Imaginary Leaks

Imaginary Leaks

21 Years Earlier. Year 1918Cheryl, small, freckle-faced, dark eyed girl with mousy thin lips and hair that cascades straight and almost brittle like pine needles down her tiny, bony frame. You could say the hair was almost as tall as her. 

She stood by the frosted window pane as her father and mother walked down the large steps they’d climbed only a short while ago, daddy dearest holding Cheryl’s small pale hands while mother walked ahead, her perfect behind shaking like a pendulum as she did, and her 4 inch heels clipping. 
“It’s going to be okay, Cher. You’ll see.” Her father hushed from above her, something in his eyes searching for her acknowledgment. “I went to a boarding school too when I was young. Made lots of friends, I did.” He stopped down to her as they reached the front grand door. “You want to make friends, don’t you sweet pea?”
Cheryl eyed the giant doorway, her mother long since disappeared. “I will live here now, Father?”
“Yes, sweet pea, and you will love it, I promise.”
Cheryle had continued to eye the lobby, its dark cold open space uninviting. “Till mummy is happy with me?”
“No, no, darling. Your mummy loves you very much.”
“Lies, Father. We mustn’t tell lies.” Cheryl looked him straight in the eye, her own vacant and full of questions. “Missy says mummy doesn’t want me anymore. Missy says mummy wants only the new baby.”
Her father holds her gently by her shoulders. “Cherry, we talked about Missy, haven’t we?” Cheryl nodded. “And what did we say about Missy.”
Cheryle eyed the blue-eyed blonde girl standing behind her father. A beautiful smile widening on her cherry lips, which put two severe dimples on her side. “Missy is not real, Father.”
“That’s right, sweet pea. Missy isn’t real, okay?” They heard the clipping of her mother’s shoes coming back again, and that’s when father rose. “Now, we will come back and get you for holidays and Christmas. And you must behave or…”
“We will leave you here for good!” Mother interrupted, snatching a Cheryl’s hand away from her father. Mother’s well manicured maroon nails scratched the young child’s arm, drawing blood, not that she cared. “Now,” she barked, “I don’t want to hear any complaints about you, you get it?” Cheryl nodded. “Good then,” the woman straightened up. “Get the car dear. The head mistress will be allowed my shortly for her.” 
Cheryl watched her father do as he was bid and retreat. She wasn’t to know that that would be the last time she’d ever see him again. Or her mother for that matter. That day, all those years ago, Cheryl wasn’t being left in a boarding school. No. That day, young five year old Cheryl Waters was being abandoned by one parent and orphaned to another. The only person left by her side that evening as she watched the car churn up dust down the gravel drive was Missy. Missy who held her hand and quietly whispered. “I’ll look after you now, Cherry.”
Year 1939

“Cheryl, someone is here to see you. Says she knows you. She is waiting at the lobby for you.”
Cheryl nodded, finishing up bandaging April’s hand. April was another resident at the hospital, incapable of looking after herself. Yesterday she’d accidentally got a hold of a pair of scissors and somehow managed to cut her hand with the blades. Over the years, Cheryl had learned to help out the nurses. It was the least she could do to have a roof over her head. Her funds had long since stopped arriving at the school apparently. 
“Who is it?” She finally asked as the nurse started walking away.
Nurse Martha had been working at the hospital for the last decade or so, but even her face was one of disbelief. “She says she’s your mother.”
“Mother?” Missy hissed beside Cheryl who could all but stare in disbelief. For all Cheryl knew, her father had died in the last Great War, and her mother lost interest in Cheryl with it. 
“Tell her I’ll be there in a moment. Whoever she is, she is not my mother, but I’ll see her anyway.”
Nurse Martha nodded and proceeded to go out the room and go about her work. 
“You will not see that woman. You will not Cherry.”

…to be continued…

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Other-worldly (7)

Somewhere on the other side of the world, in the middle of an arid land was a homestead where no man lived. Here, only three generations of women lived, grandmother, mother, and their 8 year old daughter, Phoenix. These three were the Williams girls. They arrived in the little town in the countryside some eight and a half years ago. No man in sight. Just the two women, the younger of which heavily pregnant. They moved into the homestead an hour out in the middle of nowhere, derelict and rundown. Miles away from any real neighbors. It was crazy to think that such a place was suitable for two women alone, one who was in a delicate situation. But alas, Mary and Eliza proved everyone wrong. Within the month or so, their house looked half decent, repairs here and there. Their land looked less and less wild, and they had adopted several sheep and goats.
Here, in this small house, something extraordinary was about to happen. After all, it wasn’t very often a young girl turned nine, or have the okay from the very private ladies of the house for a party. 
Phoenix had been tasked with making a list of everything they would need for a suitably decked out party. Mary, her mother had said they were heading into town that afternoon for shopping. 
‘Can we buy huge cake?’ She asked, eagerly jotted down ‘big cake’ in her list. 
Mary shook her head, and her lone wooden chopstick looking hair pin moved on top of her hair as she did. Her mother always wore that thing. Never a hair band, never an elastic, forever always with that pin in her bun. Guess some people had their rings and necklaces, and her mum had her hair pin. Phoenix had been so curios as a child once that she’d snuck into her mother’s room at night to see if she even worr it to bed. ‘I’ll make you a cake.’

Phoenix’s brows rose. ‘You don’t know how to bake, mum.’

‘Oh, I don’t? Really?’ 
‘I’ve never even seen you turn the oven on,’ she laughed, brushing aside the used black rubber, the result of her erasing out the ‘big cake’. ‘I think grandma does more cooking than you do.’
Mary eyed her mother, too busy watching some crazy videos of cats that Mary just couldn’t see the humor in. ‘Damn right, I do more cooking.’
‘Well, perhaps either of you would like to go work and bring home money? I’ll gladly exchange lives with either of you.’
‘Don’t be silly, mum. I’m eight.’
‘Well then, remember that next time you complain about my cooking. I can’t do everything around here.’ Mary threw the wet clothes in the laundry basket harshly. ‘Hurry up, Phee, we don’t have all day.’ Just as she said this and picked up the basket, she heard the sound of a bird’s sweet call. She stopped in her tracks and dropped the basket on the dinning table next to Phoenix and pulled the list from her. ‘Go get ready, I’ll finish this off. At this rate the shops will close. You and grandma head off once you’re changed.’
‘What about you?’ Phoenix looked perplexed.
‘I’ll come once I’ve done some cleaning. Meet you there. Maybe we will have dinner out.’
Phoenix’s face lit up and she bounded away, just in time to miss Grandma Eliza wandering over to her mother and the bird chirp to sound again. ‘Haven’t heard that call in a long time.’ She looked worrisome at the younger woman. 
‘It’s The Hallow.’ Mary reached in her pocket and pulled out a thick gold coin, the one that looked exactly like Siyon was carrying in the realm of magic, except, the wings of the bird were flapping in slow motion in this, with the call of the bird getting louder. 
‘What would they want after all the things they’ve done?’ Eliza sneered.
‘I don’t care to talk about the past, Neer, just take her away so I can go talk to them.’
Eliza sneered again. ‘Don’t call me that!’
‘Sorry.’
Eliza snapped at the car keys from the table and the list from her hand before hunching away. ‘Be careful.’
‘Always.’
‘Drive safe.’ She called out, watching the duo wave goodbye and step out. 
It was a moment before Mary pulled the pin from her hair and etched out a rune on the table, the wood singed a little before placing the coin on top. ‘Speak.’
‘Are we clear?’ A gravelly male voice escaped. 
‘Yes. It’s just me.’

Other-worlds (4)

‘Are you a Keeper?’ A stranger asked as they slipped onto the stool next to Balan. Their face hidden in a giant hood. From the size of it, the person looked small, perhaps a woman, but the voice had him confused, but of course he knew that it was safer than to ask. In stead, he didn’t reply, and went on to finish his half eaten dinner of a lamb and pepper pie, which was a little heavy on the pepper and had seen to it that he’d had a few pints. ‘A word from the Red Fort.’
Balan looked around the pub, making sure they were not being heard, no keen eyes lingered nor eager ears twitched. ‘A word?’
The stranger passed a slip of paper, drank his shot of a drink and slipped of the stool. Balan waited till the person was out of the pub before slipping money for his meal, and left with his stuff. 
He had to find a safe place to read the message, the walls everywhere in Quaint Town had ears, some good, but more often than not, spies. He hurried out the pub and took a right turn down an alley way he’d walked a fair few times. Today, it somewhat looked darker than normal, like the light from the oil lamps had a harder air to pierce, thicker. He felt an arm grab him and pull him into a wall that gave way before he knew he’d even been approached. 
‘Relax, I’m not going to harm you,’ a voice ringing with familiarity spoke from the pitch black. ‘Or don’t you know that this town isn’t as quaint as it pretends to be?’
Balan laughed, bringing out his moonstone and chanting its incantation. The tiny stone shone bright, its moonlight lighting up the immediate surroundings and before him stood an old friend, a friend rumored to have been long dead. ‘And don’t you know not to sneak up on Keepers like that? We are powerful, you know, all smiting and stuff!’
The two men laughed and embraced. The shorter man holding Balan by the two hands and laughing still. ‘You’ve gone skinny my friend.’
‘And you’ve gone smaller it seems. How is that even possible, Merith?’
Merith laughed. ‘It takes a lot of magic to make physical changes and painful, but it’s been worth it. My old self has a death warrant out on him.’
Balan nodded. He knew too well. In the last crusade to save the family and the realm they are sworn to protect, he had lost too many friends and family to a tyrant. He looked at the wall where they’d portalled in. ‘What’s out there?’
‘The Black Guards. These streets are filled with them. The Sights are the only ones that can see them and even then, they are cloaked well.’ 
Merith drew a mirror rune on the wall and the bricks turned semi-see through. ‘There were at least 3 Guards on the alley way and you were walking straight into their hands. You know what they do to Keepers these days?’ Balan shook his head. He hadn’t really been living in the Sight realm the last decade. He’d made the human realm his home. 

Merith removed his rune and the brick turned solid again. ‘Rumor has it that they are tortured and turned, and those too stubborn are flayed, burned, cursed ecetera. Their newest recruits for the Black Guard are said to be these turned Keepers, which means any safe routes you know are not safe anymore, all safe houses are compromised, any wards are brought down, and so on. You get the idea.’
It occurred to Balan then why The Hallow and Myra especially were making new wards even Keepers couldn’t cross. ‘I landed on the Reeds when I was heading for The Hallow.’
Merith nodded. ‘So the word for the Red Fort?’
Balan squared his shoulders and pulled out a sealed scroll from his long trench coat. ‘By the order of the Grand Monk, all Keepers are summoned immediately for an emergency summit. Your have two days to gather them.’
‘On the sly?’
‘If what you say is true, yes. We can’t risk more Keepers being ambushed by the Black Guards. You spread the words, I’ll let the Masters know.’
Merith looked at the summons somberly. ‘It’s the war that was foretold, isn’t it? This is the beginning?’
‘Maybe. I don’t know. Let’s hope it’s nothing other than a pesky pest control.’
Merith nodded. He handed Balan a small clear crystal. ‘Wait a while after I leave to use that. It will get you as close to the Citadel as possible. Too much magic surging from one spot will alert them.’
Balan nodded. ‘Fare thee well.’
‘You too!’
And just like that, Merith was gone in a surge of white light as the crystal hit the ground. And Balan waited, a fair while before using his own stone. 

Other-worldly (3)

Balan landed roughly upon the Whispering Reeds, several miles away from his intended target, The Hallow, one of the only few protected sanctuaries of The Keepers of Light left on Earth. He looked up at the waning moon, and sighed. Lucky it wasn’t a full moon. He was smack in the middle of the Southern Wolves territory. Had it been a full moon, he would have been shredded by now. Those nasty little buggers had a habit of hiding in the reeds as they approached the Quaint Town, hunting for those wayward teens out here on their Keeper training.
He felt something slimy and cold slither past his ankle and shivered. ‘Darned Nymphs!’ He dusted off his long leather coat and stomped his feet hard on the ground. The vibration rippling around him for a hundred meters or more, and he could hear the skittering of the beings. ‘That’s right. Keep away. Man on a mission here!’
By dawn, he knocked on the tall, wooden door, carved with centuries of history upon its face. A face whose carvings mysteriously moved up as new events took up space on the bottom. The older the stories, the higher up they went until the door disappeared with the air. Balan looked at the bottom most event, which was the coronation of King Antal, sometime a year ago. No major event had happened since that could change the course of the Veiled World. No event till now that was. He could see a new event beginning to take shape on the very bottom. A story that was vague and murky yet. 

Balan knocked again, harder this time and heard the faint vibrations run up the panel. 

‘Coming!’ A voice boomed from the other side. ‘What’s the impatience? You realize what time it is?’ 
The door swung open and there stood Monk Misser, garbed in nothing more than his pale gray shorts and shirt. It was a freezing morning but that didn’t seem to faze the old man. ‘What do you want Keeper Balan? What’s the meaning of this unholy hour’s visit?’
Balan quickly slipped inside the compound and the door swung closed silently. He always thought that was a weird thing, for a door as heavy and as thick as it was for it to be absolutely silent. 

He bowed to the Monk briskly. ‘Apologies my dear sir, it’s an emergency.’
The Monk stared at him. ‘I am no knight, Balan. And this isn’t the safest hour to be arriving.’
Balan looked around the courtyard they were standing in and a chill ran down his spine. The ancient trees were sleeping and he could hear them breathing. Eeriest sound he’d ever heard. He’d never much liked those trees at night even during his training as The Keeper of Light. 
‘Pardon me, Master Misser, I’ve travelled long to be here, and I would have been here hours ago, but I don’t know why I overshot The Sanctuary and landed at the Whispering Reeds. My compass must be off.’
Monk Misser faintly smiled. ‘So it’s working.’ Balan understood then that other wards must have been put up since his last visit. ‘Myra has been trying to conjure new wards for ages, and she’s been successful it seems in casting a deflection ward.’ He started walking off down the path, to the main entry of the building, and Balan followed. 

‘Though it seems she wasn’t as successful in getting the ward to touch ground, otherwise you’d have never been able to get past the Reeds. I must tell her in the morning.’
Balan quick shuffled behind the surprisingly agile man, whose age must be nearing at least two centuries. 
‘Three,’ Monk Misser corrected as if Balan had said his thoughts aloud. ‘So what’s your emergency? The Keepers don’t normally come to us for help unless it’s for training, illness, or retirement.’
Balan took off his necklace and handed it over to the man as they walked through the main doors. 
‘Your Seeing stone?’ There was a hint of surprise in the Monk’s voice. 
‘I cannot explain what I saw, nor how to report it. Best you watch it for yourself and advise me on the course of action, or even if caution is worthy. Though I doubt that would be the case.’
‘Who brings a Seeing Stone, Misser?’ the head of the Hallow walked out into the ante chamber from his chapel. ‘Ah, Keeper Balan. Long time.’
The man reached out for the stone and ushered the two men into his office further down the chamber. He looked like he’d been up for hours. But then again, Balan had always heard rumors that the Grand Monk did not sleep. He did not need to. 
‘What has you worried Balan?’ He put the stone on his desk in a small crystal abode. 
‘I believe it’s a Black Widow, Master.’
The two monks passed ever so slightly worried looks at each other before the Grand Monk asked them to pull up a chair and sit. 
‘There hasn’t been a Black Widow sighting in centuries.’ He mumbled an incantation and Balan’s stone began glowing a weak green. The Monks stared at it, their eyes flicking minutely as if they were watching something. No doubt the visions Balan had been gathering the last year as he followed the case of Mrs Bigum and her mysterious wealth and her equally mysterious home. 
It seemed a long while before the two men came out of their trance with measured looks.
‘We have a lot to do young, Balan. Send word to your hold. We need as many Keepers as the Red Fort can spare.’
Balan nodded, but his curiosity hadn’t abated. ‘What did you see, Master?’
‘Earth’s doom. Now go! Take the fastest wings and go. We have already lost so much time.’

Other-worldly (Part II)

RECAP:  

‘What’s it doing this far out of its territory?’ 
‘Whatever it is, it bodes ill for that human.’ The sprite slunk back into the tree. ‘Last time one of these came out was almost 300 years ago. The most demonic thing I’ve seen all my life and that’s saying something. Almost killed them all off, those stupid humans.’
Balan stood by the edge of the footpath and studied the strange green gossamer tendrils whistling about the property, snaking out of windows and doors, and floating up from the chimney. ‘And how did they stop it?’ 
‘I have no idea. Seeing how I’m rooted to one spot, I can only tell you what I heard, and this far out, I wasn’t hearing much back then.’
Balan crossed the street and looked up at the facade of the double storey house. The lights had been off for a while now and he assumed they’d gone to bed. He took a few more steps towards the house only to have one of the tendrils flick him away viciously. He flew across the road and crashed into the bush at the front of the house there. The wind knocked out of him. It took him a while to catch his breath and get back up on his feet. 
He glared at the house sickly aware that those tendrils of gossamers were nothing akin to spiders, but a rather strong ward against the other side. His side. The Keepers of Light. As he came to once again stand under the sprite’s tree he couldn’t help but notice a figure by the top window, it’s slightly glowing eyes set on him with a mischievous grin on its black face.
‘Whatever magic that is, it’s not from our…’
‘Realm.’ Balan finished in awe. 



Part II 

For the next two days, Balan followed the Black Widow where ever he could. He changed disguises, put up wards to keep her from seeing him come a mile away. He made no ‘noise’ as this master had taught him, no lingering magic left behind, no stealth spell sent her way that she could smell. For all he knew, none of these mattered when dealing with a Black Widow. He knew so little of them. As far as he was aware, they had been exiled into the monster realm. They were the things even monsters feared. In fact, from how his ward tingled around its edges just mere feet away from his body, forever feeling like his skin prickled, the omens were bad. Horrendously bad. He knew a storm was coming. He could tell from the deepening darkness in the night sky. Energy swirled above that house, slight wind forever pushing down at him as if there were a swirling storm right above it. 

At the midnight stroke on the third night, Balan jumped off the tree branch with a sigh. ‘I got nothing.’


‘I got nothing either. My vision can’t get past the third layer of its ward.’


Balan turned. ‘Third layer?’


The sprite floated out and intently stared at the house. ‘As far as I can tell, that thing is wrapped up like an onion. I can’t tell how many layers it has up.’


This information startled and unnerved Balan. He’s never known anyone to be able to cast two wards with ease. Those skills were left for the Maestros, who are rumored to be able to put up at least five layers with not too much trouble, but no one had seen a Maestro in a millennia if not longer. The only thought that was left in his head was ‘What is this thing and how do I get rid of it?’ After all The Keepers weren’t just your regular fairies humans frumped them up to be. They were the last line of defense against countless demonic realms that eyed human realm as desired realty. The Keepers were the Sword-swingers, the bond breakers, and the annihilators of dark energies. The things that protected from the things that go bump in the night.


‘What do you see? In the other layers?’ He finally asked, goosebumps coursing through him. A semblance of fear lurking deep. 


‘Blood. I see blood. And a sense something coming.’


Balan could sense it too. He’d never mastered the Art of Sight, but he had mastered the Art of Energy, and he could sense the dark heavy ooze spluttering slowly underneath. He eyed the sky above the house and could just imagine the hole building. ‘I have to go.’ He blurted. 


‘You better hurry. You have a month, tops, to find out how to rid it. Once it anchors, I have a feeling it has bigger plans than just marrying a widow and and growing old with him. A storm’s coming.’


Balan nodded. That was an understatement. ‘Keep an eye on it for me.’ He placed a small ball of lapis lazuli in his palm and with an utterance fused it into the trunk of the tree. ‘For…’

‘Communication, I know. Not my first rodeo. You just go find a Maestro before the month.’


‘I don’t even know where to start,’ Balan muttered. 

With a brisk nod and a blink, Balan was gone. All that was left was a sliver of gold smoke the height of him, lingering but for a fraction of a  second. 


‘If Maestros exist anymore.’ The sprite turned its attention back to the house. It had a job to do, and he was going to do it. The green ward rippled taunting. Flickering like an innocent candle flame.