The Enemy Within
But it was too late. When she entered the circle, an invisible wind blew up from within it, making Gevin fall back onto the floor. It enveloped her with a blistering cold. She screamed out in surprise.
Gevin jumped to his feet and held his sword ready. “Taika?”
“She is perfectly safe during the process. It’s what she does next that concerns me.”
“It better concern you, because if anything happens to her!”
Anya lifted from the floor and started to turn as the wind spun faster and faster around her. Glittering blue sparkles of magic encased the column of wind that surrounded her. Calmly, the wand rose, straight up into the air, unaffected by the wind. Her spinning slowed until she faced exactly where she had started out. The wand gracefully fell into her stretched out hand.
The wind stopped. Anya stared straight ahead, holding her wand like a natural appendage with a glazed look upon her face. She stood still for several minutes.
“Ahnny? You OK?” Gevin slowly approached her.
Anya closed her eyes and took in a deep breath. “Wow. I feel really powerful.”
Taika said, “This doesn’t last forever, Anya. We need to hurry up and do this.”
Gevin confronted Taika. “I’m still not happy about this. If anything goes wrong, Taika. Anything!”
“I know Gevin, but it was either this or none of these animals would ever be human again. She knows that. This was her choice.”
“It’s not them I’m worried about. It’s her!”
Anya faced him. “But what if one of them is Clay, or my dad?”
Gevin went still. “Clay? You think one of these could be Clay?”
“Yes, Gevin. Clay. And Dad, and Jeremiah, and many other brothers, fathers, and sons. Taika didn’t make me do this. I chose to. And I did it for them.” She pointed at the cages, indicating the animals.
Gevin was speechless. He finally managed to get out a, “Wow, Ahnny.” He stood up tall. “How can I help?”
“Stand guard.” She glanced at his sword. “I hope you can use that thing because there’s no way of knowing what’s going to happen once we start the transformations.”
Gevin nodded and raised his sword into a defensive position. Meanwhile, Avaline had woken from her daze and was not happy. While she silently kicked and punched the floor in a temper tantrum, Anya asked, “Where do we begin?”
Taika pointed at the far end of the room. “Let’s start on one end and work our way down. We’ll want to release them before making them human though. I don’t want anyone hurt.”
“Agreed.” Anya pointed at the first cage, flicked her wrist, and the door sprung open. The medium sized dog crept out, scared. It looked at the stairs as though going to make a run for it.
“Uh-oh.” Gevin ran to stand between it and the steps.
Anya shot at it with her wand while shouting, “Restore!” It popped into a young, well built man.
The young man stood there, staring down at his hands. He then turned his head to inspect his back and raised his arms to check himself all over. His croaked voice asked, “Who are you?”
“I’m Anya. Can you tell us what you remember?”
“Yeah. I was there in that cage for … however long I’ve been here. Can’t tell you how boring that is.” He looked over and saw Avaline in her prison cell. “That’s her! That’s the witch who made me a dog!”
Avaline yelled and screamed and jumped up and down, but you still couldn’t hear anything. It was really quite amusing. Anya jerked her head towards Avaline and asked sarcastically, “And how did you come across this lovely person?”
He scrunched his face in concentration. “Well, I was walking through the woods, trying to find some herbs and maybe some wildflowers for my girl. It was Ball night. She had to work, and I wanted to bring her some nice things to cheer her up. I came across this cottage with glowing mushrooms. I thought she might like them, so I went to ask whoever lived there if they knew where I could get some more. When that hag opened the door, I was startled with her appearance, but I was as polite as possible. She asked me to come in and made me some tea, and we talked a while.
“When I told her I needed to be getting back for my date, she got real mad all of a sudden and started screaming at me about men and how they all hate her and how she’s not evil, it’s the Queen that’s evil, and I didn’t understand what she was talking about at all. That’s when she got out her wand. Next thing I remember, I’m licking myself in a cage in the basement. AACK! I never did get used to that part.”
Could he be? “Who was your girl?”
“Basil. She worked in the kitchens.”
Anya gasped. It was! “You’re Jeremiah! That means you’ve only been here a few weeks. I worked with Basil. She will be thrilled to see you again! She’s been so worried!”
Jeremiah’s cheeks livened as his mouth stretched into a welcomed smile. “You know Basil? You’re from Cupola? Can you take me back there?”
Taika stepped forward. “Yes, we can do all of that. But Anya’s power won’t last forever. She only gets to borrow it for a short while, and we have a lot of cages to empty.”
Jeremiah nodded and stepped to the back of the basement.
“Everyone ready?” Anya checked they were ready for the next one. “Gevin?” Gevin stood between the stairs and the targeted cage with both hands on his sword.
Anya flicked her wand, opening the door. This one was a bobcat. He hunched up in the back of the cage, hissing at his “attackers”. Anya used her magic to lift the cell and shake him out, felling him to the floor. She quickly magicked him to a scrawny teenage boy. He had been out looking for sticks for a camp fire with his buddies one night when Avaline got him.
They did this for several victims, explaining to each one as they went. It wasn’t long before they came across a huge, angry, black dog. Anya became concerned. “Gevin, you better be ready with this one. He seems pretty mad.”
Gevin stood close to the cage, ready to shield Anya from any attack that may come. The beast jumped forward as soon as the door opened, aiming right for Anya’s throat.
Gevin swung his sword up and over, hitting the animal in the ribs with the hilt. It growled and snapped, missing Anya by inches. It then fell to the floor where she quickly reconstituted a well muscled young man.
The young man stood up, still growling, and started to advance towards Anya. His muscles flexed as he set his eyes on his prey. Gevin dropped his sword, staring at him in shock. Anya turned at the noise and realized she was without protection. “Gevin!”
“Clay!” he screamed.
The man halted and faced Gevin with squinted, examining eyes. As he did, he started to calm down.
“Clay. It’s me, Gevin.”
The man tilted his head, doglike, and then ran at Gevin with a giant grin on his face and his tongue lolling out. Wrapping his arms around his little brother, Clay lifted him up into a giant bear hug. “Gevin!”
Gevin, with a purple face and a strained voice, attempted to cry out, “Can’t … breathe…”
Clay put him down and held him out at arms’ length. “What the gramwhats are you doing here?”
Gevin caught his balance. “We were told you were dead.”
“No! I was on a mission for the Queen when—”
Anya let the two of them catch up and walked over to Taika. “Have you noticed that nearly all of the ones missing on a mission for the Queen are always announced dead or a runaway, like my father?”
Taika said, “Hmm … now that you mention it, yes.”
“Remember how the Queen reacted to our letter? How much you wanna bet she’s known about this too, but just kept it hidden?”
“Why would she do that? It doesn’t make any sense.”
“Think about it, Taika. We’re raised to believe magic isn’t real. That it’s evil, and that only crazy people believe in it. Why? If it’s not real, what does it matter if it’s good or bad?”
Taika raised her brow slightly. “True.”
“She’s afraid of magic. She doesn’t care how many people get lost or ‘killed’ or how many families and lives are destroyed as long as she’s protected herself. She’s a coward, Taika. A horrible, horrible coward!”
Taika nodded. “You’re right, Anya. You’ve been right all along. We should have never tried to tell her about it to begin with. She already knew and had no intentions of stopping it.”
Anya began opening cages and changing animals into men with a furious determination and fever. They started an assembly line. Clay made a weapon out of a broken cage piece and joined Gevin in guarding Anya. While she did her work, some of the earlier victims would gently pull the newer ones aside and explain the situation, allowing her to quickly move on to the next one.
But the process was still tiresome and time consuming. When Anya started to teeter, Taika made her sit on the stairs for a while and sip an energizing potion. Meanwhile, a short man, stoutish and covered in freckles, came over to where she was. “Excuse me, Miss Anya, but would ya happen ta know what happened ta ma wife, Becky?”
Anya swallowed a sip of the potion before answering, “I’m afraid I don’t know a Becky. Sorry.”
“We’ve been talking,” he motioned to the other men in the corner, “and I figure it’s been close ta twenty years since I’ve been held hostage here. Becky was the sweetest woman ya ever laid eyes on. Strong, but timid. Good in the kitchen, a hard worker.”
Surely he didn’t mean, “Cook?! You mean Cook?” She looked at him in disbelief. Timid? Sweet? “Did she have short curly red hair?”
His eyes lit up with excitement. “That’s her! That’s ma Becky!”
Wow! Anya smiled. “Sir, I know your wife personally and would be thrilled to bring you to her.” I can’t wait for this one!
Taika interrupted them. “Are you OK? We need to keep going if we’re going to finish.”
“I know, Taika. I’m just tired, and hungry.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
Anya got back to work while Taika tried to round up some food. “Men, Anya is getting hungry. If any of you can find us some food, we would be greatly appreciative.”
Several of the men conversed and agreed to help. Meanwhile, Anya had just finished transforming a deer into her—“Dad?”
A youngish man stood before her, certainly not old enough to be her father. He was handsome and tall and looked just like Terrence. “Anya?” Slowly he walked to her, taking her in, trying to recognize her.
She smiled. “Yes! It’s me!” They hugged intensely and cried with joy for several minutes. Some of the other men wept with the thought of their children and families.
Anya asked as they broke away, “What happened, Dad?”
He wiped a tear from her check and said, “I was on a hunting trip for Queen Pernicity. I followed a deer to this cabin. An old hag was getting water from the well. I greeted her, but when she found out I worked for the Queen, she started screaming that I was in love with her or something and then POOF, I was a stag myself. Let me tell you, those cages are crampy!”
They both laughed. “Oh, I’ve missed you so much, my doodle-bug.”
Gevin approached Anya. He acknowledged her father before gently touching her shoulder. “Ahnny, we need to keep going.”
“OK, Gevin. I know. Dad, I only have this ability for so long. I have to continue.”
“I understand … I think. Anya? Does this mean you’re a witch?”
“Yeah, Dad. I’m a witch. But it’s OK. I’m the good kind. I’ll explain later.”
He gave her a longing, confused look, and then joined the others.
They finally reached a point where the prisoners were outliving their memories. A young man of twenty could be heard asking, “You mean my wife, she’s dead?”
“I’m afraid so, Mr. Goodman. There’s no way she’s lived another eighty years since then,” Anya’s father consoled.
Mr. Goodman’s eyes bulged. He pointed at Avaline, spittle flying from his mouth. “You! You did this to me! You took away my life, my family, my EVERYTHING!!”
Anya’s father restrained him as he tried to attack the cage holding Avaline. He wouldn’t have done much damage anyway, but they couldn’t risk it. Anya stopped her work in fear of hitting them with her magic by accident. After several more minutes, he collapsed into a sobbing heap in the floor. Anya’s father walked away, allowing some of the other victims to calm him down. Anya got back to work. There was no time for sentiment.
The night was absolutely exhausting, full of non-stop emotion and action from despair to fury to confusion and joy. Near the end, Anya could barely stand. Taika had run out of potions, so Anya’s father had to hold her upright.
The other men grew loud and impatient. Clay joined Taika and Gevin to help stop them from leaving the basement.
“These men are restless,” said Taika. “They want to see their families. I don’t blame them, but it’s not safe to let them go back on their own.”
Clay and Gevin agreed.
Taika continued, “There’s another problem. The Queen. Everyone here has seen Anya’s ability. How do we explain to Cupola the return of their families and the existence of magic?”
Gevin’s eyes grew. “You mean you didn’t already have that part figured out?”
“Anya was in such a hurry I didn’t have time to.”
Clay thought for a moment while surveying the crowd. “There’s no way she can condemn Anya for this. If she were to punish the person who brought back all these fathers and brothers and sons, there would be a mutiny of mass proportions.”
Taika agreed. “I suppose you’re right. It would be difficult to squelch a mob of this magnitude. Many of them remember the time before the Field. That should help our advantage.” But her face still looked worried.
With the last transformation came dawn. Anya had to strain to do the last dozen or so. Her vision had become blurry. Her arm stiff and painful. Her head felt like it was going to split open. Her powers faded. Just one more, she would tell herself. Just one more. Over and over until there was just one more left. After it, her world disappeared.
Pillar carried his daughter outside. She didn’t hear the love he spoke with. She couldn’t feel his hand brush aside her hair. His falling tears did not wake her. It wouldn’t be until they reached her home that she would see him again.
He laid her on the bed. “It’s OK. You’re home now.” He rose and spoke to his wife. “Darling, I’ve missed you for so long!”
“Pillar, you haven’t … you haven’t aged a day!”“Sit down.” He sat her down and explained what had happened those many years ago. Anya tried to listen, but her world went black again.
When she awoke, the next day was at its end. Her father sat next to her, watching her wake up. “Hey, sleepyhead.”
“Don’t worry. It’s real. And thank you. In fact, there’s a whole queendom that wants to thank you.” He waved his arm around the room of their home, so packed with gifts from the Cupolians they could barely move, let alone see Terrence’s bed. There were meats, breads, candies, baskets and cloth. One person had even given them money and clothing. Terrence sat between piles of presents in the floor, stuffing his face with a gifted pudding. He smiled at his sister and gave her a hearty wink.
Their mother was beaming. “The Queen has ordered a banquet tomorrow, in your honor. She has requested you, Taika, and Gevin to attend for a special presentation and announcement.”
Anya’s head hurt, and she was woozy, but at least she could sit up. “What happened?”
Her father explained, “After I carried you out, I laid you onto the saddle of one of the horses. Your friend, Taika, and I led everyone back to Cupola. She told me how you found a wizards’ journal?”
Anya smiled. “Yes.”
“And then you melted your friend Gevin?”
She giggled with the memory. “You should have seen him, Dad! He was blue and chattered for days!”
“Is that what happened?” Her mother was looking at her with a mixture of amazement and anger. “Why didn’t you tell me any of this, young lady?”
Anya was going to answer, but her father beat her to it. “Oh that’s the least of it, my dear. She, and Terrence, also fought a troll. And then apparently, Anya and her friends took on the evil witch Avaline herself!” Her father laughed heartily.
Her mother placed her hand over her heart. “Anya!”
“I’m sorry, Mom. But what would you have done if I had told you?”
“I would have told you to take it immediately to the Queen!”
“Exactly.” Anya didn’t know if Taika had told her father about Queen Pernicity’s trickery. “And what would she have done? She probably would’ve just burned the journal, and then Dad would still be a deer in a cage.”
Her mother looked like she was going to explode from the battle between grounding her daughter and thanking her.
Anya turned back to her father. “Then what happened, Dad?”
“Clay took Taika’s horse and brought up the rear of the herd with Gevin. They answered what questions they could for the victims. No one knew what to do with Avaline, so they tied her cage to Clay’s horse and dragged it behind them. She had apparently gotten tired from all of her tantrums and resorted to sitting in the bottom of her cage with her arms crossed, sulking.” He chuckled.
Anya giggled, “What happened to her?”
“Oh, she’s in jail now.”
“What happened to everyone else? You know, when you entered Cupola?”
“Ah, doodlebug, it was an occasion beyond measure. The whole multitude ran through the Queen’s gardens and into the streets, trying to find their families and homes. They were calling out for loved ones and banging on doors. Everyone thought Cupola was under attack! And then, slowly, one by one, excited shouts of joy began to fill the entire queendom!
“While that was going on, I carried you here from the stables. Gevin showed me where you live now. I must say you’ve found a fine friend there.” He grinned, and his eyes glimmered. “Since then though, it’s been a stream of thankful visitors from every end of the queendom.”
They heard a knock on the door. Taika peeked inside and asked, “Can I come in?”
“Sure. Mom, Dad, if it weren’t for Taika, none of this would have happened.”
Anya’s father said, “Of that I have no doubt. I’ll have to tell Hanska just how smart of a daughter he has. And brave. You would make a good knight someday.”
Taika pushed her hair behind her ear and blushed.
Her mother reached out and held Taika’s hands in hers. “Thank you.”
Taika blushed even more violently. “You’re welcome. Um …” She looked at Anya meaningfully. “Would you like some air? You were pretty exhausted.”
Anya nodded and rose. Her father helped her outside where the fresh air was invigorating. But she couldn’t enjoy it too much as she was soon surrounded by dozens of eager Cupolians. They all wanted to thank her, shake her hand, give her gifts.
A young soon-to-be mother displaying a face full of smiling teeth grabbed her hands. “Just wanted to thank you—”
An elderly gentleman with a cane touched her on the back. “Me too, Anya. Thanks to you—“
An older woman wearing a bonnet cried into her white apron, “—without my husband for 5 years—“
She turned one way and then the next. People she didn’t remember ever seeing before grabbed her hand over and over. And then it happened. Cook came up to her, puffy eyed and red faced. She grabbed her hand and shook it. “Thank you, Anya. So sorry about what happened in the kitchen there. My fault, it was. Job’s all yours again, if you want it.”
Anya stammered more thanks to everyone she could. At the back of the crowd was Ol’ Methuselah, chuckling and nodding his approval. Anya waved and smiled back before Taika pulled her away.
They had to traverse to the end of the street to escape the throng of gratuitous citizens. Taika spoke in hushed tones, “Queen Pernicity has been with her counsel all day. This means she’s planning something. Gevin and I were talking about this while you were unconscious. Once she’s learned of everything, she’ll know it was us that wrote the letter. With everyone in love with you now, there’s no way she can touch you, but we still need to be careful. She’s a crafty woman, and I have no doubt she’s planning something nasty.”
Anya asked, “Why would she care if we wrote the letter? We were trying to warn her. It was her own fault she was too scared to do anything about it.”
“Yes. And I’m betting she’ll do anything in her power to keep that part hidden from the rest of Cupola.”
“Oh. Well, what about Avaline?”
“Avaline’s in prison. She can’t practice magic in the Field, so she’s harmless. She’s also mad. Especially at you.”
Anya shrugged. “Yeah, well, I kinda expected that.” She smiled a sly smirk.
Taika peeked over Anya’s shoulder. “Here come more visitors.”
Anya turned to great them, eventually making her way back home.
That evening and the next day passed with an unending stream of thankful neighbors and friends with gifts and blessings. The door knocked every few minutes with a new fan bringing some tasty morsel or crafted possession. Soon, there was no more room in the house. They tried taking some of the items over to Gevin’s, but his house was full too. They resorted to piling the gifts outside into wobbly towers that threatened to collapse onto anyone who dared to visit.
When it came time for the banquet, Anya’s excitement overruled her exhaustion. Thankfully, one of her gifts was an emerald green ball gown, the same color of her eyes. The whole queendom was there, dressed in their best and chatting with exuberance. She tried to avoid the attention, but it was impossible. The crowd smiled when they saw her and bowed away, parting a path like she was royalty. If that wasn’t uncomfortable enough, she and her family sat at a special table just for the three heroes and their families.
Being the first time Anya had been in the Great Hall, her head couldn’t keep up with her eyes. The tables were laid with white lace cloths and surrounded with cushioned wooden chairs. Each place setting had several crystal dishes, more silver utensils than Anya knew what to do with, and one silver goblet. Their table sat just in front of and beneath the royal family’s. All the others lined up along the outside of the room’s edge, leaving the maximum amount of empty floor space as possible. Those recently rescued blended in with their families or each other at extra seating brought in for the occasion. It felt like every eye in the room was on her table, and they probably were.
Her mother blushed and giggled as she held her father’s hand. Anya smiled and then looked past them, to the royal table. It sat upon a raised platform at the front of the room so as to overlook the whole Hall. Two servants stood at either end of the family, filling their golden goblets and catering to any whim or desire they might have. Anya had never been this close to the royal family before. She had never noticed how pale the Queen’s skin was, or how her hair was so tightly pulled back it stretched her face out of alignment.
As when watching the tournament, the King sat on several cushions and yet still remained shorter than his daughters, Cathy and Catrina. Cathy, much like her father, was shortish and squatish, with straight brown hair that curled inward at her chin and a protruding brown mole on her upper lip. Catrina was the eldest, and would therefore be the next monarch. She, with her elaborately braided black hair, sat stiff and superior while looking down at her future subjects.
The Queen stood and raised her glass. The room went silent. “It is with great joy that we pay tribute to the new heroes of Cupola.”
She turned to face the heroes’ table. Her blood red lips parted into an alarming smile. Her black eyes pierced through the air as she raised her glass to each one individually. “Anya. Taika. Gevin. Without your bravery and intelligence, we would not only still be without so many of our loved ones, but we would have also surely lost more. Therefore, I declare a toast in your honors.” She turned to face the hall, raising her glass even higher. Everyone else followed suit.
Anya’s voice was nearly inaudible from the tumult of applause. “Do you think anyone else noticed that?”
Taika sounded concerned, “No. That was strictly for us.”
After the room calmed down, the Queen continued her proclamation. “I would also like to announce a new position of the queendom.” She became very solemn and sincere. “Due to the recent discovery of magic”—there was a slight murmur at these words—“being practiced nearby, I have issued a new protection squad.” The whispers got louder.
Smiling, she raised her palm to silence them. “Rest assuredly. You are all safe in Cupola. I have also been informed that our ancient Librarians, in their wisdom, knew of the dangers of magic and erected a Field to protect us from its harm. Therefore, as long as that Field stays, we are safe within its boundaries.” There were louder ramblings, mainly from the earliest captives who remembered the Field’s formation.
Anya leaned over and whispered to Taika, “She knows it’s shrinking. She’s practically lying to us all!”
Taika agreed. “I’m betting she also knows they were Magicians, not Librarians.”
Gevin asked, “What do you two keep whispering about?”
Ms. Wolf shushed them.
The Queen continued, “I am creating magical squadrons. Those wishing to join can apply with Brutus, my head guard.” Brutus stood next to her and grunted.
Gevin looked at him and swallowed. Anya snorted and whispered across the table, “Hey, Terrence! Why don’t you give Veruca his number. He looks like her type.” Terrence and Anya shook in their seats with laughter. Ms. Wolf and Ms. Lancaster glared at them.
The Queen motioned for the three heroes to stand. Her smile was now happy, satisfied. “However the lead squadron, MS-1, will be different. Taika, Gevin, and Anya, you are hereby assigned to MS-1, by royal order.” There was loud applause from the banquet hall while they all three stood and bowed their heads in uncomfortable appreciation. They half-heartedly smiled and waved thanks, as was expected of them, and then sat down with blisteringly red faces.
“She’s up to something,” Taika muttered under her breath without moving her lips.
“Hmm-mmm.” Anya agreed.
“You two gonna tell me what’s going on?” asked Gevin.
“As soon as we figure it out, we’ll let you know,” said Anya.
A feast to behold, the banquet had the finest and most lavish delicacies. Anya could only imagine how Cook and Chef pulled it off in just one day. She was glad she didn’t have to be a part of it and enjoyed the banquet doubly so because of that. She didn’t see any of the kitchen staff in the Great Hall, but wasn’t surprised. They were undoubtedly confined to the kitchen as before.
Music started playing, and people rose to dance. Anya’s dad took her mother’s hand and led her to the dance floor. Terrence walked around the table to where Kaya sat and offered to dance with her. Ciqala and Mingan took turns with Taika and various other girls there. Gevin and Anya sat alone at their table. He played with his silverware. She fiddled with her goblet. Finally, he asked, “You wanna dance?”
Anya looked at him, not too sure she heard him correctly. “What?”
“Come on. We’re the only ones left. Let’s go dance.”
Anya thought for a moment. They had done all those lessons. And she was all gussied up anyway. So she shrugged and stood. “OK.”
They joined in with everyone else on the dance floor. She didn’t hate it as much as she thought she would. He managed to keep her from breaking any tables, and she only stepped on his feet a few times. But with everything else going on, he didn’t seem to notice.
As the night ended, the hall cleared, and the chaos subsided. Many families opened their doors and took in those that had outlived their own, or simply had nowhere to go. Grandsons were taking in great-great-grandfathers. The Wolf’s took in Methuselah.
Gevin’s family walked alongside Anya’s as they made the ever so familiar trip home. Somehow, it didn’t feel like the poor part of town this time.
“What do you think the Queen has in store for us, Ahnny?” asked Gevin.“I don’t know. I guess we’ll find out soon enough though.” She looked at her parents walking, holding hands, her mother truly happy for the first time she could ever remember. Her family was complete once again. “For now, I just want to enjoy what we have.”
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