Morning Magic – Part 2
Zana licked her fingers to get the last juicy remnants of thistle flavor from them. From above, light from the small opening reflected off her pearly nails. The gentle swinging of the knitting bag stopped, and she heard Aldia jingling her house-keys.
But there was no click of the key in the lock. Curious, Zana got to her feet and peeked out from the bag. My mistress’s nose is twitching – and a witch’s nose knows everything. Frown lines creased Zana’s diminutive, golden face.
Finally, the key went into the lock and it snicked open. As Aldia walked into her apartment, Zana saw all the house plants sway in greeting, their fragrant fronds waving a joyous welcome. Happy to be home, Zana launched herself out of the cramped knitting bag. Her shimmering wings flexed and flapped as she circled the living room. The ceiling fixtures illuminated a cozy room filled with graceful chairs, an overstuffed sofa, a writing desk and a round wooden work table. Shelves from floor to ceiling were crammed with books, binders, knick-knacks, a TV, and small, framed portraits. On every available surface, a profusion of pungent herbs and flowering plants poked out from pots.
On the large work table in the center of the room, Zana noticed a box wrapped with a bright red ribbon. Oh, what a pretty present, she thought.
Aldia walked up to the table and called out, “Raffles, what’s this?”
A pan crashed to the floor of the kitchen with a metallic clang. “Oh – now look what you made me do.” A squat raccoon bustled into the living room, wiping her hands on her rumpled apron. “That gift was dropped through the mail slot not ten minutes ago with this note.” Raffles the raccoon pulled a card from the pocket of the apron, and Aldia bent to take it.
“Zana! Zana!” Seela flew out from the kitchen to greet her sister and the two embraced, tracing erratic circles in the air. Dislodged pixie dust powdered their path as they banked and twirled, giggling with delight. “You must come and see the shortbread cookies. I helped bake them,” Seela announced with pride.
“The card says: For you, with my love. But it doesn’t say who it’s from,” Aldia murmured in a perplexed tone. She leaned over the little box and cocked her head as if listening to something.
Raffles climbed up the chair, then leaped onto the table. Soft toes padded across the hardwood surface, and she sat herself down in front of the mysterious gift. Black-masked eyes inspected the ribbons, which snaked around the box and ended in an intricate bow on top.
Zana and Seela flew in lazy loops toward the kitchen, while Zana filled her in on their latest adventure of saving Lost Souls. They flitted into the kitchen as Raffles said, “Open it and let’s see what it is.”
The shortbread was cut in neat squares. Bunches of them were piled high on a china plate on the kitchen countertop. They landed, and Zana looked at the sand-colored cookies and commended, “They look perfect.”
“And they taste lovely. Try one!”
A blinding light shone from the living room for a split-second, like the flash of a camera. The sisters looked at each other in surprise. They flew to the doorway and peered out. Aldia and Raffles stared at the open gift box. Hovering in the doorway, Zana was the first to notice something was wrong. The plants were in an uproar; the snapdragons snapped, the tiger-lilies growled, and the violets were not only shrinking, they were shuddering. Ordering her sister to stay put, she darted to the work table where Aldia and Raffles stood, still as statues.
“Mistress Aldia, what’s wrong?” She asked again and again, but no matter how desperate her pleas, neither of the frozen forms answered. Landing on the table, she saw Aldia’s hand was still locked around the top of the box. She reached out and touched a frigid finger. It was as cold as the snow on Dragon Mountain and hard as marble. Raffles was in the same state, rooted to the table, brown fur fixed in tufts. Black magic! Oh, no. What should I do?
Disobeying her sister’s orders, Seela swooped in and began to shriek, “Cursed! Cursed! They’ve been cursed!”
Zana glided aloft, caught Seela’s hand and pulled her back into the kitchen. Fluttering above the plate of shortbread, she tried to calm Seela’s hysteria. “I will go get help.”
“But how can you get out? The doors and windows are closed. There’s no way to get out. What if we never get out?” Fear made her voice rise higher and louder, “What if whoever did this to Aldia and Raffles comes back to get us?” Seela’s nervous hands intertwined and twisted together.
“Well, if the doors and windows are locked, then how can anyone get in to get us?”
“Shape-shifters could!” Seela cried, her brilliant green eyes widened at the horrible thought.
“Shush! You know that the treaty with the …” Zana couldn’t bring herself to say their dreadful name. “… those creatures has been in effect for hundreds of years. With Eldor and Aldia in charge, they wouldn’t dare start trouble.”
However, getting out did present a problem. Zana whizzed through the small apartment checking every window. It was a modest apartment; only a living room, small bedroom, kitchen and bath. Zana had always wondered why Aldia didn’t live in a lavish penthouse, as befitted her station.
After examining all the windows, she flew back, and Seela could see the dismal truth on her face.
“Oh, it’s true! We are trapped. We’ll never get out.” One big, fat tear trembled on Seela’s lashes, then fell onto a cookie. The shortbread cookie immediately turned to gold.
“Seela!” Zana said, shocked. It was strictly forbidden for pixies to shed tears, for anything that a tear touched would turn to solid gold. Accidents in ancient times had caused deaths and the laws of the Shrouded Forest were adamant. Pixies weren’t allowed to cry, ever.
“I’m so sorry.” Seela hung her head in shame.
The whir of the kitchen exhaust fan, seeped into Zana’s ears. “That’s it! Look, Seela. I can get out through the blades of the fan.” It took up half of the kitchen window, and the spaces between the blades might be big enough for her to get out. She kissed her sister on her soft, dimpled cheek and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll bring help soon.” She turned off the fan switch, waited for it to stop, and then slipped through the motionless blades. The alleyway was dark, and she paused for a moment as she saw a flicker of movement in the shadows. It didn’t come again, and she couldn’t afford to wait for imagined predators when her loved ones were in dire need. She must fly quickly and bring back help for her sister, Aldia, and Raffles. Her gossamer wings pumped hard, carrying her up and out of the alley.
The crisp autumn air held the promise of rain in its humid breeze. She rode higher on swiftly changing wind currents; the frantic beating of her wings almost out-raced that of her heart as she zoomed over streets and buildings to the Fendles’ rooftop abode. Majestic blue birds, they lived in an abandoned pigeon coop, and knew the city well. If anyone could help her, they could.
She alighted on the rusty tin roof of the coop where two of the Fendles were dozing in the noon sunlight.
“Please!” she called, panting from the hurried flight.
Both birds were larger than she was, and they opened half-closed eyelids at her voice and stared down at her. The older female cawed, “Why it’s a pixie! Look, George.” She nudged her mate even though he was already turning his regal head to regard Zana.
“I’m Zana. My mistress is Aldia and there’s a – a – disaster!”
George pointed his long blue beak at her and replied, “I know you. What’s this about a disaster?”
“It’s Aldia! She’s been turned to stone!”
Clucking in consternation, both Fendles said, “What’s this? What’s this?”
“She opened a box and I think it was cursed and then they both stopped moving and they were so cold and I didn’t know what to do and I was afraid so I came here—“ Zana broke off from her tirade to catch her breath.
A loud burbling trill burst from George, and in moments, many Fendles were flapping out from the coop and landing all around them on the pigeon-coop roof. A bedlam of babbling broke out from the group as they discussed who would fly where to give news of the terrible emergency.
“Don’t worry! We’ll alert every witch from here to the Shrouded Forest. We’ll bring back help,” squawked the eldest Fendle whose neckband of feathers was ringed by white. George and his mate stretched their long wings and leaped upward. All the glorious blue Fendles dove away into the sky, which was slowly becoming thick with rain clouds
There was nothing for Zana to do but go back home and wait.
As she squeezed herself back through the fan, strange noises met her ears. A beastly, shape-shifting Varg rifled through Aldia’s charms and books. Seela zipped above his head, whirling in and out, trying to distract him. The shape-shifter was in the form of a grizzled boar, bristly black hair sticking out all over his hunch-backed body. He growled and shook his yellowed tusks at Seela as she dipped and wove around him. Sputtering high-pitched threats for him to stop, Seela only seemed to make the Varg angrier. One hairy paw clove the air and smacked into the pesky pixie. Zana screamed as she saw Seela flip end-over-end and crash against a wall. Streaking over to her, Zana found her lying prone, eyes closed, wings crumpled and broken.
The Varg spied her. “When I’ve found the Dunston Amulet, I’ll catch you silly little pixies and take you back, too!” he promised through jagged teeth.
The misery of losing her sister shattered Zana. She shot at the Varg with no thought of her own safety, hitting him with her tiny fists. “You’ll be cursed forever, life-taker!” she shouted. She dodged his swiping hands once, twice, then he struck a glancing blow. Terrible pain seized her, and her leg dangled uselessly. She strained to gain height and get out of his reach, but her broken leg caused her to wail in anguish. She fluttered to one side, over the silent forms of Aldia and Raffles, and despair cut her heart in two. Everyone that she loved was in peril and there was no one to save them; she was just too small and weak to overcome the cruel Varg. She felt the touch of tears on her cheeks. Stuttering forward with gritted teeth, her iridescent wings battered through the air until she was over the Varg. One tear fell from her wet cheek, and in the middle of swatting at Zana, the Varg transformed into solid gold.
Exhausted, she struggled to get back to her sister. For a long while, she cradled Seela’s head with her numbed arms.
An hour later, the door burst open and Chief Wizard Eldor, Aldia’s father, hobbled in, flanked by his retainers. Leaning on his silver staff, he surveyed the scene. His snow-white brows crawled across his forehead like furry caterpillars and met in the middle in a sharp frown.
Banging his heavy staff on the floor to attract the attention of the earth gods, Eldor closed his eyes and chanted ancient words passed down from generations of witches and wizards. A strange hissing sizzle came from the stone-like faces of his daughter and her housekeeper. His magic dissolved the curse as, inch-by-inch, color and glow returned to Aldia and Raffles. After determining that they were all right, and helping his daughter into a chair to rest, he turned his attention to Zana and Seela.
“O Great Eldor! My sister is dead! We will never play together again in the rainbows of this world,” Zana moaned.
“Now let me see here.” With surprising gentleness, he picked up Seela’s limp body and laid her across his broad, wrinkled palm. He smiled at Zana and said, “Do not fear, little one, there is life in your sister yet.” He straightened out her bedraggled wings, and mumbled words in the old tongue. Then he blew warm breath across her insensate form. Zana focused on her, adding her own prayers to the effort.
Then Seela’s head moved. “What happened?” she asked.
Zana would have leaped into the air and done barrel rolls of exhilaration if she hadn’t been in so much pain.
“Your sister is injured, but with rest, she’ll recover,” Eldor assured Zana. “Now let’s attend to you.” After giving Seela to one of his men, Eldor set Zana’s broken leg, while she squeezed her eyes closed and tried not to scream from the pain. She didn’t want her sister to know how much it hurt.
Aldia, concerned for her dear pixies, rose stiffly from the chair and fashioned an herbal concoction to dull their pain. She said healing prayers over them, then she took them to her bedroom and tucked them into the fluffy comforter on her bed.
In the doorway, Eldor rumbled to Aldia, “You know what this means. The Varg are preparing to go to war against us.”
They walked back to the living room, and Zana snuggled up next to her sleeping sister. As the first raindrops pitter-pattered against the window panes, she felt a cloud of darkness pass over their lives, and she mourned for the loss of peace.
Zana burrowed under the covers and shivered in fear. There were dark days ahead.