Anya Finds Her Magic
By the time Anya had helped defeat a horrendous mountain troll, she completely forgot about Canis’s threat. So it came as a great shock when the bully showed up very late on their first day back, crying and purple faced.
Anya felt a tap on her shoulder and turned her head to find Cook, glaring with her arms crossed across her chest. The cooking pots behind her made it look like steam was literally spurting from her ears. Anya almost giggled at the sight, but that’s when she saw Canis behind Cook’s shoulder, with torn clothes and covered in dirt from head to toe. Anya’s eyes nearly popped out, and she stopped her work to see what was going on.
Cook jerked her head to the side. “Outside, Elf. Now.”
Anya rinsed and dried her hands. As she passed Canis, she saw a champion’s smile beneath the tears. Once outside, Cook stared at Anya for a moment, as if thinking what to say. Anya’s fear started working overtime. What had Canis done to her now? Would she lose another week’s pay? Would she truly be fired this time? Just when Anya couldn’t contain her anxiety any longer, Cook told her, “You’re done, Elf. You’re fired. Go home.”
“What!? For what?!”
“I know you and Canis have had your troubles, but I will not tolerate delinquent behavior such as this.”
“Such as what?!”
Cook dropped her arms. “That’s it, Elf. Go home.” She then turned and walked inside, leaving Anya too stunned to react.
Anya sat down at the well and watched the chickens scratch at the dirt around her. As reality started to seep in, a huge knot welled up inside of her. She jumped up, tears streaming down her face, her breaths coming is gasps, and ran home.
She burst through the door and collapsed onto her bed, where she lay until late afternoon. She was half dozing, half lamenting her predicament when the sun’s rays started to turn orange and slant. Hoping to get some answers, she went back out and waited on the main street for Basil to walk by on her way home.
“Anya!” Basil walked over to meet her.
“What happened? Why did I get let go?”
“Oh, Anya! I am so sorry! Canis told everyone you threatened to beat her up at the tournament for spilling the beans to me about Jennifer. She said you were mad because you wanted to tell me, but that she beat you to it. Then she said you met her this morning on her way to work and followed through with your threat. And that’s why she was late and looked the way she did.”
“That’s ridiculous. How could I have done that if I was in the kitchen all morning doing my job? Why didn’t Cook put two and two together before reacting the way she did?”
“Well, Cook has never been known for being the shiniest treasure under the gramwhat bush.”
Anya understood that and even agreed, but this was pushing it too far.
“And they are friends.”
“True. But, Basil, you don’t think that’s why I was mad, do you?”
“Oh no, of course not. But Cook and everyone else does.”
Anya was reluctant to ask the next question. “Um, Basil?”
“Did um … did Jeremiah ever show up?”
Basil choked slightly when she answered, “No. No one’s seen him since.”
“I’m sorry, Basil. I hope you find him soon.”
She pushed a smile through watery eyes and nodded farewell.
Anya watched Basil walk away. Poor Basil. While knowing what happened at work made a huge difference, it didn’t curb her anger. But instead of allowing herself to dwell upon it anymore, she decided to concentrate her efforts on freeing the captives of Avaline. And hopefully, that included Jeremiah.
She marched off to the library to find Taika feverishly working on the duplicating potions. Otis had apparently already left for the day. “Hey, Taika.”
Taika answered, “What are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to still be at work?”
Anya ambled over and dragged her fingers on the back of Otis’s empty chair. She puffed out her cheeks with a long breath and said, “I got fired. Canis made good on her promise at the spoonpole tournament.”
“Oh, Anya. I’m so sorry.” Taika glanced up from what she was doing and looked Anya over before continuing. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“No. Not really. Not yet.” Anya took a deep, calming breath and joined Taika at her alchemy set. “I came to see how you’re progressing. Can I help?”
“I’m almost done. We can leave this time tomorrow if you want.”
“Well, since I don’t have a job anymore, there’s nothing keeping me from going.”
Taika wore a sad, understanding smile. “Shall we see what Gevin says then?”
“Are you sure you know where we’re going?” Taika asked atop her pony behind Anya’s and Gevin’s horses.
“Pretty sure. We were only there once, but this looks right,” answered Anya. “Unless it’s moved again. Do you think it’s moved again?”
Gevin answered, “I hope not! I don’t want to have to wander around aimlessly trying to find her. I do have a life you know.”
Since asking him after their discussion yesterday, Gevin had been able to procure two excellent horses for him and Anya, but only a small, stubborn pony for Taika. They passed through the darkened woods, more quickly than before, since they had a better idea where they were going and why.
At one point, their horses veered to the right. Anya tried to steer hers straight, but it was no use.
Gevin confirmed her suspicions. “I think we must be getting close. My horse keeps pulling to the right, and I have to keep making him go straight.” Gevin’s eyes combed the area ahead of them, no doubt for something recognizable.
Anya said, “They must be trying to avoid the witch’s magic.”
Taika’s pony stopped altogether to sniff a large tree root. She gently prodded it with her heels, achieving nothing. When she gave up and slouched, he chose to slowly walk to the other horses. “Stubborn mule,” Taika sullenly muttered under her breath.
When the horses would go no further, they got off and walked through the woods ahead until they began to see light. Anya announced, “There she is. I see her mushrooms.”
They went back and got their bags. Gevin struggled to remove a particularly heavy bag from the side of his horse. “Good grief! What is in this?”
Taika answered, “Oh, that bag contains the material for the human duplicates.”
More stunned than annoyed, Gevin limped the bag away. Anya grabbed Taika’s cauldron that had been attached to the back of her saddle.
They went to the left of the house, ensuring they were completely hidden by trees and undergrowth. Gevin cleared out a place for a fire while Anya gathered sticks. Taika put her cauldron on the spit over the fire circle and pulled out an immense cube from one of the bags.
“What is that?” asked Anya.
“Wax.” She began using a considerably over-sized knife to cut the cube into three pieces with great difficulty.
“Yes, wax. It’s what we’ll use to form the other us’s.”
Anya’s mouth formed a tall “O” while Taika dumped the first section into the cauldron with a clang.
Taika built a small fire and waited for the wax to melt. Once it did, she added some of the twins’ blood and troll hairs. She then cut some of her own hair off at the ends and tossed it in. She stirred it all with the mirror shard until it started to change into the color of her skin.
“Help me, quickly.” She threw Gevin a thick towel, and they both worked together to pull the spit off the fire. They each grabbed a side of the cauldron and dumped its contents onto the ground where it congealed into a small mound. Taika immediately placed the cauldron back over the fire and added another section of wax.
While she made the second potion, this time using some of Gevin’s hair, the second “Taika” came into being. Its arms, hair, and clothes formed until lastly, it formed a face.
Gevin walked around it, mesmerized. “Oh that is awesome! I can’t wait to see what mine looks like!”
Anya made the same face she did when her neighbor’s cat threw up a significantly large and slimy hairball. “I think it’s creepy.”
Gevin said, “Come on, Ahnny. You can’t tell me you aren’t the least bit impressed. What if you could use yours to do your job for you, huh?”
“I can’t, Gev. I got fired.”
“What? What happened?”
“That repulsive, mendacious, repugnant—”
She looked at him in disbelief. “Repugnant? Mendacious?”
His eyes widened, and he blushed terribly. He then became very interested in a bush several yards over. “Oh look! Leaves!”
Taika’s voice sounded from far away, “He’s been reading.”
Anya broke into a huge grin. “What?”
Gevin glared at Taika and snarled.
“You’ve been reading?” heckled Anya.
“Sometimes when I have time to myself…”
Taika added, “He’s been trying to read up on swordsmanship and all things knight worthy.”
Gevin crossed his arms and stared off into the darkness of the forest.
Taika said, “But you can’t do that with the duplicates anyway.”
Gevin asked, “Can’t do what?”
“Use them to replace you at work. They can’t do complicated jobs such as that, and they don’t last that long. If we’re lucky, ours will last long enough to get us in and do our job before collapsing into a useless ball of goo. Besides, I would guess that wax would melt in the heat of the kitchen.”
Gevin slouched, heartbroken.
Taika asked, “A little help please?”
Gevin helped Taika pour “himself” out, with far less gusto than before. Taika cut a sprig of Anya’s hair for the last duplicate.
While the last puppet formed, Taika finished cleaning up the potion-making supplies and kicked the fire out. She then walked over to the wax figures, faced her false self and said, “You will do as I say. I am your commander. Follow me. When we get to the witch’s house, I will leave you. You will walk up to the door, knock on it, and courteously converse with the witch inside. You will keep her as busy as possible and not allow her to see us. Do you understand?”
It lurched its head to look at Taika and answered, “Yes.” Its voice was monotone and its movements jerky.
Anya backed away. “Oh, that is disturbing.”
Gevin had an enormous grin on his face. “Cooool.”
“OK, Gevin, repeat after me and tell yours what to do.” Taika gave them both instructions, which they repeated to their wax selves. They then marched off to the witch’s house, leaving the figures in front of the walkway to her door.
Taika said, “Go!” They all three commanded their corresponding puppets at once and then ran full steam to the back of the house. The figurines walked oddly up the walk and “Taika” knocked on the door, leaving streaks of wax where her knuckles rubbed the wood.
The three real children found the window where Anya and Gevin had first spied on Avaline. They watched the ex-Royal Wizard march to the front door, wand in hand. When she cleared the kitchen, the kids climbed through the window as quietly as possible.
“Where’s Alexander?” Gevin scanned the area frightfully for him.
“Oh dear. I forgot all about him,” Anya whispered. “What do we do?”
“Nothing until we need to.” Taika drew out the bottle of sleeping potion from her pocket.
“I understand your concern over fairy rights, dearies, but I’m afraid I disagree. In fact, fairy is one of my favorite dishes.” They could hear the witch in the other room talking to the waxen children.
A bowl of cookie dough sat next to a cookie sheet on the small wooden kitchen table. Gevin dipped his finger into the batter. Taika gasped and screamed in a whisper, “Don’t touch that!”
He looked at her with his hands up like What?
“This is an evil witch, remember?”
Anya rolled her eyes and wiped his finger off before he could eat it, while Taika poured the potion into the bowl on the table and stirred it into the batter. “Now, all we have to do is hope she’s baked these cookies for herself.”
“SCHREEEE!” Alexander stood in the entryway to the living room, screaming his intruder alarm to Avaline.
Gevin threw himself in front of Taika, protecting her. Anya grabbed the cookie sheet and swung at the monkey. Alexander jumped up onto the highest shelf, still screaming. He grabbed jars of food and flung them at the children. Anya batted them away with her tray.
Avaline came in and aimed her wand at the closest person to her, Anya. Anya was swinging her tray wildly and didn’t see her come in. The spell hit the sheet and bounced back onto the witch. Gevin picked up the bowl of cookie batter and threw it at the monkey. It hit him square in the face, knocking him to the floor. He was out cold.
They stood there, breathing heavily, assessing their situation. That’s when they noticed the absence of the witch. Gevin asked, “Where’s Avaline?”
Anya ran to the living room and gasped, putting her hand to her mouth. Taika joined her and saw the three pools of scorched wax on the floor. “I wonder what they did to upset her.”
“Hey, guys?” They turned at Gevin’s voice to see him looking at a parsnip lying on the floor next to a stick.
“Oh dear.” Taika saw it too.
Anya lowered her hand from her mouth and asked, “Is that her?”
“It must be,” said Taika.
Anya asked, “What happened? I never saw her or heard her come in. I was too busy batting jars back at Alexander with the cookie sheet.”
“That’s it. That must be what happened. You must have hit her spell with your cookie sheet and reflected it onto her.”
Anya reached down to pick up the stick lying next to the vegetable that was once Avaline. “And this must be …” Gasp! Anya felt a cold drain from her arm into the wand.
“Anya, what’s wrong?” Gevin’s face was alarmed.
“I … I don’t know. It feels … strange. I don’t understand…”
Taika said, “Wait. Anya, point it at the fireplace and say, ‘fire’.”
They both looked at her as though she had just asked them to turn the monkey into a burrito.
“Seriously, try it. Here.” She grabbed Anya’s arm and directed it towards the cold logs. “Now, ‘fire’.” Taika drew her arm back and swung it down with an imaginary wand to show Anya how to do it. Gevin stood behind the table, quite leery of the situation.
Anya held her breath and raised her arm up in the air. She brought her arm down with a fierce determination. “Fire!” Nothing happened.
“Try it again.” Taika’s brow furrowed.
“Fire. Fire! FIRE!!”
“Light! Light!” She got louder with each stroke, her frustration mounting. “Heat! Flame!” WHOOSH! Anya dropped the wand and fell back into the table, panting.
Gevin ran around to join them. “What just happened?”
“I believe we have ourselves a witch,” Taika said with a giant smile as she stared at Anya proudly.
“A witch?” He started to back away from her.
Anya said, “Gevin!”
He held his hands up in defense. “Hey, the last witch I knew turned me into a block of ice, and tried to make you a vegetable.”
“That doesn’t make me bad!”
He pointed to the wand on the floor. “Maybe not, but you used her wand. And it’s evil. So that means it only recognizes bad magic. You may not be evil, but your magic is.”
Taika explained, “Gevin, calm down. It’s not the wand that’s evil. It’s what it’s used for that is either good or evil.”
He didn’t seem convinced.
“If I shoot someone with an arrow, that’s bad, but that doesn’t mean anyone who uses that bow in the future is automatically a killer. Just imagine if I couldn’t carry a weapon into the woods for protection because they were all deemed wicked. Assumptions like that are what got us in this mess to begin with, remember?”
“Yeah, well, I still don’t like it,” said Gevin before locking a still sleeping Alexander into one of the nearby cages.
Anya reached down, and picked up the wand. Was it evil? Was she evil? No, Taika was right. Taika hadn’t been afraid of magic, she’d mastered it. She’d been using potions for months now and hadn’t done anything malicious with it. Well, she did make Otis sick. That wasn’t exactly good, but it wasn’t evil.
She rolled the wand over in her hand. Could she ever master this? Smiling at the thought, she placed the wand respectfully in her pocket and then reached down to pick up the parsnip. “So what do we do with her?”
“We could always fry her up.”
Gevin shrugged. Taika handed Anya another small cage in which to place the parsnip. Anya sighed and asked, “Well, where do we start?”
“Start with what?” asked Gevin.
Anya blurted it out before she could stop herself. “My dad.”
Oops. Well, I’ve come this far. I might as well tell him. “Gevin, Methuselah said there were dozens of knights here with him as animals.”
“What does that have to do with your dad?”
She hesitated before saying in a rather sheepish tone, “I think he might be one of them.”
She braced herself for one of his usual comments. But instead, he took on a sympathetic face. “Ahnny—”BARK! BARK! BARK!