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-worldly (6)

“What news do you bring?” Commander Wright asked, barely taking his eyes of the recruits that were being vetted. Only a select few would go on to become Keepers. Most as Balan knew would end up in foot infantry, glorified guards to riches, or general law and order. 

Balan had a certain disdain for the commander but he dared not let that influence his mission. “Grand Master has summoned as many Keepers as you can spare from the fort, Commander. The orders for them are to reach The Hallow as soon as possible.”

Commander Wright grunted but said no more. He simply hurried down the stairs and charged towards the huddle of young men dueling with one another. “Anyone dare to challenge me?” He boomed, glaring at Balan briefly before circling around, looking at the frightened faces. “Anyone even managing to catch me off guard will get a ticket straight to the sanctuary with Keeper Balan here.”

Some young men seemed to consider the proposal only briefly. There was one among them who put up his hand and stepped forward from the throng. 

“What’s your name, young man?” Wright asked.
“Siyon, Sir.”
“Siyon what?”
“Siyon Lyres, Sir.”
Lyres, now that was a last name Balan hadn’t heard in a long time, since the coup. The last they knew, all the Lyres were massacred in their homes, in their beds, throat slit from ear to ear, wives and daughters hung like flags upon masts of houses, warning. The lyres had all but been eradicated. 
“You’re a Lyres?” Balan asked, stepping down onto the tourney ground. 
“Yes, Sir.”
“Whose son are you?” Balan asked, mesmerized but before the boy could answer him, the commander drew his sword, “That’s a dangerous name to have, boy.”
The boy as he called it readied his sword in response. “Not in the sanctuary, it’s not, Sir.” Before the commander could strike, Siyon’s sword caught his and though the duel lasted mere seconds with the Commander hovering over the boy with his sword tip at the base of his neck. He sheathed his sword and offered the boy a hand up. “You will go with Keeper Balan to the sanctuary.” 
“But Commander Wright, Grand Master said all the Keepers you can spare.” Balan protested. 
“This is all I can spare,” the Commander turned and started walking away. “Or have you not heard the news yet, Keeper Balan, the Yorkish have declared war to our left.” 

Balan stood at top of the terrace staring up at the sky, the edges of the storm cloud that had been gathering over The Hallow was so wide spread that he could see its edges at the fort. He heard soft crunch of sand and grit behind feet that approached him. It was Syion, his small bag slung over his shoulder in anticipation of their departure. 
“You truly are a Lyres, aren’t you?” Balan shook the young man’s hand. “Now, you’re not afraid of flying, are you?”
Syion pulled his bag higher on his shoulders, shaking his head. “I’m not exactly from around here, Mr, Keeper…”
“Mr?” Balan’s interest piqued even more. “You’re from the Human Realm?” He whispered in awe. “How did you make it through the veil?” 
Syion looked around the rooftop before reaching for something in his pocket. He brought out a fist closed around something and slowly opened his hand to reveal a thick gold medallion with a Phoenix in flight inscribed on the top and a ring of writing he had no understanding of. “My mother gave me this. Said I’d find all the answers here.”
Balan stared at the gold coin for ages, then closed the young man’s fist and thrust his hand away. “Be careful who you show that to around here, or anywhere. This is not the Human world, and a simple thing like that Phoenix Guards token can get you killed.”
“The Phoenix Guards? Is that what you are?”
Balan scoffed. “I’m many things boy, and that I am not.”
“You’re a guard?”
“Of this realm, yeah.” He eyed the pocket where the boy stashed his coin. “But they are a whole lot more.” Balan reached for the boys hand and pulled him towards the edge. “We better get going if we are to save daylight.”
“Who are the Phoenix Guards?” Syion asked, staring at the ground several feet below them. “My mum used to mention them when she was lucid. Something about being key.”

Balan considered the young man, contemplating whether he should indulge the curiosity or not. Instead, he pushed him over the edge of the building and watched him fall, screaming. 

Other-worldly (5)

Other-worldly (5)

Balan had been pacing the front courtyard for awhile, unable to stop his fidgeting hands from caressing the large jet stone sitting snug on the bottom of his right pocket. He pulled the collar of the trench coat higher against the gathering cold and looked up to feel a snow flake land on the tip of his nose. 
‘You see it too, don’t you?’ Master Misser stood just under one of the arches that surrounded the court. ‘The sky is changing her color.’
Balan looked to the ominous sky, its dark grey and almost midnight blue swirling slightly, like a twister in the making. ‘It’s not supposed to snow for another month or so.’ He resumed his pacing, teasing the jagged yet smooth edge of his jet in his pocket. 
‘Come in for supper. You have been eyeing the path up that hill for a day now. They will come.’
‘When?’
Misser shrugged his shoulders. ‘When the time is in their favor. And the sky.’
‘They will be forced to land amongst The Reeds.’ Balan scold. 
Misser nodded, slipping his hands into the folds of his robe. ‘And it’s a long treacherous route after that. Come, eat, get warm, catch some sleep, and when you wake, we may have some of them arriving from the fort.’ 
Balan looked to the giant gate, its bottom still vague as to what it might foretell. ‘Have you noticed the gate grows each day?’ With that he followed the round Monk through the stone corridor. ‘Is it true it carves prophesies upon itself?’
Master Misser remained silent for a while, making Balan wonder if he’d even been heard. 
‘That is why she is called the Gate of Wisdom. And she chooses what she will reveal. Not everything that comes to pass is on her face. But those that are have shaped many millennia.’

‘And not many can pass through the Gate of Wisdom? Am I correct? Keeper Alon used to tell us that.’
Master Misser turned into a warm room, the dinning hall, with its rough, long table made ages ago from fallen trees down the slope. The giant hearth crackling with fire and glow. There were only a few monks seated, others were still arriving. ‘If you are asking whether we are safe here, then yes, Keeper Balan, only those that have already passed through her embrace may enter and no more. Sit.’
‘Forgive me,’ Balan stayed standing, staring down at the Monk, with not disrespect, but concern. ‘Have you tried to read it yet?’ Misser stared at Balan with measured look. ‘When will it come to pass? The last of her tapestry reveals a war of realms, which has yet come to pass.’
Master Misser sat down and pulled his cutlery closer. ‘You know the old prophesy?’
‘Like you said, anyone who comes through that door of yours is taught. To surveil, to fight.’ 
A kitchen hand brought out a trolley full of food, the old rusty wheels of it squeaking near them. Master Misser grabbed plenty of bread and soup, and a jug of wine for the two and sent the hand off. ‘The Grand Monk believes the time is now: the wars will wage through the veil, evil and saints alike will fall till from their ashes rises a hero who shall rid the demons of our world.’ 
Master Misser chewed a piece of bread as if he were starved and offered Balan some of his own. ‘That’s as much as we have been able to decipher from her face. The Gate of Wisdom isn’t the easiest language to read, and the last able Reader we trained at the Citadel died of pneumonia 10 years ago.’
‘None in training here?’ Balan almost choked on his soup. ‘But, you train them all here, Keepers, Readers, Seers, Monks, Wizards, Healers, and Wards such as Myra.’
Master Misser shook his head somber. ‘It’s been hard to send out scouts who can sense magic. Everyone it seems are shutting off their abilities, masking it, hiding it, should they be found and their lives be ended.’
‘The Black Guards,’ Balan whispered.
Master Misser nodded. ‘You’ve been away from us too long Balan. Our magical world is quite devoid of magic since the Coup.’
‘Hunted?’
‘All. Anyone who displays magical tendencies. The Hallow and Quaint Town are perhaps last of the few places where our people still go about their lives the old way.’
‘Then how do we wage a war we cannot possibly win?’
Master Misser took a deep breath and returned to his food. ‘Perhaps this is the first time those on the good side lose. After all, whoever rids the world of our demons rises from our ashes. They must first have ashes then, don’t they?’
He stared at Balan from his lashes. ‘Eat?’ A small smile spreading across his lips. ‘We may die in this, but nothing says we must die without a fight, and to fight, you need to eat.’ He dipped his bread into the soup and slugged eagerly on the wine. ‘If we have plenty of anything here, it’s food. Eat.’

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.