody else was around, Daniel climbed the tree. Maple twigs brushed his jeans and his bare arms, but Daniel kept the book under his arm and found a favorite spot, with two branches arranged just right for him to lie back and not have to balance.

He opened the book to the first page. It was empty.

Was this Ms. Kellen’s idea of a joke? What was the purpose of giving him a blank book? Was she giving him some cheesy symbolic message? Was this her way of telling him that it was about time that he wrote his own? Was she communicating that he needed to find his books elsewhere?

He was staring over the top of the book, absently flipping through it. Ink caught his eye, and he flipped the pages back and forth, trying to find it, but the voice sounded first.

“You know, you’re supposed to be cursing and muttering to yourself by now,” it said. Daniel found the inked page, and his confusion struck up again when he saw a drawn face staring at him. He stared back. The face stuck its tongue out at him.

Daniel realized everything at once. All of a sudden, it clicked—he was sitting in a silent street, in a heavily-leafed maple, with a talking book that told him he should curse at it.

“Uh… why?” Daniel asked.

“That’s what everyone does,” the face said, shrugging.

“Why should I?”

“It’s traditional,” said the book.

“Who are you?” Daniel asked.

“I would have asked, What are you? But I’m not you, I guess. Anyway, my name’s right here.” Hands rose from the bottom edge of the picture and pointed to a caption saying “Linus Fletching.”

“Call me Linus. As for the question you haven’t asked, I am, in fact, human. Somewhere else. You, on the other hand, have a job.”

“I’m twelve,” Daniel said.

“Congratulations!” Linus cried out, rolling his eyes. “I don’t mean a nine-to-five. I mean a real job. Did Ms. Kellen tell you?”

“I’m guessing not.”

“Me too.”

There was a pause, then Daniel said, “Well, if she didn’t tell me, did that strike you dumb?”

“That’s more like it,” the book said approvingly. The ink of Linus’s eyes looked fresh, and Daniel realized that the book’s eyes were twinkling mischievously.

“Well?” Daniel demanded, beginning to lose patience. He had no idea how long he would remain alone. He had beaten the rush of other students returning by running home, and he didn’t know when it would come. When it did, though, he had no desire to be caught with a talking book.

“Oh…” Linus said, apparently lost in thought, though nothing Daniel had said was particularly thought-provoking.

He’s lost in my thought! Daniel realized. This book is telepathic!

            “Ah, yes, well… I….” Linus started in.

“Never mind that,” Daniel said quickly, trying to see out the tiny gaps in the leaves. How much time could he afford? How much cover did he really have in the maple’s foliage? Would the voices of other people mask his own? How well?

“Oh, okay,” Linus said, and Daniel gave him a patronizing look. “Well, you’re definitely the type,” he added. “What you have to do, in the little time I have to explain, is… er… restore the balance of magic throughout the parallel dimensions of the universe.” This last part was spoken extremely fast.


“I told you it was a job.”

“Is this an elaborate joke?”

“I thought you weren’t going the traditional route.”

“You’re not serious.”

“I’m serious. This is a serious face.” Linus struggled to maintain what vaguely looked like a blankly pained expression. He was enjoying himself.

“You’re not real.”

“I’m real. Ergo, cogito sum or something like that.”

“You’re not thinking.”

“Excuse me?”

“You’re not thinking. Magic and dimensions? The possibility for catastrophe, warfare, anything…”

“Exactly why I’m talking to you.”

“Why haven’t we heard about it? Normal people, I mean.”

“We clean up after ourselves,” Linus said in fake indignance, cracking a smile involuntarily. “And you ain’t normal.”

“We?” asked Daniel, ignoring the crack.

“The Agency, of course.”

“Oh, okay. So you’re magicians and spies?”

“Just mages. But if we call our organization ‘the Agency,’ everyone seems to assume it’s all top-secret and nobody asks any questions!” The grin widened.

“Clever,” Daniel murmured. “So… what’s wrong with the… balance of magic in the dimensions?”

“Unbalanced,” Linus said matter-of-factly. “If a dimension doesn’t have any magic, it basically collapses. Humans need magic to survive, as does everything else. This dimension in particular is about to pop its balloon, and if you’d like to keep living here, as opposed to being dead in its magical absence or interrogated in another dimension, I’d advise that you stepped up to the plate in saving its butt!”

“Couldn’t we all just evacuate and move to another dimension?”

“We could,” the book said. “What would happen then is that we’d have to give out an apocalyptic prophecy, which not many people would believe in the first place. Then we’d be making an effort, probably at midnight for believability effect, to divide our magical task force to travel the entire world, reach every human being on the planet, and convince them to all hold hands while an Agency member teleported out to another dimension. Most of Earth’s humans would die. They simply would not come with us.

“Then we’d be in another dimension. There would be hysteria, and people would probably catch word that Earth hadn’t quite collapsed yet. They’d complain that they didn’t catch the finale of their soap box opera or whatever, and then, pretty soon, the Agency has on its hands maybe a billion grumbling people—if we’re lucky—who don’t have jobs, don’t have food, don’t have land and don’t have homes. There isn’t room for them, and there isn’t technology to support them. Their technical talents are practically useless in the differing tech of other species and environments. In fact, most of the Agency members who are capable of teleport aren’t capable of doing it well, and there’s a serious shot that the random dimension they land in isn’t even up to Terran norms.

“We also have to cope with the fact that it’s obvious that magic exists. People will be shocked, some even angry with us for hiding it from them. Then they’ll realize that we pose a threat, even if the Agency has just saved their lives. After that, war between mages and non-magical people is practically unavoidable, and with their numbers, it’s no clear shot whether any mages will survive to protect the trans-dimensional magical balance. This isn’t the first time it’s happened, and it wouldn’t be the last.”

“O-kay,” Daniel said, leaning back against the tree’s trunk.

“Quite the speech, wasn’t it?” said a smooth, sly female voice, breaking Daniel from his reverie.

Daniel opened his mouth, trying to invent a story to mask that whole spiel, obviously coming from the book.

“Left my iPod on speaker,” he said. “Audiobooks, you know?”

“I know,” said the girl. “Everyone knows what audiobooks are. I just want to know why you have a second book open in your lap.”

“Oh, this is my drawing book,” Daniel said quickly. “Walmart has ‘em pretty cheap. Just normal paper, no lines—great for drawing.”

“Let me see,” the girl said, pulling herself up through the branches with precise efficiency. She examined the book, attempting to flip her dark shoulder-length hair out of her face but failing—her hands were busy. “Well! You’re a pretty good artist. Can you make me one?”

Daniel examined her expression. “I don’t have a pencil,” he said without thinking.

“Oh. How’d you make that?”

“It’s one I did yesterday,” he came up with.

“Do you typically draw in pencil?”

“It is a little easier,” Daniel said.

“How come that one’s in pen?” the girl asked, steadying herself on her branch.

“Oh, I traced it over the pencil lines. It makes it last longer.”

There was a silence.

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

“Obviously not good enough,” Daniel said with a sigh.

“No, it’s really believable,” the dark-haired girl said, wrapping her legs tighter around the branch and opening her jacket, “to someone who doesn’t have one herself.” Out of the jacket, she pulled out a book with almost the same dimensions as Linus’s—although it was a little slimmer. “I’m Sophie—Sophie Inez… and this is Taryn Fletcher.”

“Oh, you keep drawings too,” Daniel said with a fading grin in a halfhearted attempt both to disguise his book and his reluctance to admit that Linus’s story might be real. It seemed much easier to “go the traditional route” and tell himself that goofy pranks like this were bound to happen to him, of all people, and after all, the librarian was a little wacky.

But Daniel knew this story wouldn’t work. The librarian was perfectly sane and incredibly astute—and after all, she had no real reason to be mean to Daniel. Anyway, the look Sophie was giving him mirrored the one Daniel had given Linus minutes before—patronizing, as if looking at a particularly dense child.

“Look, give it up, okay? I got almost the same ridiculous spiel, and I don’t think anyone would try and send us to our deaths by attempting this. If anyone wanted to cause notice, they would have done it to someone popular with a bunch of social contacts, not to smart, quiet people who’d keep their mouth shut.”

Daniel was still doing so. Sophie continued, rolling her eyes.

“They’ve put together a team,” she said, as if it were obvious. “I bet there are more people around here”—

“No, there aren’t,” muttered a muffled voice. Sophie opened Taryn’s book. Taryn looked around, surprised.

“We’re up a tree? And I thought your hideout in the basement was creative. Are you sure you aren’t being heard?”

“No,” Sophie said. “Let me drop down and counter-spy a little.” She handed Taryn to Daniel, who now had to balance two books—and himself—on a tree branch.

Counter-spy? Daniel thought with amusement. Sophie was acting like the CIA was after a couple of kids, talking books or not.

Apparently Linus thought so, too, because his face split into a “that’s the clever part” grin and he nodded in agreement. Daniel felt uneasy from the movement, even though the book shifted no weight. He felt like a breeze could send him flying.

Daniel risked shifting his head to look down at Sophie. At that moment, she descended the last few branches carefully. She’d found a way to climb down the other side of the tree and was dropping down neatly behind it, hidden from the street. She walked normally across the street, pretending to watch the fall leaves drop, then walked back to the tree as if she’d only left her dog there so it could take a whiz.

She climbed straight back up, found her place, and took Taryn from Daniel, who now felt much more stable. “Nobody’s there. That means I can show you Gavin, too.”

A second book? Daniel thought, but when Sophie reached back inside her coat, she only withdrew a lanyard with a sole plastic whistle on it. She blew, and a thump could be heard behind Daniel’s house. And Taryn said—there aren’t any more people? Why just Daniel and Sophie, then?

“You might want to check out what’s in your back yard,” said Sophie with a widening grin as she took Taryn back.

Putting Linus’s book back under his arm and going back down the tree, Daniel grew more and more suspicious—but he had no clue what his suspicions were, except that he was coming to realize that whatever Sophie couldn’t show him around other people must be something ludicrously linked with magic. He was growing sick of the theme.

“Isn’t he gorgeous?” said Sophie, smiling at the gryphon that had landed in Daniel’s back yard. Part eagle and part lion, the gryphon proceeded to annihilate several of the rabbits in Daniel’s mother’s garden.

“Gorgeous,” Daniel said.

“Wanna go for a ride?” Sophie asked.

“I have… math homework,” Daniel said.

Sophie stared at him, apparently trying hard to determine whether this was another of Daniel’s clever lies. Eventually, she seemed to decide that since he had no reason whatsoever to lie when he could have had a gryphon ride, he must be telling the truth.

“Some other time,” Daniel amended, more to fill the silence than because he thought Sophie was hurt by his refusal.

She shrugged. “Ah, well, if you ever need a ride home… I know an inconspicuous route. It let me listen in on your entire conversation. You couldn’t imagine the speeds Gavin can reach.”

I’m not going to ask, Daniel decided, as Sophie hoisted herself onto the gryphon and declared that she lived a few houses down, if Daniel wanted to see her. He wouldn’t ask how a twelve-year-old girl ended up with a pet gryphon. He wouldn’t ask where she was planning to keep it. And he didn’t want to ask what Gavin ate, apart from rabbits.


The next morning was… quite interesting. Daniel’s alarm clock had, for some reason, been set to 5:30 instead of 7:30. Tired as he was, Daniel hated getting out of bed and had no inclination to repeat the activity, so he went to his closet to get dressed.

His first impression, half-awake, was that there was a giant spider in his closet.

His second impression, coming to his senses, was that the spider had woven a rope of web, and from the string hung what looked like an understated Halloween costume—cloak, black robe, staff.

Daniel decided that maybe he should go back to bed, after all.

He crossed the room again and flopped down on his bed. The spider followed him, and sat on his chest as he lay there. It wasn’t trying to attack, but like so many humans that week, it seemed to be staring at him.

“Fine,” Daniel muttered. The spider scuttled away and rapped on the window. Daniel opened it, letting the arachnid free. The spider, on the other hand, simply sat on his windowsill, watching him, slightly bigger than a DVD.

Daniel took the hanger and the costume-ish garments off the web, separated the thread at the ceiling of his closet, and handed it to the spider before finding some normal clothes.

The spider shifted a little, as if not sure whether its job was duly complete.

“Okay!” Daniel said. “Fine!”

He threw the clothes into his backpack and glared at the spider. “Satisfied?”

Apparently the spider was, because after watching for a few seconds to make sure that Daniel didn’t take the clothes—including the four-foot-long wooden staff that miraculously fit into his two-foot backpack—back out, it disappeared down the side of Daniel’s house.

Daniel decided against dressing until the spider had time to get out of the neighborhood. His stomach seemed oddly hollow, and he felt like he was getting a headache. Low blood sugar, he reasoned. Daniel went downstairs to eat something.

He rifled through the cabinets to find some cereal, pushing past boxes of bran flakes and oatmeal to the back, where he and his siblings had inconspicuously stuck the super-sugary cereal that their mother bought, away from the eyes of their father, who was all for the oatmeal option. In return, nobody spoke a word about the midnight instances of a giant bowl of Trix, decaf coffee, and muted TV pulled off by their mother.

Daniel chose an unboxed bag of what looked like super-sugary corn cereal balls soaked in food coloring. Daniel ended up scraping the crystallized green milk off the sides of the bowl before setting it in the dishwasher. He felt like the day needed the sugar spike, but wasn’t past wondering if he could get by with going back to bed.

“Oh… you’re up,” his mother said, stumbling into the kitchen. “You’d better put that bag away before your father finds it,” she said pointedly. Daniel picked it up and hid it in the back of the cupboard.

“I hope you’re not going to school in that.”

Daniel looked down at his pajamas, and realized why he was still wearing them. “I have the feeling that it’s going to be a really weird day.”

“As long as you don’t get arrested or mortally wounded, I don’t care how you deal with it. Just get dressed, okay?”


Over the next six weeks, it seemed as though the library had gone broke. There were no new books whatsoever. Daniel suggested that the school could have an “as-is” book sale on all the wimpy kids’ books that hadn’t been checked out since 1987, but the librarian vetoed this, saying they belonged to the city’s school system, and anyway, most of those books were either profane or illegible by now.

“But wouldn’t they make good material for… for…” Daniel groped for something: “…collages?”

“Only if you want to make a collage about cursing elephant Nazis,” the librarian said.

Instead, Daniel made sure he always had a book on hand in school, whether a textbook or one of his own collection, and read normally there. At home, he’d given up on trying to find something new to read—he was preoccupied trying to wheedle information out of Linus, who seemed oddly apprehensive. He had taken Sophie up on her offer a few times and rode Gavin home, but unlike Sophie, who seemed in sync with the gryphon’s every movement, he felt extremely dizzy afterward, so he’d made it pretty clear that, while it was kind of fun, he preferred to walk.

If Daniel tried to unpack the mage’s robes and staff from his backpack, he looked up to see a DVD-sized black shape, bungee-jumping from a tree across the street. He eventually gave up.

Daniel still seemed unable to gather much information about the reason that the two of them—Daniel and Sophie, specifically—had gotten the books, and nothing else. Finally, though, Linus let something slip.

“Okay,” he’d said wearily. “It’s because you two have the right personalities to handle the magic that you’re going to end up with.”

“What. The. Heck.”

Linus sighed. “Do I really have to explain? Of course you’re going to need magic at your disposal! You’re going to need whatever you can get. That means I’m eventually going to have to teach you how to use it.”

Daniel groaned. And he’d thought spiders and gryphons and alarm clocks set to unholy hours meant trouble—not to mention his schoolwork, which, now, even to himself, sounded to Daniel like a petty complaint next to magic.

Nine weeks passed, in which Linus, from wherever he was operating, managed to teach Daniel magic through what Daniel was now mentally referring to as “Wizards’ Skype,” in case Linus heard him thinking. Daniel was using all sorts of code words now. Even if Linus wouldn’t have cared, he used code words in case someone else was trying a similar project.

What’s next? Daniel grumbled to himself, not touching the book. He’d found that unless he was in direct contact with the book, Linus had no access to his thoughts, which was somewhat useful. A little magic allowed him to converse with a few other books, but they were often tired after so much use (Daniel usually bought used books, and then reread them) and not up to conversation. This is too much. And then Ostrich—that doesn’t seem real.

His thoughts had repeated this for the past month. Operation Save The Realm of Insane yet Creative Habitants (shortened to “Ostrich”—it had taken Daniel a while to come up with that one)? Not real. Couldn’t be. He couldn’t wrap his mind around travelling to a whole different dimension, let alone trying to rescue Earth from certain death by lack of magic.

Magic itself had always seemed like an abstract force—not physical. If it was physical, what was its elemental compound? And how did the spells make the user capable of summoning it in a certain form? Daniel was becoming increasingly aware that the force he had admired so often in books revolved around—and relied on—confusion in the real world. He reasoned that it actually was a good thing that he couldn’t “science it out”—if he could, then other people surely could, and that would be too dangerous. Someone would get power-hungry, and there would be a theft, and—

At this point, Daniel broke himself out of his reverie and decided that he’d been reading way too many fantasy novels.

But Linus is real! What if—

What if. What if the rest of his books contained some hint as to the way the real universe—er, multidimensional universe—worked? What if there were different rules for magic in different dimensions?

Inquiring to Linus about this one day, Daniel received a cryptic response, which was a technique Linus was starting to adopt. Usually, in books, this meant the giver wanted the receiver to think about his or her circumstances… but Daniel hadn’t been in the mood to think about things for days.

“Gravity works the same in other dimensions, but the terrain is always different. And, of course, there are a few dimensions in which there is no gravity because there’s nothing there.”

Daniel’s mental response: facepalm. And this time, he was touching the book.

Linus sighed. “Daniel, you need to take this seriously.”

Daniel’s mind summoned pictures of that same face fifteen weeks before, in the maple, looking a lot younger and jauntier, saying “This is a serious face.” Daniel half-expected the same mischievous attitude to drift through here again—half-expected Linus to stare at him intently, then pipe up, “The fate of the world rests in your hands!”—but Linus was silent, his head slightly bowed, as if trying to figure out what to say and not inviting eye contact beforehand, as if he could pause the conversation that way. Like in an email argument.

Whatever Linus did or didn’t come up with didn’t matter, because the doorbell rang. Daniel knew it was Sophie, because Sophie always rang doorbells twice in a row. He ran down to answer it.

Sure enough, Sophie stood there, dark brown hair whipping in front of her face by the wind. “Yo.” Then, with a gesture to the book, said, “Don’t you think we should keep Dungeons and Dragons supplies all in one place?”

Daniel realized that he was still carrying Linus. Usually, he avoided bringing the book downstairs in case one of his parents or siblings saw it. “Uh… yeah.”

“Well, in any case, I need you to come across the street, if you can.” She lowered her voice. “Gavin twisted his ankle, and Taryn’s not sure which healing spell to use. She says Linus was always the one who was ‘creature-crazy,’ as she called it.” Lowering her voice still more, she asked, “Does this mean they know each other?”

“Or did at one point,” said Daniel, in an equally low voice. “Mages would have to keep in touch with each other, wouldn’t they? Certain spells seem like they need more than one person.”

“Is that why they grouped us together with books? To…” She trailed off, not wanting to be overheard by Daniel’s parents.

Daniel nodded. “To Ostrich.” At Sophie’s quizzical look, which had a “are you deranged?” suggestion, Daniel said, “Operation Save The Realm of Insane yet Creative Habitants.”

“Works,” Sophie said. “Accurately. So can you come or not?”

Daniel glanced back into the house. “Probably. Make sure my parents can’t see your face from the kitchen when I call them—they’ll think you want to be my girlfriend.” Calling louder, he said, “Mom! I’m leaving for a few to a friend’s!”

He turned to Sophie. “That should do it. Come on, we need to tend to your gryphon.”

Gavin was tied to a tree under the cover of the patchy wooded area behind Daniel and Sophie’s houses. The gryphon had grown somewhat, but it did not whatsoever look as though it had twisted its ankle. It looked more like it was simply having a good time hunting rabbits. The local gardens had never looked better.

“Which ankle did he twist?” Daniel asked, confused.

“He didn’t twist his ankle, goof! I said that to bring you here.”

“Why didn’t you just say you needed to talk?”

“You’d think I wanted to be your girlfriend,” she said.

“Why would I think that?”

“Never mind,” Sophie said, slightly annoyed. “I just want to know… what’s the plan?”

“What plan?”

She gave him an exasperated look. “We’re saving the world, remember? We’re Ostrich-ing. Remember?”

“Well, yeah,” Daniel said. “My memory’s not that bad.”

“Well? We need to know when to go. We need to know what we’re going to do once we go. Drop the book.”

“What?” Daniel said, losing track of the conversation.

“Drop the book! Break your telepathic connection.”

Daniel set Linus on the ground. Linus’s picture frowned, as if knowing what Sophie was about to do, and not liking it.

“Close it.”

Daniel did so.

“Now,” Sophie said, “I’m going to draw a Sound Circle around us so that nobody can eavesdrop. Not even Gavin.”

Sophie pulled a notebook out of her jacket pocket, along with a stubby pencil. She scribbled down some numbers, then handed the pencil and paper to Daniel and told him to copy them.

“It’s because your handwriting is always changing, in the magical sense,” Sophie explained. “It kind of captures the moment. Anyway, I’ve done the calculations, and there’s no reason for you to repeat the task. And make sure you copy those correctly,” she added, a hint of caution on her voice.

“Isn’t there an easier way to do this?”

“Yeah, but it takes longer. Involves a stick, the mud, and a bunch of frippy symbols. It’s a safety precaution, just to make sure the spell doesn’t accidentally find a much bigger, natural circle in the dirt, and people actually hear stuff they’re not supposed to.”

Daniel finished. Sophie took the paper and located a Swiss Army knife in her coat pocket. She dug up about a square inch of grass and soil, poked the center of the paper into the hole, and set it on fire.

“Duck!” she yelled, just as shots of orange came from the paper’s sticking-up ends. She and Daniel ducked, at just the right time, because the orange cover that erupted from the paper’s edges shot straight out before rising like a Jumpin’ Jimmy’s Inflatable Bounce House.

“There,” Sophie said breathlessly, standing up, like someone who had just set up a tent. “Now nobody can hear us.”

She sat down on the grass, watching Gavin sniff the barrier. Daniel, who hadn’t stood in the first place, lowered himself to the ground.

“It seems to me like these books aren’t giving us the full story,” she said, tracing her finger around a blade of yellow-green grass. She looked up at him, Oriental eyes reflecting the orange sound shield, waiting for an opinion.

“No duh,” Daniel said. He shifted. It was spring now, but the ground was still cold with frost. He wondered how Gavin had hunted during the winter.

“Then we need to find a way to figure out what we’re actually doing. We’ve been told only that we’re restoring the balance of magic, right?”

Daniel was obviously supposed to speak. “And that it’ll require magic on our part.”

“Right. Which… we’ve learned.” There was something disbelieving in her tone, yet Sophie gazed up at her bright orange shield, flicking its edge thoughtfully and testing its solidity. Daniel could almost see the inner turmoil: she was probably thinking, as he had, about the physical existence of magic. Atomic structure and composition? Nonexistent.

You can’t look at “magic particles” under a microscope, yet there we sit, Linus’s book looking inexplicably contemptuous even when closed, Daniel thought. Sophie had even thought to make sure he couldn’t read their lips. He guessed that Taryn was still in the house.

“Well?” Sophie demanded. “How do we get the information we need?”

“I don’t know,” Daniel admitted, lying on his back, on the cold ground, and watching the clouds drift past. For some reason, Sophie’s urgency had made him feel all the more serene, as if a piece of the world had somehow clicked into place. Magic was at work, but for once, it wasn’t against him.





“We need a plan,” Sophie said, becoming frustrated. “We need to know what we’re going to do.

“We’re going to save the world,” Daniel said.

“You’re as bad as those books!” said an exasperated Sophie.

“Well… can’t we just wing it?”

“Wing saving a dimension?!”

“Sure,” he said coolly. “Look for anything sparkly and magical, and bring it back home.”

“It’s not going to be obvious,” Sophie said.

“Oh, why shouldn’t it? Who says it won’t be?”

“It stands to reason,” Sophie said, falling into somewhat dreamy thought herself. “Why us? Why only two of us?”

“Because that’s all they need,” Daniel said.

“Then why are the books acting so weird?” Sophie said. “Explain that.”

“Well, it’s not exactly efficient or easy on their part,” Daniel said. “I mean, getting a couple of kids into another dimension.”

“That’s another thing,” Sophie said. “They have this Agency… why not hire someone who actually knows what they’re doing?”

“Maybe they’re short on cash.”

“And there’s nobody who cares about Earth enough to save the entire dimension from crisis without payment?”

“Well, it’s not exactly imminent,” Daniel said. “Just unbalanced. I bet there are a lot more things to be done.”

“Still…” Sophie said. “It’s enough to send some kids out. So…?”

“So what?”

Sophie’s hand grazed the shield, and she seemed to come to her senses. “Daniel, we need to break this barrier. We need to douse the fire!” She tried to conjure water, but it evaporated under the dreamy heat of the fiery Sound Shield.

Daniel, following her lead, tried to get a storm to brew above them, but it only made the clouds move faster.

“That’s… not going… to work,” Sophie said. The heat was beginning to affect her.

“Well, what will?” Daniel asked.

“Water isn’t the only thing that can get rid of a fire,” Sophie said. “Help me pile dirt on it!”

The best they were able to do, however, was to pile dirt next to the source, which didn’t cover the entire paper.

“We’re dead,” Sophie moaned.

Just then, a flock of birds flew overhead.

“At least they don’t have to worry about anything serious,” Daniel said. At that moment, the shield dissipated.

“What was that about?” he asked, confused.

Sophie was grinning. “Bird poop. I’m never going to complain about the car windows again.”

“Never mind,” Daniel said. “We need to get out of here. Is there a way we can keep in contact without looking too suspicious?”

“I don’t know,” Sophie admitted. “I’ll ask Taryn. In the meantime, just tell your parents you’re working on a school project.”

“And I chose a girl as my sole partner?”

“No, you’re just meeting with me because the rest of the group is too lazy to come along. Make up some names if you have to, but just claim you don’t know anyone’s last name. Including mine.”

Daniel wasn’t particularly fond of the idea of lying to his parents—and his siblings, but somehow he cared less about that—but he’d do it for his cause.

The next day, after school, Sophie eventually settled on an old trick used by mages everywhere like email, but it was a little risky. The trick was to enchant two or more notebooks, and communicate by writing letters and signing them a certain way.

“See,” Sophie said, “if you sign your name and your symbol, it’s much less likely that things will be sent to the wrong person.”

Daniel knew, immediately, what Sophie’s symbol was going to be: a gryphon. But he had no clue what to make his own, let alone how to do the spell that set it in magic.

He searched his room. The staff? No, that was too common. That problem was shared by books, pens, and a hand. It seemed like everything Daniel came up with was likely to have been done a million other times, which wouldn’t make it a very useful symbol. And even if he did have a favorite sport, all the symbols for that would be taken numerous times, too.

A cat, something said in the back of Daniel’s mind. A gray cat.

Daniel had no idea why this had occurred to him—he didn’t have a pet at all. He was allergic to dogs, and his father hated cats. The fish that Daniel’s brother, Kevin, had once owned… well, it had tried to eat itself.

He crossed the room, to his bookshelf. He’d hoped that nobody would find Linus amid the clutter of paperbacks. Unfortunately, this seemed to work on Daniel as well.

Daniel rifled through the books. Where was the book? He spotted Linus’s deceptive color-changing cover on the top shelf and attempted to get up. Books tumbled off his lap and landed, open, on the floor. Daniel fell back with them.

Grumbling, he stood more carefully and retrieved the book. He sat back down and opened Linus’s pages.

Forty-five minutes and a whole lot of riddles later, Daniel had managed to complete the spell. He’d written down his name—he had to make his handwriting temporarily legible for this, which took a while. Then he had to perfect his drawing of the cat, but make it simple enough to scribble down, which also took a while. Eventually, he had it. The symbol was in magical record.

Daniel pounded down the stairs, hollered his excuse at his mom, and tore out the door. He didn’t stop until he was two houses down, at which point he slowed and, now watchful for any spies or inquisitive passersby, slipped into the back yard.

As usual, Sophie was tending to the gryphon under cover of the wood.

“I’ve got it,” Daniel said. “Do you have your symbol yet?”

“Yes—after a million years. Gavin wouldn’t stand still enough for me to draw him.” She patted the gryphon.

Predictable, Daniel thought.

“We need to make a plan and leave,” Sophie said. “The non-urgency and lack of action here is driving me nuts.”

[This was more recent than the 1st Mirrorworld.]

[Another Mirrorworld attempt. I don’t know the timeline. It has one good joke, but nothing special…]



I can’t believe how stupid I was in sixth grade. I don’t mean failing-classes-brand stupid, but just stupid. I’d make decisions, but I’d walk away from them wanting to smack my own forehead. Stupid.

The peak of my idiocy came in March of sixth grade, and it was big. I’d tell you now, but you’d think I was crazy, just like those sixth graders did.

The only reason I got into this whole mess is because of the librarian. Or maybe the library itself. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s the combination of all three. It was only later when I examined these, but the problems started far before I had time to think about them.

The librarian was—is—weird, but in a good way, I guess. Her eye shadow drove my sister nuts when she saw it, because she couldn’t find the colors Miss Lien wore on a daily basis at all. Her hands are always wet, and she seems to have an addiction to water since one of them is always on a half-full bottle. The principal even installed a sink in the back room so she had a quick place to refill it, since Miss Lien was the best librarian the school had seen in ages, especially since she’d read most of the books. She was friends with me, because I had, too.

The library is big and maze-like, and there are comfortable chairs if you know where to look. There’s actually a TV stuck back with the chairs, and it has working cable. If you have headphones and need to hide from someone, you can hang out and watch the Simpsons until it’s safe to come out.

Then there was me, and I liked the library not only because I was addicted to fiction, but because I actually did need to hide from people… a lot. I did make good grades—good enough for other people to want me to do their work and to get violent about it if I didn’t. I’m a fast runner, but I’ve never been very strong. It was pretty obvious that I was a pushover, and other kids tended to take advantage of that. Adults usually either thought I was being arrogant when I started talking and knew what I was talking about, too, and Miss Lien was the only person I knew well who wasn’t outright hostile towards me. Most other teachers who respected bookworms were much too busy screaming at the others, who are usually doing something along the lines of setting fire to each other’s hair.

The kids of Herrelson Intermediate had a bit of a record, or maybe a reputation that they felt they couldn’t break. Among the more minor things they did were asking the language teachers whether they’d learn to cuss in French and answering questions in Klingon, but they also did things that got them in bigger trouble. We weren’t allowed to wear hats in school, but there was one specific one that was really trendy and popular, so kids wore them anyway. This rule was seen as important but sometimes was hard to enforce since it took a lot of time to make everyone put the hats away, so one teacher started to confiscate the hats and stomp on them so that the students would have to meticulously clean them if they wore them to class. Then one kid duct-taped some mild-grade plastic explosives into the top of his hat so when the teacher stomped on it, the explosives went off. That kid got in more trouble than anyone else for a whole three months.

The rebellious attitude got so bad that the teachers started to ignore the milder stuff, like chewing gum and swearing. Also ignored was the banner over the Health Class door. I wasn’t in the class when it was created, but either someone was particularly mischievous, or the Herrelson trademark bad spelling kicked in at the wrong moment. What happened was that the teacher asked the previous sixth graders to make a banner to welcome the new students into class, since the class was, well, a Health class, and it wasn’t something students went into eagerly. The banner, instead of saying “Welcome to Health Class!” said “Welcome to Hellth Class!” It didn’t make it any better that some weirdo took a really big thing of White-Out to the banner and erased the “th” and the “cl,” but for the sake of proper grammar, added a comma. Ironically, the students entered the class more eagerly than when it didn’t have the White-Out on it, and the teacher denied its existence completely.

It was Miss Lien who pointed out that since this happened, they were calling themselves donkeys every time they walked in the room. The banner was taken down immediately after that.

It was also Miss Lien who gave me the book and warned me not to read it in school, but I didn’t find out until later why she’d said that. That was the real reason for this insanity. That was where the problems started.

[An experimental, 3rd-person version of the intro to Star. Some of the ideas in that book were kind of cool, but Amanda’s level of power kind of makes me sick.]

Amanda turned around. Before her sat the entire village, the clusters of people, the stench, and the war. Mel, her godmother, was undoubtedly sitting inside her house, far away from the battlegrounds in between the two warring villages, and far away from her godchild. Mel didn’t exactly know what Amanda had planned, but once she found that her charge was gone, she would know—and she would expect nothing less.

Amanda was cocky, likely to reason through a problem before she decided whether she was afraid of it but even more likely to overestimate her capacity to deal with it. But she also had a single, secret fear, which was darker than all her others.

Amanda was afraid of the Commitment Day.

It wasn’t that she had to do it, but that it had to be done to her. That is, if she wished to stay in the village peacefully. But if she did, Amanda knew that it would no longer be truly her who slept in her bed and laughed with her friends.

This is why, today, a twelve-year-old girl slipped out of the clearing and into the forest. On her back were a bow, several thick blankets, a sharp hunting knife, and three peanut butter sandwiches. Her quiver, full of homemade arrows, rested at her hip. Her ragged green dress trailed on the ground. It was dirty, but that was about the last thing on Amanda’s mind.

Because apart from her fear, there was something else that was causing Amanda to want to leave the village. She wanted to learn Air magic.

Amanda wasn’t human. She was an Anoki—4’10, 115 pounds, and bursting with the magic that fueled her determined spirit. Once she got a hold of something she wanted to do, it would be done. Never mind that Air magic, of all the Anoki elements, was one of the rarest talents, because Amanda had it set in her head that she wanted to fly.

This wasn’t new. The Earth Anoki had always been admired for her healing talents—the only one in the village, and extremely useful in the war—but this didn’t change the fact that Amanda’s tree-green wings were about as capable of carrying her as a butterfly was of carrying a polar bear… and Amanda had decided to change that.

With two reasons to leave the only home she’d ever known, Amanda was perfectly ready to go. The only person she’d really miss was Mel, but Amanda wasn’t ready to throw her freedom on the line by staying during Commitment Day.



Hi. I’m a teenage girl—14 years old—and my name is Amanda. I grew up in a fairly normal city… well, if you count a city involved in a singular war for decades “normal.” Twenty percent of my time was spent eating and sleeping, the other eighty spent defending Zephan citizens, getting kids to shelter, and using my healing powers to revive soldiers.

Oh, yeah, I didn’t mention that, did I? My bad.

I’m an Anoki. Anoki are somewhat like humans or elves, but we have wings and elemental powers. And there are some other differences. For one, humans are pretty dense. They haven’t found any Anoki yet, even though we’ve been living in their heavily forested areas for like six thousand years. And elves are hard to follow in conversation—they think it’s so funny when they twist a simple sentence around like Yoda when they’re perfectly capable of talking normally. I think it’s funnier when they slip and accidentally drop the accent.

If you’ve read the book Star, the one I wrote right before this, then you can go ahead and skip the next page or two. If not, here’s a quick catch-up.

Normally, the only healers are Earth Anoki, but I have a rare kind of magic that only my mom and I have right now. The other guy who had it was one I killed. He wasn’t what you’d call a good guy, if you think about the whole trying-to-kill-me-and-pretty-much-everyone-else thing. My magic allows me to do any of the Anoki magical elements: Air, Earth, Water, Fire, Light, Darkness, Time, Storm, Dreams and Star. This magic is actually called Star magic, because only Star Anoki can do the Star element. Star magic actually doesn’t have that much to do with stars, and more to do with its user’s creativity. Star magic is the only one that allows its user to make up spells on the spot and actually have them work.

About that war I mentioned? I ended it. I thought that my parents died fighting said war, but it turns out that they are alive. I ran away from my village because I could only do Earth magic at the time. I wanted to fly, but only the Air and Star Anoki could do that, and anyway, Star magic was out of the question since it was pretty much dismissed as a myth. I was leaving in search of Air magic, which I could never get while I was still at home in the Zepha tribe. None of the Zephans had Air magic to teach me, and I was supposed to be at school, receiving a spell to enable me to do the best Earth magic, but limit me to Earth magic alone… permanently. I don’t really know why I was sent to school at all, since there were no other Earth Anoki to teach me anything—just books no one else could use without Earth magic.

Of course, soldiers were sent after me, et cetera, but I had been fighting since my parents escaped the Zepha tribe (a deed in which they could not include my sister or me, because that would endanger us more, nor could they stay and get killed in the war for real) and none of them were much of a threat. I’d honed my healing magic early by hanging around in a hospital and kind of aggravating the nurses since they weren’t paid when I did their job. My sort-of godmother, Mel, taught me to use a bow when I was very young. I originally used nothing more than a stick and a long piece of twine, which eventually broke, but I got the hang of shooting over time. I was shooting a decent 35-pound draw by the time I was ten or eleven.

In escaping, I met my little sister (though I didn’t know this at the time). She enabled me to fly with a spell I can’t explain, and we escaped to the very village that the Zephans were at war with (though we didn’t know that at the time, either). There, we met my other sister, Kaye, who is an Air and a Storm Anoki. Combinations like this are pretty common, though Air and Storm abilities are pretty rare. But what’s special about Kaye is that she can do every kind of magic except Star… which isn’t common. But she’s always been an Air Anoki in my mind. It fits her personality. Kaye is sixteen years old right now.

Kaye taught me Air magic, but Akana couldn’t do it, although she could fly. This still mystifies me. Akana could do a certain spell (which she made up, I might add, though she isn’t a Star Anoki, either) that enabled anyone to fly.  I can’t explain it. It’s the quandary that I haven’t fixed or figured out yet, and I’ve fixed and figured out a lot of quandaries.

During this time, I ran into a remnant of my mom’s Star magic and picked it up myself. I decided that I was going to use that power to end the war. With magical power, fighting experience, and naughty sarcasm, I eventually brought both Zephan and Kliid tribes to their knees and settled the government out. Kaye is now the leader of the Kliid, since it’s where she grew up, and Mel is the leader of the Zephans. (This is because the previous leaders aren’t going to be ruling anything but fire, if you know what I mean.) Those two aren’t going to war with each other, so we’re safe, and the two tribes have actually become good trade routes for everyone.

I ditched the whole area, and I’ve been living with my parents, Akana, and Cat-Flat, who is definitely my mom’s cat. His name has nothing to do with not being round, a trait he definitely has, and more to do with the all too common green clouds. This says something about my mom, but I don’t want to give it too much thought.

I teach magic in the Skiea tribe, where my parents live now. It’s a risky job, what with the Fire Anoki pyromaniacs and kids throwing up when the Air kids do the tornado spells and get dizzy. The Skieans are more magically diverse than the Zephans, since my mom regularly uses magic to do stuff like laundry, and it doesn’t take much as far as  being around her to mutate your powers into something completely new and pants-wettingly powerful. Unfortunately, the Anoki who experience this the most are the kids who come over for Mom’s magical chocolate biscotti, and they’re also the ones I teach. Uh.

But as long as nobody else cracks the “make your own tea” joke (morphed off of one destructive Show and Tell in which my most dangerous little seven-year-old girl made tea from a deadly poison—which I have no idea how she had access to, nor do I want to know because it would probably end up as my job to fix), I’m sane. It’s okay.

I learned I liked teaching while tutoring a Zephan boy called Tony. He was the other reason I was able to leave the Zepha tribe: he’d somehow picked up healing magic from me. Without him, I’d feel too guilty about leaving the Zepha tribe without a properly trained healer, which they’re used to. I’m kind of surprised that nobody before him had the talent, because there was plenty of loose Earth magic around, but I think it had something to do with the Commitment Spell and possession of magic.

What I mean is, magic can take over its user and alter them, especially if they’re not entirely sure who they are. Like, somebody pretending to be somebody they’re not, or keeping a certain secret, or wanting something that’s near impossible to get. If these people run into too much magic or receive the Commitment Spell and they aren’t firmly grounded in something that they’re familiar with, like my Earth magic, and they aren’t one of those strong personalities, like my mom’s, then that Anoki gets possessed by the magic.

What happens is that when someone puts too much power into a spell, intending it to be stronger, but they aren’t capable enough to handle it right, then that magic clusters and sits in the place where the caster was standing when they did the spell. When someone runs into that and subconsciously accepts the magic, approving of it, they pick up the talent.

When the person is a Light, Earth or Water user, possession usually has the least damage. But the possessed people are never the same, never themselves again. They represent the true and real nature of the magic, and they aren’t Anoki. Let me drive one point:


Possessed Time Anoki will disappear for centuries, and then a body dead of starvation will randomly show in some forest somewhere. The healers of the village that finds it will try everything, nearly draining their strength to the point of killing themselves (since Anoki fall asleep when the magical potential in their bodies is exhausted, and this can mean that somebody drops asleep on some floor and gets a concussion). The entire populace of a tribe with a possessed Dream Anoki will regularly have hallucinations—you’d think the entire place was on acid. They can make very strange artwork. Don’t get me into what a possessed Darkness Anoki does to people.

And when I say that Light, Earth and Water do the least damage… that doesn’t mean they don’t do anything but sweetness and sunshine. Possessed Light Anoki will blind entire neighborhoods by stepping outside. Possessed Earth Anoki will summon tree roots to wrap around random people for stupid stuff like “unkind words” that were meant as a joke, or undo healing magic at the strangest times. Water Anoki can cause unnatural flooding, or ice up entire streets, in the middle of an argument.

Possessed Anoki have no sense of right or wrong. They lose the part of them that handles discretion, the part that knows when a sharp word is more effective than a spell. This is the trait that is most similar in Anoki and humans, and it is the most important. Humans may be weaker than Anoki and kind of naïve, but their nature—human nature—is one of the closest things binding the two. It’s why we can stay here. If humans see us, we pull in our wings and they think we’re those “crazy” human magic wielders practicing hat tricks. Actually, the wielders and the Agency members are the only humans worth talking to. But I’ll save that for later.

You got that? All right. Now we can start.

It was a Monday. I hate Mondays. Mondays are disgusting. Mondays are when half the kids are asleep and the other half are putting makeup on them or spreading mud on their hands and tickling their nose. My mom hasn’t failed to suggest, multiple times, the spell she made up to stick kids to whatever they touched. But I’m not that mean… yet.

Akana started to attend the school, of which I am the only teacher of a huge class. The older kids sometimes help—sort of—but it’s not the same as actually having someone else to scream after you get laryngitis from the first few times.

Akana is usually right up front, cheery like the Light Anoki she is, but for the past two weeks or so, she’s sitting in the grass at the back of the clearing where I teach, and she’s gone completely silent. It sounds like a recipe for a horrible autobiography, but my mom says it’s because she’s going through a phase. Akana’s “phases” usually consist of something more childish and funny, like pretending to be a cat or making up her own language or doing running-in-circle dances whenever she’s left alone. Or she’ll only write in crayon. Or she’ll jump rope but not play hopscotch. Or something.

Lately, her only activities have been magic and drawing. I watched her doing magic the other day, and she kept trying to do some silvery-colored spell that kept whizzing off into space. She left in a hurry when she noticed I was there, with a almost-panicked gait. The I’ve-been-caught gait. I tried to ask her what that spell was, and she muttered something about it being something she dreamed up and left a little faster.

I spied on her earlier today, maintaining a Water invisibility spell and an Earth sound-muffling spell, and watched through the rails of the deck to where she was practicing the same spell, over and over and over. After about five minutes, the spell dissipated extra fast as she looked up worriedly. Then her face became a mask of alarm and she ran into the village. I didn’t see her for the rest of the day.





Today I had to take a trip. I was trying the Spell out in the back yard, but somebody was watching from somewhere, so I left. I went into the Skiea village. It’s a small village compared to the Zepha one, but there were still enough people that I knew the person wasn’t watching any more. I don’t know why I thought someone was looking at me, cuz I couldn’t see anyone, but someone was. I can’t explain.

Then I remembered that I had a dollar Amanda gave me in my shirt pocket. I pulled it out and tried to find someone with food. For now, I didn’t quite feel safe around the house even though Amanda teached me to protect myself. I mean taught.  Anyway, I liked being out in the village and I hadn’t been there by myself before. I just never really thought about it.

I found someone who gave me a hot dog, and I gave him my dollar. The hot dog was good, but I was still hungry. Mom says I eat enough for a small army. I had to go back to the house soon, but I was having too much fun to do it yet. And anyway, I found a five-dollar bill in the street, and I wanted to buy more stuff.

There were lots of people selling food, but I didn’t want another hot dog and I didn’t want gyros or sauerkraut, whatever those were. They smelled weird. I looked a little more and went into the grocery store. They sold everything there. I bought a whole box of cookies for just another dollar, and I ate them all.

I flew around the village for a while, watching people. Everybody seemed to be doing something. Then I saw a little girl who wasn’t doing anything but sitting around, and I landed and started talking to her. She said her name was Alyssa and I said that was funny, because my mom’s name is Alicia and she said that moms don’t have names, they’re just moms. Then I said that they did, but they didn’t use them much. I don’t know how old she was, but we had something in common—that we were bored—and we chatted away until I flew home.

Nobody seemed to miss me that much. It made me a little sad, but if they’d known where I’d gone, I probably would have gotten in trouble. So I didn’t bother telling them. But it was a pretty good day, seeing as I got a hot dog, twelve cookies, and four bucks out of the deal, plus the almond biscotti Mom made when I got home.

I’m still feeling kind of nervous and jittery, though, and at the same time excited. My magic was something kind of new. It was a lot different than Amanda’s or Mom’s. Or anyone’s, even. It was even different from other Light Anoki’s. But I knew I had to keep it secret, for some reason. I just wanted this to myself, at least until I figured it out.





Akana didn’t show again until dinner. I didn’t bother asking her where she went. She seemed pretty contented, though. I wondered why she was out so long. Did I scare her somehow? Was there a spider in the grass that she was avoiding? Did she hear a weird noise that caused her to run? I still don’t know. She’s a weird kid sometimes.

I don’t know what’s gotten into her. She’s been all secretive lately. I don’t know how to solve this mystery.

But I do know that magic is always found by magic. This could explain why she was seeing me, I suppose, if she was doing that, but it also would provide a solution.

I waited until she went to bed. Then I snuck into her room and said, quietly,

            Child of many secrets

            Why do you so hide?

            What are you keeping silent?

            We’re out here; you’re inside.

            Why are you so quiet?

            You aren’t always by yourself.

            You sit around, too quiet

            All your toys are on the shelf.

            Is there a reason for elusion?

            Is there a reason you stand by?

            Where has gone the one I know

            The girl above the sky?

It was a lot longer than most of my spells, but I wanted to make sure I got Akana, and not some girl across the street. The spell seemed sluggish to work. I was hoping it would give me a peek into her mind, but I had a feeling she was kind of guarded while awake, though as far as I knew, only Star Anoki can sense magic. She’s proven me wrong about a lot of this, though, and I didn’t want to worry her or let her think I was onto her or something.

Suddenly she stirred, thrashed, and woke, sitting straight up in bed.

“Wh-whhhhaaaaat?” she said shakily.

“You were thrashing like nothing else,” I lied. “You’re fine.”

She shook her head. “I had the strangest dream. Someone was actually using Star magic.”

“Oh… really?” So now she could not only sense magic, she could do it in her sleep? It was starting to look like that. This almost topped the tea-from-poison scare.

“Yeah,” she said. “And it wasn’t you.”

*          *          *

            I woke up the next morning. My first thought was, She didn’t tell me everything. And that other stuff was really going to hinder me as I tried to figure out what was happening.

Akana didn’t say much more than that. She was very firm about this. She claimed that she didn’t remember anything else, but I knew she was lying. It had been all over her face.

Obviously, I couldn’t get to her that way. Maybe if I sent something else to watch her.

I went into town and bought a pretty but cheap amethyst ring that would fit her. I set a spell over it to see whatever she did. If she found out, I could always say that I was trying to protect her, because if she was having nightmares all of a sudden, then it might be for a reason… I’m a pretty good liar when it comes to Akana, but everyone else reads me like a book. Just ask my mint plant. I think that thing is psychic at times.

I went home and offered it to Akana. She took it, weighed it in her hand for a minute, and frowned suspiciously but set it on her finger anyway. I was starting to get kind of frightened. She was starting to act like a Star Anoki, though I was just about sure she’d be possessed the second she actually got Star magic. In fact, I thought, that might have happened already. It would explain her recession into isolation, and her odd magical behavior. Would she have accepted Star magic at all if she found it? Maybe she’d even been possessed by Star magic before I’d ever met her. Maybe that would explain how she could actually make people fly.

But that left a loose end open: Akana couldn’t do all the elements, like Star magicians. Her powers were disappointingly limited. Unless…

Unless she’d also picked up the secretive nature of Star Anoki and had, for her own reasons, concealed her abilities. Kaye, though not a Star Anoki, had done so as to avoid too much political attention while living with the Kliid before I got my butt over there. That would be a reason for her to avoid being seen while practicing magic. Star magic lies low and dangerous.

I was sitting on my bed, thinking this. I decided that it didn’t matter how much I hypothesized—I needed to do the experiment to find the right information that would tell the truth. I crossed my legs and thought about the spell I’d put on the ring. I had to attach a word to it, one I didn’t use often. I chose the word susurrus, like her voice when she was doing magic in secret. Kind of a mumbly, muttering voice that was low and nearly indecipherable.

“Susurrus,” I said, and my vision changed from that of the room to looking out of the ring’s gem.
I laid down on my bed as accurately as possible, to make it look like I was taking a nap, then focused on Akana’s spell. I was able to hear her clearly.

Light over night

            Make the bright day

            Light over day

            Make night for fey

Fey. She meant Anoki, she meant fairies, she meant dragons and Chikik and mermaids and Nykxies and pixies and Shapees. But the word fey was never used, not to describe this world’s creatures, except in one or two exclusive areas.

After a year or two of living with my parents, I was starting to relax from the adrenaline high I’d been on for years, starting to get un-used to fear, adrenaline, rage, et cetera. But now I was feeling that déjà vu, that here-we-go-again feeling, and I was digging my heels into the deceiving fancy carpet.

You can’t kill instinct—certainly not my instinct—and I was subconsciously, unwillingly readying myself for a fight. That’s what happens when you think your parents were killed for about ten years, fight with (not in, officially, but I fought by their side) the army for six, run away, get spied on by your mom (who you don’t know is your mom, and for all you know could be yet another person trying to kill you, or, worse, reporting to an army that’s planning to kill you and possibly get overheard by ANOTHER army wanting to kill you and could very well have been spying on you for years and anticipating your moves for the next year), get new and freaky magic that you’re not sure you’ll survive having, killing off most of an army, assassinating all the village leaders you previously feared, assassinating the leader of another village, taking both into your control, delegating them off, and then having biscotti and lemonade.

You think your family’s dysfunctional?

I realized that while reviewing my credentials, Akana had stopped to stare at the ring. She sat down.

“There’s magic over you, isn’t there?” she murmured to herself, her straight blonde hair nearly obscuring her face. She ran a finger over the silver of the ring. “Yep. But what kind? Were you shaped by Fire magic? Were you cooled by Water magic? Did you belong to a Time magician?”

She closed her eyes, humming a tune I didn’t recognize to herself casually, as if she wasn’t concerned at all, but just curious. She didn’t say anything, least of all a spell.

“Ohh…” she said. “Earth magic. Dream magic. Star magic?” She paused, then scowled. “Amanda.”

She marched into the house and set the ring in a shoebox with various other magical items I’d given her. All of them were completely normal-looking; a teddy bear, a scarf, a small bag, a doll, even an uneaten lollipop I’d given her when she was sick all sat in the bottom of the box, where she buried the ring. All of them were designed to work better than other items of their kind, or to protect her, heal her, cheer her up, or had similar uses. Yet she still seemed suspicious of them.

I heard Akana’s footsteps retreat, then muttered a swear word under my breath. I needed to know what was going on!

The footsteps stopped suddenly. I wondered if she could hear me through the ring. Then they quickened, though not in a threatening way, and the box opened again.

“I wonder what these are for,” she said to herself. “If I can find out who put magic over the ring, maybe I can know what these are, if I look. This one has a Fire spell over it,” she said, picking up the scarf.

I sucked in a breath. The ring would be useless if she found out what it was! As it is, if she so much as touched it again, she would figure it out. And if I cloaked the ring’s magic, she would be so suspicious that she wouldn’t touch it. Ever. She had been chased too.

Course, that could be another reason she was doing this. If she’s still neurotic as a result of any one of our death fights, it wouldn’t matter if it was five years later—she would still be a little panicky if the items were at all questionable or had magic over them.

Another question. Akana, not being a Star Anoki, shouldn’t be able to tell when magic is being done. Then again, maybe she only knows when it’s present—after the magic is done. She definitely shouldn’t be able to tell who did the magic, which it seems like she does. The ring’s magic could have been from my mom, if she knew I was giving it to Akana. But Akana knew it was me.

I was feeling… not nauseous, but close to it. Uncomfortable at least. I wanted someone to fight now. So I went to the training grounds, the only place anyone would dare to fight me. There was an anti-magic field around the entire place, so the only fighting was physical. Even so, I could barely find anyone who would try and spar.

I left the place three hours later exhausted but relatively unscathed. I’d have a few bruises in the morning, but at least I wasn’t leaving with a black eye and a bloody nose… like someone.  I didn’t feel like myself any more. This recent activity had let me realize how dull my life had actually gotten. Up until now, I’d felt like living with my parents was just a normal part of my ongoing adventure, but now I realized that it my action had ended when I’d learned everything about my parents, or maybe when I’d moved in.  This recent realization might have inspired someone else to do something great, but it simply depressed me.

I had to convince Akana that the ring was safe, which meant another spell. I would have to use trial and error, since my made-up spells still weren’t always accurate. Or I’d have to find a Dream spell from my records.

I went home and sifted through my school notes. They weren’t big, leather-bound books. If I’d carried those around the school, my back would have been broken by now. After a few hours of crazy searching, I found a spell that assured a person of an item’s safety. I don’t like Dream magic very much. It’s extremely complicated, and doesn’t always work since it has so much to do with the other person that it affects people differently. That, and I associate it with the dictators I killed. It’s a stereotype, and that’s bad, but I still think that way.

The band of five lazy dictators never did want to get off their rumps and organize the tribe correctly. People didn’t have jobs half the time, and most of the Anoki  were either trying to wheedle some rich dude into hiring them as a personal chef, or sitting in the street jingling cans for pocket money. So to avoid having to sort things out or deal with a riot, they found one particular Dream Anoki to create a spell to let everyone think that their lives were all right. But the problem was that the Anoki could hear the thoughts and emotions of every villager in the tribe. So the dictators threw him in the tribe dungeon. There were probably a good six thousand in that village alone, and I’m not sure how far the spell spread. If you think it’s bad when you break up with your boyfriend, then think about having to hear the thoughts of every girl in the tribe who broke up with hers. Plus the divorce stories. Plus Dead Auntie Marina. Plus the puppies run away, the dead rabbits in the back yard, and the ice cream on the ground.

That Anoki was going mad because of how many different thoughts and realizations were forced into his head. It was a permanent spell, too. I had a rather dysfunctional conversation with him, in which I ended up killing him to end his suffering and the spell. Needless to say, I now associate Dream magic with suffering and hiding. I’ve never met more sleazy people than those dictators—well, the ones that I did meet. I never really met Raystar, but she was a werewolf. And if the wolf part didn’t eat meat, it would waste away. From how plump she’d been…

I was lost in my memories for another hour. I’d been staring at the same paper on my desk for fifty-five minutes, and was getting a severe headache, so I went to lie down.

What was I going to do? She was my little sister. I’d protected her since I’d met her. I couldn’t let anything happen to her, and my so-often-relied-upon magic wasn’t going to work.





I wasn’t feeling great today. So I laid down for a while. I hadn’t seen Amanda anywhere. I think she might have locked herself in her room with a book again. Mom was making dinner, but it was something unrecognizable, so I grabbed a few hot dogs out of the fridge while she was trying to grill some octopus or something outside. I ate them so fast that she didn’t know why I wasn’t hungry later. And I had some orange juice, too.

But I was feeling really, really dizzy, so I went to bed really early. Mom was starting to wonder if I had a cold or something. But I don’t think so. I was just sleepy.

I woke up in the middle of the night feeling magical. Amanda says that’s normal and it happens to her all the time. It doesn’t happen to me all the time. But when it does, I always go where I feel like I need to. Sometimes I end up in the kitchen, and Mom makes me a cup of hot chocolate. Sometimes I end up outside.

I ended up outside this time. I wanted to be near water, like a lake or something. So I flew and flew until I ended up by a lake somewhere. The moon was big and pretty. I sat on the ground criss-cross applesauce, in the grass. I wanted to go swimming, so I unfolded my wings and flew out over the water. Then I flipped over really fast and floated in the water on my wings so I wouldn’t drown.

It was really fun. I let myself float there for a while until I decided to get up. Then I flipped over and beat my wings to shake off the water, and I flew up like a duck. I flew to the shore of the lake and landed. I sat down again.

I relaxed by the lake. I even slept for a few minutes. When I got up, I decided to try my spell again. It started out as a dance I made up, but there was this little flash of magic with it, so I just kept doing it. I wanted to see what it did.

I stood up and started moving my hands, humming a little tune I liked. The forest was pretty dark, but I could see the magic working. It was really easy. Then…





It’s a good thing that I’d gone to bed early. In the middle of the night, there was a ton of magic settling and waking me up constantly. That’s regular on a full moon, of course; the moon’s light gives off such an odd amount of magic, and the more light there is, the more magic. Moon magic isn’t the kind Anoki use, but still, those of us who are sensitive to a huge amount of magic being dumped in the atmosphere can be easily bothered by it. In other words, me.

It occurred to me fast that this probably involved my creepy little sister.

I was right.

I traced the majority of the moon magic to this swampy lake-ish area, where a wet Akana was sitting around in the grass and doing The Spell. Only this time, it was working.

She stifled a shriek and rolled from her sitting position to lay flat on her stomach and bury her face in the grass. Her straight blonde hair lay limp on the grass, obviously going to need serious washing when we got home. If this wasn’t something serious.

“Searchforwound,” I muttered, low enough as not to be detected. I was hoping she wouldn’t notice the magic if she was in pain. If not, I had a dang good excuse to be here.

I was starting to notice that, all of a sudden, I needed an excuse.

The spell failed miserably. Either she wasn’t hurt, or she wasn’t hurt physically. Earth magic would do nothing to heal a magical or mental wound. For that, I’d need Dream or Star magic. And to figure out which it was, I needed to get Akana up and ask her.

Which meant going up. Here goes, I thought.

“Akana?” I said quietly at first, approaching cautiously but quickly. It wasn’t necessarily Akana’s magic that had collapsed her; there might have been someone else. I’ve lost track of my enemies.

“Akana?” I said more firmly, and repeated doing so until I was up to a shout. Enough with the verbal, then; I went up and shook her. I flipped her over, and she gazed at me with cold silver eyes that were normally blue.

“Get off me.” The voice was too old and too cold for an eight-year-old girl.



I don’t remember much else that happened that night. I was kind of blind for a while. I woke up the next morning in my bed, and nobody asked me about it. It makes me nervous.

I wanted to spend my other four dollars, so I went back to the village market by myself. Nobody noticed when I left the house anyway, because they all know I can always take care of myself. I did it in the forest once for a really long time. And bears didn’t bother me or anything except for one time.

Except Amanda keeps bringing that up, ‘cause she was the one who healed it. She was so nice back then. I don’t know.

Anyway, I bought more cookies and a cute magic wand I wanted. I ate all the cookies again. It was fun. I played in the park for a while, too. People kept saying my eyes were pretty, but I don’t know why. They look just like everyone else’s eyes.

Mom said that too, but she kind of frowned a little when she said it. And she didn’t say any more. Not even about me going to the market.

[A start to a sequel for Star. Crummy, but interesting enough to hold my attention after I rediscovered it.]

That is all. For now.