‘Olivia, dear, you’re not thinking rationally. You can’t just give it up, it’s not a thing.’ Grams was saying, calmly seated at the dining table as Olly paced anxiously in front of the hearth. It was an old hearth in an insanely old home that her oldies refused to sell and move out of. It had too much ‘history’, family history apparently. So much history that the stupid black cauldron hanging from a cast iron rod over the fire made Olly think they were living in a museum piece, or that her Grams was a witch.
‘Why not? You said it was a gift. If it’s a gift, then it can be given back too!’
‘Olly, dear, it’s a little more than a gift,’ her grandfather began but Grams interrupted him.
‘It’s not money or clothes, or food, Olivia! It’s our family legacy. It comes with being a Custos. It’s who we are!’ Her Grams was on the verge of a major rage session, and that somehow made Olly madder.
‘A legacy I know nothing about, cause I’m too stupid for you to tell me about my own family, or for that matter my parents!’ Olly yelled back. ‘How many times have I asked you what happened to them? How many times have I asked you to tell me about this family?! And how many times have you just gone ‘when you’re old enough’? And why is it that I can see things in the woods that were never there before? Or am I just crazy to give a lift to a fudging ghost without knowing?’
That’s when she saw it, her grandpa’s shoulders slum, and he was crushed. ‘They are there, dear.’ He sighed and turned to his wife. ‘We have to tell her, Bea. It’s about time.’
Grams stood there, defiant. ‘If we tell her, Roger, she will be in danger.’
Grandpa reached for her hand and gently caressed it. ‘She is already in danger. She is a Custos.’
For the first time in living memory, Olly saw tears of pain in her Grams’ eyes, tears that wrung her stomach foul. She nodded, her age suddenly catching up with her. ‘But we promised them we’d keep her safe.’
‘Promises we can keep still. We just need to tell her where she comes from. It’s time.’
Olly watched, mesmerized, utterly forgotten was her rage and hatred, instead, her curiosity spiked. ‘What do you mean tell me where I’m from? Where am I from?’
Her oldies turned to her with weak smiles on their faces. She watched her Grams grab the old lantern from the mantle, crusted with years of being unused. ‘Be a darling and light that,’ she held it out to her husband and Olly watched as her Grandfather open the tiny door and blow at the dark wick, and in an instant, by magic she’d never seen before, a flame, green, whooped into being.
‘What the f—’ she muttered under her breath.
‘Olivia Custos, we don’t swear like the humans,’ as Grams took her by a hand she was smiling, ‘and there is a reason for that.’
‘You’re a high born, my sweet child.’ Grandpa held her other hand and they led her out the back door, toward the ancient old fig tree that no longer bore fruits. ‘Come, let us show you something remarkable.’
They stood staring up at the tree. Olly admitted the green flame flickering in the odd lantern was beyond strange, but what did a dying old tree have that could be deemed extraordinary. ‘It’s an old tree, da. Nothing extraordinary other than the fact that I broke my arm falling off it as a kid.’
‘Then wait till you see inside it!’ Grams leaned over and placed her hand on an old, folded whirl of low-hanging branch that had been cut a long time ago, as old as the scar on Olly’s arm was from the fall. The whirl glowed, same strange green light, before blinding her with a flash that brought tears to her eyes.
When Olly could see, she could make out an arc shaped door slowly forming on its surface and expand, big enough to allow them to walk through it. ‘Ah, guys? What is going on? What is this?’ A hint of panic had entered her voice.
‘Come on. It won’t stay open for too long.’ Grams gripped her hand and headlong walked into the tree. Yes, the tree, with Olly unwillingly following, and behind her, once Grandpa cleared, the doorway snapped shut.
‘We better hurry, Bea!’ And quickly they whisked her through stranger alleyways still. ‘It’s not the safest place to be.’